Thursday, December 29, 2016

Merry Listmas 2016: The Food

Before the calendar turns to 2017, let’s reminisce about the finer things that food in 2016 had to offer (click on the picture for recipes and blog posts).

Favorite Sandwiches:

Main Attractions:


Some Other Favorites of the Year:

Favorite Place to Fill a Growler of Kombucha
Jug and Bottle. Not only can you fill their growlers with Mother Kombucha from the tap but you can also buy bottled kombucha, local ice cream, local snack foods, Seminole Heights clothing, nitro brewed coffee (also on tap) and some cheeses and salsas that are slightly harder to find. Oh, did I mention beer and wine? No? You can buy those too.

Best Vegan Lentil Soup in a Bread Bowl:
BJ's Brewhouse. I am enamored with BJ's vegan lentil soup. I've eaten it both as a bread bowl (hold the butter) and regular bowl. The soup is filling, slightly spicy and flavorful. Rare is it to find a chain restaurant in Tampa offering a vegan soup. Even rarer is the restaurant that offers a really good vegan soup. BJ's also does some beautiful Brussels Sprouts (nicely charred and crispy and tossed in oil).

Best "Fancy" Vegan Pizza:
Double Zero. From farro sausage to artisanal vegan cheese plates to sweet potato bruschetta, this place is all vegan all the time. It definitely isn't cheap but if you are in New York and looking for a fancy vegan dinner you can't get in Tampa, check this place out.

Best Artisanal Tofu in Tampa:
Thinh An Kitchen and Tofu.

Best Vegan Hot Dog:
The Holiday Dog from the Vegan Hot Dog Cart. The Holiday Dog includes Florida orange-cran chutney, Carolina BBQ mustard sauce and fried onions. It was ranked back in 2014 by PETA as the number one vegan hot dog in America. I can see why. This dog was amazing. Texture wise, it wasn't as chewy as the prepackaged versions you can get at the store. The dog (and bun) basically melted in your mouth. The orange-cran chutney, bbq mustard and fried onions flowed nicely with the dog. None of the flavors stood out, instead they morphed into one giant swirl of sweet, sour and crispy.

Best Seaweed Salad Served in a Martini Glass:
Samurai Blue Ybor

Best Vegan Cupcake Caught on Camera:
Georgetown Cupcakes. This place does live up to the hype, although I don't recommend checking out the cupcake camera. You don't want to lose too many hours of your life...

Best Veggie Burger:
Chickpea & Olive. A beet burger topped with vegan cheese and avocado and served on thick toasted bread. That's the kind of food porn my wife catches me watching late at night. Sometimes, if I'm lucky, I can even get her to join in. It really keeps the relationship fresh.

But seriously, if you go to Smorgasburg and are a vegan, eat this burger!

Best Vegan Banana Bread (aside from my own, of course):
Buttermilk Provisions

Best Bagels:
Bagel Pub. I rolled around my tiny little high school with the hottest girl on my arm. I thought I was something special. Then I went off to college in the city and I realized that there wasn't anything special about high school me. That girl on my arm, she was small potatoes compared to the city girls. I broke up with her via AOL instant messenger and never looked back.

So what does this have to do with Bagel Pub? Well, in similar fashion, I rolled around Tampa thinking that I knew what a good bagel was. It took me four hours in New York to realize that those "bagels" I was eating were nothing more than tiny little crust rocks. They were small grains of wheat compared to the Bagel Pub bagels.

Vegan Dessert of the Year:
Vegan Donuts. From Buttermilk Provisions to Alevri Marketplace to Valhalla Bakery to Dun-Well Doughnuts, I had my fair share of vegan donuts this year. Moreso than any other vegan dessert. That's why I am proclaiming that the Chinese calendar makers make 2016 forever known as the year of the vegan donut. I know it isn't an animal and all, but if I bite a doughnut in just the right places, I can easily shape it into a squirrel. That's good enough right?

Best Place to Purchase my Vegan Dessert of the Year:
Dun-Well Doughnuts. Dun-Well doesn't play the whole regular donuts with one vegan option game. Everything at Dun-Well is vegan. This includes the lattes, ice cream, milkshakes, sundaes, donuts, horchata and egg type things. Tough choices. During my first visit, I went with the most recommended doughnut according to Yelp, the Peanut Butter and Jelly doughnut. As I mentioned here, the peanutty glaze of the donut was not super sugary, like I feared it would. It had a strong peanut taste. The doughnut was fluffy, sort of like a dough pillow for the rich peanut topping to rest it's weary head. The jelly inside the doughnut was a nice sweet contrast to the rich peanut glaze and doughy doughnut. Later in the year I returned and ordered a doughnut sundae. The ice cream, courtesy of 3 Little Birds, was creamy and amazing. The doughy donut underneath matched nicely.

Best Vegan Ice Cream Not in My Grocer's Freezer:
3 Little Birds

Best Vegan Ice Cream From My Grocer's Freezer:
Ben and Jerry's PB & Cookies. More than twice the calories of my former go to vegan ice cream, probably because it is oh-so-good!

Vegan Restaurant of the Year
Champs Diner. While I ate better dishes this year, Champs takes the cake because it is a completely vegan diner that offers a ton of different options to choose from. While I liked Dun-Well Donuts more, they are limited by being a bakery. And while the burger I ate at Chickpea & Olive was hands down the best thing I ate this year, they suffer from a lack of options. I guess I am defining a restaurant as having multiple options and not just desserts.

I had only one shot at Champs Diner. Because of that, I wanted to eat everything on the menu. I wanted the mozzarella sticks and the buffalo wings and the seitan asada fries and a grinder and reuben and Philly Cheesesteak. Eventually I settled on a buffalo chick'n hero for me. J-Fur ordered an Awesome Bowl and Z-Bot the mac and cheese.

The Buffalo Chick'n Hero, which was made up of spicy buffalo chick'n, greens, tomatoes, sautéed onions and ranch dressing, was slightly salty. I loved the creamy, spicy combo. What made Champs stand out to me was the mac and cheese. This dish was perfection. It was cheesy and creamy without the weird texture that a lot of vegan cheeses seem to suffer from. The Awesome Bowl has quinoa, tofu scramble, bell peppers, garlic sautéed kale, home fries and hollandaise sauce. With that list of ingredients, it sounds like it should be one of the greatest things I've ever tasted. It pretty much was.

Monday, December 26, 2016

Merry Listmas 2016: The Music

My twenty favorite tracks of 2016 included a song about space, a church baptism and apple pie. There was a song about the out-of-control past careening wildly towards the present and future, one that featured critiques of those that cut their faces up in order to be beautiful and a track detailing a rebound sexual romp after your man left you in some cheap warm gin. At the top of it all is a track that, despite the dark days ahead, kept me firmly planted in the brightness of the here and now.

Let's get on with Tender Branson’s Top 20 Songs This Year:

20. Sara Hartman - "Satellite"

What I said: I recently watched a Charlie Sheen movie about satellite communications and aliens wearing human skin as they infiltrated NASA. I found the movie hollow and meek, like a flavorless hummus. Sara Hartman's "Satellite" resides on the complete opposite pole from this movie. It is big, bold and filling. Everyone else will have you think it is the song of the summer. I tell you it is the song of right now.

Listen: Spotify | Soundcloud

19. Gryffin/Bipolar Sunshine – “Whole Heart”

What I said: Aside from being a fabulous dance track, "Whole Heart" has actually performed quite a service for society. Before hearing the song I was a somewhat reluctant organ donor. I was totally cool with passing on my lungs, liver, kidneys and even my stomach. When it came to the heart, I was cool giving up my aorta, left ventricle and left atrium but I insisted on holding on to the right ventricle and atrium (I considered them my "lucky" heart parts). But hearing Bipolar Sunshine say over and over "you've got to got to got to go whole heart" convinced me that I was being selfish holding on to my "lucky" heart parts. So how exactly can this be labelled "quite a service for society?" Well, considering I have heard from upwards of a hundred people who have said they "want a piece of me" I've now fully committed to their having just that.

Listen: Spotify | Soundcloud

18. Rafferty – “Apple Pie”

What I said: When I think of Apple Pies, I think of a mouthwatering blend of sweet, tart and crisp apples swirled superbly with cinnamon, brown sugar and, perhaps, a slight sprinkling of nutmeg or lemon (if I want to get a little funky). All of that is then blanketed and baked in a golden, flakey crust. Are you picturing what I'm describing? If so, I did my job. If not, I need to head back to my local writer's guild and tell them that their crappy (and free) descriptive writing class did not work. Maybe I'll even write up a bill and charge them for my time.

Back to that picture you had. Was the setting a church bake sale? Inquiring minds and s**t. Okay, take a gigantic brain eraser and get rid of everything you just imagined, except for the church. Because Rafferty's debut single, "Apple Pie," ain't sweet. It ain't the kind of thing that you'll want to dip your finger in and taste. You won't be clamoring to lick the empty bowl. A lemon? That's child's play. "Apple Pie" is grimy and sinfully fun. It is smokey and boozy and feels like a striptease at church. The music resembles something that your garage might house after you move that old organ that your grandfather's church just sold. There's blasting guitars that start and stop on a dime while the organ, oh that organ, pulsates in the distance. Rafferty brings the fun by incorporating a series of clap tracks, belting out an "Ahhhhh, ahhh, ahhh" chorus and taking a page from the preacher's book with an intense call and response. If he brought the fire and brimstone instead of just begging for some of that apple pie, it would seem right at home.

Listen: Spotify | Soundcloud

17. The Menzingers - "Lookers"

What I said: "Lookers" depresses me. Don't get me wrong, it is a hell of a song (especially with pizza) but there is something about getting nostalgic about how good you used to look in the old days that makes me feel sad inside. I had trouble placing my finger on exactly what it was until my therapist gave it to me point blank. He said "Tender, you're ugly. You've always been ugly. This song speaks of a time when the characters looked good. You've never experienced that." To add insult to injury, he followed this up by telling me insurance hasn't covered our last few visits and I owe him $3,976.15. Broke and ugly. I'm getting drunk on wildflower kombucha tonight.

Listen: Spotify | Soundcloud

16. Sleigh Bells – “Baptism by Fire”

What I say now: I really meant to review Sleigh Bells new album. I liked it that much. Unfortunately I never got around to it. But that doesn't mean I can't let you in on a squeaky clean little tidbit about the album. The best track on it, in my humble opinion, comes near the end in the form of "Baptism by Fire." For three albums I've listened to Sleigh Bells with reactions ranging from violent kick whirls to mild amusement to complete disinterest. "Baptism by Fire" was the first one that had me falling in love all over again with that special someone. Unlike other bands that have to sell their sound in order to write a love song, Sleigh Bells was able to meld their world with matters of the heart. The jittery starts and stops serve to put your focus on the band's beautiful pleading, "I wanna listen to your heart" and their constant suggesting that "when you love something so much, almost nothing can go wrong."

Listen: Spotify

15. Hazel English – “I'm Fine”

What I said: "I'm Fine" is a beautifully blurry indie-pop track powered by transcendent melodies and caked in layers of Californian sunshine and redolent reverb.
-Hazel English Press Release

Did someone say cake? No? I swear I heard someone mention cake. Right now, while I was just sitting here listening to the new Hazel English single, "I'm Fine." "I'm Fine," like most of Hazel English's tracks, can best be described as sun drenched indie pop with a little bit of lo-fi on the side. Listening to her, I'm reminded a lot of Day Wave. The 25-year-old Oakland-based artist recently announced her debut 12-inch vinyl EP, Never Going Home, on House Anxiety/Marathon Artists. You'll be able to get your hands on it October 7th.

I'd pair this stunning track with some sort of sunshiney vegan cake. A vegan lemon sunshine layer cake seems like it would do just the trick.

Listen: Spotify | Soundcloud

 14. Follin  – “Roxy"

What I said: Sticking with the whole sibling thing, Follin is what happens when Madeline Follin (of Cults) and Richie Follin (of Guards) take time out of their busy schedules to make some music together. Wanting to make it a truly family event, the two even got mom involved by doing some of the recording for their first batch of songs in her living room.

Listen: Spotify

13. John Joseph Brill – “False Names”

What I said: I have to admit that when I first read the email that accompanied John Joseph Brill's new release “"False Names" I very nearly deleted it. There is something about musicians with three names that turns me off. I think it is because they don't make good music. I can't think of one three named artist that I really liked. On top of that, John and Joseph are pretty normal names. This is also a huge strike because I find people with normal names also don't usually make good music. For some reason, I went against all my gut instincts and gave John Joseph a chance. I have to admit, I am really glad I did. It is John Joseph's warm baritone, the lines "We'll go spinning through the neon, winning new friends" and the his description of the track that won me over. About "False Names" he says "it's a song about a best mate, a tremendous, beautiful, flawed best mate who I wouldn't change for the world and how a mate like that can take you rampaging around a town and make all the darkness and nonsense disappear.”"

Listen: Spotify | Soundcloud

12. PSSY PWR – “Cocaine Girls”

What I said:  I ordered a batch of Buffalo Cauliflower while I was out celebrating a coworker's birthday on Thursday night. The texture was just right. The heat came with a warning, be careful, this stuff burns. It may cause permanent damage to your tastebuds. Also sent with a warning? PSSY PWR's new track "Cocaine Girls." +++ WARNING +++ Clunky, unpolished and unapologetic, PSSY PWR’s tongue in cheek lyrics and detonating sound must be played LOUD AF or your device will explode.

Listen: Spotify | Soundcloud

11. Eat Fast – “Byker Drone”

What I said: I sat down tonight at my really old flip top desk to try and figure out what to make for dinner. With each dip of my pen into an inkwell, I found it more difficult to concentrate. It wasn't the coffee I drank this morning, that had long since worn off. It wasn't the preservatives my mom packed in my lunch because, well, there weren't any. The problem here is worms. More specifically, that damn little ear worm that Rick from Whiteboard PR snuck into my body. The ear worm has this scuzzy feel, it reminds me a bit of last year's darlings Black Honey. In real terms, because I only deal in things that are real, I'd say the worm is like a runaway train that hits one end of a tunnel at about the same moment that a family of five driving an SUV with a screaming teenager in back comes through the other. The two are on a collision course with no way around it. That's the music. The lyrics persuade you to "Take some time, be sure about it. Think it thru, be sure about it. Stay a while, make sure about it." There's some other lyrics intended to slow you down and get your mind right, still scuzzy, and then all of a sudden things turn sweet like carrots (or about as sweet as the aforementioned SUV and runaway train on a collision course can be). "She's just a little girl" they say, over and over and over. Try rolling that in some spicy sauce.

This worm has a name, "Byker Drone" by Eat Fast. It is the type of song that stays with you long after you quit listening. It is the type of song that suggests pulled bbq carrots need to be on the menu. It is the type of song that says don't forget Eat Fast. Of course it is also the type of song that says how could you.

Listen: Spotify | Soundcloud

10. The Khanz – “Magazine Perfection”

What I said: Sometimes perfect beauty is just a photoshop or two away. Sometimes it is so much farther. And still, people go for it. That's what the fabulous "Magazine Perfection" is about. My favorite line, "I wanna change my face (so chop it off)." Take it from the guy whose therapist called him "ugly as f***," these changes, in the long run, are so not worth it.

Listen: Spotify | Soundcloud

9. Gang of Youths  – “Strange Diseases”

What I said: When I Google searched strange disease and ketchup I came across an interesting question that I'm sure everyone has pondered at some time or another: Can I get AIDS from eating ketchup immediately after it has been injected by HIV?

What I say now: Gang of Youth's "Strange Diseases" continues to make me Google "the world's strangest diseases" months after I originally heard it. What makes the song so itchingly great: the kick drum that pulsates through every fiber in your body, the backing strings that come in and out of prominence and David Leaupepe's powerful pipes. This is one strange disease I'm glad I was unable to discover a cure for.

Listen: Spotify | Soundcloud

8. Freedom Fry – “Shaky Ground”

What I said: Near the end of the year, one of the girls in my class told me that her summer plans included learning a new language. Seeing as she was already bilingual (English and Spanish) I expected her newest language to be French. That seems to be the play in America. Learn Spanish or French, maybe both. When she announced that her newest language would be Cantonese, I was definitely caught a bit off guard. Her explanation, business reasons, seemed to make sense but really, what third grader says that they want to spend their summer months learning Cantonese?

So what does this have to with Freedom Fry's "Shaky Ground"? Well, the video for "Shaky Ground" is one of the more unique ones I've seen in recent years. This uniqueness has nothing to do with the singing coconuts that periodically show up throughout, although the two foodie-music bloggers in the world certainly rejoiced about that one. What really drives me to call this video unique is that it is presented bilingually. Within the video, the actual single for "Shaky Ground" plays through twice. The first go round finds Bruce and Marie singing in English and dancing with friends at a US style house party. Their is a momentary pause and then the single starts up again. This time through a French version of Bruce and Marie make their way to the states and put on an empty pool concert/dance party. The verses are presented in French during this second go round.

Listen: Spotify

7. Mitski – “Your Best American Girl”

What I say now: In “Your Best American Girl,” Mitski makes peace with the fact that she won't live up to other's expectations, that she is exactly who she is. Throughout the track, which musically moves from an acoustic one, to a twinkling dream pop number with momentary blasts of Kyla La Grange style feedback, Mitski ponders whether the right choice is to keep on going with a relationship featuring two very different people or she should just let it all go.

It was Mitski's very real musical photograph of one of life's most chaotic dilemmas that first attracted me to "Your Best American Girl". It was her rational dissection of motherly approval that kept me coming back, over and over again. I know this, I can relate, although maybe not so rationally. Mitski speaks in as calm and profound a manner as any artist I've heard this year.

Listen: Spotify | Soundcloud

6. The Dirty Nil – “Wrestle Yu to Husker Du”

What I said: When "Wrestle Yu to Husker Du" (it appears the umlauts are gone on Higher Power), kicks into gear I find myself again thinking of Rivers Cuomo. This time around I see the Weezer leader drunk on cheap gin while lamenting previous love losses. While this is going on, his current girl snuggles up next to someone else. Next thing I know it is all romps in the hay and playing doctor in the reeds. But, as the Dirty Nil points out, there is no moral conflict taking place while stealing another man's girl because "I don't care about your man, oh ya, f*** him, he left you in a glass of cheap warm gin." This track is reminiscent of the sweet potato based "nacho" cheese that is slathered overtop of the burger. Think about it. You've got a party going on. In the corner, milk, rennet and the cultures are all smoking weed and getting drunk. While they aren't paying attention along comes sweet potato, nutritional yeast and coconut milk. They don't give a f*** about what those other three are doing, tradition or unspoken rules. All they know is that there is one hot, bulgogi covered burger needing some cheese on top. They work their magic and the rest is history.

Listen: Spotify | Soundcloud

5. Dreamers – “Never too Late to Dance”

What I said: "Never Too Late To Dance" is another in a long line of songs about dancing that actually make me want to leave the kitchen and turn some ballroom full of fussy bottoms on its head. This track is catchy as hell thanks to the rhythmic background, pulsating drum beats, the grouped out oh oh ohs and the "can we chase the fire from a lost romance, it's never too late to dance" chorus.

Playing the same catchy as hell, fiery, stay drunk on your kiss role in the Po' Boy is the cauliflower. Dredged in corn meal, spices, soy milk and hot sauce, and then baked in the oven, the cauliflower is hot, carby and difficult to resist. Sometimes I plan to make three or four sandwiches but only wind up with two because of my sneaking cauliflower pieces between sandwich construction. My favorite part of the sandwich, my favorite song on the album.

Listen: Spotify | Soundcloud

4. Japandroids – “Near to the Wild Heart of Life”

What I said: When I was a child, I ate like a child. My mac and cheese came powdered or in a squeezable foil packet. Now that I am a man, I eat like a man. My mac and cheese comes from cashews, contains Brussels Sprouts and is spicy as hell. This manly version of mac and cheese cooks up so well with "Near to the Wild Heart of Life" by Japandroids. First, there's the constant reference to fire in the song (including the repeated "and it got me all fired up"). That's the same fire that bites my tongue and stabs at my cheek with each bite I take. Then there's the ever present "I used to be good but now I'm bad." Despite the fact that the powdered and foil wrapped processed version of mac and cheese is full of dyes and junk and nothing nice, my friends and family continue to try and convince me just how "good" these versions are. They refuse to even give the time of day to my cashew laden, protein packed, veggie filled version. Fine, you continue to be "good." I'll put that life in the rearview and hang out here on the "bad" side of the dining room table.

What I say now: Like a fine vegan mac and cheese, this track just keeps getting better with age. I get more excited about the Japandroids upcoming album with each passing day. To all those people I work with that ask if the Japandroids are my personal band I say: I wish I could sing/play music/write lyrics like this. If I could, I probably wouldn't be hanging out with third graders all day.

Listen: Spotify

3. Car Seat Headrest – “Drunk Drivers/Killer Whales”

What I say now: If "Drunk Drivers/Killer Whales" was a cake, it would quickly find its way to the garbage can. You would rub the upper and lower sections of your mouth together a few times just trying to get the denseness to go away. When it doesn't disappear, you'd have no choice but to grab a cup of your favorite plant based milk and wash that sh** away. As an indie rock track that denseness is magical...if you let it be. What is so brilliant about "Drunk Drivers/Killer Whales" is the self-awareness that lead singer Will Toledo imparts into it. He sings about putting on an act as a negative person and how easily that facade can be stripped away. That's a level of thinking that few people reach. You think I'm joking? Right now I'm hanging out in a house full of humans and I can count on one finger the number of people that currently reside at that level of awareness (*hey, leave the three year olds at this birthday party out of it*).

Car Seat Headrest likens drunk drivers to killer whales. They are both forces that are unpredictable and unstoppable. At some point, possibly the not so distant future, another indie rock band will come along and attempt to craft a comparison of unpredictable and unstoppable forces. They will start with hurricanes, struggle to find another comparison, before remembering "Drunk Drivers/Killer Whales". At that point they will pen their comparison of hurricanes and Car Seat Headrest. These guys, if they let themselves be, can be unstoppable.

Listen: Spotify

2. Rubblebucket – “If U C My Enemies”

What I said: Rubblebucket is many things and nothing at all; it’s a mindset, a legend, a feeling, a mystery; a mischievous, playful, boundary-smashing blast of sound that you can sit still and wonder at, or turn off your mind and dance wildly to. Or both at the same time. As Kalmia (Traver) said, when she handed me one of her now-famous peanut butter, cheddar cheese, cabbage, honey tacos, “This is the weirdest, most delicious thing you will ever taste.”

After a few vegan exchanges, I'm eating those tacos like wildfire.

Listen: Spotify | Soundcloud

1. Will Joseph Cook – “Take Me Dancing”

What I said:There is this annoying loudmouth at my work that has a desk right beside mine. For years I've tried my best to ignore her. I've done everything from noise canceling headphones to putting in a formal request to have me moved. Last week I had enough. I grabbed a stapler and shoot some staples in her general direction. Because of my excellent placement, they severed her vocal cords and I've experienced nothing but peace and quiet since.

There is this redhead at work, a real looker. She always wears these Marilyn Monroe style dresses. For weeks I've encouraged her to place a fan on the floor, step over top of it and do her best Seven Year Itch impression. Yesterday, she finally did. I used a hole punch to pretend I was paparazzi.

One of my co-workers owns a penny farthing. Every Wednesday she rides it to work. I dress up like a bike messenger and transport my mountain bike on top of my car. The two of us ride through the office halls.

So, unfortunately, my office space is nowhere near cool enough for this kind of stuff to take place. These were all dreams I've had throughout the years dozing in the cafeteria. Will Joseph Cook's video for "Take Me Dancing" has brought all my dreams to life. In the video Will and his "co-worker" do all of the things I mentioned above (minus the penny farthing). They also karaoke into a vacuum, complete numerous synchronized dance numbers, play a shortened version of hide-n-seek, drink fancy drinks, race on wheelie chairs, hold a budget meeting where the more dancing that takes place the higher the profit goes and eat a bagel, banana and apple with a fork and knife. The track itself is a hugely addictive slice of indie pop. It features an intense melody and massive hook, which is reminiscent to a lot of Will's other work.

What I say now: Will Joseph Cook's "Take Me Dancing" is the lightest and brightest in a dark, dark year. When I think back to 2016, I don't want to dwell on all those things that went wrong, all those terrible, terrible decisions that others made that will forever effect me. There's a time and place in the future that I will have no choice but to face that head on. For 2016, I choose to embrace the light. I choose to remember that somewhere, sometime, I was the answer to someone else's prayers. I was also part of a process that brought others to dance. I was Will Joseph Cook's "Take Me Dancing." Look, this isn't a conceited thing. If you think about your 2016 long enough, you will realize that at some point, you did those things too. At some point, you too were Will Joseph Cook's "Take Me Dancing." At some point, you were my favorite song of the year.

Listen: Spotify | Soundcloud

Hear all twenty tracks in one playlist:

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Listen: Fishy Takes from Sundara Karma, Mushy Callahan and Everywhere

We've got swimming vegetables pretending to be fish up in here. A soiree of this type requires a spot on soundtrack. Might I suggest:

When I was a kid, anytime my mom wanted to worm her way into my heart she broke out the fish sticks. This would've been perfectly fine with me if a) she didn't also break out the fish sticks when my brother, sister and father needed a little bit of mom's love and b) I actually enjoyed fish sticks. As it was, we ate fish sticks four nights a week because mom figured this was the blueprint for a happy family. Since we are talking happy families, let's talk Sundara Karma and their new single "Happy Family." The song feels like it is actually two songs in one. The first half is an ode to Americana choral music. With its breezy, flowing feel, I could totally see getting lost alone in the fields of yesteryear. But then the handclaps and boot stomping bass take over. No longer are you lost in the fields of yesteryear by yourself, now there is a bad ass bull looking to poke a few holes in your torso. Sundara Karma is prepping for their early 2017 album debut. Based on the handful of tracks that have previously hit the internet, I have no idea what to expect from it. Will the album be all indie dance floor like "She Said?" Snake charming glory like "Flame"? Or boot stomper like "Happy Family"? I guess we'll find out shortly.

Another early 2017 release is the sophomore full length album from Mushy Callahan. The band consists of four brothers Noah, Joel, Jacob and Lucas. These guys have a penchant for holding on when they've been beaten down, clinging to blind faith when there is nothing else left and turning zucchini into crabs. That's what their track "End of My Rope" is all about. Ok, maybe not the third one so much.

"We f**k and fight, how good it feels, I'm high, I'm high your ecstasy." favorite thing about "Heroine" by Everywhere, especially this particular line, is the feeling that it gives me. I'm both relaxed and euphoric. All the pain that is floating around in my life is quickly stripped away and blocked. My shoelaces and silver spoons begin disappearing. All my straws are served with a side of burn marks. My aunt has remarked on numerous occasions how strange it is that Everywhere's version of "Heroine" induces the exact same symptoms in me as shooting actual heroin would. The only difference? Track lines appear in your ears instead of on your arms. I've repeatedly told her to stop looking for stories where there aren't any.

Monday, December 19, 2016

Cook: Zucchini Crab Cakes

At least once a week the following conversation takes place:

Person: Ah, you are a vegan. Cool, cool, cool. What do you eat?
Me: Vegetables, beans, nuts, cereal, pasta, sandwiches, pickles, mustard, you know, normal stuff. Oh, and BBQ sauce. I really like BBQ sauce.
Person: What about (insert random food here)?
Me: Yep, I eat that.
Person: How about fish?
Me: Are fish considered swimming vegetables?
Person: Huh?
Me: Nevermind. Great catching up with you. See you around.

People of this beautiful world. Despite what you may have heard from others (like that weird "vegetarian" art teacher that eats turkey on Thanksgiving), let me set the record straight. If it breathes, even if it is through gills, a vegetarian or vegan won't eat it. Now I'm not writing this post because I care what others label themselves, call yourself whatever you want. You want to be vegetarian that eats steak? By all means, have at it. You want to eat Veal Parmigiana and pretend you are one hundred percent plant based? Just do it! The reason I'm writing this post is to save me the headache, or rather the tedium, of having this same conversation week in and week out. Skipping the fish talk would allow our conversations to progress into some really interesting realms. I'm talking tempeh, seitan, maybe even mycoprotein. That would be the fish's gullet.

Tonight I decided it was high time I stopped fighting it and just started eating "fish" (that's also the name of the documentary I am currently penning). The only thing is my version of "fish" is actually created by swimming vegetables. It combines grated zucchini, aquafaba, breadcrumbs, vegan butter and Old Bay Seasoning. Behold, I give you Zucchini Crab Cakes. Just like Baltimore would've made them had they been a vegan who was bored to death talking about whether they do or do not eat fish.

Zucchini Crab Cakes
(printable version)

-3 zucchini, grated
-3 Tbs. aquafaba
-2 Tbs. vegan butter, melted
-1 cup Italian style breadcrumbs
-1/4 cup minced onion
-1 tsp. Old Bay Seasoning
-1/4 cup of flour

1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. Grease a baking sheet with a tiny bit vegetable oil. Set aside.

2. Grate the zucchini in a large bowl. Using a towel, press some of the moisture out of the zucchini. Add the aquafaba, melted butter, breadcrumbs, onions and Old Bay Seasoning. Mix until everything is uniform.

3. Pour the flour into a second bowl. Form the zucchini mixture into small patties. Roll them in the flour. Place them on the greased baking sheet.

4. Bake for 15 minutes. Remove from the baking sheet from the oven and flip each crab cake using a spatula. Bake for another 15 minutes. Top the crab cakes with some vegan mayo mixed with hot sauce. Eat those swimming vegetables!

Listen to this dish!

Monday, December 12, 2016

Food Pairing 101: What Goes Well With Transviolet's New Single?

'They've got us in a cage, ruined of grace and senses, and the heart roars like a lion at what they've done to us...'
-Charles Bukowski

This quote by Charles Bukowski isn't the beginning of Transviolet. It comes some time later. In baby terms (because as a father to be I certainly have babies on the mind), this line by Bukowski marks the point where the baby has left the womb and mom (or dad or mom and dad or grandma and grandpa) puts the pen on the paper preparing to imprint this child with an identity.

The members of Transviolet were sitting around the living room with books on mythology and poetry determined to pick a band name. Judah came across the poem 'When The Violets Roar At The Sun' by Bukowski. The line above spoke to vocalist Sarah McTaggert about how the band felt about the world. People's apathy has led to this haphazard way of existing - devoid of reason or purpose. They just sort of fumble around the streets with heads in phones, passively falling into the future without any real stake in it. The band wanted to take back their active role in designing the future. McTaggert suggests "We believe that our generation can learn to live mindfully, and peacefully and evolve, thus 'trans' as in short for 'transcendence'." To sum it up, Transviolet is transcendence into a new, violet awareness. We loved that idea, so it stuck."

So that's the past of Transviolet. The far past. In the much nearer past the band's stellar 2016 has seen them tour the US with Lany and play the Reading & Leeds Festival in support of their self-titled EP which features more kickass tracks than I have thumbs. Last week the band began their trek into the future with their release of "Close." The song features McTaggert's sparkling lyrics about elegance, turbulence, getting close and having those special hands running thru her hair. Basically, as the band tweeted out, it is a song to f*** your friends to. Supporting those lyrics is Transviolet's signature brand of blissful pop instrumentation. That isn't to say it is the same old same old as "Close" seems to coruscate just a bit brighter (and harder) than EP hits "New Bohemia" and "Girls Your Age." And while it hits hard, it doesn't quite have the ubiquitous wall of sound found in "Night Vision."

So, what does one pair with a track like "Close"? It needs to be something that meshes together a number of different flavors in the simplest way possible. More than that, it needs to be something that features the hands-in-the-hair closeness of "Close." That's why I suggest gussying this track up with the Kitchn's Hasselback Sweet Potatoes (pictured above). The key to this dish is the slicing of the sweet potatoes and the brushing of the oil and spices down into the crevices created by the cuts. This allows the flavors to permeate the sweet potatoes in all areas. While following the Kitchn's recipe closely, I did have to make one change. No thyme was found in my pantry so I replaced it with an equal amount of herbes de provence. And, as a good little vegan, I went with oil instead of the brown butter.

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Artist's Cookbook: What's Cooking with Kristine Mirelle?

As a five-year-old in Podunk, Pa, I spent my days worrying about missing Scooby-Doo, why Amish people don't own televisions and how to use scissors. When independent singer/pianist/entrepreneur Kristine Mirelle was a five-year-old she was already hard at work learning her family's tortilla chip business and planting the seeds for a fruitful future in both the food and music world.

In 2009, Kristine decided to start making and selling her own brand of tortilla chips. She called them Lil' Kristie's. With next to no money to help her get things rolling, Kristine sold her chips to small gas stations and friends. She would stand in line at grocery stores and hand out samples of her product in hopes that people would buy some. Sometimes Kristine would also set up performances in these stores. She would sing about her product and gain attention to her brand. Now-a-days Kristine's chips are doing pretty well. You can find them in over seventy-five stores in New Mexico. These include Whole Foods and Sprouts Markets. What's Kristine cooking up in her kitchen currently? Pretty much anything and everything that will be enhanced by her chips. Take, for instance, this chicken that is marinated and then breaded with the crumbs of her tortilla chips:

With the cooking done and Lil Kristie's on somewhat more stable ground, Kristine has been able to focus some of her energy back on her music. As a youngster, Kristine had a pretty successful classical piano career. This included winning the National Sonata competition four years in a row and being inducted into the International Piano Guild at the age of 12. In recent years, Kristine has taken her piano talents and applied them to covering other people's songs as well as writing her own originals. Her covers include, amongst others, Kanye, Beyonce, Imagine Dragons and One Republic. On Halloween, Kristine released her brand new original single "Freakin Mess." The track comes with a video that features Kristie and her four foot pal riding around in Hot Wheels, wasting popsicles, holding up bakeries and stealing cupcakes. It is exactly what I could see myself doing if I wanted to go all Bonnie and Clyde on the world. The banks would be safe, the bakeries, not so much. Check it:

Just the sounds:

Aside from making music, selling tortilla chips and going on cooking shows, Kristine works tirelessly to help those in need. To learn more about the causes that are important to her and the people that she helps, check out the about me section on her website.

Click (Music): Burritos, Actors, Knifey and New Milky Chance

"Cocoon" by Milky Chance

If Milky Chance's new track "Cocoon" was a food, it would probably be a burrito. Burritos were invented when beans, rice and salsa decided to give a great big middle finger to the world. They no longer wanted to be a part of it. They were tired of the sh** their lettuce, guacamole, cheese and onion counterparts kept dishing out on them. So the three of them decided to wrap themselves in a burrito and shut the world out. Throughout the years the cocoon has opened to allow only the most worthy toppings in. "Cocoon" supports this same idea. The idea behind the song is to take that person you enjoy spending time with, lock yourself in a cocoon and stay there as long as you can. The vibes sent forth by "Cocoon" are light and laid back. The track pulls no tricks. It's your classic rice, salsa and bean burrito with a smattering of waxy red potatoes. You know, the kind that holds their shape, retains some firmness when cooked and browns with a bit of crunch as long as your resist the urge to stir them.

"Actor" by whenyoung

From the mouth of whenyoung lead-singer Aofie Power:

Actor is about contorting your character to fit into a disfigured view of the perfect self in order to belong. It's about acting every day and projecting artificial images of yourself through social media and in real life interactions with others. This helps to reassure you that you are important, relevant, interesting and necessary but behind it all there’s a sinking feeling. It’s not you. It’s an act. It’s tiring.

Sounds just like a burrito to me. I mean think about it. No matter what a burrito is inside, it covers all that up and puts on an "act" that is commonly referred to as a tortilla shell. Now, to really blow your mind, my new photography series about the cannibalistic nature of Hollywood. Actors and actresses eating burritos. I call it actors and actresses eating actors and actresses.

"Sophie" by Knifey

According to Knifey, "Sophie" is a song about lost love, or a lizard...or something... I think they left off the burrito part. I mean if we are talking about being locked in a cage, who is to say that there aren't times when the rice, beans and salsa inside the tortilla don't feel trapped. Maybe they are looking for more than their soggy, salty and spicy world has to offer. It makes sense, then, that burritos are so messy. You've got a bunch of innards trying to escape. They see the black hole that is your mouth and quickly steer themselves towards your much less intimidating lap or shirt front.

"Shot the Sun Down" by Ghost Lion

Ghost Lion suggests that this track is about breaking through wheat created ceilings and fighting for what's right even against all odds. It's like that time they overloaded my burrito at Chipotle so much that the insides starting spewing all over the "burrito artist's" workstation. Instead of scooping some out he decided to wrap it all in a second tortilla. Pure amazingness!

"If U C My Enemies" by Rubblebucket

Rubblebucket is many things and nothing at all; it’s a mindset, a legend, a feeling, a mystery; a mischievous, playful, boundary-smashing blast of sound that you can sit still and wonder at, or turn off your mind and dance wildly to. Or both at the same time. As Kalmia (Traver) said, when she handed me one of her now-famous peanut butter, cheddar cheese, cabbage, honey tacos, “This is the weirdest, most delicious thing you will ever taste.”

After a few vegan exchanges, I'm eating those tacos like wildfire.


"Linger" by the Cranberries (Covered by Freedom Fry)

Because who wouldn't want a french fry and cranberry burrito? (A quick Google search suggests that no one actually wants this).


"All We Know" by The Chainsmokers ft. Phoebe Ryan

The angle this video was filmed at is pretty breathtaking. I feel like some sort of angel/devil just hanging on the guy's shoulder. I find myself imagining, sometime after finishing off that bottle of alcohol and slamming it against the wall, that a midnight burrito run is in order. Riding in a convertible with a fully liquored stomach and no food is never a good thing.

"Bad Catholics" by The Menzingers

There's lots of food featured in "Bad Catholics" by the Menzingers. How can their not be when the setting is a church picnic? Oddly enough, there seems to be a lack of burritos. I think those old, outdated folks standing around trying to eat spaghetti with plastic forks would be much better served wrapping that spaghetti in a tortilla. I mean what flies better in a food fight than loose spaghetti? Spaghetti burritos!

 Get All of 2016's Click Tracks (when available) in One Spotify Playlist: