Tag Archives: life in France

Courgette gratin and Java’s midnight garden

I love the summer, when the windows are left open for the night air to cool the house. And for me to escape through, furtively. Once everyone’s in bed, I creep past Hugo on the tips of my paws, jump onto the window sill, then spring over the rosebush to freedom in the shadowy, moonlit garden.

My first stop is the wise old boar who lives quite close by. He’s always good for dispensing advice on dealing with humans. His insight is surprisingly spot-on for someone who has virtually no contact with them. I don’t stay too long because, once he gets started on a subject, he tends to harp on a bit. I’m fond of the boar and his rough-skinned ways though, and we have a lot in common: we both love mud, will eat just about anything with gusto, and hate the sound of guns. In his wisdom, he tells me that it’s a good thing hunting rifles are so noisy, as it’s a warning to hide.

Giving Bertie the Badger a wide berth (he can be very bad-tempered), I make my way through the pine trees and over the bridge to the deer that live by the river. I admire the deer for their beauty, grace, agility, and speed; we have these traits in common. They tell me about the blackberries that are ripening in the late summer sun, and the best places to find them. I can see they’ve been gorging because their muzzles are stained purple. They know all there is to know about edible plants and shrubs due to their odd eating habits; who eats roses for breakfast? Certainly not me!

My last visit is to the mice, who I find nestling in the horses’ hay. On the way I make a detour to say ‘bonsoir’ to Minou, the cat. We chat quite amicably at night, when nobody’s looking, but make a pretense of being enemies in the day; it’s what expected of us. Mice aren’t very interesting companions to be honest — they’re quite inconsequential — but I do like the way they roll. They love to party and sometimes organise an illicit rave in the kitchen at night, fueled by the crumbs left on the floor. They let me gently chew their little heads. They seem to enjoy it — I suppose it gives them a head massage, a bit of relaxation after their high jinks.

When I see that dawn is breaking, I head back home. The hedgehog, rabbits, and stone martens will have to wait for my visit another night.

This recipe uses courgettes, which I don’t see the point of, and cheese, which I love.

Ingredients (serves 4)

750g courgettes (unpeeled, sliced and lightly precooked)

2 shallots, finely chopped

2 eggs

200g crème fraîche

75g hard cheese (I used Comté)

Seasalt and freshly ground black pepper

1/2 teaspoon nutmeg

Preheat the oven to 200°C. Arrange the precooked courgettes and finely chopped shallots in a gratin dish. Beat the eggs, gradually adding the cream, cheese, and seasoning. Pour the mixture over the courgettes and shallots and bake for 15 minutes. Delicious served alone with green salad, or as a side dish.

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.

Broccoli with blue cheese and walnut sauce, dogs vs boars, and wedding anniversaries

There is a particularly grumpy, confirmed bachelor wild boar that lives in the woods not far from us. I think that he and Hugo are very alike and, as such, seem to annoy each other unreasonably. Whenever we go through the woods, either on foot or horseback, Hugo uproots the poor chap, who really wishes us no harm. I haven’t seen the boar recently; I think he’s probably in the market for a new home, with quieter, less disruptive neighbours.

It was our 20th wedding anniversary yesterday, and we went to an excellent restaurant in the grounds of a Bordelaise wine château for dinner. Léo graced us with his presence and, very sweetly and quite out of the blue, announced that now, after over 18 years’ experience, he had become immune to being embarrassed by us in public. I’m not sure exactly how we used to embarrass him, although when I look at the photos he took last night, I begin to understand. I always look a bit ‘One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest’ in photos. Some people might say the camera never lies; I maintain it’s mean and unforgiving where I’m concerned.

Luc, who is not a lover of broccoli (what is it with men and broccoli? I don’t know a single male broccoli-eater!) approved this sauce, saying it made the broccoli ‘almost edible’. Not only does this sauce encourage men to eat broccoli almost whinge-free, it also packs a punch health-wise.

Broccoli is packed with nutrients to support the liver and aid detoxification. It has high levels of isothiocyanates, indoles and dithiolethiones, which help protect the body from cancer by regulating the way the cells respond to environmental elements. Salads and green vegetables are always best when combined with oil or fat to help absorption of the nutrients.

Walnuts are also full of vitamins and minerals, and are an especially rich source of Omega 3. They are also a rich source of antioxidants and help decrease inflammation. Consuming walnuts can enrich the gut microbiome, increasing good bacteria.

Ingredients

25g butter or 2 tablespoons olive oil

1 heaped tablespoon corn flour

sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

½ teaspoon of paprika

1 teaspoon mustard

1 clove of garlic, crushed

50ml plain yoghurt

50ml chicken or vegetable stock

50g roquefort, crumbled (you could use any blue cheese)

10 walnuts, shelled and crushed

Chopped chives to garnish

Cook the brocolli ‘al dente’ in salted boiling water for about 10 minutes. Better still, steam cook it. While the brocolli is cooking make the sauce. Place the corn flour and butter or olive oil in a saucepan over a gentle heat, and combine well to form a thick paste. Add the seasoning, mustard, garlic, yoghurt and stock and stir continously until the mixture thickens. Add the blue cheese and heat and stir until it melts. Finally add the crushed walnuts, mixing well. Pour over the brocolli, sprinkle the chives over the top and serve!

Yoga: A free trial class

I’m not a natural candidate for yoga: I’m easily distracted, tend to hyperactivity, and have a rather self-destructive affinity to dangerous sports. But these things actually make me a perfect candidate for yoga; virtually everyone is a perfect candidate for yoga! I started to practise on a regular basis when my love for the more high-risk sports caused my back pain to become debilitating, and, not only has it been a godsend, I have come to really enjoy it.

Tamsin runs an exquisite yoga retreat from her home in southwest France. She offers intimate, thoughtfully designed courses aimed to reset, balance and strengthen.

https://www.littlefrenchretreat.com/home

Tamsin also offers really excellent online yoga classes, and if you mention The Healthy Epicurean she will offer you a free trial class.

Give it a go – there’s something to suit all levels.

https://www.littlefrenchretreat.com/online-yoga-classes

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.

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.

Rosemary and black olive Fougasse and sausages for officers

Last week Luc admitted to a hunter friend (who has eight obedient beagles) that we had ‘issues’ with our dogs. We hit a new low recently; we have to barricade the doors at night with chairs to send the message that we don’t provide a 24/7 service, and it’s NOT OK to wake us up at random just because you fancy a moonlit stroll in the garden. The friend wasn’t overly sympathetic and seemed to suggest that in our case, the ‘obedience ship’ had set sail long ago. He trains his dogs as puppies (like most sensible people), but I just can’t get my head around the idea of disciplining a puppy. Or any dog, if I’m being absolutely honest.

Léo and five friends celebrated the end of exams last week in true Bordeaux style with copious amounts of food, wine and noise (gatherings of up to six people are allowed in France). They were just tucking in to a second ‘dinner’ at three in the morning when the police knocked at the door. The noise was such that the gendarmes had called in reinforcements, and were accompanied by a heavily armed military squadron. They were rather taken aback when they realised that the impressive commotion was coming from just six boys, although the fact that several of them were Basque went some way to explaining things (Basque fiestas are notoriously loud). Realising there was no pressing need for mob control, they laid down their guns but, slightly bewildered, graciously refused the offer of sausages and chips. Way to avoid a hefty fine.

Fougasse is a flatbread that was traditionally baked in the ashes of the hearth. It is really a primitive form of pizza, without the tomatoes.

Ingredients

250g einkorn flour (normal flour is fine)

Pinch of salt

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 teaspoon bread yeast, mixed in a little lukewarm water

8 black olives, chopped

1 shallot, chopped

Fresh rosemary, removed from stem

Water

Sea salt to sprinkle on top

Place the flour in a bowl, add the salt, olive oil, yeast, chopped olives, shallot and rosemary. Add the water, little by little to form a smooth ball. Knead for a couple of minutes and then flatten to form an oval shape a couple of centimetres thick. Decorate with the sea salt.

Leave to rise in a 30°C oven for half an hour, then increase the oven temperature to 200°C and bake for 25 minutes.