Tag Archives: Dinner

Not Quite an Instant

Her parents gave us an Instant Pot for Christmas last year. We love it. We’ve never had such good yogurt as the stuff we make in it. It gives us great chili, and pulled pork, and chicken stock.

I’m not completely expert at using it. I haven’t yet got brown rice to come out as tender as it would from a saucepan, or chickpeas from the slow cooker. Maybe I’m rushing things–but if the whole idea of a pressure cooker is that it works faster than other cooking methods, then I think it really ought to be faster.

Our CSA share hasn’t been piling on the carrots and parsnips quite so much as it was for a while there, but we’ve still got quite a few, and some nice potatoes. And, with a bit of chill in the evening air of late, stew seemed like a good idea—and a perfect job for the Pot. I seared the beef, I chopped the veg, I added seasonings and wine, closed the lid and headed for rehearsal.

She didn’t have stew. She had, according to the text message she sent me, “cooked beef and veggies sitting in oily liquid—not broth, not gravy.”

And, unfortunately, the gravy separator had melted in a stovetop accident sometime during the holidays last year. (We don’t make gravy very often.) Ever-resourceful, she refrigerated the solids in one container, the liquid in another, and made mac and cheese for her dinner.

When we got home the next evening–a rare night home together!–I skimmed the solidified fat, made a roux, and used the broth to make a nice, hearty gravy. I warmed the meat and veg, added them to the gravy, topped the stew-at-last with some chopped celery leaves, and we had dinner in not quite an instant.

Some things happen in a flash. Some take a very long time. Sometimes it’s a little of both. We’d known each other for ten years before our first date.

Happy anniversary to us.

It Isn’t a Straight Line

We opened a musical last weekend.

Considering that we met over the possibility of working on a musical together, it’s hard to believe it took 14 years for us to be working on the same show at the same time. But it isn’t always a straight line from idea to execution. The path that took us from that first meeting to last Friday’s opening performance is as twisty as a path can be.

To be clear, the show we opened isn’t the show we first met to discuss working on; it’s also not the show we started discussing by text message in the middle of the night ten years after that (and which we still haven’t finished). It’s not a show either of us wrote at all. I’m the music director, and she’s a member of the cast.

It’s been a long rehearsal process, and a very challenging one. It’s a very complicated show, and one that has been as full of frustrations as triumphal moments. And just when we felt like we’d gotten good at performing the show—in the rehearsal room, that is, with just a piano for accompaniment—it was time to move into the theatre and start adding the technical elements of the production: set, lighting, costumes, microphones, and the orchestra.

We all know that each new element we add will cause something else to be a problem. The “real” set piece is harder to move than the folding table we used in rehearsal. Changing a costume takes longer than expected, and all of a sudden the actor misses a cue. Microphones don’t always work exactly as expected, so sometimes the conductor can’t hear a singer, and sometimes the cast can’t hear the band, and sometimes there’s shrieking feedback or a roar of a high note… In other words, it’s always something. Sometimes it’s many somethings at once. Sometimes it’s practically every something it can be.

Yeah, that was our first night of technical rehearsal. We all try to be good-natured about it, but it’s immensely frustrating to feel like it was one step forward, a quarter-mile back. It wasn’t a total disaster, but nothing is perfect.

We left the theatre disheartened, grumpy, and very hungry.

“What’s even open at this hour?” she said, mournfully. It was a Monday night in the suburbs, and I couldn’t think of much except the drive-through window of a fast food place.

“Our kitchen,” I said.

She looked skeptical—well, I think she did; I was driving, so I didn’t have a clear view of her expression. “If you’ve got five minutes of kitchen-energy for me, I’ll handle the rest.”

First Night of Tech Shrimp and Grits

1/2 cup quick cooking grits
1/2 lb steamed shrimp
2 or 3 scallions
1/2 cup chicken stock
1/2 tsp hot pepper sauce
1/2 tsp paprika
1/2 tsp cumin
1 dash worcestershire sauce
2 tsp vegetable oil
5 or 6 asparagus stalks
1/2 cup shredded cheddar cheese
Salt and pepper to taste

Set to boil 2-1/2 cups water.  Stir in the grits, add some salt. Reduce heat to low, cook for five minutes, stirring occasionally.

Add the oil to a skillet over medium heat. While it gets hot, pull the tails off the shrimp and discard them. Cut the shrimp and asparagus into bite-size pieces.

Slice the scallions and sauté the white parts, reserving the greens. Add the shrimp, sprinkle with paprika and cumin, toss to combine and sauté another minute or two. Add the asparagus, worcestershire, pepper sauce, and stock; stir to combine and reduce the stock a little.

When the grits are cooked (but a little looser than usual, because of the extra water), stir in the cheese; the whole thing will thicken beautifully.  Ladle the cheesy grits into bowls, top with the shrimp and veg; top with scallion greens. Adjust seasoning to taste; if desired, add a bit more hot pepper sauce.

5 minutes. Serves 2, who will know that at least one thing went well tonight.

Oh, sure, you could start with fresh shrimp, using the shells to make stock—but that would take longer, and after a night like this there’s no way you’d have the patience for that sort of thing. And if you’ve got leftover shrimp in the fridge, you really ought to use it. Purists will also grouse that asparagus has no business being in shrimp and grits. To such purists we say: pbbbbt. We like asparagus, we had some on hand that needed to get out of the crisper in time for Tuesday’s CSA delivery, and another vegetable in the dish made me feel less guilty about not serving a salad alongside. Why cut the shrimp into pieces first? Because when dinner is served this close to midnight you want it to be as easy to eat as possible.

Tuesday’s rehearsal went infinitely better: many things were much better, and new things went wrong. Wednesday’s went just a little better than that; more elements, more fixes, more oopses. Thursday was better still. We opened Friday to an appreciative crowd and if every element didn’t go exactly as we hoped, it’s unlikely that anyone but us knew. Was every meal along the way home-cooked and nutritious? Not quite. But, y’know, one step forward…


How the Other Half Lunches

Painted in Waterlogue

It’s been one of those weeks–a lot of work, a lot of travel, some dinners out, some very late nights. We haven’t done any significant cooking. I won’t say the cupboard was bare, but I had a feeling it would be one of those Stump the Cook meals where you scrounge around the back of the fridge and hope for the best. We’d both had very long days. Between her work and phone calls dealing with an ailing relative, and my back-to-back-to-back rehearsals, I  wasn’t sure we had the energy to be creative enough to come up with something we’d both like enough to be satisfied.

We were in separate cars, so when we left choir practice she went home to feed the cats–I’m not sure what it says about us that we made sure there was plenty of cat food in the house!–and I headed to forage.

I went to Subway. It might not be a fine-dining experience, but it would be fine. There are worse options, certainly.

I looked at the menu board with thoughts of choosing a foot-long sandwich to share, and then decided to make lunch easy, too. I ordered two foot-longs, quite different. Sandwich #1 was rotisserie chicken with provolone, lettuce, and pickle on Italian bread. #2 was pastrami on whole wheat with swiss, spinach, and cucumber. Tomato and brown mustard on both.

I gave her half of the chicken sandwich and took half of the pastrami for myself. I wrapped the rest and stored them in the fridge. She took the rest of the pastrami for lunch, and I brought the rest of the chicken with me.

 

I’m not delighted to have served sandwiches for dinner and lunch, but neither of us had to scrounge in a desk drawer to find a granola bar under the extra staples. I can attest that both sandwiches were tasty, and that’s good enough for now.

IMG_0109

 

 

The Luck of the Not-Quite-Irish

Painted in Waterlogue

Aside from Thanksgiving turkey, holiday celebrations at the Country House don’t call for a specific food. Christmas is Christmas, whether there’s boeuf bourguignon or leftover spaghetti on the table. Memorial Day might be the unofficial start of summer’s grilling season, but what goes on the grill varies from year to year. There might be pork on New Year’s Day, but whether it’s smoked sausage or spare ribs doesn’t matter to us.

Then there’s St. Patrick’s Day. That’s not a big deal. Neither of us claims significant Irish heritage. The thing to celebrate, really, was the successful opening of my show that meant A Weeknight at Home—the first in ages. We certainly weren’t going to celebrate with green beer. (Ew. Whether it’s green or not.)

Fried chicken would have been appropriately festive, but I wanted to do something out of the ordinary. A slow-braised pot of corned beef and cabbage would be a nice change, but I don’t have a time machine that would have let start the braise before we left for work. If I wanted to be even remotely Irish-themed, improvisation would be required. Or, at least, a trip to the deli.

I picked up a pound of sliced corned beef. A bag of sauerkraut. Carrots were in the fridge at home. I considered letting the prepared-foods counter do the work of mashed potatoes, but a two-serving tray seemed awfully dear at $12.99, and a 5-pound bag of spuds was on sale for under a dollar.

We nibbled a little aged cheddar-flavored-with-Irish-whiskey as a starter.  That was as close to drunken debauchery as our St. Patrick’s Day would get.

I scrubbed and diced the potatoes, skin-on: the mash wouldn’t be as creamy, but it’d be healthier. Besides, I like potato skin. In the time it took the potatoes to cook, I rinsed the kraut and grated a couple of carrots into it to temper the tang, and added a little caraway seed and a grating of black pepper. This went to warm in a saucepan. (Sauerkraut is, of course, not part of an authentically Irish corned beef supper. So what? We like kraut.)  The corned beef was tossed in a hot skillet until slightly crisped.

The kraut-and-beef was piled on toasted home-baked bread. It wasn’t rye, but home-baked seemed more authentic–or at least better than store-bought. A semi-fluffy mound of mash said “Potato famine? What potato famine?”  There were green beans, just because. It was not in the least what Paddy O’Whomever’s ma would have served, but we enjoyed it.

As for luck? Well, sometimes you make your own.

IMG_0107

Just Enough

Painted in Waterlogue

The show I’m music-directing has finally opened. It feels artistically satisfying to those of us on- and backstage, and it’s pleasing the audiences enough that the producers have already announced an extension. I’d like to think our production would please the creators of the show, though it might not: although our rehearsal materials include the “Definitive” score, our budget doesn’t allow for the “definitive” 18-piece orchestra. I’ve got seven players (including myself, not-quite-ideally conducting from the keyboard). Rather than a large theatre orchestra with a strong rhythm section, I have thought of us as a rock band with strings and horns. It’s enough; and thinking of the band this way gives me a way to make a virtue of what some might consider a deficiency.

After nine performances or run-throughs in a week, it was time for dinner at home. I sent her an iMessage as I was getting into the car:

Please set the oven to 400 and take the pizza dough out of the refrigerator (unless you’d rather have something else for dinner).

She replied that she had done—and as for the possibility of something else,

Nope! 🙂

She went back to her chores and I continued driving home, thinking about the pizza-to-be. I knew we had a package of turkey pepperoni and an a open jar of sauce. We’d had some mozzarella, cheese but I wasn’t sure if there were any left; if not, I was confident there’d be some other variety. I didn’t know about vegetables, but was determined not to stop at the market. This week had been exhausting; I didn’t want dinner to be ready at bedtime.  Whatever was there would be fine.

The dough had rested nicely on the counter and rolled out beautifully thin. I slid it onto a cornmeal-dusted pizza peel and spooned on a little sauce–just a little. There were olives and onions and a yellow bell pepper; I thinly sliced just a little of each. There was just enough mozzarella to dot the top of the pie. It slid perfectly smoothly onto the waiting pizza stone. I set the oven timer and made a little salad: romaine lettuce, a few halved grape tomatoes, and a little pickled cauliflower. I added a bit of guacamole to some good bottled salad dressing and whisked it into creamy togetherness.

Painted in Waterlogue

A composition teacher of mine says, “When something is good, you must ask yourself, ‘Should there be more?’” Often, the answer is yes. But not always. I’ve disappointed myself with plenty of soggy-crust pizzas laden with piles of cheese, puddles of of sauce, and piles of toppings. Not this time. A little restraint, and there was a pretty perfect pizza and a simple salad.

Over dinner, we enjoyed an episode of Tea Leone Maintains World Peace While Wearing Great ClothesWe watched a second. We considered a third, and then thought better of it; on Sunday night at the end of a long week that was leading into another quite like it, it was bedtime.

There are pot-roast Sundays and take-out Sundays and bowls of cereal Sundays; there are big family dinners and cheese and crackers eaten alone; and there are some in between. A little cooking, a little conversation, a little entertainment. Just enough.

IMG_0100

 

His and Hers

IMG_0095.jpg

We got a late start this morning, so I didn’t get a photo of her lunch before she had to leave.

As we pulled into the market to gather some greens, I noticed the giant electronic sign displaying specials.

“You really don’t like tuna,” I said with a bit of a sigh.  I meant the good stuff, not the canned kind that might be suitable for glopping up with mayonnaise or feeding to the cats; Not only was it a terrific price, the fishmonger was cutting it to order.

“No,” she said apologetically, “but you should get some for you. I’ll be happy with boxed macaroni and cheese.” I frowned at that thought. I don’t want to cook something for myself that she won’t eat.

But by the time we reached the seafood area, I had an change of heart. I picked up a cod filet for her, and a tuna steak for me–two portions worth: dinner, and a near-future lunch for each of us. We continued our afternoon of errands and chores, starting to clear out the rented storage unit and bring the things we really mean to keep into our newly-finished and convenient-to-use attic space.

Half an hour before dinnertime, I portioned the cod and made packets for baking, each filet resting on a little bed of trimmed green beans, sprinkled with some dill, salt and pepper, a bit of olive oil and a slice of lemon. 20 minutes in a 400F oven, and it would be perfect. Meanwhile, the tuna hung out on the counter to come to room-temp.

When the cod had 5 minutes to go, I heated a skillet and set an inch of salted water to boil in a saucepan. I sprinkled the tuna with salt, pepper, and chili powder, and cleaned some broccoli. The stems went into the water first; a drizzle of oil went into the skillet. The florets joined the stems, and the tuna started searing–a minute-thirty on each side and it was just the way I wanted: blackened outside, rare inside.

We frequently have different things for breakfast or lunch. When we’re at a restaurant, it’s not odd at all that we choose different entrees. I’m not sure why I was hesitant to cook different things for us at home. It might not be an everyday occurrence, but I won’t be afraid to do it again.

 

Separate Checks

She took a very early train to town on Monday to have breakfast with an old friend, and stayed late in town tonight to have dinner and see a show with another friend. And I couldn’t be more delighted.

We both work long hours, and she has a long commute. She takes breakfast and lunch to the office nearly every workday; I often do, too, and on my late nights I’ll at least take something as a between-rehearsals snack. We see each other first thing in the morning and in the late evening, and on some parts of the weekend. That’s about it. There isn’t that much time together.

But there’s also not all that much time for our friends.  Even those who are our friends were, just as likely, her friends or my friends before they knew us as us. Friends deserve time.

We don’t have to enjoy spending time with the same people–though we mostly do. In the same way, we don’t have to enjoy all the same foods. It’s perfectly okay for her to have a burger if I want a piece of fish.  It’s perfectly okay for me to want a chicken sandwich when she’s craving macaroni and cheese. I love bitter greens. She could eat rice at every meal. Most of the time we agree on a menu, or meet in the middle, but it doesn’t have to be that way. That’s why there are restaurants. And lots of pots and pans in our kitchen.

While she’s been out with her friend, I haven’t been lonesome. I stopped at home and ate the leftovers from my dinner Wednesday night (a seafood dish she wouldn’t have enjoyed), then I went to the theatre, too. I saw a school musical starring the son of one of my friends. In fact, it was the invitation to that show that occasioned her evening: it’s a show she really dislikes. (Just like friends and foods, we don’t have to like the same plays.)

The show I saw ended earlier than hers, so I had time to stop at the market after, and spend some time at home with the cats before going to meet her train. We’ll share the stories of our days and our evenings.

Maybe over breakfast or lunch.