Category Archives: Sweet

Oats and concrete proof of wackiness

I’m all about oats today, which means I won’t have time to talk about my eccentric dogs. But as a picture paints a thousand words here is:

Hugo waiting with eager anticipation for the vet to let him into her office because, after all, who isn’t a massive fan of painful injections?

And Java yesterday. Luc asked me if I’d stuck her on a pole and used it to sweep the chimney. I particularly like the facial war paint. (By the way, I am aware that this is a case of the kettle calling the pot black; almost every time I see a photo of myself I immediately think of One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest).

Oats (Avena sativa) contain beta glucan, a complex sugar that forms a gelatinous texture in the digestive tract and has an enormously beneficial influence on the immune system. Beta glucan boosts defenses against bacteria, viruses, fungi and parasites.

Findings published in the BMJ showed that oat fibre reduced the risk of developing colorectal cancer. Not only do oats have anti-inflammatory properties, good gut bacteria may be increased by eating the non-digestible oligosaccharides they contain.

Oats help maintain a healthy weight. According to a collection of scientific reviews, they play an important role in improving satiety, diet quality, and digestive, cardiovascular and general metabolic health.

Oats may help regulate blood sugar levels and improve insulin sensitivity, especially in people who are overweight or have type 2 diabetes. Beta glucans reduce the absorption of sugar and as a result lower levels of blood glucose.

A Finnish study found that babies introduced early to oats were less likely to develop persistent asthma. And soaked oats applied as a poultice or added to the bath also provide a very soothing treatment for eczema.

Oats are often used for their relaxing, restorative qualities, probably due to their high levels of B vitamins. In fact, oat extract has been used for centuries by healers in India to treat opium addiction. Studies have shown that it can also reduce nicotine cravings.

Last but not least, oats are a rich source of minerals, vitamins and antioxidants. This includes the B vitamins, iron, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, zinc, copper and manganese. It is best to soak oats for at least two hours before eating as this improves digestibility. Soaking also reduces phytic acid, allowing for better absorption of the nutrients.

Here is a recipe for my staple breakfast of  bircher muesli which eases the pain of getting up early.

Ingredients (serves 2)

4 tablespoons rolled oats

1 tablespoon sultanas

50ml oat milk (or any milk)

75g natural yoghurt

2 tablespoons’ honey

1 teaspoon lemon juice

1 apple, washed and grated

2 tablespoons chopped nuts (I use walnuts and almonds)

150g red berries (strawberries, raspberries, blueberries, blackcurrants)

Soak the oats and sultanas in the milk for at least two hours or even overnight. Stir in the yoghurt, honey and lemon juice. Then add the grated apple, chopped nuts and berries.

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Banana and coconut cheesecake and Mr President makes a sound choice



I read in the paper that President Macron and his wife had adopted a black labrador. His name is Nemo, he’s two years old and almost as handsome as me. Obviously I suspect he has neither my gravitas nor superior intellect, but he looks like a reasonable chap nonetheless. I sent an email to Emmanuel (we’re on first name terms; he calls me Hugo) saying that I would be happy to offer my services if he felt Nemo needed coaching in the sort of behaviour expected of the First Dog. I haven’t heard back yet – I expect he’s quite busy with other matters, although he usually replies to my emails as a matter of priority. Obviously Emmanuel offered me the job of Top Dog, but I had to turn it down due to my loyalty and sense of duty to Bossy. I think he was particularly keen on me for the position because, aside from the obvious reasons, I’m bilingual and well-versed in the international scene. The problem is I know that pandemonium would break out if I were to leave here. I tried to explain to Java why the President had chosen a black labrador and not an English Setter. This entailed a lengthy explanation as there are so many reasons I didn’t know where to start: severe insubordination, acute inconsequentiality, fear of loud noises, general neurosis and goofiness, loud snoring, inherent psychological instability… She was all huffy and put out for about three minutes until something far more interesting came along to distract her: a falling leaf. I rest my case.

Bossy made this cheesecake. Whatever.

Ingredients (serves 8)

150g raisins, pre-soaked in rum

250g ricotta

250g marscapone

3 eggs, beaten

1 ripe banana, mashed

Zest of one lemon

2 tablespoons’ crème fraîche

3 tablespoons’ desiccated coconut

3 tablespoons’ cane sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla essence

Preheat the oven to 180°C. Mix all of the ingredients together and pour into a greased, medium-sized baking tin. Cook for 50 minutes and chill and sprinkle with coconut before serving.

Orange, mint and almonds and unifying sunsets

orangesandmint

Hugo and Java are not natural allies. I’ve always dreamed of having dogs that cuddle up together in the same basket, but alas, it is not to be. The room that their baskets and the space necessary between them take up in order to prevent friction and growling is surprisingly large. Java would love to be Hugo’s best friend, but the feeling is not reciprocated. Not one bit. If she so much as deigns to lie on the same rug as him, she receives her marching orders accompanied by a dark, ominous look. I suspect matters aren’t helped by the fact that Hugo is rather envious of her speed; he used to easily outrun deer and rabbits in the forest, but age has slowed him down. Java can outrun anyone and anything, including her own sense, which is admittedly thin on the ground.

So imagine our surprise when we looked outside the other evening to see the two dogs lying side by side, bathed in the soft evening light. They were under a budding oak tree watching the magnificent sunset and it was as perfect a picture of tranquility, contemplation and friendship as I have ever seen. As soon as Hugo noticed us though, he got up, visibly horrified at having been caught. He made a show of vigorously shaking himself free of any residual girly sentimentality. Despite Hugo’s unchivalrous behaviour, and as fleeting as the moment had been, it made Java and me very happy…

Ingredients (serves 4)

4 large dessert oranges, peeled and sliced

2 teaspoons orange flower water (optional)

2 teaspoon honey

½ teaspoon freshly-grated ginger

½ teaspoon cinnamon

Handful of sliced almonds

8 fresh mint leaves

Arrange the orange slices in a shallow bowl. Add a little water, the orange flower water, honey, ginger and cinnamon to a small saucepan. Bring to a simmer over a low heat, stirring to dissolve the honey. Remove from the heat. Drizzle the syrup over the oranges, garnish with the almonds and mint and serve with a dollop of crème fraîche.

Lemon cream meringue and dwindling decorations

lemonmeringuesquare

I hope everyone had a lovely Christmas. We did and, true to form, Hugo spent most of the time either hiding from Java or chewing her ears, while Java spent most of the time either looking for Hugo or chewing up paper hats, corks and tree decorations. Needless to say, her visits to the naughty corner were not infrequent. The hens, I suspect, breathed a collective sigh of relief at having, once again, been spared.

javapaperhat

I kept expecting to come down in the morning to the sight of the Christmas tree prostrate, having ‘fainted’ in the night. But no, Java prefers to play the long game when it comes to dismantling the tree, and her progress is insidious and incisive. She’s a pretty little, furry, decoration-seeking stealth missile and if it weren’t for the telling crunch of trodden-on glass baubles on the floor, and glitter and tinsel in places you would least expect, you would hardly know she had been untoward. She isn’t devious but she prefers to proceed this way for practical reasons: the trauma and commotion of a whole tree falling over at once would tip her right over the edge.

This dessert is ambrosial. It’s light and refreshing, almost sparkling – a very welcome antidote to a rich main course.

Ingredients (serves 6-8)

4 eggs

2 lemons

320g sugar

pinch of salt

400 ml whipping cream

Meringue:

4 egg whites

200g sugar

pinch of salt

Preheat the oven to 140°C. Add the egg whites and salt to a medium-size mixing bowl until foamy. Gradually add the sugar, a tablespoon at a time, beating until stiff peaks form and sugar dissolves.

Spread the meringue mixture onto greaseproof paper covered baking trays. Bake for 30 minutes and then turn off the oven and leave for an hour. Remove the meringues and leave to cool.

Lemon filling:

4 egg yolks

120g sugar

Grated rind and juice of 2 lemons

400ml whipping cream

Place the egg yolks and sugar in a small saucepan and stir over a gentle heat until paste-like. Add the lemon rind and then the lemon juice little by little until the mixture is thick and smooth. Remove from the hear and leave to cool completely.

Beat the whipping cream until soft peaks form and then fold into the cooled lemon mixture. Spoon the mixture into one of the the cooled meringue shells and gently place the other one on top. Chill overnight.

lemonmeringue

 

 

 

Buckwheat banana cake (gf) and a gluten free mouse

buckwheatbananacake

We are still being outwitted by a tiny little mouse who has become addicted to my buckwheat crackers. As she seems unfazed by the supposedly dissuasive mint essential oil with which I flood the cupboards, I did a bit of research and came across a sonic mouse deterrent. Rushing out to buy one, I discovered reading the small print while waiting to pay, that the device ‘could perturb domestic animals’. Totally panicked by this news, I explained (at some length) to the man at the checkout that my domestic animals didn’t need any more crazy in their lives, particularly my little English Setter with her fragile constitution, delicate nerves and rather unusual ways. Wondering whether the strange look he gave me was pity or amusement, I arrived home to the realisation that my extended monologue about my dogs’ mental health had been a case of the pot calling the kettle black: I was sporting a back-to-front top. And it wasn’t a subtle, hardly discernible back-to-front either; it was definitely an in-your-face ‘escaped from an asylum’ back-to-front. I made this cake to take my mind off the fact that I’m losing it, and intentionally omitted, OK totally forgot, some of the ingredients. It was however a very fortuitous error, because the result was a perfectly deliciously light, fluffy succulent cake. The bad news is though that the mouse has become a permanent fixture.

Ingredients

2 medium eggs

100g cane sugar

1 large ripe banana, cut and mashed with little lemon juice

100ml unsweetened apple purée

100ml plain yoghurt

2 tablespoons walnut oil

60g ground hazelnuts

170g buckwheat flour

a pinch of salt

1 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1 teaspoon ground ginger

100g raisins, pre-soaked in rum

Preheat the oven to 180ºC and prepare a medium-sized loaf tin. Whisk the eggs and sugar until light and smooth and slightly fluffy and then add the banana, oil, apple purée and yoghurt and whisk a bit longer. Mix the ground hazelnuts, buckwheat flour, salt, bicarbonate of soda, cinnamon and ginger together and then combine well with the wet mixture. Stir in the soaked raisins and pour the mixture into the loaf tin and bake for 50 minutes or until a skewer comes out clean. Remove from the tin and leave to cool. Delicious served alone or with butter and jam. May be used a mouse bait too.

Hazelnut mocha cake (gf) and hiring a PA

chochazelnut

HugojournoandJava

Noisy is a resourceful boy: Within a day of returning to school last week, he had found himself a very efficient personal assistant. A much-needed personal assistant I might add because, although he’s a clever boy, he doesn’t do well with practical matters and is rather absent-minded. Quite often he asks me what day it is and whether or not he’s had lunch yet. His new assistant ‘phones him in the morning to tell him which classroom he should go to and at what time, and in return Noisy advises on homework matters.

I have decided to take a leaf out of Noisy’s book and recruit a PA for myself. I believe that in some circles, you don’t even exist if you don’t have a PA. I’m having difficulty finding someone though. So far I’ve had applications from Java (ha ha, in your dreams Java), a couple of hens and a somewhat persistent hedgehog. Still, I’m quite determined because things can’t go on like this – I have too many slap-happy charges. Last week Bossy went flying over the handlebars of her mountain bike because Java chased a deer onto the track in front of her, and Java pinched a pair of Bossy’s shoes and vomited into them. I have taken to hiding in the shower for some respite. Please let me know if you can suggest any suitable applicants.

hugoPA

hugoshower

Hazelnuts are a good source of oleic and linoleic acids and are also rich in dietary fibre, vitamins, minerals and beneficial phytochemicals.

Ingredients (10 servings)

150g dark chocolate (minimum 70% cocoa)

115g coconut oil

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

5 tablespoons black coffee

4 eggs, separated

100g cane sugar

100ml plain yoghurt

70g ground hazelnuts

40g buckwheat flour

75g hazelnuts, roughly chopped

Pinch of salt

1 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda

Preheat the oven to 180ºC and prepare a medium-sized loaf tin. Melt the chocolate and coconut oil until smooth and add the vanilla extract and coffee. Whisk the egg yolks, sugar and yogurt until light and smooth and then combine with the melted chocolate/coconut oil/coffee. Mix the ground hazelnuts, buckwheat flour, chopped hazelnuts, salt and bicarbonate of soda together and combine with the egg yolk and chocolate mixture. Whisk the egg whites until they form soft peaks and gently but thoroughly fold into the mocha mixture. Pour into the loaf tin and bake for 30 minutes. Remove from the tin and leave to cool. Delicious served alone or with Greek yoghurt or ice cream.

Fresh figs with ginger mascarpone and honey and Bijou on the drums

figsandyoghurt

We’ve been sleeping with the all windows wide open to make the most of the slightly cooler night air, which means that I was woken at 3am a few days ago by a very noisy, metallic and somewhat unorthodox rendition of When The Saints Go Marching In. After a quick recce, which involved almost knocking myself out on a wooden beam, I came to the conclusion that I hadn’t actually fallen asleep in a sleazy jazz club, and the appalling racket was coming from the direction of the stables. Never underestimate my powers of deduction. Torch in hand, I soon discovered Bijou (our youngest horse) in full swing by the water trough, which I suppose must be the equine equivalent of a bar. He had got hold of two metal buckets, three tins, a broom and a hoof pick and was delighting in putting each item to maximum sonic use with the help of his hooves and surrounding walls, whilst strutting his funky stuff. The other horses were looking on slightly bemused and I don’t think I’m mistaken in saying that one of the more adoring hens (Bijou is very handsome) was tapping her foot in time to the surprisingly rhythmic din. Hugo and Java slept right through the performance – I don’t think they can be jazz connoisseurs.

bijoudrum2

My musical nights mean I’m not always in a state to contemplate elaborate recipes, but I think some of the nicest dishes are a happy marriage of flung-together ingredients. This is a good example.

Figs are a particularly rich source of minerals such as potassium, calcium, magnesium, iron and copper. They are also high in fibre and vitamins A, E and K. Figs also contain prebiotics, which help support the pre-existing good bacteria in the gut, improving digestion and general health.

Ingredients (serves 4)

12 fresh figs, cleaned and cut in half

8 large tablespoons of mascarpone

2 teaspoons ginger, freshly grated

4 tablespoon runny honey

20 walnuts, roughly broken

2 teaspoons cinnamon

Arrange the figs in individual desert bowls. Combine the mascarpone and freshly grated ginger and add two large tablespoons per bowl. Drizzle a tablespoon of honey over the figs and mascarpone, add the walnuts and finally sprinkle with cinnamon. Serve immediately!

bijoudrum1