Apple cider vinegar: an impressive multitasker

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The word vinegar translates to vin aigre, which means ‘sour wine’ in French. One of the earliest noted uses of apple cider vinegar was by Hippocrates, the Father of Medicine. He used it extensively, sometimes mixed with honey, as a remedy for a multitude of ailments.

It has been purported to cure just about every condition under the sun at some time or another. While some claims of its plethora of healing powers may be exaggerated, it is, in my opinion, most beneficial for digestive health. I take a couple of teaspoons in a glass of water every morning and haven’t suffered from indigestion for a long time.

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Rich in enzymes, apple cider vinegar aids digestion when there is a lack of stomach acid; a lack of hydrochloric acid is the most common reason for indigestion and reflux problems. It also acts as a natural prebiotic by encouraging the growth of good bacteria in the intestine. In addition, the acetic acid has also been shown to help with mineral absorption, which means you get the most out of the food you eat. The consumption of apple cider vinegar on a regular basis helps the gut flora function more efficiently.

The vinegar contains a perfect balance of 19 minerals including potassium, phosphorus, chlorine, sodium, magnesium, calcium, sulfur, iron, fluorine, silicon and zinc. Drinking a couple of teaspoons diluted in water is an excellent way to replace electrolytes lost after exercise or during hot weather. Its potassium and magnesium content can also help relieve leg cramps. It is rich in enzymes which boost chemical reactions in the body, and malic acid which protects from viruses, bacteria and fungus.

The acetic acid content of apple cider vinegar slows the digestion of starch, tempering the insulin response and maintaining healthy blood sugar levels. Numerous studies show that vinegar can increase insulin sensitivity and significantly lower blood sugar responses after eating. It also contains pectin which helps to regulate blood pressure and ash which contributes to the maintenance of an alkaline state in the body.

And one of apple cider vinegar’s more random abilities is its effectiveness in stopping hiccups in their tracks. It works by cancelling out the message sent to the brain to hiccup by overstimulating the nerves responsible for the spasms. It is also effective to reduce the itchiness, redness and inflammation of insect bites.

The best form of apple cider vinegar to buy is the ‘mother’ form – the pure, murky, unpasteurised form. And obviously it should be organic: choosing apple cider vinegar made with organic apples is the best way to maximize the nutrient content and minimize your exposure to pesticides.

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Hazelnut mocha cake (gf) and hiring a PA

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HugojournoandJava

Noisy is a resourceful boy: Within a day of returning to school last week, he had found himself a very efficient personal assistant. A much-needed personal assistant I might add because, although he’s a clever boy, he doesn’t do well with practical matters and is rather absent-minded. Quite often he asks me what day it is and whether or not he’s had lunch yet. His new assistant ‘phones him in the morning to tell him which classroom he should go to and at what time, and in return Noisy advises on homework matters.

I have decided to take a leaf out of Noisy’s book and recruit a PA for myself. I believe that in some circles, you don’t even exist if you don’t have a PA. I’m having difficulty finding someone though. So far I’ve had applications from Java (ha ha, in your dreams Java), a couple of hens and a somewhat persistent hedgehog. Still, I’m quite determined because things can’t go on like this – I have too many slap-happy charges. Last week Bossy went flying over the handlebars of her mountain bike because Java chased a deer onto the track in front of her, and Java pinched a pair of Bossy’s shoes and vomited into them. I have taken to hiding in the shower for some respite. Please let me know if you can suggest any suitable applicants.

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Hazelnuts are a good source of oleic and linoleic acids and are also rich in dietary fibre, vitamins, minerals and beneficial phytochemicals.

Ingredients (10 servings)

150g dark chocolate (minimum 70% cocoa)

115g coconut oil

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

5 tablespoons black coffee

4 eggs, separated

100g cane sugar

100ml plain yoghurt

70g ground hazelnuts

40g buckwheat flour

75g hazelnuts, roughly chopped

Pinch of salt

1 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda

Preheat the oven to 180ºC and prepare a medium-sized loaf tin. Melt the chocolate and coconut oil until smooth and add the vanilla extract and coffee. Whisk the egg yolks, sugar and yogurt until light and smooth and then combine with the melted chocolate/coconut oil/coffee. Mix the ground hazelnuts, buckwheat flour, chopped hazelnuts, salt and bicarbonate of soda together and combine with the egg yolk and chocolate mixture. Whisk the egg whites until they form soft peaks and gently but thoroughly fold into the mocha mixture. Pour into the loaf tin and bake for 30 minutes. Remove from the tin and leave to cool. Delicious served alone or with Greek yoghurt or ice cream.

Fresh figs with ginger mascarpone and honey and Bijou on the drums

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We’ve been sleeping with the all windows wide open to make the most of the slightly cooler night air, which means that I was woken at 3am a few days ago by a very noisy, metallic and somewhat unorthodox rendition of When The Saints Go Marching In. After a quick recce, which involved almost knocking myself out on a wooden beam, I came to the conclusion that I hadn’t actually fallen asleep in a sleazy jazz club, and the appalling racket was coming from the direction of the stables. Never underestimate my powers of deduction. Torch in hand, I soon discovered Bijou (our youngest horse) in full swing by the water trough, which I suppose must be the equine equivalent of a bar. He had got hold of two metal buckets, three tins, a broom and a hoof pick and was delighting in putting each item to maximum sonic use with the help of his hooves and surrounding walls, whilst strutting his funky stuff. The other horses were looking on slightly bemused and I don’t think I’m mistaken in saying that one of the more adoring hens (Bijou is very handsome) was tapping her foot in time to the surprisingly rhythmic din. Hugo and Java slept right through the performance – I don’t think they can be jazz connoisseurs.

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My musical nights mean I’m not always in a state to contemplate elaborate recipes, but I think some of the nicest dishes are a happy marriage of flung-together ingredients. This is a good example.

Figs are a particularly rich source of minerals such as potassium, calcium, magnesium, iron and copper. They are also high in fibre and vitamins A, E and K. Figs also contain prebiotics, which help support the pre-existing good bacteria in the gut, improving digestion and general health.

Ingredients (serves 4)

12 fresh figs, cleaned and cut in half

8 large tablespoons of mascarpone

2 teaspoons ginger, freshly grated

4 tablespoon runny honey

20 walnuts, roughly broken

2 teaspoons cinnamon

Arrange the figs in individual desert bowls. Combine the mascarpone and freshly grated ginger and add two large tablespoons per bowl. Drizzle a tablespoon of honey over the figs and mascarpone, add the walnuts and finally sprinkle with cinnamon. Serve immediately!

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Crab and kelp noodle salad and kayak dyslexia

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For anyone who hasn’t tried kayaking, I can highly recommend it – it’s enormous fun. Especially if the person at the helm (in our case, my husband) yelling navigation instructions suffers from left-right dyslexia and is wearing heavy-duty earplugs. We had friends to stay and decided to hire two kayaks to travel 10 kms down a very wild and unspoilt river nearby. Léo organised the teams, taking the person most likely to agree to capsizing at will with him, leaving me with my momentarily deaf husband and girlfriend with whom I chat relentlessly. Hence the earplugs.

Between the incessant chat, barked back-to-front instructions from our ear-plugged, laterally-challenged helmsman, our unheard retorts and copious giggling fits, we descended the river in the most inelegant and perilous zigzag fashion imaginable, ploughing into the banks on one side, only to veer off to hit the verges on the other side. At one point, we all had to disembark to dig the front half of the kayak out of particularly prodigious sandbank. Meanwhile, Léo and his teammate’s boat was approximating a washing machine on spin cycle, and they were dunking in and out of the water like over-excited labradors.

When we finally arrived at our destination, I was mortified to see that our party were the only ones to be soaked through. I was also covered in wet sand, bumps and scratches and a tree branch had taken root in my hair.

Glancing at the brochure when we got home, absolutely wrung out, I was amazed to see that there were all sorts of wildlife to be seen on the descent – turtles, rare birds, salamanders, otters and beavers. Of course, we had created such chaos that all the wildlife had fled, bar a very intimidating and bossy-looking duck that had quacked at us in outrage. Who can blame him?

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Needless to say my shorts were no longer white at the other end!

Ingredients (serves 4)

400g kelp noodles

200g crab meat (I used tinned)

3 shallots, chopped

100g sweetcorn

2 small carrots, julienned

1 red pepper, julienned

100g cashew nuts

handful of mint leaves

Dressing:

4 tablespoons sesame oil

1 tablespoon peanut butter

1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar

1 teaspoon fresh ginger, crushed

1 clove of garlic, crushed

½ teaspoon chilli powder

Drain the noodles and add to a large bowl. Add the crabmeat, shallots, sweetcorn, carrots, cucumber nuts and mint leaves and mix well with your hands. Combine the ingredients for the dressing together in a jar and shake well. Add the dressing to the salad, mix well and serve.

Double chocolate buckwheat cookies (gf) and pointless activities

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Bossy and Noisy went on holiday to the Pyrenees recently. Bossy actually considered taking Java with them for about three seconds, before coming to her senses with a jolt. It would have been funny though – the thought of Java in a hotel makes me chuckle. She doesn’t own a lead and thinks it’s OK to jump on to the table while people are eating. I don’t think she’s ever even been to a restaurant before. Unlike me, sophisticated she is not. It’s a shame that she didn’t go though, because it would have been more relaxing for me; as it was I had to put up with her incessant crying and whining. It got so much that I taught her a new game: Running Away. She got quite hooked on it and played every day they were away, much to my delight. It put the wind up The Tall One though I can tell you – I don’t think he fancied the idea of telling Bossy that he’d lost her little dog.

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Bossy and Noisy got up to all sorts of foolish activities such as going up to the top of the mountain and coming back down again on two-wheeled contraptions at full pelt. How futile does that sound? I can just imagine how Bossy must have shrieked – I’m glad I wasn’t there to subject my poor ears to the certain GBH. Noisy confided in me that he went well ahead to disassociate himself from her; he’s at an age when he gets very embarrassed by his parents. In my opinion he’d be quite justified in always being at that age. He also climbed up some very tall trees and swung from branch to branch. I don’t understand the need to do that at all – it’s not as if he’s a monkey. Well, I suppose he is a bit of a monkey, but still.

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Then they went down a very rough and angry-looking white river on a rubber raft. Why on earth would you pay to do that? It sounded very dangerous to me and I’m beginning to worry for their sanity. Obviously their sanity is an ongoing cause for concern, but now even more than ever. The Tall One was worried all the time they were away about whether they were going to return intact as they’re both quite prone to broken bones, but they came back in one piece – or two pieces as the case may be – and normal (I use the term lightly) service was resumed.

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Ingredients (makes 25-30 biscuits)

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

50g ground almonds

50g oat flakes

½ teaspoon ginger powder

Pinch of salt

1 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda

50g cocoa powder

50g chocolate chips (I broke up some 70% dark chocolate)

25g chopped or flaked almonds

80g cane sugar

80g coconut oil

2 eggs, beaten

1 teaspoon vanilla essence

Mix the flour, ground almonds, oats, ginger, salt, bicarbonate of soda, cocoa powder, chocolate chips, flaked almonds and sugar in a bowl and set aside. Melt the coconut oil over a gentle heat and mix the eggs and vanilla together. Add the melted coconut oil to the dry mixture, combining well and then add the egg mixture, continuing to mix well. 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.

Red and green beans and a four-legged clown

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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.

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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.

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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.