Tag Archives: Rice

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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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

Making (Someone Else) a Home

"White. A blank page or canvas. So many possibilities." --Lapine, SUNDAY IN THE PARK WITH GEORGE

“White. A blank page or canvas.
So many possibilities.”
–Lapine, SUNDAY IN THE PARK WITH GEORGE

Getting a home ready to put on the market is a challenging proposition. We’ve done lots of work on the Country House–and had even more done by professionals. There’s been new flooring installed, new carpeting, and new ceilings. There’s new paint everywhere. We’ve done enough de-cluttering to stock several thrift stores, and filled the recycling bin nearly to bursting almost every week.  I’m finishing the last of the electrical work, and alternately being amused and incensed by the thought that a prospective buyer might lose interest in a home that had almond colored light switches and outlets rather than white ones. (Ew, almond!) She’s artfully arranged furniture and stored small appliances in cabinets in a way that makes rooms and cabinets look big and uncluttered. We’ve made the house a blank canvas on which someone else might picture their life.

Until that someone is found, we’ll live as if we don’t live there: no family photographs on display, no dishes left in the sink to wash when we get home from work, no laundry left to fold later. It’ll be tricky. But, yes on the prize, as they say, we will do what we need to do in order to make it possible to find the City House we both want.

This morning, she admitted to being cranky and hungry. She worked so hard last weekend to get the kitchen counters perfectly clean that she can’t bear the thought of using them to prepare a meal.

That stops now.

I put off changing the last outlets and switches until tomorrow, and made a batch of pineapple fried rice that she can reheat in the microwave. I washed the dishes and wiped down the countertop when I was finished.

Dinner is still served at the Country House. Even if we use paper plates and keep our toothbrushes out of sight.

House-on-the-Market Pineapple Fried Rice

Mix together:
1/4 cup teriyaki sauce
2 T brown sugar
2 t lime juice
1/2 t minced garlic
Pour into a zip-top bag; add two pork chops and close, squeezing out as much air as possible. Leave overnight, or at least a few hours.

Remove the pork chops and discard the extra marinade. Dry the pork chops with a paper towel; tuck this immediately into the trash. (Resist the temptation to empty the trash right away; there are vegetables to clean.)

Brown the pork chops in a hot skillet, then set them aside. Add a little oil to the skillet and sauté:

1 cup sliced mushrooms
1/2 medium onion, diced
2 ribs of celery, diced
1/2 bell pepper, in strips
1 cup grape tomatoes

Remove vegetables; add to the skillet and brown slightly:
1 cup pineapple chunks

Meanwhile, slice the pork thinly.  It will not be cooked through yet, and that’s all right. Return pork and vegetables to the skillet, along with:
2 t soy sauce
2 T pineapple juice
2 t ketchup

Toss the meat and vegetables in the sauce until coated, and until the sauce is slightly thickened. Add:
2 cups white rice, cooked and cooled.

Stir a bit until rice is slightly coated with sauce. Add:
1 egg, lightly beaten

Stir and cook another minute or so.

Remove from heat. Refrigerate and reheat when ready. Wash the dishes and empty the trash.

Perch, Pouch, Poach

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I spent most of the weekend perched on a bench. I wasn’t made to sit out a game while the rest of the team played for the championship–although there’s almost no team sport in which that wouldn’t be an appropriate place for me. It was a very busy rehearsal and performance week: performances of a school play I directed and accompanied, Palm Sunday masses at the church where I’m the music director, and rehearsals for a musical at a theatre a few miles north. Everything went well, if not perfectly.  The kids were pleased, and so were their parents; the masses went off without any significant hitch; rehearsals were productive. Lots of time on piano and organ benches, though. By the end of it all, I could not have been more fried if the baptismal font had been full of peanut oil.

Meanwhile, she barely perched for a moment. Now that the last of the major renovations are complete, she’s been working on the house: re-setting rooms where work is completed, making lists of small things yet to be done, storing items we won’t need while the house is on the market, and making the closet transition from winter wardrobe to spring clothes.

(Of course, that last item may have been tempting fate; it snowed this morning.)

Amid all this musical and domestic activity, there wasn’t much time in the kitchen. We took a visiting collaborator out for dinner after the show on Friday–nothing fancy, just a quick bite at a diner before her train back to NYC. I brought home Awesome Burgers after the show-and-church extravaganza of Saturday. It was time for Sunday dinner before we knew it. Daylight Saving Time had kept us going on our afternoon chores until mid-evening. Fortunately, we had a plan. (And, even more fortunately, her afternoon errands had included a trip to the market so our plan could be executed.)

Salmon Pouches with Cilantro-Lime Rice

Preheat oven to 400F. Toast 1 cup white rice in a dry saucepan; add 2 cups boiling water and 1/2 tsp salt. Cover and keep on low heat for 20 minutes.

Rinse and trim 3/4 lb. green beans. Place a third of the green beans in the centers of 3 12-inch pieces of aluminum foil.

Lay on top of the beans a 4-oz portion of salmon fillet. Sprinkle with salt, pepper, and a little dried dill. Add a thick slice of lemon. Gather the foil and fold each pouch to seal. Place pouches on a low-lipped pan or cookie sheet and bake for 15 minutes.

While the fish is in the oven and the rice is steaming, zest a lime, and heat 1 tbsp oil in a small skillet. Rinse, dry, and chop some cilantro–maybe a quarter-cup.

When the oil is hot, sauté a cup of grape tomatoes until soft and slightly browned, about 5 minutes. Lower heat and stir in 1 tsp dijon mustard; stir to combine, then remove from heat.

Remove pouches from the oven and rice from the heat.  Quickly toss the lime zest into the rice and re-cover. Wait 5 minutes, then open the pouches and fluff rice with a fork. Stir in the cilantro, and a little lime juice to taste

Serves two, with leftovers for somebody’s lunch.

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I probably should have opened the leftovers-pouch when I plated the others; the other portions of salmon were more pink and the beans a brighter green–very spring-like. These are probably a little overdone, but they’ll still taste good.

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Cilantro-less rice.

She was so excited about seeing fresh herbs at the market that she bought mint instead of cilantro.  I didn’t add that to the rice, but she put it in a pitcher of rooibos tea.

Rooibus

“But I was supposed to make you dinner,” she said. I reminded her that she had made lunch. And done the marketing. And arranged the flowers I’d been given after the shows. And all manner of other making-the-house-beautiful chores that are much more challenging for me than spending some time in the kitchen. She could do the dishes if she wanted to, but with the fish in pouches cleanup was a snap.

I’m a fan of big, meaty fish steaks much of the time, but this salmon came out sweet, delicate, and very tender. It was the perfect, gentle dinner at the end of a weekend so busy there hadn’t been much “end” at all. This week will be just as hectic, but we’ve built in a break to see a friend’s show on Wednesday night. Tickets are already bought, and we’ve already got dinner plans: no last-minute fuss. Like a little pouch waiting to go into the oven. IMG_0039

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.

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.