Tag Archives: Cheese

Not So Fast

IMG_0092Although my Lenten Friday lunch was delicious and made from ingredients-on-hand, it didn’t mean I had no intention of not buying groceries or cooking something wonderful, or even going out for dinner sometime. Especially since it was the Friday before our first Valentine’s Day as newlyweds–and doubly-especially since my Valentine’s Day itself was overscheduled with church, a condo association meeting, and a long evening rehearsal.

I left my office when she left hers, and headed out to do some marketing. (Her commute is much longer than mine; I knew it allowed for errands.) By the time her train was approaching the station, I had developed a dinner idea and sourced the few ingredients I knew we didn’t have–and found and installed a new bathroom shower-head (her real Valentine’s surprise).

While she decompressed from the workday and warmed up from the frigid outdoors, I cleaned a half-pound of shrimp, then tossed the shrimp with the juice of a lime, a pinch each of salt and chili powder, and a shot of tequila. While the shrimp marinated, I grated some cheese, chopped a handful of cilantro, mashed an avocado, and found a jar of her excellent salsa in the cupboard.

She made a salad while I gave the shrimp few moments in a hot cast-iron skillet–seriously moments; it was maybe a minute-thirty tops. I chopped the shrimp roughly and started making assembling quesadillas. A tortilla, some grated cheese, a bit of shrimp, a little more cheese, a second tortilla; flip carefully to lightly brown the second side and melt the rest of the cheese.  I slid the finished product onto a plate and stashed it in a warm oven while I repeated the process, then sliced each double-disc of cheesy, shrimpy goodness into wedges, and plated the wedges with dabs of avocado, sour creme, and salsa for topping.

She took a bite and mmmmmmmdd pretty expansively. I took that as a good sign. “Dinner’s okay?” I asked. “Omigod,” she said. Leaving theology out of it, I joked, “It’s just a grilled cheese sandwich.”

“It is not just a grilled cheese sandwich.”

“Well, no. There’s seafood. And a white sauce. It’s just a few breadcrumbs away from being a McDonald’s Filet-o-Fish!” She grimaced.

Of course, it wasn’t really that either. But it wasn’t much harder to make than it would be to get a fish sandwich from a drive-through. And it was much better.

It wasn’t fasting, and it wasn’t fast food. There wasn’t much of the sacrificial about this meal—abstinence in name only, but we never said we’d be ascetic. We were grateful to be well-fed, and grateful to be together.

 

 

A Few Good Picnics

IMG_0070

Our first date, long ago, was a picnic in Central Park. Cheese, olives, baguette, grapes, and white wine sipped from plastic cups, while we sat on a bench under a pretty tree and talked for hours.

* * *

When I was commissioned to write a short musical based on the story of a couple who met in a specialty food shop, the first step in my research was a field trip to the shop. It was mid-October and cool, so a Friday-night park visit wasn’t appropriate, but we brought the feast we purchased back to the City House and had a floor picnic.

I took slight poetic license to give the story’s couple a first date similar to ours. In the last song, they bemoan their ability to find a suitable place to go:

You take an old pal to your favorite haunt.
It’s hard knowing what someone new would want,
But if we can’t agree on a restaurant,
Where do we go from here?

Then he gets an idea and proposes they take the baguette and duck rillettes he’s just bought, pick up a nice pinot noir at the wine shop around the corner, and find a bench in the park. She’s skeptical about the idea of a picnic. It seems like all is lost when she gets up and starts to walk back into the store. Then she turns and says she’ll bring dessert. One last F-major chord plays as lights dim on their happy ending-that’s-really-a-beginning.

* * *

On Saturday, we went to see the new show at the theatre where I’d just finished working–a play by one of our favorite authors, Aaron Sorkin. It’s a cabaret-style theatre, meaning the audience is seated at tables rather than in rows of seats facing the stage. Patrons are invited to bring their own snacks or meals. Deciding what to bring for A Few Good Men wasn’t quite as daunting a task as the characters in Blue Apron faced, but it was a challenge. “Should I order Thai?” she said. “Well,” I admitted, “we can’t pick up burgers from the Awesome Burger Place.” (She likes hers Well Done, and they can’t seem to get that right.)

“Wait,” I said, joking. “I’ve got duck rillettes and a nice loaf of bread. I’ll go to Oak Barrel for a nice pinot noir and we’ll find a bench.”

“A picnic,” she said. She knows the script, maybe better than I do. She has that kind of memory.

“A picnic.”

She didn’t have to think about it as long as Laura did. “I’ll bring the macaroons.”

As it turned out, she brought everything; I’d been working all day. Juicy andouille sausages, paté, an assortment of cheeses, sliced baguette, grapes, and Mason jars full of ice from which we drank sparkling cider. No macaroons, but  strawberries, which I like even better.

The Saint Andre cheese was a little too funky for either of us. The Lemon Stilton–a semi-firm cheese studded with bits of candied lemon peel–was fun and bright. We both liked the goat’s-milk cheddar. Our picnic supper was wonderful, and if every aspect of the production wasn’t quite perfect it was still enormously enjoyable.

At intermission I got up to stretch my legs a bit. I hoped to find our friend the director and tell him how much I was enjoying the show, but he wasn’t to be seen. I returned to our table. She looked up from her iPhone.

“So,” she said. “We’re sitting in a theatre we both like, seeing a wonderful play. It’s two minutes until the second act. Wanna get married sometime?”

* * *

We’ve been to a lot of plays. We’ve had more than a few picnics. It will be awfully hard to top this one.

I said yes.

IMG_0069

Latch-Key Mac and Cheese

IMG_0036 Packaged macaroni and cheese is the first meal she was allowed to cook. It was an after-school snack when she got home before her parents did. She wonders sometimes that her parents let her come home to an empty house, but it was a simpler time back then, and she was a very smart kid. Boil and drain the noodles, add a lump of butter and some milk, stir in the packet of bright-orange powder, stir and enjoy. A pot of boiling water might be risky, but at least there are no sharp knives involved, and there’s no possibility of undercooking meat. As after-school snacks go, it’s probably better than a bowl of ice cream or an entire sleeve of Girl Scout cookies. She knows it’s not gourmet cuisine, but it is comforting and friendly and nothing in the world is going to change her mind on that subject. Well, maybe a recall of packaged macaroni-and-cheese. Even without a recall because they accidentally added metal shavings, there’s a lot of stuff in that orange powder that you wouldn’t put in if you were making it from scratch.  All you need, really, is macaroni. And cheese. We joke about the “extras” I try to put in M&C, like a pile of sautéed kale or a handful of pan-roasted tomatoes, but even I recognize that they are accompaniments rather than ingredients. We both laughed out loud when I saw this recipe: Fundamentalist Macaroni and Cheese The humor of The Awl’s essay, from which this is adapted, is lost in this simplification. Read the original for fun. Boil 1/2 pound of elbow macaroni until it is not quite al dente. Grate a pound of cheddar cheese–half mild, half sharp. Drain the macaroni. Wipe out the pot and rub with butter. Add the macaroni back into the pot, then stir in the cheese a handful at a time. Add about 1/2 cup milk. Bake at 350F until top is slightly brown and crunchy, probably about 40 minutes. That’s it. I made a batch. And it was really quite good. Not at all elaborate, not complicated, but very good. The cheese was neither too mild nor too sharp; the noodles were nicely sturdy. I thought it could use some kale, but that’s another story. She got home and was thrilled to see what I’d done, but since I’d also made tomato soup–it was a batch-cooking Sunday night–she opted for a grilled cheese sandwich with the soup for her supper. Turns out it doesn’t reheat all that well, though. The cheese separates a little in the microwave. Maybe it would be better if it were reheated in a pan on the stovetop, or maybe at a lower power level. Or maybe this is a recipe we use when we don’t want leftovers. My grandmother lived with my parents and me, so I hardly ever came home to an empty house.  I don’t remember the first meal I was allowed to cook.  It was probably something like Spaghetti-o’s, which are arguably no healthier than the Blue Box. Maybe I just had a cookie. Or three.