Tag Archives: Theatre

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.

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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.

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.

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.

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“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

It Doesn’t Take Much

A friend of mine used to work in the food business–by which I mean he was an owner of some restaurants in Philadelphia, and had helped Julia Child publish one of her cookbooks. On matters of food I trust his views. When we were working on a dinner theatre project once, and I was trying to wrap my head around the per-customer price of napkins, and getting schooled in why green beans made more economic sense than tossed salad, he said something I’d never thought of: “If dessert is satisfying, they’ll forgive anything.”

Obviously we were hoping never to serve a bad meal, but I took that advice to heart. Something luscious can save the day. And if the day doesn’t need saving–if things are already going well–it’s the metaphorical cherry on top of the seven-layer cake.

But it doesn’t take seven layers, or a gigantic bowl of ice cream, to make a good last impression. When the ingredients are good, a spoon will do.

An inch-square piece of brownie, cut into two triangles. A strawberry, hulled and thinly sliced. Two dabs of vanilla ice cream. A few drops of mulled-wine syrup drizzled overtop. One luscious mouthful. One bit of sweetness to end the meal.

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We never opened the dinner theatre, as it turned out. That town was far more interested in another bar and another supermarket than in what we had to offer. Just as well. I’d rather make One-Spoon Sundaes for a small gathering than a big crowd.

Mulled-Wine Syrup

This recipe can be scaled up, but it’s perfect for using some leftover wine. 

1-1/2 cups red wine
1 tbsp mulling spice (packaged, or a combination of dried spices: cinnamon stick,  clove, orange peel, allspice)
1 tsp sugar (or to taste)

Put the wine in a saucepan over low heat. Put the spices in a tea strainer (metal or ceramic, not plastic) or tied up in a small piece of cheesecloth or tea bag and add to the saucepan.
When the wine is warm, add the sugar and stir to dissolve.
Continue to simmer 20-30 minutes or until the wine is reduced to 1/3 or less.

Use the syrup to top ice cream or cake, or add a small drizzle to a glass of seltzer, ginger ale, or sparkling wine.

Snap, Crackle, Mom

Driving home from the first rehearsal for a new show, I wanted a snack.  I’d had a light supper on the way there, but it had been a long and tiring night. Something crunchy was in order, and maybe salty. Or possibly sweet.

I avoided several McDonald’s drive-throughs and a Wendy’s or two, though the idea of fries was sorely tempting. I thought about the peanut-butter filled pretzels and Cool Ranch Doritos in our pantry, but neither of those seemed right either. If I didn’t figure it out by the time I got home, I could easily enough just go to bed. I wasn’t starving; I was probably more tired than hungry.

Coming into the house from the garage, I noticed a canister of Rice Krispies we’d bought to make Kind-of Bars. (I should do that again sometime.) The canister was too tall for the kitchen cupboard, so we stored the rest of the cereal on the garage shelves along with the extra waxed paper, plastic bags, and Vitamin Water.

Mom worked late a few nights a week when she managed the credit department for a local department store. Dad might have taken her out for a bite when he picked her up after work, but more often I remember her having cereal at the kitchen table. Sometimes I sat with her and told her about school; probably, I had a cup of cocoa or a cookie, too. I never understood the coffee Mom drank with her bedtime snack, but I absolutely got the appeal of the cereal. Crunchy, a little sweet, a little salty, relatively healthful, and quick to prepare.

It was just what I wanted–and I had a bowlful of memory, too.

Okay, so I sliced a little fruit and sprinkled some homemade granola on top. It's still healthier than fries or chips.

Okay, so I sliced a little fruit and sprinkled some homemade granola on top.
It’s still healthier than fries or chips.

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.

Shoots and Leaves (and Two Forks)

“Honestly, I won’t eat that at work.” I figured as much, but thought a little salad might go nicely with two slices of leftover pizza. “Let’s have it with dinner,” she said, handing me back the package as she packed the rest of her lunch. (I don’t so much pack her lunch as leave it on the kitchen counter; she puts it in whatever bag she’s carrying. Sometimes, as with the salad, she’ll pass on an item–“Yesterday’s yogurt is still in the office fridge,” for instance.)

Salads are tricky for lunch-at-your-desk, unless they’re the main course. There’s too much potential for dressing-spillage. Who wants to submit a report with vinaigrette on it–or, worse, requisition a new computer keyboard because Alt and Enter are gummed up with Thousand Island?

Also, she seldom eats salad alone. She “steals” it off a plate we share. It’s my salad; she’s just getting away with something. I’m not sure I understand, but it’s been this way for far too long for me to question it now. It makes things convenient when we’re out to eat, though: she’ll have the fries, I’ll have the salad, and we’ll split them both. (It’s not quite as stereotypically romantic as sharing a milkshake, but probably healthier.)

She brought home a bagged salad a week or so ago, and we agreed it was the best such we’d ever had: kale, cabbage, and carrot, topped with sunflower seeds, bacon bits, and a slightly-creamy citrus vinaigrette. The salad was tremendously crunchy and savory. The bitter greens were nicely balanced by the slightly-sweet dressing. My only complaint–and it wasn’t really one–was that the greens were shredded so finely the salad was more like a slaw. There’s nothing wrong with slaw, but it wasn’t what I was expecting. And maybe shredding the greens diminished their bitterness.

We met at a diner before going to the theatre last Wednesday. Diners with novel-sized menus can be intimidating, but I narrowed it down: since I’d had a sandwich for lunch, I restricted myself to the salad page. I wasn’t looking for meat or cheese. I didn’t read too closely, but the one with cranberries looked appealing.

Our meals came. We laughed. The cranberries were, of course, topping a bowl of kale, cabbage, and carrot. No sunflower seeds, though, and no bacon. Too many dried cranberries, maybe, and the oil-and-white-vinegar dressing was not so interesting as the bagged salad’s. The vegetables were in big pieces, almost the size you’d want for a stir-fry.

I wondered what it would be like to stir-fry that combination of vegetables and top them with fresh bacon, or maybe some sliced sausage. It would really be a main dish. She pointed out that greens become more bitter when heated. She’s right, which doesn’t bother me a bit, since I like bitter greens (and I like it when she is right). We’d want sweetness to balance, like the dressing that came in the bag–or, better yet, one just like it that is made only from ingredients we can pronounce.

I’ll try it some night, and serve it in a big bowl. With two forks.