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…
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!