Category Archives: General

Scooting through the Baltic

Leaving Luc to look after the animals, Léo and I travelled to London at the beginning of August, where I was able to shoot a confused pigeon and shop for everything I’d forgotten to pack. We then set off with my mother on a cruise around the Baltic. I will try to be brief!

Confused pigeon, Dulwich Park, London.

 

View of London from Sydenham Hill, London.

Copenhagen:

We arrived in Copenhagen with a few hours to visit, so hired scooters which we proceeded to use as lethal weapons. I quickly became fluent enough in Danish to say: ‘I’m so sorry, I’m totally out of control — I really didn’t mean to knock you over’.

Church Copenhagen

St Alban’s Church, Copenhagen.

We caught a glimpse of the famous Little Mermaid statue and also saw her Genetically Modified Little Mermaid sister, which belongs to a group of sculptures called The Genetically Modified Paradise by Bjorn Nørgaard, situated in the harbour area. Copenhagen sighed a collective sigh of relief when we arrived at the ship with five minutes to spare, dripping with sweat and with no idea of our cabin number or the whereabouts of our baggage. Our reputation was forged from the get-go.

Statue water copenhagen

Genetically Modified Little Mermaid by Bjorn Nørgaard, Copenhagen.

Tallinn:

Tallinn’s old town was sporting a rainbow when we docked. Downtown Tallinn was like Oxford Street on the first day of the sales, so Léo and I hotfooted it out to the countryside to go seal spotting on a small speedboat. A combination of the impact of large waves and the flexibility of the seats meant that my waterproof coat got sucked up and entrenched between the seat and the shell of the boat (you had to be there). The seals were so close that I would have been able to take some superb photos if I hadn’t been concentrating on trying to free myself before hypoxia set in. Léo kindly let me use one of his photos. Liberated and back on dry land, we had just enough time to track down and hire one electric scooter, which we both boarded for a lightning visit of the old town. I’ll leave to your imagination the consequences of a jam-packed old town and two maniacs on a one-person scooter. Let me just say kudos to the lovely Estonian taxi driver who eventually saw the funny side and won’t be pressing charges.

Rainbow over old town Tallinn

Tallinn old town, Estonia.

 

Seal following the boat, Estonia. Credit: Léo Gallot.

Harbour in countryside near Tallinn

Harbour near Tallinn, Estonia.

St Petersburg:

We arrived in St Petersburg in the early morning and parked next to a military submarine, as you do. We were on the ship’s group visa, which meant that we weren’t able to go out unaccompanied. At the time I was frustrated by this and thought I had made a mistake, but typing the words ‘unaccompanied’, I realise that my disorganised ineptitude was probably a blessing in disguise; the Russians in the street are warm and charming with a wonderfully dry and engaging sense of humour. The customs officials, not so much, and it was probably best we didn’t have direct dealings. As Léo put it: ‘you get the feeling that if you were to do something stupid, it wouldn’t go down as well as it does in France’. Peter the Great created this charming, atmospheric city in the early 18th Century, having been inspired by London, Paris and Vienna. Its canals and waterways are reminiscent of Venice.

St Petersburg gold dome

Uspenskaya church, St Petersburg, Russia.

The highlight of the trip for me was a private concert in the Italian room at The Hermitage Museum performed by the St Petersburg Festival Orchestra. Their knack for seamlessly combining extreme melancholy, slight irreverence and dramatic theatricals was breath-taking.

St Petersburg Festival Orchestra, The Hermitage Museum, St Petersburg, Russia. Credit: Léo Gallot

We cut our visit to Catherine Palace short when I realised that a trip to Emergency might mean I miss the boat.  I savoured the over-the-top opulence from a state of semi-consciousness, somewhere between full-blown panic attack and fainting fit. The crowds were so dense and the palace so airless (they have to keep all the gold leaf at a constant temperature and not one of the museums is air-conditioned), that I had instructed poor Léo to keep me vertical if I fainted because I didn’t want to be hauled off by my feet by one of the scary-looking lady officials. Needless to say, I’m over gold leaf. The gardens were wonderful though and I think I especially appreciated them as I was so happy to be outside again.

Catherine Palace, St Petersburg, Russia.

Catherine Palace, Russia. Credit: Léo Gallot.

Catherine Palace gardens, St Petersburg, Russia.

St Petersburg by night

St Petersburg by night.

There are almost 350 bridges in St Petersburg and this is the newest one over the Neven River: the Bolshoy Obukhovsk Bridge, which we saw on our departure back out into the Gulf of Finland.

Bridge over the Neven River, St Petersburg

Bolshoy Obukhovsk Bridge, St Petersburg.

Helsinki:

Helsinki was possibly the greatest surprise of the trip. I hadn’t really thought at any point ‘God, I’m just dying to visit Helsinki’, but it proved to be captivating. There are subtle reminders of past Russian influence, but without the gold leaf opulence tsunami which is omnipresent in St Petersburg. We hired bikes, mainly because our scooting legs were knackered and there was a lot of city to cover in a limited time. Also, I think that, on the whole, the Baltic countries had been sufficiently charmed by our scooter antics.

Helsinki Cathedral, Finland.

Léo disowned me at The Sibelius monument when I lectured a tourist who had draped herself and her Louis Vuiton raincoat ensemble provocatively over the monument that I was trying to photograph. I think she thought gaudy beige tartan would enhance it. My ill-tempered rant was greeted by noisy applause from a Spanish group who had been having less luck conveying their frustration. Conveying frustration is never something I have problems with. My mother told us, in not inconsiderable detail, about how Sibelius had been ‘more than a bit of a bastard to his family’, which was another slight dampener. The memorial was stunning nonetheless.

Sibelius monument Helsinki

Part of the Sibelius Monument, Helsinki Park, Finland.

I love contrasts and particularly appreciated the juxtaposition of this beautiful orthodox church and the big wheel. The Uspenski Cathedral is the largest orthodox church in Western Europe.

Uspensky Cathedral, Helsinki, Finland.

The sea was only really rough once, on our last evening. I fell over a table and had an intimate encounter with the banisters of the central spiral staircase, resulting in multiple souvenir bruises. Stockholm was our last port of call, but unfortunately all we really saw, other than this view from the ship and the archipelagos, was the airport.

Stockholm cityscape

Stockholm, Sweden.

Commendations and sabbaticals


Bossy’s chronic disorganisation means she’s in her usual pre-Christmas frenzy, so I doubt you’ll be hearing from her any time soon (you lucky, lucky people). As improbable as it sounds, she and her blog have been chosen to feature in Brandballot’s top 150 food blogs for 2018. I suspect it’s thanks to my help, although I’m obviously too gracious to point that out to her. Anyway, in case you’re interested, you can find her blog, and other far superior food blogs here

I’d like to take this opportunity to wish you all a very happy christmas because, as usual, I shall be moving out for the festive period, hopefully before the vulgar tree monstrosity appears. They insist on installing it right next to my bed, flashing lights and all, just to annoy me. The flashing lights play havoc with my already shredded nerves, and the tinsel and glitter make me sneeze; I’m allergic to tasteless bling. All in all the general ambiance becomes unbearable: Gaudy decorations make Java even more hyper than usual (I’ve recently decided she’s really just a barking cat), and Bossy just needs to glimpse a glass of champagne from across the room to become even louder and more tiresome than usual.

Despite my mini sabbatical, I’m not averse to presents. I know that Bossy thinks it’s a bit extravagant, but I’ve asked for a new iPaw; it’s more than justified, what with my ever-increasing workload – which obviously includes piles of fan mail –  to deal with.

Tropical storms and a tribute

Sadly my beloved father died in the middle of June. At 83, he was far too young to die; he was supposed to live to 99 like my grandmother.

This is Léo’s tribute to his grandfather: Andante by Mozart, my father’s favourite composer; Beethoven’s Ode to Joy, for his belief in Europe; and from The Planet Suite by Holst, Jupiter, the Bringer of Jollity, because that is exactly what he did.

Perhaps as a nod to my father’s exciting but sometimes extremely perilous life in Africa as Foreign Correspondent, on our return to France at the beginning of July we were catapulted into the deepest, darkest tropics. The mother of all storms caused steam to rise from the grass and the phone lines inside and outside the house to catch fire. It also forced the dogs to take refuge in the shower and brought with it a flourishing tribe of the most noisy, ill-tempered mosquitos I’ve ever experienced.

Getting anything fixed in France during the ‘Grandes Vacances’ is challenging at any time, but even more so when it involves replacing a kilometre of phone cable that serves just one house stuck in the middle of nowhere. Anyway, the upshot was that I spent the month of July bereft, incommunicado, and covered in grotesque insect bites. And to add insult to injury, my Instagram account was hacked by Russian spies.

I hope you are all having a nice Summer. Normal service will be resumed in September (I hope!). xx

Tian’amen Square, 1972

Ditzes in ditches

horseandditch

I spent the better part of the morning of Tuesday 8th September languishing in a deep, sandy ditch. Ten days on, I’m just beginning to see the funny side:  ‘Last Tuesday firemen were urgently called into the middle of absolutely nowhere to save an ‘anglaise’ who had forgotten to apply superglue to her saddle that morning. Her young horse, having been scared witless by a lifting pheasant, took off home at a flat-out gallop, but not before finding the time to rear up, swerve and plunge into a nearby ditch where he unscrupulously deposited his rider.’

My compliments to the firemen who fulfil the role of paramedics in rural France, because just finding me was a challenge in itself; ‘I’m in a ditch next to a cornfield’ is really quite unhelpful when you are surrounded by hundreds of square kilometres of ditches and cornfields. Strangely enough, I spent my time waiting for them to arrive fretting about sunburn, my abandoned breakfast dishes and all the other things I should have been doing had I not been skiving off 2m under. Although totally unable to move, I wasn’t particularly uncomfortable (apart from an irritating mouthful of sand) and it never occurred to me that once I’d been hauled out I wouldn’t be walking back home to make a late lunch.

Arriving at Emergency, the doctor’s first words were ‘bloody horses – they should all be turned into mincemeat’, which I though was a rather insensitive thing to say to a horse lover like me. I’m now at home with four broken vertebrae and exceedingly impressive multicolour bruising. I had a lucky escape thanks to my airbag vest, which did a pretty good job of protecting my upper body. I’m pleased to say that my voice escaped unscathed and is getting lots of exercise barking orders at anyone crazy enough to stay within hearing distance.

Ode to a pea

peas
I eat my peas with honey;

I’ve done it all my life.

It makes the peas taste funny,

But it keeps them on the knife.

Anon.

 

Hugo doesn’t like peas one little bit. In fact, he has a very finely-tuned pea radar in case they have the vulgar indecency to end up in his bowl. Once detected, he takes them in his mouth and spits them onto the floor with OCD-style assiduousness and much disdain. More fool Hugo because the unpresuming garden pea is in fact an exceedingly rich source of nutrition: Just one serving contains as much vitamin C as two apples, more thiamine than a pint of milk and at least half of your daily needs of vitamin K.

Green peas are a member of the legume family and, as such, are a rich and excellent source of protein. They are also particularly high in folic acid as well as other essential B-complex vitamins such as pantothenic acid, niacin, thiamin, and pyridoxine. They also contain many minerals – calcium, magnesium, iron, copper, zinc and manganese.

The antioxidants to be found in peas help reduce free radical damage, which in turn slows down the ageing process. Added to this, their anti-inflammatory agents (including Omega 3 in the form of alpha-linolenic acid) keep your body healthy and reduce the risk of cancer, heart disease and diabetes (type 2). Their low glycemic index makes them a good insulin-stabiliser.

Lastly, they contain a compound called genistein which has significant cancer-fighting properties and an effective anti-coagulant action, aiding in the prevention of heart attacks and strokes.

So now I’ve convinced you that you can’t live without them, how best to consume these little gems? Peas are so versatile that they may be mushed, mashed, puréed, added to soups, pestos, risottos, pasta dishes, salads and muffins. They make a tasty addition to casserole or curry dishes or eaten as an accompanying vegetable seasoned with a few leaves of fresh mint. The less water you use when cooking peas, the less vitamin C is lost; steaming helps to conserve the vitamins. Just don’t bother cooking an extra portion for your dog – it’s highly unlikely he’ll ever appreciate them!

Writing Process Blog Tour

I would like to thank Suzanne, creator of the luscious blog,  A pug in the kitchen,  for asking me to contribute to this tour.  Suzanne blogs, amongst other things, recipes passed on from her Italian mother; traditional Italian cooking at its most mouth-watering. Passionate about baking in particular, she is also a developer for Food 52. She writes from her kitchen in Brooklyn, accompanied by her two gorgeous pugs, Izzy and Nando. One of my favourite recipes is her triple chocolate cake which is just pure decadence to be enjoyed with moderation as it could become dangerously addictive!

Other commitments mean that I’m delegating the rest of this post to my ‘pug’, Hugo.

hugotypewriter1by

As you can see, Bossy has relegated this post to me. From what I can see, she’s not too busy with ‘other commitments’ at all – she’s just too busy being bossy (did you like the alliteration? I’m still learning about poetry.) Anyway, I’m always happy to get my paws on the computer, so I’m not going to complain to my union this time. I like Mrs Pug’s blog very much because she cooks real food with proper dog-friendly ingredients. Bossy has a tendancy to use strange ingredients that get stuck in your teeth. (Chia seeds for example. What are they and why do we need to be bothered by them?). I’m rather jealous of Izzy and Nando because Mrs Pug cooks for them every day and I just get the family’s leftovers *tragic doggie sigh*. They live in a very big city – New Yorkie I think. I suppose when they chase deer and rabbits they have to be careful of all the cars. Here are the questions that Bossy had to answer. I think that my answers (in italics) are closer to the truth than hers.

1) What are you working on?

(Hopefully she’s working on being less bossy and organised enough to cook for me every day.)

Bossy: I work on far too many projects at any given time for them to come to fruition. I suppose this means that I should probably work on being more focused.

2) How does my work differ from others of its genre?

(Well for a start she is lucky enough to live with an erudite and exceedingly good-natured dog who does most of her work for her.)

Bossy: Although I am absolutely passionate about healthy eating, I hope that I manage to impart my knowledge and ideas without being too evangelical. I believe that it’s up to each individual to take responsibility for their own well-being. I am a also a great believer in ‘all things in moderation’, which is why I’m not vegetarian.

3) Why do I write what I do?

(Because despite what she says, her bossiness gets the better of her and she thinks that everyone should cook as she does.)

Bossy: See above (mine, not Hugo’s. 😉 )

4) How does your writing process work?

(I can’t wait to see this! *sarcastic doggie snigger*. I have never seen such a chaotic ‘writing process’. I’m far more methodical.)

Bossy: I think that in my case, the word ‘process’ is probably rather inappropriate! How I write is probably better described as a profusion of chaotic thoughts that somehow end up either on paper or on a computer at some point, more or less coherently. I am a big believer in ‘a sound mind in a sound body’ and my best ideas come to me when I’m on the move, particularly walking. I always walk with a little notebook and pen and scribble ideas down between strident reprimands to leave the poor deer and bunny rabbits alone.

Bossy asked me to invite a blogger to participate in this tour and I have chosen the delightful blog 10 legs in the kitchen. At first I couldn’t work out who the ten legs belonged to until I realised that it was two human legs and eight doggie legs. I don’t even like to think how many legs there are in our kitchen sometimes, particularly when the chickens invade. Stacey and sometimes her dogs, Ginger and Buddy, write amusingly about their love for both food and life in general and I’m a big fan.

When life gives you lemons…

lemons

…hoard them! Possibly the most versatile ingredient in the kitchen, the virtues of the lemon extend beyond culinary use. The Ancient Egyptians believed that eating lemons and drinking lemon juice was an effective protection against a whole range of poisons.

use lemons on a daily basis and always have at least half a dozen to hand. I’m a bit of a lemon fiend. Unsurprisingly, neither Hugo nor the hens are fans and make a big show of their distaste with comical grimaces and much foot-stamping. I have actually seen Hugo growl menacingly at a stray lemon slice in his bowl.

Although acid in taste, lemon juice has an extremely alkalising effect on the body. Rich in vitamin C, it also contains calcium, magnesium, potassium, phosphorus, iron, beta-carotenes, vitamin B5 and soluble fibre such as pectin. It has an abundance of flavonoids which, working synergistically with vitamins, have a powerful antioxidant effect. The main flavonoids to be found in lemons are hesperdin, rutin and quercetin. These are extremely beneficial to the blood vessels and have an anti-allergy action.

Lemon juice will even decalcify your cookware and work as an insect-repellant! Lemons have a powerful antibacterial, antiviral and anti-inflammatory effect and also increase bile secretion. They help to drain and detoxify the liver and kidneys and cleanse the whole body. I think you’ll quickly come to appreciate the value in drinking the juice of a freshly-squeezed lemon first thing in the morning.

Squeezing lemon into your food lowers the overall glycemic index of the meal. It is a significant digestive aid – citric acid stimulates the secretion of gastric enzymes. In cases of over-indulgence and even food-poisoning its alkalising, antibacterial powers are of great help.

From acne and allergies to intestinal worms and verrucas, the not-so-humble lemon has a multitude of medicinal uses, but it is in the kitchen that the lemon really comes into its own. It may be used in the preparation of sweet or savoury, cooked or raw and hot or cold dishes. Use it in salad dressings as a delicious and healthy alternative to vinegar and in marinades for meat or fish.

Gremolata, an Italian creation, is simply a mixture of equal parts lemon zest, parsley and garlic. It is a tangy, versatile topping that can be added to just about any savoury dish to enhance its flavour. Try selling that to your dog. fruit

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