Friday, March 4, 2016

Staff Picks: James Baldwin, Stephen Shore, Mujadara and more

Posted By , , and on Fri, Mar 4, 2016 at 3:46 PM

click to enlarge STEPHEN SHORE
  • Stephen Shore

Arkansas Times Recommends is a weekly series in which Times staff members (or whoever happens to be around at the time) highlight things we've been enjoying this week.

I recommend the photographer Stephen Shore (above), who parlayed his experiences as a teenaged Warhol Factory hanger-on into a prolific career as one of the great American color photographers. His 1982 book "Uncommon Places" is a masterpiece, not that I've ever owned or even held a copy of it. I discovered his work via my favorite art museum, Google Image Search. I imagine the idea might horrify him, but that's alright. His pictures are nice, like this one and this one and this one. (You'll get a chance to see his work in person at Crystal Bridges this spring.) Something to do with off-kilter familiarity, the everyday uncanny. Like when you doze off at work or in the grocery store and suddenly snap back to attention, and notice the strange assemblage of objects and people in front of you, the way they interact or don't. — Will Stephenson

Someone once taught me that the way to begin wrapping my mind around troubling and complex issues in our world is to look first for the pain. Not to look first for who is right or wrong. Not for who says things most cleverly or stupidly or hatefully or lovingly. Not for what isn't being controlled well enough or too much. And certainly not for the one what has the most who agree or disagree with them. Do look first for those who are hurting. And then move outward from there. Then you will begin to find true culprits and clearer direction.

That is why I recommend watching this clip several times to catch the nuances of what James Baldwin (an American social reject of the first order) is swiftly and fervently putting down in this video. It says more than is obvious at first listen. — Bryan Moats

This is a recipe, guys, that’s much more appropriate for cold weather. Now that the frantic wheezing of spring is almost upon us, I’m sure you all want to be picnicking outside in the clover and sunlight, laughing and kissing each other and gobbling down asparagus and quail eggs, not hunched over a smoky hearth ladling out gloppy, brownish Lebanese comfort foods. But because I have no sense of anything appropriate or right, here it is: Mujadara, one of my favorite dishes in all the world (this is adapted roughly from the book "Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone" by Deborah Madison).

It’s beautiful because it’s simple. Six ingredients: Lentils, rice, onions, olive oil, salt, pepper. I know you’re skeptical, but trust me: It’s going to work out, and it’s going to be delicious.

You’ll need 1 ¼ cup brown lentils (the everyday grocery store kind) and ¾ cup white rice (the same), two medium-large onions (the regular yellow variety works) and a seemingly unreasonable amount of olive oil (around ¼ to ⅓ cup). Use light olive oil, not extra virgin. You’ll also need a heavy skillet and a medium sized pot.

When I was a kid, I went through a phase of folding origami animals to entertain myself — I had no siblings or neighbors and my family lived at the end of a lonely dirt road — and it would always piss me off when I’d reach the penultimate step in creasing together a paper orangutan or something, and then there’d be some impossibly intricate fold that my fingers weren’t skilled enough to make. Into the trash goes the orangutan, along with any faith in myself. The same thing bothers me with recipes today: Step, step, step, step, but without any sense of where we’re going. So instead of me barking sequential orders at you without explanation, reader, I think you should be clued in about what’s going on from the beginning. Let me start by sharing with you the overarching plan, and then we’ll do the blow-by-blow.

We’re going to cook the lentils and the rice in the same pot, though the lentils go in first because they take longer. In the skillet, we’re going to saute the onions in the unreasonable amount of oil for what seems like an unreasonable amount of time — until they’re as rich and brown as a cup of coffee. You can do both of these things — the lentils/rice and the onions/oil — on the stove at the same time without much problem. We’re going to then add the carmelized onions and oil to the rice and lentils, salt the hell out of everything and stir in a ton of pepper. OK?

click to enlarge mujadaraala.jpg

1. Place the lentils in the pot with a quart of unsalted water. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, cover and simmer for 15 minutes. At that point, add the rice. Cover again and cook until the rice is tender — probably 15 - 20 more minutes. Monitor the water level; if it starts to scorch, add a few more tablespoons of water

2. Meanwhile, slice the onions into big, fat rings. Slice, not chop into bits! You want substantial slices that are around pencil-width thick, as if you were preparing to make onion rings. Heat the oil in a skillet on medium high and add the onions. Cook for 15 minutes or so. If it starts smoking, reduce the heat level, but don’t worry too much — you want to cook the hell out of this mixture. You should end up with crispy onions scorched to a deep umber. Err on the side of too brown; fly too close to the sun.

3. Add the oil and onions to the other pot and stir. It won’t taste like much, because you haven’t added salt. Do so now. It’ll need tremendous amounts of salt, so keep adding and tasting and stirring and adding and tasting and then throw in a fistful of pepper and there you go. It’d be nice if you served it with a vegetable or a salad or something, but it’s your life. — Benji Hardy

In this day and age, the concept of the "album” seems to have fallen a bit by the wayside. Some of you remember albums, right? Those cohesive sets of songs meant to be listened to one after the other? I’d make a joke about how old I am now, but the only references I can think of are Grandpa Simpson shaking his fist at a cloud and Clint Eastwood talking to a chair — and both those references are themselves rather dated. But I digress.

One of the joys of my Spotify addiction has been the rediscovery of the pleasure that comes from listening to full albums and not just playlists. It’s even inspired me to go out and buy a few. And while there are a lot of good albums, some of them manage to transcend into greatness, becoming something bigger than the sum of individual songs. Which brings me (at last) to my actual recommendation: "Thirteen Tales from Urban Bohemia" by the Dandy Warhols. Sure, the band’s name is too cute for words. And the album’s themes of disaffected angst and ennui shouldn’t work at all. But as a complete album, "Thirteen Tales" succeeds in spite of itself. — Michael Roberts

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