Saturday, 22 December 2012

Mince-pie Day

We made mince pies

Well, obviously we made mince pies, it's that time of year after all.
This is basically a Nigella lawson recipe, with a few alterations*.


240g plain flour
60g Trex-type vegetable fat
60g Butter cut into small cubes
An orange or so
A teeny pinch of salt
Icing sugar
Mincemeat (normally I'd make my own, that being half the point of these pies, however this year, for several reasons, that did not happen)

Put the flour into a big bowl, throw in the cubes of butter, and stir them around a little so they get covered in flour.

Take little blobs of the Trex (or whatever fat you're using) and flick them into the flour bowl too.
Keep going till you run out of Trex, then stir the bowl again until everything is floured.

Now put the bowl in the freezer.
Alternatively, if you live on planet Earth and your freezer is full of food, put it somewhere very cold and surround it with ice cubes.
Traditionally we would put it in our freezing-cold annexe, however, as the annexe isn't actually freezing cold this year, we settled for building an ice-cube igloo around the bowl.

Leave the bowl there for an hour or so and go and talk about global warming, make paper chains, or watch the Muppets Christmas Carol, while it becomes very, very cold.

Squeeze an orange into a cup or jug, add a little salt and put this into your fridge, or, if the fridge is full too, stick it next to the bowl of flour.

Complain bitterly about recipes that assume you own a food processor**

Fetch the bowl of flour and fats, and very quickly rub the fat into the flour to produce a breadcrumbly mess***

Now pour in the salty orange juice, stir it in, then use your hands to bring the whole mess together.
If you need more liquid squeeze another half orange, but only add as much as you absolutely have to.

Make the dough into two balls, stick them in the fridge****.

Now go and sing some carols for a while.
If you have snow, make a snowman.
Also, know that I hate you.

Turn on the oven to a high pie-setting (The original recipe suggests 220).

Now roll out ball of dough number one and cut out as many circles as you can.
You should be able to fill at least one and a half fairy-cake trays*****, but you may need to reroll it a little.
Make sure the circles are big enough to fill the indentations in the trays: they don't need to be big, but they do need to reach the sides******.

Use the left over pastry to cut out little stars, or other fiddly decorative things, to go on top of the pies.

Now repeat this with the other ball until you have filled two trays with little circles.
Leave the rest of the dough for later.

Put a blob of mincemeat onto each circle of pastry and top with a star
Put the pies into the oven for ten minutes.

Meanwhile roll and cut out as many circles and stars as you can manage, ready for the next batch.

As soon as the pies are ready, take them out of the trays and leave them to cool.

The minute the trays are cool, put in the next batch of pies and cook as before.

Once everything's out, sprinkle them with a little icing sugar.
A little.
At least try not to get it absolutely everywhere.

Let them cool.

Eat one.
Save the rest.

Or you could just make more.
You probably have some mincemeat left over, after all.

*And a lot of sarcasm.

**This invocation to the domestic gods is obligatory, even if you do, in fact, own a food processor.
It's not as if the writers could see into your kitchen after all.
Or is it?

***If you own a food-processor you could do this the easy way.
The laws of cosy Yuletide baking, demand otherwise however.

****Or, you know, somewhere that actually has room for two balls of dough.
Somewhere cold though.

*****If you don't have trays with little indentations in them you could probably get away with using fairy-cake cases.
The pies might come out a little crinkly round the edges though.

******Ours do not reach the sides.

Friday, 14 December 2012

Pidea day

We didn't make anything.
We've all had a stupid fluey cold, and nobody feels like baking.
We went to the cinema instead.

We will be making cheese and leek rolls, which are basically just cheese and onion rolls but with leeks instead of cheese.
Since I was feeling guilty for my cinema-enabled laziness* I thought I'd better post something, so here's the basic idea behind the rolls.
You can vary this by changing the cheese you use, or the accompaniments, or the pastry, or all of them frankly.

Cheese and Leek Rolls


Premade puff pastry
Some feta cheese
Some gruyere
A leek or two
A little pepper (and salt if you like that sort of thing)
A beaten egg or a little milk

First chop the leek finely, into itty, bitty, tiny pieces.
Grate the gruyere and crumble the feta.

Now roll out the pastry into a reasonable rectangle, and cut this down the middle into two wide strips.

Distract eldest child with workbooks or something and summon toddler for cheese-based bonding** session.

Scrub toddler liberally, then show her*** how to mix the different ingredients.

Let her play.
Hide, if necessary.

When everything is combined, take whatever didn't go on the floor, season, and show her how to sprinkle it onto the pastry.

If anything survives, fold over the sides of the pastry strip to make two long rolls then cut these to whatever length you want.

Arm the toddler with a pastry brush, and allow to splat the beaten egg or milk all over the rolls.

Put them into a medium oven for twenty minutes or so.

If you dare.

*Though given that the film was Tinkerbell: The Secret of the Wings, I don't feel all that guilty.

**Hopefully of the emotional, rather than literal, variety.

***Or him, or whatever, really.

Thursday, 13 December 2012

Catching Up

I've been pretty quiet lately, what with one thing* and another**.
This doesn't mean that we haven't done anything though.
In fact, we've finished our Houses project.
I really didn't find this one as inspiring as the others we've done, but I'm glad I persevered as Ellie was terribly keen and, in the end, we got through an awful lot.

So, what have we been doing?

We've experimented with construction materials.

Experimented on our constructions.

Built a dwelling or five.

Re-written the classics***.

And played a few games.

Somewhere along the way education occurred****.



***On the subject of the classics, The Jolly Postman is a triumph of the Wold Newton genre.
Many thanks to Nicky for the loan.

****Ok we did some other things too, like reading books, talking about houses, pointing out different buildings while we were out, and so on.
But I didn't get any good photos of those.

Friday, 7 December 2012

Harried pieday

We made a Homity Pie.

Supposedly this is a frugal recipe from the days of rationing.
I think it's changed a little

Homity Pie

150g flour, in a half and half mixture of white and wholemeal (or whatever you want)
150g butter and another couple of blobs for cooking and greasing
One egg, beaten
A good bit of grated cheese (maybe 200g, whatever you have, really) preferably strong cheddar
Two or three leeks
One or two onions
A clove or so of garlic (just so it doesn't feel left out)
Whatever greenery you want to use up, chopped and/or blanched if necessary
Some potatoes, probably one more than you think you'll need
A little thyme and/or parsley

Peel the potatoes and cut them into thick slices.
Clean and slice the leeks, peel and slice the onion or onions (into rings, not fragments) and chop or crush the garlic.

Parboil the potatoes for about eight minutes, drain, and cut into medium sized chunks.

Go back in time to the point at which you put the potatoes on to boil, melt a blob of butter in a pan and sweat the leeks, onions and garlic.

Mix the chunks of potato with the softened, slightly golden allium**, then stir in the cheese.

Leave this for a while and get on with the pastry***.

Stir the flours to ensure they are properly combined, then rub in the butter till it resembles breadcrumbs.
Stir in the beaten egg and squidge it with your hands till you have a soft dough somewhere between uncooked shortbread and a raw cheesecake-base.

Do your best to roll out this sticky, crumbly mass, then press it into a pie dish or cake tin, trimming the edges neatly.

Ladle in the filling, sprinkle the herbs on top and put it into a medium pie-oven (about 180 for us) for between forty and forty five minutes.

Serve with mashed squash and whatever green vegetables you have unpied.

*Eleanor, despite still suffering some confusion over irregular verbs, seems to have got the hang of whom, for some reason I find this terribly amusing.

**I just really like using that word.

***Or don't bother, I'm not really sure about the need for pastry here, I suppose it's a more respectable looking main course when encased in a crust, but it makes a fairly wonderful cheese, allium****, and potato bake without it.

****Did you know that chives are also allium?
Allium, allium, allium.

Monday, 3 December 2012

Post Office

Christmas preparation has truly begun, presents bought, credit card crying, and letter to Santa written.

The only problem how to post the letter to Santa?

Well as part of the homes project we were looking addresses and how post works, so Ellie and Amelia (with help from Phoebe), making use of boxes collected through the year (YES their finally gone!) made a Post office

Phoebe Investigates

Friday, 30 November 2012

Preparative Pieday

We made sweet potato and chilli strudlets.
 I would much rather play with the kids than do housework*.
Given that Christmas is approaching, bearing with it glad tidings of far too much cookery, I thought it would make sense to make, and freeze, as much as possible in advance.
 Admittedly, little nibble pies aren't normally considered a vital part of the Yuletide feast, but why should we let that stop us?
Besides, we invented these ourselves**.

Sweet Potato and Chilli Strudlets


A packet of filo pastry***
A sweet potato
A handful of grated cheese
A couple of chillies, more if you want
Some not-even-a-little-bit-virgin olive oil

Put the sweet potato into the oven to bake for an hour or so.
If there's another adult in the house, go out to the library**** or something until it's done.

Take the potato out of the oven to cool a little while you***** chop the chillies

Put the chillies and cheese into a bowl, scoop out the warm sweet potato flesh and mix the lot together.

Next take a sheet of filo and brush or spray it with olive oil, then fold it lengthways.

Put a blob of the sweet potato mixture at one end of the pastry strip and fold the whole thing over a couple of times till it's all wrapped up.
Poke some little slits in the top with the tip of a knife, then press the sides of the filo down around the filling and trim off any excess to leave a neat bundle.

Take another sheet of filo and make another one.
Keep going until you have run out of pastry, filling, or patience.

Now either put into a medium pie-oven for between fifteen and twenty minutes, or put onto a plate and stick in the freezer (decant them into a bag or jar when they're frozen solid) until needed.
The frozen ones should take about twenty minutes to cook.

We made six of these, but the last sheet of filo was so tattered by the time we got through with it that we declared that one our tester.
Eleanor was allowed to try it, on the condition that if it turned out to be agonisingly hot she would at least try to scream amusingly, so we could film her and put the results on Youtube.
She agreed happily, and seemed somewhat disappointed when it turned out to be only pleasantly warm and, in fact, rather nice.

*This is nothing new, admittedly, I didn't particularly enjoy it before I had children.
I basically only got pregnant to have an excuse to skip the vacuuming.

**You have been warned

***One day, when Phoebe is older, and we are truly bored, we will learn to make our own filo.
For now, pastry you can read the newspaper through is a little beyond our capabilities.

****Our local library has just closed down.

We are very sad.
I may rant about this later, when I've written the other half-dozen blog posts I have in mind.

*****This part really shouldn't be done by a small child, as the capsaicin in the chillies will get on their fingers, and thence onto anything they touch, like eyes and make it burn like, well, like blazes.
I would advise you to avoid this
Of course if you have a compulsive nose-picker you may feel differently.
 No, really, even then.

Friday, 23 November 2012

Spinach Pieday

We made a spinach pie.
I keep coming up with spinach pies, they're all fairly similar really, one day I will perfect the formula, and then I will stop.


Some sort of pastry (we went with puff, rough puff, or even shortcrust would probably be better)
An onion
Some spinach
A tub of ricotta
Some pecorino romano
Two eggs
Olive oil or garlic-infused olive oil
Garlic (unless you used the infused oil)
A dab of mildish mustard
Maybe some ground nutmeg

Slice the onions and separate into rings, or at least into long stringy bits.
Put a splash of oil into a pan* and add a blob of butter, put it onto the heat and wait until the butter has melted, then throw in the onions.
Try not to stir them too much, just poke them occasionally to stop them burning.

Realise the shopping has been delivered, go and get it.
Come back to find that the onions are, umm, golden brown.
Very golden brown.
Tell yourself they're caramelised.
Imagine some celebrity chef talking about how wonderful they are, use lots of adjectives.

Dump them out into a bowl before they bur...caramelise more.

Chop the spinach.

Add a little more butter to the pan if needed and dump in the spinach, stir it about on the heat until it is all wilted.
Add nutmeg if you feel like it.

Line some kind of pie dish with the pastry.

Fill the lined dish with the spinach, spreading it out to cover the bottom.

Sprinkle the onions on top.

Now beat the eggs in a bowl, dump in the ricotta and stir it till it looks like really bad scrambled eggs**.
Add a little salt and black pepper if you would like.
Stir in the mustard.
Grate in the pecorino romano, or whatever hard cheese you're using instead.
Stir it all some more.

Blob this on top of the spinach and spread it out.

Put the pie into a medium heat pie oven for about twenty-five minutes.
Realise that you forgot the mustard and that it is now too late to do anything about it.

Take it out, stare in horror at your wobbly creation.
Eat, with green beans, some sort of potato dish, and the surprising realisation that it's actually quite nice.
And the onions really do seem to be caramelised.
It would have been better with mustard though.

*A big pan works better, not really for the onions but for the spinach later on.

**You know: those really pale ones cheap cafeterias do, where you can look into their pallid depths and see visions of sad, moulting chickens, crammed into cramped, dark, despaired filled cages.
Or is that just me?

Sunday, 11 November 2012

Other People's Problems

I warn you now: this is liable to turn into a ramble.

Still with me?
More fool you.

Phoebe is becoming more and more mobile these days.
At home she trots about merrily and has to be kept away from the stairs at all costs, lest she dash up them like a mountain goat spotting a deliciously rare and endangered herb.
Out and about she's still in the sling*, but I don't think it's going to last much longer: She's tall enough to kick me in the legs when I walk, and she's taken to trying to climb out** whenever she sees anything interesting.
 So slinging has become a little more awkward, which has made me somewhat nostalgic for the days of having a tiny, portable, snuggly thing that, however enormous she seemed at the time, was unlikely either to climb on top of my head or to kick me in the shins.
It has also left me oddly reminiscent.
 You see, most people these days don't have to worry about these things: their kids are in prams or buggies, and in order to kick your mother in the shins from a pram, you'd need legs like one of the Harlem Globetrotters.
They don't have to worry about getting the knot in the wrong place, or catching their breastfeeding-necklace*** in the folds, and winding up with a crick in the neck either.
 So when I innocently mentioned this problem at the kids' playgroup**** one day I was met with an incredulous stare and "Why don't you just use a buggy?"

This was also the question when I had trouble managing my heavy bag while holding Eleanor's hand in one of my hands, and a paper plate full of drying clay things in the other.
It's true, the journey home was somewhat awkward, but how exactly it would help to replace my comfortably slung and unburdensome baby with a pair of handles, bringing the total number of hands needed to four, I have no idea.
 When I pointed this out no-one else seemed to have a very concrete idea either*****.
Everyone just assumed that my sling must be the problem.
In fact it was probably the only reason I got home with both children and the wretched plateful of abstract lumps more or less intact.

The thing that I have noticed is that whenever one makes choices that are different to those of the majority, it is automatically assumed that those choices must make things more difficult.
 In fact it is usually the reverse: My sling means that I can communicate easily with Phoebe when we are out and about, yet still keep in touch with Eleanor as well, it means that I can hold Eleanor's hand and carry Phoebe while still having a hand free to manage my bagful of cloth nappies and anything  my offspring see fit to present me with.
 It means I can feed Phoebe wherever we are, whatever I'm doing, without having to stop what I'm doing and sit down.

When I look at a buggy, on the other hand, all I see is problems.
 You can't see what's happening in a buggy, you can't talk to your baby and see them smile, you certainly can't breastfeed in one.
Wheels aren't as agile as legs: our playgroup is up a flight of stairs, which the buggies can't climb, so they have to use a ramp.
For buildings without a ramp, the buggy has to be heaved awkwardly up the steps in the poor parents arms, or else bunny-hopped up the steps more awkwardly still, jolting the child within with every step.
Buggies are bulky: at playgroup they have to be left outside lest they take up all the room, on buses there is room for only one or two, even folded they take up too much space.
I have watched, feeling ridiculously guilty, as a woman was ejected from a bus we rode on, along with her two children and their buggy, to make room for a wheelchair.
I was sitting comfortably on a seat, with Phoebe on my lap and Eleanor curled bedside me.

But imagine how someone would react if I went up to them, as they struggled to fit their buggy into a tiny space, or to heave it up the rainslicked stairs without it slipping all the way down again, and asked: "Why don't you just use a sling?"
Once they'd recovered from the mind-numbing rudeness of my question they would probably come to the conclusion that I was completely potty.
 Because buggy-users don't really see these problems.
Obviously they acknowledge them, they encounter them frequently enough after all, but they don't perceive them as the ridiculous, near-insurmountable barriers to normal function that they appear to me.
Because they aren't.
They're just ordinary, day-to-day annoyances, problems that most people face, no more burdensome than a traffic jam at five in the evening, or finding that there wasn't as much milk in the fridge as you had thought.

When a thing seems normal and natural the problems associated with that thing seem normal too
  To me it is normal to throw nappies into the washing machine when enough have been used, it seems normal, too, to let a baby use a potty as soon as they are able.
To someone who uses disposables that daily wash may seem a terrible lot of work, the trouble of helping a baby onto a potty ridiculous, just as the cost and trouble of buying packet after packet of nappies, of disposing of them all, and of continuing this for what my filtered vision views as an interminable period, seems a ludicrous amount of trouble to me.
To me breastfeeding my child****** is normal, natural and obvious, but to someone who bottle-fed their child not by necessity, or even by choice, but from the plain assumption that that is how babies are fed, the very idea must seem as alien and improbable as making up formula feeds does to me.

Many of our decisions are not truly decisions, they are the results of cultural conditioning so subtle that we don't even know it's happening.
We see, and learn by seeing, we hear, and learn by hearing.
We learn and we do, and so teach in our turns.
We create our memes, our norms, we shape the world around us.
 We live in miniature tribes, in nations not shown upon the map, what the people of our culture do, we do too.
When a foreigner crosses our borders, with strange exotic traditions and peculiar practises, we stop and stare.

 I'm not too worried when people blink at the visitor from Hippybeatnikland, with her silly customs and her funny ideas.
I don't want to convert people, I mean, obviously I believe my way is right or I wouldn't do it, but I don't really care if they aren't naturalised Hippybeatniks themselves*******.
 But whether I want to or not, every time I do something differently, every time somebody sees me do something differently, I change their perception of the world.
I shape the world as well, and the more I am seen to wear my sling with a smile, to feed my child with happy confidence, to do whatever else I do that makes people do that weird double-take when they talk to me, I remind them that there are other ideas out there.

So I don't really mind if they stare.
Besides, I can't wait to find out what problems I'm having when they hear we home educate.

*Not all the time, I mean not in the car, and not at playgroup and things like that, just on the way.
You know what I mean, why am I trying to explain this?
Sorry, I said it would be rambley didn't I?

**More pour-herself-out-backwards-and-land-on-her-head really, which isn't the best idea.

***Breastfeeding-necklace: a cunning device designed to stop the baby from pulling your hair by giving them something else to pull.
Apparently this "something else" is, in fact, my nipple.
Who knew?

****Also known as Lowestcommondenominatorland: parents here embody the antithesis of every parenting ideal I hold dear, except the one about loving your children.

*****Except to say that the paper plate could go "in the tray underneath".
 I didn't know that buggys had trays underneath, the foldey buggy thing that came with our car seat doesn't seem, on inspection, to have one anyway.
Even assuming this innovation however, that would still leave me needing three hands to manage everyone safely, which is still sufficient hands to have me shipped off to the post-apocalyptic badlands.

******Probably the most emotive parenting choice there is, I don't want to go into too much detail here as plenty of people (like, say, my friend Nicky) already do a better job of discussing it look: a penguin with a hat!

*******Disclaimer: actually I care quite a lot about some of it.
Sometimes I even say something.

Friday, 9 November 2012

Cosy Pieday

We made a fruit crumble.

The last of our gooseberries and blackcurrants were taking up far too much of our freezer.
The obvious solution was to crumble them.
This is the basic recipe, I haven't given quantities because it all depends on what you've got.
I also haven't included any spices but if you want to add vanilla to your rhubarb crumble, or put cinnamon crumble on top of your apples, go ahead.
You could even make a Pear and Chocolate Crumble*.

Fruit Crumble

Fruit (whatever you have)
Half as much butter as flour (by weight)
The same amount of sugar as butter (again by weight)
More sugar for the fruit (if you want).

Chop the fruit if it needs it and put it in an oven dish.
Add any extra sugar or spices and give it a stir.

Put everything else into a big bowl and crumble it together with your fingers.

Spread this on top of the fruit.

If the fruit isn't covered you need more crumble topping.

If you can't make more crumble, you needed to use less fruit.

Put it into a highish pie oven (200 was fine for us) until the top is golden brown and it looks like a fruit crumble.

Let it cool for a bit and serve.

Add custard or cream if you like that sort of thing.

Devour nostalgically.

*Just don't ask me to eat it.

Friday, 2 November 2012

Evil Pieday

We made a pumpkin pie.
Swearing was involved*.
 The thing is, the recipe called for a pre-made base and a can of pumpkin purée, and I, being a strange and petty person at times, thought it would be funny to do exactly what it said.
So I bought the can of purée.
It was made by a company called Libby's.
What I didn't know, and what Ocado's information page didn't tell me, was that Libby's is a subsidiary of Nestlé**.
I didn't just buy a can of purée, I bought an evil can of purée.

Me and my stupid ironic-kitsch sense of humour.

If you can't find a more virtuous brand of purée, I recommend just boiling and mashing a normal pumpkin*** instead.

Pumpkin Pie

One pre-made pie case
One can of non-evil pumpkin purée, or the puréed insides of one pumpkin****
One carton of totally non-evil (which means non-Carnation) evaporated milk*****
150 grammes of brown sugar
Another 75 grammes of brown sugar for the topping
Ground cinnamon to taste
Ground nutmeg likewise
Ground ginger ditto
Ground cloves as above
Two eggs
75 grammes of pecan nuts
A blob of butter
A tiny pinch of salt.

Get the swearing over with quietly and get on with the pie

Turn the oven on to a high pie-setting, 220 was fine for us

Put everything but the pie-case, nuts, butter, salt and second lot of sugar into a bowl and stir vigorously till you have a bowl of dark orange gloop.
Try not to get any on the walls.

Pour it into the pie-case and put it into the oven on a tray.

Leave the oven on high for fifteen minutes, then turn it down to a low pie-setting (around 180 for us)

Meanwhile express rage at the evil and deceptive nature of certain companies by smashing the pecans to itty bitty bits with the end of a rolling pin.

Put them into a bowl with all the remaining ingredients and stir like crazy.

Go and brood darkly over Baby Milk Action websites till the timer goes off.

Take out the pie and sprinkle the crumbly nut mixture all over the top.

Put it back into the oven for another ten minutes.

Take it out and leave to cool.

Eat it, or, should every bite turn to ashes in your mouth, cut into slices and serve to unsuspecting innocents.

*Well, not real swearing, daytime television swearing, but this is me we're talking about, it's a big deal.

**Those who have been lurking under rocks may like to visit Baby Milk Action to see why this matters to me.

*** Not the whole pumpkin, just the solid orangey yellowy inside bit that's left after you scrape out all the seeds and gloopy stuff.

**** Oh, and make sure you get a decent pumpkin, most of the ones in the shops at this time of year are grown for carving and are fairly tasteless and watery.

*****This is easier to buy than it sounds, Sainsbury's and Morrison's both stock it.
You see why I came over all ironic-kitsch though?
I mean, pre made pie cases, canned pumpkin, and evaporated milk, it's nineteen-fifties America in a pie.

Thursday, 1 November 2012

L.A la la

Halloween has just passed and it strikes me as a good time to talk about one of the Home Educator's greatest fears: the Local Authority.

The fact is that the Local Authority doesn't actually have any authority over home educators: we aren't required to see them, we don't have to submit our work for their consideration, we needn't, in fact, have anything to do with them at all.
 Similarly, the L.A isn't required to do anything either, unless they have reason to believe that a home educated child is not, in fact, receiving an education.
  So why worry?

The problem is that not all L.As are aware of this.
If you read the Home Education section on a few L.A websites you'll find that while some go to the trouble of mentioning that all their services are entirely voluntary, others will state that they "require" Home Educating parents to inform them of their intentions, submit an outline of their plan for education, meet with their representative every few months, or follow other, entirely imaginary, requirements.
 One L.A even states that its purpose is "To get home-schooled children back to school", which is hardly encouraging to the home educating parent.
  Some L.A representatives take things even further.
There have been cases* of L.A representatives demanding private interviews with children, threatening to call social services unless a deregistered*** child was returned to school, actually calling social services with fabricated complaints****, and repeatedly turning up on the doorstep uninvited and unannounced, demanding a meeting.
 So it's hardly surprising that when home educators talk about the L.A everyone gets a little nervous.

Part of the problem is the Badman Review.
Badman made a lot of recommendations about home education: he wanted us to be required to register our plans, to submit to regular interviews, to allow our children to be interviewed in private, and quite a few other things as well*****.
In fact none of these recommendations were followed, the review found they were unnecessary, and that should have been the end of that.
 Unfortunately many L.As took these recommendations to heart, and although none of them were eventually passed into law, they tend to act as though they were.
Add to this the fact that while one representative may be perfectly reasonable another one may not and you can see why things can get a little scary.

Some home educators avoid the matter by simply not telling the L.A that they are home educating.
Others jump through all their hoops out of fear of threatened reprisals.
 Others send terse letters informing their L.A that they will be home educating, they know the law, and they want nothing more to do with them thank you very much.
In each case, sometimes all is well, sometimes problems arise, it all depends you see.
In the case of deregistered children things are even harder as parents cannot avoid telling the L.A and, in addition, have to deal with their child's erstwhile school which, again, may be perfectly reasonable or may take things very badly indeed.

Since we don't have to deregister our daughters from anywhere, and aren't required to tell anyone that we are home educating, it may seem strange that we intend to inform our L.A.
 The thing is: we don't want to hide away.
We aren't ashamed to be home educating, we think it's the best plan for our children, we don't want home education to be a secret, furtive thing.
 And then, the more people who do keep quiet, the less people are seen to home educate, the more it will seem like a strange, freakish thing, the choice of hippies and religious fundamentalists, not something that normal people do.
 Yes this is still us I'm talking about.
So, hippy or not, we will stand up and be counted.
We will write a nice, polite letter.
We will allow an occasional visit.
When they come we will give them tea and perhaps even a biscuit.
 If our representative is too pushy we will be diplomatic, we will, in as friendly a way as is possible, let them know that we understand what is and is not required, we will not allow things to become heated.
We will still give them the biscuit.
Hopefully all will go well

*I'm not going to go into detail here, these are things I've heard from the often quite scared people in question, they're personal stories and even if I had permission to share them I wouldn't really like the idea.**

** Yes, I know my footnotes are usually funnier than that.

*** Deregistered: officially removed from the school system, it sounds impressive but you just have to write a letter.

**** Fortunately the social workers in question soon saw that there wasn't a problem but it was a terrifying time for the parents and children, and it wasted the social workers' time.

*****Sound familiar?

Friday, 26 October 2012

Left-over Pieday

We made things.
This was meant to be a Malaysian Curry Puffs day: I saw a recipe on Ocado, I bought the ingredients**, we were all set.
Then I accidentally got a pot of vegetable curry with my shopping*.
I didn't want to just eat it, I didn't know what else to do with it, so obviously I decided to make a pie out of it.
 Well, pies really.

This is a good recipe to use if you have leftover curry, ours included rice, which actually worked very well, but leftover rice can be a difficult issue: use your own judgement on this.
Also, like the last one***, it's very quick, so it's handy if you need something for lunch in a hurry.

Left-over Curry Puffs

Left-over curry (with or without rice)
Puff pastry (ready rolled unless you have plenty of time)
Mango Chutney
A little milk

Preheat the oven to your usual pie temperature.

Roll out the pastry and cut it into circles, making sure that you have an even number.

Put half the circles onto a lined baking tray and place a spoonful of curry on each, leaving a clear rim around the outside.

Add a dab of mango chutney.

Put one of the remaining circles on top of each pile of curry and chutney, stretching it a little if you need to to make it fit.
Seal the puffs around the edges, pierce with a fork, and brush with milk.

Now put them into the oven for about fifteen minutes.

Remove, pile onto a plate and serve, preferably with some kind of raita****.

*No, really, these things happen.

** Woe is me, now I have to use these too.

*** Make both, add some tiny tarts (watch this space) and have an entirely pie based afternoon tea!

**** Especially handy if your left-overs turn out not to make very good pies: sufficient dip will conceal all evils.

Never Ending Pieday

We are still making danish pastries.

This was going to be a two-day Pieday anyway: the pastry needs to be left in the fridge overnight.
However it turns out that we don't have any icing sugar in the house*, so they'll have to wait a little longer before we can ice them.
We also did not have any baking parchment or, apparently, a spatula.
This was unfortunate.
Also somewhat awkward was the fact that the only recipe I have for danish pastry is Nigella Lawson's Processor Danish Pastry**.
We do not have a food processor.
Luckily I managed to extrapolate a working recipe from the ruins of her creation.
It only later occurred to me that I could have just looked on the internet.

Danish Pastries


60ml warm water
125ml milk (not too cold)
One egg
350g flour (bread flour is best)
15g yeast or one sachet of that instant yeast stuff
A pinch of salt
25g caster sugar
250g butter, straight from the fridge

Everything Else

Another egg
A little milk
100g icing sugar
Another 100g caster sugar
Fruit or something, to fill the pastries

Mix the water, milk and egg (break it first) in a jug and leave it to one side

Mix all the other pastry ingredients except the butter in a bowl.

Cut the butter into small chunks and stir them thoroughly but quickly (so they don't melt) into the dry ingredients.

Pour in the liquid ingredients and quickly stir it all up with a wooden spoon or spatula.

It should look like Swamp Thing's butter-based cousin.

Cover the bowl and put it in the fridge overnight.

Go to bed.

Get up.

Get breakfast.

Get dressed.

Maybe do a little housework.

Get the bowl out of the fridge and roll the gunk out on a floured surface till you have a pastryesque sheet of buttery stuff.

Fold it into thirds (like a letter) and roll it out again.

Turn it round and do that again.

And again.

And once more with feeling.

Now put it in the fridge again for half an hour****

Take it out and cut it into squares, twelve if you're using all of it, six if you've saved half.

Put whatever you're using for the filling in the middle of each square, pretty much any fruit works for this.
We used blackcurrants, because we had some in the freezer, with a little blackcurrant jam to sweeten the sour fruits of our garden's less than magnificent harvest.

Fold them up in some appropriately attractive danish-pastry-looking fashion, pinching opposite corners together works well.

Put them on a baking tray, use baking parchment, please.

Beat the egg in the splash of milk, brush it over the pastries and leave them to rise for an hour and a half.

Now turn the oven on to your usual low setting (180 for us) and, if you're lucky enough to have somewhere other than an oven to leave your bread-like pastry substances,  get them out and put them in the oven.

After fifteen minutes get them out and put them on a rack or something to cool.
If you didn't use baking parchment at least try to use a proper spatula to pry them off with.
Don't try to do it with a potato masher.
Trust me on this.

While they're cooling mix the other hundred grammes of sugar with sixty millilitres of water, then brush this over the pastries.

Let them cool completely, then mix the icing sugar with a spoonful or so of water and drizzle squiggly lines over the pastries.


*I now remember throwing it away because it was the wrong colour: icing sugar is supposed to be white, this wasn't.

** At least she mentioned the processor in the title: I hate it when recipes just potter merrily along then suddenly unleash words like whizz on the unsuspecting technophobe.***

***Yes, this is a blog.
 Yes, it's written on a computer.
Were you expecting consistency?

**** This will make about a dozen danish pastries, unless you need a dozen danish pastries you might want to cut half of the pastry off and put it in the freezer.
Next time you want danish pastries you get to be all smug and domesticated-looking without actually working.

Tuesday, 23 October 2012

Feelin' Blasé

Eleanor has a new project.

Her previous projects have been a lot of fun*: raising caterpillars, digging up worms, hunting down dinosaurs, we've both had a great time.
 This latest one, however, somehow just doesn't grab me.
The project is on houses.
She chose it herself, which is a wonderful thing: she looked at the world around her and thought "I want to know more about this".
Intellectually I'm thrilled.
Emotionally** I'm less excited.

Don't misunderstand me: we've plenty to do, we won't be sitting around saying "So...houses huh? They're those things with the walls and the pointy bits on top.  Er...".
There ought to be plenty to pique my interest: we're looking at different styles of house, what we need in our homes****, what houses are like in other countries, what they were like in the past, how addresses work*****, What houses might be like in the future, all sorts of things.
 We're going to look at the way Ellie's own ancestors lived, and talk about the problems faced by people whose houses don't belong in any one town, or community.
 We're even going to make models of all the different kinds of home, and put them all together to make a miniature town.

But somehow it all leaves me a little...flat.
I can't shake the sense that we're just going to be sitting on the floor making houses out of cardboard.

This, of course, is one of the realities of home education: sometimes it isn't fun, sometimes what one person enjoys, another won't.
If it were Eleanor or Phoebe who was stuck in the doldrums I'd be looking for a way to tow them out again, perhaps by looking at things in a different way, or by scrapping the whole project in favour of some hands-on investigation of the art of paper-making.
As it is though, Eleanor's having a pretty good time, so all I can do is carry on and try not to dampen her enthusiasm.
Who knows? Maybe I'll learn something along the way.

*As opposed to alot of fun

** Which is the more usual way one experiences thrilledness***

*** Pronounced thrilledness, no particular reason, it just sounds better that way.

****Shelter! Beds! Food! Loo roll! An enormous library!

*****With sneaky hidden maths.

Monday, 22 October 2012


For some reason my last Pieday post did not appear when I posted it.
Sorry about that.

Friday, 12 October 2012

Moon Pieday

We made a mess.

It all started when Richard bought a packet of Wagon Wheels.
I, being of the vegetarian persuasion, cannot eat Wagon Wheels, or Marshmallow Teacakes, or moonpies*.
This is naturally a cause of some woe so, having nothing better to do one night** I decided to look for recipes.

It turns out that the internet is full of moonpie recipes.
Most of these I discarded at once: I don't know what it was, but something just told me that the combination of boiling syrup, a whisk, and a three year old wouldn't be a good idea.
One of those weird, psychic premonition things I suppose.

Then I discovered a cheats version: a recipe which skipped the make-your-own-marshmallow-ooze step in favour of a jar of marshmallow fluff.
Then I sulked a little, on the grounds that of course as a vegetarian I wouldn't be able to eat fluff.
Then I discovered that, Holy Cow***, Marshmallow Fluff is vegetarian.
And they sell it in the UK now.
And it isn't even expensive.

And thus was my doom sealed.

Really Quick Unbelievably Messy Moonpies


Biscuits, digestives are good, chocolate digestives save you time later
Chocolate, dark or milk according to preference.

You can also add peanut butter to make a terrifying hybrid Fluffernutter-Moonpie.

First hide anything you don't want to become unbelievably sticky.
Remove any clothing you cherish and say a prayer to any gods you think are listening.

Melt the chocolate over a bowl of boiling water.

Divide your biscuits into pairs, making sure one of each pair is chocolate side down.
If you did not buy chocolate biscuits this may take you some time.
The recipe we followed suggested that you set them out on a cooling rack, with a plate or tray underneath to catch the drips.
Having done this I suggest you just use a plate with a sheet of greaseproof paper on it.

Put a dollop of fluff on the chocolate-side-down biscuit of each pair.

Don't be tempted to use a big dollop, we did, because the recipe we were following claimed that they "could have used more", they were wrong: more makes a big oozy mess.
Like Swamp Thing on a plate.

Put the second biscuit of each pair on top of the fluff.

Now seal the biscuits with chocolate: splodge some on top of each moonpie and spread it over the top and round the sides to cover the biscuit and contain the fluff.

Leave to set.

If you bought non-chocolate biscuits**** then once they have set turn them over, melt some more chocolate and cover the bottoms.
Or leave them plain, but why would you want to do that?

Eat, licking the chocolate off your fingers.

As you can see from the pictures, ours oozed all over the place.
From this we learned that you shouldn't use too much fluff, or it'll seep out through the chocolate and go everywhere.
Really, everywhere.
We also learned that fluff is incredibly hard to get out of carpet.
Or hair.
Or clothes.

But who cares? The results were a sticky mess but we had a great time making it.

Of course everything has a downside: which in this case is the fact that I, usually an advocate of natural, real foods, now have most of a jar of fluff***** in the cupboard.
On the bright side: if the worst should happen I'm pretty sure this stuff could survive the apocalypse.

*Which are basically Wagon Wheels by any other name.

**Ok I had something better to do: I was feeding Phoebe, but I wasn't using my hands or all that much of my brain.



***** Neither natural nor particularly real.

Tuesday, 9 October 2012

Happy Birthday Phoebe!

Our smallest is one today! Ellie was convinced that now she was one she was going to be able to walk and talk and spent the first few minutes of the day trying to explain to Phoebe what she was doing wrong.

She has received much loot, Moon bases  Ride on mice, dolly's & phones, but by far the best present was the big box...actually at the moment the phone is winning

After a nice day she was made a cake by her big sister. It had to be star shaped as Phoebe is a star we're informed.

So a fruity, carrot cake infused with maple syrup and butter icing later Ellie and Amelia produce this!

Dear readers there are no pictures that follow this. Phoebe's first encounter with cakes and sugar was...interesting.

She spent the rest of the evening through her bath and into her bedtime giggling at just about everything.I have a feeling we're going to pay for that tonight or tomorrow with the comedown.

However a nice day was had by all.


Friday, 5 October 2012

Not Exactly Pieday

We made lemon meringue fairy cakes.
Now you may argue that these are not valid candidates for Pieday as they are not, in point of fact, pies.
You would, of course, be entirely wrong.
They are definitely pies, for their spiritual ancestor is none other than the lemon meringue pie.
They are therefore pies by descent, pies in spirit, and just as a drunk New Yorker on St Patrick's day is far more Irish than the most gaelic man ever to draw breath in Belfast, so these are far more truly pies than any mere filled party case could ever pretend to be.
Well, that's my story anyway.

Besides, these are amazing cakes.
Eleanor made them to sell, to raise money for rockhopper penguins*, and Richard took them in to work with him, to palm off on his coworkers for "whatever you think they're worth".
He sold nine cakes, he brought home over ten pounds, that's more than a pound a cake.
Even accounting for the obvious power of an endearing three year old raising money to help tiny aquatic butlers, that's pretty impressive.
So clearly these deserve their place in the spotlight, if only because everyone deserves a chance to make, and eat, them.
If you wanted to give some money to the penguins while you were at it I'm sure they'd appreciate that.

Lemon Meringue Fairy Cakes

125g butter
125g caster sugar
125g self raising flour
Two eggs
The juice and zest of one lemon
A tiny bit of vanilla extract

Lemon Meringue

One egg white
225g caster sugar
Some lemon curd

Preheat the oven to about 180 degrees, unless you think you know better than me, in which case you probably do so go with whatever you'd normally have done.

Beat the butter and sugar together till fluffy

Add the eggs, the lemon zest and the teeny bit of vanilla**
Beat it all again adding the flour a little at a time.

Now add just enough lemon juice to get a soft cake batter.

Share this between fairy cake cases***.
Put into the oven for ten minutes and quickly start making your meringue.****

Beat the egg whites.
When they form stiff peaks begin whisking in the sugar, bit by bit.
At no time should you leave the whisk leaning inside the bowl, particularly if the bowl is made of plastic.
Should you have been so irredeemably stupid as to do such a thing then as Eleanor to get a wet cloth while you separate another egg, then decide who is going to mop up and who should make the meringue.
Once all the sugar is whisked in you should have something white and glossy that will hold its shape when piled up in the bowl.
Stop whisking at this point because even if you didn't have to stop to mop up egg whites your cakes will probably be ready to come out.

Take out the cakes (they shouldn't be quite cooked yet so don't worry if they look pale).
Put a teaspoonful of lemon curd on top of each cake and cover with spoonfuls of meringue so that no yellow is visible then, once all the meringue is gone, put them back into the oven for at least five minutes.

Once the tops are risen, looking a little golden and generally meringue-like take them out and leave to cool, on a wire rack if you have one.

Now sell for an amazing profit or just eat them.
Share with any wandering penguins you encounter, but only if they ask nicely.

*Her original plan was to give the cakes to the penguins, she has since revised this and intends to give them the money.
She hopes they will spend it on something nice.
Perhaps more cakes.

**Seriously, it's more of an offering to the gods of cake than an actual attempt at flavouring.
It does make a difference to the finished cake, but it's hard to say how.

***And they are fairy cakes: they're little, delicate, nibblable things, not the mountainous creations of sponge and icing better known as cupcakes.

****This is what we did.
I've since found recipes for lemon meringue cakes online which suggest that you should add the lemon curd before putting the cakes into the oven.
I've even seen one that instructs you to add the lemon curd and the meringue all at once and just bake the lot for fifteen minutes.
I suggest trying all the methods to see how they work out.
And eating the results.
For Science!

Thursday, 4 October 2012

Spot the Home Edder

The other day Eleanor made a triceratops mask.
She was terribly proud of it and declared that she wanted to wear it to the library, to show it to the library ladies.
 So off we set, Eleanor in her mask and wellingtons*, me wearing Phoebe and hauling the bag of books, all of us stopping to talk about anything that struck us as interesting, and I thought: "Ye gods, we're a home-ed stereotype".
 It was about half past three, so as we walked we passed several groups of uniformed children, all making their way home from school.
I felt as if I might as well have been carrying a banner that read "Home Educating Crazies", the contrast between them with their regulation hair and shoes and us with our whatever-came-out-of-the-drawer fashion statements, seemed so intense I was sure we must stand out for miles.
 Then we got to the library and the first thing the librarian said was "Did you make that mask at school?"

The fact is that you can't identify a Home Educating family by sight**.
That girl wandering through the park in her bee costume, picking up worms?
Home Educated.
The kid in the television character t-shirt being dragged round the shops?
Home Educated.
The girl in the ballet school t-shirt and jeans practising pliés in the lobby.
The child who bumped a knee coming off the slide and cried for exactly eleven and a half seconds before climbing straight back up and doing it again.
The girl with the sensible plaits and "nice" coat who looks like she just stepped out of an old children's book***
That kid coming back from the park covered head to toe with mud.
All Home Educated.
In fact, in this case, all Eleanor.

I imagine that any of these might be somebody's idea of a typical home educated child, and I know there are many more: a quick scan of modern media presents the scary children from Cougar Town, the  Christian boy from Glee, scholarly warrior Carter Kane from the Kane chronicles****, and many more.
 And the thing that really stands out about them all is this: they're all different.
Even the worst stereotypes of sheltered religious children***** with no idea of how normal kids should behave differ wildly from one place to another.
 Which makes perfect sense to me.
Because Home Educated children differ so widely that, really, you can't pin them down, you can't stereotype them because there is no typical "type" to start from.
 The only thing they have in common is parents who, for whatever reason, don't send their children to school.
Apart from that, really they're as different as any other kids.
They're no different to any other kids

You probably pass home-edded children all the time and don't even notice them: on the bus, at the library, outside the cinema when you thought they should be in school.
We're like a bodysnatching alien invasion from the nineteen fifties: we're everywhere, we could be anybody, we look just like you.

Which is ok really, because, really, we are.

*It wasn't raining, she says she just wanted to make her feet all stompy.

** Unless they're all wearing T-shirts that say Free-Range Kids or something anyway.

***Five Children and It, or The Secret Garden, you know, something with lots of fresh air and knitted underthings.

****Yes, I read children's books.
Because they're good.

***** I know no children like this.
I do know Christian children who are home edded, and Muslim children, and Pagans, Jews, Atheists, and a bunch of others who may or may not believe in something or other but don't think it's worth talking about.

Friday, 28 September 2012

Emergency Pie Day

Richard keeps getting held up in traffic on the way home from work, which means he sometimes gets home very late indeed.
This is not a good thing, obviously, but it's particularly awkward when he's supposed to be making dinner.
Fortunately we are not without resources.
Emergency pie to the rescue!

We made a tomato tart/galette/thing.


A sheet of pre-made puff pastry
A punnet of cherry or baby plum tomatoes
Some chutney or caramelised onions or any other sticky stuff from a jar that you think will work
Cream cheese (ordinary Boursin is good)
Creme fraiche

Cut the pastry into squares, either score a border around the edge with a knife, or cut two strips to decorate each top with later.

Spread a little of your chutney or whatever you have on the pastry (if you have a border leave this free).
Share the tomatoes between these sticky squares.

If you have cut decorative strips then arrange these over the top in a cross pressing them firmly into the pastry bases at each end.

Brush them with egg or milk if you aren't in too much of a hurry.

Put them into a standard pie oven for about twenty minutes.

Meanwhile take a big dollop of cream cheese, add a spoonful of creme fraiche and mix thoroughly adding a little seasoning if your cheese is not of the pre-seasoned variety.

Take the tart thingummies out of the oven and spoon some of the cream cheese mixture over each.

Serve with some sort of potato dish* and green vegetables.

Pretend you spent hours on it.

*Tinned new potatoes go rather well with this actually.

Thursday, 27 September 2012


We took Eleanor* to Eureka last Sunday.
We had originally hoped to go with Richard's parents, but given the events that unfolded on this excursion it may be just as well that they couldn't make it.
Eleanor loves Eureka**, so even on a normal day it would have been a great adventure out, but this was no normal day.
This was the day that Doctor Horrible invaded the Children's Museum and Eleanor, with the able assistance of Batman and Spiderman, defeated his evil plot.
 We arrived to find a police presence in the museum grounds.
Fortunately they weren't, as I initially feared, there to check for unexploded bombsbut to impress on the unformed minds of our youth that Police Are Heroes Too.
They did this with stickers, colouring sheets and free access to the siren on their van.
After a little while, though, it was clear that they had another, deeper purpose.
They were there to keep an eye on the lab-coated, goggle-wearing, stammering crazy-man who was standing just outside the doors and making things go BOOM!***
 This was none other than the nefarious Doctor Horrible himself, apparently embarking on an evil scheme to blow up parts of Eureka using household items.
We watched as he exploded some bicarbonate of soda with vinegar, then used this to make a rocket****.
Then we beheld the true nature of his dastardly plan: to drench all visitors to the museum with Coca Cola, thus rendering them moist, sticky and ready to obey any command, no matter how horrible, if it meant getting to wash the gunk off afterwards.
There was cola, there were mentoes, you can imagine the rest.
 Fortunately we had Supergirl***** with us so she quickly moved us back, out of range of the sinister scientist's cola cannon.
Others were not so lucky.

Escaping the mayhem in the forecourt we headed in and encountered Batman and Spiderman in the village square.
They explained that Doctor Horrible had an evil scheme afoot , and that they needed the help of Supergirl (and the other children too I suppose) to defeat him.
First they went through Superhero Bootcamp: learning to jump, climb, and in Ele...I mean Supergirl's case, fly, and to punch things while shouting "Zap!" and "Pow!" in order to properly defeat super-villains.
 Then they began to look for clues.
They quickly discovered a break-in at the village bank: Doctor Horrible had stolen the wonderflonium from the bank vault!
They Pow!ed their way out of the vault and followed the clues around the museum, uncovering evil robots (whose tyres needed replacing), terrible traps and scary schemes.
Eventually they found themselves back in the square and there, before them was Doctor Horrible himself, laughing his evil laugh and preparing to unleash a monologue.
 Supergirl was a little dismayed to find that he wouldn't run away when she Pow!ed him, but we explained that she had to wait until he had finished mocking us and, in due course, evil was vanquished and he fled into the depths of the museum.

Then we had lunch.

After lunch Supergirl embarked upon some superhero crafts: making a mask (just in case she needed an alternative costume I suppose), and filling out an application for the Eureka super-team.
 We were a little nonplussed when Doctor Horrible strolled in, sat down at the table, and began to fill out his application form for the Evil League of Evil, but he didn't try to do anything particularly heinous, so we left the conniving cognitian to his work and got on with the colouring and sticking.
In the course of this project the good, or rather evil, Doctor fell into conversation with Supergirl, and was tricked into revealing his latest scheme: to take over the world using an army of Triceratops.
Alas, all was now lost, Supergirl is a confirmed triceratops fan and was now firmly on the side of the perfidious PHD.
 Meanwhile he was very friendly and offered to let her Pow! him to make up for not running away when she did it before.

Craft time over the suborned Supergirl demonstrated her shift to the sinister side of the super-powered spectrum by selecting to visit the Hall of Giant Body Parts (also known as the Me And My Body exhibit )
There she played with giant teeth and other such relics of a golden age until it was time to go home.

*And Phoebe obviously, but she wasn't all that interested

**Eureka the Children's Museum, well worth a visit.

***Well, Ffffft anyway.

****Which failed to go off until he poked it, clearly they were going for an authentic Doctor Horrible experience here.

*****Known in her secret identity as not-at-all-mild-mannered Eleanor Wilson

Saturday, 22 September 2012

Better late than never Pie Day

We made fruit tarts.
We're on the mend and in the mood to bake so we thought we'd try another recipe from Ellie's Little Cooks magazine.
Then we remembered how those always turn out.
So we kept the pastry recipe, threw out the rest*, and invented our own filling.
These also work with double cream if you don't have the time or inclination to make creme patissiere.

Fruit Tarts (with Brown Sugar Creme Patissiere)

150g plain flour
75g butter
25g icing sugar
some cold water

4 Egg yolks (keep the whites, you can freeze them if you don't use them the same day)
100g Soft brown sugar
25g Plain flour
1/2 Teaspoon of vanilla extract
350ml Milk
Some soft fruit (we used strawberries and blueberries, but only because I couldn't get raspberries)

Cut the butter into cubes and rub it into the flour till it looks like breadcrumbs.

Add the icing sugar and stir it in well, then add the water (a couple of tablespoons or so), stir some more, and bring it all together with your hands to form a ball.

Put the ball on a floured surface, sprinkle with a little more flour and roll out.

Cut out with a large round cutter and put the rounds into tart cases.

Bake (with added baking parchment and dry beans if you want) in a low oven (180 is fine) for about fifteen minutes.
Take them out, remove any pieces of paper or other rubbish, leave to cool.

Meanwhile, get on with the creme patissiere.
Add the sugar to the eggs and beat gently together until light and moussey (or light and sticky to be honest).
Add the flour and beat some more till combined.
Put the milk into a pan and bring to the boil, then pour this into the egg mixture and beat it carefully together.

Put the whole thing back into the pan, return it to the heat and keep whisking**.
Bring it to the boil and keep whisking while it boils, let it keep boiling for about two minutes from the point that it begins to thicken.
Now take it off the heat and add the vanilla, whisk it up one more time, decant it to a bowl, cover and leave to cool.

The rest is just an assembly job: dollop creme patissiere into cases, taking care not to sneeze on any.
Remove the sneezed on tart: this is now property of the person who sneezed on it.
Yes, even if they wanted that other one over there.
No, two tarts are too much for one person.
Ok, maybe tomorrow.
 Arrange fruit on top, halving or slicing if necessary.

Put it into the fridge until needed, then consume while attempting to look dainty and refined.

*It involved pre-made custard and kiwi fruit.

**This bit really isn't for young children, let little people watch by all means, but even I'm not potty enough to let my three-year-old stand over a lit stove whisking a hot pan full of boiling milk and sugar.

Friday, 21 September 2012

No Pie To-Day

Pie tomorrow.
Or maybe the next day.

Alas there has not been a single day this week in which our family has been entirely tummy-bug free.
as such we really aren't in the mood to make* pies.

We will rectify the situation as soon as we are returned to the bright glow of vitality which normally fills this abode of health, industry and decorum**.

*Much less eat.
Much, much less.

**Feel free to laugh hollowly.

Monday, 17 September 2012


We went to see Brave a while ago.
 Since then Eleanor has been obsessed with archery, bears, horses, and will o' the wisps.
Her pictures have mostly been of Merida, the heroine of the film, and most of the words she has wanted to write have been similarly brave inspired.
 We have had to stop her from tangling her hair to make it "all loopy"* as it became impossible to get a brush through it.
She has played at being Merida every day, casting me in the -highly confusing- role of Queen Eleanor, and calling on Phoebe to represent an entire set of triplets.

She has a new Brave sticker album** which she fills with great care and delicacy, and a bow and arrows set which she fires without them.
In short, she loves it.

We were pretty happy with it too.
The story was fairly predictable, and I wouldn't like to hear a Scottish person's opinion of the setting,*** but the scenery was beautiful, the plot well executed, the characters, though fairly one-dimensional,**** were nicely rendered, with Merida's hair being a triumph of the pixelated art, and the regal Queen Eleanor possessing sufficient flaws of body and mind to prevent her from appearing merely a noble cipher**** while being handled sympathetically enough to avoid her becoming a strait-laced straw-woman.
Also the archery was very impressive.

Most impressive of all, however, were the gender politics.
I don't mean just having a girl as the hero: most Disney films have a heroine after all.
I don't even mean the way that that girl turns her nose up at courtly matters in favour of jumping off rocks and shooting things: while it was nice to see a film eschewing the standard girl-in-pretty-dress-meets-boy-and-eventually-reaches-the-zenith-of-her-ambitions-by-marrying-him Disney plot, with everything that implies to its audience, this has been done before.
 What was impressive was the way they presented this.
Firstly: no-one is surprised by Merida's capabilities.
Queen Eleanor may disapprove of her preferences***** but there is no suggestion that girl should not enjoy, or be talented in, what are normally presented as masculine pursuits.
Although other characters are clearly impressed by her prowess with a bow, their reaction is very much that of the people of Sherwood on seeing Robin Hood in action: they gasp not because she is a girl but because she is just that good.
Actually that's not the only resemblance to Robin Hood in that scene.
And they may have been gasping for another reason too, but if I tell you about that it might give things away a little.
 Secondly and much more significantly: nobody is diminished by Merida's capability.

There is a tendency, in books or films where the girl is the hero, or at least in those where she takes a traditionally male role, to build her up by running everyone else down.
The girls rescue the boys while the boys either stumble around incompetently, or wait swooningly to be rescued displaying a decided lack of interest in saving themselves.
Kings and fathers in such tales tend to be rather bumbling and retiring, while Queens and mothers, while similarly ineffectual, are much more forthright and decisive.
The effect is generally somewhat pantomimic: it is as though a group of traditional fairytale characters had merely swapped clothes, the girls putting on trousers and tucking their ringlets up under knights' helms, while the boys pin on long flowing wigs and conceal their manly stride beneath long skirts.
 An obvious exception to this rule, and one in the Disney canon, is the story of Mulan, however as she really is a girl in boy's trousers, whose ability to be "one of the men" is treated as a rare and heroic attribute, this is not, in the end, a very positive example either.
 In Brave, however, Merida is strong, capable and independent, and not only does no-one suggest that she is unusual in this respect but no-one else is lessened to make her look better.
Her father, while not politically minded, is practical, capable and strong, her mother is intelligent and eloquent, the various male secondary characters are all people in their own right, in no need of rescue, and perfectly able to look after themselves if it came down to it.
 It is, in short, a story about a person with heroic abilities and equally heroic flaws, overcoming adversity to ultimately triumph.
It is, in short, a story.
That the heroine is female is entirely beside the point.

Eleanor, of course, isn't aware of any of this: she doesn't hear the film telling her that she's just as good as the boys because no-one has told her that she isn't.
So she doesn't notice the message that she can do anything a boy can do, she doesn't see the significance of a female heroine.
She just sees a story, a role-model, a game to play.
And that, to me, is the most significant thing of all.

*Nothing can be done about her mind.

** Sneaky maths strikes again!
Actually it's interesting to see how far she's come since the last sticker album, I suspect that by the end of this one she'll have gained as much benefit from the number-identification and so forth as she can.
Which lets me out of getting her another I suppose.

***Actually I would.

****In fact the loud, easy-going King Fergus seemed a far more stereotypical figure but this is somewhat forgivable as he is given less space for character development.

*****There wouldn't be much plot if she didn't.


Friday, 14 September 2012

Comforting Pie Day

Yesterday I took a very excited, eager Eleanor to the Northern Ballet for the first day of her new term at ballet school.
Unfortunately, when we arrived, and after she had got into her leotard and ballet shoes, and sat down ready for me to tidy her hair, we were informed that we had been given the wrong date: there would be no ballet class that day.
 Eleanor was understandably miserable: she had just spent an hour cooped up on the bus to get there and now she was going to have to go straight home, enduring another hour on the bus, without having a ballet class or even seeing any of her friends.
 A very subdued little dancer got onto the bus to go home.
Fortunately, once we'd got off the bus we found a few puddles to splash through, which cheered her up for a little while, but she was still a sad, quiet, un-Ellie-like, excuse for an Eleanor.
There was only one solution: pie with suet pastry*.
Serendipitously, I had planned on exactly that.

Mushroom pie

200g self raising flour
100g vegetable suet
A tiny bit of salt
A bit more black pepper
Some cold water
500g mixed mushrooms
Two onions
Mushroom ketchup
Swiss bouillon powder (or a crumbled up stock cube)
Mustard (we used English but I think wholegrain, or even French might be better)
White wine (about a glass and a half)
A big blob of Stilton**
butter or olive oil*** for frying

Dump the flour, suet, salt and pepper into a big bowl and stir them together with a knife.

Keep stirring and add the cold water, a tablespoon or so at a time, until the dough starts to come together: then stop stirring and start squidging it together with your hands.

Once you have a nice ball of slightly sticky dough set it aside and get on with cooking the mushrooms.

First chop the onions, put them into a saucepan with whatever fat you prefer and fry for a couple of minutes until soft.
chop or break up the mushrooms and add them to the pan

While they are cooking put the wine into a bowl, add a big pinch of bouillon powder and a spoonful of mustard and stir well.
Pour this into the mushroom pan and let them cook for another five minutes or so.

Take the pan off the heat and add the tarragon.

We also added the Stilton at this point but, actually, it would make more sense to wait till everything's cold and just put it straight into the pie, so do that instead.

Leave the mushrooms to cool while you go back to your pastry.

Set aside about a third of the pastry to make a lid, roll out the rest to fit whatever you're using as a pie dish and fit it in, buttering the dish first if you're worried about it sticking.

Roll out the lid, cut a hole or two in the top (otherwise your pie will explode) and, if the mushrooms are cooled (hot mushrooms will start to melt the suet in the pastry) assemble the pie: ladling in the mushrooms, adding the Stilton, and fitting the lid on top, sealing it firmly to prevent leaks.

Cut off any extraneous pastry and use it to make decorative watchamacallits to stick on top of the pie.

Bake for half an hour at your normal pie-baking temperature.

Serve with pride and roast potatoes.

*I do not advise seeking consolation for your woes in food, nor do I suggest encouraging children to do so, it only leads to more misery.
It is an awfully comforting pie though.

** Unless you're vegan, or cooking for vegans, in which case you can just skip this

***Not extra virgin.
Please, by all that's holy, stop using this to cook with.

Tuesday, 11 September 2012

Games for Reading, Writing, Maths...

In my last post I mentioned Peggy Kaye's Games For Reading and the dinosaur board game we made.
This game was so much fun to make, let alone play, that I thought it deserved a little more attention.

The concept in the book is very simple: draw a line of squares and colour them in with various colours.
Then write the names of those colours on some cards and shuffle them.
To play the game give each player a token, a coin, die or similar object, set these at one end of the line.
take it in turns to move along the line by drawing a card and moving to the next space of that colour.
The first person to reach the end of the line is the winner.
Obviously this game helps with reading skills, particularly instinctive reading of the trickier colour names, but with a little adjustment it can be a lot more.

This is the game we made.

At one side of the board is a compsognathus nest, at the other is a Tyrannosaurus nest.
Players take the part of hungry compsognathus scurrying round the board to collect eggs.
In its simplest form the game is just like the original version, except that the winner is the one to collect the most eggs* which makes this a slightly longer game.
 The first variant turns this into a slightly more strategic game: players must move round the board clockwise until they get to the tyrannosaurus nest, they can then choose which direction to take based on the cards that they draw.
In the second variant one player** becomes an angry tyrannosaurus intent on gobbling up the compsognathus that keeps stealing her eggs, this player also travels clockwise until they reach the compsognathus nest and can then travel in either direction, the winner is the player to collect the most eggs before the tyrannosaurus catches one of them.

The next variant involves the cards.
 Our cards have the colours of the rainbow and numbers from one to six in lower case and capital letters.
If you draw a number you move that many spaces, if you draw a colour you move to the next space of that colour.
This is lovely for basic reading practise but lovelier still is that you can update the cards as the players grow older.
Instead of a card reading "red" you can make one which says "move to the next red space" or "miss a turn", instead of "one" you can have "four minus three" or "3 + 4" or any other instructions.
You can even add forfeits or trivia questions: "Name three cities in Scotland to move to the next red space" or "Stand on one leg for one minute or miss a turn".
The possibilities are almost endless.
Best of all it's actually quite fun to play.

Since writing that last post I've also discovered Peggy Kaye's website, it's worth looking at if you're interested in this kind of thing and she even has a few of the games from her various books up there.
We tried her suggestion of writing a menu for a Monster Cafe but, of course, ours was a Dino Diner.
We wrote a menu****, we set up the restaurant, and we opened for business.

I don't think I'd want to eat there but Eleanor's dinosaurs certainly seem impressed.

*Or the first to two, three, or however many eggs you can stand to play for.
** If you're playing this with your kids you're probably best off being the tyrannosaur, if they're playing  alone and no-one wants to be it*** then they can draw cards for the tyrannosaurus separately and keep moving it clockwise until it catches them.
*** Or they all do.
****Making sure the herbivorous options were clearly labelled

Friday, 7 September 2012

Pie Day with Daddy ....god help them all

Right ho, I foolishly said I'd do pie day this week after watching the Hairy Bikers new show "Hairy Dieters". The pie looked fantastic and I wanted to try it. Before I start here is the BBC Food link to the Hairy Bikers actual recipe.

So it's a Mince beef and potatoe pie...or at least it's supposed to be. the first bit of the recipe is easy enough. I prepared all the veg for Ellie so cut the carrots, onion, and cellery, sorted out the spices, diced the potatoe and then got Ellie to help me with the measurements.

After that we dry fried it all, added stock and left it to simmer for half an hour. Ellie had much fun adding and stiring, while I quietly panic at a 3 year olds proximity to the stove.

Simple so far, going well, next was the pastry.

I should stop here and mention I've never made dough before in my life. I don't count the time I had the bread maker, that was just throwing ingredients in and like magic a loaf appears.

The recepie said get two sachets of pizza base mix, follow the instructions for making the dough. ...acutally I'm going to blame occado for their stupid mix, I didn't trust it from the start.

I'll leave it at some time passes, there may be colourful language (the kind where Amelia valiantly tries to cover it up and ask me what kind of Ship I was talking about) and a re-evaluation of dinner occurred.

Pies became pasties! I mean who doesn't love a pasty? Much better than pies, pies are stupid....step in Hue Fernly-Whittingstall (OK and Amelia ) to the rescue which his pasty recipe.

It was simple really, mix whatever flour we had left after my Pie debacle, add butter, and then fold, fold, fold again and refrigerate while the filling cools a little. Ellie folded with Amelia's help while my blood pressure subsided, and she did a marvellous job.


After we got the pastry out of the fridge we had to cut the pasty shapes and add the filling. (For future advice, Thor plates are the perfect pasty size.) then paint them with egg, and throw it back in the oven for another 35 minutes.

As you can see perfect looking pasties...though through the process one of them became a spiderman pasty and another a Wolverine pasty. Wolverine was for dinner, spiderman is for tomorrows lunch.

I have to say, it was a most excellent pasty, and almost low fat. We're all looking forward to lunch tomorrow...except perhaps spiderman.