Tag Archives: French lifestyle

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.

Celery leaf pesto, the herd, and a close encounter with clingfilm

About 15 years ago when I was first studying naturopathic medicine, I remember mentioning the dangers of vitamin D deficiency on a forum for young mothers I used at the time. The reaction was patronising and along the lines: ‘poor sleep-deprived lamb! Should we alert the men in white coats now, or shall we watch her unravel a bit more first?’

New theories always go through the same tedious, but inevitable cycle: ridicule, violent opposition, and finally acceptance as self-evident.

Many medical circles, and certainly the WHO, view orthomolecular therapy with the same scathing derision as they did vitamin D 15 years ago, despite increasingly compelling evidence from more and more studies and trials worldwide. Facebook, the great financial interest-free adjudicator, even zaps all reference to therapeutic benefits claiming ‘fake news!’ And yet they give air(head) time to The Orange Toddler who, in a recent attempt to denigrate Sweden’s lack of confinement in response to the Covid-19 pandemic, said: ‘Sweden is suffering very greatly, you know that right, because they’re doing the herd, they call it the herd’. He really needs to learn to keep his mouth shut, preferably for ever.

In France a legal request has been submitted to the government by six doctors to petition the use of orthomolecular treatments, in particular the IV vitamin C protocol used by Professor Marik of EVMS, on the premise that it is unethical to withhold treatment that could help or cure patients. (Protocol here.) At low doses, vitamin C is a nutrient; at high doses, a therapeutic drug. Unfortunately I doubt anything will come of it because, as usual, financial interest will prevail.

My cooking is a bit eccentric at the moment as I’m using anything and everything to hand to avoid going shopping. My last visit to the supermarket was traumatic: They had created makeshift queue separations with clingfilm (I kid you not) and I propelled myself into one of these extremely aggressive bouncy plastic ‘walls’ trying to distance from someone practicing close social proximity. I must have received an electric charge, because my hair stood on end and the clingfilm and I became one. Any vague semblance of dignity I might have managed to conjure in my fetching builder’s dust face mask vanished in a heartbeat. Clingfilm 1, hair 0.

I didn’t have basil so substituted celery leaves and celery. The result was surprisingly creamy and delicious. Garlic is a great antiviral so I used even more than usual. The added bonus is that it makes social distancing easier!

Ingredients (serves 4)

Handful of celery leaves

1 celery stick, peeled and sliced

75g pinenuts

4 cherry tomatoes

3 cloves of garlic, peeled

3 tablespoons olive oil

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Chilli powder to taste

2 tablespoons grated parmesan cheese

Blend the ingredients in a food processor to form a thick paste and stir into freshly-cooked pasta.

Vodka and orange duck in confinement

We have been in isolation for three weeks so far (we started a week before obligatory confinement was instated in France because Léo was ill.) It has been an emotional rollercoaster and so far I have been: horribly worried (when Léo was ill), hysterical with laughter (when Luc ended up in the middle of the pool on the sit-on lawn-mower), covered in fat (when I ‘broke’ our whole plumbing system in a duck fat-related mishap), a sweaty mess (chasing the horses who had done a runner when we resorted to using them as substitute lawnmowers) and, this morning, super confused when my phone suddenly converted to Chinese and my son to speaking with a Russian accent, demanding to be called Boris (wtf?).

Léo had a high fever, very low blood pressure, generalised aches and pains, an excruciatingly sore throat, night sweats and a loss of sense of taste and smell. The doctor didn’t test because he hadn’t been in any particular ‘risk zones’ (at the time there were specific cluster spots in France), but he thought his symptoms were pretty conclusive. Of course, as Covid-19 is a ‘new’ virus, I treated it as I would any virus.

A few people have asked me for suggestions of what to take, if anything, to help defend themselves against Covid-19, so here are details of how I helped Léo. This isn’t miraculous, but then nothing is against viruses — he was still quite ill for about five days — but I’m fairly certain that it reduced both the severity and the duration.

I’ve always been very interested in the chemist Linus Pauling’s extensive research on vitamin C. Linus Pauling had numerous accolades for his work, including two undivided Nobel Prizes. High-dose IV vitamin C is currently being used in clinical trials in hospitals in China, the US and Italy. Vitamin C is very safe, and has no side-effects beyond perhaps a bit of stomach acidity.

At the first sign of symptoms I gave Léo: 1,000mg of vitamin C every couple of hours (vitamin C is water-soluble and the body doesn’t store it), 5,000 IU of vitamin D/day, 20mg zinc/day, 10,000 IU vitamin A/day, 100mg thiamine/day, and 1mg melatonin an hour before bed. As his symptoms eased over the next few days, I gradually decreased and spaced out the doses of vitamin C, but maintained the other supplements.

Luc and I took the same supplements, although we took vitamin C just once a day as we weren’t really sick. I felt slightly weak and feverish with the beginnings of a sore throat one day, so I took several extra doses of vitamin C and the symptoms abated within a few days.

A fever is salutary (think of it as the body’s built-in detoxifying sauna), so unless you’re at risk of seizures, I think it’s better to let it run its course. If you can avoid paracetamol and especially ibuprofen, it’s preferable. Avoid sugar (it reduces the efficacity of white blood cells) and make sure to stay hydrated. Also, if you are sweating a lot, be sure to replace electrolytes (especially potassium which viruses can deplete).

Further information:

The Linus Pauling Institute.

https://lpi.oregonstate.edu

Dr Cheng PhD, who is overseeing clinical trials in Shanghai, China.

https://youtu.be/QvXpgY8scqw

Similar trials are taking place in New York and Italy.

https://www.clinicaltrials.gov/ct2/show/NCT04323514

http://orthomolecular.org

Dr Malcolm Kendrick’s advice for Coronavirus

https://drmalcolmkendrick.org/2020/03/18/coronavirus-covid-19/

Doris Loh, Independant Research on Ascorbic Acid and Melatonin in the context of Covid 19

http://www.melatonin-research.net/index.php/MR/article/view/86

Duck is something we have in abundance in Southwest France. The other ingredients are things I always tend to have in the kitchen. I used dry shitake mushrooms, but any mushrooms will do.

Ingredients (serves 6)

1 duck

1 tablespoon sesame seed oil

2 shallots, sliced

1 clove of garlic, crushed

6 star anise

6 shitake mushrooms, sliced

1 orange, peeled and sliced

4 prunes, pitted

2 tablespoons of honey

Sea salt, freshly ground black pepper

2 teaspoons Chinese 5-spice powder

Soya sauce (or I used coconut aminos)

1 generous shot of vodka

100ml chicken or vegetable stock

Preheat the oven to 180°C. Put a little sesame seed oil and the duck in a medium-sized casserole dish. Add the shallots and garlic over a gentle heat. Add the star anise, mushrooms and sliced orange on top of the duck. Add the prune to the dish and finally pour over the honey and season. When the shallots are translucide, add the vodka and stock. Cook on for at least two hours (duck doesn’t really dry out), or for longer on a lower heat.

Stay well everyone!

Roast pork tenderloin with ceps and a bossy gourmet cat


Luc appeared in the kitchen the other day armed with a hefty chunk of venison supplied by a hunter friend, and a bottle of good red wine supplied by our wine cellar. Apparently our cat, Minou, a tiny semi-feral ball of fury who terrorises humans and animals alike, had gone on hunger strike having polished off the venison bourguignon that he’d been eating for the past week (unbeknown to me). He was back on a diet of tinned food and had not taken kindly.  He had apparently become distant — defiant even — to better convey his displeasure. All along I had naively imagined that the cat ate cat food. I won’t be publishing his recipe though (here is my recipe for human beef bourguignon), because Luc had been detailed to have it made without mushrooms or carrots, both of which he despises and spits out; Minou is a cat of temperament.

discerning cat

Ceps, or porcini, are high in vitamins (A, B complex and C), minerals (iron, potassium and calcium), fibre and antioxidants. An excellent source of protein, they are also good for digestive health and for fighting inflammation.

Ingredients (serves 4 people plus a discerning cat)

1 pork tenderloin (600-800g)

Tablespoon olive oil

300g ceps, finely sliced

1 shallot, sliced

2 cloves of garlic, cut into small pieces

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Esplelette pepper (or paprika)

2 bay leaves

Fresh thyme

175ml white wine

Preheat the oven to 180°C. Coat the pork in olive oil and place in an ovenproof dish. Cover the meat with the ceps and shallot and then make small cuts in the meat to insert the garlic. Add the seasoning and gently pour the white wine over the top. Cook for about 30 minutes, or until the pork is properly cooked through, without being dried out.

 

Fig and almond muffins and Hugo makes a point

Fig and almond muffins
Dog journalist

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

50ml milk

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.

Coconut fish curry and a very analytical horse

For the first time since my accident in 2015 (The Ditch Incident), I have started riding regularly again. I have had to revise my methods and objectives (no more breaking in mad, young horses), and also be very fussy about the horses I ride. Which means that for the moment I ride Jojo, my handsome 21-year-old Lusitano. More crucially, I have completely revised my ‘riding state of mind’; I used to get on a horse to try to sort out my brain chaos and I realise with hindsight that this was disrespectful to the horse and absolutely not inducive to a calm, happy horse and ride. I now never get into the saddle without a relaxed, focussed mind, which usually involves doing yoga first.

Jojo was ‘entire’ (had a full set) until the age of five, which is relatively late for castration. It usually means that, even afterwards, the horse retains his male characteristics, which wouldn’t be the case if castration were to take place at a younger age. Without going into the details of the effects of testosterone of the male psyche (!), I will just say that Jojo is dominant – a very typical alpha male. Every September we have an invasion of horribly aggressive horse flies that attack humans and horses alike, leaving painfully swollen, itchy welts. Jojo isn’t terrified of much (if a herd of deer jump out of the bushes in front of him, he is unfazed and just stops to let them go by), but he does have a fear of insect repellants, particularly spray bottles. I used to just wing it and chase him around the field spraying everywhere like a crazy person, hoping that at least some of the product would land on him. Realising that this approach didn’t gel with my new-found equestrian zenitude, I decided to read the side of the bottle to him in dulcet tones, explaining in detail what the product did and also the list of ingredients. When I was done, he lowered his head — a sign of compliance — and stood motionless while I sprayed him all over. I think he had basically said: ‘Fair enough, you had the time and patience to respectfully explain to me what you were going to do and why, so go ahead and do whatever you have to do with your incredibly annoying bottle’.

I never fail to marvel at the lessons we can learn from our horses.

This curry has become a bit of a regular in our house. Despite the relatively long list of ingredients (which luckily I don’t have to read out to everybody to get them to eat), it’s quick and easy to make, and always goes down a treat!

Ingredients (serves 4)

1 tablespoon coconut oil

1 onion, peeled and sliced

1 shallot, peeled and sliced

1 teaspoon fresh ginger, grated

2 jalapeño peppers, sliced, seeds removed

2 cloves of garlic, crushed

2 potatoes, peeled and cut into cubes

2 tomatoes, peeled and chopped

1 red pepper, diced

4 carrots, peeled and sliced

1 litre of vegetable stock

Freshly ground black pepper

Sea salt

2 teaspoons curry powder

2 kaffir lime leaves

1 stick lemongrass

200ml coconut milk

400g white fish (I used frozen cod)

Cilantro to garnish

Heat the coconut oil in a large saucepan or wok. Add the onion and shallot and fry for a few minutes. Add the ginger, jalapeño and garlic and continue to fry. Once soft, add the potatoes, tomatoes, red pepper and carrots and then cover with stock. Add the seasoning and spices and simmer for about 20 minutes. Add the coconut milk and then the fish and simmer for a further 10 minutes or until the fish is cooked and crumbly. Garnish with cilantro and serve as a standalone or with noodles or rice.

BBQ ribs and life in a haze

I was on the loose in town today sans glasses. I realised they weren’t on my nose as we were leaving, but Léo was driving so I didn’t think it would be too much of a problem. Also we were running late, and the whole ‘when and where did I last see them etc.’ thing would have been too boring and time-consuming. It would obviously be easier to wear them all the time, but as I’m short-sighted, shallow, vain and in denial, it’s never going to happen. Anyway, Léo is a 16-year-old know-all learner driver boy racer, so out-of-focus is definitely the way to go. Far less white-knuckle stress.

While Léo was having his French horn lesson, I went shopping. All things considered, I didn’t do too badly. I bought baby peppers instead of tomatoes, but you know, who cares?  And I had to ask the owner of the shop to tap in my credit card code but again, no big deal. I waved like a maniac across the shop at someone who didn’t know me from Adam, but she was very nice about it and we chatted for a bit. In hindsight I realise she maybe just felt sorry for me, but is hindsight always a good guide? Going in to the post office I misjudged the doorstep, which resulted in an expedient and slightly melodramatic head first entrance. I then ‘Madamed’ a Monsieur, although he didn’t seem too put out – he was obviously quite woke; it’s so last century to fixate on gender.

I went back to the car to wait for my chauffeur (I got into the right car after just one small blunder), and passed the time contemplating my seemingly smooth, almost Photoshopped, wrinkle-free forehead (I’m making myself sound like a simpleton/lunatic now). I concluded that forgetting your glasses is cheaper and more effective than botox, probably less painful too, although that might be open to debate, as my doorstubbed toe will attest. It can be quite comforting to not see things too clearly all the time – I’m not sure that an obsession for detail is necessarily healthy. Think big picture. All in all, blurred worked pretty well for me today.

These ribs are a bit time-consuming, but so worth it. I had given up making ribs because they didn’t seem to be available to buy. We have now found a great butcher who has them all the time. They’re really not particularly healthy, but in a way they are because they’re so delicious they make you happy. And anyway, moderation is the key.

Ingredients (serves 4)

For 4 racks of pork ribs (approx. 400g each)

For the marinade:

1 teaspoon cumin seeds

1 teaspoon paprika

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 orange, juiced

1 tablespoon brown sugar

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

2 cloves of garlic, peeled and crushed

Combine the ingredients to form a runny paste in a food processor.

For the BBQ sauce:

1 onion, peeled

2 cloves of garlic, peeled

1 chilli, seeds removed

1 teaspoon fresh thyme

1 tablespoon fresh coriander

1 teaspoon chilli powder

50g brown sugar

2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar

50ml tomato ketchup

Dash of Worcestershire sauce

1 teaspoon mustard

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Combine the ingredients to form a paste in a food processor.

Rub the marinade over the rib racks and leave in the fridge overnight. Preheat the oven to 125°C, place the ribs on a baking try and cook for 1½ hours. Remove from the oven and wrap the ribs in tin foil and cover with the sauce. Return to the oven for another hour. Open the tin foil wrapping and increase the oven temperature to 200°C for a further half hour.

 

 

 

Oatcakes and small lazy animals

Bossy is currently embracing her inner sloth (her excuse is that she has the flu). I would like to say it makes for a peaceful house, but I’d be lying. She screamed at the Tallish One (you may remember I can’t call him The Tall One anymore because The Noisy One has overtaken him by 10cm) this morning to ‘call the  doctor and order him to get rid of this f**king bullshit virus’. So that was reasonable; silent, or even gracious, she is not. Apparently she has very low blood pressure (not that you notice, mind you), which gets worse when she’s ill, which amusingly enough means that when she tries to stand up she collapses. This has the advantage of shutting her up momentarily, although it doesn’t make her any less stroppy. I wouldn’t like for her to actually hurt herself collapsing (she has quite a lot of form with collapsing and broken bones), but needs must.

It is a well-known fact that when you’re ill, you need a sturdy dog to sit on your feet to keep you warm (and give you pins and needles and cramp). As I’m sure you’re all aware, I take my duties very seriously and carry out this role to the fullest, however time-consuming and unpleasant it may be. The trouble is, Java thinks it might be her duty too (when it suits her and when she’s not off doing things of little consequence). This means that we both end up sitting on Bossy who gets thoroughly overheated and panicky and red in the face and I have to throw Java off and we all end up in a growling, feverish heap on the floor. I’m absolutely wrung out; I hope we’re back to business as usual soon because this flu malarky is getting on my nerves.

Oats contain beta glucans which are very beneficial for the immune system (ha!)

Ingredients (makes about 12 oatcakes)

225g rolled oats

60g chickpea flour (or any other flour)

1/2 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda

60ml olive oil

Large pinch of salt

80ml hot water

Preheat the oven to 190°C. Combine the oats, flour, bicarbonate of soda, olive oil and salt well and then gradually add the hot water until you have a thick doughy mixture. Roll out the mixture and use a cookie cutter (or upturned glass) to make the cakes. Place the cakes on a greased baking tray and bake for 20 minutes or until golden brown. Leave to cool.

Chicken soup and unruly hair

My hair is a free-for-all, to be chewed on, judged and discussed without compunction or reserve. I’m asked on a regular basis if it’s natural (because you think I would I chose it?), if it’s wet, if it’s dry, if it’s just been to the hairdresser and if it hasn’t. In some parts of the world, people come and stroke it like a strange woolly pet. A rather uncharming old lady who lives nearby actually uses the word ‘mop’ when referring to it, which she does every time I see her. And Luc said the other day ‘it just really suits you – it’s chaotic’. This was meant as a compliment (wtf?). The assistant in a posh haircare shop not long ago suggested, without a hint of irony, that I could ‘always try using a comb’ when I asked for advice on how to tame it. And to add insult to injury, Hugo chews on it in much the same way that he chews on Java’s ears.

A number of studies have been conducted on the usefulness of chicken soup (aka Jewish penicillin) in warding off and treating cold and flu viruses. It appears that the soup inhibits the movement of neutrophils, the most common type of white blood cell that defends against infection. The theory is, that by inhibiting the migration of these infection-fighting cells in the body, chicken soup essentially helps reduce upper respiratory cold symptoms by reducing inflammation.

The researchers couldn’t identify the exact ingredient or ingredients in the soup that made it effective against colds but say it may be the combination of vegetables and chicken that work together.

Make what you will of the research, but at the very least, chicken soup with vegetables contains lots of healthy nutrients, is easy to digest, increases hydration and tastes delicious.

Ingredients

1 tablespoon olive oil

2 onions, peeled and chopped

2 shallots, peeled and chopped

3 cloves of garlic, crushed

2 leeks, washed and cut into rounds

1 fennel bulb, washed and cut

1/2 butternut squash, peeled and cut into cubes

4 carrots, peeled and cut

200g cabbage, shredded

1 red pepper or chilli pepper, cut into strips

2 sprigs of thyme

1 teaspoon fresh ginger, grated

2 teaspoons turmeric

1.5 litres chicken stock

2 tablespoons Pernod (optional)

300g pre-roasted chicken, skin removed and shredded

100g frozen peas

2 serving of pre-cooked brown rice

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Gently brown the onions, shallots, garlic and leeks in the olive oil in a large saucepan or casserole dish. Once browed, add the fennel, butternut squash, carrots, cabbage and chilli pepper and continue to cook for a few minutes. Add the thyme, ginger, turmeric, chicken stock and Pernod and bring to a simmer. Once the vegetables are almost cooked, add the chicken and frozen peas and continue to cook for another ten minutes. Add the brown rice towards the end of cooking, season with the salt and pepper and serve piping hot.

 

Madiran wine and unravelling

The production of Madiran wine is spread over three departments of southwestern France: Gers, Hautes Pyrénées and Pyrénées Atlantiques. We visited two chateaux in the region last week. At the first chateau, when I couldn’t face another gory detail of the ‘chatelain’s’ latest surgical procedure, I ended up with my head between my legs to stop myself fainting. I suspect his technique is to regale wine buyers with the minutiae of his latest operation, and when their defences are down (or they’ll do anything to escape), go in for the kill; we had planned to buy 18 bottles of his excellent 2012 and instead ended up with 36!

Our visit to the second chateau was after a very long, hot hike through the vineyards, and I think that we probably arrived looking a bit dishevelled (our sartorial baseline is iffy to begin with). There was an English couple tasting wine, and either they’d been there a while and had forgotten to swill and spit, or they didn’t realise I was English, because the lady rather loudly and randomly commented to her husband that we looked like ‘a rather eccentric French family who didn’t know how to tie their shoe laces’. I thought this was pretty rich coming from someone whose companion was sporting an garish yellow daisy-print sunhat!

Classic Madirans are robust, earthy and quite ‘tanniny’ (wine critics the world over will be blown away by my wine vocab.), which is just how I like my wine (and men) to be. And the very best are aged in oak.

The polyphenols found in red wine in general play a key role in its health benefits by acting as antioxidants. Grape skins have high concentrations of polyphenols and in particular, procyanidin. Studies show that regions of the world with the greatest longevity also correspond to those with the highest procyanidin content in their wines.

The highest procyanidin content of all is to be found in the wines in the Madiran region and, as it happens, they also have the highest concentration of resveratrol, which is a sort of a natural plant antibiotic. Resveratrol is part of the defense mechanism in vines, which fights against fungus and other diseases. In humans, studies have shown it has anti-cancer, anti-inflammatory, blood-sugar lowering and other beneficial cardiovascular effects.

As Professor Roger Corder, author of ‘The Wine Diet’ explains: ‘One important advantage of choosing wines with a high procyanidin level is that less needs to be consumed to achieve the optimal health benefit. The best results I’ve had in my laboratory have been from Madiran wines. These have some of the highest procyanidin levels I’ve encountered, as a result of the local grape variety, Tannat, and the traditional long fermentation and maceration. In contrast, mass-produced, branded wines sold in many wine bars and pubs generally have disappointingly low levels of procyanidins.’

 

 

Tropical storms and a tribute

Sadly my beloved father died in the middle of June. At 83, he was far too young to die; he was supposed to live to 99 like my grandmother.

This is Léo’s tribute to his grandfather: Andante by Mozart, my father’s favourite composer; Beethoven’s Ode to Joy, for his belief in Europe; and from The Planet Suite by Holst, Jupiter, the Bringer of Jollity, because that is exactly what he did.

Perhaps as a nod to my father’s exciting but sometimes extremely perilous life in Africa as Foreign Correspondent, on our return to France at the beginning of July we were catapulted into the deepest, darkest tropics. The mother of all storms caused steam to rise from the grass and the phone lines inside and outside the house to catch fire. It also forced the dogs to take refuge in the shower and brought with it a flourishing tribe of the most noisy, ill-tempered mosquitos I’ve ever experienced.

Getting anything fixed in France during the ‘Grandes Vacances’ is challenging at any time, but even more so when it involves replacing a kilometre of phone cable that serves just one house stuck in the middle of nowhere. Anyway, the upshot was that I spent the month of July bereft, incommunicado, and covered in grotesque insect bites. And to add insult to injury, my Instagram account was hacked by Russian spies.

I hope you are all having a nice Summer. Normal service will be resumed in September (I hope!). xx

Tian’amen Square, 1972