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Archive for December, 2013

Last night, the music stopped. David Simon, the co-creator of The Wire, presented the final episode of his love letter to New Orleans, Treme – the little show with small and quiet performances and big ideas about community, culture and corruption set against the city’s music culture as a background. Sprinkled throughout the stellar ensemble were actors performing exceptional scripts that raised questions about child rearing, social justice, education, how to maintain a living as a creative individual and where to get a good meal. Real life local musicians and star chefs mixed in easily with a cast of first rate pros to bring one of the most overlooked and satisfying TV shows of this golden age to small screens every Sunday night.

For those who never saw it or gave up on it after a few episodes, the series examined the people of the Big Easy’s struggle to survive after the devastation of Katrina and against the ongoing corruption of the criminal justice and political power structures. The bulk of the storytelling was done through the lens of New Orleans’ musician class, the cooking community, at risk working people and the political class – with a bit of flavor thrown in from the old connection between the tradition that emerged through the Native American and African American blending of cultures.

Sure it moved slowly, but the novelistic approach to storytelling that has replaced the MTV inspired brand of narrative that has contributed to an ADD like shortening of attention spans, has thankfully been replaced by the slower unveiling of plot that has become the norm for most quality cable series. Like a spicy gumbo, they let it simmer until it was just right.

Some said it was boring, but I loved the cast of colorfully eccentric characters who were up against it and who tried to stem the tide of corporate real estate carpetbagging, city hall’s malfeasance and indifference from elites that threatened their way of life with just as much menace as any storm had or will. In other words, they were dealing with the changes brought on by capitalism that currently threaten most of America.

Every Sunday night, HBO presented Southern folks trying to hold on dearly to what was all nearly swept away: Musicians looking for places to play in a town where gigs had been plentiful, where they had been able to play freely on the street and who fight to play what they want to play in a changed marketplace. Surviving families looking for justice for deceased relatives who had been wrongfully killed by the hands of the police. Chefs striving against business interests to continue to cook in one of the great food towns in America. Mardis Gras Indians looking for a place to practice their rituals and to sew their costumes. Homeowners attempting to keep their houses from being torn down. Children and teachers looking for funding for after school programs and safe travel along their streets. This was serious drama about working class heroes just trying to keep it going, and great bands playing great music every week.

Like The Wire, the show never received a Golden Globe or Emmy nomination, and attracted precious few regular viewers. The trials of regular folks may not be as glamorous as meth dealing former school teachers, power mad ad execs or bi-polar espionage operatives but for me, it made for great viewing. Cast members, Khandi Alexander, Kim Dickens, Lucia Micareli, Melissa Leo, David Morse, Wire alum, Wendell Pierce and Clarke Peters and the great, John Goodman all poured their hearts and souls into the rich little show that I savored like a great meal from Acme or Dooky Chase. I am sad to see it go, I could have used a few more helpings.

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I love collard greens. Along with Stevie Wonder and James Brown, they were a staple in the home that I grew up in. My emotional and cultural connection to them is strong. I’m single, and as far as I’m concerned, any girl who knows how to cook them has an edge on the rest of ’em. If you’re that girl and you’re reading this, you can reach me through the comment section.

Recently, I’ve been getting busy with the pots and pans and flashing back to my early days as a latchkey kid in Soul City. Not that my background was Dickensian, but as the only child of a single parent, at an early age, I needed to find my way into kitchen territory beyond Cap’n Crunch, milk and bananas.

Lately, I’ve been listening to Sly Stone, Earth Wind & Fire, Herbie Hancock, Rufus & Chaka, Aretha, and some other funk and soul from my youth. I’ve been boning up on the ’70s sound. As a result, I have stirred a craving for collard greens. This is an unintended result of digging in the crates. I not only listen to them but I cook the classics too; fish, chicken, steaks, hot dogs, burgers, pasta, turkey sausage and bacon, eggs, French toast, waffles, hot cereal and such; home fries, potato salad, baked yams, cornbread and sandwiches. My vegetable game is real but basic; cabbage, spinach, corn and broccoli, but I never learned to cook collards.

Collards were the province of grown folks and cooks with skills way beyond my own. They were holiday fare lovingly and carefully washed, chopped, boiled and simmered by my mother and grandmother. Hours went into their preparation – it was a ritual, they were serious business. After they were cooked, the house would have that strong, sweet, pungent odor that only comes from collards, long after dessert had been served and the dishes had been washed. They were extra special Sunday dinner vegetables served with baked and roasted fowl, mac and cheese, candied yams and rice and gravy. Collards were featured on birthdays. Back when I still ate pork, they were a side dish that went with the New Year’s black eyed peas, chitlins, ham and company that came to eat them. They were synonymous with good times.

As many of you know, I lost my mother to Cancer 3 1/2 years ago and I took care of my grandmother for some time after that. My grandmother is well (my cooking didn’t kill her) and living with devoted relatives. She recently turned 97. All that funk and soul has made me miss my elders and remember the romance and magic that filled my upbringing. If food choices represent the passing on of tradition, culture and family values – as I believe they do – then the cooking of collards is a rite of passage. I am growing up, I reached out to a dear friend in LA who used to cook them for me when I lived out there and before that, when I visited for business. I asked that she send her recipe. I’m ready to try and cook my first batch.

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