24 July, 2009

the revolving door at Red Gate Farm

Sometimes Connecticut is simply too good to be true. This early evening I was driving home from the supermarket (a bag of ice cubes and a tube of cortisone, which tells you that our holiday is full of cocktails and bug bites), and I passed a lawn simply COVERED with wild turkeys. Seven or eight or ten of them, all in a row, but not a mother and babies. More like a business meeting or a book signing. And they were all gathered under... an American flag atop a mailbox, with a red barn in the background. Too, too much.

And little Kate from across the road, lending her "hi!" and "bye-bye" and her china-blue gaze to all endeavors... aren't she and Avery the most beautiful pair?

We've been elevated by our usual summertime social whirl. Rosemary has settled into her guest room without undue ceremony, after arriving late enough to want nothing more than a roast beef sandwich and a look at Avery's school report, which does make awfully nice bedtime reading, I must say. I've stopped short of xeroxing it for ALL family members, but you know who you are. Actually, no one. But I will if you ask.

My point being, Avery simply has thrived at her new school. She is so relieved, she says, to have a summer where she's not anticipating moving, or starting exams, or wondering what school she'll get into, or how it will be. Now she knows all of the above, and can spend her summer in its righteous pursuits like trampolining, thinking about trampolining, and announcing that she is almost ready to begin trampolining.

Our quiet lives were spiced up last week by the arrival for a late lunch of our old, old (yes, they're old) friends Craig and Renee, they of long-ago Tribeca days, our first loft when it was still cool to have a loft in Tribeca. And they were seriously cool: music producers for commercials, so Craig had a sound-proofed room (or do I just hope so, after some particularly amorous encounter with him at a dinner party?! Renee would kill me and then ask questions later), their son Ben was high-school cool, they even had a cool dog, a boxer called Oscar who Avery called "Okker" and heartily feared after getting stuck in the elevator with him, her face just at the level of his mouth.

Renee swears now that her first introduction to me involved her admiring my stainless-steel countertops, when she said, "So convenient for either cooking or gynecological exams," which I wish I remembered, but since I had Avery hanging from my chest in a Baby Bjorn, I must have been distracted. But for sure, everything Renee and Craig ever said was filed, in my mind, under "how I wish I'd said that," and I simply decided to have them around as much as possible to absorb the coolness.

We screamed with laughter the whole of their lunchtime visit, to the point that I worried a bit about Kate's naptime across the road! It isn't just the jokes or the one-liners, it's the constant sparkle of fun in Renee's eyes, which sparkle anyway just on their own, and Craig's adoring (yes, it's true) audience for her zany sense of humor... and then, just when you least expect it, he pulls out his iPhone to take a little video of us all together, "This is Kristen, and she cooked this food [moves the camera phone to the empty platter that had contained towers of mozzarella and tomato], which doesn't look like much, but I'm sure it'll be delicious," then to the stacked empty plates from lunch piled up with cutlery, "this will be on offer, too, dinner from last night," and finally to Renee, who smiled sweetly, then picked up a steak knife, and Craig uttered the most blood-curdling scream! A snuff film on on iPhone, at my picnic table. Which is FINE.

Avery tried hard to get Renee interested in her all-time favorite novel (which I have to aver is pretty marvelous), "The Silver Donkey," relating its heart-warming tales of WWII bravery, soldier rescue, metaphorical beauty, only to find Renee gazing at her beatifically. "I always say, 'dunkey,' because why is it 'munkey' and not 'dunkey'?" You must say it aloud yourself to get it. That's Renee.

But what's also Renee is that she BROUGHT even more food than I COOKED. "But you've come TO lunch," I protested, as dish after dish appeared from the car. And what's more, the darling, clever little containers they're packaged in were gifts as well. Cabbage and meatball soup, apple cake (made with oil instead of butter so it could be served at a meal with meat!), gefilte fish, tatziki (a gorgeous dip of yogurt and dill and cucumber), potato kugel, all the Jewish favorites that Renee, who feels as my friend Alyssa feels, that I am a closet Jew, should have at her lunch table. This in addition to the shrimp salad with celery and peppers I had made...

Janice's Cold Summer Shrimp Salad
(serves 6 as a main course for luncheon or a late supper)

1 1/2 lb cooked large shrimp, tails removed, cut in thirds
1 1/2 cups celery, chopped fine
1/2 red pepper, cut fine
tiny bit of shallot, minced
1 cup mayonnaise
1 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
squeeze of lemon juice (plus the squeezed bit stirred through the salad)
1 tsp salt
dash Tabasco
handful chopped chives

Serve surrounded with endive, sprinkled with chives, very cold.


I had also thoughtfully provided tomato mozzarella towers with pinenuts and lemon zest and basil! But they were all eclipsed by Renee's million-dollar cookies (whose recipe I'll post, if I get permission). Actually I won't post it, I'll let Avery do that, as she's started her own food blog! Strictly desserts, mind you, to fill in the gaps that I can't fill, due to my sad lack of a sweet tooth. Well done, Avery: it's beautifully written, simply presented, and will provide you with some much-needed sweet treats for summer and beyond.

Well, we laughed our way through the afternoon. John left to fetch his mama from the airport, and after a bit Craig and Renee insisted they had their own home to go to as well. Avery and I waved them off, wishing they could simply move in. Old friends, who remember you from the old days. Who say, "Remember that birthday party of Avery's, where all you served was vichyssoise? And... those little cheese puffs, what were they called?" "Gougeres! Puff Daddies!" we all say together, and Renee remembers, "That was a recipe from Saveur magazine," and I realize that my copy of the recipe, back in London, is the page torn from that very magazine. Old friends who kindly say, "You haven't changed at all," and then point out the under-eye wrinkles, but say they add character. Which is fine.

There was a brief interlude where I cleaned up the kitchen and watched the sun set, and then in swept John and his mom! Tight hugs, "oh, my goodness, Avery, stand there for a minute and let me see how tall you are!", bringing in suitcases, settling her things in her room, settling in the kitchen where we all stood around building impromptu sandwiches of roast beef, ham, pesto, cheese, red onions. I'd marinated salmon with ginger and garlic in case we wanted "dinner," but it was soon set aside in the fridge for the much more festive picnic. And catching up. And Avery's magic paper airplanes...

John's and my tennis has been definitely elevated by our new rackets! We rushed off in the morning to play a crazy game in hideous humidity, and has my face ever been redder? I think Rosemary was about to call 911. Typical me. Cleaned up, a nice lunch of the salmon from the night before, grilled, and the steamed rice turned instantly into fried rice. Try it with your leftover steamed rice.

Instant Fried Rice
(serves 4)

1 cup basmati rice, steamed in a 1 1/2 cups water and set aside
2 tbsps peanut oil
1 tbsp sesame oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
handful green onions, minced (including green parts)
handful pinenuts
2 eggs, beaten
soy sauce to taste

Heat the oils in a heavy skillet or wok, then quickly fry the garlic and green onions. Add the pinenuts and eggs and stir quickly, breaking up the eggs as they scramble. Add the rice and sprinkle with soy sauce, then stir fry until the rice is warmed through. How easy is that?


The rain began just as we finished lunch, and the piano tuner appeared to tune my bargain piano that wouldn't play into a rather expensive piano that would... almost.

More on all things piano, plus the return of a certain feline character from our summer world last year... soon!


Foxi Rosie said...

Perfect... a tableau of extraordinary quality.

Shelley said...

Kate is smashing!! Do tell Anne for me what a love she is.

Craig and Renee seem like fun that spilled over onto Red Gate and your lunch sounded splendid. Which is fine.

Renée said...

For the record, Craig is alive, we are not old, and Kristen really does look the same as the first day I met her.

Kristen In London said...

Ah, friends, I'm so glad you've enjoyed the post. Rosie, you are too kind as always, even to fit in READING with your schedule. Shelley, I'll pass on your compliments to Anne, who is completely used to hearing such things: I think Kate is as popular as Hastings! As for Renee, she is reassuring as to her husband's well-being and entirely dishonest as to my appearance... I'll have to serve up some truth serum with the next shrimp salad!