Archive for the ‘Robin Ellis’ Category

Our friend, Prue, has been staying with partner Michael–only our second set of visiting friends in eighteen months. Prue is a walker–a 10,000 steps-a-day walker–and an inspiration, as such. She’s got me going again and I thank her for that, although I can no longer walk at her pace, so we don’t walk together.

Yesterday like the Grand old Duke of York, I marched (marcher —to walk) right up to the top of the hill and I marched right down again. Thirty minutes plus; a short walk compared to Prue, for whom it would have been a sprint. Horses for courses- and at present, I’m happy with my cart horse shorter distance–long enough to make me feel virtuous, and exercise those small muscles in the feet and ankles which are critical for keeping balanced.

Today–more adventurous–I detoured up a pathway, two hundred yards from the house, a shortcut linking the road to the hameau [hamlet] above us– a rutted tractor track for the farmers.

I’d been wary of it, tempting though it is. Too overgrown with long grass and brambles, and to be honest, I feared tripping and falling–and not being able to get up! (Oh dear, how has it come to this?).

Then a couple of days ago while driving past, I noticed that it looked cleared, more approachable, less hazardous for a walker. Perhaps a farmer had run an old tractor over it. Nonetheless, I took two walking sticks today to help steady myself, and set off.

I picked my way gingerly (an early 16th-century term–meaning elegantly, daintily, walking or dancing with small elegant steps) up the path, collecting some freshly fallen walnuts and squeezing a black fig for ripeness from a bush, then discarding it. Not a good year for figs!

Reaching the hameau I set off again in one piece and proud! As I rounded the corner to join the main country road, I heard a low buzzing on my right. The buzzing of the bees in the cigarette trees! *

This was turning into a rich nature walk!

A high wall of flowering ivy was a “hive” of activity, so to speak. And not only with bees! Beautiful Red Admiral butterflies and flying insects were sharing the feast.

What a sight and sound–and only yards from chez nous!

I paused in wonder and then moved on down the hill and home.

Prue might not be too impressed with my short walk–though she would be too discreet to say so. No matter! I’d bearded the path and emerged unscathed–richer by a couple of walnuts and already remembering other paths with walnut trees in season and the odd fig tree too.



  • Big Rock Candy Mountain–I remember being charmed by Burl Ives singing this on Saturday morning Children’s Favourites, BBC Home Service, in the early fifties.

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Maud, our adorable little hen, is a wise old thing.

Maud is a “silkie” or negre soie hen.

She is usually the first out the henhouse–keen to get on with her day.

She sort of explodes out of the house, her little legs–in the cliched language so beloved and abused by politicians–hitting the ground running.

Lucette likes to arrange herself properly for the outside world; you never know who you might meet. Important to look your best at all times, especially so soon after the moulting season. The fact that on occasions she has the residue of a poo hanging off her behind is not her fault; there are no vanity mirrors in the henhouse.

Lucette is a “rumpless” hen–an Araucana–who is supposed to lay BLUE eggs–not that we’ve seen any.

This morning it was Lucette waiting on ground floor of their duplex, champing at the bit. Maud was sitting in the background showing no interest in getting out the door.

When our cats are feeling–as my mother used to say–poorly, they behave in the same way. They find a comfortable, warm, quiet spot and wait for the “annoyance” to pass.

Beau has just emerged from just such a time. He hurt himself while out doing his duty patrolling the grounds.

We don’t know if he got into a fight (he doesn’t take kindly to intruder cats) or missed a leap from branch to wall; whatever it was, it left him limping for a good month.

A home visit from an animal osteopath and some cat medication (glucosamine) helped his recovery but instinctively he knew it was a matter of time.

“Sit it out, old chum–it will pass.”

All–wise, old things.

So what was bugging Maud?

Had she spent the night on the razzle? Bad dreams of maurading foxes?

Maybe she let her “feathers” down and lit up the town–and was suffering the consequences.

One thing is sure, she wasn’t sitting on an egg–more’s the pity!

Whatever it was, it passed and by lunchtime when I checked the henhouse again, it was empty.

No Maud.

I found her under the old henhouse scratching around, reunited with her friend, getting back up to speed.

She’d done the animal thing and sat and waited for the “annoyance” to pass.

Next time I’m sick as a dog/cat/hen; I’m following Maud and sitting tight.

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Less foreign now….
In fact–Tout va très bien chez nous! 🇫🇷
Yesterday we collected our Certificates of Naturalisation from the Prefecture of our department (Tarn).

We’re smiling, though you wouldn’t know!

Then we sat in a traditional brasserie in a traditional French square and drank a traditional French petit café
and felt good about it!

We resisted the temptation to sing La Marseillaise!

The cup was slightly bigger and less thick than normal and the coffee was clearly the issue of arabica beans– brilliantly hot and delicious.
Maybe it was our delight we were tasting–but NO! it was the best café coffee I’ve tasted in years.
I will never be French and Meredith will never be British or French; but we now are undeniably bonefide French Citizens.
We can vote in the national elections for the President and the government of the country in which we pay our taxes. We have representation when we are taxed (especially meaningful for Meredith!).
Please excuse my perhaps over-enthusiastic donning of rose-coloured spectacles, but today I feel fully “legit” and c’est bien ça !


We are once again citizens of Europe.

Twenty-two years ago, when we told our friends that we were moving permanently to France, the news received a mixed reception.
Many people were skeptical.

“They’ll be back in six months,” predicted some.

“What are you going to DO there?” others asked.

“Have you spent a WINTER there?” (1200 kilometres south of London!)–another, puzzling reaction.

Two decades plus down the road….
Well–Stephen Sondheim’s superb French-Canadian interpreter, Jasmin Roy, tells it better than me…

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The death is announced of Greek composer

Mikis Theodorakis


Are you married?

Am I married?

I have a house, a wife, children–the full catastrophe!

Anthony Quinn’s Zorba answering Alan Bates oh-so English teacher’s question in the film Zorba the Greek–before they dance the epic dance.

The music, of course, composed by Mikis Theodorakis, who died today, age 96.

On a magical first visit to Corfu seven years ago, we happened upon a Sunday morning rehearsal of a local young people’s dance group before they set off to NW Spain to compete in an international dance festival.

This, thanks to Meredith’s miraculously steady hand, is what we saw.

The rehearsal took place at the Cultural Association of Sinies on the northeast corner of Corfu. The inspiring teacher is Viahos Ioannis.

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Meredith was searching the archives for photos of a very young Beau yesterday and picked up a photo album for 2012–the ones that Apple used to do so well.

We spent an enjoyable half-hour revisiting what turns out to have been an eventful year–Meredith’s 60th and my 70th.

New York, Chicago, Los Angeles!

My first cookbook, Delicious Dishes, was published; a revised and expanded version of my memoir, Making Poldark came out; then there was helping with the olive harvest in Tuscany, and seeing it pressed it for stupendous oil 

Ten years ago!? Pas possible!

Next year: 70 and 80 loom! Chin up!

Continuing in that spirit revisiting our yesteryears, and this being serious courgette/zucchini season, this morning, I pulled out a couple of old favourites from the cookbook-laden shelves in the larder, hoping to rediscover lost gems to cook for supper this evening.

Marcella’s Kitchen often yields rich pickens out of left field.

A short section entitled sautéed zucchini offers four summer recipes using fresh, young courgettes with a choice of three herbs–or smoked bacon–as agents of taste.


I shall do the others later, as the harvest from our four plants continues–but tonight’s little dish will be sautéed zucchini with onion, thyme, olive oil and a little butter.

I fancy it–perhaps the only reason to cook something.

Marcella says in her memoir that she taught herself to cook in NYC after she married Victor, a naturalized Italian-American:

…there I was, having to feed a young, hard-working husband who could deal cheerfully with most of life’s ups and downs, but not with an indifferent meal.

Lucky Victor–how times have changed!

She says recalling how her grandmother’s cooking tasted and smelled, helped calm her nerves and guide her cooking.

It’s done when it smells done!

Imagine the young Marcella willing that Disney-like wisp of flavourful smoke from her Grandma’s Venetian stove to drift West across the ocean to her Manhattan kitchen–what a resource!

I must try it with Mother Molly’s recipe for stuffed marrow!

A young Bob Dylan once sang that his sixties girlfriend…

...got everything she needs, she’s an artist
She don’t look back…

Sure, but a touch of nostalgia can pass an idle half-hour–looking back over a busy year.

And nostalgia got Victor Hazan fed, and us an evening meal.

(Disney wisp invisible!)



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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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My fourth cookbook–Robin Ellis’s Mediterranean Vegetarian Cooking— is due to be published in the USA this Tuesday, September 29th.

(Available from Amazon.com and autographed copies from the Evanston bookstore, Bookends & Beginnings.)

This has reminded me of an incident–almost a Happening* (remember those?) four years ago, around the time my previous book (Mediterranean Cooking for Diabetics) was published.

In March 2016, I bought a T-shirt at the vast food emporium, Eataly, on 5th Avenue in Manhattan. It was inexpensive–$8, I think–and had the same logo, back and front, in Italian and English:

La vita è troppo breve per mangiare male.

Translated as the slightly different:

Life is too short not to eat well!

Both the price and the sentiments persuaded me to buy it.


The simple message seemed to chime with what I’d been doing for the past five years (and three books published): Trying to persuade people that cooking is NOT rocket science–so get in the kitchen before it is too late!

The cookbooks are aimed at everyone who likes to eat WELLand/or wants to avoid eating badly–written with my perspective–having Type 2 diabetes.

We were a little nervous that Sunday in Manhattan 2016, because Meredith had put the word out we’d be present in this extraordinary big top Barnum-and- Bailey circus ring of Italian cooking for a “pop-up book launch of my third book:

“Roll up! roll-up! Bring your books to be signed by the author–unique opportunity!”

BUT…we hadn’t asked permission from the store–because we were pretty certain it would be refused!

Eataly is a scrum at the best of times, but Sunday lunch is like a rush-hour subway carriage on its way to Wall Street–standing room only!’

As one o’clock approached, the crowd around the cheese section started to swell with people showing no particular interest in cheese, but waving copies of a familiar book (NOT available in this store!).

We were showing some brass neck**– but, hey, this is America–right?!

A small queue had formed and I started to sign, clutching each eagerly-offered book in my left hand, while grabbing a piece of cheese from the plate we’d bought as a cover–trying to stay upright, put the cheese–not the pen–in my mouth–and write something meaningful on the title page of the book.

At that moment, like a scene from a Broadway farce, an unwelcome presence loomed, threatening to upset the cheese trolley….

“Excuse me sir, what are you doing?”

“Signing a few copies of my book for friends, while enjoying your wonderful Italian cheeses.”

“Strictly forbidden–and I must ask you to leave; you are blocking access to the cheese counter.”

There was still half the queue patiently waiting for a signature (and now being treated to a bit of theatre!).

From somewhere, I found my inner Brass Neck and heard myself suggesting, politely, to the manager, that far from blocking access, I was bringing customers into the Emporium–introducing people who might not think of patronizing Eataly on a busy Sunday brunch morning in Midtown. Furthermore, we were about to buy several large round plates of his delicious cheeses for the queue (which we did!).

After a pause, he relented–and I kicked myself for not having a spare copy of my book on hand to give him, in gratitude for his willingness to bend the rules (with the suggestion that if he liked it, to pop it on his shelves).

But perhaps that would have been sticking out my brass neck troppo lontano!

Fresh pasta being made at the pasta station. Eataly encompasses several restaurants as well as food and cookbooks for sale–and we make a point of visiting every trip to NYC. Excellent cappuccino and gelato bar too! But they still don’t stock my cookbooks!

*A “happening” is a performance, event, or situation art; The term was first used by Allan Kaprow during the 1950s to describe a range of art-related events.
** If someone is described as having a “brass neck” it means they are confident, and say or do whatever they want–but don’t understand that their behaviour might be unacceptable to others (!!).

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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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