22 June, 2009

when the child's away...

Well, Monday is here again and last night saw us at Paddington Station picking up Avery from her weekend in Cornwall: how odd to have a child old enough to go somewhere with other people, to a place we've never ourselves been. We missed her pathetically, wondering all the time where she was and what she was doing. Being my child, much of her very picturesque storytelling involved the food she ate (lamb cooked to perfection, many desserts involving an ingredient I'd never even heard of, called tamarillo), the best ice cream on the face of the earth, mint fudge that she brought back in a hot little bundle providing the sorts of clear fingerprints our burglary coppers could only dream of. And her little orange spotted silk scarf, a recent present from me for no good reason, tied up around a perfect treasure trove of things found at the sea: pottery fragments, little shells and stones with one tiny hole in them, begging for a leather thong or ribbon around the neck. Sea glass, little tantalizing glimpses of the sea. What fun she had. And how we missed her. But she's back. "The AIR, you guys, you would never believe it." I think we're Cornwall-bound pretty soon.

After, that is, our approaching summer at "home." It's funny, now we've approached the summer return three times, it's beginning to take on a pattern. First is patent disbelief that such a place exists: as Avery mocks my saying each summer, "the green of the grass, the red of the barn, the white of the fence, the blue of the sky," but it's all ridiculously true. A picture-postcard snapshot of America, and yet impossibly true. Tennis courts, children on bicycles stirring up the dust on our unpaved country road, bumblebees in the hydrangea tree that every single summer seems to flower too late and I say to anyone who will listen, "Shouldn't that tree have bloomed by now?"

And crayfish in the pond, whose elusive and slightly creepy presence my neighbor Anne assures me means our water is really clean. "Crayfish won't live where the water isn't pristine," she says, which relieves Avery who nevertheless forestalls my parochial fervor with, "Do NOT ask me to drink that water, Mommy!" The tiger lilies will be stretching their random orange blossoms toward the house and road from their little bed in front of the house when we arrive, and the grass will show where it needs seeding, the wall will have lost a few more stones and a few days will pass before we implore Rollie the Farmer from up the road to see if he Knows Someone who might possibly repair the wall. So far this conversation has taken place for about six years running, to very little action.

We'll check to see if the 1967 Land Rover (just a bit younger than me and in far better nick than I am) runs at first shot, and if the VW runs at all. The neighbors will drift by to say hello and remark on how tall Avery has become (she really has), I'll run to the farm stand for tomatoes, sweet corn, peaches, and the black plums that Avery begins to eat right in the car, dripping juice all over the seats, only to swipe it up with a towel wet from the swimming pool.

Ah, so, you can see I've progressed right from the first stage of "we'll never be THERE, THERE doesn't really exist," to imagining all the precious bits of being THERE.

Right now, though, we've got the last straggling bits of the school year to get through (that pesky permission slip for next spring's trip to Pompeii, oops, nearly missed that deadline), a trip to the vet for poor itchy Wimsey, silver polish to buy so my dear cleaning lady can while away the boring day once a week when she's here seeing to our bits and pieces. Several days at Lost Property to fill in for volunteers who can't make it - today saw me dealing with no fewer than 60-ish items from irresponsible girls who strewed everything from tennis racquets (seven) to PE trousers (six pairs) to science block eyewear, lacrosse mouthguards (ick), swimming towels and German homework. Last week was the much-vaunted second-hand PE kit sale and a massive success it was! My dear friend Annie was in charge, and her combination of bright-eyed enthusiasm and subtle sales pitch ("these leggings are really nice under the games skirt on those cold days") was perfect: everything sold out that first day, while I made the rounds at the New Girls' Tea, looking for new volunteers for our esteemed Lost Property.

A singularly awful writing class on Wednesday: fully deserved derision for an old piece I'd submitted for the pure and simple reason that I have not produced anything new for at least two months. But you know what? As dismal as I may find my writing skills (I use that last term loosely) these days, I find they were even worse two years ago. Better in the end not to submit anything at all than to be in the unenviable position of defending, or even not, a piece I know to be s**te. What on earth to do to kickstart my creative impulses, put pen to paper, tap those computer keys?

My parents have successfully celebrated, at my sister's able hands, their 50th wedding anniversary, Back Home in Indiana, and a mighty celebration it was. Special photo albums, cake, flowers, all the right guests. My mother sounded high as a kite on the phone, with my dad sounding capably pleased, taking it all in his stride. We'll redouble our efforts with my mother's birthday in August, to encompass the big milestone. Happy Anniversary, you two!

John and I spent the weekend without Avery mostly with him handling insurance details for our burglary, renting a car for the duration until we leave for the summer, with my handling Avery's school details, doctor, dentist and orthodontist, emergency contact lists, all the detritus that piles up on a desk when I'm not looking! And tennis, which I called what we play, until I began watching... Wimbledon today. Oh my! It's like cooking dinner and then watching the Food Channel. As if!

Speaking of the Food Channel, we threw all our recent diet-ish restrictions (no bread, potatoes, butter) aside on Sunday and went for a lunch to end all lunches, inspired by having seen the chef at Taste of London on Friday. The Blueprint Cafe, the domain of one of my favorite celebrity cooks, Jeremy Lee, is a definite destination south of the river. His food, as he said himself in his cooking demonstration at Taste, is one where "the food looks as if it just... landed on the plate, not these little bits placed here and there." Just so! His dish at the demo was chicken fillets marinated in a GREEN paste made of parsley, thyme, rosemary, garlic, lemon, pepper and loads of mustard, in the blender, then baked. Lovely, and his banter was too, too funny. "Have you lost weight, Jeremy?" the commentator asked, and Jeremy answered without skipping a beat, "Why have a six-pack when you can have the whole keg, I always say!"

So I knew we wanted to go to his restaurant, and off we went, with no Avery to ferry to and from the stable (sob). And what a lunch. Grilled pork liver on skewers with bacon, sage and butter, which we both greedily had although we could have shared. Then John had a HUGE plateful of sweetbreads with black butter and lentils, and I had a whole little grilled mackerel (bone heaven, I'm afraid, but lovely) with a salad of cucumbers with dill and mustard. Everything swimming, rather, in butter and oil and loads of salt, which is, sadly, how I love to eat when I'm indulging myself. The side dish of steamed spinach was a revelation: a hint of garlic, and, the very knowledgeable waiter said in an aside, nutmeg. LOVELY. The table came equipped with a pair of tiny binoculars so we could spy on the boats going by just outside the window.

Why is it that conversation is so much more interesting, one makes so much more effort to be GOOD company, when one is out, eating food cooked by other people? Perhaps it's because one's husband dresses up in a specially swanky shirt, looks gorgeous, is full of funny anecdotes and I had to raise my game. In any case, we felt quite, quite swell and luxurious and happy to be out together. Too much home cooking can make Jill quite a dull girl.

That being said, I can report that the marinated halibut with wasabi and ginger that I described to you last time is quite sublime at home, and sprinkled with a little chopped chillies and lemon grass, and served with a dollop of creme fraiche and a slice of good sourdough bread, is a very good dinner for people who've indulged in a buttery lunch. And that, my friends, will count as a recipe for now, because... it's bedtime, and the vet beckons tomorrow. I've got to get my game face on.

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