Thursday, September 03, 2015

Warding off Alzheimer's with B Vitamins & Omega 3

September is World Alzheimer's Month. My dad had Alzheimer's so it's a disease which I particularly loathe as it ravaged his brain and rendered him unrecognisable. It also nearly killed my mother looking after him. Eventually he was found a place in a care home and died of a heart attack - a welcome relief.

It seems that Alzheimer's is not hereditary, but I don't intend to take any chances.

I subscribe to an e-newsletter called Food for the Brain which aims to help people ward off the disease and increase their awareness of it in others. This month it talks about steps you can take to ward off the onset of Alzheimer's. They can be summarized very simply as: lead as healthy a life as possible.

Diet is the front line in the anti-Alzheimer's campaign. Eat more essential fatty acids to increase the levels of omega 3 and decrease levels of omega 6 (found in high levels in AD patients). This means eating more oily fish, nuts and seeds and raw dark green leafy vegetables. I've stopped eating salmon however because it's contaminated with toxic chemicals so I stick to sardines, mackerel, and smoked herring instead.

On the flanks are sufficient levels of the antioxidants vitamins C and E to combat oxidative stress in our bodies. Eat lots of fruit and vegetables, nuts and seeds. Sunflower, chia and hemp seeds sprinkled on salad gives a nice crunch, for example.

Early subversive attacks by Alzheimer's can be analysed by checking your homo-cysteine levels. If too high (above 10µmol/l), this amino-acid will cause toxicity in the body, in which case combat it with supplements of B6, B12 and folic acid.

Lifestyle is central to the anti-Alzheimer's campaign in that it influences risk factors, so the best way to avoid it is to lead a healthy life - do exercise to stay physically and mentally fit, keep socially active, keep learning to stimulate your brain, and stop smoking. Still smoking? Do 50 press-ups!

If the worst happens, damage control can be administered through drugs and medication which can minimally affect the Clinical Dementia Rating. Solanezumab, for example, has been shown to reduce brain shrinkage over eighteen months by... 2%! I wouldn't call that much of a result for a massive blast of chemicals, and who knows what the side-effects are!

A much better result has been found from giving patients B vitamins with high levels of omega 3 reducing shrinkage by up to 73%!

So patients with high homo-cysteine levels should take B vitamins and omega 3 for a treatment that is thirty times more effective than the current most hopeful drug treatment, with no side-effects and at a fraction of the cost.

For a super anti-Alzheimer's recipe, try the fishcakes on the Food for the Brain website.

Ingredients (serves 2):
  • 250g of roasted vegetables (eg. potatoes, carrots, parsnip, onions)
  • 150g of mackerel (tinned or fresh) – other fish works too
  • 4 tbsp of ground flaxseeds
  • 2 tbsp of ground chia seeds (chia and flaxseeds can be ground together)
  • 1 medium sized egg
  • 1 tsp of Dijon mustard (English mustard works fine too, but use slightly less as it is hotter)
  • 2 shallots (finely chopped - only add if there are no onions in your roast vegetables)
  • Himalayan salt and pepper to taste
  • Honey & mustard sauce (just mix one tbsp of mustard, 1 tsp of honey)
  • Capers to garnish (you can add a table spoon to the fish mix if you like, it is quite delicious)
Mash roast vegetables, add shallots, salt, pepper, beaten egg and mix well. Then add the fish, this is best done in flaking it on top of the mashed ingredients and then carefully folding the fish into the mix (at this point fold in the capers if you are adding them)
Pre-heat the oven at 160c and lay out parchment paper on a roasting tray. Place the ground chia and linseed on a plate - season with salt and pepper. 
Use a large spoon to divide the mix and make equally sized balls, then one by one flatten with the palm of your hand and coat with the chia and flaxseed mix before placing them on the baking tray. Do this very carefully as the fishcakes are quite fragile at this point. 
Bake for 30-45 minutes.Garnish the fishcakes with honey & mustard sauce and capers - Add minted mushy peas and/or a kale and lemon salad for an extra boost of nutrients!

Tuesday, September 01, 2015

Summer food

How do you like your ratatouille? The question arises because it's ratatouille-making season. The end of summer heralds a glut of summer vegetables which means, here in Montpellier, aubergine, courgettes and tomatoes. Plus green peppers.

I do not have a garden that produces anything more than sage, laurel and the odd chive so I have to buy all my veggies, unfortunately. Organic veg is never a huge bargain, but it tastes good, so now I have some time, I've been cranking up the ratatouille machine a.k.a the slow cooker.

I like ratatouille with still-crunchy veg plus soft well-cooked aubergine. It retains more of the vitamins this way and tastes lovely and fresh. My DB, on the other hand, likes it cooked for hours and hours so it becomes a rich-tasting mush. The slow cooker is ideal for this.

I fry the aubergine first to get them lovely and oily and brown, and add them to the slow cooker along with everything else (green and red peppers, onions, courgette, tomatoes, garlic, herbes de Provence). The oil from the aubergine is enough to flavour the whole pot once the whole thing is boiling happily.

The hardest part is resisting eating it straight away, because the idea is to freeze it to enjoy over winter.

I've also made some tomato sauce with some left-over sun-dried tomatoes added to the fresh. The flavour when finished was incredibly intense. Should be lovely over pasta and is great when you are in a rush and have nothing easy to cook quickly without resorting to an industrial ready meal. This Sunday is the Tomato Festival in Clapiers where I bought all my dried tomatoes last year. I've now finished them so I hope the same stand will be there this year too so I can stock up.

There is more to come as I ordered lots of aubergines from the Ruche Qui Dit Oui this week. I'm going to try caviar d'aubergine and make some baba ganoush which I learned how to cook from a Palestinian boyfriend back in my university days. It's absolutely delicious - so creamy, with a lovely smoky taste.

I only wish I had a larger freezer so I could fill it up more!

This summer I've been eating a lot of salad. It's been extremely hot, and I've developed a vinaigrette that I can't get enough of, and neither can my DB. I make it with whole almond purée which has a lovely rich roasted flavour, and add olive oil, balsamic vinegar, turmeric, dried nettles, herbes de Provence, garlic, S&P.

To this, which is made in the bowl, I add chopped mushrooms, cucumber, onion, raw beetroot, tomatoes, courgette, green pepper and of course, lots of lettuce. Then I add chia seeds, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds and hemp seeds, plus some chopped fermented tofu with olives and some avocado if I have any that hasn't gone off... (we've had lots of rotten avocados this year).

It makes a lovely, hearty, tasty salad that's healthy and a pleasure to eat.

What have you been eating this summer?

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Toyota Takes the Piss

My Toyota Yaris ranks number one in the mechanical loves of my life, followed hot on its alloy heels by the washing machine and dish washer.

However, when I go on holiday for two weeks, I come back to a car that doesn't start, and it has to be kicked up the battery with jump leads. The guys at the concession can't find out what's wrong and suggest it may be that the battery is the wrong size... They also say that I'm not the only person to complain about this, although, after a search on the internet, I couldn't find anyone else asking about the same issue. Were they not being quite honest with me...?

Not a little put out by this let down to my high expectations of Toyota reliability, I wrote an email to their customer service which expands a little on the problem:

J'ai acquis une Toyota Yaris Lounge très récente (voiture de direction) auprès du concessionnaire Toyota de Montpellier en Août 2013.
En Août 2014, je suis partie 15 jours en congés en laissant la voiture chez moi. A mon retour, il fut impossible de la démarrer, il semblait que la batterie était vide.
En utilisant l'assistance inclue dans la garantie Toyota, j'ai pu faire remorquer la voiture jusqu'au concessionnaire qui l'a gardée 1 semaine, sans rien trouver.

En Juillet de cette année 2015, même problème: après 15 jours d'absence impossible de démarrer. Il a fallu utiliser une autre voiture pour démarrer la Yaris. Là encore, le concessionnaire affirme ne rien trouver de défectueux (batterie OK, pas de "consommateurs" identifiés). J'avais particulièrement vérifié la voiture avant de partir (portes bien fermées, etc ...).

Le concessionnaire suggère que la batterie des Yaris n'est pas dimensionnée pour tenir lors d'une non-utilisation de 2 semaines!

Confirmez-vous officiellement cette explication qui me paraît anormale ?
Si ce n'est pas le cas, je vous remercie de m'indiquer la procédure à suivre afin d'identifier le défaut dont est affecté ce véhicule récent (45 000KM) et qui altère ma confiance.

I waited with bated breath for a reply and got a long (mostly useless) letter a few days later from a chap called Phillipe (important bits in bold):

Chère Madame HAGUE,
Je fais suite à votre courriel concernant l'autonomie de la batterie auxiliaire de votre YARIS (numéro de châssis VNKxxxxxx).
J'ai pris bonne note de votre réserve quant à la capacité de la batterie de votre YARIS à résister à des périodes d'immobilisation de 15 jours ou plus.

En conséquence, je me suis rapproché du Responsable Relations Client pour l'Après-vente de la concession A.D.L., qui m'a confirmé que cet élément de votre véhicule est en parfait état de fonctionnement, comme en confirme le bilan de santé de la batterie qui a été réalisée lors de l'entretien fait le 4 août 2015.

Votre véhicule est donc conforme à la série et répond en tous points aux critères de qualité que notre marque s'est fixés.

Je me permets, à toutes fins utiles, de préciser quelques éléments suivants à titre informatif.
La batterie auxiliaire de 12V de votre YARIS est similaire à celle équipant les autres types de véhicules aux motorisations traditionnelles.
Ce type de batterie se décharge naturellement lorsque le véhicule reste immobilisé pendant une longue période ; par conséquent, il peut arriver que la charge ne soit plus suffisante pour en assurer le démarrage.
Cette période d’immobilisation est difficilement quantifiable car elle dépend de plusieurs facteurs  :                             Etat de santé de la batterie                             Etat de charge initial                             Température extérieure                             Accessoires électriques installé sur le véhicule
Dans le cas d’une longue période d’immobilisation il est donc prudent de prendre quelques précautions :
                             Bien recharger la batterie avant le début de la période                             Débrancher la batterie                             Rebrancher la batterie et redémarrer le véhicule environ une fois par mois minimum
Une batterie auxiliaire est sensible aux froids rigoureux. Bien chargée, elle résistera mieux à l'hiver. Il est préférable de stocker la batterie hors-gel. 
Si toutefois la batterie venait à se décharger (batterie à plat) il est toujours possible de se dépanner comme avec tout autre voiture (avec une autre batterie et des câbles). L’utilisation d’un « booster » est strictement interdite.
Espérant avoir répondu à votre interrogation, je reste, ainsi que votre concessionnaire agréé habituel, à votre disposition pour toute autre demande.
Bien cordialement,Philippe O___Service Relation Clients TOYOTA
To summarise, he tells me that my car is in perfect working order, having checked with the concession, that the battery is similar to the ones used in other cars and that batteries discharge if left for long periods. Is two weeks a long period?

My DB has been using a Citroen C4 and left it in front of my house for three months. When he got in to move it, it started immediately. Three months is a long period. Two weeks is not.

The most bizarre piece of advice to come from young Philippe is that I should disconnect the battery when I go on holiday! I remember the days when my parents had to do things like that way back in the 70s. Is Toyota nostalgic for the old times when cars were more fun?

Perhaps they would like to take out seat belts too and make us tie ourselves in with string (String is a very Important thing, Rope is thicker, But string is quicker - Spike Milligan, Silly Verse for Kids). And how about removing sat nav to replace it with an airline fold-up table to read a map on? And why bother with engines at all? I had a very nifty go-cart that required furious pedal-power to get it moving when I was 7 (around the same time that car batteries needed disconnecting when left for long periods). Made me super fit.

In short, Toyota is taking the piss. Philippe ends the letter by hoping that he has answered my query,... Sorry Philippe, you have not... at all. You've just blown a huge hole in my trust and faith in Toyota, and if my Yaris dies, I doubt I'll be buying another!

I sent my emails to a car magazine called Auto Plus to see what they think, but of course, this is August, so la belle France is on holiday and I don't think anyone's at home. Maybe they'll get round to it in September when everyone is serious again at la rentrée!

Has anyone else had this battery problem?

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Is Gower any Good?

The Gower peninsula is the bit that sticks out between Swansea and Llanelli. My mum was born in Mumbles a few miles from Swansea, a picturesque village of Victorian quaintness, steep narrow streets, pier, lifeboat house, lighthouse, lots of pubs and a village castle.

She goes back every year, and I try to go back every year with the boys, or boy as it was this year as my eldest has decided that although he loves going to Wales, it's the height of uncool to go with his family. No one goes on holiday with their parents, I was told. To be separated from one's friends is to descend into a communication/social hell-hole, exacerbated to the heights of frustration and bad temper by a lack of text message capability (because someone didn't sign up to the international option before he left France despite being forewarned...). When I suggested Facebook messaging via wifi, I was met with withering scorn because no one under 'old age' uses Facebook now, but, in the end, it was the only functional solution. The old ways are the best...

So my eldest dashed over to London, and dashed back as soon as he decently could. Sooner, in fact... while the rest of us enjoyed going out, seeing friends and family and having fun.

For our second week's holiday, I drove us all (mother, youngest, me) up to Wales, stopping at the first service station on the M4 having set off early to avoid any M25 trouble to eat our traditional bacon sarnies fried up that morning to be nice and fresh, with a cup of tea from Café Nero. We cheered as we crossed the Severn Bridge and made the obligatory stop at Swansea's Tesco's car park to stock up on essentials from the market such as fresh cockles, local vegetables, and a large wild sewin.

Gower weather is nothing if not unpredictable, so we had clothes for everything except Arctic snow which was a good thing because it was indiscriminately sunny, chilly, wet and windy. Unperturbed, our activities of note this year were:

Perriswood Archery and Falconry Centre
This is a fantastic place, originally just a farm, but was diversified after the Foot and Mouth outbreak nearly ruined the family. It is set above Oxwich Bay so while you sit outside in the sun enjoying a nice cup of tea and slice of home made coffee cake, you can admire the stunning view right down to the sparkling sea.

Outdoor archery for kids? Oxwich Bay in the background

My youngest was delighted to be able to shoot different airsoft guns in an indoor shooting range. He fired with a pistol, sniper rifle, auto rifle and even a Tommy gun! He then went outside and tried his hand at the air rifle range.

Firing the Tommy gun

Meanwhile, my mother and I admired the falcons and owls which were doing a turn for another visitor who was so hooked on landing the birds that she took two sessions.

Falcons resting in the shade, the owls were next door

1940s Swansea Bay museum
Of particular interest to my mother who lived through the War in Swansea. You walk through the museum's 1940s street through a sitting room where you can try on bits of uniform including natty hats. My mother and I noted familiar household items - she because she'd grown up with them, me because I remember seeing them in granny's house. As well as shops, there was a communications room, a dad's army room, warden's room, and a bit of trench complete with rat.

Communications room
The young woman holding the fort (as it were) was very merry, and happy to chat about the museum and exhibits, especially as we were the only ones there towards the end of our visit. We found it fascinating. My youngest most enjoyed seeing the unexploded missile plunged into the ground outside... Our ticket was valid for a month so we could have gone back for free!

Visit of Carmarthen town
My mother had never shown any interest in visiting Carmarthen. She had always believed it to be a bit down at heel and of no particular interest. We decided to go this year because my brother and his family (two ado girls same age as my two) were staying in Llanelli and suggested it as a thing to do on a rainy day.

It turned out to be a fab visit. Although the ruins of the castle are pretty uninspiring (not much there), the rest of the town has been spruced up, and there's a good market where we found the purveyor of Carmarthen ham. Carmarthen ham, so legend has it, is a precursor to Parma ham. The Rees family has been making this cured ham for generations, and they tell the story of how, when the Romans came to settle in Carmarthen, they took the recipe back with them to Italy, to Parma...

My mother and I had read the leaflets on Carmarthen which extolled the virtues of this ham, so naturally we hunted high and low until we found their shop, where we had a very jolly chat with the Rees guys and bought some. I ate it when I got back to France, and can confirm it is very tasty.

We had a surprisingly good lunch in Debenham's, the only place which could cater for the varied tastes and demands of our party of 7. Their delicious roast pork came with crackling, and I got extra for my youngest to enjoy with his pork bap. The staff were very accommodating and cheerful too, so it was a pleasure to eat there. I had the veggie tart of red onion and melted Camembert in a gluten-free pastry, which was very tasty. Afterwards, my brother told me he'd looked for the most "disgusting sounding" thing on the menu and knew that I would choose it. He was right... he saw the tart, and of course, that is what I chose. Clever him!

Coastal walk Caswell Bay to Mumbles
Another of my brother's suggestions, but which did not go down too well with the three adolescents in the party... In fact, it's a walk that my mother has done many times, starting from childhood when she accompanied her father, but had never dared suggest to us because it is about 4 miles in length and didn't think it would be approved by the young'uns. My bro is made of sterner stuff and bribed them with the thought of an ice-cream in Verdi's at the end. This perked them up and a pact was made.

It didn't include a ban on moaning however, which was a shame... We parked in Mumbles and took the bus to Caswell Bay, got off, and after all that effort had to buy a pancake each for the teens to prepare them for the rigours ahead. After admiring the beach with its golden sand surrounded by craggy rocks, we set off along the coastal walk.

At the start of the walk, Caswell Bay behind me

Coastal walk

The walk is lovely, with fab views of the rugged coast, sandy beaches and crashing waves. About half a mile in, a squall rushed over from Devon and hit us with a cold shower. Cue much moaning. I had fortuitously taken my cagoule, as an old hand of Gower weather, but the kids had next to no protection and thus got wet. We forced them on despite howls to go back (where to?), and after a bit, out came the sun and dried up all the rain.

Dramatic coastline

We ate our picnic lunch at Little Langland outside the café with drinks for all. My youngest distinguished himself by opening a water bottle of lemonade which burst forth after being shaken about in his backpack, and landed unceremoniously in my niece's glass of hot chocolate. She was not impressed but it was quite a feat. If he'd wanted to do that, he would never have been able to pull it off!

Overlooking Little Langland, with Langland in the background

Our walk was taken at a leisurely pace and it wasn't until mid-afternoon before we got back to Mumbles, and bought ice-creams at Verdi's a short walk from the pier. Later in the week we at the Mumbles Pier Café in the photo below, and it's the place to go for excellent battered fish. The chips are nothing to write home about, but the fish is gorgeous with lovely light crunchy batter.

Mumbles pier and Mumbles Pier Café

And as we were staying in Scurlage, near Rhossili, no blog post about our holiday would be complete without pics of Rhossili Bay and the Worm's Head!


Worm's Head

Thursday, July 30, 2015

London Eye-fulls

The two months of summer here in Montpellier are the worst. It's too hot, and I'm tired of it. Fortunately, I missed two of the hottest weeks this year by going to England and Wales on holiday. Some people come south to burn on the beaches, I go north in search of heat relief.

I found it too. I don't think it got above 20°C. Meanwhile, it was scorching (caniculaire) here, getting up to 37°C during the day and 28°C at night. Too hot to sleep. Glad I missed it. Glad I got away from the tiger mozzies too. You can't sit outside and enjoy an apero, lunch, or evening meal without being a magnet for the little buggers. They manage to spoil one of the most appealing aspects of living in the south.

My mum lives near London, so I took my youngest and niece up to town. I had asked them what they wanted to do, and sent a list which included teen-friendly ideas:

Permanent Galleries Museum of London

No prizes for guessing that The London Dungeon was top of the list! It's made for teenagers and they love it. We bought tickets online on their website which meant we could jump the queues. It's now located near the London Eye on the river, having moved from the dingy back road where I expected it to be. We nearly missed our slot because it isn't signposted until you're practically in front of it.

It was a big hit, and I was full of admiration for the young actors and actresses who have to perform their sketches several times a day and stay motivated for each audience. It's definitely value for money, and I'd recommend it to anyone who wants to amuse and educate their teens about the murkier history of London. A group of visitors is taken through the Dungeon, starting by boat, stopping at one vignette after another to watch a character describing an event, or a witness to Jack the Ripper, or a nurse in an old operating theatre, or a journalist investigating Jack the Ripper, or a mad judge in a court room, etc. There's even audience participation, and I was picked to be tried and sentenced by the mad judge. It was great fun.

After a picnic lunch by the Eye, we got on the tube to Liverpool Street Station and walked around the East End doing the London Street Art Walking Tour, chosen by my niece. The area north of Liverpool Street Station is, as my mother puts it, 'achingly trendy' with shops such as Blitz  London which is a huge emporium of vintage stuff and rated in the top ten of's things to do in London. We popped in to have a look as there is a lot of advertising for it, but my two were not interested in the 'old clothes'. I regretted throwing out some of my old stuff, and am thinking of hanging on to those two bin bags of clothes that are still on my landing awaiting their fate.

Blitz London vintage store

Street art to order?
There's a lot of graffiti in France, but it's 99.9% rubbish - mostly tags which are the visual equivalent, and as crude, of a tom cat marking his territory. I've never seen what you might call street art here but I'll be generous and assume that somewhere there's a 0.1% example. I'm not including the amazing trompe l'oeil that decorate some of the boring walls of buildings.

The walk takes you along Brick Street, Petticoat Lane, Hanbury Street and past Old Spitalfields Market which is now just a covered market but was where we bought the flowers for my wedding back in 1995 when it was London's flower market.

Check out this selection of some of the amazing works of art we saw:

Some artists take a feature of the wall and use it as part of the picture. Some make a political statement.
The cavalier is one of my favourites
On the above street, we came across a guide who was taking a group around the street art streets so I listened to him talking about the cavalier. He used the picture to talk about the hurried nature of street art because you can see dribbles of paint... People had paid good money to hear that.

We were not the only ones mooching around with a camera. There were others who were either on the same itinerary as us, or something similar and wielding expensive-looking material.

I can't imagine these being rustled up overnight.

Love this one for being so majestic, by Roa

On the walk you can see a rich variety of styles concentrated into a relatively small area. But you do need comfy walking shoes.

The detail on the faces is exquisite
Petticoat Lane Market was not at its most vibrant. The best day to go is on Sunday, but we were there on a Tuesday and walked past stalls of cheap tatty clothes, which were probably made in sweat factories in the buildings behind. The windows of many were suspiciously shrouded.
One of my favourites (Wars)

Odin & co.?
There are some beautiful old brick factory buildings some of which have been refurbished into offices, including one which houses part of a university. If you like industrial architecture, there is a lot to admire.

Emily Blunt?
We didn't quite finish the walk but, after deciding enough was enough, returned to Liverpool Street Station to relieve our feet and have something to drink at Café Nero before going our separate ways. It was a cool day much appreciated by the 14 and 18 year olds.