Thursday, 30 October 2008

Bean and Pumpkin Casserole (egg free, dairy free, gluten free, vegan)

It was when I looked around at the mayhem in the room and calculated the remaining hours of tidying up, that it happened. The last strands of my good humour finally succumbed to the tension and twisted away with an almost audible twang.

That’s it’ I announced through frazzled hair and an aching back,
‘we are no longer celebrating Halloween!’

The cry of outrage was audible across the Channel, and caused gentle ripples in the environs of Portsmouth. They were so indignant they actually lost the power of coherent speech for a second, and then the torrent of vitriol poured forth.

‘Why? That is SOO unfair! No way! Why not?’ I met their torrent with a dam of firm resolve,
‘Because…it’s FAR too much work, what with all this extra cooking, and…and… - I was struggling a bit now - AND, it’s not even a British festival! Yes, that’s it! I’m sure it’s American, and therefore, I don’t have to celebrate it’.

There was silence.

The little pedant who lives on my shoulder was tapping my neck,

‘Errr, excuse me, but I think you’ll find that the roots of this particular festival originated in Ireland, Druidic in origin I believe, and with a strong celtic overtone. Thus making it far more 'British' if you will than…’

‘Be quiet!’ I barked, and the children looked confused. Then without missing a beat, ‘Come on now, bedtime!’ I trilled in that sing-song schizophrenic way that Mothers do so well.

The fallout from my announcement continued for a good few days. When their Father arrived for the weekend they clambered all over him, fighting for ear space, all of them telling him that ‘Mummy says we can’t celebrate Halloween anymore’. Father raised an eyebrow and looked quizzically in my direction. I bared my lips in return and the subject was shelved.

As Christmas and Easter arrived and were celebrated in lavish style, all memories of the maternal Halloween fatwa appeared to have dissipated. Long lazy days of summer dulled the senses, and I seemed to be off the hook.

And I would have gotten away with it if it hadn’t been for those pesky meddling educators. What do they think they are playing at with their ‘Spooky Halloween Mobile’ that my boy carried home so proudly last week? And it’s not just them, who are these people throwing Halloween parties? At least three careworn Mothers have told me in the last two weeks, ‘..and I’ve got to take them to a Halloween party this evening, three costumes! Where am I going to find the time?’
So as half term started I had my anti-Halloween arguments at the ready and was polishing up my strident, do-not-contradict-me, tone. Bizarrely, apart from some vague queries about why we weren’t going Trick or Treating, (in rural Normandy? Why don’t I march up to the neighbours, take their shotgun, place it in my mouth and offer to pull the trigger for them? Have these children not realised how much we don‘t fit in here?), there was very little of that smutty Halloween talk.

And do you know what has happened? In the face of no Halloween pressure, I suddenly have a hankering to decorate some empty glass yoghurt pots with ghosts and pumpkin faces. I am bemoaning my face paints that I left in Paris, and I’m wondering where I could buy a black sheet to make some witch costumes. The landscape is exquisitely Halloween-coloured; orange leaves, stark black tree silhouettes and a bright white sun. The crispy piles of leaves, swirling wind and frosty mornings all seem to be egging me on; ‘go on! Make something of these late Autumn days, do something for Halloween!’

I tried not to listen, but in the end I couldn’t help myself. Halloween food, I decided, wasn’t really celebrating too much, and was really no bother. Besides, I have to cook tea for them anyway, so why not give it a Halloween theme?

The final straw was Jo telling me about her homemade baked beans. As we wandered around a supermarket she pointed out the kind of beans required and I snapped them up. With half a pumpkin already waiting in the fridge…well, there was bound to be some Halloween chemistry wasn't there?

I have resolutely resisted the urge to make costumes, trick or treat and paint faces, but I did dream up this casserole which I offered to them as a pre-Halloween treat. I thought the gay Halloween title might make the children instantly fall in love with my wholesome concoction. Well, half my children liked it, one tolerated it and the fourth asked for extra water so she could wash the filthy taste from her mouth. She didn’t quite use those words, but her face told the tale.

I don’t think I have the heart to serve it to them tomorrow evening, I may just cave in entirely and make Halloween Biscuit Cakes instead. It’s the sign of a good Mother isn’t it? Being able to backtrack completely with your head held high, pretending that you never said all that stuff?

Happy Halloween to you all x

Halloween Bean & Pumpkin Casserole (Serves 4 adults with hearty appetites)
May I give you a top tip, right off the bat? Put your ginger in the freezer right away. When it comes to grating it, it will be so much easier. Can I also make a confession? This does require soaking the beans overnight. I can’t believe I’ve come up with such a labour-intensive recipe, but I blame Jo. She said it’s really simple to cook the beans, and in fact she’s right. However, if you can find these beans in a tin and can live with your conscience, then please, go ahead and use them.

200g Lingot/haricot beans
8 small potatoes
Approximately 200g pumpkin (up to you really)
2 onions
4 cloves garlic
3 celery sticks
A large pinch of dried mixed herbs (trashy, but very handy)
1 stock cube
500g passata
150-200ml red wine
1-3 litres of water
1 cm cube of fresh ginger
2 tbsps balsamic vinegar
  • Soak the beans overnight in cold water
  • The next morning, as you stumble blearily into the kitchen, drain the beans, put them into a large saucepan with plenty of water, and bring them to the boil
  • Make your coffee, and feel the caffeine course through your veins giving meaning and hope to the day
  • Let the beans boil for approximately 40 minutes, making sure that they don’t boil dry. Check them from time to time and when they are tender, remove from the heat and drain. Set aside, for up to 6 hours (more if you put them in the fridge)
  • If you are cooking this all in one go, then heat the oven to 150° Celsius. If you want to start this in the morning, then cook it for dinner in the evening, it needs to be cooked for 45-90 minutes
  • When you’re ready, chop the onions, garlic and celery and fry them gently in olive oil, adding the pinch of dried mixed herbs as you go. Ideally use a metal casserole dish to fry them in, then you can then add the rest of the stuff and pop it straight into the oven. If you don’t have a metal one, fry the onions, garlic and celery in a frying pan
  • Wash and slice, but don't peel, the potatoes - I like slices about 50mm thick - add them to the onion, garlic and celery mix and stir. Add the beans and stir, all the while gently frying
  • Transfer everything to your casserole dish
  • Dissolve the stock cube in about ½ litre of boiling water and add it to the onion, garlic, celery and potatoes
  • Add the 500g passata, and the red wine, and about another litre of stock. You may want to add more stock, or a bit less, it depends on how you like it really
  • Grate the ginger into the mix, add the balsamic vinegar, stir again, cover the dish and place it in the oven
  • I haven’t forgotten about the pumpkin, but I do hate soggy pumpkin, so I like to add it about 20 minutes before the end. So remove the rind of the pumpkin, and cut it into cubes
  • Now off you go and potter, feed the chickens, put your feet up, or whatever it is you do with your time, and all the while your casserole will be quietly bubbling away, that’s good isn’t it?
  • After 25 mins or so, check how it’s doing, add a bit more water if you think it needs it and check how the potatoes are doing. If they still seem really hard, then don’t add the pumpkin yet, you want to add the pumpkin when the potatoes are about half cooked
  • So, when the potatoes are about half cooked, add the pumpkin, stir and cover Disappear for another 20 minutes or so, and tra la laa! Your casserole should be done, serve it up to children dressed as ghosts
  • Can be served with gluten-free bread or with rice if you desire, enjoy.

© Pig in the Kitchen, 2008

Monday, 6 October 2008

Joss Sticks


With such insouciance did I choose my clothes!

Woke in the morning, spent a few minutes in front of the mirror, yes, that will do me for the day.

That will do me for two school runs. That will do me for a music group for my youngest. That will see me through the drive that will take me to my friends, and from there we will make merry and have fun until the early hours.

Yes, my outfit will do me for all those things.

‘Biker chick!’ said one friend,.
‘Rock Chick!’ said another.
We laughed. I had not set out to create a ‘look’, I just needed an outfit that would do me for the day.

I didn’t know that it would have to do me through trauma. Through a car spinning through the air. Through the split second realisation that what I’m watching is not a film, it is real. Through an arm flapping crazily out of a car window on a bright, bright Autumn day. Through the conviction that death is in the other car. Through the blood and the broken glass on the road. Through the fire engines, the ambulance, the questioning, and the panic.

I think it will not do me through the aftermath.

That will be many weeks of outfits.

That is why I am not really here.

I have gone away to meditate. And smoke joss sticks.

Or something.