28 April, 2010

freaking out

New blog is coming.

New version of OLD blog is coming.

Improved blog of (sob) beloved blog is coming.

I'm SCARED.

I love my blog. I love how it looks, how pointlessly old-fashioned it is, how only-texty, how it doesn't scream at you, only gently says, "Hello, here's what has been happening, isn't it lovely/funny/touching," and "By the way, here's something you could whip up for supper."

I don't want to lose any of that, so I'm panicking a bit. A bit as I felt when I stood by and watched Avery have her first major haircut, from little-girl to "hairdo." Of course she was even more beautiful when she emerged, and still recognizable, but something of the Original, the Baby, was gone.

I just previewed two versions of The New And Improved Kristen in London. Made some suggestions (gently, this fellow owns my life right now!), tried to decide if I was being too picky... sighed over the completely new look...

I shall survive. It's only a matter of days before you, Dear Readers, are presented with the new choice. Then you can weigh in, and how I hope you WILL! We will tweak her (sorry, it) together. (Clearly, I have some issues going on here with adolescence in general, whether it's my daughter's or my blog's! All mothers want babies to stay small, even if they have better conversations with them when they're 13. For SURE).

Bear with me. Change is coming. And they say, change is... good. Don't they?

18 April, 2010

of eruptions and interruptions









































Two words: volcanic ash.

Who knew that two words could have such a devastating, discombobulating, disorienting effect on much of the world.

No flights.

In or out of the UK, as you all know by now, and this since Wednesday night. So my poor mother in law, who wanted nothing more than to be in Iowa on Thursday evening, is bravely sticking it out with us here this weekend, hoping to get out on Tuesday if the reports are safe and healthy.

I keep thinking how much I would like to get to Indiana on Wednesday. I do NOT want, however, to be part of the sort of seismological experiment entitled "How Much Volcanic Ash Does It Take To Shut Off Transatlantic Airplane Engines Headed for Detroit?"

In short, we're stuck. Can you believe it?

We've done:

Piccacilly: Hatchards (my favorite bookshop ever), plus lunch at the Wolesley with my friend JoAnn (duck livers in Madeira, halibut steaks and endless laughter) and the Van Gogh show (total yawn from Avery's and my perspective: we spent the entire time making up irreverent replacement titles for the very repetitive paintings ("Peasant With Bottom in Air Taking Care of Chickens and Possibly Dead Dog")

Highgate Cemetery (fascinating, ask for Josephine the Guide who is knowledgeable, funny and loyal to the cemetery)

Covent Garden (lovely spices from the Arabica company, including something called "Dukka" which was lovely on duck)

Avery's audition for a very silly-sounding sitcom like "Hannah Montana"

Portobello Market where we bought loads of presents I cannot describe here because their recipients will read about them! and lunch at E&O, possibly the best Asian fusion food in the city: seared tuna with miso aiol, crispy chilli squid, a beef dish with chopped peanuts in lettuce... words fail me. Perfection on a plate.

The Criminal Courts in the City (a murder case involving a young Kurd in a chicken shop who killed a man with a mop to get his cell phone)

The Lock and Canal Walk from Paddington Basin (a good five or six miles, be prepared, but in good weather it's delightful)

Camden Market (hideously crowded but found the BEST presents for everyone in Indianapolis, should I ever get there, and excellent donuts)

...........

We're in a tailspin.

All I can do is cook. Can I interest you in:

Salmon in Teriyaki Sauce
(serves 4)


4 fillets of salmon
2 cloves garlic, minced
1-inch knob ginger, grated
1/2 cup dark soy sauce
1/4 cup Japanese mirin (or sake)
1/4 cup honey
1 tbsp sesame oil
zest and juice of 1 lime
handful chives, chopped long

Line a baking dish with foil (very important as the sauce is very difficult to clean from baking dish!). Place salmon fillets in it.

In a small saucepan, place all marinade ingredients except chives and simmer until reduced just a bit, perhaps 5 minutes. Cool slightly, then pour over salmon fillets.

Cook either in a very hot oven (425F, 210C) for 20 minutes (or until opaque in center) or grill on one side for about 6 minutes, then turn and grill for another 4-5 minutes, JUST until cooked through.

Scatter with chives.

**************


Haddock with Tartar Sauce and Savoy Cabbage and Curly Kale Saute
(serves 4)


2 inches high (in a wide, shallow pan) tasteless oil like rapeseed or sunflower oil

4 pieces haddock loin fillets
2 eggs, beaten
2 tbsps cream

1 1/2 cups fresh breadcrumbs
3/4 cup cornstarch (cornflour)
salt and pepper

3/4 cup mayonnaise
tbsp capers, chopped
6 cornichons, chopped
juice of 1 lime
pinch dried dill
pinch dried tarragon
black pepper and salt to taste

CABBAGE:
3 tbsps butter
1 tbsp olive oil
1 head Savoy cabbage, chopped
2 handfuls curly green kale, chopped
salt and pepper to taste

Mix eggs with cream in a wide bowl. Mix breadcrumbs with cornflour and salt and pepper in a flat plate.

Mix following ingredients for the tartar sauce and set aside.

In a medium saucepan, over low heat, toss butter, oil, cabbage and kale until JUST slightly limp, then season and turn off heat.

To prepare fish, heat oil to nearly smoking. Meanwhile, coat each fillet of haddock in egg mixture, then in breadcrumb/cornflour/seasonings mixture. One at a time, lower into hot oil carefully. Cook on each side about 2-3 minutes, until firm. Drain on paper towel.

Serve with sauce and cabbage. Perfectly crunchy, light and you'll never go for fish and chips again. At least, until I learn to make chips and teach YOU.

*****************

So until the air clears, I'm stuck cooking for my growing household. Tonight, close to midnight, Avery and I walked to school to pick up a friend back from a school trip in Italy, to stay with us until her parents, stranded in America, can get back.

"Can I just tell you," chortled Avery as we trundled along with Lille's suitcases through the dark neighborhood toward home, "How extremely funny it is that your trip back from POMPEII was delayed by... a volcano."

Trust a teenager to make it funny.

14 April, 2010

one more apologetic, photoless update

My goodness.

Life has been simply crazy of late. The last two weeks have simply SPED by in the company of my beloved mother-in-law who always makes every event three times as much fun, just by being there. And there have been SO MANY events.

The burglary has also set me back as I just cannot retrieve photographs from our old iPhoto sources with any ease. I depend on poor John to teach me to do everything, since my old system was stolen out from under me.

For my own sanity, may I list: "Six Degrees of Separation" was a mixed bag, theatre-wise. Strong performances, the most thought-provoking notion just in and of itself: how many degrees separate you from anyone you can imagine? Us from the Queen? Not so many as you'd think. John worked once at Goldman with someone who is now a Gordon Brown staffer. There you go: three degrees. Angelina Jolie? Avery had a school chum whose mother was best buddies with Elton John. At most, three degrees? Mother Teresa? Just add one from the Queen to Princess Diana, and there you go. We couldn't come up with ANYONE for whom we needed six actual degrees. And neither do you, if you know me. That's just one extra degree.

The play itself? Memorable mostly for the two naked male bodies fresh from a gay encounter, leaping about the stage. "Concealing a gun? Look at me! I don't think so!" Poor Avery didn't know where to look. Today, as I was recounting the story, she said, "I was FINE about it, it was just sitting next to YOU when it happened that was embarrassing!"

Ditto "The Last Station", a film about Tolstoy, with my adored crush James McAvoy in the supporting actor role. Well... one of the major plot lines was his deflowerment, by a young Tolstoyian maiden. Again, averted eyes, and "if you hadn't been next to me...!" A bit too much education, all of a sudden. But as my dear friend Jo said today, none of it is the first, nor will it be the last, so get used to it all!

There have been countless fabulous shopping trips (Benefit for Avery, food for me in many different places, the Apple store for John to replace our stolen computers)... and meals, my goodness! Last night's fried haddock with fresh olive oil-rosemary breadcrumbs from Gail's in Hampstead, homemade tartare sauce on the side! The Easter ham and its accompanying dauphinoise... fillet of beef with mushroom duxelles... pork medallions with sage, cream and brandy sauce...

Most of all, it's been the company of one of my favorite people on earth, plus two other of my favorite people on earth. Together, the four of us huddle down wherever we are, enjoying each other, raising a glass as many times as we can to John's beloved, much-revered, completely-missed father, feeling that as long as we can remember him to each other, laugh over our memories, he is still here.

Right. Tomorrow I shall consolidate photographs and tell you about Wiltshire. Specifically, Salisbury. Its Cathedral Close formed our home for six days, and its people were a complete delight. One in particular... but that's another story.

I promise I'm getting back on track and tomorrow? A recipe.

09 April, 2010

lolling in Salisbury

Just the tiniest of updates to let you know all is well...

We are photographless for two reasons: one, we were unceremoniously burgled last week, AGAIN, and all photos are gone. Except for the ones we have taken since, and we have come away to Wiltshire (MUCH more on this soon!) without that essential piece of equipment that allows us to connect computer to camera, and to exchange all the blessings thereof.

So all I can say, briefly is this: 380 Cathedral steps up to the spire (whew), 5+ miles walk today to see the settings of several pivotal scenes of "Pride and Prejudice" (proposal in rain: swoon on cue).

And tonight: the best Indian meal EVER in the history of mankind: black lentils in honey and yogurt? Twice-roasted pork in vindaloo? Spinach with garlic and fenugreek leaves?

But wait: tomorrow will bring... dinner here with an exalted guest: our guide of the Salisbury Tower Tour. He is quite simply the most charming gentleman any of us has met in about a thousand years, so it was but the work of a moment to invite him to mozzarella-stuffed meatballs in the Wardrobe, our abode high above the Cathedral Close, tomorrow evening. Watch this space.

01 April, 2010

salads, salads, everywhere

























Don't you find you get on food kicks? I do. I get an urge to cook scallops and then I have them one night with loads of olive oil, parsley, breadcrumbs and garlic. The next night I want them with beets, potatoes and bacon.

Or pasta, when I cook rigatoni alla vodka sauce one night and then the night after that feel I can't live without carbonara.

Won't it be wonderful SOON when you can look up all these recipes on the magnificent INDEX that's coming? Just yesterday I sent my spreadsheet of categories to my Blog Angel Julian, the dear young man who is going to drag me into the land of the Search Optimized and Google Popularized. It will be simply brilliant for you, and for me, to be able to simply click on "Main Courses" and find "Shellfish" and there will be scallop recipe after scallop recipe.

But I digress. My point is, I've been on a "how to make more interesting salads" kick this week. I started with your basic "how many beans can you fit into a bowl" recipe, but then my passion was whetted and, as well, John's photographic ambitions. And thus were born these two completely luscious, versatile, and yet completely different salads.

I have had readers suggest that I add grilled chicken to them, that I add crispy tortilla strips to them, that I add a piece of lightly toasted baguette with olive oil to them. To all these suggestions I shout HURRAY and also throw in: how about some seared fillet steak? Some, dare I say it, sauteed scallops? Even some shaved Parmesan, to either one. These salads are marvellous, and JUST the beginning. Just you use your imagination, and I don't mean just your tastebuds. Imagine how they will LOOK, too, because I'm convinced, with salads at least, that contrasting color will automatically equal good flavors. I really think so. Can you imagine adding together any two red and green things and having it not be delicious? Plus, what ingredients cannot be married with chilli oil and lemon juice? I challenge you.

Red Pepper, Courgette and Black Bean Salad
(serves 4 as a side dish, or 2 as a main course)


1 red bell pepper
1 large courgette (zucchini)
1 soup-size tin black beans, well rinsed and drained
1 large clove garlic
juice of 1 lemon
pulp of as much of a lemon as you can gather
1/2 tsp sea salt
lots of fresh-ground black pepper
1 tbsp chilli oil
1 large handful flat-leaf parsley, chopped

Dice the red pepper and the courgette in same-size bites, then mix in a large bowl with the black beans. Mince the garlic WITH the lemon juice and pulp and salt (this combination will break down the garlic into a mush, perfect for eating raw). Toss with the red pepper and courgette and beans and chilli oil, and sprinkle with black pepper.

Mound as high vertically on a plate as you can, and scatter the chopped parsley on top.

*********************

Beetroot, Goats Cheese and Wild Rocket and Sorrel Salad
(serves 4 as a side dish, or 2 as a main course)


3 medium beets
2 tsps balsamic vinegar
handful wild rocket
handful wild sorrel leaves
handful goats cheese in dice
1/4 red onion, diced
handful chives, chopped long
1 tbsp chilli oil
juice of 1/2 lemon
fresh black pepper and sea salt to taste

Roast the beets by wrapping them, in a group, in foil and cooking in a very hot oven (425F) for an hour and a half. Leave them in the foil on the counter for 10 minutes or so before unwrapping and slipping the skins off (this time lapse allows the beets both to cool and to let go their skins by steaming).

Dice the beets and sprinkle with the vinegar.

Arrange the rocket and sorrel on a pretty place and pile the beets on them. Scatter with goats cheese, onion, and chives, and sprinkle the chilli oil and lemon juice on top. Season as you like.

*****************

Try these when you feel you've had just too much red meat, or fried food, or have been away from home and feel disconnected from the finer, most basic things in life. And if your children don't love salads (Avery won't eat anything with lettuce included), just deconstruct it. Beets and goats cheese are two of her favorite foods. But not together.

Let's see, part of what's put a sparkle in my step tonight is the arrival today of John's mom, a person we all hold so dear that all we can do most of the year is to avert our thoughts. We are separated for so much time that we can only enjoy the moments we are together, not dwell on the months spent apart.

She arrived this afternoon to a flurry of welcomes, kisses and hugs and "Oh, I love these photographs!" in the entry hall, and exclamations over the delightful cats, her cozy white bedroom overlooking the gardens of Hammersmith, the small gifts we had left on her bed with its fluffy white duvet. As always, presents emerged from her suitcase: a tea towel for me saying, "After a good dinner one can forgive almost all, even one's relatives." (Dear Oscar Wilde, such a clever boy.) And a gorgeous black shirt, and lots of clothes and precious makeup for Avery... just like Christmas!

We settled down to the business of appreciating her, her special way of making everything we say seem interesting, our lives interesting, Avery's accomplishments remarkable (well, her school report WAS pretty spectacular). And to think we have two weeks of her company to enjoy. Maybe if we eat enough vegetables, we'll live forever and have all the time in the world. Bring on the beets.