In Need of Soup and Diplomacy – With Marcella #79 & #80 (of 466)

In the past 24 hours, I have experienced more help from friends than I would normally experience in 24 hours.

And I’ve needed that help – in big and small ways.

A friend contacted me quickly after I’d posted a blog post yesterday, to suggest I edit my post. She was right. It had not been written with the blessing of time, perspective and a good nap – and so was neither clear nor helpful. It certainly didn’t read how I’d intended it to read. I love my friend who speaks truth to me when I need it.

The irony was that it was a post about ‘diplomacy’ – or the lack of it! The reason for my haste in posting was that I was excited to have a photo of one of my Marcella-led creations – ‘Diplomatico’. Here’s the photo I was excited about remembering to take:



Later, a friend reminded me that I was loved – even with the tears and awkwardness that had preceded the reminder.

That evening, some friends rearranged another dinner engagement they had, to invite me over for dinner. They were graciously persistent in their invitation – even though I was feeling I’d be better staying in bed until my ‘diplomacy’ returned. These same friends prepared a beautiful dinner of mussels to share together. They cooked for me, asked questions, listened to me, prayed for me, and gave me a big hug.

Later that night, I needed to ask another friend for forgiveness for some other ‘undiplomatic’ behaviour. She lovingly and willingly gave it – making my heart lighter.

Today, at lunchtime, an older, wiser, very rational friend sat with me to go through some planning dates for my work – to make sure that my not-so-detailed brain was taking into account all the different contingencies that might arise from my plans. We did that checking of planning over a hearty, gorgeously thick and tasty bowl of soup.

Potato Soup with Smothered Onions

Potato Soup with Smothered Onions

Like most of Marcella’s recipes, the soup was simple to make. Like all of her recipes (excepting the boiled chestnuts), the soup was delicious!

The combination of simplicity, delight and comfort in the two recipes above was just a flavour of the same combination of simplicity, grace and comfort that my friends showed to me during these past 24 hours.

I thank God for good, honest food and good, honest friends.

At lunch yesterday and today: #79 ‘Diplomatico’ and #80 ‘Potato Soup with Smothered Onions’ with loving diplomatic friends at various tables.







Women in the Workplace – With Marcella #77 & #78 (of 466)

In my work with women, one of my favourite things is to meet with a group of ‘Women in the Workplace.’

In many churches there are groups during the day for women to meet and look at the Bible together and share the wisdom that God has given them for everyday living. However, it is rare that there is a group for women who are in the workplace during the day – a group that meets outside of normal working hours.

There are mixed groups where they can meet with men, but it’s sometimes helpful for women to gather and share some of the unique challenges they face in their workplaces – challenges which are almost always relational or the feeling of letting others down. Or for some it is the challenge of running a business or heading up a department while also running a home.

For most it is an opportunity to come and share a little (they are often bound by confidentiality requirements in their work) of the struggles and challenges they are facing. They then hear others facing similar challenges. Then they’re able to pray for one another and share wisdom from God’s word that has helped them in their own struggles.

I love these gatherings!

I never have to work hard to facilitate the discussion. The women come ready to share and hungry to hear how God’s word can be applied to the daily challenges they face. After gathering, they leave knowing they are not alone in their experiences – others face them too – and they are not alone as they walk into work again – God is with them.

Normally the group meets once every 4-6 weeks depending on the demands on their time. Some women come each time. Others come when they can. The last thing these women need is another item on their agenda or ‘to do’ list!

We normally meet over a cup of coffee or tea in one of their houses.

Last Friday night we met in one woman’s home around her lovely kitchen table. We ate a simple meal together and talked and laughed and shared and prayed. We all went away feeling a lot lighter than when we came.

Except for the weight we’d gained from a little dinner!

Last Friday night: #77 ‘Baked Rigatoni with Bolognese Meat Sauce,’ made with #78 ‘Bechamel Sauce’ with 6 women in the workplace around a working woman’s table.


Chestnuts?! Throw Them in an Open Fire! – With Marcella #75 & #76 (of 466)

This morning I am feeling a little disillusioned. I didn’t like one of the two recipes of Marcella’s that I cooked last night.

I try to tell myself that it’s not the fault of Marcella’s recipe – there were only three ingredients and two of them were favourites of mine (red wine and bay leaves).

But it turns out that I don’t like chestnuts. I really don’t. I made myself eat three just to be sure – but I don’t like the taste or the texture. The little bit of the flesh that got flavoured by the wine and bay leaves was marginally better.

But still, I feel a little bit sad.

If I’m really honest, I didn’t love the ‘Boiled Courgettes’ I cooked in the summer either – but they were still much more enjoyable than the chestnuts.

Which brings me to another source of disillusionment.

If I don’t wish to ever eat chestnuts again, then there will be two recipes in the book that I won’t complete. I’m trying to decide if this is freeing or troubling. Does it free me to not feel I have to cook every recipe in the book? Or does it mean it’s a another project that I’ll inevitably not complete.

If I’m honest, there wasn’t a big chance of my ever cooking the fourteen recipes of the ‘Variety Meats’ chapter. But still, I had thought I might battle through them anyway.

But now I’m left with the reality of two remaining chestnut recipes.

It’s not a life-shattering dilemma, but today just feels a little more sombre and troubling than it might otherwise have felt.

Last night: #75 ‘Risotto with Saffron, Milanese Style’ and #76 ‘Chestnuts Boiled in Red Wine, Romagna Style’ with the lovely Dawn at my table.


Meatballs – With Marcella #74 (of 466)

I’ve can only remember making meatballs twice in my life.

Once tonight. Once last year.

Last year, I was rolling them on a very hot day in a very hot apartment with a crowd of people who were getting to know each other – very loudly. I was very uncomfortable.

Tonight, I was rolling them and cooking them at a beautiful gas stove, in the home of beautiful, old friends. We ate them around a family dining table with the fire going in the background. We knew each other very well. I was very comfortable.

I am a big fan of the second of the two meatball experiences!

Tonight, at my friends’ table: #74  ‘Meatballs and Tomatoes’.

Fast Food & Slow Travel – With Marcella #72 & #73 (of 466)

Yesterday, it took me eight hours of travel to move from one very small island to another.

Trains, planes and automobiles were involved. But I couldn’t help thinking, that if there were no sea to cross, I possibly could have travelled the same distance overland in a horse and carriage, in the same amount of time. Including a stop for a hearty meal of meat and potatoes and a glass of warm ale in an inn along the way.

Alas, there was no visit to an inn. No hearty meal of meat and potatoes. Only a trail of very ordinary fast food items and snacks.

I’m glad I travelled. The old friends waiting with hugs at my destination made it all worthwhile. I only wish the travel experience could have been faster – or more enjoyable.

I’m thankful that the night before I travelled, I had the opportunity to cook some beautiful steak, purchased from the friendly local butcher, with a quick sauce to go with it. Marcella’s ‘fast food’ (for it took all of 10 minutes) was in a different league altogether to the pre-packaged sandwich and bag of crisps I partook of the following day.

Tonight I’m cooking Marcella’s ‘Chicken Cacciatora, New Version’ for dinner with the family I’m staying with – with some local potatoes mashed on the side. Between the steak and the chicken, lay a day of travel and a sandwich I’ll quickly forget…

…until I repeat the journey in reverse in a few days’ time.

At two different tables, on two different sides of the sea, with two lots of friends – #72 ‘Pan-fried Steaks with Marsala and Chilli Pepper’ and #73 ‘Chicken Cacciatora, New Version’.

Soft-Boiled Eggs

Today, for the first time ever, I cooked a soft-boiled egg.

I’ve boiled eggs before. I’ve just never mastered a soft-boiled one. Not that I’d ever tried before today. Today’s achievement was mostly due to my impatience. I was hungry. I wanted two boiled eggs. I turned the heat off more quickly than I normally would have. It wasn’t deliberate but the eggs turned out perfectly!

Today’s writing prompt has us thinking about the phrase ‘Life is too short for….’

My initial response was that life is too short for challenges! I’m supposed to be writing a post each day of the month of November. I’d signed up for a challenge.

I quickly came to the conclusion that sometimes challenges are just burdens in disguise. Furthermore, when it’s a challenge you needn’t have taken on, it’s a self-inflicted burden.

I was going to give up. Who would care, anyway?

I was going to set myself a new challenge – the challenge of not following challenges to the letter – and being OK with that! Who am I fooling?

Normally I love challenges. I rise to them! As long as they’re not too challenging.

This morning I failed several challenges and that was just one morning.

So I boiled two eggs for lunch and without setting myself the challenge of cooking them correctly, they turned out beautifully.

I’m going to go easy on the challenges for a while.

We’ll see how challenging that proves to be.

Life in the Jungle – Chapter Six – Doris the Consistently Caring Duck

A friend requested a story to fit her book of illustrations. The illustrations will follow in due course. It is a story with seven chapters (seven illustrations, that is) and the story starts here. In the meantime, I have sketched my impression of Doris (see below).

Doris the Consistently Caring Duck

Doris the Consistently Caring Duck


Doris the Duck was all about caring. There were many who cared about others, but Doris did it consistently, carefully and conscientiously. You could always rely on Doris to be there when you needed her. Doris would care above and beyond the call of duty.

She certainly did when it came to caring for Maurice the Fun-Loving Monkey.

Maurice had fallen out of a tree after his swing had broken. His friends had done all they could to make sure he was taken swiftly to be taken care of by Doris. They knew she would know just how to nurse her new patient.

It turned out that Maurice was a patient who would test anyone’s patience.

At first, Maurice wasn’t aware that he was a patient. His head was still fuzzy from the fall and he had drifted off to sleep while Lucy and Lynette the Lamenting Lyre Birds had sung their beautiful song.

While he was sleeping, Doris carefully washed the mud off Maurice (for he had fallen into a muddy puddle underneath the tree). Then she plucked the leaves from his fur (for he had fallen past several branches on his way down). She removed the splinters from his hands (for he had made the swing himself) and she laid him gently on a bed of fresh leaves and soft grass.

This took Doris quite some time. Having wings, not hands or paws, made things a little trickier. But Doris was up for a challenge!

When Maurice woke up, things got a little more challenging.

‘Nurse!’ cried Maurice.

‘Yes, Maurice?’ replied Doris.

‘I’m thirsty!’

Doris hurried to the pond and brought some lovely cool water back for Maurice to drink.


‘Yes, Maurice?’

‘I’m hungry!

‘I’ll fetch you something to eat,’ said Doris.

‘No, don’t leave me! I’ll be lonely! Oh, so lonely! So, so lonely!’

What was Doris to do? She couldn’t find food and keep Maurice company.

She soon came up with a solution. Doris was good at problem-solving. In her spare time she’d been taking crisis-calming classes taught by Frank the Rapid-Fire Response Frog.

She called Bernard and Barry the Data-Collecting Bears. They were willing to help and knew just the right places to find food. They had very good taste in food and Doris had every confidence that they’d come back with just the right thing.

While they searched for food that was both nutritious and made from the finest ingredients, Doris sat with her lovely soft wing around Maurice’s shoulders. Maurice was very happy. At least for a little while. Then,


‘No need to shout, Maurice. I’m right here.’

‘But I’m bored! B-O-R-E-D! Bored, I tell you! This being a patient is no fun whatsoever!’

Doris managed not to take this personally. She smiled patiently, then suggested that perhaps Lucy and Lynette might sing a song to Maurice to cheer him up. Maurice thought that was a lovely idea. Lucy and Lynette were only too happy to help. They sang some happy songs as they flew around above Maurice. Maurice felt very happy indeed. Then,


‘What is it now, Maurice?’

‘I feel like nobody really cares about me being a patient, lying here all sick and sad and hungry’ (for he had quickly forgotten about the birds’ songs and the bears’ gourmet sandwiches).

Doris was relieved to see, at that very moment, Gordon the Complicated Giraffe coming to deliver a ‘Get Well’ card to Maurice. She knew for a fact that Gordon’s cards were always beautifully written and that it would make Maurice feel very special. Gordon’s card was beautiful and Maurice felt very special. For a little while. Then,


‘WHAT!’ Doris quacked.

Maurice was startled! Doris was always so patient with her patients. He started to cry.

Doris felt awful! She hated it when this happened. She had tried so hard to be patient and caring but she had got tired. Her wing hurt from holding Maurice. Her feathers were all muddy from all the waddling back and forth to care for him. She was hungry, too. Bernard and Barry had thoughtfully brought her an extra sandwich, but Maurice had liked the look of hers and she’d offered it to him instead.

All that pressure and she’d quacked! Doris felt awful! She waddled very quickly to the pond, swam out into the deepest part, ducked her head under the water and her tail in the air and she let out a great big ‘QUACK!!!!’ under the water.

Doris Quacks!

Doris Quacks!

No one heard her, of course. She didn’t want anyone to see how tired and overwhelmed she was. She felt much calmer with her head under the water, but soon she had to come back up for air.

When she finally came up for air, what she saw was not good! Things had turned very bad, very quickly.

Bernard and Barry were exhausted from running around finding more and more food. Their furry brows were furrowed – and when Bernard and Barry’s brows were furrowed, you knew they were not doing well at all.

Gordon was crying behind the tree because he’d started thinking about how he hardly ever got cards when he wasn’t feeling great.

Lucy and Lynette were tired from flying and singing endlessly to keep Maurice amused.

And Maurice? He was lying flat on his back crying and occasionally calling out ‘Nurse! Nurse! I have no nurse!’

Doris stuck her head back under the water and waited.

She knew He would come. It was times like these, when everyone was at the end of themselves, that He always came. She waited and trusted that He’d come again.

It was times like these that they all needed the King of the Jungle.


Tune in for the next chapter when the King of the Jungle will hopefully arrive. Will he be scary or kind?

Please feel free to leave questions, suggested changes, critique about the feasibility of the story, or other editorial comments below. This is a work in progress.


Dear Pillow

Dear Pillow,

Or should I say ‘Neck-Support Pillow’ for you are not like other pillows.

You are unique. You have that lovely curvy edge where other pillows are flat. You remember me well and adapt to me in a way no other pillow can.

I tried searching in other places for help. I placed my head (and life) in the hands of those who would seek to tug and twist my neck into place. But when I finally found you, you just let me rest my weary head and the pain floated away.

You’ve given me rest. You’ve removed the pain. You’ve soaked up tears and, let’s face it, occasional dribbling as I’ve slept deeply. You’ve been there as I’ve tossed and turned. You’ve given a platform for dreams and plans and problem-solving. You’ve listened to the sighs of contentment as I’ve laid down my head to rest after a busy, fulfilling day. You’ve heard the silent sighs of angst after a day of challenges and disappointments.

I need you in my life. You know I can’t go a day without you. I’ve tried but the pain I feel is not worth the absence. This means I have to pay for checked-in luggage each time I travel in order to accommodate your bulky frame.

But you’re worth it.

Pillow, I need you. That is all that need be said.

Yours, in need of neck-support.


Dutiful Gamblers Anonymous

I could easily be addicted to gambling. It’s hard to know this for a fact without testing it out, but I figure my childhood experience at Primary School fetes gives a fair indication.

My parents would give me $5 to spend at the fete – a huge sum for a child in those dim and distant days. It should have got me a sausage sandwich, some fairy floss and perhaps some little treasure from the ‘White Elephant’ stall.

No, it got me as far as the ‘Lucky Envelope’ stall where I’d proceed to cautiously spend $2 buying tickets, win a bit or win my money back, feel lucky, then blow the rest of my cash in one fell swoop. It was always on that second go that I would LOSE EVERYTHING.

I say always, because it took me a few years of school fetes to see a pattern emerging.

Recently, on a little mini break with friends, we were scheduled (much to my dismay) to play a French game with numbered tiles. I don’t much like French. The language, that is. The people are lovely, I’m sure. I certainly don’t love numbers. I like my game tiles to have letters on them, with numbers merely serving the purpose of scoring the letters.

Well, to my delight, one of the more attentive of our group, noticed that there was some kind of false bottom on the coffee table of the holiday cottage. We soon discovered that there was a marvellous collection of gambling games under the table top! There was even a roulette wheel!! I had only ever seen these marvels in movies – and here was one right in front of us!

My friends agreed to play one game (I persuaded them to play three). No money changed hands. The mathematician among us won. It was actually pretty boring and nothing at all like the glamorous, tension-filled scenes in the movies. I liked using the little scraper thing that gathers all the lost chips, but that was the extent of the delights for me.

We then moved to the dreaded French game with numbers. They somehow convinced me that if you lost (or won? I can’t remember) you had to sing the French National Anthem. I complained that I didn’t know it – but I could remember my Primary School Anthem. Don’t ask me how. I couldn’t tell you the names of most of my friends at school but I can somehow tell you the words of the anthem.

You must imagine a stirring, but annoyingly addictive tune as you read:

Above the river stands the hillside

And above the hillside stands the trees.

Above the trees there stand the mountains,

Gazing eastward to the seas.

Above our pleasure put our duty.

Hold our heads high loyal and true.

But our honour, this above all,

For our school, Mt.Riverview.

As I sang to my friends that evening, I was struck for the first time by the emphasis on putting duty above pleasure. I don’t believe you’d find that affirmation in any current school song. Perhaps schools don’t have songs anymore? Perhaps the children are encouraged to compose their own song? Pleasure would no doubt be encouraged (and perhaps it should be) and the only duty would be the duty to be true to one’s self and achieve one’s best.

In my school song, our duty seemed to be toward our school – certainly our honour was to be for the school, above anything else. If the song was to be sung with any conviction and integrity, we should all have given our whole lives to the service of our local primary school. At that age I’m not sure we would have known how to do that – apart from turning up each day, not passing notes in class, and standing in straight lines when lines were required – or even when they weren’t.

I liked school. But I wouldn’t have given my life for it.

I am, however, all for duty. I’m quite compulsively dutiful. This addiction to duty doesn’t make me a better person. In fact it can sometimes make me quite a pain to be around and, when I fail at my duty, rather gloomy company.

Recently I had to be given a new, temporary duty: the duty to drop pretty much every other duty and rest. It had to be put to me like that – a duty – otherwise I wouldn’t have taken the command seriously.

It’s a sad reality when someone has to dutifully rest from obsessive duty. There were other factors that contributed to my tiredness – but one factor was the upholding of duty.

It’s not that replacing duty with pleasure is the answer either. I tried that. It just felt a little empty. And pleasure, no matter how good and wholesome, only lasts for a moment.

It turns out, after dutifully resting and gaining perspective, that the answer is the same as it’s always been. It’s all about what, or who, you honour.

I didn’t honour my Primary School. But I have at times honoured others above the God who made me and them. In the end that honouring of others and their needs was a form of honouring myself above God. I was forgetting to keep pointing them (and myself) to the Lord who can fix the problems they have and take the burdens they carry.

Rest is one of the best ways to honour the Lord. It’s a way of saying ‘I can stop for awhile because God never stops.’ More than that, he doesn’t need to stop. His energy and strength is boundless. He’s in control, not me, so I can take a break. I can be weak because he is strong.

For a few weeks I did become addicted to sleep and compulsive napping – but I needed it. Now I’ve had a rest I can see things a little more clearly – me, others, and the God whose honour I live for.

That’s a duty worth being addicted to. A duty I can rest in. A duty that brings pleasure that lasts forever.

5 Down – Plenipotentiary

My favourite holiday memory? (so asks the NaBloPoMo prompt for today)

I don’t like it when I’m asked for one favourite of anything.

Once I was asked, when being interviewed in front of an audience, what my favourite food was? One favourite? Really??

Fortunately, earlier that day, I had been given advance notice of the questions they would ask, including the unanswerable favourite food question. My sweet, gentle, quiet hosts who had listened to me chatter away earlier that day, reminded me that, while I was chattering over breakfast I had mentioned that I love porridge. I do love porridge and we were eating it that morning! They also reminded me that while I was chattering over lunch, I had mentioned how much I loved sandwiches. I do love sandwiches and we were eating them that lunchtime!

‘So,’ he suggested, ‘There’s your answer!’

Needless to say, the answer was not one the interviewer or audience expected that night.

If I have to think of my favourite holiday memories, I would have to say they are ‘porridge and sandwich’ memories. Not literally. But they are wonderful and comforting, like said tasty morsels.

Like sitting on a park bench trying to take a group-bench-selfie and me laughing until I cried – which was a bit awkward – but lovely nevertheless.

Like drinking a beer and eating an Austrian sausage while sitting with friends on a hay bale in a harvested sunflower field, surrounded by sunflowers yet to be harvested.

Like a table with candles, a pot of stew and friends sitting around it eating, until the dog barked to remind us he hadn’t had dinner yet.

Like the peace and safety of the kindly offered house of dear friends – and the mid-afternoon naps I availed of there.

Like the day where I read a book that made me laugh out loud in a cafe and cry out loud in my room as I finished it. Then falling asleep again – because I could.

Like a chapter of a book read each morning with an espresso, in a cafe, in the piazza of an Italian village.

Like a letter written to my old friend of 35 years while sitting in the Pump Room in Bath and listening to a string quartet. My friend and I have been writing hand-written letters to each other for 30 of those 35 years of friendships and we try to find locations for writing that we’d both enjoy.

Like the many times I’ve completed a crossword on holiday with friends. With coffee, with onion bhajis, even with porridge topped with a little whiskey and cream.

I especially love the memory of three days of holiday with a good friend before her marriage, a crossword completed each day (that was a holiday record for us!) and the one day where we hit the jackpot:

5 Down: Plenipotentiary


‘Plenipotentiary’ is the answer. I can’t remember what the clue was and it’s covered by the pen in the photo.

All my favourite holiday memories are ‘porridge and sandwich’ kind of memories. They’re also pretty recent memories…because my memory is generally not great!

What are your favourite holiday memories like?

And does anyone know what the clue for ‘5 Down’ would have been??