30 September, 2008

end of a lively month

I adore fall. Or "autumn," as we call it in Britain. Why not "fall"? Or equally, why "fall" in America? I love it though: I always read the same books: Body in the Belfry by Katherine Hall Page, Witch of Blackbird Pond by Elizabeth George Speare (what is it with me and double-barreled names?), The Affacombe Affair by Elizabeth Lemarchand...books that celebrate the splendor, the complexity and the being-on-the-brink that is autumn. And I guess it all starts in October, really, although I start stacking up those favorite books and peeking in, the last week in September.

Tonight Avery and I made it to a new adventure: the pool associated with her school! Now, my intensely stinging eyes nothwithstanding, this place is an incredible boon. For the equivalent of $70 a year per entire family, we can swim on Tuesday and Thursday evenings, Saturday and Sunday mornings, AND use the tennis courts. What a bargain, in a town that holds so few for the unwary resident.

So this afternoon I was looking up disconsolately at the streaming skylight over my kitchen, absolutely splashing with rain, and thinking, "No, thanks, no swimming today," but then I pulled myself up by my wet bootstraps and said, "We cannot be defeated by the occasional deluge. We must press forward into... more water." So I picked Avery up at school, stopped for an absolutely necessary gingerbread man, and came home so she could do her homework and I could underchef dinner: the ultimate in prep so you can swim until the last POSSIBLE moment.

Quick Leftover Stir-Fry with Fried Rice
(serves 4)

2 leftover grilled pork shops (or steaks, or chicken breasts, or lamb chops)
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 thumb-sized knob ginger, peeled and minced
2 tbsps sesame oil
2 tbsps soy sauce
1 tbsp peanut (groundnut) oil
1 package broccolini (tenderstem)
1 package bean sprouts
1 package ready-cooked (Amoy is the brand I use) fine noodles

1 cup jasmine or basmati rice
1 1/2 cups water
3 eggs, beaten
1 tbsp soy sauce

So while your child does her homework, slice the chops or whatever leftover meat fairly thin. Put in a medium shallow bowl and add the garlic, ginger, sesame oil and soy sauce. Marinate in the fridge while you swim.

Cook the rice and set aside. Leave the eggs, beaten, in the fridge.

When you come home, heat up a large skillet and add the peanut oil. Fry the tenderstem broccolini under nicely tender, and place in a large serving bowl. Now throw the meat in its marinade in the same skillet and fry until warm, then add the sprouts and noodles until well-mixed and hot. Take out with tongs and place in same large serving bowl with broccolini.

Now heat the liquid in the skillet and scramble the eggs in it. When finished, throw in the rice and toss well to mix thoroughly, adding the soy sauce.

Lovely, and it cost about 8 pounds altogether and didn't take much effort (although the cleanup can be annoying, given how easy it was to cook! but be brave and persevere).


Swimming. The whole experience underscored how cozy and happy I find our new lives. We walked over in the gathering twilight, passing our local estate agents who demanded what we were having for dinner and averred that they thought of us for a house to buy "every afternoon when we see you walking by," crossed the local green where we kicked up fallen leaves and discussed the day's lunch (steak and mushroom pie in puff pastry for heaven's sake), and the RE subject (don't know why, Saul sounds pretty interesting to me but I can't convince Avery). We arrived at the pool and signed in, our glasses immediately steaming up, and through the haze I recognized Avery's friend Emily, reading on a bench. "I'm only here because my mother has this introduction thing! But now I can stay with you and swim." And there was her mother, happy to do her grocery shopping without her beloved child, happy to reminisce over our dinner party...

So in we went. Warm water, glass panels in the ceiling! Gorgeous to trail about on my back, looking up at leaves blowing, the sky gradually turning dark. I did the three dives I plan to do every time I get a chance until I turn my toes up: the pike, the back dive and the inward. If I discover I cannot do them I will turn in my card, someday. We had a glorious, lovely time, sharing the pool with just a handful of leisurely lap-swimmers. "Mummy!" Emily called to me, and then covered her mouth with hand in embarrassment. "I mean..." "That's OK, Avery's friends usually call me "Avery's mom," I said. She decided upon, "Mummy and a half" for the duration of our swim. "Mummy and a half, watch my dive."

Finally we dried off and emerged to cross the green again. "It's all sparkly!" Avery said. "I'm never out and about when it's dark and wet and sparkly like this!" We stopped at the local wine store for a bottle of Calvados on this dark and windswept night, and the proprietor let me speak French with him! "What do you do?" he asked in French, and I learned the phrase "livre de recettes," for cookery book. Home for our stirfry, feeling virtuous and happy, if hair-challenged. I cannot believe I carried on a conversation with a Frenchman given the scary reflection I caught in the hall mirror as I came home. Oh dear.

So September has been... let's see... full! Rosh Hashanah to all our friends at home, especially Alyssa, around whose table I might be sitting, enjoying matzoh ball soup, were I still living in Tribeca... September has seen Avery accustom herself to a new school, me try to learn the names of her friends and teachers through elliptical but revealing tales after school, we've solved Lord Peter Wimsey's skin disorder (tomorrow will find me back at the vet for a cortisone top-up). We've settled into our new house, firmly welcomed our new neighbors as friends, got to know our local merchants to the degree that one order the Financial Times just for John, our waitress at the corner cafe didn't mind not being tipped after brunch because we came straight back! Our garden seems to welcome us this new season, with bright-orange berries on one bush and bright-orange leaves on another.

And I've been giving more thought, in this last month before the final decision, to the election. I'm no political junkie, for sure. Much more likely to find myself thinking of lentils then landslides, potatoes than polls! But I have come with a few general observations that I think will suffice for me: I prefer diplomatic dove to enemy-counting hawk, I prefer articulate, can't-find-a-soundbite to repetitive memorable epithets, and I prefer what may turn out to be dignified, gentle defeat to angry, finger-pointing victory. I prefer open, vulnerable curiosity to closed, "I already know everything I need to know" security. I don't like anger. And I don't like people looking for a fight, or thinking what fight might come ahead of what other fight. I like the idea of people being open to talking to anyone, absolutely anyone, over the idea of making lists of who and what is open to being talked to or about. So I admit I don't have much in the way of concrete numbers or facts, but like Abraham Lincoln said, "it's the kind of thing you like, if you like that kind of thing." And I know it when I see it.

So let the last month before the election spin itself out... today I made my train reservations for my food writing week! It's inevitable now. Check your fridge for some leftovers, haul out those sprouts and... go swimming.

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