Thursday, July 30, 2015

An Unloved Piece About Unloved Food And Music.

Last year I was asked to write something for a glossy magazine. I don't write for glossy magazines anymore. This is probably why.

The brief was to write about music and unloved food. Sure, that's an odd brief. I was quite rusty at writing longer stuff and sometimes what I wrote doesn't make sense.

The nice editor didn't like it because it lacked 'literary structure'.

It didn't get published. That's why I'm publishing it here.

An Unloved Piece About Unloved Food And Music

Let's sing a song about the back of our pantries. Let's sing about those crazy little jars of whathaveyou that just stay and stay. I might need that! When did we buy it? Has it got a date on it? We bought it when we moved in. Kurt Cobain was still alive when we moved in. So is this. Open. Sniff. Okay. That died when the music died. Burn it. Get it miles away from this kitchen.

Most songs you love about food are about nice things like peaches, strawberries and ice cream. Have you seen how many songs there are about ice cream? Enough for months of ice cream headaches.

But there are a few good ones.

There's the intro to Tom Waits' Nighthawks at the Diner when he tells us about after three months on the road to "come back and everything in the refrigerator turns into a science project."

Then there's the depression era classic, "Yes! We have no bananas?", written as a desperate sales pitch by a hapless market guy who ran out of bananas, stuck trying to sell string beans, cabbages, scallions and potatoes instead. He wouldn't have much trouble selling any of these now because they're hip and fashionable. Market guys have had it easy lately. They can even sell brussels sprouts and.... I'm not here to talk about kale.

My anthem of the pantry's unloved is Harry Nilsson's Coconut song. You know the one. That wacky early 70s ditty. You heard it in The Ice Storm and Reservoir Dogs. If you need a refresher, look for it on youtube. Ridiculous video. His band are dressed in ape costumes.

I'll tell you why this is the anthem of the pantry's unloved in a minute or two.

First let's look deeper into the deranged recipe of stupidity and half baked story this song celebrates. 

We start with a brother who goes to the local market to buy a coconut. It's a bargain at a dime. His sister, and good on her for this, buys her own coconut and a lime.

Limes were cheap so good on her, you can't buy too many limes. They pop up in all sorts of recipes, especially when you're not expecting them to. 

What she did next starts a precarious chain of events.

She puts the lime in the coconut and she drank them both up. That's right, she put the lime in the coconut and drank them both up.

She does this again and again.

Here's the problem. She gets greedy. She drinks too much lime in the coconut and gets crook in the guts. So she calls her doctor. It's late. She wakes him up. This is an expensive night call. Nurses on Call hadn't been invented yet.

She says, "Doctor, ain't there nothin I can take to relieve this belly ache?" The poor doctor asks her to repeat herself. She does. Several times.

"Now let me get this straight," he enquires. "You put all that lime in the coconut and you drank them both up." He says this several times because this is a song.

People repeat themselves a lot in songs.

"Yes. Yes I did. And now I have a belly ache. What on earth do I do, Doc? Ain't there nothing I can take to relieve this belly ache?"

She asks this again to make sure he's listening, and because this is a song.

So far, everything makes sense - a fairly normal health query of which most of us are in and out before we can find our Medicare cards.

But here's where the song takes a strange turn.

The doctor's prescription? Drink even more lime in coconut.

Much against current medical opinion, he tells her to, "put the lime in the coconut and you'll feel better," and if pain persists, "call me in the morning." Ridiculous.

What happens next? Of course the brother and the sister drink lime in the coconut deep into the night.

It's a lime in the coconutbender of superb proportions. It gets ugly. The brother gets sick. He calls the doctor. Doctor says sink more lime and coconutand well, you know the rest. Everyone gets very very sick.

In the morning they call their doctor. Unbelievably, he prescribes more lime in the coconut.

I suspect this doctor has since been deregistered.

So here's why I think of this song when I think of all those forgotten things way back in the pantry.

Thai cooking.

I always hum this when I'm cooking Thai and there's never a can of coconut cream in the back of the pantry when you you need it. But you can always rely on the ghosts of past Thai disasters to occupy the back half of at least three of your innermost pantry shelves.

Palm sugar: Everyone's got a big block of this somewhere hanging around their pantry. Recipes ask a lot from us when they ask us to shave two tablespoons of the stuff. And ask yourself. When did you buy that block you got? Yes, Kurt was still alive back then.

Dried red shrimp: Actually essential if you want to nail a great thai curry but open that stinky jar at your own peril.

Belacan powder: A dried and roasted red shrimp powder I've had in my pantry for an embarrassingly long time. Worse stink than dried red shrimp. I've used my belacan powder twice. Most times when you open the jar, it's like that end scene in Raiders of the Lost Ark when they open the Ark. Facemeltingly stinky.

A shrivelled up piece of galanga: Nothing terribly wrong about this other than it just looks disturbing.

Tumeric powder: I know it's useful, but is there a reason why there's four different jars of the stuff in your pantry? If you don't believe me, go now and count them. You will be surprised.

I really need to clean my kitchen. Maybe you do too.

Make sure you throw out that shrimp paste lurking in the side door of the fridge. It turned years ago. One teaspoon of the stuff in your red next duck curry and you might need to call a doctor. But not the doctor from that song.

 He's dangerous.