Monday, February 27, 2006

Comfort Food and Rare Groove

I was recently re-reading Food Culture in Sub-Saharan Africa by Fran Osseo-Asare - a book I've been meaning to review since it came out last year. Briefly, it's nothing less than a comprehensive overview of the culture and history of food in Africa. It covers the continent, dipping into all the regional flavours. There's lots of historical insight about the types of ingredients used, the crops, animals, fisheries etc. It's one of those books you can open at any page and find lots of to chew on (pun intended, tongue in cheek etc). Most culinary books concentrate on recipes but this goes beyond that into the cultural and social significance of food (from who prepares it, traditions surrounding it, special meals etc). Anyway I'll return to it at length shortly, shall we say that it deserves a fuller digestion. I'm rather concerned in this note with rare groove.

Food Culture in Sub-Saharan Africa


As normally occurs when matters literary and gastronomical coincide, my salivary glands began to do their thing after barely 5 minutes of reading. Much like that recent article on street food in Ghana, my immediate reaction was to think of smells, sounds and kitchens. Oh the smells! As my mouth started watering, my mind started wandering and I was thinking about Auntie Becky's roadside kelewele (fried ripe plantains) in North Labone which is the first place I head to when I land in Accra. Auntie Becky has been cooking outside a house for thirty odd years and has a devoted and international following. Indeed she married the owner of the house which is one way of romancing I suppose - Like Water For Chocolate as they say. The marriage got her the hookup to household gas replacing the previous charcoal fires... In any case, my lunch companions were 20 minutes away thus to distract the incipient hunger pangs, I dipped into my musical library and compiled the following menu of comfort food and rare groove. Hope you enjoy it.

A Hungry Playlist

Chef's Specials

  • Common - The Food
  • Herbie Hancock - Cooking Session
  • Stephanie Mills - Ain't No Cookin'
  • Amadou & Mariam - Sénégal Fast Food
  • Omar - Confection (ft Mica Paris)
    (see also Tasty Morsel for bite-sized portions)
  • Horace Silver - Cookin' At The Continental
  • Charles Wright - Cooking Session
  • Goodie Mob - Soul Food
  • Miles Davis - Steamin'
    (Note: album sized, you may substitute Miles Davis - Cookin' if you prefer)

Snacks

  • Charlie Parker - Salt Peanuts
  • James Brown - Mother Popcorn

food

Main Course

  • Charles Mingus - Eat That Chicken
  • Anthony Hamilton - Cornbread, Fish & Collard Greens
  • Kruder & Dorfmeister - Lamb, Trans Fatty Acid
  • Booker T & The MG's - My Sweet Potato
  • Jimmy Smith - Pork Chop
  • Musical Youth - Pass The Dutchie
  • Cannonball Adderley - Afro-Spanish Omlet
  • Dwele - Flapjacks
  • Freddie Hubbard - Cold Turkey
  • Kenny Burrell - Chitlins Con Carne
  • Lee Morgan - Cornbread
  • Roy Hargrove - Greens At The Chicken Shack
  • James Brown - The Chicken
  • Soul Runners - Grits 'N' Corn Bread
  • Miles Davis - Fishermen, Strawberry and Devil Crab
  • King Curtis - Memphis Soul Stew
  • Ohio Players - Jive Turkey
  • Jimmy Smith - Back At The Chicken Shack
  • Prince - Starfish and Coffee
  • Main Source - Live at the Barbeque
  • MC Serch ft Chubb Rock, Nas - Back To The Grill
  • Ella Fitzgerald & Louis Armstrong - Crab Man
  • Meshell NdegeOcello - Oysters
  • Rufus Thomas - Funky Hot Grits
  • The Meters - Chicken Strut
fish

Dessert

  • Sade - Cherry Pie
  • Dexter Gordon - Cheese Cake
  • Herbie Hancock - Watermelon Man
  • Mtume - Juicy Fruit
  • Duke Ellington - Arabesque Cookie
    (from the Nutcracker Suite no less)
  • Charlie Parker - Scrapple From the Apple
  • Charles Mingus - Song With Orange
  • Dave Bruebeck - Tangerine
  • Hugh Masekela - Strawberries
  • The Time - Ice Cream Castles
  • Billie Holiday - Strange Fruit
    (also available Cassandra Wilson or Nina Simone style)
  • Wendy & Lisa - Fruit At the Bottom
  • Erykah Badu - Appletree
  • The Brothers Johnson - Strawberry Letter 23
  • Prince - Raspberry Beret
cake goodness

Secret Ingredients

  • Loose Ends - A Little Spice
  • Lizz Wright - Salt
  • Booker T & The MG's - Green Onions
  • The Time - Chili Sauce
  • Lou Donaldson - Nice 'N' Greasy
  • Marlena Shaw - Spice of Life
  • D'Angelo - Chicken Grease
  • Count Basie - Honeysuckle Rose
  • Booker T & The MG's - Soul Dressing

Sweets

  • D'Angelo - Brown Sugar
  • Cassandra Wilson - Tupelo Honey
  • Kool & The Gang - Chocolate Butter Milk
  • Cameo - Candy
  • Nina Simone - I Want A Little Sugar In My Bowl
  • Jill Scott - Honey Molasses
  • Johnny Hammond - Los Conquistadores Chocolates
  • Bob Marley - Guava Jelly
  • Lo-Key - Sweet On You
  • A Tribe Called Quest - Butter
  • Parliament - Chocolate City
  • Beres Hammond - Sugar You Want
  • Ohio Players - Sweet Sticky Thing
kebabs

Beverages

  • Fela Kuti - Water No Get Enemy
  • Jimmy Mcgriff - Blue Juice
  • E.T. Mensah & The Tempos - Tea Samba
  • The Roots - Water
  • Thelonious Monk - Tea For Two
  • Kelis - Suga Honey Iced Tea
  • Duke Ellington - Chocolate Shake
  • The Manhattan Project - Old Wine, New Bottles
  • Duke Ellington - Sugar Rum Cherry
  • UB40 - Red Red Wine
  • Tha Alkaholiks - Only When I'm Drunk
  • Tony Rich Project - Red Wine
  • Snoop Doggy Dogg - Gin and Juice
  • Busta Rhymes - Pass The Courvoisier
  • Bennie Maupin - Water Torture
  • Lester Young And Oscar Peterson - Tea For Two

Supplements

  • Baby Cham - Vitamin S (Fiesta Riddim)
  • Booker T & The MG's - 'Mo Onions
drinks

Liner Notes

  • Do not listen to this playlist on an empty stomach or you may have a case of jazz-funk Water Torture ala Bennie Maupin.
  • On matters of etiquette, feel free to use your hands when partaking of toli comfort food, remember though that it is best to use only one hand unless it's chicken or ribs of course. The only other advice you'll need is Musical Youth's, namely "Pass The Dutchie 'Pon The Left Hand Side".
  • Surpisingly there isn't much else on food culture and, no, Charles Mingus' The Shoes of the Fisherman's Wife doesn't count. Neither does Scratch's hilarious 3 Barstools Away, might I add.
  • From the evidence of this playlist, it is clear that the chicken came before the egg. The earthy music I tend to listen to tends to celebrate our hens more than their eggs, other than the one Afro-Spanish omelette, the chickens rule the roost. (I discarded Disjam's Softboiled for being imprecise. The Time's The Bird, The Roots' Duck Down and Bob Marley's Three Little Birds were disqualified for the same imprecision).
  • Prince's Starfish and Coffee comes with "Maple Syrup And Jam, A Butterscotch Cloud, A Tangerine, A Side Order Of Ham", he is a special one. His Sticky Wicked collaboration with Chaka Khan and Miles Davis is only available on the adult menu as is R Kelly's Chocolate Factory, positive id is required. Oscar Peterson's The Honeydripper is discounted for reasons of messiness.
  • Of course I've noted before that eating people is wrong thus with a track like Miles Davis's Fishermen, Strawberry and Devil Crab, you don't get the fishermen. Sorry, but I believe in truth in advertising. I omitted The Coup's Fat Cats, Bigger Fish out of similar cultural sensitivity.
  • Surprisingly for a playlist heavy on soul food, there aren't too many stews, gumbo or fish on the menu and unfortunately we're out of soup in the toli kitchen; as Troop would have it "I'm Not Soupped". You might also ask, where's the beef, goat or black sheep? The answer is that my musical collection isn't that extensive.
  • The artist historically most concerned with food is strangely unrepresented in this food playlist. Jill Scott punctuates almost every song with lyrics about grits, collard greens and the like yet it's only Honey Molasses that I'm highlighting. However her Family Reunion song about barbecues deserves an honorary mention as does Joy and Pain by Maze featuring Frankie Beverly which comes with most backyard grills.
  • Memphis's finest band Booker T and the MG.s contribute the most tracks to the menu and no wonder, they live in a melting pot.
  • An update: as pointed out in the comments, I completely missed a meal and it is rather Louis Jordan and his Tympany 5 that take the cake. Well that's what happens if you have Five Guys Named Moe, I suppose.

Yesterday, after lunch of course, I listened to this almost 6 hour multi-course meal and it all fits together remarkably well, a balanced diet of soul, jazz and funk (metaphor overload: "a cornucopia of extra-sensory nuggets"). It put me in an anticipatory mood for dinner which I wolfed down voraciously - gusto was written all over my face. There's a lot of humour in all the music since food culture is mostly celebatory - the funniest track being Mingus' Eat that Chicken - what a chorus. I've been told that my musical obsession is far out, or as Eric Dolphy would have put it, I'm Out to Lunch but bear with me and, above all, enjoy your meal. As always menu suggestions are welcome.

See also: "We Eat First With Our Eyes" her take on Ghanaian Cuisine. In my case, I eat first with my ears.

food


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Friday, February 17, 2006

Version Hell

In the beginning we called it "CoolCodename". But that was then... That was before fate stepped in. A one-act play...

[Demosthenes is lying on his chaise longue, eating grapes, he appears to have been in this state of lassitude for a long time. Ctesiphon enters stage right in a hurry, he appears dishevelled.]

Demosthenes: [between munches] So what's bothering you, Ctesiphon? Software got you down?

Ctesiphon: The software's no problem, it's the naming thing. Those Gods are capricious beasts.

Demosthenes: [puzzled look]

Ctesiphon: I mean its the version thing. It's the fact that there is no longer an XYZ 2.5, it's now ABC 2.5.

[he continues, gesticulating wildly]

Did you know that the ABC 2.5.1 stream into which I've checked in 8 bugs was renamed on Wednesday to be the ABC 2.6 stream?

Demosthenes: Slow down a little, let me get it straight. There's a 2.5.1?

Ctesiphon: Slow down? Demo, 2.5 was last month's story, it's all 2.5.1 these days. And 2.6 of course. Yes. Well...

[slowly now, pausing to collect himself]

The ABC 2.5.1 project was renamed to ABC 2.6 after people like myself had been checking things into it for weeks. Ergo, post-facto crapulum.

Demosthenes: Hmmm. Ipso facto absurdum.

Ctesiphon: Greek not Latin, where's your classics, you anachronistic orator. This means that I have to recreate all my activities and redo the check-ins into whatever project is now supposed to be ABC 2.5.1.

Demosthenes: But I heard from the Oracle that the latest thing was XYZ 2.5, I mean JKL 2.5.

Ctesiphon: Rebranding they call it, that's the thing with Delphic Oracles... [pauses]
Then they pretend that we were always calling it ABC 2.5 and not XYZ 2.5 and that we were always calling it JKL 2.5 and not CoolCodename. But that's a seperate issue. Don't get me started.

[he starts pacing up and down the stage, suggest crackling thunder in the background as he enumerates each point]

What gets me steamed is that

  1. They only told us now (Friday night) that the ABC 2.5.1 stream is open for submissions, and
  2. All submissions are due by Sunday, and
  3. The ABC 2.5.1 stream is now the ABC 2.6 stream, and
  4. The place to check in the ABC 2.5.1 fix is the old XYZ 2.5 stream which was not renamed to ABC 2.5.1
  5. And... oh forget it, who knows what the ABC stream is for....

Thus when I check in for ABC 2.5.1, I have to remember not to use the streams I had created, named ABC 2.5.1, but rather the old stream called XYZ 2.5. Reductio ad absurdum.

Demosthenes: [After winking at the audience] But I just read this week's scrolls, it was all about 2.6. What's going on, Ctsey?

[Ctesiphon becomes manic as he replies, perhaps his toga starts coming loose]

Ctesiphon: Which 2.6, I ask? Which 2.6, Demo? Let's not mention that we are going to have a new release of XYZ. They only tell you later. As you know XYZ 2.6 is based on CoolCodename, I mean JKL 2.5, but they'll be wanting some of the fixes from ABC 2.5.1.

[louder]
So this Saturday, after I finish merging my work into ABC 2.5.1 in the old XYZ 2.5 streams, I'll have to find the new streams for JKL 2.6, whatever they are named, because they won't do automatic merges. Then I have to diff the 2.5.1 code against the JKL 2.6 base (I mean the XYZ 2.6 base) and take only those changes that are in ABC 2.5.1 and hand-merge them.

[Even louder and faster]
But of course, they made some security fixes for that Trojan issue in JKL and so the security model has changed because the SMB market you aren't guaranteed to be using DBO instead it's XBO or SBO. And of course, there is no machine to test any of this stuff whether ABC, XYZ or JKL. Come to think of it, I've only ever tested my patch on a old build of ABC 2.5 that was using DBO, I never tested with...

Demosthenes: All right, all right... [winking again at audience then patting Ctesiphon on the back]

You better get some sleep, sounds like you've got a busy weekend ahead of you.

Ctesiphon: That Sisyphus had it good, the boulder always rolled down the same hill.

[Demosthenes walks him out stage right. Comes back alone, pours himself a goblet of wine, sips it and sighs... looks straight at the audience.]

Demosthenes: That's the thing about managing engineers, you've got to tolerate all this background noise. [Picks up a grape and sits down]

[Curtain falls.]

Note: the foregoing is a work of fiction, any resemblance to actual persons or products is entirely coincidental. Your mileage may vary. Always fasten your seatbelts when on a chariot. Objects in the mirror may be closer than they appear. Do not drink and drive.

Further reading

Soundtrack for this dialogue

Playwright's Note


A number of people have been reading themselves or their products into my little tale of version whiplash and confusion and I've even been asked to decode ABCs and JKLs. I rather thought the point was that the three letter acronyms didn't matter and indeed will change without notice until something sticks in the market place (ESB, SOA etc)

I will admit that almost all the lines of dialog sounded vaguely familiar to some, "verbatim" was what a friend said. But really, it's just fiction...

Still one might well construct a parallel universe in which CoolCodename might be "Portal" or "Workplace". Lotus Workplace (LWP) might become IBM Workplace and then might morph into Workplace Collaboration Services (WCS) for a while. Product managers might get the idea to attack the SMB market and turn a "lightweight" WCS into a CoolCodename-d PortalX which might in turn become Workplace Services Express (WSE) and then you might need to get version so-and-so out for... Well you get the picture.

It's all Greek to me.

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Monday, February 13, 2006

Wiz's Flowers

Floral Arrangement by Wiz - 1998


The painting is titled Floral Arrangement. The artist is Wiz, or Wisdom Kudowor, one of Ghana's most famous living artists (another profile). As his reputation has grown, he no longer comes cheap (e.g. you're likely to read "please contact us for the price"). Our parents are lucky to have known him when he was down-and-out and managed to snag a few originals. Even back in 1998, when I started trying to buy a few paintings, Wiz's creations were far beyond my budget. He has a great eye and a distinctive style. We are luckly to be able to peruse online galleries to sample some of his work. These days it's increasingly abstract and there's less of the curvaceous eye candy of yore.

I recently read Jo Ellen Fair's article on The Creation of Valentine's Day in Accra, Ghana. It's a fair piece although it doesn't get much beyond a sketch of an argument about "globalization + nascent middle-class + commercial imperative = Valentine's Day". One wishes she dug deeper into the cultural underpinnings and was a bit more historical. Still one shouldn't complain, she has pointed out a phenomenon that has taken place in the past 15 years. I certainly can't remember Valentine's Day being a big deal growing up. From all accounts, these days the streets of Accra are a confusion of red on the 14th of February and the hype leading up to the day is even more pervasive than in the commercial West. I guess we all want to belong to the global village. The women in Wiz's Floral Arrangement, with their flowing and sheer decorations struck me as in tune with the spirit of the moment.

Soundtrack for this joint

  • Wayne Shorter - Wild Flower
    Lyrical saxophone and hard bop from one of jazz's great artists and composers off his masterpiece album, Speak No Evil

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Thursday, February 09, 2006

Mind The Gap

I've been thinking about gaps. Gaps, you know: the gap between the elevator and the floor, the gap between the train and the platform, the space between teeth, the length of time since I last wrote on my blog etc. You know, those kinds of gaps. There must be a word to describe the slightly unreasonable fear of dropping one's keys into those infinitesimal gaps of the world. The sudden tightening of the chest, the patting of the pocket (you still have it don't you?), imagining the badge slipping out of your hand and falling down that shaft, the internal debate about whether to put the badge into your pocket or hold it, and the speculation about whether you'll drop it as you put it in the pocket... Of course it would figure that I dropped my wedding ring down one of these gaps last night.

I was on the bus, walked up the stairs leading to the back section and prepared to sit down. The glove came off and the ring flew into the proverbial gap under the seats in the lower section.

Arrgh!

As gaps go, it was not as bad as the aforementioned elevator gap. Still it was awkward, you simply couldn't reach it. I could see the little glint of gold but the space was barely wide enough for a finger, let alone a hand to pick up the matrimonial memento.

So it was like an episode of MacGyver - quick what tools do I have that might do the job? The pen was too short. You tried it anyway. The notebooks wouldn't do. No ruler in sight. Let's see, let's try the ethernet cable. That was long enough but not stiff enough. You can touch it. Yes. No. Oops you pushed it further away. Damn.

After 5 minutes of this, you start talking to yourself

"Wedding ring... Idiot... Argh... Aaarggh... Arrrrgh"
The man sitting on the other side of the aisle has been noticing your distress. You turn to him and ask a question that you realize sounds like a mating ritual of sorts or dialogue from some awful film:
"Do you have anything long?"
Confusion reigns... Then you mumble the phrase again:
"Wedding ring... dropped..."
A look of recognition appears on his face, he's been there before: the realm of the unforgivable. He looks into his bag, a pencil comes out. If a pen didn't work, why would a pencil? Still you're desperate... You promptly drop the pencil under the seat... [obscenity].. You turn around looking hopeless... Try the cable again? There's a word for this: impotence.
"Never mind."
Somehow he has fashioned a two pen contraption which he hands over. He's also rolling up a magazine or something and scurries to the front.

Much better: you can reach. But can you grab? Tilt it and hook. Nope. The pens are bending. Meanwhile the troops are rallying as the bus goes on its merry way, people wanting to take up the seats in front of me wonder what was going on. I can't imagine how ghetto I must look, I see "wild haired maniac concern" in their faces... "Wedding ring" calms them down. Now it's entertainment on the commute home. Some even try to help.

Eventually it was teamwork that did the trick. I, from the seat in front, reaching back with with a rolled-up FedEx envelope, managed at length to push the ring closer. The guy from behind managed a flick with the borrowed knitting needle. And the knitwear girl on the side caught the prodigal ring which she delicately handed over to Your Gratefulness.

We had lost a couple of pens in our endeavours but there was a collective sigh of relief. It was 15 minutes of my life, I had long missed my stop, but not to worry. Another bus story to add to the toli tales.

The parting words of my Good Samaritan helper:
"I don't think you should tell her about this".

Improbable gap drops seem to run in the family believe it or not...

A few months ago, just after my wedding, I was heading home with my parents to give them a quick peek at my apartment before they caught the flight home. There was the sight of the slender rectangular mass making its remarkable flight out of my dad's jacket pocket as we stepped out of the train, arching its way through the closing doors and angling itself down the barely 3 inch wide gap.

First, assesment: what was that? Was it the passport or the plane ticket? The train pulled out of the station and we inspected. Luckily no, it was the address book; but were the traveller's checks in it? Uh-oh.

I instinctively primed myself to jump down onto the tracks to recover it. The parents intervened and held me back. They didn't need to say anything, I could hear their thoughts:
Thirtysomething and still got no sense. Hasn't he heard about the third rail? For god's sake, the sign is right there in front of him. Heard about electricity?
So, well, let's ask the station guy. You walk over and knock on the door. He's dispensing tokens. You wait.
"Ahh... Excuse me... Um... Uhh... Ah... My father dropped his address book onto the tracks... Could you?... help?"
"And?"
"Umm... could you?"
The thick Boston accent.
"It's... electrified... You can't go down there sir... Don't go down there!... Book!"
Eventually:
"I'll have to call the inspector... There's no knowing where he is... I can't pick up your book."
He obviously wants you to give up. So:
"Umm... ahem... Could you? Thanks."
You walk away quickly. You've tried your best.

A few minutes later, he comes out of his box. "The inspector is on his way..." Still he wants to see it for himself. Again the disbelief, he keeps repeating:
"A book? A book?"
He bends down and sees it and looks at us, shakes his head and walks back muttering to himself. You don't need to hear it:
"You're making me disrupt rush hour traffic for a book? [obscenity] tourists"
You want to protest that you're a local, but keep quiet.

In the end it was simple, after 5 minutes or so, the incoming train stopped at the mouth of the tunnel. The inspector stepped out and onto the tracks. A little crowd of onlookers had gathered.

He very deliberately walked down the length of the station in the middle of the tracks. When he reached our level, there was a little skip and he bent down to pick the address book up and handed it up to me. I handed it to my father. The inspector turned around and walked back down the tracks, exchanging a look with the station guy. We, in turn, all walked off. Not a word was said until we got out of the station. Then we burst out laughing:
"A book? A book?"
So if your commute was disrupted one autumn afternoon, perhaps it was because of some improbable toli.

As I started recounting last night's mishap and the words "wedding ring" were uttered, The Wife's words were very direct:
"I don't want to hear about this."
There was a murderous edge to her voice, and who can blame her. I should never have brought it up and to think I was even warned about it.

I should have minded the gap.

Soundtrack for this joint


First a couple from Sting and company, The Police being the greatest Ska band to masquerade as rock stars.Next a trio of songs about falling, these fall on the soul side of things.
  • Omar - Fallin'
    With lots of voices in the background, a portrait of a descent into madness. A very soulful confection from one of my favourite singers off the excellent This Is Not A Love Song album.
  • Finley Quaye - Falling
    Why are mournful and lyrical moods still danceable when done reggae style?
  • Alicia Keys - Falling
    "I keep on falling"
Finally one can't discuss gaps without referring to Charlie Wilson's voice (prototype for Aaron Hall, R Kelly and beyond) and the playful funk of these masters. Thus we'll end with
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