I had such a grand week at the conference. The 11th through 15th of March was my spouse’s purported Spring Break from the university, but as so often happens, most of the week was filled up with work. In this instance, the work was exceedingly pleasurable, but as it was the conference of the American Choral Directors Association, it was, as are most tremendously enjoyable activities, exhausting. Two, three or four concerts a day, master classes, seminars and sessions of all sorts, wandering the exhibitors’ booths, networking and lots of socializing and late, late nights are all piled into the ACDA conferences. By the end of the week, going home sounded beautifully and truly welcome.It might surprise some people to hear it, but by nature I’m an introvert, shy, and I used to have a fairly nasty perpetual case of social anxiety. Yeah, all that fun stuff. I spent a lot of years feeling scared and sick over every new meeting, every unfamiliar place or event. Luckily for me, there are such things as therapists, medications, and lots of family support and training. As a result, going to the various conventions, festivals and conferences that bring together the choral world from time to time has gone from what was, the first time I attended one with my then new husband, quite overwhelming and nerve-wracking to this last, which like its latest predecessors was a much-anticipated ‘family reunion’ with a great number of beloved friends and colleagues from all over the world.So I certainly had a grand week. Meeting with longtime friends from various places we’ve lived, choirs my husband’s conducted, and from our school days, and with ever so many outstanding colleagues, we got to celebrate with them all over music, lunches and dinners, receptions, walks-about-town, drinks and quiet conversations. We laughed and hugged and chattered with current and former students, with composers and conductors and publishers and singers and players, so many friends, and it was all tremendous fun. It made for long days and for short sleeps, for incredibly dry eyes from staying up way too late and for teary eyes from amazingly sweet meetings, no matter how fleeting, with our long-absent dear ones. Stellar music performed by both friends and strangers moved me to both sniffling and silly grins (sometimes simultaneously). It made me as happy and full of love for music and friends and life as I can get, and it made me so tired I could hardly move ten of my cells at a time. And it made me look forward with great intensity to the splendors of home. There, I can relish in retrospect all the sweetness of the multitude of marvels granted by a superb week. And I can revel in Just. Plain. Being. Home.
Sunset over the Serengeti & a Slight Belch from the King of the Beasts
It happens sometimes on the plains, where Splendid Starlings and the strains
Tok-tokkie knocks create a song that’s just as rhythmic as it’s long,
Where Shongololo rolls and runs ‘tween rise and setting of the suns,
Where the hyenas sing their tunes betwixt midnight and morning’s moons:
It’s there the leopard’s race was lost–surprise–at noon, and at great cost,
To one old lion whose good luck dovetailed with leopards run amok,
To the degree that one loud crunch announced the end of it at lunch.
But it’s Food Fun day again, and I’m referring to cooking edibles this time. Old broads still gotta eat.
And since much of the time I am thermostatically challenged myself, I generally try to find ways to make the hot foods I’m preparing require the least possible amount of time putting me in near contact with the oven or cooktop. Why risk further overheating, of either myself or my preparations, should I need to stray far afield from the heated zones of the kitchen.
One fairly easy solution, though it seems somewhat counterintuitive to me, is to roast or fry food. Yes, they’re relatively high heat methods of cookery. But by using them, I can usually evade the stand-and-stir duty: do all of the prep before even turning on the oven, then tuck the food into the would-be fiery furnace, set the temperature and timer, and head off to cooler climes until the alarm sounds for my triumphant return to check and/or finish the dish, and serve and/or eat it. Simple as that.
Roasted beetroot, for example, a nice way to enhance the flavors and textures of a cool late-summer salad, gets cleaned and quartered and then needs nothing more than a small amount of fat and perhaps a tiny bit of seasoning before it pops into the tanning booth. Goat cheese is delicious when lightly coated and shallow-fried, even if like me you’re not quite the culinary artist to present it with perfect Cordon Bleu pizzazz, and it takes no more than a couple of minutes, tops, at the cooker to brown that fine crumb crust.
Roasted Beetroot and Goat Cheese Salad
Scrub and quarter a handful of medium-sized beets. (Clean and save the greens and stems.) Toss the beetroot pieces with a little fat (oil or melted butter; I used coconut oil to keep its noticeable flavor to a minimum), salt and pepper and scatter them in or on a baking or roasting pan. Since I was making such a small (2-person) meal, I just made a pseudo-pan out of heavy aluminum foil to keep any juices from dripping around the oven. Roast the roots at 350°F just until tender–10-20 minutes, depending on your oven and the size of the beet pieces.
Meanwhile, pat 1/2-cup batches of cold chèvre (goat cheese) into patties and coat them with coarse almond flour, pressing it in on all sides. Quick-fry these in a little butter in a nonstick pan over medium heat. You can see from my photos that I am far from adept at this part, so mine look less like haute cuisine than like something unearthed at Herculaneum, but I assure you, they taste quite fine.
Using in tandem these two homely yet highly edible items plus a small assortment of others, you can quickly assemble a presentable version of some hotshot chef’s beetroot-and-goat-cheese concoction and your stomach will not be critiquing the view anyhow. My version, this time around, consisted of a few of the tenderer, prettier beet greens pared down to the leaf and laid on the plate, a bit of peeled cucumber slices arranged in a green frame around the rest of the plate, and all topped with the chèvre rounds and roasted roots and a sprig or two of fresh dill. I’m sure that roasting any sweet enough veg or tuber–sweet potato, carrot, pumpkin, parsnip for example–would make a similarly fine complement to the bright, fresh taste of the cheese, which in turn could be substituted for with any nice salty/sour cheese, undoubtedly.
Which of course leads me to another hot-weather or hot-mama advantage of this preparation: the leftovers (if any) lend themselves to innumerable variant cold, cool or room temperature dishes that can be popped out of fridge or freezer next time the climate or one’s overheated innards require such things. Behold tomorrow’s dish: minced beet greens and stems, steamed quickly in the microwave while the beetroot was roasting, and now blended with that remaining diced vegetal goodness, some leftover quinoa, some diced dried apricots, a few pine nuts, a little orange dressing . . . and the beet goes on . . .
Yes, we are (sing with me, now:) Back in the Saddle Again. The world does not stand still while one is away from her ‘normal’ realities, nor does the stack of Stuff to Do cease to pile up in its mountainous heaps of glory. Plants continue to grow (and/or die, given the return of NTX to triple digit temps), mail to back up into its magnificent conglomeration of surreal junk plus business to be addressed plus about two pieces of personal mail per month; dust settles in its accustomed murky corners and masks the presence, temporarily, of new dainty cobwebs, and meetings and get-togethers that have been held in abeyance until the return home are now on the immediate horizon, lest they get missed altogether.
In short, life goes on, and we need to trot at speed to catch up with it again.
So in the great tradition, I spent much of today doing laundry, unpacking everything I didn’t unpack on arrival yesterday, sorting through some of the mail that my husband had kindly presorted to remove the things that were only his to deal with, and beginning to schedule the numerous activities that need to happen in short shrift. There’s the clearing of drawers, cabinets and rooms that I need to do tomorrow and Friday to prepare for our bathroom reno, the lunch meeting Friday with my weekly lunch-partner, the skylight installer who is now set to come on Saturday afternoon, the retired friends who will come for dinner Saturday before they move to Pennsylvania, the Sunday schedule at the church and then coming home to finish whatever prep I need to finish before the reno crew’s arrival, and Monday those dears will show up to wreak short-term havoc on house and home and (ultimately) make our lives better.
I am trying to keep the Big Picture in mind as I plow on into and through all of the things that need to be tackled, but you know me, I am always prone to be sidetracked by every interesting little thing that comes my way, catches the periphery of my view, or beckons me to take off on the next tantalizing tangent. Which, of course, is in turn additionally tiring and requires more frequent and longer naps and whenever possible, and a nice piece of chocolate to nourish me upon awakening. Okay, that last pair of doings will have to wait until I’ve at least crossed a few necessities off the long and ever-growing lists, or I’ll never get finished.
Sweetly as the day begins,
It cannot reach its finest part
Until that leisured à la carte
Procession of great taste that twins
Fine foods with seasonings and drinks,
With garnish, relish, fetish, fish–
Whatever makes the perfect dish–
‘Til everyone at table thinks
He’s surfeited (at least, quite near),
Whereon the pace grows slower yet,
Chairs get pushed back and belts made loose,
And everyone’s digestive juice
Begins to work on this grand set
Of foods and trimmings at a rate
That makes the luncheon eaters feel
Almost as if another meal
Could fit in with what they just ate–
But since it was so fine, no sweeter
Course could complement the feast,
From boldest spoonful to the least,
So full content is every eater–
So they set down, each one, that spoon,
And smile, and wipe their chins and lips,
And sup no more, not even sips,