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!

Spicy meat loaf, pigeons and Paris

I had to have a stern word with a pigeon last week; he had left his wife to do all the egg sitting, while he was out and about teasing Java, paddling in the pool, and perching on the horses’ warm backs. Anyone familiar with pigeons knows that it quite clearly states in the pigeon prenup that Monsieur should share the incubation burden. So either Madame is a total pushover, or Monsieur is a bit of a one.

The couple had also been shamefully slapdash in the ‘construction’ (I use the term lightly) of a nest for their brood-to-be. They had garnished a wooden beam five metres from the ground with a couple of dry leaves and a few bits of straw. Luc took pity and supplied them with a wooden wine box full of hay, where the squabs have now hatched and are growing by the day.

Satisfied we had done all we could for the irresponsible pigeons, I made a flying visit to Paris at the beginning of the week to see a thyroid specialist about my rogue thyroid gland. I managed to lock myself in the train bathroom for part of the journey because my slimey, soap-covered hands and inability to turn on the water to rince them, meant that my impotent fingers kept slipping on the door handle. As all restaurants are still shut in France, I nipped into a health food store for something to eat, and ended up inadvertently buying myself baby food (inside/outside temperature changes and my mask caused my glasses to steam up). Plus ça change…

At the hospital the next day, I had to see the radiologist before the thyroid specialist, and I obviously inspired her; she seemed awfully keen to lecture me on my mask and its inadequacies. Neither its size, shape, colour nor material pleased her, and neither did the apparently slapdash way I was wearing it. In the end so I had to say: ‘Madame, your rant is instructive (not!), but I’ve come 800km for an opinion on my thyroid, not my mask’. She was NOT amused and actually told me to ‘shush’. I had forgotten how cantankerous Parisians can be.

It was sad to see Paris so listless with all its bars, restaurants and museums shut. However, Paris by night was still luminous, and I had time for a photo dash.

Luc was very pleased with this meatloaf, which I left for him while I was away. It may be enjoyed hot or cold.

Ingredients (serves six to eight)

2 onions, chopped

2 garlic cloves, crushed

3 carrots, grated

1 courgette, grated

1 red pepper, chopped

3 medium tomatoes, chopped

Olive oil

300g minced beef or lamb

3 eggs

1 tbsp Lee and Perrins sauce

50ml tomato ketchup

200g pre-cooked chickpeas

Parsley

Rosemary

Fresh coriander

Sea salt, freshly ground black pepper

Half teaspoon of each: cumin, cayenne pepper or paprika, garam masala

Combine the vegetables, olive oil, meat, beaten eggs, Lee and Perrins sauce and ketchup in a large mixing bowl. Roughly blend the chickpeas and herbs until the mixture forms a lumpy paste (ie not blended too much) and add it to the meat mixture. Add the seasoning, mixing well and spoon the combined mixture into a loaf tin and cook for about an hour and a half in a medium oven (180°C). Leave to sit for ten minutes before slicing.

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.

Guest post: planes, trains and yachts

Welcome again to KJ for some luxury virtual travel; something that is, for the time-being at least, a pipe dream.

Over the years, I have enjoyed several career paths, all of which have enriched my life in one way or another. My first foray into working was as a short-order cook, at fourteen years of age, which eventually grew into bartending and other restaurant positions, up to hotel management. These activities gave me a broad understanding of the workings of a kitchen, in a service environment. As I matured, in both age and abilities, I spent some time travelling from west to east, and north to south, in the USA for my business, and I paid some attention to the food service on different aircraft. In that environment, food is prepared and packaged separately, to be doled out to the folk on the aircraft sometime after take-off and, hopefully, before landing, from a tiny galley which is serviced by a dumbwaiter from the hold of the aircraft. So, there isn’t much about the preparation which causes me to wonder, nor do I expect a man (or woman) wearing a chef’s cap to wander into the passenger area asking us how we enjoyed our meal. This is probably a good thing, for I cannot fail to imagine the chaos that would have ensued, with trays of inedible food flying through the cabin at the perpetrator who would have claimed responsibility for our meals. There is this thing called karma, after all.

Some of our more renowned trains, such as South Africa’s Blue Train, considered by many to be the most elegant train experience in the world, do have chefs on board, who miraculously seem to be able to provide haut cuisine from what a New Yorker would consider a basic studio apartment, elongated, while rocking back and forth on the rails. Their ability to maintain their equilibrium, with a hot skillet in one hand and stirring with the other, while shifting about to allow the sous chef squeezing-by room, is a skill worthy of applause. The food prepared by these masters of their craft is enough to cause any food lover to salivate, just from reading the menu. Below is a sample of the Blue Train menu, but you view it at your own risk, for I accept no responsibility for moisture-damaged keyboards.

On the other end of the scale is the yacht where, on a decent-sized vessel of 120 feet or more, there is a primary galley (kitchen) below deck and a service galley next to the dining area on the main deck, which is accessed via a private stairway, so as not to have soup spilled on the public stairs – the latter of which are often carpeted, internally. I have to admit, I have a fondness for the sea, and have spent some time on the water, both professionally, and for pleasure. The example I am providing for this element is a rather nice 143-foot yacht, L’Albatros, which is currently on the market, and has such an arrangement of two galleys to support the guests.

This ship would be my ideal home-on-the-high-seas. ( I call it a ‘ship’ due to my experience with the captain of a 110-foot yacht, at a Florida marina, where I was an apprentice boat carpenter and, when asking permission to board his ‘boat’ to check the bilge pumps, I was told to stay on the dock until I ‘learned the difference between a boat and a ship.’ ) There is also a bar, on the upper deck of L’Albatros, to refresh those enjoying the sun on its outer deck or an afternoon lunch served al fresco, as well as another service area aft, on the first deck, for covered dining – not to mention the Jacuzzi area on the top deck. All in all, it’s a rather nice arrangement for the guests. The chef and his crew, on the other hand, have less space in which to produce their results than the crew on the Blue Train. Yet, they seem quite capable of providing exquisite meals while at sea, or dockside. You might well imagine what they could provide on a super-yacht, such as the 590-foot Azzam, would likely rival any Michelin four-star restaurant, when one considers the potential.

With the ‘elephant’ that is sitting outside our doors, worldwide, I cannot see myself on a plane, or a train, any time soon. Alternatively, the thought of spending time at sea, and only docking to refuel and renew the ships provisions, is an extremely attractive idea and has been causing repeated daydreams to interrupt my work habits. Unfortunately, I doubt my banker can be enticed to float a loan so I may acquire L’Albatros and enjoy fine dining on board, any time in the near future.

In keeping with my thoughts about dining at sea, tonight’s meal will be very simple: salmon baked with butter, lemon, and herbs de Provence, a side of rice, and a small salad of Romaine lettuce, cherry tomatoes and cucumber, in oil and vinegar. Simple fare, made in a small, but homey, German kitchen – on land.

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.

Cep sauce, dogs in therapy, and therapy dogs

Hugo is not feeling the love for Lockdown Strikes Again. I’m pretty sure he has PTSD following an intense two months in the Spring with eccentric humans and flamboyant and immature fellow animals. Hugo, like many great intellectuals, is a bit of a loner; company 24/7 leaves him frazzled to say the least. When Léo left to go back to Bordeaux to school last weekend, Hugo commandeered the front seat of his car and nothing would make him budge. He thought that Léo’s company, albeit in a city, was preferable to what we had to offer.

Luc is currently spending most of his waking hours scaling the roofs. He has become a fanatical adversary of skulking moss, to which he lays seige armed with a rock climbing harness, knives and poison. Apparently he finds moss assassination cathartic, which is unfortunate because seeing him on the roof does nothing for my serenity. In twenty years’ marriage I had never realised what strong feelings he had on plant fungus.

My thyroid has gone haywire which leaves me burning up like a furnace, insomniac, and putting away teenage boy quantities of food. Dogs really do have a sixth sense, and every time I sit down, Java climbs up to ‘comfort’ me, which is very sweet and definitely more therapeutic than scaling the roof.

Ceps, once cooked, are rich in anti-oxidants which help support the immune system. They are also a good source of vitamin D; a single serving can supply about 30% of your daily needs. Ceps contain high levels of folic acid and vitamin B12, and help detoxify the liver. And finally they contain a good amount of potassium which contributes to cardiovascular health.

Ingredients (serves 4)

2 shallots, finely chopped

1 tablespoon olive oil

10g butter

75ml dry white wine

75g fresh ceps (or dried and soaked)

2 cloves of garlic

2 tablespoons Armagnac (or Cognac)

1 teaspoon chicken or vegetable stock, diluted in 5 ml water

2 tablespoons crème fraîche

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Gently brown the shallots in the for a couple of minutes. Add a drop of white wine and then add the ceps and garlic. Leave to cook gently for about 20 minutes, stirring often. Add the remainder of the wine, the Armagnac and stock and then the cream. Season and leave to simmer for a further 15 minutes, or until thickened. May be liquidised for a smoother sauce.

This sauce makes a great accompaniment to steak, or any red meat. It’s also delicious on pasta.

Cock~a~leekie, mugger ponies and cocky pheasants

As always seems to be the case in October (mushroom season), everyone is acting randomly. I was mugged by a pony yesterday morning: Our neighbour’s Houdini pony who spends more time out of his field than in. The little sod ran off with my cross-body handbag that I had used as a makeshift halter trying to put him back in the field. It was a great photo op., but of course he had my ‘phone.

We are slowed down leaving the house in the car since a cock peasant moved in, with his harem of hen pheasants, to the woodland in our driveway. He insists on walking directly in front of the car all the way down the sandy track that leads from our house to the road. He’s either graciously escorting us to the road, or he’s a nutter control-freak – I haven’t decided which yet. It might be more beneficial though to channel his energy into his chaotic home situation; his wives spend their time in noisy squabbling which results in feathers flying everywhere. Maybe I could try to sort them out with my handbag too.

Last of all, the humans, who are frankly no better. I don’t think there’s anything that makes the rural French as fiercely competitive as mushroom season. On my way to the main road through the woods yesterday, I was trapped by a car blocking the path. It was very inconvenient – as there wasn’t room to turnaround, I had to reverse down a narrow sandy path with trees on each side. Sweating and cursing, I came across six or seven people scattered around the woods, eyes manically fixed to the ground, and I asked each of them if it was their car blocking the path. Nobody admitted to it, but each one gave me advice on how to deal with the rogue car owner. The advice ranged from calling the police or leaving a vindictive note to puncturing his tyres or smashing a window. I assume this advice was so generously given on the basis that it would result in one person fewer to share the mushrooms with…

Ingredients (serves 6)

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 chicken, jointed into pieces

4 carrots, chopped

2 sticks of celery, chopped

2 leeks, rinsed and cut into rounds

1 clove of garlic, crushed

1 glass of white wine

2 bay leaves

2 sprigs of thyme

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

1 teaspoon paprika

Heat the olive oil in a large saucepan. Fry the chicken pieces in batches until golden brown, then remove and set aside. Add the carrots, celery leeks and garlic, and fry for five minutes until everything turns golden brown.

Add the the wine and bring to the boil. Return the chicken pieces with the herbs and seasoning and add enough cold water to cover. Slowly bring to the boil, then simmer for 40 mins until the chicken is tender.

Remove the chicken and leave to cool slightly. Pull the meat from the chicken bones and tear into large chunks. Return to the saucepan and simmer for another 30 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.

Bask in basil

My small but powerful lusitano horse, Jojo, was a bit of a thug in his youth. He was castrated late at five, and then only because I was pregnant and he bit anyone else that went near him. He took a chunk out of a groom’s arm once, and catapulted Luc into the air like a pancake when he deigned to ask him to move forward.

As he was entire, and therefore easily distracted (by ‘distracted’ I obviously mean: sent into an uncontrollable mouth-frothing frenzy) by mares, I used to rub a drop of basil essential oil near his nose. This had a double advantage: it helped him remain calm and focussed, and the pungent aroma covered the mares’ arousing scent.

I am happy to report that Jojo has grown into a real gentleman, and now radiates the sort of intensely serene calm sometimes found in the all-powerful. Riding out the other day, Java managed to round up a young deer who she chased out of the pine trees and straight into Jojo’s chest. The deer, unhurt, did a roly poly between the horse’s legs before shaking himself off and fleeing. Not to be outdone, Jojo’s rider (me) screamed like a banshee in shock. Despite the unexpected pandemonium, my darling horse stood stock-still and waited for everyone to calm down. Anyone familiar with horses and their reactions will know how unusual this is.

There are over 60 varieties of basil, also known as ocimum basilicum, or the king of herbs. The signature of Mediterranean cuisine, nothing says ‘summer’ to me as much as the heady scent of sun-warm basil. Known as ‘sacred basil leaf’ to Hindus, it has been used as a medicine throughout the world for over 3,000 years.

Basil belongs to the same family as mint, and shares many of the same characteristics. It is useful as a remedy for bloating, digestive cramps and colic. As is the case with many fragrant plants, it is its potent oils that have a relaxing effect on the muscles of the intestines, helping to ease cramps and spasms. It also helps alkalise the body and reduces the fat buildup in the liver that can cause liver disease.

Basil calms anxiety and eases depression; many ancient texts recommend basil tea for ‘melancholy’. Less whimsically perhaps, it also makes for a powerful anti-parasitic treatment. Overindulgence in sugar means that parasites such as the notoriously difficult to treat Candida Albicans yeast, are a common problem.

Basil has antioxidant, antibacterial, antiviral and anti-inflammatory properties. It has been found to be helpful in the fight against numerous diseases, including cancer, atherosclerosis, diabetes, allergies, asthma, arthritis, Crohn’s disease, osteoporosis, psoriasis and septic shock. It is an adaptogen and supports the adrenal glands, protecting against stress and fatigue.

Basil is full of nutrients, with an abundance of vitamin A (as carotenoids), vitamin K, and vitamin C. It’s also a rich source of magnesium, iron, potassium and calcium.

In the kitchen, basil is incredibly versatile. I always use it raw, adding it at the end of cooking to retain flavour and potency. Obviously it makes fantastic pesto when combined with pine nuts, olive oil and garlic, but it’s also delicious with tomatoes, helping to balance the acidity. I also often add it to asian cuisine as it marries particularly well with chicken, fish and seafood, spices and coconut. I sometimes add a few leaves of basil and some lemon juice to a jug of cold water in the summer; refreshing and calming!

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.

Sunbathing for mushrooms; a recipe for vitamin D

Mushroom skin, like human skin, produces vitamin D when exposed to sunlight. Mushrooms are naturally rich in ergosterol (provitamin D, or D2) and you can greatly increase the amount they contain by leaving them to soak up the sun.

Shitake mushrooms have the highest natural levels of vitamin D of all mushrooms. For a rough idea of how much you can increase their potency by leaving them to dry in the sun, if the vitamin D starting point is about 100IU/100g before exposure, leaving them in the sun for about 12 hours (6 hours per day for two days when the sun is strongest) will increase the amount to about 46,000IU/100g. Pretty impressive.

For some time, epidemiologists have shown that people living near the equator are less likely to suffer from so many of the diseases that plague the higher latitudes. Living in equatorial regions means you are less likely to suffer from cancer, diabetes, depression, arthritis and heart disease, as well as upper respiratory-tract infections such as flu and tuberculosis.

The sun, and its by-product, vitamin D are as vital to life as a roof over your head, food and water; a big deficiency can have disastrous results.

In the context of Covid-19, I keep hearing people say ‘how can a vitamin D deficiency be significant when sunny countries like Iran, Spain and Italy have been so affected?’

The answer is, even if you enjoy the sun during the winter, in mid-latitude countries (ie between the 35th-50th parallel North or South) where Tehran, Madrid, Bordeaux and Milan are situated, you will make no vitamin D whatsoever from November to February. In the higher latitudes, where London, Berlin, Brussels, Moscow and the Scandinavian countries are situated, you make no vitamin D from the sun between October and March. In either case, unless you supplement, by the end of winter, your levels will be low, and you will be more vulnerable to disease.

Recipe for vitamin D-rich mushrooms

Use fresh organic shitake, maitake, button, oyster or other mushrooms. Slice the mushrooms and place them evenly on a tray, which you should expose to direct sunlight, preferably during the summer months – June, July or August – between 10am and 4pm. Cover the mushrooms before nightfall to protect from dew condensation. Repeat the process the next sunny day. And again, until the mushrooms are totally dried (crispy).

Once thoroughly dry, the mushrooms may be stored in a glass jar, to which you have added a tablespoon of uncooked rice to prevent moisture, for up to a year. To serve, use about 10g person, rehydrate in water for an hour, and cook as desired.

Coconut cookies (gf) and Scissorgate

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.

Hiding from The Scissors