Super Bowl Salsa Trio (Inspired by Madonna, M.I.A. and Nicki Minaj)

THE DISH
Three salsas, one each inspired by Madonna, M.I.A. and Nicki Minaj

THE INSPIRATION
So, last night Madonna performed the Super Bowl halftime show, with help from M.I.A. and Nicki Minaj on her new song “Give Me All Your Luvin’.” I’m not crazy about the song (the chorus sorta makes me want to rip my hair out, to be honest, although I would appreciate it at least a little bit otherwise), but it was awesome to see these three super-powerful ladies sharing the stage for something this huge. And, of course, it was even more awesome to see M.I.A. flip off national television.

Anyway, my friend Eleanor encouraged themed dishes for her lovely Super Bowl party, which I obviously took as an assignment. So, I made three salsas (an easy choice for the Super Bowl), one each inspired by Madonna, M.I.A. and Nicki Minaj. They’re all are quite different but have the same premise: all three of these women have a nice side, but they’re also extremely bold and have a lot of attitude. So, each salsa has a sweet component and a bit of a kick, and they’re all colorful for the women’s colorful wardrobes and uh, colorful language. M.I.A. is mango and pickles for her song “Mango Pickle Down River” (along with shredded coconut, cumin and curry which are used in Sri Lankan cooking, served with plantain chips because of her “Banana” skit at the beginning of Arular). Nicki Minaj has a base of strawberries for her Pink Friday album (with serrano peppers for the kick). Madonna’s is mostly corn and cherries for her Midwest (Michigan!) roots, which she mentioned at least a couple times in a press conference this weekend.

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Q&A: Heather and Jeff Rush from Pine Box Rock Shop

Last summer when I found my current apartment, one of the biggest perks was that I’d soon be living just around the corner from one of my favorite bars, Pine Box Rock Shop. The name and casket theme alone make it pretty cool — the space used to be a coffin factory — but there’s a lot more to it than that. The counters are lined with concert tickets that come from owners Heather and Jeff Rush and a handful of their friends and family. The seasonal drinks are named after bands and songs (they’re currently serving the Yardbird and the Brown-Eyed Girl). And everything served in the bar is vegan, from the house-made Baileys and bloody mary mix (they’re known for their exhaustive bloody mary menu, which include the Sunday Bloody Sunday, My Bloody Valentine and the Dr. Feelgood), to the empanadas provided by Park Slope’s V Spot restaurant. Not to mention they have a months-old concert and event space in the back and a huge, totally affordable drink selection. So when it came to planning ETB’s first-anniversary party (Oh? You haven’t heard I’m having a party next week?), picking the location was a no-brainer.

I chatted with owners Heather and Jeff Rush — a couple of musicians who moved to New York from Seattle in 2003 — about the challenges of keeping a vegan bar, what inspires their cocktails, and where all those concert tickets come from.

ON THIS SEASON’S MUSIC-THEMED DRINK SPECIALS
Heather: The Yardbird (Kanon organic vodka pickletini with house-made brine, served with a baby Gherkin): Pickletinis have already been a thing, but somebody wanted to try it with our spicy pickle brine so it’s our version with our spicy brine, which actually isn’t even pickle brine, it’s pepper brine. And I’ve been on a British Invasion kick so that’s how it got to be named the Yardbird. The Brown-Eyed Girl (Seagram’s 7 and Cointreau with a splash of apple juice, served on the rocks in a cinnamon/sugar-rimmed glass): It’s a stripped-down version of a Legends cocktail which was developed for Oprah. It’s kind of an homage to my friend who’s in Cuba right now, she’s a big Oprah fan and she’s also a brunette like me so that’s kind of my good-luck wish to her.

ON PINE BOX’S COCKTAIL PHILOSOPHY
Heather: Everybody’s doing super high-end, ’20s-style drinks and I want to do cocktails where a lot of the stuff is not super fussy. They’re fun, they’re fancy, but it’s not so hard that you couldn’t turn around and make this in your own kitchen.

ON THE CHALLENGES OF VEGAN WINE
Heather: The most tricky thing was finding a decent vegan wine. Most are usually refined with bone meal or egg white. We wanted to do vegan and local, and we were able to accomplish that with the white wine. The thing with vegan wineries is that they’re usually very young, so it takes a while for a winery to get its feet under it. So there’s no New York vegan red wine right now that I love — there might be some great ones out there, I just don’t know about them. But we managed to get Cycles Gladiator out of California. I’m hoping somebody actually picks up the gauntlet and does it here. I think most of the wineries out on Long Island are white wines anyway, but I think it’s gonna be a while before a really good New York vegan red wine comes out.

VEGAN BAILEYS? WHAT?
Heather: We use Soy Blenders vanilla soymilk, Absolut vanilla, Kahlua and Frangelico. It probably would be less likely to give you a hangover, and it’s not as creamy as Baileys but I think it mixes better for that reason. Baileys has a cloying sweetness and you could probably drink a little more of ours. It’s almost like a mudslide, and we mix it with root beer or Stoli or white Russians.

ON HOMEMADE PICKLE AND PEPPER BRINE
Heather: Jeff has two big vats, one for the super hot and one for the regular. There are habaneros and ghost peppers, Italian long peppers, dill, rosemary and garlic, and he’ll put two or three cucumbers in just for flavor. Then he slow cooks it for about five hours and lets it cool for two more hours. We’ll go through a gallon of pickle brine in a weekend. It’s crazy.

ON CHOOSING THE BAR’S SOUNDTRACK
Jeff: It’s mostly just music I like, music I download, music I own. I just develop playlists out of it. This is one of our afternoon playlists for more mellow times or [we have others for] more crazy-busy times. I just try to put a new selection on there every week or so, so there’s a ton for the bartenders to choose from.

ON THE BAR’S MOST MEMORABLE CONCERT TICKETS
Heather: We had two people who actually became friends of ours that showed up after a Gwar show, like 10 minutes before I was about to pour the resin over the bar. They were covered in Gwar goo and they proudly handed me their Gwar tickets and that was pretty cool. That and my Bumbershoot performer pass [from when my band played the festival] were pretty special.

ON GETTING THE MOST OUT OF THE BAR’S NEW-ISH BACK-ROOM PERFORMANCE SPACE
Jeff: I play some music with some friends of mine and we just started doing it back there recently. It’s been really cool to have the space to do that with. We have to do it during non-business hours, of course, so it’s earlier band practice than I’ve ever had in my life, but we’re all mid-30s now so we’re OK with that.

Vegetarian shepherd's pie

Veggie Shepherd’s Pie (Inspired by Strand of Oaks)

THE DISH
Vegetarian shepherd’s pie (recipe here)

THE INSPIRATION
I was introduced to Strand of Oaks (aka singer/songwriter Tim Showalter) through work, when we released his most recent album Pope Killdragon through our eMusic Selects program. I like that album plenty, but I admittedly have spent more time with his first release, 2008’s Leave Ruin, which was written after Showalter’s house burned down and his then-fiance broke up with him. A coworker recently referred to it as “cabin music,” and while the album wasn’t literally written in isolation in a cabin a la Bon Iver (it was on park benches and in the hotel he checked into after the fire), it evokes the same thing when Showalter sings, “This is what it feels like to see the world end in flames,” in his case quite literally. It’s a gorgeous album — hushed, sometimes-twangy vocals and a mix of clean electric and acoustic guitar — with lots of references to the cold and winter. In “Dogs of War” he sings, “I need you like I need the snow/ You feel much better than the cold,” and in another song he talks about a fur-lined coat. I recently learned that shepherd’s pie used to be called cottage pie; so the “cabin music” combined with the need for comfort while going through a bummer time like that makes this a perfect fit for Showalter’s music. It’s warm, filling and comforting — and if you are in need of some alone time, there’s certainly enough here to last you a few days.

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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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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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Stuffed Acorn Squash with The Loom

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 The Loom, performing their previously unreleased track “The Devil You Know” (get the free mp3 and read my feature on them here), and here is the stuffed acorn squash I made with the band. All photos by Evan Daniels.

THE DISH
Acorn squash stuffed with rice and veggies (recipe at the bottom)

THE INSPIRATION
I’m excited that we were able to time this post with Thanksgiving, because the Loom’s music is perfect for sitting around a big table with friends, and so is this dish. I first heard the Brooklyn-based folk-rock band last year, and it was their communal energy — shared vocals, two bandmembers playing percussion, and a song about having all your friends over to watch fireworks — that drew me to their music. Their songs are also very autumnal, with plenty lines that mention the changing of the seasons (there’s a gorgeous song on the band’s debut LP, Teeth, called “The First Freeze”). So when the band — John Fanning (guitar, vocals), Sarah Renfro (keyboard, vocals, percussion), Lis Rubard (trumpet, French horn), Dan DeSloover (bass, vocals) and Jon Alvarez (drums, vocals) — took over my kitchen last month, I wanted our meal to reflected that. We roasted acorn squash halves and used them as a bowl for a mix of veggies and wild rice (OK, technically it wasn’t “wild rice,” but the closest I could find at Trader Joe’s), and chowed down.

At least a few of the bandmembers are avid cooks: When they got together to hear the test-pressing of Teeth, Lis made baked eggs over portabella mushrooms and tomatoes, with waffles, and pimento cheese; Jon told me about how he learned how to can tomatoes after working on a farm for a summer.

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Celery & Sunflower Butter (Inspired by the Beach Boys)

THE DISH
Celery with homemade sunflower butter and golden raisins (recipe here)

THE INSPIRATION
So, the Beach Boys’ Smile came out last week… Kind of a big deal! (I recommend reading this if you don’t know the story behind it.) There’s a fun little song on there called “Vege-Tables,” and — a little bit of trivia — some of the “percussion” in it is made by Paul McCartney chewing celery. So, I made one of my childhood favorites (OK, I still pack this in my lunch sometimes), the delightful snack known as ants on a log: celery sticks for the same crunch in the song, topped with sunflower butter and sweet golden raisins for the Beach Boys’ infamous California harmonies.

I couldn’t find the version of “Vege-Tables” from The Smile Sessions, but you should be able to listen to it on Spotify here.

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Hot Pumpkin Soup (Inspired by Mirah)

THE DISH
Spicy pumpkin soup (recipe here)

THE INSPIRATION
Last Saturday after a super-short trip to Michigan, I was welcomed back to LaGuardia with snow. Snow! On October 29! Of course, it was the kind of snow that hit the ground and instantly turned to slush. And I couldn’t help but think of Mirah‘s song “Make It Hot” because of the lyric “The snow falls/ The snow’s all ugly/ When it hits the street,” and also “While We Have The Sun” (“Let’s take the time to walk together while we have the sun/ You never know when temperamental weather’s gonna come”). So, I made a spicy pumpkin soup to warm up from this grossness (thankfully, it’s mostly gone now); the peppers are to “make it hot” and the base is pumpkin because the snow came right in time for Halloween. There’s also some coconut milk in there for the sweetness in Mirah’s voice and her music in general.


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Golden Beet Salad (Inspired by the Wilderness of Manitoba)

THE DISH
Salad with golden beets (and a bunch of other things)

THE INSPIRATION
Toronto band the Wilderness of Manitoba make lovely folk music based on hushed harmonies and lush, organic arrangements. Their album When You Left The Fire was made for this time of year: They mention breezy nights (“Orono Park”), devils dancing in the trees (“November”), and crashing waves (“White Water”). There’s also a song called “Golden Beets,” so I wanted to make a dish centered around those lovely beets that do not make a big, fuchsia-colored mess. It needed to be hearty and have a lot of components (kale! pomegranate seeds! apples!), because their songs have many textures and layers; but it had to be made from simple, natural ingredients, because the instrumentation is mostly acoustic. And we added sunflower seeds because Manitoba is Canada’s largest sunflower seed producer (and they taste good). Check out the video below; obviously quite perfect for ringing in November.

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Apple and Broccoli Soup (Inspired by Fleet Foxes)

THE DISH
Apple and broccoli soup (recipe here)

THE INSPIRATION
I’ve said it before, but what I miss most about the Midwest in the fall is apple orchards and cider mills. I remember school apple-picking field trips as far back as preschool (the photo to the right is of my sister circa 1991-92): taking a tractor-pulled wagon ride through the orchard, getting dropped off near sectioned-off area for different varieties of apples, then eating them right off the tree as we filled our bags.

There are a couple songs on Fleet Foxes’ Helplessness Blues with references to apple orchards: In the title track, Robin Pecknold sings, “If I had an orchard I’d work till I’m raw/ If I had an orchard I’d work till I’m sore,” and in “The Shrine/An Argument,” it’s “Apples in the summer are cold and sweet” and later in the song “Green apples hang from my tree/ They belong only to me.” But quite a few parts of the album make me think about my childhood besides just the references to apples. The album opens with, “So now I am older/ Than my mother and father, when they had their daughter/ Now what does that say about me?” And then in the title track, Pecknold sings, “I was raised up believing I was somehow unique/ Like a snowflake distinct among snowflakes, unique in each way you can see/ And now after some thinking I’d say I’d rather be/ A functioning cog in some great machinery, serving something beyond me,” and then he goes on to say he doesn’t know yet what exactly that will be or where he’ll end up. Something like this was mentioned in the recent New York Magazine cover story about today’s 20-somethings — like Pecknold and myself — and I know a ton of us can relate in that we’re all trying to figure out where we’re supposed to be in the world and what our bigger purpose is. We’re remembering that we were always told we’re special and can do big things with our lives, and sometimes realizing that that might mean contributing to a bigger project or cause rather than simply working toward what we want on our own.

So, the food: My best friend Jenni came to visit a couple weeks ago, and even though our plans to actually go apple-picking fell through, we decided to go forward with the apple-themed dinner we’d planned. I wouldn’t say we worked till we were sore, like in the song, but we certainly worked hard: apple-honey challah, salad, apple-pear crisp, and this soup as the main dish. Fleet Foxes are the ultimate fall band, and my falls are typically all soup all the time, so that part was easy. You’re probably thinking broccoli and apple sounds like a strange combination, or assuming that this is a sweet dish — but it’s actually mostly savory and the apples add just a touch of sweetness (and I’d consider most of Fleet Foxes’ music savory, but with sweetness in the harmonies). The apples are roasted in olive oil, thyme, sage, salt and pepper — definitely not your typical cinnamon and nutmeg. And, the soup is vegan since Pecknold is, too.

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