Life just sometimes gets in the way, doesn't it? It was the summer holidays that scuppered me this time. One minute it was June and then the next moment it was 'Back to School September'. Then I blinked and it was October, which, incidentally, my children tell me is practically Christmas. Let's make something quite clear here, they are so WRONG, so VERY WRONG on this one, but WATCH OUT .... it's on its way, for sure.
But before we start tentatively thinking about all things festive, I'm going to momentarily return to those long summer holidays ...
Dubai is hot .... very hot, and during July and August, it is positively roasting. Think 'opening the oven door and sticking your head into the roasting heat' - but only think about it .... please don't actually do it. We get a long school break for summer - 10 weeks normally. There's only so much ten-pin bowling and cinema that one can take, so most families escape to cooler climes - often for the duration. When school is out at the end of June, there is a mass and immediate exodus of Mums and children and all of a sudden Dubai is a city filled with 'home alone Dads'. They'll be the guys looking slightly lost in the supermarket; the ones living off steak, potatoes and beers; the ones enjoying their empty, quiet homes - until the novelty wears off at least.
Generally, we take our time leaving. I like to relax into the holidays ... spend a few days chilling (albeit in air conditioning); enjoy the quiet roads; make the most of having no packed lunches to create and think about filling a suitcase or two.
Mostly our escape is to France. We have a house there in a rural spot with a field, sunflowers, rain and a wood-burning stove - all things that Dubai can't offer. For the children, there's a trampoline, bikes, a forest and ... let's be frank here ... most importantly, UK television channels and WIFI! We don't do much while we are there. There's a lot of hanging out, a bit of walking, a bit of cycling, some reading and the odd day trip. It's so, so quiet and the shutters on the windows make it very dark so we sleep in late and enjoy the long, light evenings. On every level, it's a complete contrast to our life in Dubai.
There's still food for growing children to make though and as our teenage boys are getting bigger and bigger, keeping up with their hunger is quite a challenge. The supermarket is quite a drive away, so we stock up well at the beginning of our stay and try not to have to return too often. We definitely eat at our best at the beginning of our trip - some planning is happening and there are plenty of old favourites - holiday hotpot, pesto pasta, 'normal' soup and some Anzac biscuits to take when we went to visit our lovely friends in Île de Ré. But as we get closer to home time, there's pressure to use up the random remains in the fridge and pantry and creativity kicks in. Those bits and bobs are not always a food combination made in heaven and there's also that old frustration of having bought enough of something for a large army rather than just a small one - think porridge this year ..."Oh it's porridge AGAIN for breakfast" ... long pause ... "Hooray".
But sometimes there are some ingredients that sing and then using up leftovers is joyous.
Bring on Salted Chocolate and Peanut Butter Muffins...
Yes, I know - a bar of yummy Fleur de Sel Dark Chocolate is not exactly a chore to use up, but a significant chunk of a jar of crunchy peanut butter was going to take some effort, particularly when the daily porridge grind had breakfast covered nicely.
Of course, you could make these with any type of chocolate, but the saltiness really does work and the bitter chocolate means that the muffins are not overly sweet either. I had one 100g bar to use up and then a little dish of mixed leftover chocolate chips from making cookies a few days before. Really - use whatever you have. The principle here is about emptying the cupboards.
But let's be frank, 12 Salted Chocolate and Peanut Butter Muffins don't make that much headway into clearing the fridge and pantry, but every little helps ... and our lovely, elderly gentleman neighbour appreciated a couple of what I like to call 'perishable hampers' (a.k.a. two plastic carrier bags filled with random foodstuffs that we couldn't take home with us). I must ask him what creations came out of his bags of goodies ...