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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Peanut Noodles with Edamame, Carrots & Flowers (Inspired by Neutral Milk Hotel)

THE DISH
Peanut noodles with carrots and edible flowers

THE INSPIRATION
Perhaps Neutral Milk Hotel doesn’t conjure up images of Asian noodle entrées, but go with us here. Jeff Mangum’s lyrics are at once deeply moving and direct, while also abstract, obtuse and occasionally just plain odd. “When you were young you were the King of Carrot Flowers” is arguably the most memorable line of In the Aeroplane Over the Sea and inspiration, it seems, can be incredibly simple. “King of Carrot Flowers” Pts. One-Three was the muse for our dish where carrots take center stage. We tossed in some edible flowers for good measure (more out of aesthetic interests — they were a tad bitter for our tastes) and then scratched our heads for a good while and pondered.

“King of Carrot Flowers Pt. One” rides along on the strength of Mangum’s voice and engaging lyrics. The carrots, cucumbers and edamame are just as simple and as refreshing as the melody. Imagine that the noodles are “holy rattlesnakes” and you’re good to go. Transition into Pts. Two & Three and things get more complicated. After Mangum pronounces his love for “you” (or is it for Jesus Christ? Has anyone figured that one out?), the fuzzed-out bass kicks in and the sound gets nice and muddy, almost as if it were covered in a delicious peanut-based dressing. The curry paste and chili powder kick things up a notch as the band goes wild, trumpets blaring, bass crunching, and drums thumping like angry giants. Still, the real focus is the interaction between the peanut butter dressing and the carrots, which just seem to work well together. We wanted to sneak a few peas into the recipe and make a lame pun involving “A Baby for Pree,” but the edamame fit much more naturally. Anyway, make this at a family gathering and have your mom stick a fork right into it (as opposed to daddy’s shoulder). And that is officially the last bad joke.

The new Neutral Milk Hotel vinyl box set (released last fall) compiles pretty much all of their music, spanning two 12″ records, two 10″ EPs, three 7″ singles and two posters. On top of that, Jeff Mangum has been making more and more public appearances and playing concerts here and there. Anticipation over the band’s prodigal return is quite high (and perhaps far too hopeful), but what better time to revisit some of the best music from the last 20 years? Better yet, what better time to eat some carrots and noodles?

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