01 December, 2006

tis the season!

Finally! After weeks of watching London get prepared for Christmas (since they have only the fake Halloween and no Thanksgiving to distract them), we can join in the fun. And also, finally, I located Avery's beloved Advent calendar at the tippy-top most hiding place of her closet, so we dusted it off and hung it on her door, and sure enough, during the night the elves found it and left a tiny, tiny red shoe, decorated with a glittery gold dragonfly, to hang on the tree. We were slightly concerned that they would not find us here, but Avery pointed out that even in all the confusion last year with packing up Jay Street and saying goodbye to Red Gate Farm, all was serene with the elves.

Now, it must be all in the presentation, because yesterday I had my penultimate screenwriting course, and although I don't think I am any nearer to having a great short film in me than a great novel, class was great. Maybe it's just chemistry. It was the day to bring in my short film script, a copy for everybody, and have them act it out! First of all I got points for actually remembering to bring copies, so poor Mike the tutor didn't have to spend precious part-time-staff points borrowing the machine in the office. OK, it's not points for talent, but just for secretarial attention to detail, but I was happy. Then I had to cast the parts, which was funny because I hadn't thought about their all being English and my characters being New Yorkers, in New York. So listening to super-English Alex talk about "Goldman," and "Lehman," and "the 1/9 2/3 to the Bronx" was hysterical! Bex was, predictably, more comfortable with her lines, since she's a producer for our nightly favorite programme, Newsnight, that deals with loads of international issues. Avery would point out right there that "loads" is a very English thing to say. And the whole class yesterday was a study in the huge difference between English and American English, as well as the core cultural things, the little everyday details, that make fitting in one or the other place a really tricky thing to try.

Now, most of my American friends don't try. They are happy being visitors in the place where they live, and probably that says a lot about their strength of character in the face of unfamiliarity. I, on the other hand, at least want to know what I would be saying if I were English, even if I feel too silly saying it. So I end up asking a lot of questions. Honestly, if you don't actually live here you can't imagine how many small things there are to ferret out and understand, and unless you just let the unfamiliar things wash over you, getting used to all the differences can occupy a lot of your mind's energy. Mike pointed out that by the same token, he couldn't write an American script. "I've never heard of... what is it in your story? 'Fanny pack'?" "Bum bag," Bex contributed helpfully. See? She's bilingual.

Why, then, was I in just as foreign and challenging a social setting yesterday as I was on Saturday at fiction, and yet yesterday was successful? John suggests it's something to do with the relative uber-confidence of the English would-be novelist, as compared with the confidence of the English would-be filmmaker. It's always more comforting to be uncertain together! Whereas there is little uncertainty in the fiction class, and consequently it's more intimidating, and less open to an outside viewpoint. And because the reading-out day was really the first time we all got to hear each other's projects, yesterday was really personal. Of course we all wrote autobiographical scripts, as well. Lynn wrote a hilarious script (reminded me a bit of David Sedaris, truly my favorite comic writer) about Christmas, from the point of view of an 11-year-old boy, but grounded in her own experiences. So English! There was "Santa's grotto," which everyone explained was Santa sitting and taking children on his knee and granting their wishes, only with a typical twisted English sort of slant: "he always fancies the little girls a BIT too much," was the prevailing theme! And everyone rooting through a box of Quality Street, which only because I live here do I recognize as sort of upscale supermarket chocolates. And "rubbish in the dustbins," instead of "garbage in the trash cans," and people being told to "sod off," which (I can never remember) is either much better or much worse than our American equivalent, which this being a family show I cannot type out.

Anyway, one more class to go. I will miss Bex, and even Mike the tutor, who in his low-energy way is actually really funny, and occasionally informative.

Then I raced home and made lasagne for Avery, her new favorite, and listened to her tell about the choral group, and we all exclaimed over the hilarious "tea-towel" that we bought loads of, for Christmas presents. A miniature self-portrait of each little QCPS face! It was heartwarming to see how many we knew, a lot from the morning reading, and various fundraisers. Good fun.

I wanted to give you a good potato recipe, lifted shamelessly from the pages of Hello! magazine. In the old days, when we lived here in the early 1990s, the recipe feature was called "Food of the Week," and here is a glimpse of the foolish nature of my newlywed relationship with my husband: on the day the new issues came out each week, John would call me up from the office and carol, "Guess what the Food of the Week is?" Now, disappointingly, it is called "Cookery." What mindless beaurocrat sat down at his desk and thought, "there must be a way to make this feature less interesting. I know, we'll change the name!" Anyway, I have had this particular recipe sitting on my desk for an age, and finally made it to go along with stuffed pork roast and sauteed red peppers, this week.

Hello!'s Cheese and Leek Croquettes
(serves four-ish)

1 lb floury potatoes
3 tbsps olive oil
1 leek, finely trimmed and minced
4 oz grated mature cheddar cheese
1 egg yolk
salt and freshly ground pepper

flour for dipping
1 egg, beaten
2 oz breadcrumbs mixed with 2 oz grated cheddar

First of all, you can see that the measurements of dry ingredients are all in weight, not volume! This always flummoxes me a bit, having a measuring cup but no scale. I tend to wing it in quantities, anyway, but I trust that if you weighed your breadcrumbs and cheese instead of grabbing a handful, you'd be in good shape.

Boil the potatoes till soft and drain and mash, then let cool. Meanwhile, saute the leek in the olive oil and let cool as well. Mix the potatoes and leek with the cheese, egg yolk and seasonings, and form into either little soldiers, or about five crabcake-sized sort of hockey pucks (OK, I'm paraphrasing here, sorry). Chill for an hour, or just as long as you can, then dip first in flour, then in egg, then in the bread and cheese mixture, and fry in olive oil, gently, till crispy. Drain on paper towels (kitchen paper to the English).

These were delicious!

OK, I am off to have lunch with my friend Twiggy on this cold, rainy day. Major scaffolding is going up outside my study window as the building across the street prepares to get an external elevator, so all is not as serene here as usual. My dad always said he should have bought stock in a scaffolding company in London, because it seems that as soon as it comes down from one building, it goes up on the adjacent. Fair enough.

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