By Jane Heil Usyk
Here is a quick, delicious, lifesaving recipe for nights when you come home late and only have five minutes to make dinner; it’s also very cheap. The other night, for example, we were at our usual Monday night powwow with Simon, our wonderful opera teacher, who teaches opera appreciation and goes over various aspects of opera in class, Verdi, Janacek, Puccini, and everyone else, and shows us opera movies, and plays living and dead opera stars on his phone. We do not sing ourselves. He had been out of town, in Kentucky, for almost a month, and we missed him.
He told us he was having dinner at 8:30 p.m. in the Village with two French friends; they are married, but one lives in Toulouse and the other in Bordeaux. Simon said it only takes two and a half hours to drive from Bordeaux to Toulouse or vice versa. They were in Manhattan for a night or two.
Talking was not a problem; there are a million subjects we can talk about. Filling up the two or three hours until 8:30 p.m was a bit of a problem. We talked and talked, about Madrid, Valencia, about the proper way to make paella (I had offered that you could buy it in Trader Joe’s for very little); Simon said there are three ingredients paella must have: that special short rice that grows in Spain, olive oil, and saffron. And then what? Chicken, vegetables, rabbit, snails. Ugh!!! Not for me. I’ll take seafood paella. The main thing is, you have to cook it over a wood fire, and make sure the bottom is all crispy and crunchy.
He was also wondering what he should say tomorrow night, when he is due to give a talk at the 92nd Street Y. “What have you planned so far?” I asked.
“Nothing,” was his answer. Hmmmm. Well, maybe tonight he will get an idea.
Also, Michael described to Simon our problems using one of his tablets to Skype a friend in Paris; we couldn’t do it and we don’t know why. He said he would come to our apartment soon and help us. (He is, besides our opera teacher, our technical advisor, since he seems to know everything about computers.)
Simon also mentioned that everybody in Louisville adores Ruth Bader Ginsburg; they are all wearing t-shirts with her picture on it! We thought that was pretty good news.
Michael was quiet for a moment, observing the people on Sixth Avenue, many of them very needy. “What are you doing?” I asked.
“I’m watching the beautiful mosaic,” Michael says, echoing various mayors, mainly David Dinkins.
And then it was 8:30 and time to split up and go home, and for Simon, have dinner with French people. We got home just after nine, and Mike went right to work. His raw materials: chicken-cilantro dumplings, French green beans, two red onion slices, and bok choy. Chopped all the vegetables while heating up the pan, coated the bottom of the pan with oil, threw the vegetables in the pan, and softened them. Then he added the dumplings, about ten or twelve, and a little water to make a cauldron. Also, he added a little Gyoza dipping sauce. Put the top on and let it cook for for a few minutes.
Meanwhile, I set the table and got two Heil family Spode plates, one serving dish, two Heil family serving things, and put them on the table with the dipping sauce.
And Michael served it, not ten minutes after we got in the door. Suddenly, you have a lovely Chinese dinner. At home. Have seltzer and half a banana for dessert, and you’re home free!
Simon was so glad to get back to New York. Louisville was very quiet, he said. No noise, no madness, no trash, and hardly any people. Of course, it was summer,and probably quieter than during the school year…
Mike says he is so happy to spend time with Simon again. Simon was in Louisville for three weeks, teaching singing. Now he’s back, and we enjoyed all the talk during and after class. Simon is one of the people who brighten our lives.
Jane Heil Usyk wrote articles for Vogue, Cosmo, Glamour, Family Circle, Playgirl, Hit Parader, and Fitness magazines. She wrote a book, “Silence, Storytelling, and Madness: Strategies of Resistance in Nuyorican and Other Latina Women’s Coming-of-Age Stories.” She worked at Vogue, and is writing a memoir.