20 June, 2008

if it didn't move...

today, I ate it... I can hardly move tonight. It sort of snuck up on me: I just kept choosing things at Taste of London, and eating them, and it was all glorious and made me very happy, and all the bits jiggled up and down happily together in my stomach as I walked along (choosing more bits). Then I took a brief break to watch Avery's skating lesson, and then it was onto... dinner. At nothing less than my favorite all-time Chinese restaurant in Queensway, so I could certainly not skimp on any of my favorites. And I didn't even think much of it, until... we got home and I sat down and now I feel that all the foodstuffs in the greater London metropolitan area are trying to be digested all at once. Still, I don't regret a single biteful, and while I'd separate them by a day or two, I would recommend my two foodie activities today to anyone.

I think as a matter of public record I must list all the things eaten today. Perhaps it will serve as a cautionary tale, if in fact I am unable to get up from my desk chair in an hour or two. In fact, I may pour myself a digestif before I'm rendered static, and see if a spot of brandy does the trick.

But what trick? All that is required is the passage of hours and the ingestion of nothing more tomorrow than a lettuce leaf, and bob's your uncle. First I must tell you that I did not suspend myself from a tall pole and take this photograph - Channel 4 did, and it must have been last year, because the weather here has been very odd lately and certainly would not encourage people to sit upon the ground in shorts. However, the fact remains that I wanted the festival to look appealing because it's on for two more days, and you'd love it.

So what happens is you buy little tickets called "crowns" and each is worth 50 pence, and all the little tidbits cost a certain number of crowns, usually 6 or 8, but a couple of fancy lobstery things cost 10 crowns. I bought a ticket that included 40 little crowns, and that was just about right, except that I was going out for dinner the same night. But I did think ahead, and in my long gossipy coffee with my dear friend Gigi this morning I restrained myself from having breakfast and stuck to iced coffee. Then I meandered off to Taste and here is what I did.

First of all, I got lost. Then I made a number of the happy mistakes that I specialize in. I thought I had figured out the tiny little map and reached Tom's Kitchen, where I reckoned the single most delicious-sounding dish of the day was being served: seven-hour braised lamb shoulder with balsamic onions and potato mash. Totally divine. Tiny little portion, about three bites of each thing. Only then I realized that all the time I was eating I thought it was by chef Tom Kitchin, when it was in fact the famous restaurant called "Tom's Kitchen." Tom Kitchin was nowhere to be seen. Do you suppose other people confuse them, or only me?

Then it was onto Le Gavroche, where I was planning to have lobster bisque with brandy cream. It came cold, and bright green, and even dim I twigged to the possibility that I had made an error. As I ate it, quite happily, I realized I had misread the booth number and ended up with Benares' chilled pea soup, redolent of cumin powder and crowned with edible flowers. Not sorry about that! It's the first time I've eaten at the hands of Atul Kochhar whose recipe for chickpea and broccolini salad I gave you the recipe for and which I've enjoyed several times since.

I decided I owed it to Le Gavroche, though, so I wandered back and there was the winning chef of our beloved telly programme "Masterchef"! James something or other. Typical me, again, I went up and ordered the smoked chicken and foie gras terrine and told him how much we had enjoyed his work on "Great British Menu." Wrong programme, Kristen! What on earth. Being accustomed to dealing with the foolish public, he merely smiled and said, "Thank you, enjoy," and I did. Unusual terrine: studded with lentils! And accompanied by a very subtle truffle mayo-ish sauce. Lovely.

Finally I staggered over to Sumosan and had the largest scallop I have ever seen, marinated in teriyaki sauce and served over a shitaake mushroom and topped with fried leeks. Delicious, lovely.

Mind you, my journal to date does not take into account the numberless things I sampled: balsamic vinegar on strawberries, pesto on foccacia, lamb sausages, Welsh beef burgers, Isle of Man pepper cheese, some random Indian jalfrezi sauce on a little cracker (I always think I'll like bottled sauces but I never do, somehow). And I people-watched, but I didn't see anyone but our BBC chef. So finally it was time to pick Avery up at school and I could not eat another bite, but had four crowns left, which I happily spent on two bottles of the new Firefly vitamin water, and took them home. I did not regret the long walk through Regent's Park to get to school, I can tell you that! Perhaps without it my heart simply would have stopped beating, with overwork supporting my belly.

Then dinner: two softshell crabs, without which life would be much less tasty, my favorite chilli and ginger dry-fried chicken, steamed pak choy, barbecued pork to keep Avery and her skating chum Jamie happy, goodness. Those two girls are so much fun to have around that I'm always pleased to get them together. They dished about their classmates, their exam results this week, ranking their teachers in order of competence and sense of humor, the works. Then we put the top down on the car and took Julia home, and I must say I am now recovering. Whew. Tomorrow I shall be spending all day doing guess what... cooking for the horse show picnic on Sunday. But eat I shall not. Definitely not.

Instead I shall devote myself to working on my next homework assignment for the increasingly successful writing class! People are so funny. This week Angela said, "If I might speak?" and Keith immediately said, "As if we could stop you?" I have found my niche, I think. So far I've written and presented and had critiqued two pieces: one a collection of memories of macaroni and cheese, and then the recipe, in a chapter called "Comfort Food." Second, a similar sort of memoir and ode to Moroccan meatballs and our trip to Marakkesh and the friend who took us there, and the recipe, in a chapter called "Exotic Comes Home." I have got the most helpful comments about themes, and tone, and voice, and detail, so that I feel ready to write lots more of them and finally have something to show an agent.

Next week I must write something that's been rolling around in my head for nearly 20 years: memories of the year (on and off) that my husband and I spent in Moscow, and the recipe that I brought home, for very simple oven-roasted chicken wings. I'm going to call it "Golden Domes and Chicken Swings," which is how our Moscow hostess pronounced the chicken part, and I have felt in all the intervening years that those two elements (one so luxurious and one so spare) encapsulated what it was like to live in that place in that time. When you could hop in an ordinary citizen's car, give him a dollar, and be taken anywhere in the city. And not be kidnapped and murdered for your pains.

Then I think I'll write up a lot of my blog bits, like taking Avery and Anna apple and blackberry picking and then bringing them home and helping them create a pudding from their efforts, and call it "Pick Your Pleasures." And I have in mind a chapter called "The Chicken That Kept On Giving," about when you're embroiled in some dreadful ongoing event like moving, or children's exams, or a work crisis, and you need food that cooks itself in several different ways: all-day braised on Day One, chicken salad on Day Two, and chicken noodle soup on Day Three. I'm getting all excited! I wish I could print out the blog but I think that would be directly contravening all environmentally sound strictures against stripping the world of our tree supply.

Well, I'm recovering. I think it's time to do a spot of laundry and kick back, but NOT with a snack, for sure! Ah well, tomorrow is another day, and no doubt... another meal. To quell my appetite, I must concentrate on these latest pictures of Crush Actor Richard Armitage: he would not, most definitely NOT, go for a girl who wasn't fit. Be still my heart!


Patti said...

The Taste of London sounds nearly identical to our Taste of Chicago, right down to the tickets and pricing. I have not been for a couple of years now, but it is a lot of fun and a great way to have a taste of all those places I've been wanting to try. I have to be honest though, your festival's selections seem to be a bit more upscale then ours. Perhaps, even more than a bit. ;-)

Does the Taste there offer entertainment as well? The one in Chicago lasts 8 days, if I'm not mistaken and offers a series of free concerts on several stages. Aside from the huge crowd, it is a great time though.

I am glad that your writing class continues to go well, and that your piece about the Moroccan meatballs was received well. If I remember correctly, won't your classmates soon be guests in your home?

I hope you are able to relax a bit this weekend, it sounds like things have been hectic!

Kristen In London said...

You know, the Taste was not at all crowded, but then it was a Friday afternoon. Perhaps today it is? Although it's drizzly. There were some lame random bands playing in the distance, but again, it could be cooler on the weekend. You must come when you're here someday!

I'm excited about this week's writing class, because yes indeed they're meeting here and I'm feeding them. Guess what? Macaroni and cheese and Moroccan meatballs! Hee hee.

Burniston said...

Ooh! Very jealous! I saw the Taste of London on the news - have always wanted to go, but it always seem to clash with a weekend when I'm busy! Typical!

I'd be really interested in your chicken noodle soup recipe. As a student I tend to roast a chicken for Sunday, then have it cold with bubble & squeak on Monday, make a pie with it on Tuesday and the rest is soup/stew which lives in the freezer...I love the way it can last me for a week, but I've never been able to find a nice authentic chicken noodle soup recipe...

Kristen In London said...

Hi Burniston,

I love it that you've already discovered the Everlasting Chicken! Here's what I do: when I roast it, I lay it on a bed of fresh rosemary, smear it with butter, splash a bit of white wine around it (with the roasting tin lined with foil to make cleanup easy). Then I sprinkle it with oregano, garlic powder and whatever else sounds good (lemon pepper, maybe?). Then I surround it with a cut-up onion and some garlic cloves and roast it. Or slow-braise it with root vegetables all around and a bit more wine.

Then after you've had your first dinner, take off ALL the meat (be ruthless!) and save it for sandwiches or salad. Then throw the carcass and all the accumulated juices, plus the spent rosemary, into a stockpot and cover it all with water. Add what seems like a lot of salt, and simmer HIGH for at least two hours.

Strain this all through a sieve into another stockpot (I have once forgotten the other stockpot and watched the ambrosia slip down the drain, SOB!). Put the stock into the fridge or cold windowsill, overnight. Then scrape all the fat that solidifies on the top and throw it away. Put the stock back on the stove and add carrots and celery in bitesize pieces.

If you didn't use your leftover chicken bites, add them too. Simmer until veggies are soft, then add the noodles of your choice. I like the Manischewitz kosher noodles, but anything you like is fine. Simmer till they're cooked, and you're done!

You can add parsnips to it, or dill, or whatever you like. It will cure any ill. Enjoy!

min said...

Oh! What a lovely post. I feel your energy. I get the impression that your lovely musings are getting a kickstart and your book is on it's way. You are a wonderful writer and as I have said you have inspired me to cook cook cook! Rest and digest and get back into it tomorrow!

Patti said...

I love parsnips and dill in my chicken soup. I also put in carrot and small (but not pearl)onions. Delicious! If I am using noodles, I prefer the wide egg noodles. Have you ever tried to make matzah balls? They are not hard, and make for an authentic (Jewish anyway)chicken soup cure. No reason to be nervous, whether they are sinkers or swimmers, I love 'em!I remember a post about a Jewish friend you have in the States who has a good recipe.

I can't wait to get to England! The whole of the Uk, really. I was going to go in May, then had to put it off until August. I might still go in August, but am tempted to wait a bit longer. The exchage rate is dreadful! Well..from this side anyway.

It seems the longer I wait, the longer my list of "must-sees" becomes. I will do the tourist thing for a bit, but I really want to get off the beaten path. Your blog is as good as any tour book I have read so far. Even better, actually, because there are so many delightful places you have visited. I can't wait. I am toying with the idea of attending school there, but right now it is just an idea. We shall see.

Kristen In London said...

Patti and Min, you made my DAY! Week, even. Such encouraging comments really make a difference. My writing tutor has been suggesting that my recipes should all be about places I've been and dishes I've brought home in my mind. A sort of combined travel/food/memoir? It makes me so happy that you enjoy the recipes AND the travel bits. I shall keep writing!

My matzoh balls are always a disappointment, Patti, because the ones made by my delicious New York friend are so lovely. And they make me think of her! But dill and parsnips, yes. I wish I had some now! Tonight is something new: pan-fried pollock!

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