Thursday, August 6, 2015

Take Me Home, Country Roads + Whole Wheat Oat Bread

I remember, quite often, coming home from school to the smell of homemade bread wafting throughout the house. My mom has always been pretty notorious for supplying freshly warm slices of bread, slathered with butter and cinnamonsugar, to us hungry kids right when we need it the most. To this day, just the smell of homemade bread takes me back to being eight years old and running inside from the bus after a long day of "learning" (aka kickball). 

The bread I'm sharing with you today isn't my mom's recipe, but it's still pretty delicious! 

Since warm, soft bread goes hand in hand with my mom, I thought it only fitting to pair this loaf with one of her all-time favorite singers, John Denver. This song in particular happens to be one of my favorites of his: "Take Me Home, Country Roads." Pull up a seat and take a listen! Perhaps while this loaf of bread is baking? 

About the Artist

John Denver was a prolific singer-songwriter of the 20th century, getting his start in the late 1960s and early '70s. He first began performing in New York City with the Chad Mitchell Trio, though his solo career took off after his folk-style songwriting skills came to light; the group Peter, Paul, and Mary recorded his "Leaving on a Jet Plane" in 1969.

Denver, who changed his name from Deutschendorf before signing with Mercury RCA Records in '69, released several solo albums throughout his career, including the very popular Rocky Mountain High (1972), Back Home Again (1974), and Poems, Prayers, and Promises (1971). He was known for his wholesome "good ol' boy" look and folk-pop musical style, and often capitalized on this image in his film appearances that began in 1977.

He was seen often with the Muppets and hosted/starred in several television specials over the years. He also won countless awards for his music and humanitarian efforts, including being named the Top Male Recording Artist by Record World magazine in 1974-75. Tragically, John Denver died in a plane crash in 1997, in which he had been piloting his own experimental aircraft (he had a huge love of flying, second only to his love of music) and subsequently crashed near Pacific Grove, California. He has been posthumously recognized by awards and tributes across the country since his death, and Windstar Records, Denver's own record company, is still in business today. His music continues to be highly influential and admired by many people; two of his songs are now considered official state songs. 

About the Song

"Take Me Home, Country Roads" was released on John Denver's album Poems, Prayers, and Promises in 1971 and quickly rose to number 2 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart. He worked with Bill Danoff and Taffy Nivert to write it, combining their collective poetic musings about the winding roads of West Virginia into the most notable of John Denver's hits. 

Danoff and Nivert had originally planned to sell the song to Johnny Cash, but when they sang it for Denver, he fell in love. The three of them worked together to mold it into the popular song it is now, receiving a five-minute standing ovation when they first performed it. It was met with such positive reception that it became the theme song of West Virginia University, and in 2014, was named the official state song of West Virginia. John Denver himself performed the song at the dedication of Mountaineer Field, and it has been covered and quoted thousands of times since then. The Mountain State Brewing Company even has an ale named after a lyric in the song, "Almost Heaven."

Here are just a few of the many, many covers that have been done of John Denver's iconic song:

Whole Wheat Oat Bread
makes 1 loaf
  • 1 C lukewarm water
  • 1 Tbs sugar
  • 1/2 Tbs yeast** 
  • 1 Tbs Earth Balance margarine
  • 1 1/3 C whole wheat flour
  • 1 1/3 C rolled oats
  • 1/2 Tbs salt
1. Whisk the sugar and water together in a stand mixing bowl. Add the yeast and whisk to dissolve. Set aside for 5-10 minutes. It should be done when the yeast has created a layer of foam on top of the water. 
*At this point, you can pulse the oats in a food processor for a few seconds if you want, but you don't have to. 
2. Add the flour, oats, and salt to the yeast mixture and mix with a wooden spoon. Cut the margarine into pieces and add it in. 
3. Mix well with a dough hook. Knead the dough for about 3-5 minutes. 
4. When the dough is elastic and smooth, round it into a ball and place it in a lightly greased bowl. Coat a piece of plastic wrap in oil and loosely cover the bowl with the plastic, oil side down. Let it rise for 1 hour, or until it's doubled in size.
5. Punch the dough down and a knead it a few times. Form into a neat ball, fold the sides under, and tuck them under the ball. Place the loaf in a greased bread pan and let it rise for another hour, uncovered.
6. Preheat the oven to 350F. Bake for 35-40 minutes (the whole house will start smelling delicious!). Let the bread cool in the pan for about 5 minutes before transferring it to a wire rack.

I know how hard it is to wait, but try to let the bread cool for a little while before you cut into it, or else you'll have squishy, hot crumbs all over the place. The slices are especially scrumptious when slathered with vegan margarine, and adding a sprinkle of cinnamon on top is "almost heaven." 

**You should make sure your yeast is not expired before you use it. If it is, your bread won't rise the way it should (it'll end up looking like mine -- still delicious, but slightly more dense than I was hoping for). Enjoy!

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Clair de lune + Lemon Ginger Cookies

Okay. So. I pondered for quite a while about where to start in this new food/music adventure. I finally settled on sticking with something extremely well-known, but maybe less mainstream than Gaga (let's face it, we're not quite ready for Gaga yet). 

Thus, Debussy came to mind! If you haven't heard Clair de lune before, I would be very surprised, but you are in for quite a treat, if I do say so myself. In an effort to keep myself from getting too wordy, I'll just go ahead and share one of my favorite recordings of the piece. Please feel free to hit Play and take a listen while you scroll! The pianist in this video is Thomas Labe

I think one of the biggest challenges for me is going to be keeping myself from being too wordy when I talk about music. It's hard! There's so much I want to say! However, if you're anything like me, you probably don't want to read pages and pages of monotonous rambling, especially if it's something in which you're not quite as interested as I may be. Therefore, I'll just share a couple of tidbits about this piece and its composer.

About the Composer

Claude Debussy (1862-1918) was a French composer and pianist, most often known for his "Impressionistic" style of writing (though he actually hated being referred to as an Impressionist). Russian composers, such as Wagner, Borodin, and Mussorgsky, have been cited as his some of his strongest musical influences. He spent most of his life in France, though he did live in Rome for a few years. In addition to Clair de lune, a few more of Debussy's most famous pieces include Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun (1894) and La Mer (1905). Debussy's music is quite often linked to the paintings of Claude Monet, both evoking a sense of smeared concepts rather than strictly outlined images (hence the "Impressionist" description).

An excerpt from the Britannica Encyclopedia:

"During the latter part of his life Debussy created an alter ego, 'Monsieur Croche,' with whom he carried on imaginary conversations on the nature of art and music. 'What is the use of your almost incomprehensible art?' Monsieur Croche asks. 'Is it not more profitable to see the sun rise than to listen to the Pastoral Symphony of Beethoven?' Elsewhere Monsieur Croche supports the cause of the musical explorer: 'I am less interested in what I possess than in what I shall need tomorrow.'"

Here is another recording of Clair de lune! Angela Hewitt is the pianist, performing live at the Royal Conservatory of Music in Toronto. It's so fascinating to hear multiple performances of the same piece, in my opinion; each musician interprets notes on a piece of paper in very different ways. Angela's interpretation is noticeably faster than Thomas's, and she uses the sustained pedal on the piano much more liberally (the notes tend to blur together more). Do you prefer one performance over the other?

About the Piece

Clair de lune is the third of four movements of the Suite bergamasque, which was started in 1890, but revised and published in 1905. "Clair de lune" translates to "Moonlight," and is a vast contrast to the two livelier movements that sandwich it. Brittanica says, "The title refers to a folk song that was the conventional accompaniment of scenes of the love-sick Pierrot in the French pantomime, and indeed the many Pierrot-like associations in Debussy’s later his connections with the circus spirit that also appeared in works by other composers..."

I think Clair de lune has a very bittersweet quality to it, which exudes a somber beauty of sweetness and sting. I created some Lemon Ginger Cookies which I think pair perfectly with the piece! The bite of the ginger and slight tartness in the lemon flavor are coupled with the sweetness of the cookie, which makes eating them while listening to Debussy all the richer.

Before I share the recipe, here are a few links to some different arrangements of Claude Debussy's Clair de lune for you to peruse -- the LSO one is my favorite, though I have to say the jazz arrangement is pretty cool:

Lemon Ginger Cookies
makes 1-2 dozen, depending on size
  • 1/2 C vegan margarine, such as Earth Balance
  • 3/4 C brown sugar
  • 1 flax egg (1 Tbs ground flax + 1/4 C water)
  • 1 Tbs unsweetened almond milk
  • 1 tsp lemon juice
  • 1 1/4 C flour
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 2 tsp ground ginger
  • zest from half a lemon (about 2 tsp)
1. Mix flax and water in a small bowl. Set aside.
2. Beat the margarine and sugar until fluffy. Add the flax and mix.
3. Add in the almond milk and lemon juice.
4. In a separate bowl, stir together the flour, baking powder, salt, and ginger. Mix into the batter. Stir in the lemon zest.
5. Place the dough in the fridge while the oven preheats; set to 350 F.
6. Roll the dough, a spoonful at a time, into a small ball and set on lightly greased baking sheet. Press down slightly to flatten. Repeat for the remaining dough.
7. Bake cookies for 8-10 minutes. Cool on a wire rack.

These would be delicious with a nice hot cup of black tea! Maybe some chai? Don't forget to listen to some more Clair de lune while you bake/eat them, too!

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

A New Beginning

"Music with dinner is an insult both to the cook and the violinist." -- G. K. Chesterton

This is a quote that I stumbled across back in high school, but it has been one that's stuck with me ever since. It's one of those statements that I agree and disagree with simultaneously. On the one hand, considering when G. K. Chesterton lived and worked (late 19th and early 20th century), it is a completely valid and understandable statement. People tended not to multi-task nearly as much as we do nowadays; they were able and willing to focus on one form of entertainment at a time. I can understand why it would be insulting to attempt to fully appreciate either the food OR the music, while one could simply not concentrate on, and appreciate, both at the same time. Preposterous!

That being said, we live in a time now that is full of "combination art," or combining multiple forms of artwork to present one cohesive piece. Most people don't have the attention span to sit through an entire concert that is only comprised of music (no visual effects, no words, no snacks, nothing to occupy the hands). We also have a lot of trouble eating a whole meal without doing something else at the same time (watching TV, playing a game, scrolling through Facebook). That's not to say we can't do either one, it's just harder to ask people to do so when there are so many other distractions to occupy our time with instead. I've seen a lot of opinions lately about this shift in attention and appreciation, especially in regards to art, and most of them tend to fall into the category of berating the current generations about not being able to enjoy the "simple things" like we used to be capable of doing.

Personally, I think we should be able to grow in our appreciation of art! In the 1800s, we didn't have the technology to fully appreciate multiple forms of entertainment; who's to say the people that lived in that time period wouldn't have taken full advantage of the art we have available to us now? YouTube is here, for one! Pandora and iTunes and Spotify are things too! 19th-century young adults would have lost their minds if they were suddenly introduced to Vevo! I think we should find ways to appreciate the new and old alike, whether that means enjoying them in their purest forms, if that's what we're into; bringing brand new art, which has never been seen or heard or tasted or felt, into the world; or creating new methods of appreciating the same artwork we've been enjoying for centuries.

This is what I think: the way I see it, we already pair so many other art forms together, so why shouldn't we combine food and music?

Whether it's an obvious coupling, like the macaron and Maurice Ravel (both hail from France); or something more abstract, like AC/DC and a chocolate molten lava cake ("Back in Black?"); I think there are ways to highlight musical concepts with the food they're paired with. I also think there are ways to enjoy the preparing and consuming of food and beverage that are a little more dull without their musical counterparts.

Therefore, in lieu of a WILW post this week, I wanted to share with you a little introduction into what you'll be seeing more of around here. I am not abandoning anything I've posted about previously -- healthy living is still important to me! -- but I will be adding to the pot another ingredient that I've been wanting to incorporate for quite a while. I think music is vital to our striving rather than just surviving, so I want to share that part of my life, which is such a huge part, with you!

I hope you're excited to listen to some music with me! You can even stay a while and enjoy a cocktail or slice of pie at the same time! 

Stay tuned for my first pairing!

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

What I Love Wednesday

Oh hey. Don't mind me, creepin' on in. I know it's been a long time since I've posted absolutely anything (or logged in even; don't judge). It's not that I've been avoiding this quiet space in the Interwebz corner... I just lost my motivation for a while there.

I haven't felt like I had anything interesting or special to say, so I've been shying away from saying anything at all.

Sorry about that!

I've been pondering ways to freshen up this blog and post things that are more interesting, to you and to me! I'm still trying to nail that all down, but in the meantime, I thought I'd share some good ol' fashioned love, since it is a Wednesday after all. Cheers!

1. Are you an emotional eater? I have definitely struggled with this myself, so I promise you're not alone!

2. If you are a runner and have not been practicing yoga, I highly recommend starting. It has significantly changed my abilities to run! Here's a great, short, beginning video to start you off!

3. It's easy to forget how to be a good friend. Tiny Buddha is here to help!

4. Oh my goodness, this is way too fun!! Nostalgia galore!

5. This post goes hand in hand with the idea that happiness is not a goal, but a state of being.

6. If you haven't heard The Fratellis' new song, I invite you to listen. Love it!

7. Because Harry Potter is awesome, and this is hilariously on point.

8. I could probably eat these all day long!

9. Finding Home.

10. Just to leave you with a pleasing sight, here's a picture I took on the way to Seward, Alaska.