03 June, 2009

girlfriends, girlfriends

Dinner tonight: a masterpiece of necessity and duty. Sigh. Cleaned out freezer and thawed some salmon: check. Used up the lemon sole in the fridge: check. Resurrected some slightly iffy beetroots and roasted them till they were caramelly and ready for a balsamic vinegar glaze: check. Applesauce for Avery to accompany the potato pancakes, using up two elderly apples: check.

Edible, yes. Credit crunchy, yes. Inspiring? Sorry, no. I'm ashamed to say it, but it's true. I suppose there are cooks out there, mothers and fathers out there, who never serve an uninspired meal that gets eaten without noticeable enthusiasm in about 11 minutes. But I cannot reach such heights.

Ah well, last night was more than inspired (maybe I used up my quota). My darling friend Foxi Rosie fulfilled her promise to visit us from Dorset and appeared last night like a fairy godmother, bearing stuffed Medjool dates, fabulous wine, and a veritable treasure trove of cheeses from Harrods: oh my! We fed her creamy red pepper soup with a pesto-creme fraiche drizzle, pierrade of sirloin and duck, a crunchy homemade pizza crust with olive oil and garlic, fresh Wye Valley asparagus roasted with rapeseed oil, and a summer fruits salad. We ate outside in the fresh summery air with candles and loads of laughter, jokes from our writing seminar in Devon and the resulting reunion in Hereford! Silliness from Avery with a demented IQ test, John's stories about Goldman interviews and crazy business trip adventures. The more time I spend with Rosie the more I recognize one fundamental fact: the laughter follows her. From room to room, from weekend to weekend, from email to email. She is one of life's givers, one of the truly generous. How lucky we are to have her in our lives!

We sat under a nearly full moon, reminding me of the time when I first met her, in Devon in October, in that weather that we all love so much: whether early autumn or early summer. Fresh evening air, encouraging us to stay out of doors as long as we can, lingering over candles and conversation.

Here is Rosie in a nutshell. She looked at the platters of sirloin and duck that I had prepared, admittedly a bit of an obsessive-compulsive activity, requiring as it does complete trimming of all meat to absolute perfection, since the bites have nothing to hide behind: they are just on their own, grilled alone. "Who on earth prepared all this, Kristen, did you ask your butcher to do it?" "No, of course, I did it myself," I said, smiling, and how did she respond? Not with "oh, what a pain," or "how on earth long did it take you to do?" No, Rosie said gently, "It's about the giving, isn't it?" One cannot invent an attitude like that; it flows from her heart. I think often about what a wonderful quality this would be in a parent: no resentment, no calculating how much has been done and for whom. Just generosity. Her lucky daughter!

It was lucky I had something to aspire to, because our dinner with Rosie came on the heels of my miserable visit to the vet with poor, neurotic, itchy Wimsey. I had hoped his need for monthly injections of cortisone (and their attendant enormous bills!) had been outgrown, but no, he's got crazier and crazier in the last weeks or so. So off I went, stuffing him in his carrier and throwing its strap over my long-suffering shoulder. As enormous as he is, his cries are particularly heart-rending: high-pitched and repetitive, so every person who passed me on the pavement gave me a dirty look. We arrived, he had his injection, I paid up. In the waiting room was a lady with a little girl by the hand, ready to take their young dog home. "I feel so guilty," the mother said. "Castration; it's so invasive, isn't it?" The vet's assistant said imperturbably, "It's much less invasive than female castration, that's certain." The mother asked, "When can we expect him to feel less... desire?" "It really depends on the animal," said the assistant, refusing to be drawn, and the mother caved. "I'll be in with my husband, soon."

Let's see: a bit of a food update: the tuna I told you about, with the complex marinade? EVEN BETTER COLD. Such a surprise. I myself do not go crazy over leftover cold salmon. I eat it under duress, a sort of "don't want to waste it, don't want to overcook it by reheating" pressure. But the tuna? I would gladly make it next time only to CHILL it for serving. Something to think about.

I'm hugely proud of my main accomplishment this week, other than merely the business of living: I finally got caught up on putting all the last year's photos into albums. I just know, or can only hope, that a visit from John's mother is in the offing, and one of the dear lady's favorite early-morning games is to sit on the floor with a cup of coffee and go through photo albums. Let no one, NO ONE, take a photo between now and her next visit! I am CAUGHT UP. Here's a moral conundrum: why do I feel so much more guilty over NOT doing it than I feel satisfied with HAVING done it? That's a character flaw, I'm sure.

What would I, indeed, do without my girlfriends? I would have thought that with John home fulltime I didn't need them so much, but that's far from the truth. As he's closeted with the mysterious business of our finances for staying here, our taxes in both countries, our investments and other issues of which I know sorely little, I do find that my sweet friends make for enormous fun, great sounding boards for recipe and chapter ideas, huge comfort in those moments when one's handling of one's child is a matter of concern and confusion.

Tomorrow I shall take a tube to Victoria station, there to meet up with my friend Jo from Oxford, thence to board a train for Dulwich, to spend some time with dear Walter Sickert at the art gallery there. I know we will have a marvellous time, but even more to the point, I'll have time with Jo, a person of boundless good energy, a laugh that is always ready to erupt, and endless time to listen to whatever ails me. It's a nice reciprocity, Jo and me: never judgmental, always intrigued by the choices, the messiness, the myriad confusion of adult life, no matter how much time we spend at being adults. And she tries my recipes! Bless her.

Yesterday I went to pick up Avery at school and there was her friend Emily, ready to walk home with us. The whole pickup routine, on which I dote so pathetically, is a bit of a charade these days. Something tells me that two girls who can walk TO school on their own are probably perfectly capable of walking FROM school on their own, but that crowning moment of 3:20, 3:30, 4 p.m., whatever it is at a particular school, is so ingrained in me by now that I can't quite let it go. yet. So it was that I turned up yesterday, heard a bit of perfectly justifiable moaning about whatever evil exams had taken place on that day, and then we saw Emily's mother Annie, gesturing from across the road. "Want a ride?"

We jumped in (an orange Mini just like ours, only coolly, authentically vintage) and crawled away through traffic. Through it all, I told her about John's experience at the Bursary dinner the night before. Bursaries, in England, are as scholarships in America: money for economically disadvantaged school children. We had hoped to contribute. "Guess how much they wanted us to give?" I asked rhetorically, and Annie put her hand over her mouth, at the red light. "I knew it..." "A girl's entire tuition for the whole SEVEN YEARS of her education!" I squealed. "And did John say, 'We're already doing that, for our own daughter'?" she asked, laughing. "Pretty much."

How on earth could anyone donate so much? But it's certainly food for thought, how to contribute what we can, to give another girl the opportunity Avery has at this marvellous school. Having a laugh with Annie, and the girls, in the tiny confines of that beloved car, made me smile.

Then today with Sara, Avery's friend Mellie's mum, who was taking her turn at the school swimming pool to sit at reception. It's such a cozy task: you get to greet all the girls as they come in, and more often than girls, the Old Girls from the school and all their relations, each of whom, believe it or not, has a life pass to the pool as long as the child actually graduates from the school. I couldn't resist sitting for far too long with Sara, when I meant just to drop Avery and Emily off. Sara has four girls under 12, and as such is surprised by, flummoxed by, nothing. And everything. She's a hilarious combination, or contradiction, of complete competence and a joyful acceptance of how much she cannot, simply cannot, get done. "I was just in the middle of remembering that I had forgotten the Fifth Year mothers' tea for Izzy, when I got a call asking me how Reception Duty had gone at Henny's school, which I'd also forgotten!" And yet her daughter in Avery's year, Mellie, is a paragon of delightfulness, responsibility, maturity. As you'd have to be, the eldest of four. I'll never forget their tiniest sleeping on a pile of coats, at the Christmas Fair, under my feet.

Sara and I gossiped about the class, the school, and she was full of career advice for me. "Why not hire yourself out planning family menus, a month at a time? With lists of ingredients, and suggestions for vegetarian options? Why not hire yourself out cooking brunches for eight?" I suppose the energy that gets you four daughters also translates into all sorts of other energy! She makes me laugh. I had to drag myself away to prepare my boring dinner, I can tell you.

And how about the joys of family? My dear parents, and musical brother, have conspired to bring my childhood back to me. An enormously heavy box of my piano sheet music has arrived, bringing back countless dear memories to me. How my mother played: Chopin, Schumann, Rachmaninoff. How my father played, every song with the cadence of a church hymn. My brother's effortless, genetic genius. I was nothing but a dedicated practicer, but I did practice. And now looking through the music: "Show Tunes From Today's Favorites" ("today" being 1973), I'm visited with an enormous nostalgia. How I adored being able to play the theme from "Brian's Song" (sob), or "Auntie Mame" (wasn't that Barbra Streisand?). I can picture the books, in their original home under the velvet-covered piano stool. Now they are here in my London kitchen and I am having the time of my life, taking a moment while pasta is boiling or Avery's at a break studying French verbs with me, to play a piece or two. Thanks, you guys at home. What a treat.

Tomorrow will bring a new adventure: dear friends have given us ballet tickets to the Royal Opera House, and we're sending Avery alone with her friend Lille, who has actually danced there, to attend, just the two of them. Lille's mother has arranged a plate of sandwiches at the bar, for them to munch on during the interval. We must figure out where to meet, when. Perhaps give them a mobile phone to check in? I'm a bit nervous, but these sorts of milestones need to happen. I'll let you know how it goes...


Foxi Rosie said...

Wow... you sure know how to make a girl feel special... I was choked up Kristen by your generous words and observations.

My short time spent in your lovely home with a near perfect husband and child to match and share that sublime meal, was indeed a joy to behold... Oh and I forgot the cats and the magic sleeping bed...

Thank you for a perfect time... and thank you for arranging for Stephen P to move in around the corner from you for the duration of my stay!!! Are there no limits to you endless hospitality and pleasing your guests?

Kristen In London said...

Oh, I hoped Stephen would be available in time for your visit... next time give me a month's notice and I'll get Andrew Davies!

missing you, Rosie...