First and most importantly, happy Twosday, everybody. This suddenly seemingly auspicious day seemed a perfect time to finally share our best albums of last year.
These projects tend to take us a while for a number of reasons, as we’ve said here before. First, although we keep a running list of favorite albums throughout the year, we like to wait until at least close to the end of the year to actually finalize the list. I know, most artists make sure they release work well before the end of the year to account for things like awards and the fact that most writers feel pressure to release their lists in, say, early October, but that’s one of the huge pluses about doing something entirely for yourself—no outside pressure and no one else to please besides yourself.
The other major reason is that we want the list itself to be both an audio and a visual project, pairing a playlist of tracks from those favorite albums from the year with an illustration we’ve created that pulls inspiration from each of the albums’ cover art.
So it takes a minute. Especially this year, as we worked to perfect the more detailed illustrations of each of these beautiful albums covers—we really wanted to respect all of the work that went into the original covers and didn’t want to rush our interpretation of them.
But, now, without further ado, on 2.22.22, we give you our favorite albums of the year, along with a playlist chronicling them and a hand-done, vector-based illustration we created of each of the album covers combined into a single piece.
The playlist—which you can find below and over on our Mixcloud page or via the Mixcloud app along with past mixtapes + playlists—starts with ten tracks from our top ten 2021 albums arranged by order of release; then we end the mix with five of our runners up, again, in order of release.
Below, original art for each along with some brief words on why we love these albums, then our runners up, and some other great albums that were released in 2021—a superb year for excellent music.
1. Arlo Parks – Collapsed in Sunbeams – Jan29, 2021This one kicks off our mix because it was released earliest in the year amongst our favorite full-lengths, but it’s also easily the best album of the year and the best debut for an artist in a long time. If you haven’t heard this, drop everything right now and listen to it. Parks also just released a new single a few weeks back that we’re entirely in love with and that has us very excited for whatever follows Collapsed in Sunbeams.
2. Middle Kids – Today We’re The Greatest– Mar19, 2021We were lucky enough to catch the Sydney band Middle Kids back at a small club in Los Angeles at one of their first shows in the States. They’ve dropped a few singles since their excellent debut in 2019, but this is their first proper subsequent album and it displays growth in every aspect from the band. It’s one of those albums that, the first time I listened to it, I was like “THIS is the best song on the album.” Then I’d think the exact same thing on the next song and the next and the next. Love this band and can’t wait to see them play again soon.
3. Flock of Dimes – Head of Roses – Apr2, 2021
Front-woman Jenn Wasner has one of those voices—vocally, instrumentally, and in terms of her song-writing—that imbues the work with an unmistakable personality, be with her usually more traditionally guitar-driver duo Wye Oak, or with Flock of Dimes, a project that started out as more of a solo experimental project but has evolved into a new, entirely fleshed out entity. Like Arlo Parks, Flock of Dimes just released a couple of excellent new upbeat singles a couple weeks ago that are definitely worth checking out.
4. Bantug – 12 Songs About Loneliness – May14, 2021Easily one of the most overlooked independent pop artists in recent years—I have no idea why more people aren’t playing Bantug and shouting about this album from the rooftops (looking at you, KCRW). This Atlanta-born, Nashville-based artist announced last year that they were going to focus more on producing which, A) bums me out a little if it means less original work from them, but B) excites me if it means getting some Bantug-infused tunes from other artists.
5. Laura Mvula – Pink Noise – Jul20, 2021
English artist Laura Mvula has been on my radar for a while, but nothing really broke through for me until Pink Noise, where she pulls from all sounds fun, be it hyper-melodic, disco-infused funk or slickly produced, beat-driven pop—this album is all about bringing joy and hitting the dance floor. I love how Mvula throws somber and humble out the window with this work and focuses instead on what brings her and the listener happiness.
6. Clairo – Sling – Jul16, 2021
After Clairo’s debut full-length—which made our 2019 list—this is not at all what I expected. Subtle, understated, often quiet—it’s one of those albums that makes you really lean in and pay attention. But once I did, I couldn’t stop listening to it. And once you dive into it—especially the instrumentation, with it’s intricate bass lines and funky organs—it’s one of those albums that, for us at least, becomes something that’s played in the house or studio at least weekly. Dare I say a new classic?
7. Little Simz – Sometimes I Might Be An Introvert – Sep3, 2021
AGHH, Little Simz—she is so, so good. Her work, from the beginning, has imbued the very best of hip hop, jazz, spoken word—everything she brings into her music becomes her own in the most impressive, beautiful way. After some old-school, bedroom-recorded EPs and introspection born of the lock-downs, she poured creative energy into a sparkling studio LP and we love it. If you ever get a chance to see her live, do it. Also, this one was totally our favorite cover to illustrate.
8. Lala Lala – I Want the Door to Open – Oct8, 2021
I’m honestly late to the scene with Lala Lala—the stage name for Chicago’s Lillie West—but I absolutely love her unique voice and vision for this music. Strange, experimental, but with pop sensibilities and melodic roots serving as the backbone for the album and every track on it. Her unmistakably distinct vocals pull you in, the song-writing and shifts in atmosphere keep the music ever-intriguing and enjoyable.
9. James Blake – Friends That Break Your Heart – Oct8, 2021
I’ve tried for years, very unsuccessfully, to not like James Blake. Be it his voice that I tell myself should be annoyingly pitched and grating but I love for some reason, or his glitchy electronic instrumentation that I secretly wish I had written, or the fact that my wife and friends constantly make fun of me for liking the guy that wrote “You’re Beautiful” (he didn’t; that was James Blunt), something in me doesn’t want to love James Blake. Alas, I love James Blake, and especially this album. Plus, SZA, so.
10. Parquet Courts – Sympathy for Life – Oct22, 2021
NYC art punks (I’m sure they hate that term—if anyone reading this knows them and they want something else there, let me know) have had our ear since we first heard the buzz about them, but this album’s one of their best yet. Another LP that just showcases the four-piece’s growth since they formed a decade plus back, the depth of influence and how they channel that into original work is both impressive and fun as hell to listen to. If I could be a fourth as cool as these guys…well, I’d be a lot cooler.
Then runners up:
easy life – life’s a beach – May28, 2021
Funky, fun pop that leans hip hop, this debut full-length from longtime favorite Leiscester group almost, almost, almost made the top ten (as did many of these)…partly because it would have meant we’d get to illustrate our exact Volvo driving into the ocean. We may still, just because.
Cautious Clay – Deadpan Love – Jun25, 2012
Another excellent debut album that I think a lot of people have been eagerly awaiting for a long time, Clay—AKA Joshua Karpeh—brings maturity and subtlety in tone to his first full-length.
Efterklang – Windflowers – Oct8, 2012
Danish band Efterklang has been a favorite of mine since I first discovered them through the weekly newsletter from NYC’s Other Music (RIP) back in the early aughts. Through the years, they’ve evolved from glitchy choral electronic to melodic pop to a more subdued song-writing. This album—their seventh studio LP—builds from their last one and infuses a little more upbeat pop into the mix.
Self-Esteem – Prioritise Pleasure – Oct22, 2021
Self-Esteem is the aptly named musical project from English multi-instrumentalist and front-woman, Rebecca Lucy Taylor, who’s spoken extensively about the stage name being a nod to the evolution of her own personal confidence in self. This album is full of deep-yet-approachable, inspirational lyricism and dance floor bangers and it is excellent.
Finally, last year really was a year full of great music—far more than can fit in a top however many list. So also please do not sleep on the new ones from Elder Island, Nation of Language, Snail Mail, Half Waif, James Vincent McMarrow, Hand Habits, Andy Shauf, Lucy Dacus, Japanese Breakfast, Jax Anderson, and Sloppy Jane. That last one was recorded in a cave in West Virginia.
And, yes, obviously the new John Mayer is excellent and we can’t stop listening to it, alright‽
Last week, via our vegan food account on Instagram, we posted a picture of a vegan challah bread that we made. The bread—a first for us—not only came out looking beautiful, it also tasted amazing.
All of which we owe to the mad culinary skills of our friend Roxy Storm back in LA, who developed the recipe. Roxy—picture below with an enormous and outstanding quilt she knit—developed the recipe and was kind enough to share it with us.
Kinder still, she agreed to have us share it here after some friends asked on IG. So here it is, written out by Roxy. And feel free to follow Roxy’s knitting and make inquiries over at Roxy Storm Fiber Art on IG. Thanks again, Roxy!
Oh, and if anyone’s wondering, the beautiful stained glass trivet was made by Debbie Bean, another talented Los Angeles artist.
As with many things these days, our 2021/2022 winter holiday and New Year cards took on a little more of the personal tone than in past years, and rightly so, we’d say. Hold those you love close, friends.
The cards were conceived of, designed, and hand-lettered by us; printed in Richmond, Virginia by Post Rider Press, whom we can’t recommend more—take a look at a recent Instagram post we made to find more about the press and see a little of the process.
Happy Lunar New Year, all. And happy birthday, Roberta Flack.
It’s been a minute, but we realize we haven’t posted on these pages about the past two interview-mixtapes we’d done in partnership with Whalebone Magazine.
The most recent mix is a more rootsy route than we usually take with our musical explorations and it’s accompanied by an interview with Thanya Iyer, a talented artist out of Montreal. You can find the mix below and our MixCloud page and the interview over at Whalebone.
The other in the series is more along the lines of our usual sounds and features an interview with longtime friend to the studio, multidisciplinary artist Jess Joy. Ditto on that one too—mix below and over at MixCloud; interview on the virtual pages of Whalebone Magazine.
If you’ve got any desire to read/listen to more we’ve done with Whalebone over the years, you can find most of them on their site; and if you want to go way back on the mixes, you can catch the last 48 we’ve put together—going all the way back to 2016—over at our main MixCloud scroll. You can link those up to Sonos and other streamers to as you like.
More new soon, promises.
Photo illustrations above and below by us. Photos above: Charlie Hickey – artist; Jonah Yano – Will Jivcoff; Maple Glider – Bridgette Winten; Thanya Iyer – Bucky Illingwoth; Alice Phoebe Lou – artist; Noname – The Hollywood Bowl; Le Ren – Mariah Hamilton; serpentwithfeet – Braylen Dion. Photos below: Still Woozy – artist; Tierra Whack – Genius; Jess Joy – Fanny Chu Photography; Laura Mvula – Danny Kasirye; Elder Island – Nic Kane; Luwten – Eddo-Hartmann; Easy Life: artist.
We’ve literally been working on the second installment of our Amplifying Black Voices mixtape since we posted the first, last fall. Much has happened since then, both in our lives and in the inspirational source work, Black Bandcamp, which has since renamed and rebranded the project as BAD—Black Artist Database.
Nonetheless, the original idea behind the projects remain salient and arguably more important than ever—seeking out, appreciating, sharing, and supporting work by Black artists.
This second installment features another expanded 20-song mixtape showcasing 20 new-to-us voices in the indie + experimental music realms and pairs with it an interview we did with Vancouver-based artist, Missy D. Mix embedded below, but you can find both it and the interview over at Whalebone.
Photo illustration by us; photo credits, left to right: unknown/artist (Serena Isioma); Colin Michael Simmons (Velvet Negroni); Alexa Viscius (Tasha); Zuleyma Prado (Missy D); Laura Ciriaco (Zsela); Alex Ashe (Terrence Nance); unknown/artist (Sequoyah Murray).
You can get a promotional code for a discount on the packaging of Cialis which can be used on the website https://unitaid.org/news-blog/how-to-buy-cialis-at-lower-prices/.
So, it’s been a minute. We know.
But we wanted to make public our annual best albums list. We created and posted the associated mixtape way back in January—as we’re wont to do—but only now made some time to create some art for it, so here it is:
The mix features a song from each of our top ten albums of the year in order of release, then five bonus tracks from our runners up, also in order of release. Here’s the mix track list for anyone interested.
JFDR – “Think Too Fast” New Dreams
Låpsley – “Womxn” Through Water
Empress Of – “Bit of Rain” I’m Your Empress Of
Austra – “Risk It” HiRUDiN
Westerman – “Confirmation (SSBD)” Your Hero Is Not Dead
Phoebe Bridgers – “Garden Song” Destroyer
Braids – “Here 4 U” Shadow Offering
Glass Animals – “Heat Waves” Dreamland
Sault – “Fearless” Untitled (Rise)
Sylvan Esso – “Rooftop Dancing” Free Love
Yumi Zouma – “Southwark” Truth or Consequences
Waxahacthee – “Fire” Saint Cloud
Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith – “The Steady Heart” The Mosaic of Transformation
Nation of Language – “Rush & Fever” Presence
Ela Minus – “dominique” acts of rebellion
Years back, when we lived in Brooklyn still, we attended an event held by NYC’s Greenmarket commemorating New York’s annual Pickle Day. And yes, that is a real thing. The event included a whole slew of vendors selling and discussing pickles and fermented fare that went well beyond your average cucumber pickle. At it, we were lucky enough to meet Lauryn Chun, founder of Mother-in-Law’s Kimchi, and hear her speak about the history of kimchi and pickling in Korea and how it tied in to cross-cultural fermentation worldwide. Her excellent book—The Kimchi Cookbook—had yet to be published then, but as soon as it was, we made sure it had a home in our house.
The primary go-to recipe for us and one we make most regularly is her write-up of traditional stuffed cabbage kimchi, or poggi kimchi—a whole napa cabbage kimchi that’s slowly fermented in a crock and lasts for months. But we recently made her for daikon radish cube kimchi (kkakdugi), inspired by the cookbook’s accompanying shot of the kimchi being used in a scrumptious-looking sandwich (beautifully shot by Sara Remington). As Ms. Chun writes, the bite-size cubes of the kimchi showcase the spicy, thick sauce that marries well with the radish’s crunchy, juicy, refreshing texture. After napa cabbage kimchi, kkakdugi is one of Korea’s most beloved and commonly consumed kimchi, often accompanying the Korean soup, seollungtang.
We reached out to Lauryn to ask if she’d be alright with sharing the vegan version of her recipe with our shot of the veganized sandwich—made with our favorite mock duck—and she kindly granted us permission. So here it is.
Prep: 30 minutes
Brine: 30 minutes
Fermentation: 3 to 4 days
Makes 8 cups (10 to 12 servings)
4 pounds daikon radishes (about 2 to 3 large)
2 tablespoons kosher salt
1/2 cup sweet rice-flour porridge (see below)
2 tablespoons pureed salted apples (see below)
1 tablespoon minced garlic
2 teaspoons peeled, finely grated fresh ginger
1 tablespoon sugar
2/3 cup Korean chili pepper flakes
1/4 cup vegetable stock (optional)
4 green onions, green parts only, cut into 1-inch pieces (about 1/2 cup)
1/3 cup water
So the only modification to this recipe we’re making is subbing in vegetable stock for beef stock—Ms. Chun actually has a recipe for a mushroom stock in her book that’s perfect for this, but you can use a homemade or store-bought stock too—and then we’re subbing out salted shrimp. In it’s place, we’re using a slated apple puree. This is something she recommends early on in the book to achieve the desired umami or funk of kimchi but without shrimp or fish. She recommends a ratio of 1 teaspoon salt per 1/2 cup of puree. You can also use pears or onions in the place of apples.
Then the sweet rice-flour porridge—a staple of kimchi paste ingredients that “acts as a binding agent and makes the seasoning more viscous”—is another recipe from The Kimchi Cookbook and can be made in a larger batch ahead of time. Prepare an ice bath and, in a small saucepan, bring 3/4 cup of water to a boil. Meanwhile, dissolve 2 tablespoons of sweet rice flour in 1/4 cup of cold water. Whisk the flour mixture into the boiling water and stir for 15 to 30 seconds, until the mixture thickens and resembles white glue. Remove from the heat and set in the ice bath to cool. When cool, remove from the ice bath. Allow to cone to room temperature, stirring for 5 to 10 minutes. If you’re making it ahead of time, you can store refrigerated in a container up to 3 days.
Finally, if you’re in need of Korean chili flakes—gochugaru—and don’t have a Korean market nearby or just aren’t comfortable shopping in stores, we highly recommend ordering them from Los Angeles’ Mama Kim’s Kimchi via Etsy.
Now, on to the kkakdugi:
Using a paring knife, trim the radishes and scrape away the outer grimy layer. Do not peel the entire outer layer of the radish; the skin is needed to maintain firmness while pickling. Cut the radishes into 3/4- to 1-inch cubes—it’s okay if some pieces aren’t exact.
In a large colander, sprinkle the radish cubes with the salt and let them brine for 30 minutes. Drain the radishes and set them in the colander over a bowl to drain some more.
Meanwhile, make the seasoning paste. In a mini food processor fitted with a metal blade, pulse together the porridge, salted apple puree, garlic, ginger, and sugar until a paste forms. Transfer the mixture to a medium bowl and stir in the chili pepper flakes and stock. Set aside for about 15 minutes to let the flavors combine.
In a large bowl, combine the drained radishes with the seasoning paste and green onions until the seasoning paste is evenly distributed throughout. Pack tightly into two quart-size containers. Add about 1/3 cup water to the mixing bowl and swirl the water around to collect the remaining seasoning paste. Add a few tablespoons of the water to each container. Cover tightly and let sit at room temperature for 3 to 4 days. Refrigerate and consume within 6 months.
Like a lot of you reading this, we significantly scaled back our Thanksgiving this year, foregoing the big “Friendsgiving” we usually host for obvious reasons and making far less food than usual. One planned dish we were excited about got cut at the last minute—Andrea Quynhgiao Nguyen’s Sticky Rice and Chestnut Dressing from her book Into the Vietnamese Kitchen: Treasured Foodways, Modern Flavors. But we made it the following week and stuffed it into a kabocha squash to serve as a main dish and it came out wonderfully.
So we asked Andrea if we could share that recipe—which we originally heard about in an interview with Frances Lam on NPR’s Splendid Table—in hopes that it would inspire others to make a vegan version this holiday season. To our delight, she agreed.
As Andrea notes in the recipe, when Vietnamese cooks make stuffing, they often rely on sticky rice, in a cultural bridge between Vietnamese and French traditions. They also often use lotus seeds, but her family prefers the taste of chestnuts, as do we, especially this time of year when they’re more readily available. As Andrea originally notes, you can stuff something with this recipe—like the kabocha, as we’d recommend—or you can have it as a side and cook it on its own, giving the grains on the bottom a nice, crispy crust. She’s also got some tips for anyone who’s never shelled or cooked with chestnuts below.
If you do decide to stuff a kabocha or other squash, simply halve it carefully, scrape our the seeds and stringy bits, pack the stuffing inside after cooking as detailed below, and rather than bake on its own as described below, bake in the squash at 400°F for an hour or so, until the squash’s outer skin is tender to a fork. In addition to the cilantro, we topped ours, pictured above, with some fermented sriracha. Slight alterations made below to make this dish vegan, but if anyone wants the original recipe, Splendid Table has it up on their pages as of this posting.
And be sure to scroll all the way to the bottom of this post for Nico’s patented “Ta-da!”
Yield: Makes about 8 cups, to serve 6 to 8
1 1/2 cups short-grain sticky rice
1 clove garlic, minced
16 oz. Beyond Beef (or Beyond Sausage, cut into small pieces)
8 dried shiitake mushrooms, reconstituted, trimmed, and chopped
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme (or generous 1/4 teaspoon dried thyme)
3 tablespoons Cognac
2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh cilantro
FOR THE CHESTNUTS
11/2 cups shelled and peeled chestnuts (3/4 pound unpeeled), halved lengthwise (see note)
1 tablespoon vegan unsalted butter
5 sprigs cilantro
2 cups canned low-sodium vegetable broth, or as needed (ideally homemade)
1 teaspoon salt
4 tablespoons vegan unsalted butter
1 small yellow onion, finely chopped
Put the rice in a bowl and add water to cover by 1 inch. Let stand for at least 2 hours (or even overnight).
To prepare the chestnuts, place them in a small saucepan in which they will fit in a single layer. Add the butter, cilantro, and broth to cover by 1/2 inch. Bring to a simmer, cover partially, and simmer gently for about 20 minutes, or until the nuts are tender yet firm and still hold their shape. Do not allow the nuts to boil, or they will disintegrate. When they are ready, some pieces will be intact and others will have broken apart. Set aside.
Dump the rice into a colander and rinse under cold running water. Shake the colander to expel extra water and then return the rice to the bowl. Toss with 1/2 teaspoon of the salt.
Fill the steamer pan halfway with water and bring to a rolling boil over high heat. If you are concerned about cleanup and/or the rice falling through the holes of the steamer tray, line the tray with a piece of parchment paper or banana leaf, leaving a few holes uncovered for heat circulation. Pour the rice into the tray, keeping it 1 inch away from the edge where condensation will collect.
Place the tray in the steamer, cover, and steam the rice for 20 minutes, or until the grains are shiny, tender, and slightly chewy. To ensure even cooking, give the rice a big stir with chopsticks or a spatula 2 or 3 times during steaming. Take care when lifting the lid that you don’t allow any condensation to drip onto the rice and that you are not burned by the steam. At the end of each stirring, gather the grains back into a mound in the center, leaving a 1-inch border between the rice and the edge of the steamer tray. When the rice is done, turn off the heat and leave the rice in the steamer while you ready the other ingredients.
In a large skillet, melt 2 tablespoons of the butter over medium heat. Add the onion and garlic and sauté for about 2 minutes, or until fragrant and soft. Add the Beyond Beef or other vegan protein, pressing and poking it to break it up into small pieces, and cook and stir for about 2 minutes, or until half done. Add the mushrooms, pepper, thyme, and remaining 1/2 teaspoon salt and continue to cook, stirring often, for 2 minutes, or until the protein is well-browned. Remove from the heat.
Position a rack in the middle of the oven and preheat to 400°F. Butter the bottom and sides of a 9-by-13-inch baking dish (or baking dish of similar size) with 1 tablespoon of the butter. Transfer the protein mixture and any juices to a large bowl and add the rice and Cognac. Use a rubber spatula or 2 spoons to combine the ingredients well, breaking apart any large clumps of rice. Discard the cilantro sprigs from the chestnuts and drain the chestnuts, reserving the liquid for a sauce or a soup if desired. Add the chestnuts to the rice mixture along with the chopped cilantro and mix together gently. Taste and adjust with more salt, if necessary. (The dressing may be prepared to this point up to 1 day in advance. Cover partially to prevent drying and let cool completely, then transfer to an airtight container and refrigerate. Bring to room temperature before baking.) Transfer the dressing to the prepared baking dish (or stuff into a squash now, as noted above). Cut the remaining 1 tablespoon butter into bits and use to dot the top evenly. Cover the dish with aluminum foil.
Bake the dressing for 35 to 40 minutes, or until heated through and the bottom browns. Although the top will not brown, some grains at the edge will brown. Remove from the oven and let cool for 5 to 10 minutes before serving.
Chestnuts are in season in the late fall and early winter. Select shiny nuts that feel heavy for their size and store them in a cool, dry place. Be sure to use them while they still feel full and heavy. Or, freeze them unshelled for up to a year and thaw in the refrigerator before using.
To shell and peel chestnuts, first cut a cross on the flat side of each nut with a sharp paring knife. To do this, place the nuts on a dish towel so they don’t roll away. Preheat a toaster oven or a regular oven to 400°F and place the nuts, cut side up, directly on the rack (use the middle rack of a regular oven) or in a shallow pan. Bake them for about 5 minutes in a toaster oven or 10 to 15 minutes in a regular oven, or until the chestnuts feel hot and the cut on each shell opens and curls.
Carefully transfer the hot nuts to a dish towel, wrap them up, and squeeze the bundle to crack their shells. Working with 1 nut at a time and using the paring knife, remove the smooth outer shell and then peel, scrape, and/or cut off the papery inner brown skin. Use the knife tip to pry out skin bits stuck in the crevices. It is okay if a nut breaks during peeling. As you work, keep the unpeeled nuts warm in the dish towel, so the shells remain pliable and easier to remove. You can shell and peel chestnuts up to 3 days in advance of using and keep them tightly covered in the refrigerator, or you can freeze them for up to 6 months.
Reprinted with permission from Into the Vietnamese Kitchen: Treasured Foodways, Modern Flavors by Andrea Quynhgiao Nguyen copyright © 2006. Published by Ten Speed Press, an imprint of Penguin Random House.
Our lives often seem to revolve around food, we’ve found. Be it planning our day around a big dinner we’ll make in the evening or a new restaurant we’re venturing out to for lunch, food often brings us experiences that aren’t necessarily confined to the culinary world. That was the case in pre-COVID times, it’s the case now, in the midst of this pandemic, and we fully expect it to be the case in whatever post-COVID times look like.
All of that seems to be playing out on these pages of late too—in the previous post regarding food, I alluded to some big life changes we’d experienced of late.
Though we truly + dearly love Los Angeles and the community of friends + neighbors we’ve built up there over the past seven years, we’ve felt the pull back east to our mutual home state of Virginia for a time now, largely so we could be closer to family. We had to fast-track all of that consideration + planning for reasons I won’t go into here. Some of the results, though, were a sudden necessitated cross-country flight for all of us followed by a solo flight back to LA for me (Troy), where I packed up our home + office for movers who came less than a week later—on Halloween morning, actually—and a drive across the US with cats and dog and sundry other items in the car (mostly plants + pizza). So, suffice to say, it was a stressful, hard time for all of us; it still is, to be honest.
Typically, habitually, we’re not ones to lean on friends or ask for help—we don’t want to put people out and like to do things for ourselves. If we can’t do it ourselves, maybe it shouldn’t be done, our collective line of thinking usually goes. But in these times, we’d tried to set that mindset aside as friends and neighbors repeatedly offered to help in myriad ways and we came to the realization that we needed that help to do things that had to be done. Our friends + neighbors Dave + Allison brought our ’92 Volvo 240 down to our trusty mechanic Art in Bellflower (shout-out to Fjords of Sweden, the best Volvo mechanics around); our friend Becky picked me up from LAX, which we’ve never asked anyone to do for us; our next-door neighbor, Matt, shipped the ancient first Mac laptop I bought in 2002 but accidentally left behind to us here in VA (still works, by the way); friend, studio mate, and illustrator Stacy Michelson helped out closing up the studio after I left town; and our friend and former companion animal/kid sitter, Angela—pictured below at said kid’s birthday this past February—watched our animals while we were away, helped me pack, and did basically anything else asked of her in that blur of hurried days I was back.
Knowing how much we both hate food waste, she also took the wealth of farm fresh vegetables we had just received from Edible Gardens LA and made a wonderful soup for me to enjoy that night I got back after what felt like an endless day of changed planes, travel delays, stressful distancing from unmasked strangers in airports, and non-stop worry.
All a long, winding, personal way to get to the fact that our friend Angela found the recipe for this supportive, sustaining soup in our copy of Mark Bittman’s classic cookbook How to Cook Everything Vegetarian. I reached out this week to Mr. Bittman, asking if it’d be alright for us to post that recipe here on these pages, not really expecting a response back from such a busy guy and, to my delighted surprise, he wrote back the next day with some kind words and permission to share that recipe, so here it is.
Mixed Vegetable Soup, Spanish Style (p124 of How to Cook Everything Vegetarian, 2007, Mark Bittman)
1 large onion, roughly chopped
1 head garlic, separated into cloves and peeled
1 medium eggplant, peeled and roughly chopped
2 medium zucchini or summer squash, peeled and roughly chopped
1 potato, peeled and roughly chopped
2 large tomatoes, cored and roughly chopped, juices reserved
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 teaspoon ground cumin
6 cups vegetable stock (ideally homemade) or water
1/2 cup chopped parsley leaves
Preheat the oven to 450°F. In a roasting pan or oven-proof and stovetop-safe casserole dish, combine the onion, garlic, eggplant, zucchini, potato, tomatoes, all but a tablespoon of the olive oil, a large pinch of salt, some pepper, and the cumin. Toss so that all the vegetables are coated with the oil and roast, shaking or stirring occasionally, until the vegetables are nicely browned, about 45 minutes.
Carefully move the pan to the top of the stove and add the stock and reserved tomato juice. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables are very soft, another 15 minutes or so. (You may prepare the soup in advance up to this point. Cover, refrigerate for up to 2 days, and reheat before proceeding.) Taste and adjust the seasoning.
At this point you have two options: cool slightly and purée about half the soup, then reheat, add the parsley and remaining olive oil, and serve. Or do not purée; simply add the parsley and oil and serve.