Does Not Follow Directions Well

Painted in Waterlogue

I was a pretty good student. I don’t ever remember seeing “Does Not Follow Directions Well” written on my report card. Of course, I was also not the kind of kid who waited until the night before the book report was due to start writing, but I most certainly have become that sort of writer now.

Nonetheless, if the instruction is “Stay away from other people for 14 days after returning from a foreign country,” or “Wash your hands or use hand sanitizer after touching anything someone else may have touched,” I will get at least an A-minus. I mean, I’m gonna go out for a run every day the weather permits, and I’ll take a route that is not crowded with other pedestrians, but I won’t get closer than 6 feet to anyone I do encounter.

While we were on vacation recently She said often, “I miss your cooking.” I guess that’s gonna work out well for her, now that we’re home (and staying home) and getting groceries is going to be a challenge. She scheduled a delivery from our favorite market, but several things in the order didn’t show up.

I looked at the lovely piece of salmon that arrived, thought long and hard about it, and realized we hadn’t had Thai food for quite a while. There had been “Pan-Asian” night at the resort we visited; I think in that particular case “pan” was meant as the opposite of “rave.” (I didn’t miss my cooking generally, but that meal was a pretty big disappointment.)

I Googled “Thai salmon.” I scanned the first page of hits. I Googled “Thai Salmon Peanut Sauce.” I saw a pretty promising title. I clicked through and, while the page loaded, headed to the kitchen.

Oh. I’m gonna need coconut milk. And chili paste. Maybe I’d better do something else.

Nah. What I read was enough to get started. Bakers need recipes. Cooks need ideas.

Not At All the Recipe I Looked for Salmon with Peanut Sauce and Coconut Cilantro Rice
Serves 2, with some leftovers to repurpose for lunch

Salmon filet, about 1/3 lb. per serving
1 cup rice
2 cups water (or 1 cup water, 1 cup fish stock)
1/4 cup chopped peanuts
1/2 cup flaked coconut (unsweetened if possible)
2 tsp sesame seeds
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 tbsp peanut butter
1/4 cup olive oil
1 tbsp soy sauce (more to taste)
1/2 cup cilantro, chopped roughly
1/2 tsp hot sauce
1 tsp each curry powder and paprika
Juice and zest of one lime

Cut the salmon into serving pieces.  Pat dry and set aside.

Toast 1 cup of rice in a little butter. Add 2 cups water and 1/2 teaspoon salt (or, if you have it as I did, 1 cup water, 1 cup stock), reduce heat to low, cover and cook for 20 minutes. Remove from heat, still covered.

While the rice cooks, in a dry skillet, toast the coconut and remove; then toast the sesame seeds and remove. (Take care—neither one takes very long to toast!)

Make the sauce:
Warm the peanut butter in the microwave to make it easier to stir. Add the soy sauce, hot sauce, garlic, and lime juice.
Add a little oil to the hot skillet; add the peanuts, paprika, and curry powder and stir. When they’re hot and fragrant, add the spice/oil mixture and sesame seeds to the sauce, along with another 1 tbsp of oil. Stir until well combined and set aside.

Put 1 tbsp of oil in the skillet and heat until shimmering. Add the salmon, skin side down.   Cook for 2 minutes without touching, then top with a little of the peanut sauce. Place skillet in a 350F oven for 5 minutes.

Use a fork to fluff the rice. Stir in the lime zest, toasted coconut, and cilantro. Put the lid back on.

Remove the salmon from the oven and turn the filets over, now sauce-side down. Return to the oven for 5 minutes more.

In serving bowls, place the salmon over the rice, topped with a little more sauce. Serve with sautéed spinach (or whatever green thing you like).

Feel free to read this recipe and riff off it any way you want to–as I did with the ones I saw to come up with our dinner. Just wash your hands first, and afterward.

I hope whoever got the pastrami we ordered enjoys it.

Thai Salmo

 

Not Quite Breakfast for Not Quite Dinner

Painted in Waterlogue

There was a package of smoked salmon in the fridge. I guess that’s not tremendously unusual; it’s the sort of thing we have from time, not quite a staple and not quite a splurge. She bought it, I guess, when her mom came to visit, and they hadn’t eaten it. I didn’t have a lot of time to cook, so a protein I didn’t have to defrost had pretty strong appeal. What did not appeal, however, was serving it for breakfast with bagels and cream cheese. I like the idea of bagels and cream cheese and smoked salmon, but smoked fish is just too fishy for me in the morning.

But it was 4 in the afternoon, I had to leave for rehearsal shortly, and breakfast had been a long time ago.

While I cooked some linguine, I flaked the salmon into a bowl. I chopped a bunch of cilantro and a bunch of dill and added them. I chopped some capers and added them. Thinking I might be on the verge of too-salty, I saw some appealing-looking grape tomatoes on the counter; I halved and added them to the bowl.I very lightly steamed a few spears of asparagus, sliced them into quarter-inch rounds, and added them, too. We had cream cheese, but I left it in the fridge in favor of some mozzarella I roughly cubed.  I made a quick vinaigrette from a teaspoon of dijon mustard, a bit of the caper brine, and a couple tablespoons of olive oil, gave the bowl a generous grind of black pepper, and tossed everything to coat. When the noodles reached al dente, I scooped them into the bowl; some of their starchy cooking water came along, as intended. I tossed the pasta with its fishy-cheesy-herby condiment–too chunky to call it “sauce,” I think.

The heat of the noodles softened the cheese and tomatoes and warmed the salmon and herbs without cooking them. But the dressing wasn’t so cold as to turn the pasta into a salad. It was like a bagel with cream cheese and smoked salmon, but in a bowl. Fresh, bright herbs; sweet tomatoes; soft, creamy cheese; briny, hearty, yet delicate fish; this dish had a little of everything.

I called down to the office. “Dinner is served,” I said. “Or lunch, or whatever this is.”

Whatever it was, we enjoyed it a lot.

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It is So Green by the Side of the Road

Painted in Waterlogue

There’s a farmer’s market held in each of the villages around here, each on a different day of the week. My rehearsal call on Friday wasn’t until mid-afternoon, so I had a little extra time. I put on running clothes, grabbed a tote bag, and my wallet and keys, and drove to Egg Harbor.

The market there is tiny, as befits the tiny park in which it’s held. Winter was severe here, and it’s been a late spring. Not much has grown to harvest yet. Photographs on offer in one booth caught my eye; I chatted for a while with the merchant, a poet (her sweetheart is the photographer; his work illustrates her books). I bought a scone baked with rhubarb from the garden of another vendor. I passed on the meats at two stalls; even with the Refrigerator Down the Hall, their portions were too large. Somebody was selling maple syrup, but I haven’t been in the mood for pancakes. Somebody was selling fabric goods—some stuffed toys, and some hanging hand towels fashioned to look like sundresses.

The last booth had some freshly harvested greens—“Spicy Asian Mixed Greens,” the label read. “They’re a little bit spicy,” the vendor said, in case I’d missed the label. She said they were okay to use as a salad, but would be even better braised. That sounded good to me. I paid and thanked her. Juggling my keys, phone, and wallet, not all of which would fit neatly in the small pockets of my running shorts, I put the greens in my tote along with the scone, and put the bag in the car.

The little park overlooked the Egg Harbor marina, so I walked down to take a look at the water. It was a spectacular day, maybe the first day that hinted at summer. But there wasn’t much sidewalk near the marina—certainly nothing to run along—so I backtracked, checked the grocer across the street to see if they had the tea I wanted to stock for her visit—7 days 10 hours 45 minutes from, not that I’m counting. There was plenty of tea, but she’s particular, and none of her favorites were there.

I started for home, deciding to run on the trails in the park rather than try to find some not-too-busy route in Egg Harbor. I finished and, tired and happy, drove back to my home-away-from. Inside, getting ready for a post-run shower, I realized I’d left my tote in the car. I trotted back out to get it, reached in and found the scone.

No greens.

I trotted back to the parking lot; maybe they’d fallen onto the floor of the car.

No greens.

They’d fallen, all right, but not in my car. They were somewhere between the farm stand and where I’d parked the car, very likely dropped while I was juggling my keys and phone and wallet and tote bag.

I had the scone for breakfast this morning. It was okay, though not really good enough to be worth its price andthe price of a bag of Spicy Asian Mixed Greens, neither tossed in a salad nor braised.

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What didI do for dinner? I finished rehearsal and went to the grocer—there were some other things I needed. I bought some chard and a bunch of radishes. I washed the radish greens and chard and braised them along with a sliced onion, a dash of soy sauce, some sliced mushrooms, and a couple cups of chicken stock. I sliced a leftover chicken thigh and, while it warmed (and its cornmeal breading crisped a little) in a skillet, I tore some a few strands of linguine and let them heat through with the braising greens. It wasn’t quite soup, it certainly wasn’t a pasta dish; it was a bowl of vegetables with some bits of noodle and chicken. It was exactly what I’d wanted, and completely different than I’d planned. And it was so green.

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The Day Off

She semi-scolded me because my plans for Sunday were not exclusively recreational. Admittedly, I hadn’t had a day off between Presidents Day and my birthday in May, and then spent the next two days driving 1100 miles. That’s not to say I worked double-shifts in a factory the whole time, but I hadn’t had a day without at least one work event on the calendar. And let’s recall that I love what I do, and that most of my work is what many people would call “play.” But the rehearsal schedule here designates one full day off per week and she was a little righteously indignant that I didn’t plan to take the full day for myself. Well, sorry, I told her, but I have to be ready for tomorrow’s rehearsals, and I haven’t been willing to go without sleep for the last several nights, so I’m going to have to do some work today. She harrumphed, but recognized that I was probably right; and I assured her that at least some time during the day would be spent outside of working time.

A lot of it was, in fact. I walked to church in beautiful sunshine, and stopped on the way home at a bakery that had been highly recommended. One placard in the display case caught my eye: Cherry Scones. I asked the clerk—whose hair was not exactly the color of cherries, but pretty close—what was in the scones. “Dried cherries,” she said, “and white chocolate chips.” “Great,” I said, and asked for a cinnamon roll. “Excellent choice!” she said. “They’re our biggest seller.” (I wonder if she secretly knew that the white chocolate chips were a bad idea.) The roll was gigantic, and gooey with frosting. It was yeasty and light, and there was probably cinnamon in there, but the very sweet frosting masked it.

I did some laundry, and since the day was beautiful and breezy (and since the weekend guests were mostly gone), hotel-hacked a way to hang it out to dry. I edited some keyboard parts.

I probably wouldn’t do this at the Ritz-Carlton.

I thought about food-prep for the week. I had a small grocery list, but nothing worth a half-hour drive to the market and back. I got a steak and some chicken thighs from my baby freezer and hotel-hacked my ice bucket as a defrosting rig while I settled back into composer-work for a while.

When the chicken was thawed, I patted it dry, seasoned some corn meal, and it it in my hot cast-iron skillet. By the time they came out the steak was ready to go in—now having similarly been patted dry, then seasoned with salt and pepper. A couple minutes on each side to sear, then seven minutes in the oven to cook more gently, and it seemed a perfect medium-rare. The skillet was still warm, and had some lovely beef juices in it, so I put it back on the stove. I sliced an onion and the last few mushrooms in the veggie bin and sautéed them to have with the steak.

Protein accounted for, I edited a bunch more pages of keyboard parts. I thought about my still-warm oven. Scones. My alter-ego Cherry Pandowdy had thoughtfully provided self-rising flour, and I had a bag of dried cherries and half a bar of dark chocolate. Even if I use the rest of the eggs, I thought, I’ve already had breakfast. I looked around for scone recipes. Cooking is jazz, a composer friend of mine likes to say, but baking is classical—I needed a score to follow.

I found recipe after recipe that called for baking powder—even the ones that used self-rising flour. Finally I found one. It seemed a little wacky, asking that the wet and dry ingredients be mixed in a Ziploc bag, but the rest of the ingredient list was one I could handle. Except that all the measurements were metric. “Hey, Siri,” I called. My phone chirped to life. “Convert 200 grams of flour to cups.” She told me (1.67). I thanked her, and she responded, “It’s nice to be appreciated.” Our “conversation” continued as I got the right amounts of butter and sugar and salt. I figured I’d take my chances with the called-for “a splash of milk” and “one egg.” I rehydrated the dried cherries just a bit in a splash of red wine (because why not) and chopped the chocolate. I cut the butter into the dry ingredients with a fork and my fingers, working as quickly as I could so as not to develop too much gluten. The recipe hadn’t given me a good reason to use the Ziploc method, so I threw in a little jazz. I mixed in the chocolate and cherries, then turned the dough out onto my floured cutting board (which, yes, had been washed and dried and washed and dried, and washed and dried again since the chicken, steak, mushrooms, and onions), dusted it with a little more flour, patted as lightly as I could, and cut the dough into six wedges that fit neatly into my cast-iron do-everything pan. “Hey, Siri, one more thing—convert 200 degrees Celsius to Fahrenheit.” I didn’t have an oven thermometer (I’m camping!) so set the not-so-finely-calibrated oven knob to a bit under 400 and hoped for the best.

Scones, before

Are these the best scones ever? No. They’re a little heavier than the ones I make with baking powder, but they’re not bricks. And they have the right proportion of cherry to everything else. Dark chocolate is exactly what I wanted. And now breakfast is accounted for. While the scones cooled I went back to editing.

Scones, after.

I took myself out for a late afternoon run, edited more pages while I cooled down, showered, edited a few more pages, drove toward the market and found a place to get a bite of dinner while reading a play that I’ll be working on later this summer. The market was closed by the time I got back to it, but no worries. I’ll get salad greens and eggs—and baking powder—another time.

She and I talked on the phone for a while, she sent me photos of the outfit she planned for a gala work event. I heartily approved!

This is not her gala outfit. Or her car. But I’m working on it.

And then it was time for her to head for bed and me back to work. I had a rehearsal to get ready for.

A day off? Not quite. Well-spent? Definitely.

Sunset over Nicolet Bay

Managing Expectations

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I had a scone for breakfast today.

Nothing wrong with having a scone for breakfast; it’s just not what I expected. I’d planned to go for a run, come home, and have a bowl of oatmeal. But that plan got derailed by tasks that took longer than I expected they would. The music for the ad campaign got mixed and delivered to the marketing manager; I got to hear the ad with the voiceover my partner had written and our actors had recorded; and I found my way around a road closed for construction—but there it was, 11 AM, with a half-hour drive to my next stop, and I still hadn’t had breakfast. Oatmeal was now out of the question.

Route 42 is lined with farm stands, bakeries, and purveyors of all sorts of tastiness, so I figured I’d stop at one that looked appealing and find something. I found the baked-goods counter and a marker caught my eye: Cherry Scones, $2. Perfect. A scone would be relatively easy to eat while I drove, and Door County is known for its cherries. This will be great.

It was good, not quite great. It was really sweet. It was filled with white chocolate chips.

If you’re a fan of white chocolate chips, let’s just agree to disagree. To me, they’re nothing more than globs of sweetness. I can see how they might have some place in a scone filled nearly to bursting with tart dried cherries—though I think dark chocolate chips would be even better—but this scone was hardly cherry filled. If this scone were a movie, the cherries made a cameo appearance. Cherries were not the star.

And yet they got star billing.

If the little tag had said “White chocolate chip scone (with a few cherries),” I would have been fine with that. I would have chosen something else, but I would have known what to expect from that scone.

It’s all about expectations. Tell me it’s beef stew, and I expect beef. A can of chicken soup should contain more than a few fragments of chicken. A cherry scone should feature cherries.

So with every bite I thought, “Well, now I want to get some dried cherries and make the scones I expected this to be.”

But that’s a project for another day. There were many miles to drive, and many more errands to run. And then the work to do that got interrupted by the errands, some running, and then a full night of rehearsal.

For a white chocolate chip scone (with a few cherries), it wasn’t all that bad. I ate the whole thing.


(Here’s the music bed for the ad. I don’t yet have permission to post the whole thing, but the music is mine.)

Trying to be Self-Sufficient

There’s a bowl of pasta sauce cooling on the counter of my composer-house kitchenette. It was easy: chop an onion, half a green pepper, and the mushrooms that’ve been in the fridge a little too long, and sauté them all in a little bacon fat and olive oil. (All things in moderation.) Add half a 28-ounce can of tomatoes, hand-crushed, a splash of red wine, some salt, and a tablespoon of mixed herbs. (My portable pantry contained a jar of usual suspects–oregano, basil, and marjoram. I would have brought them separately, but on packing day I couldn’t find three small jars, and besides, I usually use them together.) Simmer on low for an hour or so. Adjust seasoning to taste.

There’s a slow-cooker on the counter, too, working its magic on a batch of chili: ground turkey, the other half of the green pepper, another onion, a can of beans, and a tablespoon of another spice blend I’d brought: cumin, paprika, and chili powder–again, they’re things I usually use together anyway.

Both of those will go into the fridge for lunches or dinners this week. Today’s lunch was a riff on cacio e pepe: I cracked an egg into a mixing bowl and whisked the heck out of it, then added a bunch of pepper, a palmful of grated parmesan cheese, and a fat handful of parsley. I made a batch of linguine to go with the red sauce, whisked a tablespoon of the starchy pasta water into the egg mixture, drained the pasta, and returned a lunch portion of it back to the pan. I poured in the egg mixture and stirred vigorously until everything was coated and the egg was cooked by the residual heat. I’d thought about adding a handful of spinach, but it was in the refrigerator down the hall, and I wasn’t quite dressed to go outdoors.

Lunch was spiffy. I’m looking forward to the chili, and the veggie-sauce pasta. None of this is extravagant, but all of it is better—or, at least, cheaper—than take-out. But I’m taking care of myself; I’m trying to be self-sufficient. It’s good to know that I can. (I mean, I’ve been cooking for a long time, so there’s not really any doubt, but I like doing it.)

On the other hand, I missed a stain on a pair of trousers when they came out of the washer. I’d hung them to dry rather than blast them with the heat of a commercial dryer, so there was a chance they’d be okay. I bought some stain remover, sprayed the trousers, waited a bit, and then put them into the washer again. I slid my quarters into their slots and hoped for the best.

In addition to pre-treating, you should soak the trousers, she texted me.

That ship has sailed, I replied, since they’re already in the washer.

Well, good luck, she pinged.

Thanks, I said. I should have asked you first. #tryingtobeselfsufficient.

The trousers came out of the wash unstained.

I made the chili and the red sauce and lunch in running clothes. I’m trying to be self-sufficient, but I didn’t want to press my luck.

 

The Adventures of Cherry Pandowdy

 

Painted in Waterlogue

It is beautiful here, there’s no question. But many of us are away from home, and though we are thankful for the miracles of WiFi and cell service that keep us in touch with loved ones, we still need to take care of each other. A theatre company very quickly becomes a sort of family. And thus is was that, on a Thursday that started beautiful and sunny but seemed to threaten something much colder and wetter, while I worked in my temporary home this morning, I used the cast-iron skillet I brought from home and baked a batch of brownies to take to rehearsal. I used a boxed mix, but dressed it up a little with some cinnamon, some chopped nuts, and a sprinkle of salt on top.

There’s a character in our musical who courts a young sailor primarily by sending him gifts of baked goods—a walnut cake, gingerbread, cherry pandowdy. One of the actors and I joked that “Cherry Pandowdy” seemed like a great character name for a drag performer. So I left the plate of brownies on the break table along with a note from Cherry Pandowdy. (The note was in the form of parody lyrics to the tune of one of our show’s songs, because if you are a writer who bakes, that is what you do. Or at least what I do.)

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The brownies came out of the pan sort of messily. The actors seemed not to mind. Next time I’m at the market, I’ll buy some parchment paper to aid in removing baked goods from the pan.

It took longer for the cast to figure out who the baker was than to devour the brownies. Clearly I did the right thing. It’s been a long rehearsal week, and it’s not over yet. We all needed the treat.

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It turned out not to rain after all, but that’s okay. We take care of each other.

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