Juliana Hatfield's Dinner Thing

Drink Features Juliana Hatfield
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Full disclosure: I have known Juliana Hatfield for 28 years. We have worked together in two bands, toured together countless times, and well—I love her. But even if I’d never met the woman who put the babe in Blake Babies, I would admire her agile guitar playing, ambitious songwriting, and gorgeous, unmistakable singing voice. Juliana’s productivity is staggering – she has released 19 full-length albums, and her current project, Minor Alps (a collaboration with Matthew Caws), is just about the best thing she’s ever done.

I caught Juliana before she leaves for a string of European tour dates with Minor Alps. My longtime vegetarian friend recalls the time that Denny’s slipped her a meat burger, and shares a recipe for her virtuous, tasty go-to dinner at home.

Paste: 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.

Juliana Hatfield: I would probably just grab a bag of nuts (almonds or peanuts or cashews or whatever) and maybe a piece of fruit (banana, apple) if I could find one. Other than that, it’s hard to find healthy vegan stuff (that is easy on my sensitive stomach) at truck stops. Nuts are really filling so they are always good in a pinch for getting rid of hunger pains.

Paste: When you’re traveling, what food from home do you crave?

JH: I mostly miss my daily rituals like my cup of hot strong black tea with a toasted bread roll at 3 p.m. Also I generally crave really healthy cooked food and a wide array of fresh raw vegetables and all the weird bland dishes I make for myself at home, like sometimes popcorn for dinner—plain corn kernels popped in olive oil on the stove and topped with just salt.

Paste: 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?

JH I don’t like to eat anything too close to the show, but I don’t like to be hungry, either, when I go on stage. I like to have eaten a couple of hours before playing. You don’t want to feel sluggish when what you are doing up there is physically demanding and somewhat mathematical at times—you want to be sharp, nimble in mind and body. And you don’t want to be burping mid-phrase into the microphone or farting at your band mates.

Paste: Do you have any superstitious pre-show drink rituals?

JH: These days I don’t drink anything before (or after) the show. I only drink on nights off, and then it’ll only be a beer with dinner. I used to sometimes have one drink—just one—before going on. A shot of tequila or whiskey was nice, helped loosen me up if I was nervous.

Paste: Can you tell me about a meal or a particular food that you were supposed to like but didn’t?

JH: Goat cheese. I don’t think I’ve ever met anyone who doesn’t like it, but I always found it gnarly. It tastes like motor oil to me. Or what I assume motor oil tastes like. Before I was vegan, and still eating dairy products, goat cheese would turn up in places I wasn’t expecting it, like in macaroni and cheese or in grilled cheese sandwiches, and for me the goat cheese element always rendered the dish inedible.

Paste: What restaurant in the world do you most look forward to visiting when you’re on tour?

JH: I used to like to go to the Source on Sunset Blvd in Hollywood for breakfast. Fabio was always in there. They had a great hot cereal bowl—grains and nuts—that I always ordered. And an open porch and lots of 1970s Hollywood atmosphere. Slightly shabby.

Also more recently there was a great raw food restaurant in Silverlake called Cru but I think it closed.

For lunch in New York, I often gravitate toward Republic in Union Square. When I lived in NYC, I used to order from there a lot and so it is sort of comforting and familiar to me, and I am a creature of habit. They are very efficient and you can get in and out of there fast. I love their wheat noodles with carrots, jicama, mint, shallots and peanuts. It’s very refreshing.

Paste: What’s your funniest or your worst on-the-road food story?

JH: I once ordered a veggie burger to go from a Denny’s and I was starving and scarfed down about half of it before realizing that something wasn’t right and that I might’ve just eaten half of a regular burger—a meat burger—that they had given me by accident. I removed the bun and what remained looked just like what I believed a Denny’s meat burger would look like—brownish-grey and uniformly flat. Aren’t there usually some noticeable visual differences between the meat and non-meat versions? This might not seem like a big deal, but as a long-term vegetarian I was horrified; I hadn’t had any meat in many many years, and I didn’t know how/if my body would react to the foreign substance. And just the thought of ingesting meat was totally repulsive to me. I am not a vomiter—I never vomit—and so I had to just wait it out. I rushed to the nearest convenience store and bought some laxative pills to speed up the process of elimination and prayed it wouldn’t take long. I still don’t know for 100% sure whether it was indeed a meat burger, or if it was just a kind of gross vegetarian burger but either way—better safe than sorry. And, either way, Denny’s is nasty.

Paste: What’s the best meal you’ve had lately?

JH: Lunch at home today was pretty perfect: With a fork I mashed half an avocado with a bit of salt, pepper, lemon, Tabasco and cumin and I scooped it up with pieces of bagel.

Paste: What’s your favorite thing to cook or bake? Do you have a specialty?

JH: I like to make a grains and vegetable thing with tahini sauce for dinner. I repeat this dish over and over at home; I get into patterns of repeated eating behaviors, mostly because I am lazy and can’t be bothered to come up with new things.

Paste: Please share a recipe!

My Dinner Thing

Serves one, generously

2 cups water, divided
½ cup whole grains (try a mixture of brown rice, quinoa, and barley, or whatever you have on hand)
Approximately 4 cups mixed vegetables (try one small sweet potato, peeled and chopped, and a medium bunch of kale, stemmed and chopped, or whatever you have)
Pinch salt
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 small onion, very finely chopped
2-4 ounces mushroom, sliced
2 medium cloves garlic, minced
2-inch piece ginger, peeled and minced
1 tablespoon tamari
½ teaspoon hot sauce (or more, to taste)
1 tablespoon lemon juice
½ teaspoon whole grain mustard
1 teaspoon maple syrup, optional (if you’re craving a bit of sweetness)
2 heaping tablespoons tahini

In a medium pot combine 1 ½ cups water, grains, vegetables, and salt. Bring to a boil, cover, reduce heat to medium-low and simmer for about 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, in another saucepan, start the sauce. Heat olive oil over medium heat. Add onion and cook five to seven minutes. Add mushrooms and cook five minutes more. Throw in garlic and ginger and cook just for a minute so they don’t burn.

Throw in ½ cup of water—it sizzles when it hits the pan—and stir in tamari, hot sauce, lemon juice, mustard, and optional maple syrup. Add tahini. Stir well, and reduce heat to low. Let sauce reduce and thicken, at which point the other pot of stuff is just about done (the water is all absorbed into the grain-and-vegetable mixture).

Dump sauce onto the grains/veggie pot, stir it up and voila! A delicious, filling, healthy dinner.

Freda Love Smith is a writer, drummer, and lecturer living in Evanston, Illinois. She was a founding member and drummer of The Blake Babies, and has since played with Antenna, The Mysteries of Life, Gentleman Caller and Some Girls. She writes about food on her blog, lovesmiths.blogspot.com.
Follow her on twitter: @fredalovesmith