Thursday, 20 December 2007

Gluten Free Mince Pies (egg free, dairy free, gluten free)

There is a little known law of the Cosmos that runs thus:

‘If your husband is out of town, your chances of having to deal with a serious medical emergency involving a child, increase significantly’.

So it really should have come as no surprise that whilst my husband watched belly dancers and dug for gold in a desert – or whatever it is that he does – I should wake up to a son who had lost the ability to walk. He was like the drunkest drunk and could only manage three lurching steps before keeling over with a thud.

You know it’s bad when you arrive at the hospital and they whisk you past the queue and ensconce you in a private room. You know things are not good when the junior doctors are crowding into the room and the Consultant can barely contain her excitement at this rare example before her. You know it’s all gone horribly wrong when they tell you it’s viral Meningitis.

You may sit sobbing in the corridor as they perform a lumbar puncture and you might be slightly shaky as you follow the trolley down to the EEG room. When your son starts to vomit violently whenever he’s upright, you may really, really wish that the flight bringing your husband to your side had landed 10 hours earlier.

The admission to hospital was a formality; I’d come prepared with a bag. Yet I wasn’t prepared for the drip, the sensors on his chest and a son who seemed to be travelling off to a land of his own. His eyes stared dully at me and he cried from time to time because of the pain in his head. He drifted off into sleep and didn’t really wake up for a couple of days. When he was wheeled off for tests and scans, the concern and worry written on the faces of strangers in the lift, filled me with dread. Their expressions told me that they were looking at a little boy who was very ill. I just couldn’t believe it was my little boy who was so ill.

The lowest point came – as surely it always does – in the early hours. I was woken by the alarm from the monitor and watched as my son’s heart rate slowed down and then crawled back up again. It did it again. And again. I told a nurse, and her quick trot down the hall to get a doctor didn’t fill me with hope. The doctor stood next to me and we watched together. He left the room and returned with a portable ECG machine. He fixed on the sensors and concentrated for another ten minutes on the printout. The silence was deafening.

I haven’t told you, but our hospital room had a five star view of the Eiffel Tower. I haven’t told you, but my son was admitted on December 20th, and by now it was about December the 23rd. All through the festive period the Eiffel Tower twinkles on the hour for ten minutes; it’s a lovely sight. As the doctor pored over the machine I turned and stared out of the window. The Eiffel Tower was twinkling at me. With my own heart constricted to a tiny ball, I stared at the twinkles and thought very clearly;

‘As I stand here looking at the Eiffel Tower, my son is going to die.’

It was a very low moment.

My son did not die. He was very ill for 9 days. For 9 days of Christmas. The celebrations we had planned were in tatters. We couldn’t all sit on the bed on Christmas morning and squeal with delight at each other’s goodies. We couldn’t go and decorate the tree that was standing forlornly outside the house where were due to spend part of the festive season. We couldn’t drive to England wearing the Christmas hats we’d bought for the occasion. We spent the days and nights doing shifts at the hospital and struggling to muster Christmas cheer for our other children.

He finally came home on December 29th. He was unsteady on his feet, and uncoordinated. It would be weeks before he was back to his usual boisterous self. We did manage a dash to the UK and we eventually decorated, and then planted, our tree. It stands in our garden as a memory of the awful Christmas of 2006.

It was a year ago today that my boy was admitted to hospital. A lot happens in a year, but memories can remain raw. They can haunt you and tinge your life with fear. Yet I’m trying to push them aside and focus on the imminent festive celebrations.

We decorated the house last weekend and we’ll be on our way there in a couple of day’s time. The tree is standing outside; impatiently waiting to be brought in and adorned. If the Cosmos allows, I’m hoping that this Christmas will be happy and healthy. I think it will be all the more precious because of the Christmas that never was.

Dear readers, I shall eat my mince pies, drink to the health of my family, and see you in the New Year. Have a really lovely Christmas!

Meningitis Mince Pies (makes at least 12)

This year I made my own mincemeat (get me, I'm so perfect) partly 'coz it's not easy to get here in France, and partly to be a domestic goddess. However, bearing in mind that Christmas is only 5 days away (inhale, exhale) it's probably best to rush out and buy some gluten free stuff in a jar.

For the Mincemeat:

My first two daughters gasped - and one gagged - when they tried this in a probably want to reduce the alcohol content if serving to small children. The baby couldn't get enough of the pies though, I'm not sure that's a good thing...)
4 medium eating apples

4 tbsps Calvados (or apple juice)

2 cinnamon sticks

1 vanilla pod

200g muscovado sugar

100g sugar

250g raisins

150g chopped dates

150g dried cranberries and blueberries (or just cranberries)

2-4tbsps chopped ginger in syrup (or about a 1cm cube of fresh ginger)

1/4 tsp of ground nutmeg (or a good grating of fresh nutmeg)

the zest, juice and pulp of one orange

100ml of brandy (or you could try orange juice, although I haven't given that a whirl yet)

  • Peel, core and finely chop the apple. Put the apple, Calvados (or apple juice), cinammon and vanilla pod into a saucepan. Over a low heat, gently bring it to the boil. Let it simmer for a couple of minutes then remove the vanilla pod, split it down its length, and scrape the innards into the pan
  • Add the sugar, and stir until it has dissolved. Remove from the heat
  • Add the rest of the ingredients and stir thoroughly. Leave to cool completely, then place into clean jars that you have briefly heated in a low oven (to sterilise)
  • Place a disc of baking parchment over the top of the mincemeat in the jar, then set aside in a cool dark place for, well as long as you have. Mine snoozed for about three months
For Dairy free pastry:
300g wheat flour
150g dairy free spread
cold water to bind
  • Put the flour into a large mixing bowl
  • Add the dairy free spread and rub it into the flour until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs
  • Make a well in the centre, and add 2 tbsps of water. Mix with a metal spoon. Add another 2 tbsps water and repeat until you have a smooth, pliable dough
  • Follow the steps outlined below* for rolling out and assembling the pies
For gluten free, dairy free Pastry:
200g sweet potato, (peeled, cooked, cooled and mashed)
130g rice flour (+ extra for rolling out)
1 tsp xanthan gum 1 tsp gluten-free baking powder
100g dairy-free spread
Icing sugar to decorate

  • At least 4 hours, and up to 24 hours, before you're ready to start your mince pies, cook the sweet potato, let it get completely cold and put it in the fridge
  • Heat the oven to 180 degrees celsius
  • Put the rice flour, xanthan gum and baking powder into a large mixing bowl
  • Add the dairy free spread and rub it into the flour. It won't look like fine breadcrumbs, it'll end up fairly lumpy
  • Add the sweet potato to the bowl and mix together with a wooden spoon. After a bit abandon the spoon and start to squidge it together with your hands until you have a smooth dough
  • *Flour your work surface with rice flour and roll out the dough. If it's too sticky add extra rice flour, it doesn't seem to make the pastry tough or dry
  • *Roll out to a thickness of 2-3mm, and stamp out a large round with a pastry cutter, and then a slightly smaller round for the top
  • *Grease a mince pie tin lightly with dairy free spread, then press the larger round into the tin. Dollop on some mincemeat (just over a teaspoon), then use the smaller round to make a lid
  • *Press the edges together, plead with them, mould them with the end of a teaspoon and try and stick them together with a bit of water. Hope for the best
  • *In a bid to get my pies to go golden, I smeared them with my daughter's 'allergy milk' (Nutramigen). You couldn't taste it in the final product, but alas, it didn't really make them very golden. I covered this fact up with sprinkled icing sugar
  • *Prick the top of each pie with the point of a sharp knife and place the tin into the oven
  • *Bake for 12-15 minutes, the tops will go slightly golden and some of the cheeky mincemeat will try to ooze out
  • *Allow to cool for a bit in the tins, then ease them out and place them on a cooling rack to cool. When ready to serve, sprinkle with icing sugar
  • *Eat with gay abandon, repent in January

The pies shown are egg free, dairy free and gluten free
© Pig in the Kitchen 2007

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Monday, 10 December 2007

Chocolate Yule Log (egg free, dairy free, gluten free)

Some of my early childhood memories are of camping holidays in France. I loved the fluffy white baguette smeared thickly with Nutella, and I loved listening to the locals talk.

You know Simon, they don’t actually say ‘myrrrh-seee’ for ‘thank-you’, it’s more like ‘myrrh-ack-see’.

My brother stared at me in astonishment; had I really just handed him this golden opportunity to tease me mercilessly? But I was right. What I was hearing was the throaty ‘rrrr’ sound; try hawking up some phlegm and you’ve got it about right. It's a sound that us Brits find so hard to master.

Throughout my teens I was in love with France and anything French. A couple of French boys figured in my teenage love life and my vocabulary broadened considerably. Whether my desire for Christophe and Gilles was for their personalities or their ability to improve my French is a moot point, yet I embraced them both with gusto. My goal was to be mistaken for someone French. I listened to French music, read French books, and got into tons of trouble when I started sleep talking in French;
Jean-Claude, c’est toi?’
I had lots of explaining to do, why do parents have to listen to us even in our sleep?

I still love the French language, and I still enjoy speaking French. However, when you are surrounded by four children yelling at you in English, and your clothes are more slept in than Couture; there’s very little chance of anyone thinking you’re French. Furthermore I find I no longer have my youthful enthusiasm for all things gallic. In particular I don’t want people I barely know, lunging at my cheeks and breathing wine, garlic and coffee fumes all over me.

The whole kissing thing in France is a minefield. Just when are you supposed to kiss them and when should you shake their hand? I know the basic rules – always shake at the first meeting, always shake with your boss, kiss someone if they kiss you – but the lines start to get blurry and indistinct after you’ve met someone a couple of times. I’m always more comfortable with the handshake, but they may dive in for a kiss. This leads to the excruciating situation where you are kissing someone you barely know whilst firmly holding their hand.

These sorts of cultural differences are so confusing when you first arrive in a foreign land. My husband was strongly advised by his colleagues that handshaking was essential and that if you didn't greet with a handshake you were being spectacularly rude. He took this very much to heart and the next time he visited the bakery, he knew what to do.

Rather than shuffle in, avoid eye contact and join the back of the line, he entered the Boulangérie with his colleagues' advice ringing in his ears. With a deep breath, he adopted a solemn and professional look - as you do when being formal - and carefully moved along the line of people, gravely shaking their hands and saying 'bonjour'. He felt rather pleased with his integrational skills, and failed to notice the rictus of embarrassment on the faces of his victims. It was only when his French colleagues found out and fell about laughing that he realised his error. It was a faux pas of the same magnitude as peering over the urinal partition and checking out the size of the competition. Or so I'm told.

I'm often reminded of his mistake as I join the silent queue in my local Boulangerie; it makes me smile and cringe in equal measure. The other day as I quietly waited to be served I saw the sign telling me to place my order for my Bûche de Noël. I was thankful for the reminder; only 3 weeks to go and I hadn’t had a bash at a gluten free, egg free Chocolate log! Well I’ve had a few goes now, and here is the recipe for your delectation.

Chocolate Yule Log
This recipe was conceived one lonely Sunday evening when my husband had left me for another aeoroplane. His gleeful text telling me he had the whole of First class to himself and that he'd just been handed some Christian Lacroix pyamas, did nothing to lift the mood. However, when both the wheat flour version and the gluten free version worked first time, I was a very happy bunny.
This is yummy cold, but perhaps even better slightly warmed; the chocolate melts a little and makes it deliciously naughty. We ate it with Oat Supreme, but you could substitute dairy cream, coconut cream or soya cream according to your dietary needs. The children came running back to the kitchen - bowls aloft - demanding more. That's always a good feeling.

Egg free, dairy free with wheat flour:

4 heaped tsps Orgran 'no egg' egg replacer mixed with 8 tbsp orange juice
1 heaped tbsp ground linseeds (put whole linseeds in your blender and blitz)
1.5 tsp gluten free baking powder
1 tsp mixed spice
110g sugar
2 tbsp vegetable oil
110g wheat flour
rice milk to mix
Cornflour or potato flour for sprinkling

Egg free, dairy free, gluten free :
4 heaped tsps Orgran 'no egg' egg replacer mixed with 8 tbsp orange juice
1 heaped tbsp ground linseeds (put whole linseeds in your blender and blitz)
1.5 tsp gluten free baking powder130g sugar
2 tbsps vegetable oil
100g rice flour20g potato flour
1 tsp mixed spice
1tsp xanthan gum
rice milk to mix
Cornflour or potato flour for sprinkling

Gluten free, with eggs:
4 eggs
2 tbsps vegetable oil
130g sugar
100g rice flour
20g potato flour
1tsp xanthan gum
1 tsp mixed spice
1 tsp gluten free baking powder
rice milk to mix
Cornflour or potato flour for sprinkling

For the filling and icing:
200g gluten free dairy free dark chocolate (at least 70% cocoa solids)
130g dairy free spread
6 tbsps icing sugar
2-3 tbsps gluten free cranberry sauce

  • For egg free versions: put the 'no egg' and the ground linseeds into a bowl and whisk gently to remove any lumps. Set aside
  • Pre-heat the oven to 200 degrees celsius/Gas 4
  • Grease and line a 23.5cm x 34cm baking tray with baking parchment
  • Put the 'no egg' and linseed mix - or eggs if using - into a large mixing bowl. Add the sugar and oil. Either use a hand whisk or an electric whisk to whisk the 'egg' and sugar together until it thickens slightly. If you are using real eggs, you will need to whisk until the mixture has doubled in volume (or is at least very fluffy and puffy)
  • Add the mixed spice, baking powder and wheat flour if using. For gluten free: add the rice and potato flour, xanthan gum, mixed spice and baking powder. Mix gently with a metal spoon until all the ingredients are mixed together
  • If the mixture seems too thick/stiff, add enough rice milk to give a soft, dropping consistency
  • Pour the mixture into the middle of the baking tray. Then using the back of the metal spoon, gently ease the mixture to the edges of the tray ensuring that you have an even spread of mix over the baking tray
  • Bake for approximately 10 minutes until it has risen, is golden brown and springy to the touch. Remove from the oven
  • Now work quickly, tear off a piece of baking parchment that is a bit larger than the sponge you've just baked. Lie it flat on your work surface and sprinkle it with cornflour or potato flour, it's to stop the sponge sticking. Stay with me, you'll see in a minute
  • Next, tip the newly-baked sponge face down into the cornflour/potato flour, oh the ignominy!
  • Remove the baking parchment that is sticking to the sponge's bottom (the piece you baked it on)
  • Now very carefully roll up the sponge (see the above picture to get an idea of what you're aiming for) with the baking parchment inside. Set the cake aside to cool completely
  • When you're ready to fill and ice the cake, melt the chocolate in a bain marie. To do this: put a little water into a small saucepan. Place a large heatproof bowl on top of the saucepan and start to heat the water. Break the chocolate into small pieces and place into the bowl. As it starts to melt, stir it so that it doesn't stick
  • When the chocolate has just melted, remove the bowl from the heat and add the dairy free spread. Beat until the spread has melted and it's looking glossy. Seive in the icing sugar, use more or less according to taste
  • Allow the icing to cool for a while. It's a bit tricky knowing how long to leave it because it can suddenly just 'turn' and go thick. I would say 10 minutes at least, but keep stirring it. It's ready to use when it will still drop off a wooden spoon, but some remains suspended from the spoon
  • Whilst you're waiting for the icing to cool, very carefully unroll your cold Yule log. With the egg free versions, I did find that the parchment stuck a little and I had to work a little to get it off. Don't worry if the sponge cracks as you unroll it, the beauty of the icing is that it keeps everything together, a bit like those control pants you can buy
  • When you have the sponge all unrolled, spread a good layer of cranberry sauce all over it. Now dollop some chocolate icing over the top and spread it over the cranberry sauce, make sure you go right to the edges
  • Very carefully roll the sponge back up again. The chocolate and cranberry may squidge around and ooze out the ends, I don't think it's a problem
  • Now transfer your roll onto your serving plate. Smear it all over with the rest of the chocolate filling, making sure you cover the ends and right down to the plate. Decorate with a little robin, sprinkle with icing sugar for a snow effect, make it as kitsch or as stylish as you like
  • And there you have it, one Bûche de Noël. Now go snog a Frenchman
© Pig in the Kitchen 2007
    The cake pictured is egg free, dairy free and gluten free

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Tuesday, 4 December 2007

Christmas Chocolates (dairy free, gluten free, egg free)

Have you read the Faraway Tree series by Enid Blyton? It recounts the adventures of Fanny, Bess and Jo. When they move to a new house, they discover an enchanted wood nearby, and the enormous Faraway Tree. If you go to the very top of the Faraway Tree there is a cloud with a hole in, and you can climb through into whichever land happens to be there. It might be the land of Hippety Hop - everything has to hop - the land of Take What You Want – the clue is in the name – or the Land of Birthdays. Perhaps best not to visit that last one if you’re the wrong side of 35; I mean who wants to be partying alongside pert young twenty-somethings flashing their gravity-defying mammaries and knocking back alcopops?

I rediscovered The Faraway Tree when it came to bedtime stories for my own children. I managed to procure a copy that still called the children, Fanny, Bess and Jo. Some modern-day reprints have changed some of the names. Fanny is now Susan, and Cousin Dick is now Rick. This is because…well why is that exactly? Is it because 6 year olds up and down the land will be saying,

‘Mummy, Daddy, isn’t Fanny another word for front-bottom?’
Mummy, Daddy, isn’t Dick another word for todger?’

Is it because it would alienate our cousins from across the pond?

‘Jeez Mommy, do all the English name their children after parts of the body?’

I do get a little exasperated with the PC re-writers of literature; do they really have nothing better to do with their time?

Anyway, back to the book. Now whether Enid Blyton was a dreadful mother or not, there’s one thing of which we can be sure; she did have a vivid imagination. I don’t know what’s in those mushrooms in the Enchanted Wood, but they certainly make for a great story. However, it’s a mystery to me that dear Enid didn't mention the ‘La La land of Escape’ in any of the three Faraway Tree books. I feel sure she must have known of its existence.

For those of you not familiar with the La La land of Escape, let me elaborate.

You are faced with a mountain of jobs to do. You do not want to do them. There are lots of other things you would rather be doing, even though perhaps you shouldn’t. It’s time for a trip to the La La land of Escape.

As you approach the tree, keep an eye out for the Brownies that hang around the trunk. I’m sure those long beards aren’t really hiding anything sinister, and the clothes are probably appropriate to their culture, but really, do they have to look so different? I think we’ll make them a bit more mainstream in the next reprint.

As you start to climb the tree, you might bump into Moon Face. I'm going to need some ideas for his new name, because I have a feeling that the 'Moon' in fact refers to the rotundity of his face. I mean this guy could be obese! Let's not call a fat face a fat face, we need to find an excuse for him. How about Roland? That way, we could call him 'Roly' and it would be perfectly clear that the 'Roly' is a diminutive of 'Roland' and that we are in no way causing offence by calling him the other kind of 'roly' which would mean; roly poly, fat git, do a bit of exercise and your face might slim down.

Moving up the tree, keep a close watch out for Dame Washalot; she’s got a horrible form of OCD and she just can’t stop washing her clothes. She’s refusing all medication, won’t let health professionals near her and keeps lobbing the water down the tree. She’s in clear violation of health and safety laws and is an offence to the Kyoto treaty; do you think we can get her to wash at 30 degrees? We may have to airbrush her out of the next print run.

Anyway, once you’re past her, you’re nearly there. Step up through the cloud and ahhhhh. You’ve arrived. Let all the very real worries drop away, and feel that relaxation envelop you.

You see the world stops turning in La La land. All those things that are pulling you down, clogging up your brain and making your heart beat with anxiety; they are not allowed in. Now, what is it you really want to do? Read a book? Look through baby photographs? You can do it all in The La La land of Escape; it exists so that you can forget your worries. It allows you to be kind to yourself and take an hour or so out from your problems.

I had such a lovely time in La La land the other evening. The end of term has just eased into fifth gear and I am being pulled along in a disorganised flurry of nativity costumes, present buying, party organising and Christmas card writing. As the rev counter goes into the red, it is adding to the white noise of the ever-present piles of washing, the untidy bedrooms, unpaid bills and bottle recycling. I may not be far from breaking point.

So I turned my back on it all and wandered off into the Enchanted Forest. Wisha washa wisha washa wisha washa went the trees as I navigated the mossy paths that lead to the foot of the faraway tree. It was getting late so all was quiet. I did bump into Silky - who has hair just like on of my daughters – we had a quick chat, but before long I was at the top of the tree.
I stepped up through the cloud and into La La land.

It was all there waiting for me. The chocolate machine, the cute Christmassy chocolate moulds and the super duper pretty sprinkles that the postman delivered the other day. I spent an hour or two making dairy free chocolates for my littlest girl. December the 1st was looming and Advent Box preparations were underway. After tea in December, the children take it in turns to open the advent drawers (see picture) and dole out the chocolates. I wanted my allergic girlie to enjoy a pretty chocolate like her siblings do. I stirred and sprinkled, smoothed and scraped. It was absorbing, it was soothing, and it was a complete break from stress.

The washing piles are still in situ. The 11 nativity costumes still have to be made.
I opened my big gob and offered to do it. Next year I shall keep my big gob firmly shut.

Still, I feel renewed and I can now go forth and do battle with the end of term, and Christmas.

This is because I’ve had my R & R in La La. You really should pay a visit.

Christmas Chocolates

I was so excited when I found Carnival Sprinkelz available from the wonderful Dietary Needs Direct. Psychadelic, e-number enhanced sprinkles can trigger asthma in my eldest girl, and are usually full of something my youngest girl can't eat. These sprinkles though are great. Dairy free and gluten free, and they look so pretty! You have to put a good layer of them into the mould before pouring on the chocolate, otherwise the chocolate seeps through.

I got some fab chocolate moulds from Home Chocolate Factory, but if you don't want to buy chocolate moulds, fear not. A very, very clever lady who reads my blog emailed me with her A1 idea. She had very selflessly eaten the entire contents of a milk chocolate advent calendar; Mother love is second to none. This was so that she could thoroughly scrub, rinse, scrub and scrub the advent calendar moulds so that they were chocolate free. She then melted some chocolate her child could eat and poured it into the moulds. Et voila, one happy child, one amazing mother. (Wish I'd thought of it)

100-150g dark chocolate 70% cocoa solids or more (dairy free, gluten free) You might need more or less depending on how many chocolates you wish to make
A box or two of sprinkles (optional), buy them here

  • If you have a chocolate machine, turn it on. If not put a little water into a small saucepan and set a heatproof bowl on top. The water shouldn't touch the base of the bowl. Put the saucepan on to a low heat
  • Break the chocolate into the chocolate machine or the heatproof bowl
  • Stir it frequently as it melts to prevent it from sticking. Take it off the heat when all the chocolate has just melted; you don't want it too runny
  • If you are using sprinkles, cover the base of the chocolate mould with them. Make sure you get a good thick layer
  • Using a teaspoon, spoon the chocolate into the moulds. Put in one spoonful and gently 'push' the chocolate to the edge of the moulds. Add more spoonfuls if necessary, push to the edges and fill the mould to the top
  • Put the moulds into the fridge and leave to harden, it should take about 40 minutes
  • Turn out the moulds onto a cooling tray or plate. Aren't your chocolates pretty?!
  • I wrapped mine in tin foil and put them in the advent box, you must do as you see fit with yours.
  • I tell you what, it's miserable having a child with allergies, it's a lot of saying 'no'. So it's just lovely when you put something pretty and gorgeous in front of them and they gasp with delight and their siblings yell that they want one too...this was one of those times.

© Pig in the Kitchen 2007

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