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 first of the two purchased, inspired by James Taylor’s “Carolina In My Mind.”
Sweet potato whoopie pies with maple cream cheese frosting and candied pecans
James Taylor grew up in North Carolina and he wrote his hit song “Carolina In My Mind” when he was homesick overseas. I chose sweet potatoes because North Carolina is the No. 1 producer of them in the U.S., so they might help with a little bit of homesickness. And while I was brainstorming for this, my aunt unknowingly (via Facebook — thanks, Aunt Linda!) tipped me off to videos of James Taylor baking pecan pies and maple sugaring, so I made the sweet potato whoopie pies, then rolled them in pecans that I candied with maple syrup and brown sugar.
Funfetti cupcakes with water, grass and frogs
THE INSPIRATION M83‘s Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming was, not surprisingly, one of my favorite albums last year. In part it sort of fills the void LCD Soundsystem left when they broke up — not so much in the sound itself, but in the huge, euphoric feeling I get when I listen to them. While I love the big hits on that album, the song that’s the most memorable to me is “Raconte-Moi Une Histoire” (which translates to “Tell me a story”) — it’s a little kid (a girl, I think) telling the story of a magic frog that, if you touch it, distorts your senses and eventually turns you into a frog, too. She says, “We can be a whole group of friends, a whole group of frogs” and at the end, “The biggest group of friends the world has ever seen, jumping and laughing forever. It would be great, right?” There’s also a line about how the world looks like “a giant cupcake.” The song makes me think of my group of friends, who I’ve mentioned many, many times here, but I think of how even though we’re “adults,” some of our best times involve ridiculous giggle fits and acting like kids, and I certainly wouldn’t have it any other way.
I made these cupcakes to take to a party to celebrate a few friends who recently started new jobs (pretty badass new jobs, I should add) — in terms of “Raconte-Moi Une Histoire,” I thought they were appropriate for a group of friends who can act like 10-year-olds and do great things professionally. Also, the whole album is about a brother and sister and their dreams, and my friends are taking new steps in following their own dreams and goals, and making some pretty damn-good progress for mid-20somethings. In the song “Steve McQueen,” Anthony Gonzalez sings, “There’s a magic inside/ Just waiting to burst out” and “Nothing can hurt today”; and perhaps the most fitting, in “New Map” he sings, “There’s a hole in your heart, begging for adventure/ Play yourself a new track, set traps for the future.” Lastly, the rainbow colors and purple swirls on the inside are both for the way the magic frog changes your perception, and also for the album’s cover.
Lemon blueberry pie with blueberry sauce and whipped cream
When I asked Hilly Eye’s Amy Klein (who you might recognize as the former guitarist/violinist for New Jersey punk band Titus Andronicus) what kind of food she wanted to make for BB Songs, she mentioned that a fan had mentioned “Hilly Eye berry pie” on the band’s Facebook page, and neither of us had made pie before, so we decided to go for it. She said the song she and bandmate Catherine Tung would be recording had a lot of triumphant guitar details; triumphant made me think of winning, which made me think of blue ribbons and therefore blueberries. Hilly Eye’s music has elements of sweetness in the vocal melodies (especially in their new track “Robbie’s Song”), but they also make a lot of noise and distortion, hence the strong, sour flavor of lemon that dominates the taste of the pie. Also, can I just say that this pie is amazing?! It tastes more or less like a lemon bar, but with graham cracker crust instead of shortbread. Top it with blueberry sauce and whipped cream, and you’re good to go.
There is no man in the band Mountain Man; it’s actually a trio of three ladies — Molly Erin Sarle, Alexandra Sauser-Monnig and Amelia Randall Meath — who sing gorgeous, hushed, often-a cappella harmonies; songs about loons and honeybees and buffalo and chickadees. Go ahead, get lost in these videos of them. It’s also worth noting that they recently did a bunch of shows with Feist… Their music sorta feels like sitting around a campfire by a lake, and honeycomb fits it well because this old-fashioned treat is just as light, airy and sweet as their voices; and it’s also known as seafoam, appropriate for an album called Made the Harbor whose cover is a photo of something making a splash in the water. So, just like there’s no man in Mountain Man, there’s no honey in these honeycomb treats — and while the honeycomb itself tastes like burnt marshmallows, there are no marshmallows involved, either. Anyway, dip the honeycomb in chocolate and graham cracker crumbs, and you’ve got a s’more, perfect for listening to Mountain Man and pretending you’re by a campfire on the water.
Confession: I was embarrassingly late on listening to Sleater-Kinney. As in, they broke up in 2006 and I didn’t get super into All Hands On The Bad One until about four years later. (I will now cover my eyes so I can’t see your totally disgusted faces shunning me. But don’t worry, I got on that Wild Flag record reeeal quick.) Needless to say, they’re on the long, long list of bands I wish someone had told me about when I was in high school. Anyway, it goes without saying that that album is incredible, and these whiskey balls come from a line in “You’re No Rock N’ Roll Fun” about “whiskey drinks and chocolate bars.” The first line of the song — “You’re no rock ‘n’ roll fun/ Like a party that’s over before it’s begun” — hits home for me because when my friends and I go out, I tend to be the one who gets tired super early, and I’m frequently hassled about my inability/refusal to take shots. I also don’t like whiskey! (See? Ms. No Rock N’ Roll Fun over here.) However, now I can say that I sometimes like whiskey: when it’s baked in a cake, then turned into little balls of chocolatey, sugary, walnutty goodness (mixed with even a little more whiskey). These were kind of amazing, and they’ll certainly be replacing any future urge to make cake balls: They’re quite similar, but because these babies use sugar and booze to bind the cake crumbs together instead of buttery frosting, they don’t result in obnoxiously greasy hands, and they don’t feel as heavy to eat.
Unrelated to the great S-K: I took these treats to a super-cool event called BAKINGMAKESFRIENDS — which is pretty much exactly what it sounds like. Lillie from the gorgeous baking blog Butter Me Up Brooklyn, started this shindig, to which you bring baked goods and friends, and hang at a bar to trade treats and meet new people. Lillie made bourbon blondies (obviously we were on the same page), and among my other favorites were chocolate ginger cookies, poppyseed buckwheat cookies (trust me, they were SO good), cardamom baklava, mustard spice cookies… I could go on and on. Anyway, it was lovely and I’m looking forward to the next one!
Vegan blood orange cupcakes with blood orange champagne buttercream
This one’s pretty simple! Blood Orange is the prolific Dev Hynes (who’s also performed as Lightspeed Champion, and has written and/or produced songs for Solange Knowles, Florence & the Machine and Theophilus London), and last year he put out an awesome dance-rock album Coastal Grooves (think TV on the Radio, Holy Ghost!, ’80s pop). The last song on the record is called “Champagne Coast,” so these cupcakes — which I made for the ETB party last week — are flavored with blood oranges, and the frosting has champagne in it. The actual cupcakes certainly could have champagne in them, too — in fact, the only reason they don’t is because I spaced out and totally forgot about it… (Maybe it was that whole “OMG I have to make a few hundred cupcakes” thing that made me forget…) So, both versions are below.
Well, you guys are AWESOME. The first-anniversary party on Tuesday night was absolutely perfect. A huge THANK YOU to everyone who came out — I’m still glowing and totally overwhelmed by all your support, not just this week but for the last year. I especially would like to thank Heather and JeffPine Box Rock Shop for letting a total stranger throw a party in their bar; Jocelyn, Jeremy and Emily from Pearl and the Beard for picking the tunes (come hang with me at their show on Feb. 16!); my friend Tony for helping me make 300 tiny cupcakes and keeping me sane; and the amazing Missy Kayko for lending her badass design talents to the event poster. Check out a few photos from the party below, and find the rest on ETB’s Facebook page. (All photos here by Evan Daniels except for top photo and the first two after the cut). The bar recreated Jocelyn’s Good Winter cocktail and it was amazing; and you guys made a pretty decent dent in those cupcakes… but I don’t think the eMusic office was complaining about the leftovers on Wednesday!
I’m also sharing the recipe for the vegan red wine chocolate cinnamon cupcakes I made; recipe at the bottom! (Blood orange cupcake recipe coming later…)