19 March, 2012

Pip-pip, cheerio, what-what!

Busy weeks = fewer posts.  Recent highlights include sharing Greenwich and Borough Market with Allie, Kristen, and Caroline; being told that I look like Kate Middleton (While this isn't true in the slightest, I will shamelessly accept this stroking of my ego.  Cue daydreams of being a diplomat's wife/arts patron/style icon...); and raspberry-chilli ice cream from Borough Market.  Never have I ever thought of such a thing, but boy, does it work.

Tonight I went into the city for a goodbye walk, because it is suddenly, somehow, The Day Before I Leave.  With a million other faces I shot through the city veins, and I realized that soon being surrounded by Finnish and Afrikaans and Italian and Spanish and Japanese conversations will no longer be a part of daily life.  There will not be this particular diversity of faces, fashion, voices all around me.  Greenwich will not be a four-minute boat ride away. 

I am thankful for six months of so much beauty.  Today as I was trying to explain to a friend what these six months have meant to me I realized that they have allowed me to rediscover and recharge my right-brain dominance (which had been rather starved for attention in analytical Washington, DC and is currently bracing for re-entry).  Turner, Morris, architecture, music, parks, cooking...In the beauty of making, ordering, delighting in creative possibility, discovering the boundless variety of raw materials upon which to unleash our creator instinct -- There, more than anywhere else, I learn the generosity, delight, patience, humility, and love of God.  Rilke's words become my prayer of praise: In all these things toward which I feel this kinship and closeness, I always find You: basking like seed in the very smallest and giving Yourself greatly to the great.

Photo: Jessica Arnold
Tomorrow I leave the Mother Country, head to the Fatherland for a few days, and then spend a few weeks under the Tuscan (and Sicilian and Roman and Venetian) sun with this beauty before returning to the homeland.  There will be a zippy little rental car and Italian highways involved, so I trust I shall return with stories.  Also wine, and hopefully a decent sketch or two.  Cheers London, you've been brill.  And I'll be back.

05 March, 2012

Sketches in a Cafe

I am sitting in a Caffe Nero while Athena is in a meeting a few blocks away.  This place is abuzz with yuppie mums (and a few "Mr. Moms").  Their strollers look like spaceships and have probably been through as many shock absorption and collision tests as any sedan to roll out of Detroit.  One dad subtly defends the validity of his Man Card by stowing a sack of wood logs in the basket under his daughter's stroller seat.  He is sharing a cookie with her and braiding her hair, but by George, he's got firewood.

The children all have names like Poppy and Freddie and Arthur and Gemma and look like they've just stepped out of a Hanna Anderson catalog.  The mums with toddlers generally seem pretty happy and contented; I think they're now used to the constant note of mild, happy mayhem that their offspring have introduced to their lives.  It's the new mums I watch with the most interest.  They sit quietly but their eyes say so very much the moment their babies finally, miraculously fall asleep.  Briefly the harried, hunted look almost vanishes from their faces and they take long, relishing sips of their lattes; they scarf down muffins that they don't have to share; they send entire text messages to friends without a single interruption.  They look lonely, body- and soul-hungry.  This is their brief respite from Baby Schedule, perhaps the only venture into the outside world that they'll have today.  They look almost relaxed, but not entirely - constantly glancing toward the sighing bundle in the pram, praying that it stays asleep and quiet just a little bit longer.  A ringing phone or the grinding of coffee beans are suddenly offensive noises, enemies that murder Personal Time.

One mum nearby is quiet, but her body language screams exhaustion, bewilderment.  I don't know what she is thinking about, but she is feeding a bottle to her tiny one and appears to be on the brink of tears.  She looks into her daughter's face and I can tell that she feels nothing.  She is numb.  I want to tell her it will all be okay.  She'll get sleep back, and time to herself, and time with friends, too.  And her daughter will be the richer for having been loved well in these early days.

The woman sitting next to me is round with child.  I wonder what she thinks as she sits in this cafe and observes the things to come.  I hope she sees beyond the tired.  I hope she is excited, when all is said and done.  I hope her little George or Jemima gets to come here on coffee dates with mum (and obliges by sleeping for a few minutes, too).

My only literal sketch of the day is this man, who sits across from me and doesn't appear to think much of the news.

03 March, 2012

Borough Market & Operation Domestic Goddess: Passion fruit Curd

As I drank my coffee this morning I tried to decide how to spend the afternoon...I only have a couple of weekends left in London, so would I spend today revisiting a favorite or doing something new? My original plan of going to Greenwich to sketch the view from the Observatory seemed dubious since the forecast called for rain and clouds.  I wasn't really in the mood for going to museums and being intelligent, nor did I want to allow myself to go be tantalized by the treasures at Portobello Road -- My budget and my suitcase are just too small.  As I was trying to make up my mind,  I spotted this announcement on Facebook from beloved Borough Market:

"Passion fruit is at the height of its season at the moment, so why not pop over to our various fruit and Veg traders in the Market to buy your passion fruit in bulk?"

Decision made.

Passionfruits, dragon fruit, blood oranges
Off to the Market Jess & I went.  We had so much fun feasting our eyes on all the beautiful produce.  I always come away from Borough Market full of amazement and delight over how much edible variety there is in the world!  We came back with 12 passion fruits, as well as some blood oranges and a dragon fruit.  The blood oranges will be used to make this cocktail, but I still haven't figured out how to approach this dragon fruit situation.  Honestly... I just bought it because it looked cool.  Any suggestions? 

Curd-making in progress...

I'd become fixated on the notion of making passion fruit curd, since a) I love curd, b) Nigella has a passion fruit curd recipe, and c) it had been a while since we'd revisited Operation Domestic Goddess.  Also, d) I love curd.  Oh, I said that already.  I decided to make a sort of pavlova, which is a popular traditional dessert in the British Commonwealth (apparently it's the national dessert of New Zealand?).  I bought a beautiful big meringue at the market, sliced the top off so I had a flat base, covered that with whipped cream and topped it with glorious passion fruit curd.  Delicious!

(Oh, and of course the afternoon ended up being clear and sunny, and I absolutely could've sketched in Greenwich...but then I wouldn't have ended up with passion fruit curd and a beautiful dessert courtesy of my favorite market!) 

Pavlova with passionfruit curd
Nigella Lawson's Passion Fruit Curd

11 passion fruits (I used 12)
2 large eggs
2 large egg yolks
150 g caster sugar
100 g unsalted butter
1 clean 350 ml jar

Scoop out the seeded pulp of the 11 of the passion fruit into a food processor and blitz for a few second just to loosen the seeds.  Strain into a jug or bowl.
Beat the eggs, yolks, and sugar together.
Melt the butter over a low heat in a heavy-based pan, and when melted stir in the sugar-egg mixture and the passion fruit juice, and keep cooking gently, stirring constantly, until thickened.
Off the heat, whisk the pulp - seeds and all - of the remaining passion fruit, let cool slightly, then pour into the jar.  Keep in the fridge.
Makes 350 ml.