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
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.
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.
Bossy seems to have had a lot to say of late (lucky, lucky you!), so my writing skills have not been required. Having tested almost two months’ confinement, I have come to the conclusion that it is NOT for me. There are too many people, too many animals, too much noise, too much barking (human and canine) and far too much proximity. I really love it when they go out all day, which of course, they haven’t been doing.
To add insult to injury there are the haircuts (I use the term loosely). First Bossy did her poor husband’s hair. He kept telling her to ‘hurry up and stop dicking around’, which I though was a bit curt, although in fairness I can see why he was irritated; she kept collapsing into fits of uncontrolled giggles as she realised how asymmetrical he was. Every time she tried to straighten him up, things got worse because her glasses were misted up from crying with laughter. She ended up with hiccups and a wonky, irrate husband.
She also ‘did’ Java, who was uncooperative to the nth degree, probably because she’d witnessed the Great Husband Massacre. To cut a long story short (see what I did there?), Java, Bossy and the scissors ended up in the dark under the stairs. Thankfully Java’s coat is naturally long and messy so you can’t really tell the difference. Same goes for Bossy thinking about it. In fact, I’m not 100% sure who cut who’s hair.
Léo and I have managed to resist Bossy and the scissor threat so far. Léo just stands up any time she starts eyeballing his shoulder-length locks. And once he’s up, she’d need a stepladder to get anywhere near his head so he’s safe. Especially as she’s afraid of heights. I just growl menacingly if she so much as gazes in my direction, so I’m sorted too. I just hope she doesn’t come for us while we’re asleep…
These cookies are testament to the fact that Bossy is much better at baking than hairdressing.
Ingredients (makes 12 cookies)
100g chickpea (gram) flour (also works with regular flour)
25g desiccated coconut
1 teaspoon baking powder
Pinch of salt
80g coconut oil, melted
80g cane sugar
2 tablespoons rum
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 egg, beaten
Preheat the oven to 190°C. Sift the flour and coconut into a bowl, adding the baking powder and pinch of salt. Add the melted coconut oil, mixing well and then the sugar. Lastly add the rum, vanilla and beaten egg, mixing thoroughly.
Make roughly 12, 2cm dough balls with the mixture and then flatten them on to greased baking trays, leaving a bit of space in between each one. Bake for 15 minutes and leave to cool.
I would like to wish everyone a very happy and healthy new year. We had a pleasant, but reasonably uneventful Christmas, with the exception of a lobster theft, three sick people and several lost presents. As is tradition in France, we have seafood on Christmas Eve and this year it was more a case of ‘now you seafood, now you don’t!’ Luc had bought oysters and lobster which he prepared in advance and stored in a ‘safe’ place outside. The ‘safe’ place turned out to be a deluxe al fresco buffet for the dogs. (Luc has form: The story of the year we misplaced a guinea fowl thigh). They left most of the oysters though because there is definitely something of a knack to oyster slurping. Also there was no lemon to hand (or paw) and they are nothing if not discerning. Maybe next year. After that, we felt badly for the cat who hadn’t been invited to join the impromptu feast, so he got a smoked salmon platter, while we made do with omelettes and green salad. Luckily the lemon meringue had taken refuge in the back of the fridge and, as the dogs haven’t yet worked out how to open the door, it was intact. Every year we make this dessert several times between Christmas and New Year, each time more friends arrive and it always disappears in a flash, even without the dogs’ help. I’ve posted the recipe before, but it definitely bears repeating.
We have nearly two kilometres of sandy track leading to our house. With its tree roots, rocks, potholes and animal traces, our track is not conducive to good car health, and our suspension has given out four times in the past year. We’ve resigned ourselves to the fact that a new car is in order, but buying it is proving to be a problem. After much procrastination, we made it through the door of a Suzuki showroom today, did a quick recce of the 4x4s (I’m boring myself just writing this) and then legged it before anyone could collar us. The idea of having the ‘horsepower, fuel consumption, and whether or not it does 0 to 60’ conversation makes me want to gnaw my arm off, and Luc is no better. We both glaze over if somebody so much as mentions anything vaguely auto-related. All we want is a reliable metal thing on wheels that goes ‘vroom’ without doing my back in, and has a very good tempered suspension system (or whatever the technical term is). All suggestions gratefully received.
I recently discovered that for the past 12 years or so I have inadvertently been an adept of the practice of Forest Bathing, or Shinrin-Yoku as it’s known in Japan where it originated in the 1980s. Numerous studies are testament to the calming and rejuvenating virtues of simply being beneath a forest canopy. Emphasis is placed on slowing down; a sweaty hike aimed at increasing the heart rate it is not! Benefits include a boost to the immune system, reduced stress and blood pressure, improved mood, a better ability to focus, quicker recovery from illness, decreased inflammation, increased energy and improved sleep. Japanese doctors promote forest bathing as an antidote to the hectic urban life. I can certainly vouch for the practice; whenever I feel stressed (just thinking about car showrooms for example), I instinctively head off into the pine forest that surrounds our house.
Just a few words from me today because I’m busy proving a point. If you saw Bossy’s last post, you’ll know that she’s gone all hippy dippy on the animal communciation front. I was sceptical about Bossy’s insect repellent story and asked Jojo whether her claims were true. It turns out he had just played along so she would shut up; insect repellent was, it seems, the lesser of two evils and far preferable to listening to her jabber on.
So I set out to prove to Bossy that her new-found ‘talents’ are but a figment (see what I did there?) of her overactive imagination: I block access to cupboard doors in the kitchen, stay out late into the night, steal food from the worktop, growl at Java and sleep on the sofa. Bossy can dog whisper explanations as to why she isn’t loving my behaviour all she likes, I won’t be influenced. I just hope she doesn’t discover my invaluable new tool: industrial-strength ear plugs.
Figs are in abundance at the moment. We are giving them out to everyone we know, but they are still getting the better of us. Figs are rich in fibre and vital vitamins and minerals, such as vitamins A, B1, B2 and K, manganese, potassium, magnesium, calcium, copper, iron and phosphorus. They also contain antioxidants.
Ingredients (makes 12 muffins)
125g coconut oil, softened
150g buckwheat flour (normal flour will work fine too)
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon baking powder
150g cane sugar
60g ground almonds
6 fresh figs, chopped
Preheat the oven to 180°C. Cream the coconut oil in the mixer until well softened. Add a spoonful of flour, beat again, then add the eggs, beating further until the mixture is light and fluffy. Add a little more flour to prevent curdling. Gently fold in the rest of the flour, baking powder, sugar, ground almonds and milk. Lastly, fold the chopped figs into the mix. Spoon the mixture into muffin trays and bake for 30 minutes, or until a skewer comes out clean.
First of all, I’d like to wish everyone a very happy new year. I know a number of people who had a tough 2017, so I wish them all the best for 2018. I have made only a couple of new year resolutions (it’s hard to improve on perfection): to be nicer to Java, and especially more understanding and tolerant of her limitations, which are apparently inexhaustible. And to make fewer catty (doggy?) comments about Bossy in my blog posts. Believe me when I say that it’s tough on both counts.
Bossy showed me these photographs this morning. The first photo shows (left to right) Wookie, Frank and Baby Cecil, and the second me and Java. Feel free to admire our handiwork.
Bossy said that Java and I came off very badly when the photos were compared, and that we should be ashamed of ourselves. She went on to add that at least Baby Cecil had the grace to look contrite, although as all we’re showing the camera is our bottoms it’s anyone’s guess as to our expressions. And the other two dogs, Wookie and Frank, look thoroughly shocked and disapproving, but in an indulgent, unpatronising way. She said this rather pointedly – I’m not sure what she was getting at.
Anyway, I think Bossy’s been confusing ‘contrite’ and ‘really pissed off at having been caught red-pawed’. She said that Baby Cecil probably had the excuse that he was teething and asked me what our excuse for The Great Cushion Massacre was. She then started to rant about the fact that we take advantage of her good nature (disorganised sloppiness more like) and that, contrary to popular belief, she’s not running a dog borstal, which I thought was a bit far-fetched, even coming from her.
I don’t buy the ‘teething’ excuse for a moment; Baby Cecil looks like a bit of a tinker to me. An adorable tinker, but a tinker nonetheless. Wookie and Frank are wearing the most disapproving expressions I have ever seen on dogs. In fact, unless you’re in the habit of frequenting particularly uptight spinster librarians, you rarely even see such disapproving expressions on humans. One wonders if there isn’t a slight hint of hypocrisy. After all, they could have warned Baby Cecil that he ran the risk of forfeiting his flavour of the month badge.
And as for Java and me, we were simply trying to help sort the house out a bit. I recently read a very enlightening book about feng shui which said that, to achieve a good yin-yang balance, you shouldn’t have too many cushions lying around. Quite honestly, Bossy should have thanked us, not scolded us. She can be very short-sighted sometimes.
Thank you Hugo for your take on these revealing photos. And good luck with your ‘resolutions’ – it looks as if you’re off to a shaky start.
I got the recipe for this cake from the mother of a friend of Léo’s who made it for lunch after a volleyball match. It was meant to be for the whole team, but Léo devoured the lot in one fell swoop.
Ingredients (serves 8 normal people, or 1 greedy volleyball player)
3 eggs, beaten
100g olive oil
80g cane sugar
100g buckwheat flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
1 teaspoon vanilla essence
6 apples, peeled and diced.
Preheat the oven to 180°C and prepare a medium-sized loaf tin. Beat the eggs, olive oil and cane sugar together until thick and smooth. Gently fold in the flour, baking powder and bicarbonate soda. Finally stir in the diced apples vanilla essence and transfer the mixture to the greased tin. Bake for 45 minutes or until a skewer poked into the centre comes out clean. Leave to cool before serving.
I was woken this morning to the sound of the dogs barking inside the house and Luc barking outside. Our land is a favourite haunt for hunters because apparently it’s ‘scenic’ and where the best game is to be found. Because of course game, when they’re looking for a place to hang out, always put beautiful surroundings above anything else… For some reason hunting involves, not only pretty scenery, but also lots of shouting. So there was Luc at the crack of dawn, wearing not very much and ranting about how we have to get up early every day of the week and the weekend is the only day we can lie in and why can’t they go and shout and be generally annoying elsewhere because it makes the dogs bark and wakes us up and then he has to come outside and shout at them when he could still be in bed. To be honest, falling leaves are enough to make our dogs bark, and the person making by far the most noise and waking everyone up was Luc. But whatever – he seemed determined to shout himself hoarse.
I got up and made a piece of toast. We have a very small but fierce toaster with a powerful but woefully imprecise firing range and my toast was catapulted behind the fridge. Retrieving it involved rummaging through piles of crumbs, dust and a dead, flattened mouse. So far the morning was proving to be a real delight, further enhanced by the dogs who decided to embark on an energetic game of ‘doors’. The principle of ‘doors’ is to ask to be let out by one door and then rush to a door on the opposite side of the house and scratch until your owners’ nerves are ripped to shreds. And repeat ad nauseum.
Christmas plans are off to a shaky start too: organised I am not. Due to a flu epidemic, we are not where we had planned to be, and there’s an ongoing controversy about whether maritime pines make for proper Christmas trees. Something to do with their needles being too long, amongst other sins according to Léo. Anyway, as it’s now 24th December and there are no trees with appropriate length needles left, we had to go and lop the top off a pine tree. Once the contentious ‘tree’ was in place, Léo’s arguments gained momentum, Hugo cocked his leg at it and Java took a flying leap and furiously attacked it with her little teeth. Also, most of the gifts I had bought to put under it are 1000kms away. And to add insult to injury, Luc and I decided to go shopping together (something we very rarely do) and he forgot and left without me.
I had imagined a lovely photo of the dogs in front of the tree, gazing adoringly at each other. Ha! This is a Photoshop montage (thank you Léo), because they refused to be captured together in front of the non-regulation tree. Unfortunately, neither Photoshop nor camembert were able to make Hugo look at the camera. Happy Christmas everyone!
This cake contains copious amounts of cardamon, a spice that never fails to make everything alright. I’m currently mainlining it. It’s very fragrant and has a lovely, slightly crunchy texture. Delicious warm or cold, alone or accompanied by Greek yoghurt or ice-cream.
Ingredients (serves 12)
350g carrots, grated
50g raisins (pre-soaked in rum)
50g almonds, flaked
50g walnuts, chopped
5 tablespoons coconut oil, melted
80g cane sugar
3 eggs, whisked
100g almond flour
½ teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
Pinch of salt
1 teaspoon cardamon powder
1 teaspoon cardamom seeds, crushed
Preheat the oven to 180°C. Combine the carrots, raisins, almonds, walnuts, melted coconut oil and sugar in a mixing bowl. Gradually add the almond flour and polenta, bicarbonate of soda and cardamom to the whisked eggs and blend until homogenous. Add the flour/egg mixture to the carrot/nut mixture and combine well. Transfer to a greased medium-sized baking tin and bake for 40 minutes or until a skewer comes out clean.
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.
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
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.
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.