Oh, OK then – mince pies

Right, you didn’t see this here, ok? I’ll add a photo in a week or 2 when no-one’s looking. Here’s how I make mince pies. Nowt fancy, but they’re my favourites this way, and it only makes 12. They’re usually going onto a plate about 30 mins after I decide I quite fancy them. Ready? GO!

Put the oven on to Gas 7 / 210deg C. Pull out your pastry cutters, rolling pin and pie tins.

Put 120g plain flour into a food processor bowl. Add 60g of a mix of cold salted butter and lard. About 50/50 is good. Whizz on high till it’s like breadcrumby dust. Pulse it while you add cold water with a squeezeof lemon juice in it. The consistency’s right when it just starts coming together.

Plop on a floured surface and roll out. Cut 12 big and 12 medium circles. Lay the big circles in a 12-pie pastry tin. Fill with mincemeat. Cover. Slosh with milk from a pastry brush. Stab each with a fork or a knife.

Bake for 20 mins (15 – 30 mins, depends on your oven). Take each pie out onto a wire rack IMMEDIATELY or any dripped mincemeat will solder the pie to the tin permanently.

 

Steak & Kidney Pie for Lorna

Lorna, I absolutely will not write a recipe for mince pies, but here’s one for Steak & Kidney Pie. It’s a mix between a Nigella Lawson recipe, a Glasgow Cookery Book one and my own laziness.

Ingredients

steak and kidney suet crust pastry

Tonight's dinner

a big onion or 2 medium ones
a big carrot or 2 medium ones
1 or 2 celery sticks
3 or 4 sage leaves
lard or dripping (or olive oil if you really have to. But the others taste better)
flour (about 4 tablespoons)
pepper and grated nutmeg
500g beef (whatever joint you fancy, just chop it up into chunks)
250g kidneys (lambs kidneys taste milder than pork)
a tin of stout and enough beef stock to make it up to about 400ml
 
Pastry:
1/2 teaspoon salt
200g SR flour (or 200g plain flour and 2 teaspoons baking powder)
75 – 100g suet
 

Method

1. Put the onion, carrot, celery and sage leaves into a food processor and blend into little pieces. Stop before it’s mush.
2. Cook this with a spoon of dripping in a big heavy frying pan over a medium heat for 5 mins or so till it’s soft. Decant it to a casserole dish,
3. Put the flour in a bowl with a bit of seasoning (pepper and nutmeg). Flour the steak and kidney cubes.
4. Heat more dripping in the frying pan and fry the meat in little batches, moving it to the casserole dish when it’s browned on all sides.
5. Pour any remaining flour in the empty frying pan, add the stout and stock, scrape any burnt bits off, and pour it into the casserole dish.
6. Cover and simmer for 2 hours on low (either in a cool oven or on the hob)
7. Mix all the pastry ingredients. Add around 125ml of water and stir. Add more water or flour until you get a soft paste.
8. Pat and squash the pastry with your hands till it’s the shape of your pie / casserole dish.
9. Put pastry over the meat (either same casserole dish – replace the metal lid with your pastry lid! – or use a pie dish) and put in a preheated oven (Gas Mark 7/210degC) for 10 mins, then turn down to Gas 5/190degC for 25 mins.

Winter’s Nearly Here, Hooray!

Well, after last weekend’s shenanigans, this weekend has been just spot-on, thank you very much! To be fair, it doesn’t take a lot to please me:

  1. It was gloriously sunny on Saturday
  2. Found some very cool, el-cheapo royal blue/violet nail varnish in Superdrug that dries in a minute. I do own cool coloured nail varnish, but it takes ages to dry. About as long as it takes one of the minxes to get up to mischief. So this’ll do brilliantly. It’s not great quality, but what do you expect for £1.79? And it’s fun!
  3. On Friday The Boss and I found the perfect doll for Midi Minx for Christmas: Chou Chou’s Mummy’s Little Patient. I suspect she’ll be able to operate all the medical toys quite perfectly. She’s certainly had enough experience recently!
  4. Dundee Cake

    Wow, this tasted good. In fact, I might reward myself with another wee bit...

    On Saturday I found a great dolly buggy at half price in Argos. I’d been worrying I’d left all my Christmas shopping too late to get good discounts – panic over.

  5. Midi put buggy and dolly on her Christmas letter to Santa today – perfect!
  6. The Boss took Midi and Maxi to a train model exhibition in Elgin while Mini slept at home and I cracked on with knitting, cleaning, putting stuff on eBay – EVERYONE was happy.
  7. I baked a Dundee cake (recipe here) and The Boss made Steak & Kidney Pie – yummy!
  8. I got to the bottom of the washing pile today for 15 minutes.
  9. The Boss bought a huge ironing board with all kinds of doo-dahs on in, el-cheapo from Aldi. For *himself*!!!! He’s trying it out now as I type, cackling to himself. Bless…
  10. Midi graduated from a baby pillow to a proper adult pillow. She loves it! Now for the proper sized bed…
  11. I had a bit of a lie-in on both Saturday and Sunday. OK, so all 3 girls were squirming around in bed, bickering and playing and singing and elbowing me in the stomach from *before* I normally get up, but what the hell, it was lovely being able to wake up slowly and not have to jump to immediate Action Stations as usual.
  12. We noticed that Midi calls Brussels Sprouts ‘Special Sprouts’ (her hearing is still duff). I laughed like a drain.
  13. Mini’s vocabulary has expanded from “I want that-I want that-I want that-I want that” to “I want that, down there. There! There! Over there, Mama!” (pointing to a dropped segment of clementine).
  14. Mini toddled up to me mid-morning, signed for milk. I gave her some, and she signed thank you, before toddling off to the living room. Awwwwww!

But the 2 best bits of the weekend were this:

1. Today, we went for a walk to collect pine cones. I think the plan is to get the girls to paint them, coat them in tat and glitter, and put them on the Christmas tree next month. What was great about it was that all 5 of us had a lovely time, just bimbling along, pointing at mushrooms, toadstools, dog poo (!), berries, just chatting away. The only time I raised my voice was to call to one of the elder girls disappearing into the horizon to return and stay close to Mini as her legs are so small (and she gets cross when she can’t keep up). We collected a big bag full, then had a huge long chat about trees: how could you tell some had been cut down, how could you tell which ones had fallen over, how could you tell how old the tree had been, how could you tell which direction was the sunniest, blah, blah, blah. We even had time for the swings afterwards. Best of all, they all got tired out in the fresh air and Mini snuggled into my back in a sleepy doze in our Connecta.

2. On Friday we had our bi-monthly treat: fish and chips from the van! Oh my word, they’re good! And I finally, finally captured Mini’s reaction to her Daddy coming home. She shrieks, drums her feet, clenches and shakes her little fists, and generally gives The Boss a massive hero’s welcome. Hope you like it!

Ballet for Banshees

Maxi and Midi Minx go to a ballet class once a week. Maxi’s of the age where she’s starting to learn ‘proper’ ballet, while Midi still prances around in a fluffy dressing-up skirt. They’ve been going for a year, and initially they started to meet other little girls and to do something active. I met other mums, including my best friend (who’s now moved, and I still miss her), and all was good. It was just half an hour, once a week.

Then Maxi moved up a class. So Midi is in for 30 mins, then it’s Maxi’s turn. Now my Thursday afternoon routine is cheekily nip past all the other parents at 3pm ‘unlock the zoo gates nursery gate’ time, grab Midi, yank all 3 to the car, beetle over to the next village 15 mins away, unload the little monkeys, herd them into a room full of screeching, unsupervised children, yell at Maxi and Midi so they can hear me above the cacophony, take no more than 4 minutes to change Midi or she’ll be late, shepherd her into the class, feed and water Maxi and Mini, change Maxi, swap girls, feed and water Midi and Mini (again – she’s a growing girl), get everyone changed back into warm clothes, drive home, have 15 mins flat to get dinner on the table and do Maxi’s homework with her.

I hate ballet days. Do the girls really enjoy it so much that it’s worth the stress?

And did I tell you about the other kids? Oh boy…

The class is held in the local independent school. It attracts a certain kind of affluent, lentil-knitting, homemade tofu-smearing, original-naming, child-led-everything kind of mum. Who as individuals are really nice and personable, but who as a group just let their children run wild. Properly wild. Screaming, shrieking, knock-other-kids-over-in-their-wake wild. From the school’s front door, down the main corridor, into the dining room (where we wait while the kids dance in another room) and back again. Now the noise level is horrendous anyway, but add over-excited kids to the mix, and I really struggle to cope with my hour purgatory every week.

To give you an example of how unsupervised they are: a few weeks back I saw 2 girls having fun hauling out all the teabags from the honesty jars, having a lick, a sniff, rubbing them on the floor and stuffing them back. Then their snot-and-grime-covered fingers were in the sugar and coffee. Their mother paused in the middle of a very long boast to say mildly, “I think you should stop that now”, but as she only said it in their general direction, in a very quiet whisper, they didn’t exactly cease and desist…

Today, I growled at 5 of the little wildebeest who came dangerously close to bowling over a toddling Mini. They ignored me. And another concerned mum. So when they charged past again, I resisted the temptation to trip them; I grabbed 2 of the little blighters by the elbow and yelled, “Oi, oi, oi! Stop that NOW!” I guess they’d never been addressed by a proper Glaswegian lout before, so they slunk off, shame-faced.

Trout 1 Brats 0.

It’s a small, pathetic victory, but I feel better standing up for discipline. I don’t see how letting children run wild is good for them. How will they manage their crushed ids when they realise that they are not the centre of the universe, and are just tiny cogs in the grinding machinery of society? How will they cope when they’re adults and have to follow society’s rules? Oh, right, I see where I’m going wrong, expecting them to eventually follow rules and mores. Silly me.

Today Was Brought To You By The Minx ‘Midi’

Saturday 5th November. It started fairly well:

Midi Minx: “Mummy, your breath smells AWWWWful!”
Me: “Well, that’s because I’ve not had my morning coffee, yet.”
Midi: “Why you always drink coffee?”
Me: “Because you always come in my bed at night and wake me up so I feel tired all day.”
Midi: “Oh. Well, I always drink wine.”
Me: “That’s nice. What do you want to drink with breakfast, then?”
Midi: “Mllllk. Cold. Actually”

(Yeah, she really pronounces it like that, without the ‘i’)

It was mine and The Boss’s 6th wedding anniversary. That’s traditionally iron. I guess we both anticipated that an electrical iron as a present would be reciprocated with divorce papers. So we both had to up our game a bit. Well, I did. Last year’s ‘wooden’ anniversary present was a proper wooden porridge spurtle. It was just the perfect present: little, but thoughtful, useful (we eat porridge by the cauldron), it was simple and classically shaped, and it had a little loveheart carved in the top. Perfect. Clever man!

So, what about this year? Well, I found a very cool cast iron bike stand for my mountain-biking mental man (he seemed pretty pleased). And I unwrapped my present to find a little silver box, shaped like a star. Jewellery. Iron. Star. Shooting star? Meteorite?! Meteorite!! He’d got me a piece of a meteorite (1947, Siberia): my very own shooting star. He also wrote some very wonderful things in a card, which will remain private, but made my stony old heart just melt. What a wonderful, thoughtful person he is!

Even though I’d explained that only the people celebrating the anniversary actually observe it, Maxi made us a little paper card, with our house and the whole family (even the cat) on it. Tellingly, she’d drawn all 3 girls in flamenco dresses..!

It was such a gloriously beautiful day that we decided to get out. Unlike last weekend, though, we did a mini declutter. So we had to via the dump first to get rid of the 3 big bags of baby clothes and plastic bottles. So we had to check out the ‘recycled’ bikes. And there were loads, just in Maxi’s size, so we got her a perfect purple one. So we had to go to the park via Lidl to pick up some groceries and check out the bargains. And bought half the shop in Christmas goods (pannetone, gingerbread hearts, gift wrap, etc, etc). So we had to have some lunch before we hit the park. And we were on such a high we decided on soup and a roll at the brilliant garden centre cafe. The girls were fantastically well-behaved just chatting, us 4, while The Boss waited in the longest line ever for 30 mins.

Why am I boring you with all this? To make the point that had we gone straight to the park, the day would have been a bit of a downer, instead of reasonably active and productive. Maxi and Midi had a play at the playground before getting on the bikes, while I walked Mini in the sling to get her to sleep. After maybe 15 minutes, from the far end of the park, I saw The Boss pick up a roaring Midi and hug her to him. His body language didn’t say ‘Panic!’, but it wasn’t right either. So I marched over as fast as I could. I forget what he said, but I could see Midi had fallen on her little bonce – she had a blue egg on her forehead with a red stripe through it, like the skin underneath had split from the force of the swelling.

We were amazingly calm about it. Spot the 3rd time parents who’ve seen their daughters get a fair few head injuries?

“I think we should get it checked out – it’s Saturday and what if she gets dizzy later?” The Boss reasoned.

“Hmmm, she seems ok. But yes, let’s go. Now. Maxi, we’re going. Climb down. Car!” I remember saying, briskly. Inside I felt like sinking to my knees and wailing at the sight of my baby’s little forehead, but outside I think I sounded like a bored robot. Maxi predictably threw a real strop at having to leave and Mini wasn’t too happy at waking up, but there you go. We did a quick detour via Co-op for a £1 bag of frozen peas to stick on Midi’s head, shielded by the cloth bag that usually holds Mini’s spare nappies, then off to A&E. Yes, the A&E Midi visited only on Wednesday and acquired a stethoscope from. The same one.

forehead bump child

Bit of a washed-out photo, but here is the egg, a few hours later

We had to wait a wee while, which I’d warned the girls about. They idly people-watched, and seemed fascinated by the steady stream of sports injuries.

One rugby player sat trying to look innocuous while holding a wet towel to his obviously broken nose (it was plastered flat onto one cheek).

Midi: “Look at that man’s pink bogeys!”

He sniggered. So did I.

Needless to say, Midi was just fine. No concussion, no fractures, nothing. But I felt a lot happier that she was checked. And she got to say hello to some of her new ‘friends’ as well, which was nice for her.

burning crucifix in bonfire

...and in a Wee Free stronghold, too!

After spending a few hours at A&E we (even Midi) really weren’t in the mood to go back out, and besides, we had to eat to get out for fireworks (“We’re going to the bangs!”: Midi). Normally we go to the main town display near where we used to live. That’s always fantastic. The last 2 Bonfire Nights we’ve lived here, we’ve driven back to that town. But this year we thought we’d try our actual, nearest (bigger) town’s display. It was very, very good. But I think next year we’ll go back to the old town. There were more bangs, but they weren’t quite as amazing. And although I’m not a person of active faith, I did find the burning crucifix left over after the guy burnt off rather unsettling…

Midi screamed at the first few bangs, then despite quickly putting in earplugs, covering them with ear muffs and muffling the lot with a down-jacket hood, she still just wanted a big Daddy-Huggle. She didn’t see any of the fireworks, just snuggled into his shoulder. Och, she’s only 3, though! Mini was in the sling, so probably felt secure enough to watch it without fear at the noise. Maxi sat on the ground, counted the flying lanterns (she’s a massive ‘Tangled’ fan…) and oohed and aahed along with me.

I actually enjoyed just sitting in the car afterwards in the car park, waiting on the traffic disappearing before starting up, just chatting as a family. I’m really noticing how old the girls are getting – last year we could hold a conversation only with Maxi. Now it’s a proper 4-way. It’s not 5-way, yet: all Mini ever says is “Aye-wan-nat!” (I want that) over and over and over again. All day long. Bless.

Smellovision

Ahhhh, I wish I had a smell-widget, so you could smell my house right now! It smells of H-O-M-E.

Yeah, I know it’s 2300hrs and I’m chronically sleep-deprived, but I had a huge urge to make a big vat of my bolognaise sauce. I’ve just finished, so am going to leave it bubbling away for another 2 hours on the timer. If the house doesn’t burn down, it should be cool enough to tub up and stick in the freezer, to make 6 – 7 meals of spaghetti bolognaise, chilli, ragout, lasagne and more spag bol.

I can smell garlicky pancetta mixed with oregano. Mmmmmmm!! It’s reminding me of very happy times stirring a cauldron of the stuff while so pregnant I had to turn sideways to reach the pot; I hope the smell wafting all over the house is giving the girls lovely dreams (it sure will me!)  It’s the first dish I was ever allowed to stir, the first one I learned to cook, the first one I dared to adapt, the first one I make in any new flat or house to make it smell like home. It’s not my favourite comfort food (roast chicken dinner with apple crumble after – my last meal request), but it’s definitely my favourite food smell.

Mmmmmmm!

Non-Stop, Just Non-stop…

Today Maxi Minx was lauded by her headmaster, Mini fell on her head onto concrete and Midi went on a class trip to A&E and seems to have acquired a working stethoscope, a plastic apron and is so covered in stickers that she looks like she fell out a cereal packet.

The sad thing is, it’s just been a standard day, really.

First off, the headmaster collared me at lunchtime. Midi saw him first. “Oh-oh, here comes Mr W!” she hissed to her fellow 3 year olds in warning. I think I’ve described the headmaster already – bit of a character, but as scary as my big toe. “Aye, Midi, and he’s watching you!” I said in The Voice of Doom.

He came up and started chatting to Midi, then asked me how I felt about Maxi being awarded her certificate. I looked appropriately thick and gormless because Maxi had told me all about finding a 1p piece, but nothing about certificates. He explained that the school assessor had been in, and he’d taken her round to see the P1 class doing a phonics lesson. Apparently Maxi had completely collared the woman and certainly shown her everything she knew. Which was rather a lot. But the manner in which she did it, and the politeness she’d shown had impressed the head so much that he’d presented Maxi with a special certificate for her extraordinarily polite manners at School Assembly. I got Maxi to show me where the certificate was being displayed for the week. My wee girl! I must admit, I was bursting with pride and told her so. Sounds like the head was equally proud of my little P1.

Midi’s nursery class were on a visit to the local hospital today. It’s the hospital she and Mini were born at, where she was hospitalised overnight with dehydration 2 weeks before Mini was born (see? I’m still scarred by the experience) and where I feel I should be getting Frequent Flyer points at. It’s only a little hospital, and that continuity is a really big deal to me because I’ve not settled anywhere long enough to have a ‘local’ anything. Till now. Anyway, Midi is going there at the end of the month to get grommets in, adenoids out, and told the staff this. Apparently they made an incredible fuss over her, and got her to try out the weighing and measuring and bp checks, etc, etc. So when I picked her up at 3pm she was covered head to toe in stickers saying how brave she’d been, was wearing a blue plastic apron, and had a real stethoscope round her neck. I worry that Midi being Midi she just ‘acquired’ it because she liked it. So although she said she’d been given it, I’ll check tomorrow. I’ve visions of a shame-faced journey to A&E tomorrow before lunch… Midi now insists that she will be a doctor when she grows up after all, so she can “hurt people to make them better, hehehehehehe!” This is a direct quote from her. I’m afraid for the NHS. Very afraid!

Mini…. Aw, my poor baby Mini! I’d bundled her up today because it’s cold and my wee lamb has shockingly bad circulation (like her Auntie M with Reynauds Syndrome). So she had thick mits on, tights, leggings, big anorak, thick fleecy hat, thick wellies and was bundled in a sling against my down jacket to get a big warm Mummy cuddle and chat on the way to pick up her sisters.

I’m so glad I took the time to turn her into the Michelin Man! We were stood in the playground with Maxi, waiting on Midi’s bus turning up from the hospital. I put Mini on a little bench ready to literally take 2 seconds to click my sling round my waist before holding her against my tummy. At that moment the bus arrived and Maxi made a bee-line straight for the busy main road. I took an extra 3 seconds to bellow, “Maxi! FREEZE!” and in that time Mini toppled over and fell on her head. I expect I must have uttered, “Oh f%c&!” aloud, because all the mums around charged over to see if the screaming Mini was ok (while 2 very astute and kind mums collared Maxi). I was frightened to look, but prized her little arms from my neck. She’d a big egg on her forehead (thank God for the thick fleecy hat!!) and a graze under her little nose and mouth where she’d eaten the concrete. I’d visions of fractured skulls and broken necks, but she’s seemed fine all night and even appeared to instantly forgive me for not watching her properly. Way faster than I’ll forgive myself! What a dumb-ass thing to do! Thank goodness it was only a low bench.

Me, I’m busy organising craft fairs, agreeing to flyer the county and trying not to smack or indeed react to an incredibly abrasive woman. Well, she’s bizarrely only abrasive in a certain crowd; on a one-to-one basis she actually seems very charming and personable. Never mind, I try not to take these personality defects personally :oP

Cringe!

Midi Minx went shopping with me on Friday. We went screeching past a man stacking shelves who, to be fair, had a bit of a muddled face. But I didn’t expect my 3 year old to shout, in a voice that would pierce butter:

“Mummy! That man looks sooooo awful!”

I nearly died on the spot. Luckily I didn’t. I did worse. I muttered something brightly like, “Wow, isn’t he wearing the coolest teeshirt ever?”, realised the total inanity of my remark, and scuttled off, trailing my sniggering daughters with me. Red as red.

On Saturday, not to be out-done, Maxi went to the library. The librarian remembered Midi and my request on Tuesday for a book for children about hospitals (Midi’s to get grommets in and adenoids out at the end of the month).

“My 3 year old is going into hospital next month,” I’d told her. “Do you have any books for kids, I don’t know, like ‘Topsy and Tim Go To Hospital?”

I laughed like a drain when she put her hand immediately to… yep, Topsy and Tim Go To Hospital.

So, this kind, thoughtful lady had looked out another book for Midi, which The Boss gratefully accepted. Maxi handed over her books and asked for her ‘Made In Scotland’ card to be marked up.

“My mummy said you probably couldn’t be bothered to fill it in,” she confided.

Well, when this conversation was relayed to me I was mortified. Should I confront the lady, fess up and apologise profusely? Should I hide and never go back to the library ever, ever again?! Should I pretend it never happened? Should I drop by on Tuesday, thank her for Midi’s book and tell her my nasty comment was about someone else, but that nevertheless I was very sorry (the truth)? Ooooooo, I’m so embarrassed!

Moray Gothic witches

Moray Gothic - 2 of the Terrible Trio

Talking of books, we resisted teaching Maxi to read and just let her get on with it herself, and let school teach her. She’s now had, what, 8 weeks of schooling and merrily read all 30 pages of Dan’s Gran’s Goat to herself, over 3 evenings. I think she liked the ‘burp!’ best. While she was reading it out to me and The Boss, we heard her chirping on about some ‘excited little marks’.

“What are you on about, Maxi? What marks?” I asked

“These ones, the ones like upside-down i’s”, she replied

Exclamation marks. Bless!

It was a wee highlight of this weekend for me. As was today’s bimble along the coast, collecting a few jars of rose-hips, wild apples and blackberries. They’re currently dripping through a jelly bag on my worktop counter and will shortly become Moray Coast Trail jelly-jam. Mmmmm! The girls walked all the way to Cummingston and back to gather them, and even had a play at the playground. Maxi is a terrible walker and she managed it without whingeing, the good girl! Mini wasn’t mad about being wrapped to get to the start of the path, and back home from Cummingston, but she’s only got tiny wee legs.

I’m still battling on with my knitting. It’s very frustrating. I’ve been trying to knit muffs. I have a hundred ideas. Can I translate them, using my wool, and quickly enough to make the muffs an affordable price? That’ll be a big fat NO, then.