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.
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
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.
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
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.
We have broken our cleaning lady. Or to be more exact, the dogs have broken her. She’s never been their biggest fan; she believes that a dog’s place is outside and silent at all times. Personality and opinions, particularly dogmatic ones, should not be tolerated. If you’ve been reading my blog for a while, you’ll know that this just isn’t how we roll with Hugo and Java. Or at least, it isn’t how Hugo and Java roll with us.
I do see that it must be frustrating for her, especially when all the dogs within a two kilometre radius rock up for a ‘social’ when she’s trying to hose down the floors. They seem to sense the optimal impact moment to put in an appearance. And, in fairness, I do always say that cleaning our house is a bit like mucking out a stable. Anyway, this morning the hounds outdid themselves. The mild weather meant that the windows were open and Java, terrified witless by the vacuum cleaner, kept jumping out of the window, spent just enough time outside to dirty her feet and returned into the house through the front door. Ad infinitum. Hugo, who had been invited (you don’t give Hugo orders; you make suggestions) to stay outside in a bid to reduce the carbon paw print, availed himself of the open window in the other direction to come back into the house (filthy paws and all) in order to launch a vicious assault on his long-standing nemesis, the hoover.
Happily, I wasn’t there this morning to witness this outrageous exhibition of doggie hooliganism. I did come back in time to be greeted by two manic, crack cocaine-smoking dogs and Luc administering medicinal Armagnac to treat the cleaning lady’s shattered nerves.
Ingredients (serves 6)
400g smoked mackerel, skin removed
1 ripe avocado
2 shallots, peeled
1 clove of garlic, peeled
Juice of 1 lemon
1 tablespoon olive oil
4 tablespoons horseradish
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 teaspoon paprika
Place all the ingredients in a food processor and combine until smooth. Chill for at least two hours and serve with either crispy French bread or raw vegetables (carrots, celery, fennel…)
It will soon be mushroom season, although for the moment it’s still too hot and dry here; Luc is on damp ground watch like a crazy Frenchman. Oh, hang on… I did find a lone, perfect cep yesterday though, which was grabbed from my hand and in a frying pan asphyxiating in olive oil and garlic before I was through the door. I never go foraging without my vicious, spiky walking poles, ostensibly to move away leaves without having to bend down, although really to maim greedy cep-stealing fingers. There’s something about looking for mushrooms (mushrooming?) that turns people into furtive barbarians. Bump into someone who is blatantly foraging and they become incredibly defensive: ‘Me? Mushrooms? Can’t stand the mouldy bastards! I’m just hanging out in the middle of the woods, catching a few rays and bonding with the slugs’.
Even armed with my lethal walking stick, I won’t be finding any shitake mushrooms around here; they grow wild in mountainous regions of Asia and absolutely nowhere else. Scientists have discovered a possible correlation between typhoon wind patterns and the scattering of shitake spores dispersed from one country to the other. The medicinal properties of shiitake mushrooms have been studied since the Ming Dynasty when Chinese elders considered the shitake to be the ‘elixir of the life’.
Shitakes are unique because they contain all eight essential amino acids. They are also a rich source of vitamin D, B vitamins and selenium and other minerals. They also contain linoleic acid which aids weight loss and builds muscle. It also has bone-building benefits, improves digestion, and reduces food allergies and sensitivities.
Shitake mushrooms contain beta-glucan, an immune booster and soluble dietary fibre that’s also found in barley, rye and oats. The lentinan they contain strengthens the immune system and helps to fight off disease and infection. Research suggests that shiitake mushrooms may help fight cancer cells and also help heal damage caused by anticancer treatments. The mushrooms have also been shown to induce apoptosis, the process of cell death. They also contain L-ergothioneine, a potent antioxidant with unique cell-protective properties.
Lastly, these wonderful mushrooms have been shown to have anti-vital, anti-bacterial and anti-fungal properties, effective against a wide range of mould, yeasts, and fungi. It would appear that they even have the ability to kill off the dangerous organisms without affecting the healthy organisms.