Having four children is a lot more work than having one, two or three. Perhaps you are re-reading that line because you can’t believe I would write something so inane and self-evident. Yet it’s taken me over two years to grasp that fact. For two years I have on many occasions been heard to wail, ‘why isn’t my house as tidy as hers?’, ‘how does she manage to empty her laundry basket?‘, ‘why aren’t I as slim as her?’ For two of the above, the answer is perhaps because I have four children. For one of them it is, ‘because you eat too much crap, drink too much alcohol and don’t exercise enough’.
What was easy with two or three children becomes more complex with four. Friends do their best to help;
‘Why don’t you drop the older three off with me whilst you run that errand? It’ll be easier for you’.
Now perhaps you are the yummiest of all Mummies, and your children - whilst content to play elsewhere - willingly wave goodbye to their chums and obediently get into your car when you come to collect them. Mine don’t. In fact, they refuse to leave. The wailing and screaming rattles the windows, all shoes, bags and coats have been lost (I think they hide them), and my Yummy Mummy veneer is tarnished by my snarling. Most days it's less painful to haul everyone around with me in a reluctant, disgruntled mass.
With four children my default position tends to be; ‘No’.‘Mummy, can I have a sleepover for 10 friends?’ - ‘No’‘Mummy, can we go to Disneyworld?’ - ‘No’
‘Mummy, can we have a pet?’ - ‘No’.
So it was with rollerblading. For me, buying young children rollerblades is akin to buying an annual pass to A & E. I can hear the snapping of the bones, feel the concussing of the skulls and see the lacerating of the flesh. My answer - for an impressive two years now - has always been, ‘No’.
Yet recently, when staying with friends for the weekend, my eldest three children displayed remarkable prowess in the rollerblade department. A little plan started to form in my mind. As husband and I also possess blades dating from the misty, childfree past, I had a happy vision of us rollerblading en famille, with the 2 year old safely strapped into the baby jogger. We could be like other, smaller families, and have a fun outing together!
No sooner had I said, ‘You still haven‘t spent your birthday money‘, than the three older ones were kitted out.
The day dawned bright and sunny. We drove down to a leafy part of the Seine and spent half an hour watching them struggle to put on their protective gear, blades, socks and helmets. By the time they’d finished they looked like a cross between tiny riot police, and the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Barring a head-on collision with a 4x4, I couldn’t see anything piercing their armour.
They say that children reduce you to tears. Never is this more true than watching your darlings come to grips with rollerblading. Time after time a flushed and excited face would yell at me, ‘Watch this mum!’. Think Starlight Express meets the Can Can. The manoeuvre would start well with a bit of a glide, then from nowhere they would morph into extras from the Moulin Rouge, high kicks coming faster and faster, arms gyrating wildly, before the inevitable collapse backwards onto the floor.
Thank the Lord for Ray Bans. I managed to hide my tears of mirth behind them, and passed off my quivering voice as one of maternal concern. Although I did nearly lose all composure when my son nigh on performed box splits whilst navigating our slalom course comprised of shoes.
Of course the human chain idea was going to end in a mess. Dad and daughters one and two formed a line and wobbled along. I don’t know what possessed daughter two at the end of the line; she appeared to attempt a daring, sliding limbo move through the legs of her sister and Dad. She felled her sister instantly, then kicked the feet away from Dad, who landed abruptly and heavily on daughter one. The subsequent winded gasping and howling even had the Gendarmes concerned. They came to help her up and I fretted that we didn’t have any ID on us; you're supposed to have it on you at all times. Although as I pointed out to my husband, in a straight race between the corpulent one and me on my blades, I’d have left him standing. Husband silently pointed to Gendarme's gun, and I realised that resistance would be futile. Must remember my passport next time.
A break for water and popcorn worked wonders for the familial morale, and we negotiated our way safely back to the car. It was so much fun we went and did it all over again the next day. I feel so happy with our new family hobby; I foresee my flabby tummy melting away, and next time we’ll have them doing jumps.
After our rollerblading adventure I was faced with the thorny issue of tea. The short asparagus season is upon us and I feel the need to buy it at every opportunity. I whizzed up an asparagus quiche for those without allergies, and this little number for baby and me. If rollerblading isn’t for you, then perhaps this tart will be.
Bean and Asparagus Rollerblading Tart
I made 6 little tartlets because they look so cute, but you could also make one large tart; use a tin that's about 28-30cm in diameter. The filling can be made up to 4 hours ahead.
For the pastry:
150g / 1¼ cups brown rice flour
100g / ¾ cup lightly pressed down cornflour / corn starch
50g / ½ cup lightly pressed down chick pea flour / besan flour
1¼ tsp xanthan gum
2½ tsps dried mixed herbs
good grinding of black pepper
200g / 1 cup of dairy free spread
60-80ml / ¼ cup (+ a bit more) rice milk
For the filling:
3 cloves of garlic
olive oil to fry
4 medium button mushrooms
6 asparagus spears (more if you wish)
1 tin / 1½ cups cooked kidney beans
2-4 tbsps white wine
sea salt and black pepper to taste
- Finely chop the garlic and the mushrooms (you don't really want the mushrooms to 'show' in the finished tart)
- Cut off the woody end of the asparagus spears and lovingly cut off the tips. Preserve the tips for later, you may kiss them if you wish. Cut the remaining middle section of the asparagus into fine rounds
- In a large frying pan, gently heat the olive oil and add the garlic and mushrooms. Fry for a minute or two. Add the chopped asparagus and fry gently for another two minutes
- Add the tin of beans and stir
- As the beans warm up, use a wooden spatula to gently squash them so that they release their mushy centre; this helps to bind the mix together
- When you've finished squashing, add the white wine, stir and let it all simmer for about 5 minutes. Remove from the heat and season to taste. Now get cracking on the pastry
- Pre-heat the oven to 180° celsius
- Seive the flours into a large mixing bowl. Add the xanthan gum, dried herbs, salt and black pepper, mix with a mini whisk to make sure everything is evenly distributed
- Now this is weird, but melt your dairy free spread slightly. It doesn't have to be completely runny, but more liquid than not is what you're aiming for
- Make a well in the centre of the flours and pour in 60ml of rice milk. Add the melted dairy free spread and use a wooden spoon to mix it all together. You will have a very wet dough. I ended up adding the other 20ml of rice milk as well
- Flour a work surface with rice flour and plop your dough down into the middle of it, the base of the dough will get coated in flour. Lift up the dough, flour the surface again and turn the dough over so that the other part of it gets coated in flour. Following? What you're trying to do is get the dough 'dry' enough to roll it out
- When you think you can chance it, roll out the dough on your well-floured surface until it's about 3mm thick. The edges of the dough do crack a little when you roll it out, but I tried not to let that panic me
- Line your tartlet tin or large tart tin with the pastry. As every pastry chef knows, cracks in the pastry can be squidged together and patched up with other bits of pastry. It's a little known artform, sometimes called 'covering up a bodge'. Originated somewhere in the Middle East I believe. Just make sure your final product looks smooth and crack free
- Line the base of the tart with the bean mixture (don't add the asparagus tips yet), cover with tin foil and place in the oven for about 15 minutes, until sizzling well
- Remove the tart/s from the oven, take off the tin foil and put them back in for another five minutes-ish until the pastry is lightly tanned
- After five minutes, remove the tarts and artistically press your asparagus tips down into the bean mix. Lightly brush the tips with olive oil using a silicone brush, cover the tarts back up again (on, off, on off, make your mind up Pig) and put them back in the oven for another 5-10 mins. The point of doing this is so that the asparagus tips 'steam' between the bean mix and the tin foil, and they don't end up getting too brown. I left my tips a little crunchy; nothing worse than overcooked asparagus
- Remove the tarts from the oven and serve them to your tired, rollerblading children
- Good with a tomato salad and some chilled white wine. Well you definitely deserve the latter, you took four children rollerblading! You should probably have the whole bottle...although of course I'm not encouraging binge-drinking, liver damage, slurred speech or ridiculous drunken antics
© Pig in the Kitchen