24 January, 2010

Lovely Ladies Who Lunch and other adventures

A thought occurred to me in the middle of the night: sometimes I feel snowballed, as in, running in the trail of downhill snowball, by events that come around only every few weeks or months, and then suddenly, whoosh, they're all there at once.

These things all happened last week. Writing class, with excellent advice given to me on piece now submitted to the next issue of Vintage magazine. Bless the editor's heart, to be interested in, of all things, a piece that was Campanology born on my blog a year or so ago, on the art of bell-ringing. Some goddess of editorial match-making must have been looking out for me, as this same lovely editor wanted my "Recipe File" for the magazine last year. I know that there are writers who complain about deadlines, but so far, not me: a deadline means someone wants my work!

Coming home from writing class I sat across from two men on the Tube: overcoats and shaking out newspapers, decrying the state of modern culture and the failure of "civil servants."

"I say, old thing, most of them not the LEAST bit civil and most certainly with no idea of how to be a servant!"

"Well, old boy, Churchill said something very witty you know, about two peoples being separated by a common language, he had an American mother, you know, a Vanderbilt or some such."

"What we need, what this country needs, is fewer small men making small mistakes, and more GREAT men making GREAT mistakes."

Coming from writing class, all about characterization, I felt I had been thrown into a Tube car thirty years ago without warning, with men who might have served in the War, came home to rationing and too few servants to look after one...

Then, you know, if it's January, it's time for Avery's sort of quarterly haircut, only this time it seems to sit atop a person who is changing right before our eyes: vintage Ferregamo pumps from an antique shop in Connecticut, silver Gap tutu, blue-spotted tights, pink mohair sweater, Hermes scarf purloined from me on her head, a general look of eccentric selfhood coming over her features. She's always had an eye for fashion, even as a toddler crawling around in a combination of corduroy, silk and denim, pulling open the door to the dishwasher so she could sit on it, surveying her world with skepticism and interest from that slight height. Then she would toddle over to the full-length mirror and look herself up and down, maybe to return to her room and change her socks.

We got a very funny email from one of Avery's teachers who happened to come upon her singing Tom Lehrer's "Chemical Elements" for her chemistry teacher... that combined with a very unusual fashion sense means we're NEVER BORED.

Of course, every few months along comes the Lost Property luncheon, which means that I, plus 30 of the best volunteers that Avery's school has to offer, dust off our hands, fold up the moldy swim towels, dirty lacrosse sticks, smelly tennis trainers, and gather together, in a pouring rainstorm, in my kitchen, to share gorgeous dishes of food. Ladies brought vegetable lasagna (chock-ful of butternut squash, carrots, eggplant and mushrooms), a salad of roast chicken, orzo, pine nuts, romaine lettuce and parmesan shavings. My dearest friend Annie brought her tiny meatballs stuffed with mozzarella, swimming in a sea of tomato sauce under a blanket of homemade breadcrumbs and cheese.

"Do you mind just getting this warmed up and gratineed, Kristen?" Annie mentions, so I push the casserole gently into the oven and move onto various other tasks, like gossiping. Finally I peek into the oven and it seems so SLOW, and nothing really bubbling. Why not put it under the grill for a moment?

Suddenly everyone seems to be coughing. "Open the garden door!" I shout, as my heart sinks and I open the oven door. Breadcrumbs blackened. The smoke alarm goes off.

"Is this just browned and tasty, or... carcinogenic?" Annie asks, scraping it off, the best of all possible sports.

Ah well, the afternoon was lovely anyway. Someone brought quite simply the best cheese EVER, something called Wigmore from Jeroboam's in Holland Park Avenue. Slightly smelly, creamy, meltingly rich. And a rhubarb tart, and a treacle tart with fresh whipped cream, a plate of Lebanese treats of honey and pistachios and pastry.

We all pitch in to tidy up a bit so Annie can give me a lift to school - I'm carrying a plate of leftover tart for Jamie and Avery to snack on! - , and then I pick them up at the gate, carry their clobber over to Jamie's mother's car where we pile in to head to the skating rink, everyone sharing the tart.

"I'll carry it in to the skating rink," Avery offers, "hidden like this beneath my sweater."

"Stick it in my skate bag!" Jamie shrieks, but Avery insists.

"No, between my two files it will be fine," and we sneak in, with our forbidden outside snack included.

Saturday we succumb to that other sort of quarterly impulse: Camden Market. Normally, of course, nothing could drag John to a place that manages to be both cold and stuffy, windy and full of cigarette smoke, and containing nearly all the people in London between the ages of 17-28. All in search of a dress from the 1960s and a pair of go-go boots, for an upcoming party given by one of Avery's friends. I say "normally," because in fact John will do a lot of things he won't normally do, in order to help Avery out.

Polyester dresses by the YARD, stinking of the ages, all the shops playing the Bee-Gees but not quite synched up, so you end up hearing bits of "Stayin' Alive" sixteen shops in a row. All the shop girls convincing Avery that each dress is the one she needs, and also that she really CAN walk in knee-high (someone's knee, someone John's height) boots with platform, or stiletto heels. Finally we ran a dress to earth: purple, green, orange and blue rayon, with white collar, tie and cuffs, knee-high, and plastic jewelry to match. But no go-go boots. Not yet.

From the Market in a rush across town and across Piccadilly to the theatre district where we were to see a play and have sushi before, but it became clear with traffic that we wouldn't make it to sushi. That sort of semi-silent treatment between married people ensued. No one wanted either to blame the other or completely support the other, so we simply fumed slightly and then arrived at the theatre, picked up the tickets and realized we had an hour. Not quite sushi time, but time for something.

"What are you in the mood for, Avery?" Predictably, Italian. But huge queues.

"Would you rather run for sushi, or try this Korean place?"

"You guys aren't liking each other too much right now, so I'm not getting involved!" she wisely decides, so Jindalle Korean Grill it was, and actually, very good it was, although we were rushed. The place was virtually next-door to the theatre, so we could relax and enjoy grilled beef, duck, pork and chicken, while I wished for some sort of carb and we looked at our watches.

Finally, one of those classic things I seem to schedule for us to do once every few weeks and then suffer agonies of pressure as to whether or not everyone will enjoy it: theatre tickets. Last night it was "The Misanthrope" with Damian Lewis and Keira Knightley, and it was a total joy. Amazing rhyming schemes, energetic performances, very pointed social commentary set in contemporary life, but with recurring hilarious references to 17th century France. And some very funny lines... one from a celebrity playwright to a failed writer... "What do you mean, you're going to MAKE a scene? You can't even WRITE one!"

Home chattering about the dialogue (how much did Avery mind a lot of cursing? not much: "I hear a lot worse at school, from TEACHERS!"), the costumes at the party in the last scene of the play, how well Keira pulled off an American accent (pretty well). Tired on a Saturday night, from the bits of adventure that seems to keep us busy.

As for cooking, I can tell you that one of the favorite dishes at the Lost Property luncheon was my own:

Crunchy Colorful Slaw
(serves at last 8 as a side dish)

1/2 head each shredded: red cabbage, white cabbage, Savoy cabbage
3 large carrots, julienned

dressing: equal parts lemon juice, balsamic vinegar, Dijon mustard, fromage frais or yogurt
1 tbsp mayonnaise
1/2 tsp dried oregano
sea salt to taste

Simply shake up the dressing in a jar, then toss everything together.


This slaw went beautifully with all the lasagne and meatballs, and my roasted salmon.

But probably the most popular side dish was this invented by my friend Elizabeth:

Orzo Chicken Salad

(serves at least 8 as a side dish)

4 chicken breasts with skin on
Orzo – half a pack
Cos (butter or Boston, in America) lettuce – chopped into small pieces
Other mixed leaves including rocket
Asparagus tips
Pack of pine nuts (about 1 cup)
Block of parmesan
Flat leaf parsley - bunch

4 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons white wine vinegar
2 teaspoons dry mustard
Maldon salt to taste

Roast the chicken breasts, cool, remove skin, and slice thinly. Set aside.
Meanwhile, boil water for the orzo and cook for 15 minutes and drain. Cool but make sure that you add olive oil so that the pasta does not stick.

Roast the pine nuts briefly – make sure they do not burn. Set aside.

Boil salted water for asparagus and cook for 5 minutes. Drain and cool.

Put the orzo in a large salad bowl and stir in the lettuce and rocket. Add the chicken and mix in. Mix in the vinaigrette and add the asparagus and pine nuts, covering all the ingredients with vinaigrette.

Sprinkle shavings of parmesan and chopped parsley on top, add Maldon salt to taste, stir again, and serve.


This week? Quiet. Peaceful. Uneventful. At least that's the plan, but then... it's only Sunday night. Watch this space.


Nick said...

One of your best posts, it made me bounce. I am dying to see Avery's outfits--you'll have to photograph her, at least from the neck down (in order to preserve her anonymity--a worthy concern), so we can all enjoy.

Kristen In London said...

Lovely, Min! Avery's down with a photo of her, complete with face, so we'll get one someday. She's of course hoping that some fashion design person sees it, so forget anonymity!