Our Virtual Potluck: Part VI

Potluck

The table is set, the buffet dishes are in place, the napkins are neatly folded, the kitties are on their best behavior. It’s time for the Manitou Winds Virtual Potluck!

IMG_3102With everyone here and all the dishes assembled and in place, it’s clear we’re a group with lots to share and contribute! Now that we’ve all discussed the weather and how we feel about winter in Northern Michigan, the conversation could go anywhere!

If you could magically play any instrument without having to take lessons, what instrument would you pick up?

Sam: “I’d love it if I could magically play the piano.”
Jason: “I’ve always wanted to play viola; altos secretly have all the fun.”
Anne: “I’d love to play the cello. I love the rich sound, and… well, I just think I’d look really cool playing it!”
Laura: “I would love to play the violin so I could fiddle.”
Christina: “I’ve always thought the cello would be neat to learn. It’s the same range as the bassoon, and it has the best sound of all the stringed instruments to me.”

So, in magical-musical-fantasyland, Manitou Winds would maybe be more like Manitou Strings?! I wonder if there are any string players out there who wish they could play a wind instrument. Somehow I doubt that!

Photo Aug 24, 7 47 42 PMIn a contest to determine who among us has the most pets, Laura is hands-down the winner. “We’ve got one very big and old chocolate lab, a cat who lives in the barn, two horses on our farm, two horses who live at another farm, and pigs and chickens in the summer months (they’re in the freezer now!),” says Laura.

Comparing our woes with our separate instruments is also fodder for conversation…

Christina says, “Fingerings for bassoon can have up to all of your fingers down for a single note — your left thumb operates 6 keys all by itself… and the reed…”

“Reeds are probably the worst thing about playing clarinet,” says Anne. “A reed can either make or break you!”

“Don’t even talk to me about reeds,” interrupts Jason, putting away his reed knife.

“Staying in shape on the horn is probably the most challenging thing,” says Laura. “It’s a very physically demanding instrument, so if you take too many days off, it takes a while to get back into IMG_8209shape.”

“On the flute, it’s so hard to get a good, solid tone throughout the whole range of the instrument,” says Sam. “You need to have the right embouchure for your individual mouth structure, but also tons of air support to direct the air correctly and overcome the ‘wasted air’ factor.”

“You’ve got wasted air?” says Jason, “I can’t get rid of my air fast enough… turning beet red, over here.”

Needless to say, each of us chose our instruments in spite of the challenges they inevitably bring. In the hands of knowledgeable composers and arrangers, these quirky instruments of a wind quintet can actually form a very unique and uniform sound — the better qualities of each instrument shining through.

Manitou WindsIn our rehearsals, we’re currently working on music for our spring concert. The theme, “New Voices”, aims to explore music written only within the last 20 years. We enjoy highlighting the work of lesser-known composers and so programming new music was a natural way of accomplishing that.

But, to take it a step further, we wanted to demonstrate for our audience that new music isn’t necessarily something to be feared — even though we can all agree that older, familiar music is more comfortable. In order to bridge the gap between old and new, we sought out composers who incorporate modern techniques and sounds into their music, but who also value intriguing melodies and rich harmonies.

In the coming weeks, we’ll begin to share more with you about the music on our program and the composers who penned it.

It looks like everyone cleaned their plates and had their fill… but not too full, I hope! To top off this potluck feast, I’ve got a wintry dessert to make sure no one goes home hungry…

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Pear & Gingerbread Trifle
Serves 8
This recipe is right at home on a wintry Northern Michigan potluck table — our local pears are excellent and for this recipe you can use fresh or canned. The gingerbread can be baked and then frozen months in advance. Except for the whipped cream, all the components can be prepared days in advance and then assembled just a few hours before serving.

Gingerbread Cake:
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
Pear-Gingerbread Trifle1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
1/4 cup vegetable oil or melted unsalted butter
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup dark brown sugar
1/4 cup molasses
1 large egg, beaten
1/2 cup warm water

Pear Filling:
2 pounds ripe but firm Bartlett pears (or 2 15oz cans of pears in light syrup)
1/4 cup pear preserves or jam
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
1-2 tablespoons brandy (optional)

Custard Cream:
2 cups whole milk
2 large eggs plus one egg yolk
1/4 cup granulated sugar
3 tablespoons cornstarch
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1-2 tablespoons brandy (optional)

Whipped Cream:
1 1/2 cups heavy cream
2 tablespoons confectioners sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

To make the Gingerbread Cake: Preheat oven to 350-degrees.

Place flour, baking soda, baking powder, spices and salt into a large bowl and mix well. Place oil and sugars into a separate bowl; beat until creamy. Add molasses, beaten egg and then the warm water, mixing after each addition. Blend the dry ingredients into the wet ones, stirring well.

Pour batter into a lightly oiled 9-inch cake pan. Bake for 30 minutes or until tester comes out clean. Cool completely. Tear into small pieces or cut into cubes and set aside.

To make the Pear Filling: In a large , heavy skillet, heat pears over medium high heat. Add jam, sugar and spices and cook until the mixture boils and begins to thicken. Remove from heat, cool for a moment or two, and then stir in the balsamic vinegar and brandy. Set aside to cool.

To make the Custard Cream: Heat milk in a heavy-bottomed saucepan, stirring frequently, just until bubbles begin to form around edges of pan. Meanwhile, whisk eggs, sugar and cornstarch in a bowl. When the milk is ready, slowly pour half of milk mixture into the egg mixture, whisking the entire time. Then stir this mixture back into the hot milk. Cook for ten minutes, whisking constantly, but do not allow to boil. The custard will thicken as it cooks, and thicken further as it cools. Remove from heat, add vanilla and brandy to taste.

Pour finished custard into a sieve set over a clean bowl and let it fall through, removing any lumps. Use back of spoon or spatula to help all the custard go through sieve. Cover with plastic wrap, laying the wrap directly on the surface of the custard so it does not develop a Woodwind Gourmetskin. Chill for at least two hours.

To make the Whipped Cream: Using chilled beaters and bowl, whip cream until it starts to thicken. Slowly add sugar and then vanilla, beating until cream is thick enough to form peaks on beaters when removed.

Assembly: In a deep bowl, a large glass trifle bowl, or individual serving dishes, layer the ingredients in approximately half-inch layers this order: 1) custard cream; 2) gingerbread pieces; 3) pear filling; and 4) whipped cream. Continue to layer, using a spatula to press down, or swirl creme as needed, until the serving dish is filled. Be sure to end with a hefty layer of whipped cream! Refrigerate for at least two hours and up to 8 hours before serving.

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Looking for more recipes? Check out the other recent Woodwind Gourmet series:

Series I: Oboes, Oranges & Almonds

Series II: Composers & Coffee

Series III: Notable Breakfasts

Series IV: Our Virtual Potluck

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