Tuesday, January 31, 2012

How to Eat BBQ, Chapter I

"Look you can think, yes be patient there will be some technology magic bullet. Or you might think, 'Oh shit! This is like a ticking time bomb! We don't know when it will go off!' Wouldn't you do anything, anything you could to stop it? Think about that while you enjoy your lunch."
- 'Emmanuelle', French Canadian scientist, The Great Immensity

"Eat Food. Not too much. Mostly plants." -Michael Pollan

Dear Mouse,

You know how they say, 'You Are What You Act'?

Well, that's because they don't. But they should. Every time we do a play, we learn, and that learning becomes part of us. Always, there is new information about ourselves in the struggle to align ourselves with a new psychology. And often we learn much from the research necessary to inhabit the world of the play. This is where I could go into a whole thing about how acting is psychology, spirituality, anthropology, how it creates the capacity for empathy and thus is and always has been of the utmost importance to our evolution/survival ... but there are more pressing things to talk about.

Like meat sweats.

Famed BBQ joint Arthur Bryant's in Kansas City, MO, where we ate last night.

(Going on a Sunday seems a good idea, as we haven't yet had to wait for a table. Or a slab of meat.)

Are you familiar with this term? Because I wasn't. But there I was at Gates BBQ last Sunday night, which (because of the day off Monday) has become Official Meat Night for our cast and crew, and halfway through my "Short Ends", it happened.

"Wow, I just got, like, really hot!" I exclaimed, reaching for my friend's napkin with sauce-covered fingers. "I'm sweating .. am I sweating?" He looked up from his meal, and with eyes glazed as a Yammer Pie, nodded authoritatively. "Meat Sweats", he said.


At Arthur Bryant's, El Directore informed me over a half pound of pulled pork that there is a word in spanish, tufo(sp?), which has no English equivalent. It refers to the alcohol reek coming off someone who maybe had one too many last night and is sweating it out over breakfast with you. I'm gonna go ahead and say that "meat sweats" is at least the english culinary version.

Though I guess you could just drink these straight up.
(Three kinds on each table: spicy, sweet, regular.)

These people are all high. On meat!

At Arthur Bryant's, I had the "Burnt Ends", which differ from Short Ends ... in that one is burnt and one is short. Haha. Ok seriously. One is (and here I'm quoting the theatre's Artist Welcome Packet) "the last seven or eight ribs in a slab of spare ribs", and one is "the blackened somewhat charred pieces of brisket ends that cannot be sliced". One is pork, one is beef (or veal). And I'm going to go out on a limb here and say that so far - so far!! - I preferred the ribs. Maybe I just like pork. And eating with my hands.

You can certainly get your meat a la carte, just a pile of animal on a plate, and many do. I opted both times for the open-face setup, in which the meat arrives over plain soft white bread slices, which get soaked through with the BBQ sauce, and coin-shaped dill pickle slices from a jar. Extra (but, come on, non-negotiable) are a couple of sides such as sweet, smoky baked beans, coleslaw (which I'm not into), or a pile of hot, fat french fries (yes, please). You don't have to have a giant mug of cold beer on the side, but you also don't have to be smart or cool. (Apologies; you can also have "Red Cream" Soda, for those of you who like bubble gum that has been melted down and carbonated and infused with Essence of Marshmallow.)

Now here's where you might be scratching your head and saying "So ... I guess The Boo is doing a play ... about barbecue?" And to that I say, stay with me.

A statue on The Plaza. This guy has had it, HAD IT, with carbon emissions.
('The Plaza" is a turreted, cream-colored stretch of fancy stores and restaurants that I read is supposed to look like Seville, Spain, but whoever thinks that is probably tufo.)

I'm not going to spend this blog trying to recap Michael Pollan's "Defense of Food" or Mark Bittman's "Food Matters", but if you've even heard these names you probably already know something about how the food choices we make have an impact on the health/longevity of our planet. Excessive meat consumption has been linked to .... Oh, here, watch this. At your leisure.

So if I'm in Kansas City working on this beautiful play about our environment, how dare I stand here going on and on about my Burnt Ends? When the polar bears are dying? Have I left no sense of decency?

Camera, pull back. Let us look, for a moment, at the big picture. And by that I mean my diet. As a whole.

"Some switch got flipped in my brain. I wasn't even trying. One day it was real."
- Polly, The Great Immensity

The Boo's Sample Weekday Menu Since Arriving in KC
(Which Started With Simply Being Concerned About Making It Through The Day And Looking Good On Opening Night And Also There's The Proximity To Health Nut Store)

Breakfast: Whole oatmeal made with rice milk, walnuts and dried cranberries, drizzled with agave syrup. Local coffee from The Roasterie: dark, bold, stunning.

Mid-morning rehearsal snack: apple, banana, carrot, and maybe raw broccoli chunks (rare but has happened).

Lunch: turkey/hummus/alfalfa sprouts/raw kale sandwich on locally made whole-wheat pita bread. another apple. sweet potato chips.

mid-afternoon snack: whatever I have left from mid-morning... another couple of carrots? a bag of cashews from vending machine?

Dinner: Seeds of Change 'Whole Grain Quinoa Blend'. Amy's Black Bean Chili. A big pile of The Boo's Raw Kale Salad (which is the stuff of legend by now if I do say so myself) with parmesan, nuts, sprouts, whatever's around. Coconut water. Multivitamin.

Dessert: Green & Black's organic chocolate from freezer. And yes, ok, Mouse, once or twice: microwaved bananas. Slice 'em up with agave syrup and oatmeal and walnuts and a little cream, 3 minutes on high, it's what I had in the house. And it was delicious.

And then, on Sunday:

L to R: baked beans, companion's pulled pork sandwich, "small" Red Cream soda, Boulevard Brewing Co Pale Ale, fries, 'Burnt Ends Open-Face' sandwich.

No, I have not lost my mind. I'm just trying something. Do I care about the planet and its future? Hell yes; increasingly so in the face of all this (delightfully entertaining) information. Am I going to give up meat to save the planet? Hell no! Am I still drinking coffee from disposable containers? Baby steps. But it turns out that trading in "less carbs" thinking for "more plants" thinking is just more fun. For one thing, it involves eating MORE not less of something. And when Sunday arrives I eat whatever I please, without a care in the world. AND remember those "second chakra issues" I mentioned? I find that at least one of them shows signs of leaving. No, not that one. But all in good time.


The Boo

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Baker's Dozen #5: Cousin Brett (and the Commons!)

The CommonFolk: From left to right, Matt, Sarah, Sam, and Brett.
HALF of this staff is related to us.

Dear Boo,

This latest installment of our ever-popular Baker's Dozen series (well, I'm a fan, at least), brings us back yet again to our very own family. Naturally, two sisters don't become as obsessed with food and cooking as we are simply by accident. No, the rivulets of butter run deep, and so its no surprise that today's guest - our cousin Brett! - is himself a tad bit, shall we say, enthusiastic. Some might say that opening a cafe dangerously close to where I and other family members live, designed by our cousin Bill, with baked goods homemade by his mother (our oft-referenced Auntie), and managed by his brother (our cousin Sam!), is taking it a little far. I will forgive him the proximity of so many butter-laden treats (not to mention the TO DIE FOR pork sandwich) because I am absolutely thrilled that The Commons was born this year. There is something ever so comforting in the fact that, anxious, sleep deprived, and chilled to the bone on the way to my new job, I can walk into the cozy little cafe and be greeted like family with a nice hot, perfectly brewed cup of coffee. After that, everything goes down a little easier. Now if only they would deliver lunch to my office...

Slow Roasted Pork Sandwich with broiled tomatoes, pickled carrots and habanero mayo on brioche. Holy Crap.

Moving on. I give you, a Baker's Dozen with our cousin Brett, with contributions by Sam and the whole cast of Commons Characters!

1) Where'd you get the name for the Commons? And for that matter, where the heck did you get the idea to open a cafe in the first place?
My partners Sarah Wallace, Matthew Mogil and I all grew up together and went to the same high school. The Commons was the name of our cafeteria and was were we ate lunch and hung out together. The three of us operated Organicoa, a seasonal cafe in the Hudson River Park for two summers. The food, vibe and service was so well received, we knew we would be successful bringing a more fine-tuned version to Chelsea. Once we signed our lease, the brainstorming for a new name began but was short lived. When Matt suggested The Commons.....it felt so right!

2) I can only imagine the kind of hilarious and disastrous antics which would occur if my sister and ran a restaurant. You and your brother are in this venture together. How's that workin out? Honest. I won't tell him.
Honestly, its great. He's taken charge of this gig and is our star GM. He's passionate about the operation, and more importantly, our customers. Thats what I love about him! We fight - cause I'm older and always right :) but really, The Commons wins out because we both contribute important, but different perspectives on what is necessary.

3) The Boo and I are slightly obsessed with placing the perfect order at a restaurant. What's the perfect order at the Commons?
The perfect order at The Commons? Breakfast must involve a latte from our amazing baristas (coffee from La Colombe) and a slice of Tortilla Espanola. For lunch, the pork sandwich and a blood orange iced tea. Dessert is an easy one--grab a cup of Organicoa hot cocoa and a chocolate chip cookie from our own Arlene's Bakery.

4) The Husband loves him some Fro-coa, your frozen hot chocolate. What's the secret to its deliciousness?
The Frocoa began during the summer in the park at Organicoa. It is made with the best dairy money can buy (Battenkill Valley Creamery, we love you!) and organic cocoa syrup. We will sell Organicoa Frocoa in The Commons, Summer 2012 - we are currently selling the equally delicious Organicoa Hot Cocoa here at The Commons - come grab a cup!

5) What's your favorite meal your mom, of Arlene's Bakery fame, makes for you?
Besides her dessert skills, she is really an all around amazing cook! Her brisket is top notch...carrot ring on the side and homemade applesauce is hard to beat for a holiday dinner. Spaghetti and Meatballs are perfect too.
What about dessert? As you know, our holiday dinners end with at least 3-4 desserts. All of them are soooo good. I love her Key lime pie and chocolate chip cookies

6) What are your earliest food memories?

Well our grandmother was the greatest cook, so definitely my first memories were of her cooking. A Polish immigrant who first lived in Atlanta, GA, she cooked Jewish food to perfection but also made southern fried chicken, corn fritters w maple syrup and incredible desserts. Honestly everything she made was the best thing I've ever eaten.

7) What was the first meal you remember making on your own?
Really hard to say. I love to cook and have been doing so for a long time. I studied abroad in Italy so I have a soft spot for Italian. Pasta is my favorite, and usually the true test of a great Italian restaurant. It's probably what I tried my hand at first. I actually think I learned a lot of what I know from watching Molto Mario! My eggplant parm is pretty damn good too.

8) Why do you think our family is so obsessed with food?
It goes back to Baba, our grandma - we always ate together as a family and it has still stayed true. It has gone from family holiday meals, to food blogs, restaurants and cafes.....I love it and can't wait to see more of it!

9) You are a real estate magnate by day and restauranteur by night. I'm guessing you squeeze in dinner somewhere around 12am. What's your favorite late night snack?
We are all busy here at The Commons and have built this biz mostly around the cafe and have some local favorites. Sammy's Noodle Shop runs about the best delivery service on this planet - their chow fun, lo mein and moo shoo are pretty damn good. The Dirty Bird to-go recognizes our phone number when we call, lets just say that... Best fried chicken out!

10) Favorite pizza topping?
I have to stick to plain. Sal and Carmines on 101st and Broadway is by far, the best slice in the city

11) Top three places to eat in NYC.
Ellabess in the Nolitan Hotel is run by Epicurean MGT of L'artusi and Dell'Anima fame and is a must try. Sarah introduced me to Diner in Williamsburg and I think its a perfect restaurant. Lupa is an old favorite. We are huge fans of Mario and Lupa is spot on.

12) I'm having this internal debate and I want you to weigh in. Where do you stand on cake pops and sliders? Delicious trend, or annoyingly twee?

Can't say I've ever heard of cake pops! But in general I'm not high on gimmicky food. But I have to admit, sliders are hard to pass up. Locanda Verde does an amazing lamb slider and Joey Campanaro's meatball sliders are perfect.

13) You know real estate and now you know the NYC food world. It seems like the trend is towards smaller, more casual restaurants with no a no reservations policy and amazing food (like your tenants, Torrisi). With rents like the space down the street from us which was reportedly asking 40K a month of its restaurant tenants, I can't help but think real estate prices have a lot to do with this. What do you think?

I love real estate and have had a great time at Veracity Development. We have seen Nolita boom and rents follow suit. Now that rent is such a thorn in my side with the cafe, its easy to understand the struggle of restaurants to keep up with escalating rents. While I play both sides, representing landlords and operating a cafe, I can't help but know that the market moves in a circle. The rents are up, the rents are down. There will always be side streets, new neighborhoods and the occasional great deal. Great operators know the right concept, for the right space in the right time. I like the variety - Torrisi is a special place and they hit a home run with concept/space/time - its a model to follow but it doesn't work everywhere. The best thing about NYC is that we have somewhere to eat for every occasion.

Amen, Coz. And welcome to the 'hood. See you tomorrow morning.

This chicken sandwich has a poached egg, bacon and frisee. Yeah, you heard me.


The Mouse

Monday, January 16, 2012

Om Shanti, KC

Dear Mouse,

It's that time again.
a play and media project about our environmental challenges
Runs Feb 17 - March 19 at Kansas City Rep

Hello hello from Kansas City MO, where I'll be living and blogging for the next two months. I still can't quite believe that this is the fourth year in a row I'm working out of town Jan-March; I'm starting to think of it as my annual pilgrimage to... America. You know I've had a love affair with Going Away in general ever since my sandal-wearing, patchouly-scented, guitar-strumming Summer Camp days. But I especially dig the, say, liminal nature of the first night in town, before rehearsals start, when you have no idea what lies ahead. You land in a strange new world, navigate a new grocery store, unpack your clothes, listen to the SILENCE around you, breathe maybe a little differently, and ponder upcoming challenges. And when I speak of challenges, I mean figuring out how I am going to approach playing twin sisters (!!!), and also I mean things like this:

Hi, my name's Steve, I'll be your Fork for the next two months. Not kidding.

Yes, the lay of the land here in Kitchen Stadium is interesting.

No oven. Like the song says, I got two electric burners and a microwave...

Stay tuned. I think it'll be like camping. (Really, really nice camping). It'll bring me back to that herb-scented, celestially-seasoned self of yesteryear. Which already seems kind of appropriate. Because I've never been here before and really know nothing about this town, but if my first five hours are anything to go by...

... Kansas City is full of hippies!!
(Shh, don't scare them off.)

Evidence collected thus far:

* company manager picks Boo up at airport, beaming in the 65-degree sunshine (speaking of environmental challenges) and sporting a pair of sunglasses that say "love" on both sides

* Nature's Own, the organic grocery store two blocks away!! where I foraged this afternoon. The checkout girl told me she liked my hair. As I floated home with my arms full of turkish apricots, self-churned peanut butter, and Amy's organic frozen dinners, I stopped to gawk atPhoenix Herb, the homeopathic place next door with its rows and rows of mysterious leaves in glass jars.

* welcome packet at the hotel is definitely the best of its kind I have ever seen and includes the following:
-a bag of Zum products (all-natural frankincense/lavender/lemon bar soap, hand sanitizer, and aromatherapy spray, as well as eucalytpus-scented "laundry soap")
-'seventh-generation' natural dish soap
-reusable grocery shopping bag
-plastic baggies of raw cashews and almonds
-and this

Relax, relax, they're tea bags, they're tea bags.
But it took me a second too.

I went 'home', rolled out my yoga mat, sprayed my pillows with lavender/lemon, and fired up some quinoa and raw kale for dinner. I kid you not. And if last week I was wondering why this highly anticipated new show about climate change, planetary stewardship, and environmental responsibility was premiering so far 'out of town'... it is starting to make sense. Om shanti, KC, I think I'm gonna like it here.


The Boo

PS. Lest I give a totally skewed perspective, rest assured that this glossary of "BBQ Terms" was part of our welcome packet too.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Alright, 2012. I get it.

Dear Boo,

New York strip. $24 per pound. Local, organic, well-loved cows. Carried home like a sack of gold bricks. Rubbed with half a garlic clove and a little butter. Sprinkled---no, showered--with lots of coarse salt. Brought to room temperature before dropping with that unmistakeable SSSZZZZ in a cast iron pan. Pink and running with juices, coated in a salty, charred crust. Given time to rest. Served with smashed potatoes and a pile of peppery watercress, tossed with olive oil and lemon. Dollop of horseradish cream. Glass of nice wine. Quiet apartment, faint sounds of revelry from the street. Candles. Roses bought on the way home from an early cocktail at the tiny secret bar around the corner. Husband's sweet face. The countdown. The kiss. My last meal of 2011.


I don't know if it's the full moon, or the dawning of the Age of Aquarius, or the whole Mayan Calendar/end of the world thing, but 2012 is kind of kicking my ass. Not necessarily in a bad way, mind you (at least, not entirely), but in a galvanizing, take action, I will not be ignored no matter how hard you try, kind of way. It appears 2012 has some lessons in store for us.

It's funny how we finish out each year with the decadent, overblown extravagance of the holidays--the food, the decorations, the incessant music, the ads, the flitting to and fro, the calories, the guilt, the consumption, the kissing under the mistletoe and at the stroke of midnight, the parties, the gifts, the promise of magic--only to wake up on January 1st a little hungover, a little softer around the middle than we were a month ago and resolve with fervor to undo all of it, to buckle down and face the reality of the coming year with grim determination and a aescetic's commitment to moderation. January has always felt a little cheerless to me. It's another whole year before we get to indulge with the same childish abandon, and its at least another couple of months before any real national holiday swings around to give us a break. And this year it's hit me particularly hard. I just want to hit snooze and get 5 more minutes in bed with 2011. But after those five minutes I promise--I PROMISE--I'll get right up and wash my face and eat a sensible breakfast and get to work. There's a lot to be done, and I'm ready for it.
Bring it, 2012.


The Mouse

The inspiration for our New Year's meal, Jamie Oliver's Griddled Steak with Horseradish Sauce can be found here.

Monday, January 2, 2012

Cheez-Its Of the Future (Happy 2012!)

Dear Mouse,

Happy New Year!

Get these out of my house!
Why not double the recipe, I said to myself.

I may not know much, but I know some things. To wit: On New Year's Eve, it is permissible - nay, imperative!! - to do certain things. One may - nay, must! (I dont know what's going on here either) - cover oneself in glitter, feathers, white vinyl, and a tiny hat (aka, a 'fascinator').
One may/must fling glitter from the balcony upon people in the drinks line below (they didn't mind.) One must refuse the offer of an absinthe cocktail, if one knows what is good for one. One must, on the other hand, accept the offer of champagne pretty much every time it comes around. And, if at all possible, one must have these cheese crackers on hand to eat with said champagne, because they will make you feel like this:

Gemini & Scorpio's "Glitter Ball" @Irondale Arts Center in Brooklyn
After two New Years Eves in the kitchen, I decided to get out of the house.Photo by Mrs. Mighty Hunter.

For xmas this year, Mrs. Lawyer (who, as predicted, was horrified by this handle and made me promise to change it) gave me this beautiful, excitingly user-friendly Dorie Greenspan cookbook.

Cheez-Its on Page 10

So, ok, full disclosure: I actually made these, as you know, for our multi-apartment Moveable Feast on New Year's Day (we really must do that again), so I didn't actually get to have them with my official 2012 toast. But if I could have found a way to smuggle these treats into the Glitter Ball you betcha I would have. They are crisp yet buttery, sharp with cheese but not greasy, and delicate despite said butter and cheese. They are a perfect foil for dry champagne, if that's what a foil is. Oh, how delightful. Seriously, get them out of my house.

You will need a food processor. I know, I'm always all "fight the power! who needs machines!" but I kind of feel like you dont' want to try these without one. It is 2012, though, and that means in a few short years robots will do all of this for us anyway.

Happy New Year!

The Boo

Dorie Greenspan's "Cheez-It-Ish Crackers"


8 tbsp (1 stick) cold unsalted butter cut into 16 pieces
1/4 lb (about a cup) grated cheese (Dorie says gruyere, comte, or emmenthal... I went black pepper parmesan)
1/2 tsp salt
1/8 tsp white pepper
pinch of cayenne (optional - but come on. put it in.)
1 C plus 2 tbsp flour

Butter, cheese, salt, and pepper(s) into food processor. Pulse until butter breaks up and mixture forms small curds (mine didn't, dont worry, just get it all broken up.) Add flour and pulse again until you see large curds (this does happen and it's kind of neat.) Turn dough out onto work surface and gently knead til it comes together. Divide in two balls, pat into disks, wrap in plastic wrap and chill at least 1 hour or up to 3 days. (3 days???)

Center rack in oven, preheat to 350. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

Working 1 disk at a time, roll dough out between sheets of plastic wrap/wax paper to a scant 1/4 in thick. (You will want to let it soften up a little before you try this, I found). Using a small cookie cutter (or a vitamin bottle cap, if you're me), cut the dough into circles. (gather scraps together and make them into more circles.) Dorie says you can also make it easier by shaping the dough into logs and doing a 'slice and bake' thing. Place the rounds on the baking sheet and bake for 14-17 minutes, til lightly golden and firm to touch. (In my oven, 15 min was perfect.) Serve warm or room temp, and invite some people over for the love of god.