20 January, 2007

Brideshead Revisited, revisited

But first, an important Shrimp Announcement: there is no way, contrary to the cavalier advice I gave you in the recipe yesterday, that the shrimp recipe I gave you can feed four. Scratch that, it can't even serve two. We ate like little wolves, while Avery swam peacefully in her bath, being an unshrimplike person. I forgot how much I love that dish. So double it definitely, and maybe even more, for four. Even with the rice to soak up all the spicy goodness, we were both left peering into the serving dish in dismay when it was finished. Make it right away, do.

Avery has a dreadful cough. She said this morning with relish, between coughing up lungs, "I'm so excited for today!" "Why, what do you have going on?" I asked in surprise. "NOTHING." So we sat around and did nothing. Or rather, she sat around and watched movie after movie. We started out with "Peter Pan," which got her all fired up for next week's school auditions for their performance of said drama, in the summer term. We're angling for her to be a mermaid, since they get to sing, or one of the special two "Lost Boys" who get actual lines. Then it was onto her school version of "Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat," "The Phoenix and the Carpet,") while John and I cleaned out closets in our bedroom. Seven bags of clothes for Oxfam, whooppee.

I found things with dry cleaning tags in them from the last time we lived in London, in 1993. Which means said garments have not been worn in 15 years. Why have I placed them in boxes and moved them at least five times since then, if I didn't care any more than that? But some items of sentimental value: the cardigan I was wearing when John met me lo these 24 years ago, a sweatshirt from Bryn Mawr with 1992 emblazoned on it, the year I got my PhD! And it's covered with paint from when we refurbished the dining room in our first home in Maplewood, New Jersey. And the little tweed dress my mother was wearing in her engagement photograph for her local newspaper! Quite a sentimental journey.

But we were glad enough to finish and collapse to watch the first episode of "Brideshead Revisited." I forgot what a wonderful, evocative, beautiful production that was. A bit too subtle for Avery, all sorts of mortal nuances that she wasn't very interested in. But it will be nice to have in reserve for times when we need a little elegant entertainment. Was there ever anyone more beautiful than the young Anthony Andrews? He turns up, as well, in one of the new Miss Marples, playing Tommy of "Tommy and Tuppence," never my favorite Agatha Christie characters, and a very weird television production (completely changing the story, picky picky), but still well done in his capable hands. And of course the perfect Jeremy Irons as Charles. From the special edition brochure that came with the DVD I learned the touching fact that the rooms at Oxford that Charles inhabits in the film are the real-live rooms where Evelyn Waugh actually lived. Sigh, to go to Oxford. Maybe Avery will go.

Do you feel in the mood for a slightly obsessive-compulsive dinner preparation? I have to say, it's satisfying not only to prepare, but it's delicious as well. For some reason, all the butler-served meals in "Brideshead Revisited" made me long for a slightly elaborate dinner with, crucially, a sauce. So between home and Marks & Sparks I invented this. Have a go.

Chicken with Parma Ham and Asparagus
(serves four)

3 tbsps butter
6 leaves fresh sage, whole
4 boneless chicken breasts, skin removed
4 toothpicks
20 stalks thin asparagus, snapped at the weak point on the stem
4 slices Parma ham
16 leaves baby spinach
6 mushrooms, sliced thin
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 shallot, minced
1 cup white wine
1/2 cup single cream
salt and pepper to taste

Melt butter in large skillet and fry sage leaves until crispy, then remove the leaves and take skillet off heat. Lay chicken breasts on a cutting board and either 1) pound them quite flat, or 2) cut as large a slit as possible in one side, to make a pocket. Now, on a separate cutting board, lay out Parma ham slices next to one another. At one end of each slice, pile on four spinach leaves, and lay 5 stalks of asparagus on each pile of spinach. Roll up the ham around the spinach and asparagus and tuck the little roll into the chicken pocket, or roll up in the flattened chicken breast if you went that route. Secure with a toothpick. Aren't they cute?

Now, heat up the butter in the skillet again. Lay the chicken breasts in the butter and brown, then turn over and brown again. After about 3 minutes on each side, take chicken out and put on a plate, set aside. Add more butter if necessary and throw in the garlic, shallot and mushrooms to saute until soft. Deglaze the skillet with the wine and cook down for 3 minutes, then add the cream, salt and pepper and stir. Carefully scoot the mushrooms to the sides of the skillet to make room for the chicken breasts, and lay them in the sauce. Cover and cook for six minutes at a simmer. Serve on a platter with the sage leaves on top.

Yum yum!

With this we had mashed potatoes and sauteed red pepper strips, and I hereby promise, no more mashed potatoes for awhile. Such a guilty pleasure, but I should turn our pasty white winter bodies toward more virtuous side dishes, like the lentils, or a risotto with at least some vegetables in it. Actually the lentil dish is quite like a Middle Eastern risotto, isn't it? I'm sure I'm not the first cook to draw that comparison.

Right. I'll close with a special wish for my Indiana relatives: GO COLTS!

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