10 December, 2007

what to give?



































But first: a milestone! The first evening that my family have taken more than 20 minutes to eat dinner. I am sorry to say that I do take these things into account now and then, especially when the time and effort put in are SO out of proportion to the length of time spent chewing and swallowing. I'm pleased to say that this evening's example was a healthy 2:1. It was easy, everyone loved everything, and if I was still left with the dishes while Avery and John trotted down to catch "Top Gear," at least that meant I didn't have to watch. And the evening's fare, brill? My first choice was and always is lemon sole, but there wasn't any left. And some gorgeous and mysterious European-looking man was sauntering away from FishWorks as I approached and was identified as the fellow who grabbed the last Dover sole. So brill was suggested, and not a bad thing INDEED.

Brill with Butter
(serves 4)

2 whole brill fish, filleted and skinned (I'm squeamish) by your fishmonger
4 tbsps butter
sprinkle sea salt

First of all, go over your fish from the fishmonger. Much as I love FishWorks, they're not as meticulous as I am. For one thing, in my experience fishmongers believe you should buy and go home with the WHOLE fish. Well, I don't do whole fish. Except at the restaurant itself where it's been cooked by someone else and all I have to do is gallantly eat one half then lift up the tail and thereby the spine and attendant bones. No, if I'm going to cook it, I want someone to clean it beforehand.

But it's never clean enough. So on a nice clean cutting board take each fillet and search it for skin, extra bones, whatever, and remove them so you have a perfectly soft and lovely eating experience.

Then in a large nonstick skillet (I don't have one! waah!) melt the butter and bring it to fairly high heat without browning it. Then in go the fillets, as many as you can fit (I had to go in two rounds). Sprinkle with salt and let cook. After perhaps 2 minutes, turn, and swish the butter round. Add more if you need it. That's IT.

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With this we had my most sinful lazy indulgence, potatoes dauphinoise from Waitrose. Simply fabulous and so much better than my attempts at home (probably because of my shying away from buying a container with "double cream" on the label). And sauteed sugar snap peas with red peppers, so it was colourful and tasty and everyone was happy. Plus salsa verde and garlic mayonnaise, do you know about those? Everything tastes better with:

Salsa verde
(makes plenty, save it)


1 large bunch flat-leaf parsley, leaves only
1 clove garlice
juice of half a lemon
sea salt to taste
extra virgin olive oil till liquid (perhaps 1/2 cup?)

Blend everything in the cuisinart and bask in the green glory. It's lovely.

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Aioli
(again, makes plenty)


1 tsp white vinegar
3 egg yolks
1 tbsp Dijon mustard
1/4 tsp white pepper
3-5 garlic cloves
3/4 cup olive (not virgin) oil
1/2 tsp salt
juice of a lemon

Mince the garlic as finely as possible and add it to the olive oil. If you have a small food processor or blender, the two can be blended together. Whisk the egg yolks with the mustard in a small bowl. Whisk for two minutes, then as you whisk, begin to drizzle in the garlic oil in a very thin, steady, slow stream.

The yolks and oil will begin to come together. When about half the oil is in, and the mixture is beginning to resemble mayonnaise, add the vinegar and salt and pepper. Whisk together, then continue to drizzle in the oil while whisking. Stop before you've used all the oil.

Squeeze in a little lemon juice, stir it in well, then taste. If it needs more salt, lemon juice, pepper or garlic oil, add it now and whisk it in until it tastes right. It should be thick and creamy, not overly garlicky, with none of the other flavors too strong.

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These two little gems with fish are just brilliant (I love that "brill" is Brit shorthand for 'brilliant'), and not bad with the peppers and peas either. I was transported back to our honeymoon days when, I kid you not, every Saturday evening we had lobster (cold and gorgeous), sauteed red peppers, crusty warm baguettes, and salsa verde and aioli. EVERY WEEK. How decadent is that? But so delicious, colorful and not at all bad for you.


Let's see, back to Christmas. If I could morph all the little perfect gifts I have for my niece Jane (nearly three) and turn them into things to give to all the people I'm stuck for... sadly this does not seem to be possible. Also, I am sorry to say that nearly every other gift I have to offer is... a book. Not the same book mind you, but... books. Well, it's the gift that keeps on giving, isn't it? Fathers are completely impossible, and some mothers are harder than others. Sisters, don't get me started. I'm hoping some serious inspiration will hit me, say, tomorrow.

We did pick up a number of exciting things to give at Saturday's Christmas Fair at the Godolphin and Latymer School, one of Avery's choices (we hope) for next autumn. Our friends the McBs have two girls there now, and were in the stalwart position of selling Christmas cards to benefit the scholarship fund, so a number of you will see the beauty of this in your post soon! We wandered all around the school, bemoaning the universal costume of SUPER skinny jeans, scary scarves draped around LONG hair with lots of product, shiny gold ballet flats and little t-shirts that leave much too much exposed between shirt and jean, in our opinion. Oh dear. But Avery assures us that if she doesn't care about the fashions now, she probably won't when she gets to senior school. "I'm mostly about the 1940s anyway, and if I don't mind that it's not fashionable now, it shouldn't be a big deal next year." Fair enough.

It's completely exhausting, I find! Tonight at the Form Six mothers' choir practice, Anne's mother and I commiserated about the joys and pains of their getting to be so OLD. "You know, Kristen, next year I keep thinking, we won't be welcome at the school. We won't sing together, or even know each other. Last year at the Christmas sing I caught Anne's eye as we both sang a carol, and I have to tell you, FLOODS of tears. From me!" I admitted to just the same and we both got teary just remembering. And this evening's drama! As we mothers were blamelessly singing, Avery and her friend Caroline were in the school cafeteria working on a book of remembrance for their two teachers who are retiring (one will not be missed), when the fire alarm rang. "Never mind," the singing teacher gestured, and on we sang. At the end, when we had partaken of Caroline's mother's PERFECT pumpkin dip with apple slices, she and I meandered down to the cafeteria to find them, and there they were, drawing away, but SHAKING with fear.

"We thought it was a real fire!" Avery broke out. "And we obeyed all the fire drill instructions and tried the fire door but it was LOCKED! We though we would burn up!" The caretaker, Mr Nixon, came forward and said proudly, "They behaved beautifully! Never strayed from their instructions [although later Avery confessed that if she could have got to the music room sooner she would have been hot on my trail, whatever the instructions]." Goodness. The poor child had post traumatic stress disorder in the supermarket afterward when someone's cart went past the barrier and an alarm went off. Poor dear.

But nothing compares to her thrill at having won a duet with Ami at the upcoming carol festival for which we're all practicing. Whew, she has a part. That's a relief.

Let's see, aside from the Christmas school fair over the weekend, mostly... it rained. All over our Notting Hill shopping trip to Graham and Greene and Verandah, with a glorious lunchtime side trip to E&O. That restaurant just can't put a foot wrong, in my opinion. We had a starter of "sesame crispy spinach," but the revelation was a layer of something vaguely mushroomy, subtly salty... it was tofu! Soaked, we decided, in a mixture of soy sauce and tahini, probably. But a little sesame cracker with a slice of this stuff, then topped with crispy fried spinach and sesame seeds. Delightful. It made me feel more confident in my side dish of the weekend:

Warm Asian Handful Salad
(serves 4)


1 tbsp peanut oil
dash sesame oil
3 carrots, grated on a box grater (mind your knuckles!)
handful red cabbage, grated
handful white cabbage, grated
handful baby kale, chopped
handful bean sprouts
handful mint leaves, chopped
handful fresh coriander, chopped
handful peanuts, chopped
dressing: 2 tbsps fish sauce, juice of a lime, 1 tsp sugar, shaken

Now, simply heat the oil in a wok or large skillet, and throw in all the vegetables up to the mint. Saute till slightly soft. If you don't want liquid in the bottom, spoon it out, but otherwise pour into a large bowl and add all the rest of the ingredients and toss well. LOVELY. Especially with lamb chops. Go on, don't be intimidated. They're tiny, delicate, and from Green Valley not too expensive, and everyone can gnaw. But allow at least three person, even children:

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Perfectly Simple Lamb Chops
(serves 3)


2 tbsps olive oil
10 rib lamb chops (room temperature)
2 tbsps chopped fresh rosemary
sea salt
fresh pepper

Heat oil in a large skillet and lay in the lamb chops, single layer. Sprinkle with rosemary. Cook about 2 minutes, then turn to other side and add salt and pepper. Now, after another minute or so, carefully turn each chop to its fatty side and sear the fat, so you can happily eat it if you like. When the fat is brown (another minute or so), turn back to the chops' flat sides and roll skillet so oil travels about. Done.

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Even the most hardened "I can't eat lamb, they're too cute" child will succumb to the aroma. Enjoy.

I'm back to Christmas shopping... what do you want, anyway?

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