01 November, 2006

Halloween mayhem

Oh my. It was the sort of day before and day of that try mothers' souls! Monday was an ordinary enough morning, but somehow the afternoon and evening spiraled into complete chaos. I got Avery at school and it was as if she had been injected with some Super Energy Girl substance; she simply could not stop talking! Halloween plans, homework plans, what happened at swimming, what still remained to be done for her birthday. And this was all BEFORE the sugar rush of after-school snack. We ended up at the gateau counter of Patisserie Valerie, choosing both a cake for the school break-time birthday moment, and a cake for the party on Friday (which is assuming monumental and intimidating proportions: 21 children at my house?). After much debate and consideration we settled on a white-chocolate iced vanilla sponge with chocolate cream for day, and a lemon-cream chocolate sponge for night. At which point they will all go into shock, I suppose.

Home to settle her down to homework, but even that was infused with a sense of sound and fury. "We have to make up a sort of brochure that would guide aliens to Planet Earth and through all our customs, and food and clothing and places to visit," she explained, brandishing her sheet of paper, pen and Ink Eradicator, an amazing little tool that takes ink off everything, including girls. So while I was answering various questions about aliens and Google Earth and handwriting that slopes downhill, I was involved in a truly disgusting task: boning and skinning chicken thighs. Never again! I had decided for reasons of thrift and also texture that it would be nice to replace the chicken breasts I normally use for my Chicken With Pojarski Sauce with thighs. Ick, double eeew, a much too intimate relationship with what was to become my evening meal. After struggling through two, I let out such a wail that John stepped over Avery doing her homework and came into the kitchen, took one look and gave me papal dispensation to shuck the whole lot into a stockpot, throw in some garlic cloves and salt, cover the mess with water and make soup. Whereupon he produced as if by leger-de-main a suitable quantity of chicken breasts and I was able to proceed with my task. This is a cozy and simple dish for an autumn evening:

Chicken With Pojarski Sauce (adapted from a terribly complex recipe from a 1949 New York Times)
(serves four)

4 tbsps butter
3 tbsps flour
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 medium onion, minced
1 tbsp sweet Hungarian paprika
2 tsps dried thyme leaves (or 1 tsp fresh thyme)
1/2 cup brandy
4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
2 cups chicken stock
1 cup sour cream
salt to taste

Melt butter in heavy saucepan and add flour. Stir and cook until frothy but not brown. Add garlic and onion and cook over low heat until soft. Add paprika and thyme and brandy and stir until thick. Add chicken breasts and stir until chicken is coated thoroughly. Pour in chicken stock and sour cream, whisk thoroughly and simmer for 25 minutes. Serve with rice, mashed potatoes or noodles, and a nice colorful vegetable (broccoli, beets or red peppers) because it is a pale dish on its own.


That seemed easy enough to control, except that at the same time I had decided to make an apple crumble for season's sake, since the whole autumnal/Halloween atmosphere was sadly lacking in this town, to my mind. Not enough leaves to kick up, only a smattering of costumes and candy, just not very festive. So the smell of cooking apples and cinnamon would help. So easy: just slice the apples and lay in a shallow dish, then sprinkle with a mixture of flour, butter, cinnamon and cloves. Which is easy, except that then I noticed the can of leftover chick peas from lunch and thought I ought to make hummous and not let them go to waste. Magimix whirring, I said "Won't it be nice to have dinner on our new kitchen table tonight?" whereupon John shrieked, "I completely forgot to get cash for the table guy!" and rushed out, nearly squashing Avery who was deeply engrossed in Alien Land. The phone rang and it was my dad, asking if Avery might open her birthday present from him early, which was a sound suggestion given the chaos that will reign on her actual birthday. So I turned down the chicken soup that had boiled over, gave the Pojarski sauce a stir, and got the scissors. And in the package was the most touching gift: his 1949 child's stamp collecting album! She plopped down immediately in the hallway and leafed through it, then John came in and we all plopped down, fascinated by the glimpse of a 1949 world order.

I realized then that if we didn't carve the pumpkins right then, we wouldn't have another chance, as Halloween was the next day. And Avery said, "Oh my gosh, Angelica's party! What am I going to go as?" She darted away to look for her red cape, with which she could be Little Red Riding Hood, if I could find her Easter basket. I could. Oh, no, apple crumble nearly burned! Chicken sauce simmering too high. We put newspaper all over the kitchen floor and got the pumpkins prepped. The doorbell rang. "Table guy!" John shouted, and I rushed to pick up the stamp album from the hallway floor, scoop up Avery's homework before Tacy ate it. Avery came up from her room dressed up as Little Red Riding Hood, tying bows on her braids. "How do I look?" Table guy and John come struggling in with the table, to take into the kitchen, whose floor is... covered with pumpkin detritus! Quickly gather it all up and pitch it in the trash, put the jack o'lanterns on the window sill. Slice the peppers for dinner, finish the hummous, decide that the salted water for mashed potatoes can be for rice instead, as it's quicker.

We sit down to dinner in a rush. I discover something important: the amount of salt you put in potato water gets poured off, largely. But if you use it to steam rice, you eat ALL THAT SALT. We simply died of thirst. I never knew there could be such a thing as too much salt, but I was enlightened.

Finally we collapsed in front of "It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown," with jack o'lanterns glowing in the window, candles burning on our new kitchen table, Dad's precious stamp album carefully stowed in the backpack to take to school, homework safely in its folder, kitchen clean and smelling of baking apples. Whew.

Halloween afternoon saw us at the school door handing over all the costume bits to Avery, complete with her Easter basket with a linen napkin, an apple and a baguette for Grandmama. Off they went to Angelica's house for a Halloween party and to go trick-or-treating in Primrose Hill, home of stars such as Kate Moss, Sienna Miller, Jude Law, Elizabeth Hurley, Hugh Grant and such. Who knows who they visited. When we drove up in Emmy to pick her up, the girls were just arriving and Mylo, who had chaperoned them, looked hardly the worse for wear, bless his heart. We drove Paula home, passing little gaggles of children (probably Americans) in their Halloween garb, chewing energetically and squealing madly. Home to homemade chicken soup, glowing jack o'lanterns, and a sense of melancholy at missing the traditional Tribeca holiday madness, the streets massed with kids running in and out of Nobu, Bouley, Duane Park Patisserie, all the shops offering treats, everyone shouting greetings to the hundreds of friends spilling past, the streetlights glowing onto all the familiar houses of people Avery has known since she was born. But how lucky to have a friend here to invite her to a party, and to start new traditions.

Onward to the birthday party on Friday! I'll keep you posted.

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