I know, I know—we usually wait until early in the following year to do our best albums of the previous year and kick them off with a huge diatribe against the establishment ‘best of’ lists that come out in November when there’s a whole nother month or two of the year to go in which artists can and do still release albums and reviewers should just pump their breaks because the year’s not over yet, man.

But we prepared a little more than usual this year, so here we go—our favorite albums of the year and a playlist to commemorate those albums, on the penultimate day of that year.

I will say before we dive in, easily two of our favorite albums of the year—SZA’s + Little Simz’—came out mid-December and are noticeably absent from every single best albums list I’ve seen.

And, though we usually keep the albums to a top ten in the illustration, we couldn’t cut beyond these top eleven—they’re just all too good. After whose first eleven tracks from our favorite albums, our playlist features songs from an additional eleven favorite albums beyond that top set, and we encourage you to check them all out—each of the two sets is in order of release, not top to bottom.

Here are those top eleven in that same order:


Dawn FM • The Weeknd (Los Angeles, CA, USA; Toronto, Ontario, Canada)

Our year-end lists don’t usually include so many stadium-packing, Super Bowl halftime-playing artists, but it would totally disingenuous to pretend like this year’s albums from Beyoncé, Taylor Swift, and this one from The Weeknd weren’t some of our favorites. Dawn FM came out a mere week after the start of 2022, and its still burned into our imagination—a testament to its staying power. First, the beginning-to-end commitment Abel Tesfaye (AKA The Weeknd) has to the concept is impressive—maybe best described as a retro FM radio show wrapped around an eerie death cult meets LOST? Maybe? And his and Daniel Lopatin’s (AKA Oneohtrix Point Never) unabashed tribute to the synth-soaked 80’s is so weirdly delightful and and edgy and fresh, it somehow totally sidesteps being derivative. We just love this album, mainstream or no.

fka twigs - caprisongs

CAPRISONGS • FKA Twigs (London, England)

Tahliah Barnet—Twigs—released CAPRISONGS as a mixtape a week after Dawn FM debuted (The Weeknd actually guests on the lead single, “Tears in the Club”) but its one of our favorite releases of the year, whatever you call it. Co-host of KCRW’s Morning Becomes Eclectic Novena Carmel said as much at its release, but, with the little conversational in-betweens and bits of voicemail, you feel like you’re hanging out with Twigs and her very cool friends while receiving a healthy dose of affirmational before attending a long-awaited dance party again after the shit years we’ve all had. Plus the songs are exceptional and dynamic.

bakar-nobody's home

Nobody’s Home • Bakar (London, England)

We’d been excited to hear more from twenty-something Londoner Abubakar Baker Shariff-Farr—better known as Bakar—since we’d heard the poppy single “Hell N Back” in 2019. But no way did we expect such an all-over-the-place-in-the-best-possible-way debut studio album like Nobody’s Home. He writes and sings and raps and shouts about everything from the experiences of being the kid of immigrants to personal and systematic injustice to just being someone who sometimes feels like he’s always fucking up. And he does it with such skill and over such beautifully written music—this was a favorite as soon as we heard its 14 tracks.

Charlotte Adigéry and Bolis Pupul Tropical Dancer

Tropical Dancer • Charlotte Adigéry and Bolis Pupul (Ghent, Belgium)

We first came across Charlotte Adigéry while researching for a mixtape series we did with Whalebone Magazine in 2020 to amplify Black voices. Adigéry was listed in what was then called Blackbandcamp (now widened to include non-musical artists and called the Black Artist Database) We fell in love with her EP at the time, Zandoli—which, it turns out, was released by the duo under Adigéry’s name—featuring the track “High Lights” on the mix that accompanied the article. The debut full-length from Charlotte Adigéry and Bolis Pupul as a duo in name as well, Tropical Highlights, retains and cultivates the duo’s sharp wit and tongue-in-cheek commentary on life and brings it together with even more impressive glitchy, weirdly beautiful electro pop. The track we included in the mix fit better between Bakar and Beyoncé, but here’s a lyric video for one of our favorite tracks that exemplifies the sharpness of the duo’s witticism and writing.

Beyoncé's Renaissance

Renaissance • Beyoncé (Los Angeles, CA; The Hamptons, NY; wherever she wants)

I don’t know if we need to justify this pick to anyone in the world or say much of anything, do we? It’s the disco dance party we all needed and Beyoncé at her very best, with clear references to popular culture’s past—even down the Studio 54 nod with the cover art—that honor more than borrow, pushing the music to a new level with clear joy and no filter whatsoever. It’s a beautiful dance party that celebrates life, love, and freedom—near perfect. Our only worry—how could she possibly top this? I guess we’ll find out….

Sylvan Esso No Rules Sandy

No Rules Sandy • Sylvan Esso (Durham, North Carolina, USA)

We’ve loved these guys since we first heard them on the 2014 edition of NPR’s beloved SXSW mixes leading up to the music and arts fest. We caught them at Coachella the following year and they’ve been one of our favorite bands ever since. This album follows 2020’s Free Love, a beautiful and slightly more sombre studio album from the duo that they spoke of as their first truly collaborative one (with the previous two studio albums, singer Amelia Meath largely stuck to lyrics and singing while Nick Sanborn [“Sandy”] kept to music and production). No Rules Sandy is the product of three weeks spent in a rented house in Los Angeles, when the duo was meant to be presenting at the 2022 Grammys and spend time with friends, all of which was canceled due to the Omicron spike early this year. So they found themselves trapped in a house on a strange pandemic “vacation” with all their recording equipment. The result—No Rules Sandy—is self-described as an experiment in improvisation and it frees up the sound Sylvan Esso has curated over the years, growing it into something new and exciting. We can’t wait to see what comes next.

Sudan Archives Natural Brown Prom Queen

Natural Brown Prom Queen • Sudan Archives (Los Angeles, CA, USA)

Sudan Archives has been pushing boundaries and defying genres from the very beginning of her career in 2017. Natural Brown Prom Queen expands on her debut studio album—2019’s Athena (which made our 2019 list of favorite albums)—both in terms of what she’s saying and how she’s saying it. A theme that’s connecting many of the best albums this year, this sophomore release seems more free and filter-less than previous work, and that’s saying a lot given the boundary-pushing Sudan’s since she came on the scene. Beautifully sprawling, Natural Brown Prom Queen is Sudan’s best and most diverse work to date, allowing the multi-instrumentalist’s musical chops and engaging lyricism to truly shine—undeniably one of the best albums of the year.

Easy Life Maybe In Another Life

MAYBE IN ANOTHER LIFE… • easy life (Leicester, England)

The debut album from this favorite Leicester band nearly made our top albums last year (partially because we really wanted to illustrate the album cover, which shows our exact car driving into the ocean). This year’s follow-up to Life’s a Beach shows a welcome growth in depth and self-reflection from frontman and primary (very prolific) songwriter Murray Matravers that compliments the “happy/sad” levity the band’s music brought to the fore earlier in their career, both with last year’s debut studio album and the mixtape that preceded it. And, thankfully, this year’s album also features a Volvo 240—this time, seemingly safely parked curbside.

Taylor Swift Midnights

Midnights • Taylor Swift ( Nashville, TN, USA [or, again, wherever she wants)

Easily the “least cool” pick, again, we’d be totally lying if we didn’t list this as one of our favorite albums of the year. Critically panned for not being as “mature” as her previous two award-winning studio albums—evermore and folklore—it’s honestly the only Taylor Swift album we’ve ever truly loved and likely the one we’ve listened to the most in the studio this year. But don’t let me ramble on—here’s a more succinct review by our longtime 11-year-old friend, Bea, back in LA around the time of release:

“So good! Haven’t gotten to listen to the whole album yet, but from what I’ve heard so far, probably “Lavender Haze,” “Maroon,” “Mastermind,” and “Snow on the Beach” are my favorite songs so far. Since 1989 was really the first album that got me into Taylor Swift, it’s still my favorite, but Midnights is my second fave, for sure! Me and my friends have been talking about it, and it really is one of her best. It was DEFINITELY a comeback from folklore and evermore, which I definitely didn’t like. But overall, I really liked it!”


PS—the “3AM Edition” of Midnights features an additional five tracks co-produced by The National‘s Aaron Dessner (who co-produced those two earlier critically acclaimed albums) that Swift surprised fans with at 3AM Eastern the night of the album release (midnight PST). The extra track on that edition, “Would’ve, Could’ve, Should’ve” is straight-up a National song with Taylor singing (and the other Dessner twin and National drummer Bryan Devendorf playing on it).

PPS—this video for standout track “Anti-Hero”—directed by Swift herself (seriously, how can h8ers call her talentless‽)—is truly awesome.


SOS • SZA (Los Angeles, CA; Maplewood, NJ, USA…maybe Hawaii?)

As previously mentioned, SZA’s sophomore studio album—which just spent a second week at the top of the Billboard 200 Chart (the first album by a Black female artist to land at No. 1 in its first two weeks since Beyoncé’s self-titled in 2013)—is absent from nearly every best albums list this year. And that’s just silly. Her 2017 debut, Ctrl, blew us all out of the water with its vulnerable truthfulness and sheer skill in musicianship, proving her one of the most influential artists in recent years. SOS keeps that raw truth and grows in confidence and self-acceptance, both in subject matter and in song-writing. Even if it’s absent from year-end lists, it’s awesome to see the breadth of success for such a talented artist.

little simz no thank you

No Thank You • Little Simz (London, England)

The only artist to appear on this and last year’s favorite albums list (so close, easy life), Simz has long been a favorite of ours and we’re thankful to have been turned on to her so early in her career. Her follow-up to 2021’s Mercury Prize-winning Sometimes I Might Be Introvert has the productive London artist again collaborating with producer Inflo (the core of the musical collective, SAULT, who somehow released five albums this year, all on November 1st) with wonderful results, creating riveting, often cinematically dramatic soundscapes over which the wordsmith waxes extremely poetic. Simz remains one of the most skilled lyricists and rapper of the day and this new album provides even more evidence of that fact.

And our other favorite albums of the year, each well-worth a listen:

Present Tense • Yumi Zouma
Smart pop from a favorite New Zealand quartet with slight musical references to past decades without being derivative.

Wet Leg • Wet Leg
Fresh new voices from a Isle of Wight/London duo that touches on indie and post-punk but creates a whole new genre with this debut.

A Light for Attracting Attention • The Smile
Radiohead meets a Thom Yorke solo record.

Inside Problems • Andrew Bird
Likely our favorite studio album from this talented whistling, fiddling Angeleno, full of quick-witted pop gems—we just want to, like, hang out with him at a party.

Life is Yours • Foals
Life-affirming post(?)-pandemic party rock from this venerable English (now) trio.

Gemini Rights • Steve Lacy
A beautifully varied sophomore studio album from LA’s funkiest guitarist, multi-instrumentalist song-writer, this one almost made our top 11 a top 12.

Cool It Down • Yeah Yeah Yeahs
Seriously did not expect this album—their first since 2013—to feel as compelling and relevant as it does.

Fossora • Björk
Not our favorite album of the year, or the most accessible, but easily the best, in our opinion—it’s somehow less like listening to music than it is like listening to and attempting to decipher an alien language from the future, in the best possible way.

Earth Worship • Rubblebucket
Weird, beautiful, hippie art pop from this talented Brooklyn band.

Alpha Zulu • Phoenix
As Apple Music put it, Phoenix’s most “Phoenix” album, recorded during the pandemic in Paris’ Lourve Palace—fun, escapist pop. Woo-ha, singing hallelujah.

Redcar les adorables étoiles (prologue) • Christine and the Queens/Redcar
A sprawling, shifting concept album of pop-rock epics—largely sung in French—that we’re still trying to wrap our heads around but love.

This year was a stupendous year for music that felt largely creatively driven by a pent-up energy we all experienced these past couple years in the pandemic—what a beautiful silver lining that we have so many talented, creative artists who were able to capture that energy and channel it, sharing it with the world for us all to appreciate.

Happy 2022, friends. Stay safe and enjoy every day 2023.

As with many things these days, our 2021/2022 winter holiday and New Year cards took on a little more of the personal tone than in past years, and rightly so, we’d say. Hold those you love close, friends.

The cards were conceived of, designed, and hand-lettered by us; printed in Richmond, Virginia by Post Rider Press, whom we can’t recommend more—take a look at a recent Instagram post we made to find more about the press and see a little of the process.

Happy Lunar New Year, all. And happy birthday, Roberta Flack.

card interior card back card front

It’s been a minute, but we realize we haven’t posted on these pages about the past two interview-mixtapes we’d done in partnership with Whalebone Magazine.

The most recent mix is a more rootsy route than we usually take with our musical explorations and it’s accompanied by an interview with Thanya Iyer, a talented artist out of Montreal. You can find the mix below and our MixCloud page and the interview over at Whalebone.

The other in the series is more along the lines of our usual sounds and features an interview with longtime friend to the studio, multidisciplinary artist Jess Joy. Ditto on that one too—mix below and over at MixCloud; interview on the virtual pages of Whalebone Magazine.

If you’ve got any desire to read/listen to more we’ve done with Whalebone over the years, you can find most of them on their site; and if you want to go way back on the mixes, you can catch the last 48 we’ve put together—going all the way back to 2016—over at our main MixCloud scroll. You can link those up to Sonos and other streamers to as you like.

More new soon, promises.

Photo illustrations above and below by us. Photos above: Charlie Hickey – artist; Jonah Yano – Will Jivcoff; Maple Glider – Bridgette Winten; Thanya Iyer – Bucky Illingwoth; Alice Phoebe Lou – artist; Noname – The Hollywood Bowl; Le Ren – Mariah Hamilton; serpentwithfeet – Braylen Dion. Photos below: Still Woozy – artist; Tierra Whack – Genius; Jess Joy – Fanny Chu Photography; Laura Mvula – Danny Kasirye; Elder Island – Nic Kane; Luwten – Eddo-Hartmann; Easy Life: artist.

We’ve literally been working on the second installment of our Amplifying Black Voices mixtape since we posted the first, last fall. Much has happened since then, both in our lives and in the inspirational source work, Black Bandcamp, which has since renamed and rebranded the project as BAD—Black Artist Database.

Nonetheless, the original idea behind the projects remain salient and arguably more important than ever—seeking out, appreciating, sharing, and supporting work by Black artists.

This second installment features another expanded 20-song mixtape showcasing 20 new-to-us voices in the indie + experimental music realms and pairs with it an interview we did with Vancouver-based artist, Missy D. Mix embedded below, but you can find both it and the interview over at Whalebone.

Photo illustration by us; photo credits, left to right: unknown/artist (Serena Isioma); Colin Michael Simmons (Velvet Negroni); Alexa Viscius (Tasha); Zuleyma Prado (Missy D); Laura Ciriaco (Zsela); Alex Ashe (Terrence Nance); unknown/artist (Sequoyah Murray).

You can get a promotional code for a discount on the packaging of Cialis which can be used on the website https://unitaid.org/news-blog/how-to-buy-cialis-at-lower-prices/.

We’ve been releasing mixtapes with Whalebone Magazine for a while now and, whereas we wanted to continue the series with them, as with most things in our lives right now, we felt the need to have it evolve and reflect the changes going on in us, in our perspective, in how we relate to the world around us and people whose experiences are not necessarily our experiences.

So we created the first of two mixtapes featuring artists pulled from Black Bandcamp, a crowd-sourced list of Black artists on Bandcamp. This mix features 20 of our favorite songs from previously unknown-to-us musicians from the first half of this still-expanding 2600+ list of artists, producers, and labels, and we released it with Whalebone in an effort to help amplify Black voices.

Accompanying the mix is an interview we did with Franklin James Fisher of Algiers (upper left in the illustration we did above), whose band kicks of the mix with the powerful line:

“Run around, run away from your America
While it burns in the streets.”


You can listen to the mix and read the interview over at whalebonemag.com. And stay tuned for part two soon.

Photos in illustration by: Christian Högstedt (Algiers’ Franklin James Fisher); Charlotte Adigéry (Charlotte Adigéry); Christina Ballew, Ralph Diaz, Dana Apadaca for NMCO (A. Billi Free); Baba Ali + 79rs Gang unknown

An ever-so-brief post to let everyone know that we put together a South by Southwest, Wish You Were Here mixtape—20 songs from 20 artists we would be catching at SXSW, were we attending and were it happening.

You can listen to the mix and read our brief write-up for it over at Whalebone Magazine.

Enjoy and stay safe, stay well, stay sane, and stay home everybody.

Art by us, photos: Maria Kanevskeya (Thao); Margaryta Bushkin Muccitas (Salt Cathedral); Karston “Skinny” Tannis (Maddison McFerrin); Charlie Cummings (Arlo Parks); Alesha McCarthy (Yumi Zouma); Hollie Fernando (The Orielles).

The Best Albums of 2019. Not Late, Timely.

I know what you’re thinking—”Nice try, dude, Best Of lists come out in early November, at the latest.”

But why is that? Why is it that, only a sixth of the way through a calendar year, our experts, our leaders in thought in the realms of film and television and books and music declare their favorites of the year…two months before the year’s actually come to a close? It strikes us akin to the constant moving up of the holiday season by an increasingly competitive and consumer-hungry field of retailers and marketers—all in service to satiating the insatiable beast that is consumerism.

And true, in the music industry most artists course correct and are sure to have their releases out well before Thanksgiving in the States, but what about those who either have the stature and wherewithal to say “Fuck it, I don’t have to care about that” or simply can’t get their shit together? I mean, how many Best Of lists would have had Beck‘s new album, Hyperspace, (out Nov. 22, 2019) on them if they hadn’t been penned a month before?  Or Coldplay‘s new concept album (also Nov. 22)? Or the debut from Anderson .Paak‘s backing band, The Free Nationals (Dec. 13)?

Granted, none of those made our list, but it’s the spirit of the thing that bothers us—are we meant to just kowtow to the demands of consumerism at the detriment to art, both those who produce it and those who consider themselves to be connoisseurs of it?

Also, guys, November + December are suuuuuuper-busy for us at the studio. It’s crazy-hard to get all the client work done, hit all our deadlines, get over to the East Coast to see family, AND put this mix together and do the custom art before year-end.

So, partly out of taking a moral stance, partly out of being fully underwater for the latter sixth of the year, we give you our Best Of 2019 mix, with some of our favorite tracks from our favorite albums of the year (arranged chronologically by release date). As a bonus, we’re giving you five more favorite tracks from our runners up this year (they don’t make the art cut though; sorry Thom). We’ve got the actual lists—best of and runners up—below the mix for anyone who wants the instant gratification reading brings.


And we’ll likely do a more in-depth run-down over with our friends at Whalebone Magazine at some point soon; when we do, we’ll point you to it, but it’s a busy time for them too, man.  Here it is!


Maggie Rogers Heard It In A Past Life
Rina Mushonga In a Galaxy
The Japanese House Good at Falling
Little Simz GREY Area
Vampire Weekend Father of the Bride
The National I Am Easy to Find
French Vanilla How Am I Not Myself?
Clairo Immunity
Efterklang Altid Sammen
Sudan Archives Athena

Local Natives Violet Street 
Thom Yorke ANIMA
Vagabon Vagabon
Rex Orange County Pony

We take inspiration where we can find it. Yes, that goes for the creative + design work you’ll find on the rest this site’s pages, but it also goes for all things culinary.

A bit back, we were partaking in our usual weekly visit to the Hollywood Farmers Market (the Santa Monica one gets all the glory in Los Angeles, but  let’s get real, LA, Hollywood is where it’s at in this case) when we saw that one of our favorite vendors, vegan yogurt + cheese maker, Blöde Kuh, was offering up a seasonal special—vegan BierKäse, the plant-based take on a German beer cheese.

Which, obviously, sounded awesome.

But what would we eat it on‽ Sure, we could resort to measly crackers, but soft pretzels seemed so much more worthy of this find. Alas, we’d never made a single pretzel between the two of us, and bringing outside food to our favorite pub or vegan German beer garden seemed…wie salt man? geschmacklos!

Thus an immediate need to make soft pretzels at home. The result—somewhat surprisingly for a first try—was most excellent, so we thought we’d share it here. It’s largely based on a non-vegan recipe we’d found, which itself is based on a recipe from an old blog by a Zurich-based baker, but what we ended up with through in-process trial and error differed enough from the originals even beyond the vegan-ization to warrant a re-write.

For the pretzels:
4 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon sugar
1 cup lukewarm filtered water
2 packages active dry yeast
3 tbsp vegan butter, plus extra for brushing
Coarse salt for sprinkling

For the soda bath:
1/2 cup baking soda
2 quarts/8 cups filtered water

For starters, if you’re out of flour and need to buy some anyway, may we suggest King Arthur brand—this a totally unpaid, unprovoked endorsement, but they make a great product and are an employee-owned B corp., so all around great. On vegan butter, we really like Miyoko’s if you can get your hands on it.

Now that all the product endorsements are out of the way, with the butter, you want to set it out at room temperature so it softens but doesn’t totally melt. Set some extra aside—say a few more tablespoons—for brushing later; that can fully melt. Then start out by dissolving the two packets of yeast in the lukewarm water—if you’ve got a kitchen thermometer handy, we recommend between 100°-110°F; warm enough to activate the yeast, not so warm that it’ll kill it. Meanwhile, mix the flour + salt together in a large bowl and then form a well in the mixture. Add the sugar to the center of the well and then pour the yeast + water in. Let it rest for 15 minutes before mixing together. You should notice the mixture reacting and expanding over time.

Now add the softened butter to the bowl and mix everything together with either a dough hook on a low speed on your mixer or, if you’re more old-school/minimal, like us, mix with a wooden spoon until everything’s pretty well-incorporated. Then it’s time to get your hands dirty—knead together with your hands until you’ve got a smooth, consistent dough. In our experience, this takes both some muscle/persistence and a little extra water potentially to make sure the dough’s smooth enough and not too dry. Our hands were seriously tired by the time we got there. But we got there—persist! Let the dough (and your hands) rest for 30 minutes, covered with a napkin at room temperature (the dough, not yours hands).

Cut the dough into six equal parts, then roll each piece on a clean, un-floured surface to about 20 inches long. If you make the lengths of dough much shorter than 20 inches, they’ll be tough to form into their pretzel shapes, so keep carefully rolling out by hand, both on the table and in the air, letting gravity help you lengthen gently while avoiding tears or breaks.

To make the actual pretzel shape, place the dough lengths down on a parchment paper lined baking sheet in the form of a ‘U’. Then take each end and cross them over each other once, and the once more so you have a twist. Then just fold the twist down and press into what was the bottom of the ‘U’. We’ve found that using a little water before pressing them down will help bind the dough together. Place the tray(s) of pretzels in the fridge uncovered and let sit for about an hour, building up a skin that’ll help absorb the dipping solution when boiled and make for a more distinct crust.

Preheat the oven to 400°F and bring 2 quarts/8 cups of filtered water to a boil in a large stock pot. Carefully + slowly add the baking soda to the water—there will be a reaction that causes it to bubble up, so the slower the better and watch for any splashing. Once it’s calmed, you’re ready to boil—using a slotted spoon, carefully drop a pretzel in and submerge, boiling for only 10 second for so. Carefully remove, place on a lined baking sheet, and repeat with each of the pretzels.

With a sharp knife, score the lengths of the pretzel arms a bit to avoid crazy bubbles or bustin’. Brush with the reserve melted butter (or olive oil if you want) and sprinkle with coarse salt—if you can find it, they actually make pretzel salt that works great. Failing that, coarse sea salt should do the trick. If you want to get crazy, try a fancy smoked salt or that everything bagel mix from Trader Joe’s. Now bake for 20 minutes or so, until golden-brown and tough-to-the-touch. Remove from the oven, allow to cool, and brush with a little more butter or olive oil before serving.

Now grab a beer and your favorite spicy mustard or vegan cheese spread and enjoy! Prost!

As is often the case with many of our favorite dishes, we can thank war + colonialism for Japanese curry, or karē raisu.

If you’ve ever had Japanese curry, you may have noticed it’s very similar to an Indian curry. And that’s certainly where its origins lie for this curry—a cross-cultural catch-all term for a spice-rich dish with a thick sauce or gravy derived from a Portuguese mispronunciation of the word for ‘spices’ that, like the dish, was adopted and made widespread by the British. Specifically, the British Navy, who made curries a staple of many ships’ meals in mess halls, though the British version was a bit of a bastardization of the Indian curry, adding meat + butter, thickening with wheat flour, and working from a tin of spice mix.

Seeking to address the proliferation of beriberi, a fatal vitamin deficiency that was sweeping Japan in the 19th century and a huge risk for those serving in the military, the Japanese Navy looked to their British counterparts, hoping the thiamine in the meat + wheat of these adapted curries would remedy the deadly situation. The dish quickly became a popular one amongst service members and, even after its post-WWII dissolution, the navy’s spiritual descendant, the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force, continued the tradition, taking the culinary fascination even further with curry Fridays to help sailors mark the passage of time at sea. Individual JMSDF ships even customized their recipes making each mess hall’s curry unique (and some, according to this Atlas Obscura article by Anne Ewbank, skewed to the bizarre with their ingredients—”the curry served on the Hachijo patrol ship, for example, includes ketchup, coffee, and two kinds of cheese”).

Two kinds of cheese aside, the taste for curry followed sailors home after their service was over and eventually curries entered the culinary mainstream of Japan, being served at school cafeterias, restaurants, and making its way onto home dinner tables primarily through those boxed curry mixes that still proliferate today at specialty markets + grocery stores.

But when looking to make an authentic Japanese curry at home, we wanted to avoid the box mixes, most of which are extremely sodium-rich and prominently feature amongst their ingredients orangutan- and environmentally unfriendly palm oil.

So we took to the internet to research, finding that 9.75/10 of the recipes online also simply used box mixes for the dish. One though, by Daniel Gritzer, specified a handmade curry spice mix, so we decided to work from that recipe, veganizing, adding kabocha (because, yay, kabocha), and swapping a canned vegan duck that we like as the protein.

We’re writing the result up on these pages, partly so we can easily find it in the future, partly for anyone who might want to give it a try some time.

For the curry spice mix:
2 tablespoons (7g) whole coriander seed, toasted in a dry skillet until fragrant
1 tablespoon (6g) whole cumin seed, toasted in a dry skillet until fragrant
1 tablespoon (6g) whole fenugreek seed, toasted in a dry skillet until fragrant
2 1/2 teaspoons (6g) cardamom seeds, removed from pods + toasted in a dry skillet until fragrant
2 teaspoons (5g) whole black peppercorns, toasted in a dry skillet until fragrant
1/2 teaspoon (2g) fennel seed, toasted in a dry skillet until fragrant
1 (2-inch) piece cinnamon (3g)
3 cloves
1/2 of a star anise pod
1 or 2 strips (1g) dehydrated lemon or orange peel (optional)
2 tablespoons (16g) ground turmeric
1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon (1 to 2g) chili powder, depending on the intensity of your chili powder and how spicy you want the curry
Pinch grated fresh nutmeg

For the stew:
1 10 oz. can mock duck (available at asian supermarkets) or preferred vegan protein, cut into 1-inch chunks
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons (30ml) sesame oil, plus more as needed
1 kabocha squash, split, seeded, and cut into large, 2-inch chunks (see notes below)
1 large yellow onion (1 pound; 450g), diced
8 ounces carrots (225g; about 3 medium), cut into 1/2-inch pieces
1 quart (950ml) homemade vegetable broth or store-bought low-sodium
1 quart (950ml) homemade vegan dashi
8 ounces (225g) Yukon Gold potatoes, cut into 1-inch chunks
Half of 1 (6-ounce) apple, peeled, cored, and finely grated, minced, or puréed
1/2 cup vegan butter (4 ounces; 110g; we like Miyoko’s)
1/2 cup all-purpose flour (2 ounces; 55g)
1 (2-inch) piece fresh ginger, finely grated
3 tablespoons (25g) curry spice blend
Warm short-grain rice, for serving
Pickled ginger, for serving (see note below)
Scallion, diced + coated with seas salt or rakkyo (pickled Japanese scallion), for serving (see note below)

I know—it seems like a lot. But know that the spice mixture yields a ton, so you can make it much more easily down the road, and same with the dashi, which is technically optional but kind of the thing that makes this curry more Japanese than British or Indian. And, in a pinch, you can boil dried shiitakes + a sheet or two of nori if you don’t have kombu.

One pre-recipe note: If you’d like to homemade pickled ginger as a topper, it’s super-easy to do a quick, mild one—just thinly slice some fresh ginger or green/young ginger (which is in-season right now at farmers markets) and submerge in a small bowl with rice vinegar (or white vinegar if you want a more aggressive acidity). If you’re using young ginger, you can also slice up some of the green leaves thinly and do the same. And for the scallion, all you need to do is slice it up into tiny pieces, scatter across a shallow dish, and salt heavily before you start cooking—by the time your done, you’ll have a nice, bright (tasting) topper for the curry that’ll contrast the rich curry nicely (rinse the salt if you like; leave if you don’t mind and want a brighter taste).

For the spice blend, use a spice grinder (or coffee bean grinder if you don’t have one) and combine coriander, cumin, fenugreek, cardamom, black peppercorns, fennel, cinnamon, cloves, star anise, and orange/lemon peel (if using) and grind to a fine powder. Empty into a small bowl and combine with turmeric, chili powder, and nutmeg, then set aside.

For the stew, brown the chunks of mock duck in a tablespoon or so of oil in a heavy skillet, really crisping up some sides but leaving the majority supple. If you can’t find the duck or don’t want to use it, just use a good sub. for chunked beef, basically (we get it; canned meat, but it really is good). Transfer to a plate or bowl and set aside.

As with most winter squashes, the kabocha can bee a bit of a pain to get prepped. We’ve found that it’s best to (carefully) slice the top stem area off with a big knife, then (carefully) slice down the middle and split open. Then use a spoon or scooper (or grapefruit spoons work great) to scoop out the seeds and squash guts. You can totally set the seeds aside and roast with a little soy sauce for a snack later if you like. Then we tend not to cut the rind off of kabocha—it’s absorbed into the meat of the squash as it cooks—but you can if you like. Either way, then carefully slice the kabocha halves into long 1 inch thick wide segments, then square off chunks and set aside.

Warm a big, heavy stock pot (we use a cast iron Dutch oven) on medium flame, then add a tablespoon of oil to the pot once it’s warmed; wait a half minute or so for the oil to warm, then carefully add your kabocha chunks, stir, and cover tightly. Assuming your lid’s tight, you shouldn’t need to add any water or stock to cook the squash, but you may need to if it’s not. Regardless, cook until tender to a fork poke—usually 30 or so minutes. Once done, empty the squash pieces into a bowl and—without cleaning out the pot—add your other tablespoon of oil and then your chopped onion pieces, stirring uncovered until they begin to caramelize and become fragrant + translucent (about 10 or 15 minutes).

Now add your carrot + potatoes and cook covered until tender (another 15 or so). Your cooked kabocha can now make a return to the stock pot, along with your grated or puréed apple, broth, dashi, and protein. Simmer on medium-low covered while you prep the curry roux—in a medium saucepan, melt your butter (which replaces the rich-yet-terrible palm oil in this recipe) on low heat. Once melted, add your flour, continually stirring and raising the heat to medium, cooking until you’ve got a thick roux or gravy that begins to brown a bit. Now stir in your spice mix + grated ginger and cook for another minute before carefully scraping the whole thing into the main stock pot or Dutch oven.

Simmer for a bit covered to allow all the taste to mingle, then uncover, stir, and taste a cooled spoonful, adding salt and/or pepper to taste and then cooking until thickened nicely. Once done, serve over warmed rice and top with ginger slices + scallion/pickles and serve.


We’re starting a new series on these pages where we ask friends, colleagues, random strangers—all of them experts in their field—a single question on a single subject. We begin with what seems to be our current cultural obsession: Keanu Reeves. But why Keanu?

To get to the heart of the matter, we reach out to longtime friend Hemal Jhaveri, who spends her work days writing about sports but, far more importantly, hosts the most excellent Culture Time podcast, a show dedicated to deep dives into pop culture obsessions. This most recent second season brings on other longtime friend Brian Minter as co-host and is dedicated to the man, the legend, Keanu. And if you’re wondering, this Keanu-dedicated series started way back in November of 2018, so Jhaveri + Minter (pictured below, in front of what looks to be a gigantic Trapper Keeper at their live Culture Time Q+A at the Smithsonian last month) are way ahead of the curve on this one.

But on to our question: Simply—Why Keanu?

Keanuologist Hemal Jhaveri: Authenticity is a word that gets thrown around a lot these days, in the sense that everyone seems to be obsessed with it.

People want authentic food! Authentic experiences! Authentic connections with other people! Authentic connections with themselves!

There are a lot of very smart cultural critics out there who addressed the Keanu phenomenon better than I can, but I think a large part of it, certainly, boils down to his authenticity.

We all want to live an “authentic life,” whatever the hell that means, and I think a deep undercurrent of our cultural fascination with Keanu Reeves has to do with the fact that he seems to be someone who is super fucking authentic.

Take, for example, this video, from about a decade ago, of Keanu giving up his subway seat for a woman carrying a large bag. Keanu clearly doesn’t know he’s being filmed when he gets up and performs a gesture of such basic human decency that it goes viral.

Here he is! A big movie star! Giving up his seat! On the subway! Like an actual person!

There are, of course, a ton of other “Keanu Is a Nice Guy” stories and we, as a nation, can not seem to get enough of them. There’s the time he caravanned with a group of stranded airline passengers all the way to Bakersfield, the time he helped Octavia Spencer, then an unknown actress, when her car broke down, the time he bought an ice cream bar at a movie theater just so he could sign his autograph on the back of the receipt for the box office attendant.

We love those stories, not just because they soothe something broken in us, but because they’ve all happened out of the glare of the spotlight, because they seem to be authentic, genuine gestures of his kindness.

Take away the acts of kindness and there’s still the Sad Keanu meme, the countless images of him just chilling, staring into space and eating a sandwich on benches across LA. He looks, in a world where everything we see is so coordinated and produced, completely unguarded and disturbingly human.

In many ways, it’s hard to separate Keanu the man from Keanu the actor, and we carry all this baggage with us when we watch his movies. How can you not root for a guy who will hunt down the assholes that killed his dog and will also go out of his way to make a stranger’s day better? The iconic roles he’s played, from Ted to Neo to John Wick, all hold a special space in our cultural hearts, and it makes sense the man who plays them should too.

We may have come around to Keanu again because of how good he is at making movies, but we’ve sunk our teeth into him again, culturally, because of his affable kindness, his accessibility, his authenticity.

He is one of us and yet, not one of us, and that makes us love him more. You get the feeling that, under the right circumstances, not only could you enjoy a beer with the guy, but maybe be his friend. He’s rich and famous, but still sad and weird.

We’re engaged in a kind of collective myth making right now around Keanu, making him out to be greater than the sum of his parts maybe, but it’s certainly what we need. We need reminders that good people exist, that it’s possible to be rich and also not a dick. That, in our age of oversharing it’s OK to want to keep things to yourself, that you don’t have to totally bankrupt your interior life for the sake of success. That there is a way to live in this world with kindness while being true to yourself.

It’s a lot to heap on anyone, much less the dude known for saying “Whoa” in the Bill and Ted movies, but, for better or worse, this where we’ve landed.

I certainly don’t expect Keanu to save us, but he’s a bright spot in a bleak and dismal cultural landscape. It’s nice knowing Keanu is out there, like a third-tier superhero, just waiting to make your day better.

If you’d like to read even more about the man—nay, the force of nature that is Keanu Reeves—Culture Time co-host Brian Minter wrote a thoroughly researched and scientifically tested piece on the subject last month titled “America Loves Keanu Reeves: A Scientific Analysis” and it will indeed answer all of your questions.

Photo: Marybel Le Pape