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Posts Tagged ‘dinner’

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I was prop designer recently for a show that takes place in a house garage, and the main two characters were an Italian father and son from blue-collar Providence, RI. At one point during the show, the son asks his assistant what she wants for dinner, and the father suggests she get “a ‘One and One’—half meatball, half sausage—the best of both worlds.”

I made the “sandwiches” for the show by rolling old t-shirts up and wrapping them in butcher paper. But the notion of that sandwich, a real one, invaded my waking and non-waking thoughts until last Friday, when I finally made it for myself. I bought the roll, hot sausage, and Fontina (a riff off mozzarella, and a solid one). I made the meatballs and heated up the last of the tomato sauce from last summer’s crop. And of course I toasted the roll.

I was heading in to work another show that morning and it was a great late breakfast. Convention goes right out the window when you have a long and physical day ahead. That dude held me till mid-afternoon.

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The set of the show. The car (an actual 1967 Jaguar sedan) and a few other pieces were provided by our incredible set designer, but virtually everything else is me–found, borrowed, or created. I tell people I’m a professional seagull.

Oh, and if you want to giggle, it wasn’t just a half-and-half kind of day with regard to sandwiches. Theatre life being what it is (read: wildly nit-picky directors and loony hours), laundry tends to take a backseat. On Friday I looked in my sock drawer for matching knee-high pantyhose and instead found one charcoal and one tan. That made two secrets, along with the Italian sub I’d eaten for breakfast.

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Been a bugger of a week. I spent last Tuesday night and the following two days in what I call Election Stupor: On paper I was functional, but in true life was sleepwalking. Worse, I was oddly compelled to keep going, to keep accomplishing things, all while moving through what felt like psychic tapioca pudding.

At the election results my friends and I ranged from shocked to bereft to mad enough to spit ink. Collectively, we were Kubler-Ross’s Six Stages of Grief, whirling round and round like a roulette wheel. The silver ball could land anywhere, at any time. It still can. What a strange, strange situation.

And through it all I learned how much people want to be seen and heard. So many are starved of genuine connection. It’s one of the great paradoxes of our time, isn’t it, that technology can propel humanity’s voice almost anywhere on earth, but that so few people feel heard?

This past week my friends tried to see and hear each other, to comfort, vent, try to find the humor, howl at the moon, and mourn. It felt, for the most part, like we were trying to heal each other along with ourselves. We’re a big-hearted lot.

There are many ways to be fed. And while breakfast, lunch, and dinner fills the belly for a few hours, the human soul craves more, and finds it in connection.

Non-sequitor: I seem to be quite taken with making pie lately. This is bourbon-toasted-pecan pumpkin.

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Had a little fun with the topping. The points look like fangs. I dug it, and I dug INTO it.

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In Louise Fitzhugh’s brilliant, mouthy Harriet the Spy (1964), the heroine insists on a tomato sandwich every day for lunch. In her case, she likes it plain. In my case, I like thick-cut, sweet Vidalia onion, salty cheese (Cotija or feta), extra virgin olive oil, a leaf or two of fresh basil if you can get it (I couldn’t), and an heirloom tomato. If none, or only a portion, of an heirloom is to be had, a tomato from a local garden is a worthy pinch hitter. The above sandwich was supplemented by my friend Charlie, who left an upended crate of tomatoes for me on a bench by his back door.

Tomato season lasts from mid-July through September—a painfully short duration for the addicted.

For the past few days this sandwich has been lunch, or dinner, or lunch and dinner on the same day. If you’ve never tasted a local, ripe, sun-warm heirloom tomato, this admission will come across as lunatic. If you have tasted one, it will come across as utterly sound…and in fact, you’ll wonder what keeps it off my breakfast table. I’m beginning to wonder myself.

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It was a dark and stormy n—well, actually, it was pretty nice out. And it was Friday, I’d had a great day, but then, as it happens, the night suddenly took a turn.

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The culprit.

I’ll spare you any more details than this: I scratched my esophagus on my first bite of dinner*. A few years back I had an esophageal ulcer, and I’m guessing that spot in my food pipe is a touch sensitive. It felt as though there was a musket ball jammed in there. In the morning, after a scary and utterly unpleasant night, my ultra-kind, checks-her-voicemail-on-weekends doctor prescribed an anti-inflammatory and told me what I could eat (mush) and what I couldn’t eat (anything with texture, spiciness, or Things That Are Hot and Cold; namely, everything else).

I froze the dinner I hadn’t finished along with everything in my refrigerator that wasn’t a condiment. Then I went out to eat. I stuck to mush for more than a week, and here’s what I learned. Come on along.

  1. Ripe avocados sliced and tossed with chunks of fresh mozzarella and a little salt does not look at all pretty, but it is wonderful.
  2. Ditto for Green & Black white chocolate. (Wait, this is pretty.) And especially appreciated by those of us who are Day 4 dark-chocolate fiends, and want treats on Days 1, 2, and 3.
  3. Store-made macaroni and cheese, even at fancy places, tastes like warm, delicately flavored glue.
  4. My local health-food store makes a very filling and oddly appealing peanut butter and jelly smoothie. It’s like slurping a sandwich.
  5. Most of the canned soups in the organic aisle that I tried don’t have much flavor.
  6. Yogurt is truly a comrade-in-arms.
  7. I goofed around with my favorite custard recipe and some of the quinces I picked, and made this for breakfast for a few days.
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Maple-bourbon custards topped with quinces poached in cinnamon. I felt better. Go figure.

*Which was such insult to injury. Here I was starving, and I couldn’t do a thing about it.

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A planned life is a dead one. –Lauren Bacall

The Greens

I left on a walk today with no plans on where to go. Like none. Headed a few blocks west and thought, well…I don’t have enough spinach left for my salad tonight. I’ll go pick dandelion greens. So I went to a spot that’s: 1) untended public lands (pesticides unlikely) 2) away from sidewalks (and their attendant leaky dogs).

And did well, as you can see above. Dandelion greens are tenderest and the least bitter when no longer than a finger—shorter, if you can get them. And I have little fingers.

The Visit Home

Then, since these lands are opposite the ballfield where I spent most of my childhood, I decided to poke around a little and see what was new in the old haunt. We kids owned that place, and it was our home. No hyperbole.

There’s a batting cage and a tennis court, plus sometimes people tee off just for fun, much to the irritation of the cops. And apparently the aim of today’s suburban athletes hasn’t improved from days of yore; there were as many balls in the woods as there were old sycamore branches. You could open a Sports Authority.

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Okay, a kiosk.

And I see kids still have offline fun. Kind of heartening.

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‘Kinda loud’ JUST DOESN’T CUT IT.

I wandered to the northeast corner of the ballfield where we used to play an outdoor version of house, on the rough grounds that straddle the gully. It was usually dry, but got muddy when it rained a lot. The spot is overgrown now, and backs up against new houses. But in the day…it was a freaking kingdom.

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New Jersey’s version of Terabithia.

The Poultry

Right up against this corner is a house that—wow—now has a chicken coop? In Interlaken? And here comes a blonde woman to feed them, and—*resist passing out from shock*—I know her?

‘Hi! What are you doing?’ she asks.

‘Foraging.’

‘Oh, okay.’

As if she’s just asked where I got my pants, and I’d said, ‘L.L. Bean.’ But she does raise chickens in the tidiest, sweetest little suburb in the Western hemisphere. So her chill reaction makes sense.

Leslie’s husband makes hot sauce for a living. She’s trained in herbal medicine, grows a lot of that sort of thing, and raises these Rhode Island Red chickens. She ran inside for a dozen fresh-laid eggs for me.

And that’s how I came to carry a fistful of rapidly wilting greens and a dozen eggs through a town that has no stores of any kind. Well…I have had weirder moments in that town.*

The Last Surprise

I was stunned to see white violets (Viola sororia) growing a month earlier than usual. Here, these are May belles. Then I was further knocked out to see a variety I’d never seen before…and I know every flower in this one-horse town. It’s a violet, but can’t figure out what kind. Does anyone know? White with Pollack-esque purple speckles.

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More Poultry

Near the flowers I saw a Canada goose chomping away on grass, and called his attention to the violets. I told him that some varieties taste like mint, but he ignored me. Nice.

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Oh, like plain grass is so good.

The Dinner

Tossed the dandelion greens in with my smidge of spinach. That’s avocado you see in there, too, since I’m still inexplicably obsessed, plus a little bit of cheese, plus red onion, plus olive oil and salt. Didn’t have an egg yet. Tomorrow.

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I ate a massive chocolate chip cookie before this.

*Once I sold blue-tinted 7-Up with my friends from the edge of their driveway. It was roughly the color of Ty-D-Bol. Some tennis players came over for a drink, saw the color, and one of them said to the other, ‘You first.’

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I read that in some communities you don’t dare leave your car unlocked in high summer or you risk finding your backseat packed to the ceiling with your neighbors’ surplus zucchini. Hit-and-run altruism. Or desperation, take your pick.

Despite the myriad uses people have come up with to use this prolific squash*, a favorite of mine today was a Sunday morning staple when I grew up, simply called zucchini, onions, and eggs.

It’s hardly a recipe, really; like most memorable dishes, it was invented with what happens to be around. Right now in New Jersey it’s this.

Slice zucchini into rounds and saute over medium-high heat in a pat of butter or a good drizzle of olive oil. Turn them when you can start to smell them; that’s a sign they’re speckled with brown underneath.

Chop up some onion and throw it in with the zucchini, stirring often until it’s lightly browned. Hit the mixture with a little salt.

Whisk together some eggs and pour them over the veggies. Add freshly ground pepper and some Italian seasoning, or any variation of fresh or dried basil, thyme, oregano, and rosemary.

If you want to get fancy and have good wrist skills, by all means flip that dude over and call it an omelet. Or just stir gently until set through. I like it lightly browned as well.

There, you’re done. Wait! I just thought of this—a shaving of Parmigiano-Reggiano or Pecorino Romano would be incredible.** That’s new.

I upped my game with the dish this year by using local ingredients and it was so good: zucchini and ‘candy’ red onion from Silverton Farms in Toms River. I also sliced in some of their sweet uncured garlic.

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The eggs were from Wyman Farms, from in county. Then I dressed it up even more by making fries with some of the first of Silverton’s itty bitty fresh-dug potatoes, oven roasted with olive oil and tossed with salt. This is breakfast, lunch, or dinner.

I don’t have a garden. But if you do, let me know and I’ll leave my car unlocked for you.

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* I also read people use them as baseball bats—good for precisely one hit, I’m guessing. I need to stop reading so much.

**Caveat: if you’re at all tempted to use anything that started in a green can, please disregard entirely the above suggestion.

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Americans have never been ones to linger at the table after meals. Much more often it’s take off, wash up, on to the next thing. Compare the ants in our pants to the lack thereof in places like France and Italy, where two-hour lunches, with wine, are a scant minimum. Or Spain, where people take after-meal conversation so seriously that they have a specific word for it: sobremesa. These are the people who invented sangria. They’re not itching to get back to work.

The quality of the food and drink counts, it should be noted. (I just read a study in The New York Times that showed a clear correlation between the prevalence of fast food and our ability to slow down—not just while we eat, but across the board. Shocker.)

Even when it comes to proper restaurant food and home-cooked food, I believe people are more likely to stay to talk after enjoying a well-made meal. That’s not to say average food will thwart any chance at good conversation later; it’s just that especially good food relaxes people. Relaxed people want to sit in the moment. They want to make it last. Relaxed people aren’t obsessing with their phones. They like being there, right there. And relaxed people feel safe and satisfied enough to want to contribute to, absorb, and prolong the conversation.

Gathering (after dinner especially) in front of the stove or fireplace—historically, that was the time to share stories. In earlier pre-literate times, when all of the stories anyone knew were told aloud, many, many were told after dinner. Ghost stories, didactic stories, funny stories, tribal stories, hero stories—these were most often told around a nighttime outdoor fire. Beowulf comes to mind again, the oldest literary treasure to come out of England. It was written down sometime before the 10th century. But before that it was part of an oral tradition, told around fires for some four centuries, as sparks sailed upward toward night sky after night sky, thrilling generations upon generations. Some of the world’s best literature is borne of the hours after dinner.

Today, I am happy to report here are exceptions to the scarf-and-split rule here in the U.S. They are all my people. And we always feel closer afterwards.

Start with my sister and brother-in-law and our friends Kim and Doug and their two little boys. Continue with awesome pizza at our favorite spot or one of our friends’ comforting home-cooked meals,* and end with dessert and drinks. Our sobremesa always lasts way longer than dinner.

Then there’s theatre people. We have a tendency to linger not only at tables but in restaurant parking lots after post-show dinners, just kibbutzing until the clock hits the single digits. If you have actors in the mix—and you usually do—add ‘goofing off’ and ‘howling laughing’ to the list. Does it matter that it’s seven degrees out, the lot is a sheet of ice, and we’re all getting up to work in four hours? It does not.

Mind you, we’re not usually contributing to the Great American Works of the 21st Century. (Unless you count fiction; there’s a lot of that :)) It’s typically just garden-variety lunacy. Most recently I was talking in a local restaurant parking lot with three actors who are also brilliant comics. One was having a problem with her Mercedes and was getting no help from the mechanics at her dealership. Given the subtle hints above, which of the below is the likeliest scenario that followed?

a) Thoughts were shared on how the problem could have started

b) Advice was given on how to repair the problem

c) The conversation deteriorated into animated, farcical German accents and much feigned kicking of tires

d) Suggestions were made to try another dealership

Right.

There are many ways to feel hungry, and many ways to be fed. Among them: a good dinner, which nourishes the body…and paired with a good, long conversation afterward, much more is nourished, even healed: the spirit (whose isn’t wounded, even a little?), the outlook (whose can’t benefit from a new way of seeing things?) and the group (it doesn’t need Krazy Glue? Then it always can stand a bit of reinforcement: a laugh. A chill. A sweet reminder.)

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Nutella pizza, Porta, Asbury Park, NJ,

Statement out of the clear blue sky: I created a marzipan page (all the way above) as a portfolio of my work. Visit and enjoy, and if you have any ideas for future designs, please do tell. Wouldn’t marzipan LEGOs on a cake or cupcakes be the grooviest? Now I have to talk someone into ordering them so I can try it out. Totally can’t wait 🙂

*Guys. I’m still dreaming about that creamy seafood stew.

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