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?