Chicken soup and unruly hair

My hair is a free-for-all, to be chewed on, judged and discussed without compunction or reserve. I’m asked on a regular basis if it’s natural (because you think I would I chose it?), if it’s wet, if it’s dry, if it’s just been to the hairdresser and if it hasn’t. In some parts of the world, people come and stroke it like a strange woolly pet. A rather uncharming old lady who lives nearby actually uses the word ‘mop’ when referring to it, which she does every time I see her. And Luc said the other day ‘it just really suits you – it’s chaotic’. This was meant as a compliment (wtf?). The assistant in a posh haircare shop not long ago suggested, without a hint of irony, that I could ‘always try using a comb’ when I asked for advice on how to tame it. And to add insult to injury, Hugo chews on it in much the same way that he chews on Java’s ears.

A number of studies have been conducted on the usefulness of chicken soup (aka Jewish penicillin) in warding off and treating cold and flu viruses. It appears that the soup inhibits the movement of neutrophils, the most common type of white blood cell that defends against infection. The theory is, that by inhibiting the migration of these infection-fighting cells in the body, chicken soup essentially helps reduce upper respiratory cold symptoms by reducing inflammation.

The researchers couldn’t identify the exact ingredient or ingredients in the soup that made it effective against colds but say it may be the combination of vegetables and chicken that work together.

Make what you will of the research, but at the very least, chicken soup with vegetables contains lots of healthy nutrients, is easy to digest, increases hydration and tastes delicious.

Ingredients

1 tablespoon olive oil

2 onions, peeled and chopped

2 shallots, peeled and chopped

3 cloves of garlic, crushed

2 leeks, washed and cut into rounds

1 fennel bulb, washed and cut

1/2 butternut squash, peeled and cut into cubes

4 carrots, peeled and cut

200g cabbage, shredded

1 red pepper or chilli pepper, cut into strips

2 sprigs of thyme

1 teaspoon fresh ginger, grated

2 teaspoons turmeric

1.5 litres chicken stock

2 tablespoons Pernod (optional)

300g pre-roasted chicken, skin removed and shredded

100g frozen peas

2 serving of pre-cooked brown rice

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Gently brown the onions, shallots, garlic and leeks in the olive oil in a large saucepan or casserole dish. Once browed, add the fennel, butternut squash, carrots, cabbage and chilli pepper and continue to cook for a few minutes. Add the thyme, ginger, turmeric, chicken stock and Pernod and bring to a simmer. Once the vegetables are almost cooked, add the chicken and frozen peas and continue to cook for another ten minutes. Add the brown rice towards the end of cooking, season with the salt and pepper and serve piping hot.

 

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Kale crisps, obscenities and dog-shaped holes

The Tallish One (I had to rename The Tall One as The Noisy One is now a good 4cms taller) and I have decided that Bossy is a bad influence on animals and also, I suspect, small children. She and Noisy went to London last week and, while she was gone, everyone, even Java, fell into line. Relatively speaking of course. Even the horses were less tiresome than usual. Animals really do have a sixth sense for authority; The Tallish One has it, Bossy just doesn’t. She makes a mean kale crisp though, so I think we’re going to hang on to her for the moment.

Bossy hadn’t been on UK soil for more than half and hour before having an almighty ding-dong with a traffic warden (apparently something to do with her being a ‘toxic tyrannical tw@t’). So much so that the traffic warden ran after her yelling ‘don’t you dare walk away while I’m reprimanding you’. If you know Bossy, you can imagine how well that went down. The thing is, Bossy swears a lot. It’s actually one of the few things she’s really good at; I would probably go as far as to say she’s a Master of Blasphemy. She’s also got quite a talent for really pissing people off. Anyway, if you want to learn to eff and blind in English or French, Bossy’s your girl.

In other news, we found a Java-shaped hole in the wisteria canopy under Léo’s first-floor bedroom window, and a rather bemused Java shaking herself off on the ground beneath. I feel certain that Bossy must be to blame in some way – I’m just not sure how yet.

One thing is sure: kale is so full of goodness that if it could talk, it certainly wouldn’t swear. As a vegetable it is a bit of an overachiever with its protein, fibre, vitamins A, C, K and B vitamins. It also contains minerals – potassium, calcium and zinc as well as omega 3, lutein and zeaxanthin.

Ingredients

200g kale, rinsed and cut into strips, large stems removed

1 tablespoon olive oil

Sea salt, freshly ground black pepper

Espelette pepper or paprika

Preheat the oven to 150°C. Put the kale in a large bowl and add the oil. Massage it into the leaves, then toss with the seasoning. Spread out in a single layer on two large baking trays and bake for about 20 minutes, checking from time to time that it is cooking evenly. Leave to cool and eat!

Beef Rendang and pernickety males

I inadvertently surround myself by fussy men. My father was very tricky to buy presents for, and I always ended up buying him books which was an interesting challenge. Well-written, knowledgeable, lively, original and slightly wry biographies about Winston Churchill or Napoleon were usually a good bet, and most things by Philip Roth or Ian McEwan usually passed muster. Books that tried to be too witty or too clever would be cast aside in disgust, as were novels by PD James who never ‘got to the bloody point’ quickly enough. It was with great sadness that I recently saw there was a new Churchill biography out because I’ll never know what he thought of it.

Luc and Léo are inordinately difficult to shop for because they’re both strangely obsessed with the weight of all shoes and clothing. Léo also has an aversion to pink, yellow and anything patterned. And not only must everything be feather-light, any zips or buttons must be ultra rapid to avoid, god forbid, slowing him down. Luc is a big fan of parachute silk and doesn’t care if his clothes make him look like gay Hawaiian televangelist, as long as they’re diaphanous. Mon dieu!

But it is Hugo that takes the biscuit (unless they’re dog biscuits which he spits out). His bedding is a source of sleepless nights for everybody. We are currently testing bed number four as the first three were not to his liking, which he made very clear. I do understand because I’ve had unpleasant experiences at times with uncomfortable bedding, but I don’t show my exasperation by growling and huffing and puffing all night.

Little Java is a breath of fresh air. Although I suspect she must have a preference for cashmere cushions (who wouldn’t?), she sleeps anywhere and on anything. She also eats absolutely everything (including dressed salad, mustard and melon, which, as dog owners will know, is incredibly random). There is literally nothing that makes her unhappy. Except gunfire; gunfire unhinges her, which is ironic as she was born and bred to be a gundog…

Ingredients (serves 4)

1 onion, peeled and  chopped

5 shallots, peeled and chopped

4 cloves garlic

1 stalk lemongrass, chopped

1 teaspoon turmeric (or fresh turmeric, grated)

4 fresh chillis, washed and chopped

1 teaspoon fresh ginger, grated

600g braising steak, cubed

2 tablespoons coconut oil

1 cinnamon stick

6 cardamon pods

4 kaffir lime leaves

500ml coconut milk

1 lime, juiced

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Place the onion, shallots, garlic, lemongrass, turmeric and chills into a food processor and blend to obtain a smooth paste. Add the meat to the paste, mixing well and leave to marinate in the fridge for at least a few hours. Heat the coconut oil in a casserole dish and fry the meat/paste mixture for a few minutes until well browned. Add the cinnamon stick, the cardamon (releasing the seeds from the pods beforehand) and the kaffir leaves.  Add the coconut milk, lime juice and seasoning and bring to a gentle simmer. Cook for about an hour and a half, stirring frequently. The meat should be tender and the sauce reduced and rich.

REBLOG: Cannabis and Me: Breaking the Law to Live

Something beginning with C

skynews-cannabis-cbd_4340071I have just celebrated the second anniversary of the day I almost died.

But I didn’t.

I have also just passed the two-year mark from the day on which I received a diagnosis of stage 4 lung cancer.

And last week, the long-awaited scan results from the first phase of the trial I am on, have come back with the encouraging news that, currently, the cancer is stable.

The celebration is muted, one of relief rather than champagne and fireworks. But it is without doubt the most positive news to come my way in almost a year.

So what does this mean? Quite simply it means Hope. It means that I can remain on the trial for now, until the next scan is performed in six weeks’ time, and the cycle of anxiety once again cranks into motion and I brace myself for the frightening possibility of the tug of…

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Shitake mushrooms and furtive barbarians


It will soon be mushroom season, although for the moment it’s still too hot and dry here; Luc is on damp ground watch like a crazy Frenchman. Oh, hang on… I did find a lone, perfect cep yesterday though, which was grabbed from my hand and in a frying pan asphyxiating in olive oil and garlic before I was through the door. I never go foraging without my vicious, spiky walking poles, ostensibly to move away leaves without having to bend down, although really to maim greedy cep-stealing fingers. There’s something about looking for mushrooms (mushrooming?) that turns people into furtive barbarians. Bump into someone who is blatantly foraging and they become incredibly defensive: ‘Me? Mushrooms? Can’t stand the mouldy bastards! I’m just hanging out in the middle of the woods, catching a few rays and bonding with the slugs’.

Even armed with my lethal walking stick, I won’t be finding any shitake mushrooms around here; they grow wild in mountainous regions of Asia and absolutely nowhere else. Scientists have discovered a possible correlation between typhoon wind patterns and the scattering of shitake spores dispersed from one country to the other. The medicinal properties of shiitake mushrooms have been studied since the Ming Dynasty when Chinese elders considered the shitake to be the ‘elixir of the life’.

Shitakes are unique because they contain all eight essential amino acids. They are also a rich source of vitamin D, B vitamins and selenium and other minerals. They also contain linoleic acid which aids weight loss and builds muscle. It also has bone-building benefits, improves digestion, and reduces food allergies and sensitivities.

Shitake mushrooms contain beta-glucan, an immune booster and soluble dietary fibre that’s also found in barley, rye and oats. The lentinan they contain strengthens the immune system and helps to fight off disease and infection. Research suggests that shiitake mushrooms may help fight cancer cells and also help heal damage caused by anticancer treatments. The mushrooms have also been shown to induce apoptosis, the process of cell death. They also contain L-ergothioneine, a potent antioxidant with unique cell-protective properties.

Lastly, these wonderful mushrooms have been shown to have anti-vital, anti-bacterial and anti-fungal properties, effective against a wide range of mould, yeasts, and fungi. It would appear that they even have the ability to kill off the dangerous organisms without affecting the healthy organisms.

Madiran wine and unravelling

The production of Madiran wine is spread over three departments of southwestern France: Gers, Hautes Pyrénées and Pyrénées Atlantiques. We visited two chateaux in the region last week. At the first chateau, when I couldn’t face another gory detail of the ‘chatelain’s’ latest surgical procedure, I ended up with my head between my legs to stop myself fainting. I suspect his technique is to regale wine buyers with the minutiae of his latest operation, and when their defences are down (or they’ll do anything to escape), go in for the kill; we had planned to buy 18 bottles of his excellent 2012 and instead ended up with 36!

Our visit to the second chateau was after a very long, hot hike through the vineyards, and I think that we probably arrived looking a bit dishevelled (our sartorial baseline is iffy to begin with). There was an English couple tasting wine, and either they’d been there a while and had forgotten to swill and spit, or they didn’t realise I was English, because the lady rather loudly and randomly commented to her husband that we looked like ‘a rather eccentric French family who didn’t know how to tie their shoe laces’. I thought this was pretty rich coming from someone whose companion was sporting an garish yellow daisy-print sunhat!

Classic Madirans are robust, earthy and quite ‘tanniny’ (wine critics the world over will be blown away by my wine vocab.), which is just how I like my wine (and men) to be. And the very best are aged in oak.

The polyphenols found in red wine in general play a key role in its health benefits by acting as antioxidants. Grape skins have high concentrations of polyphenols and in particular, procyanidin. Studies show that regions of the world with the greatest longevity also correspond to those with the highest procyanidin content in their wines.

The highest procyanidin content of all is to be found in the wines in the Madiran region and, as it happens, they also have the highest concentration of resveratrol, which is a sort of a natural plant antibiotic. Resveratrol is part of the defense mechanism in vines, which fights against fungus and other diseases. In humans, studies have shown it has anti-cancer, anti-inflammatory, blood-sugar lowering and other beneficial cardiovascular effects.

As Professor Roger Corder, author of ‘The Wine Diet’ explains: ‘One important advantage of choosing wines with a high procyanidin level is that less needs to be consumed to achieve the optimal health benefit. The best results I’ve had in my laboratory have been from Madiran wines. These have some of the highest procyanidin levels I’ve encountered, as a result of the local grape variety, Tannat, and the traditional long fermentation and maceration. In contrast, mass-produced, branded wines sold in many wine bars and pubs generally have disappointingly low levels of procyanidins.’

 

 

Tropical storms and a tribute

Sadly my beloved father died in the middle of June. At 83, he was far too young to die; he was supposed to live to 99 like my grandmother.

This is Léo’s tribute to his grandfather: Andante by Mozart, my father’s favourite composer; Beethoven’s Ode to Joy, for his belief in Europe; and from The Planet Suite by Holst, Jupiter, the Bringer of Jollity, because that is exactly what he did.

Perhaps as a nod to my father’s exciting but sometimes extremely perilous life in Africa as Foreign Correspondent, on our return to France at the beginning of July we were catapulted into the deepest, darkest tropics. The mother of all storms caused steam to rise from the grass and the phone lines inside and outside the house to catch fire. It also forced the dogs to take refuge in the shower and brought with it a flourishing tribe of the most noisy, ill-tempered mosquitos I’ve ever experienced.

Getting anything fixed in France during the ‘Grandes Vacances’ is challenging at any time, but even more so when it involves replacing a kilometre of phone cable that serves just one house stuck in the middle of nowhere. Anyway, the upshot was that I spent the month of July bereft, incommunicado, and covered in grotesque insect bites. And to add insult to injury, my Instagram account was hacked by Russian spies.

I hope you are all having a nice Summer. Normal service will be resumed in September (I hope!). xx

Tian’amen Square, 1972