13 October, 2007

a day out in Buckinghamshire, and Frieze!

Mark your calendars: next Sunday, 21st October, from 11:30-4, "Apple Day" at Iver Flowerland Field, Swallow Street, Iver. If we were not already scheduled to be in Dublin for the weekend (oh, poor us!) we'd be there. But we can highly recommend the apple picking, as it's being organised by the farm we visited yesterday, Home Cottage Farm. Iver is a tiny, sleepy little hamlet about 45 minutes' drive from central London, sadly along the horrid M40, but I bet there's a shun-motorway way to go, if you can get your SatNav to tell you how.

Yesterday morning we raced to pick up Avery's chum Anna, then raced to Kensington to retrieve Avery from her sleepover at Jamie's, and headed out to pick apples in the countryside. The farm itself is a rambling old house surrounded by field filled with sheep, chickens, guinea fowl and their cock (he literally said, "cocka-doodle-do" to the girls' delight). The elderly farmer lady led us to the till where she weighed our shabby old canvas bags and pointed out the way to the blackberry bushes, cautioning that "they're nearly over now, of course." But there were enough to fill a little two-pint container, and raspberries besides. But the apples! Cox, Spartan, Russet, Blenheim. She had mentioned that there were other varieties on the other side of the car park, but by then the girls could hardly carry their bags and we felt we had enough. A blue sky studded with filmy clouds, holly bushes heavy with red berries, a breeze cool enough to make you glad you had a jacket, but then an hour later you tied it around your waist because the sun was warming things up.

It was a pleasure to give the girls an experience that didn't cost anything (except to buy the apples themselves), didn't involve batteries or computers, and got them out in the fresh air. They raced up and down the orchards, picking apples tiny enough to give to their stuffed animals (they're still pretty little, after all, these girls), yelling gleefully over worm holes, sharing the weight of the bag. They had a fantastic time, and next weekend promises to be even more fun with not just apple picking but... ferret racing! Dog agility! Birds of prey, even. I'd go if I were you.

So we handed over our loot to the male version of the elderly lady farmer, quiet and dignified in his jumper all over holes. "How long have you been doing this, sir?" John asked, and he answered with a smile, "Forty years." I can see that being a very good life, in another life. The girls accomplished some mild stalking of the guinea fowl, and we headed home. To bake! I have created something of a cooking monster in Avery now, who feels she wants a hand in the creation of all meals now, and suggests baking projects at the most inopportune times, as in when I'm taking the main course out of the oven and lighting the candles for dinner. "May I make a dessert?" Well, no, not right now.

But there was nothing to stop Avery and Anna yesterday from inventing a very complex cake using ALL the items they had picked just minutes earlier. It's a variation on the simple cake we made the other night, and they had a great time doing it, although I realised that I am indulging them terribly by doing the dishes behind their backs, so they get all the fun and none of the drudgery. It's a revelation to cook with children, because they approach all the tasks with a tremendous creativity, as opposed to I who simply wants to get the dish finished. "Look at this flour coming out of the sieve, it's like it's snowing," and "feel how silky this powdered sugar is," and "ooh, how glossy and shiny the butter and sugar and eggs are, and SMELL! Oh, that smells so good."

Anna and Avery's Apple Cake with Raspberry and Blackberry Filling and Apple Sauce

Sift and then measure 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, add 1 tablespoon baking powder and set aside.

Cream 1/2 cup butter, 1 cup sugar, 2 tsps vanilla and 2 eggs. Beat light and fluffy. Measure 1 cup milk. Add alternately to the creamed mixture with about 1/2 cup flour at a time. Stir smooth with each addition. Stir in 5 apples, peeled and coarsely chopped.

Pour into 2 well-greased shallow pans [I used a springform and it was perfect]. Sprinkle the top of one cake with 1/2 cup brown sugar, and a mixture of cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves [to your taste]. On the top of the second cake, drizzle the juice of a dozen raspberries and a dozen blackberries (pushed through a sieve). Bake at 350 degrees for 35-40 minutes or until a knife inserted in the center comes out clean.

Let cool for 10 minutes. Remove springform rims from the cakes and spread applesauce made from about 6 apples, cinnamon, brown sugar and lemon juice over the top of the cake with the raspberry topping. Place the brown sugar cake on top, and sprinkle powdered sugar through a sieve on top. Then serve warm. If you like, you may serve with ice cream or whipped cream.


Let's see, Friday I was a real grownup. Got dressed up, made a new friend, and stretched my brain a bit with the Frieze Art Fair in Regent's Park. And unlike my normal ineptitude when I tell you about something I did in London and it closed that day, you can still get to Frieze today or tomorrow. I met up first with Susan, a lady newly transplanted from New York, a friend of a friend whose daughter used to ride with Avery in the Bronx in our old happy barn days there. We met at Villandry for a bite of lunch, since although it's practically adjacent to Avery's school I don't get there very often (you'd be surprised how crossing a single street can make a place too far away). You can eat either in the sort of communal left-hand side of the establishment, with long wooden tables and a very buzzy air of conversation, or as we did in the calmer white-tablecloth side. As always, the service was very spotty with languid French girls not too interested in helping us, and I was very surprised when my "chicken club sandwich" turned out to be mayonnaisey chicken salad instead of the sliced roast I was expecting, but it was yummy. Susan had a suckling pig sandwich which looked quite good. Mostly we got to know each other.

There is a certain profile of a New York lady that I love: born and raised in Manhattan, highly educated at the best schools, several impressive careers (lawyer, banker, entrepreneur), a wry sense of humor and sophisticated attitude toward everything from politics to food to child-rearing. As she spoke I thought of all the New York friends I have left behind, Francesca, Julia, Alyssa, Liz, and there was something of all of them in her. It made me very homesick. It felt like putting on an old glove to talk to Susan, even though we had just met, because she reminded me of so many other people. I suppose it's an amalgamation of the qualities that make Woody Allen popular: super intelligent, with an endless array of great stories to tell, a New Yorker's indomitable ability to adjust, fit in, enjoy life, but never suffering fools gladly, or at all. At any rate, we had a good time, and then we headed to the art fair. In a nutshell: a huge array of terrible, terrible art punctuated by a few gems that made my heart go pitter pat a bit, and feel nostalgic for my old gallery-owner days in New York.

Susan and I played the ever-entrancing game of "What would I buy if I were buying," and while she gravitated largely toward photography, I went for my usual: conceptual, minimalist, obsessively repetitive, either sculpture or work on paper. There was a simply breathtaking enormous Glenn Ligon piece in charcoal, a beautiful Antony Gormley figure made of articulated steel cubes, a Carl Andre installation of rough-hewn wood (I do love Carl, even if he's a questionable bloke in real life), and perhaps most impressive, a print by a young Italian artist called Luca Trevisani. This piece was a sequence of 1200 still shots from a video of ants being attracted to a hole in the ground filled with sugar. He shot the ants, one after another, each the size of a half grain of rice, walking toward the hole, then gathering around it, then going inside, and then but the film up into stills. Then he placed each still in sequence, then in backward order. And then made them into lithographic sort of stamps, and printed them them. Eeek! So picture an enormous piece of white paper, perhaps four feet across and three feet high, covered with tiny, tiny black images that you have to get your face right up against to recognize as ants, marching across the surface in a perfect sequence, making a beautiful, abstract but completely geometrically precise pattern. Gorgeous! And so FUNNY. Plus frankly I would have been tempted to buy anything at ALL from the sublimely sexy Milanese dealer who explained all this to me in great detail. Ants? Sure, I'll buy it. Just keep talking, please. And that gesture you make with your perfectly manicured hand against your chin? I'll take that too.

I haven't been able to find out a lot about young Luca to tell you, because everything is in Italian or very amusingly translated. But trust me, those ants are worth a look. But I think I would have seriously gone home with two silver gelatin photographs by the tragic suicidal artist Francesca Woodman, who my friend Sarah Webb wrote about so beautifully in her epilogue to our book. And I would have bought two pieces by the British artist Cornelia Parker, although they brought up nasty Holocaust associations for Susan: reclaimed dental gold transformed into thread-like wire, strung through a golden needle and sewn into beautiful patterns, between two pieces of glass. Stunning, but I can see her point. The second piece was made with a reclaimed bullet, perhaps less upsetting. Aesthetically, though, just gorgeous.

These few pieces reminded me of how much fun art can be, but the enormous preponderance of what was on display annoyed me. Garish, careless, sloppy and thoughtless! Call me old-fashioned, but I need to see effort, precision and skill when I look at art. Ah, well, taste is taste. The humor award went to an artist (didn't get his name) who created an installation (after a performance) of empty mussel shells in a pile in a corner made by mirrors. "Let Them Eat Mussels," it was called, after he cooked the mussels on site (the recipe was given on the wall text!), gave them to his audience and asked them to throw the spent shells in the corner. Sublime!

Anyway, we had a great time. Go on over and see for yourself. Right now I'm headed to Chinatown, for the first time! If I cook something fabulous as a result, I'll let you know.

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