January 2011

Recipe for Success

January 27, 2011 17:24

Making beef stock is not for those who are looking for the short cut in life. You have to really want to produce a superior product to the canned stuff. It requires, first of all, the purchase of quality ingredients a few days prior. Beef bones, like shank and oxtail and those white knobby hunks you really don’t want to analyze too carefully. In addition, you’ll need some fresh thyme. Marjoram. Don’t forget onions, carrots and celery. The next morning, get up and turn on the oven. Use a big pan—a cookie sheet or an oversized cake tin does the job in a pinch—and arrange the bones and intersperse with the aforementioned herbs and vegetables, chopped into big hunks. Brown in the oven at 425 degrees for roughly an hour. This will soon smell good, beyond good, but it’s a tease, because you won’t be eating it for a long while. When the bones are golden, transfer all this hot, clunky stuff into a very big pot, the biggest one you’ve got in the house. Add enough water to cover the bones, bring to boil, then simmer. For a long time. Say, six to eight hours. Stir from time to time so all parts get their share of time in liquid, releasing their marrow, their gelatin, producing that ineffable something that turns “just beef broth” into “omigod, what is this exquisite stuff?”

That night, drain the broth and throw away the bones and vegetables, which is to say almost everything. Which seems wrong. Wasteful. But it’s not; you’ve retained the best. Chill the broth overnight. As you sleep, the fat will rise to the top of the pot and can be easily skimmed off the next morning. Now start simmering again. Simmer that liquid so it reduces, reduces, but never disappears. Thirty hours into the process (forty if you count the grocery store trip), you have a quart of liquid gold. This gives you the base for a phenomenal French onion soup, which will require another two hours on your part to make. Or you can reduce the liquid even further, down to a cup, say, for a sauce that you might combine with some Madeira or cabernet sauvignon, along with butter, shallots and sliced wild mushrooms, to blanket a filet mignon or chicken breast. A distilled masterpiece.

One cup of sauce, representing all that work. Was it worth it? Is the flavor that much improved over a more expedient process? 

Like you can’t imagine.

You might be asking yourself why this food recipe is appearing on a violinists’ forum. Well, let’s change the variables… 

Making music on the violin is not for those who are looking for the short cut in life. You have to really want to produce a superior product to the canned stuff. It requires, first of all, the purchase of quality ingredients a few years and/or decades days prior. A superior violin. A bow that draws the most exquisite tones from aforementioned violin. A wise, supportive and experienced teacher. Lots of books. In addition, you’ll need plenty of time. Patience. Don’t forget rosin, back-up strings and a metronome. The next morning, and every morning thereafter, get up and turn on the mind, the ears. Use a big music stand—a cookie sheet or an oversized cake tin does the job in a pinch—and arrange the books and metronome and apply shoulder rest accordingly. Warm up in scales, arpeggios and etudes for roughly an hour. This may soon sound good, beyond good, but it’s a tease, because you won’t be performing for a long while. When fingers and mind are nimble and golden, transfer all this into a very big concerto, the biggest one you’ve got in the house. Add enough time to cover the bare bones, bring the practice to boil, then simmer. For a long time. Say, six to eight hours. Or years. Mix things up from time to time so all parts get their share of time in practice, releasing their marrow, their gelatin, producing that ineffable something that turns “just a little tune” into “omigod, what is that exquisite music?”

That night, consider everything acquired from the day and throw most of it away. Which seems wrong. Wasteful. But it’s not; you’ve retained the best. As you sleep, thoughts of bad habits, ungainly passages, a less than economical use of the bow, will rise to the top and can be easily skimmed off the next morning. Now start simmering again. Simmer those musical phrases, thoughts of the composer’s intentions, so they reduce, reduce, but never disappear. Thirty days/weeks into the process (forty if you count the purchasing trip), you have twenty minutes of aural gold. This gives you the base for a phenomenal violin concerto performance with orchestra, which will require another two years/decades on your part to make happen. Or you can reduce the musical perfection even further, down to a movement, performed in a recital, that you might combine with some Mozart or Bartók. A distilled masterpiece.

It’s a night of music that your audience enjoys. Really enjoys. “Oh my,” one woman says to you, “that was wonderful. You must have put some real work into that.”

They’re thinking several weeks’ worth. Months’ worth. How about years, decades? And what they don’t see is what you’ve discarded along the way—much like the bones and limp vegetables that fill my trash after my stock is made. Goodbye the excess fat, the too-sentimental phrasing, the wrong type of vibrato, and in its place is the exquisite, the organic, the ineffable. This small serving of peerless classical musical expression, that is your art, your craft, at its finest.

Was it worth it? Is the music that much improved over a more expedient process?

I think we all know the answer to that one.

 

© 2011 Terez Rose

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