Friday, November 30, 2012

Playlist: Unconventional Xmas

"Tomorrow, I'm going to get into the Christmas own way."

Thanksgiving has passed. I don’t know about the rest of you, but I’m not ready to jump into the Christmas spirit with both feet. So I made a bizarre little playlist to ease into the holiday. Whether you’re sick of traditional Christmas music and want a change, or just love love love all things Christmas, these are fun, interesting songs, and I think you’ll enjoy them. This is the kind of playlist you listen to with headphones while you wait for the bus.

I tend to feel that way about most playlists.

In any case, after preparing and listening to my Unconventional Christmas Playlist, I suddenly crave snow. I think that’s a sign of success!

Most of these songs qualify as indie rock or folk, but I threw in some other gems. The first song is J-pop. Nothing says “Christmas” like J-pop! (Who knew?!) 

1. Shonen Knife- Sweet Christmas
2. Dressy Bessy- Hopped Up (on Xmas)
3. The Polyphonic Spree- A Working Elf’s Theme
4. Frightened Rabbit- It’s Christmas So We’ll Stop 2008 (Remixed by David Karsten Daniels)
5. Arthur & Yu- My White Elephant
6. Slow Club- Christmas TV
7. The Raveonettes- Christmas Ghosts
8. The Be Good Tanyas- Rudy
9. Of Montreal- Christmas Isn’t Safe For Animals
10. Deer Tick- Holy S%!t, It’s Christmas!
11. The Four Corners- My Gift To You (It’s Me)
12. The Weepies- All That I Want

It’s Christmas So We’ll Stop and Rudy have exceptionally beautiful (and sad) lyrics.
Check them out:

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Eat Your Veggies: Southwestern Baked Potatoes

"Tomorrow, I'm going to eat more vegetables."

"Eat Your Veggies" is a pseudo-weekly series featuring easy, seasonal veggie recipes.  

This recipe was invented as the result of my attempts to create a seasonally appropriate Taco Salad recipe, one that did not rely on fresh lettuce and tomatoes as its backbone.  I ended up morphing it into a vaguely southwestern type of baked potato.  

Instead of lettuce, I used crunchy cabbage mixed with beans, seasoned with a paprika olive oil dressing.  I’ll admit that back in the day, I dismissed cabbage.  Before I started cooking with it I thought of it as bland and uninteresting.  Yet when cooked properly (as in not boiled into stringy oblivion) its actually really sweet and plays well with many genres of food. I thought it was a good choice for the somewhat mexican flavors in this dish.

Southwestern Baked Potatoes
Serves 4

4 medium russet potatoes
½ head green or napa cabbage, diced
2 cans black beans
½ cup cheddar cheese, grated
1 ripe avocado, sliced
olive oil

½ cup extra virgin olive oil
½ teaspoon dried rosemary
½ teaspoon dried thyme
½ teaspoon dried oregano
2 teaspoons paprika
2 medium garlic cloves, finely chopped
pinch of red pepper flakes
¼ teaspoon sea salt flakes
1 tablespoon lemon juice

Prick potatoes all over with a fork.  Bake in a 400F degree oven until easily pierced with a fork (about 45min- 1 ½ hours, depending on the size of your potatoes)

Make dressing: gently heat olive oil over medium low heat until warm.  Add all other ingredients and let the flavors blend while you prepare the rest of the dish.

Saute cabbage in a few tablespoons olive oil over medium heat until just tender.  Add dressing and black beans.  Cook until heated through.  

Cut open baked potato and top with cabbage/bean mixture.  Garnish with cheese and avocado.

Source: Dressing adapted from

Friday, November 23, 2012

Genre Love: Early 1900s Blues

“Tomorrow, I’m going to learn about the origins of blues music.”

For my research into the most influential blues artists, I listened to as many of these particular artists as I could find. I chose the songs for this week’s playlist when I had a strong emotional reaction to them, or a physical response, as I frequently found myself bobbing and swaying.

Because of the genre’s name, the blues has a reputation as the music of heartbreak, but an incredible variety of subjects are represented in these songs. “Love Lost” is a strong theme. However, there are many songs about poverty, crime, railroads, and other aspects of life as a black man in the late 1800s and early 1900s.

The artists I’ve listed below are so incredible, on the first night of my research I stayed up way later than I should have because I wanted to listen to more and more. Don’t you love that I can use the present tense (“are incredible”)? We are so fortunate to have recorded music.

With my playlist, I’ve included links to excellent biographies of these affecting blues artists.

1. Memphis Jug Band- Insane Crazy Blues
2. W.C. Handy- St. Lewis Blues
3. Frank Stokes- Tain’t Nobody’s Bizness If I Do
4. Furry Lewis- Billy Lyons And Stack O’lee
5. Blind Blake- Come On Boys Let’s Do That Messin’ Around
6. Mississippi John Hurt- Louis Collins
7. Henry Thomas- Jonah in the Wilderness
8. Gus Cannon- Walk Right In
9. Big Bill Broonzy- Trouble in Mind
10. Blind Lemon Jefferson- Hangman’s Blues
11. Charlie Patton- Banty Rooster Blues

12. Robert Johnson- When You Got a Good Friend

Other useful websites:

Friday, November 16, 2012

No More Guilty Pleasures: What I’ve Learned From Spotify

Since I started listening to music through Spotify, I’ve thought a lot about the nature of guilty pleasures. Spotify settings allow the user to choose whether or not to share with facebook. Sharing, in this case, means each song I listen to is listed in the update feed and the most listened to are published to my wall. I decided to leave sharing on because I believe music should be social.

This sort of publicity holds me accountable to claims I’ve always made about music:

1.) I like all kinds of music.
2.) I have no guilty pleasures.
3.) I don’t judge others for their music preferences.

When I’ve asked the question, “What kind of music do you like?” most people I’ve talked to have made statement #1. The distinction has to be made, here, between liking all genres and liking all genres equally. I enjoy variety in music, but I’ve found that the more I experiment with different genres, the more I can pinpoint favorites. Public visibility of my listening habits encourages me to branch out and listen to something different everytime I turn on my computer (or steal my dad’s iPad), which, then, helps me more specifically answer the question, “What kind of music do you like?”

Speaking of my dad, like me and pretty much every other human, he used to claim that he had no guilty pleasures. Sure, sometimes discussions of songs would require a preface: “I know it’s not a good song, but...” So, really, who were we kidding when we said we had no shame when it comes to music? When my dad got an iPad, the first thing I did was download the Spotify app. First, my dad agreed with me that it’s pretty awesome, and then something horrible happened. He “accidentally” (suuure, Dad) listened to a Taylor Swift song and there it was on facebook: Gary is listening to We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together by Taylor Swift. Suddenly my dad had to think about all his colleagues and high school friends that watched as that update crawled up their screen.

Do you have any guilty pleasures? Most people do, and that’s why you shouldn’t care. Even if you repeatedly listen to a track of a screeching sound, and that’s it, I say good for you. Maybe listening to a screeching sound on repeat triggers a euphoric feeling, and I never would have known if you hadn’t shared that track.

Accept the challenge.

(Note: I plan to experiment with other music streaming services and I’ll let you know how it goes.)

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Pumpkin Muffins: Thoughts on a Trend

 “Tomorrow, I am going to make something pumpkin flavored.”

A couple years ago, I began to notice that pumpkin flavored things were popping up more and more in the fall.  It started with just baked goods, and pumpkin spice lattes.  This year, I saw ice cream, beer, wine, tea, prepackaged puddings and snack cakes, cookies and everything.  I suspect this is all an attempt to cash in on the wild popularity of Starbucks’ Pumpkin Spice Latte.  

I have loved PSLs for many years, but the trend seems to be getting a little outrageous this year.  The manufactured pumpkin items seem to be drowning in sugar and spice, without much pumpkin flavor. And too much of it makes it so much less special. Since we’ve mostly lost our connection to the natural world, its like food manufacturers have to shove these artificial seasonal flavorings in our faces to remind us what time of year it is. This trend seems to be fairly limited to the US:

I think that pumpkin has its place alongside other fall flavors, but I’m a traditionalist. When I want something pumpkin flavored, I start with good old pumpkin puree.  I make my own (two pumpkins worth), and use canned pumpkin after I run out.   And “Pumpkin Pie Spice” is actually just a variable combo of cinnamon, ginger, cloves, allspice and nutmeg (usually).  If you have these, you have pumpkin pie spice already.

This fall, I made these delicious pumpkin muffins.  In my experience, pumpkin is best utilized in baked goods.  It adds a delightful moistness, and sneaking a vegetable into baked things is never a bad idea.  I topped my muffins with roasted pumpkin seeds, and ate them with Earl Grey on a chilly afternoon. That is fall.

Friday, November 9, 2012

A Cozy Morning: Pumpkin Baked Oatmeal

 I’ve been wanting to make some baked oatmeal for a long time.  It seemed like such a cozy, inviting notion for a fall breakfast.  (Or brunch, as the case may be for us night owls.) And pumpkin seemed like a natural fall fit, as well as a way to sneak in some vegetable nutrition.

I chose a recipe that was relatively simple.  I didn’t want to use multiple kinds of oats, any kind of dried fruit (not my favorite), or any other expensive bells and whistles.  This recipe is essentially just steel cut oats, pumpkin, milk, water, sugar and spices. Nice and simple, and it doesn’t make excessive amounts, since I was only cooking for myself and my breakfast hating boyfriend.

The simplicity of this dish made for a relaxing weekend morning.  It was beautifully sunny, and light was streaming into the kitchen as I got up and prepared the oatmeal. I popped it in the oven, and then lounged about answering emails while spicy, squashy aromas wafted around me.  It seems impossible to start the day in a quieter or more peaceful way.

The results were delicious.  I was concerned with how watery things were coming out of the oven, but everything thickened up within a few minutes.  It tasted thick, rich, and spicy, just like pumpkin pie.  Literally. Almost too much like pumpkin pie for breakfast.  I would love to make more baked oatmeal in the future, but I think I will stick to less sweet, desserty variations.

Pumpkin Baked Oatmeal  

2 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided
1 cup steel cut oats
1 cup pumpkin or squash puree
1/3 cup brown sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon ginger
1/2 teaspoon cloves
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1 ¾ cups milk
2 cups warm water
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 teaspoon salt

Heat the oven to 375°F. In a large, oven safe saucepan or Dutch over, melt 1 tablespoon of the butter over medium-high heat.  Stir in the oats and saute until they smell toasty.
Push the oats up against the side of the pan, and melt the second tablespoon of butter in the now clear center of the pan. Add the pumpkin puree. Fry it in the butter, only stirring after about a minute. Stir in the sugar and spices and continue frying the puree for another 3 to 4 minutes.
Pour in the milk, water, vanilla and salt and whisk everything to combine. Cover the pan and put it in the oven. Bake for 35 minutes. Take the pan out of the oven, and carefully lift the lid. Stir the oatmeal. It will look quite loose still, but the oats should be tender. The oatmeal will thicken rapidly as it cools.

Source: adapted from Not Your Mother's Casseroles by Faith Durand, via

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Eat Your Veggies: Nutty Bacon-Broccoli Salad

We're good for you!
Eat Your Veggies is a pseudo-weekly series highlighting interesting ways of incorporating more vegetables into your diet.  There seems to be a wide swath of opinions on what a healthy diet is, but I think everybody can agree that veggies should be a big part of it! Plus unprocessed, plant based foods use less resources to produce and package than meat or things that come in boxes.  

I grew up with "salad" pretty much always meaning lettuce, green onions, and tomatoes, topped with ranch dressing.  And I'm not ashamed to admit thats pretty much always what I make now. But it grows tiresome, and those ingredients aren't always very good in the late fall and winter.  So, I turned to a broccoli salad to make a seasonally appropriate change to my side dish routine.  Broccoli is a great "starter" vegetable because it carries other flavors well without being too assertive.  Its also pleasantly crunchy, colorful, and keeps for a long time in the fridge.  

This dish consisted of broccoli and shallots, which were lightly sauteed in the drippings on one bacon slice.  The bacon added a slight meaty note to everything that I really enjoyed, but certainly isn't necessary if meat isn't your bag.  The dressing was creamy, garlicky, nutty, and sweet.  

Nutty, creamy, and full of shadows.
There was a lot going on in this dish.  While it was supposed to be a side dish, its complexity of flavor and texture easily eclipsed the lackluster butternut squash casserole that I served it with.  It pretty much saved the meal, and even caused my mom to reevaluate her negative opinion of peanut butter as a component of non-sandwich foods!

So maybe you don't like veggies.  But if you like peanut sauce, bacon or garlic, give this salad a try.  It could change everything!

Nutty Bacon-Broccoli Salad

2 large heads broccoli, cut into florets (3-4 cups)
1 largish shallot, sliced
1 bacon slice
Dressing: ¼ cup creamy peanut butter

2 cloves garlic
3 tablespoon lemon juice
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon honey
about 2 tablespoons warm water
1 apple (I used Golden Delicious, but any kind you enjoy eating raw is fine), sliced
Handful of slivered, toasted almonds

Fry the bacon slice over medium high heat until extra crispy.  Remove, let cool and crumble.

Add the shallot to the pan with the bacon grease and saute until it starts to get soft.  Add broccoli and stir fry until broccoli is warm and just beginning to get tender.  (It is better to err on the side of undercooked)

Meanwhile, combine peanut butter, garlic, lemon juice, olive oil and honey in a small food processor (or blender, or you could just mince the garlic and whisk the ingredients together).  Process until smooth.  Add warm water as necessary to achieve a creamy yet spreadable consistency.  

Transfer hot broccoli to a large serving bowl and toss with dressing.  Top with apple slices, almonds, and crumbled bacon.  

This is vegan if you leave out the bacon. Stir fry the veggies in olive oil instead.
This is stricter vegan if you replace the honey with agave nectar.

(adapted from 101Cookbooks)

Monday, November 5, 2012

Normandy Apple Tart: Homemade Is Worth It

This tart comes from Dorie Greenspan's Baking: From my Home to Yours. I'm trying to bake my way through it, inspired by the group Tuesdays with Dorie. I've decided that I won't share unmodified recipes from this book, since I use it so heavily it seems rather unethical to do so. However, I still want to share tips and tricks and hope that you will be inspired my creations to do some baking of your own.  Ms. Greenspan's easy instructions and guidance have really made me the confident baker I am today, so I encourage you to buy the book if you're interested in recipes.
Anyway, today's lovely creation is called a Normandy Apple Tart, named after an apple loving region of France. It is three parts: tart crust, apple sauce, and sliced apples.  For each component, you are offered a choice: make your own or buy it. (Yes, you can even buy pre-sliced apples. Please don't.) I made my own, and encourage you to do so whenever possible.  But why bother?

Are the apples ugly, or is it just my counter?

Homemade is almost always superior in quality, and frequently easier on your pocket book. It also greatly reduces the amount of packaging in your kitchen. All the foil, plastic, and cardboard that surrounds pre-made food is a pervasive and often overlooked contributor to your carbon footprint. 

Making applesauce was much simpler than I had anticipated.  My CSA gave me a big bag of tiny, rather ugly apples that were just begging to be sauced.  Unfortunately, according to Make the Bread, Buy the Butter, by Jennifer Reese, homemade is slightly more expensive than storebought, provided you don't have an apple tree of your own.  Homemade certainly tastes more expensive, with a much thicker texture, richer apple flavor, and a delightful pink color from the peels.

Apples +

The recipe called for a crust made of pâté sucre, a sweet tart dough I've made many times. It tastes like a shortbread cookie, and uses over a stick of butter. The last time I used it,  the resulting tart was just too damned rich, forcing me to eat only the slightest sliver at a time. Thats probably the proper French way of ingesting a tart, but I'm an American and we like giant, inelegant slices.  More practically, it ended up going bad far before we could eat most of it, and I don't like wasting things. So I decided that I need an alternate recipe for tart crust.

This time, I used a tart dough recipe I usually use for quiches and other savory tarts. It uses less butter and sugar, resulting in a flavor much more akin to pie dough. The result was delicious and crispy, and most importantly, allowed me eat a reasonably sized slice without feeling like my arteries were filling with butter.

If you've never made your own tart or pie dough, I encourage you to give it a shot.  It's cheaper and healthier than store bought, and isn't that difficult.  Chances are it won't be perfect on your first try, but I've made many an imperfect pie crust with no complaints. It's hard to complain with a mouthful of free pie.

Free pie and ice water.  An essential part of my Halloween table, apparently.
I wouldn't judge you for slapping a jar of applesauce in a prefab crust and topping it with a slice of apples. But I am setting out to show why you should think about making stuff yourself, some of the time. In the end, the tart that I made was greater than the sum of its very yummy parts. Moreover, it was made with care and love. And after all, isn't love the best ingredient of all? (Aww).

Thursday, November 1, 2012