16 March, 2007

domestic bliss

Seriously. My husband spent two weeks in Iowa and this was my gift upon his return.

Yes, John is home again, safe and sound, and I have to say this sign makes me laugh. The cats are all circling it and whispering among themselves. I can only wonder.

Avery and I were happily cuddling together very early this morning, trying to ignore the ticking clock telling us that we were perilously close to being late to school, when Tacy's ears pricked up and she sat bolt upright. I too thought I heard an intruder, only strangely the intruder seemed to be, from all available sounds, taking out the recycling. Do intruders take out the recycling? I got up cautiously, crept up the stairs, and there was all John's myriad luggage strewn around and the man himself... taking out the recycling! Honestly, he wasn't home for a minute and he was already taking care of the domestic chores I had neglected.

It is excellent to have him back. He waded through miles of mail as I made scrambled eggs for Avery and adjured her to eat her blackberries and Nutella toast. Finally I got her to school and am sitting peacefully here at my desk while my poor jetlagged husband sleeps off his dreadful experience as a man of 6 foot 3 in coach for nine hours from Cincinnati. The day holds nothing more momentous than a trip to the supermarket, an ice skating lesson after school, and... a real estate visit. Yes, it's official. John's home.

I spent the better part of last evening watching Stephen Poliakoff's "Shooting the Past," which I have to say is a lesser cousin to his "Perfect Strangers," not the least because it's lacking the mercurial and sexy presence of Matthew Macfadyen. As well, I am annoyingly distracted by the terrible American accent of one of the leads, an innocent miscast Irishman called Liam Cunningham (who I recognized from "A Little Princess," thank you, imdb) and the Englishisms the script forces him to utter. I have spent so much time in this adopted country of mine listening to English people complain perfectly reasonably about American actors' bad English accents and being scolded in my fiction class for having my characters say such outlandish things as "sidewalk" instead of "pavement" that I had quite forgotten the shoe could easily land on the other foot. Hearing this "American" (who of course is written as arrogant, greedy, insensitive and ignorant, all the favorite hallmarks of any American character in British hands) say things like "the post" instead of "the mail" and roll his Rs as if he were recovering from a holiday in Dublin just made me cringe. There were funny subtle anti-Americanisms, though, that I don't think the average shtew-pid American not living in London would actually get (not that any American has probably ever seen "Shooting the Past", but even so), like Emilia Fox's character pouring out a glass of lemonade ostentatiously clinking, and saying evilly, "Ice?"

Ah well, normally I am as anti-American as an American can be, if my country is represented by things like McDonalds, iPods, reality television and certain politicians. But I do dislike a terrible American accent. I'll play the role normally played by British people objecting to Gwyneth Paltrow (a perfectly reasonable thing to object to): "Couldn't they find an American actor to play that part?" I will have to wade through the rest of the programme, but I don't think it will stay in my film library, sorry to say.

Anyway, now that John's home I won't be watching television anyway. He has already announced firmly that it is real estate, real estate, real estate that will occupy us for the foreseeable future. We have really got to find a place to live that doesn't involve the words "Grosvenor Estate." While he was away, we lost yet another house that could have been perfect. I think looking a bit farther afield might be a good idea. Parsons Green, anyone?

Comedy class yesterday was quite entertaining. I just love being in that totally British atmosphere. I constantly have to stop people talking and ask for clarification of an arcane (to me) cultural reference. The number of television programmes I have never heard of! I must watch "Green Room," and I must get familiar enough with comedian John Inman to be, belatedly, sorry that he died this week. As well, I love hearing the conversation peppered with my favorite London expressions like when plans go "pear-shaped" and the ever-popular rebuttal, "Fair enough." We are trying valiantly to write an episode for our sitcom (set inexplicably in a gym owned by a petrochemical plant, but there you go), and everyone was madly contributing ideas yesterday. Finally we have our main evil lady lead being told by her titled CEO to shut down the gym and replace it with a restaurant for his rich, spoiled daughter to run. We're contemplating a cameo by Gordon Ramsay. Naturally he would grace us with his presence. My fellow classmates and the tutor are really such charming, intelligent people that I will really miss them when term ends in just... sob... two weeks.

I must find another class to take. I hate to think that I'm running through every possible skill to be taught at CityLit, only to find out every term that I'm not good at that EITHER. Let's see, so far I've attempted acting, fiction, screenwriting, and comedy. What's left? Underwater basketweaving, I suppose, or computer programming. Ah well, even if I never write a successful sitcom, I have learned a number of valuable life lessons, among them this gem from yesterday: "Misunderstanding is your best friend. If you ever run into one, take it home, give it dinner, and take it to bed with you." Who knew?

Well, I'm off to turn last night's roast chicken into soup for John for lunch. He has spent such a busy, draining, rewarding, life-changing two weeks away from home that I feel he needs to be coddled. And anyway, everyone should make chicken soup, and you get a mighty nice roast chicken dinner on your way to making soup, so where's the harm in that. Here's how.

Coddling Soup
(serves the masses)

1 large roasting chicken
1/2 cup white wine
1/2 cup chicken stock
herbs to scatter (take your pick: basil, rosemary, garlic salt, thyme, or ALL)
3 tbsps butter
1 onion, peeled, quartered and separated
handful small tomatoes
salt and pepper
1 cup uncooked Manischewitz small noodles

Place your chicken in a large roasting pan thoroughly sprayed with nonstick spray. Pour over the wine and chicken stock. Scatter your choice of herbs over the chicken and place the large dollop of butter just at the top of the breast, so it will run over the whole chicken as it melts. Roast for two hours at 400 degrees, basting if you think about it. Carve off the breast for your dinner. Pour the cooking juices into a gravy separator. Do you know about these tools? Here's one in America and here's one in England. Normally I subscribe to the Laurie Colwin rule of having no item in your kitchen that serves only one purpose. The two exceptions to this are can openers and gravy separators. It looks like a measuring cup, and it is. But it also magically makes all the fat in the cooking juices rise to the top, whereupon you can pour the good juice out of the spout and leave the fat behind. Do this, and then pour the juices into a skillet, throw in a tablespoon or so of flour and a half cup of cream and whisk over low heat until there are no lumps. Perfect gravy for the chicken and whatever on the side, for your dinner.

Now, after dinner, remove the rest of the really good meat from the bones and reserve in a dish in your fridge. Throw the carcass into a large stockpot, cover with water and lots of salt, and boil low for the rest of the evening while you go about the house putting dirty horsey clothes in the washer and cleaning up cat barf. Every once in awhile, poke at the chicken with a spoon to help it fall apart and flavor your broth.

When the soup has boiled a long time, say a couple of hours, strain it through a colander into another stockpot (I know that sounds obvious, but can I tell you that once in a fog late at night I actually strained my precious broth right down the drain? don't let it happen to you). Refrigerate overnight and then skim off the fat that rises to the top. Cut up the reserved chicken and add the noodles to the broth, bring to a nice simmer and test for salt.

Nothing is more comforting. Enjoy.


anne said...


I found your blog when I searched for Jim McBurney on the internet. He and I went to HBS together. Can you get him a message to him or Erin to email me? They have my email or I can provide (but not on the public forum). We are trying to visit their son at Yale.

Fun reading your blog! Thanks,
Anne B (Mill Valley, California)

Kristen In London said...

Anne, if you read this, I asked Erin via email to email you, and called her, but her phone rang unanswered. Good luck, and do tell me exactly how on earth the internet sent you to me! How odd.