27 June, 2009
Anyone for Pimms?
Well, the time is approaching to say goodbye to our London life for the summer. I walked Avery this morning up the street to meet a friend, chatting cheerfully all the way about getting to the pool in Connecticut, seeing our old friends, babies grown suddenly into little people, settling into the vacation routine. But once I'd left her and come back on my own, I could only think of all the things I will miss about London!
Part of this feeling is my love for our neighborhood, and how we've settled in like a stone in its setting. On my walk home I passed the house where a little group of elderly people sit on hard chairs in the front window, playing classical music on a whole variety of instruments, some sort of tiny chamber orchestra, the sounds spilling out the open window onto the pavement. Then I passed the garden where a lady grows rhubarb, squashes and tomatoes, with her children's toy farm animals carefully positioned among the plants! There is my beloved friend Annie's little vintage car, which makes me think of her and how we'll all miss each other over the summer months, no more sharing rides to acting class and the stable. Up to Chez Kristoff to get a latte for John and a gorgeous runny St Marcellin cheese for me, to say hello to my friend Alan behind the counter, generous as always, giving me a block of chocolate from the fridge case, saying, "Try this, it's the best ever, and how is French ham in your sandwich instead of salt beef? The beef is gone..."
And the BBC! There is nothing like its presenters and their cheerful, analytic commentary of Wimbledon! Even the zany Americans gain some stature and seriousness sitting next to their British colleagues, over a pitcher of what is probably iced tea, but I'd rather think is Pimms! And I don't even like Pimms, but it's English summertime in a glass, so I have a slight soft spot in my heart for it.
So hard to believe there are only five more days to pick Avery up at school. I have a sinking feeling that next year I may not be so very welcome at the school gates, that she might want to bring herself home from school, or even stay after to do whatever near-teenagers want to do. Next week will bring the crazy energy of the Lost Property Sale, with girls racing in on Preview day for the last chance to retrieve items they seemed perfectly willing to live without for months but NOW, the idea that some other girl might buy them the next day and wear them to school! Horrors! I have spent more hours than I can tell you, writing emails to the Form Teachers and Sports and Drama and Music teachers, wailing plaintively, "Please tell your girls to come and collect their textbooks/pencil cases/violins/tennis rackets before they are all sent to some deserving charity." And further hours on the telephone frantically trying to snag all the best mothers for next year's efforts, to replace the mothers of the girls who are graduating! They are called the "Leavers", which term for some reason cracks me up. It's so... unpoetic, for the English. So cleverly, I have found a place at school that isn't dependent on Avery's being willing to put up with me, next year.
I'll miss my beloved rocket, all summer being forced, if I just can't live without it, to buy bags of enormous leaves of something labelled "arugula," which I know purports to be the same thing, but it ISN'T. It's tough and huge, not the delicate little peppery leaves I'm so addicted to here. And I'll miss running around the corner to The Everything Store, so named because aside from fabric dye and a digital thermometer, the store has EVERYTHING. Basmati rice, Danish salami, French cheese, laundry pellets, baking powder, Orangina, birthday cards, toothpaste. Everything! And I've graduated, over the past week or so, from being treated with scrupulous respect by the lovely Pakistani family who own it, to being called "darling girl." That's when you know you've bought a LOT of everything. Or they're just nice people.
So we're slowly accumulating the piles of things to take away with us: photographs to frame and place about the Connecticut house (mostly of my niece Jane, if truth be told), boxes of Maldon salt without which I cannot cook, torn-out recipes that I'm absolutely sure I'll try once I have loads of time on my hands (but it never feels that way, once I'm there). Novels and cookbooks and biographies that have piled up on my desk and are now destined for summer reading, an English chequebook in case I've forgotten to pay some essential bill and find out only when I'm across the ocean. The vet's number, our neighborhood cat lady's number, and the cleaning lady's number, all gathered together in case something happens to a cat (heaven forfend).
So we're nearly ready. One more acting class and day with the horses for Avery, a lovely barbecue to attend at Annie's house, a dinner party to give, a picnic for the last day of school, and "The Importance of Being Earnest" to see at the Regent's Park outdoor theatre! It's the very favorite play for all of us, and I simply can't wait. One last English celebration, under the stars and wavering plane tree branches, before we're off. And one more fantastic English recipe for you before we go! This might not be the most obviously summery dish, but it is falling-off-the-bone delectable, and it cooks itself. And it makes use of that underrated cut of lamb: the shoulder, who often hangs its head before its racier and much more expensive counterparts like the rack, the chop and the leg. I've changed the recipe slightly to suit our tastes, but I wanted you to know that the version by Tom Aikens at last week's Taste of London was my inspiration. Avery is not keen on balsamic vinegar, so I've substituted chicken stock. I had no French Roscoff onions (do you?!), so I've substituted plain old white onions. And I love red lentils, so they've made a surprise appearance. You'll love it.
Tom Aikens' Eight-Hour Braised Lamb Shoulder with Lentils and Garlic
(serves 4 with lots of leftovers)
1 shoulder of lamb, room temperature
2 heads of garlic, cloves separated and peeled
2 white onions, quartered
2 tsps dried thyme or about one bunch fresh, leaves separated
3 tbsps olive oil
1 cup red lentils
1 cup chicken stock
Set your oven to 180C, 350F. Place the shoulder of lamb in a large, heavy pot with a good heavy lid, and surround it with the garlic cloves and onion. Sprinkle with the thyme, drizzle with the olive oil, and salt and pepper it well. Place it in the oven and roast for 20 minutes. The onions will have colored and the lamb, too. Turn the heat down to 110C, 220F and cook for 90 minutes. Then remove the lamb to your eventual serving platter, and remove the onions and garlic to a bowl. Pour the lentils into the pot, place the lamb over them and pour over the chicken stock. Cover the pot and cook for another 4 1/2 hours.
Remove the lid, turn the oven up to 150C, 300F and cook for a further hour. Remove lamb to your serving platter, pour off the cooking juices as best you can into a gravy separator and discard the fat on the surface. Scoop out the lentils into a bowl and then put the onions and garlic that you've set aside back into the pot. Put them over a medium heat on the stovetop and stir until nice and sticky, about 15 minutes.
The lamb will fall off the bone with the use of spoons, which is lovely. Serve with the lentils, onions and maybe a side of mashed potato.
This dish would be absolutely gorgeous, if you're a fruit-and-meat person, with apples instead of lentils. In that case, the balsamic vinegar is probably a must. Give it a try.
Right, must produce some lunch for us and then get back to... packing. Departure beckons.