Birthday Trifle and Other Feasty Treats

Hello Trick-or-Treaters!

As promised, I will commence this blog entry using effulgently descriptive language over the culinary matter of a trifle. No, not a trifling matter. A trifle. My special Birthday Trifle. Glorious, rich, heady, painfully delicious Birthday Trifle.

But this lovely trifle is no respecter of birthdays. It would gladly and graciously enhance yours … as it did mine earlier this month. And mine really needed it, because my body decided to become terribly ill on said birthday. To use popular internet language – “Epic Birthday FAIL.” (I thought I had paid my dues for a while with pneumonia this past December, but apparently not. Boo.)

Luckily I had celebrated the weekend before with my sweet friends (and prepared Birthday Trifle for the party). We had a make-your-own-grilled-cheese-sandwich dinner with tomato soup. So much fun. Five different kinds of cheese. Three different breads. And we even had tomatoes and bacon. My favorite combinations were Jarlsberg/bacon/tomato, brie/boysenberry jam (put jam on after grilling, bite by bite), and just plain Dubliner (brilliant Dubliner).

And now for dessert. I invented Birthday Trifle out of some very deep flavor needs – those culinary needs that go beyond mere taste buds, and when met, go up into the brain and its synapses, then down into the limbs, fingers, and toes, making the spirit dance and shiver. I love classic English trifle – layers of lemon cake, vanilla pudding, and fresh berries, topped with whipped cream and more berries – but I have such a love for heavy, rich, intense flavors that I decided to put what I love in layered form: namely, chocolate, cream, and pistachios.

Pistachio ice cream has got to be one of the best things ever designed for the human tongue. And so, its cousin, pistachio pudding, becomes the trifle-equivalent ingredient. Bring in the eternal magic of brownies, and Birthday Trifle starts to come together. Here’s what to put in a trifle dish, layer by layer:

- brownies (undercooked a little bit, of course)

- chocolate sauce (chocolate chips or any dark chocolate melted in whole milk or cream in a double boiler)

- pistachio pudding (made with cream instead of milk so it’s thicker, whipped with a bit of almond extract)

- whipped cream (whipped with a bit of rum extract but no sugar, whipped longer than normal so it’s thick)

- after all the layers are in, ending with whipped cream, finely grate dark chocolate (even 100% if you have it) over the entire top (optional – design a spiral of pistachios on top, too)

One bite, and it nearly forces you to close your eyes in reverence. I always make it the day before, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate overnight (the dark chocolate shavings keep the plastic from sticking to the whipped cream).

I’ve been off of refined sugar for the past few months, but I had to meld my soul to Birthday Trifle for my special week! (Er, ahem, yes … week.) I’m back off of sugar now for a little while longer – kind of like spring cleaning for the body. But I’m a fervent Trick-or-Treater, so there will always be chocolate in my life.

And for my fellow fervent Trick-or-Treaters, you might like to know that I wrote two new carols this week. I have a large collection of carols already written from which I’m selecting for the next CD, but this CD wanted a couple of new personalities to get the mix just right, so my artistic womb gave birth. They must be fraternal twins because they are nothing alike. Now to arrange them.

It’s really amazing how the personality of each carol will tell me what it wants – harpsichord, guitar, triangle, slapping, etc. Sometimes I need to coax the information from them, and sometimes it’s shouted at me, but they always let me know.

I really like being in writing mode. It’s delicious to tick away and scribble for hours with a pencil, figuring out the best turns and motions of the notes, fitting them together – like coming up with a music recipe. The hard thing is to choose between multiple good ideas – this chord or that chord here, this melodic motion or that, steak or shrimp, cinnamon or saffron? Sometimes there is room for both. Sometimes not.

So, I guess we could say I’m in the “kitchen” right now – measuring, slicing, whipping, squeezing – preparing everything for the “oven” (recording).

You know how it is when you set out to prepare a special feast. All your fresh, beautiful ingredients are laid out. You work with them. Sometimes your back and feet hurt, but the love of food and sharing it keeps you going. You put the mixtures on the stove, grill, or in the oven. The cooking starts off slowly, but then you know it’s almost done when aromas start filling the house (and hopefully not the sound of the smoke alarm). You pull it out and put it on pretty dishes.

What usually happens when we taste something good? We immediately want to share it with someone. If someone is taking a bite at the same time you are, you revel in the flavors together. I’m looking forward so much to sharing this next batch of Halloween Carols with you. It will be a while yet, but in the meantime, you’re allowed to snack on other music.

Food and music. Physical and spiritual. Which is necessary for which? Well, that’s a discussion for another time.

Treat-or-treat! (I don’t want any tricks to befall you. Not yet.)