21 April, 2007

things to do to keep us out of trouble

No, one of those things isn't shooting off cannons in Hyde Park. But somebody was, this afternoon. There I was, sitting innocently at my desk blogging or some such thing, when my mobile rang: John. "It's me. Somebody's shooting off big loud guns and there are lots of horses galloping around. Come out." So we met up on the corner, and crossed Park Lane, and sure enough, far off in the distance there was a huge cloud of smoke rising into the air, and the sound of cannons going off at regular intervals. And in the very near distance there were many, many glorious horses in full regalia of some kind, standing about looking skittish. Then all at once they went tearing off toward the cannons, so we did too, walking as fast as we could and trying not to look ignorant. There were a lot of other dumb-looking people standing behind a rope barrier, though, so we were in good company. "Now watch them come back this way, when we've nearly caught up," John joked, and sure enough, they turned around and went galloping back from whence they came. Just as suddenly, the cannons stopped and some gangly looking soldiers came and took them away, and the horses retreated off toward the Bayswater Road without a word of explanation. What gives?

Assiduous googling revealed that it was the 21-gun Salute for the Queen's birthday! Well, bless her heart. Happy Birthday. Apparently after the display in Hyde Park they were off to the Tower of London to repeat it there, and thence to Windsor Castle. Let the bells chime. Just another afternoon obsequy for the monarch. But in searching for the answer, I found an excellent website about things to do in London, so check it out. Who knows what else I'm missing.

We've been running around like the proverbial headless poultry these days, visiting houses that seem like possibilities on paper, and then finding out they're not, or are, as the case may be (a real possibility appeared yesterday, in Notting Hill, so fingers crossed). At least the location gave us the opportunity to pop into the charming Mr Christian's delicatessen in Elgin Crescent, for excellent sandwiches of pastrami and mustard mayo on ciabatta for me, and salami and Emmenthaler for John. If we did move to that neighborhood, I would be in food heaven with that place and the wonderful Grocer on Elgin just down the street.

And Borough Market was excellent. So quiet on a beautiful sunny Friday (well, not quiet perhaps, but better than Saturdays). At the peerless Sillfield Farms I picked up some lovely ham for Avery's picnic today on the way to her teacher's wedding (more on that when we collect her this evening), as well as a number of slices of something called "haslet," a sort of meatloaf of a recipe dating back to Henry VIII's time, apparently, full of sage and onion. Sounds like the perfect midnight snack to me, when I should be reaching for a carrot stick. Then some granulated garlic from "Spices From Hell," a lovely little stall that I wish I could have spent more money at, but there was nothing I really needed. Oh, I also tucked in a nice-looking jar of tahini for hummous, John's absolute favorite lunch.

(serves four as an appetizer with toasted bread and crudites)

1 410-gram [soup size] can chick peas (also known as garbanzo beans)
1/2 cup tahini (sesame paste, in foreign or Middle Eastern section of shops)
3 whole cloves garlic
juice of 1 lemon
salt to taste
1 cup olive oil, maybe more

Simply put all this in the Cuisinart and turn it on, pulsing occasionally and scraping the chick peas away from the sides. Then, if you want to, pour some more olive oil on the top and leave it. The flavors will improve. To this you can add any number of improvements like red bell peppers, little chunks of avocado, spinach, cilantro, you name it. And it's good for you.


From the fishmonger at the market (does it have a name? don't know it if so, but Nigella Lawson shops there, enough said) I picked up about a kilo of superb-looking mussels to steam for dinner. They turned out to be incredibly tiny, and succulent, but almost too much trouble to eat, to justify the bit of labor involved in debearding, scrubbing and checking for cracks and dead specimens. It was almost like eating periwinkles. I've done a bit of research but can't find the reason for the small size. In any case, the white wine sauce I invented was divine for dipping olive ciabatta in. To my usual recipe I added creme fraiche from a fabulous French dairy purveyor at the market, as well as a handful of santini tomatoes I had sitting on the counter which looked about to get shrivelly, which cut in half were quite lovely. At the last minute I just fished through the broth with my whisk and out came the tomatoes skins. Perfect. So here's my revised recipe. I also added more chicken stock. Keep in mind I make a lot of broth, for drinking like soup after you finish your mussels. You can cut down on the wine and stock if you don't want a lot of broth.

Mussels with White Wine and Fresh Thyme
(serves four)

3 tbsps olive oil
1 kilo 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
2 cups chicken stock
handful cherry or other small tomatoes, cut in half
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 simmer a bit to reduce. Add tomatoes and whisk in butter. At the last minute, run your whisk through sauce and pick up tomato skins and discard. Pour over mussels and serve with warm bread and goats cheese.

Speaking of maturity, after long months of nearly forgetting I had called, I got a message from the Sylvia Young Theatre School that Avery's name had come to the top of the waiting list and she can start a week from today, in drama lessons! She was so inspired by the little girl in "Miss Potter" that we rang up, and now it's come. She is very, very excited. And I can enjoy the prospect of living vicariously through her, certainly a healthy attitude toward maternity. What fun it will be to pick her up and hear how it's going.

I have been in a tizzy of ordering tickets for things to do, in the coming months. It's that time of year when all the things we enjoyed so much last spring are coming around again. So, trying not to think about how much it all costs (and justifying it as part of the point of living in London) I have booked us for a play in Richmond starring my dear crush actor Edward Petherbridge, can't wait for that, and seats at the Royal Windsor Horse Show. And most exotically, John has booked us to fly to Morocco for our friend Vincent's 40th birthday party. Won't that be a hoot! After that we may be approaching cool enough to... have a dinner party of our own. I'll pop an invitation in the post for you, how's that?

We just came in from a lovely lunch at a cute little place literally around the corner, but to which until now we've never been. Fino's in the sunshine is a lovely spot, and the pizza was amazingly fresh, crunchy and simply slathered with fresh ricotta and red onions. I had a very nice crab mayonnaise, but my only complaint was the way the chef had presented it piled on what started life as a crunchy slice of Italian bread, but by the time I got to the last bite was quite annoyingly soggy. Served alongside would have been nicer. It's definitely worth a visit and we will eschew the ubiquitous Ask and Pizza Express in the future.

Well, we're off to take Anna and Ellie off their parents' hands for the evening, and then swing by to collect Avery at school and hear how singing for the wedding went. As long as the ceremony didn't put any ideas in her head...

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