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…
Ingredients (makes about 5 jars)
1kg Seville oranges
2cm piece of fresh root ginger
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.
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.
Happy new year everybody! We can only hope for a less complicated, less heartbreaking 2021…
We happily bid good riddance to 2020, and welcomed 2021 with some trepidation at our neighbours’ (in France we are allowed to meet in groups of six). We enjoyed an impromptu wine-tasting session, and ended up crawling/swimming back home, zigzagging our way through puddles, rivers and lakes at around 2.30am (we have had terrible flooding over the past few weeks).
Luc woke up with a blinding headache in a panic, saying ‘oh mon dieu, j’ai choppé le Covid’ (‘oh my God I’ve caught Covid’.) He was incredibly relieved when I suggested that his ‘Covid’ probably had more to do with a combination of excessive wine ‘tastings’ and wet feet than any viral infection.
The cabbage family are almost certainly the vegetables richest in nutrients and protective substances; they are not only a fantastic source of vitamin C, but also fibre, carotenoids, B vitamins, potassium, magnesium and calcium. A high antioxidant and vitamin A content means that cabbage helps to defend both the skin and eyes from free radicals.
Red cabbage contains a large amount of amino acid glutamine, which specifically reduces the inflammation and pain associated with ulcers in the gastrointestinal system. Recent research has shown cabbage juice, particularly red cabbage juice, to be highly therapeutic.
Claude Aubert, a French Agricultural Engineer who was the pioneer of organic farming in France, recounts a study carried out on two groups of volunteers: The first group ate a ‘normal’ diet, and the second group was given a diet rich in vegetables from the cabbage family, notably Brussels Sprouts. Both groups then ingested carcinogens. The cabbage family eating group eliminated the carcinogens more quickly than the other group.
We had this cabbage with our Christmas guinea fowl. It was a perfect complement.
Ingredients (10 portions)
1kg red cabbage, shredded
2 onions, chopped
2 cloves garlic, crushed
3 cooking apples, peeled, cored and chopped
Half teaspoon ground cinnamon
Half teaspoon garam masala
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
3 tablespoon brown sugar
3 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
Place all the ingredients in a large casserole dish, add the seasoning, then the vinegar and last of all the butter on top. Place in a slow oven (150°C) for about two and a half hours, stirring from time to time and adding a drop of water if it seems too dry.
Wishing you all ‘Bonnes Fêtes’, a very Happy Christmas.
I am sure one thing we all have in common, wherever we are, is that we will be very glad to see the back of this absolute shitfest of a year.
This orange-based dessert is simple and cheering (probably due to its generous quantity of Armagnac!), and bursting with Christmassy flavours.
Oranges contain, not only vitamin C, but also hesperidin, a citrus fruit flavonoid. It has recently been discovered that hesperidin can prevent replication of the Covid-19 virus in the body; just one of nature’s glut of pathogen and virus-fighting alternatives…
Ingredients (serves 4)
4 large dessert oranges, peeled and sliced
100ml Brandy, Cognac or Armagnac
½ teaspoon freshly-grated ginger
5 cardamon pods, crushed, shells removed
1 stick licorice
3 cinnamon sticks
5 star anise
Arrange the orange slices in a frying pain or saucepan. Add the other ingredients plus a little water and bring to a simmer over a low heat, stirring to dissolve the sugar.
Don’t cook for longer than a few minutes, or the alcohol will evaporate and the vitamin C degrade, and you wouldn’t want either of those things to happen this year!
Luc has been amusing himself by changing the place he leaves the pigeon grain every day. I have to admit it’s fascinating to watch them strutting around, quizzically cocking their heads to one side and saying to themselves ‘what the hell is he playing at? I’m sure it was right here yesterday’. I would say we should get out more, but you know, lockdown… There is actually a good reason for the nomadic food game, other of course than Luc’s sadistic streak, and that is the hunt for food gives the pigeons a bit of exercise. We’ve noticed them becoming increasingly lazy – they are so attentive to lockdown rules that they never actually venture further than 100 metres in any direction.
Every time Léo returns to school after the weekend he forgets something important. Last weekend it was his computer charger. As there is no ‘airhead son’ box to tick on the form we have to fill in to leave home, I sourced a seat in a carpool. The driver of the car seemed a bit surprised when I said that I wouldn’t be accompanying the plug, although he was relieved when I reassured him it travelled well in both the front and the back of the car, didn’t suffer from travel sickness and that he wouldn’t be bothered by inane chat. All in all, it was a win-win situation: Léo was able to recharge his computer in record time, I didn’t have to request the creation of a new box for the ‘leaving home’ authorisation form, and the driver of the car was able to duck the company of the strange blonde!
Unlike the pigeons, Java’s photogenic boyfriend, who is called Caramel, Mikko or Nikko depending on who you ask, is oblivious to the confinement rules, and spends much of his time just outside the front door waiting for Java to come out. Meantime, Java is mesmerised by the gorgeous November sunsets, to the detriment of her handsome companion.
I’m so happy to see the encouraging results of a growing number of studies on the benefits of not only vitamin D, but also vitamin C, zinc and melatonin for the prevention and treatment of Covid-19. I have absolutely no problem with being labelled a kook, but I do take issue with being labelled a senseless one 😉
Everyone has a lot to contend with at the moment and cardamon makes a refreshing antidote. It is lovely for curing and preventing digestive issues, and boosting digestive health in general. It is also helpful for mental stress, depression or anxiety, as well as asthma and bronchitis when it works by improving blood circulation in the lungs due to its blood thinning action.
Ingredients (serves 8)
175g coconut oil, room temperature (you can use butter)
150g cane sugar
1 tablespoon cardamon pods
Grated zest of 4 lemons
3 eggs, beaten
175g flour (I used buckwheat flour)
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
Juice of 2 lemons
Preheat the oven to 180°C. Grease and prepare a 900g loaf tin. Add the softened coconut oil, sugar, cardamon seeds and lemon zest to a mixing bowl and beat well until light and fluffy. Add the eggs, little by little to avoid curdling. Gently fold the sifted flour, baking powder and bicarbonate of soda to the mixture and then the lemon juice. Pour the mixture into the prepared loaf tin and bake for 40 minutes.
Hugo is not feeling the love for Lockdown Strikes Again. I’m pretty sure he has PTSD following an intense two months in the Spring with eccentric humans and flamboyant and immature fellow animals. Hugo, like many great intellectuals, is a bit of a loner; company 24/7 leaves him frazzled to say the least. When Léo left to go back to Bordeaux to school last weekend, Hugo commandeered the front seat of his car and nothing would make him budge. He thought that Léo’s company, albeit in a city, was preferable to what we had to offer.
Luc is currently spending most of his waking hours scaling the roofs. He has become a fanatical adversary of skulking moss, to which he lays seige armed with a rock climbing harness, knives and poison. Apparently he finds moss assassination cathartic, which is unfortunate because seeing him on the roof does nothing for my serenity. In twenty years’ marriage I had never realised what strong feelings he had on plant fungus.
My thyroid has gone haywire which leaves me burning up like a furnace, insomniac, and putting away teenage boy quantities of food. Dogs really do have a sixth sense, and every time I sit down, Java climbs up to ‘comfort’ me, which is very sweet and definitely more therapeutic than scaling the roof.
Ceps, once cooked, are rich in anti-oxidants which help support the immune system. They are also a good source of vitamin D; a single serving can supply about 30% of your daily needs. Ceps contain high levels of folic acid and vitamin B12, and help detoxify the liver. And finally they contain a good amount of potassium which contributes to cardiovascular health.
Ingredients (serves 4)
2 shallots, finely chopped
1 tablespoon olive oil
75ml dry white wine
75g fresh ceps (or dried and soaked)
2 cloves of garlic
2 tablespoons Armagnac (or Cognac)
1 teaspoon chicken or vegetable stock, diluted in 5 ml water
2 tablespoons crème fraîche
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
Gently brown the shallots in the for a couple of minutes. Add a drop of white wine and then add the ceps and garlic. Leave to cook gently for about 20 minutes, stirring often. Add the remainder of the wine, the Armagnac and stock and then the cream. Season and leave to simmer for a further 15 minutes, or until thickened. May be liquidised for a smoother sauce.
This sauce makes a great accompaniment to steak, or any red meat. It’s also delicious on pasta.
Four pigeons have found themselves a new home, and we’ve once again struck gold in the animal lottery. Apparently word is out that we’re a dumping ground for problem animals, and we’re so grateful to the hunters that arrive bearing ‘gifts’. I think. Java, bless her little heart, was given to us because she was ‘destabilised’, by which I mean completely off her trolley in terror, by guns. Not ideal when you’re a gun dog. And Hugo came to live with us having been found roaming the streets of Dax aimlessly like a yobbo.
We have an awful lot of resident toads as well. We have become the destination of choice for amphibians: Club Toad. And bizarely, my husband has an absolute passion for them, something that I’ve only recently become aware of after 20 years. He talks to them, strokes them (although I’m not sure that ‘stroke’ is the right word for a toad), comforts them, and helps them out of the pool when they get marooned. Should I be concerned?
Back to the pigeons. The hunter that arrived with them in a cage earlier this week felt ‘they would be better off with us’ (they had been squatting and squarking outside his bedroom window). This was a polite way of saying that they were doing his head in and could we take them off his hands before he shot himself.
I’d never really thought about just how annoying pigeons are. I grew up with the pigeons in London (just to be clear: I lived in a house with my parents, not perched on the edge of the fountain in Trafalgar Square), but country pigeons are a different kind of annoying. Town pigeons spend their time pacing up and down streets, accompanying people here and there, and being totally unable to fly. Not so with country pigeons, who are unbelievable noisy, messy, hyperactive busybodies. I have to admit though, when I count only three of them eating breakfast with the horses, I find myself worrying about where the fourth has got to…
Ingredients (makes 6-8 pots)
1.75kg red plums
600g black grapes
400g fresh figs
1kg cane sugar
1 apple, grated
20g fresh ginger, grated
1 lemon, juiced
50ml dark rum
Cut the plums and greengages in half, remove the stones and place in a large pot. Rince the grapes and figs and add to the pot. Add the grapes and the figs and then the sugar. Last of all add the grated apple and ginger, bring to the boil and then simmer for 30 minutes. Once cooked, add the lemon juice and rum. Liquidise according to taste and transfer to sterilised jam jars while still hot.
Plums are full of nutrients: One medium-sized fruit contains over 100mg potassium, which helps manage high blood pressure and reduce stroke risk. They are also a rich source of vitamins C and K as well as manganese, magnesium and copper.
Plums are rich in antioxidants, which are helpful for reducing inflammation and protecting your cells from damage by free radicals. They are particularly high in polyphenol antioxidants, which have positive effects on bone health and thanks to their ability to increase levels of adiponectin in the body, they are also a delicious way to manage blood sugar levels.
My small but powerful lusitano horse, Jojo, was a bit of a thug in his youth. He was castrated late at five, and then only because I was pregnant and he bit anyone else that went near him. He took a chunk out of a groom’s arm once, and catapulted Luc into the air like a pancake when he deigned to ask him to move forward.
As he was entire, and therefore easily distracted (by ‘distracted’ I obviously mean: sent into an uncontrollable mouth-frothing frenzy) by mares, I used to rub a drop of basil essential oil near his nose. This had a double advantage: it helped him remain calm and focussed, and the pungent aroma covered the mares’ arousing scent.
I am happy to report that Jojo has grown into a real gentleman, and now radiates the sort of intensely serene calm sometimes found in the all-powerful. Riding out the other day, Java managed to round up a young deer who she chased out of the pine trees and straight into Jojo’s chest. The deer, unhurt, did a roly poly between the horse’s legs before shaking himself off and fleeing. Not to be outdone, Jojo’s rider (me) screamed like a banshee in shock. Despite the unexpected pandemonium, my darling horse stood stock-still and waited for everyone to calm down. Anyone familiar with horses and their reactions will know how unusual this is.
There are over 60 varieties of basil, also known as ocimum basilicum, or the king of herbs. The signature of Mediterranean cuisine, nothing says ‘summer’ to me as much as the heady scent of sun-warm basil. Known as ‘sacred basil leaf’ to Hindus, it has been used as a medicine throughout the world for over 3,000 years.
Basil belongs to the same family as mint, and shares many of the same characteristics. It is useful as a remedy for bloating, digestive cramps and colic. As is the case with many fragrant plants, it is its potent oils that have a relaxing effect on the muscles of the intestines, helping to ease cramps and spasms. It also helps alkalise the body and reduces the fat buildup in the liver that can cause liver disease.
Basil calms anxiety and eases depression; many ancient texts recommend basil tea for ‘melancholy’. Less whimsically perhaps, it also makes for a powerful anti-parasitic treatment. Overindulgence in sugar means that parasites such as the notoriously difficult to treat Candida Albicans yeast, are a common problem.
Basil has antioxidant, antibacterial, antiviral and anti-inflammatory properties. It has been found to be helpful in the fight against numerous diseases, including cancer, atherosclerosis, diabetes, allergies, asthma, arthritis, Crohn’s disease, osteoporosis, psoriasis and septic shock. It is an adaptogen and supports the adrenal glands, protecting against stress and fatigue.
Basil is full of nutrients, with an abundance of vitamin A (as carotenoids), vitamin K, and vitamin C. It’s also a rich source of magnesium, iron, potassium and calcium.
In the kitchen, basil is incredibly versatile. I always use it raw, adding it at the end of cooking to retain flavour and potency. Obviously it makes fantastic pesto when combined with pine nuts, olive oil and garlic, but it’s also delicious with tomatoes, helping to balance the acidity. I also often add it to asian cuisine as it marries particularly well with chicken, fish and seafood, spices and coconut. I sometimes add a few leaves of basil and some lemon juice to a jug of cold water in the summer; refreshing and calming!
Mushroom skin, like human skin, produces vitamin D when exposed to sunlight. Mushrooms are naturally rich in ergosterol (provitamin D, or D2) and you can greatly increase the amount they contain by leaving them to soak up the sun.
Shitake mushrooms have the highest natural levels of vitamin D of all mushrooms. For a rough idea of how much you can increase their potency by leaving them to dry in the sun, if the vitamin D starting point is about 100IU/100g before exposure, leaving them in the sun for about 12 hours (6 hours per day for two days when the sun is strongest) will increase the amount to about 46,000IU/100g. Pretty impressive.
For some time, epidemiologists have shown that people living near the equator are less likely to suffer from so many of the diseases that plague the higher latitudes. Living in equatorial regions means you are less likely to suffer from cancer, diabetes, depression, arthritis and heart disease, as well as upper respiratory-tract infections such as flu and tuberculosis.
The sun, and its by-product, vitamin D are as vital to life as a roof over your head, food and water; a big deficiency can have disastrous results.
In the context of Covid-19, I keep hearing people say ‘how can a vitamin D deficiency be significant when sunny countries like Iran, Spain and Italy have been so affected?’
The answer is, even if you enjoy the sun during the winter, in mid-latitude countries (ie between the 35th-50th parallel North or South) where Tehran, Madrid, Bordeaux and Milan are situated, you will make no vitamin D whatsoever from November to February. In the higher latitudes, where London, Berlin, Brussels, Moscow and the Scandinavian countries are situated, you make no vitamin D from the sun between October and March. In either case, unless you supplement, by the end of winter, your levels will be low, and you will be more vulnerable to disease.
Recipe for vitamin D-rich mushrooms
Use fresh organic shitake, maitake, button, oyster or other mushrooms. Slice the mushrooms and place them evenly on a tray, which you should expose to direct sunlight, preferably during the summer months – June, July or August – between 10am and 4pm. Cover the mushrooms before nightfall to protect from dew condensation. Repeat the process the next sunny day. And again, until the mushrooms are totally dried (crispy).
Once thoroughly dry, the mushrooms may be stored in a glass jar, to which you have added a tablespoon of uncooked rice to prevent moisture, for up to a year. To serve, use about 10g person, rehydrate in water for an hour, and cook as desired.
I am writing today in my capacity as a biomedical research scientist. I think I may have found the perfect antidote to Covid-19:
Gin is made from juniper berries, which are full of inflammation-fighting antioxidants. The oils contained in juniper berries are expectorant, which helps reduce lung congestion. Gin and tonic was found in a study to be the best, or at least the least toxic, drink for diabetics. Ergo gin is practically a superfood, innit.
On to tonic water: The quinine in tonic is a zinc ionophore, which means that it helps zinc pass the cell membrane barrier and enter the cell where it becomes extremely busy and useful fighting the virus.
The lemon slice is not only a good source of vitamin C, but also potassium and magnesium.
Cashew nuts are packed with protein, zinc, potassium and magnesium, and also contain B vitamins and vitamin C. Cashews are basically an antiviral nut!
The benefits of nicotine are currently being studied at the Pitié Salpêtrière Hospital in Paris after it was noticed that smokers were four times less affected by Covid-19 than non-smokers. It is thought that nicotine might attach to cell receptors, blocking the coronavirus from spreading. In the meantime, sales of nicotine patches in pharmacies in France are being rationed. Watch this space!
Last, but by no means least, enjoy your drink in the sun, if you can. Sun exposure (without burning) is the best and fastest way to increase your vitamin D levels, which are absolutely crucial when it comes to fighting viruses.
Admit it – I’ve nailed it haven’t I?