31 July, 2009

days of sunshine, food, family and tennis

We've had the most peaceful days. Long, lazy, sunshiny afternoons with us all stretched out in the Adirondack chairs, books piled up on the deep arms, feet up on the crazy crooked footstools, endless glasses of sweating ice water or tea, all of us interrupted in our reading by the appearance of Gary the Groundhog twirling peach pits or cherries between his little black paws from the pile of rejected fruit I keep rotating in his lunch spot. John accuses me of deliberately buying "off" fruit so it gets to Gary sooner, but that's just calumny of the most callous. How can I offer moldy canteloupe to my human child? Or the contents of a box of raspberries whose best-by date was clearly over-optimistic and misleading? Two words: I can't. So Gary gets them. And we all sit, enthralled and unmoving, to watch his feast. I have to tell my mother: he violates the sacred rule of our childhood dinner table: he eats with his mouth open.

The afternoons are punctuated by Avery's trampoline games: "Veronica, Veronica, Betty! Betty!", based on her obsessive summer reading of Archie comics, while I sit dozing, looking at birds darting between the eaves under the barn roof, to the steel bands on the silo: probably more bugs that our Terminix contract is not getting rid of.

We've had the most glorious dinners: pork tenderloins marinated in rosemary, garlic and lime juice, grilled on the barbecue and served with creamed cheesy spinach and a warm salad of cannellini beans with more rosemary and watercress. And ice-cold shrimp salad with red peppers and celery and a hint of Tabasco and Worcestershire sauce, and tonight's glory, Avery's absolute favorite: penne with a creamy tomato sauce of ricotta and pinenuts, tossed with steamed broccoli. You can find any of these dishes, of course, by typing them into the search box at the top of the blog. SOMEDAY I will figure out an index. Suggestions for such a building project always gratefully accepted!

Yesterday afternoon was a mixed bag: the delight of a visit from Shelley, bearing gifts of homegrown herbs (chocolate mint! who knew), stacks of books by my neighbor's grandmother, Gladys Taber, and an inspirational book I'll report on when I've read it, that Shelley claims in her infinite generosity reminds her of my writing... I can take all the inspiration and encouragement I can get, so I am open. But the pleasure of our lunch with Shelley was tempered with the reason for her arrival: to take Hastings back home. He had a good time, I think, at Camp Avery: catnip, baby food, chin-stroking games, late night cuddles with Avery. But he was ready to go home. We sat out at the picnic table over a sandwich lunch, listening to his plaintive cries in the kitchen, "Invite me out!" They drove away in a pattering rain, and Shelley reported later that it was quite the wild weather ride. How kind she was to share him with us, this summer.

Last night found us at Jill and Joel's house for his command performance of spaghetti bolognese. That's one of the dishes of the world that appears in a thousand different guises: mine with a beginning mirepoix of carrots, onions and celery, with whole milk and cheese and meatloaf mix, and white wine. Joel's is just as delicious but completely different, based on a sausage chock ful of fennel seeds, and loads of chopped tomatoes. Simply divine. Almost as delicious are their two lovely sprites Jane and Molly, Molly still trading on her baby cheeks and flailing feet, not so talkative as her big sister who is frankly... never silent. Jane runs on however many cylinders as the race cars she so adores, dancing, jumping, singing along to the CD compiled by her teachers of all her fellow students' favorite songs, and she has a flawless memory of whose favorite song was whose, what comes next, when hers will appear... she relates all this to us while skidding along the hardwood floors, falling on her already-massively-bruised shins, shouting, "I'm OK!" before anyone can ask. Molly looks on all these proceedings with an adoring, uncritical eye. Avery adds her teenage skepticism mixed with her love for her cousin, admiring her energy, from the far, far distance of adolescence.

As you can see, our days have been further enlivened by our continuing passion for tennis! And for Rosemary's passion for recording everything her loved ones do, on film (or I should say now, the digital version thereof). Doesn't John look like Andy Roddick, only handsome? I can't get over this photograph! He has been so generous in his tennis game with me, suspending his normally overwhelming competitive streak to have, as he put it, "some fun." Our game is nothing if not generous: we use the WHOLE court, not content to restrict ourselves to those silly white lines that other people seem to find limiting! "How far can John run?" is a constant refrain. He suggests that at some point I should learn to anticipate where his ball will land, based on his racquet action, and that, FURTHER, I might learn to anticipate where MY ball will land based on how I hit it. I have to smile indulgently at all this. John: I can barely HIT the thing. I have no strategy whatever. I get sweatier and redder in the face, my hair escapes from its ponytail, I chase more and more balls as I miss them and they roll under the fence. Not to worry: if all this produces this gorgeous image of my athletic husband, as well as increasing our heart rates, it's worth it.

And the reward was: a perfectly delectable new soup. Now, I have to aver that this is s story similar to my Easter suggestion for ham and bean soup. In order to get the result I did, you must begin with an entirely separate dish: at Easter, the preliminary baked ham. For this black bean soup, you must begin with a mixed pierrade (that fabulous dish of thin-sliced mixed meats cooked on a hot stone), and simmer all the scraps you trim from the meat for an hour or so, with plenty of salt. Then refrigerate the stock overnight, skim off the fat (there will be loads), and use the stock for the soup. Trust me, this sequence of dishes is more than worth it, and you avoid all the guilt of throwing away those precious trimmings of duck, veal and sirloin.

The Ultimate Black Bean Soup
(serves 4)

16-ounces black beans, rinsed
2 tbsps pierrade fat or butter or olive oil
1 cup each: chopped carrots, chopped celery, chopped white onion
4 cloves garlic, chopped
1 tsp dried thyme, or 1 tbsp fresh thyme leaves
4 cups pierrade or other beef stock
dash Tabasco sauce
several sprinkles dried chilli flakes

to garnish:
sour cream
cilantro (coriander in UK) leaves

Melt the fat or butter or heat the oil in a heavy saucepan. Saute the carrots, celery and onion and garlic till soft, then all the black beans and thyme, and pour the stock over. Add the Tabasco and chilli flakes and simmer for about a half an hour. Puree with a hand blender, or puree in a Cuisinart if you want a smoother soup. We liked ours fairly chunky. Garnish with the sour cream and cilantro. This soup is WONDERFUL hot, room temperature or cold, although John (who got the cold leftovers) reports it was more like a dip, and would have been lovely with tortilla chips. You go for it.


Tomorrow will bring a visit (in the blinding rain, we fear from weather reports) from John's (and my) dear friends Olimpia and Tony, whose massive feasts for us are such happy memories from our times at home. But tomorrow they come to us. And they will feast, I hope. In preparation, today Rosemary and I had had that summer experience that's part indoor cooking, part free facial: slaving over steaming pots, hot oven doors, sinks full of boiling water: interspersed with folding laundry in the laundry room that's like a sauna! Here's why: after many powerless afternoons and evenings, we've learned the hard way: we cannot run the air conditioning at the same that any of the following run: the washer, dryer, dishwasher or television. There you have it, summer at Red Gate Farm: no multi-tasking in comfort! So we worked all afternoon, having a ball I must say, and then late evening: off went all the other appliances and ON went the AC. Not a moment too soon. But I confess selfishly: an afternoon with Rosemary all to myself, chatting, chopping, washing and drying, helping Avery make her first blueberry pie, discussing what we're reading, it's heaven to me, and I was grateful. An afternoon to cherish.

Right, the itching from poison ivy is fading as are the angry red patches, the air is cool and my book beckons. Enjoy your weekend, and... make that black bean soup. I wouldn't lie to you.


A Work in Progress said...

Can life really be so pleasant? It is actually painful for me to read your posts, so heavy with elegance, tranquility, love as they are. I wonder how you turn all that from a blog into a book.

Shelley said...

I read this and all I can do is sigh.

Be careful Kristen...you'll have us all packing for the lush green of rural Connecticut.

Kristen In London said...

Oh, my friends, how lovely to know the post resonated... yes, indeed, how to turn the blog into a book. I think about it ALL the time, to be honest. I read the blog myself to be comforted. It's a funny journey, and a long distance, from real life to blog. There's a relationship, but it's not literal, if that makes sense... thank you for READING.

min said...

Your explanation makes total sense. I read to be whisked away from the mundane. Writers like you help me appreciate the glories of a luscious bite, the green green grass and blue blue sky, and the restorative powers of a good meal with friends and family. Your blogging is leading you somewhere onn your wrting path--just look at the evidence with your wonderful news of a post transforming into a magazing article. I hope you keep on blogging--your posts are like a comforting cup of tea. By the way, we just returned from Ireland where I purchased "rocket". Never a huge fan of arugala here in the US I was always intrigued by your description of its "spicey" flavor in the UK. I absolutely loved it with a simple vinagrette dressing my husband whipped up. Do you know why it tastes so different there? Have you found the equivalent in CT?

Kristen In London said...

Min, I'm so happy to read your comment. I too hope that my blog will lead somewhere, more than just self-expression, which is nothing I should describe as "just," it's central to life, isn't it?

Sorry to say: arugula here in CT is just NOTHING. We still buy it, but I shouldn't. Where is the flavor? I'm glad you sampled it in Ireland.

Thank you as always for your support.