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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.

 

 

 

Christmas is coming…

 

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I pass Gaby and Pierette’s farm on my daily walk and scurrying out of my path two days ago were a platoon of ducks and geese.

December the first today. They must be new arrivals in time for Christmas.

Les pauvres!

December the first….

DAY ONE, in the early 1950’s, on the advent calendar and the agonisingly slow build-up to the big day.

Sweet torture!

The decorations are up in our little village of Lautrec and outside Monoprix in the town of Castres, the little carrousel and its prancing horses is doing its rounds.

What to buy so-and-so and and mustn’t forget thing-a-ma-jig….

Christmas is now inevitable and the pressure is on.

Well, I have a suggestion….

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I know what it says on the cover but the recipes a healthy and delicious–good for everyone–and Meredith’s photos are sensational.

If your local bookstore doesn’t have it (in the UK), it’s available on Amazon–and only Amazon or other online book dealers in the USA. It’s also available for Kindle.

Here’s a look behind the scenes!

The Front Door

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Twenty-six years ago we walked through the front door here on a spring afternoon and fell in love with this house.

(I bought it that evening–my offer was accepted at 7pm)

The said front door is the original, made of oak–“un bois noble,” according to Gilbert Caminade, our friend and menusier [carpenter].

The solid old door has a NOBLE air–but it has seen some days (three centuries!) and was in need of care and attention.

The date 1715 is carved into the lintel above the door.

After roughly 300 Christmases, it was looking like William Congreve’s description of Lady Wishfort in his play, The Way of the World (1700): “an old peeled wall”.

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300 years is taking its toll on the front door as dear Lily, now buried in the garden, might have agreed.

The date triggers my imagination.

In England, the first Jacobite revolt broke out that year.

The Old Pretender (sums me up perfectly), James Francis Edward Stuart, tried to unseat the new Hanoverian George–but was repelled with Germanic efficiency.

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In 1745, Bonny Prince Charley, the Young Pretender (uhm!), tried his luck–but the second George was having none of it.

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By then our door had weathered only 30 (just 10%!) of its lifetime of Christmases.

During the great upheaval of the French Revolution, the original chapel attached to the presbytère was largely destroyed, though the house itself–with its oaken doors–survived.

Gilbert said we should do something about this solid old survivor before another winter sets in.

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He should know.

He was born in the tiny hamlet overlooking our house–the presbytère or rectory and as a boy walked barefoot across the fields to attend his catechism lessons in what is now our kitchen.

His father, also a master carpenter, worked on the house for the previous owner, often assisted  by his talented son.

Gilbert (pronounced Jeelbare) has a way with old houses where nothing is at a right angle.

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He pulls and pushes, knocks and scrapes, twists and nudges–cajoling stubborn old windows and doors to comply when they don’t want to–an osteopath for ancient structures.

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He knows how far to go without doing damage–a rare skill.

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We first met Gilbert waiting to enter the church for his father’s funeral.

He speaks in bursts, like a machine gun, in the rolling accent of the Midi.

(I barely understood a word he said for years….)

Things are a bit better a quarter of a century on–but I confess, I still rely on his habit of repeating himself.

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The repair job on the old door is remarkable.

We’re still tinkering with the exact color but Gilbert has restored it in time for its 301st Christmas!

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Knock, knock–says Beau…

Sunday night’s splendid finale to the second series involved a scene which brought back vivid memories for me.

Here’s what I wrote in my memoir, Making Poldark, about the studio recording of the miners attack on Trenwith–the final episode of our first series.

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We finished the series with a bang – in fact we nearly burned down the BBC Television Centre. The last scene to be done in the studio was the burning of Trenwith – from the inside.

This was another diversion from the books – where Trenwith was kept well intact by Winston Graham. For television it was felt a more dramatic climax was needed and what better than the burning down of the bosses’ home by the disaffected and starving miners.

The set was a fine recreation of an eighteenth century upper-class living room filled with a mixture of real antique and good reproduction furniture and objets d’art. Well in line with the BBC tradition of authenticity, it had cost a fair amount to bring it together.

With the miners in this mood any thoughts of negotiation or arbitration were clearly out of the question. It was simply a matter of looking after one’s own and everyone for himself. The miners attacked through the windows of the drawing room where Ross was trying to persuade George Warleggan to run for his life; Elizabeth was there as George’s wife and Demelza arrived with the news that the attack was imminent.

It was the finale – the `walk down’ and in came the miners, professional extras who had been given instructions to set light to the place with their burning torches. This they did in a most professional manner. Original eighteenth century furniture was smashed and burned. But nobody said `Cut and so this bizarre spectacle continued, until things got so hot that the action ground to a halt and an instinctive responsibility prevailed.

It was a spectacular ending to an eventful nine months – and a few questions were asked.

Exhausted, we all went to the party at Angharad’s house. We’d been looking forward to it and it was not a disappointment. Two hundred people were there and it finished at 8 a.m. the next morning.

And so ended the first series of Poldark.

Well–“A more dramatic climax”?

I haven’t re-screened the seventies version–but Sunday night’s was pretty dramatic!

And I fancied Aidan’s approach, parting the angry red sea of miners.

My horse, Dennis, would have relished the drama of that–he was a natural born star and a bit of a show-off.

This was a terrific episode; for American viewers–a couple of episodes behind–something exciting in store!

Now–onwards!

Just eight books to go…!

 

 

 

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This is not really about the fishcakes–they’ve featured before and in fact are one of the most popular recipes on my blog.

It’s about how a single item found in the market/shop/fridge can lead to lunch.

Yesterday at the organic market in Castres a producer with whom I regularly shop had a little bunch of dill hiding modestly behind the parsley.

I picked it out and it was perky with that fresh, inimitable scent.

She told me it had grown back unexpectedly. Dill, like coriander, is tricky to grow.

Dill is delicious with thinly sliced cucumber and red onion in a simple salad–but this bunch shouts FISHCAKES in my ear.

Thus, it’s fishcakes in a little tomato coulis for lunch today.

The recipe appears in my first cookbook–Delicious Dishes for Diabetics and in the new cookbook, Mediterranean Cooking for Diabetics.  A variation using smoked haddock appears in my second cookbook, Healthy Eating for Life, also delicious.

They are served with a yogurt sauce in the books.

The key point is there is no potato filler–so it’s low carb.

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If you keep them small and cook them quickly, they’ll be crisp and brown on the outside and still succulent inside–so

It’s vital to make the pan hot.

Salmon Fishcakes with dill and grainy mustard

  • 400 g/1 lb salmon fillet – skinless and checked for bones
  • white of an egg
  • 1 tbsp chickpea flour – of course, plain flour works as well, but chickpea flour (also called gram) is non-gluten, high fiber and higher protein value
  • 1 tsp grain mustard
  • juice of ½ lemon
  • bunch of dill – chopped fine
  • salt and pepper
  • 2 tbsp olive oil

 

Cut up the salmon fillets in roughly equal-size pieces.

Put these in a mixer and pulse three or four times.

Avoid working them too much!  You don’t want slush at the end.

You could just cut them by hand if this suits better.

Place the the salmon in a bowl and add the egg white and the flour, then the mustard, lemon juice and the dill.

Season with salt and pepper.

It’s a good idea to taste the mix for seasoning at this point–the dill and the salt should come through.

Using a dessertspoon, scoop out a dollop.

Arrange these on a plate and refrigerate, if not using immediately.

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When you are ready to eat, heat the oil in a frying pan to HOT.

Cook on a medium-high flame, crisping and browning the outside while making sure the interior cooks through.

Depending on the thickness this takes about a minute each side.

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I found more dill in today’s market–any suggestions?

Encore FISHCAKES!” you’ll cry, after sampling these.

(The tomato coulis tasted good but I think the yogurt sauce is a better partner to these delicious cakes.)

Yogurt sauce

  • 2 x 125 ml pots plain yogurt*
  • 1 tsp grain mustard
  • good pinch of chopped dill (from the main bunch)
  • salt to taste

Whisk the yogurt to a smooth texture and fold in the dill and mustard.

Add salt to taste.

Refrigerate until you are ready to eat

* If you prefer a thicker yogurt sauce, drain it in a sieve for 10 minutes or so.