Tag Archives: Wednesday

Lunch for the Lost

It was 7:53 AM, and the house smelled wonderful.

Onion, carrot, pepper, pork, soy greeted me when I returned from morning errands: dropping her at the train and picking up the dry cleaning. “Wow, this place smells great,” I thought for a moment, before remembering that it ought to; I made it smell that way.

Daylight Savings Time ended on Sunday. You can call the Winter Solstice the longest night, but I think the first few autumn days of Standard Time are the darkest week of the year. She takes a while to adjust to the time change–most of us do, I guess, but she says it’s like jet lag.

I was at rehearsal when her train arrived last night, so I asked her to let me know when she got home. She found the car I’d left for her, on an unfamiliar block, at an hour that’s much darker than she’s accustomed to. She drove to the polling station to cast her first ballot as a Country House dweller, then decided she wanted fried rice for dinner. Even with the voice of Google Maps chirping from her iPhone, she couldn’t find our favorite Chinese restaurant. She was disoriented and a little night-blind, and fumbled around until she found a landmark, and fumbled more until she her way home from there. I finally received a string of texts:

I am the only person I know who can get lost in my own town.

Now I know where I am. But for quite a while I didn’t. In between Stew’s and the house. Head desk!

It’s laughable. Now.

I got home to find a pot soaking in the sink, an empty bowl and spoon on her nightstand, and my pretty wife sprawled in bed and sound asleep. She’d had boxed macaroni and cheese for dinner. I kissed her good night, turned off the lights, and squeezed in to what was left of my side.

This morning, amid the late-rehearsal haze, I knew the fridge was well stocked:  chopped-up vegetables, leftover pork tenderloin, egg, peanuts, chunked pineapple and lime wedges, soy and sriracha sauces. She wanted to take a slightly later train than usual, so I had time to use them: rice only takes 20 minutes, after all. The veg got a little stir-fry while tea and coffee brewed; the pork and pineapple just needed a little warming and a chance to take on a little splash of sauce; the egg cooked in the residual heat from the savory bits and rice.  Lime wedges went on top for garnish and a squeeze of freshness at serving time.

I can’t always help with navigation, but I can give her pineapple fried rice for lunch. And, when I get home from my morning errands, I get a wonderful-smelling house as a bonus. And, maybe, an un-traditional breakfast.

FriedRicefortheLost

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.

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.

Endings Are Hard

Tanya Barfield’s Bright Half Life is the story of a 40-year-long relationship, from the day Erika and Vicky meet until what well be the last elevator ride they share. Its chronology is shuffled, though, shown in what might be an associative manner–one fragment of conversation leading to another that happened years earlier or later. It was enormously well performed by two strong actresses on a simple set, supported by light and sound design that helped us follow the action forward and back in time. The play was fascinating for 60 of its 65 minutes, but my attention flagged in the homestretch. Since it was clear from early in the play that the relationship ends, late-in-the-play flashes to much-earlier moments diminished in impact. If there was a Crucial Moment that those late moments were supposed to illuminate, I missed it. This particular elevator ride didn’t seem important enough to be the Big Finish–certainly not paralleled with the skydiving scene that was interspersed with it. Or maybe I missed it.

Or maybe the point was to provoke discussion, which it did.  We walked from City Center to Grand Central, considering the production and the play’s structure, the believability of the fictional characters’ relationship, and comparing them to couples we knew, and to us. (We came out favorably ahead, I am pleased to say.)

The last play we’d seen in that theatre was similarly fascinating–funny, creative, and thoughtful–until its last five minutes, when the writer or the director or somebody decided what the play needed was a truly weird finish, like a perfect Thanksgiving dinner where the pumpkin pie crust is made from beach sand and Vaseline.

Endings are hard, we agreed. So are beginnings and middles, for that matter, but especially endings. It’s that last image that stays, the one that lingers as you leave the theatre. Or the table: you can get the appetizers wrong and foul up the main dish, but a terrific dessert will save the day. We weren’t grumpy about Bright Half Life, not even unsettled, but unsatisfied.

We turned down 43rd St., and found Baskin-Robbins still open. We ordered chocolate milkshakes. Nothing too complicated, nothing weird. We got the ending right.

A Dash of iPhone

She is not permanently attached to her iPhone, at least no more than I am to mine.  It serves so many functions: alarm clock, camera, runner-tracker-via-GPS, music-and-podcast-and-video player, text-message lifeline, video device, Internet reference library, email handler…and is even, occasionally, used as a telephone.

She knew that her phone’s battery was nearing the end of its usable life. Replacing the battery wasn’t really a viable option, as she’d been rubbing up against the phone’s 16-gigabyte memory limit pretty regularly–especially with the multi-year iMessage stream between us that she didn’t want to part with. We hoped the battery would hold out until January, when her contract permitted her to have a discounted rate on a new phone.

When such a device works perfectly, it is simultaneously thing of beauty and a thing almost not to be noticed: it just works.  When it fails, it needs to be repaired or replaced.  And when such a device fails on the night before arguably the most valuable fund-raising night of her professional year, replacement must be swift and decisive.

“I’m going to buy a new phone after work,” she said, in one of the few messages between us yesterday that reached its recipient before the battery expired again.

“Why not come home, and we can go to the store at the mall?” I replied, thinking that a suburban shopping experience might be a little less crowded and noisy than the Times Square AT&T store on a matinee-day evening.

She agreed. Her phone died again on the way to Grand Central, as we rushed to meet for the earliest train possible. We made it, by seconds and found seats, but seats without power outlets.  No work for her on the ride home.  No knitting, either, she realized; her sweater pattern was stored in her useless phone, too.

I realized we didn’t have to go all the way to the mall, as there are two AT&T stores in our town.  Unfortunately, both closed early. It was just past 8 PM.

“Ridiculous suburbs,” she said, or maybe it was something less refined. I restrained myself from reminding her how much she usually likes it here. We made it to the mall in record time. Knowing stores would close at 9, we raced up the escalators to reach AT&T. While she waited for a Customer Service Representative, I dashed to the nearby Apple Store to find out what was in stock there, just in case.  (She would, it turned out, have her choice of any iPhone she wanted, so long as it was silver and had a 64-gigabite memory capacity.) I nearly bowled over the young man hawking skin-care products from a kiosk between the stores.  Twice.

I returned to her just as she began a conversation with the sales rep–unfailingly politely and cheerfully, as she always is. But she began with the wrong question, and lost a valuable minute-thirty before learning that no phones were in stock there.  “Thank you,” she said sweetly, nearly dragging me out of the store behind her.

The Apple Store was busier, but the Specialist who’d given me the stock report was free soon enough and happy to see me back. She worked through the phone-purchase process as quickly as possible. I was reminded how much faster it used to be, when all you had to do was buy a phone, any phone, and plug it into the wall.  If Mom or Dad had been there, they might have been reminded how the phone company would simply bring the only phone they had and hard-wire it into your house. What Grandma would have thought, I’m not sure.

Once their process was underway, I turned to other errands: since the case she wanted for her new device wasn’t in stock, I purchased her a not-quite military-grade screen protector; I checked to see if the new eyeglass lens I needed had arrived at the optician’s shop; I picked up a piece of nerve-calming chocolate for her at Godiva; and phoned the Perfectly Adequate Mexican Restaurant to make sure they’d still be open to grab take-out on our way home. By the time I finished, the Specialist had installed the protective film, and we made our way to dinner, home, and sleep.

It was not the relaxed Night Before the Big Event that she’d been hoping for, and it wasn’t exactly the season finale of The Amazing Race, but it was full of twists and turns, setbacks, detours, and delays–and a happy ending. She is now the proud (if somewhat poorer) owner of a shiny new phone. Ingrid, as she calls the phone, carries all of her important information for today’s event, all of the photos that are important to her, even her knitting pattern–and, most importantly, has plenty of battery power.

When the Big Event is successfully completed, and after she has had a long nap and shower, I might even ask call her to ask what the name means. Assuming the battery holds out, I’m pretty sure she’ll answer.

I’m Going to Go Back There Someday

I’ve never been to her favorite restaurant. We’ve talked about it many times, but we haven’t gone there for a meal yet.  It’s a very nice place, she tells me. It’s a place where a meal has a real sense of occasion.

And it’s a place where she went for memorable meals with a person she was once engaged to.

That’s not the biggest reason we haven’t gone to her favorite place. Mostly, it’s because we don’t go out to eat. We visit a restaurant before or after we’ve done something else that we’ve gone out for: to see a show, for instance. Her place isn’t somewhere you go to grab a bite before the show. When we do go there, it will an occasion, not a meal to rush through.  We’ll go there, in part, to create new memories–to reclaim that restaurant for herself, and for us.

We met a friend for dinner last week before a rehearsal. He chose a Japanese restaurant we knew he liked. We liked it, too, and not simply because it was conveniently down the block from the rehearsal space.  We’d gone there after a performance once–with him, and with the woman he was then dating. Subsequently they became engaged, but that relationship recently, suddenly, and very painfully ended.  This was the first time we were seeing him since the breakup.

Dinner was excellent, maybe the best sushi I’ve ever had. The fish was meltingly tender, incredibly fresh, and  perfectly seasoned by the sushi chef.  The addition of extra soy sauce or wasabi was thoroughly unnecessary. I’m glad the food was so good, but I wouldn’t have cared if I’d been served a bowl of Cheerios that had been left out in the rain.

He may chosen the place because of its location, or because he especially likes the food there, but we hope it was because he wanted to reclaim the restaurant as his, rather than theirs. Although the memory of having dinner with a hurting friend isn’t exactly a joyous one, it’s one that we will cherish. We may not always think of this restaurant as the place where he told us what happened, but at least it won’t any longer be the place we went with them.

A Tale of Three Soups

From her train ride home, she sent a message requesting tomato soup and grilled cheese sandwiches.  I liked the idea instantly, even if it did mean the gravy would have to wait for another day.

We stopped at the market to pick up soup.  They didn’t have any, which was disappointing if not surprising. It’s not a market where you can find everything all the time; it has a great bakery, a garden-fresh produce section, their own coffee roaster, a trustworthy fish counter, and a not-particularly-wide variety of excellent prepared foods, but not aisles and aisle of canned goods. On this day, that not-particularly-wide variety did not include tomato soup. We considered some other dinner options and realized that we did in fact want soup and sandwiches, so moved on to the next-closest supermarket–where our tomato-soup options were nearly limitless.  We chose an organic variety with basil and soy milk instead of cream.

She put the soup in a saucepan, set two cast-iron skillets to heat, and set herself to meticulously prepare sandwiches.  I minced the leftover chicken she wanted to include while she spread molecularly-thin layers of the best mustard and mayonnaise perfectly from crust to crust. I’ve never seen a sandwich made with such precision, much less one I was going to get to eat.

The sandwiches were pressed between the two hot skillets for toasting, the soup was ladled into wide-mouthed mugs for sipping, spooning, or sandwich-dipping, and dinner was served: good soup and wonderful sandwiches. We agreed that the soup was a little bland, more like tomato-flavored soy milk. I heated a little bolognese sauce to be added as we each wished. I know that took the soup out of the realm of simple cream-of-tomato, but I was willing to accept the charge of fussiness.  I suggested that, next time, we make soup from scratch.

She looked incredulous.  “It takes seven hours to make tomato soup.”

I wondered how that was possible. She told me about finding a recipe when she was a girl, and asking the aunt she was visiting to teach her how to cook so as to make it. The good-humored aunt helped her slice many pounds of fresh tomatoes, slow-roast them in an oven for four hours, then skin and seed and dice them and simmer them with stock and gently cooked onions and garlic for another two hours, then puree in a blender, and add sour cream and basil before serving.

I admitted that a roasted-tomato soup was probably better than the one I had in mind, but wasn’t sure it was six hours and fifteen minutes better.

Faster Tomato Soup

2 (1 lb.) cans peeled, no-salt-added tomatoes
1 medium onion
1-1/2 T. butter
1-1/2 T. olive oil
A few basil leaves (or 1 tsp dried)
1/2 cup heavy cream

Set a large saucepan over medium-low heat; add the oil and butter.
Coarsely chop the onion, sauté gently until translucent.
Set a strainer over a large bowl, and drain the juice from the canned tomatoes into it.
Cut each tomato in half, then squeeze gently over the strainer to remove seeds, collecting juice in bowl. Discard seeds. (Or don’t; if you want a little more rustic soup, skip the straining.)
When onion is ready, add tomatoes and juice to saucepan and simmer, covered, about 20 minutes.
Add basil, and salt and pepper to taste, and simmer about 5 minutes more.
Remove from heat and add cream.
Puree, using an immersion blender.
Serve with croutons or, better, grilled cheese sandwiches.

I can’t find her roasted-tomato soup recipe online, and she doesn’t still own the cookbook from which it came.  I believe her, of course, about the long roasting and simmering, but I wonder about investing that much cooking time–especially not with a hot oven in the height of summer when fresh tomatoes are abundant–to get tomato soup. Who knows? Maybe it is that much better. Some night we might consider the relative merits of various grilled cheese sandwich preparation methods, too.  And, maybe, next summer, we’ll have a taste test.