Cherry and orange individual Bakewell tarts

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I was lucky enough to escape some of the brutal shocks to our identity and sanity that new parenthood can bring. My hobbies were already pretty sedendary. I didn’t socialise wildly or travel the world (except for work, when I was paid to be that type of person, which helpfully got it out of my system): I wrote or read blogs, wrote or read books, cooked or ate food, or just sat on a sofa and stared at the wall. Of course, all of these are totally compatible with parenthood, particularly the latter.

Bert wasn’t early to sleep through, but when he did he really went for it, with 3-hour naps and 14 hours at bedtime. One Christmas he woke up at 11am and greeted me with  ‘hello gorgeous’. For at least three years I’ve been getting enough sleep to wipe away the smear of tiredness and let the glimmer of small joys shine through.

So even though parenting this particular toddler wasn’t especially hard (well, no harder than having someone shouting mum a hundred times in a minute then pooing on a new speaker has to be), I did think that parenting a school age child would be easier. The age of toileting accidents over. Five days a week to fit work into, with no guilt since he has to be at school. Near-rational conversations. Walking to school.

How wrong I was. What I hadn’t taken into account was the emotional grind of tiny friendships formed and smashed up, piles of ‘optional’ homework that’s nevertheless chased for and rewarded with achievement stickers, the incomprehensible mind-grenade that is the phonics system and the need to get him through next year’s exam so he won’t have to resit it. And the near daily additions to my to-do list that arrive by email – put a pound in a named envelope, dress them in spots and odd socks, sign up to contribute to the Christmas hamper, send in charity money, return library books, fill in a form so they don’t miss out on the school Christmas lunch.

Or make cakes for the Christmas fair. These are a tiny bit of a faff, but delicious, and at last count there were at least 12 left to be dropped off this afternoon.

Makes 20 tarts

2 x 225g sheets ready-made shortcrust pastry

Dark cherry jam, about 20 teaspoons

120g soft butter

120g golden caster sugar

1/2 teaspoon orange essence

1 egg

1 tablespoon plain flour

110g ground almonds

400g icing sugar

4-5 tablespoons water

10 dark glace cherries

Pre-heat the oven to 180/ 170 fan. Lightly grease a muffin tin.

Cut  circles out of the pastry – about 8-10cm diameter – and then line the muffin holes with them, smoothing out any creases. (I had a 12 hole tin, so did two batches.) Crumple up 10cm square pieces of greaseproof (just cut up the paper in the pastry packets), uncrumple and put one on top of each pastry case, weighing down with baking beans or dried pulses. Bake for 10 minutes, take the paper out then bake for another 8-10 minutes, till golden. (I’m a keen but lazy cook and often miss this stage out, but it’s what makes these little tarts soft on the inside but buttery and crunchy on the outside, so worth doing.)

Take them out and let them cool a little. Meanwhile, beat together the butter, sugar and orange essence. Add the egg and flour and then the almonds. Spread a little jam on the bottom of each pastry case, then a generous teaspoon of almond mixture (it rises a little in the oven and ideally you want to see the pastry case around it, so don’t be tempted to over-fill.) Bake for 20 minutes, till risen and golden.

When the tarts are cool, mix the icing sugar and water together and spread a generous teapoon on top of each tart. Top with half a glace cherry. (These would also be good for Red Nose Day.) Protect from scavengers.

 

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Quick crab chowder pasta

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I always saw myself as a mother of a few children, living in a muddle of chatter and clatter. But it isn’t always easy to accurately direct life towards your heart’s desires, and here I am, mother of one.

I still feel the need to apologise to mothers of siblings, going on and on to them about how easy it is to have just one, partly to say it first and partly because I feel like a part-timer, someone who claims to be committed to their job but leaves on the nose of 5.30. Somehow it’s hard to feel like a proper mother when both hands aren’t holding small, sticky ones; when I have a hand free. It feels like proper mothering shouldn’t be too easy.

With the extra time and energy I could really be cooking home made stew and dumplings on a Tuesday night in October, but sometimes it’s nice to pick spending time together over being in the kitchen while your child watches the same series on a loop for the hundredth time on Netflix.

This is proper food. But it’s easy.

Serves 2

3 handfuls of quick cook pasta

3 tablespoons of double cream

1 tin of white crab, drained

1 tin of sweetcorn, drained

3 tablespoons of grated Parmesan cheese

1/2 tablespoons of lemon juice

Salt and black pepper

Dried chilli flakes to serve

Put the pasta on to cook.

In a shallow pan on a medium heat, combine the cream, crab, lemon juice, two tablespoons of the Parmesan, sweetcorn and seasoning. Heat gently then combine with the cooked pasta. Serve with extra grated cheese and, for non spice-avoiders (me not Bert), a scant sprinkling of chilli flakes.

Manchego and rosemary scones

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Wednesday’s are still scone day!

Bert’s done nearly two full weeks at school and it’s been a roller-coaster. He loves it, he’s exhausted, he’s been told off for trying to scale a fence (either to escape or to impress a girl, it’s not clear), neither Mrs Green nor Mr Green are, infuriatingly, green, he’s cried just out of sight of the school gates, he’s rejected my idea of me kissing a stone for him to keep in his pocket (‘erm, it’s just a stone!’) but asks for a kiss on each cheek to keep all day when I drop him off.

This morning he complained he was ‘so tired’; not because of school, but because he gets up in the night to play.

There’s really only one answer to that, as the doctor says to the patient who complains his arm hurts when he lifts it.

Makes around 10 small scones

225g self-raising flour

55g cold butter

45g finely grated Manchego (Cheddar would obviously work just as well)

1 teaspoon dried rosemary

Pinch of salt

150ml pouring yoghurt (or half and half milk/ plain yoghurt)

Flour for dusting

Beaten egg or milk to glaze

Preheat the oven to 200 degrees. Crumb the butter and flour, between finger and thumb or in a mixer. Add the cheese, rosemary and salt, and stir to distribute evenly. Pour in the yoghurt and quickly bring together into a wet dough with a knife. Tip onto a floured surface as soon as it’s together and press down gently, to about 3-4cm deep. (The less you touch scone mixture, the better.) Cut out rounds and place on a floured baking tray. Brush the top with egg or milk and into the oven for around 15 minutes, till golden brown. Serve warm, buttered.

Strawberry and yoghurt scones

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On Wednesdays we now have to grab a quick bite at a weird time between getting home from school at 4ish going to gymnastics class for 5ish. My intention is to make this a regular high tea, with sandwiches and home-made scones. No doubt by the end of term we’ll be eating cold Heinz spaghetti hoops on an old Jacob’s cracker that the dog’s already had a nibble of, but for Good Intentions Week the first week of term, I made these.

Bert said ‘I don’t even want the rest of my sandwich because the other things are so very  very much nicer.’

Because of the yoghurt, they’re a bit more tender and slightly less risen than ‘normal’ scones, but very very much nicer.

Makes 12 small or 6 large scones

225g self-raising flour, more for dusting

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

50g cold butter, in small pieces

1.5 tablespoons golden caster sugar

140ml plain pouring yoghurt (or half and half milk and plain yoghurt)

60g strawberries, diced to about the size of raisins

1/2 teaspoon vanilla

Preheat the oven to 200 degrees. ‘Breadcrumb’ the flour and butter by rubbing between your fingers and thumbs, or in a food processor. Stir through the sugar. Heat the pouring yoghurt (or milk+yoghurt) to hand temperature in a small pan, then take off the heat and stir the vanilla into it. Add the liquid to the flour and butter mixture and then very swiftly combine with a blunt knife to make a soft dough.

Flour a surface well and quickly press the dough into shape (about 2.5-3cm thick) on it. (The trick with scones is to touch the dough as little as possible.) It’s very soft but does hold together. Sprinkle the top with flour and then cut out 12 rounds with a champagne glass (get me) or 6 with a cookie cutter. Brush with beaten egg, pop on a floured baking tray and bake for 12-14 minutes, till golden brown. Eat the same day, with clotted cream (beneath the jam is the correct Cornish way) and jam.

Hedgerow fool

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Bert’s been at school for two full days and he’s run through the full gamut of emotions. From a summer-long excitement, to hysteria the day before term began, jangling nerves on the morning itself, through to jubilance at the end of the first day. (‘It was brilliant. I don’t know why I nervous.’)

He then moved, after a total of 12 hours in school, onto a nonchalant confidence. When I picked him up today, I asked him what he’d been doing and he said, ‘I spent a lot of time working in the office, organising things’. Surely they hadn’t moved him into a paid administrative role already? Turned out he was demonstrating his ability to sort colours into the right piles and numbers into the correct order. ‘I got them all right,’ he claimed, and nodded at me that the road was safe to cross.

But by 4.30, the cheery confidence had shifted into a melancholic nostalgia for the old days. ‘We don’t laugh at the same things anymore, Mum,’ he said wistfully in the car on the way to the supermarket to buy the makings of home-made fruit lollies. ‘We used to.’ ‘What do you mean? I just laughed at about a hundred of your jokes.’ ‘Not the last one, in the car.’ He stared out of the window, mouth set in a straight line, remembering the good times, now irrevokably passed, before we drifted apart.

The day before term started, before it all went wrong, we picked blackberries and made a blackberry fool.

Serves 4

400g blackberries

100ml elderflower cordial

2 tablespoons golden caster sugar

150ml thick Greek yoghurt

150ml cold custard

Put the washed blackberries in a pan with the cordial and sugar. Heat till bubbling then simmer merrily for about 10 minutes, crushing the berries against the side of the pan to make a very rough, chunky sauce. Cool.

Fold the cooled fruit, yoghurt and custard together briefly till combined but still rippled. Chill in the fridge for at least an hour before serving, more time if you have it.

Blackberry Frangipane tart

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Me and Bert peaked today.

After a busy day with Ray’s annual fat shaming health check at the vet, last bits of school uniform to buy and food shopping to do, we pulled into the drive and Bert, as usual, wearily nagged me to reverse park, exasperation exceeding expectation.

I wrong footed him by agreeing. As I turned off the engine he asked, suspiciously, ‘is it on the grass or gravel?’ Affronted, I replied, ‘gravel, of course!’, surreptitiously sliding a glance out of the car window. Bert immediately borrowed my phone and rang his dad at work with the news. I heard his dad say, ‘she’s done what?’ as I opened the front door.

This is my last week with a pre-schooler and I’m trying to be happy for my excited boy, while brushing away a bit of sadness at the end of our Thursday book shop ritual and Wednesday singing group and any day pulling him out of nursery at short notice to be my partner in crime.

One positive, though, is that we will walk to school.

Makes one large tart

1 sheet of shop-bought (as peculiar and tautological a phrase as pan-fried) puff pastry

125g butter

125g golden caster sugar

3 eggs

125g ground almonds

1/2 teaspoon ground ginger

2 small punnets or a good haul of picked blackberries

Pre-heat the oven to 170 fan.

Lay the pastry onto a baking tray and fold in each edge about a centimetre, so there’s a raised edge to contain the Frangipane.

Beat together the butter, sugar, eggs, almonds and ginger. Pour carefully into the pastry reservoir. Scatter the blackberries on top and bake for 30-35 minutes, till deep golden brown. The pastry will be crisp and buttery beneath.

Serve with thick double cream.

Easy peasy macaroni cheesey

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… pleasey.

This is Nigella’s easy macaroni cheese recipe (I say ‘mac ‘n’ cheese’ for no one), pimped up with peas and mint.

Serves 4

250ml evaporated milk (not condensed!)

125g red Leicester cheese, grated

125g Cheshire cheese, grated

2 eggs, beaten (so you don’t get little clots of scrambled egg in there)

2 handfuls fresh peas

1 small spring of mint, leaves roughly chopped (flavour plus leaves – a massive risk when cooking for eagle-eyed small children, but worth it)

Salt and pepper

Half a bag of macaroni

Cook the pasta in boiling water till 1-2 minutes away from done. Put the oven on to 200 fan/ 220.

Combine the egg, cheese, evaporated milk, peas and mint with a little salt and pepper. Mix into the cooked pasta, tip into an ovenproof dish and cook in the oven for 15-20 minutes, till golden brown with little bits of crunch on top.

If you prepare it earlier and put it in the oven cold, give it 25 – 30 minutes.