Amanda Shires is a rampant overachiever, never content to do the minimum. She established herself as a crackerjack fiddler at the age of fifteen when she joined The Texas Playboys, but branched out to become a stunning singer and songwriter. All three talents are showcased on her 2013 release, the Faulknerian Down Fell the Doves. She’s been known to be an overachiever in the kitchen, too. When it was her buddy Cory Branan’s birthday, she made him a chocolate cake using her mother’s tried-and-true recipe, but not content, she proceeded to make him a strawberry cake as well. Dang, girl.
Shires has recorded and toured with Shovels and Rope, Justin Townes Earle, and she often collaborates with her husband, Jason Isbell. Right now she’s on the road performing her own material, gearing up for a long string of shows in her home state of Texas. Paste chatted with her between gigs about the Harvard-educated turkey she brined for Christmas, the wok that Jason just gave her, the wisdom of avoiding those truck stop hot dogs, and the time she split her pants on stage in Ireland after eating one too many pies—sometimes there is a price to be paid for being an overachiever, but that only makes us admire her more.
You’re at a truck stop, you’re starving, and you have five minutes to assemble a meal. Please describe that meal, and how you feel about it.
Amanda Shires: String cheese, a chocolate peanut butter Power Bar, and a coffee or bottle of water. I usually feel alright about it. I learned over the years to try and eat as cleanly as possible at truck stops, especially because I like to make good time traveling, and would rather not be stopping every thirty minutes after a hot dog brings on the wrath of the bowels.
When you’re traveling, what food from home do you crave?
AS: Steamed vegetables: broccoli, green beans, squash, anything in season.
Is there anything special you like to eat before you play a show? Or anything you definitely do not like to eat before you play?
AS: I don’t like to eat a full meal right before I play. It can make me feel sluggish, and it makes singing tough. I’ll pick at some tortilla chips and hummus, or eat a few blackberries.
Do you have any superstitious pre-show drink rituals?
AS: After a long drive, I try and hunt down a hard cider as soon as I get out of the van. It gets rid of that feeling that you are still moving when you aren’t and it kinda settles your stomach. I got the idea in England, and it just stuck with me.
Right before the show, I have a glass of red wine, a Cabernet or Malbec. I bring a glass on stage with me, too.
Somehow the song “Wine Me Up” just popped into my head.
What restaurants in the world do you most look forward to visiting when you’re on tour?
AS: One of the great things about traveling is getting to try new foods and restaurants. Bob’s Clam Hut in Kittery, Maine has incredible lobster rolls (just about anywhere in Maine will have badass lobster rolls). This may sound unbelievable, but if you ever make it out to Lubbock, Texas, try Thai Pepper. It stays packed, so go before or after the lunch rush. It’s the best Thai food in the USA, hands down. Antico Pizza in Atlanta is a family-style pizza place, a you-may-end-up-sitting-with-strangers kind of place. The sauce, the fresh ingredients, the pizza ovens, Antico is great. Don’t get me wrong, I love New York and New Jersey pizza, but I find myself in Atlanta more often these days and Antico serves real pizza too.
What’s your funniest on-the-road food story?
AS:About six years ago, on a tour of Ireland, I ate my weight in Irish bread, soups, pies, Irish coffee, cheese plates for dessert, yikes. I ended up splitting my pants during a gig. I had to sidestep off the stage and find a long coat to borrow until the show was over. That was kind of funny. But mostly embarrassing.
What’s the best meal you’ve had lately?
AS: They had all-you-can-eat oysters set up at the Governor’s Ball in New York last summer. I think I ate 56. That was the best meal I have had in forever.
What’s your favorite thing to cook in the winter?
AS: I love to make saffron risotto when it’s cold outside. I’m pescatarian now, so I use vegetable broth (either homemade or from the store), onion, white wine, butter, and good Parmesan cheese.
Is it hard to be pescatarian on the road?
AS: It’s easier than it’s ever been to be pescatarian or vegetarian on the road. Most restaurants have good options, or you can create your own dinner off the sides menu. There are better fast food options out there, like Chipotle. We also pack a cooler for the van with yogurt, string cheese, snap peas, etc.
Can you describe something you cooked or baked recently?
AS: I brined a turkey for Christmas. It was one of those Harvard-educated turkeys that roams free or something. Jason picked it out. That was fun. I love to cook, even meats. All of our family besides me pretty much eats turkey, and they said it turned out great, so I was happy about that.
I also made two cakes for my friend Cory Branan’s 40th birthday. One was chocolate and one was strawberry. I used the chocolate cake recipe that my mom has been making me for my birthday over the years. It’s a modified version of the recipe found on the back of the Hershey’s Cocoa box. The strawberry one was new to me. He seemed to like it, though.
My other favorite recipe to make is Chef Paul Prudhomme’s shrimp étouffée. Jason brought Prudhomme’s cookbook home from New Orleans to try out. Jason also just bought me a wok. I’m on tour right now, but I’m looking forward to getting home and playing with it.
Freda Love Smith is a drummer and writer whose food memoir, Red Velvet Underground, is forthcoming on Agate. She blogs at lovesmiths.blogspot.com. Follow her on twitter: @fredalovesmith