11 August, 2007

a little summer reading (and a lot of seafood)

Let's see. Both Avery and I have book suggestions for you. And I must say that these particular choices quite beautifully underline the complex, dare I say fascinating breadth of our personalities. Let me explain.

I was shopping at KMart for, I think, dishes to put leftovers in, or maybe a sprinkler. Or wasp and hornet hex juice. In any case, I sauntered past the book section (who knew KMart had a book section? maybe Sears insisted), and this book cover popped out at me. I do in fact judge a book by, well you know. As does Avery, and neither of us apologizes for it. Life is too short either to read a book whose cover does not appeal to you, or to take yourself to task for these little foibles. In any case, "Whistling in the Dark" is a wonderful novel. It reads like a memoir, in a major way, as did one of my all-time favorites, A Girl Named Zippy. Interestingly, both are accounts of growing up in the Midwest, and I feel seriously deprived that my childhood spent in much the same locality was not, apparently, sufficiently messed up to provide me fodder for a readable memoir, just enough to send me to the odd (believe me, very much so) therapist in this or that decade of my life.

No, these ladies, Lesley Kagan and Haven Kimmel, parlay their bizarre and sometimes heartbreaking childhood experiences into beautifully detailed anecdotes about sibling relationships, acutely observed parental distress and mayhem, and hilariously real dialogue. Kagan's account (billed as a novel, and fair enough, maybe she changed all the names, but it still sounds very real) is at times quite dark and sinister (for this reason I wouldn't recommend it for even precocious children interested in their parents' upbringings), but lump-in-the-throat touching, as well, and very, very funny. You will enjoy it, especially if you have children or ever were a child yourself. These are, I feel, the book's natural audiences. Buy two copies and give one to your sister. Except, oops, I didn't buy an extra to give to my perfectly deserving sister. I still can.

Then, yesterday found me unexpectedly at the most charming bookstore I think I've ever encountered. We were driving through dismal, cold and raw rain toward my sister's house in West Hartford, Connecticut, to see my parents and brother who have flown in for my mummy's birthday tomorrow, when the lighted windows of a bookstore beckoned out of the grayness. Brick Walk Books and Fine Art (be patient with this link, as it seems to be only to the integral art gallery, but it provides all the right contact info), a little slip of a shop in a row of undistinguished other shops, with lovely small paintings in the window. Avery and I crept in while John tried to find a place to buy a throwaway watch, his real watch having died in the night. And there we found, well, countless things we wanted. Cruelly, the shop leads with its children's section, so I'm afraid we were suckers from the very start. Many first editions, and lots of other old but pristine editions, finely illustrated, and most right around $25, which is a lot of money until you consider that a perfectly forgettable hardcover book from KMart will run you nearly $28 and for what? Something you'll read once and then never think of again. But a fine copy of "BedKnob and Broomstick"? That is worth taking home.

I myself fell victim to a first-edition of my new absolute favorite book: Eating Together: Recollections and Recipes, by Lillian Hellman and Peter Feibleman. Oh, my, it is endlessly wonderful. All my favorite things in a book: there's memory and anecdote from what was undoubtedly a fascinating life (living with Dashiell Hammett cannot have been pleasant, but it was certainly not boring), food descriptions and recipes, and a little heart-tugging friendship along the way. The book cleverly chronicles Hellman's friendship with this much-younger man, through accounts of their bickering over food, recipes, dinner parties and potential guests (like Mike Nichols, Dorothy Parker or Leonard Bernstein, to name a few). And wonderful recipes. You'll love it. It reminds me of all my favorite food writers: Laurie Colwin, Virginia Rich, Ruth Reichl, Nigel Slater, and the incomparable Elizabeth Ryan and her Lord Peter Wimsey Cookbook. It doesn't get ANY better than that.

The bookstore itself is just a joy, and I wish there were more people in the world like its proprietor, Kevin G. Rita. Doing what he loves best in the world, I'd bet, sequestered but by no means limited by his desk overflowing with the tools of his trade, eager to get to know his customers, full of enthusiasm for his wares. He even took down a French edition of "Rebecca", opened its presentation box, showed me all its delights, and... had no idea how much it might cost! Just wanted to share the joy. What a lovely man, and a gorgeous shop. He does a mean internet business, too, so get in touch with all your wishes.

Avery's also hugely enjoying Oscar Wilde's Epigrams, addicted as she is to "The Importance of Being Earnest." Kevin was so enchanted by this choice that he gave it to her! "My daughter, Phoebe, who's about your age, finds books to be... let's see, what was her exact description, LAME. It breaks my heart." Phoebe has, however, her own section of the bookstore, all her own choices, for which she gets the proceeds. "Oh," I said, "then she does care, a little," and he said, "Oh, no, it's purely the capitalist in her."

Then, when I went back to the Brick Walk Bookstore this morning to tell Kevin how happy we were with our acquisitions, he was so happy that he said, "Wasn't there something else your daughter was looking at? Such a self-possessed young lady... Yes, here it is! I have to love a girl who reads both Wilde and Trollope." And out came an elegant leather-bound copy of "The Way We Live Now," which Avery got hooked on after watching the fabulous miniseries on the BBC starring, of course, my crush Matthew Macfadyen.

Then Avery would tell you that everyone needs to read Cornelia and the Audacious Escapades of the Somerset Sisters, by Lesley M.M. Blume, a very touching account of a girl about Avery's age (nearly 11) who protects herself from her famous pianist mother and their unhappy home life by using the most difficult words she can find. Until, that is, she meets her new next-door neighbor, an elderly lady who takes Cornelia in and entertains and comforts her with anecdotes from her unbelievably glamorous past. It's by turns funny, educational (lots of long words!) and sad. Avery especially enjoyed the accounts of adventures in Paris and Morocco, as we've traveled to both in the last year, plus of course there's some action in London which is our backyard during the school year.

Well, that's what we've been reading. Maybe it will keep you all out of trouble for what remains of this glorious summer.

And food, can I tell you? For some reason we've been on a seafood kick. Lemon sole sauteed in plenty of butter, nothing wrong with that. My favorite scallops in parsley and garlic? Love it. But then there's the perennial favorite: steamed lobster. From a quirky, unappealing-looking fish truck plonked unceremoniously down in a parking lot on Woodbury, up the road, descended from Maine every Thursday. I'm not making this up. Give him a try, should you be in Woodbury.

Steamed Lobster with Aioli
(serves two, with one leftover tail if you're me)

2 1 1/2 pound lobsters, ALIVE and kicking

1/2 cup mayonnaise
1 clove garlic, finely minced with:
juice of 1 lemon
sea salt and pepper, to taste

Bring about two inches of water to boil in a VERY large pot. Be sure to have a cookie rack, trivet, or pot lid in the bottom of the pot: something to keep the lobsters from being submerged in the water. Now place the lobsters head first in the water and clamp a lid on, with something on top to... well, you know. Steam for 12 minutes, then cool enough to handle.

Meanwhile, mix the mayo with the garlic and lemon juice. Someday I will make homemade mayo, but right now I'm enjoying not knowing how much better it will be, so I can continue just to open a jar.

Enjoy breaking open your lobster, starting with the legs which you can suck on to get out a tiny bit of meat, then the claws, then I always wimp out before I get to the tail, so I wash off the icky intestinal bits that cling to it, and I do NOT throw away any leftover aioli. I save them both for:

Lobster Roll Extraordinaire
(serves one, just barely!)

1 leftover lobster tail
leftover aioli
1 top-slit hot dog roll

Cut the lobster tail into smallish chunks, smaller than bite-size, then mix it with the leftover garlic mayo. Toast your hot dog roll, and pile on the lobster. PERFECT.


Then, one sad afternoon came with the Maine guy ran out of lobster by the time we got there, but never mind, he had salmon.

Grilled Salmon Fillet with Lime and Ginger
(serves four)

1 lb salmon fillet, with skin
zest and juice of 1 lime
1-inch knob ginger, peeled and minced
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 tsp sesame oil
sea salt and pepper

I say "salmon with skin," not because I eat the skin (I don't, but some people do) but because it makes it easier to grill the fillet without its falling apart onto the coals or heating element of your grill.

Mix all marinade ingredients and paint the salmon with it, flesh side up. Grill in a 400-degree grill for 5 minutes per side for a nice pink, soft middle. If you like it weller done, go for it. With it, you MUST serve:

Cucumber Dill Sauce

1 cucumber, or 3 kirbys, sliced thin
1 handful fresh dill, chopped
juice of 1 lemon
1 cup sour cream
sea salt and pepper

Simply mix all ingredient, and VOILA, perfect sauce for your salmon. If you want to eat this as a salad, just add lots more cucumber.


Then, night before last I practically blew our heads off with a spicy shrimp dish that I've told you about before (be patient and scroll down! someday I'll organize these recipes, I promise). But somehow, this time, the only chili sauce I had in my fridge was UBER hot! We could hardly eat it. But we managed to put away nearly a pound of the little guys. I'd highly recommend the sauce, from Huy Fong, if you can bear to blow your little spicy mind.

Well, other than eating and reading, we've been playing tennis (I don't know why I have missed tennis until now! I love it), Avery's found a new riding instructor, Deb who runs Bouncing Pony Farm out of nearby Red Horse Stables in Southbury, and my family have arrived! Tomorrow's the big birthday party for my mum, so stayed tuned. Watch this space for all party reports! But in the meantime, I'll get my brother in law to give me the fabulous recipes he cooked for us last night: parmesan chicken and tomato risotto. Yum yum... You'll have them when I do.

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