The raw truth

So my mission to find a better way of eating has continued throughout the summer… my initial forays into free-from cooking weren’t great, from my disastrous xylitol meringues to the rather disappointing dairy- and sugar-free wholewheat & courgette muffins. I did manage to make some delicious sorbets with lemon juice and a syrup made with xylitol and infused with herbs, but after 48 hours in the freezer they had all taken on the consistency of a glacier. An ice pick is not a good look when you’re trying to serve dessert.

But, nevertheless, fuelled by some excellent writing by cancer survivors and scientists, juicing enthusiasts and raw food cooks – and even a Michelin-starred chef turned vegan convert – I’m learning more about how and why foods affect our bodies in certain ways, and how to go about cooking and eating to make life not only healthier, but also tastier. The right diet and lifestyle may not be able to eliminate all chances of getting diseases like cancer, but I’ve realised that it is undoubtedly possible to significantly lower the odds.

Despite all my jibes about soy chai lattes, mung bean pancakes and tree hugging… I am steadily cutting out cow-derived dairy from my diet – and even the Big Swede (from a nation of dairy devotees) has followed suit. Instead of cow’s milk, we now buy either almond, soya or coconut milk (rice milk is fine if you like skimmed milk, but we both find it too watery) and, though I still have been using a bit of butter when cooking and on toast (out of habit more than anything), I am increasingly ignoring it in favour of olive, coconut and vegetable oils.

A big incentive to eating far better is the juicer we bought – it’s got a chute big enough to fit whole apples (so there’s not the faff of peeling, chopping or coring – we just chuck ’em straight on in there) and it’s a doddle to clean, which means that we actually use it at least once a day, instead of it gathering dust. Well, I say “we”… Big Swede has taken to juicing with a fervour bordering on the religious. His latest creation was called “Swamp Juice”, which was ridiculously healthy and a deep, rather lurid shade of green, but he’s a sucker for berries, so each morning I’m often handed something akin to an all-natural, virgin cocktail. It’s only a matter of time until there’s a cherry and umbrella on top…

Today is the start of another week cooking for the clients who set into motion my quest for a healthier diet. In anticipation of their arrival, my head is full of ideas, while the fridge is bursting with fruit, veggies and herbs, the larder is stocked with my Norwegian crisp breads, buckwheat noodles and cookies I’ve made without resorting to sugar, butter or white flour, and the freezer has about five different flavours of totally sugar- and dairy-free ice creams, including Brazil Nut & Vanilla, Rasbperry and Coconut. I really, really hope they’re hungry…

The kitchen garden

As a non-gardener (you can’t imagine the shame I feel in writing those words – I’m an embarrassment to myself, not to mention my green-fingered family), I am lost in the midst of a horticultural conversation.  As my mother will tell anyone, a frequently uttered comment as a teenager was “bloody clematis” (or something along those lines) when she and my aunt were in raptures about the latest cutting or new discovery.  However, I must be growing up…  Although I wouldn’t be much use to any gardener yet, I am getting interested.  What does this have to do with me being the chef here at Le Manoir de Raynaudes?  Well, the hotel has an idyllic garden, not to mention the swimming pool – and, of particular interest to me, we use many of the garden’s herbs, vegetables and plants in our food, including 16 varieties of tomato, row upon row of salad leaves, lemons, beetroot, berries – as well as all the herbs you could wish for.  None of that supermarket, packeted rubbish here.  This is the mother ship of living larders.  Of course, to be a true local, I’m going to have to get my hands bloodied sooner or later – the birds and animals are starting to look at me suspiciously – they must know that I’m already wondering what herbs they’ll taste best with…