18 April, 2008

moving looms...

So here it is! Unassuming, you say? Yes, but I think it will be cosy when it's all kitted out with our gatrillions of boxes of books, and boxes of cats, and art and such. Isn't the kitchen appealing? But look, there to the right of the glass doors: a cat hole! For a cat a third the size of mine, but still, it's there.

I must say, for all the angst of moving, there are some good points: namely, the prospect forces you to get rid of all your junk, because you know every piece of junk has a dollar sign (or pound sign, as it happens) attached to it: "picture me wrapped in brown paper and carefully placed in a cardboard box that you then will pay to see carried out to a truck and pay again to see carried in your new house and then unpack and find a place to store." It makes you ruthless!

So last week saw me disposing of half-eaten packets of dried blueberries, bags of couscous (I don't even like couscous), pasta in every shape you can imagine with best-by dates that revealed they had been brought with us from New York. In fact, I decided that anything with a price tag in dollars should probably... go. Then it was Avery's room, where the most cursory of searches led us to... homework from kindergarten? "PONY" magazines from 2006? Plus my personal favorite, candy wrappers in her desk drawers. What makes a child think she should keep such things? It's the same impulse that makes her, after eating a banana at the skating rink, for example, reach out to hand me the peel. With a rubbish bin at her elbow.

Then there were the t-shirts far too tiny, some nice enough to keep for my niece and some not, the endless drawings of skating costumes Avery dreams of designing one day, an unbelievable number of notebooks, sketchpads and journals each filled with half-written stories, all of them far too sweet to throw away. Still, we ended up with four garbage bags full of stuff from around the house, plus a box to go to Oxfam. There's still the front hall closet to go, and considering that I haven't seen the flat surface of its floor since we moved in...

And I am hot on the trail of a Cattery in Kent to take our felines for the duration of the hostilities, I mean the move. It's felicitous, actually: I can drop the cats off at our local vet, in their little plastic prisons, and the Cattery in Kent comes to collect them, then drops them back at the vet's on the date of our choosing. Now all I have to do is coax our porter into letting me into the storage space under the house that contains the four kitty prisons, pray that I kept all the hardware in a plastic bag close to hand, and re-assemble them. Then set them up in the living room with some catnippy toys in them to make them appealing, or at least not terrifying. Then the kids will run in and out of them for the ensuing days and it will be much easier to stuff them inside when the day of travel arrives. I say, with confidence.

To enliven this rather dismal list of chores, I must tell you that we were entertaining this week! No, not entertaining per se, but hosting. Avery's beloved babysitter Amy, from New York, came through on her way home from two months in India working in orphanages and child-care homes. What a delight. If there are Amys in the upcoming generation, the world has a chance. She is an absolute bubble of generosity and energy, pausing at nearly every photograph she showed us of the children to say, "Oh, now HE was adorable..." How do people raise children to turn out like Amy? I remember her babysitting days with Avery, once a week while I stayed late at my gallery, and I'd come home to the two of them flat on their stomachs on the floor, surrounded by drawings. "I like your collar on that one, Amy," Avery would be saying, "but look at how my fabric flows." "Oh, cool, Avery, I think I'll copy that for my next dress if you don't mind..." She is a vegetarian, so for dinner we had an old favorite of Avery's that for some reason has fallen off my radar screen. But it's worth telling you about. It requires a fair bit of prep, but it's colorful and good for you.

Farfalle with Spinach and Roasted Red Peppers
(serves 4 with leftovers for lunch)

1 lb farfalle pasta
3 red bell peppers, roasted and peeled
2 tbsps olive oil
5 cloves garlic, minced
1 red onion, minced
2 tbsps Italian seasoning
sprinkle hot red pepper flakes
1 can plum tomatoes, crushed by hand
4 handfuls spinach, chiffonaded
1 handful flat-leaf parsley, chopped fine
1 cup grated pecorino or parmesan cheese

Now, do you know how to roast red peppers? Of course you may buy them in a jar, ready-roasted. But they're usually suspended in either vinegar or oil, and let me tell you that means... slimey. Why not cut them in half, remove the seeds and put them under your oven broiler? Or if you have a gas stove, turn on a burner and hold them over the flame with tongs, turning them until they're blackened all over? Then put them in a brown paper bag you've been saving from Starbucks for that purpose, and let them sweat for a few minutes, then peel. Slice small, in bite-size pieces.

And chiffonaded spinach? It's fiddly. Lay the leaves on top of one another with the stems sticking out to one side, and slice thin.

So do all these things as the pasta water comes to a boil. Then heat the olive oil in a skillet, saute the garlic and onion till soft, throw in the Italian seasoning and pepper flakes and add the red pepper bites. Ask your houseguest to grate the cheese, then boil the pasta. Add the tomatoes to the sauce in the skillet: just squeeze each one separately, because did you ever think what nasty bits and pieces a tomato company would save for a can of "chopped tomatoes"? Buy whole and squeeze.

Toss the spinach and parsley in at the last minute and stir till warm, then throw in the pasta and toss all together. Serve with the cheese on top. Lovely!


In addition to dear Amy, we had Avery's best friend Anna all late last week while her parents house hunted in America, poor things. What a joy to have Anna. The girls spent all three afternoons after school writing a play, and then Friday night they acted it out. Mostly it was costume changes, but there was a sort of pre-teen animal-obsessed theme as well: girls meet bunnies, girls get bunnies, girls lose bunnies. Oh no! They find them in the end, don't worry. It was very heartwarming and innocent.

This all came on the heels of Avery's acting agency sending us a script for a play for her to audition for: playing a little American girl who becomes obsessed with her town's local ordinance that orders sex offenders (yes!) to stay 2000 feet away from schools and playgrounds. It was but the lying-awake of a night to come to the conclusion that we really didn't want Avery coming anywhere near that script. I just couldn't picture her uttering the words, much less having to explain the content to her. Let the agency drop her if they must, but no. Too much. Much nicer to have her put on a play about... bunnies. Anna is the perfect influence in that direction.

What's my current worry? There always has to be one. This week it's the upcoming school trip to Normandy, leaving a week from today, on a coach that departs from school at 4:45 a.m. I can't decide what to worry about first: the string of school trip coach accidents that have been making the news in Europe lately, or... no, that's it pretty much. How can the driver be properly awake at 4:45 a.m.? Who on earth thought that was a good idea? And you know the speed limit will not be adhered to. I am really a bit concerned, but what can I do? The girls themselves are far too obsessed with the auditions for the school play "Alice in Wonderland" on Thursday even to think about what might happen a week from today. Should I speak to the school and just say, "How are you going to keep that driver awake?" But I'll look like a lunatic. Plus what if they decided to the solution was to pump him full of amphetamines and then he put his foot to the floor and passed every other vehicle on the road?

Oh, what to do. I should just relax and make the cheesecake our friend Peter made over the weekend: it's the best you'll ever have.

Peter's Birthday Party Cheesecake with Lime Juice
(serves at least a dozen)

1/2 pack plain digestive biscuits
1/2-cup (ish) melted butter
500 grams mascarpone cheese
500 grams ricotta cheese
1/2 cup Greek yoghurt
caster sugar to taste
juice of 2 limes
4 sheets gelatin

Crush digestive biscuits and mix with enough melted butter for it to go moist but not so much that it is a heavy mix. Put that in a large flan dish (I think his was about 15 inches across and quite shallow), spread out evenly and press it down fairly firmly. Put that in the fridge for 30 mins to cool and set.

Mix the cheeses and yoghurt till smooth, then add sugar to taste (I like a quite un-sweet cheesecake, but it's up to you) and lime juice.

Meanwhile prepare the gelatin according to the instructions, and when melted, add 2 large spoonsful of cheese mixture and mix well with the gelatin. Then add all the gelatin to the cheese mixture and mix well. Pour the mix onto the biscuit base, level and then cool for a couple of hours. Done.


Peter adds that he's experimented with a few variations to this basic recipe: adding double cream to the mixture to soften it down and make it less sharp, adding some lime zest in to the mixture as well for some added colour and flavour and finally candying some strings of lime zest and putting them on top.

I'm going to interrupt my blogging and laundry to go have coffee with Dalia. A little girl talk is in the air, I feel. Then can I just say how nicely my crush is progressing? We have been slogging through the early part of Season One of "Robin Hood," and all I can say is, Richard Armitage's evil sneer is far, far sexier than a smile or even a leer on a lesser man. The early part of the series is campy, badly written and very silly, but stick it out: toward mid-season everything gets better and by then, for whatever crazy reason, you'll care about Guy of Gisbourne and his leather costume and greasy hair and cruel twisted attitude. Trust me! He can act everyone else off the screen, and without much in the way of a script to get troubled about. He is simply irresistible, and it's put a little spring in my step. He could be anywhere! Reading a script in Grosvenor Square as I saunter along to meet Dalia, picking up a friend's daughter at what will just happen to be my daughter's acting class, having coffee at the deli around the corner from my new house... one never knows! I'm glad I washed my hair.


payotbb said...

Oh, I HATE moving. This last time we moved, I resolved that I would not pack one single box, and that I would not get upset if trash cans came packed with trash in them. I must say that it was less stressful in the packing up phase, though moving in was still an unpleasant day.

Please can we get a recipe index?? I keep going back to old posts for the banana bread recipe! (I should probably just print it out.)

S. said...

The new house is lovely! But yes, moving is a horrible, horrible thing. I avoid it as much as possible.

PS. I'm looking forward to trying that cheesecake as soon as I have time to make it, it sounds yummy!

Amy S. said...

Kristen, you made me blush! How sweet. I had the most AMAZING time with you three!

And now I have the yummy pasta recipe, hooray! And pictures of the new house too!

Burniston said...

I know it is hard, but don't worry about the coach trip to Normandy. All the ones I was sent on as a kid had very professional drivers, and there was no way we ever went over the speed limit. If we were doing a long trip there were often 2 or 3 drivers as well, so they were all properly rested before taking the wheel again.
Must say though that the idea of a coach trip to Normandy takes me back somewhat - it seems to be the staple of an English school curriculum!
Good luck with the moving, and the cats!

Kristen In London said...

Oh, everyone seems to understand the moving horrors quite well! Payotbb makes me laugh: during our first move to London nearly 20 years ago, our trash DID arrive, all neatly packed up! Kitchen trash, no less, so it was a bit nasty to unpack.

I would love to figure out a recipe index. What it seems to entail, unless someone can enlighten me, is an individual blog post for EVERY single recipe. I almost can't face it. But I will try. In the meantime, yes, print out that banana bread! And the cheesecake will not disappoint.

Miss you, Amy! We had such an amazing time with you too.

Thanks, Buniston, for the comforting words about the trip. I've been hearing similar things from other English mothers, and yes, the school is entirely traditional, so it doesn't surprise me that Avery's curriculum sounds familiar!

Jack said...

Hi Kristen

A late entry to let you know how much I enjoyed this simple but delicious cheesecake. I agree about the sugar. I found 75gms more than enough. I used two small organic unwaxed limes and found I had to add some zest to bring out the lime flavour more. Perhaps large limes are needed in future. I ended with a cake of a firm mousse like consistency which is perfect for summer. A friend commented that it was indeed the best cold set cheesecake she had tasted. She also mentioned that a light ginger flavoured biscuit base might work well with this. It's worth giving it a shot I think. Thanks for another wonderful recipe.

Kristen In London said...

Oh, Jack, I'm so glad you tried the cheesecake. I'm not much of a pud sort of gal, so if I find something I can bear to eat, I'm happy as can be. I love the idea of ginger biscuits, to give it a little kick. The biscuits from the confectionery shop in York are the BEST in the world. If you have the patience, you could search the blog for that post, which was around the beginning of November? I'm late cooking dinner or I'd find it for you myself!