All posts by Sarah C

Butternut Squash, Asparagus and Feta

 

Wednesday 20th May

My mother-in-law: gardener, counsellor, motivational speaker, cleaner, disciplinarian, theatre-goer, first aider, Excalibur designer…..These are just some of the roles she covered in her three-night stay with us. 

She thought she was just coming to tackle the garden, but that was the tip of the iceberg. 

“Could you pop down to Daisy’s school activity-cafe and design an Arthurian sword with her?”

Even though she claims not to have a creative bone in her body, she tackled this task, and every other, with true Collier (Senior) gusto; and moved seamlessly from one role to the next. 

Even the neighbour’s daughter was confused as to who or what she was: one minute she is gardener, donning Tom’s full waterproofs, hands caked in damp soil as she plants out a row of lupins; five minutes later (literally five minutes) she comes downstairs as theatre-goer ( Daisy’s debut performance in King Arthur) dressed in white cotton trousers, blue boat-neck top and beautiful silk scarf. 

I let out a loud “Wow!” as she enters the kitchen which startles Ellie, the neighbour’s daughter who’s hanging around. Her entrance coincides with a fight upstairs over which child is washing their hands first. The bathroom is the scene of 90% of their fights. If the original 1930s door we had put in, makes it until they’re teenagers, I’ll be amazed. The loud noise of foot against wood, combined with trying to serve dinner AND be out of the door to get actor to stage in fifteen minutes, nearly sends me over the edge.

“Nanna, sorry, could you deal with that commotion?”

Since having children I seem unable to call her by her actual name, Helen. In the first few years she protested loudly about this, but now she’s become resigned to it. It’s better than what my mum’s called though: normal grandma as named by Daisy from the age of two. It’s possible the normal bit could’ve been meant ironically? (Only joking, mum). 

I can hear nanna at the top of the stairs giving Ollie, in Daisy’s Blyton-esque vocabulary, a right ticking off.  There’s stern words and defiant shouts. Ellie raises her eyebrows at me, 

“Who is THAT woman?” she asks. 

I can see her mind whirring: Is she gardener? Or smartly dressed guest? And how come to gets to do the telling off round here? 

I usher Ellie out of the back door and down to the bottom of the garden where the kids use a gap in the fence to access each other’s houses. 

Nanna appears in the kitchen carrying Ollie. A sibling truce has been agreed. I could do with nanna here full-time. 

The next day, after she’s got her coach back to London, I return to an empty house and a pristine garden. The woman has worked solidly for two days in the rain. I rummage through the fridge and find some leftovers for lunch: some butternut squash and onions that were roasted in Harrisa pasta and red wine vinegar.

 I heat them up in a pan with some leftover asparagus. It doesn’t look like much, but adding some feta, olives, coriander and sweet chilli sauce when it’s on the plate creates a delicious dish. 

As it heats in the pan, I look out at the rows of lupins and lavender plants; the new pots filled with trailing geranium and beautiful little yellow flowers. At the front, the drive is lined with pansies and there is a pink hydrangea in a blue pot which reminds me of my grandma everytime I come home. 

I have enjoyed nanna’s visit: our rain-soaked trips to the garden centre where we try to fill a small VW boot with too many plants; her huge appreciation at every meal cooked and her speeches (largely aimed at Ollie) about gratefulness and finishing what’s on your plate; and I have appreciated the back-up she has provided in all its many roles and guises. Roll on the next visit, nanna! 

  

  

 

Speedy Suppers #2: Creamy Bacon Pasta

  

Friday 15th May

We swap the Friday afternoon scrum at the sweet shop for the after school Nepalese-fundraising bake sale. Daisy joins the throngs to buy back one of the cakes she made last night. Ollie worms his way to the front and is served immediately thanks to one of his Year 6 contacts, Beth. He emerges triumphant with a huge chocolate muffin. 

Sometimes doing the school run with Ollie is like being in the presence of a local celebrity; he seems to know everyone. 

“Hi Vanessa!” he shouts to the school cleaner before stopping to chat about the weather. 

“Hello Marcus!” he calls to one of my Year 4 drama crew, before high-fiving him. 

In the playground, Annabelle from Daisy’s year comes along to pick Ollie up (a daily ritual), and Ollie squeals with delight. 

Who Ollie doesn’t know, isn’t worth knowing. I have no worries about him starting school in September. He has contacts in all sectors of school-life, from the girls in Year 2 who will look out for him at break-time, to Daisy’s old Reception-Year teaching assistant who’s always had a soft spot for him. 

We amble along to the park. There’s been a cold wind today, but in the sun it is warm enough to peel off some of the layers. 

Daisy has a friend to play with, but she would prefer to plonk herself down on my lap and ear-wig on the adult conversation. The information she gleans makes great writing material (for her), no matter how careful I am about what I say. 

Sometimes I find with horror discarded notes around the house containing fragments of conversations overheard from the top of the stairs and then quickly jotted down. 

At the park, Ollie has latched on to a Year 3 boy and they are cavorting around as pirates having sword-fights with big sticks. 

On the way home I remember it’s Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution Day: his campaign to create a movement to get all children educated about food, and to inspire families to cook again. http://www.foodrevolutionday.com/#urIKDupJC5CR95Wd.97

I read through the whole website last night and felt so passionate about what he is trying to do, that I found my finger hovering over the Be A Food Ambassador button. 

Fortunately I pulled myself back from the brink, but I decide the kids can cook tea for us tonight. As the weather is good, we christen a little kettle barbecue that’s been kicking around in the shed. 

This is Daisy’s favourite dinner and it’s very easy to make. I allow her to light the barbecue (under my watchful eye), then I look back at the photo with horror. It’s like one of those pictures you get at school: Spot All The Fire Hazards……The little brother standing too close; the long hair not tied back…… These things are hurriedly rectified.

For dinner, the children start by shelling the broad beans:

 

They add these plus the peas to the pasta pan (being held by me):

   
 

Ollie grates the cheese:

  
And Daisy adds the cream once the pasta has been drained:

  

Then Ollie pats the cheese into the pan (not strictly the method, but we all have our own cooking styles):

  
A stir and a quick heat through and dinner is ready:

   
 

This is a very adaptable, delicious dinner which is ready in under twenty minutes. 

ingredients (serves two)

  • pasta, 120g (penne, fusilli etc)
  • bacon lardons/ham, 100g
  • olive oil, 1tbsp
  • frozen peas and/or broad beans, 60g
  • double cream, 75ml
  • grated Cheddar cheese, 20g

Method

Place the pasta in a large pan of boiling water. Cover and reduce the heat leaving it to simmer. Cook as per the packet instructions – usually 12-15 minutes. Add the frozen peas/broad beans approximately five minutes before the pasta is cooked. 

Meanwhile, if using lardons heat a frying pan with a tbsp of olive/vegetable oil and fry the bacon pieces over a medium heat until cooked. 

Once the pasta and peas have cooked, drain them then return them to the pan. Add the bacon, using a slotted spoon to remove from the frying pan, or ham if using that instead. 

Stir the cream, then the grated cheese, into the pasta over a low heat. Serve when it’s heated through. 


Cha gio in Smithfields

  

Tuesday 12th May

So the boy is starting school in a few short months and I shall miss him greatly.  Who will I share that post school drop-off pot of tea with? Who will operate the food processor when I’m making soup? And who will give me a big thumbs up when I create another winning smoothie?

To make the most of these last few months, I decide we should do one special thing a week, starting with a day trip to London. Ok, so this benefits me more than Ollie because I get to see two old friends, but I’m sure he’ll enjoy the train ride. 

  
Thanks to my travel anxiety we actually arrive at the station twenty minutes early. Maybe anxiety in other areas of life would benefit me on the punctuality front?  I have packed Ollie an activity rucksack. By the time we pull out of Norwich station at eight thirty we have already played Snap, Bear Hunt memory game and he’s eaten the entire contents of his snack box. 

He finds a pair of headphones in his bag. They are for the emergency iPad – just in case I need a break….

“I want to play something now!” he demands. We’re not even at Diss yet. This wasn’t the plan, but then again I haven’t drawn breath since I got up, let alone had a sip of tea. 

I shut my eyes for a few short minutes before the shouting starts. Ollie can’t hear himself speak due to the headphones, so he bellows out enabling the whole carriage to hear his every word. He can’t get onto level four of his game and needs my help. It still hasn’t sunk in with him that his mother is not only rubbish at computer games, but fundamentally opposed to them. 

I try, unsuccessfully, to help him gain level four entry (just to get some peace), but it’s impossible. The little man in green has to jump from one moving platform to another. 

“Oh you’ve killed me, mum! You’ve really killed me!” wails Ollie at the top of his voice, as the little man falls to his death thanks to my incompetency. 

People in suits look up sharply from their devices. I’m just hoping this isn’t the quiet carriage we’re in. Out of desperation I ask the Sun reader sitting next to Ol if he can help.

“Excuse me, are you any good at computer games? My son is stuck on level three of Lep’s World.

The man gives me a strange look over the top of his newspaper. I realise that without explanation, Lep’s World, could be mistaken for having something to do with leprosy, rather than a game involving Irish leprechauns which this is. 

In London we rendezvous in the cafe at The Barbican. Babies Sonny and Frank sit in their pushchairs, while Ollie picks raisins out of his scone. We adults catch up on the last few months, starting with the election. I could sit here and talk all day but Ollie needs the toilet, so I’m pulled away from a very interesting discussion to stand in a disabled toilet.

Ollie has grown wise to what the signs mean: he refuses to go in the Ladies, and I refuse to go in the Gents, so we compromise and use the disabled loo. Much to Ollie’s delight, it contains a full-length mirror so that he can stare at himself admiringly whilst sitting on the loo. I, on the otherhand, am consigned to staring at the wall six inches from my face. Every attempt to turn around is met with cries of:

“Don’t look at me, mum! Turn away!”

Have I really come all the way to London to stare at a toilet wall, I wonder after ten minutes have gone by? I know you can’t rush these things but I’m panicking about all the chat that I’m missing out on.

To keep Ollie entertained, we walk to the nearby Museum of London. A new one on me. I’m impressed that Ollie is so fascinated by all the displays of bones and pieces of flint found under the streets of London, but after two rooms of this, I’m hankering after the gift shop. 

  

I virtually have to drag him there with promises of a souvenir or two. I go mad and end up carrying a basket around because there’s so much I want to buy. There’s a Sherlock Holmes display and a suffragettes one. I buy my dad, fellow Conan Doyle aficionado, a whole Holmes gift set which will be sent out to Madrid (dad -pretend you haven’t just read that…). Then I start on the suffragette merchandise. 

Meanwhile, Ollie has done the whole store and has chosen his heart’s desire. It’s not the replica gold coins, which I would’ve put money on, nor the Paddington bear keyring. What he really wants (and ends up getting because he’s wedged it onto his chubby little finger) is an obscenely large heart -shaped diamond ring for £2.00. He purchases this alongside a sour cherry candycane, and wears it with pride for the rest of the day. It makes going to the toilet, washing his hands and operating the iPad, very difficult, but he will not be parted from it. Next time he comes, he tells me on the train home, he’d like a sapphire one. 

For lunch we go to Smithfields and pick at random a Vietnamese restaurant. They look delighted to see us coming with our two pushchairs and three children under the age of four; Ollie leads the procession with his huge diamond ring. 

As soon as we order, baby Frank springs into action and does endless crawling circuits of the restaurant. At one point I wonder if Rachel (his mum) has left for good, but she returns sporadically to shovel another mouthful in before having to race off again. 

  
I’m delighted to see that much of the menu is dairy and gluten-free. I nervously order the Cha gio (a lot of accents missing there), which are crispy pork spring rolls. I haven’t had spring rolls for years because of the gluten factor. These ones taste so crispy and delicious and downright amazing dipped in peanut sauce that I have to call over the waitress AGAIN to check that they definitely don’t contain gluten. Apparently they are wrapped in rice paper which is something I need to get hold of as soon as possible so I can recreate them. 

  
Ollie and I also ordered a fresh apple, mint and lime juice each which re-ignites my determination to find our juicer (not used in ten years) which was last seen in the garage.

We get the 1600 train home. It’s packed but we’re happy and full. Ollie wants to know where we’re going tomorrow. He is under the misapprehension that we will be having a ‘special day’ together every day from now till September…….

  

Rhubarb Streusel Crumble

  

Saturday 9th May

We have a new reward system involving marbles. Like all good  reward systems it is made up on the spur of the moment. My parenting has been going down the swanny recently. Nobody actually listens to me anymore and I find myself resorting to empty threats or downright lies to get the children to behave, or just not to kill each other.

I have become the wait-till-your-father-gets-home person that I swore I’d never be. On bad days I make pretend phone calls to Tom at work:

“Hello! I’m just phoning to tell you that no one is behaving! No pocket money unless they put their shoes on in the next ten seconds? Yes, I’ll let them know!” 

Or I threaten to turn the car around and take Ollie back to pre-school so that we can discuss his behave with Gemma, his key-worker. A suggestion which is always met with screams from the backseat. 

I know these are big no-nos in the world of parenting but sometimes you’re just pushed to it. Hence the marbles. They were either going to the charity shop (no one plays with them) or being put to some use.  

“Right that’s it!” I bellow, interrupting another dinner-time bickering session, “New system! Here, have a wooden egg each!” I say as I grab two hollow eggs from our Easter display which is still hanging around. “Everytime I CATCH you being nice to the other one, you win a marble. When you get to ten marbles, you can choose a reward!”

There’s silence for a second while they process this, then Daisy throws her arms around Ollie, nearly suffocating him, and shouts,

“I love you so much, Ollie! Now can I have a marble?” 

I clarify the rules (made up on the spot): 1) just being kind to get a marble will not win you a marble, you have to mean it 2) begging for a marble will not win you one either. 

All of this falls on deaf ears. The kids, in particular Daisy, are frenzified at the prospect of winning a prize. They don’t see this as a long term goal – their aim is to get to ten before the night is out. 

They eat their dinner exclaiming how much they love each other, then race upstairs for the usual post-dinner bathroom fight about who’s going to use the toilet first. Except this time Ollie gets on to the bathroom first and Daisy shouts out (for my benefit),

“That’s ok, Ollie! I’m about to pee my pants but of course you can use the toilet first, because I love you so much!” 

This being-kind-to-each-other farce continues into bed-time where they beg to sleep in the same bed so that they can ‘hold hands all night’ because they love each other so much. I’m not sure which is worse, this or the fighting.

Within 48 hours the wooden eggs are full of marbles; much quicker than I anticipated. The children come down to breakfast to find eight envelopes with a reward inside each one. They are allowed to choose one each.

Ollie tears open the envelopes and Daisy reads them out. They can do team work when they need to. 

“What does this say, Dais?”

Daisy peers over, “Go on a bike ride with daddy.”

“Nah,” says Ollie and chucks the card over his shoulder. “Next one”.

“Go for a hot chocolate with mummy,” reads Daisy. 

“Nah,” says Ollie, and over the shoulder it goes. All the rewards which involve time with the parents receives the same response. They get to the penultimate card:

“Get an extra chocolate bar on Treats’ Day.”

“Yessss!” They shout in unison and high-five. 

“Can you imagine?” says Daisy, “two chocolate bars on Friday instead of one!”

“Now we’re talking!” says Ollie. 

The next card pleases them even more: 

“Pick any two items from Poundland.”

They hug over this one and I am left feeling slightly disappointed that our children are such consumerists…..

  
Saturday was a day of hard labour for Tom with more fence-erecting. Now that the majority of the house is done, we’ve moved onto tackling the garden. 

Such hard work seemed to warrant a hearty roast chicken dinner and a pudding using our first crop of rhubarb. This is a gluten and dairy-free  dessert but you can easily use normal flour and butter. I’m told it’s the best free-from crumble I’ve made, which is not saying a lot, because last time I forgot to put sugar in and it was like eating sawdust over fruit…….

   
Ingredients

  • rhubarb, 450g
  • soft light brown sugar, 40g
  • pure vanilla essence, 1tsp
  • gluten-free plain flour, 75g
  • bicarbonate of soda, quarter of tsp
  • ground ginger, half tsp
  • ground cinnamon, 1 tsp
  • sea salt, pinch of
  • soft light brown sugar, 75g
  • Jumbo porridge oats, 60g
  • Pure sunflower spread, 75g

You will need a small oven-proof dish approximately 30 x 20cm.

Method

Cut the rhubarb into 1cm lengths and put into a large saucepan with 40g of the sugar and the vanilla essence. Cook over a gentle heat for 10 mins. Drain any excess liquid.

 

Preheat the oven to 190 degrees/ gas mark 5.

In a large bowl sieve together the flour, bicarbonate of soda and spices. Stir in the oats, salt and sugar, then rub in the margarine. 

Spoon the rhubarb into the oven dish and sprinkle the streusel topping evenly over the top.

Bake for approximately 35 minutes until the streusel is golden. 

Delicious served with coconut custard: coconut milk plus custard powder – follow the instructions on the tin. Custard powder is gluten-free so this makes a delicious gluten & dairy-free accompaniment to any hot dessert.

  
Crumble inspired by Pippa Kendrick’s fabulous free-from cook book The Intolerant Gourmet. I can’t recommend it enough for gluten and dairy-free cooking, plus Pippa has a Norwich connection as well. http://www.theintolerantgourmet.com/my-books/ 

Banana ‘Ice Cream’ with Sweet and Salty Roasted Almonds

  

Wednesday 6th May

At pre-school pick up I’m called over by one of the teachers. My heart sinks. Last time I was taken aside, it was to be told that Ollie had spat at another child. I was mortified. It was completely out of character for him and he couldn’t come up with a valid reason for doing it. Outside nursery I gave him a grilling.

“Why did you do it? And where did you spit? Please don’t tell me you spat in her face?”

Ollie sighed, “I spat up her nose”, he said with an air of resignation. 

Today, thankfully, it’s not another misdemeanour. Instead they want to tell me that Ollie has been getting on his political soap-box. Ollie is Green through and through. Whilst the rest of the household have debated and deliberated, Ollie has remained true to  his beloved ‘Green Team’ even designing his own vest:

  
At pre-school he has been advising the staff against voting UKIP and giving the merits of going Green. Even Jennifer, the music teacher, ended up trapped in a David Cameron conversation with him and struggled to get away. 

This political fevour is much the same on every car journey around the city. Both kids call out maniacally any posters and advertising boards they see.

“There’s the Green Team!”

“Oh no! Someone’s voting for the ‘Tourists‘ there,” (a mis-pronunciation that we haven’t corrected). 

On a drive into rural Norfolk yesterday I was shocked to see the sudden change in boards as we left the outer ring road. Ollie spotted it first from his vantage point in the front passenger seat,

“Oh no, mum! I don’t feel safe! UKIP boards are everywhere,” he looks up anxious as he counts eight on his hands. No sign of the Greens, or his second choice, reds, out here. 

On bank holiday Monday we finally get a knock on the door from one of the parties. It’s a Labour guy. I feel sorry for him, I really do. Little does he know, we’ve been desperate for someone to come round and answer some of our endless questions.

Tom gets the door. I am lying on Ollie’s bed recovering from a four hour jaunt to Eaton Park.

“Ah ha!” Tom is genuinely delighted when he sees who’s there. They discuss the economy, then local issues (the proposed northern distributor road) in depth. Just as our man is trying to wrap up the conversation, I leap up from the bed to question him about Labour’s education policy. I must look like a mad woman, appearing at the top of the stairs, hair all over the place, mascara smudged. 

No sooner have my questions been answered, than Daisy steps forward (all four of us are standing on ceremony at the front door).

“Do you help poor people?”

The poor man clearly doesn’t have any children because he launches into a confusing explanation of the minimum wage verses the living wage which I struggle to follow. I think it must be lost on Daisy too, but apparently not because she solemnly turns to Ollie and says,

“Sorry Ol. I’m voting Labour now, not the Green team anymore.”

Ollie takes her deflection badly and responds with a short, sharp jab to the ribs before falling to his knees, sobbing:

“Don’t do it, Daisy!!!”

Our man takes this as his moment to exit. Tom and I make a pot of tea so we can discuss it some more. In some ways I’ll be glad when the election is over so that we can talk about other things again. In the meantime, I have the more pressing matter of working out how to break it to Ollie that he won’t actually be voting on May 7th………

Election Day  

 
Look at the hope in our eyes as we go in to vote…..

 If you are also in shock at today’s results, I prescribe this dessert as the perfect healthy, comfort food. Dairy and gluten free, it’s also pretty low on sugar taking most of its sweetness from the bananas. The recipe is from Gwyneth Paltrow’s It’s All Good book. http://goop.com/its-all-good-2/ 

Ingredients

Banana ice cream

  • bananas, 4
  • unsweetened almond milk, half a cup
  • pure vanilla extract, 1tsp
  • good quality maple syrup, 2 tbsp (optional)

Sweet & Salty Almonds

  • almonds, half a cup flaked/whole/a combination
  • maple syrup, 2 heaped tsps
  • sea salt, large pinch

Method

Pre-heat oven at 180 degrees / Gas mark 5.

Slice the bananas and place on a baking tray lined with greaseproof paper. Place in the freezer for at least half an hour.

  

Meanwhile, scatter the almonds on another baking tray and roast in the oven for approximately 20 mins until golden. 

Once the almonds have cooled, combine them in a bowl with the maple syrup and sea salt. 

In a food processor combine the bananas, almond milk and vanilla extract. Blitz until the mixture is the consistency of soft scoop ice cream. Taste. If you want it sweeter, add the maple syrup and blitz again. The riper the bananas, the sweeter the ‘ice cream’. 

Serve the ice cream immediately with a sprinkling of the nuts. Incredibly moorish! 


Chocolate Orange Cake  (gluten and dairy-free)

  
Wednesday 29th April

I feel queasy the moment I walk in the door from drama. I’m supposed to be making cauliflower curry for dinner, but suddenly I can’t think of anything worse. I look in the freezer for the least offensive thing to cook the kids, and bung it in the oven whilst simultaneously running a bath. 

The waves of nausea are so strong that I need to be as far away from any kind of food or eating as possible. I speak to the kids in a now-listen-to-me-I’m-really-ill-and-you-must-behave voice. I tell them to eat their fishfingers without any fighting; I will be in the bath with the door open listening to every word, and Tom will be home in a minute. 

Daisy is good in these situations. She takes the role of Second-In-Command very seriously, but on this occasion there is a loud screech from her as I’m lowering myself into the bath. I must be ill because I don’t have the strength to shout at them to stop fighting (always my immediate assumption).

There’s a thundering of feet on the stairs and Daisy appears in the bathroom doorway sobbing loudly: she’s bitten her lip. Ollie arrives a few seconds behind her. He’s also bitten his lip. What is going on down there? 

I close my eyes and talk through gritted teeth (it’s taking all my concentration not to be sick), 

“Please. Go. Down. Stairs. And. Eat. Your. Dinner.”

“But I need the toilet!” insists Daisy.

“And I do too!” joins in Ollie. 

My eyes spring open.

“You are both only doing a wee. Anything else and I’ll be very cross.”

Tom comes home to find me hunched over in the bath; breathing in through my nose, out through my mouth. It is a scene reminiscent of early labour. All that is missing is Tom in his dressing gown, sitting on the loo seat frantically writing a birth plan as I shout out random phrases in no succinct order, between my contractions. 

Back to this evening, and labour must be on my mind because my opening statement to Tom is that I’m in as much pain as giving birth. I would now like to retract that statement. I think I must be delirious. I am in a lot of pain, but not that much. 

By the time I make it out of the bathroom, (which I have become far too familiar with), I seem to have missed bed-time. I hobble down the stairs like an invalid and ease myself on to the sofa to watch an episode of Bosch (LAPD detective series, highlight of my day). 

No sooner have I put my feet up on Tom’s lap and the opening credits have started to play, than I have to leap up again,

“Got to get to the bathroom,” I mutter.

I never make it downstairs again that night. 

At about midnight I come around to find myself in the bottom bunk, covered in a Thomas the Tank Engine duvet. Ollie is no doubt sprawled out in our king-size bed. Not for the first time, I wonder why we are a family that cannot stick to our designated beds. 

The all-consuming nausea is replaced with the sweats. Quite a relief really. I can hear the coffee grinder whirring downstairs. I text Tom:

Hi!!!! How are you???

I get no reply, which is quite annoying because I hear his phone beep, no doubt on the table next to him. I try again.

I’m awake up here!

Finally he takes the hint and comes padding up the stairs. I should think he’s glad of the excuse – he’s trying to complete his work-mileage for the last seven months. He flops down on the floor amongst Ollie’s toys.

“So I’ve been thinking!” I say, “And I’ve come up with a great idea! The kids are going to be really disappointed that they can’t vote on 7th May, so I think we should set up an alternative children’s polling station in our garden! I’m going to make a polling booth out of cardboard boxes, and the kids will wear rosettes to represent their chosen parties. And we’ll make Vote Me biscuits!”

Tom let’s me go on in this vain for several minutes. He doesn’t really have a choice: I won’t let him get a word in edgeways. Finally, when I pause to draw breath he says,

“You know you’ve got the same bright, ringing voice the children have when they’ve got a temperature?”

I think this is code for ‘you’re delirious and wittering on’.

Tuesday 5th May

  

Fast-forward a week and I’m only just beginning to feel normal again. It has been six days of no cooking, no writing, and most surprisingly, very little eating. 

All the more reason then, to enjoy this wonderful cake at my neighbour’s house this morning. It is so moist, and spongy and decadent, that you would never in a million years believe that it is flour-less. A welcome back to the world of food doesn’t get much better than this. Thank you, Cat! 

If you would like to have a go yourself, it is a Nigella recipe and involves boiling a whole orange for an hour. Definitely worth it! Here’s to a lot more eating this week……

http://www.food.com/recipe/nigella-lawson-flourless-chocolate-orange-cake-303266

My Last Rolo Cupcakes

Tuesday 21st April: version one

Sunday 26th April: version two

  

What have I learnt this week?
 

1) That Rolos do NOT keep their shape when baked in a cupcake. They melt into nothing. It may work with mini Creme Eggs (see Creme Egg Cupcakes post), it doesn’t with Rolos. 

I try twice to check. The first time I think it’s because I’ve only frozen the Rolos for half an hour, but after five days of frozen-ness the results are still the same. 

On the plus side, I’ve discovered a wonder product which makes the most heavenly caramel puddle in the middle of a cupcake, not unlike the centre of a Rolo; all is not lost. The product is a spin-off of one of my favourite childhood tinned products: condensed milk. They now do a caramel version.

In today’s recipe, it is in the centre of the cupcake and in the icing (somewhat unelegantly piped but I’ll work on that….)

  
2) This week I have also improved my knowledge on The English Civil War. (My father will be delighted, Cromwell is a hero of his). It comes from an unlikely source:

 Friday morning and Daisy chooses to see Ollie into pre-school instead of staying in the car. Normally she likes to have a moment to herself and I return to find ‘Paul Wellington’ pumping out of the stereo. 

Not today. Ollie has a new girlfriend (that makes three in total) and Daisy, like any other older sister, wants to give her the once over. I have regaled the family with tales of how girlfriend number 3 seems the keenest, rugby-tackling Ollie to the floor at pick-up, such is her desperation not to be parted from him. 

We shuffle in. Ollie is not the biggest fan of pre-school. He points out the girls, calling some of them over. Daisy is surprisingly quiet throughout. Ollie solemnly kisses us by the coat pegs. It’s a moment of tension as Daisy will only kiss him on the forehead nowadays, but Ollie has his arms round her waist, head tilted, lips pursed expectantly, and he won’t let go. There’s a minor kerfuffle before Daisy manages to extricate herself. 

As we walk out into the chilly April morning, I say,

“What’s Ollie like with all these girls?”

“I know!” says Daisy, rolling her eyes. “He’s as bad as Charles the Second.”

I laugh out loud but am worried that my daughter is making more erudite jokes than me; ones that I’m not sure I understand. I have a vague recollection of Charles II being a hedonist but that’s it.

Back at the car, I secretly google him. He had twelve illegitimate children. I’m not sure I want my son compared to him…..

Back to the cupcakes, these are eaten to mark two celebrations: firstly Alethea’s (family friend’s) eighth birthday. I feel emotional as she’s blowing out the candles; I remember getting the call in the Lakes that her mum, Jo, was expecting her.

  
The second is to celebrate great-great Auntie Pauline’s trip to Norfolk this week (AP to close family). A wonderful woman and amazing to have four generations of the same family sitting around our humble table.

  
Version two of the cupcakes is definitely better. The cupcake batter is thick enough to hold the caramel centre, and the chocolate and caramel icing is more delicious than the slightly sickly vanilla butter icing I used first time round.

Rolo cupcake

  

Ingredients

Cupcake

  • butter, 150g (at room temperature) 
  • caster sugar, 150g
  • eggs, 3
  • vanilla essence, 1tsp
  • self raising flour, 130g*
  • cocoa, 20g
  • caramel condensed milk
  • muffin cases, 12

Cupcake Method

Preheat the oven to 180 degrees/ gas mark 5. Place 12 muffin cases in a muffin tin.

Cream together the butter and sugar ( in a food processor if you have one). Add the eggs one at a time and beat into the mixture. Add the vanilla extract.

Fold in the flour and cocoa. *If you want it extra chocolatey, change the quantities to flour (120g), cocoa (30g).

Put a tbsp of the batter into each muffin case. Make a well using the end of a tsp (easier said than done). Put a heaped tsp of the caramel condensed milk into the well. Add another tbsp of batter on top. 

Cook for approximately twenty minutes until the sponge is springy to the touch. 

Cool on a wire rack. Do not start icing until completely cooled. 

Chocolate and Caramel Icing

I can take no credit for this. Please follow the link. I will definitely be making it again! 

http://vagabondbaker.com/2012/11/11/rolo-brownie-cupcakes/

AND if you would like to know more about the colourful character of Charles II, please start with this clip. It is where Daisy gets all her historical knowledge from and look how much she knows: 

https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=FA5abHKvUBQ
 
  

Speedy Suppers #1: Omelettes

  

Monday 20th April  

Tom is away. For some reason this is a licence to live on toast and nursery food. 

It’s warm as we straggle home from school. I decide to do the first mow of the season when we get back. Ollie is distraught that all the forget-me-nots which have taken up residence in the lawn will be culled, so he laboriously picks each one out on hands and knees and presents them to me. 

  
Daisy is skulking around as a ‘spy’ with a rectangle of black paper stuck under her nose as a moustache; her hair tucked up into a trilby. She’s been reading too much Famous Five

They amuse themselves while I mow up and down. It’s quite therapeutic and feels almost like summer. The kids are talking in code and scuttling around. Daisy gets angry if Ollie doesn’t refer to her as ‘double 0 7 and a bit.’

I’m tempted to get out the shears and do a bit of hacking back, but there are cries of hunger as I’m finishing up with the lawn. Fortunately we’re having omelettes for tea which is possibly the quickest cooked dinner there is. 

I time it that evening and the meal takes twelve minutes to prepare from lighting the hob to serving up; less if you are organised and actually have the ingredients out at the start. 

Omelettes are a staple in our house, I’m amazed they’ve only just made it onto the blog. This page lists the many different omelette options out there: http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Omelette Unfortunately it falls to mention the classic Arnold Bennett omelette, a combination of eggs and smoked haddock. 

  
According to Wikipedia, the omelettes I cook are classic English ones because they are flipped and usually include cheese (I never knew!). Tonight the kids opt for cheese and ham; I have ham and feta. 

I don’t own an omelette pan (this is a massive oversight considering how often I eat them), so I use a standard frying pan and three eggs per omelette. The kids share and I have one to myself (well I have done a lot of gardening!).

  
Ingredients per omelette

  • eggs, three
  • olive oil, 1tbsp (or large knob of butter)

Filling – any of the following:

  • ham, slice of
  • grated Cheddar, small handful
  • Feta cheese, cubed
  • sundried tomatoes, 3 finely sliced 
  • Chorizo, small cubes

Method

Heat the oil in the pan over a medium heat. Crack the eggs into a basin and whisk with a fork. Add a little salt and pepper. 

Pour the eggs into the pan and tip the pan around to spread the mixture. As it starts to set, loosen it around the edges with a spatula. 

  

When it is just set, flip it over with a fish slice. Place whatever filling you want on one half of the omelette. When the bottom has had time to go golden, fold the omelette in half, and slide out of the pan and onto a plate.

  

Watch this space for more speedy suppers in the future…..

  
http://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2012/jan/01/nigel-slater-classic-omelette-arnold-bennett

Creme Egg Cup Cakes

  

Friday 17th April

Yes, Easter is over but my sister-in-law’s love of Cadbury’s Creme Eggs is all year round. We are seeing her this weekend and I have been stock-piling packets of mini Creme Eggs in anticipation of making something for this get-together. 

Now the Easter season is over, mini Creme Eggs are impossible to get hold of, but I’m safe and smug in the knowledge that mine are tucked away at the back of the cupboard (can you see where this is heading?!).

I have scoured the internet for recipes, but this one for cupcakes with mini eggs baked inside, is my favourite. 

Unfortunately it means a trip in to town to buy pretty gold cupcake cases and a cake box to carry them in. Ollie, as a hater of shopping in all its guises, can only be persuaded in to town on the following conditions: the trip must involve: (1) a bus ride (2) a hot chocolate or cone of chips off the market (3) some expensive Lego. It is difficult to work within these perimeters and not bankrupt yourself everytime you go into town.

We have the usual kerfuffle to get out of the door in the morning, and then I remember I need £3.50 to get the bus. Drat! The purse is empty but Daisy saves the day by lending me £8 she’s got squirrelled away. I kiss her in gratitude, then my heart sinks when she emerges from her room with a make-up bag full of coppers. She nearly buckles under the weight of it. The bus driver’s going to love me.

In town I nip the Lego issue in the bud by heading straight to Poundland (yes, they do do ‘Lego’; admittedly it doesn’t stick together properly, but it’s Lego-ish). When we enter the discount store (fortnightly), I never grow tired of saying to Ollie, (with a flourish of the arm), “You can have anything in here you want!”

 To which he always replies, 

“What? Anything?!”

Today he chooses a ‘Lego’ set and a goodie bag for the grand total of £2. He has leant his negotiation skills from his sister; I specifically said, ‘one thing’. 

The stress of getting here and having to hand over my own body weight in 2ps to the bus driver, means I need a cup of tea. We hit the nearest cafe. No sooner have I ordered than Ollie has the goodie bag open and is demanding I show him how to make a bracelet with the pack of a thousand white loombands that came in it.

Last time I made a loom band bracelet was in the summer with Daisy when we were on a train halfway up the Pyrenees. I was trying to look at the view; she was trying to teach me a complicated method of bracelet-making.

The only thing that comes back to me now is that you make them on your first two fingers. The waitress comes over as I’m binding Ollie’s fingers together with what looks like tiny elastic bands.

“Oww mummy! What are you doing? You’re hurting me!” he cries indignantly. 

  
I hurriedly put it onto my fingers to finish off while he assembles, or attempts to assemble the one pound Lego. 

The rest of the shopping trip goes well, so well that I decide to push my luck and add on a visit to the health food shop. Ollie’s mood darkens as soon as we walk in the door. He finds a random box of herbal tea and demands I buy it. When I politely decline, he says in a low, growly voice,

“You’re hurting my feelings,” 

It sounds more like a threat than a statement. I hurriedly pick up a few items but his demands to buy the tea are getting louder. When I turn to go, he refuses to leave until the tea has been purchased. 

For a second I consider buying it for an easy life but I know he’s bruising for a fight so we might as well get it over with now. I crouch down to talk to him using my firm, whispering voice especially reserved for dealing with tantrums in public. Ollie is clinging on to a shelf for dear life, loudly refusing to EVER. LEAVE. THE. SHOP!

I stand up and tell him I’ll wait for him outside. It looks like a tactic but actually I’m going to put down all my bags before I manhandle him off the premises.

“Having a hard time?”

I look up. It’s a man fixing the notice board opposite the shop. Oh dear. Maybe we were causing more of a scene than I realised.

By now Ollie has moved to the front of the shop to press his face against the glass; tongue out. I’m just negotiating him out of the door when the shop owner passes by.

“You deserve a medal, you really do,” she says. I laugh.

“I may be here for sometime,” I reply.

“Well we’ll get you a coffee if you need one,” chimes the workman, “we’ve all been there”. 

Wow. What a difference! I wish people were always this supportive in a tantrum situation. 

In the end, Ollie is so shocked by the workman’s offer to put him to work for the day, that he crys then accepts my offer of flapjack. I feed him tit-bits like a baby bird right there on the pavement. 

At home, very relieved to be back, I open the cupboard door to get out the mini Creme Eggs. THEY HAVE GONE!!! It’s enough to send a woman over the edge. I’ve been saving them for two months! I send Tom, who is in an important meeting  in London, a text. It begins: There is a crisis at home. Call immediately……

Turns out the eggs were melted down for ‘Daddy’s Delight’. If you are unaware of the phenomenon that is Daddy’s Delight , please read the post of the same name. 

In the event, I find eight rogue eggs at the back of the cupboard. It is a lottery which cupcakes contain them and which don’t.

  
The recipe (see below) works very well. I would highly recommend it. It may have been a painful process getting here, but I have been inspired and I’ll be experimenting with more chocolates-inside-cupcakes in the near future. Watch this space!

  
http://www.tamingtwins.com/2014/04/06/5-top-tips-for-the-best-cadburys-creme-egg-cupcakes/

Lasagne (gluten & dairy-free)

  

Tuesday 13th April

Lasagne. (Not lasagna, for the record). One of my favourite dishes and yet it hasn’t touched my lips for half a decade since the avenues of pleasure which are dairy and gluten were shut down to me. 

Always up for a challenge, I tell Tom I’m going to attempt a dairy and gluten-free version. His response is a mixture of delight: yes! We finally get to eat it again, and incredulity: lasagne without lashings of dairy? Where’s the fun in that? 

I start by wanting to make the ultimate bolognese. According to Felicity Cloake (see Guardian article below) this means the inclusion of chicken livers: they add a depth of flavour, apparently. 

I’m new to cooking with offal but according to nosetotipapp.com, chicken liver is the place to start your offal journey. I don’t plan to go very far on this journey but if it adds something to my lasagne, I’m willing to cross into unchartered territories. Added to which, the acupuncturist I see is always encouraging me to eat chicken liver because of its high iron content. So far I haven’t been able to bring myself to do it, but hidden in a lasagne makes it sound almost palatable. 

The phone rings just as I’m finely slicing the first liver. It’s my father-in-law. I haven’t spoken to another adult all day, and I’m cutting up offal for the first time; it leads to a long conversation. 

He cheerfully reminds me that the liver processes all the toxins and junk from the body, and that he wouldn’t touch them with a barge pole; then he expects to end the call. Not likely. I want to justify why I’m using them and give him a blow-by-blow account of how disgusting it is to cut up an animal’s organ. 

The béchamel sauce I make using Oatley milk, Pure spread and gluten-free flour. It’s a gamble but it seems to work. I sprinkle each layer of it in the lasagne with Pecorino cheese. This is another new for me. My friend, Helen, uses it for her daughter who is dairy-intolerant but can cope with sheep and goat products. It’s very salty but certainly jazzes up the béchamel. 

  

Next step is the dish (or pan if you are American). Learn from my mistake and don’t even attempt to cook lasagne without the right dish. I nearly come a cropper at the final hour: the bolognese and béchamel are made, the pasta sheets are blanching and there I am on hands and knees looking for a dish I do not own. 

The ideal dish needs to be at least two inches deep, preferably three to fit all the layers of lasagne in. For two people a 5″ X 7″ rectangular pan, or for four a 9″ X 13″ is what housewares.about.com recommends. http://housewares.about.com/od/bakewareservingware/qt/lasagnapans.htm 

Due to the dish issues (mine being too wide and too shallow) my lasagne lacks the structure I was hoping for. Still, I’ve come this far, (I can almost taste the lasagne!) I’m not going back now. I put it in the oven for half an hour. It’s got so late that the kids have had their bath and are in their pyjamas. They are nearly passing out with hunger on the kitchen floor.

I decide to make an occasion of this first-lasagne-in-five-years and we set the table for our first dinner of the year outside. I have one last check of Felicity Cloake’s article and am horrified to read that you should leave the lasagne to stand for twenty minutes once it comes out of the oven. You have to be kidding me?! I’d prefer a burnt mouth than having to look at a delicious cooked lasagne for twenty minutes!

As it is, the temperature in the garden has dropped so it cools as soon as it hits the plates: no burnt mouths necessary. Daisy and I fall upon the lasagne and demolish it. We have seconds and then thirds, then we remember we need to save some for Tom.  

 The gluten/dairy-freeness is not apparent at all. It may have failed on structure but it’s a BIG WIN on taste. What a joy to eat! 

And the chicken livers? I’m not completely ruling them out, (which is good as there’s half a bag to use up in the freezer), but they do need to be cut up VERY finely or the taste can be over-powering. Next time I will also add some chopped pancetta or streaky bacon to the bolognese too. 

For a first attempt though, I’m absolutely delighted. Welcome back, lasagne!

  

Ingredients: serves 6

Ragù alla bolognese:

  • onion, 1
  • carrot, 1, peeled
  • stick of celery, 1
  • garlic cloves, 2
  • olive oil, 3tbsp
  • minced beef, 500g
  • chicken’s liver, 50g (optional)
  • red wine, 100ml
  • passata, 500g
  • grated nutmeg
  • beef stock cube, one
  • dried oregano, half tsp
  • salt and pepper

Béchamel sauce

  • Pure spread, 50g
  • gluten-free plain flour, 50g
  • Oatley milk, 600ml
  • salt and pepper
  • Pecarino (ewe’s cheese) or soya cheese, a sprinkling for the top of each layer, approx 30g
  • 9 sheets of gluten-free dried pasta

Method

Finely slice the onion, garlic, carrot and celery. 

Heat 2 tbsp of oil in a large frying pan or heavy based saucepan with lid. Fry the onion gently until softened. Add the carrot, celery and garlic and cook for five minutes. 

Turn up the heat to medium and add the minced beef. Cook until it has browned, stirring regularly. 

Finely chop the chicken liver (the finer the better!) and add to the frying pan, cooking it for three minutes. 

Add the wine, passata, crumbled stock cube, oregano and a pinch of nutmeg. 

Bring it to a simmer, then partially cover and continue to gently simmer for 30 minutes. Stir occasionally. 

Preheat the oven to gas mark 6 / 200 degrees. 

Make the béchamel sauce: in a heavy bottom pan, melt the Pure spread, then whisk in the flour. Stir and let it cook for a few minutes, then gradually add the Oatley milk, whisking it in. Bring to the boil, then allow to simmer and thicken for five minutes. Keep stirring throughout. Season. 

Bring a large saucepan of water to the boil. Blanch the lasagne sheets in batches for two minutes. Leave to dry on a tea towel or greased plate. 

  

Now layer it up in the dish: a third of the bolognese, followed by a quarter of the béchamel and a sprinkling of the Pecerino. Top with three sheets of lasagna. Repeat the process three times finishing with a layer of béchamel and a big sprinkle of Pecerino.

Cook for 30 minutes until golden. Enjoy!

  

http://fornetto.com/blog/lasagna-or-lasagne/

http://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/wordofmouth/2011/nov/24/how-to-cook-perfect-lasagne