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Archive for the ‘Robin Ellis’ Category

Fridays.

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

Shopping expeditions curtailed. Really only one: Saturdays.

What to do for lunch and dinner?

NO EGGS!

Baskets, trays and bowls almost empty.

Raining.

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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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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