Friday, 24 April 2015

The continuing failure of Pieday

So, last week's Pieday was an utter failure.
But, refusing to give up, we soldiered on and attempted another coconut pie.
It failed too.
More specifically, it failed to be pie.
It also failed to be the wonderful lesson in conversion and measurement I had intended, as my scales were broken so we wound up just using the recipe as written, which I'm afraid, uses cups rather than ounces or grammes.

We made an Impossible Pie.


110g butter (or one stick, this bit I had to convert anyway, fortunately the butter packet has marks showing where to cut)
1 3/4 cups caster sugar
1/2 cup self raising flour
2 cups milk
Optional malibu
2 cups shredded coconut (or monkey around as I did for the last recipe)
4 large eggs

First we melted the butter in a large pan over a low heat.
Once it was all melted I sent the girls to wash their hands again and surreptitiously poked the pan a few times to make sure they wouldn't burn themselves if they touched it*.
 When they had returned I stopped prodding the pan** and we beat in the sugar.

Next we debated the eggs.
The recipe calls for large eggs.
We buy boxes of mixed, free range eggs.
I have no idea whether any of them count as large,
We fished out the biggest four and used those.

Once we had beaten the eggs into the mixture we stirred in everything else, removing a couple of tablespoons of milk and replacing them with malibu.

Then we poured it into a couple of very well buttered pie dishes and put them into a low (180) oven for an hour to see if this mess would some how turn into pie.

It didn't.
According to the recipe it should form a miraculous crust on the outside, transforming it into pie.
Alas, this did not occur.
What we received was somewhere between a coconut pudding and a coconut cake, it is possible that less time would have resulted in a wobbly middle and firm outside, or that more time would have produced a crisp*** outside and cake-ish filling, but I can conceive of no possible universe in which this recipes could produce something worthy of the name of pie.

We ate it anyway.

The quest continues.

*This is not a clever thing to do.
Seriously, do not do this.
Just pour the butter into a bowl or something.


***Otherwise known as burned.

Friday, 17 April 2015


Alas, poor Pieday.

We tried, we really tried.

Consumed by the idea of a malibu-infused* coconut pie I bought desiccated coconut** and coconut cream*** then went trawling the net for recipes.
Unfortunately all I could find were recipes for coconut cream pie which, it transpires, is not a pie made from coconut cream but a coconut-custard pie.
I mislike custard pies.
 So I decided we could invent our own pie.
All hail discordia, quoth I, and off we set.

We Made a Thing


Cookie dough: I used the roll of molasses-chocolate chip cookie dough I put in the freezer last time we made cookies, you could use pre made, or go with your favourite recipe, but you really shouldn't because this is not a good recipe.

200g desiccated coconut
50g coconut cream
Two egg whites
100g caster sugar
Baking powder (1/2 tsp)
Rum, but not malibu, because I couldn't find any.

All the following instructions are highly unrecommended.

heat the oven to a reasonably low setting: we went with 180 celsius.

Fish out all the ingredients, along with several other things, decide which ones you're going to use (they're the ones in this list).

Improvise thus.

Slice the cookie dough into rounds and set them out in the bottom of your pie tin, overlapping the sides slightly to form a crust.
Don't worry about the gaps, as the cookies should spread as they bake.
Put the tin into the oven to bake for ten minutes while you get on with the rest.

Grate the coconut cream.

Whisk the egg whites till frothy.
Add the baking powder and whisk in.
Add the sugar, a little at a time, and whisk some more.
Keep whisking till it's glossy and holding peaks.

Stir in the desiccated coconut, the coconut cream, the vanilla and the rum (just a splash of each).

Take out the pie tin, turn the oven up just a little, and pile the coconut mixture into the cookie "crust".

Bake for twenty to twenty five minutes.

Take out, cool, maybe drizzle some melted chocolate over the top out of desperation.


The results will not be pie.

What you get, in fact, is a sort of giant coconut macaroon on a rather squiggly layer of cookie-dough...stuff.
It is not pie.
It is a failure.

According to Eleanor and Phoebe, failure is delicious.
According to Richard, failure is not bad, but has a little too much coconut.
According to me, failure is wodgy, unpleasant and both too dry and too damp at the same time.

Do not attempt this pie.
The pie is a lie.

I have since found a recipe for something called Impossible Pie.
It looks both possible and somewhat un-pie-like.
We may attempt that one day.


**Because I couldn't get shredded: shredded is better.

***To make up for the sweet dampness the desiccated lacks.
Seriously, if you're buying grated coconut, get the shredded stuff.

Wednesday, 15 April 2015

Onward to adventure!

We're currently about two thirds of the way through a project on the ancient Romans* so it seemed like a good time to pay a visit to Vindolanda**.

Vindolanda, for those who don't know, is a Roman fort along Hadrian's wall.
As well as the archaeological site and ongoing dig, there are two museums: one at the site, and the Roman Army Museum nearby.
 The Vindolanda Charitable Trust's website recommends visiting the Roman Army Museum first, then going on to the fort itself afterwards so, not having visited either before, that is what we did.

Before we went I had stocked up on worksheets, downloaded and printed off from the education section of the trust's website***, in addition to which we were handed the museum's own treasure hunt to complete, so we were sure of having plenty to do.
First stop was the School room, which is set up for school trips, with seats for a classroom, a video "lesson" from a dummy teacher and various interesting facts and fables set out around the walls.
 I was pleasantly surprised to find this room open to the public, as the website seemed to imply that it was intended for use by school groups only.
The presentation was, in fact, clearly geared towards school groups, with references to the "class" and "your teacher", but this in no way reduced the enjoyment the girls found in it.
 Once the dummy teacher had finished expounding, we searched the walls for the answers to our many worksheets, took special note of the bust of Pliny the elder who "died when he breathed in Mount Vesuvius, Mummy", ignored my exposition on the subject of Seneca, and were off to the next gallery.

The next room contained two more films as well as with various models of roman soldiers alongside appropriate artefacts.
 The films were reasonably entertaining, but were a lot to sit or stand still for, after the long car journey to the wall.
Unfortunately the answer to one of the questions on Eleanor's worksheet was only available in the less interesting of said films.
 After missing the information twice, due to bad timing, we decided to return later to find that answer****.
 So, on to the next room to dress up as legionaries, listen to a recording (no film!) about the life of Emperor Hadrian and discover, to Eleanor's horror, that Hadrian had never been to Sardinia.
Uniforms returned to their place we next took our seats for yet another film: this one a three dimensional offering on the life of a Roman soldier on the wall.
It was a very good film, in point of fact, and kept everyone's attention nicely, but by the time it was over we all seemed rather sick of watching things we could have downloaded on YouTube.
 So, on to the next room.
There was a film playing in this room too, but I have no idea what it was about as we all ignored it.
Instead we wandered through various army artefacts and other displays, on equipment, weaponry, Roman food, and the number of people actually on the wall (as opposed to off sick) at any given time; translated the password of the day from Latin to English, and tracked down the last answers for our worksheets.
 By which time everyone was getting hungry and we were more than ready to hand in the treasure-hunt and round up some lunch.

After lunch we hied us to Vindolanda itself

The site was awesome, in the proper sense of the word, and it was incredible just to walk around it, looking at the various ruined buildings, trying to figure out what they were, reading the descriptions of what historians think they were, and squelchily discovering that the ancient spring still ran just fine.
 We rambled about for a while, filling in the second lot of worksheets, before happening upon the active dig.
We watched politely for a while, quietly discussing the archaeology and guessing at what various finds might be, until one of the archaeologists came up and offered to show us some of the day's finds.
 She explained the various pieces she had set aside: some unrelated pieces of pots, a cow's tooth and a game piece, then invited us to ask questions.
Alas, under Eleanor's inquisition she was forced to admit that they had yet to find a mosaic, butshe was able to tell us that the building they were working on was a shrine and tomb*****, unless it wasn't, as they wouldn't really know until they finished excavating, if ever.
 Despite the lack of extraordinary finds the girls seemed as thrilled as we were to look over the dig and appeared to happily accept my statement that archaeologist was "the coolest and least glamourous job ever".

And then they rampaged on.
 We discovered replica shops with recorded dialogue, a replica nymphaeum (Eleanor's favourite thing of the day) a tea-shop rather better than the one we had lunch in, another museum (this time with more artefacts****** but less films) and, finally, replica buildings of fortifications from the wall itself.
 Having scaled these (from the inside, thank gods), our now decidedly weary family headed back to the car park and set off for home.

It was surprisingly hard to leave.

Should we go up again I suspect we'll make a few changes to our itinerary, such as visiting the fort first, leaving the museum till we're tired enough to want to sit down and watch things, instead of haring all over the place.
We might even find somewhere to stay for the night.
After all, we didn't even visit Housesteads, this time round.

*Which has involved all manner of fun that I may go into later.
Or I may just post the photographs of the Roman feast with which we plan on ending this project.

**We would have liked to go to Pompeii and Herculaneum, since the tentative plan for this year is Romans, followed by Archaeology, followed by volcanoes, but Vindolanda is rather cheaper and therefore actually achievable.

*** There are sheets for both the museum and the fort, these are labelled for particular age-groups, but it's worth reading them through before you print them off as all children have different strengths and weaknesses.
 In the girls' case Eleanor was perfectly happy with the sheets labelled as being for nine to eleven year olds, while Phoebe worked through the sheets for seven to eight year olds with a lot of help from her daddy.

****We did, we still missed it and settled for talking to her on the subject instead.

***** Everything at Vindolanda seems to be a something and tomb: we saw a temple and tombs, shop and tombs, house and child's grave and a mausoleum.
Given the apparent local propensity for just shoving people in the nearest temple or burying them under the tiles, we assumed that either the mausoleum belonged to someone terribly impressive, or the residents of Vindolanda were curiously morbid.

****** Including roman horse armour, which was Eleanor's favourite thing on those occasions that the nymphaeum wasn't.

Friday, 10 April 2015

American Pieday

At this point I suspect that this blog is at least eighty percent pie.

It may not have escaped your notice that March the Fourteenth, Two thousand and fifteen was American* PiDay.

So, of course, we baked an American pie.
Alas, this pie was made to take to friends, so the girls didn't get a nibble of it.
Naturally, therefore, we had to make another one.

Pecan** Pie

Note that as this is an American pie it uses American cup measurement rather than imperial or metric.
If you are baking it with the kids I recommend you make them do the conversion and call it their maths for the day.
Or buy a set of measuring cups: that works too.


One packet of ready rolled pastry***
One cup of soft golden muscovado sugar, or whatever sugar you have in, I am not the sugar-police
Three cups of golden and maple syrups in whatever proportion you prefer (or just use the golden syrup on its own)
Two tablespoons dark**** rum
A quarter-cup of softened butter
Three large free-range***** eggs
One teaspoon pure vanilla extract extracted from actual vanilla
A tiny pinch of salt
A largish bag of pecans, or one small bag of pecans and one small bag of salted pecans (bliss).

Roll out the pastry, put it in a lined (trust me on this) pie tin, trim it, put it in the fridge and get o with the fun part.

Put the sugar, syrup and butter in a larger-than-you-think-you-need saucepan.
Add the rum.
Admonish Small Cook for carelessly splashing the rum over the counter, pointing out that this is Mummy's good rum.
 Endeavour to explain how the rum can be good when rum is alcoholic and you said only yesterday that alcohol is bad for you.
Try not to sound like Homer Simpson.
Discover, to great relief, that Smallest Cook has started snapping her teeth at both Small and Desperate-For-A-Distraction Cook.
Interrogate Smallest Cook on this matter: learn that rum is for pirates and crocodiles eat pirates and  that is why she is now a crocodile.

"Honey-Child, fetch Momma's shotgun, there's a 'gator in the house".

Note, with some dismay, that neither child points out the difference between crocodiles and alligators.
Resolve to focus on Natural History in the near future.

Put saucepan on stove turn on heat and stir the whole boiling lot until it is boiling a whole lot.

Boil for another minute.
Allow Small and Smallest cooks to take turns stirring the mass of boiling sugars.
Take photographs, possibly as evidence for social services.

Allow the syrupy mess to cool.

Meanwhile smash the nuts into itty bitty pieces with the end of a rolling pin.
Turn on the oven to a low pie heat (around 180 celsius for us)
Put an oven tray on the bottom shelf.
Make sure it's on you don't particularly care for.
Pour the broken nuts into the pie-case.
If using the salted pecans make sure you combine the two kinds of nuts thoroughly.

Beat the eggs.
Stir the eggs, salt and vanilla into the cooled syrup.
If the syrup isn't cool wait till it is: you are not making scrambled eggs right now.
Do not check the temperature of the syrup with your fingers.
Do not use Smallest Cook's fingers either.
No matter what she says.

Pour the egg-and-syrup mixture over the nuts.

Put the pie into the oven for approximately fifty minutes.

While you are waiting wash everything before the syrup mixture has time to turn to glue.

Take out the pie when it is golden and lovely and pecan pie-like.
Failing that, take it out when it starts to burn.

Try to clean the burned-on syrup splashes off the oven tray.
I told you not to use a good one.

Allow pie to cool.

Serve with whipped cream or good vanilla ice cream.

Try to scrape the kids off the ceiling in time for their bath.

*I specify American, as PiDay derives it's name from the date: 3/14/15.
Since for many of us it would be 14/3/15 the phenomenon is less than global.
Fortunately, as the wonderful Vi Hart has pointed out, every day is Tau day so the rest of us can celebrate that, instead, I suggest doing so by baking something round such as, for example, a pie.

**Pronounced Picon, or possibly even P'Con as though it were some sort of comestible Vulcan or something.

***The first time we did this made it properly, with a proper dessert pastry, the second time we were in a hurry so we cheated.
It's what the original recipe said anyway.

****Move away from the Bacardi.
And the Malibu.
I mean, seriously?!
Actually, if you were making a coconut pie...

Watch this space.

*****I am totally the egg-police.

Saturday, 4 April 2015

We Apologise For The Inconvenience

I'm fairly sure my last post was some sort of placeholder-ish thing apologising for the general lack of posts and assuring my loyal reader* that normal service would be resumed shortly.
 It wasn't.

For this I can blame any number of things, chief among them the far too early death of Richard's father, Mick, who we all miss very much.

Life, however, goes on, the world turns, the sun continues to shine even when the moon gets in the way, and children continue to grow in all manner of unexpected directions.

So the blog is back in all its rambling, ranting, footnoted, pie-eyed splendour.

Sorry it took us so long.

*I'm sure we had one.