Kitchen Music

The Sounds of Pomegranate Season

I’ve promised myself that when I move, I will upgrade my kitchen equipment. I have a few exotic things—such as a fish poacher, a Moroccan tagine, and a Swiss pressure cooker—but as one of my readers recently pointed out, I’m lacking some important items. “Dude. Seriously. Buy a Kitchen Aid mixer. I mean, if you're going to go through the trouble of having this blog (which I just discovered) and do things in the kitchen, get 2 tools: 1) The mixer and a food processor,” wrote Jez, of the website Fresh Beer Every Friday.

He’s probably right, but I’m a firm believer that you do not need fancy equipment to make fine food. You need a few good knives and a few solid pots. Fresh ingredients are more important than anything else. A bread maker, fuhgeddaboudit.

I plan on staying in an apartment in the city, and not moving to a house with a huge kitchen, so I will always have to limit what I keep on hand. There is one thing I will be certain to improve, though—my kitchen stereo. At the moment, it has a half-broken old boombox that only plays the radio. I dream about installing a Sonos system that magically keeps the music flowing in all the rooms, but my budget will probably be too modest for that.

I have a sizable library of music, and I’m often on the lookout for new acts. Pomegranates, an up-and-coming quartet out of Ohio, just caught my eye. It is pomegranate season, after all, and the ruby fruit is one of Santa Maria’s favorites. (She recently left a half-eaten one on the counter, and I’ve seen her toting the bright red seeds around with her; last week she gave them to our friend Randall Eng, at a performance of his opera "Henry's Wife".)

It seems like a perplexing puzzle and an enormous amount of effort to open one and get the seeds out (though Santa Maria has never been afraid to do the work). A colleague of mine who is a fan of the fruit recently told me about a method involving a giant bowl of water. She swears it is easier, but I haven’t had the time to try it. As soon as I do, I’ll share the results here. 

In the meantime, I’ll leave you with Pomegranates, the band. They join a long list of quality acts from the Buckeye State, which includes the punk rock greats the Pretenders, Erika Wennerstrom’s raucous power trio the Heartless Bastards, the experimental blues-rock duo the Black Keys, and the eternally funky Ohio Players (“Love Rollercoaster”). The Pomegranates have a more contemporary and chiming sound (the remind me a tiny bit of the lovely English act the xx), and they even have a song called “In the Kitchen.” Enjoy.



Find more artists like Pomegranates at MySpace Music

Old Springsteen Eases Transition Back to the Kitchen

Between traveling and celebrating, the Christmas holiday has disrupted my culinary activities, in a mostly welcome and joyful way.

Santa Maria gave me an iPod Touch for Christmas and I took it out for an inaugural run on Sunday. More accurately, I used her iPod Nano because I couldn’t figure out how play music on mine. I’m a little late to the portable, digital-music game, though I’m not a late adopter of digital music per se: my hard drive has some eight-six gigabytes of music, which caused all kinds of confusion when synching it for the first time with my new, thirty-two gig Touch.

The important thing here is what I was listening to. All that time in the car driving back and forth from Pennsylvania to New York led to a dose of classic rock, which seems like the only thing I can ever find on the F.M. dial. Now that I’m past forty I’ve had the unfortunate experience of finding those familiar tunes on WCBS FM, the oldies station. When I was a kid, that spot on the dial reeked of doo-wop and the like. I hated it. Now it’s where I’m likely to find old Rolling Stones or Bruce Springsteen. This makes me feel old.

I was a huge Springsteen fan in high school, ever since my sister brought “Darkness on the Edge of Town” into the house. One of my first entrepreneurial projects involved standing on line (not going online) overnight to secure seats to his Giants Stadium shows for “Born in the U.S.A.” and then scalping a bunch of the tickets and turning a tidy profit. As a teenager, I would drive around playing that album and his earlier works, in particular “Greetings from Asbury Park,” which I always admired for its crazy lyrics. I’ve lost interest in Springsteen’s later work, but those early songs are etched into my psyche.

A few years ago, Springsteen released “Hammersmith Odeon London '75,” his fourth official live album. Springsteen is famous for his live shows, and this early concert shows why. The Boss had already been on the cover of Time magazine as the future of rock, but this was his first appearance in England. No one there really knew him, and he had to prove himself. Recorded shortly after the release of “Born to Run,” it is solely his early material, and I just love it. The quality of the recording is excellent and the set list impeccable. "Backstreets," "Thunder Road," "She's the One," are all there.

On Sunday I knew that the weekly shop needed to be completed. I listened to the album while running through my list—carrots, onions, whole chickens, etc., etc.—at the Park Slope Food Coop. Because of the holiday, the coop was less crowded than usual. I’m not sure how I would manage under its crowded, regular conditions with a head full of Clarence Clemons and the E Street Band, but those empty aisles were perfect for my first excursion with an iPod. I drifted around in a sonic haze, never before so pleased to be buying food.

The way I've been cooking lately, I do much of the work for the week on Sunday night. I prepare a week's worth of quinoa salad and poached chicken breasts for Santa Maria's and my lunches. I can do these tasks while finishing off the dinner dishes, and I put the headphones back on while doing this work. I enjoyed listening to the album on my iPod, but I would caution against buying the collection from the iTunes store.

For some mystifying reason, the digital version doesn't include one of the best songs—"Kitty's Back." It was midway through the album's rollicking, seventeen-minute rendition, when the band is vamping and jamming, and everyone is taking a solo (sometimes at what seems like the exact same moment), that I realized how music can enhance cooking. Marshall McLuhan talked about hot and cool media and the ability of technology to extend and alter our senses. He reasoned that when one sense is overloaded, the others start to shut down.

I was experiencing some mighty hot media in the kitchen. Not only was the stove on, but my iPod was cranking. With the late Danny Federici reaching heights of ecstasy during his keyboard solo, my other sensory perception were altered. McLuhan was only half right, though. My sense of smell was not shutting down. It was enhanced. I was standing over the poaching chicken as I had done many times before. On this evening, though, a delightful fragrance filled my nostrils—the scent of thyme. It was as thick and wonderful as the smoke of another, less-legal herb might have been at a rock concert years ago.

The concert was also released as a DVD, and the rendition of "Kitty's Back" has made it onto YouTube. Here it is.

The Benefits of the Baobab Tree

800px-KayesBaobab One of my favorite musical groups of all time is Orchestra Baobab. Somehow, the Senegalese group, which was formed when I was two, speaks to me. I’ve always wanted to live in a sunny climate, put my feet up in a hammock, and contend with nothing more than staying dry during a passing thunderstorm. The sinewy guitar lines, loping tempos, and wandering saxophone lines of their songs put me in just that easy-going state of mind.

The band was created in 1970 at the behest of government officials in Senegal for the opening of the Baobab Club, a new nightclub in the European quarter of Dakar. Latin music was all the rage those days in the capital of the former French colony, and the Baobab’s house band stoked a musical revolution by mixing Cuban influences with native forms. The band churned out hit after hit in Senegal before being surpassed by the harder driving sounds of a younger generation that included Youssou N'Dour. The band broke up in the mid eighties, but the surviving members have since gotten back together. They released a pair of albums in recent years and they still tour.

I thought of the Orchestra Baobab this morning when I saw today’s New York Times. The band is named for a wild looking tree that is native to the Savannah (a trunk of which was a centerpiece of its namesake club). Apparently the baobab tree is also a wonder food. According to an op-ed piece by the anthropologist Dawn Starin, its fruit is “rich in antioxidants, potassium, and phosphorus, and has six times as much vitamin C as oranges and twice as much calcium as milk.”

This is wonderful news for health-conscious Western consumers. Europeans already have approval to import the fruit, and it is expected that the Food and Drug Administration will follow suit in this country shortly. Though, as Starin points out, the situation is a bit more complicated for Africans (who might not profit from the export of its fruit) and the tree itself, which has never been grown as a crop.

We’ll just have to see how all this plays out. In the meantime, there’s no disputing the benefits of the Orchestra Baobab’s music.