Monday, May 11, 2009

Thelonios Monk - Misterioso

It takes some work to “get” Monk. And then, you probably still don’t get it all. For me, it’s just like a tease of a memory - where I can't remember the full story. Or a teaser of understanding myself. I think I know what’s going on – but I’m sure there are deeper and deeper layers to this music and what drives my actions and recations to the world around me.

This particular piece, Misterioso,  draws me because it’s such a simple note progression at the beginning. I feel like he’s giving me tiny baby spoonfuls of his music before he takes off. “See? You understood this, now let’s try something a little more complex.”

Here’s how a professional writes about this piece:

Misterioso (sometimes spelled Mysterioso) - One of Monk’s most famous blues compositions, it was first recorded on July 2, 1948 (Blue Note 1510). The melody is distinctive in that it’s built on even eighth notes of ascending and descending parallel sixths. The most famous recording of “Misterioso” was made by Sonny Rollins and includes both Monk and pianist Horace Silver taking turns at the keyboard! Rollins’s solo has been hailed by critics as a masterpiece.

Although “Misterioso” is not thought to be a very singable melody, it is so musical, so perfectly balanced that it has inspired several vocal versions and at least three different sets of lyrics: Claude Nougaro (retitled Autour de Minuit), Judy Niemack (retitled Crazy Song to Sing), Teri Roiger (retitled Listen to your Soul), Andre Minvielle (retitled Ounba’s), as well as a children’s book based whose poetic story is told to the melody and rhythm of Misterioso. The latter is by Chris Raschka and is titled Mysterious Thelonious.

Here’s the Claude Nougar version (lyrics in French with pictures of the cosmos) and here’s a versions featuring a trumpet, and electric guitars.

Finally – here’s another Monk composition – Epistrophy  that also starts out easy  then gets lost in itself.

I guess it takes some work to “get” ourselves and make sure we don't get "lost" in our own warped view of reality - which is EXACTLY what happened over the weekend with the cooking gig. 

Last Friday … didn’t go as well as I’d hoped. I mean, everyone got fed – and no one has reported becoming sick – so there’s that. It seems there were a whole lot of things conspiring to keep me from succeeding. Some I brought on myself - some unforeseeable, but typical for this sort of situation.

First, they kept increasing the # of people after I’d ordered the food. I had to consistently become creative in how I was going to stretch the meal to feed 95 instead of the original 70. I know Jesus did it with the loaves and fish, but I wasn't so sure I'd have the same sort of success. 

Thankfully at noon on Friday I decided to open up the boxes with the beef and the pork roasts - so I could get a visual on the portion sizes. You cannot imagine how freaked out I was to realize they were still FROZEN SOLID (food arrived for the walk-in Wed. morning). Then - I discovered the Chuck Roast was already pre-cooked (so - somewhat good - but - already seasoned and with a gravy - CLEARLY not "Mexican" in style). The two huge 20 lb pork LOINS (I thought I was getting TENERLOINS) were also frozen clear through - AND NOT precooked. So - we had to defrost and start the cooking process earlier. We just BARELY had the pork done when it was time to start serving. (at least I didn't have to worry about overcooked, dried out pork, huh?)

Because of the changing numbers the beef serving ended up being really small – and we had to change to a "non"-cooking method (see "pre-cooked" comment above) – which left the sautéed onions and peppers out of the final mix. 

I'd planned to serve a mole sauce with the pork - but we ran out of prep time. So no ground toasted pumpkin seeds and sautéing of the pureed pepper sauce. It was just reconstituted pasilla, anchos, and guajillos chiles with beef broth. Bright red and tangy - but missing that deep dark flavor at the bottom that the seed meal and sauteing add.

I also had a flan type dessert that was supposed to go with the homemade cinnamon ice cream – and that didn’t get done either. (This is the reason I should ALWAYS make a recipe first, I guess) Rarely do I run into problems cooking "blind" ... but this time the process of making sweetened condensed milk (from scratch) was NOT suited to making mass quantities with other things going on in the kitchen.

 In my estimation the plates looked like SHIT going out to the tables. The only garnish was a swizzle of sour cream on the beef - and the red-pepper sauce on the pork. The Arrozo Verde (green rice) and Fideo (pasta) were just two big lumps on the plate. If we had time - and a different serving setup - some chopped cilantro would have looked nice on the Fideo - and ... well - the rice should probably have been packed in a form - and then released as a cylinder.

Overall, working in the church kitchen was a mess. There were items that didn't work (can opener, food processor, oven broiler) and it was disorganized. The electrical outlets on the workstations are on the floor - and most appliance cords are 2 foot cords - so until you get I got smart and grabbed a power strip- you are I was sitting on the floor to use the food processor, blender, and mixer.  I ended up using my own saute pans, blender, and food processor - and some of them were damaged in the process.

I think what I cooked could have been at least 35-50% better. Most of the low score comes from visual presentation of the food items - and not getting the 3 items (beef, mole, and dessert) completed.

The guy who acted as my sous-chef and was very helpful all day Thur and Fri. I'd hate to think what shape I'd have been in if he hadn't been there to slice and dice for me. But he walked off the serving line just as we started serving. Then came back – but said he didn’t want anyone to know he was involved with preparing the food and he wouldn’t “eat this crap”. It's a good thing we weren't in a professional kitchen - 'cause I would have fired his ass when he walked off the line - and I would have knocked him on said ass when he returned to the line. 

I too wasn't pleased with what was going on either - but - you gotta make due with what you have, right? And as you're serving it's a little too late to start the culinary critique. 

I know most of his attitude was ‘cause he was stressed too – he couldn’t hear what I was saying about portion size & number of servings – and was tired and roped into doing more than he had planned on … but still – that one comment has pretty much confirmed my feeling the whole thing was shit.

If that had been the end of the problems, I might not have felt so badly about the whole thing - but there were “front of the house” problems too. People kept coming to me with questions about table setup, decorations, beverages, the order of the food going out – and what was happing. As far as I was concerned - that fell to the organizer of the event, not me. But it added to the confusion and the surrealistic"unprepared" feeling that overwhelmed me.

Every situation is an opportunity to learn, right? I spent most of Saturday and Sunday hiding out at the house, in the fetal position, and feeling like the worlds biggest failure. I guess here’s what I’ve realized with some help prompting from a friend.

I’m a harsh judge of my own abilities. I only need one other person to validate my own call of “unacceptable performance” and I am sure I’m a failure. I've got to develop a better way for me to judge my performance. One that allows me to integrate my own (balanced) critique plus the evaluation of others. To me this is a “Misterioso” concept. 

Sometimes I get really irritated because I want someone whose opinion I value to tell me I’ve done something well. But as a friend pointed out, if I don’t think I’ve done a good job – no amount of anyone else telling me I DID, is going to change what I think/hear/feel.

I’ve had several eMails, 2 phone calls, and numerous people say the food Friday was fantastic. I guess it’s time to put on my big girl pants and quit wallowing in my misery. So the plates weren’t pretty. So I didn’t get the mole sauce perfected – and there was only one dessert instead of two. I gave these southerners a whole new outlook on “Mexican food”. It’s more than tacos, enchiladas, red-stained rice and refried beans. 

People have gone out of their way to say it was good. I’m going to ignore the sous-chef's comments - and focus on the complements. No one's being forced to track me down to say I did a good job. So the fact that they are seeking me out to tell me it was good might confirm the idea that I am too hard on myself.

In other news – one of my favorite colleagues in the cotton business is in NC today.   He use to work for Hohenberg Brothers/Cargill, a company that is ranked about #3 in the cotton world. He’s so freakin’ smart (not to mention fall off your barstool funny) that I was always surprised when I was included in his “inner circle” and asked to hang out with them whenever we were at industry functions. When I go to Memphis I always try to look him up – but still feel like I’m a bit of an imposition (see above: unable to judge myself accurately). I was thrilled when he contacted me yesterday to see if we could have lunch today. He’s giving a keynote speech down in Pinehurst for the CCI (Cotton Council International) then driving back up here to catch an early evening flight home.

 I am looking forward to this lunch and the rest of the week. Let’s hope I can quit the Epistrophy of getting lost in myself and find a better way to evaluate who I am and what I do. I don't want my internal life to be like the core of Monk's music. Swirling with intricate confusion that makes it difficult for the average listener (or myself) to grasp what's going on.


mamie said...

You should have given the sous-chef $10 and told him to go to Taco Bell. And not to come back. He doesn't know s--t from s--t - including YOUR s--t!!!

Sounds like in spite of yourself you wowed 'em, and only you knew things weren't perfect. Isn't that usually the way???

Love ya

Anonymous said...

A very insightful blog today. You are to hard on yourself - you are human - and no human I know is perfect ! I can't imagine how you dealt with all those alternative conditions that you had to deal with, or with which you had to deal! (Proper English,you know) I don't know who your friend is, but he/she is very wise - and I'm glad you had that persons wisdom.

I can't imagine a kitchen being that poorly equipped ??? I'll bet you check out the kitchen where you will be cooking - way ahead of time, next time !!

If you have/had people complimenting you, it can't have been that "bad" - besides, if they are Southerners, what do they have to compare to ??? *O*

Love you lots and I'm so sorry you had to go thru all that when you had been so looking forward to 'treating" them. tp

Joseph H. said...

You might be amused to hear that this particular friend of yours actually heard a live arrangement of "Mysterioso" by Paul Jeffrey and others maybe 20-some years ago; one of the lead "instruments" in the arrangement was a female vocalist, alternating in turn with one of the instruments. It was pretty neat.

I'm glad you got through the food experience. I've never made food for more than about 10 people at once, and it's always been in my own kitchen (I've helped at some other dinners that were bigger and in other folks' kitchens, but I wasn't running the show then). I can't imagine feeding 70 people at once, let alone having all the other problems you did on top of that. The sous chef was a problem, but at least he did eventually stick it out.

Was this at your church?