When you take on the challenge of cooking single-handed, there are some areas one might tend to avoid. Some of the delicate two-handed tasks involved in baking and icing can be too much for a one handed cook. Professional chef Michael Caines lost an arm in a dreadful road accident. Naturally he was worried about his career. In 1999 however he was awarded a second Michelin star. More recently on The Great British Menu, Ronnie Murray appeared.
He too had a disadvantage with his left arm severely shortened. To some extent both chefs were able to use their disabled side for a limited level of assistance. But it has to be thought out and planned. Both these chefs inspire me.
Therefore in true gung ho fashioned I announced to the cat that this week was pastry week. He wasn’t impressed. He would rather I’d have said fish week. Even then he only likes that stuff from pouches purporting to be some glamorous species or other. Offer Seymour some fresh and it’s the look of death. The look is exclusive to me and the poor unfortunate rodents and birds who’ve fallen prey to his savage butchery. More recently however I do believe he has become more laid back with the animals he “invites” into the house.
Now it’s a case of tempting the poor traumatised little things into humane traps before they end up in the oblivion that is behind the kitchen units.
So I had the notion of making pastry again. Firstly it was going to be a cheese, onion and mushroom tart. Simple stuff but it’s just so tasty. It needs a good hand-reared pastry case. Patience is the key. So many recipes will tell you to use cold hands and cold butter.
Poppycock I say. If the pastry is going to rest in the fridge what’s the problem? (Members of WI baking groups reel back in shock.)
But if one is disabled with use of only one hand and issues with fatigue, my way works. Okay, cold butter is fine if you want to fight with it and feel all worthy and stoic. Softer butter is easier to crumb into the flour. I might take longer, I could even use a processor but it works for me. Personally I like the feel of sitting in my wheelchair, bowl on lap and gently crumbing away doing big lifts to get the air into it.
After the fridge I tend to roll the pastry between two sheets of cling film. Now this is a work of art. Every time I’ve tried to use the toothed edge, it has sort of crumpled on itself to become a little insignificant fluff ball of plastic. Nasty little beast it is.
But it saves adding extra flour to the mix by rolling the more traditional way. Never mind, the layer on the bottom helps me to rest the tin on it upside-down and flip it over; good trick that is.
The tart-lets were nice. I made three small ones with the intention of eating one and freezing the other two.
The next day I graduated to two bigger ones. Mushroom onion and chicken followed by sweet potato and beetroot. These were not full size tins but something like 15 cm. Much easier to handle. The aftermath was less fortunate.
The trail of crumbs and flour betrayed my day’s journey across my lovely deep rich red carpet. Then the were the baking beans. I was discussing untoward noises with my mate the other day. We both agreed that the sound of an air chisel in a car workshop was probably about the worst. But I can now top that. The sound of ceramic baking beans cascading onto the shining wood of a kitchen floor.
It is just a delicate sort of tinkling really, innocent at first. Then it bites; the floor will be covered in hot tiny spheres too small to be picked up from a wheelchair. They had fallen because I hadn’t gathered the baking parchment enough to safely deposit them in a safe place. And if they’ve just come out of the oven, resist your natural inclination to catch one or two. I think the sound of my screams could be regarded as equally untoward.
The grabber was deployed. Sixteen beans were retrieved individually by a one meter large jawed grabbing stick.
But the tarts were a success and some of them made it to the freezer. My future pastry making may well be less frequent but it was reassuring to know I could still do it. Here is half a pie I also made and demolished.
Thank-you for reading.