Rugelach

Chocolate Fig Rugelach (Inspired by Yo La Tengo)

Rugelach

THE DISH
Chocolate fig rugelach

THE INSPIRATION

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.

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Peanut butter kisses

Mom’s Peanut Butter Kisses (Inspired by Angel Olsen)

Peanut butter kisses

[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.]

THE DISH
Peanut butter cookies with dark chocolate kisses

THE INSPIRATION
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.

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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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Lemon rice soup

Lemon Rice Soup (Inspired by Anaïs Mitchell)

Lemon rice soup

THE DISH
Greek lemon rice soup, aka avgolemeno

THE INSPIRATION
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

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

THE INSPIRATION
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.

Chocolate croissant at Tartine

What I Ate in San Francisco

Chocolate croissant at Tartine
Chocolate croissant at Tartine

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
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.

Chirashi sushi at Morimoto
Chirashi sushi at Morimoto
Dinner at Morimoto in Napa:

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.

Bread pudding at Tartine
Bread pudding at Tartine
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.

Deviled eggs with dungeness crab
Deviled eggs with dungeness crab
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.

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