Today was the last of a sequence of strange and difficult days at work for me. You see, a couple of weeks ago, a member of staff – not one of my scientists, but a long-term member of my little work choir – passed away. We were not close, though we chatted regularly about music and her cats, and so, while I was shocked and saddened, it would not be true to say that I was deeply emotionally affected by her loss. (It sounds rather cold to say this, but it would feel self-aggrandising and dramatic to claim a strong emotional reaction. I liked her, I liked singing with her, and we spoke occasionally outside choir. Others were much closer to her than I was, and I don’t want to belittle their grief by claiming otherwise.)
But I also realised, during the course of a day which was spent largely in trying to contact and break the news to various people who were away and really did need to know, that for the first time in such a matter I had a certain level of professional obligation. She was a member of the choir I direct; I felt strongly that I needed to keep the choir informed of what was going on. I also, on reflection, thought that it might be appropriate to offer our services to the family, to sing in her memory.
And then the long wait began. There were complications that I won’t go into; the funeral was delayed, and we really weren’t sure whether we were wanted or not. Then, given that our usual repertoire is Christmas carols, I had to come up with suitable music in case we were asked. After some hesitation, I decided that we should go ahead and rehearse as though we were planning to sing at the funeral – emotionally, it was a good way for the choir to remember her, even if we did not wind up singing for anyone other than ourselves; practically, in a choir where very few people read music, we really needed to start learning the music as early as possible if we wanted to do a good job of it in the event that we were wanted. My choristers agreed with this assessment, and we began work on Mozart’s Ave Verum, as well as reminding ourselves of the Humming Chorus and Dona Nobis Pacem as back-up pieces.
I will spare you the details of figuring out exactly what was going to happen when, of finding an accompanist and then discovering that there was no room for a keyboard anyway, and of changing our repertoire accordingly. What is important is that the funeral was today, and we did sing both the Mozart and Dona Nobis Pacem. As the Dona Nobis Pacem is a round, I divided the choir into groups containing voices from each part, and when I learned that we would be singing it as they carried the coffin out, I decided to end it by having the choir stop at the end, and having the altos – our colleague’s section – sing the first line of the round alone, to see her out. It was beautiful, and effective, and sad, and the family appreciated having our colleague’s choral life represented in this way. I’m incredibly proud of my choristers for the work they put in. And I’m exhausted, and sad, and filled with that weird feeling one always gets after singing at a funeral – because one cannot afford the catharsis of emotion (crying and singing are not compatible), and so one comes out feeling strangely empty.
You probably didn’t need to know all of that. But I sort of wanted to record it, because it’s never been my job to co-ordinate something like this before, and it was strange and awful and also slightly exhilirating, because I really love directing this little choir, and they worked so hard and sang so well (and yes, I have told them this).
Anyway. After all this emotion – or lack thereof, I honestly don’t know what I feel right now – I wanted to make something simple and sweet and a little bit life-giving and healthy, too.
Hence, these apricots. They’ve taken a bit of fiddling around, mostly because while they are beautiful and fresh and bright, this particular batch was quite chewy, so I needed to soak them and then dry them out a bit before starting. But the principle is simple – take a dried apricot, fill it with a little pistachio butter, dip the base in melted dark chocolate, drizzle a bit more chocolate over the top, leave to set, and eat.
I think I just gave you the recipe. Do I really need to write it out again? Essentially, the trick is to fill the hole at the centre of the apricot (where the stone was) with the pistachio butter. The other trick is to have very good apricots, very good chocolate, very good pistachio butter. The result is lovely – tangy and deeply chocolatey on the outside, and with a lovely soft, creamy pistachio centre. So much better than I had imagined…
As for variations, this is gluten-free and vegan. For a dessert, it’s pretty low-GI, mostly because there isn’t very much of it, and what there is, is fruit and nuts. It isn’t nut-free, because of the pistachio butter. You could always just do chocolate dipped dried apricots. I wouldn’t tell, and it would probably have the same effect. You could dip some fresh strawberries at the same time. Why not? Or you could fill the apricots with chocolate tahini, and skip the dipping stage. Or better still, don’t skip it. Double-chocolate tahini apricots sound to me as though they could not possibly be bad. Unless you have fructose intolerance, in which case I suggest eating alternate spoonfuls of chocolate tahini and pistachio butter from a jar.
There are worse places to find comfort.
Two years ago: Decidedly un-Roman Chocolate, Cherry and Cacao Balls