Tag Archives: rural French life

Chocolate and almond mousse cake and badgered by badgers

I’m not going to gloat about the results of the French election, because that would be neither kind, nor fair for supporters of Putin’s putain (Putin’s tart). The trouble is though, apparently the moment you get rid of one pest, you gain another: We’re currently being persecuted by a badger.

Badgers are reputed to be fearless, thick skinned, resourceful and unwavering, and the one that comes to visit us every night ticks all the boxes. It started by digging up the lawn farthest from the house, and has gradually made its way closer. At midnight last night, Luc decided enough was enough, and took off to hunt it down on his bicycle. He was dressed in underpants, was armed with an umbrella, and had a torch strapped to his head. He looked quite alarming, but in an insane way, not a badger-scaring way. He circled the house several times, shouting menacingly and brandishing his umbrella like the lethal weapon it wasn’t, before coming back in to reassure me that, although he hadn’t seen the offending creature, he thought we would be left in peace from now on (I love mens’ egos; they’re a constant source of amusement to me). This morning we woke up to a larger-than-ever patch of dug up lawn right in front of the bedroom window. This badger is not only spunky and tenacious, he also has a wicked sense of humour. And the dogs just snoozed on…

Chocolate cake and chocolate mousse are my absolute favourites, and this combines the best of both; it’s not too sweet and the taste and texture, somewhere between the two, are just perfect.

Many people have been supplementing zinc to aid immunity to Covid and other viruses. High intake of zinc for extended periods of time may result in copper deficiency. Copper is essential in the formation of collagen, and also helps the body use its stored iron — a deficiency can result in anemia. Dark chocolate and almonds are both excellent sources of copper, so this cake is a good choice if you’ve been taking zinc for over the past few years. Other good sources of copper are shellfish, organ meats, legumes, whole grains and peas.

Ingredients (serves 6-8)

150g dark chocolate (min 70%)

120g coconut oil

5 eggs, separated

150g cane sugar

70g ground almond

Pinch of salt

1/2 teaspoon cardamon powder

Tablespoon rum

Preheat the oven to 140°C. Melt the chocolate and the coconut oil in a bain marie, while whisking the egg whites in a bowl until stiff. In another bowl, blend the egg yolks and sugar, then add the ground almonds, seasoning, rum and chocolate and coconut oil, mixing well. Finally fold in the egg whites until the mixture is homogenous. Pour the mixture into a greased tin (I used a loaf tin) and bake for 45 minutes.

Courgette and goat cheese soup and raucous men

Neither Luc nor I are fans of shopping, especially shopping together. You know those couples you see casually and contentedly wandering around shops hand in hand? That will never be us. Lockdown suited very well from that point of view; one of us went shopping (usually Luc as he thinks I’m an irrational, inefficient and irresponsible shopper), and the rest was bought online.

But we needed new patio furniture and decided to brave the garden centre. I was very happy to try out the swing sets and suspended deck chairs, which I discovered weren’t properly anchored, while Luc frantically looked around for someone to help us. We’d been told that ‘Emilie’ was the salesperson to look for, but she was proving difficult to pin down. Problem solved: Luc planted himself in the middle of the expansive furniture section and absolutely boomed ‘E-M-I-L-I-E!’. After that it was plain sailing; eight dining chairs and two deckchairs were chosen, paid for, and loaded in under 10 minutes, and I hobbled out only slightly bruised.

Because I’m old and broken (see above), I visit my physiotherapist twice a week. He loves to sing as he works, and last week launched into a charmingly boisterous rendition of an old French song about a once — but no longer — glorious, unseaworthy, abandoned ship: ‘Quand je pense à la vielle anglaise…’ (when I think of the old English woman…) Bursting into laughter I said ‘I’m so happy to have inspired you!’ Since then, strangely enough, he has refrained from refrains.

This is a lovely, quick and easy soup for Spring.

Ingredients (serves 6)

45g butter

1 onion, peeled and sliced

2 shallots, peeled and sliced

2 garlic cloves, crushed

200g leeks, washed and chopped

450g courgettes, washed and cut into rounds

1 large potatoes, peeled and sliced

1l chicken stock (or vegetable if you prefer)

1 teaspoon paprika

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

150g soft goat’s cheese

Melt the butter in a large saucepan over a medium heat. Add the onions, shallots and garlic, fry for about five minutes, stirring occasionally to prevent sticking. Add the leeks, courgettes and potato coating in the butter and cook for a few minutes longer. Add the stock and seasoning and simmer for about 20 minutes, or until the vegetables are soft. Add the goat’s cheese and blend the soup until smooth.

Beef Wellington and grazing blondes

Following on from this post, I have just emerged, morally battered and bruised, from a ‘phone call during which I was flung around like a hot potato, between seven different employees of the Regional Health Agency (‘Agence Régionale de Santé’, or ARS, which is very apt). I am desperately, and unsuccessfully, trying to get an exemption for the C-19 booster, as my second vaccine caused me to need a ‘little lie down’ that went on to last four months.

The rules for exemption in France are quite simple: if you’ve had two vaccines and lived to tell the tale, then you have absolutely no excuse not to have a third. Or, if you reacted badly to the first or second jab, then they do another one to see whether you actually drop dead or not. If you do drop dead, it’s good news, because it means you’ll automatically qualify for exemption, which obviously you’ll be delighted about. People who have had one or two vaccines in good faith, but subsequently experienced horrible, sometimes long-lasting health problems as a result, not only suffer, they are also punished and silenced. It’s positively dystopian. After nearly an hour of ‘phone tag, the ARS’s employees seemed to weary, and gave me another number to call, which I did; it was a suicide hotline. You couldn’t make it up!

Java had never seen cows before, so when we came across a field of ‘Aquitaine Blondes’ who had been put out to graze on the early Spring grass near the house yesterday, she stood stock still for a while, with her head tilted to one side quizzically. She was deciding what to make of these ‘not dogs, not wild pigs, not horses’. She looked so painfully confused, that I tried to explain — in some detail — that they were quite harmless, and a little bit like the deer she sees around the house, etc. I hadn’t realised that the farmer was just behind us, politely waiting for me to finish my pedagogical lecture. He said, with a cheeky grin, ‘have you taught her to read yet?’ As Jack Nicolson said in A few Good Men, ‘don’t I feel like the fuckin’ asshole?’ (https://memes.yarn.co/yarn-clip/afc700f8-a576-44dd-ba43-f872ae912c42)

Ingredients (serves 4)

1kg filet beef

2 tablespoons olive oil

500g puff pastry

2 egg yolks, beaten

For the mushroom duxelle:

50g butter

15 medium mushrooms, finely chopped

2 cloves of garlic, crushed

1 shallot, finely chopped

100ml, dry white wine

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Melt the butter in a medium-sized frying pan and add the finely chopped mushrooms, cloves of garlic and shallots, stirring and coating with the butter. Continue to fry for about 10 minutes, until everything is well softened. Add the white wine and seasoning and cook until the moisture is absorbed (about 10 minutes). Set aside.

Preheat the oven to 200°C. Sear the beef filet in olive oil for a few seconds on all sides and set aside. Roll out the puff pastry and place the filet in the centre. Cover the beef with the mushroom duxelle and envelop in the puff pastry, making sure to seal the edges. Glaze with egg yolk and cook for 20 minutes (or more, depending on how well-cooked you like the beef).

Galette des rois and ghetto blasters

We were invited to lunch at a friend’s house last Sunday, where we met their handsome, polite, nicely-mannered dog. While we ate, he sat by us with a gentle expression that said: ‘If you’re having trouble finishing, I could possibly be of assistance…’ This is in stark contrast to Hugo, who barks impatiently and punches Luc in the thigh with his paw, his expression along the lines: ‘Oy! Give me food or I’ll send for backup!’ There is a Peanuts cartoon, in which Woodstock, Snoopy’s feathered friend, sends Snoopy an invoice for damages at a party he had hosted. I’m so glad our dogs are never invited to parties; it would ruin me financially.

I recently came across some funny stories on Twitter, and one of them made me laugh so hard that I dislocated two ribs (the joys of Ehlers Danlos!). Later, wandering aimlessly around the corridors of the local hospital, in my usual mask-induced daze (OK then, just my usual daze), it struck me that the ambient music was identical to a playlist I had on my ‘phone. When, in passing, I mentioned this coincidence to the doctor’s secretary, she said, very kindly, and in the hushed tones usually reserved for maniacs and idiots, that actually the music seemed to be coming from my handbag. I had inadvertently transformed my handbag into a little leather ghetto blaster!

Luc is using our fussy cat as a means to critique the food I prepare. He keeps saying things like ‘the cat didn’t finish the beef bourguignon because he found it a bit fatty’, or ‘Minou preferred the Coq au Vin you made last time’. I can tell you, the cat had better learn to stop bellyaching, or his homemade food is going to end up in the dogs’ bowls…

Galette des Rois (or King Cake) has been a tradition in France since the 14th century. It is served on 6th January to celebrate Epiphany, although they are generally available throughout January and it is now shared amongst family and friends as a way to celebrate the new year. The ‘king’ is represented by a ‘fève’, or charm, hidden within the cake. The person to come across the ‘fève’ in their slice of cake, becomes ‘king’ and has the dubious honour of wearing a paper crown for the day.

Ingredients (serves 6)

400g puff pastry

2 tablespoons apricot jam

75g butter

100g sugar

2 eggs, beaten plus 1 egg yolk

140g ground almonds

A pinch of salt

2 tablespoons Cognac or Armagnac

Preheat the oven to 200°C. Divide the pastry in half, roll out each piece and cut into roughly 25cm rounds and place one round on a baking sheet. Spread the apricot jam over the pastry (not quite reaching the edges). Beat the softened butter and sugar together until light and fluffy, then add the beaten eggs. Stir in the ground almonds and salt and add the Cognac/Armagnac. Spoon the mixture over the jam and spread evenly. Brush the edges of the pastry with a little water and cover with the second round, pressing at the edges to seal. Make a pattern on the top with a sharp knife, then brush with egg yolk. Bake for 25-30 minutes until golden. May be served warm, but not hot, or cold.

Celeriac and walnut gratin and greedy gourmet dogs

Families that have managed to celebrate Christmas ‘normally’ seem to be in the minority this year, so I would like to spare a thought for all the people that have had a challenging time due to illness, bereavement, enforced isolation, travel restrictions, etc. Sending love to you all.

A noisy commotion broke out next to our land yesterday, with lots of shouting, barking and swearing. We found out from a friend afterwards, that a hunter, who had stopped for a picnic lunch, had had his foie gras sandwich swiped by a greedy English Setter. I’m not sure if I’m more mystified by the refined tastes of the naughty dog, or by the fact that someone would fill a sandwich with foie gras, even if it was Christmas Day.

I have been very busy lately because Léo had covid and had to isolate in the guest grange. His appetite wasn’t stinted, if anything, it increased, so I had a bit of a mini Uber Eats business running from my kitchen. Apparently my new venture meant I was too busy to notice a wasp hibernating in my trousers while getting dressed, and when I later slammed my thigh into a door, it understandably got very irate, stinging me in revenge for being woken up and concussed. So not only am I the only person I know to receive a PCR test result of ‘inconclusive’ 10 days ago, I’m also the only person I know to be walking around with an angry wasp sting in December.

Ingredients (serves 6)

1kg celeriac, peeled and cut into large cubes

3 medium potatoes, peeled

4 cloves of garlic, crushed

15g butter

200ml double cream

Handful of walnuts, chopped

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

100g, Comté, finely sliced

Half teaspoon Espelette pepper or paprika

Preheat the oven to 180°C. Boil the celeriac and potatoes until cooked. Strain and add the garlic and butter and puree until smooth. Add the cream, walnuts and seasoning, mixing well to create a homogenous texture. Transfer to a buttered oven-proof dish and cover with the sliced cheese and Espelette pepper. Cook for 30 minutes, or until golden brown and bubbling.

Works well as a standalone dish with green salad, or as an accompaniment.

Onion and goat cheese tart, smoke signals and tyrannical parrots

I have learnt three surprising things in the past few weeks. One: Results of recent genetic testing revealed that I have considerably more French genes than either Luc or Léo. (Which doesn’t stop everyone referring to me as ‘l’Anglaise’.) Two: Hugo, the labrador, hates violin concertos with a passion, something he made quite clear last week, when I had the audacity to listen to Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto in D Major. He growled in distaste and scratched frantically at the door to flee the aural offensive. And three: there exist worse-behaved dogs than Hugo and Java. In a restaurant at the beach last weekend, there was a beautifully leggy and elegant red setter casually sauntering over the table tops, checking out the plates, their contents, and their owners, as if it was the most normal thing in the world. Red setters are notoriously batshit crazy and disobedient, so now of course, I want one.

Yesterday morning, we caught sight of a friend sitting outside in the car. When, 10 minutes later, he still hadn’t moved, Luc went out to get him. Our friend explained that he’d been waiting to see smoke coming out of the chimney before coming in, as he didn’t know whether we were awake. We will know for next time: three billows means coffee!

Once inside, coffee in hand, he told us that when he lived on a boat in Brasil, he had a parrot. At the time he was a very heavy smoker (the friend, not the parrot; everything seems to revolve around coffee and smoke with this guy!), but knew it was time to give up when the parrot started to cough every time he saw him! That must have been some pushy parrot, because he hasn’t touched a cigarette since…

Ingredients (serves 4)

225g puff pastry

50g butter

4 medium onions, sliced

1 tsp sugar

200g goat’s cheese, sliced into rounds

4 sprigs of thyme

Sea salt, freshly ground black pepper

Olive oil

Preheat the oven to 180°C. Arrange the pastry in a baking sheet (or sheets). Melt the butter in a large frying pan and add the sliced onions, cover and fry gently for about 10 minutes, until softened. Remove the lid, add the sugar and continue to cook until golden and slightly caramelised. Spoon the onions onto the pastry, then top with the cheese and thyme, and season. Drizzle with oil and bake for 20 minutes.

Chicken and morel mushrooms in white wine cream sauce and needy cats

A friend, who has a country house in Burgundy, told me about a problem she’d been having with a particularly ornery billy goat. The goat had got into the habit of appearing in her garden every evening; apparently its sole intent was digging up her roses bushes, and anything else in temptation’s way. She was greatly relieved when she finally managed to track down the owner and explain the damage caused over the past couple of weeks. The goat’s owner, not missing a beat, said: ‘Yes, well I can see he’s made a terrible mess of your garden! So what are you going to do about it? How are you going to keep him out?’ My friend, a psychiatrist, is not usually lost for words, nor ways to handle challenging people, but this exchange left her slack-jawed and well and truly stumped!

Luc is in Paris for the weekend so I have been left on full-time animal duty, armed with lengthy instructions of What To Do. The dogs I know about, because I’m the one to walk and feed them usually, although I hadn’t factored in the fact that they would play up quite so much during the night. Hugo took it upon himself to move a very heavy armchair and hefty table at 2am. Noisily. And Java, perhaps stressed by the moving furniture, decided to repeatedly throw herself against a glass door.

The pigeons are easy, as all I need to do is throw five handfuls of grain at a certain spot on the grass. Although, accounting for the fact that my hands are much smaller than Luc’s, I should probably make that six handfuls, or so the instructions say. The horses need a precise quantity of hay twice a day, at 9am and 6pm. According to Luc’s instructions, they will try to manipulate me into feeding them at lunchtime, by whinnying in my general direction, and stamping their feet hangrily. I am not to be taken in as their lunch is the plentiful grass buffet, and they are both too fat for more hay. Got it.

On to the cat. Oh my god, the cat, a neurotic stray that first moved in about six years ago. Although he wasn’t neurotic when he arrived. He used to catch mice to eat, then little-by-little, Luc started to feed him. At first, it was dry cat food, but he went off that. Then he had expensive tinned food, which he also turned his nose up at after a little while. He now eats home-cooked casseroles, or prime cuts of meat or fish. What I didn’t know (until Friday) was that, in order for him to deign to eat at all, you have to wash his bowl in warm soapy water before every meal (presumably the cat equivalent of warming the plates), talk to him while you are preparing his food, continue talking while he is eating, and only stroke him if he ‘asks’. As my mother said, when I told her about catgate, ‘who would have thought that a great big macho would be such a softie with animals’. I’m still not sure how I feel about my husband being described as a ‘great big macho’, but I’m all catted out and therefore too tired to care!

Ingredients (serves 4)

30g dried morel mushrooms, soaked overnight in cold water

4 shallots, sliced

4 skinless free-range chicken breasts, sliced

Sea salt and freshly-ground black pepper

15g butter

100g mushrooms, sliced

2 bay leaves

200ml white wine

100ml chicken or vegetable stock

200ml double cream

Remove the morels from the soaking liquid, squeezing as much excess water out as possible. Chop any large morels in half and reserve. Season the chicken breasts with salt and pepper. Melt the butter over a medium heat in a large frying pan, add the shallots and chicken and fry gently for a couple of minutes on each side. Remove from the pan and put to one side. In the butter that’s left in the pan, cook the soaked, cleaned morels and button mushrooms for a few minutes to soften, then season. Add the white wine, stock and double cream. Bring to the boil, then return the chicken breasts to the pan, coating them in the cream. Lower the heat to a gentle simmer and cook for 6 minutes or so until the chicken is cooked through. Remove the chicken from the pan briefly, turn up the heat and reduce the sauce on full boil until it coats the back of a spoon. Return the chicken to the pan, coat in sauce, adjust the seasoning and serve. Bon appétit!

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