Tag Archives: Lunch

Hardware, Soft Crust

Painted in WaterlogueAlthough I like cooking over charcoal, the half-hour or so it takes to get the coals ready is often too long to wait–especially during the summer, when we frequently get home late in the evening. Her parents gave us a gas grill as a birthday gift. It isn’t one of those gigantic cook-for-an-army models with a footprint that would cover most of the deck; it’s a funky little number that looks like a flying saucer. Although it can be used on a picnic table, ours sits securely on its companion-model stand (which will fold to take very little garage space once the grilling season ends). It can be used with a small propane canister that connects directly to the intake valve, but her folks recommended we use it like they do–with a full-sized tank connected by an accessory hose (which, like the stand, was included in the birthday gift).

We love it. It heats quickly and evenly; the cast-iron grates are sturdy and easily cleaned; and the saucer’s “wings” are convenient for holding prep items.

But we’re not the only ones who are fond of it. For the second time since May, I went out to start dinner only to find that something had chewed a hole in the hose.

The big-box home centers in the area couldn’t help me, but I found a replacement hose made of stainless-steel mesh at a old-school hardware store. Helpful Hardware Guy said, “Yeah, we sell a lot of these. Something drips on the rubber hose, and a critter thinks it might be dinner.”  I’ll remember to wipe down the hose from now on, but even if I don’t, the metal mesh will give any prospective diners a toothache.

Since it was a sunny Saturday–unusually warm for mid-October–I used the now-functioning-again grill to make lunch. Grilling pizza is remarkably easy, and much faster than baking it in the indoor oven. I’ve had too many occasions where the pie won’t slide off the peel and makes a horrible mess in the oven. This one was perfect, with a crust that was both thin and delightfully chewy.

Helpful Hardware Guy Grilled Pizza

Stretch your favorite pizza dough into a thin more-or-less round. Brush the stretched dough with a little oil, put it oiled-side-down on the grate, close the lid and bake for about 2 minutes.  Remove it with tongs—it lifts right off without any sticking!—and brush the uncooked side with a little oil. Off the grill, turn over the crust. Put sauce, cheese, and any other desired toppings on the grilled side, and return it to the grill. Close the lid, and bake for about 5 minutes more.

Thanks to the Helpful Hardware Guy, we may not ever make pizza another way.

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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.

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Grownupable

Painted in Waterlogue

“Any lunch requests?” I asked, as she started toward the shower.

“Bits and pieces,” she said. “So I don’t have to wait for the microwave.”

Her office has a pretty big staff and a pretty small kitchen. And one single, temperamental, microwave oven. It seems to take several tries to get a dish heated through, at which point the temperature might go from “still mostly cold” to “this will blister your soft palate.” And since there’s often a line of other busy people waiting to use the machine, she’s beginning to find the whole thing more frustrating than it’s worth.

So, okay. Something she can eat at room temperature.

We went to the theatre with friends on Saturday evening: the performance was a late-afternoon matinee of The Great Gatsby. We planned pre-theatre snacks and dinner after the show. Okay, she planned the snacks: our friends poured the wine and seltzer, while she laid our cabaret-style table with an assortment of olives, cheeses, sausages, and sliced baguettes. It was delightful, and so was the dinner that followed. (The production was good, too, though the play itself is a bit hard to follow, especially for someone like me who’s never read the book on which it’s based.)

For her lunch today, I packed up some of our theatre-snack leftovers. Cheese, crackers, vegetables, and cured meat slices and a hard-cooked egg; also little containers of lemon cookies and peeled-and-segmented clementine. It was hardly the most extravagant lunch I’d ever served her. It took no time at all for me to prepare–and, provided she remembers to take it out of the office fridge a little while before she’s hungry so it can come back to room temperature, it will be just what she asked for without much effort on her part either.  It looked a lot like the pre-packaged sort of thing kids might bring to school—though, befitting the diner, a little classier. Her very own grown-up Lunchable.

(Mine too. I’m packing the same for my train-ride-to-town lunch.)

Maybe I should make some chocolate pudding in case we want the same thing tomorrow.

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Not So Casual Day

Painted in Waterlogue

She wore jeans to the office on Friday. No big surprise there; she often does that, and sometimes on mid-week days when she doesn’t have meetings planned. Even in jeans, she looks professional, put-together, and not a bit sloppy: she looked, as she always does, classy.

I was wearing running clothes, as I usually do for breakfast-and-lunch prep and ferrying her to the train; I usually run or exercise or do whatever semi-messy chores the day-start requires after she’s on her way. I didn’t have time to run on Friday, though; I had to get to church for a funeral service.

I’d never met the deceased, a woman in her 80s who’d been in a nursing facility for the past few years; I’d only spoken with her husband a couple of times. He’s a trim, well-spoken fellow, who was holding himself together, just. During the service, his brother-in-law told the story of they met, how his sister had plenty of suitors but this skinny guy somehow won her heart, and as they dated and even long into their marriage he looked at her as if he couldn’t believe his luck. Others told stories of their entertaining, her gardening, her love for books; how classy she was.

At the reception after the service, I saw some photographs of the two of them in younger days, including the wedding portrait that had been displayed at the front of the church. I’ve seen plenty of old photographs, and lots of wedding portraits that make me think, “Well, that was how people looked then.” Not this time: this lady was beautiful for any generation. And classy. And he had that same, “Me? Really? With her?” look. (I suspect you’ll recognize that same look on my face in photos of us.)

I hadn’t planned it this way, but was glad for the lunch I’d packed us both: plenty of crunch, a little salt, and a little sweetness.

Roasted Beet and Clementine Salad

2 roasted beets, peeled and sliced or chopped into bite-sized wedges.
1 small package of soft goat cheese, crumbled
2 teaspoons pecans, toasted in a dry sauté pan until fragrant.
2 cups of assorted salad greens
1 clementine, peeled, sliced in half, and segmented (but not squeezed)
1/2 tsp each balsamic vinegar and olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste

Toss all in a large bowl, then plate or package into to-go containers.

Serves 2, who would rather be dining together.

I didn’t loosen my tie as I finished my day. I wanted to look good when I picked her up from the train. I was careful not to spill salad on my shirt.

 

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Not Giving Up

IMG_0091My grandmother did not teach me how to cook brisket. But if she had, I wouldn’t be making it today.

This is the first Friday in Lent, the season leading to Easter that many Christians traditionally observe by fasting and abstaining from certain foods. “What are you giving up for Lent?” is a common refrain. The church in which I grew up focuses a lot on such food-based observance: meat is not eaten on Fridays in Lent.

Which means that, according to the letter of the law, one may not eat a three-day-old pastrami sandwich—but going out for lobster would be perfectly appropriate. That doesn’t seem like much of a sacrifice to me, unless one had a shellfish allergy.

I’m not here to argue theology or the rationale for food-based religious traditions. I just wanted to have lunch. I was running a little behind this morning, so I opened the fridge to grab something left over to take with me. But I couldn’t see anything meatless.

I honestly don’t think the creator of the universe cares if I have chicken salad on Friday. And for the first time, I’m working in a church that doesn’t have the same sort of restrictive traditions regarding Lent that I grew up with. Nobody would care if I brought a bacon-triple-cheeseburger for lunch. But it would feel strange to me.

I guess I could run out at lunchtime and buy a tuna sub.

And yet going out for lunch—even a modest one—seemed against the Lenten spirit. I looked in the fridge again.

There were couple of hard-boiled eggs. And the leftover vegetables from last night’s dinner. And some brown rice. Heat the rice and veg, slice the eggs overtop, maybe a splash of soy sauce…

Give up chocolate but have the apple pie? No coffee but twice as much soda? No video games but unlimited TV? Not much gain on those plays. But modest discipline seems appropriate. It’s how I was raised. It’s what I was taught. I won’t feel a need to confess if I have a bite of turkey some Friday, but I’m not quite ready to give up all “giving up” yet.

As I ate my not-quite-bibimbap—which was so much better than than any tuna sub—I thought of my mom and my grandma. I hope they’d be pleased that I kept tradition.

Like a grandmother’s brisket.

Lunch for the Lost

It was 7:53 AM, and the house smelled wonderful.

Onion, carrot, pepper, pork, soy greeted me when I returned from morning errands: dropping her at the train and picking up the dry cleaning. “Wow, this place smells great,” I thought for a moment, before remembering that it ought to; I made it smell that way.

Daylight Savings Time ended on Sunday. You can call the Winter Solstice the longest night, but I think the first few autumn days of Standard Time are the darkest week of the year. She takes a while to adjust to the time change–most of us do, I guess, but she says it’s like jet lag.

I was at rehearsal when her train arrived last night, so I asked her to let me know when she got home. She found the car I’d left for her, on an unfamiliar block, at an hour that’s much darker than she’s accustomed to. She drove to the polling station to cast her first ballot as a Country House dweller, then decided she wanted fried rice for dinner. Even with the voice of Google Maps chirping from her iPhone, she couldn’t find our favorite Chinese restaurant. She was disoriented and a little night-blind, and fumbled around until she found a landmark, and fumbled more until she her way home from there. I finally received a string of texts:

I am the only person I know who can get lost in my own town.

Now I know where I am. But for quite a while I didn’t. In between Stew’s and the house. Head desk!

It’s laughable. Now.

I got home to find a pot soaking in the sink, an empty bowl and spoon on her nightstand, and my pretty wife sprawled in bed and sound asleep. She’d had boxed macaroni and cheese for dinner. I kissed her good night, turned off the lights, and squeezed in to what was left of my side.

This morning, amid the late-rehearsal haze, I knew the fridge was well stocked:  chopped-up vegetables, leftover pork tenderloin, egg, peanuts, chunked pineapple and lime wedges, soy and sriracha sauces. She wanted to take a slightly later train than usual, so I had time to use them: rice only takes 20 minutes, after all. The veg got a little stir-fry while tea and coffee brewed; the pork and pineapple just needed a little warming and a chance to take on a little splash of sauce; the egg cooked in the residual heat from the savory bits and rice.  Lime wedges went on top for garnish and a squeeze of freshness at serving time.

I can’t always help with navigation, but I can give her pineapple fried rice for lunch. And, when I get home from my morning errands, I get a wonderful-smelling house as a bonus. And, maybe, an un-traditional breakfast.

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The Enemy of the Good

Why, yes, I am enjoying watercolor effects.

Late in the evening I had an impromptu conference with the Artistic Director.  I also had an organic cheese puff. Or maybe 3. Hey, he offered.

The topic of conversation was our leading man, who was struggling with the high notes in one of his songs. The solution was obvious: change the key. Our director, a voice teacher by profession, was convinced the actor could become comfortable with the high notes in time. She’s probably right. And I can probably run a six-minute mile to keep pace with our assistant stage manager. But not before we open in a week and a half.

AD agreed to order the music in a new key. I heard that the actors were almost up to my next cue, so I hustled to the piano. I went back to his table during the next dialogue scene.  He held out the bag of cheese puffs.  I declined with thanks. What I really was seeking was advice about another song, in which four actors sing backing vocals to a featured performer. They’re supposed to sing these vocals–in high, tight harmony–while dancing up a storm. They’re perfectly good dancers, but none of them actors is a high tenor.

“Can you thin out the harmony, or have them sing in unison?”

“That’s exactly what I want to do, but I wanted to hear you say it.”

After our Act II run-through, I gathered the guys, demonstrated a new vocal part, which they sang effortlessly, with great confidence, and great relief. I worked with the leading guy, too. He understood why I wanted to make the change, but he felt like he was letting us down. I did my best to convince him otherwise. We like him. We like his acting, his ease on stage, his chemistry with the leading lady. And we like his singing. His vocal mechanism just isn’t ready to sing those high notes, any more than I’m equipped to cut my mile time by almost half.

Looking back at both of these songs, I probably should have insisted we make the changes even before the first rehearsal. But none of us wants to do less than our best. Even if the composer won’t be in the room, we want to honor her intentions. We want it to be as it should be. We want it to be perfect. But the perfect can be the enemy of the good.

She has this problem at work, too.  She and her colleagues were, by their own admission, A students who felt awful if they didn’t score 100% on every test and get all the extra credit points. Often as not, though, their not-quite-perfect work is better than someone else’s A. They’ve taken to calling themselves “The B+ Girls.”

I put some rotini in a pot of water just off the boil, turned off the heat, and ran an errand that took longer than I expected. The noodles were a little softer than I’d meant, but I’m okay with that.

B+ Pasta Salad

Combine in a large bowl:

1/2 lb. rotini (or other curly, the better to hold dressing) pasta, cooked in salted water then drained. Don’t beat yourself up if the pasta is a little past al dente.

1 carrot, in smallish pieces.

3 ribs celery, or thereabouts, sliced somewhere near thinly.

1/2 cup pepperoni—but salami would do, or even ham—sliced or cubed.

1 hard-boiled egg, chopped. Don’t even try for a perfect dice.

1/2 cup mozzarella cheese–sliced or grated or in little balls. Fresh if you have it, but don’t make a special trip to the market.

6 peppadew peppers, roughly chopped.

1 cup marinated mushrooms–and don’t give a moment’s thought that you didn’t marinate them yourself.

3 cups spinach, rinsed, dried, and torn or sliced into pieces.

Toss with:

1/4 cup viniagrette dressing (from the back of the fridge), augmented with
a little brown mustard (any variety you grab), and
a splash of olive oil.

Add pepper to taste. (Between the pasta cooking water, the dressing, the pepperoni, and the mushrooms, you won’t need salt.)

This is best after a night in the refrigerator, but if you need lunch in a hurry, it’s pretty good right away.  And certainly better than takeout.

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