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Archive for the ‘Robin Ellis’ Category

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Seeing this lift in our hotel transports me back to the forties and the residential hotels on the seafront at Eastbourne, where I used to visit my grandmother in the school holidays.

It has an open sided shaft so you can watch it ascend—looking up its skirts so to speak; and double hand-pulled filigree metal gates—that clunk satisfyingly shut.

It runs up the spine of the Fowey Hotel, built in 1881 to accommodate the new breed of holidaymakers arriving by train.

It also welcomed wounded soldiers for rest and recovery during the First World War.

It’s a period piece but manages to keep its dignity.

A testament to a time when the coming of the railways changed the face of Britain.

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On the wall between the lift and the dining room there are framed letters written by Kenneth Grahame, author of Wind in the Willows, while on holiday, to his son, whom he addresses as “dearest Mouse“.

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It is claimed that Kenneth Grahame made a boat trip up Lerryn Creek on the Fowey River with some friends and it became at the inspiration for the first chapter of The Wind in the Willows where the Rat and the Mole make a boat trip along the river for a picnic.

Wicker statues of the animal characters in the book guard the garden near the hotel.

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Typical Toad–hogging the foreground!

We are in Fowey on Cornwall’s south coast, for the Fowey Festival of Arts and Literature where I’m invited to give the Daphne du Maurier memorial address which opens the festivities—wow!

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The view from our window.

A week of wonderful cultural events unfolds in this unique setting.

 

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Déjà vu is the order of the day.

I was in Fowey 40 years ago filming the rescue of Dwight Enys from a French prison for two quite uncomfortable weeks.

We filmed at sea for two days and up that same creek for the rest—me and my Merry Men all dressed in 18th century gear—doing our best to keep straight faces:

“Follow me, men!”  

“Keep your heads down–which way did they go?”

Fowey hasn’t changed much over 40 years–to its credit.

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Though charming, it feels like a working place–not a cutesy-poo tourist attraction.

No pressure then–just the main keynote address and the following day a 45 minute talk about my books and how composing daily haikus helped me write them–and the “good luck” story of my diabetic journey.

Going up and down in that wonderful silent lift and soaking up the vista from our window–steadies my nerves!

More to follow…

 

 

 

 

 

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Described as a Catalan omelette by Patience Gray in her beautiful cookbook Honey from a Weed, I am making this for lunch:

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It’s the morning after we return from the launch fortnight in the UK for my new cookbook, Mediterranean Cooking for Diabetics.

A predictably slow morning–I’m heavy-lidded and creaky.

It will thus be the lazy version–made with artichoke hearts from an Italian jar (bounty from a trip to Tuscany)–surprisingly good!

Patience Gray’s version uses fresh artichokes (a lot more work!).

It reminds me of lunches eaten over 40 years at la Sostanza in Florence–discovered by chance on a trip in 1978.

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I always order artichoke omelette–served flat–and a plate of white beans with olive oil.

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In a beauty contest, Sostanza’s omelette (tortino) wins…

Patience says the Catalan version is served folded.

Chose where you are having lunch–in Florence at Sostanza or a little restaurant on the Spanish Costa Brava (Wild Coast)–folded or flat–it is delicious.

I’m choosing Sostanza and making it as a single omelette to be divided in two.

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For the Look, I might try Patience’s version next time–i.e. folded!

Tasted good like this, though.

 

Serves 2

1 tin/jar cooked artichokes–drained and sliced on the vertical

2 tbs olive oil

2 tbs parmesan cheese–grated

4 eggs

salt and pepper

Gently fry the artichoke slices in the oil.

Season the egg mixture.

When the artichokes are nicely browned, turn up the heat and add the egg mixture.

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Push back the liquid from the rim of the pan, letting the liquid mixture run into the spaces.

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Sprinkle over the parmesan and slip the omelette out of the pan and onto a plate.

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MEDITERRANEAN COOKING for DIABETICS–Delicious dishes to control or avoid diabetes.

Published today in the UK–available from bookstores and on-line and as an ebook.

Here’s a visual tour of some of the recipes you’ll find to cook in the book.

All photos by Meredith Wheeler–(bar one, which she’s in—only fair!)

To know how to eat is to know enough….

~ Old Basque saying

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Robin Ellis Med Cooking 01

 

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VeganPlate

 

SeafoodStew

SpinachTort

Spinach&RiceTorte

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Chicken

 

Gazpacho

 

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Bon appétit!

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“Big Ears” with Molly and Trike on the Heath Extension

It’s the summer of 1946, approaching 4pm one afternoon, in the kitchen of a house in Hampstead Garden Suburb, north London.

Molly Ellis (age 31) is coming to terms with life as a full-time housewife in post-war Britain, looking after her young son in a bigger house than she’s ever known.

She’s coping– but this afternoon her friend Rita, “Auntie Rita,” is coming to tea–and Molly is not happy about it.

“Just one more thing–the day isn’t long enough; wish Rita wasn’t coming today!”

The front door bell rang and four-year-old Big Ears, goes to open it while Molly takes the scones from the oven.

“Mummy doesn’t want YOU to come to tea today….”

We never saw Auntie Rita again!

*                     *                     *                     *                    *

It’s stressful cooking for a family–however much you enjoy it–and my mother enjoyed it.

She did this for a lifetime–for a family that grew to five.

With younger brother Peter and Jack (a babe in arms).

With younger brother Peter and Jack (a babe in arms).

No sign of pressure, no complaining–regular as clockwork.

(The Auntie Rita episode is the only time I can remember the pressure getting to her.  Maybe she really didn’t like Rita!)

Ma had staying power–the stamina of a professional.

Her duty is how she might have characterized it. Christmas cakes started in September, a little brandy added every month. Home-made marmalade with the bitter oranges from Seville bottled every February. The weekly roast on Sunday stretched ’til Wednesday–cold on Monday, minced on Tuesday. Good home husbandry! I was the admiring sous-chef, specializing in licking out the bowl.

I’m not cooking for a family–but I do cook twice a day.

Of course, I have the time–well usually–and the inclination (usually).

Many people have neither–or maybe one, but not the other.

Shame–they are missing out!

(Not how they might see it, perhaps–“better things to do….”)

As a Type 2 diabetic (my mother was Type 1 and had to inject insulin), cooking puts me in control of what I eat which is a huge advantage.

I like the “day-to-dayness” of it–the regularity.

Perhaps I thrive under the pressure.

Early days as an actor, usually on my way to the unemployment office known as the Labour Exchange, I often thought how much happier I’d be sitting behind a desk, answering the odd phone call–a rosy view of a 9-to-5 job! Or maybe gardening in the fresh air–honest toil.

Then the phone would ring–a job!

Now, I cook twice a day–lunch and dinner.

There’s my pressure.

Enough of this idle musing…

From my about-to-be-published third cookbook, Mediterranean Cooking for DiabeticsDelicious dishes to control or avoid diabetes. (Launching TOMORROW, March 3rd)

Smoky cauliflower soup

Cauliflower is not everyone’s first choice as a vegetable–let alone as a soup.

But this soup usual wins over even the most doubtful….

We love it– and marvel that something SO delicious comes from such simple ingredients:

The key ingredient is smoky bacon.

1 large cauliflower--broken into florets

2 cloves of garlic–chopped

1 medium onion–chopped

2 oz smoked bacon–chopped

1 tablespoon olive oil

bay leaves

1 litre/2 pints stock

salt and pepper

  • Gently heat the oil in a pan and sauté the bacon bits until they colour a bit.
  • Add the garlic and onion.
  • Cook the mix on for five minutes until the onion has softened.
  • While this happens break up the cauliflower into florets and add to a large saucepan.
  • When ready add the onion and bacon mix to the cauliflower pan with the bay leaves and the stock.
  • Cover and bring this mix up to the simmer and cook until the cauliflower is tender.
  • Lift a couple of tablespoons of the mix out of the pan and into a bowl with a slotted spoon letting the liquid fall back in the pan
  • Liquidise the contents of the pan and test the seasoning.
  • Use the set-aside florets to garnish the soup and serve hot.

 

Meredith asked, What is this? It’s so creamy? Does it have potatoes in it?”

Cauliflower soup,  I replied, somewhat sheepishly.

(Somehow cauliflower is not a vegetable that’s easy to own….)

It’s delicious!

 

 

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Adapted from a Martha Rose Shulman recipe, this went down a treat with a distracted Meredith, a moving target the other day with her mind  on the Bells of St. Martin and their imminent relocation.

I like both the convenience and look of Gratins.

They often involve pre-cooked ingredients so the final stage is a simple matter of heating through which means you can do an assembly job beforehand, heat the oven and hey presto!

There’s a section on them in my new cookbook, Mediterranean Cooking for Diabetics, out March 3rd in the UK, August 3rd in the USA. 

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(Photos by Meredith, Available for pre-order)

The juicy black olives lend depth and mystery to this simple dish.

“You are kidding me–cauliflowers bring mystery?!”

OK then–“lend an exotic twist.…”

1 medium cauliflower–broken up into bite size florets

3 tbs olive oil

1 medium onion–chopped

2 cloves garlic–pulped with a pinch of salt

a dozen or so, juicy black olives preserved in oil–stoned and halved

2 tbs parsley–chopped fine

4 tbs grated parmesan OR 2tbs each of parmesan and pecorino (if you  use pecorino, keep in mind that it is quite salty.)

2 tbs wholewheat breadcrumbs

 

Preheat oven to 190c

Steam the cauliflower florets to your taste in tenderness–I like them a bit firm.

Set aside.

Heat the oil in a frying pan and sauté the onion until soft and browned a little–about five minutes

Add the pulped garlic and the parsley and cook for another couple of minutes.

Turn off the heat and mix in the olives.

Add the cauliflower to the pan and turn it over in the mix–seasoning as you go with salt and pepper.

Sprinkle over half the cheese and turn it over.

Taste for seasoning.

Turn this into a shallow gratin dish.

Mix the remaining cheese with the breadcrumbs and sprinkle over a tablespoon of olive oil

Uncooked

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Place in the middle of the oven for about 20 minutes.

It should come out sizzling quietly and nicely browned on top.

We had it with sautéed brussel sprouts.

Not the most photogenic dish, but scores high on taste and suitable for vegetarians.

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fawlty-towers

This weekend the classic comedy series Fawlty Towers celebrates its 40th birthday!

In December 1974 John Cleese cast me as cockney detective Danny Brown in the pilot episode of the series that is now celebrated as one of the great comedy shows of TV history.

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Quite why he cast me I have never been able to figure out–until this morning!

The only time I’d met him before was when we were both in an undergraduate production of Much Ado About Nothing directed by Trevor Nunn at Cambridge University in 1961. Although we were both in the same scene–Act IV Scene II–I can’t remember spending any time with him.

He was on the comedy side of university theatre in The Footlights and I was on the straight side, the ADC–the Amateur Dramatic Club.

This morning I pulled out my volume of The Works of Shakespeare (purchased, second hand, in 1960)–and looked up the scene.

John played a member of the Watch (comedy) and I was Borachio (straight)–a henchman of the villainous Don John.

Borachio and his fellow fixer, Conrad, are being arraigned by Constable Dogberry, having been caught red-handed by members of the watch.

Was John so impressed with my cockney accent that 13 years later he reincarnated a reformed Borachio as Detective Danny Brown?!

I was too nervous to ask him in rehearsal–seems the likely explanation though.

A week’s TV work just before Christmas after three years earning peanuts in the theatre was very welcome.

But it involved recording in front of a studio audience–something I’d never done–and I was nervous!

Snooty Basil didn’t like having his hotel foyer polluted with Danny’s broad Cockney accent, but was forced to show him a bit of respect when, failing to make Manuel–the waiter–understand his instructions to take the luggage upstairs–Danny steps into the breach with a surprising display of fluent Spanish.

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I don’t speak Spanish–so I learned the lines by rote.

Come the “take”–nails biting into my palms–I managed a faultless rendition of the Spanish lines–only to be told by the floor manager that there was a camera in shot–and we would have to go again!

AAGH!

There I am on the DVD, speaking fluent Spanish, so I must have managed it again–but I have no memory of it!

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I had just been cast as Ross Poldark and after Christmas began work on the epic that changed my life.

It wasn’t the end of Fawlty Towers for me though.

The pilot was approved and the series got the go-ahead. Six half-hour episodes were in the can, but a late plot change involving Polly–played by Connie Booth, John’s writing partner and wife at the time–meant they had to re-record part of my dinner scene exchange with Polly.

My hair had grown and changed color for Poldark–so for one afternoon at Television Centre in mid-summer, they dyed my hair dark brown and pinned it up at the back–and I was briefly Cockney Danny Brown again.

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I just read a newspaper piece about the anniversary, in which actor Nicky Henson, who appeared in a later episode, rejoices that 40 years later the residuals (those were the days!) are still enhancing his pension.

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Nicky Henson with John Cleese

I concur–we were lucky boys!

I doubt playing Borachio has ever paid off so well in the life of an actor!

 

 

 

 

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AT LAST!

Yesterday the audio version of Making Poldark became available for download via Audible, Amazon or iTunes.

http://www.audible.com/search/ref=a_mn_mt_ano_tseft__galileo?advsearchKeywords=Making+Poldark&x=0&y=0

 

Below, I’m re-posting my account of recording it way back in January.

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Just back from UK where I recorded my memoir of Poldark as an audio book–with an extra chapter about taking part in the new BBC/Mammoth version–40 years after doing the original!

 

Two days in a small, soundproof booth in a basement recording studio in Hove in Sussex, while the wind and the rain raged above ground.

I was fortunate to have three helpmates in the studio running the show–and keeping my nose to the microphone.

Chris Daniels, sound engineer, owns the studio and is a member of that fraternity of calm console operators who are never flustered.

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They have seen it all before–and behave as though they read the first verse of Rudyard Kipling’s poem, IF, before sitting down to work:

If you can keep your head when all about you
    Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
    But make allowance for their doubting too;
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
    Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies,
Or being hated, don’t give way to hating,
    And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise:
 
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,
    And you’ll be make a Sound Engineer, my son!
(With apologies to Mr. Kipling.)
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My old friend, Constantine de Goguel Toulouse-Lautrec–his grandmother was in St. Petersburg in the October Revolution of 1917 and survived–sat in the producer’s seat and guided a rusty performer through the sessions with grace and years of experience.
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He’s a fine actor and an experienced dialogue coach for movies.
He also runs Spoken Ink–subtitled “The Home of Short Audio“–well worth checking out.
Meredith made up the triumvirate as back-up producer keeping a beady eye on the script and an ear out for things that could be better (like the American pronunciation of “Potomac”!).
Her occasional ripple of involuntary laughter was a morale boost for The Man in the Sound Proof Booth!
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The project is in post production now. When complete, we’ll announce it here.

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