Our new year got off to a shaky start, with an upsetting potpourri of human, canine and equine ailments. Luc had an eye operation in December, and is using eyedrops four times a day, and ear drops twice a day for an ear infection. Java managed to head butt a prickly bush, at high speed, and is also on eye drops four times a day as a result. I have vertigo — probably from trying to figure out the deluge of prescription drugs spread across my kitchen table — which means I keep walking into door frames, causing further assorted minor injuries.
And Jojo, my horse, is on cortisone injections and cough syrup twice a day to treat an asthma attack, brought on by an over-enthusiastic pilferage of dusty hay. His medication is certainly the most complicated, and a two-man job. For example, the injection must be administered with a steady flow of apples, or all hell breaks loose. Last night we tried to give him his cough syrup in the field, without a head collar, as he doesn’t resist, and even seems to enjoy it. Big mistake; we won’t try that again! He swung around, haughtily lifting his head out of reach, and I’m sure I heard him say: ‘Yo! Protocol chaps! You’re getting sloppy!’
Ghee, which is clarified butter, not only adds a subtle, nutty flavour to dishes, it’s also a very healthy option. It is easy to digest and can reduce gut inflammation as it contains butyric acid. It is also rich in linoleic acid, which reduces blood pressure and blood sugar levels. Ghee is also rich in vitamin A, important for immunity and eye (see above!) and skin health, and omega 3 which fights inflammation.
Recipe for easy chicken and chickpea curry (serves 4)
- 1 tablespoon of ghee (olive oil or butter could be substituted)
- 1 onion, sliced
- 2 cloves of garlic, crushed
- Thumb size piece of fresh ginger, grated
- 750g chicken breast filets, sliced
- 2 potatoes, peeled and roughly sliced
- 2 carrots, peeled and cut into rounds
- 300g cooked chickpeas
- 600ml chicken stock
- Sea salt and freshly-ground black pepper
- 1-2 teaspoons mild curry powder (to taste)
- 4 tablespoons natural yoghurt
- Handful of coriander leaves, rinsed and chopped
Preheat the oven to 180°C. Heat the ghee in a casserole dish over a medium heat, add the onion and fry until golden brown and sticky. Add the garlic and ginger and cook for another minute. Add the chicken to the dish and gently brown on both sides, add the potatoes, carrots and chickpeas and pour the stock over everything. Season and transfer to the oven for about 40 minutes, then remove and stir in the yoghurt and add the coriander leaves. Delicious served with chickpea pancakes, or basmati rice.
I’ve just spoken to a friend who recently stepped off a Russian exploration boat that had transported him from Ushuaia to the southernmost town in the world: Puerto Williams, Chile. From Puerto Williams he intends to ‘hitchhike’ to Antarctica for a couple of weeks — watch this space! Travelling from Uruguay through Buenos Aires on the day that the Argentinian team returned with their cup, having pipped the French team to the post, he said that it was somewhat intimidating to be the only French person amid four million explosively victorious Argentinian patriots. Apparently he kept his mouth firmly, and uncharacteristically, shut throughout, and he doesn’t scare easily (see above!)
In this house, it was France/England match that was contentious; as Léo and I have dual nationality, Luc said we couldn’t lose, which gave us an unfair advantage in potential game satisfaction. As I’ve mentioned before, Luc is very invested in the footie, and, as such, it’s not something he takes lightly. In the end, it was agreed that we could watch with him as long as we remained silent and emotionless, much like our friend in Buenos Aires. Java watched with us, lying between me and Léo, snoring loudly, waking only to bark at the French goals.
Wishing everybody a very happy new year! Here’s to hoping that 2023 brings peace and positivity.
Recipe for Brussels sprout, fennel and clementine salad (serves 4)
- 50g Brussels sprouts, chopped finely
- 1 fennel, chopped
- 3 clementines, peeled and segmented
- 5 dried figs, chopped
- 2 carrots, peeled and cut into thin rounds
- 3 shallots, peeled and chopped
- 100ml plain yoghurt
- 1 teaspoon mustard
- 2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
- 1 tablespoon honey
- 1 clove garlic, crushed
- Sea salt and freshly-ground black pepper
- 1/2 teaspoon mild curry powder
Place the sprouts, fennel, clementines, figs, carrots and shallots in a salad bowl. Mix the yoghurt and mustard together, then gradually add the vinegar little by little, mixing well to obtain a homogenous creamy texture. Add the honey, garlic and seasoning, mixing all the time to prevent the dressing from separating. Pour the dressing over the salad and mix thoroughly.
A neighbour and I set out on a walk with the dogs early last Saturday afternoon. It was beautifully sunny and, as the sun sets around 5.30 in November, we had plenty of time. Or so I thought. We stumbled upon an area that I hadn’t been to for some time, but the landscape had changed completely as trees had been cut and new ones planted. About an hour and a half into our walk I suddenly realised that I had absolutely no idea where we were! I have ‘getting lost’ form, and a few years ago Luc spray painted a few key trees in the area as a guide. But the trees had been cut down; my landmarks had turned to sawdust!
Deeper and deeper into the forest
I called Luc, but he was in the middle of a football match — the urgency with he told me this made me wonder whether he’d been called in to replace the centre forward — and said I’d have to wait until half time. This gave us ample opportunity to cast ourselves even further adrift. We appealed to the dogs for their take on the quickest way home (I’ve often abandoned the reins on horseback as horses have built-in GPSs and are excellent at finding their way back to the stable). Alas, the dogs were having so much fun I suspect they led us astray further to keep the party going.
Cranes, helicopters and cannibalism
With the sun setting at an alarming rate, and the wintering cranes returning to their digs at a nearby lake, my thoughts started turning to rescue helicopters, hungry wild boar, and cannibalism. By the time it was actually dark, to our relief, we hit a tarmac path, although we had no idea where it led. Sometime later we spotted flashing car lights in the distance, tapping out what looked like a message in flashlight morse code, possibly ‘French team replacement saves damsels in distress during half time’? We were haphazardly bundled into the back seat of the car as he had ‘a match to get back to’.
Get lost app
I’ve since installed an app on my ‘phone, which shows me how to retrace my steps if I get lost. I’m already wondering how long I’m going to be amused by its bizarre and random bilingual bossiness. Every so often it springs to life and says: ‘You ‘ave marché quatre kilomètres in fifty-deux minutes’, ‘Allo, ‘Allo-style. I’m not sure that getting lost wasn’t preferable. One thing’s for sure: The dogs were ecstatic about their prolonged outing; we heard Java’s friend throwing himself at the door at 6am the next morning for a replay.
Recipe for pear and almond tart (serves 4-6)
- 100g flour
- 50g butter, diced
- 1 egg
- 2 tablespoons water
- Pinch of salt
- 1 tin of pears
- 40g sugar
- 50g ground almonds
- 100ml cream
- 4 tablespoons fruit alcohol (I used calvados)
To make the puff pastry:
Mix the ingredients together in a mixer, wrap in clingfilm and refrigerate for at least 3 hours, or even overnight. Roll the pastry out (remember to sprinkle flour on your work surface), and fold and roll several times, remember to turn the pastry 90° each time. Wrap in clingfilm and refrigerate again. To use the pastry, just roll out again according to the shape of your pastry case.
To make the filling:
Arrange the pears in the pastry case, then mix the other ingredients together and pour over the pears. Bake in a very hot, preheated oven (220°C) for 30 minutes. May be served hot, lukewarm, or cold.
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 to listen to audio books while I walk 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 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 should be a relaxing pastime has given me internal punctuation Tourettes, and 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, so 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
- Olive oil
- Worcestershire sauce
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.