Classic Potato Salad (Inspired by Wilco)

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THE DISH
Easy-peasy — and low-fat, mayo-less — potato salad (recipe here)

THE INSPIRATION
I started listening to Wilco in high school, and the first album I bought was their super alt-country 1995 debut, A.M.. Reading about them in music magazines around the time A Ghost Is Born came out made me curious, and A.M. was the least expensive CD at the store, so that’s what I got. It’s not a great representation of them as a whole, but that album — especially songs like “I Must Be High” and “Passenger Side” — made for perfect summer driving music. They quickly became one of my favorite bands (and they still are); I saw them for the first time at Lollapalooza in 2006 (my first vacation with friends and no parents), and then they played at my college that fall.

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Growing up I spent lots of summer weekends “up north” (what people who live in lower Michigan call the more northern part of the state — however, that is not necessarily the same as the “U.P.”/Upper Peninsula). My grandpa owned a summer camp in West Branch, Mich., when my mom and her three sisters were young, and for a long time our family still owned several of the cabins (a couple family members still do). My memories from “camp” are of getting lost in a corn field at 2 or 3 years old, picking strawberries, watching my mom and aunt make strawberry jam, catching a trout (and, at 5 years old, promising to eat the whole thing — which I did, thank you very much), paddle boating, and campfires. If you’ve seen those “Pure Michigan” commercials… it’s kinda like that.

Through every phase of their career — the alt-country, sunny acoustic rock, and the more experimental records — Wilco’s songs have always felt like the Midwest: being outside, driving with the windows down, and usually not being in too much of a hurry. Jeff Tweedy assures me that everything is gonna be OK in “Nothingsevergonnastandinmyway(again),” and he makes references to seaside breezes and Michigan beaches in in “Muzzle of Bees” and “Spiders (Kidsmoke).” (Also, because I’m creepy and I read Spencer Tweedy’s blog, I know they vacation in Michigan).

Call this group of Chicagoans “Dad Rockers” and hate on ’em for it all you want: I am a proud Midwesterner, and Wilco is my musical equivalent of comfort food. So when I hosted my New York “family” (who are mostly from Michigan/the Midwest) for a 4th of July party, I wanted to make a comfort-food picnic and cookout staple: potato salad. I’m proud to say I made this up completely from scratch and without using another recipe.


On my Brooklyn rooftop, watching fireworks with a bunch of Michigan kids

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Asian Veggie Pot Pie (Inspired by Abigail Washburn)

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THE DISH
Asian-inspired veggie pot pie (recipe at bottom of post). This was enough for three small baking dishes (two that were about four inches in diameter, the other a little bit bigger); I recommend adding more veggies to fill an actual pie tin!

THE INSPIRATION
My friend and former housemate came to visit last week, which was a perfect excuse to cook a LOT, since he was one of my best cooking buddies when we lived together. He’s just finishing his degree in Asian history and, it goes without saying, is super interested in Asian culture. We took a trip to Chinatown and came back with a bunch of fresh produce and some other goodies that resulted in a couple of really awesome Asian-inspired meals. Banjo player/singer/songwriter Abigail Washburn plays one of my favorite types of music (folk/Americana), but she’s been heavily influenced by Chinese culture, thanks to time she spent living and working there. So I wanted one of our dishes to be inspired by her self-titled record with The Sparrow Quartet (banjo master — and now Washburn’s husband — Bela Fleck, cellist Ben Sollee, and fiddler Casey Driessen), which mixes Americana and Chinese folk music.

As far as the dish goes, I wanted to take a very American comfort-food dish (because Americana music makes me think of comfort food) — pot pie — and give it an Asian twist with veggies like bok choy, bean sprouts, edamame and scallions. These turned out really great, although the recipe below is slightly modified from what we did because a couple of elements weren’t quite right! I definitely think I’ll be trying this one again, though, so expect an update sometime in the future.
Abigail Washburn on MySpace

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