27 September, 2009

that film












How on earth has a week gone by without my checking in? Because, as so many bloggers wish, I've been actually LIVING, as opposed to trying desperately to find something to blog about because nothing's been happening in my actual life.

The main thing, today, that's been happening to me is massive envy. I knew it would happen.

Today finally we saw "Julie and Julia", after everyone I know said not only that I would love it, but that it IS me. Naturally, hearing this, I wanted nothing LESS than to see the film. Imagine my position: nobody food blogger sits alone in her home, cooking her heart out, caring for her husband and cat, typing away about her exploits in the kitchen, wishing for self-fulfillment. And... along comes self-fulfillment, a book deal and a major motion picture starring Meryl Streep.

And then there's my life.

It's like telling a minimally talented runner to get, say, "Chariots of Fire" on Netflix. Or a minor criminal to shake up some microwave popcorn and rent "The Godfather."

The film is a complete charmer. We're supposed to buy "Julie" as a b**ch because the character tells us so, but I'm sorry, they should have cast someone other than Amy Adams. Not for nothing did my child ask to see "Enchanted" four times... IN THE CINEMA. She's adorable. Not believable as a nasty person. At ALL. She cooks like a fiend, facing disasters and disappointments, while her husband tries to be supportive. Fair enough, I recognize that scenario. But hundreds of people read her blog without her making any effort whatsoever, and they COMMENT. I have my stalwart commenters, but hundreds? I could cry.

And then she's cooking for the food critic for the New York Times and the next morning, on the subway and at Starbucks, everyone's reading the article about her blog and that's THAT.

In the hours after leaving the cinema today, John and I tried to analyze reasons for the gap between "Julie" and me. One is, I was not unhappy to start with, when I began my blog, so I wasn't searching for massive meaning. But I WAS trying to document a process: the process just didn't have a particular goal. Living in London, raising my daughter, taking care of my family, cooking. Not very Hollywood. Two is, about a thousand years ago, when my parents noticed that I was a very good gymnast, they asked me a very important question. "Would you, little Kristen," [they said] like to be the BEST at one thing, or pretty good at lots of things?" A very good way to phrase it. Did I want to give up voice lessons, or piano lessons, or my scout troop, or baking chocolate chip cookies every Thursday night while we watched "Hill Street Blues"? Not really. Not even to be a truly great gymnast. I'd rather do a lot of things fairly well.

This has translated into adult life, I think. I take measure: I'm a really good mother, I think. A dedicated school volunteer. A pretty good wife, a very good friend. A fair and steady cook, a decent writer, an enthusiastic hostess. I can still play the piano and do a cartwheel. But I'm not a star at any of them.

Would I trade having written the most influential food blog ever, for having spent countless hours walking Avery home from school and listening to her fiction ideas while getting an admittedly pretty ordinary dinner together? Of course not.

But I'd like to have BOTH.

Rant over. The film was lovely. It came on the heels of something far more important: my friend Charlie's visit to us. We are in mourning at his departure (he who in typical fashion began his visit as "my" friend and inexorably conquered anyone who crossed his path, so now he's "ours", a sort of National Treasure, like Stephen Fry). His sister apparently needed him in Hertfordshire, which I consider the height of selfishness. He arrived on Thursday evening to great fanfare - my traditional waiting on the brick wall with a book and the housekey, plus a magnificent welcome dinner. My reading material? Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life by Anne Lamott. One of my favorite bits upon a very short reading? "Writing a novel is like driving in the dark, with only your headlights to light a very short distance ahead. It's scary, but you can do the whole thing that way."

Charlie arrived and we brought roughly half his earthly belongings into the house, introduced him to Avery (beside herself with welcome) and John (closeted in a very unpleasant tax phone call), then dragged his things up to the (I think) totally charming guest room. A gently sloping ceiling as befits our very crooked old house, a nice fake walnut wardrobe from eBay with its little shelves labelled "hats", "collars" and such, a white four-poster bed that used to be Avery's but wouldn't fit up the final two flights of stairs! Two windows, one a tiny square one like in a prison cell, the other large and free-opening, over the green row of back gardens, overlooking everyone's picnic tables and cats.

For that first dinner? A starter of scallops sauteed in olive oil with garlic, red chillis and tons of parsley, tossed in toasted homemade breadcrumbs. Fantastic. Then grilled lamb chops marinated in rosemary, garlic, olive oil and lemon juice. And for Avery's delight, oven-roasted mushrooms filled with sauteed chopped mushrooms, bacon, garlic and goats cheese. Plus John's favorite slaw, and then, a truly superb pudding. Served up by Avery.

Poached William Pears
(serves 4)


4 William pears, peeled and the bottoms sliced off so they stand up
1 cup hard cider, or Perry
2 cinnamon sticks
1/2 cup dark brown sugar

clotted cream
shortbread cookies

Place the pears into the saucepan and pour in the cider, drop in the cinnamon sticks and scatter over the sugar. Put the lid on and bring to a boil, then simmer for 15 minutes, turning the pears over twice, on their sides in the liquid. Then remove them to a dish, turn up the heat and boil the liquid until it's reduced to a syrup, perhaps 10 minutes. You'll have to remove the pan from the heat and let the bubbles settle down to see what you have. If it's darkish and thick, you're good. Set aside until you're ready to serve. At serving time, drizzle the syrup over the pears, and serve with a spoonful of clotted cream to each person, and a couple of shortbread biscuits.

******************

How we ate. And laughed. Charlie is an old-fashioned gentleman whose entire personality is geared to laughter. Except when you tell him something important and then his countenance turns to a sort of innocent listening, and you can FEEL him listening. He would do anything in his power to help me if I needed it, and give over his whole consciousness to listen while he was thinking how he could help. But his great inclination is... laughter. Avery adores him.

She described to him her latest maths homework. Do you remember pi? I hardly do. Unless it's an apple one. This version is that vaguely familiar 3.14 chappy, the whole radius-of-a-circle-squared doodah. So it turns out, the cutting-off at 3.14 is totally silly. The digits go on INFINITELY. As in, millions of digits. Scary people have devoted their lives, and more importantly, websites, in the exploration of this phenomenon.

So Avery's maths teacher, the dear Mr Smith who tapdances in his spare time, assigned a poetry homework. Poetry in maths? Yes. The girls were to extend the digits of Pi and write poetry using words of the number of letters indicated by the digits. Seriously. As in, "Fun I have," for 3.14. When Avery gives me permission, I'll publish her efforts. She's up to 82 digits.

Friday found me hosting the coffee morning for Avery's class mothers. So beautifully dressed, such fluting voices, such rich offerings of marmalade, croissants, fruit-stuffed muffins. Charlie drifted in as we chattered (like birds on a wire) and I introduced him. "He wanted to be either my husband, for you all, or the butler. Take your pick."

We accomplished a surprising amount of business in the way of projected class events, fundraisers and bridge (?) lessons to be shared among Avery's class and the boys' class of one of her friend's twin brother! We shall see about that.

Off to shop in Piccadilly (Fortnum and Mason, anyone?) and lunch with one of Charlie's army officer friends. More uncontrolled laughter, ending in a celebrity sighting: Janeane Garafolo, of SNL fame and more. Totally tatooed, very cool. I peeled off to take Avery and her friend Sylvie skating ("That's such an F. Scott Fitzgerald phrase, Kristen: 'I simply must cut out by 3'", Charlie claimed). The usual misery at the skating rink, only this time underscored by the presence of a new mother, one hunched in a self-congratulatory way over a dog-eared copy of "The Optimum Nutrition Bible," which she paused in reading to look askance at Avery's pizza and Sylvie's ice cream. Rats.

Sleep beckons. More on Charlie's visit, more food, and a truly great fish recipe to to follow, the fish from, you guessed it... Julia Child. I can but try.

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