The Goodenough Candymaker Presents: Truffles

Dear Friends:

Having just left the Christmas Candy mess behind (by getting on an airplane and leaving it at my mom’s house), I thought you would all appreciate a few tips. If you are a practiced, experienced, perfected chocolatier, well, bully for you. You already know all the things, anyway, and will probably only get a laugh from me. If you’re not, I have a recipe for you that works every time.

Get good chocolate, so no matter what happens, things taste good. Things like the sink. Your nose. Your infant son’s ankle. Wait, scratch that. You never know what THAT really IS. Anyway, the chocolate could be unlovely and everywhere, but make sure it’s delicious and you don’t go far wrong. It’s getting everywhere anyway, you might as well enjoy the mess.
We used Scharffen Berger semisweet chocolate. Ghirardelli makes good truffles too, though, and it’s easier to find in a grocery store.

You get a ton of advice from the internet, and many conflicting recipes. Stop looking at them. Look at this. Double or halve as necessity dictates. You know, if you simply must have a truffle but only have 4 oz. of chocolate? It happens. Just scale accordingly.

16 oz. chocolate, chopped up small. 
1 c. heavy heavy heavy cream
1/2 vanilla

~Put the chocolate in a glass bowl with the vanilla.
~Scald the milk in a pan on the stove, just til there are a few wee sweet little bubbles around the pan. Or until it boils furiously, if you lose your head and try to open the leftover wine with your teeth and bite off the cork.
~Pour the milk over the vanilla. Stir this for a while, until all the chocolate is totally melted and looks smooth and shiny and so so brown. Don’t panic at any point. Just stir. Drink your wine.
~ Let it cool for a long while. Hours and Hours. Overnight, even.
~ Scoop small balls out with a spoon.
~Roll the balls into bally-er balls. Drink your wine with a straw, as your hands are a terribly nasty mess.
~Laugh maniacally at how lopsided the truffles have become. Drink away your sorrow.
~Roll the balls in cocoa powder, coconut, chopped nuts, crushed peppermint, or tempered chocolate. Tempering chocolate is something you’ll have to look up somewhere else. I am not at all sure I should say anything about that. Things get funny when I temper chocolate. And when I drink.

NOTE WELL.

DO NOT ADD BUTTER TO THIS RECIPE.

Do not add butter to this. Many recipes say to add butter. Butter is nothing but a heartache and a mess. It makes the truffle more difficult to roll into lopsided balls. It melts too slowly in the hot milk and you sometimes have to use a microwave to keep things hot enough to melt the chocolate. Sometimes, the butter extrudes itself from the truffle, through the coating. Extremely odd. Not worth the trouble. Don’t do it.

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An Open Letter to Scott H

Dear Scott,

It’s performance week of Handel’s Messiah. It’s crunch time; little, if any, can be changed about the choir’s rendering of the oratorio in these final hours. You know this. It’s too late to change the past, but I hope with a bit of constructive criticism to improve the future.

In short, I have some bones to pick.

Perhaps this seems unfair. You are not Jerry Blackstone, and one can’t expect all the same things of you. His are huge shoes: everyone said it when he stepped back from conducting CU, everyone said it as we auditioned 6 potential conductors, everyone keeps thinking it this season.

We understand that you aren’t Jerry. Given that fact, here’s how to make the best of it.

I.  Understand that you have limited rehearsal time, given several performances.

As conductor, you have had about 47 hours of rehearsal time with us this semester. That is not a lot of hours, especially considering that 5 rehearsals were mostly devoted to the Beethoven Choral Fantasy; 5 rehearsals were half-devoted to the Halftime show; and there are only 9 rehearsals devoted to Messiah, including the dress rehearsals this week.

You do not have the time, nor the necessity, to teach us this music. Consider how often most of us have performed this piece: the only thing you need to do is determine how best to polish it, how to set it as a gem for the audience’s delight. You do not have time to run each movement, start to finish, several times. You do not have time for dumb jokes, or for long extraneous asides, or for wondering at the noise in the hallway. There are opportunities for wit, but keep it relevant. Don’t break the mood when we’re all focused. Over 200 adults have offered up their time to you; for pity’s sake, use it well.

How best to do that? Plan. Do the markings in advance, and get them to us in advance, so we have time to put them in before Monday evening rehearsals. Anticipate and identify problem spots; if you know that the basses always scoop here, the sopranos always go flat there, the tenors sound weak in this movement, and the altos sound like children during that movement…why would you not work to change it? What do you observe? If you don’t know what goes wrong and where – or need to hear it several times to discern mistakes – record the first few rehearsals for analysis, and send us all your notes.  Consult with the section leaders.  Mark the especially problematic sections with Post-It Notes. Start and stop each movement, polish our entrance notes and cutoffs and very particular vowels in between: short chunks, which can be smoothed out until excellence is not a fluke, but a habit.

Likewise, be sure that each movement gets attention. Rehearse the movements in reverse order half the time, so we know we’ve sung “Worthy is the Lamb” and “Since by man came death” with as much energy and attention as we’ve sung “And the glory of the Lord.”  This is especially beneficial for Handel newbies; give them a chance to grow as familiar with the end as with the beginning.

II.  Look at your life; look at your choices.

I know you wanted us all to have a fresh score, with fresh markings. None of us want to be the odd man out, sustaining a note which is meant to have an earlier cutoff, or singing marcato where everyone else sings legato. That said, the Bärenreiter score is nearly a pound heavier than the Watkins-Shaw edition (why?! For the love of God, Montresor!); it cost us all twice as much as a fresh Watkins-Shaw would have; it leaves out the scriptural references and is thus an inferior resource; and its musical changes are so minor that I cannot understand how you think it worth the trouble.

Nor can I understand why you would encourage us to de-emphasize consonants, “except for d sounds…and the K of king…and two t’s here…” Those consonants took ages to put in, and now we’re all singing “All we lie she” instead of a phrase that makes any sense. To quote Jerry, “The words will never get to the ends of the world without enunciation!” De-emphasizing sibilants makes sense (such hissing), but don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater there.

Lastly, I don’t understand how you relate to the work as a whole. You downplay its religious significance as if it doesn’t matter. Perhaps it doesn’t, to you; perhaps you have worked at churches and cathedrals ironically. The fact is, the dogma is the drama: we are telling a hall full of people how God became man, suffered, died, was resurrected, and intercedes for us. The realities behind this music are the biggest and most significant drama that has ever existed.

That should be obvious from the text. That should be obvious in how you conduct it, and how we sing it. Why doesn’t this come through in how you talk about the music? Sometimes you treat Handel as though he’s cheap. This music doesn’t matter simply because it’s a venerable tradition, in Ann Arbor and elsewhere, but because of what it says about the Incarnate Word of God.  Jennens himself prefaced the libretto with 1 Timothy 3:16 and Colossians 2:3, saying “Let us sing of great things!”

III. Expect More.

This isn’t a singalong, but a work of musicianship.  We may be volunteers, but by golly, we have a tradition of excellence.  That excellence is not spontaneously generated. It doesn’t just happen…but it CAN happen. You have to request and require it. Call for our attention, call for our energy, call for our eyes until we lift them to you. Conduct each of us, so that there’s some point to looking at you. Call us on our bullshit, on our muddled melismas, on our failure to sit in the woodshed with the tricky sections. Put us on the spot as voice parts. Use our pride. Suggest the altos join the tenors if the men sound wimpy. Suggest the sopranos who can’t avoid screechiness sit out for a few notes. Work on articulation and cull the bits where individuals bring us down. Point out what the MUSIC emphasizes.  Trust us to follow where you lead, and start as you mean to go on, because practice makes permanent.  We will only ever be as good as you expect and rehearse us to be.

Throughout the season and throughout the piece, demand beauty and we will provide it.

Not without reason is “beauty” scrawled in my old orange Watkins-Shaw score over and over. Beautiful notes, beautiful shaping, never louder than is beautiful: the beauty of the music was always at the fore. Identify the singing that isn’t beautiful. Call attention to it. Demonstrate what’s gone wrong (to your credit, you do this on occasion), and show us how to make it right, because we can make it right. You may have to learn to sing better to do this effectively. Use every tool in your arsenal. Ponder your metaphors in advance so that you can draw forth the desired pitch, tone, or vowel. We are a vast organ; pull the proper stops.

This is, I think, the most important point to get across. No one hears a note out of you, yet you are the conductor of this whole work. Demand more of yourself. You are our general, our coach, our fearless leader, our pickiest critic, our constant exhorter. You are Henry V, urging us on to glory. You are Jim Harbaugh, screaming in our face when needed.  You are the sun, and we a congregation of moons reflecting what you shine forth (be it bright or dim).  You are our witch doctor and our energy drink. This might well wring you dry. Singing is mental, not merely physical; lead us so that our minds join our mouths in the process. Every limb of your body, every line of your face, should display to us what ought to be happening at any given moment, tugging the music forth from us. Be the most fascinating thing on the stage, and you can bet that our eyes will be fixed on you.

Do not harp on the difficulty of the task before us so much as you emphasize how worthwhile the effort, how excellent a thing this music is in itself. Remind us what we’re doing here. Remember it yourself: that this grand work builds and builds in tension until that very last page of climactic, cathartic, resplendent “Amens.” Relish it. Cherish it, as so many looking on cherish it. Let the music thrill you! Let yourself be transported by it; in doing so, you will transport us, and thus every person in attendance.

Cordially,
A soprano

PS – Talk faster. Get some caffeine if you need it.
PPS – It takes more effort for you to conduct our standing and sitting. It will take more time, and frankly, sounds like a power trip. Just don’t.
PPPS – On the biggest movements, JB emphasized that we not oversing – not to be “louder than lovely.” The fastest movements, he urged us not to rush; there’s always a danger of some dragging on the melismas, but possibly other voices with simpler notes are rushing ahead. Or perhaps everyone is singing a melisma, and the hasty singers are keeping us from lining up properly.
PPPPS – You’ve told us a couple times to raise our faces from our scores.  It might also behoove you to ask us to hold our scores high and flat, lest they block our mouths, and to turn pages as quietly as possible.  I don’t believe you’ve mentioned either yet.
PPPPPS – Per Jerry: “Perhaps you’ve sung this a million times. But it has to sound like the first time it’s ever happened.”
“SAY Something! Don’t just repeat nonsense phrases!”
“You would sing that differently if you were thinking ‘First Noel’ instead of ‘This is the end of the fugue; I can rest now.'”
“Now put all that in a smaller, more beautiful box.”
“Don’t be safe! Be beautiful!”

Things My Father Taught Me

Earlier today, the pastor of my parents’ church asked Facebook, “What’s the best thing your father taught you?”

I found that I was hard-pressed to give one solitary item, since my dad has taught me so much: in words, by his example, and by virtue of what he emphasized in day-to-day life.  He catechized me well, taught me the principles of being a good student, and gave lots of other pieces of practical advice:

  • Ask interesting questions!
  • Call the city when you see a water main break.
  • Use a tape measure beforehand to be sure the furniture/ item will fit.
  • Learn how to type (this one not by example, but by making each of us kids practice 5 minutes with FastType for every 20 minutes of computer games).
  • There’s no such thing as a garment with too many pockets (this by the example of having our mother add a second breast pocket to several of his shirts). There’s also no such thing as too many flashlights.
  • Try to buy American when you can.
  • Wear shoes in places like the garage or the basement, where there might be nails or live wires afoot.
  • “Don’t watch the ads, children.” Also: look away from violent TV shows. Don’t put the television in the middle of family life; if you must have one, keep it in the basement.
  • Honor the cook by being seated when he/she brings the food. Clearly address someone by name when you want him/her to pass you food. “When you have eaten and are satisfied, return thanks to the Lord for the good land he has given you.”
  • “Is there a way to graduate early?”
  • “If you borrow a woodsman’s axe, you are borrowing his livelihood. If you borrow my pen, you’re borrowing my livelihood. So make sure to return the pen to my hand, where you got it.” The same goes for his Swiss army knife.
  • “What have you learned from this?” Usually asked at the very moment we realized that a bad situation was at least partly our own fault.
  • “When you leave a house, wish God’s peace upon it.”

I’ve recently come to appreciate that it isn’t always the case that a man with three sons and one daughter treat them alike in dignity. From the time I was young, Dad told me that I could be at the top of the class or be the “head of the company.” Thus Dad taught me that, though I am different from my brothers, neither my thoughts nor my person are worth less than they are.

He taught me that memorization of Scripture is important; invoices are also important; writing the date on things is useful; the items you own require maintenance; the items you buy represent a certain amount of time invested to earn the money so be sure it’s worth it; and that strawberries demonstrate that our God loves making beautiful things.

Last (and probably best), Dad always told me “I love you, but Jesus loves you even more!

What did your dad teach you?

Authors: Write with Deliberation.

For several years, Terpsichore and I have been coaching semi-finalists in Athanatos Christian Ministries’s novel competition. We spend 3 months or so working with authors on revisions, polishing and working on the art of story  telling. We work one on one with each author to provide specific criticism and advice. At the end of the revision period, authors re-submit their revised work and some hard working chap wins and has their book published by Athanatos. Pretty sweet, eh?
Well, every year I write a wrap up email with advice for how to keep working to be the best author possible, and every year the general advice is the same. Terpsichore has also found some patterns, so we thought we’d share the more universal advice. Here’s mine. Pursue your writing with deliberation and purpose. How?
Read books about writing. Style guides like Strunk and White go a long way, but a book like John R. Erickson’s Story Craft make a big difference to seeing how to apply the ideas. I’ve also heard that Stephen King’s On Writing is insightful.
Write every day. Pout. This stinks. Finding time, being disciplined, focusing on something! For pete’s sake, we’re not medieval monks! But, there is good news here.
You don’t have to write for hours, or entire chapters. Set manageable goals for yourself. Got 15 minutes? Write for 15 minutes. Can you reliably write 250 words before dinner? Do that.
Also, you don’t have to write NEW words every day. Nor must you sit down and write the very next 250 words in your current project. Re-write yesterday’s words. Plan a different plot that’s been niggling you. Write about how you’re going go berserk if your upstairs neighbor slams the door and wakes the baby one. more. time. Just remember to file everything carefully, and never, never delete anything. You never know when you’ll need those loose words.
(oh, and, this isn’t a salvific matter. you ain’t going to hell if you miss a day or 9, so just pick it back up.)
Be a picky reader, in order to train discernment. Pay close attention to what you’re reading, and if it’s not very good, stop reading it. Is the plot flimsy, or only carried along by sensational occurrences? Are the characters boring or implausible? Is the prose itself varied, interesting, and stylish? If the answer is no, the book is not worth your time. You must give yourself the very best examples so that your “ear”, and “eye” for what is valuable and good is trained to judge between good and bad. When you can trust your well trained instincts, you will find the whole process easier.
And read Egotist’s Club! We’ll turn you towards those good books and share our thoughts on writing.

Beau Hunting

I was chatting with my friend Maura yesterday, and she announced her intention of wedding the perfect man. Perhaps not an original plan, but a sound one, nevertheless. I followed her reasoning….
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Maura: Yeah, to someone just like Mr. Darcy, who will love me in secret… even though you say that’s not a good way for love to be….
Thalia: Ohmmm… that could be a difficult search. And I only object because secret love has so much potential for…..staying potential and never….. welll….. never becoming kinetic.
Maura: No, but see, it will become kinetic because, well let’s face it, I’m a doll and he’ll have to admit that he’s madly in love with me!
Thalia: HAHAHAHAHAH! goodus luckus… 🙂 As they never said in Rome
Maura: Now you see my plan!
Thalia: It is cunning. It is devious. It is masterful!
Maura: Yes it is!
Thalia: Teach me, oh wise one….
Maura: It involves a lot of eye contact, just like in Pride and Prejudice
Thalia: ah. That’s mostly eye contact. And a great deal of smooouuudering.
Maura: You’re right, oh observant one.
Thalia: Lots of wit, a smattering of spirited self possession, and heaps and heaps of eye contact.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
And then it hit me. Of course, it’s a noble art to study, that of obtaining a beau, but we were being silly. Or were we? It would seem, through this intelligent, if only half intelligible conversation, that we struck upon a vein of truth. Later, thinking it over, I realized that there is a great deal of human understanding and truth in Jane Austen.  Not just in the plots and the society and all the things people who make her their research project study. But in the….oh… the character of her characters. To ponder Elizabeth, and discern what it was that drew a good man to her. What about the personality of Jane was actually really appealing to … that funny looking dude with the blond curly hair. In great literature, you may trust the author to create people who act and react according to their natures and characters. What lessons Maura and I learn from this may not just be the frivolling of silly girls. Perhaps we too shall wed a Mr. Darcy. Or that other guy, whichever suits our nature better. (I hope the 21st century has shorn that sweet man of his bizarre locks. It would put me off my stride, and it would be sad to miss out on perfection because of a wierdly placed curl.)