Silver service

I have a cool Facebook friend who recently shared a beautiful silver vintage dress and described it as a  “fine china and heavy silverware kind of dinner dress”.

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I have a non-vintage silver dress which is very similar and her words just stuck in my mind and captured my imagination.  I stopped at the Exeter Farmer’s Market last week with the intention of buying some fish.  I bought a couple of beautifully filleted pieces of Dover sole from the Gibsons Plaice Fishmonger stall.  We decided to make a  fine china and heavy silverware kind of dinner.

Just in case you’ve arrived looking for the recipe, here it is up front.  I find it irritating when I’m searching out a recipe and have to read through a bunch of superfluous stuff to get to it.

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Baked Fish Filets with Mushroom Stuffing

  • 4 large Dover sole fillets, skinned
  • 5 fl oz (150 ml) milk
  • lemon juice
  • 1 tablespoon double cream
  • salt and freshly milled black pepper
  • 8 oz (225 g) dark-gilled mushrooms, finely chopped
  • 1 oz (25 g) butter
  • 1 tablespoon oil
  • 1 small onion, finely chopped
  • freshly grated nutmeg
  • 1 level tablespoon finely chopped parsley
  • 5 fl oz (150 ml) dry white wine or cider
  • 2 level tablespoons plain flour

First of all melt half the butter and all the oil together in a pan and fry the onion gently until soft and golden.

Add the mushrooms and cook until all the juices have evaporated and the remaining mixture is a dryish, spreadable paste – this will probably take about 20 minutes.

Remove from the heat, season with salt, pepper and nutmeg, then transfer all but 2 tablespoons of the mixture to a basin and mix with the parsley.

Next cut the fish fillets in half lengthways and spread an equal quantity of the mushroom mixture on the skinned side of each piece. Roll up the fillets from the head to the tail end and place closely together in a baking dish.

Pour in the wine or cider, place a piece of buttered silicone paper (parchment) directly on top of the fish and bake in the oven for 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, melt the remaining butter in a saucepan, blend in the flour and cook for 2 minutes, stirring continuously. When the fish is ready, transfer it to a warmed serving dish, using a draining spoon; cover and keep warm.

Now add the cooking liquid to the butter and flour mixture, beating all the time to get a smooth sauce, and also blend in the milk.

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Then bring to boiling point, stirring all the time, add the remaining mushroom mixture, season with salt, pepper and a squeeze of lemon juice and stir in the cream.

To accompany the fish, we made mashed potatoes w/ double cream and butter and buttered, steamed spinach with fresh nutmeg.  Ladle the sauce over the fish filets and et voila!

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Now back to the superfluous stuff.

We’ve been buying silver plated Old English and Dubarry flatware here and there over the past few years.  It mixes and matches very well.  We recently inventoried it to see what the gaps are and if any of it needed to be replated.  Steve wore his special anti tarnish gloves.  He is natural born butler at heart!

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We have the capability to host an elegant dinner party for twelve at any given moment.    However, this little dinner party was exclusively for a party of two.

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We used Dubarry flatware which combines Baroque and Asiatic influences to strike a beautiful balance between intricate detail and straight lines.  First appearing in the early 18th century, its inspiration lies in the elegant furniture of Thomas Chippendale.
Blue twill place mats, cream scallop edged dinner plates, white flax napkins and silver napkin rings completed the elegant table settings.

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We opened a bottle of 2014 Sancerre from our most recent Fortnum & Mason Christmas hamper that we’ve been saving for such an occasion.  Here Steve’s sommelier duties came to the fore.

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And here is the dress.  I bought it a few years back for my 50th birthday party from Jigsaw, one of my favourite places to shop.  It is elegant, very comfortable and makes me feel like a Greek goddess.  It isn’t really ombre, but looks it when it catches the light.

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I’d also picked up a bouquet from In Bloom Devon which sells flowers grown in a Devon field, entirely without the use of pesticides and artificial fertilizers.  There are no air miles except for the ones traveled by the and bees and other pollinating insects who love visiting the flowers.

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For dessert, we stayed local.  Homemade meringues from West Country Meringues, organic double cream from Ashclyst Farm Dairy and strawberries grown at Balls Farm, Exeter.

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Eton Mess

We didn’t really have a proper silver service but it would be really fun to do one day.  Silver service (in British English) is a method of foodservice. This usually includes serving food at the table. It is a technique of transferring food from a service dish to the guest’s plate from the left. It is performed by a waiter using service forks and spoons from the diner’s left. In France, this kind of service is known as service à l’anglaise (“English service”).  There’s a guide here.

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Hearing the cries of the world

I’ve been feeling many different emotions in response to all that is happening in the world.  The recent violence in Germany, France and America, and the political situations in the UK and the US.  I was especially upset about the killing of an elderly priest in Rouen.  I’ve lately felt quite overwhelmed and as though I would like nothing more than to retreat from the world and build a hard shell around me.

I woke from a dream the other morning in which I had just finished drawing a portrait of a young man who was dwelling with me. I beheld this young man, paid witness to him and captured his likeness. Next in the dream, I was about to draw a picture of Kuan Yin.

Dream figures reflect our inner state and the outer world. Many of our young men are not well fathered, nor well mothered nor held in the fabric of the world. Some of them are doing really horrendous things. It must be so difficult to grow up into manhood. I know how trapped and diminished girls and women can be by society’s definitions and roles for us, but it is no easier for boys and men.

Kuan Yin goes by many names. She is an Eastern goddess of Mercy and Compassion who hears the cries of the world. Compassion means ‘to suffer with’.

When I woke, I felt a softening and the ability to hold a lot of conflicting and difficult thoughts and feelings with love.

I felt at peace after being visited by the promise of Kuan Yin.  I found a few different images of her online:

Guanyin Bodhisattva

Guanyin Bodhisattva

Kannon (観音)

Kannon, (観音

Kuan Yin_chinese

Kuan Yin

Tara

Tara

This morning, I woke with the dawn and sat up in bed and made the drawing that I was about to in my dream last week.  As usual, different than expected elements always appear.  The earth is in the lower left hand corner and a dragon appears to  encounter the world.  This isn’t an evil presence, however.   The dragon, an ancient symbol for high spirituality, wisdom, strength, and divine powers of transformation, is a common motif found in combination with the Goddess of Mercy.

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She Hears the Cries of the World, Staedtler-Triplus Fineliner pens, 25 x 25cm, 2016

I saw a friend last week who has a very similar resonance to me, and it was good to share and reflect together.  She currently has a very spiritual response to life, but said that when she was younger, she had a very political stance and wonders if she will take that approach again.  I think that many people are concerned about the state of the world and are wondering what response is needed.  We can choose to hide away, tune out, become politically active, write and speak to others about our feeling and thinking responses to events.   For myself, I don’t know if I will take a more active response, but for now it is enough to hear and acknowledge the cries of the world.

Les fleurs et les amis

I was impatiently waiting for Steve to finish up what he was doing at the computer so we could go out for the day.  The beautiful bunch of wildish flowers I’d bought at Exeter Farmer’s Market captured my gaze.

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I started looking very intently at each of the blooms and was transfixed by their delicate beauty.  I made friends with them in that time of restlessness and boredom.

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Nobody sees a flower really; it is so small.
We haven’t time, and to see takes time
– like to have a friend takes time.
– Georgia O’Keeffe

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“If you take a flower in your hand and really look at it, it’s your world for a moment.”
― Georgia O’Keeffe

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These were taken with the standard lens on my LUMIX G7.  Not bad, but I am really looking forward to getting a macro lens soon.

California here we come!

For years I’ve been saying, ‘Oh yeah, California.  Feh!  Yes, I grew up there, but never fit in.  No, I wouldn’t ever want to live there again.  Yes, one day I’ll visit and I’ll show Steve around, since he’s shown me Newcastle-under-Lyme.’  To be honest, it was towards the bottom of my list of places to go.

Well, I woke up in tears about five months ago.  I was inconsolable and once Steve got to the bottom of what was wrong, it was that I wanted so badly to fill up my Radio Flyer with empty pop bottles and get my best friend Kim and walk up to Haa’s Liquor Store and swap them for candy.  Steve said, ‘Well I guess we have to go to California this year.’  And so we are.

But it’s more than homesickness.  Yes, this is a memory from my childhood, which is rooted in a place where I am no longer.     I know that the place and zeitgeist of my 1960’s & ’70’s childhood have changed and that I won’t find the feeling of taking pop bottles to the liquor store.  I suppose what I felt is nostalgia,  a sentimental or wistful yearning for experiences in a former place, time, or situation.

Once we booked our flight, we found ourselves with the huge task of planning where to go and who and what to see.  Three weeks seems like a very long time, but California is a very big place and I have 35 years worth of history there to explore, as well as all that Steve and I will be discovering together!

I got all of my old maps out, charted a course on Google maps and bought a California guidebook.

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And then I did what I always do to make sense out of things.  Got my art supplies out and set my easel up.

paint

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Once I began to fill in the blank squares, it all fell into place.

First, six days in the Southland visiting many of the places, hangouts, schools, libraries, fast food joints and cinemas that I frequented during my formative years and young adulthood there.

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The second week we will travel up Highway One to San Francisco.  This is where the camping part of our trip will begin.  We’ll stop off at Santa Barbara, the wine country around Los Olivos, SLO, Big Sur, Carmel, Monterey and Santa Cruz, then have three days in San Francisco, my favorite city ever.  Seriously, I fell in love with it when I was nine.  I’m sure it’s changed quite a bit since being gentrified by the techhies of Silicon Valley, but this will be one of the trip’s highlights.

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After ricocheting out to Point Reyes, we’ll drive through the Sierra Nevada foothills to Yosemite, over the Tioga Pass to the Mono Basin and then make our way down to Joshua Tree and the Mojave Desert.

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I am also planning to meet up with a few friends from my childhood all the way up through my early 30’s.  As well, being in so many of the places along the coast and in the desert will be like spending time with dear friends.  I am so lucky that I travelled around and camped so much when I was living in California.  The wild parts of my self that I encountered in the wild, natural areas of California have shaped me who I am today.

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We still have a few people to make plans to meet up with, but for the most part, our trip to California is sketched out.

Mercury rising, fever dreams and a book found within a book

I’m finally very nearly better after being very sick for the past week.

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In a strange way, I don’t usually mind being under the weather, because it gives me a chance to stay inside, take extra care of my self and take longer naps than usual.  Last week though, I was bedridden for three days with achy muscles and a bone deep fever.  I not only retreated from the world, but whoever is the me that I know retreated from my Self and, temporarily, I was in that very strange shape-shifting space.

When I’m ill, I become ever so slightly hypochondriacal and watch my developing symptoms like a hawk. I like a good old fashioned analogue glass & mercury thermometer, me.   The only ones available these days seem to be digital ones, but I bought an old school NUS (never used stock) one from an antiques centre recently.

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Everything familiar looked slightly surreal.

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I spent a couple of days in a fugue state of fevered dreams about fractions that didn’t quite work out and strange faces with sharp teeth..

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Fortunately, Steve was at home all week, recuperating from the same illness, which I had nursed him through last weekend.  Our cordless phone works very well as an intercom system and he kept me well supplied with food and liquids and assurances that I will soon feel better.

When I’m sick, I default to some of the foods from my childhood periods of illness.  Then, it was 7-Up, Saltines, chicken soup and Jell-o.  The English versions are lemonade, Jacob’s Cream Crackers and jelly, served on a bed tray.

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By then end of the week, I was able to sit up and read.  It’s Fine By Me is a beautiful and disquieting coming-of-age story by Norwegian writer Per Petterson.  A rare sort of book that leaves me in utter silence after I have read the final sentence.  A silence which tolls in a new space inside of me that has opened up in the reading of the story.

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Interestingly, the protagonist Audan who loves to read, mentions a book by Paal-Helge Haugen, Norwegian lyricist, novelist, dramatist and children’s writer,  called Anne which is like ‘nothing else  .  .  .  .  .  Anne is lying there, in the book, seeing herself and the world through a haze of fever, and I can’t get her out of my head.  .  .  .  .  .  ‘

When I felt well enough to get back online, I looked this book up.  It appears to be out of print and has probably not been translated into English.  I found a journal, Asymptote which has a few passages from the book and a note from the translator:

“Anne is a long poem, or a bullet-pointed novel, as author Paal-Helge Haugen calls it. He writes in his “Note to Self” (in the final pages of Anne) that the book should be constructed collaboratively by its author and its readers. He goes on to explain that he has termed Anne a bullet-pointed novel because it is made up of poetic sections and sections of found text; Anne is not meant to be either cohesive or complete.”

67

The moon has large spots of fungus and mold
Heat heat throw me into the sea Write Thy name
Jesus on my heart under mold and stone mold
and stone
Long dorms with wind-swept children
Metal-wind            Smell of animals
The sand scatters under my skin
Judas pierces the living with needles
Blind kittens looking for udders for big
troughs of cascading rain
Fire-tongues
in the mirror Tight shoals of bayonets through my eyes

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Månen har store flekkar av sopp og mugg
Hete hete kaste seg i havet            Skriv dig
Jesus paa mit hjerte      under mold og stein mold
og stein
Lange sovesaler med sveipte barn
Metallvind            Lukt av dyr
Sanden drys under huda            Hege naken i skogen
                                                Hender munnar
Judas stikk nåler gjennom levande
Blinde kattungar leitar etter spenane      etter store
kjer av brusande regn
Eldtunger
i
spegelen            Tette stimar av bajonettar gjennom auga

By the week’s end, I was still mostly bedbound, but bored. Yesterday I sat up in bed and played ‘target practice’ with my snot rags.

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Now that I’m pretty much up and about, I’m anxious to get up and out and on to perfecting my reversing around corner skills.

Two milestones and a very big carrot

After about six years of not driving, I’ve decided it’s time to get my UK driving licence.  I’ve had my California drivers license since I was 16, but was unwilling to exchange it for a UK one because it would be taken away from me.  So what?  But in America it was my ID and I just didn’t want to let go of that talisman of who I am.

I got my provisional UK licence about 1.5 years ago, but to be honest, I needed a tangible reason and goal to start the process.  I take the bus to work and Steve is quite happy to do the driving when we go out.  Anyhow, the time has come!

I got a 3 DVD set and a couple of books and set about studying for the DVSA Theory Test and the Hazard Perception Test.  I’ve really enjoyed studying.  I’ve also realised that this is the first time I’ve set and worked towards a specific goal in a few years.

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I was worried about the Hazard Perception Test, which involves watching a 30 second scenario and clicking the mouse when I see a potential hazard developing.  Apparently experienced drivers click too soon, because we see it sooner and get in before the window of time governed by the test.  I struggled to do well on the practice video clips.

I took both tests on Friday.  I ain’t superstitious, but I wore the Converse All Stars I’ve been wearing to my driving sessions and my silver Hopi bracelets & hishi and bird fetish earrings, both bought on solo road trips in the American southwest.

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The Theory test was a cakewalk: 49/50 was my score.  I had a 3 minute break and went on to the Hazard Perception Test.  There were 14 scenarios in a row and unlike the practice DVD,  I didn’t get my score after each clip.  So after the first one, I had no idea how I was doing.  With trembling hands and sweating palms, I carried on.

Well hey!  I passed!!🙂

The other thing I have to get is refresher driving tuition and specifically tips on how to get through the Practical Test.  I spoke to a couple of people I found online, but how does one know who to go with?  Serendipitously, a friend recommended a new driving instructress who can meet me in Exeter before and/or after work.   She is showing me not how to drive, but how to get through the test.  So now that I have passed the Theory Test I have booked my Practical Driving Test at the end of August.  One milestone down and one to go.

Now let me tell you about my carrot.  As I stilled myself before I took my tests on Friday, I closed my eyes and saw this.

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Steve and I are going to California for 3 weeks this October!  California is my home state and I haven’t been back for a proper visit since I moved to the UK in 1998.  We’ll be about 6 days in the L.A. basin where I lived for 35 years, then plan to hit the road.  We’ve hired a camper van, not an RV.  We’re planning  a 2 week road trip up the coast beyond San Francisco to Point Reyes, then will hang a right and go through Yosemite, nip up to Bodie, visit my beloved Mono Lake and head down the Owens Valley and swing by Joshua Tree.

All travels and journeys are potentially life changing, but this will be one of the ‘trips of a lifetime’ for both of us.  For Steve, to travel through the most beautiful state in the US with me as his guide and for me, to go to where I come from and the giganticness that that’s about, and for both of us to experience it all together.

Now, that’s what I call a very big carrot.

BTW, my California drivers license expired in 2012 which is why I’m going through all of this malarkey.  I’ll get an International Driving Permit before we go.