My 2013 music collection has officially been dominated by country albums. (Shhh, don’t tell this to the Warped Tour-going 15-year-old me.) I don’t mean the bros singing about pickup trucks and cowboy boots, or the kind of infuriating garbage that topped the country charts earlier this month. But as someone who loves a wide range of folk and Americana, I guess my dip into the twangier stuff was inevitable. There’s a staggering number of grade-A country albums out this year — I’m using that term sort of broadly, but a few faves (which might show up here later on): Jason Isbell’s Southeastern, Brandy Clark’s 12 Stories, Amanda Shires’s Down Fell the Doves, Ashley Monroe’s Like a Rose… I could go on for a while! But one of the first gals that started the trend for me this year was the 25-year-old Texas native Kacey Musgraves, who’s been touring with the likes of Kenny Chesney and Lady Antebellum and just kicked off a headlining U.S. tour (I saw her at Bowery Ballroom last week — even after playing all those stadium shows she seemed genuinely thrilled to have sold out a show in New York. Loved it!)
On her album Same Trailer Different Park she sings about getting out of small towns, finding the positives in a crappy situation, and loving who you want; at least a couple of themes that aren’t so commonplace in the typically uber-conservative country world (“Follow Your Arrow” encompasses all of this). It’s refreshing!
I wanted her dish to be something round, for the never-ending cyclical pattern of small-town living that finds its way into so many of her songs, especially the first single (and one of the album’s best tracks) “Merry Go ‘Round.” It’s about how girls are expected to be married with two kids by 21, go to church every Sunday, and follow exactly what their parents did, with the absurdly clever chorus of “Mama’s hooked on Mary Kay/ Brother’s hooked on Mary Jane/ Daddy’s hooked on Mary two doors down/ Mary, Mary, quite contrary/ We get bored so we get married/ Just like dust we settle in this town/ On this broken merry go ’round.” Then in “Blowin’ Smoke” she’s singing about waitresses who keep saying they’re going to get out of town, but they’re just “blowin’ smoke” and before they know it their kids are already finishing school. The cornmeal is there because it’s common in a lot of southern dishes, but the texture also fits Musgraves’s music: It’s rough and grainy (and the pancakes are savory) for the “Merry Go ‘Round” line about dust settling, and it represents the tough situations her characters find themselves in. The sweet potatoes are for her Texas roots (her hometown, Golden, has a whole festival for them every year), and the yellow/golden color of the pancakes is for the song “Dandelion,” as well as the summery and autumnal feel her songs give off.
For the topping, the sweetness in the peaches is for the hopefulness in songs like the album opener “Silver Lining,” which is, not surprisingly, about finding the good on a day when you “woke up on the wrong side of rock bottom.” The molasses gives the sauce a sort of smoky flavor (for “Blowin’ Smoke”).
Sweet Potato Cornmeal Pancakes
Serves 4-6. Loosely inspired by The New York Times.
1 1/2 cups cornmeal
1 1/2 cups boiling water
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup mashed sweet potato
1 1/4 cups milk (non-dairy if desired)
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons olive oil or vegetable oil
1 teaspoon vanilla
Butter (or oil) for frying
In a large bowl, combine cornmeal, salt and boiling water. Let sit until the water is absorbed, about 5-10 minutes. Add the mashed sweet potato and flour and combine, then gradually add the milk, stirring so it comes together as a thick batter (the cornmeal will soak it up as you add more). Once the batter is a uniform texture, mix in the olive oil and vanilla. Melt butter in a pan; pour batter onto the melted butter (about 2-3 tablespoons’ worth) and cook for about 3 minutes before flipping, then about 2 minutes on the other side. Add more butter to the pan as needed. My biggest problem with these — as with all pancakes — was trying to flip them before they were ready, so just be patient! They should be browned when they’re done.
3 peaches, peeled, pitted and chopped
2 tablespoons water
1 tablespoon molasses
2 teaspoons raw or brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
Juice from 1/4 of a lemon
Combine all ingredients in a medium saucepan. Cook over medium-low heat for about 10-15 minutes, until peaches are soft and the mixture thickens to your desired consistency. Stir frequently so it doesn’t stick to the bottom of the pan.