07 January, 2010

definitely not panicking

I'm trying desperately not to feel like this little fellow, here at Red Gate Farm tonight.

How I would love to keep Avery tied to my apron strings, or stuffed in my jeans pocket, or even stored in a nice roomy glass Ball jar. Alas, tomorrow...

She gets on an airplane by herself.


Now, as you well know, I have airplane issues. I try to acknowledge them so they don't people my nighttime dreams, but I think it's only reasonable that if you combine my big irrational fear of flying with my big irrational love affair with my daughter, there will be problems. Like those wonderful pairs of coffee mugs in London: "Keep Calm and Carry On" and "Now Panic and Freak Out."

But the important point is, I'm letting her go. Tomorrow she flies off to Charlotte, her big Christmas present, to spend two days with her beloved friend Anna who moved away from London a year and a half ago. How bereft they have been ever since. And isn't that the point of being mature? We overcome things we fear in order to make good things come true for the people we love.

Or something like that.


And in the service of living daily life and not freaking out, I must report that last night the kitchen drainboard and counters were full of the washed but un-dried dishes of yet another dinner party, which must mean one thing: Rosemary's gone. She's the kitchen elf of my blessed acquaintance, the magic helper who restores my house to perfection behind my back, folding laundry, shining silver, setting the table, lighting candles. And drying pots and pans. So along with the general loneliness of her empty bedroom, not helping her look for her coffee cup during the day ("I really thought I left it just HERE"), not having her bright and interested listening ear to all the details of daily life, we also having a drainboard full of dispiriting dishes to remind us of her absence.

And the dishes themselves? The detritus of, seriously, the LAST party of our Christmas holiday at Red Gate Farm. Last night it was my sister and her family, and Rollie and Judy, bringing with them several culinary gifts that reflect both who they are and who I am: a giant snowman-shaped Rice Krispie treat, a peppermint ice cream log, a chocolate ice cream log. These were from Judy, for the children. And from Rollie, for me? Two slabs of homemade smoked bluefish. He winks roguishly at me. "Judy yelled at me for putting them on top of the ice cream. They do smell, fishy, but I know you and you'll want them." Lord, how I do! "I even brought the crackers to go with," Rollie nudged my arm. I could easily have cancelled all of dinner and sat down happily to a plate of smoked bluefish and creme fraiche.

And because I was selfish and didn't feed everyone my smokey treasure, we helped ourselves instead to:

Rigatoni alla Vodka
(serves 8)

3 tbsps olive oil
1 tbsp butter
1 white onion, finely minced
5 cloves garlic, finely minced
2/3 cup vodka
2 large cans peeled plum tomatoes
1/2 cup grated Pecorino or Parmesan cheese
1 cup light cream
sea salt and fresh ground pepper to taste

1 1/2 lb rigatoni

Simply saute the onion and garlic in the oil and butter in a large skillet or saucepan, then add the vodka and cook high for 1 minute. Put the tomatoes through a food processor and add to the skillet. Stir together and add cheese and cream and season with salt and pepper, and simmer for at least 1 hour.

Cook the pasta and when it is drained, turn the heat up under the sauce and tip the pasta into it. Toss well and serve with LOTS more Parmesan.


Rollie and Judy. They never seem to tire of our questions about the past life of Red Gate Farm. "Where was the second fireplace? Did Tessie's heirs REALLY throw away all her china and rag rugs when they inherited the house? Was she a good cook?" Tessie, Tessie, the last loving inhabitant of this house, famously the first lady of her family to get a Christmas tree into the place. "Her father didn't believe in such things," someone told me when we bought the house. "So when her young man, John, brought on in the front door, we knew it was over, he'd won the day, and they got married."

Tessie's spirit lives on in the "borning room" at the back of the house, now the kitchen, double-heighted since the renovation opened it up to the old attic. And whenever Rollie and Judy come, they give us another tidbit or two about the past of this beloved place, ending always with, "How Tessie would smile, to see you here now, cooking and all." I think of her so often, more than I think about anyone else I never knew.

Today I drove to Greenwich to meet up with my girlie friend Alyssa from New York days, to shop and have lunch at Morello Bistro, to gossip and catch up in that elliptical style we have. "Are you wearing LIPSTICK, Kristen? Do I see lipstick on you?" "What's up with Elliot's tooth? Somebody HAS to take that scary thing out of his mouth..." Discussions that cannot be carried out on the phone about children's schoolbus schedules, Annabelle's bat mitzah plans and presents (ha, Annabelle, I gave your present to your mom and it's STILL a secret!), Avery's fashion sense described but still not to the extent that we felt comfortable choosing a dress for her at Rugby. I had no problem choosing a tiny little plaid woolly skirt with fringe, and a pair of houndstooth trousers, for myself.

And my lunch salad? Divine.

Morello Bistro's Beet Salad with Hazelnuts, Ricotta and Scallops
(serves 1, GENEROUSLY!)

1 tbsp butter
2 large sea scallops
3 tbsps ricotta
2 handfuls arugula
2 medium beets, roasted, peeled and diced large
1/4 cup chopped toasted hazelnuts


3 parts olive oil to 1 part balsamic vinegar
chopped chives
sea salt and fresh pepper

In a heavy skillet, melt butter till it "stops speaking to you," as Julia Child would say, then lay scallops in the butter and cook on one side, high heat, for 2 minutes. Turn and cook for another 1-2 minutes depending on how you like your scallops cooked. Set aside.

On a large plate, arrange dollops of ricotta in three spots. Place handfuls of ricotta in the center. Scatter beets and hazelnuts across the greens and drizzle with dressing. Place scallops between the ricotta dollops. Serve with toasted bread.


Simply divine.

Home safe and sound with nary a wrong turn (stop the presses) to an evening of mixed feelings for me: happy to sit on Avery's bed and help her pack, but Panicking and Freaking Out about WHY.

"So do you want this tiny t-shirt anymore, or can it go to the charity shop?"

"Oh, I wore that nightgown for YEARS. Save it for Jane, unless she thinks it's a dress."

"Do you really want to take the whole calendar of cute animal pictures with you to Charlotte?"

"Yes, I have to show them to Anna, plus here's the envelope of pictures from days that have already gone by."

"Is this sweatshirt REALLY dirty, or just sort of permanent lipsticky dirty? And what's that you're kicking under your bed?"

"Do we have time for a library run tomorrow before I go?"

So hard to believe that the next time Avery's installed in her tiniest-of-all living bedrooms, it will be July. Jane and Molly will be completely different and little Kate across the road might well have traded in her shoe obsession (they refer to her as "Little Imelda") for something more sinister, like cutlery. The house will be stuffy and airless when we come in, far from the chilly regions of tonight. Avery will probably be 1n inch or more taller. My bluefish will be in the freezer.

In the meantime, we have tomorrow to get through, I mean enjoy. And John and I will spend the next two days packing up the house for the long winter ahead. Then we'll collect Avery at the airport and I can breathe again.

Wake me up when she's back.


Just a Plane Ride Away said...

What a magical journey your daughter is on. One, I am sure, she will remember forever. You are a brave and generous mother. I am not sure I could do it ;-)

My goodness, culinary gifts are the best. What wonderful ones you received. Homemade smoked bluefish sounds divine! And I am intrigued by the idea of a peppermint log...

Happy New Year, Kristen! Many blessings to you and your family :-)

Nanacoon said...

Thank you for sharing your life with us.
I do look forward to reading each new adventure. Bonnie

Kristen In London said...

Thanks, dear friends! She's safe and sound in Charlotte this evening, having the time of her life. I'm collapsing with post-traumatic stress fatigue! Happy New Year to you both... and yes, a peppermint log is amazingly delicious! The bluefish has been sent into the deep freeze for summer... can't wait to take advantage of it!

Anonymous said...

Your post is so timely is is eery. We just decided to send my 14 yr old to SF, CA for spring break to visit my sister and her husband. I love that city, I love my sister and my brother-in- law and anticipate the experiences they will share with him. I know it will be an amazing experience for him to see the city, the redwoods, Carmel, Tahoe--all of it but all I can think of is that plane trip. I know I cannot let my fears impact on what will surely be an amazing trip for him. I have decided that scotch is the answer and plenty of it. Wishing Avery and the rest of you a safe and easy journey home.

Kristen In London said...

Min, I must answer you right away. I feel so much better tonight now that she's there, and I can see that my worries were completely natural, but probably only a once-in-a-lifetime fear. As I said to my husband, "when was the last time we travelled with our mothers?" The time is so short that they will travel with us, that getting used to the independence is a good thing for all of us.

But listen: you can tell him you're freaking out, and he won't mind! Avery was very understanding, and it didn't stop the enormous jaw-stretching smile from breaking out.

Scotch yes! Good luck, dear friend.