Tuesday, April 15, 2014



Peck & Peck (American, New York, founded 1888)

ca. 1930
8 x 8 in. (20.3 x 20.3 cm)
Credit Line:
Brooklyn Museum Costume Collection at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Gift of the Brooklyn Museum, 2009; Gift of William G. Lord, 1963


For those of us who are not chosen, the best thing about Passover is that this is the time of year when my local supermarket stocks Bamba Peanut Snacks, made by Osem Food Industries of Shoham, Israel.

They’re one of the strangest and most oddly compelling snacks I’ve ever had.  You eat one and it seems rather bland and nothingy, certainly doesn’t seem to taste of peanuts, but you have another and that tastes a little better, but only a little, and then you eat another and another, and suddenly you’ve consumed a big bag of the stuff and you’re still not satisfied, and you’re in a demented peanut snack-eating frenzy.  Really.

I’m not sure what the mystery is here – the “all natural ingredients” are just  peanuts (50%), corn, palm oil and salt.  No MSG or flavor enhancers, no mystery chemicals, though the bag does come with a warning “Allergens! Contains peanuts.”  Which is good to know.

My bag also came with the above sticker bearing various other bits of information: “Gluten Free for Passover,” and “Kosher for Passover for ‘Ochlel Kitniot’ Only,” and “The Badatz Supervision on the packaging is good for all year round but not for Passover.”  Ah, the mysteries of faith.

         You’ll also see that 50 cents from the sale of each bag goes to the Jewish National Fund “Your Voice in Israel.” I didn’t know I had a voice in Israel, and I’m not sure I want a voice in Israel, and I definitely don’t know what I’d want to say in Israel, but I suspect it would be the wrong thing, whatever it was.

Great for soccer-playing babies too!!

Monday, April 14, 2014


What do writers eat? Well you know, I’d be inclined to say they eat much the same as everybody else, but I know that’s not strictly the case.  Think of Lord Byron who ate biscuits and soda water, or potatoes drenched in vinegar, in order to stay trim and attractive. He looks pretty good on it here, though it's only a painting, of course.

Think of Stephen Tennant who, according to legend, was so fussy about eating that his diet consisted of only champagne, flower petals and the occasional single grape.  And he looked good too!

In any case, I have come belatedly across a book titled Odd Type Writers: From Joyce and Dickens to Wharton and Welty, the Obsessive Habits and Quirky Techniques of Great Authors b Celia Blue Johnson.  If it’s the kind of thing you like, you’re going to like it a lot, and of course it features some author’s quirky eating habits.

There’s a story, which appears in the book, that Goethe once dropped in on Friedrich Schiller, who was out at the time, but Schiller’s wife Charlotte let Goethe in and said he could wait in the study. Goethe sat at Schiller’s desk and thought he’d do a bit of writing. Then he smelled something funny, and it was coming from a drawer in the desk. The stench became overpowering and he had to stagger to the window for air.  He asked Mrs. Schiller’s what was up, and she said her husband just liked the smell of rotten apples, that it inspired him, that he couldn’t work or live without it.

Admittedly Schiller didn’t actually eat the rotten apples.  Whereas Agatha Christie did eat apples in the bath while thinking out her plots.  Flannery O’Connor ate vanilla wafers, and Vladimir Nabokov obsessively ate molasses candies, though this was a way of overcoming his cravings for nicotine after he stopped smoking.  Poking around online I also find that Stephen King eats a piece of cheesecake every day before he starts writing.  Why not?

I’ve been thinking about this because I “appeared” at the LA Time Book festival over the weekend, on a panel.  I wasn’t there to talk about food, but at other events some were, including Roy Choi, famous for the Kogi food truck, a man who is now both chef and author, having written a book – L.A. Son: My Life, My City, My Food, though as you see, two other writers get their name on the book too.

Choi was being interviewed by Jonathan Gold, he of this parish, in front of a good big outdoor audience, and Choi said very something interesting.  He said, "I don't know if I'll ever be as good as I was when I started Kogi, but I strive for that.”

And I thought that was a very interesting thing for a chef or writer, or anyone, to say.  Writers and chefs, (and I’m sure sportsmen, musicians, and probably just about anybody else) starts out with a kind of zest and an unruly energy, so that the first place where it comes together; the first novel, the first restaurant or food truck (the first season in the big leagues, the first album, etc.) has an intensity and a freshness that often gets lost as you start getting serious and becoming a professional.”

As for what this author ate at the LA Times Book Festival, well there were quite a few food trucks with very long lines, but because I’m such a big shot author I got to eat in the festival green room, which is actually The Town and Gown Club, and a very fancy joint it is too, though on the day it wasn't laid out quite as fancy as this:

I had a couple of egg salad finger sandwiches, a small ham roil, and some butternut squash soup with a blob of sour cream.   Bacchanalian it was not.

But you know, and I don't quite know why, when an egg salad sandwich is good, there’s something really deeply, alchemically right about it.  When it’s a FINGER sandwich – I could eat them all day – much easier than having to write.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014


Photo by St.John Walker

So the London Fire Brigade are warning people not to misuse their pop up toasters, specifically not to turn them on their side and use them to cook cheese on toast.  The warning comes after a crew was called to a toaster fire in Croydon, and when they arrived they found the sideways toaster burnt out and the worktop it was sitting on was also damaged.

Crew Manager Nick Morley, said: “Toasters are not designed to be put on their side and used to grill cheese on toast. Not only does it generate heat onto the work surface as we saw at this incident but the dry left over crumbs from the bottom of the toaster can get onto the hot elements and ignite.
“I never thought I’d have to give this advice as it’s painfully obvious but if you want cheese on toast use a grill not a toaster.”
They’ve also issued this handy poster to show how NOT to use a toaster:

Now, it had never occurred to me that you could use a toaster on its side in this way to make cheese on toast, but now that I see the poster it seems so obvious and such a good idea, I wonder why I never thought of it before, and I think I might give it a try.  I’ll probably put a sheet of asbestos on the worktop – hey, safety first.  And I might also poke a fork in there, just for the heck of it.

Monday, April 7, 2014


Not obsessing on Mr. Manson, though still harping on sandwiches (obviously).  It appears that when the Manson family were gathered round after meals in the afternoon or an evening, having presumably feasted on the bounty taken from dumpsters (see above), Manson would begin to talk, unleashing all his great wisdom in a more or less biblical manner.  One of the parable he told was this (my source is Jeff Guinn):

There was a king and queen.  Every day the king said to the queen, “I’m hungry” and she’d go fix him a sandwich.  (Contents of the sandwich unknown).  The king ate the sandwich and (according to Manson) everyone was happy.  Then one day the king was hungry but the queen said she was really tired and asked if he’d mind fixing his own sandwich.  The king said OK, but then the queen said, “Well, while you’re out there would you make me one as well?”  The king agreed, and from that day forward the king always made his wife a sandwich.

Well there are many ways of interpreting this narrative, not least that the king might have actually enjoyed making a sandwich for his wife.  At the very least it might have been a story about how you (queen or not) can get what you want without direct confrontation.

Will it surprise you that Manson didn’t see it that way?  This, he said, was how women tricked men and took control, and that of course was what  was wrong with society etc. etc. and there wouldn’t be any of that kind of thing in HIS kingdom.  And you know, there really wasn't.