Lemon rice soup

Lemon Rice Soup (Inspired by Anaïs Mitchell)

Lemon rice soup

Greek lemon rice soup, aka avgolemeno

I can’t count the number of times I have gushed about Anaïs Mitchell‘s 2010 album Hadestown, a folk opera that tells the Greek myth of Orpheus and Eurydice, but set in a post-apocalyptic American depression town. It started as a stage production in Mitchell’s native Vermont in 2005, but in 2010 she released it as record with a stellar lineup of singers voicing the characters, most notably Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon as Orpheus, Mitchell herself as Eurydice, folk legend Greg Brown as Hades, king of the Underworld, and Ani DiFranco as his wife Persephone. It’s a masterpiece, and it’s come to mind quite a bit during this election season — I wrote about it in this funny debate-related piece I helped plan and write for eMusic, but thought it’d also be fitting here.

Mitchell’s version of the myth speaks to our less-than-stellar economy and the ever-widening gap between the rich and the poor. Hades wants to build a wall to keep the poor out; in the song “Why We Build the Wall,” he sings, “Because we have and they have not… Because they want what we have got,” and later, “We have work and they have none.” Gotta love the 1 percent, huh? (When I saw Mitchell and the “Hadestown Orchestra” perform this last year, she led everyone on a march to Washington Square singing protest songs.) Eurydice and her soon-to-be-husband Orpheus are on the outside of the wall, and in the album opener “Wedding Song,” Eurydice asks where they’ll get wedding bands, a table to eat from and so on, and Orpheus answers that they’ll use what they have and the earth will provide.

I paired the record with a Greek lemon rice soup (aka avgolemeno); obviously there’s the Greek aspect, but there’s also the fact that soups can often be made with whatever you have lying around. They also feed a lot of people for typically not a lot of money — certainly valuable when you’re out of work. My own experience with lemon rice soup is from Coney Island restaurants in the Detroit suburbs, where I grew up. For the uninitiated: Coneys, essentially, are Greek diners, and the signature dish is a “coney dog,” a chili-topped hot dog. I say “Greek diner” liberally — there are some Greek dishes on the menu, but they’re pretty Americanized. Hadestown is based on a Greek myth, but set in an American town, so I think this is fitting: I have to imagine this version of the dish is quite traditional, but the important part is that it’s definitely more so than the bright yellow (but delicious) stuff I grew up on.

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Apple pull-apart bread

Savory Apple Pull-Apart Bread and Horseradish Butter (Inspired by Fiona Apple)

Apple pull-apart bread

Apple, Camembert and chive pull-apart bread with horseradish butter

When I started brainstorming recipes for this site two years ago, one of the first half-ideas I had was a Fiona Apple-inspired dish involving with tart apples — naturally, because of her reputation for having a sometimes-bitter personality that’s come across as much in her public appearances as in her music. I’m glad I held off on that, though, because her latest record changed my perception a bit. The Idler Wheel is Wiser than the Driver of the Screw and Whipping Cords Will Serve You More than Ropes Will Ever Do (whew!) still has songs about loneliness, heartbreak and defeat, with lines like “I ran out of white doves’ feathers/ to soak up the hot piss that comes from your mouth every time you address me.” But overall it’s not quite as intense as her first two releases, and there are a few more moments of sweetness than I’d expected, and when I saw her at a small show in Brooklyn months before the album came out, she was funny and chatty and just not as angry as she’s been the other times I’ve seen her. Idler Wheel is Apple’s first album since Extraordinary Machine in 2005; it was worth waiting for and every bit as great as I’d hoped it would be.

I’ve only made yeasted bread a few times — partially because if it was a regular thing I’d eat way too much of it, and also because of the time commitment. But it’s becoming tradition when my best friend Jenni comes to visit from Michigan, and the couple times we’ve done it it’s been worth the effort and, like Apple’s records, more than worth the wait for the end result. Last year we made Smitten Kitchen’s apple and honey challah (part of an entire apple-themed dinner) and it was incredible, quickly devoured by my friends at an apple-themed dinner party. This year’s project — a pull-apart bread filled with apples (becoming another part of the tradition, I guess), Camembert cheese, and chives — also took a while; something like three hours if you count the time waiting for it to rise. We had the BF and his mom over for dinner, and this baby was nearly gone by the end of the evening, with just enough for Jenni and me to share for breakfast the next morning.

The bread is baked in stacks of square pieces of dough covered in the apple filling, so when it’s done you don’t need a knife because you can just break it off into big, flaky pieces. The childlike, eating-with-your-hands element makes me think of the Idler Wheel song “Anything We Want,” where Apple sings about pretending to be 8 years old, and also “Jonathan,” a song about her ex, author Jonathan Ames, who supposedly has taken many a date to Coney Island. As for the filling itself, we did use tart apples like my original idea, as well as chives, balanced out by sweet, creamy Camembert cheese.

The album ends with the jazzy vocal acrobatics of “Hot Knife,” driven by the line, “If I’m butter, if I’m butter/ If I’m butter then he’s a hot knife.” Some have written the track off as silly, but it’s actually one of my favorites here. Like other parts of Idler Wheel, it’s uncharacteristically sweet, about a guy who makes her melt (and vice versa later in the song, when it changes to “I’m a hot knife, I’m a hot knife/ I’m a hot knife, he’s a pat of butter”). I also love the story behind the recording: Apple sung it with her sister, an experience that was one of their most intimate. So to complement the bread, we made a horseradish-infused butter; the kick from the horseradish represents the song’s bold claim that she’s going to win the guy over for good: “If I get a chance I’m gonna show him that he’s never gonna need another, never need another,” and the butter is self-explanatory. (In case you were wondering, we didn’t spread it with a hot knife — whoops!) The album’s most quoted line comes from the first track, “Every Single Night”: “I just want to feel everything,” and with the different flavors in this, I think it works here, too.

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Jones Street Station Talk Fundraising and Foodspotting

Jones Street Station

Brooklyn Americana band Jones Street Station launched an ambitious, philanthropic new venture last month. From now through August 2013, the band’s Perennials project offers a new song each week. Each track is free to stream or download, and listeners are invited to donate to one of 12 charities hand-picked by the band.

“It’s like an artist marathon,” says singer Jonny Hull (pictured left). “Your friend says, ‘Hey, I’m running a marathon for this organization. If you want to support, feel free. You don’t have to.’ It dawned on us: We’re just going to put these songs on our site for free anyway; wouldn’t it be cool if we could drive some awareness and hopefully raise a couple bucks for some charities that we really like?”

Perennials launched Sept. 4 with “For a Lifetime,” a gorgeous tune benefitting Charity Water. Other organizations include the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Foundation, Musicians on Call, The Trevor Project and Housing Works — check out the full list here.

The guys are embracing technology to get them through this 12-month music marathon of 52 songs. With the band members now dividing their time between New York, Chicago, Boston and Los Angeles, they’re sharing song ideas via the Web using Evernote, Dropbox and Google Hangouts — a process Hull calls, “really fun, and kind of nerdy.”

Splitting the distance also lets the band get their food nerd on. Here are some of Jonny Hull’s recent favorite restaurants, with links to the singer’s own Foodspotting reviews:

Kenosha, Wisconsin: The Brat Stop is amazing and massive. We stopped there after playing this year’s Milwaukee Summerfest. Fried cheese curds and bratwurst and cheddarwurst, people doing karaoke in the back. There are pictures of all the people who have played their stage — everybody from to Jackyl to Styx and Enuff Z’nuff.

Chicago: Portillo’s, Hot Doug’s, Gene and Jude’s for Chicago hot dogs or Italian beef, or the combo which is Italian sausage in an Italian beef sandwich with peppers on it.

Los Angeles/Venice: The Tasting Kitchen, Gjelina. The last time we were in town, Danny Erker (singer, mandolin player) and I did a trip to Roscoe’s Chicken and Waffles. That was amazing. Roscoe’s Chicken and Waffles was a fantastic little interlude for us.

Brooklyn: Van Horn Sandwich Shop. It’s down-home, Southern, comfort food that used to be hard to find in New York, and it’s right down the street from us now, which is kind of awesome. They have a fried chicken sandwich that’s insane. I crave it. There’s bluegrass there, too. We play there every once in a while.

There’s a new spot in Carroll Gardens called Battersby. It’s now one of my favorite restaurants in all of New York. It’s one of those places where whatever they’re making on that day, it’s gonna be ridiculous. They have a kale salad that’s really good. The last time I was there, I think I live-tweeted the entire tasting menu.

Check out Jones Street Station’s Perennials project, and follow Jonny Hull on Foodspotting.