The first time I visited Tiananmen Square, I was intrigued by a huge digital clock off to one side, counting down in seconds. It was clearly counting down to an event many seconds into the future. It turned out to be counting down to the handover of Hong Kong back to the Mainland. Don’t worry, I am not going to debate the politics of British Colonial Rule, or whether Hong Kong has fared better under Chinese Rule. That’s far too much of a gluten-free hot potato.
The reason I thought of that great big digital clock with its red numbers, is that in the last few weeks I have seen another one. Every time I close my eyes, there’s a great mass of numbers counting down in seconds to a time in the not-too-distant future.
The summer holidays begin in 1,641,600 seconds. Or thereabouts. Now I do look forward to the holidays. I am so tired at the moment that the thought of not having to set an alarm for 0630 hours every day almost makes me cry with happiness. Yet I also know how badly the days can go with four young children, no outside help, and long, long hours to fill. I may not set MY alarm for 0630 hours, but the crazy alarm in my children’s heads goes off all the same.
I do have a few coping strategies to help me along; I have arranged a 10 day trip to the UK, and I am busy arranging lots of other people’s social lives, persuading them that they really do fancy paying me a visit. Nevertheless, there will be lots of days when it’s all down to Mummy. I have observed that my children’s mood is directly linked to my own. On the days when they are crabby, miserable and sad, it is generally because I am feeling the same way. Conversely, when Mummy is up, everyone is happy. It’s such a responsibility, I really feel the role of Mummy should come with some government hand-outs, some rock hard cash incentives.
I digress. I have come up with a plan for filling at least one day of the hols. Making Gingerbread Men. My kids love to bake, and Gingerbread Men are very good value. Lots of rolling, cutting, pretty shapes, squidging and mess. I gave these Gingerbread Men a trial run last week. My boy had a friend to play and I rolled out the Gingerbread dough. It was a success. They were happily occupied for the best part of oh, 20 minutes, and they made some lovely biscuits.
In the calm of the weekend I had a very therapeutic time painting my newfound friends with melted chocolate. My children wanted to help with the chocolate painting, but I said no, painted their lips with molten chocolate and then they ran off in a cocoa-fuelled frenzy and left me in peace.
I silently thanked my gingerbread mates for the help they had already given me, and for their help which is to come. I told them I looked forward to seeing them again in, oh about 1 million six hundred and forty one thousand, four hundred and twenty seconds.
Gingerbread Mates (Click here for tips on how to avoid cross-contamination)
If you can eat eggs but not gluten, just substitute the 'no egg' for a real egg. You may find you have to add more flour to compensate. Add it tbsp by tbsp until you get a workable dough. If you can tolerate gluten, you can make this recipe with wheat flour. Use 350g plain white flour, but you won't need the xanthan gum.
225 g rice flour (here's one) + extra for rolling out
125g Gram flour (aka chickpea or besan flour) (here's one)
1 tsp xanthan gum (here's one)
1tsp bicarbonate of soda
100g dairy free spread (here's one)
2 tsp ground ginger
175g golden syrup
1 'no-egg' egg replacer mixed up with rice milk
About 50g dark chocolate, at least 70% cocoa solids (gluten-free, dairy-free, here's one)
Although dark chocolate contains soya lecithin, my daughter could tolerate it when she was intolerant of soya. However, do check with your doctor/dietician if you are unsure
- Heat the oven to 190 degrees C, (Gas mark 5, 375F)
- Put the flours, xanthan gum, ginger and bicarbonate of soda into a large mixing bowl and mix together
- Add the dairy-free spread and rub it into the flour until it resembles fine breadcrumbs
- Stir in the sugar
- Mix the syrup with the 'no-egg' and add it to the mixing bowl
- Squidge it all together to make a dough. You may find that the dough is too wet and sticky, in which case, add some more rice flour, tbsp by tbsp. You need a dough that is not sticky, but not too dry either
- Roll out the dough on a rice-floured surface to a thickness of about 5mm. If you like your gingerbread people really crunchy, then you might want to go to 3mm. I like mine quite soft and thick (so like me), they are better for dunking in your tea. Also, because of the addition of xanthan gum, I'm not sure you'll get a really crunchy man...my clever friend Jo says that you need butter for the crunch, so if you can tolerate butter, try using that
- Have lots of fun cutting out your people, don't be bound by convention, make gingerbread stars or hearts or any other cutting shape you have to hand!
- Bake in the oven for about 12-15 mins...but do hover nearby and keep checking, they can brown really quickly
- When they are golden brown (or deeply tanned like my friends on the right of the photo, I took my eye off the oven...), remove them from the oven and leave them to cool
- When they are completely cool, shoo the kids away and melt the dark chocolate in the microwave (in a heatproof bowl) or very gently in a saucepan
- Take a clean paintbrush and bring your creations to life by daubing them with melted choc. You have the power to give life, it is a wonderful thing. Please make sure that you spoon any remaining melted chocolate into your mouth. Then smile at yourself in the mirror