Category Archives: Sweet

Chocolate and almond mousse cake and badgered by badgers

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.

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. He was dressed in underpants, was armed with an umbrella, and had 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.

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.

Ingredients (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.

Galette des rois and ghetto blasters

We were invited to lunch at a friend’s house last Sunday, where we met their handsome, polite, nicely-mannered dog. While we ate, he sat by us with a gentle expression that said: ‘If you’re having trouble finishing, I could possibly be of assistance…’ This is in stark contrast to Hugo, who barks impatiently and punches Luc in the thigh with his paw, his expression along the lines: ‘Oy! Give me food or I’ll send for backup!’ There is a Peanuts cartoon, in which Woodstock, Snoopy’s feathered friend, sends Snoopy an invoice for damages at a party he had hosted. I’m so glad our dogs are never invited to parties; it would ruin me financially.

I recently came across some funny stories on Twitter, and one of them made me laugh so hard that I dislocated two ribs (the joys of Ehlers Danlos!). Later, wandering aimlessly around the corridors of the local hospital, in my usual mask-induced daze (OK then, just my usual daze), it struck me that the ambient music was identical to a playlist I had on my ‘phone. When, in passing, I mentioned this coincidence to the doctor’s secretary, she said, very kindly, and in the hushed tones usually reserved for maniacs and idiots, that actually the music seemed to be coming from my handbag. I had inadvertently transformed my handbag into a little leather ghetto blaster!

Luc is using our fussy cat as a means to critique the food I prepare. He keeps saying things like ‘the cat didn’t finish the beef bourguignon because he found it a bit fatty’, or ‘Minou preferred the Coq au Vin you made last time’. I can tell you, the cat had better learn to stop bellyaching, or his homemade food is going to end up in the dogs’ bowls…

Galette des Rois (or King Cake) has been a tradition in France since the 14th century. It is served on 6th January to celebrate Epiphany, although they are generally available throughout January and it is now shared amongst family and friends as a way to celebrate the new year. The ‘king’ is represented by a ‘fève’, or charm, hidden within the cake. The person to come across the ‘fève’ in their slice of cake, becomes ‘king’ and has the dubious honour of wearing a paper crown for the day.

Ingredients (serves 6)

400g puff pastry

2 tablespoons apricot jam

75g butter

100g sugar

2 eggs, beaten plus 1 egg yolk

140g ground almonds

A pinch of salt

2 tablespoons Cognac or Armagnac

Preheat the oven to 200°C. Divide the pastry in half, roll out each piece and cut into roughly 25cm rounds and place one round on a baking sheet. Spread the apricot jam over the pastry (not quite reaching the edges). Beat the softened butter and sugar together until light and fluffy, then add the beaten eggs. Stir in the ground almonds and salt and add the Cognac/Armagnac. Spoon the mixture over the jam and spread evenly. Brush the edges of the pastry with a little water and cover with the second round, pressing at the edges to seal. Make a pattern on the top with a sharp knife, then brush with egg yolk. Bake for 25-30 minutes until golden. May be served warm, but not hot, or cold.

Basque cheesecake and mad cows

Yesterday I decided to give blood, and ‘phoned the blood bank for instructions. I was asked a couple of questions about my age and health, then subjected to some rather indiscreet inquiries as to my ‘tendency to sluttiness’. After that, apparently randomly, they asked if I had lived in the UK between 1980 and 1996, which, although I now have dual nationality, I had. Gauging their reaction, I might have said that my favourite hobby was smothering kittens, because all of a sudden the warm tone switched to ice-cold and, following consultation with colleagues and perfectly audible mutterings about ‘mad cows’, I was told that they didn’t want my blood after all. With both my character and honour well and truly assassinated, I haughtily replied that it was their loss, but that the name-calling was TOTALLY OUT OF LINE (I may have been shouting at this point). It was only afterwards, once I’d hung up and reined in the paranoid ranting, that I realised they didn’t want my blood because of the Mad Cow Disease outbreak in the 80s and 90s in the UK, and not because it belonged to a mad cow…

This cheesecake was a real hit, unlike my blood. It’s very simple, but light, and with a gorgeous burnt caramel flavor.

Ingredients (serves 6)

20g butter

Handful of raisins

2 tablespoons rum

450g cream cheese

125g cane sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

3 eggs

250ml cream

20g coconut flour (you could use any flour)

Pinch of salt

Grease (with the butter) a 17cm non-stick cake tin. Preheat the oven to 210°C. Cook the raisins in the rum and a little water until absorbed. Set aside. Place the cream cheese in a bowl, add the sugar, vanilla extract and mix well. Add the eggs, one at a time, still mixing. Lastly, add the cream gradually and then the flour. Once the mixture is homogenous, pour into the buttered cake tin and bake for 45 minutes. The surface of the cake should look burnt/caramelised, but the inside should still be wobbly. Cool before removing from the tin. Serve chilled and then hide before it all disappears! 

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.

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.

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.

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.

Spicy Oranges in Armagnac and Happy Christmas!

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

75g sugar

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!

Apple and sultana cake and smashing people’s faces in

I was chomping on the bit in a supermarket queue when a message pinged onto my ‘phone from Luc, who was waiting outside in the car. This was our exchange:

Luc: ‘Have u bn arrested?’

Me: ‘Er not yet, but thx for jumping to that conclsn. V slow – lady in front regaling cashier with ALL deets of sprained ankle. Cousin’s ex son-in-law (wtf?) had to take her to hospital. Mucho pain. And now me too…’

Luc: ‘When your turn tell the cashier all about your thyroid pblems!’

Me: ‘&@(€ §^$’

I read an amusing article in our local newspaper about a man who, when stopped by the police, obligingly produced his ‘Attestation De Déplacement Dérogatoire’ (the form we have to fill in to go anywhere during lockdown. The French love a form.) The man hadn’t found the appropriate box to check, as his reason for leaving the house was ‘to smash a bloke’s face in’. As the policeman said with some irony, ‘he seemed keen to make an effort to adhere to the rules, in his own way!’

This cake is made with einkorn flour (although it will work very well with ordinary flour), which is one of my favourites because of its subtle nutty flavour. Einkorn flour is the most ancient form of wheat, and very different from modern wheat. It is very high in protein, essential fatty acids, phosphorous, potassium, iron, vitamin B6, lutein and beta-carotene, which gives it a golden tint. Einkorn flour has a very low gluten content which makes it much easier to digest than wheat flour.

Ingredients (10 slices)

2 large apples, peeled and sliced

A handful of raisins

2 tablespoons dark rum

150g cane sugar

3 eggs

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

200g einkorn flour (you could use ordinary flour)

1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

Pinch of salt

1 teaspoon baking powder

Half teaspoon bicarbonate of soda

1 pot of yoghurt (125g)

75ml melted virgin coconut oil

75ml melted butter

Preheat the oven to 180°C and prepare and grease a loaf tin. Poach the apples and raisins in the rum and a small amount of water. Once the apples are soft (about 15 minutes), drain the excess cooking juice and set aside.

Beat the sugar and eggs together until homogeneous, add the vanilla essence and then gradually add the flour, cinnamon, salt, baking powder and bicarbonate of soda. Add the yoghurt, melted coconut oil and butter, mixing well. Lastly, stir in the poached apples and sultanas, transfer the mixture to the tin and bake for 35/40 minutes, or until a skewer comes out clean.

Lemon and cardamon cake and a treasure hunt for pigeons

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 😉

https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s40520-020-01570-8

https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2213716520302587

https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fimmu.2020.01712/full

https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2020/11/201109152223.htm

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.

Plum jam and a cast-off animal sanctuary

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

500g greengages

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.

Red berry pancakes, chamomile thieves, linden squatters and stoned martens

Since the beginning of March I feel as if the cogs of my brain have been paddling upstream in a muddy river. It isn’t unusual for me to wake up with no idea what day it is, but to be unable to remember where I am, the month, or even the season is disconcerting, even for me. I have a tendency to overthink everything, so this post pot-binge state hasn’t been altogether unpleasant, and I’ve noticed that I haven’t been the only one to be ‘away with the fairies’, as my Scottish granny used to say.

I planted a pretty yellow chamomile bush in a little flower bed I had created on the edge of the woods not long ago. The next morning the little yellow flowers had been chewed to the quick, and I spotted a very chilled-looking deer lying in a clearing close by. He wasn’t bothered enough by my presence to lift his head let alone run away; he just looked at me with a look that said ‘love and peace’.

Luc hoarded linden tea at the beginning of lockdown because, you know, obviously after toilet rolls and tagliatelle herbal tea was sure to be the next Big Thing. The boxes have been skulking in our outside storeroom, and a family of swallows, undoubtedly enthralled by the promise of both insulation and sedation, have set up home. As I have forbidden anyone to go near, we’re going to have to buy even more boxes. Moral of this story: hoarding takes on a life of its own and become self-perpetuating.

One afternoon about a month ago, I was lying in the garden (it’s exhausting being zoned out) when I noticed two objects plunge from the nearby oak tree. The ‘objects’ – I later realised they were stone(d) martens – hit the deck and started to squeal vigorously, frantically trying to make their way back up the tree. Their mother, who had obviously nipped out for a packet of ciggies and bit of food shopping while her babies slept, rushed back in a furious tizzy and, grabbing them by the scruff of the neck, hauled them back up the tree and shoved them back into their nest. Invaluable life lesson: baby stone martens will always do silly things, even when they’re meant to be asleep. And it will really piss their mothers off.

This is a photo of the nonchalent snake the dogs and I came across out on our walk. It was so inert I thought it was dead; it didn’t move, even when Java walked all over it (I think she thought it was a squidgy stick). After about five minutes, it finally deigned to slither off the path into the undergrowth, which I was relieved about because, unlike Java, I’m not mad about close encounters with reptiles.

So you see, I’m definitely not the only one whose brain has slipped into neutral around here; the company of reptiles and rodents has been of great comfort to me.

Ingredients (makes about 8 pancakes)

3 eggs, beaten

250ml almond milk (or normal milk)

100g ground almonds

150g buckwheat flour

1 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda

Pinch of sea salt

100g red berries (I used raspberries, blackberries, blueberries)

1 teaspoon cardamon

Coconut oil for frying (you could use butter)

Mix the eggs with the milk. Sift the ground almonds, flour, bicarbonate of soda and salt together in a bowl and gradually add to the egg/milk mixture. Combine well and add the berries and cardamon. Refrigerate for at least an hour. Heat a teaspoon of coconut oil in a frying pan and drop a large spoonful of pancake batter into the pan. Cook until golden brown, flip and repeat.