Early Summer 2017 Playlist: Hey, Ho, the Wind and the Rain

If we were back in Kentucky, summer would be upon us already.  School would be out, the weather would be warmer, and the pools would be opening. But alas, we are not in our beloved home state, and while we’re happy to escape the influx of pollen and dander that the season brings, there are hallmarks of a bluegrass summer that we miss. The end of school may still be a month away for New Yorkers (and we may be past the days of seasonal breaks anyway), but we are hankering for a thunderstorm. And not those namby-pampy sprinklings that the Northeast calls storms, but the bona fide, crickets humming, wrath of god thundering, earth shaking, scream-your-love-and-frustration-at-Ryan-Gosling, real Dixie deal.

This playlist is an ode to hard rain on hot days, to the crack of the skies opening up and the downpour washing the day clean. It’s a paean to petrichor, a waltz set to your beating footsteps as you dash across the wet pavement to find shelter on a porch. So savor these cool reprieves from an other wise sweltering season — even if they are only musical.

As always, you can listen here or on YouTube.

Blueberry-Lavender Champagne Punch

Hey y’all. So this week was supposed to bring you another installment of All the Fixin’s, the series where we cook our way through our respective Southern heritages. But as you’ll know if you follow this blog, or our social media, or the world in general, this past weekend included that most hallowed of horsey days — the Derby — and we celebrated in a matter befitting the occasion. We did indeed cook things (many of them, in fact), but they were Bluegrass classics that make up the staples of each of our Derby parties: pie (in miniature, bite-sized form), bourbon ball cupcakes, benedictine, artichoke dip. And in the tornado of activity that was preparing for, throwing, and cleaning up after our annual Brooklyn celebration, we did not, alas, have time to venture into something new from one of our respective cookbooks.

Not to fret, All the Fixin’s will be back next month. But today, in its stead, we’re bringing you the one new thing we did try for this year’s party: a cocktail. Now we all know the correct drink to imbibe on the first Saturday in May is, of course, a mint julep. But despite our better judgement, we are friends with some people who do not partake of the browner liquors. So we decided to indulge them with an alternative option. Call us soft if you will: We prefer to celebrate our tolerance and generosity. Also Zelda will seize any opportunity to try out a new big-batch cocktail (punch bowls for one on a Wednesday afternoon seeming more sad than celebratory, she has to wait for parties to pull out all the stops).

We wanted something light and festive, full of bubbles and springtime flavors. And after some thorough Googling, Zelda settled on this Southern Living classic-with-a-twist: blueberry-lavender champagne punch. Champagne punches are a party staple: easy to throw together, pleasing to a crowd, with all the pop and fizz you want in a celebratory glass. This one punches up the traditional simple syrup with fresh blueberries and dried lavender, infusing the drink with sweet floral notes and a lovely purple tint to boot. We can’t honestly say we partook much ourselves, aside from taste testing to make sure the proportions are right — we are julep gals, through and through — but our guests swore it was positively divine, and the empty bowl at evening’s end backed their claims up. Mint and lavender alike, we all raised a glass (or several) and sang one song for our old Kentucky home — far, far away.

Ingredients

1 cup mashed fresh blueberries

2/3 cup sugar

1 cup water

1/2 teaspoon dried culinary lavender

3 bottles (750 mL) champagne (prosecco will also do the trick)

3 cups gin

1 cup fresh lemon juice (about 4 lemons’ worth)

Directions

To make the simple syrup, stir together the mashed blueberries, sugar, water, and lavender in a small saucepan. Bring to a simmer over medium heat, and let simmer for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally. Pour through a mesh sieve and strain out the solid bits, then set aside to cool completely (at least 45 minutes, but we recommend making it the evening before your gathering and letting it sit in the fridge overnight).

In a punch bowl or pitcher, combine the champagne, gin, lemon juice, and simple syrup. The proportions listed here are for a big batch, using all of the simple, but if you’re entertaining a smaller number of guests, use 1 cup gin, 1/3 cup simple syrup, and 1/4 cup lemon juice for every bottle of champagne.

Garnish with lemon slices, frozen blueberries, and/or lavender sprigs. Enjoy!

Late Spring 2017 Playlist: Call to the Post

It’s our favorite time of year y’all. Winter has finally ceded the reins to Spring, flowers are blooming, and it’s time for the most decadent and depraved event in all of the South. Dust off your seersucker and unpack your fancy hat, it’s Derby Time! Now, as we reiterate each year around this time, while many hail Derby as “the fastest two minutes in sports,” we Louisvillians know better. Derby is actually a two-and-a-half-week long festival that contains multitudes of fun, food, fashion…and a healthy amount of depravity.

As we prepare to throw the fourth annual Zelda & Scout Derby Bash, we’re looking to our musical roots to build a playlist that really reflects the feeling of Derby time. We pulled classic country favorites like Patsy Cline, Kentucky favorites like Ben Sollee, the always applicable Dixie Chicks. And this year, we even brought in Zelda’s sister to consult on the current country music landscape to really get us in the mood.

So make a mint julep, place your bets, heed this non-traditional call to the post, and get yourself ready for Derby time. Listen here, on Spotify, or on YouTube.


All the Fixin’s: Brown Sugar Cornmeal Pie

Welcome back to All the Fixin’s! We are still waiting for spring to arrive here in New York: There was a brief respite from cold…followed quickly by a nor’easter. Suffice it to say, it’s still quite brisk. No matter! We are of the firm belief that every season is pie season! And there were many pies to choose from in Ronni Lundy’s Appalachian cookbook, Victuals, but eventually we settled on a savory pie with sausage and root vegetables, perfect for the unseasonable chill. Alas, the grocers of New York City had other plans. Zelda went on a three-store search for turnips and parsnips and other ingredients, but came up short (the hold-outs were those damn parsnips — apparently there’s some unspoken law banning their sale within the five boroughs outside of October and November, or at least that’s the way it seemed).

We complained. We strategized. We made plans to open an Appalachian/Cajun grocery and lunch counter somewhere in Brooklyn, where folks like us could buy game, root veggies, and tasso ham to their hearts’ content. And then we shifted our cooking plans to a more traditional pie format. Lundy’s Buttermilk Brown Sugar Pie is a twist on Z&S favorite chess pie (we’re all about the chocolate version from Louisville’s Homemade Ice Cream and Pie Kitchen), but this recipe uses brown sugar instead of regular old white granulated. Brown sugar is, as we’re sure you know, superior in all ways to white sugar, so we were sure this would improve immensely on the classic. Bellies full of tacos and glasses full of beer, we dove in.

Ingredients

1 unbaked pie crust (making your own is actually pretty easy, but if you, like us, are pressed for time, you can always go the Pillsbury route)

1 ½ cups packed light brown sugar

¼ cup very finely ground cornmeal (We had already purchased stone ground cornmeal, in hopes of making a different recipe, so we just sieved out the bigger pieces. You can also throw your cornmeal in the blender or food processor for a minute if it’s on the coarser side, and blend until it’s a little denser than flour.)

½ teaspoon salt

3 large eggs, room temperature

4 tablespoons butter, melted and cooled to room temperature (It is here that we must remind you of rule number one of baking: Read the entire recipe before you start! Otherwise you may be forced to sit on your hands while your just-melted butter chills in the freezer. Manageable, but less than ideal.)

¾ cup whole buttermilk, room temperature

1 teaspoon vanilla extract.

Directions

Preheat the oven to 350.

Line a 9-inch pie pan with your crust and put in the fridge to chill while you make the filling.

In a medium bowl, combine the brown sugar, cornmeal, and salt.

In a large bowl, beat the eggs until frothy. Beat in the melted butter.

Add the dry ingredients and stir vigorously until the brown sugar has fully dissolved.

Add the buttermilk and vanilla. Stir to combine.

Pour the mixture into your chilled pie crust. Bake for 45 minutes, or until the center is set. It should be liquid but may still be tender to the touch.

Allow the pie to cool until just barely warm before slicing (otherwise, you may end up with unset pie soup). Enjoy!

Y’all. This pie is damn good: just the right level of sweetness, grounded by the earthiness of the cornmeal, with a nutty complexity from the brown sugar and a delicious caramelized finish on top. We inhaled our initial pieces in seconds and spent the weekend snacking on the rest. It may not have been the pie we planned, but it is definitely one we’ll be making again.

Early Spring 2017 Playlist: Rise Up

We’re nearly two months into the new America, and here’s where we start to feel that lull, that loss of hope and will power and the siren’s song urging us to bury our heads back in the sand where it’s safe. The deluge of bad news, injustice, and outrage is constant and overwhelming, each day bringing fresh reasons to set our hair on fire. And so we have to constantly remind ourselves not to let this become the status quo. We have to repeat, over and over, that “This. Is. Not. Normal.” We have to sign petitions, make signs, set up monthly donations, sit through our lunches making phone calls to our representatives, and endeavor to keep the truth present in our lives.

So for this playlist, we wanted to gather the songs that make us feel a renewed sense of purpose. They make us want to wave our banner for truth and justice higher, to march and write and sing out, and to make them hear us, goddamnit.

These are songs to remind us to stand proud and strong. They remind us of what America actually is, what it can be, and what we need to fight for in order to make it that way. We’ve drawn from across genres and decades, from indie to platinum and everything in between. It’s not perfect or complete by any means, but we hope it inspires you to get up and go out into the world to fight for change and freedom and justice, with no regrets. We’re in this together.

As always, you can listen along here, on YouTube, or on Spotify (given certain copyright restrictions/limited availability of some songs, however, this month in particular we recommend you listen here).

All the Fixin’s: Jambalaya

Happy Mardi Gras, y’all! On this fattest of Tuesdays, we turn our attention to the bayou, where Zelda’s roots lie, and an all-Cajun edition of All the Fixin’s. This week, Zelda — ably assisted by her sous-chef, Scout — tackled one of her family’s favorites, particularly at this festive time of year. Jambalaya is, like many of Zelda’s favorite foods, a rice-based dish, involving some combination of meats and vegetables and a whole lot of spice. The meat can range from chicken and pork to seafood and game, while the vegetables typically include the “holy trinity” of Cajun cuisine — onions, celery, and green bell peppers — plus other goodies. Like most traditionally rural cuisine, it’s a dish that’s ripe for improvisation; whatever ingredients you had on hand, in whatever quantities you could scrape together, all went into the pot.

Jambalayas fall into two camps, Creole and Cajun, with the former including tomatoes while the latter does not. Zelda’s family traditionally makes the Creole variety, and her mama’s go-to recipe hails from the very cookbook on which her half of this series is based. With the holiday approaching and a twinge of homesickness creeping in, she decided to set aside a day for herself, her fancy new pot (thanks, Mom and Dad!), and Paul Prudhomme.

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Chicken and Seafood Jambalaya (based on Chef Paul Prudhomme’s Louisiana Kitchen)

Ingredients

2 whole bay leaves

1 1/2 teaspoons salt

1 teaspoon cayenne pepper (This is a reduction from the recipe’s original 1 1/2, suggested by Zelda’s mama, and even so it results in a mighty spicy jambalaya! So if you can’t handle your heat, stick to 3/4 teaspoon or less.)

1 1/2 teaspoons oregano (dried)

1 1/4 teaspoons white pepper

1 teaspoon black pepper

3/4 teaspoon thyme (dried)

2 1/2 teaspoons vegetable oil (Paul calls for “chicken fat or pork lard or beef fat,” but if you don’t have any handy, we found canola oil works just fine.)

2/3 cup chopped ham, about 3 oz (Here Paul suggests you use tasso, a Cajun meat made of cured and smoked pork shoulder. His proposed substitute is any smoked ham, preferably Cure 81. After visiting three grocery stores and failing to find either of those, Zelda tapped into her grandmother’s roots and went with Virginia ham, cut in a thick 3 oz slice by the woman at the Whole Foods deli counter. It did the trick!)

1/2 cup chopped andouille smoked sausage, about 3 oz (Paul says you can also use “any other good pure smoked pork sausage such as Polish sausage or kielbasa,” but if Zelda’s Crown Heights grocery store can carry andouille, we believe your local grocer can too.)

1 1/2 cups chopped onions

1 cup chopped celery

1 green bell pepper, chopped (The recipe calls for 3/4 cup, which amounted to about half a pepper, but it won’t hurt your jambalaya to just chop and toss the whole thing in. Waste not and whatnot.)

1/2 cup chicken, cut into bite-size pieces, about 3 oz (We found two chicken thighs did the trick.)

1 1/2 teaspoons minced garlic, about two cloves

4 medium-sized tomatoes, peeled and chopped (We used one can of diced tomatoes. Unless you have lots of time on your hands and deep love of chopping, we suggest you do the same.)

3/4 cup canned tomato sauce

2 cups seafood stock

1/2 cup chopped green onions (also known as scallions)

2 cups uncooked rice, preferably converted (The ideal here is Uncle Ben’s, who seem to be, if not the only, then at least the most prolific conveyors of “converted” rice. And while the recipe calls for 2 cups, you can just dump the whole box in.)

1 1/2 dozen peeled medium shrimp, about 1/2 pound

1 1/2 dozen oysters in their liquor, about 10 oz (Try as she might — and she really did try, to the tune of three grocery stores spread across two boroughs — Zelda could not find these suckers. The closest she came was Whole Foods, which offered individual oysters, unshucked, for $1.75 a pop. Now Zelda loves oysters, and she really did want to stick as closely as possible to the original on this, her first foray into jambalaya land. But ain’t nobody got $30 to spend on that, not to mention the time and equipment to self-shuck. So she decided to call it a day and double the amount of shrimp instead. Problem solved.)

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Directions

Combine the spices in a small bowl, mix well, and set aside.

Preheat the oven to 350.

In a dutch oven, heat the oil over medium heat until hot. Sauté the ham and andouille until crisp, about 5 to 8 minutes, stirring frequently. (Note: If you do not have a dutch oven, or another pot+lid that can go in the oven, you can do all of your sautéing and mixing in a saucepan and then transfer to an oven-safe dish later on.)

Add the onions, celery, and bell pepper. Sauté until tender but still firm, about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally and scraping the pan bottom well.

Add the chicken. Raise the heat to high and cook for 1 minute, stirring constantly.

Reduce the heat to medium. Add the seasoning mix and the minced garlic. Cook about 3 minutes, stirring constantly and scraping the pan bottom, until well-combined and fragrant.

Add the tomatoes and cook until the chicken is tender, about 5 to 8 minutes, stirring frequently.

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Add the tomato sauce. Cook 7 minutes, stirring fairly often. (How is this different from stirring frequently? Your guess is as good as ours!)

Stir in the seafood stock and bring the mixture to a boil. Then add the green onions and cook for about 2 minutes, stirring once or twice.

Add the rice, shrimp, and oysters if you have them. Stir until well-combined and remove from the heat. Put the lid on your dutch oven or other pot. If using a saucepan, transfer the entire mixture to a casserole or other oven-safe dish and cover with a lid or snug aluminum foil.

Bake at 350 for 20 to 30 minutes, until the rice is tender but still a little bit crunchy.

Remove the bay leaves and enjoy!

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In terms of results, this might be our most successful cooking venture to date. It tasted just like Zelda’s mama makes it, bursting with a symphony of flavor and packing a hefty kick of spice. In fact, we were so overwhelmed with our feelings of culinary triumph and flavorful bliss that we forgot to take the customary photo of “individual portion in bowl.” Instead, please enjoy this approximation of our jambalaya reactions:

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victory

frog

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Jambalaya is a lot of work. It requires time and effort and patience. Sometimes it can get a little messy. But like most things, it is more enjoyable when made with those you love. There’s room for everything, and everyone, in the jambalaya pot. And when it all comes together, sometimes in the most unlikely of combinations, the result can be a thing of beauty.

And it tastes really damn good, too.

Our Favorite Southern Movies

We are deep in the throes of award season, so that’s got us thinking about movies — specifically, our favorite Southern movies. The South is rich with stories and its diverse landscape makes the perfect backdrop for a whole plethora of narratives. Its history is filled with stories both uplifting and disheartening, inspiring and cautionary. Here are a few of Scout’s favorites, Zelda’s favorites, and movies we love watching together. 

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Scout’s Picks

Coal Miner’s Daughter: This biopic tells the story of country music legend Loretta Lynn (Sissy Spacek), from her roots in small-town Eastern Kentucky to her rise to fame and all the trials and tribulations along the way.

Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil: Based on the book by John Berendt (one of Zelda’s favorites), the narrative circles around the murder of one Billy Hanson (played here by a young Jude Law) in Savannah Georgia. John Cusack stands in for Berendt as the Northern reporter thrust into the seedy, witchy, eccentric and wonderful underbelly of Savannah while the trial takes place.

Crazy in Alabama: This film follows the parallel stories of Lucille Vinson (Melanie Griffith) and her nephew Peejoe Bullis (Lucas Black) in small-town Alabama in 1965. Lucille begins the movie stuck in an abusive marriage, from which she frees herself by killing her husband. While Lucille finds freedom and independence away from Alabama, Peejoe finds himself front and center as the Civil Rights Movement comes to the fore.

Fried Green Tomatoes: Based on the novel by Fannie Flagg, this is a story about two female relationships. The 1980s friendship between Evelyn Couch (Kathy Bates) and Ninny Threadgoode (Jessica Tandy) forms as Ninny narrates the story of the Depression-era romance between her sister-in-law Imogen “Idgie” Threadgoode (Mary Stuart Masterson) and Ruth Jamison (Mary-Louise Parker).

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Zelda’s Picks

Gone with the Wind: The quintessential Southern film. Problematic though certain aspects of it may be (it was released in 1939, to be fair), this sweeping epic of the Civil War and Reconstruction Era South, spun around the fiery romance of Scarlett O’Hara (Vivien Leigh) and Rhett Butler (Clark Gable), gets me every time. (Plus, on a personal note, it was one of my Atlanta-raised grandmother’s favorites.)

Driving Miss Daisy: Jessica Tandy plays Daisy Werthan, a wealthy Jewish widow living in 1950s Alabama. Morgan Freeman plays Hoke Colburn, her chauffeur. The story of their eventual friendship, and the rocky road that leads there, is a must-see.

Sweet Home Alabama: Reese Witherspoon returns to her Southern roots to play Melanie Carmichael (slash Smooter, depending on who you ask), an Alabama gal who returns to her hometown after years making a new life in New York City. Includes honky tonks, shotgun weddings, and Confederate battle re-enacters, not to mention the eponymous song.

The Help: Set in the early 1960s in Jackson, Mississippi, this movie is about the lives of two black maids (Viola Davis and Octavia Spencer) and the writer (Emma Stone) who helps to tell their story. Much like “Waitress” (see below), pie plays a key role here, but in a very, very different way.

The Notebook: Yes, it’s cheesy. Yes, it’s ridiculous. But damn if it doesn’t make South Carolina look like the most beautiful and romantic place you’ve ever seen.

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Zelda & Scout’s Picks

Forrest Gump: This movie is like a box of chocolates. Some parts are sweet, some more bitter, some crunchy and some as whimsical as whipped nougat. It is at once the story of American history and the tale of one lonely Alabama boy (Tom Hanks) who loved a lonely Alabama girl (Robin Wright) and grew up to leave his mark across the decades.

Big Fish: A Southern folk tale of mythical proportions, this Tim Burton take on the Daniel Wallace novel (featured in Required Reading: Volume Three) follows the life of one Edward Bloom (Ewan McGregor/Albert Finney) and his many misadventures up and down Alabama and beyond.

O Brother, Where Art Thou?: Scout devoted an entire post to her love of this Coen Brothers interpretation of “The Odyssey.” From the soundtrack to the swamp moss, it is an ode to southern storytelling and the larger-than-life characters (George Clooney, John Turturro, John Goodman, and more) that lend the region so much of its personality and charm.

Waitress: Although no specific setting is ever given, this tale about Jenna (Keri Russell), a waitress at a pie diner, is clearly a Southern one. It’s sad and it’s sweet and it will hit you right in the heartstrings. Do not watch on an empty stomach. You have been warned. (Bonus: The Broadway musical based on the movie is also wonderful!)

Remember the Titans: There are few things as Southern as football (see Scout’s “Clear Eyes, Full Hearts, Watch These (Movies)”). Normally we consider Virginia’s Southerness on the iffy side, but this tale of a town torn apart by race but brought together by the love of a team definitely puts it on the Dixie side of the Mason-Dixon line.

Steel Magnolias: A Southern woman is a fearsome thing, beautiful and powerful and brave. A band of six Louisiana ladies who navigate joy, fear, grief, pain, and whole lot of big hair, all with wry humor and immense love? Now that is a force to be reckoned with.