It’s Tuesday of our last week in America, and all is quiet at Red Gate Farm. The aviary that is John’s birdfeeder camp is simply flying with finches, cardinals, and other winged things I’m too much of a city girl to be able to name. The chipmunks run to and fro, filling their cheeks with sunflower seeds and peanuts (but turning up their little black noses at the unripe peach I first offered to Avery). Squirrels rustle around in the maple branches overhead, racing from their enormous nest to leap into the adjoining tree, dangle precariously from its branches, and finally leap to the woodshed roof.
Actually, amidst all this bucolic charm is the intermittent whine and choking of John’s weed-whacker, and a slow, cumbersome tractor driven by Rollie up the dusty road. I can hear Young Rollie up in the meadow, haying busily. Country noises, really.
It’s the beginning of the end. The temperature has dropped a bit so you want a sweater in the mornings. I’m starting to think about what I buy at the grocery so I use up all the bits and pieces in the fridge before we fly away on Sunday. But I’ve got the pantry well-stocked, just in case there’s a last minute hurricane. (But that would be crazy, wouldn’t it?)
As much as I adore all our busy social butterfly life every summer, I am content right now to be facing five days of just the three of us. There will be time for some lazy pool afternoons, another trip to the library, devotion to “Days of Our Lives,” even a couple of naps. The tennis court beckons.
Everyone can fend for himself or herself for lunch: a big pot of vichyssoise, a three-cheese panini, a bowl of red cabbage slaw. It will be quiet, and even perhaps a little boring. Just the ticket to get us in the mood for London life once more.
Last night saw us in New York for dinner with Avery’s oldest friend, Cici, and her family. These two girls met as babes in arms and were inseparable until we moved to London when they were nine. They still have a marvellous time together, now grown up.
We met at their work-in-progress loft, which is always a bittersweet experience for me, as it is where we spent September 11, 2001, watching events unfold. We stood in the bloomy evening last night, on the roof where we watched it all happen. The memories never quite go away, but it is exciting to see the future unfolding, way downtown.
We tucked into deep-fried calamari with a spicy mayo at Estancia 460, a cute little Argentinian bistro in dear old Tribeca. Such fun to catch up on real estate projects, art ambitions, new schools, to reminisce about gallery days and little-girl days.
But of course the most recent excitement was my mother’s birthday weekend! She opted to keep it quiet and simple this year, just the family, and while we have always loved the big bashes of past summers, it was vastly relaxing to know I would have just the tribe around. Great timing, because I’d been bellringing at the Kent School in the morning (taking dear Judy with me as a curious visitor!), which was as always — with ten bells! — hugely intimidating and yet wonderful.
Dropping Judy off at their farm afterward, I could not help but admire the corn crop, especially given the devastation and sad waste of the midwestern efforts this droughty summer.
It was a relief to mosey slowly up our road knowing there were not 30–40 people to be fed that evening! Just the family. There was time to tie yellow balloons everywhere in the late-afternoon light.
I know I can be tiresome on the subject of “the blue of the sky, the red of the barns, the green of the grass…” but there really was something magical about the colors, the stillness of the afternoon, the anticipation of a family-filled day.
And what a feast! All Mom’s favorite foods: devilled eggs, of course, of which I can never seem to make enough!
Home-Fried Chicken Tenders
6 chicken breast fillets
1/2 cup flour
1/2 cup Old Bay Seasoning (or any spice blend you like)
1/4 cup light cream
2 cups fresh breadcrumbs, seasoned if you like (I like Fox Point)
enough oil/lard to fill your deep fat fryer
Trim the chicken completely of any fat or membranes. Cut against the grain in three long slices. Shake up the chicken in the mixture of flour and Old Bay. At this point you can leave the tenders in the fridge while you prepare other dishes.
When you are ready to cook, heat up your oil and at the last minute, shake the tenders one more time to coat thoroughly, then beat the egg and cream in a shallow bowl and dip the tenders in it. Quickly transfer the tenders to the breadcrumbs (also in a shallow bowl) and coat them. Fry for about three minutes.
I served these with a mixture of mayonnaise, Key Lime juice and chilli sauce. Even the kids ate it all!
Of course, it wouldn’t be Mom’s birthday without scallops in bacon.
Angels on Horseback
2 tbsps olive oil
juice of 1/2 lemon
18 large sea scallops
9 pieces streaky (American) bacon, cut in half
Cook the bacon at 350F/180C until some fat has been rendered but bacon is still pliable. Drain on paper towel.
Mix olive oil and lemon juice and toss the scallops in it. Shake dry, then wrap each scallop in 1/2 piece of bacon and secure with two toothpicks. Grill over medium heat for four minutes, then turn over and grill for four further minutes.
There were baked mushrooms stuffed with a mixture of white crabmeat and Boursin (oo0h, crisp and savoury), and another dish I can never make enough of: tomato and mozzarella salad with fresh pesto.
No party for my mother would be complete with the traditional cake brought by Jill and Joel. “Happy Birthday, Mona.” A beautiful evening.
How we all missed Dad during the festivities, this second year when he could not be with us. It takes a special brand of courage for my mother to carry on having fun, looking forward to her party, travelling all the way to Connecticut to be with us all, laughing with her granddaughters, blowing out her candles. She came with a stack of photos she had found of little Dad, cherished by his parents, now long dead. It was a comfort to think of the cycle of life.
I know nothing in the world would please our father more than knowing that in his absence, his three children are looking out for Mom. There was never anyone who could make life feel safer than my father could, much as John’s father could. How lucky we all were to have their protective arms around us for as long as we did.
And that was our party. Quiet, peaceful (well, there WAS Molly’s cartoon voice floating on the breeze).
All together, one of those delicious days you wish could go on forever. All over for another year. We love you, Mom.
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