09 July, 2007

you CAN go home again

It's official: we're back in America! We made it through a last few days of insane activity (the highlight being a real milestone at King's College: a kiss from the headmistress AND she called me by my first name!), last riding lesson and dinner playdate with Avery's new friend Anastacia (a quite impossibly sophisticated Swiss family in Notting Hill Gate), a last hurried dinner of my favorite garlic and parsley scallops. Finally in Friday we headed off to the airport where we sat through an unexplained five-hour delay, and finally got off. The long car trip up to Connecticut from JKF, Avery sleeping on my lap, whizzing past all the familiar highway exits that we used to pass every Friday evening on our way up from town, to arrive in very foggy darkness at Red Gate Farm. Lights blazing, thank you Farmer Rollie! Bread, eggs and milk in the fridge, thank you neighbors Anne and David... we tumbled into bed. And awoke to a perfect Connecticut morning: blue sky, green meadows, red barn (newly roofed over the winter), and a family of wild turkeys in the side lawn! They did not take kindly to being observed and scuttled quickly back into the woods.

It's a regular wildlife preserve here, especially once John refilled the bird feeders and corn holders, and I had my first canteloupe rind from Avery's breakfast. "That's not even half convincing," John objected. "You just cut that open to lure Gary the Groundhog." Which was true, and it worked! He came quite quickly, trained from last summer to expect the best fruit castoffs. And this morning he brought his little bride! Or perhaps a teenage offspring? Anyway, we have two groundhogs so far. And yesterday when we went to the big barn to haul out the trampoline, there were, high in the rooftops, hundreds of baby bats. A few flew over our heads just to impress us. And chipmunks, dashing importantly from terrace to barn to woodshed, taking bird seed to their nests.

Here's a weird breakfast: pesto on toast. Why eat such a thing? Because I got up super early with a bit of jetlag, and knew we'd want pesto for lunch, and it smelled incredibly good. John and I ended up cutting off endless slices from the excellent Chabaso wheat sourdough bread (voted Connecticut's best bakery!) that Anne and David left for us, toasting it, and slathering it with fresh pesto.

Basil Pesto
(makes about 2 cups)

4 large handfuls fresh basil leaves, stems removed (they're bitter)
1 cup pinenuts
3 cloves garlic
1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese
juice of 1 lemon
salt to taste (the cheese is salty already)
olive oil

Place all ingredients in a Cuisinart and add about 1 cup olive oil. Whizz till blended, and add more olive oil if needed to get a nice creamy consistency.


Delicious! You can also make this with parsley, cilantro, any highly-flavored green leaves. And you can use hazelnuts or almonds or any other nuts you like. In a pinch I've also used other hard cheeses, like a very highly aged gouda or cheddar. It's very versatile.

We were still ready for more at lunchtime.

Capellini with Fresh Pesto and Crabmeat
(serves four as a light lunch)

1/2 lb capellini, cooked in plenty of salted water
2 tbsps butter, room temperature
1 cup-ish fresh pesto (amount to taste)
1 cup fresh crabmeat

Toss cooked pasta with butter and pesto and mix thoroughly. Once mixed well, toss quickly with crabmeat. So simple and so good.


Then we have been reunited with Sweet Baby Jane, quite simply the sweetest niece that ever lived, and sadly not a baby anymore. (And her parents are pretty nice too.) On Saturday afternoon we headed up north to see Jill and Joel in their perfect house, smelling quite irresistibly of garlic and cheese (Joel is an amazing cook), and the equally irresistible Jane, grown terribly tall and with long real-girl hair. To think this time last summer she was in diapers. She showed us her "real underwear" with great pride, pointing out the stripes as she held up her diminutive khaki skirt.

And there were streamers and a "Happy Birthday" banner for John, since we didn't have a birthday celebration for him this year. Avery immediately set about finding anything longer than it was wide, to serve as a pony jump, and arranged quite a nice course for her new pony, Jane. It was very touching, I must say, to see Jane confidently following Avery in any ploy she suggested. "Run as quickly as you can, and don't stop before the jump, just keep going," Avery instructed, and there was Jane, with her sweaty little brow and earnest expression, "I'm coming, Avery!" It felt almost unbelievable that my little sister and I weren't the children anymore, playing in the backyard, one ordering the other one around (guess which one I was), but it was our CHILDREN running around in my sister's own backyard. How did that happen! Then we heard from way across the lawn, "Cousin Avery, you're my friend." Well, you can live a whole lifetime, as sisters, just to hear that.

But it's hard to be too sentimental when there's food to appreciate. Joel came out with a wickedly tempting appetizer, and it certainly sounds simple. Be sure to use good, real mayonnaise. Joel and Jill report that Miracle Whip (the staple condiment of our childhood) does not work here.

Joel's Artichoke Dip
(serves eight)

1 cup artichoke hearts (fresh or from a jar), chopped
1 cup mayonnaise
1 cup grated parmesan cheese

Mix well and place in a 9 x 9 baking dish (non-stick sprayed to make life easier), or several individual ramekins if you want to place them around an appetizer table at a party. Bake at 400 degrees for about 20-3- minute or until bubbly and brown on top. Serve with toasted baguette rounds or crackers.


Jane makes us all laugh constantly. I had forgotten what a good age two and a half is. I must say here, however, that while most toddlers are luscious, a lot of what makes Jane so wonderful is the way her parents treat her. They speak to her as a real person, reminding her of funny things she's said in the past, taking her opinions seriously, including her in all conversation. Well, almost all. Once I leaned over to Jill to say something I didn't want Jane to hear, and she tapped me on the arm with a sticky little hand and chided, "Aunt Kristen, it's very hard for me to hear what you are saying when you talk so quietly." At one point she reached out toward the cracker dish, and Jill said, "Now, Jane, how would you ask nicely for a cracker?" Jane thought for a minute and then said seriously, "May I please have the whole plate?" She's very vigilant about manners, too. When Avery got up from the dinner table to run her course of jumps again, and invited Jane to join her, Jane said with her brow furrowed, "Avery, I would love to run the jump course, but you should not leave the table while I am still drinking my water."

Jill told the story of taking Jane to the Indy 500 (which my brilliant sister was producing, if you can imagine), and putting the pass around her neck to get to all the behind-the-scenes events. Then later in an airport, Jane saw someone with a similar thing around her neck and the lady said, "Yes, this is my ID." Where upon Jane burst out laughing and said, "No, it's not, it's your credentials!" She reminds us all of little Avery at that age, coming up with hilarious words all on her own, as in the time she approached me in the park, sitting with my other mother friends, and she took my hand, placed her candy wrapper in it, and said, "Here, Mommy, you can have my detritus."

Well, we're off to the library, I think, then the pool. I cannot believe how pale and English we all look, compared to the bronzed gods of New England. And all the other American things we had forgotten: the quite overwhelming fast-paced television ads, the ubiquitous cheer and willingness of salespeople, the enormous cars, and most hilariously, the new campaign on Subway sandwich television advertisements to make what are famously healthy sandwiches HUGER and more fattening than anyone could ever ingest: obviously American appetites are not grooving to the slimline image! There is a slickness and luxury to the most ordinary American experiences that makes me feel protective toward the simple and unassuming English things we've left behind. I hope both ways stay the same and we can have the fun of each. But right now: it's good to be back.

1 comment:

chicago_seeker said...

Welcome back to the States! I hope you fill up on the ease and familiarity that comes when one is able to spend time with loved ones. Especially the "lil'ones"

One of the things I enjoy most about your blog is your ability to find the delights in both countries! Enjoy!