"Roman Candle" turns 20: Secrets of Elliott Smith's accidental masterpiece (slideshow)
Elliott and the friends with whom he recorded in middle school in Texas (photo courtesy of Dan Pickering)
I couldn’t wait to eat the Indian vegetarian special meal I had requested on the flight that took me to my junior year abroad in Singapore. This was pre-Internet, if you can remember those days, and I had gotten the “insider” advice to order this meal from reading Lonely Planet. I was not disappointed. The vegetables in my curry were vibrant and cooked to just the right texture. I savored each bite. I tasted the eggplant, potato and carrot. Then I speared a delicate appearing string bean and bit down. Within seconds, I thought I was going to die. I had mistaken a fiery green chile for an innocent bean. My eyes teared. My throat was burning. I began to hiccup uncontrollably. My seatmate made sure I wasn’t choking and then pushed my flight attendant call button for me. The flight attendant rushed over and asked my handsome and distinguished appearing seatmate how she could help him, somehow blind to my gasping, tearing and sweating. He pointed at me: “She needs a glass of water.”
Chivalrous he was, but he was wrong. The only way to extinguish the fire of an erroneously eaten chile is with yogurt.
Indians figured this out long ago. In Indian cuisine, yogurt is eaten for taste, cooling refreshment, and for its digestion-enhancing probiotics. You’ll see yogurt at meals in the forms of raita, the yogurt and cucumber condiment, and in drinkable form as lassi.
The basic formula for lassi is simple: equal parts yogurt and icy cold water. The crucial first step is to get the best tangy, full-flavored yogurt you can buy or make. Next, think about flavor. Lassi is enjoyed in both sweet and salty forms, and both can be spiced with ginger, cardomom, saffron, rosewater, mint and other flavors. Besides the plain, lightly sweetened variety, my other favorite is the mango lassi, popularized by expatriate Indians worldwide. Vibrant-hued and fruity, the mango lassi doubles as beverage and dessert.
Who am I to argue with millions of Indian mango lassi makers? I use Alphonso pulp to make my mango lassi smooth, sweet and flavorful. To play on the dessert-worthy fruitiness of mango lassi, I’ve adapted it into a frozen yogurt with a subtle spicy undertone of ground ginger and a crunchy topping of chopped pistachios, served in a rice flour dessert crepe in a nod to the Indian crepe called a dosa.
Mango Lassi Frozen Yogurt
Makes 1 quart
Yields 6-8 dosas
Traditionally, the South Indian dosa is a crepe made with a batter of fermented rice flour and urad dal, filled with savory and spicy fillings. In my dessert version, I’ve used a basic French crepe recipe but substituted rice flour for the usual wheat flour. (This also makes this a gluten-free recipe.)
Heatmiser publicity shot (L-R: Tony Lash, Brandt Peterson, Neil Gust, Elliott Smith) (photo courtesy of JJ Gonson photography)
Elliott and JJ Gonson (photo courtesy of JJ Gonson photography)
"Stray" 7-inch, Cavity Search Records (photo courtesy of JJ Gonson photography)
Elliott's Hampshire College ID photo, 1987
Elliott with "Le Domino," the guitar he used on "Roman Candle" (courtesy of JJ Gonson photography)
Full "Roman Candle" record cover (courtesy of JJ Gonson photography)
Elliott goofing off in Portland (courtesy of JJ Gonson photography)
Heatmiser (L-R: Elliott Smith, Neil Gust, Tony Lash, Brandt Peterson)(courtesy of JJ Gonson photography)
The Greenhouse Sleeve -- Cassette sleeve from Murder of Crows release, 1988, with first appearance of Condor Avenue (photo courtesy of Glynnis Fawkes)