Tag Archives: Seafood

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…


His and Hers

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We got a late start this morning, so I didn’t get a photo of her lunch before she had to leave.

As we pulled into the market to gather some greens, I noticed the giant electronic sign displaying specials.

“You really don’t like tuna,” I said with a bit of a sigh.  I meant the good stuff, not the canned kind that might be suitable for glopping up with mayonnaise or feeding to the cats; Not only was it a terrific price, the fishmonger was cutting it to order.

“No,” she said apologetically, “but you should get some for you. I’ll be happy with boxed macaroni and cheese.” I frowned at that thought. I don’t want to cook something for myself that she won’t eat.

But by the time we reached the seafood area, I had an change of heart. I picked up a cod filet for her, and a tuna steak for me–two portions worth: dinner, and a near-future lunch for each of us. We continued our afternoon of errands and chores, starting to clear out the rented storage unit and bring the things we really mean to keep into our newly-finished and convenient-to-use attic space.

Half an hour before dinnertime, I portioned the cod and made packets for baking, each filet resting on a little bed of trimmed green beans, sprinkled with some dill, salt and pepper, a bit of olive oil and a slice of lemon. 20 minutes in a 400F oven, and it would be perfect. Meanwhile, the tuna hung out on the counter to come to room-temp.

When the cod had 5 minutes to go, I heated a skillet and set an inch of salted water to boil in a saucepan. I sprinkled the tuna with salt, pepper, and chili powder, and cleaned some broccoli. The stems went into the water first; a drizzle of oil went into the skillet. The florets joined the stems, and the tuna started searing–a minute-thirty on each side and it was just the way I wanted: blackened outside, rare inside.

We frequently have different things for breakfast or lunch. When we’re at a restaurant, it’s not odd at all that we choose different entrees. I’m not sure why I was hesitant to cook different things for us at home. It might not be an everyday occurrence, but I won’t be afraid to do it again.

 

Not So Fast

IMG_0092Although my Lenten Friday lunch was delicious and made from ingredients-on-hand, it didn’t mean I had no intention of not buying groceries or cooking something wonderful, or even going out for dinner sometime. Especially since it was the Friday before our first Valentine’s Day as newlyweds–and doubly-especially since my Valentine’s Day itself was overscheduled with church, a condo association meeting, and a long evening rehearsal.

I left my office when she left hers, and headed out to do some marketing. (Her commute is much longer than mine; I knew it allowed for errands.) By the time her train was approaching the station, I had developed a dinner idea and sourced the few ingredients I knew we didn’t have–and found and installed a new bathroom shower-head (her real Valentine’s surprise).

While she decompressed from the workday and warmed up from the frigid outdoors, I cleaned a half-pound of shrimp, then tossed the shrimp with the juice of a lime, a pinch each of salt and chili powder, and a shot of tequila. While the shrimp marinated, I grated some cheese, chopped a handful of cilantro, mashed an avocado, and found a jar of her excellent salsa in the cupboard.

She made a salad while I gave the shrimp few moments in a hot cast-iron skillet–seriously moments; it was maybe a minute-thirty tops. I chopped the shrimp roughly and started making assembling quesadillas. A tortilla, some grated cheese, a bit of shrimp, a little more cheese, a second tortilla; flip carefully to lightly brown the second side and melt the rest of the cheese.  I slid the finished product onto a plate and stashed it in a warm oven while I repeated the process, then sliced each double-disc of cheesy, shrimpy goodness into wedges, and plated the wedges with dabs of avocado, sour creme, and salsa for topping.

She took a bite and mmmmmmmdd pretty expansively. I took that as a good sign. “Dinner’s okay?” I asked. “Omigod,” she said. Leaving theology out of it, I joked, “It’s just a grilled cheese sandwich.”

“It is not just a grilled cheese sandwich.”

“Well, no. There’s seafood. And a white sauce. It’s just a few breadcrumbs away from being a McDonald’s Filet-o-Fish!” She grimaced.

Of course, it wasn’t really that either. But it wasn’t much harder to make than it would be to get a fish sandwich from a drive-through. And it was much better.

It wasn’t fasting, and it wasn’t fast food. There wasn’t much of the sacrificial about this meal—abstinence in name only, but we never said we’d be ascetic. We were grateful to be well-fed, and grateful to be together.

 

 

Something Old, Something New

Midweek date nights are challenging when they involve a long commute home, but it was the Wednesday before a long weekend. There could be a Thursday morning sleep-in if necessary. I bought theatre tickets and she made the dinner reservation.

Pongsri is a small, family run restaurant chain that began in 1972. There are three locations in Manhattan, and the original in Bangkok. We chose the one on 47th St. in Midtown.  It would be nice to travel to home base, but we had theatre tickets nearby; dinner between work and theatre almost always means choosing by proximity. I’ve probably walked past this restaurant a hundred times without noticing. The sign out front is old and not a bit flashy; the dining room–a step below street level–is small and far from lavish. I hoped this meant that their emphasis was on the kitchen.

The menu was dauntingly long, but I picked a page–“Pongsri specialties” seemed like a good one–and limited myself to it. I wanted vegetables, but not exclusively. Pra-Ram-Long-Song—shrimp served “on a bed of broccoli”—was exactly what I was looking for. The shrimp was tender, the broccoli perfectly crisp, and the spicy-sweet peanut curry sauce was wonderful. She wanted beef, and tried Nya-Yang-Sa-Tay. Sliced steak with a cucumber salad. The “house special” peanut sauce on her steak was the same terrific stuff that accompanied my shrimp. No complaints there. We skipped appetizers, shared both entrees, and were too content with both to want dessert. If this is what Thai “home cooking” might be like, it makes me want to travel there.

On the way to Pongsri, I passed lots of businesses with flashier signage. Thinking about names, and flashy signs, I asked her: “If this kitchen staff opened a catering company that specialized in wedding banquets, would they call it Thai the Knot?” She laughed, and a companionable walk around the block brought us to the theatre.

As a cheerful usher brought us to our seats, my mouth dropped. Fifth row center for a Broadway musical. “Well, this will do,” I said, and she laughed again. We seldom know where we’re going to sit, since most of our theatre tickets come through a terrific organization that sells discounted seats to theatre professionals and educators. In exchange for the great prices, the theatre gives you whatever seats they can. Usually it’s on the side of the orchestra section, or in the mezzanine; seldom is a location this perfect.

It Shoulda Been You is a show created and co-written by a composer friend of mine. She developed it in a somewhat unusual way. After a series of weddings she’d attended at which guests behaved very oddly, she asked a bunch of her friends to collaborate on a song sung by a wedding guest.  Eventually a bookwriter signed on to help her clarify the story that was forming, then a director, then actors and producers and designers and technicians and musicians. I’ve known about this project for over a decade, but it wasn’t until a Wednesday night in April we got to see the whole show.

It was charming. Delightful. Funny. Heartfelt. Full of interesting music, clever lyrics, and great roles for strong actors. It’s still in previews, so it’s hard to tell what might yet be altered. Scenes and songs can be adjusted almost as quickly as the mother of the bride can change her mind about whether to have a Panini station at the reception. Whatever they do, it’s a show we were glad to see and to recommend.

As for the story itself, well, a musical that starts with a young woman who’s helping to organize her sister’s wedding and ends with the maid of honor in quite a different relationship than she expected with an old friend–let’s just say that we both had plenty to smile about there.

A new-to-us restaurant, and a new-though-it’s-been-in-development-for-a-long-time musical, and we liked them both: it was a perfect midweek date night.

We didn’t see any of my writer friends in the theatre, but they might have headed backstage immediately to give notes to their collaborators.  Or maybe they were in the downstairs lounge doing rewrites.  Or, comfortable with the day’s work, maybe they’d gone out to eat. Maybe for Thai food.

Duck Duck Improvise

We didn’t have long for dinner between train arrival and when we needed to leave to get to the theatre.  Grabbing sandwiches at a drive-through would have been perfectly justified, but I just didn’t want to do it.  There will be enough days coming when that really has to happen.  I stopped at the market to get half a pound of shrimp, which would take no time at all to steam (and in that no-time-at-all, I could mix ketchup, horseradish, and lemon juice to make better cocktail sauce than we’d find on any shelf). As for what else to serve, I figured I’d find something between the entrance and the fish counter.

The frozen section has a new line of international foods. A box of spring rolls presented itself.  These seemed worth a try. I’d much rather have made spring rolls, but this was a corner I was willing to cut. Cabbage, carrot, bean sprout–the vegetable course was covered.

I didn’t think about the appropriate condiments for the rolls, though. They weren’t packaged with duck sauce and hot mustard–which is just as well, considering the packaged stuff probably would have been full of ethylene this and glycol that.  She looked up a duck sauce recipe for me.

Apricot preserves, orange marmalade, fresh ginger…it was a festival of things I’d like to say were in our fridge, but they weren’t.

But we weren’t bereft.

A-Few-Days-Before-Spring Roll Sauce
2 tbsp ginger marmalade, warmed in a microwave for 30 seconds or so.
Stir in
2 tsp soy sauce
2 tsp orange juice, fresh-squeezed if you have it.
1 tsp Dijon mustard. This terrific mustard is the best I know, but whatever you have.
Sauce will thicken a little as it cools.

The result was not duck sauce, but something that went perfectly well with the spring rolls. It was a little like mixing duck sauce and hot mustard, which is what I would have done anyway. The shrimp probably would have been good dipped in the faux-duck, too.

We ate well, stowed the leftovers, started the dishwasher, and were on our way to a lovely production of a sweet, funny, romantic musical at a theatre built from converted barn. We love New York theatre, but there is something to be said for being able to have dinner at home and still make curtain. Especially when dinner was this good.

Scary Good

There won’t be a photograph of the meal in this story. As part of a study on smartphone use and creativity, yesterday’s challenge was to take no photographs. Alas.

She started making a pot of grits; as they sat on low heat, she headed upstairs to change out of work clothes, calling over her shoulder, “Can we watch another Sherlock with dinner?” This seemed like a fine idea to me. The evening was set.

I sweated some onion, celery, and carrot in a little butter, then removed the vegetables, added a little oil and flour to the pan and made a brown roux. Meanwhile, I pulled the tails off some shrimp I’d already steamed, and thawed some duck stock we’d had in the freezer–

Seriously.  Leftover shrimp and frozen homemade duck stock. We’re not ridiculous yuppie-snob foodies. We buy good ingredients when they’re at a good price, and use every bit of them.

–and, in another pan, sautéed some mushrooms and grape tomatoes.

When the roux was a hearty-looking medium brown, I sprinkled in a little cajun seasoning, cranked the heat, added a ladleful of stock, and whisked.  The miracle of roux turning stock into a smooth gravy never ceases to amaze me.  I added more stock; the sauce came apart and then smoothed again almost instantly.  A third ladleful would be plenty.  A dab of dijon mustard, a little salt and pepper, and the vegetables joined the sauce; then, finally, the shrimp, which needed only a moment to warm. (If the shrimp had been raw they’d have needed only a couple minutes of cooking time.)

A warm bowl, a little pile of creamy grits, a scoop of shrimp and gravy, perhaps a sprinkling of sharp cheese on top; mushrooms and tomatoes alongside. It was kind of perfect, I thought.

Sadly, she disagreed. Maybe the it was the stock; duck isn’t her favorite. Maybe the seasoning was off. Maybe she just wasn’t in as much of a shrimp-and-grits mood as she’d thought. Or maybe she was too tense to enjoy dinner.

We don’t watch a lot of TV or movies, but the BBC version of Sherlock was a new favorite. A lot of people we respect had been talking about it–for several years in fact; we were woefully behind the times. I’d been doling it out slowly, usually taking three days to watch a 90-minute episode. I was confident that she’d enjoy it, but she hadn’t wanted to dive in.  We’re quite alike in that regard; when something in pop culture is all the rage, we both tend to avoid it, figuring we’ll catch up later if we want to. But after a certain amount of being-behindness, it seems even harder to get started. But she was ready. And as I’d predicted, she became very enthusiastic.  There may be very little What’s My Line? until we have solved all the puzzles of Sherlock–or, at least, until we’ve watched this 21st-century Holmes and Watson solve all their own puzzles.

As befits the Arthur Conan Doyle original on which this series is based, the stories are more suspenseful than frightening, more cerebral than action-filled, more quick-talking than violent. And quirkily funny. But there’s enough action, and enough gorgeous, motion-filled cinematography, that the shows have her gasping and shrieking and clenching more than I’d expected.  I knew that horror movies were off-limits for her–which is fine, as I don’t like them either–but I was surprised at how jumpy she got.

Maybe Sherlock isn’t the best viewing for just before bedtime.  And maybe it’s not the sort of thing that engages her appetite.  Or maybe she just didn’t enjoy dinner as much as I did.

It’s a mystery.