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Country living

On my way to market a small deer skipped away from the roadside, in search of cover and safety.

Coming back a kestrel, missing the car by inches, swooped in pursuit of a sparrow, who shot low between the hedges to escape the car and the hawk.

A hare popped onto the road, looked up and scrambled back up the steep banking.

Yesterday a single egret–small, white heron-like bird–must have heard on the telegraph wires that the cows were due back in the meadow behind our house.

Cows are an endless source of nourishment for the egret.

“Pickin’s for all–all the gnats you can consume–come on down!”

Among the new green of the grass, a thin shaft of white with a head looking round forlornly–searching the field for absent friends.

“I spy no cows!”

Clearly someone was spreading fake news!

No cows or egrets appeared that afternoon.

Then there’s Sybil, the donkey from next door.

She’s chocolaty brown and small–contrasting with the herd of Blonde d’Aquitaine–creamy, pale and BIG.

I read that donkeys are kept with cows and calves as guards to chase off predators–a private security deployment.

Sybil spends her days munching on the fringes of the herd–ears pricked ready for action–the lonely life of a security donkey.

Small–certainly, but when she voices an opinion from just below the terrace–it’s deafening and demanding.

She opens her mouth and all her frustrations come pouring out:

E-E-E-E-E-A-A-W-W-W-W-W.

It’s enough to scare any would-be predator to death!

In fact, this morning it’s a fair bet that what she’s after is an apple.

She knows Meredith is a soft touch for apples.

Beau–Head Cat and private security agent–establishes contact with one similarly employed.

She wants one of them apples–and she wants it NOW.

“Alright, alright, Sybil–we hear you, dear.”

AND we have a kestrel family nesting in the oeil de boeuf of the attic.

Meredith and our neighbor, Florence, crept upstairs when they were sure the mother kestrel had flown off for food and spied three eggs.

The ways of the countrysidenot for me!–was how I felt for years.

I remember a weekend in upstate New York when the din of chattering chipmunks drove us mad and prematurely back to the relative quiet of the big Apple.

It bothered me not a jot that there were no kestrels in the Garden Suburb, nor deer on Hampstead Heath; no cows grazing on the Heath Extension.

I didn’t give it a second thought that hares were rare and donkeys unknown–though the milk cart of my youth was pulled by an old nag whose droppings ended up on the vegetable patch.

We did have a fox living in the garden behind us and that felt weird.

The country was where you went for holidays–or in my case on weekends for Sunday roast before scurrying back to the Big Smoke.

It looked beautiful, of course, but the only excitement it seemed to poor, ignorant me was the game of cricket, played out on the village green.

Times change; stuff happens…we get older!

I don’t feel that way at all now–and not even Sybil’s loudest shout would drive me back to the Big Smoke.

 

How silly of me–I left out the hedge hogs…!

 

 

 

On our way to the USA soon–and I have two public book events. Come along and say hello, if you’re in the neighborhood!

First in Providence, Rhode Island on Saturday, May 6th 2pm at the Brown University Bookstore:

 

The second is in Evanston, Illinois (a suburb north of Chicago) on Wednesday, May 10, organized by the bookstore, Bookends & Beginnings, as part of the Evanston Literary Festival.

 

Tickets info for the Evanston event: http://www.brownpapertickets.com/event/2891728

Endive, walnut, sweet onion, radish, black olives, orange and feta salad

for 6/8

This wonderful spring salad–a perfect starter to the Easter meal–is from my first cook book, Delicious Dishes for Diabetics.

Beautiful to look at, it raises the spirits and whets the appetite.

Endive! There’s a stall in Castres market that sells only these seasonal white torpedoes. They are sweeter than the industrially grown ones available all the year round.

I buy more than I need for the salad–we’ll have them slow-roasted another day.

It’s an assembly job–and fun to do…

  • Slice off the base of three endive–this will make it easier to pick off the individual spear like leaves.
  • Dry roast walnuts—about 5oz  (a handful)– in a pan on top of the hob.
  • Slice half a medium, sweet red onion as finely as possible.
  • Slice a handful of radishes.
  • Stone about 10 black olives and cut in half.
  • Peel two juicy oranges by slicing off the top with a sharp knife and gingerly cut down through the peel top to bottom without cutting into the flesh. When you have completed the sphere–pull back the peel in each segment (very satisfying!)–and hey, presto! You have a neatly peeled orange. Now slice the orange horizontally into thick-ish pieces.
  • Dice 4oz Feta cheese.
  • Roughly chop a handful of parsley (optional)

Next make the vinaigrette for the salad:

  • In a small screw top bottle put some freshly-grated pepper and a few pinches of salt.
  • Add a tablespoon of red wine vinegar and 4 tbs olive oil.
  • Shake it all about–and set aside.
  • Now assemble the salad on a large platter that will show it off well (before you spoil it, by turning it all over in the vinaigrette).

This is how I arrange things:

  • Define the arena by arranging spears round the bowl with the tips upward facing.
  • Slice additional spears into twos or threes and scatter in the bottom of the bowl.
  • Arrange the orange slices nicely over these.
  • Scatter the sliced onion and radish over the orange and add the black olives.
  • Scatter the feta round the bowl and finish with the walnuts and the parsley.
  • Pour over the vinaigrette (after shaking it again) and present the result to the table before turning everything over–ruthlessly.
  • We finished it at the lunch with several of the guests having seconds.

The rest of the menu for the

***

BIRTHDAY LUNCH

Roast leg of lamb with White Bean Gratin

Slow-roasted Tomatoes with rosemary and garlic

Roast Asparagus Spears

Freshly-made Apple, Mint and Onion Sauce

Milk Gravy

Panacotta —made by Meredith–served with mango, more orange chunks and blueberries

***

All the recipes (except the panacotta!) are in

Mediterranean Cooking for Diabetics.

One of the lunch guests, my old nemesis from Poldark days, Donald Douglas (aka Captain McNeil), decorated eggs for place-settings.

This is Meredith and me:

(Hair clippings provided by Donald’s horse)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Meredith and I travel SOUTH!

A skip and a jump from chez nous–about a two-and-half hour drive.

We are heading for Corneilla-del-Vercola–a handsome, wine-producing village south of Perpignan, not far from the Spanish border.

I have been invited by the members of the local branch of the University of the Third Age to join them for their monthly get together.

On the first Monday of every month the group assembles for a shared meal–with a theme.

A recent event involved them learning how to make a pork pie.

This month was to be a bit different.

Jane, the host for the event, invited everyone in the cooking group to bring something they have prepared from one of my cook books–or this blog!

She says that Type 2 diabetes has an increasing presence among the retirees in the area.

Be that as it may this is some ego-trip and I don’t have to cook!

Jane and her partner Chris live in a prettily painted house on the village square with a magnificent view of the mountains from the loggia of their sitting room.

As the evening progresses the sunlight on the fine brick church across the square turns it a glowing red.

The guests (twenty of them plus us two) start arriving at 7pm and it’s clear from the animated chatter that the group s’entendre bien [gets on together well] and looks forward to these convivial evenings.

Each arrival proprietorially clutches a food box, as they mount the narrow staircase to the sitting room two floors up.

Jane has emailed the list of dishes we are going to be sampling.

Healthy eating/pre diabetic cookery with Robin Ellis

Menu

Nibbles:

Janet’s guacamole & babaganoush dips (Jane & Chris)

My contribution was the black olive tapinade from Delicious Dishes for Diabetics and Mediterranean Cooking for Diabetics.

Starters:
Smoky cauliflower Soup (Morag & Mike)

Chilled Curried apple soup (Lesley and Joe)

Spinach and red onion frittata (Gill & Chris)

Salmon fishcakes (Margaret)

Mains:
Charlotte’s chicken tagine and whole grain rice (Genny & Giles)

Chicken with leek and lemon ( Mike and Morag)
Sausage & bean one pot wonder (Paul Jackson)
Pork loin in balsamic vinegar (Gill, Chris & friends)
Cauliflower & chickpea curry with rice
Asparagus risotto (Derek & Marjorie)

Salads:
Chickpea and cumin salad (Jane & Chris)
Fennel salad (Gill, Chris & friends)
Tomato Salad (Tonia)

Desserts:
Strawberries (Lesley & Joe)
Mango surprise (Marian)
Peanut butter swirl chocolate brownies (Jim)

(Not sure how the Peanut butter swirl chocolate brownies snuck in there–but nobody objected.)

Anticipating the feast,…

After a half hour of anticipation we got stuck in…

The food was delicious (but I would say that!) No, it really was!

The only problem was knowing when to stop–we were spoilt for choice on a laden table.

Thanks everyone–for the very fine effort!

And no one asked a single question about POLDARK!!

I’m rewarded with a box at the end of the evening–excellent wine from the village and some fine local olive oil.

Too kind!

As the French say–on s’est regalé  (we’ve enjoyed them very much!).

Next day we set off further south–for Spain and ancient Catalonia–where the Romans trod before us.

Heading for Cadaqués–where Salvador Dali built the house of his fantasies.

The heart of ancient Catalonia.

Hasta la vista!

Thursday took a weird turn when Julien—occasional garden helper–knocked on the door during our lunchtime and announced to Meredith that the Audi had flat tyre.

Our other car–the dependable 18-year-old Clio–was at that moment in the garage for minor repairs.

We had afternoon plans that required a working car: The Thursday marché bio [organic market] in Castres after a haircut at 4pm; collect the Clio (if ready) from the garagist, then stop by Leclerc supermarché for two more of the nice, light garden chairs they were featuring.

A tightish schedule, but do-able–with a car that works.

Pneu crevé–oui…” confirmed Julien apologetically, as though it was his fault.

Julien is a one-off.

Gentil comme tout” [incredibly nice] with long brown hair to the small of his back–a sixties hippie look-alike who smokes Chesterfields and has green fingers.

It gradually came back to me–a moment of concern the day before at the supermarket carpark after we’d bought the nice, light garden chairs..  The back left tyre of the Audi had caught my eye–it looked on the low side.

I meant to check the next morning but forgot–hoping perhaps that I’d been mistaken.

Nope. I was right, it was a flat–une crevaison.

“Arrière pneu gauche crevé,” I explained to the friendly voice at the Audi support centre.

She estimated 45 minutes for the garage mechanic in Castres to arrive.

It was 2.30 pm.

“Shoot!” So inconvenient—just when the other car is in for repairs– and a haircut at 4pm.

Grace under pressure! Yes, yes! I KNOW!

Julien opened the boot and found the small spare wheel ingeniously hidden under the carpet.

Audi provides a little box-pump to inflate it that works by plugging into the cigarette lighter–of course!

The breakdown truck’ll be here soon–it’s not worth the trouble….”

I went inside trying to reorganize the schedule–with my head about to explode.

Grace, grace, grace–yes, yes, yes.

Soon a low electronic buzzing coming from the driveway attracted me back outside again.

Julien—Gardener Help and now Guardian Angel–was successfully re-inflating the flat tyre with the electric pump.

His can-do spirit (very American)–pas de problème [No problem!].

It was now 2.45 pm.

I was trying to slot this new turn of events into mon planning.

Meredith, in the Julien mode of graceful practicality, rang the tyre-repair place in Castres.

They could take the car in immediately.

Thus I drove the wounded Audi into Castres.

It was a simple puncture.

The repair man, another nice person and graceful with it (of course), handed me the culprit–a little black clou (nail), hand-hammered long ago.

Cost of repair: 30 euros. Completed in 30 minutes.

I arrived for my haircut with punctilious Jerome at 3.58pm.

Meredith gave Julien a bottle of bubbly as a big MERCI!

 

 

 

 

 

Spicy cauliflower…

Planned this post for Monday–but have been so overwhelmed by workmen in the house this week, it got delayed….

I had forgotten how delicious this spicy cauliflower dish is–and how easy to do.

Perfect supper material–especially when one is feeling slightly invaded with the daily presence of decorators/painters.

Didier and Jordan could not be bettered as workers and both are delightful, but there’s nowhere left to hide–they are painting all the doors and windows.

Monday’s post

That cauliflower sitting comfortably in the crisper–so unpushy these whey faced fellows–gets its chance tonight.

Retrieving it from obscurity saves my bacon.

Mondays can be a challenge if I forget to plan for them.

There’s an option to shop of course but I like to maintain Mondays as a marketing free day–I go to four markets a week.

Inspired by a recipe of Madhur Jaffrey–the cookery writer and actress.

for 2--as a main course:

1 medium cauliflower–the head separated into small bite size florets

3 tablespoons olive oil

1/2 teaspoon fennel seeds

1 teaspoon black mustard seeds

2 cloves of garlic–chopped fine

1/4 teaspoon turmeric

1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper

1 teaspoon salt

  • Soak the cauliflower in water for a half hour–then drain the florets.
  • Heat the oil in a pan large enough to hold the florets in a single layer.
  • Add the fennel and mustard seeds and sauté until they start popping.
  • Add the turmeric and the cayenne.
  • Add the garlic to the pan and let it colour lightly.
  • Add the drained florets, salt and 3 tablespoons of water.
  • Cover and cook for 10 minutes–or until the cauliflower is almost tender.

Brown basmati rice, red lentil dhal and yogurt sauce accompanied it.

 

I’m rewarded with a double first at Castres market this morning.

Two Spring firsts–though there is nothing spring-like about the weather.

I get there early–battling through a tempest of wind and the rain–determined to avoid last week’s crowds.

“Arrivez avant neuf heure le matin, ça suffit!” [Get there by 9am and you’ll be fine!] was the advice from our neighbor and friend Flo, who has recently taken over her sister’s lovely spice stall on Saturdays.

The spice stall on a sunnier Saturday–with cooking workshop attendees checking it out.

What a contrast to this morning as I arrive in Place Jean Jaures just before 8.30am, to find the dance of the parapluies in full swing.

Stall holders and punters alike are desperately trying to prevent their umbrellas–large and small–from taking flight while undertaking the normal buying and selling transactions.

With difficulty, I make my way down the line of local vendors–nodding and grimacing the “isn’t this awful!” message, before arriving at my destination.

Opening a conversation with the vendor under these conditions is problematical.

I settle for more nodding and grimacing and secure (ho ho!) my open umbrella under my chin.

With my head looking down at the ground, I reach for my porte monnaie [change purse].

The umbrella is doing its best to turn inside out.

It succeeds–WHOOSHand I’m involuntarily propelled towards the dry fruit stall–earlier than planned.

I manfully regain control and…

JOY!

Our newly acquired hen’s guardienne–for ’tis her stall–hands me a carton of six eggs.

Matilde’s first offering under our ownership.

What a thrill!

And to go with them for lunch today–a bunch of the locally-grown ASPARAGUS–FIRST of the season.

As I turn into our driveway 20 minutes later–the sun comes out!

Asparagus and eggs–a match made in heaven!