24 February, 2007


Have we done nothing but eat for the past three days? No, we've also talked until you'd think we would run out of words. By a coincidence of social planning, we have had lunch out, dinner party, lunch out, dinner party and if I don't stir anything or chew anything for the foreseeable future it will be too soon.

No, that's not even slightly true! In between extensive real estate visits trying desperately to find a house that doesn't come complete with divorce papers (can you tell we don't agree on what makes a perfect house? I thought so), and ferrying Avery to riding, and reading to my little school sprouts, we have been like people who are getting ready to move to another planet: we must see everyone we know before we go! Perhaps this week will be quieter, but then I'll be bored. And all this following on the heels of our whirlwind tour of New York and Connecticut has me quite befuddled.

It all started with my long-awaited lunch with Susan on Friday, at Fishworks where I had such a nice lunch a year ago, all by myself. How times have changed! Since we had not seen each other in weeks and weeks, we had a lot of ground to cover in just a couple of hours. Every time I see Susan I am reminded that she has a much more colorful life than I have! Her family simply bursts with drama, her past with famous college roommates and next-door neighbors who write tell-all thinly-disguised memoirs about their unfortunate family members, and now, it appears, a long-lost Polish great-uncle who has a portrait of Susan's grandmother, languishing in his studio. At least, it was languishing. Now it has made its mysterious way to Manchester, in the hands of another Polish relation, who is meeting with Susan today to try to get her to take it off his hands. "But I don't want it! My brother doesn't want it! My mother doesn't want it. Where will I put it?" Susan wails. She has problems. I can't wait to see it.

So I had an absolutely deliciously fresh whole sea bass, roasted with whole stems of rosemary tucked into the flesh, and with lots of crunchy sea salt clinging to it. Plus sauteed spinach with garlic and butter. So luxurious. And we didn't get through half what we needed to talk about, although Avery's English teacher got a thorough airing. When I called a meeting to discuss Avery's... treatment in English class, I was all but called an aggressive, perfectionist American mother who can't bear to see her child criticised. Well. Fair enough. But I hate to see this teacher pull off the impossible: turn a child whose greatest love is reading and writing into someone afraid to turn in her homework. It just is not helpful. Susan and I agreed, however, that actual drawing and quartering was not an option. Yet.

From there, it was a dash to make school pickup, and hand her to Becky for the afternoon of blissful play that was planned at Anna's house. How pathetic am I to go to pickup even when I don't need to? But I do like to see her little face. It warmed my heart so much to hear Becky refer to her as "Fifi," since only people who really love her do that. Then I was on to Selfridges to try to track down some beef ribs. No joy. Upon hearing the word "rib" the butcher insisted that I wanted a joint. No, ribs in the plural, please? How about a veal joint? No, I really want beef ribs. Apparently they don't do that here. I would say I was just using the wrong terminology, all too easy to do in this land of the spurious shared language. But I didn't see anything in the case resembling ribs. So I caved and bought pork spareribs, always lovely, but not what I wanted to braise in tomato sauce in a vain attempt to match Olimpia's perfect dish. And I don't think I can bring any back from America. Hmmm, more research needed obviously.

In any case, home I went to slather the ribs with honey and sea salt and put them in a slow oven (350, I'd say, or 180 here) for three hours, turning often and basting. Doesn't get any better than that. Just as they were getting tender, in trooped the McBs for our celebratory "Highly-Skilled Migrant Worker and His Dependents" dinner. It's not a holiday everyone observes, but for our family it was quite significant, since the McBs happily don't show any signs of going "home" either. They came bearing gifts: Erin's special two versions of sticky toffee pudding, complete with toffee sauce to heat up and pour over. By the time we had got through the ribs, an enormous dish of macaroni and cheese, a gigantic bowl of carrots caramelised in butter and brown sugar, it was hard to look upon the puddings with the favor they deserved, but... we managed. And so began the process of far too much food that continued into...

Luncheon with Vincent. Yes, as if he hasn't been generous enough with his menus, and then on Thursday his photographic skills, he invited us once again, this time to give John a chance to see the contact sheets from the photo shoot. Was there ever a better lunch? I don't hope ever to have one. And best of all, it put both Avery and John back on salmon, which I consider tantamount to an act of God. It will be wonderful to be able to bring that fish back into my kitchen, in an unsmoked form. Vincent's version was softly poached in the oven, smothered in a layer of finely julienned vegetables: red peppers, carrots, fennel, and served with a creamy sauce containing more of the vegetables. As soon as I get the actual recipe, I promise to share. With this was steamed broccoli (or rather, it was braised, as I saw Pete stirring it in a skillet) with lemon and olive oil, sliced boiled potatoes, oh heaven. We simply ate ourselves silly. Then of course there was salad! With a new thing I had never had before, beetroot sprouts. Spicy, crunchy, delicate. Definitely something to add. And THEN... the cheeseboard. Fully seven, eight cheeses? I lost count. A barely-there goats cheese, terribly young and delicate, a perfect Stilton, oh, I don't know. So good, with a hearty brown bread and oatcakes. And red and green grapes. And THEN... pudding. The simplest apricot tart you can imagine, just a perfect short crust and halved apricots, with a sugar syrup poured over. I saw him do this, so I can attest that even those of us who think we can't bake could do it.

Why isn't Vincent writing his own cookbook? Or start easy and do... a blog. Why not? Clearly anyone can. He is the real thing when it comes to cooking, where I am shown up as a bit of a fraud, but I don't mind as long as he feeds me. He truly does put a load of flour and a load of sugar and some butter in a Magimix and whizz it and... there's pastry for a tart. Even his salad dressings are spectacular. And through it all he's the most energetic father to his two beautiful little girls, who greatly enjoyed looking over the contact sheets with Avery (possibly her first ecounter with a loupe?). And Pete is the perfect foil for Vincent: where Vincent is mercurial, unpredictable, Pete is all appreciation, consanguinity, firm discipline of the girls while tickling them. And he is not without his own culinary masterpieces: upon hearing that John liked cheesecake, out one came from the fridge, of Pete's own design, and would you believe that John ate it? I confess I had two bites. Divinely cold and limey.

And I can say about the photographs only this: if you ever have the chance for a professional photographer who loves you to take your picture, DO IT. While I will never love looking at a picture of myself, I came closer than I ever thought I would. Thank you, Vincent.

I must go have dinner (! I know what I just said! but the stomach knows no reason), but I will tempt you with this photograph of Avery and one of her old school chums from New York, who came over last night... for dinner. I know, I know...

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