“Oh, so you are slamming to Joni Mitchell now?” On Kitchen Soundtracks and X-Mas Baking

20 Dec

I woke up this morning with a holiday baking project ahead of me. My mom volunteered me to make cookies for a small group of her co-workers. If there is one thing that I can get behind during the Christmas season, it is definitely cookies and candy and cakes…and anything baked. For instance, one December tradition for me is perusing the Washington Post food section’s color photo-illustrated cookie “edition” and ruing all the recipes that I won’t get to test. I am not much in the “Christmas spirit” otherwise. First, I’m not Christian, so my version of Christmas usually involves Chinese takeout and a movie. Second, I have a phobia of large crowds, and don’t like to find myself crushed and stampeded during the open (shopping) season between Black Friday and January 2. My number one rule during December is to avoid the malls. Like a plague.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not the Grinch or Ebenezer or any of those other crotchety characters. While I don’t endorse the retail nature of the modern day Christmas season, I am a huge fan of two types of gifts: (1) books (because who can read enough?) and (2) “do it yourself” presents. With regard to the latter category, I particularly love it when people take the time to bake for their friends and family. I am not just talking about people who love to bake 365; rather, I am more impressed with people who muster up the courage to roll up their sleeves and get in the kitchen just this once during the year.  There is nothing better than knowing that someone took the time to sift through recipes, ingredient shop, bake, and then package something sweet and edible for you. Yes, I heard that: even if it is fruitcake.

Spumoni Bar Cookies (Image: Johnisha M. Levi)

Today, I was making Spumoni Bars from ATK’s Holiday Cookies magazine, as well as a slightly adapted version of hand-rolled cinnamon-coffee-chocolate truffles with toasted walnuts. Before even getting my mis en place together, there is an important question I have to ask myself before baking in my own kitchen: what is my soundtrack going to be for today? Strangely enough, I started out with music that neither evokes “Christmas” nor “cookies”: Radiohead’s Hail to the Thief. I hadn’t played this album in ages because I had left it in DC, and through an oversight, it isn’t on my ipod. My selection process today was as simple as me spying the album on the mess-of-a-cd pile on our counter under the radio. And there I was, frenetically rolling truffles and completely oblivious to the phone ringing with my hands slathered in velvety cinnamon-infused chocolate. Go to Sleep, Track 5, had me in anything but, and is a perfect example of why I always think of Radiohead as classical music’s darker twin.

Today’s baking soundtrack made me curious. I wondered how many people I knew (1) preferred to cook with music; and out of those, (2) to what kind of music they liked to “get their food on.” I posted on facebook and got a few responses. Of course I am not alone in preferring some musical accompaniment for my kitchen escapades. It seems that people tend toward “gentle” and “soothing.” Someone mentioned that she liked to cook with Joan Baez for nostalgic reasons –she remembers her mother cooking to the same music. Some prefer classical because it helps them relax. Then there is the school of folks who like to get their culinary juices flowing with rock and rap.

I am so intrigued by this question that I am going to think on it a little more and devote at least another post to it. My goal is to come up with my top five kitchen records (excuse me, albums–showing my age!) a la High Fidelity’s Rob Gordon.

In the meantime, I can report that there were no major disasters in the baking workshop today, although a smaller, next-to-the-last batch of the Spumoni cookies browned a little too much for my liking. But that is the fun of holiday baking–you get to eat the rejects!

4 Responses to ““Oh, so you are slamming to Joni Mitchell now?” On Kitchen Soundtracks and X-Mas Baking”

  1. Aamina December 21, 2010 at 2:00 am #

    I love it!!!! Please keep blogging. I’m going to catch up on the others later this week.

    • levjoh December 21, 2010 at 2:01 am #

      Thanks, you are my very first comment! I’m so excited!!

  2. Marlena December 22, 2010 at 2:04 pm #

    I made raspberry linzer cookies yesterday to Mariah’s new Christmas album. Even though I cook often and bake though the year during the holidays I always try a new recipe and it’s the only time I listen to music. The rest of the year I have foodtv on in the background so that I can be surrounded by culinary friends.
    Love the idea ignite blog and please don’t be affraid to make it more “foodie”. I dont know how many of your readers know ATK but I do and would love to know your culinary commentary.

    • levjoh December 22, 2010 at 3:25 pm #

      Hey Marlena, thanks for sharing–that is interesting about how you do things a little differently when Christmas baking. This next post on kugelhopf will definitely be more foodie content heavy. Honestly, the ATK cookies were awesome. A little tricky to handle, but if you follow the instructions, you are good to go. And the three different parts of the cookies were distinct: you could taste the cherry in the cherry, and the chocolate in the chocolate, so the colors just weren’t for show. My only question about the recipe is whether instead of walnuts for the middle section, you could have used pistachios, because when I think of spumoni, I think pistachio.

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