16 January, 2007

the drears, part two

It's taking longer than I thought.

The whole "don't be depressed, things aren't as dreary as they seem" campaign, I mean. How can it stay so grey?! Yesterday the sun came out briefly while I walked to the Lebanese food shop. By the time I came back out... grey.

And it's extending its nasty tendrils right into my house. And school. Even reading with the gulls this morning was a bit lacklustre. Little Elodie allowed as how she had a cold, which necessitated much swiping of sleeve over nose. Tissue? Why? Maddie was reading "Charlotte's Web" and as she rivals Avery in the drama-queen stakes, I felt in duty bound to tell her that the story ends in tears. "I already know, Mrs Curran. My sister's read it twice and she cried both times." I sort of slumped toward home and in the middle of the high street remembered some sappy adage from "Little House on the Prairie," or some Shirley Temple movie: if you want to feel better, think of someone else. So I stopped in the flower shop and ordered some potted plants for the school staircase, which makes three graceful turns from the top floor to the bottom, and in each curve is a pot. Empty now without the holiday poinsettias. So by the time I go to read again on Thursday, there will at least be something alive to look at on the long way up, and the much shorter way down.

Well, I'm sorry to say that my floral tribute did nothing whatsoever to leaven my mood. Once home, I cleared off my desk by putting things to post to America into envelopes. The upside is that my desk is clear, but I hate to think how much it will set me back in postage! Still, Janie's birthday approaches and now there is a nice fat package headed her way. Virtuously, I folded some random laundry, but when I went to put Avery's clothes away, fully six sweaters leapt from her cupboard and fell at my feet. I decided it couldn't wait another minute, so I dragged every last garment she owns out onto the floor and am now paying for it. So much outgrown! So much shabby. So a big bag for Oxfam and a little pile for Jane, and now kind John has gone out and bought storage drawers for me to put in the closets and start organising. What a bore.

However. Remember the persnickety guy's house we saw last week? Well, he might have been a neatness psychopath, but his WIFE had original copies of "Milly-Molly-Mandy," and I wanted them. Avery's copies are not only reprints, and so rather not so exciting, but they belong to Jane now, so when I got home from the wacky house, I tracked down original copies of two of the earliest books. If you have a little girl or boy, or need a present for a little girl or boy, you simply cannot do better than these books. She's a little English girl from probably the 1920s, with an extended family of quite unparalleled sweetness, several friends to play with, and most memorably, a rather addictive cadence of narrative. Her little friend Susan, for example, is referred to always as "little-friend-Susan," which is of course the way children hear things. The copies arrived yesterday, and Avery is thrilled to have them, plus they include some stories the American reprint did not. OK, things are looking up.

And why shouldn't our trouble-free cat, Hermione, get a little attention? Of course Wimsey and Keechie frequent the pages of the blog because they are insane. But poor Hermione and Tacy, the original unsqueaky wheels, are neglected. Of course Tacy told me exactly what she thought of my attentions by refusing to pose for a picture. So there. But how down can any spoiled rotten person like myself be, when a tabby of this sort will sit on my lap.

It seems fitting to close with one of the few recipes for ugly food that I have to offer. This is a very healthy, very tasty and inexpensive side dish of my own design, invented last night to take advantage of the lovely lentils I had bought at Green Valley. It has a strangely satisfying heft, a spoonful of this dish does. Life as a vegetarian might not be so lame as it always sounds to me, with this dish available. The lentils are nice and firm, al dente in fact. I adore the old Mario Batali quote, "Don't let me hear you pronounce it 'al Dante.' He's dead and he doesn't care about your pasta."

But this dish is warm, it's hearty, it's full of big flavors, it cooks itself, and the house smells divine while it's on the stove. And wonderful cold leftovers, tucked in a pita. But... it is ugly. So enjoy.

Ugly Curried Lentils
(serves four)

1 1/2 cups split lentils (green or yellow, or I mixed in both)
4 cups chicken stock
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 medium onion, minced
1-inch knob fresh ginger, peeled and minced
1 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp turmeric
1 tsp hot curry powder (or rogan josh)
1/2 tsp chili powder
salt to taste
3 tbsps butter

Go over the lentils and discard any little hard bits. Place in a saucepan and cover with water, swish around, discard water and repeat three times. Pour in 3 cups chicken stock and simmer for one hour, stirring and adding more stock if lentils dry out. When al dente (hee hee), add the garlic, onion, ginger and seasonings and the rest of the stock and simmer, covered, for at least an hour, but indefinitely if you like. Right before serving, add the butter and give it a good stir, adding more stock if necessary. Delicious. With it we had an inexpensive cut of steak sliced in strips and sauteed in peanut oil with Japanese mirin, soy sauce and oyster sauce, which we devoured wrapped in lettuce leaves, with sliced fresh mushrooms, sliced pears, fresh coriander leaves and chili sauce. Messy, cheap, crunchy and glorious. Oooh, I'm cheering myself up...

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