02 January, 2010
last holiday revels
Well, it's been a flickering and lovely end to the Christmas holidays... our anniversary lunch at Nobu on Wednesday was, quite simply, the best meal ever eaten by either one of us, anywhere. It's going to be painful to get used again to ordinary wonderful London sushi, because Nobu exceeded any of our golden memories, from Tribeca days gone past, when it was, unbelievably, our neighborhood hangout. The times, the times the maitre d' looked over the heads of hopeful would-be diners, telling them, "I'm so sorry, we're COMPLETELY booked," to beckon to us, with little Avery, and say, "Come right in, how's the family?"
All the old remembered favorites: the yellowtail tartare with caviar and wasabi-ponzu dressing, suspended on a bowl of ice. The tuna with jalapeno and cilantro, the tuna tataki with ponzu sauce, the bigeye tuna sashimi that a baby could gum, it was so impossibly tender! Soft-shell crab rolls, spicy tuna, giant clam sashimi. Finally rock shrimp tempura with creamy sauce, shiitake mushrooms and minced chives... all washed down carefully with a precious Matsuhisu martini complete with floating cucumber and sake...
And our conversation wandered everywhere: best play seen in 20 years of marriage? Ralph Fiennes in Hamlet in 1994, or David Suchet in Timon of Athens in 2000? Or "War Horse" last year? Best vacation? Seychelles, or Rome with Avery, or one of the endless English Landmark Trusts? Best Avery memory? Her school notification day last year. Favorite apartment in 20 years? Probably where we are right now.
While we were indulging in this unbelievable fishfest, Avery and her Nonna were uptown, revelling in shopping galore! Takashimaya, Bendel (where Avery acquired a peerless green flowery headband), Saks to see the windows and try on EVERY pair of shoes, and ending at Dylan's Candy Bar on 60th Street, where we picked them up in the late, bloomy afternoon. Happiness all around.
Awake the next morning to find SNOW! Snow falling with a vengeance, for New Year's Eve. Blowy bursts of flakes rushing past the windows, highlighted against the red barns and black tree branches, impossible to photograph and simply gorgeous. Festive and beautiful! How we worried that the weather would prevent our guests from making it from New York City, and in the midst of all of it, up pulled a car containing Avery's first best friend ever, Cici, and her lovely family, on their way from NYC to their house on the coast! Coffee all round, the kids out to give the pugs a walk in the fresh snow, all of us reminiscing as you do, with old, old friends (Avery met Cici when she was 3 days old!) with whom you've shared school days, September 11, gallery ups and downs, being separated by 3000 miles. And yet friendship endures. A shared history warms the heart, and seeing two girls (and brother Noah!) stretched up tall, with memories of their baby selves hovering in the background, brings tears to the eyes.
At sunset, they drove away, and Rosemary and I resumed our work of all day to prepare the New Year's Feast to come. Salmon to roast with olive oil and my beloved Fox Point seasoning, a side dish of cannellini beans with rosemary, breadcrumbs and parmesan, asparagus with hollandaise. Possibly Avery's favorite of the evening:
6 large flat mushrooms, stems removed, set aside and chopped
olive oil to drizzle
12 slices prosciutto, chopped
2 tbsps butter
1 small white onion, finely minced
3 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 cup fresh breadcrumbs, toasted
sprinkle fresh thyme leaves
handful grated Parmesan or Pecorino
3 slices deli Provolone, torn in half
Simply set the mushrooms on a cookie sheet and drizzle with olive oil. Then in a heavy skillet, saute the prosciutto till cooked and set aside, then add butter to the skillet and cook the onion and garlic till soft. Add breadcrumbs, thyme and cheese, toss the prosciutto in and mix well. Spoon the mixture into the mushrooms, top each mushroom with a folded half of Provolone, and bake at 350F for 20 minutes. Perfect.
So candles lit, the Christmas trees looking lovely for one last evening, Anne, David and Kate trooped across the road for one more holiday party, and we had a stupendous time. There is nothing nicer than a whole SIDE of salmon, oven-roasted for 25 minutes, moist (though I hate the word) and festive and celebratory! Glasses of bubbly all around, Kate asking for Avery to sit next to her! I even forgot to toss the Parmesan in with the cannellini beans and no one seemed to mind, we ate like people possessed. Happy New Year's to everyone!
New Year's Day found us sledding in the back meadow with an enthusiastic Avery and a terrified Kate: not terrified for herself, but for the loved ones she saw putting themselves in mortal danger as they hurtled down the bumpy hill. "Done! Mommy done, Dada done, Avery done!" The sun slanted on the shimmering, crisp snow and we all remarked on the landscape. "I love this view of your compound," David said wryly, as we all surveyed the outbuildings. "Everything is falling down," we agreed with no great degree of dismay. Somehow that seems all right, dark, weathered boards creaking under the weight of cracking glass and heavy snow. Weathered is the word for our whole property, here at Red Gate Farm.
Finally, the last celebration of the holiday season: prime rib at my sister's house! My brother in law is supplied with every possible gadget and receptacle to make cooking such a scary piece of meat fear-free, and John helped by supplying advice from the sidelines about thermometers, bone contact, the usual backseat driver nonsense. I escaped all the decision-making by creating place cards with dear Jane ("I love these markers, they're so... chemically!") and Avery, while Molly slithered around underfoot. My sister was as usual the most patient of all people, being everything to everything, while Joel supplied his gorgeous hot artichoke-cheese appetizer. There is nothing better.
Joel's Hot Artichoke Dip
1 cup artichoke hearts, drained of oil and chopped
1 cup mayonnaise
1 cup grated Pecorino or Parmesan cheese
Simply nonstick-spray a large ramekin or several small, then mix all and decant mixture among the ramekins. Bake at 350F for 30 minutes. Serve with crackers.
A perfect celebratory end to the festive season: my sister's house glowing with the craziness of Jane and her "Cerebral Hullabaloo" Twister-like game, Molly's furrowed brow and determined "transferring" of her hand from one walking-helper to another. Warm, family, red meat. Nothing could be better.
Home to electric blankets to protect against the cold, snowy wind, and a midnight snack of a lime cookie from Rosemary's stash, packed in her carry-on. Who else has a mother in law who arrives with gingerbread men, cappuccino cookies, lime cookies, Chex Mix, brownies and homemade caramels? They all bring out the hidden sweet tooth in me... but I think it's more the secret ingredient: love.
It's over, isn't it? The packing of holiday fun into suitcases, travel, the frantic wrapping and decorating to the background of "Charlie Brown Christmas," the oyster stew and turkeys and stuffing and Christmas cookies, the champagne and parties and celebrations. Some 300-something days from now it will all begin again, but for the moment, a sigh of happiness at family nearby, food treasured, presents opened and loved. Well done, everyone. Surfeit.