Friday, 19 February 2010

Rhubarb Rhubarb

Well, the market today in Chatteris had rhubarb. I love rhubarb. I love the way it makes your teeth feel squeaky, a property it shares with halloumi cheese. I like the weird texture of it, I like the hugeness of the leaves in a garden, a tropical native plant look for the Fens. Most of all I love the fact that it's pink, a lovely sharp citrus pink that just about brightens my cupboard in these months of turnip. I know we are all meant to eat seasonally now, but there is only so much swede I can take, so I allow a little bit of rhubarb forcing into my life. So I grabbed 4 big sticks and gave them to daughter to brandish all the way home. Rhubarb is more interesting than you might think.
  • It is a film by Eric Sykes, in which the only dialogue is the word "rhubarb". Really.
  • It used to be more expensive than saffron, imported from the banks of the River Volga.
  • It was first cultivated in the UK in Oxford, as a medicinal plant, in 1777
  • In 1835, the Chinese Imperial Commissioner put a stop to the trade in tea and rhubarb, opining that without rhubarb and tea, the foreign Western barbarians would surely die.
  • Rubbing the raw end of a piece of rhubarb over burnt pots will remove the encrusted black stuff.
  • Rhubarb root dyes your hair blonder.
  • Rhubarb leaves make a good insecticide.
  • Ambrose Bierce described rhubarb as "the vegetable essence of stomach ache".
  • Rhubarb chutney goes extremely nicely with lamb.

I have two snotty coughing children. I can tell they are not well, as they are arguing even more than usual and sleeping in the day, although not at night. Son even fell asleep on the naughty step today. Rhubarb crumble with proper (tinned) custard is about as comfort food as you can get. Here's my recipe.

5 good size sticks of rhubarb, about 400g
2 apples, chopped
handful of sultanas, presoaked in orange juice
1 tsp ginger powder
for the topping:
60g soft brown sugar
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp nutmeg
1/4 tsp ground cloves or 3 whole cloves to be removed later
60g butter, melted
130g muesli
Oven: gas 4, 180 degrees
preheat your oven grease your dish. Cook your apples, rhubarb,sultanas and ginger till tender to the fork (about 5 - 10 mins) in about 4fl oz of water or orange juice, making sure all the sugar is dissolved, and plop into your dish. For the topping, stir all the dry ingrediants together, add the butter, and stir till it's crumbly and the butter has touched it all. I like to use a mesli with a high oat/ grain content and some nuts. Plonk it on top and into the oven for 15-20 mins.

And off topic of rhubarb, here are 3 things I am extremely pleased with this week. The first is a great invention, and has saved me from endless trips up and down the stairs since it arrived on Monday (from Dunelm mill, a tenner well spent).

The second is the first quilt top square I finished that actually looks any good (although this is all relative...). The third is the booty I returned from Ely with. Lots and lots of Michael Miller fat quarters.

Friday, 12 February 2010

Foolproof kid fart food for a rainy day.

It rains a lot in the Fens, and even if it isn't raining, it can often be too damp to let the kids outside for long. Fen mud is essentially peat, and turns to slop all too quickly. Today it has been hailing on and off, and once son's friend had gone home, there was a long indoors afternoon to fill. I can only stand reading "The mole who knew it was none of his business" so many times, or indeed, watch the "Come Outside" sewage episode for so long. Son is poo obsessed at the moment and find farts incredibly hilarious.
I therefore decided to create his favourite meal, designed espcially for the sweet palate of my children, and their inevitable amusement as they start to fart.

I present you with Meditterranean "Shepherds" pie, a.k.a "blow-off pie" and the failproof Banana Fart Muffins, to be eaten with custard.

Everyone knows how to make Shepherds pie. This version is constructed the same, but is altered for the sweet tooth- gravy hating children of my family. You'll need: lamb mince, 2 cans of tomatoes, chopped, selected veg (I like pepper, courgette and carrot, but you can do it with anything. Aubergine is nice), garlic, herbs, about twice as much squash as potato. If there's too much squash, it somehow doesn't mash as nicely, too runny. Feta cheese, or any nice crumbly cheese. Lancashire is nice too. Splash of wine for the gravy. In my house there's always a bottle open, or about to be opened that night anyway.

I don't actually like the finished dish, too sweet for my palate, but when I need them to eat vegetables, this is how they get them. You know how big the dish you always use for this sort of thing is, so you know what amounts you need. I usually use 500g mince and eye judge the rest so I know i'm getting a nice balance of topping and meat.

Fry up your mince with a couple of cloves of chopped garlic, add rosemary and thyme. To that, add chopped (and as for me, I need to disguise those veg, so for chopped read "grated") courgette, carrot, and red bell pepper. I also add a little onion powder as my two won't eat actual onions. My two go through olive loving phases, so I add these when they are in phase. Once softened, add two cans of chopped tomatoes, a splash of red wine and leave to simmer. The essential "blow-off" element is provided by the addition of some butter beans, either ready cooked from a can or lovingly soaked, cooked and made by yourself. You can use any beans, even baked beans. I know it seems odd giving both a carb topping and a bean underneath, but my two love it.

Then boil up a mixture of butternut squash and potato to use as your topping. The squash makes it sweeter than usual, you can also use sweet potato if you want. When mashing, add a little pepper, olive oil, and feta cheese. Plonk it on top of your meat mixture, bake for 30 /40 mins, gas mark 6 with a sprinkle of extra cheese on top if you like. You don't need to serve it with anything, it's a meal by itself.

The Foolproof banana Fart Muffin is a delicious "afters" smooshed up with a bit of custard. The kids can easily help with this and it is essentially kid-proof if they "help" too much. You will need:

200g plain flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon of bicarb (The fart powder. Or is it just my two it does it to?)
3 mashed old bananas
150g caster sugar
1 medium egg
75g melted butter
pinch of nutmeg, cinnamon and ginger

It's what I call a "2 bowl" do. Sift the dry ingrediants together. In another bowl, mash the bananas, and add to it the beaten egg, and melted butter. Get the kids to smoosh it about for however long. It doesn't matter if some lumps of banana are left, I quite like the bits chunky. Add the sugar and give it all a good stir. Then add it to the "dry" bowl, mix to a batter like mess (it's quite sludgy looking, like a thick batter). Add to the muffin cases and bake at Gas 4 / 180 degrees for 25 to 30 mins (less for a fan oven). They do store well, but act more like a banana bread than muffin, getting progressively stickier, and denser. I like them that way. You can add chocolate, fruit, anything to this receipe, it all works.

And then sit back and wait for the farting to start. It's a laugh a minute at my house.

Sunday, 7 February 2010

Kickstart kids

I spent this morning in the fog and damp at Mepal Motocross track, thinking about just how crazy i'd have to be to allow my son onto a small bike when he's five. This after seeing 20 5 year olds (yes, really) rip around a track at full speed and cut each other up like crazy, exhausts firing. Some of them were girls, too. Son remains transfixed by all things motocross, and this morning has merely added to his obsession. I was transfixed by the parents of the kiddy motocrossers more than anything else. How on earth must the mums feel as they strap their kids into their leathers and helmets and then send them off in the sand? Presumably they feel ok about it, if the yells of encouragement were anything to go by, although there were fewer mums than dads watching.

But it set me thinking about risk and children and how things have changed. Remember, in the 80's, Junior Kickstart was a national obsession and it was seen as a healthy pastime to send your kid off on his motorbike and let rip over obstacles. Now of course, health and safety and fear of kid injury have put paid to this kind of programme, and we have instead the nonsense of kids trying to get on X factor. Personally, i'm thinking the kids who aimed to leap over cars on their bikes in Kickstart were better off. I used to disappear off for whole days on my totally unreliable pony, once returning to the yard unconscious slumped on it's neck, after a rear had knocked me out on a tree branch. To the horses' credit, he did bring me back without tipping me off, but only after roaming for hours. The roaming around and freedom from adult involvement, and also the element of risk (Shall I attempt to leap the fence? Shall I ever be able to stop the sod from bolting toward the new bypass? Will I die if he tries to cross it? ) enlivened my days and encouraged me to dare to do things that i'd never have done under supervision. Sometimes the encouragement of adults isn't helpful. I've watched my kids get up from falls when they think they are not observed without a peep that , if watched, they will often weep copiously at. Maybe the chance to damage ourselves through risk taking is what helps us form parts of our character.

Of course, this is all so much hot air when you see your kid plummet from a motorbike, i'm sure. One small rider fell today, and got the biggest cheers as he plonked himself back on a finished the laps regardless, 2 behind everyone else. The sort of strength of character I'm not sure I have. Maybe being 5 helps. I was reassured by the ambulances at the ready, but not enough to ever encourage son to do it.

It's also too darn expensive. There were some serious spenders in evidence. It seemed to me to be the socio-economic lower levels version of formula 1, it's very very expensive but people make do to do it. It's defiantly working class too, there are no plummy accents in evidence and no healthy food outlets, it's successfully resisted any middle class incursions. People watch from the backs of their quad bikes and the girls reapply make up continually in case they catch the eyes of any young male riders. Accents are strong, cars are big and swearing colours the air. There are no dogs smaller than mastiff and none less scary looking. Dress code is relaxed. "Fen Massif" for young men, with the obligatory can of Red Bull and fag, and for young ladies the hair is never less than blonde and the foundation generous. Men are big with relaxed stomachs and mums stay out of the way in the trailers. There is one burger van and it's a quid for a cup of tea. In short, it's not televisual. This will never get onto tv again, at least not the terrestrial channels, because the only working class people that are allowed to show their faces are on soap operas, laughed at in X-Factor style shows, or sniggered at in Channel 4 sitcoms, "Shameless style". Poor people are allowed to be good at football, as long asthey're grateful and pick up a WAG, thus supplying the tabloids with fodder, but that's the only sport (aside from maybe snooker? If that is a sport? ) that they'll get seen doing. The other local sports round here, shooting, trapping, and driving your souped up car into the forty-foot drain, will of course, also never get on tv. It's a shame, because the sight of these lads and young men (and ladies) ripping round the track was exhilarating, very skilful, and brave. The young girl pictured here, flew round, and then proceeded to strip her bike. It might have been abit dangerous, but I think a 7 year old girl who can strip down a motorbike, is a girl i'd like to meet.
fen glossary: forty foot drain: