February 2, 2014
A quick note to say that I will be giving a talk at the Entente Internationale du Pays Civraisin at Les Terres Rouge, Civray (on the road to Ruffec) this Thursday at 8 pm, on the health benefits of the 18th-century French diet and the slimming secrets of Marie Antoinette (including the recipe for her magical soup).
I'll also be signing book afterwards, if there is anyone left in the Poitou who doesn't already own a signed copy of one of my books.
Members and non members welcome, as I think, you can join the Entente on the night.
Photograph by Chris Tubbs.
February 2, 2014
A large banner outside the local Intermarché declares a ‘pigs’ hearts promotion’.
Inside, between the soft drinks and the pet food aisle, a large fridge is bursting with them: dark, bloody and quivering, like they’ve just been plucked from a porcine chest cavity.
For a vegetarian, which fortunately I’m not, the pre-packed meat section of my local French supermarket is a veritable cornucopia of horrors.
Displayed in the chill cabinets you can find everything from whole cow tongues – disturbingly enormous coils of flesh – to lambs’ kidneys, pigs’ trotters and assorted brains, feet and cheeks.
Even the unashamedly carnivorous might find themselves having to avert their eyes and march quickly past the piles of coiled organs.
There are items in a French supermarket that you won’t find in Walmart or Waitrose.
While UK supermarkets offer a carefully edited selection of chicken breasts, steaks and other prime cuts of carcass meat, here in France it is organs-a-go-go – every bit of a beast from its cheeks to its feet.
Recently, I stood behind a woman in the checkout queue, who was buying a pair of cow hooves, pre-packed on a polystyrene tray.
When I asked what she was planning to do with them, she replied, tout simplement, ‘Make soup’.
Offal may have fallen out of favour in the western diet but in rural France, it is still very much on the menu.
After an unexpected encounter with tete de veau (veal’s head) shortly after my arrival in France – it was the only dish available in the rural restaurant that I’d been taken to by a local mayor – there are few things on a French menu that can shock me.
Since that memorable day – ‘Eat it before it goes cold and the brain turns to jelly,’ warned my friend – I’ve encountered such delicacies as a bovine thyroid, an ox tail, pig trotters, cheeks and ears on restaurant menus.
The French even have a saying: tout est bon dans le cochon, or ‘everything is good in the pig’.
Even the lard is sold off in big chunks in the supermarket. Nothing, apart from the nails, goes to waste.
Offal, as my French neighbours know, is not only an economical source of protein, it also contains more nutritional bounty than prime cuts of carcass meat.
While researching 18th-century cuisine for my latest book, based on the eating habits of Marie Antoinette, I discovered that in 18th-century France, organ meat was highly prized.
The bits of the animal that are now thrown away meanwhile, where considered delicacies. Calves’ hooves with whipped cream. Stuffed lamb’s testicles. Gratin of stuffed cow eyeballs. I could go on, but I won’t, in case you are reading this over breakfast.
But it’s one thing to eat offal in a restaurant; a whole new rung on the ladder of French rustification to take livers, kidneys or hearts home and cook them yourself.
Unpacking a tub of chicken livers recently to make my own chicken liver paté, I realized that I’d really gone native as far as the cuisine is concerned.
Boiling up bones for several hours to make my own stock or bouillon – something I would no more have attempted when I lived in London than open heart surgery – is another habit that I’ve picked up since moving to France, where no part of the animal goes to waste.
It’s all so eighteenth-century.
But this it seems is very of-the-moment.
A recent edition of US Vogue ran a three-page feature on the art of making the perfect bouillon. The writer even went to Las Vegas to consult the French chef Alain Ducasse in his new(ish) restaurant there, on the precise ingredients that go into the perfect stock.
It is a sign that the old culinary ways are suddenly fashionable again.
It helps if you have a lot of time on your hands, but if you live in the French countryside, you probably do.
But there seems to be a growing recognition in the wider world, that when it comes to cuisine, the old French ways are the best – that old-fashioned, slow-cooked food is better for your health and your hips than the fast, microwaved, additive-packed kind.
I haven't tried hoof soup, but the spring vegetable soup photographed above features chicken bone stock as its base. Pepped up with mint and basil, it is one of many delicious soup recipes in my new book, The Marie Antoinette Diet: Eat Cake and Still Lose Weight.
January 12, 2014
So my little diet book, The Marie Antoinette Diet: Eat Cake and Still Lose Weight, is now available as a paperback, expanded with new recipes.
The reason that I took a year-long detour to research and write this book – which is not just about weight loss but eating for better health – is that the subject matter is something I feel very passionately about.
Modern food production has become something of a dark art, with manufacturers using cheap and questionable ingredients in order to cut down their production costs.
One of the controversial ingredients that I flagged up when The Marie Antoinette Diet was launched as an e-book in June last year, was high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS) or glucose-fructose syrup.
It's increasingly difficult to find a manufactured food or drink product that isn't pumped full of this cheap sugary gloop, which has been linked with dangerous weight gain in rats.
In one experiment, at Princeton University in 2010, rats that were fed high-fructose corn syrup, gained fat 300 per cent more quickly than those fed an equal dose of table sugar or sucrose.
To put it bluntly: once you start eating something containing this syrup, it's difficult to stop.
Yet, you'll find this ingredient in everything from confectionery to ketchup, pizzas to breakfast cereals.
So I am delighted to see that sugar, and in particular HFCS, has suddenly become a hot news topic.
What I'm not so sure about is the rush to suggest that sugar should be eradicated from the diet completely, as suggested by a number of books that have just been published on the subject.
The alternative view – and the one that I subscribe to – is that not only is this unrealistic for most people, but also that sugar per se is not the problem.
It has, after all, been around for over two centuries without causing the tsunami of obesity and health problems that are now being attributed to it.
Rather it is the quantity that we are eating, and the aforementioned HFCS, that are cause for concern.
Sugar is now routinely shovelled into foods that just don't need it – including, as I recently discovered, organic stock cubes, canned tomatoes and tinned crabmeat.
Yes, we definitely should be eating less of it, not least because it contains lots of calories and it's not great for your teeth. But banning it completely?
Good luck to those who are prepared to try, but for most of us, this is just not do-able as a long-term strategy – not least because life without sugar would be so joyless.
Never baking a cake again? No chocolate or wine? No almond croissant with your coffee in the morning. Once again, good luck with that.
The better strategy in my view, is to have it in moderation and in a way that causes least harm. (For example, one of the worst things you can do is drink your sugar, either by adding it to tea or coffee, or as a fruit juice or worse, carbonated drink.)
Despite its frivolous title, The Marie Antoinette Diet draws together a lot of nutritional science and research in, what I hope, is a readable way.
It also contains some delicious recipes for soups and cakes, for my argument is that, if you are going to eat cake, you should:
a) bake it yourself as that way you will know what is in it;
b) make it count nutritionally, rather than just scarfing empty, additive-packed calories.
But should you be eating cake at all if you want to lose weight?
As registered dietician and nutritionist Dr Mabel Blades, who acted as the consultant for The Marie Antoinette Diet says: 'One of the reasons why diets fail is that people start to feel deprived and the biscuit tin starts to sing even more loudly.'
'Allowing a small portion [50-75g] of deliciousness each day, will help to keep people on their diet.'
Mabel has more to say on the subject of sugar, on her own blog.
For this reason, my book contains recipes for lovely, homemade cakes, along with delicious soups; and lots of advice on the benefits of old-fashioned foods and cooking methods.
In the meantime – and apologies if I'm preaching to the converted – if you care about your health, scrutinize labels and do not buy anything containing hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated fats, glucose-fructose syrup or high-fructose corn syrup.
As Mabel says, 'everything in balance'.
And now I'm going to climb down off my soap box and get on with Tout 4, aka (appropriately) Sweet Encore.
October 3, 2013
WOOFS. Ever since a little doglet of our acquaintance went to the vet’s on the journey-of-no-return, my (human) pet has been super-nice to me, saying things, like ‘Biff, you’re the best dog in the world’ and ‘I’m so lucky to have you’.
I haven’t exploited this (much) as I know that there are lots of dogs out there who aren’t so lucky and who are languishing in rescue homes, waiting for a human to love them.
Some are even thrown onto the streets – something which, sadly, happens a lot in France when their owners decide to move back to the UK without them.
The Hope Association is a charity which helps animals who've fallen on hard times.
On the 18,19 and 20th October, 10–4.00 pm, it will be holding its autumn book sale at the salle des fetes in Clussais La Pommeraie, 79190 (on the D45 between Sauzé-Vaussais and Lezay.)
There will be thousands of books, both French and English, for €1 as well as homemade cakes and other delicious things, and a jumble sale.
The last sale raised over €8,000, so if you live in the Poitou, please do come along and support it.
If you have books to donate, please email: firstname.lastname@example.org
If you have clothes to donate, please email: email@example.com
August 8, 2013
Charlotte and Glyn have asked me to post a reminder for those living in the Poitou: this weekend (Friday August 9 and Saturday 10th) is The Mad Hatter's annual music festival with a great line up of bands. It starts at 4.30 pm Friday. You can pitch your tent and stay for two nights or book in for the evening feast and music on Friday or Saturday night. More information on their new website www.madhattersfrance.eu.
July 27, 2013
WOOFS everyone and happy summer Saturday morning!
Last night was very dramatic here in the Poitou: loud bangs, shutters rattling (along with my teeth) and big bolts of blue in the sky. I was, as one of our French friend says, 'very perturbated'.
But as you can see, I'm back blogging this morning. Or maybe I should call it 'dogging'? (KW: No, you definitely shouldn't.)
In addition to asking for more of me, many readers over the past few years have asked for pictures of the house where I live, but my human never got round to doing it.
(Honestly, if you want something doing, ask a doglet! There is a reason why we are considered reliable.)
So I thought I would start off with a picture of le petit jardin.
Last summer it looked like this:
A man came to knock down the building in the right hand corner and remove a flower bed.
When he had finished, he asked my human, 'Have you thought of having the wall repointed?'
She hadn't, mainly because she didn't know what 'repointing' meant. (Even I know that it means cleaning up the stones, chipping away the old cement and replacing it with a new sandy filling.)
I really enjoyed rolling around in the rubble and having more space to play in.
Unfortunately, as you can see from the top picture, the situation did not last.
I now have to share my space with some very tall flowers (although I'm sure they won't last) and all the clutter that humans bring.
July 15, 2013
And this is my summer, apres-swim look!
July 13, 2013
WOOFS AND BARKS. While my human is distracted (see below) I have decided that I will be responsible for updating this blog.
I think it could be a marvellous opportunity to show you some of my favourite pictures....of ME!
Now, if only I could find the password to her Witter account.
July 8, 2013
I’m sorry to have to announce that Sweet Encore, the fourth book in the Tout series, will not be published next month as planned.
I’m still some way off the point of ‘hanging the chandeliers’ as I call adding the final descriptive layer that I know readers love.
I really hate letting people down but I'm not the sort of writer who can bang out more than one book a year, and I was foolish to think that I could.
Quality control is very important to me and because of this, I’ve taken the decision to delay publication until next summer.
I feel very bad about this as I know that many of you have pre-ordered the book and were looking forward to it as holiday reading.
In addition, I’d like to apologize to those of you who’ve sent me emails recently and not had replies.
I love reading your feedback and lovely messages and I do my best to answer them all, but recently the back log has become rather out of control.
So I’m going to disappear for a while – and yes, drop off Twitter too – to concentrate on writing. I will be back but not for a while.
Sincere apologies, KW.
July 7, 2013
The invitation was my favourite kind: 'Come over for a curry and you can bring your human,' said the email. 'Provided that she is well behaved.'
Humans, as we all know, are a doglet's best friend and for the most part they make loyal and faithful companions.
However, you can never guarantee that they will behave.
When they do displease you, one of the ways that you can let them know is to confiscate their toys.
Mine has two of each, all lined up in row, so this takes a little effort. I fetch them from the bedroom and carry them downstairs to my doughnut, one at a time (as shown).
Your pet will protest and might even shout – as is the case when I confiscate a glittery black pair with little mirrors on them – but this is an excellent way to remind them who is in charge.
PS: As you can probably see from this photo, I have a new haircut. My human actually sniggered when she came to collect me from the coiffeuse. Sometimes, humans can be so insensitive.
PPS: My entire social life has ground to a halt until I've been to the vet to be treated for a few stupid fleas.