A friend, who has a country house in Burgundy, told me about a problem she’d been having with a particularly ornery billy goat. The goat had got into the habit of appearing in her garden every evening; apparently its sole intent was digging up her roses bushes, and anything else in temptation’s way. She was greatly relieved when she finally managed to track down the owner and explain the damage caused over the past couple of weeks. The goat’s owner, not missing a beat, said: ‘Yes, well I can see he’s made a terrible mess of your garden! So what are you going to do about it? How are you going to keep him out?’ My friend, a psychiatrist, is not usually lost for words, nor ways to handle challenging people, but this exchange left her slack-jawed and well and truly stumped!
What to do with animals
Luc is in Paris for the weekend so I have been left on full-time animal duty, armed with lengthy instructions of What To Do. The dogs I know about, because I’m the one to walk and feed them usually, although I hadn’t factored in the fact that they would play up quite so much during the night. Hugo took it upon himself to move a very heavy armchair and hefty table at 2am. Noisily. And Java, perhaps stressed by the moving furniture, decided to repeatedly throw herself against a glass door.
The pigeons are easy, as all I need to do is throw five handfuls of grain at a certain spot on the grass. Although, accounting for the fact that my hands are much smaller than Luc’s, I should probably make that six handfuls, or so the instructions say. The horses need a precise quantity of hay twice a day, at 9am and 6pm. According to Luc’s instructions, they will try to manipulate me into feeding them at lunchtime, by whinnying in my direction, and stamping their feet hangrily. I am not to be taken in, as their lunch is the plentiful grass buffet, and they are both too fat for more hay. Got it.
On to the cat. Oh my god, the cat, a neurotic stray that first moved in about six years ago. Although he wasn’t neurotic when he arrived. He used to catch mice to eat, then little-by-little, Luc started to feed him. At first, it was dry cat food, but he went off that. Then he had expensive tinned food, which he also turned his nose up at after a little while. He now eats home-cooked casseroles, or prime cuts of meat or fish. What I didn’t know (until Friday) was that, in order for him to deign to eat at all, you have to wash his bowl in warm soapy water before every meal (presumably the cat equivalent of warming the plates), talk to him while you are preparing his food, continue talking while he is eating, and only stroke him if he ‘asks’. As my mother said, when I told her about catgate, ‘who would have thought that a great big macho would be such a softie with animals’. I’m still not sure how I feel about my husband being described as a ‘great big macho’, but I’m all catted out and too tired to care!
Recipe for chicken and morel mushrooms in white wine cream sauce (serves 4)
- 30g dried morel mushrooms, soaked overnight in cold water
- 4 shallots, sliced
- 4 skinless free-range chicken breasts, sliced
- Sea salt and freshly-ground black pepper
- 15g butter
- 100g mushrooms, sliced
- 2 bay leaves
- 200ml white wine
- 100ml chicken or vegetable stock
- 200ml double cream
Remove the morels from the soaking liquid, squeezing as much excess water out as possible. Chop any large morels in half and reserve. Season the chicken breasts with salt and pepper. Melt the butter over a medium heat in a large frying pan, add the shallots and chicken and fry gently for a couple of minutes on each side, then remove from the pan and set aside. In the butter that’s left in the pan, cook the soaked, cleaned morels and button mushrooms for a few minutes to soften, then season. Add the white wine, stock and double cream. Bring to the boil, then return the chicken breasts to the pan, coating them in the cream. Lower the heat to a gentle simmer and cook for 6 minutes or so until the chicken is cooked through. Take the chicken out of the pan briefly, turn up the heat and reduce the sauce on full boil until it coats the back of a spoon. Return the chicken to the pan, coat in sauce, adjust the seasoning and serve. Bon appétit!
I love the summer, when the windows are left open for the night air to cool the house. And for me to escape through, furtively. Once everyone’s in bed, I creep past Hugo on the tips of my paws, jump onto the window sill, then spring over the rosebush to freedom in the shadowy, moonlit garden.
Boars and badgers
My first stop is the wise old boar who lives quite close by. He’s always good for dispensing advice on dealing with humans. His insight is surprisingly spot-on for someone who has virtually no contact with them. I don’t stay too long because, once he gets started on a subject, he tends to harp on a bit. I’m fond of the boar and his rough-skinned ways though, and we have a lot in common: we both love mud, will eat just about anything with gusto, and hate the sound of guns. In his wisdom, he tells me that it’s a good thing hunting rifles are so noisy, as it’s a warning to hide.
Giving Bertie the Badger a wide berth (he can be very bad-tempered), I make my way through the pine trees and over the bridge to the deer that live by the river. I admire the deer for their beauty, grace, agility, and speed; we have these traits in common. They tell me about the blackberries that are ripening in the late summer sun, and the best places to find them. I can see they’ve been gorging because their muzzles are stained purple. They know all there is to know about edible plants and shrubs due to their odd eating habits; who eats roses for breakfast? Certainly not me!
Next stop: the mice and horses
My last visit is to the mice, who I find nestling in the horses’ hay. On the way I make a detour to say ‘bonsoir’ to Minou, the cat. We chat quite amicably at night, when nobody’s looking, but make a pretense of being enemies in the day; it’s what expected of us. Mice aren’t very interesting companions to be honest — they’re quite inconsequential — but I do like the way they roll. They love to party and sometimes organise an illicit rave in the kitchen at night, fueled by the crumbs left on the floor. They let me gently chew their little heads. They seem to enjoy it — I suppose it gives them a head massage, a bit of relaxation after their high jinks.
When I see that dawn is breaking, I head back home. The hedgehog, rabbits, and stone martens will have to wait for my visit another night.
This recipe uses courgettes, which I don’t see the point of, and cheese, which I love.
Recipe for courgette gratin (serves 4)
- 750g courgettes (unpeeled, sliced and lightly precooked)
- 2 shallots, finely chopped
- 2 eggs
- 200g crème fraîche
- 75g hard cheese (I used Comté)
- Seasalt and freshly ground black pepper
- 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
Preheat the oven to 200°C. Arrange the precooked courgettes and finely chopped shallots in a gratin dish. Beat the eggs, gradually adding the cream, cheese, and seasoning. Pour the mixture over the courgettes and shallots and bake for 15 minutes. Delicious served alone with green salad, or as a side dish.
A pair of goats turned up, quite unannounced, the other evening. Obviously visitors are always a welcome surprise, but I was a bit thrown by these; I’m not familiar with goat etiquette. Do you stick them in a grange and hope someone will claim them, or offer them dinner and send them on their way? I sent messages to all our potentially goat-owning neighbours, and the consensus seemed to be: ‘Not ours, but it’s hardly surprising they turned up — you run Club Med for animals’.
I have been trying out magnet therapy for my stiff neck. It’s supposed to be very effective for inflammation, and, so far it’s proving to be quite effective. Yesterday, while I was in the process of making dinner with a particularly sharp knife, my ‘phone rang. As I put the ‘phone to my ear, the knife sprang vigourously out of my hand, and onto the magnet on my neck, stabbing me the process. So, although the inflammation in my neck is quite a bit better, I’m now dealing with a minor stab wound.
I’m not really fit to be let loose in public: I keep accosting people I don’t know, and blanking people I do. I’m obviously not the only one to find masked faces a challenge though, because the doctor that jabbed me last week asked if I’d been on the operating bloc recently, as I ‘looked very familiar’. I know I’m a bit vague, but I think I’d remember being operated on so recently… I would, wouldn’t I?
A friend who visited recently made this for us during her stay. I loved it so much, I’ve made it quite a few times since.
Walnuts are full of vitamins and minerals, and are an especially rich source of Omega 3. They are a good source of copper, folic acid, phosphorus, vitamin B6, manganese and vitamin E.
Walnuts are also a rich source of phytosterols and antioxidants which help decrease inflammation. Consuming walnuts can enrich the gut microbiome, increasing good bacteria.
Recipe for French walnut tart (serves 6)
- 150g butter
- 270g flour (I used einkorn flour)
- 1 pinch of salt
- 225g walnuts
- 2 eggs
- 20cl fresh cream
- Drop of vanilla essence
- 100g cane sugar
- 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon, ginger and cardamon
Preheat the oven to 180°C.
To make the pastry, begin by cutting the butter into small cubes. Sift the flours and a pinch of salt together into in a mixing bowl, also adding the cubes of butter. Rub in and blend by hand until the mixture becomes crumbly. Add the cold water, mixing rapidly with a spoon. Remove the mixture from the bowl onto a lightly floured surface. Knead until you obtain a ball of pastry (if the mixture isn’t ‘sticky’ enough to form a ball, you may need a drop more water). Wrap in a clean cotton tea towel or some cling film and leave to ‘rest’ in the fridge for about two hours. This relaxes the dough and makes it easier to use.
For the filling, crush the walnuts and set aside. Beat the eggs, adding the cream, vanilla, and sugar and spices, mixing well. Add the crushed nuts and pour the mixture into the prepared pastry case. Bake at 180°C for 35 minutes. Delicious hot or cold.
It’s possibly not something you’ve tried, but it’s not easy to convince pigeons to move house. Especially if they’re luxuriating in the pigeon equivalent of a smallish, but charming château, and you’re trying to entice them into a one-bedroom flat with no balcony. Luckily, Luc loves a challenge, and we need their present accommodation to expand the wine-making cellar, so war has been declared. As Luc wearily explained to me that the pigeons were resisting the move, his hands were curled into determined fists, and he strode off punching the air and exclaiming ‘Je les aurai! Je les aurai!’ (I will get them! I will get them!)
Last week I received a copy of ‘International Hatchery Practice’ in the letterbox by mistake. At least I think it was by mistake. It is a very technical journal containing ‘practical information for better breading and hatching’. I thought that the article entitled ‘Chick Performance’ was rather open to interpretation, especially as it precedes articles about cockerels, fertility, and diseased eggs… Anyway, although it’s obviously quite gripping and very informative, I think I’ll resist taking out a subscription for the time-being.
Luc and a neighbour have taken to building and installing little wooden bridges everywhere (there were seven at last count). Although they are most welcome — they mean we can now cross our little rivers and streams without getting wet feet — I’m worried they might have become an addiction, as the last one crosses a dry ditch and is, as such, totally superfluous. It’s going to be interesting to see what happens in the rainy season when large puddles form; are they going to be able to resist temptation?
These potatoes are called boulangère potatoes, or bakers’ potatoes as, traditionally, they were given to the local baker to slow bake in his bread oven.
Recipe for boulangère potatoes (serves 4-6)
- 800g potatoes, peeled
- 1 large onion
- 4 cloves of garlic, crushed
- 150ml chicken or vegetable stock
- 100ml cream
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 1/2 teaspoon paprika
- Sprigs of rosemary
Preheat the oven to 180°C. Prepare a gratin dish by coating with the olive oil. Slice the potatoes fairly thinly. Peel and chop the onion. Arrange a layer of potatoes over the base of the dish, followed by some onion, garlic and seasoning. Continue to layer the potatoes, onion and garlic and seasoning, finishing with a layer of potatoes. Pour the stock and cream over the top and add the sprigs of rosemary. Cook for about an hour, until the top layer is golden-brown.
There is a particularly grumpy, confirmed bachelor wild boar that lives in the woods not far from us. I think that he and Hugo are very alike and, as such, seem to annoy each other unreasonably. Whenever we go through the woods, either on foot or horseback, Hugo uproots the poor chap, who really wishes us no harm. I haven’t seen the boar recently; I think he’s probably in the market for a new home, with quieter, less disruptive neighbours.
It was our 20th wedding anniversary yesterday, and we went to an excellent restaurant in the grounds of a Bordelaise wine château for dinner. Léo graced us with his presence and, very sweetly and quite out of the blue, announced that now, after over 18 years’ experience, he had become immune to being embarrassed by us in public. I’m not sure exactly how we used to embarrass him, although when I look at the photos he took last night, I begin to understand. I always look a bit ‘One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest’ in photos. Some people might say the camera never lies; I maintain it’s mean and unforgiving where I’m concerned.
Luc, who is not a lover of broccoli (what is it with men and broccoli? I don’t know a single male broccoli-eater!) approved this sauce, saying it made the broccoli ‘almost edible’. Not only does this sauce encourage men to eat broccoli almost whinge-free, it also packs a punch health-wise.
Broccoli is packed with nutrients to support the liver and aid detoxification. It has high levels of isothiocyanates, indoles and dithiolethiones, which help protect the body from cancer by regulating the way the cells respond to environmental elements. Salads and green vegetables are always best when combined with oil or fat to help absorption of the nutrients.
Walnuts are also full of vitamins and minerals, and are an especially rich source of Omega 3. They are also a rich source of antioxidants and help decrease inflammation. Consuming walnuts can enrich the gut microbiome, increasing good bacteria.
Recipe for broccoli with blue cheese and walnut sauce (serves 2)
- 1 broccoli, cut into medium-size florets
- 25g butter or 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 heaped tablespoon corn flour
- sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
- ½ teaspoon of paprika
- 1 teaspoon mustard
- 1 clove of garlic, crushed
- 50ml plain yoghurt
- 50ml chicken or vegetable stock
- 50g roquefort, crumbled (you could use any blue cheese)
- 10 walnuts, shelled and crushed
- Chopped chives to garnish
Cook the brocolli ‘al dente’ in salted boiling water for about 10 minutes. Better still, steam cook it. While the brocolli is cooking make the sauce. Place the corn flour and butter or olive oil in a saucepan over a gentle heat, and combine well to form a thick paste. Add the seasoning, mustard, garlic, yoghurt and stock and stir continously until the mixture thickens. Add the blue cheese and heat and stir until it melts. Finally add the crushed walnuts, mixing well. Pour over the brocolli, sprinkle the chives over the top and serve!
I’m not a natural candidate for yoga: I’m easily distracted, tend to hyperactivity, and have a rather self-destructive affinity to dangerous sports. But these things actually make me a perfect candidate for yoga; virtually everyone is a perfect candidate for yoga! I started to practise on a regular basis when my love for the more high-risk sports caused my back pain to become debilitating, and, not only has it been a godsend, I have come to really enjoy it.
Tamsin runs an exquisite yoga retreat from her home in southwest France. She offers intimate, thoughtfully designed courses aimed to reset, balance and strengthen.
Tamsin also offers really excellent online yoga classes, and if you mention The Healthy Epicurean she will offer you a free trial class.
Give it a go – there’s something to suit all levels.
I have a food fight-related injury: Last night I sat reading next to Java’s food bowl, which was obviously a bad idea. Hugo appeared and, presumably deciding that her bowl looked more enticing than his, tucked in. Fourteen kilo Java immediately launched herself at 35 kilo Hugo, the force of which catapulted me out of the chair, and headfirst into a fairly substantial cactus plant. They both escaped intact — although I suspect Hugo’s pride took a kicking — and I ended up with blood coursing down my forehead.
On the subject of thorny shrubs, I planted a beautiful rosebush about a month ago. Its growth has been inversely proportional to the amount of time it has been in the ground. The reason for this was spotted last week: A baby deer breakfasts on the flowers every morning. It gives me such pleasure to see the fawn, that I’ve been Googling ‘snacks for baby deer’ for when the flowers run out!
Health benefits of ginger
Ginger is sometimes described as the ‘king of anti inflammatory foods’. It has been used in virtually every traditional healing system in the world for thousands of years.
The powerful essential oils that give ginger its spicy taste and aroma, zingerone and shogaol, are both powerful anti inflammatory agents, working in a similar way to COX-2 inhibitors in that they inhibit an enzyme called cyclo-oxygenase, the enzyme responsible for inflammation and pain. Gingerols are also potent antioxidants, which increase its anti inflammatory action. This explains why, in recent years, ginger has emerged as a beneficial treatment for people suffering from arthritis.
Ginger is a very powerful circulatory stimulant. It acts by relaxing and widening the blood vessel walls, so it is also very effective for lowering blood pressure. It is also often used as a remedy for nausea. Ginger is also a powerful immune moderator; the gingerols interfere with the production of cytokines, helping to deactivate them.
Recipe for pear gingerbread (serves 8)
- 150g molasses
- 50g agave syrup
- 75g coconut oil
- 1 egg
- 1 tablespoon yoghurt
- 175g flour (I used spelt flour)
- Pinch of salt
- 1/2 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
- 250g ripe pears, peeled, cored and sliced
- 50g fresh ginger, grated
Grease and prepare a loaf tin. Preheat the oven to 170°C. Place the molasses, agave syrup and coconut oil in a saucepan and heat gently until the coconut oil has melted. Beat the egg and the yoghurt together. Sift the flour, salt and bicarbonate of soda into a bowl. Combine all of the ingredients, including the pears and ginger, mixing well. Transfer the mixture to the prepared loaf tin and bake for about 50 minutes, or until risen and firm to the touch.
Bossy new cars
Picture me, happily driving along in my nice new car — I don’t know much about cars, but I can tell you it is very clean and white, and that the seats do back massages — when out of nowhere someone barks ‘keep both hands on the wheel’. I drive on, nervously gripping the wheel more tightly, and the voice says ‘you are driving over the speed limit’. I’m pretty sure that I left my husband at home, my son is in Bordeaux, and the dogs aren’t allowed in the new car (and anyway they don’t bark orders; they’re far too busy chewing the upholstery). The orders continue: ‘stop swearing at other road users’, and ‘are you sure you brushed your hair this morning?’ Is this a case of bossy karma? For the first time in my life I’m forced to open an instruction manual; why can’t I find ‘how to disable the despot’ in the index?
I wake up confused every single morning, and it takes me a good few minutes to sort things out in my head. As if ‘where am I?’ and ‘what day/month/year is it?’ weren’t taxing enough, I now have to contend with ‘am I allowed out of the house?’ and, if so, ‘do I need to fill out a form?’ and then ‘on how many counts do I need to avoid the police if I do venture out?’. And now, to add insult to injury, I’m the proud owner of an autocratic car, that has so far managed to dodge being silenced (the manual got the better of my puppy-like attention span). I’m thankful France isn’t a nanny state, because ‘today you can hug three adults and a toddler inside, while turning your head away’ would send me into a tailspin.
Health benefits of almonds
Almonds are a great source of fibre and protein, and are a great source of vitamin E, selenium, zinc, calcium, magnesium and B vitamins.
Research by the British Journal of Nutrition shows that moderate nut consumption is beneficial, not only for heart health, but also substantially helps reduce hunger and cravings. A study in China showed that eating almonds resulted in lower levels of insulin and glucose, which is good news for diabetes sufferers. Almonds are also beneficial for gut health, as they alter the composition of the gut microbiome.
Recipe for almond and pear cake (serves 6-8)
- 2 large pears, peeled and sliced
- 2 tablespoons Amaretto
- 150g cane sugar
- 3 eggs
- 2 teaspoons almond extract
- 150g einkorn flour (you could use ordinary flour, or spelt flour)
- 50g ground almonds
- Pinch of salt
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- Half teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
- 75ml melted virgin coconut oil
- 75ml olive oil
- Handful flaked almonds
Preheat the oven to 180°C and prepare and grease a loaf tin. Lightly poach the pears in the Amaretto and a small amount of water. Once the pears are soft (about 5 minutes), drain the excess cooking juice and set aside.
Beat the sugar and eggs together until homogeneous, add the almond essence and then gradually add the flour, ground almonds, salt, baking powder and bicarbonate of soda. Add the melted coconut oil and olive oil, mixing well. Lastly, stir in the poached pears, transfer the mixture to the tin and add the flaked almonds on top. Bake for 35/40 minutes, or until a skewer comes out clean.
Just under 20 years ago, I visited an endocrinologist because I was suffering terrible palpitations. He did some blood tests and, seeing that my thyroid, iron levels, etc were normal, prescribed beta blockers. He seemed extremely taken aback when I wanted to know the cause of the palpitations, instead of just accepting his ‘bandaid’. The beta blockers worked well, but I was concerned that it seemed as though I might be beta blockered for life; there had to be a reason – my heart hadn’t just made a unilateral decision to ‘rave’ 24/7.
After some research, and a visit to a naturopathic doctor, it turned out I was very deficient in magnesium. This also explained the terrible muscle and joint pain I had been having. It sometimes really is that simple. I happily replaced my beta blockers, muscle relaxants and ibuprofen with magnesium-rich food, and a good magnesium supplement and haven’t looked back.
From birth to eight months, my son, Léo, slept in stretches of about an hour, when he would wake up screaming. The local doctor said he was ‘capricious’, and was doing his best ironing board impression at hourly intervals throughout the night for fun. After numerous pitiful attempts, I eventually found a wonderfully understanding pediatrician, with a forensic attention to detail and a sympathetic ear, who immediately diagnosed silent reflux. She prescribed the necessary medication, as well as changes to his eating and sleeping arrangements. That night my ‘capricious’ baby slept for 12 hours straight.
The other doctors had missed this diagnosis because it was ‘silent’ (he wasn’t vomiting or even regurgitating). I returned to see the local doctor because I thought she might be interested to hear the conclusion, perhaps for other patients. She flat-out refused to believe he had silent reflux on the basis that if you can’t see it, touch it, or test it, it doesn’t exist. She had made her helpful diagnosis of ‘capricious’ and she was sticking to it.
We still visit the doctor from time-to-time and, as you will read here, I am eternally grateful for many aspects of modern medicine. We are mostly vaccinated, and take things like antibiotics or cortisone when necessary. But there is a time and place for everything, and these two experiences turned out to be salutary: I learnt that in order to stay healthy, I had to advocate, sometimes forcefully, for my family’s health.
I started to study naturopathy 15 years ago, and I am a certified Natural Health Consultant and Educator. A number of people have contacted me to ask whether I provide online consultations. Over the years I have been consulting on an informal basis, but I would now like to offer this to everyone that might be interested. Please see this page for further information.
About seven years ago, Léo found an abandoned baby turtle dove under an oak tree. I have fond memories of him/her sharing our mealtimes, sitting and pecking in a cardboard nesting box on the kitchen or terrace table. Léo fed him different grains, but he had a particular penchant for couscous. The baby dove grew big and strong (all the couscous), and upped and left us in September to migrate with his family for the winter.
My passion for turtle doves
Turtle doves come back to their birthplace, and every Spring I imagine I see our grown-up baby, especially when one approaches the house. Today I’m pretty sure my wishful inkling is spot-on; this lunchtime, while we were enjoying lamb tagine on the terrace, a very self-assured adult dove perched himself at the end of the table and looked pointedly at my plate. It was a look that definitely said: ‘and where is my couscous?’
Turmeric or ‘Indian Solid Gold’, has been used in Ayurvedic medicine for over 4,000 years for its wound-healing and anti-inflammatory properties. It is prevalent in Indian cuisine and is believed to be one of the reasons that cancer rates in India are significantly lower than in Western countries.
Turmeric is poorly absorbed by the body, but research show that cooking it in liquid, with added fat and black pepper facilitates absorption.
Recipe for cauliflower in turmeric chickpea batter (serves 3-4)
- 150g chickpea (gram) flour
- 1 pinch of salt, freshly ground black pepper
- 1/2 teaspoon turmeric powder (or better, crushed fresh turmeric root)
- 1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds
- 1 clove of garlic, crushed
- 1/2 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
- 150ml lukewarm water
- 4 medium-sized cauliflower florets
- Olive oil
Sift the flour, seasoning and bicarbonate of soda into a mixing bowl, and add the water, mixing well to form a batter. Leave to rest for about 30 minutes. If the mixture thickens too much, add more water.
Rince the cauliflower and slice into pieces roughly 4mm thick. Coat well with the batter and fry in olive oil until golden.