A neighbour and I set out on a walk with the dogs early last Saturday afternoon. It was beautifully sunny and, as the sun sets around 5.30 in November, we had plenty of time. Or so I thought. We stumbled upon an area that I hadn’t been to for some time, but the landscape had changed completely as trees had been cut and new ones planted. About an hour and a half into our walk I suddenly realised that I had absolutely no idea where we were! I have ‘getting lost’ form, and a few years ago Luc spray painted a few key trees in the area as a guide. But the trees had been cut down; my landmarks had turned to sawdust!
Deeper and deeper into the forest
I called Luc, but he was in the middle of a football match — the urgency with he told me this made me wonder whether he’d been called in to replace the centre forward — and said I’d have to wait until half time. This gave us ample opportunity to cast ourselves even further adrift. We appealed to the dogs for their take on the quickest way home (I’ve often abandoned the reins on horseback as horses have built-in GPSs and are excellent at finding their way back to the stable). Alas, the dogs were having so much fun I suspect they led us astray further to keep the party going.
Cranes, helicopters and cannibalism
With the sun setting at an alarming rate, and the wintering cranes returning to their digs at a nearby lake, my thoughts started turning to rescue helicopters, hungry wild boar, and cannibalism. By the time it was actually dark, to our relief, we hit a tarmac path, although we had no idea where it led. Sometime later we spotted flashing car lights in the distance, tapping out what looked like a message in flashlight morse code, possibly ‘French team replacement saves damsels in distress during half time’? We were haphazardly bundled into the back seat of the car as he had ‘a match to get back to’.
Get lost app
I’ve since installed an app on my ‘phone, which shows me how to retrace my steps if I get lost. I’m already wondering how long I’m going to be amused by its bizarre and random bilingual bossiness. Every so often it springs to life and says: ‘You ‘ave marché quatre kilomètres in fifty-deux minutes’, ‘Allo, ‘Allo-style. I’m not sure that getting lost wasn’t preferable. One thing’s for sure: The dogs were ecstatic about their prolonged outing; we heard Java’s friend throwing himself at the door at 6am the next morning for a replay.
Recipe for pear and almond tart (serves 4-6)
- 100g flour
- 50g butter, diced
- 1 egg
- 2 tablespoons water
- Pinch of salt
- 1 tin of pears
- 40g sugar
- 50g ground almonds
- 100ml cream
- 4 tablespoons fruit alcohol (I used calvados)
To make the puff pastry:
Mix the ingredients together in a mixer, wrap in clingfilm and refrigerate for at least 3 hours, or even overnight. Roll the pastry out (remember to sprinkle flour on your work surface), and fold and roll several times, remember to turn the pastry 90° each time. Wrap in clingfilm and refrigerate again. To use the pastry, just roll out again according to the shape of your pastry case.
To make the filling:
Arrange the pears in the pastry case, then mix the other ingredients together and pour over the pears. Bake in a very hot, preheated oven (220°C) for 30 minutes. May be served hot, lukewarm, or cold.
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.
Strange husbands and lethal umbrellas
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, dressed in underpants, armed with an umbrella, with 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.
Potential copper deficiency
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.
Recipe for chocolate and almond mousse cake (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.
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, of course, 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’. 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. 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.
Recipe for king cake (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.
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.
Recipe for Basque cheesecake (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!
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.
Recipe for French walnut tart (serves 6)
- 150g butter
- 270g flour (I used einkorn flour)
- 1 pinch of salt
- 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.
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!
Health benefits of ginger
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.
Recipe for pear gingerbread (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.
Bossy new cars
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, 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 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 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.
Health benefits of almonds
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.
Recipe for almond and pear cake (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.
Following my previous blog post, I had a message from somebody irked by my flippancy, with recommendations for, amongst other things, dog training books. Many years ago, when I got my first labrador puppy, Loulou, I bought a book called ‘How to have an obedient dog’. As it turned out, I should have bought the sequel too: ‘How to avoid having books chewed to pieces as soon as you buy them’. So no thank you, I won’t be going down that road again.
I think for many people, myself included, trying to see the funny side of things is a coping mechanism. And let’s face it, life is a bit of a shit show at the moment. Also my sense of irony is often directly proportional to my back pain. For example, when I wrote this post, I didn’t know whether I was going to walk again properly.
So now we’ve cleared up the fact that I’m not a sociopathic monster, just a bit ‘bantery’ and immature, on to the marmelade.
While citrus peel provides many of the same nutritional benefits as the rest of the fruit such as antioxidants, vitamin C and polyphenols, it also contains provitamin A, B vitamins and calcium. The essential oils in the peel contain high levels of limonene, which is a powerful anti-inflammatory that helps ease heartburn and reflux, and reduce anxiety and stress. In addition to this, it helps maintain a healthy metabolism and lower high blood sugar levels.
Surprisingly enough, whisky too is a good source of polyphenols, the antioxidants linked with multiple health benefits. Whisky is also purported to help clear the mucous and congestion caused by colds. As with all things, to be taken in moderation…
Ingredients (makes about 5 jars)
1kg Seville oranges
2cm piece of fresh root ginger
Wash the fruit well as you won’t be peeling. Cut into quarters, and place in a food processor, along with the ginger. Blitz until you obtain the desired texture. Transfer the chopped mixture to a large non-stick saucepan and add the sugar. Bring to a gentle boil and simmer for about 30 minutes, or until you reach the required texture. Add the whisky at the end of cooking time, stirring well. Leave to cool for about 10 minutes before transferring to sterilised jars.
Wishing you all ‘Bonnes Fêtes’, a very Happy Christmas.
I am sure one thing we all have in common, wherever we are, is that we will be very glad to see the back of this absolute shitfest of a year.
This orange-based dessert is simple and cheering (probably due to its generous quantity of Armagnac!), and bursting with Christmassy flavours.
Oranges contain, not only vitamin C, but also hesperidin, a citrus fruit flavonoid. It has recently been discovered that hesperidin can prevent replication of the Covid-19 virus in the body; just one of nature’s glut of pathogen and virus-fighting alternatives…
Ingredients (serves 4)
4 large dessert oranges, peeled and sliced
100ml Brandy, Cognac or Armagnac
½ teaspoon freshly-grated ginger
5 cardamon pods, crushed, shells removed
1 stick licorice
3 cinnamon sticks
5 star anise
Arrange the orange slices in a frying pain or saucepan. Add the other ingredients plus a little water and bring to a simmer over a low heat, stirring to dissolve the sugar.
Don’t cook for longer than a few minutes, or the alcohol will evaporate and the vitamin C degrade, and you wouldn’t want either of those things to happen this year!
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
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.