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Posts Tagged ‘lunch’

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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Gosh, I hope you’re all braised meat fans, or I’m about to bore you. 🙂
Pulled pork for lunch was my buddy Casey’s* idea (and he’s actually prepared it umpteen times before, and has a fancy-schmancy Cuisinart slow cooker), so he took the reins on that. He rubbed the meat (pork butt, which is pork shoulder, but saying pork butt is far more appealing) with a mixture of brown sugar, chili powder, garlic powder, cumin, cinnamon, smoked paprika, and salt. Then he plopped it into the Cuisinart on a cozy bed, bath, and beyond of sliced yellow onions, fresh sliced garlic, and chicken broth. It dozed in there for a blissful five hours. I know they were blissful because when we sliced off the first piece of meat and tasted it, it was nearly liquid.
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Here it is, singing ‘Swanee River’, in a very happy puddle.

Wait…let’s back up to that morning. Case assigned rolls and barbecue sauce to me. Finding the sauce was easy, thanks to another buddy, Ray, who makes BBQ Buddha Memphis Mop sauce**. The rolls I wanted to make myself, so I used a recipe from my well-worn, duct-tape-spined Joy of Cooking, adding whole-wheat pastry flour in place of some of the all-purpose flour called for. I also tossed in a handful of yellow onions that I caramelized in olive oil.

Every time I make bread I forget how easy it is.

I packed up the sauce; all of the rolls in a half-opened Ziploc (because they were still cooling); my laptop (because Casey also offered to help me design a postcard); and a box of homemade Nutella truffles (to thank him for the aforementioned), and headed north.

We kibbutzed and worked on the postcard, during which it became more and more obvious that my computer skills took a decade-long sabbatical sometime in the ’90s. Then we ate.

I pulled out the fluffy underside of the top of the bun and popped it into my mouth, then I piled on the meat. This is what my sandwich looked like…for about four minutes.

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*Just as an aside: Case’s blog—part snarky, part poignant essays on modern relationships—is here.

**Local guy makes good! If you want to try this, and/or Ray’s other barbecue products, his site is here.

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My fellow stage-crew friend and I like to eat. And to talk about eating. And, often enough, to talk about eating while we’re eating.* Casey grew up in a family that cooks from scratch—hard core. When they make burgers they start with an actual cut of meat. Then they put it through a grinder and spice it to taste. Yeah. He also has a brother who’s a chef in Manhattan, and his dad’s wife is a pastry chef in Brooklyn. Having a friend like this is wise on all counts.

For a couple of years we’ve been dreaming about a banh mi, a sandwich made at our favorite (so far) Vietnamese restaurant (Pho Le, in Red Bank, NJ). The place only offers it for lunch, and the only time we’re both available for lunch is on weekends. That usually leaves lunch before a Sunday matinee…but most of the time we’re too sleepy to go after working a heap of shows.

Yesterday, before the closing matinee of Peter Pan, we quit whining and made it happen.

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Look at that fat wedge of jalapeño! Tucked underneath like it’s a common dill pickle, humming placidly and gazing skyward! Sneaky little poser.

Pho Le’s classic banh mi is at the top of the page. I have a recipe for one from the long-gone and much-lamented Gourmet Magazine, one that has liverwurst ably pinch-hitting for pork pâté.

This sandwich had the real thing: pâté, roast pork, pork roll, head cheese, cucumbers, jalapeños, cilantro, pickled daikon (a type of radish—pure white and mildly flavored), and carrots.

I’d never had head cheese before, but have always wanted to try it. As a lifelong Laura Ingalls Wilder devotee, I’ve read matter-of-fact accounts of offal preparation over and over, so I’m not especially squeamish about it. I did read up on head cheese as a refresher, though, and learned meat from the tongue, feet, and heart are sometimes added to the flesh from the animal’s head.** Only one complaint about this delicious sandwich: not enough of the pâté and meat. It gave me a little taste of the gaminess I love, but not as much as I’d like.

Casey yawns at squeamish as well; he’s eaten far stranger foods. His sandwich is just above and was more successful. It was a grilled pork banh mi, with avocado, pâté, greens, tomato, and the rest of the lovely vegetables I had in my sandwich. The smokiness of the grilled meat sold us both. And the sandwiches, it must be acknowledged, were served on very fresh, toasted rolls. Concentrating on the fillings and mailing in the bread has almost become a cliché in the food business, but this little place knows it matters. They’re right.

We put these sandwiches away while he told me about the snake-bitten production of West Side Story he did in college. Theatre people never run out of disaster stories, and we’re always ten minutes away from a new one. Then we pushed our chairs back from the table and sighed and headed off to Neverland. Two friends, two adventures, one afternoon.

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*BONUS: I just received a fantastic leftover turkey sandwich recipe, and right now we’re messaging about it. This is surprisingly common.

**Boy, if my mom didn’t stop reading earlier, she sure did now.

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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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Last week I asked you all what foods define you, what foods speak to you at your core. A reader asked me about food while traveling, and whether I have any favorite go-tos. As a matter of fact, I do. Don’t laugh—it’s peanut butter and jelly.*

No, I don’t live on it; any of you who have read my past posts on Scotland or Tahiti or the Caribbean know I make a point to stuff my pie hole with whatever foods are celebrated wherever I go. Dinners I eat out. But for the occasional breakfast, when I don’t want to spring for an $11 hotel waffle? Lunches, when I’m so far from the nearest village that the only food option is to climb a muddy hill and tackle a Highland cow?

Highland cows

Faster than I look, punk.

No, it’s PBJ, and here’s why.

1) It’s accessible pretty much anywhere.

2) It’s cheap as old chips.

3) It assembles in seconds.**

4) It lives happily in the backpack for a few hours without refrigeration.

5) The protein gets me down the long, empty roads. Or moors. Or jungles.

6) In the sandwich I make a point to use jam or fruits particular to the locale—currant jam in Scotland, guava jelly*** in the Caribbean, papaya jelly in the Tahitian islands, fresh bananas in Hawaii.

Eating PBJ in general defines me as someone who has no interest in pretension. Eating it as a traveler, it shows how much I love local flavors and trying something new. It also says a lot for efficiency: Packing a sandwich before leaving the hotel for the day means I’m not restricted to how far I can go in a morning. I’ve been to many locales that are remote, to say the least. Who wants to fret over whether I’ll be near an eatery come lunchtime? Packing a pbj opens up the world a bit more, lets me travel by the force of my curiosity rather than by the (admittedly formidable) force of my stomach. No worries; come dinnertime, the stomach takes over again. This is me we’re talking about.

And when I’m home? It still makes a good breakfast, it still gets me through the morning, and I still use local jam or fruits whenever I can, which rocks. Yesterday, though, when I was in mourning for the loss of strawberries that WOULD be in season had there not been a double deluge this past week, I used a whole wheat wrap from Trader’s Joe’s, all-natural chunky Crazy Richard’s peanut butter, and local honey.

Sweet.

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Just shy of two weeks to submit your recipes to me for my project—your regional, homespun recipes, me cooking and gobbling and writing about them. I’m excited—keep them coming!

*You are SO laughing.

**You don’t even really need a knife to spread the goo. Once I used the handle of my toothbrush as a knife when I didn’t have one. Worked fine.

***And I tried to take the rest of the jelly and peanut butter home with me in my carry-on (I don’t check bags), only to find out the TSA considers them both liquids. I had to chuck them. Jelly I can sort of see. But peanut butter is a liquid?

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