Updated: Jul 9
“I am sure my music has a taste of codfish in it.”
Edvard Hagerup Grieg, Norwegian composer
Shuffle chose another song, Fade into You by Mazzy Star and I started to taste a memory. Pancakes, bacon and maple syrup. I look in through the window of my parents home. Piled on a plate, steam captured by the morning light and a feeling of fullness before a bite had been taken.
A heap of yoghurt
I like the underdone ones
Where is the sports section
Yes! Finish the batch
of butter melting to a voice
Try not to spill that
Mum and Dad in a frame
She isn’t out of bed yet
Music and food, twins separated at birth, both are an archaic act of human expression and a daily opportunity for pleasure. The Greek philosopher Epicurus thought satisfying one’s appetite was central to living well and learning to savour the everyday pleasures was the secret to happiness; he argued the moments when there is a complete absence of suffering are our most contented. For me this could take the form of a roast parsnip and garlic soup or a song which gripping my ears. Music and food are both a product of region and culture, they are both a matter of taste and their impact can be complex, political or simply joyous. Reduced down to their soul, they’re both an attempt to satisfy a yearning, and therefore, when consumed, they give us freedom.
Even in their creation there are similarities. Multiple and distinct ingredients combine to make a whole. To achieve this whole, there are techniques, craft, limitations and traditions which need to be considered. A good friend of mine, a long-haired bassist and a keen cook (with a particular proficiency for brownies), explained to me the likeness of the mixing of food and the mixing of music. He used the example of making a smoothie versus making a cake. When making the smoothie you’re just mixing different things together, but if you bake a cake, you’re transforming those ingredients into something new and unrecognisable. Music has the same intricacy, there is an almighty difference between playing two noises at once and making harmony from them, ‘harmony, like cake, is much more than the sum of its parts’. He also has a theory about the similarities between synthesizers and pickles, but we will leave that in the larder for now.
After editing and seasoning, the creation, the finished piece, is ready to be consumed. They can bring people together or be experienced intimately, it can trigger a meditative, trance-like state or can plunge us into carnal, animalistic acts. Most importantly, they are both powerful prompts of memory and can emphasize, express and enhance our best times and help us console the worst.
As Fade into You and my memory faded, I lost the taste of Mum’s pancakes and began to reflect on these, let's face it, rather glib musings. I started to think of the best song and recipe combinations and then, I decided to ask a few friends about their experience of food and music.
Let me have a think I’ll get back to you
I’ll need a Proustian pang
The question was a tough one: are there any specific songs which you associate with a recipe or type of food? It is hard to evoke a memory consciously, those moments of nostalgia flooding the mind are usually spontaneous and uncontrollable, but there are some which erect a plinth in the brain which are easier to access. Here are the responses:
Pancakes by Bon Iver, for obvious reasons.
Spaghetti makes me think of Brad Stank or Homeshake. Simple, but sexy. Like spaghetti marinara.
MF Doom, particularly the song vomitspit and the Ratatouille soundtrack.
Travis, ‘Why does it always rain on me?’, makes me think of egg fried rice with chopped up Frankfurters.
Baking Christmas sugar cookies to the Charlie Brown Christmas album.
Jordan Rakei’s first album is perfect for making feta fritters and Mediterranean vegetables.
First Aid Kit, America. Hungover breakfasts, freshly squeezed orange juice. Croissants.
Summer chicken salad. Kurt Vile, Walkin’ on a pretty day.
Frying garlic to Frank Sinatra’s, somewhere beyond the sea.
Cabrio Mango, Coeo. I always cook to it. It is groovy, it puts me in a good mood, and it makes me want to be on my feet, which is needed to cook.
Chopping vegetables to Mo ve’la bella mia da la muntagna by Mattep Salvatore
I cooked last night to dead silence and thought that’s actually how I like to cook. Almost meditative.
I tried cooking to a few of these songs. Food and music do seem to be able to grow, cultivate and form a vividness; they can help us return to ourselves or as Abraham Maslow called it ‘self-actualisation’. Time can be slowed, warped and extended by evoking our senses, whether that be the bruising purpose of kneading dough, the cathartic release of moving your body to a beat or the blissful restoration of your mouth filling with warming soup. I have come up with a couple of combinations, songs to listen to whilst making a recipe. If nothing else, during this time of self-isolation, you might get a good new song to play or a tasty recipe to cook which will allow you to produce pleasure.
Summer Pasta – Mac Demarco (Chambers of Reflection)
For me nothing reflects the hazy, woozy and sunlit afternoons of the summer like Mac. This pasta is meant to be quick, fresh and salubrious. I make it over and over again in the spring and summer, like to the annoyance of most my friends, I listen to Mac over and over again; but I think there is no better way to enhance that carefree ease that summer brings. You can also use jarred vegetable alternatives (peppers, sundried tomatoes).
Ingredients: Any Pasta Left, 1 Onion, 4 Cloves of Garlic, A Handful of Cherry Tomatoes, 1 Courgette, 150g of Fresh or Frozen Peas or Broad Beans, A Knob Of Butter, A Good Handful of Basil, A Sprig of Rosemary, A Pinch of Dried Chili, Parmesan, White Wine Vinegar, Lemon.
1) Finely chop the onion and garlic and fry in good quality olive oil for 10 minutes, stirring continuously and making sure it doesn’t burn.
2) After 5 minutes finely chop the rosemary and add to the pan along with the dried chili. At the same time chop the courgette into little cubes and add to the pan.
3) When the courgette has been cooking for 5 minutes, put some boiling water into a saucepan, salt until it is as salty as the sea and add your pasta.
4) Now is the time to chop your tomatoes in half, add to the pan, along with a splash of white wine vinegar. Season with salt and pepper. Add some pasta water to loosen up the sauce as you go.
5) Add the frozen or fresh peas to the pasta pan after it has been boiling for 5 minutes.
6) When the pasta is al dente add it to the vegetable pan, along with a good amount of pasta water, a handful of chopped basil and a knob of butter. Toss with the vegetables.
7) Serve with a good squeeze of lemon and a grating of parmesan.
Green Risotto – The Beta Band (Dry the Rain)
A risotto needs a lot of stirring, this is because agitating the rice produces the starchy creaminess generated when grains of rice rub against each other. Therefore, to make a Risotto, you need a zen-like patience, a loyal spoon and a really good song. This song, found in the best scene from High Fidelity, is the perfect companion and you will find yourself singing along whilst adding each ladle of stock into your rice.
Ingredients: 50g Kale, 50g Fresh Parsley, 50g Spinach, Pinenuts, 1 Onion, 3 Garlic Cloves, 200g Risotto Rice, 100ml Dry White Wine, 550ml Vegetable Stock, Butter, Parmesan, Lemon.
1) Make the puree. Put some boiling water on the hob. Salt. Cook the kale in the water for 4 minutes, drain then add to a food processor along with the parsley, spinach and enough olive oil to make the mixture smooth. Set aside.
2) Toast pinenuts in a frying pan and set aside as well.
3) Add a good glug of olive oil to a saucepan, add chopped onion and garlic and cook. Stir meditatively for 15 minutes. Then pour in the wine and let it bubble down until it is almost completely reduced.
4) Get the stock rolling in a separate saucepan alongside and with an almost poetic rhythm add the stock one ladleful at a time, until it starts its oozy metamorphosis. Stir well throughout the process.
5) Once the rice is al dente, add the green puree and a good knob of butter and warm through. Season well and finish with a healthy squeeze of lemon.
6) Top with parmesan, pinenuts and a drizzle of good olive oil. Tuck in.
Chicken Thigh Tray Bake - Tribe Called Quest (The Jam)
A mid-week must and one of my flat-mate Rory’s favourites. Consequently, he actually helps sometimes with the chopping, but on the terms of him taking care of the music. There has been a lot of time spent in the kitchen, getting the words to this song wrong, but we have just about nailed the opening line – “It was Friday afternoon in the middle of June.”
4 Organic Free Range Chicken Thighs, 1 Onion, 6 Cloves of Garlic, 1 Courgette, 400g Cannellini Beans, 400g Tinned Tomatoes, Thyme, Rosemary, 2 Teaspoons of Harissa Paste, Olive Oil, Lemon.
1) Unleash your biggest and most loved baking tray. Chop onion into quarters, courgette into evenly sized strips, bash garlic, then add to the baking tray. Add the tinned tomatoes, tinned beans, harissa paste and then season well.
2) Coat the chicken thighs in olive oil and season well and then pop them on top of the vegetables. Submerge slightly, but leaving the skin exposed.
3) Chop a healthy amount of thyme and rosemary finely and then add to the baking tray.
4) Bake for 45 minutes at 190C, check every 15 minutes and give it a good shake around.
5) Serve with some seasonal greens and a good squeeze of lemon.
Bread and Butter, Soda Bread - Father John Misty (Chateau Lobby)
“Emma eats bread and butter, Like a queen would have ostrich and cobra wine.” I haven’t been able to find a recipe for ostrich and cobra wine, but here is my best and simplest bread recipe for you to eat like royalty.
Ingredients: 250g Wholegrain flour, 125g spelt or white flour, 60g wheat bran, 70g pinhead oatmeal, 2 teaspoons bicarbonate of soda, 2 tbsp of honey, 600ml buttermilk.
1) Turn the oven to 200c and place your cast iron pan in the oven.
2) Mix all the dry ingredients in a large bowl.
3) Mix the honey and buttermilk.
4) Combine to a moist consistency and form a round dough. Cut a deep cross into the dough. Place the dough onto a baking sheet and lower into the hot cast iron stove.
5) Bake at 200c for 30 minutes with the cast iron lid on and 30 minutes without.
6) Remove. Leave to cool for an hour. Eat.
A kind of Aubergine Bake – HNNY (Cheer up, My Brother)
After rough day and in need of restoration, play this song and make this dish and life will feel a whole lot lighter. This is a simplified version, but it turns out just as moreish.
Ingredients: 2 Aubergines, 2 Courgettes, 1 Onion, 4 Cloves of Garlic, 1 Celery Stick, 2 Cans of Tinned Tomatoes, Harissa Paste, Mozzarella, Parmesan, Breadcrumbs, 1 Lemon, Rocket, Thyme.
1) Get your tomato sauce on the go.
2) Finely chop onion, celery and garlic and fry in good olive oil for 15 minutes stirring regularly. Make sure you’re using a cast iron pan, or ovenproof pan.
3) When the vegetables have softened add the tinned plum tomatoes and harissa pasta. Then fill up one of the empty tins with water and add to the pan. Bring to a boil and then simmer for 30 minutes.
4) Meanwhile, cut the aubergines and courgettes lengthways in 1cm strips, then place in a bowl. Salt, pepper and olive oil. Mix.
5) In batches place the strips under the grill until they’re browned. Make sure you keep an eyes on them.
6) When you have finished with grilling all of the vegetables, add to the tomato sauce and stir.
7) Set the oven to 180C. Top the sauce with mozzarella, parmesan and breadcrumbs. Drizzle with olive oil and then bake in the oven for 30 minutes.