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Whoops!!

CORRECTION to Monday, Monday!
A pair of sharp eyes from Bristol points out that:
It’s not “4 score years and 20″!
That would make Keith an impressive but unlikely 100!
Rather…
3 score years and 20″.
Maths never a strength chez moi!
Thank you, Deming!

Monday, Monday…

A Monday morning to cherish–for once–a beautiful blue sky and a crisp white frost covers the back meadow.

It’s the first Monday of the new decade and Twelfth Night to boot.

“If music be the food of love play on–give me excess of it.”

We are in need of some good news; so “an excess of love” in these troublingly, divided times would be good news.

So.

Our friend, Keith Richmond on whose olive farm south-east of Florence we have “laboured” at harvest time, is 80 today.

Three-score years and twenty–as a friend of his observed this morning.

Ten more than the traditional span.

Good news!

Buon Auguri, Keith!!

May you and your olives trees continue to prosper for many years to come!

(The olive oil from Boggioli is gorgeous, by the way, and Keith is an expert at export!)

The second piece of good news we awoke to this morning:

Our friend, Brian Cox, won the Golden Globe last night for Best Actor in a TV Drama Series for his role in Succession.

He’d told us a couple of weeks back that he didn’t fancy his chances. That Tobias Menzies, as the Duke of Edinburgh, opposite GG winner Olivia Coleman’s Queen Elizabeth, would be a worthier winner.

Separating two such stunning performances is invidious but hey! This is showbiz and we are rejoicing at Brian’s deserved triumph. His portrait of the media mogul monster–Logan Roy–has delighted and disgusted us in equal measure and left us panting for the third series, which he says starts shooting late Spring.

Good news!

Just for a moment I’ve been able to park The News–from the Middle East, Australia, No 10 and Mar-a-Largo.

And like the besotted Duke Orsino in Twelfth Night believe that love “can purge the air of pestilence!”

I like to cook with the seasons and when possible, with local produce…

Our neighbour, Alice Frezoul gave us a medium cauliflower freshly cut from her vegetable patch last night.

Meredith had worked with her in the beautiful late December sunshine on the essential exercise of de-miting the bees.

This recipe is in the Winter section of my new book:

Robin Ellis’ Mediterranean Vegetarian Cooking

Available for pre-order on Amazon UK

I also like both the convenience and look of gratins.                                             

They often involve pre-cooked ingredients so the final stage is a simple matter of heating through, which means you can do an assembly job beforehand, heat the oven and hey presto!

The juicy black olives lend depth and an exotic twist.

For 2

1 medium cauliflower–broken up into bite size florets

3 tbs olive oil

1 medium onion–chopped

2 cloves garlic–pulped with a pinch of salt

a dozen or so, juicy black olives–stoned and halved

2 tbs parsley–chopped fine

4 tbs parmesan–grated or 2tbs each of parmesan and pecorino romano (if you use pecorino, keep in mind that it is quite salty.)

2 tbs wholewheat breadcrumbs

Preheat oven to 190c

Steam the cauliflower florets to your taste in tenderness–I like them a bit firm.

Set aside.

Heat the oil in a frying pan and sauté the onion until soft and browned a little–about five minutes

Add the pulped garlic and the parsley and cook for another couple of minutes.

Turn off the heat and mix in the olives.

Add the cauliflower to the pan and turn it over in the mix–seasoning as you go with salt and pepper.

Sprinkle over half the cheese and turn it over.

Taste for seasoning.

Turn this into a shallow gratin dish.

Mix the remaining cheese with the breadcrumbs and sprinkle over a tablespoon of olive oil

Place in the middle of the oven for about 20 minutes.

It should come out sizzling quietly and nicely browned on top.

We had it with sautéed Brussels sprouts.

Not the most photogenic dish, but scores high on taste.

And Shadow makes six!

It is becoming a regular thing.

Between seven and eight in the evening the little black flash with white hairs in his ears trots in to the kitchen and after a quick munch, heads for the chair by the fire–which I happen to be occupying.

He nuzzles his way up between my left trousered leg and the arm of the chair, tries out various positions located in or around my lap, and finally settles himself.

It’s impossible not to stroke this beautiful ball of shining black fur that’s snuggling down so close and contentedly. Gentle stroking elicits a deafening purr.

The kitten has landed and expanded.

Shadow–the name bestowed on him by brother, Jack, who spotted how he would “shadow” the older cats–has filled out. Kitten–no longer!

He turned up one evening last August. We were alerted to a faint high-pitched mewing.

It seemed to be coming from the edge of the field that runs down to the road that passes by our driveway.

We waited and watched.

A little face peeked through the undergrowth.

Meredith called him and left food–but he retreated when she approached.

Clearly abandoned by someone who knows this to be a cat friendly house–it is not the first time this has happened–they left him with nothing but an instinct for survival and a spirit strong enough to take two steps forward, one back if necessary.

He playied grandmother’s footsteps without knowing it for days. Something told him to press on, persevere. His stomach most like.

Even as he crept closer, the pitiful mewing continued.

The other cats were in the picture and tolerant; he showed no fear of them–it was us he wasn’t sure of; one of our kind abandoned him, after all.

Midnight shows Shadow the perks of life at St Martin

It took weeks for him to accept the outstretched hand.

That early caution is gone now.

“For the birds,” he cries as he stalks them–showing a less agreeable instinct to be alive and active. So now wears a red collar with a little warning bell attached.

Now It’s more like: “Here I am! What’s for supper?”

He’s the lowest on a totem of six so has no shortage of examples to follow.

That’s the new kid up in the right hand corner while the elders dominate the chairs.

Our cats are some of the best fed on the planet and have developed a certain air of entitlement –which he has had no trouble adopting.

He is a curious youngster–cats have that reputation. Usually their fabled nine lives allows them to survive any unwise delvings.

Meredith tells me he is intrigued by the cat videos that are legion on the Internet.

I was watching TV the other night with him beside me when he jumped up on the arm of the sofa beside the TV set and began a forensic examination of the moving image. Puzzled by the glass barrier that was preventing him touching the seal that he was seeing.

Last night on our way to bed Meredith opens the front door to corral the cats indoors and finds a black cat convention in full swing.

Midnight, Blackie and Ben are sitting around in the courtyard, no doubt discussing how Brexit will impact their lives.

A heavy padding down the stairs announces Shadow. Keen not to miss out, he heads for the front door lengthening his body in a stretching movement to pass through the door and insinuate himself into the group, in one remarkable movement.

He “fell into the butterdish” here.

We feel happy that he’s joined our group–no insinuating movement needed.

We love him.

❤️❤️Screenshot 2019-12-29 at 20.05.22

 

The Europeans

 

The title of a Henry James novella set in mid-19th century New England, filmed in a barely-changed New Ipswich by Merchant/Ivory productions in the fall of 1978.

The setting was authentic–a New Hampshire village; the season–a blazing autumn, gold fading into silver; the story–Old Europe on the make in New England; my part–a Boston nabob unable to make up his mind.

Stark contrast with impulsive Ross Poldark for me–and one I found difficult. 

And I was playing with an impressionistic “American” accent opposite the real thing–Boston Brahmin daughter par excellence, and Oscar nominee, Lee Remick–herself playing with her best cut-glass English accent.

Poor stuck-in-the-mud Robert Acton was too rich, too comfortable and too complacent to contemplate the upheaval a life with a gold-digging, not-yet-divorced, European princess would put him through. 

Years later Ruth Prawer Jabhvala, Merchant/Ivory’s perennial screenwriter apologized for writing me such a dull part.

In truth, the fault was not hers.

No matter. I have good memories of fellow actors–in particular, Kristin Griffith who played my sister, and Tim Choate–plus one extraordinary feast.  And I loved spending weeks watching nature reflect the story, as the foliage changed colour and with it, the Princess’s prospects.

Tim Choate played Clifford.

That feast…

Independent film production is a hazardous business, and three-quarter’s way through the filming it became clear that the film was in financial difficulties (a scenario not unfamiliar to Merchant/Ivory productions). 

I heard that in earlier days, producer Ismail Merchant would visit American film company offices in London (he lived in New York) offering a slice of freshly-baked apple pie–in exchange for the use of the telephone.

Around 5pm one Saturday afternoon, I returned to the unit base after filming, to find irrepressible Ismail unloading a number of large brown supermarket bags brimming with produce from his car.

“Hi Ismail–how’s it going?–can I carry something?”

“Very kind–perhaps a couple of these bags–to the kitchen….”

“What’s happening?”

“Indian feast. Eight o’clock this evening. Everyone is invited!”

“That’s in barely three hours time, Ismail!”

“You’ll see!”

I guessed that cast and crew were not to be the only guests at the table.

Other interested parties attended too–perhaps worried about their investments in the film.

On the dot of 8pm, the dining room doors of the unprepossessing Holiday Inn Leominster, Massachusetts (only Holiday Inn in the world without a swimming pool?) were flung open by Ismail, dressed like a maharaja–in his full Indian finery–not a bead of kitchen sweat visible–to reveal tables groaning under the weight of his sumptuous Indian feast.

After weeks of location catering and fast food suppers, we gulped it all down.

The film wrapped without further rumours–and ran for nine months at the Curzon Cinema in London.

It’s the 40th anniversary of the release–and the film has been restored and is being re-released.

James Ivory, the director and the other half of Merchant/Ivory recently won an Oscar for best-adapted screenplay and is working on another. He’s 91! 

Ismail Merchant–whose refrain was always “Everybody loves our films!”–died in 2005. (And incidentally, he wrote several cookbooks too!)

Their partnership was the longest in the history of independent film production–44 years.

 

 

 

 

 

A Soup for the Speaker

The newly-elected Speaker of the House of Commons–Sir Lindsay Hoyle–has revealed that he’s recently been diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes.

Photo by Jessica Taylor

He had been losing weight at what his wife thought was an alarming rate. She persuaded him to see his doctor–who sent him to A&E.

I’m going to cope with it. I’m going to manage it. I’m going to get through this. The fact is I feel really well. We know what it is – that’s the good news – and of course, I have got to get over it and get on with my job.

The House of Commons elected me to be the Speaker and there’s nothing that’s going to stop me from doing that.”

Theresa May made a similar announcement some years ago– a courageous step for a person with such a prominent profile.

I’d read somewhere that she enjoyed cooking, so I sent her my book Mediterranean Cooking for Diabetics and received a gracious reply in a 10 Downing Street envelope:

I plan to do the same for The Speaker. 

In the meantime, Sir Lindsay, here is a warming winter vegetable soup that features in my new (fourth!) cookbook, to be published in the UK on June 4th, 2020– and available for pre-order now on Amazon.

Vegetable soup

Simply that—a soup with vegetables

1 medium onion—in small dice

1 leek—finely sliced

3 garlic cloves—pulped

1 carrot—in small dice

1 stick celery

2 tbs olive oil

1 fennel bulb– bite size dice

2 carrots– chopped to bite-size

2 sticks celery–bite-size dice

1 medium turnip–bite-size dice

8oz butternut squash–bite-size dice

1 tin/can tomatoes broken up with its juice

s&p

a bouquet of bay leaf, sprigs parsley and thyme

2 pints stock (I use organic vegetable stock cubes.)

  • Heat the oil in a large saucepan and add the smaller diced vegetables.
  • Turn over in the oil and cook gently until tender.
  • This is the taste “engine” of the soup that will slowly deepen its flavours.
  • Add the larger dice vegetables and turn them in.
  • Add the tomatoes and turn them in.
  • Lay in the herb bouquet and add the stock and lightly season with salt and pepper to taste.
  • Bring up to the boil and cover.
  • Turn the heat to low and simmer for a half-hour or until the larger diced veg are tender.
  • Remove the bouquet of herbs and add a swirl of your best olive oil.

 

I’m making this soup today!

A visitor

We have a visitor. As before with Beau and Midnight–out of the blue. Just turned up mewing sadly, not knowing that as an old friend once said it had fallen into the butter dish by stopping by.

He/she-we don’t know the gender yet–advances a little further down the path each visit, encouraged, by the food laid out, to be courageous.

Last night I noticed it managed to lower its eyes while lapping up the milk.

No sign of it this morning when Meredith called out. She worries the house cats have shooed it away during the night.

They have treated it as a curiosity so far and offered little hostility. Could mean it’s female –which would be good in a household of three big males but the name that came into Meredith’s mind –Archimedes– would not suit the little mite!

It rained in the night–perhaps it’s sleeping off a disturbed night.

Watch this space for updates on this happy event…

Meanwhile here’s a link to Meredith’s beautiful footage in the courtyard…

Ben seems cool about the watching figure!

STOP PRESS:  Sighting at noon–all’s well!