24 August, 2009

the last day

Well, we're in that unpleasant, cranky stage of leaving that entails massing huge numbers of books on the stairway ("Can somebody carry those upstairs when you go next? AND the pair of shoes next to them, please"), ripping labels from previous journeys off the suitcases, monitoring what's in the dryer, making beds with fresh sheets to greet us at Christmas, trying to decide between air conditioning while we pack and the dishwasher. Everyone is annoyed. "But I DID tidy my room, only now it's messy again from having shifted books and clothes to pack or not pack..." "Are we REALLY out of paper towels??" "I know I told you where the car key was!" and "Can you possibly eat this hard-boiled egg before we leave, or do I have to throw it away?" Throwing away food at this point of pre-departure makes me crazy. As a result, our dinner was bizarre: crab salad with celery, tomato and mozzarella and an avocado, plus corn on the cob and some stale Triscuits...

Partway through this dubious feast, Judy and Rollie appeared to say goodbye, give Avery a CARE package for the flight (some lovely puzzles and chocolates, thank you!), and sat with us, watching us eat our weird dinner, having had their much more normal repast earlier ("we were sure you'd have finished!"). We gossiped, told stories by candlelight, watched Avery not eat (her appetite still not returned after her fever over the weekend). Judy and I decided for SURE where the Christmas tree would go (definitely for sure) now that we've changed around the rooms... They took their leave, signaling the true end to summer, as much a blow as that from Anne, David and Alice's departure with Katie yesterday afternoon.

This neighbor foursome turned up while I was sitting with Avery at her chicken soup lunch yesterday, and said their goodbyes, so sad. "Katie will have changed so much by Christmas," I mourned, hugging her for real, instead of just holding her as I usually do... Alice listened to the terrible "E above middle C" on our incorrigible piano, Anne gave Avery one more hug, and they were gone... I ran across one more time to give Dave "Bread and Jam for Frances," for Kate, and then Anne ran across one more time to return a dish to me and give a final hug, taking our leftover coffee with her! That's our friendship in a nutshell: shared children, coffee, dishes. We looked across at little Kate, balancing herself against the screen door across the road, shouting, "Bye, bye, bye..." "This is so sad," Anne moaned. The phrase of the last couple of days, every summer it is repeated.

How funny it is, that invisible line between one day and "the last day." Two days ago we were happily hosting our across-the-road-crowd for a gorgeous salmon dinner, upon our return from Fire Island. We raced in from the Island, unpacked groceries, checked with everyone to see if they were cool with coming when Avery had a fever (she would be cloistered upstairs, but still, with a baby it's worth asking), and YES. So home I went to sprinkle an enormous side of salmon with olive oil and the irreplaceable Fox Point Seasoning from Penzey's, quite the best way to cook most things besides brownies, in my humble opinion. Only at the last minute, John at the grill discovered that our supply of propane had run out, precisely one day too early. DRAT.

Except that we made a discovery (as so many culinary adventures turn out). Fox Point with salmon is perfect in the oven. Here you go.

Baked Salmon with Fox Point Seasoning
(serves six)

1 large side of salmon (about 3 pounds)
2 tbsps olive oil
2 tbsps Fox Point Seasoning

With your clean hands, smear the salmon, skin side down, flesh side up, with olive oil, then sprinkle with Fox Point. Leave to reach room temperature before you slide the salmon onto a cookie sheet lined with aluminum foil (super easy cleanup). Bake at 425F (210C) for 25 minutes. SUBLIME.


We served this with cucumber salad with sour cream, dill and lime juice, and Alyssa's cheese-dripping corn on the cob, and sauteed asparagus. A FEAST. One final evening with them, starting out with dinner on the terrace with candles, then as the bugs found us, we repaired inside for Ciao Bella Key Lime Graham Cracker gelato, a present from Anne and David, a superb follow-on from salmon. So good, so simple. We simply shouted with laughter over various stories from the summer, including John's explanation of why we can no longer close the sun roof on our 10-year-old Passat, now at 97,000 miles. "Mice made homes in the mechanism, which means they stole insulation from everywhere they could find it," he said, "plus taking all the workings out of the radio and the antenna." "Which means," Dave said, "that all the radio will play is 'Alvin and the Chipmunks.'"

The following day found us beginning to acknowledge that the end of summer had come. John was sifting through piles of papers, insurance, bills, contracts, financial thises and thats. I was sifting through kitchen supplies: to save or not to save the half-used wild rice, where to store the sugar and flour... Avery was drifting around feeling almost-not-ill. And we were all getting ready for the last evening with Jill, Joel, Jane and Molly. The adults in the group had asked for "those ribs in tomato sauce that you did last year," so I quickly emailed my friend Olimpia to ask for her recipe. Which I messed with a bit, because I was also in the mood for meatballs. Gorgeous.

Olimpia's Spare Ribs and Meatballs in Tomato Sauce
(serves 10 easily)

2 tbsps olive oil
24 pork spare ribs
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 small white onion, minced
1 cup red wine
1 large can tomato sauce
1 large can peeled plum tomatoes

for meatballs:
1 1/2 lbs ground pork
3 eggs
2/3 cups breadcrumbs
1 tbsp Italian seasoning

So here's what I did. Following Olimpia's instructions, I heated the olive oil in a heavy, very large pot and browned the ribs all over, on all sides. Then I added the garlic, onion and red wine and simmered, uncovered, for 5 minutes. Then I added all the tomato bits and covered the pot and simmered, NO MORE than a simmer, for 3 hours.

Then I mixed all the meatball ingredients as you would a dough (take off your rings) until it was nice and mixed, clean and consistent throughout. Form into medium balls (I think my mixture made about 15), and drop one by one into the tomato sauce, filled with ribs. Don't try to stir yet. Cover the pot and simmer for half an hour, at which point the meatballs will be cooked enough for you to stir the pot. Stir it up gently, mixing up the ribs and the meatballs. The whole thing can sit nicely, covered, indefinitely until dinner.


This with some garlic bread was dinner. The Three Js and One M arrived in a gathering sort of threatening sky. It didn't take long for Joel to suggest gently, as I set the table outside, "Don't you think that was thunder, Kristen?" "DEFINITELY NOT," I rejoined, in no uncertain terms. I continued to put out tealights, grated cheese, you name it. Avery was roused from her bed of continuing sort of mini-illness to run a course of jumps with her darling cousin Jane, while Molly sat on my lap and gestured toward whatever she could see. John and Jill repaired to discuss things of financial moment while Joel fed Molly and the sky, I am sorry to say, darkened alarmingly. "Are you sure you want to eat outside? I'd really love to see what your dining room is like now, we've never used it before." He's too kind not to phrase it in the form of a question. "It is NOT going to rain," I maintained, while making salad dressing.

"It's seriously going to rain," Joel finally said, and I looked up at the sky. Avery and Jane were still jumping, under light that was, I had to admit, green. OK, OK, OK. Just in case, I'll bring in the plates and napkins. The skies opened. It simply POURED. "Aren't you glad we're inside?"

It WAS cozy. I admit it.

The last evening with our family. Jane sat on my lap, then leapt down to sit with Avery. We all ate more ribs and meatballs than we could ever have predicted. Molly learned to crawl, with John as her enthusiastic coach, but the cleanliness of my parlor floor was not all that could have been wished for. I concur with my friend Shelley's explanation for the unbelievable level of dust in my house: it comes UP from the floor, not just DOWN from the feet that come in!

Jane repaired to a bath, in the serene atmosphere of the guest bathroom, while we cleared up dinner and Avery slumped somewhere, trying to be normal when she really still felt like a piece of Romaine lettuce that's been left out too long in the air. Jill cheerfully dealt with Jane as she splashed, Joel laughed with Molly in the kitchen. We all felt that we did not want to say goodbye, since it was for four whole months. Jane hugged me tightly, saying, "You smell like Red Gate Farm," which I chose to interpret as something like candlelight, good food and Hermes. John said prosaically, "Probably mothballs and dust." Probably, but I can still dream. Off they went. Until Christmas. How we will miss them all, and how Molly will have changed in four months when we see her again.

This summer has been so much about getting to know Avery every day as she changes so quickly, shopping, chatting, exchanging book ideas, thoughts on family and friends, menu ideas. She left London as still a little girl, but will be returning as a young lady. I have treasured so much these weeks of time together! Not the least sharing her wonderfully inventive project of fostering those kittens. Newsflash: Little Dorrit and Nemo were adopted successfully! By the family who took them "just to babysit" on Thursday evening. The phone message said joyfully, "This is Katie. We've fallen in love with both kittens and will keep them both. Thank you so much!" What a huge triumph for Avery, to take kittens who could hardly be touched a month ago, and turn them into kittens that a family could not resist for 24 hours! Bless her little kitten-whispering heart.

Today was all about doing "everything for the last time till next summer," an annual ritual we've all got used to. The last trip to the library, our last tennis game (my strange foot thingy resolved itself a bit in time to play), the last "Days of Our Lives" lunch, the last afternoon spent folding laundry while watching "General Hospital," then a phone call from Becky to catch up, to say goodbye one last time. And I ran to Judy and Rollie's to drop off the leftover barbecued pork from last night which I was pretty sure would find favor with hungry young farmers as opposed to the rubbish heap. As I recounted to Judy how we were trying to use up refrigerator bits and bobs, she said quickly, "Well, I have some barbecued pork from a friend who just dropped it off, if you need it..." That's Judy. I almost fell for it. "Well, I happen to know she CAN'T COOK, so don't eat it," I advised.

And the last trip to the pool for Avery and me while John ran countless last errands which required mnemonic devices for him to remember: "Cable, post office, corn, propane..."

We swam to and fro, me in a new cute tankini donated by Alyssa! How cool to have a new swimsuit on the last day of summer, and purple and black, no less. Thanks, friend. The sky was blue, the pines were green, the radio blared, the chlorine was killing. Avery and I gloried in the repertoire that spells "All that it should be, all that is summer."

Tomorrow at this time we'll be in midflight to London, and all the unnameable and unsavory details that are Getting Back Home, like unpacking (awful!), Going Through Mail (never pleasant!), Seeing What Went Wrong (like dead plants, or worst case scenario, cats who did something bad somewhere). The flip side will be our happy reunion with our kitties, our neighborhood, our trip to Cornwall. More from the other side of The Pond, very soon. Goodbye, summer.


john's mom said...

I have totally been in denial about your leaving, but i have to say, your leaving story rings so true. A quintessential "leaving" story.

John's Mom, the left handed typist

Casey said...

So delightful to read.
As always

Kristen In London said...

Well, friends, we're back! And already unpacked. TOTALLY empty refrigerator except for about seventeen jars of hoisin sauce and a piece of halloumi cheese. To the shops I go! Thanks, Casey, and John's mom, I hope that wrist is firming up?