10 January, 2007

the cleanup (and a really good sandwich)

Ah, it's that time again. In the run-up to Christmas I feel positively addicted to clutter. I want the tree, the ornaments, the little village of skaters and sledders, the centerpiece of pinecones and cranberries, the presents, the wreaths! And music, and big meals with lots of gravy, and Christmas cards from friends stacked and displayed, and bows on cats, if they'll let me. Let the bells chime.

No more. Yesterday I was visited by the Spirit of Minimalism.

After a day of frenzied labor (poor John was roped in as well), the tree's gone, the needles swept up, all the ornaments packed away and the boxes stored in the little Harry-Potter-room under the stairs, table bare, songs silenced, everything neat, tidy and polished. And empty! It actually feels good.

I even got obsessed yesterday with my kitchen. At first all I was going to do was throw away the old, stale, dried-up stuff on my "pantry" shelves (I wish I had a pantry, but all I have is stainless-steel shelves right out in the open in my kitchen). But once I got started, no object was safe. Seven boxes of teabags? I don't think so. I bunged the bags themselves into a lovely clean glass jar, screwed on the lid, and threw away all the boxes. Half a bottle of red wine I'd been saving for spaghetti sauce? Down the drain. Why had I kept a box of lasagne sheets with just one and a half of them left? Gone. And then, while I was at it, I decided to switch all the food and dishes around, so into the cupboards and drawers went the rice and tinned tomatoes, and out came the green Fire King dinner plates and all the teacups and saucers from my Evil Grandmother's wedding china. Lots of odd discoveries since the day long ago last year when John kindly (if a bit haphazardly) unpacked the kitchen for me. And you know what? It looks nice in there now!

By dinner time, however, I was exhausted, dirty and hungry. But something in me rebelled at producing yet another meal of meat and two veg, or pasta, baguette and salad. No, I rebelled and decided that just for once, a sandwich for dinner wouldn't kill us. And what a sandwich! At first I thought, "How can I blog a recipe for a sandwich? Everyone knows how to make a reuben." But maybe not. Have a look, but keep in mind that, whatever the time-honored distictions in curing or whatever, if you expect American-style pastrami, it's called "salt beef" here.

Classic Reuben

2 slices traditional rye bread
1 tbsp butter
enough Cheddar-ish cheese to cover bread
1/4 cup sauerkraut (or cole slaw)
2 tbsps Thousand Island or Russian dressing
pastrami/salt beef to taste (we like lots)

Heat a skillet to medium, and lay one slice of buttered bread butter side down. Cover with cheese, then sauerkraut and dressing, then pastrami. Butter the second slice of bread and place on top, butter side out of course. Keeping all the wettish bits in between the cheese and pastrami avoids that fate worse then death for any sandwich: soggy bread. Grill gently until cheese is melted and bread crispy, then carefully turn over and grill other side until crunchy. Heaven!

I did cave to convention and had a salad on the side, but it was nothing more than chopped cabbage and more Thousand Island dressing. Now, Avery will not eat dressing of any kind, but strangely enough, from a baby one of her favorite foods was sauerkraut. Odd, but there you go.

Well, today we moseyed over to North (or is it called West?) Kensington again to see a house in Bassett Road, designed, owned and inhabited by the most PERSNICKETY man I have ever encountered! Honestly, he makes me look devil-may-care and messy, and those who know me best know to their despair that I tend to follow people around picking up the things they have just put down and tidying them away. This guy was nuts. On his coffee table were six rows of magazines, all stacked the way furniture stores do, so the title of each issue shows? And in his bathroom, nothing that would indicate a person could actually practice personal hygiene in it. Just candles, and books, and flower arrangments. And he comes with a wife! And child! The child's room looked as if they had just whisked away the glass dome that normally covers it. Antique dolls and teddies lined up with vintage books carefully stacked beside a sepia-toned photograph of the child herself, who appeared briefly dressed like something out of a Victorian dollhouse, and was promptly taken away by a doting nanny. Honestly, it was surreal, and most enjoyable, to inhabit their world for half an hour.

But the house itself is like our loft in Tribeca transplanted into a London building. Not for me. What would be the point of moving to London and living in New York? I really want an English house. So I dragged John kicking and screaming from that environment of steel and glass, and we're back to the drawing board. Although it will take awhile for me to forget the image of all those sweaters folded like they are at Ralph Lauren, reposing in a glass-fronted clothes cupboard. Stacked by COLOR. It reminded me of the perfection of the house where we were so warmly welcomed in Southampton this summer. I am just not cool enough to live like that, but it's a nice place to visit.

I'm off to a new class this afternoon! "Comedy writing for television." Perhaps that levity implied in that title will be suitable for a brain like mine that doesn't seem capable of producing a novel or a screenplay, my previous City Lit endeavors notwithstanding. Some days I feel that my life is like a sitcom episode, one of them where it isn't funny to the people on the telly, but the audience really enjoys it. So we'll see if I can translate any of that to the small screen. Watch this space.

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