Thursday, 19 March 2015

On race and hip hop, treatise thereof

I'd describe 85% of my listening habits to revolve around "black" music. There's a lot of rap in regular rotation at home and at work. There's a lot of soul, a lot of blues. That kind of music is natural to me - I grew up on a steady diet of Marvin Gaye from my mother, and my sisters pumped The Fugees from the time I was 8 years old.

Hip hop is political.  Ingest the album-cuts of even the most inane rapper and political lines are drawn and a narrative of racial anger gets painted. Stories of police brutality, rallies of unity, disappointment about the lack of progress, displays of wealth and power deemed important because of the race involved, depression and struggle from social exclusion are all super common themes in the music.  

Yet, this a culture I love.  I participate, I buy albums, I go to shows, I even rap a bit myself.  My close friend and chef, Tim, of Dutch descent, is in a continuous conversation with me about hip hop.  We pump beats.  We get into it without shame.  If you drop off a delivery before we open you probably have to shout over Mac Dre so I can know to sign your little board.  

In spite of hip hop's increasing mainstream appeal, we, white people, remain bad at the cultural maths.  I've heard from people closer to the Duck Dynasty end of the scale tell me that they can't stand my "nigger beats."  And the frustration is that they are so dumb and defensive (and sometimes entrenched in troll culture) that you can't even open a channel of conversation about the problems present in their statement.  You have to, in these cases, tell them that you're going to pull their brain through their nose with a hook so you can embalm them with potato salad while their heart is still beating.

But even most people with a greater number of teeth miss the mark.  I have heard from multiple people, some even decent, referring to the hippity hoppity that "you must think you're black." Well, no.  Not at all.  If you saw me reading the Iliad (aside: an unparalleled torrent of testosterone, violence and misogyny) you would say maybe that I'm educated and like the classics, not that I must think I'm an ancient Greek.  So its different with hip hop.  Firstly, people don't understand what the point of it is or what to listen for (A: miraculous mouthfuls of rhythmical miracles), secondly they think its trivial, uneducated low culture, and thirdly hip hop frequently and explicitly asserts its blackness (although the Iliad frequently asserts its Greekness).
Graffiti X Ancient Greece
As a white listener of hip hop I've had to come to understand my position in relation to that last point. I don't come from the cultural background that many of the experiences it talks about emerge from.  There are some overlaps in my own life, such as poverty and exposure to criminal elements, but being poor and white in rural Canada is different than being poor and black in America (or Canada for that matter.)  I was still raised in a society that depicts white males as the pinnacle of civilization.  A quick flip through TV channels would show me any number of examples of white men doing something awesome, or something terrible, or boring, but it would still show me a lot of white men unless I intentionally went to a channel like BET.  That constant depiction of people that look similar to me as the movers and shakers in the world bestows a lot of privileges that I have to be aware of.

It would be easy, as a regular listener of hip hop, to convince myself that my cultural consumption makes me better than those other more ignorant white people.  Being enlightened is actually better than being ignorant, but the mentality leads too easily into an escape from my cultural background. Some Dances With Wolves/Last Samurai bullshit.  Tailoring my cultural identity to erase the obvious to myself and my deluded associates is also bad.  

Someone once told me, in regards to Canada's First Nations population, that by dwelling on such an old (ha!) injustice keeps the wound open and prevents healing from occurring.  The point this person missed was that wounds are a defining part of the narrative of the wounded.  You need to have the feeling that your wounds are understood to develop the trust necessary for actual healing and growth.  If every time you tried to describe the pain you've endured to someone and they just told you to get over it, got angry and started screaming very loudly about how they've also suffered, you'd likely still feel hurt and now probably more agitated, right?

The emphasis on racial identity in hip hop is just pointing out that race still matters in North America.  This fact bothers some white listeners, or leads them to the conclusion that the music is just being made exclusively for the consumption of black people.  Do you think Kendrick Lamar is pissed off that I'm going to buy a copy of To Pimp a Butterfly, revenue aside?  Listening to black music doesn't make me forget that I'm white - it makes me aware of it.  It makes me aware that something I have no control over, like my background and the colour of my skin, instills certain privileges in our society.  It makes me aware that people are still angry about the unfairness of that, and that they are angry that we, white people, brush off that hard fact with flowery, bullshit idealism or blanket ignorance.
If you're uncomfortable with the racial emphasis in hip hop, you're likely uncomfortable with the reality you see in the mirror.

Wednesday, 12 November 2014

Asparagus People

Assholes exist in all of the seasons.  Yet, as fall stretches into winter my tolerance of them diminishes.

I'd like to think that my demeanor at market is courteous, helpful, and educational.  There are many people that come to me asking for recipes or inspiration of how to use different vegetables.  One woman recently told me that my initial enthusiasm for kohlrabi was what introduced her to what turned out to be a favourite food, and something that she's looked forward to being in season again during its months of unavailability.  When one gentleman bemoaned not knowing what to do with so many radishes to capitalize on a bargain, I suggested he try making radishkraut.  Later he told me that the radishkraut was excellent, and it inspired him to research other fermentation techniques that he was looking forward to trying.  These sorts of interactions have kept me inspired.  They don't keep me warm in the high winds and deep chill of mid-November, but they give me a reason for standing outside at market.

Then there are asparagus people.  It is a pet peeve of mine, a collision that completely t-bones the unsuspecting fuck that asks for it, but I take no prisoners when it comes to stupid questions.  I mean, in the diminishing growing season of Ontario, the median between summer's bounty, fall's rich display of hearty greens and colorful abundance of squash, and the abysmal shit of the winter months, why do you come to a farmer's market looking for asparagus?  Its not the thing itself: I fucking love asparagus. I personally consume at least 10 kilograms of its green stalks every short, precious season - not including what gets canned into the larder.  I am sad that the season is bereft of tender stalks, or tender anything.  Kisses need to be braised in November.  Yet you come to me in the shivering grey, using "its cold today" as a salutation, and tell me you can't seem to find any asparagus.  Maybe you are completely oblivious: 'Was it a bad year for it?'  Or maybe, what's worse, you really don't care that asparagus isn't in season and need to have it anyway, no matter how much methyl bromide it gets doused with on its way here from Peru.

Forgive me. My blood pressure is high and then there is the whiskey.

What offends my sad little heart is the hubris.  The way we, as a society, want to have everything, all of the time, no matter what real limitations should prevent us from having it.  We get those flaccid imported stalks whenever we want them with no anticipation, with no expectation.  It should be that what we eat is a representation of the land, of what is good and flavorful when it is good and flavorful.  From that loose and arguable respect of nature doing what nature does in its own time culture is formed, cuisines develop, traditions grow. But, refrigeration is pretty good, so we can get an edible, not-quite-fresh vegetable whenever we want it.  The acclimatization to this modern norm dulls us into tepid acceptance of uniformity.  It tarnishes our appreciation of what is exceptional when its right in front of us.  Its excessive masturbation killing a healthy appetite for passionate sex.  I think it makes us dumb.  Really, I think its unacceptable.

The cusp of Winter makes me reflect on these things when I drink the cold nights away.  When I see you at market I will happily teach you how to make your cabbage so bad it'll be good again in a few months. I will tell you how to store your onions until March. If you ask me if I have asparagus, I will make fun of you, and in so many words tell you to go fuck yourself.

Tuesday, 4 February 2014

Heaven sits atop water: toward an ecstasy of fat

Eat cheese, friends! Save your tallow! Leaf lard! Fuck margerine! Vive la beurre! Fuck your couch! Don't discard the best parts of your food! Eat less boxed food! For the love of God don't eat cereal, eat eggs!  I've been right all along!  I'm not crazy, I swear to God, I am perfectly sane!  Listen to the bald guy! Listen!

Saturday, 1 February 2014

Still waters run deep

No matter how dry or bleak the night gets,
Superfly on repeat, no end of the fight yet
the whale is my nemesis
vengeance my police,
beyond the mad sheep I hustled my fleece

the sun's too hot, the land's too cold
the richness of memory obscured in the fold
beside all the beasts a land with no colour
goddamn it man the plan of no other
I run my own ship, fuck what you heard
ribs broke, skull crushed in by the herd
another word for coward is compromise
stare death in the face with sober wide open eyes

hitch up, shots off, open wounds in the switch up,
I took the cash in the bag, ducking low in the mix up,
beats for criminals trying to clean up the street
bodies hung inside meat lockers, vanish discreet
on my way from the country on a shadowy fleet
the man on my passport says he's from Crete

unstoppable animal hail from Canada
fuckers complain but the cold isn't bad enough
by the middle of January everyone's had enough
in three feet of snow stand screaming I'm mad enough
you live your life once with no chance of a repeat
and you waste every minute stuck to the tv
fuck you're all frail, sickly and mild mannered
on the worst day alive I wouldn't throw down my hammer
I'd drive spikes in the earth and build a line across time and space
from the location of now to the destination the mind encased
mensch to mensch squared not tense or impaired
face chiaroscuro lit by a flair
there's no beauty but tragedy
mountains from tremors
no triumph but struggle
gilded by tenners
operatic proportions and a ribald propensity
there's nothing left here but the fire forging what's meant to be
that's what meaningless meant to me
in the glare from the moonlight
try to make it cohere
our culture hero broken, paralyzed fear
mind riddled by rot
might never stand strong
maybe's he's forgot
but he attempted to engage the whole thing with his thought, right?

Writing cryptic riddles
for cats with their fiddles
no one understands if stuck in the middle
vision particulars communicate ill
drink from pleroma drunk from your fill
nothing else matters but determination
in the face of foreboding
lost out in space
slap my thighs goading
all you little poets to throw down your pens
you can only contemplate truth
when wearing Depends
all this talk about Zen
a heron descending
on a fish in the river
all your foolishness blending
in a deeper mythology you don't understand
worn like a t-shirt you bought from a band

I'm drunk and unbeaten freetstyling a battle rap
its February bitches RJ's bringing the trouble back

Wednesday, 4 December 2013

Egos is something the Wu-Tang crush

A bunch of the joys of watching food television are the similarities that it shares with professional wrestling.  The charismatic anti-hero that nobody likes but gets things done.  The grimacing chef that knows their shit but has a temper like lava.  Many professional cooks have worked for a bomb-dropping, short-fused, inconsiderate motherfucker with a golden touch for food.  After watching Chef Ramsay decimate some stupid shit I suspect many cooks go into the bathroom and practice their own boss-roll in the mirror, like practicing your Clint Squint after marathoning Sergio Leone films.

In real life, however, nobody likes a tyrant.  Nobody likes a baby either.  I worked for a big guy with a temper once.  What he lacked in technical proficiency he made up for in verbal abuse.  When he got stressed he'd push you off your station, call you a retard, and act big while he frantically stirred a reheated soup.  I had some authority in that kitchen, and when cooks would come so close to walking out of the back door in the middle of service, they would come to me for some piece of mind.  What I would tell them was to picture him naked in the early light of morning, his fat rolls jigging every which way while he frantically masturbated his tiny penis. After they stopped laughing they would come back to work, suddenly feeling sorry for the dinosaur that wrote their paycheque.

Its considered common-sense in a customer service job that no matter how stupid the customer is it is still your job to smile until your smoke break.  Somehow it is considered acceptable to exhibit every kind of immature, anti-social behavior in a kitchen. I'm not sure if its in emulation of what the "big chefs" do, but you see a surprising number of temper tantrums in the industry, especially by people that should know better. When a cook tosses a pan against the wall in a fit of rage because of some fuck up, it doesn't make them look cool. Nobody feels sympathizes with them, and nobody respects them more because of their static-release of testosterone.

Many of the best cooks I've ever seen, the most proficient chefs, the people I respect the most, can take way more shit than anyone else.  While they're still sailor-mouthed, white-linen samurais, the amount of patience they display is incredible.  Imagine, one of your lines is shitting the bed, your sautee guy is having a nervous breakdown, he's missing your calls, and you're being asked to sort out a three-chit server error, all the while chits still flood in like a broken levee. Do you break down? Do you start throwing shit?  No, you tell your sautee guy to get on what needs to go on; you figure out the server error and act accordingly, and you figure out what's going on with the back-line that's making them suck.  The only way out is through.  At the end of service you drink a couple of beers.

So when I see or hear about some idiot with a big ego throwing a pan and walking off line because they had "had enough"  that night, I just feel sorry for their disgraceful ass.  Its a hard world and unless you proceed with grace and precision, it will chew you up without thinking twice.    

Tuesday, 3 December 2013

Thus spake Preparathustra

Large white flakes descend upon the sumacs, the apples, across the cobalt sky, blanketing fields and houses. From North a wind-whipped mendicant breaks the horizon. The squirrels are fat.  Old country emigres finish the last round of preserves.  The insipid city-folk wander the market, shivering in mini-skirts, with three-inches of snow on the tables.  "Do you have any cucumbers?" they ask.

do you

have any


The mendicant lifted his arms, hands wielding his mortar and his pestle, flanked by his serpent and his eagle, his voice rang out from the cusp of a storm cloud:

Behold, partakers of Campbells' horrible soup!  The frost has taken every last fruit.  Kale and brussel sprouts stand alone in the empty fields.  Yes, they are frozen.  Yes, they are fine with that.  You, who have wasted your spring, summer, and fall eating California microgreens, rotting California strawberries, Vidalia onions from the State of Georgia, corn the product of Ohio, potatoes from Iowa, melons and scallions from Mexico: yes, you, oblivious fool to the seasons, consuming death while your wealth spoiled in the fields!  How did you become this way?  

Idiots, content with the sub-par job others will do for you.  Afraid of work.  Worst of all creatures: when the sun idles about the sky in the peak of summer, and your neighbor picks plump, ripe tomatoes from the vine you say: "Someone in Italy will dry my tomatoes." Cucumbers writhing about, growing greater in size everyday, and you rush not to make your pickles.  What is left for you?  You, who with your own hands could simply craft what is good when it is good into a delicious preserve, will spend enormous amounts on a soft, factory dill pickle.

Can a judge condemn a person ignorant of their own crime?  Does the blood not speak from the knife?  What skills may have been mastered by your great grandparents, what may have been responsible for carrying forward your own pitiful line, appear to you like an ancient language, incomprehensible to the eye, unspeakable to the tongue.  You are spoiled by the supermarket, by the high-ceilings, the long aisles peopled by products from a colourful oligopoly.  You buy a stalk of brussel sprouts, now, in the dawn of December, for $6.99 imported from Salinas, California, and bat not an eye.  You are warped from your climate of falsehoods.    

Morons! Horribly lost, you panic that Sriracha may be in short supply, not knowing how simple it is to make a better sauce.You see nothing clearly. Can you identify a single tree?  Have you ever foraged in a spring-time bog? Eaten the mustard that lines the ditches?  

I caution, for the time is changing, and the ways of old will return on the heels of great catastrophe, not to treat the seasons as a vessel for your leisure.  They have existed before you, and by their hands, you could be smitten like a road-side possum.  Turn your back to the false gods of Kellogs, Post, Campbells, Nestle; turn your back to the importers of the fruits of your backyard, grow weary of fog of your consumerism.  Bait the yeast!  Befriend helpful bacteria of beneficent fermentation!  Read the seasons, wisely choose local fruits and vegetables, and most of all, be ready! The longest winter stretches forth from this moment.  Will it breed a Mensch stronger and wiser than the incumbent sleepwalkers? A Mensch unable to pass a field of thyme and mint in ignorance? A Mensch closer to nature and her dithyrambic chorus? Or will they answer only to Catastrophe and her redolent phalanx?

Thus spake Preparathustra.  

Tuesday, 12 November 2013



My life is a black book. But don't rebuke a drinker
Like me too much. No human being can ever read
The words written on his own forehead. 
When Hafez's coffin comes by, it'll be all right
To follow behind.  Although he is
A captive of sin, he is on his way to the Garden.

- From Hafez (1315 or 1317 to 1389) ghazal 77, translated by Robert Bly
and Leonard Lewinsohn


Reclined, with a glass of beer in hand.  I am astonished by the very degree of delight I feel.  My head is light, just like a suspended consciousness without body, the way a spirit would feel.  This is the most recent of many rounds of cheer: a glass of beer, a glass of brandy, a glass of wine, a glass of beer, a smoke on the balcony, a glass of beer. Rogues laying on the floor.  Rogues loafing on the futon.  We have jettison our reason here - we are floating aimless now for whatever whim takes us.

I've admired the physical beauty of churches, exploring many in different cities. I've spent hours with the old and modern cathedrals of Montreal, was stunned in St. Patrick's cathedral in New York, wandered for an afternoon through Grace Cathedral in San Francisco. The stained glass portraits are a door into another sphere. Once I wanted to be a Buddha, but never have I had the discipline to live a life following holy precepts. I don't even think I ever really wanted to: I just wanted to see the self made holy, or maybe to see the self dissolve into white light; a nothingness.

While I would describe my drive toward religion as having deeply affected my consciousness, it is only ever deeply personal.  The drive is subsumed in creativity, by long flights of imagination.  Any wish I've had for religious community has been pushed into secular community.  If I've ever longed for purity and asceticism I've crushed it with vulgarity and indulgence.  Even at my very worst behaved I somehow allow it to make sense in my own mytho-poetic psycho-narrative of spiritual ascendancy.  This, I conclude, is because I am truly, deeply stupid.

Drifting on my la-z-boy I remark out loud about how good I feel.  None of these thoughts have crossed my mind.  Only that I am drunk, at ease.  A contentedness, and a sincere happiness for having had the chance to enjoy the good food and good company that have come my way.


On Sundays I've been known to get a little sloppy. While Rig chopped onions, I butchered a five pound duck.  In the way I was trained to break down a chicken I break down each side, removing the legs and wings, and then I cut off the breasts.   I'm working with two bowls: one for meat and guts, and another for bones and fat.  As I finish removing the collar bone and separating the rib cage from the breast plate, revealing the gizzard and other interior goodies, 2Krucial showed up with a friend she's wanted to introduce to us.  We've promised her a meal and a half and, wrist deep in duck, I am certain we can deliver.

Working from the canard sauvage recipe in the Les Halles cookbook, we started browning the broken down duck bones in butter, and then we added chopped leek and shallots.  After the veg caramelized we added half a cup of brandy to deglaze, reduced, added some chicken stock and a bouquet garni.  With company the action in the kitchen doesn't seem to low.  It's much harder to wait an hour for a stock to reduce without some talking and booze.  We idly season the legs and prepare the rest of the meeze and chat about whatever is felt to be pressing.  Glasses are refilled.  The whole apartment begins to smell like the beginnings of a rich sauce.

After an hour the stock is strained, and the duck legs and wings are browned in more butter and then removed and put aside.  Next comes the gizzard and various duck trimmings, more shallots, caramelized in butter - some flour gets added to form a roux, then some cider vinegar, and once reduced the duck stock. Another hour to pass while the legs and wings are tender.

Meanwhile, fat was rendering in the oven for use in roasting some potatoes.  Parsnips got boiled and mashed with loads of butter and cream.  Glasses are refilled.  For a cook few things are as gratifying as the anticipation of his guests for the meal.  The conversation now comes back to the sights and smells of the kitchen.  Everyone takes there rounds to stick their head over the pot and take a deep inhale, as if from a baggy.  The sauce keeps reducing to critical levels and needs to be topped up with more stock and eventually just straight booze from the bottle.  As the time nears, a sear is put on the two enormous duck breasts.

The breasts are sliced, revealing a beautiful combination of pink and red.  The time has come to plate the long preparation.  The finishing touches are put on the sauce, whisking a liquefied duck liver into it, and tossing a cube of cold butter in.

Glasses are refilled.  "Call in your plenary indulgences, have you any."


Way's been ruins a thousand years.
People all hoard their hearts away:

so busy scrambling after esteemed
position, they'd never touch wine.

But whatever makes living precious
occurs in this one life, and this life

never lasts.  Its startling, sudden as
lightning, a hundred years offering

all abundance. Take it! What more
could you hope to make of yourself?

From T'ao Ch'ien (365 - 427) Drinking Wine, translated by
David Hinton