John’s mother is here for her annual springtime visit, which means we are dashing about to restaurants, plays, shopping and the like. And even before she arrived, life was full of adventures, the last week or so.
Uppermost in my mind, of course, is bell-ringing. I have had my fourth lesson, since Arnold has decided that once a week isn’t enough to get me up to speed. So for the foreseeable future, I will be tied to Bell Number Four on Thursday afternoons and Saturday mornings, pulling away at my rope.
In fact, truth be told, I am not “bell ringing” at all. I am merely “rope-pulling,” since my bell has been silenced, to protect the neighborhood from the incessant and meaningless clanging that would result from my early efforts.
I arrived and parked my beloved bike outside the bellringing chamber, stowed away my helmet in my new cool nylon basket, clipped to the front of my bike. Arnold was sweeping the inevitable pollen and leaves from the chamber floor and said, “We’ll have to be quiet today, Kristen, as there’s…
No, not this lovely salad. That’s the flank steak dish I told you about yesterday, with shredded carrots added to the second try. Avery says this: “The bean sprouts are already kind of sweet, and the beef is so savory, that I worry it overpowers the beef to add carrots, but it’s good.” I like them for the color, but you try it both ways and see. We’ve finally come to the end of the leftover flank steak. I love what Gladys Taber says about leftovers, “it’s a terrible word. ‘Remainders’ is even worse.” But if you can use things in a nice way, it’s so satisfying and budget-conscious.
No, what I’m talking about as far as diet-busting, uber-rich, super special-treat, is… Homemade Fried Chicken! Have you ever fried chicken? Neither had I, until last night. For some reason it sounded so good, and so ambitious to do, that I thought about it all afternoon and read Laurie Colwin’s recipe in Home Cooking (here adapted by Sara Moulton for the Food Network, and Bobby Flay’s online version, and then adapted both sets of instructions to my own approach. Mostly I needed help in depth of oil, timing and what to do with it when it’s cooked. Turns out, the short answers are: 2 inches, 12 minutes, lay it on paper towels. But here’s the real deal. The secret to my flavoring is a tablespoon of a new spice blend I found in the fabulous Penzeys Spice Shop in Minneapolis, led there by my talented and energetic niece Sarah.
Homemade Fried Chicken
1 chicken cut up (breast halves cut in half again)
1 cup milk
1 1/2 cups flour
1 tbsp each: Fox Point seasoning, paprika, garlic salt, lemon pepper
Wesson Oil to fill 2 inches deep in large, deep-sided skillet (with a lid)
Mix the spices in the flour by means of a leak-proof plastic bag (possibly the one you carried the chicken home in?).
Have a bowl ready for your milk, a big bowl for your seasoned flour, a platter for the floured pieces, and the skillet ready full of oil. Since I am notoriously bad at keeping track of heating skillets, I waited until I had finished dipping the chicken pieces to heat the oil. Probably you can pay attention to each, and if so, more power to you.
Dip each chicken piece in milk and wet every bit. Then place in seasoned flour and pack as much flour as you can on each piece, laying each one on the platter when you’ve finished. When you’re finished, dust a little more seasoned flour on the waiting layer of chicken pieces.
DON AN APRON. I’m not kidding. And place either a dishtowel or some paper towel on the floor under the front of the stove. But don’t slide on it!
Heat the oil until a piece of bread on the end of a fork fries immediately when placed in the oil. Then places as many pieces as you can of the chicken in the bubbling oil. You can crowd a bit, because the chicken pieces shrink as they cook. Cover immediately and cook for about 5 minutes, then turn each piece carefully. Continue to cover and cook, turn and cover and cook, several times, but letting at least 10 minutes elapse for the breast quarters and wings, and at least 14 minutes for the thighs and drumsticks. When they look brown and appealing, they are ready. Remove to a clean platter lined with paper towels and let rest for about 5 minutes before eating.
Ambrosia! But RICH. If you’re like our family, you don’t eat much fried food. You’ll be surprised at how little it takes to satisfy you. Then quickly wrap up any leftovers, drive to your neighbor Farmer Rollie and his wife Judy, and donate them. They will be thrilled, and it’s a good excuse to sit and gossip for a bit.
We’re off to the pool. More later…
Be honest: how many times have you ordered a pizza and when it comes, and you’re eating it, you think, “This tastes like nothing.” Then you start to think that you paid, what, 8 pounds for it, 15 or so pounds if you got two, and it tastes like… nothing. Plus you have to get rid of those boxes. The whole scenario is annoying. And the only reason you did it was to save time because you got home late from the stable or the skating rink and it was all you could think of. Well, that can be history. All you have to do is invest a little bit of time and a little bit of kneading, and a really fabulous pizza is in your future. Trust me: if you hate to cook, have scrambled eggs, but if you like to cook at ALL, don’t order another pizza, just do this:
Pizza at Home
(serves four today and four later in the week)
4 cups “strong flour”, like Hovis, plus more for dusting
2 cups-ish warm water
1 sachet powdered yeast (Hovis fast action is good)
1 tsp sugar
1 tbsp dried thyme leaves
1 tbsp dried oregano
1 tsp sea salt
olive oil for brushing
Veggies: thin-sliced red peppers, red onions, tomatoes
Cheeses: shredded commercial mozzarella, sliced fresh mozzarella, goats cheese
Meats: prosciutto, parma ham, salami, sausage
Sauces: fresh pesto, tomato sauce, harissa
Don’t be shy. I was shy about getting my hands messy, but it was fine in the end. Of course, I was with my intrepid cooking friend Vincent when I made my maiden dough voyage, but you can do it too. Just pretend that someone brave is standing beside you to guide you through the uncharted waters. Take off all your rings, bracelets and watch, wash your hands thoroughly, and go.
Pour the flour into a large bowl. With a whisk, mix the yeast and sugar into the warm water (the temperature should be like that of a baby’s bottle of milk). Let the water and yeast sit for a bit while you find your herbs and scatter them onto the flour. Now begin to mix the herbs into the flour, add the salt, and the water should be ready: a bit bubbly on top. Pour yourself a little mound of extra flour on a VERY clean countertop (I don’t have a pastry insert, but some lucky people do). Pour about half your water onto the flour and DIG IN. Mix it with your hands in a sort of scooping, rolling motion. It will stick to your hands like crazy, but don’t fret. It will come off. Add more water and keep mixing until the dough is elastic-feeling and sticky, but not liquidy. If you add too much water, don’t worry: add more flour. As Vincent says, “It’s its own thing, you can’t hurt it.” Gradually the ball will pick up most of the bits inside the bowl and then you know you’re done mixing. Does that make sense? It’s easier to do than to describe, I’m finding!
When the dough is a nice sticky ball in the bowl, cover it with a clean dishtowel and leave it for about an hour and a half. All you have to do to get your hands clean is to dust them with lots of flour and rub them together: the dough gets dry and falls off, very neatly.
The dough should just about double in bulk. Then give it a few nice whacks with your fist and turn it out onto your very clean, flour-covered countertop. You should have enough for two pizzas, so cut the dough in half and wrap one of them in plastic wrap to save in the fridge for the next time (this dough will stay nice and fresh for at least three days). Knead the dough, dusting with flour all the time, turning the edges under and turning the ball around so you’re constantly turning under a new edge. Knead for about 10 minutes.
With a flour-covered rolling pin, roll out the dough into the shape of your pizza pan (I used a nice perforated-bottomed round pizza pan, but you can use anything, even a cookie sheet). Remember to keep flouring the countertop so the dough does not stick.
Spread the dough out onto the pan. With a pastry brush, brush olive oil over the whole surface.
Now you can top your pizza. Start with the sauce, whichever you choose (or all!). Then layer the vegetables over the sauce. Avery intelligently pointed out that the onions should be under everything else, so they don’t just frizzle and get black, since they’re not very liquidy. Add whatever meats you like (or all! or none), and finish with cheese. Bake in a hot oven (400-ish) for about 25 minutes, or until the cheeses are nice and bubbly. Voila.
I guarantee you that this pizza will be more savory, more fresh, and more nutritious than anything you could bring in. Plus cheaper, and your kitchen will smell cozy and inviting. And if I can do it, anyone can. I never bake, and I can tell you that I had to buy a new pastry brush, and a rolling pin, just for the purpose of making this pizza. And I’m glad I did. Thank you, dear Vincent, for making it so easy and tempting to do on my own. I have to say, a silicone pastry brush is a dandy little item to have in your kitchen: it comes perfectly, elegantly clean every time. I’m sure in no time I’ll be glazing every flat surface in my home with egg white, but for now, olive oil on pizza crust is quite enough.
If you don’t want to go to the admitted bit of effort that a pizza takes, how about a nice shoulder of pork? So inexpensive and so delicious. And effort-free, nearly. And the cooking aromas will bring everyone in your house into the kitchen, asking, “When do we eat?” Last night Avery was curled up in the chair in the kitchen, book in hand, and said, “Gosh, it’s cozy in here.”
Roast Shoulder of Pork with Rosemary and Garlic
1 shoulder of pork, rolled and tied
four stems fresh rosemary, leaves removed and chopped
4 cloves garlic, chopped
juice of 1 lemon
1 tsp sea salt
several grinds of fresh black pepper
1 tbsp olive oil
Mix all the marinade ingredients and smear (awful word) over the shoulder of pork. Place in a baking dish sprayed with nonstick spray. Roast at 350 degrees for at least two hours (if you turn the oven down lower it can roast even longer). Couldn’t be easier, and the meat is simply divine: tender, juicy, salty.
If you can get pea sprouts where you live, DO. I’m not 100% sure why they are called pea sprouts, when they look like nothing so much as little spinach leaves. But Marks and Spencer say they’re pea sprouts, and ever since I had them at E&O in Notting Hill, I have been devoted to them. You need a LOT to feed even three people, because like all green leaves, they cook down instantly into almost nothing. So count on a package per person, at least. They are so good for you, too.
Asian Wilted Pea Sprouts
4 packages pea sprouts (about 8 cups, loosely packed), washed and spun dry
1 tbsp sesame oil
1 tbsp soy sauce
1 tbsp mirin (Japanese rice wine)
juice of 1 lime
2 cloves garlic, finely minced
In a large skillet, place all the sauce ingredients and simmer until garlic is nicely softened. Pile all the greens into the skillet and hold over low heat, lifting the greens with tongs until all have been coated with the sauce. The leaves will gradually wilt down to a fraction of their volume. So simple, so delicious. The stems have a little crunch and the leaves are silky and refreshing.
All right, we’re off to make a little tour of the neighborhood that encloses our latest house possibility. It’s a former vicarage, so the estate agents say, just below Hammersmith Road. Not a location to make you sit up and sing, perhaps, and the house is so ridiculously over-priced that it makes you wonder if anything the estate agents say can possibly true. Maybe it’s not a vicarage at all; maybe it’s the former headquarters of MI6. We are getting seriously fatigued by the house hunt. Even John, who previous to this excursion could have, I would say, looked at houses infinitely, is tired of the search. We have just two weeks before we leave for the summer in Connecticut and something deep within me would like to have a house before we go. Wish us luck…
Before you get all scared, this photograph is not a soup of any kind, it’s the macaroni and cheese I made as an antidote to the soup, which was odd. Wasn’t it Abraham Lincoln who said, “If you like that kind of thing, it’s the kind of thing you’ll like”? If not, then I said it, because this homily perfectly expresses the way I feel about the soup I invented today (vaguely inspired by a recipe in Hello! magazine, maybe that’s the root of the problem). I think it was good, if only I liked that kind of thing. But I don’t. And neither does John. So I passed it along to Becky, who is the sort of friend who will try something you preface with, “I didn’t really like it, so why don’t you have a go?” The jury is still out with their family, as I fear she may make everyone try it. The more tastebuds the better.
But before I go any further with that, my macaroni and cheese turned out completely wonderful, and I’m ashamed to say that in the run-up to dinner, when Avery is meant to be in her bath, I should be doing the salad, John’s paying bills online, in reality we are all snatching little bites from the perfect bubbly surface. So all was not lost in my culinary day.
And the memories of last night’s dinner in London Bridge at Vincent’s house should have been enough, alone, to propel one through a Sunday afternoon. For a ton of people, including lots of children, on a cold, spitty, rainy Saturday night in London, the enormous pot of ragu he served (with penne and shaved parmesan) was the perfect dish. Now do not be intimidated by the number of ingredients. For one thing, all the vegetables can be chopped in your food processor. And anyway, this is the type of recipe that you putter at, while listening to Edward Petherbridge reading “A Presumption of Death.” Have you heard about Jill Paton Walsh’s stewardship of the Lord Peter Wimsey legacy? Dorothy L. Sayers left behind notes for several Wimsey books, after her death, and Walsh has done a remarkable job with this one, recreating the characters of “Busman’s Honeymoon” perfectly, but not as a parody. Anyway, with a great audiobook at your ears, you can tie on your apron and get cooking.
Spicy Party Ragu
(serves 8 easily)
1 pound minced lamb
1/2 pound each: minced beef, veal, pork, smoked streaky bacon (American style)
2 large chorizo sausages
1 large onion, roughly chopped
1 pound mushrooms, roughly chopped
1 each red, green, yellow peppers, roughly chopped
1 medium aubergine (eggplant), roughly chopped
4 fresh tomatoes, roughly chopped
2 soup-size tins peeled plum tomatoes
1/2 large bottle of tomato sauce
2 tbsp of tomato puree
1 tbsp sugar
1 tsp each dried oregano, basil, thyme
chili flakes to taste (but don’t be a wimp!)
2 bay leaves
1 cup red wine
Handful fresh oregano
Handful fresh basil
Handful fresh thyme
4 large cloves of garlic, minced
3 cups frozen prawns
3 cups frozen oysters
3 cups chicken pieces cut into 1cm cubes
Put a large pot to the side of the stove. As you cook each batch of ingredients, place them in the large pot. In a large frying pan, begin by cooking all the meat (In separate batches, though you can combine veal and beef) until browned and season with salt and pepper to taste. Whizz the bacon in your food processor till it is in 1 cm pieces. Cook until crispy, and be sure to add at least some of the rendered bacon fat
with the meat to the pot. Saute the chorizo last. When the sausages are done, set aside to cool. In a food processor, prepare the vegetables.
With plenty of olive oil, start by sauteing the onions in the same pan you cooked the meats in. When they are starting to brown, add the mushrooms. When the mushrooms have softened a bit, add the aubergines and finally the peppers. When the vegetables are all done, add them to the pot with the meat. Whizz the cooled chorizo to the same size bits as the cooked ground meat you already have in the pot, and add to the pot. Add the fresh, tinned, pureed and pasted tomato to the pot along with the bay leaves and the red wine. Bring the mix to a roiling simmer and turn the heat down to a medium-low level. Add the rest of the dried herbs, chili and sugar. Cook for at least 2 hours (the longer the better), stirring from time to time. The sauce will render quite a bit of liquid and look soupy for a while, and then as you continue to simmer it, the liquid will boil away. Turn the heat down low and add the optional ingredients if you choose to use them. Just before serving, add the chopped fresh herbs and the garlic. Taste for salt and pepper, give it a good stir and leave it alone until you’re ready to serve. Serve over penne with shaved parmesan.
This was sublime. Of course as well there was a beautiful salad with beetroot sprouts, a luxurious cheeseboard and an enormous, massive, lime-spiked cheesecake for pudding. There with us were Vincent’s elegant French stepmother, two rather famous English architects and their beautiful blond children (I think we could fix up the little boy with Avery right now and save all that dating nonsense later on), an American diplomat and his German wife, and a Nigerian fashion designer. It was like eating at the UN. And we stayed so late! I am so old now that I really feel it if I’ve been up late, plus I find I have to stay up for a certain number of hours after I get home, thinking about what everyone said and did. So Sunday found me rather lazily walking around the Marylebone Farmer’s Market, trying to be inspired. Unfortunately what I was inspired to do was this soup, on which I welcome comments, or better versions. Was it too much orange?
Butternut Squash Soup with Orange
3 tbsps butter
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 butternut squash, seeded and peeled and cut in small cubes
juice and zest of 4 oranges
800 g chicken stock
2 tsps curry powder
1/2 tsp chili powder
salt to taste
1/2 cup creme fraiche
chives to garnish
In a medium saucepan, melt the butter and soften the garlic, then add squash and stir till coated with butter. Cover with stock, add juice and zest, and simmer until soft, then puree with a hand blender and run through a sieve if you like a finer texture. Add spices and whisk in creme fraiche. Simmer until thick, and garnish with chopped chives.
So what went wrong? I tasted it, John tasted it, we added more spices, more salt. It was tasty. But I didn’t like it, and neither did he. So I packed it up and took it to Becky, who tasted it and at first she liked it, then she thought perhaps it had a bitter aftertaste. Did I simmer it too long and the zest got nasty? Too much orange? I don’t know. I still think the concept is good, and it was certainly very pretty and undoubtedly nutritious.
But dinner time saw us crouched happily over our macaroni and cheese, and bangers, and a huge salad of my favorite lamb’s lettuce and rocket, with cucumbers. Ah well, you experiment, sometimes you succeed, friends cook brilliantly for you, and then you end up with the old favorites on a Sunday evening. I’m sure there’s a moral in all that somewhere.
This will be rather an odd week, I think. Or at least toward the end. Avery’s school term ends on Thursday at noon, at which point she and her little friends will repair to Build-a-Bear in Covent Garden for beloved Anna’s birthday party. Becky is a saint to host them there yet another time. Then a sleepover, then Friday we drive Avery down to Surrey for three days and nights of… pony camp! At the country outpost of Ross Nye Stables, where she’ll sleep in something called a yurt (?) and eat who knows what, and spend all the days mucking out stalls and riding. She has never been away from home for more than a single night, and I don’t think she’s ever done anything that John and I have never done. Been somewhere we’ve never been! What a milestone. I wonder what on earth John and I will find to do in her absence. Well, for one thing we’re going to spend the Friday night in a very sweet-sounding country hotel, the Angel Posting House, near the camp. But then we’ll have the whole weekend on our own. I’m sure we can find something to keep us out of trouble…
That’s one of Avery’s and my favorite lines from the Laurie Colwin book “Family Happiness.” Two European immigrants are sharing childhood songs, in German, and translating them for their families. After one particularly silly song, though, Klaro says, “There is no translation for this song. It is merely some incoherent ravings about food.”
So I have had a very foody few days, and have been working hard on both my own cookbook and the editing job I’m meant to be doing for Gladys Taber’s work, for her granddaughter Anne Colby in Connecticut. I thought that in addition to keeping you up to date on how riding is going in Wimbledon, and how we spent our weekend, it might be nice to give you a couple of excellent recipes that my friend Susan and I have been sharing and commenting on. That’s the beauty of food. Someone invites you for lunch and you love what she serves, so you ask for the recipe. Then you get to natter on in your email exchange about not just the recipe, but what’s happening in Form Four at King’s College, and what I might say at the Royal Academy where Susan works, when I lecture on my sculptor. We also get to trade husband stories and go off on tangents about odd people we know in common. Then you invite her to dinner and she likes what you made, and it all gets started again. It’s so much more than just eating. And every time I make this curry dish, or she makes my fried rice, we will tell the people we’re feeding all about each other, and for the moment I’ll be in Susan’s kitchen with her, and she’ll be in mine. I love that about food.
I’m not going to lie to you: both of these recipes require that you like messing about with food. They’re not shortcuts and they’re not labor-free. They also have two other things in common: once you’ve made them, you’ll never want to have the takeaway/order-out versions of either of them again. And they’re great for leftovers, which helps with the effort you’re putting in. These are recipes for a day when you have some time early on, perhaps, and then a chunk of time when you can’t be in the kitchen, and then some time right before you want to eat.
Susan’s Moroccan Chicken Curry
2 tbsps olive oil
2 tbsps butter
2 onions, chopped
4 carrots, chopped or grated
3 boneless whole chicken breasts, well trimmed and cut into bite-size chunks
2 apples, coarsely chopped
4 oranges, squeezed and pulp included, but no seeds
1 large chunk of fresh ginger, peeled & grated
1 tsp ginger powder
4 tbsps sweet curry powder, not hot
2 cups chicken stock
1 cup white wine
2 cups single cream
In a large, deep saucepan, melt the butter with the olive oil. Add the onions, then the carrots and let them cook/soften a bit (as for a risotto). Then add the chicken chunks, stir and brown a bit. Then add the apple, the orange juice, the ginger, the curry, the stock and the wine. Simmer for about 10 minutes, then add the cream. In total, for this to be properly cooked, it should gently simmer for about 45 minutes. You can then re-heat it before eating, or once cooled, put it away in the fridge until the next day.
This is a very flexible recipe – you can vary how fine or coarse everything gets chopped, and you can vary the flavors according to taste (more orange, spicier curry, etc.) Sometimes I have also used some plain yogurt in addition to cream. Serve with Basmati Rice (always steamed in one and a half times the amount of water as rice).
Kristen’s Festive Fried Rice
An Undetermined Amount of Peanut Oil
1 red onion, diced
three cloves garlic, diced
1 big chunk ginger, peeled and chopped
2 cups of leftover pork, chicken, beef or prawns, cut in bite-size pieces (more than one of these if you like)
1 cup each: chopped broccoli, carrots, red peppers, sugar snap peas, green beans (diced small)
1 bunch green or “salad” onions, sliced thin
1 handful bean sprouts
three eggs, beaten thoroughly
dash sesame oil
soy sauce to taste
2 cups basmati rice
First, put the rice to cook with three cups water and salt. Then, in a hot wok, cover the bottom with peanut oil and saute the garlic, ginger, onion and meat until hot through, and the garlic, etc. are nicely softened, then remove with a slotted spoon to a really big bowl. Then saute the broccoli, carrots, pepper, sugar snap peas and green beans until just cooked, and remove also with slotted spoon to join the meat. Add more peanut oil to the wok if needed, and a dash of sesame oil. Then saute the salad onions till soft, and just briefly toss in the bean sprouts, then remove all to the big bowl. Take this chance to check the rice, which will cook in about 20 minutes. Fluff it up and keep the lid off to encourage extra steam to escape and dry the rice up a bit.
Heat the oil again and throw in the eggs, scrambling very quickly and keeping them moving constantly until they are broken up. Now, toss in everything from the big bowl, and the rice, and fluff all until hot through.
Serve with plenty of soy sauce.
So there you have it! Two really good things to eat. If you leave out the meat from the rice dish, it’s an absolutely guilt-free, nearly fat-free vegetarian option, good for when you’re feeling guilty from… all that creamy chicken curry!
As you can see from the above photo, Avery did not ride the wacky Biscuit on Thursday; instead as a sort of vacation she rode Cookie (yes, there’s an after-school-snack theme in the names, I agree). But that simple sentence masks the sheer hellish annoyance that was getting to Wimbledon on a Thursday afternoon after school, when temperatures in London had risen to an unholy 80 degrees with no warning, and half the tube lines shut down because something essential was threatening to melt. I picked Avery up at school where she began what was to be a recurring lament about how tired she was. Not conducive to a pleasant trip to do something I had absolutely no interest in to begin with, with sweat pouring down our faces as we struggled with half of the London commuters in existence. Why did everyone want to go to Wimbledon? And of course on the way back there was an equal number of people struggling to get to Central London. I wanted to wave my magic wand and tell all the people on both ends of the miserable journey to stay where they were for heaven’s sake. One of those days when one’s interest in humanity’s continuing wanes.
We got there finally and she rode off across the Common, alas without me since her usual instructor who gives us a ride to the arena was not there and I didn’t have the energy to walk the three or so miles to follow her. Instead I wandered around Bayley and Sage spending money on things like tapenade, porcini-stuffed tortellini and other things you buy when you’re a) killing time and b) starving. The outdoor beer garden of the Dog and Fox pub adjacent to the stable filled with unappealing youngish white Englishmen with pasty faces and badly-cut suits. Ick. The barn staff prepared for a “training dinner” that was to consist of anything and everything thrown on the barbie, so I was smoked out from the bench where I had been trying to read my tacky tabloid newspaper (learning that a singularly hideous Picasso had sold for $52 million at Sotheby’s. The second most pricey painting by that Spanish lout was “reputed” to have been bought by Las Vegas hotelier Steve Wynn, and I was in the slightly cool position of knowing that he had bought it, because in the heyday of my gallery when I sold him an enormous Miriam Schapiro canvas he indicated his ultimate goal of possessing said Picasso painting no matter what the cost).
Finally Avery returned, and far from having had a lovely relaxing ride on a not-insane pony, she had been forced to control a rabid Cookie when she was attacked and bitten by an off-lead dog on the trail. Can it never be calm! We sweated our way home on one bus, one train, another bus. John came out of the house to meet us on the pavement and in answer to his cheery cocktail-in-hand greeting, “So how was it?” I merely handed Avery and all her clobber to him and said, “Don’t ask, here is your child.” Meaning the sweaty, exhausted, filthy, cranky one, as opposed to my child, who is always charming.
So much for the Thursday afternoon experience. Once a week, on the weekend, WITH her father, is quite enough barn, I opined.
I’ve gone shopping! I bought a tiny little pair of sort of fullish shorts, that look like a skirt when they’re on. Dark gray blue, all the rage. And a little brown peasanty top, and a pair of black “footless tights,” which simply scream 1986 to me, but hey, they worked back then and they work now. They will be so cute under a longish tunic that I have been saving for just such a development. I went to the French Connection UK, whose acronym in advertisements always causes Avery to screw her eyes shut and say “bad word, bad word.” Avery spent Friday night at Anna’s house, in advance of the big birthday party the next day, so John and I had quite the most divine Indian dinner out EVER. A lovely, swellegant place around the corner called Deya. A little complimentary starter of a teacup-sized portion of lentil soup, with a tempura mushroom suspended over the top from a toothpick laid across! Very clever. Then onto a crab fried rice with sweetcorn (no! it was good!), black truffles and coriander, then a chicken dish that was good but not crazy good, and creamed spinach and saffron potatoes. I asked so many questions of the waiter that finally he and his maitre d’ were huddled by the kitchen looking at me as if I were Gael Greene come to London, and after that we got star treatment! I must be a famous restaurant critic in heavy disguise! What fun. And so nice to have a Date.
Saturday we bit the bullet and assembled the supplementary bookshelves from John Lewis. My lack of both manual dexterity and spatial relations stunned even my husband, who must be used to it by now. But tomorrow I plan to spend the day filling the two in my study and thus emptying the last of the horrid moving boxes. Then I can hang pictures on my wall and be all finished with the “I just arrived” look I’ve got so sick of. Everything has to be nice for the Friday Form Four coffee morning here. I’m quite nervous!
Hmm, since I don’t know your answer I’ll go for my system: we have no heat or hot water! No, your cursor didn’t accidentally send you back to last week, or to last month. Nope, it’s happened again. But let’s skip right from that and the fact that I am completely sweaty and stinky from shelving all my books, and Avery’s hands are beyond inky, but no one can take a bath. Really, we’ll skip right from that to the good news which is… which is… see? I can’t remember. No, now I do: my bookshelves are filled! The flip side of that is the fact that there is still a box of my books to be shelved, plus four boxes of Avery’s books. I think the only solution is a quick trip to John Lewis over the weekend and see what we can just take home with us in the way of a piece of shelving furniture, if anything. London furniture stores delight in that dreaded phrase, “lead time.” It could easily be eight weeks, but let’s not think about that.
I found so many things I forgot I had! Excellent mysteries, although I’m ashamed to say how many duplicate copies I have (“I really need to read ‘The 4:50 From Paddington’ and I can’t find my copy! Quick one-click stop on Amazon”), a copy of my own dissertation! and other treasures. I cry every time I read “Under a Wing,” the Lindbergh daughter Reeve’s stunning memoir of her father), and then there were all my childhood Nancy Drews. Avery is right now running up and down the stairs with piles of books she forgot she had, happy as a clam.
Listen to what we’re having for dinner and put it in your memory for the night you can’t bear to go out to the grocery because it’s sleeting and you have no heat and hot water. No, don’t put it under that nasty memory. It’s just totally easy. Place a whole stick of butter in a heavy pot, throw in several sliced cloves of garlic and an onion that you’ve cut in half and sliced roughly. Add two large cans (not the cans, I mean the contents) of peeled plum tomatoes, a splash of cheap red wine and a good two tablespoons of Italian seasoning. Now put it on a simmer and go away. Look at your filled bookshelves and gloat. Come back every 15 minutes or so to stir, and burst the tomatoes with your spoon. After 45 minutes it’s ready, but it can also sit there, for close to two hours, really low heat, if it needs to while your husband walks in and goes apoplectic over the non-existent boiler. Grrr. Boil some spaghetti during the last ten minutes, make sure you’ve got some grated cheese, pecorino of parmesan, and you’re done. With this we’re having a variation on the salad I talked about last, this one chunks of tomato and avocado, with a dressing I think is a pretty good imitation of the weird steakhouse one from yesterday. Three parts olive oil to one part any kind of vinegar and one part dijon mustard, plus a quarter teaspoon curry powder and a quarter teaspoon ground cumin, plus some salt and pepper. And a blueberry coffee cake of my own design, with a sunken gooey center that Avery loves.
I’m dropping with tiredness!