Emergency cookies

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It’s now safe to name your favourite colour in this house, but name your favourite animal at your own risk. Bert’s dad agreed that he liked monkeys (he doesn’t particularly like monkeys) and now has two monkeys and a monkey balloon next to his bed and a sticker of a grinning gorilla behind the bedroom door at head height. I’m using an aardvark as a bookend (I genuinely love an aardvark, to be fair) and a medium-sized bear sits next to my perfume.

Much of this benevolence happens by stealth. Bert’s dad’s working in Canada at the moment and Bert and I happened to find out that the waters round Vancouver have sea otters in. Last night, two hours after Bert was in bed, I found a poster with two otters and the phrase ‘time for a snuggle!’ on it on the bed, on his dad’s side.

His dad made the mistake of mentioning that there are bears in Canada, and I’d say one out of three of the texts Bert regularly dictates and asks me to send is, ‘take a secret picture of the bears.’ His dad’s staying in a hotel in the middle of a large city. There’s absolutely no chance of running into a wild bear.

When he returns on Sunday we may well need emergency cookies.

Makes 30

225g butter

150g granulated sugar

150g soft brown sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

2 eggs

275g plain flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

A couple of handfuls of chocolate chips (or Easter egg chocolate in this case)

2 dessert spoons peanut butter powder

Cream butter and sugar together till they’re really light and fluffy – a good five minutes in the mixer or ten minutes with strong arms and stamina. Add the eggs and vanilla, then stir in the flour, peanut butter powder and baking powder. Stir the chocolate through.

You can just cook it now – pop teaspoons of mixture on an unlined baking tray and bake at 190 for 8-9 minutes. Or, even better, freeze teaspoons of mixture in an icecube tray, decanting to a container when completely frozen and keeping in the freezer till you need them.

Emergency? Is your child hungry? Angry? Hangry? Scuffed knee? Surprised by a friend’s unexpectedly tight cuddle? Shocked by someone calling them by their name at 8am in their own house ? Crushed that their mother didn’t pretend to be prey and get eaten by a sleeping lion on a dog walk, when the sleeping lion looked just like a five-year-old boy and she didn’t know she was prey? Then put the oven onto 180, get a couple of frozen cookie mixture balls out of the freezer and pop them, still frozen, onto an unlined baking sheet. Bake for 11-12 minutes, till golden, and eat warm.

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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.

Fish fingers


Bert fell asleep in his pram while I was walking Ray today. (Yes, looking like a sixty-year-old man in an armchair.) After an hour we were back at the car and I attempted to lift Bert in – the way I did when he was a baby – but he’s huge and woke up as I tried to haul him in. He cried loudly and angrily as I wrestled him into the seat, and I drove off with him screaming.

After a couple of minutes he stopped crying and was perfectly cheerful. ‘Do you feel better?’ I said. ‘Yes,’ he said conversationally, ‘I was just a bit shocked.’

Serves 2-3

2 skinless hake fillets (like cod but tastier and more sustainable)

2 tablespoons cornflour

100ml milk (enough to dip the fish)

2-3 tablespoons breadcrumbs (if using home made, toast them on a baking sheet in a low oven for an hour first – they keep like this for a few weeks)

Zest of one lemon, finely grated into the breadcrumbs 

2 tablespoons sunflower oil

Slice the fish into strips, around a centimetre thick. Dust in flour, dip in milk then coat in lemony crumbs. Get the oil hot in a large frying pan then turn the heat down to medium and fry the fish fingers till they’re golden and crisp on all sides.

The trick is toasting the crumbs first, adding the zest and frying instead of baking. 

Not Heinz tomato soup

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And yet, strangely, very much like Heinz tomato soup.

Serves 2

1 tin of cherry tomatoes or plum tomatoes (cherry are a bit sweeter, but plum are fine)

1/2 a slice of white bread

1 teaspoon brown sugar

1 teaspoon red wine vinegar

1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper

Salt

Water from the kettle

Bring the tinned tomatoes and their juice to a boil in a saucepan and add the torn up bread, sugar, vinegar and cayenne. Turn the heat off, leave for 5-10 minutes for the bread to absorb the liquid, and then puree, thinning to the right consistency with hot water from the kettle if you need to. (We have it a bit thicker than Heinz, but – importantly – thin enough to drink through a bowl with a built in straw.)

Season and liquidise. You can also add any leftover roast red onion, pepper or carrot (anything red-hued), if you’ve got it, before you puree.  Reheat gently, checking the seasoning, and serve with bread and butter.

 

Nearly Bird’s custard

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Mine and Bert’s relationship came as close as it’s ever come to crisis point when he refused to try this. It’s home made! It’s creamy and custardy! It’s a nursery classic! I was genuinely really annoyed.

But I’m over it now – at least enough to note down the recipe to force on him at a future date. It basically tastes just like a really, really nice version of packet custard.

Serves 3-4

2 cups of milk

1 teaspoon of vanilla essence

4 egg yolks

1 tablespoon of cornflour

1/2 cup of golden caster sugar

I’m friends with the mother of the girl Bert loves most in the world. Fearne treats him with a firm hand, shares his love of dinosaurs, is up for most things and has loaned him spotty socks. Maybe those are the secrets to a lasting relationship right there. Anyway, her mum suggested stewed apple and custard as a toddler friendly pudding and I thought, that sounds bloody lovely. And it was, even though the toddler in question wasn’t friendly about it in the slightest.

Whisk cornflour with the eggs in a foodmixer (or by hand) till thick, add the sugar and beat till thick and pale. Bring the milk and vanilla to a simmer then add to the egg mixture slowly, whisking all the time. Return it all to a clean pan and heat gently, constantly stirring, till thick. Eat the lot yourself if necessary.

Alphabetti Spaghetti

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I had seconds of this. And Bert’s leftovers.

I hope that this is in the same category as home made baked beans – wholesome and tasty, and not in the same category as home made custard creams – insane. I have made my own custard creams, but that was in a pre-child fit of whimsy.

Serves four, or two for lunch and leftovers for lunch tomorrow

200ml passata

50ml water and a bit of pasta water

Salt to taste

1 teaspoon brown sugar

2 carrots, grated

1 onion, chopped

2 cloves garlic, crushed

A lot of olive oil

A couple of handfuls of alphabet pasta

Fry the onion and garlic in the olive oil then add the carrots. You want enough oil for the carrots to be melting into it after a few minutes. Cook for around five minutes, till the carrots really soft, then add the passata and 50ml of water. Season to taste with salt and add the sugar. Cook for around five minutes again. Meanwhile put the alphabet pasta on to cook (mine takes 7 minutes).

Then puree the sauce, add maybe half a ladle full of the water the pasta was cooked in – enough to get it to a thick but runny consistency – and serve on hot, buttered toast.

Fish pie

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I’m not a fan of boiled eggs, vegetables, prawns or other such fancy touches in fish pies. This is a bit like the fish pie my mum used to make and there’s a comfort in the way our palettes and recipes get passed down the line.

I’ve since nerded out a bit on the subject of mashed potato, and come to the conclusion that fish pie really needs a very dry mash so that it doesn’t merge into the sauce. Steaming potatoes with their skin on is the way forward, though it does take ages. They keep a really potatoey taste, too.

Serves 4

450g fish – a combination of salmon, white fish and smoked fish like smoked haddock. Ideally skinless and boneless. Cut into bite sized chunks.

500ml whole milk

1 dessert spoon butter

1 dessert spoon plain flour

Chopped parsley – a small bunch

750-850g floury potatoes (that’s about 4 or 5 medium sized baking potatoes)

1 tablespoon of butter

Salt, pepper and grated nutmeg to taste

About 130g cheddar cheese, grated

Put the fish in a pan, cover with the milk, bring to a simmer and cook for 8 minutes. Get your potatoes steaming. Remove the cooked fish and reserve the milk. Melt the dessert spoon of butter in a saucepan, mix in the flour to form a roux and gradually add the milk the fish was cooked in till you have a thick white sauce. The fish goes in an oven proof dish, followed by the chopped parsley and the sauce. Ideally leave this to cool till your potatoes are ready so that the sauce is a bit firmer and the potato’s easier to spread on top.

Steam the potatoes in their skin for about 45 minutes, till tender. Mash or, even easier, rice with a potato ricer. Return the pan of mash to the hob and add the butter, stirring through as it melts. Season with salt, pepper and nutmeg.

Cover the fish with the mash and then the grated cheese. Cook at 200 (or the middle of the Aga roasting oven) for about 30 minutes, till golden and bubbling. Give it an extra 10 minutes to cool. Bert looks very disapproving if he’s served food that’s too hot, making a tiny O mouth and blowing showily on each mouthful.

I know his portion looks massive. It’s not the perspective.