30 August, 2007

last adventures of the summer






























































Just being selfish here with all these photographs. I don't want to forget a thing.

A raucous dinner party a couple of evenings ago with our farmer friend Rollie, his wife Judy and two of their sons, Christopher and Todd. Young Rollie was otherwise occupied (his firetorn house perhaps, or demanding swarms of bees behind Hannan Honey?), but we managed to talk over each other just the seven of us, all evening. And did we eat? I should say here: I have never before fed young farmers in August. Slightly elderly farmers in August yes, and slightly elderly farmers at Christmas and in February. But 20-something guys who've been up hauling hay since 3 in the morning? Nope. I have never seen food disappear so fast.

Joel's Artichoke Dip
(serves very few farmers and NO ONE else who doesn't move fast)

equal amounts:
artichoke hearts in vinegar (those in oil are too oily)
mayonnaise
grated parmesan cheese

Mix all ingredients and spoon into ramekins, bake at whatever degrees (so much other stuff was in the oven, I couldn't be choosy, and this recipe is very forgiving) until bubbling, about 20 minutes.

Lillian Hellmann Chicken
(all these recipes served about 6, that night! Normally 10)


10 boneless chicken breasts
1 1/2 cups Hellman's mayonnaise
1 1/2 cups grated pecorino cheese
juice of three lemons
pinch of Penzeys Fox Point Seasoning
plenty of fresh breadcrumbs (perhaps 2 cups or more?)

Mix the mayo, cheese, lemonn juice and seasoning and coat each chicken breast LIBERALLY with the mixture. Then roll thoroughly in breadcrumbs and place on a foil-covered cookie sheet. Bake at 425 degrees for 30 minutes. This dish is even good cold, so it's perfect for a large party or a buffet, sliced in chunks.


Scalloped Corn

8 ears corn, kernels cut off in a large bowl (don't cut off on a flat surface as the kernels will bounce all over the place!)
5 cloves garlic, finely minced
2 cups heavy cream (sorry!)
3 tbsps butter, melted
1 cup fresh breadcrumbs

Nonstick-spray a deep glass dish, square or oval or anything. Scatter half the corn, then all the garlic, then the rest of the corn, pour over cream. Toss the breadcrumbs in the butter and scatter over the top. Bake at 425 degrees for 30 minutes.


Tomato Mozzarella Salad

6 heirloom tomatoes of different colors, sliced thick
2 large balls mozzarella cheese
handful basil leaves, chiffonaded

dressing:
1/3 cup olive oil
juice of 1 lemon
1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
1 clove garlic, finely minced
salt and pepper

On a pretty platter, alternate slices of tomato with slices of mozzarella. Scatter basil over all and just before serving, drizzle with dressing. So pretty and so good.

**************

With this all I served sliced sweet peppers in all the colors: yellow, red, orange and purple. Confession: I can't stand green peppers. Why? No reason.

Judy brought one of her divine lattice-topped blueberry and blackberry pies, and chocolate cookies with tiny York peppermint patties baked into the tops! I must get that recipe.

The boys regaled us with stories of their farming adventures, among them a gig baling hay on a farm that, no matter who guys the property, comes with an 85-year-old man, in the barn. Lives there with his paraffin heater (fire hazard, anyone?!) and his cooler full of beer and hamburgers. Always wears a hard hat, day in, day out.

Next day found us at the Southbury Historical Society (naturally my family says every "historical" as "hysterical", don't know who started that but even John says it now) where Anne had brought me over the weekend. A darling place chronicling the life of South Britain and Southbury over the last few hundreds of years. It's well worth a visit, and manned by the nicest volunteers you can imagine. The lady there on the Sunday we went is a local farmer's wife, and once Anne found out what land she has, Anne was taking no prisoners. She is a valiant supporter (probably the most) of the Southbury Land Trust that buys land and grants easements on property so as to keep it out of the hands of nasty developers who would plant 10 identical houses on a plot of land slightly larger than 10 acres, after of course denuding it of all its ancient trees. Our land is part of the trust, and there is nothing like the gleam in Anne's eye when she has spotted a prospect.

The lady listened with fairly good grace! "We have no intention of selling to any developer, ever," she assured us, but Anne described all the clever opportunities for landowners that don't include selling, like money for restoration, lifetime residency, all sort of things. As I remarked before we parted ways, it's a good thing that Anne's unbelievable powers of persuasion are on the side of righteousness, because she could talk me, personally, into almost anything. The Trust is a great idea for those fathers who don't really want gifts anymore at Christmas: you can donate in their names.

So Avery's had her last riding lesson, we've had our last trip to the pool, our last dinner with Jill, Joel and Jane (sob). Joel fed us simply divine shrimp, grilled in an aluminum foil envelope in a dill butter sauce, with asparagus. Yum yum. And Jane and Avery ran around the yard tickling each other and giggling. Summer is winding down. It's always hard for me to believe that we have another life waiting for us on the other side of August, on the other side of the pond, but we'll be there on Sunday. Have we packed? No. We're in denial.

A funny Avery story, or least a story that highlights one of my favorite things about her: her very wry sense of humor. We were driving past our neighbor Kendra's house where she keeps at least six horses in her front yard. "Ooh, there's somebody riding," Avery said. "I've never seen anybody riding there before, just the horses." I asked if it was Kendra herself and before Avery could answer, John asked, "You know, I don't even know if I'd recognize Kendra herself, since we met her only that one time several years ago. Pause. Then Avery said, "Well I don't think this was Kendra. You see, it was... a MAN."

All right, I've got to rouse myself and get ready for Anne and David to come to dinner tonight. I'm trying to recreate a dish John's dad had in Litchfield: shrimp and clams with linguini, in a fabulously garlicky sauce with white wine and crushed red peppers. Wish me luck.

29 August, 2007

full moon magic


















Oh my. I just went downstairs to revel in the quiet peace of the house tonight, the rest of my family asleep, thinking happily about our dinner party here this evening with our farmer friends up the road (more on that tomorrow), wondering if I could ever make a blueberry pie like Judy's, and checking on the candles I moved from the picnic table to the front windows to keep David across the road happy in the late evening. But guess what I saw? The whole front of Stillmeadow, the ancient white saltbox house across the road, was completely lit up. Glowing from top to bottom. For a moment I was afraid! What on earth?

Then I realized it was the light of the full moon high above our back meadow, lighting up the house as if by a streetlight, only an eerie, glowing feeling. I wanted to go out to explore, but my city-girl nature (what happened to those formative years in Indiana? sorry, Mother and Dad!) almost kept me from it. But to see the full moon! I had to try.

I crept out onto the stone path I so laboriously weeded this summer (must find an eco-friendly way to prevent encountering those same weeds next July). What if there were toads on them like the ones we had on our terrace during dinner? I didn't want to squash one under my bare feet! Or a snake, as visited Avery's birthday party long ago, in the leaves beside the stone wall? Anyway, I got my courage together and ventured out. The trees here are so massive and so old that you are alternately grateful for their elderly and gentle shade, and definitely afraid lest their branches land on your house in a storm.

Tonight they were black before the glow of the moon. No faraway, romantic light this: no, this was an assertive, glittering, in-your-face shimmer, seemingly right THERE. I looked over again at the house across the road, illuminated quite sharply but with a funny, selective light that didn't seem to touch the shrubs and trees nearby. Just the white clapboards. And since I've been spending all my summer reading time lately with the memoirs and cookbooks of Gladys Taber, the most beloved of all the house's inhabitants, I felt in an odd way that she was here. Was she happy I was thumbing tonight through her My Own Cookbook (the crazy large-print edition that Anne, her granddaughter and my dear friend, had to loan me!)? Was she glad to see farmers and their children sitting at the table of the house across the road tonight, being fed as she fed countless farmer friends, exchanging recipes and gossip, laughing at each other's stories as we do? Will she be pleased with the recipes I choose to reproduce when I edit her cookbook, and will she give me a helping hand when I try to describe her and her life and ways, and our place here in her world? I hope so.

Today was so peaceful. Well, first it was hot and sweaty while we played tennis. I love it! I think I've turned a corner. I can actually hit a serious forehand without fearing I'll miss it altogether. OK, sometimes I miss it. But there are more and more times that the ball seems to just get hit! Which is a lot of fun. But from there we had a wonderfully relaxed afternoon, starting with the perfect lunch for leftover roast pork:

Cuban Sandwiches

sliced roast pork
sliced dill pickles (go on, buy the already-sliced ones: it's vacation!)
yellow mustard
Swiss or horseradish cheese
sliced sturdy bread
butter for spreading

Butter the outsides of two of the slices of bread and pile all the ingredients on. Place on a heated panini grill or hot skillet. Butter the second slice of bread and cover. Grill until hot and browned. Simply PERFECT.

******************

My friend Alyssa will laugh: this sandwich was inspired by one you can get at the I.P.N Deli on Greenwich Street in my old 'hood of Tribeca in my now-long ago and misspent early middle age. It was and is the last holdout of non-chicdom in that fabled area of Lower Manhattan. It is peopled exclusively by residents of the rent-controlled council housing of Independence Plaza and the nearby construction workers whose numbers are overwhelming these days. And nannies. But for me, it was the place for a decadent, wicked sandwich on a day when I was headed for a non-remunerative and probably dull afternoon in our sweet little neighborhood park, Washington Market, playing with my child. Now, little did I know the days of playing in the park would be so FLEETING. I am ashamed now of how I let myself feel bored, now that I have a world-weary almost 11-year-old who needs me for so little! And we're never bored. Mothers of small children take heart: the boredom is such a short-lived, sweet little gift. Not that it seems like it when you're stuck in the park.

But my Cuban Sandwich would have been a nice improvement on the deli's version. For one thing, Tony's roast pork is a revelation, and who knows what they were grilling the deli version on or in.

After lunch I indulged myself with "General Hospital" while undercheffing dinner. How I will miss my American soaps when we return to London on Saturday! Avery took a long cozy bath in the guest bathroom adjacent to the terrace and every so often one of us called to her through the screen in the window: "you still in there?" John tried (one knows not yet how successfully) to stem the population of yellow jackets in our vicinity, with a set of traps and some spray. All I can say is, nobody with wings visited our dinner party tonight.

Well, more on that tomorrow. Drumroll, though, please: this is POST NUMBER 300 of my blog! Happy birthday, or whatever... it's been a lot of fun.

27 August, 2007

perfect Connecticut day... and cooking!



























It's a gorgeous blue-sky day in Connecticut, we've just come from a round of sweaty tennis and a swim. I'm thrilled: John said today, "You're good enough now that it's fun for me to play with you." As opposed to the mind-bendingly dull job he had at first of simply... serving! Endlessly, since I couldn't really hit it back. I love tennis, and I hope I can find a place to play in London. The pool was freezing again, however, so we chickened out and came home for lunch.

Which brings me to: recipes.

Now, I must say that I quake even to claim to reproduce a recipe by our friend Olimpia. I say this not because I don't think I can cook, but because of an intriguing notion suggested to me by our neighbor friend Alice over the weekend. As I was describing what Olimpia had cooked for us, Alice mused, "It sounds almost like a kind of mystical thing you are suggesting, a sort of alchemy." And that is exactly right. The other person in my life whose cooking strikes me this way is my friend Alyssa, whose matzoh ball soup is legendary, and with whom I have, as I have with Olimpia, stood at the kitchen counter, watched, taken part, written down, listened. And yet... when I try their recipes myself, while they're all right, even quite good, they're lacking something. And Alice may be right: it's not an ingredient or a method, it's the magic of the cook herself. And as John always believes (I don't necessarily agree with him!) that if I love someone I think she's beautiful to look at, it's possible too that something of the love and admiration I feel for the cook permeates my taste buds right along with the garlic or chicken. Possible!

But I will do my best to tell you how to make what we ate so happily this weekend in the Catskills with our friends, Olimpia and Tony. And she let me cook with her.

Zucchini all'Olimpia
(serves 4 as an antipasto)


2 medium zucchini, sliced round
olive oil to reach an inch up the side of your skillet
1 tbsp fresh olive oil for sauteeing
4 cloves garlic, minced
drizzle more olive oil
4 leaves basil or mint (we had mint, I'd like to try basil too)
1/4 red wine vinegar
salt and fresh pepper

Heat oil in skillet until a small piece of bread on the end of a fork sizzles immediately when dipped in. Fry the zucchini slices until soft, then drain on kitchen paper.

Discard the olive oil and wipe out skillet. Cook down a bit and add 1 tbsp olive oil, then saute garlic gently (do not brown).

In a pretty serving dish, layer the zucchini slices, sprinkle garlic and mint or basil, drizzle oil and a bit of the vinegar. Repeat this till all zucchini slices are layered. Salt and pepper to taste. Marinate for at least an hour before serving.

***************

Mozzarella in Carrozza
(serves 4 as an antipasto)


8 small slices of bread, crusts removed
4 thick rounds mozzarella
3 eggs, beaten, seasoned with salt and pepper
olive oil to come up two inches on your skillet

Place a mozzarella slice between two pieces of bread, and dip in egg. "Make sure every bit of the bread is covered, Kristen, and squish it while you coat it. Then be careful of the hot oil." This is serious. Heat the oil until, as with the fried zucchini, a piece of bread dipped in sizzles right away. Then carefully place each eggy bread sandwich in the oil. Press down with a spatula and fry until you can see the edges turning golden brown. Think: French toast with an Italian twist. Then turn over and squish again. When thoroughly fried, drain on paper towel and DEVOUR.

John and I both agreed with we'd like to try some variations (I have been accused of never being able to leave a recipe alone! sniff). How about a bit of parmesan sprinkled on the mozzarella before putting the bread cover on? Perhaps some anchovy paste as well? Or some Tabasco in the egg wash? It's so good simple, that I get tempted to mess with it.

*********************

Roast Shoulder of Pork with Garlic
(serves 8)


1 shoulder of pork
8 cloves garlic

Now, Tony did not tell me he did this, but I wonder if he drizzled some olive oil on the roast before cooking? He did explain about making incisions deep in the roast and sliding the whole cloves of garlic inside.

Roast at 375 degrees for two hours, then turn heat down to 350 for at least an hour longer, but test to achieve a happy medium between underdone and dry. Let rest for at least 15 minutes, then slice thick.

***********************

As you can imagine, it was just unbelievable. We reminisced about friends in common, old days in New York, our visit in February, our wishes that they come to us in London. Then too we exchanged lots of views on child-rearing (they are proud grandparents and great-aunt and uncle to Tony's family), and it was nice to agree on everything! "Keep communicating, keep talking. You have to know where they are and who they're with, and what they're thinking," Tony said wisely. A former New York City fire investigating officer, he has a most comforting demeanor of innate wisdom and sagacity that I just love. Not to mention: he built the kitchen himself! I adored the Wolf stove, and all the intricate and savvy little spice shelves, sliding drawers, several sinks and other luxuries that John and I filed away in our imaginations for the remote day that we might design our own kitchen.

Thank you, guys, for a great afternoon. I like to think of your dishes being made now all over the world! But missing, I fear, that spark of... Olimpia.

24 August, 2007

goodbye woodfires




































Summer is back! I can't believe that two nights ago it was so chilly and damp that I was cooking:

Kristen's Pretentious Meatloaf
(serves six easily, with leftovers)

1/3 pound each: minced beef and minced lamb
1/3 pound pork sausage
4 slices wholemeal bread, without crusts, torn into shreds
1 cup milk
1 egg, beaten
1/2 cup grated parmesan
3/4 cup ricotta cheese
1 medium onion, minced
3 stalks celery, minced
1 handful curly parsley leaves, chopped
1 tsp dried thyme
1 tsp dried basil
salt and pepper to taste
six slices streaky bacon

It couldn't be any simpler: mix everything together, except for the bacon, which you drape over the loaf once it's shaped in a glass dish that you've sprayed with nonstick spray, or lined with aluminium (note the darling extra "i" there) foil. Bake at 400 degrees for one hour.

***********

Since then the sun has come back out, and today the humidity is RAMPANT. We spent a sweaty hour on the tennis courts this morning, and a savagely cold dip in the community pool, and came home starving and hot. So today's lunch was the ultimate summer cooldown feast. I call it "pink gazpacho", for which I must give you the recipe because it's sinfully simple and inexpensive, and aside from a cucumber and an avocado you can easily have everything on hand in your pantry. It was first made for me by my beloved friend Jeanne, and served in green porcelain bowls in the shape of lettuce heads:

Jeanne Grieger's Pink Summer Gazpacho

1 cup slivered almonds or pine nuts
2 pieces white or wheat bread or 1 cup breadcrumbs
6 fresh plum tomatoes, cut in quarters
1/2 long hydroponic cucumber, or two small kirbys, sliced
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1/2 cup cider vinegar (you can use balsamic but it will change the color and flavor of the soup to something more intense)
1 tbsp ground cumin
1 tbsp ground cloves
1/2 tsp chili pepper or cayenne
salt and pepper to taste
2 cups chicken broth
1 cup half and half
1 avocado, cut in small bite-size pieces

Pulverize the almonds or pine nuts in a Cuisinart, then whiz in the bread. Add the tomatoes, cucumber, oil and vinegar and spices and pulverize until smooth. Pour into a very large bowl and add the chicken broth and half and half and blend well. Taste it and add more of whatever spices or salt you think is needed. Chill thoroughly and serve with a little group of avocado pieces mounded in the center. Delicious, and so good for you! If you like a more elegant soup, you can peel the cucumber first, or you can strain the soup. But I find the green bits and the nutty bits are very nice.


*******************

In any case, we took Avery to Mystic, to reunite with her beloved friend Cici, made plans to come get her on Sunday (which turned out to be today, the days FLEW by!). On the way home from dropping her off, we turned off the road to pop into a local institution (no, not the one you're thinking of, probably, with restraints and bars on the windows), but Abbott's Lobster in the Rough", a really, well, ROUGH place to have seafood. Cici's mother had warned us against it, saying it could be horribly crowded, and I can see that if we'd gone at a more normal time to eat it might have been, but we ended up there around 4, and it was nearly deserted. You place your order and then go stake out a picnic table right on the water, looking out over what might be something like Mystic Sound? Lovely, sailboats everywhere. Then your number is hollered over a loudspeaker and you go pick up your food. Here's my advice: look at the menu, for fun if you like. But skip everything else and go straight to the LOBSTER. We felt adventurous and ordered an enormous lobster feast, to share, so we could try some of everything. And try we did. But, I know this will sound harsh: everything but the lobster was completely forgettable. The clam chowder we used to get in Islesford, Maine, unfairly blows away any other, but even without that for comparison, Abbott's was watery and dull, distinguished only by its temperature which burned the roof of my mouth.

Then the shrimp was fine, but ordinary, a tad overcooked as the institutional nature of the process might produce. The clams and mussels were fresh, but unremarkable, steamed as they were in the austere New England recipe of... water. I like my mussels in a nice garlicky wine-laden broth, call me decadent.

But the LOBSTER! The freshest we've ever had outside Maine, and cooked to perfection, so it didn't take long for us to wash our hands with the insufficient little wet wipe and cozy up to the "Retail Deck," manned charmingly by a nice young man who thrust his arm in a tank and brought up two madly waving specimens which we happily brought home and steamed. DIVINE. Run, don't walk, to Abbott's.

Let's see, we spent the time Avery was away playing tennis (my new obsession, must find a place to play in London), and visiting... Olimpia. I will tell all tomorrow, but for now, can I just say that she sent us home with the most delectable meatballs and beef ribs swimming in tomato sauce, and guess what? She had already fed us lunch, a completely different menu. I will divulge as much of the magic as can be felt and experienced without Olimpia being here, which sad to say she is not. But I got to stand in her kitchen, and learn at the knee of the master, and I came away with... recipes. And leftovers! Quite the best hostess in the world, Olimpia is, with her loyal sidekick husband Tony there to roast the shoulder of pork and provide perfect conversation. But more on that later.

Suffice to say this evening, we're happy to have our little chick home again, grateful to Kathleen and John for hosting her and feeding us such a delicious dinner tonight, and we're missing our little niece Jane. Aren't the two girls adorable together? A week from now will find us tucked up in our flat in London, so this week must cram in as much Americana as possible. And lunch with Olimpia, a bagel brunch with Anne and her brilliant violinist sister Alice, and a visit to the impossibly charming Southbury Historical Society all fill the bill. I have a lot to tell you.

18 August, 2007

a sleepover holiday, Bellehop and Litchfield



























































Well, John's parents have flown away, sadly. We're huddling around a roaring fire, believe it or not, in August! Avery's tackling the homework her teachers sent home with her for the summer, John's at the dentist (ick) and I'm keeping a box of Kleenex close by as I seem to have caught the cold little Jane brought for her sleepover this weekend. But what a good time we had with her while she was here: jumping on the trampoline, playing on the teeter-totter, catching minnows from the pond, eating her favorite ham sandwiches, heading off to the library to trade in Avery's huge stack of books for another huge stack of books. And the Elephant's Trunk flea market in New Milford! If you can get there early there are real treasures (our teeter-totter, years ago, and a beautiful old mirror, I remember.) But this time we came away with a soccer ball on a tether for guess who, and she ate two bananas as she walked along! We had a ball. But all good things must come to an end, and before we knew it, it was late afternoon on Day Two under a gray sky and Jill and Joel were pulling up in the driveway to take her home. Anne stopped by for a minute to say hi to John's parents and left with a couple of pieces of cake for David's birthday. Happy Birthday!

Can you believe we had an owl visit! To add to our livestock collection here at Red Gate Farm. I was not awake early enough to see him, but John's mom was. I just hope he doesn't swoop down to get any of our chipmunks...

And Avery had her best riding lesson ever, I hear! Was I there? Of course not. That's being a mother for you: sitting through countless forgettable lessons on both sides of the pond, traipsing through Hyde Park and the Bronx and Southbury in the dusty wake of this or that pony, but when it comes to the perfect pony, the highest jumps, I'm sitting at a picnic table at home eating a lobster roll, missing it all. Never mind: Nonna and John were there, and as you see, the pony, Bellehop, is a sweetheart. I did get to go the next day, and she was lovely to watch, a real carousel pony. What a beautiful place: the red barns, blue sky, green pines, white fences, so many memories of the hundreds of afternoons and evenings I spent up there either sweating in the sun or huddling around the wood fire, watching Avery and her friends ride, gossiping with the other mothers. Such a cozy place to be.

But you know what: I missed the lesson last week because I was hanging around at home having a meaning-of-life chat with my father in law, and that doesn't happen very often. He is like an old-fashioned sage: his blue eyes look out on the world with enormous perspective and wisdom, kindness and judgment, acceptance and optimism. He doesn't offer his opinions unless you really ask, and even then he measures his words to make his comments as gentle as possible. We sat and ate lobster and crab rolls (just about the most magical leftovers in the world, in my opinion), and tomato and avocado salad, and chatted. I can't say I would have wanted to be anywhere else.

Then the weather changed completely! The temperature dropped some twenty degrees, the wind turned and you could smell autumn coming. I'd really like to think we have another week or so of summer coming, but for now we're bundled in sweaters. A couple of nights ago I found myself the only one awake, walking around the house watching the flames flicker in the living room, candles in the front windows, and I opened the tiny square window in the kitchen and stuck my head out to listen to the rain. This is the most pleasant place in the world, I think: peaceful and calm. I have to think of how to transfer some of this peace to our lives in London: it's got to be possible.

Then we fulfilled one of John's mom's lifetime ambitions (she's very easy to please!): a visit to Litchfield, Connecticut. It is simply the most beautiful town: all white houses with black shutters, wide green lawns, American flags everywhere. And my most favorite store for cashmere sweaters, R. Derwin on the Green. Just about four times in the past 20 years I have found myself in that store, and each time I find the perfect sweater, and have a nice talk with the two generations of Derwins who linger behind the counter. Quintessential New Englanders: bright eyes, corduroys and poplin, a happy inclination to gossip about Litchfieldans we have known.

Then it was onto a perfect old-fashioned candy store, for Avery. The Litchfield Candy Company at 245 West Street, crowded with all the old sweets I remember from childhood: Pixy Stix, Necco wafers, Lemonheads! And a soda that we couldn't resist for obvious reasons: Always Ask for Avery's! Can you imagine. I'm not one for old-fashioned sickly sweet sodas, but I can see that it's the kind of thing you'd like if you like that kind of thing. John at least was pretty keen on the Birch Beer. We're planning to pour most of it down the drain and use the bottles for flower vases. If I get a good picture I'll post it.

But I think the best thing about Litchfield was our dinner at the Litchfield Saltwater Grille. Run, don't walk, get a table out back under the nice white duck awnings (even in a driving rainstorm this spot was delightful!), and ask for Tracy, a bubbly and efficient waitress who brought us any number of fabulous dishes. The chef, one Albert Clugston III, has come up with some real winners. And our experience put to rest one of those old food rules: "Never order oysters in a month without an R." Well, August at the Saltwater Grille is definitely an oyster month anyway, as they must all be. The Blue Points were perfect: freezing cold on a bed of ice, perfectly fresh, served with the requisite lemon wedges, horseradish and chili sauce. Yum yum. Then Avery had a chicken breast wrapped in bacon and topped with mysteriously delicious red pepper strips and crispy "matchstick" potatoes.

The seafood ruled, though: my mother in law and I both had enormous slabs of seared tuna with a peppercorn crust and some truly tasty mushrooms hiding underneath. We could easily have shared, so that's something to think about for those with less than gargantuan appetites. John had a bouillabaisse that he decided later was the weakest of all we ordered, although good. The true star of the evening was John's dad's giant bowl of "Shrimp and Clams Newport," swimming in quite the most divine sauce we had ever tasted (we unashamedly begged Tracy for more bread and all of us sopped it up). I think I'll try to reproduce it later this week when Avery's off visiting Cici in Mystic: we all diagnosed butter, Pinot Gris, parsley, garlic, crushed red pepper flakes and... clam broth? Maybe mixed with a bit of chicken broth? Lovely.

Such wonderful memories of John's parents' visit. Long afternoons sitting in our ratty old folding deck chairs, pretending to read but really watching Avery's endlessly inventive trampoline routines, named inexplicably after her favorite Archie characters. She narrates as she jumps, so the lawn rang with "Veronica, Veronica, Jughead, Betty, Veronica, Veronica..." and endless games of Aggravation! John's father, normally quite mild-mannered, turns into an absolute ogre when faced with the little blue marbles. And John has been known actually to make a move that is disadvantageous to himself if it can send someone else home! "Waiting for a one... You cannot tell me ones come up with anything LIKE the statistical frequency they should! You did NOT have to send me home!!" John's mom happily accompanying me on numberless trips to the grocery store (why are we always fascinated by even the most boring lists?), chopping garlic for me. "Remember that first time we cooked together in London, Kristen, and you told me in no uncertain terms how fine the garlic had to be minced?" I must have been one obnoxious new daughter in law, that's all I have to say.

Need something to give a ten-year-old girl? Possibly the most successful gifts of the summer: the fabric markers and stencils for decorating t-shirts that John's mom brought, and The Enchanted Dolls' House Wedding Book from my mother. Perfect summer activities, thanks to the Nonnas. Thank you!

Well, I must close this mammoth post and make some lunch. I'm thinking devilled eggs. One thing I learned this summer, although I hesitate to disagree with the great Julia Child and her stringent instructions on boiling eggs (something about 17 minutes and a tight-fitting lid), my method worked surprisingly well: bringing the eggs to a boil in cold water and then forgetting they're on the stove, having your husband turn off the heat and letting them sit there for an untold period of time until someone said, "Weren't you going to make devilled eggs?", shrieking and running them under cold water. Perfect.

Devilled Eggs

hard-boiled eggs
3 parts mayo
1 part mustard
curry powder to taste
salt and pepper
paprika to dust

Split eggs and remove yolks. With a fork, mash yolks in a small bowl and add mayo, mustard and curry powder, then salt and pepper to taste. Arrange on a plate and dust with paprika. Then stand back: they're popular. And just right for a person coming home from dental nastiness.

Oh, and I succumbed to yet another example of homemade being better than boughten: I ran out of Hellman's, needed mayo. I'm sorry to say: homemade is much, much nicer. Limber up your whisking arm and make some:

Homemade Mayonnaise
(makes one cup)


1 egg yolk
1/4 tsp salt
pinch cayenne
pinch white pepper
pinch dry mustard
juice of half lemon
1 cup olive oil

With a wire whisk, beat egg yolk with salt, cayenne, pepper and mustard until thick and yellow as a lemon. Then add half the lemon juice slowly and beat again. Now, one drop at a time for about a minute, add olive oil. Then after the first minute, a steady but TINY stream of oil will do, whisking constantly until the oil is used up. Now whisk in remaining lemon juice slowly. Chill, and enjoy. And ask yourself: how do they get commercial mayo to be so... white? Doesn't make sense. One of those life mysteries.

16 August, 2007

of bargain lunches and such





























Avery's grandfather is napping, Avery and her grandmother are lying on the trampoline far down the lawn between the pond and the stream, John's deep in Exile, by Richard North Patterson, a good political thriller, he reports. We're all slightly comatose from a mammoth lunch that hit all the right buttons for me: it used up leftovers so my conscience is clear, it cost almost nothing, and... everything looked and tasted delicious.

Club Sandwiches
(serves four)

1 leftover barbecued Cornish Game Hen
sliced red onion
sliced avocado drizzled with lemon juice
sliced heirloom tomatoes
goat cheese
Buffalo Wing Cheddar
toasted white bread, crusts cut off

I have to tell you: my dear mother in law offered to get the meat off the hens for me, and while it was a sticky, messy job, there is a lot to get, so do go for it. And I don't know if you can get the super-spicy Cheddar where you are, but it's delicious in a slightly processed, borderline junk food way. Here's a source for super-hot, and here's a source for a milder version. I love it that there is a blog devoted entirely to hot things to eat.

Then too we had:

Instant Game Hen Salad
(serves four)


1 leftover barbecued Cornish game hen
half a red onion, sliced (the half you didn't use for your sandwiches)
half an avocado, sliced (same as the onion!)
1 tbsp soy sauce
1 tsp sesame oil
1 tsp olive oil
1 tsp horseradish mustard
juice of half a lemon

Toss all together: it's light, delicious and... practically free.

*******************

Let's see, we've been finding that our vocabulary these days is greatly enhanced by... little Jane. She has a way of holding out her hand, palm up, when she talks, which lends an old-fashioned, earnest air to everything she says. "Aunt Kristen, I can't stand on one foot in my Crocs. I'm not big enough, and it makes me very wobbly." This she demonstrates by hopping wildly from one foot to the other, "Whoa!" Then a couple of days before her birthday party here, she saw a pile of present all wrapped up, on a bench. "Uncle John, are those packages for me?" "Of course, Jane, for your party on Monday, when your mommy gets back from her business trip." "Oh." Pause, then, "Uncle John, I'm thinking about opening those packages and do you know what? I can't wait." Hand outstretched in appeal. "Oh, we can't wait either, Jane!" Another pause. "No, I CAN'T WAIT." Avery observed sotto voce, "She's not saying that idiomatically. She means she literally CAN'T WAIT." And she was right. Every afternoon finds someone saying, "I can't wait," about something.

And she's obsessed with things being "automatic." Joel explained that this all began when she was exposed (quite literally, which was the scary part) to an automatic toilet at a shopping mall. Scared her to death, naturally! So now she is understandably a little skeptical of unfamiliar toilets, which do unexpected things that she hasn't asked them to do. Things she's not in control of. So over the weekend as she was seesaw-ing with Avery, the end she was on went too high, and she said suddenly, "Aunt Kristen, is this seesaw automatic?" We had to reassure her that no, Uncle John was in complete control (ish) of every movement it made. The dear girl.

And she pronounces "banana" "bahnahnah" after her favorite Kipper video! And according to her (and Kipper, apparently), people mow the "grahss." And eat "tomahtoes." Too funny to hear Avery switch to her full-on Queen's English at that point!

Then we're all finding ways to deal with the inexplicable influx of flying insects on our terrace. Whether it's the watermelon rind we're leaving for Gary the Groundhog, or the out-of-date pickles we threw behind the fence for the skunk, I don't know. Oh, side story: I came home from the grocery with, among other things, a jar of pickles. "But Kristen," my long-suffering husband objected, "we already have SO MANY pickles." "No," I said, "Avery says we're out." Silently he went into the kitchen and brought out... THIS MANY jars of pickles. How did that happen? I guess every time I shop I think we're out. Eeek! But I digress. My point was, there are a lot of perhaps bees, in particular, flying around and neither Jane nor Avery likes them one bit. Why did it so crack Jill and me up to hear Jane say, "It's too buggy; it's not a good idea to eat outside." She sounded so adult! I tried, "Don't worry, Jane, the bugs say. We won't hurt you." But she wasn't buying. "Bugs do not talk, Aunt Kristen." "But if they did, they might say that, Jane." "But they don't."

Now I see Avery and her Nonna have moved on to catching minnows in the pond, so I shall go join them before tennis lessons. Is there anything sweeter than a child and her grandmother playing together? It warmed my heart so to see Avery with my mom, discussing the infinitesimally tiny paper doll clothes Avery was designing and cutting out at the birthday party on Sunday. There seems to be a special brand of patience that comes with the generation gap. Or more likely, Avery's two grandmothers are unusually nice people. Or maybe it's grandparents in general: my sweet dad thinking of teaching her to play cribbage so he can send her a set for her birthday, John's dad specially packing a bag of Butterfingers to give her for her treat drawer. I feel incredibly lucky to have had all four of them with us this summer.

Enough sappiness: minnows beckon. Really, Jane, they DO.

15 August, 2007

of friends and family (can you tell them apart?)












































Well, even after as sentimental, wonderful and emotional day as I've had today, I do think I can tell people from salad. But telling people you're blood-related to from people you just WISH you were related to... that's another story.

It started this morning with the arrival of Alyssa and Annabelle and Elliot. I know I have to stop whinging about how much I miss Alyssa when I'm in London, because I am very lucky to have such staunch friends as I have there. Lord knows, in the early days I didn't know if I ever would have friends. But even so, nothing stops me from missing the sort of sisterly (only we never bicker, as my sister and I used to when I was a nasty pre-teen) fun of a day with my old friend. And I am the greatest possible fan of her children, the ginger-sprouted Elliot, and Annabelle, the raven-haired show tunes maven. They are much more like cousins to Avery than mere friends, battling over how to include Elliot in games that, on the surface, are more suited to two girls than to two girls plus their mascot.

We had Katz Deli sandwiches! This has become a tradition for our summer reunions at Red Gate Farm (in my book, a good thing has to happen only once in order to become a cherished tradition: life's too short to make things like that ferment, or mature or whatever. Go for it.). Then it was a long gossip session in the sun until John tore himself reluctantly away to pick up his folks at the airport. I have to share Alyssa with my husband, which can be tedious except that it's so nice. Then we girls and Elliot were off to the pool in the brilliant, perfect afternoon sunshine, simply a glorious day more like June than August.

By the time we returned, it was time for them to go back to Manhattan. Hugs all around, with plans to see each other at Christmastime up here, although nothing will EVER top last year's Christmas in London together. Is that what being middle-aged means, having so much of your happiness bound up in remembering things? Not a bad bargain, if so. As always, a terrific wrench to feel the last hug. If only I could take her back in my pocket.

But I had little time to feel sorry for myself, because the phone rang and it was John saying he and his parents were half an hour away! Oh my. A rush to create:

The Perfect Salad
(serves four if hungry)


3 handfuls baby spinach, washed and spun dry
1 handful arugula
2 handfuls sunflower sprouts (delicious!)
1 bulb fennel, sliced thin
1 red pepper, sliced thin
1 cup red cabbage, sliced thin
2 handsful grape tomatoes, halved
2 kirby cucumbers, seeded and sliced thin

Pile all this up in a pretty way, then top generously with:

The Perfect Dressing

3 parts olive oil to 1 part each: lemon juice, mustard, balsamic vinegar
1 clove garlic, finely minced
1 tbsp fresh thyme leaves ("hey, need some free thyme?" Joel asks)
sea salt, pepper

*****************

This with barbecued Cornish game hens, and some heavenly scalloped corn, was quite a nice summer meal.

Scalloped Corn
(serves six)


8 ears corn, raw and kernels cut off
3 cloves garlic, finely minced
1 cup heavy cream
1 cup fresh breadcrumbs, mixed with 3 tbsps melted butter
1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese

In a non-stick sprayed glass dish, spread the corn kernels. If you MUST use already-cooked corn (leftovers, say), you may. But I found tonight that it's much better with raw kernels. Top with minced garlic and pour over cream. Scatter breadcrumbs and cover with cheese, then bake for 30 minutes at 350 degrees. As John said, "If I could, I would mainline that corn." Well, as culinary compliments go, it's odd, but I'll take it.

**************

It's almost a surfeit of delights to have so much family around so close together. I just barely got used to having had my beloved parents and brother here over the weekend, and whoops: here's my husband's family too. How I wish we could see them all, all year round. But the time-honored custom of seeing a car pull up containing John's parents, and hollering like crazy, was honored tonight, in the approaching twilight, and then John and his dad walked the property, making sure it was all still there, and Avery and her grandmother trailed around making perfume and visiting the fairies, and I played around in the kitchen making sure we'd have something to eat, watching them all through the tiny-paned windows of our old farmhouse, thinking how unbelievably wonderful it was. To have family around. Another August at Red Gate Farm, another visit. Top THAT.

But John's dad STILL beat us at Aggravation, no matter how fond we were feeling of him! Ah well, the visit is young...

14 August, 2007

the fabulous birthday for my mummy

































Things are hotting up here with family, let me tell you. John's parents arrive tomorrow evening, after Alyssa's family is here for the day, and a day after my whole family was here for my mummy's birthday. Got that? Just take a look at these granddaughter faces. What could be a better present (complete with yellow ribbon from the balloons decorating the seesaw)?

It was one of the best days EVER here at Red Gate Farm, long sunny hours spent chatting, some of us in the kitchen creating meatballs, some of us on the terrace creating paper dolls, some on the seesaw shouting, "not so high, Uncle John!", and some using the trampoline as a most unexpected lounge lizard venue... yellow balloons everywhere (my mother's favorite color), blue, BLUE skies, green lawns, red barns, glasses of ice-filled pink lemonade, gossip and four-parted conversations about all the same topics, and games of high-stakes Aggravation (New York rules!). The perfect day. More on that later, but suffice it to say: "Happy Birthday, Mona." We love you.

11 August, 2007

a little summer reading (and a lot of seafood)


















Let's see. Both Avery and I have book suggestions for you. And I must say that these particular choices quite beautifully underline the complex, dare I say fascinating breadth of our personalities. Let me explain.

I was shopping at KMart for, I think, dishes to put leftovers in, or maybe a sprinkler. Or wasp and hornet hex juice. In any case, I sauntered past the book section (who knew KMart had a book section? maybe Sears insisted), and this book cover popped out at me. I do in fact judge a book by, well you know. As does Avery, and neither of us apologizes for it. Life is too short either to read a book whose cover does not appeal to you, or to take yourself to task for these little foibles. In any case, "Whistling in the Dark" is a wonderful novel. It reads like a memoir, in a major way, as did one of my all-time favorites, A Girl Named Zippy. Interestingly, both are accounts of growing up in the Midwest, and I feel seriously deprived that my childhood spent in much the same locality was not, apparently, sufficiently messed up to provide me fodder for a readable memoir, just enough to send me to the odd (believe me, very much so) therapist in this or that decade of my life.

No, these ladies, Lesley Kagan and Haven Kimmel, parlay their bizarre and sometimes heartbreaking childhood experiences into beautifully detailed anecdotes about sibling relationships, acutely observed parental distress and mayhem, and hilariously real dialogue. Kagan's account (billed as a novel, and fair enough, maybe she changed all the names, but it still sounds very real) is at times quite dark and sinister (for this reason I wouldn't recommend it for even precocious children interested in their parents' upbringings), but lump-in-the-throat touching, as well, and very, very funny. You will enjoy it, especially if you have children or ever were a child yourself. These are, I feel, the book's natural audiences. Buy two copies and give one to your sister. Except, oops, I didn't buy an extra to give to my perfectly deserving sister. I still can.

Then, yesterday found me unexpectedly at the most charming bookstore I think I've ever encountered. We were driving through dismal, cold and raw rain toward my sister's house in West Hartford, Connecticut, to see my parents and brother who have flown in for my mummy's birthday tomorrow, when the lighted windows of a bookstore beckoned out of the grayness. Brick Walk Books and Fine Art (be patient with this link, as it seems to be only to the integral art gallery, but it provides all the right contact info), a little slip of a shop in a row of undistinguished other shops, with lovely small paintings in the window. Avery and I crept in while John tried to find a place to buy a throwaway watch, his real watch having died in the night. And there we found, well, countless things we wanted. Cruelly, the shop leads with its children's section, so I'm afraid we were suckers from the very start. Many first editions, and lots of other old but pristine editions, finely illustrated, and most right around $25, which is a lot of money until you consider that a perfectly forgettable hardcover book from KMart will run you nearly $28 and for what? Something you'll read once and then never think of again. But a fine copy of "BedKnob and Broomstick"? That is worth taking home.

I myself fell victim to a first-edition of my new absolute favorite book: Eating Together: Recollections and Recipes, by Lillian Hellman and Peter Feibleman. Oh, my, it is endlessly wonderful. All my favorite things in a book: there's memory and anecdote from what was undoubtedly a fascinating life (living with Dashiell Hammett cannot have been pleasant, but it was certainly not boring), food descriptions and recipes, and a little heart-tugging friendship along the way. The book cleverly chronicles Hellman's friendship with this much-younger man, through accounts of their bickering over food, recipes, dinner parties and potential guests (like Mike Nichols, Dorothy Parker or Leonard Bernstein, to name a few). And wonderful recipes. You'll love it. It reminds me of all my favorite food writers: Laurie Colwin, Virginia Rich, Ruth Reichl, Nigel Slater, and the incomparable Elizabeth Ryan and her Lord Peter Wimsey Cookbook. It doesn't get ANY better than that.

The bookstore itself is just a joy, and I wish there were more people in the world like its proprietor, Kevin G. Rita. Doing what he loves best in the world, I'd bet, sequestered but by no means limited by his desk overflowing with the tools of his trade, eager to get to know his customers, full of enthusiasm for his wares. He even took down a French edition of "Rebecca", opened its presentation box, showed me all its delights, and... had no idea how much it might cost! Just wanted to share the joy. What a lovely man, and a gorgeous shop. He does a mean internet business, too, so get in touch with all your wishes.

Avery's also hugely enjoying Oscar Wilde's Epigrams, addicted as she is to "The Importance of Being Earnest." Kevin was so enchanted by this choice that he gave it to her! "My daughter, Phoebe, who's about your age, finds books to be... let's see, what was her exact description, LAME. It breaks my heart." Phoebe has, however, her own section of the bookstore, all her own choices, for which she gets the proceeds. "Oh," I said, "then she does care, a little," and he said, "Oh, no, it's purely the capitalist in her."

Then, when I went back to the Brick Walk Bookstore this morning to tell Kevin how happy we were with our acquisitions, he was so happy that he said, "Wasn't there something else your daughter was looking at? Such a self-possessed young lady... Yes, here it is! I have to love a girl who reads both Wilde and Trollope." And out came an elegant leather-bound copy of "The Way We Live Now," which Avery got hooked on after watching the fabulous miniseries on the BBC starring, of course, my crush Matthew Macfadyen.

Then Avery would tell you that everyone needs to read Cornelia and the Audacious Escapades of the Somerset Sisters, by Lesley M.M. Blume, a very touching account of a girl about Avery's age (nearly 11) who protects herself from her famous pianist mother and their unhappy home life by using the most difficult words she can find. Until, that is, she meets her new next-door neighbor, an elderly lady who takes Cornelia in and entertains and comforts her with anecdotes from her unbelievably glamorous past. It's by turns funny, educational (lots of long words!) and sad. Avery especially enjoyed the accounts of adventures in Paris and Morocco, as we've traveled to both in the last year, plus of course there's some action in London which is our backyard during the school year.

Well, that's what we've been reading. Maybe it will keep you all out of trouble for what remains of this glorious summer.

And food, can I tell you? For some reason we've been on a seafood kick. Lemon sole sauteed in plenty of butter, nothing wrong with that. My favorite scallops in parsley and garlic? Love it. But then there's the perennial favorite: steamed lobster. From a quirky, unappealing-looking fish truck plonked unceremoniously down in a parking lot on Woodbury, up the road, descended from Maine every Thursday. I'm not making this up. Give him a try, should you be in Woodbury.

Steamed Lobster with Aioli
(serves two, with one leftover tail if you're me)

2 1 1/2 pound lobsters, ALIVE and kicking

1/2 cup mayonnaise
1 clove garlic, finely minced with:
juice of 1 lemon
sea salt and pepper, to taste

Bring about two inches of water to boil in a VERY large pot. Be sure to have a cookie rack, trivet, or pot lid in the bottom of the pot: something to keep the lobsters from being submerged in the water. Now place the lobsters head first in the water and clamp a lid on, with something on top to... well, you know. Steam for 12 minutes, then cool enough to handle.

Meanwhile, mix the mayo with the garlic and lemon juice. Someday I will make homemade mayo, but right now I'm enjoying not knowing how much better it will be, so I can continue just to open a jar.

Enjoy breaking open your lobster, starting with the legs which you can suck on to get out a tiny bit of meat, then the claws, then I always wimp out before I get to the tail, so I wash off the icky intestinal bits that cling to it, and I do NOT throw away any leftover aioli. I save them both for:

Lobster Roll Extraordinaire
(serves one, just barely!)

1 leftover lobster tail
leftover aioli
1 top-slit hot dog roll

Cut the lobster tail into smallish chunks, smaller than bite-size, then mix it with the leftover garlic mayo. Toast your hot dog roll, and pile on the lobster. PERFECT.

**************

Then, one sad afternoon came with the Maine guy ran out of lobster by the time we got there, but never mind, he had salmon.

Grilled Salmon Fillet with Lime and Ginger
(serves four)


1 lb salmon fillet, with skin
zest and juice of 1 lime
1-inch knob ginger, peeled and minced
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 tsp sesame oil
sea salt and pepper

I say "salmon with skin," not because I eat the skin (I don't, but some people do) but because it makes it easier to grill the fillet without its falling apart onto the coals or heating element of your grill.

Mix all marinade ingredients and paint the salmon with it, flesh side up. Grill in a 400-degree grill for 5 minutes per side for a nice pink, soft middle. If you like it weller done, go for it. With it, you MUST serve:

Cucumber Dill Sauce

1 cucumber, or 3 kirbys, sliced thin
1 handful fresh dill, chopped
juice of 1 lemon
1 cup sour cream
sea salt and pepper

Simply mix all ingredient, and VOILA, perfect sauce for your salmon. If you want to eat this as a salad, just add lots more cucumber.

****************

Then, night before last I practically blew our heads off with a spicy shrimp dish that I've told you about before (be patient and scroll down! someday I'll organize these recipes, I promise). But somehow, this time, the only chili sauce I had in my fridge was UBER hot! We could hardly eat it. But we managed to put away nearly a pound of the little guys. I'd highly recommend the sauce, from Huy Fong, if you can bear to blow your little spicy mind.

Well, other than eating and reading, we've been playing tennis (I don't know why I have missed tennis until now! I love it), Avery's found a new riding instructor, Deb who runs Bouncing Pony Farm out of nearby Red Horse Stables in Southbury, and my family have arrived! Tomorrow's the big birthday party for my mum, so stayed tuned. Watch this space for all party reports! But in the meantime, I'll get my brother in law to give me the fabulous recipes he cooked for us last night: parmesan chicken and tomato risotto. Yum yum... You'll have them when I do.

07 August, 2007

cozy times




























We had a lovely power outage tonight: what a nice interval to find ourselves unable to watch the final episode of whatever scary reality television competition Avery's got attached to since we got back to America... absolutely wonderful to have no recourse but to light every candle we could find, including this lovely lamp that I light (and its twin on the next chest of drawers) every night, and watch its rays reflect on the dormer ceiling of our little farmhouse. How cozy is that?

That plus lighting the candles in the four front windows (two in the parlor, one in the entry hall, and one in the guest room) for the across-the-road benefit of Anne and David... I adore that tradition, every evening. I often walk through the rooms downstairs in the evening, after my early-bird child and husband have gone to sleep, and think what a peaceful place it is to be: no worries, no bad memories, only good feelings and a prevailing sense that a lot has happened here in the past 200+ years that puts most of our experiences into perspective.

We finished the fence and gate today! I painted the gate in between "Days of Our Lives" and "General Hospital," and Avery kindly kept me company by reading her Nancy Drews from the library on the front step, between the geraniums and the begonias, while John napped upstairs. Then, while we were at the pool, John painted the last four feet of the fence. So when we returned, EVERYTHING was perfect, and finished. So lovely.

Tomorrow will see us scraping and painting the teeter-totter! How exciting is our life here... Exactly what the doctor ordered for the August before school starts up again in London, and everyone's blood pressure goes straight back up. My mother, father and brother will be here on Friday, and I can bask in the fun of family, summer, and fun.

06 August, 2007

Janie Two-Half (and other summer adventures)

















































Well, you turn two and a half only once! When my little sister Jill was two and a half, and I was, gosh, eight? she had a set of best imaginary friends. The leader of the pack was Darcy Two Half, who lived on a cloud, and got down by means of a ladder that landed her on the deck outside my parents' bedroom. Being a much more adult, mature child, I of course had no imaginary friends, but I was pretty close to the social circle woven by my sister's imagination. So this summer, since we figure it will be awhile before we're in town for the actual February birthday of my niece Jane, we decided a two-and-a-half birthday was perfectly worthy of celebration.

Sadly, having to go back to the city, Anne and David weren't able to come. And they deserved a reward for coming across the road on Saturday with paintbrushes to help us paint the Neverending Fence! Oh my goodness, that job lasted all DAY. Joel and Jane came to help, and at first it was fun, listening to Jane say, "Oh, Aunt Kristen, thank you for inviting me to help you paint your fence!" But after we had all five slaved away for two hours and found that we had finished only one bay of perhaps 14... aargh! Amazingly, at around 3 o'clock a truck pulled up by the pine tree and out hopped a strapping young man. "I'm Mark, your neighbor up the road, and I can't help but think you could use my paint sprayer." Hallelujah! He ran home and came back with a machine that simply painted the fence all by itself. "I love this thing!" John shouted. Of course it painted the grass as well, but we figure that can be cut off. Ran out of paint with four feet to go! But gorgeous, and today we'll finish it.

Anne and David came back for dinner, and we hung out late into the evening, feasting on my favorite scallop recipe and raspberries in a splash of Grenadine syrup and lemon juice (the perfect summer dessert).

Scallops with Two Parslies
(serves four very hungry painters)


1 lb spaghetti (I prefer De Cecco)

1/2 cup olive oil
4 large sea scallops per person (slice in half if very large indeed)
5 cloves garlic minced
1/2 tsp red pepper flakes
salt and pepper

1 large handful flat-leaf parsley, chopped
1 large handful curly parsley, chopped
1 cup fresh breadcrumbs, toasted lightly

The sauce will cook in just the time your spaghetti needs to boil, so bring the water to a boil and put in the pasta.

Now heat the olive oil and simmer the garlic, but don't let it brown. Place the scallops in the oil and cook on high heat until they turn opaque (about three minutes), turning occasionally. Add the red peppers and salt and pepper, and take off the heat. Sprinkle the parsley on the scallops and toss gently. Drain the pasta and add to the scallops, then toss with the breadcrumbs. Delicious!

******************

So the day for Jane's party dawned misty and grey, and I raced off to the local Hallmark store for balloons and streamers, then to the grocery for all the party food. We had no sooner tied the last balloon to the fence (the white fence!) and waved Anne and David off to the city, than up pulled Jane in her car, hands waving, very excited. From then it was off to all the things a small girl might want to do with four doting adults and a niece-worshiping nearly 11-year-old. Round after round of "ring around a rosie" on the trampoline, Jane insisting she knows how to turn a jump rope, a visit from Rollie with some semi-dead geraniums and wilting herbs that he thought I could bring back to life. There's nothing Rollie likes more than not throwing something away, and he sees in me a kindred spirit. "We can still use that for something!" John and Joel report that he told only about a dozen stories that they'd already heard, so it was a typical Rollie visit.

Then a lunch of hot dogs, plus a small milestone: Avery used a real knife for the first time! Not a knife at the dinner table, but a real-live butcher knife, to cut little ham sandwiches into triangles (crusts removed, of course!) for Jane's lunch. Only French's yellow mustard, of course, and we all felt very triumphant that Jane accepted them and ate four! I found yet another use for leftover sweet corn, but I have added some bits that will make it more interesting for you.

Sweet Corn Salad
(serves four)


four ears cooked corn, kernels cut off
1/4 cup olive oil
1 tbsp white balsamic vinegar
juice of half a lemon
1 clove garlic, finely minced
1/2 red onion, finely minced
1 red pepper, chopped
1 tsp fresh lemon thyme
1 handful fresh basil leaves, chiffonaded
handful haricots verts, sliced
salt and pepper to taste

Simply mix all these ingredients and toss in a pretty bowl. I think this could also be great (and more luxurious) with shrimp or crabmeat added.

******************

Then it was on to the nastiest cake ever, bought from the supermarket. "I think the sugar is getting to her," Jill said, as Jane's eyes started to glaze over. We had forgotten the incredible capacity of a two-and-a-half year old to REPEAT things. "Did you finish all the limeade, Daddy?" "Yes, sure did." "Show me!" Out comes the empty bottle, and then Uncle John bursts into tears. The first time, Janey was quite disturbed, but she quickly figured out what a nut her uncle is. They must have gone through the routine sixteen times. I have to say: she is a terrific sport as far as her uncle's teasing goes, even recovering pretty quickly from his growling when she started to eat her watermelon. "The watermelon did NOT say that, Uncle John!"

Then ice cream in real cones, with sprinkles, and finally a nap. Poor Jill had to drive all the way to work for a half-hour meeting (such are the demands on an ESPN executive!). It is amazing to me that she manages to do it all, and I must say she and Joel are the champions at treating Jane like a real person. No wonder she's so funny to be around.

While Jane slept (and John too, I must tell you, took a nap), Joel kept me company while I made the marinade for the pork fillet for dinner.

Pork Fillet with Lime and Sesame Oil
(serves four adults and two small girls)


2 pork tenderloins (they come together in a vacuum pack)
zest of four limes
juice of 2 limes
2 tbsps sesame oil
sea salt and pepper
4 cloves garlic, minced
1-inch knob ginger, minced

Mix all the ingredients and place in a ziplock bag with the tenderloins. Squeeze them around until all surfaces of the meat are coated, and keep squeezing the bag every few minutes until it's time to cook. The meat will grill best at room temperature.

Grill in a hot grill (400 degrees) for about 25 minutes, turning occasionally (about once every time you take a sip from your gin and limeade). Let the meat rest for about five minutes before slicing.

***************

As soon as Jane (and John) woke up, it was off to Rollie's farm to see the new baby calf! She was thrilled to ride in the 1967 Land Rover we drive around in when we're at Red Gate Farm (named Quincy). "Why does this car make such a loud noise? Our car does not make this noise. Whoa!" was her running commentary in the five minutes or so it took to go around the hill to see the animals. She was a bit skeptical of the calves' licking her hands as they did Avery's, but was quite captivated by being held at arm's length and watching. "Where are the piggies?" she asked Young Rollie, but he shook his head. "We don't have pigs, sorry," and she learned instantly from this to phrase her next question differently. "Do you have any sheep?" Yep, sure enough, there were sheep and lambs. "Where are the dog and the cat?" And just then Judy came out of the house with Max the golden lab and Mr. B the grotty old white tomcat. Heaven. Typical John tormented the dog by pretending to throw the nasty dripping tennis ball for him, and finally Jane insisted that he throw it for real.

Home to pork roast, mashed potatoes and asparagus in olive oil, chocolate chip cookies, and finally it was time for Jane to go home. Waaah, we all wanted to keep her.

Well, what else has been happening? I had a fabulous lunch in the city with my darling Alyssa, at our old haunt Roc. Just my luck: Rocco himself was there, kissing me on both cheeks and asking, "Are you putting 'indeed' at the end of all your sentences yet, my darling?" Sometimes all you want is to go do the same old thing, at the same old place, with your best friend. John was so nice and took himself and Avery off to lunch on their own, so Alyssa and I could spend a couple of hours just gossiping and catching up. She's working so hard on her new company Momcierge, busily making suggestions for their clients on how to find a summer camp, plan a bar mitzvah, find stuff for visiting relatives to do in New York, you name it. I would highly recommend a visit to their website if only to see their "Summer Reading Suggestions" in the July 31 newsletter. Sign up, why not?

Why do we have so much fun? Well, part of it is going back 8 or 9 years together, with all the memories of our little girls being tiny together, and experiencing the same stories of their preschool years, countless birthday parties and ballet lessons and all the years they have spent dyeing Easter eggs and hanging Christmas ornaments with us, and all the Rosh Hoshana and Passover dinners we've had at their house, and endless games of dreidl. And familiar semi-malicious gossip and disapproval for what various other mothers are doing and saying, I'm ashamed to say. Part of the fun.

Off to meet Avery and John for a shopping spree at the summer sale at Tribeca Girls, coming away with some really cute stuff for almost nothing (especially compared to London prices, ouch).

Home again to Red Gate Farm, where our next project is the... Red Gate. It looks awful, so I'm about to head out and scrape all the nasty bits off and get it looking nice enough to go with the fence. It's beyond hot and humid here, so I'm thinking a trip to the pool will be our reward. Oh, our friends Chris and Marla have inspired us to think about putting in a pool here, if it wouldn't be too off-putting for our Southbury Land Trust colleagues to look at when they drive by. What an unbelievable luxury that would be! Although I'd feel a little pang for the sweet Ballantine Pool where we go now. We'll see. Enjoy your Tuesday...

01 August, 2007

nostalgia in Dutchess County















Oh, these kids did have an awfully good time together today at our friends' Chris and Marla's country house in New York State. How far back do we go? Let's see, I met Marla way back in 1991 when we first lived in London, and John kept coming home from the office singing the praises of this GIRL, Marla, how cool she was, how she was so funny and so smart and how much I would like her (ha! my newlywed heart frowned, I bet!). Finally I said, "Why don't you just bring this paragon home and let's see how much I LIKE her," and of course... she walked in, and I fell in love at first sight. "Would you like a drink?" I asked, and she said, in her inimitable Arkansas (by way of Baton Rouge) drawl, "You know, ya'll, I'd love a beer, but forget the glass, I don't need it." Love at first sight.

Until I met her boyfriend, Chris, at which point I had to seriously ask myself which one I was in love with. But in the end, we didn't have to decide, because by the extraordinary occasional felicity of things in general, all four of us were in love. With being in our 20s, with London, with the three of them being cool investment bankers and my being... their adoring slave! I was a nice harmless almost-PhD in art history, happily bumbling around thinking about arcane things and vaguely feeding us all. The trips we took to Belgo to stuff ourselves with mussels, to the Cotswolds to walk the fields and drink Scotch and share endless jokes, the silly shopping trips and enormous parties and late night discussions of our futures (they would all be illustrious, we thought). Then there was our move to Russia, and then their move to Russia, and our move back to New York, and finally their move back to New York. And my unforgettable trip with Chris to "hand model" his engagement ring for Marla, their blowout wedding in New Orleans... our midnight phone call from the hospital to tell them Avery had been born and their visit, hours later, with a silver flask engraved "Mom" filled with Russian vodka for my first post-pregnancy clinking of glasses! Then their little boy, and their little girl... and... so many years later finds us all, as Marla said today in disbelief: "we're the parents, now." Sure enough.

A gorgeous day, THE most gorgeous day of the year, we all thought, having a lovely lunch at their farmhouse surrounded by gardens and specially planted beds of perennials, and a flagstone swimming pool! Could anything be more perfect.

Grape Hollow Farm Ratatouille
(serves four)


3 tbsps olive oil
1 eggplant, cut small, soaked in salted water for 1 hour
1 zucchini, quartered lengthwise and sliced
4 cloves garlic, minced
chopped red and green pepper
chopped jalapeno, cayenne and habanero peppers to taste for hotness
1 red onion, minced
two handfuls heirloom tomatoes, chopped
1/2 lemon, juiced
splash red wine vinegar
fresh thyme, basil, rosemary, sage to taste, chopped
salt and pepper


Saute eggplant and zucchini for 5 minutes, then add garlic and peppers, and onions, and saute till soft. Add tomatoes, lemon juice and vinegar and cook down, then at last minute add herbs and season to taste.

Chris served this to us room temperature, having had it hot the night before. He assures us that any leftovers (ha!) would be delicious under a bed of shredded cheese and baked.

Ah, well, tomorrow will see us celebrating Jane's two-half birthday. And in the meantime I've got to tell you about painting the fence! And the ultimate salmon sauce... and lobster roll, and... my day with my best friend Alyssa, and our nostalgic afternoon in Tribeca! Well, there's plenty to tell you about. Summer is going by much too fast.