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I’m always on the look-out for one-potters–the sheer convenience of them attracts.

This I found the other day on a printed sheet stuffed behind some recipe books.

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Treasure!

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Delicious. Eureka!

This is the classic mix of pork and beans.

Here the meat is in small sausage shape; these chipolatas happily bob along in the tomato and bean base for 45 minutes as it slowly thickens up, concentrating the smoky taste.

There is a certain amount of building work to do before you leave the pot to get on with it.

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  • 1lb small sausages– like chipolatas
  • 2 tbs olive oil
  • 1 clove garlic–peeled and chopped
  • 1 carrot–peeled and chopped small
  • 1 leek –carefully cleaned and sliced thin
  • 1 stick celery–chopped small
  • 1 tin [can] tomatoes–chopped with the juice
  • 1 tin [can] or (better still) bottle white beans–drained
  • 1 tsp smoked sweet paprika
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 pint water
  • salt and pepper

In the medium casserole in which you cook the whole dish heat a tablespoon of oil and add the sausages.

Sauté them over a medium heat until they are nicely browned.

Take care they don’t leave a burned residue in the pan.

Set them aside.

Add the second tablespoon of oil and the vegetables–celery, leek, carrot and garlic

Sweat the veg until tender–about ten minutes.

Add the tomatoes, paprika and mix thoroughly before adding the beans, sausages and water. Add the bay leaves.

Combine everything with care and bring to a simmer.

Cook for about 45 minutes, turning from time to time as the sauce thickens and the smoky deliciousness concentrates.

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Good with some dijon mustard on the side.

Chopped parsley garnish optional.

Meredith reminds me that today marks the Chinese New Year.

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Chickpea shows his colors

She tells me in the Chinese lunar calendar it is the Year of the Rooster.

When I think about the date–28th January–I’m reminded that it is also marks what would have been my late brother Peter’s 69th birthday.

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Peter (seated) directing an episode of Highlander.

I don’t remember Peter having much to do with chickens except that from time to time he most likely ate some.

Peter died almost 11 years ago–quite suddenly aged 58–while out walking his dog in Griffith Park in Los Angeles.

He was a TV drama director at the height of his powers with a great future.

They say that directing TV drama in Tinsel Town is a very stressful occupation.

So to mark Peter’s birthday and the Chinese New Year, here is a simple recipe for Roast Chicken that has served me well for years and features in my latest cookbook, Mediterranean Cooking for Diabetics.

Simple Roast Chicken

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for 4

  • 1 free range chicken–about a 3 pounder
  • olive oil
  • salt & pepper
  • 6 bay leaves
  • 3 cloves garlic–unpeeled and whole
  • 1 lemon — halved
  • 1 glass of white wine
  • set oven at 190c

Rub the chicken with olive oil and season well with salt and pepper

Stuff the cavity with the with the bay leaves, garlic and lemon halves

Place in a roasting pan and into the oven.

Roast the chicken for about one-and-a-half hours.

Baste it about half-way through the cooking process.

It should be nicely browned and when pricked, the juices should run clear, not pink.

Remove from oven.

Pick up the bird with a pair of oven gloves and up end it, letting the juices run back into the pan.

This a little tricky–but worth it for the taste of the gravy.

Tip the pan carefully and spoon out excess fat/oil– leaving about a table spoonful in the pan.

Add the glass of white wine and scrape any residue sticking to the pan.

Gently stir over a lowish heat for 2/3 minutes.

(You can add some stock or more wine to make it go a little further.)

Taste the gravy and season as desired.

This is not the recipe I mentioned yesterday–I will publish that later in the week.

Jack Frost was a busy lad last night–“white out” this morning.

This is a re-run of a simple pumpkin soup–spicy yes, but it’s up to you how spicy.

Leave out the cayenne if that’s not your taste.

Is there a more beautiful soup?

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No peas involved–simple, easy, as in easy peasy!

Just looking at the colour warms you up.

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

for 2/3

1lb/450gms pumpkin–roughly chopped with its skin

1 medium onion–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

  • Put 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 twenty minutes to soften the vegetables.

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  • Add the stock and cook uncovered for a further twenty 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 pinch of chopped parsley is a nice touch in each bowl.
  • I cut up some rye bread–a slice each–into crouton size pieces, sautéed them in a little olive oil and added a pinch each of salt and cumin powder.
  • Meredith suggested sautéed bacon bits would be good too.
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Californian artist Robbie Connell’s marvelous portraits of cautious optimism.

In spite of everything I feel good this morning.

Good “in my water” as one of my early directors–Oliver Gordon Batcock at Salisbury Repertory Theatre, used to say.

And it’s worth saying because there are so many reasons to feel bad and uneasy and pessimistic and downhearted and disappointed and depressed.

When one feels an innate feeling of “alright” it’s worth noting that it is even possible, when–to misquote Rudyard Kipling–all around, the world is heading for the plughole.

Why some mornings this occurs is not immediately clear.

I got out of bed “the right side”?

My Mother would confront a moody Robin with the accusation of my having got out of bed the wrong side.

Puzzling this–and guaranteed to UP the grumpiness–because there was only one side to get out of my bed!

Could it be because what I ate yesterday agreed with me better than other days?

I can examine the news from around the world and try to extrapolate a positive vibe.

Surely not the case this morning….

Plenty of things to get unhappy about out there; why do they NOT inform the way I am feeling today?

Am I living in cloud cuckoo land?

No, but I am living in the heart of the French countryside and the weather is reasonable and I have a new recipe bubbling on the stove to be tasted and tested for lunch and I spy–not a cuckoo–but a robin on the bird table, looking proud and sweet.

Ben, our mercurial black cat has come downstairs for a quick bite before mercurially slipping out the back door.

Today’s “alternative facts” are not in yet.

If this is cloud cuckoo land, I’m tempted to stick around for a while.

Is there a chance I’ll feel the same tomorrow?

 

Inaugurations!

We have been present at TWO!

Getting to the first felt like a ride to glory.

Being at the second–especially for me, a Brit at the party–was an enormous privilege.

Four years ago this week, Meredith walked into the VIP area just below the podium, turned round, looked down the mall and burst into tears.

It was solid people as far as the eye could see.

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A moment to savor for Meredith, who had worked her heart out– first for John Kerry, then for Barack Obama.

Especially poignant because four years earlier, at Barack Obama’s first inauguration, she had a purple ticket–and got caught up in the notorious Purple Ticket Scandalwhen thousands were blocked from getting in because the security arrangements broke down.

A bitterly disappointed Meredith sat on the stoop of our hosts’ house and wept–tears of frustration this time.

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Disappointing for me,” she said later, “devastating for the thousands of African Americans who had waited lifetimes to see a black president inaugurated.”

It had started so well.

The train journey from New York’s Penn Station to Washington’s Union Station turned into the most joyous ride I have ever been on.

The train was packed–not a seat to be had–and we all shared a single destination–we were headed to the promised land!

As we settled in our seats, the voices wafting across the aisle were unmistakably Irish; they belonged to a group of youngish men carrying guitar cases.

I whispered to Meredith,

“I think that’s an Irish band”

“Great. I hope you are going to play, guys!”

“We’ve just come from playing our hit song on the TODAY Show this morning.

There’s No One As Irish As Barack O’bama.”

Pause…

“You wouldn’t be the Corrigan Brothers by any chance?”

The title had caught Meredith’s eye on the Internet back home–and the song had made her laugh.

“Hey boys, we’ve been recognized! This is Brian and Donnacha and I’m Ger.”‘

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“Hello, I’m Meredith.” Another pause….

“You wouldn’t be Meredith Wheeler by any chance?”

She says at that point, the ears FELL OFF my head!

To Meredith’s astonishment and delight, they had been following The Obama Bridge Project that she’d been leading for months.

It was a brilliant scheme to promote Barack Obama’s bid for the Presidency.

Photos of Obama supporters holding banners on bridges large and small, iconic and unknown all over the world.

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Viaduct of Millau. Meredith in the middle with the Liberty head-dress.

The idea being that Obama–with his international heritage and mixed race background–had the potential to bridge divides and be a symbol of HOPE.

The Corrigan band were traveling with Obama’s Irish cousin (eight times removed!), Henry Healy from Moneygall in County Offaly–who said he’d been invited to the inauguration. His trip was being filmed by a documentary film crew from Ireland.

The band played the whole of the three-hour journey and we arrived in Washington feeling that the party had begun!

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Four years later we were in Washington D.C. for Obama’s second inauguration, almost on “spec”.

Meredith was hoping to pick up a ticket from the Democrats Abroad allocation–but nothing was guaranteed.

We stayed with our friends Irv and Iris Molotsky.

On the wall of their sitting room is a photo of them sitting within throwing distance of the podium at Barack Obama’a first Inauguration in 2009.

For years Irv was The New York Times Washington correspondent and although retired now, he still keeps his contacts on the inside.

A couple of days before the event, Irv went to pick up his tickets from the Congressional Press Office at the Capitol Building. He invited me along.

I had never been inside the building and eagerly accepted.

Meredith joined us and thanks to Irv’s friends in the press offices of the Senate and the House, we were treated to a tour of both houses of Congress.

Standing in the press gallery of the House of Representatives sent shivers down my back.

In the private behind-the-scene press office, abolitionist and supporter of women’s suffrage, Frederick Douglas is still remembered–the first African American nominated for Vice President of the United States. The passing of the 13th amendment–abolishing slavery–happened in the space below us on 31st January 1865,

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In two days time–January 20th, 2013, the second Inauguration of a black President would take place.

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And as it turned out, we witnessed it at close hand.

Irv’s friends came up trumps (whoops!) and found us seats in the row seven–next to Irv and Iris–(two rows behind Stevie Wonder and just in front of Katie Perry!).

It felt like touching history.

Indeed–an enormous privilege.

We attended both Barack Obama’s inaugurations.

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He will be missed.

Just back from Rome where we walked and walked and ate and ate–which was the object of the visit.

I planned this trip–to celebrate my 75th birthday with our friends, Helen and Keith (his birthday is two days before mine)–as four nights and eight meals.

In front of the French Embassy in Piazza Farnese

In front of the French Embassy in Piazza Farnese with my fellow Capricorn.

Worked out very well.

This might seem to undervalue Rome–the Eternal City, heart of the Catholic Church, ancient heart of the vasty Roman Empire.

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Church bells sound on the quarter hour and bits of antique Rome are tucked into walls in unexpected places.

Look at those Roman heads in the wall!

HISTORY is everywhere–writ BIG!

It was unusually cold for Rome--as you can see here at the Pantheon.

At the Pantheon–in the freezing cold; unRoman winter weather we were told.

But so is the Roman love of FOOD.

At Pecorino, a wonderful restaurant near the Testaccio market

At Pecorino, a wonderful restaurant near the Testaccio market

 

Close to our hotel, Campo di Fiori–home to a proud statue of Giordano Bruno, a Dominican friar burnt at the stake in the piazza in 1600 as a heretic–now it’s famous for its daily market.

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Food and history, side by side.

On our last morning, we bought a large handful of prepared punterelle, handily vacuum-packed for the journey.

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Puntarelle is one of the culinary wonders of the region.

A member of the chicory family it is traditionally served in an anchovy, lemon and olive oil sauce.

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On the way to Keith’s birthday lunch we walked through the old Jewish ghetto–where the inhabitants were locked in at night until the middle of the 19th century.

Now there are police sentry posts at the entrances–keeping attackers out.

Restaurant barkers in yamakas–stand outside in the freezing cold, tempting us to try the famous fried artichokes.

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History and food–side by side.

The signature dishes of Rome are on every menu.

I ate an exquisite artichoke fried to a golden finish–the Jewish way–in a tiny restaurant called Soro Margherita (recommended!) in the Piazza delle Cinque Scole on the edge of the Jewish quarter.

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I’d been to Rome with the National Youth Theatre in the summer of 1960 with our modern-dress production of Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar.

The following year I returned with a school friend.

Rome was one of our stops on a whirlwind nine-week tour of Europe before starting university.

I remember a single meal from this short visit.

It was a packed lunch of chicken and salad; eaten on location on the edge of what smelt like a sulphur pit.

It was my second day as an extra on a film called The Best of Enemies–starring Alberto Sordi and David Niven plus a galaxy of famous British character actors playing varied ranks in the British army in the Western Desert.

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I’d met this guy in the youth hostel who had already been an extra on the film for weeks in Israel, but had decided to quit.

“Why don’t you take my place?” he  suggested. “They won’t notice if you keep your head down–just say you’ve come from Israel with the others. They pay £11 a day!”

A FORTUNE on our budget!

“Just make sure you are at the studios (the legendary Cinecitta at the southeast city limits) by six in the morning,”  my benefactor advised.

The hostel opened at six, so no chance of sleeping there and making the studios in time.

So I decided to try a bench at the main railway station.

They moved me on.

I don’t remember HOW I got there–but I ended up sleeping on the wall outside the studios and–keeping my head down–coolly signed on.

The first day we shot in the studio.

There I was–hobnobbing with my HEROES–Harry Andrews whom I’d seen playing at Stratford two years before with Laurence Olivier in Coriolanus and Duncan Macrae, the bony Scots actor whom I’d also seen with Olivier in Ionesco’s Rhinoceros in the West End.

I have no memory of what I ate that day!

The second day we were on location outside Rome.

I was a dressed as a Private–khaki shorts and boots–Desert Rats, they were called.

When we broke for lunch I took off my hot, sweaty boots and dipped my toes in a nearby puddle while tucking into my grilled chicken lunch.

By the time I got back to the studio, my left left leg was feeling odd–painful even.

It got worse quickly. Whatever was infecting that pool of water was now climbing rapidly up my left leg!

By the end of the day, I could barely hobble on it–and I had to inform the third assistant director that I didn’t think I could return in the morning.

Then it all came out that I was taking the place of the previous guy–and it got a bit awkward!

They paid me off, but said “don’t bother to come back!”.

As I limped into the hostel, Chris Fordyce, my school friend and traveling companion, looked worried. By ten that night he persuaded me to consult the hostel manager.

He sent me directly to a doctor in the neighbourhood, who by some MIRACLE was still at work .

The doctor examined my leg, shook his head solemnly and said in a wonderfully accented English:

“Eets very lucky you come see me tonight. Tomorrow, I would have to take your leg off!”

He gave me a shot of penicillin and a week’s supply, with a single needle to inject it–brave Chris’ job.

I was in bed for seven days–and the needle got blunter and blunter.

But I kept my leg.

Life might have been so different!

I eventually saw the film at the Odeon Leicester Square and thought I caught a glimpse of a very thin ME clambering over rocks with other desert rats–but I wouldn’t swear to it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Trusting your instinct

I got the wobbles about lunch yesterday.

There were to be four of us and I chose two recipes from my newest book, Mediterranean Cooking for Diabetics.

It was a first visit for one of the guests and, of course, I felt “on show”.

My menu: Pork chops with orange juice on a bed of white beans–a well-tested, simple, one-pot dish–and cheery pumpkin soup to start.

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Comfort food for a cold, frosty morning.

(I love seeing the whited fields when I get up).

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Panic set in while doing my exercises–a half-hour of bleary-eyed stretching on rising.

Exercise releases not just tied up muscles; the mind involuntarily starts to whirr.

It’s all too heavy–needs a lighter touch!

Maybe I should go buy some quail and frisée lettuce and Roquefort cheese, the classic blue cheese–produced not far from here.

I’d bought the chops two days earlier and the beautiful orange/ red pumpkin .

I’d make the soup for lunch and there’d be plenty left over for the weekend.

It was well planned.

Whirr, whirr, whirr…

This is just silly last-minute panic–trust your instinct–it’s all you have!

Didn’t you buy the house on instinct–a whim almost?

Yes, I never had a moment’s doubt–the panic then was that the sale would not go through–the owner would have seller’s remorse.

Here we still are 27 years later.

The soup was welcomed and the pork and bean dish could have had more sauce–but was fine.

Footnote:

Meredith–as often happens–stole the show with her lemon soufflé.