13 September, 2006

bangers and mash

It's an odd life, in a way, that can be encapsulated by these two photographs. Actually yesterday was a very productive day in retrospect, although at the time it felt that all I was doing was retracing my steps over and over, acquiring more shopping bags each time. Let's see, after dropoff I climbed ALL the stairs at King's College Preparatory School to reach Form Three, in time for my first day reading with the gulls. A little sprout called Brynne read from "Stanley, Flat Again," to which I asked, "Have you already read 'Flat Stanley' then?" "Oh, yes, now he's flat again," she explained. "What happened this time?" I asked. "I know the first time a bulletin board fell on him, but then of course his brother could pump him up with the bicycle pump." Silence. "Really, how did he get flat AGAIN?" I persisted. Finally, Brynne explained, "Oh, you know, he just... did. He just... got flat. You know how it is." Afterward Miss King, the PE teacher (who had been at the computer alongside us at the time) said, "That's what I love about little girls. He can just GET FLAT and that's the way it is."

So I headed off to John Lewis to buy bigger versions of Avery's PE kit and cardies, since she's grown exponentially this summer. The new ones looked enormous at the shop, but when she tried them on after washing and drying, frighteningly they fit. Sigh. I also acquired at John Lewis the items you see here: "Learning with Ladybird!" Avery is not loving her times tables and the prevailing wisdom is that setting them to song will help. "I just don't know my sixes or sevens, and PS 234 seemed to think that learning up to the tens was enough, so I thought I knew my twelves, but only up to times ten!" The pressure is enormous. Her maths homework the other night made me shiver. John needs to come home.

Then a spontaneous haircut! I have been longing to get rid of all this awful colour, so I just popped in to a salon in the High Street, and was out again in 40 minutes, a whole new me. Although Avery called me a muskrat, because it is really short. "But I like muskrats!" was her belated apology. Then I rushed home, stopping at the Body Shop for some newfangled olive-flavoured shower soap John's interested in. I dropped everything off at home, did laundry and chose a photograph for Avery's birthday party invitation. It's to be a Halloween birthday, since English Halloween celebrations are, we have heard, muted to say the best. I've already ordered all sorts of American candy and decorations that poor John will be lugging home in his suitcase on Saturday, bless his heart. So I rushed out again to the Button Queen to find black buttons we can glue on cards to surround with eight Sharpy legs and have, voila, a spider. While waiting at the Button Queen as a lady painstakingly chose six buttons for a blouse she was wanted to wear during the holidays (nothing like planning ahead), I looked out the window to see that across the road was a shop devoted entirely to sausages. Yes, sausages. "Biggles Gourmet Sausages," it said, with a logo of a flying pig wearing pilot's goggles and a jaunty scarf. So after acquiring my buttons I crossed over to the shop and the SMELL! Can I just say how good the sizzling sausages they were fitting into long crispy rolls smelled. I decided then and there that we were having bangers and mash for dinner, something I have never put together but is a classic English dish of course. I bought four "Marylebone Pork" bangers, described in the shop literature as "An old, resurrected traditional London recipe seasoned with mace, ginger and sage." Mace is, of course, the hard outer shell of a nutmeg that, when grated, is a lovely delicate flavour.

Then to the photo shop to drop off the photograph for duplication, then to the stationery store for cards and envelopes. Then to collapse at Marco Polo in the Marylebone High Street for the best hummous I have ever had. Is it the parsley and tomato drizzled with olive oil on top that makes it so good? I don't know, but it was lovely.

At pickup Avery announced that she really needed a new ruler AND a mechanical eraser (or "rubber" as she says since she's English now) so we were back to the stationer's. Finally a stop at Marks and Spencer for fruit and salad ingredients to offset the completely fatty dinner I was planning, and finally HOME. Sigh. Read a note from school about emergency measures in place for "Terrorist or other attack in Central London." How reassuring to know that the school has "sufficient stock of basic emergency provisions for sustenance for forty-eight hours." I can rest easy now.

I had the cosiest toes-up on the sofa, Tacy on lap, while Avery did her homework nearby. What luxury to be able to spend the day doing things just to take care of us! I sometimes wonder where I found the ambition to run my gallery, when in reality I'm often perfectly happy just taking care of us. I think the answer is that the gallery was the right thing to do when it happened, but I'm not a business owner at heart.

So bangers and mash. There are several schools of thought on this topic. Some people swear by baking the sausages for half an hour in a slow oven (isn't it funny to describe an oven in terms of speed, instead of temperature?). I myself love the sound of sausages in a skillet, so that's what I did. Then, too, some people feel that gravy is essential to the dish, but I happen to live with a child who thinks gravy is the scourge of God, so no takers there. Then, too, I have read of recipes that call for mashing the potatoes with a teaspoon of butter, and milk. I'm sorry. Butter doesn't come in TEASPOONS. Unless it's being rationed. So what I cooked for us was this:

Bangers and Mash
(serves four, since I simply cannot cook for two, or even three)

4 large pork sausages
3 large King Edward or other mashing potato
1/2 stick softened butter
1/2 cup single cream
skim mik (to thin)
2 tsps sea salt
fresh ground pepper to taste

Peel potatoes and quarter them, then put in large saucepan and add water to cover (I love Laurie Colwin's story of a boyfriend who, when given this direction, asked in consternation, "what cover?"). Boil for 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, place sausages in a skillet over medium heat and cover with a splatter screen. Turn them frequently as they cook to make sure that all surfaces are nicely sizzled. The sausages will feel stiff to the poke when they are done, perhaps ten minutes in all.

Drain the potatoes. Mash with butter and cream, and some milk if they are too thick, then add salt and pepper to taste.

With this, to salve my conscience, we had sugar snap peas sauteed in olive oil, and a nice salad of spinach, tomatoes and avocado. Yum. The perfect cosy dinner for a thunderstormy London night.

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