14 February, 2007

Happy Valentine's Day

I hope this finds you all as cosy as we are here in Connecticut: snow without, a flickering fire within. Of course all is not joy: my poor parents and brother are stuck at little Janie's house, their plans all awry with this winter storm that began last night and is still continuing. All the weather people are so happy! They have christened it "The Valentine's Day Storm," which to me sounds like a serial killer who hits only on Hallmark holidays, but I guess it had to have a moniker. Anyway, but for the extreme annoyance being caused to many travellers, it's simply beautiful here at Red Gate Farm. This picture makes me laugh: it's one of the Victorian candle holders attached to the branches of our hydrangea tree, so as to be lit up for Christmas Eve lo those many months ago as we prepared our big move to London. I guess the little things were lost in the lush branches and leaves this summer, when we arrived for our holidays.

Our trip here was a bit muddly as well: we arrived at the airport on Friday evening to find that although the flight had been delayed, boarding had been closed three hours early, and we were not allowed on. Grrr. There was nothing to do but go back home and return on Saturday, which we did without mishap, and hours later found ourselves waiting outside the terminal at JFK for a "car" to pick us up and drive us to Connecticut. "Oh my lord," John said, "that's not a car." "It's a stretch limo!" Avery shrieked in some combination of glee and total embarrassment. "I just hope nobody is looking out the window as we arrive," I groaned, since the austerity of our farming community does not really run to enormous long gas-guzzling vehicles too attenuated to fit in our driveway. We simply scuttled out of the car and raced inside, to perfect warmth from Rollie's coming in and getting the house ready for us. Plus food in the fridge from Anne and David! So perfect. We fell into bed, happy.

The next morning we were each up just two hours earlier than normal, so I was, unusually, happy at 7 a.m., in the grocery store. It was my favorite way to spend the day: surrounded by family, cooking and eating. My parents, brother, and Joel and Jane arrived and there were birthday present exchanges, no-reason present exchanges, catching up of news, and mostly appreciating all the hilarious things Jane says. She seems very low to the ground for someone who can say so much! She emerged from exploring the guest bathroom, holding a shampoo bottle and saying earnestly, "Ooh, I love barcodes." And she has several jokes in her two-year-old repertoire that require many, many repetitions. "Why chicken cross road?" "I don't know, Janie, why did the chicken cross the road?" "OTHER SIDE!" and shrieks of uncontrollable laughter. This she tells to UPS guys, visiting farmers, waiters and waitresses. Everyone seems to find it pretty entertaining. And she is so cute, just to look at. "Aunt Kristen, my shoes make funny sound." "Do they? You mean if you stamp up and down?" "No, just if I wiggle them, they squeak." Sure enough, as she twirled her little ankles around they squeaked in all their pink leather glory.

It seemed a good day for some hot soup, so I remembered that my beloved vichyssoise of summer probably started out its life as creamy leek and potato soup. Give it a try; it couldn't be any easier, or cheaper.

Creamy Leek and Potato Soup
(serves 8)

3 tbsps butter
6 leeks, just white part and a bit of the green, washed and sliced thin
3 medium onions
3 cloves garlic, coarsely chopped
6 medium potatoes
6 cups chicken stock
1 cup half and half
chopped chives to garnish

Melt butter in a heavy stockpot and sweat the leeks and garlic gently until soft. Add onions and potatoes and coat with the butter, then cover with chicken stock and simmer high for 45 minutes. Blend with a hand blender and add half and half, then return to the stove and heat gently. Serve in warmed bowls and scatter chives on top.


With this we had simply obscene sandwiches of roast beef, turkey, red onion, avocado, tomato and fresh pesto, on sourdough toast. Oh, and some odd cheese that was completely delicious, in a very American-deli kind of way: it was called "buffalo wing cheddar" and was a creamy yellow cheese studded with jalapenos and laced with chili sauce. Delicious.

Then we just hung around. My mother is the best hanger-arounder I know. She gets comfortable in the old southern-Indiana rocker we bought 20 years ago for $15, and keeps me company, telling me what's up with my 94-year-old grandmother, all my cousins' babies I've never met and know only through birth announcements and sending picture books to them. We gossip about my sister's job, Jane's remarkable accomplishments, English mysteries we both love (including the new police procedural from our favorite Deborah Crombie, "Water Like a Stone" which we have both ordered and can't wait to read). She looks over my shoulder as I cook, marveling at my ability to do the simplest tasks, which makes her a very rewarding companion. I should make a mental note: when Avery is grown and I come to visit her, I need to find her as admirable and praiseworthy as my mother always claims to find me, even when I haven't done anything to deserve it. It's a nice feeling. My dad had tales of the enormous celebrations for the Colts' big Super Bowl win, and my brother reported on the latest Beatles reissue I gave him for my birthday. And through it all, Jane talked. And threw a tiny rubber ball from one of us to the other. And I stirred my brisket, and whipped up cole slaw for dinner. Rollie came barreling in to say hello and that yes, he and Judy could come to dinner after all, had Judy told me so? No. Small panic! Really? OK, Plan B: why not make a meatloaf? To go with the brisket? That way, as far as the menu went, you could choose beef... or beef! Which led to Joel's telling me that in some Indiana towns he's traveled to for business, chicken is offered as the vegetarian alternative. Oh, my home state.

I have to confess: the crazy social life of the past four days has caught up with all of us: two of us are asleep and I am nodding. More tomorrow. On tap: New York City adventures, horsey adventures, retail therapy, and...gnocchi. I know, you can hardly wait.

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