This week, I was watching a PBS special about one of my favorite Broadway composers, Jason Robert Brown. He wrote Parade, Songs From a New World, Bridges of Madison County, and soon you’ll ALL know who he is when his musical The Last Five Years opens as a movie musical starring Anna Kendrick this year. (Hooray for movie musicals!)
JRB summed up his career by saying he spends all of his time creating shows, they open to mostly poor reviews, and then they close in 5 minutes. He wasn’t feeling like composing musicals was a viable career. He took the negative reviews very personally and decided to leave the business. Life brought him to Italy, it brought him marriage, it brought him many things that expanded who he was outside of musical theatre.
He began writing music again without urgency, just for the joy of it, and soon a new musical was born. The show played before an audience and Mr. Brown was able to see people enjoying his work, something he hadn’t witnessed for nearly 5 years. He was struck. ”This is what I do. I’ve kept it from people. Nobody does this thing that I do. Other people do their own thing, but this way I tell stories with music is mine. And I have to honor that. I’m the only one who can express myself. I have a responsibility to that passion. I have a responsibility to write musicals.”
Well, after hearing that, I was pretty struck myself. He went on to talk about how we get caught up in the opinions and negative reviews in the moment and completely lose sight of our body of work. There’s a whole trail behind us of what we’ve done, where we’ve been, the triumphs, suffering, the obstacles we’ve overcome. It’s all there blazing behind us as we march forward, leaving a trail for all to see who we are. That just gives me chills. We don’t have the obligation to prove ourselves every time we wake up because there’s a body of work, or a history of what we’ve done. We need to own that and be very proud. Isn’t that a relief?!
I invite you to make a little inventory of your own personal body of work, not your resume, but a true recollection of the life you’ve lived. How many lives have you touched? What changes did you bring about to situations just by showing up? What are you most proud of? Raising your children? Getting that promotion? Winning that award? That trip you saved up to take? The cross country move you made taking your life in a new direction? Perhaps you stood up for something you believed in and caused other people to take notice and make change. Maybe it’s not something so easily named. It all counts. It all matters.
Nobody can do what you do. Maybe you’re still trying to find out what that special thing is. I offer you this question: Are you taking responsibility for your passions with your actions? Promise me that this is the year you will make time to explore your thing. Even if you are working hard at a job that doesn’t relate to those passions and you feel like there’s not a spare minute to be creative - find the minutes. Your body of work depends on it.
I knew what recipe I wanted to share with you this week, when I thought the blog title was going to be titled “What Lies Beneath.” My little Jason Robert Brown PBS special just changed the title of this entry, but the message still relates. Many times, fat equals flavor, but not in this case. Make these short ribs the night before you’ll serve them, letting them sit in the fridge overnight. Scrape off the bits of fat, the symbolic negative reviews, the unkind remarks, the seemingly failed opportunities to reveal the most luxurious sweet and tender cuts of beef swimming in sauce of cherries and red wine. It’s a true body of work, this recipe.
Red Wine Braised Short Ribs with Sour Cherries
- 7 pounds of boneless short ribs
- salt and pepper
- nonstick spray
- 1 bottle of full bodied red wine
- 4 cups beef broth
- 24 ounces pitted sour cherries in light syrup
- 1 cup sour cherry jam
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Generously salt and pepper the short ribs, cut into thirds. Preheat a large cast iron skillet or dutch oven over a medium flame. As the pan begins to barely smoke, generously spray it with nonstick spray and place the seasoned meat into pan, in batches. Don't crowd the pan or the ribs will steam, not sear. Once browned on all sides, remove and add more short ribs.
Once browned, place the meat in a large roasting pan. Deglaze the dutch oven that browned the meat with one cup of the red wine, scraping the flavored bits off the bottom of the pan to dissolve into the liquid. Add this pan sauce to the roasting pan, the remaining red wine, and the beef broth.The meat should not be covered with liquid, only halfway covered, so adjust the broth accordingly. Cover the pan and place in the oven for 2 hours, stirring after an hour. Remove the roasting pan from oven, let it come to room temperature before refrigerating.
Leave in the refrigerator for 8 hours or overnight. Preheat the oven again to 350 degrees. The cold pan will have a thick raft of grease that has risen to the surface. It will easily separate itself from the liquid, discard all of the white bits. Add the cherries and jam to the braised ribs, stirring to combine everything. Place back into the oven, covered, for another hour to an hour and a half. The meat should be fall-apart tender. This might be the best thing you make all year. Get cookin'!