01 September, 2007

we're nearly on our way

I'm such a basically homebody-ish, untechnical person that it always seems quite literally incredible to me that tonight we could share a fabulous dinner with Anne and David, candlelit on our picnic table overlooking our peaceful lawn and barns, and tomorrow at this time we'll be high above the Atlantic courtesy of British Airways winging toward home, and 43-ish hours from now we'll be cozily ensconced in our London flat, surrounded by kitties and unpacked luggage and looking forward to the Michaelmas term, that fresh and autumnal term of the English school year in which all resolutions about homework and playdates, diet and exercise seem possible, and the spectre of Christmas has not yet raised its head!

Avery already has a plan of play with Anna, whose mom, my dear friend Becky, called today, bringing the spirit of our London life into my Connecticut kitchen. I found it so hard to reconcile the sounds of my American washer and icemaker with the sound of Becky's voice, which conjures up her London kitchen, our London coffee dates, London school functions. The odd thing is having such entrenched, cozy, and encompassing lives in both places.

Judy stopped by today as we were reading and lazing out on the terrace, to say thanks for dinner the other night, for the return of her pieplate, a promise to hand on her cookie recipe, and to report on the funeral we observed from the tennis court today, the funeral of a beloved community fire marshal. Something in me was so touched to have a friend who would include us in this story, to help us understand the town we call home for only seven weeks a year, now, let us in on what we observed from afar, watching vintage fire engines leaving the churchyard, knowing someone important had left the town.

And then to have Anne and David here tonight, helping me gather thoughts on the cookbook I'm working on, a reissue of her grandmother's recipes. And thoughts on contributing to the new Southbury Library for which there are still fundraising paving stones and other dedicatable items available. The Avery Memorial Late Returns Window? The Paul Frederickson Hand-Dryer in the Men's Room? We can't afford the Children's Circulation Desk ($45,000!), but we can still think big.

We are just tremendously lucky to have everyone we have where we have them, that's all.

Well, leave we must. To pick up the threads of what was so absorbing seven weeks ago, and now seems like a dream! What will the school play be (Peter Pan being so wonderful last year), to be announced before Christmas? Will we end up in Ireland for October break with John's parents? How will my new autobiography writing course go? What to do for Avery's birthday in November? Who will be Head Girl, and Head of Curie House at King's College Prep? When will our porter bring back our beloved Mini Cooper from her summer sojourn in Kent? What sort of seats did I manage to get for us at Saint Joan at the National Theatre? Horse of the Year Show in Birmingham beckons, but do we have tickets? So many unanswered questions needing our attention.

And it's something that I go back to London armed with at least two new great recipes. Our last dinner of dill-butter shrimp with Jill, Joel and Jane was wonderful, but since my shrimp tonight turned out so well I'm going to privilege Joel's classic chicken dish that we have enjoyed so much chez Grove.

Parmesan Crusted Chicken Breasts
(serves 4)

2 tsps Dijon mustard
2 tsps extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 tsp chopped thyme
4 boneless, skinless chicken breast halves
salt and freshly ground pepper
2 tbsps freshly grated Parmesan cheese

Preheat oven to 475 degrees. In a small bowl, combine 2 tsps of the Dijon mustard with 2 tsps olive oil and the thyme. Season the chicken breasts with salt and pepper and brush them all over with the mustard mixture. Put 2 tbsps of the Parmesan all over each breast. Transfer the chicken to a rimmed baking sheet and bake for 15 minutes, or until just cooked through and nicely browned.


Avery has a new best friend, who Anne kindly informed us this morning is a caterpillar about to become an American Dagger Moth. She has named him Marcus, and he comes everywhere with her. "Would you watch Marcus for me, Mummy, while I get a book? He's very well-behaved, so you shouldn't have any trouble with him." He came with us to tennis this morning, and wandered over to meet Rollie who came to say goodbye. She did leave him at home while we went to the famous Rich's Farm Ice Cream Shop in nearby Oxford, one of Anne and David's favorite spots, which they've been waxing lyrical about for years now, so we finally got there. Pumpkin ice cream! Sounds absurd but it was delicious, totally simple and rich. We all stood around in the breezy first-of-September sunshine, under the perfectly blue sky with just a few early autumnal leaves floating about. The perfect last activity.

Well, I can report that my first experience cooking clams was, last night, a total success. Here's what you need to remember about clams: each one cooks at a different pace. So unlike mussels, which if they don't open after, say, ten minutes, are assumed to be dead and therefore inedible, clams need to be coaxed along a bit. And since my horror was to overcook them and end up with garlic-flavored rubber bands, I took each little one out of the steaming liquid as soon as it opened. There were fully 10 minutes between when the first one opened and when the last finally succumbed, and it didn't seem to have anything to do with size, which surprised me.

Linguini With Shrimp and Clams
(serves four generously)

2 dozen littleneck clams, carefully washed
1 1/2 pound large uncooked shrimp, shells on

3 tbsps butter
6 cloves garlic, finely minced
2 large shallots, finely minced
2 tbsps finely chopped Italian flat-leaf parsley
1/2 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
12 ounces good white wine
12 ounces clam juice
12 ounces chicken broth
2 tbsps sour cream
3/4 lb linguini

In a large skillet with a lid, melt butter and saute garlic and shallots gently until soft. Add red pepper flakes and parsley (reserve a pinch or two of parsley to sprinkle on the finished dish) and stir till everything is coated in butter, then add white wine and turn the heat up until the wine simmers high. After five minutes, add the clam juice and the chicken broth and heat until simmering high. Now add the clams and cover with a lid.

I happened to have a glass lid, so I could see through it to monitor clams opening. But a general rule is that the first clams will start to pop open after about 5 minutes. You don't have to be obsessive about this, but try to remove clams as soon as possible after opening. So perhaps open the lid after 6 minutes and remove the opened ones, then again after a couple of minutes, and so on until all clams are cooked and removed.

Now you can wait until just before eating to do anything but let the sauce simmer. When you want to eat in 10 minutes, put the linguini into boiling water and whisk the sour cream into the sauce. Then put the shrimps into the simmering sauce. Stir and toss about until the shrimps are completely pink all over (about five minutes). Now add the clams, then drain the pasta and add to the shellfish and sauce. Toss and sprinkle on reserved parsley.

You can serve directly into bowls and ladle on sauce, or pour into a large serving bowl and let guests serve themselves. HEAVEN!


Well, I don't love clams, but I tried one to assure myself that they were delicious, and they were. The shrimp were luscious and fun to peel (be sure to provide body bowls for your guests to dump their shells), and each strand of linguini coated with buttery sauce. With a little toasted focaccia on the side, and a tomato-mozzarella salad after (and Anne and David brought luscious berries and ice cream), it was the perfect end-of-summer meal.

Next post: LONDON!

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