21 March, 2009

Three Days of Rain (and Cats in Chimneys Part Two)

I think the crush is revived. Rejunvenated, brought back to life like when you soak dried le Puy lentils overnight and suddenly they're all plump and inviting! Actually, it's probably exactly that sort of metaphor that kills a crush. No sexy actor in his twenties wants to be compared to a lentil, not even the expensive ones from le Puy, France that keep their shape in a stew. But more on James McAvoy later. Oh, to see him in person! It was thrilling.

Life has been slightly frenetic lately, owing on the one hand to a heavy but exciting load of writing, worked into my normal life schedule. Betty Crocker, anyone? Bundt cakes? My grandmother's life as a haberdasher in postwar Wisconsin? These things occupy my mind, or what's left of it after Avery and Emily finish their hysterical rendition of "Had a Bad Day" in the style of Alvin and the Chipmunks (Emily's new cellphone ringtone, if you have to ask), and the builders frighten Keechie into the chimney with their ladders and drills. She emerged hours later, as you see, none the worse for wear.

All these things make for a lovely daily life, punctuated by the most divine six-hour-braised shoulder of lamb with (see, you knew I'd come to it) le Puy lentils and garlic. I'm not joking here. Garlic. It's amazing how much one 12-year-old child can put away. The lamb was a mere accompaniment.

Six-Hour-Braised Shoulder of Lamb with le Puy Lentils, Rosemary Pesto and Garlic
(serves four with leftovers)

1 2-kg shoulder of Welsh lamb
4 heads garlic, one minced, the others whole with tops cut off
3 tbsps pesto
leaves of 2 stalks rosemary
1 cup le Puy lentils, dried

Line a roasting dish with aluminum foil (trust me, you will thank me later) and place the shoulder of lamb in it. Run the pesto through the food processor with the rosemary leaves and the minced garlic. Smear the lamb with the pesto and place the three whole garlic cloves upright in the cooking dish. Scatter the lentils all around. Don't worry that they are dried; the lamb juices will cook them.

Cook at 140C, 280F for about six hours, covered with foil. After about three hours, begin basting every half hour or so (only if you're home to do so; obviously you can leave it to cook on its own if need be).

About half an hour before you want to eat, drain all the cooking liquid (leaving the lentils and garlic behind in the dish) from the dish into a fat separator (a very clever implement that looks like a measuring cup, talks like a measuring cup, but actually separates the fat from the good stuff in potential gravy). Pour the good stuff into a little saucepan and discard the fat.

Scoop up all the nicely cooked lentils and hide them under the lamb. Turn up the heat to 220C, 450F and place the lamb, uncovered, back in the oven. Meanwhile, heat the gravy in the saucepan and add just a little flour (depending on the amount of liquid you have, probably you will not want more than a tablespoon) and whisk carefully till flour is dissolved. Remove lamb from oven 15 minutes from serving time, cover with foil and let rest. Let the gravy cook for the time the lamb rests. Serve the lamb sliced thick, with lentils on the side. Scoop the cooked garlic from the cloves and spread on toasted bread.


Now it's hard to know whether to call this "roasting" or "braising." Truth be told, it begins by roasting and then lets out so much juice and fat that somewhere the alchemical magic turns the process into braising. You choose the terminology.

Well, that was Sunday and then all hell broke loose. Meetings all day Monday, party here Monday night. Tuesday more meetings, phone calls, writing, then Avery's "Singing Tea" at school, so beautiful and touching. I want to sit and listen to her sing a capella all night some day. Maybe for Mother's Day. Then a rush to get her to her overnight date and us to... "Madame de Sade" at the Donmar, the third in their series of four (we've now seen the three, don't think I can stomach Jude Law as Hamlet in May).

In point of fact, the only reason we ended up at Sade was because our dear friend Annie turned up the night before with tickets they could not use. And through a complex web of computer-equipment swapping, it was an even deal. But it was an odd, odd performance. Rosamond Pike, as gorgeous as they come, shouted a great deal, in a very wide dress, about Sadism (not surprising). What was surprising was how un-Sadistic it felt, not naughty or wicked at all, not even painful. Judi Dench herself seemed very off. Frances Barber was wonderful, but all too infrequently onstage. In general, sorry to say, while it was beautifully staged, I found it tormenting to listen to. Add to that, about fifteen minutes before the end of the play, the woman in front of me... vomited. Into her pashmina scarf. More than ONCE. I could not believe any of my senses. And believe me when I say ALL my senses were involved in the repulsive experience: I could hear it, see it happening, then sad to say... smell and nearly, well, you know, enough said.

The next few minutes were the longest since, possibly, I was in labor for 18 hours. Why didn't the sick woman bloody leave? But she didn't. She carefully made up her pashmina into a scary little parcel which she inserted into a plastic bag in her handbag, and... simply stayed in her seat. Stinking to high heaven.

Listen to this hilarious story my friend Patricia told me: she was sitting in the interval at "Les Miserables" here in London some years ago and overheard an American lady next to her say to her American companion, "Well, I'm glad we didn't MAKE plans to go to Paris, if the conditions are going to be like THAT!"

Well, after the vomiting incident, I practically had to be dragged out of the house the following evening to see "Three Days of Rain." As so often happens, I was grateful to have the ticket in hand, so I could not change my mind and stay home. I left John and Avery in the kitchen with two pots of boiling fabric dye and several hundred finger-knitted string bracelets (can you say 'school fair'?), and escaped to my first conveyor-belt sushi experience, at Kulu-Kulu in Brewer Street. It is sad that I have got to my advanced age, and dare I say it with a more than passing familiarity with the menu at Nobu (both New York and London), but have never sat myself down at a single seat in a sushi bar and watched the dishes go by. You just help yourself and then when you're finished, you pile up your dishes and the cashier adds up your total from the different patterns of the dishes! Free tea! At first I grabbed a seat between two Japanese people and then thought, "No, I'll never survive," so I moved my stuff to a seat next to two nice English girls and they ran me through the ropes.

My god, I ate. Two plates of yellowtail, two hand rolls of soft-shell crabs (perfectly fresh fish, probably not sustainable, but fantastic, and crunchy tempura to die for). A communal pot of wasabi, a jug of soy sauce, and a host of dishes flying by that I could not identify. I nearly grabbed a plate of what I hoped was tuna in a spicy sauce, but found out just in time it was roe of some kind. No thank you. If it's not caviar I don't want roe, and I don't even like caviar. Shrimp sushi, tuna sashimi, finally a cut roll of something vaguely cucumber and avocado with probably crab stick, and I couldn't eat another bite. There were weird plates of mashed potatoes with spring onions, gorgeous looking shrimp tempura which I will try next time, and salmon sashimi that I just didn't have the appetite for. I said goodbye to my lovely companions, picked up my dishes and paid... 14 quid. A miracle. I cannot wait to go back. Perfect pre-theatre.

And then it was... James. I have never seen him, until last night, live. He was a revelation. Every time his head turned even slightly toward the audience, the blue, blue beacon of his vulnerable, tragic gaze was beamed outward... he did not have to speak. But he did. And those iconic movements, very spare, very balletic, that I've seen on screen, were all there in person. No wasted movements, no accidental gestures. A gorgeous play of family tragedy in what seemed to me a clear copy of the Donald Judd studio/home at Spring and Greene Street, our old stomping grounds in SoHo. The entire cast was creditable with believable-ish American accents, but James... his character haunted by the silence, neglect, genius, torment of his father, the accidental love of the woman he's taken from his partner, the sense of betrayal. If you go, suspend judgment for the first half which, it is true, runs slow. The second half more than makes up for it, and you'll find yourself during the tube ride home asking, "So why...?"

Just lovely. I looked up during MY tube ride home and there was my friend Charlotte, coming home from a dinner in the city. We kicked someone out of the seat next to me and chatted all the way home, feeling grateful, ridiculously, for a fellow walker home through Hammersmith in the dark.

Tonight out AGAIN to Marylebone for a lovely sort of pan-London drinks party for a mixed group of Obama people, banker people, feminist people, arts people. All in all a group I could probably have happily spent several hours with but, alas, I had chosen this evening to teach my child, via mobile phone on the way home in the car, to turn on the oven AND the stove, hence making possible a baked salmon and mashed potato dinner. She was not markedly any more self-confident when we got home than when we left, but I have high hopes. Needed an evening home eating my own food anyway... and we're out AGAIN tomorrow night for a dinner party. This is definitely not a normal week.

The weather has been unbelievably gorgeous for the past week or so: blue skies every day, lovely breezes at night. But being England we know it cannot last and of course the weatherman aids and abets us in this fear. Just listen to this forecast... "It's lovely and blue up there now, but soon, we might have a few spit-spots of rain, look at this rain band, but then it will tend to fizzle out, really almost completely, as we approach lunchtime... to give way to just a sort of patchy cloud." That's the English spirit for you, lovable as always.

I'll end with a sad goodbye to the lovely Natasha Richardson, just my age, leaving behind two little boys and a family who loved her. An extra kiss and hug for everyone you love tonight.


Foxi Rosie said...

You are going to get thousands of hits now Kristen...

Kristen In London said...

wouldn't that be lovely!

Kristen In London said...

my friend Sara promises she'll go with me to see James next time, ANY time! He was worth it.

Kevin said...

Hello Kristen, This is Kevin Alcivar.
I'm Carmens Son. It has been a while =].

Kristen In London said...

KEVIN Kevin! I long to know how you are: how can I reach you, and how is Carmen? Avery is nearly 13! I can't wait to hear how your family are doing... we miss you all so much.

Kevin said...

Kristen, Avery is so big i cant believe it has been so long. Mom is doing good. I'm Currently in the Air force I'm stationed at Minot, ND. I just kinda got settled down its been a lot of movement at transitions i was in Texas For Boot Camp and training if you can call at 603 858 0356 or email at nycityboy89@aol.com
I had asked mom if she had your current address i was intending on writing a letter, but thanks to the wonders in technology i found this site I'd love to hear more on how things are going on how the family is doing it would be great to hear from you.

Kristen In London said...

I've just emailed you, Kevin; it's soo good to be in touch!