As much as I love summer for its American beauty, its glorious Red Gate Farm adventures, its blue skies and green grass, I love it even more for the people. Each day brings another “hello!” to help us recover from all the “goodbyes” at Christmas time.
First among these this summer was John’s mom! There is something innocent and sweet about the Westchester airport where we always pick her up, summer and Christmas. Everyone there seems to be on holiday! Children being kissed by grandmothers, couples who look like they’re on honeymoon, everyone dashing to and fro with brightly-colored tote bags from L.L. Bean, strollers, golf club bags. And there she was, as always, ready to come home with us and start summer.
And then before we could blink, the longed-for day had come and it was time to drive to Brooklyn and pick up Avery! She seemed to have grown six inches in two weeks, and was blissfully full of stories of her photography camp adventures. How completely divine to have her back.
Even though I couldn’t understand ninety percent of her conversation, peppered as it was with lenses, focus, “the exposure triangle” (which sounds terribly dangerous) and all manner of panegyrics on the beauties of film versus digital, just the sound of her voice made me happy. We headed straight to Williamsburg and to brunch at Egg, with my darling Alyssa, one of our favorite people in the world. Yay, together again!
What a delicious place! We each had something different, Alyssa and Steve opting for pancakes and the rest of us for eggs in brioche, hashed brown potatoes, a three-egg Grafton cheddar omelette, sausage gravy and biscuits, French toast! And a broiled grapefruit with mint. Lovely. A totally cool atmosphere of effortless chic. “How many hipsters does it take to change a lightbulb?” Avery asks. “Well, it’s a really obscure number and you’ve probably never heard of it.”
And then the long drive up to Connecticut, listening to Avery’s stories. The dancers she photographed, the annoying boy from Brooklyn obsessed with air traffic control and claiming to speak Russian (that was quickly retracted when Avery turned out ACTUALLY to speak Russian), the revelation that for two weeks “breakfast was a doughnut and Sierra mist, then lunch was pizza and a doughtnut if there were any left, and Sierra Mist,” and guess what was for supper! She was happy to come home and have broccoli pasta and crostini, and to photograph them, of course.
There is something unendingly cozy about this little bend in our Connecticut road, with all of us dashing across the road and back for a chicken burger with all the trimmings, a look at each other’s ponds, shimmering in the heat, a round or two on the trampoline, a feverish attempt to talk fast enough to catch up all the winter’s and spring’s stories.
The Melrose School, as it turns out, has gone bankrupt. All the school is empty, save for our ringing tower. I had been a bit nervous about grabbing a rope again after nearly a month’s break, but it was like riding the proverbial bike. Straight onto covering on the tenor for Cambridge Surprise Major on eight bells. How I love those people, American versions of my beloved British ringing friends.
I am always amazed by the complete, absolute continuity between my British and American ringing worlds. America seemed compelled to tweak or even transform everything we brought from Britain, from turning lorries into trucks and lifts into elevators, driving on the other side of the road and leaving blood pudding on the other side of the pond completely. But bellringing? It’s IDENTICAL. The terminology, the methods of teaching, even the personalities of the ringers. Universally phenomenally intelligent (present company excepted), ringers are without exception generous, devoted to the craft, addicted to perfection. The only differences in my two worlds are atmospheric. Melrose is high in the sky over the New York hills, basking in the relentless sunshine, a wooden structure of seeming fragility (if we don’t time our ringing right and crash into each other’s sound, the tower moves perceptibly back and forth). The tower was built by nuns, specifically to contain bells and nothing else, in 1974. There is, surprisingly, no mention of God. There are only bells, to be rung, and with such love.
Barnes, in my lovely English home, is by contrast 800 years old, built of ancient stone that survived an arsonist’s attack at just about the same time my Melrose tower was built. We ring on the ground floor of the church and are presided over by our lovely Vicar, and watched with admiration by the Sunday-dressed parishioners. There is a sense of gravity and history and godliness, for lack of a better word. Of course, if you sit in the medieval, smoke-blackened tower steps up to the belfry while the bells are being rung, that tower moves too, but with a heavy, English movement. There is a god-fearing seriousness of purpose there, whether you are religious or not. It is just THERE.
How I love them both, those gorgeous places that have given me so much happiness.
Yesterday saw us at the dreaded/much-anticipated Mall visit, letting Nonna buy clothes for us! I am loving my new denim Bermuda shorts!
(allow eight half-wings per person)
chicken wings, cut into the drumstick part and the wing part (if this hasn’t already been done by the shop)
1 packet McCormick’s Buffalo Wings Hickory BBQ herb mix (per 2 lbs chicken)
2 tbsps olive oil (per 2 lbs chicken)
Place all ingredients in a large resealable plastic bag. Shake thoroughly. This will take long than you think, so be patient and make sure you squeeze and shake until each wing is coated. Place on a foil-lined cookie sheet in a single layer, skin side up. Bake at 450F/220C for 15 minutes, then turn down to 375F/190C and bake for a further 45 minutes. Serve with blue cheese dressing and LOTS of paper towels!
Such a beautiful summer evening, eating wing after wing, ear after ear of corn dripping with butter! And to salve our consciences, the most perfect slaw ever.
Fennel and Carrot Slaw with Poppy Seed Dressing
(serves eight as a side dish)
2 large bulbs fennel, trimmed and sliced very fine
6 carrots, peeled and cut into very small matchsticks
1/3 cup mayonnaise
juice of 1 or 2 lemons, depending on how much juice they yield and how much you want
squirt of hot sauce if wanted
1 tbsp poppy seeds
lots of fresh black pepper.
To serve, simply shake up the dressing ingredients in a jar (add a bit of hot water if too thick) and toss with the vegetables. It’s best if you do this slightly ahead of dinner, because the vegetables will then absorb the dressing and sort of meld together. Toss just before serving.
Thank you, Avery, for these beautiful photographs. And for this one, which perfectly encapsulates our happy Red Gate Farm summer, surrounded by family and friends.
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