25 November, 2007

examination nerves setting in

And I'm not even the one sitting the exam! It's all an enormous cultural divide for which I'm thoroughly unprepared. For one thing, where I come from you "take" an exam. Where Avery comes from "one sits" an exam. Luckily, she's perfectly prepared. It's I who needs a refresher course.

I sat down at my desk this morning knowing I had one more application to fill out for Avery's exam schedule in January. The fifth choice among five, so I was not feeling particularly nervous, but nevertheless a deadline is a deadline, so I filled out the form. Until I got to the line, "Please indicate at which school your daughter will be sitting this exam." Because you see, it would be too easy for the child just to turn up at each school for each exam. No, in the attempt to make things simpler (!) the North London Independent Girls' Schools' Consortium (got that?) divided all the schools into two groups, cleverly called Group 1 and Group 2, and the girls have to sit the exam for each group just once, and then all the schools in that group to which she's applying look at those results. The schools all assure the parents that it makes NO DIFFERENCE where the child sits the exam, in terms of how the other schools where she didn't sit it view her results. The fervor with which the schools express this makes me think perversely that a child has no chance of getting into a school if she didn't sit the exam there.

Plus, of course, Avery's applying to one school that doesn't participate in either Group 1 or Group 2, so it has its OWN deadly exam. Anyway, there I was, filling the Undesirable School Form, and I suddenly couldn't remember where I had said she would be sitting that exam. So up comes the phone and I call one of the other schools in the group that she's applying to, to confirm that she's sitting it there. "I'm terribly sorry, Mrs Frederickson, but the paperwork for your daughter's exam confirmation seems to have been lost in that postal strike in October. We have no record of her sitting the exam here."

Major panic! But she could tell, because she kindly said, "Don't panic, I will merely put another set of papers into the post this evening and you may turn them around as quickly as possible." As kind as this was, however, it merely put me in a swivet of nerves about the state of her "paperwork" at the other schools. So I ended up spending the entire morning at my desk calling each school, stammering out my dumb question, getting people's voice mail, leaving messages. Generally flummoxing myself! I feel certain that the administrators who took my calls have now ticked the box "loony incompetent mum" next to Avery's name. Sorry, dear.

Other than school jitters, it has been quiet around here. Vague thoughts of Christmas shopping (surely I can't give everyone only books, can I?), planning our return to Connecticut in just three weeks (can that be? where has this autumn gone?). Yesterday was greatly enlivened by the arrival of a belated (another casualty of the postal strike?) birthday present from Jill and Joel and Jane, quite the most elaborate and delightful pencil case known to man. Do you have a little pony-mad girl for whom you need a gift sure to please? Try luvponies, with the nicest staff you'll ever speak to (if the present gets lost in the post), tons of choices and generally the magic language that I don't speak but my horse-crazy daughter does.

Thanks, guys, for lifting the spirits of your niece who suffered mightily over not getting chosen to sing the solo of "Once in Royal David's City" (warning! this link plays delightful music, so don't click it at 3 a.m. with your sleeping baby next to you) at the Christmas carol concert next month. She was in terrible spirits at school pickup, and heaved a huge sigh over having to do her homework, so when I saw her slumped over my desk with horrible maths problems, it was but the work of a moment to present the exciting package and watch her light up! Homework is much more pleasant when done with a pink pencil drawn all over with ponies, manes flying in some dream landscape. Totally turned her mood around! And the next thing we knew she was singing the wretched Christmas song all over again, her pique forgotten. Would that we adults could spring back from disappointment with such aplomb! It's probably worth noting: keep a potentially mind-blowing gift aside for just such an occasion.

Monday night was enlivened by the arrival my new friend Layla with her camera, intent on taking some photographs of food, both ingredients and cooking action. She's Dalia's sister, my dramatic and lively friend of writing classes past and present. So Dalia came along as well at dinner time, bringing her gorgeous, sweet and very Irish husband Kevin (he could say absolutely anything in that accent and I would be at his feet, very impractical in daily life but a lot of fun as a dinner guest). Layla is possibly the most easygoing person I have ever met: she meets life head-on with enthusiasm and energy, but refuses to let any annoying details get her down. Bullies at her childhood boarding school? Couldn't be bothered to notice them too much. "Years later they wanted to be friends, and I could see that nothing had changed! They were still the same people, so I just got on with it."

Avery was intrigued by this approach to school drama, and listened with rapt attention to all Layla's and Dalia's tales. As well as being fun to have around, I have to confess that those two girls are the most beautiful creatures! Long, dark, dramatic hair, eyelashes a mile long, the polar opposite of my vaguely Scandinavian aspect, so it was a pleasure just to look at them. And did they eat? My goodness, they were my best customers ever. And I made a variation on an old lasagne recipe, which is worth putting down here, I think, as everyone really enjoyed it. It seems that you can cook the noodles ahead or not, without a tremendous difference. If you do cook them ahead, however, be sure to cook your tomato sauce down plenty so there's not too much juice, since the cooked noodles won't absorb as much liquid.

Super-cheesy Lasagne
(served 6! but you'll serve more)

12 sheets lasagne noodles
1 1/2 pounds traditional English sausage
3 tbsps olive oil
6 cloves garlic, minced
1 white onion, minced
3 soup-size cans whole tomatoes
2 tbsps Italian seasoning
250 grams each: mascarpone, ricotta, grated cheddar
3 balls mozzarella, grated
1 cup grated parmesan

In a large skillet, stir fry the garlic and onion in the olive oil until soft. Add the sausage and cook thoroughly. Then, holding each can over the skillet, lift out the tomatoes in your hands and crush into the skillet. Add the juice. Add the seasoning and stir thoroughly and cook down. Meanwhile, spray a 9x13 glass dish with nonstick spray (a must!) and cover the bottom with noodles. Mix the mascarpone with the ricotta and cheddar. Spread about a third of the mixture over the noodles, and then spread over a third of the tomato sauce and half the parmesan and half the cheddar. Keep layering noodles and sauce and cheese, ending with noodles. Top with the rest of the grated cheddar and parmesan and bake for 45 minutes in a slow-ish oven, perhaps 350 degrees.


Well, it's a typical grey English day and my kitchen is filled with the smells of turkey soup, from the enormous Thanksgiving bird. Such a twice-a-year aroma, don't you think? Do you ever cook turkey not on Thanksgiving or Christmas? Neither do I. It will make a perfect first course tonight at dinner. Then perhaps to watch an episode of latest English television obsession? A Bit of Fry and Laurie is side-splitting in a completely British way, and such a funny look back at 20 years ago in British comedy, somewhere between Monty Python and... what? I suppose there isn't an equivalent now, but we do adore QI and "Have I Got News For You." Last week QI had the contestants trying to identify a photograph of an island. One answer was "The Island of Inevitable but Reluctant Homosexuality: a school trip gone horribly wrong," which led Stephen Fry to quip, "'Lord of the Undone Flies,' was it?" I'm hoping these jokes are too subtle to get me in trouble with any child-safety monitors!

We're off to this lunch with, doubtless, a much savvier mum than me. I plan to listen and learn. And then collapse with turkey soup and a pony pencil case.


Anonymous said...

Poor you, and poor Avery.

I live in a village which just happens to boast a high-performing Secondary School, so all we had to do was choose it and bingo! - our boy was in. In fact the school was first set up for the village children, and one of the main criteria for entry still is that you actually live in the village!

I really hope all your (and Avery's - poor lamb) endeavours get you the place you want. Fingers crossed!!!

I have a question .... when you say Sausage in your recipe, do you mean sausagemeat , as in pork sausages, or minced meat such as lamb, beef or turkey? The link has confused me.

Oh and I also have an answer - traditionally in my family we serve Turkey at Easter and Christmas. So twice a year is usual for me too.

Best Wishes

Jeanne said...

Hi Kristen

I'm trying in vain to find your e-mail address as we'd like to invite you to take part in Menu for Hope, the annual event where foodbloggers raise money for a good
cause by raffling off prizes. Together with Johanna (The Passionate Cook) I will be co-ordinating the UK leg of this year's campaign. Last year we managed to raise $66,000 and hope to increase that total again this time round. If you'd like to participate, please e-mail me asap and I'll send you the details.


Kristen In London said...

Hi Caz,

I know, it's ridiculously stressful! One of those problems that I call "a problem when you don't have any problems." A healthy child, an intelligent child, a happy family. So any of these choices... big deal! But for the moment it's crazy-making.

Yes, I mean sausage-meat, in a cylinder-shaped plastic package, labelled "Xmas sausage"! It was LOVELY! The link was just to traditional English foods.

Ah well, it's great to hear from you! Cannot find your email but will try again. Hope you see this, and happy holidays!


Caz said...

Hi Kristen

I got your other message too thanks. Have replied with my email address.