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caveman (after Banksy)

Man discovered alcohol thousands of years ago – without doubt as a result of a fortuitous accident with fermenting fruit.  But as sure as God made little red grapes, that man stumbled upon a hangover the following morning. And he’s been looking for a cure ever since…

As lows follow highs, after a night of alcoholic fun and frolics we inescapably suffer the consequences of our indulgences. A throbbing head that feels as if it has just been removed from the freezer..  sandpapery eyes.. a dry mouth with a despicable taste.. and an overall feeling of nausea..  are some of the ways our body warns us that the alcohol has delivered a toxic blow to our body’s key defence systems and to take things easy for a while.

To be technical about it, alcohol is broken down into a toxin which the liver’s enzymes turn into acetate – hence the horrid taste in your mouth. Secondly, alcohol causes serious dehydration, which is largely responsible for the headaches that form part and parcel of every hangover. Lastly (but not leastly) there are additives in alcohol called congeners that deliver the final blow. These congeners can be natural components (like phenols in grapes for instance) or colourings or flavourings.  But they can also be a by-product of the methods used in creating alcohol (like aldehydes which develop during ageing or distilling processes, or sulphites which are added later).  All of these additives however can produce unpleasant after-effects.

a hangover kind-of feeling...

Generally speaking: the fewer the congeners, the lighter the colour, the purer the drink and the milder the hangover.  Thus it is believed that red wine, brandy and port give worse hangovers than vodka.

Whatever the case, when a hangover hits us we need help.  Most of us have with experience developed a more or less successful way of dealing with it – the preferred method staying in bed all day.  Some of us try taking pledges never to get into such a state again but the problem with this cure is that somewhere in the back of our thumping head, a little voice reminds us that that’s exactly what we said the last time..  So what other options are there?

water and more water...

Best of course is to avoid a hangover either by drinking copious amounts of water or by drinking less alcohol at a slower rate – both methods help the body to keep up with metabolising the consumed alcohol (some say at a rate of about one measure an hour).  We can also try reduce alcohol absorption by lining our stomach walls with fats before a binge.  A generous helping of greasy fish and chips is effective but if that doesn’t appeal, try some Mediterranean fare that has been generously drenched in olive oil.  Honey too is good for boosting the ability to metabolise toxins, as is oxygen – preferably in the form of some vigorous exercise before or during the blowout. (I can think of a few exciting workouts besides a few laps around the block).  Don’t however reach for the coffee jar – while many believe that a few cups of the dark brew is not only sobering but also helps to reduce the feared morning-after symptoms – IT DOES NOT.  Coffee is a powerful diuretic and therefore only adds to the dehydration of an already dried-out body – all of which of course will make the hangover worse.

So much for trying to prevent a hangover.  But what to do when, having ignored the above advice, the hangover has struck?  Many experienced party animals swear by the beneficial effects of a sturdy fry-up (with plenty of strong tea), believing that it can soak-up the alcohol after the event.  Others consider a hamburger and chips with a large bottle of Pepsi a decent morning-after fix.  Plenty of citrus juice has its fans too – it does revitalise but if the hangover is targeting your stomach as accurately as your head, you may want to avoid a high-acid attack on an already delicate body part (in which case opt for milder fruit such as a fresh chunk of watermelon, or banana smoothie).

The fry-up

For many carbohydrates usually do the trick – lots of freshly made toast which (to keep the cellulite happy) should be dripping with melting butter and perhaps a lick of honey and marmite (together of course).  Alternatively, in winter, a big bowl of comfort porridge with a good slug of Baileys, might just do the job.  For ideas on more exotic cures Keith Floyd, a ex-veteran hangover-survivor himself, has lovingly compiled an entire book on potent pick-me-ups. It’s called Floyd on Hangovers and favours among others the ‘Corpse Reviver’ (recipe below) and ‘Lactade’ – a rather drastic solution used by vets to reverse the process of dehydration and depletion of salts and sugars in dogs that suffer from parvovirus (a potentially fatal form of dog-gastroenteritis).

Obviously, there are as many hangover cures as there are alcoholic drinks on this earth – many of them as obscure as they are outrageous and many boasting the common denominator that they may not always stand up to rigorous scrutiny.  For who would voluntarily try the Puerto Rican favourite way of dealing with the after effects of alcohol excess – calling for a lengthy rub of a citrus fruit into both armpits?  Argentinian cow-hands apparently like nothing better than a plate of fried bull’s testicles to vanquish the demons after a hard night, whilst some Haitians recommend sticking thirteen black-headed pins into the bottle(s) from which you’ve been drinking (the concentration required to manipulate twenty-six pins if you’ve drunk 2 bottles, may take your mind temporarily off your suffering).  The Fins are perhaps the most determined in their hangover treatment (first a sauna to make the body sweat and thus rid the system of toxins, followed by a roll in the snow to shake off any residual tiredness) while the Russians tend to be the most resigned about their situation – feeling no need to restore themselves to a state of grace – they simply go on drinking..  The Japanese however who show the most scientific approach – they simply top-up on complex vitamin B supplements (the vitamins most depleted after a night of boozy merriment) in the form of calves’ liver – chopped, spooned out of a glass, and exceedingly raw.

Milk Thistle extract

The simple truth is that there are thousands of ‘cures’ some more worthy than others and it’s a matter of experimenting to find out what works best for you – being kind to your liver being the essence.  Medical studies have shown over and over again that the herb milk-thistle (available from health shops) efficiently helps your liver to survive an alcohol battering – few drops taken with water before you go to sleep and then again the following morning is probably the soundest method to fix a hangover.  Tea made from dandelion root also helps the liver to recuperate and has been used for centuries in France to treat overdoses of alcohol and rich food.

Having said this, there is still another popular way of dealing with a hangover.  Rather than fighting it, you’re advised to ‘go with it’ (the so-called hair-of-the-dog) – the main objective being to get you back on that horse before you spend too much time reflecting on your early morning pledge.  These will either easy your suffering instantly, or send you back to sleep…

Further Effective Hints to help with Hangovers

A sensual massage (neck and temples) may soothe a pounding head, especially if executed with a few drops of aromatherapy oil of lavender, clary sage or rosemary.  Or drizzle a few drops of thyme oil in cold water and dab gently on your thumping temples with a face cloth.  Then there’s the old reliable Alka Selzer or Solpadene…

Clarins’ Beauty Flash Balm – the ultimate miracle worker – can always be relied upon to lift bags that look baggier when you least need it. Use as a 10-minute mask to rejuvenate or under make-up.  Or for morning-after puffy eyes keep a supply of stainless steel teaspoons in the fridge and apply as needed. Alternatively Clinique eye gel is refreshing and ‘de-puffs’.

Make sure you own some Cesaria Evora music – her sensual Sodade rendition on the Miss Perfumado CD is one of life’s great soothers.

From DIY stores – a total black-out blind.

Tuck a few ready-bought smoothies into the fridge for emergencies.

CLASSIC BLOODY MARY

First served during the 1920s in Paris at Harry’s Bar, its variations are legion, using anything from clam juice, beef stock, horseradish and garlic, to cumin, celery salt, fresh herbs and even soy sauce. Very popular nowadays to ‘infuse’ the vodka with fresh chillies. I’ve used a stick of celery as a ‘stirrer’ but the McIlhenny family (of Tabasco fame) serve it with Zydeco Green Beans (see recipe below). You may want to adjust the seasoning, depending on your liking of spices.  Just keep tasting!

To make 1 drink you need:

  • 50ml vodka
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • good dash of Worcestershire sauce
  • 2-3 dashes of Tabasco sauce
  • 3-4 dashes of lemon or lime juice
  • 200ml tomato juice
  • pinch of salt

Enough for 6.

  • 300 ml vodka
  • ½ to 1 tsp black pepper
  • 1-2 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
  • ½  tsp Tabasco sauce (or to taste)
  • juice of 1-2 lemons or 3 limes
  • 1.2 litre tomato juice
  • 1 tsp salt

Combine all of the ingredients, stir well and serve in tall, ice-filled glasses. Garnish with a celery stick.

PRAIRIE OYSTER

The remedy favoured by P Wodehouse’s butler Jeeves, to revive the young Bertram Wooster after his regular beanos at his club the Drones.  Not for the faint-hearted but the kind of cure you have to try at least once!  For 1.

  •  few drops of olive oil
  • 1 egg yolk
  • large dash of Worcestershire sauce
  • large dash of Tabasco
  • pinch of salt
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 tsp vinegar

Rinse a cocktail glass with olive oil and without breaking, slide in the egg yolk. Sprinkle on the seasoning and serve. This cocktail is best drunk quickly in one – for obvious reasons! Alternatively, serve it on a large spoon.

CORPSE REVIVER

Enough for 1 corpse.

  •  25ml brandy
  • 25ml Fernet Branca (or vermouth rosso)
  • 25ml calvados

Shake the ingredients over ice and strain into a frosted martini glass. If you think your corpse will be cheered up by this, garnish with a slice or twist of orange.

STORMY WEATHER

Serves 1.

  •  25ml Fernet Branca
  • 25ml dry white vermouth
  • large dash of crème de menthe
  • sprig of mint

Shake all ingredients over ice and strain into an ice-filled glass. Garnish with a sprig of mint then serve.

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plain potato and onion tortilla

The following RECIPES were part of the B&B’s breakfasts and picnics…

In summer when there’s time for a picnic, I always think of TORTILLA as one of the dishes to bring along… There’s lots of ways to embellish the basic recipe – adding cheese perhaps, or parsley (or other coarsely chopped fresh herbs), or sliced peppers or thin chorizo circles – the ideas are really endless…

In fact it’s not even necessary to stick to potatoes and onions – why not try making an simple omelette using gently fried courgettes mixed with crumbled feta cheese… Or make last night’s left-over pasta dish into an amazing FRITTATA by stirring in a few beaten eggs and gently frying in a frying pan.

They’re all delicious eaten hot, luke-warm or cold. Go on, experiment!

Here’s the basic recipe:

TORTILLA of Potato and Onion

Serves 4-6 (depending on appetites)

frittata of leftover pasta

Not just perfect for picnics and great for lunch but try even for breakfast after a boozy night!  The amount of oil used may seem ludicrous but most of it will be strained off and tastes so wonderfully of potatoes and sweet onions that the oil can be used to fry other dishes afterwards…

  • 200ml olive oil
  • 4-5 large potatoes, sliced thinly
  • 2 large onions, thinly sliced
  • 6 large eggs
  • salt and pepper

Heat the oil over medium low heat in a large frying pan and add the potato and onion slices, layering them as you go,  Fry gently, lifting and turning regularly, until the potatoes are cooked but not browned (about 20 minutes). In a large bowl, whisk the eggs with a fork and season.  Drain the oil from the potatoes and set aside. When the potatoes have cooled down a little, add them to the eggs and gently mix.

courgette and feta omelette

Heat 2 tbsp of the used oil in the pan until very hot, add the potato/egg mixture in one go and spread out quickly, flattening the top and pressing down firmly.  Lower the heat and continue to cook very slowly.  When the bottom is browned and the omelette is set in the middle (you can gently lift the omelette with a knife to check this.  If the surface is still a little runny, put the frying pan under a hot grill for 4 minutes. Then invert a plate on the pan and flip over.  Add another tablespoon of the oil to the frying pan and slide the omelette onto the pan again, top-side-down.  Fry the other side until it too is brown and turn out onto a platter.  Serve cut in wedges at room temperature.

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Gravlax

The following recipe was part of an outdoor picnic at a recent course, but don’t forget it’s a great standby for canapés or starters to fancy meals… Or make yourself a delicious sandwich…

preparing gravlax

To serve 10 you need:

  •  2 very thick centre-piece slices of salmon
  • 100g gros sel (the course sea salt found in France)
  • 100g demerara sugar
  • large bunch of dill, chopped
  • 2 tbsp juniper berries, crushed

Run your fingers across the surface to feel for any bones and remove with a pair of tweezers if there are any.

You need an oval ceramic dish which fits one piece of the salmon as tightly as possible…

Method:

Mix the salt and sugar and sprinkle two tablespoons on the base of the dish. Place one piece of salmon skin-side-down on top. Now scatter half of the remaining salt/sugar mixture on top, and sprinkle

‘sandwich’ the pieces together

generously with half of the bunch of dill and the crushed juniper berries. ‘Sandwich’ the second piece of salmon skin-side-up on top and scatter the remaining salt/sugar mixture on top. Cover with clingfilm then weigh down with a plate that holds something heavy (I always use a second oval dish that is one size smaller and then put two tins of chopped tomatoes in it for weight, but you may of course place to full bottles of wine on it too!!).

Leave like this for 24 hours then carefully tip remove from the fridge (by now it will be filled with water that the salt has extracted from the salmon). Pour off the liquid then rinse the fillets under cold running water to wash off the salt mix. Dry with kitchen paper and place the fillets skin-side-down on a board. Now scatter with more chopped dill, pressing down to stick to the salmon.

slice and serve and enjoy….

Using a sharp carving knife cut the salmon slightly at an angle in thin slices – arrange on individual plates and serve with a side salad. Or arrange the slices on one large plate and let people help themselves.

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gariguette strawberries

As part of breakfast in La Souqueto we always offer yoghurt with fresh seasonal fruit (right now we’ve been adding the strongly perfumed, early cropping, slightly elongated Gariguette strawberries).  And sometimes, we add homemade compote (of cherries or apricots or peaches).

No need to add anything to these sun-ripened fruits but I do always sprinkle a little homemade granola on top for texture.

Today’s guests asked for the recipe, so here it is.

The quantity may seem a lot but remember that you can store granola for upto 1 month in an airtight container…

  • Souqueto breakfast yoghurts

    2 tbsp sunflower oil

  • 100ml maple syrup
  • 2 tbsp honey
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 300g rolled oats
  • 60g sunflower seeds
  • 2 tbsp sesame seeds
  • 20g pumpkin seeds
  • 100g flaked almonds
  • 100g pecans
  • 50g hazelnuts

Heat the oven to 180’C.

In a large bowl combine the oil, maple syrup and honey, then stir in the remaining ingredients. Mix well.  Pour the mixture onto two baking trays and spread evenly. Bake for 25-30 minutes but keep a watchful eye and stir from time to time, as it can burn around the edges.

Remove from the oven and allow to cool completely.

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freshly picked elderflowers

Whilst Ireland and England may still have to wait a few weeks, here in the South of France elderflowers have been in full fragrant bloom for weeks now.

No time to waste then.  To do what with? To make my annual elderflower syrup.  What do I use this syrup for?  Well, since I make it in its simplest form and not use citric acid as preservative, I freeze them as ice cubes, which I can then simply pop into a glass of cava or sparkling wine (or if you really must, sparkling water!) for a sophisticated and refreshingly fragrant summer drink.  Try also pouring it over (and saturating) a plain lemon cake and serve with fruits as an easy-peasy dessert, or use it to make a fragrant icecream.

Pick the flowers on a sunny morning – choose fresh clean flower heads that are just off white to pale cream, and shake the flowers, head down, so any creepy crawlies fall out.

bottled elderflower cordial

To make about two  75cl bottles you need:

  • 25 fresh elderflower heads
  • 1.2 kg sugar
  • 2 unwaxed oranges, sliced thinly
  • 2 unwaxed lemons, sliced thinly

Put the sugar and 1.2 litres of water in a large pan and warm slowly, stirring to dissolve the sugar. When dissolved, bring to the boil. Remove from the heat and add the flowers and citrus fruits, stir and leave covered in a cool place for 24 hours to steep.

Next day, strain the cordial into clean bottles with clip tops or corks, refrigerate and use within two weeks.  Alternatively, pour into ice-cube trays and freeze.

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Nuf said…

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white-flowering BLACKthorn

Ireland, Inishmore, Aran Islands.  Very early spring 1992.

And so that white-flowering bush that’s everywhere… is what they call WHITE thorn?

‘No’ Olwen said. ‘That’s BLACK thorn. It’ll produce sloes later on…’

Blackthorn blossom

Wrong time of the year of course (I must be getting old if memories are making me post a Sloe Gin recipe in spring…!!)

Sloes - early autumn

SLOE GIN

  • 300 freshly picked sloes
  • 200g caster sugar
  • 1 litre of gin

With a needle or skewer prick the sloes all over and put into a clean bottle or jar.  Add the sugar, then pour in the gin.  Shake well and put aside.  For the next week, shake the bottle/jar well at least twice a day, then store in a cool, dark place and shake occasionally (one every two weeks) for a few months.  Make in autumn, and the beautiful dark red liquor is ready to drink at Christmas.

Variations: you can use blackberries or raspberries in the same way (they don’t need pricking)… You can also use vodka in stead of gin…  You can serve it poured over icecreams and desserts…

Sloe Gin

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