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.
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.
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.
Hello! It’s been a minute — again, I know, I’ve been awful the past few months, and my latest excuse is that I’ve been out of town for a third of September…Sunday I got back from a long, much-needed vacation: The BF and I flew out to San Francisco to visit his dad and stepmom, who are amazing and spoiled us rotten with some of the best of the best food things in the Bay Area. (I also got to see a bunch of my cousins, which was extremely exciting.) Here are some of my favorite eats from the trip (gallery at the bottom):
Kendall-Jackson Heirloom Tomato Festival: Have you ever been in a place so mind-blowingly amazing that you legitimately can’t believe it’s real? That was me about five minutes into the Kendall-Jackson Heirloom Tomato Festival in Fulton. Banquet tables lined with a bazillion varieties of heirloom tomatoes, plus tomato-themed tastes from top-notch chefs and endless wine. Need I say more? And this was only the first full day of the trip. My two favorite dishes were tomato sushi (skinned and seasoned tomato on top of sushi rice, wrapped in seaweed) from JoAnne&Jimmy and a cracker with tomatoes and a scallop on top, finished with a shot of clear green zebra tomato gazpacho from Bistro Boudin; the gazpacho was clear, and I was told that making it is a 12-hour process. Another highlight: SANGRIA SLUSHIE.
We went here for David’s dad’s birthday, and this dinner was just hours after the tomato festival. I’m not sure how my stomach expanded enough to hold this meal after all the tomato-y things we stuffed in our faces all day, but, my stomach can do magical things when good food is involved. David started with the tempura calamari salad, which also had two types of quinoa and a miso dressing. The calamari was so light and buttery it melted in my mouth, and the dressing was refreshing. Also refreshing, and my favorite drink of the week (and there were lots of drinks): the zen tea cocktail, with green tea vodka, jasmine tea, citrus and mint. My entree was chirashi sushi, which is a ton of different types of fish piled on top of a bowl of sushi rice. And for dessert we shared the ice cream sandwiches: white chocolate green tea (my favorite), milk chocolate sesame, and banana dark chocolate cardamom. Everything was amazing.
Lunch at the Culinary Institute of America: New life plan: Live in the castle-looking building that is the Culinary Institute of America. I’m not sure that I want my future to involve working in the food industry, but I do know that I’d gladly live in that place just for the scenery. OK, OK, maybe I’d do it for the food, too. We all shared a corn soup with avocado froth and corn tortilla crumbles; I couldn’t really taste the avocado, but the rest of the flavor (very sweet and creamy) made up for it. My main dish was bouillabaise with spinach noodles and way more seafood than I could handle (especially after the previous night’s sushi-bowl fest).
Dinner at Greens: David’s stepmom had been telling me forever about this long-running veggie restaurant, and while I didn’t get anything incredibly adventurous (shared some really refreshing spring rolls with peanut sauce, and my entree was a curry), but it was still delicious. Most notably, though, it was where I had my first Pimm’s Cup (with cucumber gin), and decided we needed to recreate it for his parents’ “Cocktail Fridays” ritual, because it was so good. Also, the restaurant is gorgeous.
Breakfast at Tartine: This was one of my very few SF priorities and I’m glad we made it out there. I’ve been hearing about Tartine forever, especially their bread (which we, unfortunately, didn’t get to try this time around), but also their pastries. We got there early (about 8:30 a.m.), and it was quite crowded when we left. I had strawberry bread pudding, which was delicious but maybe a little bit too sweet, and David had a chocolate croissant, which was so light and flaky and buttery that I’m amazed he shared with me. We also took a few cookies with us, which served as a perfect treat during a three-mile walk that was 100 percent up- or downhill.
Dinner at Mamacita: No photos of this one (super low lighting), but we shared a really great meal at this spot in the Marina District, where we met up with a close friend from college: chips and guac, sweet corn tamales, salmon tacos and prawn tacos.
The Ferry Plaza Farmers Market: This was one another of my priorities going into the trip, and my eyes went bonkers at my first glimpse of the market tents. We ate outside at MarketBar, where I shared deviled eggs with dungeness crab (whoa) and also shrimp & grits. I came home with fresh raisins, cherry heirloom tomatoes, marinated sesame-miso tofu skins, and Wisconsin-made sheep milk cheese from the amazing Cowgirl Creamery. We also picked up a sample pack of the SF-made TCHO chocolate, which was a nice treat on the plane ride home. And I am still, almost a week later, regretting not buying a ton of grapes to take with me.
I went through a bit of a music drought this year, about a three-month period where I wasn’t blown away by much of anything, and Cat Power’s new album Sun is one that opened the floodgates and got me excited again. It’s emotional and, well, Cat Power-y, but not in the sad way longtime fans expect; and despite the less-depressing words and electronic-tinged music that’s on a different planet from the rest of her catalog, Chan Marshall actually sounds more like herself here. My good friend Amanda (who wrote a fascinating story about her for Pitchfork) said when she went back to listen to her 2006 album The Greatest, she found that Marshall’s voice sounded empty compared to this new one, because she wasn’t totally in it, and she’s right. That album is gorgeous and soulful, but it’s missing some of the “power” that exists on Sun.
It’s all too often that Chan Marshall’s breakdowns and emotional turmoil overshadow her music, but it sounds like she’s mostly in a healthier place here and looking forward; in the title track she sings, “We are free, you and me, we can finally run.” (It’s also worth noting that Sun is wrongfully being billed as a breakup album: The breakup — with actor Giovanni Ribisi — happened after the record was made). In “Real Life” she sings, “Real life is ordinary/ Sometimes you don’t want to live/ Sometimes you gotta do what you don’t want to/ To get away with an unordinary life” and in the 11-minute-long “Nothing But Time,” she sings to Ribisi’s teenage daughter about being young and wanting to be somebody (“I see you, kid, alone in your room/ You got the weight on your mind you’re just tryin’ to get by/ Your world is just beginning/ And I know this life seems neverending/ But you’ve got nothin’ but time/ And it ain’t got nothin’ on you”).
So, for the food — most of the reason for this pie (or quiche, or whatever you want to call it) is because it’s bright, yellow and looks like a sun (thanks to polenta, yellow summer squash, corn, tomatoes and baked eggs); but it’s also a healthy and well-balanced dish because Sun seems to find Marshall in a healthier place than in the past. And sort of on that same note, the onions in it start out spicy, but they mellow out and sweeten as they’re cooked. This is definitely a labor-intensive dish, but so was Sun, which Marshall wrote and recorded completely on her own (I didn’t do that much; I had a little bit of help in the kitchen!). The music has the perfect energy level for a lowkey Sunday morning; instead of wanting to hide under the covers and cry, Sun makes me want to get out of bed and start the day.
French toast inspired by the flavors in a sidecar cocktail
Kathleen Edwards’s album Voyageur has held up as one of my favorites this year — I was introduced to and fell in love with her music last fall, and this particular collection of songs came at just the right time. She wrote it while going through a divorce with a former bandmate and then falling in love again not long after (with Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon, who co-produced the record with her). I first heard Voyageur near the end of one relationship, and the songs continued to sink in as I got over that one and found myself in a new one that took off faster than I could have ever anticipated (there’s nothing wrong with that, but it definitely took me by surprise).
The song “Sidecar” is about the excitement of starting a journey with a new partner — going on adventures, learning about their favorite places, and taking on new challenges. Apologies for being a total mush, but now it’s more than half a year into this journey and I am filled with more love than I ever knew was possible. There’s a line in the song that goes, “Sit up, sit up, sit up, I went and made you/ Breakfast in bed, coffee and juice” — so I made breakfast for my “sidecar” on his birthday last Friday, inspired by the flavors in a sidecar cocktail. (I would have made him a cake, but 1) we were traveling and it would’ve been tough to transport and 2) how would I have been able to compete with this?)
The drink uses brandy (traditionally cognac), orange liquer and lemon juice, so there’s lemon in the French toast filling, orange in the batter, and brandy and more orange in the topping. (It wasn’t actually served in bed.)
P.S. Listen to Kathleen Edwards. Her first album Failer is a good place to start.
THE INSPIRATION Holy Molar, the newest record from British chamber-pop group Félix, has been in regular rotation since my editor recommended them to me a few weeks ago. Frontwoman Lucinda Chua reminds me of a mix of early Cat Power, a mellowed-out Regina Spektor, and the 2006 solo album from Casey Dienel (of White Hinterland). The piano-backed songs are sad, pretty and simple (“Friday night is the worst night to be alive,” Chua sings on “Oh Thee 73”). The last track is called “Little Biscuit,” so I made digestive biscuits, a type of not-too-sweet British cookie that I admittedly am not particularly familiar with, but I went with those instead of American-style biscuits because of the band’s roots. However, digestives actually ended up being more fitting for other reasons: Of course there’s the album’s name, which is a line from a couple of its songs, and digestives require a little more work from one’s teeth than buttermilk biscuits. But digestive biscuits — which, not surprisingly, were first created as a digestive aid, also reminded me of “Hate Song,” which starts with the line “Why is there so much bad stuff inside of you?” This might be stretching it a bit, but songwriting can also be a way to cleanse yourself of the “bad stuff” built up inside. Anyway, I’m not sure how authentic these are, but they were tasty — a bit like oatmeal cookies with a smoother texture.
Well, hello! Yes, I’m still alive! I know it’s been a while — in short, life has gotten in the way of blogging; I moved to a new apartment at the beginning of the month, and I’ve come to terms with the reality that keeping this up is quite challenging! Anyway, everything seems to have calmed down for a minute or two, I’m finally settled in my new Brooklyn ‘hood (Prospect Heights), and I’m excited to finally dive back into this. Going forward, posts might not be as frequent as they used to be, but I’m hoping there at least won’t be another break as long as this last one… So, let’s go:
White sangria with mango, peaches, and lime.
Frank Ocean! Are you a fan? Everyone I know is flipping out over the R&B singer/songwriter’s first proper album channel ORANGE; I am admittedly not very well versed in R&B, so I can’t explain why he is quite the genius everyone says he is (though my coworkers have tried), but yes, I do enjoy the record. channel ORANGE is perfect for summer, and there’s no doubt it will be soundtracking most of your backyard barbeques and trips to the beach. So, I made a beverage that will cool you off and it goes down as smooth as Ocean’s voice. In “Sweet Life” Ocean sings about “mangoes, peaches and limes,” so this is a refreshing white sangria with all those fruits, plus some orange juice for the name of the album, lemon-lime seltzer, and some gin and mint because why not?
Earlier this year, my friend Daphne Carr launched a Kickstarter project to publish the Best Music Writing book series independently, through her new music-focused press Feedback Press. (BMW is an anthology of the year’s best conversation about music, in the form of features, essays, reviews, blog posts, etc.) One of the pledge options toward the project’s $15,000 goal was for me to bake treats inspired by the artist or song of the backer’s choice, and this was the second of the two purchased, inspired by Afghan Whigs, baked for one of my favorite pop-culture thinkers/writers (also just one of my favorite people), Village Voice Music Editor Maura Johnston!
This assignment was a bit daunting, as I hadn’t previously listened to much of the Afghan Whigs (and hey, now this is super relevant because of their recent reunion shows!) — but what I’d gathered in my couple previous run-throughs of their 1993 album Gentlemen was that I love the music — a little rough, dark and soulful — but the lyrics can be quite crass and at times pretty brutal (“Debonair” has the line “This time the anger’s better than the kiss” and later “Tonight I go to hell for what I’ve done to you”).
In the song “Be Sweet,” Greg Dulli growls, “Ladies, let me tell you about myself/ I’ve got a dick for a brain/ and my brain is gonna sell my ass to you/ Now I’m OK, but in time I find out stuff/ ‘Cause she wants love/ And I still wanna fuck.” It’s incredibly sleazy, so my first thought was to find a recipe from a blog that’s also quite sleazy, Cook to Bang, where I found a recipe for “Pinch Your Ass-Berry Brownies.” Chocolate for the darkness, Cook to Bang for the sleaze, raspberries for the blood.
However, part of why Maura decided to back the Best Music Writing Kickstarter with this particular prize was because she’s gluten- and dairy-intolerant, and wanted some kind of treat that she could eat (obviously) and make, and the original “ass-berry brownies” wouldn’t quite work. So over at the all-vegan goldmine Post-Punk Kitchen I found a similar raspberry-brownie recipe that I easily adapted to be gluten-free.
Kale salad with oranges, radishes, avocados and honey-orange poppyseed dressing
THE INSPIRATION Sea of Bees is Julie Ann Bee (pictured right), a disarming singer-songwriter from Sacramento, California, who completely blew my mind when I saw her in New York playing with The Loom last week (I was legitimately almost in tears). Sometime after she released her excellent first album Songs for the Ravens in 2009, she came out as a lesbian and began her first relationship with a woman. Thanks to that album’s success, constant touring and presumably just normal relationship things, that particular journey ended, and it makes up a lot of her new record Orangefarben, which was released on Team Love a few weeks ago. “Orangefarben” really just means orange-colored in German, and it’s the nickname Julie called her girlfriend, so the salad I made obviously has oranges in it (and carrots for more orange color); as well as honey in the dressing because of Sea of “Bees.” The kale and radishes are bitter, like the end of many relationships, and the dressing and oranges are quite sweet, to represent the sweetness in the beginning, and the satisfaction from how much we can learn from any relationship, especially a first one. And the avocados are there for Julie’s California roots. Unrelated (but not really because it also has to do with fully expressing yourself!), but, shoutout to my buddy Caroline, whose birthday shindig I took this to — she runs an awesome and inspiring personal style blog called Broadist, and if you’re a body-positive lady, you should probably check it out.