Cauliflower soup

This may be a difficult sell….

Cauliflower is not everyone’s first choice as a vegetable, let alone as a soup.

This recipe is in my new book, Healthy Eating for Life, and we had it for supper tonight–we liked it.

Well, like is too mild–we adored it and–as we always do–marveled that something SO delicious could have only these five simple ingredients:

Cauliflower-onion–garlic–a smidgen of smoky bacon–a couple of bay leaves

Here is the recipe, reproduced from my new book:


Meredith asked, “What is this, it’s so creamy? It’s not potatoes is it?  It’s delicious.”

Cauliflower soup,”  I replied, somewhat sheepishly. Somehow cauliflower is not a vegetable that’s easy to own!

This recipe is adapted from one by Nigel Slater.

The key ingredient is smoky bacon.

1 large cauliflower--broken into florets

2 cloves of garlic–chopped

1 medium onion–chopped

2 oz smoked bacon–chopped

1 tablespoon olive oil

bay leaves

1 litre/2 pints stock

salt and pepper

  • Gently heat the oil in a pan and sauté the bacon bits until they colour a bit.
  • Add the garlic and onion.
  • Cook the mix on for five minutes until the onion has softened.
  • While this happens break up the cauliflower into florets and add to a large saucepan.
  • When ready add the onion and bacon mix to the cauliflower pan with the bay leaves and the stock.
  • Cover and bring this mix up to the simmer and cook until the cauliflower is tender.
  • Lift a couple of tablespoons of the mix out of the pan and into a bowl with a slotted spoon letting the liquid fall back in the pan
  • Liquidise the contents of the pan and test the seasoning.
  • Use the set-aside florets to garnish the soup and serve the soup hot.

We went back to the same voting hall to follow the count last night.

We found a crowd milling outside…


close-packed and tense in the room.


It feels timeless–only the clothes people are wearing defines the century we are in.

Two tables, fenced off with barriers, on either side of the room with four tellers seated round each.

People hanging over the barriers listening intently to the low mumbling of the tellers announcing each vote.


Bardou, Bardou, Bardou, Gros, Bardou, Gro and on and on…

The atmosphere is charged, expectant.


People greeting each other with brief handshakes, a quick double kiss. Few conversations ensue.

The incumbent Mayor, Monsieur Gros, the only person in the room wearing a suit, paces back and forth between the tables, occasionally disappearing into a side room with a pile of blue envelopes. Displacement activity–something to do while he waits with the rest of us for the tellers to complete their task.


Bardou, Bardou, Gros…

It is surprising how long it takes to count just over a thousand votes.

I’m unaware that a third count has happened at the school below the village and the result has filtered back up to the crowd gathered outside the hall.

I am feeling increasingly pessimistic and the expression on M Gros’ face does nothing to reassure me.

It’s hot in the room–fetid even.

As I turn to open a window the woman standing next to me shakes her head and I remain rooted to the spot not daring to break the tension and pull the focus–if only briefly–my way.

I ask her if she can point out M Bardou to me.

His family tomb is in the cemetery adjacent to the house and I know he is the chef/owner of a restaurant just up the road but I have never met him.

“There, with his back to the door” she says, pointing out a tall man wearing spectacles huddled by the exit–looking pale and nervous.

Neither side is acting as though it’s in the bag.

After half an hour, our friend Sylvie squeezes past me–she’s been monitoring the table to my right.

She shakes her head–”c’est cuit!” (It’s cooked i.e. lost).

“The count at the school below went M. Bardou’s way by over 30 votes and here it’s neck and neck but there won’t be enough votes for M.Gros to turn it.”

I edge my way out of the room and into the street where Meredith confirms what Sylvie has told me.

M. Bardou has won–he got out the vote.

Lautrec will have a new mayor–after twelve years.

A 92% turn out is impressive–local democracy at work.

Spring is in the air–it’s April the first tomorrow.

A time of change and transition.





Every VOTE counts!

We are heading up to Lautrec to do our civic duty and vote in the second round of les municipals–the local elections–to elect the mayor who will serve the village with his team for the next six years.


The first round last Sunday ended in a sensational dead heat (egalité) between the two contesting “lists“–512 votes apiece–so a second round plays out today.


According to our friend, Myriam, this was national headline news on French TV, radio and the newspapers. Only one other village in France, Dannemarie in Haute-Rhin, voted a tie.

Turnout in Lautrec was an impressive 85%!

Every vote counts in a small village–and unfortunately as we were still in the States, we weren’t able to vote in the first round.

We had tried to arrange to vote by proxy–the French system of absentee voting–but when we turned up at the gendarmerie as instructed, it was closed, with no notice posted about when it might be open or how we could proceed.



Second time lucky!

Though not French citizens, we are entitled to vote in local elections, though not in national ones–despite paying  taxes here. Makes no sense to me, even less to Meredith–proud citizen of a country that fought its way to independence to escape paying taxes without representation.

There are 37,000 mayors in France and they wield real power.

They have a tendency to run and run, as there is no term limit. When we arrived here in 1990, the mayor,  the local doctor, had been in  place for over forty years!

The voting today ends at 6pm and we’ll go watch the  count in the village hall.


A toute a l’heure, alors!


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

Good excuse to re-post this:

“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)

“Life, within doors, has few pleasanter prospects than a neatly arranged and well-provisioned breakfast table.” ~Nathaniel Hawthorne (1804-1864)

“Only dull people are brilliant at breakfast.” ~Oscar Wilde

“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 this morning was the same as every morning (and no sign of an oyster)!


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,

half a pot of low fat organic yogurt

cinnamon–sprinkled on top

and moistened with oat/almond milk–unsweetened.

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

The same every morning? Yes!


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, but I find the assembling and eating of this bowl of goodies a daily delight.

Meredith’s version of breakfast heaven:

Porridge (cooked oats–large and small flakes), milk, “no fat” organic yogurt, a prune, seasonal fruit, cinnamon sprinkled over.



Red Lentil Soup


We arrived back home at midday yesterday, after a hair-raising, heart-stopping near miss of our Toulouse connection at Heathrow.

It was always going the a bit tight, but worth the risk we thought, as the next connection left six hours later.

We waited our turn for a hand search after three of our bags were side-lined going through the X-ray machine, then watched the security staff carry out their essential, life saving duties–in aspic, it seemed.

“Last call–this flight is closing!” We made it by a hair’s breath after a long dash.

I’m trying to avoid going shopping today–recovery mode at St. Martin.

But what’s there to eat–the fridge and larder are low on fresh produce after our month long trip.

A look on the shelves…

Red lentils. Yes!

Ismail’s* spicy comfort soup–oh yes!

And a sweet potato on the side–perfectly enough until tomorrow–with a glass of red wine.


8oz red lentils–thoroughly washed

1 onion–chopped

3 tbsp olive oil

12 peppercorns

4 bay leaves

3 small red chilis–left whole

1.5 pints stock–I use organic vegetable stock cubes

2 tbsp parsley–chopped

1/2 tsp salt

  • Soften the onion in the oil.
  • Add the bay leaves and the peppercorns and cook a further five minutes.
  • Add the stock with the lentils, chilis, parsley and salt and bring up to the boil.
  • Simmer for 20 minutes until the lentils have cooked through.
  • Serve hot–with a sprinkling of parsley on top.

* the late Ismail Merchant–producer half of Merchant Ivory productions–whose touch of genius stretched into the kitchen.








We sold out of Healthy Eating for Life and Making Poldark–and had a good time besides.


Old friendships were renewed and new ones made in the heat of the March sun this afternoon in pretty Larchmont Village, LA.

Chevalier’s Bookshop is hanging in there, against the odds–as are many independent bookstores here in the US and in Europe, supported by the local community–but will it be enough?

Larchmont reminded me of Primrose Hill in North London–and Chevalier’s of Primrose Hill Books. These small scale enterprises need our support, acting as a buttress against the corporate take over of the High Street.

Tomorrow–16th March–we head for Palo Alto and Books Inc. opposite the Stanford campus.


Monday evening we are at The Booksmith on Haight Street in San Francisco–come and meet if you are near by!

The Experience You Can’t Download!

A singular lunch


Omelette for one with Russian kale salad

It’s Monday and we’re in Manhattan, nearly half way through our American Book tour adventure.

Meredith ate something last night that didn’t agree with her and is resting in bed.

I made an omelette and ate it alone here in the perfectly equipped apartment loaned us by our generous hosts, Melanie and Bruce, who live in Chelsea.

Yesterday we had lunch with two other old friends at Eataly–(should be pronounced eeeataly!) a newish arrival opposite the spickly span Flatiron building on the corner of 23rd Street and 5th Avenue.

Perfectly described by the ten-year-old son of the New York Magazine reviewer as “not so much a restaurant, more like a circus, with lots of food.”

Eataly, an emporium of eateries, draws its inspiration from Italy’s slow food movement.


Dazed at first by the Sunday lunch crowds and the enormity of it all…


it slowly (appropriately) comes into focus.


Studying American cuts


Portrait of the pasta makers


Fish stall


Wholewheat walnut won out.

We choose Il Pesce, the fish restaurant, out of the six available.

Perfectly cooked Trout for Meredith, Octopus for me; Flounder for Betsy and Porgi for Bruce.

We leave two hours later (slow lunch!) happy and clutching a bunch of red Russian kale (see photo above) and a bag of groceries.


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