A touch of heat in a consoling casserole for a cold night.

Inspired by a recipe in the River Café Pocket Vegetable Book.


(Speak it softly but you could have a couple of sausages on the side–we did tonight!*)


I love beans and especially white beans and I have a penchant for fennel, cooked or raw.

Garlic is a staple here–Lautrec’s pink garlic is grown under our feet–so to speak.

Adding tomatoes coalesces everything into a delicious dish.

for 2


1 tbs olive oil

2 fennel bulbs–outer bruised parts removed and cut in thickish vertical slices

3 garlic cloves–peeled and sliced

2 small dried chilis–chopped

1 tsp fennel seeds–pounded in a mortar

8oz tinned (canned) tomatoes–drained and chopped

8oz white beans tinned (canned)–drained

salt and pepper

juice of a lemon

1 tbs olive oil (a second!)


In a shallow pan heat a tablespoon of olive oil.

Add the fennel and cook for a couple of minutes, turning the fennel over in the oil.


Add the garlic, fennel seeds and chili and cook on for five minutes.


Add the tomatoes and mix them well in.


Add a tablespoon of water and mix again.

Check after five minutes to see if you need another tablespoon of water–I did.

Cover the pan and cook for fifteen minutes or until the fennel is tender.

Mix in the beans and season with salt and pepper.


Re-cover and cook for another ten minutes.


Add the lemon juice and the tablespoon of olive oil.


*The sausages–sshh!

Heat the oven to 190C (375 F)

Put the sausages in an oven pan with a splash of olive oil and sprigs of rosemary.

Cook for thirty minutes–shaking the pan occasionally.

Add a broken up bulb of garlic unpeeled.

Cook on for twenty minutes or longer to turn the sausages nicely brown.


Serve with Dijon mustard.




Endive/chicory are not just good for salads–they are delicious slow braised with a couple of additions if you like…

This was lunch and made a pretty picture.


It was also light and a bit exotic.

This time of year there’s a local grower of these white torpedoes selling only them in Castres market on Saturdays.


I chose fat ones for the long slow cooking that reduces them nicely into a super-soft state.

A poached egg (or two) on top and a couple of small discs of pancetta, crisped in the still hot oven, meld with the little sauce of lemon and olive oil.

for 2

3/4 fat endives–bruised outer leaves removed and the bitter root end skewered out.


3 tbsp olive oil

juice of a lemon

4 eggs

4 thin slices pancetta

salt and pepper

Heat the oven to 170C

Heat the oil in an ovenproof pan with a lid.

Lay in the endive and season well with a teaspoon of salt and several twists of the pepper mill.

Turn the endive [confusingly it’s called chicory in the UK] in the oil and seasoning.

Let them color and caramalise a little.


Pour over the lemon juice and cover.

Place in the middle of the oven and cook for two hours.

Check after an hour that all is well and turn them–taking care to keep them in one piece.

After about two hours take them out of the oven and let them rest, covered with foil.

Turn up the oven temperature to 200C and crisp up the pancetta pieces–about ten minutes.

Poach the eggs in simmering hot water to which you have added a splash of red/white vinegar.

The vinegar, in principal, will encourage the whites of the eggs to act in a more orderly fashion–doesn’t always work!

Arrange the endive on two plates and…

when you judge the eggs are done as you like them lift them out with a slotted spoon and place them decoratively on the endives.

Finish the plate off with the pancetta.


“DING!”– said the chief taster!




White out in the Tarn!







“Bird Sanctuary”


No “al fresco” dining today!


“Snow?–seen it before; no big deal” Queen mum cat; Pippa not impressed. The other three–“What IS THAT!?”

Our friend Valerie took her young son, Guilhaume, to school this morning before the snow started to fall.

“What are we going to do this afternoon? How can we fetch him home?” she asked her partner, Bernard, soon after she got home. “By tractor,” he replied, “the ancient one in the shed.”

Imagine four-year-old Guilhaume’s delight when Dad turns up at school on the tractor!

“You’ll have to take all the other kids home too,” we added. “We’ll have to start calling you, Saint Bernard,” joked Valérie.

No change in my walking programme…


…”Captain Intrepid…or silly old fool!”



I used to think walking was pedestrian!

I ran or jogged, or bicycled–walking took so long.

But then we moved here to rural France, where it’s a bit hilly. As I was getting older, I started walking.

Six times a week–usually for about 40 minutes–usually the same route, which never felt the same two days running (so to speak)!

Then one day I OVERDID it–and my left knee “went”.

I stopped for a while and tried the exercise bike– but it wasn’t the same.

Gradually my knee healed and I started walking again, but less–three or four times a week.

I settled into a routine of roughly 40 minutes every other day.

Three times 40 equals 120--so some weeks I was 30 minutes shy of the 150 minutes recommended aerobic exercise per week.

Recently I changed my routine again: Now I walk every day but for less time–a little over 20 minutes.

So that ring ups the magic 150.

And I feel good on it. “Ah, that’s done!

Exercising each day–but not TOO long–lifts my spirits without becoming a burden.

One is less likely to throw in the towel.

(Also I’m thinking of my knees.)

I’m in good company…


If I could not walk far and fast, I think I should just explode and perish.

~Charles Dickens

 The sovereign invigorator of the body is exercise and of all the exercises, walking is the best.

~Thomas Jefferson

 I am a slow walker, but I never walk backwards.

~Abraham Lincoln

 To find new things, take the path you took yesterday.  

~John Burroughs (American naturalist)

Thoughts come clearly while one walks.

~Thomas Mann

The best remedy for a short temper is a long walk.

~Jacqueline Schiff  (poet)







Our black cat, Ben…


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.


Ben is a busy boy–


–on mole patrol this morning…

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


He can also be loving


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


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.” *


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…

midnight with a touch of entitlementIMG_7572

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.


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…


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


*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.


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.



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!









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.


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.


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


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.


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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