12 December, 2010

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30 June, 2010


It's with mixed feelings that I say goodbye to the old "Kristen in London" and prepare to say hello to the new...

So many wonderful memories of beginning my efforts nearly five years ago, of "meeting" you all, learning to express myself, cook better meals and take better photos of them! Avery growing up before our eyes... our lives in London taking shape with ever happier detail. And "Kristen in London" recorded them all, with such pleasure.

But all good things must change, and so "Kristen in London" will appear in the next few days as a completely different-looking world, but peopled by the same characters, places and memories that we have all come to love. And...

A RECIPE INDEX! It is simply a beautiful thing to behold. There are some things that need tweaking, like moving "Crabcakes" out of "Desserts", but that sort of detail will keep me busy in the longer summer weeks ahead. You'll be able to look up the recipe for the very dessert Avery is holding here, her adored Eton Mess. And then you can make it at home. Someday, of course, I hope you'll find all the recipes between the covers of my very own cookbook, but until then, they're free for all.

So be looking for the new and improved us, and let me know what you think! I'll meet you there.

25 June, 2010

eight things I love about London

Actually, one of the things I like best about London is that as I was compiling this list, the number of "things I love about London" kept growing! I thought I'd better stop before I got to double digits. That's for another time.

But we are thinking a lot about how much we love it here, as we start thinking about leaving. Connecticut beckons: the green of the grass (cue Avery moaning here, about how predictable I am), the red of the barn, the blue of the sky, the white of the fence... our beloved family and friends. And we want to go, of course. But there is so much to love about our adopted city, such an idiosyncratic little list this evening, that I thought I'd let you in on some of the best. I'll warn you: it's no tourist list. It's the kind of list you make when you're fully entrenched somewhere, where the tiny bits that make your home loveable are weird, quirky, and all your own.

First, may I say how much I adore the fishmonger who has moved into my neighborhood? He is Tony of The Fishmonger's Kitchen in Shepherds Bush Road, and he's Australian, gorgeous, generous and funny. For months we and our neighbors looked in chagrin as the fishmonger before him jumped ship (so to speak), and the shop moldered (and molded, probably), and the hairdresser next door reported smells of grim death floating under the walls.

And then suddenly: there was Tony! With his lovely blue-painted chalk sandwich board out in front, trumpeting "Cooked Lobsters to Order" and "Why not throw some fish on the BBQ this weekend?" and "We now have fresh sushi!" From Tony I bought the many crabs necessary for my recent television sojourn, and the huge slabs of salmon for many dinners, as well as juicy pieces of yellowtail tuna to sear for a weekday lunch with my beloved, and gorgeously fresh king prawns (as you see!) to marinate in olive oil, smoked paprika and sea salt, to saute for two minutes and then pull their little heads off and lick your fingers.

Sauteed King Prawns with Paprika
(serves 4)

2 dozen king prawns, raw with heads and shells on
1 tbsp smoked paprika
6 tbsps olive oil
1 tsp sea salt (or to taste)
fresh-ground black pepper
a little more olive oil for the pan
chives to garnish

dipping sauce:
1/2 cup mayonnaise
juice of 1/2 lemon
squirt of prepared wasabi (as hot as you like it!)
fresh-ground black pepper

Cut each prawn up the back with scissors, ending before the tail. Place the prawns in as single layer as you can fit, on a large cookie sheet. Sprinkle with all marinade ingredients and smoosh them around, mixing the paprika with the oil. This releases a magnificently earthy, sensual aroma that will get your taste buds kicking in.

Sprinkle a little more olive oil in a very large skillet and heat till really hot. Place the prawns in immediately, all at the same time, and begin turning them as they turn pink. Continue to cook over high heat, turning all the time, until they turn stiff and are completely cooked (2-3 minutes total time, depending on size of prawns). Do NOT overcook beyond being JUST done.

Sprinkle with chives and serve over rice or spaghetti, spooning out all the oil and cooking debris from the skillet and sprinkling it over. Serve with the dipping sauce and provide a large body plate for the shells!


Thank you, Tony. Having you there in the road, to chat with on a hot summer's day, to report on the recipe of the night before, to stop in for some wickedly fresh Cornish haddock for tomorrow night's fish fry, makes every day just a little cozier, a little warmer, and our corner of London a little more like a village.

And then there's Sundrica, our gorgeous little Italian deli, for parmesan cheese to make my puttanesca even saltier than it already was! Never mind, skip salt tomorrow to make up for it. Sundrica is a tiny little space next to a flower shop by the Hammersmith tube stations, and is packed to the gills with delicacies that you won't know you needed until you walk through its magical doors. Italian tuna in olive oil, duck fat in plump glass jars, giant bowls of cured black olives, long rows of many whole salami, pepperoni, chorizo, pates of every description, sandwiches of mozzarella and basil on artisan bread, homemade gnocchi and ravioli... go, do. Pick up a tin of lovely Italian plum tomatoes, a chunk of parmesan, a handful or two of black olives, a packet of spaghetti and a tiny of anchovies and a jar of capers, and you're good for:

Spaghetti Puttanesca
(serves 4)

1/2 lb spaghetti
3 tbsps olive oil
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 handful (200 grams-ish) oil-cured black olives, pitted
1 soup-size can peeled tomatoes, cut in sixths
3 tbsps capers, rinsed if held in salt
6 anchovies, rinsed
1 cup grated parmesan cheese

Boil spaghetti. In the meantime, mince the garlic and onion. Saute in olive oil in a saucepan, then when soft, add the olives, tomatoes, capers and anchovies. Saute till mixed. Throw in the drained spaghetti and serve with cheese.


This is wickedly, evilly good: strong-flavored, robust, not for the faint of heart. If you can find a tin of tiny whole cherry tomatoes, get those. They're whimsical, like slightly collapsed red balloons. Makes the whole dish even nicer.

Once you've brushed your teeth from all that garlic and anchovy, go to the Victoria and Albert and book tickets for "Grace Kelly: Style Icon" (you have to book them! there's no showing up on the day, it's far too popular). Take a teenage girl or two: it's the perfect event for them to see what glamor was really like. There are her REAL dresses from "High Society" and "Rear Window"! Avery's jaw simply dropped at the sight of these iconic garments, with their impossibly tiny waistlines... and there are lovely videos of her engagement announcement, her wedding, her honeymoon... and enough jewelled handbags, sunglasses and shoes to make any 13-year-old girl swoon. And the shop! There is nothing like the V&A shop. Avery always touches everything, and if her Iowa grandmother is with her, it takes twice as long because they EACH touch everything, with each other. Perfect for birthday party gifts.

And then, it's late June in London, so it's... Wimbledon. Can there be anything more satisfying than playing a magnificently sweaty game of tennis on our grotty local courts, coming home to shower and change, and flopping down on the sofa to watch a lovely American called John Isner duke it out for over 11 hours with a Frenchman? Over eight of those hours were SEQUENTIAL! The match played out, as you all know by now, over three days, and they are both my new heroes. Now, whenever John and I are exhausted after our hour, I say, "So let's do that for seven more HOURS." It was simply awe-inspiring. The only comparison I can possibly even suggest to myself is childbirth: at some point, or many points, one says to oneself, "I don't think I can see this process through. I think I'm done." And then one's husband says, "No one can have this baby but you. You'll have to stick it out." (I'm sure he said it more poetically and supportively than that, but you get the idea.)

It must have been like that for these two lads: with every impossible serve, they must have thought on some level, "I really can't be doing with this anymore," but what choice did they have? No one but they could finish the match. Truly inspiring!

And then, in my never-ending quest for new things to do that not everyone gets to do: go visit the Law Courts at and around Lincoln's Inn Fields and... hush hush... get to have lunch in the Members Common Room! It pays to have illustrious friends, I do have one, a very cool solicitor friend who is a loyal blog reader and therefore an unquestionably good person, and she kindly invited me along to lunch in the exalted space. It is the original wine cellars of the larger dining hall upstairs (in order to get into which one must be a barrister, which is the English type of lawyer who appears in court, not the type who works with the general public and is called a solicitor. But she walked upstairs with me after we had our lovely gossipy lunch, and we gazed upon the glorious vaulted ceiling, painted chandeliers, long refectory-style tables. "It's like Harry Potter!" she murmured, and exactly so! She described to me the old-fashioned barristers working in their Georgian offices and then repairing at the end of the day to their flats above, with menservants, just like Oxford dons...

It was such fun to see something private and impressive and rather secret-feeling, the buildings soaring around the Old Square and New Square, leafy and green, and encapsulated by wrought-iron fences to keep out people like me. I am happy to report that my friend is just as impressed with her surroundings as I was, so we were able to be gleeful for her together.

And then, of course, there is Avery's beloved school. I fully realize that the clock is ticking on my being welcome there, in fact on her being there at all. Of course come to that, the clock is ticking on everything, so I don't know why I should suffer particularly over the school, but it is quite the most magical place we could ever have envisioned sending her. This week was the Celebration for her year moving up into the Middle School from the Lower School, and frankly, the sight of all 100 of them in their teen glory, perfect bodies and hair and gorgeous smiles and all of them just starting out, so earnest and yet cool and sophisticated, was enough to make me want to cry, as usual. I do try so hard not to! Luckily I was brought from bathos by the sheer intelligence and charm of their presentations: "A Very Civil War: or, The Entire Recounting how Charles Stuart did come to lose possession of both head & crown in a single stroke with this sorry tale reduced to five minutes." If I told you that the girls' analysis of the salient battles was told in football-analysis language, would you find that as amusing as I did?

Sitting in the great hall, panelled up to the gallery from which girls hang, arms folded, clinging to their friends, listening to an excerpt from "The Crucible" in which most excitement was obtained from a concerted scream (the acoustics are impressive, I found!)... I felt completely happy, in spite of the heat!

(I interrupt this paean of love to London with a brief screech: enough with the heat already! We go to Connecticut for this! Let's have some nice drizzly grey for just a day or so, so I can stop being all pink in the face and sweaty, even before I start a game of tennis.)

Finally, tonight we picked Avery up from a cupcake-making birthday party (she decorated hers with Doctor Who references, per her current obsession.

She said, "It's really hard to make a Dalek's arm out of frosting."

We smiled at each other. "That's a good one for the game," I said, referring to our ongoing love affair with sentences that we reckon have never been uttered before.

"I know," she said, as we trooped to the car, she in her beautiful grey Bonpoint dress (dotted with chocolate from the cupcakes and gone suddenly too short with her shooting up), and a pair of tottery vintage charity-shop heels. Only Avery could get away with it.

We raced away from the party to my last thing-I-love, and that's the Old Vic. How many dozens of times we have driven there through town across the Westminster Bridge, looking up at Big Ben (which Avery always reminds me is not what you can see, not the tower at all, but the bell inside: the tower is St Stephen's Tower), Westminster Abbey and the Houses of Parliament and the London Eye. It's the tourists' tour, only it's on the way to the theatre!

Tonight it was "The Tempest", and while it is not my favorite of dear Will's efforts (I simply cannot keep the plot straight, and Avery and I agree that the Ceres-Juno scene is not just incomprehensible, but downright annoying), but it was great fun to see the glorious staging, hear the idiosyncratic live music coming from both sides of the stage, and to revel in knowing that in this town, Shakespeare is a local playwright done good. It's funny how present he is, when you live here. He's alive and well, and we all feel that he must be reading the reviews, shaking his head over pedantic modern stagings, wishing he could throw an Elizabethan ruff over some character dressed as a bicycle messenger (I'm not making that up). The Old Vic is simply a cozy, elegant, friendly theatre that simply churns out beautiful productions: "Gaslight" last year, the never-to-be-forgotten "Six Degrees of Separation" this spring, and tonight... I, well, I LOVE it.

And... did you know that when you book tickets for a play in London, the choices of "title" (instead of just Mr, Mrs, Miss, Ms and Dr), include "Lady", "Lord" and "Sir"! I love that too.

And there you have them: eight things I love about living here. I wish you could do them all with me, but then if you lived here, you'd have your own eight things. That's what makes this city great. If you ever think you're a tiny bit bored, all you have to do is look up and there is something to cherish, to invite a friend to do, to chortle about afterward, to hold to your heart and enjoy. Now... it can cool off.

19 June, 2010

the blueberry or the muffin? you decide

Might I interrupt whatever exciting activities are occupying you, dear readers, at this moment, and ask your opinion?

I am about to meet with a simply SUBLIME food photographer here in London, about possibly (so exciting!) taking photographs for my eventual "book." Now here are some things I am wondering. And the reason I am asking you? Because she said, "You must ask yourself who your audience is to be."

I am hoping it will be YOU.

So. Do you like to look at/read/use foodie books that include photographs of ingredients, or of dishes in progress, or of finished dishes? I suppose the ingredient-based illustrations are more artsy, more for the joy of looking, where the dish-in-progress or finished dish might be more instructional. Does that make sense?

For example, the photographs above give you an idea of the sort of choice I am imagining. What do you like? One or the other, or both, or something else entirely?

If you have an opinion on this subject, do take a moment to let me know. It's all getting stupendously thrilling. And thank you!

17 June, 2010

The Crucible (of June)

Stop the presses: SUNBURN! Not a lot, I rush in to say, but today we got... sunburned. I'm old-fashioned enough to say I put on "suntan lotion," when my PC side knows I really mean "sunblock" or "sunscreen." But hey, 30 years ago I was slathering myself with baby oil and lying on a bed of aluminum foil, so I think I'm due a little leeway.

It's that time of year again, when I look at the calendar and think, "Really?" Did I really book tickets for three more plays, RSVP for Avery for three more parties, encourage her to throw one of her own, and schedule two more sales for Lost Property, not to mention out of town guests, doctor and dentist appointments and the vet, all in the three weeks left before we go to the States?

Drinks parties, dinner parties, really?

The girls deserve it after the hellish week they put in last week, 12 exams in five days! I'm relieved to have it over, and I never even cracked a book! The whole ordeal was brought home to me most visually when Avery held out a pen. "Do you see how there is no ink in this pen?" she asked rhetorically. "This pen was NEW at the beginning of last week!"

This week, we've been out and about playing tennis (I will not succumb to tennis elbow, will NOT, I'm sure it feels better if I play than if I don't), and seeing a new bit of the Victoria and Albert installation, of architects using the museum itself to explore architecture's experiments and limitations. "The Ark," by Norwegian architect Rintala Eggertsson (would you have guessed that was a man? I wouldn't) completely charmed us: a two-story two-by-gour construction, tethered to the staircase by thin metal cables, and sheathed entirely in... paperback books! A giant bookshelf, going round and round, admitting only four people at a time because it... moves. From side to side, just slightly, but enough to remind you of your own mortality. In between contemplations of that, you can sit on the sheepskin covered seat on floor two, and browse. Really, they invite you to browse! Go, do.

And then onto "The Crucible." At Regent's Park Open-Air Theatre, one of my most favorite places in the world, where we have seen "The Importance of Being Earnest," "Much Ado About Nothing," always in these waning days of the school year before we decamp for our American summer. This year it was "The Crucible." McCarthyism! Shades of today's hysterical shoutings about Obama, healthcare and Communism! Everything that changes, simply stays the same. The sun beat down, Avery's class occupied the upper regions of the theatre as we cooked in the "better seats", and we reveled in the American play playing itself out in the English atmosphere. I wondered how the religious fervor would play out in America... there was some nervous tittering as the predominantly-schoolkids audience came to terms with Miller's deadly earnest treatment. "No religion that demands your blood deserves your faith..."

And how difficult it is for me to withhold the secrets of my culinary excitement of last weekend! Filming! Studios! Cars and drivers! But my lips are sealed. Until mid-August, when I can reveal all... Stay tuned.

In the meantime, I await the big reveal of my new blog design. There have been delays, as there always are with big projects, but I am hopeful of massive excitement in a week or so. To deal with this, I had better offer:

Cucumber and Yogurt Salad with Chillis and Lemongrass
(serves 4)

1 large cucumber, outer sides sliced off and seeds left behind, cut into slender sticks
1 red onion, diced
1 medium-hot red chilli pepper, minced
1 stalk lemongrass, peeled of outer layer, minced
zest of 1 lemon
lots of fresh-ground pepper
1/3 cup fat-free yogurt, mixed with juice of 1 lemon
Maldon salt to taste

Mix everything but yogurt and lemon juice, then toss with those. Salt to taste.


This salad is beautiful and fresh on its own, but also surprisingly lovely with a rather heavy main course, as we had this week: beef ribs in a tomato sauce. The two bounce off each other: rich and light, dark and springlike.

I wish you luck in achieving all that June has left for you, as we dance through the excitement left for us... then HOME!

06 June, 2010

the hidden beauty of exams

It's a good news/bad news scenario, and since I'm Scandinavian I always want the bad news first: Avery's long-dreaded end-of-year school exams begin tomorrow morning. Five days, 11 exams, nothing else. Just exams.

The good news? She was home all day, every day last week and I simply LOVED it. I try not to think, most of the time, about how much time she spends away from me these days, because I know it's the wave of the future, it's healthy, and in the hideous modern expression, "it's all good." I hate that phrase because it's NOT all good. I miss her, and I find myself longing stupidly for the days when she was far more dependent on me, and therefore within my sight much more than she is now. I realize that to have a young lady on the doorstep of being adult, so capable and elegant and knowledgeable, is "all good." It's wonderful to drop her off at her acting class and see that she no longer has any need of anyone accompanying her, and her teachers have inside jokes with her, and she can be counted on to be a funny, hardworking member of the group.

And even her riding lessons, where I used to take her, settle myself down with a magazine and sort of sigh at having to watch her go round and round, being led by one of the big girls... these days SHE'S the big girl at the stables at the weekends, the one the adults rely on to help the little ones. There's no more watching: she's off in Hyde Park leading the little ones. I love it that people have grown to depend on my child, that she's responsible and resourceful. It's all you wish for, really, as a parent.

Except for more time with her! I wish for that.

So this week, as onerous as it was for her, was a delight for me. I provided her with "frequent little meals," as my friend Shelley so lovingly once said about feeding a kitten! Bowls of juicy, blood-red American cherries to be gnawed around the pits, bits of toasted baguette spread with salty Normandy butter, Danish salami of such a pinkish hue that we find ourselves wondering if Denmark feeds its pigs food coloring! And fresh fried haddock, battered in homemade breadcrumbs, four-cheese lasagne with a sneaky layer of spinach, chicken in sour cream sauce with brandy and a special paprika provided by my chum Rosie... not to mention countless asparagus spears, broccoli florets, sugar snap peas, and, best of all...

Avery's Exam-Week Blueberry Muffins
(makes six medium-sized muffins)

5 oz/150g plain flour
pinch salt
1/2 tsp baking powder
1 large egg
1 1/2 oz/40g white sugar
1/2 vanilla pod, scraped
zest of 1/2 lemon
2 oz/50g butter, melted
1 cup blueberries

Heat oven to 350F/180C. Line the muffin tin with paper liners, or butter and flour each muffin space.

Sift (or simply shake through a sieve, as I do since I don't own a sifter) the flour, salt and baking powder into a bowl just large enough to hold them. In a larger bowl, stir together the egg, sugar, vanilla pod scrapings, lemon zest and butter.

Fold the flour mixture into the egg mixture just gently, mixing until all is JUST wet but leaving behind plenty of lumps. Carefully stir in blueberries and divide among muffin cups.

Bake for 25-30 minutes, or until just browned and firm. The blueberry juice will have bubbled up and may look a bit messy around the edges, but that's what keeps them juicy and lovely. If you used paper cups, remove the muffins (in their paper cups) from the muffin tin right away.


Can you believe how little sugar is in this recipe? I was absolutely shocked, but I shouldn't be surprised, because the basic measurements of flour and baking powder and sugar were taken from Delia Smith, and she is so very sensible.

If you have a hungry child around the house, split one of these open while still warm, tuck a nice piece of butter inside, put it back together and deliver it, with a good napkin to wipe those buttery fingers, and watch the appreciation steal over the little face. Or not so little, in Avery's case.

I hate to think that I equate love COMPLETELY with food, but I know I come close. Tonight I offered Avery a sort of junk-food chocolate pudding with a hot sauce, one of her favorites, and she accepted, saying, "First, can I have a huge hug?" Once hugged, she smiled and said, "That's better than chocolate. I can save the pudding for tomorrow."

Other than exam hell, we've been fairly dull and quiet, accomplishing things like weeding the oxygen-rich planted roof of our guest room (I hated to tell John after, but it didn't look much different... he did discover some wild strawberries out there, however, a total mystery). And I ruthlessly cleared out all my kitchen cupboards, discovering uncharming things like six different opened packets of couscous (guess what we had for dinner tonight), at least five opened packets of pinenuts, countless partly-used packets of mismatching pasta and no fewer than seven different types of miso soup paste! What on earth? So everything has been wiped down, thrown away when absolutely necessary, consolidated and counted up. Remind me not to buy any dried chicken soup for about another century. The same goes for tinned tuna! I foresee some odd meals coming up. Just wait till I hit the freezer. Fancy some thawed smoked salmon with homemade breadcrumbs and limoncello?

And we've been entertained by our neighbors, both literally (a lovely drinks party last night in the garden with the first Pimms of the year!) and more accidentally, when Selva appeared outside in front with a giant electrical saw and enough energy to cut our side of the hedge while he cut theirs. Other neighbors walked by, weighted down festively with boxes of wine bottles, and we all ribbed Selva about his hedge-cutting skills. "I want a topiary chicken, sitting on an egg, like that one a couple of streets over," John said, and I chimed in, "Or a pony, or a kitten, please." Selva didn't skip a beat. "Actually, it was already in the shape of a chicken, so I have refashioned it into a topiary hedge-shaped hedge."

Lots of parties being bandied about: Annie and Keith's always splendid drinks with the most tempting and gorgeous small eats you can imagine, including my favorite of smoked salmon mixed with creme fraiche on little blinis... can't wait for that. And Avery's giving a party! "Mocktails" and vintage prom dresses, which should be a hoot. I brought home from Indianapolis a peerless pink dress made for my MOTHER by my GRANDMOTHER, a satin top, with layers of tulle skirt and a hugely long sash, and it fits Avery like the proverbial glove, so that inspired her to ask her friends to look round the charity shops and flea markets. They will all simply pile into the sitting room with sleeping bags afterward, to watch something involving Grace Kelly, and fall into chocolate sundaes. I timidly mentioned the notion of "real food" and pizza was mentioned, so that should take care of all the basic food groups.

Well, tomorrow Lost Property beckons, which always requires the utmost in my energy. And sometimes a face mask, if the lacrosse boots are particularly pungent. But you know the best bit? Avery will come to visit while I'm there, I will be able to hear how the morning's exams went and offer comfort for the afternoon's efforts, and for sure, there will be a hug available.

28 May, 2010

a star is boiled

Guess what? It's the 600th post for "Kristen in London," and very possibly the last before my new look is unveiled, so Happy Birthday to us!

My house right now is filled top to bottom with a band of men installing my new security system. Because we have been burgled twice in less than a year, our insurance company is understandably a bit peeved with us. How did such undemanding customers of 25 years, dwellers in countless apartments in New York and London suddenly become so very... expensive? So they are insisting on an alarm system, before they agree to cover any more of our home invasions.

An atavistic instinct in me is enormously satisfied by the notion that some evil neighbor, having preyed on us twice before, is now looking with consternation from across the street, watching us become alarmed.

And it IS alarming.

Because these fellows are full of grisly tales from their native land, one from South Africa and the other the East End of London, where one apparently does not leave expanses of glass uncovered by metal bars, or doors with fewer than two solid locks at all times.

"This, madam, is your Panic Button. Simply press this red button if you hear broken glass or other signs of an intruder, and a loud screaming, piercing sound will..."

"OK, OK, I get it!" I say.

Actually I think having an alarm set while I'm in the house would make me even more jumpy than just THINKING I hear somebody. We've all done that: lain awake absolutely sure we've heard somebody coming in, but knowing it's not true. The idea of having scientific, Panic-Button-deserving proof of it is rather too close to the food chain for me.

So, the best thing for me to do in the face of such drama was to cook a live crab, and learn to take him apart.

This is because, dear readers, my aspirations for breaking into the British food world are coming true! I have won a place on a TELLY contest which shall remain nameless until it airs... The dish I'm putting forward? "Creamy Sweetcorn and Rocket Soup with Fresh White Crabmeat," so naturally I had to learn to cook and prepare a real, live crab. As I'll do on television, for real, on June 11.

Here's what happened. My dear friend Susan received an email invitation to join the contest, and while she had no interest in doing so, she forwarded the invitation to me, and on a sort of whim, I entered my darling soup recipe. Because, I'm loath to boast, but I will, I think it's a superb soup AND I invented it. As far as I can see, from assiduous googling and cookbook trawling, no one else has thought to cook sweetcorn and rocket in chicken broth and add cream and crab.

So the first thing that happened was someone emailed me back and asked that I submit the whole recipe with complete instructions, amounts, procedure, etc., along with some biographical information about me. The next thing I knew, my phone rang. Now, I am well-known to my nearest and dearest for hating speaking on a mobile phone. I don't like the feel of it, the tinny sound, or the tendency it has to ring when I've just sat down in a dentist's chair or ordered my main course. But I answered.

"This is so-and-so, is that Kristen?"

Gulp. "Yes."

"We here at the studio are holding our London and Southeast Regional Auditions next Saturday and wonder if you could bring in a bit of your lovely-sounding sweetcorn soup for our producers?"

Gulp. "Yes."

And from this scintillating exchange, my career in television was born. That grey and cold, spitty Saturday, John and Avery drove me to the Studios, whereupon Avery checked my makeup, applied a little extra of her favorite Benefit "Get Even" for my complexion, and a touch of lip gloss. "There, now you're ready." I marched into the building, got my name tag (complete with hideous photo in which I look like a disembodied head) and waited. And waited. Then the little group of us waiting there, eyeing each other and our carrying bags curiously, were escorted up to another waiting room filled with food smells!

A very large man was unpacking a complex-looking terrine with a layer of quail's eggs inside it and a lattice pastry top, a nervous-looking lady with red cheeks was ladling out a soup studded with what looked like sliced hot dogs, and a very skinny young man tending two little children sliced up a chocolate dessert of some kind, with glace cherries on top. Other hapless people who must already have submitted their dishes leafed in a desultory way through tabloid newspapers all screaming about the election.

When my turn came, I ladled my beautiful bright-green soup into a white bowl provided by the studio, and went to face my producers. And they were adorable! Lovely young men in their 30s, very competently asking me about my chicken stock, my opinion of British produce (better than American, I had to say, especially chickens, and rocket), what I was doing living here, how often I cook... it was great fun! I had expected to feel nervous, but honestly, when I'm talking about something completely natural and dear to my heart, what was there to be nervous about?

And they liked the soup!

"Now, your recipe suggests scallops or crab as an optional addition," one man said, licking his spoon. "Tell me about that."

"Well, for a party I have served it with sauteed scallops, but I didn't think they'd travel well, so I didn't bring them today," I said, "and crab meat always sounded like a natural, with sweetcorn, sort of a chowdery touch."

"Exactly," said the second young man, "I wonder if you'd be willing to consider that, should you get to the next round?"

"Sure!" I chirped, and they had another sip, shook my hand and said they'd be in touch.

Well, that little encounter completely disappeared from my life in the face of my trip to Indianapolis down memory lane, and other than mentioning it to my mother on the way in from the airport when I arrived, I never gave it another thought.

Until I got home, to a message on my mobile phone, left behind in favor of an American one. "Kristen, this is so-and-so again, and I wonder if you'd call me so we could speak about your recipe." That seemed like good news! It seemed hard to believe he'd want me to call him so he could tell me my stock was too salty. It had to be good news.

And it was! I'm part of the London/Southeast Regional heats. I'll compete against another person cooking a starter, and the judges will decide between us. Then after all the regional contestants have cooked and their shows have aired, the judges will choose a number of us for the next round. So it could be awhile, after filming on June 11, before I know any more, but watch this space! I'll tell you when to flick on your telly to watch me prepare:

Fresh-Cooked Devon Brown Crab
(serves 1 as a starter salad, or 2 garnishes for soup)

1 large LIVE Devon brown crab
1 carrot
2 stalks celery
large handful flat-leaf parsley
2 tbsps sea salt
cold water to cover
dash white wine

Leaving Mr Crab to the side for a moment, thrashing about on your countertop, place all the other ingredients for his cooking water in a large stockpot and bring to the boil. When the water is vigorously boiling, lower the crab in carefully and place a lid on the stockpot. This lid may need to be moved a bit to one side if the water begins to boil over. Watch the pot carefully to make sure Mr Crab does not flick the lid off. Boil for 15 minutes, then remove the crab to a plate to cool.

When the crab is cooled so that you can handle it, pull off the tail flap at the back, then remove all the legs and claws by twisting away from the body. Place the claws under a clean towel and tap with a hammer until the claws are broken enough to remove the large chunk of meat inside each.

Each large chunk of claw meat will have a central piece of cartilage running through, so feeling carefully along this cartilage, remove the crabmeat in as large pieces as possible and set aside. Check carefully for bits of shell and discard.

The chunks of white meat should be placed in the center of your bowl of soup in as pretty a pile as possible. Or you can mix a bit of mayonnaise with them and sprinkle with chives for a perfect crab salad.


For the purposes of this recipe, and because I do not like brown crabmeat, discard the rest of the crab or find a lovely friend who does like brown meat and give it to her. Or, my fishmonger says the brown crabmeat makes a lovely stock if you boil it and the crab shells in a little water. I tried boiling just the shells and the resulting liquid was awful: watery, dull, unpalatable.

So there you go, completely fresh crab. It is head and shoulders above anything you'll buy already prepared.

I must learn to do this perfectly, at least two more times, before the television day. When I did it the first time, I did not cover the crab before I hit it with the hammer, and the shells disintegrated like porcelain, shooting all over the kitchen. This to the truncated delight of my tabby, who thought each shard might contain food for her. Just shell. I'd rather not have shell shooting all over the studio, however!

Well, other than my burgeoning TV stardom, life has been fairly quiet. Avery is gearing up for a week of unmitigated study revision (well, probably not unmitigated) beginning tomorrow. They all have the week off to look over their work from the year, and the week after is nothing but exams. I remember this from last June: every day they are tuckered out, and irritable, and they just get more so as the week goes on. Many yummy little snacks are required to bring them from their gloom. It IS hard, six or so hours of exams all day long, for five days in a row. I actually think next week will be delightful, just having her at home sitting quietly with all her books and papers. I'm sure we'll find something adventurous to do to break up the monotony.

Last night was swimming pool duty, which I always enjoy. Our school owns a share in a gorgeous, old-fashioned, glass-ceilinged swimming pool just adjacent to the school grounds, and it's a beautifully evocative place to spend a couple of hours. I arrive with Avery and all her swimming gear, punch in the security code, pull back the gates, run with my set of jingling keys to find the box containing the sign-in book, the money to pay the pretty young lifeguards (school seniors), and a bunch of purchasable swim caps for those hapless souls who have forgotten theirs. Then I sit in the slightly humid air with my mystery and a bottle of water, perusing the membership cards as people come in to swim, petting somebody's little fuzzy terrier left behind in the lobby while her owner swims, chatting with the girls as they come out wringing their wet hair and comparing homework assignments. Cozy.

And home for one of my favorite dinners, in fact one we all love because it's messy and silly, and I'm happy because it uses all sorts of bits and pieces from the fridge! Keep all your parts of peppers, mushrooms, onion, and such through the week, roast a duck or a pork tenderloin, or a chicken, ANYTHING really! And roll them up.

Everything on a Pancake
(serves 4)

enough roast meat (chicken, pork, duck, lamb) for 4: leftovers are good too!
4-6 Chinese pancakes per person
vegetables sliced long and thin: peppers, cucumbers, spring onions, mushrooms, carrots, etc.
green leaves to tuck in: spinach, cilantro, parsley
chopped nuts: pinenuts, cashews, peanuts, macadamia, hazelnuts, etc.
sauces: plum sauce, mustard, chilli sauce, satay, etc.

Now just start rolling up, with whatever you like inside, and make sure you have plenty of napkins!


Well, it's Friday, so it must be ice skating tonight, and then we have to whisk her away to see "The Fantasticks," that gloriously romantic musical that ran forever and a day in Greenwich Village (we saw it as newlyweds!), and is now in revival here with my super-crush Edward Petherbridge... I'll let you know.

19 May, 2010

want to offer your opinion?


Drumroll please...

Here is a link to the new and improved "Kristen in London," still in the planning stages and we're still building that recipe index!

But I'd like to ask your opinion on how it looks, what you see on the first page, how the hot links work. In short...

Do you like it?

I'm open to all ideas, so let's get the ball rolling!

17 May, 2010

you CAN go home again

There is no substitute for going "home." No matter how strongly I feel about my own home in London, or how much I loved our various apartments in New York, when I walk into my mother and father's home in Indianapolis, I know I am "home."

I feel so tall there now! The kitchen where I spent so many happy childhood hours seems smaller than I remember, the ceilings lower, the counters lower, the lights dimmer. All the cupboards (or "cabinets" as they were called in my childhood) are within my reach, but my strongest memories of them are from the vantage point of being 10, crouching on my knees on the counter, to get down a can of corn or the blender, which lived far in the back, on a dark shelf.

Every room in the house is testimony to my mother's intensely personal decorating skills, and every object has been chosen with deliberate care to reflect her taste in any given year. When I was little, everything was yellow: checked sofa, chairs and curtains, the whole living room a sunny haven, flanked by the fireplace on one end and her conservatory/plant room on the other. Very 1970s! Now, yellow has been replaced by deep browns and clear whites, in the tuille of the chairs she inherited from her mother's house, in the southern-style shutters at the windows, the masses of brown and white transferware china she has collected all her life. The walls are covered with samplers she stitched herself in the long days she spent looking after the three of us children, and there are displays of antique eyeglasses, symbolizing my grandfather's career as a prominent optometrist in southern Indiana.

The plants are still there in the plant room: luscious ferns, tiny baby primroses in hanging baskets, the terrarium we children planted, with even the stepping stools stencilled beautifully by mother, reflecting her belief that everything one uses or looks at should be decorative, should add to the visual landscape.

She has a squirrel collection! No, not taxidermy (she is far too fond of living furry things to do that), but every other conceivable material: fuzzy Steiffs, cast-iron doorstops, paperweights, carved wood, all sitting demurely on a painted tray, tails tightly curled.

And everywhere are photographs. My mother has a positive genius for making arrangements of touching, significant, historical (she likes to call them "hysterical") objects, combining them with photographs, placing them all in deep boxes behind glass: all our family history hung on the walls. My great-grandmother's passport, wedding certificate, teaching degree, christening dress, string of pearls, photograph of her holding my grandmother, smiling at her baby from under a cloche hat. My mother collects printer's type, and makes boxes for baby gifts, for my daughter a box filled with types of cats, symbols of New York City where she was born, my and my husband's initials, her birth announcement, a photo of her as a newborn baby.

The many, many photographs of our family reunions, grandchildren arranged stairstep-fashion, the tiniest child changing as more babies appeared! My beloved grandfather, dead so prematurely at 64, in the happiest family days you can imagine, all of us grandchildren being pulled in a cart behind his lawnmower on the acres of lawn in front of their big, rambling stone house, on the street named for him... he with pipe in mouth, billed cap on head, broad smile as he spent his days the happiest way he knew, surrounded by his grandchildren. How he would have adored Avery. This is something my mother and say to each other at least four times, every time we get together. "Wouldn't he have thought her the little princess," for that's what he called all of us granddaughters. We were each a princess, when he was with us.

So I went home, last week. My father valiantly dragged in my impossibly heavy suitcase, and I brought out presents for everyone, talking and listening, catching up on family and neighborhood gossip. Who had sold a house, whose children had got divorced, how many cars were in the next-door garage in various states of disrepair, who had turned gay or got arrested (it's an interesting neighborhood)...

And in the morning there was time to sit out on my mother's screened-in porch, surrounded by hanging plants, with a giant box of memorabilia from my 98-year-old grandmother's house. My mother was glad to have me go through it, making a pile of things I wanted to bring home with me, including a photograph of some random great-aunts, old ladies in their flowery print dresses, eyeglasses with rhinestones at the corners, gnarled hands folded in their laps. And guess what? They were 45 years old when the photo was taken! Times have certainly changed... somehow I don't think there was a "cougar" among them.

There is a dusty film in some unfamiliar format, of my baby mother held in her father's arms, and an old photo album belonging to my grandmother with pictures of long-ago Easters spent looking for eggs under their giant spruce tree, and Christmases in polyester pajamas with tousled hair, all of us grandchildren gradually getting older until I suppose she stopped putting photos away, and just let them pile up on her bedside table.

That was the one quiet day at home! From then, time speeded up in a blur of visitors. My mother's best friend Janet, gorgeous as ever, hostess of many, many sleepovers with her daughter who grew up with me, always the more glamorous, popular and beautiful! Just looking at her familiar face made me feel as if the intervening 30 years had never happened, and we were once again jumping off the dock at their lake house, or our lake house, or speeding on water skis behind one of our boats, all of us with perfect athletic figures and perfect tans, eating hot dogs and steaks and getting up at the crack of dawn in 1981 to watch Princess Diana's wedding, on our dodgy aerial television.

And along with her came her great friend Dallene, famous in my life for teaching me to play piano, a joy that has stayed with me all these years; if I'm not as good as I was at age 12, it's not Dallene's fault! How many hundreds of hours I spent at the piano in her elegant Victorian house, with her son under my feet, trying to keep me from reaching the pedals! And her husband our high school football coach, the two of them bursting with energy to teach all of us everything they knew... Many years later, they turned up in London on a school trip, and I cooked something for them, a pork roast, Dallene thinks, and of course she says, "That was the best pork roast I ever ate!"

It was simply lovely to sit with them and my mother, feeling petted and loved, remembered as a skinny little kid tagging after the cooler kids, practicing my piano and making chocolate chip cookies, seeing them always in the bleachers at my diving and gymnastic meets, a set of ladies ready to take care of me and all our friends, stalwart mothers. I love to think that there are girls in Avery's little social circle who see me as just such a mother, there to pick them up at the train station after school trips, to provide popcorn while they watch a movie. Every time Avery asks for help with her piano music, I think of Dallene and what she added to my life, once a week, for years and years, and I told her so! Which made us both happy.

Then it was onto producing lunch for my dear friends Bob and Ann, Bob who married us in his infinite philosophical wisdom, 20 years ago. Ann was and is a total feminist and iconoclast, and she was more than happy to turn the traditional marriage service into something that reflected who we were. To get ready, my mother polished the brown and white china, spreading a matching tablecloth on the dining table where we NEVER eat unless company comes! More china shone down from the cherry sideboard that my dad made with his very own hands.

It was tricky for me, queen of butter, cream and other fattening things, to make something that would please Bob and Ann who are 80+ for a good reason. They really take care of themselves, biking through Holland last year, playing tennis twice a week. So I really felt I didn't want to poison them at lunch, and I spent a lot of time thinking of just the right dish: savoury and festive, yet not heavy and guilt-inducing. I think I invented just the ticket, and I have to tell you that I served the chicken salad in... a chamber pot. I really did, as you see.

Chicken Salad with Basmati Rice, Artichokes, Pinenuts and Courgettes
(serves 8)

3 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
2 tbsps olive oil
1 tsp Fox Point seasoning
2 cups basmati rice, steamed in 1 1/2 cups water
2 heads Boston lettuce, well trimmed and leaves separated
1 large globe artichoke
2 stalks celery, chopped
1 cup pinenuts, lightly toasted
2 medium courgettes (zucchini), cut into bite-size batons
1 red onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced with salt and lemon juice
juice and zest of 1 lemon
handful chives, chopped
handful fresh dill, chopped

dressing (optional):
2 tbsps mayonnaise
1 tbsp olive oil
juice of 1 lemon
1 tbsp balsamic vinegar

Saute the chicken breasts in a large frying pan with the oil and Fox Point, till just cooked. Don't overcook. Slice thin and set aside to cool, reserving the seasoned oil in the frying pan.

Steam rice and set aside to cool.

Line a large bowl (or chamber pot) with leaves of Boston lettuce, just the sweet inner leaves. In a separate large bowl, mix all the ingredients (including chicken and rice) for the salad and toss well. Add the seasoned juicy oil from the chicken pan and as much of the dressing (or none) as you like and mix well.

Arrange the salad in the bowl lined with lettuce leaves and serve with baguette slices, rolls, or as my mother did, buttered biscuits.


This was so delicious! So many different textures, colors and flavors that each bite was interesting. Be sure to serve a couple of lettuce leaves on every plate. If you're the type of person who likes things wrapped in lettuce, eat the salad that way, wrapped in a leaf.

For dessert we had blueberries, blackberries, raspberries and strawberries tossed in a little lemony sugar water, and my mother's all-time, old-fashioned favorite sweet:

Lemon Bars
(serves 12)

1 box lemon cake mix
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1/2 cup butter, melted
1 package lemon frosting mix or 1 cup lemon frosting
1 8-ounce package cream cheese
1 egg, lightly beaten
1/2 cup lemon frosting for top

Butter a 9x9 cake pan and heat oven to 350F/180C.

Mix the cake mix, 2 eggs and melted butter and press into the cake pan evenly. Mix frosting mix or frosting, cream cheese and 1 egg and spread on top. Bake for 35-40 minutes or until set and golden brown. Cool and spread remaining frosting on top. Cut into 12 squares.


Now I know you will sit up at this and say to yourself, "Self, what is Kristen doing with processed foods full of high-fructose corn syrup and artificial flavorings?" And to this I can only say, this was the first dish I ever cooked in my entire life, age perhaps 10, and that's what we did in those days. I'm sure if I put my mind to it, I could come up with a pretentious recipe using all organic pure ingredients, and it would be a page long and cost about $20. But why? How often are you going to eat Lemon Bars, anyway? Once a year? Go for it.

Bob and Ann and we sat around the table for hours, reminiscing about my college days (where he was my professor, to be sure, but he started when my parents were there!), our lives in London, discussing the recent election, my sister's career, and theories of children in foster homes, all subjects dear to our hearts. Best of all were the stories about old professors my parents and I had had in school.

"Remember old E., how blind he got in his old age?" Bob asked.

"Sure," my mother said promptly. "Once there was a kid in my class who had a bet that he could crawl out down the central aisle, and E. thought he was a dog. 'Who let that mutt in my classroom?'"

"Versions of that story are legendary," Bob laughed, "but the best is that one kid bet another a quarter that he could crawl out. When E. saw him, he walked back where the kid was on his hands and knees and said, 'Young man, what are you doing?' And the kid said, 'I just lost a quarter,' so E. got down on HIS hands and knees to look for it!"

Finally they had to go, having driven an hour from my college town to see me.

Thursday saw me having coffee (I really needed it at that point, jetlag threatening to catch up with me!) with my old high school friend Brent, now the director of the Indiana University jazz radio station. We talked over and over each other, trying to fill in the gaps between 1983 and now. Indiana politics, the history of our little neighborhood where we grew up, adventures in college, and of course the joys of Facebook, where we found each other after all these years!

He raced me home where we jumped in the car and drove two hours to the little town in Southern Indiana where my mother grew up, and where her mother now lives in a gorgeous little retirement home, where she is the undisputed Queen. And the oldest lady at 98! "Well, hey there, Bettye," person after person called to her, while we were there. And she remembered me perfectly, although it's been several years since I saw her, isolated as she is in that town, so far from London. "I'd like to go back there," she said reminiscently, "and spend more than two weeks. I was there for two weeks with your grandfather, and it surely was not enough to see all there was to see..." her voice trailing off as she looked into the past, two dead husbands ago, another lifetime it must seem.

I confess to a little heart-thumping fear when I first saw her. So much older than I remembered, living not in the houses where I visited her as a child, but as a patient, really, in a nursing home. I know that my life is impoverished by not spending enough time with her, and with the other old, old people who exist in my life. Oldness can start to seem scary, so far away, as if they aren't really people anymore. But the longer I sat with her, the more we exchanged stories, and she looked through the photographs of Avery and John that I had brought, the more I recognized the silly, chatty, resolute matriarch of our family who held us all together for so many years. When we got up from the table where we'd been sitting as she had a cup of ice cream, she started to stand up and abruptly sat back down in her wheelchair, laughing. "I almost forgot I was living in this contraption, honey! Almost stood up on my own two feet. Got to remember I scoot, now, not walk. It's hell to get old!"

We left after an hour or so, and I kissed her soft cheek and she clung to my arm for an instant, saying, "It's good of you to come see an old lady, honey," and I could only hug her back and see her old, old eyes overlaid with the snappy brown ones in the photos on my mother's porch. How odd it is to try to see the continuity between that buxom, beautifully dressed young lady holding my baby mother, and this lady so diminished and tiny. But when I said, "Now you behave yourself, young lady, till I see you again," she squeezed my hand and said, "What would be the fun in that?" She's still in there, after all.

As if this wasn't overwhelming enough, I was then taken out for a super-fancy dinner with eight of my best friends from high school! Simply unbelievable, that I have been friends with Amy, in particular, since I was five (and she is still exactly the same, with an enormous booming laugh and sparkling black eyes, always looking for trouble), and most of the others since our high school days. What struck me was the continuity of their personalities! Jami, still a vegetarian as she has been since one thunderstruck day at age 14! Tawn, her sister, eccentric, brilliant and white-haired, as beautiful as ever. Lynette, ever the Francophile among us, who managed to marry a Frenchman! The "other Amy," older than we, sophisticated and lawyerly but with the same wicked gleam in her eye. And the little sisters of the group: gregarious Jill, serene and gentle Jennifer, and Shelley, full of zest for life and well she might have, with a boyfriend who is, shall we say, considerably more YOUTHFUL than the rest of us! She too, is a discovery of Facebook, and say what you will about social networking, if it brings together friends from 25 years ago, I say, bring it on.

It was a good thing we started out at an outdoor table, because we simply shouted with laughter! Catching up with stories of our adolescent children ("is it OK if she has a total attitude, or should I nip it in the bud?" was a common topic!), our husbands (some of them high school sweethearts!), our parents, old teachers we remembered. "Remember how that health teacher told us that if you have a tapeworm, all you have to do to get rid of it is to hold a bowl of macaroni and cheese under your chin, breath in through your mouth, and then when the tapeworm appears, grab it and pull it out?" EEEW! A strong pedagogical memory for us all!

Home very late, as I really felt I had to talk at some length with everyone! We parted, vowing not to leave it another long space of years before we see each other again. How lucky I felt, to have had such good judgment in choosing friends, so long ago.

And that was that. Hugs and kisses all round with my mother, father and brother the next morning (and of course Maisie the cat!), and off to the airport. There I sat, not reading, not people-watching as I usually do, but lost in the space of years that comes to you when you step back in time. Four days of memories... and a lot of love and fun remembered.

05 May, 2010

continued adventures in the shires...

Before I devote myself to the continuation of our Wiltshire story (ponies!), I must tell you that not only is today the UK General Election, in which we'll get a new Prime Minister, but also tomorrow is the 65th anniversary of VE Day, Victory in Europe Day, and as such, I've been reading several books that I would recommend to anyone even remotely interested in the Second World War. I confess it's the period in history that interests me more than any other, partly because it still feels present here in London (in America we're not accustomed, for example, to walking past buildings with pockmarks labelled as war damage). But also we've been watching "The Pacific", the nominal sequel to "Band of Brothers," not so much as entertainment, I must say (hideously violent and depressing), but as a tribute of appreciation to the soldiers who lived through such horrors.

I offer you Citizens of London, a fascinating account of several famous Americans who chose to stay in London during the Blitz... and Americans in Paris, the same story in that beleaguered, occupied city. But perhaps even more overwhelming have been In Memory's Kitchen, a cookbook (imagine) written by Czech ladies in a concentration camp outside Prague. A COOKBOOK written by starving ladies. And In My Hands, the story of a Polish teenager who became a Holocaust rescuer. You will cry with horrified sympathy, you will wish you could meet these people, express your gratitude, you will look around you at the riches and freedom we have and see the tiny, thin, wavery line that separates normal life from unbelievable suffering. All worth the read. And thank you to my friends Anne, Bina, and Alyssa, who made these heartbreaking, enriching books known to me.

Happy VE Day.

Well, I felt I couldn't leave you all with the last post, the story of our adventures at Salisbury Cathedral, without some marvellous photos of those times, those views, those places. We were up SO HIGH! I can't explain exactly what happened to me in Salisbury - was it lack of oxygen? - but it contained for me a sort of magic, a cocoon of safety, kindness, historical fascination and peace that will stay with me always. I can't sing enough the praises of the Landmark Trust, and I hope you will spend your next holiday in one: to be enveloped in a property who exists for us only because some very far-seeing brilliant archaeologists and architects decided to save it, to be surrounded by its history, to find in each and every house the most minimal but perfect furnishings, always quite the same in each one, to read and write in the extensive Log Books... to follow in some places 30 years of visitors and their stories! Go, do, and write your story. I have passed the reins of this job to Avery.

And now for something completely different: my current obsession with... teriyaki sauce. Now, before you jump down my throat, I am fully aware the "terikyaki" is a method of grilling meats, and does not refer to any specific sauce. In this, I think it shares space with the Western concept of "satay sauce," because "satay" really refers to the skewer method of cooking, but we all think it means a peanut sauce.

My point is, drop your skepticism for a bit and imagine what you think of as "teriyaki sauce." You know what I mean: dark, salty, spicy, sticky. I know. That's what I mean, too. And here it is.

Teriyaki Sauce
(you arrange the amounts, I'm giving the proportions)

2 parts dark soy sauce
1 part Japanese mirin
1 part honey
1/2 part sesame oil
zest and juice of limes
fresh grated ginger (to taste)
fresh minced garlic (to taste)

So imagine you want to make enough of this sauce to coat fillets of salmon for four. That's what I typically make.

You will want 1/2 cup soy sauce, 1/4 cup mirin, 1/4 cup honey, 1/8 cup (just a drizzle, in short) sesame oil, the zest and juice of 1 lime, and a 2-inch knob of ginger, peeled and grated, and 2 cloves garlic, minced.

Mix all in a saucepan and simmer till the sauce bubbles like a toffee, perhaps 3 minutes.

Cool and pour over the salmon fillet, then bake at 425F, 210 C for 20 minutes.


Believe me when I tell you that this sauce is DIVINE. Simple, wholesome, spicy, sticky. Try it on chicken thighs and breast fillets, which you can then saute in a frying pan. For a vegetarian meal, you can easily toss steamed broccoli, peppers, cauliflower, baked squash, in the sauce and serve with rice. Sublime. Make it.

But back to Wiltshire. At least, it's strictly speaking Hampshire.

The New Forest! It's a protected area much like Exmoor or Dartmoor, with ponies standing by the side of the road, and in the hillocky areas in parkland. Big ponies and small, brown, black and white, as you see: simply there for the petting! Well, actually we were told off by a park worker who at first claimed we might be bitten, then once Avery's extreme equestrian experience was made known, said that petting them encouraged them to demand petting! And what's wrong with that! John's mom was the perfect paparrazza, following Avery everywhere to get the best possible shot. We repaired then to nearby Lyndhurst for a pizza lunch at Prezzo, lovely and relaxing in the garden.

Oh, the adventures we had. Back to town finally where the volcano hit and forced us into tourist destinations FAR off the beaten path (plus Avery blissfully shopping in Regent Street! did you ever see such a happy shopping face!), and my own personal ambition to cook something different for EVERY night of John's mother's stay, which by the end was approaching the four-week mark! But I did it. And now I just notice how often I repeat things, our favorites like... teriyaki salmon.

Quiet reigns here tonight, then, and election coverage is beginning NOW. So I shall love you and leave you, and tomorrow, we have a new Prime Minister.

catching up with Wiltshire (with a little Rye along the way)

Life: speeded up. I cannot believe it's been a month since our unforgettable trip to Wiltshire, most especially the magical town of Salisbury, and that I am just now sitting down to look at these evocative photographs, and to describe a bit of our fun.

Just before we left, of course, was the horrid burglary and the loss of my laptop and my camera. Brilliant John was able to retrieve our photos from some Big Brother umbrella online, so everything is safe. But I have been astonished at how naked I feel without a camera! I have gotten so used to simply whipping it out to record a dish, or something Avery's doing, or a beautiful sight in the countryside, that to have an empty hand and just eyes to remember has been an unpleasant surprise.

Thank goodness John's mother had a camera in her possession when we were out of the house being burgled, and she is the Compleat Recorder of Everything That Happens, so we have marvellous photos of Wiltshire.

Since then, of course, we've had The Adventure of the Volcanic Ash, and all the mess that went with it. Finally, though, everyone is back in place at home, at school, and I've been on an adventure: to Rye, in East Sussex, on a reunion with my foodie and food-writing friends from the Arvon Foundation. Three solid days of FOOD. I dragged with me all the ingredients for my grilled teriyaki salmon, three-cabbage slaw with fennel, celery and carrots, pesto, many, many packets of sausages and bacon from my beloved Giggly Pig in the Hammersmith farmer's market... you can imagine the weight of my suitcases!

All weekend we did nothing but shop for food, cook, talk about methods, ingredients and memorable dishes, then EAT. And sit around talking about cooking and eating! Pure heaven. Everyone contributed, with very little discussion or arrangement, special dishes, and the table groaned night after night. Rosie's slow-roasted pork belly with rosemary, lemon and superb crackling, Pauline's cauliflower roasted with chilli olive oil, a sauce of pork juices, Calvados, red wine and butter... Beets roasted and tossed with chopped parsley and lime juice, and finally Sunday lunch of two gorgeous legs of lamb, slow-roasted with Adam's ambrosial marinade of every savoury ingredient imaginable: harissa, anchovy fillets, lime juice, garlic, rosemary, olive oil...

And the desserts! I started out as I usually do, saying warningly, "Don't have your feelings hurt. I don't really like sweet things." But maybe it's just that I don't like rubbish sweet things! Because I liked everything: Sam's Victoria sponge with raspberry jam filling, Rosie's chocolate and Amaretto slice, and her incomparable Bramley apple crumble with homemade toffee sauce and custard! The chocolate slice, ah... quite wonderful: a kick of alcohol, a crunch of crushed biscuits, fluffy perfect creamy chocolate.

Through it all, we discussed food. What would be our Desert Island Ingredient (butter, for me). Does bread count? Last dish on earth? Foie gras creme brulee for me, smoked salmon for someone else, a perfectly cooked steak...

Conviviality, humor, generosity beyond belief. That is my group of friends, the Gathering of Nuts in May. Susan's humor, Caro's sparkling wit, Louise's booming laugh, Katie's smiling appreciation of us all... everyone so talented, warm and supportive. One of my favorite lines? I was complaining that too many English puddings contained gelatine, and said pompously, "Americans don't like anything wobbly!" And nearly everyone chorused, "Except themselves!"

Rosie's Celestial Chocolate and Amaretto Slice
(serves about 8)

10 crushed Amaretti biscuits
125 grams high-cocoa-content chocolate (Valhrona is excellent)
1 tbsp unsalted butter
1 tbsp strong espresso coffee
1 tbsp Amaretto liqueuer
4 eggs, separated
1 tbsp caster sugar
300 ml double cream

Line a loaf tin with greaseproof paper, then place half the crushed biscuits on the bottom.

Melt the chocolate in a double boiler, then stir in the butter, coffee and Amaretto. Set aside.

Whisk the egg yolks with the caster sugar until fluffy, and set aside. Whip cream, then mix it with chocolate mixture.

Beat egg whites till stiff and gently fold into chocolate mixture. Pour into loaf pan and refrigerate overnight, very important. When ready to serve, unmold from pan and scatter remaining crushed biscuits on top. If you want to be posh, Rosie suggests a shot glass of Amaretto on the side. HEAVENLY.


One lunch out: should you find yourself in Camber Sands, a stretch of sandy beach a few miles outside Rye, slip into "The Place at the Beach" and prepare for a treat. A simply gorgeous starter of creamy smoked haddock gratin with spinach, then massive fish and chips with a truly memorable tartare sauce. Don't get Caro started on the risotto, however: uncooked, tasteless and quite inedible. Back to our little rented house on a sheep-filled hillside to cook another perfect meal for ourselves...

Now I am home. For a brief moment, it seems. My head is spinning a bit from what's on my desk and mind right now: just home from Rye, I'm now heading off to Indianapolis on Monday to visit my dear mother, father and brother for five days. Before that, I'm signing the permission slip for Avery's trip to Bath on the 15th, listening to John talking about going to Dublin the next weekend to look at his beloved Georgian architecture, looking into tickets for our return home in July, signing permission slips for Avery's trip to St Petersburg before Christmas!

Yesterday afternoon, I just wanted to sit down and breathe for a moment. So I did.

I took a nap! Just collapsed on the sofa in peace, listening to Avery practice her singing lesson downstairs in the kitchen, and Tacy lay across my legs while I watched the trees along the road wave their springy yellowy-green leaves, where bare branches had accompanied my late-afternoon naps in the approaching dark of late winter. Peace.

Peace was what characterized Salisbury, no doubt! We arrived at the Wardrobe, a Landmark Trust building in the heart of the Cathedral Close, and practically in the shadow of the spire. As with all Landmark Trust houses, total simplicity and perfection. "Old Chelsea" china, perfect cleanliness, a little bar of soap with LANDMARK carved into it, harsh white sheets and piles of woollen blankets on all the beds, and VIEWS. Of the red roofs of Salisbury, the Avon river stretching out under the window, the manicured gardens of Ted Heath's house next door!

Oh, the gorgeous cobblestoned courtyard of our ancient little house (a military museum sits underneath, part of the agreement with the Landmark Trust to have the little apartment for holiday lets)... and then the Green, stretching in a serene square bounded on three sides by Georgian houses and exquisite gardens, and then the Cathedral itself sits in medieval splendor, its spire reaching far into the sky. How far? I'll tell you... it's a long, long walk.

But we did it! We booked a tour of the Tower with one of the Cathedral guides, and I may tell you that as soon as our eyes met, I felt a deep and appreciative kinship. His name was Alastair, and he took to our little American party straightaway. Americans, I can tell you from long experience of both being one and observing them in and out of captivity, put to shame any other nationality when it comes to getting the most out of a tour guide. We ask questions! And right away it was clear that this was no ordinary guide, armed with a few facts and Health and Safety warnings about pregnant women not being allowed to climb the Tower.

"Why did the workers bother putting so much of themselves into this Church?" I asked, trying to imagine them working endless hours with no electricity or proper equipment, sanding marble pillars, carving limestone, killing themselves. "Ah, yes, that is a crucial question," Alastair jumped in at once, his eyes sparkling as he warmed to his theme. "Their lives were nasty, brutish and short, spent in darkness and filth in lonely little cabins. Their children died, they themselves had a life expectancy of between 25 and 35 years... how important it must have been to think that there was another life to come, a much better one, and this place was the stepping stone to that better life..."

We climbed the hundreds of steps up a winding stair barely wide enough to accommodate us one at a time, the worn stone steps barely deep enough for our feet, Avery and me with our combination of agoraphobia and claustrophobia. I swear I could feel the tower swaying in the breeze! We stopped for breath in the clock chamber, and in the bell chamber, while Alastair pointed out medieval ironwork, ancient rooflines, and the water pipes climbing all the way from the ground. So many towers simply burned down.


Avery and I had heart attacks. We had not been expecting the chime! Alastair smiled indulgently at us and led the way, at the top of the inner tower, to the standing area outside, looking FAR below us to the green below, and we could see our Wardrobe! Simply stunning, and stunningly frightening. But we did it. "I am standing here imagining the tower just toppling over," Avery moaned, and I completely agreed. It felt very insubstantial, and VERY high up.

Back down, so much less frightening than going up. And worth the trip! We chatted more with Alastair, asking question after question, and he knew far more than we could even think to ask. Finally at the bottom, he asked if we had seen the Magna Carta yet, and upon hearing no, strolled over to the desk to ask if he could lead us through the exhibition. How intriguing to think that the Charter that the Pilgrim fathers were so keen to protect was their own copy of the great Magna Carta, ensuring a swift and speedy trial to all free men.

The document itself was strangely diminished: tiny and impossible to read, even if one read Latin. So small, to have accomplished so much.

The feeling of religion, of the place of the church in life, both medieval and present, was all around us. A ghostly organist practiced in the moonlit evenings, alone in the giant Cathedral. "Wouldn't it be funny," Avery chuckled, "if he broke into the theme from 'The Phantom of the Opera'?" Late at night, after a roast chicken and couscous, I said, "Listen! Bells..." and sure enough we could hear ringing. We wandered into the sleeping village and followed the sound, and there, magically, was a church, on bell-ringing practice night. Avery cowered in the graveyard, sure she saw an open grave just waiting to welcome her, and bats flew overhead as I stood in bliss, listening to the chimes, imagining Lord Peter Wimsey in that greatest of all crime novels, "The Nine Tailors," ringing away on a snowy Christmas Eve... heaven!

"Go in and ask to meet them!" John and his mother urged. "Just introduce yourself and see if they will show you around," but I was too shy.

Our days were so splendidly quiet and peaceful: we devoted ourselves to one of the many puzzles we accomplished over the week: you simply MUST order a puzzle from the Wentworth Company: all wooden pieces, and a few whimsical among them shaped like the subject of the puzzle! So a puzzle about a garden included pieces shaped like tiny spades, flower blossoms, garden hoses. How peaceful the afternoons were, John's mom hovering with one of her inevitable cups of coffee, Avery with a slice of apple cake, me with a glass of sparkling water, fighting over "that's my piece!" John napped or worked on the computer, John's mom tried to get through "Wolf Hall" by Hilary Mantel, Avery curled up with Sherlock Holmes, I puttered in the kitchen. Simple peace.

The night of the tower tour, we decided to spring for dinner out, and ended up, after mature consultations with the house Logbook and previous visitors' reports, at Anokaa, a fusion Indian restaurant right in the heart of Salisbury (which is a completely charming town in an of itself, although our loyalty was to the Cathedral Close). Starve yourself for the day and be prepared to be overwhelmed by Anokaa, its inventive menu, the charming and generous waiters... crispy lamb's liver with a chickpea pancake! Lentils smothered in garlic, spinach and okra, chicken in unusual sauces, the crunchiest papadum, the softest naan. Avery went traditional and ordered a creamy chicken korma, and the scent of delicate coconut milk wafted over us all.

And guess who was there as well? Alastair! With his family. I quickly succumbed to one of my usual impulses, and invited him to dinner the next night, and to my joy he accepted, just on his own because his wife would be away that evening. Glorious! More time to ask him questions.

He turned up precisely on time, with a gift for us: a glorious picture book of the Cathedral, its history, its floods and famines, great tombstones and inscriptions. How lovely. We sat down to dinner, talking nineteen to the dozen, and John's mother said gently, "Why not ask Alastair if he knows anyone at that church in town, someone you could ask questions about the bells?"

A moment's silence. Then he said, "Stay right here," and went to fetch his phone. He demonstrated its ringtone: handbells! "I am a ringer at that church," he said, "and let me make one phone call..." And then he was on the phone to the head of the ringers, explaining that he had a friend he'd like to bring by in the morning. To hear their ringing before services!

And guess what his favorite book in the world is? "The Nine Tailors." "It was read aloud to us as schoolboys," he reminisced, "and those were wonderful evenings, working out the change-ringing in the plot, imagining ourselves as Lord Peter..." He spent the rest of the dinner working out changes for me on a scrap of paper, explaining everything so that I understood, finally, after years of reading that novel in puzzlement.


So the next morning found me in the bell chamber, sitting quiet as a mouse on a bench along the wall, listening to the ancient calls I've read about so often... "Treble's going, treble's gone..." and reading tablets on the walls about great peals they've rung, and the instructions for the changes in Kent Treble Bob. Just like in the book, I kept thinking, and their pulls down, the rhythmical flight of the ropes, the men's (and one woman's!) faces as they looked to each other to know when to pull their ropes. The half hour flew by as I watched and listened. Then they all smiled indulgently at me, tied up their ropes and went on their ways, joking about how he who rings the treble bell does so only because it's all the poor man's capable of, bringing up the rear, making fun of each other's accents, lots of inside English jokes that I would have to live there a hundred years to understand. But, oh, I was in heaven trying!

Alastair unlocked the door to the belfry, and one of the men rang the treble bell alone, so I could hear it, and feel the swaying of the wooden structure holding it up, and that's just with ONE BELL ringing! Imagine during an entire peal, how powerful the sound is.

Well, that was the magic of Alastair Lack, whose guidance through the Cathedral you must ask for should you get there. Thank you, Alastair, for making one of my dreams come true.

And Stourhead House! This bridge forms part of its gorgeous landscape, used in the 2005 "Pride and Prejudice," so we made our pilgrimage to it, having a lovely picnic in the grounds, and then making our way along what we came to think of as the Stourhead Death March, an unbelievably LONG walk round hill and dale till we finally came to the house, panting and puffing. And it was a yawn, except for the Music Room, where as you see, "Pianists are welcome to play." It was a moment of a child's lifetime, at least for the adoring adults surrounding her. She sat right up at the Steinway (our piano will never sound the same, now) and played one of the themes from the score of "Pride and Prejudice," the elegant, simple sounds ringing against the carved ceilings and ancient paintings. When she finished, the notes drifted away and all the tourists and tour guides in the room applauded. How I missed John's dad at that moment. He would have beamed with pride at his granddaughter, in a moment of supreme dignity and elegance.

More on Wiltshire next... think New Forest. Think... PONIES.