Salt cod brandade and ask a silly question…

I’m so glad Bossy doesn’t have my mobile ‘phone number; it’s the only way I’ve found to avoid being the irritated recipient of one of her inane texts. Earlier this week she was fretting about whether Noisy had caught the right bus home. Admittedly his grasp of logistics and time management are, at best, very shaky. But, despite spending much of his time with his head in the clouds, he is still a 15-year-old with an above-average IQ who can usually remember where he lives. Last school year, he was lucky enough to find a very efficient PA who took up the organisational slack and kept him on track. This year, he and the friend are no longer in the same class, hence Bossy’s fretting.

Anyway, Bossy’s irrational folly got the better of her and she sent a short text to check he was travelling in the right direction. As the bus doesn’t stop, I really didn’t understand the point; either he was going in the right direction, in which case the text was an annoying waste of time, or he wasn’t in which case it was too late anyway. So I can only commend his reply:  ‘No. Peruvian mutant turtles, having made a lucky escape from a Congolese fruit salad, recruited me for the Norwegian-Chinese mafia. I am currently in a underwater aeroplane with subatomic engines, carrying out biochemical experiments on hamster volunteers. Don’t worry: the Montparnasse tower is not in any immediate danger, and I should manage to finish digging the Dax-Rion tunnel with my Christmas tree. I will be in touch again once I’m within 15 lightyears of your town of residence.’

Obviously his reply begs the question: ‘what does she sprinkle on his breakfast cereal?’, but still: Kudos. Maybe she’ll think twice before sending silly texts again, although somehow I doubt it…

Ingredients (serves 4)

200g salt cod

2 bay leaves

1 onion, peeled and sliced

500ml milk

250g potatoes, peeled and boiled

2 cloves garlic

Freshly ground black pepper

1 teaspoon paprika

4 tablespoons olive oil

Freshly grated parmesan for topping

Soak the salt cod in cold water for 24 hours, changing the water once or twice. Drain and place in a pan with the bay leaves, onion and 500ml of milk. Bring to the boil, lower the heat and simmer for five minutes and then drain, removing any bones and skin and breaking the flesh into coarse shreds. Reserve some of the milk for the purée. Cook the potatoes until soft then drain and purée together with the cod, garlic and seasoning in a food processor, adding the olive oil to create a soft consistency (you may need to add a little of the reserved milk to achieve the desired consistency). Place the purée in an oven-proof dish and sprinkle with parmesan. Put in an oven preheated to 180°C for about 20 minutes until golden brown.

This is sometimes served as a dip with toast. I like it as a standalone dish with a crispy green salad. Hugo likes to lick the bowl, although he pretends otherwise.

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Banana and coconut cheesecake and Mr President makes a sound choice



I read in the paper that President Macron and his wife had adopted a black labrador. His name is Nemo, he’s two years old and almost as handsome as me. Obviously I suspect he has neither my gravitas nor superior intellect, but he looks like a reasonable chap nonetheless. I sent an email to Emmanuel (we’re on first name terms; he calls me Hugo) saying that I would be happy to offer my services if he felt Nemo needed coaching in the sort of behaviour expected of the First Dog. I haven’t heard back yet – I expect he’s quite busy with other matters, although he usually replies to my emails as a matter of priority. Obviously Emmanuel offered me the job of Top Dog, but I had to turn it down due to my loyalty and sense of duty to Bossy. I think he was particularly keen on me for the position because, aside from the obvious reasons, I’m bilingual and well-versed in the international scene. The problem is I know that pandemonium would break out if I were to leave here. I tried to explain to Java why the President had chosen a black labrador and not an English Setter. This entailed a lengthy explanation as there are so many reasons I didn’t know where to start: severe insubordination, acute inconsequentiality, fear of loud noises, general neurosis and goofiness, loud snoring, inherent psychological instability… She was all huffy and put out for about three minutes until something far more interesting came along to distract her: a falling leaf. I rest my case.

Bossy made this cheesecake. Whatever.

Ingredients (serves 8)

150g raisins, pre-soaked in rum

250g ricotta

250g marscapone

3 eggs, beaten

1 ripe banana, mashed

Zest of one lemon

2 tablespoons’ crème fraîche

3 tablespoons’ desiccated coconut

3 tablespoons’ cane sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla essence

Preheat the oven to 180°C. Mix all of the ingredients together and pour into a greased, medium-sized baking tin. Cook for 50 minutes and chill and sprinkle with coconut before serving.

Roasted sardines with orange and white wine and round and round the roundabout

This summer we visited every single roundabout in France. At least that’s what it felt like; I had never realised just how many roundabouts had sprung up over France until our trip at the beginning of August. I also hadn’t realised just how chatty — and boundlessly repetitive — our satnav lady had become. Bizarrely, she speaks with a very thick Belgian accent which Luc never tires of imitating. This is extremely unhelpful when you’re trying to work out which way to go. The unfortunate combination of Luc’s caricatures and left-right dyslexia, and my innate inability to obey instructions without lengthly debate, meant that Mrs Satnav spent most of the trip saying ‘faites mi-tour dès que possible’ (do an U-turn as soon as possible). At one point we even found ourselves on the motorway headed back in the direction we had come from.

Still on the subject of turning, several people have fallen off their horses on our land recently, which means that we recuperate either riderless horses or horseless riders. We had two riderless horses this week alone, and yesterday we were visited by a handsome Iberian horse called ‘Diablo’ (Devil), who apparently likes to live up to his name. We managed to track down his rider who was still spitting sand, muttering obscenities and wearing the filthiest pair of white jodhpurs I’ve ever seen. He explained, with a perfectly straight, if rather grubby, face that his problem was that he ‘topples over’ every time his horse changes direction. You couldn’t make it up could you? He seemed to be at his wits’ end so I desperately tried to make a few helpful suggestions, but in all honesty, the best I could come up with was that he take up pétanque or watercolours instead…

Sardines are an ideal source of omega 3 as they contain less mercury than larger fish. They also contain generous amounts of B vitamins, calcium, selenium and phosphorus. Sardines provide both EPA and DHA fatty acids which are useful in reducing inflammation. This improves hearth health, brain function, mood disorders like depression and anxiety, ADHD, various types of cancer, arthritis, etc.

Ingredients (serves 4)

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 red onion, peeled and sliced

1 orange, peeled, divided into segments and cut into thumb-sized pieces

4 medium potatoes, peeled, cut and pre-cooked

1 garlic clove, crushed

6 fresh sardines (gutted and heads removed)

1 teaspoon cumin seeds

1 teaspoon paprika

Sea salt and freshly-ground black pepper

1 glass white wine

Basil leaves to garnish

Preheat the oven to 180°C. Grease a large roasting dish with olive oil and add the  onion, orange, potatoes and garlic. Coat everything with the olive oil. Place the sardines on top of the vegetables and sprinkle the seasoning over the top. Pour the glass of dry white wine over the top and roast for 15 minutes. Garnish with a few basil leaves and serve.

Chicken, orange and fennel traybake and ringing bells

There are people who set off alarms bells — figuratively and metaphorically —and there are people who don’t. Obviously I fall into the ‘set off loudly’ category. A few years ago, I ended up having to ask our Mayor to intervene with a letter to the area Chief of Police because I was being stopped virtually every single time I left the house. It wasn’t all bad though: I once had a very enlightening conversation, pre-Brexit, with a sandwichless picnic type of police officer who took the time to explain, quite condescendingly I thought, that my GB driving licence was not valid in France because Britain was not in Europe and never had been. There’s not a lot you can say to that.

My perennial aura of culpability follows me everywhere, including security and  customs, both of which I seem incapable of negotiating without a full body search and scan and lengthy interrogation.  I was once detained for some time at the Eurostar terminal in Waterloo while they searched my luggage at length. Bizarrely, this included going through and watching a load of perfectly innocent films on videotape that I had brought with me from France. This was before mobile ‘phones and my mother, imagining that I’d missed my train, gave up and went home without me.

A few days ago, Gatwick airport gave me a chance to flex my wannabe hooligan muscles once again when my baggage and I were stopped no fewer than three times. Poor Léo, who had gone ahead without a single hitch, had to wait for me on The Other Side, and was forced to explain, rather long-sufferingly, that if he was still hanging around it was because he was waiting for his ‘anarchist mother’; they immediately took pity and even offered him a chair.

Ingredients (serves 4)

2 tablespoons olive oil

4 chicken thighs

2 spring onions, peeled and sliced

2 bulbs fennel, roughly chopped

2 chilli peppers, sliced

4 cloves garlic, unpeeled

1 handful sage leaves

1 large orange, peeled and cut into segments

sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

2 teaspoons fennel seeds

1 teaspoon curry powder (optional)

1 tablespoon honey

Pre-heat oven to 220C. Arrange all the ingredients in a baking tray, drizzling olive  oil over everything and seasoning with salt and pepper, fennel seeds, curry powder and honey. Cook for 40 minutes, squeeze the garlic from its skins and serve. Delicious with rice, fresh pasta or new potatoes.

Chinese-style pork patties and recalcitrant photographic models

After the fiasco that was Bossy’s attempt to film her dogs’ ‘obedience’ (it still makes me chuckle just thinking about it), she has been trying to capture us next to flowers, which naturally fills me with an overwhelming and unfettered joy. Not. I’m concerned that the very hot weather we’ve been having has fried her brain: I mean seriously, do I look like a dog that enjoys the company of pale pink girly flowers? At least it’s quite entertaining when she lies down on the grass on her tummy to get a better angle, especially when she struggles to get up. What’s the point in a good angle if the subject has got bored with the tediousness of sitting still and wandered off? This photo is apparently a testament to my compliance, although it feels more like a punishment to me. At least nobody could mistake me for a dog happy to be caught next to a flower. She tried to photograph Java a number of times, but all she got was a dirty white blur. And Bossy considered the ‘flattened to the floor in a stranglehold’ look to be unflattering because it made her eyes boggle (Java’s, not Bossy’s). I really hope she loses the camera enthusiasm soon; in the meantime she’s the gift that just keeps on giving…

Ingredients (serves 4)

100g tinned whole water chestnuts, drained and finely chopped

500g lean pork mince

5 spring onions, finely chopped

1 clove of garlic, crushed

1 teaspoon grated root ginger

1 red chilli, finely chopped

1 teaspoon Chinese spice

1 tablespoon soya sauce

1 tablespoon cane sugar

salt and freshly ground black pepper

1 egg, beaten

3 tsp olive oil or peanut oil

Combine all the ingredients together well in a large bowl and form about 16 patties. Heat the oil in a large non-stick frying pan and fry for about four minutes on either side until cooked through and slightly caramelised. Delicious served hot or cold with fried rice, noodles or crispy Chinese cabbage salad.

Carrot cumin croquettes and a dog obedience video


Noisy has been teaching me to use acronyms because I’m having problems with my rather cumbersome paws on the small keyboard of my new ‘phone when I text and tweet. I found LMAO particularly appropriate when Bossy recently decided to make a ‘Dog Obedience’ video to put on YouTube. Who is she kidding? I worry about Bossy sometimes – it’s as if she lives in la la land. She took us for a walk and wanted to capture various ‘examples of canine obedience’ (you see what I mean?). Usually I just slope off and do my own thing when we go for a walk so as not to be irritated by incessant jabbering (Bossy’s) and hyperactive insanity (Java’s), but I decided to hang around a bit for this because I thought it might be amusing. I wasn’t disappointed. She had planned on filming Java’s perfect recall (I say this not without irony) just as Java picked up the scent of an UFFO (unidentified feathered flying object), so that was a non starter. When Java finally returned 20 minutes later, she resembled a panting, dribbling, filthy, sodden dishrag and, as such, was not at her most photogenic. This was a shame as her looks are her only asset. Undeterred, Bossy carried on filming while walking through the woods and Java went off to find a long, sturdy stick which she then rammed into the back of Bossy’s knees. The shock was enough to catapult Bossy through the air, camera in hand and still filming. I think she’s going to have to rethink the title of her video. I’m thinking ‘Delinquent Setters’ might be appropriate. LOL.

Ingredients (serves 4)

120g potatoes, peeled

60g carrots, peeled

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 clove garlic, crushed

2 teaspoons cumin seeds

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

1 egg, beaten

chickpea flour (or plain flour) for coating

Olive oil for frying

Boil the potatoes and carrots together until cooked. Drain well, add the olive oil, crushed garlic, cumin seeds and salt and pepper and mash well. Stir in the egg and then make round ‘patties’ coated in flour. Fry on each side until crisp and golden brown. Makes a delicious accompaniment to any main course, or may be served with a poached egg and green salad.

Crab chickpea pancakes (gf) and giant flying toddlers

‘My son is a numpty’. That’s what I wrote on the ‘reason for absence’ ticket when Léo missed school on Monday morning to have both wrists strapped up. I prefer to avoid Emergency if at all possible now, and take broken bones to visit our GP; his eyebrows are less judgmental and upwardly mobile than the hospital receptionist’s, and he knows deep down that we’re not intrinsically stupid and that I’m not an irresponsible mother. We’re just all a bit challenged when it comes to remaining upright.

Léo has been recuperating from a very nasty bout of flu/chest infection and, when I dropped him off in town this weekend with friends, it was not without apprehension. I’m now wondering how he took my parting words, ‘be careful and don’t do anything silly’ to mean ‘make sure to propel yourself through the air stuntman-style using your bike as a springboard’. It’s really quite puzzling. His father and I are hardly in a position to criticise though: We have more broken bones between us than we could count on the fingers of our four hands. Just yesterday, Luc, who was painting on the roof, asked me to open one of the upstairs windows in case he lost his balance so that he could ‘throw himself in’. On reflection, perhaps all three of us should take the precaution of being strapped up. In straitjackets.

These savoury pancakes make a great starter or a delicious light supper served with green salad.

Ingredients (serves 4)

1 egg, beaten

150g chickpea flour

200ml water

2 shallots, chopped

1 small courgette, peeled and grated

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

½ teaspoon bicarbonate of soda

½ teaspoon cumin seeds

1 teaspoon chilli powder (optional)

200g white crabmeat

Nigella seeds

Olive oil for frying

Mix the egg and flour together, gradually adding water until the consistency is smooth and similar to heavy cream. Add the shallots, courgette and seasoning, mixing well. Finally stir in the crabmeat. Heat some olive oil in a frying pan over a medium heat and spoon in enough batter to make a pancake of roughly 5cm diameter. Sprinkle with nigella seeds and fry until golden brown, roughly 2-3 minutes on each side.

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