Sunday, June 21, 2009

Watching Ascot Racing on the Telly and an Evening at Rosemary's

Saturday, June 21, 2009

I guess the week-long traveling finally did take its toll on me. I awoke this morning and all I wanted to do was stay indoors. The sun was flooding my room with brilliant light, but it did not in the least tempt me to get out.

I had a late breakfast (cereal and milk) while watching The Breakfast Show and then Saturday Kitchen with James Martin (sadly, I no longer get the UK Food channel in this place) and then returned to my room. I caught up on blogging and I started to transcribe another interview with Allan which I had done last week. I thought I would find out how to get to Allan and Denise's place in Uxbridge for Denise's birthday party to which I had been invited; but when I called their place, I discovered that the party was not an afternoon luncheon party but an evening dinner party! Unfortunately, I had already committed, long ago, to having dinner at my friend Rosemary's place in Battersea, so I had to abandon my plans to try to get to Uxbridge.

Between the transcription and the proofreading, it was past noon and I decided to rummage around in my fridge for all the leftovers of last night's prawn dinner. I made myself a tempting plate with a fresh salad and some English summer pudding with fresh cream for dessert and sat by the TV to watch the horse racing at Royal Ascot. Yes indeed, today is the last day of the races and I enjoyed the distinctive English spectacle of men in top hats and tail coats with fresh flowers in their button holes comment on the horses and the jockeys while the ladies paraded around in their own gracious attire with the famous hats for which the event is known. My friend Stephanie had invited me to accompany her on Ladies Day (Thursday) but I had already made plans and booked my ticket to visit Paul and Loulou in Suffolk--so I declined. However, the TV coverage was just as spectacular and I have to say that I got entirely into the spirit of the event as I watched one race after the other unfold on screen. Little did I think that this quiet Saturday would end up being such an exciting one for me, thanks to Ascot!

Then suddenly I felt so sleepy that I simply had to take a nap. And I slept and I slept and I slept. I was amazed at how much my body seemed to crave another ten minutes in the Land of Nod. Finally at 5. 15 pm, I had to drag myself out of bed and get into the bathroom for a shower. I also googled Journey Planner to find out how to get to Rosemary's place and discovered that it wasn't difficult at all. I had to change two buses but it was pretty straightforward. The estimated journey time was an hour so I left my flat after a shower at 6. 3o to get to the 63 bus stop. To my great disappointment, two 63s went sailing away and I knew that meant at least a 15 minute wait before the next one showed up. Right enough, 15 minutes later, I boarded the bus and changed to the 344 at the Imperial War Museum in Lambeth. I really was having lousy luck with buses because right before my eyes, two 344s sailed away and then 15 minutes later, the next one came! The end result was that I reached Rosemary's place in Battersea closer to 8 pm than 7. 30. I had called her earlier to tell her that I was running late.

An Evening at Rosemary's:
The reason for the gathering was an early birthday do for Rosemary's daughter Sophia whom I was meeting for the first time. However, I also met her husband Ron and a bunch of other guests--Ashok and his wife Fiona, and Diana--all friends of Rosemary. We started off with a glass of champagne and a few delicious nibbles--parmesan sticks, olives and vegetable crisps as I got to know the crowd.

Rosemary has a very charming home indeed. Though English houses are so much smaller than our American ones, when decorated by Englishwomen they attain an aura of coziness and comfort that requires a great deal of skill to replicate. Rosemary's sense of aesthetics is helped by the fact that her son Alexander is a trained artist and the walls of her home are covered by eclectic but very interesting art work (mainly oil paintings cleverly bought at auction). Books repose in built-in bookcases, fresh flowers fill vases, a fireplace adds to the warmth of the setting and the cleverest ambient lighting from low wattage bulbs add a touch of warmth and class. I loved the charm of her home which was made more welcoming by the dining table that I could glimpse (it was actually two small tables joined together casually but very charmingly) that sat right by the door that led into the garden.

In the garden, tantalizingly, I could see the blazing red of potted geraniums, the moss-covered herringboned brick floor and hanging baskets and I decided that I really ought to prowl around outside before we lost all light. It wasn't long before Rosemary invited us to the table and it was at that point that I excused myself for a little wander. The garden is tiny, but again it is a dream small garden--it has all the features that make an English garden so quaint and delightful--two steps at the far end led to a tool shed. There was a fence on both sides to define and enclose her little patch of earth but it was thickly covered with creeping vines. A few terracotta pots strategically placed brought more balance and color to the space. I could so easily see myself stretching out on a chaise-longue on a Saturday morning with a book and enjoying this little haven of green.

But then it was time to return to my seat at the table where the rest were awaiting my arrival. Rosemary is a fantastic chef as I found out and her first course was an absolutely simple but very sophisticated Nectarine and Parma Ham Salad served with a Mint Vinaigrette. I thought that the nectarines had been grilled but they turned out to be uncooked. It helps to buy the ripest, sweetest nectarines you can find. Everyone had seconds as the dish was so marvelous (served with a crusty toasted loaf of bread).

As we continued our conversation, Rosemary laid out our entree on the counter in her tiny kitchen and invited us to take our plates there to help ourselves. Well, her Beef Tenderloin was absolutely succulent--it was just perfectly done (I like mine medium rare) Served with this center piece were parslied new potatoes, an asparagus quiche and a salad made with lettuce, tomatoes, green beans and avocado and every bit of it was superb (served with English mustard and horseradish sauce--yummy!). I had no idea that Rosemary was such an accomplished chef. And wait till you hear what her pudding was all about.

We were glad that she took a while to bring it out because she needed a few minutes to whip up the fresh cream and we needed a few minutes to digest the earlier courses. It turned out to be a Hazelnut Pavlova with had absolutely the most perfect texture you can imagine--cripsy on the outside and soft and chewy within. The flavor was just awesome, achieved by the careful toasting of chopped hazelnuts. This was served with fresh raspberries and strawberries on a bed of lightly sweetened whipped cream. Believe me, it was the quintessential English pudding and because it happens to be Sophia's favorite, Rosemary so thoughtfully made it in her honor. Needless to say, almost everyone took seconds--though I had to refrain as I was just too stuffed.
It was impossible to believe that it was 11. 30 pm when next I looked at my wrist watch. We had such a splendid evening that it was with reluctance that I stood up to leave when several others said that they ought to be going as well. Unfortunately, since most of them lived in Surrey, I could not get a ride back and had to walk to the bus stop to find my way home. It really wasn't too bad at all. I made the change at London Bridge and Farringdon was buzzing as it was Saturday night and the neighborhood clubs were just coming into their own after midnight.

I brushed and flossed my teeth and went straight to bed, delighted that my long afternoon nap had allowed me to withstand another late night--and what a lovely night it had proven to be!

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