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.

 

Fig and almond muffins and Hugo makes a point

Fig and almond muffins
Dog journalist

Just a few words from me today because I’m busy proving a point. If you saw Bossy’s last post, you’ll know that she’s gone all hippy dippy on the animal communciation front. I was sceptical about Bossy’s insect repellent story and asked Jojo whether her claims were true. It turns out he had just played along so she would shut up; insect repellent was, it seems, the lesser of two evils and far preferable to listening to her jabber on.

So I set out to prove to Bossy that her new-found ‘talents’ are but a figment (see what I did there?) of her overactive imagination: I block access to cupboard doors in the kitchen, stay out late into the night, steal food from the worktop, growl at Java and sleep on the sofa. Bossy can dog whisper explanations as to why she isn’t loving my behaviour all she likes, I won’t be influenced. I just hope she doesn’t discover my invaluable new tool: industrial-strength ear plugs.

Figs are in abundance at the moment. We are giving them out to everyone we know, but they are still getting the better of us. Figs are rich in fibre and vital vitamins and minerals, such as vitamins A, B1, B2 and K, manganese, potassium, magnesium, calcium, copper, iron and phosphorus. They also contain antioxidants.

Ingredients (makes 12 muffins)

125g coconut oil, softened

150g buckwheat flour (normal flour will work fine too)

2 large eggs

1 teaspoon baking powder

150g cane sugar

60g ground almonds

50ml milk

6 fresh figs, chopped

Preheat the oven to 180°C. Cream the coconut oil in the mixer until well softened. Add a spoonful of flour, beat again, then add the eggs, beating further until the mixture is light and fluffy. Add a little more flour to prevent curdling. Gently fold in the rest of the flour, baking powder, sugar, ground almonds and milk. Lastly, fold the chopped figs into the mix. Spoon the mixture into muffin trays and bake for 30 minutes, or until a skewer comes out clean.

Coconut fish curry and a very analytical horse

For the first time since my accident in 2015 (The Ditch Incident), I have started riding regularly again. I have had to revise my methods and objectives (no more breaking in mad, young horses), and also be very fussy about the horses I ride. Which means that for the moment I ride Jojo, my handsome 21-year-old Lusitano. More crucially, I have completely revised my ‘riding state of mind’; I used to get on a horse to try to sort out my brain chaos and I realise with hindsight that this was disrespectful to the horse and absolutely not inducive to a calm, happy horse and ride. I now never get into the saddle without a relaxed, focussed mind, which usually involves doing yoga first.

Jojo was ‘entire’ (had a full set) until the age of five, which is relatively late for castration. It usually means that, even afterwards, the horse retains his male characteristics, which wouldn’t be the case if castration were to take place at a younger age. Without going into the details of the effects of testosterone of the male psyche (!), I will just say that Jojo is dominant – a very typical alpha male. Every September we have an invasion of horribly aggressive horse flies that attack humans and horses alike, leaving painfully swollen, itchy welts. Jojo isn’t terrified of much (if a herd of deer jump out of the bushes in front of him, he is unfazed and just stops to let them go by), but he does have a fear of insect repellants, particularly spray bottles. I used to just wing it and chase him around the field spraying everywhere like a crazy person, hoping that at least some of the product would land on him. Realising that this approach didn’t gel with my new-found equestrian zenitude, I decided to read the side of the bottle to him in dulcet tones, explaining in detail what the product did and also the list of ingredients. When I was done, he lowered his head — a sign of compliance — and stood motionless while I sprayed him all over. I think he had basically said: ‘Fair enough, you had the time and patience to respectfully explain to me what you were going to do and why, so go ahead and do whatever you have to do with your incredibly annoying bottle’.

I never fail to marvel at the lessons we can learn from our horses.

This curry has become a bit of a regular in our house. Despite the relatively long list of ingredients (which luckily I don’t have to read out to everybody to get them to eat), it’s quick and easy to make, and always goes down a treat!

Ingredients (serves 4)

1 tablespoon coconut oil

1 onion, peeled and sliced

1 shallot, peeled and sliced

1 teaspoon fresh ginger, grated

2 jalapeño peppers, sliced, seeds removed

2 cloves of garlic, crushed

2 potatoes, peeled and cut into cubes

2 tomatoes, peeled and chopped

1 red pepper, diced

4 carrots, peeled and sliced

1 litre of vegetable stock

Freshly ground black pepper

Sea salt

2 teaspoons curry powder

2 kaffir lime leaves

1 stick lemongrass

200ml coconut milk

400g white fish (I used frozen cod)

Cilantro to garnish

Heat the coconut oil in a large saucepan or wok. Add the onion and shallot and fry for a few minutes. Add the ginger, jalapeño and garlic and continue to fry. Once soft, add the potatoes, tomatoes, red pepper and carrots and then cover with stock. Add the seasoning and spices and simmer for about 20 minutes. Add the coconut milk and then the fish and simmer for a further 10 minutes or until the fish is cooked and crumbly. Garnish with cilantro and serve as a standalone or with noodles or rice.

Scooting through the Baltic

Leaving Luc to look after the animals, Léo and I travelled to London at the beginning of August, where I was able to shoot a confused pigeon and shop for everything I’d forgotten to pack. We then set off with my mother on a cruise around the Baltic. I will try to be brief!

Confused pigeon, Dulwich Park, London.

 

View of London from Sydenham Hill, London.

Copenhagen:

We arrived in Copenhagen with a few hours to visit, so hired scooters which we proceeded to use as lethal weapons. I quickly became fluent enough in Danish to say: ‘I’m so sorry, I’m totally out of control — I really didn’t mean to knock you over’.

Church Copenhagen

St Alban’s Church, Copenhagen.

We caught a glimpse of the famous Little Mermaid statue and also saw her Genetically Modified Little Mermaid sister, which belongs to a group of sculptures called The Genetically Modified Paradise by Bjorn Nørgaard, situated in the harbour area. Copenhagen sighed a collective sigh of relief when we arrived at the ship with five minutes to spare, dripping with sweat and with no idea of our cabin number or the whereabouts of our baggage. Our reputation was forged from the get-go.

Statue water copenhagen

Genetically Modified Little Mermaid by Bjorn Nørgaard, Copenhagen.

Tallinn:

Tallinn’s old town was sporting a rainbow when we docked. Downtown Tallinn was like Oxford Street on the first day of the sales, so Léo and I hotfooted it out to the countryside to go seal spotting on a small speedboat. A combination of the impact of large waves and the flexibility of the seats meant that my waterproof coat got sucked up and entrenched between the seat and the shell of the boat (you had to be there). The seals were so close that I would have been able to take some superb photos if I hadn’t been concentrating on trying to free myself before hypoxia set in. Léo kindly let me use one of his photos. Liberated and back on dry land, we had just enough time to track down and hire one electric scooter, which we both boarded for a lightning visit of the old town. I’ll leave to your imagination the consequences of a jam-packed old town and two maniacs on a one-person scooter. Let me just say kudos to the lovely Estonian taxi driver who eventually saw the funny side and won’t be pressing charges.

Rainbow over old town Tallinn

Tallinn old town, Estonia.

 

Seal following the boat, Estonia. Credit: Léo Gallot.

Harbour in countryside near Tallinn

Harbour near Tallinn, Estonia.

St Petersburg:

We arrived in St Petersburg in the early morning and parked next to a military submarine, as you do. We were on the ship’s group visa, which meant that we weren’t able to go out unaccompanied. At the time I was frustrated by this and thought I had made a mistake, but typing the words ‘unaccompanied’, I realise that my disorganised ineptitude was probably a blessing in disguise; the Russians in the street are warm and charming with a wonderfully dry and engaging sense of humour. The customs officials, not so much, and it was probably best we didn’t have direct dealings. As Léo put it: ‘you get the feeling that if you were to do something stupid, it wouldn’t go down as well as it does in France’. Peter the Great created this charming, atmospheric city in the early 18th Century, having been inspired by London, Paris and Vienna. Its canals and waterways are reminiscent of Venice.

St Petersburg gold dome

Uspenskaya church, St Petersburg, Russia.

The highlight of the trip for me was a private concert in the Italian room at The Hermitage Museum performed by the St Petersburg Festival Orchestra. Their knack for seamlessly combining extreme melancholy, slight irreverence and dramatic theatricals was breath-taking.

St Petersburg Festival Orchestra, The Hermitage Museum, St Petersburg, Russia. Credit: Léo Gallot

We cut our visit to Catherine Palace short when I realised that a trip to Emergency might mean I miss the boat.  I savoured the over-the-top opulence from a state of semi-consciousness, somewhere between full-blown panic attack and fainting fit. The crowds were so dense and the palace so airless (they have to keep all the gold leaf at a constant temperature and not one of the museums is air-conditioned), that I had instructed poor Léo to keep me vertical if I fainted because I didn’t want to be hauled off by my feet by one of the scary-looking lady officials. Needless to say, I’m over gold leaf. The gardens were wonderful though and I think I especially appreciated them as I was so happy to be outside again.

Catherine Palace, St Petersburg, Russia.

Catherine Palace, Russia. Credit: Léo Gallot.

Catherine Palace gardens, St Petersburg, Russia.

St Petersburg by night

St Petersburg by night.

There are almost 350 bridges in St Petersburg and this is the newest one over the Neven River: the Bolshoy Obukhovsk Bridge, which we saw on our departure back out into the Gulf of Finland.

Bridge over the Neven River, St Petersburg

Bolshoy Obukhovsk Bridge, St Petersburg.

Helsinki:

Helsinki was possibly the greatest surprise of the trip. I hadn’t really thought at any point ‘God, I’m just dying to visit Helsinki’, but it proved to be captivating. There are subtle reminders of past Russian influence, but without the gold leaf opulence tsunami which is omnipresent in St Petersburg. We hired bikes, mainly because our scooting legs were knackered and there was a lot of city to cover in a limited time. Also, I think that, on the whole, the Baltic countries had been sufficiently charmed by our scooter antics.

Helsinki Cathedral, Finland.

Léo disowned me at The Sibelius monument when I lectured a tourist who had draped herself and her Louis Vuiton raincoat ensemble provocatively over the monument that I was trying to photograph. I think she thought gaudy beige tartan would enhance it. My ill-tempered rant was greeted by noisy applause from a Spanish group who had been having less luck conveying their frustration. Conveying frustration is never something I have problems with. My mother told us, in not inconsiderable detail, about how Sibelius had been ‘more than a bit of a bastard to his family’, which was another slight dampener. The memorial was stunning nonetheless.

Sibelius monument Helsinki

Part of the Sibelius Monument, Helsinki Park, Finland.

I love contrasts and particularly appreciated the juxtaposition of this beautiful orthodox church and the big wheel. The Uspenski Cathedral is the largest orthodox church in Western Europe.

Uspensky Cathedral, Helsinki, Finland.

The sea was only really rough once, on our last evening. I fell over a table and had an intimate encounter with the banisters of the central spiral staircase, resulting in multiple souvenir bruises. Stockholm was our last port of call, but unfortunately all we really saw, other than this view from the ship and the archipelagos, was the airport.

Stockholm cityscape

Stockholm, Sweden.

Cherries and asylums

If I go off the radar in the near future, the chances are high that I’ve been wheeled off by the nice men in white coats. We are averaging six or seven calls a day at the moment from people trying to sell insulation. I often leave the answerphone to deal with them, but on Friday evening, in a bid to let off steam (it’s been hellishly hot), I picked up. Based on the premise that the best form of defence is attack, before the caller could even speak, I said: ‘I have something to sell YOU for a change; we’re offering two nights for the price of a week for all of August and we have a couple of vacancies if I can tempt you! What have you got to say to that? Huh! Huh?’. There was a bit of a silence until our poor unsuspecting doctor spluttered: ‘errr bonjour! I was only calling to say that you’d left your prescription in my office and you might want to stop by and pick it up. Or not – as you wish! Bonne soirée!’ He’ll probably have added a strong dose of valium to my prescription by the time I go to pick it up. It wouldn’t have been quite so bad if I didn’t have ‘form’;  the last time he ‘phoned had been to enquire about my dislocated hand and I told him I’d put it back into place by punching my husband. I forgot to say that the punch had been totally inadvertent.

So swiftly moving on, cherries are not only in season, they are deliciously moorish and absolutely packed with health benefits. So knock yourself out!

Research found that cherries decreased oxidative stress, inflammation, exercise-induced muscle soreness and loss of strength, blood pressure, arthritis and gout symptoms and insomnia. That’s a pretty impressive list of attributes for a humble fruit. I wonder if they are any good for repetitive sales call-induced insanity?

Cherries help with arthritis and other inflammatory conditions thanks to their high antioxidant content. Their abundant supply of antioxidants has been linked to reduced levels of nitric oxide, a compound associated with osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis. Furthermore, cherry consumption has been proven to decrease the quantity and intensity of gout attacks.

Cherries help lower blood sugar levels: they contain the antioxidant anthocyanin, which increases insulin production. They are also said to reduce the concentration of fat in the blood too, which can aid weight loss. Tart cherries can provide protection against heart disease. Research done at the University of Michigan suggests that tart cherries provide cardiovascular benefits and can reduce the risk of stroke.

The combination of dietary fibre and antioxidants in cherries may lower the risk of colon cancer. The distinctive deep red pigment cherries are known for comes from flavonoids; powerful antioxidants that help fight free radicals in the body. Cyanidin is a flavonoid from the anthocyanin group found in cherries that helps keep cancerous cells from growing out of control.

The anthocyanin contained in cherries can help enhance memory and also protect the eyes. The antioxidants fight damaging free radicals. Both macular degeneration and glaucoma are caused by free radicals and oxidative stress. Tart cherries contain high levels of melatonin, a hormone made by the pineal gland which is critical for managing the sleep/wake cycle. The consumption of tart cherry juice before bed increases both sleep time and quality.

Lastly, cherries are an excellent source of potassium, calcium, magnesium, phosphorus and iron. They also contain significant amounts of vitamin C and beta carotene.

 

Radish top soup and hot air and bubbles

I love our dogs, I really do, but they’ve been doing my head in during this Sahara Bubble. Yesterday they kept forgetting just how hot it was outside, which meant that I spent the better part of the 41° heat of the day and early evening playing ‘Doors’, when I should have been prostrate with a cool compress on my head, perusing my book about expeditions to the South Pole to conjure up ice-cold thoughts. The rules of ‘Doors’ are quite simple: you run between the back door and the front door, alternately letting in and out hot, panting dogs with very short memories.

You might be wondering why I don’t exercise a bit of authority (LOL – you and I have obviously never met), and tell them to stay put, but Hugo would head butt the door until he knocked himself unconscious, and Java would do her standing-on-hind-legs routine and end up falling over backwards, also knocking herself unconscious. So tempting, but no. And then this morning, to add insult to injury:  You know those hilariously funny videos you see of dogs rolling in wet, sticky mud coming back coated from head to paw? Java. Not hilarious. That’s all I’m saying.

While I was jet washing the muddy kitchen floor, Luc ‘phoned from the supermarket to say that he had put his trousers on back-to-front (he realised when he tried to put his wallet in his pocket and it fell to the floor). He had to waddle back to the car to wrestle them off and back on again the right way. Give me strength. On a positive note at least it’s a bit cooler today.

As I was far too hot and exhausted to go shopping yesterday, I made this soup with radish tops from the garden. It was more of a success than my dog disciplining attempts, which is admittedly not difficult. Radish greens contain a high concentration of vitamin B6, magnesium, phosphorus, iron, calcium, and vitamin A.

Ingredients (serves 6)

45g butter

1 onion, peeled and sliced

2 shallots, peeled and sliced

2 garlic cloves, crushed

3 bunches radish greens, rinsed

2 large potatoes, peeled and sliced

1l chicken stock (or vegetable if you prefer)

1 teaspoon paprika

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

4 tablespoons crème fraîche

Melt the butter in a large saucepan over a medium heat. Add the onions, shallots and garlic, fry for about five minutes, stirring occasionally to prevent sticking. Add the radish tops and potatoes, coating in the butter and cook for a few minutes longer. Add the stock and seasoning and simmer for about 20 minutes, or until the radish tops and potatoes are soft. Blend the soup until smooth and add the crème fraîche.

Chicken Printempier and a catfight

Spring chicken casserole, chicken with spring vegetables

Our cat, Minou, is tiny, opinionated and ferocious. Hugo has, in the past, tried to take him on – on the premise that he is top dog – but quickly thought better of it; he knows when he’s beaten. Java sometimes tries to play with Minou – on the premise that she is as daft as a brush – but it invariably ends badly for Java.

Yesterday Luc and I were standing on the lawn discussing the horses’ hooves, as you do. Hugo is always irrationally put out when Luc and I talk to each other outside (I’m not sure why), and doesn’t hesitate to let it be known. Yesterday, he showed his exasperation by sitting on my feet and boxing my legs with his paws. This, of course, provoked Java (because my legs belong to HER), and she torpedoed Hugo, threatening him with her tiny, bared teeth. Next it was Minou’s turn to be annoyed (manifestly, he is the only one allowed to attack Hugo), and he launched himself between the two dogs, intercepting and separating in a matter of seconds, like a particularly effective anti-ballistic missile.

Which begs the question: is this normal or is our cat a total psychopath?

I always love making this casserole in the spring. It’s satisfying, yet light and fresh. And making it takes my mind off my unstable animals.

Ingredients (serves 4)

1 tablespoon of olive oil

1 onion, sliced

4 chicken thighs

2 glasses of dry white wine

450ml chicken or vegetable stock

10 baby carrots (or 4 normal carrots ‘julienned’)

4 small leaks, rinsed and sliced

4 small turnips, peeled cut

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

1 bay leaf

½ teaspoon paprika

½ teaspoon fenugreek

1 courgette, cut into rounds

80g of peas (either shelled or frozen)

Fresh mint, chopped to garnish

Preheat the oven to 180°C. Gently brown the onions in a casserole dish in the olive oil. Add the chicken and brown gently for a couple of minutes. Add the wine and stock and bring to a simmer. Add the carrots, leaks, turnips and seasoning. Cook for an hour in the preheated oven and then add the courgette and peas, making sure that there is still enough liquid. Cook for a further 20 minutes and add the fresh chopped mint just before serving. Delicious served with new potatoes.