• Savoury

    Beef Wellington and grazing blondes

    Following on from this post, I have just emerged, morally battered and bruised, from a ‘phone call during which I was flung around like a hot potato, between seven different employees of the Regional Health Agency (‘Agence Régionale de Santé’, or ARS, which is very apt). I am desperately, and unsuccessfully, trying to get an exemption for the C-19 booster, as my second vaccine caused me to need a ‘little lie down’ that went on to last four months.

    Three times a charm. Or not.

    The rules for exemption in France are quite simple: If you’ve had two vaccines and lived to tell the tale, then you have absolutely no excuse not to have a third. Or, if you reacted badly to the first or second jab, then they do another one to see whether you actually drop dead or not. If you do drop dead, it’s good news, because it means you’ll automatically qualify for exemption. Obviously you’ll be delighted about that. People who have had one or two vaccines in good faith, but subsequently experienced horrible, sometimes long-lasting health problems as a result, not only suffer, they are also punished and silenced. It’s dystopian. After nearly an hour of ‘phone tag, the ARS’s employees seemed to weary, and gave me another number to call, which I did; it was a suicide hotline. You couldn’t make it up!

    Java had never seen cows before, so when we came across a field of ‘Aquitaine Blondes‘ who had been put out to graze on the early Spring grass near the house yesterday, she stood stock still for a while, with her head tilted to one side quizzically. She was deciding what to make of these ‘not dogs, not wild pigs, not horses’. She looked so painfully confused, that I tried to explain — in some detail — that they were quite harmless, and a little bit like the deer she sees around the house, etc. What I didn’t realize, was that the farmer was just behind us, politely waiting for me to finish my pedagogical lecture. He said, with a cheeky grin, ‘have you taught her to read yet?’ As Jack Nicolson said in A few Good Men, ‘don’t I feel like the fuckin’ asshole?’ (https://memes.yarn.co/yarn-clip/afc700f8-a576-44dd-ba43-f872ae912c42)

    Recipe for Beef Wellington (serves 4)

    • 1kg filet beef
    • 2 tablespoons olive oil
    • 500g puff pastry
    • 2 egg yolks, beaten
    • For the mushroom duxelle:
    • 50g butter
    • 15 medium mushrooms, finely chopped
    • 2 cloves of garlic, crushed
    • 1 shallot, finely chopped
    • 100ml, dry white wine
    • Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

    Melt the butter in a medium-sized frying pan and add the finely chopped mushrooms, cloves of garlic and shallots, stirring and coating with the butter. Continue to fry for about 10 minutes, until everything is well softened. Add the white wine and seasoning and cook until the moisture is absorbed (about 10 minutes). Set aside.

    Preheat the oven to 200°C. Sear the beef filet in olive oil for a few seconds on all sides and set aside. Roll out the puff pastry and place the filet in the centre. Cover the beef with the mushroom duxelle and envelop in the puff pastry, making sure to seal the edges. Glaze with egg yolk and cook for 20 minutes (or more, depending on how well-cooked you like the beef).

  • Savoury

    Celeriac and walnut gratin and greedy gourmet dogs

    Celeriac and walnut gratin

    Families that have managed to celebrate Christmas ‘normally’ seem to be in the minority this year, so I would like to spare a thought for all the people that have had a challenging time due to illness, bereavement, enforced isolation, travel restrictions, etc. Sending love to you all.

    A noisy commotion broke out next to our land yesterday, with lots of shouting, barking and swearing. We found out from a friend afterwards, that a hunter, who had stopped for a picnic lunch, had had his foie gras sandwich swiped by a greedy English Setter. I’m not sure if I’m more mystified by the refined tastes of the naughty dog, or by the fact that someone would fill a sandwich with foie gras, even if it was Christmas Day.

    I have been very busy lately because Léo had covid and had to isolate in the guest grange. His appetite wasn’t stinted, if anything, it increased, so I had a bit of a mini Uber Eats business running from my kitchen. Apparently my new venture meant I was too busy to notice a wasp hibernating in my trousers while getting dressed, and when I later slammed my thigh into a door, it understandably got very irate, stinging me in revenge for being woken up and concussed. So not only am I the only person I know to receive a PCR test result of ‘inconclusive’ 10 days ago, I’m also the only person I know to be walking around with an angry wasp sting in December.

    Recipe for celeriac and walnut gratin (serves 6)

    • 1kg celeriac, peeled and cut into large cubes
    • 3 medium potatoes, peeled
    • 4 cloves of garlic, crushed
    • 15g butter
    • 200ml double cream
    • Handful of walnuts, chopped
    • Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
    • 100g, Comté, finely sliced
    • Half teaspoon Espelette pepper or paprika

    Preheat the oven to 180°C. Boil the celeriac and potatoes until cooked. Strain and add the garlic and butter and puree until smooth. Add the cream, walnuts and seasoning, mixing well to create a homogenous texture. Transfer to a buttered oven-proof dish and cover with the sliced cheese and Espelette pepper. Cook for 30 minutes, or until golden brown and bubbling.

    Works well as a standalone dish with green salad, or as an accompaniment.

  • Savoury

    Onion and goat cheese tart, smoke signals and tyrannical parrots

    Onion and goat cheese tart

    I have learnt three surprising things in the past few weeks. One: Results of recent genetic testing revealed that I have considerably more French genes than either Luc or Léo. (Which doesn’t stop everyone referring to me as ‘l’Anglaise’.) Two: Hugo, the labrador, hates violin concertos with a passion, something he made quite clear last week, when I had the audacity to listen to Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto in D Major. He growled in distaste and scratched frantically at the door to flee the aural offensive. And three: there exist worse-behaved dogs than Hugo and Java. In a restaurant at the beach last weekend, there was a beautifully leggy and elegant red setter casually sauntering over the table tops, checking out the plates, their contents, and their owners, as if it was the most normal thing in the world. Red setters are notoriously batshit crazy and disobedient, so now of course, I want one.

    Yesterday morning, we caught sight of a friend sitting outside in the car. When, 10 minutes later, he still hadn’t moved, Luc went out to get him. Our friend explained that he’d been waiting to see smoke coming out of the chimney before coming in, as he didn’t know whether we were awake. We will know for next time: three billows means coffee!

    A tyrannical parrot

    Once inside, coffee in hand, he told us that when he lived on a boat in Brasil, he had a parrot. At the time he was a very heavy smoker (the friend, not the parrot; everything seems to revolve around coffee and smoke with this guy!), but knew it was time to give up when the parrot started to cough every time he saw him! That must have been some pushy parrot, because he hasn’t touched a cigarette since…

    Recipe for onion and goat cheese tart (serves 4)

    • 225g puff pastry
    • 50g butter
    • 4 medium onions, sliced
    • 1 tsp sugar
    • 200g goat’s cheese, sliced into rounds
    • 4 sprigs of thyme
    • Sea salt, freshly ground black pepper
    • Olive oil

    Preheat the oven to 180°C. Arrange the pastry in a baking sheet (or sheets). Melt the butter in a large frying pan and add the sliced onions, cover and fry gently for about 10 minutes, until softened. Remove the lid, add the sugar and continue to cook until golden and slightly caramelised. Spoon the onions onto the pastry, then top with the cheese and thyme, and season. Drizzle with oil and bake for 20 minutes.

  • Savoury

    Soda bread and medical gaslighting

    Soda bread

    A couple of days after my second C vaccine, I started to suffer from severe abdominal pain, fatigue, dizziness, low blood pressure, and breathlessness. I had trouble staying upright for any length of time. I had expected this might happen, as I had had exactly the same sort of reaction to a flu vaccine 15 years previously. Still, I had decided I would rather run the risk of another vaccine reaction than a potentially nasty case of Covid. Although most of us are very grateful vaccines exist, I think it’s dishonest, and counter-productive, to pretend they’re without, what are sometimes long-lasting, side-effects.

    Apparently I need a psychiatrist

    When I was still in a lot of pain two months later, I made an appointment with my gastroenterologist. My husband has always accompanied me in the past when I visited this particular doctor; perhaps I had sensed the need for a male presence in the face of latent misogyny? For this appointment though, I was alone. I had hardly had time to speak before the doctor started to fire off his absolute certainties: the problems I had been having did not come from my stomach, the implication being that they came from my head. When I finally managed to squeeze in a few words between his increasingly incoherent rants, I asked how, in that case, had the cortisone/omeprazole/paracetamol cocktail I had been taking helped with the pain. ‘Placebo effect!‘ was his categorical and loudly shouted reply. He then yelled that the endoscopy I had had three years previously had not shown a problem; I must be mistaken, making it up, or perhaps in need of a psychiatrist.

    I managed to escape after about twenty minutes, feeling very shaken. It was only afterwards, from the sanctuary of my car, did I realise that it’s neither normal, nor OK, to feel the need to repeat to a doctor: ‘calm down, there’s no need to be so aggressive’. Also, I am absolutely certain that the scenario would have been different, had my husband been present. But why, in 2021, should I have to be ‘escorted’ to the doctor in order to be treated decently?

    I’m pretty resilient, and managed to bounce back fairly quickly after this horrible encounter. But what about someone with no emotional support, or in a precarious psychological state? How would they fare after being verbally aggressed, repeatedly questioned, shouted at, and generally humiliated by someone they had trusted to take care of them?

    When my son, Léo, was 15, he had a massive growth spurt, which led to very low blood pressure and dizziness. Our doctor gave him a letter for school, which allowed for him to work from home, until the problem sorted itself out. A girl in his class, with almost identical symptoms, was not so lucky; her fainting fits were dismissed as ‘hysterical’, the lazy blanket diagnosis much used and loved by misogynists.

    Medical gaslighting; women are targets.

    I am certainly not alone. Googling ‘female medical gaslighting’ brings up millions of hits. I came across a study that found that women going to the Emergency Room with severe stomach pain had to wait almost 33% longer than men with exactly the same symptoms. The Journal of Law, Medicine and Ethics cited research in 2001 showing that women are prescribed less pain medication than men after identical procedures, and are less likely to be admitted to hospital when complaining of chest pain. What’s more, experts say that women are underrepresented in clinical trials for new medications and vaccines, and are therefore at greater risk for adverse side effects, and less likely to be heard when suffering them.

    Hysteria

    Despite the fact that some doctors still seem to bandy the the term around, hysteria is actually no longer recognised as a medical condition today. Unfortunately though, the mentality that made it an acceptable diagnosis in the past is still very much alive and kicking…

    One good thing to come out of the past couple of months was this bread. I wanted a yeast-free bread, as yeast had become difficult for me to digest, what with my imaginary stomach problems and all. The unique texture is the result of a reaction between the yoghurt and bicarbonate of soda that results in the formation of small bubbles of carbon dioxide within the dough. Kneading bread is very therapeutic. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

    Recipe for soda bread

    • 180g plain flour
    • 180g einkorn flour
    • 1 scant teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
    • 1 scant teaspoon cream of tartare
    • 1/2 teaspoon salt
    • 300ml natural yoghurt

    Preheat the oven to 200°C. Put the flour, bicarbonate of soda, cream of tartare, and salt into a bowl and mix well. Making a well in the centre, add the yoghurt, little by little, kneading with the hands to form a ball of dough. Continue kneading until soft and ‘stretchy’. Place the ball of dough on a baking tray, flattening slightly and cutting a cross in the centre. Sprinkle a little flour over the top, and bake for 30-35 minutes; the bread should sound hollow when tapped.

  • French,  Savoury

    Chicken and morel mushrooms in white wine cream sauce and needy cats

    Chicken and morel mushrooms in white wine cream sauce

    A friend, who has a country house in Burgundy, told me about a problem she’d been having with a particularly ornery billy goat. The goat had got into the habit of appearing in her garden every evening; apparently its sole intent was digging up her roses bushes, and anything else in temptation’s way. She was greatly relieved when she finally managed to track down the owner and explain the damage caused over the past couple of weeks. The goat’s owner, not missing a beat, said: ‘Yes, well I can see he’s made a terrible mess of your garden! So what are you going to do about it? How are you going to keep him out?’ My friend, a psychiatrist, is not usually lost for words, nor ways to handle challenging people, but this exchange left her slack-jawed and well and truly stumped!

    Luc is in Paris for the weekend so I have been left on full-time animal duty, armed with lengthy instructions of What To Do. The dogs I know about, because I’m the one to walk and feed them usually, although I hadn’t factored in the fact that they would play up quite so much during the night. Hugo took it upon himself to move a very heavy armchair and hefty table at 2am. Noisily. And Java, perhaps stressed by the moving furniture, decided to repeatedly throw herself against a glass door.

    The pigeons are easy, as all I need to do is throw five handfuls of grain at a certain spot on the grass. Although, accounting for the fact that my hands are much smaller than Luc’s, I should probably make that six handfuls, or so the instructions say. The horses need a precise quantity of hay twice a day, at 9am and 6pm. According to Luc’s instructions, they will try to manipulate me into feeding them at lunchtime, by whinnying in my direction, and stamping their feet hangrily. I am not to be taken in as their lunch is the plentiful grass buffet, and they are both too fat for more hay. Got it.

    Cat neurosis

    On to the cat. Oh my god, the cat, a neurotic stray that first moved in about six years ago. Although he wasn’t neurotic when he arrived. He used to catch mice to eat, then little-by-little, Luc started to feed him. At first, it was dry cat food, but he went off that. Then he had expensive tinned food, which he also turned his nose up at after a little while. He now eats home-cooked casseroles, or prime cuts of meat or fish. What I didn’t know (until Friday) was that, in order for him to deign to eat at all, you have to wash his bowl in warm soapy water before every meal (presumably the cat equivalent of warming the plates), talk to him while you are preparing his food, continue talking while he is eating, and only stroke him if he ‘asks’. As my mother said, when I told her about catgate, ‘who would have thought that a great big macho would be such a softie with animals’. I’m still not sure how I feel about my husband being described as a ‘great big macho’, but I’m all catted out and therefore too tired to care!

    Minou

    Recipe for chicken and morel mushrooms in white wine cream sauce (serves 4)

    • 30g dried morel mushrooms, soaked overnight in cold water
    • 4 shallots, sliced
    • 4 skinless free-range chicken breasts, sliced
    • Sea salt and freshly-ground black pepper
    • 15g butter
    • 100g mushrooms, sliced
    • 2 bay leaves
    • 200ml white wine
    • 100ml chicken or vegetable stock
    • 200ml double cream

    Remove the morels from the soaking liquid, squeezing as much excess water out as possible. Chop any large morels in half and reserve. Season the chicken breasts with salt and pepper. Melt the butter over a medium heat in a large frying pan, add the shallots and chicken and fry gently for a couple of minutes on each side, then remove from the pan and set aside. In the butter that’s left in the pan, cook the soaked, cleaned morels and button mushrooms for a few minutes to soften, then season. Add the white wine, stock and double cream. Bring to the boil, then return the chicken breasts to the pan, coating them in the cream. Lower the heat to a gentle simmer and cook for 6 minutes or so until the chicken is cooked through. Take the chicken out of the pan briefly, turn up the heat and reduce the sauce on full boil until it coats the back of a spoon. Return the chicken to the pan, coat in sauce, adjust the seasoning and serve. Bon appétit!

  • 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.

  • French,  Savoury

    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.

  • Savoury

    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!

  • 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.

  • Savoury

    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.