Red and green beans and a four-legged clown

greenbeansredpepperbasil

I’ve long suspected Bijou, our five-year-old gelding, to have a highly-developed sense of humour. (One of his first jokes was to chuck me in a ditch and then tread on me. That was a real howl.) He’s also a non-smoker with a lean, muscular physique and indisputably good looks; really quite a catch. Always happy to be of service, he opens field gates to allow the other horses to come and go as they please, although he has yet to learn to to shut them. And he picks up buckets in his teeth and flings them against the wall, which is great fun I suppose as long as you’re not a bucket. He clings on to his bit with his teeth when his bridle is removed, like a baby refusing to give up his dummy and chews on freshly-washed clothes drying on the line.

Bibiclothes

His latest trick though was quite the most audacious, even for him. Luc, who had been working in the field, stripped off his t-shirt and put it over the tractor door as it was very hot. Bijou, who had been hanging out with him (he loves to socialise), didn’t miss a beat: He reached up and seized the t-shirt between his teeth, turned on his hooves and took off at a gallop, dust flying in his wake. When he finally stopped, he turned around defiantly with the t-shirt hanging from his mouth as if to say ‘well aren’t you coming to get it?’ There followed a lengthy negotiation before he would unlock his teeth, but the t-shirt was eventually retrieved sporting several chew holes and large grass stains.

bijoutshirt

Green beans are more nutritious than t-shirts and contain substantial amounts of chlorophyll, which can block the carcinogenic effects of meat grilled at a high temperature. In barbecue season, green beans make the perfect accompaniment. Green beans are also a good source of copper, vitamin B1, chromium, magnesium, calcium, potassium, phosphorus, choline, vitamin A, niacin, omega-3 fatty acids, iron, vitamin B6, and vitamin E.

Ingredients (serves 6)

1kg green beans

1 tablespoon olive oil

2 spring onions, peeled and sliced

1 red pepper, sliced

1 tomato, chopped

2 cloves of garlic, finely chopped

Sea salt and freshly-ground black pepper

1 teaspoon piment d’Espelette or paprika

Handful of fresh basil, chopped

Precook the beans until ‘al dente’, strain and set aside. Gently heat the olive oil in a large frying pan adding the onions and cooking for a few minutes. Add the sliced red pepper, tomato and garlic and continue to cook until the red pepper and tomato soften. Add the green beans and seasoning, gently combining and cook for a few more minutes. Add the basil and serve.

Spicy almond and raisin biscuits (gf) and being knocked senseless

almondraisinbiscuits

What do Hugo and a large buzzard have in common? The answer is they both have raging headaches. Hugo’s favourite thing in the world, other than mature camembert, is to jump into cars through their open windows. Much to the post lady’s dismay, he quite often ends up sitting on a massive pile of post in the passenger seat of the van. She has a tricky job explaining why the letters and parcels she delivers are covered in dog hair and paw prints. The other day though, the window was closed. Poor Hugo, who had taken a long and powerful run up, head butted the pane with a resounding thud and fell to the ground where he stayed knocked senseless. It was a good few minutes before he shook himself off and looked around to check that nobody had witnessed the fiasco. The next day, an impressive-looking buzzard did the same thing into one of our kitchen windows. It fell to the ground and staggered around a bit, before deciding to sit down and wait for the head spinning to pass. I did go out to offer a cup of tea and painkiller, as I had done with Hugo, but it just snarled at me, which I thought was a bit rich in view of the fact that it had come very close to smashing my kitchen window to smithereens.

Yesterday 52% of voters in Britain had apparently also had the sense knocked out of them. A sad day indeed for Britain and for Europe.

Ingredients (makes 25-30 biscuits)

125g millet flour (or normal flour is you prefer)

50g ground almonds

50g oat flakes

½ teaspoon ginger powder

½ teaspoon cinnamon powder

Pinch of salt

1 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda

40g raisins

25g chopped or flaked almonds

80g cane sugar

100ml olive oil

1 teaspoon vanilla

2 eggs, beaten

Mix the flour, spices, raisins, almonds, oats, spices, bicarbonate of soda, raisins, almonds and sugar in a bowl and set aside. Whisk the olive oil, vanilla and eggs together and add to the dry mixture. Mix thoroughly and roll into a sausage shape, roughly 5cm thick. Refrigerate for several hours or even overnight.

Preheat the oven to 190°C. Cut the dough into slices of just under a centimetre and space out onto a greased baking sheet. Cook for 12 minutes and leave to cool.

Apple and raspberry crumble (gf) and patron saints

crumble1

I am writing this in my new-found capacity as Patron Saint of Naughty Horses. Every time horses stray in our village, it is assumed, quite mistakenly of course, that they’re ours. I got a call from the Mairie early the other morning informing me that there were two horses loose in the village, and could I please go and sort them out. Looking out of the window to do a quick head count I said, not altogether un-smugly, that mine were all present and correct and that I wasn’t the only person in the village to have wilful horses. We then went through the list of horse-owning potential suspects, all of whose phone numbers I had, which presumably made me guilty by association. She then very kindly kept me updated after every conversation, which was nice as I had nothing else planned for the morning beyond fielding calls about delinquent quadrupeds.

My smugness was short-lived because the following Sunday brought a visit from the ‘gendarmes’; our most recent purchase had been found dazed and confused in town and, in view of the fact that he was roaming the pavements and cruising the shops and bars, they muttered something about vagabondage charges. At the suggestion of my imaginative husband however, we ended up agreeing that, just this once, they would squint and pretend he was a particularly large and docile deer (Bijou our horse; not my imaginative husband).

castanolearner

This crumble is made using millet flour, which is a delicious, slightly nutty-tasting gluten-free alternative. It is one of the least allergenic of all flours and very easily digestible due to its high alkalinity. It is an excellent source of iron, magnesium, calcium, phosphorus, manganese, zinc and B vitamins.

Ingredients (serves 8)

For the filling:

2kg of apples, peeled, cored sliced and sprinkled with lemon juice

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

2 tablespoons of honey

Several handfuls of raspberries, fresh or frozen

For the topping:

125g millet flour

Pinch of salt

1 teaspoon powdered ginger

50g coconut oil

50g butter, cut into cubes

50g oats

50g almond flakes

100g cane sugar (or rapadura sugar)

Preheat the oven to 180°C.  Gently poach the apples in a little water, adding the cinnamon and honey. Add the raspberries once the apples have softened and mix. Transfer to a ovenproof baking dish. For the crumble, put the flour, salt, ginger, coconut oil and butter into a mixing bowl and rub in using your fingertips. You should obtain a sandlike mixture. Add the oats, almond flakes and sugar and mix well. Cover the fruit with the crumble mixture and bake for 40 minutes or until the topping begins to turn golden brown. Serve warm with ice cream or Greek yoghurt.

crumble2

Garlic mayonnaise and tractor-shaped puff pastry

mayonnaise

Never judge a book by its cover, or a mechanic by his trade. My husband’s beloved tractor broke down this weekend, which is always something of an emotional upheaval. When we first moved here and people came to visit for the first time, he would always show them his shiny red tractor before the house or grounds, which he seemed to consider to be of secondary importance.

tractor

Upon his much-anticipated arrival, Repairman and Husband started talking in earnest, and I scathingly thought to myself that this was a conversation I would rather gnaw my own arm off than listen to. How wrong was I? It was actually a conversation that taught me an awful lot – and not about tractor entrails either – about the trials and tribulations of puff pastry! Thinking about it, I suppose the two are not that dissimilar; they both involve oil, sweat, swearing and tears and even then, with so many uncontrolled parameters involved, the results are decidedly unpredictable.

Mayonnaise, like puff pastry and tractors, is also temperamental. If the bowl is too cold, the air too hot or your mood too irascible, you WILL screw it up. Earlier in the year, I made a wonderful batch to go with a seafood platter, only for it to end up splattered over the floor, interspersed with broken glass. I tried again to no avail – my cool, calm, collected demeanour had deserted me and we had to eat seafood sans mayonnaise.

Ingredients (roughly 12 servings)

2 egg yolks

1 tablespoon Dijon mustard

150ml olive oil

2 garlic cloves, crushed

Squeeze of lemon juice

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

½ teaspoon paprika

Beat the egg yolks and mustard together. Add the olive oil, little by little all the time whisking well in order to obtain the right consistency. Ad the garlic, lemon and seasoning, whisking continuously. The result should be glossy and luscious. Be careful to refrigerate before dropping on the floor! Must be kept in the fridge and served cold.

Raspberry cheesecake tarts (gf) and pedalling is the way forward

raspberrylemontart

HugojournoandJava

hospital

Home bears a close resemblance to an Accident and Emergency Unit at the moment. To start with, no fewer than 25% of the human knees here are toast. Burnt toast in fact. One knee belongs to The Tall One, and the other belongs to a friend who is staying with us. Both bad knees are as a result of interaction with horses; I have made my point and will say no more on the matter. The butcher told the Tall One that cycling was excellent for the sort of knee injury he has, which means that he pedals absolutely everywhere, even when pushing (or pulling) his friend’s wheelchair. Never mind the knee, what about his sanity?

bikeandwheelchair

Bossy has a broken little toe, but since little toes don’t count, I consider her disproportionate cursing when she hits it to be melodrama. A mild dose of laryngitis on the other hand wouldn’t go amiss. Nothing painful you understand, just enough for her to stop talking – or verbalising as the Noisy One says – for a bit.

Moving on with the inventory, Java has a sore foot due to an impaled pine needle. Big deal – I have those nearly every day. You wouldn’t believe the fuss she made. We were all witness to her pathetic crying, whimpering and exaggerated limping for hours. Also, she keeps vomiting because she steals and eats raw eggs. I have tried to explain that lightly-poached eggs (as opposed to fully-poached in this case) are far more digestible than raw, but I’m afraid it falls on deaf ears. As for me, I have developed tinnitus and migraines because I have to sleep between two snoring girl dogs. Ladylike they are not.

On to the volatiles, I’m a little concerned about one of the hens because she has been trying, unsuccessfully, to lay an egg for over two weeks. I think she might have an intestinal blockage. Either that, or a brain blockage, something I certainly wouldn’t rule out. Another of the hens has a very nasty-looking foot and the Tall One says she’ll probably die soon, but whoever died from a bad foot? I think it’s wishful thinking on his part because he’s irritated that she only ever lays an egg once in a blue moon. A couple of swallows have built their nest on the spotlight above the front door. Every time the spotlight comes on, they fly out crossly wiggling their singed bottoms. How many times do they have to be burnt before they realise they should relocate? How many shades of stupid can a swallow actually be?

These tarts are nothing to write home about in my opinion, but they seem to make Bossy happy, so here you are.

Ingredients for pastry (makes about six tarts)

75g buckwheat flour

35g coconut flour

30g butter

30g coconut oil

½ teaspoon powdered ginger

Pinch of sea salt

Roughly 6 tablespoons of cold water

Ingredients for ‘cheesecake’ filling

250g mascarpone cheese

Juice of half a lemon

3 tablespoons raspberry jam

100g fresh raspberries

2 tablespoons desiccated coconut

To make the pastry, begin by cutting the butter and coconut oil into small cubes. Add to the flours and a pinch of salt in a mixing bowl. 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 or some cling film 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 180°C. Roll out the pastry on a clean, lightly floured surface and fill the tart tins. Bear in mind that buckwheat and coconut flour pastry is extremely crumbly as it contains no gluten to ‘stick’ it together. You’ll probably need to patch and press the pastry into the tins as opposed to just cutting and placing it in as you would with normal pastry. Cook the pastry cases for 15 minutes.

Blend all of the ‘cheesecake’ ingredients together well, keeping a few raspberries aside for garnish. Fill the precooked tart cases and decorate the tops with the set-aside raspberries. Chill for at least an hour before serving.

Apricot buckwheat cake (gf) and Hugo sorts things out

apricotbuckwheatcake

hugotypewriter1by

As is too often the case, I feel compelled to tell my side of the story following  Bossy’s latest piece of intelligence (I use the term with a generous helping of irony). I was so annoyed that I had intended to ‘forget’ to include her silly recipe in this post, but Bossy can be very insistent. Obviously my ‘forgetting’ would have been a pedagogical measure and not out of pettiness. Between ourselves though, I consider Bossy to be a lost cause so I didn’t press the issue.

As I mentioned before, in my spare time (sadly lacking because I’m so exploited), I am studying for a degree in psychology. This is quite a challenge as it’s very hard to find peace and quiet to study in this house. Also, I have to be careful not to leave my books lying around because Java chews them to pieces, Bossy drops them in the bath (she falls asleep while reading), the Noisy One makes aeroplanes from them and the Tall One uses them to light fires. The upshot is that there is hardly any room left for me to lie in my basket as, once I’ve finished studying I have to hide all my books under the blankets. I don’t think Bossy takes my degree very seriously, which would explain why she doesn’t understand my need for time on the couch to contemplate. The couch plays a very important part in a psychology degree.

sofa2

Bossy is in denial about just how annoying Java is. She thinks she’s ‘adorable and perhaps a tiny bit dizzy’, whereas in reality she’s an unrelenting and unspeakable pest. Actually, they both are. For the record, Java is also in denial about just how annoying she is. Or maybe she isn’t, which is even worse. Sigmund (I think we would have been on first name terms if he had ever been lucky enough to meet me) believed that when people explain their behaviour they rarely give a true account – not necessarily because they are deliberately lying, but because they are great deceivers of others and, to an even greater degree, themselves. Bossy meet Java, Java meet Bossy. I rest my case.

hugojavaonback

Ingredients (serves 8-10)

170g dried apricots (preferably organic), chopped

100ml olive oil

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

4 eggs, separated

100g cane sugar

100ml plain yoghurt

70g ground almonds (you could substitute ground hazelnuts)

40g buckwheat flour

Pinch of salt

1 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda

1 teaspoon powdered cinnamon

Preheat the oven to 180ºC and prepare a medium-sized loaf tin. Whisk the egg yolks, sugar, olive oil and yogurt until light and smooth. Mix the ground almonds, buckwheat flour, salt, bicarbonate of soda and cinnamon together and then combine well with the wet mixture. Whisk the egg whites until they form soft peaks and gently but thoroughly fold into the mixture. Pour into the loaf tin and bake for 40 minutes or until a skewer comes out clean. Remove from the tin and leave to cool. Delicious served alone or with Greek yoghurt or ice cream.

Peanut anzac biscuits and a civilised sofa and its contents

peanutanzac

sofa1

This is a sofa. It is a pretty, clean sofa for humans. This is Hugo the big black dog. He is a naughty dog. This is Java the little speckled dog. She is also a naughty dog. Hugo does not like Java to join him on the sofa. Hugo kicks Java. He growls at Java. Poor little Java. She is sad. Hugo can be a sadistic son of a bitch at times.

sofa2

Ingredients (makes 16-20)

125g spelt flour

100g desiccated coconut

40g raisins

100g rolled oats

Tablespoon chia seeds (optional)

150g unsalted peanuts

Pinch of sea salt

75g coconut oil

50g butter

80g honey

½ teaspoon bicarbonate of soda

Preheat the oven to 180°C. Prepare and grease two baking trays. Combine the flour, coconut, raisins, oats, chia seeds, peanuts and salt in a large mixing bowl. Gently melt the coconut oil, butter and honey in a small saucepan and stir until smooth. Dissolve the bicarbonate of soda in two tablespoons of boiling water. Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and combine well.

Roll walnut-sized pieces of dough into balls and place on the baking trays, leaving space between each ball. Flatten them slightly and bake for 15 minutes until golden brown. Allow to cool before serving.