Tag Archives: Monday

What the Doctor Ordered

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I’m a healthy guy, generally speaking. I eat a relatively healthy diet, I exercise vigorously several times a week, I don’t drink to excess or use any other unhealthy recreational substances. But, owing to a congenital condition that I won’t bother detailing, I need to have a minor surgical procedure every few months. Every three is optimal; four is passable; five is pushing it; if I wait six months, I end up having to have the procedure done under anesthesia in a hospital setting. Obviously, I try for the three-month interval–sort of like an oil change or tire rotation. It’s more uncomfortable than painful, and I don’t want to be a baby about it, but I try to leave the rest of the morning clear and perform a little self care afterward.

By “self care,” of course, I mean donuts.

Time was, I’d walk home from this appointment by way of a Perfectly Adequate Well-Known National Chain Donut Shop, pick up a couple of crullers and a mocha latte, and return home to sit on the couch with a cat purring nearby and British game shows on the television. But I’ve come to prefer my house blend coffee to their weak and over-sweetened brew. And, once, having to rush to the train station after an appointment, we stopped at a local shop I’ve been passing for years without visiting and discovered the wonder that is the Apple Spider.

A spider isn’t a donut, but it’s made of the same sort of dough, filled with spiced apples, fried and glazed. It’s a wonderful combination of crunchy exterior, cake-like interior, sweet glaze and crisp filling.  I don’t know why it’s called a spider. In some parts of the world it would be called a fritter. In some parts, it’s probably spoken of only in the hushed tones befitting contraband. But considering the Moderation Rule, I’m happy to enjoy one a couple of times a year. Yesterday’s was accompanied (in the interest of dietary balance) by some slices of fresh apple and a wedge of cheddar cheese–along, of course, with excellent coffee, a purring friend, and a single episode of Pointless.

I’m not sure it’s exactly what the Doctor ordered, but it’s what I needed to recover a bit before the rest of a very full day.

Rice, Twice

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“I’d kind of like fried chicken,” she said.

Since I had no time machine with which to go back 24 hours to put some chicken in buttermilk, any fried chicken I could offer would be second-best, and second-best would not do. We were on a late-evening train home; dinner needed to be quick, tasty, and more nutritious than a pint of ice cream and two spoons.

“What I’d really like is rice with Thai peanut sauce.”

She’d had the last of some Thai take-out for breakfast on Sunday and had really enjoyed it. “Okay, then,” I said.

Immediately she backpedaled, I guess thinking I was going to drive around looking for a Thai place that was still open–a fool’s errand in the suburbs on a Monday night.

“Well, that wouldn’t take 20 minutes,” I said, having sorted through what I imagined what other than peanut butter I might need. She asked what I meant. “It takes 20 minutes to make rice.  I can come up with the sauce in less time than that.”

“You know how to make Thai peanut sauce?” she said, as if I’d been holding out on her all these years.

“No, but I can improvise. Find me a recipe.”

She Googled. We didn’t have the exact ingredient list of any of them, but I could get pretty close.

By the time she’d changed out of work clothes, rice was in one pot, oatmeal for future breakfasts was in another, the cherries I’d bought from a fruit cart were washed and draining in a colander, and the sauce was coming together in a big measuring cup.

The timer beeped.  I turned off the stove, pitted a few of the cherries, and offered her the sauce to taste. It needed another few drops of hot sauce–easier to add more than to take some out!–and a little more lime. Easy adjustments to make. The rice was ready to fluff, bowl, sauce and serve.

Thai-ish Peanut Sauce

1/2 cup peanut butter
1 T hot water
2 t lime juice
1 t hot sauce (sriracha preferred, but if it’s 10:30 PM in the suburbs, Tabasco will do)
1 t powdered ginger (fresh would be better, but not that much better; use less if you have fresh)
1 t soy sauce
1 T cream (or, more authentically, coconut milk)
1/2 t honey
1/2 t parsley, chopped

Stir all together. Add a little more hot water if necessary to help thin and warm the sauce. Serve over rice or noodles, with vegetables or protein as desired, topped with a sprinkling of sesame seeds. Serves 2.

I had bowl of Rice Krispies, topped with a little granola and some wonderful pitted cherries. I liked the rice-and-sauce, but we didn’t have much rice–I’m sure I had forgotten to put it on the shopping list–and I wanted something a little lighter anyway.

That’s not true, in fact. We had plenty of rice, but most of it was brown. “It is a perfectly interesting grain,” she said of the brown variety, but it isn’t rice. “That’s funny,” I said, “when I have the white stuff, I think the same thing.” The case of White v. Brown may be taken up another day–or maybe it won’t. Perhaps, as in Creamy v. Crunchy, the Court will throw out the case and tell the participants that they must learn to coexist. If there is Thai Peanut Sauce, the peace will be easily won.

Still, after dropping her at the train this morning I swung by the market. IMG_0068

Festive Enough

I arrived at her office to pick her up for the Big Fancy Theatre Event, and found her nowhere near ready to leave. There was One More Thing to do, and it might take a while.

This is why we didn’t make reservations at a Big Fancy Restaurant before the Event. Odds were better than even that one of us would be delayed. (Smart money said it would be me, but this time it wasn’t.)

I left my coat and bag in her office and ran to do an errand. I returned, showed my visitor’s pass and rode back to the office. Still not finished. I proposed going around the corner to a Pretty Good Burger Place to pick up dinner. She pointed to her desk, where her half-finished lunch sat. “Maybe just some fries for me?”

Passing the security desk on my way out (again), I asked the guard if he wanted a burger; I’m pretty sure he was required to decline, but he appreciated the offer.

The Pretty Good Burger place offers just the right amount of choice for me:

Burger or a hot dog?
If the former, how many patties?
Cheese?
Bacon?
Condiments?
Fries?
Beverage?

One patty is plenty. Since only American cheese is offered, it’s easy for me to decline. Bacon on a burger is not a terrible idea, but I wasn’t in the mood. Lots of condiments are offered–nearly enough to freeze me with indecision. I settled on lettuce, tomato, mustard, A1 sauce, and sautéed mushrooms, hoping I hadn’t created a burger too messy to eat. An order of fries and a small Diet Coke completed the order.  I ate a few peanuts from the bin by the drinks counter while I waited, then collected dinner and headed back.  The security guy barely looked up this time.

She finished her project, and we had dinner over her semi-cozy desk–burgers and fries before a theatrical gala, just like last fall. The mushrooms had been pushing it, but I managed not to end up looking like I was wearing the salad bar.

I cannot complain about hearing the words "Almost finished," since I say them all too often myself.

I cannot complain about hearing the words “Almost finished,” since I say them all too often myself.

I’d like to say we strolled up 8th Avenue to the theatre, but the truth is we had to walk pretty briskly to get there in time. I’d like to say, too, that the performance was spectacular from start to finish. There were wonderful moments, and some good-intentioned acts that, to our eyes, missed the mark. Everything was well-performed–from a string quartet playing (and singing) a mashup of a Brahms quartet and the Frozen song “Let It Go” to a female-ensemble version of “There Is Nothin’ Like a Dame” led by Florence Henderson.  When Carol Friggin’ Brady is on stage 8 rows in front of you, you can forgive a lot.

As is often the case, the evening stretched long. We arrived home looking not quite so fresh as when the venerable and exceedingly polite usher referred to us as “handsome gentleman and beautiful lady.” Still, the cats were waiting at the door, happy to see us. Even if the evening wasn’t perfect, we got dressed up, we spent the evening in a Broadway theatre, and we supported a worthy cause.  That’s festive enough.

Blended

It’s February, the thermometer hasn’t seen a temperature above 30 for a week, and the heat pump isn’t functioning properly.

So we had milkshakes.

We’d gone to exchange some shirts I’d bought in the wrong size and stopped to browse in the kitchen section on the way out of the store. Amid all the kitchen implements we had in our blended kitchen, neither of us had brought a blender. There had been talk of blenders at Christmastime, but we hadn’t found one we really liked at a price we also really liked. Although the idea of a high-powered, do-everything machine has some appeal, we’re not convinced we want another large appliance. Besides, we don’t crush ice all that often, and I’m not sure that homemade peanut butter is any better than store-bought.  An immersion blender seems the better option for pureeing soup and mixing the occasional milkshake. It seemed possible that the Cuisinart model we saw was exactly what we needed. The price was certainly appealing. We brought it home, stopping at the dairy store for ice cream, along with milk and eggs–snow was predicted, after all.

That morning, we’d put sauerkraut, kielbasa, chopped apple, and a little caraway seed in the slow-cooker. It was almost ready; there was just enough time to turn some leftover mashed potatoes into pancakes to go along with the kraut-und-wurst, and to sauté a few green beans and tomatoes, just because. It was not a heavy meal at all, but hearty and warming.  Maybe a little more caraway next time; maybe a little celery seed, too.  But overall, no complaints.

Halfway through an episode of Sherlock, we paused for dessert. She is unconvinced that the blender is comfortable to hold, so she scooped the ice cream and poured the milk; I did the blending.  The new machine works perfectly, though I see her point about its handle being a little thick.  We’ll give it one more try; if we’re still not happy, it goes back to the store. As is her custom, she drizzled chocolate sauce down the side of the glasses before pouring in the milkshake. As for Bailey’s or Kahlua or Starbucks liqueur, we passed: these were straight-up delicious ice cream treats with no “adult” components needed.

One might argue that the depth of winter is not the right time for a cold dessert. She might say that’s a matter of thermal regulation: putting cold inside when it’s cold out makes sense to her. If milkshakes make us want to snuggle tighter under a blanket while finishing our movie, that’s a good enough reason for me.

Chocolate shakes in a vanilla kitchen: the new backsplash is installed!

Chocolate shakes in a vanilla kitchen: the new backsplash is installed!

Preparations

The snow has started.

It’s not going to stop any time soon, either.  We’re in for a serious winter storm.  We’ve had barely any measurable snow so far this winter, so I guess we were due. Not much chance it will fall only on the green parts of the world. We’re expecting somewhere between a foot and a ridiculous amount of snow, and hoping that the electricity stays on.

We both came home from work prudently early, while trains were still running and roads were clear enough for safe passage. Since then, I puttered in the kitchen and stocked the woodpile; she did what she does: she’s been writing email copy for a message that will be sent from her work account tomorrow. She helps raise money to shelter, feed, and support homeless children.  What better time to send such a message as to be read by people who’ve already hunkered down, warm and safe in their homes?

The fireplace is set.  The flashlights have batteries, and candles are at the ready. There’s plenty of cat food and litter-box filler. Prescriptions have been refilled. We have blankets and warm clothes.

And, of course, food.

A batch of pulled pork came out of the slow cooker.  She made chili. We’ve got cold cuts for sandwiches. She baked cranberry bread last night, and I have a loaf of No-Knead about to go into the oven, now that a batch of granola has come out. There are baked potatoes. Greens. Eggs–some hard-boiled, many ready for omelets or scrambling. There’s a cast-iron pot and skillet in case we need to press coals into service for cooking.

We probably ought to remind ourselves that there are only two of us, and that we live on an emergency route.

For reasons probably related to the barometer the bread dough was a sticky mess, but at last it’s in the oven and I’m not banging about. Tapping of laptop keys, the furnace blowing warm air, the cats’ fountain keeping their water fresh.  Outside, a plow truck scrapes by occasionally, sounding a little like a low-passing aircraft.  Beyond that, the world is still and silent. When the sun rises we’ll see what’s become of the world, but for now there’s the eerie calm-during-the-storm, the held breath of the pretty well prepared, and the waiting.

Long before the storm

Divide and Encourage

It takes about eight minutes to get to the train station in the morning, and they’re often my favorite eight minutes of the day.  We’re up, awake, and ready to face the world.  It’s time for a quick conversation about a story we’ve heard on Morning Edition, or a strategy session about the day to come. Of course, plans change, but it’s good to have a start.

“You’re having dinner with Rachel on Monday, right?” I asked her.

No, it turns out not.  She’s meeting her colleague for a drink after work on Tuesday, when I work late anyway. “But how would you like…”, she began, describing a performance organized by some of her other colleagues on Monday.

I hardly ever decline an invitation to the theatre, but a friend had sent me a first-thing-in-the-morning email offering a ticket to a concert in which he’s playing. It will be the first time he’s going to be all dressed up in a theatre where he expected his wedding to take place. Although he didn’t mention it that way, I knew it would be a little strange for him to be back there.

I didn’t have to say another word. “You should be there to support him,” she said.

“And you go to support your kids,” I said.

“It’ll be odd to be in different theaters,” I started to say. “Wait, no, it won’t.  It’ll be like, we own the theatre district!”  We laughed, and arrived at the train station in time for a quick kiss goodbye and confirmation of our meeting time tonight.

Of course we don’t own the theatre district.  Sometimes we’re very peripheral to it, and to the work done there.  But it’s nice to think we can both provide support where it’s needed, even when we aren’t together. We show up.  It’s what we do. For each other, and for our friends.

There won’t be Dinner at the Country House on Monday. There’ll probably be a couple of slices of pizza, purchased from different shops, and eaten on the way to different theatres. Or maybe there won’t even be time for that.  Maybe dinner will be pretzels and soda after the shows.  We’ll meet at Grand Central to share a train ride home, and have plenty of time to talk about our very different, very similar days.

Domestic Pas de Deux

Now and again, she gives me an impromptu dance lesson.  It happens as we’re walking along an uncrowded street. She’ll take my hand and raise hers and all of a sudden I’m in mid-spin.  The first dozen or so times this happened, I was as clumsy as could be. I’m getting a little better lately–not so much at the spinning as at recognizing the signs that it’s about to happen.  I hardly ever stumble, and I know she’d catch me were I ever to start to fall. Occasionally, the turn even approximates something dance-like. Sometimes, the lesson is more formal; usually in the kitchen where there’s plenty of floor space for a little waltzing.  We seldom do more than a few one-two-threes, but I haven’t crashed into any furniture or bruised any of her toes. Yet.

She can follow or lead. She’s apparently somewhat in demand in her folk-dancing community, where there seem to be fewer skilled leaders.  I don’t mind following, since she knows what she’s doing and I’m still learning–and I know that both partners in a dance have important roles. She’s a better teacher than I am student, but that’s because I’ve been an accompanist much more often than a dancer. I haven’t quite gotten over my shyness about dancing, but I will.

Fortunately, either of us can lead or follow in the kitchen.  I’ve done most of the leading lately, so I was happy to let her take charge as our holiday continued. She pored over a favorite cookbook and was forming a plan. The object was to make  hearty fare, especially in case we ended up with an unexpected and heartbroken houseguest.  A secondary objective was to use only ingredients that were already on hand. Thus, while happily staying in sous chef position, I suggested against recipes that called for a lamb shoulder, a whole turkey, or a big hunk of beef. Or, for that matter, more than two eggs or the cup of milk that would remain if we reserved enough for this morning’s coffee and tea.

I was a less effective kitchen aide than I could have been, owing to frequent but brief interruptions for chats with our friends in the aftermath of the weekend’s dramatic events. But nothing burned, no knuckles got scraped, and no emergency trips to the market were required. The refrigerator is organized, free of a few items that were unfortunately past their prime and well-stocked for the week. And we dined well.

The skillet rice that is one of her favorite dishes was tasted but otherwise left to cool and packaged for lunches: sausage and sautéed vegetables enveloped in sticky rice, sweet with tomatoes and warm with cumin. Southern Green Beans are nearer to a one-pot meal than a side dish, long and slow-cooked with potato and chicken stock. The recipe called for bacon; we used bacon fat and the last of a stick of pepperoni. It’s not quite the same, but no market runs! Leftover chicken subbed in for a freshly-portioned broiler-fryer; smothered in a mushroom and onion gravy, with timing adjusted to account for the chicken having been cooked already, it was ready in almost no time.  A handful of sautéed turnip greens will be fine accompaniment to a sandwich later today.  The first slices of zucchini bread that may be future breakfasts were a post-dinner treat while we strategized the evening.

Cooking All the Things

Skillet Rice, Southern Green Beans, Smothered Chicken, and Zucchini Bread. The hard part was not eating everything at once.

There was no long walk, as had been originally planned for purposes of errands and exercise.  Instead, the post-half-marathon cross-training consisted of moving furniture and packing some boxes for storage.  A very tall bed (two mattresses atop a foundation, but with no pea tucked beneath) is now in the freshly painted master bedroom, even though new flooring won’t be installed there for another couple of weeks. An improvised padded headboard protects the pretty wall behind it, and the bed’s sturdy cherry frame is dismantled and stowed. The guest room is empty and ready for painting. There’s nothing we don’t really want or need at hand, yet we haven’t put so much away that it appears we’re living in a temporary space.

Lead and follow changed place many times over the course of the day, without tension or stress, as easily as shifting weight from one foot to the other.  A choreographer might have been pleased.  By the end of the long, productive, and restorative day, we certainly were.