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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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.

Winter 2017: Make a Brand New Start of It

A new year has dawned and, for maybe the first time, we both returned from our beloved Bluegrass State after a holiday break with that cozy, fuzzy feeling of going back home. Somehow, without either of us realizing it, this madhouse of a city wormed its way into our Southern hearts. And while our roots will always be in Louisville, and we won’t be calling ourselves New Yorkers any time soon, we do both feel that we have claimed this here city — or at least certain corners of it — as ours.

So we’re starting off this year with songs that highlight our adopted home. New York has provided endless inspiration for artists, writers, and directors alike. But musicians especially continue to pay tribute to New York: From Old Blue Eyes to The Black Keys, people love to sing about this city.

Our criteria were simple: Each track on this playlist had to contain New York or one of its boroughs in the title. Put on a pot of tea, bite into your bagel and schmear, and relax to the rumble of the subway and the whoop of passing sirens. And as always, you can listen here, on Spotify, or on YouTube.

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Five Golden Rules for Surviving the Holiday Season

Happy holidays, y’all! The great festive season is upon us, bursting with trees and carols and tinsel and mistletoe. It’s a truly wonderful time. But you know what isn’t so wonderful? The overwhelming stress, anxiety, and exhaustion that can result from trying to contend with the social demands of the Yuletide period. This season is not for amateurs, and it’s easy to be swept away by the great tide of happy hours, cocktail parties, festive outings, and more that crash into one’s Facebook come December 1st. Whether you’re an extroverted holiday lover like Zelda, or a more gathering averse but equally festive introvert like Scout, December can be a lot. So we teamed up with Casper and pooled our mental resources to come up with five golden rings rules to get you through the next few weeks relatively unscathed — with your social circle, Christmas spirit, and mental health intact.

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1. Plan ahead. The key to avoiding holiday-festivity-overload is to make a list, check it twice, and stick to it. Whether you go digital or hard copy is up to your personal preferences, but either way you need to get organized. And make sure you take into account transit between events. In an ideal world, your itinerary would start with the event farthest from your home and proceed in an orderly fashion, closer and closer to your bed. If this isn’t possible, assemble a team of rogues to travel with, for solidarity and to lessen the inevitable pain of shelling out for an end-of-night Uber.

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2. Prioritize. Even the most well-organized social butterfly will not be able to attend every function, gift exchange, and ice skating foray of the month. It’s okay to excuse yourself from that one ugly sweater party you know you don’t have the outfit for anyway. Pick the ones that you care most about, with the people you care most about, and be ok with that. (We made this post instead of our regularly scheduled All the Fixin’s, because we prioritized our own time this week. Trying to lead by example and all that). And pro tip: Try to stack the events you’re most interested in (or the ones hosted by those nearest and dearest to you) earlier in your day/evening, when you’re less likely to bail because of exhaustion.

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3. Pre-stock your bar. Let’s face it, all this socializing and carrying on and spending time with your family is going to require libations. So before your holiday season gets into full swing, buy a case of wine for hostess gifts and a fifth of bourbon (or other preferred liquor) for your flask. You’ll make it through. (Pro tip number two: Liquor and wine also make great last-minute gifts for any friends, acquaintances, or co-workers (of legal drinking age) who spring the dreaded “Here, I got you something!” on your unprepared self. We also recommend picking up a pack of stick-on bows; they work wonders when transforming any item in your household into a seasonal present.)

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4. Don’t be a mooch. That’s right, y’all, we said hostess gifts. If your mama raised you right, you know that it is rude to show up unprepared. Your hosts have invited you into their homes, decked their halls, gone to the trouble of preparing food and beverages (or at the very least an appropriate playlist). Bring a bottle of something boozy, or a festive treat (or if you’re going for extra credit, check out one of the items on Zelda’s 2016 Gift Guide!). Don’t make the ghost of Emily Post past haunt your ass: She will (she was a badass). And she’ll make you send her a “Thank you” note within a week of said haunting. Manners matter, children.

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5. Make time for me-time. Last but not least, make like the bears and be sure you hibernate a little this winter. Even the most extroverted of extroverts needs time to rest and recharge. The holiday season is a marathon, people, and there’s no way you’re going to be at your merriest and brightest if you’re running on zero sleep and too much mulled wine. Weekends packed full of parties? Set aside some weeknights to regroup. Weeknights full of office parties and gift exchanges? Reserve at least one weekend night this month for you, yourself, and some cozy fun.  And for maximum relaxation, allow us to suggest the above checklist! Pour yourself some cocoa, get under the covers, and turn on your favorite holiday classic (top of our list is White Christmas, guaranteed to chase all your humbugs away). There’s nothing like a pillow fort for a long winter’s nap.

Winter 2016 Playlist: Snowfall Songs

We love a good holiday song here at Z&S. Give us chestnuts roasting over an open fire, dreams of white Christmases, and dreidels made of clay, and we go positively cuckoo for carols. We abstain all year, you see, saving up for that sacred festive season, and then as soon as the clock strikes midnight on Thanksgiving night, the spirit of the season sallies forth from our earbuds and doesn’t stop until Christmas.

But amid all this holly and tinsel, sometimes you just want a little snow. Something non-denominational, holiday neutral, which can carry you past Boxing Day and into the new year. So this year, for our wintriest of playlists, we decided to diverge from our seasonal themes past, and present a playlist for snowy days and chilly nights, regardless of the date on the calendar (if we’re being perfectly honest, this decision may also have had to do in large part with the fact that we’ve done two holiday playlists on here already, and we’re running out of favorite carols to share).

From guitars and bluegrass to Broadway stars and one Nobel Prize winner, these songs are for the bare tree season. Pour yourself a big mug of cocoa, with some marshmallows and perhaps a shot of something stronger thrown in. Sugarplums are swell, but sometimes you just want to watch the snow fall. Listen below or on Spotify.

New Resolve

Hey y’all. It’s been a rough week. We’re both still reeling from an election that didn’t go the way we hoped. We’re scared for friends and neighbors, and we’re trying to recover from the result and turn to proactive choices. We’re donating to places we think will help. We’re having conversations — at work, with friends — about what to do next, how we can use our privilege in the most effective way.

But mostly we’re sad and tired, and honestly we didn’t think we could do a real post this week proper justice. So instead, here are some things that make us happy. They bring a smile to our faces and distract us for a little while. They allow us to heal, to recharge, and to renew our resolve. As Leslie Knope instructed us last week, it’s time to find your team and get to work.

“Sunday Candy,” Chance the Rapper with Donnie Trumpet & the Social Experiment.  

Anything with Richard Ayoade, but especially TravelMan, wherein Ayaode reluctantly spends 48 hours in various locals around the globe with other comedians.

Kristen Bell is another favorite of ours. Scout just finished catching up on her new show The Good Place (Zelda’s been a big fan since the pilot), but if you’re short on time, her love of sloths always makes us feel good about the world.

Lin Manuel Miranda’s Hamilton has been a source of much inspiration and solace this election season. Last week he struck again, and cemented his family’s status as Most Adorable of All Time, with a Sound of Music-inspired home movie.  

Carpool Karaoke is basically what we look like any time we drive anywhere together, and seeing our fave James Corden go as hard as we do when it comes to singing behind the wheel is a source of comfort. Our two favorites:


We’re not giving up, and neither should you. Take the time you need to find your resolve, and start now. Be proactive, but keep yourself and your friends safe. In the words of Justin McElroy, “I’m gonna wake up tomorrow and and keep trying to do good and so are you, and nobody gets to vote on that.”