15 September, 2007

a trip to Kew, and a birthday party

First I have to say: this is the crazy kitty who has been such a problem to us. And yet: since we got home from the summer she's been nothing but a delight. Look at this serenity. Cats are a mystery.

Saturday dawned incredibly fair and cool, truly the perfect weather in any city, anywhere. Slightly chilly in the shade, perfect in the sun. Blue skies and tiny white clouds. I think we brought this weather with us from Connecticut. So we decided the day could not be spent indoors, and in a rush jumped into Emmy and headed to Kew, to the and the Henry Moore show that opened today. Why wait? We are such suckers for anything advertised on the sides of buses, I hate to say. Henry Moore at Kew? Done! No research needed.

Except that we did. Need research, that is. So consider your research done, my friends: I have suffered for you. Not suffered in any significant sense, mind you, and probably everyone knows what I'm about to tell you, but I didn't. Tip one: the traffic can turn wicked on the way to Richmond, and it took us nearly an hour to get there. Tip two: the cafe is disgusting and the snack-ish shop worse, and both very expensive. Tip three: one could spend an entire day, even more, at the RBG and not make a dent.

So here's what happened. We had three hours to enjoy between sleeping late and Avery's acting class, so we blithely headed off. Got stressed, in a minor way, by the unexpectedly inflated traffic. Arrived starving and were forced to eat repulsive sandwiches and drink something unfathomable called Fentiman's Dandelion and Burdock Something or Other, AWFUL. And by the time we arrived we had just an hour and a half to spend and didn't get to see a tenth of what we wanted to.

But that's the bad news. The good news is I was with the two least complaining, most agreeable people I know, and so we made the proverbial lemons into... well, at least not Dandelion Elixir. In future, I think I'd drive through town and Chiswick and avoid the motorway. As it was, we all just bit the bullet and enjoyed the walk from the car park to the Gardens (hop the brick wall and you'll find yourself on the tow lane for the river, looking right down to the Thames and all its exotic water birds), then paid the surprisingly enormous fee to get in, and swallowed our awful lunch with good humour. Mostly we planned on the picnic we would bring the next time, when we'd have all day: egg salad with cress, duck pate sandwiches, roast chicken, potato salad with scallions and dill, strawberries and cream. It's easy to dream. With a book each (as it was only Avery had something to read, "The Princess Bride," with which she is obsessed lately in an adorable way, but at least she loves to read aloud), a nice waterproof rug to lie on, and all day to spend, it would be heaven.

And plan to spend all DAY. There are nearly 30 sculptures by the genius Henry Moore, one of my mid-century favorites, heavily influenced in the negative by my old chum Rodin, scattered around the acres of gardens. We got to see almost a dozen, wandering around toward the Palm Court and taking a brief trip through the marine life centre, a sort of mini aquarium. Lovely.

But it ended all too soon. We got back into town just in time to deliver Avery to her acting class, and for me to birthday-shop for our friend Estee, celebrating her eighth in style in Bermondsey. And luckily her father Vincent was cooking, in a BIG way.

Whole Gammon
(serves at least 10 adults and 8 children, plus leftovers that can be dangled cruelly over guests' heads as "ham and eggs" next morning)

1 whole smoked gammon (it weighed at least 10 kilos)
honey and mustard

Boil the gammon in water for 3 hours. Then remove and place in roasting pan and cover with a glaze of honey mixed with mustard, and roast in a medium oven for at least 2 hours. Alternatively, you may roast it in a low oven all day, at least 7 hours.


This, with the simplest of potato salads, tiny new carrots steamed and drizzled with olive oil, and a green salad, was the perfect large party menu. And an ENORMOUS chocolate cake of Vincent's own design, studded with Smarties.

And the presents! We gave her the present of the moment, in my opinion: simple and perfect. A pile of white t-shirts and a set of fabric markers. She immediately had everyone sign it, as a memento of her birthday party, dear girl.

What great guests: Kate and Malcolm, architects extraordinaire, Tara and Brian, happy former owners of "Fresh and Wild" (I had a stirring discussion with him about the sale to Whole Foods, that bastion of epicurean controversy). Brian is now deeply into his new concern, Nude skincare, a completely organic cosmetics group if you can imagine. I can scarcely be bothered to slap my face with whatever's left from my body lotion after a shower, but fair enough, I know most women are much more careful of their appearance. Lord knows I should be. And there was our old friend Boyd. This made me very sentimental: Avery caught sight of Boyd and hissed under her breath, "You never told me Boyd was here!" The friendships that were nurtured by that trip to Morocco will never die. And there were new friends Nick and Tony, a tremendously congenial and happy group.

We all simply ate and talked until we couldn't anymore, watched the present-opening and Vincent's heartwarming joy in the gathering of his beloved daughters, their friends, his friends. Perfect company, delicious food, good music, a great birthday. Thanks for inviting us, Estee. The next party's on us.

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