Peanut Noodles with Edamame, Carrots & Flowers (Inspired by Neutral Milk Hotel)

Peanut noodles with carrots and edible flowers

Perhaps Neutral Milk Hotel doesn’t conjure up images of Asian noodle entrées, but go with us here. Jeff Mangum’s lyrics are at once deeply moving and direct, while also abstract, obtuse and occasionally just plain odd. “When you were young you were the King of Carrot Flowers” is arguably the most memorable line of In the Aeroplane Over the Sea and inspiration, it seems, can be incredibly simple. “King of Carrot Flowers” Pts. One-Three was the muse for our dish where carrots take center stage. We tossed in some edible flowers for good measure (more out of aesthetic interests — they were a tad bitter for our tastes) and then scratched our heads for a good while and pondered.

“King of Carrot Flowers Pt. One” rides along on the strength of Mangum’s voice and engaging lyrics. The carrots, cucumbers and edamame are just as simple and as refreshing as the melody. Imagine that the noodles are “holy rattlesnakes” and you’re good to go. Transition into Pts. Two & Three and things get more complicated. After Mangum pronounces his love for “you” (or is it for Jesus Christ? Has anyone figured that one out?), the fuzzed-out bass kicks in and the sound gets nice and muddy, almost as if it were covered in a delicious peanut-based dressing. The curry paste and chili powder kick things up a notch as the band goes wild, trumpets blaring, bass crunching, and drums thumping like angry giants. Still, the real focus is the interaction between the peanut butter dressing and the carrots, which just seem to work well together. We wanted to sneak a few peas into the recipe and make a lame pun involving “A Baby for Pree,” but the edamame fit much more naturally. Anyway, make this at a family gathering and have your mom stick a fork right into it (as opposed to daddy’s shoulder). And that is officially the last bad joke.

The new Neutral Milk Hotel vinyl box set (released last fall) compiles pretty much all of their music, spanning two 12″ records, two 10″ EPs, three 7″ singles and two posters. On top of that, Jeff Mangum has been making more and more public appearances and playing concerts here and there. Anticipation over the band’s prodigal return is quite high (and perhaps far too hopeful), but what better time to revisit some of the best music from the last 20 years? Better yet, what better time to eat some carrots and noodles?

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Blood orange cupcakes

Vegan Blood Orange Champagne Cupcakes (Inspired by Blood Orange)

Vegan blood orange cupcakes with blood orange champagne buttercream

This one’s pretty simple! Blood Orange is the prolific Dev Hynes (who’s also performed as Lightspeed Champion, and has written and/or produced songs for Solange Knowles, Florence & the Machine and Theophilus London), and last year he put out an awesome dance-rock album Coastal Grooves (think TV on the Radio, Holy Ghost!, ’80s pop). The last song on the record is called “Champagne Coast,” so these cupcakes — which I made for the ETB party last week — are flavored with blood oranges, and the frosting has champagne in it. The actual cupcakes certainly could have champagne in them, too — in fact, the only reason they don’t is because I spaced out and totally forgot about it… (Maybe it was that whole “OMG I have to make a few hundred cupcakes” thing that made me forget…) So, both versions are below.

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ETB Party Recap + Red Wine Chocolate Cinnamon Cupcakes

Well, you guys are AWESOME. The first-anniversary party on Tuesday night was absolutely perfect. A huge THANK YOU to everyone who came out — I’m still glowing and totally overwhelmed by all your support, not just this week but for the last year. I especially would like to thank Heather and Jeff Pine Box Rock Shop for letting a total stranger throw a party in their bar; Jocelyn, Jeremy and Emily from Pearl and the Beard for picking the tunes (come hang with me at their show on Feb. 16!); my friend Tony for helping me make 300 tiny cupcakes and keeping me sane; and the amazing Missy Kayko for lending her badass design talents to the event poster. Check out a few photos from the party below, and find the rest on ETB’s Facebook page. (All photos here by Evan Daniels except for top photo and the first two after the cut). The bar recreated Jocelyn’s Good Winter cocktail and it was amazing; and you guys made a pretty decent dent in those cupcakes… but I don’t think the eMusic office was complaining about the leftovers on Wednesday!

I’m also sharing the recipe for the vegan red wine chocolate cinnamon cupcakes I made; recipe at the bottom! (Blood orange cupcake recipe coming later…)

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

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

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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)

Vegetarian shepherd’s pie (recipe here)

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)

Mitten/Michigan-shaped gingerbread cookies

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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