I am the first to admit, and I know I’ve written before, that I often found it difficult cooking for you boys when you were young and awkward. (Though, in fairness to Andrew, I have to say that he was never as difficult as a child as the rest of you.) There was no fun in creating something that I thought was delicious and tempting, only for it to be pushed away, mouths closed determinedly and heads shaken in disgust. It was particularly irritating when this happened with a dish that had been enjoyed on a previous occasion. We reached a sort of modus operandi when I agreed not to try and poison you with things you truly hated and you agreed to properly try what I’d made. From my point of view, though, life improved quite dramatically when you started going on play dates. It seems that peer pressure is what pushed you all into eating a wider choice of food.
The quid pro quo of you going on play dates was that we had your friends coming to the house. Some of them were nothing like as willing to try my cooking as you were prepared to try their mothers’ food, and there were also some rather demanding mothers. I will never forget those who couldn’t eat anything without it being smothered in ketchup, and the mother who blamed me for not having any; the mothers who wanted their children to only have organic food; and the boy who only ate plain boiled rice in Wagamama’s – these are particular standouts. I was never as bothered by friends who had genuine food requirements – varying levels of Kosher adherence; nut allergies; or genuine dislikes of which I was forewarned.
The final turning point in your eating habits was a proposed trip to Hong Kong in 1999. We were all invited to Uncle Steve’s 40th birthday bash, but Dad and I explained to you that one of the great joys of Hong Kong was the food, and that we just weren’t comfortable taking you when you were quite restricted in your choices. The carrot of a trip to Hong Kong turned it all around, and I don’t honestly think we have looked back since. I have always known that no-one eats absolutely everything, but my hope was that we would be able to travel and go into any restaurant and find something that any one of you would eat and enjoy. I believe we’ve achieved that.
Now as I get older, I find increasingly that it is rare to have people to dinner who don’t have some kind of food request. Some of these are medical requirements, some religious, some feel better for avoiding something, some are pescatarian or vegetarian. Unless there are many varying requirements at the same meal, I must say that I quite enjoy the challenge. Last Sunday, we had friends over, one of whom cannot tolerate wheat, not just the gluten, all wheat. The starter was simple, spicy tomato soup; the main course was a roast; and for dessert we decided on cheese (because Dad tries to avoid carbs …). I wanted to serve oat cakes with the cheese, but Whole Foods didn’t have any. So I decided to make them. I haven’t done this for some years, but I knew it wasn’t difficult. I knew that my trusty The Scots Kitchen by F Marian McNeill would have the recipe, as indeed it did. However, that recipe was imprecise even for me, the queen of imprecise recipes. I remembered that there had only been five ingredients – oats, salt, fat/butter, baking soda and water – but I didn’t remember the proportions. Much searching of the internet, and much rejection of recipes that I felt were too complicated or inauthentic, but eventually I combined a couple and made the following. I thought they tasted good. They could perhaps have been cooked for slightly longer in the oven so that they were dryer and browned, but all in all I was pleased.
Oatcakes – Ingredients
- 125 g / 4 oz rolled oats
- 125 g / 4 oz pinhead oatmeal (steel cut oats in the US)
- 125 g / 4 oz oat flour (which I didn’t have so I blended 125 g of rolled oats until it looked flour-like) plus extra for rolling
- 60 g / 2 oz butter (I used unsalted as I always do), melted
- pinch of salt
- 1 tsp / 5 mg baking soda
- hot water
Heat the oven to 150 C / 300 F.
I used a mixer for this once I had mixed the oats.
Mix the oats, salt and baking powder in a mixing bowl. Add the butter and mix well. Add 4 tbsp of hot water and mix well. The aim is to have a mixture which is not too wet and which sticks together as a lump, so add more hot water, a tablespoonful at a time, until you have the desired consistency.
Sprinkle some of the oat flour on the counter, and roll until it is about 5 mm / 1/4 inch thick. All the recipes I read warned about the mixture sticking to the rolling pin, but this didn’t happen. I suspect that my mixture was slightly too dry. The cutter I used was about 6 cm in diameter.
I then placed them on my pizza stone, put them in the oven and cooked for about 40 minutes which is way longer than any of the recipes said. Nor did they brown particularly.
An alternative is to cook on a flat griddle. I thought about this, since it is more traditional, but decided against because we have a very sensitive smoke alarm!
If you want to add herbs, only use dried herbs because fresh will burn. Hard cheese such as Cheddar or Parmesan can also be added.
I will definitely be making these again. I was really pleased with the result.