Bask in basil

My small but powerful lusitano horse, Jojo, was a bit of a thug in his youth. He was castrated late at five, and then only because I was pregnant and he bit anyone else that went near him. He took a chunk out of a groom’s arm once, and catapulted Luc into the air like a pancake when he deigned to ask him to move forward.

As he was entire, and therefore easily distracted (by ‘distracted’ I obviously mean: sent into an uncontrollable mouth-frothing frenzy) by mares, I used to rub a drop of basil essential oil near his nose. This had a double advantage: it helped him remain calm and focussed, and the pungent aroma covered the mares’ arousing scent.

I am happy to report that Jojo has grown into a real gentleman, and now radiates the sort of intensely serene calm sometimes found in the all-powerful. Riding out the other day, Java managed to round up a young deer who she chased out of the pine trees and straight into Jojo’s chest. The deer, unhurt, did a roly poly between the horse’s legs before shaking himself off and fleeing. Not to be outdone, Jojo’s rider (me) screamed like a banshee in shock. Despite the unexpected pandemonium, my darling horse stood stock-still and waited for everyone to calm down. Anyone familiar with horses and their reactions will know how unusual this is.

There are over 60 varieties of basil, also known as ocimum basilicum, or the king of herbs. The signature of Mediterranean cuisine, nothing says ‘summer’ to me as much as the heady scent of sun-warm basil. Known as ‘sacred basil leaf’ to Hindus, it has been used as a medicine throughout the world for over 3,000 years.

Basil belongs to the same family as mint, and shares many of the same characteristics. It is useful as a remedy for bloating, digestive cramps and colic. As is the case with many fragrant plants, it is its potent oils that have a relaxing effect on the muscles of the intestines, helping to ease cramps and spasms. It also helps alkalise the body and reduces the fat buildup in the liver that can cause liver disease.

Basil calms anxiety and eases depression; many ancient texts recommend basil tea for ‘melancholy’. Less whimsically perhaps, it also makes for a powerful anti-parasitic treatment. Overindulgence in sugar means that parasites such as the notoriously difficult to treat Candida Albicans yeast, are a common problem.

Basil has antioxidant, antibacterial, antiviral and anti-inflammatory properties. It has been found to be helpful in the fight against numerous diseases, including cancer, atherosclerosis, diabetes, allergies, asthma, arthritis, Crohn’s disease, osteoporosis, psoriasis and septic shock. It is an adaptogen and supports the adrenal glands, protecting against stress and fatigue.

Basil is full of nutrients, with an abundance of vitamin A (as carotenoids), vitamin K, and vitamin C. It’s also a rich source of magnesium, iron, potassium and calcium.

In the kitchen, basil is incredibly versatile. I always use it raw, adding it at the end of cooking to retain flavour and potency. Obviously it makes fantastic pesto when combined with pine nuts, olive oil and garlic, but it’s also delicious with tomatoes, helping to balance the acidity. I also often add it to asian cuisine as it marries particularly well with chicken, fish and seafood, spices and coconut. I sometimes add a few leaves of basil and some lemon juice to a jug of cold water in the summer; refreshing and calming!

Red berry pancakes, chamomile thieves, linden squatters and stoned martens

Since the beginning of March I feel as if the cogs of my brain have been paddling upstream in a muddy river. It isn’t unusual for me to wake up with no idea what day it is, but to be unable to remember where I am, the month, or even the season is disconcerting, even for me. I have a tendency to overthink everything, so this post pot-binge state hasn’t been altogether unpleasant, and I’ve noticed that I haven’t been the only one to be ‘away with the fairies’, as my Scottish granny used to say.

I planted a pretty yellow chamomile bush in a little flower bed I had created on the edge of the woods not long ago. The next morning the little yellow flowers had been chewed to the quick, and I spotted a very chilled-looking deer lying in a clearing close by. He wasn’t bothered enough by my presence to lift his head let alone run away; he just looked at me with a look that said ‘love and peace’.

Luc hoarded linden tea at the beginning of lockdown because, you know, obviously after toilet rolls and tagliatelle herbal tea was sure to be the next Big Thing. The boxes have been skulking in our outside storeroom, and a family of swallows, undoubtedly enthralled by the promise of both insulation and sedation, have set up home. As I have forbidden anyone to go near, we’re going to have to buy even more boxes. Moral of this story: hoarding takes on a life of its own and become self-perpetuating.

One afternoon about a month ago, I was lying in the garden (it’s exhausting being zoned out) when I noticed two objects plunge from the nearby oak tree. The ‘objects’ – I later realised they were stone(d) martens – hit the deck and started to squeal vigorously, frantically trying to make their way back up the tree. Their mother, who had obviously nipped out for a packet of ciggies and bit of food shopping while her babies slept, rushed back in a furious tizzy and, grabbing them by the scruff of the neck, hauled them back up the tree and shoved them back into their nest. Invaluable life lesson: baby stone martens will always do silly things, even when they’re meant to be asleep. And it will really piss their mothers off.

This is a photo of the nonchalent snake the dogs and I came across out on our walk. It was so inert I thought it was dead; it didn’t move, even when Java walked all over it (I think she thought it was a squidgy stick). After about five minutes, it finally deigned to slither off the path into the undergrowth, which I was relieved about because, unlike Java, I’m not mad about close encounters with reptiles.

So you see, I’m definitely not the only one whose brain has slipped into neutral around here; the company of reptiles and rodents has been of great comfort to me.

Ingredients (makes about 8 pancakes)

3 eggs, beaten

250ml almond milk (or normal milk)

100g ground almonds

150g buckwheat flour

1 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda

Pinch of sea salt

100g red berries (I used raspberries, blackberries, blueberries)

1 teaspoon cardamon

Coconut oil for frying (you could use butter)

Mix the eggs with the milk. Sift the ground almonds, flour, bicarbonate of soda and salt together in a bowl and gradually add to the egg/milk mixture. Combine well and add the berries and cardamon. Refrigerate for at least an hour. Heat a teaspoon of coconut oil in a frying pan and drop a large spoonful of pancake batter into the pan. Cook until golden brown, flip and repeat.

Sunbathing for mushrooms; a recipe for vitamin D

Mushroom skin, like human skin, produces vitamin D when exposed to sunlight. Mushrooms are naturally rich in ergosterol (provitamin D, or D2) and you can greatly increase the amount they contain by leaving them to soak up the sun.

Shitake mushrooms have the highest natural levels of vitamin D of all mushrooms. For a rough idea of how much you can increase their potency by leaving them to dry in the sun, if the vitamin D starting point is about 100IU/100g before exposure, leaving them in the sun for about 12 hours (6 hours per day for two days when the sun is strongest) will increase the amount to about 46,000IU/100g. Pretty impressive.

For some time, epidemiologists have shown that people living near the equator are less likely to suffer from so many of the diseases that plague the higher latitudes. Living in equatorial regions means you are less likely to suffer from cancer, diabetes, depression, arthritis and heart disease, as well as upper respiratory-tract infections such as flu and tuberculosis.

The sun, and its by-product, vitamin D are as vital to life as a roof over your head, food and water; a big deficiency can have disastrous results.

In the context of Covid-19, I keep hearing people say ‘how can a vitamin D deficiency be significant when sunny countries like Iran, Spain and Italy have been so affected?’

The answer is, even if you enjoy the sun during the winter, in mid-latitude countries (ie between the 35th-50th parallel North or South) where Tehran, Madrid, Bordeaux and Milan are situated, you will make no vitamin D whatsoever from November to February. In the higher latitudes, where London, Berlin, Brussels, Moscow and the Scandinavian countries are situated, you make no vitamin D from the sun between October and March. In either case, unless you supplement, by the end of winter, your levels will be low, and you will be more vulnerable to disease.

Recipe for vitamin D-rich mushrooms

Use fresh organic shitake, maitake, button, oyster or other mushrooms. Slice the mushrooms and place them evenly on a tray, which you should expose to direct sunlight, preferably during the summer months – June, July or August – between 10am and 4pm. Cover the mushrooms before nightfall to protect from dew condensation. Repeat the process the next sunny day. And again, until the mushrooms are totally dried (crispy).

Once thoroughly dry, the mushrooms may be stored in a glass jar, to which you have added a tablespoon of uncooked rice to prevent moisture, for up to a year. To serve, use about 10g person, rehydrate in water for an hour, and cook as desired.

Coconut cookies (gf) and Scissorgate

Bossy seems to have had a lot to say of late (lucky, lucky you!), so my writing skills have not been required. Having tested almost two months’ confinement, I have come to the conclusion that it is NOT for me. There are too many people, too many animals, too much noise, too much barking (human and canine) and far too much proximity. I really love it when they go out all day, which of course, they haven’t been doing.

To add insult to injury there are the haircuts (I use the term loosely). First Bossy did her poor husband’s hair. He kept telling her to ‘hurry up and stop dicking around’, which I though was a bit curt, although in fairness I can see why he was irritated; she kept collapsing into fits of uncontrolled giggles as she realised how asymmetrical he was. Every time she tried to straighten him up, things got worse because her glasses were misted up from crying with laughter. She ended up with hiccups and a wonky, irrate husband.

She also ‘did’ Java, who was uncooperative to the nth degree, probably because she’d witnessed the Great Husband Massacre. To cut a long story short (see what I did there?), Java, Bossy and the scissors ended up in the dark under the stairs. Thankfully Java’s coat is naturally long and messy so you can’t really tell the difference. Same goes for Bossy thinking about it. In fact, I’m not 100% sure who cut who’s hair.

Léo and I have managed to resist Bossy and the scissor threat so far. Léo just stands up any time she starts eyeballing his shoulder-length locks. And once he’s up, she’d need a stepladder to get anywhere near his head so he’s safe. Especially as she’s afraid of heights. I just growl menacingly if she so much as gazes in my direction, so I’m sorted too. I just hope she doesn’t come for us while we’re asleep…

These cookies are testament to the fact that Bossy is much better at baking than hairdressing.

Ingredients (makes 12 cookies)

100g chickpea (gram) flour (also works with regular flour)

25g desiccated coconut

1 teaspoon baking powder

Pinch of salt

80g coconut oil, melted

80g cane sugar

2 tablespoons rum

1 teaspoon vanilla

1 egg, beaten

Preheat the oven to 190°C. Sift the flour and coconut into a bowl, adding the baking powder and pinch of salt. Add the melted coconut oil, mixing well and then the sugar. Lastly add the rum, vanilla and beaten egg, mixing thoroughly.

Make roughly 12, 2cm dough balls with the mixture and then flatten them on to greased baking trays, leaving a bit of space in between each one. Bake for 15 minutes and leave to cool.

Hiding from The Scissors

Gin and tonic and have I found my calling?

I am writing today in my capacity as a biomedical research scientist. I think I may have found the perfect antidote to Covid-19:

Gin ‘n tonic with a slice of lemon, enjoyed in the sun and accompanied by a bowl of cashew nuts, and a cigarette.

Gin is made from juniper berries, which are full of inflammation-fighting antioxidants. The oils contained in juniper berries are expectorant, which helps reduce lung congestion. Gin and tonic was found in a study to be the best, or at least the least toxic, drink for diabetics. Ergo gin is practically a superfood, innit.

On to tonic water: The quinine in tonic is a zinc ionophore, which means that it helps zinc pass the cell membrane barrier and enter the cell where it becomes extremely busy and useful fighting the virus.

The lemon slice is not only a good source of vitamin C, but also potassium and magnesium.

Cashew nuts are packed with protein, zinc, potassium and magnesium, and also contain B vitamins and vitamin C. Cashews are basically an antiviral nut!

The benefits of nicotine are currently being studied at the Pitié Salpêtrière Hospital in Paris after it was noticed that smokers were four times less affected by Covid-19 than non-smokers. It is thought that nicotine might attach to cell receptors, blocking the coronavirus from spreading. In the meantime, sales of nicotine patches in pharmacies in France are being rationed. Watch this space!

Last, but by no means least, enjoy your drink in the sun, if you can. Sun exposure (without burning) is the best and fastest way to increase your vitamin D levels, which are absolutely crucial when it comes to fighting viruses.

Admit it – I’ve nailed it haven’t I?

Guest post: Dick Strawbridge, a walled garden, and my need to change…

I would like to welcome back KJ, who last wrote a couple of guest posts in 2013.

Although my partner and I live in Germany, we are able to enjoy British television, compliments of those wonderful discs that sit on our rooftop. One of the shows that I will not miss, under any conditions, is ‘Escape to the Chateau’, with Dick and Angel Strawbridge. If you enjoy good food and French architecture, but have not seen this amazing show, your life is incomplete. They are also two very funny people and down to earth, to boot.

When these two intrepid British souls moved to France, it was to restore an amazing, but neglected, French Chateau, with outbuildings, acres of woods and a moat. Fortunately, Dick is a retired Army engineer and has done most of the work himself, with the help of a few friends and professionals.

Besides building things, Dick Strawbridge’s domestic passion is cooking, and one of his dreams was to find a chateau with a garden, and a walled garden was his ultimate, which he now has, at the Chateau de la Motte-Husson. The secret of a walled garden is how it can be divided into four sections, each one receiving sunlight at a different time of day, throughout the year, allowing for changing growing seasons, in each quadrant. I have to say I have seldom seen anyone quite as overjoyed as he was, when he discovered the garden on the property. Now, he can grow his own vegetables for his kitchen, and he has planted fruit trees, as well as his beginning the cultivation of truffles for his kitchen – and I hope you will have an opportunity to see his restored kitchen.

The ‘my need to change part’, comes from having a body part removed about seventeen months ago (gallbladder), which has altered what I can eat. It was recommended to me that I follow the FODMAP method of eating, which is for persons with Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS). Fortunately, I have been eating in a similar manner, for years. However, there are now some not-so-subtle changes which require an adjustment and I am having to adapt.

First, it is a must that I cut out meat on a regular basis and only allow beef into my diet twice per month, and not on consecutive days. The same for pork and chicken, at this point, as the body does not process meat as well as it did before. I am not a fan of most fish, but, I realize the Mediterranean diet is the healthiest one, so I am going to put a clothespin on my nose and hope for the best. Finding good, fresh fish in the middle of Germany is not easy and I will have to make do with the frozen salmon and such that I can find, locally, for now. The crab meat I wanted for Fiona’s crab cake recipe is nonexistent, in my part of the world. I might try using the prawns I have, instead, as an experiment.

Second, because of the current crisis, the choices in most materials, including vegetables, locally, are inconsistent, much like the paper products, which have been nonexistent for five weeks. Did anyone ever imagine buying toilet paper on Amazon? I’m not saying I did, and I’m not saying I didn’t.

In the photo below, I have gathered the vegetables I am able to procure with some regularity. My challenge is finding ways to prepare them, for either a solo performance, or in tandem with another vegetable, in a ‘new’ way, other than my usual steaming, salting, and peppering – with a dollop of butter. Whatever I do with vegetables, they will likely be paired with prawns, mini frozen shrimp, tuna (canned), or North Atlantic Salmon. All of these I am able to find at our local stores, and I can enjoy, unlike octopus or clams. I have the salad angle covered, with Romaine, one of the sea creatures mentioned, and appropriate additional vegetables. Where my talent suffers is vegetable dishes on the side, in a main course. Ideas are welcome and, if I use your suggestion, proper attribution will be given during the meal. I promise. I may even raise a glass and sing your praise to my fellow diners. That’s a maybe.

Celery leaf pesto, the herd, and a close encounter with clingfilm

About 15 years ago when I was first studying naturopathic medicine, I remember mentioning the dangers of vitamin D deficiency on a forum for young mothers I used at the time. The reaction was patronising and along the lines: ‘poor sleep-deprived lamb! Should we alert the men in white coats now, or shall we watch her unravel a bit more first?’

New theories always go through the same tedious, but inevitable cycle: ridicule, violent opposition, and finally acceptance as self-evident.

Many medical circles, and certainly the WHO, view orthomolecular therapy with the same scathing derision as they did vitamin D 15 years ago, despite increasingly compelling evidence from more and more studies and trials worldwide. Facebook, the great financial interest-free adjudicator, even zaps all reference to therapeutic benefits claiming ‘fake news!’ And yet they give air(head) time to The Orange Toddler who, in a recent attempt to denigrate Sweden’s lack of confinement in response to the Covid-19 pandemic, said: ‘Sweden is suffering very greatly, you know that right, because they’re doing the herd, they call it the herd’. He really needs to learn to keep his mouth shut, preferably for ever.

In France a legal request has been submitted to the government by six doctors to petition the use of orthomolecular treatments, in particular the IV vitamin C protocol used by Professor Marik of EVMS, on the premise that it is unethical to withhold treatment that could help or cure patients. (Protocol here.) At low doses, vitamin C is a nutrient; at high doses, a therapeutic drug. Unfortunately I doubt anything will come of it because, as usual, financial interest will prevail.

My cooking is a bit eccentric at the moment as I’m using anything and everything to hand to avoid going shopping. My last visit to the supermarket was traumatic: They had created makeshift queue separations with clingfilm (I kid you not) and I propelled myself into one of these extremely aggressive bouncy plastic ‘walls’ trying to distance from someone practicing close social proximity. I must have received an electric charge, because my hair stood on end and the clingfilm and I became one. Any vague semblance of dignity I might have managed to conjure in my fetching builder’s dust face mask vanished in a heartbeat. Clingfilm 1, hair 0.

I didn’t have basil so substituted celery leaves and celery. The result was surprisingly creamy and delicious. Garlic is a great antiviral so I used even more than usual. The added bonus is that it makes social distancing easier!

Ingredients (serves 4)

Handful of celery leaves

1 celery stick, peeled and sliced

75g pinenuts

4 cherry tomatoes

3 cloves of garlic, peeled

3 tablespoons olive oil

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Chilli powder to taste

2 tablespoons grated parmesan cheese

Blend the ingredients in a food processor to form a thick paste and stir into freshly-cooked pasta.

Vodka and orange duck in confinement

We have been in isolation for three weeks so far (we started a week before obligatory confinement was instated in France because Léo was ill.) It has been an emotional rollercoaster and so far I have been: horribly worried (when Léo was ill), hysterical with laughter (when Luc ended up in the middle of the pool on the sit-on lawn-mower), covered in fat (when I ‘broke’ our whole plumbing system in a duck fat-related mishap), a sweaty mess (chasing the horses who had done a runner when we resorted to using them as substitute lawnmowers) and, this morning, super confused when my phone suddenly converted to Chinese and my son to speaking with a Russian accent, demanding to be called Boris (wtf?).

Léo had a high fever, very low blood pressure, generalised aches and pains, an excruciatingly sore throat, night sweats and a loss of sense of taste and smell. The doctor didn’t test because he hadn’t been in any particular ‘risk zones’ (at the time there were specific cluster spots in France), but he thought his symptoms were pretty conclusive. Of course, as Covid-19 is a ‘new’ virus, I treated it as I would any virus.

A few people have asked me for suggestions of what to take, if anything, to help defend themselves against Covid-19, so here are details of how I helped Léo. This isn’t miraculous, but then nothing is against viruses — he was still quite ill for about five days — but I’m fairly certain that it reduced both the severity and the duration.

I’ve always been very interested in the chemist Linus Pauling’s extensive research on vitamin C. Linus Pauling had numerous accolades for his work, including two undivided Nobel Prizes. High-dose IV vitamin C is currently being used in clinical trials in hospitals in China, the US and Italy. Vitamin C is very safe, and has no side-effects beyond perhaps a bit of stomach acidity.

At the first sign of symptoms I gave Léo: 1,000mg of vitamin C every couple of hours (vitamin C is water-soluble and the body doesn’t store it), 5,000 IU of vitamin D/day, 20mg zinc/day, 10,000 IU vitamin A/day, 100mg thiamine/day, and 1mg melatonin an hour before bed. As his symptoms eased over the next few days, I gradually decreased and spaced out the doses of vitamin C, but maintained the other supplements.

Luc and I took the same supplements, although we took vitamin C just once a day as we weren’t really sick. I felt slightly weak and feverish with the beginnings of a sore throat one day, so I took several extra doses of vitamin C and the symptoms abated within a few days.

A fever is salutary (think of it as the body’s built-in detoxifying sauna), so unless you’re at risk of seizures, I think it’s better to let it run its course. If you can avoid paracetamol and especially ibuprofen, it’s preferable. Avoid sugar (it reduces the efficacity of white blood cells) and make sure to stay hydrated. Also, if you are sweating a lot, be sure to replace electrolytes (especially potassium which viruses can deplete).

Further information:

The Linus Pauling Institute.

https://lpi.oregonstate.edu

Dr Cheng PhD, who is overseeing clinical trials in Shanghai, China.

https://youtu.be/QvXpgY8scqw

Similar trials are taking place in New York and Italy.

https://www.clinicaltrials.gov/ct2/show/NCT04323514

http://orthomolecular.org

Dr Malcolm Kendrick’s advice for Coronavirus

https://drmalcolmkendrick.org/2020/03/18/coronavirus-covid-19/

Doris Loh, Independant Research on Ascorbic Acid and Melatonin in the context of Covid 19

http://www.melatonin-research.net/index.php/MR/article/view/86

Duck is something we have in abundance in Southwest France. The other ingredients are things I always tend to have in the kitchen. I used dry shitake mushrooms, but any mushrooms will do.

Ingredients (serves 6)

1 duck

1 tablespoon sesame seed oil

2 shallots, sliced

1 clove of garlic, crushed

6 star anise

6 shitake mushrooms, sliced

1 orange, peeled and sliced

4 prunes, pitted

2 tablespoons of honey

Sea salt, freshly ground black pepper

2 teaspoons Chinese 5-spice powder

Soya sauce (or I used coconut aminos)

1 generous shot of vodka

100ml chicken or vegetable stock

Preheat the oven to 180°C. Put a little sesame seed oil and the duck in a medium-sized casserole dish. Add the shallots and garlic over a gentle heat. Add the star anise, mushrooms and sliced orange on top of the duck. Add the prune to the dish and finally pour over the honey and season. When the shallots are translucide, add the vodka and stock. Cook on for at least two hours (duck doesn’t really dry out), or for longer on a lower heat.

Stay well everyone!

Braised beef with winter vegetables and stoned incidents

My annual old lady thermal cure was relaxing and very therapeutic, but not without incident. At the beginning of the first week I knocked myself out swinging on the shower rail. I wasn’t actually swinging on it, but I might just have been judging by the way it collapsed. Afterwards the nurse was very solicitous, and I think I caught a glimpse of ‘hopeless klutz’ and ‘not fit to be left unattended’ on my medical file. My slurred character wasn’t helped by The Great Hanky Haul a few days later: Luc, never one to do things by halves, asked me to pick up 16 (really, I mean wtf?) boxes of tissues and a bottle of whisky on my way home. The cashier, cheeky monkey, asked if I was ‘planning on coming down with a nasty virus then drowning my sorrows’.

During the course of the second week, I arrived back to the car to find it wedged in on both sides. My only option was to reach the front seat via the boot. Spending a morning saturated in mineral water and mud leaves you, or leaves me at least, absolutely stoned with little or no capacity to reason. This meant that my journey through the car via the back seat was complicated further by the fact that I hadn’t thought to remove my voluminous bag which was over my shoulder. To cut a long story short, the owner of one of the offending vehicules returned to find me swearing, sweating and stuck midway with my feet flapping. I felt I couldn’t give him too much of a bollocking as he graciously helped me exit through a side door, a bit like a doctor performing an emergency c-section. 

This comforting casserole is the sort of thing you can leave on a very low heat nearly all day, while you’re out and about causing havoc.

Ingredients (serves 4)

3 tablespoons olive oil

1 onion, peeled and sliced

2 shallots, peeled and chopped

4 cloves of garlic, peeled and crushed

800g stewing or braising steak, cut into rough pieces

Cornflower to dust

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

1 teaspoon paprika

2 parsnips, peeled and cut into large pieces

6 carrots, peeled and cut into large pieces

1 fennel, rinsed and cut into chunks

3 tablespoons tomato purée

1/2 bottle red wine

275ml beef stock

Preheat the oven to 150°C. Put the olive oil into a casserole dish over a medium heat, adding the onion, shallot and garlic and fry until golden. Toss the meat in the cornflour, season and then add to the casserole. Add the vegetables and tomato purée, wine and stock, gently stirring. Transfer to the preheated oven and cook for 3-4 hours or until the meat is falling apart tender. If you want to leave it longer check there is enough liquid and turn the oven down.

Lemon meringue, forest bathing and Happy New Year!

I would like to wish everyone a very happy and healthy new year. We had a pleasant, but reasonably uneventful Christmas, with the exception of a lobster theft, three sick people and several lost presents. As is tradition in France, we have seafood on Christmas Eve and this year it was more a case of ‘now you seafood, now you don’t!’ Luc had bought oysters and lobster which he prepared in advance and stored in a ‘safe’ place outside. The ‘safe’ place turned out to be a deluxe al fresco buffet for the dogs. (Luc has form: The story of the year we misplaced a guinea fowl thigh). They left most of the oysters though because there is definitely something of a knack to oyster slurping. Also there was no lemon to hand (or paw) and they are nothing if not discerning. Maybe next year. After that, we felt badly for the cat who hadn’t been invited to join the impromptu feast, so he got a smoked salmon platter, while we made do with omelettes and green salad. Luckily the lemon meringue had taken refuge in the back of the fridge and, as the dogs haven’t yet worked out how to open the door, it was intact. Every year we make this dessert several times between Christmas and New Year, each time more friends arrive and it always disappears in a flash, even without the dogs’ help. I’ve posted the recipe before, but it definitely bears repeating.

We have nearly two kilometres of sandy track leading to our house. With its tree roots, rocks, potholes and animal traces, our track is not conducive to good car health, and our suspension has given out four times in the past year. We’ve resigned ourselves to the fact that a new car is in order, but buying it is proving to be a problem. After much procrastination, we made it through the door of a Suzuki showroom today, did a quick recce of the 4x4s (I’m boring myself just writing this) and then legged it before anyone could collar us. The idea of having the ‘horsepower, fuel consumption, and whether or not it does 0 to 60’ conversation makes me want to gnaw my arm off, and Luc is no better. We both glaze over if somebody so much as mentions anything vaguely auto-related. All we want is a reliable metal thing on wheels that goes ‘vroom’ without doing my back in, and has a very good tempered suspension system (or whatever the technical term is). All suggestions gratefully received.

I recently discovered that for the past 12 years or so I have inadvertently been an adept of the practice of Forest Bathing, or Shinrin-Yoku as it’s known in Japan where it originated in the 1980s. Numerous studies are testament to the calming and rejuvenating virtues of simply being beneath a forest canopy. Emphasis is placed on slowing down; a sweaty hike aimed at increasing the heart rate it is not! Benefits include a boost to the immune system, reduced stress and blood pressure, improved mood, a better ability to focus, quicker recovery from illness, decreased inflammation, increased energy and improved sleep. Japanese doctors promote forest bathing as an antidote to the hectic urban life. I can certainly vouch for the practice; whenever I feel stressed (just thinking about car showrooms for example), I instinctively head off into the pine forest that surrounds our house.

Forest bathing

cranes

Turkey Tail medicinal mushroom (coriolus versicolor) and wet dogs

The rainfall in southwestern France in the past month has been unprecedented. The dogs are in despair; neither of them likes getting wet from rain, despite their enthusiasm for soaking in mud, puddles and rivers. They have been systematically checking the weather through all the doors (we have doors on three sides of the house) to see if it really is still raining in every direction! 

Image

Turkey Tail fungus is at its best in the autumn and winter months in the Northern hemisphere, in time for the cold and flu season. It earned its name due to its fan shape which ressembles the tail of a turkey, and its Latin name, Coriolus Versicolor, due to its variety of colours. It can be found relatively easily growing in clusters on tree stumps or branches of hardwood trees; the fact that it grows on pine alerted ancient Taoists to its potential medicinal properties because pine is a notorious antifungal tree. They concluded that a mushroom with such tenacity must possess extraordinary medicinal properties, and they weren’t wrong. It is usually dried and taken in tea-form as it’s much too tough and bitter to be edible.

Turkey Tail is full of polysaccharides, triterpenes and beta glucans which provide immune support and regulation. The beta glucans, PSK and PSP, are of special interest as they are unique and have shown to have powerful anticancer properties. PSK and PSB have the ability, not only to regenerate the white blood cells needed to fight infection, but also to stimulate the other cells essential for the immune system to do is job properly.

PSK has undergone intense study in Japan where the government have approved its use in the treatment of several types of cancer. Today it is the best-selling anticancer drug on Japanese market and is used in combination with surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation treatment.

Beyond these impressive anti-cancer properties, Turkey Tail is packed with antioxidants, excellent for treating inflammation throughout the body, fighting all forms of viral infections and increasing strength and stamina. It also has powerful antibacterial qualities, and contains prebiotics that assist the microbiome, meaning it can help the growth of good bacteria in the gut, including acidophilus and bifidobacterium.

A word of warning: do NOT ingest any mushroom or fungi that has not been identified by a specialist.

Roast pork tenderloin with ceps and a bossy gourmet cat


Luc appeared in the kitchen the other day armed with a hefty chunk of venison supplied by a hunter friend, and a bottle of good red wine supplied by our wine cellar. Apparently our cat, Minou, a tiny semi-feral ball of fury who terrorises humans and animals alike, had gone on hunger strike having polished off the venison bourguignon that he’d been eating for the past week (unbeknown to me). He was back on a diet of tinned food and had not taken kindly.  He had apparently become distant — defiant even — to better convey his displeasure. All along I had naively imagined that the cat ate cat food. I won’t be publishing his recipe though (here is my recipe for human beef bourguignon), because Luc had been detailed to have it made without mushrooms or carrots, both of which he despises and spits out; Minou is a cat of temperament.

discerning cat

Ceps, or porcini, are high in vitamins (A, B complex and C), minerals (iron, potassium and calcium), fibre and antioxidants. An excellent source of protein, they are also good for digestive health and for fighting inflammation.

Ingredients (serves 4 people plus a discerning cat)

1 pork tenderloin (600-800g)

Tablespoon olive oil

300g ceps, finely sliced

1 shallot, sliced

2 cloves of garlic, cut into small pieces

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Esplelette pepper (or paprika)

2 bay leaves

Fresh thyme

175ml white wine

Preheat the oven to 180°C. Coat the pork in olive oil and place in an ovenproof dish. Cover the meat with the ceps and shallot and then make small cuts in the meat to insert the garlic. Add the seasoning and gently pour the white wine over the top. Cook for about 30 minutes, or until the pork is properly cooked through, without being dried out.