16 October, 2007

a Chinese adventure, and a dip into Hampstead

I absolutely love this supermarket's slogan, in a guilty sort of way, since sadly in my language-limited life it applies to me: "All the Chinese You Need to Know." We maneuvered our way on Monday morning, on our friend Peter's advice, to Wing Yip's Chinese supply store, because I was frustrated by my attempts to cook real Chinese food with what my Chinese friend Amy assured me were virtually unrecognizably flavoured versions of the ingredients I needed. And while I cannot lisp the tender syllables of these time-honoured differences in quality, there is no doubt that my night's attempts to produce a truly memorable dish of sprouts, noodles and beef supplanted all others. Let me explain.

I have spent a fair amount of time trying to replicate my favourite dishes at Mandarin Kitchen in Queensway. The softshell crabs, the noodles and sprouts. And while what I produced has been good, then really good, then I felt quite delicious, it was never the same, shall we say, tenor of what one gets at the restaurant. And it never will be. But Wing Yip's is a sublime experience in grocery shopping, should your taste in entertainment run in that direction. And sadly perhaps, mine does. Mock duck in a tin! Hoisin flavoured duck tongues! Nine kilos of curry powder! Cuttlefish in every shape and form. Dozens of types of soy sauce. And I did buy some, and sesame oil in a deeper shade than I'd ever seen before, and garlic and ginger and sprouts. Granted, I had to stop at Waitrose for the silverside of beef, but suffice to say that the dish Avery and I cooked together that night was miles better than any other version. So go, take yourself off to Wing Yip, shop, and learn.

Ah well, it was but a matter of hours before Chinese delights turned into a dripping wet morning next day and we found ourselves trekking to Hampstead to view yet another school choice, and while I often lament my husband's insistence on trying every possibility before making a decision (his marriage being a notable exception, for which I'm grateful), I have to admit that this latest school has great possibilities. South Hampstead High School, on a leafy esplanade high up in Hampstead a fairly gruelling walk from the Heath, but there nonetheless. A glorious school filled with gulls of an impossible self-possession, sense of humour, willingness to work. A delightful deputy headmaster with whom I fell instantly in crushdom: twinkling eyes, perfect Oxford accent, and an unmistakable attitude of awe toward these budding adults. It's a real possibility for Avery for next year, though by no means a "safety school," which we're meant to be finding for the eventuality that she catches her hand in a dog's mouth (or some other unanticipated semi- demi- hemi-disaster) on the morning of the all-important exams. Goodness, what this household needs is at least one adult with a job, so as to keep our heads from living in what can be called only "Common Entrance Hell."

Well, I could not leave Hampstead without paying homage to what I firmly believe to be the BEST breadmaker in London: Gail's in the High Street. There's another location in Notting Hill, and I'd say, get there. Potato and rosemary sourdough bread, there is nothing like it. So substantial, real flavor, real heft. Great for sandwiches, toast, you name it. And a delightful "breakfast to go" sandwich of a sweet and crunch honeyed bread stuffed with a chive omelet, of all things, plus Brie cheese, spinach and tomatoes. Go, do, and have one.

Well, by then it was POURING rain and really time to go home, but then I passed the best produce shop in London, I think: Brian Lay-Jones just in Fitzjohn Street as you leave the High Street. Crooked, old-fashioned, nooks and crannies, produce piled up and all the staff joshing one another about the previous night's adventures. I could have bought a LOT but John was precariously parked and I limited myself to a nice paper bag full of portobellos for soup on that nasty day.

Well, sleep beckons. I've a lot to tell you about the concert I took Avery and Jamie to tonight, but more than one post a day (and this one has taken some time!) would smack of... self-absorption, and we certainly don't want THAT. Nighty-night.

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