Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Fortification

British cookery writer Nigel Slater just tweeted:

“Today I need cake!”

I know what he means–and he’s not talking about a slice of jam sponge at teatime with Earl Grey tea in bone china cups.

He means fortification against a day full of angst and metaphoric clichés:

Nail-biting, knife-edge, in the balance, too-close-to-call, could-go-either-way, toss-up.

Stop my ears! Reach for the soup bowl.

Cake –not so good for the diabetic community. But I’ve found the very thing to get us through–a delicious way to calm the collywobbles and look on the bright side (there I go! It’s catching.).

A classic from Tuscany:

White bean soup with cabbagefortification indeed at lunch AND dinner if need be.

I love a BIG soup to get your mooch around–served piping hot with a swirl of olive oil.

This is it from my second cookbook and (whispered) my favourite: Healthy Eating for Life.

Tuscan White Bean Soup with Cabbage

Serves 4

An autumn/winter soup with a big presence.

(Adapted from Leslie Forbes’ lovely A Table in Tuscany)

7 tbsp olive oil plus olive oil to swirl in each bowl
2 sticks of celery and 2 carrots – chopped small
2 leeks or onions – chopped small
3 or 4 tinned/canned tomatoes – chopped up with their liquid

1 large garlic clove – pulped

sprig of fresh thyme
1 whole green cabbage – quartered, stem removed and shredded

800g/28oz cooked white beans – canned or bottled , drained (but their liquid retained)
500ml/1 pint stock (I use vegetable cubes)

  1. Heat 6 tablespoons of the oil in a large saucepan. Sweat the celery, carrots and leeks until tender – about 20 minutes.
  2. Mix in the tomatoes, garlic and thyme. Cook for 5 minutes. Add half the shredded cabbage, season with salt and pepper, and cook for 10 minutes.
  3. Purée three-quarters of the beans in a mixer with a little of their liquid. Add the bean water and the bean purée to the soup and stir together. Cook for an hour, stirring it regularly to stop it sticking and burning. Add a little of the stock each time you stir. This is meant to be a thick soup; it’s up to you how loose you make it, just be careful not to dilute the depth of taste. While the soup cooks, sauté the rest of the cabbage in the remaining tablespoon of olive oil to serve as a topping when you present the soup.
  4. Serve hot with swirls of your best olive oil.

 

 

 

 

 

 

I’ve spent the morning of this most anxious of days with a chicken.

Not one of ours, I hasten to add.

The medium-sized chicken, I bought in Castres market early Saturday.

I need a distraction today to help get me through.

I’ve been meaning to cook the chicken casserole in Mediterranean Cooking for Diabetics again–and I recently spotted dear Ismail Merchant’s recipe for Chicken Curry in my first book–Delicious Dishes for Diabetics.

A whole chicken is obviously too much for two–although I often roast one whole, because I love the look of a roasted chicken.

So–today, half for the curry and half for the casserole–about 6 or 7 pieces each dish.

We have the curry for lunch, with dal and some steamed broccoli and cauliflower–a comforting plate, while we wait… ’til late.

Dinner’s decided (it’s good to be decisive today): A cauliflower in tomato sauce with a slice or two of sausage from Delicious Dishes, again.

It’s fun to revisit my first cookbook published in 2011–which feels like a century ago–but in truth is only two elections and a Brexit back!  

Don’t even go there!

Early evening, and the search is on for the cauliflower in a lockdown-crammed fridge.

Doing my best to stay sane when I can’t find the anchovies either.

Then the calm face of the cauliflower comes into focus, staring straight at me.

Here I am, dear boy–worry not! All will be well….

We’ll know better in the morning whether caulis are to be trusted!

 

Autumn colours in the countryside are starting to match the rich copper finish of this soup.

The Liquid Amber tree.

Leaves are on the turn–slowly this year– but still attached.

The sunflower soldiers–stand in the field heads bowed, fading to charcoal black, waiting to be harvested.

The ground is too wet to harvest the seed heads.

The walnuts are dropping freely when the wind and rain are strong. For a short time after a storm, there’s a scattering across the road; until word gets out, and the owners or gleaners arrive to gather them up.

Conkers (horse chestnuts) everywhere–so round and polished chocolate-brown and so frustrating.

There’s no known use for them except the English schoolboy game of bashing the daylights out of a rival’s, both of them dangling at the end of a piece of string.

“Mine’s a sixer. What’s yours?”

“A twelver,” I lie….

And acorns in their thousands crunching underfoot, as I get back from a walk and start thinking about a soup to match the colour and the feel of early autumn.

Pumpkins are on the stalls with their cousins–butternut and spaghetti squash. It’s a heart-warming sight for me. It helps make the gear change from summer to autumn into something positive.

The man who delivered our winter supply of wood for the fireplace presented us his home-grown pumpkin.

So here’s the soup as it appears in my third book–Mediterranean Cooking for Diabetics (but useful for all who like to cook simple, healthy food.)*

Just looking at that colour warms you up!

IMG_2672

Adapted from a recipe in Leaves from our Tuscan Kitchen–a peek into the daily ways of cooking in a Tuscan villa in the late 19th century.

2 to 3 serving

1lb/450gms pumpkin–roughly-chopped with its skin (HOORAY!)

1 medium onion–peeled and roughly-chopped

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 teaspoon coriander powder

1/2 teaspoon cumin powder

1/4 teaspoon cayenne powder

1 generous pint stock (I use organic vegetable stock cubes.)

salt and pepper

  • Place the onion and the pumpkin pieces in a saucepan with the olive oil.
  • Add the spices with the salt and pepper.
  • Turn everything over, cover and sweat over a low heat for 20 minutes to soften the vegetables.

IMG_2670

  • Add the stock and cook uncovered for a further 20 minutes or so, until the pumpkin is tender enough to liquidize.
  • Liquidize the mix–best done with a stick mixer (saves much washing up!)
  • A garnish of chopped parsley is a nice touch in each bowl–or a teaspoon of cream or plain yogurt swirled in.
  • Brown bread–one slice per person–cut into croutons and sautéed in a little olive oil with pinch of salt and cumin powder
  • Meredith suggests sautéed bacon bits would be good too.

*new subtitle!

The big news today is that Maud, one of our three hens, has laid her second egg.

Maud struts her stuff!

An egg to equal the first in size; a dear little egg–and all her own work.

The joy was written on Meredith’s face as she announced it in the kitchen.

We now have enough for an omelette–albeit the smallest two egg omelet in the world.

It may be more fun to poach or fry them individually and “lay” them ceremonially on a serving of the Swiss chard gratin that’s waiting to go into the oven for lunch.

The hens are new to the gaff–delivered by our dear friend and neighbour, Florence.

The hens keep us company over lunch, hoping for some tidbits!

There are two Poules Soies* (Silkies) and one slightly larger Araucana**.

The Silkies are smaller than your average hen and delightful to look at.

They pad around together, pick over the compost heap together and shelter from rain under an outdoor furniture together. Safety in numbers!

Three Sisters–our Chekhovian hens.

They don’t know how calming their pad, pad, padding and peck, peck pecking is in these troubling times. Just watching them go about their business slows the heart-rate and diverts the mind.

As the sun sets and darkness descends, they make their way–together–to the newly-created chicken-run, an improvised enclosure, constructed between two buttresses of the church. Perfect.

Inside the pen is a little hen house–lent to us by Flo–that any house-proud hen would be happy to be seen in.

A modest split-level!

In the nesting box, Meredith placed a marble egg–pour encourager les autres–and it worked!

Marble egg on the left–to encourage laying.

There’s just room for all three inside. There they huddle for the night, without a sound.

Last night though–while Amber and Lucette snoozed off–Maud was busy!

Maud’s egg (right)–small but perfect! The joy of small things!

*The Silkie is a breed of chicken originally from China, named for its atypically fluffy plumage. The breed has several other unusual qualities, such as black skin and bones, blue earlobes, and five toes on each foot (most chickens have four). They are friendly and sociable too!

** The Araucana breed is originally from Chile and famous for laying blue eggs–though no proof of that yet!

Winston Graham’s emotionally-charged tale of life in late 18th-century Cornwall, first hit the TV screens in the UK at 7.25pm on October 5th,  1975–45 years ago today.

Remembering Angharad Rees, Ralph Bates, Paul Curran, Mary Wimbush, Richard Morant, and Frank Middlemass.

The cast and crew had been hard at work on location in remote Cornwall and at the BBC-TV White City Studios in London. If I remember rightly, we hadn’t finished all sixteen episodes by that October evening–and were feeling nervous about how it would be received.

We knew it was a good story, with all the right ingredients to engage–and even entrance–an early-evening audience–but you never know.

I only remember one review. It was from the witty and candid Clive James in The Observer the following Sunday. At the end of three paragraphs reviewing other programmes he wrote:

“Oh yes, and there is POLDARK which I can’t help noticing is an anagram for OLD KRAP. I rest my case.”

It was a bit of a shock at the time–and made my mother very cross!

Well–when the run of the first series came to an end four months later, with viewing figures topping 15 million, we had the last laugh.

A quarter of a century after that October evening and not long after Winston’s death, Angharad Rees and myself accompanied Winston’s son, Andrew and daughter, Rosamund, on a return to Cornwall to launch Winston’s autobiography–Memoirs of a Private Man.

Andrew Graham signing Winston’s autobiography at Waterstones in Truro in 2003.

Rosamund, Robin and Angharad signing Winston’s autobiography.

I took the opportunity to revisit the house that had served as Nampara–to the surprise of its owner at the time.

The last time Angharad Rees and I were on the cliffs of Cornwall together.

It was a poignant trip for everyone.

An opportunity to remember and celebrate the life of a man who had had a lasting and positive influence on each and every one of us.

Still does on my life.

Fridays.

End of the week, in the time of COVID-19.

Shopping expeditions curtailed. Really only one: Saturdays.

What to do for lunch and dinner?

NO EGGS!

Baskets, trays and bowls almost empty.

Raining.

Oven on the blink.

No wish to budge….

Thinking cap.

Remember red and yellow peppers that have been in the fridge for some time and cross fingers. Discover that they are well preserved–as is a forgotten small green one. The three juicy-looking tomatoes that need using weigh the perfect pound.

My Ratatouille comes to mind from my new cookbook–a last hurrah for Summer.

It’ll bring a splash of colour and cheer onto the kitchen table on a grey day.

Things are looking up!

Remembered the pumpkin soup that’s been waiting in the fridge, which will make for a light supper with some chèvre and crackers– and the remaining half of the fine bottle of Côte de Rhône, kindly brought over last Sunday by our neighbours.

Starting to enjoy this!

Adding a bit of black olive tapenade.

The Match

There are five of The Team from The Match* at the zoom reunion–looking a lot older than we do in the snap taken immediately after the whistle blew on that cold, wet October day in 1958.

Muddied, bloodied and smirking like a team of artful dodgers after a successful pickpocketing escapade.

Standing from l to r: Rodney, Terry, ?, Robin, Michael, ?, Bertie Bellis (house master); Kneeling, centre: Nigel, far right, Lynn

In truth, none of us can remember very much about The Match–except there was a  goal scored and a goal saved–but that doesn’t interfere with the pleasure we get from talking about it.

We have met rarely since that afternoon–but mention The Match, and we at once re-form into that winning team (or a part of it) and have an off-the-peg displacement activity to get us started.

Five grown men–going on 80–meeting in a ZOOM room to talk about a soccer match they played in over 60 years ago— pretty silly, you may be thinking.

Well, YES (and incidentally not a wife in sight!)– but we are shameless, so here goes….

Four forwards: Rodney Brody, Lynn John, Michael Detsiny and Nigel Colne– the “forwards” and ME in goal.

Not at the ZOOM meeting: Terry Fowkes, center-half, (completing our inner circle of friends).

Our House Master (manager!) and his wife, Bertie and Joan Bellis, were cheering us on from the touchline.

Amazingly, ALL of the above are still alive–the much-loved latter two now into their nineties!

We didn’t expect to win this second-round house-match against Grindal House, the favourites.

(My American wife thinks it sounds increasingly like Harry Potter!)

It was a steal! Grindal’s housemaster certainly thought so. He lodged a complaint in the Senior Common Room the following day, accusing Heathgate--us–of flagrant gamesmanship when our right-back handballed a shot that was heading into the net, round the corner.

I saved the resulting penalty–not hard when it was aimed straight at me!–and full-time followed minutes later.

We won 1-0–the goal scored by winger Michael Detsiny–a fact of which he never fails to remind us.

“Well done Michael! Superb reflexes! Brilliant goal! Can’t think why you didn’t make a career of it!”

We lost the next match–the semi-final–3-2 (we was robbed!)–but we were champions that afternoon.

Aaah! The bonds formed, the investments made, the experiences shared at school over those ten formative years….

Don’t they earn the right to a bit of sentimental self-indulgence? And The Match, a perfect tool to bring into focus those indefinable connections that spell “friendship“.


Glory re-enacted in Heathgate colors: Lynn, Rodney, Nigel, Michael

  • Highgate School, House Match semi-final on Far Field, 1958

And into AUTUMN we go!

Autumn has come tumbling in, heralded by lashings of wind and rain. It’s quite a turn around.

The stallholders were rubbing their shoulders–“‘brrrring’–il fait frais ce matinearly at the market on Saturday.

The change in seasons is starting to be reflected on their stalls.

First bunches of broccoli and root vegetables edging out the tomatoes, while stubborn aubergines and courgettes are refusing to budge.”

Excuse me– it ain’t even October yet, mate!”

The last of our tomatoes hit the pot yesterday as one of the two main ingredients of Slow-Cooked Green Beans with Feta, from my 4th cookbook Robin Ellis’ Mediterranean Vegetarian Cooking. (Simple to cook and delicious–we had it last night for supper.)

Published (at last!) in the States TOMORROW September 29th!

Roll up, Roll up!

The recipe is in the Autumn section of this seasonally-arranged cookbook–but has been on the table often this summer. Lovely green beans span the seasons and we never have enough of them.

I love marking the seasons and here, in this year of so much discombobulation, they are timing themselves to perfection.

Mother Nature’s little joke.

I’m ready for broccoli and pumpkins and the wrap-around warmth they promise.

So–Au revoir to a summer like no other we have known.

We’ve had brilliant weather but been becalmed socially–bereft of the usual comings and goings.

(Surprising how little we have minded!)

Zoom meet-ups and the occasional small lunches.

No Garlic festival so no Garlic festival lunch.

Virtual book launches–something new–have proved rather good–and not so exhausting to organize, with attendees checking in from Mexico to Massachusetts, the Isle of Sky to the foothills of the Pyrenees in SW France.

Eating vegetarian might feel a challenge at first–and a full-on conversion is not something that has happened in our household–although my attention to compiling this book over the last four years has resulted in Meredith and me eating vegetarian far more regularly than before.

During this time I have lost a stone (14 pounds). “Don’t lose any more weight, Robin” my good doctor Michel Woitiez said to me a few weeks back.

Peter Berkman, a doctor friend in the USA, sent me this article recently.

It headlines Vegan but the article encompasses both Vegetarian and Vegan as effective ways of eating to control diabetes and in particular, one’s weight–one of the keys to controlling the condition. This last rang a eureka bell in my head.

Then Holly Brady, Meredith’s sister in Palo Alto, forwarded an email from Medicare claiming  “1 in 3 people with Medicare has diabetes. 

 
Holly writes that there are 44 million people on Medicare in the US.

I like to think this book of simple-to-cook veggie recipes might help to counter this chilling statistic.

Here’s the Greek Green Bean and Feta recipe I have been banging on about!

 Greek Green Beans with tomato,  cumin and feta   

A nifty lunch this with, if you fancy, a poached egg on top.

Cooking the beans longer maybe anathema to some–but they hold their own in the combination of ingredients in spite of that.

  • 1 medium onion—roughly chopped
  • 2 cloves of garlic—chopped
  • 4 tbs olive oil
  • 450gms/1lb fresh ripe tomatoes—cored, skinned and roughly chopped
  • 250gms/8oz green beans, topped
  • 1 tsp cumin powder
  • ¼ tsp cayenne powder or half small fresh chili—chopped
  • A bay leaf and a sprig of fresh thyme
  • Salt and pepper
  • Feta—crumbled or cut into small cubes

 

Heat three tablespoons of olive oil in a medium pan and add the onions.

Turn over in the oil and cook on a lowish heat.

After a couple of minutes mix in the garlic.

Gently continue cooking until the onion has softened nicely.

Add half the tomatoes, the cumin, thyme and bay and the chili.

Season lightly with salt and pepper.

Lay the beans out to cover the tomatoes.

Then cover the beans with the rest of the tomatoes and season lightly again.

Sprinkle over the fourth tablespoon of olive oil.

Cover the pan and bring up to the boil.

Turn the heat down to low and cook covered for twenty minutes.

Uncover and cook on for another twenty minutes.

Serve with feta on top–and a lightly poached egg if that suits.

My fourth cookbook–Robin Ellis’s Mediterranean Vegetarian Cooking— is due to be published in the USA this Tuesday, September 29th.

(Available from Amazon.com and autographed copies from the Evanston bookstore, Bookends & Beginnings.)

This has reminded me of an incident–almost a Happening* (remember those?) four years ago, around the time my previous book (Mediterranean Cooking for Diabetics) was published.

In March 2016, I bought a T-shirt at the vast food emporium, Eataly, on 5th Avenue in Manhattan. It was inexpensive–$8, I think–and had the same logo, back and front, in Italian and English:

La vita è troppo breve per mangiare male.

Translated as the slightly different:

Life is too short not to eat well!

Both the price and the sentiments persuaded me to buy it.

 

The simple message seemed to chime with what I’d been doing for the past five years (and three books published): Trying to persuade people that cooking is NOT rocket science–so get in the kitchen before it is too late!

The cookbooks are aimed at everyone who likes to eat WELLand/or wants to avoid eating badly–written with my perspective–having Type 2 diabetes.

We were a little nervous that Sunday in Manhattan 2016, because Meredith had put the word out we’d be present in this extraordinary big top Barnum-and- Bailey circus ring of Italian cooking for a “pop-up book launch of my third book:

“Roll up! roll-up! Bring your books to be signed by the author–unique opportunity!”

BUT…we hadn’t asked permission from the store–because we were pretty certain it would be refused!

Eataly is a scrum at the best of times, but Sunday lunch is like a rush-hour subway carriage on its way to Wall Street–standing room only!’

As one o’clock approached, the crowd around the cheese section started to swell with people showing no particular interest in cheese, but waving copies of a familiar book (NOT available in this store!).

We were showing some brass neck**– but, hey, this is America–right?!

A small queue had formed and I started to sign, clutching each eagerly-offered book in my left hand, while grabbing a piece of cheese from the plate we’d bought as a cover–trying to stay upright, put the cheese–not the pen–in my mouth–and write something meaningful on the title page of the book.

At that moment, like a scene from a Broadway farce, an unwelcome presence loomed, threatening to upset the cheese trolley….

“Excuse me sir, what are you doing?”

“Signing a few copies of my book for friends, while enjoying your wonderful Italian cheeses.”

“Strictly forbidden–and I must ask you to leave; you are blocking access to the cheese counter.”

There was still half the queue patiently waiting for a signature (and now being treated to a bit of theatre!).

From somewhere, I found my inner Brass Neck and heard myself suggesting, politely, to the manager, that far from blocking access, I was bringing customers into the Emporium–introducing people who might not think of patronizing Eataly on a busy Sunday brunch morning in Midtown. Furthermore, we were about to buy several large round plates of his delicious cheeses for the queue (which we did!).

After a pause, he relented–and I kicked myself for not having a spare copy of my book on hand to give him, in gratitude for his willingness to bend the rules (with the suggestion that if he liked it, to pop it on his shelves).

But perhaps that would have been sticking out my brass neck troppo lontano!

Fresh pasta being made at the pasta station. Eataly encompasses several restaurants as well as food and cookbooks for sale–and we make a point of visiting every trip to NYC. Excellent cappuccino and gelato bar too! But they still don’t stock my cookbooks!

*A “happening” is a performance, event, or situation art; The term was first used by Allan Kaprow during the 1950s to describe a range of art-related events.
** If someone is described as having a “brass neck” it means they are confident, and say or do whatever they want–but don’t understand that their behaviour might be unacceptable to others (!!).
 

https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2020/sep/07/geoffrey-parker-obituary

This touching obituary of a good man stirred my memory pot.

It got me thinking about my early love of train travel encouraged by the train set I was given one early Christmas–I guess 1948.

Set up by Dad in the freezing, little-used Dining room (not a worry to a charged up six year old,) it circled the room leaving plenty of space for the additional furniture of model stations, goods yards overhead signals.

I’d put my chin on the carpet and using my imagination scaled myself down to the size of the perfectly formed little Trix electric engine and its carriages.

Like a little Gulliver I’d watch, transfixed, as it sped pass my nose and rattlied through hand made miniature stations–presents from gifted model making cousins–just like the real thing from Euston Station heading for Scotland.

I thought it was magical.

Dad worked at Euston for the London Midland and Scotland Railway (LMS) which was incorporated into the newly nationalised rail network as British Rail in 1948.

He was entitled to concessionary travel on the extensive home network and in Europe. There were no cheap flights going anywhere; if you went ABROAD you took the train.

In school holidays from the age of seven I was put on the train at Victoria Station bound for Eastbourne on the south coast, where my beloved paternal Grandma met me and we’d spend a week together at her residential hotel on the front.

So grand.

We’d be three for dinner–Granny, her friend, a rather forbidding Mrs Fitzherbert* and 7 year old me.

The summer of 1953 we took the train to the Costa Brava NE Spain.

Train and ferry to Calais; on to Paris taxi across town to the Gare Montparnasse and the journey south through France.

Sit down dinner–so grand! and the barely audible kechik-kecha of the train lulled us to sleep on our couchettes to wake up nearly 700 kilometres later in Toulouse–then south again to the Spanish border and a change of train (different gauge) for the final stage to Barcelona and the beach at Lloret del Mar.

Seven years later a schoolmate and I did our rite of passage pre-uni, nine week Grand Tour of Europe–by train.

Thus trains have always signalled adventure to me. A significant change–of location and often culture.

I knew for sure, as it “thundered” passed my head, triggering my imagination,  that that small but perfectly formed Trix model engine and its beautifully painted carriages was heading for a mysterious  place called “Elsewhere” and I wanted to be on board.