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calendar   Tuesday - October 18, 2011

Rice and Beans

If you have the HBO channel, I hope you’re watching the Boardwalk Empire series. It’s a fantastic show about political corruption and the rise of gangsterism, set in Atlantic City at the beginning of Prohibition. As a period piece and a costume drama it’s visually amazing; the cloths, the cars, and the architecture are phenomenal. The storylines are just as impressive, as alliances change and the characters all try to get ahead in what was a very rough world. If you’re new to the show and you can’t find the first season’s episodes On Demand, I’d suggest getting the DVDs and watching, because the characters are quite detailed and quite subtle in many ways. It’s a breakout role for actor Steve Buscemi, cast as city treasurer Nucky Thompson. With executive producer Martin Scorsese it’s as good a series as any that HBO has ever done, and that’s saying a lot. Ok, it has some lefty slant, what on television doesn’t? The corrupt politicians are all Republicans, as were the real life people the story was based on. That doesn’t make much difference overall. If you have HBO now is the time to get on board the Empire Express, because things are about to explode and it will be one heck of a ride this season.

“I’ve been craving me some Hoppin’ John since the moon were blue.”

While Nucky runs the show in the main part of the city, over in darktown his counterpart is Albert “Chalky” White. Superbly played by Michael Kenneth Williams, Chalky is one tough hombre who came up the hard way, but he also has his insecurities and shortcomings, and is more than a bit haunted by his past, growing up dirt poor in the deep south and suffering the racism of the era. Having found success and a modest fortune through his semi-criminal activities and his many connections to the community, at home Chalky is merely Albert. He has married far above his station to a “high yellow” woman, and she’s raising the children to be part of her high class world. Chalky doesn’t fit in there with his “field hand” background, and it angers him that his wife and children seem to patronize his “lowness” while living well off of the money he brings home. In last week’s episode, Chalky spent a week in jail. His wife visited, and brought Albert a copy of Great Expectations to read to help pass the time behind bars. Chalky is illiterate. Diss!

This week’s episode had the White family inviting his daughter’s beau over for dinner so they could meet him. Having had a bit too much to drink after a bad day when the whole world was against him, at dinner Albert is cranky that the fine meal with all the trimmings doesn’t include the bowl of Hoppin’ John he was hoping for. This is some subtle stuff going on. The frission within the black community between those of varying complexion - Chalky is very dark, and his wife and children very light; “passin”, or almost “bein” white folks, and certainly acting like them - was an issue then even more than it’s an issue now, and it is almost never even alluded to on TV or in film. About the only time I ever saw or heard anything that dealt with it directly (other than one or two lines concerning field hands vs house labor in Gone With The Wind) was an art house film Gullah biopic called Daughters of the Dust from two decades ago. But those attitudes are probably still with us today, which could partially explain why such light toned black singers and actresses are held up as beauty icons, while the MSM’s push to get people to believe that Michelle Obama is the new Jackie Kennedy seems so false. I think that’s a healing effort attempt by the media; she’s very dark and she’s built like a field hand. I can’t see anything wrong with expanding the concept of beauty, especially if it mitigates a lot of preconceptions that mistakenly associate attractiveness with paleness. I just think the media could have found a better female icon. Fox New’s Harris Faulkner, the actress Jasika Nicole who plays Agent Astrid Farnsworth on the TV show Fringe, or even Lenora Crichlow who plays the adorable ghost Annie on the BBC import Being Human are all really attractive. Who am I kidding? All three of them are cuter than hell. I guess they’re just not black enough. So we can expect the media to push Herman Cain as the new tall dark and handsome? Not on your life. Politics trumps color every time. No matter how dark Cain is, he will soon have his Negro Card revoked.

But I digress. Back on Boardwalk, Albert is having his fine family dinner, but inside him Chalky wants some soul food, 45 years before “soul food” existed as such or had any cultural respect. And there ain’t no damn Hoppin’ John to be had. His passin’ family won’t be serving no field nigga slave food. This is never said out loud, but the message is loud and clear with just a few glances from his wife and kids. Pretty subtle.

What is it? “Hoppin’ John” is a patois corruption of “pois de pigeons” (pigeon peas). pwah-d -pijahnz becomes poppin johns becomes hoppin’ john. Black-eyed peas and rice with a little hot pepper thrown in, slow cooked and flavored with some leftover smoked fatty pork. Tasty, filling, and dirt cheap, it’s a side dish that’s a meal all by itself, made better by tossing in herbs, celery, and some field greens if you’ve got any.
You can find recipes for it online, but the best recipes are the traditional ones that take hours to stew. Start with a pound of dried beans and soak them overnight. Use a real ham hock instead of a ham steak. Cook up a big mess of bacon and don’t throw out the fat; add it to the collards along with a ham bone while they boil. Forget the fancy herbs and spices; a stalk of celery and a few sprigs of fresh thyme are enough. Just don’t forget the hot sauce when you serve it.

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Posted by Drew458   United States  on 10/18/2011 at 12:39 PM   
Filed Under: • Fine-DiningTelevision •  
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