Tag Archives: Travel

It is So Green by the Side of the Road

Painted in Waterlogue

There’s a farmer’s market held in each of the villages around here, each on a different day of the week. My rehearsal call on Friday wasn’t until mid-afternoon, so I had a little extra time. I put on running clothes, grabbed a tote bag, and my wallet and keys, and drove to Egg Harbor.

The market there is tiny, as befits the tiny park in which it’s held. Winter was severe here, and it’s been a late spring. Not much has grown to harvest yet. Photographs on offer in one booth caught my eye; I chatted for a while with the merchant, a poet (her sweetheart is the photographer; his work illustrates her books). I bought a scone baked with rhubarb from the garden of another vendor. I passed on the meats at two stalls; even with the Refrigerator Down the Hall, their portions were too large. Somebody was selling maple syrup, but I haven’t been in the mood for pancakes. Somebody was selling fabric goods—some stuffed toys, and some hanging hand towels fashioned to look like sundresses.

The last booth had some freshly harvested greens—“Spicy Asian Mixed Greens,” the label read. “They’re a little bit spicy,” the vendor said, in case I’d missed the label. She said they were okay to use as a salad, but would be even better braised. That sounded good to me. I paid and thanked her. Juggling my keys, phone, and wallet, not all of which would fit neatly in the small pockets of my running shorts, I put the greens in my tote along with the scone, and put the bag in the car.

The little park overlooked the Egg Harbor marina, so I walked down to take a look at the water. It was a spectacular day, maybe the first day that hinted at summer. But there wasn’t much sidewalk near the marina—certainly nothing to run along—so I backtracked, checked the grocer across the street to see if they had the tea I wanted to stock for her visit—7 days 10 hours 45 minutes from, not that I’m counting. There was plenty of tea, but she’s particular, and none of her favorites were there.

I started for home, deciding to run on the trails in the park rather than try to find some not-too-busy route in Egg Harbor. I finished and, tired and happy, drove back to my home-away-from. Inside, getting ready for a post-run shower, I realized I’d left my tote in the car. I trotted back out to get it, reached in and found the scone.

No greens.

I trotted back to the parking lot; maybe they’d fallen onto the floor of the car.

No greens.

They’d fallen, all right, but not in my car. They were somewhere between the farm stand and where I’d parked the car, very likely dropped while I was juggling my keys and phone and wallet and tote bag.

I had the scone for breakfast this morning. It was okay, though not really good enough to be worth its price andthe price of a bag of Spicy Asian Mixed Greens, neither tossed in a salad nor braised.

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What didI do for dinner? I finished rehearsal and went to the grocer—there were some other things I needed. I bought some chard and a bunch of radishes. I washed the radish greens and chard and braised them along with a sliced onion, a dash of soy sauce, some sliced mushrooms, and a couple cups of chicken stock. I sliced a leftover chicken thigh and, while it warmed (and its cornmeal breading crisped a little) in a skillet, I tore some a few strands of linguine and let them heat through with the braising greens. It wasn’t quite soup, it certainly wasn’t a pasta dish; it was a bowl of vegetables with some bits of noodle and chicken. It was exactly what I’d wanted, and completely different than I’d planned. And it was so green.

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Managing Expectations

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I had a scone for breakfast today.

Nothing wrong with having a scone for breakfast; it’s just not what I expected. I’d planned to go for a run, come home, and have a bowl of oatmeal. But that plan got derailed by tasks that took longer than I expected they would. The music for the ad campaign got mixed and delivered to the marketing manager; I got to hear the ad with the voiceover my partner had written and our actors had recorded; and I found my way around a road closed for construction—but there it was, 11 AM, with a half-hour drive to my next stop, and I still hadn’t had breakfast. Oatmeal was now out of the question.

Route 42 is lined with farm stands, bakeries, and purveyors of all sorts of tastiness, so I figured I’d stop at one that looked appealing and find something. I found the baked-goods counter and a marker caught my eye: Cherry Scones, $2. Perfect. A scone would be relatively easy to eat while I drove, and Door County is known for its cherries. This will be great.

It was good, not quite great. It was really sweet. It was filled with white chocolate chips.

If you’re a fan of white chocolate chips, let’s just agree to disagree. To me, they’re nothing more than globs of sweetness. I can see how they might have some place in a scone filled nearly to bursting with tart dried cherries—though I think dark chocolate chips would be even better—but this scone was hardly cherry filled. If this scone were a movie, the cherries made a cameo appearance. Cherries were not the star.

And yet they got star billing.

If the little tag had said “White chocolate chip scone (with a few cherries),” I would have been fine with that. I would have chosen something else, but I would have known what to expect from that scone.

It’s all about expectations. Tell me it’s beef stew, and I expect beef. A can of chicken soup should contain more than a few fragments of chicken. A cherry scone should feature cherries.

So with every bite I thought, “Well, now I want to get some dried cherries and make the scones I expected this to be.”

But that’s a project for another day. There were many miles to drive, and many more errands to run. And then the work to do that got interrupted by the errands, some running, and then a full night of rehearsal.

For a white chocolate chip scone (with a few cherries), it wasn’t all that bad. I ate the whole thing.


(Here’s the music bed for the ad. I don’t yet have permission to post the whole thing, but the music is mine.)

The Adventures of Cherry Pandowdy

 

Painted in Waterlogue

It is beautiful here, there’s no question. But many of us are away from home, and though we are thankful for the miracles of WiFi and cell service that keep us in touch with loved ones, we still need to take care of each other. A theatre company very quickly becomes a sort of family. And thus is was that, on a Thursday that started beautiful and sunny but seemed to threaten something much colder and wetter, while I worked in my temporary home this morning, I used the cast-iron skillet I brought from home baked a batch of brownies to take to rehearsal. I used a boxed mix, but dressed it up a little with some cinnamon, some chopped nuts, and a sprinkle of salt on top.

There’s a character in our musical who courts a young sailor primarily by sending him gifts of baked goods—a walnut cake, gingerbread, cherry pandowdy. One of the actors and I joked that “Cherry Pandowdy” seemed like a great character name for a drag performer. So I left the plate of brownies on the break table along with a note from Cherry Pandowdy. (The note was in the form of parody lyrics to the tune of one of our show’s songs, because if you are a writer who bakes, that is what you do. Or at least what I do.)

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The brownies came out of the pan sort of messily. The actors seemed not to mind. Next time I’m at the market, I’ll buy some parchment paper to aid in removing baked goods from the pan.

It took longer for the cast to figure out who the baker was than to devour the brownies. Clearly I did the right thing. It’s been a long rehearsal week, and it’s not over yet. We all needed the treat.

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It turned out not to rain after all, but that’s okay. We take care of each other.

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The Refrigerator Down the Hall

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View outside my front door. I’m a city boy, but I enjoy it here.

I’m in Wisconsin while rehearsing a musical I’ve co-written. I have a lovely one-bedroom suite in a charming lodge. Outdoors it’s rustic—we’re across the street from a state park! but indoors it’s very pleasant indeed. If you write musicals, and you don’t get a place at least this nice, you should complain to your producers. I’ve got plenty of counter space, a microwave, a coffee maker, a four-burner stove with oven…and a teeny-tiny refrigerator.

Ordinarily I wouldn’t care about the size of a hotel room’s refrigerator; I’d usually only use it to store some leftover take-out food and maybe a soda or two. But I’m here for six weeks. It’s a vacation town, in the off-season; businesses close early—if they’re open at all on weekdays. Rehearsals run late into the evening. And even if none of that were true, six weeks is a long time to survive on restaurant food. And I like to cook.

My pint-sized refrigerator has a decent enough freezer compartment, but its vegetable drawer is laughably small. A quart of milk fits in a holder in the door, and there’s a rack for a six-pack of soda, but it’s just not meant for someone who needs to cook most of his own meals and who can’t get to the market every day. (The irony that She is learning to improvise while I have to meal-plan is not lost on me.)

I mentioned my predicament to the night manager, hoping he might offer me the mini-fridge from a vacant room. “Sure, we can take care of that,” he said. He led the way past my suite to a break room used by the housekeeping staff, which contained a full-sized fridge. “We’re not all staffed up for the summer yet. You can use this.”

Of course, he couldn’t move the fridge into my suite, but it’s got plenty of space, and nobody else is using it. It’s a little like having an extra freezer in the garage.

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So, today, zipping my little mini-cart around the Piggly Wiggly, I shopped for the week—or maybe more than the week. There’s a steak in my freezer (packaged in meal-sized pieces), along with some ground turkey that will become chili sometime soon, and some chicken thighs for which there isn’t yet a definite plan. A dozen eggs. Some bacon, because why not. Plenty of salad greens. Spinach. Other fruit and veg. Hummus. I’ve got this. I will not need to eat pasta or peanut butter sandwiches every night.

I’d made a pot of overnight oats for weekday breakfasts, and, before leaving on the shopping excursion and figuring this would be a busy day, today had a mushroom and asparagus omelet. (The mushrooms and asparagus were taking up most of my tiny vegetable drawer anyway.)

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I diced an onion, some carrots, and celery and simmered them with a quart of chicken stock, a little crumbled bacon, and some herbs. (I brought from home a bin of dry goods, so I wouldn’t have to buy everything here, along with some decent spare knives, and a cast-iron skillet.) When the stock was deeply flavored, I added a half-cup of brown rice and left it to simmer for another hour. The rice didn’t completely lose its structural integrity, but it thickened and fortified the soup—and, truth told, absorbed enough of the broth that the soup is much more like a stew, which is what I was hoping for in the first place. I sautéed some radish greens in the pan I’d used to cook the bacon and had those for a light lunch.

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The store didn’t have any “regular” pork shoulder, but I found a small pre-seasoned package that is in my slow-cooker now (along with more carrot and onion, a little mustard and a little red wine. It’ll do its slow-cooker thing all night, and I’ll cool it and package it up at breakfast time.

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After all the shopping and chopping and stowing and stewing, I went for a run, changed, and took myself out for dinner. I expect that the Coyote Roadhouse gets rowdier on a Saturday night during the high season, but on a late Sunday afternoon this out-of-the-way place was populated by gentle folks enjoying their barbecue and beers and the eclectic mix of music from Johnny Cash to Elton John that played in the background. The burger was good, the service was terrific, but the fried green beans were worth driving a thousand miles for. I brought home the leftovers and stored them in the fridge down the hall. They’re worth walking that far, too.

 

 

Breakfast for Messiaen’s Nephew

Painted in Waterlogue

I had a summer job in a church a long time ago where the pastor had apparently been burned by bad improvisers. “I don’t care what you play,” he said, “but you have to have music in front of you.” I knew he didn’t quite mean that; he would most assuredly have been unhappy with “I Can’t Get No Satisfaction” as an offertory. I agreed to do as he wished, though I thought it was a pretty ridiculous restriction. One day, feeling a little cranky about it, I finished the communion hymn and saw that there were still people processing to the altar. I turned the book upside down and, reading the music as if it had been intended that way, slowly and carefully played the same hymn upside down and backwards.

 

 

IMG_0103She came into the kitchen this morning and found a Mason jar of soup, containers of grapes and pretzels, a hard-boiled egg, and her travel mug filled with tea. “Wow, this looks amazing!” she said. “And you don’t know the half of it,” I replied. I gestured to a baking rack on which four chocolate croissants were cooling.

“You…made…chocolate…croissants?!”

“Well, when a guy can’t sleep he has to do something…”

Then I fessed up. I’d slept pretty well. I woke up once, checked on the cat, and wondered if it was time to put the croissants in the oven. The cat was fine; at 4:00 AM, it wasn’t baking time, so I went back to sleep.

“But you baked them.”

Yes. While I was baking cornbread to go with last night’s chili, I opened a package I’d bought at a national market and set some frozen croissants out to rise overnight. I set the oven to start pre-heating 20 minutes before I came downstairs. The croissants looked awful last night: pasty white folds of frozen dough, like sloppily folded comforters for a dollhouse.  Overnight they’d risen beautifully. I brushed them with a little egg-wash, and baked them while I finished breakfast-and-lunch prep and she got ready for work. It was astonishingly simple.

Out of the oven, they looked exactly like I’d hoped they would: beautiful golden brown pain au chocolat. When it was cool enough to handle, I put one in a paper-towel-padded container and asked her to leave the lid off until just getting on the train. (Personally, I wouldn’t have had the willpower to refrain from eating it on the way, but she’s very disciplined. Also, she hates getting crumbs on her clothes.)

One chocolate piece had fallen out of a croissant on the parchment that lined the baking sheet. I tasted it. “Hm. Sweeter than I remember, but still good.”

My memory was of the pain au chocolat I’d had on my trip to France. The chocolate inside the croissants there was fabulously bittersweet. This chip was better than Hershey’s, but that’s not saying much. The ones she’d had on a trip to London probably weren’t authentically French either, but she said these looked just as good.

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Croissant, safely arrived at the office. 

 

There was respectful silence after I finished the hymn-in-retrograde-inversion. The priest stood for the post-communion prayer, looked up to the choir loft, and called my name.

I am so busted, I thought.

“Was that one of yours?” (He knew I’m a composer.)

“Well…it was an arrangement.” I said meekly.

He loosed a contented sigh and smiled at the congregation as if his summer-substitute organist was the grand-nephew of Olivier Messiaen. “Just like Paris, France.”

My croissant was assez bon. The chocolate was sweeter than I’d like, but the pastry was flaky and light-as-air. It wasn’t as good as if I strolled to the patisserie on the corner, but we didn’t have to take a transatlantic flight. Even Messiaen’s nephew couldn’t argue with that.

Painted in Waterlogue

 

Travel

There’s a song we sing at the beginning of every car trip–well, every trip that’s longer than an excursion to the grocery store. The song is from a musical I’ve never seen, based on a Rumor Godden novel I haven’t read, but I love the original cast recording. The song is great fun to sing as we venture down whatever highway is next.

Take me where you want to go, make it anywhere at all…

A weekend jaunt to Paris would be nice.  Christmas in the Bahamas sounds like fun.  A marathon run along the Great Wall of China would certainly be memorable.  But those destinations and a thousand more are still a little out of reach.  We’ve gone to the theatre many times, visited family and friends, and become regulars at Home Depot, but time, energy, and budget have not yet permitted more extravagant travel.

For my birthday, she gave me a subscription to a service called Taste the World.  Every two months for a year, we’ll receive a package that takes us on a virtual-culinary visit to someplace new.  In addition to food, each trip-in-a-box contains recipes, cultural information, and a playlist of appropriate music. Of course we could go to a French or Szechwan or Ethiopian restaurant, but cooking with the ingredients ourselves seems more fun than choosing something from a menu.

The first box arrived. It’s very classy looking, about 8 inches square and 4 inches tall, pale green in a shade that reminds me of Tiffany blue–but maybe I’m thinking of jewelry stores more than usual these days. We opened the box with anticipation. We’re going to Marrakesh!

The box contained organic couscous, orange-peel cookies, tinned sardines, kefta rub, couscous sauce, and culinary Argan oil.

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The accompanying booklet was filled with poetry, beautiful photographs, a link to the on-line playlist, and a few recipes. Oddly, they weren’t recipes that call for the items in the box.

We put the booklet aside, ported the playlist to the stereo, and figured out what to do for dinner.

The couscous was simple enough: toast it in a dry pan, add some boiling water, cover, and wait, then fluff with a fork.

I was a little disappointed in finding pre-made sauce–at first thought, it seemed like using a jar of Ragu to represent a trip to Italy. But there was a time when tomato sauce was exotic to American cooks, so I tempered my expectations and opened the jar. The sauce was sweet, a little smoky, and a little tangy, tomato-based and fairly thin. Pouring it over couscous alone sounded awfully boring, and not much of a main dish.  She doesn’t like sardines–and after my tinned-fish pizza experience, I wasn’t game for them either–so I pulled some chicken out of the fridge and simmered it in the sauce along with a little onion and red pepper.  Chick peas would have been appropriate, too, but we only had dry ones at hand and didn’t want to wait until morning for dinner.  I chopped some spinach and added it, too–there should be greens! She was concerned that it was such a lot of spinach, but it cooked down to almost nothing in no time flat.

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Dinner was great. Was it authentic? I don’t know. We poured a jar of sauce into a pan and cooked some chicken and vegetables in it. We probably had all the ingredients for the sauce in our pantry, though we might not have used them in the same combination. (Without a recipe, who knows?) The couscous tasted like any other couscous I’ve had–microscopic grains of pasta. We didn’t use the kefta rub on the chicken, fearing the sauce would be too spicy. The argan oil will wait for a day when we have flatbread in the house.

The orange cookies were breakfast on Saturday morning. They’re cute little things, looking as much like dog biscuits as treats for people–dense and grainy, made partly from almond flour, faintly sweet and nuttily fragrant, with a piece of candied orange peel in the center. They were fun, served with a ramekin of whipped cream for dipping. I wouldn’t buy them from a market shelf, but they might be fun to make if we had a recipe.

Based on this box, I’m not inclined to call my travel agent and book a trip to Marrakesh. Based on this box, I might not even be really inclined to order a second Taste the World box. But I do look forward to finding out what’s in the next one, and to where we might “go.” And to where we might go.

As the boat says to the river…

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In the Not-Completely-Bleak Midwinter

This has been a long, cold, snowy winter, and the end seems frustratingly out of reach, still.  We’re tired from the extra hours of fuss and worry and the poor quality of light, and sore from shoveling snow and digging out cars and throwing salt.

But I’m so grateful that the only effects of it have been inconvenience and some discomfort for us and the people we love. We’re warm and dry, well fed and well attired. And we seem to be making a real effort to stay connected to one another rather than to hibernate. To find beauty in this winter land (that can so easily become un-wondrous). To laugh and smile and lift one’s spirits. 

“We should go to New Orleans,” she said. I had a rough time picturing her amid the revelry of Mardi Gras. “Of course not!  But a couple of days eating beignets and drinking Hurricanes…”

I’m unconvinced that there would be Hurricanes (plural), however much they seem like “Red Kool-aid, perfect,” but I could be wrong.

I didn’t feel up to the challenge of making beignets, but there were a couple of donuts in the kitchen, the last of a dozen we bought earlier in the week. They were a little old, even for dunking in our cuppas, but they weren’t too far gone for a little transformation.

Donuts Dreaming of New Orleans

Melt 2 tbsp butter in a non-stick skillet.

Slice the slightly-stale old-fashioned donuts through the center. Toast in the pan, cut side first, about three minutes per side.

Warm and soften about 1/2 cup fruit–whatever’s at hand. Berries, maybe, or sliced apples in a little butter and brown sugar.  I had some chunky, well-spiced homemade applesauce, and that was perfect.

Plate the donuts, cut side up; spoon on the fruit; add a dollop of whipped cream; sprinkle on a little cinnamon and grated nutmeg.

Serves two, one of whom may say something extravagantly complimentary.

The omelets we were planning for breakfast became a very late brunch.

She asked how I felt about stuffed peppers.  I like the idea more than the execution; the pepper flesh always seems slimy when baked.  She had an idea. I chopped some vegetables for her, and she did the wonderful rest.

Stuffed Pepper Casserole
(All the Flavor, None of the Slime) 

In a saucepan, add 2-1/2 cups boiling water, 1 tbsp olive oil, and 1 cup white rice.  Cover and simmer for 20 minutes.  (The rice may seem underdone, and will be a little sticky, but that’s okay.)

In a Dutch oven, brown 3/4 lb. ground beef; season to taste with salt, pepper, worcestershire sauce, and all-purpose seasoning.

Dice 1 onion, 2 ribs of celery, and 1 big bell pepper (2 peppers might be even better.) Trim 1/2 lb. green beans and slice into small pieces.

Push the beef to one side of the Dutch oven, and add vegetables to the other. Sauté until just softened.

Add most of the rice to the Dutch oven, reserving a third of it to make fried rice later in the week. Also add 1-1/2 cups marinara sauce (or a 14-oz can of diced or crushed tomatoes). Mix all together. Cover and bake at 350F for 30 minutes.  While baking, fold some laundry or try on some clearance-special clothes or watch an old game show.

Serves 4—or, at least, two hungry people, with plenty that will be looked forward to for lunches.

Thank you, winter, for being hard, and bringing out some of the best in us.