Category Archives: Savoury

Courgette gratin and Java’s midnight garden

I love the summer, when the windows are left open for the night air to cool the house. And for me to escape through, furtively. Once everyone’s in bed, I creep past Hugo on the tips of my paws, jump onto the window sill, then spring over the rosebush to freedom in the shadowy, moonlit garden.

My first stop is the wise old boar who lives quite close by. He’s always good for dispensing advice on dealing with humans. His insight is surprisingly spot-on for someone who has virtually no contact with them. I don’t stay too long because, once he gets started on a subject, he tends to harp on a bit. I’m fond of the boar and his rough-skinned ways though, and we have a lot in common: we both love mud, will eat just about anything with gusto, and hate the sound of guns. In his wisdom, he tells me that it’s a good thing hunting rifles are so noisy, as it’s a warning to hide.

Giving Bertie the Badger a wide berth (he can be very bad-tempered), I make my way through the pine trees and over the bridge to the deer that live by the river. I admire the deer for their beauty, grace, agility, and speed; we have these traits in common. They tell me about the blackberries that are ripening in the late summer sun, and the best places to find them. I can see they’ve been gorging because their muzzles are stained purple. They know all there is to know about edible plants and shrubs due to their odd eating habits; who eats roses for breakfast? Certainly not me!

My last visit is to the mice, who I find nestling in the horses’ hay. On the way I make a detour to say ‘bonsoir’ to Minou, the cat. We chat quite amicably at night, when nobody’s looking, but make a pretense of being enemies in the day; it’s what expected of us. Mice aren’t very interesting companions to be honest — they’re quite inconsequential — but I do like the way they roll. They love to party and sometimes organise an illicit rave in the kitchen at night, fueled by the crumbs left on the floor. They let me gently chew their little heads. They seem to enjoy it — I suppose it gives them a head massage, a bit of relaxation after their high jinks.

When I see that dawn is breaking, I head back home. The hedgehog, rabbits, and stone martens will have to wait for my visit another night.

This recipe uses courgettes, which I don’t see the point of, and cheese, which I love.

Ingredients (serves 4)

750g courgettes (unpeeled, sliced and lightly precooked)

2 shallots, finely chopped

2 eggs

200g crème fraîche

75g hard cheese (I used Comté)

Seasalt and freshly ground black pepper

1/2 teaspoon nutmeg

Preheat the oven to 200°C. Arrange the precooked courgettes and finely chopped shallots in a gratin dish. Beat the eggs, gradually adding the cream, cheese, and seasoning. Pour the mixture over the courgettes and shallots and bake for 15 minutes. Delicious served alone with green salad, or as a side dish.

Boulangère potatoes and man versus pigeon

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

100ml cream

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.

Broccoli with blue cheese and walnut sauce, dogs vs boars, and wedding anniversaries

There is a particularly grumpy, confirmed bachelor wild boar that lives in the woods not far from us. I think that he and Hugo are very alike and, as such, seem to annoy each other unreasonably. Whenever we go through the woods, either on foot or horseback, Hugo uproots the poor chap, who really wishes us no harm. I haven’t seen the boar recently; I think he’s probably in the market for a new home, with quieter, less disruptive neighbours.

It was our 20th wedding anniversary yesterday, and we went to an excellent restaurant in the grounds of a Bordelaise wine château for dinner. Léo graced us with his presence and, very sweetly and quite out of the blue, announced that now, after over 18 years’ experience, he had become immune to being embarrassed by us in public. I’m not sure exactly how we used to embarrass him, although when I look at the photos he took last night, I begin to understand. I always look a bit ‘One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest’ in photos. Some people might say the camera never lies; I maintain it’s mean and unforgiving where I’m concerned.

Luc, who is not a lover of broccoli (what is it with men and broccoli? I don’t know a single male broccoli-eater!) approved this sauce, saying it made the broccoli ‘almost edible’. Not only does this sauce encourage men to eat broccoli almost whinge-free, it also packs a punch health-wise.

Broccoli is packed with nutrients to support the liver and aid detoxification. It has high levels of isothiocyanates, indoles and dithiolethiones, which help protect the body from cancer by regulating the way the cells respond to environmental elements. Salads and green vegetables are always best when combined with oil or fat to help absorption of the nutrients.

Walnuts are also full of vitamins and minerals, and are an especially rich source of Omega 3. They are also a rich source of antioxidants and help decrease inflammation. Consuming walnuts can enrich the gut microbiome, increasing good bacteria.

Ingredients

25g butter or 2 tablespoons olive oil

1 heaped tablespoon corn flour

sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

½ teaspoon of paprika

1 teaspoon mustard

1 clove of garlic, crushed

50ml plain yoghurt

50ml chicken or vegetable stock

50g roquefort, crumbled (you could use any blue cheese)

10 walnuts, shelled and crushed

Chopped chives to garnish

Cook the brocolli ‘al dente’ in salted boiling water for about 10 minutes. Better still, steam cook it. While the brocolli is cooking make the sauce. Place the corn flour and butter or olive oil in a saucepan over a gentle heat, and combine well to form a thick paste. Add the seasoning, mustard, garlic, yoghurt and stock and stir continously until the mixture thickens. Add the blue cheese and heat and stir until it melts. Finally add the crushed walnuts, mixing well. Pour over the brocolli, sprinkle the chives over the top and serve!

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.

Pea and mint risotto, gourmet cats, cremated glasses, and orange dust

Our cat, ‘Minou’, is feral. When he first came to stay, he, conveniently for us, caught mice to eat. Luc quickly decided he was easy on the eye, and useful (possibly the same appraisal as when he met me), so started to buy him cat food to encourage him to stay. (I feel I should point out here that he didn’t entice me to stay with cat food.) Minou quickly went off the original cat food, so we upgraded to premium tinned cat food, which appeased him for a little while. When he went off that, Luc thought that home-cooked things ‘in a sauce’ would probably please him. Which they did, and still do. Which means that I spent yesterday evening, after having made and served human dinner, cooking Venison Bourguignon for Minou. I think the next logical step will be starred Michelin restaurant fare, because the only way he’s going to even consider a mouse now is served ‘en croûte au foie gras’…

Apparently some people are NST (not safe in taxis); I’m NSG (not safe with glasses). I have always had issues with glasses, and we frequently part company. Unfortunately, searching for glasses is boring, time-wasting, and difficult because you can’t see properly because you’re, err, looking for your glasses. Last Friday I lost them properly. Whole house upheaval, everyone involved properly. Luc inadvertently found them on Sunday evening in the embers of the fireplace. WTAF? It would seem I’d had a rare tidy freak moment, and thrown everything of a combustible nature within reach into the fire, glasses included.

Last week everything in our area had a pinky red tinge from dust blown up from the Sahara; this week we’ve got fluorescent yellowy green from pine pollen dust. In our case everything is orange, a combination of the two, as I still hadn’t got around to removing the Sahara when the pines put in an appearance.

Ingredients (serves 4)

40g coconut oil (you could use olive oil)

400g Basmati rice

4 shallots, finely diced

2 cloves of garlic, crushed

200ml dry white wine

800ml vegetable stock

300g garden peas

100g garden peas, pureed

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Handful mint leaves, finely chopped

4 tablespoons grated parmesan

Heat the coconut oil in a large frying pan, then add the shallots and garlic and fry for about 8 minutes until soft is soft. Add the rice and continue to heat until translucent. Add the wine and keep stirring.

Add a ladle of hot stock and turn down the heat. Keep adding ladlefuls of stock, stirring constantly and allowing each ladleful to be absorbed completely before adding the next. Add the peas when there are a couple of ladlefuls left. Stir until the rice is soft but still has a slight bite, then season with salt and pepper. Remove from the heat and add the freshly chopped mint and the Parmesan.

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.

Courgette fritters and The Naked Mountain

I apologise for my lack of blog posts lately. I’ve taken on a full-time nocturnal job keeping the wild boar at bay, which means that I sleep all day, and don’t have time for my more intellectual pursuits. Many people — I would say fans if I were immodest — have asked after me, so here I am slaving away at the computer, and not snoring on the sofa. I just hope my return doesn’t break the internet.

Bossy was absolutely hell-bent on skiing in the Pyrenees this winter, although the odds were heavily stacked against. Due to the human pandemic, there aren’t any ski lifts this year, which means that cross country is the way forward (see what I did there? I’m delighted I haven’t lost my wit). She spent weeks studying the likelihood of further lockdowns, the best places nearby for cross country skiing, how to cross country ski (she tried it once before and ended up in a river), the necessary gear, and The Noisy One’s availability. The Tall One doesn’t buy into Bossy’s hair-brained ski trips anymore. Once was enough for him; he’s a sensible man.

On the morning of departure, Bossy started to flap like one of those awful pigeons her husband fawns over. All because she’d forgotten to buy chains for the car’s wheels. She decided to risk it anyway, and, thankfully, off she and Noisy went.

I’m not an unkind dog, and certainly not one that takes pleasure in other people’s misfortune, but when they came back exhausted and covered in mud and not snow, I confess that my inner laughter gave way to uncontrollable outer laughter. She’d ‘closely monitored’ many things before departure, but ‘snowfall’ hadn’t made it to her list; they arrived to sunny 15°C and stark naked green mountains.

They went for a nice hike instead and managed to get thoroughly lost (there was talk of ending up at the top of the wrong mountain). On the upside (I did it again!), at least they hadn’t needed to worry about snow chains for the mountain pass *snigger*…

Thankfully Bossy’s courgette fritters are better than her organisational skills. I’m not a fan of vegetables (I spit them out for Java to eat), but these are light, crispy and succulent all at the same time.

Ingredients (serves 3-4)

150g chickpea (gram) flour

1 pinch of salt

1/2 teaspoon chilli or curry powder

1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds

1 clove of garlic, crushed

1/2 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda

150ml lukewarm water

4 medium-sized courgettes

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.

Top and tail the courgettes and peel if the skin is tough. Cut in half and then slice lengthways, quite finely (1-2mm). Coat well with the batter and fry in olive oil until golden.

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.

Rosemary and black olive Fougasse and sausages for officers

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.

Ingredients

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

Water

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.

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.

Braised red cabbage and a better New Year

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

15g butter

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.

Spicy meat loaf, pigeons and Paris

I had to have a stern word with a pigeon last week; he had left his wife to do all the egg sitting, while he was out and about teasing Java, paddling in the pool, and perching on the horses’ warm backs. Anyone familiar with pigeons knows that it quite clearly states in the pigeon prenup that Monsieur should share the incubation burden. So either Madame is a total pushover, or Monsieur is a bit of a one.

The couple had also been shamefully slapdash in the ‘construction’ (I use the term lightly) of a nest for their brood-to-be. They had garnished a wooden beam five metres from the ground with a couple of dry leaves and a few bits of straw. Luc took pity and supplied them with a wooden wine box full of hay, where the squabs have now hatched and are growing by the day.

Satisfied we had done all we could for the irresponsible pigeons, I made a flying visit to Paris at the beginning of the week to see a thyroid specialist about my rogue thyroid gland. I managed to lock myself in the train bathroom for part of the journey because my slimey, soap-covered hands and inability to turn on the water to rince them, meant that my impotent fingers kept slipping on the door handle. As all restaurants are still shut in France, I nipped into a health food store for something to eat, and ended up inadvertently buying myself baby food (inside/outside temperature changes and my mask caused my glasses to steam up). Plus ça change…

At the hospital the next day, I had to see the radiologist before the thyroid specialist, and I obviously inspired her; she seemed awfully keen to lecture me on my mask and its inadequacies. Neither its size, shape, colour nor material pleased her, and neither did the apparently slapdash way I was wearing it. In the end so I had to say: ‘Madame, your rant is instructive (not!), but I’ve come 800km for an opinion on my thyroid, not my mask’. She was NOT amused and actually told me to ‘shush’. I had forgotten how cantankerous Parisians can be.

It was sad to see Paris so listless with all its bars, restaurants and museums shut. However, Paris by night was still luminous, and I had time for a photo dash.

Luc was very pleased with this meatloaf, which I left for him while I was away. It may be enjoyed hot or cold.

Ingredients (serves six to eight)

2 onions, chopped

2 garlic cloves, crushed

3 carrots, grated

1 courgette, grated

1 red pepper, chopped

3 medium tomatoes, chopped

Olive oil

300g minced beef or lamb

3 eggs

1 tbsp Lee and Perrins sauce

50ml tomato ketchup

200g pre-cooked chickpeas

Parsley

Rosemary

Fresh coriander

Sea salt, freshly ground black pepper

Half teaspoon of each: cumin, cayenne pepper or paprika, garam masala

Combine the vegetables, olive oil, meat, beaten eggs, Lee and Perrins sauce and ketchup in a large mixing bowl. Roughly blend the chickpeas and herbs until the mixture forms a lumpy paste (ie not blended too much) and add it to the meat mixture. Add the seasoning, mixing well and spoon the combined mixture into a loaf tin and cook for about an hour and a half in a medium oven (180°C). Leave to sit for ten minutes before slicing.