18 October, 2009
Ah, the last dinner party before half-term holiday begins tomorrow... the green beans steamed and then bathed in a garlicky, lemony butter, the potatoes, quartered, steamed and tossed in a very large saucepan containing melted butter and hot olive oil, and loads of paprika. Yes, it's more "Lick the Bowl Potatoes" for Avery. All this accompanied by the Main Chance: chicken breasts with a pocket cut in, stuffed with mozzarella wrapped in prosciutto and spinach, grilled expertly by John. Then, as you can see, a silly cheeseboard to round out the night. A rocket salad with a fabulous dressing of the oil from a jar of artichoke hearts (renew, reuse, recycle!), mixed with mustard, balsamic vinegar, Fox Point Seasoning and fromage frais... and some storebought cookies.
How we all laughed: Keith and Annie, Emily and Georgia and Jonathan... discussing holidays upcoming and past shared, Keith advising John in the grilling of the chicken, all the children trooping out into the dark, barely illuminated garden to "help" the timing, as Annie and I tossed beans, stirred potatoes, dressed the salad, watched the cats meandering in and about looking for fallen scraps. "There aren't enough beans!" I wailed. "Just because I don't like green beans, doesn't mean I shouldn't provide enough for other people..." "Why did you make them, then?" John asks in all fair reason. "Because everyone else likes them."
Annie and Keith jumped in. "I'd say 'FHB,' but we're all family here so that won't work," said Annie. "FHB?" I asked. "Family Hold Back," Keith elaborates. Such is our "family" that then NO ONE took enough beans and there were enough for seconds!
We sat on in the candlelight, drinking wine and listening to discussions of exams, Avery's wild dreams of piglets in school wearing brown and blue woollen coats (don't ask), and finally, "Gross Things My Children Have Eaten." The winner? Jonathan's foray as a toddler into what he gleefully described to his mother as "moving raisins." WOODLICE. There's childhood in a Connecticut farmhouse for you! Moving raisins.
We've had the last of our early autumn school rituals: the last drop of the girls at "Drake", watching them run hell bent with their satchels flying, kicking aside the fallen leaves, pausing at the zebra crossing to watch the oncoming boys, then disappearing out of sight into the grounds of the boys' school. I'm sure I looked like a stalker, suspended on the pavement, gazing after them, watching little girlhood run away from me and around a corner. Hard not to see it as a metaphor.
Then I've seen Avery and Jamie to their last regular Friday skating outing till after the "Drake" festivities... "please take my glasses, Mommy, and here's my skate bag, and could I have ice cream?", plus the screaming banter of countless teenage couples, and birthday parties filled with shouting children descending on the adjacent bowling alley... but looking through the muddy glass at Avery making spectacles shapes around her eyes: "watch us!" So I did watch, a new jump, a new spin.
And yesterday dropping her at acting class, watching her do the "flick," as her high mistress has named the gesture of hair over shoulder. How many more days will we be welcome, dropping her off anywhere? That prospect should shut up my whingeing about the skating rink, but of course I enjoy the whingeing as much as I do the dropping off.
At least I enjoy SOMETHING. How many hours of the past two days have I devoted to the follow-up novel to Julie/Julia? Too many. And as far as I can tell, the author enjoyed precisely NOTHING of what she describes. The book tells the tale of the dissolution of her marriage due to her infidelity, and concurrently her training as a butcher. Actually she did possibly enjoy her fellow butchers, but in describing her work, she cured me of any desire whatsoever to become a butcher, and I had had a bit of a desire, I admit. Right now I'm suffering from two burns on my hands from touching the oven elements in a careless moment, but I can tell you that that's NOTHING compared to the cuts, blood- and fat-filled scrapes that attend butcherdom. And the COLD.
In any case, I did get all the way through Cleaving, and I can report, as a very old person, that it reads much like a revisited novel by... Erica Jong! Isn't that a name from the past! Do you suppose Julie Powell has ever even heard of Erica Jong, much less read "Fear of Flying," pretty much the invention of borderline over-personal pornography? And Erica accomplished this in 1973, when women's liberation in every way, especially sexual, was a brand-new topic, and as such sort of a high to read about, at the time.
I think there's room in perhaps every three generations or so for a novel full of self-indulgent forays into a given person's sexual adventures, merely for the sake of telling the reader about them. And between D.H Lawrence and Erica Jong, we're covered for the time being. I wanted to care about Julie Powell's exploits, but I didn't. I felt that both in how she lived and how she wrote about living, she was giving me self-indulgence for its own sake, and something in my Midwestern good-girl upbringing led me to say to myself, "If she spent just one minute thinking about anyone but herself, she'd be in a better place."
If I thought she'd enjoyed anything very much: her marriage, her blog, her affair, her COOKING, if she'd revelled in the excess and the outlawness, I'd have enjoyed the book. But I don't think she did. Don't misunderstand me: I can get my mind around tales of unhappiness, infidelity, soul-searching, torment. But I want to think the teller cared even more than I did about growing from her experiences, and I don't think she did. I wish I did understand her motivation in telling the story. And I feel sorry for both her husband and her lover.
And I STILL can't understand how to bone a duck.
Off we go, then, tomorrow afternoon, for our autumn break in the English countryside. We'll have our tiny car packed to the gills with the usual: Wellington boots, books on tape, soup blender, tealight candles, books galore, Scotch, hot water bottles. I'll see you next Monday!
Spinach, Mozzarella and Prosciutto-Stuffed Chicken Fillets
8 boneless chicken fillets, well-trimmed
about 10 spinach leaves per fillet
3 prosciutto slices per fillet
1 thick slice buffalo mozzarella per fillet (3 whole balls of cheese)
24 toothpicks (called "cocktail sticks" in England if you're shopping)
With the fillet lying on its side on a cutting board, carefully cut a pocket lengthwise along, taking care not to cut all the way through to the back (but it's not a disaster if you do).
Lay two prosciutto slices on the cutting board and pile on spinach leaves, then lay on the mozzarella slice and roll it up tightly. Wrap the third slice of prosciutto around the little package to cover the ends. Tuck the whole package inside the chicken fillet and close up the gap as tightly as you can, with the toothpicks.
Grill over a medium heat for about 8 minutes per side, or until the chicken is cooked through.