Greeting Cards


“Faithful friends that are dear to us, gather near to us once more…” goes the cheesy Christmas song we crooned last night at the winter sing-along.  I love receiving cards and letters and news and emails, and telephone calls. I love getting them all.  I put cards up all over the house, sorted by colour, or theme, or some other random criterion that brings together my friends from all over the world into one wonderful, crazily crashing togetherness – people who have no connection with each other are suddenly cheek-to-cheek on a kitchen wall and that makes me smile with pleasure every time I pass them. It’s part of my Christmas delight.



I am still — on the seventh day of Christmas — writing cards.  My “lateness”  is not late at all. I live by the maxim that Christmas preparation can’t start until after Thanksgiving, and every day from December 24th evening until January 5th evening should be celebrated. Yes, it’s exhausting, but someone has to do it. There’s a difference between Advent (the time of preparation) and Christmas time itself.


I love writing cards by hand, feeling, just for that moment, that there is no one else in the universe but him/her and me. A special kind of community that transcends miles.    This year I’ve been especially inspired by  friend Justine who reminded me how important is the hand written message. It’s personal, directed just to one friend, cannot be hacked, can be written on lovely paper with thought and care and soon it becomes a special gift.


She’s right, you know. Her comments made me even more appreciative of our 35000-steps-a-day post person and friend, who manages to deliver mail even when our village is marooned with flooding, who respects our contact details and doesn’t accidentally broadcast personal data to the world electronically (it happened recently ),  who naturally knows where to leave post if we’re away, and is linked to thousands of other post people, all of them real human beings, who can transport my letters from here, a local shop with five feet of counter space that acts as a post office, or

here, a brick wall on a lonely road,

and even here – a box embedded in the wall of a Victorian  pub – all the way to my sister-in-law in Mississippi, or my friend in Dorrigo Australia. Now that’s pretty wonderful.  Are YOU a letter writer, too?

Let’s keep the postal systems alive.

Postbox photos gratefully taken by Ru Holden.  Thanks, Ru!  


Mixed Vegetable Thoran

If you’re still eating your way through humdrum leftovers, here’s a bit of Vegan crunch to perk up a menu, shamelessly adapted from The Hairy Bikers’ Great Curries (a book I value more and more). My photo doesn’t do justice to the dish. It’s really a soft golden colour. The taste reminds me of happy days learning and teaching in India, but I think it’s worth a go, even if you don’t have an India connection. Spicy? Well, that depends how much dried chilli flake you put in.

Put 3 tablespoons of dessicated (dried) coconut in a small boil. Resuscitate with 2 tablespoons water, and leave to soak. Chop ½ a savoy cabbage (curly) and a handful of kale. Grate 2 peeled carrots, slice one peeled onion finely. Heat 2 tablespoons of coconut oil in a large frying pan. Add 1 tsp mustard seeds (black ones if you have them) ½ teaspoon cumin seeds, and 8 dried curry leaves (optional). Stir fry until the seeds begin to pop, then add the vegetables, dried chilli flakes (a pinch to ½ tsp) ½ teaspoon salt, and ¼ teaspoon turmeric. Stir fry until vegetables are tender, but maintain some crunch. Serve hot.

Note: I think I would have added a bit more turmeric.

Great News from October’s blog,  “The Kindness of Strangers”. A reader had just returned from an exhibition of art work inspired by kindness stories recounted to the artists. More exhibitions are planned for 2020. Check out   And thanks to all of you who share news of the blog with others, or with me. Hooray!

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Welcome to our new house.

When we bought our house I had no idea that its existing inhabitants would be so much trouble and cost so much.

“And here is the pond,” said Steve, the then owner. “We thought at first that we would get rid of the fish and fill it in. But then, sitting here on a summer’s evening with our gin and tonics, listening to the waterfall and watching them slide around the pond was wonderfully soothing.”

The truth dawns!

It sounded idyllic. We bought the house with the pond and followed their feeding advice for a few months. Then came the Truth. Pond water became greener and murkier until we saw no fish at all. Internet research revealed a nearby water garden willing to clean ponds. So, Dave breezed in, declared the plants too big, the water too dirty and made unkind remarks about the “scent” in the filter. He sent us an eye-watering estimate (ker-CHING!) and after deep thought we decided to go ahead.

Biting the bullet

A deposit was necessary — (ker-CHING! again) – and a date was made for them to visit when my Indiana sister Vicki and husband Jim were here, so that it could be part of the entertainment of their stay. We know how to give our visitors a good time!

The day itself

Along came Martin, Pond Man, and Kirsty, Helper and Electrician in a normal sized van. Like Mary Poppins’ satchel, he pulled out more from that van than it could possible have held, but did. First came the holding tank he filled it with our dirty pond water. More equipment followed, then he and Kirsty pulled on boots that went up to their armpits.

HOW MANY ?????

Then – and here we saw his talent for dealing with fish – he netted and gently laid each one into the tank. I stood beside, counting the numbers as fast as I could. 47 in all.

Mirror carp with leaves

When Martin brought out a fifteen-inch mirror carp, much distressed, he held it until it calmed down as he said, “steady boy, steady”, and the fish, soothed, settled down at once. “ I don’t know how to tell males from females so I call them all ‘boy’” he said. “Fish can live two hours out of water as long as they are kept wet. “

Fish Sludge (don’t try to say that quickly)

THEN came the sludge at the pond bottom. Kirsty carried multitudinous buckets of it, pouring it underneath the trees and bushes of our garden. “The plants love it” she said.

Non-human audience

Among the people watchers we were privileged to have a little robin who would not be intimidated by human beings klunking about, and looked for bugs as the water was drained.


We also discovered a frog. It didn’t matter how far into the garden Kirsty deposited it, it found its way back immediately. I bet if you blindfolded it, turned it around three times, it would still be at the pond edge in seconds.

I think we’ll call him Kaiser Bill

A job well done — no fish died.

Soon all was clean and new, the water treated with something from a bottle (ker-CHING!) Kirsty then took over, fitting a new filter and UV light (ker-CHING!)  ker-CHING!) the holes in the pond liner patched by Martin (another ker-CHING!) and all was well.

Uh-oh now what?

Now we could see our beautiful fish very clearly. The only thing is, so could a heron, known to clear a pond of fish in one visit. Me: “I’ll buy a plastic heron to scare them away,” Martin: “Oh no, don’t do that. Another heron will see it, come down to mate with it, and eat the fish. ”

Will it ever end?

I smugly announced that I already had enough fish food to get them through to next year, but I was wrong. When we later brought the water sample to the shop, Dave said, “Winter food – you give them wheat germ and garlic” (yes really) “and we just happened to have a supply for only £11.80” (ker-CHING!). “Oh”, he added, “and here’s the bill for the remaining payment for pond cleaning.” (ker-CHING!)

We turned to leave quickly, but Dave called after us: “And soon you must buy some plants for cover (ker-CHING! yet again).

Expensive G&T

Sigh. Well, at least a waterlily will make the frog happy. But that summertime gin and tonic is rapidly fading into the distance.

Photographs kindly supplied by Indiana sister Vicki Harris and gratefully received!

 My Fidget Pie

Imagine that you’re in an airplane flying above the clouds. All is fluffy and indistinguishable. Suddenly the clouds break and you see beloved Terra Firma below. That’s what this pie is all about.  The break in this ridiculouly fluffy pastry reveals vegetables, ham and apples in a cider sauce.  Sometimes called Huntingdon Fidget, sometimes Shropshire Fidget, but my adaptations will make it unrecognizable by citizens of either county. It was one of the menus – along with Turkish meatballs – I was going to make for my sister, but she didn’t stay long enough to eat everything I wanted her to.

Amounts differ depending on the pie dish you are using. Be sure it has a substantial rim.

Peel and chop one onion, one carrot, one stalk of celery (use potato peeler to shave off the annoying strings along the back before chopping). Saute gently in butter with a dash of oil. Add two small potatoes peeled and diced once these vegetables are tender. Cook until the potatoes are almost tender. Add 2 cups cubed fully cooked good quality ham. Slowly mix ½ cup dry cider with 2 tablespoons flour in a cup, ensuring there are no lumps, then add it to the ingredients in the frying pan. Stir until thickened. Set aside.

Place 3 peeled cored and diced apples in the bottom of the pie pan. Add the contents of the frying pan and mix well.

Roll out one packet puff pastry until it will generously cover the top of your pie. Then take strips of pie dough and place it in a continuous circle pressed to the rim. Wet the rim with water. Now carefully lay the pie crust on top, and gently press the top into the wet strips around the pan. Cut a big X in the middle of the pie, and fold back the triangles this makes. Brush throroughly with a beaten egg..

Bake in a moderate oven (around 375 degrees) for 55 minutes until gloriously brown and bubbly. To serve: cut a wedge through the crust, and remove. Then spoon out the contents underneath and place the crust on top.

Vegetarian option: Omit ham and add soaked sliced  and sauteed dried porcini mushrooms,




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The Kindness of Strangers…..

And how a Saboteur saved my Husband’s life


We’ve just come back from a month’s holiday zig-zagging across America to see as many of my relatives as possible, and it was a time wrapped in beauty, new vision and a lot of love. Throughout all the travelling and flight changes and bewildered wandering through airports, we had a great deal of help from strangers – giving directions, carrying our too-heavy luggage, offering places to sit, and just being great people We never knew their names and we will probably never see them again, but they sweetened our journey considerably.

We also heard much of the work of common citizens doing their best to help the dis-possessed, endangering their own reputations to bring support to those in trouble. We heard of those leaving water and food in No Man’s Land in the South, the conductor standing up for the innocent Hispanic-looking couple whisked off the train and arrested near the Canadian border in the North, the actor offering workshops to raise money for those needing legal aid in the West, the singer performing self-composed songs of welcome to any newcomers who might feel rejected. . These stories encouraged me to understand that there is still a conscience for good, for justice, and liberty for all in a troubled country.

May their courage be strengthened in this time of dangerous suppression.  The kindness of strangers.

And it reminded me again of a family story from World War II when my husband was a little baby, and an incendiary device landed on their house in Sheffield, Yorkshire. These were designed to drop quietly, and ignite at touchdown, bursting into a raging fire that could consume wooden buildings and others made of combustible material. Such devices were commonly used in Warsaw, Dresden, London, and other places, usually coupled with more explosive devices to kill rescuers and firefighters who came to the civilians’ aid.

But this device did not ignite. Some saboteur had emptied out the incendiary filling and taped the access points to turn it into an innocent tube with tail fins. John’s Dad used the end bit as a mold for lead fishing weights.

We will never know who those saboteurs were, and what happened to them.  November is the month of Remembrance. High on my list of thanks will be those people in World War II, who saved the family of the man I married years later. And special thanks, too, to all those whose acts of kindness still work for justice and hospitality today.

Pizza with Meat Crust

I’ve been thinking about carbs, and how some of you may want to entertain carb-free guests. Here’s a recipe that can be adapted for such an occasion. It originally came from a 1973 Gourmet magazine, but over the years (decades even!) I’ve twiddled and added to it. Sometimes it makes a lot of juice, which is delicious. I normally pour it on top of the pizza when serving it.

In a food processor combine 420 gms (1 lb) ground (minced) beef, turkey, chicken, or a combination, an egg – optional, and 4 – 5 tablespoons bread crumbs or ground almonds, a chopped onion, a garlic clove, 1 tsp salt, ¼ tsp pepper, and ½ teaspoon fennel seeds. Mix well, ensuring that all is finely ground and well- integrated. If mixture is stiff add a little stock of your choice or tomato juice.

This is your crust. Press the mixture into a 9 inch pie pan (I sometimes use a cast iron frying pan) to form a shell. Bake in a pre-heated moderate oven (375 degrees) for 15 minutes. If using fatty meat, pour off any fat that has accumulated.

Place in the shell fried sliced mushrooms, and/or drained cottage cheese, and sprinkle with dried basil, parsley, and oregano, and ½ teaspoon crushed dried red pepper. On top of the filling, spread drained chopped tomatoes. Layer sliced mozzarella cheese on top, and other cheeses of choice, then top with grated parmesan cheese.

Bake for 20 more minutes, and serve it in wedges.

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Doors — more humiliation


Doors –  and More Humiliation!

One thing about building a community is its individual welcome, and DOORS are part of that welcome.  I love the wreaths that my Indiana sister puts on her front door, that change according to the season, how attractive and friendly they are.  When I arrived in England as a bride I was very confused.  People had perfectly good front doors but they bunged them tightly with draft excluders and made everyone go around to the back.  This usually meant struggling through a car port and around to the kitchen door.  Strange, I thought, when the front door was easily accessible – and welcoming –both from inside and outside the home.


Some of the newer houses had no visible door at all, hidden behind a barrier wall which you had to slither around sideways for entrance. To me, they looked grim and foreboding.    I talked to my friend about this and he replied, “It’s a great idea!  You don’t have to stand in the rain waiting for someone to answer the door.”  Despite the new learning, and a consideration for visitors,  I still couldn’t/ didn’t want to live in a house that wasn’t opened widely to anyone who rang our doorbell.

I even saw a university building with no front door on the main street.  What kind of welcome was THAT to a nervously new student arriving for the first time?


But I had a lot to learn.  I still cringe with embarrassment over an incident that took place when we first moved to England.  A group of women invited me to join them for an afternoon concert at the Albert Hall (WOW! The great Albert Hall! Little ole ME in this fabulous place!  I am not worthy!).  Excited to be in the great city of London, I found my way through biting cold, wind and rain, a little late.  I looked up in awe.  There it was, in all its grandeur, round and stunning, with many glass doors at the top of steps, each door attended by a gorgeously impressively uniformed man.   NO WAY would my shabby clothes fit, in this marvelous iconic structure!  With a deep breath I mounted the steps.  As I neared the top, the attendant put his gloved hand on the door handle.  “Nope. He obviously doesn’t want me to go in that one,” I thought and circled the building looking for a door that would allow access.  Feeling even shabbier, I tried all of them around the building, and got the same response.   Why?  Perhaps they didn’t want the music interrupted.  Perhaps I wasn’t well-dressed enough.  Perhaps they didn’t allow latecomers to enter.  I didn’t know.

So I went home.  Back to my little village in Bedfordshire.  Had I not been so intimidated by grandeur and the history of the building, had I actually mounted the steps to the top, I would have discovered that an elegant attendant was actually waiting to OPEN it for me, not to keep me out.


Just an interesting and different way to cook meat

or fish, or chicken, or shrimp, or tofu, or mushrooms…….

When I got engaged, the school staff in India where I was teaching gave me a surprise shower, piled high with beautiful hand crafted gifts made locally,  I marveled at the skills of fabric, wood, and copper, and still have most of them today.  Each person also gave me a 3 x 5 card of one of their favourite dishes, all of which went into my treasured recipe box.

Here is a simple recipe from someone called “Carol” whose memory has unfortunately disappeared into time’s mist.  God bless Carol — her card is still in constant use, stained and yellowed with age, a permanent memorial to someone I now can’t place.  With joy and thanks I pass it on to all of you out there. May it open many doors to your own creativity.


Fry  plenty of garlic and onions in a heavy pan with oil. When tender, add several tins of chopped tomatoes enough to cover the protein you will be adding later..  Pour in several tablespoons of Worcestershire sauce, to taste, several tablespoons brown sugar , a couple of chopped peppers, and some cut up fruit: (tinned pineapple, peeled and chopped apple or pear).  Season well with salt, pepper, paprika, and an optional pinch of red pepper flakes.

If using cubed meat (pork, beef, chicken, spareribs) add to the sauce now.

Cook until the sauce is spicy and saucy.

If using fish, prawns, fried tofu, chunk vegetables, add after the sauce is thick and well cooked, so that your themed dish isn’t overdone.

We have served this with grated cheese, or crushed tortilla chips, or cream or yogurt.  Try out a few of your own favourites.  Goes well with baked potatoes or rice, quinoa, or noodles.

(Unnecessary additional note:)

I was unaware that during the party shower for me, one member sat in the background, writing each thing I said – the idea was that this would be what I would also say on my wedding night.  I had no idea that a bunch of tired overworked missionaries were capable of such eye-wiping, breath-gasping hilarity.


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Come for Coffee and Dessert

Fifty years of marriage!

This year we celebrate our 50th wedding anniversary and ooooh my! What I have learned living in Britain! How naïve and stupid I was when a bride! Having lived most of my life in countries where the language had to be learned from scratch, I thought being married to an Englishman was going to be a dawdle, because they spoke English, didn’t they? No. Not my understanding of the word. Husband’s grandmother understood me, because she watched Westerns, like Bonanza!. I was slower to understand her Yorkshire accent. I had thought that there were only two dialects in Great Britain – Cockney and BBC English. See what I mean – naïve as they come. I did ask someone once, “how come such a ditsy little country has so many accents?” The reply was, “the amazing thing is that we actually understand each other. At one time we were a whole lot of kingdoms warring against each other.”

Examples of comprehending the new/old language.

I learned

  • That an airing cupboard is the most airless place in the house.
  • That to boil a kettle meant the water in the kettle.
  • That to go for an Indian, or a Chinese was not to join a racist lynching mob, but to book for a rather delicious restaurant meal.
  • That Cheddar Cheese has a gorge named after it.
  • That you never ever, EVER, EVER break queue (standing in line.) In fact, you don’t exist on this earth, until it’s your turn.
  • That a scotch egg was not the product of some monstrous hen up north, or eggs poached in whiskey, but one wrapped in sausage meat before baking.
  • That an English swede is not the product of intermarriage, but a locally grown rutabaga or yellow turnip.
  • That Southampton is nowhere near Northampton, that Watford is miles from Watford Gap, that Bedford College was in London and Warwick University is not in Warwick, that Southgate is in the north of London, that there is a Norfolk and a Suffolk, and  there’s a Sussex but no Norsex, and that none of this needs to be explained to a foreigner.
  • That “not too shabby” means pretty good really, and that if a Bedfordshire person answers to “how are you?” with “not too bad” you know that he is in the peak of health and wealth.
  • That pavement is a sidewalk because long ago sidewalks were paved and the roads were not.

Still learning

And there is more to learn. My most recent discovery is that  John O’Gaunt came from Ghent in Belgium. However, I’m still not sure what the definition of “tea” is – a brew? Cake and sandwiches? A full meal? And when I ask, the answer is always, “aaaahhh” and a peer into the middle distance. Speaking of tea, there is something upper class about putting milk in after you’ve poured the tea, and working class if you put the milk in first — or is it the other way around?

Coffee and dessert…really?

People didn’t understand me, either. One time I asked friends around for Coffee and Dessert. This was common in the town where I taught in northern New York State. We’d invite people over for mini-celebrations – a birthday, election results, or to meet a friend from out of town. It didn’t cost much to put on such an event, and provided a chance to be together.

Oh dear. When I tried it in Bedfordshire, the response was uncomfortable, or curiously bewildering. One guest was irritated. “Surely you can find something for first course!” she said, inspecting the kitchen for signs of a hidden lasagna.

Trying again 

So it was with hesitancy that I tried it again, inviting our choir  for a mid-summer sing-along, with coffee and dessert. This time it worked beautifully. The members were delighted to re-meet during the choir’s summer’s hiatus. Not only did no one search for the meat course, but they brought desserts themselves. A jubilantly happy singing session followed (still in good voice! ) and a fabulous selection of tasty dishes to ooh and aah over. Wow! What an evening!

Hot Fudge Pudding

This is probably my oldest recipe still in constant use. When I was 13 and going to an international school in the foothills of the Indian Himalayas, the Home Economics teacher asked us each to bring a box for recipe cards. This meant taking a 20 – 30 minute walk to the bazaar to ask the carpenter to make one. ;(There were no cars in these hills then – you either walked or were carried, and this included the grand piano in the auditorium.)  I still have my box. It has travelled all over the world with me. When I first got it, I used to cut out recipes from my American Girl magazine, and stick them on the cards. This is one of them.

Find yourself a cup that measures 8 fl ounces [250ml] Use this for all the volume measurements. Mix 1 cup plain flour, 2 teaspoons baking powder, ¼ teaspoon salt, ¾ cup granulated sugar, and 2 tablespoons cocoa powder. Add ½ cup of milk, 2 tablespoons melted butter, and a cup of chopped pecans. Mix well. Spread in a well-greased 8” x 8” pan. Mix ¾ cup brown sugar with ¼ cup more cocoa. Sprinkle evenly on top of the raw batter.

Now here is the sloshy bit. It is best done as near to a preheated oven (350 or 180) as you can, preferably on the rack on which it will bake. Then pour 1 ¾ – 2 cups boiling water all over the batter, gently slide it into the oven and close the door. Bake for 40 – 45 minutes. The hot water seeps through the batter as it cooks, leaving a rich gooey chocolate sauce under a brownie-like top. Serve warm preferably with cream or ice cream. Note: the pictured pudding was made with gluten-free flour and didn’t contain nuts.

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God Bless the Red Cross

I wasn’t expecting his reaction and it hit me like a blow to the head.

During the Arab-Israeli war, we were hastened unceremoniously from Egypt, (where I’d been teaching at a mission school), onto a German freighter, one of the last vessels to leave the country with fleeing, or expelled foreigners. The ship had pulled away from the dock in Alexandria and took three days to get to Cyprus. Since it was a freighter, and we refugees were sleeping in the holds that usually stored their freight, the cuisine on board was sparse. In fact it was sandwiches three times a day. But it was that dark German bread that really tastes good. However, after sandwiches nine times in a row and nothing else, the charm began to wear off.

We didn’t do much talking during those three days, each of us wrapped in our own bereavements and fears as we stared at horizonless water. I had noticed that one man in shorts and a faded shirt had been escorted by police up the gang way and shoved brutally into the ship. He had no shoe laces, and only carried a small wooden box. It turned out that he was the only Englishman on board, and since he had been hitch-hiking around the country, was presumed to be a spy and was taken from prison and thrust onto this ship with us. He had absolutely nothing but this box. Out of politeness no one asked what was in it.

We arrived in Cyprus in the dark, ten or eleven o’clock. And there, waiting for us, without a word of English but with a huge casserole, was a team of Red Cross workers. Ohhhh that casserole! I cannot remember at all what was in it, but the warmth, the nourishment, the surprise enchanted us magnificently. With no common language we did our best to express heartfelt delight and thanks to these beautiful people.

The next stage was a plane to carry us over the Alps to Rome. It was a strange vehicle, because the seats were lined up on either side of the plane. At about two a.m. we all took a seat, two rows facing each other across the fusilage. From the back of the plane a Red Cross worker handed the edge of a blanket to the person beside her, who handed it to the person beside him who handed….you get the idea. It turned out that this blanket extended the whole length of the plane, one on each side. Once all was in place, the vehicle took off with “I-think-I-can” effort. It sounded like a John Deere tractor in the sky, that whooped and dropped and rose over the air currents from the mountainous terrain below. No one dared to be sick. When grey cold daylight filtered in through the windows, we thought we could hold on. At about 6 a.m. we landed in Rome. There, loving and caring, was the Red Cross, once again. Towels, soap, toothbrushes, breakfast with hot coffee and cognac were oohed and ahhhed over, they seemed like the most precious things anyone could give us. How did they know what exactly we would need to restore us? We once again gestured and bowed our thanks to these lovely people whom we could not understand.

Then back into the plane headed for Munich. Here, the Red Cross and the German press were waiting. As we staggered out, summer-clad, into the cold, rainy morning, sleep-starved, disheveled and bewildered, each of us was greeted with a hug and soothing incomprehensible words from the Red Cross workers. It was such a beautiful thing to do. To this day my heart is warm with their memory.

We refugees were soon sorted into nationalities. The Germans were in one group, getting Red Cross help, received by relatives, and telling their stories to the press.

An elegant stretch limousine with liveried chauffeur turned up at the docks to take the single Englishman away to his embassy.

We, the three Americans, had no one. Eventually, with a bit of difficulty (we had no money to pay for a call) the US Consulate was contacted. They then referred us to the US military. “We heard you were coming,” they said. Two hours later, maybe three, we were picked up and taken to accommodation at the military base. The freedom of fear was exhilarating. It is surprising how exhausting it is to live in constant terror. Americans! My own people! I was on home ground!

Only I wasn’t. The place was buzzing with military testosterone – each young soldier eager to “get out there” and shoot the Egyptians, people I loved and who had loved me, people whose beauty was embedded in their very ancient sophisticated culture. . The burly commanding officer wanted to interview us individually. After taking details, it was then that his response struck me like a blow. He threw down his pen and said, “You Gentiles should stay at home and MIND YOUR OWN BUSINESS!!!!!”

I was stunned into silence. I’d been so beautifully cared for all the way here by people with whom I couldn’t communicate, but who served and nourished me nevertheless. And ;now this sudden  unexpected attack.  This was the first – and only – time in my life that someone challenged my faith. I think of  the refugees today who at last make it to our shores, I wonder how they cope?

The recipe for this blog just has to be a casserole. This is probably the easiest and most favourite in our family, with happy taste memories that weave into our own traditions. It is unfortunately called


“Approach love and cooking with reckless abandon,” says the Dalai Lama, and this dish is made for play.

Peel and slice vegetables: potatoes, carrots, onions, celery* peppers, and zucchini. Add them in layers to a buttered casserole dish, with tinned chopped tomatoes, and 400 gms (1 lb) minced (ground) beef. Somewhere in the middle of the dish add 2 – 4 tablespoons raw rice and continue layering. Season each with salt, pepper, paprika, oregano and/or tarragon (or both in alternate layers.) Add a half a cup of boiling water, seal well by placing foil between the dish and the lid.

Place in a low oven, 150C or 300 F and check it for juiciness after two hours. If drying out, add more boiling water or 1 cup of cream. Cook for 20 minutes more while you prepare buttered seasoned bread crumbs with parmesan cheese. Sprinkle on top. Bake for 15 – 20 minutes more, without lid, until bread crumbs are browned. Depending on the size and depth of your casserole dish, it may not take the full three hours to cook.

Whew! This took longer to write than it did to prepare!

*Note on celery. Our family enjoys it better if the stringy back is shaved off with a potato peeler.


Children’s Shipwreck. A mother writes that her  family (including three children) eat “every scrap of this”: Use a can of condensed tomato soup and boiling water instead of cream. Season with salt, pepper, and paprika. Vegetabless: onions, potatoes, uncooked rice, celery, carrots.

Vegetarian Shipwreck.  Don’t use the meat, of course. Start and end with slices of fresh tomatoes. An ancient Gourmet Magazine suggests lathering two tablespoons of melted butter on each layer, but I have found that a bit too rich….either that or I was heavy-handed with the butter.

Happy 5th Birthday to this blog!  Thanks to all you wonderful faithful readers!  Have a look at past posts.


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A Community of Displaced People

Alexandria, Egypt.  Summer, 1966, during the Six Day War. We arose silently, dressed, gathered our meagre belongings and went outside. The police, also silent, led us into their waiting cars, the engines idling softly, ready to move.. Then quietly, quietly, they drove off. They suggested that we duck down if we saw anyone on the streets. The fear – theirs and ours –was palpable. We could almost smell it. A few days back they’d already rescued (at great danger to their own lives) an Arabic-speaking American who was almost lynched as he tried to mingle in this tense fear-ridden, American-hating city. And, a few days before that, “Israeli” (= American) bombs showered Alexandria. I’d been holed up in a blackened shelter, standing room only, as “my” bombs tried to kill us. One kind woman in the darkness attempted to convince the others that I was German, not American. “Hmmm” had been their only answer.

But today, with luck, we might be going to safety on a German freighter …IF we could get to the port. Unaware of how long this war would take, all the foreigners had left before us on any plane that would take them. Then no more planes dared to come into the airports.    This was our only, and last chance.  These police had been protecting us, the enemy, from their own people. It would be so easy for the angry crowds to turn on them, too. They would be glad to get rid of us and complete their duty as human shield against the enraged mobs, goaded by summer heat and American betrayal. Then they – and we – loosened our rigid terror as customs officers and coast guard took us over, glad to be their prisoners now. Our Police Protectors rapidly dissolved into the dawn as they hastily drove away. The customs officers politely relieved us of our cameras (oh no! all my pictures up Mt Sinai! Me on a camel!)  and any other “surveillance” equipment, assuring us that all would be returned when we came back to Egypt (yeah right). We were led onto the massive freighter. There were three huge gaping chasms on this ship meant for iron ore, or some other great galumphing bulk. One chasm was for single women, one for men, and one for families.

We climbed down the metal ladder bolted to the chasm’s wall, and found a bit of floor to claim as our own, then struggled up  again, and went on deck.  And waited, waited, waited, wondering if we would be taken back on land for some trite reason. Word started spreading that the very ill American with the perforated ulcer, whizzed here straight from the hospital, wasn’t going to make it, this his last chance to get away from the fighting.

Finally the huge freighter pulled away from shore. I said goodbye to the land I loved, my students, my friendships, my incredible experiences – but now displaced, going nowhere, in light sandals, a thin skirt, sleeveless top, and a suitcase. .

For well over five decades this episode was solidly locked away in my memory…

Until one day, as I walked down a Welsh street in Wales, I was attracted to a table with books whose title leapt out and embedded itself into my own past: Displaced Dishes that found their way to Samos Refugee Camp. It is an enchanting book! Thirty different recipes – vegetarian, vegan, and meat dishes alike, with beautiful colourful photos and simple recipes, donated by refugees now in Samos, Greece.  The stories behind these recipes are not told but implied. Just reading the fragment of introduction accompanying each dish makes a deep impression and shows the wide array of people and countries represented in the refugee camps across Europe, demonstrating the vast scale of modern displacement. You can read more in the introduction to the book. And what touches my heart the most is that each dish is of a cherished homeland no longer attainable, and in many cases no longer in existence. I am therefore filled with great respect, even love, for the people whose recipes I follow in my own huge kitchen of safety and opulence.  May I never forget them.

Whatever your tastes are, get yourselves a copy of this book….for bedtime reading or to try a few unusual combinations of everyday ingredients. 100% of the profits go straight into services for those who live in the Refugee Camp in Samos. Better yet, why not pop over to Samos and do a bit of volunteering yourself!

ISBN 978-1-5272-3212-9  Contact


Contributed by Shayma from Kuwait. We used to eat a version of this on Wednesday lunchtimes in the Egyptian school where I taught. It is made with a plant that is hard to find in Europe, so Shayma uses spinach instead. It is a beautiful colourful side dish, a hearty accompaniment to grilled meat, fish, or beans. Vegans can enjoy it, too, if you substitute the butter in the spinach for non animal oil. It’s served in three layers, and I wish my photos were as lovely as the one in the book.

  1. The roast vegetables. Hot oven (200C or 400 F). In a large mixing bowl stir together 4 tablespoons olive oil, 2 tablespoons ground coriander, and 2 teaspoons salt until they make a paste. Add 2 aubergines (eggplants) sliced 1 cm (1/2 inch) thick, 2 red peppers sliced 1 cm thick, and 2 red onions sliced likewise. Mix well to coat them oil with the oil.  Divide the mixed vegetables evenly between two roasting pans and roast for about 30 minutes, until aubergine is tender and golden brown, rotating the pans front to back and top to bottom halfway through cooking.
  2. Cook Rice according to your preferred way.
  3. Saute spinach (with stems, I notice from the photo) in melted butter/oil with 1 bayleaf,  and 1 cinnamon stick until coated with oil. Add 8 ozs (1 cup) vegetable stock. Cook for two minutes.

Build your presentation!  Pile  rice into a large serving bowl. Top with spinach, and then the vegetables. Eat hot.

Note: This would taste good with Hamid’s (from Iran) spiked rosemary bread. It is an old recipe from Bukhara in Uzbekistan. I’d never made bread with ras el hanout before. Just managed to snap a picture before it disappeared into us!


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Hot Cross Buns — and an Unexpected Visitor

Getting ready

Well, it certainly wasn’t what I thought would happen. I had offered to help my daughter Joy with her annual Hot Cross Bun Bash on the Good Friday before Easter.

This involved a 6.30 a.m. start making the dough so that it would rise at staged times, enabling preparing, shaping, baking and glazing to take place at staged times during the two hour session. Soon the house was filled with the scent of spice and orange and lemon peel. The car was packed with all the essentials, with bowls of rising dough at various stages and away we went to the local church, heaving the ancient medieval door open, loaded with boxes and bowls and a lot of excitement…..

The Visitor

…….only to discover that a temporarily trapped bird was flying back and forth, high, higher, higher into the rafters, never realizing that his way to freedom was to swoop down low, lower, lower through the  door into the blazing sunlight.  Many days and many attempts to free him into the open air had still been unsuccessful.

And here they come!

But we had people arriving soon, so we set up anyway, ready and eager to see who came. With its emphasis on children, I expected noise, spills, flour, jubilant mess everywhere, mayhem,  tears, voluble triumphs, and a lot of scampering around in the non-pewed sanctuary, as children always do to claim the space for their own.

But that’s not what happened. Something in the mood of the day gave a sweet gentleness to the atmosphere. The painting table, led by Bob, priest-and-artist, re-enforced the Easter story as he sat creating a picture of the empty tomb, and adults and children alike were totally wrapped up in their own work.

Some children brought in greens from the churchyard.  They told the story to each other as they made an Easter garden on a pile of sawdust and shavings, near the altar, putting the figures in last. Once completed, the bird came to visit and helped himself to morsels of Easter. He must have been exhausted and hungry.

Even the Easter egg hunt was happily cheerful, but not very voluble, in their triumphs  of discovery.

New friendships over HCBs

At the other end of the building,  the church started to fill with the scent of baking buns, while adults and children shaped and claimed their own on baking paper, ready for the next batch to go into the oven.


Two women who had brought their children, sat apart with their  coffee and buns, talking and laughing, mentioning how grateful they were for this time of peace before they returned to chaotic households and festive preparations.


Visitors who wandered in to see this unusual church were greeted with freshly buttered  buns and hot drinks, and became part of the food that built us all into a gently  warm  community. Everyone was welcomed, stranger and friend drawn together by eating together. All were fed.

Even the bird.

Orange and Whisky Marmelade

A favourite blog reader suggested that I use this as the recipe of the month. And there is a connection: when Joy glazed the buns after baking, she used a dilution of homemade marmalade without fruit pieces and hot water. When I make it, I have to snatch handfuls of time now and then.  That’s why I’ve divided the process into several steps.

A note about jars: The most tedious part of making jams and pickles is cleaning labels off donated jars. If you are a generous donor, the good community-spirited thing to do is to remove the labels before handing them over. Sticky Stuff or your local equivalent is a must for every household, as it clears off far more than jar labels.


Step One

Wash and remove the stems of 900 gms (2 lbs) oranges (about 5 of them) and one lemon.  Place in a pressure cooker. Add 1.2 litres ( 2 pints 40 ozs, 5 cups, ) water, bring to pressure, and steam for 30 minutes. Cool.


Step Two.


Put the fruit into a strainer and carefully pour any stewing water into a deep jam-making pan. The fruit will probably crack open by themselves, and the insides usually fall out of the skins. With scissors, cut the skins into shreds and plop them into the jam pan, too. Now press the fruit pulp through the strainer, ensuring that all of the seeds are cleared of their slitheriness (it’s pectin and will make the jam set.) You may wish to wash the fruit clean with a slosh or two of boiling water.

Step Three.

Add 1.5 kg (3lb 6 ozs  7 ½ cups) sugar. Check that all the sugar has dissolved completely in the fruit and juice before you start cooking.

 Step Four

Wash, and drain 5 – 7 jars. Place upside down in an oven on VERY LOW heat.

Bring the fruit-sugar mixture to boil, stirring now and then. It should come to 105 degrees C (220 F) . You can use a thermometer, or try the wrinkle test, where a teaspoon of sauce on a cold plate will wrinkle when pushed gently with the side of your  finger.


Remove from heat. If the jam is scummy, stir in a knob of butter which will clear it instantly.  Add 4 tablespoons good quality whisky and stir well.

Remove the jars from the oven one by one without burning yourself, and ladle in the marmalade, near to the rim. Add a disk of jam paper. Cool. Add lids.

Optional Step 5 (You may be able to skip this step).

When cold, wash each jar under the tap to remove the jam you’ve sloppily ladled onto the sides, onto the counter, and onto the floor.


Step 6

Label the jars. But remember, the smaller the label the better, because you’re only going to have to scrub it off the next time you use the jar.

ALTERNATIVE SUGGESTION. Just do your favourite marmalade recipe and add whiskey to taste before putting into the jars.

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Storm.  On a recent morning walk, a passenger jet prepared to land on my head. It didn’t. And it wasn’t. It was only the wild wild wind thrashing the trees– spraying the raindrops into showers of rainbows in the surprising, intermittent sunshine. The fierce roar was intense. Sometimes I was hustled along, by gulping gusts that hurtled me forward too fast for my legs. Other times it was as if I were marking time, hardly inching forward at all as the blasts came straight at me. The miles of thickly edged daffodils on the roadside, an occasional blooming magnolia against a turbulent sky were whipped into the wind’s exuberant dance.

It was in this frenzy that I came across pink-hatted diminutive Maggie whacked against a stone barn. “Isn’t it a blessing that the rain has stopped”, she shouted as she righted herself. “Er, yes,” I shouted back, surprised that there wasn’t the usual weather-grumble that normally followed. I was going to point out that we might have been blown to Kingdom Come, but apparently Herefordshire folk don’t notice a bit of breeze.   Archie her small dog couldn’t have been more fluffed up in a tumble dryer, but he too was unperturbed while investigating a strangely scented stone.

This wild tempest went on for days. Then, suddenly the wind-wailing, the tree-thrashing stopped. Quietly, the sky turned blue, the joyous birdsong was loud and beautiful. Earth, exhausted and dripping, had given birth to Spring.

And into this Spring the blessed welcome of visitors – friends we’ve known for years, with whom we’ve shared and grown through joys, successes, and failures. Isn’t it amazing to know people with whom we can pick up just where we left off before, and go right on laughing! These are the friends who by their very arrival in this new house have anchored our identity from Past to Present, and made it home. For this, and all the others yet to come,  we are everlastingly grateful.



Gluten Free Dairy-free Crumble

I made up this recipe for one guest with a restricted diet. Gluten- and dairy- eaters were tucking into seconds, so I guess it was a success.

If you use this amount for a tray-bake (13” x 9” 32 x 23 cm ) pan, the fruit below will bubble up, peeking through the lumps, making it cozily attractive. For our dinner we didn’t need that much fruit and used the whole crumble recipe in a smaller baking dish, making the fruit invisible, but lots of crumble per serving.

Measurements aren’t exact, but give plenty of room for playing. Find a cup that holds about 8 ozs (250 ml, a scant half pint) and use it for the cup measurements in this month’s recipe:  In a bowl pour 2 cups gluten free (rolled) oats ¾ cup brown sugar, ½ teaspoons salt, and 1 tablespoon (or more) chopped crystalised (candied) ginger. Mix well. In a small bowl mash 1 ripe banana, and add 6 tablespoons oil (not olive), ½ teaspoon vanilla, and 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon. Add some dried fruits to the topping – we used snipped dates, dried cherries, and raisins. When thoroughly combined, add to the oat mixture until blended.

In your baking dish, prepare fruit up to about a thumb joint from the top. We used apples, pears, and a tin (can) of sliced peaches in juice. Berries would be pretty. If the fruit is especially tart, sprinkle on a few spoons of sugar. Mix thoroughly, then sprinkle on the above crumble topping. Pop into a moderate oven and bake about 30 minutes until lightly brown and bubbly.

Dairy eaters add cream or ice cream or thick yogurt.

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