Tag Archives: Tuesday

It’s Mostly Greek to Me

Usually when I work late, so does she, or she has dinner with a friend. Sometimes we leave a car for her at the train station, or she takes a cab home; in good weather, she walks. Good weather still seems distant.

I wasn’t expecting to learn that she was on a late train, but I offered to collect her at the train.  And to pick up pizza on the way.

Or Chinese, she replied. Or a cow.

It was that sort of day, apparently.

There was a pizza place on my route. We don’t order take-out pizza very often, and I couldn’t remember the last time I’d been to this place, but it seemed worth a try. (We don’t have a reliable Chinese-food vendor, and I had no idea where to source livestock, much less butcher it.) The small pie looked too small; the large looked too big, but better to err on the side of leftovers. Pepperoni, mushroom, and–since I doubted either one of us would feel like a salad–spinach.

In the time it took the pizza to bake and be boxed, I did most of my post-rehearsal homework. I vented the box a little so the crust wouldn’t get soggy, and made it to the station before she did, narrowly resisting the temptation to eat a slice before the train got in.

We, and our intact pie, made it back to the Country House and tucked in.  We got out plates, but didn’t use them.  We didn’t go to the table. This was an evening of pizza from the box. It felt like college.

She’s a fan of thick-crust pizza.  I like it well enough, though I prefer thin.  This place serves a sort of pan-pizza variant that has a medium-thick, crunchy crust. There was plenty of cheese, and a nice thick sauce. The pepperoni was especially spicy. The mushrooms were canned rather than fresh-sliced, but one can’t have everything.  The spinach, though, that was the real surprise. It was chopped finely and pre-cooked. I guess that makes sense, lest the spinach release too much moisture during baking. It was also spiced, and slightly sweet. Was that nutmeg?

Of course it was. This place serves pizza, but also Greek food.  The spinach came, no doubt, from the same supply they use to make spanakopita.

We probably could have done with a small pizza, but we made quite a dent in this large one, with leftovers for dinner tonight–which, since we’re both working late again, won’t be early. I’m hoping we don’t both have rough days again, but I wouldn’t bet against it.  Since we work in such different fields, it’s hard to compare.  And even if it were easy, we don’t keep score about such things; we just take care of each other. Which, so far, is not an incomprehensible language.  Most days, it’s easy as pie.

Sure, the photo is a little blurry. So were we.

Sure, the photo is a little blurry. So were we.

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.

My Semi-Debauched Life

It had been cold in the office on Tuesday–but my “office” in this sense is a corner of a very large multi-purpose parish center with 16-foot-high ceilings, so it’s hard to control the heating.  If I could move my desk onto a 10-foot-tall platform, I might benefit from the rising of warm air, but that seems more trouble than it would be worth, since the “desk” I use most often is a grand piano. But the “office” was quiet, and I got plenty of work done, albeit done while wearing a scarf and wishing I’d brought my fingerless gloves.

I thought about dinner on my drive home.  She’d had a ham-and-swiss sandwich with caramelized onions for lunch. I had planned to have one, too, but ended up in a lunch meeting with a collaborator–rotisserie chicken over salad greens.  The sandwich seemed like a great idea, and I’d be at home to eat it which meant I could toast the kaiser roll, heat the ham, and melt the cheese.

What would go great with that, I thought, is a nice glass of red wine. 

I arrived home, picked up the mail, found her for a kiss hello, petted the cats, and set about gathering sandwich fixings.

A nice glass of red wine.

I trimmed some green beans and tossed them in a sauté pan with a few carrot coins and a couple slices of potato from the pot roast. I toasted the roll. I set the vegetables on a plate to keep warm in the oven while I finished making the sandwich.  I went back to the fridge for a little mayo, still thinking, a nice glass of red wine would go great with this.

And then I saw a half-full bottle of Vitamin Water.

…or that would be just as good.

I poured half the bottle into a glass, topped it with tap water, put the glass and my dinner on a tray, and carried it up to join her.

Richard Rodgers was, from many reports, a heavy drinker.  Alan Jay Lerner was addicted to amphetamines.  Stephen Sondheim smoked a lot of pot.

And for me?

A glass of watered-down Vitamin Water. Zero.  Not even the full-sugar stuff! Half a glass of nutrient-enhanced kool-aid, watered down because it’s too sweet when I drink it straight.

I’m no Rodgers.  No Lerner.  No Sondheim.  No Eugene O’Neill.  No Tennessee Williams.

I ate a sandwich with a plate of vegetables, I drank a theoretically healthy beverage. I carried the tray back to the kitchen and put the plate and glass in the dishwasher. Apparently I’m no good at the whole tortured-artist thing.

No Tonys, no Emmys, no Grammys, no Oscars.  No rehab. No cirrhosis. Such is my semi-debauched life.

I guess I can live with that.

OK, Eat

The prudent course of action would have been go straight home and to bed after her train arrived: Monday had had a very early start (for a doctor’s appointment) and a very late finish (after a theatre performance). But we were not prudent.  There were some groceries and staples we needed that hadn’t been on sale yet–because we’d made a shopping list from next week’s supermarket ads–so we headed to the supermarket. As we saw the parking lot on the night before a winter storm, we realized it was also the Tuesday before Thanksgiving. The prudent course of action would have been to turn around and go home.  But we still weren’t prudent.  The place was crowded with shoppers just like us, along with those not-quite-frantically snapping up bread, milk, and eggs–because, apparently, the best thing to eat during a snowstorm is French toast.

We found most of what we needed and ignored the rest. Several items we’d come for still weren’t priced as we expected. We’d looked at the right ads, but misread the copy, and some things still weren’t on sale. It turns out that pork loin can be a Black Friday special, as easily as a big-screen TV.

It wasn’t so much later than usual when we arrived home and got everything unpacked, but it seemed that way. Despite just returning from the supermarket we hadn’t planned dinner. Emergency measures were needed: boxed mac-and-cheese to satisfy her, with extras alongside to keep me happy and use some things that might have spoiled otherwise. Even with that simple plan, I was scattered, the cats (who also wanted their dinner) were underfoot, she was working in the kitchen too, and the whole evening felt one dropped spoon from being a disaster.

Although it seemed to take hours, it was really just a few minutes before the gooey yellow goodness was on one side of our bowls with a few bits of sausage and a big pile of vegetables on the other. Our bodies would be sustained, but our spirits needed help: laughter was now in order. A band we like had released a new video, so we called it up on the big screen; one video led to another, and that one to a third, and then I realized she’d never seen my favorite TV commercial and a behind-the-scenes story about the commercial.  We giggled through dinner and the videos, and the evening ended just fine. The next morning’s snow was much less problematic than predicted–hardly worth the French toast run–and our Thanksgiving travel was smooth and uneventful.

They say to eat before going to shop, but I always thought that was to prevent buying things you didn’t intend to.  I’ll try to remember that it can also be a precaution against kitchen crankiness.

Yes, And

“Are you making beef with broccoli?” she asked, sounding equal parts amazed and teasing.

I like vegetables.  Broccoli probably comes in third in my list of favorites, behind brussels sprouts, which are coming into season and filling me with delight and anticipation, and green beans, for which I think the USDA’s recommended serving size ought to be, “Well, how many have you got?”

The thing is, I wasn’t making beef with broccoli. I wasn’t sure what I was making, though.

We’d both worked late, and she was feeling in the mood for something bland, so she was heating a bowl of mashed potatoes to have with butter, salt, and pepper. I was foraging. I’d found a little piece of rare beef and some rice; the latter, topped with a damp paper towel, would go into the microwave when her potatoes were done.  The rice wouldn’t be as good as it had been when freshly cooked, but far from terrible. I figured I’d thinly slice the steak and sauté it quickly in a little olive oil, slice a few grape tomatoes and toss those into the pan, too, and then pour it all over the reheated rice.  Maybe add a little salsa.  Maybe grate some cheese over the top.  It could be vaguely Tex-Mex. It was sort of a plan, but not quite.

There wasn’t anything green, though, and I think dinner should almost always include something green.  But I didn’t feel like assembling a salad. There were some broccoli florets, though. They got a quick steaming along with the rice, then went into the hot pan to brown on their tips, along with a generous splash of teriyaki sauce and a dab of minced garlic. Everything topped the rice, and the lot was garnished with a sprinkle of sesame seeds.

Meanwhile, she discovered to her horror that we were out of butter. “You can check in the freezer,” I said, “but I’m afraid there’s none there.” She opened the door and proved me right. But there was a little bag in the top compartment of the door containing small blocks of frozen cream. (She’d needed a very small amount for a recipe last winter. Not wanting to waste, we froze the rest in an ice cube tray and have been using it, a little at a time, ever since.) “Defrost one of these,” I suggested; “It’ll add some creaminess.” Instead, she pulled an empty pint-sized jar from the cupboard. “No!” she said.  “I’ll make butter!”

She thawed the cream and put it in the tightly-lidded jar, then danced about the kitchen, singing and shaking her jar of cream like a maraca. After a couple of minutes, she stopped, disappointed that her jar wasn’t really well-suited for churning butter or adding percussion to a vocal arrangement.  She poured the only-barely-clotted milk into the bowl of her Kitchen Aid mixer, and sent it to whisk. 8 minutes or so later, she had a ramekin of soft, lovely butter. I don’t think we’ll give up buying it in sticks from the grocery, but it’s nice to know that it’s an option.

The first rule of improvisational theatre is “Never say no.” If you’re playing a doctor in a scene and another character enters saying her car won’t start, you can’t object that you’re not a mechanic. You accept the given information and go forward.  “Yes, and I’ll bring my stethoscope to listen to its carburetor,” you might say. If you’re “enjoying” the sunshine and your scene partner says it’s raining, it’s not “No,” it’s “Yes, and now I get to use my new umbrella.” If you’re rocking your “new baby” and a new character compliments your rhinoceros, “Yes, and she has her mother’s horn.”

Yes, and…

“Are you making beef with broccoli?”

Yes, and would you pass me the soy sauce?

“Oh, no, we’re out of butter!”

Yes, and we have cream and a powerful mixer, and we can give ourselves a science lesson.

“We have to clear the guest room for the painter, and there’s nowhere to put the extra bed!”

Yes, and we can stack one mattress on top of another, and put a pea under the bottom one to see if we can feel it!

You can call it improvisation, and the result is sometimes funny, but really, it’s just two people being as creative and generous and kind as they know how. And a little bit more.

I’m going to be a contestant on a game show tonight–a live theatre presentation, not the TV kind.  The object for me and my partner–my partner whom I’ve never met, of course–will be to write a song on a randomly assigned topic, in a randomly selected musical style. For a musical. In twenty minutes.

You might think, “Well, they did that in real time on TV,” but the music on Whose Line is it Anyway? was pre-determined. Also, those comedians weren’t writing for musical theatre characters, or being judged by writers and directors. I’m a little nervous about this event–about not finishing on time, or that the style won’t be one I’m comfortable with, or that our song won’t be as funny as the other team’s. (Though “funny” isn’t one of the prerequisites, it’s probably better in a game like this to be funny than heartfelt). I don’t mind losing, but I want to do well.

Fortunately, I have lots of improvisational experience on which to draw. And, win or lose, she’ll be in the audience, and we’ll have dinner after the show, and then go home to a very tall bed. Victory could not not be sweeter than knowing that.

Or home-churned butter.

Butter

Confidence Gravy

“Do we have any gravy?”

That’s the sort of question you might dread, if the roast turned out to be more well-done than you’d intended.  But that wasn’t the case.  It was 10 PM on a Tuesday and she was in the shower.

“No,” I called back, “but I’m sure I can make some.”

“Right,” she said.  “Because you’re the kind of guy who makes gravy.”

Well, how else would one get gravy?  There are jarred versions sold in stores, I suppose. She had a jar in the City House kitchen for a long while, but I don’t remember what happened to it.

I’m sure I can make some.

I wasn’t sure at all, in fact.  After Sunday’s Chicken Debacle, I wasn’t at all confident about my ability to make toast, much less gravy.  It got me thinking. Gravy was routinely on the dinner table when I was growing up. But somewhere along the line tastes changed, or at least styles of eating did. We have sushi, ratatouille, and sandwiches-on-the-go, but gravy doesn’t happen all the time.  My grandmother and mother could have made gravy without thinking twice about it, but we get it from the supermarket.

Or not.

While Sunday’s chicken was in the oven, I’d cooked the neck and giblets into a saucepan with a cup or two of water, discarded the neck, chopped the giblets and put them aside. I wasn’t sure what to do with them, but it had seemed like the right thing to do.  Once the chicken finally came out of the oven, I reserved and de-fatted the drippings from the roasting pan.  I didn’t dare try to use them at the time; I was happy enough to have food on the table without the possibility of botching a condiment. But it meant that, on Tuesday night, I had in the fridge a ramekin of rich chicken bits and a container of homemade stock. I was most of the way to gravy.

I just had to look up what to do with it.  Something thickens gravy–a roux?  A–what’s that word–a slurry?  Right, that’s it.  (The internet was faster than a cookbook.)

I sautéed some chopped mushrooms in a little olive oil (because: why not?), added the diced giblets to reheat, added most of the stock and brought it to boil. I barely warmed the last quarter-cup of stock and put it into a Mason jar with a tablespoon of all-purpose flour, lidded the jar, and shook it ’til there were no lumps. I added the slurry to the saucepan and whisked.  And magic occurred.  Well, not magic, but gravy. Silky-looking chicken gravy.

In pajamas after her shower, she came to the kitchen to scramble the eggs that would accompany the grits she wanted for her late supper.

“You made gravy!”

I might have grinned a little. “Where would you like it?”

“Oh,” she said. “I was thinking over some of the roasted vegetables for lunch tomorrow.”

Well, of course.  Who puts gravy on scrambled eggs?

Actually, that sounded kind of wonderful.

I put a little egg-and-grits in a tiny bowl, spooned a little gravy over it, and took a taste. It wasn’t the umami-bomb of store-bought, but gentler—not too salty, studded with bits of mushroom and giblets and flecked with a little black pepper. It tasted like home.

I’ll probably screw up dinner again at some point, probably badly enough that we end up ordering pizza.  But tonight, there was gravy.  I’d like to think Mom and Grandma would be proud.  Or maybe they’d just shake their heads and say, “He had to look that up?”


Epilogue: “I don’t need anything for lunch,” she said this morning. “I’ve got things in the office fridge from yesterday.”

The Night Shift

“How do you do it?” asked her colleague, who’d arrived from Alaska that afternoon.  I asked what she meant. “How do you eat so late?”

We were seated in a Manhattan nightclub, having just ordered dinner before a cabaret performance.  It was 9 PM on a Monday. This wasn’t an early dinnertime for us, but, sad to say, it wasn’t unusually late.

It’s a combination of things. Her commute, door-to-door, is just under two hours.  I’m often working until it’s just time to meet her train. Sometimes we run errands or stop at the market on the way home. And, of course, we both prefer home cooking to takeout.

The problem isn’t a late dinnertime; lots of people eat dinner quite late.  (I’m pretty confident that the performers we saw didn’t tuck in to their dinner until after the show.) The problem is a late dinnertime that follows a long day with an early start that will have another early-starting long day after that.

She picked up dinner for herself on the way home from the train.  I’d taken some leftover chicken and dumplings to eat between office time and rehearsal.  We were covered for Tuesday.  But we could do a little planning ahead.  While she finished the last of a closet-moving project in preparation for the painter who’ll be working in the bedroom this morning, I prepared two dishes for the Night Shift.

Overnight Oatmeal

Bring 3-1/2 cups of water to a boil.

Meanwhile, in a medium sized saucepan over medium-high heat, dry-toast 1 cup of steel-cut oats, shaking the pan to toss the oats so they don’t burn.  When they’re slightly brown and beautifully nutty-smelling, turn off the heat. Add 1/2 teaspoon of salt, shake once more to distribute, carefully pour the boiling water over the oats, cover the pan, and let sit for 6-8 hours.

I used to do overnight oats in a slow cooker, but like the texture of this version much better; the oats are more toothsome than mushy. Better still, cleanup is incredibly easy. The oats simply slide out of the pan, which just needs a rinse and a wipe.

Lentil-Sausage-Kale Stew (adapted from Food52)

  • 8 oz. lentils, picked, rinsed, and drained
  • 4 links pre-cooked sausage, sliced
  • cups stock
  • 2 cups diced tomatoes
  • onion, diced
  • cloves of garlic, minced
  • 1.5 cups sliced carrots
  • teaspoon dried thyme
  • teaspoon dried sage
  • salt & pepper to taste
  • 1 bunch kale or swiss chard 

Combine all but the kale in a slow cooker, set to low; cook for 6-8 hours. Remove woody stems from the greens, chop, and add to the stew 10 minutes before serving.

Red lentils break down more than brown ones. If preparing this dish as a make-ahead, don’t add the kale until heating before serving.

At 4 AM, the aroma of the sausage-lentil stew very nearly caused me to get up for an extremely early (or extremely late) supper, but I decided to wait.

I wanted to point out to her colleague that 9 PM is really only 4 PM by her body clock, and that seems more like a late lunch than a late dinner–but she’d probably had a very early start to her day in order to fly to NYC.  And, if I have learned anything about the employee devotion of the non-profit organization for which they both work, she probably worked late yesterday, too.