18 September, 2006

The Long Goodbye to Chiara & Other Endings

Tuesday I was invited out to the local Thai restaurant, Sala Thong, for lunch. Just a few minutes walk from where I work, this is a firm favourite as a lunch destination. The food is arguably the best Thai cuisine to be had in Cambridge and the special lunch menu is extraordinary value for money. Lunch was on Anya, one of the Faculty's departing graduate students, who (having completed her PhD in Japanese studies) will be swapping one Cambridge for another when she takes up a job at Harvard in the near future. On this occasion I opted for the lentil curry and the expected high standard was upheld. The company at lunch was every bit as enjoyable as the food.

Our charming Neapolitan friend Chiara departed this week too, having finally submitted her PhD (also in Japanese studies). On Tuesday she made a farewell visit a casa nostra. Home-made pizza was again the dish of the day and Chiara contributed a special Neapolitan touch to one of the three. The base of Pizza Chiara had a raised rim and the topping consisted of Lisa's tomato sauce, a sprinkling of dried oregano, chunks of fresh mozzarella cheese, anchovies, and torn leaves of fresh basil from our garden. Trust me, it tasted every bit as good as it looks!

Farewell to Chiara continued on Thursday with dinner at Lady Patricia's home in Shelford. Lisa and I met up after work and caught the train to Shelford together, joining the others the "Stone House". Our hostess cooked us all a stunning West African dish of chicken in a peanut sauce accompanied by pasta, runner beans and a dish of shrimp and vegetables. We ate out on the terrace in the early evening and then repaired to the kitchen for coffee. To round out the evening we moved to Patricia's "white" room to watch the 1978 film of "The Thirty-Nine Steps" with Robert Powell and a host of other British stars. The film was tremendous fun, the pace never flagging for a moment and with high tension perfectly balanced by moments of humour all the way up until the climactic scene at Big Ben which was brilliantly done. At last the evening was over and we all caught the train back to Cambridge.

On Friday evening, Lisa, Xavier and I paid our first visit to the revitalised "Castle" in central Cambridge. This is an example of the trend that turns basic pubs into lounge bars and was so recently re-opened that the smell of fresh paint was still very pungent. The service and food were great until we tried to pay our bill and leave, at which point chaos reigned as there seemed to be no record kept of what we'd eaten or drank.It rather spoiled the otherwise very pleasant effect but no doubt the staff will get the kinks in the system ironed out promptly.

For the first time in longer than we can remember, Lisa and I spent the entire weekend a deux at home. Our bikes stayed in the shed and the shops on Mill Road had to survive without our custom for once. Towards the end of Saturday we roused ourselves to action in the kitchen and concocted a "store cupboard" Indian meal of lamb keema, a green bean & sweetcorn korma (created by yours truly) and basmati rice. The combination of the dry keema, the wet korma and the plain rice went very well together.

Sunday continued the low key approach to the weekend. I watched the last two stages of the Vuelta a EspaƱa (a bicycle race of some note, m'lud!) on Eurosport and was gratified to see riders from my Fantasy Cycling Team continue their domination of the race through to the final stage sprint in central Madrid. An hour's strenuous gardening left us feeling hungry so we set to on the pizza trail yet again and treated ourselves to the same thing we've so recently served our treasured guests chez-nous.

The musical background to most of the weekend was an album by Turkish singer Sezen Aksu which was a gift of Chiara and which seemed to match the prevailing mood perfectly.

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