• Nutritional information,  Savoury

    Watermelon and feta salad and birthday pandemonium

    Watermelon and feta salad

    I overheard a telephone conversation, in which Luc described the food at his birthday party, the previous day. His side of the conversation went like this:

    ‘Well to start with we had feta and basil tart, without the feta, which Fiona had left in a supermarket caddy in Dax. She had also planned a very pretty watermelon, cucumber and feta salad. Unfortunately as I said, the feta was M.I.A., and the cucumber hadn’t even featured on the shopping list. So the pretty salad was basically a bowl of watermelon cubes.’

    ‘The tuna steaks were a success, although some were very charred, because the marinade spilled onto the gas barbecue, which caught fire. It was pretty hairy actually, until we pulled the barbecue out from under the terrace into the bucketing rain. Oh and the desserts! We had chocolate cake and walnut tart. The cake was meant to be decorated with a ‘7’ and an ‘0’ candle, but as it turned out, the ‘7’ had opted to stay in the shopping caddy with the feta, so it was just the ‘0’, which felt quite liberating really.’

    What Luc failed to mention, was that I had pulled a muscle in my neck, rendering myself agonisingly immobile, just 10 minutes before the party started. Luckily a massage therapist friend was to hand (I choose my friends wisely), and he deftly put me back together. There was a lot of ‘now you see me, now you don’t’ rain in the morning, and very heavy rain in the afternoon, which meant that we had to use a covered terrace, 30 metres from the kitchen.

    After a few spectacular false starts, involving flying food, I nailed a ‘carrying a tray while holding an umbrella’ technique. Following months of drought, the ground was so dry that fast-running rivers formed between the kitchen and terrace, and I was able to complete my nonchalant look — my neck was too painful to risk a hairbrush — with mismatched wellington boots. Despite all this, or maybe because of it, everybody seemed to have a great time, and in the end, the sun shone through the rain. Although, not everyone was in a state fit to even notice.

    A picture speaks a thousand words
    The nonchalant look: unbrushed hair and wellington boots

    Watermelon health benefits

    The red colour of watermelon flesh comes from lycopene, which is a potent antioxidant. There is more of this nutrient in watermelon than any other fruit or vegetable, including tomatoes. It is also rich in an amino acid called citrulline that may help move blood flow, and can lower your blood pressure, and contains a pigment, that may protect your joints from inflammation. Lastly, watermelon is an excellent source of vitamins C and A and also copper and B vitamins. 

    Recipe for watermelon and feta salad (serves 4)

    • 1 ripe watermelon
    • ½ cucumber
    • bunch fresh mint, chopped
    • 1 red onion, sliced
    • 2 limes
    • 150g feta
    • 2 tablespoons olive oil
    • pinch sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

    Chop the watermelon and cucumber into chunks and place in a salad bowl, along with the chopped mint. Soak the red onion slices in lime juice and leave to steep. Cut the feta into cubes and add to the watermelon, cucumber and mint. Add the onion slices, along with the lime juice to the bowl, and then add the olive oil and seasoning. Mix gently – the watermelon and feta are fragile! Serve chilled.

  • Nutritional information,  Savoury

    Cajun-style tuna steaks and raves on the terrace

    Plate with marinated Cajun tuna steaks and vegetables
    Cajun marinated tuna steaks, rich in Omega 3

    Welcome to my updated blog. Apparently the original blog, which was over ten years old, was ‘fine on the outside, but chaotic on the inside!’ Sounded horribly familiar!

    We’ve been cooking outside a lot; I haven’t wanted to use the oven because of the stifling heat. Unfortunately this is now no longer an option due to the fire risk. This recipe is easy and versatile, as the steaks may be cooked on a proper barbecue, a gas barbecue, or even in a hot frying pan.

    In my last blog, I mentioned that a deer had been snacking on the terrace at night. He is still a nightly visitor, and in view of the noise, I suspect he now invites friends. I know when they have been ‘partying’ because I do an inventory of the geranium flowers in bloom every evening, and again in the morning. I’ve arrived at the conclusion that in general, all hell has broken loose since our black labrador, Hugo’s demise.

    In just the past week a deer availed himself of the open terrace door to come into the house one night, no doubt in search of more geraniums, and a weasel woke our guests sleeping in the grange by rapping, very loudly, on the glass door. Then I knocked a man flying with a shopping caddy (which become lethal weapons in my hands) and Luc chucked our cleaning lady’s shoes in the bin.

    Also, I can’t remember how many people, or which people for that matter, I have invited to Luc’s birthday party next week; it could be 15 guests, or it could be 25. I have literally no idea. It should be interesting, particularly as some much-needed rain is forecast for that day.

    Tuna’s multiple health benefits (and a word of warning)

    Tuna is a very rich source of Omega 3 fatty acids. Omega 3s are known for their anti-inflammatory properties as well as aiding mental, heart, bone, eye, and skin health. A lesser-known benefit of Omega 3 is that it can help sleep quality.

    Tuna is a good source of good-quality protein and also contains generous amounts of calcium, phosphorus, potassium, iron, zinc, B-vitamins, selenium, and choline.

    Despite the many benefits, consumption of tuna, and other big fish, should probably be limited to a maximum of once a week due to its mercury content.

    Recipe for Cajun-style marinated tuna steaks (serves 4)

    • 50ml orange juice
    • 50ml coconut aminos (or soya sauce
    • 2 tablespoons olive oil
    • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
    • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
    • 1 clove garlic, crushed
    • 3 teaspoons Cajun seasoning
    • Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
    • 4 tuna steaks

    Mix the marinade ingredients together and generously coat the tuna steaks. Leave in the fridge overnight, if possible, or at least for a couple of hours. Best seared for a couple of minutes on each side on a BBQ, protected by aluminum foil. Otherwise they can be fried in a hot frying pan.

  • Gluten-free,  Nutritional information,  Sweet

    Chocolate and almond mousse cake and badgered by badgers

    Chocolate and almond mousse cake (gf)

    I’m not going to gloat about the results of the French election, because that would be neither kind, nor fair for supporters of Putin’s ‘putain‘ (Putin’s tart). The trouble is though, apparently the moment you get rid of one pest, you gain another: We’re currently being persecuted by a badger.

    Strange husbands and lethal umbrellas

    Badgers are reputed to be fearless, thick skinned, resourceful and unwavering, and the one that comes to visit us every night ticks all the boxes. It started by digging up the lawn farthest from the house, and has gradually made its way closer. At midnight last night, Luc decided enough was enough, and took off to hunt it down on his bicycle, dressed in underpants, armed with an umbrella, with a torch strapped to his head. He looked quite alarming, but in an insane way, not a badger-scaring way.

    He circled the house several times, shouting menacingly and brandishing his umbrella like the lethal weapon it wasn’t, before coming back in to reassure me that, although he hadn’t seen the offending creature, he thought we would be left in peace from now on (I love mens’ egos; they’re a constant source of amusement to me). This morning we woke up to a larger-than-ever patch of dug up lawn right in front of the bedroom window. This badger is not only spunky and tenacious, he also has a wicked sense of humour. And the dogs just snoozed on…

    Chocolate cake and chocolate mousse are my absolute favourites, and this combines the best of both; it’s not too sweet and the taste and texture, somewhere between the two, are just perfect.

    Potential copper deficiency

    Many people have been supplementing zinc to aid immunity to Covid and other viruses. High intake of zinc for extended periods of time may result in copper deficiency. Copper is essential in the formation of collagen, and also helps the body use its stored iron — a deficiency can result in anemia. Dark chocolate and almonds are both excellent sources of copper, so this cake is a good choice if you’ve been taking zinc for over the past few years. Other good sources of copper are shellfish, organ meats, legumes, whole grains and peas.

    Recipe for chocolate and almond mousse cake (serves 6-8)

    • 150g dark chocolate (min 70%)
    • 120g coconut oil
    • 5 eggs, separated
    • 150g cane sugar
    • 70g ground almond
    • Pinch of salt
    • 1/2 teaspoon cardamon powder
    • Tablespoon rum

    Preheat the oven to 140°C. Melt the chocolate and the coconut oil in a bain marie, while whisking the egg whites in a bowl until stiff. In another bowl, blend the egg yolks and sugar, then add the ground almonds, seasoning, rum and chocolate and coconut oil, mixing well. Finally fold in the egg whites until the mixture is homogenous. Pour the mixture into a greased tin (I used a loaf tin) and bake for 45 minutes.

  • French,  Nutritional information,  Sweet

    French walnut tart and masking your confusion

    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)

    Pastry:

    150g butter

    270g flour (I used einkorn flour)

    1 pinch of salt

    Water

    Filling:

    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.

  • Nutritional information,  Sweet

    Pear gingerbread and deerly-loved rosebushes

    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!

    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.

    Ingredients (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.

  • Nutritional information,  Sweet

    Almond and pear cake and how to disable a despot

    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, now 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 back 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 very 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.

    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.

    Ingredients (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.

  • Nutritional information,  Savoury,  Spicy

    Cauliflower in turmeric chickpea batter and flights of fancy

    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.

    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?’

    The Bells, Edgar Allan Poe

    Turmeric (more information here), 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.

    Curcumin is poorly absorbed by the body, but research show that cooking it in liquid, with added fat and black pepper facilitates absorption.

    Ingredients (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.

  • French,  Nutritional information,  Savoury

    French onion tart and a budding winemaker

    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)

    10g butter

    1kg onions (peeled and cut into thin rounds)

    100g smoky bacon

    3 eggs

    30cl cream

    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.

  • Breakfast,  Nutritional information,  Savoury,  Sweet

    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.

    Loulou the book chewer

    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…

    Ingredients (makes about 5 jars)

    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.

  • Nutritional information,  Savoury

    Brussels sprouts and chestnuts and uppity wild boar

    I have something in common with The Donald (other than unruly yellow hair): I incite appallingly bad behaviour. In animals in my case; Luc has always maintained that it’s impossible to get any animal to obey if I’m nearby. Yesterday was a case in point. Just 10 minutes in to a walk with Hugo and Java, two dogs became three and then a few minutes later, four. One of the dogs had jumped out of a window to join us, and the other had abandoned his master without a backward glance. A little further on, we walked past four horses in two separate fields. The dogs didn’t go into the fields, but our presence alone inspired one of the horses to leap over the fence into the adjacent field to join his friends.

    One of the consequences of repeated lockdowns is that the wild boar believe they own the forest. Leaving our house in the car yesterday, my path was blocked by a menacing 100kg specimen. The sight of me clearly made him angry, and he fixed me with a stare that said ‘I own you, bitch’. Something about the way he irately hoofed the ground and then started to snort, made me reverse the car and watch from an acceptable (to him) distance while he saw his wife and eight babies over the track.

    In stark contrast to the dogs, horses and boar, these young deer seemed remarkably well behaved and stood quite still while I photographed them.

    Brussels sprouts are part of the cabbage family, the nutritional virtues of which I detailed in my previous post.

    Ingredients (serves 4)

    500g Brussels sprouts, peeled and halved

    2 tablespoons olive oil

    4 shallots, peeled and sliced

    2 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed

    250g chestnuts, pre-cooked

    Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

    ½ teaspoon paprika

    Cook the Brussels sprouts briefly in salted boiling water for about five minutes, drain and set aside. Heat the olive oil in a large frying pan and fry the shallots and garlic until golden. Add the sprouts, chestnuts and seasoning and fry for about five minutes, or until the chestnuts start to crisp.