Tag Archives: French lifestyle

French walnut tart and masking your confusion

A pair of goats turned up, quite unannounced, the other evening. Obviously visitors are always a welcome surprise, but I was a bit thrown by these; I’m not familiar with goat etiquette. Do you stick them in a grange and hope someone will claim them, or offer them dinner and send them on their way? I sent messages to all our potentially goat-owning neighbours, and the consensus seemed to be: ‘Not ours, but it’s hardly surprising they turned up — you run Club Med for animals’.

I have been trying out magnet therapy for my stiff neck. It’s supposed to be very effective for inflammation, and, so far it’s proving to be quite effective. Yesterday, while I was in the process of making dinner with a particularly sharp knife, my ‘phone rang. As I put the ‘phone to my ear, the knife sprang vigourously out of my hand, and onto the magnet on my neck, stabbing me the process. So, although the inflammation in my neck is quite a bit better, I’m now dealing with a minor stab wound.

I’m not really fit to be let loose in public: I keep accosting people I don’t know, and blanking people I do. I’m obviously not the only one to find masked faces a challenge though, because the doctor that jabbed me last week asked if I’d been on the operating bloc recently, as I ‘looked very familiar’. I know I’m a bit vague, but I think I’d remember being operated on so recently… I would, wouldn’t I?

A friend who visited recently made this for us during her stay. I loved it so much, I’ve made it quite a few times since.

Walnuts are full of vitamins and minerals, and are an especially rich source of Omega 3. They are a good source of copper, folic acid, phosphorus, vitamin B6, manganese and vitamin E.

Walnuts are also a rich source of phytosterols and antioxidants which help decrease inflammation. Consuming walnuts can enrich the gut microbiome, increasing good bacteria.

Ingredients (serves 6)

Pastry:

150g butter

270g flour (I used einkorn flour)

1 pinch of salt

Water

Filling:

225g walnuts

2 eggs

20cl fresh cream

Drop of vanilla essence

100g cane sugar

1/2 teaspoon cinnamon, ginger and cardamon

Preheat the oven to 180°C.

To make the pastry, begin by cutting the butter into small cubes. Sift the flours and a pinch of salt together into in a mixing bowl, also adding the cubes of butter. Rub in and blend by hand until the mixture becomes crumbly. Add the cold water, mixing rapidly with a spoon. Remove the mixture from the bowl onto a lightly floured surface. Knead until you obtain a ball of pastry (if the mixture isn’t ‘sticky’ enough to form a ball, you may need a drop more water). Wrap in a clean cotton tea towel or some cling film and leave to ‘rest’ in the fridge for about two hours. This relaxes the dough and makes it easier to use.

For the filling, crush the walnuts and set aside. Beat the eggs, adding the cream, vanilla, and sugar and spices, mixing well. Add the crushed nuts and pour the mixture into the prepared pastry case. Bake at 180°C for 35 minutes. Delicious hot or cold.

Boulangère potatoes and man versus pigeon

It’s possibly not something you’ve tried, but it’s not easy to convince pigeons to move house. Especially if they’re luxuriating in the pigeon equivalent of a smallish, but charming château, and you’re trying to entice them into a one-bedroom flat with no balcony. Luckily, Luc loves a challenge, and we need their present accommodation to expand the wine-making cellar, so war has been declared. As Luc wearily explained to me that the pigeons were resisting the move, his hands were curled into determined fists, and he strode off punching the air and exclaiming ‘Je les aurai! Je les aurai!’ (I will get them! I will get them!)

Last week I received a copy of ‘International Hatchery Practice’ in the letterbox by mistake. At least I think it was by mistake. It is a very technical journal containing ‘practical information for better breading and hatching’. I thought that the article entitled ‘Chick Performance’ was rather open to interpretation, especially as it precedes articles about cockerels, fertility, and diseased eggs… Anyway, although it’s obviously quite gripping and very informative, I think I’ll resist taking out a subscription for the time-being.

Luc and a neighbour have taken to building and installing little wooden bridges everywhere (there were seven at last count). Although they are most welcome — they mean we can now cross our little rivers and streams without getting wet feet — I’m worried they might have become an addiction, as the last one crosses a dry ditch and is, as such, totally superfluous. It’s going to be interesting to see what happens in the rainy season when large puddles form; are they going to be able to resist temptation?

These potatoes are called bakers’ potatoes as, traditionally, they were given to the local baker to slow bake in his bread oven.

Ingredients (serves 4-6)

800g potatoes, peeled

1 large onion

4 cloves of garlic, crushed

150ml chicken or vegetable stock

100ml cream

1 tablespoon olive oil

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

1/2 teaspoon paprika

Sprigs of rosemary

Preheat the oven to 180°C. Prepare a gratin dish by coating with the olive oil. Slice the potatoes fairly thinly. Peel and chop the onion. Arrange a layer of potatoes over the base of the dish, followed by some onion, garlic and seasoning. Continue to layer the potatoes, onion and garlic and seasoning, finishing with a layer of potatoes. Pour the stock and cream over the top and add the sprigs of rosemary. Cook for about an hour, until the top layer is golden-brown.

Pear gingerbread and deerly-loved rosebushes

I have a food fight-related injury: Last night I sat reading next to Java’s food bowl, which was obviously a bad idea. Hugo appeared and, presumably deciding that her bowl looked more enticing than his, tucked in. Fourteen kilo Java immediately launched herself at 35 kilo Hugo, the force of which catapulted me out of the chair, and headfirst into a fairly substantial cactus plant. They both escaped intact — although I suspect Hugo’s pride took a kicking — and I ended up with blood coursing down my forehead.

On the subject of thorny shrubs, I planted a beautiful rosebush about a month ago. Its growth has been inversely proportional to the amount of time it has been in the ground. The reason for this was spotted last week: A baby deer breakfasts on the flowers every morning. It gives me such pleasure to see the fawn, that I’ve been Googling ‘snacks for baby deer’ for when the flowers run out!

Ginger is sometimes described as the ‘king of anti inflammatory foods’. It has been used in virtually every traditional healing system in the world for thousands of years.

The powerful essential oils that give ginger its spicy taste and aroma, zingerone and shogaol, are both powerful anti inflammatory agents, working in a similar way to COX-2 inhibitors in that they inhibit an enzyme called cyclo-oxygenase, the enzyme responsible for inflammation and pain. Gingerols are also potent antioxidants, which increase its anti inflammatory action. This explains why, in recent years, ginger has emerged as a beneficial treatment for people suffering from arthritis.

Ginger is a very powerful circulatory stimulant. It acts by relaxing and widening the blood vessel walls, so it is also very effective for lowering blood pressure. It is also often used as a remedy for nausea. Ginger is also a powerful immune moderator; the gingerols interfere with the production of cytokines, helping to deactivate them.

Ingredients (serves 8)

150g molasses

50g agave syrup

75g coconut oil

1 egg

1 tablespoon yoghurt

175g flour (I used spelt flour)

Pinch of salt

1/2 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda

250g ripe pears, peeled, cored and sliced

50g fresh ginger, grated

Grease and prepare a loaf tin. Preheat the oven to 170°C. Place the molasses, agave syrup and coconut oil in a saucepan and heat gently until the coconut oil has melted. Beat the egg and the yoghurt together. Sift the flour, salt and bicarbonate of soda into a bowl. Combine all of the ingredients, including the pears and ginger, mixing well. Transfer the mixture to the prepared loaf tin and bake for about 50 minutes, or until risen and firm to the touch.

Almond and pear cake and how to disable a despot

Picture me, happily driving along in my nice new car — I don’t know much about cars, but I can tell you it is very clean and white, and that the seats do back massages — when out of nowhere someone barks ‘keep both hands on the wheel’. I drive on, now nervously gripping the wheel more tightly, and the voice says ‘you are driving over the speed limit’. I’m pretty sure that I left my husband at home, my son is back in Bordeaux, and the dogs aren’t allowed in the new car (and anyway they don’t bark orders; they’re far too busy chewing the upholstery). The orders continue: ‘stop swearing at other road users’, and ‘are you sure you brushed your hair this morning?’ Is this a case of bossy karma? For the first time in my life I’m forced to open an instruction manual; why can’t I find ‘how to disable the despot’ in the index?

I wake up confused every single morning, and it takes me a good few minutes to sort things out in my head. As if ‘where am I?’ and ‘what day/month/year is it?’ weren’t taxing enough, I now have to contend with ‘am I allowed out of the house?’ and, if so, ‘do I need to fill out a form?’ and then ‘on how many counts do I need to avoid the police if I do venture out?’. And now, to add insult to injury, I’m the proud owner of an autocratic car, that has so far managed to dodge being silenced (the manual got the better of my puppy-like attention span). I’m very thankful France isn’t a nanny state, because ‘today you can hug three adults and a toddler inside, while turning your head away’ would send me into a tailspin.

Almonds are a great source of fibre and protein, and are a great source of vitamin E, selenium, zinc, calcium, magnesium and B vitamins.

Research by the British Journal of Nutrition shows that moderate nut consumption is beneficial, not only for heart health, but also substantially helps reduce hunger and cravings. A study in China showed that eating almonds resulted in lower levels of insulin and glucose, which is good news for diabetes sufferers. Almonds are also beneficial for gut health, as they alter the composition of the gut microbiome.

Ingredients (serves 6-8)

2 large pears, peeled and sliced

2 tablespoons Amaretto

150g cane sugar

3 eggs

2 teaspoons almond extract

150g einkorn flour (you could use ordinary flour, or spelt flour)

50g ground almonds

Pinch of salt

1 teaspoon baking powder

Half teaspoon bicarbonate of soda

75ml melted virgin coconut oil

75ml olive oil

Handful flaked almonds

Preheat the oven to 180°C and prepare and grease a loaf tin. Lightly poach the pears in the Amaretto and a small amount of water. Once the pears are soft (about 5 minutes), drain the excess cooking juice and set aside.

Beat the sugar and eggs together until homogeneous, add the almond essence and then gradually add the flour, ground almonds, salt, baking powder and bicarbonate of soda. Add the melted coconut oil and olive oil, mixing well. Lastly, stir in the poached pears, transfer the mixture to the tin and add the flaked almonds on top. Bake for 35/40 minutes, or until a skewer comes out clean.

Cauliflower in turmeric chickpea batter and flights of fancy

About seven years ago, Léo found an abandoned baby turtle dove under an oak tree. I have fond memories of him/her sharing our mealtimes, sitting and pecking in a cardboard nesting box on the kitchen or terrace table. Léo fed him different grains, but he had a particular penchant for couscous. The baby dove grew big and strong (all the couscous), and upped and left us in September to migrate with his family for the winter.

Turtle doves come back to their birthplace, and every Spring I imagine I see our grown-up baby, especially when one approaches the house. Today I’m pretty sure my wishful inkling is spot-on; this lunchtime, while we were enjoying lamb tagine on the terrace, a very self-assured adult dove perched himself at the end of the table and looked pointedly at my plate. It was a look that definitely said: ‘and where is my couscous?’

The Bells, Edgar Allan Poe

Turmeric (more information here), or Indian Solid Gold’, has been used in Ayurvedic medicine for over 4,000 years for its wound-healing and anti-inflammatory properties. It is prevalent in Indian cuisine and is believed to be one of the reasons that cancer rates in India are significantly lower than in Western countries.

Curcumin is poorly absorbed by the body, but research show that cooking it in liquid, with added fat and black pepper facilitates absorption.

Ingredients (serves 3-4)

150g chickpea (gram) flour

1 pinch of salt, freshly ground black pepper

1/2 teaspoon turmeric powder (or better, crushed fresh turmeric root)

1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds

1 clove of garlic, crushed

1/2 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda

150ml lukewarm water

4 medium-sized cauliflower florets

Olive oil

Sift the flour, seasoning and bicarbonate of soda into a mixing bowl, and add the water, mixing well to form a batter. Leave to rest for about 30 minutes. If the mixture thickens too much, add more water.

Rince the cauliflower and slice into pieces roughly 4mm thick. Coat well with the batter and fry in olive oil until golden.

Pea and mint risotto, gourmet cats, cremated glasses, and orange dust

Our cat, ‘Minou’, is feral. When he first came to stay, he, conveniently for us, caught mice to eat. Luc quickly decided he was easy on the eye, and useful (possibly the same appraisal as when he met me), so started to buy him cat food to encourage him to stay. (I feel I should point out here that he didn’t entice me to stay with cat food.) Minou quickly went off the original cat food, so we upgraded to premium tinned cat food, which appeased him for a little while. When he went off that, Luc thought that home-cooked things ‘in a sauce’ would probably please him. Which they did, and still do. Which means that I spent yesterday evening, after having made and served human dinner, cooking Venison Bourguignon for Minou. I think the next logical step will be starred Michelin restaurant fare, because the only way he’s going to even consider a mouse now is served ‘en croûte au foie gras’…

Apparently some people are NST (not safe in taxis); I’m NSG (not safe with glasses). I have always had issues with glasses, and we frequently part company. Unfortunately, searching for glasses is boring, time-wasting, and difficult because you can’t see properly because you’re, err, looking for your glasses. Last Friday I lost them properly. Whole house upheaval, everyone involved properly. Luc inadvertently found them on Sunday evening in the embers of the fireplace. WTAF? It would seem I’d had a rare tidy freak moment, and thrown everything of a combustible nature within reach into the fire, glasses included.

Last week everything in our area had a pinky red tinge from dust blown up from the Sahara; this week we’ve got fluorescent yellowy green from pine pollen dust. In our case everything is orange, a combination of the two, as I still hadn’t got around to removing the Sahara when the pines put in an appearance.

Ingredients (serves 4)

40g coconut oil (you could use olive oil)

400g Basmati rice

4 shallots, finely diced

2 cloves of garlic, crushed

200ml dry white wine

800ml vegetable stock

300g garden peas

100g garden peas, pureed

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Handful mint leaves, finely chopped

4 tablespoons grated parmesan

Heat the coconut oil in a large frying pan, then add the shallots and garlic and fry for about 8 minutes until soft is soft. Add the rice and continue to heat until translucent. Add the wine and keep stirring.

Add a ladle of hot stock and turn down the heat. Keep adding ladlefuls of stock, stirring constantly and allowing each ladleful to be absorbed completely before adding the next. Add the peas when there are a couple of ladlefuls left. Stir until the rice is soft but still has a slight bite, then season with salt and pepper. Remove from the heat and add the freshly chopped mint and the Parmesan.

French onion tart and a budding winemaker

Léo, who is studying Viticulture/Oenology in Bordeaux, decided very recently that our life was incomplete without 200 grapevines in the garden to water, weed, feed, protect from potential bad-vine weather, fret about, protect from digging dogs, and generally mollycoddle. Grapevines are also very useful for further knackering already-knackered backs.

Our house was originally a farm (it still is I suppose, albeit slightly non-conformist), and the owners grew grapes to produce wine for their consumption, and for the farm labourers. The soil in the Landes is extremely sandy, and the climate very hot and dry in the Summer months. We chose (actually Luc and Léo chose; my ‘wine abilities’ stop at knowing how to neck it) the varieties of grape best suited to these conditions: Tannat, Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Petit Maseng, Gros Maseng, and Chardonnay. One of the major advantages of growing in a hot, dry climate is it’s much easier to grow organic (less risk of mildew etc.).

Wine has been produced in this area since Gallo-Roman times. There is a vinyard in Capbreton right on the Atlantic coast, La Domaine de la Pointe, that produces wine with iodised undertones, that come from the sea air and salty soil.

I receive instructions from Léo every day as to what I need to be doing vine-wise. I’m about to go outside with a magnifying glass to check for budding buds, and then stick my fist in the soil to make a totally uneducated guess as to the degree of humidity. Spot the neophyte!

I tend to eat a lot of quercetin-rich onions and apples in the Spring, as I suffer from allergies. Studies have demonstrated that quercetin acts as an antihistamine and lessens the respiratory side effects of allergies by reducing inflammatory response in the airways. It is also a zinc ionophore (transports zinc into the cells) and, as such, is being studied as a potential treatment for Covid-19.

Ingredients (serves 6)

Pastry (I used this one)

10g butter

1kg onions (peeled and cut into thin rounds)

100g smoky bacon

3 eggs

30cl cream

Sea salt, freshly ground black pepper

1/2 teaspoon nutmeg

Preheat the oven to 180°C. Fry the onions in butter (or olive oil) until softened, and slightly caramelised (approx 20-25 minutes). Prepare the tart tin (or individual cases) by greasing and lining with pastry.

Beat the eggs in a bowl and add the cream and seasoning, mixing well. Place the onions on the pastry, with a piece of bacon on top. Pour the egg/cream mixture over the top and bake for 25 minutes for individual tarts, or 35 minutes for a larger one.

Courgette fritters and The Naked Mountain

I apologise for my lack of blog posts lately. I’ve taken on a full-time nocturnal job keeping the wild boar at bay, which means that I sleep all day, and don’t have time for my more intellectual pursuits. Many people — I would say fans if I were immodest — have asked after me, so here I am slaving away at the computer, and not snoring on the sofa. I just hope my return doesn’t break the internet.

Bossy was absolutely hell-bent on skiing in the Pyrenees this winter, although the odds were heavily stacked against. Due to the human pandemic, there aren’t any ski lifts this year, which means that cross country is the way forward (see what I did there? I’m delighted I haven’t lost my wit). She spent weeks studying the likelihood of further lockdowns, the best places nearby for cross country skiing, how to cross country ski (she tried it once before and ended up in a river), the necessary gear, and The Noisy One’s availability. The Tall One doesn’t buy into Bossy’s hair-brained ski trips anymore. Once was enough for him; he’s a sensible man.

On the morning of departure, Bossy started to flap like one of those awful pigeons her husband fawns over. All because she’d forgotten to buy chains for the car’s wheels. She decided to risk it anyway, and, thankfully, off she and Noisy went.

I’m not an unkind dog, and certainly not one that takes pleasure in other people’s misfortune, but when they came back exhausted and covered in mud and not snow, I confess that my inner laughter gave way to uncontrollable outer laughter. She’d ‘closely monitored’ many things before departure, but ‘snowfall’ hadn’t made it to her list; they arrived to sunny 15°C and stark naked green mountains.

They went for a nice hike instead and managed to get thoroughly lost (there was talk of ending up at the top of the wrong mountain). On the upside (I did it again!), at least they hadn’t needed to worry about snow chains for the mountain pass *snigger*…

Thankfully Bossy’s courgette fritters are better than her organisational skills. I’m not a fan of vegetables (I spit them out for Java to eat), but these are light, crispy and succulent all at the same time.

Ingredients (serves 3-4)

150g chickpea (gram) flour

1 pinch of salt

1/2 teaspoon chilli or curry powder

1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds

1 clove of garlic, crushed

1/2 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda

150ml lukewarm water

4 medium-sized courgettes

Olive oil

Sift the flour, seasoning and bicarbonate of soda into a mixing bowl, and add the water, mixing well to form a batter. Leave to rest for about 30 minutes. If the mixture thickens too much, add more water.

Top and tail the courgettes and peel if the skin is tough. Cut in half and then slice lengthways, quite finely (1-2mm). Coat well with the batter and fry in olive oil until golden.

Whisky and ginger marmelade and indigestible books

Following my previous blog post, I had a message from somebody irked by my flippancy, with recommendations for, amongst other things, dog training books. Many years ago, when I got my first labrador puppy, Loulou, I bought a book called ‘How to have an obedient dog’. As it turned out, I should have bought the sequel too: ‘How to avoid having books chewed to pieces as soon as you buy them’. So no thank you, I won’t be going down that road again.

Loulou the book chewer

I think for many people, myself included, trying to see the funny side of things is a coping mechanism. And let’s face it, life is a bit of a shit show at the moment. Also my sense of irony is often directly proportional to my back pain. For example, when I wrote this post, I didn’t know whether I was going to walk again properly.

So now we’ve cleared up the fact that I’m not a sociopathic monster, just a bit ‘bantery’ and immature, on to the marmelade.

While citrus peel provides many of the same nutritional benefits as the rest of the fruit such as antioxidants, vitamin C and polyphenols, it also contains provitamin A, B vitamins and calcium. The essential oils in the peel contain high levels of limonene, which is a powerful anti-inflammatory that helps ease heartburn and reflux, and reduce anxiety and stress. In addition to this, it helps maintain a healthy metabolism and lower high blood sugar levels.

Surprisingly enough, whisky too is a good source of polyphenols, the antioxidants linked with multiple health benefits. Whisky is also purported to help clear the mucous and congestion caused by colds. As with all things, to be taken in moderation…

Ingredients (makes about 5 jars)

1kg Seville oranges

1 lemon

2cm piece of fresh root ginger

1kg sugar

250ml whisky

Wash the fruit well as you won’t be peeling. Cut into quarters, and place in a food processor, along with the ginger. Blitz until you obtain the desired texture. Transfer the chopped mixture to a large non-stick saucepan and add the sugar. Bring to a gentle boil and simmer for about 30 minutes, or until you reach the required texture. Add the whisky at the end of cooking time, stirring well. Leave to cool for about 10 minutes before transferring to sterilised jars.

Brussels sprouts and chestnuts and uppity wild boar

I have something in common with The Donald (other than unruly yellow hair): I incite appallingly bad behaviour. In animals in my case; Luc has always maintained that it’s impossible to get any animal to obey if I’m nearby. Yesterday was a case in point. Just 10 minutes in to a walk with Hugo and Java, two dogs became three and then a few minutes later, four. One of the dogs had jumped out of a window to join us, and the other had abandoned his master without a backward glance. A little further on, we walked past four horses in two separate fields. The dogs didn’t go into the fields, but our presence alone inspired one of the horses to leap over the fence into the adjacent field to join his friends.

One of the consequences of repeated lockdowns is that the wild boar believe they own the forest. Leaving our house in the car yesterday, my path was blocked by a menacing 100kg specimen. The sight of me clearly made him angry, and he fixed me with a stare that said ‘I own you, bitch’. Something about the way he irately hoofed the ground and then started to snort, made me reverse the car and watch from an acceptable (to him) distance while he saw his wife and eight babies over the track.

In stark contrast to the dogs, horses and boar, these young deer seemed remarkably well behaved and stood quite still while I photographed them.

Brussels sprouts are part of the cabbage family, the nutritional virtues of which I detailed in my previous post.

Ingredients (serves 4)

500g Brussels sprouts, peeled and halved

2 tablespoons olive oil

4 shallots, peeled and sliced

2 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed

250g chestnuts, pre-cooked

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

½ teaspoon paprika

Cook the Brussels sprouts briefly in salted boiling water for about five minutes, drain and set aside. Heat the olive oil in a large frying pan and fry the shallots and garlic until golden. Add the sprouts, chestnuts and seasoning and fry for about five minutes, or until the chestnuts start to crisp.

Braised red cabbage and a better New Year

Happy new year everybody! We can only hope for a less complicated, less heartbreaking 2021…

We happily bid good riddance to 2020, and welcomed 2021 with some trepidation at our neighbours’ (in France we are allowed to meet in groups of six). We enjoyed an impromptu wine-tasting session, and ended up crawling/swimming back home, zigzagging our way through puddles, rivers and lakes at around 2.30am (we have had terrible flooding over the past few weeks).

Luc woke up with a blinding headache in a panic, saying ‘oh mon dieu, j’ai choppé le Covid’ (‘oh my God I’ve caught Covid’.) He was incredibly relieved when I suggested that his ‘Covid’ probably had more to do with a combination of excessive wine ‘tastings’ and wet feet than any viral infection.

The cabbage family are almost certainly the vegetables richest in nutrients and protective substances; they are not only a fantastic source of vitamin C, but also fibre, carotenoids, B vitamins, potassium, magnesium and calcium. A high antioxidant and vitamin A content means that cabbage helps to defend both the skin and eyes from free radicals.

Red cabbage contains a large amount of amino acid glutamine, which specifically reduces the inflammation and pain associated with ulcers in the gastrointestinal system. Recent research has shown cabbage juice, particularly red cabbage juice, to be highly therapeutic.

Claude Aubert, a French Agricultural Engineer who was the pioneer of organic farming in France, recounts a study carried out on two groups of volunteers: The first group ate a ‘normal’ diet, and the second group was given a diet rich in vegetables from the cabbage family, notably Brussels Sprouts. Both groups then ingested carcinogens. The cabbage family eating group eliminated the carcinogens more quickly than the other group.

We had this cabbage with our Christmas guinea fowl. It was a perfect complement.

Ingredients (10 portions)

1kg red cabbage, shredded

2 onions, chopped

2 cloves garlic, crushed

3 cooking apples, peeled, cored and chopped

Half teaspoon ground cinnamon

Half teaspoon garam masala

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

3 tablespoon brown sugar

3 tablespoons apple cider vinegar

15g butter

Place all the ingredients in a large casserole dish, add the seasoning, then the vinegar and last of all the butter on top. Place in a slow oven (150°C) for about two and a half hours, stirring from time to time and adding a drop of water if it seems too dry.

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.