Tag Archives: Lunch

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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(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.

A Fork in the Road, a Bowl in the Office

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During the first Great Sorting, we realized that we liked her flatware better than mine. My set was perfectly good, but we didn’t have room in the kitchen for both.  It went into a box in storage. When we knew that none of our friends who were moving or unexpectedly refurnishing a house needed it, we sent that box to a second-hand store.

Well, not all of it.  We each kept a place setting. One knife, fork, and spoon was designated for each of our offices.  We’ve also each kept a little dinnerware: I’ve got a big bowl that’s perfect for salad, soup, or oatmeal, and is wide enough to work as a plate, too. She’s got a smaller plate and bowl in hers. Between us, we have a huge pile of cloth napkins, so we usually have one of those in the office as well, and bring it home for laundering.

We eat at least one meal at our desks, most days, and some days two or three.  There’s nothing wrong with going out for a workday meal. Taking some time away from the office is a good thing. But it gets pricey if it’s an everyday occurrence. Economics aside, though, we like the meals we bring from home. We know what’s in them, and what’s not.

We also like not having to dispose of plastic cutlery or paper plates or napkins. There’s nothing wrong with using a sandwich’s wrapper as a placemat, or eating a salad from the plastic container in which it was carried to work. It takes a little extra time to wash the dishes, and to find a place in the office where they can be stored. But there is something a bit more civilized about using proper dinnerware. It makes lunch-at-the-office feel more like a meal and less like a re-fueling stop during a 500 mile road race. And it reminds us of home. These days, we aren’t at home together as often as we’d like. Our matching flatware makes it a little more like we’re sharing a meal.

Ah, well. Back to work.

When Life Gives You Lemons, Make Pasta

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It had been a whirlwind week, followed by a busy weekend leading into another week that’ll be more of the same. Major events are kicking up in her organization, and rehearsals and performances fill my evenings. Dinners together will be the exception rather than the rule. It’s easy to get focused on what has to be done at work and then discover a load of clothes put in the washer on Tuesday hasn’t been moved to the dryer until Friday. Or that we’ve driven past the market while holding the shopping list.

We remembered lunch, though. She had it nearly ready by the time I got home. All that was left was to grate the cheese I’d just brought–after I remembered where I was going and circled back for it. Pasta was bubbling. Cream simmered in a saucepan, flecked with perky strands of lemon zest and dark green rosemary. I squeezed the lemons for her before she realized that the recipe called for zest but not juice. That’s okay; I’ll make lemon soda sometime soon. She stirred in the cheese, steamed some asparagus to add, and brought everything together. The sauce was beautifully balanced between tart citrus, rich cream, and salty-sharp parmesan. A sprinkle of cayenne and a few grinds of black pepper contributed a little warmth, and the asparagus brought its unique earthiness. Nothing overwhelmed another–which is good, since we were both a little overwhelmed by life.

The recipe she was following didn’t include the asparagus, but I’m glad we did. Vegetables are always welcome. I’m sure we’ll try this again someday, perhaps with a little less cream and many more vegetables, as a pasta primavera. It’s time for that sort of thing, even if the thermometer doesn’t quite agree and there’s still snow on the ground. It might even be pleasant enough to linger over lunch on the deck. Not today, though, but that’s just as well; we had only enough time to clean up after lunch before going our separate ways for evening events.

The time it takes to make a simple meal is always well-spent, and most certainly healthier than speaking into an intercom and having someone hand a sack of burgers to us through a window. Even when the meal is a bowl of pasta and cheese.

A Sure Thing

She ordered Thai food for lunch. Pineapple fried rice, no doubt; probably with chicken. But she didn’t take a bite.

So many calls and meetings had interrupted her morning that the oatmeal she’d prepared had ended up hard and cold and unpalatable.  So she had her lunch–spiced lamb and hummus–for breakfast, and ordered takeout at lunchtime.

I’m sure she rushed to the lobby to meet the delivery person. I’m sure she tipped well.  I’m sure she put the bag on the floor carefully beside her desk, out of her way.  I’m sure she dove back into work. I don’t know why she left–maybe for another meeting, or maybe just to use the rest room.  But during that precise window, a custodian came to her office and did what he was meant to do: the restaurant bag on the floor was clearly intended to be discarded. She found it in the trash, opened and untouchable.

She was grumpy-hungry. Come to think of it, so was I.  I’d worked through breakfast, too. Lunch had been a long time ago, and that was before the stressful rehearsal, and the even more stressful drive through snow and sleet to meet her train.

She didn’t care what we had for dinner–even the kale soup, which she hadn’t liked after all that work. I’d had some of it for lunch, and liked it a lot, though with its bitter greens and wine-rich beef broth, I could see why she didn’t. Kale soup was out.

First rule of the kitchen: Love people, cook them tasty food. It had to be something we’d both like.  A sure thing.

I’d taken a small ball of pizza dough out of the freezer before I left for work. It was thawed and ready for action. I floured a mat, stretched it thin, and topped it with a little tomato sauce. Cheese next: a few dabs of ricotta, some shredded mozzarella, and some shaved parmesan. I’d defrosted a couple of meatballs, too; I crumbled one and added it, then topped with a little more mozzarella.  I was trying to make a calzone, but I hadn’t left quite enough dough for crimping.  I rolled the dough-and-toppings like a small burrito, and baked it for 15 minutes.  Not quite golden at that point, I gave it another 3.  Three more after that, and it was perfect.

During those last 6 minutes, I sautéed some vegetables: asparagus, grape tomatoes, and mushrooms.  That seemed more-than-vaguely Italian, and warmer than a salad. With the wintry mess outside, I wanted no cold food.

We watched the pilot episode of The West Wing during dinner. We’ve both seen it many times.  “I love these people!” she said, as CJ fell off a treadmill. We giggled as Sam revealed that he knew nothing about the history of the White House, and marveled at the strength of President Bartlet’s first entrance. We’ll go back to working our way through Alias sometime, but there are days when suspense and cartoonish violence should not be on the menu.

The calzone might have burned.  We might have had a driving accident in the snow. One of us might hurt the other with a flinching elbow or a careless word. Bad news or a TV story might lead to nightmares. Nothing in life is a sure thing.  But we go slowly and carefully, avoiding unnecessary risk, finding joy where we can, drinking lots of water, eating our vegetables. So far, so good.

Fruit Filling

It’s easy enough to stick a piece of fruit in a lunch bag or briefcase.  But it’s also easy enough to ignore it, or to decide it’s too hard to eat at work. After all, if you take a bite out of an apple or pear or peach, you’re committed to eating the whole thing at once or making a juicy mess of your desk. Berries aren’t really meant for eating-out-of-hand. Slicing a banana before it’s been peeled is fun, but hard to eat without a fork or spoon. Clementines are easy to peel, but oranges are even messier than August peaches.

I quartered and cored an apple one day and put it in a plastic bag, thinking it might make things easier: not exactly one-bite snacks, but close. Even sprinkled with lemon juice, it browned. I needed a way to keep the segments together.

Peanut butter.

It’s one of her favorite foods. It has a little extra protein, and the ingredient list on the brand we usually buy is blissfully short: peanuts and salt.

The peanut butter wasn’t quite adhesive enough to hold the quarters in place, but a rubber band around it was. Tuck the whole thing in a plastic bag, squeeze out as much air as possible, and you’re off. It was, from dinnertime reports, among the best afternoon snacks in the history of food.

We’re reasonably healthy eaters, holding strictly to a policy of “All things in moderation, including moderation.” But it is a bit of a challenge to get fruit and vegetables into our diet–even including “stealth vegetables” like the zucchini in a quick bread. Besides, if you include chocolate chips in the zucchini bread it’s pretty hard to make the claim of healthfulness. But an apple a day–even one that takes a multi-step process to prepare–is a good thing.

Bring home the plastic bag and rubber band to wash and reuse another day, of course.

Sure, it's a little fussy.  But even before coffee, I can usually get one of these assembled in a minute-thirty.

Sure, it’s a little fussy.
But even before coffee, I can usually get one of these assembled in a minute-thirty.