07 November, 2009

Dartmoor, redux

I realized that I left you all with the impression that our Devon sojourn was occupied merely with sitting around reading Daphne Du Maurier books (check), eating (check) and otters (check). But even more overwhelming, perhaps, was Avery's first experience with wild ponies.

Wild, you ask? What does this mean?

Wild means, you're on the quiet road between Sir Francis Drake's beloved home Buckland Abbey (gorgeous, as you see above, Avery posing reluctantly, "Drake the Musical" already occupying far too much of her time) and the horrid postwar town of Plymouth. You're asking idly, "Where do you think we ought to pull off in order to find these wild..." "PONIES!" Avery says with awe, pointing. "PONIES?" we all ask, in disbelief. There was no hunting and finding to be done. There were simply ponies, shaggy, fat, friendly and lovely, approaching us from all directions. Dear readers, we were naughty and brought them countless carrots in the pockets of our Barbour coats. Our law-abiding daughter was shivering in her Wellingtons not with cold, but with fear that some park attendant would find us and arrest us. "Maybe we're not supposed to feed them..." she moaned in indecision. More and more of the creatures followed us about. "You can't tell me we're the first people who've fed them," I argued. "They're very assertive!"

Sure enough, a park attendant did approach us to ask what we were doing. "Petting the ponies and giving them a carrot or two," John said blithely, his pockets weighted down with treats. "Oh, well, that's all right, then, as long as you're experienced around horses. They can be quite pushy!"

Impossibly magical to find these gorgeous animals quietly eating grass, just behind a shrub, or walking along a path in twos and threes, running to us as we approached. My favorite, I admit, was this white lovely, a bit shy at first, but very happy to accept carrot pieces after a moment or two. Avery was speechless with delight at the creatures' simply appearing to us. How on earth do they survive in winter, we wondered?

These days, in the wild with ponies and carrots, seem a million years ago now, having settled into two weeks of the long winter term of school. Keeping Avery's nose to the homework/musical/riding/skating grindstone seems one long utterance of "Are you ready to..." But life is in the contrasts, is it not?

Speaking of which, our household of three has been reduced, for the next four days, to just two (and any number of cats, of course). John flew off this afternoon for his Dublin adventure, and so it's just Avery and me. We feel quite bereft, happy as we are together, as if a limb were missing. John brings such a feeling of security, joy, confidence and energy, sadly appreciated only too little until he's gone. We shall not take him for granted anymore, once he's home! To offer you all a bit of security, I shall post an old favorite recipe, one I would back against anything more expensive, more sophisticated, more intricate. Roast yourself a chicken, enjoy it for dinner, then plunge all the carcass into a huge pot of water, simmer it for two hours with some carrots and onions. Strain it, leave it in the fridge overnight and next morning, scrape off the fat layer. Then...

Creamy Red Pepper Soup
(serves 4)

3 tbsps butter
6 red peppers, cut up roughly
1 white onion, quartered
4 cloves garlic, cut up roughly
a good dollop Marsala or brandy
chicken stock to cover vegetables
2 tsps dried thyme, or 1 tbsp fresh thyme leaves
1/2 cup single cream or creme fraiche

Melt butter in a heavy saucepan and saute peppers, onion and garlic until slightly softened. Add Marsala and simmer high till alcohol is reduced by half. Add chicken stock to cover vegetables, and sprinkle in thyme. Simmer high until red peppers are soft, perhaps 20 minutes. Blend with a hand blender, then push through a sieve into a clean pan. When ready to serve, heat again and whisk in cream.


This is the best soup I have ever made, and possibly the best THING I have ever made. I have served it to dozens and dozens of people, and everyone: children, babies, old people, vegetarians (if you make it with vegetable stock), EVERYONE simply sighs with delight.

So tonight we had this soup, for comfort with no John (who rang to tell us he was at a performance of Vivaldi's Four Seasons!). With a nice fillet of beef in a mushroom sauce, some mashed potatoes, and a pile of green beans, you can convince yourself that all is right with the world. If only you had a wild pony in your garden, says Avery. Fair enough.


Bee said...

All those lovely ponies aside, I think I'm most charmed by the way you describe your husband. What wonderful qualities to have in a husband; truly.

The red pepper soup sounds so good; I'm just off to the grocery store now and I shall collect the requisite peppers. (In fact, I came here for the pork recipe and got caught up in reading your latest.)

What are you and Avery doing this grim, gray Sunday?

Kristen In London said...

Oh, I am the luckiest of girls, Bee. My husband is a real force of positive energy, always glass half-full, and even in a crisis when I ask in panic, "Do you think...?" his response is "Hope not!" or if the question is a positive one, his answer is, "Hope so!" And yet he's incredibly practical. All good!

Have fun with the soup! Avery's at an all-day "Drake: the Musical" rehearsal, to her combined chagrin and tinge of excitement at hanging out with the boys. I've baked a peach-raspberry crumble for her week's breakfasts and worked on my photo album, so not much excitement here... and it IS grim and gray!

A Work in Progress said...

Thank you for posting that recipe again - one of my favorites of yours! By the way did you see this article by India Knight in the Sunday Times -- I thought it was pretty decent, considering that she probably pounded it out to meet a deadline. http://technology.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/tech_and_web/the_web/article6896061.ece

Kristen In London said...

I did see that article, and thought the author underlined really well the complete change in at-home women's (especially mothers') lives. Thirteen years ago, with a small baby, I certainly felt isolated at times: now, I just don't think that's part of a mother's experience... interesting!