Tag Archives: Work

The Triangle Dilemma

1P_WC_MainBG_Transition_Moment_07_00011There’s an adage in business that goes something like “You can have it fast, you can have it cheap, or you can have it good–but you can’t have all three.”

The drive-through window is usually cheap and fast, but seldom really good.
A sit-down restaurant might be good and (relatively fast), but it’s usually not fast.
Cooking at home is almost always good, and more often than not cheaper than a restaurant, but hardly ever fast.

This triangle—cheap, fast, and good, in varying combinations—has been the dilemma of our spring. Really, it wasn’t a triangle; perhaps it was a pyramid. Really, it was a Pyramid.

This Pyramid.

I’ve loved this game since I was a kid, and, after many years, lots of conversations, the faith of friends, and quite a few prayers, I was invited to join the staff of The $100,000 Pyramid for the season that’s about to start airing. It was the most fun I’ve ever had working, and I was grateful for every moment.

This isn’t a story in which I geek out about working on the best word game ever to air on TV, though; it’s a story about what happens when the opportunity of a lifetime comes along when I’d already cobbled together lots of freelance jobs that equalled a full-time job: lots of church things, lots of theatre things, lots of teaching things, and enough juggling to make a circus act say “Whew!” (But that’s another game show.)

For most of the last 12 weeks the routine of our days was: get up before 6AM, feed the cat, pack breakfasts and lunches, drive to the train station, commute two hours one way, work a pretty-full day, leave one job and commute an hour to one or another of the cobbled-together gigs (and then sometime commute to another one), and meet for a train home arriving sometime between 9 and 10PM. Weekends, too. On a good day, we’d put something in a slow-cooker. On a less good day, we had some more-or-less convenient food in the freezer that could be augmented with relatively healthy side dishes that we’d batch-cooked or that took very little time to prepare. But since, to be perfectly honest, sometimes the 20 minutes it takes to steam a pot of rice and bake some chicken was just more than we had the emotional fortitude to endure.

There was a lot of take-out. There were many sandwiches. It wasn’t a total disaster. It wasn’t bacon-double-cheeseburgers and super-sized fries from morning ’til night. There were salads. There were vegetables. There were bowls of really good oatmeal.  The choices just weren’t as healthy as we might have hoped.

And at work there were meals from the bountiful tables of Craft Services—catering companies who support the crew and staff during the long days in the TV studio with generous portions, plentiful desserts, and meals tasty enough that you don’t mind seeing no sunlight for 12 hours at a time.

I’m not complaining. I’m saying I have three hopes.

  1. That you’ll tune in every Sunday night starting June 10—and tell your friends and family to do the same—so that we become a big fat hit and ABC has no reason not to renew us.
  2. That I’m offered a chance to return to the staff on that still-hypothetical next season, and perhaps on another show between now and then.
  3. That the pick-up order and the re-staffing happen before I start the cobbling-together for the fall and winter, such that I don’t have to juggle quite so much and have a little time to breathe and cook such that any new trousers I order between now and then purchased because I want them, not because the old ones don’t fit.

But this time, I hope not to have to choose only two. 1P_WC_MainBG_Transition_Moment_07_00011

What I Did for Cookies

img_0121I’m working on a production A Chorus Line, the Pulitzer Prize-winning musical about dancers at an audition. Of course, there’s more to it than that; it’s really about what motivates performing artists in the face of the terrible odds against “success,” at least if “success” is defined as “getting hired.” The last scene of the show before the finale–when we learn which of the dancers is hired for the fictional musical–is a section called “Alternatives,” in which they answer the question, “What do you do when you can’t dance any more.” And finally, when the question is rephrased, “But what if today were the day you had to stop dancing. How would you feel?” the answer comes in the musical’s most well-known song, “What I Did for Love.”

Kiss today goodbye,
The sweetness and the sorrow…
*

I’m no dancer, and not much of a singer, but I’ve admired A Chorus Line as long as I’ve known about it. I bought the original cast album as soon as it was released and practically wore out the grooves of the record. I bought the score as soon as it was available and played it ’til my fingers were raw. It was one of the shows I saw on my first trip to NYC.

Imagine how disappointed I was when, many years ago, I finally got a chance to music-direct a production and it was a terrible experience. I won’t dwell on why that experience was so sour, just to say that I needed more than a little convincing to take it on again.

You know the expression, “So far, so good”? Well, how about, “so far, so great”? The cast and staff adore each other. We’re a week and a half in, and it’s already a beautiful experience. Everyone is working tremendously hard to make this production the best it can be, and to enjoy the process. And it’s really working well.

Hey, wait–I’m supposed to be writing about food!

Last Thursday was my first full-evening vocal rehearsal. Those forces of nature in my cast had to Sit Still and Sing for three and a half hours while we worked our way through most of the ensemble music in the show. I wanted to do something nice for them and bring cookies, but ran out of baking time then. I made sure to leave time before yesterday’s rehearsal.

Cookies? you say. You brought cookies to people who have to wear leotards and tights in public? I’ve seen these folks work in rehearsal. It’s an incredibly aerobic show. They can stand to eat a cookie now and then.

There’s a bakery in the neighborhood near where the old City House was. Their chocolate chip walnut cookies are astonishingly good. They’re also pretty pricey. And it’s quite a trip from the Country House. But without too much trouble I found a recipe that’s produces cookies very, very close to the magical bakery’s product. Screwing my courage to the sticking place (after the Snickerdoodle Debacle), I pulled out the mixer, pre-heated the oven, and got to work.

“Gimme the ball, gimme the ball, gimme the ball,” sings a particularly energetic dancer in a song about adolescence. I thought of him as I worked on my cookies, with the direction “Roll the dough into large balls.” I think, at risk of heresy, that it is possible for a cookie to be too big. Maybe even for dancers. I made these much smaller–a little smaller than golf balls when they went into the oven. They came out perfectly. I packed them for the cast (leaving a supply for my fearless commuter to find upon her return from work), and headed off to rehearsal.

When the stage manager called a break, I set them out.

“There are cookies on the table!” someone noted with glee.

“Why are there cookies?” someone asked.

“Why are there not always cookies?” someone responded, with her mouth full.

“Who brought the cookies?”

Someone pointed to me. I got a round of applause. I took a little bow and blew a kiss to my well-loved cast.

The box was empty about two minutes later. Break ended, and we went back to work on a complicated scene.

There will be hard times to come. This play is hard work. There will be challenges. Frustration. Disaster. But, together, we will work through it all, and care for each other. Sometimes with kind words, sometimes with a quick shoulder-rub or a hug, sometimes with cookies. In the best sense, this is community theatre–not because the actors aren’t getting paid, but because we are a community.

I try not to think too much about what I’ll do on the day I can’t make music any more.

Maybe I’ll bake.

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*This performance of “What I Did for Love” was sung by the cast of this year’s Tony- and Pulitzer Prize-winning musical Hamilton. It’s as pure and honest a performance of the song as I’ve ever heard.

How the Other Half Lunches

Painted in Waterlogue

It’s been one of those weeks–a lot of work, a lot of travel, some dinners out, some very late nights. We haven’t done any significant cooking. I won’t say the cupboard was bare, but I had a feeling it would be one of those Stump the Cook meals where you scrounge around the back of the fridge and hope for the best. We’d both had very long days. Between her work and phone calls dealing with an ailing relative, and my back-to-back-to-back rehearsals, I  wasn’t sure we had the energy to be creative enough to come up with something we’d both like enough to be satisfied.

We were in separate cars, so when we left choir practice she went home to feed the cats–I’m not sure what it says about us that we made sure there was plenty of cat food in the house!–and I headed to forage.

I went to Subway. It might not be a fine-dining experience, but it would be fine. There are worse options, certainly.

I looked at the menu board with thoughts of choosing a foot-long sandwich to share, and then decided to make lunch easy, too. I ordered two foot-longs, quite different. Sandwich #1 was rotisserie chicken with provolone, lettuce, and pickle on Italian bread. #2 was pastrami on whole wheat with swiss, spinach, and cucumber. Tomato and brown mustard on both.

I gave her half of the chicken sandwich and took half of the pastrami for myself. I wrapped the rest and stored them in the fridge. She took the rest of the pastrami for lunch, and I brought the rest of the chicken with me.

 

I’m not delighted to have served sandwiches for dinner and lunch, but neither of us had to scrounge in a desk drawer to find a granola bar under the extra staples. I can attest that both sandwiches were tasty, and that’s good enough for now.

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Just Enough

Painted in Waterlogue

The show I’m music-directing has finally opened. It feels artistically satisfying to those of us on- and backstage, and it’s pleasing the audiences enough that the producers have already announced an extension. I’d like to think our production would please the creators of the show, though it might not: although our rehearsal materials include the “Definitive” score, our budget doesn’t allow for the “definitive” 18-piece orchestra. I’ve got seven players (including myself, not-quite-ideally conducting from the keyboard). Rather than a large theatre orchestra with a strong rhythm section, I have thought of us as a rock band with strings and horns. It’s enough; and thinking of the band this way gives me a way to make a virtue of what some might consider a deficiency.

After nine performances or run-throughs in a week, it was time for dinner at home. I sent her an iMessage as I was getting into the car:

Please set the oven to 400 and take the pizza dough out of the refrigerator (unless you’d rather have something else for dinner).

She replied that she had done—and as for the possibility of something else,

Nope! 🙂

She went back to her chores and I continued driving home, thinking about the pizza-to-be. I knew we had a package of turkey pepperoni and an a open jar of sauce. We’d had some mozzarella, cheese but I wasn’t sure if there were any left; if not, I was confident there’d be some other variety. I didn’t know about vegetables, but was determined not to stop at the market. This week had been exhausting; I didn’t want dinner to be ready at bedtime.  Whatever was there would be fine.

The dough had rested nicely on the counter and rolled out beautifully thin. I slid it onto a cornmeal-dusted pizza peel and spooned on a little sauce–just a little. There were olives and onions and a yellow bell pepper; I thinly sliced just a little of each. There was just enough mozzarella to dot the top of the pie. It slid perfectly smoothly onto the waiting pizza stone. I set the oven timer and made a little salad: romaine lettuce, a few halved grape tomatoes, and a little pickled cauliflower. I added a bit of guacamole to some good bottled salad dressing and whisked it into creamy togetherness.

Painted in Waterlogue

A composition teacher of mine says, “When something is good, you must ask yourself, ‘Should there be more?’” Often, the answer is yes. But not always. I’ve disappointed myself with plenty of soggy-crust pizzas laden with piles of cheese, puddles of of sauce, and piles of toppings. Not this time. A little restraint, and there was a pretty perfect pizza and a simple salad.

Over dinner, we enjoyed an episode of Tea Leone Maintains World Peace While Wearing Great ClothesWe watched a second. We considered a third, and then thought better of it; on Sunday night at the end of a long week that was leading into another quite like it, it was bedtime.

There are pot-roast Sundays and take-out Sundays and bowls of cereal Sundays; there are big family dinners and cheese and crackers eaten alone; and there are some in between. A little cooking, a little conversation, a little entertainment. Just enough.

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Amazing Bowl-Grace

IMG_0089The new job is going well, though it’s taking much more mental energy than I foolishly predicted.  There’s been plenty of Dinner at the Country House. There were great pies at Thanksgiving, and a wonderful Christmas Dinner, but neither of us has made time to write about cooking or eating or life.

As my tenure in the in the old job wore on, I felt less and less at home. That upset me more and more, especially since I was there so much of the time, and I’d loved the place for so long. As things got bad, I did what I could to make it feel more comfortable: I had a little bud vase on my desk; I had the coffee mug choir members had long ago given me, and I had my bowl.

The new office is well-appointed, and I was so thrown into the work that I hadn’t unpacked my things right away. On the day of my first staff meeting I was served coffee in a mug bearing the logo of a wine cooler I haven’t tasted in probably 20 years. The idea of that logo in a church office amused me so much I’ve been using the mug ever since, and took the choir mug home.

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On my first Tuesday afternoon before the second grade choristers arrived, I found my bowl and used it to heat some leftovers for lunch. I finished eating, washed and dried it in the little kitchenette, and put the bowl on the shelf with some other mismatched plates and dishes that were used by our staff.

Most days I don’t have breakfast and lunch and sometimes dinner in the office, so it was maybe a week later before I noticed that the bowl wasn’t on the shelf. No big deal, I thought; somebody else probably needed a bowl. It’s not like my bowl had my name on it. I used one of the random plates the next time I stayed in the office for dinner between rehearsals.

But my bowl didn’t turn up. I poked around in various cupboards and couldn’t find it. Maybe the somebody who used it dropped it and it broke. I was a little sad because my bowl and I had such a long history, but I’ve felt so at home in the new place that I’ve been perfectly happy to reheat my occasional working-supper in the container I brought it in.

Between services yesterday, the Rector and I were having coffee. Our spirited discussion of Ash Wednesday theology and comparisons of attendance at our services versus the ones in the old neighborhood eventually ran its course. As we rinsed our mugs in the little kitchenette sink, I asked, “Hey, here’s an unrelated question: you wouldn’t happen to have seen a big white bowl, would you?”

She hadn’t seen it. “But it’s probably in the kitchen,” she said.

The kitchen.

The kitchen where we had cooked 400 pancakes for a Shrove Tuesday supper. The one with the industrial-sized stove, the restaurant-quality dishwasher, the sinfully covetable prep tables.

And the dish room.

It never occurred to me to look there. I’d been working here for several months before I knew we had a kitchen. Shrove Tuesday was the first time I’d been in it, and we were so busy serving pancakes that it never occurred to me to look for my bowl.

I scampered off to the dish room, with its floor-to-ceiling shelves of plates and cups and salt-and-pepper set. And bowls. There it was: a big white dish that didn’t quite match the other big white dishes but was close enough that someone no doubt thought it belonged there.

“I found it!” I told her, with probably only a little more enthusiasm than the father displayed when his prodigal son returned home. She said I should take it to my office for safekeeping, but it seemed perfectly safe to me, proudly shelved among lots of other soup bowls and ready for use.

If, in the fullness of time, I have to leave this place, I’ll check in the dish room to collect it. Or maybe I won’t. Maybe it’s got a new home. Meanwhile, the next time I want to heat some leftovers, I know where to find a good bowl.

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More than Just a Crash Pad (Thai)

The Country House still hasn’t gone on the market. It’s taken longer than we expected to get the insurance companies to decide how much they were going to pay for the water heater accident, which means we haven’t been able to arrange for contractors to come and repair the damage.  Which means the once-beautiful office is now a room we ignore, since it has a bare cement floor, a hole in the wall, and none of the equipment needed to make it a useful space.

But it’s also given us a chance to stop and think about where we really want to be next. I’ve recently accepted offers to work on two projects at The Theatre to Which We Now Have a Deep Emotional Attachment.  They’re both short-term projects, and neither is big enough to support me (let alone us) without other employment as well, but they’re both very worthwhile projects that I’ll enjoy doing. But they’re up here, which means moving down there–into New York City–would make them much less attractive. But she works down there every day, and down there is where many projects I want to be involved with are based. It’s all very complicated.

She pitched a neither-here-nor-there venue from her commute the other morning, a town neither of us knows much about, but which might have exactly what we’re looking for in terms of balancing space, price, and commuting time for each of us. What it wouldn’t have is anything we know. It’s easy to find the best supermarket in an area, and a new favorite Thai restaurant; what’s harder to find are good neighbors and friends.

What I’m really worried about is finding the perfect balance of price, location, and space, and then realizing that we do nothing but sleep there. That doesn’t seem like much will have been gained. So much is up in the air.

But not tonight’s dinner.

After a ridiculous weekend of work for me, and two late nights in NYC with work for both of us, we have determined that there will be Dinner at the Country House tonight.

We watched a Good Eats episode the other day. “Except for the tofu, that looks really good,” she said of the result.

“I thought you didn’t like Pad Thai.”

It turns out it’s just the wide noodles that are often served at Thai restaurants she dislikes. This recipe calls for the very fine ones.

“Well, then.  Wednesday?”

“You can make Pad Thai?”

I don’t know why this surprised her so much. I just hope the result pleases her as much as it will me. I’ve made this recipe many times. I don’t always improvise. It’s a balance of salty, sweet, sour, and savory. Sort of like finding the perfect home. Except the stakes are a little lower: if dinner doesn’t go well, there can be ice cream.

There might be, anyway.

It’s Just a Day

No birthday-feast-at-home cooking means the kitchen stays tidy until the real photographer arrives.

No birthday-feast-at-home cooking means the kitchen stays tidy until the real photographer arrives.

Our birthdays have passed.  I worked ridiculous hours on hers, and she worked a very long day on mine. On both, we spent what little “free” time we had working on the house, since the real estate photographer was scheduled to visit this morning.

Of course, the Creator of the Universe having an occasionally wry sense of humor, that didn’t happen. The photographer quit his job yesterday, and the company he worked for didn’t tell our realtor–so there she was, first thing in the morning, setting out the jars of lemons and the sale-bait throw pillows. I’m hoping that neither cat sheds a single hair between now and the rescheduled appointment–and hoping that the agency keeps the new photographer happy long enough to get the job done.

On her birthday, we had great burgers on the way to the theatre. She dropped me off at the theatre for the matinee, went for a hair appointment, and came back to see the evening show.

On mine, I left my studio to meet her train, and we went for a Japanese performance-art dinner at a restaurant on the way home. We had the place almost to ourselves, which was fun in its own way. We got the chef’s undivided attention–as well as all the flying broccoli.  We oohed and ahhed over the onion volcano, and tucked into speedily grilled chicken, steak, shrimp, vegetables, fried rice and noodles.

In both cases, we got home and finished our chores too late and tired for cake, but we can have cake another time. Life is sweet without it.

It would be nice to have an entire day to ourselves, to celebrate, or maybe just to sit.  It would be nice to think that’s how we can spend our birthdays, but that’s not the way it is yet. Or maybe ever. But a birthday–it’s just a day. A celebration can be deferred so long as the event isn’t forgotten.

While replying to birthday messages this morning, I saw this recipe I’d written up and posted to Facebook years ago.  I don’t think I forgot to cook the fish, or if there wasn’t time for it, or just decided not to. It could be an unconventional belated birthday feast sometime.  Or maybe

Not the Special at Ocean Grill

My meat-and-potatoes Dad would be pleased that I can feed myself, but probably would shake his head at this one.

Pierce a spaghetti squash (about 2 lbs.) all over with the point of a knife.  Microwave on high until tender (about 15 min.)

In a heatproof measuring cup or bowl, soak a handful of dried mushrooms in a cup of boiling water.

Film a skillet with olive oil and set it over medium-low heat.  Sweat in it:

3 shallots, sliced thinly

1 t garlic, minced

1 rib celery, sliced thinly

After a few minutes, add to the skillet

1 carrot, diced

Clean and remove the tough stems from

1/2 bunch collard greens

Remove the mushrooms from the soaking liquid; slice them and set aside.  Strain the liquid to remove any sandy bits, then pour the liquid into a saucepan over medium heat.  Add to the liquid:

1 envelope bonito flakes (or 1 T miso)

1 t soy sauce

Stir to combine, and cook until the liquid is reduced by half.

Cut the greens into thin strips, add to the saucepan; cover, reduce heat to medium-low, and cook until the greens are tender but not mushy (about 8 minutes).

While the greens are cooking, add to the skillet:

2 T tomato paste

1 t balsamic vinegar

the sliced mushrooms

Stir until combined. Then remove half of the vegetable mixture to the bowl of a food processor and puree.  Add a little olive oil and some of the greens liquid to thin the puree if necessary.  Return the puree to the skillet and stir to combine.

Slice the squash in half, scoop out the seeds, then use a fork to separate the flesh into “spaghetti.”  Salt and pepper the squash to taste, and add a little butter (or olive oil, if dairy is forbidden).

Top the squash with the greens and vegetable sauce.  Sprinkle with a little parmesan cheese (or soy substitute).

The tilapia that was supposed to perch atop a mountain of vegetables?  Serve that another day.  Maybe with the leftovers, if there are any.

Not a bit of clutter in sight. Mostly because we're not home long enough to do anything but sleep...

Not a bit of clutter in sight. For the moment, anyway.