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The above is what happens when you’re hungry, you’re about to crew an enormously demanding show (The Who’s ‘Tommy’), and you need energy to make it through to 6pm (or later if we’re striking, or breaking down, the show. We were).

I have been wanting to try this newish place nearby, called Broad Street Dough Co., but held off until I had an excuse to consume such calories. This was one. That, and I tend to cast a skeptical eye on this treat-everything-like-a-sundae food trend that’s been going on for some time. Cupcakes, muffins, doughnuts, even coffee drinks have become bases for piling on heaps of candy and icing. It seems mildly hysterical, and is often a cheap way to disguise a poorly-made product beneath.

But I am always elated to support the exceptions, and yesterday’s doughnut was one. It’s essentially a peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwich (with black raspberry jelly), on a doughnut that’s been sliced in half standing in for bread. The doughnut was hot, tender, and right out of the fryer; it softened the creamy peanut butter and jelly and made them gooshy. A bit heavy on the fillings, but delicious. I ate it in maybe four bites.

A place with integrity will be proud to offer their product in the simplest manner, as an ice-cream shop that makes their own ice cream will be as proud of their vanilla as of their Rocky Road. The shortest distance between you and determining the quality of a place that cooks from scratch is to try that vanilla (or the simplest version of whatever they make) first. It’s a rule I made that has never failed me. I’m going back to Broad Street for a maple-walnut doughnut, which looked lovely, and I’m going to try out what they call old-school doughnuts—plain, sugar, and cinnamon—per my rule.

Crewing shows and doughnuts. I can live with this.

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With the Zig Zag (L), at a Red Bank, NJ dance studio.

Some of the weirdest food choices I’ve ever made were made while working a show. Any theatre person can attest to this: there’s something about the combination of a gnawing stomach and having worked your caboose off that steers a person, oddly, toward malnutrition. Counter-intuitive as it is, what’s chosen for a really-late-night dinner is often enough in the orange food group (the fried banana pepper rings with ranch dressing, the fried calamari with Thai chilies) and it’s about as useful for your body as drywall spackle.

Then again, starvation plus long hours occasionally steers a person toward something he or she would never so much as sniff otherwise. Sometimes that’s a good thing. I detested mushrooms up until one day in 1995, when I hadn’t had breakfast. It was 1 in the afternoon, my magic partner and I had been working for hours, and he ordered a Domino’s pizza with mushrooms. I took a bite and pronounced them Not That Bad. The frozen, synthetic crust was a different story, being Domino’s; but again, hunger won out. And now I love mushrooms—any kind at all. If Domino’s ever offers porcini as a topping, I’ll forgive them their crust.*

I worked with this magic troupe for a few years after college, moonlighting as a magician’s assistant. We’d get the gig and start planning immediately. Everything needed to be taken into consideration: the venue, the audience, the amount of set-up time and performance time, backstage space, and on and on. Many of the illusions we used were bought or rented, but a couple, like the Asrah and Sword Basket, were built by a theatre tech who was also a great carpenter. Those needed us for paint, bells and whistles. And for most of the gigs it was just the illusionist (Doug) and me, but occasionally we brought in a stage manager who would help us load in illusions, run sound and lights, help strike (break down the illusions and the set) and load everything out. Many’s the New Year’s Eve I’ve loaded out at midnight wearing sweats and sneakers over fishnets and sequined Lycra, still in stage makeup and fake eyelashes, and with my hair teased out to one of the more affluent Cleveland suburbs.

While magic was some of the best fun I ever had, it was also some of the dumbest food I ever ate. After days and nights spent like the above, we got hungry. REALLY bloody hungry. (And tired. I have memories of going to a restaurant, wordlessly plunking ourselves down into a booth, ordering our dinners, then sitting in silence for the rest of the meal. This is the standard definition of zonked.)

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During a strike.

One of my better memories of dumb food is of going to Ruby Tuesday’s with Doug and ordering a Tallcake. This was taken off the menu a while ago, sadly. Do you remember it? It was an oversize goblet filled with cut-up cake, ice cream, and a few toppings. Doug and I are chocolate people and loved the chocolate cake one that came with vanilla ice cream, chocolate sauce and a crazy pile of whipped cream. It contained absolutely nothing even remotely healthy; I’m sure of it. Everything in that goblet came from a box or a squeeze bottle or a spray can, full of enough chemicals to melt an average-sized four-door Suburu. But (and this is coming from me, Miss Authentic Ingredients) that’s all right. Crap now and again is okay. It is.

We would easily destroy a Tallcake between the two of us after a show or a long day of sewing, painting, or building. Our most shameful hour—or finest, depending on your perspective—was the time we ate an entire Tallcake, then looked wide-eyed at each other across the table, and ordered and ate ANOTHER one.

The strawberry ones were pretty good, too.

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*That’s what it would take. Get on it, boys.

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That’s Dana above, stirring onions for our spaghetti sauce.  She came over yesterday with my other friend Casey, just because we felt like cooking together.

Cooking with these two is new. But working with them isn’t. We’ve done lots of local theatre shows together—not as actors, mind you, but as crew. We’re stage technicians.

Many people aren’t sure what that means, so here you go: During a show, have you ever seen the lights onstage dim or go out entirely…and then you see faint shadows of people moving set pieces on and off stage…people rolling, pushing, lifting, spinning a bunch of things into place for a scene, usually within seconds? That’s us.

Working in close quarters backstage, having to whisper, feeling the pressure of having to get something right night after night in the dark, in a scant amount of time, trying to avoid injury to ourselves and to the actors who are trusting us, you can imagine it feels like a war zone at times.

But there are plusses inherent in this work, too: We become very, very good at reading each other from across the darkened wings, at knowing each others’ strengths and weaknesses, and we build trust whether we plan to or not. (Not surprisingly, it’s my theatre friends who gave exceptional, much-needed practical support and know-how when I’ve changed addresses, or when, say, when I’ve gotten into an accident.)

When the rapport’s not there, it will be a nightmare backstage, guaranteed. But when you click, and everything moves like a Rolex dipped in extra virgin olive oil, there’s no high like it. It’s GOLDEN.

In planning this lunch, I asked Casey to bring pasta and a colander and Dana to bring soda. I did not worry about them bringing the wrong thing or about forgetting entirely. And they did not.

So here we are in a kitchen. A real one for once, not a two-dimensional set.

Casey’s in his thirties and is comfortable in the kitchen; Dana’s a teenager and is not. Yesterday I taught her how to slice an onion, and she did it beautifully. Then we all went across the street to a patch of herbs I planted years ago and snipped off some thyme and oregano.

I made the sauce a few hours earlier from pureed fresh tomatoes that I bought at my favorite farm. Seemed incongruous to buy canned tomatoes in high summer. (Well, it is. Especially in New Jersey.) The tomatoes took a while to cook down, though, full of water as they were. I added a bit of tomato paste for its intense concentrated flavor.

Then we all tasted the sauce to see what it lacked, and Casey thought we should add a bit of sugar. I come from a family that would throw your clothes out onto the street at such a suggestion, but like I emphasized above, I trust this guy. So we put in a couple of pinches of brown sugar.

This is Dana and me above, pulling off bits of fresh herbs and dropping them into the simmering sauce.

While we waited for the pasta to come to a boil, I painted musical designs on Dana’s arms. (She’s a techie AND a singer.) As I painted, Case manned the pasta.

And this is the two of them tucking in.

Later we went to the beach, ate some junk food, played vintage video games and pinball, and then dropped Dana off to the show she was crewing in Red Bank. It was a good day.

P.S. The sauce was pretty good with the sugar.

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