George and Ira Gershwin, the genius songwriting duo of brothers, wrote the song Strike Up The Band in 1927. That tune from the past immediately rushed into my 2018 ears when I recently happened upon this incredible subway mosaic art in the Harlem 145th street station.
I am slightly obsessed with the subway mosaic art in New York City, and this work by Derek Fordjour is officially my favorite work I’ve ever seen. It’s a static portrayal of a marching band but you can SEE the movement. You can HEAR the sound.
This “Parade” mosaic was incredibly moving. So much so, that after I took these pictures, I kid you not, I marched the four blocks home humming the tune Strike Up The Band!
I couldn’t remember the lyrics so I looked them up. (And I found this knock out recording from the ‘60’s of Nelson Riddle and Matt Monroe,) have a listen:
Let the drums roll out
Let the trumpet call
While the people shout
"Strike up the band"
Hear the cymbals ring
Callin' one and all
To the happy swing
Strike up the band
And we’ll all give a cheer as we stand
To the man with a stick in his hand
He’s the man who’s command of the band makes the band
And you can’t go wrong
With a happy song
Hey, Leader, strike up the band!
I looked up the artist of the mosaic when I got home too. Derek Fordjour, a Tennessee born artist living in Harlem, celebrating his Ghana roots through his art. Good gravy, his stuff is good.
His first work of art was at the age of 3!
“My mother would bring me the cardboard backing from the inside of my father's laundered shirts direct from the dry cleaners. Using that surface, my first successful piece was a red fire engine made with Crayola crayons. My mother was impressed and posted the drawing on the refrigerator. This experience remains at the heart of my practice today. I began with a discarded/found material (cardboard), transformed it through the efforts of my own making (crayons) and experienced the displaying of my work (kitchen). I am still very much engaged in this process and still experience much of the same delight.”
I looked at Derick’s mosaic, this exciting visual artistry, and yet I heard the music of the song Strike Up The Band. I know art is good when it summons up other senses. I can see something so profound and it might bring to mind the smell of a beloved aroma. (This happens with India often, I can look at a picture of Krishna and actually smell the sandalwood, jasmine, and rose from the temples of India.) Or I can hear something that transports me to a time where I was touching and holding someone very dear in my arms. I have the same sense-memory recall with food; I can eat something extra special and I’m flooded with images of my loved ones that I know adored that same food.
This holiday season I struck up my own band in the kitchen giving myself a challenge of creating a beloved childhood treat. You’ve read about my gold dusted Twinkies, my homemade RingDings, as well as my handmade Rolo caramel candy. This year I made homemade Junior Mints!
I eat this candy at the movie theaters, and every precious bite I see and hear my beloved and departed friend Janet Dromgoole. That Southern Bell was a one woman parade and taught me how to be my own biggest fan.
Janet would describe Junior Mints as clean flavored... simple, yet decadent. She’s not wrong. (These are really easy. A bit tedious but so worth it!)
Homemade Junior Mints
4 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
3/4 teaspoon mint extract
4 cups confectioners' sugar (plus 1/2 cup more, as needed)
2 tablespoons cornstarch
8 ounces high quality dark chocolate
1 tablespoon coconut oil
In a stand mixer, beat the softened cream cheese until smooth. Add the confectioners' sugar one cup at a time until incorporated. Add the 3/4 teaspoon peppermint extract. If it’s still wet add the extra sugar. Both recipes said it should be a putty like consistency that could be rolled into tiny balls and flattened. Nope. Mine was still wet so that’s why my recipe has cornstarch. Still not stiff enough to roll, but I piped out little discs and put the sheet pan in the freezer to harden. (about 15 minutes)
In a small saucepan over low heat, melt chopped dark chocolate (chips or bars) with coconut oil, which will make the coating shiny and snappy when it sets. Let this mixture cool a minute so it won’t melt the mints when you dip them.
Use a fork to submerge each Junior Mint into the chocolate-coconut oil mixture before setting each one as a parchment-lined baking sheet. I put my sheet pan back in the freezer to let them set another 30 minutes and then easily peeled them off the parchment and put them in a closed container to store them back in the freezer until I served them. They are divine directly out of the freezer. Not room temp. Not the fridge. The freezer!