Monday, February 28, 2011

Tornado Cookies

Tom: "Jesus Christ, calm down, will you? Just calm down, nothing's happening."
Dennis: "Then what's that sound? WHAT'S THAT SOUND?"
-A Devil at Noon

Dear Mouse,

I'm writing to you at the end of my day off after our first performance, cookies in the oven, looking out at the sun setting golden and lovely over the urban sprawl of downtown Louisville, reflecting on how good it is to know I'm safe, sound, and alive. It's particularly good at this moment because, about 14 hours ago, there was some question in my mind on this matter.

Apparently, I'm reading now in the local rag, there was some kind of technical glitch last night with the local emergency broadcast radio system. The glitch caused the civil defense sirens, which are supposed to go off in cases of tornado activity, to, like, not go off this morning, when there was, like, a tornado here in Louisville.

The fact that none of us knew it was coming I can only blame on a cocktail of nerves and distraction on our part as last night was both our first preview!! of the show and, well, Oscar night (congrats to cast mate Dennis for his appearance in God of Love!). We were in rehearsal all day, spent the dinner break face down in a plate of collard greens and bbq salmon (yes, BBQ SALMON -more on this later), and then straight back into the theatre to stage our wild and woolly science fiction thrill ride for our first audience. It wasn't even raining, and the weather was the last thing on our minds. Nobody mentioned a storm.

The show went well. Of course, as our director reminded us afterwards, Act I needs work, but I'm pretty proud of it. The story is thrilling and out-there, the dialogue is witty and juicy and delicious, the cast is HOT and I get to make a very spectacular entrance at one point that I won't ruin here yet by describing. (Two words: Trap. Lift.)

So it was off home to watch the pre-recorded Oscars, then fall into bed around 2AM. And, in the end, I guess who needs a civil defense siren when you can be woken at 430AM by your own apartment, which is rattling around on its 15th floor hinges; floors shaking, doors banging, wind shrieking, the whole nine yards. The sky was opaque orange on my side of the building and a sickly greenish black on the other, as observed through hallmate Tom's window. I grabbed my cell phone and blearily read a text from Dennis, an hour earlier: "This weather is crazy!" I opened my front door and found him standing there in street clothes, surrounded by bags of dried fruit and cacao beans. "Should we go to the basement?" he asked. From my position on the carpet in the hallway (where I'd laid down when my legs gave out) I conducted a consultation with Dennis and Tom (who, from the South, was across the hall dancing around on his balcony going "Isn't this exciting?" while we died inside.) We discussed the 'morally right thing to do': knock on everyone's doors and wake them? Leave them alone? In the end we somehow decided to send the others text messages (TEXT MESSAGES?! in the face of death??) and fled to the basement where we holed up in Tom's car, checking the weather updates and speculating on which part of the building would go first and who would need to be eaten.

In the end, nothing happened. To us, anyway. The tornado passed over, knocked down a few houses in nearby Eminence, and let us get to bed. We slept from 7AM to noon, and then went to Whole Foods, which restored a measure of balance to my universe and also provided me with the ingredients to bake the following taste treats:

The Boo's Tornado Cookies

...which are basically good ol' Nestle Toll House chocolate chip cookies with some significant upgrades: namely 1 cup organic bittersweet chocolate morsels, 1 cup dried cherries, and 1 cup of crushed 'maple cinnamon roasted organic walnuts', courtesy of Dennis' Survival Stash.

Unflattering kitchen light... sigh.

Can't wait to see what happens opening night.


The Boo

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Curry in a Hurry

Dear Boo,

I'm coming up for air briefly before our opening night tonight of a show which has in essence swallowed my life whole for the past few weeks, with constant rewrites, reworking, and harrowing moments of waking life actors nightmares, all culminating--as making live theater often infuriatingly does--in a complete, intact, and rather good production. My days of late have been a blur of work, class, and theater, with a few stolen moments here and there for sleep, eating, and even a teensy bit of cooking.

This soup was born out of the need for something cheap, as spending your time doing (virtually) free theater, combined with the propensity for nightly post-show drinks, can do a serious number on your wallet, and the need for something quick and comforting. I woke up from an accidental nap the other day (face down on my script) with a craving for curry soup, and was pleasantly surprised to find a recipe for just such a thing that could be made and ready to eat in under 30 minutes.

It was intensely satisfying. Even if I had to slurp it down while running lines, moments before dashing out the door. I highly recommend this for fast and easy meals (oh no, I sound like Rachael Ray) when you just can't eat (or afford) another dinner of late night beer and chicken wings.

Off to the theater!


The Mouse

Thai Red Curry Soup with Chicken and Vegetables
Adapted from Bon Appetit

The great thing about this recipe is how easily you can substitute other ingredients and still have a fast, easy, and tasty soup. Switch out other veggies, add shrimp instead of chicken, throw in some rice noodles, or cook down to a thicker sauce and serve over rice, use green curry paste, the options are almost endless. And with the short list of ingredients it's probably cheaper and healthier than take-out.

2 tablespoons corn or vegetable oil
2-3 tablespoons Thai red curry paste
12 ounces skinless boneless chicken breast halves, cut crosswise into 1/2-inch-wide strips
4 ounces green beans, cut into 1-inch lengths
2 small Japanese eggplants, cut into 1-inch pieces
3 cups canned low-salt chicken broth
3 cups canned unsweetened lite coconut milk
2 tablespoons fish sauce (nam pla)
Fresh lime juice
1 jalapeno or thai chile
1/4 cup chopped fresh basil

Heat oil in heavy large saucepan over medium heat. Add curry paste; stir until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add chicken; stir 2 minutes. Add green beans and eggplant pieces; stir 1 minute. Add broth, coconut milk and fish sauce; bring to boil. Reduce heat; simmer until vegetables are tender, about 12 minutes. During last few minutes of cooking, add thinly sliced chiles. Season with salt and pepper. Squeeze fresh lime juice to taste. Stir in basil and serve.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

A Pre-Emptive Steak

"Chet writes science fiction. His book is going well but his life has jumped the outline in this engrossing exploration of the addiction, power and danger of dwelling in the imagination." - Humana Festival blurb for Anne Washburn's " A Devil at Noon"

Dear Mouse,

Hello from Louisville KY! I am here for two months, embarking on a journey of science-fiction romance with witty dialogue, interdimensional travel, and mime sequences.

Speaking of the dangers of dwelling in the imagination, I'm having deja vu for more reasons than one. One, I'm doing this play again, though it's an actual production!! for the first time. Two, this is the first repeat of my travels (I blogged from here in 2009). Three, if the bed weren't different I would swear this is the EXACT same apartment I had last time, complete with giant-armoire-enclosed-tv, wall to wall yellow carpet, yellow walls, plastic plants, and a small balcony (!!) with a really impressive, twinkly view of the whole night city. (Maybe it's just a new bed.) And, Four, I can already feel an apology coming on - a Blogpology? - about not having enough to write about for a while. Rehearsal begins at 9AM tomorrow! and fills our days thereafter til we open on Feb 27. And I hope/imagine many evenings will be filled with new people and new plays. I am so excited. Also, at 9PM, I'm already ready for bed, which concerns me. (Well, it was a travel day.) The volunteers who picked us up at the airport took us to the grocery store where I bought all the ingredients for your Fiance's Picadillo, thinking that'd be an exciting, and easy, first night dinner.

... 20 minutes later I had microwaved a Lean Cuisine pizza, steamed some broccoli, and unwrapped an "Almond Dream: 'Little Dreamers' " frozen nondairy dessert sandwich. My point is that this does not bode well for exciting culinary adventures.

In my (pre-emptive) defense, however, I'd like to show the court what I am working with here:

Exhibit A:

Not a bad kitchen, right? Ooh, look at all these cabinets! Can you guess what's in them?

Did you say "Nothing"? You're right!

Well that's not fair. There's a pot and a pan. A knife. All the basics. I'm just pointing out my handicaps (no baking/roasting pan, measuring cup/spoon... )But last time I did blog about rolling out pie crust with a beer bottle, so ... this might be good, actually.

Exhibit B:

Have you ever seen the like of this before?

No, this is not Ground Control. Or, well, it is. Of the stove.

So to get ahead of the game, I want to make sure to share this recipe I just learned. I made it for myself the night before I left town, and it could. not. be. easier.

The Mother, concerned for some reason that I didn't have enough food in the house (when I was about to leave town for two months), had dropped by with chicken sausage, turkey chili, bean soup, and two individually wrapped shell steaks, pleading indecision. I explained I only had one meal left to make and thanked her, keeping one of the shell steaks.

This is great for a busy or late weeknight when chopping one shallot already seems like enough of a challenge (that's as hard as it gets).

The Boo's Steak for One
(yes, lifted from Sarah Leah Chase's "Cold Weather Cooking", which is just what this is)

1 shell steak, 1-in thick (mine was. you can adjust time in the pan of course if thinner)
kosher salt
1 shallot, minced
1/2 C balsamic vinegar
1-2 tbsp butter
That's It.

Sprinkle kosher salt generously* over the bottom of a skillet with the heat on high.

(*Maybe it's because I was using the large-crystal rock salt type, but I would like to offer a caution to not be TOO generous with salt here. It's going to form a crust on the meat, which is Uh-MAZing, but also has the potential to, well, kind of kill you with salt.)

When the salt crystals begin to jump up off the pan (!), throw the steak in.
Sear on one side about 4 min for med rare. Bottom will be brown and crusted.
Flip it over and sear another 4 min.
Take it out of the pan and keep it warm on a plate.
Minced shallot into the pan for 30 sec.
Pour balsamic into the pan. It will steam up - maybe shield your eyes here.
Boil until reduced to around 2 tbsp balsamic syrupy reduction.
Turn off heat, swirl in butter til melted.
Pour it over your steak. Eat.

I ate this with steamed broccoli on the side (also fabulous with the sauce), and grated parmesan on top. I think it'd also be great over a bed of arugula.
I'll leave you with another pre-emptive measure, good for this kind of travel -

The Pill-Dispenser-Turned-Spice-Rack. Fits neatly in the suitcase. A brilliant idea from Mrs. Poet. (Left to Right: cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, red pepper, cayenne, thyme, italian herb mix).

There may be hope for this kitchen yet.


The Boo