15 February, 2007

we're official

Yes, we're officially visa-ed for life in England now. John is, ahem, drum roll: a "Highly Skilled Migrant Worker." Avery and I are his dependents. As if we didn't already know that.

We got up early Tuesday morning and rode down in the hotel elevator with lots of hilarious dogs in town for the Westminster Dog Show at Madison Square Garden, just down the street from the New Yorker. Oh, yes, we had to switch hotels after Alyssa visited the one I had chosen, and said that while she was not actually attacked by giant rodents and cockroaches, it was a near miss. And she thought maybe there was a dead person on the front steps. So I put my tail between my legs and let Olimpia book us into the boring but clean hotel John always stays at in town. Sigh, so much for experimentation and adventure.

But yes, after we dropped Avery off at school with Cici to spend the day being a non-uniformed co-ed girl, I had tea with Kathleen and then trekked up to the British Consulate to submit all the laborious paperwork John had gathered up: tax records, salary records, marriage and birth certificates, everything but my last grocery list and mammogram results.

But on the way in the taxi, I was again visited by the feeling that New York is simply littered with memories. Ballet on 6th Avenue, and the darling Jefferson Market library across the street, where little tutu-ed Avery spent so many happy hours. Our crazy miserable dentist who wanted to be an Olympic skier, on 10th Street just around the corner from the Halloween store, open every day of the year selling makeup, wigs, scary teeth, dead rubber rats, plastic swords and costumes. And then Friends Seminary where Annabelle goes to school and Avery spent so many hot summer days at camp with her, and Beth Israel Hospital, visible from the school, where Avery was born. Sigh. But London is beginning to feel like home, as well.

The visas were no problem at all, and then we found out our lunch with Alyssa had to be canceled because Elliot was busy filming a commercial for PBS! His red hair and general attitude of friendly, goofy abandon makes him a total obsession with the New York commercial set. So we abandoned our plan and instead spontaneously hopped on the V train and had pastrami sandwiches, matzoh ball soup and latkes at Katz Deli! There is just nothing like it, although I did recoil a bit at $13.45 for a sandwich. But since no sane person can eat a whole one, it's actually not that bad. In fact, perfect. Then a long walk to SoHo to find a down coat for me since the bitter wind was destined to make standing out at a pony lesson quite miserable. Boy are things on sale! EMS was good to me and I came away looking like a marshmallow, but cosy and warm. And I found, on the other end of the style spectrum, a beautiful halter-neck black dress to wear to the British Show Jumping Championships in April, for which John and Avery gave me fancy VIP tickets, for my birthday. Black tie, the Puissance Wall, it will be great, and now for a budget price at JCrew, I have a dress.

Just in time to pull outside school to get Avery, and I looked up to see my old friend Mya, one of the gallery's best clients, coming toward me! "What on EARTH?" she asked in astonishment. It was but the work of a moment to explain our mission, and she explained too that her eldest son Miles (who was just two when his parents bought their first painting) goes to school at VCS. Then there is the middle son who was born when the gallery was about a year old, and now there is a third son, with whom Mya was pregnant when I told her we were moving. We chatting energetically until it was time for Miles to be collected. How nice it would be if they came to London, but with three boys under seven, it might be tough.

Up the old familiar West Side Highway, past the newly-rebuilt crumble of the wall that so famously fell onto the road just feet from our car several years ago. What an adventure that was. Poor John's mom not being able to reach me with my dead cell phone, certain that we were buried under tons of rubble. We reached the barn to find all our friends milling about in the cold, some unrecognizable under woolly hats! Ali with her new, dear horse, Gabby and Nina jumping in the ring with dear Christine shouting at everyone to keep heels down, hands calm, shoulders straight. Arrangements were being made for the dinner that evening to reunite us all, and John was passing out coffee to everyone. Avery was on Ladybug, and as you can see, the meeting was a joy for all. What a dear pony, but I must say the lesson lasted just long enough in the freezing cold. And, dear readers, I managed to work in a trip to my beloved Fairway, quite possibly the best, and most affordable, food market I have ever been to. Huge piles of produce of every description as you enter, then onto the pantry goods with deals on olive oil and anchovies and pasta, plus a huge deli section where I snagged gravadlax, smoked rainbow trout, fresh cream cheese (bears no resemblance to the gelatinous cousin of the Philadelphia variety), and then into the famous Cold Room, where the entire space is a refrigerator. There I picked up an embarrassing quantity of fresh shucked oysters for stew for Friday night's supper, and regretfully passed up the whole beef fillets and giant pork roasts on the bone, not having enough people to feed to make it worthwhile. Up we went then to Avery's barn friend Nina's gorgeous town house, to snuggle before the fire and try to help Nina's mother Julia with her latest professional conundrum, a museum opportunity that sounds both compelling and confusing.

Dinner was a total delight. I cannot say that my appetite was at its most opportune, with a giant Katz Deli lunch in its recent past. So I contented myself with an enormous Caesar salad and had little bites of everyone else's pasta, John's gnocchi with wild mushrooms definitely winning out. It was a lovely restaurant, Centolire on Madison Avenue, and apparently when Julia told someone of our plans, the listener was incredulous. "You're taking CHILDREN there?" It's one of Pino Luongo's brainchildren, and had I known ahead of time where we were going, I would have saved my pastrami for another day. I remember the days years ago when we lived in SoHo (more waxing nostalgic), going to Il Cantinori in Little Italy for a special treat.

Certainly it was luxurious, and with a table for eight mothers (and John) and eight little girls, we were perfectly set for a relaxing evening. I just looked and looked at my friends and was so happy to be included: beautiful, earnest Florencia listening gravely to whatever story elegant, athletic Camille happened to be telling, and authoritative, opinionated Venezuelan Ana, daughter of Carolina Herrera, and then feisty, foxy Francesca who hosted us so memorably this summer, and fresh-faced Sandy, wife of a very popular CNN host and with an edge of Southern steely wit to her charm. And of course Julia to my right, still musing over her job offer, joining me in looking over at our daughters, ordering their dinners with grace and aplomb. How did they get old enough to deal with waiters, and receive such glowing smiles for their manners? All of them so sweet in their jodhpurs and long glossy ponytails. As always the discussion ranged from the most recent pony-human intrigues at the barn, who is winning versus who should be winning, what insane things Joey the trainer has been saying lately, worries over our daughters' growing up too quickly, and a lot of interest in our lives in London, especially Avery's riding. It seems magical, and almost impossible to me, that we can come back, and our friends are still here. As we finished dinner we looked out the window to see thick snow falling. "Better get going," John said, and we parted with many kisses, and headed back up to Connecticut.

We spent yesterday recovering from our mad schedule, doing nothing but cooking crabcakes and watching "The Manor House," a wonderful series of programmes detailing the Gosford Park-like lives of an invented, recreated aristocratic family life in Edwardian England. So far three of the volunteer scullery maids have quit, the French chef hates everyone, little Master Guy has received a pony for his birthday, and some of the shimmer is wearing off the generous attitudes of the people playing the landed gentry. What will this evening's episode be? Perhaps Rob the Footman will fall for Jennifer the Second Housemaid? We'll find out.

Kristen's Crabcakes (inspired by Joel's Crabcakes, thank you)
(makes approximately 8)

1 lb fresh claw crabmeat, cooked and picked over
1/2 cup thinly sliced green onions, white and green parts
1 red bell pepper, minced
1/2 cup mayonnaise
3 egg yolks, lightly beaten
1 1/2 cups fresh breadcrumbs
1/2 tsp chili powder
salt and pepper to taste
3 tbsps vegetable oil

(1 more cup breadcrumbs for rolling)

Mix all ingredients but oil, thoroughly. Form into 3-inch diameter cakes, about 3/4 inch thick. Roll in breadcrumbs and place in a single layer on a platter. Refrigerate as long as possible, at least 2 hours (this will keep them from falling apart while cooking). Before frying, firmly squeeze them into shape once again. Heat oil in a wide, deep skillet and place crabcakes in a single layer. Fry on one side 4 minutes, then turn and fry for another 4 minutes. Drain thoroughly on thick paper towels and serve with:

Spicy Chili Mayonnaise

3/4 cup mayonnaise
juice of one lemon
2 tbsps garlic chili sauce
1 tbsp Dijon mustard
2 cloves garlic, finely minced
salt and pepper to taste

Mix all ingredients and adjust seasonings to your taste. Serve in dollops on each dinner plate, alongside crabcakes.

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