06 January, 2008

last day of the holiday

And the winner of the most expensive store in London in which to spend seven minutes: Riders and Squires! It is a lovely shop, I can't complain, but it's always a little stunning to walk in, choose four things and then just gulp. But Avery could barely stuff herself into her jodhpurs one more day, and shredded the fingers off one glove yesterday, so it was a necessary trip. The only tack shop in this horsey town, can you imagine? The most elegant horsey young girl sold us our essential items, dressed in what seems to be the uniform for the smart London 20-something lady: dark tights, ballet flats, a long shapeless t-shirt covered with an even longer and more shapeless belted cardigan, its sash trailing on the ground. Long untidy hair and a sort of languid, well-bred attitude that is the perfect demeanor for a girl surrounded by riding crops, polo mallets, velvet hats and the like. Doubtless she is called Jemma, Serena, Annabel, Victoria or some other blameless name for an English rose. "Mmm, yes, one does lose one's gloves, doesn't one? No point in buying really expensive gloves..."

This after a pleasant enough afternoon at the Queensway skating rink, where despite the Monday half-price arrangements, it was dead quiet. Perfect for Avery to practice her spins and whatever else without taking her life in her hands. We obsessively washed our hands all day as I am absolutely adamant that she not get this stomach virus that scarcely an hour goes but what I hear about another sufferer. It simply cannot happen. Until Friday afternoon at 2 p.m, after Avery's inaugural exam, that is. And preferably not at all. We repaired to the Mandarin Kitchen for a luxurious treat of lunch (a nice byproduct of the saintly gesture of watching her skate round and round for two hours), and chatted. So nice to have her all to myself! Sorry, John, but it's the one silver lining to your absence. I am quite selfish on that point.

I'm afraid it's left us with but little appetite for whatever I might come up with for dinner. Last night's offering yielded some leftovers, however, and the recipe is so good and so simple that it rates a second appearance here (I swear in 2008 I will invent a recipe index for you).

Roast Fillet of Beef With Herbs and Spices
(serves 4 hungry people easily)

1 kilo beef fillet, rolled and tied
1 tbsp each: Aleppo pepper (it's very mild but flavourful)
1 tbsp dried oregano
1 tbsp lemon pepper
1 tbsp sea salt (Maldon is and always will be the best)
lots of freshly ground black pepper
2 tbsps vegetable oil (not olive, it smokes too easily)

Rinse your fillet to make sure it can pick up the herb mixture, which you've mixed together and placed on a cookie sheet. Roll the fillet all over, helping the bits adhere if they don't go on their own, making sure the coating is even. Heat the oil in a large skillet until nearly smoking and sear the fillet all over, holding it with tongs (don't pierce it with a fork!) and turning it over till the whole thing is nicely browned. Then place in a baking dish and roast at around 350-375 degrees for about 35 minutes for rare, 45 for medium. Don't even think about cooking it any longer than that.


The great thing about the leftovers is that I could easily toss them with some noodles and sprouts, or wrap them in pancakes, or make a sandwich with some sharp cheddar cheese and a red onion. And the place to go to get the fillet itself: hands-down it's Green Valley in Upper Berkeley Street just off Edgware Road, one of my absolute favorite places to shop for certain kinds of ingredients: anything Lebanese (the cucumbers are perfect: skinny and nearly seedless), fabulous olives, fresh (often still-warm) pita bread, and anything in the red-meat line. As usual, I found plenty of time-absorbing things to peruse in the various departments: has anyone ever eaten tinned "foul"? A sort of bean paste, it turns out, perhaps similar to hummous? Must give it a try someday. And I did succumb to a large wedge of something referred to only as "French white cheese," which I imagine will turn out to be sheeps milk cheese? It's reposing in my fridge awaiting... an appetite.

Well, the second half of "The Philadelphia Story" beckons, for my old-fashioned child. All our favorite lines: "Isn't it time for your milk and arsenic, darling?" and "Don't say 'stinks,' darling. If absolutely necessary 'smells,' but only if it's absolutely necessary." Avery said, "I like it, definitely, but I miss the sort of pointless bursting into song of 'High Society". Leaving her at school tomorrow will be a nasty blow.

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