Unleash the hounds and let the falcons fly;
our fields are filled with rats and mice and moles
who eat our wheat and tunnel ‘neath our rye.
Unleash the hounds and let the falcons fly,
to hunt the vermin in our food supply,

to rip them from their nests and hidden holes.
Unleash the hounds and let the falcons fly;
Our fields are filled with rats and mice and moles.

(We bar the gates with iron rods and logs,
to hide from hunting birds and prowling dogs).

(Copyright 2004, J. Eric Smith)

In Praise of Boiled Peanuts

My mother brought me four pounds of green (a.k.a. raw) peanuts in theirs shells up from South Carolina. Which tickles me to no end, because it means we got to make peanuts the right way today: by boiling them in brine. Boiled peanuts are one of the great staples of my Southern childhood and upbringing, a tasty treat that you can generally find at any roadside stand once you get into the parts of the deep South that haven’t been tainted by Northerners, carpetbagging into town with their stinking dry roasted peanuts or (even worse) honey-roasted granola nut clusters. Why would someone do that to the noble peanut?

You need but three ingredients to make boiled peanuts. (1) Green peanuts, (2) Tap water, and (3) Salt. Don’t use any fancy pants, imported Basque hand-crushed, sun-dried sel de mer. Use Morton’s Iodized. When it rains, it pours. Generic store-brand is fine too. Likewise bottled water. Do not use it. You should fill your pot from your tap. Or your garden hose, if it will reach your kitchen. Garden hose water has minerals in it. They’re good for you.

And don’t put any other ridiculous flavors in the pot! Last time I was down in Florida, we stopped at a gas station that had boiled peanuts for sale . . . but they were flavored! Cajun! Jalapeno! Teriyaki! ABOMINATIONS! I will guarantee you this gas station was owned or managed by somebody from the North. Northerners always like to mess with or appropriate our classic Southern recipes. I was glad when the Latham Krispy Kreme failed, and I never went to it, because Krispy Kreme’s do not belong anywhere north of the North Carolina-Virginia border. Same with Cheerwine. (Click the link to learn how Northern hoarders are stifling the supply in the Carolinas). And boiled peanuts properly come in only one flavor: salted.

So, anyway, I digress. And I repeat the secret formula for emphasis: peanuts, tap water, cheap iodized salt. For four pounds of peanuts I used about two-thirds of the Morton’s Salt container shown in the picture. Most boiled peanut connoisseurs would consider my peanuts under-salted accordingly, since they don’t suck the fluid out of your cheeks and soft palate. I boiled the peanuts and the salt in a covered pot for about three hours. Most boiled peanut connoisseurs would consider my peanuts a little firm, accordingly, since they still have just a smidge of fibrous matter left in them, and don’t dissolve in your mouth in a gentle little kiss of salty goodness.

Eating boiled peanuts is a succulent and decadent affair, much like oysters on the half-shell. Good green peanuts (like these) are much larger than the nasty, dry, disgustingly crunchy things that grocery stores call peanuts up here. You crack the shells gently along their seam, and slurp the oily, salty brine out before it drips on your lap, then use your prehensile lips to pull the nut meat itself out of the shells. Discarded shells are communally collected in a shell bowl at the middle of the table, and a contented silence fits the room as everyone slurps their way through the pile of boiled peanuts, pound by pound, no one talking, because if they did, someone else would get ahead of them and eat more peanuts.

You Northerners don’t know what you’re missing. Dry roasted peanuts? Pah!

House Fulla Wimmen I Love

My mother flew up from South Carolina today, arriving around the same time that I retrieved my daughter from her job as a counselor up on Lake George, so for this weekend, I’ve got all three generations of the women I love the most here at the Chateau. (I guess for completeness’ sake, I should have my sister here as well, but she’s not available this weekend). After exchanging the necessary pleasantries upon our arrival from various destinations, the three generations of ladies I love settled down on the couch to watch a house selling show on HGTV, then “Hollywood’s Ten Hottest Hunks,” and now “The Dog Whisperer.” Testosterone is not allowed in the den right now. (Click on the thumbnail to see a live action photo). I will lurk here in my office until it is safe to emerge. Probably at breakfast time tomorrow. Which I will cook, just because. (I should note that the blue afghan that my mother is using was knitted by my father’s mother, so there’s actually four generations of women I love represented in that picture in one form or another).

Oh, Happy Happy! A New Max Eider Record!

I got home late from work this evening to find a slim, unexpected package with overseas looking postage and customs forms tacked on it. After quickly sniffing it to make sure it didn’t contain blasting caps or kerosene or Ebola virus, I sliced it open to discover the long-awaited third disc from brilliant singer-songwriter-guitarist Max Eider laying within. He doesn’t put such things out very often, so when one arrives, it’s generally cause in the Smith household for huzzahs and lawks. So . . . Huzzahs! And Lawks! (See my Metroland review of his last album, Hotel Figueroa, here, for some perspective on his ouvre). The new record is called Max Eider III: Back in the Bedroom. I’m three songs into it as I type this post, and it’s thus far as delicious and lovely and bittersweet and wistful as all the best bits of my well worn copies of his earlier solo discs and his works with The Jazz Butcher and David J. I can’t recommend strongly enough that you seek out and acquire this disc and its predecessors. Friends, associates and party-crashers of all ages, shapes, sizes, tattoo levels and tastes have paused when Max pops up on the mix tape or iPod over dinner or drinks at our house and said “Wow! This is great! Who ’tis?” And any artist who’ll make casual first-time listeners pause, take notice, and inquire about their dinner music has got something working the way its supposed to work. You too will be happy happy when your own slim package arrives from Tundraducks Records. I promise.

Space Nerd Awe

Marcia and I just watched the International Space Station, the Space Shuttle (STS-118) and the Aureole 2 Rocket (launched in 1973) go over our house in a spectacular three-way pattern, Shuttle leading ISS, Aureole 2 cutting across their path seconds later, with Jupiter bright in the southern sky behind them all. Brilliant! Go to Heavens Above. Insert your location. And look up at night . . . there are marvels up there!

Another Great Record

I’ve had The Cold Nose by Department of Eagles on heavy spin cycle for the past week. This record had been previously released in Europe and UK under different combinations of covers and titles, but we finally got it import-free this month courtesy of American Dust/Revolver Records, and it’s worth the wait, even though I didn’t know I was waiting for it. I actually grabbed it off of eMusic, drawn to it entirely because I liked its Edward Gorey-esque cover art. The guts of the disc are just as kooky and compelling, with wistful faux-folky guitar-pop crashing up against all sorts of trip-hop and noise-core production techniques, and even occasional forays into straight up drum-and-guitar rockers, like “Romo-Goth” (which has a totally excellent video at the end of that link). The duo’s try everything and often succeed ethos evokes early Ween, and hopefully now that they’ve got a domestic label working for them, they might be able to follow Gener and Deaner’s path to wider commercial and critical success. Or not. Who cares. This album’s good enough that if even if it’s all we ever get out of them, they still will have been worth knowing. Of.