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Archive for the ‘Robin Ellis’ Category

Ridiculous, I know, but I’m excited today because I spotted the first blush of colour on a tomato in the new vegetable patch–planted a month ago on our old compost heap.

How long from first blush to first bite?

I’m counting the days.

Depends in part on the weather.

Hot days are forecast–so perhaps not so long to wait.

Bit like opening an advent calendar, day-to-day, waiting for Christmas–agony, I remember.

And it’s not only tomatoes that are keeping me enthralled. We just ate our first  cucumber–the short stubby kind–that can be bitter, or sweet as can be.

Julien, who helps us with the garden and grows vegetables for a living, told us:

“If you pick them in the morning, they are less likely to be bitter. The unpleasantness builds up during the day.”

I’m looking for the second little beauty to mature, to test the theory.

He also advises cleaning the knife used to cut away infected leaves before moving on to the next tomato, courgette or cucumber plant.

Makes sense.

And water tomatoes rarely, he says–this encourages their roots to delve deeper and it increases the intensity of the taste. And pick them late in day when they’ve absorbed all the sunshine.

One of the courgette plants was given to us by our neighbour, Tom, and is a different variety from the other three. It resembles the lighter ridged zucchini our friend Helen uses for her courgette pasta at Boggioli, their olive farm in Tuscany.

I think it yields  a creamier sauce.

(See the AUTUMN section of my new cook book Mediterranean Vegetarian Cooking, p. 158.)

Julian, normally a genial, droll character, said darkly before departing:

“I may have to pour vinegar on the plot–I’m so jealous!”.

Echoes of the film, Manon des Sources?

 

 

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Today’s the day!!

Robin Ellis’ Mediterranean Vegetarian Cooking emerges into the sunlight–my fourth cookbook:

A joyful day for Meredith (photographer, chief-taster and bottle-washer) and me (writer and cook).

It is available now on Amazon.ukFoyles, Waterstones, Blackwell’s, Hive and The Book Depository (free worldwide delivery) and from good bookstores. It’s available as an ebook too!

(In North American, the publication date is not until August 18th–but The Book Depository will send it to you NOW.)

The recipes are simple, seasonal and do not have long lists of ingredients.  Dare I say they are delicious too?

Meredith and I are not fully paid up veggies but we’ve both enjoyed this voyage of discovery ’round the Mediterranean Sea.

The ingredients are often similar in the different countries that border the sparkling waters, but the treatment varies–like the difference between a French omelette and an Italian frittata.

Herbs and spices feature strongly; olive oil is the cooking medium and the sun an ever-present element, ripening the ingredients and honing the flavours.

Our new vegetable patch is bursting to show off its wares. (“Me, Me–I’m ripe!“) and this book provides plenty of ideas for what to do with them!

We planted it this year on an old compost heap–and here is the BEFORE and AFTER:

Bon appetit!

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Castres‘ Saturday morning market is a major event.

It attracts locals–alarmingly known as Castraises–and weekend visitors, among them the occasional cluster of rugby fans from Angleterre visiting for the match against erstwhile national champions Castres Olympic.

As well as offering a stunning source of local, fresh produce, it serves as a chance to meet friends, share a coffee or apéro [apéritif] in one of the bars that surround Place Jean Jaurès in centre ville.

It’s teeming by 10am with slow-moving crowds, greeting friends in the traditional French fashion of shaking hands or kissing on both cheeks (sometimes twice) in normal times–but these are NOT normal times.

After a 10-week absence in lockdown due to the virus threat, I’m back, wearing a mask.

I still get there early to bag the best, and move more freely from stall to stall.

There has been some rearranging of stalls to aid social distancing–but relative location has been more or less respected–important for punters to find their favourites.

Our great friend and neighbour, Flo, is an unlucky exception.  She and her marvelous spice stall have been radically re-located.

She is not happy about it.

Flo at her spice stand in happier times

Not everyone is masked now—though most traders are and shoppers must point to the courgette they fancy rather than sort through the pile.

I locate all my usual vendors and favor a few new ones.

There’s a seasonal limit to the vegetables on offer–summer’s bounty is some weeks off. Courgettes are featuring strongly and aubergines are making their shiny black presence felt for the first time since late autumn.

I’m hoping for broad beans next week and young artichokes so I can make Vignerola–the marvelous Roman vegetable stew–which features in my new book: Robin Ellis’ Mediterranean Vegetarian Cooking, published on 25th June (and available for pre-order now via various booksellers*).

The atmosphere is convivial, despite everyone looking slightly confused and discombobulated.

Queues run differently, stalls face the opposite direction than B.C. (Before Coronavirus!), voices are muffled.

All that said–it is good to have a little of the old life impose itself on the new.
Nevertheless…
“My kingdom for a ripe tomato!

*The new cookbook can be pre-ordered at any of these booksellers–and for those not in the UK, free worldwide delivery via The Book Depository/.

Amazon

Blackwell’s

Foyles

Hive

Waterstones

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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

 

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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.

 

 

 

 

 

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Suddenly summer!

Bursts in the fields, on the stands;

Yellow, red, golden.

Place Jean Jaures on a fine Saturday morning in the first days of summer is slowly coming alive as the stall holders–chatty and enthusiastic–finish setting up.

Meredith and I drive down the road beside the market at seven minutes past seven–and look at each other in astonishment–we made it! And it’s registering a mere 20C/ 68F.

The forecast is 38C/100F later in the day.

By 9am it will be hotter and more crowded; by 11am, a sweltering throng and much of the new summer fare, bought and carried off.

It pays to be early birds as summer starts to deliver.

Sunday morning 6.30am and our resident golden oriole is warbling a modest ‘good morning’ as I step unsteadily into the road to begin my first early morning walk of the summer.

It’s a surprise to feel a pleasant misty spray on my face after the intense heat of Saturday. Slowly the pistons and crankshaft start to loosen up and the old engine begins to move up the hill.

Thoughts unbidden pop into mind.

One of the joys of walking–unbidden thoughts. Couldn’t see the wood for the trees–my mother would say–last night, but the old computer left to its own devices has sorted things out overnight and gently suggests a solution to a problem.

Of course–why didn’t I think of that?!

I stop, half-turn–doing my best not to fall over– and give a desultory wave to whoever it is in the large white van looming up behind me. Could be Lionel, our plumber,  going to work on the house he’s building; could be Serge on his way to pick up his son for the weekend.

I walk on past a field of wheat that has turned golden in the heat of the last few days.

As I crest the hill I see in the distance the white van returning and think, “ah yes, Serge and son”. Then a ways behind the van, a lumbering noise with two headlights, descending. The mind, clearer now from the climb, twigs. Not Serge, but Celine in the van and Pierre driving the monster which is a garlic harvester* –and they are heading for their vast field of pink garlic to begin the annual harvest.

I barely survive as Pierre–looking anxious–edges past me and heads on for a long day mining his and Celine’s fortune.

Garlic gath’rers pass,

Leaving the scent in the air;

It’s that time again.

Life is far from dull for early birds.

*Meredith captured Pierre and Celine harvesting a few years ago.

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Today–30th June 2019–Winston Graham would have been 111!

I’m re-reading the Poldark saga books at the moment and being reminded of why this story still resonates.

WBGH Boston–home of Masterpiece, showcase for the majority of British TV drama in the States–is producing a series of podcasts to run with the showing of the fifth and final series of Poldark, stateside.

Mining Poldark is an epic undertaking–40 half-hour segments.  I’m co-hosting with Barrett Brountas.

It involves watching each episode–old and new– and re-reading the original books.

Barrett and I then spend  a half-hour dissecting each episode–agreeing and disagreeing in an agreeable fashion.

Coming Soon from MASTERPIECE – Mining Poldark

The team: Susanne Simpson (Exec Producer), me, Barrett (co-host), Nick Andersen (Producer)

We are nearly half-way through–and it’s a pleasure!

His wonderful writing lives on and is again a source of joy as well as–in this case–employment!

He wrote Ross Poldark, the first in the saga, in 1945 when he was 37 and bringing up a family of his own with his beloved wife–Jean at their home in Cornwall.

He finished the twelfth and last book, Bella Poldark, in 2002 at the age of 92!

This last tells the story of Ross and Demelza’s youngest child who becomes an actress–and with whom I’m sure Winston fell in love, as he’d done with Demelza–11 books earlier!

There’s as much PASSION in the last of the saga as there is in Ross Poldark.

He felt a loyalty to his characters–and this he passed on to his readers.

He was a supremely talented story teller.

Bonne Anniversaire, Winston!

 

 

 

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It’s currently 94F degrees in Lautrec and set to go to 103F this afternoon–so I’ve made Ma’s Gazpacho this morning with the first of summer’s tomatoes, peppers, spring onions and cucumber.

It is ridiculously simple.

I wasn’t sure it would be worth it with the vegetables available–not enough sun in them yet.

First taste after the food processor–just the pulverised vegetables–encouraging!

I stirred in the vinegar and oil, seasoned and popped the big bowl in the fridge.

Four hours will be enough–though overnight is better.

Thanks again, dear Molly!

Her recipe features in my second cookbook–Healthy Eating for Life and–as tribute to Molly in my upcoming book: Robin Ellis’s Mediterranean Vegetarian Cooking (which is with the publisher, and due out next year).

Here’s my original posting from July 2011 with the recipe written out on a yellowing envelope in my mother’s handwriting:

It’s a fair bet my Mother first tasted this traditional summer soup from Andalusia in 1953–when my parents took brother Peter and me to the Costa Brava for a two week holiday. (Dad worked for British Railways and got a certain amount of concessionary travel in Europe.)

There were five hotels at that time in Lloret del Mar. Five hundred plus now!

We stayed in one with a pretty courtyard–yards from the beach.

I don’t remember the gazpacho–but the egg fried in olive oil I can taste to this day!

Franco’s military police, patrolling the beach in funny hats and holding not-so-funny machine guns, also made an impression. No such thing at on the sands at Woolacombe!

About a kilo collected this morning–a little more than the recipe.

Molly Ellis’ Recipe (slightly adapted!)

Chop the tomatoes roughly–and put them in the food processor.

Chop up half a large, peeled cucumber and half a large,  red pepper–seeded–(she calls them pimentoes) and add them to the processor.

I add a couple of spring onions (scallions)–chopped. (Ma adds a yellow onion–which I’ll try next time).

Mash up 3 cloves of garlic, as she does, with a little salt–and add them to the processor.

Pulse the contents–not too smooth a finish.

Empty this already tasty mix into a bowl and adjust the seasoning with salt and pepper.

Stir in 3 tablespoons of red wine vinegar and two tablespoons of olive oil.

A few drops of Tabasco–as she suggests–a matter of taste.

(At lunch today I added an ice cube to each served bowl.)

Chill for a couple or more hours.

We found one ladleful each is enough–with a whirl of olive oil to finish.

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I wrote this “haiku” a couple of years ago:

Two Yank commandos 

Machined gunned from a sidecar

‘Mort pour Liberté’

Robert Spaur and Bernard Gautier were members of a fifteen-strong American commando unit parachuted into the south Tarn on the night of the 6th of August 1944, as part of an allied plan to disrupt supply lines in southern France prior to D-Day in the South–scheduled for the 15th August.

On patrol, a couple of days after the drop, the group spotted a Nazi motorbike unit heading up from Mazamet towards the small village of Le Rialet to investigate an attack by local maquis–that had succeeded in killing a cow and injuring a German soldier.

The  commandos decided to ambush the unit on its way down.

The plan went awry and in the skirmish two Americans, the oldest (Gautier 33) and youngest (Spaur 19), were shot and killed.

The story of the ambush on the back of the memorial at the spot where it happened

“Can you imagine the disbelief of a Nazi patrol driving up the narrow road from Mazamet towards Le Rialet in August 1944 when they see young men in American uniforms come out of the woods to attack them,” Meredith said, as we headed up the road to the annual commemoration ceremony on Saturday.

“D-Day had happened on June 6th in Normandy and the allies were still stuck there. The Germans must have thought–‘what on earth are American soldiers doing–so far south?’.”

The element of surprise might have given the OSS commandos (Office of Strategic Services–forerunner of the CIA) an added advantage as they attacked the German column–that split-second that counts.

Meredith was scheduled to carry the Stars and Stripes at the ceremony to mark the 74th anniversary.

She is the flag carrier (Porte Drapeau) at annual commemoration ceremonies in Castres and a few years ago was asked to attend this event in Le Rialet.

We learned the remarkable story of the commando unit’s existence from Gilbert Brial–whom we met at one of the commemorations.

Gilbert Brial with Thierry Pauthe–in the uniform of a GI.

Gilbert was 18 in August 1944 and a member of Corps Franc du Sidobre–one of several Maquis groups operating in this mountainous region of the Tarn.

The number of surviving ancien combatants has dwindled over the years Meredith has been attending the ceremonies.

Gilbert is 92 now and ailing, but has been an active campaigner to keep the story alive.

The French expression le devoir de mémoire–the duty to remember–perfectly describes Gilbert’s attitude.

Meredith had assumed the story was well known and that Gilbert must have told it to the media many times.

“Jamais!” [Never!] Gilbert said.

Intrigued and moved, she pursued the story and with the help of the American consul at the time, obtained a Fulbright grant, enabling her to record a series of on camera interviews with most of the surviving members of the Maquis–French rural Resistance fighters.

She was hoping to make a documentary of the story.

Sadly none of the American OSS commandos were still alive, though she made contact with some of their families and several have visited the Tarn.

The OSS team’s code name was PAT.

Read her full account of the remarkable Fourteen days in August 1944, when the surviving members of the commando unit succeeded in preventing local occupation forces from rushing troops and guns to Provence, where the southern D-Day was launched on a beach near St. Tropez.

They also helped liberate our local town, Castres, from Nazi occupation.

Next year is the 75th anniversary and Meredith is hoping for a large turn-out.

At the war memorial, Monsieur Yvan Cros, one of the few maquisards still alive, laid a wreath in memory of his comrades.

M.Cros with La Porte Drapeau Americaine

As the names on the memorial are read out, each is remembered with the spoken words–Mort pour la France for the French and Mort pour La Liberté for Robert Spaur and Bernard Gautier.


It touches the heart.

 

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I am sitting in the courtyard and two turtle doves are–well–courting–in morse code.

It is perfectly still with a suggestion of a spring breeze–quite sharp.

Ne’er cast a clout ’til May be out…

DOT DOT DOT (OVERHEAD)Dot dot dot (is the answer a little futher off).

Now the dots are fading–a meeting perhaps, behind the church!

I’ve been waiting for the “cuckoo morse”–longer and softer as a call.

At last–yesterday afternoon–there it was–a brief, but unmistakeable COO-coooo.

A sign that things are moving on.

There are others.

Our neighbor–farmer Pierre, passed earlier on his tractor.

He’s been busy.

Some of his fields are showing garlic, looking proud–about six weeks to harvest.

Others are pale green with wheat and barley–shifting in the breeze.

Into this patchwork of greens and looking out of place are empty fields of brown–finely tilled–waiting to show….

My guess is sunflowers.

Last week the markets were struggling to offer anything new–but today, it changed.

Small artichokes tightly packed and bunched in fours, peas and broad beans have joined the upstanding green and white asparagus.

It is a relief to see some action.

Dill, tarragon and chives joining the parsley this week and large spring onions.

I have been busy too; making Vignarole–a vegetarian spring speciality in Roman trattorias.

The same artichokes, peas, broad beans and spring onions with a shredded lettuce.

The preparation is labour intensive–but the cooking is the simplest imaginable.

The eating as I remember is sublime.

We’ll see if it gets the DING from Meredith ce soir.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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