I’ve think we’ve talked about this here before, but we made a really, really big mistake post-college when we moved to New York City—we stopped being vegan. We were still vegetarians, we just started giving in to the early-aughts temptation of super-fancy cheese for a bit. This era of our lives was short-lived (we started to do more design + marketing work for animal rights orgs. and couldn’t keep ignoring the inherent violence + tragedy in the dairy industry), but it did bring into our lives some pretty amazing tastes that we then turned our backs on. One that we missed especially was that of gorgonzola—that intense, blue-and-green-veined cheese that brought together a rich butteriness with a tangy umami.

But a few months back, on a trip to our neighborhood vegan grocer, Besties, a new vegan blue cheese was recommended to us—Coco Blue, a vegan cheese that’s made right here in Los Angeles by Katona’s Creamery, who uses the same aging process as their dairy-based blue cheese counterparts. As fate would have it, Elizabeth Katona had just debuted the cheese at Bestie’s earlier that day. We took it home and tried it with crackers and were immediately brought back to those heady, dairy-eating days in our early twenties—it was dead-on and we’ve never had anything in our roughly one million years of being vegan that even comes close to this level of blue cheese authenticity. That first batch of Coco Blue quickly sold out and we’ve been champing at the bit for more ever since.

Until last week, when Elizabeth kindly delivered another batch to our doorstep (which she’s now doing in select areas with the city-wide COVID shut-downs). First order of business, try the new batch to see if it holds up (it did). Second order, make the blue cheese walnut risotto we made on the regular in Brooklyn, minus the dairy. We promptly did and it came out wonderfully, so we thought we’d share the recipe here. Bonus—if there are any left-overs, you can make arancini.

Coco Blue Risotto
◊ 1 cup risotto rice
◊ 4 ounces Katona’s Creamery Coco Blue vegan cheese
◊ 2 small/1 medium shallots, peeled + diced
◊ 4 tablespoons/2 ounces vegan butter (we like Miyoko’s)
◊ 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
◊ 1 cup dry white wine (optional; if the percentage of alcohol is below 12, it’s likely too sweet/not dry enough)
◊ 1/2 cup walnut halves, lightly crushed by hand
◊ sea salt (to taste)
◊ a little of your favorite pretty green herb, mainly for show

So let’s start with the bad news—if you’re not in the Los Angeles area, sadly, you’re likely not going to be able to get this cheese. Amazing as it is (and it really, really is amazing), it’s really new to the market, made in very small batches, and not widely distributed right now. If you are in the Los Angeles area, we do highly recommend trying to get some. You can check with Bestie’s or message Elizabeth via Instagram to see if she can deliver in your area.

Some other options—depending on where you live, there may be some other local purveyors of vegan cheese who make a blue (we know our friends at NYC’s Orchard Grocer sell one by Cheezehound, out of the Catskills). And there are some recipes online for a homemade vegan blue cheese, none of which we’ve ever tried. Or, if you’re just looking to make a simple risotto and want to use this recipe as a template, you can do that too and skip the vegan cheese altogether. As someone told us years ago, the thing that makes good risotto creamy isn’t dairy, it’s the constant stirring and agitating of the rice grains that shed their outer starch over time as they’re cooked. So if you do that, maybe think about sautéing some chopped garlic in the butter + oil up front to add some flavor. Or use the more tame risotto as a base for some additional, more flavorful toppers, like spicy Italian vegan sausage.

Regardless, start by adding your risotto to 4 cups of filtered water in a large bowl. Some like to use broth here, which we’re usually all for, but we like a very clean, light-in-color risotto that’ll let the other flavors shine. Using a stock is going to give you a less subtle taste and more color than we care for in a risotto like this. Agitate the rice with fingers or a fork or whisk to release the starch into the water. Do this for a few minutes, until the water starts to become milky. Drain through a sieve over a bowl or other container, reserving the resulting liquid (we’ll add this later to give the dish a nice, thick fluffiness).

Now, setting aside 1 tablespoon/half an ounce of the vegan butter, melt the remainder in a skillet over low heat, mixing in the olive oil. Note: We usually use a cast iron for more everything; this is an exception, for the same reason we don’t use broth—this recipe’s shooting for that aforementioned tasty-but-clean base. If you don’t have or don’t want to use vegan butter, though, just supplement with the appropriate amount of olive oil (so, 5 or so tablespoon total). Now add the shallot and raise the heat to medium, allowing the shallot to caramelize and begin to become fragrant, but not overly browned (five or so minutes).

Carefully add your drained rice, continuously stirring and allowing it to sauté and brown a bit in the butter-oil-shallot mixture, which should smell pretty nice right about now. Carefully add the cup of white wine, continuously stirring (you’re basically stirring this whole time). If you don’t want to use wine, do this with additional filtered water instead or, if you want a little of the acidity that the wine gives the finished dish, add a little rice vinegar to your water.

From here on out, the name of the game is add liquid, cook it off (uncovered), repeat, always gently, thoroughly stirring and making sure the risotto isn’t sticking to the bottom of the pan. Once the wine’s gone, move on to the starchy water. Once that all cooks off, give the risotto a taste—it should, at this point, be fluffy and the cores of the grains of rice shouldn’t retain any residual hardness. If it’s not fluffy and entirely soft, add more filtered water 1/2-1 cup at a time and continue to cook off, salting to taste as you go.

While the risotto’s getting to a good consistency, in a second skillet (this one can totally be cast iron), melt the remaining one tablespoon of vegan butter (or heat equivalent olive oil) over medium-low heat and then add your crushed walnut pieces, stirring until browned evenly (this should just take a few minutes). Set aside away from heat.

Once the risotto is nice and fluffy and has a good mouthfeel and taste, add all but an ounce or so of the Coco Blue, chopping into pieces and stirring to incorporate into the risotto. It should give off a nice, blue cheese fragrance at this point. Plate and top with your browned walnut pieces, the remaining blue cheese, crumbled, and a little chopped rosemary, sage, or the like. Serve immediately and enjoy.

If you have any leftovers, why not make arancini from the refrigerated rice?

All you need to do is heat an inch or so of high heat cooking oil over high heat, roll the cold rice into balls about two inches in diameter, and then roll those in a bowl of rice flour, wheat flour, or really, any kind of flour with a little salt and maybe a little nutritional yeast (only if you have it). Then carefully add them to the oil with enough room between that they’re not touching. Carefully turn as they cook, browning to a golden brown on all sides. If you like, you can stuff a little meltable vegan cheese in the middle (we used a little broken up Follow Your Heart vegan Provolone and it worked great, creating a melty center). Serve with a nice pizza sauce for dipping.

Times are tough. Not only do we have to live with this constant fear of growing critically ill with a mysterious virus that no one exactly understands, but, to make matters worse, we’re having to do so while cut off from friends, family, and some of our favorite activities, like eating out.

Our friends over at Hinterhof recently shared with us a recipe for their Hot Beer Cheese Dip—a favorite of ours—and we just got all of the ingredients together for it this past weekend. Now they’ve given us the go-ahead to share the recipe with all y’all (see below).

For anyone who doesn’t know, Hinterhof‘s the all-vegan German kitchen + beer garden over in Highland Park and it’s one of our favorite places in all of Los Angeles. Like most restaurants right now, they’re relegated to take-out + delivery, but they’re making the best of it, not only for themselves but for their community.

They’ve started making vegan meals for first responders, hospitals, senior citizen centers, and others in-need through Support + Feed, an initiative created by Billie Eilish and her mom Maggie Baird to both support plant-based restaurants in this time of unparalleled economic crisis and feed the neediest and most at-risk in our community at the same time.

We encourage anyone in LA reading this to support Hinterhof by ordering from them; or, if you’re playing it extra-safe right now and not ordering form restaurants, you can donate directly to Support + Feed via Hinterhof’s site or theirs.

On to the recipe!

Note—we actually ran out tempeh, so no smokey tempeh included in the photo here, but it’s real good on there too. Another note—we actually halved the recipe and it worked out pretty great for the three of us. One more note—we also used an IPA (shout out, Three Weavers) since we didn’t have any Hefeweizen in-house, which we liked a lot but it did make for a more hoppy, bitter end-note. Ooh, final note—Blöde Kuh (see recipe) is actually delivering to a lot of Los Angeles and the OC right now (as is Three Weavers, come to think of it). Also, go vegan.

Hinterhof’s Warm Beer Cheese Dip
◊ 1/2 teaspoon extra virgin olive oil
◊ 1 tablespoon finely minced shallot
◊ 1 teaspoon finely minced garlic
◊ 1 tablespoon finely chopped jalapeño (if so desired)
◊ 12 ounces beer (they use Weihenstephan Hefeweizen)
◊ 8 ounces Blöde Kuh “Schmear This” vegan cream cheese
◊ 4 cups of your favorite vegan shredded cheddar cheese (we used Follow Your Heart, but also love Paremla’s)
◊ smokey tempeh, diced + sautéed
◊ green onions, chopped

Sautee shallot, jalapeño and garlic until fragrant. Add beer and bring to a gentle simmer. Add the cream cheese and stir with a wire whisk until cream cheese is melted + well-combined. Add cheddar shreds to the mixture and stir constantly until melted + smooth. Top with smokey tempeh + green onions (and maybe a sliced pepper), dig in! (Like this kid.)

Branding work largely is and always has been the bread + butter of our studio’s work for the past thirteen plus years.

For anyone not really familiar with the term, branding goes well beyond your logo. Done right, brand development not only gives you an effective working logo, but, more importantly, it approaches your mission, audiences, vision, and future marketing practices at a wholistic, predictive level, giving your business, non-profit, NGO, or any other enterprise a strategically distinctive voice + edge in a competitive market, regardless of what that market is.

But before we even get to that point as a studio, we’ve always strongly prioritized exploration of differential paths along the way for our clients. Put more clearly, less jargon-y-ly—we want our clients to see a bunch of solid, exciting, and (maybe above all) fun + cool choices from the start; paths that are distinct choices in terms of brand direction, each of which achieve the client’s goals in different ways. After all, there’s no one singular path to success, in this realm or any other.

So we thought it might be helpful—and fun—to share a glimpse into our brand development process in specific, walking through some of the design paths we explored with an actual client. The client in question—GirlVentures, a Bay Area non-profit that inspires girls to lead through outdoor adventure, inner discovery, and collective action. Here you’ll find the organization’s final brand (above) and some of the brands and draft logos we explored for and presented to GirlVentures along the way (shown here with the client’s permission, of course).

We always start theses processes off with a kind of survey that organically teases out some foundational ideas for the developing brand in a way that can easily be understood, whether you consider yourself a ‘visual person’ or not. That’s followed by meetings—be them in-person or remote—so we can talk things through with the client in as natural a way as possible.

GirlVentures came to us through Julia Hornaday, a UK-based marketing consultant + strategist who was in the process of helping the group to evolve their entire mission + vision, putting a greater emphasis on leadership, inclusivity, and social justice through outdoor education and mentorship. Wanting to fold those ideas into an equally evolved brand that would telegraph that newly honed messaging, much of the emphasis throughout the process were on the duality between the “what”—leadership, identity, and community for girls—and the “how”—outdoor education, environmental stewardship, and the profoundness of the natural world.

That, along with further background, story, and audience information that we developed over time in the process, led to multiple branding paths, both in our initial + subsequent rounds of work and presentations. Actually looking back and counting now—8 in the first round of work, and 21 in later rounds, most exploring totally distinct design paths, but a few acting as slight variations on a parent draft brand.

With each draft brand we present, we also show clients some simple mock-ups—we’ve found this helps everyone picture how the brands could be used in the real world rather than just floating in a kind of visual void, especially for self-described “non-visual-types”.

So be it a mock-up of a brochure or publication or some merch or a web page created with design software or actually built on the quick so it’s responsive on screens, we’ve found that doing this extra bit of work up front both streamlines the process as a whole and helps raise confidence in the brand as the client can see it being used, making its benefits + advantages more clear to everyone, ourselves included.

Specially with GirlVentures, we pretty quickly zeroed in on tapping the natural world for our primary imagery, partly because of the universal appeal and root of it in GirlVentures work, partly due to an old branding adage we’ve found holds up to most marketing tests—if it’s in your name, don’t put it in your logo; if it’s in your logo, don’t put it in your name.Even if you know nothing about the group (which is generally a good place to start when thinking about most audiences), it’s clear to anyone who understand English that girls are core to the mission of GirlVentures. What’s not clear in the name is the “how”—the transformative nature of the outdoors. So, early on, that vein of imagery strategically began to dominate the paths of design + messaging.

In the end, after narrowing the range on style and a few basic natural elements, we played around with color, enclosing shape, layout, and other variables until we ended up with our final mark + overarching brand. Then with this branding projects as with all others, we package files, delivering a tidy folder with a full range of file formats for every need and a basic one-sheet with guidance on when to use what and some best practices for logo use. We also create larger guidance publications that can number in the 20s, 30s, or more in pages, but those are usually reserved for our larger clients who know they’ll be doing a lot of cross-org/cross-business work with their brand or have a lot of file use outside their own departments.

But this is just one branding story for one client—though we’ve seen our fair share of commonalities in working through this process over the past thirteen plus years, we’ve also learned that every client and every process is unique, which, in addition to making this work our bread + butter, also makes it some of the most exciting + fun work we do.

Want to see more of these brand dev. breakdowns? Take a look at our portfolio and let us know if you’d like to know the story behind one we’ve done; if the client’s cool with it, we’ll share here.

A couple weeks back, right when it started to become clear that this whole situation we’re all in right now was something much larger and longer-lasting than we first thought, we started to focus more on what’s traditionally brought us peace + calm in the most trying of times.

Like many others, we went immediately to music. These days, for better or worse, many of us are locked into a certain habitual way of taking in music—we put on our usual stream from Spotify or Apple or whomever and we hear what we’ve heard before or something similar; echo chambers of music without much organic or natural exploration, much like how many of us now take in our news or politics or ‘facts’.

But in this instance, our minds went back to another time when music—though far less free-flowing—was shared more deliberately.

We’ve talked about this on these pages before, but back in Brooklyn, in the aughts, some friends of ours started this monthly mixtape club we were part of. The idea itself was harkening back already, to those years for us in high school + college when we’d spend hours selecting songs and recording a mixtape on a cassette for a friend; and then spend maybe as much or more time creating the cover art for the same tape. But in this club, dubbed the Brooklyn Music Exchange (BMX), once a month a member of the twenty or so person collective put together a mix of tracks from different artists and then would make as many CDs as there were members, mailing them out to each member. In kind, each member got a new mix of music every month. Sometimes they were themed, sometimes not, but it was a really fun way to both engage with each other creatively and discover music we might not have otherwise. To this day, we count some of our favorite bands amongst ones we discovered through BMX and these friend-curated mixes.

So we decided to rekindle this club, reaching out to friends, cohorts, and just people who’s taste in music we respect for songs in two separate-but-timely themes:

BREATHE—favorite songs that bring peace + calm
and
DANCE—favorite songs that bring joy + movement

Here we’re sharing both those mixtapes for anyone who wants to listen. We hope they bring you both peacefulness and dance parties.

Endless thanks to the friends who helped bring these together with us (in no particular order): Jessica Schoen, Thad Knouse, originator of the BMX Agatha Knouse, Dave Dalton, Anne Cunningham of the band Trummors, John Capone of Whalebone Magazine, Flow from Morr Music, our favorite KCRW DJ José Galván, Danielle Fee, Susie Heimbach, Jeff Gramm, Becca Walker, Maureen Hoban, Paul Singh of Pel, Allison Brooker, and everyone else who contributed or wanted to but couldn’t make the time or bandwidth—we love all y’all!

Stay safe, stay well, stay sane—we’ll all be dancing together in person before we know it.

Track list for each mix below for anyone who wants it.

B R E A T H E
1—Fire Truck—Andy Shauf
2—Our Swords—Band Of Horses
3—I Can Feel It—Sloan
4—5 Long Days—Mind Shrine
5—Dead Mans Will—Calexico / Iron And Wine
6—Windfall (2015 Remastered)—Son Volt Trace (Expanded)
7—Up All Night—The War On Drugs
8—Gimme Shelter—The Rolling Stones
9—I Can’t Let Maggie Go—The Honeybus
10—Trees We Couldn’t Tell The Size Of—Wished Bone
11—Wildflowers—Tom Petty
12—Boat Song—Garrett Pierce
13—Alton Ellis + Hortense Ellis—Breaking Up
14—Take What You Can Carry—Mia Doi Todd
15—Heart Of Glass—Lily Moore
16—All the Pretty Girls—KALEO
17—Higher Than the Sun (Single Mix)—Primal Scream
18—Desert Raven—Jonathan Wilson
19—Sitting Still Moving Still Staring Outlooking—His Name is Alive
20—Live at AvantJazz—Masayoshi Fujita & Jan Jelinek

D A N C E
1—Cloudbusting (2018 Remaster)—Kate Bush
2—Mr Fingers—Nisantashi Primary
3—Let The Speakers Blow—Big Gigantic
4—Dancing Box (feat. TTC)—Modeselektor
5—PARAD(w/m)E—Sylvan Esso
6—You’re so Pretty—FM Belfast
7—Windy Cindy—People Get Ready
8—Shuffle—Bombay Bicycle Club
9—High Time—LEGS
10—Heatstroke—Glorietta
11—Why When Love Is Gone—The Isley Brothers
12—Sweet Soul Music—Arthur Conley
13—Automatic—The Pointer Sisters
14—Blind—Hercules and Love Affair
15—I’m Not Gonna Teach Your Boyfriend How to Dance with You—Black Kids
16—drowninginthedark—Dan Black
17—Thursday (The Twelves Remix)—Asobi Seksu
18—Dangerous (DJ Dainjah Remix)—Busta Rhymes
19—Hang With Me—Robyn
20—Love at First Site—Kylie Minogue

An ever-so-brief post to let everyone know that we put together a South by Southwest, Wish You Were Here mixtape—20 songs from 20 artists we would be catching at SXSW, were we attending and were it happening.

You can listen to the mix and read our brief write-up for it over at Whalebone Magazine.

Enjoy and stay safe, stay well, stay sane, and stay home everybody.

Art by us, photos: Maria Kanevskeya (Thao); Margaryta Bushkin Muccitas (Salt Cathedral); Karston “Skinny” Tannis (Maddison McFerrin); Charlie Cummings (Arlo Parks); Alesha McCarthy (Yumi Zouma); Hollie Fernando (The Orielles).

We posted a brief version of this via Instagram a bit back but thought we’d give this whole thing a permanent home not (yet) dependent on the whims of social media.

As we stated on IG, when representing data visually—which we do a lot in our day-to-day work—we always want to make things as compelling and as interesting as possible. Given the fact that we’re a creative agency, it’s certainly our job to do so for our clients, but especially in this crowded field where we’re all trying to catch the eye of our audience as most attention spans just get shorter and shorter, it’s just a good idea to cut through the noise, whatever the industry.

Using circular forms to represent data rather than employing your more run-of-the-mill bar or line graphs has been a trend for ages now and it makes sense—visually, circles are just more fun and make your product less likely to be mistaken for a boring, data-trance-inducing throwaways. But doing so also presents some inherent problems.

Doing these visualizations by hand, most of us would understandably use the diameter of a circle to reflect a data point if we’re inputting in design software or apps (the full width/height, for anyone relatively removed from the world of mathematical language—it’s been a while, right?). But doing so actually creates a false representation of data, exaggerating the difference between smaller and larger amounts in the same field since we, as viewers, learned long ago to judge the size of circles by their area, not just their height as we would with a bar graph, where we’ve been taught to ignore the bars’ width as inconsequential in data.

But we’re visual people talking about a visual problem—let’s put this in visual terms: Below, you’ll see the same data set representing the numbers 1, 5, and 10 in relation to each other, first incorrectly, using only a single dimension (diameter) and then correctly using proportional area (two dimensions). As you can see, the difference visually is pretty striking. The first, incorrectly drafted set shows massive differences in these values, painting a pretty dramatic picture; the second, correctly done set is far less dramatic but demonstrates a more realistic difference between the data values.

So, yes, we can use circular forms to represent data, we just need to do so with area, not diameter. If you’re using charting software like Excel or the like and you’re not doing anything fancy with the visualization, you don’t need to worry about this as any data app worth its salt is going to chart circles correctly. But if you’re doing custom work to, say, fit a company brand or just to have more control over the design + layout, which we do often for clients, you need to employ some basic but not necessarily routine or natural calculations.

In theory, you need to back-engineer the proportional area for each of the values. Since A = π r², you’d technically take data set values, find their square root and then divide by pi. But since, again, visually data sets like these are only showing you single data points in relation to every other data point in the set, and since every data point would be reduced to a radius, each of which would be divided by pi, you don’t need to do that extra math since, proportionally, it’s giving you the same relative difference in sizes for the circles. Plus dividing already divided numbers by 3.14159265359 et cetera could give you some pretty minuscule numbers that you’d then have to multiply up to have them show up as pixels. Too much math.

Do this instead—get your data set and calculate the square root for each data point, then use that for the value of the circle’s diameter when creating circles in a data visualization. Again, for my fellow readers who consider themselves far removed from the days of daily mathematics, the square root symbol on a calculator’s the one that looks like this: √ (or with a 2 in the upper left of that symbol). The only trick is determining the size of your largest and smallest circles—which’ll define the amount of space you’ll need in any kind of circle or bubble data visualization—before you get too far in any customization. Too much space? Take them all and size down proportionally. Smallest point invisible? Size all the circles up proportionally.

If you’re calculating some lower whole numbers, though, the guys over at InfoNewt came up with a quick reference PDF that you can download too.

Happy visualizing, friends!

Pictured above, a funding map we created with correctly sized circles for the United Nations Central Emergency Response Fund, who provide quick, efficient humanitarian assistance around the world to people caught up in crises; below, a bunch of bubbles we calculated by blowing into a ring of glycerine. Cue Bush song.

The Best Albums of 2019. Not Late, Timely.

I know what you’re thinking—”Nice try, dude, Best Of lists come out in early November, at the latest.”

But why is that? Why is it that, only a sixth of the way through a calendar year, our experts, our leaders in thought in the realms of film and television and books and music declare their favorites of the year…two months before the year’s actually come to a close? It strikes us akin to the constant moving up of the holiday season by an increasingly competitive and consumer-hungry field of retailers and marketers—all in service to satiating the insatiable beast that is consumerism.

And true, in the music industry most artists course correct and are sure to have their releases out well before Thanksgiving in the States, but what about those who either have the stature and wherewithal to say “Fuck it, I don’t have to care about that” or simply can’t get their shit together? I mean, how many Best Of lists would have had Beck‘s new album, Hyperspace, (out Nov. 22, 2019) on them if they hadn’t been penned a month before?  Or Coldplay‘s new concept album (also Nov. 22)? Or the debut from Anderson .Paak‘s backing band, The Free Nationals (Dec. 13)?

Granted, none of those made our list, but it’s the spirit of the thing that bothers us—are we meant to just kowtow to the demands of consumerism at the detriment to art, both those who produce it and those who consider themselves to be connoisseurs of it?

Also, guys, November + December are suuuuuuper-busy for us at the studio. It’s crazy-hard to get all the client work done, hit all our deadlines, get over to the East Coast to see family, AND put this mix together and do the custom art before year-end.

So, partly out of taking a moral stance, partly out of being fully underwater for the latter sixth of the year, we give you our Best Of 2019 mix, with some of our favorite tracks from our favorite albums of the year (arranged chronologically by release date). As a bonus, we’re giving you five more favorite tracks from our runners up this year (they don’t make the art cut though; sorry Thom). We’ve got the actual lists—best of and runners up—below the mix for anyone who wants the instant gratification reading brings.

Enjoy.

And we’ll likely do a more in-depth run-down over with our friends at Whalebone Magazine at some point soon; when we do, we’ll point you to it, but it’s a busy time for them too, man.  Here it is!

 

Maggie Rogers Heard It In A Past Life
Rina Mushonga In a Galaxy
The Japanese House Good at Falling
Little Simz GREY Area
Vampire Weekend Father of the Bride
The National I Am Easy to Find
French Vanilla How Am I Not Myself?
Clairo Immunity
Efterklang Altid Sammen
Sudan Archives Athena

Local Natives Violet Street 
Thom Yorke ANIMA
Vagabon Vagabon
Rex Orange County Pony
FKA twigs MAGDALENE

Acidhead is the solo project of New York City producer + artist Patrick McGee, whose debut album comes out next Friday on Veriditas Recordings.  We got a chance to preview the album recently, titled Distractions, and its densely woven fabric of sonic soundscapes, built from patchwork pieces of samples, programmed tracks, live instrumentation, freeform jazz formations, crazy guitar solos, and layered atmospherics left us impressed and eager to know more about this heretofore unknown-to-us artist. We spoke with Patrick recently about inspirations, song-writing, and a bunch of synths and drum machines.

raven + crow: Thanks for taking the time to talk, Patrick, and congrats on the album. I know you’re a producer, but what drove you to make the leap to artist/performer?

Patrick McGee: I grew up playing music, so performance was natural. Improvisation is like meditation, which I try to bring back to my work in the studio. I am a musician first, so while producing these songs, I tried to keep all of the accidents and moments of energy that come with live performance.

Listening beginning to end, the album strikes me as pretty cohesive in terms of sound + theme—was this a conceptual album with a major motif that bound everything together or more of a series of songs you just wanted to get out there?

It’s less of a concept and more of an environment I was in—falling in love, troubled and distant, Harlem in the springtime, and the whole world burning down. The songs themselves were the distractions from my own head.

From a tech-y standpoint, what are you using here equipment-/instrument-wise? I hear what sounds like some vintage synths + drum machines, but you never know these days. And I’m loving the horns I’m hearing.

Most of the horns are sampled. On “Love Has Me Keep on Dying” I’m playing soprano saxophone. I do a lot of work on a Prophet synthesizer, sampled into an SP404, and there are basically 4 layers of ambiance throughout the whole record made of delays, reverbs, and different saturations. Had my friends come over to track guitars, bass, drums, and those became the materials for the sound design.

I’ve never played a Prophet but those things seem awesome. Side note—have you seen this virtual drum machine before? Seems up your alley.

Wow wild! I do a lot of drum programming on the Ableton Push, I like how this looks like a TR-808.

Totally. So, being someone who strikes me as such a DIY-er when it comes to music, what technical advice would you have to someone who’s musical and has songs in their head they want to get out but can’t bridge the gap in terms of recording or producing?

Try everything. There is nothing wrong with something sounding bad. When I record, I record every thought I have, and things take form. Let your mind wander, and try not to think of everything linearly. Two disjunct ideas may be making associations behind your back.

Good advice. Where does the name Acidhead come from?

Psychedelics.

Yeah, that does make sense. We’re always curious what other artists are listening to—can share who you’re liking lately, big- or small-time?

Bob Dylan Bootlegs – Live at Royal Albert Hall in 1966. I listen to my friends a lot, Jesse and Forever, Goodfight, Sweet Joseph. I love Oneohtrix Point Never. AKAI Solo.

Oh, I like Sweet Joseph—thanks. I know you’re doing some touring near NYC—what does your live set look like? Is it just you or are you building out a band?

Acidhead is my solo project. It’s me singing and triggering tracks from the record and playing various live instruments. Getting to voice the things alone that make me most afraid and vulnerable is therapeutic, it speaks into existence a lot of things I had trouble dealing with.

Public therapy through music—I like it. Any plans to hit the west coast at all?

Hopefully, I’m open to possibilities…hit me up!

Excellent. Well thanks again for taking the time and best of luck with everything.

Thanks for being in touch and sharing the album!

We take inspiration where we can find it. Yes, that goes for the creative + design work you’ll find on the rest this site’s pages, but it also goes for all things culinary.

A bit back, we were partaking in our usual weekly visit to the Hollywood Farmers Market (the Santa Monica one gets all the glory in Los Angeles, but  let’s get real, LA, Hollywood is where it’s at in this case) when we saw that one of our favorite vendors, vegan yogurt + cheese maker, Blöde Kuh, was offering up a seasonal special—vegan BierKäse, the plant-based take on a German beer cheese.

Which, obviously, sounded awesome.

But what would we eat it on‽ Sure, we could resort to measly crackers, but soft pretzels seemed so much more worthy of this find. Alas, we’d never made a single pretzel between the two of us, and bringing outside food to our favorite pub or vegan German beer garden seemed…wie salt man? geschmacklos!

Thus an immediate need to make soft pretzels at home. The result—somewhat surprisingly for a first try—was most excellent, so we thought we’d share it here. It’s largely based on a non-vegan recipe we’d found, which itself is based on a recipe from an old blog by a Zurich-based baker, but what we ended up with through in-process trial and error differed enough from the originals even beyond the vegan-ization to warrant a re-write.

For the pretzels:
4 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon sugar
1 cup lukewarm filtered water
2 packages active dry yeast
3 tbsp vegan butter, plus extra for brushing
Coarse salt for sprinkling

For the soda bath:
1/2 cup baking soda
2 quarts/8 cups filtered water

For starters, if you’re out of flour and need to buy some anyway, may we suggest King Arthur brand—this a totally unpaid, unprovoked endorsement, but they make a great product and are an employee-owned B corp., so all around great. On vegan butter, we really like Miyoko’s if you can get your hands on it.

Now that all the product endorsements are out of the way, with the butter, you want to set it out at room temperature so it softens but doesn’t totally melt. Set some extra aside—say a few more tablespoons—for brushing later; that can fully melt. Then start out by dissolving the two packets of yeast in the lukewarm water—if you’ve got a kitchen thermometer handy, we recommend between 100°-110°F; warm enough to activate the yeast, not so warm that it’ll kill it. Meanwhile, mix the flour + salt together in a large bowl and then form a well in the mixture. Add the sugar to the center of the well and then pour the yeast + water in. Let it rest for 15 minutes before mixing together. You should notice the mixture reacting and expanding over time.

Now add the softened butter to the bowl and mix everything together with either a dough hook on a low speed on your mixer or, if you’re more old-school/minimal, like us, mix with a wooden spoon until everything’s pretty well-incorporated. Then it’s time to get your hands dirty—knead together with your hands until you’ve got a smooth, consistent dough. In our experience, this takes both some muscle/persistence and a little extra water potentially to make sure the dough’s smooth enough and not too dry. Our hands were seriously tired by the time we got there. But we got there—persist! Let the dough (and your hands) rest for 30 minutes, covered with a napkin at room temperature (the dough, not yours hands).

Cut the dough into six equal parts, then roll each piece on a clean, un-floured surface to about 20 inches long. If you make the lengths of dough much shorter than 20 inches, they’ll be tough to form into their pretzel shapes, so keep carefully rolling out by hand, both on the table and in the air, letting gravity help you lengthen gently while avoiding tears or breaks.

To make the actual pretzel shape, place the dough lengths down on a parchment paper lined baking sheet in the form of a ‘U’. Then take each end and cross them over each other once, and the once more so you have a twist. Then just fold the twist down and press into what was the bottom of the ‘U’. We’ve found that using a little water before pressing them down will help bind the dough together. Place the tray(s) of pretzels in the fridge uncovered and let sit for about an hour, building up a skin that’ll help absorb the dipping solution when boiled and make for a more distinct crust.

Preheat the oven to 400°F and bring 2 quarts/8 cups of filtered water to a boil in a large stock pot. Carefully + slowly add the baking soda to the water—there will be a reaction that causes it to bubble up, so the slower the better and watch for any splashing. Once it’s calmed, you’re ready to boil—using a slotted spoon, carefully drop a pretzel in and submerge, boiling for only 10 second for so. Carefully remove, place on a lined baking sheet, and repeat with each of the pretzels.

With a sharp knife, score the lengths of the pretzel arms a bit to avoid crazy bubbles or bustin’. Brush with the reserve melted butter (or olive oil if you want) and sprinkle with coarse salt—if you can find it, they actually make pretzel salt that works great. Failing that, coarse sea salt should do the trick. If you want to get crazy, try a fancy smoked salt or that everything bagel mix from Trader Joe’s. Now bake for 20 minutes or so, until golden-brown and tough-to-the-touch. Remove from the oven, allow to cool, and brush with a little more butter or olive oil before serving.

Now grab a beer and your favorite spicy mustard or vegan cheese spread and enjoy! Prost!

As is often the case with many of our favorite dishes, we can thank war + colonialism for Japanese curry, or karē raisu.

If you’ve ever had Japanese curry, you may have noticed it’s very similar to an Indian curry. And that’s certainly where its origins lie for this curry—a cross-cultural catch-all term for a spice-rich dish with a thick sauce or gravy derived from a Portuguese mispronunciation of the word for ‘spices’ that, like the dish, was adopted and made widespread by the British. Specifically, the British Navy, who made curries a staple of many ships’ meals in mess halls, though the British version was a bit of a bastardization of the Indian curry, adding meat + butter, thickening with wheat flour, and working from a tin of spice mix.

Seeking to address the proliferation of beriberi, a fatal vitamin deficiency that was sweeping Japan in the 19th century and a huge risk for those serving in the military, the Japanese Navy looked to their British counterparts, hoping the thiamine in the meat + wheat of these adapted curries would remedy the deadly situation. The dish quickly became a popular one amongst service members and, even after its post-WWII dissolution, the navy’s spiritual descendant, the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force, continued the tradition, taking the culinary fascination even further with curry Fridays to help sailors mark the passage of time at sea. Individual JMSDF ships even customized their recipes making each mess hall’s curry unique (and some, according to this Atlas Obscura article by Anne Ewbank, skewed to the bizarre with their ingredients—”the curry served on the Hachijo patrol ship, for example, includes ketchup, coffee, and two kinds of cheese”).

Two kinds of cheese aside, the taste for curry followed sailors home after their service was over and eventually curries entered the culinary mainstream of Japan, being served at school cafeterias, restaurants, and making its way onto home dinner tables primarily through those boxed curry mixes that still proliferate today at specialty markets + grocery stores.

But when looking to make an authentic Japanese curry at home, we wanted to avoid the box mixes, most of which are extremely sodium-rich and prominently feature amongst their ingredients orangutan- and environmentally unfriendly palm oil.

So we took to the internet to research, finding that 9.75/10 of the recipes online also simply used box mixes for the dish. One though, by Daniel Gritzer, specified a handmade curry spice mix, so we decided to work from that recipe, veganizing, adding kabocha (because, yay, kabocha), and swapping a canned vegan duck that we like as the protein.

We’re writing the result up on these pages, partly so we can easily find it in the future, partly for anyone who might want to give it a try some time.

For the curry spice mix:
2 tablespoons (7g) whole coriander seed, toasted in a dry skillet until fragrant
1 tablespoon (6g) whole cumin seed, toasted in a dry skillet until fragrant
1 tablespoon (6g) whole fenugreek seed, toasted in a dry skillet until fragrant
2 1/2 teaspoons (6g) cardamom seeds, removed from pods + toasted in a dry skillet until fragrant
2 teaspoons (5g) whole black peppercorns, toasted in a dry skillet until fragrant
1/2 teaspoon (2g) fennel seed, toasted in a dry skillet until fragrant
1 (2-inch) piece cinnamon (3g)
3 cloves
1/2 of a star anise pod
1 or 2 strips (1g) dehydrated lemon or orange peel (optional)
2 tablespoons (16g) ground turmeric
1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon (1 to 2g) chili powder, depending on the intensity of your chili powder and how spicy you want the curry
Pinch grated fresh nutmeg

For the stew:
1 10 oz. can mock duck (available at asian supermarkets) or preferred vegan protein, cut into 1-inch chunks
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons (30ml) sesame oil, plus more as needed
1 kabocha squash, split, seeded, and cut into large, 2-inch chunks (see notes below)
1 large yellow onion (1 pound; 450g), diced
8 ounces carrots (225g; about 3 medium), cut into 1/2-inch pieces
1 quart (950ml) homemade vegetable broth or store-bought low-sodium
1 quart (950ml) homemade vegan dashi
8 ounces (225g) Yukon Gold potatoes, cut into 1-inch chunks
Half of 1 (6-ounce) apple, peeled, cored, and finely grated, minced, or puréed
1/2 cup vegan butter (4 ounces; 110g; we like Miyoko’s)
1/2 cup all-purpose flour (2 ounces; 55g)
1 (2-inch) piece fresh ginger, finely grated
3 tablespoons (25g) curry spice blend
Warm short-grain rice, for serving
Pickled ginger, for serving (see note below)
Scallion, diced + coated with seas salt or rakkyo (pickled Japanese scallion), for serving (see note below)

I know—it seems like a lot. But know that the spice mixture yields a ton, so you can make it much more easily down the road, and same with the dashi, which is technically optional but kind of the thing that makes this curry more Japanese than British or Indian. And, in a pinch, you can boil dried shiitakes + a sheet or two of nori if you don’t have kombu.

One pre-recipe note: If you’d like to homemade pickled ginger as a topper, it’s super-easy to do a quick, mild one—just thinly slice some fresh ginger or green/young ginger (which is in-season right now at farmers markets) and submerge in a small bowl with rice vinegar (or white vinegar if you want a more aggressive acidity). If you’re using young ginger, you can also slice up some of the green leaves thinly and do the same. And for the scallion, all you need to do is slice it up into tiny pieces, scatter across a shallow dish, and salt heavily before you start cooking—by the time your done, you’ll have a nice, bright (tasting) topper for the curry that’ll contrast the rich curry nicely (rinse the salt if you like; leave if you don’t mind and want a brighter taste).

For the spice blend, use a spice grinder (or coffee bean grinder if you don’t have one) and combine coriander, cumin, fenugreek, cardamom, black peppercorns, fennel, cinnamon, cloves, star anise, and orange/lemon peel (if using) and grind to a fine powder. Empty into a small bowl and combine with turmeric, chili powder, and nutmeg, then set aside.

For the stew, brown the chunks of mock duck in a tablespoon or so of oil in a heavy skillet, really crisping up some sides but leaving the majority supple. If you can’t find the duck or don’t want to use it, just use a good sub. for chunked beef, basically (we get it; canned meat, but it really is good). Transfer to a plate or bowl and set aside.

As with most winter squashes, the kabocha can bee a bit of a pain to get prepped. We’ve found that it’s best to (carefully) slice the top stem area off with a big knife, then (carefully) slice down the middle and split open. Then use a spoon or scooper (or grapefruit spoons work great) to scoop out the seeds and squash guts. You can totally set the seeds aside and roast with a little soy sauce for a snack later if you like. Then we tend not to cut the rind off of kabocha—it’s absorbed into the meat of the squash as it cooks—but you can if you like. Either way, then carefully slice the kabocha halves into long 1 inch thick wide segments, then square off chunks and set aside.

Warm a big, heavy stock pot (we use a cast iron Dutch oven) on medium flame, then add a tablespoon of oil to the pot once it’s warmed; wait a half minute or so for the oil to warm, then carefully add your kabocha chunks, stir, and cover tightly. Assuming your lid’s tight, you shouldn’t need to add any water or stock to cook the squash, but you may need to if it’s not. Regardless, cook until tender to a fork poke—usually 30 or so minutes. Once done, empty the squash pieces into a bowl and—without cleaning out the pot—add your other tablespoon of oil and then your chopped onion pieces, stirring uncovered until they begin to caramelize and become fragrant + translucent (about 10 or 15 minutes).

Now add your carrot + potatoes and cook covered until tender (another 15 or so). Your cooked kabocha can now make a return to the stock pot, along with your grated or puréed apple, broth, dashi, and protein. Simmer on medium-low covered while you prep the curry roux—in a medium saucepan, melt your butter (which replaces the rich-yet-terrible palm oil in this recipe) on low heat. Once melted, add your flour, continually stirring and raising the heat to medium, cooking until you’ve got a thick roux or gravy that begins to brown a bit. Now stir in your spice mix + grated ginger and cook for another minute before carefully scraping the whole thing into the main stock pot or Dutch oven.

Simmer for a bit covered to allow all the taste to mingle, then uncover, stir, and taste a cooled spoonful, adding salt and/or pepper to taste and then cooking until thickened nicely. Once done, serve over warmed rice and top with ginger slices + scallion/pickles and serve.

Itadakimasu!