Sunday, October 15, 2006

IN 'ALICE THROUGH THE LOOKING GLASS' there is a little conversation between the Red Queen and Alice which makes me feel very much as though I were in the book and living in the same back-to-front world "Now, here, you see, it takes all the running you can do, to keep in the same place. If you want to get somewhere else, you must run at least twice as fast as that!" said the Queen. Trouble is, I never seem to be able to run fast enough so I remain on the same spot, its exhausting.


Every so often I try re-reading a book I read and loved when I was a teenager, just to check on myself I suppose, and to see how much my tastes have changed (or not, as the case may be). The latest example of this is 'Invitation to the Waltz' by Rosamond Lehmann
If ever a book was a period piece, this is. It is a snapshot of English upper middle-class life between the wars, when girls were still educated at home, in a schoolroom by governesses, and the only future they were expected to have was marriage. It depicts a period of innocence of experience that has been lost to young women. [Not that that is a bad thing in itself.] The story is of two sisters, daughters of a prosperous household in England in 1920, and the week of their lives leading up to and during a 'coming-out' dance given by an aristocratic neighbour. Olivia has to nerve herself to attend this event and suffers agonies of apprehension and shyness, her dress is all wrong, she can't seem to manage small talk, and the whole evening is a mix of enjoyment and terror for her. We have all had a time in our lives when we had to suffer the frantic inward misery of initiation into a new situation, and in that respect this book will always chime with the reader, reminding them of what it is like to be an adolescent. I first read this as a teenager myself and absolutely adored it, and Lehmann's other book "Dusty Answer", and it is as fresh today as when I first read it, indeed as fresh as when it was written nearly 75 years ago.


I was shopping in my local area on Saturday and on two separate occasions was almost mown down by women pushing baby buggys, in one incident I sustained a nasty bruise to my leg, boo hoo.

Buggys these days are not just buggys – no, they are MITS (mobile infant transport systems) and they are built like tanks. They are HUGE and mind-blowingly expensive, some of them are doubles, some of them are “all terrain” whatever that means, are they going to push their little darling up to Everest first base camp or down the Amazon? They occupy a disproportionate amount of space - and in the confines of a small shop they prevent other customers from moving around. Even worse, the women who push them seem to always travel in convoy – there are usually two of the damn things being pushed along in parallel, taking up the whole pavement and forcing little old ladies, the blind, halt and lame (amongst whom I count myself) into the roadway. The smug parents pushing these monstrosities seem to think we will all find their little darlings comfort as much of a priority as they do. It never seems to occur to them to leave the buggy outside the shop and carry the little no-neck monster in with them. Why, when there are two yummy mummies with buggys does one of them not wait outside guarding both (in case some passing nutcase is so enamoured of the little bastards that they kidnap them – oh yeah how likely is that statistically speaking?) whilst the other one goes in and buys whatever needs to be bought. And then there is the whole issue of what is IN the buggy. Is it a tiny newborn mite (who could just as easily be carried in a baby sling on the body)? Or is it, more likely, some whining 4-5 year old who has legs and CAN WALK?

I know saying this makes me sound like Grandma Moses, but when I was a young mum McLaren had only just invented his lightweight folding baby buggy, and what a revolutionary boon it was. You could tuck the infant under one arm and juggling bags of shopping, handbag etc could fold it up with the judicious use of one foot. It was a modest, useful piece of equipment, beautifully engineered, reasonably priced, and long-lasting (each buggy had a shelf life of approx 3.5 babies).

But the best thing of all was to arrange swaps with other mums, so one of us stayed home with all the infants whilst the other went and did some shopping in peace.

When I ranted about this to the headmistress of a swish private kindergarten in our area, she told me that what I was observing was the new phenomenon of Conspicuous Parenting. Middle class parents who both work, are desperate to be seen as hands-on, no-expense-spared Mummies and Daddies, so they MUST go out at weekends to reinforce their credentials. That is why Starbucks, Costa Café, Café Nero et al are chock-a-block at the weekends with buggys covering every square inch of floor space. Aaaarg!!!

I know they say real men don't eat quiche, but in this household they often eat tart, and they seem to like it! A savoury tart, quiche or flan, call it what you will, is a very versatile dish. You can fill it with just about anything you like, cheese and onion, smoked fish, broccolli, mushrooms, name it. This is a cheap, cheerful and tasty one I make fairly regularly. Have it either hot (well, warmish is better) or cold with salads for a light lunch or supper; or you can cut it into smaller portions with a little rocket or watercress salad as the starter to a meal.


Serves 4-6


200g plain flour
100g butter [or half vegetable shortening (eg Cookeen) /half butter]
1 egg yolk
Pinch of salt
2 Tablespoons cold water


4 large leeks, washed, trimmed and finely sliced
50g butter
200g bacon lardons
200g grated cheese
5 large eggs
Salt & ground black pepper
50 ml crème fraiche or double cream

Make the pastry by putting the flour, salt and butter into a food processor and whizzing to form “crumbs” – or you can rub the fat into the flour using your fingertips until crumbs form.

Mix in the egg yolk and as much water as needed to form a ball of pastry that is not too dry but not sticky. Wrap in greaseproof paper and chill in fridge for at least 30 minutes. [You can do this a day in advance]

Pre- heat oven to 200°C

Grease a loose bottomed flan tin, approx 23cm diameter

Remove pastry from fridge and roll out between two sheets of greasproof paper until thin enough to line the prepared tin. Trim the edges. Prick base with a fork. Line the pastry with baking paper and fill with baking beans or rice. Bake in the oven for 12 mins. Remove the baking beans and paper and bake for a further 7 mins. Remove from the oven. Turn oven heat down to 180°.
While the flan case is baking, prepare the filling. Heat a large frying pan and fry the bacon lardons until cooked through but not crispy, remove from the pan with a slotted spoon. Add the butter to the pan, and when melted add the sliced leeks. Stir fry until they are soft and semi-transparent and just on the point of browning. Remove from the heat.

Beat the eggs and crème fraiche together with a fork, and add seasoning– don’t add too much salt as the lardons and cheese are quite salty.

Once the flan case has been removed from the oven, put a good sprinkling of grated cheese over the base, top with the leeks and lardons and then some more cheese. Finally pour in the egg mixture.

Bake for 30mins. Remove from oven and let cool slightly before removing from tin.

Serve with salad.


Anonymous said...

I had a Maclaren 'stick' buggy. Bloody good they were except if you left the shopping on the back and took the kid out.

DavetheF said...

In Cape Town the yuppie trend is for the narrow three-wheeler to facilitate jogging.

thepassionatecook said...

i am about to buy one of these "monstrosities" myself... because the other side of the picture is that you can't possibly to any shopping (and I don't happen to travel in convoy with yummy mummies who could help out) when you have a tiny baby in a sling and a tired toddler on one arm. but you still have to eat. and run errands. or go to appointments when you want your toddler to sleep (so he DOESN'T throw tantrums later when he's over-tired!).
if we were lucky enough to have everything we needed at arm's length, believe me, i would be the first one to relax at home over a cup of tea rather than lobbing around my (soon to be three) children round busy shopping areas where other customers stand around frowning and cursing mothers rather than lend a helping hand when it's needed - and shop assistants usually look the other way deliberately when it would take so little to make everybody's lives a little easier.
also if there were enough coffee shops catering for people with children i would never set my foot in starbucks again... their coffee is appalling, but they're one of the few places that are smoke free which i enjoy as much as the next person - and yes, children do need to eat and warm up somewhere too.
Believe me, it's in a Mum's best interest to steer clear of the rest of society... i can't stand people judging my every move - but sometimes, contact just can't be avoided. ;-)