My passion for lemon is equivalent to other people’s passion for chocolate, so inevitably I was bitten by the Pinterest-borne lemon brownie bug (recipe from Baker Girl). My version has a twist.
Lemon brownies — twist and all — felt like the natural match for my overdue rendezvous with a feature on Jesse Thomas (official site), the husky-voiced acoustic pop-rock guitarist whom I saw open for Green River Ordinance last month (a thundering experience). Thomas had won me from skepticism to fascination in the course of her short set, which I think counts as a win-win. She is (or was) touring to draw attention to her album War Dancer (buy on iTunes), so we’re going to pay some attention to it. Preheat the oven to 350 and let’s get lemony.
“Sidewalk Ends” has a delightful Simon & Garfunkel-like feel — that playfulness and slight South American beat, combined with the occasional super-smart rhyme like “a victim of consequence / no weapon for defense.” Anybody who hears the title as a Maurice Sendak reference will, of course, immediately grok that both the musical playfulness and the lyrical tussles with demons are apt.
She’s got to be layering her own vocals, doesn’t she? The tone in the chorus is so pretty, and such a contrast to the rougher tone that Thomas can and will do when the sentiment merits it. This song also has my attention in that it’s about the experience of female friendship (albeit a rough one). While I like a good love song (or love-gone-wrong song) as much as anybody, I also appreciate hearing a songwriter treat other loyalties as important.
Loyalty will avail us little, however, if we do not get on with mixing together one stick of softened butter, 3/4 cup flour, 3/4 cup sugar, and a very healthy shake of coriander. This will not “cream” the way butter and sugar usually cream together: expect pebbles. Pebbles are okay.
No, I did not spill eggs all over the counter. In a rare move, I am using a second bowl (and it’s glass). The reason is that the first time I made these brownies, using only one bowl, the batter curdled. Some quality time on the interwebs determined that if flour and lemon juice make too violent and intimate a contact, curdling ensues.
I want my ingredients to cuddle, not curdle. So mix two eggs, two tablespoons of lemon juice, and two tablespoons of lemon zest thoroughly before adding them to the flour-butter-sugar mixture. If you want to call it the results of two lemons, you’d be following my example. Be warned, though, that curdling rather than cuddling figures heavily in this next song.
The creamy and extremely lemony batter goes in a greased pan. The greased pan goes in the oven for 23 minutes. Keep a close eye on the brownies in the last few minutes, as they will dry out quickly if they over-bake. Don’t expect them to rise: there’s no ingredient in the batter that would cause this, and the brownie-like texture depends on rising not happening.
“We Could Be Fire” falls into a lullabye-like cadence that underlines the lyrics, so the big instrumental segment late in the song contributes to a sense of wistfulness.
While the brownies are in the oven, it may be time to ask “What’s a Jesse Thomas?” The official mythos is that she moved to L.A. from Kentucky without money, friends, or prospects. She met the producer of her first EP on MySpace before MySpace got crappy. And she’s currently in the interesting position of having some good breaks (a Starbucks promotion! how did I miss this?) and glowing reviews without having yet become actually famous or affluent. (This excellent interview also includes her thoughts on social media.)
The GRO show in Phoenix was her first cross-country tour. I can’t recall if she had a story about her car losing its water pump on the hot, summer drive from L.A. to Phoenix, largely because with the sort of car an indie musician can afford, there’s a 1-in-4 chance of losing one’s water pump somewhere between L.A. and Phoenix. And if it doesn’t happen there, Texas will getcha. (Actually, I think she’s the one who sang Carrie Underwood songs to keep herself awake.)
By now we’ve had time for the brownies to cool completely. To make the glaze, mix together 1/2 cup of powdered sugar and two tablespoons of orange-blossom water. Pour and spread this over the brownies and give it a few minutes to dry.
It’s lemon! It’s squishy and cakey and brownie-like in texture! It’s a lemon brownie!
I guess that makes it a yellowie. Yowie zowie yellowie. I like the warmth of the coriander and the floral notes of the glaze give these brownies some sophistication beyond pure lemon overload.
In that mood, let’s wrap up with “You I Want,” which hits the neural sweet spot with me that Carly Rae Jepsen’s summer blockbuster apparently hits with 90% of the rest of the U.S. population: it has that infectious, let’s-drive-around-with-top-down-and-clap-a-lot feel. The sentiments of the two songs are (come to think of it) loosely similar, except that Jesse Thomas gives us 15% more angst, which seems to fuel about 15% more hand-clapping euphoria at her prospect of getting what she wants.