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Mountain Home Magazine

Tottering-by-Gently

Feb 26, 2016 07:22PM

I wish I could take credit for that descriptive title, as it so describes yours truly passing through the supermarket aisles pushing one of those smaller carts and heading in the direction of the produce department. I wasn’t always “tottering”—rather, I used to be tearing through the “trolley” traffic in a desperate effort to complete my shopping errand as quickly as possible. I now stop and smell—the basil—an aroma as pleasant to me as those of the roses that used to have good fragrance. (Where did the smells go?) And my stop and go (carefully)—and sometimes tenuous walk—as I peruse the merchandise, can certainly be classified as “tottering.”

Tottering-by-Gently is actually the name of a cartoon strip that is written by a woman named Annie Tempest and appears on the last page of each week’s edition of the British glossy magazine Country Life. I have friends down near Philadelphia who subscribe, and when I visit them I eagerly check out the work of this very funny lady.

In researching the author and her work, I find that Tottering is actually Annie’s name for the mythical landed gentry family that lives in the English countryside. In the cartoon, they have two grown children and grandchildren. They enjoy country life and, well, enjoy a drink now and then, actually more now rather than then. One wag suggested that they were “dithery aristos.” So be it.

Catch up with the Totterings

I went to the Tottering Web site and perused the goodies on offer. There are the usual tea towels and napkins and placemats printed with the cartoon characters. It reminded me of the “ye olde gift shoppes/tea room” one finds at the conclusion of most of the British National Trust “Stately Home” tours that I took on visits to the English shires years ago.

I passed up the tea towels and such in the on-line offerings and opted to order the three paperback books of past cartoons. I get such a chuckle out of these gently silly, sometimes wry, but often thoughtful and right-on little panels. And some of the drawings nicely depict interiors and countryside as well as the inhabitants.

I am rationing my reading—they are that enjoyable. I want to savor each one so perhaps these are best read one or two panels at a sitting. I am as hopelessly addicted to these as I was to Edith’s plights on Downton. Moreover, I need a regular shot of British humor (humour?) to pull me out of the “glooms” after Downton Abbey concluded. Besides, no less than the Duke of Devonshire claimed that Ms. Tempest’s drawings were causing so many subscribers to read Country Life from back to front. 

You can also purchase the original drawings, and what a special gift that would be—especially when the subject of the cartoon was a characteristic of the honoree or even yourself.

One cartoon that I would have liked to send to a friend, a connoisseur of good wine, (if only it hadn’t cost over $200!), is divided into three panels. In all three Lady Daffy (I presume her full name is Daphne) has a guest, similarly plumpty- dumpty and with snow-white tresses. Both are well ensconced in one of those people-enveloping British sofas.

Despite their submerged condition amongst the down- filled cushions, they both clutch drinking glasses, and Daffy even wields the red wine bottle with her other hand. In panel one, our heroine says to the friend, “It’s true isn’t it (panel two) that wine improves with age (panel three) certainly the older I get, the more I like it.” You may not be howling with laughter, but I bet you are smiling along with me.

Another example: in a wide panel we see Lady Tottering at the front door of the ancestral home surrounded by a small mountain of plastic carrier bags of food from the market. Her husband, Lord Tottering (Dicky) stands in the open door casting a startled eye on the array. She explains, “I accidently went to the supermarket on an empty stomach.” Now you know a bit about why the “gently” in the title is so apt.

Downton Abbey Fans Will Love This

While Daffy and Dicky are in no way in the same league as Lord and Lady Grantham, according to Sir Roy Strong, former head of the Victoria and Albert Museum, the Totterings “articulate the things which set us apart and which form our identity.” Another critic praised Ms. Tempest for capturing the essence of British humor. “Her observations are social rather than political. They are gentler and beautifully observed.”

The cartoons have appeared for eighteen years, weekly. The artist is still based in Norfolk, England, works in a converted barn, and the place is surrounded by multiple gardens. Presumably that area is the inspiration for the mythical town of Tottering and the manor house. The three Tottering books would be perfect on a bedside table in a guest room or that book repository called the coffee table.

An English Dish from a Long-Ago Trip

What do you think of when you hear the phrase “English Food?” I’ve been fortunate in my life to have made many trips to the British Isles and, despite British food’s undeserved reputation for blandness, overcooking, and “meat and two veg” sameness, I’ve enjoyed dining there. On my first trip there back in 1968, I clutched a copy of the popular England on $5 a Day guidebook. (I still have that hideously outdated book!) I wrote in my trip diary about the absolutely delicious homemade spaghetti dinner I had in a little restaurant near the Bayswater tube stop. There in the wide window fronting the street was an Italian (I presume) woman making pasta by hand. I dream of that place. In any case, there’s nothing like “pasta fatta in casa.”

Another gustatory highlight was in a pub just down the street where I had my first Scotch egg. There was a small platter of them on the back shelf of the bar. And it was there I also had my first shandy. A concoction of beer and lemonade that—to use an English expression—“went down a treat.” I just researched the area and, sure enough, The Swan is still in business and doing well, as it faces Hyde Park.

As my first trip to London was nearing its end I realized that I had a few traveler’s checks, and so I splurged and went to the then-fashionable Greenhouse restaurant in the tony Mayfair district. I loved the first course—a delicious soup that combined apple and chicken flavor—something I’d never had before. Here is the recipe, and I think it would be just right for the first day of spring. I went on line to find that the restaurant remains on Hays Mews, and still has great reviews—but even greater prices! Anyway, the chef gave me the recipe, and here it is. One note: I love the taste of green pepper but if it is a bit harsh to you, use all red (or yellow) peppers, or two red and two yellow, etc.

The Greenhouse Apple Soup

  • 3 large yellow onions, finely diced
  • 1 stick (1/4 lb.) unsalted butter
  • 3 green peppers, seeded and minced
  • 1 red bell pepper, seeded and minced
  • 1 medium cucumber (seedless or regular), seeded and minced
  • 5 Granny Smith apples, peeled, diced in small cubes
  • 2-1⁄2 c. low-sodium beef broth
  • 1 c. heavy cream
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
  • Fried bread croutons

Soak the onions in a bowl of cold water for at least 30 minutes. This removes some of the “sting” of the raw onions. Melt the butter in a 5-quart saucepan over low heat. Pat the onions dry and add them to the pot along with the peppers, cucumbers and apples. Sauté until the vegetables soften—about 10 minutes. Add the broth and cream and simmer for 15 additional minutes. Taste and add salt and pepper.

Serve in bowls or mugs sprinkled with croutons. Serves about 8.

I hope this “goes down a treat” in your dining room.