Saturday, 28 June 2008

The Pig, Her Kids, Their Bus and The UK

I could be wrong, but I'm guessing it's going to go something like this...

At some point next week the Pig bus will come to a halt in a quiet road in leafy Kent. The pressure of mounting excitement - coupled with ABBA Gold on a loop - will have built up to such a degree, there will be an audible psssssshhhhhtttt as the doors slide open. All children still awake after our long drive will charge into Fran's house, and our holiday will have officially started.

I know myself quite well, and it will be no surprise to me that by 6pm I will have downed the best part of a bottle of champagne. It is also customary for me to have cried at least once within hours of being back with my friends. You may now revise your image of me as cool, calm, collected and gorgeous.

Going back to old stamping grounds is an emotional endurance test that I usually fail. I think I probably get a U (unhappy). As much as I delight in visiting the parks, woods and pubs we loved so much, I also feel sad. As my friends form a low-level pressure campaign for me to move back into my house and have my husband come visit from Heathrow, I start to waver. When I do the old school run and watch my children play so happily with their friends, I have to bite my lip.

Going back puts your new life under the microscope and throws up that terrible question, 'Are you happy?' I'm never sure if that question has an unequivocal answer. At each lunch, after every dinner, after the barbecues and coffees, I will sit in a pensive state, mulling about life. Comparing, contrasting, worrying, hoping; 'Are we doing The Right Thing?'

I'm fairly sure I won't reach a satisfactory conclusion, and I think morale will be hovering around floor level as we cross back into France. I'm fairly sure I will have eaten my body weight in cheddar cheese, chips, vegetarian sausages, curry and anything my Mother-in-Law puts before me.
I will be convinced that my liver is in the final stages of cirrhosis, and I will resolve never to drink again.

We will arrive back home and I'll put exhausted kids to bed. Then I will stand and listen to the silence, before quietly reaching for a bottle of wine. Then I will wake up the next morning, pull myself together and carry on as before.

You see? That's the good thing about knowing yourself quite well; at least you know what's coming.

Farewell lovely readers. I had thought I would resume Pigly duties at some point over the summer.

Then I looked at my, 'List of Guests Visiting Us This Summer'.
The week when there are 6 people camping in the garden, and 10 of us in the house, is going to be especially interesting.

So I don't think I'll be back until September, but I'm sure I'll be wandering into your blogs and leaving those incisive comments you love so well.

And of course, I will still be vainly checking my email for offers that might end in something good like this...

...and failing that, just to answer recipe questions.

Big Bisous


Thursday, 19 June 2008

Gluten Free Pittas (egg free, dairy free, gluten free, vegan)

I have a mental photo album. Not one that shows me car surfing, doing a naked bungee or base jumping; no, not that kind of ‘mental!’ It’s one that exists in my head for me to delve into from time to time, so that I can mull over my past.

Of course I do have to flick quickly past lots of pictures. The one of me falling onto a table of drinks in a student nightclub, tipping it up and sending all the drinks flying onto the dance floor, doesn’t get much airtime. Nor do the images from my parent’s funerals; sometimes it’s best to just keep turning the pages.

There are some though, that I like to re-visit. Some make me smile, others make me cry. Some make me feel wistful, and with some, the image is so beautiful, I just want to sit and stare.

For 8 years now I have cherished one such mental picture. The image is of somewhere in the Peak District. One summer’s day in 2000, Sandra and I crept out of a house in Worcester and scurried to the car. It was early o’clock, we’d left my then only child with her grandparents, and we were headed north. The pale and sleepy sun rubbed its eyes, shook its shoulders, turned towards us and beamed. We drove for an hour or so until we saw him. A solitary figure waiting in a lonely car park, the Peak District providing a breathtaking backdrop. It was my friend Dave.

My friend Dave is a climber. We served our time together in China and once visited a climbing wall in Beijing. Although he now lived in the Czech Republic and I was in London, we’d managed to conspire so that we both arrived at that car park early on that summer’s day.

Sandra and I giggled like novices as we unloaded bundles of brightly coloured rope from the car. We stood like 5 year olds as Dave helped us with harnesses, tied the knots, and generally did all the technical stuff. I was rather taken by the pretty karabiners; I am so shallow. The sun was warming the rock face as we trudged up the hill towards our starting point. I had a moment of hesitation - it did look rather high - but Dave was having none of it. Before you could shout, ‘On belay!’ away he went, leading the climb.

At some point in that sunny day, as I waited for Sandra to climb up and join me, I sat down on a rock ledge. The sun was beating down and I was warm and happy. I looked out over miles and miles of English countryside swathed in hazy sunshine. There was silence save for birds and the occasional bleat of a sheep. It was a moment of pure bliss.

I’ve often wondered whether a moment like that will come again. A moment when there is genuinely no worry, fear, stress or distraction. When there is calm, peace, warmth and beauty, and I simply feel light and happy. Perhaps we only get one such moment in a lifetime?

So, bearing in mind that climbing is forever linked to this beautiful day with its magic moment, I’ve always wanted to climb again. However, 4 children, no nanny and a travelling husband are not conducive to maternal jaunts to a climbing wall. Yet somehow recently, I met another like-minded Mum, found a babysitter and arranged a date.

And so it was that a few weeks ago, Monday evening saw me standing at the foot of a climbing wall feeling like a 5 year old. An instructor taught me to tie knots and adjusted my harness for me. He then made me climb up and down the wall, clinging to brightly coloured hand holds until my forearms trembled. Eventually I got the giggles and then just let go so that I could hang in space and have a rest.

I came home full of happy endorphins, popped a beer - belched - and showed my husband my pumped biceps. He really wishes I were more like a woman.

The following morning, still mentally clambering up walls and aching in all sorts of strange places, I finally cracked my pitta recipe.
These would be perfect for a packed lunch somewhere in the Peak District on a warm and sunny day.

On Belay!
Climbing Pittas (Makes 4 large pittas)
Now the pictured pittas look a tad thick don't they? You're thinking, 'the base looks a bit thick and fluffy to be a pitta' aren't you? Well don't you worry, it's all to do with the heat of the grill. And when I super-heated my grill on Monday, my pittas were fine; just the right thickness.
'What do you think of the pittas?' I asked anxiously as my children shovelled down their tea. My darling, sweet and feisty number 2 girl stopped mid-chew, 'What, did you make them? I thought they were shop ones'.
I think her place in heaven - and a plentiful supply of pocket money - is assured.
100g cornflour / corn starch
50g potato flour
100g brown rice flour
1¾ tsp dried yeast
½ tsp xanthan gum
1 tbsp sugar
½ tsp salt
50g dairy free spread
180ml tepid water
  • Sift the flours into a large mixing bowl
  • Add the xanthan gum, sugar, salt and the dried yeast, mix with a mini whisk to ensure everything is evenly mixed
  • Add the dairy free spread to the bowl and using the tips of your fingers, rub it into the flour so that it resembles breadcrumbs
  • If your grill takes ages to warm up, light it now
  • Warm the water slightly then gradually add it to the bowl, mixing well with a wooden spoon. The quantity of water is a guide, you need quite a thick dough that will hold its shape. As with most gluten free dough, it will be quite sticky. The dough shouldn't fall off the spoon
  • Line a baking tray with baking parchment and have it at the ready
  • Lay another sheet of baking parchment onto your work surface and flour it with rice flour. Have more rice flour to hand
  • Dollop a quarter of the dough (less if you require mini pittas) onto the floured baking parchment. Sprinkle the surface with rice flour, and using the tips of your fingers, gently pat the the dough into a flat round shape, about ½ centimetre thick
  • Now the vaguely tricky bit. You need to transfer your pitta to the baking tray. Lift up the baking parchment with the pitta on, shake off the excess flour onto a plate, then turn the pitta onto the baking tray. If it sticks a little to the parchment, use a knife to gently scrape it off. You can then reshape the pitta if need be whilst it's on the baking tray. You could of course shape the pittas on the baking tray that will go under the grill, but I was a bit worried about an excess of flour browning or burning on the tray. Am I making any sense? Making it all too complicated? You can try both methods and let me know what you think, my friend Vicky thinks I make life too hard, perhaps she's right
  • You should definitely light your grill now
  • Once you have made your four pittas, leave them on the baking tray in a warm place for approximately ten minutes
  • Place them under your very hot grill, on the lowest shelf. Watch them like a hawk, after about 5 minutes they should start to puff up with steam. Let one side brown, remove them from under the grill, carefully turn them over (wear gloves) and then put them back under the grill until the other side is browned
  • Remove and place on a cooling rack until you need them. If you're slicing them whilst they're still hot, watch out for that steam escaping, you don't want a burn that would stop you climbing now do you?
  • Make your pitta sandwiches, pack your harness and rock boots and get thee to a rock face!
© Pig in the Kitchen
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Wednesday, 4 June 2008

Cranberry Rock Cakes (egg free, dairy free, gluten free, vegan)

I hate the way that death drops into your life. I imagine it’s rather like a HALO jump. It silently speeds towards you from a great height, bearing down on you as you go about your business. It gathers pace, harder and faster, then with great force opens its chute of doom over your life. Whilst you stare in disbelief at your life now in tatters, death gently drops to the ground, gathers up its chute and heads off for its next victim.

What I dislike is how unprepared we are. Unaware that the very next phone call may bring some horrible news. You are busy with life, bustling around, and then it happens. You walk briskly to the phone, and within minutes of picking up the receiver you see it. The brutal, jagged chasm that is snaking between your feet and widening with every word you hear. There isn’t a way to announce death, no words are appropriate, no emotion is seemly. Death is death, it casts a shadow and leaves a mess.

Now, given how awful death is, I bet you’re glad I’m going to say no more about it aren’t you? You can relax, I’m going to talk about the flip side of the coin; life. Now we’re a bit more prepared for life, but in many ways the news arrives in the same unexpected way. You wake in the morning, start your routine, and soon the egg timer in your head is warning you that it is no longer possible to leave the house, on time, with all PE bags, school bags, hats, swimming stuff, sun cream and water bottles in the correct place. You sigh, reach for the coffee and holler that it’s breakfast time.

And then it happens. ‘bip bip!‘ You walk briskly to pick up your mobile - wondering if it’s really necessary to comb everyone’s hair - and within minutes you see it; the text that announces that your best friend is in labour!

Suddenly the day is charged with possibilities. Before the hospital mobile phone police tracked her down, I managed to speak to her about the important stuff;
‘It’s the 14th today, is that an auspicious date for it to be born?’She pondered,
‘Well I’d rather it were the 15th, that’s a better date isn’t it?’It was 8am on the 14th.
‘Hon, think about what you’re wishing for, the next 16 hours could be very long’

The day ground on. For me: buying a birthday present, a class coffee, lunch, washing, phone calls. For her, what? I glared at my phone, ring, damn you.

She called me when I was embroiled in the hot afternoon school run. Things were not progressing, she was despondent and wanted to talk. I don’t think I was much use to her. All I could say was,
‘Get away from the road! Pick your bag up NOW! Oh hon, what have they said? Keep up! Ok, well you’re in the best place, try to stay calm. STOP hitting your sister! I’m going to have to call you later’.

By 9pm things were moving along and we had a brief and gleeful conversation, rudely interrupted by a contraction. I spent a sleepless night. I shall be useless when my girls are in labour; one of those drama queens à la Eastenders,
‘Tell me the worst Doc, is she going to pull through?’
I half hoped that the supportive text I sent at 3am might be answered, but nothing. Silence. My 9am phone call was met with voicemail. Do you think they were screening my calls?

By now - remember the sleepless night - I was getting a little irrational. Having had my share of birthing horrors, I had created multiple scenarios, none of them good. I started to feel that the phone might not bring the good news for which I was hoping. Large forceps loomed before my eyes, emergency dashes through forbidding hospital corridors, swallowed meconium, dropping heartbeats, emergency caesareans.

At the peak of bedtime horror, my mobile called me, and a tired but happy voice told me that a healthy baby boy had arrived! A date was fixed for my visit and when the day came I hopped on the Métro carrying the key essentials for visiting a newborn; savoy cabbage, a tripod, plastic cups, champagne, camera, biscuits, tiny pyjamas, homemade food and - durrr - chocolate.

I am happy to report that he is perfect. He does perfect screaming, perfect juddering sighs, perfect facial contortions and a very perfect moro reflex. I happily cuddled him whilst my dear friend ate huge amounts of food, ‘I’m so hungry’ she explained between fistfuls of bread, numerous biscuits, a cooked meal and a Pig in the Kitchen creation. She’d just done 36 hours of hard labour she certainly deserved the calories.

After lunch I insisted on setting up my tripod and was most happy to bag a lovely shot of Daddy and baby. My friend looked on approvingly, mouth still full, body exhausted, exuding pride and contentment.

This Pig in the Kitchen edible gift is for you Dorry, congratulations! And - er - good luck with the sleepless nights to come.

Newborn Cranberry Rock Cakes (makes about 22)
(I haven't done the measurements in cups...does anyone mind?)

Right until the time of going to press these were called cookies. My husband however, is adamant;
'There's a minumum ratio between thickness and radius which is not respected by those so-called cookies. The ratio clearly falls into the rock cake category. And even though we have our ups and downs I still love you'.
Hmm, his last sentence just about cancelled out the affront I felt at being called on the naming of my culinary creations. Call them what you will, they're very wholesome.

*To make these with wheat flour, replace the gluten free flours with 125g wheat flour
125g dairy free spread
125g sugar
1 tsp Orgran 'no egg' egg replacer
a tiny pinch of xanthan gum
2 tbsps rice milk
125g ground sunflower seeds (put them in your blender and grind them to a rough powder)
75g ground linseeds (put them in your blender and grind them)
50g chick pea flour
75g brown rice flour
150g dried cranberries (you can use raisins if you wish. Or chopped apricot)
1½ tsp gluten free baking powder
1½ tsp ground cinnamon
40-60ml rice milk
Approx 50g dairy free, gluten free chocolate

  • Put the 'no egg' and small pinch of xanthan gum into a small bowl. Add the 2 tbsps of rice milk. Set aside
  • Pre-heat the oven to 170° celsius, and line a baking tray with baking parchment
  • Put the dairy free spread and sugar into a large mixing bowl, beat with a wooden spoon until creamed together
  • Add the 'no egg' mixture and beat again
  • Seive in the flours (GF or wheat flour), baking powder and cinnamon, and about 20ml of the rice milk
  • Mix together. It will be quite stiff - try not to worry - but go ahead and add the sunflower seeds and linseeds
  • Add another 20ml of rice milk and mix
  • Add the cranberries and mix
  • Now add enough rice milk to get a loose mixture, but one that you can still dollop onto a baking tray into rock cake shaped shapes (I still think they're cookies). Fret ye not if you think you've added too much rice milk, all that will happen will be that your 'rock cakes' will spread and then they really WILL be cookies
  • Carefully measure out small spoonfuls of the mixture onto the baking tray, leaving room for them to spread a little
  • Bake in the centre of the oven for between 10 and 15 minutes until they are risen and golden
  • If you are using the dark choc option (it's always my option), remove the baking tray from the oven and vigorously grate the chocolate finely over the cakes. Grate with gay abandon, be lavish and marvellous
  • When the cakes have cooled slightly, place them onto a cooling tray. You may now lick the baking parchment to clean up all that messy chocolate. Please ensure that you don't burn your tongue or lips; scabby lips are a very bad look
  • These are perfect for welcoming newborns into the world, they also go down a treat at the school gate. Perfect your humble - 'oh these? Yes I rustled them up earlier, it really was no trouble' - demeanour to enrage the yummy Mums at the gate

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