Archive for the ‘other sides to this life’ Category

Endive, walnut, sweet onion, radish, black olives, orange and feta salad

for 6/8

This wonderful spring salad–a perfect starter to the Easter meal–is from my first cook book, Delicious Dishes for Diabetics.

Beautiful to look at, it raises the spirits and whets the appetite.

Endive! There’s a stall in Castres market that sells only these seasonal white torpedoes. They are sweeter than the industrially grown ones available all the year round.

I buy more than I need for the salad–we’ll have them slow-roasted another day.

It’s an assembly job–and fun to do…

  • Slice off the base of three endive–this will make it easier to pick off the individual spear like leaves.
  • Dry roast walnuts—about 5oz  (a handful)– in a pan on top of the hob.
  • Slice half a medium, sweet red onion as finely as possible.
  • Slice a handful of radishes.
  • Stone about 10 black olives and cut in half.
  • Peel two juicy oranges by slicing off the top with a sharp knife and gingerly cut down through the peel top to bottom without cutting into the flesh. When you have completed the sphere–pull back the peel in each segment (very satisfying!)–and hey, presto! You have a neatly peeled orange. Now slice the orange horizontally into thick-ish pieces.
  • Dice 4oz Feta cheese.
  • Roughly chop a handful of parsley (optional)

Next make the vinaigrette for the salad:

  • In a small screw top bottle put some freshly-grated pepper and a few pinches of salt.
  • Add a tablespoon of red wine vinegar and 4 tbs olive oil.
  • Shake it all about–and set aside.
  • Now assemble the salad on a large platter that will show it off well (before you spoil it, by turning it all over in the vinaigrette).

This is how I arrange things:

  • Define the arena by arranging spears round the bowl with the tips upward facing.
  • Slice additional spears into twos or threes and scatter in the bottom of the bowl.
  • Arrange the orange slices nicely over these.
  • Scatter the sliced onion and radish over the orange and add the black olives.
  • Scatter the feta round the bowl and finish with the walnuts and the parsley.
  • Pour over the vinaigrette (after shaking it again) and present the result to the table before turning everything over–ruthlessly.
  • We finished it at the lunch with several of the guests having seconds.

The rest of the menu for the



Roast leg of lamb with White Bean Gratin

Slow-roasted Tomatoes with rosemary and garlic

Roast Asparagus Spears

Freshly-made Apple, Mint and Onion Sauce

Milk Gravy

Panacotta —made by Meredith–served with mango, more orange chunks and blueberries


All the recipes (except the panacotta!) are in

Mediterranean Cooking for Diabetics.

One of the lunch guests, my old nemesis from Poldark days, Donald Douglas (aka Captain McNeil), decorated eggs for place-settings.

This is Meredith and me:

(Hair clippings provided by Donald’s horse)







































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Meredith and I travel SOUTH!

A skip and a jump from chez nous–about a two-and-half hour drive.

We are heading for Corneilla-del-Vercola–a handsome, wine-producing village south of Perpignan, not far from the Spanish border.

I have been invited by the members of the local branch of the University of the Third Age to join them for their monthly get together.

On the first Monday of every month the group assembles for a shared meal–with a theme.

A recent event involved them learning how to make a pork pie.

This month was to be a bit different.

Jane, the host for the event, invited everyone in the cooking group to bring something they have prepared from one of my cook books–or this blog!

She says that Type 2 diabetes has an increasing presence among the retirees in the area.

Be that as it may this is some ego-trip and I don’t have to cook!

Jane and her partner Chris live in a prettily painted house on the village square with a magnificent view of the mountains from the loggia of their sitting room.

As the evening progresses the sunlight on the fine brick church across the square turns it a glowing red.

The guests (twenty of them plus us two) start arriving at 7pm and it’s clear from the animated chatter that the group s’entendre bien [gets on together well] and looks forward to these convivial evenings.

Each arrival proprietorially clutches a food box, as they mount the narrow staircase to the sitting room two floors up.

Jane has emailed the list of dishes we are going to be sampling.

Healthy eating/pre diabetic cookery with Robin Ellis



Janet’s guacamole & babaganoush dips (Jane & Chris)

My contribution was the black olive tapinade from Delicious Dishes for Diabetics and Mediterranean Cooking for Diabetics.

Smoky cauliflower Soup (Morag & Mike)

Chilled Curried apple soup (Lesley and Joe)

Spinach and red onion frittata (Gill & Chris)

Salmon fishcakes (Margaret)

Charlotte’s chicken tagine and whole grain rice (Genny & Giles)

Chicken with leek and lemon ( Mike and Morag)
Sausage & bean one pot wonder (Paul Jackson)
Pork loin in balsamic vinegar (Gill, Chris & friends)
Cauliflower & chickpea curry with rice
Asparagus risotto (Derek & Marjorie)

Chickpea and cumin salad (Jane & Chris)
Fennel salad (Gill, Chris & friends)
Tomato Salad (Tonia)

Strawberries (Lesley & Joe)
Mango surprise (Marian)
Peanut butter swirl chocolate brownies (Jim)

(Not sure how the Peanut butter swirl chocolate brownies snuck in there–but nobody objected.)

Anticipating the feast,…

After a half hour of anticipation we got stuck in…

The food was delicious (but I would say that!) No, it really was!

The only problem was knowing when to stop–we were spoilt for choice on a laden table.

Thanks everyone–for the very fine effort!

And no one asked a single question about POLDARK!!

I’m rewarded with a box at the end of the evening–excellent wine from the village and some fine local olive oil.

Too kind!

As the French say–on s’est regalé  (we’ve enjoyed them very much!).

Next day we set off further south–for Spain and ancient Catalonia–where the Romans trod before us.

Heading for Cadaqués–where Salvador Dali built the house of his fantasies.

The heart of ancient Catalonia.

Hasta la vista!

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Thursday took a weird turn when Julien—occasional garden helper–knocked on the door during our lunchtime and announced to Meredith that the Audi had flat tyre.

Our other car–the dependable 18-year-old Clio–was at that moment in the garage for minor repairs.

We had afternoon plans that required a working car: The Thursday marché bio [organic market] in Castres after a haircut at 4pm; collect the Clio (if ready) from the garagist, then stop by Leclerc supermarché for two more of the nice, light garden chairs they were featuring.

A tightish schedule, but do-able–with a car that works.

Pneu crevé–oui…” confirmed Julien apologetically, as though it was his fault.

Julien is a one-off.

Gentil comme tout” [incredibly nice] with long brown hair to the small of his back–a sixties hippie look-alike who smokes Chesterfields and has green fingers.

It gradually came back to me–a moment of concern the day before at the supermarket carpark after we’d bought the nice, light garden chairs..  The back left tyre of the Audi had caught my eye–it looked on the low side.

I meant to check the next morning but forgot–hoping perhaps that I’d been mistaken.

Nope. I was right, it was a flat–une crevaison.

“Arrière pneu gauche crevé,” I explained to the friendly voice at the Audi support centre.

She estimated 45 minutes for the garage mechanic in Castres to arrive.

It was 2.30 pm.

“Shoot!” So inconvenient—just when the other car is in for repairs– and a haircut at 4pm.

Grace under pressure! Yes, yes! I KNOW!

Julien opened the boot and found the small spare wheel ingeniously hidden under the carpet.

Audi provides a little box-pump to inflate it that works by plugging into the cigarette lighter–of course!

The breakdown truck’ll be here soon–it’s not worth the trouble….”

I went inside trying to reorganize the schedule–with my head about to explode.

Grace, grace, grace–yes, yes, yes.

Soon a low electronic buzzing coming from the driveway attracted me back outside again.

Julien—Gardener Help and now Guardian Angel–was successfully re-inflating the flat tyre with the electric pump.

His can-do spirit (very American)–pas de problème [No problem!].

It was now 2.45 pm.

I was trying to slot this new turn of events into mon planning.

Meredith, in the Julien mode of graceful practicality, rang the tyre-repair place in Castres.

They could take the car in immediately.

Thus I drove the wounded Audi into Castres.

It was a simple puncture.

The repair man, another nice person and graceful with it (of course), handed me the culprit–a little black clou (nail), hand-hammered long ago.

Cost of repair: 30 euros. Completed in 30 minutes.

I arrived for my haircut with punctilious Jerome at 3.58pm.

Meredith gave Julien a bottle of bubbly as a big MERCI!






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Planned this post for Monday–but have been so overwhelmed by workmen in the house this week, it got delayed….

I had forgotten how delicious this spicy cauliflower dish is–and how easy to do.

Perfect supper material–especially when one is feeling slightly invaded with the daily presence of decorators/painters.

Didier and Jordan could not be bettered as workers and both are delightful, but there’s nowhere left to hide–they are painting all the doors and windows.

Monday’s post

That cauliflower sitting comfortably in the crisper–so unpushy these whey faced fellows–gets its chance tonight.

Retrieving it from obscurity saves my bacon.

Mondays can be a challenge if I forget to plan for them.

There’s an option to shop of course but I like to maintain Mondays as a marketing free day–I go to four markets a week.

Inspired by a recipe of Madhur Jaffrey–the cookery writer and actress.

for 2--as a main course:

1 medium cauliflower–the head separated into small bite size florets

3 tablespoons olive oil

1/2 teaspoon fennel seeds

1 teaspoon black mustard seeds

2 cloves of garlic–chopped fine

1/4 teaspoon turmeric

1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper

1 teaspoon salt

  • Soak the cauliflower in water for a half hour–then drain the florets.
  • Heat the oil in a pan large enough to hold the florets in a single layer.
  • Add the fennel and mustard seeds and sauté until they start popping.
  • Add the turmeric and the cayenne.
  • Add the garlic to the pan and let it colour lightly.
  • Add the drained florets, salt and 3 tablespoons of water.
  • Cover and cook for 10 minutes–or until the cauliflower is almost tender.

Brown basmati rice, red lentil dhal and yogurt sauce accompanied it.

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I’m rewarded with a double first at Castres market this morning.

Two Spring firsts–though there is nothing spring-like about the weather.

I get there early–battling through a tempest of wind and the rain–determined to avoid last week’s crowds.

“Arrivez avant neuf heure le matin, ça suffit!” [Get there by 9am and you’ll be fine!] was the advice from our neighbor and friend Flo, who has recently taken over her sister’s lovely spice stall on Saturdays.

The spice stall on a sunnier Saturday–with cooking workshop attendees checking it out.

What a contrast to this morning as I arrive in Place Jean Jaures just before 8.30am, to find the dance of the parapluies in full swing.

Stall holders and punters alike are desperately trying to prevent their umbrellas–large and small–from taking flight while undertaking the normal buying and selling transactions.

With difficulty, I make my way down the line of local vendors–nodding and grimacing the “isn’t this awful!” message, before arriving at my destination.

Opening a conversation with the vendor under these conditions is problematical.

I settle for more nodding and grimacing and secure (ho ho!) my open umbrella under my chin.

With my head looking down at the ground, I reach for my porte monnaie [change purse].

The umbrella is doing its best to turn inside out.

It succeeds–WHOOSHand I’m involuntarily propelled towards the dry fruit stall–earlier than planned.

I manfully regain control and…


Our newly acquired hen’s guardienne–for ’tis her stall–hands me a carton of six eggs.

Matilde’s first offering under our ownership.

What a thrill!

And to go with them for lunch today–a bunch of the locally-grown ASPARAGUS–FIRST of the season.

As I turn into our driveway 20 minutes later–the sun comes out!

Asparagus and eggs–a match made in heaven!




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These buildings opened in 1872–the year my paternal Grandmother was born.

This historic hospital with its striking Victorian facade, featured heavily in the news coverage of the attack in Westminster on Wednesday.

Nurses and medics rushed to help the injured on the bridge just yards away from its entrance.

“One of the most uplifting scenes amidst the whole tragedy was doctors and nurses rushing out of St.Thomas’ Hospital to help the injured,” said Abdi Duale, of London Young Labour.

Its proximity to the scene of the outrage reportedly helped limit fatalities, as the “catastrophically” injured were treated within minutes of being hit.

The hospital, on the south side of the river, faces the Houses of Parliament. The design was intended to complement the look of the newly-constructed buildings opposite–both puffing out their chests with imperial pride.

“Anything you can do I can do better!”

St Thomas’ was originally named for Sir Thomas A. Beckett (Henry II’s ill-fated Archbishop of Canterbury) and located in Borough High Street, Southwark. When the site was needed for the development of the railway link into London Bridge Station in the late 1860’s, it was moved to its present imposing site in Lambeth on the Thames, just off Westminster Bridge.

The design of the newly-sited hospital was influenced by the thinking of Florence Nightingale, whose fame spread during the war in the Crimea (1857).

Six “pavilions” were built facing the river, each connected by low corridors. These separate wings increased ventilation and reduced the possibility of spreading infection.

Three of the original six pavilions were destroyed in the London Blitz.

“No you can’t” “Yes I can !” “No you can’t!”…

St Thomas’ has been an occasional feature in my life–and I always prick up my ears when it’s in the news.

I feel proprietorial about it–“Tommys” belongs to me!

I lost my tonsils here when I was four–1946. (More common then to have them removed–penicillin not so readily available.)

I have a vague memory of being on a ward in one of the three iconic wings and standing on my bed–terrified, refusing to drink the orange-flavored potion aimed at knocking me out for the operation.

Not surprisingly, I don’t remember how the kind and understanding–if exasperated–nurses succeeded in getting the evil-tasting liquid down my poorly throat–but they did. I have no tonsils.

My dear brother Jack was born there–a triumph for the special Diabetes Unit. My mother was under their care–in the mid-fifties doctors were less confident of letting a woman with Type 1 Diabetes go to term.

This iconic hospital was also where Ma was taken by ambulance from Pinner way up in NW London in the middle of the night, after she blacked out at home. She’d had a hypoglycemic attack–low blood sugar/insulin imbalance.

Dad woke up–a miracle–called an ambulance and raced through the darkened streets to St. Thomas’ –where Ma was saved.

It happened more than once!

In 1959,  I visited my beloved Grandma–Dad’s adoptive mother–in another of the wings and was distraught a few days later on hearing she had died.

“Tommy’s” will always be MY hospital.

And Tommy’s tradition of saving lives and caring for the sick and injured was impressively on display Wednesday afternoon.

Its motto is Sancte et Sapienter: with holiness and wisdom.

And a swift pair of heels…





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Fluffernut just swayed into the kitchen this evening, making his customary strangled screech of a hello.

You were a good runner,” Meredith says, as she arranges the found kindling in the fireplace.

She and the famous three have been for a walk.

“You must be hungry!”

Fluffernut“, or Midnight as he is officially known, hesitates–then hears the snap of the catfood tin and decides a little snack would go down rather well.

Meredith’s pre-prandial stroll down the field is popular with our three four-leggers.

Fluffernut and Beau spreading love all over the place

A walk on the wild side with the brothers sets you up for the evening just fine.

Ben is up in the fig tree keeping watch as Meredith waters the courtyard (a hot and sunny Spring so far!). You never know who might be creeping around ready to pounce–better to keep her safe!

No sign of Beau–the customary gate-keeper–Meredith says he tired himself out showing off on the walk and is still climbing the hill.

Beau thinking “It’s a long way home…”

The big boy carries some weight.

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