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Baking Bread And Dropping Beats In “Red Velvet Underground”

Freda Love Smith's memoir chronicles her life as a rock drummer and food lover. She tells stories of how those two worlds have collided in some unexpected ways.

freda love smith and Red Velvet Underground

Bloomington native Freda Love Smith is a legend in the local punk scene. She was the drummer in The Blake Babies, Antenna and The Mysteries Of Life in the ‘80s and ’90s. The Paste columnist chronicles her life in music – and her love of food – in her new memoir Red Velvet Underground. Along with rock ‘n’ roll memories, we follow her cooking lessons with her son Jonah.

One of their first lessons is how to bake bread, which is fitting because one of the first times food and music collided for her was as a teenager working in a Bloomington bakery. She was making pain brié, a French bread that required pounding the dough.

She visited her hometown earlier this month and stopped by the Earth Eats’ studios for a conversation. I had ask her about her legacy at another Indiana eatery, Soma Coffee House & Juice Bar.

—————

Annie Corrigan: So, first of all, I did not realize you were the creator of (Soma’s) Cosmic Muffin. So, a celebrity is in my midst. Can you talk about how you came up with this idea for this recipe?

Freda Love Smith: It was a long time ago, but I do remember it well because it was such a fun process. It was the first time I created a commercial product, and really the last time I created a commercial product. It was really in collaboration with the owners of Soma. They wanted to offer vegan treats. The idea for the Cosmic Muffin was that it would be this mega bran muffin. It would be a complete meal in itself and we would put as much stuff in it as possible. Ideally it would still be tasty and easy enough to make every day.

Are you going to go get one?

I think I will. I usually do.

Will you say to the barista, hey…

I did that once and I didn’t get much of a response. One time I took pictures of it in the case, and they seemed nervous.

The Cosmic Muffin

Yield: 16-18 muffins

Ingredients

  • 1 cup soy milk or almond milk
  • 1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
  • 3/4 cup canned pumpkin purée
  • 1/2 cup melted and slightly cooled coconut oil
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
  • 3/4 cup oat bran
  • 1/4 cup ground flaxseed
  • 1 1/2 cups unbleached white flour
  • 3/4 cup coconut sugar
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 1 scant tablespoon ground ginger
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1/2 cup raisins
  • 1 cup coarsely chopped walnuts, optional

Instructions

  1. Preheat the oven to 400ºF. Line enough muffin tins with paper cups to make 16-18 muffins.
  2. In a medium bowl, combine the soy or almond milk and apple cider vinegar. Allow the mixture to curdle for 1 minute or so, then whisk in the pumpkin puree, coconut oil, and vanilla. Stir in the oat bran and flaxseed and set aside for a few minutes.
  3. In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, baking powder, ginger, cinnamon, salt, and nutmeg. Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients, using as few strokes as possible to combine. Fold in the raisins and walnuts, if using.
  4. Fill each muffin cup a little over 3/4 full. Bake for 24 to 26 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the center of a muffin comes out clean. Let cool in the pans for 2 to 3 minutes, then transfer to wire racks to let cool completely.
https://indianapublicmedia.org/eartheats/freda-love-smith-red-velvet-underground/

Reprinted with permission from Red Velvet Underground by Freda Love Smith, Agate Midway, 2015.

Drumming Lessons

I love the story of you baking bread at The Daily Bread with a baseball bat. It seemed to me that this is exactly what a drummer-to-be should be doing.

Absolutely! It was very physical. It was very rhythmic. Not only that, there was a soundtrack. I was having this experience and baking (pain brié) while I was listening to a band that would be really formative and really important to me. I can’t separate The Velvet Underground from that experience. It’s all so tied together. I can’t say I became a drummer because I made that bread, but they’re very linked in my mind. It was the same time that I started playing drums. It’s all very connected.

Sometimes people do think my love and experience of food and my experience as a drummer are these disparate things, but they don’t seem like that to me. They seem really tightly linked in lots of ways. Part of it is that physicality.

There’s this part in the book where you say the drums overwhelmed you. They got the better of you. What do you mean by that?

Part of it was a size thing. Being a small woman, and my first drumkit wasn’t sized to me. I think because a lot of the bands I was really into were powerful punk bands, I was trying to emulate something that was a little beyond me physically. It took me some time to come to terms with my own physical and technical limitations.

Have you ever felt that way in the kitchen, in your cooking life?

I have. There are parallels because I haven’t taken cooking lessons, I didn’t go to culinary school. It’s not something I’ve done publicly, so I haven’t had maybe as strong of those pangs, but I have had moments. I write about food a lot now, I love food, I’m really passionate about it, and I do have some professional experience. But again, I sort of jumped in with all my enthusiasm and all my interest and passion for it.

[pullquote]There’s something about being able to make something taste exactly the way you want it that you really long for when you’re on tour, and you just have to take what you get.[/pullquote]

Food On The Road

You interview musicians about their food lives for Paste, digital music magazine. I loved your questions for Joey Santiago of The Pixies, so I wanted to turn a couple around on you. First off, when you’re on tour, what food from home do you crave?

I had a really long conversation once in the van about the things that we were missing at home. It went on for hours and hours, and it’s really simple basic things but things that are hard to get on the road. So, we had this long conversation about millet, about how when we got home, we would make a pot of millet.

Then, I guess a little bit more interesting or sophisticated, talking about the way I make a coconut curry. I can’t really describe what it is, but just the way I make it taste exactly the way I want — not very sweet, maybe a little more lime juice and maybe a little spicier. There’s something about being able to make something taste exactly the way you want it that you really long for when you’re on tour, and you just have to take what you get. You don’t have that sense of control and that direct connection with the food you’re eating, and it makes you get really obsessed with food.

Another question from your Joey Santiago interview. What is your pre-show food ritual?

I do like to eat. A lot of singers don’t like to eat anything before they play, but I don’t sing. Drumming is really physical, so I need to eat something. I have a really hard time if I don’t. If I eat something really heavy or really large, then I do notice that my playing is sluggish. I’ll tend to play a little slower. So, something lighter, like miso soup and sushi is really, really good.

Miso soup and sushi sounds like the poshest tour food! Were you really eating like that on tour?

You’re lucky if you could get that! More likely, if they fed you at the venue, you’ll get some crappy spaghetti.

One of the musicians I interviewed for Paste — Chuck Prophet — talked about “gig-a-toni,” which is a word her coined for the plate of pasta with super sweet store-bought tomato sauce that they throw at you when they have to feed the band. So, if I’m faced with a plate of “gig-a-toni,” I’ll have a few bites of it. Maybe there will be some carrots and hummus in the dressing room and I can kind of pull something together.

Living That Music/Food Life

There’s a really brief story you tell about hearing Meat Is Murder by The Smiths for the first time. That jumped started your vegetarianism. You then say you were embarrassed to admit that. The very next paragraph. Why are you embarrassed to admit that?

I guess I never shared with anybody, even in the moment, that hearing that song inspired me so instantaneously and so completely. It’s a powerful piece of propaganda, and that’s what it’s meant to be. And maybe I didn’t want to admit that I was the kind of person that a powerful piece of propaganda could work so effectively on. But it did.

Let’s think about one of the most simple recipes, a good beginner recipe that you can make in your sleep. And then think about one of the first drum parts you learned. Simple, you mastered it, you can play it in your sleep. I’m putting you on the spot, I know.

That’s okay. I think we Jonah the lessons we had around making stir fry were really productive. I feel like a lot of what we were working on with the cooking lessons started to coalesce for him. That was a good basic, not even recipe, but technique for him to learn. He learned how to improvise, sort of make a meal out of whatever you happen to have.

As far as the drum beat… I can actually hear the drum beat in my head but it’s a little hard to explain. It’s just a simple, eighth-note funk drum beat.

So, what do those two things have in common? Stir fry and a simple eighth-note funk beat?

I would say their versatility. It’s kind of like having a trick in your bag. Like, something you can pull out that will almost always work. And once you know it, you’ve got it under your belt.

Annie Corrigan

Annie Corrigan is a producer and announcer for WFIU. In addition to serving as the local voice for NPR's Morning Edition, she produces WFIU's weekly sustainable food program Earth Eats. She earned degrees in oboe performance from Indiana University and Bowling Green State University.

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