Prior to the holidays I always draw up a list of possible activities. My list for the Easter hols this year was a pleasing mix of ‘structured days out’, ‘lazy days at home’ and ‘essentials days’ dedicated to haircuts, spending a fortune on kids’ clothes, visiting the doctor, etc.
I just want to say that those lists don’t work. Life does not adhere to lists or attempts to pin it down. It prefers free-flowing mayhem, unexpected events and rare moments of calm. Why would the school holidays be any different?
They started off well when we de-camped to Normandy and friends came to stay. The sort of friends who pitch in, chat to your kids, and stay up late talking bollocks. I love guests like that. As we waved them off I felt the dread start to take hold. Now it was down to me. Four children, one Mum on her own and many days to fill.
Eldest daughter was sorted; she was booked to go horse riding from 9 till 5 every day. She was in manure-stinking, hoof-oiling, cantering heaven. The other three children are an active lot. They clamour for Rollerblading! Bike riding! Bounce with us on the trampoline! I have a two-word response to that last one; ‘pelvic’ and ‘floor’.
One day we decided on a bike ride along a cycle path. Our dog bounded along in her usual loopy way; I think ‘Epagneul breton’ probably translates as ‘slightly mental’.
Before long the children, who had gone on ahead, were screaming loudly for me. I hate it when they do that. We are Brits living abroad; we should be sober, fully-clothed and talk quietly, or in the native language. We shouldn’t live up to our stereotypes.
We should also learn to control our hunting dogs. My bloody dog had raced through a hedge, felled a farmer’s chicken and deposited it at the children’s feet. ‘She’s gone after another one!’ yelled the stricken children and I had to crash through the hedge and chase the dog (screeching loudly in English) before she got to her next victim. Back on the cycle path the kids crouched around the bloodied, twitching bird. I stood well back and frantically called a friend in Paris. ‘Stand on its neck and pull its legs up towards you at the same time’ was her matter-of-fact advice.
I went with my instincts, turned my back on the hen and marched the kids and slavering (mental) dog back to the car. I’m fairly sure that Brits abroad shouldn’t kill farmers’ chickens; it doesn’t help our national image.
I was hoping the next day would be less eventful and incredibly it was a tranquil, stay-at-home day involving lots of gardening and trampolining (them, not me.)
Trouble began again when we decided to go rollerblading. Daughter number 2 helpfully got my rollerblade bag out of the garage. As she opened the bag she exclaimed (quite calmly I thought),
‘Oh! There’s a mouse!’
Not just one mouse, eight mice.
Mum mouse couldn’t get away fast enough, leaving me to chase her hapless, tiny babies around the garden. For some stupid reason, I rounded all the babies up into a trug before the un-vegetarian dog could get them. Then, before I knew it we were on a mercy dash to the pet shop and we had baby mice living in a brand new cage in the house. I’m not really sure why I did it, but as I paid silly money for the cage, sawdust and food, I do remember a little voice saying, ‘Oh well, that will keep the kids occupied for a while.’
In fact the mice worked wonders for holiday morale. I had stipulated that ‘mice are not for life, they are just for holidays’ and we all understood that they would be released before we headed back to Paris. This gave us carte blanche to annoy the hell out of the skittish, jumping rodents because our time with them was short. The kids spent hours in front of the cage giggling, stroking and holding their new, furry friends. The grand unleashing of the mice was a little heart-wrenching but they’d served their purpose and all good things...
There were other challenging days during the Easter break. A branch pierced the mad dog’s throat and I was involved in a proper mercy dash to the vet. The image of stuff bulging out through the hole in her throat was not a good one. The dog is fine, but I guess killing chickens generates pretty bad karma.
As the holiday progressed I realised that maybe there is a middle way. It is the way of letting go. It means having a few plans, but also keeping time free to deal with unexpected events. It does not mean that I passed my time relaxed and wearing an ethereal smile; there was still plenty of shouting at bedtime. But I did manage to just ‘be’ at home whilst the kids pottered around. I must remember that strategy for the (gulp) 9 week summer holiday.
I also managed to make this raisin bread without any interruptions from kids, dogs, mice or chickens. Amazing.
Gluten Free Raisin Bread
This is a hit with 3 out of 4 of my children, especially for toast in the morning with dairy free spread and jam. Yum. The dog also likes it (the crusts), I'm sure the chicken would have liked it, but I didn't dare give it to the mice for fear of bloating their teeny, tiny tummies.
100g chick pea flour
200g brown rice flour
1½ tsp xanthan gum
¾ tsp salt
4 tbsps sugar
1 tsp ground cinnamon
¼ tsp ground nutmeg
1 tsp mixed spice
3 tbsps rice bran
3 tbsps ground golden linseeds
70 dairy free spread (margarine)
600-700ml rice milk, warmed
70g dairy free spread (margarine)
- Grease a 24.5cm x 11cm loaf tin and line with baking parchment
- Put all the ingredients - apart from the dairy free spread, raisins and rice milk - into a large mixing bowl and incorporate using a mini whisk
- Make a well in the centre and add the dairy free spread. Warm the rice milk and pour enough of it into the bowl to give a fairly wet, sticky dough, one that would stick to your fingers if you tried to pick it up. Add the rice milk gradually, using more or less as you think fit.
- Using a wooden spoon, mix it all together, then take a breath and pause to flex and shake out your biceps. Grasp the wooden spoon, then beat the mix furiously. Allow yourself to release your inner expletives if that's what you need to do. Beat, beat, come on, harder! Round and round, back and forth, give it some welly!
- Do that for about 4 minutes, adding the raisins during the last few beats. The idea being that you're trying to activate the yeast. When you're done, use a spatula to scrape the mix down from the sides and transfer it into your greased and lined loaf tin
- Cover the tin with a damp tea towel and put it in a warm place until it rises; about 30-40 minutes. I don't find the loaf doubles in size like it would do when using wheat flour, but as long as it has grown by about a third, it should be fine
- Heat the oven to 190˚ celsius whilst the loaf proves, then when the dough has risen, place the tin in the middle of the oven
- Bake for about 30 minutes, checking it from time to time. When it is risen and golden brown on the top, remove it from the loaf tin. Place it on a pizza tray and bake for a further 10-15 minutes, just to make sure it's cooked through
- Remove from the oven and leave to cool. Have your jam at the ready, enjoy!
If you use a smaller loaf tin, you can make one main loaf and then some mini loaves as well. They are fairly useless, but they look cute and make lovely bite-sized slices.