05 March, 2008

All's Well That ... (well, you know the rest)

Well, we've been in a bit of a tizzy this week, although things have calmed down now. On Monday night, in the wee hours, Avery became very ill and by the morning had developed a really frighteningly high temperature, nearly 40 degrees (that's nearly 105, to you at home). Being a "helicopter mother" under the best of circumstances (my friend Carol's adorable term for mothers who "hover"), I was immediately thrown into a panic. Then matters turned from bad to worse when my friend Becky called with a letter from school in her hand: a warning that a kindergartner had been hospitalised with meningitis and a list of symptoms to look for. The first two on the list: vomiting and a high temperature. TOTAL panic by then. It was very difficult to be rational and calm and ask Avery if she had any other symptoms (just so you know, they're stiff neck, sensitivity to light and headache). She didn't, but then she went into her usual tailspin of fear at the thought of going to the doctor. I called and got an emergency appointment, and sitting in the taxi with her, all I could think was that we have had too much good luck, too many good things have happened to her, and the price was going to be... you can imagine my thoughts.

Avery sat on my lap waiting for the doctor and repeating over and over, "I can't do th is, I can't do this," just shaking with pure fear. This is the child who walked fearlessly into six interviews and three exams a few short weeks ago! The doctor asked her how she was feeling and she piped up, "Well, not very good, but what really worries me is that the Form Six Entertainment is tomorrow evening, and we're doing Shakespeare, and I've worked so hard! And there's no understudy..." On and on, warbling away in perfect comfort. The doctor took a long look at her and said, "24-hour virus," and admonished her about drinking plenty of fluids. She took her temperature and it was falling already. Waves of relief replaced the panic.

In the taxi going home, I said, "Now, you have to admit that that was nothing to get panicked about. She is so nice, and you certainly seemed to enjoy talking to her." Avery just looked at me over her glasses and said acidly, "Mommy, that's called ACTING." Sigh.

Anyway, the chicken soup I had put on the stove as soon as she got ill was the perfect panacea, and the Calpol didn't hurt either. All she wanted was for me to read aloud to her, and from a comforting baby book, so Betsy-Tacy it was. By bedtime she felt miles better and in the morning was good as new. Double sigh. The doctor had said that if she had no fever in the morning and rested all day, she could go to the Entertainment, so she rested determinedly, sitting and reading in her box of soft toys, which always cracks me up. There she is, surrounded by a bed and a chair and a floor, and she sits in her toy box.

The long and short of it is that she's fine. No sword of Divine Retribution has as yet fallen on the heads of my family, but no doubt, given my capacity for reasonless anxiety, I will continue to expect one to do so. Honestly, if I could find the part of my brain that produces anxiety and dig it out with a grapefruit spoon, I would. But John objects, saying that it's probably connected to some other trait of mine that he likes. Like being super-super appreciative of all the good things I have. Fair enough, but it makes life very, very stressful when anything remotely bad happens.

So it was in this mood of intense appreciation/fear that I approached the Entertainment on Wednesday evening. And it was absolutely the sort of event that makes me want to take Avery, and all the other little girls, and put them under a nice glass jar to keep them safe. They had put themselves into groups of four or five, and each group had chosen a Shakespeare play, one girl had written a short synopsis of it, which they took in turns to read out to the audience, then they performed a scene from it with the real words, THEN they performed a modern version of the scene which they had written themselves! It was just stunning. Avery's group chose "As You Like It," which she already loved (we gave her a little stack of the old red leather "Pocket Falstaff" editions of the plays for her birthday), and she was given the job of writing the synopsis. We heard a great deal about the impossibility of this task in the weeks leading up to the Entertainment, but she did an amazing job! They all did. Mrs D said at the end, "I have been a teacher for a very long time, but I've never understood these plays as well as I do now!"

In between the plays were darling musical numbers, one hilarious song we've been hearing a LOT of at home that includes lines like, "Romeo, Romeo, I think you're terrifico!" and a lovely ballad with lots of "hey nonny nonny" bits. I tend to want to cry whenever I hear Avery and her friends sing, so it was a bit of a struggle not to embarrass her completely.

I have had to cut the apron strings today: Avery has gone off to see "Much Ado About Nothing" at the National Theatre with her friends Julia's family, and to spend the night. She's been on quite the Shakespeare kick, hasn't she? In English class at school they've been watching the old Franco Zeffirelli "Romeo and Juliet," and when I looked it up on imdb to find the name of the actress who played Juliet (it was Olivia Hussey), I saw the funniest thing. imdb lists "Plot Keywords" and one of the categories is "dysfunctional family"! Well, that's one way to put it!

I told John I would cook whatever he liked for dinner, and he rashly said, "Scallops: three ways." Hmm. Now, I love scallops, so this is a welcome challenge, if a bit daunting. I think I'll do my darling friend Vincent's scallops with creme fraiche and single-malt Scotch, then I'll also try to replicate the divine dish at Angelus in Bayswater: grilled scallops with steamed charlotte potatoes, truffle oil and snipped chives. But the third way? I cannot decide. Seared, with a buttery Aleppo pepper sauce? Swimming in a parsley-laden creamy broth? Or how about the old favourite:

Coquilles St. Jacques au gratin
(serves four as a starter)

1 dozen fresh scallops
1 cup white wine (or dry Vermouth)
1 tbsp Madeira wine
dash cayenne pepper
3 tbsps butter
2 tbsps flour
2 shallots, finely minced
1 handful curly parsley, finely minced
1 egg yolk, beaten slightly
salt and pepper
fresh soft breadcrumbs
grated pecorino or parmesan cheese

If you've got your scallops on the shell, as I did (first time! scary), carefully remove the red roe and the membrane that connects it to the scallop. Remove the tough muscle that clings to the outside of the scallop, too. Is it all nice and smooth and white and clean? Wash and rinse and lay the scallops on paper towels, then scrub out four of the shells and rub with butter.

Pour the wine and Madeira in a small saucepan, dust with cayenne and bring to a simmer. Place scallops in the saucepan and simmer (don't boil!) for five minutes, then remove with a slotted spoon to a cutting board and cut each scallop in half, and place six halves in each scallop shell. Add the flour, butter, shallot and parsley to the saucepan and whisk until mixed, then add the egg yolk. Pour this mixture over the scallops and top with breadcrumbs and cheese. You can do all this ahead of your dinner. Five minutes before you want to eat, place the scallop shells in a glass dish big enough to hold them all and put in a very hot oven (425 degrees) for five minutes. Serve hot, with a fork AND a spoon. You will want every bite.


Ah well, something will come to me. It always does. And you know, all's well that... well, you know.


Shelley said...


That's a nasty fright...sometimes a 24 hour virus is just so welcome.

Kristen In London said...

Hi Shelley! I know exactly what you mean: no matter how ill she feels, it's only 24 hours and... no lasting ill effects. Except that she's completely lost her appetite, poor thing. I can't seem to tempt her. Pork tenderloin with bean sprouts and Chinese noodles, in a sesame/ginger/soy dressing is my attempt for tonight. Ah, well, this too will pass. Hope you're well!