ETB’s Favorite Music of 2012

Allo Darlin'

A lot has happened this year! I rang in 2012 in a Brooklyn apartment with some of my closest friends and a lot of chocolate and wine. I’d been dumped just a few days before, and while I was in surprisingly OK spirits considering the circumstances, I certainly didn’t expect that by the end of January I’d meet the person who I now cannot imagine my life without. Moving on and moving up, indeed. I also moved to my third New York apartment, explored new parts of my favorite borough, watched a close friend get married, more or less gained a whole new family, I visited dozens of new restaurants, and I traveled to San Francisco, Pennsylvania, Washington, D.C. and, of course, home to Michigan.

Of course there was also a whole lot of music that soundtracked all of this, and never in one year have so many songs Made Me Feel Things. I might have cried a couple times while listening to “Give Out” from Sharon Van Etten’s Tramp, “Tallulah” from Allo Darlin’s Europe, and “Lonely Universe” from Angel Olsen’s Half Way Home. But I’ve also hit serious highs, like standing next to the love of my life while Kathleen Edwards played “Sidecar” from her album Voyageur, and I’ll never forget staying out until 1:30 a.m. on a weeknight as Glen Hansard paraded friends from all ends of the music world onto the small stage at Le Poisson Rouge to play a series of Levon Helm covers.

I’ve said it a million times, but it bears repeating: I don’t like making best-of-the-year music lists, at least not when I have to rank them. The order I want to put the albums in changes every day, and certain songs might have been more important to me in March than in September. Of course there are also the thousands of records that never touched my ears, and the dozens I’ve given a few spins but still need to spend more time with — and I have no doubt that I’m forgetting something. But there are certainly a sizeable number of records that I loved and had some impact on me in 2012, and below (alphabetically) are a few of them (SURPRISE! They are almost all ladies). Also, you can download a mix of my favorite 2012 songs here.

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Sweet & salty bourbon blondies

Sweet & Salty Bourbon Blondies + a few songs by supergroups

Sweet & salty bourbon blondies

THE DISH
Blondies loaded with Momofuku chocolate “crumbs,” caramel, and bourbon

THE INSPIRATION
I recently participated in my first Tumblr Eat Up, in which a ton of Tumblr-ers are assigned a person somewhere in the country to bake and send treats to. My Eat Up buddy Alexis also lives in New York, and happens to be one of the ladies who started the Eat Up, so I couldn’t bake just any treats and throw in a couple of compost cookies from Momofuku Milk Bar to impress her — I had to do something just a little bit over the top. So I combined three elements from New York foodie staples: Momofuku Milk Bar (chocolate crumbs, which are used in several of their desserts), Baked (caramel and the method used in the Red Hook, Brooklyn, bakery’s famous sweet-and-salty brownies), and a recipe for blondies from the great Smitten Kitchen. I’m pairing them with a few songs from supergroups, since the best ones take great pieces from other projects and combine them into something that’s different, but can sometimes be just as special. These blondies are rich and gooey and possibly one of the most amazing treats to come out of this kitchen.

THE SONGS

Wild Flag, “Romance” (from Wild Flag): Carrie Brownstein and Janet Weiss from Sleater-Kinney, with Mary Timony (Helium) and Rebecca Cole (The Minders). Their self-titled debut was my favorite album of 2011 and this is my favorite song from it. Also, this video rules.

Traveling Wilburys, “Handle With Care” (from Traveling Wilburys, Vol. 1): Bob Dylan, George Harrison, Jeff Lynne, Roy Orbison, Tom Petty. Can you fit more songwriting legends into one album? This is one of those songs that I’d heard all my life but for the longest time didn’t know who wrote it. Glad I got that figured out.

The Dead Weather, “Treat Me Like Your Mother” (from Horehound): Jack White (The White Stripes, The Raconteurs, solo), Alison Mosshart (The Kills), Dean Fertita (Queens of the Stone Age, The Raconteurs), Jack Lawrence (The Greenhornes, The Raconteurs). As far as Jack White projects go, The Dead Weather added some fierceness that I think was missing from The Raconteurs, mostly thanks to Alison Mosshart.

The New Pornographers, “Sweet Talk, Sweet Talk” (from Together): Most notably Carl “A.C.” Newman (Zumpano, solo), Neko Case (solo) and Dan Bejar (Destroyer). Seeing this band live (especially when Case and Bejar are on tour with them, which isn’t all the time) makes me so, so happy.

The Living Sisters, “How Are You Doing?” (from Love to Live): Inara George (the bird and the bee, solo), Eleni Mandell (solo) and Becky Stark (Lavender Diamond). A couple years ago, these three ladies put out out a collection of sweet, harmony-heavy folk songs.

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Spring Rolls with Peanut Sauce + songs for new beginnings

THE DISH
Vietnamese-style spring rolls with peanut sauce (recipe here)

THE SONGS
New York has been feeling like spring, well, throughout most of where winter normally would have been. But this week we finally had the first real day of spring, and to celebrate the beginning of a new season, I made these spring rolls — tasty, refreshing, and uh, springy. Make a few and go eat them in a park (that’s what I did the evening of the spring solstice, and it was lovely). And, since spring is a time for starting over — a new season, new life outside, spring cleaning, etc. — below are a few songs/albums about new beginnings.

Bowerbirds, “Tuck the Darkness In”
The Clearing is a fitting name for Phil Moore and Beth Tacular’s third LP as Bowerbirds: A clearing is a clean slate to start over again, and these songs came out of Beth battling an extreme illness, the couple breaking up and getting back together, rescuing a stray dog, and beginning to build a cabin together in the woods. [Recipe: Acorn squash soup, inspired by Bowerbirds]

Edwyn Collins, “Losing Sleep”
On the title track of Edwyn Collins‘s 2011 album, the former Orange Juice frontman sings, “I must believe, I must retrieve/ The things I know, the things I trust.” In 2005, a brain hemorrhage left him at the beginning of a long road to recovery. That he regained the ability not only to speak and walk again but to make an entire new album (and he also finished one he’d started before the hospitalization) is astounding.

We Are Augustines, “Book of James”
We Are Augustines are made up of former members of the band Pela; that band was dissolving, frontman Billy McCarthy’s brother James committed suicide, and We Are Augustines rose from their ashes. This song from their debut, Rise Ye Sunken Ships, is a tribute to James, with McCarthy singing, “Just know we tried/ You’re forgiven.” [Recipe: Peach-blackberry-ginger popsicles, inspired by We Are Augustines]

Kathleen Edwards, “Sidecar”
Canadian singer-songwriter Kathleen Edwards‘s recent album Voyageur is, in part, a post-divorce recovery. But the end of that brought on the beginning of a new relationship, this time with Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon, who helped produce the record. Voyageur was also sort of a musical rebirth for Edwards, who traded a bit of her older (and amazing) music’s Americana twang for a little more pop polish. This is a perfect song about a new romance — sharing each other’s favorite places, eating breakfast in bed, getting over monsters from the past and “chasing down the hard stuff” as we go.

Mikal Cronin, “Apathy”
Graduating from college is a monumental time to snap into start-over mode, and that in-between is what fueled California garage-rocker Mikal Cronin‘s 2011 self-titled album. In “Apathy,” he sings about being older and “getting along with my future.”

Great Lake Swimmers, “New Wild Everywhere”
On the title track from Great Lake Swimmers‘ upcoming album, Tony Dekker sings about new life outside: plants rooting, “blooming sounds,” and the sky exploding. Also, this band will always make me think of new beginnings, thanks to my cousin and his wife, who played their song “Your Rocky Spine” at their wedding last summer.

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Maple-Mustard Roasted Veggies + a post-Thanksgiving playlist

THE DISH
Maple roasted carrots, butternut squash and Brussels sprouts

THE INSPIRATION
I’ve said this before, but it certainly bears repeating: I am obsessed with the circle of friends I’ve found myself in in New York. And I was thrilled to learn that most of them — all of us transplants to the city, mostly from Michigan — would also be in town for Thanksgiving weekend, because obviously that meant it was yet another excuse to spend time together, making tons of food and eating (and drinking) ourselves silly. I’ll save my ramblings about how much I love them for a post I have coming up in a couple weeks, and instead I’ll share my contribution to our Thanksgiving feast: a simple mix of roasted veggies that, of course, I made way too much of. It has absolutely nothing to do with music, but I’m giving it to you anyway, along with a playlist of some songs I’m thankful for this year — not a best of 2011, as a few of them aren’t from the past 11 months, but songs that, for various reasons, have made my life just a little bit better this year.

THE PLAYLIST
Listen on Spotify here; tracklisting (and recipe) below!

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Apple Pear Crisp + a playlist for National Apple Month

THE DISH
An easier-than-pie apple pear crisp (recipe here)

THE PLAYLIST
October is National Apple Month! So, just a warning that most of October’s recipes on here will involve apples. To kick it off, here’s a playlist of some apple songs! You can listen on Spotify here, and the songs are below:

Mirah, “Apples in the Trees”
Beach House, “Apple Orchard”
Erykah Badu, “Apple Tree”
My Brightest Diamond, “Apples”
Slow Club, “Apples and Pairs”
The White Stripes, “Apple Blossom”
Blitzen Trapper, “Apple Trees”
Arcade Fire, “My Heart is an Apple”

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Raspberry-Peach Jam + a rainy-day playlist

THE DISH
Raspberry-peach jam (recipe here)

THE INSPIRATION
It’s funny to be posting this on a day with zero chance of precipitation, but the start of last week was all rain, and the weekend forecast wasn’t looking much better. (I’m going to Seattle at the end of the month; clearly New York has been testing my rain tolerance.) So I wanted to take on a food project fitting for a rainy day, since between the weather — which actually ended up being OK! — and the train I live near undergoing some major weekend construction, I wasn’t planning on going far from my apartment. So I picked up a few jars and took my first trip to the Brooklyn Kitchen, where I picked up a candy thermometer, canning funnel, and a super-awesome little book about jams, jellies and canning.

Making jam and canning is sorta labor-intensive, and I was definitely nervous about jars exploding while I was boiling them, but the whole thing was actually pretty exciting and I will totally be doing it again! (Even though the second batch I made was too runny…whoops!) Also, you can definitely use this recipe for my next recipe post.

THE PLAYLIST
Some songs about rain! If you’re on Spotify, you should be able to check out the playlist here (please let me know if it doesn’t work!). Here are the songs:

Bob Dylan, “Rainy Day Women #12 & 35”
Basia Bulat, “If It Rains”
The Tallest Man On Earth, “It Will Follow The Rain”
Garbage, “Only Happy When It Rains”
Fleetwood Mac, “Dreams”
Joni Mitchell, “Rainy Night House”
Adele, “Right as Rain”
Mayer Hawthorne, “I Wish It Would Rain”
NewVillager, “Black Rain”

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Gazpacho + a few songs to beat the heat

Confession: I made this dish a couple weeks ago, one of the last posts conceived in my old kitchen, because I moved last weekend! Apologies for the lack of posts in the last couple weeks — between traveling to Michigan for my cousin’s wedding, packing up my apartment and moving, and my 17-year-old brother coming to visit this weekend, blogging has sort of taken a backseat (but not for long, I promise!).

THE DISH
Simple tomato gazpacho (recipe at the bottom)

THE INSPIRATION
It has been hotter than hell in the city, which has made the thought of cooking quite unappealing. Standing over a stove or in front of an oven? In a sauna? No, thank you. (OK, so I’ve still had to do it a bit anyway; but it’s awful.) So I made gazpacho, cold soup that doesn’t require any cooking. To go with it, check out a few summery songs I’ve heard recently — maybe they’ll make you forget about the heat for a little while?

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Cheesy Spinach Bake, and a Dad Rock playlist from my dad

THE DISH
Cheesy spinach bake (recipe here)

THE INSPIRATION
My dad bought me my first guitar — a tiny, tiny acoustic — when I was about 8 years old. It’s a shame I didn’t learn to play one until a few years later, but he’s the one who made me want to start (he’s been playing since he was 17, and he might kill me if I tell you his age now, so let’s just say it’s been 40+ years). While my mom got me into piano lessons, I think my rock ‘n’ roll tendencies started with my dad. I can remember plenty of trips to various guitar stores in the Metro Detroit area, where I accompanied him as he gradually tweaked and added to his collection (I think he’s got about eight guitars now?).

He took me to get my first real guitar — a “midnight wine”-colored Fender stratocaster, which I bought in eighth grade with bat mitzvah money — and the bass guitar and acoustics that came in the years later, and found me a guitar teacher, a hippie-ish dude who was usually late and told me I would like the Violent Femmes. My dad has always been supportive of my musical endeavors (including the less cool ones, like taking my sister and me to see 98 Degrees at the Michigan State Fair), and much more importantly, he’s always supportive of everything I do. The night before I moved to New York, his toast to my roommate and me was, “To Laura and Mike, and New York: Balls to the wall!” He’s the most supportive, generous, hilarious and genuine person I know, and I wouldn’t be where I am today without him. So thank you, Dad, for being the best. Happy Father’s Day!

This dish is in no way related to guitars, etc., but it’s one of my favorites my dad makes — because, yes, I was blessed with two kitchen-savvy parents. I should also note that my dad is the king of kitchen gadgets (every time I go home there’s some new and weird toy for me to tease him about), and it’s probably a good thing that the spacial restrictions of New York living prevent me from keeping up with him. The best part of this dish is I actually got to make it with my pops, since I was back in Michigan last weekend for my brother’s high school graduation.

THE PLAYLIST
When I think of my dad in relation to music, I think of the Eagles (“Take It Easy” is probably the most-played song on his guitars), The Lovin’ Spoonful (their greatest-hits album got a lot of airtime in his car when I was growing up) and Fleetwood Mac (we went to see them together a couple years ago!). But I left this list up to him, so here you go! It is Dad Rock to the core, and I love him for it. (Obviously I couldn’t use the real version of the Beatles’ “With A Little Help From My Friends.”)

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Mom’s Apple Struedel + a Mother’s Day playlist

THE DISH
Apple struedel (recipe here)

THE INSPIRATION
I mentioned in my Family Dinner/Mandel bread post in March that my mom was a really great cook and baker. I think that’s what I remember most about her: waking up in the morning to the smell of zucchini muffins or banana bread, eating a home-cooked meal every night, and seeing her cookbook out on the kitchen counter. I have always, always been a passionate eater, but it wasn’t until college that I developed an interest in making my own food; and because I was 12 when my mom died, it means I didn’t get to learn it by watching her in the kitchen or hearing her cooking secrets.

Before she died she started writing cookbooks for my sister and me, with a bunch of her and other family members’ recipes, along with blank pages so we could add our own. I got my mom’s cookbook just a couple days before moving to New York in fall 2009, so I’ve slowly been testing out recipes I remember growing up with (significantly tougher for me now as a pescatarian, considering how much I loved her meatloaf), as well as adding others that I’ve found on my own and use often. One treat I always loved was my mom’s struedel — apple or apricot — so I pulled out the cookbook and gave it a go. Not surprisingly, it’s not exactly like I remember it, but that’s probably my fault (her recipe was a little bit more vague than the one below, so I had to do some guessing).


My mom with my sister Joey (left) and me, 1989

THE PLAYLIST
Most of my memories of my mom in relation to music are of me telling her to stop singing (clearly I was a little snot), and of her playing piano — always by ear, usually Disney songs at my 5-year-old self’s request. She’s the reason I started playing music; piano lessons at age 8, which eventually led to getting my hands in every musical outlet I could through high school. My other musical Mom memories are of a cassette tape of Loggins & Messina’s album The Best of Friends, specifically the song “House at Pooh Corner,” and I only really listened to the side of the tape with that song on it. That’s to say I don’t really know what music my mom loved (and I’ll spare you the Loggins & Messina), so this playlist isn’t a reflection of that. Instead it’s music by powerful women (some of them mothers), including just a couple that remind me of her. [Edit: Since originally publishing this, some of the songs have been removed from my playlist here; sorry about that!]

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