Toronto pensive

Luisa, how art thou magnified....

I seem to have been on LJ rather less often of late. Not sure why, really, except a lack of inspiration and the sneaking suspicion that continuing accounts of the garden or the aga or my other preoccupations are not terribly interesting to others. But people have actually ASKED me to write, so why not. Very flattering.
We have survived Thanksgiving again, and this year we even enjoyed it. I have a bit of a "thing" against the holiday; I associate it with my mother's passion for inviting various waifs and strays over for the meal and my having to be polite to a bunch of people I didn't care for and really didn't like, plus the fact that my mother is/was what one would call an anxious hostess and always wound herself up into a complete fantod by the time the guests were about to arrive. If it wasn't something not quite right in the kitchen, then it was something about the dining room or....anyhow I was heartily sick of it.
I still have not realized my ideal Thanksgiving in which ONLY ADULTS WHOM I LIKE OR LOVE will be invited. But I'm getting closer. In addition I am a more consistent cook than my mother and thanks to Bill's iron grip I have also become rather less anxious about it all...This year we had the traditional turkey; I was fortunate enough to find one of only about 10 pounds, eliminating that common description of Eternity: two people and a turkey. Our only guests were my sister and my niece, both in pretty good form. In addition there was dressing (stuffing the turkey makes it less usable as leftovers), mashed potatoes, brussels sprouts (I found some really tiny ones, which are much nicer than the usual American billiard balls), squash (the dullest vegetable in the world, but Bill wanted some), my uncooked cranberry relish, and pumpkin pie (once a year but no more, please). With this I served our local West County hard cider, which is even nicer than a dry white wine with a meal like this.
The surprising highlight of the meal is that my niece's unexpected lack of interest in sweets continued. Who would have expected an eight year old to take second helpings of brussels sprouts? Take them she did.

I, however, am a cook who finds leftovers even more interesting to work with than raw materials. After a couple of days of meals consisting of stuffing and gravy and a few scraps of turkey, it was time to make Bill's favorite, Turkey Tetrazzini. This is a dish whose name may strike fear and perhaps loathing into anyone who has had institutional food, and to tell you the truth, my own associations with it are not very good. Once again...my dear mother was a good cook on average but she worked a full time job, and carefully picking apart a turkey carcass was perhaps not quite what she really wanted to do, even if she had turkey tetrazzini in mind. But you see...you HAVE to be scrupulous because otherwise you end up with all those little bits of cartilage and icky stuff that I collectively refer to as 'toenails', an unexpected bite on which is guaranteed to ruin any meal in which chicken or turkey à la king or tetrazzini or similarly cooked has featured. So when I strip a poultry carcass, it is with a very sharp knife and great vigilance that I work. I throw out ANYTHING that is in the least gristly or fatty. Even so, you can usually get a respectable amount of meat off a turkey 2 or 3 days after the big day. Now for the Tetrazzini. This dish, though very American, was originally created in honor of the brilliant Italian coloratura Luisa Tetrazzini. She looked a bit like a dumpling and she was no actress, but her old recordings have an amazing sense of enjoyment and they sparkle with virtuosity. Come to think of it, perhaps the dish invented in her honor may have had something to do with her silhouette...but never mind. Basically it consists of half a pound of pasta (I used thin spaghetti, but linguine work well too) cooked, drained and mixed with half a pound of sauteed mushrooms. This you then mix with half of a sauce which you have made from 2 Tbsp flour, 2 Tbsp butter, 2 cups of stock (preferably turkey) which you then enrich after the liaison with a cup of cream (the recipe says heavy cream but I found that light worked quite nicely) and 2 tablespoons of sherry. Spread the pasta mixture in a buttered gratin dish. The other half of the sauce you mix with the nicely cut up bits of leftover turkey, and spread it over the sauced pasta/mushroom layer. Sprinkle the whole thing lightly with a mixture of grated parmesan and buttered crumbs, and bake in a moderate oven until bubbling and lightly browned.
Bill and my pianist Geoff each had three servings last night, so I think it was a success. Oh Luisa.....
By the way, the leftover squash (JESUS that stuff is dull) ended up in a very nice bundt cake -- I used it instead of the original recipe's pumpkin puree.

Still having a lovely time with Dichterliebe. Geoff and I are performing at a soiree in January but I think we'll do the Brahms 4 serious songs instead...Dichterliebe is just too long a group for a mixed program in someone's living room.
There was a lovely bearded bespectacled elegant lanky man on the T this morning, but when we got off at Government Center, he headed off to the blue line instead of coming up to street level with me. This is life in Boston.
Toronto pensive

The continuing Aga saga

Home earlier than usual because Bill had some work to do at College. Nevertheless, almost a long weekend since we didn't head back to Cambridge until this morning.
For an apple-obsessive like me, this was a weekend of epiphanies. Last weekend at the apple-tasting (yes, just like a wine tasting) which was part of Franklin County Cider Days, I was asking the sommelier, for lack of a better word, about various antique apples in the area. "One I have never found locally, at least never found anyone was actually selling fruit, is the Belle de Boskoop". "Why, there's someone just up over the VT border who sells them." At this point I went into high gear and Bill more or less had to remove me forcibly before the discussion continued beyond another 10 minutes...
The upshot is that on Saturday we drove into a remote-ish part of southeastern VT to a farm that grows something like 160 varieties of apples. I had called in advance and the owner had put together a HALF BUSHEL of especially photogenic Belles de Boskoop for me. After being, as usual, boringly informational to a couple who asked for advice (THEY had bought some Calville Blanc D'hiver, a 16th century wonder, but that's another story), I got into the car and took a bite of one of my apples...it was rather Proustian. There I was, back in the country I love (the Netherlands) on a cold snappy winter afternoon. Really lovely. The Belle (aka Schone van Boskoop or Goudreinet in her native land) is the best cooking apple in the world as far as I am concerned, and for those who like an acid apple, one of the very best table apples as well.
We also found that the farm had Ashmead's Kernel for sale--an absolutely wonderful 18th century English variety. That will be for next week.
On Saturday night I got out the quinces that I had bought last week...the entire refrigerator was scented with their unique pineapple/rose/resin aroma (fortunately the butter was sealed off). I was finally going to make that old-fashioned preserve known as "quince cheese". For those unfamiliar with the concept, a cheese, in this contex,t is the next stage beyond a fruit butter, so firmly set that it can be turned out and sliced. Similarly the name of the southern delicacy "Chess Pie" is actually a derivative of 'cheese' in the sense of a firm custard--the term was common in the 17th and 18th centuries. Quince, damson and apple, and rarely cherry, are the classic fruit cheeses. You don't find them anymore except in old fashioned English country kitchens with...you guessed it...an Aga.
I put the fruit, rubbed clean of its natural down and chopped into 8ths, in a heavy pan with a little water, brought it to a simmer and then consigned it overnight to a very slow oven. The next day the once pale-green, iron-hard quinces were deep red and soft. I put them through the medium disk of a food mill, weighed the pulp, and then combined it with 3/4 its weight in sugar which I first pre-warmed. I brought the mix to a slow boil, stirring constantly so that it didn't scorch, and then put it back into the slow oven, where it was reduced in about 12 hours to a thick mass that came away from the pan. Bill helped me to pot it up last night. By the time we left this morning, all the jars had sealed themselves and the cheese had set so firmly that it didn't even wobble. Quinces are loaded with pectin.
Now we have to wait 2 months at least and then we'll have summer in a jar......
We had our first snow on Friday night. All gone now, but lovely while it lasted. Very brilliant stars last night--they're so much more beautiful in cold, clear weather.
Bill has bought me the correspondence of the 6 Mitford sisters (Nancy, Pam, Diana, Unity, Jessica(Decca), and Deborah) and I am trying not to read all 700 pages in one gulp. There is a distant family connection....Decca (the one who emigrated to this country and wrote "The American Way of Death" among numerous other things and was a prominent left-wing activist) was a good friend of my aunt Madeleine's in Washington during WWII after her husband (Esmond Romilly) was killed in action with the British Air Force.
There we are. Nothing about weightlifting or sex, sorry. You'll have to ask that directly. ha ha ha.
Toronto pensive

Back again

After a long absence (well over a month) it's time to make another appearance. October, strangely enough, was pretty depressing. Usually it's one of my favorite times of the year. Late in September my beloved ex Willem arrived from Holland for a 10 days' visit. We have known each other now since 1973; we were a couple for a bit over 10 years, from '73 to '84, and there is a powerful, an unbreakable bond between us. There always will be that bond. Much of it has to do with our both being musicians. We spent a lot of our time together listening to music during this visit. At one point Wim turned to me and said "listening to music with you is always so wonderful". I feel the same way as he does. There is something about sharing a piece of music by listening to it together that intensifies and augments the experience so greatly beyond what one feels listening to that same piece alone. But I think thar it only really happens when both of the listeners have a deep understanding of the music. Wim's and my combined backgrounds in performance, musicology, the mechanics of the human voice, and a few other things are only part of it, though....there is also our deep and loving friendship of more than 30 years.

None of this affects my relationship with Bill. I feel very fortunate to have two people in my life whom I can love in very different ways.

...but I suppose that my feeling low for a few weeks after Wim's departure was not entirely surprising. There is no one in this country with whom I really have this kind of musical relationship, and music is such a fundamental part of my existence, even though I seldom perform professionally any more.

My landscaper has finished the first stage of the remodeling of our garden. All three perennial beds have been reduced to a dark brown, deeply cultivated tabula rasa, awaiting next spring's complete replanting. The holes for the fruit trees are ready, the bed for the raspberries has been dug, ditto for the asparagus and currants, and four raised beds are ready for vegetables and cutting flowers....
I found a grafted tree of my favorite apple, Schone van Boskoop, at the local Ciderfest this past weekend and I have heeled it in, awaiting planting in a few months.

A few beautiful men have floated across my field of vision, but I still think that most of the Boston locals are hideous. The institutionalization of the 'bear culture' has produced a small army of out of shape men who think that they can balance it all with a goatee and a piercing or two. Sorry, guys....it's not about being fat, it's about not buying into the blond, hairless, boy-worshipping commercial gay culture...but what am I saying? The bear thing has become commercialized too. O Amerika, was bist Du wunderlich.......

Having a lovely time working on "Dichterliebe" with my pianist Geoff.
Have put up 12 jars of peach preserves, 10 jars of crabapple jelly, 10 of damson preserves, and canned several quarts of applesauce....the harvest marches on.
Toronto pensive

Since I have been asked....

Not much has happened since yesterday except a workout which may have burned off some of the food I ate this past weekend in Toronto.
Thank you for all the compliments scattered hither and yon on various journals about the photos that Bitterlawngnome took of me...
And here is another, behind the cut, because apparently a weenie, even when photographed when the model is STANDING ON AN ICE COLD FLOOR AND FEELING EVERYTHING SHRINK IN THE MOST EMBARRASSING WAY is still a weenie and considered disruptive.

1 picture behind the cut, I suppose it's NOT SAFE FOR WORK
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Let's see if this works!
Toronto pensive

A lovely weekend

Just back from three days in Toronto visiting Bitterlawngnome and co. and doing a photoshoot. Some of the pictures have been most gratifyingly reviewed here in LJ already, either on my pages or Bill's! I plan to post a few more if interest warrants.
But even more than the photo session, I enjoyed my warm reception in Toronto. Bill and Daniel are both very nice men (both with superior quality facial hair). In addition, I had the heady experience of not having to shift gears when we talked, i.e. they are both REALLY bright, unlike my coworkers at the office where I do my translating. I don't mean that my work colleagues aren't intelligent, but there is a difference.
I got to hear some remarkable 1930s Hungarian cabaret songs, courtesy of Bill. On Saturday night, Daniel and I had dinner at the wonderful Country Style, a Hungarian restaurant where I hadn't been since I went up to audition in Toronto about 14 years ago. There were no plum dumplings on tap (can't have it all) but D and I launched ourselves at what he referred to as the 'pig platter', i.e. a huge heap of schnitzels, sausage, cutlets, potatoes....and the indispensable Hungarian sweet/sour cucumber salad. The platter defeated us, ultimately (Daniel is finishing it up bit by bit chez Pusztai tonight, I believe) but I managed to save a little room for the last piece of cherry strudel before we trundled back to the house (I use the word advisedly). The next day was Sunday supper and Bill very kindly prepared, among other things, that remarkable Hungarian dish of buttered noodles strewn with ground walnuts and sugared to individual taste. It's not a dessert and it's not a main course: however you label it, it really is delicious.
From this you will gather that as of tomorrow, I am going back on heavy aerobics plus the usual weightlifting this week--catch it before it shows round the middle!
An added interest for me in doing the photos was the chance to have my new 'skin on view for the first time. I will avoid TMI, but after a couple of years of restoration, it was nice to see that I now look convincingly Uncut onscreen!
Toronto pensive

Photos in Toronto

Having a lovely time here in TO and additionally being photographed by Bill (Bitterlawngnome)...exhausting but most interesting. He and his partner have been most hospitable. Back to Boston tomorrow but meanwhile I am posting a couple of the shots that he took... they are on his journal as well, but it never hurts to be repetitive, right? :-)






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Toronto pensive

back in circulation

It's been a disorganized few weeks and I haven't been on the site... a lot of it being general August depression. August is the low point of the year for me, hot, sticky, unpleasant, de-energized. Now at last the year has turned and the air is freshening.
Bill and I are also on the point of acquiring a strip of land to adjoin our property in Shelburne, which will give us another 5 acres of woodland, all ready to be 'improved' and managed over the years, as well as a shelter from our neighbors. I have visions of swamp azaleas, italian arums, other jacks-in-the-pulpit (there's a vernal stream), and masses of winterberry holly and Siberian irises.
Tomorrow I am finally heading up to Toronto for a couple of days visiting Bitterlawngnome and having my portrait done. Quite exciting, and I really have been looking forward to meeting Bill and his partners.

This year hasn't been a good one for my profession...we've lost Beverley Sills, Jerry Hadley, Régine Crespin, Birgit Nilsson, Astrid Varnay, and now Luciano Pavarotti. All very sad but at least these voices live on in recordings.
I have been listening on my ipod to Sir Colin Davis's pathbreaking recording of Berlioz's "Les Troyens". If any of you want a real thrill, get this recording. An incomparably noble Jon Vickers as Aeneas, and the unequalled Dido of Josephine Veasey, and those are only two of the stars. Berit Lindholm is a terrifying Cassandra, though her voice tires towards the end of the act....and that desperate cry of the Trojan women, "Sauve nos fils, Enée! Italie! Italie! Italie!". Just thinking about it makes me shiver. It must be very embarrassing for people on the T to see me standing there, tearing up. Oh well.
Toronto pensive

Dinner on the cusp

This past weekend there was a dramatic change in the air. When we arrived in Shelburne on Thursday night, it was hot and sticky. The temperature on the house was well over 80 degrees, even with good cross-ventilation. We opened a lot of windows and went to bed.
In the middle of the night we were awakened by a roaring gale. Cold air blew in through the windows, there was a sudden shower, and then the wind continued. When we got out of bed the next morning, the house temperature had plummeted to 63 degrees and it was actually chilly outside. Bill had put a duvet over his side of the bed in the course of the night as well.
On Friday we started with our season of mists and mellow fruitfulness period. I got out my new Menu-Liisa Finnish steam juicer and loaded it up with "utility" peaches from our fine local grower (utility meaning not pretty enough to sell, although otherwise ripe and very good to eat). Within an hour of steaming I was extracting beautiful pink peach juice. We filled several wine bottles full and also a couple of canning jars. Then I was left with a large pile of cooked-down peach pulp. To my surprise, it still had plenty of flavor, so we made about 8 half-pints of peach and ginger jam to go into the cupboard with last week's peach jam and plum jam...it all looks very pretty and tasted fine on Saturday morning's biscuits. I also bought a half-peck of Duchess apples, the famous local variety also known as Duchess of Oldenburg, an old Maine variety originally from Russia.
On Saturday we went to the Heath Country Fair, a few miles away from us. We really had to go because our waitress at the diner in Shelburne told us that she had won a first prize at the Heath fair for her arrangement of oriental lilies and joe-pye-weed, and I couldn't imagine how it looked. Our initial route from Charlemont was blocked by trees that had been knocked over by the gale! The fair was really delightful. Some beautiful Belgian horses (nothing more majestic than a trotting Percheron!), our one and only (SHARED!!!!) portion of fried dough (with maple cream and butter--once a year is ok), some fresh-cut french fries (I said ONCE A YEAR) and some very fine fresh-squeezed limeade; an amazing display of show rabbits (had no idea there were so many fancy varieties). And Sarah's flower arrangement was spectacularly handsome. I had no idea that rugged Joe-Pye-Weed and oriental lilies would combine so well. Then off to visit my mother in the Bennington nursing home--not a bad visit...
On Sunday night was what I really consider a dinner on the cusp of the seasons: I started with a Tian of Zucchini (a French gratin of zucchini (some of them our own) lightened by rice and flavored with parmesan) as the main course, with our first tomatoes and cucumbers combined with field salad to accompany. And then I served...my first apple pie of 2007. Fortunately I hadn't forgotten how to make pie crust, and now I understand the sign in a Maine Diner: Apple pie 50 cents. Duchess Apple Pie 75 cents. If you can get some Duchess apples, then BUY them.
All in all a nice moment of transition between summer and autumn, even though I am afraid that it's going to get hot again.
Toronto pensive

Moved to tears

Beauty crowds me till I die
Beauty mercy have on me
But if I expire today
Let it be in sight of thee —

-Emily Dickinson (1830-1886), date of poem unknown

Anyone who knows me at all well will know how easily I am moved to tears. What may seem strange is that it is seldom something mournful or tragic that produces this reaction. I think about this off and on, and sometimes I try to discover a consistent thread linking the things that make me weep.
Music, for example, that moves me this way is almost always in a major key. It can express:
Calm fulfilment,
Great joy, or boundless energy.
Rarely, nostalgia.
Often, love and transcendence.
For the first, how about the Nightingale chorus from Handel's "Solomon"? Or Mozart's Trio, "Soave sia il vento" Listen and see if you agree.
For the second, Bach's organ prelude in G major, BWV 541, or the "Dorian" toccata, BWV 538, or the first movement of the 4th Brandenburg concerto, or the third movement of the 1st Brandenburg, or the first movement of Handel's Music for the Royal Fireworks (especially in the original orchestration with nothing but wind instruments), or the closing fugue of Verdi's "Falstaff"!
For the third, try the sublime aria "Will the Sun forget to streak" once again from "Solomon", or Taverner's "Dum transisset Sabbatum", or Byrd's consort variations on "Browning", or Brahms's "Nänie".
And for the last (which really leaves me in a sobbing heap, sometimes to poor Bill's consternation), yes, love, love expressed, hand-holding love, Jack and Ennis love, love that will not leave you when you die...
"With thee th'unsheltered moor I'd tread", once again from "Solomon", Brahms's "Von Ewiger Liebe", "Come to me, bend to me" from (surprise!!) "Brigadoon", the offertory from Verdi's "Requiem" (I find it hard to sing for that very reason), and another sublime example: the scene where Tamino and Pamina find each other again before they go through the Trials, in Mozart's "Zauberflöte". And perhaps deepest for me, Strauß's "Im Abendrot":

Wir sind durch Not und Freude
Gegangen Hand in Hand,
Vom Wandern ruhen wir beide
Nun überm stillen Land.

Rings sich die Täler neigen,
Es dunkelt schon die Luft,
Zwei Lerchen nur noch steigen
Nachträumend in den Duft.

Tritt her und laß sie schwirren,
Bald ist es Schlafenszeit,
Daß wir uns nicht verirren
In dieser Einsamkeit.

O weiter, stiller Friede!
So tief im Abendrot ,
Wie sind wir wandermüde –
Ist dies etwa der Tod?

-Eichendorff (1788-1857)

And my own translation:

We have traveled through pain and joy
Hand in hand
Now we rest from our wanderings
Above the silent land.

The valleys fall away around us
Already it grows dark
Only two larks still rise
Dreaming into the scented air.

Come here, and leave them to their twittering
Soon it will be time to sleep
Let us not lose our way
In this solitude.

O vast and silent calm
Deep in the sunset!
How tired we are from our journey!
Can this be death?

What moves you? I am curious.
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Toronto pensive

Oh ambiguous Mozart!

Kierkegaard (or was it Strindberg or some other dreary Scando) thought Mozart was immoral or dangerous or something. Beethoven (a dreadful prig) thought that Così fan Tutte was immoral. Così, in fact, was under-performed for years because some AUDIENCES thought it was immoral. How fucking stupid people can get. It's a bit like saying Wagner was an evil composer. The music isn't evil, guys. Wagner was a complete shit personally, and the Nazis loved his music, but that's not the music's fault.
Anyhow.
Così fan Tutte (All women are like that) can be seen as a story which is coldly cynical, amoral, deeply misogynistic, or simply very much of the Enlightenment. Two young men bet an old roué that their respective girlfriends/fiancées, who are coincidentally sisters, are totally and incorruptibly faithful. The old roué arranges, with the partially-informed collusion of the girls' servant, to see whether their faithfulness can be shaken. The two young men pretend to be called away to a war, then return disguised. Each successfully seduces the other's girlfriend. Point taken? says the old man. Your ladies are no better, no worse than any others. You love them, take them back, marry them be happy.
Of course I can see that the very artificial symmetry and 'coldness' of Da Ponte's plot might upset some tightassed moralists of an earlier day....
I think what Kierk. or Strind. found shocking was that Mozart could clothe these potentially "immoral" situations in such enchantingly beautiful and seductive music. Well yes, and if the actors/singers on stage don't believe the situations they're in while they're singing, then it WON'T WORK.
When Guglielmo, the baritone, more lighthearted of the men, successfully 'lands' Dorabella, the mezzo-soprano, more flighty and charming of the two sisters, the duet is so achingly lovely that I was in tears listening to it on the way home today. Listen to wonderful Bernarda Fink as Dorabella and lively Marcel Boone as Guglielmo on René Jacobs's fine recording of Così and see if it doesn't do the same for you.

Off to Shelburne tonight, where the cucumbers are prospering, the tomatoes are reddening, and so on and so on. In conclusion a picture of a rather pretty challah that I baked last week.