Succulent three-day pot roast – Verdi vs. Bob Seger

The weirdest song ever in Verdi’s La Traviata

I’m not an opera fan. At all. But we have Verdi’s La Traviata (“The Strayed Woman”) in our CD collection, and every now and then we haul it out and listen to a few cuts because some of the music is astonishing. Especially in the first act (of three). The second and third acts, to me, dribble down to a kind of whimper after all the rip-roaring excitement at the start.

One of the most familiar songs from the opera is Si ridesta in ciel  l’aurora – “Dawn is breaking in the sky” – which comes early, just the sixth out of a total of 42 songs. Both my wife and I think it’s very funny, if not downright hysterical, and you might agree after hearing it.

Here’s the scene: it’s the end of a huge boozy party, it’s four or five in the morning, and all the guests gather to bid the hosts goodnight. They’re exhausted, just wiped out, from all the revelry and alcohol. Here’s what they sing in Italian, in English:

Dawn is breaking in the sky
and we must leave.
Thank you, gentle lady,
for this delightful evening.
The city is filled with parties,
the season of pleasure is at its height.
We shall sleep now, to regain our strength
for another night of joy.

You can almost hear them yawning. And now here’s the music, which I’m sure most people will recognize. Try it – it’s only about 1:30 long:

So, does that sound like they’re all yawning and want to go to bed? This song is by far the most frenzied orchestral and choral wall-of-sound in the entire opera, and maybe all operas (except Wagner, I guess), and it’s just a bunch of guests saying they’re tired and need to go home. What was Verdi thinking? Why didn’t he save this eruption of ecstatic energy for Act 3, which certainly could use it? I don’t know, but we think it’s pretty funny.

Bob Seger’s swan song – Ride Out

Verdi may have blown his operatic wad in Act One of La Traviata,, but I think Bob Seger saved the best for last – in Act 3 of his career.

Seger launched his year-long Ride Out Tour in Saginaw, Michigan, with its second stop in Bangor, in November. I don’t know how we missed it, but we did. Shameless. I’m not a long-time serious committed fan, but I like his music, and, after decades of road-tripping all over the U.S., I believe we look at long empty roads in a similar way – the sense of independence, isolation, loneliness, the illusion of freedom.

Bob Seger in Bangor, Nov. 2014.  (BDN photo by Linda Coan O'Kresik)

Bob Seger in Bangor, Nov. 2014. (BDN photo by Linda Coan O’Kresik)

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Seger’s Ride Out album is his 17th and, he says, his last. Much of the album is a kind of Seger brain-dump of the long-withheld truth about our mortality, our unhealthy planet, our stupidity and gullibility — all from a guy who turns 70 this May and figured it’s time to talk arrow-straight. It’s been noted that some of his fan base isn’t happy with, for instance, his references to climate change, like in “The Fireman’s Talkin'” —

There’s no more hidin’ the truth away
A change is comin’ it’s on the way
It won’t be sudden it might take years
It might take decades but it will get here

You will feel it right outside your door
You won’t be denyin’ anymore…

Several other songs (Gates of Eden, Listen, It’s Your World, and Ride Out) hit on similar environmental themes, sometimes angrily, sometimes with resignation at what we’ve lost, what we’re certain to lose. Others, like All of the Roads, You Take Me In, and Let the Rivers Run, are a collection of thoughts that could be from a long, last personal letter to his family and friends and fans. I may not be around much longer — here’s what I have to tell you that’s really important.

Seger’s always been gutsy, but Ride Out may be his boldest moment yet. The voice is older, a little rougher, but a lot wiser. It feels part exclamation point, part epitaph.

Three-day pot roast?! Why three days?!

No, not to cook it, to marinate it. I’m calling this a Midwest recipe, since it comes from my father-in-law in Indiana, where I had the best beef brisket I’ve ever tasted at a church event. I’m not much for their traditional Jell-o and marshmallow salads, but they do know their way around a beef cow.

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This is a well-marbled chuck roast cut from Curtis Custom Meats, drenched in about a pint of red wine, Worcestershire sauce, chopped carrots, onions, celery and garlic. Actually, it’s been doing this in a gallon-sized ziploc bag in the fridge for three full days, but came out to sit in a casserole just to be photographed.

Here’s what to do to enjoy an incredibly tender, eat-with-a-spoon pot roast dinner:

  • Find, buy a nicely marbled, slightly fatty roast cut, like chuck. Avoid top round at all costs (too lean and tough) but bottom round is acceptable if it has a good saddle of fat on it.
  • Marinate in red wine, Worcestershire, carrots, celery, onion, and garlic in a ziploc bag for three days. You can add other sauces, herbs, rubs, and spices as you wish.
  • On cooking day, remove the roast, pat it dry, and discard the marinade and veggies. Get it up to room temp before cooking – about 2-3 hours.
  • Put the roast in a casserole with a little water, pepper, your favorite seasonings, some crushed garlic. Cook at 275 for four hours. In the last two hours, throw in chopped potatoes, chopped carrots, chopped onion, and some diced tomatoes if you like.☞ For a little extra mellowness, sprinkle in a few ounces of white wine (surprise!) toward the end.

Dole out veggies on plates, then add slices of the roast. Super comfort food, warming and tender.

El Rosto Perfecto!

Monday night update: after exactly 4 hours the roast was just beginning to “fall apart” – I cranked the oven up to 300 for another 10 minutes, and that was it. Perfect! And the veggies were nicely cooked but not mooshy. I thought it was the best and tenderest pot roast I’d ever tasted, and my wife and our friend Jerry, who helped us eat it, just nodded and smiled…

There it is, for now.

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Ned White

About Ned White

Ned White is a writer, novelist, crossword puzzle constructor, humorist, traveler through 49 states, and at times a danger in the kitchen. He lives with his wife in South Thomaston.