Tuesday, July 24, 2012

A Dance with Dragon(fruit)s

Dear Mouse,

I ... am flummoxed.

                                                                        New friends.

Ok, we've been doing this a while now. We've experienced and blogged about some certainly out-of-the-ordinary (at least for me/us) food experiences. We've traveled to strange places, eaten exotic foods, had to think fast and be creative, and certainly have logged many bold new steps within these pages (screens?oh, pages I guess). And while I'd never say we've Seen It All (and I hope we never do!), I had, I confess, come to think that we'd ... Seen It Most. I mean, for two non-pro, busy-with-other-things, squeamish-about-animal-insides, had-the-same-sandwich-every-day-for-thirteen-years type gals. (Ok maybe one.)

Well, it's great to keep being surprised by Life, is what I guess I'll write if I can't think of a less maudlin sentence. This has been a week of Firsts. For one thing, I found out I have to play piano for an audition, something I haven't done in, I'm gonna say as many years as I ate that sandwich. And I have now learned an entire Tori Amos song on the piano, from sheet music I had lying around. Skills I thought long-dead: revived. Sleepy little neural networks in dusty corners of my brain... still kickin'. That is really exciting ...

... But maybe not as exciting as what I'm here to post. Mouse, you know me. I may be prone to exaggeration, embellishment, confabulation. I sometimes remember things a little too vividly, or conflate two anecdotes into one, or tell people autobiographical stories that actually happened to Frodo Baggins. But in what I am about to tell you, I am deadly serious. I am adding nothing to this tale, nor leaving anything out. It is as additive-free as a rice cake.

                                                                  Real. And Edible.

Right now, there is a fragrant, fantastical, heavily spiced bubbling pot of mystery on my stove top, filling my house with odors of ginger and uncharted terrain. There is a hot-pink, scaly, discarded, well, skin in my garbage can. There are cubes of white, ink-spotted sweet vegetation piled in a bowl on my kitchen table. There are seductive, translucent little globes the texture of oh why not say it eyeballs in a watery perfumed pile on the cutting board. "Oh", you might say here, "The Boo is trying a new recipe. Well why didn't she just say so? I wonder where she got it from."

Well you might ask!! Where, indeed? And this is the crux of the story, Mouse,  and proof that maybe there are more than just piano chords being kicked up in the coils of my brain. Because I've gotten recipe ideas from many places - cookbooks, blogs, friends, The Mother, you - but this one

                                                       CAME TO ME IN A DREAM. 


I'll wrap this up so I can get back to the eyeballs... But, yep. It was sort of a garden-variety Actor's Nightmare, which is to be expected with this audition coming up. Except ... there was no Acting in it at all. Instead, I was a guest (or so I thought) at a lavish banquet. Menus were passed around. I opened mine in anticipation, only to realize that I was supposed to have prepared one of the dishes being served. What was I to do? I'd have to come up with something. As a guideline, I saw only one word in the printed program - er, Menu: "Ginger". I turned to the person next to me and casually answered their query about what I'd be serving:

                                   "Oh, poached dragonfruits and lychees in ginger syrup."

And then I woke up.

And then I went to the store and bought a dragon fruit (which cost me NINE DOLLARS, so thats how much I love this blog, nine dollars' much). And a small box of lychees.

And then I googled dragonfruits, and, yep, the first recipe I saw was "dragon fruit in ginger syrup", and I sort of followed that recipe, and my apartment smells awesome, and I just ate a small bowl of poached CRAZY and enjoyed it, though it needs tweaks. Dragon fruit tastes like a more grown-up kiwi. And lychees are just the sexiest fruit ever, eyeball-ness or no. They are like what you wished fancy perfume would taste like as a kid, but it didnt. If you're put off by the texture, at least drop them in a martini or let them flavor your prosecco.

To sum up... I have psychic powers. Also, I think two things: 1) that agave syrup DOES NOT WORK as a substitute for sugar when making, um, SYRUP, so don't do that. And 2) I think the fruits would have been better either raw (or just barely poached) then drizzled with syrup, rather than the boiling-fruits-in-reducing-syrup route that the online recipe suggested. Adventurous Midsummer Nights Dreamers - experiment, and then tell us about it.

May you find ripe lychees and affordable dragons.


The Boo

The Boo's Actual Midsummer Night's Dream Fruit Cocktail

1 dragonfruit
1 small container lychees (like, 6?7?)
1 piece peeled fresh ginger cut into 3 or 4 slices
2 cinnamon sticks
a few cloves if you like
1/4 -1/2 C brown sugar (not agave syrup, what are you thinking you hippie)
3 C water

Cut dragon fruit in half. Run a knife around the inside of the skin on each half to dislodge the fruit (you can't eat the skin). Cut up flesh into chunks. 
Peel lychees, slice in half and remove pits. 

In a good size pot on the stove, boil water, sugar, spices and ginger pieces til  reduced to syrupy goodness. Pour over dream fruits. 

 (or, halfway through, as I did, remove spices and add fruits and continue boiling til reduced again by half. But I kind of wished I hadn't.)

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Humble Fish

Dear Boo,

On the Fourth of July, my first day off from work in some time where I wasn't traveling, rehearsing, or writing against a deadline, I decided I would make a cake to bring to our friend's house for a little casual grill-out (of course, since this friend was Chef Josh, "casual" meant a shrimp boil, steak, pork loin, jerk chicken, corn on the cob, mac and cheese, and a watermelon salad.). True to our family's traditions, I picked Ina's Flag Cake, a delicious and patriotic endeavor the founding fathers would have loved. Partway through the process, when the 1.5 hour estimate turned into 2.5, and I obsessed about how one can know for sure that there aren't miniscule bugs in your flour even though you can't see them, when I read the recipe three times and still put all the dry ingredients in at once, when I turned on my beautiful kitchen aid mixer and was hit with a tidal wave of buttermilk, when I tried in vain to get the lumps out of my icing, I paused and thought: It's happened. I've actually forgotten how to cook. 

You see, if my absence from these pages didn't make it abundantly clear, I haven't been doing much cooking these days, on account of this play I wrote (and a few other things). The past few months (months?!) have been a blur of work, writing, rehearsals, shows, late nights, lost sleep, anxiety, joy, bar food and leftover thai delivery. It would take a better writer than I to accurately convey just what all of this meant to me. It was at turns pure joy, pride, growth, pain, insecurity, fear, and triumph. But most of all, like my recent tentative return to cooking, it was a lesson in humility in the best and most valuable sense.

Having your theater company care so much about you as an artist and believe so much in you as a writer, that they opt to put all of their money, heart, and energy behind a production of the very first play you've ever written? Humility. 
Watching incredible actors work their butts off auditioning for your play? Humility. 
Biting your nails as one after another amazing professional, highly acclaimed designers sign on to work on your play for far less than they are worth? Humility. 
Having a star of film and TV and broadway agree to play one of the roles in your play because he likes the script, the part, and the fact that you're a 'group of young artists getting together to make something creative happen'? Humility. 
Sitting in a room with a brilliant director and wonderful cast, arguing passionately about the script because they want it to be better? Humility. 
Realizing those lines you wrote that you are absolutely in love with are going to have to go because no one else is, and really, they just don't work? Humility. 
Knowing that your husband who is as busy as you are, will read the twelve different endings you've written for one scene outloud for you, playing all the parts? Humility.
Complaining that you are SO BUSY and EXHAUSTED from working all day and rehearsing all night and rewriting in the wee hours and then talking to your clients whose struggles on a daily basis are in a whole other ballpark than the stress you've brought on yourself by doing what you love? Humility.
Watching a massive group of company members rally together to build the set for your play, bleeding, sweating, and emptying their apartments to make this happen? Humility. 
Having an opening night party in which you are weighed down with flowers and drinks and kisses but you float home anyway, and then wake up to your alarm the next morning and sweat through your clothes on the subway platform to go to your job where you are overworked and underpaid and no one cares what you did last night? Humility. 
Asking your family to sit and watch a play you know may be hard for them, and then having them hug and kiss you and tell you how proud they are? Humility.
Good reviews. Humility.
Bad reviews. Humility. 
Bad reviews that make good and fair criticisms? Double dose of humility.
Watching the final show of this play with tears in your eyes both because its over and you are so so happy and because it is over and there are some things in your life that are undeniably sad and broken that you cannot fix no matter how many wonderful nights like these you are blessed with? Humility.

Naturally, now that the play has closed, I have found myself in that familiar dull panic of 'what next'? I have been filling my newly acquired free time with redecorating our apartment, doing fantasy searches for new jobs, taking naps, reading the paper, shopping online, and yes, tentatively tiptoeing back into the kitchen. With gratitude and humility, I will begin to reacquaint myself with my pots and pans and remind my hands how to knead, fold and stay out of the way of the blade. 

The cake, though it turned out to be quite tasty, may have been a bit too much too fast. Perhaps I should stick with something simpler and work my way back up. In that spirit, I'm sharing with you the most satisfying, delicious, and humble lunch (or appetizer) one could ask for, and one which the Husband and I have taken to eating for its cheapness, simplicity, and ease of assembly in these busy months, but which is now a permanent staple of our repetoire. 

Canned sardines in olive oil (we like King Oscar brand), eaten on Wasa toast (or saltines or crusty bread if you prefer) with a slather of butter and generous sprinkle of salt. Did I mention its also environmentally friendly and healthy? Eat it with a good conscience. [On a side note--the Husband has a certain fondness for sardines that dates back to when he was a little boy and his family would come home from church on Sundays. His sisters would usually be occupied helping his mom with dinner or some other chores, his older brother off with his friends from down the block, and he, the youngest of the six, would sit quietly with his dad, eating sardines on saltines, a treat which none of his siblings would go near, but which he loved, not only because it meant a rare moment of time alone with his father. A simple and special earthly reward on a day devoted to humility. How perfect is that?]

One more thing before I go: Closing night of our show, we went to a bar which shall remain nameless, where we snacked, raised a glass, and said farewell. Late that night, on the way out, as I was saying goodbye to some friends, I turned and looked through the propped door into the empty kitchen. There, sniffing around delicately on the stove, was a mouse. I knew then it was time to say goodbye, move on, and get back into the kitchen. Mine, that is...


The Mouse