01 June, 2007

an orgy of entertainment, British style





















Now you all know of my quest to enjoy (or at least experience) all things British while living here. To fulfil this quest we have, for example, not subscribed to any cable telly channels, which limits us to only British things like the BBC (nothing to complain about there). And I've set up a whole host of Google alerts to let me know when things and people I care about are happening and doing things, and it was by this method that we found ourselves, last evening, spending a glorious time doing something truly... British. As in, seeing a play by Alan Bennett. Last year we so enjoyed the film of "The History Boys" that I knew we'd like the play "Office Suite," even the more so because it starred... My Crush Edward Petherbridge. All right, all right, also the two ladies pictured above, Patricia Routledge (who we used to love even back in New York in "Keeping Up Appearances, don't you love that programme?), and Janet Dale, certainly not to be sneered at. But so not Crush Material.

It was lovely. Firstly we dashed around getting Avery to skating in the morning and riding in the afternoon, dashed home to do all our household chores and pine over Keechie, who seems to be backsliding into anxiety again (grr), and then dash to get her at the stable and drive to Richmond-Upon-Thames. What a perfect name. It is, you know, upon the Thames, and I know this because I ate upon it. The Thames, I mean. We walked down to the river and looked in vain for a fabulous restaurant (would it have killed me to look up restaurants instead of blogging about meatballs? apparently so). Avery kept walking us past the H2O Restaurant, worryingly perched atop a... boat, but finally we succumbed. The waitress said, "Convinced you, has she?" and we proceeded to have a most pleasant, if not mind-bendingly interesting, dinner, with the most splendid views you can imagine. Stuffed mushrooms, Caesar salad, margherita pizza, and my grilled salmon which was quite delicious. And just a great touristy experience.

Off from there to the Richmond Theatre, where to judge by the wine-sipping crowds outside, we would be the youngest (and for Avery by six decades) youngest people there. The play was lovely. There were several English references that we didn't understand, and which I'll have to ask someone about, but all the performances were spot on, touching and funny and very, very dated to the 1970s, pre-Thatcher-era Britain. I'd advise you to go see it, but it left Richmond today and went I know not where. I cannot honestly imagine why Avery enjoyed it, seeing as how it was about retirement aged British office workers in an era she can't even have read about, but there you have it. She said, "I enjoyed the triviality of it," so fair enough. It was all about trivia, and yet with an undercurrent of emotion about loss of youth, loss of security, that was very sweet. And there were some very funny Malapropisms, like "I wouldn't want to be casting nasturtiums," which Avery loved. Altogether an experience that I cannot imagine having understood two years ago. I am fairly certain we were the only Americans there, which is always a good sign as far as doing British things goes.

Home super late in top-down Mini Cooper, and today we... picnicked in Hyde Park. A couple of evenings ago we walked all the way down to the rose gardens near the Mile where Avery rides (as she always reminds us when we see it), and there found an enormous tree under which you can walk! And stand, and feed squirrels, and carve your initials into the trunk (although we refrained). If anyone reading this can tell me about the history of this tree, please do! I haven't found anything online about it. So we took Avery's friend Jamie and a whole enormous picnic basket and had lunch. Oh, the sandwiches: duck pate, smoked salmon, salami, and my personal favorite, homemade chicken salad. I don't know what you'd call it here, as normally the designation "chicken salad" would get you... chicken and salad, as in lettuce. No, what I mean is what you make when you've had the ultimately budget-friendly two days of eating. Let me explain.

Chicken on a Budget, Three Ways, Three Days
(serves about the same number as the loaves and fishes)


DAY ONE: you buy a large roasting chicken and cut it up. Leave the entire breast intact, on the bone. But take away the legs, thighs and all, and the backbone, and the wings. Place all these bits in a stockpot, add a couple of carrots, a parsnip, an onion and some celery, with LOTS of salt and bay leaves, and cover with water. Simmer this all afternoon, but remove the thigh and drumstick meat after about an hour, and set aside in the fridge. Leave the rest of the stock to cool overnight, skim off the fat, strain it into another saucepan and make darling matzoh balls to plop on top. A little dill, and the sliced thigh and drumstick bits you saved... dinner number 1. Practically free.

DAY TWO: Remember that breast you saved? Right. Place it on top of a giant stem of rosemary in a nice glass cooking dish. Smear butter over all of it and sprinkle with oregano, salt, pepper and roast at 350 degrees for 45 minutes. Some steamed rice and a bunch of sauteed asparagus... dinner #2. Still practically free. Save the leftovers.

DAY THREE: Leftover chicken breast in the Cuisinart with a good teaspoon dried oregano, the juice of a lemon, salt and pepper. Whiz till nicely chopped, then mix in a tablespoon or two of mayo, and bob's your uncle. Lunch, sorted. On nice wholemeal bread with butter. And still, practically free.

********************

Then, we are addicted to a programme, sadly now in archives and available only on DVD, "The Vicar of Dibley." We have long been huge fans of Dawn French (I especially loved her in last year's Marple, "Sleeping Murder"), but she is at her absolute best in this series, set in an Oxfordshire village, where she comes to take the townspeople by storm as their first female vicar. The guest stars are lovely, and you can watch it with a ten-year-old, thank goodness.

Listen, Jamie and Avery are calming down for their sleepover, and I must get Avery's things ready for her last riding day with her beloved trainers Alexa and Karin, who are leaving to pursue "other opportunities," sadly. What will we do without those shouting sessions from Alexa? Why, oh why do things have to change... Alexa told a hilarious story last week at the barn. "I lost Zola in the park today," she said airily, gesturing toward the enormously stout yellow lab trotting at her side. "She got off her lead and was away. I went back to the barn and the phone rang and it was the bl**dy police, telling me to come and collect her. When I got there, she was lying flat on the floor, eating a biscuit. 'Come away,' I said, 'that's how she got lost in the first place, following some bl**dy fool with a biscuit!'" Alexa's promised me her nan's recipe for Polish Chicken Soup (which sounds suspiciously like my own chicken soup with matzoh balls from Alyssa), so I'll make it the Memorial Alexa Post when I get it.

No comments: