26 July, 2009

The itchy and scratchy show (plus more friends)

How odd to think that a month from today we'll be tooling down an unknown road from London to Cornwall, to stay with our lovely Annie and her family? A different universe, quite apart from its being a different continent and time zone... simply impossible to believe the two worlds belong to the same lives. But they do, and they will. In the meantime...

Say: did you know that your local pharmacy may have a Nurse Practitioner to consult should your trip there to buy toothpaste end up in being diagnosed with a massive case of Poison Ivy? Well, now we know. John's been suffering for several days from itching scratches on his forearms, swollen, hot and miserable. I've had the very same, mysteriously, on my abdomen, which I didn't want to tell anybody. Then, sadly, the rash moved to my face, so it was unavoidable. How we itch! How hot it is, how miserable when sweating from playing tennis in the sunshine. So tonight we were looked at by a lovely Italian girl sporting an impressive diamond engagement ring ("I'm getting married next July!") who confirmed poison ivy. So in short, the gorgeously revealed stone wall that Rosemary and John slaved away on over the weekend (and I, unfortunately, pitched in to help just long enough to get infected), was not worth the trouble. I'd rather have a wall covered with ivy and not have touched any of it with my face.

So that was our evening tonight. Plus, would you believe that we had decided to go out for pizza, to give me a break (not really needed) from cooking, but the pizza place was, quixotically, closed on Mondays (perhaps they're owned by the same people who own the bakery that's closed on Mondays). So we ended up desperately at Denmo's, for fried food. Which would have been fine, except all the fried food ended up closed up in the car while our brief pharmacy trip turned into a full-blown Visit To The Doctor. Let me tell you, you haven't lived till you've opened up a car in 90-degree weather that's been filled with fried clams and shrimps for half an hour. Arrgh! And there is nothing, repeat, NOTHING to recommend fried food that's been closed up and turned to approximately the texture of damp paper towels. Tomorrow night's barbecued pork tenderloin and warm salad of cannellini beans with rosemary and garlic is sounding better and better.

Anyway, we came home to down all the pills the lady gave us, and to eat our awful dinner and to wait, now I'm watching the clock, for the medicine to work. Heat makes it worse, I find, and it's HOT. I hate to think back to our tennis game this morning, sweating like crazy in the blazing sun. No tennis tomorrow unless I feel a LOT better than I do right now.

Could I whine any more? I do apologize for my mood. It will pass. But our AC is broken! Another project for tomorrow. Once I make the moral decision to turn on the air conditioning, I hate being stymied.

I think I'll feel better if I think back to last Thursday when I got to introduce two of my favorite friends: Becky and Shelley. And very exciting: Shelley brought along the feline friend we gave her last summer, and who Avery has never forgotten: Captain Hastings. He hasn't changed a bit, except for having grown even more than Avery has (she comes in at four inches and untold pounds, in a year). But I'm getting ahead of myself.

The day itself dawned as looking particularly satisfying: the prospect of cooking all afternoon, after a good sweaty tennis game, watching the skies as the storms gathered: my recipe for happiness. The menu: a corn chowder with cream and fresh chives, then a grilled chicken satay dish on a bed of rocket/arugula.

The soup is simplicity itself:

Corn Chowder
(serves 8 with leftovers, and it's BETTER cold!)

3 tbsps butter
12 ears corn, cut off raw
6 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
4 shallots, roughly choppped
6 cups chicken broth or stock
1 cup heavy cream
white pepper to taste
handful chives, roughly chopped

Simply melt the butter and throw in the corn, garlic and shallots and sweat till translucent and the corn is warmed through. Add the stock and bring to a high simmer for 15 minutes, then blend with a hand blender till as much of the corn as possible is pureed. Pass into another stockpot through a large-hole sieve, then in a Cuisinart blend what's left behind in the sieve with some milk to get as much as possible fine enough to go through the sieve. Reduce the soup slightly by cooking over a low heat for a half hour or so. Add cream and pepper and take off the heat. Just before serving, heat again, and top each bowl with a sprinkle of chives.


Just as I finished this, and Rosemary put together the satay sauce (but I won't report on my recipe because it wasn't completely successful, another version will follow), several things happened all at once: John realized it was time to take Avery to riding, the rain began to fall, and... the power went out. "Well, dinner's cooked!" Rosemary laughed, and since it was true, I waved them off to Avery's lesson and drifted idly through the house in the gathering rainy dusk, lighting candles, setting the table, stirring the soup, and indulging in a quiet hour of thinking about my family, my friends, scattered to the four winds, but soon to be gathered around my table, to be fed, to meet each other, laugh and feel cherished, I hoped. I sat for a moment in the front doorway with a book and a cocktail, being lightly sprinkled with rain, gazing out past Avery's tree swing (marked with her name, but hardly readable anymore), to the meadow where turkeys and deer stroll, to the trees beyond which become so incandescently colorful in the fall. The breeze blew raindrops onto my book and I closed my eyes to feel it on my face, and was happy.

First came Becky, laden with shopping bags in the rain. Figs for Rosemary! A fruit tart and chocolate tart for us, tiny pains au chocolat and shortbreads for Avery, a book for me, a sweater Avery had left behind. In short, her usual bounty, and offered all with her inimitable Becky smile of total generosity, fun-loving and waiting for the next adventure. And it didn't take long: the rain was really pelting down in a gray curtain of wind and fury when Erik and Shelley arrived with... Hastings!

Our dear foster kitten from last summer, the tiniest little fellow you can imagine: now he's long, and sleek and impressive! But with the same tiny screaming wail he emitted as a little boy. Shelley smiled on us gently as she always does, with her quiet air of enjoyment, tinged this time with her anticipation of missing the little guy when she left him behind. Erik as always stands behind her, if not literally, metaphorically, protecting and shielding her, seeming to surround her with support and love. What a joy to see them again. And then in an instant, I saw our car pull up in the driveway and there, through the driving rain, in flew Rosemary, John, crying, "We're soaked and smelling of horses! Beware!" and then Avery, racing to change her clothes (yes, the horsey ones stayed on her bedroom rug till I found them later, her ONLY flaw!) and to take charge of her boy. The reunion between girl and cat was quite wonderful.

The drama! The windy rain, the dark gray skies, the warm light within (the power had come back on!), the soup bubbling and the cat dashing here and there... Becky and Shelley took to each other as I knew they would: two gentle, generous souls with nevertheless a slightly skewed sense of humor or else they wouldn't have any time for me! How I have come up so lucky with my friends, and lord knows with my mother-in-law, I cannot begin to say. But I take not a moment for granted.

We gathered around the table for dinner, trading crazy stories about travels, our children, our pets, favorite foods, family trials and tribulations. The old brass church candle stand given to us years ago by my friend Livia flickered over us all, as moths kamikazied into them... Finally it was time for Becky to run away, to meet her daughter home from Guatemala, for Shelley and Erik to brave the highway, for Hastings to settle in to his week away from home, heaven for Avery. How dear of them to share him with us, how we appreciate it. A gorgeous evening.

How heart-wrenching to say goodbye to Becky, for who knows how long. But we have always overcome these separations in the past, and the same will hold for the future, with a couple of extra added plane flights to be sure. We hugged an extra couple of times, each hug encompassing for me so much history and love.

Well, I'll close tonight (and just concentrate on itching) with my recommendation of a new blog: it's Avery's blog, and it's dedicated to desserts! Well-written, erudite, a special blend of friendship and sweet things: give it a try and contribute your desserts to her effort! Lord knows with her sweet-tooth-challenged mother, she needs all the help she can get! You go, Avery. Well done.


Shelley said...

Oh to think that our mutually owned/loved/cared for Little Mister is now a full-fledged icon with no less than celebrity status!! Ah, how time flits away.

What a sublime journal entry. Of course Little Mister's presense makes it perfect (smiling) but in truth my dear you, your family and Becky made that evening such a memorable one for Erik and me...one that will be tucked away with my happy memories.

But poison ivy!! Yikes!!

Kristen In London said...

What a wonderful evening it was to be sure... and we're feeling MUCH less itchy! Where has prednazone been all my life? Although truth be told, I haven't have poison ivy in about 30 years, so I can't complain...