Tag Archives: Friday

Including Moderation

Her new phone functioned perfectly on Thursday’s overnight.  Unfortunately, the same could not be said for the rest of the technology her team uses–nor, even more unfortunately, of one of the subcontractors they employ.  She woke from a nap on Friday afternoon to news of an epic failure that might have meant another sleepless night or two.  She was understandably furious.  And maybe a little comically so, but I knew better than to point that out.  Eventually she calmed enough to speak in complete sentences, and reassure us both that we would not incur the expenses of a new laptop computer and additional repairs to the newly painted wall at which she wanted to chuck the old one.  She made herself a mug of tea. A cat settled at her feet, and I left them for a while.

After I returned from a run and showered, I started to bake a batch of brownies.  I wasn’t sure what dinner might be, but thought that after a long night and a terrible afternoon, a little sweetness would be welcome.

While the brownies baked, I started to assemble the last piece of furniture for our office, a cute little rolling cart with many drawers that would hold office supplies and various doodads. She finished her work for the day and came to join me–possibly attracted by the chocolaty goodness wafting from the kitchen.  We worked together happily on the cart (again proving that we pass the Ikea Relationship Test). By the time every Tab A was fitted into every Slot B, every screw was accounted for, and the cart carried to its appointed place in the office, the brownies were ready to cut.

We aren’t doctors or nurses.  We aren’t dieticians. We know perfectly well that brownies are not an appropriate dinner. Except when they are.  We didn’t eat the entire batch, any more than we’d eat the entire Thanksgiving turkey in one sitting. Just one lovely, rich, still-barely-warm brownie each.

Sunday’s dinner, after her very productive knitting class, my many masses played, and our shared garage clearing, was far more balanced and moderate. She marinated chicken breasts in lemon and olive oil, and served them with sautéed asparagus and rice. Very different from a brownie, but also delicious.

Sometimes there’s a brownie for dinner.  Sometimes there’s a bowl of popcorn. All things in moderation.  Including moderation.

Baked chicken, sautéed asparagus, rice. Nothing immoderate about that.

Baked chicken, sautéed asparagus, rice. Nothing immoderate about that.

A Night at the Not-Quite Disco

I don’t travel all that often, but when I do I try to eat something that I can’t get at home–a local specialty.  Jane and Michael Stern’s Roadfood has never steered me wrong; in Minneapolis, for instance, it helped me find the best roast beef sandwich I’ve ever encountered. But asking those you meet is a good idea, too.

Nobody in Fish Creek, Wisconsin, could agree on what one thing I had to eat before I left. Almost nobody, in fact, had any strong opinions at all. “Cheese curd, I guess,” said one fellow. So, when I stopped for lunch during a little sightseeing trip between rehearsals, I saw them on the menu and asked for a serving.  They’re deep-fried bits of cheese (imagine a solid-cheese Cheeto) served with ranch dressing. If that’s how they’re served, that’s how I’m trying them–though after a couple of bites the combination of buttermilk and cheese was dairy overload. I asked for some cocktail sauce and tried not to notice the waiter looking at me as if I’d grown an extra head. (Tomato, lemon, and horseradish were, to me, the perfect foil for the fried cheese, though to look at that combination in print makes me understand why the waiter looked at me strangely.)

This isn’t a story about Wisconsin, though. There will be lots of stories about Wisconsin, but those for other days.

When I told her about the cheese curd, she said, “Oh, poutine!” It turns out that cheese curds aren’t especially local to Wisconsin; they are part of the national dish of Canada. Poutine is a plate of french fried potatoes topped with cheese curds over which brown gravy is ladled. I have no idea who first came up with this idea, but if it was a customer at a restaurant, I suspect the waiter may have given a little eye-roll.

This isn’t a story about Canada, either. (I’m not sure that she’s ever been to Canada, and I’ve only been there a couple of times–and I’ve never ordered poutine when I was.)

It turns out that there are many versions of poutine, and plenty of them don’t involve cheese curds. I am not so closed-minded as to say I will never try the one that involves feta cheese and vinaigrette dressing, but it’s not high on my list of enthusiasm.

A particularly swanky version of poutine is served at one of her favorite restaurants. Not her favorite spot; as discussed previously, that is not a spot for a pre-theatre bite. Seeing A. R. Gurney’s Love Letters with Alan Alda and Candice Bergen–our Friday night plan–was a bit of an occasion, so we decided to go her fancy poutine spot.  If our history was any indication, drinks and appetizers would be plenty for dinner.

On Wednesday, as we walked to the train station after work, we realized that it was going to be late enough that we should have dinner before boarding. But not fries, she said. “No, that’s for Friday,” I agreed. “And surely not Disco Fries,” she said. I laughed, trying to imagine fries in a white polyester suit, doing the Hustle under a mirror ball. “You know, American poutine,” she said, and I laughed all the harder her name for the American diner version of a Canadian dish.

We ended up at a diner, with an omelette and a BLT and a chocolate shake in a glass as big as her head–but not Disco Fries.  Which were actually on the menu.  I thought it was a very amusing coincidence until, meeting for coffee with a collaborator at a different diner, I saw Disco Fries listed there, too.

She laughed harder than I had at the thought the she had invented the name.  (She maintains she isn’t that clever, though I know better.) In the Northeast, fries with cheese and gravy are called Disco Fries, though I can’t find an explanation why. Even in this regional variation no sources agree what kind of cheese or gravy is supposed to be used.

Nios’s variation is as lavish as I had been led to understand: excellent fries with shredded mozzarella and julienned strips of pepperoni, sprinkled with chopped parsley, set under a broiler to melt the cheese and crisp the pepperoni, then bathed (but not soaked) with beefy gravy that most decidedly did not come from a can. Salty, crunchy, and rich; with a little salad alongside, and very well-made cocktails, it was a perfect pre-show dinner.

I’ll try Canadian poutine when I have a chance, and I might even take her for cheese curd next time we’re in Wisconsin.  Until then, when fries, cheese, and gravy meet, it will be at Nios. With no disco music.

 

 

 

The Best Sauce

It has been one of those weeks.

For a project with “dinner” in the title, there has been a whole lot of no-dinner-cooking at the Country House.

I missed a train on Monday–by moments!–and so had to drive into New York in order to get to a meeting.  She met me after, and we drove home together, but by the time we arrived, nobody much wanted dinner. (It could have gone entirely the other way; we might have wanted all the food there was, and then some.)

We both worked late on Tuesday, and had had late lunches; again, no dinner-making.

Wednesday was a theatre night; last weekend, I realized that she’d never seen a long-running musical written by two friends of mine, so we went to see it; we met for a bite on the way. I took a photo of our dinner, but the meal hardly seemed like writing about. The food was fine; the show was delightful.

She worked really late on Thursday in order to take a train that arrived just in time for me to meet her after choir rehearsal. I made us a snack to eat while watching a little TV before bedtime, but it wasn’t a real meal.

On the way to a slightly-later-than-usual train this morning–which she’d decided to take after working late four days in a row–we decided that we were going to stay in this evening.  No theatre, no movies, no trips to furniture stores, no visiting friends; a night at home. She asked for “something light.” I’m glad I asked her to be more specific; given that direction, I might have made a big green salad. She had in mind some white fish; perhaps some rice; and maybe green beans or asparagus. It sounded like a plan to me, so I stopped at the market on the way to meet her evening train.

The menu was her idea, so she started cooking.  (Also, I couldn’t do much in the way of meal prep, since she had me sticking my head under a towel with a bowl of steaming water and herbs to clear a stuffy nose. I was, however, able to look up fish-baking time on my iPhone.)

30 minutes at 375ºF later, there were two perfectly-baked tilapia filets, each topped with a sprinkling of Old Bay seasoning and a lemon slice.  There was a pot of nutty rice, fragrant with thyme. There was a hot skillet, into which barely-steamed asparagus had been tossed with a little olive oil, garlic, salt, pepper, and a squeeze of lemon.  Fancier than a peanut butter sandwich or a bowl of ramen noodles, but it seemed not at all elaborate. It was just right.

Or maybe we were just hungry.

It’s said that hunger is the best sauce, but that doesn’t necessarily mean a physical need for food; the best sauce might be the desire to have a quiet dinner at home, at a decent hour, with some pleasant music playing, and the best possible company.

We cleaned our plates.

Tilapia, rice, asparagus. A glass of juice. Nothing more is required.

Tilapia, rice, asparagus. A glass of juice. Nothing more is required.

The Second- or Third-Best-Laid Plans

Our plans began, as is so often the case, with an iMessage.

I know what to make for dinner! Mulligatawny Soup.  It’s usually served over rice, but crumbled cornbread will also do.

I was driving when the message came in, so I didn’t respond right away. I like her Mulligatawny Soup, rich with chicken, peppers, and spices, and thick with rice. I started trying to remember how many of the ingredients we had on hand.  When I arrived at the station to meet her train, our conversation didn’t go straight to food, though if it had, I might have said, “Mulligatawny is a good idea, but I could really go for a pile of vegetables, a little protein, and maybe a dinner roll.”

We headed off to the very large home improvement store to purchase electrical supplies. Her parents were arriving the next morning for a visit; her dad, a skilled electrician, was going to teach us how to install new electrical outlets. By the time we’d found everything on our shopping list, neither of us was in the mood for going to the market, much less cooking afterward.

“Let’s go out,” she said. “But to a place where it’s okay to be dressed like I am.” I was in dark jeans, a sweater, and a tweed jacket. She had worn jeans and a blouse to the office, and looked good enough to get into any restaurant I’d want to go to.

At a traffic light, the plans amended again. “We could just get take-out…”

We cruised slowly down Route 1, neither of us quite sure what would be on the menu. A favorite casual Italian place presented itself, and we stopped. And the plan amended again. “While we’re waiting for our entrees, let’s have a drink and an appetizer.”

“You’re going to laugh at me,” she said, looking up from the menu. (Plans were apparently changing again.) “Instead of a full meal, why don’t we share some appetizers and a salad?” I would never laugh at a girl who doesn’t particularly like vegetables ordering a salad. We considered the merits of the salad she had in mind, and settled instead on a sampler of appetizers–a few meatballs, a few chicken wings, and some breaded mozzarella–and a platter of roasted vegetables. We placed our order, and, as we sipped our drinks and toasted the good fortune of friends who’d just had a child, the waiter appeared with a bread basket.

It was my turn to smile. We had started by thinking about mulligatawny soup and ended up with a pile of vegetables, a little protein, and maybe a dinner roll. And we were both delighted with the evening.

A Sense of Occasion

She’d worked from home on Friday while I was recording music in my basement studio.  Evening approached, and with it time to change from casual clothes into something more festive for the season-opening gala concert of a theatre company we support.

The performance was in a big cabaret space that has neither bar nor kitchen. Outside food and drink are permitted–indeed, encouraged.  I had hoped to organize some semi-elegant picnic supper for us, but getting the demo recorded took longer than I expected, and time grew short. “Can we get takeout from the Awesome Burger Place?” she asked. We could indeed.

I didn’t think about the possibility of heavy traffic most of the way to the theatre; we arrived just a few minutes before the concert began. Our fries had lost some crispness and the burgers were not as warm as they once were (and, sad to say, hers wasn’t nearly as well-cooked as she’d asked for it to be).  The store-made potato chips we’d had as a snack on the way were light, not a bit greasy, and perfectly salted.

Our picnic gear wasn’t especially classy–her wonderful picnic basket is packed deep in a closet while the painter and flooring installers work–but we looked spiffy.  The Artistic Director of the company, passing through the lobby on his way backstage, took one look at us walking in and said, “I’ll see you later, sir,” before scooping her up in a mock-lascivious embrace.

Explaining the concert’s theme, the director quoted Jonathan Larson’s Rent: “The opposite of war isn’t peace, it’s creation.” Every performance was delightful, from an Andrews Sisters tribute “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy,” to a medley of Vietnam-era protest songs in the first act; highlights of the second act included the youngest soloist singing a very sophisticated song about parenthood with clear understanding of her text, and the 75-member cast massing their voices on Stephen Sondheim’s “Sunday” and The Lion King’s “Circle of Life.” This was our third night in the theatre in a week, and, easily, our favorite performance of the three.

At intermission, there was a silent auction with a wide array of items for bid. After the concert, we discovered that we’d won tickets to a Broadway show we want to see, a set of piano lessons for her, and a session with a running coach for me. Including dinner, concert tickets, and our winning bids, we still hadn’t spent as much as we would have for a pair of seats at the Broadway show–and we’d supported local theatre and our friends.

Usually we meet for the theatre after work. Getting dressed up for this evening and leaving the house together made it feel like a “real” date.  Although this was community theatre, there was a sense of occasion about our evening.  It reminded me of my parents going dancing at the Elks club on Saturday nights.  I don’t recall how often Mom and Dad had dinner at home before going out, but I’m pretty sure they never walked into a theatre with burgers in a paper sack.  On the other hand, maybe I’m remembering it wrong and that was exactly their idea of a good time.  It was ours, certainly.

One More Time

We’re both big fans of repurposing.  

She can turn an glass jar into a beautiful vase in no time flat. An ordinary little table here is suddenly a perfect nightstand there. She is kind of masterful at re-combining wardrobe items into new outfits. (I tell you, the girl can dress.) 

My repurposing is done mostly in the kitchen. If the recipe calls for tomato sauce and we’re out, how about V8 juice, tomato paste, and some oregano?  Almost-stale donuts? Bread pudding. Random vegetables and a little protein?  Fried rice. I filled omelets for breakfast with bits and pieces from the previous night’s post-Christmas party, and her mom approved in a pretty serious way.

But you don’t always need to repurpose.  Repetition isn’t always a bad thing. (Her favorite thing to do with Thanksgiving leftovers is have Thanksgiving dinner again.)

And thus, on Friday night, there was fried chicken, corn on the cob, and sliced tomatoes.  And, okay, a few steamed green beans that were so good I thought about making more. She savored the last bites of corn, and sighed. “If this is the last of the summer’s corn, I want to make sure I enjoyed it.”

It’s not; there’s another ear in the crisper. At least there was when I left this morning.

One Perfect Burger, One Slightly Past Well-done

She’ll probably say her burger is overdone.

She’ll probably be right.  She prefers a burger well-done, and I worked so hard to get it well-done (and still leave mine medium rare) that the smoke detector complained.

The corn was perfect–microwaved in their husks for 4 minutes an ear, the husk and silk slides right off, as she taught me from a cooking demo at the market. Each ear perched on a crouton of toasted whole-wheat bread, perfect for applying butter to the kernels. The green beans were steamed and then tossed into the cast iron skillet to pick up a little extra flavor from the juices left behind by the burgers.  The tomatoes came from the CSA; they just need slicing, though a little salt and pepper is not gilding the lily. The sweet potato fries were a bit of a cheat; I ran to the market to pick up the ground chuck and a sweet potato, and realized that the market’s outdoor grill was still open, so I picked up a serving of their really good sweet potato fries to share.

It’s a darn fine burger: 80-20 chuck (the store’s “naked” variety, no antibiotics), formed into a loose patty with a little chopped pepperoni pressed inside. Maybe that extra moisture will keep it from going past well-done into something else.

She slept through dinner, is what it comes down to.

I can’t blame her.  She was up at 4 AM, painting and waiting for the movers. (I had worked late last night to get things ready here, then slept in ’til almost 7.)  After everything was delivered to its proper place, she took a well-earned nap.  But the nap seems to be extending, and that does not bode well for a dinner plate that is staying warm in the oven.

Here’s a “before” picture, in case things don’t look so good when she gets around to dinner.

dinner0822