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Touching story this.

Meredith and I were at the La Gare in Castres some weeks back seeing our friends Anne and Ray from Maryland onto their midday train to Toulouse.

Double seat benches faced each other in the waiting area–perfect for two couples.

Problem was that on one of the benches sat a hooded figure hunched forward, asleep perhaps–his face hidden, anyway showing no signs of being about to move.

Not a threatening presence exactly but hooded figures give you pause.

It was a chilly early autumn day. He was wearing shorts and sandals and a plastic bag rested at his side.

When the train arrived, the four of us made our way onto the platform with the other waiting passengers.

Mr Hooded Figure followed amid the general animation, fearing perhaps being moved on unless he gave the impression he was traveling too.

We said our goodbyes to Ray and Anne and headed back towards the hall.

Meredith looked for Mr HF.

He was sitting on a bench on the platform still hooded looking straight ahead; unfocused, dazed, unengaged–certainly benign but lost and hungry, Meredith thought.

She made her first move.

For this story is about the moves that Meredith makes that others (like me) might not always leap up to make.

I said I’d get the car started–wary of being too eager a samaritan.

Meredith doesn’t recognize “wary”, be it dog or human, when she senses need.

She went up to him and asked if he’d like something to eat and drink.

He said he would and they made their way to the little news stand where the refrigerated shelf held sandwiches and salads.

He said he just wanted water but Meredith persuaded him to accept a small tabbouleh salad with the bottle of water.

She was also concerned about his state of mind and asked him if he wanted to see a doctor or go to the hospital.

He eventually agreed to go to the hospital.

My face when she turned up with him was a picture, she says.

She explained the situation and the young man got into the back of the car.

I said “Bonjour Monsieur”; took a deep breath and set off.

When we arrived at the hospital Meredith accompanied him into “Urgences”, the emergency reception.

I parked the car and hung out.

It took a while.

When she came out she said she’d left him waiting to see a doctor.

To her surprise he’d produced his identity card and carte vitale (health system card) from a deep pocket in his shorts, when asked by reception.

She later went back to the hospital with a bag of clothes but found that he had been discharged–to her dismay.

The receptionist said the doctor who’d dealt with him was busy with other patients and she’d have to wait.

After 45 minutes she reluctantly gave up and drove home.

She later found him on Facebook and left a message wishing him well and hoping he was alright.

Last week she received this email from him.

Bonjour, je suis la personne que vous avez aidée à la gare de Castres.

Merci pour votre humanité et votre gentillesse.
Je vous souhaite une bonne continuation.
Thanks,
Denis

She found this quote from Voltaire to include in her reply:

 La vie est un naufrage, mais nous ne devons pas oublier de chanter dans les canots de sauvetage

“Life is a shipwreck but we must not forget to sing in the lifeboats!”

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 Today is World Diabetes Day–Nov 14th, birthday of Fred Banting, who along with Charles Best first discovered insulin, revolutionizing the treatment of diabetes.world-diabetes-day

The World Diabetes Day 2014 campaign marks the first of a three-year (2014-16) focus on healthy living and diabetes.

Special focus will be placed on the importance of starting the day with a healthy breakfast. (see below!)

Facebook question for Robin & Meredith: What do you guys have for breakfast? The cookbooks don’t mention anything and I’m curious ~Maire Martello 

To eat well in England you should have breakfast three times a day.

                                     ~ W. Somerset Maugham

All happiness depends on a leisurely breakfast.            ~ John Gunther

Oysters are the usual opening to a winter breakfast. Indeed, they are almost indispensable.

~ Grimod de la Reyniere (1758-1838)

Breakfast is the most important meal of the day.” 

~ I’m sure my mother said that a few times!

Breakfast–before I set off on my walk–is the same every morning (and no sign of an oyster)!

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large organic oat flakes mixed with…

freshly-cracked walnuts (watch out for rogue pieces of shell that crack your teeth)

a dried, untreated apricot–chopped

a teaspoon of linseeds

a prune (cooked),

half a pot of plain organic yogurt

cinnamon–sprinkled on top (Some studies show cinnamon helps lower blood sugar levels.)

and moistened with unsweetened oat or almond milk

Two slices of 100% organic rye bread with a little butter and pear & apple fruit spread (no added sugar)

and a small black coffee

The same every morning?

Yes!

Dull?

Not for me. I look forward to it–once a day, at least!

Maybe we are at our most conservative, most in need of ritual, just after waking up. I find the assembling and eating of this bowl of goodies a daily delight.

Meredith’s version of breakfast heaven is cooked oats (she’s eating it as I write!) :

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Porridge: small oat flakes cooked in organic milk, organic plain yogurt, a cooked prune, perhaps some seasonal fruit, cinnamon sprinkled over.

Neither of us feel the need to snack before lunch–the oats keep us going.

Latest estimates* suggest that there are 382 million people living with diabetes worldwide.

What makes the pandemic particularly menacing is that throughout much of the world, it remains hidden.

In my case, there were NO symptoms. My Type 2 diabetes was picked up in a routine blood test.

Up to HALF of all people with diabetes worldwide remain UNDIAGNOSED!

A simple blood test is all that is needed for a diagnosis.

If you have a family history of diabetes, as I did, a routine test is a good idea!

Life, within doors, has few pleasanter prospects than a neatly arranged and well-provisioned breakfast table. 

~ Nathaniel Hawthorne (1804-1864)

* International Diabetes Federation Diabetes Atlas

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A couple of days ago I announced that I was thinking of making fennel soup for supper (we need a photograph of it for the new book).

“You should use all those veggies in the crisper,” said Meredith, in practical mood.

After years of taking a moment to understand what “crisper” meant, I now know it’s the bottom drawer of the fridge where salad and (forgotten) vegetables are stored.

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It still sounds odd to me–crisp and vegetable?

“Any road”–as Aunt Mary used to say–I found a treasure trove of useable vegetables.

MINESTRONE!

So…

I chopped into small dice:

2 carrots

2 small celery sticks

1 onion

3 garlic cloves

and sweated these over a low heat for a good half hour or longer in

3 tbsp olive oil

I then added:

2 fennel bulbs–outer casings removed and chopped into larger dice

more celery–similarly chopped

more carrots–similarly chopped

a handful of mini onions–peeled and halved

some cauliflower florets

Then I spooned in 3 tbsp cooked white beans, from a jar preferably (I prefer them to tinned/canned),

tucked in a small bouquet of parsley and bay and a piece of parmesan rind (I happened to have one to hand!)

I poured in 1 1/2 pints of stock–in this case made from organic vegetable cubes,

and seasoned well with freshly ground black pepper and a teaspoon of salt.

Brought this up to the boil, turned down the heat to low and simmered it for an hour.

Then I added a handful of green beans–escapees that were loitering in the crisper–snapped in half–and 2 medium courgettes–the last from the garden, sliced.

Cooked all this on until these last were tender.

Served it with a swirl of best olive oil and grated parmesan.

(The crisper promoter showed her approval by having thirds.)

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Recipe-sharing has been on hold for a while. This is a “relaunch”.

My excuse? I’ve been busy and distracted: putting on wigs, trying to remember my lines, running a cooking workshop, demonstrating no-potato fishcakes at a literary festival*, preparing a third cook book, worrying about the sale of the adjacent church for a private residence…

I’ve missed finding new recipes, cooking them and writing them up.

So here goes….

(Could be a hostage to fortune!)

Early Saturday morning at Castres market, I spied a pile of green beans on the small display table.

I was surprised.

These are the last,”  said the local grower, who also had some promising looking cherry tomatoes laid out.

I bought a pound of each and here they combine to make the simple vegetable dish from Delicious Dishes for Diabetics.

I’ll sprinkle over some feta and a few juicy black olives to make a light lunch.

It’s warm enough to eat al fresco in the courtyard–the SUN is refusing to retire and is out every day–a delayed summer (July and August didn’t deliver.)

Warm enough to ripen the fruit that normally we enjoy weeks earlier–even our figs are finally showing signs of ripening.

We are not complaining.

250gms/8oz green beans

250gms/8oz cherry tomatoes

2 tbsp olive oil

1 clove garlic–thinly sliced

2oz  feta cheese  (optional)

half a dozen juicy black olives  (optional)

First make the tomato sauce:

Heat the olive oil in a shallow pan and add the garlic slivers.

Cook for a minute or two to soften.

Add the tomatoes and cook on a low-ish heat for 15 minutes, stirring and gently squashing them occasionally.

You should end up with a viscous sauce–the tomatoes retaining some of their shape.

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Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Cook the beans in boiling, salted water until just tender.

Drain and lay them on a pretty plate.

Spoon the sauce over the beans.

Add olives and/or feta (optional).

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*Festival Litteraire de Parisot

Parisot is a delightful, hilltop village in the Tarn-and-Garonne department, a little to the north of us.

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This was the second year of their book festival and it was a triumph.

Brilliantly organized over a three-day weekend, events ran parallel in French and English, serving the two communities simultaneously.

A grand sweep over the literary landscape included a writing Masterclass, talks by first-time and established novelists, a workshop given by an expert in Arab calligraphy, a talk on organized crime in France, a superb analysis of the causes of the first world war by Clive Ponting and much more–including a light-hearted account of my acting career, given while cooking pumpkin soup and no-potato fishcakes.

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Flying Virgin…

…which is what I did in 1986, London/ New York courting Meredith.

(Virgin Atlantic, that is!)

Yesterday that phrase took on an entirely different meaning….

We live in a rectory or presbytère, next to a disused church.

Church

 

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This statue has been our neighbor for 25 years.

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Our Ladies pose for a photo!

Yesterday our Lady took FLIGHT–albeit assisted–to the cemetery hard by.

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Short flights can be stressful–even when you know you are in safe hands….

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Now she presides majestically over generations of Dauzatois–permanent residents of the graveyard.

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Occasionally a new grave is dug, a visible sign that these quiet souls will soon be joined by a new arrival; more often the newcomer finds peace in one of the many family tombs.

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After decades beside the church door, an edict was issued from on high (the Mairie–owners of the church) that she was to fly again to her new perch.

A couple of years ago the church was deconsecrated and stripped of its interior statuary.

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It was a curious site to see these iconic figures lifted off their pedestals, standing around in the middle of the empty church, like awkward guests at the start of a cocktail party–awaiting the arrival of the removal van.

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They’d known each other by sight for perhaps more than a century, shyly stealing glances from the safety of their niches–but never obliged to speak….Now they were face to face–no escape!

The wall murals tell the story of Saint Martin in primitive fashion and the vaulted ceiling is still a brilliant BLUE.

The martydom of Saint Martin

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The demur figure of Mary has led a solitary life.

For years she’d stood at the end of the Curé’s garden–looking back at the church and the presbytère.

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Parishioners with the statue in the garden about 60 years ago.

But then the previous owner of the house–feeling perhaps uncomfortable under the constant gaze of the Virgin Mary–decided it was more appropriate that she should stand vigil at the church door, welcoming the worshippers.

So Monday wasn’t her virgin flight–pardon me–but maybe it was her last.

She has, in turn, modestly presided over:

  • a garden around which the live-in priest would walk while transposing his thoughts into sermons.
  • a church to which a loyal, but dwindling group of adherents would come to worship.
  • and a cemetery in which many of those worshippers are resting.

Now she has time to reflect on all that and one might guess she’d be happy to be left in peace.

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We had the best of times!

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Washington DC; Philadelphia; Naples, Florida; North East, Maryland and Whitstable, England

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East Coast folk from both sides of the “Pond” came together in South West France, where the sun shone for us every day.

It even managed a mackerel sky to match Friday lunch–spanking fresh fillets of this tasty fish.

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We peeled and chopped–worked hard and chuckled a lot.

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We made chickpea pancakes to stuff…

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French omelettes….

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Italian frittatas too, to compare….

I  forgot the grated parmesan for the frittatas–had to retrieve them from the stove and mix again!

Julia Child and her inspirational insouciance was kindly invoked by the Bravehearts: “Never mind, nobody knows but us!”

Over coffee, we talked of Cabbages and Kings and the Mediterranean way of cooking.

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All our lunches taken al fresco, with a backdrop Leonardo would have been tempted to paint between mouthfuls.

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Our neighbor Celine even taught us how to clean and braid garlic. Some, like Leslie, were naturals….

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Others, try as they may…

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will never master it…

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What a lovely lot!

(Even the gatecrashers!)

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(Shows it was just picked from the garden!)

Here’s to us!

Who’s like us?

Damned few!

…Well roughly 29 (Bravehearts!) at the latest count!

 

 


 

 

One..

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How good it is to be ALIVE!

 

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