Today, at the home of my parents in the quiet, slightly snowy north, I made my first completely successful festive meal for other people, my first unalloyed triumph.
It included an apple-cider roasted turkey with leeks and apple, red risotto with shitake & pancetta, haricots verts with caramelized shallots, a lovely dish of thinly sliced sweet potatoes roasted in alternating layers with wine-soaked chopped dates, gravy made with apple cider and herbs and a purée of the roasted apples and leeks that were cooked with the turkey. Hours later, we had mixed berries and whipped cream tinged with almond extract for dessert. Each dish was complex yet light, deeply flavoured but not heavy. And miraculously, it was ready at 4:00, the hour that my old mother always wants to have Christmas dinner.
You see, I have always had anxiety about cooking for groups combined with a real desire to share food with others. I have decided to change that anxiety into an adventure. And maybe I am totally obsessed, but it reminds me so much of the work I do as a bassoonist.
I think the reason that today’s meal was so successful was the aid of my mother’s caregiver, the astonishingly gifted Linda Harriman. Her real-life skills are wide-ranging and easily encompass the preparation of dinner, yet she decided to act as my assistant. Every tool that I put down, she collected and washed, returning to it’s spot. If I ran into a time crunch, she peeled, chopped or fetched. Though she was not constantly at my side, she still did 6 hours of cleaning. If she hadn’t done that, I would have fallen behind or had to serve dinner amidst a clutter of dirty dishes. So, while I am pleased and proud that my dinner was successful, I also know that it would have been far less so without the help of Linda.
And while the dinner was excellent, I also needed my parents and Linda to be with me to savour it… if I had made it as a solitary exercise, would it have tasted as vividly?
And it all reminds me of the work it takes to be a soloist or any other kind of performer.
The study, decisions and hours of preparation are solitary activities, but the performance requires the presence of other people to combust all of the elements into a finished product that can be judged and enjoyed and repeated. And for the solo performer to arrive successfully to the stage, huge amounts of support must be given to make it possible… there are so many things that need to do in addition to the practise-practise-practise mantra of the hopeful virtuoso. The performance is an essential step and there need to be many repeat performances before the skills become refined into instinct. The performances can be humble events for friends and family along with or leading to the main stage, sequin-gowned extravaganzas. Each is important, each adds nacreous layers to the glow of the performer.