Archive for the ‘Robin Ellis’ Category


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



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


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.






Read Full Post »

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!


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.


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.)
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.
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!
The project is in post production now. When complete, we’ll announce it here.

Read Full Post »

Hiver est arrivé!


Crisp and even!

Just as it should be but isn’t always these days as the seasons come unstuck.
They are planting the garlic and our birds are back on the bird table–tits, nuthatches and a robin.
Surprising how good it makes one feel–seasonal balance.

It helps this morning as we wait with our builders for someone from the La Mairie of Lautrec to arrive with the key to the church–the future of which has been an on-going concern, or to put it more crudely–has been bugging us for the past three months.

An unwelcome distraction from the food and everyday life blog.

The mayor (maire) announced at a meeting of the parishioners at the beginning of October (the first night of my cooking workshop, so Meredith had to go alone) that he is wants to sell the church.

He claimed that it is in a dangerous state and about to fall down.

Lautrec is in debt he said and short of money.

He claimed there was someone interested in buying the church and converting it into a living space.

Oh my goodness!

It’s no more than ten yards from the présbytere-the priest’s residence–our residence now.


So IOBY (in our back yard)–literally.


Ben on the lookout!


Meredith suggested there were other solutions.

OK says the Mayor, you have three months.


The church is no oil painting but we have grown to love it and its reassuring presence.


It was built about 1870–a hundred and fifty years after the presbytere (priest’s house) to replace the original chapel that was destroyed at the time of the French Revolution (1789-1794…).

In 1905 Church and State were separated by law in France and the churches became the property of local government.

SO–the church belongs to the commune.

In March at the local elections the Mairie changed hands and the new Maire decided that the church had to be sold.

(It was deconsecrated as a church sometime ago.)

A local woman had shown interest a couple of years ago but the then mayor assured us it was not for sale.


After the election, however, the same woman approached the new mayor….

We have been busy these three months.

We’ve consulted notaries, lawyers, the citizens advice bureau in our local town and all agree, after studying the documents that there is NO ACCESS to the church from our side and our neighbors, the farmers who own the land surrounding the church say they will not grant access from their side.


There is also NO WATER on the site and NO SANITATION--ie septic tank.

The only land is the narrow path that circles the building–NO TERRAIN.

As to the state of the building today two builders examined it inside and out and their shared opinion is that it is NOT ABOUT TO FALL DOWN.

There is structural work to be done to secure the chapel on the north side–but tis would not be “grande choses”.

One of them suggested that two exterior buttresses would render that chapel safe.

At the meeting in October the mayor assured the parishioners of St Martin, many of whom have family tombs in the adjacent cemetery and for whom the ongoing presence of the church building is significant, that it would retain it’s outward footprint—ie look the same.

The lawyers in Albi and Castres told us this assurance does not conform to French law in the case of rural churches.

Indeed the prospective buyer has told us that, if successful in her bid, she intends to knock down the two side chapels to provide window views on the north and south sides of the building.


We heard last week that the town council has voted to sell the church.

Though many people we have talked to say “BE PATIENT!” this is MAD and will not happen, it is a distraction.

We have set up a worldwide petition in favor of preserving the church as a significant presence and with the possibility of using it as a cultural centre and exhibition space. Please sign it:



The interior of St Martin showing some of the murals depicting the life of St Martin.




Read Full Post »


The name came into my head when I took the leftover Brussels sprouts out of the fridge with a view to frying them up for lunch today.

Bubble and Squeak--named for the noise they make in the pan while cooking.

Ho-hum–I didn’t hear a thing!

Wasn’t this quaintly-named concoction part of my mother’s post Christmas leftover strategy?

Dishes to go with cold turkey that only needed heating up?

Then a memory of added bacon floated into my mind.

Didn’t bacon get mixed into the brussels?

Well, bacon bits were already part of the feast on Christmas day–no harm in adding even more oven-crisped smoked bacon to the fried-up sprouts….

They’ll go nicely with a slice of the chickpea (socca) bread cooked in the oven as well.


Add a poached/fried egg and “Bob’s your uncle”–to revive another phrase from my childhood.


1 small onion–chopped

1 clove of garlic–chopped

leftover cooked Brussels sprouts–chopped


leftover Swiss chard–chopped (or you might have some OTHER leftover to try out in this recipe!)


a few very thin rashers of bacon–smoked or green to taste

olive oil

salt and pepper to taste

Heat a couple of tablespoons of olive oil in a sauté pan and add the onion and garlic.


Let them color a little before adding the brussels and the swiss chard (or other leftovers).

Mix together and cook gently for about 10 minutes–just long enough to heat them through.

Cook the bacon separately to a crisp state and scatter broken up bit over the sprouts.


Season to taste with salt and pepper and serve.

We enjoyed it on a slice of the homemade socca–chickpea flour–bread.

And the only sound was “umm”!








Read Full Post »


I spotted this recipe in the November edition of the excellent Suffolk Magazine (which had a feature on me!)

It’s by Mena Boughey – who runs cooking classes in Lavenham (Suffolk) and runs a catering company–lucky Lavenham!

She emphasizes the importance of introducing spices in small batches–giving each spice time to settle in and release its aroma.

Taking time under the big Suffolk skies–the zen of curry!

She includes a tablespoon of fenugreek–a regular spice in the Indian kitchen with links, as the name implies, to the Mediterranean and like many spices, claims interesting health benefits (good for digestion, good for diabetes).

4 tbsp olive oil

1 tbsp–ground fenugreek

1 tsp each ground cumin and ground coriander

1 medium onion–sliced

1 garlic clove–mashed with a little salt

1 tsp grated fresh ginger

1 tsp chili or cayenne powder–less or more according to taste

3 to 4 tinned [canned] tomatoes with their juice–chopped

1 tsp turmeric


300 gms chicken breast (about 2 medium breasts)–excess fat removed and sliced into medium sized pieces

2 medium fennel bulbs–outer leaves removed and cut into medium size pieces (I’ve substituted fennel for the potato in Mena’s recipe.)


2 tsp garam masala

2 or 3 tbsp yogurt–whisked smooth

salt and pepper

for 2/3 (add an additional breast to serve four)

Heat the oil in a medium pan and add the fenugreek, cumin and coriander.


Cook for a couple of minutes on a low heat until they release their aroma.

Add the onion and turn it over in the spices and continue to cook until it starts to soften.


Add the cayenne/chili and cook for a couple of minutes.

Add the garlic and ginger and cook on for 5 minutes–being careful not to let the spices burn.


Add the tomatoes to the mix and let them meld in and the liquid reduce–about five minutes.


Add the turmeric and stir it in.


Add  the chicken and fennel pieces and enough hot water to cover them.


Bring slowly to the boil then turn the heat down low.

Cook at a light bubble until the chicken is cooked through and the fennel is tender.

Turn off the heat and leave the flavors to take meld.


Before reheating it fold in the yogurt.

Meredith went to the larder in search of chutney the first time I made this.

No luck.

So I made a quick sauce with yogurt and cumin.

Read Full Post »


Ask any actor who has done time in repertory theatre what is the most frequently asked question by keen theatre-goers and I’d wager the answer would be:

“How do you learn the lines?”

I might have answered “with difficulty“, after drying on my first line (saying “Grace”) as the Vicar in Murder at the Vicarage on opening night at Salisbury Playhouse in the mid-60s .

It’s the nuts and bolts of the job–but never gets any easier.

Telly Savalas as Kojak had his lines taped all over the set and even–hard to believe–to the other actors’ foreheads!

Even if I’d been able to read them without my glasses, I couldn’t be shamed into that!

Samuel West‘s contribution to this article in The Guardian recently–actors’ advice to fellow actors–reminded me of the run-up to filming my two short scenes in the new adaptation of POLDARK*.

Samuel West-LMK-079156

To anyone learning lines for a day’s filming where there is NO rehearsal, he says:

Learn your lines with a friend the night before filming. Say them looking into your friend’s eyes. Your friend will be distracting you. You will think you know the scene because you can do it looking at the floor, but human contact is distracting – and you want there to be human contact when you film the scene.

Learning the night before? I’ve always needed time for lines to settle and stick (slow study it’s called in the trade)–but I know what he means.

Meredith volunteered  to hear my lines weeks before my first day’s shoot for POLDARK and eventually I took up her offer.

I’d been pounding them into my reluctant brain on my daily walk for weeks.

She suggested, like Samuel West, that I aimed them directly at her.

But for a while I was unwilling to engage with her spirited rendition of Captain Poldark–and continued doing exactly what Samuel West warns against–saying the lines, very convincingly, to nowhere in particular–sometimes to the floor.

In the end, I did engage. It was, as Sam says, usefully distracting–good preparation for when I had to project them across the chasm of the crowded, noisy courtroom.


Meredith watched the shooting of the trial of Jim Carter [Me-lud presiding!] on a monitor in a freezing anti-room of the medieval hall where we were filming.


In a pause while they were re-setting the lights she popped outside for a coffee to warm herself up.

There was Aidan Turner (aka Ross Poldark)…


…pacing up and down, going through his lines.

They hadn’t formally met at this point.

So as not distract him, she discreetly tucked herself into a corner with her coffee.

Suddenly, becoming aware that there was just the two of them, he confided:

“This scene is important and I want to get it right!”

“I know it well,”  she said.  “I rehearsed the lines over and over with Robin–playing YOU!”

Aidan roared with laughter.

Meredith sensibly didn’t offer to hear his lines….


*The new adaptation of Winston Graham’s  POLDARK saga is being produced by Mammoth Screen for the BBC and PBS’ Masterpiece in the USA, to be broadcast next year.

Read Full Post »


We were on top of the world Saturday afternoon in the high hills of les Monts de Lacaune to the east of Lautrec–waiting with an expectant crowd…


…for four French paratroopers to fall from the sky.

Both the crowd on the ground and the “angels” about to descend, were–perhaps unknowingly–re-enacting events that happened here, in an occupied wartime France, 70 years ago.

In early August 1944 the Allies organized several parachute missions to deliver weapons, supplies and soldiers to the resistance fighters in the Tarn. The German occupation forces got wind of one of these midnight drops and on the night of August 8th, they attacked the drop zone killing seven young maquis fighters. Their sacrifice was being remembered and honored at Saturday’s event.

In 1944 Guy de Rouville (below) was commander of the Maquis of Vabre–the Resistance group in charge of the secret drop zone. He was 29 years old.

At 99 his memory of these events is remarkable and his enthusiasm to communicate it, undiminished.


Guy de Rouville laying  flowers in honor of the slain young men whom he had once commanded.


Guy, in full flood, telling his story.

Guy and his wife, Odile (96), still live in the hill village of Vabre, where they once welcomed a young English major and two French officers from the Jedburgh mission who had parachuted onto this hillside on the night of the 8th August 1944.

The previous night they had taken in an American soldier who had broken his leg landing in the same drop zone with 14 comrades. They were an OSS commando unit sent from a base in North Africa to support local partisans and disrupt the German supply lines before the still little-known southern D-Day landings near St. Tropez on 15th August 1944.

All the parachute drops, made under cover of darkness and in a remote place, put the local population in peril on a day to day basis from the Nazi occupation forces.

The drop zone is on the opposite side of the valley from Vabre near the village of Viane.

Viane is en fete this weekend and murmurs were heard about the commemoration stealing its thunder.

Small murmerings–most of the crowd, like us, were looking forward to the parachute jump by the 8th RPIM (8e régiment de parachutistes d’infanterie de marine) based in nearby Castres.

We were not disappointed.



Despite an unpredictable wind making it more difficult…




…three hit the orange target…


…and the fourth was within twenty feet or so.




Meredith and “an angel that fell from the sky”!


Guy stands with today’s “angels”, 70 years after he welcomed the war-time flights.

Meredith is an American porte drapeau, carrying the American flag at ceremonies of remembrance in the region.


It was at one of these ceremonies where she heard the story of the American OSS team’s landing and their vital contribution to the liberation of the south Tarn two weeks after their arrival.

She received a Fulbright grant to document the history of that mission, interviewing most of the surviving members of the maquis group involved with the OSS mission. Two of the OSS men were killed in action in the Tarn. Their sacrifice and the memory of their deeds are honored by French veterans every year here–sometimes in the presence of American family members who come to see where their loved ones served.

Unlike the French paratroopers we watched Saturday, the OSS and the Jedburgh teams parachuted at night, laden with heavy equipment, into occupied France–with little idea what awaited them.

Their courage has never been forgotten here.






Read Full Post »

Older Posts »


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,041 other followers