14 September, 2009
Now I'm just being annoyingly clever: I wanted to give you a heads-up that I will desire, here, to tell you about BOTH our new car (!!) and my new soup. And so I shall.
As you will remember, we were callously burgled last summer, the most shattering part of which experience was the burglar's evil discovery of my car key, in my plundered handbag, which they promptly walked outside with and pressed the "where is my car key," and sadly our Mini Cooper was only too quick to respond, so... off they went, in our darling little car. How sad we have been. With it, of course, went my treasured Purdey woollen car rug that countless little girls wrapped around themselves on chilly school runs and trips to the country. And two, TWO mind you, of TWELVE of my cassette tapes of Agatha Christie's "The 4:50 From Paddington." So I can listen to the beginning and the end of this classic story, but the middle? Lost in the mists of thievery. And Avery's horse riding helmet and gloves (complete with name tapes laboriously sewn on by yours truly), and... and...
Not included in this debacle, however, was John's stalwart Swaine and Adeney umbrella, given him by his darling father nearly 20 years ago. Now, drumroll... prepare yourselves for a story. Several days ago, John turned to me with a stricken face and asked, "Where's my special umbrella?" "Don't know, when did you have it last?" And we both had the same thought: it was in the car, when it was stolen. No, no, no! Say it wasn't so. We swallowed our sadness, John said determinedly, "You know, to keep an umbrella for so many years was pretty amazing..." Sadness.
Then a day or so later, I woke up at my usual slothful hour to find John in his study, having walked Avery to school. And more than that... "You wouldn't believe what happened to me this morning," he said gleefully. "I had a dream, a sort of fast-forward zipping through Shepherd's Bush Market, where we went to that greengrocers' where we got such good sweetcorn, and those tiny shallots..." "Yes, yes, what then?" I asked breathlessly. "Well, in my dream, I suddenly remembered putting my special umbrella down, hooking it over the sweetcorn shelf while I picked out some ears. So after I dropped Avery off at school, I went by, and started to ask, 'Did you happen to find...' and the guy brings out... my UMBRELLA."
How weird is that?
So we did not lose everything in the car robbery that we thought we lost. And now, or at least in 10 days' time, we will have a new car! A Fiat Cinquecento, a convertible of course! In a sort of silvery grey, with a lighter top. Avery took one look, before we even test-drove it, and said, "We'll call him Minnow." So Minnow has been bought and paid for with our insurance money, and will be delivered to the dealer next weekend. John has been slaving away since our purchase, registering it, ordering insurance (hugely lower than a Mini!), and rejoicing over the extremely environmentally friendly nature of its emissions: the same as a Prius! And... it's even smaller than a Mini. This for my 6'2" husband makes us all laugh.
The rest of the week has been spent at Avery's school, if I'm honest. Or at least, doing things related to her school. I had no idea what I was taking on with being head of Lost Property. The paperwork, the phone calls, the emails, the actually being AT school tending to the room, and then, there's the seat I now occupy on the Parents' group at school, which requires attendance at meetings, and hand-holding at school events where a parental presence is deemed desirable. Heavens. And today was the Preview for Monday's sale of Lost Property items, plus my indoctrination of all my innocent new recruits into their responsibilities.
The micro denim shorts! The Abercrombie faux-fur trimmed gilets! The endless piles of PE kit ("this smells slightly," a girl offered shyly when she tried on a shirt, which made me laugh since we volunteer in that little room surrounded by such smelly items every day!), the wet towels and swimming costumes, the pencil cases and calculators and today? An asthma inhaler. I ask you!
We had so much fun getting everything ready today. I was slightly aghast at being in charge of it all. To be truthful, my Achilles heel in any situation is my discomfort at telling anyone what to do. I came to recognize, as a professor, that this was my weakness. And as an employer, and truly, as a mother: I'm fine when people regulate themselves and behave perfectly, but hand me a problem case, someone who needs correcting, and I'm a fish out of water. Luckily, I got a child who needs very little correcting, and thank goodness, the same held true for Lost Property. Everyone was far more capable of attacking the work at hand than I was, and as such, I simply answered questions, moved around racks of clothing, addressed girls' claims to certain items I was sure did not belong to them...
At any rate, we had a very busy week at school. And through it all, I cooked many a delightful dinner: grilled lambchops, chicken stir-fried with red chillis, red peppers and peanuts, grilled salmon, creamy red pepper soup, lasagna with five cheeses (mascarpone, ricotta, mozzarella, cheddar and parmesan). But the triumph of the week? A soup inspired by the glorious sandwich concern Pret a Manger, and my version turned out at least as delicious.
Sag Aloo Soup
(serves more than four)
4 medium potatoes of any variety, peeled and cut in cubes of 1/2 inch)
3 cups chicken stock
1 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp butter
1 medium white onion, minced
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 stalks celery, minced
1 tbsp ground cumin
2 tsps ground turmeric
chilli powder to taste
sea salt and pepper to taste
1 soup-size tin tomatoes, chopped
2 cups loosely packed spinach, then sliced into ribbons
1/2 cup fat-free yogurt
Put potato cubes into a saucepan with chicken stock and bring to a high simmer. Cook until soft and nearly falling apart, perhaps 30 minutes. Meanwhile, saute the onion, garlic, celery, cumin, turmeric and chilli powder in the oil and butter until the celery is very soft. Season to taste, keeping in mind that the chicken stock will contain salt as well. Throw the vegetable mixture into the potatoes and chicken stock and add tomatoes and turn the heat to VERY low. Go take a shower or check your email. Cook the soup until it is very thick and the potatoes are REALLY falling apart. Stir thoroughly and add the spinach and yogurt just before serving.
You will sit up and beg like a dog for more of this "soup." I say this in inverted commas because it is so very thick. It is a stew, really. The name derives from the Indian for "spinach and potato," but it is also the spice combination that gives the soup its charm. And any leftovers, the following day, on steamed basmati rice... ooh... it makes me hungry just to think of it. And I'm full of grilled salmon.
And my first food-writing piece has appeared in print! At least, rumor has it, although it's not available yet in the UK. It's called "The Recipe File," in the newly-launched Vintage Magazine, and I couldn't be more thrilled. The editor-in-chief is ringing me up next week to talk about my contribution to Issue 2, so I am really on a cloud. I can't wait to see a copy, which she's sending me in the old-fashioned post. I'll report when I get it!
Tomorrow will find us taking Avery to her first acting lesson of the fall, then onto a friend's to spend the night while we go out for sushi and to see a play in Soho. I, who am almost entirely actor-driven in my theatre excursions, am extremely excited to see John Simms in "Speaking in Tongues." While he is not exactly crush material (and I'm waiting for a new crush to come along), he's deeply interesting, intense and moody. I think that live on stage, he could be quite compelling. Get yourself a bowl of Sag Aloo Soup, a DVD of his tour de force "State of Play," and settle in for the weekend.