23 May, 2008

cat in chimneys Part Two

Well, for heaven's sake. After a completely crazy afternoon and evening yesterday (let me see, what was involved? four girls at the stable, four girls for dinner, a champagne bottle falling out of the fridge door and exploding, Avery's bed collapsing in what all four girls insisted was a completely innocent game of Sardines), I figured today would be a yawn. Quite literally, as we're having to get up a half hour earlier than in our old place because we've moved so far west. I got Avery fed (blueberry pancakes are the new breakfast of champions, so I'll give you the recipe), off to school on the very crowded Hammersmith and City line, and I came back home to find John back from his travels and hosting the British Gas guy, investigating all our chimneys and the boiler.

Yes, you've twigged to the story, I know. The gas man actually LIT the coals in my study, actually LIT them, and out of the chimney leapt Hermione. Through the flames, mind you! It's a miracle she didn't catch on fire. "Well, I've seen some things in my career, I have," mused the gas guy, "naked ladies answering the door, walking in on old grannies as they was in the loo, but a cat in a chimney, that's a new one." I bet.

He rallied, however, to complete his task AND to point out to me that one of the bricks in my limestone installation, so painfully assembled on Monday, was turned around. Fair enough. My whole body went into dreadful total recall as I bent down to rectify the problem. Actually I'm pretty much recovered. And John's back! So we can put Avery's bed back together (I was the mother from h**l last night with absolutely no sympathy for a small girl who did not want to sleep in the guest room: "then think about that, perhaps, before you jump on your bed the next time!" I snarled, but she denies it absolutely). John's dashed off to school collect Avery and assorted friends for a celebratory "half-term" lunch at our house. It's one of my favorite English girls' school traditions: on half-term half-days, the girls can wear their Own Clothes, for which privilege (actually to pay for which infraction) they must each donate a pound to charity. Much musing went on last night over what to wear. Also, they were to bring in a favorite teddy bear dressed in some special way, for a competitive (naturally) Assembly. Avery dressed her bear up in the American Girl-sized school uniform her grandmother made for her, and if that doesn't win a prize... I'll set my cat on fire.

The cats have actually been remarkably normal in their settling in. Oh my, getting them home from the vet was a scream. John was unavailable for assistance, so I bravely set out on my own in a taxi whose driver listened with commendable interest to my story and offered to wait outside the vet while I went in, settled up, and brought them back out. "They will be... restrained, won't they?" I briefly toyed with the idea of telling him I had planned merely to throw them in the back and let them fight it out. But I felt sorry for him, and my goodness, with good reason. The entire 20-minute journey from the vet to the house, they... meowed. All four, constantly, in slightly different tones and voices. Keechie in particular uttered one word over and over, plaintively, "AIR!" That is her version of meowing. Wimsey on the other hand cried quite convincingly like a cat in a novel about animal cruelty, Tacy screeched in a high repetitive yowl, and Hermione uttered little yelps while blinking very rapidly, as if holding back tears. Never again! But I got them out of the taxi, onto the pavement, paid off the driver who looked massively relieved he wasn't me, and then trundled them, one by one, into the foyer.

They slunk around on their bellies for awhile, and since then have seemed perfectly at home. They sniff with fascination at all the Hammersmith smells coming in the windows, they gaze in fascination at the dove and robin life in the garden. In fact, one morning while Avery was having breakfast, Hermione saw the robin land on the paving stones and ran full tilt toward it... into the plate glass window. Poor dear. She really has judgment issues.

Let's see, today we made a very wise and prudent purchase (and look at the new partner's desk and chairs to go with! I love them), the only downside to which was that we had to bring it home at the same time that Avery had intended to take up that space in the car herself. There's a wonderful little place around the corner from her acting school called Church Street, lined with antique and junk shops, some very high end, some complete rubbish, and many in between. At one of the in between shops we found our old leather sofa and chairs, so we always go back while waiting for her to achieve theatrical splendor on Saturday afternoons. And today we found a gorgeous, dusty Victorian wicker log basket, perfect for Avery's stuffed animal collection which is now residing in her laundry basket. Inexpensive and deep and very charming. So I said to Avery at pickup, "Do you want the good news or the bad news?" "The bad news." "Well, you're going to be completely squished in the back seat to make room for a piece of furniture." "What's the good news?" "It's for you."

I am getting excited at the prospect of our next dinner party: a get-together of all our old friends, three couples, from the old flat. Let's see, there's one who cannot eat significant fat, and one vegetarian. These two constraints point to, I think, a sort of pan-Asian feast. I think I'll make lots of pappadums with various chutneys and yogurt dips to start, then my Thai prawns in a spicy coconut milk curry sauce, my many-versions creamed spinach with, this time, garam masala in addition to the celery salt, a really nice vegetarian version of my biryani, and John's all-time favorite potato dish:

Stir-Fried Potatoes with Turmeric and Mustard Seed
(serves 8)

3 lbs new or Charlotte potatoes
3 generous splashes vegetable oil (rapeseed is the new rage)
3 tbsps mustard seed
3 tbsps turmeric
juice of 1 lemon
salt and fresh-ground pepper to taste

Steam the potatoes in batches and set aside. When they have cooled, cut either in half or in quarters depending on the size. You want bite-sized pieces. Set aside.

Plan to work in three batches. Heat a generous splash of oil in your wok until very hot, and throw in 1 tbsp mustard seed. STAND BACK! Be sure to wear an apron as the oil can fly a bit as the seeds heat up. Gradually they will POP! It's so much fun to watch and listen. When you reckon the popping is finished, throw in 1 tbsp turmeric and a third of the steamed potatoes. Stir religiously and pour in a third of the lemon juice. Salt and pepper to taste and remove from wok. Do this all two more times and stir it all together in a large serving bowl. Delicious!

And did you know turmeric is an anti-carcinogen? It has been known for years to have medicinal properties in fighting cancer, so be generous! It does not have a tremendous flavor, but it's bright yellow and just looks... healthy. And it adds a smoky, exotic flavor to the potatoes. You'll love it.

Well, Avery has returned from Pony Club Day filthy, exhausted and frustrated, in equal measure, so I think a nice long bath with a bowl of strawberries on the side is in order for her. Why frustrated? "The 10-11 year-olds had a GREAT time," she fumed at pickup. "That should be good news," I said, "since you're 11." "Not at the stable, I'm not. Kirsty says I'm too skillful to be with the 10-11s, so I had to be with the 12-16s, and all we did was lead the other children around the park with ropes!" Ah well, nothing a nice soaking won't cure. And tomorrow for breakfast:

Perfect Blueberry Pancakes
(makes about 4 large, and the batter easily stays good for four days)

1 egg
3 tbsps butter
1/2 cup milk
1/2 cup plus 2 tbsps all-purpose flour
1 tbsp sugar
2 tsps baking powder
dash salt
1 cup blueberries (Avery likes a lot)

Beat the egg in a small-ish bowl and set aside. Melt the butter with the milk in a small saucepan and let cool a bit, then mix in with the egg (if it's too hot it will scramble the egg). Put the flour, sugar, baking powder and salt in a medium bowl and mix well, then add the milk mixture to it and stir JUST until blended.

Heat a skillet with a little bit of butter in it until quite hot. Turn down the heat to medium and pour about a quarter of the batter in the middle and scatter with as many blueberries as you want. Now, resist the temptation to play with the pancake. Leave it be until little bubbles appear, then turn it over and cook till firm. Now you can butter it, or sprinkle powdered sugar over it, or drizzle warm Vermont maple syrup over it. Or if you are a mother who is a fool about her daughter, you can do all three.

This with a piece of the Giggly Pig's unsmoked bacon (virtually fat-free) and a sliced banana is the perfect breakfast for a little girl, whether she's really 11 or not. Enjoy!


S. said...

Glad to hear you guys have settle in alright in the new place and that the moving part is all behind.

One little question about the pancake recipe...was the flour forgotten from the ingredients?

Kristen In London said...

Oh, S., you're very kind. Yes, I amended the recipe just now, with instructions for flour. My head is in a packing box!

Patti said...

Hermione is really having a time of it, isn't she? Blinking back tears in the taxi, nearly being set on fire, running into the window...poor little thing!
Erm, does she have insurance?

The desk looks fantastic! I was looking at the picture, thinking I would love to have a desk like that. Then I realised it would just give me more surface space to cover with mail and magazines. :-)
I do , however hope the "In London" family uses it in the best of health!

Kristen In London said...

Gosh, Patti, I know! It's been insane for the poor kitty. She seems to have settled down, now: two days with no crises.

I do love the partner desk, but I must say that when my daughter is home, she appropriates my husband's half and he takes mine (which faces the window) and I am left... in the windowless homework room, with a desktop. Sigh!

Amy S. said...

Oh, I love the descriptions of the cat antics! I can't wait to hear about John's new job prospect. Very exciting! When will you all be in CT this year?

Amy S. said...

Oh! I forgot to mention, have you heard about this?? http://www.cnn.com/2008/WORLD/europe/05/22/scope.project/index.html

Jack said...

Your potato dish is very similar to one I learnt at Rick Steins Padstow Seafood School last year. The additions being: Chopped coriander (cilantro) and chopped fresh tomatoes through the potatoes. Poached, undyed smoked haddock on top, and a poached egg on top of that. No lemon required. Yum Yum.

Kristen In London said...

Hi Amy! I haven't clicked on your link yet but I promise to! The cats miss you. And Jack, your additions to the potato dish sound sublime. But not... Asian. Rather Italian-English, do you think? I'll try it next time I do a pork roast. I must blog about my failure on that score: but suffice it to say: slow-braised pork loin? NO, NO, NO!

aksadoff said...

Once the cat has been cooked over an open flame, will you post a recipe? xo

Jack said...

Hi again Kristen. I would have said it was an Asian influenced dish. Ok, maybe Anglo-Asian, almost like a potato kedgeree. In addition to the mustard seeds and turmeric, there's only deseeded diced fresh tomatoes (dry them off) and a tablespoon of finely chopped coriander. Balti, aloo bhaji or Bombay potatoes often have the tomato/coriander connection, but usually have chili in some form as well. I'm not quite sure how you get the Italian connection, other than the tomatoes. I guess I don't know enough about Italian to be certain, but I would have thought the haddock and egg is the Anglo part of the dish. If you or anyone else would like this very simple but beautiful Rick Stein recipe, I would be glad to post or forward it , with your permission.

Kristen In London said...

So we can look forward to two more recipes: the grilled cat (sorry, Hermione, but a joke's a joke), and Jack, yes, please send in the recipe. Do you want to email it to me, or post it as a comment? Stupid me, thinking coriander sounded Italian when I must have been thinking of parsley! I'd love to post it. Thanks! And Amy: CRAZY CNN story, which I read only part of and got completely excited only to have John explain it to me... thanks for the link.

Jack said...

Recipe email sent.