This may not be a scoop, but it seems to me that relationships can be a bit tricky. You establish yourselves as a couple and set the mould. Then when children come along the mould has to be re-cast, and cast again, and sometimes again and again. It is no surprise to me that the mould becomes brittle and often breaks.
I was pondering this a few weeks ago as I dropped my husband off at a railway station in Worcester. It was a damp and grey English day and I had driven us in an unfamiliar hire car. Everything was a little out of joint. He left the car in a hurry.
Seven hours later he was back, the grin stretched from ear to ear. He was driving one of these. I’d hired it for him as a birthday treat. The following morning my in-laws signed our exeat and we were free to go. We were 12 hours into my husband's birthday and we headed for the Cotswolds.
He revved us along pretty country lanes and past achingly gorgeous country houses. We passed villages with quintessentially English, ridiculous names. Luckly Condicote, Lower Slaughter, Wyck Rissington, and my personal favourite, Wyre Piddle.
After a delicious pub lunch, we meandered on to our hotel. Time slows down when the children aren’t with you. I had time to paint my toenails a bright shade of harlot red. My husband went off for a country run and when he came back, the ladies at the spa gave us both an hour-long back massage. There was plenty of time to read the paper and sup some red in a leisurely fashion.
It was strange seeing my husband without lots of small children trying to climb on his back. It was strange not to see him batting at the giggling hordes, 'stop it, don't swing on my tie', and it was strange having him all to myself. I could speak to him as an equal, not as some subordinate who’s turned up late to help with the childcare. I didn't have to bark commands-thinly disguised as requests-at him, in fact I didn't have to bark at all, I was a much nicer person. Yes, it all took a bit of getting used to, I kept turning away from his tender nothings to do my customary headcount of children; 1, 2, eh? Who's that bald guy? The bald guy didn't know why I was staring at him either. At least I didn't gesture at him and mouth 'WIPE. YOUR. NOSE'.
Over dinner we drank champagne and sampled yummy English cheese. The view from the dining room was fabulous, and we, not very discreetly, created lives for the people around us. ‘That guy over there, he’s a consultant, probably away during the week, and the wife has bought the kids for the weekend’. ‘No, no, he’s clearly a doctor and she is a head-hunter. The kids are at boarding school and this is the only weekend they all have time to meet up’. The theories got more slurred and more silly, and I can’t really remember the details.
EIGHT HOURS SLEEP. I feel that deserves to be written in upper case. Another paper effortlessly read, a cooked breakfast and then it was time to go. My Mummy-metre can only do about 24 hours away, then it sends me back to the noisy ones.
We drove back through petulant English weather. Bright sunshine for a while, then the grey clouds muscled in. The drizzle darkened the rolling hills, but it didn't matter. As I peered out through the tiny windscreen with its three-in-a-row comedy wipers, I felt very, very relaxed. I think our marriage is safe for a few more years.
My husband does love strawberries and he does love to drive a Morgan. So, for his birthday, for the beautiful car and for all those exhausted couples on mini-breaks, I give you, ‘Yummy Strawberry Tart’.
Yummy Strawberry Tart (Click here for tips on how to avoid cross-contamination)
I am using the the term 'creme patissiere' in a very casual fashion. You might be forgiven for thinking it is like no other creme patissiere you have ever seen. If you can eat eggs and dairy and only need the gluten-free part of this recipe, click here for 'normal' creme patissiere.
For the Creme Patissiere:
(you need to make this and leave it time to cool-could be up to 24hrs ahead)
250ml rice milk
1 vanilla pod
2 tsp 'no-egg' egg replacer mixed with 2 tbsp rice milk
1 tbsp gluten-free custard powder mixed with enough rice milk to give a smooth paste
3 tbsp blended sweetcorn (bear with me, I know that sounds weird)
1 tbsp gluten-free cornflour mixed with Cointreau (or rice milk) to form a smooth paste (I just can't stop my Cointreau habit)
- Put the rice milk into a medium-sized saucepan. Split the vanilla pod and put it in with the milk. (Some of the black grains escape but they don't spoil the look of the finished tart). Heat the milk and pod together until almost boiling
- Mix up the 'no egg' with the 4 tbsp rice milk and mix the custard powder with its rice milk, put both mixes into a large jug
- Take a small tin of sweetcorn and blend it to a smooth pulp
- Remove the vanilla pod from the warmed milk, add the sugar and stir
- Pour the milk slowly into the jug with the no egg and custard powder, whisk it as you pour with a small whisk.
- Wash out the saucepan and pour the contents of the jug back into it
- Warm it all back up again, stirring constantly. It should thicken as it heats to the boil. You are aiming for a good thick consistency, it shoud coat the back of a wooden spoon well. You may find you don't need to add the cointreau and cornflour, you may find you need to add more than I've said. Cooking can be such an inexact skill
- When the mix is good and thick turn off the heat. Put 4 tbsp of the blended sweetcorn into a sieve and scrape it through so that it drops into the saucepan. Stir. The corn is to try to enhance the colour of the 'creme patissiere' and make it look more 'real'.
- Cover the surface of the creme patissiere with plastic film, I mean press it right onto the suface of the creme. It stops it forming a skin.
- Leave it to cool, this could be up to 24 hours in the fridge
145g sweet potatoes (weigh them after you have peeled them)
100g rice flour (plus some extra) (here's one)
0.5 tsp gluten-free baking powder (here's one)
0.5tsp xanthan gum (here's one)
60g dairy-free spread (here's one)
60g caster sugar
Baking parchment and some rice for baking blind
For the topping:
250g punnet of strawberries
About 2 tbsps smooth, gluten-free strawberry jam
- Peel the sweet potatoes, weigh out 145g, and then cook them in boiling water until they are soft. Drain them and mash them until they are smooth. Spread the mash out on a plate and leave to get cold in the fridge. You can make this up to 24 hours in advance. The mash needs to be really cold
- Put the rice flour, baking powder, xanthan gum and sugar into a large mixing bowl
- Add the dairy-free spread and rub it into the flour mix until it looks like breadcrumbs. It won't look like fine breadcrumbs, but don't worry
- Add the sweet potato mash and using the back of a metal spoon mix and squidge it all together until it forms a dough. It could be that the dough is too wet and sticky to work with, so add more rice flour, tablespoon by tablespoon. Mix after each addition until you get a soft, pliable dough that isn't sticky.
- Chill the dough in the fridge for about half an hour, (you can leave it for longer if it suits you, I've done it for at least 4 hours and it's been fine)
- Heat the oven to 180 degrees Celsius / Gas mark 4 whilst the dough is chilling
- Flour a smooth work surface and roll out the dough to a thickness of about 4mm. Sprinkle more flour over the top of the dough if the rolling pin sticks, adding extra flour doesn't seem to make any difference to the final dough
- Put the pastry into a loose-bottomed (know the feeling), fluted flan tin. Mine measured 20 cm, but I think you would have enough pastry to cover at least a 23cm one. Gently prick the pastry with a fork when it is in the tin. This allows any build up of steam to escape and therefore stops the pastry rising up during cooking
- You need to bake the pastry blind. A slightly strange term; cut out a circle of baking parchment that is a bit larger than your flan tin. Place it in the tin. Pour about 100g dried rice onto the baking parchment and spread it evenly over the base. This keeps the pastry down whilst it cooks. Would you like a top tip? When the baking has finished, pour the rice into a clean jam jar and keep it for your next blind baking session.
- Put the flan tin onto a baking tray and put it into the oven (middle shelf). Leave it to cook for about 10 minutes, just check it occasionally to ensure the edges aren't going too brown. I do fuss over my pastry in the oven, a bit like a tedious mother hen. When the edges are looking golden, take the tin out of the oven and remove the baking parchment and rice. (use my top tip for the rice if you wish) Place the pastry case back in the oven for about 3 minutes, this is to dry out the pastry on the base
- Take it out of the oven and leave to cool for a few hours
- Wash the strawberries, remove the stalks and cut the strawberries in half along their length
- Now for the grand assembly. Remove the pastry case from the flan tin. You don't have to sweat over this, the pastry is quite robust and can cope with the move. Place the case onto your serving plate.
- Dollop some creme patissiere over the base of the pastry case and smooth it around, use more or less depending on your taste.
- Arrange the strawberries neatly on top (if you were worried about the colour of the creme patissiere, the strawberries more or less cover it)
- Warm the strawberry jam very briefly. I used my fingers to just stroke some jam over each strawberry, it gives them a sweet glisten.
© Pig in the Kitchen 2007