18 August, 2007

a sleepover holiday, Bellehop and Litchfield

Well, John's parents have flown away, sadly. We're huddling around a roaring fire, believe it or not, in August! Avery's tackling the homework her teachers sent home with her for the summer, John's at the dentist (ick) and I'm keeping a box of Kleenex close by as I seem to have caught the cold little Jane brought for her sleepover this weekend. But what a good time we had with her while she was here: jumping on the trampoline, playing on the teeter-totter, catching minnows from the pond, eating her favorite ham sandwiches, heading off to the library to trade in Avery's huge stack of books for another huge stack of books. And the Elephant's Trunk flea market in New Milford! If you can get there early there are real treasures (our teeter-totter, years ago, and a beautiful old mirror, I remember.) But this time we came away with a soccer ball on a tether for guess who, and she ate two bananas as she walked along! We had a ball. But all good things must come to an end, and before we knew it, it was late afternoon on Day Two under a gray sky and Jill and Joel were pulling up in the driveway to take her home. Anne stopped by for a minute to say hi to John's parents and left with a couple of pieces of cake for David's birthday. Happy Birthday!

Can you believe we had an owl visit! To add to our livestock collection here at Red Gate Farm. I was not awake early enough to see him, but John's mom was. I just hope he doesn't swoop down to get any of our chipmunks...

And Avery had her best riding lesson ever, I hear! Was I there? Of course not. That's being a mother for you: sitting through countless forgettable lessons on both sides of the pond, traipsing through Hyde Park and the Bronx and Southbury in the dusty wake of this or that pony, but when it comes to the perfect pony, the highest jumps, I'm sitting at a picnic table at home eating a lobster roll, missing it all. Never mind: Nonna and John were there, and as you see, the pony, Bellehop, is a sweetheart. I did get to go the next day, and she was lovely to watch, a real carousel pony. What a beautiful place: the red barns, blue sky, green pines, white fences, so many memories of the hundreds of afternoons and evenings I spent up there either sweating in the sun or huddling around the wood fire, watching Avery and her friends ride, gossiping with the other mothers. Such a cozy place to be.

But you know what: I missed the lesson last week because I was hanging around at home having a meaning-of-life chat with my father in law, and that doesn't happen very often. He is like an old-fashioned sage: his blue eyes look out on the world with enormous perspective and wisdom, kindness and judgment, acceptance and optimism. He doesn't offer his opinions unless you really ask, and even then he measures his words to make his comments as gentle as possible. We sat and ate lobster and crab rolls (just about the most magical leftovers in the world, in my opinion), and tomato and avocado salad, and chatted. I can't say I would have wanted to be anywhere else.

Then the weather changed completely! The temperature dropped some twenty degrees, the wind turned and you could smell autumn coming. I'd really like to think we have another week or so of summer coming, but for now we're bundled in sweaters. A couple of nights ago I found myself the only one awake, walking around the house watching the flames flicker in the living room, candles in the front windows, and I opened the tiny square window in the kitchen and stuck my head out to listen to the rain. This is the most pleasant place in the world, I think: peaceful and calm. I have to think of how to transfer some of this peace to our lives in London: it's got to be possible.

Then we fulfilled one of John's mom's lifetime ambitions (she's very easy to please!): a visit to Litchfield, Connecticut. It is simply the most beautiful town: all white houses with black shutters, wide green lawns, American flags everywhere. And my most favorite store for cashmere sweaters, R. Derwin on the Green. Just about four times in the past 20 years I have found myself in that store, and each time I find the perfect sweater, and have a nice talk with the two generations of Derwins who linger behind the counter. Quintessential New Englanders: bright eyes, corduroys and poplin, a happy inclination to gossip about Litchfieldans we have known.

Then it was onto a perfect old-fashioned candy store, for Avery. The Litchfield Candy Company at 245 West Street, crowded with all the old sweets I remember from childhood: Pixy Stix, Necco wafers, Lemonheads! And a soda that we couldn't resist for obvious reasons: Always Ask for Avery's! Can you imagine. I'm not one for old-fashioned sickly sweet sodas, but I can see that it's the kind of thing you'd like if you like that kind of thing. John at least was pretty keen on the Birch Beer. We're planning to pour most of it down the drain and use the bottles for flower vases. If I get a good picture I'll post it.

But I think the best thing about Litchfield was our dinner at the Litchfield Saltwater Grille. Run, don't walk, get a table out back under the nice white duck awnings (even in a driving rainstorm this spot was delightful!), and ask for Tracy, a bubbly and efficient waitress who brought us any number of fabulous dishes. The chef, one Albert Clugston III, has come up with some real winners. And our experience put to rest one of those old food rules: "Never order oysters in a month without an R." Well, August at the Saltwater Grille is definitely an oyster month anyway, as they must all be. The Blue Points were perfect: freezing cold on a bed of ice, perfectly fresh, served with the requisite lemon wedges, horseradish and chili sauce. Yum yum. Then Avery had a chicken breast wrapped in bacon and topped with mysteriously delicious red pepper strips and crispy "matchstick" potatoes.

The seafood ruled, though: my mother in law and I both had enormous slabs of seared tuna with a peppercorn crust and some truly tasty mushrooms hiding underneath. We could easily have shared, so that's something to think about for those with less than gargantuan appetites. John had a bouillabaisse that he decided later was the weakest of all we ordered, although good. The true star of the evening was John's dad's giant bowl of "Shrimp and Clams Newport," swimming in quite the most divine sauce we had ever tasted (we unashamedly begged Tracy for more bread and all of us sopped it up). I think I'll try to reproduce it later this week when Avery's off visiting Cici in Mystic: we all diagnosed butter, Pinot Gris, parsley, garlic, crushed red pepper flakes and... clam broth? Maybe mixed with a bit of chicken broth? Lovely.

Such wonderful memories of John's parents' visit. Long afternoons sitting in our ratty old folding deck chairs, pretending to read but really watching Avery's endlessly inventive trampoline routines, named inexplicably after her favorite Archie characters. She narrates as she jumps, so the lawn rang with "Veronica, Veronica, Jughead, Betty, Veronica, Veronica..." and endless games of Aggravation! John's father, normally quite mild-mannered, turns into an absolute ogre when faced with the little blue marbles. And John has been known actually to make a move that is disadvantageous to himself if it can send someone else home! "Waiting for a one... You cannot tell me ones come up with anything LIKE the statistical frequency they should! You did NOT have to send me home!!" John's mom happily accompanying me on numberless trips to the grocery store (why are we always fascinated by even the most boring lists?), chopping garlic for me. "Remember that first time we cooked together in London, Kristen, and you told me in no uncertain terms how fine the garlic had to be minced?" I must have been one obnoxious new daughter in law, that's all I have to say.

Need something to give a ten-year-old girl? Possibly the most successful gifts of the summer: the fabric markers and stencils for decorating t-shirts that John's mom brought, and The Enchanted Dolls' House Wedding Book from my mother. Perfect summer activities, thanks to the Nonnas. Thank you!

Well, I must close this mammoth post and make some lunch. I'm thinking devilled eggs. One thing I learned this summer, although I hesitate to disagree with the great Julia Child and her stringent instructions on boiling eggs (something about 17 minutes and a tight-fitting lid), my method worked surprisingly well: bringing the eggs to a boil in cold water and then forgetting they're on the stove, having your husband turn off the heat and letting them sit there for an untold period of time until someone said, "Weren't you going to make devilled eggs?", shrieking and running them under cold water. Perfect.

Devilled Eggs

hard-boiled eggs
3 parts mayo
1 part mustard
curry powder to taste
salt and pepper
paprika to dust

Split eggs and remove yolks. With a fork, mash yolks in a small bowl and add mayo, mustard and curry powder, then salt and pepper to taste. Arrange on a plate and dust with paprika. Then stand back: they're popular. And just right for a person coming home from dental nastiness.

Oh, and I succumbed to yet another example of homemade being better than boughten: I ran out of Hellman's, needed mayo. I'm sorry to say: homemade is much, much nicer. Limber up your whisking arm and make some:

Homemade Mayonnaise
(makes one cup)

1 egg yolk
1/4 tsp salt
pinch cayenne
pinch white pepper
pinch dry mustard
juice of half lemon
1 cup olive oil

With a wire whisk, beat egg yolk with salt, cayenne, pepper and mustard until thick and yellow as a lemon. Then add half the lemon juice slowly and beat again. Now, one drop at a time for about a minute, add olive oil. Then after the first minute, a steady but TINY stream of oil will do, whisking constantly until the oil is used up. Now whisk in remaining lemon juice slowly. Chill, and enjoy. And ask yourself: how do they get commercial mayo to be so... white? Doesn't make sense. One of those life mysteries.

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