Tuesday, October 16, 2018

The Good Shito: Accra Heat

I'm not an Africanist, by any stretch of the imagination, and in fact, the very idea seems ridiculous. Africa is huge and mindbogglingly diverse. The idea that anyone could declare themselves to be an expert in an entire continent (except maybe Australia) is just stupid. Nonetheless, I've spent a decent amount of time bouncing around a few different African capitals - Lusaka, Kigali, Nairobi, Accra.

Accra, in particular, is a favorite location of mine. It's got a great mix of upbeat hustle and downtempo chill, and every time I go I get to see another side of the city that I missed before.

 One of the constants, however, is the food. I won't get into the Nigeria vs. Ghana shooting war over who makes the best jollof rice, but I will say that the diversity of cuisine available in Ghana is overwhelming. One time I had a bowl of Nkatenkwan (peanut soup) that included goat, smoked fish, peanuts, tomatoes, and scotch bonnet peppers, and the flavor combination was so good it just wrecked all of my assumptions about what you could do with soup. BLEW MY MIND. Despite my best efforts I've never been able to find that particular style of peanut soup again.

But there is one universal that's always on the Ghanaian dining table:


Despite the regrettable name, I have fallen hard for the iconic Ghanaian hot sauce known as shitor (aka shito or shitor din). It's spicy as hell and intensely savory. If chili oil and Thai fish sauce had a baby...

Oh mama, umami.

For the locals in Accra, it's a perennial necessity, like ketchup is for some Americans - I've seen men happily spread it on breakfast rolls like it was butter. But it's deep fire. Thick as lava, and just as demanding of your respect. Whenever I go to Ghana I have to bring a few jars back home with me.

The condiment ranges in color from an alarming red/orange to an ominous dark greenish black, and when you open the jar it sits under the glistening sheen of a half-inch layer of oil. The oil is as much packaging as it is anything else - it protects the shitor from spoiling by preventing it from coming in contact with the open air. (The label of one of my jars of shitor even says explicitly, "Always keep oil on surface to preserve freshness.")

So what is it?

The obvious main ingredient is a small colorful hot pepper that's probably something close to a scotch bonnet - not a pepper to be taken lightly. But then there's also a mix of crushed shrimp and fish that are stewed with garlic, tomato, and a variety of secondary spices and flavors. It's sort of like mole sauce or curry or ras al hanout - there are some common regional variations, but ultimately, every family has its own version.

A very basic version can be found here, and a somewhat more ambitious one is here. I won't presume to declare any of these to be authoritative, but this particular recipe appears to be very much based on the palate of someone who knows what a proper shitor should be.

But if you don't want to try and recreate the sauce without first knowing what you're shooting for, I did find two options on ye old Amazon dot com.

Thursday, September 27, 2018

Lindsey Graham, Lou Gosset Jr., and Saddam Hussein

Anyone remember the movie Diggstown?

Early 90s movie about boxing, gambling, and con jobs. Ring a bell?

Probably not, unfortunately. It’s a movie that’s certainly faded into obscurity. That said, Amazon prime has it for free, so maybe you should go watch it after you’re done reading this. Lou Gossett Junior, James Woods, and Heather Graham could probably all use the residuals.

Anyway, I was reminded of if this afternoon when I was watching Lindsey Graham’s performance during the Ford/Kavanaugh hearing that went down today. Lindsay came out swinging, for sure. Full of outrage and vigor, he weighed in on the whole spectacle writ large. 

It’s part of a larger pattern that he’s been establishing lately – kowtowing to the very same Donald Trump that he once referred to as a disaster for the Republican Party. When, exactly, did Lindsey change his tune? People who watch the sort of thing have pointed to March 27, 2017. After a years of animosity towards the current administration he suddenly flipped his narrative, and became one of its most stalwart supporters. This extended all the way to a postmortem sellout of John McCain, securing Trump family access to a decidedly no-trump funeral, and eulogizing McCain into an imaginary world where he would find Trump to be anything other than the distasteful human being that he is.

But today at the Kavanaugh hearing was something else. Something convinced Sen. Graham to go out there really sell it. Sell the drama, the outrage, the indignation. Sell the passion and the fury.

And it reminded me of the movie Diggstown.

Not the whole movie, just one part.

See, James Woods plays a con man who lays down a massive bet with a crooked local businessman that his guy Palmer (Lou Gosset Jr.) can beat any ten men from that town in just one day. I’m not going to spoil the movie for you, but during the fifth fight of the night Palmer goes up against Hambone Busby (played magnificently by Duane Davis). Palmer’s the better fighter by far, but what he doesn’t know is that just before stepping into the ring, Hambone was told by the villain that his brother’s life is riding on the outcome of the match. Palmer isn’t expecting the passion and the fury that Hambone brings into the ring. Hambone steps in and gives it everything he’s got, fighting like a man possessed. Fighting like there’s so much more on the line for him personally than anyone else can really understand.

Like Lindsey in the hearings today.

Like there’s going to be some personal consequence that, no matter the stakes of the larger drama, are so deeply tied to his very core – the very essence of who he is – that he needs to not just fight it but to be SEEN fighting it.

Like something intimately bad would happen if he didn’t show that he was fighting with every fiber of his being.

It doesn’t work. Fear didn’t help the Iraqi athletes win. It didn’t secure Hambone’s victory and his brother’s survival. And it’s not going to help Lindsey either.

Sure, there’s a good chance that Kavanaugh might get the SCOTUS seat next week. And that’ll keep Lindsey’s situation – whatever it is – safe just a little longer. But they’re going to need him to step into the ring for them again. They’re going to need his faux passion and outrage again soon. And if it doesn’t work, they’re going to blame him for not trying hard enough.

And then we’re going to have to see what he sold his soul to protect.

Tuesday, September 25, 2018

The Conference Call as Dinner Party

Got several posts in the works at the moment, but nothing quite ready. Still working on two of the 1001 Books, but still got a ways to go.

I'm getting through 1-2 chapters of The Red and the Black each night, but I've still got a solid third of it left. I'm definitely enjoying it - it's almost 200 years old, and yet there's something timeless about the human dynamics and the deviousness of the main characters.

Ovid's Metamorphosis is taking WAY longer. It doesn't really lend itself to the e-book format, and I may drop it until I can find a cheap hard-copy. I think part of the problem here is that it's epic poetry. It's not intended to be silently read to your solitary self. It's supposed to be absorbed on a full belly in a warm room with copious wine and soft cushions. And you shouldn't have to read it yourself - you need an orator who can hold forth for a good hour or two while you focus on the wine and maybe a bit of canoodling. That way you really only need to pay attention during the really GOOD bits. And the orator, if he's good at his job, is going to make sure that you know when the good bits are coming just in the way he uses his voice.

So. If anyone is able to provide a full recitation of the Metamorphosis (ideally in classical Latin) I'll put together two nights of serious feasting, and we'll make an event of it (I figure it'll take 8+ hours of recitation).

Speaking of dinner parties, once upon a time I was part of a tight-knit little family-type unit of freaks and weirdos who spent too much time collectively indulging our vices. One of which was Chinese food...very large amounts of Chinese food. Four of us have had an ongoing shared text-message chain going for a few years, but last week I suddenly realized that we could recreate the classic experience despite our geographic separation.

And thus Monday night Skype conference-call Chinese food dinner was born.

Stay tuned for anecdotes of amusing hi-jinks from future sessions.

Sunday, September 16, 2018

Musical Equipment for Sale - This is Precious Roy and I just ate a handful of honey bees!

Somewhere on the spectrum between dilettante and Jack-of-all-trades is a little arrow pointing at me and blinking "you are here". I've spent some time pushing that arrow towards the latter, but I've got a lot of interests, and I've done a lot of things, and ultimately where my recreational activities are concerned, I'm still more of a generalist than any sort of specialist.

Of my various undertakings, music has been the most persistent, although there have been some long lapses. One of the things that I've learned over the past 30+ years of my life as an on-again-off-again musician is that it's better to have as single reliable instrument that you do use than a bunch of fancy ones that you don't use. Towards that end, I'm working on UNHOARDING a couple of decades of packed-away random musical equipment so that I can focus on just a few that I can keep in a more accessible fashion.

I'm selling my stuff.

What kind of stuff? All kinds. So far, a drum machine, a vintage guitar pedal, some rack-mount recording equipment, some odds & ends.

Prices aren't final. If you're in the Baltimore/Washington area, I'll knock a few bucks off of anything that I can hand-deliver.

Help me make room for less stuff.

Thursday, September 13, 2018

"What I Talk About When I Talk About Running"

Let me clarify. Not me, Haruki Murakami.

Yea, I know, it's not one of the books in the "1001 Books..." list that I'm working through, but I've been carrying a half-read copy in my backpack for the last several months, and so I finally pushed through the second half, mostly on the metro. It was well suited for the metro - a light easy read with short chapters. I haven't read a lot of Murakami, but he's a wonderfully skilled writer; tight descriptive prose with an honestly reflective emotional core. Some of his other books are on the list, and I'm definitely looking forward to them.

But this one is an odd choice for me, frankly.

Mostly because I hate running.

I've got several friends who run for health/fitness reasons, and a few who run for...pleasure?

I guess that's why I ended up reading this book. I've never understood what it is about running that draws people to it. I don't mind the solitariness of it, but there's an interior state that some people seem to relish.

Murakami deftly articulates the appeal that running holds for him through a series of personal reminisces and reflections, and draws parallels between the commitment that running demands, and the day-to-day dedication that is required of professional authors. In reading this, it's clear that his mix of gentle self-effacement and acute self-awareness are, in part, derived from his experience as a lifelong runner. The knowledge of his physical limits, and the mature judgement to know how and when those limits can be pushed.

This provides a common theme that runs through the entire book - pushing yourself past your limits can pay off, but it can also be an act of self-sabotage.

It's a lovely little book, with some beautifully descriptive vignettes on running in Boston and Central Park, and Greece, and throughout Japan. Not my typical read, but enjoyable nonetheless.

Tuesday, September 11, 2018


What did you do because of 9/11/01?

 Not "how did it affect your life?" or "what was its impact on your daily routine?"

What did you change - consciously or unconsciously - about yourself or your engagement with the world because of what you saw/thought/felt on 9/11?

What did you DO because of 9/11? What changes to your life did you make in response to that event?