17 April, 2007

the perfect day is really very simple

First off, I must tell you that this beautiful photograph comes from a very cool foodie blog you might enjoy, "What We're Eating. Check it out. It's written by an extremely cute couple (?) of people one of whom cooks, and the other eats, then they talk about it. And they take great photos.

But I digress. My point is, you think having a perfect day is an accomplishment, a sort of unusual thing that comes about when you've set yourself a task and it all works out the way you plan, don't you? So did I. But I'm thinking it's simpler than that. Mostly the perfection comes in the noticing how many pleasant things come my way on my average Tuesday, and taking the time to appreciate them. First of all, the way to start your perfect day is with fresh-squeezed juice. Whatever comes to mind when you're at the grocery: my glass today contained blood oranges, ruby red grapefruit, and clementines. It just makes all other juice, including "fresh-squeezed" that you buy in the refrigerator section of the grocery, taste like nothing. Or worse, that sulfur-y taste of pasteurisation. Go on, squeeze some for yourself tomorrow.

Then some more perfectly ordinary things begin to happen. I drop my child off at school, and there's the missing violin, behind the coat rack, whose absence at home was so disturbing on the night before the first day back from holiday. And two new gulls have appeared in the school! Tatiana and Isabella, already firmly called "Bella," found their way into Form Five after the break. The class is getting possibly too big, and we found out that they're being split up into two groups, alphabetically determined, which has everyone in a tizzy. And who will get the final speaking role in "Peter Pan" this summer term, the coveted Talking Pirate? Only Mrs Bickley the Drama Teacher knows for sure, and so far she's not telling.

Then I climbed the stairs to the very top floor to be read to by whatever four or five little seven-year-olds have been sent my way by Miss Armstrong, and are they sweet. Scrubbed and fresh from their holidays, the variety and poshness of which seem quite staggering to me, but then I'm a nice girl from Indiana. Athens? Why not. Val d'Isere, New York, the south of France, Dublin, Switzerland for that last-gasp ski trip. So I went to Iowa, is there a problem with that? Their little piping voices are so sweet.

Then a long-overdue tea break with Becky, to catch up on the craziness of our various family lives. Is a move imminent in their expatriate lives, and if so, where to? Not a relaxing thing to think about, but with typical grace, Becky rises to the occasion without delivering any blows in her domestic sphere. Having been through that myself more than once, I do not envy her. Not to mention that having the possibility of no Becky is NOT acceptable. I'll have to have a word with her husband's boss.

And who but me could count among her Perfect Day activities a mammoth Tesco shop? I do adore to grocery shop, especially when I'm all by myself with no wet-blanket husband to caution me about ingredients, quantities or price. Ha! Even the car got washed as I shopped, not that it matters with all the disgusting pollen falling all over this town. The flipside of the gorgeous spring week: the air is simply full of sneeze-making nonsense. But for about an hour, Emmy looked great.

And seemingly overnight, flowers have appeared in our communal garden, and all the trees are in bloom. Lovely (also contributing, no doubt, to the sneezing).

Home with Avery and Anna who promised faithfully to do their homework. Is there anything cosier than tying on an apron to prepare dinner, surrounded by children discussing their maths problems? I don't think so. It was an all-five-senses afternoon: the smell of buttered popcorn, the sound of their little voices and the scrapes of their pens, the sight of all my bowls of citrus fruits waiting to be juiced, the feel of a nice husband's no-occasion kiss on the cheek, and tasting my salmon sauce for seasoning... it doesn't take much to make me happy. Actually, that's quite a lot, come to think of it.

Becky popped in to pick up Anna, and we stood around in the kitchen admiring the salmon dish and the casserole of cheesy potatoes, which recipe I must tweak before I give it to you because I didn't realise how fine my grater grates (yes, the Matthew Macfadyen Memorial Grater! it's excellent), and there was not enough cheese and too much milk. A work in progress, clearly. I either need lots more cheese, or a much less fine grater. I'll let you know.

My perfect day ended with Avery secure in her bathtub talking about her book of the moment, "A Year Down Yonder," which I cannot recommend highly enough, either in book form or the book on tape we have loved. It's even better, I think, than the original book in the series of two, "A Long Way From Chicago." Richard Peck is a genius at portraying the life of wartime Indiana with a gun-toting, embarrassing but life-changing grandmother for a young girl transplanted from Chicago. Your kids will love it. Then it was onto our excellent dinner, although Avery did have some very useful suggestions about the potato dish which I am taking under advisement. She is becoming a very discerning eater, providing me with the suggestions that improved my mushroom soup immensely. Thanks, Aves.

Well, our household is busy listening to Avery practice the songs she and her choirmates will sing at tomorrow's country wedding of the school music teacher! "My Love is Like a Red, Red Rose." It's actually incredibly touching; the teacher invited them to come sing "All Things Bright and Beautiful," and they will, but secretly the singing teacher taught them this extra song to surprise her. I wish we were invited, but alas we are not included. We'll have to find some way to keep out of trouble. Borough Market is out, since on a Saturday it will be a madhouse and in any case I just came from there, hanging out with Twiggy and sipping coffee from the Monmouth Coffee Company. I don't even drink coffee normally, and neither does Twiggy, but it came so highly recommended and the smell was superb. Each cup is individually filtered, and there's help-yourself bread and jam on the tables. We had a fine gossip. Now I'm home to make my steamed mussels, once John and Avery return from the skating rink.

You all put your feet up and think of ways to enjoy a perfect day. Think SMALL.

Mussels with White Wine and Fresh Thyme
(serves one hungry husband with a wife who doesn't like mussels)

3 tbsps olive oil
1 lb mussels, cleaned
4 cloves garlic, chopped fine
3 shallots, chopped fine
1 tbsp fresh thyme (chopped without stems)
6 Thai fresh green peppercorns, chopped (from Spice Shop in Notting Hill)
2 cups white wine
½ cup chicken stock
2 tbsps butter

Saute garlic, shallots, thyme and peppercorns in olive oil, then add white wine and stock. Bring to a boil, add mussels, cover and steam for 8 minutes. Discard any that did not open, and lift good mussels into a large bowl with slotted spoon, bring wine sauce to a boil again and whisk in butter. Pour over mussels and serve with warm baguette and goats cheese.

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