Cook, Eat, Listen: Food and Music Writing for the WYBZine

Towards the end of the semester, I contributed an article to the WYBC Yale Radio Zine (or WYBZine for short – we like to abbreviate and conjoin to the WYB-prefix whenever possible) on pairing food with music.  I don’t know about you, but often when I cook I like to listen to music, and I’ve found the different dishes to go best with certain soundtracks.  It might be that I’m in a particular mood for a certain food and a certain soundscape together, or that a dish itself calls out for a particular soundscape.  Either way, it was a pretty fun article to write, and I thought I’d share it with you here.  Instead of posting photos (though some of the dishes have already been featured here), I thought it would be cool to post a track from each album, so you could get a sense of the pairing.

The piece was called ‘Cook, Eat, Listen’.  Let me know what you think!

Cook, Eat, Listen

I like cooking.  I like eating.  I like listening to music.  Sometimes I like doing them together.  The idea of pairing music with food is really interesting to me, almost like pairing drinks except different, because you can taste and listen at the same time, which makes for some unique experiences of both.

These are some combinations that really stuck with me.  They heightened my experience of both the food and the music, like they were friends having a conversation.  Try some out, find other pairings you like – it’s fun and amazing to see how much one can enhance your experience of the other.

Vegan Chocolate Truffles with Cardamom and Lavender– I spent four hours making multiple batches of dark chocolate truffles with a friend one weekend in October.  We made two types: one with cardamom and one with lavender.  It was such a wonderfully leisurely afternoon, filled with delicious smells, precision, and many edible messes.  Our soundtrack to the adventure involved a few albums, but the two that fit best were Armchair Apocrypha and The Mysterious Production of Eggs by Andrew Bird [try “Scythian Empires“].  There was something in the relaxing yet rigorously precise process of truffle-making that was reflected in his instrumentation, and his melodies seemed to draw on the luscious and complex aromas hovering around the kitchen: floral, subdued, slightly exotic.  The texture of the truffle, with its hard shell and smooth centre, was like the layered quality of his lyrics, both euphonically playful and sleek, yet rich in a meaning just beyond the effable.

Canapés – One of my favourite ways to eat.  Just grabbing whatever’s in the fridge – veggies, spreads, leftovers, whatever – and mixing and matching different combinations on toast and crackers.  So fun.  A great way to do both an afternoon snack or a dinner party.  I loved playing Kings of Convenience’s Declaration of Dependence [try “Me In You“] when I had a canapé party with my sister over winter break.  There’s something nuanced and complex in their songwriting that is similar to the permutational abundance of eating canapé-style, and the soft vibes are perfect for either conversation, or an afternoon to oneself.

Fried Egg with Fresh Thyme and Truffle Salt – simple but luxurious.  There have been a couple Sunday mornings where all I want to do is hang around the kitchen with a couple friends and cook eggs.  So that’s what we do.  I’ve found a couple good accompaniments to these mornings, but one of my favourites has been Esperanza Spalding’s self-titled album Esperanza [try “Cuerpo y Alma“].  There is a cool contrast between the otherwise homely task of cooking an egg and the class of Jazz, especially upbeat Jazz on a weekend morning.  Something of the comping piano and her wicked basslines reminds me of the sizzling of an egg in the pan, and the tone of her voice is almost exactly the taste of truffle salt and thyme blending into the bold silkiness of a runny yolk oozing across the plate. Mmm.

Maple Roasted Brussel Sprouts with Toasted Hazelnuts – One of my favourite recipes of fall/winter.  It was a popular one in the blogosphere, and justifiably so.  I played the Morning Benders’ Big Echo [try “Promises“, or “Virgins” live] one night while making these with a friend, and it totally fit.  There’s something honest about their sound on the album, not exactly lo-fi, but clear and earnest.  And bittersweet.  Substantial but inviting.  The mix of crunchy, vegetal, and carmelised textures for me matched the textures of their instrumentation.  And the flavours are full but tempered – a balance skillfully struck between abandon and restraint.

Madeleines – I made these French pastries at the end of the summer to bring to work to thank everyone for being wonderful.  I made two types: lemon-lavender and chai.  I got up early that morning and worked slowly.  It was worth it.  The Flying Cup Club [try “A Sunday Smile“] by Beirut was the perfect accompaniment to the morning.  It was at once rousing and calming, the orchestral horns and accordion driving me along, the lyrical swells of the music and Zach Condon’s voice creating a pace for piping the moulds.  Something about biting into a spongy lemon-lavender madeleine warm from the oven with sun streaming through the window and this album in the background just clicked.

Yale Farm Pizza – Part of my job at the farm involves making pizza.  This is a good job.  One time last fall, my fellow pizza-maker put on The Wild Hunt [try the title track] by The Tallest Man on Earth as we balled the dough and prepped veggies.  It was just perfect.  He is crisp and raw, a little smoky, and there is a pure wholesomeness to his guitar, all of which was just like eating a slice of potato pizza with ricotta, pesto, and rosemary, with the late fall biting at your ears and nose.

Winter Salad – I’ve made this salad a couple times with veggies from our CSA, and when The King of Limbs [definitely try “Lotus Flower“] came out it just so fit I didn’t know what to do with myself.  Bitter winter greens, mixed bean and alfalfa sprouts, microgreens, pepitas, chopped walnuts, hawai’ian black lava salt, and tahini-dijon mustard dressing – there is something in the smallness and different textures of all the parts that fits with the polyrhythms and layering of the album, how you get a little bit of everything in each bite.  The bitterness of the greens and the walnut echoed in Thom Yorke’s vocals, the light but potent dressing akin to the ambient background sheen of most of the tracks.  Even the repetitive acts of chopping the greens and walnuts and mixing everything in a silver bowl mirrored the album’s rhythm and pace; the salt was the smoky wisdom to their whole aesthetic.

Soufflé – silence.

Hummus – Simple, crude, entirely delicious, satisfying, and thick – all of these qualities belong to the hummus that cried out for Reading Rainbow’s Prism Eyes [“Wasting Time“], a grungy, joyful romp through harmonies a little rough around the edges and sound that can feed a room of people.  Just like hummus.  A few ingredients combined in a simple way with a taste-as-you-go approach, and it’s hard to go too wrong.  Not to mention these guys are perfect to crank the volume on so I could hear the rousing guitar over the food processor.

Crème Anglaise – Just so gosh darn seductive.  I made it in the summer to go with self-saucing fig pudding.  It was the late end to a late dinner, and as I infused the milk in a saucepan with lady grey tea and stirred evenly to keep the egg from curdling, Gotan Project’s La Revancha del Tango [“Epoca“, but that’s a tough choice] kept me company.  The rippling textures and smooth lyrics were the ideal soundtrack to the sauce as it thickened to leave lines after stirring, and coated the back of the spoon.  This is an aromatic sweetness, not saccharine, touched with citrus, white chocolate, and the deep notes of Ceylon tea.  Gotan Project’s somehow sparse and luscious tracks blended seamlessly with the slow completion of the crème – especially as I brought the sauce to the table to pour over the warm, fragrant puddings.

Roast Butternut and Delicata Squash with Sautéed Shiitake Mushrooms – a dish about winter, being rustic and cozy, sharing, the quiet of being alone, the distance of everything.  And the smells.  Squash is the best.  Roasting the seeds for some crunch, sautéing the mushrooms in butter and braising in sparkling apple cider, and coaxing that rich, smooth texture from the squash, all demanded a full playing of Grizzly Bear’s Horn of Plenty and Veckatimest [again tough, but try “All We Ask“].  There was something comforting about checking the oven every so often with the sombre horns and guitar resonating in the kitchen, and the rich layers of harmony were the taste of the complex flavours of the squash and mushrooms together.  Just a perfect night.

Almonds, Dried Figs, Dark Chocolate, Tea – my late-night snack.  I keep a stash in my room.  For some reason it almost always seems to go best with Chopin’s Nocturnes [try Opus 9 No. 1 in b-flat minor].  Something about the quiet, the dark, the glow of my lights and the streetlamps outside, and the pure flavours all going together, all necessitate Chopin.  God knows he has gotten me through many a late night, with help from my favourite snacks.


Share your favourite food-music combinations below!  I’m really interested in this connection and I’d love to hear new ideas.

This entry was published on Sunday, June 12, 2011 at 1:25 am. It’s filed under writing and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Follow any comments here with the RSS feed for this post.

One thought on “Cook, Eat, Listen: Food and Music Writing for the WYBZine

  1. Pingback: Slow Brunch | hearthstrung

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