Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Taking a Mulligan on May.

Dear Boo,

Oh, May! Where did you go? Already the 31st and only two posts to show for it. For shame. But to be fair, you haven't exactly been a kind muse these past few weeks, what with the day after day of pouring rain followed by a sudden and scorching entrance by Summer, the advent of unemployment (read: the state of being, not the weekly check in the mail) and return of summer classes, and the arrival today of a nasty sore throat and itchy ears. But then, perhaps I've neglected you a bit.* I certainly didn't take advantage of your abundance of fresh first picked asparagus shoots at the market, or those tiny precious boxes of strawberries that began appearing on farmstand tables. I admit I share the blame.

On June 30th, I have my first dress fitting for the wedding (I know, I know, I said I wouldn't keep talking about it), and so I decided long ago that my wedding diet would begin June 1st in preparation. So this weekend, I went out with a bang before the ascetic lifestyle was to begin, I thought, on Tuesday. After our Memorial Day picnic of bread, cheese, grapes, blueberries, cheese, salad, cheese, rice chips, wine cake (more on this later) and vodka lemonade yesterday at the Brooklyn Bridge Park, I went home and proceeded to order a bucket of fried chicken with the Fiance. It was, of course, delicious. Lying in bed this morning, as I contemplated what a monk might eat for breakfast, I found myself reciting aloud, "Thirty days hath September, April, June, and November. All the rest have 31...." And then I realized. My diet doesn't start til tomorrow! Bonus. So, how am I spending this precious extra day? As we speak, I am eating a bag of skittles while a pot of cabbage soup simmers on the stove. Less than thrilling stuff over here in this gastronomic corner of the world. Also, I just realized I don't believe in diets. And so, my apologies to you, May, for neglecting you so. On to June, in which I vow to eat better, write more, and do more of this:


The Mouse

*Okay, so there was the whole graduating thing, and that lovely wedding we went to upstate, and our super-exciting brush with fame, but still....

Monday, May 9, 2011

Shut Up and Listen. (Or: Potatoes, Two Ways)

Dear Boo,

As of last week, I am officially done with school. On May 18th I will be donning cap and gown (the privilege of which cost me $68. Ah higher education) and walking with the rest of my fellow soon-to-be alumni towards... what? A lifetime of being overworked and underpaid? A field that is undervalued and overly relied-upon? Budgets which are constantly being slashed, programs cut, and policies which undermine and make futile any well-meaning attempt to help? Do I sound cynical? Well, naturally. I'm writing to you from the limbo between academia and the real world, poised between two lives (who in their right mind becomes an actor and then chooses social work as a back-up plan? And then decides she likes both too much to leave either one and attempts to find a balance?) and between excitement and terror, inspiration and ambivalence. So forgive the pessimism. The truth is, the past two years have been thrilling. I've been gnawing my nails while writing this because I can't seem to quite put into words what my experience has been or how I feel about it. (Which is ironic since in both my acting training and social work education, there's been an emphasis on being able to identify and express feelings. oops.) And I have no wise words or lively illuminating anecdotes to offer. Except this.

One of the most important things I learned in school is this: Shut up and listen. 'When you don't know what to say,' we were told over and over, 'don't say anything.' 'If you really want to help someone? Shut up and listen.' It's a good bit of advice for all of us, really. And while I wait in this limbo of unemployment and indecision, while I try to figure out what the hell comes next, where I should be heading and how I'm going to pay for it all, I'm going to give it a shot. I will shut up and listen to my heart and gut and in the great social work tradition of optimism and hope, I will trust that whatever bubbles to the surface will guide me. And maybe, one of these days, while peeling potatoes over the sink, I will be listening to the shhhppp of the slicer, the sound of the traffic, and the hum of my own thoughts, and it'll all suddenly make sense. So excuse me. I'm going to shut up now and peel some potatoes.

The Mouse

In honor of my two careers, my two minds about graduating, and my general indecision, I offer you potatoes, two ways. The first is an easy, decadent, smothered version I found on Ruth Reichl's blog (now there's a career I could get behind!) and made for Easter dinner, but which would be the perfect antidote to any day the unemployed-what-am-I-doing-with-my-life blues hit. The second, is a first on this blog, a recipe from the Fiance. I came home the last day of my field work at NY State Psychiatric Institute to find him making a lovely celebratory dinner. He said he planned to make potato chips in the oven, and I was feeling so grateful for all the love and support and learning in my life and so pleased that I could sit back with a glass of wine and wait for dinner to be served, that I bit my tongue and did not tell him what I was thinking, which is that there was no way those little discs of potato would emerge from the oven alive. I was certain they would instantly burn to a crisp and refuse to part from the surface of the pan. How wrong I was. They were a revelation--crispy, crunchy, satisfying, and relatively healthy. If you've ever met me, you know potato chips are my absolute favorite desert-island food. There is nary a life decision to be made that isn't made better by a chip or two.

Gratin Dauphinois
via Ruth Reichl, via Jacques Pepin

2 1/2 pounds Yukon Gold potatoes, thinly sliced
3 1/2 cups of milk, cream or a mixture of the two
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
a bit of freshly grated nutmeg
3/4 cup coarsely grated Gruyère (or other cheese - any one will do).

Preheat oven to 400°F. Generously butter a shallow baking dish.
Put the potatoes into a pot with the milk or cream, garlic, salt, and pepper and bring just to a boil. Pour the contents of the pot into the buttered baking dish, grate the nutmeg over the top and sprinkle on the cheese. Bake for about 45 minutes, until the top is browned and all the liquid has been absorbed by the potatoes. Allow this to stand for 15 minutes (or more) before serving.

Oven Potato Chips
by the Fiance

Yukon Gold or Russet Potatoes, how ever many you want

Some olive oil

Good amount of salt

Black pepper

Garlic powder (or other seasonings as you choose)

Using a mandolin, slice potatoes very thin. Pat them dry. Place them in a ziploc bag with a generous amount of olive oil, the pepper and garlic powder. Toss together until well coated and distributed. Lightly oil a couple of baking sheets. Lay potato rounds in a single layer on pans. Put in a 450 degree oven for about 15 minutes, but check as you go so they don't burn. Timing will vary depending on your pans, the thickness of the chips, and the oven. Sprinkle with salt while hot. Let cool in single layer on rack or plate.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Spring Chicken; A Fairy Tale

Dear Mouse,

Once upon a time in New York City, two sisters made May Eve Dinner.

They just about fit in the kitchen.

They dined atop a high hill on the 7th floor overlooking 7th avenue, on the 30th night of the 4th month of the year, with The Fiance and Mr. & Mrs. Mighty Hunter in attendance. Mr. & Mrs. MH are a lovely pair of fellow theatremakers with healthy appetites for good seasonal food and the celebration of arcane holidays. They came bearing wine and a delightful spinach-strawberry-cucumber salad. So far, so good.

They tasted the gravy and it was good.

As everyone knows, May Eve is a magical night where strange things can happen.
No, not that. **

One sister set out to write a final paper, but somehow it turned into a lemon tart!
... and then it disappeared...

And the other sister made the Roast Spring Chicken from Sarah Leah Chase's "Cold Weather Cooking". (Can you guess which sister?) It was said afterwards she must have used faery magic, for how could such a delicious, fragrant roasted meat result from only 5ingredients (not counting chicken) and only a 4-step recipe? (The simplicity makes this very affordable...though I recommend putting those extra dollars into a really really good bird... like the 4lb 'Red Cockerel' I bought from Dickson's Farmstand Meats... uh, I mean, that I won from the Faery Queen after I beat her at Buck Hunter. Um.. whatever. Where was I?)

"We have too many chicken recipes already", the first sister warned. "Post something else."

Right you are.

The Boo's Home-Brewed May Eve Love Potion Tea
(... a refreshing beverage. This is a good non-alcoholic aperitif which would also probably be awesome in your prosecco)

fresh red rose petals
dried damiana leaf (available at Flower Power in the East Village or similar)
fresh mint leaves
honey or agave syrup (optional)

Damiana leaf is a sort of spearmint-meets-anise-tasting herb that is rumored to be aphrodisiac and also to have perhaps been used in the original margarita recipe... of all things. Live and learn.

Pour 2 C boiling water over 1 C fresh rose petals in heatproof bowl. Let steep until cool, drain. Reserve the lovely pink liquid. Pour 1 C of boiling water over 1-2 heaping tsp damiana leaf in teapot. Throw in a few mint leaves. Steep 20 min. (This makes 1 Cup;obviously use more of both depending on how much tea you want). Add maybe 1/4 C of the rose water and some sweetener of choice, stir while still warm. Serve cold with a mint leaf or two.

Happy May!


The Boo

** PorkHart, a live band burlesque experiment helmed by The Boo and The Mayor last week in celebration of spring. No food was served.