“Are you making beef with broccoli?” she asked, sounding equal parts amazed and teasing.
I like vegetables. Broccoli probably comes in third in my list of favorites, behind brussels sprouts, which are coming into season and filling me with delight and anticipation, and green beans, for which I think the USDA’s recommended serving size ought to be, “Well, how many have you got?”
The thing is, I wasn’t making beef with broccoli. I wasn’t sure what I was making, though.
We’d both worked late, and she was feeling in the mood for something bland, so she was heating a bowl of mashed potatoes to have with butter, salt, and pepper. I was foraging. I’d found a little piece of rare beef and some rice; the latter, topped with a damp paper towel, would go into the microwave when her potatoes were done. The rice wouldn’t be as good as it had been when freshly cooked, but far from terrible. I figured I’d thinly slice the steak and sauté it quickly in a little olive oil, slice a few grape tomatoes and toss those into the pan, too, and then pour it all over the reheated rice. Maybe add a little salsa. Maybe grate some cheese over the top. It could be vaguely Tex-Mex. It was sort of a plan, but not quite.
There wasn’t anything green, though, and I think dinner should almost always include something green. But I didn’t feel like assembling a salad. There were some broccoli florets, though. They got a quick steaming along with the rice, then went into the hot pan to brown on their tips, along with a generous splash of teriyaki sauce and a dab of minced garlic. Everything topped the rice, and the lot was garnished with a sprinkle of sesame seeds.
Meanwhile, she discovered to her horror that we were out of butter. “You can check in the freezer,” I said, “but I’m afraid there’s none there.” She opened the door and proved me right. But there was a little bag in the top compartment of the door containing small blocks of frozen cream. (She’d needed a very small amount for a recipe last winter. Not wanting to waste, we froze the rest in an ice cube tray and have been using it, a little at a time, ever since.) “Defrost one of these,” I suggested; “It’ll add some creaminess.” Instead, she pulled an empty pint-sized jar from the cupboard. “No!” she said. “I’ll make butter!”
She thawed the cream and put it in the tightly-lidded jar, then danced about the kitchen, singing and shaking her jar of cream like a maraca. After a couple of minutes, she stopped, disappointed that her jar wasn’t really well-suited for churning butter or adding percussion to a vocal arrangement. She poured the only-barely-clotted milk into the bowl of her Kitchen Aid mixer, and sent it to whisk. 8 minutes or so later, she had a ramekin of soft, lovely butter. I don’t think we’ll give up buying it in sticks from the grocery, but it’s nice to know that it’s an option.
The first rule of improvisational theatre is “Never say no.” If you’re playing a doctor in a scene and another character enters saying her car won’t start, you can’t object that you’re not a mechanic. You accept the given information and go forward. “Yes, and I’ll bring my stethoscope to listen to its carburetor,” you might say. If you’re “enjoying” the sunshine and your scene partner says it’s raining, it’s not “No,” it’s “Yes, and now I get to use my new umbrella.” If you’re rocking your “new baby” and a new character compliments your rhinoceros, “Yes, and she has her mother’s horn.”
“Are you making beef with broccoli?”
Yes, and would you pass me the soy sauce?
“Oh, no, we’re out of butter!”
Yes, and we have cream and a powerful mixer, and we can give ourselves a science lesson.
“We have to clear the guest room for the painter, and there’s nowhere to put the extra bed!”
Yes, and we can stack one mattress on top of another, and put a pea under the bottom one to see if we can feel it!
You can call it improvisation, and the result is sometimes funny, but really, it’s just two people being as creative and generous and kind as they know how. And a little bit more.
I’m going to be a contestant on a game show tonight–a live theatre presentation, not the TV kind. The object for me and my partner–my partner whom I’ve never met, of course–will be to write a song on a randomly assigned topic, in a randomly selected musical style. For a musical. In twenty minutes.
You might think, “Well, they did that in real time on TV,” but the music on Whose Line is it Anyway? was pre-determined. Also, those comedians weren’t writing for musical theatre characters, or being judged by writers and directors. I’m a little nervous about this event–about not finishing on time, or that the style won’t be one I’m comfortable with, or that our song won’t be as funny as the other team’s. (Though “funny” isn’t one of the prerequisites, it’s probably better in a game like this to be funny than heartfelt). I don’t mind losing, but I want to do well.
Fortunately, I have lots of improvisational experience on which to draw. And, win or lose, she’ll be in the audience, and we’ll have dinner after the show, and then go home to a very tall bed. Victory could not not be sweeter than knowing that.
Or home-churned butter.