Archive for the ‘other sides to this life’ Category

Ring-a-ding ding

A tale for ❤️Valentine’s Day❤️

Came back from the organic open-air market this week, parked the yogurt, the whole rye loaves, the bouquet of Swiss chard and made up the fire. Lit it, and headed to the sideboard for my pistachio treat–a custom now of the late afternoon.

As I scooped the nuts into the little Florentine bowl, I realized something was missing: My wedding ring!

My finger was missing its ring!

There’s a particularly unpleasant punch-in-the-stomach feeling–WHOOSH–when something hugely-valued is not where it’s supposed to be.

And this is not the first time it has happened.

“Grace under pressure, Robin, grace under pressure….”

I retraced my steps.

Scanned the sideboard where the jars of dried fruits and nuts are stored–but no ring.

Tipped out the pistachio jar, nuts all over the countertop–but no ring.

I turned to the fire, which was picking up nicely.

Moments’ pause, then PANIC as I remembered….

Maybe it slipped off my finger when I tossed in a handful of dry kindling, before deciding I deserved a few pistachios. 

 “How resistant is gold to melting when subjected to intense heat?”

No time to GOOGLE–get dismantling the blaze, without burning my ringless fingers!

The ring is in fact THREE rings in yellow, white and rose gold–a Russian wedding ring. It will have been my close companion for 31 years this August.

I recently “changed hands” from left to right (the traditional hand for Russian rings) because my left had become too thin.

I carefully shovel hot embers aside into a pile, hoping I catch a glinting glimpse of gold.

No ring. 

Meredith arrived back from the shops and calmed me down.

Grace under pressure, grace under pressure—yawowwww!

Together we finished the fire “dismantlement”, without finding the ring. 

We searched the car, the courtyard, the front hall, the bathroom.

Perhaps the pile of warm ash would yield treasure tomorrow.

Next morning, I still felt a glimmer of hope.

It WILL turn up. Something in my water told me so.

I lost the ring once before but remember never losing hope–somewhere, patiently waiting for me to get my act together, would be my ring.

In my head, the image of a gold prospector.

I found a garden weeding stool and, armed with my kitchen sieve, settled down with a bucket of ash outside at the side of the church.
Awkwardly combing the ash, shovel by shovelful, the pile reduced–along with my hopes, WHEN…

THERE IT WAS!!—looking up at me innocently, as if to say: “WHAT TOOK YOU SO LONG?”

A joyful reunion!
Bless its little heart.
Meredith and I embraced!


It is on my ring-finger now with a little piece of twine attached to keep it snug.

Happy Valentine’s Day!


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England, Wales and Scotland back into lockdown; children and teachers informed that schools will be closed until mid-February and no exams this year (having been told firmly the opposite on Sunday).

Donald Trump tries to bully election officials in Georgia to slip him an extra odd thousand votes to swing the election result into his column. Brexit becomes a sad reality and we lose our European citizenship.

Meanwhile in la France profonde, we wake up to a less complicated scene–snow, white and still gently falling…..❄️❄️❄️  At first  bleary look this morning, I thought it was mist!

A beautiful picture postcard wonderland of good cheer–something our chickens and Shadow (the youngest cat) have never seen.

Indeed, we haven’t seen snow here for at least three years–something quite welcome now after months of gloom and doom.

Black cats on white!

A robin briefly shares the bird table with a young woodpecker–another redbreast–both seen off by an unusually solitary goldfinch and tit:

Three confused French hens.

(They usually range around the garden but today looked dubious and unapproving–and stayed firmly in the covered coop!)

Snow mobility.

Snow slows human traffic but increases flight in the avian world.

“Hey guys–just saw Meredith pour some crushed madeleines and sunflower seeds on the bird table–see you there! Watch out for finches and that black cats though! (Tit telegraph).

Food, glorious food!

It’s an entertaining distraction to Big Tuesday in Georgia.

Meredith put on her heavy duty clogs, grabbed the snow shovel (idle for years, like I said it would be) and her camera, and went in search of beauty.

Here’s what she found, out there:

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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.







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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!


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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!


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.


  • 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!

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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!

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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.

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

Shopping expeditions curtailed. Really only one: Saturdays.

What to do for lunch and dinner?


Baskets, trays and bowls almost empty.


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.

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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

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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.

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