A Community of Communities

What is the tie that binds people together?

BART trains overhead, underneath is peace!

BART trains overhead, underneath is peace!

The Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART), an underground/overground system of transport for San Francisco and surrounding towns, runs smack dab through a whole set of long-established out-skirted communities of Berkeley. Instead of a searing scar of uprooted houses, friends wrenched apart from friends, shops from shoppers and chunks of living divided from each other, the BART sails overground on huge concrete pillars.

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And underneath? Oh, underneath is magic!  A most wonderful path meanders through many a village.  I love it.  Absolutely love it.  There’s a serenity, a security about it all.  Hedges and fences offer a peek into community eco-gardens, sharing the land and the precious water in this desertous country.  Gloriously painted garage doors depict cartoons or heroes.  Children have designed ceramic tiles that make up some of the seats along the path.  On makeshift notice boards written posters made of unfolded brown paper shopping bags invite people to coffee on the second and fourth Saturdays “to learn what’s possible”.

Children's designs

Children’s designs

message from a community builder

message from a community builder

 There are parks, running paths, cycle routes. Sounds – aside from the sharp sudden roar of an overhead train — are gentle. The chuff-chuff of a runner on the sandy track.  The thump-thwack of an early morning tennis game on the community’s courts. The tinkle of a cycle bell reminding me to move over.  The soft satin rustle of a flock of wild turkeys settling down on the wayside benches.

Early morning walks bring scents of wild grasses lining the paths, mingling with the sudden whiff of after-shave from a commuter on his way to BART station, or the enticing aromas wafting tantalisingly from the Brazilian open air café on the corner, getting ready for the day’s business.

So what makes this different from my cherished English village?

history in Ceramics

history in Ceramics

I think it’s the visible, tangible pride they take in the area’s history, reminding every walker, every cyclist every wild turkey of the many peoples who make up this community.

this mural is HUGE

this mural is HUGE

A massively long tile mural portrays the settling of the area, from10, 000 BC, and pre-human ice-age settlements, the respectful Ohlone Tribes living in peace, singing their songs, telling their stories. The Spanish settlers with ranches, horsemanship and fiestas — “The land is our gold” they said.   “Let the Californians go after the gold rush.” The miners from out east.  The Blacks, the Irish and their contributions.  Victorian agriculture.  The University of Berkeley. Dairy farming. Streetcars. World War II shipyards.

the long mural of history

the long mural of history


All of this is visible to anyone walking the path. Everytime someone comes outside, the lesson is there to see.  They are a community of communities.  They are proud of their rich heritage. And show it off well.


Santa Fe Reailway sign

Santa Fe Reailway sign

And in this quiet suburb of houses is this sign, marking the end of the Santa Fe Railroad, connected by the Western Pacific Railway. The last spike, linking together the whole width of the United States was driven into the track in 1909.  Nothing remains here of the railway. A railway completed and closed down within my Dad’s lifetime. West Coast recorded history is so young.

Santa Fe Meatloaf

Adapted from Slow Cooker Revolution from America’s test kitchen.  As a veteran meatloaf maker I would never EVER do a meatloaf in a slow cooker, preferring instead the hot circulating oven air for a dark crusty outside, and a juicily mouth-watering innards.  But just take a look at the whopping number of ingredients!  I just had to try it out (and add a few more, of course).  Meatloaf is great for long-stay visitors.  Serve it hot with baked potatoes the first night.  Slice it cold for sandwiches the next day.

In a food processor throw in: 1 quartered peeled onion, 1 quartered de-seeded red bell pepper, 4 peeled garlic cloves, 2 tablespoons oil, 1 tablespoon tomato puree (paste), 2 teaspoons fresh oregano or ½ teaspoon dried, 2 teaspoons chilli seasoning* (WARNING: see note below), 1 can drained black beans, 2 slices white bread, 2 lbs lean minced (ground) beef, 1 cup shredded cheddar cheese, ¾ cup corn kernels (yes really),  2 large eggs, 2 tablespoons coriander leaf (cilantro) or parsley, 1 heaped tablespoon pickled jalepeno peppers and 3 slices of meaty bacon.  Grind until smooth.  If the mixture is dry, whirr in ½ cup of milk.  Shape into a loaf, or several smaller ones.  Stud with pimiento olives and a bay leaf or two.    Bake in slow oven for about 1 ½ hours.  The outside should be dark and crispy looking.

In the last 15 minutes of baking, pour off any fat (if necessary) and spread on ½ cup barbecue sauce, or ½ cup ketchup mixed with 2 teaspoons of Worcestershire sauce and a tablespoon of brown sugar. (Chipotle ketchup will add eye-watering zing.)

*WARNING ABOUT Chilli. Please read the ingredients on your bottle of chilli “powder”.  In England there is something called “chilli powder” which is nothing but ground dried chillies.  In America the chilli powder is a mixture of chilli, paprika, garlic and onion powders, dried parsley and basil, etc etc. Thus, you can use 2 teaspoons, even 3.  The difference was one I learned the hard way in my first month of marriage….ooh it was breathtaking.

OK. It's a wonky meatloaf, but it tastes all right.

OK. It’s a wonky meatloaf, but it tastes all right.


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A Community of Tasters

Maybe it’s my sheer joy in any aspect of Community that warms my heart and blossoms into a greater humanity than the sum of the individuals taking part. Or maybe it’s sheer under-confidence in my cooking.  Whatever the reason, I do like sharing the things I cook.  So, whenever a new recipe emerges I snuffle out someone to try it on.  They’re still living, so far.

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Here’s an insignificantly looking cupcake that punches a lemony wallop. Here, too are images of two of the tasters who tried it out. The cake recipe was pencil-scribbled into my Filofax some 20 years ago, in friend Chris’ kitchen.  The rest emerged as a possibility while staring  at the air in the middle of our hallway.

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Lemon Curd Sandwich Cupcakes

The Cake:

Find an individual 150 gm. cup of plain yogurt (or a cup that measures 6 fl ozs., ¾ cup). Use this cup as a measure for the other ingredients.

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  1. Empty the contents, or 6 ozs of yogurt into a bowl or food processor.
  2. Add 1 measure of oil.
  3. Add 2 measures of sugar.
  4. Add 3 measures of self-raising (self rising) flour, and ½ tsp. salt.
  5. Add 2 eggs, beaten.
  6. Add the zest of 2 small or 1 large lemon.

8.. Mix well and bake in paper cupcakes in mod oven, about 15 minutes.

  1. Squeeze the juice from the lemon(s) and mix well with 1 heaped tablespoon icing (confectioners) sugar.
  2. As soon as cakes are baked, poke holes in the top with a cocktail stick (toothpick) and pour ¼ teaspoon of the juice-icing sugar mixture on top of each. Let it soak in as it cools.
  3. Cool completely, and remove papers.
  4. Slice horizontally and spread the middle with lemon curd (see below).
  5. Dust with the faintest whisper of icing sugar. Makes 2 dozen cupcakes. 

Children’s cake recipe

You can use this cake recipe for little hands, because there is no weighing. They can practice cracking the eggs in a separate dish before adding to the batter.  Simply follow steps 1 – 6, adding 1 teaspoon vanilla instead of the lemon zest and juice, and pouring in as many chocolate chips that escape eating before they are mixed into the batter.  Bake as in step 8.

Lemon Curd


For those of you who can’t dash down to your local supermarket for a jar of lemon curd, you are in LUCK, because homemade is easy (as daughter aged 12 showed me) and far tastier. Here is Delia Smith’s recipe:

Put 3 ozs/80 grams/scant ½ cup caster sugar (superfine) in the top of a bain marie (double boiler), or saucepan, with the zest of a large juicy lemon or 2 small ones.

  1. In another dish whisk 2 eggs and the juice of the above.
  2. Decant the egg mixture onto the sugar.
  3. Add 2 ozs/2 tablespoons/50 grams butter, preferably unsalted.
  4. Mix well.
  5. Put saucepan over, not in, a pan of barely simmering water.
  6. Stir frequently until thickened, about 20 minutes.
  7. Make sure the curd is completely cold before sandwiching it into the cupcakes.


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God Save Their Gracious Queen

Delighting in a monarch is no bad thing. 

The Queen of England turned 90 recently. At the age of 21 she promised her people that, no matter how short or how long she lived, she would serve them until the end of her life.

She has kept her promise. On her 90th birthday she walked along the streets of Windsor, through thickly packed cheering, smiling, flag-waving people. Hundreds of spring flower bouquets pronged out from the crowds into her hands, amid laughter and gratitude.    The community’s apparel was amazing to behold.  I don’t know how many bolts of Union Jack material were used to attire their dogs and themselves in suits, dresses, skirts, shorts, hats and crowns but it certainly indicated where their loyalty lay.  “There is a thread that draws us together,” said one of her subjects.  “She is the spirit of that thread.”

Now, the longest reigning British monarch still spends three hours a day reading reports and keeping up to date with the country. During almost 60 years of her reign the country has welcomed people of all cultures and nationalities, turning Britain into a worldwide community.

Happy Birthday, Your Majesty, with love from one of your immigrants.

Coronation Chicken Waldorf Salad

cor chk 2

Coronation Chicken was created in 1953 by Constance Spry, to celebrate the Queen’s Coronation. It’s got a hint of the Commonwealth in it (check out the curry paste).  I’ve added a Waldorfian flair with apples and pears, just to stretch the international contribution even wider.  (Well, okay, let’s face it – it’s to stretch the chicken too.)

Poach 1 lb of chicken in water just under the boil until it loses its pinkness (the chicken, not the water). Cut up into salad-size bites when cool enough to handle. Save poaching water for soup or casseroles.


cor chk 1Fry one chopped onion in oil, until soft. Add 6 – 8 chopped dried apricots and cook until they plumpen (a couple of minutes).  Add 1 tablespoon curry paste (your choice of fiery-ness) and 1 tablespoon tomato puree (paste), 4 ozs (1/2 cup) red wine, and a bayleaf.  Cook until the sauce is well reduced (a spoon drawn over the bottom of the pan makes a clean pathway).  Whizz the sauce in a food processor until smooth. Cool.


Build the salad:


Your prepared sauce mixed with 1 cup (8 ozs) mayonnaise and 1 cup Greek yogurt or crème fraiche, or, if you are skinny, sour cream.  (Constance used whipping cream.)

3 apples,  peeled and chopped

1 – 2 pears peeled and chopped.

5 finely chopped spring onions (scallions)

½ bunch of chopped coriander leaves (cilantro) or parsley,*

1 – 2 stalks finely chopped celery


Sliced Chinese water chestnuts

Roasted sliced almonds

*If not using coriander or parsley, serve salad on a bed of watercress.

Vegetarian option:  leave out the chicken and bump up the other ingredients.


tai chi 2I tried it out on fellow Tai Chi learners, during her birthday week. Unfortunately, there is no picture of anyone actually eating the salad.  However, going home with a near-empty container proved that someone – or someones — did.



tai chi 4

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I’d rather be Quilting

Tap into the wealth of ideas from your nearest and dearest.  

Whee! Just back from a jaw-droppingly amazing  Family Reunion  in Florida.  Six of us brothers and sisters, talking and talking.  More next month when the photos get sorted.

For now, let me introduce my younger sister Vicki. She’s the sixth and last child in our family.  She entered the world on the day we arrived in New York City as exchange prisoners from a concentration camp in northern China.  It was the herald of many a dramatic story ever since.quilt 4


If Vicki sends me a recipe I know that it will be swift and simple….anything to get her back to her beloved quilting. Here is her Pineapple Cake, emailed to me some 17 years ago, according to the smudged, food-bedecked, thrice-scribbled-on scrap of paper lovingly stored with other favourite recipes.  It’s dedicated to all quilters everywhere.

quilt 3


Find a cup that measures 8 fluid ozs. Use it as your measure for this recipe.

In a large bowl put 2 cups sugar (or less), 2 eggs, 2 cups plain flour, 2 teaspoons bicarbonate of soda (baking soda).  Add 20 ozs crushed pineapple, juice and all – or whizz  tinned pineapple pieces  with juice and add.(that’s about 2 ½ of your cup-of- the-day). I have to use a bit more than 1 British tin of pineapple for  20 ozs.


Add 1 cup pecans, or walnuts.  Mix well. Put in an ungreased  pan about 13 x 9 inches.  Bake in moderate oven for 40 – 45 minutes. Add cream cheese or butter cream icing, or dust with powdered sugar when cool.

“Is that it?”, you ask. Yep, that’s it.  But let me tell you how others have used this recipe:

  • I use baking paper because I don’t always trust my elderly pans (shh, don’t tell them.)quilt 1
  • Older sister Anne (the singer) adds 2 small jars of baby carrots, mashed, and a cup of coconut.
  • Friend Linda adds ginger and mixed spice.
  • You? Can’t wait to hear.

quilt 2



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A Community of Activists

!Simon 4

Simon 3

This is Simon, literally breathing fire. We’ve known him since he grew up across the street from us– watching painfully as he hurled himself up and down our cul-de-sac on his monocycle, frequently crashing into fences, trees, and walls, then getting up and trying again.  And again.  And again.    Until he could sail past us easily, like a hot knife through butter.  As a boy he learned to become a magician by staring unblinkingly at infinitesimal changes in Paul Daniels’ TV shows, and trying again, and again, and again, to duplicate what he saw. Even at an early age, he could take a crowd’s breath away with his magic tricks. And he’s even better now.

Simon 2

As an adult these skills and persistence are coupled with a strong sense of justice. Besides his day job, he campaigns for the Palestinians, for animal rights, and against sneaky developers who claim to do one thing and build another.  These pictures were taken at a campaign to save the 300 Cressingham residents from the landlords who evicted them so that the flats could be gentrified for higher rents. He doesn’t give up.

It only takes 5% to change a community, for good or ill.  Activists need acknowledgement.  Praise.  Support.  Nurture.  Celebration. Take care of your own — they make us look at the injustices we choose not to see.

Mushroom Stroganoff(ish) for an Activist

Simon is a Vegan, so I made this recipe for him. It’s gluten-free, incidentally. 

mushrooms and cashews 1

The sauce.

Immerse 25 – 50 grams (1 small package, 1-2 ozs) dried porcini mushrooms in a cup of warm water until soft, about 30 minutes.

Strain and finely chop the dried mushrooms, reserving the soaking water. Saute 1 large or 2 small chopped onions in 1 tablespoon coconut oil.  Then add the chopped soaked dried mushrooms and go on frying.  Add the soaking water and cook on high heat until the water has disappeared but the mushroom flavour remains.  Sprinkle in 1 teaspoon of dried herbs (I use herbes de provence, but there’s also thyme, marjoram, or if you want to be amazing use tarragon.)  Add a can of fat-reduced coconut milk and bring to a simmer.  Thicken with 1 – 2 tablespoons of ground almonds.

The Filling.

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Meanwhile, put a roasting pan in the oven with 1 tablespoon coconut oil in it.  Heat the oven to moderately hot.  When hot, roll fresh quartered mushrooms into the oil and roast until lovely, succulent and brown but not dried out (around 20 minutes).  Use about 130 grams (about 5 ozs) fresh mushrooms for each serving.

When ready to serve, tumble the roasted mushrooms into the sauce, along with 200 grams (7 ozs) or so of unsalted cashews (you may wish to roast these for a few minutes in the oven, at the same time you’re roasting the mushrooms).  If too effete or insubstantial, bung in a can of beans (like flageolet, haricot, or butter beans).   Heat.  Season to taste.  Serve over (preferably) brown rice.

A NUT FREE version: thicken the gravy with gram flour (chickpea flour) or cornflour (cornstarch) instead of ground almonds .  Add a couple of tins of drained sliced water chestnuts for the crunch, and use more mushrooms.mushrooms and cashews 3

The food pictures  (with warm thanks to Ben Ruckman, photographer) were taken as we tried out Version 3 of this recipe, over a suppertime meeting.  This time we had it with jacket (baked) potato.  It was fine.

mushrooms and cashews 2



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A Community of Researchers

Chihuly 1

I recently encountered the most beautiful glass sculpture I’ve ever seen – a huge work of art that spanned two storeys of intricately blown glass in various shades of blue. Its sculptor Dale Chihuly calls it Tre Stelle di Lapis Lazzuli.  Its 2,071 pieces of glass weigh 4,300 lbs in total.  It’s breathtaking.

And where is this exquisite sculpture housed? Not in the hushed halls of a security-monitored museum, where bejewelled patrons with skewed lipstick pad silently in smug satisfaction, but smack dab in the middle of the foyer of Stanford University’s medical College in Silicon Valley, in the Stem Cell Research Centre, where white-coated scientists scurry about clutching documents, pausing now and then to check a poster announcing the next lecture, like “Pioneering Myriad Cures with Stem Cell Gene Therapies”.  (“There are about 10 000 human diseases,” says Maria Grazia Roncarolo, MD. “that are caused by errors in a single gene.”) – or to get a sandwich from the café, whose tomato sauce scents the whole foyer that holds this astounding creation, while worn-out Christmas jingles scratch the air.  That is where it is.  And that, dear reader, is exactly where it should be.  Art.  Science.  Together.   Always.

Colenel's Nostalgia 3

Having grown up in a medical family, I know that there is usually no time to eat. So, here’s a no-time-to-cook recipe gloriously and abundantly adjusted from Cook Now, Dine Later by Althaus and ffrench-Hodges.  It took me 15 minutes to prepare.

Colonel’s Nostalgia

Heat a walnut-sized blob of butter with a tablespoon of oil in a large heavy frying pan.  Saute a large onion, (or 2 small) chopped.  Oh, and add a chopped garlic clove, too, just so that you can admire its luminescently pearly pink skin.  Fry, covered, on a low gentle heat about 10 minutes until soft.  Add one thinly sliced pork fillet.  Cook, swirling it around in the butter, until all is uniformly un-pink.  Don’t cook too long, because you don’t want the meat to toughen.  Then add 3 teaspoons curry powder (strength is your choice) and mix in well.  Fry another minute until the curry doesn’t smell raw.  Then remove from heat.  Add 2 tablespoons brandy, swirl in, and about 5 – 6 tablespoons cream.   Serve on rice, toasted crumpet, baked potato, quinoa, pasta, or if you are going paleo, a beautiful bed of stir fried greens.

Alternatives: Now here’s the beauty of this recipe. For “meat” you can use sliced chicken fillet, firm fleshed fish, or that cooked turkey lurking at the back of your freezer from Christmas – add cooked meat just before you turn off the heat, get it hot and proceed as above.  For “cream” you can use cream substitute.  For additions, sprinkle with sliced almonds  and/or chopped parsley.  Add chopped water chestnuts, mushrooms  and/or dried apricots to the sauce.    The photo is purposely bland so that you can dream your own dream.

Vegetarians: try firm tofu or Indian commercially made paneer, either one added at the end of cooking. Let us know if it’s ghastly.


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A Community of Dog Walkers

Belle   Luna   Otto and Bert   Maya 

Murphy, R.I.Pl

Murphy, R.I.Pl


In a country where prevention of cruelty to animals gets Royal blessing (RSPCA) and the same for children only gets national blessing (NSPCC) I guess it’s not surprising that my articulately crafted, brilliantly witty poem against owning a dog never gets published. However, being a dog-less morning walker, I am free to fraternise with a host of canine characters – the one  who usually whines when its owner talks too long, the sweet gentle beast whose jaws can crunch lamb bones like Pringles; the tiny furry ball of ecstasy that greets me like missing family (oh that human beings could have such freedom of expression!), the massive white beauty who cowers at my American accent, the meter-high 7 month old puppy who already needs an elbow replacement, the feisty bundle of fury who if unrestrained, would attack the 40 mph motorcycle whizzing down the road (yeah, their noise bugs me, too), the dog who is crazy about feathers and trembles with excitement, waiting for the next delicate wisp to attack, the one who when spying me, insists that his Person changes direction just so that we can be together.   They are all friends.  I delight in their greetings and am sad when they die. And their owners are a host of lovely people (mostly without names) who greet me as Friend, too.  They are a wonderful, affectionate community that is part of my bigger community.  And I know of a similar community elsewhere in England who was the primary source of love, loyalty and support for a grieving man watching his wife slowly die.

Around here, we don’t always talk Dog. One owner (whose pet refuses to go upstairs every Thursday fortnight) fills me in on her confusingly expanding family of children, husband, ex-husband, mother, step children, grand- and great grandchildren whom she seems to be feeding continually.  Just today two or three of her exceedingly lucky family members are dropping in, so she has made: a lemon meringue pie, a “normal” sponge cake sandwiching strawberries and cream, a chocolate coated meringue filled with cream and fruit, a trifle, and something I’d never heard of before–strawberry slices.  I served this as one of a few desserts at a supper party of avid learners.  Best freshly made.

Strawberry Slices

Strawberry slices   Strawberry slices 2

  1. Roll commercial puff pastry about ¼ inch thick. Sprinkle with granulated sugar.  Cut into shapes or squares.
  2. Bake in a hot oven until brown and puffed up. Cool.
  3. Split each piece horizontally. Spread jam on the bottom, then whipped cream on both inner sides.
  4. Lay sliced strawberries on the lower half, and top with the top half.
  5. Optional: sprinkle tops with powdered sugar.

Alternatives: use sliced bananas or cooked fruit. If using frozen fruit, use it still frozen for easier handling.  Use a jam that is appropriate to the fruit (e.g. raspberry jam with raspberries, apricot jam with apricots, etc.)

This is easy enough and messy enough to invite the “help” of well-aproned little people.

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