14 July, 2008
Well, from the sublime to the ridiculous, as they say. The sublime being the inaugural summer dinner with Jill, Joel and Jane (and ?), and Anne, David and little Katie. How perfect it was to have everyone here for barbecued ribs and chicken, bean salad, tomato, mozzarella and pesto (Jill took one look at the tomato platter and asked, "What is everyone else going to eat?", so she helped herself to a knife and the rest of the tomatoes and fleshed out the salad). And my own invented potato salad, which was pretty successful, I think, considering the amount that disappeared from the bowl:
Everything But the Kitchen Sink Potato Salad
(serves 6 as a side dish)
2 pounds new potatoes, steamed and cut in half
1 large red onion, diced
2 bunches spring onions, sliced including the green bits
handful radishes, sliced
handful slivered almonds, lightly toasted in a skillet and cooled
4 sticks celery, diced
6 slices bacon, pan-fried and well-drained on paper towels
3 ears sweetcorn, boiled for 3 minutes and kernels cut off
1/2 cup mayonnaise
juice of 1 lemon
How easy is this: mix everything together (mix mayo and lemon juice in a little separate bowl, then add), and toss. Delicious!
My mother in law swears by hard-boiled eggs in her potato salad, and if I'd had enough, I'd have added those too. Delicious.
Jane and Avery trampolining, baby Katie mewling and waving her hands, Jill discussing pregnancy with Anne and David, Joel offering gentle tips on bringing small creatures home from the hospital and lasting several years with them at home... I felt it had been far longer than a mere almost-dozen years since I went through all this with my own child, who took very good care of her cousin. Well done, Avery, and Jane couldn't be brighter (I say with total lack of bias). We found a huge stash of crayfish in an abandoned minnow trap in the pond, and Jane gestured wildly toward them, saying, "This pond is full of crustaceans!"
Well, would that life could have continued on that peaceful, celebratory, gentle and delicious path, but today brought... chaos. Let me explain.
On Friday I drove myself to the local quarry to order gravel for my pitiful driveway project. Rollie had said eight yards, and the quarry guy said, "That'll run you about 10 tons," and looked at me questioningly, as if I might have something to contribute to the conversation. "That sounds plausible," I offered, and signed the credit card slip. Then as I turned to go, the guy asked, "Will you want that delivered?"
Avery said later, "I mean, nine tons maybe we could get home by ourselves, but ten tons? Forget it!"
So this morning, in advance of the optional delivery, I had my phone on my bedside table, and had seemingly just closed my eyes to sleep (I do tend to burn the midnight oil when John is not around) when the ringer buzzed insistently at 7 a.m. "Waah?" I answered brilliantly, and a chirpy girlish voice said, "I'm sorry, I see on our receipt here that we were supposed to call you BEFORE we came, and he's in your DRIVEWAY right now!" Oh dear. I dragged on some sneakers and wished violently to brush my teeth, but my mind was filled too much with images of a truck filled with ten tons of gravel burying my car to give precedence to matters of personal hygiene. I rushed out and stuck my hand out to the driver of the ENORMOUS truck idling in the driveway. He stepped down from the cab and I swear: he was one of Santa's elves on off-season employment. All of 5 feet high, hands smaller than Avery's, and if he didn't sport a long white beard, he gave every indication of doing so.
In the pouring rain, feeling fuzzy and silly, I pointed to the area euphemistically known as "the driveway" and said, "We'd like the gravel right THERE. So I'll just move my car..." and when I got back, I saw the truck had got no closer to the destination for the gravel than when I'd left. "No, no, we want the gravel HERE," I motioned. "No, lady, I'll leave it right up here and let gravity do its work." GRAVITY? It would take a severe readjustment of the movement of the earth to make any of that gravel move more than a hair's breadth without heavy machinery. But it was raining, it was early and... I hadn't brushed my teeth, so I gave in. The relationship between not brushing my teeth and letting ten tons of gravel go somewhere I didn't want them? This is my personality.
So the gravel tumbled out where I didn't want it. And then the truck advanced out of the driveway "area", and I saw the bed of it closing up, and taking a big chunk of my tree branches with it. Oh dear. Unfortunately I watched this happening and held my breath while something much worse was happening: the truck neatly clipped the end post of my ancient and lovingly painted white picket fence, and simply... peeled the fence away. SERIOUSLY.
It all happened in slowmo. "Stop, stop," I shouted in muted tones, not wanting to wake up the baby across the road. Finally he did, having dislodged a long bay of priceless cedar fencing... "Son of a..." said the Naughty Elf, jumping down from the cab. "Son of a something," I silently concurred. For heaven's sake.
After expressing his qualified and non-guilt-accepting "sorry,", the elf drove away, saying, "Go back to sleep, now." Oh sure, with ten tons of gravel in two breast-shaped pyramids the size of small mountains nowhere near their destination, and several hundred dollars' worth of Connecticut Preservation Trust fencing on the ground in the pouring rain. Nighty-night!
Well, it was a long day of waiting for it to stop raining and then Avery and me stomping up and down on the breasts, feeling our hearts pound and calves ache, saying, "This is actually fun, and such good exercise!" only to realize after about an hour that we had made NO DENT in the pyramids. None. So no! I received a laconic and dripping wet "accident investigator" and watched her count pickets and measure inches and mutter unhelpfully. Sigh.
That was my morning. That and making a big vat of:
Garbage Soup, AKA Kristen's Gazpacho
2 soup-can size whole plum tomatoes
3 small seedless, or 1 seeded hydroponic cucumber
1 red bell pepper
1 red onion, quartered
1 large handful nuts (any kind!)
1 large handful bread crumbs (any kind!)
3 cups homemade chicken stock
1/2 cup white wine vinegar
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1 tbsp each: ground cumin, ground cloves
2 tsps ground cloves
salt to taste
cream to taste
Seriously: so much of this soup is stuff you might have thrown away. For one thing, you can use tired cucumbers, tired peppers, tired onions you've used half of for tuna salad, or sandwiches. Never throw these things away! They can always be ground up for soup.
Then, say your adorable neighbors bring you a rotisserie chicken to welcome you home. You eat some for dinner, grind the rest of the breast up with some mayo and tarragon for chicken salad. Throw the carcass in a stockpot with some celery and onion and carrot and boil for an hour. Strain, and you've got... chicken stock for your soup.
Then you KNOW the airline will insist that your child wants those two packets of macadamia nuts from London to here, and YOU know she won't want them. DON'T SAY SO. Take them, and throw them into your soup. And that heel of the loaf of bread your neighbors left along with the chicken? You ate all the rest for toast? Throw that in too.
So grind up in your Cuisinart as many of these ingredients as will fit, pouring them into a very large bowl as you go along. Then mix thoroughly, and VOILA. Chill thoroughly (if you have room in your freezer it won't take long). Garbage soup. Everyone will thank you, and just think what you've used up that you almost threw away.
Well, we salvaged our afternoon by driving to Seymour to see "Kit Kittredge: An American Girl." I'd love to tell you it was awful, a waste of money, a meaningless foray into the relentless merchandising of American history. But... it was lovely. Beautifully cast (although Chris O'Donnell seemed a bit young to be the dad), gorgeously costumed, sweetly evocative Midwestern neighborhoods (although I think it was shot in Canada). A nice Depression storyline, nice moral lines, but humor too, and emotion. Take any little girl you know, or for that matter, any person who was a child during the Depression. You'll be glad you did.
Cashew Beef with Red Peppers and Carrots, on Angel Hair Pasta
(serves two, with leftovers)
2 filet mignon steaks, sliced thin
3 tbsps soy sauce
2 tbsps sesame oil
3 cloves garlic, minced
1-inch knob ginger, peeled and minced
handful baby carrots, sliced thin
2 red bell peppers, sliced thin
1/2 package bean sprouts
2 handfuls angel-hair pasta, broken in half
Place the beef and soy sauce and oil in a shallow bowl and mix well. Leave to marinate while you prepare the garlic, ginger and vegetables.
Put water to boil for angel-hair pasta.
Heat a large skillet and throw in the beef. Toss well until cooked through, the remove with slotted spoon or tongs to a serving bowl, leaving as much cooking liquid behind as possible. Heat skillet again and throw in garlic, ginger, carrots and peppers. Toss over high heat until carrots are JUST cooked.
Put pasta on to boil. Then add beef and sprouts and cashews to the vegetables in the skillet and toss till heated through. Drain pasta and toss with everything in the skillet. DONE.
You can always add more soy sauce if you need more flavor. It's a lovely colorful, low-calorie stir-fry with everything: vegetables, protein, a bit of pasta, just lovely. I was totally inspired by the gorgeous chicken dish my brother in law made for me this week: his was a rather more Italian-ish dish with Marsala and parmesan, but the carrots and peppers, and the noodles, were purely stolen from him. Thank you, Joel!
So tomorrow is another day. I fear it will bring the DMV to my life, as I attempt to become legally registered (my car, I mean, not me) in Connecticut. And a tennis lesson! Because playing on our own, just the two of us, guess what Avery and I discovered? In order to play tennis, ONE of you must know how... to play tennis. Because all we did was try to serve (not so good there), try to hit back (hmm, a little rusty) and chase balls around the courts (very accomplished!). So a lesson with Val, the swarthy professional, will be fun. And after a tearful visit to his dining room table tonight, I am fortunate enough to have Rollie's promise to help flatten my driveway breasts tomorrow morning. Fingers crossed. Sometimes flat is GOOD, trust me.