Whisky and ginger marmelade and indigestible books
Following my previous blog post, I had a message from somebody irked by my flippancy, with recommendations for, amongst other things, dog training books. Many years ago, when I got my first labrador puppy, Loulou, I bought a book called ‘How to have an obedient dog’. As it turned out, I should have bought the sequel too: ‘How to avoid having books chewed to pieces as soon as you buy them’. So no thank you, I won’t be going down that road again.
I think for many people, myself included, trying to see the funny side of things is a coping mechanism. And let’s face it, life is a bit of a shit show at the moment. Also my sense of irony is often directly proportional to my back pain. For example, when I wrote this post, I didn’t know whether I was going to walk again properly.
So now we’ve cleared up the fact that I’m not a sociopathic monster, just a bit ‘bantery’ and immature, on to the marmelade.
While citrus peel provides many of the same nutritional benefits as the rest of the fruit such as antioxidants, vitamin C and polyphenols, it also contains provitamin A, B vitamins and calcium. The essential oils in the peel contain high levels of limonene, which is a powerful anti-inflammatory that helps ease heartburn and reflux, and reduce anxiety and stress. In addition to this, it helps maintain a healthy metabolism and lower high blood sugar levels.
Surprisingly enough, whisky too is a good source of polyphenols, the antioxidants linked with multiple health benefits. Whisky is also purported to help clear the mucous and congestion caused by colds. As with all things, to be taken in moderation…
Recipe for whiskey and ginger marmelade
- 1kg Seville oranges
- 1 lemon
- 2cm piece of fresh root ginger
- 1kg sugar
- 250ml whisky
Wash the fruit well as you won’t be peeling. Cut into quarters, and place in a food processor, along with the ginger. Blitz until you obtain the desired texture. Transfer the chopped mixture to a large non-stick saucepan and add the sugar. Bring to a gentle boil and simmer for about 30 minutes, or until you reach the required texture. Add the whisky at the end of cooking time, stirring well. Leave to cool for about 10 minutes before transferring to sterilised jars.
Red berry pancakes, chamomile thieves, linden squatters and stoned martens
Since the beginning of March I feel as if the cogs of my brain have been paddling upstream in a muddy river. It isn’t unusual for me to wake up with no idea what day it is, but to be unable to remember where I am, the month, or even the season is disconcerting, even for me. I have a tendency to overthink everything, so this post pot-binge state hasn’t been altogether unpleasant, and I’ve noticed that I haven’t been the only one to be ‘away with the fairies’, as my Scottish granny used to say.
I planted a pretty yellow chamomile bush in a little flower bed I had created on the edge of the woods not long ago. The next morning the little yellow flowers had been chewed to the quick, and I spotted a very chilled-looking deer lying in a clearing close by. He wasn’t bothered enough by my presence to lift his head let alone run away; he just looked at me with a look that said ‘love and peace’.
Luc hoarded linden tea at the beginning of lockdown because, you know, obviously after toilet rolls and tagliatelle herbal tea was sure to be the next Big Thing. The boxes have been skulking in our outside storeroom, and a family of swallows, undoubtedly enthralled by the promise of both insulation and sedation, have set up home. As I have forbidden anyone to go near, we’re going to have to buy even more boxes. Moral of this story: hoarding takes on a life of its own and become self-perpetuating.
One afternoon, I was lying in the garden (it’s exhausting being zoned out) when I noticed two objects plunge from the nearby oak tree. The ‘objects’ hit the deck and started to squeal vigorously, frantically trying to make their way back up the tree. I later realised the ‘objects’s were stone(d) Martens. Their mother, who had obviously nipped out for a packet of ciggies and bit of food shopping while her babies slept, rushed back in a furious tizzy and, grabbing them by the scruff of the neck, hauled them back up the tree and shoved them back into their nest. Invaluable life lesson: baby stone martens will always do silly things, even when they’re meant to be asleep. And it will really piss their mothers off.
Snakes in the grass
This is a photo of the nonchalent snake the dogs and I came across out on our walk. It was so inert I thought it was dead; it didn’t move, even when Java walked all over it (I think she thought it was a squidgy stick). After about five minutes, it finally deigned to slither off the path into the undergrowth, which I was relieved about because, unlike Java, I’m not mad about close encounters with reptiles.
So you see, I’m definitely not the only one whose brain has slipped into neutral around here; the company of reptiles and rodents has been of great comfort to me.
Recipe for red berry pancakes (makes about 8 pancakes)
- 3 eggs, beaten
- 250ml almond milk (or normal milk)
- 100g ground almonds
- 150g buckwheat flour
- 1 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
- Pinch of sea salt
- 100g red berries (I used raspberries, blackberries, blueberries)
- 1 teaspoon cardamon
- Coconut oil for frying (you could use butter)
Mix the eggs with the milk. Sift the ground almonds, flour, bicarbonate of soda and salt together in a bowl and gradually add to the egg/milk mixture. Combine well and add the berries and cardamon. Refrigerate for at least an hour. Heat a teaspoon of coconut oil in a frying pan and drop a large spoonful of pancake batter into the pan. Cook until golden brown, flip and repeat.
Fig and almond muffins and Hugo makes a point
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
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.
Buckwheat apple cake (gf) and a tale of two photos
First of all, I’d like to wish everyone a very happy new year. I know a number of people who had a tough 2017, so I wish them all the best for 2018. I have made only a couple of new year resolutions (it’s hard to improve on perfection): to be nicer to Java, and especially more understanding and tolerant of her limitations, which are apparently inexhaustible. And to make fewer catty (doggy?) comments about Bossy in my blog posts. Believe me when I say that it’s tough on both counts.
Bossy showed me these photographs this morning. The first photo shows (left to right) Wookie, Frank and Baby Cecil, and the second me and Java. Feel free to admire our handiwork.
Bossy said that Java and I came off very badly when the photos were compared, and that we should be ashamed of ourselves. She went on to add that at least Baby Cecil had the grace to look contrite, although as all we’re showing the camera is our bottoms it’s anyone’s guess as to our expressions. And the other two dogs, Wookie and Frank, look thoroughly shocked and disapproving, but in an indulgent, unpatronising way. She said this rather pointedly – I’m not sure what she was getting at.
Anyway, I think Bossy’s been confusing ‘contrite’ and ‘really pissed off at having been caught red-pawed’. She said that Baby Cecil probably had the excuse that he was teething and asked me what our excuse for The Great Cushion Massacre was. She then started to rant about the fact that we take advantage of her good nature (disorganised sloppiness more like) and that, contrary to popular belief, she’s not running a dog borstal, which I thought was a bit far-fetched, even coming from her.
I don’t buy the ‘teething’ excuse for a moment; Baby Cecil looks like a bit of a tinker to me. An adorable tinker, but a tinker nonetheless. Wookie and Frank are wearing the most disapproving expressions I have ever seen on dogs. In fact, unless you’re in the habit of frequenting particularly uptight spinster librarians, you rarely even see such disapproving expressions on humans. One wonders if there isn’t a slight hint of hypocrisy. After all, they could have warned Baby Cecil that he ran the risk of forfeiting his flavour of the month badge.
And as for Java and me, we were simply trying to help sort the house out a bit. I recently read a very enlightening book about feng shui which said that, to achieve a good yin-yang balance, you shouldn’t have too many cushions lying around. Quite honestly, Bossy should have thanked us, not scolded us. She can be very short-sighted sometimes.
Thank you Hugo for your take on these revealing photos. And good luck with your ‘resolutions’ – it looks as if you’re off to a shaky start.
I got the recipe for this cake from the mother of a friend of Léo’s who made it for lunch after a volleyball match. It was meant to be for the whole team, but Léo devoured the lot in one fell swoop.
Ingredients (serves 8 normal people, or 1 greedy volleyball player)
3 eggs, beaten
100g olive oil
80g cane sugar
100g buckwheat flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
1 teaspoon vanilla essence
6 apples, peeled and diced.
Preheat the oven to 180°C and prepare a medium-sized loaf tin. Beat the eggs, olive oil and cane sugar together until thick and smooth. Gently fold in the flour, baking powder and bicarbonate soda. Finally stir in the diced apples vanilla essence and transfer the mixture to the greased tin. Bake for 45 minutes or until a skewer poked into the centre comes out clean. Leave to cool before serving.
Oats and concrete proof of wackiness
I’m all about oats today, which means I won’t have time to talk about my eccentric dogs. But as a picture paints a thousand words here is:
Hugo waiting with eager anticipation for the vet to let him into her office because, after all, who isn’t a massive fan of painful injections?
And Java yesterday. Luc asked me if I’d stuck her on a pole and used it to sweep the chimney. I particularly like the facial war paint. (By the way, I am aware that this is a case of the kettle calling the pot black; almost every time I see a photo of myself I immediately think of One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest).
Oats (Avena sativa) contain beta glucan, a complex sugar that forms a gelatinous texture in the digestive tract and has an enormously beneficial influence on the immune system. Beta glucan boosts defenses against bacteria, viruses, fungi and parasites.
Findings published in the BMJ showed that oat fibre reduced the risk of developing colorectal cancer. Not only do oats have anti-inflammatory properties, good gut bacteria may be increased by eating the non-digestible oligosaccharides they contain.
Oats help maintain a healthy weight. According to a collection of scientific reviews, they play an important role in improving satiety, diet quality, and digestive, cardiovascular and general metabolic health.
Oats may help regulate blood sugar levels and improve insulin sensitivity, especially in people who are overweight or have type 2 diabetes. Beta glucans reduce the absorption of sugar and as a result lower levels of blood glucose.
A Finnish study found that babies introduced early to oats were less likely to develop persistent asthma. And soaked oats applied as a poultice or added to the bath also provide a very soothing treatment for eczema.
Oats are often used for their relaxing, restorative qualities, probably due to their high levels of B vitamins. In fact, oat extract has been used for centuries by healers in India to treat opium addiction. Studies have shown that it can also reduce nicotine cravings.
Last but not least, oats are a rich source of minerals, vitamins and antioxidants. This includes the B vitamins, iron, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, zinc, copper and manganese. It is best to soak oats for at least two hours before eating as this improves digestibility. Soaking also reduces phytic acid, allowing for better absorption of the nutrients.
Here is a recipe for my staple breakfast of bircher muesli which eases the pain of getting up early.
Ingredients (serves 2)
4 tablespoons rolled oats
1 tablespoon sultanas
50ml oat milk (or any milk)
75g natural yoghurt
2 tablespoons’ honey
1 teaspoon lemon juice
1 apple, washed and grated
2 tablespoons chopped nuts (I use walnuts and almonds)
150g red berries (strawberries, raspberries, blueberries, blackcurrants)
Soak the oats and sultanas in the milk for at least two hours or even overnight. Stir in the yoghurt, honey and lemon juice. Then add the grated apple, chopped nuts and berries.
Buckwheat banana cake (gf) and a gluten free mouse
We are still being outwitted by a tiny little mouse who has become addicted to my buckwheat crackers. As she seems unfazed by the supposedly dissuasive mint essential oil with which I flood the cupboards, I did a bit of research and came across a sonic mouse deterrent. Rushing out to buy one, I discovered reading the small print while waiting to pay, that the device ‘could perturb domestic animals’. Totally panicked by this news, I explained (at some length) to the man at the checkout that my domestic animals didn’t need any more crazy in their lives, particularly my little English Setter with her fragile constitution, delicate nerves and rather unusual ways. Wondering whether the strange look he gave me was pity or amusement, I arrived home to the realisation that my extended monologue about my dogs’ mental health had been a case of the pot calling the kettle black: I was sporting a back-to-front top. And it wasn’t a subtle, hardly discernible back-to-front either; it was definitely an in-your-face ‘escaped from an asylum’ back-to-front. I made this cake to take my mind off the fact that I’m losing it, and intentionally omitted, OK totally forgot, some of the ingredients. It was however a very fortuitous error, because the result was a perfectly deliciously light, fluffy succulent cake. The bad news is though that the mouse has become a permanent fixture.
2 medium eggs
100g cane sugar
1 large ripe banana, cut and mashed with little lemon juice
100ml unsweetened apple purée
100ml plain yoghurt
2 tablespoons walnut oil
60g ground hazelnuts
170g buckwheat flour
a pinch of salt
1 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground ginger
100g raisins, pre-soaked in rum
Preheat the oven to 180ºC and prepare a medium-sized loaf tin. Whisk the eggs and sugar until light and smooth and slightly fluffy and then add the banana, oil, apple purée and yoghurt and whisk a bit longer. Mix the ground hazelnuts, buckwheat flour, salt, bicarbonate of soda, cinnamon and ginger together and then combine well with the wet mixture. Stir in the soaked raisins and pour the mixture into the loaf tin and bake for 50 minutes or until a skewer comes out clean. Remove from the tin and leave to cool. Delicious served alone or with butter and jam. May be used a mouse bait too.
Fresh figs with ginger mascarpone and honey and Bijou on the drums
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!
Guest post: Sugar-free loaf
Today I’d like to welcome Susan from Our French Oasis, who, like me, lives in the South West of France with her husband, various children, chickens and naughty dogs.
I have lived in France with my husband and five children for many years; we used to live close to the Spanish border, then work took us to Florida for four years and when we returned permanently two years ago we bought a house close to the coast in the Charente Maritime, a department we have all come to love.
Last year I decided to give up all forms of added sugar, for absolutely no other reason than I thought I would see if I could do it, we don’t after all need sugar, and I wondered if I could really live without it? The answer is yes, seven months later and I still have not had a grain of added sugar, honey, maple syrup or any other form of non naturally occurring sugar such as that found in fruit and wine (of course). Now our French friends think I am quite mad, they all eat healthily but they don’t do fad diets and they do eat sugar, a little coffee is always taken with sugar, a little dessert after dinner, bien sur, they don’t do large portions but they do have a little, something sweet to finish a meal, in fact they look at me quite aghast! But in truth we really do not need sugar, I had no withdrawal symptons and sometimes I do look at a chocolate or a biscuit and think, gosh I’d like one, but I won’t! Why? Because I have never felt so full of energy, I need less sleep and I feel totally invigorated and I know it is very good for me, I scarcely miss it at all and I won’t go back to eating it!
125g wholemeal spelt flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon allspice
50g butter, softened (I use salted butter)
2 teaspoons vanilla essence
3 large bananas mashed
1 tablespoon milk
4 dates (optional)
Preheat the oven to 180°C. Line a loaf tin with baking paper. Put all the dry ingredients into the mixer and turn on to low. Add all the remaining ingredients excluding the dates and mix further. Place the mixture in the prepared cake tin, pressing four dates along the top (optional) and bake for about 40 minutes. Test with a sharp knife; if it doesn’t come out clean, cover with some tin foil to stop the top burning and bake for a further 10 minutes. Turn out onto a cooling rack and try not to eat it all at once!
Buckwheat galettes every which way
The crêperie concept has been around since the fifteenth century in France, when stalls serving savoury galettes and later sweet crêpes first appeared around marketplaces. There was a choice of filling such as eggs, bacon and cheese for the savoury galettes and afterwards sweet crêpes were offered flavoured with cinnamon and orange water.
When I first arrived in France at the end of the ’80s every town had a least one, and usually several, Breton-style crêperies. They were always fun, bustling and offered an accessible, deliciously light but satisfying meal out for everyone; a galette washed down with bowl of cider was the French answer to fast food. Today, although creperies still exist, there are far fewer than before, many having been replaced by the ubiquitous, stomach-churning, fast food chains selling unidentified deep-fried ground organs between slabs of polystyrene. Despite their culinary heritage, many of the French have become addicted to the ‘fix’ provided by these eateries.
Galettes are made with buckwheat flour, a very healthy gluten-free alternative to wheat flour. Despite its name, buckwheat is not a type of wheat at all, but a plant closely related to rhubarb and is rich in amino acids, B vitamins and minerals, including iron.
There are many different variations on the recipe, sometimes according to which region of France you are in, but after trial and error this is the one I prefer. Galettes are so versatile they can be adapted for breakfast, lunch of dinner. You can fill them with ham, different types of cheese, bacon, sausage, egg, scallops, smoked salmon, mushrooms or make them raclette-style with potato, ham and cheese. The list is endless. We sometimes have them with a different filling after a bowl of soup as an evening meal several days in a row with no complaints from humans or hounds. And that’s saying something.
Ingredients (makes 12 galettes)
250g buckwheat flour
½ teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
a pinch of salt
500ml cold water
Butter for cooking
Put the eggs and dry ingredients into a mixing bowl and whisk well. Add the water gradually, whisking continuously until you obtain a homogenous mixture. Melt a small amount of butter in a frying pan (preferably a ‘crepe’ pan) and then ladle some batter onto the hot surface, tilting the pan to distribute evenly. Cook for until golden brown and turn. If you are adding a filling such as ham and cheese, now is the time to add it onto one side of the galette. Cook until the cheese is melted and then fold the galette in two. Serve immediately.
Peach muffins and broken bone competitions
Since the beginning of the summer holidays, Léo has been sporting a hefty plaster cast on his broken left arm (his third to date). Unfortunate at the best of times, but even more uncomfortable and itchy when temperatures are in the high 30s. We went to the pharmacy to pick up his painkillers and someone in the queue (there are always woe-laden queues in French pharmacies) – very helpfully I thought – started to list all the things he wouldn’t be able to do this summer: tennis, beach, pool, riding, rafting, mountain biking, skateboarding, windsurfing… As Léo’s face started to drop, I decided to whisk him away before she could delight us any further. We went for a drink in a café to boost our spirits, where the owner immediately started to regale us with in-depth tales of her multiple fractures, insisting on how lucky Léo was not to have broken his leg. We downed our drinks before her competitiveness got the better of her and she felt compelled to produce any further anecdotes to ‘out fracture’ him. I was very tempted to stop at the pharmacy on the way home for a heavy-duty anti-depressant for both of us, but decided against it in case we bumped into anyone else wanting to contribute to the list of Things We Won’t Be Able To Do This Summer.
The powdered hazelnut in these muffins is rich in the bone-building – or rebuilding as the case may be – minerals calcium, magnesium and potassium.
Ingredients (makes 12)
100ml olive oil
100g cane sugar
2 organic eggs
150g spelt flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
100g ground hazelnuts
Pinch of salt
1 teaspoon garam masala
50ml yogurt (or milk)
2 peaches, peeled, and cut into rough cubes
Preheat the oven to 180°C. Place the olive oil and sugar in a mixing bowl and beat until pale. Add a spoonful of flour, beat again, then add the eggs, beating further until the mixture is light and fluffy, adding a little more flour to prevent curdling if necessary. Gently fold in the rest of the flour, baking powder, ground hazelnuts, seasoning and yoghurt and combine. Lastly, gently fold in the peaches. Spoon the mixture into muffin trays and bake for 25 minutes.