Friday, March 29, 2013

Our Autumn Festival

We long ago realised that our festivals now have their own energy and momentum.  Whether we invite them or not, the people who are meant to be at any particular festival come. Sometimes there are big crowds, other times just one family. Each festival somehow comes together perfectly out of the chaos of our last minute organisation.

Our autumn festival last week was a case in point. We usually have them on the nearest Saturday to the solstice or equinox but that Saturday was taken up with our friends' wedding. The following weekend was Easter. So we thought we’d have it on the Thursday,  the equinox itself which happened to be a public holiday. But then we didn’t get around to organising anything, or inviting anyone – we were all tired, recovering from colds and completely lacking in energy.

We thought it would probably end up just being us. The girls of course protested – half the fun for them is running around with their friends. So the day before we asked two sets of local friends if they’d like to come along to a very last minute festival. One family could, the other mother couldn’t get away, but her kids were determined to come anyway, another school friend asked to come and the daughter of the girls' riding teacher begged to come along, though her mother was going to be working. All of a sudden it became a children’s festival with just a bare minimum of adults along.

It worked perfectly. We put all the kids in charge of getting the circle and sandpit sorted. They carved gem squash, while two adults had a go at the pumpkins, and then the kids disappeared outside to build and decorate sand-castles.

The few adults sorted the food (soups, bread and bean stew, followed by the inevitable choccie pudding and guava fool), and wrote our blessings, found the printed vision prayers, put together a basket of harvest goodies and that was it. Simple and effective and just right for this particular occasion.

The one element that we didn’t manage this year was making straw angels, or rather angels from restios, flowers and any found natural material, but here are two posts from previous autumn festivals that show some pictures of them, as well as our kids looking so much younger that it begs sentimental nostalgia every time I look back!

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

A Wedding and A Quiche Recipe

We went to a lovely wedding last weekend. As a nine-year-old the bride had helped open our presents at our wedding and now it was her turn. Having watched our wedding video once a year all their lives, our kids now think it’s normal to sit on a picnic blanket and open all the wedding presents there and then, so they were rather disappointed to hear that they were unlikely to see the pressies being opened at this one. I had to explain that baking a batch of cookies as a gift might not be a good idea, because some couples even wait till after the honeymoon to open their wedding presents. How could that be possible!

Weddings are exciting and infrequent events for our girls. It’s a far cry from Four Weddings and a Funeral where Hugh Grant wakes up and says wearily, “Who is it this Saturday?”  As soon as they heard that our friends had become engaged, it was, "When is the wedding?" and "Will they have bridesmaids?" They are just the right age to enjoy an occasion to dress up and have an important role to play, so were thrilled when they were asked to be flower girls. Youngest already had the perfect dress and Middle Daughter had her first ever shopping expedition dedicated to finding her the perfect dress, exhausting but successful.

They were married under an ancient oak tree in a completely home-made ceremony that involved all their family and of course the strewing of rose petals by the flower girls. The girls said it was the best wedding they’d ever been to!

And the quiches? The maid of honour organised all the guests to contribute a recipe to a book she was compiling for them.  Due to a long-standing, if rather well-worn in-joke, my sister-in-law and I both decided to provide our quiche recipes. I immediately searched through my blog, convinced that I must have shared the recipe at least once in the last seven years (Yes, it’s coming up to my seven year blogiversary already!) only to find that I never had put the whole recipe up. Once I’d posted  a pea quiche recipe, once a sweet plum quiche, but never my staple spinach and feta quiche recipe with pastry instructions attached. So here it is, along with a little of the story that goes with it.

Spinach and Feta Quiche Recipe

Once long ago, pastry was a terrifying mystery to me. I loved it, but it did not love me. So I avoided it in the kitchen and gave quiches a wide berth.

That is until one day, when we still lived in the cottage and Youngest was a new baby, Kirsty (the  daughter of our dear friend Ursie, who was a home-cooking inspiration and who had recently died of cancer) offered to show me how her mother made hers: the pastry turned out to be simple, no great secrets and it’s been working perfectly ever since.

So here are my jotted notes from Kirsty’s impromptu lesson. She, being her mother’s daughter, didn’t need a recipe to work from, but I usually refer back to my notes just in case I lose the magic touch!

Pastry for quiche or any other savoury tart
1 cup cake flour
50g cold, hard butter
Pinch salt
Iced water to mix

The only secret of pastry seems to be keeping it all cold. So use the butter straight from the fridge and use icy cold water to mix it.
1. Cut the butter into dice and rub it quickly and lightly into the flour until it looks like breadcrumbs.
2. Mix in the iced water a little at a time until it comes together as a dough. It might need half a cup of water or more or less. Just add it a tablespoon or so at a time, stirring with a knife. When there is enough water, it will knead into to a ball of dough quickly. It should be soft but not sticky.
3. Wrap the pastry ball in cling film and rest in the fridge for at least half an hour.
4. Roll out the pastry thin enough to fit a roughly 23cm dish or tin.
5. Blind bake: put piece of foil or greaseproof paper in the pastry case, fill it with dry beans to weight it down and bake at 190C for 10-15 minutes.

Filling for Spinach and Feta Quiche
3 large eggs
1 cup of cream
1 bunch of spinach
1 round of feta (from those Simonsberg pots)
Salt, pepper and nutmeg

Steam or boil one bunch of spinach or swiss chard until just tender. Drain well and chop roughly, discarding the liquid as it oozes.
Chop or crumble one round of feta cheese into small pieces.
Beat together cream and eggs and season with salt and pepper
Once the pastry has blind baked, put the spinach in the bottom of the case, sprinkle over the feta, pour in the egg mixture. If you like nutmeg, grate a little over the top.
Bake the quiche at 190C for30-40 minutes until golden and set.

You can make the pastry the day before, and roll it out into the dish. Cover it with cling film and keep in the fridge till ready to bake.

Monday, March 04, 2013

Vegan Treats and A Market

Most months I share a market stall with a friend at our local Camphill market. It’s more a social day out than a money-making enterprise, a chance to meet local friends, for the kids to earn a bit of pocket money by baking and selling their biscuits and for me to earn enough to pay for our lunch and a few other goodies.

It means getting up at six on a Sunday, baking up a storm with the girls and then, more often than not, leaving the kitchen an icing sugar dusted chaos of baking trays and mixing bowls for my husband to sort out, as we dash for the door bearing trays and containers of crunchies, muffins and iced biscuits.

Last month I had two customers asking if I had anything vegan. I didn’t. All my baking is lavish with real butter. But I promised to work out a vegan version of my crunchie recipe and bring it to the next market. I reckoned I could replace the butter with coconut oil, decrease the refined sugar quotient (to make them healthier) by using molasses instead of syrup and go from there. What I didn’t know was quite how the texture would turn out. Would they be crunchy, or cakey, or crumbly? I left it till the last minute to try out, so only on Saturday did I put my re-jigged recipe to the test. It worked.

Vegan crunchies

They were crunchy and only a tiny bit crumbly. And they tasted good, though of course different to real butter crunchies – more deep molasses flavour and less buttery toffee smoothness. I’m not going to share the recipe just yet, as I want to tweak the quantities a bit more, but I sold most of them and had good feedback.

Farinata - italian gluten free recipe

The other coincidentally vegan recipe I’d been meaning to try ever since I read it on Lucullian Delights was farinata. It’s a traditional Italian flatbread-come-pancake made with chickpea flour. It’s the perfect example of Italy’s cucina povera coming up with the ultimate in dishes catering to modern food preferences – gluten free and vegan - and is very easy to make. It’s a brilliant snack or accompaniment to a meal, if you have unexpected vegan or gluten intolerant visitors  to cater for.

I’d bumped into some chana flour in our local Spar, so grabbed it (pretty sure that I remembered chana meant chickpea). Then I tried the recipe out on my family in the week, was very surprised that the girls really liked it, and decided that farinata too must come to the market.

We have home-grown onions hanging in the garage, tomatoes being harvested quicker than I can cope with them, so I was even able to feel virtuous about its organic locally grown ingredients... apart from the flour of course which was bound to be flown in from somewhere far-off!

It was a hot day and the market rather quiet, as people headed for the beach instead of inland sun spots, but I sold most of my wares. The girls were busy with organising and taking part in games for their school stall, so were rather weary by the end but nothing that a refreshing dip in the pool wouldn’t fix as soon as we got home again.