Saturday, 30 June 2007

Pig's Holiday (blog-free, cooking-free, France-free)

"Pig is going on her Summer Holiday

No more blogging for 2 weeks or three

Back to Blighty for her Summer Holiday

A break for you and a break for me-ee-eee

Such a break for me

I'm going where my friends all love me

I'm going where the lingo is mine

I'll be stocking up at Waitrose

And drinking plenty of wine,

This fat piggy needs a France-free Holiday

Had enough of being patronised

Hate the man who stole my Kipling wa-allet

My cellar needs to be sani-ti -i-ised

To make my dreams come true

HO! Pig is going on her Summer Holiday....."

Repeat to Fade.

After my mad dash around Blighty I shall be retiring to a quiet corner of La Belle France. The lovely people at France Telecom assure me that my internet connection will be up and running in a jiffy. Those of you who are familiar with getting phones and internet connected in France are already clicking away in disgust, 'Humph, we won't be seeing her for a month or so'.

You may be right, although I have great faith in my husband's ability to charm laptops into doing what he wants them to do, he's a very clever man. Failing that, I shall wander the lanes of France, memory stick in pocket, hoping to stumble upon an internet-enabled computer from which I can upload my culinary treats.

It is with a slight tear in my piggy eye and a tremble in my trotter, that I bid you farewell, but this is au revoir, not adieu.

Big snorty kisses,


Friday, 29 June 2007

Chocolate & Chilli Truffles (egg-free, dairy-free, gluten-free)

I was in the hardcore chocolate aisle the other week, browsing for some chocolate that my littlest pig can eat. Not in the warm, milky chocolate place that comforts you as you eat,
‘Hussh, don’t you worry, you’re not fat. Men? Pah! Who needs them? That’s right, have another square.’
No, I was looking at the edgy chocolate with attitude,
Wot? Are you gonna pick me up? Don’t dawdle Lady, either pick up or move along, I don’t have time for this crap’.

When I’m in that part of the aisle I feel as though I’ve stumbled upon some weird, chocolate gambling syndicate. ‘70’. ‘I see your 70 and raise you 4’. ‘80’. ’80 and raise you 5’. I’m afraid I fold at 74% cocoa solids. Believe me, the colour and consistency of my girl’s nappy at 74% is enough. 85%? The thought makes me shudder.

Anyway, during my perusal I came across a bar of Chilli Chocolate. I was rather intrigued and had vaguely heard of that partnership before. It turned out to be quite good, but as is my arrogant wont, I thought I could do better. I can never let a recipe lie.

I first floated the idea with dear Chantal. She and I have a complicated rota of school run pick-ups and drop-offs. It all works pretty well. We just don’t mention the time I forgot to collect her daughter from school. I often confront her in a slightly crazed way as she drops off my girls, ‘Here, try this, any good?’ and hand her one of my baking attempts. I am indebted to her honesty. On one memorable occasion – my 3rd batch of gluten-free muffin attempts in 24 hours - she didn’t flinch. She snorted a little with her mouth still full, and when she finally cleared it, declared them to be ‘claggy’. God love her. She was familiar with the notion of Chilli and Chocolate, ‘Mexican isn’t it? I once had some chicken with a chocolate and chilli sauce’. I’m so glad I’m vegetarian.

The next step was to make my chocolate chilli creation. As my Mother warned me, ‘too much salt and you’ll have a jaded palate’. She was right, so I was a tad concerned when the truffles I made had a fizzly sort of effect on my asbestos tongue. 'Not to worry', I thought, I’ll try them on the lovely ladies at that lunch I’m going to. Seated comfortably in Jane’s happy kitchen, the ladies loved them. All except Clarissa, she passed hers along very politely after just one nibble. No matter, for Kathie was there, waiting to devour.

The final hurdle; my husband. He is my harshest critic. A frown, a wince, a shake of the head, I am crushed and have to go back to the weighing scales. The poor, unsuspecting man. He is used to me handing him tasty morsels and he took the truffle without a murmur. I watched closely as he bit into it and chewed appreciatively. 3-2-1, yep, there it is. He jumped as though he’d been stung. ‘Oh God, what is that? Yuk, oh bloody hell, why did you give me that?’

You see these truffles are fascinating, you bite into one and it tastes like a lovely chocolatey truffle. You chew cautiously (if you’ve been told the ingredients) and you’re just shaking your head in a ‘No, can’t taste it’ kind of a way, when it pounces. A bit of a bad ass kick to the throat and a fizzle on the tongue. Lovely.

My hubby did not think so. He declared himself to be Cross. I tried to giggle my way out of it, but he was Not Amused. He would not eat another. You get no second chances with my husband.

But you get plenty of chances with these chocolates, this recipe makes about 35.

Chocolate and Chilli Truffles (Click here for tips on how to avoid cross-contamination)
In the interests of rigorous research and providing a blog of quality, I have tried these truffles as an accompaniment to: Coffee, Tea, Red Wine and Champagne. I can confirm that they are good with all four beverages. Possibly best with the wine, but it was a photo finish with the champagne.

175g dark chocolate, gluten-free, dairy-free (this usually contains soya lecithin, if you are unsure whether you can tolerate it, check with your dietician or doctor)

125g dairy-free spread

3 tbsp cointreau/liqueur of your choice (check it's gluten-free)

2 tbsp sugar / more according to taste

Dried red wicked little chillis (see image), about 20g, but you will only use 0.5tsp

For the coating:

Approximately 200g dark chocolate

Some gluten-free cocoa powder to dust the truffles

Presentation cases

  • Place the cheeky chillis in a liquidiser and blend them until they are a fine powder. Do try not to inhale the dust, it causes havoc with your eyes and nasal passages. Also, careful as you handle it, it can burn the skin. Such a feisty character needs to be approached with caution. If you don't have a liquidiser, you could use a mortar and pestle, just make sure you get a fine powder. Set aside
  • To melt the 175g of chocolate, place a small saucepan containing a little water over a medium heat and place a large heatproof bowl on top. The water shouldn't touch the base of the bowl, and you'll need to check that the water doesn't boil dry
  • Place the chocolate in the bowl and stir until melted, don't let it get too hot, err on the side of very thick
  • Remove molten chocolate from heat and add the dairy-free spread. Beat until you have a smooth paste, return it to the steaming pan if need be. Add the liqueur and sugar and beat again
  • Add the chilli powder, use more or less depending on your taste. You might want to add it bit by bit, and keep checking the taste (Put the remaining chilli powder into an airtight container and use for your next batch!)
  • Beat the mix for a few minutes (I think this makes it lighter in texture, but I'm not sure it's strictly necessary) then cover the bowl and place it in the fridge for a couple of hours to set
  • The best time to mould the truffles is when the mix is still soft but not warm. You can chill the mix for longer than 2 hours, just remember to remove it at least an hour before you want to mould it
  • Line a baking tray with parchment and set aside. Sieve the cocoa powder onto a plate
  • Take teaspoonfuls of the mix from the bowl and roll around in your hands to form balls.
  • Roll the balls in the cocoa powder until they are covered and then place on the baking tray.
  • Repeat until all the mix is used up
  • You could now chill these for at least 12 hours, uncovered in the fridge, or move onto the next stage
    For the shell:
  • Line a baking tray with baking parchment
    Melt the rest of the chocolate in a saucepan as you did for the first part of the recipe. Let it cool slightly (placing the bowl in a sink of cold water will accelerate this process)
  • Then take the cocoa dusted truffles and one by one drop them into the melted chocolate.
    Roll them around with your fingers and use a spoon to ladle more chocolate over the bits you can't cover. Hold them above the bowl to let excess chocolate drop back in, then place the balls onto the baking tray.
  • Repeat until all the truffles are covered in chocolate
  • Leave the truffles to chill in the fridge. At least 4 hours, but overnight is fine
  • When the chocolate is solid, each truffle will have a little flat base where the chocolate ran down. You can shave this off carefully with a serrated knife, take the truffles out of the fridge about an hour before you want to do this
  • Place the chocolates in their pretty cases and feel very happy
  • Do or don't tell the contents of the truffles, it depends on how mean you're feeling!

© Pig in the Kitchen 2007

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Sunday, 24 June 2007

Vegetable Kebabs (egg-free, dairy-free, gluten-free)

If the success of a party can be measured by the size of the hangover it engenders, then I can confirm that Heather and John’s farewell barbecue was a fine one.

It was one of those rare occasions when, as soon as we arrived, my children simply melted away into the mêlée of exciting older children, trampolines, garden toys and someone else’s bedroom to trash. I didn’t see some of them for hours on end, and every now and then I had to totter around the garden and house to do a headcount.

How silly I was to worry about toned buttocks, I had forgotten that there would be so many members of the Armed Forces elite at the barbecue. Whether I had toned buttocks or not was neither here nor there; everywhere you looked there was a visual feast of male and muscled bodies.

Now I normally avoid drinking Pimms on the grounds that anything that tastes like squash and can slip down without touching the sides, is bound to lead to double vision trouble. Yet I’d had a rather tough week – raw sewage in the cellar anyone? – so threw caution to the winds. It was after about tumbler number 3 of Pimms, when the whisper went around that the charming gentlemen who was so assiduously re-filling our glasses, was concocting a lethal mix of Pimms and Gin up in the kitchen. Unscrupulous rogue, no wonder he left so early, in a very sober manner.

Fearing a hangover, I switched crazily between red wine and champagne. I’m not sure this was the best game plan. My children started to multiply before my very eyes, there goes my boy…gosh, since when did I have conjoined boys?

At one lovely moment during the evening, I found myself in the kitchen with a cackle of wives. An innocent little comment from myself was like breaching the dam, and we erupted with excited hoots of laughter
Me: ‘So – ahem - who’s the guy with the amazing body?’
Clearly I had not been alone in my perusal of this man and out tumbled the information;
Wife 1: ‘He’s got a flat in the 7th arrondissement, he said I’d like it!’Wife 2: ‘I think he’s single!’
Wife 3: ‘Did you feel his handshake? He nearly cracked my fingers’
Wife 4: ‘If a woman wore a shirt that tight, bulging at the buttons, you can imagine the looks she’d get’.

It’s true, he had no-one but himself to blame. You know, I can really see why men ogle women, ogling is actually lots of fun!

The rest of the soiree passed in a blissful haze. I was obviously suffering from ‘fabulous breast envy’ at some point, because I have a close-up shot of a lovely cleavage on my camera. No head or neck, just a big old zoom on the cleavage. I shall study it and make notes.

And when it was time for tea, I’m pretty sure I ate some of these veggie kebabs. Very good they were too. If you take these to your next barbecue, do remember to drink in moderation.

I will take this opportunity to raise a glass to Heather and John, and to wish them lots of happiness as they wend their way back to Blighty. My one regret is that I didn't get to see the naked trampolining for which they are famed. Maybe at the next one?

H&J's Veggie Kebabs (Click here for tips on how to avoid cross-contamination)
Another handy dish that can be cooked in the oven for fear of clogging up the carnivorous barbecue. These can be marinaded overnight, then assembled on the day. You can also make the Spinach Pesto (for the marinade) a couple of days ahead and keep it in the fridge, or freeze it. This recipe makes about 12 / 14 kebabs. The choice of veggies is really up to you, but I used the following:

10 new potatoes
4 small sweet potatoes
3 orange peppers
1 green pepper
1 yellow pepper
18 button mushrooms
20 cherry tomatoes (about 500g)
250g shallots (or about 3 big spanish onions)
a pack of skewers
Olive oil for drizzling
A sprinkle of chilli flakes if you desire

For the marinade:
3 heaped tbsps of Baby Spinach Pesto, or I have found this pesto, (it is gluten and dairy-free, but note it does contain cashew nuts)
1 tbsp Dijon Mustard (gluten-free, here's one)
1 big beef tomato
1 tbsp red wine vinegar
  • Chop the new potatoes in half and steam them for about 9 minutes, then set them aside. You want them soft enough to push a skewer through, but not soft enough to split when you do so
  • Peel the new potatoes, chop them into chunks and steam them for about 7 minutes
  • Chop all the peppers into large chunks
  • Peel the shallots, and use them whole if they are small, or split them down the middle if they are big (or cut the onions into large chunks)
  • Wipe the button mushrooms and remove the stalks
  • Put all the ingredients for the marinade into a mixing bowl and stir to combine. Then tip the marinade into a roasting tin
  • Place all the vegetables into the roasting tin and stir so that they are all coated in marinade. It's probably easiest to use your hands. If you are doing this the night before, cover with foil until you need it
  • To assemble, spend a pleasant half an hour threading the veg in various colour combinations onto the skewers. Sprinkle the chilli flakes over the top if you wish
  • If you are cooking these in the oven, heat oven to 180/190 degrees C. Drizzle your kebabs with olive oil. Put a cooling rack on top of a baking tray and place the kebabs on top (they drip and you don't want to have to clean the oven do you?!). Put them in the oven, remembering to turn them after about 15 mins (keep checking though)
  • If you are cooking these on a barbecue, hooray! Just make sure you drizzle them with oil before cooking or they can be a tad dry
  • These are good served with Salsa, mmmmmm, yummy.

© Pig in the Kitchen 2007
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Friday, 22 June 2007

Mushroom and Quinoa Burgers (egg-free, dairy-free, gluten-free)

I have been invited to a barbecue. How thrilling! Whenever I am invited to such an event I immediately drift off into one of my comforting reveries about the other me.

Cut to pastoral garden scene, enter lovely, floaty woman with toned buttocks and fabulous breasts. Her soft clothes hang beautifully on her willowy frame. Her perfect, happy children and perfect, happy husband smile serenely at her. They love her so. Has she ever uttered a cross word? They struggle to remember…

This delightful vision of beauty takes her seat in some dappled shade, the many people at the barbecue try not to stare as they wonder who she is. She graciously accepts the chilled glass of champagne, tips back her summer hat and engages those around her in light, amusing conversation, peppered with witty anecdotes. People stare at her in frank admiration. Children and small animals come to sit at her feet.

Then I am quickly jerked out of said reverie by the strained face of my host-to-be, who is looking uncomfortable as she says,
Err, so what-umm-exactly, umm, what do people like you eat at barbecues?’

Then I remember that I am vegetarian and that barbecues are all about meat. On my own turf this has never presented me with a problem, I am happy to eat yummy barbecued veg, and will on occasion buy – gasp – processed vegetarian ‘burgers’ or ‘sausages’. I quite like the taste of the latter, but they are not for everyone. I do remember my lovely friend Dave – who admittedly was nursing a rather large hangover – pushing away a plate of Quorn sausages and saying, ‘I’m sorry I can’t eat this stuff’. His delightful wife Vicky was mortified and quickly apologised for ‘my very rude husband’. I thought it was rather funny, I may try and serve them to him again one day.

So I am busily preparing for tomorrow’s barbecue. Of course one can’t take crap processed food to someone else's barbecue, so I have devised some rather tasty burgers. I do not wish to be a self-publicist (although I may end up having to be), but could I draw your attention to the original ‘breadcrumb’ coating the burgers? I am rather surprised at my own ingenuity!

Next time you have some weirdy vegans or vegetarians over for a barbie, you could make these for them, they tick the gluten-free box too.

So, the burgers are sorted, I just need to dig out some floaty clothes to wear for tomorrow. I’ve hunted high and low for toned buttocks and fabulous breasts, can’t seem to find those anywhere.

Quinoa and Mushroom Burgers (if you wish, serve these with Archimedes' Gluten Free Bread Rolls)
(makes about 8, I think they could be frozen, but I haven't tried it)

These can easily be cooked the day before and then re-heated in the oven. This avoids that awkward situation where the host either slaps your burgers down next to some oozing steak, or cooks all the veggie stuff first and you are left looking like a right porker with all your food lined up in front of you, and everyone else has nothing.

For the coating:
150g quinoa
Lots of black pepper
0.5 tbsp sea salt (I used Maldon sea salt)
0.25-0.5 tsp chilli flakes
For the filling:
100g quinoa
pinch of saffron
0.25tsp cumin
0.25tsp ground coriander
8 button mushrooms
3 cloves garlic
3 tbsp olive oil (perhaps a tad more)
3 medium carrots
400g tin chick peas
4 tbsp rice flour
1.5tbsp ground linseeds
2 'no egg' egg replacers mixed up with either rice milk or water / or if you can eat eggs, 2 eggs
Olive Oil for frying
You will also need some baking parchment and a pastry cutter about 8cm in diameter
  • Put all the ingredients for the coating into a liquidiser / blender and grind to a powder. It doesn't matter if a few whole grains of quinoa remain. Spread some of the powder onto a dinner plate, quite thickly, and set aside
  • Put a large pan of salted water on to boil. Add the saffron. When it is boiling, add the quinoa and leave to cook according to the packet instructions (about 15 / 20 mins?). When the quinoa is 'al dente' - it should have a slight crunch - drain it through a sieve. Use the back of a spoon to press down on the quinoa to squeeze out most of the water
  • Whilst the quinoa is boiling, put the mushrooms, garlic and 3 tbsps of olive oil into a liquidiser or blender. Blend it all to a paste. This took a few attempts, scraping it down from the sides with a spoon, and you might find you need to add more oil. You are aiming for a thick paste
  • Put the quinoa and mushroom and garlic paste into a large mixing bowl. Add the cumin and coriander. Peel the carrots and grate them finely into the bowl. Mix it all together
  • Drain the tin of chick peas, then use a hand blender to blend them to a thick paste. You could add a bit of olive oil if you're struggling. Add the chickpea paste to the bowl
  • Mix everything in the bowl together. Add the linseeds and then the rice flour tbsp by tbsp. You want a thick mass, not too squidgy
  • Mix up the 'no egg' egg replacer with the milk or water
  • Cut out a square of baking parchment, about 15 x 15cm. Place your pastry cutter onto the parchment, spoon in some burger mix and smooth it around until you have your desired burger thickness. Carefully remove the cutter, (pushing the mix down with the back of a spoon if it sticks to the cutter), to reveal your perfect burger shape!
  • Using the back of a teaspoon, spread some 'no egg' over the surface of the burger, this is to ensure the coating will stick. If you are using a real egg, it may be easier to use your fingers to spread instead of a spoon
  • Lift the burger on the baking parchment and cunningly tip it onto your coating plate so that the burger lands 'egg' side down. You may have to flip it on and hope for the best
  • Coat the other side of the burger with 'no egg' and spoon some coating onto it. You should now be able to lift the burger up and flip it from hand to hand to remove excess coating
  • Gently heat a good amount of olive oil in a non-stick frying pan, and put the burger in it. Let it heat gently for a while to warm it all through, then turn the heat up towards the end to brown it off. When it is golden brown turn it over to brown the other side
  • Remove from the pan and place onto kitchen paper to absorb any excess oil
  • Repeat the process until all the burger mix and coating is used up.
  • Get your glad rags on, grab your burgers and bubbly and have a lovely time at the barbecue!
© Pig in the Kitchen 2007

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Sunday, 17 June 2007

Mexican Beans (egg-free, dairy-free, gluten-free)

At the risk of sounding about 12, I have a Best Friend.

I met my Best Friend at my first job after university. We were both teaching English at a French university. She has many pseudonyms, ‘Dolly, Dorry, ‘Our Mutual Spanish Friend’, Sange, Sandros’, but her actual name is Sandra. We are very different. We look different, we sound different, we come from different backgrounds and we like different things. Yet somehow, it just works.

She is the person I may not speak to for weeks and weeks, but on a really bad day, I can pick up the phone in tears and she will comfort me without any preamble.

There has only been one time when she didn’t appreciate a phone call from me. It was the day Princess Diana died, and I was 8 hours ahead of the UK in China, watching CNN and feeling rather distraught. I picked up the phone. As there was no answer, I rang back and back again. Eventually her sleepy voice answered. In the manner of an overexcited cub reporter I blurted out the breaking news. There was a pause. ‘I. DON’T. CARE. It’s Sunday and it’s 5.30 in the morning. Click. [sound of phone going dead]’. Poor Sandros, she does like her sleep.

During those heady days at our first job, when we were young and thought everything was possible, we organised a trip to the UK for 50 of our French Students. We had completely underestimated the enormity of the task. We are also terrible at maths. We sat one day in despair, staring at the figures; the payments from students, the cost of the ferry and the hostel, desperately trying to get the books to balance. We thought we had done it. Then two days before the trip we remembered the bank charges for transferring the money to the hostel. We really didn’t have any money left. So we came up with a plan.

As we sat on the deck of the cross-channel ferry we were performing our very own international transfer. I had £500 secreted in my Doctor Marten boots, and she had £500 secreted in hers. Unfortunately, she hadn’t put her money in an envelope and must have very sweaty feet. The notes looked a bit smudged when we got to the hostel, they were convinced they were fake and wouldn’t accept them. We stood in the lobby with 50 students thronged behind us, and thought it was all going to go belly up. Thankfully, we managed to persuade a nearby bank that they weren’t counterfeit and they swapped them for crisp new ones. Our much-needed English beer slipped down well that night.

I have just spent the weekend with Sandra. It was almost like the good old days. Almost. If we don’t count my four children. But once they were in bed, it was JUST like the old times. We nattered, and drank and ate. I cooked her these beans. It would be handy if she were Mexican and I could justify the title. She is Spanish though, I think that’s close enough? The beans are vaguely Mexican to me because of the coriander and the chillies. I hope you enjoy them.

Vaguely Mexican Beans (Click here for tips on how to avoid cross-contamination)
(serves 2 girlies with some left over as a side dish for lunch the next day)

2 large baking potatoes
1 medium onion
Some olive oil for frying
1 red pepper
1 yellow pepper
3 large mushrooms
2 green chillis (finely chopped) (optional, they are not for Sandra, she doesn't do spicy)
A good bunch of fresh coriander / cilantro
about 0.5-1tsp paprika
0.5-1 teaspoon gluten-free yeast extract
1 tin kidney beans (400g)
2 big tomatoes
5 tbsps red wine
1 tsp cornflour mixed to a paste with red wine
splash of red wine vinegar
Salt and pepper to taste

To coat the potatoes:
Olive oil
Ground sea salt
Ground black pepper
Ground chilli flakes (optional)

  • Pre-heat the oven to about 180 / 190 degrees Celsius. When it is at temperature, prick the baking potatoes all over with a fork, place them on a baking tray and put them into the oven. Depending on the size of the potato, they should take about an hour to cook
  • Peel and slice the onion and peppers into strips and place them into a large frying pan. Splash in some olive oil and fry them gently. You don't want the onion to go brown, so stir occasionally and keep the heat low
  • Slice the mushroom and finely chop the green chillis if using. Add them to the frying pan and stir it all round
  • Roughly chop the the coriander and add half of it to the pan. Stir, and let it all fry until the mushrooms have started to give off their juice
  • Sprinkle over the paprika and drop in the yeast extract, stir to combine it all. Cut the tomatoes in half, hold the halves above the frying pan and squeeze so that all the juice and pips drop into the pan. Try and get some of the pulp to go in too, but no skin, I can't abide tomato skin. Add the red wine and and stir it all round.
  • Drain the can of kidney beans, add them to the pan, and let it simmer for about 5-8 minutes, stirring occasionally.
  • Mix the cornflour with the red wine to form a smooth paste. Add it to the frying pan and stir frantically. I was a little alarmed at how thick everything went at this point, panic not, just add some more red wine to loosen it all up
  • Add the splash of red wine vinegar (about a tablespoon or so)
  • Add salt and pepper to your taste, sprinkle the remaining chopped coriander over the top, turn off the heat and set it aside
  • Now, your spuds should nearly be cooked, test this by sticking a knife into them. When they are almost done (only about 10 more mins to go), remove them from the oven
  • On one plate, pour some olive oil, on another plate, grind lots of salt, black pepper and chilli flakes
  • Put the potato first onto the oily plate, and use your fingers to smear oil all over the potato skin
  • Next put the oily potato onto the salty plate, and again use your fingers to make sure it's all coated in yummy seasoning. Repeat for the next potato
  • Place the potatoes back into the oven for about 10 mins, until the skins are golden and crispy
  • Put the beans back on a low heat
  • When spuds are done, remove from the oven and put onto your serving plate. Cut a cross in the top, peel back the skin and artistically insert some beany mix. Add a little extra on the plate, and perhaps a sprig of coriander
  • If you can eat dairy products, you could add some sour cream or feta cheese to the top of your potato
  • Sandra and I accompanied our spud with a rocket and cucumber salad, drizzled with oil and red wine vinegar. For fear of a hangover, we decided to stick with champagne and not bother with any red wine. You do as you see fit.
© Pig in the Kitchen 2007

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Gingerbread Men and Women (egg-free, dairy-free, gluten-free)

The first time I visited Tiananmen Square, I was intrigued by a huge digital clock off to one side, counting down in seconds. It was clearly counting down to an event many seconds into the future. It turned out to be counting down to the handover of Hong Kong back to the Mainland. Don’t worry, I am not going to debate the politics of British Colonial Rule, or whether Hong Kong has fared better under Chinese Rule. That’s far too much of a gluten-free hot potato.

The reason I thought of that great big digital clock with its red numbers, is that in the last few weeks I have seen another one. Every time I close my eyes, there’s a great mass of numbers counting down in seconds to a time in the not-too-distant future.

The summer holidays begin in 1,641,600 seconds. Or thereabouts. Now I do look forward to the holidays. I am so tired at the moment that the thought of not having to set an alarm for 0630 hours every day almost makes me cry with happiness. Yet I also know how badly the days can go with four young children, no outside help, and long, long hours to fill. I may not set MY alarm for 0630 hours, but the crazy alarm in my children’s heads goes off all the same.

I do have a few coping strategies to help me along; I have arranged a 10 day trip to the UK, and I am busy arranging lots of other people’s social lives, persuading them that they really do fancy paying me a visit. Nevertheless, there will be lots of days when it’s all down to Mummy. I have observed that my children’s mood is directly linked to my own. On the days when they are crabby, miserable and sad, it is generally because I am feeling the same way. Conversely, when Mummy is up, everyone is happy. It’s such a responsibility, I really feel the role of Mummy should come with some government hand-outs, some rock hard cash incentives.

I digress. I have come up with a plan for filling at least one day of the hols. Making Gingerbread Men. My kids love to bake, and Gingerbread Men are very good value. Lots of rolling, cutting, pretty shapes, squidging and mess. I gave these Gingerbread Men a trial run last week. My boy had a friend to play and I rolled out the Gingerbread dough. It was a success. They were happily occupied for the best part of oh, 20 minutes, and they made some lovely biscuits.

In the calm of the weekend I had a very therapeutic time painting my newfound friends with melted chocolate. My children wanted to help with the chocolate painting, but I said no, painted their lips with molten chocolate and then they ran off in a cocoa-fuelled frenzy and left me in peace.
I silently thanked my gingerbread mates for the help they had already given me, and for their help which is to come. I told them I looked forward to seeing them again in, oh about 1 million six hundred and forty one thousand, four hundred and twenty seconds.
Gingerbread Mates (Click here for tips on how to avoid cross-contamination)
If you can eat eggs but not gluten, just substitute the 'no egg' for a real egg. You may find you have to add more flour to compensate. Add it tbsp by tbsp until you get a workable dough. If you can tolerate gluten, you can make this recipe with wheat flour. Use 350g plain white flour, but you won't need the xanthan gum.
225 g rice flour (here's one) + extra for rolling out
125g Gram flour (aka chickpea or besan flour) (here's one)
1 tsp xanthan gum (here's one)
1tsp bicarbonate of soda
100g dairy free spread (here's one)
175g sugar
2 tsp ground ginger
175g golden syrup
1 'no-egg' egg replacer mixed up with rice milk
About 50g dark chocolate, at least 70% cocoa solids (gluten-free, dairy-free, here's one)
Although dark chocolate contains soya lecithin, my daughter could tolerate it when she was intolerant of soya. However, do check with your doctor/dietician if you are unsure
  • Heat the oven to 190 degrees C, (Gas mark 5, 375F)
  • Put the flours, xanthan gum, ginger and bicarbonate of soda into a large mixing bowl and mix together
  • Add the dairy-free spread and rub it into the flour until it resembles fine breadcrumbs
  • Stir in the sugar
  • Mix the syrup with the 'no-egg' and add it to the mixing bowl
  • Squidge it all together to make a dough. You may find that the dough is too wet and sticky, in which case, add some more rice flour, tbsp by tbsp. You need a dough that is not sticky, but not too dry either
  • Roll out the dough on a rice-floured surface to a thickness of about 5mm. If you like your gingerbread people really crunchy, then you might want to go to 3mm. I like mine quite soft and thick (so like me), they are better for dunking in your tea. Also, because of the addition of xanthan gum, I'm not sure you'll get a really crunchy clever friend Jo says that you need butter for the crunch, so if you can tolerate butter, try using that
  • Have lots of fun cutting out your people, don't be bound by convention, make gingerbread stars or hearts or any other cutting shape you have to hand!
  • Bake in the oven for about 12-15 mins...but do hover nearby and keep checking, they can brown really quickly
  • When they are golden brown (or deeply tanned like my friends on the right of the photo, I took my eye off the oven...), remove them from the oven and leave them to cool
  • When they are completely cool, shoo the kids away and melt the dark chocolate in the microwave (in a heatproof bowl) or very gently in a saucepan
  • Take a clean paintbrush and bring your creations to life by daubing them with melted choc. You have the power to give life, it is a wonderful thing. Please make sure that you spoon any remaining melted chocolate into your mouth. Then smile at yourself in the mirror
© Pig in the Kitchen 2007
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Wednesday, 13 June 2007

Strawberry Ice Cream (egg-free dairy-free gluten-free)

My husband and I met at the long shiny bar that separates the right brain from the left brain. I suspect it is called something like ‘The Medulla and Lobe’. We are able to look at the same problem, and find a completely different solution. We find this very exasperating. I find it exasperating because he is patently wrong. He finds it exasperating because he is so obviously right.

Fortunately he is not a hardcore ‘left-brainer’. Although he can absent-mindedly pepper his conversations with terms such as ‘co-efficient of restitution’ and 'internal rate of return’, he is saved by his ability to play this. And write the music to play on it. And write the lyrics. And sing them. So that’s a relief.

He is the father of my children. He quite often questions me about that because, whereas he has very dark hair, (‘Where is your husband from?’) some of our children are very blonde. And none of them have black hair. I tell him it shows that almost-blondes like me have more fun and better genes. A fair point I think.

I don’t think decent loving Dads get enough good press. They are the silent majority that get treated with paedophile suspicion when out alone with their children. My husband is part of the silent majority. He patiently mends all their toys and he sits with them and watches their DVDs. He wrestles with his son and wolf-whistles admiringly at his giggling daughters who are showing him their new disco-dancing moves.

Last weekend he embarked on the Herculean task of taking the three older ones on their bikes to buy bread. It would take me 5 minutes to get to the shop on my bike. It took him 50 minutes. There had been wailing and howling from one, a lost pedal from another, constant questions from still another. He returned with the exhausted look of one who would rather be crunching numbers at the office.

As they returned from the bike ride they discovered a dead moorhen outside our gate, it had been hit by a car. We have a horrible feeling – although we are not sure - that it is Molly the moorhen who lives on our pond and recently had a chick. My eldest was distraught. She went off to a far corner of the garden and sobbed bitterly. Her Dad wandered over, put his arm around her and came up with a plan. There was a bustle of activity, I had to provide the acrylic paints and within half an hour a beautifully painted sign bore the legend, ‘A Moorhen’.

My daughter chose the spot for the Moorhen’s final resting-place. My husband dug the grave and tenderly carried the moorhen into our garden. I wasn’t present at the ceremony, but he did tell me he’d said a few words. He said he hoped that Molly would find peace, and he showed the two biggest girls how to scatter some earth over her grave. He said they were very solemn, but that the funeral had been cathartic.

I think my children's Dad should have a lovely Father’s Day this Sunday, and I have made him this ice cream because he does like ‘red flavours’. Unfortunately he will not be able to sample it on the actual day. This is because he will be carousing in a sleep-deprived, beer-fuelled state at the 24 hours of Le Mans. I think that's a pretty cool way to spend Father's Day. I hope he, and all you other lovely Fathers, have a very happy Father’s Day.

Red Ice Cream (Click here for tips on how to avoid cross-contamination)
This recipe does require an ice-cream maker. If you are hesitating about investing in this delightful domestic device, could I refer you to this wonderfully erudite piece of writing. I'm sure the logic expressed will persuade you to get out your credit card.
500g strawberries
250g raspberries2
200g dairy-free spread (here's one)
200g white sugar
400ml rice milk
4 tsps 'no egg' egg replacer mixed with 4 tbsps rice milk
Possibly a teaspoon or so of cornflour mixed with rice milk

  • Wash the fruit amd chop the stalks off the strawberries. The easiest way to extract the juice is to put it all into a juicer. If you don't have one, let me again refer you to the article mentioned above, but if you don't want to purchase one, you can blitz the fruit in a liquidiser or blender, then scrape it through a sieve. Have a jug under the sieve to catch the juice/puree. It takes a looonnng time, you could do this step a day ahead if necessary
  • Mix the 'no egg' with the rice milk and set aside
  • Melt the dairy-free spread and the sugar together in a medium sized saucepan. Let it bubble quickly for about 5 minutes, stir it constantly. It makes a lovely 'scrip scrip' sound as you scrape through it with your wooden spoon
  • Add the 400ml of rice milk and the 'no egg' solution to the bubbling mix. You might want to switch over to a mini whisk at this point to deter any cheeky lumps from forming
  • Heat the contents of the saucepan gently, whisking all the time
  • The mixture should thicken as it gets to the boil, you are aiming for it to coat the back of a wooden spoon. If it is not thick enough, add the cornflour teaspoon by teaspoon
  • If you encounter lumps in the sauce, fret not, whisk for England / insert country of your choice, and if that doesn't work you can press it all through a sieve and the lumps will be no more
  • When the sauce is of the desired consistency, pour it into a large mixing bowl, cover the surface with clingfilm and leave until cold
  • Add the juice/puree of the strawberries and raspberries to the cold sauce and mix until it is blended together. Taste it and see if you want to add more sugar
  • Pour the mixture into the ice-cream maker and leave it to do its stuff, the time will vary depending on the ice-cream maker. Mine took about 45 mins
  • Transfer the ice-cream into an ice cream container and place in the freezer for at least 12 hours, 24 is probably better
  • You will need to remove this about 15 minutes before you want to serve it. Don't leave it out for too long, it does melt quite quickly

© Pig in the Kitchen 2007

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Monday, 11 June 2007

Stuffed Peppers (gluten-free, dairy-free, egg-free)

Saturday night is generally the only night when my husband and I eat alone together. Weekdays are a blur for us both, his blurs often occurring in different countries and time zones, and so it’s quite a novel experience to sit down and break bread together.

On bad nights our meal is eaten to the beat of elephantine feet pounding around upstairs. Usually I crack first, and bolt up the stairs promising all manner of heinous punishments unless they pipe down. On good nights the house is silent save for us chatting, and glugging down a bottle of red.

Dinner is always followed by a movie. As we are starved of decent telly here in France, we are amassing a good selection of DVDs. Quite a few of them feature 007; I’m a bit of a sucker for Bond . Christmas is not complete without a Bond movie, nor is Easter or a Bank Holiday. The BBC fed us well in my childhood, I was transfixed by Roger, unimpressed by Timothy, and very excited by Pierce. (I'm too young for Connery, ahem)

I’m afraid I was one of those purists that thought that 007 had to have dark hair. I derided the idea of a light-haired Bond, for me, Daniel was not going to cut it.

Well. How wrong a girl can be. The first time I saw the new Bond movie I sat and salivated. I could be a bit pretentious here and talk about the need to sell this new Bond to the female audience. How the hackneyed ‘male gaze’ so prevalent in traditional Bond films has been replaced by a very female gaze. A gaze that gives us delicious close-ups of a brawny, well-toned body in skimpy trunks. How his infatuation with Vesper Lynd showed a warm human side and introduced the idea that perhaps it was possible to ‘reach’ him emotionally.

I could say all of that. Or I could say, that Daniel Craig gives a gritty performance, that he’s got a fabulous body and really, which girl wouldn’t want to go a few rounds with him?

So, on the DVD menu last Saturday was Casino Royale, and to accompany it I served these Saturday Night Peppers. It was a Double Bill of ‘Mmmm, gorgeous’.

Saturday Night Peppers (Click here for tips on how to avoid cross-contamination)
If you can tolerate dairy products, then you could top these with crumbled feta cheese or goats cheese instead of vinaigrette.

3 peppers (red, yellow, green)
100g Spinach
3 medium mushrooms
20 black olives (pitted) plus a few extra to garnish
175g long grain rice
3 cloves of garlic
0.5-1tsp ground nutmeg (depending on taste)
Black pepper
2 tsp gluten-free Dijon Mustard (here's one)
1 heaped teaspoon paprika
2 tbsp gluten-free yeast extract (here's one)
Sprinkling of chilli flakes (optional)
3 big beef tomatoes
Olive oil
Some green leaves for garnish (spinach, rocket, etc)
Feta or goat's cheese (optional, and obviously not suitable for those suffering from dairy allergies - please don't serve it to them!)
For the vinaigrette:
Click here
  • Heat the oven to 190 degrees C, Gas Mark 5, 375 degrees fahrenheit
  • Set a large steamer saucepan of water to boil. When it is boiling, add the yeast extract and paprika and stir until it has dissolved. Add the rice to the saucepan, place the steamer part on top and steam the spinach for about 4/5 minutes. (if you don't have a steamer, you can cook the spinach in a regular saucepan in a small amount of water. Cover it and let it sweat until it has wilted)
  • Remove the steamer, drain the excess juice off the spinach then chop it quite finely. Sprinkle over the nutmeg and mix it all in. Transfer the spinach to a large mixing bowl
  • Finely chop the mushrooms and garlic, add to the spinach and mix together
  • Slice the black olives into rings and add to the bowl. Add the mustard and mix it all together
  • When the rice is done, drain it, then add it to the bowl. Mix everything together and add the chilli flakes if you want to
  • Slice the peppers in half along their length and cut out the inner bit and scrape out all the seeds
  • Place them in an ovenproof dish facing upwards (smooth side to the base of the dish)
  • Place spoonfuls of the rice 'stuffing' into each pepper. I levelled the top of mine, but next time I might put more stuffing in so that they are 'domed'
  • Cut the beef tomatoes in half. Squeeze the innards all over the peppers and down the sides into the dish. The idea is to create juice in which to sizzle the peppers
  • Generously drizzle olive oil over the peppers and down the sides. You don't want them to stick!
  • A final twist of black pepper, then cover the dish with aluminium foil and place in the centre of the oven
  • Whilst the peppers are cooking, get busy with the vinaigrette. Here's how.
  • Cook for about 20 minutes, then you could move to the top shelf for the next 10 minutes or so (still covered). Remove the foil for the final 5 minutes to brown things off a little (add the goat's or feta cheese if you want to at this point)
  • Check to see if they are done by sticking a knife in the side of one of the peppers. If there's too much resistance, leave them to cook for a bit longer
  • Remove from the oven, place them on a serving plate with some green leaves and drizzle the vinaigrette over the top, finishing by placing a black olive cheekily in the middle
  • Settle down with a good man (or woman), a good DVD and tuck in!
© Pig in the Kitchen 2007

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Tuesday, 5 June 2007

Strawberry Tart (egg-free, dairy-free, gluten-free)

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
100g sugar
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
For the pastry:
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.
  • Enjoy!
PS: apologies to any readers with strawberry allergies, it is one of the ones we don't have...I guess you could use cherries? Gooseberries? Your imagination? :-)
© Pig in the Kitchen 2007Food & Drink Blogs - Blog Top Sites


I have been ‘tagged’ by the lovely Dulwich Mum. This means I’m supposed to write 8 interesting things about myself. As my next culinary offering is still in the oven, I have obliged, using the term 'interesting' rather loosely…

I have a book-smelling fetish. You have to open the book, bury your nose right down to the crease where the staples are and inha-a-ale. Gorgeous. It’s only books with smooth and shiny pages that smell this way. It’s probably a carcinogen that smells so delightful, but I have to take my kicks where I can.

I am not in the habit of carrying a diary as grown-up women are supposed to. If I have to remember something I swap my rings around and put them on the wrong fingers. This works for a limited amount of times, then becomes extremely confusing as I cannot remember why the solitaire diamond is on the three-diamond ring finger, or why my mother’s wedding ring is stuck halfway up my thumb.

I am a PADI Advanced Open Water Diver. However my last bout of diving was so long ago I would make a very dangerous diving buddy; don’t let me check your gear before we tumble backwards off the boat. Highlights of my diving career include the very un-PC wreck-diving in the Philippines, (I understand military types refer to them as ‘war graves’) and being charged repeatedly by a trigger fish in Thailand as I tried to qualify as an Open Water Diver. My kind Dive Instructor ignored the part of the dive where I sat on the bottom hyperventilating in terror, and chose to pass me on my prowess at buoyancy control and on my sexy curves in a shorty wetsuit. (It was pre-children, they were curves not bulges)

I used to own a very old Datsun, donated by my Father. With the help of some arty friends I did a marvellous paint job on it, with flowers and my name on the door. When I am rich and famous I shall buy another and pay someone to paint it like the Scooby Doo Mystery Machine. I shall pay someone else to make me look like Daphne.

I can juggle with three balls, and very briefly with four. My finest juggling moment was in a private room at a Mongolian restaurant. There were lots of eggs on the table for us to crack into our Mongolian hotpot. I decided it was the perfect opportunity to display my juggling prowess to my happy, drunken friends. I started the juggling display and brought the house down when one of the eggs flew up and simply disappeared. It had gone up into a huge extractor funnel that was hanging over the table, and had lodged itself neatly on an unseen shelf. Big respect for the Pig that night.

I once brought traffic to a standstill in China. One night after emerging from a bar I took my place on the traffic podium that is in the middle of big Chinese crossroads. The policeman who normally directed the traffic was long gone. It took me about 10 minutes to cause a gridlock of fantastic proportions. Not only did they stop because I was waving my arms in an authoritative manner, but also because I was a grinning, blonde foreigner shouting at them in Mandarin. I was having enormous fun when a black car with tinted windows inched its way to the podium. The tinted windows rolled down and from the backseat a man clad in the green uniform of a ‘very important military type’ fixed me with a hard stare. Beijing airport flashed before my eyes, me holding a one-way deportation ticket. I did the only reasonable thing and with a winning smile I waved him on shouting in my best Mandarin, ‘keep moving! Move it along! Quick! Quick!’. He stared in disbelief, cracked a smile and amazingly, moved along.

I have given birth naturally to three of my four piglets. I have done this with the aid of the gas, Entinox. I know its technical name because I have tried to buy it on the internet and have it delivered to my home for personal use. I fly as high as a kite on Entinox and have very vivid hallucinations. During my first labour I was convinced I was diving – something to do with the mouthpiece and all that slow breathing. When the midwife told me to hold my breath and push I flatly refused as the first rule of diving is to NEVER hold your breath underwater.

I had a ringside seat in the stadium during the 1992 Barcelona Olympics and watched the American 4x4 relay team power home to win a world record. I was sitting in the Press seats and after the team had cavorted in front of me draped in the US flag (for the cameras, not really for me), one of them hurdled the barrier and ran up the steps towards me. He had not been captivated by my beauty, but was heading up to do an interview with the American reporters behind. As the mass of sweat-glistening rock hard muscle passed me by I breathed in very deeply. It was a very moving experience.

So, that’s me all talked out, what a long post and no pretty pix I’m afraid. If they will permit me and are in the mood for a game of tag, I pass on the tagging burden to: Stay at Home Dad, Drunk Mummy, Brom Man, Lizzie and New Mum in Town