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This got the “ding” from Meredith at lunch today.

Spotted in “Jamie’s Italy“–Jamie Oliver’s lively and loving tour of the peninsula–it offers a twist on roasted pumpkin by including fresh sage, cinnamon and a hint of heat in the mix.

It is simplicity itself.

a small pumpkin–sliced in half and seeds removed

1 small cinnamon stick–split into smaller–not too small–lengths

1 small chili–chopped

a good handful of fresh sage–chopped roughly

2 tbsp olive oil

salt and pepper

  • Heat the oven to 220C/430F
  • Slice the pumpkin carefully into smallish crescents
  • Add them to a large bowl
  • Add the sage, chili and olive oil to a mortar and pound gently to release the flavors
  • Add the cinnamon pieces and mix them in thoroughly without allowing them to break up too much
  • Add this mix to the large bowl and season well with salt and pepper

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  • Turn it all over to coat the pumpkin boats
  • Arrange the boats in a shallow, oven-proof pan

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  •  Roast in the upper part of the hot oven for about 20-30 minutes–the time it takes to cook them to tender depends on the thickness of the pumpkin pieces
  • Check after 15 minutes for doneness
  • They should develop a pleasing seared look

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We ate them with magret de canard (duck breast) to welcome in the New Year on a spectacularly beautiful winter’s day.

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Also spectacular is the walnut and garlic sauce, nestling in there.

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(The recipe for this sauce is in Delicious Dishes for Diabetics.)

All good wishes to everyone everywhere for a healthy, happy New Year!

Bonne Année!

Bonne Année!

Hiver est arrivé!

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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.

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So IOBY (in our back yard)–literally.

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Ben on the lookout!

EEK!

Meredith suggested there were other solutions.

OK says the Mayor, you have three months.

Right…

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

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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.

Phew!

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.

NO ACCESS!

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.

SO MUCH FOR THE FOOTPRINT!

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:

http://petitions.moveon.org/sign/save-the-church-of-st

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

 

 

 

Bubble and squeak!

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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.

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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

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

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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.

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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.

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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”!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A simple chicken curry

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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

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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.)

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

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Add the turmeric and stir it in.

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

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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.

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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.

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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