16 August, 2008

I'm too old to be a triathlete!

Goodness, what happens when your daughter and her houseguest have a dull moment? You set up a triathalon, of course, on the lawn. And then, heaven save you, you try it YOURSELF. Even though a tiny voice is telling you, "Sit down and let the younger generation at those pony jumps before you tear a tendon and force the children to run six miles to find help." But no. I had to run the race.

So the triathalon went like this: jump the first pony jump going UPHILL, then around the trampoline and over another jump then... throw yourself onto the slip 'n slide KNEES DOWN and slide toward the well-water-temperatured FREEZING pool of water at the bottom, then jump up (assuming you're still ambulatory at this point), and run toward the badminton net and get two birdies over, then hit two further pony jumps and let's see, five non-identical jumps on the trampoline.

I can tell you that by the end of this regime, one particular 43-year-old competitor was lying on the ground howling at the pain in her knees, but she did finish the course!

Thank goodness lunch cooked itself. Because dinner the night before had... cooked itself.

Ultimate Cooks-Itself Brisket
(serves four for dinner and four for leftovers)

1 brisket, flat end
1 large can tomatoes
5 cloves garlic, sliced
1 white onion, quartered
1 bottle of beer
1 slug (perhaps 1/2 cup?) molasses
2 soup-size cans beef broth

Place the brisket in a large soup-size stockpot or casserole for stovetop use. Cover with EVERYTHING ELSE. Cover and bring to a boil.

Now. Turn the heat down REALLY LOW, like a bare simmer, and leave it for four hours. If you're home you can turn it now and then, if it makes you feel like you're cooking. But honestly: if you keep the heat low enough and keep it covered, it cooks itself. You can break up the tomatoes if you're nearby, but cover it again right away.

About hour three, I can guarantee you'll be hanging over the pot with a fork and some lame excuse like, "I should test it to make sure it's OK to eat," and start shredding away choice morsels. I'd say you should resist this inevitability, but why? You're the cook, you deserve it.

At the end, put the brisket on a cutting board and slice it against the grain as thinly as you can. If you have a suggestion for the rest of the cooking liquid, I'd love to hear it. It's beer, tomato, molasses, garlic ambrosia. But I throw it away, for lack of any other ideas.


For the leftover brisket, however... I have no such hesitations. I offer you, middle-aged triathlete with sore knees but game spirit:

Ultimate Brisket Sandwiches With Gorgonzola and Red Onion
(serves four for sandwiches)

good chunk of leftover brisket
8 slices toasted rye
a good chunk of Gorgonzola or other blue cheese
1 red onion, sliced
(mustard if you like, or butter)

Slice the leftover brisket thin. Then simply build your sandwich in the proportions you like. UNBEATABLE.


Through it all, Avery and her beloved friend Cici made... bead rings. I cannot explain except to say that... they made rings of copper thread and tiny, tiny beads. We are all wearing them now, and the girls turned them out like... well, like bead rings. So peaceful in the sun on the trampoline, after we all tired of the triathalon, which took awhile.

I cannot describe the peace of the landscape! Avery sighed in exasperation at me, finally. "OK, OK, Mommy, 'the blue of the sky, the red of the barn, the green of the grass.' Enough!" But... how about the red of the gate? And the white of the fence, and the green of the tiger lily bed? Pretty nice. And just take a look at the wildlife who gathered around that afternoon: Gary the groundhog, the cardinal, chipmunks, who knows who comes to eat at my house.

Finally poor John who had been paying some sort of terrible life dues at the DMV registering the car and getting a Connecticut license returned... not on his shield after all, but safe and sound and ready for a trip to the pool! We all concurred, and were ready in a split second. It was one of those pool afternoons that looked like a potential disaster: clouds overhead, was that a sprinkle? Surely not... then we got in the pool... FREEZING! Screaming, daring each other to go under, finally a couple of laps, and we were good to go. A Hello! magazine straight from London, a Soap Opera Weekly from the supermarket... two happy girls and a husband whose novelty had not worn off. We were all in heaven. The pool's unofficial social secretary, Barbara, was back from her Alaskan cruise. "My husband doesn't like to fly and he didn't want to go anywhere. But I was an elementary school teacher long enough to know how to phrase the question. 'Honey, do you want to go to Hawaii, or Alaska?' And he said, 'Doesn't Hawaii have an ocean between us and it?' and I said yes, and so it was Alaska!" They had a wonderful time and saw Mount McKinley which, as it transpires, only 20% of visitors get to do. AND her granddaughter still refrained from being born prematurely during their absence. That does not surprise me AT ALL. It's good to have Barbara back.

At home, showered and relatively braced to face the elements, I repaired to the kitchen finally to watch my beloved "General Hospital" and get dinner ready for... John's mom's arrival! It was, selfishly, my favorite sort of dinner: lots of different things, and you can choose what you like. I've given you all the recipes already, but here's what I fixed: Pan-Fried Salmon, Red Gate Farm Bean Salad, Scalloped Corn, Roasted Beets with Balsamic Vinegar. Just lovely!

And then, suddenly with a crunch of my precious gravel, there was a car. "I wonder who that is?" I asked stupidly, in denial that I might have to give Cici up. "That looks like my parents, oh no," Cici said... And it was. But there was Rosemary too, in her iconic white shirt, black skirt, summer tan, gold bracelet and necklace so shimmery in the early evening, her smile, tight hug, "Sweetie..."

Cici departed and it was sad but all right because we had Nonna to show around, give presents to, introduce to Hastings! Of course he won over John's mom right away, who carried him around as we led her to the cozy guest room with its barn-red coverlet, the pitcher of hydrangeas I had put by her bed, the books and magazines and newspaper bits I thought she could not live without... I wanted nothing more than to stop the clock, stop the calendar, and stay RIGHT THERE: a summer evening at Red Gate Farm with crickets starting to chirp, the tree limbs over Stillmeadow turning black while Anne switches on golden lights across the road, dinner aromas stealing through the house, presents being exchanged, Hastings leaping after wrappings and ribbons, John bringing cocktails and wine, me stopping to look through a perfect new cookbook... I gave a deep thought of gratitude to John's dad who paved the way for all these reunions, smiling over us all, full of quiet joy at our being together, lugging in suitcases, accepting a Scotch with plenty of ice, his deep voice echoing through the house, "Rosemary..." What a miraculous summer we had last year, and none of us took a moment for granted. I will hold that in my heart forever. And he was with us, for me, that first evening with Rosemary here.

Well, pathos never lasts long around here, and it was but the work of a moment to wake up and wend our way to West Hartford to be reunited with MY side of the family! To hug my darling mother (more on her birthday party tomorrow!) and father and brother and Jill, to tour their garden with Joel's unbelievably... how to put it... thorough anti-squirrel devices on his tomato patch. But before I giggle: those tomatoes looked pretty darn healthy, and unscathed, too. From there, with the usual family conversational departures into "Remember when..." and then the various voices of dissension, "That's not how that happened!" or even more likely in my side of the family, "That is not what I said!" We are in a constant battle over the truth as someone remembers it, and the story as it's better told.

I felt completely vindicated when we arrived at our tourist destination, the Mark Twain House Museum in Farmington, to see his quotation, "I start out telling the truth, but somewhere between pen and paper it becomes fiction." I felt such a kinship! Although now that I write that down... I'm not sure it's a direct quotation! How perfect is that.

A gorgeous Victorian mansion to tour, with the ultimate Tour Nazi shouting at John to turn off his phone! "It didn't even make a sound, it only LIT UP!" Avery said, always the first to feel persecuted by authority. Where that comes from, I could not say.

Well, I must sleep. Today was my mummy's birthday party here and a glorious time it was, but as a result I'm pooped. Everyone else is long asleep in my house, the candles are burning in the front windows, and all is right with the world... just remind me, if anyone offers: no more triathalons, thanks. But on a tiny small-world note, can I just tell you that Avery's beloved former babysitter Amy's dad (stay with me here) is the voiceover guy for the Olympics! The guy who tells you all about Budweiser, and what's coming next... that velvety, chocolatey voice. That's my child's former babysitter's dad! Hey, fame has to come from somewhere... Congratulations, everyone in Beijing...

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