04 June, 2008

the last bits of moving

Well, we did take a break from the whole annoying moving job to spend a day in Oxford with my dear friend Jo Ann, who shares my passion for Richard Armitage. This is only one of the long list of qualities that makes her a hilarious and energetic companion, though, so we managed to get through the whole afternoon without resorting to crush-talk, to the undisguised relief of my husband, child and visiting child Sophie. (She did come to lunch today, however, and once John went to run errands we were straight onto the computer, howling with laughter over the various fansites devoted to our man. A girl has to have some silly fun now and then.)

Spent the night and next day in Stanton, Gloucestershire, watching the girls ride, had high tea in Upper Slaughter, and as you see fed the ducks in Lower Slaughter. And then real life reared its ugly head again and we were back to the boxes and boxes of stuff in the new house. But you know what, we are so happy here that we don't even really mind any of the annoying things we do in service of the house, and of settling in. I think we protected ourselves while we were in the old flat, not thinking about it too much, how much we weren't suited to that house, how horrifying the rent was, but now that we're out I can tell you, Hammersmith is HEAVEN.

Real people live here! We see little boys bouncing footballs across the road to each other, mothers wheeling babies, neighbors bicycling around so frequently that I already recognize people (something that never happened in two and a half years in Mayfair). I am already great friends with my dry cleaner who suffered through removing all the cat hair from two sweaters upon which, I fear, the tabbies had been sleeping in my closet for, yes, two and a half years. Harry the dry cleaner, lately of Baghdad, the first Kurd I have ever met, and he treated me to a far more learned exposition on the political situation in Iraq than I have managed to glean from any recent newspapers. Imagine, an actual merchant who is a real person and doesn't mind a chat.

And the corner store guy knows now that I always have my own bag and he doesn't need to offer one to me. And there is an Irish butcher, and a halal butcher to choose from, but so far nowhere that I can buy basil. Hmm. I must succumb to Marks and Spencer because I am moved to make pesto for dinner. Oh, how I can cook in this kitchen! Gas stove, a total delight, and that grill? It is changing my life. AND a huge fridge and freezer with... drum roll please... an ICE MAKER! Let me never complain again, now that I have an ice maker and a dryer that is separate from my washing machine. Laundry had gone from being an absolute drudgery to quite a pleasant little task, and one that doesn't absorb my entire day as well as taking off all the varnish on the banister as it did in my old flat. Where else could I dry sheets and pillowcases? Ah well, we survived the walk-through in the old flat yesterday and it looks just fine, now that the carpet's been cleaned and the holes in the wall filled in and painted over. Whew.

It's so hard to believe that just three weeks ago, everything we owned was in an other postal code being lived with, and now we have almost completely settled in. Yesterday we hosted the homeowner's insurance appraiser, and he complimented us on our degree of being settled. All we're waiting for is to find a proper wardrobe and chest of drawers for Avery's room, so we can empty the last three boxes. Her room is so charming, set at the top of the house with her horsey rosettes strung along the ceiling and books everywhere. And our room? Airy, light, sunny, gorgeous. We look out onto a long row of grotty looking houses that are mostly flats, lived in by some very interesting looking people. And the street and garden are filled with birdsong.

At our Indian feast the other night, we let Tacy out into the garden and she went away. Don't know where, but she disappeared for a couple of hours. So I have just now ordered a collar and tag for her, with my phone number and her name on it. Just in case. Not that she has a mobile, but...

I'm a bit at loose ends because Avery's class is going to the Globe Theatre tonight to see "A Midsummer Night's Drea," and she's spending the intervening post-school hours at Anna's house to avoid the long commute there and back, both ways. We'll pick her up late tonight at the theatre, so I've got to come up with some Avery doesn't like, for dinner. But first I must tell you about two perfect new salads. My friend Olimpia in particular is looking for barbecue side dishes, and I can recommend these totally. The first one I invented, but the second one is the brainchild of the great Anglo-Indian chef Atul Kochhar, and boy can that man combine flavors to make you sing. And guess what? They're both chock-ful of super foods.

Chopped Spinach and Chickpea Salad
(serves four)

1 can chickpeas, drained
4 cups spinach leaves, somewhat tightly packed
1/2 cup toasted pine nuts
1 red onion, diced

3 tbsps olive oil
dash hot pepper oil
1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
juice of 1 lemon
2 tbsps fresh coriander pesto (or basil pesto)
dash salt
1/2 tsp oregano

In several batches, carefully blitz the spinach leaves in the Cuisinart or Magimix, in short bursts of power. Don't let the leaves get mushy. Just pulse the power and take care to shift the leaves with a spatula occasionally if need me. You want the leaves chopped somewhere between coarse and fine, but not mushy. Combine all the ingredients and dressing and toss VERY well. Lovely!


Atul Kochhar's Warm Salad of Tenderstem Broccoli and Chickpeas
(serves four)

2 tbsps olive oil
1 tsp cumin seeds
2 cloves garlic, peeled and sliced very thin
1-2 small red chillies, deseeded and finely chopped
2 handfuls tenderstem broccoli, cut into whole florets with stems sliced diagonally in bite-size pieces
1 can chickpeas, drained
1 medium red onion, thickly sliced
1 medium red pepper, julienned
2 tbsps lime juice
sea salt
freshly ground black pepper
handful fresh coriander (cilantro)

Heat the oil in a skillet or wok and add the cumin seeds and garlic, cooking until the garlic is translucent but taking care not to brown it. Add the chillis and broccoli and cook until tender. Add the chickpeas, onion and red pepper and saute for 30 seconds. Toss with the lime juice and serve on a platter, topped by the coriander leaves. Very refreshing!


Now Atul says to serve his salad immediately, but I couldn't as I had guests to entertain and wanted to cook ahead of time. Room temperature was wonderful, although I did wait to add the coriander until just before serving.

Tonight is lamb chops because Avery's not here to complain about our cruelty to animals, plus steamed potatoes with pesto. And then tomorrow's my writing class and I've submitted a piece on Moroccan meatballs, about which I'm quite nervous. I'm afraid that if someone says, "I'm afraid I don't quite see the point of the story, combined with the recipe," I might just say, "Neither do I," and crawl under the desk. Such is the pressure of writing for the public!


Patti said...

I am happy to hear that you are settling so nicely in your new place. It makes the trauma of moving worth it. I used to live in an area of Chicago where all the young beautiful people live, I thought I liked at the time. I moved way up north to what I call a regular neighborhood. What a difference! The corner store people know me and greet me. I buy my produce in a fruit store from people who can advise me on what to do with some of the more unfamiliar items. People are out walking, shopping, visiting. It really is very nice. Not to mention, less expensive! It just makes one feel so at home.

I laughed at your reply to an imaginary criticism of your writing. If by chance, someone does say they don't see the point to a story with a recipe, remember not only are there entire shows built around the idea in the US, but that we eagerly log in for just such stories as often as possible on your blog!

Maybe cook-up a sampling of the recipe to share, as extra insurance. Good-luck!

Kristen In London said...

Oh, Patti, you understand completely! It is such a joy (I shall blog about this) to encounter real life, here in London. How silly that it's taken this long to do so.

Would you believe: my writing class ran long and there was no time for me to read my piece! So I must suffer in silence until next Thursday. But yes, I have invited my whole class to come to lunch during class time later this month... we shall see what they think then! But honestly, I'm curious as to what they (not likely readers of a blog like mine) will make of a second installment of my story-+-recipe format. They loved the one that was called "comfort food" and included a recipe for Macaroni and Cheese. We shall see!