30 July 2012

New Music: St. Vincent and David Byrne

"Who" makes the best complex, boundary-pushing rock/pop in the business? If we were talking about 1980, I would nominate Talking Heads. But we are talking about 2012, and I confidently put forth St. Vincent.

St. Vincent, led by frontwoman Annie Clark, create intricate and compelling songs that begin with pretty pop and rock foundations and build strange houses with creative arrangements, off-kilter funk grooves, lyrical social commentary, and the occasional distorted guitar solo. (You have to love those unsettling videos as well. Or else they will haunt your restless sleep forever.) On stage the band is locked in, and Ms. Clark's haunting stage presence and guitar freakouts sooth, unnerve, and jolt the audience through a thought-provoking, booty-shaking ride.

David Byrne, the former frontman of Talking Heads, and St. Vincent have put their idea-heavy heads together for an album, which is satisfyingly named Love This Giant. The first single, "Who", showcases the best of both of these gifted songwriters: the weird, skittery funk underpinnings and pretty pop foils of St. Vincent combined with Byrne's odd wordplay and close, uncomfortable harmonies. Download the song for free (with email submission) at their album website. If the rest of the album is anywhere near this good (and this weird), we are in for quite a treat.

Love this Giant will be released on 11 September 2012. I plan to buy a digital copy. I recommend that you do the same if you have good taste.

27 July 2012

Ginger Masala Lentil and Barley Stew

Need a hearty side dish? Need an easy, healthful meal?  My Ginger Masala Lentil & Barley Stew takes 30 minutes to make and gives you a delicious, flavorful food without having to do much more than rinse a few legumes.

The stew is not very attractive. Here is a photo of pretty rambutans instead.

One key element in interesting, creative cooking is spices. You can liven up a boring dish with an unconventional combination of spices. Combine flavors from different cuisines and you can feel like a chef at a mediocre fusion restaurant -- all in the comfort of your own home. For the Ginger Masala Lentil & Barley Stew, I have drawn elements from Cape Muslim and Thai cooking.  Stock up in Cape Town at the Atlas Trading Co. in the Bo-Kaap or Komati Foods in Obs if you are missing some of the spices below.
Ginger Masala Lentil & Barley Stew (serves 4)
1/2 cup dried red split lentils
1/2 cup dried barley
1 tbsp dried split peas
1 tbsp dried oat groats (optional)

2.5 cups water
1 or 2 tsp masala spice mix of your choice
1/2 tsp ground fennel
1/4 tsp ground allspice
1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
2 dried k-word lime leaves (Thai specialty!)
Small piece chopped fresh ginger

1 white onion, chopped
2-4 cloves garlic, coarsely chopped
Extra seasonings: salt, pepper, squeeze of lemon, hot sauce, olive oil
1. Rinse dried legumes and grains. Place in medium or large pot.
2. Add water and bring to boil.
3. Meanwhile, in a separate pan, fry up coarsely chopped onions and garlic.
3. Add spices, lime leaves, and onions and garlic to main pot. (And biltong -- see Pro Tip below.)
4. Simmer for 25-30 minutes. Check in on stew every so often. Say hello.
5. Add salt, pepper, hot sauce, olive oil, and lemon to taste.

Enjoy in any number of ways. I recommend topping individual portions with seeds, crushed nuts, cheese, or a fried egg.

[ Pro tip: Add a few slices of fatty biltong with your spices to add serious depth. ]

26 July 2012

South African English: You Must

As George Bernard Shaw (or Oscar Wilde, or Winston Churchill, or perhaps even Martin Luther King, Jr.) never said, the United States and South Africa are two nations divided by an uncommon language. And that language is Xhosa. No, wait, English.

I have had the pleasure to encounter a bevy of delightful South African linguistic quirks in Cape Town, and it would be my pleasure to introduce them to you every week. With only minimal further ado:


“You Must”
Locals in Cape Town often implore you to see a good film (usually an American one) or to visit a new restaurant (oddly enough, also usually an American one).
South African Friend, Eagerly: You must visit the Eastern Food Bazaar.
Me: Is it closing down this week?
SAFE: You must try the pizza.
Me: Why the urgency? Why are you ordering me around?!
SAFE: When you go you must get the pizza with lamb mince.
Me: All right, fine! I’ll go and try the flippin' pizza. Just let me be.
After several weeks of being intimidated into particular food, drink, and cultural choices, I discovered that my friends were merely making cordial recommendations. They were deploying “must” where I, Captain America, would venture a meek “should” or “may wish to think about considering the benefits.” “You must try the pizza” simply connoted that the pizza is good.

Parade, Opening of Parliament, February 2012
You may wish to consider getting out of the way of the President's convoy of large, fancy cars.

The excessive “must”-iness appears to come from two places: lack of urgency and frankness.

Lack of Urgency: South Africans in general, and Capetonians in particular, seem to constitute a relatively laid-back lot. There may simply not be anything sufficiently urgent to warrant the use of “must” as an imperative. One shudders to think what happens to things one “should” do here:
  • I should respond to your calls and emails? Perhaps tomorrow – or weeks later!
  • I should have your car ready this afternoon? I meant next week. We should order a part.
  • Government officials should stop funneling public funds to renovate their huge mansions? But those are the benefits of being in government!

Frankness: South Africans have a penchant for frankness. They will cut to the chase and ask you the hard questions (especially when trying to sell you a used car – oy vey!). They criticize Americans for beating around the bush too much and for being too polite. (Americans too polite? Could have fooled me.) So in the unlikely event that there were something sufficiently urgent to warrant the imperative, it would not be sugarcoated with “must” and would be at very high volume, e.g., “Try the pizza tonight or face certain doom!”