When you’re cooking for musicians, remember: an empty stomach does not a good show make. At the same time, it’s not about a long and elaborate meal. You want the food to be ready just before sound check is done, so they can come in, eat a warm meal, and then go get ready. Eating well is always nice, but - though I may be thinking about this stuff all the time - it’s really not what the night’s about. Simplicity is paramount.
My pell-mell career as an occasional caterer for rock stars big and small has taught me that much. Usually Anna, who's the one making the concerts happen, and I dish up pasta with homemade sauce and a salad. But what to cook for a band like the Baltimore phenomenon of Alex Scally and Victoria Legrand, Beach House?
To me their music is tinged with nostalgia, lush and uncanny, and it made me want to make them an exciting meal. A few nights ago, I was reading an old copy of Gourmet, and it had a glorious spread of Middle Eastern food. The colors were at once saturated and muted, all burnt pistachios and rosewater. It seemed so right for the concert. (This may or may not be because of the now indelible falafel cart outside Eclectic.) I wanted to make an assortment of dishes that they could sample, and pitas to hold everything together so that we could eat with our hands. Spices and sweets together. Textures and temperatures playing off one another. I had 50 dollars to cover dinner for eleven.
I made a list. The day of the show, Mary Claire and I woke up early in the morning to go to the Super A&P, which always makes me think of Updike, in search of the sweet spot between dirt cheap and delicious.
I would start with an eggplant dish. That would be the linchpin of the meal – substantial and hearty. I would cut a few eggplants up and roast them with tomatoes and onions, cumin, turmeric and nutmeg, pouring olive oil over it all generously. Then I wanted something cool, a response. I would make a kind of tzatziki – as easy as some chopped cucumber, minced dill, Greek yogurt and salt. What next? Hummus. Bon Appetit’s latest issue has a recipe for pea tendril hummus. And I thought, “Well, I’m on a budget here, so I’ll just buy some frozen peas and some hummus tahini, and one fancy hummus with lemon zest.” And I threw it all in the food processor and showered it with paprika and scallions. Mary Claire made a savory couscous with raisins and cinnamon. Some marinated olives, lettuce, and pitas held it all together. And for dessert, I halved dates and quartered oranges, drizzled them with balsamic and honey, and baked them, adding some mint leaves on top.
I ate with Beach House and the band they tour with, Papercuts. They were lovely and appreciative and cracked some very dirty jokes. We talked about the aphrodisiac powers of dates, the perils of diner breakfasts, and the long and sassy history of the glove slap. May they always come hungry and make such sweet music.