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Our black cat, Ben…

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For the past few months–it seemed to us to date roughly from the unexpected arrival of the youngster Midnight–we’ve been concerned about Ben, our mercurial black cat.

He licks and cleans himself obsessively and has rendered the back of his long wonderful legs almost furless.

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Ben is a busy boy–

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–on mole patrol this morning…

and when he’s not busy he can be perfectly still and seem to be meditating.

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He can also be loving

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appearing out of nowhere to curl himself round your neck as you lie in bed.

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He comes into the kitchen at his customary fast trot–pit stop for fuel– looking shiny sleek from the front.

A black thoroughbred:

 “…always on the move that man–never without ‘is passport.” *

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Always in the moment.

He never demands food; he clocks what’s on offer and circles, letting his nose make the choice and when he likes the message it’s sending he settles back on his haunches, leans forward, head close to the bowl and starts to eat.

He has a penchant for sleeping black on black–disappearing into the material; you can walk past him and not notice he’s there.

But after the fluffy bundle arrived around midnight one night…

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Midnight exhibiting a certain entitlement.

…Ben took umbrage and started to sleep in the garage. It seemed he couldn’t deal with the playfulness of the newcomer who just wanted to rumble.

I worried that he might be depressed. The traveling vet, who comes to the house, thought it might be anxiety and prescribed pills.

Big Beau just stood his ground and let the youngster bounce off him.

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Beau “sitting his ground”!

Beau and Ben had bonded and I missed their wild chases over and under the furniture.

The mad leaps, the somersaults and the arched backed stand-offs.

By retreating, Ben had lost his playmate. His thunder had been stolen.

He protested all the way to the new vet–but now we know what the problem is.

It’s a wretched little mite called michrosporum canis (round worm).

I’m relieved to learn it’s not the wretched little fluffy mite I suspected.

We now wrap Ben in a towel, then TRY to syringe a tasteless liquid between his gritted teeth– which can cause a smidgen of spousal tension–of minor importance when the goal is to get the magical Ben back on top form…

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ps; Things have calmed down down between Mr Midnight and our Ben…

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*Mick’s speech from a favorite play: Harold Pinter’s The Caretaker.

“You remind me of my uncle’s brother. He was always on the move, that man. Never without his passport. Has an eye for the girls. Very much your build. Bit of an athlete. Long-jump specialist. He had a habit of demonstrating different run-ups in the drawing-room round about Christmas time…”

 

 

 

 

 

The name alone makes this sauce from Argentina worth a try.

The taste is fresh and piquant.

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According to Wikipedia, the origin of the name dates from the arrival of Basque immigrants to Argentina in the 19th century–at least that’s one theory!

Tximitxurri was a Basque sauce loosely translated as “a mixture of several things–in no particular order!”.

It’s appealingly vague–and has the ring of truth.

I had some parsley to spare and a good supply of capers in the fridge–add red or white wine vinegar, olive oil, red onion or shallots and garlic–in no particular order and…

I tried it with the mackerel at lunch.

Meredith thought it overpowered the fish but I enjoyed it–made up a bit for the disappointing mackerel.

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Ingredients–(INPO!)

1 tbsp capers

2 tbsp red onion or shallots–chopped

1 tbsp red or white wine vinegar

1 clove of garlic–chopped

4 good handfuls of parsley–chopped a couple of times by hand;

3 tbsp olive oil

salt and pepper to taste

Put first four ingredients in a food mixer and add the olive oil, spoon by spoonful, after each pulse.

The parsley retains its brilliant green better if the leaves aren’t too bashed about.

Season and pulse once more before decanting the sauce into a favorite serving bowl.

Lamb chops with chimichuri or indeed chimichuri with lamb chops next time!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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This lunch seemed to invent itself over the course of an hour.

I was looking for something new to do with eggs.

I wasn’t having much luck–just the usual suspects–but then remembered the cauliflower and broccoli florets–not many–in the fridge.

Steam and serve with poached eggs over them, I thought…. Delicious.

But why not sear them on the griddle after a brief blanching (5 mins)? Even better.

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Then I remembered the little individual gratin dishes I’d bought recently.

One each–I love that!

Blanch, sear, remove them to a bowl, season well and sprinkle with olive oil (2 tbs) to coat them, while they are still warm.

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Distribute them in two of the dishes with sprinklings of parmesan and left-over breadcrumbs.

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I was beginning to feel hungry.

I set the oven to 200C/400F.

I had just enough vegetables for two layers so a sprinkling of the parmesan/breadcrumb mix on each and a drizzle of oil to finish.

Twenty minutes in the top of the oven and the little dishes came out sizzling.

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I poached two eggs each.

Thumbs up from Meredith until she started the clear-up.

I am writing this from the dog-house…

[MW writing here: Spilled egg whites all over the counter top and not cleaned up!]

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Sucrine they are called here in France, I guess because they have a sweetness to them.

These tightly packed little tornadoes are known as baby gem lettuce in the UK.

They have an agreeable crunchiness that lends itself to strong contrasts–hence the addition of anchovy.

Anchovies are usually a background sound in cooking but here they solo occasionally. I love ‘em–but they are not to everyone’s taste.

I ordered this a couple of days ago in our new favorite restaurant–Chez Germaine in Gaillac.

A pre-movie (Whiplash) lunch with Donald Douglas (aka Cap’n McNeil in Poldark!) and Emma Temple, his partner.

This place is the French version of a tapas bar–warm and convivial–and the food comes in small quantities on individual plates. I ordered a plate of baby squid persillade (in parsley and garlic oil) and this salad. Perfect with a glass of the local red wine (Gaillac).

The combination of the crispness of the lettuce and creaminess of the goat’s cheese with the occasional bite of anchovy had everyone dipping in!

Meredith–not too sure about anchovies showing up so brazenly–suggested substituting roasted sunflower or pumpkin seeds–good idea.

You could add them anyway–but I like the salad’s simplicity.

for two

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ingredients

2 sucrine (baby gem) lettuces–deconstructed and sliced up

half a goat’s cheese “log”–or other shapes–pulled apart to spread its creaminess

3 or 4 anchovy fillets–sliced into smaller pieces

dressing

1 tbsp red wine vinegar

4 tbsp olive oil

1 clove garlic–pulped in a mortar with a pinch of salt

salt and pepper

—————–

Add the lettuce to a favorite bowl.

Add the cheese and the anchovy pieces.

Make the vinaigrette

Add the wine vinegar to the garlic in the mortar and whisk.

Add the olive oil and whisk it in to make the vinaigrette.

Pour it over the contents of the bowl.

Turn everything over carefully until the little lettuce gleams with pride.

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A soup for cold January evenings.

Borlotti beans are the speckly ones–mottled white and red uncooked.

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Cooking changes them to brown, which is a little disappointing.

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They have a nutty flavor that distinguishes them from cannellini beans–and lends an air of gravity to this winter vegetable soup that white beans can’t quite achieve.

You can substitute white for borlotti, of course.

Ingredients

1 tbsp olive oil

1 carrot–diced small

1 onion–diced small

1 celery stick–diced small

1 garlic clove–chopped

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1 tsp fresh thyme leaves

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600 mil  vegetable stock (I use organic stock cubes)

400 gms tinned (canned) tomatoes–drained and chopped

400 gms tinned (canned–or in a jar) borlotti beans–drained

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salt and pepper

125 gms thinly sliced cabbage–I use savoy cabbage

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parmesan cheese (grated for garnish)

There are three simple stages:

1) Heat the oil in a pan and gently soften the carrot, onion, celery, garlic and fresh thyme (if you have it).

2) Mix in the broken-up tomatoes, the beans and the stock and season well–salt (to taste) and plenty of fresh ground pepper.

Bring these up to the simmer and cook on with the pan partially covered for 15 minutes.

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3) Stir in the cabbage and cook until tender.

Serve hot with grated parmesan and a swirl of olive oil.

Tastes even better the day after…

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Just back from UK where I recorded my memoir of Poldark as an audio book–with an extra chapter about taking part in the new BBC/Mammoth version–40 years after doing the original!

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Two days in a small, soundproof booth in a basement recording studio in Hove in Sussex, while the wind and the rain raged above ground.

I was fortunate to have three helpmates in the studio running the show–and keeping my nose to the microphone.

Chris Daniels, sound engineer, owns the studio and is a member of that fraternity of calm console operators who are never flustered.

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They have seen it all before–and behave as though they read the first verse of Rudyard Kipling’s poem, IF, before sitting down to work:

If you can keep your head when all about you
    Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
    But make allowance for their doubting too;
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
    Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies,
Or being hated, don’t give way to hating,
    And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise:
 
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,
    And you’ll be make a Sound Engineer, my son!
(With apologies to Mr. Kipling.)
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My old friend, Constantine de Goguel Toulouse-Lautrec–his grandmother was in St. Petersburg in the October Revolution of 1917 and survived–sat in the producer’s seat and guided a rusty performer through the sessions with grace and years of experience.
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He’s a fine actor and an experienced dialogue coach for movies.
He also runs Spoken Ink–subtitled “The Home of Short Audio“–well worth checking out.
Meredith made up the triumvirate as back-up producer keeping a beady eye on the script and an ear out for things that could be better (like the American pronunciation of “Potomac”!).
Her occasional ripple of involuntary laughter was a morale boost for The Man in the Sound Proof Booth!
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The project is in post production now. When complete, we’ll announce it here.

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Every three months I take a trip to see Cyril, my podologue, for a foot service–an essential on a diabetic’s check-up list.

Eyes next month.

It’s a relaxing 45 minutes–he has a naturally calm manner and doesn’t flinch at my halting French.

We chat while he gently works.

He’s signed the French version of our petition au sujet de l’église, he tells me.

Merci beaucoup, Cyril!

He told me he and his wife are expecting their second child–a girl–in three weeks time. They are favoring “Rose” as a name.

I booked another session in the first week of April and, stepping lightly on my “new feet”, headed across the road to the car.

I started pondering dinner–before lunch.

(One can never be too prepared….)

“Ah!” I remembered a friendly family butcher (husband and wife) nearby whom I occasionally frequent–and I recalled a one-pot recipe in Delicious Dishes that calls for spare rib chops, white beans and oranges. See recipe below….

From Delicious Dishes for Diabetics

From Delicious Dishes for Diabetics

Both husband and wife were busy working as I entered.

“Deux bouchers!”

Une bouchère, Monsieur!” [One of us is a woman, Sir!]

“Ah–tout a fait!–excusez moi, Madame! Est-ce que vous avez d’ échine de porc?” 

“Bien sur!”

“Deux, s’il vous plait–assez fines [not too thick].”

Comfort food again.

I picked up some broccoli at the quiet Tuesday open-air market in Castres and headed home.

A couple of nights ago, I’d mis-timed the broccoli; it was ready too soon–so I drizzled it with olive oil, seasoned it and sautéd it a low flame to keep it warm.

When it came time to serve, one side was slightly charred but it tasted GOOD.  I enjoy happenstance in cooking and decided to try it again–deliberately!

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It works–and made a nice color contrast to the pork.

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Serves 4

This lovely autumn/winter comfort dish is based on one by the talented Frances Bissell.

2 x 400 g/16 oz tins/bottles white beans
4 spare rib chops (echine in France – these are the tastier ones)

1 onion – sliced
1 stick celery – sliced
2 oranges
1 tsp coriander seeds
150 ml/5 fl oz/1⁄2 cup vegetable stock
salt and pepper
chopped fresh coriander or parsley

The timing for cooking depends in part on the thickness of the chops.

Heat the oven at 160°C/325°F/Gas Mark 3.

Rinse the bean and pour into the oven proof dish you will serve from.
Brown the chops well in a non-stick frying pan. (No oil needed as the chops are a bit fatty.)

Lay them  atop the beans.

Brown the onion and celery in the same frying pan – the fat from the chops will be enough to cook them in.

Lay them on the chops.

Carefully cut some strips of zest from one of the oranges.

Bury these in with the chops and beans.

Squeeze the juice from the two oranges over the chops.

Crush the coriander seeds and sprinkle over. Add the stock.

Cover and cook in the oven for about 2 hours.

Check after an hour to ensure that there is enough liquid–but be careful not to add too much–or the concentrated taste of the sauce will weaken.

Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Before serving, sprinkle the chopped coriander or parsley over to garnish.

 

 

 

 

 

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