Drinking Tunes: Spring Beer + Music

(Jessica Lea Mayfield at Glasslands in Brooklyn, March 30, 2011)

Earlier this week it was in the 30s. It’s still in the 30s-to-40s and the next couple of days are going to be rainy and gross. So this post, like this week’s recipe, is some wishful thinking: Maybe drinking enough springy beers will make the cold go away?

I wrote a few words about five songs that get me in the mood for spring, and my friend Bret Stetka, who writes about food and drinks for Time Out New York, Metromix and MSN.com (he also has a doughnut blog — yes, a doughnut blog), paired them each with a beer that complements the music and the mood, and explained why they work together.

THE SONG: Jessica Lea Mayfield, “Blue Skies Again”
21-year-old Ohioan Jessica Lea Mayfield made one of my favorite albums so far this year (Tell Me, released on Nonesuch and produced by the Black Keys’ Dan Auerbach), and this is one of its best tracks. It’s about getting over heartbreak in the context of the seasons changing from winter to spring.
Key lyrics: “This heart of mine/ Is ready for the spring/ Open up my window/ Winter bird, take wing”

THE BEER: Saison de Lente (The Bruery; Placentia, CA)
Saisons are made for spring, literally. They were first brewed by Belgian farmers in the winter for spring and summer consumption, and they’re far and away my favorite style of beer. They tend to be light and refreshing, yet spicy and full of flavor and Jessica Lea Mayfield’s ode to spring calls for the The Bruery’s Californian twist on the style (complete with a pink psychedelic Easter egg on the label). The beer starts with a somber sour foundation, much like the song’s moody intro. Then it blows wide open — a crisp, effervescent refresher perfect for Mayfield’s breezy, springy chorus: “Suddenly I can see blue skies again.”

THE SONG: Big Star, “In The Street”
Most of Big Star’s music feels best during the warmer seasons, but “In The Street” in particular perfectly embodies spring, with lyrics about hanging out with friends and driving around aimlessly with no worries.

THE BEER: Estate Homegrown Ale (Sierra Nevada; Chico, CA)
This song calls for a big, bold West Coast IPA — something with energy and intensity, but also a drinkable, major-key disposition. Sierra’s Estate Ale is aggressively hoppy and pleasantly bitter, the beery equivalent of Alex Chilton’s awesomely squawky screech. And the simple, nectary fruitiness holding it all together? Cowbell!

THE SONG: The National, “Apartment Story”
The National have never been known for their happy-go-lucky disposition. This one is about sinking into a winter depression with the idea that once it hits spring, everything might get a bit better.
Key lyrics: “Tired and wired we ruin too easy/ Sleep in our clothes and wait for winter to leave.”

THE BEER: Arabier (De Dolle; Esen, Belgium)
The National require something a bit darker and moodier than the usual spring sippers. Something brooding but slightly optimistic. De Dolle’s Arabier is a strong pale ale with an earthy, funky dark side and a dreary, rainy day haziness. But loads of bubbly carbonation and a bright citrus flavor hint at sandals and sunlight.

THE SONG: The New Pornographers, “The Crash Years”
The New Pornographers are the quintessential sunny-day band, thanks to A.C. Newman’s affinity for bright, multi-voiced choruses and Neko Case’s reedy wail. “The Crash Years” takes the cake, though, mostly because of its umbrella-filled music video. Directed by Sammy Rawal, it shows an aerial view of meticulously-choreographed pedestrians walking through a cobblestone courtyard pushing strollers, riding bikes, carrying ladders and walking under umbrellas.

THE BEER: Bräu Weisse (Ayinger; Aying, Germany)
Here I think we need something crisp, upbeat and approachable to match the band’s sharply-written indie pop. There also needs to be big payoff in terms of flavor, and despite that aggressive umlaut over the “a,” this bubbly hefeweizen is Pornographers-perfect. It’s light, citrusy and super spicy. Plus the idyllic German cottage on the bottle seems like a relaxing place to stay come spring.

THE SONG: Ted Leo & the Pharmacists, “Walking To Do”
This song is, in part, about making things happen on your own instead of waiting for religion to provide all the answers, but it’s also simply about living life and working through whatever gets thrown your way — which is a perfect attitude to have at the start of a new season. It’s also about walking, which is a lot easier to do after snow is gone! It’s one of my favorite Ted Leo songs, and one of his most energizing.
Key lyrics: “And if we stay on our feet, we’ll make it in our own time/ And though the road has got some steep climbs, I believe we’ll be fine”

THE BEER: Jack D’Or (Pretty Things; Cambridge, MA)
Ted Leo’s brand of straight-ahead indie rock, with its sharp Elvis Costello confidence, generally puts me in a good mood. As does Jack D’or, another perfectly springy saison. It’s dry and crispwith big spice, just like Leo’s high-energy treble-rich tune.


Spring Galettes + Songs for the Season

It’s the end of March and it’s 30-some degrees outside. This is not how I’d like New York to feel right now, and it’s not what I consider to be spring — so let’s call this week’s posts wishful thinking, since they are both meant to celebrate the new season that hasn’t arrived quite yet.

The dish — two kinds of galettes (a pie-like tart), one sweet and one savory — is very springy; the playlist is some recently released (and a couple soon-to-be-released) songs I’m into, that I’ll likely be listening to well into the season.

Galettes are pie-like tarts, and my friend Sarah and I made two different kinds: Half with asparagus, mushrooms and Fontina cheese, and the other half with blueberries, raspberries, fresh mint and mascarpone cheese. The asparagus and blueberries are the most spring-inspired ingredients, and both of these were super tasty. Recipes at the bottom.


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Sunday Small Plates, Family Dinner, & Mom’s Mandel Bread (Inspired by Beirut)

(The spread: Cheese/potato and spinach/ricotta pierogis; herbed goat cheese with crackers, apricots and almonds; Spanish tortilla; Mandel bread; brie and apples; three-olive tapenade; quinoa tabouli; toasted baguette; tomato bruschetta. Not pictured: hummus, tzatziki. Pretty much all of this was eaten.)


A small-plates feast and my mom’s Mandel bread (recipes + TONS of photos at the bottom)

Zach Condon of Beirut gets his musical influences from all over the world, much of it from Eastern Europe. It’s not always obvious what elements come from which culture; they’re all seamlessly mixed together and he manages to make complete sense out of it. To represent the tiny pieces from different cultures, my friends and I made a dinner of small-plate dishes — olive tapenade, hummus, quinoa tabouli, tomato bruschetta, tzatziki sauce, pierogis, a Spanish tortilla, a cheese plate, and mandel bread — and they don’t all necessarily come from the places represented in Beirut’s music, but that’s not really the point. My friends come from different cultural backgrounds, too, and our group makes about as much sense as this hodgepodge of a meal or Condon’s music — but it works.

I interpret Condon’s song “A Sunday Smile” to be about a romantic relationship, but ultimately it makes me think of peaceful, relaxing Sundays — which in recent months has meant lots of big dinners like this one. Every few weeks, a group of my closest New York friends (most of them from college, with some others we’ve picked up along the way) come to my apartment for what we call Family Dinner; a huge dinner that we make together. At first it was just for fun, but now it’s a constant reminder that even though most of our blood-related families are far away, what we’ve created here in the city is pretty damn close. We usually pick a theme — in the past we’ve made dumplings, sushi, tacos, holiday cookies — and go from there, and this sharing of cultures and food has become an extremely important part of my life. So these days, when Condon sings the chorus of “A Sunday smile, you wore it for a while,” I think about how the excitement from a Sunday Family Dinner carries over well into the next week.

My own cultural contribution to our small-plates feast was mandel bread (pictured above), a traditional Jewish/Eastern European cookie of sorts (it’s easiest to describe it as Jewish biscotti), which I remember my mom making when I was growing up. Last year I started baking it myself, with her recipe, and it’s become my all-occasion go-to treat. My mom was an amazing cook and baker (she passed away in July 1999), and food was always important in my family. So, I’m really excited to share this special recipe — and the experience of making and eating food with loved ones — with my family here, too.

Beirut is the project of Zach Condon, a 20-something from New Mexico who dropped out of high school to travel to Europe, where he was influenced by Eastern European and Balkan folk music. Condon plays the horn and sings, and his band tends to be up to 10 members strong, with instruments that include the tuba, trombone, accordion, sax, strings, and various forms of percussion.
Beirut on MySpace

<!–more Mandel bread recipe, links to other recipes, and photos below –>

Mandel bread

4 eggs
3/4 c sugar
1/2 c oil
1 tsp vanilla (I usually mix this with 1 tsp instant coffee before adding, but that’s optional)
1/2 c chocolate chips, chopped nuts, or dried berries (or a combination of these totaling about 1/2 c or a little more) — this time I used chocolate chips and dried cranberries. I recommend the mini chocolate chips, or coarsely chopping the normal-sized ones.
3 1/2 c flour
1 tsp baking powder
Cinnamon/sugar OR cocoa powder/sugar mixture (about 3-4 tbsp’s worth)


• Preheat oven to 350 degrees
• Mix eggs through baking powder in the order given (first eggs and sugar, gradually adding everything else).

• Grease a cookie sheet.

• Mold the dough into three long, flat loaves. The dough will be really sticky — don’t worry about these looking smooth and pretty because they won’t!

• Bake for 35 minutes.

• Pull out of the oven and slice; then sprinkle with the cinnamon/sugar (or cocoa/sugar) mixture and bake for another 10 minutes.

The rest of Family Dinner: Small Plates Edition, in photos. (There are at least a few photos I didn’t take; I think Paul took the rest?)

Tomato bruschetta (Recipe)

Herbed goat cheese, white cheddar, dried apricots and almonds

PIerogis! Tonya’s mom’s recipe.

Quinoa tabouli (Recipe)

Olive tapenade — I think this was the favorite! (Recipe)

Tzatziki (Recipe)

Prepping food, goofing around, eating.

Tonya, the Ukrainian pierogi-making master

Teaching Chad.

Missy explaining her Spanish tortilla, a potato and egg dish that I somehow didn’t get a photo of by itself.

Hummus. There’s not really a recipe, I just put these things in my food processor and add stuff to taste: can of chickpeas, some tahini, garlic, olive oil, lemon juice, Greek yogurt, paprika and salt.

Indie Rock Deli: How To Dress Salad Well (Inspired by How To Dress Well)

Three everyday salad dressings (honey mustard, balsamic vinaigrette, lemon-tahini) + topping suggestions (recipes at the bottom)

This post is purely for puns’ sake, but it’s “inspired” by the R&B-influenced lo-fi (chillwave?) outfit How to Dress Well, who I haven’t really gotten that into, but Pitchfork loves it.
How to Dress Well on MySpace

It all started here, with a normal day at work that turned into an hours-long giggle fit. Indie Rock Deli dishes are inspired by punny takes on band names and song titles. Leave your own suggestions in the comments and they might be used in a future post! (No, they definitely don’t have to actually be indie rock.)

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Mini Quiche, Granola, and Cake Balls (Eats and Beats, March 12-18)

Hey guys! I’m going to test out a new thing on Fridays where I post a roundup of stuff I cooked/baked throughout the week, as well as some music I listened to. You (my friends, I think the only people who read this site so far) ask me pretty regularly for recipe/meal ideas, and also for music recommendations, so I’m hoping this will be a handy way to give you that. Let me know if it actually is helpful!

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Pop Rock CAKE BALLS (Inspired by Matt & Kim)

(All the good photos by Paul Dadowski)


Cake balls dipped in chocolate, sprinkles and Pop Rocks (Recipe at bottom)

If you’re familiar with the electro-pop duo Matt & Kim, this one doesn’t need much of an explanation. This inseparable Brooklyn-based couple — Matt Johnson (keyboards and vocals) and Kim Schifino (drums) — is an explosion of smiley faces, rainbows and energy. These cake balls also explode (hello, Pop Rocks!), they’re guaranteed to cause smiley faces, they have rainbow colors, and they will give you energy — maybe even too much. This was my first time making cake balls (or eating them, for that matter), and they were as much fun to make as they were to eat. I highly recommend taking on this project with someone who has never eaten Pop Rocks before, like my friend Jill, because it will be a hoot. Also, how can you not giggle every time you say cake balls? CAKE BALLS!
Matt & Kim on MySpace

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Food From The Road: Davey’s Biscuits and Gravy (Frontier Ruckus)

(Dave Jones of Frontier Ruckus)


Classic biscuits and gravy (recipe at bottom of post)

I don’t think I can say anything about Frontier Ruckus that I haven’t said before in other places, but in case you’re not familiar, they’re a Michigan band that writes lyrical folk rock songs about the suburbs, with guitar, banjo, drums, singing saw, melodica … It’s creative Americana music that hits so close to home and will always remind me of college (most of them went to my alma mater). They’re also just really great guys, and Dave Jones, who plays banjo in Frontier Ruckus, was generous enough to share his infamous biscuits & gravy recipe (more on that below). The song above is from Deadmalls & Nightfalls, the incredible record they released last year on the amazing Ramseur Records (home to the likes of Samantha Crain and Langhorne Slim; formerly home to the Avett Brothers).

I should note that I didn’t actually make this recipe because I don’t eat meat (if you couldn’t figure it out from the other recipes from the last two months), but it looks really easy!

Frontier Ruckus’s MySpace


A WARNING: Biscuits and gravy is neither healthy nor is it a delicate combination of eclectic flavors. It gets its flavor from the not-so-subtle blend of salt, pepper, pork sausage and rendered fat (from the sausage). The dish arose in the American South as a means to maximize the amount of sustenance that can be gleaned from meat and some type of bread. As a result of this philosophy, B&G is incredibly filling and quite cheap to make — it is perfect if you’re feeding a troupe of touring musicians and their kind, gracious hosts. This is why I’ve made it dozens of times on tour; from California to London (where I was forced to improvise and use croissants instead of biscuits). It always seems to please, and introducing the recipe to people can almost become a cultural experience, especially in a foreign country.

I rarely have the time to make biscuits from scratch — it’s a process that can be very involved and has quite a few idiosyncrasies I haven’t yet learned. For the purposes of this recipe, you can use store-bought biscuits if you’d like. They’re usually tasty enough, albeit lacking a certain authenticity. I apologize to any foodies reading this! — Dave Jones, Frontier Ruckus

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Asian Veggie Pot Pie (Inspired by Abigail Washburn)


Asian-inspired veggie pot pie (recipe at bottom of post). This was enough for three small baking dishes (two that were about four inches in diameter, the other a little bit bigger); I recommend adding more veggies to fill an actual pie tin!

My friend and former housemate came to visit last week, which was a perfect excuse to cook a LOT, since he was one of my best cooking buddies when we lived together. He’s just finishing his degree in Asian history and, it goes without saying, is super interested in Asian culture. We took a trip to Chinatown and came back with a bunch of fresh produce and some other goodies that resulted in a couple of really awesome Asian-inspired meals. Banjo player/singer/songwriter Abigail Washburn plays one of my favorite types of music (folk/Americana), but she’s been heavily influenced by Chinese culture, thanks to time she spent living and working there. So I wanted one of our dishes to be inspired by her self-titled record with The Sparrow Quartet (banjo master — and now Washburn’s husband — Bela Fleck, cellist Ben Sollee, and fiddler Casey Driessen), which mixes Americana and Chinese folk music.

As far as the dish goes, I wanted to take a very American comfort-food dish (because Americana music makes me think of comfort food) — pot pie — and give it an Asian twist with veggies like bok choy, bean sprouts, edamame and scallions. These turned out really great, although the recipe below is slightly modified from what we did because a couple of elements weren’t quite right! I definitely think I’ll be trying this one again, though, so expect an update sometime in the future.
Abigail Washburn on MySpace

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Beet-Avocado “Tartare” and a California playlist

Beet-avocado “tartare”

At the end of February I took my first trip to Los Angeles, to visit my cousins for a week. I did lots of yoga, went hiking, saw a not-so-hilarious improv show, played with puppies, and wandered around Santa Monica. I also ate lots of awesome food, like spinach and corn tamales from Hugo’s Tacos, a lemon bar from Big Sugar Bakeshop, an insanely fresh egg salad sandwich with avocado at The Trails in Griffith Park, and a huge veggie plate at Border Grill.

My most memorable meal, though, came from Madeleine Bistro, a fancy vegan place in Tarzana (run by Chef Dave Anderson) where I ate with my cousin, my yoga teacher and her daughters. I didn’t actually have a choice in what I was ordering — the girls just told me, “OK, you’re getting the beet tartare and the bigger mac.” The bigger mac is like a vegan version of a McDonald’s Big Mac, and it was awesome, but the beet tartare was gorgeous and something totally different (beats over a tofu “cheese crouton” with cucumbers, some kind of sauce and a balsamic).

This dish is inspired by that (a photo of the real thing at the bottom of the post — mine pales in comparison, but I am not a chef so I guess that’s OK! I also wasn’t trying to recreate exactly the same thing…), and also the other foods I ate on my trip: perfectly-ripe avocado, alfalfa sprouts, tangelos, and blood orange balsamic vinegar (the latter two I brought back to Brooklyn with me). And it’s vegan because hoooly smokes were there a lot of veggie/vegan restaurants there! (Not a complaint.) Anyway, I need to make this again and make it better because it’s not totally amazing, but it was yummy.

I spent a lot of time driving around with my cousin, which meant plenty of time to share music. These are some songs that were significant to my trip for various reasons — some are obvious/cliché California jams, some are songs my cousin and I both love, and others just found themselves running around my head while I was there.


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