19 September, 2007

"As You Like It" (and we did), plus Maze, oh my

Oh, my film and television friend Sue took me to the most impressive and enjoyable screening (I'm throwing about that cool word) of "As You Like It," at Bafta! I've never been to 195 Piccadilly, home of the British Academy of Film and Television Awards, but it's very swanky, very plushy, all the chairs in the screening room labelled discreetly in brass with "Endowed by Michael Douglas and Catherine Zeta-Jones," or some such luminary's name. There is a strict house rule that no one makes a sound from the moment the lights go down until the last credit rolls, which makes the atmosphere much more anticipatory than your ordinary theatre. And the film was lovely! Great performances from the gorgeous Bryce Dallas Howard and David Oyelowo made the entire film worthwhile, and Kenneth Branagh's direction is fresh and energetic. It opened last night in regular theatres and I would say it's worth an evening. We're going to take Avery and her friend Jamie to see it tonight, and I think it will be very interesting to see if 10-year-olds can follow a very cheerful and cheeky but still Shakespearean plot.

Where on earth did the week go? I saw the film on Monday night, and now what do I have to show for the following four days? I can't imagine. Well, first paired reading on Tuesday morning with my little Form Three gulls, who have grown quite shockingly since last July. Enid Blyton, Dick King-Smith, all the favorites were trotted out in their posh little accents. I hate to think that this time next year, I will have no reason to hang out at King's College, where there are truly little children. Instead Avery will be the youngest at a new school, surrounded by... teenagers. How did that happen?

We made a ruinous trip to Riders and Squires in South Kensington, for new half-chaps and gloves. This world is littered, from sea to shining sea, with riding gloves Avery has left in one barn or another. It's like socks in the dryer. Anna came with us, since the girls were in a state of delirious happiness at having been named "Environment Prefects" at school. Now, while you might think that this job would entail encouraging their schoolmates to recycle, it seems that it's actually to do with making the school environment more appealing. So right away, they took bunches of flowers in the next day. Surely we can't have signed on for supplying the school with flowers all year?

And I made a nice trip that afternoon to the nearby Whole Foods, as tantalizingly stocked with glorious choices as ever. I came away with three whole lemon soles, having watched them be filleted right before my eyes. Trying that process once was enough for me. Leave it to the professionals, I say. But it was completely delicious. Be sure to get wholemeal flour (it's often labelled "for breadmaking", I like Hovis). It has much more body, grain and flavour than all-purpose flour. Save that for a nice apple cake.

Completely Simple Sauteed Lemon Sole
(serves 3)

1 whole lemon sole per person, filleted and skin removed
strong wholemeal flour for dipping
1 tsp each: garlic powder
dried basil
lemon pepper
pinch salt
2 tbsps vegetable oil
2 tbsps butter

Mix the herbs into the flour on a plate with a fork. Have another empty plate ready.
Rinse each fish fillet and dredge thoroughly in the herbed flour, piling them on the plate to await sauteeing. Now, heat the oil and butter in your largest skillet and when it's hot, lay each fillet in carefully in a single layer. Saute on relatively high heat for about 2 minutes, then carefully turn over and cook for another 2-3 minutes. Perfect.


And how about another night of completely simple fish, for your Omega-3 oils?

Salmon with Soy, Ginger and Garlic
(serves 3)

4 fillets of salmon, skinless
1-inch knob ginger, peeled and minced
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 tbsps soy sauce
1 tsp sesame oil

Lay the salmon fillets in a glass dish in a single layer. Sprinkle with ginger, garlic, soy and sesame. Bake at 425 degrees for 20 minutes. That's it.


In our experience, you need to allow for one fillet per person plus one extra if you're three. It's so light and delicious that you'll find each person needs one more little helping. With both these dishes, a generous blob of mashed potatoes and a nice green veg are all you need. Or if you're Avery, copious numbers of slivered red peppers, sauteed in olive oil.

But really, what did I accomplish this week? Not much. Avery had her first weekday riding lesson since summer, and the ponies were feeling fresh. Little Ellie was tumbled off Seymour, Brody gave Anna a hard time, and even Amber was a little frisky for Avery. But the rain that threatened the beginning of the lesson blew over, thankfully, so I was left just shivering, but not actually soaking wet.

John and I have been taking long, long morning walks in the park, and I realize something odd: you'd think that a summer spent in the countryside of Connecticut would leave you really fit, with plenty of exercise, but not so. It's much easier to stay fit in a city where you've got to walk everywhere, than in the country where you jump in your car. So my legs are thankful it's autumn.

Well, one thing I did manage to organise: our Irish holiday in October! We'll be staying in a castle, mind you, lovingly restored by Irish Landmark Trust, just outside Waterford. I've still got to get a hotel for us in Dublin for the first two nights. Has anyone stayed at the Dylan? It sounds frightfully chic, when I'd really rather a place that was old Irish, cosy and warm. But Dublin seems to run to either threadbare and smokey-smelling, or frightfully chic. It sounds like such a great adventure.

Then, without a doubt the crowning glory of the week was yesterday's lunch at Maze. We have been intending to go there since we moved to London, such is the reputation of the Gordon Ramsay stronghold in Grosvenor Square. But as so often happens, it takes someone else's motivation to get the thing done. My barn-mother friend Kristin mentioned at pickup on Thursday that she was going for her birthday with our mutual friend Becky, and did I want to join? Well, I really should have been grocery shopping, or getting up to date on my photo albums, or writing the introduction to this cookbook I'm working on, but it was the work of a moment to drop all that nonsense. And I'm so glad I did. It was ridiculously... over the top.

I thought I'd seen about everything as far as precious presentation and funky ingredients go, but this restaurant is beyond the pale. I have never before needed to keep back a copy of the menu as a reference guide during the meal! We began laughing when the first course came (carpaccio of tuna and swordfish with lime and cucumber marinade, soya dressing) and never stopped till the last bite. I could have eaten six helpings of the tuna dish: little translucent medallions the size of pound coins, of each fish, topped with edible flowers (the waiter said, with a surprising degree of humour in one so doggedly French), "Don't, of course, eat the flowers. They are quite lethal. Just kidding." Then Becky had ordered "Jerusalem artichoke veloute with braised Gressingham duck leg," and was most surprised when along came a tiny white bowl with a scattering of little brown objects in the very bottom, which was promptly covered by a stream of liquid from a gravy boat by the assiduous waiter. The little brown objects turned out to be the duck leg, cubed incredibly small, and the liquid the soup. Unbelievably subtle and delicious flavours, quite indescribable. Then there was "honey and soy roasted quail with Landes foie gras and spiced pear chutney," and would you believe Becky does not like foie gras? I felt it was the least I could do to take her portion away: every so lightly sauteed with a crust of minced chives, sea salt and fresh black pepper, YUM.

Then I had "Roasted Orkney sea scallops with cured ham and maple syrup, egg and peas." But this description cannot convey the minute perfection of the dish: "egg and peas"? Try one minuscule quail's egg, sunny side up, and a lashing of bright green pea puree. Magical!

We had so much fun. And while it was expensive (about 30 pounds a person), we all felt that for the ridiculous luxury and the absolute perfection of every bite, it was worth the money for a special occasion. And Gordon was there! He signed copies of his latest cookbook, "Fast Food," for us. Now I must say that even with the celebrity glow, and the memory of the fabulous lunch, the cookbook itself is... very lazy. Only a celebrity chef could get away with such a nebulous concept, such forgettable recipes, and such bad photography. I have to be honest. I think I would have been better off with one of his over-the-top silly cookbooks with uncookable fancy food. More like fiction than real-life.

What fun. It was one of those afternoons when all was right with the world: good friends, a beautiful atmosphere, the early-autumn leaves of Grosvenor Square just beginning to fall outside the windows, perfect food. Thanks for including me, girls.

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