04 October, 2008


Well, let's see, there's an unwonted (and dare I say it, an unwanted) amount of chaos going on in our house this weekend. I know I've already plagued you beyond the natural capacity of any blog readers with my ridiculous level of anxiety regarding my impending departure. But I'm freaked! No doubt this very fact is an indication of the necessity of the adventure. I should not be so freaked at the thought of just leaving my household for a week. After all, my husband is an extremely competent person and until July an at-home father. And... until today, an in-London father. No more. Emergency trip to the Middle East this afternoon. So, Plan B for Avery and all should be well. Everyone involved in "Project How to Keep Avery From Falling Through the Cracks" seems perfectly competent and aware of the seminal nature of his or her role in this procedure, so I should not worry.

But I do.

The good news is, I had a very good and far-reaching response from my writing class on Friday (heavens above, was that YESTERDAY?) to my latest chapter, with many suggestions on the format for future chapters, ideas on structure. So I am well-placed for my foodie week next week. And of course what should a nerve-wracked mother do when facing a week away and shooing a husband out the door for an unexpected trip? Have people to lunch, of course. My good friend Dora called to say that her little daughter Emily was having the tour of Avery's new school, and could we possibly feed her something between the tour and her music audition? But of course.

So this morning found me roasting a chicken, slicing tomatoes and mozzarella, sprinkling them with basil, lemon juice and balsamic vinegar, tossing rocket with a nice spicy dressing, arranging a mellow goats cheese, a formidable blue and a runny Brie on a plate with baguette slices... add a bowl of tossed raspberries, blueberries and strawberries with a sprinkle of raw sugar and a splash of Amaretto and you're good to go. The child and her father arrived, looking as if they'd been put through Saturday Night Live's "Chinchilla Ranch" (you remember, where they put in a live chinchilla and out the various spouts come the meat, the fur and the juice?). Needless to say, they fell upon their lunch like persons starved. I added some slices of brasaola to the chicken platter, the cured dried beef being one of Avery's absolute favorite things, and there you go. The father gratefully accepted a glass of white wine, the girl averred that her favorite thing about the school was the dining room (this is why we do not let the little sprouts drive or vote), and all was bliss.

Then we RUSHED off to Avery's acting class, being deprived of the adult member of our household who finds driving without a valid license to be all in a day's work, as opposed to me, who... takes the bus. And a tube. And another tube. And finally a taxi, whose lovely central-casting driver said, "I know, the theatre school, right, love? Just sit back."

Just sit back.

That sounds like good advice. Instead, I have invited Avery's new friend Betsy and her mother to dinner tomorrow night, because Avery said she and the child wanted to work on a drama production for school together and the deadline was coming and I was leaving, and... so here we have it. It's best, anyway, to have guests to cheer us up after John has gone away and before I have gone away. So let me tell you about a lovely recipe that will impress your friends and gain influence and... well, mostly it will be delicious. And not as difficult as it sounds.

Chicken Breasts With Prosciutto, Mozzarella and Tomato, in a Mushroom Sauce
(serves four)

2 tbsps butter
1 tsp Fox Point seasoning (from Penzeys spice company)
4 boneless chicken breast fillets
2 balls mozzarella sliced thick
4 slices prosciutto
12 cherry tomatoes, halved
12 toothpicks
1/2 cup white wine
2 cloves garlic, minced
4 portobello mushrooms
1/2 cup double cream
salt and pepper to taste

Place the butter and the Fox Point seasoning in a large heavy skillet. Slice a pocket into each chicken fillet, taking as much care as you can not to penetrate to the outside of the fillet. Lay a prosciutto slice flat and place two mozzarella slices and three tomatoes (halved) on the prosciutto and roll it up. Stuff it into the chicken fillet as best you can and secure the chicken with toothpicks. Don't fret: if bits are showing, it doesn't matter.

Now, heat the butter and seasoning and when hot, place the toothpicked breasts in the butter. Cook SLOWLY, turning over and over, for at least 20 minutes, checking the texture (it should eventually be stiff to the touch), till cooked THROUGH. When the chicken parcels are cooked, remove to a platter and pour the white wine in the hot skillet. Then simmer the garlic and mushrooms, not letting the garlic burn. As soon as the garlic and mushrooms are slightly soft, add the cream and salt and pepper to taste. Cook down nicely. Add the chicken parcels just before serving to warm. Lovely!


So that will be tomorrow night, with scalloped potatoes and sauteed "every green veg": asparagus, broccolini, sugar snap peas.

The last few days have been overwhelmingly impressive, stimulating, cool. Maybe I need a week in Devon just to cool out from the coolness. Thursday, for example, was the 500th birthday (yes, 500th) of the founder of Avery's school. At a cathedral of stunning importance. Your heart could stop at the grandeur. Thousands of people, parents, siblings, old students from the schools, dignitaries. The Bishop of London, (yes, THE Bishop of London) gave the sermon. My favorite bit? "We are here to celebrate the birth of a man who had the knowledge and wisdom to found your school, 500 years ago. But we are also here to note the relationship between those two ideas: knowledge and wisdom. How can we be sure that the knowledge you will all assuredly gain during your years in these schools will translate, will grow, into wisdom?"

Simply beautiful. When the choir sang, and rose into those high boy-voice parts, I felt very emotional ad other-worldly: how were we ordinary mortals, and Americans besides, to be given a place at this gathering, and what was our quite ordinary child doing being addressed by the Bishop of London about her contributions to the future of the world ("whuld," actually)? Nevertheless, there we all were. When we finally caught up with our child outside, I said, "Aren't you quite overwhelmed by the superlative nature of all this? We are so proud of you," she said, "But it's not like that, I'm just a speck of dust among 700 other specks of dust!" But she couldn't hide her feelings of fun and pride. It was magnificent.

From there I turned to Friday's writing class, and exhausting as the 4-hour thing is, it is well worth the effort. I have to hope I'm ready for this coming week. Home quickly to make sure Avery's skating bag and overnight bag were packed and ready, and off again to pick her up at school... skating and then to see Harold Pinter's "No Man's Land" at the Duke of York... and can I say? Impenetrable... cryptic... I was with three of the smartest people I know and we were all completely flummoxed. And yet we'd revved up our brains with sushi RIGHT in our theatre seats in the desperate fifteen minutes before the play began, from a cute place called Wasabi near St Martin in the Field.

All right, bedtime beckons because tomorrow brings packing, getting Avery to riding, shopping and cooking for our little supper party, and the Last Evening at Home. How much more dramatic can I get? Well, we'll see, after a little professional advice.

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