Telegraph Avenue has a lot going on. The central characters of the novel are Archie Stalling and Nat Jaffe - friends, black and white respectively, who own a used record store called "Brokeland Records" on Telegraph Avenue. Archie and Nat's wives (Gwen and Aviva) work together as midwives. Nat and Aviva have a teenage son Julius, who becomes friends (and secret lovers) with Archie's previously unknown teenage son Titus. Gwen is pregnant with her first child and before she finds out about Titus, she discovers Archie cheating on her. Archie has a wayward father, Lester Stallings, who was a star in kung-fu blaxpoitation movies in the 70's but now is a former junkie. Is that enough plot for you? Chabon throws in some more - Archie and Nat's store, Brokeland, is is trouble because a hip hop superstore, Dogpile, owned by a former star athlete, is about to move in next store. The community is divided as to whether this new store is good or bad for the neighborhood - Nat is vehemently against it and Archie is a bit more ambivalent - causing a crisis in their friendship. Add into this is the reappearance of Archie's deadbeat father, a former kung fu movie star who has gotten himself in trouble with the owner of Dogpile and a local alderman. All of this would be a lot to communicate in a novel, but Chabon adds on to this a large serving of obscure cultural references - music (the rare records Brokeland sells), blaxpoitation movies, kung-fu movies, Quentin Tarantino movies, and general political and societal commentary. Each character has a rich inner life, but the inner dialogue that Chabon creates is so convoluted it is not believable in all cases. Moreover, this bloated prose made me give up sometimes on a sentence, a paragraph, a chapter, a character. Waiting beneath all the words is a really compelling story about friendship and race and society but most overwhelmingly about fatherhood (Archie's broken relationship with his father, his abandonment of his own son, his nervousness about how he would treat his unborn child) - this is the what I think Chabon really wanted to write about, but tried instead to say something profound and cool about a whole lot of things instead of just one or two. There is a book inside of Telegraph Avenue that I would have really liked and I hope that Chabon pares it down next time around.
Yeasted Biscuits and Collard Greens (printable recipe)
Nat makes biscuits (the kind with yeast in them), chicken and greens in an effort to win over some neighborhood power brokers to his side of the way with his war against Dogpile. I decided to put the chicken aside and focus on the greens and biscuits. I liked adding yeast to these otherwise typical buttermilk biscuits - internet searching revealed these are usually called "angel biscuits." I used John Besh's recipe which read strange because it called for adding the milk to the flour AND then cutting in the butter, which is the opposite of every other biscuit recipe I have ever seen. I went with it and it turned out fine, though I do wonder whether the other order is better. The greens were slowly stewed with a ham hock, salt and pepper and were deliciously smokey and simple. Combining the two, with a few dashes of hot sauce, made for a sturdy supper.from John Besh)
1 package active dry yeast
5 cups all purpose flour
1/4 cup sugar
2 tablespoons baking powder
1 and 1/2 teaspoons salt
2 cups buttermilk
1 cup (2 sticks) butter
Ingredients (Collard Greens) (Lee Brothers Southern Cookbook)
1 tablespoon oil
1 smoked ham hock (if you can't find use 1/4 cup of thick cut bacon)
8 cups water
3 dried chile pepper or 1 tablespoon crushed red pepper flakes
1 tablespoon kosher salt
3 and 3/4 pounds collard greens, ribs removed, cut into 1 inch strips
- For biscuits: Dissolve the yeast in 1/4 cup warm water.
- Sift together the flour, sugar, baking powder and salt in a large bowl.
- Add the buttermilk and dissolved yeast and mix well.
- Using a pastry cutter, cut in the butter - it will seem a bit paste like.
- Sprinkle a generous portion of flour onto a wood board or counter and knead dough until it comes together.
- Roll out into a rectangle, and then fold into thirds like you would a piece of paper before placing in an envelope.
- Roll this folded dough out slightly then cut biscuits into squares, rectangles or circles with a cutter.
- Place on a cookie sheet, cover loosely and either let rise overnight in refrigerator or for 2 - 3 hours in a room temperature room.
- When ready to bake, preheat oven to 400 degrees, bake for 15-20 minutes.
- For collards: Pour oil in a very large stock pot over medium high heat so that it coats the bottom of the pot.
- Take the ham hock and score it with a sharp pairing knife.
- When the oil is hot, add the ham hock and brown on all sides, about 6 minutes total.
- Pour the water into the bot, add the chiles and salt and bring to a boil.
- Reduce the heat to low and simmer for 30 minutes.
- Add a few handfuls of the collards to the point, stir them and submerge them until they become bright green and floppy. Continue adding handfuls of collards, stirring and submerging them until all the greens are in the pot.
- Turn the heat to low and simmer gently for 1 hour.
- The greens will be dark green and very tender.
- Serve in a bowl with hot sauce on the side.