A handful of salt

salt

Salt is essential to life. Sodium is one of the seven macrominerals (along with calcium, chloride, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium and sulphur) and is used for a multitude of biochemical processes such as fluid and acid-alkaline balance and electrical signaling in the nervous system. It is also necessary for adrenal gland function.

All salts are mainly made up of sodium chloride. Table salt is manufactured by cooking to 1200°F, which removes the other trace minerals. Chemicals and anti-caking agents are then added and it is bleached to make it white. This type of salt has almost no benefits and plenty of drawbacks; in many cases it is positively toxic, causing high blood pressure, kidney problems and impaired muscle and nerve function. It should be avoided at all costs.

While sea salt is a far better option than table salt because the other minerals are still present, sea pollution means that producers are having to refine their products, meaning that some of the natural goodness is taken away. Probably the purest sea salt available is from the salt marshes in Brittany where it is still produced using ancient methods.

My favourite salt is Himalayan crystal salt. Not only is it a pretty pink colour (shallow? Moi?), it contains 84 minerals and trace elements in ionic state, meaning that they are tiny enough for the body’s cells to absorb them easily. Its benefits include :

  • Water regulation
  • Healthy pH balance
  • Healthy blood sugar
  • Generation of hydroelectric energy in the cells
  • Food and nutrient absorption
  • Respiratory health
  • Prevention of muscle cramps
  • Sleep and relaxation
  • Blood pressure regulation

Not only is Himalayan salt an excellent choice for use in the kitchen, a few handfuls added to warm (but not hot) water makes a wonderfully relaxing and detoxifying bath. Soaking in a Himalayan salt bath provides an effective treatment for dry skin and psoriasis, soothes insect bites and relieves muscle pain or cramping, as well as easing arthritis. Finally, it reduces stress and promotes a good night’s sleep.

Pear cake and an exhausting email exchange

pearcake

I engaged in a slightly surreal email exchange with a ski instructor recently. I wanted to reserve a skiing lesson for Léo for this weekend – a lesson in which he would hopefully learn a) how to leave the other mountain users vertical and intact, and b) that posts, signs (particularly ones that say ‘slow down’) and barriers are there for reasons other than to be uprooted while flying past. I asked for a one hour private lesson on Monday morning, Mr Ski Genius replied that he could offer a two hour lesson on Sunday afternoon. So I enquired about a two hour lesson on Monday afternoon, which he was afraid he couldn’t do, but he could perhaps fit in a one hour lesson on Sunday morning, assuming that I was the person that had originally wanted to book for Tuesday afternoon. There were numerous other variants discussed far too tortuous to go in to, including, if I remember correctly, the possibility of a one and a quarter hour lesson from midnight on Sunday, which was obviously very tempting. Anyway, the upshot is that I lost the will to live and conceded defeat. We’re just going to wing it and give him a call when we get there to try to arrange (although frankly, the thought of a ‘phone conversation with him brings me out in a cold sweat). I just hope that his lessons are less convoluted than his emails. Failing that, we can pray that the other skiers and signposts are more robust than last time. It could all prove to be very interesting…

I bought a variation of this ‘moelleux aux poires’ in a patisserie when we were last skiing. Anything tastes good after a day on the slopes, particularly with Léo, but this was still delicious when I made it at home.

Ingredients

3 pears, cut into eight

1 tablespoon rum

1 vanilla pod

100g cane sugar

50g butter

50g coconut oil

3 eggs

75g rye flour

75g buckwheat flour

50g powdered almonds

1 teaspoon baking powder

1 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda

Preheat the oven to 180°C. Poach the pears in a little water with the rum and vanilla pod. Blend the butter, coconut oil and sugar until fluffy.  Add the eggs one by one, and then the flour, baking powder, bicarbonate of soda and almonds and combine well. Add the drained, poached pears and gently incorporate into the mixture. Transfer to a pre-buttered medium-size loaf tin and bake for 30 minutes, or until a skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean.

Apricot and ginger muffins and drug-free pharmacists

apricotgingermuffin

A few years ago, I wrote an article about a much-revered institution in France: The Pharmacy. Yesterday, having popped into our local one for some toothpaste, I found myself in the incongruous position of dispensing advice to the pharmacist on how to treat her debilitating cold. She was quite adamant about not wanting to use ‘nasty chemical drugs’ that made her feel drowsy and dried out. I found her resolve amusingly disloyal in view of her job – rather like a butcher promoting a vegetarian diet – but I was even more astonished when she went on to say that she tries to avoid pharmaceuticals at all costs: Talk about doing yourself out of work! Anyway, I spent so long dealing with her fervent drug phobia and streaming orifices (I set her up with a concoction of herbs and some essential oils to sniff and rub on) that it was only when I reached home that I realised that I’d come away empty-handed… Natural remedies: 1, pharmaceutical profits: 0.

Ingredients (makes 12)

60g salted butter, softened

60g coconut oil, softened

150g spelt flour

2 organic eggs

60g ground almonds

1 teaspoon baking powder

80g cane sugar

50ml milk

200g apricots, cut into quarters and lightly poached

2 teaspoons ginger, freshly grated

Preheat the oven to 180°C. Cream the butter and coconut oil for about four minutes. Add a spoonful of flour, beat again, then add the eggs, beating further until the mixture is light and fluffy. Add a little more flour to prevent curdling. Gently fold in the remaining flour, ground almonds, baking powder, cane sugar, and milk. Lastly, fold the poached apricots and grated ginger into the mix. Spoon into muffin trays and bake for 25 minutes.
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Chickpea pizza base (gf) and branching out

chickpeapizza

A few days ago I received an email from a soft furnishings company saying that they would ‘love to write a guest post’ for my blog. This was followed by an email from an online gaming company suggesting the same thing. Call me parochial, but I’m still struggling to understand the relevance; gluten-free sofas, buckwheat light shades and deep-fried poker? Is this perhaps just the next step in the lateral thinking that claims courgettes are the new spaghetti and cauliflower the new rice? Still, I’m baffled, even in my capacity as the queen of non sequiturs (I’m always launching into totally unrelated conversational hemispheres – one minute you’re telling me about your holiday and the next I’m grilling you on how to teach a horse to pirouette).

So here’s a deliciously light chickpea pizza base that might or might not make for stunning cushion covers or perhaps put you in mind of a roulette wheel…

Ingredients (makes two 15cm pizzas)

150g chickpea flour

½ teaspoon bicarbonate of soda

a pinch of salt

Fresh rosemary leaves

200ml water

I clove garlic, crushed

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 tablespoon ghee (or you could use butter)

Combine the flour, bicarbonate of soda, salt and rosemary in a medium-sized bowl. Gradually add the water, whisking continuously to form a paste. Add the garlic, and olive oil and leave the batter to stand at room temperature for about 30 minutes. Melt half of the ghee in a 15cm frying pan and add half of the batter. Fry on both sides until golden brown. Repeat with the remaining ghee and batter. Add your toppings of choice and cook in a hot oven for 15 minutes.

Mango and ginger kulfi and fire-proof mouths

kulfi

When I lived near Paris, an English friend and I used to frequent a wonderful little Indian restaurant where we invariably ordered kulfi and halwa for dessert. I’m sure they used to cringe and don their heat-proof clothing and goggles as they saw us approach because we always ordered everything extra extra hot, which is unusual in France where Indian restaurants tend to be more subtle than in the UK. I’m all for subtle; subtle is usually a good thing, but not when it comes to Indian food when my tastebuds demand strident, lurid and brash. Eating Indian food is an extreme sport for me: bungee jumping for the palate.

This ice cream is divine and absolutely perfect after a brazen vindaloo – it puts out the fire like applying aloe vera to sunburn. It is usually made with condensed milk instead of coconut cream.

Not only is ginger deliciously tangy and refreshing, it is also a potent antibacterial, antifungal and anti-inflammatory, as well as being an excellent antioxidant source. It aids digestion and helps prevent nausea and motion sickness as well as headaches, respiratory infections and arthritic pain.

Ingredients (makes about 12 mini moulds)

400ml coconut cream, any excess water removed

400ml Greek yoghurt

1 large mango, peeled and pureed

25g almonds, finely chopped

25g pistachios, finely chopped

1 tablespoon honey

1 teaspoon fresh ginger, grated

1 teaspoon cardamom seeds, ground

Place all the ingredients in a large mixing bowl and combine well. Pour the mixture into silicon muffin moulds (I used a mixture of muffin moulds and canelé moulds). Freeze for at least two hours. Take out individual portions and leave to defrost slightly at room temperature about 45 minutes before serving. Delicious served with halwa.

Halwa and ice skating for dogs

halwa

HugojournoandJava

Until today, I neither shared nor understood Java’s enthusiasm for the cold white stuff that suddenly appeared the other morning. Mind you, she’s so foolish that I don’t understand much about her at all. I refused to go out all day on Monday in the hope that it would disappear. It didn’t, and there was even more of it this morning so, after much coaxing, I agreed to accompany Bossy and Java on a walk. I soon found out that if I ran very fast and then suddenly stopped, Java (who copies everything I do) was taken by surprise, skidded, lost her balance and fell over (what’s not to like?). How anyone with four legs can actually fall over is beyond me – it just goes to show how silly she is. Bossy lost her balance a few times too *canine snigger*, but in her case it’s more understandable as she only has two legs and I suppose she’s busy trying to control her mouth, always going at full throttle. These little bonuses mean that I’ve decided that the white stuff is not so bad after all. I may even look into skiing lessons…

Halwa is a deliciously fragrant Indian dessert cake. It contains ghee, or clarified butter. Having had all dairy residue simmered off, ghee is suitable for people with dairy allergies. It is a rich source of omegas 3 and 9 as well as butyric acid which has been shown to decrease inflammation, particularly in the intestines. It is also an excellent source of vitamins A, D, E and K.

Ingredients (serves 12)

350g carrots, grated

50g raisins

50g almonds, chopped

50g pistachios, chopped

5 tablespoons ghee, melted (you could replace this with butter or coconut oil)

2 tablespoons honey

3 eggs, whisked

200g almond flour

½ teaspoon bicarbonate of soda

1 teaspoon cardamom seeds, crushed

Preheat the oven to 180°C. Combine the carrots, raisins, almonds, pistachios, ghee and honey in a mixing bowl. Gradually add the almond flour, bicarbonate of soda and cardamom seeds to the whisked eggs and blend until homogenous. Add the flour/egg mixture to the carrot/nut mixture and combine well. Transfer to a prepared medium-sized baking tin and bake for 40 minutes or until a skewer comes out clean.

Savoury chickpea muffins and cold, white stuff

chickpeahalloumi

Everything was all white this morning (my punishment for making silly puns is that I now have the Bill Withers song ‘Lovely Day’ stuck on repeat in my head: ‘Then I look at you, And the world’s all white with me, Just one look at you, And I know it’s gonna be a lovely day…’).

Snow in this area is rare, which means that when it does happen, everything grinds to a halt; Hugo being a case in point. He dipped one paw into the cold, white stuff, looked around quizzically, sighed heavily and turned back into the house. Java and Léo, on the other hand, were absolutely delighted. Snow is a precious commodity. So much so that I now have a freezer full of ready-to-throw snowballs, which is, I assume, the ammunition equivalent of microwave meals. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if he didn’t try to take them to school in a cooler box.

Like Hugo, the migratory cranes in the cornfield to the back of the house looked very cheesed-off. I think they were probably lamenting their choice of winter destination: ‘That’s the last time we’re coming here – what a rip-off! We flew 5,000 kilometres for a bit of sun and this is what we end up with. We could have stayed at home if we’d wanted snow!’. Maybe Hugo will migrate south next winter in case the nasty, white stuff strikes again.

javasnow2 copy

javasnow copy

Chickpeas (or garbanzos) have a very low-GI and are a rich source of fibre, making them ideal for digestive disorders and weight loss. They are also rich in protein (in the form of amino acids), minerals (especially manganese, selenium and iron), vitamin K, folates and antioxidants (saponins).

Ingredients (makes 12)

200g spelt flour

Sea salt and freshly-ground black pepper

1 teaspoon cumin seeds

1 teaspoon chilli powder

½ teaspoon bicarbonate of soda

400g chickpeas, pre-cooked and mashed

2 eggs, beaten

100ml olive oil

75g cheddar cheese, grated (any hard cheese will do)

1 onion, chopped

½ red pepper, chopped

Preheat the oven to 180°C. Combine the flour, seasoning, spices and bicarbonate of soda in a large bowl. In a second bowl, combine the chickpeas, eggs and oil, mixing well. Add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients, folding together well. Lastly incorporate the grated cheese, onion and red pepper. Transfer the mixture to muffin tins or moulds (I use silicon moulds) and bake for 20-25 minutes or until a fork comes out clean. Delicious served hot or cold.