03 December, 2006

not a sticky wicket in sight

If I told you I had a pound of unsalted butter on my desk, would you believe me? I just had to look up whether or not this dairy, who I encountered at the farmer's market this morning, had a website, and they do! Or at least, you can find their details there should you be in the neighborhood. You cannot get any fresher, sweeter or more charming than the little elf-like girl behind the table, or the butter itself. So if you find yourself in need of a little dairy comfort, you buy some farmhouse butter from E F J Gould at, listen to this perfect address, Batch Farm, East Pennard, Shepton Mallet, Somerset, England. It just has to taste better than other butter.

It was truly a glorious day at the market, with bright blue skies after torrential rains and gale-force winds in the night and early morning. I think all the stallkeepers were punchy with relief at the passing of the awful weather (which, like the spoiled brat I am, I slept through), so stories were running amok. At my favorite butcher, Food Fore Thought, the florid-faced chap behind the counter was positively unstoppable in his flow of chat. "Ninety-five mile-an-hour winds we had last night over the farm. Dad phoned me up this morning to complain, saying the pig pen had been blown over, taken clean away. 'What bleedin' interest do I have in the pigs,' I says, 'I'm bleedin' turning to ice here in the market!' And he says, 'You'd better take an interest because they've got into the neighbors' rose garden." Then as a little aside, he added, "City gent we got, takes a little bit of land in the middle of our farm, and then can't seem to get along with the locals. Local pigs, that is. So I says to him, you can either learn to live with my pigs, or I can cut off all your water and your electric. What do you think of that?" This all as untold numbers of customers wished I would just pay for my fillet of beef and my cannons of lamb, and go. But I couldn't stem the flow! And in any case, I felt like I was in the middle of market day in a James Herriott story, so I just let him tell me all about it.

Then he offered to make me a cadogan for my Christmas Wish List, and I'm sorely tempted. I've heard it called Christmas Pie, but I had never heard of "cadogan." Do you fancy a pigeon inside a capon inside a chicken inside a goose inside a turkey? I kind of do. Just to say I've had it. All boned and stuffed in one another. I can't even find the word in Wikipedia, and that's going some. I think my visiting friends might die of horror, though, so probably will stick with the tried and true. Still, I get points for even being interested.

Then, over at my beloved oyster stand, was a scene of utter charm: as I waited for my three rock oysters to be shucked, exchanging my oyster stew recipe for the shucker man's tempura deep fried idea, a tiny girl of perhaps five strode purposefully up to the stand and said, "Two please," her bright red hair glinting in the sun, big serious blue eyes turned up appraisingly to the man. "Do you like oysters, then? That surprises me, they're kind of bold," I said to her. "Oooh, they're lovely. With a bit of lemon juice and some of that-" she pointed to the shallots in vinegar, "they're so nice." And sure enough, down they went. I wished and wished for my camera. As I did a minute later at the French onion and shallot bicycle! He rides in on an ancient bicycle, strung entirely about with what he described as "sweet pink onions" on long jute slender ropes, and a basket of garlic tied to his handlebars. What a sight. I hope the onions are good, as I am slightly missing the good old American vidalia. Actually who knows if it's American.

By this time I was nearly frozen solid, and felt sincerely for the marketers who had been first wet through, and then frozen solid. What a change from last week when there was a gentle drizzle, entirely appropriate for the filming on location of the new Miss Marple series! Although I was thrilled at this proximity to anything associated with one of my favorite programmes, the market stallkeepers were less so. "Who is this Mrs Marple, anyway?" grumbled one man selling beetroot, and ignoring entirely perhaps the most salient identifying feature of "Miss" Marple. "A lot of idling engines and taking up our space, that's what it is."

So John came bundling along in Emmy and picked me up and we dashed out to Hammersmith to have Sunday lunch, that wonderful English institution, with Avery's school chum Coco's family, how incredibly nice of them to invite us. It is one of those invitations that I feel is not to be taken lightly, because it involves several complex social decisions all at once. For one thing, the hosts have decided that they like you enough to risk spending several hours with you. For another, you are English-friendly enough to understand the institution and the importance of the invitation. Still another, they will very possibly invite other people, often people of whom they are quite fond, and so to include you indicates that they feel it unlikely you will utterly disgrace yourselves in front of their friends. And so it feels good to be invited! Not to mention the anticipation of food someone else has cooked for me, something I always look forward to.

Coco and her parents, Alison (the jeweler I wrote about recently) and Christopher (although he is always called Huggs), live in a simply stunning house of kind of doll-like proportions, every corner of every room inhabited by an object, whether a painting, a photograph, a gorgeous book or a porcelain box, each object important to the family and adding immense charm to the atmosphere. It made me realize how transient we are! To rent, and to bring only part of what you love (namely my leaving all my art books behind in a fit of pique, although where on EARTH would we put them?), means your home is not your whole home. Of course so much of what we love is in Connecticut. But my point is, Coco's home was an impeccably English, elegant, warm place to spend a Sunday afternoon. I walked in like that episode of "Cheers" where Shelley Long gets off the motorcycle she's been reluctantly riding and says, "Pardon me while I remove the bugs from my teeth," fresh as it were from Emmy with her top down. I hate to think what my hair looked like. But Alison took one look at me and said, "Right, a nice warming whiskey is what you want," and I found myself with a glorious glass of Dalwhinnie in my hand! Now that's a hostess.

Also guests at lunch were Coco's godmother Jane and her boyfriend Martin, lovely people. We all sat down to Huggs's feast of traditional roast chicken, roast potatoes, steamed asparagus, haricots verts and peas, as well as chestnut and sausage stuffing, sausages, bacon, gravy and that curious concoction about which I've always read but I've never tasted, bread sauce. It really is, as are so many English dishes, "just what it says on the tin." Sauce made of bread, and milk, and a tiny bit of seasoning (cloves?), very simple. I have always read in my novels about husbands who walk into their English kitchens, lift up a saucepan lid, sniff, say, "Bread sauce. Roast chicken?" And the wife, stirring up something like a trifle, says, "Of course." I am the compleat Anglophile, as you know.

Oh, we had fun. Huggs is an avid cricket fan and player, and I have been feeling guilty at my absolute ignorance of the sport now that the Ashes are on. My problem is that I'm too healthy to watch television very much! During the World Cup I was ill in bed and was able to devote a proper amount of attention to learning the shibboleths of a foreign sport. So today I buckled down and really paid attention, not that I am much the wiser. "There are ties, and there are draws, but they're not the same thing. And there are two batsmen, each of whom is trying to score a run. Only they walk..." On and on! Not that it wasn't interesting, it really was. At one point Coco ran away and came back with a number of holiday candles in the shapes of snowmen and fir trees, which she proceeded to place in the positions of batsmen, bowlers and fielders, and then screamed, "It's just like 'The Lady Vanishes'!" Whereupon the rest of her conversation with me was a fevered acccounting of the incomprehensible plot of the film!

Anyway, Huggs tried his best. I think I need more help. But finally Alison put her foot down and said, "Huggs, enough. If I let you go on, you'll be telling us who won the Test Matches all the way back to 1954." Short silence. Then Huggs said defiantly, "Actually there wasn't a Test Match in 1954. But there was in 1953."

After a gorgeous bowl of mixed berries, a tour of the house with Coco ("I either sleep in here, or in here. If it's really BOILING I'll sleep in here, and if it's cold as anything, I'll sleep in here. And here's my private terrace."), and a nice English cheeseboard, we had to take our leave to pick Avery up at the stable. What fun.

Now there is an aura of slight mayhem in my house. Amidst all the half-unpacked Christmas ornaments and the canvas bags from the farmer's market and dinner preparation, we have added The Tailor. Yes, John has taken on board our sartorially splendid friend Vincent's tailor, and he is here now helping John become a More Elegant Him. Or He, or whatever. Then, too, Avery must be doing her homework, so of course the instant I am needed to decide, crucially, between two fabrics (pssst: they all look alike), I must also come up with a proverb, or the French word for stepmother. Never a dull moment.


Anonymous said...

One word for you: turducken.

xoxox A

Mr Fielding said...

Hello Kristen. What a very interesting site. I'm particularly interested in your cook's 'diary'. As somebody who publishes a diary myself (albeit humbly on the web), in my case a butler's diary, I am always intrigued by fellow diarists.