We’ve been sleeping with the all windows wide open to make the most of the slightly cooler night air, which means that I was woken at 3am a few days ago by a very noisy, metallic and somewhat unorthodox rendition of When The Saints Go Marching In. After a quick recce, which involved almost knocking myself out on a wooden beam, I came to the conclusion that I hadn’t actually fallen asleep in a sleazy jazz club, and the appalling racket was coming from the direction of the stables. Never underestimate my powers of deduction. Torch in hand, I soon discovered Bijou (our youngest horse) in full swing by the water trough, which I suppose must be the equine equivalent of a bar. He had got hold of two metal buckets, three tins, a broom and a hoof pick and was delighting in putting each item to maximum sonic use with the help of his hooves and surrounding walls, whilst strutting his funky stuff. The other horses were looking on slightly bemused and I don’t think I’m mistaken in saying that one of the more adoring hens (Bijou is very handsome) was tapping her foot in time to the surprisingly rhythmic din. Hugo and Java slept right through the performance – I don’t think they can be jazz connoisseurs.
My musical nights mean I’m not always in a state to contemplate elaborate recipes, but I think some of the nicest dishes are a happy marriage of flung-together ingredients. This is a good example.
Figs are a particularly rich source of minerals such as potassium, calcium, magnesium, iron and copper. They are also high in fibre and vitamins A, E and K. Figs also contain prebiotics, which help support the pre-existing good bacteria in the gut, improving digestion and general health.
Ingredients (serves 4)
12 fresh figs, cleaned and cut in half
8 large tablespoons of mascarpone
2 teaspoons ginger, freshly grated
4 tablespoon runny honey
20 walnuts, roughly broken
2 teaspoons cinnamon
Arrange the figs in individual desert bowls. Combine the mascarpone and freshly grated ginger and add two large tablespoons per bowl. Drizzle a tablespoon of honey over the figs and mascarpone, add the walnuts and finally sprinkle with cinnamon. Serve immediately!
Following on from my previous post about Jazz, our thoroughbred Arabian horse and his water-sensitive coat, I’m pleased to report that he now fully-equipped with suitable waterproof attire, and his neuroses are calmed. He is so pleased with his new coat that he showcases it, with a little pirouette, for anyone that hasn’t already admired it. With the Jazz problem sorted, attention-starved Bijou decided to perfect turning on the taps and lights in the grange with his nose at 3am. As we hear the noisy water pump inside the house, and the lights make Java bark, he has become the cause of many an interrupted night. It’s not too surprising though; he has form as a night time pest.
Léo was speaking to a Turkish Erasmus student last week, who said that she had seen more male genitalia since arriving in France three weeks ago than in 21 years of life in Istanbul. Léo, rather taken aback, and not wishing to delve too deeply, would have left it at that, but the poor girl, bewildered — and slightly traumatized — went on to say: ‘What on earth is it with you Frenchmen and whipping it out and peeing in the street?’ She said that in Turkey, men wouldn’t think of indulging, as it’s illegal. As Léo replied, it’s illegal in France too, but it doesn’t seem to stop anyone. Just so you know, the fine for ‘pipi-sauvage’ in France is, on average 68€, but in Bordeaux, where this conversation was taking place, it’s 450€! The Bordelaise certainly like to live life on the edge.
Recipe for tagliatelle with prawns and Pernod (serves 4)
- 4 tablespoons olive oil
- 2 shallots, peeled and chopped
- 1 fennel, trimmed, rinsed and coarsely grated
- 2 large garlic clove, peeled and crushed
- 1 small red chilli, finely chopped
- 360g tagliatelle
- 300g raw king prawns, peeled and deveined
- 50ml Pernod (vermouth would work too)
- Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
- Small bunch of parsley, chopped
Gently heat the oil in a frying pan and fry the shallots, fennel, garlic and red chilli. Cook the tagliatelle (al dente) according to the instructions. Adding the prawns to the mixture in the frying pan, cook until pink. Add the Pernod, seasoning and parsley, stirring well. Toss the prawn mixture in the tagliatelle and serve immediately.
Léo mentioned our beehive issue to fellow students in Bordeaux, where he is studying. It turns out that the ‘Bordelais’ refer to the Landes, which is just to the South of Bordeaux, and where we live, as the ‘Wild West’. As such, beehivegate resulted in philosophical shrugs and ‘c’est normal pour les Landes’ comments. This seemed pretty accurate a few days later when, at the notary’s office on other business, we mentioned the problem. We explained that we had rogue beehives on our land, and that we were looking for compensation in honey. We fully expected him to refer us to page 1043 of the Beekeeper’s Code of Conduct, or some such. Instead, his advice was to make absolutely sure they gave us proper heather honey, and not ‘that disgusting sunflower crap’!
Jazz, the horse we acquired recently to accompany Bijou, another of our horses, has not dealt well with the recent rain fall. Arab horses have particularly sensitive skin and seemingly, Jazz is no exception. Despite three shelters, he got very wet on Friday, and this very nearly catapulted him into a nervous breakdown. Outwardly, he showed the signs of a horse with colic: rolling, pawing the ground, looking despairingly at his abdomen… What didn’t make sense was that he kept alternately jumping up in the air as if on springs, and then sitting on the ground like a dog. When I noticed that rubbing him with a towel seemed to bring comfort, I realised it wasn’t colic; it was a full-blown damp-coat hissy fit. As soon as I got inside, I ordered him a raincoat, thinking, trust us to end up with a horse with severe weather neurosis.
Recipe for rum raisin and almond chocolates
- 50g raisins
- 2 tablespoons of rum
- 50g almonds
- 200g good quality dark chocolate (I use this one, which is excellent for cooking)
Soak the raisins in the rum for at least four hours, overnight if possible. Toast the nuts in the oven until lightly browned and fragrant, let cool, then chop coarsely.
You can just gently melt the chocolate in a bain-marie, stir in the rum-soaked raisins and almonds and then fill the silicone moulds (I use these) with the mixture and leave them to set in the fridge. Or for a really shiny, flawless finish, you will need to temper the chocolate (see below).
To temper dark chocolate
Untempered chocolate is less controlled and uneven, resulting in a duller appearance. Untempered chocolate is also more sensitive to heat and humidity, and melts more easily.
Finely chop the chocolate and place two thirds in a metal bowl over a saucepan of simmering water. Make sure the bottom of the bowl does not touch the water. Place a digital thermometer in the chocolate, which you should stir frequently with a rubber spatula. The temperature of the chocolate should never exceed 48°C. Once the chocolate has melted, remove the bowl from the heat. Stir in the remaining third of chocolate little by little, letting it melt before adding more. Leave the chocolate to cool to about 28°C, then immediately place it over the simmering water again. Reheat to 31-32°C and remove the bowl again once you have reached the temperature. The chocolate should now be ‘in temper’ and must be used quickly before it cools and sets. If it does cool and solidify before you have finished using it, it should be re-tempered (i.e. reheated to 32°C).
There are some newcomers at our homestead, some welcome, others not so much. In August we inadvertently became hosts to five million bees. We didn’t actually count them because that would have been laborious and dangerous, we counted the hives and used a calculator. The average beehive houses between 20,000 and 80,000 bees, and there are just over 100 hives. The problem is not the hives, but the fact that the bees use our pool; seemingly for recreation as well as quenching their thirst! After a bit of research, we discovered that a beekeeper, based over 60kms away, wanted to make heather honey, and decided our land was the ideal place to do it. Apparently it didn’t occur to him to ask our permission, for the use of the heather or the pool. I’m all for bees; in fact I’m a big fan, I’m just not keen on swimming with them. We suggested they pay their rent in honey: it will be honetary compensation!
We also have two more horses. One of the horses, Bijou, we owned already, but he has been on loan to a nearby riding club, having been chased from his stable by our two grays. Whoever imagines that horses are not racist, imagines wrongly. The grays used to make life very difficult for Bijou who is chestnut, by blocking his access to hay, chasing him around the field and generally behaving like grey-supremacist hooligans. Now Bijou has his own fields and a gorgeous, newly-acquired chestnut friend called Jazz. Their contact with the greys is restricted to unpleasantries over the fencing.
Chestnuts (the nuts, not the horses) are nutrient-dense. They are vitamin and mineral-rich, and also a great source of antioxidants. Chestnuts are high in fibre, which means they are effective for both blood sugar and hunger control. The tannins and flavonoids help suppress inflammation and in-vitro studies show that extracts from chestnuts suppress the growth and spread of various types of cancer cells.
Recipe for butternut squash and chestnut soup (serves 6)
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 tablespoon butter
- 1 onion, chopped
- 250g of pre-cooked chestnuts
- 1 butternut squash, peeled and cut into cubes
- 2 carrots, peeled and cut into rounds
- 1.5 litres of chicken stock
- Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
- Curry powder to taste (optional)
- 200ml cream
Fry the onions in the olive oil and melted butter until golden brown. Add the chestnuts, butternut squash and carrots and then chicken stock and bring to the boil. Season and cook for about 30 minutes, or until the vegetables are soft. Add the cream and purée until smooth.
The equine osteopath paid a visit to put Bijou’s ankle back into place the other day. He had dislocated it while gallivanting furiously around the field with Java; just how incompetent can a horse be? It’s a shame the osteopath couldn’t put his brain back into place too. At one point he and Java were so over-excited that he was bucking, pirouetting and galloping simultaneously. And I certainly don’t say this as a nod to his prowess.
In other news, Java has been passing the time chewing on hens’ heads. I’m not sure whether her intent is malicious or not, although I do know that I wouldn’t feel comfortable about having my head chewed on by Java. I will have to explain to her that, in civilised circles, you wait until the chicken is cooked before chewing on it. I do feel a little responsible though – I’m afraid she may have spotted me doing something similar when I was a dishy young whippersnapper (as opposed to the handsome and distinguished older man that I have become) and one of the hens and I were an item. Those were the days…
Hopefully this recipe will show Java why it’s worth waiting for the chicken to be cooked before eating it, although I’m not holding my breath.
Ingredients (serves 4)
4 chicken breasts, cut into strips
150g plain yoghurt
1 tablespoon olive oil
Juice of 1 lemon
2 shallots, peeled and chopped
2 cloves of garlic, crushed
1 teaspoon fresh ginger, grated
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground corinder
1 teaspoon chilli powder
1 teaspoon garam masala
Mix the ingredients together and marinate the chicken breasts for at least an hour, or overnight if possible. Preheat the oven to 220°C. Place the chicken on a lightly oiled baking tray and cook for about 15 minutes, depending on the size of the pieces. Delicious served with basmati rice or chickpea pancakes.
Somebody is going to have to give me a crash course in human logic, or lack thereof, because there are things I’m currently struggling to understand. First of all, I thought that the main function of a butcher was to provide you with an endless supply of slobberingly succulent meat. Not so apparently. The Tall One believes our butcher to be of unparalleled counsel when it comes to his own joints, cartilage and bones and takes his advice over the doctor’s when it comes to treating his dodgy knee. So, since the butcher told him that cycling was the way forward, he has had his bicycle surgically attached (have you noticed that I’ve mastered the metaphor?).
The Tall One and Bossy sometimes take Texas, the very old horse, and Bijou, the very young, insufferably silly horse to a field where proximity to a river and shady oak trees means the grass stays lush year-round. Taking them there is one thing, bringing them back quite another. Bijou has a tendency to pinch the head collars from their ‘safe place’ and hide them. So, bearing in mind that humans are meant to be of superior intelligence, this is what I don’t understand: Why don’t they just find another place to store the head collars? Bijou gets the better of them every time which means that, as he’s quite good at hiding things, they invariably come back ‘au natural’ (the horses, not the intellectually-challenged humans). The sight of Bossy and Tall trying to round them up on their bicycles makes it all worthwhile though.
So to conclude, if you’ve got dodgy knees, the butcher’s your man. And if you want to outwit your animals Bossy and Tall are most certainly not…
I have to say that Bossy outdid herself with this dish, although I might only be saying that because I feel a bit mean inferring that she and her husband are ‘intellectually-challenged’. I’m not usually a big fan of spices, but this was subtly fragrant and the tagine dish was a pleasure to lick clean.
Ingredients (serves 4)
3 tablespoons of olive oil
2 medium onions, chopped
3 cloves of garlic, crushed
8 chicken thighs
Juice of half a lemon
4 medium-sized carrots, peeled and cut
1 red pepper, washed and cut into strips
1 green pepper, washed and cut into strips
2 teaspoons cumin seeds
1 teaspoon fresh ginger, grated
1 cinnamon stick
1 teaspoon turmeric
1 teaspoon coriander
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
Two tablespoons of honey
200g dried prunes
150ml chicken stock
Fresh coriander to serveGently brown the onions, garlic and chicken in the olive oil in a medium-sized casserole dish (or a tagine if you have one). Once golden brown (after about five minutes), add the lemon juice, carrots, peppers, seasoning and spices and continue to brown for a further five minutes. Add the honey, prunes and chicken stock and bring to a gentle boil. Simmer for about half an hour with the lid on and then remove the lid to allow the sauce to caramelise slightly. Sprinkle with freshly chopped coriander. Delicious served with couscous.
I’ve long suspected Bijou, our five-year-old gelding, to have a highly-developed sense of humour. (One of his first jokes was to chuck me in a ditch and then tread on me. That was a real howl.) He’s also a non-smoker with a lean, muscular physique and indisputably good looks; really quite a catch. Always happy to be of service, he opens field gates to allow the other horses to come and go as they please, although he has yet to learn to to shut them. And he picks up buckets in his teeth and flings them against the wall, which is great fun I suppose as long as you’re not a bucket. He clings on to his bit with his teeth when his bridle is removed, like a baby refusing to give up his dummy and chews on freshly-washed clothes drying on the line.
His latest trick though was quite the most audacious, even for him. Luc, who had been working in the field, stripped off his t-shirt and put it over the tractor door as it was very hot. Bijou, who had been hanging out with him (he loves to socialise), didn’t miss a beat: He reached up and seized the t-shirt between his teeth, turned on his hooves and took off at a gallop, dust flying in his wake. When he finally stopped, he turned around defiantly with the t-shirt hanging from his mouth as if to say ‘well aren’t you coming to get it?’ There followed a lengthy negotiation before he would unlock his teeth, but the t-shirt was eventually retrieved sporting several chew holes and large grass stains.
Green beans are more nutritious than t-shirts and contain substantial amounts of chlorophyll, which can block the carcinogenic effects of meat grilled at a high temperature. In barbecue season, green beans make the perfect accompaniment. Green beans are also a good source of copper, vitamin B1, chromium, magnesium, calcium, potassium, phosphorus, choline, vitamin A, niacin, omega-3 fatty acids, iron, vitamin B6, and vitamin E.
Ingredients (serves 6)
1kg green beans
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 spring onions, peeled and sliced
1 red pepper, sliced
1 tomato, chopped
2 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
Sea salt and freshly-ground black pepper
1 teaspoon piment d’Espelette or paprika
Handful of fresh basil, chopped
Precook the beans until ‘al dente’, strain and set aside. Gently heat the olive oil in a large frying pan adding the onions and cooking for a few minutes. Add the sliced red pepper, tomato and garlic and continue to cook until the red pepper and tomato soften. Add the green beans and seasoning, gently combining and cook for a few more minutes. Add the basil and serve.
I am writing this in my new-found capacity as Patron Saint of Naughty Horses. Every time horses stray in our village, it is assumed, quite mistakenly of course, that they’re ours. I got a call from the Mairie early the other morning informing me that there were two horses loose in the village, and could I please go and sort them out. Looking out of the window to do a quick head count I said, not altogether un-smugly, that mine were all present and correct and that I wasn’t the only person in the village to have wilful horses. We then went through the list of horse-owning potential suspects, all of whose phone numbers I had, which presumably made me guilty by association. She then very kindly kept me updated after every conversation, which was nice as I had nothing else planned for the morning beyond fielding calls about delinquent quadrupeds.
My smugness was short-lived because the following Sunday brought a visit from the ‘gendarmes’; our most recent purchase had been found dazed and confused in town and, in view of the fact that he was roaming the pavements and cruising the shops and bars, they muttered something about vagabondage charges. At the suggestion of my imaginative husband however, we ended up agreeing that, just this once, they would squint and pretend he was a particularly large and docile deer (Bijou our horse; not my imaginative husband).
This crumble is made using millet flour, which is a delicious, slightly nutty-tasting gluten-free alternative. It is one of the least allergenic of all flours and very easily digestible due to its high alkalinity. It is an excellent source of iron, magnesium, calcium, phosphorus, manganese, zinc and B vitamins.
Ingredients (serves 8)
For the filling:
2kg of apples, peeled, cored sliced and sprinkled with lemon juice
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
2 tablespoons of honey
Several handfuls of raspberries, fresh or frozen
For the topping:
125g millet flour
Pinch of salt
1 teaspoon powdered ginger
50g coconut oil
50g butter, cut into cubes
50g almond flakes
100g cane sugar (or rapadura sugar)
Preheat the oven to 180°C. Gently poach the apples in a little water, adding the cinnamon and honey. Add the raspberries once the apples have softened and mix. Transfer to a ovenproof baking dish. For the crumble, put the flour, salt, ginger, coconut oil and butter into a mixing bowl and rub in using your fingertips. You should obtain a sandlike mixture. Add the oats, almond flakes and sugar and mix well. Cover the fruit with the crumble mixture and bake for 40 minutes or until the topping begins to turn golden brown. Serve warm with ice cream or Greek yoghurt.
I don’t really understand girls. I thought I did, but I don’t. Océane (the only mare of the four horses), took an instant, irrational dislike to Bijou (the four-year-old with a ditch problem) when he first arrived. In fact, she was so aggressive and unpleasant that he ended up covered with tooth and hoof marks and they had to be separated. Yesterday, having spent the whole previous night loudly whinnying for her long-lost love, she barged her way through the electric fence (which made The Tall One very cross) and hasn’t left his side since. At one point, Bijou, in an attempt to free himself from her neediness, jumped out of the field. This sent her positively hysterical and she bucked and called after him until he’d been rounded up and returned to her side. Still, at least with all her silliness I added a new word to my already fairly extensive vocabulary: Fickle.
Which brings me to Java. Having once been absolutely terrified of horses (or the ‘gigantic dogs’ as she calls them, bless her) she now chases Bijou around the field until she manages to grab his tail between her teeth. Then she doesn’t let go until he’s galloping faster than she can run, which, although it pains me to say it, is pretty fast. It exhausts me just watching them. So what is it with the girls and Bijou? He must have hidden powers of seduction, although I fail to see how he can be more charming than me…
I assume that this carrot cake must be for the horses; they’re the only ones silly enough to eat a cake made with carrots and apples. I’m not a fan obviously, but according to everyone else it is very tasty.
Ingredients (serves 16)
250ml olive oil
175g cane sugar
250g carrots, grated
100g apple, grated
100g ground almonds
150g spelt flour (or wheat flour)
1 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
Pinch of salt
1 level teaspoon garam masala (or allspice)
1 level teaspoon ground ginger
75g raisins pre-soaked in rum
100g walnuts, chopped
Grease and prepare a medium-size cake tin and preheat the oven to 180°C. Place the oil and sugar in a mixing bowl and beat well. Add the eggs and continue to beat until the mixture becomes pale in colour. Add the grated apple and carrots to the mix and then fold in the almonds, flour, bicarbonate of soda, baking powder, seasoning and spices. Lastly stir in the raisins and walnuts and transfer to the cake tin. Bake for 50 minutes, or until a skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean.