Wow. This summer, I’ve been hired back for Santa Desert Desert Chorale who is also collaborating with Santa Fe Opera, and it’s been incredibly busy. Excuses, excuses. Well, lemme fill y’all in with what I’ve been cooking lately!
A few people in the group this year are totally gluten-free, so I’ve been trying my hand at gluten-free baking. Yes, that’s right, gluten free baking, and it doesn’t suck!
Here’s my latest success:

Gluten-Free Crepes!

Ingredients:

2/3 c. water
2/3 c. milk
3 large eggs
1 c. brown rice flour
3 T. brown sugar
1 vanilla
3 T. cognac
1/2 tsp. salt
3 T. butter, melted

Directions:
Combine in the order listed above in a blender and blend on high for about a minute. Transfer to bowl, cover and refrigerate for 2 hours or overnight.
Get your favorite nonstick skillet and melt about a tablespoon of butter in there on med-high, tilting skillet this way and that to spread it evenly. Pour a little bit of the batter in there (after whisking to stir up any sediment) for a test run. Cook for about a minute til a multitude of bubbles appear and a little steam escapes around the edges before flipping the crepe. Cook for only about 30 seconds more and that’s it!
It takes a while to get it down to a rhythm, but I found that it was a lot easier if I started small, although I also ended up with a number of midwestern-state shaped crepes. If you are a perfectionist, remember: you can always eat the ugly ones! Wait, that sounds wrong…

Okay, I’m officially back from Santa Fe. Actually, I have been back for almost two weeks, and I’ve neglected my blog in a most shameful fashion! Shame! Shame! Bad Meredith! =D
Santa Fe was a trip (rim shot). Very busy, for the most part. And now that I’m back, I’ve been applying myself to a lot of programs as well as the ever-popular studying of music for future gigs. In fact, I’ve got a concert next weekend which will be professionally recorded; I wonder if I can post some clips on here?
This year promises to be an exciting one. The high school choir sounds AWESOME, and I suspect we’ll have some all-Stater kids this time around. It’s really amazing to see choir programs grow under good leadership. That might be the case for a lot of different companies, but I never cease to be amazed at the choir phenomenon, that many different people from all kinds of backgrounds can come together and make a beautiful, unified sound. It would be really something if we set an example of excellence for the school, and I think this year we just might do it. I’ve been in the unique position as private voice teacher at this high school for several years now, and I’ve gotten the see it develop and blossom. It seems gradual at first, then suddenly the students leap to another level of musicianship and bang! You’ve got a great choir.
Speaking of great choirs, over the summer I sang with the Santa Fe Desert Chorale. Wow, what a sound. And we had enthusiastic audiences! Who’d have thought that a bunch of people would come out into a desert to see what was there? And who’d have thought there would be such an oasis of art and music out in the middle of a high elevation desert, hemmed in by mountains and dry arid flatlands? Santa Fe is pretty unusual in that respect. Art, opera, live bands, choruses, coffeeshops, ridiculously-overpriced chocolate shops, clothing stores, and spas abound.
But you’d never know at first. Santa Fe seems like a small town, and it’s really easy to drive right past it and wonder where the friggin state capitol went.
But once you get off the main road, the city opens up into a world of hidden treasures. Everything is decorated in some way, even in the ghetto areas (and there are ghetto areas, too- I got the impression that Santa Fe has a bad case of extreme social strata). But there is a certain kind of care to make something more beautiful in this strange hidden city . City ordinances decree that building colors must fall into a range of earth tones, and there’s adobe (or faux-dobe) on most of the buildings. After a while, I confess I got kind of sick of the ever-present adobed surfaces and imagined that the buildings looked like strange sculptures of cake covered in earth-toned fondant icing. That was towards the end of the trip, however. It was longish for me, a 6 week gig, and I was incredibly homesick by the end of the duration.
On my way back, Texas had never seemed so beautiful, so friendly, so warm… actually, blazing hot, I decided, once I drove back over the border. And I saw evidence of the heat, too. One moment we were in the typically tacky, featureless west-Texas plains, and the next moment we were driving through a charred wasteland where life had once been. It looked like something from Pink Floyd’s The Wall, miles and miles of black scorched earth with metallic windmills in the distance from all the enormous wind power plants in that area. In case you didn’t know, we are in the middle of a record-setting drought. Everything has been bleached by the oppressive sun and has a sepia color to it like very old photographs. Trees are dropping their leaves and turning brown, and even the most ardent sprinkler-sprayers’ lawns look pretty sickly. On the upside, though, cedar trees are getting wiped out, so who knows? This might be God’s answer to years of allergy sufferers praying to wipe out cedars for good. It’s a terrible cure, though, and I know I’m not the only Texan wishing that hurricane hitting the sodden east coast would come over here.
Well, this was a novel, but I wanted to give at least a few highlights of what’s happened over here since June! More to come soon…

Oh, boy. When it rains, it pours!
It’s been a while since I’ve blogged, and that sin can be blamed on several reasons:
1. I haven’t been cooking very much
2. I have been traveling a LOT
3. I’ve been nerding out with studying music!

There are other reasons, of course, but the main ones are the aforementioned ones up here. I’m about to take off for Santa Fe, land of high altitude and low humidity and definite wildfire danger(as a fellow musician mentioned with some apprehension). So, no big bonfire parties, right? (nervous giggle)
I’m going to attempt cooking up there, though, and hopefully I will not only NOT set things on fire but will actually have a great time cooking for my housemates. This year, I am staying with three other sopranos in a house located near downtown Santa Fe, and I am very excited! It has “all the comforts of home,” our manager said, a remark which, when I read it, gave me a strange sense of foreboding but mostly excited pleasure. What an adventure! And to live with a group is so much better than being by oneself, I think. Let’s see what happens in the next chapter! I hope to have some pics up throughout this adventure of various places to go and eat it up in New Mexico’s camoflauged capital (capitol?). Woohoo!

My vote  is Haydn. He looked pretty wiry.

Pears, in and of themselves, are not impressive. They are the b-type personalities of fruit, sweet, somewhat texturey, inoffensive, unremarkable. I mean, who do you know is allergic to pears? Give me something spicy and exotic, like pineapple, mango, even pomegranate- you’ll get someone who at the very utterance of one of those names begins to secrete histamine and puff up slightly, like a mildly upset blowfish. But pears? Boring. Banana Republic-during-February kind of boring.

But, as is the case with many things, to transform the mundane into the extraordinary, all you have to do is add alcohol. A singularly good Bordeaux, to be more exact, and the ruby color seeps into the pale flesh of the pear and stains it to a lovely mauve, an edible, beautiful color which was badly abused in the 1980s until people forgot that it was reminiscent of deep red wines. But now, in this dessert, you can rock that color and remind people just how good mauve can taste. And it is 1980s mauve. I’m talking Gem, She-Ra, Prince-kind of mauve/magenta, so don’t be alarmed when you look at the finished picture and wonder if it was worth all the effort. It is. Oh, yes, it is. The almond custard, or frangipane, as Julia Child called it, provides a not-too-sweet filling underneath the heady taste of the pears, and a homemade sugar crust completes the portrait of decadence. Eat it cold, or even better, at room temperature, but do NOT make the mistake of heating it up or the universe will fall apart and collapse into a puddle of muddy mauve goo.

Note: I have taken all these recipes below almost verbatim from Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking, Volume 1!

Time: The whole process will take you about 3 hours; if you’ve made the custard and crust ahead of time, it’ll be about 45 minutes to an hour.

Tarte aux Poires a la Bourdaloue    (aka Tasty Pear and Almond Custard Tart)

Ingredients:

1 1/2 to 2 lbs. firm, unripe, unblemished pears

2 c. cold water and 1 T. lemon juice (to soak peeled pears in so they don’t discolor)

2 c. red Bordeaux wine

2 T. lemon juice

3/4 c. granulated sugar

1 stick or 1/2 tsp. cinamon

3-quart enameled saucepan

a collander in your kitchen sink to drain the pears after they’ve steeped in the wine sauce

candy thermometer

1/4 c. red currant jelly in small saucepan

wooden spoon

pastry brush

10 inch fully cooked sugar crust shell (directions below, but allow for a few hours so you can make it first)

2 1/2 c. chilled frangipane (directions below, and also make it about the same time you do the sugar crust so it can chill)

1/4 c. slivered almonds

Directions:

For the pears:

1. Peel and halve the pears. Stem and core them with a small knife, and drop each half into the cold water with 1 T. lemon juice to keep them from discoloring.

2. Bring wine, lemon juice, sugar, and cinnamon to a boil in 3 quart saucepan. Drain the pears and drop them into the boiling liquid; bring liquid to just below a simmer for about 10 minutes until the pears are tender when pierced with a knife, but don’t overcook them- they must retain their shape.  Remove saucepan from heat and allow pears to cool in syrup for 20 minutes. Drain pears in a collander.

3. Bring syrup to boil again on stove, using candy thermometer, until temp reaches 230 degrees Farenheidt. Measure out 1/4 c. of syrup and simmer it with red currant jelly til jelly dissolves. Paint inside of pie shell with glaze to act as waterproofing.

4. Spread frangipane in pastry shell. Cut pears into crosswise or lengthwise slices and arrange them over custard. Decorate with slivered almonds and spoon glaze over the top of tart. *Personal Note: While doing this the first time, I tried to be creative and make a pattern with the leftover sauce, and I ended up with a big hideous-looking circular pattern that looked like a web spun by a retarded spider. The good news is, after a few minutes, it dissolved and made a pretty glaze over the whole thing. So, don’t be worried if it looks like you ruined your cool geometric pear pattern with syrup; just leave it alone for a few minutes and then check on it again.

Sugar Crust Ingredients and Directions:

Ingredients:

1 1/3 c. flour

3-7 T. granulated sugar (the more you put in, the better it tastes, but the stickier it gets!)

1/8 tsp. double action baking powder

7 T. butter, cut up into little cubes and chilled

3 quart mixing bowl

1/2 tsp. vanilla extract

1 egg beaten with 1 tsp. water

wax paper

10 inch tart mold with removable outer edge

aluminum foil

beans- uncooked raw ones to hold down aluminum foil lining in tart mold

Directions:

1. Combine flour and baking soda. Add the cut-up butter and smoosh it together with the flour, using your fingertips, until the butter is broken down ot the size of small oatmeal flakes. Blend in the egg and vanilla, and knead the dough rapidly into a ball, smearing it out with the heel of your hand a couple of times after everything’s holding together to make it a little more cohesive. Wrap it in wax paper and chill for a few hours until firm.

2. Preheat oven to 375. Using your hands, a rolling pin or glass or whatever, smoosh out the dough into an ungreased, 10 inch tart mold. Using aluminum foil, create a lining to act as a stabilizer of your pie mold; spray the side of the aluminum foil that touches the dough and make an inner lining to keep the dough from collapsing while it bakes. Fill it with the beans, and bake it in preheated oven for about 6 minutes. Remove the beans and aluminum liner, and continue to bake for 10 minutes more, until crust has shrunk slightly from mold and had begun to brown very lightly. Remove from oven, and after a few minutes, remove shell from mold and let cool. It will crisp as it cools and will be free-standing.

Frangipane Ingredients and Directions:

Ingredients:

1 egg + 1 egg yolk

3/4 c. granulated sugar

1/3 c. flour

1 c. boiling milk

heavy bottomed, 2 1/2 quart enameled saucepan

wire whisk

wooden spoon

3 T. butter

2 tsp. vanilla

1/4 tsp. almond extract

1/2 c. toasted, pulverized almonds

2 T. kirsch

Directions:

1. Combine egg+egg yolk with sugar and beat til pale yellow and kind of fluffy. Beat inthe flour, then boiling milk in thin stream of droplets.

2. Pour into saucepan and set over moderate heat. Stir slowly with whisk, reaching all around the bottom of the pan. When the mix begins to coagulate into lumps, whisk quickly to get the lumps out and it smooths and thickens into a stiff paste. Then over moderately low heat, beat with wooden spoon 2-3 minutes to cook the flour. Be careful custard doesn’t scorch the bottom of pan.

3. Remove from heat, and beat in rest of ingredients. Use wax paper sprayed with PAM to act as a seal and press directly onto custard and chill for an hour or until you need it.

Hmmm

Scripture plainly says no one is going to know when the Rapture comes. The gist of it is to be ready when it does come. You’d think a diligent Biblical scholar would know that.

I hope someone tells that to Mr. Crazypants before he starts offering everybody Kool-Aid.

Last week, my car cratered. This is disaster for a traveling freelancer like myself. After taking it to two different mechanics, the time of death was announced and now it is being brought back to life at the local dealership, where it will be receiving a new brain, courtesy of the dealership (hooray!). So, what shall she do? you may be asking. How will our heroine get to her next gig so she can blog about it later? Two words: courtesy car. Having no car loyalty whatsoever, I’m driving a cherry red sporty something and loving it. Courtesy cars are like the machine equivalents of professional escorts- they’re pretty but a little too flamboyant, they have expensive accessories, and you can ride them as long as you like for a reasonable amount of money. What? I mean gas money, of course.
Anyway, as a thank you to my original mechanic who correctly diagnosed my car before the insurance guys took it to the dealership, I baked him the best cake I could think of that I could make in a relative hurry, and here it is. Called fittingly the “Reine de Saba” or “Queen of Sheba Cake,” this chocolate almond cake is a guaranteed crowd pleaser. Based on chocolate, almonds, and butter, it’s a great way to show your appreciation for your local mechanic, doctor, lawyer, or whoever has helped you out recently. I mean, flowers and chocolate are a good way to go, too, but this is far more original and tasty. In fact, you might want to make two and keep one for yourself.
This is almost straight out of Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking, Volume 1.
Ingredients:
4 oz. semisweet chocolate chips melted (carefully!) in a microwave and stirred with 2 T. strong coffee or rum
1 stick butter, softened
2/3 c. granulated sugar
3 eggs, separated
pinch of salt
1 T. granulated sugar
1/3 c. pulverized almonds
1/4 tsp. almond extract
1/2 c. cake flour
toasted slivered almonds for topping cake after done

Icing ingredients:
6 T. unsalted butter, cut into smallish chunks
2 oz. semisweet chocolate melted with 2 T. strong coffee or rum added

Other Equipment You’ll Need:
a round cake pan 8 inches in diameter and 1 1/2 inches deep
a medium sized mixing bowl
a large-ish mixing bowl
an electric beater
a spatula
PAM
a knife

Directions for Cake:
1. Preheat oven to 350 F.
2. Cream softened butter and sugar together in medium mixing bowl, then add egg yolks one at a time, stirring til well blended. Add almonds, almond extract, and chocolate-coffee (or rum) mix. Set aside and clean and dry mixer blades.
3. In a separate large-ish bowl, beat the egg whites with salt til soft peaks form. Sprinkle in the tablespoon of sugar and beat til stiff peaks form.
4. Grease up your cake pan with PAM and set aside.
5. Beginning with flour first, sprinkle about a third of your flour into the batter, mixing well, then carefully fold in about a third of the beaten egg whites. Repeat this process til the flour and egg whites are fully incorporated and the batter looks light and buoyant.
6. Pour into prepared cake pan and bake at 350 for about 25 minutes. Toothpick inserted near the middle should be slightly oily, and center should move slightly if pan is shaken. Cool in pan for abot 10 minutes, then run knife along the edge of the cake pan and invert it onto a rack. Let it cool for about an hour, then cover with the icing and garnish with toasted slivered almonds. You can press a design onto cake or cover the sides or whatever- it looks and tastes good no matter what you do.
Icing Directions:
1. Pour melted chocolate-coffee (or rum) mix into a medium sized bowl and start beating with electric mixer. Gradually add the butter a few pieces at a time, beating until completely blended. Stir it all over ice, if you need to, to aid with cooling it off to spreading consistency. Using spatula, immediately spread it over cooled cake (it will melt if the cake is still warm!).

As a professional musician, you’ve got to do some odd jobs. One of those I do is teach private voice lessons. For a while now, it has been a particular highlight in my musical experience. Why?  Teaching is hilarious. Teaching voice is even more hilarious. I get to spend time getting people to make noises they haven’t been allowed to do since kindergarten. I have to admit, I love it and the students I get to teach. They teach me, in a way which is not only funny as hell but also humbling. And, as I found out recently, this job will definitely stretch the parameters of what you think you can do! Take the following story, for example:

 Just the other day, I went with the choir to UIL Contest. This is kind of the choir-ey equivalent to a huge high school sports tournament; it’s an all-day event where the choir performs 3 pieces before a panel of judges, then goes into another room and sightreads in front of another panel.  It gets judged on how it did, and returns home bearing a plaque or trophy or whatever to display to future generations of choir nerds. I’ve been down this road as a choir nerd myself, and it was fun to be on the other side of the fence; I sat in the audience with one of the choirs and monitored them, watching the other choirs perform as the girls slowly fell asleep in the dimly lit auditorium. Finally, our mixed choir got up to perform, and everything went well until the very end of the third song, when I saw one of the girls in the front row sway precariously, then fall face-first to the ground in a faint. After a few beats of stunned singing, everything stopped. The director was already on the ground and had stabilized the girl’s head and neck as she lay unconscious on the floor, and the kids slowly sat down on the risers, tux pant legs riding up to reveal white socks and black dresses puffing like air-filled trash bags. The next thing you know, my name was called, and I strode up to the stage, not knowing what to expect. The choir teacher went on to inform the judges calmly that I would be taking over the rest of the performance while she went with the girl to the emergency room. I helped calm down the visibly upset high schoolers, and we even made lame jokes to keep everyone’s spirits up as we waited for the EMS guys to arrive. We filed offstage as they came and everything was cleaned up, and the entire auditorium burst into applause and cheering as the EMS guys bore the girl away in a stretcher, just like she was a fallen football player, I thought inanely. Well, she kind of was.

So, now I had to direct the choir. Riiiight. Well, okay! How hard can it be? I looked at the score, dredging up memories of the one semester of choral directing I had to take during my undergraduate. Well, whatever. In spite of all the insanity around me, I was strangely calm. People kept asking me if I was all right like I was the girl who had fallen. I said I was fine, and really, I was. Directing never scared me because I never thought about doing it, if that makes any sense. I had a pep talk with the shaken choir and told them they were acting like perfect professionals and to make this one sound extra-great for their teammate’s sake, etc. The accompanist (a retired choir teacher herself) was awesome and helped keep everything together, and the beauty of a choir really revealed itself in their calm collective behavior. We filed back onstage. No one else fainted, they did some cool musical things, and that was it. The sightreading was the same story; I was very familiar with the process, so were they, and the judges were helpful. Then, that was it! And then we went home! Or rather, they went home and I drove off to my next rehearsal. Later, folks said it was a baptism by fire, but really, I think auditioning is far more scary.

Oh, for those of you who are curious, the girl who fainted is going to be fine. She had locked her knees, the stage was hot, and she had had mostly sugar for lunch, so it was a recipe for disaster, as the choir director later said to me after the trip to the emergency room. She had some stitches and a concussion, but she’ll be back on her feet in no time. The moral of the story: eat real food and never lock your knees. Oh, and if you’re halfway decent about keeping time and have very long arms to wave around, you can actually fool people into thinking you know what you’re doing. I wonder how many directors would agree with me on that statement…

This is the looongest Lenten journey ever. Ever. It’s almost halfway through April and Easter has not yet arrived. The sun streams in far too cheerfully in the church where I work, which looks like it’s about to be repainted with all the purple dropcloths on the statuary (spelling?).
So, all thoughts of giving something up for Lent have long since flown out the window. Instead, I’ve been indulging in crepes, yes, I tell you, crepes!! They’re easy and they don’t taste like it, and they’re just the thing for a case of late night concert munchies. Remember, dessert is why God invented gyms.

Julia Child’s Crepes of Deliciousness

Ingredients:
3/4 c. milk
3/4 c. water
3 egg yolks
1 T granulated sugar
3 T orange liqueur, rum, or brandy
1 c. flour
5 T melted butter
electric blender.
For just before cooking: 3 egg whites stiffly beaten with a pinch of salt.

Directions:
Put all ingredients (in the order presented) in a big mixing bowl, and mix on high for a minute. Cover and refrigerate for at least 2 hours or overnight. When ready to make them, heat up a fold beaten egg whites into mix. Spray a biggish skillet with PAM and set over medium heat. Pour about 1/4 c. the mix into the middle of the pan, lift it and tilt pan around until batter spreads in a thin film all over pan. Return pan to heat and cook for about 60 seconds (bubbles will form and edges will turn lightly brown). Lift edges with spatula, flip over and cook for about 30 seconds more, then slip it onto a plate and repeat the process. The first 2-3 crepes might look a little scary as you get the hang of it, but there’s a lot of mix and therefore a lot of room for error. If the crepes look a little thick, add a bloop of milk to thin out the batter. It’s fun! And you can eat the ugly ones.

Spread with Nutella and sliced bananas, fold it up like a burrito or however you prefer, dust with powdered sugar and serve with whipped cream! Best thing ever.

Doesn’t that sound like “By the Hammer of Thor!” or “By the Power of Grayskull?”

Well, it’s that time again, y’all. Time to get your Passion on! Come over to St. Michael’s Episcopal Church  in Austin, TX this Saturday and get an earful of some some of this Bach. This is Bach that will Bach you up like you haven’t been Bach-ed in ages. So come on down, wear something comfortable that you can move in, and a light snack is probably a good idea.

I’ll be singing as the soprano soloist (whee!).  The other soloists are the badass alto, Stephanie Prewitt, supercool bass-baritone Steve Olivares as Jesus, Dove-dark-chocolate-sounding baritone Brett Barnes as Pilate, tenorial extraordinaire Jeffrey Jones-Ragona as the Evangelist (aka John!), and a conglomerate of churches around here in Austin comprise the Bach-meets-Greek-Tragedy Chorus. It’s going to be a blast, and I hope y’all can come!