Frogmore Stew

If you were lucky enough to get to visit my mother’s house in Beaufort, South Carolina, and she was happy to have you there, odds are that she would serve you the great staple special dinner of my upbringing: Frogmore Stew. And you would be very happy to have it, indeed, especially since my Mom would likely have gotten the shrimp in the Stew still wriggling-fresh off of one of the ubiquitous shrimp boats that ply the waterways of Low Country South Carolina.

I periodically see watered-down, neutered versions of Frogmore Stew on menus here in Upstate Yankonia and environs, though it almost always carries another name, something like “Low Country Boil” or “Carolina Seafood Stew” or something like that. For some reason “Frogmore” seems to be word that can’t be used to describe food up here in the North,  I guess because it evokes images of frog legs or other amphibian delicacies.

But Frogmore Stew is actually named after a little village on St. Helena Island, South Carolina, near the site of the historic Penn Center. Eating any boiled combination of corn, shrimp, potatoes and sausage under any other name does a grave injustice and disservice to the good folk of the South Carolina coastal islands who created this tasty, simple, practical dish.

Want to make your own? Here are a pair of recipes, one the way I first encountered the dish, and one the way that might make more sense if you don’t cook over fires in your yard.

The Very Authentic Low Country South Carolina Version

1. Buy a fishing boat and a big iron pot.

2. Fish all day.

3. Boil a lot of beer and anything else tasty that you can pick from your garden over a wood fire in the big iron pot, preferably doing it all in your front yard, waving at truckers who blow by you on their way to the All-Nite Eat n’ Grope up the road a spell.

4. Add the fruits of fishing all day to the boiling mess.

5. Boil until everything looks done.

6. Pour the contents of the big iron pot out onto newspaper spread out over your picnic table. (It’s okay to use a door mounted over two sawhorses if you don’t have a picnic table).

7. Get drunk and eat until someone gets sick.

8. Laugh at them.

The Sorta Authentic Portable Version

1. Buy a pound and a half of shrimp from a Fish Lady at grocery store. Get shrimp in the shell, and nothing small to the point of being difficult to shell. Frozen works okay if they don’t have anything fresh (it just won’t proposition you while you’re cooking.)

2. In a large pot/dutch oven, mix a bottle and a half of amberish beer (nothing too stout or chewy) with an equal amount of water. Warm slowly, to bleed the fizz from the beer. Note: The chef can drink the other half bottle of beer.

3. Once flat, bring the beer/water mixture to a boil, and add:
* A generous pour of Old Bay Seasoning;
* A hearty crunch of fresh ground black pepper;
* A bundle of green onions; and
* An 8-10″ hunk of reasonably non-fatty smoked sausage, cut into bite-sized pieces.

4. Once the pot is bubbling along nicely again, add five new potatoes, cut in half. Boil for five minutes or so, then remove to a separate bowl and draw enough liquid from the big pot to cover them. Cook them on high in the microwave for about four minutes more, or until they are easily pierced with a fork or a particularly hurtful remark.

5. While potatoes are cooking in the microwave, add three or four ears of corn to the big pot (you may need to add some more water or beer to cover). Boil the corn five minutes. Remove from the pot, keep warm.

6. Pull the green onion remnants out of the big pot. Discard.

7. Pour the shrimp into the big pot — once it reaches a boil, keep it going for three minutes if you’ve used fresh shrimp, and five minutes if you’ve used frozen shrimp. Either way, they should be uniformly pink.

8. If your pot is big enough, toss all the ingredients back in for one more minute. If not, put the corn and potatoes in a colander and drain the shrimp and sausage over them.

9. Serve immediately all tossed together. Eat with fingers (as a utensil, not a side dish). Helpful condiments include cocktail sauce and butter/bacon/chives.

Beat the Meme

Someone forwarded me one of those internet meme thingies where I was asked to decide what I (or you, or anyone) would pick if I could only have five songs on my iPod. I guess this is “Desert Island Discs” for the electronic generation or something.

The post and links included with it had these impassioned arguments for all sorts of great songs and artists, well-crafted and reasoned, thorough, convincing in an academic and intellectual way. Problem is, none of them seemed to get one painfully obvious point: if you pick five standard pop or rock songs, then you have about 15 minutes worth of music to get your through the rest of your life.

So me being a smart chap, if I could only have five songs on my iPod on a desert island, they would look something like this:

“Tubular Bells” by Mike Oldfield: 48 minutes, 56 seconds.

“A Passion Play” by Jethro Tull: 48 minutes, 13 seconds.

“Supper’s Ready” by Genesis: 22 minutes, 55 seconds.

“The Gates of Delirium” by Yes: 21 minutes, 50 seconds.

“Tarkus” by Emerson, Lake and Palmer: 20 minutes, 39 seconds.

That’s nearly three hours worth of music with five solid songs. I’m thinking I’m going to be enjoying my time on my island much more than those of you with 15 minutes worth of tunes to get you by. I’ll let you come visit if you bring me a coconut.

Two Days ’til the Mighty Crim

I’m an enthusiastic music listener, lover and pusher, always happy to find new things, always happy to share them. I love to read about music and musicians, and have a large library of criticism and biography, and it satisfies me to find the places and spaces where intellectual (e.g. this is good because . . . ) and emotional (e.g. this makes me want to jump up and down and scream . . . ) responses are well-balanced and proportionate. I’m not generally apt to get overly gushy or fanboy-like about many artists accordingly, as much as I may adore them.

King Crimson are one of the rare exceptions to this rule. I can wax philosophical about them (and often do), but once in the presence of their music on the stereo, I generally tend to fall into raptures and reveries of the sorts normally reserved for mystical experiences and village idiot moments. The Crim are basically capable of turning me into a geeky 13-year old fanboy with hey-presto rapidity.

Robert Fripp, the only constant in their 40-year history, is my favorite guitarist, and also a masterful musical, ethical, social, and business theorist who has written some of the most thought-provoking and attitude-shaping (for me) pieces of rock-related literature that I’ve ever read. Plus he really, really loves his wife and isn’t afraid to say it, a trait which I admire (and share). He has been writing an online diary for ages, well before blogs became the in-thing online, and his views on the music industry and life in general are oftentimes sublime and illuminating.

In May 1998, I laid eyes and ears on Fripp and company for the first (and until this Saturday night) last time, during a show at Valentine’s in Albany by ProjeKCt Two, a “fractal” subset of the then-six-piece King Crimson featuring Fripp, Adrian Belew (playing drums) and Trey Gunn (playing Warr Guitar). I reviewed the show for Metroland, and there’s a copy of the review on the Discipline Global Mobile site, here.

The wrap-up of what I wrote focussed on the potential emotional peril of seeing someone or something you deeply admire and respect, and then being disappointed by what you experience. Fortunately, that didn’t occur that night, as the mostly improvised performance literally moved me to tears at points, it was so beautiful, powerful, and life-affirming to stand in its presence.

I am going to stand in it again soon, as I am off to see King Crimson at the Nokia Theatre in New York City this Saturday night, and I’m already getting butterflies at the thought. The group now features Fripp, Belew, bassist Tony Levin (who I’ve seen and reviewed in Albany a few times as well) and drummers Pat Mastellotto and Gavin Harrison. Reviews of earlier shows on the tour have been rapturous.

I can’t wait.

Centipedes Are the Spiders of the Bathtub

I participated in a conversation yesterday where the title of this post was actually used, in context, sensibly, to contribute to the forward flow of intelligent discussion.

I find it too good a turn of phrase to let it disappear back into the linguistic ether. So I think maybe I should use it as the name of my next musical project. Or maybe just write a short story with that as its title.

For some completely unfathomable and inexplicable reason, the phrase evokes images in my mind of another short story: “Everything That Rises Must Converge” by Flannery O’Connor, a viciously dark Southern Gothic tale of sadness, misery, misunderstanding, suffering and guilt.

I don’t question my odd synaptic links. I just run with them.

Musical Sadness and Goodness

I was saddened to read of Isaac Hayes’ death this weekend, which is unusual, since I don’t usually have any sort of reaction to the passing of people I don’t personally know. I truly admired his work as a singer, songwriter, arranger and producer. Hot Buttered Soul is one of the greatest albums ever recorded, the ultimate in smooth, sexy songcraft, especially on the 19-minute masterpiece “By the Time I Get to Phoenix.” If you only know the Glenn Campbell version of that song, you owe it to yourself to hear what Ike did with it. After the song’s 9-minute spoken word over tapped cymbal and organ drone introduction, you can really feel the reason that the song’s protagonist hit the road, and you’re right there with him, and you understand why she just didn’t know that he would really go. A masterpiece.

I’m also thinking that in a few days I may grant that label to a new record I just got today, Darker My Love‘s second full-length album, sensibly titled 2. I first learned of these guys when two of their members were deputized on short notice to join The Fall when Mark E. Smith’s English band walked out on him during an American tour. Guitarist Tim Pressley and bassist Rob Barbato did some monstrous good work with MES in an awesome two-bass lineup that appeared on the under-rated Reformation Post-TLC. Check out the stupendous video for “Two Ways Out” to see what they do in their own band. A very impressive disc that’s making a very strong first impression on me.

Out of The Woods

In addition to the fun I have photographing suburban weirdness in the woods, the Hidden in Suburbia project has also always been about getting the most exercise I can get on a bicycle in the shortest amount of time, so I’m not away from family or home that much during the weekend.

This weekend, however, Marcia and Katelin are in Minnesota visiting family and doing college tours, so I decided to get outside of my little five-mile circle and do some road work today. I ended up doing a 67-mile loop: from Latham up to Mechanicville, then to Round Lake, Ballston Lake, Scotia, Rotterdam Junction, Schenectady, and back to Latham via the Mohawk-Hudson Bike Trail.

I’d forgotten both how nice it is to actually get somewhere on the bike, and how relatively easy it is to ride on pavement, instead of on this. I’m a little bit stiff and sore an hour after getting off the bike, but nothing that a spell in the hot tub won’t fix.

One of the other things I usually do when Marcia and Katelin are gone is watch movies that they wouldn’t enjoy. Last night, I stumbled upon one that was completely unexpectedly fun and entertaining: Doomsday. It was like some hyper-fueld combo of Road Warrior, 28 Days Later and The Highlander. Completely over-the-top big, stupid fun, with excellent stunts and visuals throughout. It’s the intellectual equivalent of Strawberry Yoo Hoo, sure, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t enjoy it, now does it?