Tag Archives: French lifestyle

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.

Apple and sultana cake and smashing people’s faces in

I was chomping on the bit in a supermarket queue when a message pinged onto my ‘phone from Luc, who was waiting outside in the car. This was our exchange:

Luc: ‘Have u bn arrested?’

Me: ‘Er not yet, but thx for jumping to that conclsn. V slow – lady in front regaling cashier with ALL deets of sprained ankle. Cousin’s ex son-in-law (wtf?) had to take her to hospital. Mucho pain. And now me too…’

Luc: ‘When your turn tell the cashier all about your thyroid pblems!’

Me: ‘&@(€ §^$’

I read an amusing article in our local newspaper about a man who, when stopped by the police, obligingly produced his ‘Attestation De Déplacement Dérogatoire’ (the form we have to fill in to go anywhere during lockdown. The French love a form.) The man hadn’t found the appropriate box to check, as his reason for leaving the house was ‘to smash a bloke’s face in’. As the policeman said with some irony, ‘he seemed keen to make an effort to adhere to the rules, in his own way!’

This cake is made with einkorn flour (although it will work very well with ordinary flour), which is one of my favourites because of its subtle nutty flavour. Einkorn flour is the most ancient form of wheat, and very different from modern wheat. It is very high in protein, essential fatty acids, phosphorous, potassium, iron, vitamin B6, lutein and beta-carotene, which gives it a golden tint. Einkorn flour has a very low gluten content which makes it much easier to digest than wheat flour.

Ingredients (10 slices)

2 large apples, peeled and sliced

A handful of raisins

2 tablespoons dark rum

150g cane sugar

3 eggs

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

200g einkorn flour (you could use ordinary flour)

1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

Pinch of salt

1 teaspoon baking powder

Half teaspoon bicarbonate of soda

1 pot of yoghurt (125g)

75ml melted virgin coconut oil

75ml melted butter

Preheat the oven to 180°C and prepare and grease a loaf tin. Poach the apples and raisins in the rum and a small amount of water. Once the apples are soft (about 15 minutes), drain the excess cooking juice and set aside.

Beat the sugar and eggs together until homogeneous, add the vanilla essence and then gradually add the flour, cinnamon, salt, baking powder and bicarbonate of soda. Add the yoghurt, melted coconut oil and butter, mixing well. Lastly, stir in the poached apples and sultanas, transfer the mixture to the tin and bake for 35/40 minutes, or until a skewer comes out clean.

Lemon and cardamon cake and a treasure hunt for pigeons

Luc has been amusing himself by changing the place he leaves the pigeon grain every day. I have to admit it’s fascinating to watch them strutting around, quizzically cocking their heads to one side and saying to themselves ‘what the hell is he playing at? I’m sure it was right here yesterday’. I would say we should get out more, but you know, lockdown… There is actually a good reason for the nomadic food game, other of course than Luc’s sadistic streak, and that is the hunt for food gives the pigeons a bit of exercise. We’ve noticed them becoming increasingly lazy – they are so attentive to lockdown rules that they never actually venture further than 100 metres in any direction.

Every time Léo returns to school after the weekend he forgets something important. Last weekend it was his computer charger. As there is no ‘airhead son’ box to tick on the form we have to fill in to leave home, I sourced a seat in a carpool. The driver of the car seemed a bit surprised when I said that I wouldn’t be accompanying the plug, although he was relieved when I reassured him it travelled well in both the front and the back of the car, didn’t suffer from travel sickness and that he wouldn’t be bothered by inane chat. All in all, it was a win-win situation: Léo was able to recharge his computer in record time, I didn’t have to request the creation of a new box for the ‘leaving home’ authorisation form, and the driver of the car was able to duck the company of the strange blonde!

Unlike the pigeons, Java’s photogenic boyfriend, who is called Caramel, Mikko or Nikko depending on who you ask, is oblivious to the confinement rules, and spends much of his time just outside the front door waiting for Java to come out. Meantime, Java is mesmerised by the gorgeous November sunsets, to the detriment of her handsome companion.

I’m so happy to see the encouraging results of a growing number of studies on the benefits of not only vitamin D, but also vitamin C, zinc and melatonin for the prevention and treatment of Covid-19. I have absolutely no problem with being labelled a kook, but I do take issue with being labelled a senseless one 😉

https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s40520-020-01570-8

https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2213716520302587

https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fimmu.2020.01712/full

https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2020/11/201109152223.htm

Everyone has a lot to contend with at the moment and cardamon makes a refreshing antidote. It is lovely for curing and preventing digestive issues, and boosting digestive health in general. It is also helpful for mental stress, depression or anxiety, as well as asthma and bronchitis when it works by improving blood circulation in the lungs due to its blood thinning action.

Ingredients (serves 8)

175g coconut oil, room temperature (you can use butter)

150g cane sugar

1 tablespoon cardamon pods

Grated zest of 4 lemons

3 eggs, beaten

175g flour (I used buckwheat flour)

1 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda

Juice of 2 lemons

Preheat the oven to 180°C. Grease and prepare a 900g loaf tin. Add the softened coconut oil, sugar, cardamon seeds and lemon zest to a mixing bowl and beat well until light and fluffy. Add the eggs, little by little to avoid curdling. Gently fold the sifted flour, baking powder and bicarbonate of soda to the mixture and then the lemon juice. Pour the mixture into the prepared loaf tin and bake for 40 minutes.

Cep sauce, dogs in therapy, and therapy dogs

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

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

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

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

Ingredients (serves 4)

2 shallots, finely chopped

1 tablespoon olive oil

10g butter

75ml dry white wine

75g fresh ceps (or dried and soaked)

2 cloves of garlic

2 tablespoons Armagnac (or Cognac)

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

2 tablespoons crème fraîche

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

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

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

Plum jam and a cast-off animal sanctuary

Four pigeons have found themselves a new home, and we’ve once again struck gold in the animal lottery. Apparently word is out that we’re a dumping ground for problem animals, and we’re so grateful to the hunters that arrive bearing ‘gifts’. I think. Java, bless her little heart, was given to us because she was ‘destabilised’, by which I mean completely off her trolley in terror, by guns. Not ideal when you’re a gun dog. And Hugo came to live with us having been found roaming the streets of Dax aimlessly like a yobbo.

We have an awful lot of resident toads as well. We have become the destination of choice for amphibians: Club Toad. And bizarely, my husband has an absolute passion for them, something that I’ve only recently become aware of after 20 years. He talks to them, strokes them (although I’m not sure that ‘stroke’ is the right word for a toad), comforts them, and helps them out of the pool when they get marooned. Should I be concerned?

Back to the pigeons. The hunter that arrived with them in a cage earlier this week felt ‘they would be better off with us’ (they had been squatting and squarking outside his bedroom window). This was a polite way of saying that they were doing his head in and could we take them off his hands before he shot himself.

I’d never really thought about just how annoying pigeons are. I grew up with the pigeons in London (just to be clear: I lived in a house with my parents, not perched on the edge of the fountain in Trafalgar Square), but country pigeons are a different kind of annoying. Town pigeons spend their time pacing up and down streets, accompanying people here and there, and being totally unable to fly. Not so with country pigeons, who are unbelievable noisy, messy, hyperactive busybodies. I have to admit though, when I count only three of them eating breakfast with the horses, I find myself worrying about where the fourth has got to…

Ingredients (makes 6-8 pots)

1.75kg red plums

500g greengages

600g black grapes

400g fresh figs

1kg cane sugar

1 apple, grated

20g fresh ginger, grated

1 lemon, juiced

50ml dark rum

Cut the plums and greengages in half, remove the stones and place in a large pot. Rince the grapes and figs and add to the pot. Add the grapes and the figs and then the sugar. Last of all add the grated apple and ginger, bring to the boil and then simmer for 30 minutes. Once cooked, add the lemon juice and rum. Liquidise according to taste and transfer to sterilised jam jars while still hot.

Plums are full of nutrients: One medium-sized fruit contains over 100mg potassium, which helps manage high blood pressure and reduce stroke risk. They are also a rich source of vitamins C and K as well as manganese, magnesium and copper.

Plums are rich in antioxidants, which are helpful for reducing inflammation and protecting your cells from damage by free radicals. They are particularly high in polyphenol antioxidants, which have positive effects on bone health and thanks to their ability to increase levels of adiponectin in the body, they are also a delicious way to manage blood sugar levels.

Bask in basil

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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