14 September, 2009
autumn takes off
First, I must say, it's simultaneously heartwarming and demoralizing to realize one has completely passed on the reins of cooldom to one's child. Of course we want Avery to be cool. We make sure she has all the right opportunities to do cool things, and she takes full advantage. But when there is such clear photographic evidence of her having surpassed us COMPLETELY... we waver ever so slightly. How did we get to be so old, and she so cool? Somehow it happened. Surfing in Cornwall with her friend Emily's family, sitting for a photo session in our garden for her acting agency... ah well, importantly she's still an enormous slob, leaving her wet towels and dirty horseback riding clothes scattered through the house, and she also couldn't be any sweeter to her tiny cat sibling, recovering from her vet ordeal. So in short, the real Avery, warts and beauty and all, is intact. But she's also... very cool.
Autumn has appeared in full spate. Tonight as I type, the plane trees of Hammersmith are brushing mightily against our bedroom windows, the wind is high, the leaves blow into the room, occasionally the sheets flutter and cats rush to chase. In town, the trees are turning ever so gradually, falling down upon the tennis courts near our house, near Avery's school, reminding us all of the gorgeous season to come. There is something heartwarmingly beautiful and social about the courts near school, bounded on one side by a Green covered with people stretched out during their work lunch hours, faces to the sun, bags of lunch nearby, and also, chillingly, people letting their dogs wee on the same grass: guess why I don't picnic in the Green? Never mind, no one seems to mind. The caretaker of Avery's school, my partner in crime at Lost Property, strolls by walking his dog. "Don't watch my serve!" I cry. "You'll lose any respect you ever had for me."
On the other side of the courts is a playground whose sign admonishes, "Under 11s only", so Avery is firmly barred, not that she has time for playgrounds these days. Homework rules, for hours after school each day. Such is autumn. The cooling air rings with people calling the score, girls shouting in uniformed girls' school energy... as far as one can see, there are lovers kissing on the Green, people riding Shetland ponies, if you can imagine! Across the road is the Queen's Head pub, under constant refurbishment it would seem, with men painting all the time, and the most tempting scents of frying fish emanating from the premises with wicked accuracy the moment our tennis game is finished. Dinner? Let's skip it and head straight for fish and chips!
Then there's the perfect autumn recipe: something rugged, robust, flavorful and yet easy as pie, and best of all? In the end, it cooks itself, so you can do something else: even leave the house for the Parents' Guild meeting where you represent Lost Property.
750 grams (1 1/2 lbs) mixed mince: pork, lamb and beef (or any one alone)
3 eggs, beaten
1/2 cup homemade breadcrumbs
handful chopped basil
1/2 tsp Italian seasoning
1 large, perhaps 1 1/2 buffalo mozzarella balls (you must judge by the size of yours)
2 tbsps olive oil
5 cloves garlic, minced
3 soup-size cans peeled plum tomatoes, whizzed in a food processor till smooth
salt and pepper to taste
Mix mince, eggs, breadcrumbs, basil and Italian seasoning together VERY well. Knead it like a dough, and you will be able to see when it's truly mixed, as it forms a lovely dough-like consistency, completely amalgamated and coherent. Form into small handfuls about 1 1/2 inch across, then pinch off an inch or so of mozzarella and push it into the small handful of meat. Then form the meatball around the cheese, sealing it as best you can. Some cheese may ooze out during cooking, but don't worry. It's delicious anyway.
Make all your meatballs and set aside. Then cook the garlic in a large, shallow, heavy saucepan, slightly in the olive oil, add the tomatoes and cook on a low heat for a bit, perhaps five minutes. Then lower the meatballs in a single layer into the sauce and cover the pot. The meatballs will poach in about 20 minutes, but you can turn it off after that and let sit while you do other things, just warming it all slightly before you want to eat. Lovely with or without spaghetti, and cheese on top.
This meal is lovely on so many levels: it smells MAGICAL cooking, it's fun to make the little meatball parcels, it can sit perfectly cooked for ages while you go to meetings, or help with homework, or take a nap, you name it. Then just warm it, and bob's your uncle. Saute a little asparagus on the side, or oven-roast some beets... done.
I must think of another such recipe for tomorrow night because: drumroll... we are going out. Out! And no, it's not to a play, which is normal for us, and no, we're not taking Avery, as would be normal. We're going for drinks and to a gallery opening with friends, NOT with Avery. Very abnormal! So I have convinced Avery she will not be kidnapped while we're away for two hours. We're looking forward to it (lovely friends, and weird but interesting looking artwork in formed concrete), but we've drawn the line at eating outside the home, naturally. So I must find something to cook tomorrow afternoon that Avery can easily place in a cold oven (she's not ready for a hot oven all alone), then turn the oven on and cook it. It all smacks of a casserole, doesn't it? Or lasagna, or... this is the sort of question that keeps me awake at night. How about chicken stuffed with mozzarella and prosciutto, baked under tomato sauce with some of the zucchini my friend Jo brought from her allotment? There's an idea. More on her visit, and other pursuits, on the morrow. I'm going to be completely selfish now and return to my book of the moment, My Life in France, by Julia Child. No gimmicks, no fast talk, no queasy subtitles. Speaking of cool? Julia invented it, and Avery can only wish.