05 November, 2006

of fiction, sparklers and tomato games


















































Ah, Avery's at the stable with the remains of her birthday cake and seven forks, so my time is my own, for the following hour and seventeen minutes. As the last gasp of birthday celebration, we took Avery and Anna to the hot-needles-in-eyeballs experience that is "Build-a-Bear" in Covent Garden. Truly not a thing a rational adult wants to do, where the child chooses a flat animal (why they don't mind the flatness, I don't know, but they don't) and then get it stuffed by an enormous stuffing maching. Which was broken. So the poor little lame employees, enjoined by their corporate betters to SMILE SMILE SMILE, had to stuff them by hand. Sort of defeats the purpose of buying a flat animal, no machine to stuff it, but there you go. Then they choose outfits. Then they fill out birth certificates. By this time John was about to pass out from sweetness overdose, so we sent him out to get a table at the Covent Garden Kitchen opposite and order a beer, right away. We joined him and the tiny table was immediately completely covered with the two dogs (huh? Build-a-Dog? not as felicitous a ring as "bear") that the girls chose, and their leads and their plushy vests, and their ear bows, etc. It was a completely gorgeous day so we couldn't be churlish. And I had excellent food! John said his chicken club was good but would have been better with toasted bread, and the girls probably did not taste their kids' menu pizza with all the Build-a-Whatever stuff they had to concentrate on. But I went with my instincts and ordered two starters, a delicious salad of smoked salmon rosettes on really crispy lollo rosso greens, with a very tart dill and lemon mayonnaise-y dressing. Then also a toasted round of focaccio studded with oil-cured black olives, with sitting atop it a baked slice of aged goat's cheese and drizzled with balsamic vinegar and garlic-infused oil. A bite of everything together was HEAVEN. I am posting a review of the restaurant here not because it's positive, it isn't. But the writer, one Jay Rayner, is so funny! I wrote him/her a fan email just now because that's what I need to be doing to promote my blog: reaching out to the competition. Ah well, sincere admiration must be expressed however impractical the result.

The girls went home with John to drown in Sylvanians, and I trotted over to Citylit for my fiction class. For whatever cowardly reason, the people assigned to read aloud that day did not turn up! Which left us lots more time for responses to our own writing. So, so interesting. Of course I am devoted to my blog, no question about that. But in general I like writing just about anything: grocery lists, emails, whatever. And I would really like to figure out a way to transform my blog into fiction, not just to protect all the innocent people who figure in its virtual pages, but to stretch my creative muscles a bit. John Petherbridge, the tutor, talked a lot about why we do all the exercises we do, which can be daunting, draining and difficult. Take that lesson. We were to write about a smell, experienced in the present, which took us back to the past, and then brought us back to the present again. Now, the brilliant Denise sitting next to me is an experienced writer, a voracious reader, and does not suffer fools. She did the exercise, but then said that she personally hated description and always skipped over it to get to the part she cared about: the action. So John listened to that, and then said that it was the right of every writer NOT to write about certain things, but that it had to be a creative choice, and not a result of not being ABLE to write about that thing. "You as writers face a task that often looks undoable: to WRITE. So you break it down into things you think you can do, tasks you can accomplish, and once you've achieved many tasks, you can begin to reject the ones that don't help you in achieving your big goal, which is to WRITE." Very good advice! I had never thought much about the evocative nature of smells before, but it was a good thing to buckle down and produce a piece of writing about it. Now, that's an ingredient for a novel that I didn't know I had.

Coming home in the dusk, I was so absorbed by all these thoughts that I... got lost. Yes, on Oxford Street down whose blocks I have walked, now these ten months, twice a week, in both directions. Oooh, I make myself so mad sometimes! So it took me forever and a day to get home. My special spaghetti carbonara and sparklers for the little girls, to celebrate Guy Fawkes Day! Hey, by the way, what do you think of my providing a link to the page of the blog with a recipe I've referred to? All you have to do is scroll down the page to see the recipe.

Later that night fireworks went off from several rooftops in our garden, to the unmasked chagrin of all the cats except Keechie, in her dreamy Valium land. The little girls subsided with their Build-a-Creatures and their hot water bottles and were asleep before we could even sing their lullabies.

Finally, to be prepared to start the week, John and I have completed a mammoth grocery run at the ginormous Tesco in Earls Court. Now before you start to egg my house with your organic free-run eggs from the farmer's market cooperative where people would sooner sport an intercontinental ballistic missile than a plastic carrier bag, just wait a minute. I know, I know, Tesco are (love the random English plural there) a horrible, evil multinational conglomerate bent on stripping every high street in every British village of their uniqueness and family-owned businesses. Believe me, I agree with you! But there comes a time when a cook's fancies turn to... saving money.
As strongly as I feel about supporting small businesses and doing our best to prevent the Tescos of the world from taking over, there is stuff like washing-up liquid, kittylitta and cat food, toilet paper and the like where there is no value-added (one of the few businessy terms I understand) to purchasing these items in a cozy mom-and-pop store somewhere in Notting Hill. No, for these items you get in your environment-friendly little Mini Cooper and hightail it to Earls Court to the largest supermarket in London.

While you are there of course you can shop for other things, like the many varieties of organic tomatoes, which I feel compelled to sample and rate. Now, this larger one in the photo, the Marzanino, was fleshy and yummy, but not sweet. And the slightly larger of the two on-the-vine, the Jersey Jewel, was rather too thick-skinned but very flavourful. My personal favorite of this particular Sunday afternoon is the Piccolo cherry tomato. Tiny, you take each one off the vine just before you eat it, dipping it in Maldon sea salt first, and oooh! A burst of red, sweet, make-your-mouth-water freshness. And if you eat 11 of them, you've got one of your five servings of fruit or veg per day. And yes, that counts even if you buy them at Tesco.

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