Friday, 24 December 2010
But I went shopping yesterday and something rather upsetting happened.
Like lots of Mums there is a list burning a hole in the back pocket of my jeans and as I pushed my trolley towards the supermarket I was braced for the task ahead.
I was about to go in when I saw the man begging. Actually, I saw the man shivering uncontrollably.
Years ago, on a first date my soon-to-be-boyfriend refused to give money to a man begging. Instead he took him to a cafe, bought him a mug of tea and a bacon sarnie and then walked me home. It was the best possible seduction plan for a soft-hearted girl like me.
The shivering man of yesterday nodded when I asked if he wanted something to eat. It was simple to nip in and get him croissants and a coffee, although he had difficulty holding the cup straight because of the shivering.
I went into the supermarket with the trolley I was about to fill and suddenly none of it seemed right. The bright lights, the festive cheer and all that money we spend on gorging ourselves at Christmas.
I decided not to cry in public because it’s never a good look, but my brains were in rack mode wondering what I could do to lessen the man’s misery and that bloody shivering.
I looked carefully, but they were not selling small, flat-packed houses filled with warmth and cheer for the homeless. I personally think they have missed a trick there. No, the best I could do was chocolate, a hat, scarf and gloves.
The shivering man thanked me and told me that no, he had nowhere to sleep. I suggested one of the homeless shelters they open up during the winter, but he said because he has no papers to be in France he can only sleep in a shelter one night a month. I urged him to go to one of the soup kitchens but he told me that being sans papers, he’s not entitled to any food. He said he would sleep in the station at which I was lost for words and then told him I was sorry. He nodded and as I walked away he shouted ‘Merry Christmas!’ after me.
Good look or not, that bit made me cry in public.
I cried even more as I drove out of the car park and saw that he was already wearing the hat that we all know will not really make any difference to his plight.
Maybe there are some braying types reading this and snorting at the computer. ‘He probably survives on benefits, has a council house, 51 children and huge plasma screen telly.’
You know what? I really, really hope he has all of that (maybe not the 51 kids.) I hope he has so many hats, scarves and gloves that he is selling them on a market stall somewhere and making a tidy profit.
But something - oh I dunno call it feminine intuition – tells me that when there is ice and snow on the pavement, not many people would choose to sit on the ground unless they were desperate.
I came home to my lovely, warm house and my loving family. I made myself a hot drink and stoked the fire because it’s bloody cold out there. My husband listened about the man and then talked about Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. He added that I’d touched someone at the bottom of the hierarchy which is always going to feel uncomfortable when we are so much further up it. (Please look at the graphic so you know what I’m talking about. Otherwise I just sound fascist...)
Look, I know it’s Christmas and I’m supposed to be full of festive cheer and I am, really I am. My children are hopping around in excitement and I can’t wait to see their faces tomorrow when they open all their loot.
But I kissed my son last night as he slept in his warm bed and I couldn’t help thinking of my supermarket man. Maybe somewhere that man’s mother is wondering how he’s doing and hoping that he’s got a warm bed for the night. I wish someone had good news for her.
Right, no more maudlinity! (yes, that’s a word). I’m really here to wish you lots of yummy goodness for Christmas and more champagne than your liver can cope with.
Thanks for all your brilliant comments and emails during the year, please eat, drink and be merry darlings!
But spare a thought for my supermarket man and if you see him at a shop near you, please buy him a hot drink and something to eat.
Christmas Cake Bites
I know these are just a festive re-hash of Cake Balls for E and I had high hopes of bringing you a new recipe. But if you haven’t worked it out, I’m really disorganised and I’m afraid this is the best I can do.
Cake Bites (makes about 40)
All versions will need:
130g dairy free spread/margarine
110g golden syrup or honey
60g GF, DF cocoa powder
150 ml rice milk / dairy milk (for GF versions, remember liquid measurements are approximate. Always add liquid gradually, using less or more as you see fit)
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
100g brown rice flour
25g chickpea flour/quinoa flour/tapioca flour
¾ tsp xanthan gum
1½ tsp GF baking powder
Egg version / Egg free version
1 egg OR:
1 heaped tsp of Orgran no egg Egg Replacer
1 heaped tbsp ground linseeds
⅛ tsp xanthan gum (that’s half a ¼ if you’re as thick as me...)
2 tbsps vegetable oil
4 tbsps rice milk/dairy milk/
To make these with wheat flour:
Use 175g wholemeal, self-raising flour
To bind the cake balls:
3-4 tbsps gluten free apple sauce (a GF apple sauce for weaning babies would do)
(If you can’t find a jar of apple sauce, use 2 eating apples, 2-3 tbsps sugar, squeeze of lemon juice. Peel, core, chop apples and put them in a saucepan, add sugar, lemon juice and a tbsp of water. Cover and simmer until apple is cooked. Blend with a hand blender, add a tsp of cornflour to bind it all together, blend again to remove any lumps)
150-200g dark DF chocolate but couverture best
GF pretty decorations, like Carnival Sprinkelz or gold powder
About 12 Bamboo skewers/metal skewers for applying the chocolate (you’ll see)
• For egg free versions: mix the Orgran no egg powder, ground linseeds, xanthan gum, oil and rice milk together using a mini whisk. Set aside
• Grease and line two 18cm sandwich tins with baking parchment
• Pre-heat oven to 170˚celsius
• Put the fat and sugar into a large mixing bowl and beat together
• Add either the egg or the egg replacing mixture and beat again
• Add the flour (GF or wheat), baking powder, xanthan gum (GF versions) and cocoa powder to the bowl and beat until incorporated
• Mix the bicarbonate of soda with the warmed 150ml of rice milk/dairy milk and gradually stir in to the mixture. For GF versions you may need to add more milk to get a soft, dropping consistency
• Divide the mixture evenly between the two cake tins and bake for about 20-25 minutes until risen and springy. Remove and leave to cool completely
• When the cakes are cool, crumble them into a large mixing bowl. Add the apple sauce and combine until you are able to squidge the mixture into balls, you may need more apple sauce
• Lovingly roll little balls of cake in your hands and set them onto a baking tray lined with baking parchment. Repeat until all the mixture is used up. Place the baking tray in the fridge for up to four hours
• When you are ready to coat your cake bites, place them in the freezer on the baking tray (for 20 minutes maximum). Then melt the chocolate or couverture over a very low heat in a bain marie. When it has just melted, turn off the heat
• Skewer one of the cake balls and holding it over the bain marie, use a spoon to drop the chocolate onto the ball. Rotate the ball until covered in chocolate. Keep rotating to allow excess chocolate to drip off. Then place the skewer into a jug/tall thing so that the cake bite is upright. If you have some oasis for flower arranging, put them in that, it works a treat. Put baking parchment over the work surface to catch any dripping chocolate. Decorate with pretty things if you wish
• Continue coating the cake bites. When you run out of skewers, use a fork to gently remove the first cake bite you covered and place it onto baking parchment to dry fully. Repeat until all the cake balls are coated and drying on the baking parchment. I do hope that makes sense. They can be chilled in the fridge to finish them off.
• These can be stored in an airtight container in the fridge for ages, at least a week
• You could even package these up and take them to a nearby Supermarket Man. I’m sure he’d thank you...
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Friday, 10 December 2010
Ever since Michael J Fox appeared diminutively on our screens in Back to the Future, I’ve been dubious about that whole time travel thing.
For example, imagine being transported back to Victorian times and then they discover you’re wearing a thong. That’s not going to end well is it?
Ms Pankhurst would be horrified that you are wearing a tool of male oppression* and you might make her do something drastic. Like not chain herself to railings and win us the vote. You see? Time travel is dangerous; it messes with the mind and has potentially catastrophic consequences.
*Note: anyone querying this description of a thong is either a) male, b) pert, toned and under 25, c) or has never tried wearing cheese wire between their buns.
Yet, despite my misgivings, we recently gave time travel a go.
A bit of background for you:
Husband and I met in a small town in north-eastern France many moons ago. It was a time of decadent, possibly illegal behaviour and many a regretful hangover. But it was lots of fun and like Humphrey and Ingrid ‘We’ll always have
So what on earth were we thinking going back there 15 years later with our 4 kids? Well, in our defence, we thought it would be good to show them this beautiful part of France.
What we hadn’t banked on were those blurry, wavy lines undulating through our vision transporting us back in time. Doo dooo dooo dooo dooo dooo dooo dooo...
‘Oh look! There’s our favourite pizza place!’, ‘Do you remember the time we drank too many Kir Royales/skiied down the road/slept in the car on the mountain?’
But the wavy lines faded and we found ourselves making constant comparisons to the crazy, loved-up couple we were and the crazed, middle-aged, occasionally-in-love couple we are now. It was very unsettling.
During our visit we went back to the gorgeous town of Riquewihr. My pre-children memories of this place involve mulled wine, gazing at the prettiness and well I think that’s about it. I wasn’t sure how a post-children trip would go.We wandered around, had some lunch and then because the kids were nagging, took the tourist train.
What fun! We would never have done that 15 years ago!
We trundled out of the town waving at onlookers (eldest daughter dying of shame), up into the vineyards and beheld the beauty of Riquewihr from on high. Then came back down and went to visit the prison and the torture chamber. The kids were entranced, although one of those torture implements made me feel a little queasy.
As we left there was just enough time to race into a wine cellar, déguste for a bit and then fill the car with yummy Alsace wine. We wouldn’t have done that 15 years ago; we were too young and our palates were definitely too crass.
Our four day trip was thought-provoking. On the one hand; four amazing children that we didn’t have back then. On the other; we are no longer young, carefree and reckless.
Ugh! The pain of middle-age.
Anyway, in Riquewihr we went into this cool gingerbread shop selling all manner of gingerbread things. I bought a mould for a gingerbread house and a sachet of pain d’épices spice.
I wish I could say I have made you a gluten free, egg free, dairy free gingerbread house. But I tried (twice), it collapsed, I cried and let’s say no more about it.
But what I have made for you are iced, spiced Christmas biscuits! So, actually, that short trip back in time was worth it after all.
Iced Christmas Biscuits
As I type this I am tucking into some 3 day old Iced Christmas Biscuits and dipping them into my mulled wine. It's shocking, decadent behaviour but hey, it's Friday night and after the snowbound week I've had (how many kids? All at home for days on end?) I feel entitled. And they are yum by the way, even when stale. Result.
(The snowmen freak me out a bit)
To date I've only made these gluten free, egg free and dairy free not all my usual combinations. But if you want to use real eggs, replace the apple sauce and pinch of xanthan gum with 2 real eggs. You may have to gradually add extra flour at the end if the mixture is too wet to roll out.
175g dairy free margarine
90g apple sauce (I used one of those purees for babies)
A pinch of xanthan gum
1 tsp vanilla extract (not essential)
400g Doves Farm Gluten Free plain white flour
3-4 tsps pain d'epice spice from Riquewihr OR:
3-4 tsps mixed spice Or:
a mix of cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, ground star anis (does that exist? Mulled wine is taking its toll...)
Rice milk to moisten dough if necessary
Extra GF flour for rolling out
For the icing:
300g icing sugar (approximately, more may be needed)
Food colouring of your choice (use paste colourings instead of liquid, much better. Here's a site)
Lemon juice to mix
Piping bags and smooth piping nozzle (I mean one that isn't crinkly at the end, but can't find the right words. Will try again when the wine has worn off)
- Feeling a bit squiffy now, (damn you mulled wine) but shquinting owlisshly at the screen and conshentrating very hard, so let's hope I don't make any mistakes
- Line some baking trays with baking parchment and pre-heat the oven to 170˚ degrees celsius
- Put the margarine and sugar into a large mixing bowl and cream together
- Add the apple sauce and the pinch of xanthan gum (or two eggs if you wish) and vanilla extract and mix to combine
- Add the flour and spices and mix again. If the dough seems too dry add rice milk gradually until you have a soft, workable dough. If using eggs, you might want to add a bit more flour
- Break off a good chunk of the dough and roll it out to a thickness of 2-3mm
- Cut out pretty festive shapes and place them onto your lined baking trays
- Repeat until you've used up all the dough and are getting really fed up of these damned Christmas biscuits
- Bake in the oven for about 10-12 minutes, you can get them out when they're a bit soft. They don't really go brown, so don't leave them in there too long
- Remove from oven and cool and then to the icing
- Seive the icing sugar into as many bowls as you want colours. Does that make sense? If you want 3 colours, use 3 bowls and split the icing sugar between them. (That made more sense didn't it?)
- Add a scrape of food colouring paste and a squirt of lemon juice and then watch in alarm as you mix it all together and that tiny scrape of colouring paste turns your icing a violent shade of whatever colour you added. (Moral: go easy on the colouring paste)
- You are aiming for a very thick icing that you can pipe, but not one that is so thick that it is grainy. Smooth is what we want. Add more icing sugar if need be - or more lemon - and keep alternating until you've got the right consistency
- Pipe prettiness onto your biscuits and leave it to set. Decorate with GF, EF, DF goodies (These are good)
- Serve to your happy children and pour yourshelf a good glassh of mulled wine. You desherve it
(Warning: small children may steal these biscuits before the end of your photo shoot)
Monday, 6 December 2010
We live in worrying times.
Wikileaks has it that the Saudis want the Americans to bomb the Iranians.
And that Berlusconi is sex mad.
And that Sarkozy is short.
Or maybe it was something else about Sarko. (I’m sure it’s not important.) But that bit about Iran is worrying isn't it?
I’m afraid I can do little to alleviate the worry and worse, I have to add to it. Because I am duty-bound to use the C and the F word.
Christmas and the ‘Festive season’ are only 2 weeks away.
You still ok? Hyperventilating is a normal response to this time of year, so don’t be embarrassed.
Now, hopefully, you took my advice and made your cake in October. And according to my mother-in-law, you could even ice it now.
But that would be way too organised for me, I shall be icing mine at about 1am on Christmas morning. That’s so that I can wake up sleep-deprived and snarling when my poppets trip in at 5am with their stockings. Why change the habit of a lifetime just because it’s Christmas?
Anyway, this cheering little missive is to remind you to make your mincemeat. There’s nothing like a good, alcoholic mincemeat to soothe away the worries of the festive season.
And you DO, still have time. We should of course have made it about a month ago, but the healing power of Brandy and Cointreau solves that particular problem. If you make it in the next few days and then make your mince pies just before Dec 25th, it will all be fine. (Good luck.)
And actually, I do have a little something to cheer you up. Take a look at this inelegant, giant dancing egg yolk. It makes me giggle every time.
I got carried away this year and made this new recipe for mincemeat, completely forgetting that I already had one on here. But now you have choice, that's always good isn't it?! Making mincemeat sounds horribly super yummymummy doesn't it? It's actually very therapeutic and well, essential, if you want to be sure it's free from allergy nasties. Go on, give it a whirl, it's much better than the stuff you buy!
2 tbsps orange juice
2-3 tbsps Cointreau (or more depending on your stress levels)
2 large eating apples, grated
200g dried cranberries
250g golden sultanas
450g dark muscovado
3 tsps pain d’épice spice/mixed spice/cinnamon/nutmeg
Add a grating of nutmeg for good measure
2 tbsps black treacle (optional)
- Halve the clementines, remove any pips, then blend in blender with 2 tbsps of orange juice. Place in a large mixing bowl
- Add the Cointreau to the Clementine mix and stir
- Grate the apple and add to the clementines, stir
- Add the sultanas, cranberries and raisins and stir
- Add all the remaining ingredients and mix well to combine
- Leave in a cool, dark place so it can do its alcohol-y absorbing thang for about 2 days (I think given our proximity to Christmas, we can just spoon it straight into the jars...)
- Wash and dry your storage jars (I only use Bonne Maman jam jars, gorgeous!) and place them in a warmed oven for, oh I dunno, 15 minutes?
- Remove from oven and fill with your lovely mincemeat. Turn them upside down for a day and then store them in a cool, dark place (right side up)
- Put to one side until the time comes for you to make your mince pies
- Be thankful that you are not Ann Widdecombe
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