28 November, 2006

out and about

Before I tell you all the exciting activities that have been going on here, let me make a public Third Mental Note. Remember the first one, when I washed all John's business shirts with a red pashmina? And the second one, the Case of the Exploding Pyrex? This one was not a disaster on the scale of those, but something to remember, nonetheless.

Our dinner on Friday night at the Mandarin Kitchen was so good that I haven't stopped thinking about it, each time it's time to cook my own dinner at home. So on Sunday night I bought chicken breasts, and hot chili peppers, and chopped up tons of fresh garlic and ginger, and made a nice marinade of mirin (Japanese rice wine), soy sauce, honey and sesame oil. Sounds good, right? Well, then I tried to find a recipe for "Dry Fried Chicken," which was how the sublime dish was described on the menu at the restaurant. A lot of things came up about how to fry chicken without it turning dry, and Kentucky Fried Chicken, etc. Nothing very helpful. One vaguely advised a quantity of hot peanut oil and dredging the chicken in flour. Well, it was awful. I think my stupid stove doesn't get hot enough, or concentrated heat enough, so the oil never got properly hot. Then the flour separated from the chicken, fell to the bottom of the pot and formed a deep and lasting relationship with the metal. Then in a vain attempt to get the oil really hot, I left the chicken in it far too long and it was everything you don't want in a bite of food: dry, and yet at the same time greasy, tough, tasteless. OK, the peppers were good and the marinade was at least something to make the basmati rice edible. Do I hear any suggestions? My friend Amy who loves the Mandarin Kitchen informed me at school pickup yesterday that the secret was in marinating the chicken in chili-infused oil (she has a secret mole at the restaurant), and also in a super, SUPER hot burner so the chicken cooks almost instantly. Well, the former I can probably achieve. The latter, not in my kitchen.

Boo hoo. Then last night I did a fairly good but boring slivered-beef Asian dish. Avery and John scarfed it down, but I was left with the sensation that there are some things better left to the professionals: cutting hair, diagnosing gall bladder trouble, and stir-frying. Sigh. Well, we're invited to our friend Vincent's tonight where I am quite sure we will be given something perfect, which will make me simultaneously happy and envious.

This morning John woke me up (never an easy thing to do) with the simple question, "Guess what I just saw outside?" I yawned, stretched and said, "A fox." Silence. "OK, how did you know that?" he demanded. "Well, what else would you just have seen outside that would make you interested enough to tell me about it?" "Lots of things!" There have been so many reported sightings lately!

Can I just whinge for a moment about the only imperfect thing about our school? Aside from the "food," that is. Avery came home with her French homework last night and was, as is her wont lately, doing it in the kitchen while I cooked my unspectacular dinner. "Listen, Mommy, it's a verse of 'Jingle Bells' in French!" What followed was the most absurd linguistic recital ever to have been set to music, resembling not at all any of the words I could see written on the page. My complaint begins with the fact that the children were learning the song by rote, had no idea what any of the words actually meant, but grows with the realization that nearly all the words were being pronounced wrong. All I can say in Mademoiselle Stanway's defense is that while they were all wrong, they were wrong in a way that actually rhymed, surely not an easy feat to accomplish. "Avery, the word for 'path' is not pronounced 'che-mon,' it's 'che-man.' That way, it rhymes with the word for hand, 'main,' in the next line." "Oh, no, Mummy, 'main' is pronounced 'mon' as well. See, it still rhymes!" Aaargh! Just appalling. It reminded me of the lunch party last winter where someone was complaining that you can't expect much of an accent from someone called Mademoiselle... STANWAY, and another parent said, "Well, it beats the Spanish teacher, Signorita... O'MALLEY." For heaven's sake. Avery brought up the legitimate point that she would have to choose between sounding correct, and sounding like the other children. We decided that just this once, fitting in was the better part of valor.

I had rather a distinguished day yesterday! My friend Susan had introduced me last year to a painter called Melanie Essex, American-born but living here for 10 years, married to a really wonderful guy called Richard and with two little girls about Avery's age, at the fantastic Bute House school. So yesterday I got dressed in my posh black "I used to own an art gallery" clothes and toddled off to 27 Cork Street, where Melanie was having a new show, and was giving a talk about her work as well. Her own gallery, The New Grafton Gallery in Barnes, had borrowed the Mayfair space for just a week, to give Central Londoners a chance to see these gorgeous new paintings. Now, normally I do not gravitate to painting per se, preferring work on paper. And normally I don't go for representational work, either. But these paintings are very, very lovely, extremely accomplished, and Melanie spoke very well about her process. Thoroughly enjoyable, so stop by in the next week to see them, and then have a nice jaunt to Barnes to see what else the gallery does. It's interesting that a prime Mayfair gallery space would rent itself out. Maybe someday I should investigate that. My anti-art attitude is gradually wearing off, you'll notice.

After the talk, we headed off to Melanie's favorite stomping ground, The Groucho Club in Soho. In her footloose and fancy-free days before children, Melanie hung out there all the time, even staying in one of their almost-secret inn rooms when between flats. There were just six of us "ladies who lunch," and the food was lovely. I had foie gras with persimmin, apple and sultana chutney and brioche to start, and then roasted scallops with clementine and a tiny bed of chived mashed potatoes under each scallop. It was such fun to sit and chat about art, London, husbands, children, food, and just relax. It's always amusing to be reminded that however unique and wonderful one's husband is, give enough women enough time to talk freely about their husbands and it will turn out we're all married to the same person. Quirky fellows, men, aren't they? Yesterday's topic was how our husbands feel about money. I said that John nearly filed for divorce when he caught me using an ATM that charged a fee, and my friend Sarah said, "When my husband retired, I had to put my foot down and ask him to kiss me hello in the morning before he ran to turn down the thermostat." We all laughed and Melanie said, "Yes, well, when the Iraq war started, Richard wouldn't let me buy gas at Elf or Total. They're French-owned, you know." "Total interdit," Susan said, with that wicked, clever expression she gets. We had fun.

But 3:20 found me back in mother mode at pickup, and Avery was very pleased with her test results (96 in math and 92 in English, I believe!), so it was decided that a reward was appropriate. She is now the proud possessor of both a gold and a silver metallic marker. Two for one, can't beat that. What would we do without Ryman, stationer to the stars?

Oh, and speaking of stars, we saw Hermione Norris having a coffee in the High Street coming home from school today! She is even bonier and scarier in real life than she is on "Spooks"! But I do love a celebrity glimpse.

But the real news was Avery's field trip today, if you can call such an exalted place a "field." Form V was invited, along with some 600 other little school children, to sing at the Christingle Service at Westminster Abbey this morning! What a thrill. Becky and I hung around school for our usual read-aloud with the little gulls, and then met up for coffee to kill time before the coach left, with our friends Angela and Amy, whose Form II gulls were also having a field trip. "Oh, where are you all going?" I asked. Silence. Finally Angela said, "Waitrose." "You mean the GROCERY STORE? We're going to Westminster Abbey and you're going to WAITROSE?" "Don't rub it in." The coach came and all the gulls got on, looking very spruced-up. I just love that an above-ground trip from school to the Abbey is like a free tour bus ride! With the added attraction of over-excited screaming children's voices, that is. Every once in awhile the shrillness led even patient Miss Leslie or Miss Clarke to shush them, as we passed Buckingham Palace, Trafalgar Square, Big Ben, the Houses of Parliament. Gorgeous. They were hushed upon entering the church, however, and throughout all the hymns, readings, and finally the ceremony of being each given an orange, symbolizing the world, tied with a red ribbon symbolizing Christ's blood, and toothpicks strung with candy, symbolizing children's love for... candy! Then too there was a candle, representing the light of the world, each of which were lit, and the children all stood in a circle around the nave of the Abbey, and sang. It was just lovely. Will Avery remember things like this? More likely her memories will be of ponies. Which reminds me, it's time for riding...

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