29 January, 2008

The Importance of Being... Wilde!










It was a dream come true for Avery last night: her end-of-exams reward: a trip to the Vaudeville Theatre in the Strand to see "The Importance of Being Earnest," her all-time favourite play. It all began with listening to a performance on tape, in the car on our way to see newborn baby Jane three years ago. I was desperate for something to listen to on the two-hour drive, to keep my mind off the near certainty that I would get lost trying to find the hospital (I did), so I just grabbed the cassettes and we were on our way. Well, it was the perfect entertainment. I can't even remember who read it, but now I am the proud owner of the 1952 classic radio recording starring John Gielgud and Edith Evans. Can't wait to listen to that!

Anyway, since then Avery's read the play a thousand times (has a copy both here in London and in our Connecticut house, so she doesn't get desperate), and adores the copy of Oscar Wilde's "Epigrams" that she found in a dear little bookshop in West Hartford, near my sister's house. Plus she made a special pilgrimage to his house in Dublin. "It was amazing!" she told one of her school interviewers. "There was his house, just as if it were an ordinary building! Only it had a blue plaque, which I love."

So last night we ate an early (and may I say magnificent) dinner of macaroni and cheese (the secret is definitely two-fold, Dairylea, and stir CONSTANTLY with a whisk mind you), bangers and roasted beetroot, and off we went. Arriving early, we were able to see that as usual with the sorts of plays Avery wants to go to, she's the youngest in the audience by about 30 years. And the play was LOVELY. You really must go. Penelope Keith of "To the Manor Born" fame was Lady Bracknell, a gentler, wiser version of the character than Judi Dench's portrayal in the film. And the two young men, Jack and Algernon, were cast a bit to similar to one another for my taste. But Daisy Haggard as Gwendoline was quite perfect, and the SETS! Divinely luxurious. Avery's little face when her favourite lines appeared was worth the whole ticket price: "A handbag!" "Victoria Station: the Brighton line!" She was in absolute heaven. "This makes me all the more determined to be an actress myself," she said. Her plan now is to nobble her teacher gently at acting class on Saturday and see what she needs to do next to make that ambition come true.

Well, a very late night for her, and I confess to sleeping in, in a most extravagant way, this morning. As penance I made one of our crazy juices (it's the only way I'm ever going to eat Tuscan kale or swiss chard, either one, as long as they're masked by beets, carrots and pears) and then a really unctuous soup for lunch. I think I've given you this recipe before, but it bears repeating on a cold January day. Keep in mind: you can use ANY mushrooms, you can use chicken, vegetable or beef stock, you can use Madeira, brandy, cognac or champagne. And you can use whole milk, cream or creme fraiche. It's all these variations that keep me from being at all bored with my admittedly limited cooking repertoire!

Creamy Mushroom Soup
(serves two as a main course)


2 tbsps butter
4 cloves garlic, sliced
1 white or yellow onion, sliced
1 lb mushrooms (I used chestnut today)
1 tsp dried thyme
splash brandy
3 cups beef stock
3 tbsps creme fraiche
juice of half a lemon
Maldon salt to taste

Melt the butter in a heavy saucepan and saute the garlic and onion briefly, then add mushrooms and stir just to coat with butter. Sprinkle with thyme, splash in the brandy and stir just till it nearly evaporates, then cover with beef stock. Simmer until mushrooms are tender, about 25 minutes. Whiz with a hand blender and stir in the creme fraiche and lemon juice. Salt to taste. Voila!

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This would be so pretty with a drizzle of extra cream, a sprinkle of chives, but alas I had neither. Nor had I any day-old baguette to make toast to dip in it, which also would be very nice. I'm sure you'll be clever enough to have these extras on hand. As it was, I was content because there's no nicer aroma than cream of mushroom soup, even when it lingers in the house past lunch. It's a lovely scent.

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