Wednesday, July 8, 2020


I’ve been thinking about Lee Miller’s prize-winning recipes for open-sandwiches.  I have my reasons.
          One of the most highly prized volumes in the Psychogourmet Archive is Open Sandwiches and Cold Lunches: An Introduction to Danish culinary art,  by Asta Bang and Edith Rode.

It contains a lot of the kind of food you’d expect – herring, shrimp, cheese, sausage, and some things that you wouldn’t, such as an open sandwich with lard and potato, and (and I quote) ‘What would you say to a piece of buttered white bread with slices of a slightly unripe apples (sic) covered with a slab of liverpaste?'  I’m still trying to come up with an answer.

But I think my favorite is the Sandwich Pie, seen below on the right, essentially a loaf of bread got up to look like an iced sponge cake, with mustard butter, mayo, and Dutch cheese instead of frosting.

You know, I often think that sandwich recipes are unnecessary.  You put some things you like between or on slices of bread, and there you have it.  But I don’t think many of us would have come up with that sandwich pie.

And I’m not sure how many of us would have come up with Mrs. Beeton’s notorious ‘toast sandwich’ – two slices of bread with a slice of toast between them.  

I suppose it all depends on the bread, but as you see, Mrs. B does also suggest putting some meat in there, and also that it’s food for invalids.

Every bit as intriguing is the recipe that immediately precedes it: Toast and Water.

She admits it’s ‘exceedingly disagreeable’ drunk tepid or lukewarm, but I’m really not sure how great it would be at any temperature.  Also, when you strain it, what exactly gets strained out?  The bread I suppose, so you’ve just got some vaguely bready water.  It was a different age, obviously.

Monday, July 6, 2020


I’ve been rereading (in some cases reading for the first time) parts of Francine Prose’s book The Lives of the Muses: Nine women and the artists they inspired.

It turns out – and very possibly we knew this all along – that it’s very hard being a muse.  And it’s no picnic having a muse, either.  Prose discusses Alice Liddell and Lewis Carroll, Gala and Dali, Hester Thrale and Samuel Johnson, Yoko Ono and John Lennon, Lee Miller and Roland Penrose, among others It’s surprising how often food crops up.

There’s John Lennon baking his own bread, taking Polaroids of it (way ahead of the Instagram game there, John) and bringing all the staff in for lunch.  Yoko says, ‘He makes the bread, and if they don’t eat it it’s a personal insult.’  Muses are, I suppose, allowed to make the occasional snide remark.

There’s Hester Thrale, Samuel Johnson’s muse, even while she was married to Henry Thrale, a brewer and MP. After Henry had had three strokes he started to eat and drink compulsively.  I haven’t been able to find exactly what he consumed but Johnson, who was no stranger to heroic eating, was so appalled that he said, ‘Sir—after the Denuriciation of your Physicians this Morning, such eating is little better than suicide.  True enough.  Thrale didn’t stop eating and he died.  Johnson apparently though that Hester would then marry him, but in fact she married an Italian tenor named Gabriel Piozzi.   Muses, eh? Can’t live with ‘em, can’t live without ‘em.

Gala and Salvador Dali we know were sufficiently food-obsessed that there were two books: Les Diners de Galaand The Wines of Dali. (Gali?), though they never looked as though they did much actually eating. And yes, that is Gina Lollobrigida

I had some idea about all the above people but I didn’t know the full story of Lee Miller.  I knew her as a model (OK, muse) for Man Ray, then a collaborator, then as a photographer in her own right, photographing fashion, portraits, and then by force of circumstances becoming a war photographer, largely for Vogue. I knew that she’d married Roland Penrose but I didn’t know that after the war she suffered terribly from depression and alcoholism, (and probably boredom) and had developed a new, consuming interest in cooking, as a partial consolation.

There’s even a recent book. Lee Miller: A Life of Food, Friends and RecipesRecipes include champagne and camembert soup, marshmallow-cola ice cream, carrots in whiskey, and chicken in edible gold and pink cauliflower breasts. I guess you could describe this as influenced by Surrealism.

Francine Prose finds this ‘dismaying’ and quotes from Roland Penrose’s Scrapbook to reinforce her point.  ‘Devoted to parlour games, she found a fascinating pastime in kitchen games, competitions which she often pursued with success, winning countless gadgets for the kitchen and at one time a triumphant tour of Norway … as a reward for a most startling and succulent open sandwich.’
Yes, this does sound like a bit of a comedown after Miller’s previous activities, but then, if you’ve washed yourself in Hitler’s bathtub, and photographed at Dachau and Buchenwald, well, what wouldn’t be?

The internet being the fine thing it is, I was able to find a description of her tour-winning entry, in an article in Gastronomica magazine by Becky E. Conekin.  It’s for something called a Penrose; mushrooms stuffed with pink foie gras mousse, seasoned with paprika and Madeira, and made to resemble roses.  I gotta say that doesn’t sound like quite enough to merit a triumphant tour, still according to the article, Miller won first, second, and third prizes, which I suppose does deserve some serious recognition.

Wednesday, July 1, 2020


You know me, I disagree with Virginia Woolf on most things – Joyce and Lawrence for instance - and she’s obviously completely and utterly wrong when she writes in A Room of One’s Own, that novelists, ‘seldom spare a word for what was eaten.’ What novelists had she been reading? In the works of Dickens for instance, according to Margaret Lane in ‘Dickens on the Hearth’ there are 35 breakfasts, 32 dinners, 10 luncheons, 10 teas and 8 suppers in The Pickwick Papers alone. Virginia Woolf wasn’t keen on Charles Dickens, so perhaps she didn’t read him very closely. 

Virginia Woolf holding an invisible sandwich.

I wonder if she ever read Richmal Crompton’s Just William stories.  It seems unlikely although (in one of those literary confluences which in the end are too common to be genuinely surprising) the first book length collection of William stories was published in 1922, the same year as Woolf’s Jacob’s Room (also The Waste Land).
If she did read Just William I think she’d have disapproved, but I imagine  Dickens might have rather enjoyed William – a character painted in broad strokes, though never quite what he seems and never entirely predictable, and much defined by food.

Yes, I’ve been revisiting William, another combination of comfort reading and comfort.  In a story titled ‘A Question of Grammar,’ William and the Outlaws raid his family’s pantry.  ‘Ginger seized the remnants of cold ham and picked the bone.  George with great gusto drank a whole jar of cream.  William and Douglas between them ate a gooseberry pie. Henry ate a whole currant cake. Each foraged fir himself. They ate two bowls of cold vegetables, a joint of cold beef, two pots of honey, three dozens oranges, three loaves and two pots of dripping. They experimented upon lard, onions and raw sausages …’

This is wonderful and now I discover, thanks to an amenuensis, there’s a book titled Just William’s Cookin’ Book.

It’s an odd one to be sure.  It was published in 1970, as a tie-in for a television series of William, and it wasn't written by Richmal Crompton.  In another confluence this was just one year after Richmal Crompton died.  Her last book William the Lawless was published posthumously, also in 1970.

Part of the problem with Just William’s Cookin’ Book is that if the fictional William actually did any cooking it’d involve lard, raw sausage and very possibly frogs, and obviously they can’t put that out as a children’s book.  And since they want it to function as an actual cookbook there are some recipes here that I think would have been very alien to William and his family and his family’s cook: lasagna, moussaka and croque monsieur among them.  And yet, and yet …

There’s also a ‘recipe’ not that you’d need one, for Cheese Crumpets, a great standby when I was growing up and still a serviceable treat even now, like cheese on toast, substituting a crumpet for the bread. 

 Inspired by William, I made some.  I should have left them under the grill a bit longer so that the cheese melted more, but I was too eager.

Now it so happens that I’ve been reading Dickens’ The Mystery of Edwin Drood, and boy is it a wild ride in all kind of ways. Here, in his office, Mr. Grewgious is planning dinner, saying to his assistant Bazzard, ‘And perhaps you wouldn’t mind stepping over to the hotel in Furnival’s, and asking them to send in materials for laying the cloth.  For dinner we’ll have a tureen of the hottest and strongest soup available, and we’ll have the best made-dishes that can be recommended, and we’ll have a joint (such as a haunch of mutton), and we’ll have a goose, or a turkey, or any little stuffed thing that may happen to be on the bill of fare – in short, we’ll have whatever there is on hand.’  This is dinner for three.  William Brown would be salivating.

The 1935 movie of Drood.

Thursday, June 25, 2020


Some of the most exciting words about food that I’ve read in recent days were written by Polly Vernon, in a piece in the Times about the joy of pubs.  Yes, newspapers still have to be filled up with something or other.

Vernon’s words runs, ‘My earliest memories of good times involve … cheese sandwiches with chips squished in on a bench outside the Lighter (a pub) while the adults got lightly sozzled (inside).’

Polly Vernon comes from Devon.  I come from Yorkshire, where of course chip butties are thought to be a pillar of our cuisine, but you know I’m not sure I’ve ever had one.  My mother, a Catholic of the guilt-inducing school, somehow managed to convince me that chips were a bad thing, and that chip butties were downright sinful.  Despite having lost whatever religious impulses I ever had, this has stayed with me.

But the idea eating the chips in a CHEESE sandwich, well that sounds perfectly OK, not a road to hell after all – I shall try it soonest.

Polly Vernon is the author of the book Hot Feminist, and she doesn’t look like she eats a lot of chips, in sandwiches or otherwise, but maybe she just has a fabulous metabolism.  The picture is from her Instagram feed.

So obviously I then when off and made one - all-supermarket - buns, oven chips, mature cheddar - and loads of vinegar obviously.  It was OK but now I'm thinking blue cheese, brie, truffled goat ...

Wednesday, June 24, 2020


I first knowingly ate beef cheek at a fancy restaurant named Maze, part of the Gordon Ramsey Group, though it had its own presiding chef, and it’s now closed.  Below is what I think it looked like, though the picture isn’t mine, it’s from the blog belonging to Eddie Lin.  

To be accurate that’s actually ‘tongue and cheek’ – a slice of tongue below, creamy mashed potato in the middle, cheek on top.  Creamy mashed potato seems to be essential with beef cheek. 

I said ‘knowingly ate’ because it occurs to me that lumps of beef cheek may well have found their way into many meat pies I’ve eaten.  If you cook beef cheek long enough it becomes as tender and as melting as any piece of beef in the world.

The second piece of piece beef cheek I ever ate was at a really good restaurant in Colchestser, named Grain.  Here it is with mashed potato again, and sprouts.  The portion size could have been bigger.

And then last weekend I made my own.  Beef cheek seems kind of expensive – the slab below cost about 15 quid but then you do get a staggering number of meals out of it, especially if you eke it out in restaurant size helpings, which admittedly I did not.

Cooking beef cheek is as simple as it gets – you give it a quick fry to seal it.  I'm cooking half the quantity above.

And then you stew it for a few hours with red wine, vegetables and herbs: and that’s it  Some recipes use dark beer which would be almost as good, though not quite I think. And I added a little bit of sugar at the end to balance the flavour of the sauce, but that obviously depends on your taste.  I think a big splash of port might have been even better.

The recipe I wasn’t quite following (I’m constitutionally incapable of following a recipe) also suggested I should liquidize the sauce which I suppose might have given the end result that smooth lacquered look of the Maze version, but I was pretty happy with it as it was.

Monday, June 15, 2020


Sometimes I forget how much I like Neil Young but then I remind myself, and all is well.  I think we know by now that Neil is not for everybody and I’m not in the business of convincing anyone of his godlike genius but if I were I would play them ‘T-bone’ from the album re-ac-tor.  

The lyrics are as follow, according to the album liner, but I really don't hear the s at the end of potatoes - I hear 'Got mashed potato' which I think is better: 

Got mashed potatoes
Got mashed potatoes
Got mashed potatoes
Got mashed potatoes
Ain't got no T-Bone
Ain't got no T-Bone

And so on for a shade over nine minutes.  If that’s not a highpoint in western art I don’t know what is, and as the man himself says:

I’ve been singing this to myself since I bought a packet of Roysters Bubbled Chips - T-bone steak flavour.

I hear you ask ‘What is T-bone steak flavour?’ and I can help with that.  It’s right there on the packet.  Ingredients include but are not limited to Rice Flour, Salt, Dried Yeast Extract, Flavourings, Flavour Enhancers, Monosodium Glutamate, E627; Sugar, Maltodextrin, Spices & Herbs, and Emulsifier E471.’

In other words we’ve got no actual T-bone.  And obviously we’ve got no mashed potato.  The potato we’ve got is dried and reformed.  Ah well.

Below is a link to the Neil Young song. You may need more than one packet of bubbled chips to get you to the end, possibly also more than one beer.

And let’s not forget T-Bone Walker

or indeed T-Bone Burnett

Friday, June 12, 2020


It’ll come as no surprise to you that I take Arnold Schwarzenegger as one of my role models.  And this being so, and taking into account the above image, I thought I might shelter from the pandemic by making a not especially in-depth study of ramen, or as we more often call it in England, pot noodles.

For a while, every time I went in a supermarket I bought a different variety with the result you see below.  Eleven pots - enough for eleven nights.

Did I expect to find culinary delights in these pots? Well no, not really, and I started with the one I thought would be the least enjoyable, so that I could get it out of the way.  This was the Naked Noodle Thai sweet chilli – described as ‘egg noodles in a sweet, tangy garlic and chilli sauce.’

Man, I had no idea how bad it could be.  Imagine you’ve just dissolved some sweet miscellaneous-flavoured jelly cubes in hot water and then tossed in some noodles and then added more sugar. Even with the addition of soy sauce and lemon juice to make it less sweet, it was truly revolting.  In fact it was so bad I haven’t dared taste any of the others as yet, but when I do you’ll be among the first to hear.

And then, I just so happened (on the recommendation of my psychogeographic pal, Mr Anthony Miller) to be reading the JG Ballard short story titled ‘The Enormous Space.’  In fact I think I was probably re-reading it, but it’s so archetypally Ballardian I couldn’t be absolutely sure.  Either way, it’s a great story for a lockdown.  A man living in Croydon, is having a mid-life crisis following a car crash and being abandoned by his wife for ‘a tedious sales manager,’ and decides to stay in his suburban house, never leave, and sever all connections with the outside world.  Rather touchingly, and I’d say improbably, his estranged wife, before leaving, ‘has stocked the freezer and refrigerator with a fortnight’s supply of eggs, ham and other bachelor staples.’  Whether bachelor staples includes pot noodles, I can’t say.  Inevitably the food soon runs out and our hero turns to that old Ballardian standby and staple - the dog.  ‘I returned to my lunch of poodle pie.’ It’s not clear where he gets the pastry, not that it matters much - before long he’s eating the man who’s come to take down the TV aerial.  Of course, this story was written in the days before Ocado.