08 October, 2009

here comes the sun, finally

Finally it has stopped raining! It was three solid days (no top down on a certain Cinquecento convertible, no tennis games, umbrellas lost all over the city, hair smelling like wet dog, soaking ankles) and everyone was getting cranky. Then suddenly today was the quintessential gorgeous autumn day, airplane trails through the sky, changing leaves falling onto the tennis court. It is very much the same landscape as pervaded those magical days our writing crew spent a year ago in Devon: the same quarter moon, glowing yellow-white, is suspended in the sky tonight and it brings back marvellous, intense memories of creativity, friendship, and terrible food!

The sun is more than due. Two days ago, a third of the way to taking Avery to her "Drake" rehearsal, the traffic simply stopped moving. "Might as well walk, you two," John said, and he was right. So out into the slight sprinkle we climbed, walking across the glorious Hammersmith Bridge to the tune of Avery's enthusiastic description of "Fashions I Have Worn Since Birth," which was entertaining enough to get us through the journey. Sure, she's had some doozies, like spats in kindergarten? Odd, true. But yesterday's black double-breasted jacket and purple hat were memorable in a good way.

Today, we picked her up at school with her friend Nellie to take them both to Drake, got them safely delivered, were running errands happily when Nellie's mother rang me in what I can describe only as Grim Panic. "Did you get the girls to Drake? All of them? How about the German exchange student?" Holy Moses, no. There's maternal panic for you. "It was merely a case of miscommunication," Avery assured us at dinner several hours later. "The girl knew she was meant to stay at school, and so did Nellie, but her mother didn't, so it was a bit of a worry." A bit? You think?

"Drake" with all its attendant dramas, disappointments and access to the gorgeous grounds of Avery's brother school has been a lot of fun, even from the outside looking in. I find that's more and more of life in this particular stage: looking in on the Avery Show, ferrying her to events and practices, listening to her accounts of what is happening behind the scenes. Meanwhile, I'm busy at least in my mind, planning what's next.

For one thing, I think I am putting aside my "book" for the time being. I enjoy writing this blog so much, and I live each day for whatever cooking odyssey awaits at dinner time (or even lunch!). But I've been dissatisfied with my efforts on the "book" since last spring, and I've had advice from several sources either to 1) go at it non-stop with all my energy, or to 2) put it aside, if not permanently, at least for the foreseeable future. It's too soul-destroying to look at its dormant pages on my desk (the desk in my head) every day and not to do anything positive with it.

So... there are options. Magazines, newspapers. A cookery course to teach here, out of my kitchen? That's looming especially attractively, I have to admit. My mind swirls at night with course ideas: five things to do with chicken? How to turn any vegetable into the perfect soup? Pizzas? Side dishes, food for different moods (light, comforting, exotic, vegetarian). My work is cut out: come up with workable ideas and budgets, find clients, advertise, make up schedules. I'm not 100% sure I am ready to do this, or qualified, but I'm ready to think about it. It would certainly give me something to blog about, and maybe an idea behind a column? I've got to dig in.

And for the course on side dishes, I offer:

Homemade Chana Masala (chickpeas with tomato)
(serves at least 6 as a generous side dish)

4 tbsps olive oil
1 medium red onion, finely diced
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 heaping tsp each: Baharat, ground cumin, turmeric, madras curry powder
scant 1/2 tsp cayenne
2 cans chickpeas, drained
1 soup-can chopped tomatoes
juice 1 lime/lemon
fresh ground pepper
salt to taste
2 cups spinach, chopped roughly
1 tbsp butter
1/3 cup fromage frais, or plain fat-free yoghurt
handful coriander leaves, chopped

Saute the onions, garlic and spices in the oil till onions are soft. Turn off heat and add chickpeas, stir thoroughly till mixed, then cook over medium heat for a couple of minutes, then add tomatoes, lime juice and seasoning. Cook over very low heat, stirring occasionally, for at least half an hour. Shortly before serving, fold in chopped spinach and stir thoroughly, then add butter and fromage frais and stir well, bubbling the mixture for a bit. Sprinkle with chopped coriander leaves at serving.


This dish fills the house with exotic, warm, garlicky aromas that will bring your family into the kitchen asking, "Can we have dinner early?" It's the perfect accompaniment to fish (we ate piles of it with grilled salmon the other night) and also, believe it or not, burgers. Last night was an experiment with a mixture of minced organic buffalo (bison, it goes by in America, not the same thing but close enough when you're eating it) and organic venison. I promise you, you will never buy beef again once you've had this mixture.

Gourmet Magazine is dead! Was my blog post the death knell? My October issue arrived today, the November issue to be the LAST PRINT ISSUE EVER. This magazine has been going strong since 1941, but it took more than the Nazis, or the Cold War, fake butter or Al-Qaeda to kill it. It took the internet.

I am very sad. Coming so close on the heels of the last episode of "Guiding Light", one of my Christmas and summertime American treats (even older than Gourmet, going on radio for 75 years!), it seems the landscape of popular culture is changing. I hate to think it's all what I see out in the real world today: people with mobile phones in one hand, while they adjust their iPods with the other! You could honestly run these people down, even with a tiny Cinquecento, and they'd be crushed without even noticing, I hate to say. Unless you interrupted their playlist or cut off their voicemail while they were in the middle of someone telling them what they should be Tweeting about. Honestly, I get more curmudgeonly by the day. Only blogging should be salvaged from the modern technological world. Oh, well, and email.

This weekend, however, will bring the London Restaurant Festival, and I think we'll take advantage of the Sunday combination of the Tate exhibition of Turner, and a two-course lunch in the museum's fancy restaurant. To think that until this week, a budding cookery writer could look forward to submitting a story about the Festival to Gourmet. We've got to think of a substitute: a wonderful source of inspiration, encouragement, research, life-enhancing stories, all about food. If I find one, I'll let you know.


Renée said...

How about Food and Wine?

Nick said...

Another cooking blog I read, Yummy Mummy Cooks Gourmet, had an interesting take on the folding of GOurmet. You might find it interesting. Just to let you know, if you lived near me I would definitely sign up for your cooking course. It is a great idea.

A Work in Progress said...

I am so sorry you are abandoning your book (for now). I love your writing and consume it avidly. I wish I could think of something to help you commercialize it, or at least bring it to a wider audience, but just know (as I think you already do) that you do have a most appreciative audience in me! Check out Bee Drunken - it's a nice reflective blog. I also like Ann Leary's blog - beautifully written. She has done a nice job of using her blog to increase the readership for her books, and vice-versa.

Kristen In London said...

Hey you guys, what wonderful suggestions! I've now taken a look at EVERYONE you suggest, and have a terrible feeling that I will never accomplish another thing as I read through these very entertaining blogs. I've left comments there, in hopes they'll read mine too so we'll see! There are SO many well-written blogs out there. We can all only hope to reach one person, or a hundred? Thank you for being among them... onward and upward!

Ann Leary said...

Do not abandon book. Put it aside for a month and do not allow yourself to even look at it. Keep blogging, your blog is extremely charming as are your followers - especially A Work in Progress! Very nice. You make me miss London. Anyway, if you're like me, and you forbid yourself to look at or think about book, it will seem naughty ad forbidden, and then you'll be dying to get back to it. But stay away from it for an entire month. Just my two cents!

Kristen In London said...

How wonderful to hear from you, Ann! Yes, Work in Progress is a delight, I agree. A faithful and supportive reader, and with good taste in blogs, obviously... I will take our advice about turning the other cheek to the "book." I have greatly enjoyed your blog and will return to it again and again, and I will look for your books. Can always use more intelligent things to pile on the bedside table.

Kristen In London said...

I have to thank everyone for the FANTASTIC and inspiring blog suggestions. I think what held me back from investigating other people's blogs was the fear that I'd encounter a lot of badly-spelled, uninteresting stuff and have to plow through it. Thanks to my loyal readership, I was steered directly to the best! I'll blog about it all tomorrow, time and Avery willing.

Bee said...

Very sad about Gourmet. I remember reading it as I was growing up, and of course it brings to mind the beloved Laurie Colwin -- my favorite cookery writer. (I saw your comment about Family Happiness. So much to say on this topic that cannot be covered HERE.)

I have a friend who runs cooking courses at of her home in West Berkshire. Email me if you want the skinny (or the fat).

A Work in Progress said...

Oh, I forgot to tell you that my daughter is going to your daughter's esteemed school on Monday! Apparently there is some sort of prep school choir thingy there, and our girls are going for the whole day. Tell Avery to look out for a small group of little girls wearing turquoise cardigans and brown blazers.

A Work in Progress said...

I just realized that it is at the boys' school, not the girls'! Oh well...

Kristen In London said...

oh! That's where Avery's infamous "Drake" rehearsals are taking place: the grounds are stunning! I walked a couple of girls there today and spent the rest of the afternoon in and around the outlying neighborhood: very cool! Have fun...