It took until just a couple weeks ago, but it is finally (mostly) super cold in New York (though significantly worse in Michigan last weekend, yikes). Not that I’m saying this is a good thing; winter is easily my least favorite season, except for the fact that I can comfortably use my oven and also make and eat soup all. the. time. I adapted this recipe from David’s stepmom, and the original is an award winner (at the Kennett Square Mushroom Festival many years ago, and still talked about all the time!); this version is vegan, and it was served at last month’s Supper Studio dinner with Brooklyn psych-pop band TEEN.
It kinda blows my mind that Lorde’s “Royals” is the No. 1 song in the country. Not because it isn’t amazing (it is!) and it’s certainly not surprising that it’s popular, but it’s so not in the same world as everyone charting right behind her — Katy Perry, Miley Cyrus, Drake. Lorde (16-year-old Ella Yelich-O’Connor) herself is so unfazed by everything the pop-music industry usually stands for, she writes all her own lyrics, and couldn’t care less about being famous; it’s refreshing and rare to find that in a pop artist.
Her whole record, Pure Heroine, is amazing, and amazingly smart: O’Connor writes about adolesence and growing up in a way that’s relatable, even for those of us who are a decade or more past her, and she does it without being cheesy or contrived. In a recent interview with the Guardian, she said, “I’m like the most terrible person to go to a party with in the world, because I just can’t enjoy it. I’m just thinking all the time about what it means and what the implications are. So everybody’s getting fucked up and I just can’t give myself over to it, because I’m thinking about…the archetypes of being a teen. I’m really interested in kind of weird social situations and cliques, watching girls vying for attention, watching how the popularity thing happens. I’ve always thought way too hard about everything.” I’m usually so pessimistic about today’s teenagers, and then there are gals like this (and Tavi Gevinson, and everyone who was at her incredible Rookie Magazine party and talent show in Brooklyn a few weeks ago) who remind me that it’s not all bad out there and restore my faith in humanity.
Aaaand, on to the food: A lot of the backing music on Pure Heroine uses rippling, swirly electronics, so the thinly sliced eggplant, and the pieces of it being rolled into spirals, represents that, as well as the layered vocals in most of the songs. The eggplant is also for her music’s darkness; I think of cool colors like purple, blue and gray. The filling has curly kale in it — because Lorde has the best. hair. ever. and also because it’s known as being trendy and high-brow, but in reality kale has been around forever and is easy for any common person to find or afford; kinda like in “Royals” where she and her friends are pretending to be fancy, even when they don’t come from money and only dream about it. The lemon, which comes through really brightly here, is for the boldness in O’Connor’s lyrics — she sings about chasing dreams and, like Kacey Musgraves in last month’s post, living in a small town (“We live in cities you’ll never see on a screen,” she sings in “Team”). And its acidity is for her sarcasm: The line, “I’m kinda over getting told to throw my hands up in the air/ So there” in “Team” kills me every time, and there’s “It’s a new artform showing people how little we care” in “Tennis Court.” Overall it’s a comforting dish, which is for the reassurement that comes from banding together while going through the sometimes-B.S. that is growing up — which happens even when you’re well out of high school.
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”).
It has been an impressive year in music for fellow Lauras! Marling, Stevenson, Veirs and Mvula all have released/are releasing great records in 2013, the latter being the only I hadn’t been familiar with before this year. Laura Mvula is a British singer/songwriter who completely blew me away with her debut Sing to the Moon. At first listen her voice reminded me of Adele, but that lazy comparison went away pretty quickly. Mvula’s music is big, soulful, fearless, sometimes a little jazzy, and danceable; her lyrics are smart and empowering, and the whole record is fantastic.
Hello! It’s been an embarrassingly long time since I’ve posted anything here, and if you’re one of the handful of people who’ve asked if I’m still doing this thing, thanks for caring and I apologize for such a long wait. Life’s been crazy (when isn’t it?) and while I’ve been stockpiling a bunch of half-baked ideas for ETB, I’ve had a hard time sitting still long enough to fully conceptualize them. That’s not to say I haven’t been cooking — a couple weeks ago, I settled in to my fourth (!) Brooklyn apartment, this time down in Bay Ridge, a lovely neighborhood in the southwest corner of the borough, with this guy. For the first time in a long time (ever?), I’ve got a kitchen that’s set up exactly how I want it to be, with no competition for the stove or fridge space, and I’ve got all my pantry items in one place. Going back and forth between apartments for 15 months was challenging and often stressful, and it especially took a toll on planning food projects. So, now that I’m finally settled in with the best roommate ever for as long as we’re allowed to live in this apartment, I’m hoping I can finally get my act together. Or not. We’ll see! Regardless, I’ve got a lot more peace of mind and I’ve been cooking up a storm — just mostly everyday dishes without ingredient lists or measurements. (And I’m thinking about ways to share that kind of stuff here, too.)
Anyway, on to Kurt Vile and my first legit crusted quiche (recipe here)!
I got into Kurt Vile at the end of 2011 when Smoke Ring For My Halo was on everyone’s best-of lists (I was late to the party) and he’s been in regular rotation since. His new record Wakin’ on a Pretty Daze is one of my favorites of the year and it’s been in my ears nonstop the last couple months. A good amount of Vile’s music is chilled-out, conventional-ish indie rock — great guitar hooks, moments of jangly pop, a few catchy melodies — but just as often he wanders off to the point where it’s easy to get lost and forget that I’m listening to the same song that started six minutes ago. He has a reputation for dark lyrics, but in reality he’s got an amazing, wry sense of humor; in the album’s first song, the almost-title track “Wakin’ on a Pretty Day,” he sings, “Phone ringing off the shelf/ I guess it wanted to kill himself,” and he jokes that he has to think about what kind of wisecracks he’s going to drop that day. Vile, who’s based in Philadelphia, told Pitchfork that he’s mostly a homebody and a “family man” — he’s married with two young kids — and there are a couple times here that he assures his loyalty to his family, like in “Never Run Away” and “Too Hard,” the latter of which is one of the sweetest songs I’ve heard in a while.
It’s finally starting to feel like spring in New York and that’s what this whole record feels like. “Wakin’ on a Pretty Day” calls for a light, springy breakfast, so I made a quiche with greens and sweet caramelized onions. Vile’s homebody-ness is a great parallel because it’s a perfect dish for a leisurely brunch, but you’ve got to stick around for a little while to make it. It’s not incredibly difficult, but there’s a bit of prep work — though some of it, like caramelizing the onions and chopping vegetables, can easily be done ahead of time. It’s also versatile and can be used with pretty much any vegetables or cheeses you have on hand. That’s to say you don’t need to pay super close attention to your measurements, at least when it comes to the veggies: Vile’s songs can space out, and you can kinda do the same — just do your thing and it’ll turn out OK.
One of my favorite verses on the album is in the sprawling last track, “Goldtone,” which starts with, “Sometimes when I get in my zone, you’d think I was stoned/ But I never, as they say, ‘touch the stuff’/ I might be adrift, but I’m still alert/ concentrate my hurt into a gold tone.” Which is to say, things aren’t always as they appear (like the frequent categorization of Vile’s music as stoner-rock). It’s similar to how you might look at this creamy dish and think it’s full of fat — most quiche recipes use a stick of butter in the crust and two cups of heavy cream in the filling, which is kinda nuts, though I’m sure delicious. So while I didn’t skimp on the cheese here, it’s actually not quite as rich as it appears: The crust is made with olive oil instead of butter (and only a few tablespoons of it), as well as skim milk and a couple extra egg whites — but it doesn’t lose any of the flavor.
Chocolate fig rugelach
2013 got off to a rocky start: About a week into the new year my grandpa went into hospice care back in Michigan, and later that week D and I hopped on a plane to be with my family during his last couple days and attend the funeral. My Papa would have been 93 (!) at the end of this month. He was a great man who lived an incredibly full life (it’s actually pretty amazing), was always so proud of his daughters and grandkids, and he died peacefully, which is the best anyone can ask for. I’m thankful I was able to spend so much time with my family, but it was an exhausting rollercoaster of a week. And I’m also thankful I had someone willing to put his own life on hold for a few days to keep me sane as we drove back and forth from hospice and all around metro Detroit, then rushed from the funeral to the airport, only to find out our flight was delayed four hours (public service announcement: never fly Spirit Airlines). I was a wreck, he is a champ, and I am a very, very lucky girl. Between losing my grandpa and a few other goings-on, we can already tell there will be some challenges as we head into our second year together — but that trip was a reminder that we can handle whatever comes our way.
Yo La Tengo’s new album Fade sums up a lot of what’s been in my head these last couple weeks: The overall theme is that sometimes things fall apart, it’s OK to be scared when they do, and if we stand together we can get through it. In the first track, “Ohm,” Ira Kaplan, Georgia Hubley and James McNew sing in an awesome chorus, “Nothing ever stays the same/ Nothing’s explained/ The harder we go, the longer we fly.” “Stupid Things” is about the everyday bumps in the road (and, as Matthew Perpetua at Fluxblog more eloquently put it, “a song about realizing that even the dullest moments of your life are precious, and recognizing the value of a longterm partner”), and in “The Point of It,” Kaplan sings, “Say that we’re afraid/ Say that we were wrong/ Maybe that’s okay/ If we’re not so strong/ That’s the point of it.”
Baking projects can be exhausting, but sometimes when I’ve had a stressful week, being in the kitchen calms me down — I’m using my hands and channeling all my energy and thinking in one direction. I get lost in it; kind of like I do in Yo La Tengo’s music (not so much on Fade, which doesn’t have any of the long, droning songs found in much of their catalog, but certainly during their live shows). Rugelach is fitting because it takes a while to make but it felt like the time went by quickly. It’s also a pastry with Jewish history — like my family, and like members of the band, who put on eight Hanukkah shows almost every year (those shows are something special). And, it was fitting that in Deb Perelman’s writeup about this recipe in her Smitten Kitchen cookbook, she talks about her husband being “the great voice of food reason” behind her site, always making suggestions, and the recipe is dedicated to him. It summed up how I feel about my wonderful partner in life and in the kitchen, who often has his own great ideas, and I used fig jam and chai spices in this because they are a couple of his faves. Anyway, there might be a tough year ahead, but I can rest easy knowing I have Yo La Tengo and this guy to help make it all OK.
[This month I was very excited to participate in my first Great Food Blogger Cookie Swap! I sent a dozen cookies each to three bloggers (The Dreamery, Karis’ Kitchen and The Hungry Hutch) and then while I was visiting my family in Michigan, I received a dozen cookies each from three different bloggers (brown butter cookies from The Healthy Helping, ranger cookies from Sterling and Oates, and vegan sandies from The Pancake Princess — thank you!). And we did all of this while raising money for Cookies for Kids’ Cancer. Not a bad way to kick off the holiday season! These are the cookies I sent out.]
Peanut butter cookies with dark chocolate kisses
There are plenty of songs I can relate to based on personal experiences, but it’s rare that an entire song parallels my own story rather than just a few lines taken extremely out of context. The most recent time it’s happened was this fall with Angel Olsen‘s song “Lonely Universe,” from her incredible album Half Way Home (on my best-of-2012 list). It’s a gorgeous song about losing a loved one, and while I don’t know Olsen’s story behind it, for me it’s about the day my mom died, in July 1999, a few days after I turned 12. She had been diagnosed with cancer almost a year earlier, and just a month before I’d learned that she wasn’t likely to make it through the summer. My sister and I were at my dad’s house for the weekend and got a call to come home because she’d gotten weaker, could no longer speak and our then-5-year-old brother wanted us there. The house was crowded with aunts and uncles and grandparents; my most vivid memory of the day was when my grandma pulled me out of the room as my mom took her last breaths, so I couldn’t watch her go, and I tried looking back but couldn’t see through the crowd. The kids were carted across the street to our neighbor’s house while her body was taken to the funeral home.
There’s a line in “Lonely Universe” about not knowing what you have until it’s gone, and while I don’t feel that way about my mom — as far as I can remember, we had a good relationship and I certainly knew how significant of a loss it was at the time — there are still things I didn’t fully appreciate while she was around. Most relevant here is that I missed out on helping her in the kitchen and letting her teach me how to cook and bake; instead I did it largely on my own many years later. Olsen sings about finding the way home after a loss, and part of my finding a way home — since I found my way around the kitchen — has been learning some of the recipes I remember from when I was a kid. As more memories fade through the years, it makes me feel more connected to her, and among many other things, I know she’d be proud that I learned how to fend for myself, or at least learned how to feed myself (and, just as importantly, others). Peanut butter kiss cookies were a favorite from my mom’s kitchen; they’re a tried-and-true classic, and this is (somehow?!) the first time I’ve made them.
There’s another part of the song where Olsen sings, “The winter months, they do make you feel stronger.” The holiday season can be tough (and was especially so in the first few years without her), but it’s also a time of year that I feel the strongest because even more so than usual, I’m consistently reminded of how blessed I am to have so many people who are here to share food and gifts and good times. I picked these treats because they’re traditional — and I’m a sentimental sucker for family and holiday traditions — and making them myself definitely got me a little bit closer to home.
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.
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.
Polenta squash pie
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.