‘I’ve forgotten my passport’, I yelled urgently to Luc as we turned onto the motorway towards Bordeaux. He reassured me that everything was under control, and that I wouldn’t be needing my passport for this trip. Little did I know just how apt the word ‘trip’ was going to prove . I’m generally not good with medical establishments, and total denial that I was on my way to spend a few days in one was my way of coping. I wasn’t heading to the airport, but a pain management clinic (for EDS).
As soon as we arrived, I told Luc he could ‘abandon me’, martyr-style. He did just that, quickly and without hesitation, probably before I could change my mind. I could hardly blame him though: The poor man had spent over an hour in the car with me, listening to me whine and invent crazy excuses to get out of my upcoming confinement.
As it turns out, my fears were groundless. I basically attended a five-day rave, spending the majority of my time out of my mind on ‘Special K’ (ketamine: a horse tranquilizer). Admittedly some of the treatments were less relaxing; being tasered (or electromagnetic field therapy as they insist on calling it), for example, although I suspect the ketamine meant that I could be run over by a truck, and not be too fazed. I was a little worried about the ‘suicide vest‘ I was kitted out with for the sleep study, especially as I have a tendency to electrocution. When I mentioned my concern to the technicien, he just said ‘don’t worry, in theory it should be fine’. I felt like saying: ‘You don’t know me, if there’s someone who’ll manage to detonate a sleep study outfit, it’s me!’
Recipe for asparagus quiche (serves 6 – 8)
Ingredients for pastry:
- 220g flour (I used spelt flour)
- 100g butter
- Cold water
Ingredients for filling:
- 4 asparagus, peeled and cut into rounds
- 1 tablespoon of olive oil
- 2 shallots, sliced
- Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
- 2 eggs
- 150 ml double cream
- 50 mg Cheddar, Parmesan or Comté cheese, grated
To make the pastry, begin by cutting the butter into small cubes. Add to the flour in a mixing bowl and add a pinch of sea salt. 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 and leave to ‘rest’ in the fridge for about two hours. This relaxes the dough and makes it easier to use. Preheat the oven to 200°C. Roll out the pastry on a clean, lightly floured surface and line the tart tin.
For the filling, begin by frying the asparagus rounds and sliced shallots in a little olive oil, then arrange in the pastry case. Break the eggs into a small bowl and add the cream and seasoning (salt, pepper, nutmeg). Beat well to form a homogenous mixture. Add some grated cheese and then pour the egg and cream mixture over the top. Cook at 200°C for 25 minutes, or until the top is golden-brown.
May is Ehlers Danlos Syndrome awareness month. Ehlers Danlos Syndrome (EDS) is a group of disorders of the connective tissues. Connective tissue is found throughout the body, so the whole body can be affected due to defects in the structure and biosynthesis of collagen. There are 13 subtypes of EDS, but the most common is Hypermobile EDS (or hEDS), which is the type I have. Dysautonomia and MCAS (mast cell activation syndrome) are common comorbidities; I have both, having hit the trifecta jackpot!
The main symptoms of hEDS are pain, fatigue, allergies, gastric issues, joint laxity, muscular pain, stretchy skin, dizziness, brain fog, problems with proprioception, migraines, ADHD… In my case, this translates as: Countless fractures, sprains and dislocations; constantly walking into door frames; being able to spot someone wearing perfume from 500 meters, and a brain so distracted that thirty tabs are open, lights are flashing, and the music is on full blast at any one time. I also faint if I have to stand still for any length of time, which makes for great fun at border control! (I’m really selling myself here ;-))
I was diagnosed in with hEDS in late 2021, after The Vaccine exacerbated my symptoms to a point where I could no longer ignore them. Good nutrition is absolutely paramount to managing Ehlers Danlos, as so many of the complications are of a gastrointestinal and allergic nature. Bearing in mind that the aim is to reduce immune reactions, normalise gut bacteria and support digestion, absorption and metabolism, it’s best to limit sugar and refined carbohydrates, keep processed foods to an absolute minimum and consider cutting out gluten.
Exercise is also key, and luckily for me, riding is especially beneficial. Things like yoga, walking, cycling and swimming are also very helpful, although I have to be careful with yoga as I’m very prone to subluxations of the hips and shoulders.
The Stone of Scone, or the Stone of Destiny, is a 152kg block of red sandstone that would have been placed under the 700-year-old coronation chair yesterday. Historically it was used during the coronations of Scottish monarchs, and then the coronations of the monarchs of England, Great Britain and the United Kingdom.
My great uncle’s garage
The stone is well travelled — Westminster Abbey, Scone Abbey, Arbroath Abbey, and more recently, Edinburgh Castle. And in 1950, it travelled to my great uncle’s garage in Glasgow, having been stolen from Westminster Abbey by four Scottish students, who wanted to make a statement about Scottish nationalism. As my great uncle was a renown (and from memory, very vocal) member of the Scottish Covenant Association, who were campaigning for a Scottish Parliament, they passed the stone to him, which is how it ended up skulking in his garage.
As a child, I used to love visiting my relatives and their garages in Scotland in June, during the raspberry harvest. Raspberries were — and still are — one of my favourite fruits. Cranachan is the Scottish version of Eton mess, originally made to celebrate the harvest. The word cranachan means ‘churn’ in Gaelic. The almonds and chocolate are my addition, and not part of the original recipe. Apparently going rogue runs in the family!
Recipe for Cranachan (serves 4)
- 2 tablespoons oats
- 1 tablespoon almonds, chopped
- 300g raspberries, crushed
- 350ml double cream
- 2 tablespoons honey (heather honey if possible)
- 2 tablespoons whiskey
- 2 squares dark chocolate (minimum 70%), grated
Toast the oatmeal and almonds until rich and nutty and then leave to cool. Whisk the cream until just set, and then stir in the honey and whisky. Stir in the oatmeal and whisk lightly until the mixture is just firm. Alternate layers of the cream with the raspberries and purée in 4 serving dishes. Allow to chill slightly before eating.
Well that was awkward: I just had to call the vet to say that Java wouldn’t be able to make her 3pm appointment because I couldn’t find her. Embarrassment-wise, it was on a par with the time I turned up to the vet appointment, on time but minus dog. Java came back a couple of hours later, having apparently taken part in a mud wrestling contest, before putting herself through an aggressive washing machine rinse cycle. I dragged her to the vet anyway, where there was a man asking for something for his parakeet’s itchy eyes. WTAF? Full points to parakeet owner though, for noticing his parakeet’s bothersome eyes. And zero points to me for failing to kit her dog out with a straitjacket.
Pine tree pollen is falling thick and fast, which means that everything has a thick covering of fluorescent yellow dust. (Perhaps this was the parakeet’s problem.) I bumped into a neighbour yesterday — quite literally as it happens; the layer of pollen on my glasses was that thick — who said that it was a sign that the coming winter would be very cold. I said that I couldn’t look that far ahead at the moment, as I was desperately trying to get through the spring without causing myself grievous bodily harm.
A few weeks ago I talked about Luc’s beloved tractor falling sick. It’s back home again, fighting fit, much to its devoted owner’s absolute delight. While I’m very happy for them, I can’t help feeling as if his mistress has come back, lithe and tanned from a long holiday. Especially when he says things like ‘when are we eating, have I got time to take the tractor out for a quick spin?’
The benefits of fennel for digestion
Alone in my kitchen, like a tractor widow, I tend to use fennel quite a lot. Fennel is part of the anise family and very commonly used in Mediterranean cuisine. It is one of the best vegetables for digestive problems and contains a cocktail of essential oils that give its characteristic aniseed smell. The chemicals contained in the essential oils are powerful antispasmodics, meaning they help to relax the wall of the gut. Use with immoderation!
Recipe for salmon and fennel tagliatelle (serves 4)
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- 1 onion, chopped
- 1 fennel bulb, chopped
- 1 garlic clove, crushed
- 125ml dry white wine
- Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 1/2 teaspoon chilli powder
- 200g tagliatelle
- 200g salmon filets, precooked and sliced
- A handful of chives, chopped
- 50ml crème fraîche
- Parsley, freshly chopped
Heat the olive oil in a medium frying pan and ad the onion, fennel and garlic. Cook until the fennel softens. Add the wine and seasoning and simmer until the liquid reduces by about half. Meanwhile cook the tagliatelle. Add the salmon, chives and crème fraîche to the frying pan, mixing well. When the tagliatelle is cooked, combine in the frying pan and sprinkle with parsley.
I am half way through a thermal cure at the moment. In France, if you have a painful body and a doctor’s prescription, you’re good to be smothered in healing mud, and soaked in thermal water for three weeks. You might think that three weeks of pampering would be relaxing, make you happy, and possibly even alleviate the need to whinge. And it is for most people. With the exception, of course, of the person that constantly insisted on seeking me out. She had issues. In fact, her issues had issues: The water was too warm, the therapists late (three whole minutes in one case, can you believe?), the massages too tiring, the food too filling, the coffee too strong, the mineral water too ‘minerally’, and the sun too bright. The upshot was that she decided that she wasn’t coming back. I said that I was certain that a little ray of sunshine like her would be sorely missed; she was so distracted naval gazing that she took the comment at face value.
My hairdresser, who is a hunter (incongruous, but true), told me that this year, we should fill used tights with human hair to keep the grape-bud-munching deer at bay. Following last year’s catastrophe, when the deer ate the buds as soon as they appeared, we were ready to try anything. Except that now I crick my neck doing a double take every time I look at the vines with the narcoleptic, overweight hamsters bobbing in the breeze. I think I preferred the deer!
Health benefits of broccoli
Broccoli contains glucoraphanin , a compound that converts into a potent antioxidant called sulforaphane during digestion. It also contains the antioxidants lutein and zeaxanthin, which prevent oxidative stress and cellular damage in your eyes. Broccoli also contains bioactive compounds that reduce both inflammation and insulin resistance in the body. It is rich in fibre and probiotics, both of which contribute to digestive and gut health. It is also an excellent source of vitamin K, calcium, potassium, manganese, phosphorus, zinc and vitamins A and C as well as folate.
Recipe for pasta with broccoli sauce (serves 4)
- 8-10 broccoli florets
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 2 shallots, chopped
- 2 garlic cloves, crushed
- 4 anchovies
- 6 black olives, stoned and chopped
- Sea salt, freshly ground black pepper
- 50ml cream
- Parmesan cheese, freshly grated
Cook the broccoli in salted water until ‘al dente’ and then chop into smaller pieces. Then cook the pasta in the broccoli water. Gently fry the chopped shallots in olive oil until transparent, and add the broccoli and garlic. Add the anchovies and olives and continue to fry for a few minutes. Season to taste, add the cream, stirring well and bring to a simmer. Add the sauce to the pasta. Grate the parmesan cheese over the top just before serving.
I saw a picture in British newspaper that said everything about France, and in particular, Bordeaux. It was of a couple sitting outside on a restaurant terrace in the centre of Bordeaux (the Place de la Victoire, as it happens). They were calmly eating their dinner, and drinking their obligatory red wine, while rioters and demonstrators caused visible commotion in the background. There was even a ‘fire of wrath’ burning close-by.
The photo reminded me of the time, many years ago, that we had a lunch booking at a Michelin-starred restaurant in Auxerre. It was before GPS and, as we didn’t have a map, we had to stop and ask a policeman for directions to the restaurant. The time was approaching 1pm and the policeman, panicked at the idea that we were going to be late for our table, not only directed us to the restaurant, he also held up the traffic flow in both directions to allow us to do a U-turn! The French have always had their priorities straight.
Liver health benefits
Liver should be organic, preferably, and very fresh. It will be improved greatly by being soaked in lemon juice for several hours before cooking. This improves the texture, and draws out any impurities. Liver is an extremely high-quality source of protein, as it provides all of the essential amino acids. In addition it provides:
- Vitamin B12, which helps the formation of red blood cells and is also involved in healthy brain function.
- Vitamin A, which is important for normal vision, immune function and reproduction.
- Riboflavin (B2), which is important for cellular development and function, and helps turn food into energy.
- Folate (B9) which is an essential nutrient that plays a role in cell growth and the formation of DNA.
- Iron, an essential nutrient that helps carry oxygen around the body. The iron in liver is heme iron, the kind most easily absorbed by the body.
- Copper, which activates a number of enzymes, which then help regulate energy production, iron metabolism and brain function.
- Choline, which is important for brain development and liver function.
Recipe for liver in balsamic vinegar sauce (serves 4)
- 4 slices liver (I used calves liver)
- Juice of 2 lemons
- 1 tablespoon butter
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 6 shallots, finely chopped
- Sea salt, freshly-ground black pepper
- 1/2 teaspoon paprika
- 6 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
Marinate the liver slices in lemon juice for several hours. Pat the slices dry and dust lightly with cornflour. Melt the butter and olive oil in a large, non-stick frying pan and gently brown the sliced shallots. Remove the fried shallots and set aside. Add the liver to the frying pan and cook on a fairly high heat, several minutes on each side depending on the thickness of the slices. Season and then add balsamic vinegar, bring to the boil, return the shallots to the pan and serve immediately!
I had booked tickets to London for the very day that Luc’s tractor succumbed to multiple injuries. I loathe packing, and departures in general, so as Luc had said we should leave for the airport at 3pm, I had planned to pack my bag at 2.45pm. Unfortunately, what I hadn’t factored into the equation was a struck-down tractor and its extremely labile and distraught owner. In view of these circumstances, Luc decided that we should delay our departure, to check that his beloved was picked up and properly towed to the ‘tractor hospital’. To hell with me and my flight! When the transportation arrived two hours early, our departure abruptly changed again to give us time to stop by the ‘hospital’ to confirm the treatment plan with the mechanics. And presumably discuss DNR etc. I suggested gifts – perhaps flowers and grapes, but my suggestion didn’t go down well. To cut a long and emotionally-charged story short, I ended up arriving at the airport late, sweating profusely, smelling of engine oil, and wheeling a suitcase full of season-inappropriate mismatch.
We have a hunter friend who often stops by for coffee, and who has a Clint Eastwood-style gum chewing habit. Luc finds this intensely irritating, but, until now, all attempts to get him to spit out his gum upon arrival chez nous, had failed. We recently offered Clint and his well-toned jaw muscles a slice of this Linzer torte. He and his gum parted company with a vibrant ping on the edge of the bin, and he even asked for a second slice. Manipulation by torte!
Linzer torte is a traditional Austrian pastry, similar in texture to shortbread and topped with tangy fruit jam. It originated in the city of Linz in Austria.
Recipe for Linzer torte (serves 8)
- I egg
- 150g cane sugar
- 150g soft butter
- 250g flour
- 150g ground hazelnuts
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- Pinch of salt
- 2 teaspoons cinnamon
- 3 soup spoons cocoa powder
- 1 jar of raspberry jam (you could use blackcurrant or apricot)
Combine the egg, sugar, butter, flour, ground hazelnuts, baking powder, salt, cinnamon and cocoa powder to form a ball. Then cover and refrigerate for at least an hour. Preheat the oven to 180°C. Next roll out the two thirds of the pastry, using a rolling pin and use to line a well-greased tart tin. Fill with jam and then roll out the remaining pastry, cut into strips to form a criss-cross pattern over the jam. Bake for 25 minutes.
The hit squad
Below is a photo of Java on the naughty step of the car, having prodded, awoken and generally harassed a sleeping wild boar four times her size. I would tell you what I yelled at her, but the asterisk key on my computer is stuck, probably from overuse. Also, I dislocated my shoulder trying to haul her out of the boar’s ‘bedroom’, so I’m typing painfully and economically. We are currently fighting a losing battle with an ever-expanding population of boar; there are fewer and fewer hunters, and those that do turn up, have to contend with our neighbour, a graduate of the Donald Trump School of Diplomacy, and his ridiculously childish hissy fits. But no worries: Java and her German Shepard boyfriend are tackling the problem (the boar, and the neighbour) efficiently and elegantly. They’re quite the team; she marks and provokes, and he rounds up and corners. Job done.
And a horse with discerning taste
Following my horse’s asthma attack, I am giving him a dose of plant-based medicine every day. I think it must be working, because he is finding lots of energy to express some very strong opinions about the clothes I wear. He’s taken particular exception to some of my scarves: I’ve discovered he has a preference for neutral tones. He’s not at all keen on pink, and if I really want to piss him off I put on a garish multi-coloured number, which makes him turn on his haunches and retreat at speed to a safe distance from the offending object. Never let it be said that our animals leave room for complacency!
Cardamon’s multitude of health benefits
Cardamom is great for curing and preventing digestive issues. The cooling effects of cardamom can help relieve acidity and treat gastrointestinal issues like indigestion, nausea, vomiting, stomach pain and spasms. There has even been research on its ability to heal ulcers.
Finally, something that is useful to know for cold and flu season, cardamon has a powerful expectorant action, and helps blood circulation in the lungs by its thinning action. Compounds in cardamom may help increase airflow to your lungs and improve breathing. Another way that cardamom may improve breathing and oxygen levels is by relaxing the airways, which may be particularly helpful for treating asthma.
Recipe for courgette and cardamon cake (serves 8)
- 2 eggs
- 125g coconut oil
- 100g cane sugar
- 350g courgettes, grated
- vanilla extract
- 140g dried raisins, soaked in rum
- 85g walnuts, chopped
- 2 teaspoons ground cardamon
- Bicarb, baking powder
- 200g chickpea flour
- 50g ground almonds
Preheat the oven to 180°C and prepare and grease a loaf tin. Beat the eggs, coconut oil and eggs together until homogeneous, then add the grated courgettes, vanilla extract, raisins, walnuts, cardamon and ginger, mixing well. Lastly gradually add the flour, ground almonds, salt, baking powder and bicarbonate of soda and continue mixing until you obtain an even mixture. Transfer the mixture to the loaf tin and bake for 45 minutes, or until a fork comes out clean.
Our new year got off to a shaky start, with an upsetting potpourri of human, canine and equine ailments. Luc had an eye operation in December, and is using eyedrops four times a day, and ear drops twice a day for an ear infection. Java managed to head butt a prickly bush, at high speed, and is also on eye drops four times a day as a result. I have vertigo — probably from trying to figure out the deluge of prescription drugs spread across my kitchen table — which means I keep walking into door frames, causing further assorted minor injuries.
And Jojo, my horse, is on cortisone injections and cough syrup twice a day to treat an asthma attack, brought on by an over-enthusiastic pilferage of dusty hay. His medication is certainly the most complicated, and a two-man job. For example, the injection must be administered with a steady flow of apples, or all hell breaks loose. Last night we tried to give him his cough syrup in the field, without a head collar, as he doesn’t resist, and even seems to enjoy it. Big mistake; we won’t try that again! He swung around, haughtily lifting his head out of reach, and I’m sure I heard him say: ‘Yo! Protocol chaps! You’re getting sloppy!’
Ghee, which is clarified butter, not only adds a subtle, nutty flavour to dishes, it’s also a very healthy option. It is easy to digest and can reduce gut inflammation as it contains butyric acid. It is also rich in linoleic acid, which reduces blood pressure and blood sugar levels. Ghee is also rich in vitamin A, important for immunity and eye (see above!) and skin health, and omega 3 which fights inflammation.
Recipe for easy chicken and chickpea curry (serves 4)
- 1 tablespoon of ghee (olive oil or butter could be substituted)
- 1 onion, sliced
- 2 cloves of garlic, crushed
- Thumb size piece of fresh ginger, grated
- 750g chicken breast filets, sliced
- 2 potatoes, peeled and roughly sliced
- 2 carrots, peeled and cut into rounds
- 300g cooked chickpeas
- 600ml chicken stock
- Sea salt and freshly-ground black pepper
- 1-2 teaspoons mild curry powder (to taste)
- 4 tablespoons natural yoghurt
- Handful of coriander leaves, rinsed and chopped
Preheat the oven to 180°C. Heat the ghee in a casserole dish over a medium heat, add the onion and fry until golden brown and sticky. Add the garlic and ginger and cook for another minute. Add the chicken to the dish and gently brown on both sides, add the potatoes, carrots and chickpeas and pour the stock over everything. Season and transfer to the oven for about 40 minutes, then remove and stir in the yoghurt and add the coriander leaves. Delicious served with chickpea pancakes, or basmati rice.
I’ve just spoken to a friend who recently stepped off a Russian exploration boat that had transported him from Ushuaia to the southernmost town in the world: Puerto Williams, Chile. From Puerto Williams he intends to ‘hitchhike’ to Antarctica for a couple of weeks — watch this space! Travelling from Uruguay through Buenos Aires on the day that the Argentinian team returned with their cup, having pipped the French team to the post, he said that it was somewhat intimidating to be the only French person amid four million explosively victorious Argentinian patriots. Apparently he kept his mouth firmly, and uncharacteristically, shut throughout, and he doesn’t scare easily (see above!)
In this house, it was France/England match that was contentious; as Léo and I have dual nationality, Luc said we couldn’t lose, which gave us an unfair advantage in potential game satisfaction. As I’ve mentioned before, Luc is very invested in the footie, and, as such, it’s not something he takes lightly. In the end, it was agreed that we could watch with him as long as we remained silent and emotionless, much like our friend in Buenos Aires. Java watched with us, lying between me and Léo, snoring loudly, waking only to bark at the French goals.
Wishing everybody a very happy new year! Here’s to hoping that 2023 brings peace and positivity.
Recipe for Brussels sprout, fennel and clementine salad (serves 4)
- 50g Brussels sprouts, chopped finely
- 1 fennel, chopped
- 3 clementines, peeled and segmented
- 5 dried figs, chopped
- 2 carrots, peeled and cut into thin rounds
- 3 shallots, peeled and chopped
- 100ml plain yoghurt
- 1 teaspoon mustard
- 2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
- 1 tablespoon honey
- 1 clove garlic, crushed
- Sea salt and freshly-ground black pepper
- 1/2 teaspoon mild curry powder
Place the sprouts, fennel, clementines, figs, carrots and shallots in a salad bowl. Mix the yoghurt and mustard together, then gradually add the vinegar little by little, mixing well to obtain a homogenous creamy texture. Add the honey, garlic and seasoning, mixing all the time to prevent the dressing from separating. Pour the dressing over the salad and mix thoroughly.