Wednesday, August 16, 2017


For one reason and another I’ve been reading some Kurt Vonnegut short stories, including “Welcome to the Monkey House” the title story in this collection:

That cover is actually contains a spoiler which is a shame - Vonnegut is rather good at twists though his stories don’t entirely rely on them.  For what it’s worth, the sexual politics of the story do seem pretty dodgy at this point in history.

It’s science fiction more or less – a future world, wracked by population growth, combated (at least in America) by a form of birth control which is essentially neutering, leaving people numb below the waist, along with suicide parlors staffed by virgin hostesses.
          An outlaw named Billy the Poet “liberates” one of hostesses - Nancy McLuhan
- and takes her to his lair where a bunch of similarly liberated women are running wild (or possibly behaving normally).  The paragraph that concerns us runs as  follows:
“Nancy went over in her mind all the terrible drugs she’d learned about in school, persuaded herself that the women had taken the worst one of all.  That drug was so powerful, Nancy’s teachers had told her, that even a person numb from the waist down would copulate repeatedly and enthusiastically after just one glass. That had to be the answer: The woman, and probably the men too, had been drinking gin.”
         I wonder if the makers of Monkey 47 Schwarzwold Dry Gin are Vonnegut fans.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017


I'd already eaten one before I remembered a picture had to be taken.  

Oysters from Baja, Virginia and Carlsbad, that had journeyed  to the Blue Point restaurant in San Diego. They were given a fine welcome.

Thursday, August 10, 2017


Oh, the inexhaustible fascinations of the sandwich.  I have been reading William Thomas Fernie’s Meals Medicinal, published in 1905 in which he has quite a few things to say about sandwiches and health, the most curious of which is this:  
          “Some remarkable Sandwiches were lately recorded (by Dr. J. Johnston) as having been made with satisfactory effect of cottonwool, for a patient who accidentally swallowed his false teeth through being struck in the face by a wave whilst swimming in the open sea. He was treated with Sandwiches containing a thin layer of cotton-wool in each, between the slices of bread and butter; and after a week, when a mild laxative was given, the dental structure, being now enrolled in cotton-wool, was passed without difficulty amongst the excrement.”

This didn’t sound at all plausible to me, but poking around on medical websites it seems that this is a well-known, if not widely used, way of dealing with patients who’ve swallowed sharp objects.
A letter from Richard Fawcett MD, FRR, wrote in the British Medical Journal of  20 March 1943 runs, “I have recently ben struck by the fact that so few doctors realize the value of a cotton-wool sandwich.”  And he accompanies it with some x-rays of Miss A. B., a  dressmaker who was referred to the Whitehaven and West Cumberland Hospital on September 9th 1936 because she had swallowed a pin. 

In fact the X-rays revealed that she’d actually swallowed 23 pins.  The radiologist, Sister Hankinson “promptly gave the patient a series of small cotton-wool sandwiches, having impregnated the teased out cotton-wool with a solution of barium sulphate in order, if possible, to follow the progress of the pins.”  It worked.  Fawcett reports  complete success "the following day all had been evacuated, without any pain or one drop of blood being shed.”

Tuesday, August 8, 2017


I’ve been thinking about cheese, the way you do, and about cheese plates, and cheese boards and cheese trays and cheese trolleys.

And I’ve been trying, and failing, to remember the name of the French restaurant in London’s Charlotte Street where if you ordered the cheese course they brought a wheeled trolley to your table, a rolling cornucopia of fromage.  And I remember once asking the waiter, “How many different cheeses am I entitled to?’  And he replied, in a French accent that I think was genuine, “Monsieur you are entitled to all the cheese you desire.”

That restaurant’s apparently gone, whatever it was called, but there’s still Mon Plaisir, which I used to go to once in a while, though not recently, and which claims to be London’s Oldest French restaurant.  There website suggests they still know a thing or two about the cheese business, though they have a cheese tray, rather than cart.  The menu says “Plateau de Fromage: A selection of 5 pieces of cheese from our Cheeseboard £11.95, Individual cheese portion £2.75.” 
Sounds pretty reasonable and looks like this:

But significantly, most often these days if you order cheese in a non-French restaurant the dish comes fully formed.  There it is: and you eat what you’re given.  The most recent restaurant where I ordered cheese in here in Los Angeles was the Hungry Cat, which everybody seems to think is just wonderful, whereas I think it’s just sort of OK.  They offer “Assorted Cheeses 3/12.5 with marcona almonds and wildflower honey.”

Now, I don’t need honey – wildflower or otherwise - with my cheese but almonds are fine, and the cheese itself was perfectly good.  It looked very much like the picture above, though this photo is from Yelp.  I was too inhibited to take a picture.  I was trying to appear classy – that’s the effect the Hungry Cat has on me, though evidently not on everyone.

         As you see, that cheese came on a piece of wood, and that’s another issue.  How will it be served? Sometimes it’s on a board, on a plate, or even on hunk of slate.  Actually one of the cheese selections I’ve had in recent times was this very generous slateful at a caff-cum-deli-cum wine bar, called Froth and Rind, in Walthamstow.  Yes, that’s piccalilli in the ramekin on the right, and it was pretty good, but I think you only need piccalilli with a really rough piece of old cheddar – this cheese was too good for it.

Compare and contrast with this less generous selection at ENO in San Francisco, served on a long thin plate with a piece of paper over it.  The bread to cheese ratio is just so far off kilter.  On the other hand, the things in the ramekins this time are picked pear and pickled grape – and the latter was absolutely terrific.  I have been pickling grapes on and off ever since.

And here’s a plateful in Vienna – at the Mayer Am Pfarrplatz, (I think I’ve got that right) where you go up to a glass counter, survey the cheeses and ask a server for the ones you want, and depending on whether or not she likes the look of you get a bigger or smaller serving.  And yes, they come with grapes, very wecome, though not pickled.  As the website says, “Everything a cheese connoisseur could possibly desire.”

And here’s one I did earlier at home.  Yes, grapes again, not pickled, but also pork skins.  I’ve certainly been served pork skins in restaurants but never with cheese.  Food-forward?  Moi? You bet.

Friday, July 28, 2017


My recent mention of ant-infested camembert got various people talking about casu marzu.  That’s the traditional Sardinian sheep’s cheese containing living maggots.  Thus:

It is, I understand, made by taking a full pecorino cheese, and punching a hole in the rind, thereby allowing Piophila casei (otherwise known as the cheese fly) to get in and lay eggs. The eggs hatch and the newborn maggots start to eat the cheese, excreting “acids” (as the more euphemistic literature describes it) which break down the hard pecorino and turn it into a soft cheese.  The lore states that you have to eat the cheese while the maggots are alive and kicking, resulting in a flavor (according to reports – I have no personal experience) that tastes like a peppery cross between a pecorino and a gorgonzola; which, if true, doesn’t sound like a taste worth all that trouble.

As for the law, well there’s considerable debate and contradiction about where and whether casu marzu is legal.  You’ll find plenty of sources that tell you it’s banned under US and EU regulations.  Nevertheless, the interwebs are pulsing with people who’ve eaten it and written about it, often under titles like “My Lifelong Search for the World’s Most Dangerous Cheese.”   

And of course some people have eaten casu marzu at their local Italian restaurant.  Below is a friend of Bradley Hawk (who runs the website Amuse Bouche) eating it at Ornella Trattoria in Astoria, Queens.

And will you be surprised that the likes of Ramsey and Zimmern have been filmed eating it?

 Would I want to eat casu marzu?  Well yes, of course I would, for the experience, although I don’t know how pleasurable it would be.  There seems to be quite a psychologically barrier to eating live maggots, presumably because the presence of maggots is a pretty reliable marker that food isn’t fit to eat.  Also it also seems unnecessarily hard on the maggots, but I suppose I would (in some sense) find it “edible.”

The only inedible cheese I’ve confronted in living memory was this: Organic Bob’s Knobs, a Lancashire cheese. 

I’m not sure if the problem was with me or with it. It does have a warning on the label saying its their strongest cheese yet, but I’m no wimp in these matters, and in reality it smelled and tasted of nothing but ammonia.  It had come a long way, and as you see, it was encased in wax and maybe that was the real issue, because I can’t really believe it was meant to taste the way it did.  A couple of slivers was as much as I could eat.

Poking around online, researching casu marzu, I discover, and I suppose I’d have realized this sooner if I’d ever thought about it, there are more cheese blogs out there than you can shake a stick at, some very corporate, some very personal, though the latter tend to have short lives.  I was intrigued by a site titled Cheese Poet, but there hasn’t had a post since 2012.  Without it, I’d never have been aware of the existence of the From Girls (as in fromage) and their calendar:

The supermarket nearest to where I live is a Gelson’s – “really high prices when you can’t be bothered to go anywhere else” - but they do have a pretty decent cheese selection.  So, full of cheese-based enthusiasm, I went in and bought myself some Melkbus 149 Truffle Gouda – “contains truffle and truffle flavor” according to the label. 

And you know it’s pretty good – tangy, little bit sour, the truffle flavor is well back in the mix, and it it’s much softer and creamier than most Gouda which is a plus in my opinion.  Edible?  You bet.  See, this cheese blogging is as easy as falling off a log.

It's a visual pun, OK?