Tag Archives: Television

Sprouts and Spies

She worked late, with a plan to pick up dinner for herself to eat on the train. I hoped that meant she hadn’t skipped lunch, but she’s a grown-up; sometimes that happens.

I wasn’t called for either of the rehearsals I’d been expecting, so I worked a while longer on a church-music project, and then headed for the market. There wasn’t much we needed, but if she wasn’t going to be home for dinner, there would be Brussels Sprouts. Or broccoli, if the sprouts didn’t look good.

They looked fine; they came pre-shredded. I would have been happy with whole ones, which I would have halved, steamed lightly, and then sautéed with some olive oil, lemon, salt, and pepper. But the shredded ones would be good, too; I could skip the steaming and make a sort of hot slaw.

I heated two pans–one cast-iron, the other non-stick–fed the cats, and put away the rest of the groceries. Our market makes great burgers studded with cheddar and bacon, but they’re too big; I bought a pair and reformed them into three. Two went into the freezer; one went into the now blazing cast-iron pan. My prep also included opening two windows and cranking the exhaust fan to its “jet engine” setting. I was determined to properly cook a burger without setting off the smoke detector.

When the burger was seared, I stuck it in the oven and turned my attention to the sprouts. Their skillet had a little oil in it; as they started to brown, I added a few drops each of soy sauce and lemon juice, tossed them a bit. I drizzled on a little maple syrup, a teaspoon of water, turned off the heat and lidded the pan. The market suggested sautéing onions and bacon with the sprouts, but my burger had bacon and I didn’t feel like onion.

By the time two slices of crusty bread were toasted, tomato was sliced, and our next-door neighbor had debriefed me of her kitchen-tile purchase, everything was ready–even a lovely cocktail of grapefruit juice, seltzer, a splash of gin, and a few drops of bitters.

She would be better company than an old TV show, but when I’m alone I’ve been making my way through the Jennifer Garner series Aliaswhich I haven’t seen in years. She watched the first couple of episodes with me, but the show didn’t really catch her interest–it’s too suspense-filled for her taste. She tries sprouts now and again, but they’re not her style either. That’s okay; we don’t have to like the same things, and we certainly aren’t going to impose our tastes on each other. The idea of giving her nightmares and indigestion–well, that’s what it gives me. 

So I’ll wait ’til she works late. Sprouts and spies, a burger and a beverage. It could be worse, but I’m ready for her to come home.


Craft Services

Hourglass Sweet Hourglass --my home-away-from-home for a million seconds of gameplay, quite a bit of pre-production time, and many, many Craft Services meals.

Hourglass Sweet Hourglass

On a TV or film production like the big budget game show I worked on, there’s often no practical way to leave for meals while you’re working. Our workdays were gruelingly long: 12- to 16-hour shifts were not uncommon, with no days off. The production site was, as most are, set up as its own little city. This one was built in a former car dealership on the far west side of New York City, with a four-story-tall, open-air set built on the roof. The site didn’t have had all the comforts of home, but it had all the necessities–including a medical station, a office-supply closet that would rival a small Staples, and a wardrobe area where one could get a change of clothes.

And, of course, food.

Catering on such a production is referred to as Craft Services, since the food is served to those who work in the various technical and creative crafts: wardrobe, hair, make-up, lighting, stage hands, camera operators, and so on. From the writers’ office where I worked, I could see the caterers continually replenishing the coffee urns and snack trays, and setting up for a new meal even as the last one was barely finished. Production ran around the clock with a team of hundreds. Some meals were better than others–and, as production wound down, it was pretty clear we were being served leftovers–but overall we were very well cared for. I can’t imagine how large the catering budget must have been, but it was money well spent.

This spring, I’m working for a theatre company that’s producing a big, fun musical comedy. Everybody is working incredibly hard to make the show wonderful. And that hard work is appreciated. Our producer–a cast member’s mother–sees to that. It isn’t Producer Mom’s job to raise the money to keep the lights on, or write the checks that keep the staff employed, but she does whatever is needed to keep things running smoothly. And she feeds us.

On Sunday, I’d had a full morning of church work, and just a little time at home before going back to church for an afternoon service–and then off to the theatre for a long work-through of our show. I wasn’t looking forward to another late night and another late dinner, but it turned out I didn’t have to worry. Producer Mom had prepared a buffet for the company.  The table was bursting with gorgeous chicken sandwiches and fresh mozzarella and tomato ones, as well as homemade spinach, quinoa, and orzo salads with lots of fresh vegetables and dressings as bright as the sunshine I’d driven through to get to rehearsal. And she’d assembled a centerpiece more beautiful than anything I’d ever seen on a Craft Services table. (I tried to get a photo of the table, but the hungry actors and staff devoured every crumb before I could get back to the table with a camera.)

It was a miserable-long day. We all left the theatre bleary-eyed and head-spinny from the work we’d done and the problem spots we’d identified for the next few rehearsals. But no one left hungry.

Even on the longest and hardest days on the game show, I was having the time of my life. The musical I’m working on now might not be as overwhelming an experience as that, but we’re all learning a lot and doing good work that we can be proud of. We’re all grateful for the chance to work together. And we’re very grateful for our Producer Mom and the service she lovingly provides us as we ply our varied crafts.


If you have to have Sunday dinner behind a keyboard, it should be in the company of amenable and talented people–and it should be as tasty as this.

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.