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.

Read More »

Advertisements
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.

Read More »

Digestive Biscuits (Inspired by Félix)

THE DISH
British digestive biscuits

THE INSPIRATION
Holy Molar, the newest record from British chamber-pop group Félix, has been in regular rotation since my editor recommended them to me a few weeks ago. Frontwoman Lucinda Chua reminds me of a mix of early Cat Power, a mellowed-out Regina Spektor, and the 2006 solo album from Casey Dienel (of White Hinterland). The piano-backed songs are sad, pretty and simple (“Friday night is the worst night to be alive,” Chua sings on “Oh Thee 73”). The last track is called “Little Biscuit,” so I made digestive biscuits, a type of not-too-sweet British cookie that I admittedly am not particularly familiar with, but I went with those instead of American-style biscuits because of the band’s roots. However, digestives actually ended up being more fitting for other reasons: Of course there’s the album’s name, which is a line from a couple of its songs, and digestives require a little more work from one’s teeth than buttermilk biscuits. But digestive biscuits — which, not surprisingly, were first created as a digestive aid, also reminded me of “Hate Song,” which starts with the line “Why is there so much bad stuff inside of you?” This might be stretching it a bit, but songwriting can also be a way to cleanse yourself of the “bad stuff” built up inside. Anyway, I’m not sure how authentic these are, but they were tasty — a bit like oatmeal cookies with a smoother texture.

Read More »

Raspberry brownies

Raspberry Brownies (Inspired by The Afghan Whigs)

Raspberry brownies

Earlier this year, my friend Daphne Carr launched a Kickstarter project to publish the Best Music Writing book series independently, through her new music-focused press Feedback Press. (BMW is an anthology of the year’s best conversation about music, in the form of features, essays, reviews, blog posts, etc.) One of the pledge options toward the project’s $15,000 goal was for me to bake treats inspired by the artist or song of the backer’s choice, and this was the second of the two purchased, inspired by Afghan Whigs, baked for one of my favorite pop-culture thinkers/writers (also just one of my favorite people), Village Voice Music Editor Maura Johnston!

THE DISH
Raspberry brownies

THE INSPIRATION
This assignment was a bit daunting, as I hadn’t previously listened to much of the Afghan Whigs (and hey, now this is super relevant because of their recent reunion shows!) — but what I’d gathered in my couple previous run-throughs of their 1993 album Gentlemen was that I love the music — a little rough, dark and soulful — but the lyrics can be quite crass and at times pretty brutal (“Debonair” has the line “This time the anger’s better than the kiss” and later “Tonight I go to hell for what I’ve done to you”).

In the song “Be Sweet,” Greg Dulli growls, “Ladies, let me tell you about myself/ I’ve got a dick for a brain/ and my brain is gonna sell my ass to you/ Now I’m OK, but in time I find out stuff/ ‘Cause she wants love/ And I still wanna fuck.” It’s incredibly sleazy, so my first thought was to find a recipe from a blog that’s also quite sleazy, Cook to Bang, where I found a recipe for “Pinch Your Ass-Berry Brownies.” Chocolate for the darkness, Cook to Bang for the sleaze, raspberries for the blood.

However, part of why Maura decided to back the Best Music Writing Kickstarter with this particular prize was because she’s gluten- and dairy-intolerant, and wanted some kind of treat that she could eat (obviously) and make, and the original “ass-berry brownies” wouldn’t quite work. So over at the all-vegan goldmine Post-Punk Kitchen I found a similar raspberry-brownie recipe that I easily adapted to be gluten-free.

Read More »

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.

Read More »

Mandel bread

Orange Sesame Mandel Bread (Inspired by Mirel Wagner + my mom)

Mandel bread

THE DISH
Mandel bread flavored with orange, sesame seeds, ginger and dried cranberries

THE INSPIRATION
I’ve posted a bit about my mom before, and I’ve also shared her recipe for mandel bread, a biscotti-like cookie with Jewish/Eastern European roots. It’s my go-to for whenever I need a quick host gift, and I’m surprised I don’t know the recipe by heart by now, but someday I’ll get there. I do know it well enough that I can change things in it, usually in the form of different mix-ins or toppings.

In “No Hands,” from singer/songwriter Mirel Wagner’s self-titled album that came out this year, she sings “I’ve been riding my bicycle all day long/ up and down the old dusty dirt road/ Look, Mother, no hands/ See the sun filter through the trees, I am happy/ Feel the wind and the speed, can’t see the danger/ Look, Mother, no hands.”

I’m not sure of Wagner’s intentions for the song — and considering the eerie, sometimes-disturbing nature of some of her other lyrics (“No Death” is a good place to start…), I could be totally off base here — but especially with Mother’s Day coming up, it resonates with me in a couple ways. There’s the quite literal one: that after so many times trying out this particular recipe of my mom’s, I’ve made it my own staple. And in the bigger picture, a lot has happened in the 12-plus years since she died, and of course not all of it has been easy — but despite the bumps in the old, dusty dirt road, I’ve made a really great life for myself, and I know it’s one she’d be really proud of.

The mandel bread I know usually has walnuts and/or dried fruit or chocolate with cinnamon-sugar on top; in this I kept the dried fruit (cranberries), but added orange zest, ginger and sesame seeds, and topped it with more sesame seeds, plus cinnamon, sugar and powdered ginger, which gives it a bit of a kick.

Read More »

Whatchamacallit brownie

Q&A: Bake It in a Cake’s Megan Seling

Whatchamacallit brownie

Megan SelingIn October 2010, I came across a recipe for pumpkin pie cupcakes — as in, tiny pumpkin pies baked into cupcakes. It came from Bake It in a Cake, a cupcake blog then only a couple months old, and my friend Amanda and I decided we needed to try make them ASAP. We did it, and they were magical. The blog is run by Megan Seling, who has spent the last year and a half baking all kinds of candies and baked goods into cupcakes: baklava, peanut butter cups, Cadbury eggs, Whatchamacallit bars (pictured above, courtesy of Seling), the list goes on.

Her day job, though, is at Seattle alt-weekly The Stranger, where she’s been working since 2000. Seling began as an intern and a columnist, covering the city’s all-ages music scene; now she still covers music, as well as other local cultural happenings. I chatted with her about what she’s been listening to, the crazy things people have made inspired by Bake It in a Cake, and the latest news about her forthcoming cookbook.

Read More »