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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Orange Creamsicle Cupcakes (Inspired by No Doubt/the ’90s)

THE DISH
Orange cupcakes with orange buttercream frosting (recipe at the bottom)

THE INSPIRATION
On Saturday I went to a ’90s-themed birthday party, and with the RSVP I had to include a favorite ’90s song, which made up the playlist (perhaps it’s worth noting that the party was for two music writers?). I have many favorites, but for this my pick was No Doubt’s “Just a Girl” from their 1995 album Tragic Kingdom. Just to give you the context of my personal 1990s: It was more or less my entire childhood (I was born in the late ’80s). I started watching MTV in about 1997 when Tragic Kingdom was at the height of its popularity, and the video for “Don’t Speak” won an MTV Video Music Award (it was also the year of Fiona Apple’s famous “the world is bullshit” speech; my 10-year-old self was mad that she beat Hanson for Best New Artist). So, I made cupcakes vaguely inspired by No Doubt, as well as the my ’90s in general.

“Just A Girl” is about Gwen Stefani being fed up with stereotypes of women — that we’re bad drivers, men are always gawking at us, we are all the same, and we’re supposed to be “pretty and petite.” I figured cupcakes — especially cupcakes that are, well, pretty and petite — were about the most stereotypically girly treat I could make. (And I have to say, these are probably the cutest cupcakes I’ve ever made.) I decided on orange for a couple of reasons: The cover of Tragic Kingdom has an orange tree on it, and there’s also one in the video for “Don’t Speak,” but also when I think of treats I consumed in the ’90s — particularly right after I got my tonsils removed at age 8 — I think of creamsicles. At the party, it was brought to my attention that, “Geez, Laura, creamsicles are so ’80s, too!” (and then I learned that they were actually invented long before that) — but the ’90s were when I ate them. So there! Anyway, these were a hit (enthusiastically named Best New Cupcake by an editor at Pitchfork), as was my T-shirt from my grandpa’s 75th birthday in 1995 and my Angela Chase bottlecap ring (photos below…).

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Spiked Orange-Chocolate-Oatmeal Bars (Inspired by Modest Mouse)

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“I drove around for hours, I drove around for days/ I drove around for months and years and never went no place” — Modest Mouse’s “Interstate 8,” from the Interstate 8 EP

THE DISH
Orange oatmeal bars with nuts, chocolate chips and vodka-soaked raisins (recipe here)

THE INSPIRATION
Modest Mouse’s music was made to be blasted in a car with the windows down. It can be spastic, a perfect soundtrack for reckless driving or speeding on the freeway, but it’s also a perfect companion for a cathartic solo drive late at night. Especially in their first two albums, 1996’s This Is A Long Drive For Someone with Nothing to Think About and 1997’s The Lonesome Crowded West, frontman Isaac Brock drops plenty of references to escaping, sitting in parking lots, and driving — although in many cases it leads nowhere.

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“Out of gas/ Out of road/ Out of car/ I don’t know how I’m going to go and/ I had a drink the other day/ Opinions were like kittens/ I was giving them away” — “Out of Gas,” from The Lonesome Crowded West

I first heard of Modest Mouse when I was away at camp and my friend Jason mentioned in a letter that he and his friends were driving to Ohio from Michigan for one of their shows. I think it was that same summer, when I was 15 and in driver’s ed, and there were at least a couple times that he dropped me off at class. It was right after he had gotten his license, and I remember him accidentally turning the wrong way onto a one-way street… It was good times. It was the following school year that I first actually heard Modest Mouse; Jason performed the song “Bankrupt on Selling” at our talent show (it’s still probably my favorite MM song), and I immediately downloaded everything I could get my hands on. Isaac Brock’s lyrics, especially earlier in their career, are rough and dark, about destruction, sometimes substance abuse and as mentioned earlier, a lot of going in circles and getting nowhere. Maybe it’s not a surprise that my friend had connected so closely with Brock’s songs; Jason took his life a few years ago, and even though we had drifted apart a few years before, this band will always make me think of him. He would’ve been 25 today; kind of a weird coincidence because I’d already had this post planned for this day … but I guess life is funny like that sometimes.

Anyway, about the food, which isn’t all that deep: Between references to being on the road and drinking/general self-destruction, I wanted to make a roadtrip-ready snack with booze in it — that obviously does not involved drinking and driving, in any way. The heat takes out some of the alcohol but leaves a little bit of the taste, although to be honest, I’m not sure if I can actually taste the alcohol or if it’s just the orange flavor. Either way, it works and these are good.

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