Friday, 31 August 2012

Interrupted Pieday

We made a lemon meringue pie.
Well, actually we made a tarte au citron, we had a power cut before the meringue could go on so that part remains to be done.
However if you will take the meringue-making on trust* then here is our recipe

Lemon Meringue Pie


Pastry (I'm not going to include a recipe here, use whichever you like best, the one we used for the Bakewell tart is ok but it's better if you add about a tablespoon of caster sugar)
Three tablespoons of cornflour
225g of caster sugar
40g of butter
two lemons
three eggs
275ml of water

Put the pastry into a tart tin and prick the base, bake it blind if you want to but you don't absolutely have to**.

Dump the cornflour and fifty grams of thesugar into a bowl, stir them and add just enough of the water to bring it all together in a sticky, slimy, shiny mass.

Grate the zest from the lemons and squeeze them into a bowl.
Separate the eggs.

Put the rest of the water into a pan with the lemon zest, put it on the stove and bring it to the boil.

Stir the boiling water into the cornflour paste*** then return the mixture to the pan, bring it back to the boil and stir it for a while as it thickens.

Take it off the heat and add the lemon juice, the egg yolks and the butter, stirring it all well.

Pour this lemon curd into your pastry case.
Now is a very good time not to have a power cut.

Assuming you have avoided any power cuts it is now time to make the meringue.
Beat the egg whites till they form peaks****, if you are doing this with a small child they will get fed up long before the egg whites become meringue, it is absolutely not cheating to take over the whisking at this point as it teaches a valuable lesson about things being easier if you share the work and other stuff like that.

Once the egg whites are looking peaky begin to beat in the sugar a little at a time and continue until it's all combined.

Dollop the meringue on top of the pie and spread it out till the whole thing is covered.
You can do decorative squiggles at this point if you want.

Stick it all into the oven at your low pie setting (about 190 in our oven) for forty five minutes.

Take it out, be impressed by how like a real lemon meringue pie it looks and leave it for a little while before slicing and eating.

*We'll finish it today I promise
** I suppose it depends on your pastry recipe really, it does help when there's a sudden power cut and you have to leave the pie unfinished though.
***This is not a step for children, in other news the Earth goes around the Sun.
****Peaks! Not vaguely solid mounds, peaks!

Friday, 24 August 2012

Pieday with Phoebe

Do not blame me for this one.
Blame Nicky: she was over the other day when I remarked that I wouldn't be able to post anything for Pieday this week since Eleanor is away at her Musical Theatre School and won't, therefore, be making pies.
Nicky suggested that I should get Phoebe to make some mud pies, I demurred, pointing out that I have almost no time between dropping Eleanor off on the bus in the morning and getting onto the bus again to go and pick her up.
I was going, said I, to write a blog about making pie when you suddenly need a pie, it would be called improPiesation Day and it would fill in nicely until Eleanor was available for pie-making.
But my mind had started working and, despite all the very good reasons not to I find myself compelled to make the attempt.
 We will not be making mud pies though, oh no, we will be cooking.
Sort of.

Recipe for Chaos ( and apricot tartlets)*.


One baby
Some pre-made pastry, rolled out
A tin of apricot halves, drained.

You will need

A cutter somewhat bigger than an apricot half
An oven
An oven tray, lined with baking parchment or greased
Something to cover the floor and any other surfaces.

First wash the baby thoroughly.
Since they don't make aprons in baby sizes it is probably wise to remove any clothes** you don't want to get sticky.

Cover the floor and any other surfaces that need covering, this is less to protect the floor than it is to save the flying ingredients.

Put down the rolled out pastry and show the baby how to cut out shapes with the cutter.
Give the baby the cutter and let them attempt to press it down on the pastry and cut some pieces out.

Try to keep the cutter, and any pieces of pastry, out of the baby's mouth.

Retrieve pastry cutouts from floor and arrange on baking tray.

Show the baby how to place an apricot half on a pastry cutout.
Let the baby try to place apricot halves on pastry for a while.
Try to keep the apricots out of the baby's mouth and off the floor.

Wish you had taken me seriously about that whole "cover the floor" thing.

Balance the last bits of apricot on whatever pastry is available and stick the whole lot into the oven for twenty minutes or so.

Remove from oven, allow to cool, serve to unwitting inlaws with the information that their darling grandchild made it for them.

*They're pies!
Even these ones.

**From the baby, not you.

Wednesday, 22 August 2012

Absence makes the heart grow blasé.

We went to Center Parcs* this year.
While we were there Eleanor went to a Pirate Princess Party**, which was mostly a great success.
Unfortunately somewhere along the line she started to miss us and, when we failed to materialise became very upset.
 When we picked her up Richard remarked that she was probably upset because she wasn't used to being away from us "because she's home-schooled".
 Everybody there seemed to think this a perfectly reasonable explanation for her distress, I on the other hand was more than a little annoyed.
 Eleanor, at the time of the party, was three years old: six months younger than the minimum age for starting pre-school.
As such her home-schooled status could not possibly have had anything to do with the matter.
If he had said "Because we don't take her to a nursery" it would have been quite reasonable: nursery children have to get used to being away from their parents much sooner than those with a parent at home, so a nursery child might have done much better at the party than our three-year-old with her stay-at-home Mother.
 This didn't even occur to Richard at the time.
This might seem like a bit of a rant directed at poor Richard so here's the point: he supports home education, he's actively involved in home education, yet, like so many people he subconsciously assumed that a home-educated child must be less socially secure than a schooled one, to the extent that when our three year old became upset he thought not "she's three" but "she's home-schooled".
If home educators can think this way it's no wonder the rest of the world seems to agree.

Fortunately for all of us home education doesn't seem to have scarred her too badly and at the age of three and a half Eleanor's a much more confident little girl.
Somewhat to my chagrin in fact.
This week she is attending a Musical Theatre Summer School which runs from nine in the morning to half past three every day from Monday to Friday just like a standard school.
She has been looking forward to this with great anticipation, I, on the other hand have been terrified.
 Most schooled children start pre-school at around three and a half to four years of age.
They'll probably have gone in with a parent for a day or two to get used to the place and the people but when the time finally comes for them to be left alone there are, inevitably, tears.
So when the time came to leave Eleanor on Monday I naturally expected her to be a little concerned.
She knew the teachers*** but the girls were all strangers, all bigger, and mostly a lot older than her.
I thought there would be some trepidation, some hesitation, a little reluctance to see me go.
Not a bit of it: she barely paid attention to my leaving, so engrossed was she in what those bigger girls were doing.
Coming to pick her up I was afraid there might have been some tears in the interim: it was a long time to be without a parent after all, most preschool classes are only half days at first and children still have trouble with those.
At the very least, I thought, she'll be glad to see me.
I was met with perfect equanimity but with utter disinterest: a glance, a shrug that said "Oh. It's you. Hello you." and she went back to fastening her shoes.
 It's not that I wanted her to be upset but would it have been so hard to look just a little happy to see me?
Alas, we seem to be raising a confident, outgoing little girl who's comfortable in any society and who has no desire to cling to her parents whatsoever.
Oh well.
Maybe it's because she's home-schooled.

*You don't know what it cost me to spell it like that.
**Apparently pirate princesses say "Ooh la la arrrr".
***One teaches her ballet class, one taught her as a toddler, and one ran the baby class.

Friday, 17 August 2012

Someone or other's Pieday

We made a shepherdless pie.*
It took a while to convince Eleanor that this counted as a pie, and admittedly it doesn't fulfil my stated pie criteria, but it must be a pie: the word is right there in the name.
Besides, what kind of idiot has pie criteria?

This is a bit of an anything goes recipe as it's a using-up-the-leftovers kind of meal, feel free to deviate in any way possible.

Cottage/shepherd's/woolton/shepherdless/garden Pie


Some sort of mince, or some lentils (soaked and prepared), or a lot of chopped vegetables.
One onion
A carrot or so
Celery if you really must
Potatoes, or potatoes and parsnips, or potatoes and swede, enough to cover your dish when mashed.
Butter and milk, or creme fraiche
Worcester sauce or Henderson's relish
A mug of vegetable stock, or some other stock, or stock and red wine.
Cooking oil

Optional things

Mushrooms roughly halved
A tin of kidney beans** drained and rinsed
Pretty much any green vegetable
Cheese to sprinkle on top
Herbs to cook the pie filling with

Peel whatever needs peeling

Put the potatoes/potatoes and other stuff into a pan of boiling water and boil for about twenty minutes.
Stick the onion, carrot, and celery if you're some sort of celery loving weirdo into another pan with a little oil and cook until soft

Add the mince/lentils/pile of vegetables to the onion mixture and cook the mince till it's browned, if you don't have any mince just keep going.

Pour in the stock, add any optional bits you want.
Throw in a dash of worcester sauce or Henderson's relish.
Cook it till it looks done.

Drain the potatoes dollop on the creme fraiche or milk and butter*** and mash the heck out of them (adult bystanders may wish to don a macintosh for this step).

Pour the filling into an oven dish, dump the potatoes on top, add cheese if you think it needs it.

Put it into the oven at some reasonably hot temperature, give it about twenty minutes and take it out again.

Try not to burn your tongue.

*Ok, shepherd's pie is lamb, cottage pie is beef, if you only have vegetables it's woolton pie****, fake-meat pie is either shepherdless or garden pie but since I reserve garden pie for the lentil version this was a shepherdless  pie.

**This strikes me as peculiar but Richard likes it.

***You can't dollop milk.
But you know what I mean.

****We'll save that one for the inevitable World War Two project.

Friday, 10 August 2012 Pieday!

I have a confession to make: I have been working with a buffer which is to say that the pie I post each Pieday was not actually made on the Pieday in question, it was made the week before, or occasionally not on a Pieday at all.
 I suspect you'd already guessed this of course as otherwise we'd have to be getting up at the crack of dawn in order to make pies and get the blog written up ready to appear in the morning.

Alas the buffer is gone.
This means that I have no pre-made pie post to produce for this week, as such I will be writing the blog as we make the pie, in this case a Bakewell Tart.
I could just wait till it's finished but I think it would be more fun to update as we go along, so that's what I'll do.

Bakewell Tart


170g flour
75g butter for the pastry and 110g for the filling
A scruple* of salt
Some jam
110g caster sugar
110g ground almonds
Three eggs and an extra yolk
Almond extract
Flaked almonds to decorate.

Rub the butter into the flour and add enough cold water to make a dough
Put in the fridge to chill for a while.

Optional: while it's chilling go and buy any ingredients you don't have in the house.

Roll out the pastry and use to line a tart tin.
Chill again.
Bake blind for about ten minutes, so it firms up a little but doesn't brown.

Melt the butter.
Beat together the sugar, eggs, egg yolk, almonds and almond extract, then stir in the melted butter.
Spread a little jam into the bottom of the tart case and top with the almond mixture.

Put this into the oven at your normal pie setting for twenty five minutes, then decorate with flaked almonds before returning it to the oven for another five.
Or just forget about the flaked almonds and give it half an hour

Remove from the oven breathing in the sigh-inducing almond scent.
Allow to cool.

If you didn't use the flaked almonds then consider icing it instead.

Slice and serve with a nice cup of tea.

*A teeny weeny bit

Wednesday, 8 August 2012

Scientific Pieday

One of Eleanor's favourite treats is the Dora the Explorer: Little Cooks magazine.
 She loves reading and preparing the recipes, listening to the (intensely bland) stories, and getting new pieces of cookery loot to stuff into her now-bulging drawer.
 It's pretty handy too: the recipes encourage her to read as well as teaching her about measurements, general mathematics, and a little bit of science along the way.*
If we were teaching her Spanish then it would be handy for that as well, as it is I just find myself scrabbling for the right word in Italian instead.
 If there's one thing it is not useful for** however, it's cookery.
It's not that the recipes are bad exactly, it's just that, like the heroes of legend, each has a fatal flaw which, unless defeated, will doom it for all eternity.
So when we attempted today's recipe (for Terrific Tarts apparently) it was in a spirit of scientific enquiry.

Science Pies


150g self-raising flour
75g butter
Some cherry tomatoes
Feta cheese
A dash of milk
Two tablespoons of water
Some fresh basil

We followed the recipe carefully to begin with: cutting the butter into pieces then rubbing the pieces into the flour.
Eleanor clearly remembered previous forays into pastry-making, asking: "Is it going to be like breadcrumbs?" as she began to rub.
And breadcrumbs it was.

Next we were instructed to add the two tablespoons of water and mix it to produce a dough.
In practice we found that a little more water was needed, not a lot, just a dribble more.
Once this was mixed in we rolled the dough up into a ball.

Here we hit the first possible error: the recipe now moved straight on to the rolling-out stage but most pastry needs to rest somewhere cold for a while before this.
 So, being scientists, we experimented.
Half the dough went into the fridge in a bowl, the other half we rolled out and pressed into the (provided with the magazine) tart cases.

Then we immediately hit potential-error number two: the recipe instructed us to bake the tart shells "blind" which is to say without the filling, but did not mention any kind of baking-beans, just pricking them with a fork.
It also instructed us, later on, to put the filling, uncooked, into the shells to serve it, which also seemed a little odd.
 So, again, we experimented.
One tart was pressed into its case, pricked with the fork, and glazed with milk in accordance with the instructions, the other was filled with pieces of feta and topped with a slice of cherry tomato and a basil-leaf - a step which should have come at the end.

This done, into the oven they went for fifteen minutes at 180.

Once they were out we observed the results of Experiment One.
The blind-baked pie had puffed up till it was almost, but not quite, just a disc of pastry.
The filled pie had held its shape but the filling was a little singed: just a tiny bit brown on one edge.

We now began Experiment Two.
As before we rolled out the pastry, cut it into circles, and filled the tart cases.
One case we pricked, brushed with milk, and left empty, the other we filled before gluing with milk.
As we had pastry left over*** we also filled two more, slightly too big, cases and left one of these without the milk so that we could compare the effects of glazed and unglazed pastry

Then we put them into the oven again, for fifteen minutes as before.

Finally we filled the second blind case (which had puffed up just like the first) and Eleanor and Richard tested the results

The first result was a surprise: the pastry which hadn't been in the fridge was flakier and lighter than the pastry we allowed to rest and chill, at a guess I'd say that the chilled pastry had taken on more water in the fridge, but we'll have to investigate that further.

The second result was as expected: the cooked tarts were nicer than the uncooked ones.
Also the topping didn't fall off as easily, however it would probably have been a good idea to include something sticky underneath the cheese.

As for our extra experiment: it transpired that glazing with milk, at least on this scale, made no real difference to the tarts.

I cannot give my own interpretation of the data as, alas, there were insufficient specimens left for study.

So there you have it: Science Pies: For Science!

*Ok, I do the science stuff, but the recipes raise the questions.
** Apart from motorcycle maintenance, and learning to juggle and other things that it isn't useful too but which are less ironic, obviously.
*** Astute readers will notice that this didn't happen last time.
This is because the pastry fell out of the cases and onto the floor last time and I had to use the leftovers to refill them.

Tuesday, 7 August 2012

So About Those Groups Then

My last post was meant to be about Home Education Groups but unfortunately I got a little carried away while explaining that my-children-socialise-very-well-actually and didn't get around to talking about the groups at all.
 There are a lot of groups out there.
There's a great big group that meets once a month for themed crafts and playtime*, a science group that meets to do experiments, a conservation group that meets up in the woods, a book group which discusses books and shares creative writing projects, a construction group that meets to, well, construct things, and any number of other activity groups, sports groups and general social groups.

 Then there's our new group.
It's a local group, started on the grounds that "we need a local group", and currently very small: only three families came to our last meeting although more are expected in future.
 We're still finding our feet a little with this group, figuring out what the format is going to be.
Some ideas have had to be set aside, others introduced when we felt something was missing.
It's a work in progress but the wonderful thing is that because it is so small and new we are able to shape it to fit our needs, without worrying about the traditions of a dozen other families.

 Currently the structure is something like this.
We arrive.
 Thanks to the vagaries of the public transportation system Eleanor, Phoebe and I get there before everyone else so I find our room** and get things set up a little bit, locating drinking water and generally trying to minimise hazards etcetera.
Everyone else turns up, the children play for a while.
We attempt some sort of game or activity, the children either embrace this and run with it, reinvent it completely, or abandon it in favour of being pirates or something.
We subside into parental murmurings while the children get on with playing.
Generally there's some sort of free activity like building with blocks, drawing, or building with boxes then drawing on them, available which the children will embrace enthusiastically just as we're starting to wonder about lunch.
If the weather's nice we'll go outside to eat packed lunches and let the children play.
If not we sit inside and talk over our sandwiches.
 After lunch we get out some more activities, we're vaguely attempting to add a theme to each day so if we've been clever these will tie in to that: next week we'll be doing dinosaurs, with play-dough fossil printing as my contribution to the activities***, last week we celebrated Yorkshire Day so everyone made white roses out of tissue paper.
We might include some reading and writing games like word jigsaws or Flagman****
Then, after the kids have had time to run about a little more we'll settle down for a story to let everyone calm down and get used to the idea of going home.
Finally we pack up all the bits and pieces, everyone says goodbye to everybody else, and off we go again.

It seems like a fairly simple, practical timetable put like that, but that's only because you can't see the joins.
It's taken us three meetings to get to this point, discarding some excellent ideas because they simply didn't work, adding others almost by osmosis as they seeped out to fill an empty space, puzzling over  how to make sure everyone is involved, or how to deal with the tears at Going Home Time.
I doubt its form will remain stable for long: There's been talk of music for games or home time, someone will start bringing something, or suggest an idea, or notice a problem, and the next thing we know we'll be doing something new because "we always do it this way".

I don't know what our little group will become over the years, for now, like us, it is just beginning.

*Honestly, I could write a blog just about this group, the only reason I don't go into more detail here is Home-Ed paranoia.
Expect a post about that later.
** Which is harder than it sounds.
***Technically Eleanor's, in fact the whole dinosaur theme is her fault really as she wanted to share her project with everyone.
****Eleanor got upset when we tried to hang the man so we gave him a flag instead.
*****If an episode of Walking With Dinosaurs counts as a film.

We Get Around

The biggest issue for a lot of people, when discussing Home Education, is socialisation.
"But how will they be socialised?" is the common cry whenever you mention that you're not sending the kids to school.
It gets a little annoying to be honest, I mean here I am with my friendly, talkative daughter who clearly knows how to behave in society and people are asking how she'll be socialised.
She already is pretty darn socialised* for her age!
Maybe they mean how will she socialise?
It's true that we won't be sending our kids out every day to sit in a classroom or run around in a contained space with a lot of other children of the same age but that doesn't mean they won't be socialising.
At present Eleanor has two ballet classes a week and Phoebe has one**, we visit the library, where the ladies on the desk always stop to talk to Eleanor, at least once a week, we visit the Soft-Play centre where they can play safely with random kids (who, now I come to think of it, aren't in school either), Eleanor goes to the swimming pool once a week where many people know her by sight, we attend a playgroup and all manner of Home-Ed groups***.
That seems like plenty of socialisation to me.

It's true that it's a different kind of socialisation, it's more fluid, less forced, and the people they socialise with aren't all the same age as them, but I consider this to be a good thing.
Our daughters will grow up knowing how to talk to people of all ages, in formal and informal settings.
They may never experience the latest playground obsession for yo-yos, or slinkies, or collectible plastic aliens with removable plastic bits****; or the woe when we refuse to buy them some rubbishy plastic alien with collectible plastic bits; or the sheer misery of having someone laugh at them because they packed the wrong kind of sandwiches today, but, frankly, that's a price I'm happy to pay.

*To be socialised means to be able to function in society, socialisation is a lifelong process.
** Where "ballet class" in the latter sense means "clap your hands to the music and smile at your friends"
***This was actually meant to be a post about Home-Ed groups, then the introduction got out of hand.
**** I doubt it to be honest, stupid crazes get everywhere, I'm still not going to buy them the wretched aliens though.

Saturday, 4 August 2012

Apologies and Advertisements

Sorry for being such a lazy blogger lately, I'm still awfully sleepy* at the moment but hopefully things will pick up soon.

In the meantime might I offer some other blogs which, depending on your interests, you might like to read.

Tales From Foxglove Cottage is a blog by my surrogate big sister the wonderful Wendy, about books, causes, tea and life in general.

Sparkletigerfrog is by the awesome Amanda and is described as "sustainable food and pretty things".
It is also covered in bees.

And lastly Metaphors and Mammaries is a new blog by the not-very-alliterative** Nicky about breastfeeding and probably a few other things as and when they bug her.

May their creativity and dedication district you from my pathetic output.

*Largely because Phoebe has decided the hours between seven PM and eight AM are meant to be spent playing rather than sleeping, hopefully this will resolve itself once her teeth cut and she can get some sleep

** But still exceptionally cool.
Nice just doesn't cover it.

Thursday, 2 August 2012

Sandwich Pieday

I've been a horribly negligent blogger this week I'm afraid, perhaps because the inability to post pictures has been a trifle* frustrating, perhaps just because I've also been horribly tired.
Fear not, dear reader**, as I will soon have a new and exciting post or two for your ravenous delectation.
There will be dinosaurs, there will be literacy, there will be more muttering about workbooks and my musings on home-education groups.
But, in the meantime, there is Pieday.

This is a vegetarian version of the recipe, it's also often made with fish and frequently features olives.
You can pretty much vary the ingredients as you see fit, I like this version because it's delicious *** and because with a little forethought and the right kind of garden it can be almost entirely home-produced: grow the vegetables, pummel the pesto, make the bread, and assemble it all.

Pain Bagnat (Sandwich Pie)


One loaf of decent, unsliced, bread
Two aubergines
Two peppers
Two courgettes
Some pesto
A few Basil leaves
A little olive oil

Slice the vegetables, removing any bits you would commonly remove.
Turn on the oven, drizzle some olive oil in an oven dish (or two if they're small) throw in the vegetables, drizzle on some more oil and throw the dish in the oven.

Check the vegetables occasionally to make sure they aren't burning.
Add some more oil or move them around a little if they are.

When they're done (squishy, browning and generally roasted looking) take them out and leave them to cool a bit.

Meanwhile cut the top off the loaf of bread and pull out most of the inside, either saving it for bread crumbs or offering it to the kids in the guise of an unorthodox, and therefore delicious, snack.
You basically want to make a shell of bread for your sandwichey piey creation.

Take some of the cooling vegetables and spread them around the bottom of the loaf, dribble on a few drips of pesto and add a couple of basil leaves.
Add some more vegetables and carry on layering the vegetables with the pesto and basil.

Put the lid back on, wrap it tightly in foil and leave it for a few hours or (preferably) overnight.

Slice, serve, and watch people try to get the pieces into their mouths with some semblance of dignity.

*Coming soon: trifle.
As soon as I can figure out how it counts as pie.

**I'm sure I have one.

***And, you know, vegetarian.

****And see Bake Your Lawn for an even more home-grown version.