Frosting takes the cake in Ann Arbor blogger Bernice Baran’s new book about sugary delights

WRITTEN WORD INTERVIEW

Bernice Baran and her book Frosted

Are you a frosting person or a cake person? 

I’ve heard people say that one or the other is the reason to eat cake. Ann Arbor blogger and baker Bernice Baran answers that question with frosting in her new book, Frosted

Thirteen recipes for buttercreams, cream cheese frosting, meringues, Bavarian cream, chocolate ganache, and others are scrumptiously employed to coat and fill layer cakes, sheet cakes, cupcakes, cookies, brownies, bars, breads, and tarts throughout the book. The 60 recipes combine flavors like a Frosted Animal Cracker Cake pictured on the book’s cover, the Chocolate Caramel Macchiato Cookies, Almond Raspberry Cupcakes, and Cookies & Cream Sweet Rolls. The base frosting recipes include variations depending on the flavors for each baked good. Baran also embraces classics like Dark Chocolate Marble Cake, Gingerbread House Cookies, and Chocolate Hazelnut Silk Pie. 

Throughout Frosted, Baran nods to her heritage with the recipe for Diplomat Cream from her mother and Hungarian Dobos Torte. Each recipe offers a paragraph about why Baran chose it, how it became part of her repertoire, what is unique about it, or which occasion calls for the treat. With one (or more!) kinds of frosting or sauce, plus the cake or other base, for each recipe, each dessert has many ingredients and steps that appear very worth it from the mouthwatering photographs. 

Baran keeps a website to document her baking and sends out an email newsletter. Pulp interviewed her about how she became a baker, what writing Frosted involved, and what inspires her. 

Modern Soul(s): Vulfpeck collaborator Antwaun Stanley connected with former My Dear Disco/Ella Riot leader Tyler Duncan for a new EP

MUSIC INTERVIEW

Antwaun Stanley

Antwaun Stanley's powerful voice sounds like it came from another time, cast from the deep grooves of a 1960s R&B record.

That's why it's always a treat when the Ann Arbor singer appears as a featured vocalist with jam-funk-soul stars Vulfpeck or with one of the other bands for which he's associated.

But a new EP, Ascension, shows Stanley taking a big step forward as a solo artist. The record was made in collaboration with Ann Arbor multi-instrumentalist and producer Tyler Duncan. His impressive resume includes leading the Irish crossover group Millish and the dance-rock project My Dear Disco, aka Ella Riot, as well as producing songs for Carly Rae Jepsen and Lake Street Dive.

The EP isn’t technically Stanley's solo debut—he released a gospel album a few years back—but it does showcase his artistic voice in a new way with a modern R&B sound. 

Ascension features three fully developed songs and three largely instrumental interludes. “Speed of Night” recalls old-school R&B, while “Tightrope” offers inspiration through James Blake-like soul-tronica. “Lost in Translation” is the EP's stand-out with its addictive groove, great singing, strong lyrics, and a crackling horn section.

Stanley answered a few questions about the new EP and his other work.

Kim Fairley’s Memoir "Shooting Out the Lights" Tells the Story of Navigating Her First Year of Marriage and an Unwanted Guest

WRITTEN WORD INTERVIEW

Kim Fairley and her book Shooting Out the Lights

Ann Arbor artist and writer Kim Fairley recalls the early days of her marriage to Vern Fairley and a visit from an unwelcome guest in her new memoir, Shooting Out the Lights. This fast-moving book focuses on what it was like to start a marriage amidst a big age gap, the aftermath of tragedy, and the contentious circumstances of an unrelated child who comes to stay with the couple. Fairley tells the story with humor and tenderness. 

While Fairley quickly becomes pregnant at 25 after they married in 1982, the memories of Ben, Vern’s son who died in an accidental shooting, haunt them. Vern agrees to take in Stanislaus, an 11-year-old son of a friend, and their newlywed days are interrupted. The unwanted responsibility forces the couple to face what happened in the past and look ahead to their growing family. 

A relic of the past is Ben’s bedroom, which had remained largely the same since his death. Fairley considers cleaning out the room in preparation for the new baby. She reflects on the task and its larger implications:

Does it matter to leave a legacy? My mother, jokingly, always said she wanted her endless pile of laundry done before she died. My father wanted to be missed by my mother. Maybe all that mattered was the here and now. Nobody two hundred years in the future would care a whit about any of us. It was the reality of Vern’s age and the recognition that he wouldn’t live forever that was getting to me. 

Fairley is forced to confront change and mortality amidst the joy of starting a family, and she looks back with the clarity of time. She adds, “Vern had contradictory impulses, as we all do, about whether to hang on or let go, preserve or move forward.” The dilemma is relatable, but it doesn’t make the choice any easier.  

Shooting Out the Lights is Fairley's second book. I interviewed her about what it was like to write this story. 

Carmen Bugan's essay collection articulates how poetry is an instrument of resistance

WRITTEN WORD INTERVIEW

Carmen Bugan and her book "Poetry and the Language of Oppression"

Carmen Bugan wields writing to understand and push back against the oppression and repression that she suffered while growing up in Romania in the 1970s and '80s and observed in her life and research. In her new book, Poetry and the Language of Oppression: Essays on Politics and Poetics, she writes: 

This personal background experience gave me a first-hand knowledge of the power of language—how it can be used as an instrument of oppression and how it can be used as an instrument of resistance. That knowledge has shaped my voice as a writer.

Language is on the one hand very damaging and on the other very powerful. Bugan’s writing demonstrates her resilience and courage to nevertheless express herself when facing oppression. 

Erin A. Craig’s "Small Favors" conjures dark forces in a reimagining of Rumpelstiltskin 

WRITTEN WORD INTERVIEW

Erin A. Craig and her book Small Favors

Photo by Cyndi Whipkey

The cover of YA author Erin A. Craig’s new novel, Small Favors, looks deceptively bright with flowers, bees, and honey dripping off of the letters in the title. Yet what sounds too good to be true just might be, as character Ellerie Downing learns in this reimagining of the fairy tale, Rumpelstiltskin.

The setting of Amity Falls is a small, remote settlement in the Blackspire Mountains where neighbors rely on each other for their various skills, from carpentry to poultry farming. The Downing family are apiarists. They produce honey and also bake delectable honey cakes. 

This well-balanced community starts to fragment when people are killed on trips out of town, crops go bad, and accusations of wrongdoing multiply. Initially thought to be an issue with oversized wolves, it becomes clear that something more sinister is stirring and seeking to control the people, something that gives gifts in exchange for favors. 

Ellerie’s twin brother, Sam, describes an early encounter with the dark creatures to Ellerie:

U-M Professor David Potter looks at history and politics to understand radical change in his new book, "Disruption"

WRITTEN WORD INTERVIEW

David Potter and his book Disruption

“How do things change?” asks David Potter, a University of Michigan professor, in his new book, Disruption

This question is the basis for his in-depth examination of five groundbreaking periods in history: Christianity’s growth, the rise of Islam, the Protestant Reformation, popular sovereignty, and the political theorists Karl Marx and Herbert Spencer. The five chapters collectively span thousands of years and Potter sews together history, biography, and political thought to illustrate how ideas disrupt existing beliefs and structures. 

This kind of radical change, according to Potter, arises from fringe ideas that go against the existing state of affairs with a thought leader at the forefront. Many centuries ago, political structures that are foundational to government as we know it now had yet to be defined. For example, amid the rise of Islam when Ali ibn Abi Talib, a relative of the prophet Muhammad, was assassinated in 661, Potter writes:

Kenyatta Rashon explores "The Art of Keeping It Real" on her accomplished debut album

MUSIC INTERVIEW

Kenyatta Rashon in a green hoodie

Photo by Kyla McGrath

Ypsilanti singer and songwriter Kenyatta Rashon showcases a polished R&B sound spiced up with some hip-hop accents on her terrific debut album, The Art of Keeping It Real.

Rashon has a distinctive singing voice, both expressive and powerful. And her songs are uniformly strong, with memorable melodies and vibrant lyrics. “YoFi” and “W.rong” express regrets for lost love, while “I am” and “H4L” are anthems of self-empowerment. The single “Free” establishes a great summer listening vibe over wistful and wise lyrics: “Some things could change and some things could not / But I made peace with the things I got / I’m free”

Rashon answered a few questions about the album for Pulp.

Bill Edwards made the most of the pandemic era with an ambitious new album, "Whole Cloth"

MUSIC INTERVIEW

Bill Edwards

Where some musicians may have understandably felt limited by the constraints of the COVID-19 pandemic, Ann Arbor singer-songwriter Bill Edwards took it as an opportunity. 

Unable to collaborate with other musicians, Edwards decided to record full-band music all by himself—playing instruments both familiar and new, and learning software packages as well. He wrote, recorded, and started the process again, ultimately finding himself with 30 fully finished songs. 

The resulting album, Whole Cloth, is a major achievement, filled with gems about chasing love, finding love, losing love, and more—and shifting among various musical subgenres that all fit under the broad umbrella of Americana, from old-time country to roots rock to western swing.

While nearly all the songs concern relationships in one way or another, “You’re Still Here” is a touching ode to a friend long gone, while “Ain’t Wet Yet” finds some humor in the politics of trickle-down economics and “Sing Me” praises the power of music itself.

Edwards, who was already skilled on multiple instruments, uses his versatile abilities to great effect throughout the album, such as a warm acoustic guitar solo on “Slow Down the Moon” and wistful fiddle on “Billy’s Lament.” The latter is one of three instrumentals on the album, crafted while Edwards had a paralyzed vocal cord— even that couldn’t slow down his creative process.

He's performing a free-admission album release concert on Aug. 27 with Lauren Crane opening the show.

"I’ll play a short selection of my favorite older songs, and then dig into the new record," Edwards said. "For the latter, since the arrangements rely heavily on drums and a variety of lead instruments, I’ll play acoustic guitar and sing to tracks from the album. I’ve got them recorded in my looper pedal, and it works quite well."

Edwards agreed to answer some questions about the new album.

"Whip" It: Nadim Azzam's new YouTube show cruises with Michigan musicians

MUSIC FILM & VIDEO INTERVIEW

Ki5 and Nadim Azzam in the car for the show Whip Jams

Ki5 and Nadim Azzam in a still from the first episode of Whip Jams. Photo courtesy of Whip Jams.

[This story was originally published on December 9, 2020. The entire first season is out now on YouTube and the show is having a concert at The Blind Pig on Saturday, September 11 featuring everyone who has appeared in the series so far: Dani Darling, Pariis Noel, D. Vaughn the Illest, Mirror Monster, KI5, and host Nadim Azzam.]

Artists performing songs being driven around in a car by a congenial host. Sound familiar?

But Whip Jams isn't Carpool Karaoke.

Host Nadim Azzam doesn't fuss around with wacky comedy. He gets right to the point with his guests, reciting a short bio, picking the musician up in his car, letting them perform, and concluding with a brief interview.

The first episode of this YouTube show clocks in at 4 minutes, 57 seconds. A quick ride indeed.

In the Whip Jams debut on December 9, Ann Arbor's Ki5 performs a song in Azzam's vehicle by sampling his voice with the Boss RC-505 Loopstation sitting in his lap. That kind of compact setup works fine for him, but some future episodes will feature artists holding acoustic instruments—might get a little cozy in Azzam's Honda Civic.

Ann Arbor singer-pianist Hannah Baiardi makes jazz her own on "Straight From the Soul"

MUSIC INTERVIEW

Hannah Baiardi

Hannah Baiardi has been writing and performing music since age 3, so it’s no surprise that her first full-length album, Straight From the Soul, is a polished and thoughtful work.

Although a listener might categorize the music as contemporary jazz, Baiardi clearly draws on other influences as diverse as R&B and new age, and it all comes through on the album. The University of Michigan grad (BFA ’18, jazz studies) offers smooth, heartfelt vocals and evocative piano playing, which combine for a distinctive and memorable sound. She’s backed by an excellent supporting cast, including Karen Tomalis on drums on most tracks and Marion Hayden or Ryan King on bass.

Baiardi writes much of her own material. The album features five original compositions, ranging from the wistful yet hopeful “Who Can Relate” and “Distant Land” to the joyful “Let Go” and “Feel It.” The album concludes with “Transit,” an outstanding instrumental showcase.

The album also features two pop favorites from old movies—an introspective take on “Windmills of Your Mind” from The Thomas Crown Affair and “The Summer Knows” from Summer of ’42, which makes for ideal listening in the summer of ’21.

Baiardi recently agreed to answer a few questions via email.