Léo and I went to London in June, leaving Luc in the company of a couple of deer that appear to have moved in. The lady deer, who Luc calls Georgette, is quite pally with the horses and they graze together in the sun every morning and evening, but the male, Georgio, is noisily territorial and barks at Luc if he approaches ‘his’ field after 9.15pm. For some reason, 9.15pm is the time at which time it becomes ‘his property’ and trespassers will be barked at, throatily, hauntingly, and incessantly. You can almost see the testosterone cloud descend to thicken the night air.
On our return from London, where poor Léo spent five days spluttering in semi-isolation with a covid-not-covid virus, my phone clock proved resistant to reverting to French time. This meant that I spent a couple of days after my return arriving an hour late for every single appointment. The worst thing was the length of time it took for me to realise that my phone had gone rogue.
Léo is becoming increasingly concerned by his father’s extravagant use of emojis. We went shopping a few days ago and received a message to buy chicken feed. Léo, from beneath furrowed brow, said ‘but we don’t have chickens; we have pigeons’. He went on to say that what he found even more worrying was that Luc had compounded his error with several chicken emojis🐔🐔🐔. That evening, Luc wrote to the notary who is currently handling a property transaction for us, adding a 👩🏻 when alluding to the seller (on a positive note, at least he’d got the right species; The mind boggles at the possibilities for misinterpretation and offence had he not.)
Ending on a very sad note, the punishing heat we endured a couple of weeks ago proved to be too much for Hugo, our gorgeous black labrador, who was a contributor to this blog (here is a selection). Forty-five degrees is very distressing for an elderly dog with respiratory difficulties, and we made the harrowing decision to help him on his way. He is now resting in a peaceful corner of our grounds alongside other departed friends. I imagine them wryly exchanging ‘at least we can have some peace and quiet here’ sentiments. RIP darling Hugo❤️; your endearing but authoritarian ways will be greatly missed, as will your blogs
These fritter are divine. Of course, the courgette flower season is short, so make the most of them while you can. Because they’re eaten so fresh, they contain fair amounts of vitamins A , C, E and K and also minerals such as magnesium, zinc, and calcium.
Recipe for courgette flower fritters (serves 4, although probably fewer!)
- 12 courgette flowers
- 80g flour
- 150ml sparkling mineral water
- 1 soup spoon olive oil
- Pinch sea salt, freshly ground black pepper
- 1 egg, beaten
- 1 clove garlic, crushed
- 6 basil leaves, shredded
Gently rince the flowers, and set aside to dry on absorbant kitchen roll. Combine the flour, water, olive oil, seasoning, egg and garlic well to form a homogenous mixture. Cover the base of a large frying pan with olive oil and heat. Dip each flower into the mixture, coating generously, and then place immediately in the hot pan, and fry both sides. The fritters should be golden-brown, but not burnt. May be served alone with salad, or as an accompaniment.
We bought a new washing machine a few months ago, when the old one held up a white flag and said: ‘Have mercy, I can’t take any more dog hair!’ The thing is, as sophisticated and Germanically robust as the new one is, I’m not a fan; it’s too angular and white, with too many flashing buttons and digital messages, none of which I understand.
Our new washing machine makes me think, irrationally, of gaudy designer labels, overly whitened teeth and forced metallic laughter. It’s all about pouting ‘look at me’ selfies in front of a tropical beach sunset. It’s smug and needy and gets super het up over fewer ‘likes’ than usual and bad hair days. You have to be really committed to the lure of clean clothes to summon up the patience and acumen to turn it on, and even then it might throw a hissy fit and refuse to comply for no known reason. I’ve decided to fly it out to a tropical island and abandon it on the beach; when there’s no one to look at it, admire it, even be annoyed by it, it will just cease to exist.
Please, someone point me in the direction of uncomplicated, good-natured white goods and spare me from those with narcissistic personality disorders.
Ingredients (serves 4-6)
250g puff pastry
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
Small can of tomato concentrate
2 shallots, finely chopped
70g grated gruyère (or any hard cheese)
6 black olives, sliced
6 anchovy filets, cut into small pieces
Sea salt, freshly ground black pepper
Twig of fresh rosemary
1 egg yolk, beaten
Place the pastry on a flat surface and evenly spread first the mustard and then tomato concentrate. Distribute the other ingredients evenly over the tomato concentrate, season and remove the rosemary from the twig and scatter over the top. Gently roll the pastry and brush with the beaten egg yolk. Preheat the oven to 180°C. Place the roll in the freezer for about 15 minutes, remove and cut into small slices roughly 1cm thick. Place the cut pieces on a baking tray, greased with a little olive oil. Bake for 12 minutes, until golden. Delicious served hot or cold!
We were invited to lunch at a friend’s house last Sunday, where we met their handsome, polite, nicely-mannered dog. While we ate, he sat by us with a gentle expression that said: ‘If you’re having trouble finishing, I could possibly be of assistance…’ This is in stark contrast to Hugo, who barks impatiently and punches Luc in the thigh with his paw, his expression along the lines: ‘Oy! Give me food or I’ll send for backup!’ There is a Peanuts cartoon, in which Woodstock, Snoopy’s feathered friend, sends Snoopy an invoice for damages at a party he had hosted. I’m so glad our dogs are never invited to parties; it would ruin me financially.
I recently came across some funny stories on Twitter, and one of them made me laugh so hard that I dislocated two ribs (the joys of Ehlers Danlos!). Later, wandering aimlessly around the corridors of the local hospital, in my usual mask-induced daze (OK then, just my usual daze), it struck me that the ambient music was identical to a playlist I had on my ‘phone. When, in passing, I mentioned this coincidence to the doctor’s secretary, she said, very kindly, and in the hushed tones usually reserved for maniacs and idiots, that actually the music seemed to be coming from my handbag. I had inadvertently transformed my handbag into a little leather ghetto blaster!
Luc is using our fussy cat as a means to critique the food I prepare. He keeps saying things like ‘the cat didn’t finish the beef bourguignon because he found it a bit fatty’, or ‘Minou preferred the Coq au Vin you made last time’. I can tell you, the cat had better learn to stop bellyaching, or his homemade food is going to end up in the dogs’ bowls…
Galette des Rois (or King Cake) has been a tradition in France since the 14th century. It is served on 6th January to celebrate Epiphany, although they are generally available throughout January and it is now shared amongst family and friends as a way to celebrate the new year. The ‘king’ is represented by a ‘fève’, or charm, hidden within the cake. The person to come across the ‘fève’ in their slice of cake, becomes ‘king’ and has the dubious honour of wearing a paper crown for the day.
Ingredients (serves 6)
400g puff pastry
2 tablespoons apricot jam
2 eggs, beaten plus 1 egg yolk
140g ground almonds
A pinch of salt
2 tablespoons Cognac or Armagnac
Preheat the oven to 200°C. Divide the pastry in half, roll out each piece and cut into roughly 25cm rounds and place one round on a baking sheet. Spread the apricot jam over the pastry (not quite reaching the edges). Beat the softened butter and sugar together until light and fluffy, then add the beaten eggs. Stir in the ground almonds and salt and add the Cognac/Armagnac. Spoon the mixture over the jam and spread evenly. Brush the edges of the pastry with a little water and cover with the second round, pressing at the edges to seal. Make a pattern on the top with a sharp knife, then brush with egg yolk. Bake for 25-30 minutes until golden. May be served warm, but not hot, or cold.
Yesterday I decided to give blood, and ‘phoned the blood bank for instructions. I was asked a couple of questions about my age and health, then subjected to some rather indiscreet inquiries as to my ‘tendency to sluttiness’. After that, apparently randomly, they asked if I had lived in the UK between 1980 and 1996, which, although I now have dual nationality, I had. Gauging their reaction, I might have said that my favourite hobby was smothering kittens, because all of a sudden the warm tone switched to ice-cold and, following consultation with colleagues and perfectly audible mutterings about ‘mad cows’, I was told that they didn’t want my blood after all. With both my character and honour well and truly assassinated, I haughtily replied that it was their loss, but that the name-calling was TOTALLY OUT OF LINE (I may have been shouting at this point). It was only afterwards, once I’d hung up and reined in the paranoid ranting, that I realised they didn’t want my blood because of the Mad Cow Disease outbreak in the 80s and 90s in the UK, and not because it belonged to a mad cow…
This cheesecake was a real hit, unlike my blood. It’s very simple, but light, and with a gorgeous burnt caramel flavor.
Ingredients (serves 6)
Handful of raisins
2 tablespoons rum
450g cream cheese
125g cane sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
20g coconut flour (you could use any flour)
Pinch of salt
Grease (with the butter) a 17cm non-stick cake tin. Preheat the oven to 210°C. Cook the raisins in the rum and a little water until absorbed. Set aside. Place the cream cheese in a bowl, add the sugar, vanilla extract and mix well. Add the eggs, one at a time, still mixing. Lastly, add the cream gradually and then the flour. Once the mixture is homogenous, pour into the buttered cake tin and bake for 45 minutes. The surface of the cake should look burnt/caramelised, but the inside should still be wobbly. Cool before removing from the tin. Serve chilled and then hide before it all disappears!
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!
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 general 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 therefore too tired to care!
Ingredients (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
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. Remove from the pan and put to one side. 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. Remove the chicken from 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!
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.
Ingredients (serves 6)
270g flour (I used einkorn flour)
1 pinch of salt
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 bakers’ potatoes as, traditionally, they were given to the local baker to slow bake in his bread oven.
Ingredients (serves 4-6)
800g potatoes, peeled
1 large onion
4 cloves of garlic, crushed
150ml chicken or vegetable stock
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.
Léo, who is studying Viticulture/Oenology in Bordeaux, decided very recently that our life was incomplete without 200 grapevines in the garden to water, weed, feed, protect from potential bad-vine weather, fret about, protect from digging dogs, and generally mollycoddle. Grapevines are also very useful for further knackering already-knackered backs.
Our house was originally a farm (it still is I suppose, albeit slightly non-conformist), and the owners grew grapes to produce wine for their consumption, and for the farm labourers. The soil in the Landes is extremely sandy, and the climate very hot and dry in the Summer months. We chose (actually Luc and Léo chose; my ‘wine abilities’ stop at knowing how to neck it) the varieties of grape best suited to these conditions: Tannat, Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Petit Maseng, Gros Maseng, and Chardonnay. One of the major advantages of growing in a hot, dry climate is it’s much easier to grow organic (less risk of mildew etc.).
Wine has been produced in this area since Gallo-Roman times. There is a vinyard in Capbreton right on the Atlantic coast, La Domaine de la Pointe, that produces wine with iodised undertones, that come from the sea air and salty soil.
I receive instructions from Léo every day as to what I need to be doing vine-wise. I’m about to go outside with a magnifying glass to check for budding buds, and then stick my fist in the soil to make a totally uneducated guess as to the degree of humidity. Spot the neophyte!
I tend to eat a lot of quercetin-rich onions and apples in the Spring, as I suffer from allergies. Studies have demonstrated that quercetin acts as an antihistamine and lessens the respiratory side effects of allergies by reducing inflammatory response in the airways. It is also a zinc ionophore (transports zinc into the cells) and, as such, is being studied as a potential treatment for Covid-19.
Ingredients (serves 6)
Pastry (I used this one)
1kg onions (peeled and cut into thin rounds)
100g smoky bacon
Sea salt, freshly ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
Preheat the oven to 180°C. Fry the onions in butter (or olive oil) until softened, and slightly caramelised (approx 20-25 minutes). Prepare the tart tin (or individual cases) by greasing and lining with pastry.
Beat the eggs in a bowl and add the cream and seasoning, mixing well. Place the onions on the pastry, with a piece of bacon on top. Pour the egg/cream mixture over the top and bake for 25 minutes for individual tarts, or 35 minutes for a larger one.
Last week Luc admitted to a hunter friend (who has eight obedient beagles) that we had ‘issues’ with our dogs. We hit a new low recently; we have to barricade the doors at night with chairs to send the message that we don’t provide a 24/7 service, and it’s NOT OK to wake us up at random just because you fancy a moonlit stroll in the garden. The friend wasn’t overly sympathetic and seemed to suggest that in our case, the ‘obedience ship’ had set sail long ago. He trains his dogs as puppies (like most sensible people), but I just can’t get my head around the idea of disciplining a puppy. Or any dog, if I’m being absolutely honest.
Léo and five friends celebrated the end of exams last week in true Bordeaux style with copious amounts of food, wine and noise (gatherings of up to six people are allowed in France). They were just tucking in to a second ‘dinner’ at three in the morning when the police knocked at the door. The noise was such that the gendarmes had called in reinforcements, and were accompanied by a heavily armed military squadron. They were rather taken aback when they realised that the impressive commotion was coming from just six boys, although the fact that several of them were Basque went some way to explaining things (Basque fiestas are notoriously loud). Realising there was no pressing need for mob control, they laid down their guns but, slightly bewildered, graciously refused the offer of sausages and chips. Way to avoid a hefty fine.
Fougasse is a flatbread that was traditionally baked in the ashes of the hearth. It is really a primitive form of pizza, without the tomatoes.
250g einkorn flour (normal flour is fine)
Pinch of salt
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon bread yeast, mixed in a little lukewarm water
8 black olives, chopped
1 shallot, chopped
Fresh rosemary, removed from stem
Sea salt to sprinkle on top
Place the flour in a bowl, add the salt, olive oil, yeast, chopped olives, shallot and rosemary. Add the water, little by little to form a smooth ball. Knead for a couple of minutes and then flatten to form an oval shape a couple of centimetres thick. Decorate with the sea salt.
Leave to rise in a 30°C oven for half an hour, then increase the oven temperature to 200°C and bake for 25 minutes.
I managed to live for over half a century without knowing how to cook an omelette properly. Or at least in a way that avoided husband and son sharing eye rolls and ostentatious dry heaves.
Speaking of exasperation, there are a few culinary fads that really boil my noodle: egg white omelettes (just eat the whole egg or go for the polystyrene option) and spiralised ‘spaghetti’ vegetables (eat spaghetti or eat vegetables, both if you really want to push the boat out, but don’t eat ‘pretend’ food unless you’re a toddler; exactly how idiotic do you think your taste buds are?)
Back to The Omelette. There used to be a restaurant, l’Hôtel de la Tête d’Or, on the Mont St Michel in Normandy, which was famous for its omelette. The owner of the hotel, Madame Poulard, attracted tourists from all over, and although there was much speculation about her secret recipe, she always stayed circumspect. I suspect that her secret had more to do with hardware and impeccable timing than the actual ingredients, although apparently we will never know.
In any case, the simplest dishes are often the most delicious, but also the most difficult to get right. During my years of blissful ignorance, I used to beat the eggs a bit, add a touch of seasoning and then fry until most of the runniness was gone. They used to taste OK, although they sometimes looked as if I’d finished them off in the tumble dryer.
In my naivety I didn’t realise that in fact you have to go all sado-masochistic on the poor eggs, furiously beating and whipping them into complete submission. You then have to pitch them, molecules awhirl, from across the room into a blazing furnace of a pan for mere seconds, until the outside is seared and the inside still runny. The experience is athletic, stressful, and affirmative.
As the saying goes, you can’t make an omelette without breaking eggs, sweating profusely, hyperventilating, F-bombing anyone and anything in your way and setting off the smoke alarm…
Ingredients (serves 1)
knob of butter
2 fresh free-range eggs
Sea salt and freshly-ground black pepper
Melt the butter in a flat-bottomed frying pan over a high heat. Beat the seasoned eggs very fast until they become frothy. Throw the still-frothy mixture into the pan immediately and sear. Fold the omelette in half while the top is still runny. Serve! And breathe…