Thursday, January 28, 2010


And speaking of the memorialization of meals, as I was a couple of posts back, I managed to dig out the above menu from my (Oh god was it really so long ago) 21st birthday dinner. It was cooked by the college chefs of Caius College, Cambridge where I was studying English literature and sexual frustration.

Understandably enough, I don’t have very clear memories of the food, but coq au vin sounds like the kind of thing the college kitchen did fairly well, and whitebait was regarded as pretty fancy fare at the time. As for Soufflé Milanese I had no memory of it whatsoever, had no idea what it was, and I found it amazing that the kitchen would take on the delicate task of serving 20 or so soufflés.

As you see, the people at the meal signed the menu, which is where this whole memorialization thing falls down. These people were my best friends, along with their boyfriends and girlfriends, but I look at those signatures now and I only have the vaguest idea who they all are.

I remember Alison but I’d forgotten her surname was Thomas, and Julian Roberts must have been a boyfriend of Sue Douglas. There’s a Pauline and a Geraldine and I think one of them went out with Neil Reeve, but I wouldn’t swear to it. And as for the person who signed herself Hemline, I have absolutely no idea who that could be.

So I decided to make a Soufflé Milanese. I didn’t really think it would result in a Proustian unlocking of memory, but I reckoned it could do no harm. Recipes are in short supply, even on the internet, but the big thing I discovered about Soufflé Milanese is that it’s a cold lemon soufflé. That makes far more sense, far more the kind of thing the Caius kitchen would take on.

I’m not keen on doling out recipes, especially since they not my own, but a soufflé Milanese is really pretty simple. You take a bain marie and beat up 2 egg yolks, a cup of sugar, the juice and zest of two lemons and stir in some gelatin. Once that’s thickened you add half a pint of whipped cream, and fold in two beaten eggs whites. Then you put it in the fridge to set. Easy and it tastes great.

The recipe I was (sort of) following suggested sprinkling slivered almonds on top (see above), and I made a couple that way, but I can’t imagine the Caius kitchen would have done that, so I then I made some without (see below).

I served my Soufflés Milanese in glasses from the Geoff Nicholson martini glass collection. I’m absolutely certain the Caius kitchen didn’t have these. I’d definitely have remembered.

Monday, January 18, 2010


On the night that Meryl Streep was winning a Golden Globe for her performance as Julia Child in “Julie and Julia” I happened to be watching it at last on DVD. It was every bit as clever and dumb as you expect a Nora Ephron movie to be.

Apart from Streep’s performance, which really is a wonder, two things stood out for me.

First, that when Julie cooks lobsters the music on the soundtrack is Talking Heads’ “Psycho Killer.” You can see how that might please a man who writes a blog called Psycho-Gourmet.

In fact that story of Julie Powell and her blog is the ultimate blogger’s fantasy. You sit there pounding away, thinking nobody’s reading, nobody cares, but they do, they do! They care so much they’re going to send your money and turn your work into a movie. Of course this is pretty much the same as every writer’s fantasy.

Secondly, in the movie, Julie, or at least the actress playing her (Amy Adams) insisted on pronouncing “boeuf” (as in boeuf bourguignon) as “boof.” I did briefly wonder whether this was some oblique reference to the movie “La Grand Bouffe” in which 4 Parisians move to the country to kill themselves with food and sex. Food, which is supposedly a touchstone of civilization becomes an agent of degradation. Not obvious Nora Ephron territory.

It seemed unlikely until I found an interview Julie Powell did with Salon, to promote her new book “Cleaving” which is about butchery and masochistic sex.

“Why this kind of sex?” she asks aloud. “Why this kind of sex? Everybody thinks about getting tied up and tickled with a feather every now and then—but in terms of that real craving, where was that coming from? … I think that the butchering has the same kind of uncomfortable dynamic. There are knives; the men are very strong; the meat is dead.”

I know this book is getting an absolute kicking, even from the people who liked Julie and Julia, perhaps especially from them, but frankly it makes me like Julie Powell a whole lot more. Hard to imagine Amy Adams being cast in the movie of that one, but I hear Sasha Gray is always up for a challenge. She’s an existentialist too, you know.

Sunday, January 10, 2010


About six months ago the Loved One and I were invited to dinner at Benedikt Taschen’s house, the Chemosphere. These are always daunting but ultimately fun events. Daunting because you never know whether it’s going to be Benedikt, his lovely wife Lauren and a few low key pals, or whether you’re going to find yourself in conversation with Ed Ruscha.

When we arrived there was some guy I’d never seen before taking photographs, but that wasn’t surprising, and even when he started asking people to stand in certain groups for the sake of a better composition, well that didn’t seem so very odd. Which was why it took me such a long time to realize we were being photographed for a magazine.

This meal we were having in the middle of the summer was going to be featured in Food and Wine magazine as their New Year’s Party for the new decade. I certainly wished I’d worn something more December-ish.

The meal was cooked by John Shook and Vinny Dotolo, the two dudes who run the LA restaurant Animal. They’re pretty serious about meat. Their menu is likely to feature rabbit, sweetbreads and oxtail poutine, and I couldn’t help thinking they’d been asked to dial things back a bit for the magazine.

The meal and the company were excellent. But here’s the thing, most often when you have a meal, even a very good one, the memory you retain is essentially imprecise, an overall impression and a few details. In the case of this meal, I could certainly remember that we had some smoked fish for a starter and then an interestingly cooked steak. Beyond that I’d have been struggling.

But then the magazine was published, and thanks to the article, I can tell you exactly what we had; smoked-trout salad with avocado, endive and red grapefruit, skirt steak with paprika butter served with a sunchoke-kale hash with faro, and for dessert there was lemon-curd cakes with lemon syrup and poppy seed cream (I’d completely forgotten about them until I saw the article). Not only that, by consulting the magazine I could even give you the exact recipes.

I can also tell you what wines we had, although at the time I had no idea I was drinking 2006 Bibi Graetz Bugia, made from Ansonica grapes from an island off Tuscany. I wished I’d paid more attention.

So now the meal is secure in my memory. And this, I think, is seriously odd. People are always being asked about their most memorable meals, and this New Year’s meal has become mine, not because the details are particularly intense, but because they’re right there in print. I wonder what Proust would make of that?

The photographs are by John Kernick. I rather assumed I’d end up on the cutting room floor, but there I am in the picture below, marked by the arrow. It’s me, really.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010


There’s a dementedly bilious piece in the latest New York Review of Books in which Jonathan Raban takes on (reviews isn’t really the word) Sarah Palin’s “Going Rogue.”

Now there are many, many good reasons to dislike Sarah Palin, and Raban shares all these, but because he’s determined to hate every single thing about her, he also has to denounce her eating habits.

He starts out fairly persuasively. In her book Palin says she shops at Costco, eats generic peanut butter and dislikes “fancy food.” This of course is a form of fakery. Even if it’s true, the objection is that she attaches moral superiority to it, as if people who eat non-generic peanut butter are hideous wastrels. the kind of folks who might end up on death panels.

But where Raban really loses it is in denouncing her for liking meat. He quotes her: “I especially love moose and caribou,” she writes, “I always remind people from outside our state that there’s plenty of room for all Alaska’s animals – right next to the mashed potatoes.” Call me a bad person but I found myself sniggering at this, although if we really want to get picky, I do believe there are people in the world who might consider moose and caribou “fancy food.”

In any case it surely doesn’t deserve Raban’s assessment that she has a “sarcophagous appetite for flesh and slaughter.” Since sarcophagous means nothing more than flesh-eating, he’s actually saying she has a flesh eating appetite for flesh. Well she would since she’s a flesh eater, wouldn’t she? Just like many, many millions of people in the world, not all of them imbodiments of pure evil.

But the real thing to say is, Raban, dude, lighten up. The woman cracked a halfway funny joke. Even loathsome politicians, or their script writers, are sometimes allowed to crack halfway funny jokes.

Raban is so filled with rage, that he almost (and that’s a big almost) makes you want to see the good in Sarah Palin. For a hysterical moment I wondered whether this was the point, that he was a double agent trying to create sympathy for Palin. But no, nobody could be that demented, could they?