23 December, 2006

finally! Borough Market, and the results (plus spectacles)

Finally, I have made it to Borough Market, the place everyone I know has sent me to all year since I arrived. It needed the Saturday before Christmas, the busiest day of the known calendar, to get me there. But it was SO worth it.

First off, of course I had to get lost. John and I had stopped off to pick up five dozen oysters at Partridges farmer's market in South Kensington, first detouring into Partridges itself to laugh at $15 boxes of Cheerios and other American necessities! Too funny. (Is it possibly a record to visit two markets in one day?). From there he drove me to the Green Park underground station, instructing me to take the Jubilee line straight to London Bridge. Only, I panicked: was it meant to be Tower Bridge? A frantic phone call to Twiggy, who I was meeting there, she didn't pick up. Panicked message, call John who didn't pick up. Finally I asked the tube attendant, and after a search through a map with a well-licked thumb, I was assured that London Bridge was my destination. Whew. Off I went. It required another series of silly phone calls between Twiggy and me to meet up finally outside Neal's Yard Dairy with a massive queue outside! For cheese! Which sort of summed up the market. Long, long queues for everything, but so worth it. I will go back many times, I'm sure. I sampled everything! First, Twiggy offered me a sip of her hot organic apple juice, and I ended up commandeering the rest of it, so comforting and delicious.

Then it was onto one of the few treasured English traditions that I ended up not liking: roasted chestnuts. Hmm, the texture of building material, with a sweet, slick exterior. Plus I burned my fingers, which is almost impossible with my asbestos hands. I hated to disappoint Twiggy, but honesty prevailed. Maybe it's an acquired taste.

Onto an olive stand where we sampled a green variety stuffed with carrots, of all things. Most delicious, crunchy and unexpected. Then a lovely mild Stilton, which I've always thought I didn't like, but it was creamy and nice, so I bought a wedge from the apple-cheeked central-casting English farmer girl (I wouldn't have minded bringing her home as well, so pretty). Then an oyster! Just to try another purveyor, and it was fresh and cold. Twiggy averted her vegetarian eyes. Then onto a Polish stand with gorgeous dried salami and a condiment called "cowberry sauce," or borowka which was sweet and tart and actually very good with the salami (defiantly flaunting John's stringent rules prohibiting anything with fruit and meat together). Then we ended up at a juice stand and had hot pomegranate and blueberry juice, which Twiggy assured me would cure, or prevent everything bad. Lovely! And flax seed (did you know it was the same as "linseed"? I didn't) johnny cakes! And fresh sage and butternut squash ravioli from The Fresh Pasta Company, to die for! I bought asparagus and pecorino tortelloni instead, though when I can plan to cook and eat it I do not know, with our company coming today. And finally a little triangle of palek paneer at Mrs Bassa's Indian Kitchen, lovely. "I was just telling Eddie last week that there were no Indian stalls at the market, and here she is! But my mother can make better," Twiggy promised, and one of our plans for 2007 is for her to teach me some Indian cookery secrets. I can't wait. My first Indian friend, and she can cook. What luck.

After chugging one more oyster, picking up two enormous stalks of brussels sprouts, trawling Konditor and Cook with their chocolate delights, and politely refusing a bunch of mistletoe the size of Southwark Cathedral (which looms over the market like a benevolent uncle), I reluctantly parted company with Twiggy and came home.

Avery had just come home from the stable, but had an agenda: to go to the eyeglasses store and get her prescription filled. Did you know that Boots pharmacy will provide a free exam and prescription to children? They do. So off we went, leaving John with a cup of hot lemon juice with fresh-grated ginger and honey, to soothe his hacking cough. We ended up at Optical Express and ordered two darling pairs, which were ready by the time we finished our mammoth shop at Tesco. Avery is a new woman: "I can see EVERYTHING! I can read the little print on that street sign, and see people's eyelashes, and the spots in the sidewalk where people have dropped gum! It's incredible! It's magical!"

"I've run out of superlatives!" she exclaimed finally, stopping point blank in Oxford Street to notice that the lights above were all individual! Not just an incalculable mass of illumination. It reminded me so of the first day I wore glasses, and said to my mother, "The trees have individual leaves! Not just up close, but far away, too!"

She settled down to reading Christmas books, and I hunkered down in the kitchen with various tasks. First up was to brine my turkey. Vincent gave me quite the stern lecture about the importance of an organic turkey, at lunch yesterday, but I was having none of it. I braved his considerable and implacable directives and came home with my usual Dolly Parton of a fowl, and within minutes he was reposing in a nice warm bath (had to be filled by the bathtub tap, actually! too heavy to carry the pot, full of water, down the stairs and out the bedroom door). I watched Nigella yesterday put cinnamon, cloves, allspice and other nasty things in her turkey brine, but not for me. No, savory is the order of the day. Into my pot went my fresh Thai green peppercorns, now nicely shriveling into regular crunchy specimens, and lots of fresh sage, rosemary, onion and celery, and two lemons, juice squeezed and their little bodies dropped into the water.

Then I was determined to take advantage of my trip to the dusty, dank, unimpressive but entirely brilliant Thai market I visited yesterday. I have looked in vain online for any information about this shop, so I'll have to check back with Vincent and find out exactly where it is. Westbourne Grove-ish. Even the spectacularly surly checkout girls could not dim my enthusiasm. I invented a lovely sauce, and let me see if I can remember exactly what I did. With it you can serve sauteed chicken or beef (I did both, actually, a cut of beef I've never heard called an "olive steak", rather like flank). I think you could also do steamed potatoes and carrots for a vegetarian version. Here goes:

Kristen's Thai curry
(serves four)

2 tbsps olive oil
5 cloves garlic, minced
1 medium onion, minced
12 leaves Thai basil, chiffonaded (you know, rolled up and cut in slices)
4 leaves Thai mint, chiffonaded
1 stalk lemon grass, first outer layer peeled off, and sliced very thin
1 soup-size can of coconut milk (thoroughly stirred to mix as it separates on storage)
2 tbsps Thai green curry paste
1/2 cup water.

Saute the garlic, onion, basil, mint and lemon grass in the oil until soft. Then add coconut milk, curry paste and water and simmer for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. Serve with sauteed chicken, beef or prawns, and with basmati rice.


It turned out really well! Too spicy for Avery, though, who contented herself with strips of beef and a mound of rice.

Through it all, my pot of oyster stew, waiting for Alyssa's family arrival today, bubbled at the back of the stove. So exciting to putter about and produce good things to eat. The stew has joined his briney brother out on what I think of as my larder, the little step outside my bedroom door. That's a must for any new house: somewhere outdoors, even a window ledge, to cool food.

So now it is Christmas Eve Day. We all arose early to do last-minute things to make the house festive, in that sort of nervy, anticipatory feeling that is part of every Christmas Eve Day. Thank goodness for the fresh tree! It twinkles merrily. I've put the various Christmas cards that have crossed the Atlantic on our Chinese chest in the foyer, and music from "The Nutcracker" is caroling away, Keechie has had her valium so as to survive Annabelle and her brother Elliot, and all is in readiness. Last night we all had a cozy talk with my family in Indiana, Janie warbling "Jingle Bells," Joel asking me to identify various packages that had arrived at my parents' house for their arrival, my mother and dad sounding excited and appreciative of the baby's arrival. Avery is feverishly finishing various secret items and John is pocketing a list of last-minute ingredients for our holiday. This afternoon we'll see "A Christmas Carol," so I shall report on how that is. In the meantime, everyone: Merry Christmas!

1 comment:

Dr. S. J. Sadoff said...

That Stilton is definitely the best cheese on the continent!