music mondays: thao and neko

I need another weekday that starts with M.

Okay, maybe I just need better time management. Sorry I kind of suck at actually doing this on the designated day. On Mondays, I go straight from work to volunteer teaching ESL (because I am incredibly altruistic by nature, high-five!) and now that it’s dark out by the time I get home, I mostly just want to eat a block of cheese and watch the most recent episode of Bones on some sketchy Euro website. I promise to do better.

Anyway, this week’s Music Monday (Wednesday) is brought to you by GIRL POWER. On Saturday, I saw Neko Case at the Newport with opener Thao and The Get Down Stay Down. I got to see Thao earlier in the year at Summerfest, and was really excited to see she was coming back with Neko. I have to say, I liked her set at Summerfest better, but it really had to do with the venue and the crowd. Summerfest was outside with a bunch of people who had been day-drinking, and even though they didn’t know the songs, they were still fun. Saturday’s crowd was essentially all Neko fans who were like, “Ugh, we’re just here for Neko, someone quiet this girl down. I wish I was the moon, etc.” But, Thao rocks out no matter what, and it’s awesome. She plays guitar, banjo, AND the lap steel, for which I am always a sucker.


ICYMI, her single this summer was We the Common (For Valerie Bolden), and not only is it a fun song, it’s actually about something real. In interviews, Thao has explained that the song was inspired by Valerie Bolden, a woman serving a life sentence in California. Thao spent time volunteering with a women’s prison and became an advocate for the rights of prisoners. It’s a great song, but my favorite track from We the Common is City. She’s so good at mixing the hard and soft.

She also has a letter at the beginning of the most recent McSweeney’s Quarterly (about an uncomfortable trip to the doctor), so that adds to her likability.

Alright, I’ll talk about Neko now. Overall, I like her new album, The Worse Things Get, The Harder I Fight, The Harder I Fight, The More I Love You. (Sidebar, if you think that’s a long album name, go have a chat with Fiona.) In interviews for the album, Neko has spoken a lot about how she’d been depressed after the deaths of her parents and grandmother. I appreciate how literal she got (there’s a track called “Where Did I Leave That Fire”) but it’s not just an album of downer songs.

So I didn’t really know what to expect from her live show, and had to transition myself a bit after rocking with Thao. Plus, during her first song, she told someone to put their phone away.

Later, she kinda apologized and backpedaled a bit, but still didn’t want anyone snapping pics. She gave some explanation about camera phones having lasers that focus on her face, causing her to lose her place and forget lyrics. Look, I’ve taken enough selfies to call bullshit on that. Just say it’s annoying to have people constantly taking pictures, please just put your phones away. I think it’s annoying too. And while I wanted to snap a pic (the backdrop was pretty snazzy), I just didn’t. NBD.

Back to the music. She played a good mix of new and old songs. She and Kelly Hogan had some fun banter. I was really hoping she would play Nearly Midnight, Honolulu, which is this incredibly haunting yet beautiful song. I didn’t expect them to play it, since it’s just a cappella, but I hoped.

I was really impressed by how relaxed she seemed while her voice boomed in this sublime way. She killed with Night Still Comes, which is another favorite of mine from the new album.

No shots of Neko to share, but the grey streak in the front of her crazy red hair left me thinking of Bonnie Raitt, and how Neko would crush I Can’t Make You Love Me.


good eats: fall means caramel and apple everything

photo 5-2A few weeks ago I went apple picking for the first time. I should say the first successful time. Quick story. I tried to go apple picking a couple years ago with some friends. We found an orchard online and drove 45 minutes out of the city and into the part of suburbia that is still a little rural. We followed the directions and turned into the drive for the orchard only to see an incredibly dilapidated sign and NO TREES. That’s right, the trees had all been bulldozed, along with my dreams of endless apple baked goods. When we asked at the nearby pumpkin patch what happened to the orchard, a man informed us, “Oh well, Old Man McDonald died last year and they just decided to tear it all down.” DREAMS CRUSHED TWICE. THAT IS SO SAD.

We ended up driving to Whole Foods and spending way too much on organic apples and cider. I felt like I was in a sitcom. The TV Guide description would have read, “City girls try to do country thing, fail miserably.”

So anyway, this time was a much bigger success! Here are a couple things I made with the bounty:

Skillet Salty Caramel Apple Crisp from Tasty Kitchen.
A few notes: I don’t have a kitchen scale, and while I have weighed peaches before by standing on my scale with and without them, I chose to just wing it with the apples. I used these three semi-giant apples:

photo 3

If you don’t have half-and-half at home (and don’t need it for your coffee), but do have milk, you can just use that. Also, I say use whatever apples you like. If I’d had Granny Smith, I would have used those because I like the tartness for baking, but Bon Appetit recommends a few others.

So, here’s the finished product:

photo 2

Next up are PW’s Caramel Apple Sticky Buns. I love the Pioneer Woman because she’s funny, sassy, and she doesn’t try to make everything into its healthy counterpart. This lady is not afraid of butter. It also helps that she’s not a racist. Notes on this one: Her recipe is a double batch. I didn’t realize that when I started and even though I had enough ingredients for two pans of sticky buns, I didn’t need two pans of sticky buns, ya know? I’d also recommend using more apples than she used in the recipe, depending on the size, obviously. But I wanted the apples to have more of a spotlight than they got.

The secret to these buns is that you pour the caramel in the pan first, then the apples, then the buns. So, when you take the pan out of the oven, it looks like just some plain ol’ cinnamon rolls.

photo 2-2But the trick is to put a serving dish on top of the pan, then flip it over to get all the glorious caramel stickiness on top:

photo 3-2Confession: I don’t think it looks super appetizing this way! I also had light corn syrup and not dark, so that makes a difference in appearance. But don’t be fooled, these are delicious.

Now for the last treat (spoiler, no apples included): Caramel Corn! I love popcorn in all forms, but caramel corn is a great fall treat. This recipe makes quite a bit of popcorn, but it keeps well. So, here it is:

  • 8ish cups freshly popped corn
  • 1 cup butter
  • 2 cups brown sugar
  • ½ cup light corn syrup
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • ½ teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla

So, I say 8ish cups of popcorn because I rarely measure things. I pop the corn in my 8 quart stock pot and put in enough kernels to almost cover the bottom of the pot. Once popped, I’d guess it’s close to 8 cups. The good thing about making caramel corn is you can’t really mess it up, if you made too much caramel, just don’t use it all; if you need more, it’s easy enough to make quickly.

Alright, pop your corn and preheat the oven to 225ºF. In a pot, melt the butter and brown sugar over medium heat. Once melted, stir in the corn syrup and salt. Raise the heat and boil for 5 minutes, without stirring.

photo 1-2Remove from heat and add the vanilla and baking soda. Resist the urge to pour boiling sugary goodness straight in your mouth. Instead, pour the caramel over the popped corn and stir to coat evenly. Bake the corn in an oven-safe bowl (or two casserole dishes in my case) for 45 minutes, stirring every 15 minutes. Let the corn cool before eating. I prefer to pour it out onto parchment paper to cool so that I can break up the chunks. If you don’t mind the big chunks of caramel corn, let it cool in the bowl or baking dish.

Happy fall!