21 April, 2006

Moonshine Redux

Finally, a great lesson on a great pony! Wimbledon Village Stables has been a success, for sure, but there hasn't yet been that magical experience where Avery felt like she was a real rider again. Until Moonshine this week, in the quaint village of Stanton in the heart of the Cotswolds, Gloucestershire. Last year when we were on our "shall we move" trip to England, we tracked down a highly-recommended trainer called Jill Carenza, out in the countryside, who had taught the children of one of John's old Goldman Sachs friends, Andrea Ponti. Jill is a renowned trainer who really knows how to challenge the students. She put Avery on Moonshine, who while not exactly inspiring confidence with her sleepy expression and tongue that wagged throughout the lesson, was nevertheless quite a "mover," as they say, and it was a great experience. So this week we found ourselves once more at Jill's barn, and Avery jumped for the first time since December. What fun to watch. And a high jump, as you can see, near the end of the course. She was completely wiped out by the end of the hour and is now thoroughly in the mood to ride over the weekend. It's great for her to be back in the saddle.

We just had the most interesting houseguest, Kathryn Hillier, who arrived the night before we left for Worcestershire and was able to spend six days here investigating potential spots to show her photography. Check out her website, www.kathrynhillier.com, for some beautiful images of interiors, and mysterious objects. She was on a short break from a residency in Paris, preparing for her solo show at a gallery there to open next week. Kathryn is a friend of my former gallery assistant Rebecca, and it was a pleasure to have our first guest in our new home. We took her to see the Cabinet War Rooms, one of my favorite museums in the city. It's an underground bunker where Churchill and his staff spent the war, broadcasting speeches, tracking convoys and generally managing the effort while staying safe under the streets. When the war was over, the rooms were simply closed up, many of them exactly as their occupants left them, so the whole place is like a moment in 1945 under glass. Really intriguing.

We also took her to Harrods where she was able to gaze upon, in some dismay, the extremely tacky devotional monument to Princess Diana and her beloved Dodi (I think she declined to sign the memorial book, however, more's the pity). Avery acquired some roller blades at Harrods and I imagine a fair bit of our weekend will be spent on the bike path in Hyde Park, just across the road here, working on her new skills.

Well, I'm off for a special treat: an Indian head massage! I have no idea what to expect, but I have been missing my little $20-20 minute specials at the Korean nail salon in Tribeca, so this is the next best thing. It's at a spa called Calmia, in the Marylebone High Street, so I'll be all relaxed for school pickup. It's a fake pickup, however, more like a handoff, because Avery's going to her friend Angelica's house for a playdate, and from there to Anna's house for a sleepover. Life is a never-ending cycle of fun when you're nine and a half and it's springtime in London. What should John and I do? He has discovered a fabulous, unprepossessing Chinese restaurant unfelicitously located across the road from the skating rink where Avery's school has lessons, a really ugly, street called Queensway. But this place, Mandarin Kitchen, is a real find. It got something like a 4 out of 30 for decor in Zagat's guide, but 26 for food, and was reputed to be the place where actual Chinese people go for great authentic dishes. This turned out to be true, because the day after we were there, one of my school-mother friends Amy, who is from Hong Kong, said, "Did I see you at Mandarin Kitchen last night, Kristen? How did you find that place? Next time, ask for Amy's chili chicken. It's not on the menu, but they know what I like." We had a soft shell crab appetizer that was out of this world, with hot red chilis and green onions, and then a sticky, spicy duck dish with enormous slices of ginger, and crispy seaweed. Gorgeous with a Tsing Tao beer or two. So perhaps we could go back there.

Or I could cook in. I invented a recipe over Easter break, which was born out of sheer laziness. I wanted to call it "Hanbury Hall Chicken", but John says the proper name is "I Want to Take a Bath Chicken." Because that was the truth. I had bought ingredients to do a slightly elaborate stir-fry dish that requires constant standing at the stove, not to mention a lot of chopping and straining. The original recipe called for minced garlic and onion sauteed in butter, then flambeed cognac or brandy, reduced down, then chopped tomatoes, thyme leaves and sour cream, all simmered for ages and strained, and poured over sauteed chicken breasts. It suddenly sounded like entirely too much trouble. I thought, "Didn't people used to cook things called casseroles? The whole point being that the oven does the work?" So I melted some butter in a casserole dish, roughly sliced some garlic and an onion and threw them in, put whole chicken breasts on top, poured over about three tablespoons of brandy, stirred together a can of whole tomatoes and a container of sour cream, poured that over the chicken and sprinkled the whole thing with thyme and salt and pepper, and... went to take a bath! After 45 minutes I was clean and happy and the chicken was cooked to perfection. It had a kind of poached texture, and the sauce was runny with butter and pink with tomatoes. Bliss! What could be easier. And there were leftovers, which at John's suggestion were poured on linguini the following evening. This procedure follows my beloved brother-in-law Joel's mantra, "Cook once, eat twice." So wise. Try it! I did add part of another can of tomatoes when I heated up the sauce, and I sliced the leftover chicken breast in bite-sized pieces. Avery and I came to the conclusion that we didn't love chicken with pasta, but luckily John did, and there was plenty of sauce. I also did an elaborate chopped salad to go with the pasta, my cook's heart feeling slightly guilty at my shortcut dinner the night before. It's perfect for the anal-retentive chef. You chop all the following ingredients into precisely the same size bits: fresh cherry tomatoes, mushrooms, cucumber, radishes, avocado, and red peppers. Toss this with a couple of cloves of REALLY finely minced garlic (be sure to pull out any little green shoots which will make you taste like garlic for days to come), and very finely torn romaine lettuce. Any dressing is good, but we had a Caesar-ish thing that was quite nice. Enjoy.

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