Sweet & Salty Bourbon Blondies + a few songs by supergroups

Sweet & salty bourbon blondies

THE DISH
Blondies loaded with Momofuku chocolate “crumbs,” caramel, and bourbon

THE INSPIRATION
I recently participated in my first Tumblr Eat Up, in which a ton of Tumblr-ers are assigned a person somewhere in the country to bake and send treats to. My Eat Up buddy Alexis also lives in New York, and happens to be one of the ladies who started the Eat Up, so I couldn’t bake just any treats and throw in a couple of compost cookies from Momofuku Milk Bar to impress her — I had to do something just a little bit over the top. So I combined three elements from New York foodie staples: Momofuku Milk Bar (chocolate crumbs, which are used in several of their desserts), Baked (caramel and the method used in the Red Hook, Brooklyn, bakery’s famous sweet-and-salty brownies), and a recipe for blondies from the great Smitten Kitchen. I’m pairing them with a few songs from supergroups, since the best ones take great pieces from other projects and combine them into something that’s different, but can sometimes be just as special. These blondies are rich and gooey and possibly one of the most amazing treats to come out of this kitchen.

THE SONGS

Wild Flag, “Romance” (from Wild Flag): Carrie Brownstein and Janet Weiss from Sleater-Kinney, with Mary Timony (Helium) and Rebecca Cole (The Minders). Their self-titled debut was my favorite album of 2011 and this is my favorite song from it. Also, this video rules.

Traveling Wilburys, “Handle With Care” (from Traveling Wilburys, Vol. 1): Bob Dylan, George Harrison, Jeff Lynne, Roy Orbison, Tom Petty. Can you fit more songwriting legends into one album? This is one of those songs that I’d heard all my life but for the longest time didn’t know who wrote it. Glad I got that figured out.

The Dead Weather, “Treat Me Like Your Mother” (from Horehound): Jack White (The White Stripes, The Raconteurs, solo), Alison Mosshart (The Kills), Dean Fertita (Queens of the Stone Age, The Raconteurs), Jack Lawrence (The Greenhornes, The Raconteurs). As far as Jack White projects go, The Dead Weather added some fierceness that I think was missing from The Raconteurs, mostly thanks to Alison Mosshart.

The New Pornographers, “Sweet Talk, Sweet Talk” (from Together): Most notably Carl “A.C.” Newman (Zumpano, solo), Neko Case (solo) and Dan Bejar (Destroyer). Seeing this band live (especially when Case and Bejar are on tour with them, which isn’t all the time) makes me so, so happy.

The Living Sisters, “How Are You Doing?” (from Love to Live): Inara George (the bird and the bee, solo), Eleni Mandell (solo) and Becky Stark (Lavender Diamond). A couple years ago, these three ladies put out out a collection of sweet, harmony-heavy folk songs.

Recipe for sweet & salty bourbon blondies

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Breakfast at Roebling Tea Room with Midtown Dickens

Midtown Dickens

Midtown Dickens are a Durham, North Carolina-based folk group who thrive on a ragtag mix of acoustic instruments and twangy harmonies. (When I saw them in Brooklyn a while back, I had trouble keeping track of who was playing what because they all switched instruments after nearly every song.) They just released Home, their third and most focused record: The vocals and production are more polished, but they keep the charm and playfulness of their earlier work.

The band was in town a couple weeks ago to play a show with Retribution Gospel Choir, and like I did with their Trekky Records labelmates Lost in the Trees a while back, we met up for breakfast before they played a show at Barnard and headed back south.

Over beets and eggs, lox, and a huge baked pancake at Williamsburg’s Roebling Tea Room, I chatted with multi-instrumentalists (and fellow mostly-vegetarians) Kym Register, Catherine Edgerton and Will Hackney about the “food-service mafia,” Will’s uncommon and seriously fascinating taste buds, and the food that reminds them of home.

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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.

Recipe for orange sesame mandel bread

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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

Recipe for citrus ginger sweet tea

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Portobello Nests with Pear-Onion Jam (Inspired by Shearwater)

Portobello nests

THE DISH
Roasted portobello mushrooms with greens, goat cheese and pear-onion jam

THE INSPIRATION
I’ve been spending a lot of time with Shearwater lately, which might have a little something to do with the fact that my boyfriend has a huge crush on Jonathan Meiburg, but also because I finally spent a little more time with their album that came out earlier this year, Animal Joy. While Animal Joy got my attention pretty quickly, their overall catalog might take a little more time — a lot of the songs build slowly, like the opener on 2008′s Rook, “On The Death Of The Waters”: It begins with Meiburg’s voice and a piano, then halfway through explodes with heavy guitars, drums, horns and woodwinds.

That album is perhaps their best known, and it combines the dramatic, majestic music with haunting lyrics about life, death and nature — “Rooks” is essentially about a bird apocalypse (side note: Meiburg is an ornithologist), and probably the most relevant to this dish. We made “nests” using portobello mushrooms and cooked kale and arugula, but they don’t have anything in them that resembles eggs because all the birds are gone from their nests (and dead). The pear-onion jam on top takes a long time to cook as the flavors blend together and it gets better with time, and the onions go from spicy to sweet as they soften and caramelize on the stove — not too far off from how it can take a while for Shearwater’s music to sink in, there are so many layers that go into each song, and as a whole, the music has gone from grim to an album that even has “joy” in its title. That’s not to say Animal Joy is a uniformly happy record, but it doesn’t feel so heavy and there are more moments of driving rock. Also, you need to listen to the song “Animal Life,” as it makes my head explode in a way that very few songs have done; kind of like what I felt the first time I listened to Owen Pallett/Final Fantasy.

Recipe for portobello nests and pear-onion jam

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Eggs in Clouds with Gabriel & the Hounds (Inspired by Kate Bush)

Eggs in clouds

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 Gabriel & the Hounds, performing a cover of Kate Bush’s “Hounds of Love” (download the free mp3 and read my feature on the band here), and here’s the egg in a cloud I made with Gabe Levine. All photos by Dominick Mastrangelo.

THE DISH
Cheesy eggs in clouds

Gabriel & the HoundsTHE INSPIRATION
This dish comes from the song “Cloudbusting” on Kate Bush’s Hounds of Love, an album that inspired Gabriel & the Hounds’ band name (Gabe also covered that album’s title track — download it for free over at Brooklyn Based). I knew I wanted something that looked like clouds, which often, unfortunately, is going to mean egg whites. If you’ve kept up with this site for a while, you know that I’m not very good with egg whites. And I’ll tell you up front: I’m still not very good with egg whites, and this dish was mostly a failure, certainly because of my faulty egg white-beating and not the recipe.

Me: Oh noooo! I think I fucked it up!
Gabe: How is that possible?
Me: I don’t know! I think now they’re over-beaten? Fuck! Fuck, fuck! Nooooo! … I can’t believe this just happened. Actually, I can totally believe this just happened.

Apologies for the foul language, but, that’s about how it went down. But hey, even decent normally-decent cooks screw up, and Gabe made a good point when he said, “I like that it didn’t work. I think it makes a lot more sense to me that way. I love that you took the challenge on. ‘Oh yeah, we’ll just do the egg whites,’ ’cause you needed to do [a recipe] that has to do with clouds. You’ll conquer the egg whites.” He also thinks Kate Bush would appreciate it: “All of her songs are about things falling apart, anyway.” So, many thanks to Gabe for the encouragement!

Anyway, one there was enough successfully-beaten egg white goo to make just one of these little guys, and it turned out perfectly — crispy along the edges, with a runny yolk in the middle (Get it? Cloud-busting? I know, I know).

Recipe for eggs in clouds

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My Favorite Record of 2012 is Out Today!

Allo Darlin' Europe

When we got an advance copy of Allo Darlin‘s album Europe at work a few months ago, more than half of our five-person editorial team were almost brought to tears at first listen. (The UK indiepop band’s debut almost topped our best of 2010 list, so to say it was highly anticipated would be an understatement.) There are records that have grabbed me instantly, but there has not been another that’s turned my world upside-down as quickly as this one did, and still does with every repeated listen. Elizabeth Morris is a genius songwriter who knows how to write about love in a way that makes sense to me, and it’s scary how closely I can relate to so many of her songs on both the band’s records.

Anyway, I wrote a super-long review of it over at eMusic if you’d like a more eloquent explanation of why it’s the best, but here are a couple of videos to get you started:

And if you like what you hear, they are playing in New York next week (April 24) at Mercury Lounge, and you can check out the rest of their tourdates here.

Q&A: Bake It in a Cake’s Megan Seling

Whatchamacallit brownie

Megan SelingIn October 2010, I came across a recipe for pumpkin pie cupcakes — as in, tiny pumpkin pies baked into cupcakes. It came from Bake It in a Cake, a cupcake blog then only a couple months old, and my friend Amanda and I decided we needed to try make them ASAP. We did it, and they were magical. The blog is run by Megan Seling, who has spent the last year and a half baking all kinds of candies and baked goods into cupcakes: baklava, peanut butter cups, Cadbury eggs, Whatchamacallit bars (pictured above, courtesy of Seling), the list goes on.

Her day job, though, is at Seattle alt-weekly The Stranger, where she’s been working since 2000. Seling began as an intern and a columnist, covering the city’s all-ages music scene; now she still covers music, as well as other local cultural happenings. I chatted with her about what she’s been listening to, the crazy things people have made inspired by Bake It in a Cake, and the latest news about her forthcoming cookbook.

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Chewy Granola Bars + 10 Bands to See at Coachella

Granola bars

THE DISH
Better-than-store-bought chewy granola bars (recipe here)

THE INSPIRATION
Coachella weekend one (of two) starts Friday, and while I’m not going (totally can’t handle the camping-festival thing…plus that tiny detail that it’s on the other side of the country from me), I thought those of you who are might want an easy-to-make treat for the road, breakfast during the weekend, whatever. These granola bars are simple and filling — great for kickstarting a long day without regularly timed meals (if you’re anything like me at a festival). And you might even be able to make them with stuff you already have stocked in your pantry.

10 BANDS TO SEE AT COACHELLA

M83: M83′s epic Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming was one of my favorite albums last year, and I have no doubts that its huge sound would have no problem reaching a massive crowd in the dessert. [Recipe: Funfetti frog cupcakes]

Jeff Mangum: Who could’ve expected that in 2012 Jeff Mangum would be playing Coachella? I’d be a little skeptical about how a performance from the former Netural Milk Hotel frontman would translate to a huge, outdoor festival, but after seeing his breathtaking show at New York’s Town Hall back in October, it actually makes sense. He sang out, encouraged the crowd to sing along, and genuinely looked like he was having a great time. [Recipe: Peanut noodles with edamame, carrots and flowers, inspired by Neutral Milk Hotel]

Bon Iver: The last (and only) time I saw Bon Iver was in July 2008 at Music Hall of Williamsburg, and to hear this band at festivals back then would have been really weird/probably wouldn’t have really worked. Obviously things have changed a bit since then, and I regret not seeing the louder, fuller version of this band last year. [Recipe: Butternut squash pancakes with maple goat cheese spread and candied walnuts]

First Aid Kit: Swedish sisters Johanna and Klara Soderberg make folk songs with simple instrumentation and gorgeous harmonies. Their record that came out this year, The Lion’s Roar, is lovely. [Featured in beer + music pairings: Fall 2011]

Laura Marling: British singer/songwriter Laura Marling has been a favorite of mine for a few years now — since her first record Alas, I Cannot Swim, written when she was 16, she’s continuously developing her voice, both in terms of her maturing songwriting and the way she sings. The ’70s-leaning songs from last year’s A Creature I Don’t Know, will be refreshing. [Featured in beer + music pairings: Winter 2012]

St. Vincent: Annie Clark’s sound has taken quite a journey since her 2007 debut Marry Me, and her shows have too — though what’s remained constant has been her velvety alto and her status as one of the finest guitarists in recent memory. On stage she gets lost in her guitar, which I’m sure will be especially intense during some of the harder-edged songs from last year’s Strange Mercy.

Tune-Yards: What haven’t I already said about Tune-Yards? Merrill Garbus is powerful enough on last year’s w h o k i l l, but even if you’re not totally into her albums, her live show is a whole ‘nother animal, as Garbus uses looping pedals to build up ukulele riffs, drum beats and abrasive, abstract vocals. [Recipe: Berry-banana muffins + body issues]

Sleeper Agent: Sleeper Agent are a group of sugar-high pop-punk kids from Bowling Green, Kentucky, and their debut album Celabrasion is a total blast.

We Are Augustines: We Are Augustines’ 2011 debut Rise Ye Sunken Ships comes from a dark place (it was inspired by frontman Billy McCarthy’s younger brother James, who struggled with mental illness before taking his own life; which their mother had done years before), but like on the album, the Brooklyn band turns it into an empowering story about passion and strength. [Recipe: Blackberry/peach/ginger popsicles]

Wild Flag: Wild Flag is made up of former Sleater-Kinney bandmates Carrie Brownstein and Janet Weiss, with Mary Timony (Helium) and Rebecca Cole (the Minders) and I wrote about why I love them so much here. They pretty much melted my face off when I saw them live last fall. [Recipe: Whiskey chocolate balls inspired by Sleater-Kinney]

Recipe for chewy granola bars

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Sweet Potato Whoopie Pies (Inspired by James Taylor)

Whoopie pies

Earlier this year, my friend Daphne Carr launched a Kickstarter project to publish the Best Music Writing book series independently, through her new music-focused press Feedback Press. (BMW is an anthology of the year’s best conversation about music, in the form of features, essays, reviews, blog posts, etc.) One of the pledge options toward the project’s $15,000 goal was for me to bake treats inspired by the artist or song of the backer’s choice, and this was the first of the two purchased, inspired by James Taylor’s “Carolina In My Mind.”

THE DISH
Sweet potato whoopie pies with maple cream cheese frosting and candied pecans

THE INSPIRATION
James Taylor grew up in North Carolina and he wrote his hit song “Carolina In My Mind” when he was homesick overseas. I chose sweet potatoes because North Carolina is the No. 1 producer of them in the U.S., so they might help with a little bit of homesickness. And while I was brainstorming for this, my aunt unknowingly (via Facebook — thanks, Aunt Linda!) tipped me off to videos of James Taylor baking pecan pies and maple sugaring, so I made the sweet potato whoopie pies, then rolled them in pecans that I candied with maple syrup and brown sugar.

Recipe for sweet potato whoopie pies with cream cheese filling and candied pecans

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