Tag Archives: Leftovers

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…


Amazing Bowl-Grace

IMG_0089The new job is going well, though it’s taking much more mental energy than I foolishly predicted.  There’s been plenty of Dinner at the Country House. There were great pies at Thanksgiving, and a wonderful Christmas Dinner, but neither of us has made time to write about cooking or eating or life.

As my tenure in the in the old job wore on, I felt less and less at home. That upset me more and more, especially since I was there so much of the time, and I’d loved the place for so long. As things got bad, I did what I could to make it feel more comfortable: I had a little bud vase on my desk; I had the coffee mug choir members had long ago given me, and I had my bowl.

The new office is well-appointed, and I was so thrown into the work that I hadn’t unpacked my things right away. On the day of my first staff meeting I was served coffee in a mug bearing the logo of a wine cooler I haven’t tasted in probably 20 years. The idea of that logo in a church office amused me so much I’ve been using the mug ever since, and took the choir mug home.

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On my first Tuesday afternoon before the second grade choristers arrived, I found my bowl and used it to heat some leftovers for lunch. I finished eating, washed and dried it in the little kitchenette, and put the bowl on the shelf with some other mismatched plates and dishes that were used by our staff.

Most days I don’t have breakfast and lunch and sometimes dinner in the office, so it was maybe a week later before I noticed that the bowl wasn’t on the shelf. No big deal, I thought; somebody else probably needed a bowl. It’s not like my bowl had my name on it. I used one of the random plates the next time I stayed in the office for dinner between rehearsals.

But my bowl didn’t turn up. I poked around in various cupboards and couldn’t find it. Maybe the somebody who used it dropped it and it broke. I was a little sad because my bowl and I had such a long history, but I’ve felt so at home in the new place that I’ve been perfectly happy to reheat my occasional working-supper in the container I brought it in.

Between services yesterday, the Rector and I were having coffee. Our spirited discussion of Ash Wednesday theology and comparisons of attendance at our services versus the ones in the old neighborhood eventually ran its course. As we rinsed our mugs in the little kitchenette sink, I asked, “Hey, here’s an unrelated question: you wouldn’t happen to have seen a big white bowl, would you?”

She hadn’t seen it. “But it’s probably in the kitchen,” she said.

The kitchen.

The kitchen where we had cooked 400 pancakes for a Shrove Tuesday supper. The one with the industrial-sized stove, the restaurant-quality dishwasher, the sinfully covetable prep tables.

And the dish room.

It never occurred to me to look there. I’d been working here for several months before I knew we had a kitchen. Shrove Tuesday was the first time I’d been in it, and we were so busy serving pancakes that it never occurred to me to look for my bowl.

I scampered off to the dish room, with its floor-to-ceiling shelves of plates and cups and salt-and-pepper set. And bowls. There it was: a big white dish that didn’t quite match the other big white dishes but was close enough that someone no doubt thought it belonged there.

“I found it!” I told her, with probably only a little more enthusiasm than the father displayed when his prodigal son returned home. She said I should take it to my office for safekeeping, but it seemed perfectly safe to me, proudly shelved among lots of other soup bowls and ready for use.

If, in the fullness of time, I have to leave this place, I’ll check in the dish room to collect it. Or maybe I won’t. Maybe it’s got a new home. Meanwhile, the next time I want to heat some leftovers, I know where to find a good bowl.

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The Honeymoon Is Not Over

I’ve started a new job, and spent extra time setting things right at the old place. I’ve also had auditions and early rehearsals for a new show. Her job has been busy as ever–or maybe moreso, since she had to plan ahead before leaving for a vacation.

And then, of course, there was the matter of a wedding.

It was blissful and gorgeous and moving and all the things you’d want it to be. It was untraditional and very traditional. The bride was radiant and the groom cleaned up okay. Our friends and family sang hymns to shake the chapel’s rafters. The honeymoon that followed was great fun. And we’re well into the second week of marriage without either of us having second thoughts.

There are lots of stories to tell, and we’ll keep telling them here–maybe not on a daily basis, but as often as we can. My new job is close-by, so we have decided to stay in the Country House for the time being.

There’s no cake in the freezer; we didn’t have cake at our lunch reception. (We’ll tell you about Chef Jarrod’s frozen chocolate mousse another time.) There is, however, a meatball in the fridge, the last of far-too-much food we ordered for our we-didn’t-have-a-rehearsal-dinner.

I figure while there are still leftovers from before the wedding, the honeymoon can’t possibly be over.

It still won’t be, even if I have the meatball for lunch today.

(Con)Fusion Cuisine

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When I packed her lunch I put aside a couple of things in a sack for my own, but I didn’t really think through the day. Then, after a busy morning at home I needed to get out the door fast.  I looked in the sack I’d sort-of-packed. There was protein. There was fruit. There was a hearty evening snack to eat during a rehearsal break. But no vegetables. There was only time to grab the first green thing in the crisper and hope it would work out. 

Thus it was that, at lunchtime, I found myself with pizza and asparagus. The former was leftover from a few evenings ago; the latter hadn’t been cooked yet, but were only few hours shy of their sell-by date. The pizza reheated nicely enough in the toaster oven. The asparagus, wrapped in a moist paper towel, steamed in the microwave. I ate standing up, while filing choir music and watching a liturgical-music documentary. It was not a fine dining experience, but it could have been worse. The pizza was nearly as good as it had been when it was first baked. The asparagus had enough crispness left to satisfy my craving for greens. It was an odd combination, but not unpalatably weird. 

Keep your Tex-Mex. Your French-Chinese. Your eel, lettuce, and tomato hand roll. I’ll take a slice of pizza and something green. Maybe I’ll even put the green thing on the pizza.

Unless it’s okra.  Or canned peas. That would just be wrong.

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Pizza and asparagus look prettier as a watercolor.

Yes, And

“Are you making beef with broccoli?” she asked, sounding equal parts amazed and teasing.

I like vegetables.  Broccoli probably comes in third in my list of favorites, behind brussels sprouts, which are coming into season and filling me with delight and anticipation, and green beans, for which I think the USDA’s recommended serving size ought to be, “Well, how many have you got?”

The thing is, I wasn’t making beef with broccoli. I wasn’t sure what I was making, though.

We’d both worked late, and she was feeling in the mood for something bland, so she was heating a bowl of mashed potatoes to have with butter, salt, and pepper. I was foraging. I’d found a little piece of rare beef and some rice; the latter, topped with a damp paper towel, would go into the microwave when her potatoes were done.  The rice wouldn’t be as good as it had been when freshly cooked, but far from terrible. I figured I’d thinly slice the steak and sauté it quickly in a little olive oil, slice a few grape tomatoes and toss those into the pan, too, and then pour it all over the reheated rice.  Maybe add a little salsa.  Maybe grate some cheese over the top.  It could be vaguely Tex-Mex. It was sort of a plan, but not quite.

There wasn’t anything green, though, and I think dinner should almost always include something green.  But I didn’t feel like assembling a salad. There were some broccoli florets, though. They got a quick steaming along with the rice, then went into the hot pan to brown on their tips, along with a generous splash of teriyaki sauce and a dab of minced garlic. Everything topped the rice, and the lot was garnished with a sprinkle of sesame seeds.

Meanwhile, she discovered to her horror that we were out of butter. “You can check in the freezer,” I said, “but I’m afraid there’s none there.” She opened the door and proved me right. But there was a little bag in the top compartment of the door containing small blocks of frozen cream. (She’d needed a very small amount for a recipe last winter. Not wanting to waste, we froze the rest in an ice cube tray and have been using it, a little at a time, ever since.) “Defrost one of these,” I suggested; “It’ll add some creaminess.” Instead, she pulled an empty pint-sized jar from the cupboard. “No!” she said.  “I’ll make butter!”

She thawed the cream and put it in the tightly-lidded jar, then danced about the kitchen, singing and shaking her jar of cream like a maraca. After a couple of minutes, she stopped, disappointed that her jar wasn’t really well-suited for churning butter or adding percussion to a vocal arrangement.  She poured the only-barely-clotted milk into the bowl of her Kitchen Aid mixer, and sent it to whisk. 8 minutes or so later, she had a ramekin of soft, lovely butter. I don’t think we’ll give up buying it in sticks from the grocery, but it’s nice to know that it’s an option.

The first rule of improvisational theatre is “Never say no.” If you’re playing a doctor in a scene and another character enters saying her car won’t start, you can’t object that you’re not a mechanic. You accept the given information and go forward.  “Yes, and I’ll bring my stethoscope to listen to its carburetor,” you might say. If you’re “enjoying” the sunshine and your scene partner says it’s raining, it’s not “No,” it’s “Yes, and now I get to use my new umbrella.” If you’re rocking your “new baby” and a new character compliments your rhinoceros, “Yes, and she has her mother’s horn.”

Yes, and…

“Are you making beef with broccoli?”

Yes, and would you pass me the soy sauce?

“Oh, no, we’re out of butter!”

Yes, and we have cream and a powerful mixer, and we can give ourselves a science lesson.

“We have to clear the guest room for the painter, and there’s nowhere to put the extra bed!”

Yes, and we can stack one mattress on top of another, and put a pea under the bottom one to see if we can feel it!

You can call it improvisation, and the result is sometimes funny, but really, it’s just two people being as creative and generous and kind as they know how. And a little bit more.

I’m going to be a contestant on a game show tonight–a live theatre presentation, not the TV kind.  The object for me and my partner–my partner whom I’ve never met, of course–will be to write a song on a randomly assigned topic, in a randomly selected musical style. For a musical. In twenty minutes.

You might think, “Well, they did that in real time on TV,” but the music on Whose Line is it Anyway? was pre-determined. Also, those comedians weren’t writing for musical theatre characters, or being judged by writers and directors. I’m a little nervous about this event–about not finishing on time, or that the style won’t be one I’m comfortable with, or that our song won’t be as funny as the other team’s. (Though “funny” isn’t one of the prerequisites, it’s probably better in a game like this to be funny than heartfelt). I don’t mind losing, but I want to do well.

Fortunately, I have lots of improvisational experience on which to draw. And, win or lose, she’ll be in the audience, and we’ll have dinner after the show, and then go home to a very tall bed. Victory could not not be sweeter than knowing that.

Or home-churned butter.

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You Can Bet on It

On the way out of the theatre one night last spring, she asked, “Can we order pineapple fried rice?” Of course we could, but, knowing the contents of the City House fridge, I bet her that I could make pineapple fried rice faster than we could have it delivered.

Fried rice is, after all, a way to use leftovers.  You can’t really call it pineapple fried rice if there’s no pineapple and no rice, but aside from that almost everything is a variable. There are plenty of recipes for authentic pineapple fried rice, but they don’t agree with one another. It’s perfect for improvisation.

Sauté some onion. (If you’ve got scallions, great; sauté the white and keep the green aside.)

Chop something green. (Peas are common to many recipes, but not all; if green beans are on hand, go for it.  If broccoli or brussels sprouts are all you’ve got, use less–unless you’re making this dish for me, in which case the more the merrier.) If there’s some red bell pepper around, dice and add it, too.

Bring on the leftover rice.

Add soy sauce and tomato paste–maybe a teaspoon of each, and a generous splash of pineapple juice.  If you keep fish sauce around, maybe half a teaspoon.  Stir everything to combine.

As for protein, what’s on hand? A piece of leftover chicken?  Half a pork chop? A few shrimp, a bit of beef, whatever.

Oh–and an egg. You can beat it first, or simply crack it over the pan and stir it in.  Then some pineapple. Fresh is best, of course, but canned will do; I prefer chunks, but crushed offers more bite-homogeneousness.

If you live at the Country House, there are cashew pieces in the fridge for making granola. (If not, there may be peanuts, even if only a couple packets you brought home from a plane flight.) Toss them on top, with the green bits of scallion. If there’s a lime handy, serve a wedge of it alongside and squeeze the juice in tableside.

Serves two for a late supper, or one, with leftovers for lunch.

This version is not authentically Thai, but neither are we. It is cheaper than delivery–and has a lower carbon footprint. Also, you don’t have to put on a robe to answer the door. And it cleans out the fridge.

She planned to rush home yesterday to work on some gardening in whatever daylight was left. Since I wouldn’t be home at dinnertime and
knew she’d be tired, I prepared a batch of inauthentic pineapple fried rice and left it for her in the fridge.

Mums, Sedum, and Hens-and-Chicks are not the traditional accompaniments to fried rice, but when the recipe itself is inauthentic, they do nicely.  At least to make the table festive.

Mums, Sedum, and Hens-and-Chicks are not the traditional accompaniments to fried rice, but when the recipe itself is inauthentic, they do nicely. At least to make the table festive.

I don’t remember the stakes of last spring’s homemade-vs-takeout wager, but I won. And I know what’s for lunch today.

Quiet Dinner for One

I’d had an early-evening meeting, and got home with about an hour before her train arrived. She met a friend for drinks and snacks that turned into dinner. I heated some pasta and her rustic tomato sauce, adding a big handful of broccoli florets and a little mozzarella cheese and maybe a teaspoon of diced pepperoni. While the microwave worked its magic, I fed the cats and packed breakfast and lunch for Tuesday. I ate dinner at the table with a proper napkin, good posture, and an interesting book I bought months ago thinking it might possibly become a musical. It might, or might not, but I’m enjoying it either way. I haven’t been reading as much as I’d like, so it was nice to spend time with a story on paper. A glass of wine would have been nice with the pasta, but not after a long day–and not before driving to the station to meet her train.

A bowl of pasta and a book. Laundry folding and conversation about our days. Domestic. Tranquility.