Thursday, July 23, 2009

One More Fish Taco and then I'm Outta Here.

Dear Boo,

It happens at least twice a year. This feeling in my gut. It starts somewhere in the pit of my stomach. Or maybe on the surface of my skin, the hair on the back of my neck standing up, hills and valleys of goosebumps marking the terrain on my upper arms. The air around me starts to feel heavy, the buildings taller, their shadows cold and impenetrable. Or maybe it's the unrelenting sun, beating down without any rest or room for shade. Either way it's unbearable. My breath catches in my throat. I want to trip that lady with the enormous bag in front of me. If the F train doesn't get here exactly NOW I will throw myself onto the tracks because then maybe SOMETHING will happen. WHAT the F is that SMELL???


Really, I blame you for this particularly intense bout of violent NYitis, what with that account of your time in Faeryland, away from anything resembling a train, rush hour, or hold buttons. But it's not all your fault. It's also this season. I have such a love/hate relationship to summer in New York. On the one hand, how can one not get giddy when the temperature gets up into the 70s and the sun finally appears after the brutal climb up and out through winter snowdrifts? And really, what could be better than sipping a cold cocktail on a hot roof with a view of the city skyline? On the other hand, everything smells worse, the walk from the shower to the closet to the subway platform results in its own shower of sweat, and when what I really want to be doing is picking tomatoes from my garden and grilling steak on the barbeque, all I can do is cram myself into my tiny, hot kitchen, where all my appliances have their own sheen of sticky sweat, pull some herbs from my crisper, and cringe at the idea of turning on the oven.

Oh give me a home where the buffalo roam and I have a little vegetable patch in the sun and a nice tree to sit under and maybe the sound of the ocean not far down the way....

Don't get me wrong. I LOVE this city. I'm lucky to live in this city. But you know what would make me love it more? A country house.

Until that happens, here's a meal I made in my teensy apartment kitchen that tastes like it came from a beach front condo.

Fish Tacos with Mango Salsa

1 mango

1 bunch cilantro
1 red onion

1 green pepper

1 red pepper

1 jalapeno

2 cloves garlic

1 white onion
3 limes

1 avocado
mahi-mahi, cod, catfish, or tilapia

1 head cabbage

vinegar (I used a mix of cider vinegar and white vinegar)

2 cans black beans (or the dried equivalent, if you're special like that)

white rice

corn tortillas

goya adobo (or a mix of garlic powder, onion, salt, pepper, etc)

For the salsa:

Dice the mango, red onion, half the red pepper, and half the jalapeno with seeds. Mix and season to taste with kosher salt, black pepper, and the juice of a lime (or maybe a little less, depending). Chop about 1/4 c cilantro and mix in.

For the cabbage salad:

Shred the cabbage into thin slices (for 3 people, I used about half a head). Add 1/3 c diced red onion and a bit of minced jalapeno (heat is up to you). Add kosher salt and pepper to taste. Add about 1 teaspoon of sugar (more or less to your taste), a couple of tablespoons of cider vinegar, plus about 1/4 c of white vinegar. Toss and let it sit for a bit before eating.

For the fish:

Marinate pretty much however you like. If its really fresh, you don't need to do much but salt and pepper. I rubbed it with some olive oil, lime juice, and leftover minced jalapeno and red onion, salt and pepper, and a little goya adobo. Cook it in a pan over medium heat, a few minutes on each side until cooked through. Flake it into pieces and squeeze with some lime. Done!

For the black beans:

Make a quick sofrito of one chopped green bell pepper, half a white chopped onion, and two chopped cloves of garlic, sauteed in olive oil with salt and pepper. When the pepper is soft and the onion is translucent, add the beans with their liquid. Since I was doing a quick version, I added a packet of the Goya Sazon, but if you're not into the MSG thing, you could do a combo of cumin, salt, pepper, garlic, and whatever else you like.

Heat your corn tortillas, add the fish, then a spoonful of salsa, and a pile of crunchy cabbage. Serve with rice and beans, a slice of lime, cilantro and sliced avocado for garnish, and sour cream on the side. Drink a beer.

Someone get me outta here. Any ideas for a cheap vacation??


The Mouse

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Paradise, ME

I believe this sign needs no further explanation.
(4th of July Fish Fry on the Pier, Stonington ME)

Dear Mouse,


"Do you think that we are awake? It seems to me that yet we sleep, we dream."

Where to begin? I'm back from a blissful, no cell phone/no internet, lyrical, nature-loving, song-filled month on little Deer Isle, working, as you may recall, on a production of A Midsummer Nights Dream which turned out to be KICK- A**. Literally, as you may notice from the unsightly bruises covering both my legs. I wear them with pride.

The full story of this experience is going to have to be published elsewhere, under the title: "A Tedious Brief Scene of My Midsummer in Stonington: Very Tragical Mirth". We've had long blog posts before but I believe even AMB readers have limits. I will not even talk (here) about the production, which was GORGEOUS and funny and magical and of which I was very proud and sad it only ran for 2 weeks. I will not boast of having played both a Lover and THREE of the Mechanicals rolled into one hilarious part complete with Thpeech Impediment. I will not gleefully relive the packed houses of lovely Maine audiences who stood up at the curtain calls, approached us in the streets, and made us part of their community.
4th of July Parade. I'm on the left.

'Faery Licenses' as a parting gift for the 4 local girls in our cast, made by the Faerie Queene herself!

I will not whisper tales of the Cast House in the Woods with the guardian Luna Moth, the white roses by the front window, the Giant Multi-Person Bathtub, Spacious Kitchen/Communal meals (ok, I will talk some about that), and all-night living room jam sessions with the band from the show for entertainment instead of TV or similar. oh, just a field I passed while walking NEXT TO MY HOUSE.
Same walk. I think everyone needs one of these signs.
Turns out you CAN 'make the pie higher'.

I will not here discuss the vertigo and confusion of re-entering NYC life.

I will, however, tell you that if you go: try to visit Jan and Evelyn at the Purple Fish gallery and buy a 'singing bookmark'. If you are lucky, Jan will play his guitar and you will stand there singing 3 or 4 part madrigals with this tiny elfin couple until they think you're done. Also, try to be cool enough to get invited to an 'open mic' in someone's barn, where you will hear some great local folk and blues while birds flutter in the rafters, someone's dog runs through the chairs, and the field outside is so full of fireflies it looks like grounded lightning. Go to the Farmers Market up the street from the theatre, on Friday mornings, where we bought local sausage, bacon, whole chicken, goat cheese adorned with pressed flowers, and moisturizer made from beeswax, coconut oil, and roses. Go to the 4th of July Fish Fry on the Pier and eat clam fritters and lobster rolls. Drink blueberry ale. Get a 'Moose Tracks' cone at the Stonington Ice Cream Co. window, where, after the day my friend requested coffee, they kept a pot going with a note that said "Coffee for Stephanie". Go (duh) check out what's playing at the Stonington Opera House.

Stay at the Inn on the Harbor (or at least have a drink on the deck) if you're not lucky enough to live here:
or, of course, here:

Also, on second thought, don't go, because I want it all to myself.

In closing, I will unveil the latest Mouse/Boo collaboration with pride, inspired by this sojourn. Well, ok, actually, The Boyfriend o'Mouse invented it, but I bought the main ingredient and you named it; that has to count for something. What better way to ease my transition out of the realm of Faery than this tiny perfect cocktail, made with a shot of icy vodka and a drizzle of the Rose Flower Syrup I bought at the specialty foods shop right up the road from the theatre.

The 'Puck Fair(y)', ladies & gentlemen.

Closing day just before showtime we ran into Jan & Evelyn on the pier and said we hoped to be back next summer. She nodded and said "We'll be waiting for you."

"Lovers, to bed. 'Tis almost faery time."

I can't wait.

The Boo
PS. My first gig back? At a venue called "PUCK LIVE" in Doylestown PA on Sat, Jul 25, 10PM. No lie.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Avoiding a Dinner Disaster with your Out of Town Parent

Dear Boo,

The other night, the Boyfriend and I decided to take a stroll over to Tortilla Flats for some Mexican food. It was one of those summer evenings that goes from fierce thunderstorm to bright sun to gorgeous pinky and orange sunset in the course of 15 minutes. We sat down outside under a little tent, brushing the small puddle of rainwater off our metal folding chairs (note: next time, sit indoors in a booth) and digging in to some chips and salsa. A few minutes into our meal, a young couple sat down at a 4-top next to us. Some time later, in bustled their third party, an older man, who walked in holding a soggy subway map, exclaiming loudly that he had FINALLY found them, and laughing good naturedly at the state of his sopping shirt and broken umbrella. It didn't take the tucked in polo shirt or cell phone clipped to his belt to identify this creature: clearly, he was the Out of Town Dad. He squeezed his daughter hello, shook her boy's hand, and loudly sat down, practically in our laps, to begin his story of the journey he took to get to the restaurant. "I thought I could take the subway right here from Grand Central! But I had to walk and then ask someone and then I took a bus and then I had to buy an umbrella because it started a downpour and then I walked four blocks in the opposite direction." Over the course of the next hour, the daughter cringed quietly, as only an embarrassed daughter can, the boyfriend tried his best to make conversation, the OOTD asked the waitress an exorbitant number of questions about the burrito he was considering ordering, and everyone was generally uncomfortable.

As soon as we were out of earshot, the Boyfriend was like, "What was the DEAL with those people?" As we began the bitchy practice of judging people based on the highly unscientific hour-long observation we'd conducted, a more pertinent question emerged: WHY on earth did they choose THAT restaurant for a dinner with an out of town parent?

As The Boyfriend wisely observed, there's a ton of information out there for parents choosing kid-friendly food establishments, but what about PARENT-friendly spots? Well....

It's clear that this young couple made a number of wrong turns in planning this evening. Let's review, shall we?

As we gleaned from our champion eavesdropping, the OOTD was staying at a hotel near Grand Central. In picking a restaurant in the far-west village, they could not have chosen something more inconvenient to get to, short of Staten Island. I mean, come ON! What a schlep. There is no direct train line to get there, it's CROSS-TOWN, there's a LOT of walking involved, and let's face it, even for those of us who live here, the winding west village non-numbered streets can get a little confusing.

Pick a restaurant NEAR the hotel of said OOTP (out of town parent), you nitwits. If you really can't find anything there that makes you happy, at least pick something off the closest subway line to the hotel. Or better yet, MEET your OOTP at his/her hotel and escort them to the restaurant. If you can't manage any of these things, make sure to INSIST they take a cab. And for the love of all things holy, if it is thunderstorming, do NOT make them walk.

MISTAKE #2: KNOW BEFORE YOU GO (a short play)
OOTD: So what's good here?
TENSE DAUGHTER: I don't know. I've never been. But I'm sure it's all good.
OVEREAGER BOYFRIEND: I've been here. But it was years ago, so I don't remember much about the food. The portions are big....
OOTD: Oh. Okay. Well, maybe I'll just ask the waitress a billion questions about the menu, then.

Minimize the potential for disaster by picking a restaurant you're familiar with. There are just too many variables that could trip you up if you take a chance on a place you know nothing about, from confusion over the location, to lack of appealing menu options for OOTP, to prices you didn't anticipate, to clientele that make your OOTP feel totally out of place, to impatient waitresses not used to dealing with OOTPs. This place had at least 4 out of 5, in this case.

It seems obvious, but make sure you LIKE this restaurant and type of food. The Daughter asked if there was dairy in the fajitas and requested no bell peppers and a "sparkling water". If these are your requirements, maybe you want to reconsider choosing Mexican. If you're not happy, you'll be that much more sensitive to any small embarrassing gesture your OOTP makes, and you'll deprive your OOTP of feeling like they took you out for a nice evening.

Go somewhere you know and like. DUH. And pick something neutral. Maybe this isn't the best time to introduce your parents to ethiopian food. The GI system of the OOTP moves in mysterious ways. Unless of course, your parents are cool, adventurous foodies who would expect nothing less. Either way, make an educated choice.

If the volume of your father's voice in public places makes you shrink in your seat, or if your mother's incessant questioning of the waitress to explain what aerated foie is makes you want to climb the walls, don't pick a place where these buttons will be ripe for the pushing (ie, wd-50). The Daughter was clearly so embarrassed by how much room her father took up and how loudly he was talking about the health of their dog back home, that I couldn't help but wonder WHY oh WHY they had picked such a tiny restaurant where her father's tortilla chip crumbs could easily sail across to the next table.


Pick a restaurant where you can spread out. Out of towners aren't as used to being crammed into small places as we NYers are. Make sure you have room to stretch and a bit of privacy in case your OOTPs start telling stories about the night you were conceived.

I'll leave you with a short list of restaurants I'd consider OOTP-friendly...

Blue Water Grill

Five Points
Rosa Mexicana
Hill Country
The Harrison
John's of Bleecker
Blue Smoke
West Bank
Uncle Nick's
Grand Sichuan
Shun Lee (or shun lee cafe)
The Mermaid Inn
P.J. Clarkes (Lincoln Center location)
Pig Heaven

Things to avoid: dress codes, places that don't take reservations (waiting 30 mintes with hungry OOTPs is a bad thing), high noise levels (or super quiet spots), cash-only policies, very low lighting, and tapas.

Any good suggestions I'm missing?

I'd like to think we're great at picking parent-friendly restaurants for our family dinners, though we have hit a couple of duds. Let the story of the OOTD at Tortilla Flats on a stormy night be a cautionary tale for all of us. I can only hope the poor guy downed his margarita and hopped in a cab back to the hotel for some quality pay-per-view. And that next time they go with something in midtown.


The Mouse