Monthly Archives: March 2015

Duck Duck Improvise

We didn’t have long for dinner between train arrival and when we needed to leave to get to the theatre.  Grabbing sandwiches at a drive-through would have been perfectly justified, but I just didn’t want to do it.  There will be enough days coming when that really has to happen.  I stopped at the market to get half a pound of shrimp, which would take no time at all to steam (and in that no-time-at-all, I could mix ketchup, horseradish, and lemon juice to make better cocktail sauce than we’d find on any shelf). As for what else to serve, I figured I’d find something between the entrance and the fish counter.

The frozen section has a new line of international foods. A box of spring rolls presented itself.  These seemed worth a try. I’d much rather have made spring rolls, but this was a corner I was willing to cut. Cabbage, carrot, bean sprout–the vegetable course was covered.

I didn’t think about the appropriate condiments for the rolls, though. They weren’t packaged with duck sauce and hot mustard–which is just as well, considering the packaged stuff probably would have been full of ethylene this and glycol that.  She looked up a duck sauce recipe for me.

Apricot preserves, orange marmalade, fresh ginger…it was a festival of things I’d like to say were in our fridge, but they weren’t.

But we weren’t bereft.

A-Few-Days-Before-Spring Roll Sauce
2 tbsp ginger marmalade, warmed in a microwave for 30 seconds or so.
Stir in
2 tsp soy sauce
2 tsp orange juice, fresh-squeezed if you have it.
1 tsp Dijon mustard. This terrific mustard is the best I know, but whatever you have.
Sauce will thicken a little as it cools.

The result was not duck sauce, but something that went perfectly well with the spring rolls. It was a little like mixing duck sauce and hot mustard, which is what I would have done anyway. The shrimp probably would have been good dipped in the faux-duck, too.

We ate well, stowed the leftovers, started the dishwasher, and were on our way to a lovely production of a sweet, funny, romantic musical at a theatre built from converted barn. We love New York theatre, but there is something to be said for being able to have dinner at home and still make curtain. Especially when dinner was this good.

Shoots and Leaves (and Two Forks)

“Honestly, I won’t eat that at work.” I figured as much, but thought a little salad might go nicely with two slices of leftover pizza. “Let’s have it with dinner,” she said, handing me back the package as she packed the rest of her lunch. (I don’t so much pack her lunch as leave it on the kitchen counter; she puts it in whatever bag she’s carrying. Sometimes, as with the salad, she’ll pass on an item–“Yesterday’s yogurt is still in the office fridge,” for instance.)

Salads are tricky for lunch-at-your-desk, unless they’re the main course. There’s too much potential for dressing-spillage. Who wants to submit a report with vinaigrette on it–or, worse, requisition a new computer keyboard because Alt and Enter are gummed up with Thousand Island?

Also, she seldom eats salad alone. She “steals” it off a plate we share. It’s my salad; she’s just getting away with something. I’m not sure I understand, but it’s been this way for far too long for me to question it now. It makes things convenient when we’re out to eat, though: she’ll have the fries, I’ll have the salad, and we’ll split them both. (It’s not quite as stereotypically romantic as sharing a milkshake, but probably healthier.)

She brought home a bagged salad a week or so ago, and we agreed it was the best such we’d ever had: kale, cabbage, and carrot, topped with sunflower seeds, bacon bits, and a slightly-creamy citrus vinaigrette. The salad was tremendously crunchy and savory. The bitter greens were nicely balanced by the slightly-sweet dressing. My only complaint–and it wasn’t really one–was that the greens were shredded so finely the salad was more like a slaw. There’s nothing wrong with slaw, but it wasn’t what I was expecting. And maybe shredding the greens diminished their bitterness.

We met at a diner before going to the theatre last Wednesday. Diners with novel-sized menus can be intimidating, but I narrowed it down: since I’d had a sandwich for lunch, I restricted myself to the salad page. I wasn’t looking for meat or cheese. I didn’t read too closely, but the one with cranberries looked appealing.

Our meals came. We laughed. The cranberries were, of course, topping a bowl of kale, cabbage, and carrot. No sunflower seeds, though, and no bacon. Too many dried cranberries, maybe, and the oil-and-white-vinegar dressing was not so interesting as the bagged salad’s. The vegetables were in big pieces, almost the size you’d want for a stir-fry.

I wondered what it would be like to stir-fry that combination of vegetables and top them with fresh bacon, or maybe some sliced sausage. It would really be a main dish. She pointed out that greens become more bitter when heated. She’s right, which doesn’t bother me a bit, since I like bitter greens (and I like it when she is right). We’d want sweetness to balance, like the dressing that came in the bag–or, better yet, one just like it that is made only from ingredients we can pronounce.

I’ll try it some night, and serve it in a big bowl. With two forks.

Chore, Sweetened

We rented a storage unit when we combined households. It’s been enormously useful during renovations. We haven’t been there recently, though. She had suggested that we spend a couple of hours there this morning–taking stock, photographing items that we want to sell, and removing anything we know now that we don’t want to keep. Saturday morning arrived, rainy and cold. I really just wanted to stay in bed, but that wasn’t going to get the job done.

I went to the kitchen to brew coffee and tea while she got dressed. Waiting for the kettle to boil, I looked around for something to snack on–I figured we’d have brunch later. I sliced a banana and peeled a clementine. The latter did not become part of our shared snack, though; I gobbled it down in no time flat. Seeing a partial loaf of banana bread, I had an idea and changed course. Maybe I would cook a little after all.

Banana Bread Foster

Put a small non-stick skillet over medium heat.
Toast 4 slices banana bread.
Melt 4 tbsp butter.
Add one banana, sliced into thick rounds.
Sprinkle with 2 tbsp brown sugar and 1/4 tsp vanilla extract.
Toss occasionally until the sugar is melted and syrupy and the bananas are caramelized and slightly softened.
Mix together 1/2 cup ricotta cheese and 1 tsp sugar.
Spread sweetened cheese over the toasted banana bread.
Spoon bananas over the cheese.
Top, if you have some, with a little whipped cream.

There are still boxes and boxes of books and CDs and files and some small pieces of furniture that we love but aren’t in current use, but the unit is well-organized now, and a trunk-load of items have been sent away. We’ll face the rest another day, but we did good work. It wasn’t such a daunting task as we’d feared–or perhaps we were just well-fortified.

The sliced apples are on the plate to suggest that this was a healthy, nutritious breakfast.  They are fooling no one. It was, however, delicious.

The sliced apples are on the plate to suggest that this was a healthy, nutritious breakfast.
They are fooling no one.
It was, however, delicious.

180

We’re a little more than halfway through the year proposed in our About statement. It’s clear that we haven’t posted about dinner every day. There’ve been some days skipped because we did something we’ve done before the same way, or because nothing needs to be said about un-repurposed leftovers, or we grabbed some relatively-fast-but-still-decent food, or because dinner never happened.

We’re still here, many plates of eggs and grits later. We’ve eaten lots of macaroni and cheese, too; bunches of kale, and as many green beans as we could find. Rice. Burgers. Pot roast. Pizza. Festive dinners, fancy dinners, sandwiches on the run. Some were more spectacular than others.  Some were well planned; others were figured out as we went along. We read recipes and we improvised. We read articles about relationships and we felt our own way. We’ve celebrated a wedding and a funeral in our extended family, and our little family has grown closer. Whatever’s arisen, we’ve brushed the plaster dust off the counter and gone on.

We didn’t notice that six months had passed. It happened quietly, while we were doing other things. (That’s a lot like how we got together in the first place, but that story for another time.)

We’re too grown-up to celebrate half-birthdays, but this blog isn’t.  So, belatedly, here’s a little recap of where we’ve been.

One Perfect Burger – Moving Day. The first dinner.
Road Trip #1 – Celebrating the marriage of two friends, and visiting another.
Thinking Outside the Boxes – Not your basic packaged macaroni and cheese.
This Dinner Brought to You By iMessage – Perfect bagels.
When in Rome, Do as the Australians Do – A day of home renovation, a night of falling asleep on the couch.
Monkeying Around – Her first baking adventure.
Dinner and/or a Movie – Eggplant Parm and Pickles, but not together.
Very French, or Nearly So – Breakfast on the deck.
It’s Not the Heat, it’s the Humidity – Grilling in the rain.
Running out for Pizza – A satisfying run, a less-so customer service experience.
Crunch Time – Well-fried chicken
Just a Little Something – Dessert. For dinner. That happens sometimes.
One More Time – “Repurposing” is a nice way of saying “leftovers.”
DIY, Kind-of – Kind Bars and Salsa (again, not meant to be served together).
Manhattan Pancakes – A rough day leads to a very special Breakfast for Dinner.
Timing is Everything – It doesn’t take Rachael Ray to assemble a satisfying meal  in 30 minutes or less.
Very Meta – Our first theatre night of the “school year.”
Acquired Tastes – Who knew that could be good?
When Delays, Doubles, and Failed Plans are Just Right – Beef stew and houseguests
The Well-Traveled Salsa – Giving up on the CSA
Tag Team – We work well together.
To Be or Not to Bibimbap – A quick post-choir supper.
Spicy – Some bachelor dinners have hot strippers; this one had rites-of-passage Indian food.
What Price Convenience – A roasted chicken for Sunday dinner
Quiet Dinner for One – Simple as a bowl of pasta.
You Can Bet on It – Her favorite Thai dish, sort of.
A Side of Snobbishness – A trip to the theatre, and a detour for fabulous fries.
Attention Must Be Paid – Getting Breakfast Right
Our Weekend Condition – Lots of chores, and a fair number of brownies.
The Night Shift – What you can cook while you sleep.
Texture, Substance, and Taste – Japanese food isn’t for everyone.
The Best Medicine and the Bedtime Snack – Grumpiness can be derailed by laughter. Ice cream helps, too.
A Sense of Occasion – Because sometimes you have to get dressed up and go out. And pick up burgers.
Thermal Control – Sometimes when roasting a chicken, the only thing that overheats is the cook.
Confidence Gravy – Getting your mojo back.
A Tale of Three Soups – Spoiler: they’re all tomato.
Road Trip #2 – Sandwiches, running, and rain.
Columbus Day – A brave new world, and a decadent breakfast
Domestic Pas de Deux – Batch cooking in preparation for a week in a construction site–and a little dancing.
Breakfast Bolognese – It’s amazing what you can do with the rest of the water in the kettle.
I’m Going to Go Back There Someday – A story of favorite restaurants.
Clearing the Air – The only thing our kitchen needs is better ventilation.
Precisely My Cup of Tea (and Her Cup of Coffee) – Relationships and Beverages
Yes, And – Improvisation leads to semi-Chinese food–and butter.
The Second- or Third-Best-Laid Plans – A date night can lead you anywhere.
Babycakes – Baking for the new mom and dad.
The Best Sauce – Fish and rice and vegetables: simple and perfect.
Assembly Required – Building a desk, making a pot roast.
Divide and Encourage – Dinner and theatre, but not together.
A Night at the Not-Quite Disco – Her second-favorite restaurant serves the classiest bar food we know.
Accidental Soup – Why I needed new glasses.
A Dash of iPhone – A technological crisis averted, and some Mexican take-out.
Including Moderation – Because sometimes grown-ups don’t eat a balanced meal.
The Problem with Thanksgiving – Take the pressure off the stuffing.
OK, Eat – A pair of stressballs only explode in laughter.
Date Night Fish Tacos – Classy comfort food.
What Would Laura Do? – Preparation in the face of a Big Winter Storm.
Linen-White Christmas – Taking the pressure off another holiday.
Untraditional – Taking the pressure off three holidays in a row really would be too much to ask.
My Semi-Debauched Life – Not much of a drinker, huh?
Shelving It – Preparing for a smaller kitchen by decluttering this one.
In Transit – Dinners from, not at, the Country House.
Not Until Today – Pancakes, elevated.
Just a Sip – Not much of a drinker? How about a Very Small Cocktail or two.
Preparations – Another winter storm.
Breakfast During Hockey Season – Biscuits. Burgers. And talk about violence.
Scary Good – We haven’t watched much TV in these six months, have we?
By the Numbers – Baking really is better when you measure precisely.
Picture This – Yes, you eat with the eyes first–but not solely.
The Real Thing – Authenticity, Chinese food, and family.
Blended – The only appliance we need is a better vent-fan.  But this one makes great milkshakes.
Fancy – Valentine’s Day. No pressure.
In the Not-Completely Bleak Midwinter – Saturday breakfast.
It’s Mostly Greek to Me – Pizza before surgery.
Bonus – What I find on a teacup.
Fruit Filling – A reasonably healthy snack idea.
How Firm a Foundation – Batch cooking for a wildly-busy week.
A Sure Thing – Some days, it’s best not to experiment in the kitchen.
No Day So Grim – Waffles make everything better.
Separate Checks – Supporting friends and seeing plays. Just not with each other.
A Different Story – Spring is springing. And so is a leak in the ceiling.
Taking Turns – Cooking, just not together.
Festive Enough – Burgers and Big Theatre Events seem to go together.
Endings Are Hard – Dramaturgy and dessert.

We hope you’ve enjoyed the journey so far.

Endings Are Hard

Tanya Barfield’s Bright Half Life is the story of a 40-year-long relationship, from the day Erika and Vicky meet until what well be the last elevator ride they share. Its chronology is shuffled, though, shown in what might be an associative manner–one fragment of conversation leading to another that happened years earlier or later. It was enormously well performed by two strong actresses on a simple set, supported by light and sound design that helped us follow the action forward and back in time. The play was fascinating for 60 of its 65 minutes, but my attention flagged in the homestretch. Since it was clear from early in the play that the relationship ends, late-in-the-play flashes to much-earlier moments diminished in impact. If there was a Crucial Moment that those late moments were supposed to illuminate, I missed it. This particular elevator ride didn’t seem important enough to be the Big Finish–certainly not paralleled with the skydiving scene that was interspersed with it. Or maybe I missed it.

Or maybe the point was to provoke discussion, which it did.  We walked from City Center to Grand Central, considering the production and the play’s structure, the believability of the fictional characters’ relationship, and comparing them to couples we knew, and to us. (We came out favorably ahead, I am pleased to say.)

The last play we’d seen in that theatre was similarly fascinating–funny, creative, and thoughtful–until its last five minutes, when the writer or the director or somebody decided what the play needed was a truly weird finish, like a perfect Thanksgiving dinner where the pumpkin pie crust is made from beach sand and Vaseline.

Endings are hard, we agreed. So are beginnings and middles, for that matter, but especially endings. It’s that last image that stays, the one that lingers as you leave the theatre. Or the table: you can get the appetizers wrong and foul up the main dish, but a terrific dessert will save the day. We weren’t grumpy about Bright Half Life, not even unsettled, but unsatisfied.

We turned down 43rd St., and found Baskin-Robbins still open. We ordered chocolate milkshakes. Nothing too complicated, nothing weird. We got the ending right.

Festive Enough

I arrived at her office to pick her up for the Big Fancy Theatre Event, and found her nowhere near ready to leave. There was One More Thing to do, and it might take a while.

This is why we didn’t make reservations at a Big Fancy Restaurant before the Event. Odds were better than even that one of us would be delayed. (Smart money said it would be me, but this time it wasn’t.)

I left my coat and bag in her office and ran to do an errand. I returned, showed my visitor’s pass and rode back to the office. Still not finished. I proposed going around the corner to a Pretty Good Burger Place to pick up dinner. She pointed to her desk, where her half-finished lunch sat. “Maybe just some fries for me?”

Passing the security desk on my way out (again), I asked the guard if he wanted a burger; I’m pretty sure he was required to decline, but he appreciated the offer.

The Pretty Good Burger place offers just the right amount of choice for me:

Burger or a hot dog?
If the former, how many patties?
Cheese?
Bacon?
Condiments?
Fries?
Beverage?

One patty is plenty. Since only American cheese is offered, it’s easy for me to decline. Bacon on a burger is not a terrible idea, but I wasn’t in the mood. Lots of condiments are offered–nearly enough to freeze me with indecision. I settled on lettuce, tomato, mustard, A1 sauce, and sautéed mushrooms, hoping I hadn’t created a burger too messy to eat. An order of fries and a small Diet Coke completed the order.  I ate a few peanuts from the bin by the drinks counter while I waited, then collected dinner and headed back.  The security guy barely looked up this time.

She finished her project, and we had dinner over her semi-cozy desk–burgers and fries before a theatrical gala, just like last fall. The mushrooms had been pushing it, but I managed not to end up looking like I was wearing the salad bar.

I cannot complain about hearing the words "Almost finished," since I say them all too often myself.

I cannot complain about hearing the words “Almost finished,” since I say them all too often myself.

I’d like to say we strolled up 8th Avenue to the theatre, but the truth is we had to walk pretty briskly to get there in time. I’d like to say, too, that the performance was spectacular from start to finish. There were wonderful moments, and some good-intentioned acts that, to our eyes, missed the mark. Everything was well-performed–from a string quartet playing (and singing) a mashup of a Brahms quartet and the Frozen song “Let It Go” to a female-ensemble version of “There Is Nothin’ Like a Dame” led by Florence Henderson.  When Carol Friggin’ Brady is on stage 8 rows in front of you, you can forgive a lot.

As is often the case, the evening stretched long. We arrived home looking not quite so fresh as when the venerable and exceedingly polite usher referred to us as “handsome gentleman and beautiful lady.” Still, the cats were waiting at the door, happy to see us. Even if the evening wasn’t perfect, we got dressed up, we spent the evening in a Broadway theatre, and we supported a worthy cause.  That’s festive enough.

Taking Turns

She’d been reading The Long Winter for comfort in the wake of the ice-dam damage, then turned to her other favorite we-can-make-it-through-hard-times book for dinner inspiration: “Mom’s Version of Great Grandmother Matilde’s Baked Pork Chops with Sauerkraut.” Savory, sweet, sour, earthy and very sustaining.

Potatoes would go nicely with with pork, but we’ve had them a lot lately. She suggested a salad, and I agreed readily. (I always say yes to a pile of vegetables.) She’d done the marketing and presented the best bagged salad I’ve ever encountered: romaine, cabbage, kale, and shredded carrot, topped with sunflower seeds, a little crumbled bacon, and a citrus vinaigrette. We finished our shared bowl, and I asked if she’d like more.  Her eyes widened, and the Girl Who Doesn’t Like Vegetables Much said, “There’s more? That’s the best news all day!”

She didn’t, in fact, want more salad at dinnertime, but was delighted to know that we could have it again sometime soon. I’d send the rest with her for lunch, but she tends to eat salad only if she thinks she’s stealing it off my plate. That wouldn’t work at the office.

This was very much a taking-turns weekend.  We were seldom in the kitchen together, and we didn’t do a lot of elaborate cooking–as befits a weekend full of work and unexpected household setbacks–but we ate well, and will continue to do so all week: toasted muffins and fruit; pasta al limone; scrambled eggs with asparagus and tomatoes; soup and toast; pork chops and many vegetables. Leftovers and sandwich fixings are in the fridge; granola and banana bread are cooling on the counter. We’ll be fine.

I brought dessert to our guest-room campsite: tiny sundaes served in small wine glasses, a riff on profiteroles using donut holes as a substitute for cream puffs. She giggled at the sight of dessert in wine glasses.  That was precisely the desired effect.

Sometimes I cook, sometimes she cooks, sometimes we cook together. Sometimes someone else entirely does the cooking. That’ll be the case tonight, before we attend a Big Fancy Theatre Event. I’ll meet her at the office, and we’ll figure it out from there.  Pancakes from a diner, Thai take-out, a slice of pizza as we walk to the theatre–who knows?  We need food as fuel, to be sure, but it’s the company that really matters.

A small, sweet ending to a busy weekend before a stressful week.

A small, sweet ending to a busy weekend before a stressful week.