Polenta pie

Sunny Polenta Squash Pie (Inspired by Cat Power)

Polenta pie

THE DISH
Polenta squash pie

THE INSPIRATION
I went through a bit of a music drought this year, about a three-month period where I wasn’t blown away by much of anything, and Cat Power’s new album Sun is one that opened the floodgates and got me excited again. It’s emotional and, well, Cat Power-y, but not in the sad way longtime fans expect; and despite the less-depressing words and electronic-tinged music that’s on a different planet from the rest of her catalog, Chan Marshall actually sounds more like herself here. My good friend Amanda (who wrote a fascinating story about her for Pitchfork) said when she went back to listen to her 2006 album The Greatest, she found that Marshall’s voice sounded empty compared to this new one, because she wasn’t totally in it, and she’s right. That album is gorgeous and soulful, but it’s missing some of the “power” that exists on Sun.

It’s all too often that Chan Marshall’s breakdowns and emotional turmoil overshadow her music, but it sounds like she’s mostly in a healthier place here and looking forward; in the title track she sings, “We are free, you and me, we can finally run.” (It’s also worth noting that Sun is wrongfully being billed as a breakup album: The breakup — with actor Giovanni Ribisi — happened after the record was made). In “Real Life” she sings, “Real life is ordinary/ Sometimes you don’t want to live/ Sometimes you gotta do what you don’t want to/ To get away with an unordinary life” and in the 11-minute-long “Nothing But Time,” she sings to Ribisi’s teenage daughter about being young and wanting to be somebody (“I see you, kid, alone in your room/ You got the weight on your mind you’re just tryin’ to get by/ Your world is just beginning/ And I know this life seems neverending/ But you’ve got nothin’ but time/ And it ain’t got nothin’ on you”).

So, for the food — most of the reason for this pie (or quiche, or whatever you want to call it) is because it’s bright, yellow and looks like a sun (thanks to polenta, yellow summer squash, corn, tomatoes and baked eggs); but it’s also a healthy and well-balanced dish because Sun seems to find Marshall in a healthier place than in the past. And sort of on that same note, the onions in it start out spicy, but they mellow out and sweeten as they’re cooked. This is definitely a labor-intensive dish, but so was Sun, which Marshall wrote and recorded completely on her own (I didn’t do that much; I had a little bit of help in the kitchen!). The music has the perfect energy level for a lowkey Sunday morning; instead of wanting to hide under the covers and cry, Sun makes me want to get out of bed and start the day.

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Butternut Squash Pancakes and Maple-Goat Cheese Sauce with Pearl and the Beard (Inspired by Bon Iver)

Every month or so, I partner with one of my favorite local sites, Brooklyn Based, to bring you an exclusive song by a Brooklyn band, recorded at Nadim Issa’s state-of-the-art recording studio in Gowanus, Let ‘Em In Music. Then, I create a recipe with — or inspired by — the featured artist. This month’s mp3 is Pearl and the Beard, performing Bon Iver’s “Re: Stacks” (get the free mp3 and read my feature on them here), and here are the butternut squash pancakes with maple-goat cheese sauce I made with the band. All photos by Dominick Mastrangelo.

THE DISH
Spiced butternut squash pancakes with maple-goat cheese sauce and candied walnuts (recipe + tons of photos here)

THE INSPIRATION
Within five minutes of Pearl and the Beard (Jocelyn Mackenzie, Emily Hope Price and Jeremy Styles) entering my apartment, I felt like they were old friends. All three of them are bundles of smiles and energy, and they came prepared to make delicious cocktails, which always gets points in my book. I first heard of the band through Dave of Backyard Brunch Sessions and was instantly won over by their simple but creative instrumentation and strong harmonies that often lean more toward cabaret than Americana (though there’s plenty of that, too).

When I asked them to do an installment of BB Songs, they decided to cover Bon Iver’s “Re: Stacks” from his debut album For Emma, Forever Ago (listen to their gorgeous version of the song here), and they wanted to make “stacks” of pancakes served with goat cheese sauce. From there, I decided on rich butternut squash pancakes and a spread made with goat cheese, maple syrup and yogurt. We topped our stacks with candied walnuts for an extra bit of sweetness — except for Jeremy, who is allergic but still insisted on flirting with danger and stirring them over the stove. Bon Iver’s music, especially For Emma, is a perfect match for the cold — and while we ate these pancakes for dinner, they’d be incredible as a comforting Sunday-morning brunch while holed up in a cabin in the dead of winter. The pancakes are filling, and the sauce — which we spread in between each layer — turns it into a pretty decadent meal. They’re still pretty healthy, though: The sauce is made with goat cheese, maple syrup and Greek yogurt, so there’s plenty of protein and not too much fat. And the butternut squash has got to count for something, right?

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Maple-Mustard Roasted Veggies + a post-Thanksgiving playlist

THE DISH
Maple roasted carrots, butternut squash and Brussels sprouts

THE INSPIRATION
I’ve said this before, but it certainly bears repeating: I am obsessed with the circle of friends I’ve found myself in in New York. And I was thrilled to learn that most of them — all of us transplants to the city, mostly from Michigan — would also be in town for Thanksgiving weekend, because obviously that meant it was yet another excuse to spend time together, making tons of food and eating (and drinking) ourselves silly. I’ll save my ramblings about how much I love them for a post I have coming up in a couple weeks, and instead I’ll share my contribution to our Thanksgiving feast: a simple mix of roasted veggies that, of course, I made way too much of. It has absolutely nothing to do with music, but I’m giving it to you anyway, along with a playlist of some songs I’m thankful for this year — not a best of 2011, as a few of them aren’t from the past 11 months, but songs that, for various reasons, have made my life just a little bit better this year.

THE PLAYLIST
Listen on Spotify here; tracklisting (and recipe) below!

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Bur Oak Winter Soup (Inspired by Bowerbirds)

“And he asked us what we had done for our souls lately”
— “Bur Oak” by Bowerbirds (from 2007’s Hymns for a Dark Horse)

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

THE DISH
Butternut and acorn squash soup

THE INSPIRATION
Bowerbirds’ music is perfect for fall and winter: It’s peaceful and emotional, and the different moods in their songs are usually expressed through references to nature. All of their music feels warm to me, but in “Bur Oak,” the line “And he asked us what we had done for our souls lately” in particular makes me think of comfort food. On a cold fall or winter day, what’s better than coming home to a warm bowl of soup? I think taking care of our souls is very much related to what we put into our bodies and how we take care of our bodies — so a soul-satisfying dish should be hearty and filling, but also healthy. Also, the inclusion of acorn squash is a play on the title, with the oak tree. Then in the song “In Our Talons,” Phil Moore and Beth Tacular sing, “It takes a lot of nerve to destroy this wondrous earth,” which made me decide the dish should be vegan, so it’s as earth-friendly as possible (and the squash was bought locally, from the Union Square Greenmarket). Lastly, I served it with cornbread (I used this recipe; it’s not vegan, but I have seen vegan cornbread recipes!) because it’s one of the first foods that come to mind when I think of soul food, and it’s great with soup.

“It takes a lot of nerve to destroy this wondrous earth”
— “In Our Talons” (also from Hymns for a Dark Horse)

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

ABOUT THE ARTIST
Bowerbirds are a folk group from North Carolina, led by multi-instrumentalists Phil Moore and Beth Tacular, though they usually have at least one other musician with them. They’re one of my favorite live bands — everyone switches instruments after nearly every song: acoustic guitar, a marching band-style bass drum, various other percussion instruments, strings … They’re so lovely and have so much positive energy.

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