One of the things I love about the French is their tendency to understatement; ‘Il est spécial’ (he is special) might easily be used to describe anyone from a mild eccentric to a raging psychopath. Or ‘ce vin n’est pas désagréable’ (this wine is not disagreeable) could describe a 2018 Chateau Lafite Rothschild, and if you hear ‘il pleuviote’, (it’s drizzling), the chances are high there’s a flood warning in place.
When our neighbours recently excelled, by blocking part of our kilometre-long driveway with dangerous metal poles, my reaction was anything but understated. The fact that I was almost decapitated by driving into them, inspired an energetic rendition of my impressive stash of swear words. It was loud, too. Luc captured the essence of the fine art of understatement subsequently, in a letter to our Mairie, saying that if the ridiculous blockade wasn’t removed, ‘nous pourrions devenir nerveux’ (we could become nervous).
Coco Chanel famously said: ‘Before you leave the house, look in the mirror and take one thing off.’ This translates to spoken and written expression when ‘we are absolutely spitting with unfettered fury’ becomes ‘we could become nervous’. In any case, the threat of our potential nervousness must have struck a chord; we are now blockade-free!
The wonder of walnuts
I have mentioned the benefits of walnuts before, but it bears repeating. New research has shown that walnuts actually contribute to longevity. The study showed, amongst other things, that walnut eaters have a 25% lower risk of dying from cardiovascular disease. They also contain a very high quantity of the polyphenol-rich antioxidant, ellagic acid which helps prevent cancer.
Research also shows that consuming walnuts can help alleviate depression and cognitive degeneration. They are the only nut to contain omega 3 alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), which is very beneficial for brain health. And walnuts are known to raise melatonin levels by three times, providing relief from sleeplessness and insomnia.
Walnuts are also an excellent source of key nutrients that support overall health, including fibre, manganese, magnesium, copper, iron, calcium, zinc, potassium, vitamin B6, folate, and thiamine.
Recipe for walnut and blue cheese pasta sauce (serves 4)
- 200g walnuts, shelled
- 1 garlic clove, crushed
- 25g pine nuts
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 40g blue cheese (I used Roquefort)
- Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 100ml cream
Blend the walnuts, garlic, pine nuts, olive oil and blue cheese together and add the seasoning. Gently heat, stirring in the cream and and mix into your cooked pasta (I used ravioli, but any pasta works nicely).
I mentioned a while ago having been very sick for over eight months following my second mRNA vaccine. Now there are more and more doctors raising questions, and subsequently being silenced. This video is a discussion between two eminent doctors, one of whom is a cardiologist. They started out as big proponents of the vaccine (as did I), before changing their minds once they’d witnessed major collateral damage.
The fact that, during their discussion, they have to virtually speak in tongues in order to avoid censor by YouTube is real cause for concern. Everybody has to decide what is right for them, but balanced information is needed to make informed decisions, so why the hell is it so difficult to obtain? Pfizer failed to test the vaccine to see whether it prevented transmission of the virus, which didn’t stop governments all over the world from using the ‘get jabbed to save granny’ argument. Just to ward off any facile conclusions that I’m ‘antivax’ (an annoyingly over-simplified label), I’m not; I’m anti being manipulated and lied to, and then poisoned with a product that hasn’t been properly tested.
On a lighter note, my ranting about pharmaceuticals doesn’t stop me going into, and making a spectacle of myself in pharmacies. My son, Léo is trying to gain a few kilos, the better to anchor himself to the rugby pitch, so I asked at our local pharmacy for some high calorie protein powder. Before purchasing, I ‘phoned Léo to check it was what he wanted. It was a bad line and I ended up having to repeat everything he said, quite loudly as it turns out.
I only grasped just how public our conversation had been when I realised everyone in the line behind me was sniggering, and the pharmacist said ‘tell your son not to worry: If he only takes a couple of scoops a day it won’t ‘fuck with his kidneys’.
Recipe for courgette and shallot tart (serves 6 – 8)
Ingredients for pastry:
- 220g flour (I used spelt flour)
- 100g butter
- Cold water
Ingredients for filling:
- 1 medium-sized courgette, washed and cut into rounds
- 1 tablespoon of olive oil
- 2 shallots, sliced
- Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
- 2 eggs
- 150 ml double cream
- 50 mg Cheddar, Parmesan or Comté cheese, grated
To make the pastry, begin by cutting the butter into small cubes. Add to the flour in a mixing bowl and add a pinch of sea salt. Blend by hand until the mixture becomes crumbly. Add the cold water, mixing rapidly with a spoon. Remove the mixture from the bowl onto a lightly floured surface. Knead until you obtain a ball of pastry (if the mixture isn’t ‘sticky’ enough to form a ball, you may need a drop more water). Wrap in a clean cotton tea towel and leave to ‘rest’ in the fridge for about two hours. This relaxes the dough and makes it easier to use. Preheat the oven to 200°C. Roll out the pastry on a clean, lightly floured surface and line the tart tin.
For the filling, begin by frying the courgette rounds and sliced shallots in a little olive oil, then arrange in the pastry case. Break the eggs into a small bowl and add the cream and seasoning (salt, pepper, nutmeg). Beat well to form a homogenous mixture. Add some grated cheese and then pour the egg and cream mixture over the top. Cook at 200°C for 25 minutes, or until the top is golden-brown.
I like listening to audio books while I’m out walking with Java and her assorted boyfriends, mostly because it takes my mind off the fact that Java’s obedience training has, once again, taken a turn for the worse. I’m only just beginning to appreciate the extent to which Hugo kept our house in order. (One of the many charms of English Setters is that they are predisposed to ‘willfulness’, a pompous way to say they do exactly as they please.) Back to Audible: What is meant to be a relaxing pastime has given me internal punctuation Tourettes. As I listen, my mind randomly screams: ‘full stop, comma, semi-colon — no wait, that should be a colon — pause for a new paragraph…’ I sometimes even rewind a bit to revise and refine my work. I’m nothing if not a perfectionist, I think I’ll attack pronunciation next ;-).
Luckily, my disobedient dog keeps both me and her friends on our toes. There’s very little time for punctuation, imaginary or otherwise, when you’re battling canine insanity. Canine insanity trumps human insanity by its sheer chaos potential.
I used this recipe quite a number of times over the summer. Pork has a tendency to be a bit tough, but this marinade, in particular the apple cider vinegar, helps to tenderise the meat. The acid in the vinegar breaks down protein, leaving the meat extra tender, and the longer the meat is left in the marinade, the better.
Recipe for barbecue pork marinade (serves 4-6)
2 cloves garlic
1 tablespoon honey
Apple cider vinegar
Combine the ingredients, mixing well to form a homogenous, liquid paste. Coat the pork pieces and leave to marinate, overnight if possible. These are best cooked on a wood barbecue, but any kind of grill would work.
I overheard a telephone conversation, in which Luc described the food at his birthday party, the previous day. His side of the conversation went like this:
‘Well to start with we had feta and basil tart, without the feta, which Fiona had left in a supermarket caddy in Dax. She had also planned a very pretty watermelon, cucumber and feta salad. Unfortunately as I said, the feta was M.I.A., and the cucumber hadn’t even featured on the shopping list. So the pretty salad was basically a bowl of watermelon cubes.’
‘The tuna steaks were a success, although some were very charred, because the marinade spilled onto the gas barbecue, which caught fire. It was pretty hairy actually, until we pulled the barbecue out from under the terrace into the bucketing rain. Oh and the desserts! We had chocolate cake and walnut tart. The cake was meant to be decorated with a ‘7’ and an ‘0’ candle, but as it turned out, the ‘7’ had opted to stay in the shopping caddy with the feta, so it was just the ‘0’, which felt quite liberating really.’
What Luc failed to mention, was that I had pulled a muscle in my neck, rendering myself agonisingly immobile, just 10 minutes before the party started. Luckily a massage therapist friend was to hand (I choose my friends wisely), and he deftly put me back together. There was a lot of ‘now you see me, now you don’t’ rain in the morning, and very heavy rain in the afternoon, which meant that we had to use a covered terrace, 30 metres from the kitchen.
After a few spectacular false starts, involving flying food, I nailed a ‘carrying a tray while holding an umbrella’ technique. Following months of drought, the ground was so dry that fast-running rivers formed between the kitchen and terrace, and I was able to complete my nonchalant look — my neck was too painful to risk a hairbrush — with mismatched wellington boots. Despite all this, or maybe because of it, everybody seemed to have a great time, and in the end, the sun shone through the rain. Although, not everyone was in a state fit to even notice.
Watermelon health benefits
The red colour of watermelon flesh comes from lycopene, which is a potent antioxidant. There is more of this nutrient in watermelon than any other fruit or vegetable, including tomatoes. It is also rich in an amino acid called citrulline that may help move blood flow, and can lower your blood pressure, and contains a pigment, that may protect your joints from inflammation. Lastly, watermelon is an excellent source of vitamins C and A and also copper and B vitamins.
Recipe for watermelon and feta salad (serves 4)
- 1 ripe watermelon
- ½ cucumber
- bunch fresh mint, chopped
- 1 red onion, sliced
- 2 limes
- 150g feta
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- pinch sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
Chop the watermelon and cucumber into chunks and place in a salad bowl, along with the chopped mint. Soak the red onion slices in lime juice and leave to steep. Cut the feta into cubes and add to the watermelon, cucumber and mint. Add the onion slices, along with the lime juice to the bowl, and then add the olive oil and seasoning. Mix gently – the watermelon and feta are fragile! Serve chilled.
Welcome to my updated blog. Apparently the original blog, which was over ten years old, was ‘fine on the outside, but chaotic on the inside!’ Sounded horribly familiar!
We’ve been cooking outside a lot; I haven’t wanted to use the oven because of the stifling heat. Unfortunately this is now no longer an option due to the fire risk. This recipe is easy and versatile, as the steaks may be cooked on a proper barbecue, a gas barbecue, or even in a hot frying pan.
In my last blog, I mentioned that a deer had been snacking on the terrace at night. He is still a nightly visitor, and in view of the noise, I suspect he now invites friends. I know when they have been ‘partying’ because I do an inventory of the geranium flowers in bloom every evening, and again in the morning. I’ve arrived at the conclusion that in general, all hell has broken loose since our black labrador, Hugo’s demise.
In just the past week a deer availed himself of the open terrace door to come into the house one night, no doubt in search of more geraniums, and a weasel woke our guests sleeping in the grange by rapping, very loudly, on the glass door. Then I knocked a man flying with a shopping caddy (which become lethal weapons in my hands) and Luc chucked our cleaning lady’s shoes in the bin.
Also, I can’t remember how many people, or which people for that matter, I have invited to Luc’s birthday party next week; it could be 15 guests, or it could be 25. I have literally no idea. It should be interesting, particularly as some much-needed rain is forecast for that day.
Tuna’s multiple health benefits (and a word of warning)
Tuna is a very rich source of Omega 3 fatty acids. Omega 3s are known for their anti-inflammatory properties as well as aiding mental, heart, bone, eye, and skin health. A lesser-known benefit of Omega 3 is that it can help sleep quality.
Tuna is a good source of good-quality protein and also contains generous amounts of calcium, phosphorus, potassium, iron, zinc, B-vitamins, selenium, and choline.
Despite the many benefits, consumption of tuna, and other big fish, should probably be limited to a maximum of once a week due to its mercury content.
Recipe for Cajun-style marinated tuna steaks (serves 4)
- 50ml orange juice
- 50ml coconut aminos (or soya sauce
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 tablespoon lemon juice
- 2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
- 1 clove garlic, crushed
- 3 teaspoons Cajun seasoning
- Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 4 tuna steaks
Mix the marinade ingredients together and generously coat the tuna steaks. Leave in the fridge overnight, if possible, or at least for a couple of hours. Best seared for a couple of minutes on each side on a BBQ, protected by aluminum foil. Otherwise they can be fried in a hot frying pan.
France has been subjected to apocalyptic heat and unusually large, uncontrollable forest fires over the past ten days. Apparently though, this isn’t punishment enough; according to Britain’s half-witted Foreign Secretary, France is also single-handedly responsible for the giant tailbacks happening at the Port of Dover. And today, a colleague of the half-wit, who is also on the Genius Podium, is piling the blame on France for a ‘meltdown’ at the UK Passport Office. As Clément Beaune, the French Transport Minister, said: ‘France is not responsible for Brexit’.
Although Java The Guard Dog has been sleeping outside during the hot weather (by ‘sleeping’ I mean running round and round the house all night, like a maniac), one of our resident deer has been sneaking midnight snacks, apparently consisting of Léo’s grapevine leaves, with a side order of my geranium flowers. As the geraniums are on the terrace attached to the house, this is pretty unabashed as petty crime goes, but Java, who is only interested, randomly, in guarding the compost heap, has been of no use whatsoever. There were no such unlawful goings on during Hugo’s watch, I can tell you. Java, get your act together!
We’ve been eating a lot of gazpacho in the the past few weeks, as it’s been too hot to cook. We haven’t even been able to use the barbecue for fear of setting our surrounding forest on fire. The original recipe dates back to Roman times. Tomatoes are particularly beneficial during hot, sunny weather as research shows that a powerful antioxidant, lycopene, could protect our skin from UV damage from sunburn. Tomatoes are a rich source of lycopene.
Recipe for gazpacho (serves 4-6)
- 1 cucumber, peeled and chopped
- 1 red pepper, deseeded and chopped
- 1 green pepper, deseeded and chopped
- 1kg ripe plum tomatoes, skinned and chopped
- 2 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
- 1 onion, peeled and chopped
- 50ml olive oil
- 75g stale white bread, chopped
- 3 tablespoons sherry vinegar
- Sea salt, freshly ground black pepper
- Dash of tabasco (optional)
Place the prepared vegetables, bread and olive oil into a blender and mix until smooth. Then add the seasoning, mixing again. Taste and adjust. If the mixture is too thick, you could add some cold water. Refrigerate for at least two hours before serving.
Léo and I went to London in June, leaving Luc in the company of a couple of deer that appear to have moved in. The lady deer, who Luc calls Georgette, is quite pally with the horses and they graze together in the sun every morning and evening, but the male, Georgio, is noisily territorial and barks at Luc if he approaches ‘his’ field after 9.15pm. For some reason, 9.15pm is the time at which time it becomes ‘his property’ and trespassers will be barked at, throatily, hauntingly, and incessantly. You can almost see the testosterone cloud descend to thicken the night air.
On our return from London, where poor Léo spent five days spluttering in semi-isolation with a covid-not-covid virus, my phone clock proved resistant to reverting to French time. This meant that I spent a couple of days after my return arriving an hour late for every single appointment. The worst thing was the length of time it took for me to realise that my phone had gone rogue.
Léo is becoming increasingly concerned by his father’s extravagant use of emojis. We went shopping a few days ago and received a message to buy chicken feed. Léo, from beneath furrowed brow, said ‘but we don’t have chickens; we have pigeons’. He went on to say that what he found even more worrying was that Luc had compounded his error with several chicken emojis🐔🐔🐔. That evening, Luc wrote to the notary who is currently handling a property transaction for us, adding a 👩🏻 when alluding to the seller (on a positive note, at least he’d got the right species; The mind boggles at the possibilities for misinterpretation and offence had he not.)
Ending on a very sad note, the punishing heat we endured a couple of weeks ago proved to be too much for Hugo, our gorgeous black labrador, who was a contributor to this blog (here is a selection). Forty-five degrees is very distressing for an elderly dog with respiratory difficulties, and we made the harrowing decision to help him on his way. He is now resting in a peaceful corner of our grounds alongside other departed friends. I imagine them wryly exchanging ‘at least we can have some peace and quiet here’ sentiments. RIP darling Hugo❤️; your endearing but authoritarian ways will be greatly missed, as will your blogs
These fritter are divine. Of course, the courgette flower season is short, so make the most of them while you can. Because they’re eaten so fresh, they contain fair amounts of vitamins A , C, E and K and also minerals such as magnesium, zinc, and calcium.
Recipe for courgette flower fritters (serves 4, although probably fewer!)
- 12 courgette flowers
- 80g flour
- 150ml sparkling mineral water
- 1 soup spoon olive oil
- Pinch sea salt, freshly ground black pepper
- 1 egg, beaten
- 1 clove garlic, crushed
- 6 basil leaves, shredded
Gently rince the flowers, and set aside to dry on absorbant kitchen roll. Combine the flour, water, olive oil, seasoning, egg and garlic well to form a homogenous mixture. Cover the base of a large frying pan with olive oil and heat. Dip each flower into the mixture, coating generously, and then place immediately in the hot pan, and fry both sides. The fritters should be golden-brown, but not burnt. May be served alone with salad, or as an accompaniment.
Our son, Léo, has recently finished an intense cycle of competitive exams and interviews for his next three years of further education. He wants to pursue viticulture/oenology studies in an agricultural engineering establishment, and the relevant schools are based either in Bordeaux, Toulouse or Montpellier. After visiting Toulouse, Léo made a rapid decision to strike it from his list because, although it’s an excellent school — wait for it — there was ‘no bread shop within walking distance’. WTAF? Even allowing for cultural differences (Léo is French born and bred, or bread as the case may be, and I was born in the UK), I had trouble seeing the lack of a bread shop as a major hurdle. Luc, on the other hand, found Léo’s logic to be beyond reproach.
Once Léo had settled on, and been offered a place at the institute in Bordeaux and we started to look for an apartment, we quickly realized that a bread shop, or boulangerie, in the immediate vicinity is one of the biggest selling points for property; estate agents’ maps feature little baguettes to indicate their locations. I became mesmorised by the baguette icons, and began to count those in central Bordeaux, but only got to 78 before going cross-eyed. Google then fed my new-found bread shop statistic obsession with the reassuring fact that Bordeaux has 277 boulangeries/patisseries for 250,000 inhabitants. In the Anglo-Saxon world, we tend to prioritise things like schools, general shops, perhaps hospitals, and other amenities. Not so in France, the baguette is all powerful!
We had a delivery from a man this morning whose first bemused question, once he’d eventually found our house at the end of the sandy track, was: ‘what do you do for bread?’. Reassured to learn that Luc made sure we had a constant supply, and delivery completed, he made his way back to civilisation in a shocked daze, shaking his head disbelievingly and muttering to himself: ‘Putain, ils n’ont même pas de boulangerie!’ (‘Fuck, they don’t even have a bread shop!’) I think the fact that, to all intents and purposes, we live in one of the few remaining boulangerie deserts in France, was a lot for the poor chap to process. I don’t think we’ll be seeing him again any time soon.
Recipe for stuffed green peppers (serves 4)
- 4 green peppers (or any other colour)
- Olive oil
- 2 tomatoes, peeled and chopped
- 2 onions, chopped
- 2 cloves of garlic, crushed
- 150g arborio rice
- 750ml chicken or vegetable stock
- 20g raisins
- 20g pine nuts
- Sprig of thyme
- 1 teaspoon coriander grains
- 1 teaspoon paprika
- Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
- Handful black olives, pitted and chopped
- 200g goat’s cheese or feta cheese, sliced
- Fresh coriander
Preheat the oven to 180°C. Prepare the peppers by cutting off the top and scooping out the seeds. Place on a roasting tray with a little olive oils and pre-roast for about 15 minutes, until softened. Gently fry the chopped tomatoes, onions and garlic in a little olive oil until soft. Add the rice and continue to fry, mixing with a spatula. Add the stock, stirring well, and then the raisins and pine nuts. Then add the thyme, seasoning and black olives, and leave to cook on a gentle heat until the liquid is absorbed. Once the rice mixture is cooked add the cheese, mixing well. Fill the emptied peppers with the mixture, adding the fresh coriander at the end. Put the tops back on the peppers, pour over a little olive oil and return to the oven for 45 minutes.
I’m not going to gloat about the results of the French election, because that would be neither kind, nor fair for supporters of Putin’s ‘putain‘ (Putin’s tart). The trouble is though, apparently the moment you get rid of one pest, you gain another: We’re currently being persecuted by a badger.
Strange husbands and lethal umbrellas
Badgers are reputed to be fearless, thick skinned, resourceful and unwavering, and the one that comes to visit us every night ticks all the boxes. It started by digging up the lawn farthest from the house, and has gradually made its way closer. At midnight last night, Luc decided enough was enough, and took off to hunt it down on his bicycle, dressed in underpants, armed with an umbrella, with a torch strapped to his head. He looked quite alarming, but in an insane way, not a badger-scaring way.
He circled the house several times, shouting menacingly and brandishing his umbrella like the lethal weapon it wasn’t, before coming back in to reassure me that, although he hadn’t seen the offending creature, he thought we would be left in peace from now on (I love mens’ egos; they’re a constant source of amusement to me). This morning we woke up to a larger-than-ever patch of dug up lawn right in front of the bedroom window. This badger is not only spunky and tenacious, he also has a wicked sense of humour. And the dogs just snoozed on…
Chocolate cake and chocolate mousse are my absolute favourites, and this combines the best of both; it’s not too sweet and the taste and texture, somewhere between the two, are just perfect.
Potential copper deficiency
Many people have been supplementing zinc to aid immunity to Covid and other viruses. High intake of zinc for extended periods of time may result in copper deficiency. Copper is essential in the formation of collagen, and also helps the body use its stored iron — a deficiency can result in anemia. Dark chocolate and almonds are both excellent sources of copper, so this cake is a good choice if you’ve been taking zinc for over the past few years. Other good sources of copper are shellfish, organ meats, legumes, whole grains and peas.
Recipe for chocolate and almond mousse cake (serves 6-8)
- 150g dark chocolate (min 70%)
- 120g coconut oil
- 5 eggs, separated
- 150g cane sugar
- 70g ground almond
- Pinch of salt
- 1/2 teaspoon cardamon powder
- Tablespoon rum
Preheat the oven to 140°C. Melt the chocolate and the coconut oil in a bain marie, while whisking the egg whites in a bowl until stiff. In another bowl, blend the egg yolks and sugar, then add the ground almonds, seasoning, rum and chocolate and coconut oil, mixing well. Finally fold in the egg whites until the mixture is homogenous. Pour the mixture into a greased tin (I used a loaf tin) and bake for 45 minutes.
Neither Luc nor I are fans of shopping, especially shopping together. You know those couples you see casually and contentedly wandering around shops hand in hand? Well that will never be us. Lockdown suited very well from that point of view; one of us went shopping (usually Luc as he thinks I’m an irrational, inefficient and irresponsible shopper), and the rest was bought online.
But we needed new patio furniture and decided to brave the garden centre. I was very happy to try out the swing sets and suspended deck chairs, which I discovered weren’t properly anchored, while Luc frantically looked around for someone to help us. We’d been told that ‘Emilie’ was the salesperson to look for, but she was proving difficult to pin down. Problem solved: Luc planted himself in the middle of the expansive furniture section and absolutely boomed ‘E-M-I-L-I-E!’. After that it was plain sailing; eight dining chairs and two deckchairs were chosen, paid for, and loaded in under 10 minutes, and I hobbled out only slightly bruised.
An old English wreck
Because I’m old and broken (see above), I visit my physiotherapist twice a week. He loves to sing as he works, and last week launched into a charmingly boisterous rendition of an old French song about a once — but no longer — glorious, unseaworthy, abandoned ship: ‘Quand je pense à la vielle anglaise…’ (when I think of the old English woman…) Bursting into laughter I said ‘I’m so happy to have inspired you!’ Since then, strangely enough, he has refrained from refrains.
This is a lovely, quick and easy soup for Spring.
Recipe for courgette and goat cheese soup (serves 6)
- 45g butter
- 1 onion, peeled and sliced
- 2 shallots, peeled and sliced
- 2 garlic cloves, crushed
- 200g leeks, washed and chopped
- 450g courgettes, washed and cut into rounds
- 1 large potatoes, peeled and sliced
- 1l chicken stock (or vegetable if you prefer)
- 1 teaspoon paprika
- Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 150g soft goat’s cheese
Melt the butter in a large saucepan over a medium heat, adding the onions, shallots and garlic, and frying for about five minutes, stirring occasionally to prevent sticking. Next add the leeks, courgettes and potato coating in the butter and cook for a few minutes longer. Add the stock and seasoning and simmer for about 20 minutes, or until the vegetables are soft. Finally, add the goat’s cheese and blend the soup until smooth.