Michigan Mitten Gingerbread Cookies (Inspired by Rosie Thomas)

THE DISH
Mitten/Michigan-shaped gingerbread cookies

THE INSPIRATION
Whenever someone introduces a new friend to the circle of crazy kids I usually hang out with in New York, they’re amazed at how many of us are from Michigan. There are a lot of us — and even though we all bolted out of there right after graduating college, we certainly take pride in our mitten-shaped state. Singer-songwriter Rosie Thomas, who is from Livonia, Michigan (a Detroit suburb not far from my hometown), and has done a bunch of stuff with Sufjan Stevens, is featured in a documentary called All the Way from Michigan Not Mars (which I, admittedly, haven’t seen), and there’s a record that accompanies it, which I think is also known as These Friends of Mine … I’m not really sure. Anyway, this record has become my holiday-season soundtrack this year. It’s not Christmas music (though Thomas did release a Christmas album), but she sings simple, earnest songs about winter in New York that make me want to stay inside and uh, bake more cookies. (For the record, I’ve made already seven varieties of cookies and a handful of other treats so far this season)

A couple songs, “Much Farther to Go” and “All the Way to New York City,” particularly hit home for me, though maybe a little outside the context they were written in: The chorus of “Much Farther” goes, “I have much farther to go/ Everything is new and unpredictable,” and in the latter, there’s a line about staring at the reflections in subway windows and thinking about “how much New York has changed us.” They make me think about everything that’s happened in the time since my friends and I have moved here (gradually migrating since fall 2009): Most importantly, we’ve all gotten big-kid jobs, become more confident in who we are and have learned more about what we want in life. I guess that’s to say we’ve grown up a bit? And we’ve all faced our fair share of challenges in figuring that stuff out, but it’s been so much easier knowing that we’re all here sharing those experiences together, looking back on where we started and where we came from, and making big plans for what’s next, even though we actually have no idea what that’s going to be. And I can tell you that a huge part of why I’m not afraid to set seemingly-ridiculous goals and follow through with them is because I’m surrounded by people who do the same thing; they motivate me to push myself and make things happen. That goes for all of these guys, not only the Michigan folks, but they’re where it started.

Like most people, when it comes to the holiday season, family, tradition, and being around people I love are important to me. Every year in Michigan, my dad has a holiday party he calls his Dinner for Homeless Gentiles and Wayward Jews — really just a big party — and last year I adopted it and started throwing my own in Brooklyn. I did it partially to keep up the tradition and carry on my dad’s legacy, and of course also because it’s an excuse to throw a party and get people together. So, because the tradition started in Michigan, because my roots are there, and because my connection to people from my state has made such a huge impact on my life in New York, last year I bought a mitten-shaped cookie cutter and turned my gingerbread mittens into Michigans, with a tiny heart near where Detroit is. And to keep up the tradition, I made them again this year, and will probably continue to do so as long as I keep having this party. They’re not directly inspired by Rosie Thomas, but her music is a pretty perfect picture of where they (and I) came from — all the way from Michigan (not Mars).

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Peppermint Meringue Cookies (Inspired by the White Stripes)

THE DISH
Red-striped peppermint meringue cookies

THE INSPIRATION
I first had the idea for this post when the White Stripes broke up near the beginning of this year. My friend Zak — who is mostly responsible for getting me into them when we were in high school — came over and we attempted (and failed) at meringues, and also failed at another kind of cookie, all of this while blasting the band’s music. I revisited the meringues over the weekend and failed, yet again (though this time my new friend Larissa had the brilliant idea to add corn starch and turn it into a flat pavlova-type thing, which was delicious despite not being what we wanted it to be). I tried on Monday for a third time, and they still didn’t come out exactly as planned but, for the most part they worked and they’re delicious. Let’s call them a happy accident.

There are a million possibilities for food based on the White Stripes (“Apple Blossom,” “Little Cream Soda,” “Ball and Biscuit,” to name a few), and this certainly isn’t the best, nor will it probably be the last on this site — but it’s inspired by the song “Sugar Never Tasted So Good,” as most of what’s in them is sugar (and egg whites), and of course the red swirls are for the band’s red and white everything, which is perfect for the holiday season.

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Healthy-ish DIY Dunkaroos (Inspired by Breathe Owl Breathe)

“You are a princess/
And we are pen pals/
I am a dragon/
But you don’t need to know that”
— “Dragon” by Breathe Owl Breathe (from last year’s Magic Central)

http://listen.grooveshark.com/songWidget.swf

THE DISH
Healthy-ish DIY Dunkaroos (recipe at bottom of post)

THE INSPIRATION
Breathe Owl Breathe are magical. I’m still kicking myself for not having gotten into them when I was living in Michigan (they’re from there, too), but it’s definitely better late than never. They’re an inventive, whimsical folk trio that sings about love, fear and humanity, disguised as stories about dragons, lions and various other creatures. I chose this recipe because, just like their music, it’s something that’s kid-friendly but it’s just as rewarding for the grown-ups, too. (The band also just used Kickstarter to fund a children’s book and record.)

On their phenomenal LP Magic Central (one of my favorites of last year), the song “Dragon” is, on the surface, about a dragon and a princess who are pen pals, but the princess doesn’t know the dragon is a dragon because he has good handwriting. But beyond that, it’s a song about loving someone that other people don’t think you should love, even though their hearts are in the right place. So these treats are also fitting because kids will love them (c’mon, they’re animal crackers!), but they’re actually pretty healthy, thanks to whole wheat flour, flax seeds, and raw sugar. The frosting isn’t quite as healthy (lots of powdered sugar), but still uses low-fat cream cheese and plain low-fat yogurt instead of butter, so it’s at least a step up from typical frosting. And, unrelated to the band, apparently February is National Snack Food Month!
Breathe Owl Breathe on MySpace

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Hippie hash and an ode to a summer in East Lansing, Michigan

THE DISH
Hippie hash — my take on the signature dish at Lansing, Michigan’s Fleetwood Diner

THE INSPIRATION
When I think of Fleetwood Diner, I think of summer 2009, my last three months before I moved to Brooklyn, during which I had two classes to finish, but few other responsibilities aside from a couple shifts a week at the newspaper, some freelance work, and planning my big move. That summer consisted of plenty of group trips to breakfast after late nights out at house parties or at our favorite bars — most of which ended in friends sleeping on my couch or floor, occasionally with Taco Bell wrappers on the floor next to them. By the time we’d meet up at Fleetwood in the morning, some of us were usually hungover, and all of us were always hungry.

Aside from post-party breakfasts, the whole summer was filled with great food. My friends and I started a restaurant club — a last chance at places we needed to try before leaving East Lansing (more great breakfast at Golden Harvest, Ethiopian at Altu’s, Mexican at Mango’s); we squeezed as many as six of us into my Oldsmobile grandpa car and drove 20 minutes to the most amazing produce market/grocery store, Horrocks; we took over the huge kitchen at my co-op house to cook big meals and have potlucks.

That summer, as well as the two years I lived in that house (with 13 other students) played a huge part in my love of cooking. There were so many times when at least five of us would be in the kitchen making dinner at the same time — we’d share cooking tips, try each other’s food, and eat together. In New York, the nights I’m usually happiest are when my closest friends in the city come over for what we call our “family dinners.” We pick a theme (sushi, dumplings, holiday cookies, soup), pitch in ingredients, maybe drink a little wine, and make a meal together. It’s the best.

I should also note that I made this for brunch with my friend Missy, one of my best friends and creative partners in crime, who made the move to New York just a few months after I did. (She definitely was not the one sleeping on my floor next to the Taco Bell wrappers. And that definitely did not happen two nights in a row.)

Anyway, this playlist is a bunch of songs my friends and I spent a lot of time with that summer — there’s nothing groundbreaking here, and any music nerds listening will not be impressed, but that’s not the point. Summer ’09 = great food + these songs. You can even listen as you make this dish. Enjoy!

THE PLAYLIST

http://listen.grooveshark.com/widget.swf

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