30 June, 2010
It's with mixed feelings that I say goodbye to the old "Kristen in London" and prepare to say hello to the new...
So many wonderful memories of beginning my efforts nearly five years ago, of "meeting" you all, learning to express myself, cook better meals and take better photos of them! Avery growing up before our eyes... our lives in London taking shape with ever happier detail. And "Kristen in London" recorded them all, with such pleasure.
But all good things must change, and so "Kristen in London" will appear in the next few days as a completely different-looking world, but peopled by the same characters, places and memories that we have all come to love. And...
A RECIPE INDEX! It is simply a beautiful thing to behold. There are some things that need tweaking, like moving "Crabcakes" out of "Desserts", but that sort of detail will keep me busy in the longer summer weeks ahead. You'll be able to look up the recipe for the very dessert Avery is holding here, her adored Eton Mess. And then you can make it at home. Someday, of course, I hope you'll find all the recipes between the covers of my very own cookbook, but until then, they're free for all.
So be looking for the new and improved us, and let me know what you think! I'll meet you there.
25 June, 2010
Actually, one of the things I like best about London is that as I was compiling this list, the number of "things I love about London" kept growing! I thought I'd better stop before I got to double digits. That's for another time.
But we are thinking a lot about how much we love it here, as we start thinking about leaving. Connecticut beckons: the green of the grass (cue Avery moaning here, about how predictable I am), the red of the barn, the blue of the sky, the white of the fence... our beloved family and friends. And we want to go, of course. But there is so much to love about our adopted city, such an idiosyncratic little list this evening, that I thought I'd let you in on some of the best. I'll warn you: it's no tourist list. It's the kind of list you make when you're fully entrenched somewhere, where the tiny bits that make your home loveable are weird, quirky, and all your own.
First, may I say how much I adore the fishmonger who has moved into my neighborhood? He is Tony of The Fishmonger's Kitchen in Shepherds Bush Road, and he's Australian, gorgeous, generous and funny. For months we and our neighbors looked in chagrin as the fishmonger before him jumped ship (so to speak), and the shop moldered (and molded, probably), and the hairdresser next door reported smells of grim death floating under the walls.
And then suddenly: there was Tony! With his lovely blue-painted chalk sandwich board out in front, trumpeting "Cooked Lobsters to Order" and "Why not throw some fish on the BBQ this weekend?" and "We now have fresh sushi!" From Tony I bought the many crabs necessary for my recent television sojourn, and the huge slabs of salmon for many dinners, as well as juicy pieces of yellowtail tuna to sear for a weekday lunch with my beloved, and gorgeously fresh king prawns (as you see!) to marinate in olive oil, smoked paprika and sea salt, to saute for two minutes and then pull their little heads off and lick your fingers.
Sauteed King Prawns with Paprika
2 dozen king prawns, raw with heads and shells on
1 tbsp smoked paprika
6 tbsps olive oil
1 tsp sea salt (or to taste)
fresh-ground black pepper
a little more olive oil for the pan
chives to garnish
1/2 cup mayonnaise
juice of 1/2 lemon
squirt of prepared wasabi (as hot as you like it!)
fresh-ground black pepper
Cut each prawn up the back with scissors, ending before the tail. Place the prawns in as single layer as you can fit, on a large cookie sheet. Sprinkle with all marinade ingredients and smoosh them around, mixing the paprika with the oil. This releases a magnificently earthy, sensual aroma that will get your taste buds kicking in.
Sprinkle a little more olive oil in a very large skillet and heat till really hot. Place the prawns in immediately, all at the same time, and begin turning them as they turn pink. Continue to cook over high heat, turning all the time, until they turn stiff and are completely cooked (2-3 minutes total time, depending on size of prawns). Do NOT overcook beyond being JUST done.
Sprinkle with chives and serve over rice or spaghetti, spooning out all the oil and cooking debris from the skillet and sprinkling it over. Serve with the dipping sauce and provide a large body plate for the shells!
Thank you, Tony. Having you there in the road, to chat with on a hot summer's day, to report on the recipe of the night before, to stop in for some wickedly fresh Cornish haddock for tomorrow night's fish fry, makes every day just a little cozier, a little warmer, and our corner of London a little more like a village.
And then there's Sundrica, our gorgeous little Italian deli, for parmesan cheese to make my puttanesca even saltier than it already was! Never mind, skip salt tomorrow to make up for it. Sundrica is a tiny little space next to a flower shop by the Hammersmith tube stations, and is packed to the gills with delicacies that you won't know you needed until you walk through its magical doors. Italian tuna in olive oil, duck fat in plump glass jars, giant bowls of cured black olives, long rows of many whole salami, pepperoni, chorizo, pates of every description, sandwiches of mozzarella and basil on artisan bread, homemade gnocchi and ravioli... go, do. Pick up a tin of lovely Italian plum tomatoes, a chunk of parmesan, a handful or two of black olives, a packet of spaghetti and a tiny of anchovies and a jar of capers, and you're good for:
1/2 lb spaghetti
3 tbsps olive oil
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 handful (200 grams-ish) oil-cured black olives, pitted
1 soup-size can peeled tomatoes, cut in sixths
3 tbsps capers, rinsed if held in salt
6 anchovies, rinsed
1 cup grated parmesan cheese
Boil spaghetti. In the meantime, mince the garlic and onion. Saute in olive oil in a saucepan, then when soft, add the olives, tomatoes, capers and anchovies. Saute till mixed. Throw in the drained spaghetti and serve with cheese.
This is wickedly, evilly good: strong-flavored, robust, not for the faint of heart. If you can find a tin of tiny whole cherry tomatoes, get those. They're whimsical, like slightly collapsed red balloons. Makes the whole dish even nicer.
Once you've brushed your teeth from all that garlic and anchovy, go to the Victoria and Albert and book tickets for "Grace Kelly: Style Icon" (you have to book them! there's no showing up on the day, it's far too popular). Take a teenage girl or two: it's the perfect event for them to see what glamor was really like. There are her REAL dresses from "High Society" and "Rear Window"! Avery's jaw simply dropped at the sight of these iconic garments, with their impossibly tiny waistlines... and there are lovely videos of her engagement announcement, her wedding, her honeymoon... and enough jewelled handbags, sunglasses and shoes to make any 13-year-old girl swoon. And the shop! There is nothing like the V&A shop. Avery always touches everything, and if her Iowa grandmother is with her, it takes twice as long because they EACH touch everything, with each other. Perfect for birthday party gifts.
And then, it's late June in London, so it's... Wimbledon. Can there be anything more satisfying than playing a magnificently sweaty game of tennis on our grotty local courts, coming home to shower and change, and flopping down on the sofa to watch a lovely American called John Isner duke it out for over 11 hours with a Frenchman? Over eight of those hours were SEQUENTIAL! The match played out, as you all know by now, over three days, and they are both my new heroes. Now, whenever John and I are exhausted after our hour, I say, "So let's do that for seven more HOURS." It was simply awe-inspiring. The only comparison I can possibly even suggest to myself is childbirth: at some point, or many points, one says to oneself, "I don't think I can see this process through. I think I'm done." And then one's husband says, "No one can have this baby but you. You'll have to stick it out." (I'm sure he said it more poetically and supportively than that, but you get the idea.)
It must have been like that for these two lads: with every impossible serve, they must have thought on some level, "I really can't be doing with this anymore," but what choice did they have? No one but they could finish the match. Truly inspiring!
And then, in my never-ending quest for new things to do that not everyone gets to do: go visit the Law Courts at and around Lincoln's Inn Fields and... hush hush... get to have lunch in the Members Common Room! It pays to have illustrious friends, I do have one, a very cool solicitor friend who is a loyal blog reader and therefore an unquestionably good person, and she kindly invited me along to lunch in the exalted space. It is the original wine cellars of the larger dining hall upstairs (in order to get into which one must be a barrister, which is the English type of lawyer who appears in court, not the type who works with the general public and is called a solicitor. But she walked upstairs with me after we had our lovely gossipy lunch, and we gazed upon the glorious vaulted ceiling, painted chandeliers, long refectory-style tables. "It's like Harry Potter!" she murmured, and exactly so! She described to me the old-fashioned barristers working in their Georgian offices and then repairing at the end of the day to their flats above, with menservants, just like Oxford dons...
It was such fun to see something private and impressive and rather secret-feeling, the buildings soaring around the Old Square and New Square, leafy and green, and encapsulated by wrought-iron fences to keep out people like me. I am happy to report that my friend is just as impressed with her surroundings as I was, so we were able to be gleeful for her together.
And then, of course, there is Avery's beloved school. I fully realize that the clock is ticking on my being welcome there, in fact on her being there at all. Of course come to that, the clock is ticking on everything, so I don't know why I should suffer particularly over the school, but it is quite the most magical place we could ever have envisioned sending her. This week was the Celebration for her year moving up into the Middle School from the Lower School, and frankly, the sight of all 100 of them in their teen glory, perfect bodies and hair and gorgeous smiles and all of them just starting out, so earnest and yet cool and sophisticated, was enough to make me want to cry, as usual. I do try so hard not to! Luckily I was brought from bathos by the sheer intelligence and charm of their presentations: "A Very Civil War: or, The Entire Recounting how Charles Stuart did come to lose possession of both head & crown in a single stroke with this sorry tale reduced to five minutes." If I told you that the girls' analysis of the salient battles was told in football-analysis language, would you find that as amusing as I did?
Sitting in the great hall, panelled up to the gallery from which girls hang, arms folded, clinging to their friends, listening to an excerpt from "The Crucible" in which most excitement was obtained from a concerted scream (the acoustics are impressive, I found!)... I felt completely happy, in spite of the heat!
(I interrupt this paean of love to London with a brief screech: enough with the heat already! We go to Connecticut for this! Let's have some nice drizzly grey for just a day or so, so I can stop being all pink in the face and sweaty, even before I start a game of tennis.)
Finally, tonight we picked Avery up from a cupcake-making birthday party (she decorated hers with Doctor Who references, per her current obsession.
She said, "It's really hard to make a Dalek's arm out of frosting."
We smiled at each other. "That's a good one for the game," I said, referring to our ongoing love affair with sentences that we reckon have never been uttered before.
"I know," she said, as we trooped to the car, she in her beautiful grey Bonpoint dress (dotted with chocolate from the cupcakes and gone suddenly too short with her shooting up), and a pair of tottery vintage charity-shop heels. Only Avery could get away with it.
We raced away from the party to my last thing-I-love, and that's the Old Vic. How many dozens of times we have driven there through town across the Westminster Bridge, looking up at Big Ben (which Avery always reminds me is not what you can see, not the tower at all, but the bell inside: the tower is St Stephen's Tower), Westminster Abbey and the Houses of Parliament and the London Eye. It's the tourists' tour, only it's on the way to the theatre!
Tonight it was "The Tempest", and while it is not my favorite of dear Will's efforts (I simply cannot keep the plot straight, and Avery and I agree that the Ceres-Juno scene is not just incomprehensible, but downright annoying), but it was great fun to see the glorious staging, hear the idiosyncratic live music coming from both sides of the stage, and to revel in knowing that in this town, Shakespeare is a local playwright done good. It's funny how present he is, when you live here. He's alive and well, and we all feel that he must be reading the reviews, shaking his head over pedantic modern stagings, wishing he could throw an Elizabethan ruff over some character dressed as a bicycle messenger (I'm not making that up). The Old Vic is simply a cozy, elegant, friendly theatre that simply churns out beautiful productions: "Gaslight" last year, the never-to-be-forgotten "Six Degrees of Separation" this spring, and tonight... I, well, I LOVE it.
And... did you know that when you book tickets for a play in London, the choices of "title" (instead of just Mr, Mrs, Miss, Ms and Dr), include "Lady", "Lord" and "Sir"! I love that too.
And there you have them: eight things I love about living here. I wish you could do them all with me, but then if you lived here, you'd have your own eight things. That's what makes this city great. If you ever think you're a tiny bit bored, all you have to do is look up and there is something to cherish, to invite a friend to do, to chortle about afterward, to hold to your heart and enjoy. Now... it can cool off.
19 June, 2010
Might I interrupt whatever exciting activities are occupying you, dear readers, at this moment, and ask your opinion?
I am about to meet with a simply SUBLIME food photographer here in London, about possibly (so exciting!) taking photographs for my eventual "book." Now here are some things I am wondering. And the reason I am asking you? Because she said, "You must ask yourself who your audience is to be."
I am hoping it will be YOU.
So. Do you like to look at/read/use foodie books that include photographs of ingredients, or of dishes in progress, or of finished dishes? I suppose the ingredient-based illustrations are more artsy, more for the joy of looking, where the dish-in-progress or finished dish might be more instructional. Does that make sense?
For example, the photographs above give you an idea of the sort of choice I am imagining. What do you like? One or the other, or both, or something else entirely?
If you have an opinion on this subject, do take a moment to let me know. It's all getting stupendously thrilling. And thank you!
17 June, 2010
Stop the presses: SUNBURN! Not a lot, I rush in to say, but today we got... sunburned. I'm old-fashioned enough to say I put on "suntan lotion," when my PC side knows I really mean "sunblock" or "sunscreen." But hey, 30 years ago I was slathering myself with baby oil and lying on a bed of aluminum foil, so I think I'm due a little leeway.
It's that time of year again, when I look at the calendar and think, "Really?" Did I really book tickets for three more plays, RSVP for Avery for three more parties, encourage her to throw one of her own, and schedule two more sales for Lost Property, not to mention out of town guests, doctor and dentist appointments and the vet, all in the three weeks left before we go to the States?
Drinks parties, dinner parties, really?
The girls deserve it after the hellish week they put in last week, 12 exams in five days! I'm relieved to have it over, and I never even cracked a book! The whole ordeal was brought home to me most visually when Avery held out a pen. "Do you see how there is no ink in this pen?" she asked rhetorically. "This pen was NEW at the beginning of last week!"
This week, we've been out and about playing tennis (I will not succumb to tennis elbow, will NOT, I'm sure it feels better if I play than if I don't), and seeing a new bit of the Victoria and Albert installation, of architects using the museum itself to explore architecture's experiments and limitations. "The Ark," by Norwegian architect Rintala Eggertsson (would you have guessed that was a man? I wouldn't) completely charmed us: a two-story two-by-gour construction, tethered to the staircase by thin metal cables, and sheathed entirely in... paperback books! A giant bookshelf, going round and round, admitting only four people at a time because it... moves. From side to side, just slightly, but enough to remind you of your own mortality. In between contemplations of that, you can sit on the sheepskin covered seat on floor two, and browse. Really, they invite you to browse! Go, do.
And then onto "The Crucible." At Regent's Park Open-Air Theatre, one of my most favorite places in the world, where we have seen "The Importance of Being Earnest," "Much Ado About Nothing," always in these waning days of the school year before we decamp for our American summer. This year it was "The Crucible." McCarthyism! Shades of today's hysterical shoutings about Obama, healthcare and Communism! Everything that changes, simply stays the same. The sun beat down, Avery's class occupied the upper regions of the theatre as we cooked in the "better seats", and we reveled in the American play playing itself out in the English atmosphere. I wondered how the religious fervor would play out in America... there was some nervous tittering as the predominantly-schoolkids audience came to terms with Miller's deadly earnest treatment. "No religion that demands your blood deserves your faith..."
And how difficult it is for me to withhold the secrets of my culinary excitement of last weekend! Filming! Studios! Cars and drivers! But my lips are sealed. Until mid-August, when I can reveal all... Stay tuned.
In the meantime, I await the big reveal of my new blog design. There have been delays, as there always are with big projects, but I am hopeful of massive excitement in a week or so. To deal with this, I had better offer:
Cucumber and Yogurt Salad with Chillis and Lemongrass
1 large cucumber, outer sides sliced off and seeds left behind, cut into slender sticks
1 red onion, diced
1 medium-hot red chilli pepper, minced
1 stalk lemongrass, peeled of outer layer, minced
zest of 1 lemon
lots of fresh-ground pepper
1/3 cup fat-free yogurt, mixed with juice of 1 lemon
Maldon salt to taste
Mix everything but yogurt and lemon juice, then toss with those. Salt to taste.
This salad is beautiful and fresh on its own, but also surprisingly lovely with a rather heavy main course, as we had this week: beef ribs in a tomato sauce. The two bounce off each other: rich and light, dark and springlike.
I wish you luck in achieving all that June has left for you, as we dance through the excitement left for us... then HOME!
06 June, 2010
It's a good news/bad news scenario, and since I'm Scandinavian I always want the bad news first: Avery's long-dreaded end-of-year school exams begin tomorrow morning. Five days, 11 exams, nothing else. Just exams.
The good news? She was home all day, every day last week and I simply LOVED it. I try not to think, most of the time, about how much time she spends away from me these days, because I know it's the wave of the future, it's healthy, and in the hideous modern expression, "it's all good." I hate that phrase because it's NOT all good. I miss her, and I find myself longing stupidly for the days when she was far more dependent on me, and therefore within my sight much more than she is now. I realize that to have a young lady on the doorstep of being adult, so capable and elegant and knowledgeable, is "all good." It's wonderful to drop her off at her acting class and see that she no longer has any need of anyone accompanying her, and her teachers have inside jokes with her, and she can be counted on to be a funny, hardworking member of the group.
And even her riding lessons, where I used to take her, settle myself down with a magazine and sort of sigh at having to watch her go round and round, being led by one of the big girls... these days SHE'S the big girl at the stables at the weekends, the one the adults rely on to help the little ones. There's no more watching: she's off in Hyde Park leading the little ones. I love it that people have grown to depend on my child, that she's responsible and resourceful. It's all you wish for, really, as a parent.
Except for more time with her! I wish for that.
So this week, as onerous as it was for her, was a delight for me. I provided her with "frequent little meals," as my friend Shelley so lovingly once said about feeding a kitten! Bowls of juicy, blood-red American cherries to be gnawed around the pits, bits of toasted baguette spread with salty Normandy butter, Danish salami of such a pinkish hue that we find ourselves wondering if Denmark feeds its pigs food coloring! And fresh fried haddock, battered in homemade breadcrumbs, four-cheese lasagne with a sneaky layer of spinach, chicken in sour cream sauce with brandy and a special paprika provided by my chum Rosie... not to mention countless asparagus spears, broccoli florets, sugar snap peas, and, best of all...
Avery's Exam-Week Blueberry Muffins
(makes six medium-sized muffins)
5 oz/150g plain flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
1 large egg
1 1/2 oz/40g white sugar
1/2 vanilla pod, scraped
zest of 1/2 lemon
2 oz/50g butter, melted
1 cup blueberries
Heat oven to 350F/180C. Line the muffin tin with paper liners, or butter and flour each muffin space.
Sift (or simply shake through a sieve, as I do since I don't own a sifter) the flour, salt and baking powder into a bowl just large enough to hold them. In a larger bowl, stir together the egg, sugar, vanilla pod scrapings, lemon zest and butter.
Fold the flour mixture into the egg mixture just gently, mixing until all is JUST wet but leaving behind plenty of lumps. Carefully stir in blueberries and divide among muffin cups.
Bake for 25-30 minutes, or until just browned and firm. The blueberry juice will have bubbled up and may look a bit messy around the edges, but that's what keeps them juicy and lovely. If you used paper cups, remove the muffins (in their paper cups) from the muffin tin right away.
Can you believe how little sugar is in this recipe? I was absolutely shocked, but I shouldn't be surprised, because the basic measurements of flour and baking powder and sugar were taken from Delia Smith, and she is so very sensible.
If you have a hungry child around the house, split one of these open while still warm, tuck a nice piece of butter inside, put it back together and deliver it, with a good napkin to wipe those buttery fingers, and watch the appreciation steal over the little face. Or not so little, in Avery's case.
I hate to think that I equate love COMPLETELY with food, but I know I come close. Tonight I offered Avery a sort of junk-food chocolate pudding with a hot sauce, one of her favorites, and she accepted, saying, "First, can I have a huge hug?" Once hugged, she smiled and said, "That's better than chocolate. I can save the pudding for tomorrow."
Other than exam hell, we've been fairly dull and quiet, accomplishing things like weeding the oxygen-rich planted roof of our guest room (I hated to tell John after, but it didn't look much different... he did discover some wild strawberries out there, however, a total mystery). And I ruthlessly cleared out all my kitchen cupboards, discovering uncharming things like six different opened packets of couscous (guess what we had for dinner tonight), at least five opened packets of pinenuts, countless partly-used packets of mismatching pasta and no fewer than seven different types of miso soup paste! What on earth? So everything has been wiped down, thrown away when absolutely necessary, consolidated and counted up. Remind me not to buy any dried chicken soup for about another century. The same goes for tinned tuna! I foresee some odd meals coming up. Just wait till I hit the freezer. Fancy some thawed smoked salmon with homemade breadcrumbs and limoncello?
And we've been entertained by our neighbors, both literally (a lovely drinks party last night in the garden with the first Pimms of the year!) and more accidentally, when Selva appeared outside in front with a giant electrical saw and enough energy to cut our side of the hedge while he cut theirs. Other neighbors walked by, weighted down festively with boxes of wine bottles, and we all ribbed Selva about his hedge-cutting skills. "I want a topiary chicken, sitting on an egg, like that one a couple of streets over," John said, and I chimed in, "Or a pony, or a kitten, please." Selva didn't skip a beat. "Actually, it was already in the shape of a chicken, so I have refashioned it into a topiary hedge-shaped hedge."
Lots of parties being bandied about: Annie and Keith's always splendid drinks with the most tempting and gorgeous small eats you can imagine, including my favorite of smoked salmon mixed with creme fraiche on little blinis... can't wait for that. And Avery's giving a party! "Mocktails" and vintage prom dresses, which should be a hoot. I brought home from Indianapolis a peerless pink dress made for my MOTHER by my GRANDMOTHER, a satin top, with layers of tulle skirt and a hugely long sash, and it fits Avery like the proverbial glove, so that inspired her to ask her friends to look round the charity shops and flea markets. They will all simply pile into the sitting room with sleeping bags afterward, to watch something involving Grace Kelly, and fall into chocolate sundaes. I timidly mentioned the notion of "real food" and pizza was mentioned, so that should take care of all the basic food groups.
Well, tomorrow Lost Property beckons, which always requires the utmost in my energy. And sometimes a face mask, if the lacrosse boots are particularly pungent. But you know the best bit? Avery will come to visit while I'm there, I will be able to hear how the morning's exams went and offer comfort for the afternoon's efforts, and for sure, there will be a hug available.