My life has been full lately, in the best possible way, and that makes me happy because I love being busy with things I enjoy doing. I’ve been seeing old friends, making new friends, rehearsing for an opera that opens this Saturday, seeing this and this (Daniel Radcliffe! <3), and have been spending the rest of the time trying to relax, work out, and dabble in the kitchen, too.
Foremost on my mind this week (I guess 10 hour dress rehearsals will do that to you), though, is that show I mentioned called Madama Butterfly, a Puccini opera set in Japan. In the opera, a Japanese girl (Cio-Cio San) meets a man in the Navy from America (Pinkerton), she falls in love with him even though it seems like all he wants to do is get laid, she gets pregnant, he goes back to America, and when he returns several years later, he’s married to an American woman, Cio-Cio San is forced to give up her child, and then she kills herself. That’s the short version, of course, but I think you get the idea.
It’s an absolutely awful, over the top story, and, despite my usual dislike for Puccini operas, this particular show is so, utterly depressing and emotionally exhausting that it’s nearly impossible not to be moved by the music and emotion which is so raw and cathartic.
I don’t have a major part in this show, but I do sing a little tiny bit and, in the performances when I’m not singing, I play one of 3 background characters (called Kuroko) dressed completely in black that have been added to this production to provide a foreboding effect and also, more practically, to be prop movers and helpers. Being on stage for the entire show as a Kuroko is something I’m not used to, and there’s a lot of staging to remember. I find myself standing on stage digging deep into my brain attempting stay a step ahead and remind myself of what I need to do next.
While it’s been tough rehearsing this part, which can be really boring, tiring, and seemingly pointless at times, it’s also been really refreshing to work with the other cast members, who are amazing people, and who make every rehearsal so much more bearable. Every time I am in a show, I think about why we all do it. I consider why we spend hours every week looking at music, staging and singing at rehearsal and traveling to this particular opera hall, which is more than an hour from my apartment. (and I’m one of the lucky ones; some other people live much farther than I do)
Even though we’re not getting paid for our work at this point, we’re involved because we have to make music, because little else gives us the kind of satisfaction that we get from performing some of the best music ever written. Knowing that we’ve discovered our passion for this art is comforting and fulfilling in many ways. It might sound dumb for me to say that about being a part of a small, community opera production, but that’s how I feel. We’re all getting experience, so the dedication is worth it for that reason, and being involved sounds way better than going at home after work every day and never interacting with other people who enjoy the same things we do. I’ve met some amazing, vibrant, interesting people because of opera (and some not so great people, too, but that’s life), and I’ve learned so much from so many of them. And I never would have met Scott if it wasn’t for opera, either. We met on stage and haven’t looked back since.
In the midst of rehearsals and all of the other fun things going on, I’ve been cooking with red lentils a lot lately. I think they’ve taken the top spot as my favorite food, and I am constantly trying to find new ways to use them. Something about the reddish-yellow hue of a bowl of cooked red lentils and the way that they surrender their texture and become soupy and thick is beautiful, warming, and SO filling. The process of preparing these lentils, which is similar to the way you’d make lentil soup, is like magic, to me. First, the garlic, onions, and any other vegetables you’ll be using cook down in some oil in a large, heavy bottomed pot. Once the vegetables soften, you add the spices to the pot and let them simmer before adding the liquid and, lastly the lentils. The mixture comes to a boil, you lower the heat, cover, and let the lentils do their thing for 20-30 minutes. By the time you open the pot again, the lentils have transformed and there’s a rich, velvety soup/dal there that’s just begging to be poured over rice and enjoyed.
This dal recipe, found here (love her), involves the addition of a cinnamon stick, coconut milk, cilantro and fresh mint, along with other famed spices, which result in an intensely aromatic pot of spiced, thick lentils. The coconut milk adds a hint of sweet creaminess and the fresh mint and cilantro, stirred in at the end of cooking, keep the dal fresh, light, and from seeming weighed down. This dal, which I served over brown basmati rice, was one of the best dishes I’ve made in several weeks. And the leftovers, which happily served as lunch for a couple of days after I made this dish, were even better.
One Year Ago: Marcella Hazan’s Tomato Sauce
Red Lentil Dal
Yield: 4-6 servings
Total Time: 45 minutes
1 tablespoon canola oil
2 teaspoons cumin seeds
2 teaspoons black or yellow mustard seeds
1 medium onion, diced finely
1 ½ inches fresh ginger, peeled and minced
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 jalapeno, finely chopped
1 ½ teaspoons curry powder
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 teaspoon turmeric
Pinch of chili powder
1 tablespoon tomato paste
2 cups red lentils
2 cinnamon sticks
2 cups water
1 15-oz can light coconut milk
Juice of 1 lemon
Bunch of mint, chopped
Bunch of cilantro, chopped
1. Heat canola oil in a large, heavy bottomed pot over medium heat, and add the mustard seeds and cumin seeds. Sautee for a minute or two, until they become slightly fragrant. Add the onion and heat for 5 minutes until slightly soft and translucent. Add the ginger, garlic, jalapeno, curry powder, cumin, turmeric and chili powder and sautee for 2-3 minutes. Add the tomato paste and stir for another minute.
2. To the pot, add the lentils and stir until well combined with all the spices, onion and garlic. Add the cinnamon stick, water and coconut milk and bring the mixture to a simmer and then cover partially, turn the heat to low, and allow the lentils to cook for about 15 minutes, at which point they’ll be very soft and slightly soupy. Be sure to stir occasionally while they’re simmering.
3. After 15 minutes, if your dal is too thick, add more water. If it’s too thin, simmer with the lid off the pot for a few minutes so that some of the liquid can evaporate. Once the desired consistency is reached, add salt and lemon juice, both to taste. Stir in the cilantro and mint, cook for another 10 minutes, and serve the dal warm, in bowls, with a side of rice and/or naan.
You can refrigerate the lentils for up to 3 days in the refrigerator in an air tight container. When you’re ready to heat them, add them to a pot and pour in a little bit of water before letting the lentils warm over medium heat.
From Dana Treat