The only time I ever saw my father exercise was on holiday. For the rest of the year he would be at his desk in a nice shirt, no tie (ties were for bank managers) and the same pair of neatly pressed black jeans he had in numerous iterations. Then when we drove down to the south of France for two weeks (as befits a nice English family) he would put on his cycling shorts and go up and down and down and up the hills around our house. After a 30km loop or thereabouts he’d collapse into a chair with a beer. He’d only drink beer after a bike ride. And he’d only get sick on holiday too; businessman’s illness, he called it. All luxuries that he could not afford to contemplate in a working day.
I pretend to be like him. I am proud to have only one half day sick this year. In my holidays I run up and down the same hills with a freedom and enthusiasm I can’t find in Paris. When I get home I drink iced tea, not beer. I struggle to be as generous with my spare time as he was.
For me, luxury is a large kitchen with a slab of marble and a real oven. I have already made brioche twice, kneading it slowly on the marble while gazing out of the window to the garden and, beyond that, the fields of sunflowers. Kneading bread is like a truth serum, my walls are down as my hands are occupied rolling and folding.
But I have also made no-knead bread, that continually surprises and delights with its long slow alchemy. I’m planning to make crumpets, a recipe that has been waiting at least six months for precious holiday time. At the moment, a beer bread is in the oven, one that doesn’t require kneading or waiting. Like an Irish soda bread it promises a light crusty loaf that demands to be eaten in slabs with a thick coat of butter.
Later: when it is done, I have to wait a tantalizing ten minutes for the bread to cool. There is a faint yeasty smell, of hops and honey. The crumb is soft and creamy white, not too dense, while its shell is craggy, golden brown.
Baking bread (beer bread) and savouring it in the afternoon sun is my version of bike ride/beer. Relaxing, though a little less strenuous.
Beer and honey quick bread
450g (3 cups) self-raising flour
30g (2 tbs) caster sugar
1 tsp salt
40g (2 tbs) honey
330cl (one can) beer
Heat oven to 180C. Grease a large loaf pan.
Melt the butter with the honey. Mix the dry ingredients together, then stir in the beer and most of the melted butter mix. Save a tablespoon or so. Tip dough into loaf pan and drizzle remaining butter/honey evenly over the top.
Bake for 30-40 minutes to a golden brown.