10 February, 2010

Birthday Week

I'll admit it.

I was going to lie and say it had been a whole week since I blogged because I Had Been So Busy.

And while it's true, I have been running to and fro, watching Avery create ever-cooler new outfits as above, seeing plays, cooking, turning 45 (no need to expand on the number of years, that's for sure), the reason I have not been blogging is...


Out of the goodness of her sharing heart, a dear friend of mine pointed me to a blog she enjoyed, saying, "Her tone is very different from yours, but I think you might find her inspiring." I'm almost afraid to point YOU to this blog, because it is my sincere fear that anyone who sees this superior blog will have no time for me anymore.


She's Pioneer Woman, and she is perfect in every way. She lives on a ranch with four unbelievably photogenic children, hordes of horses, acres of cows, and masses of sexy cowboys as far as the eye can see, including her husband. She gardens, she cooks splendidly (her COOKBOOK has just been published, which put me over the edge), she even home-schools. And she's gorgeous. And nice.

I could spit.

Well, as you can see, the most that this state of severe negative self esteem has produced is a photo behind the banner of my blog, and a new description, and a new "About Me." What has not transpired is a recipe index. Or the uber-expensive Nikon camera with which she takes her glorious photos, or the Photoshop software to alter them all to perfection.

Just a photo behind my banner, that's all. But it's a start. And since it was my birthday table after my sublime party, I'm posting it separately on this post. In reality: it's the typical image of my life, my mother-in-law says, which makes me very happy.

Mostly I spent the seven days of my silence turning 45. Planning to turn 45, cooking for the lovely ladies who came to help me turn 45, cleaning up after us all, and generally dozing around analyzing whether or not I felt any older. It was a glorious birthday.

The first delightful thing that happened in my obsessive planning leading up to the party was a discovery in my basement (which could yield almost any surprise, it has to be said). This particular surprise was a Ziplock bag full of tarnished silver napkin rings. Back in the days when John and I spent a lot of time thinking up presents to give each other, one of our fallbacks was a napkin ring, to be brought out at the endless dinner parties we gave, pre-Avery. We bought them at antique shops and flea markets, people gave them to us for birthdays and anniversaries, and most celebratory of all, we commissioned them from our friend the jeweler, Linda Lee Johnson, our neighbor in our SoHo loft building and the maker of all the beautiful things we have ever owned.

And somehow, in the confusion of all our many movings of house, those gorgeous things were stuffed into a plastic bag and forgotten on a cellar shelf. Awful.

It was but the work of a moment to bring them up, cover them in silver polish and shine them up. Two are engraved with the date, month and year of our first date! And one says "John + Kristen," and another is a giant silver flower shape, and one, a Victorian beauty, says "Ellen Bennett," who one of my birthday guests joked was actually John's first wife.

What a find.

I spent all of Saturday polishing champagne glasses, polishing forks and knives and spoons, and soaking beans for the cassoulet that would be my birthday supper, Sunday night. Because why buy an ordinary tin of haricot beans and pour off the water in about 26 seconds, when you can, instead, soak dry organic beans for 22 hours, changing the water three times? Always go the extra mile.

Saturday night found us on our way (and on, and ON) to a little-known Oscar Wilde play, "Lord Savile's Crime," in Bromley, of all places. Fifty-two minutes to drive there didn't sound so unreasonable, on google maps. How they lied. It was at least an hour and a half, with impossible directions and terrible traffic. I could feel John fuming next to me, watching the minutes tick by, finally saying, "Of all the neighborhoods we've been through on the way to this b**dy play, there isn't a single one I'm planning to visit again." Ouch. Rain, finally, to cap it all off.

But the play was lovely! A crazy Victorian farce, with Lee Mead of "Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat" fame, in the lead. He's been told by a psychic that he's going to commit a murder, and in order that he not murder his beloved fiance, he finds other relations and friends he thinks he can bump off instead. Great costumes, and a stage design and direction that was almost like another character, it was so clever.

And somehow finding our way home was even more Draconian than getting there. But we made it.

Sunday I... cooked. And cooked, and cooked some more. I shelled sweetcorn, chopped garlic, simmered duck, spun lettuce, sauteed lamb, baked sausages, sliced carrots and celery, wept over onions.

I filled candle holders with candles, folded old white vintage napkins into my polished napkin rings, chose soup bowls and wine glasses, and John hoovered the house to be ready, and lit the fire in the living room upstairs.

And they came. My friend JoAnn all the way from Oxford! My neighbors and friends from school, ready for fun, gossip, and the exchange of wisdom and emotion and silly anecdotes that makes up the great good fortune of having girlfriends. Heaven. Avery and John came in late from their own dinner party (cooked by the husband of one of my guests!), had a piece of lovely chocolate cake made by my friend Annie and decorated with a "K" in raspberries by her daughter. Finally everyone departed into the rainy night and JoAnn and I made a desultory attempt to handle the mess in the kitchen, getting only about halfway through before we simply had to stop, sit and chat a bit, and then fall into bed. A gorgeous, lovely night.

Many would find it silly, even incomprehensible, that my idea of a birthday party was to cook everything myself and then have to clean up. But it was heavenly. Eight girlfriends, some of whom knew each other but some did not, dressed up, bearing champagne and presents, with candlelight and the aroma of sweetcorn and rocket soup, cassoulet, the gorgeous purple hyacinths on the table and many different subtle perfumes.

And on Monday morning, perhaps the best gift of all: the window cleaner came! I'm ashamed to say we've lived here for nearly two years and not... had the windows cleaned. Kenny came, hung his frame outside and inside the windows, and after just a few hours our windows gleamed in unaccustomed sparkle! I almost felt we'd fall out of them if we got too close. Perfect birthday present for me. Then to lunch at La Trompette in Chiswick: foie gras and chicken liver parfait with fresh brioche, then I had cod with little gnocchi in a puree of cepes (how hard can THAT be to produce, and be so magical? just mushrooms, after all), and John had sea bass fillet with chick peas, aubergine and squid stuffed with diced red pepper... a cheese board and granite of grapefruit, and out into the slushy, slow-falling snow, staggering home in delight.

Home to be given my birthday presents, which SO represent who I am: a tiny spice grinder, a tart slicer, an olive oil decanter, and a gorgeous white shirt and black skirt from Theory. Plus a pair of "duvets for the feet": feathery slippers, perfect for this cold, cold house.

And all over for another year. My feeling is this: if you have to get older, and come up against a milestone like 45 years, why not celebrate it with those you love, get out of your comfort zone a bit by inviting people who don't know each other, cook something you haven't cooked before, light the candles, pour the champagne, watch the snowflakes outside the windows (clean!), and...enjoy with a crisp, salty bite.

Spicy Parmesan crisps
(serves 8)

1 cup grated Parmesan
1/4 cup flour
2 tsps black onion seeds
1 tsp cayenne

Mix everything thoroughly. On a greaseproof paper or a nonstick-sprayed surface, place a tablespoon of the mixture spaced 1/2 inch apart and bake at 425F/220C for about 2 minutes, watching carefully so they don't burn. Transfer to a plate to cool, and the crisps can be stored in a closed tin for up to 3 days. Perfect with champagne.


Nick said...

Happy BIrthday! Love Avery's outfit and those endless legs, you are right, she's got her own brand of flair going on. I am avid reader of Pioneer Woman and lover her blog but I love yours too! You both share your lives through you blogs in such a lovely and enticing manner.

Kristen In London said...

Oh, Min, I have to comment straightaway, how you have CHEERED me up! I love that you like us both. Thank you!

I posted this photo of Avery, it must be said, just for you. So you could see how she IS!

Thank you for your birthday wishes. And keep reading, if you have the energy, which I somehow think you DO.

Anna said...

Sounds like the birthday was a smashing success! You being people in your life together and make them feel cherished with your superb cooking. I miss our birthday breakfasts at Valerie Patisserie and Le Pain Quiotiden. Hearing Mark's report of your dinner together did make me smile and remember all our fun times! Happy Birthday. Sending you my love, Becky

Casey said...

The new banner photo is sublime. What a wonderful eeningit muxt have been. and none of us can allow other wonderful blogs to discourage us--otherwise I'd slit my wrist every time chez pim has a new post

Bee said...

I feel especially pleased that you found your collection of silver napkin rings. That's a nice touch. (We are still hunting for some soup bowls that got misplaced/lost in our last move.)

I've been to Bromley; did you know that David Bowie grew up in that unprepossessing London suburb? I wouldn't want to cross London to get there, though. I'm glad the play measured up.

DON'T be intimidated by Pioneer Woman; your blog is wonderful and a good reflection of YOU. But a recipe index would be nice, as you've shared so many good things.

Kristen In London said...

Becky, how I wish you'd been here for my birthday bash: you and Rosemary were so, so present in spirit!

Casey and Bee, I know you're right: must persevere and simply make the best Kristen in London that I can. I think a birthday present to me may well be a consultation with a "make your blog better" guru! Thanks for the sweet words, everyone.

A Work in Progress said...

Love the new header and tagline! And Pioneer Woman is slick but not a patch on you! Not for my taste anyway. Home schooling? Definitely not my cup of tea. Your elegant writing wins out every time. Finally, what a great idea for a 45th bday: girlfriends, food, bonhomie. The cool thing about those people not knowing each other is that you are the thing that ties them all together, which is actually really fitting for your birthday. I may steal this idea when my time comes in 18 months. Happy Birthday!

Bee said...

OK, I just checked out Pioneer Woman. I agree with A Work in Progress: your voice is much more to my taste. Also, it is a very BUSY blog. It makes me want to go do some yoga.

Also, is this really ONE person doing all of this? One of those cooking posts would take me all day, not to mention the kids, the home-schooling, the constant cooking, the photography. I did see some glorious photographs on that bit of the site, though.

Kristen In London said...

Work in Progress, you are too kind. I actually am pretty pleased with my actual writing, but the photography needs to be ramped up, definitely, and a recipe index is just what the doctor ordered.

Bee, that thought went through my mind too. Can one person possibly accomplish all that? I do think her cookbook photography is amazingly useful: it gives "step by step" a whole new meaning. But how did she produce/educate/feed all those beautiful kids, much less photograph their every move? Simply overwhelming! I can hardly look after my ONE.

Anonymous said...

Happy Birthday, Kristen. Love your blog just the way it is. Remember that less is often more!
Helen (the Andrew Marr fan of old!).

Kristen In London said...

Thanks, Helen! I guess what I have to realize is that there is room for my blog, in a world that also produces Pioneer Woman. And anyway, SHE'S not writing about Andrew Marr and Bamber Gascoigne, so I have my niche!

Foxi Rosie said...

Oh how wonderful to have been invited, my only regret was that I couldn't be there. We shall have a birthday fest in May with the other GNIM... Love the photograph which conjours up the fabulous time I stayed with you all. Avery looks divine, if she doesn't end up in fashion or showbiz, I'll eat my way through a bowl of brussel sprouts.
I hope you had a wonderful coffee date with Sam in Notting Hill. Hugs xxxx

Kristen In London said...

Sam is in fine fettle, Rosie, handsome as ever and the same biting wit! Can't wait for GNIM. I'll pass on your compliment to Avery! She just got her first check for an acting job: Bob the Builder!

Just a Plane Ride Away said...

Hartelijk gefeliciteerd met je verjaardag! (a little late...)

And I adore you blog, your recipes, and your writing. Please don't change a thing.

Kristen In London said...

Oh, Plane Ride, that's lovely, both the birthday wishes (I assume!) and your nice comment about the blog as it is. I'm meeting Friday with the designer and we'll improve it, but keep the spirit the same!