08 August, 2008

and away they go...



































































Well, it was a wonderful thing to have happen, and all that we had wished for, but let me tell you, it's very heart-wrenching to say goodbye, suddenly, unexpectedly, in the final silent moments before a massive thunderstorm, to two darling kittens.

But say goodbye we did.

How did it happen? I will explain.

Yesterday began particularly pungently, as in with a car full of garbage cans and recycling bags and piles of flattened cardboard boxes to take to the dump. Ick! I hate the dump. But I felt a special pride in doing it, since in theory I could have waited till John got here tomorrow (yippee!), but I wanted the cans and the garbage room to be EMPTY when he got here, to show that I had taken good care of everything while we were here without him. So I went, and struggled with my cans and bags and whatnot, belligerently dressed in a white ruffled t-shirt and little denim skirt: I will not be defeated by the dump! Home singing loudly to the radio, windows open, gorgeous blue sky overhead.

I roasted a chicken breast, whole and on the bone, with nothing but a smear of butter and a sprinkle of salt and pepper, for my Ladies Who Were Coming To Luncheon: two great fans of the wonderful life and cookery author who lived across the road in days gone by (grandmother to my great friend Anne), and the morning was proceeding fairly normally, Avery reading quietly, the kittens playing like crazy nuts. Then... the cable guy came. Which I was expecting, albeit at the far end (as always!) of his two-hour window... I explained to Avery that if one is 15 minutes late for an 11-1 appointment, the guy will arrive SPOT ON the beginning of the window and you'll miss him. BUT, on the other hand, if you find yourself needing to leave a half hour after the END of the two-hour window, he will come at the exact end of that window and leave you biting your nails till he finishes and you can LEAVE.

Well, this guy, and his colleague, arrived spot at the moment of 1 p.m., when my luncheon guests were expected at 1:15. Two really nice guys, one short, one tall, one plump, one thin, just like Jack and Mrs. Sprat. I led them upstairs in the steamy afternoon air to the bedroom television, left them there to labor, and as Amanda bounded into the room, asked rhetorically (I thought), "Do you guys want a kitten?" and the tall skinny guy turned to me, and in the unmistakable tones of my adopted homeland, said, "Yes! Do you have more than one?"

WHOA.

Before we knew it, he (Phil, as he introduced himself, "from Bristol") had Lizzie in one hand, fast asleep, and Amanda climbing his trouser leg. "It's my girlfriend's birthday today, and..." and the short plump guy sat back on his heels and said, "You cheap bastard. You didn't get her anything? And now you're going to give her a FREE KITTEN?" We all laughed. "You got it," Phil said, "and my daughter wants one too." He was excused from any further cable-guy duty (leading one to wonder why they send two guys, if one can be excused to acquire a kitten or two at a moment's notice), and came downstairs to call his ex-wife. "Hey, sweetheart, is it OK if I give her a kitten? I know it'll live at your house, so I wanted to check..." We all waited with baited breath... while Avery clung unobtrusively to Hastings. "Well, great. I'll bring her home, then, and we'll do the exchange over the weekend. Thanks, love." And it was done. Avery found her new riding helmet box, took the helmet out, put a t-shirt and the Christmas ribbon the kittens had made their toy into it, and in went the girls. That was THAT. Quick exchange of email addresses, and off they went.

I can tell you, it was hard for Avery. And she was SO gracious. She needed some time to herself, and with Hastings, when the van had pulled away, carrying those two souls that had become such a part of our lives in the last ten days or so.

Goodness.

Well, as luck would have it, thank goodness my friend Shelley and her friend Anne pulled up just then in the driveway, to keep us from wallowing in our sadness. What fun to meet them in real life! Shelley and I have been fast friends for the last year or so, in a virtual way, exchanging lots of emails and comments on the blog. She is a rare person of innate generosity and wealth of empathy, which is easily felt even through emails and such, but her aura of kindness and giving in PERSON is something else again. You want to lock the door behind her and keep her with you! And Anne, her friend, felt like an old friend right away: a lifelong elementary school teacher, having found her bliss in teaching kindergarten, you sense an amazing combination of experience and WONDER in her: she has seen it all and yet faces each new situation with freshness and appreciation. What a joy to have them here!

We sat down at the table I'd set outside, and pretended not to see the rumbling grey clouds overhead and as far as the eye could see. We unfolded our napkins, Shelley admiring the lovely napkin rings given to Avery by Farmer Rollie and his wife Judy... and still we did not acknowledge the rustling of maple leaves overhead, and sense of a great atmospheric change coming. We helped ourselves to roast-chicken salad with sweetcorn, pine nuts and slivered toasted almonds, celery and lemony mayonnaise, and the yummy artichoke dip made for me each summer by my dear brother in law, and Brie and baguettes. And then... splash. "I just felt a raindrop," I said reluctantly, in the way that one acknowledges the first spots of smallpox. "Oh, that'll be just a sprinkle," Anne said breezily. "It'll definitely be PASSING OVER."

We kept repeating this as we scooped up our lunch, chatting about Gladys Taber, the history of the house across the road, my plans to help re-invigorate some of her recipes into a kind of memoir-cookbook... until the most ENORMOUS crack of thunder happened RIGHT over our shoulders. Avery tensed. Then she said, "I can contribute nothing, really, to this conversation, and I'm really afraid of thunder and lightning, so... would anyone mind if I went inside??" We all followed!

Lunch continued in the dining room, conversation tripping over itself... Shelley brought out gifts of books, knitted catnip toys, gorgeous milk glass, you wouldn't BELIEVE what she had brought... and the rain crashed and thundered and the sky darkened till it was like a late November afternoon in London. Which means, about as dark as you can get without actually needing to light a lamp. Hastings made his appearance and charmed everyone, climbing up everyone's legs, begging for watermelon and blueberries...

Finally it was time for Shelley and Anne to brave the rain which, it was clear, was not stopping ANY time soon. Off they went, leaving behind that feeling I love of girlfriends. Just ladies you really love, and the feeling that you could have talked for about seven more hours and eaten another meal, and not made a dent in what you wanted to say. Thank you, Shelley, for your friendship, and welcome, Anne, to what I hope will be a long and happy shared time together. We made plans for every summer from now on, at Red Gate Farm.

I had barely had time to clear away when there was a tornado warning in our county, so I felt it was my maternal duty to... take everyone down to the basement. "EEWW!" Avery shrieked. "Spiders, spiders!" It could not be denied. My house seems to generate daddy longlegs and whatever other spiders like sugar water gathers ants. But we sat in our punishing straightback chairs, staring at each other, trying to keep Hastings from escaping to the floor which we are fairly certain contains traces of mouse poison. Ick. "One minute to go," Avery intoned. "Fifty five, fifty four..." Finally we came up and NOTHING was happening outside. "OK, maybe I overreacted a little," I admitted. But my Indiana tornado-ridden upbringing has deep roots!

Well, needless to say, Avery's fever went away. It lasted about twice as long as it usually does, and therefore precisely twice as long as I was comfortable with. I had just looked up a pediatrician in town and vowed to take her as soon as she woke up, but in fact she slept incredibly late, and woke up feeling FINE. What a relief. A little stuffy nose, and the next day a little cough, but no fever. Whew. So to celebrate we ran a thousand errands: to KMart for votive candles (an absolute staple in my house), bird seed, kitty litter, all the basics, then the library, then Judy's brother's farm: Painter Ridge Farm: the best view of a sunset in Connecticut, without a doubt, in Washington. Only Judy wasn't there! But a lovely lady called Mary helped us, and listened to Avery's impassioned account of the then-three kittens we needed to find homes for. Her husband, Judy's brother, came in on the tail end of this exposition, and Mary said, "Wouldn't you like a kitten?" And he stopped in his tracks, swiped a sweaty, dusty hand across his face and said firmly, "There's only room for ONE animal on this farm, and that's ME." Avery loved that!

On the way home we nearly ran into a mother wild turkey, helping her baby across the road. "Stop, stop!" Avery screeched, so I did, and then there was another baby turkey, and another, and five more, and six more... there must have been 14 babies, headed by one adult and rounded up at the end by another adult! Avery said, "I think that must not be a mother and father and family: that must be turkey DAY CARE."

We've been hosting a lovely and very friendly skunk lately, who seems happy to clean up any and all dinner leftovers for us: eating our noodles and peppers, shredded mozzarella and deli roast beef, corn cobs and stale Saltine crackers. It seems to mind not at all seeing us about! Avery's inspired to read, yet again, the book written by Anne-Across-the-Road's mother Constance Colby, "A Skunk in the House," which she reads every summer. So lovely. And such a relief, total relief to have Avery well. Although I must report a very entertaining late-night visit by her to my bedroom. Clearly half asleep and also hallucinating slightly with her fever, she approached my bed and said, "Hi Mommy. I just reached out my arms and everything was... totally fluffy." Was it indeed, my dear!?

Well, today I drove her to Anna's house for one more sleepover, took a tour of the nearly-unpacked and settled house, and drove home, which took bloody forever. Between a lashing thunderstorm AGAIN, and terrible Friday-evening traffic, I was on the road forever. But you know what: when the rain cleared but the traffic didn't, the best thing to do was, turn off the AC, roll the windows ALL the way down, find a cheesey radio station playing a song I liked, and just SING! I had a ball, honestly! I am almost never truly alone (which is fine, most of the time!), but to be alone and not chatting with anyone, listening to a book on tape, anything at all to keep me from singing... it was glorious!

I was starving when I pulled into Southbury, so I stopped at the grocery and shopped for the, possibly, BEST dinner of the summer. Why do I create these things when there's no one but me to enjoy them? I think there's something to total improvisation, total spontaneity, and cooking for just ONE that makes a great thing possible, now and then. And you mustn't ever be hindered by any of the following thoughts: "It's not worth it just for me," or "It'll be easier just to pick up some Chinese takeout, which Avery doesn't like anyway," or "It'll be cheaper to..." NO! You are worth it, all on your own! And there is nothing in the world wrong with spending $15 on a dinner you cook JUST FOR YOU.

Carmelized Shrimp and Scallops with Sauteed Pretty Vegetables
(serves ONE!)


4 large raw shrimp, tails on
4 large scallops
2 cloves garlic, minced
sprinkle Penzeys "Fox Point Seasoning"
2 tbsps olive oil (hot pepper flavored if you like! I did)
juice of 1 lemon
several grinds fresh black pepper
1 red pepper
8 stalks asparagus
2 green onions, sliced on the bias
1 tsp butter
splash white wine
2 ears corn on the cob

Seriously: you can prepare this dinner in about 20 minutes, at least 10 of which is spent with you cradling a tiny kitten while swinging on a rope swing, letting the marinade do all the work.

So lay the shrimp and scallops in a single layer in a shallow dish. Cut up red pepper and break asparagus stalks in half. Lay them in another shallow dish with green onions. Sprinkle each dish with an equal amount of garlic, seasoning, olive oil, lemon juice and black pepper. Just leave it all! Play with that kitten. He needs you.

Shuck the corn and boil water in a pot for it.

Heat a non-stick skillet really high. Throw in the vegetables and cook over high-ish heat till to the doneness you like. Remove to their original dish. Heat the skillet again, add the butter and carefully slide the shrimp and scallops in, in a single layer. Cook high for 2 minutes, then turn each shrimp and scallop and cook another minute or to (depending on how large they are). By now, the seafood should be nicely cooked. Throw in the wine and swish the seafood around. This will create a dark caramelly sauce that is DELICIOUS. At the last minute, throw the corn in the boiling water. Put the vegetables back in the skillet and toss with the seafood, then remove to a warm dish. Enjoy with the corn on the side!

*******************

I found that the scallops had to be eaten ALL ON THEIR OWN. Followed by a red pepper or asparagus bite maybe, but... the delicacy of the scallops deserves its own attention! So much fun to peel the shrimp, making a mess, butter the corn, making a mess. By this time, let me tell you, your fork has been abandoned and you're eating the asparagus and peppers with your fingers, too!

It was a lovely dinner. I'm trying to enjoy my evening alone and NOT obsess over how much I want to be with my husband and child! Tomorrow evening. What fun that will be.

In the meantime, I'd better go find that Hastings, asleep on Avery's bed, missing her no doubt. Two down, one to go! Want a little tabby kitten?

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