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.

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Sweet tea

Citrus Ginger Sweet Tea (Inspired by The Chefs)

Sweet tea

THE DISH
Citrus ginger sweet tea

THE INSPIRATION
The Chefs were a late-’70s/early-’80s indiepop band in the U.K. fronted by a bassist/singer who went by the name Helen McCookerybook (real name Helen Reddington, but AAHH, I love it!). They split up around ’82, but they just released a compilation of their lovely, albeit small, catalog, Records & Tea: The Best of the Chefs, which I learned about last week because I edited a review of it. The record is so much fun, and certainly a precursor to a ton of the indiepop stuff I listen to today. It was also kind of a goldmine for recipe ideas, but a couple songs in particular stuck out to me — the title track of the compilation, and another called “Sweetie.” In “Records and Tea,” there’s a line in the chorus that goes, “Records and tea are all life means to me.” Then “Sweetie” is a super-cute, totally cheeseball (in the best way possible) love song that starts: “I’ve got a passion/ for sweet things/ That’s why I love you/ You’re my sweet dream/ You’re such a sweetie/ Oh I could eat you/ You’re such a sweetie/ I think I love you.” But the way “sweetie” is enunciated, it totally sounds like they’re saying “sweet tea.” It also happens that my “sweetie” is a sucker for sweet things (as am I, obviously), usually in the form of sugary drinks, so I made a sweet tea with green tea, ginger-basil syrup and citrus (mostly just because those things are tasty).

Unfortunately, I couldn’t find either of the above-mentioned songs on the Internet! Although you can hear samples and buy Records & Tea here. But here’s another track from the record:

It’s also worth noting that Reddington is still playing music today, and she keeps a great blog that I got sucked into this week! She also wrote a book that I need to get my hands on, The Lost Women of Rock Music: Female Musicians of the Punk Era, which has an updated, paperback version being released next month.

Sweet tea

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The Good Winter Cocktail (Created by Pearl and the Beard)


Photos by Dominick Mastrangelo

THE DRINK
The “Good Winter,” created by Jocelyn Mackenzie of Pearl and the Beard

THE INSPIRATION
I’m going to save my words on the amazing Brooklyn trio Pearl and the Beard for a later post, as they are next up in the BB Songs series and I’ve got plenty to say about them — and an incredible recipe to share — for that…but when they came to my apartment to cook with me last month, they brought with them the ingredients for this delicious cocktail, which Jocelyn made up on the spot.

She says the drink is unassuming, but it has a Christmasy kind of feeling: “It’s a little soothing because white wine is kinda comforting, and ’cause it’s not too much of a weird flavor, but the St. Germaine is elderflower liquor, so it gives it a little sweetness. But then the bitters and the ginger give it a spicy taste,” she explains. “I was going for winter dessert and what I had in our liquor cabinet, so that’s what happened.”

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Peach-Blackberry-Ginger Popsicles (Inspired by We Are Augustines)

THE DISH
Peach-blackberry-ginger popsicles (recipe here)

THE INSPIRATION
It isn’t super often that I totally fall in love with a new band; mostly because I hear so much music every week that a lot of it starts to sound the same (my friend Amanda summed that feeling up rather perfectly on Pitchfork this week; I’m not quite at that point of jadedness or whatever you want to call it, but you get the idea). But for some reason when my boss recommended listening to Brooklyn band We Are Augustines (who essentially used to be the band Pela), something clicked and I’ve been listening to their album Rise Ye Sunken Ships more than anything else in the past couple weeks. I can’t even really explain why it gets to me more than a lot of other rock bands, but parts of the album remind me of the National and Against Me! (I know, kind of a weird combination).

The story behind Rise Ye Sunken Ships is pretty heartbreaking; you can read it all on the band’s website, but in short, much of the album is based around singer/guitarist Billy McCarthy’s brother James, who was diagnosed as schizophrenic and committed suicide while the band was recording what was originally going to be a new Pela record. Apparently (at least, according to Wikipedia), the band was named in part for the month of August; the month of two bandmembers’ birthdays, as well as McCarthy’s brother James.

Popsicles perhaps sound a bit too sunny to represent an album with so much pain behind it, but with the pain came a lot of healing. In the song “Augustine,” McCarthy sings, “Keep you head up kid, I know you can swim, but you gotta move your legs.” Ginger and honey are known for their healing powers, while peaches and blackberries are perfectly in season in August (and I got what I used for these at the Greenmarket in Union Square). Anyway, check out the album; it’s pretty great.

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