For the last week or so we've had a baby in the house, borrowed during working hours while one parent recovers from medical treatment and another is at work. It's been delightful to have her around and to be reminded what it was like with my own little ones: mornings of little toes and baby smiles; afternoons of bottles and naps – and evenings cooking dinner with baby in the sling.
For those of you in blissful ignorance, I'll let you in on a secret: most babies – and kids – get grizzly at the end of the day, about four o'clock to be precise. Those of us in the know call it the witching hour or, if things are really bad, arsenic hour.
There are alternatives to poisoning, however. You can leave the baby to scream in its cot; you can plop the kids in front of the telly. But really, children want physical affection and attention; and babies want to be held; and of course everyone wants this right about the time you start thinking about dinner. Screaming babies, fighting kids, tired mum and knives; it's enough to drive you to drink.
But on a good day, you plan ahead. Soon after lunch during quiet time, while everyone sleeps or reads, you make a pastry crust and slip it into the freezer to firm up; you fry up a heap of mushrooms.
Closer to dinner time, while baby snoozes in the sling, head nestled into your chest, and your other kids are quietly squabbling, all you need to do is extend your arms as far as you can reach and grate a pile of cheese, beat some eggs, and assemble a tart. Pop it in the oven, collapse into your favourite chair, and read a heap of stories to babies and toddlers alike. Fifty minutes later, dinner is served and you are officially a wonder woman! Congratulations!
If you're really lucky, you'll even have enough leftovers to reheat the next night, necessitating the construction of nothing but a salad – and the seven year old can do that.
For the pastry:
For the filling:
Make the pastry: (This is exactly the same base as Onion Tart.) Place the flour, a pinch of salt and the butter in a food processor. Process for 30 seconds, or until the butter and flour are incorporated; there will be no loose flour flying around. Add the water a tablespoon at a time, and process for another 30 seconds to a minute or until the mixture resembles tiny soft pebbles.
Flour the bench and a rolling pin. Tip the pastry onto the bench, and gently form into a flat disc with your hands. Roll it out, rolling from the centre to the edge and turning 90 degrees between each roll, until it fits your dish. (Mine is 25cm in diameter.) Drape the pastry over the rolling pin and lift it carefully into the dish. Pat into place. Trim the edges. Place the dish into the freezer, and leave it there until you need it.
Slice the mushrooms and strip the thyme, if you're using it. Warm a swirl of olive oil in a wide skillet, and add the mushrooms, thyme and a pinch of salt. Cook over a brisk heat until the mushrooms have softened and are starting to turn golden. Add a grind of pepper, then turn off the heat and leave to cool slightly. (You can pause here and do something else for a few hours.)
Preheat the oven to 180°C.
Grate the cheddar. Beat the eggs, and whisk in the milk.
Remove the tart shell from the freezer. Sprinkle the grated cheddar over the base. Spoon the mushrooms evenly over the cheese; then coarsely crumble the chévre and tumble the pieces over the mushrooms. Gently pour the egg and milk into the dish. Strew pine nuts over the top, then slip into the oven for 45 minutes or until the top is puffy and there is a very slight wobble in the centre.
Leave to cool for five to ten minutes, during which time it will set further, before serving.
(Local: mushrooms, thyme, chévre, eggs, milk. Not particularly local: flour, butter, cheese, pine nuts, salt, pepper.)