Monday, August 30, 2010

Meditating on Jam

Dear Boo,

The other day, in a state of that kind of agita that makes your chest feel hot and your breathing short and your limbs feel like they might go flailing off at unnatural angles, I decided maybe it was time to sit down and try meditating again. I picked a spot near the window with a nice breeze, pulled out my meditation cushion, or as we refer to it in our house, the place you sit when the laptop is charging and the cord doesn't reach the couch. I took a deep breath, crossed my legs under me, relaxed my face and let my eyes go half mast, fixing gently on a spot on the hardwood floor in front of me where the wood grain comes together in a swirling pattern, and tried to let go. I remembered what I'd been taught, to focus on my breath and whenever the mind wanders, which it inevitably will, to notice it, acknowledge it, let go and return to your breath. I can't say my attempt on this day was too successful--I know, I know, not that one should approach such things with the judgments of success and failure--I did, after all, succeed in sitting down quietly for five whole minutes, which let's face it, is half the battle--but I can't say my mind was stilled in any way. I emerged those five minutes later, breathing a little more slowly, my knees a little stiff, the agita tentatively abated, thinking about...apricot jam.

You see, what was really on my mind was the whole idea of holding on and letting go, and how, I dare say, 90% of my life, my decisions, my passions, my feelings, my resistances, my fears, my joys, come down to this balance between those two things. It's been on my mind lately, what with all the panic-attacking about being forced to let go of summer before I might be ready, and came up again this week as I closed this show and went through that familiar dance of denial, mourning, relief, and grief that happens when we come together in art and friendship and intimacy with a group of previous strangers, only to part again when the calendar dictates it's time. The Buddhists among us would say that all suffering comes from holding onto things we have no business possessing, desiring, or controlling, and that we may only transcend this suffering when we let go of that need to attach ourselves to things. Most of the time this makes sense to me, when I find myself tying myself in knots over expectations and goals that I've long outgrown or have been shown to be neither desirable nor realistic, nor in any way pleasant. Or when I was talking last week with a fellow cast-mate about those nights when you find yourself on stage, holding so tight to the performance you WANT to give, the one you gave last night, the one you PLANNED for, crafted, did all that GD homework for, but the tighter you hold onto it, the further away it feels, the more impossible, the more irrelevant it becomes and all you can do, (all you should have done to begin with!) is LET GO of all of it, what you thought it would be, what you want it to be, what you thought you knew....sigh. So easy to say, and so, so so hard to do.
Apricot Jam and Apricot Syrup

But sometimes, sometimes, I wonder if there isn't something to this whole holding on thing. After all, if we didn't hold tight to some things, sometimes too tight, how would we know the joy, the calm, the freedom that comes with letting go? Which brings me back to my apricot jam. Knowing my steadfast desire to hold onto summer as long as possible, to eke out a few more weeks of fresh berries and tomatoes, sandy toes, balmy, homework-free evenings, could there be anything more illustrative of my destructive, non-enlightened need to HOLD ON than going through the process of canning and preserving seasonal, perfectly ripe fruit? Instead of being in the moment, popping a fresh apricot in my mouth as I stood by the open window, enjoying the late August breeze, I chose to add sugar, cook down those beautiful fruits until they fell apart, and seal them up in glass jars to sit on my shelf.

So, what's my point? Well, it's twofold. First, the jam is delicious, like apricots to the Nth degree, sweet but tart, perfect with butter and toast, heaven on greek yogurt, and this fall, perfect for the roast apricot chicken Grandma used to make. And Second, in the process of making this, I found myself a couple of steps closer to letting go. There was something about spending an afternoon in the kitchen, immersed in the scent of summer fruit, filling jar after jar with the most beautiful peachy liquid gold, that made me feel a little bit okay with the approaching Autumn. I'll still kick and scream all the way back to school, and probably go off on another fresh corn binge before the summer is out, but I feel like I've loosened my grip a little. And thank goodness for that. Because as much as I like to tell myself otherwise, there are actually a few things I don't have control over.
Apricot syrup with seltzer: homemade apricot soda!

A Mouse Royale: prosecco with apricot syrup. Let it come to room temp first for maximum dissolve... (other cocktail ideas: vodka, soda and syrup, or vodka, ginger beer and syrup, a twist on a mojito...)

So, my advice to you? Buy a batch of apricots. Stand in the market and wonder at the mountain of pink and gold in front of you. Take them home. Eat half fresh, standing in front of an open window, with your eyes closed. Breathe. Then take the other half, and make this jam.


The Mouse

P.S. Any more ideas for what to do with the apricot syrup??

Apricot Jam, yoinked from David Lebovitz

2 pounds fresh apricots
1/2 cup water
6 cups sugar
1 tablespoon freshly-squeezed lemon juice
optional: 1 tablespoon kirsch

1. Cut the apricots in half and extract the pits. If you wish, crack a few open and put a kernel in each jam jar you plan to fill (isn't this nuts? I thought those things were poisonous, and apparently they contain cyanide if you actually eat them. So don't do that, but do try this if you want to give the jam a slightly almondy flavor).

2. Place the apricots in a very large stockpot, and add the water. Cover the pot and cook, stirring frequently, until the apricots are tender and cooked through.

3. Put a small plate in the freezer.

4. Add the sugar to the apricots and cook, uncovered, skimming off any foam that rises to the surface (do not throw this foam away! Save it and you'll have a batch of apricot syrup. Make homemade soda, cocktails, ice cream sundaes, add to pancakes, yogurt, a spoon...). As the mixture thickens and reduces, stir frequently to make sure the jam isn’t burning on the bottom.

5. When the jam looks thick and is looks slightly-jelled, turn off the heat and put a small amount of jam on the chilled plate. Put back in the freezer for a few minutes, then do the nudge test: If the jam mounds and wrinkles, it’s done. If not, continue to cook, then re-test the jam until it reaches that consistency.

6. Once done, stir in the lemon juice and kirsch, if using, and ladle the jam into clean jars. Cover tightly and let cool to room temperature. Once cool, refrigerate until ready to use.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Rehearsal Soup

Dear Mouse,

Remember this mug?
"Stress: the confusion created when one's mind must override the body's basic desire to choke the living s*T out of some a***hole who desperately deserves it."

Inexplicably popular in, I'm going to say, the mid-'80s, when, despite its complete lack of actual wit, it became
a 'humorous' staple on various desks around the country? Akin to the "Hang In There, Baby" cat posters?

As you know, I'm deep into rehearsal for my first-ever-oh-the-terror-and-the-glory-why-did-I-ever-think-I-could-
do-this-oh-look-its-happening-anyway .... original play. Sorry, MUSICAL. Or, 'play-with-music'.
Whatever. I wrote it, with my childhood friend Leon, it got into this festival before there was a script, we
assembled a cast and director, and now it happens IN A WEEK. Lightning and neuroscience and
rock music and Shakespeare and a guy in a Lion Suit. Good good times. It's all very exciting.

And it's also happening in a WEEK. So.. when I found myself,at the end of last rehearsal in our borrowed attic
space, wearing an antlered mask while taking notes and muttering "No, no, the lateral sulcus needs to be
stage left", it really only made sense that the mug I wasclutching happened to be the one pictured above.
(Not that I want to choke anyone... just the stress. You get it.)

Tonight is our rainy night off, and I'm thinking of making a big pot of this:

courtesy of my co writer Bob, aka Leon the Lightning Safety Lion. I cannot recommend this highly enough. Leon
happens to cook
a lot and has fed me and the rest of the
company on several occasions when we seemed in danger of an Excitotoxic
Seizure (see the play). I have contributed by making, um, nothing. I truly believe that
this spicy, nourishing soup,
packed with protein and enriched with dark greens, ginger, and garlic, has prevented
colds, exhaustion, tears,
pessimism, and maybe even bad acting. Do not skip the peanut butter.

1/4 to 1/2 cup of peanut butter (creamy)
3/4 cup of peanuts
1 medium onion (diced)
1 tsp cayenne pepper
1 tbsp ginger (diced)
2 tbsp garlic (diced
2 tbsp sugar
1/2 pound chicken breast, cut into chunks
6 cups chicken stock
2 sweet potatoes, sliced into rounds (non-sweet will work too)
8 plum tomatoes or 1 large can
1/2 ib collard greens (or kale) cut into strips
Red Wine Vinegar
Hot Sauce
Olive Oil
Salt, Pepper to taste

1. Marinate the chicken in hot sauce before cooking. 20 - 25 minutes is fine

2. In a skillet w/a thin layer of olive oil, on medium heat, sweat the
onions for 3-5 mins and then add the ginger & the garlic for the final 2
mins or until golden brown. (Times may vary based on your stove/frying
pans/etc. Basically, you want the Onions to sweat and the ginger and garlic
to brown w/o burning)

3. Add the chicken and lightly brown until no more pink is visible, do not
cook all the way thru. Crush the peanuts and let them slightly roast in the
pan. Lightly douse the pan w/the vinegar to de-glaze the pan. Take it off
the heat

4. To a medium dutch oven or other soup-cooking vessel, add the stock and
diced tomatoes and
the potatoes. on high heat, bring the contents to a boil. When it' starts
bubbling (don't let it come to a boil), turn the stove down to low.

5. Transfer the onions, garlic, and chickent to the cauldron. Add the kale,
and the peanut butter
and the cayenne pepper. Simmer on low heat. It should take about 15 mins til it's ready to
serve, but w/many soups, you can really let it continue to simmer and it
only makes it mo' better. W/this one, you can let it go on super-low heat
for up to an hour.

6. Salt, pepper to taste. Cilantro as a garnish.

Eat n' rehearse.


Don't be a Part of the Charge.

Love, The Boo.
PS. Tickets on sale HERE.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Soy un Jalapeño

Dear Boo,

I don't know if you've checked your calendar lately, but let me be the one to break the bad news. It's August 10th. TENTH! That's the first week of August! That means 21 days until September! Technically speaking, we have 42 days until the official end of summer, but come on. AUGUST TENTH!

Can you tell I'm freaking out?

As a preventative measure to stave off the pain of letting go, I am making a list of things I must do before Autumn is upon us. I know you might think this is a bit early to sound the alarms, but if I don't confront this thing head on, I'm likely to wake up tomorrow to find root vegetables and pumpkins have replaced the shock of red, orange and yellow blanketing the rows of stalls at the farmer's market. So here we go:

1. Eat tomatoes. Attempt to taste every variety available at the farmer's market. When possible, toss with olive oil, basil and salt. Maybe garlic if I'm feeling fancy.
2. Work on my freckles. I've got a good smattering going on my upper arms and the bridge of my nose (which, frankly, mostly makes my face look dirty) but there's a lot more area to cover.
3. See at least one outdoor movie, here or here, or even here.
4. Eat clams, as close to the ocean as possible.
5. Finish reading this book, as close to the ocean as possible.
6. Dance to live music, outdoors, as close to the ocean as possible.
7. Eat many ears of corn: raw, sauteed like this or this, tossed with mint/feta butter, mexican style, and in a pudding. (as close to the ocean--oh, let's just say this part applies to all.)
8. Squeeze in quality time with all the friends I disappear on during the busy school year.
9. Finish a Sunday NY Times crossword.
10. Drink wine with lunch.
11. Take copious naps.
12. Have a picnic on Governor's Island.
13. Use the student discount I have burning a whole in my pocket.
14. Sneak into a double feature on a really hot afternoon. Eat popcorn for lunch.
15. Make and eat more of these two (three) dishes...

Due to Trader Joe's (how I love thee) insistence that I must buy an entire box of jalapeño for a recipe that only called for one, I was left with an overabundance of peppers crowding my crisper drawer. Out of the file of "things taking up useless space in my brain" I pulled a recipe for Soy-Pickled Jalapenos that I had spotted in an issue of Bon Appetit with a feature on Korean food. Very simple, it basically required that I throw a bunch of things from my pantry into a pot and boil them. Done.

But now what?

Spicy, salty, and perfumed with lemon zest and the slight funk of the soy, these make a great condiment with infinite possibilities. Bon Appetit suggests serving them with their shrimp and scallion pancakes. Chef Josh suggested I use them in place of anything that calls for chiles, as it would add a salty complexity. He mentioned chopping it up with tomatoes and onion for a relish to top seafood or meat. I imagined throwing some into a pot of mussels for an asian-flavored broth with some heat. I bet they'd be fantastic with fried calamari, reminiscent of the Rhode Island style made with banana peppers. Or they'd work in any stirfry.

But instead I made this:
First, a vietnamese inspired noodle salad.

No recipe per se, just basic guidelines.
Throw into a bowl some sliced crunchy veggies (I used julienned cucumber, carrots, scallions and green cabbage, though bean sprouts, peppers, radish, kohlrabi would also work), rice noodles cooked according to the package and served at room temp (I used rice sticks because that's what I found, but rice vermicelli would be great too), sliced baked tofu (bought ready-made from Trader Joe's, but you could substitute chicken, shrimp, or steak, or pork). Top with chopped cilantro, mint, and basil (or any combo thereof), crushed peanuts, and soy-pickled jalapeños. Spoon a bit of the jalapeno liquid over the top, along with a generous amount of Nuoc Cham sauce. Squeeze lime, and serve. Perfect hot weather/lazy weeknight dinner.

And then, I made this:
Asianesque fish tacos.

Marinate your chosen fish (I used the cheap and tasteless tilapia) in some garlic, salt & pepper, and a few spoonfuls of the jalapeno liquid.
While it marinates, toss some green cabbage, scallions, and shredded carrots with a bit of leftover Nuoc Cham sauce.
Heat up some corn tortillas.
Cook the fish in a hot pan for about 5 minutes, flipping once.
Pile into tortilla and top with cabbage mixture, sour cream, chopped raw onion, cilantro, avocado, and soy-pickled jalapeño.
If you're the Boyfriend, top with additional hot sauce such as Srirachi.
Oh, the deliciousness.

So what do you think? Have I left anything off my list? Munch on these and get back to me.


The Mouse

Soy-Pickled Jalapeños
(lifted from Bon Appetit)

3 large fresh jalapeños (4 inches), sliced 1/8 inch thick
1/2 cup soy sauce
1/2 cup water
2 teaspoons grated lemon zest
2 teaspoons packed dark brown sugar

Combine all ingredients in a small heavy saucepan and bring to a boil.

Remove from heat and cool to room temperature, stirring occasionally. Marinate, chilled, at least 8 hours.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

There Will Be Brunch (New London CT)

Dear Mouse,

I miss Summer Camp. Remember those days where all we did all day was rehearse plays, eat inedible food off plastic trays, go swimming, crash on a narrow bed in a stuffy bunk next to a fan, and then get up and do it again? Those were the days. One can never go back.

Unless ... one happens to go spend a week at the Eugene O'Neill Theatre Center for the summer Playwrights Conference. Which is basically Summer Theatre Camp with a stipend and an on-site pub. (Cheap drinks and a van to take you home to your dorm.. "Long Van's Journey Into Night"; I kid you not.) I just spent a week there working on the latest from the pen of this wonderful playwright.

Remember also, how, no matter how much we loved being AT camp, which we did, kind of the best part was when you got to leave? A scheduled outing, a parental visit...all knowing you'd be able to come back...and how the best part of said outings was usually that you got to eat real food?

One outing which I'll never forget was our cast's tour of the 'Monte Cristo Cottage', Eugene O'Neill's boyhood home and the setting for that cheery crowd-pleaser, "Long Day's Journey Into Night". You can visit the very room where Eugene O'Neill's mom dosed herself with morphine, and sit on the very porch where young Eugene would contemplate how "the fog is the ghost of the sea".

And what better to do after all the fog, morphine, and anguished ghosts than ... go for brunch?

May I suggest this place? You can't see it here, but the cartoon rooster is standing over a broken egg and smiling gleefully.
What up with that.

The Broken Yolk Cafe in New London CT, offers, to quote their web site, "Spectacular breakfast and lunch diner fare with some creative sprinkles and off-the-beaten-path sides."

Like, say, mini-marshmallows, shot from a powerful (plastic) gun at your head, that land in your coffee. Pieces of toast that sail by you and land in the street. A bullet-like blueberry landing with startling precision (and audible "whack") on your collarbone. And the piece de resistance:

Doreen, Warrior Princess, the proprietress of the Broken Yolk,
with trademark watergun. Shooting, yes, me.

The spirit of the Wild, Wild West is alive and well and living in New London. (The Wild East?)

Doreen, WP, with mini-marshmallows. (They came out of a gun too.)

I mean, I've heard of themed restaurants, specialty restaurants.. I mean, there must be people whose idea of a good time is to gnaw on a giant turkey leg while watching people poke each other with blunt pieces of metal, right? Otherwise, wherefore 'Medieval Times'? And how can we forget the phenomenon of Conni's Avant-Garde Restaurant, for those who like their food served by a fictional subversive theatre troupe?

This place, however, is not called "The Broken Yolk Boundary-Crossing and Visceral Culinary Warfare Emporium", so the experience comes as complete surprise. When we arrived at the modest outdoor picnic area with visions of omelets dancing in our heads, we didn't expect to have menus flung at us like frisbees, or to have one of our party enveloped in an immense bear hug by Ms.D herself. ("Do you know her?" I whispered as we sat down. "Nope", he replied, quietly, as she was now perched on his knee. )

So maybe I'm ruining it for everyone else by blogging, but then again I can't imagine how I could. For one thing, I have no doubt that Doreen has a gazillion props and torments up her talented sleeve, and for another thing....

the FOOD
from the basic (eggs, bacon, perfectly buttered toast) ...

is INCREDIBLE. the divine. An order of Chocolate-Cranberry Pancakes, for the table.
Also stunning; "Pina-Colada French Toast", not pictured here.

The menu is staggering; both the plentiful offerings on the actual thing itself and the wide variety of 'creative sprinkles' listed daily - ! - on the blackboard at the door. Doreen cooks everything herself, with one helper; you can watch her through the window. Now, this results in kind of a long wait for your food, and in people getting it at different times, whcih kind of drives me crazy... but also in careful, beautiful, delicious presentations that render all forgiven. Also, if you complain, she might shoot you.

In between lovingly battling guests and frying up eggs, Doreen also comes out to dish up philosophy and wisdom, as when my cast-mate/fictional love interest put his arm around me and asked DWP "Do you buy us as a couple?"

After a moment, this was the priceless reply.

"Sure - it's the Millennium. But you gotta hold hands. That's how you know couples that are really in love. They hold hands."

After which, she made everyone practice.

So, Mouse, let this be a lesson to you. Summer camp is still an option, always chase your morphine with pancakes, and remember to hold hands. If you don't, I'll shoot you with a mini-marshmallow.

The Boo
P.S. Photos in this post are all (I believe) by David Ross.