Jaeetyet - nojew…
Those were some of the words written on the blackboard one day in acting class back in the seventh grade. There were, I think, at least two more lines on the blackboard with letters that didn’t seem to spell any recognizable words, but this is the only one I can remember. Now, I’m not going to say, in any way, that deep, fulfilling, “life lessons” are learned in seventh grade acting class, but there are definitely a few things that I still use today.
Acting teaches some basic long-term skills, like listening, observing, and conversing. All three things are especially important when you’re performing. When onstage you need to listen to what the other person is saying so you know when to say your line. You need to listen to the audience, so if they are laughing, you pause for a beat or two and don’t just keep talking or they’ll miss the dialog. You need to listen for sound cues and act appropriately. There is nothing worse that answering the prop phone and saying hello, and then it rings, it kind of ruins the illusion. Observing the things happening around you on stage is important so you know where everything and everyone is. You don’t want to cross left, like it says in the script, to pick up a prop that another actor has accidently placed on the right side of the stage; that makes you look like a fool. Learning to observe your fellow actors on stage is also extremely helpful because you can see in their eyes when they have forgotten their line, or what action they should be doing, and you need to step in to help them out. Conversing is equally important so you can make a scene believable, if one actor is super excited when he says his line and you respond with a dull, lackadaisical attitude, the audience gets confused and the other actor gets confused and ultimately the whole conversation is confusing. I can’t tell you how many times I have seen actors where they, while saying their proper lines, didn’t sound like they were actually talking to each other. You learn about conversation very early on in acting class. Sometimes you can just pick it up by reading scripts and noticing the flow between the characters; the back and forth of speech and imagining how the characters are interacting with each other.
So… there I was standing in the wings during my high school production of Stage Door, a well-known play by Edna Ferber and George Kaufman. The setting is a boarding house where a bunch of, not yet famous, actresses live. I had the role of the second of the two gentleman callers that come in midway through the play to take actresses out on dates. The show was rolling along one night and we got to the part of the show where the doorbell rings and all the girls hurriedly exit the stage under the guise of having to put on their make up and get dressed for their dates. As the girls are exiting to their rooms the owner of the boarding house crosses to the right and behind a small partition to where the unseen front door of the house is to “let in” the first gentleman caller. Unfortunately gentleman caller #1 was not in his position, nor was he anywhere to be seen backstage. Not knowing what to do, she stepped back on stage and called up to the rooms: “Sorry girls it was just a prankster, no-one’s date is here yet”. At this point everyone is confused and for a minute everybody froze. The stage manager decided the best course of action was to make the doorbell ring again, as if maybe, by hearing the doorbell a second time, #1 would rush to the stage and be in place, ready to go before the actress onstage completes her cross to answer the door”… … … So she rings the doorbell again. The actress, on stage, who has been pretending to clean the house in the meantime, crossed again to the doorway and… no #1. Since I was the second gentleman caller I was there instead and had to whisper to her that #1 is M.I.A. and that we’re trying to find him, and she needs to adlib for a bit until we can. The fear in her face was unforgettable and she kept whispering to me, “I can’t, I can’t go back out there.” and all I could do was shrug my shoulders and again tell her to stall while gently pushing her back onstage. Let me just say that being told to stall is something an actor never wants to hear and at this point in the play (since there was no-one else on stage), it was a very tall task.
So she goes back on stage again announcing it was just another prankster at the door, and I think I remember her saying something like she was going to call the police, or something like that, to take care of the unruly children in the neighborhood… and then she went silent. She couldn’t think of anything else to say, so she just continued tidying up the place pretending to dust and literally just rearranging the props. Every now and then she would cross to where she could see me backstage and I would just shrug, shake my head, give her the stretch signal, and each time I could see her heart break just a little more. Nearly five minutes went by… an eternity for her (and the audience) when finally someone rushed backstage to announce they had found #1 and that there was no way he could go on. In fact he was lying down in an unused dressing room drenched in blood from a bloody nose that took way too long to stop. At this point there was nothing left to do but skip ahead to the part where I enter. We signaled the stage manager to ring the doorbell again and as soon as she did the actress on stage let out a very heavy sigh and called out loudly, “This had better not be a prank”. Everyone backstage, everyone in the audience, everyone in the booths at the back of the auditorium running the lights, all knew that she wasn’t saying this as her character, this was a command from an actress who was at her wits end. When she got to the doorway area, I quickly told her what happened, told her we’re skipping ahead to my entrance and to pick it up from there… now go, go, go… She nodded returned to the stage and she called up to the rooms “Annie (or whatever the girls name was) your date is here.” And just as quickly as she entered she continued right offstage where she probably collapsed in an exhausted heap.
As she was exiting, I was entering and as soon as I got on stage the entire audience erupted in applause. Oh, how nice… for me? Wait a minute… they think I’m late for my entrance… they’re not applauding me, they’re applauding the fact that this stupid actor finally got his act together and now the play can continue. I wanted to yell out, “I’m not late, it’s the other guy who messed up”… but that’s not very professional is it? So I look around bit and realize that now I am the one all alone on stage. I am supposed to be having a scene where I talk with #1 about the girls, our plans for the evening, and other stuff, which supposedly gives the girls enough time to change costumes. Of course with all the commotion and delays the actress I am supposed to “date” has not yet completed her costume change. So I did what any normal human being would do in this situation, I used all three of the basic acting skills I learned earlier and… I played both parts! You see, I had already been listening to almost 5 minutes of silence and knew that wasn’t good; I had observed an actress struggling to rearrange props and fill time and knew that wasn’t good, so the only thing left was to have the conversation that was scripted. At first I said something like, “Boy it’s too bad Steve (or whatever his name was) wasn’t here tonight, I would have liked to talk with him a little… If he were here I would say, Hello Steve (or whatever his name was) “How are you?”... Then I jumped over to the ottoman where “Steve” was supposed to be sitting and tried to change my voice and demeanor and said #1’s line: “Well, hello there Mark (or whatever my name was) good to see you, I’m doing great. Are you here to take out Annie”? I then jumped off the ottoman and taking my original position, I answered with my line… Back and forth I played both characters, making all the appropriate stage moves, interacting with all the props, (even though some of them had been moved in the unscripted “cleaning” scene) and adding in the occasional – “Then he would say”, or “Then I would say” - to keep everything straight. I completed the scene and just as the actress that was my date appeared on the balcony as she would normally do, I looked straight out at the audience, breaking the forth wall, and said ”Yep, that’s what I would do if Steve (or whatever his name was) was here.” and with that, the play was back on track. On that night for about 12 minutes in the middle of an otherwise perfect show, the ultimate lesson of acting kicked in and carried us through, and that is: “The Show Must Go On.”
Sometimes when we cook, things don’t exactly come out exactly as planned either, but we just keep moving on there as well, don’t we? A long time ago I memorized the number of the pizza place we like, so that in the event of culinary disaster I always had a back up. I imagine I would just walk to the table and announce, “I know I said we were going to have beef bourguignon tonight, but instead I decided for a thin baked bread, topped with a tangy tomato sauce, three different cheeses, mild sausage pieces, and a variety of fresh vegetables, enjoy!... oh, and does anybody have a tip for the delivery guy?”. There is another option though, and it is one of my favorite things to make, not just when I have a food emergency, but when I want something light and quick (or maybe I just feel like breakfast for dinner): Fritatta. This is the way Italians make omelets (probably because we can’t be bothered with the whole folding over thing). The beauty of the frittata is that it can be anything you want.
You can put whatever you like in it. It’s also a great way to use up leftovers you might have. For us, leftover roasted vegetables and whatever cheese (usually pepper-jack) are the perfect fillings for a basic frittata. Just be sure whatever fillings you use are completely cooked before adding the eggs (they won’t have enough time to cook after), and don’t overload the frittata with fillings or the eggs won’t hold together… you’ll basically end up with scrambled eggs… still good, just not a fritatta. Also, fillings should be cut into smallish pieces, about ½-inch or thereabout, so that the eggs can completely surround each piece. Keep in mind you will need to add a liquid to your eggs as well. Whole milk is the usual thing to add, but some people add sour cream or crème fraîche instead. Whatever you do, just make sure it’s full fat (2% milk will work in a pinch, but not skim or 1%) – it has something to do with the proteins and the egg structure - or some other science-y thing that I am not too smart about. Equipment needed for this is a 12-inch non-stick frying pan that can be placed in the oven and that’s about it.
So here is the recipe for the fritatta I made today:
12 large eggs
½ cup whole milk
½ teaspoon salt
4 slices thick bacon
2 leeks, white and green parts only, washed, cut in half, and sliced thin
1 cup chopped bell pepper
6 to 8 mushrooms, each cut into 6 to 8 wedges
¾ cup shredded pepper-jack cheese
salt and pepper
Preheat the oven to 350°F with the rack in the center position.
In a large bowl whisk together the eggs, the whole milk, and the salt until thoroughly combined, then stir in the cheese and set aside.
In a 12-inch, oven proof, non-stick skillet, cook the bacon over medium-low heat until it is crispy and rendered out its fat, then remove the bacon from the skillet and set aside.
Drain off all but 1 tablespoon of bacon fat from the pan then set the pan on the stove over medium-high heat.
Add the leeks, the bell pepper, and the mushrooms to the pan, along with a good pinch of salt (about ¼ teaspoon would do) and sauté the vegetables until completely cooked through and any liquid released is gone.
Crumble the bacon into pieces and add them to the pan.
Season with pepper to taste (and a little extra salt if needed - remember there is salt in the eggs).
Pour in the eggs and cheese mixture, reduce heat to medium and continue cooking, stirring gently and scraping the sides of the pan, until curds start to form and the eggs are beginning to thicken and set.
Once the eggs start to set, stop stirring, smooth the top and leave on the heat, untouched, for 30 to 40 seconds, so the bottom can completely set.
Transfer the pan to the oven and bake for 7 to 10 minutes or until the top is a little puffy and springs back when touched.
Remove the pan from the oven and transfer the frittata to a serving plate or cutting board immediately. Allow the frittata to cool about 5 minutes and serve. The eggs will continue to cook if left in the pan so transferring them to a plate is ideal, however... if they stick or you can’t get them out for some reason, just serve right from the pan, no biggie.
Serve your frittata with a green salad, maybe some salsa would be nice, a few slices of avocado if you have it, toast or bagels, sliced tomatoes… or anything else you have. If it’s been a particularly stressful day, pour yourself a glass of white wine and eat outside on the patio watching the sunset.
That’s it - dinner done.
Oh, and those words written on the blackboard from 7th grade that lead off our post? That was a lesson on enunciation. Jaeetyet is how not to say “did you eat yet?”, and the reply of nojew is how not to say “no, did you?”.