Friday, January 28, 2011


Did I ever tell you about the time I had breakfast with Pamela des Barres, aka Miss Pamela of the GTOs and a so-called super groupie (Morrison, Jimmy Page, Keith Moon, Don Johnson, among others)? 

At the time we shared a British publisher and she was in London promoting her memoir I’m With the Band.   I did occasional freelance writing for some very mild men’s magazines, and so I arranged to interview her over breakfast at her hotel just off Baker Street. 

It must have been an unmemorable interview since I remember almost nothing about it but I do recall what she had for breakfast.  She ordered kippers, which seemed a good “when in Rome” thing to do, and when they arrived she smothered them in HP Sauce, for which there’s no exact American equivalent, although A1 Steak Sauce comes close.

To this day I’ve never, ever seen anybody else do that to kippers, and I did wonder at the time whether she was being a bit “Hey look at me, aren’t I wild and unconventional,” but she did actually seem to like the combination of flavors and she certainly ate it.

To the extent that I don’t remember the interview, I don’t really remember much of what’s in I’m With the Band either, but now I’ve been reading Laurel Canyon: The Inside Story of Rock-And-Roll’s Legendary Neighborhood by Michael Walker for which de Barres is a source and I was reminded of her story of Chris Hillman and the grapes.  That's him below.

Hillman was in the Byrds and the 15 year old Pamela was trying to impress him by any means possible.  She hit on the unlikely plan of delivering him a huge bunch of grapes, brought back from Mexico by her father.  Yes, I too blame the parents.

She writes, “The plan collapsed when the bag tipped open and I skidded halfway down the hill on seedless green grapes from Ensenada, landing on my face.  I scrambled back up, leaving the squashed grapes behind, rolling in profusion toward his front porch …  I would have to think of another way to enter his life.”

The Michael Walker book has some interesting things to say about eating in and around Hollywood in the sixties and early seventies.  For people with long hair it could be quite a challenge.  Walker says that most restaurants on the Strip refused to serve longhairs, and the few that did, such as Ben Frank’s coffee shop (that's it above), were both packed and under intense police scrutiny.

And even if you got served things weren’t necessarily going to run smoothly. Michael Stuart-Ware of the band Love (that's him above) says that waitresses called the cops to clear out tables of customers “even if they were only suspected of something as innocuous as being the kind of people who might not leave a proper tip.”   I have to say that no waitress I’ve ever met would regard the lack of a tip as “innocuous,” but anyway the freaks eventually moved away from the Strip and relocated to Canter’s Jewish deli, on Fairfax, where there’s still a lively after-hours crowd apparently, although when I’ve been there it’s always been fairly tame.

It was in response to the local difficulties that the Rainbow Bar and Grill was opened on Sunset Strip in 1972, a place where rock and rollers and longhairs would be welcome, although by 1972 a longhair was hardly what he or she had been five years earlier.  The Rainbow is still there and on a good night you’re quite likely to see the likes of Ron Jeremy, Lemmy Kilminster and Vince Neil in situ, along with a lot of tourists who have are seeing exactly what they came for. (See below)

Incidentally, a few years back Pamela Des Barres wrote a “My LA to Z” column for Los Angeles magazine in which people say which local stores and restaurants they frequent.  One of hers was Dukes West Hollywood, about which she said, “Right up the street from the Whisky was a place called the Galaxy, which was an amazing club. It’s now Dukes coffee shop, which used to be in the Tropicana Motel. It’s crazy, there’s one sandwich with mushrooms and mustard and, oh my God, it’s great. It’s called the magic mushroom or something. I’ve been eating it for 40 years.”

That may not quite be the same thing as kippers and HP sauce but it’s definitely part of the same culinary universe.

Monday, January 24, 2011


And thinking of the Beatles and food and hospitals, here are a few extra pictures I came across while looking for stuff about the lovable moptops. Given what Lennon got up to later life it seems wonderfully endearing, in the picture above, that in his early days he was a dunker of biscuits, even while holding his Rickenbacker.

He certainly looks more sure of himself dunking than he does wrangling the pig in the picture above.  He's doing it to mock Paul McCartney's album Ram,  but the pig looks pretty uncomfortable too.

There’s Paul McCartney eating something or other – an individual trifle maybe – and he’s tackling it with the utmost delicacy. 

And here’s George Harrison, purveyor of all things Indian sitting with what looks like a fairly standard issue late 60s, early 70s spread of British restaurant curries.  It looks pretty good though.

And here’s Ringo in his hospital bed.  He did go into University College Hospital in 1964 to have his tonsils removed, though I’m guessing this is a set up photograph taken when he wasn’t feeling too bad.   I’m sure he didn’t have to eat standard hospital food but what really seems inconceivable are those silver salt and pepper shakers on his tray. 

Dunking biscuits, eating trifles, silver salt and pepper shakers, it’s easy to forget how domesticated and refined certain aspects of the sixties were. 

Tuesday, January 18, 2011


After I made a rather gratuitous reference to John Lennon in one of my blog posts, a couple of people said I should do something about the Beatles and food.  I think this is promising territory, what with songs such as “Mean Mr. Mustard,” “Honey Pie,” “Savoy Truffle,” and the mentions of “fish and finger pie” in “Penny Lane” marmalade skies in “Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds,” and pilchards and “yellow matter custard” in “I am the Walrus.” And so on. 

A little light Googling reveals that this is pretty well trodden territory, and I suppose everything about the Beatles has been thoroughly obsessed and picked over by now.  But one thing I discovered was that the Beatles, especially in America, got their names and images on various food boxes and wrappers that were never seen in Britain:  including bubble gum, ice cream bars, and an early version of Nesquik offered "autographed inflatable Beatles dolls".

However, one of the most amazing of them - the Ringo Roll (below) – does appear to have been a British promotion.  It looks to have been a fairly unexciting loaf of bread and it certainly never found its way into our house, but if you’re going to eat unexciting bread anyway, you might as well have the Beatles’ pictures on the wrapper.

I was also surprised by how easy it is to find pictures of the early Beatles eating and drinking.  I suppose there must be some pictures from those days where the lads look less than fascinating but in all the ones that I’ve found, whatever they’re doing, even when it’s something decidedly uncool - like nibbling a sausage on a stick, eating an apple, having  a cup of tea or a half of bitter -  they still seem incredibly charismatic and photogenic.  This seemed to wear off as they got older.  I guess it wore off less with Lennon than the others, but then he had less time for it to happen.

I always thought Ringo was the great wasted talent in the Beatles, not so much as a musician but as an actor.  I think he’s absolutely wonderful in A Hard Day’s Night, and the picture below is one of my all time favorite images. 

It seems to reveal something crucial about Ringo and England and the 1960s, and especially about English sandwiches from that period.  That sandwich looks so dismal and joyless, and Ringo does look perplexed, but he’s not defeated by the grey misery of it all, he looks resilient and warm and lovable.

I guess that John Lennon has rather rarely been described as warm and lovable, and certainly he doesn’t come across as remotely that way in Albert Goldman’s biography The Lives Of John Lennon, a book which admittedly has been much denounced and discredited. Nevertheless I and trawled through the index looking for references to Lennon and food, and although there isn’t much there, what there is seems highly significant.

According to Goldman, and indeed other sources, in 1965 or so Lennon was described by a journalist as “the fat Beatle,” which obviously had to hurt.  These things are comparative of course: compared to Mama Cass or members of the Turtles, Lennon was a mere stripling, but yes there was something just a bit podgy about the Lennon face in some of those early pictures.  He was also of course the “four-eyed Beatle” but he seemed to be able to deal with that.

Lennon realized that the world will never really love a fat rock star, a lesson that Elvis never learned.  I’ve always thought that if Elvis had stayed thin and Keith Richards had got fat, rock and roll history would be very different from what it is now.

Anyway, Goldman describes Lennon, as “a hunger artist” which seems to be going a bit far, and he says that Lennon developed anorexia (though I think he’s using the term in a totally unscientific way), and also bulimia (more likely) and that he went on a series of “punishing diets and dangerous.”  Well he definitely did develop a lean and hungry look when he lived in New York but I’ve always thought that had more to do with the drugs he consumed rather than the food he didn’t.

Certainly when it came to booze he didn’t deny himself much.  The brandy Alexander was supposedly his favorite drink, at least at one point in his life, but there seem to have been other times when he wasn’t especially choosy.  A man who goes into a club (the Troubadour) with a Kotex on his head probably doesn’t care too much what he drinks.

Now, as it happens, not so long ago I saw the movie My Dinner with Jimi.  The Jimi is Hendrix and the “my” belongs to Howard Kaylan, the less than sylph-like lead singer of the Turtles (op cit) and that's him above.  Kaylan wrote the movie, which is about the rise of the Turtles from gullible teenage popsters to thoroughly sussed out (though never the less exploited) hippy freaks.

 It’s a pretty cheap movie but there’s some great stuff in it, and some great performances.  The centerpiece has Kaylan eating dinner with Hendrix in London’s Speakeasy, which I always thought was just a night club but apparently there was a separate restaurant in a kind of glass-walled box at the center.  The actor who plays Hendrix – Royale Watkins - is especially excellent.

 Kaylan and Hendrix have dinner – we don’t get to see what exactly they eat –  but they talk about music and success and the dangers of the business, and the drink keeps on coming.  Kaylan can’t keep up with Hendrix - few could -and in the end he loses it and vomits all over Hendrix’s new velvet jacket.  You can see a ton of symbolism right there if you’re so inclined.

In the course of the movie we see lots of 1960s rock illuminati, generally very well acted though wearing rather bad wigs – Brian Jones, Frank Zappa, Jim Morrison, Donovan, and Mama Cass among them

And of course the Beatles put in an appearance.  Lennon is played by Brian Groh, who makes him appear utterly vile.  He’s drunk, arrogant and viciously dismissive, and he sneers at the Turtles, which was particularly hard on bass player Jim Tucker (who idolized the Beatles) and who never quite recovered from the experience. Drink obviously had something, though probably not everything, to do with Lennon’s behavior.  And it was hardly an isolated episode.

One of the more dismal episodes described in Goldman’s book, there are plenty to choose from but this one concerns food, is a dinner Lennon had with Phil Spector at the Brasserie on Sunset Plaza.  They were trying to outdrink each other, shooting jets of vodka and champagne from bottles into each other’s mouths, and when the food came all the could do was play with it and stick it in their ears and eventually get up on the table and roll around in it.

         After they got down they started a game of “I bet you can’t do this.”  After some fork juggling, Spector screamed, “I bet you can’t do this,” and flipped his chair over backwards and smashed his head violently against the floor, and Lennon said, “You win.”  He always did have a way with words.
         Incidentally, the Brasserie on Sunset Plaza is no longer in business.  I wonder why.

Monday, January 10, 2011


I believe I’ve found one of the most beautiful dining rooms in the LA area. That isn't it above.

For one reason and another I’ve been spending a fair amount of time at the St. John’s Health Care Center in Santa Monica: the Loved One has been having hip surgery, and all seems to have gone very well indeed, thanks. But of course a lot of time was spent hanging around waiting for something to happen, or hanging round until something had happened, and although there are various places to wait in the hospital, inevitably people tend to gravitate to the cafeteria, which in the case of St John’s is an amazing place. 

The cafeteria opens into a cavernous area called the “Dining Court” a seventy foot high atrium, all smooth white surfaces, wood paneling, skylights, and glass walls with views of Santa Monica, big art on the walls, and seating for I guess a couple of hundred people, though it never seemed to get crowded.  If this were a real restaurant I'd be there all the time.

The room is used by visitors and also by hospital staff, but only rarely by patients, as far as I can tell.  As soon as patients are ambulatory they get sent home, which is obviously as it should be.  On the other hand it seems a bit of a shame that patients don’t get to use this wonderful place, which is certainly cheering, and very probably healing.

Of course, the cafeteria food eaten in the dining court isn’t all that great, and I have no intention of “reviewing” it, but I can safely say I’ve never eaten such an ordinary tuna sandwich in such an extraordinary space.

Heck, there’s even a grand piano.  Nobody played it while I was there, but back in my wife’s room we did get some bedside entertainment.  The Loved One had just finished eating a pretty decent-looking cheese and ham sandwich on marble rye with potato salad, when three extremely winsome young women arrived offering to sing for us.

This promised to be excruciating, like when a Mariachi band or gypsy violinist comes to your table in a restaurant and you’re supposed to smile appreciatively while they interrupt your meal, but these girls were pretty good, and they played the Beatles’ “Come Together,” which is one of my favorite songs, though an odd choice for a hospital you might think with its references to toe jam, shooting Coca Cola, and especially the line, “Hold you in his armchair you can feel his disease.”  When last seen they’d moved on to the next room and were singing Brown Eyed Girl.  I hope they got to play in the Dining Court.

Thursday, January 6, 2011


I like Lindsay Lohan.  There, I said it.  And I understand that it’s easy enough not to like her, what with the drunk driving and the passing out and the assaulting of an assistant at the Betty Ford Clinic and so on.  But the big thing in her favor is, she seems to really like food.

Now admittedly she doesn’t seem to like good food especially, in fact if the photographs are to be believed she appears to be a junk food addict.  And admittedly her weight goes up and down a lot, which I guess is a sign of a troubled relationship with food, but you know, it can’t be easy to eat well when you’re in and out of jail and rehab.  But the bottom line is, she essentially looks like someone with a big appetite, and who doesn’t like that in a gal?

The folks at Millions of Shakes liked it well enough that they named a shake after her, the Lindsay Shake, and according to the PR she actually “designed” it herself.  I have to say she doesn’t look entirely confident about it in the picture below.

TMZ seems to be an infinitely dubious enterprise but I couldn’t help admiring them when they revealed that turkey tetrazzini was on the menu for Lindsay’s first night behind bars at the Lynwood Correctional Facility.  They also revealed (I mean, who knew?) that inmates could use money deposited into their commissary accounts to buy junk-food gift packs that included Spam, Vanilla Creme Cookies and Cheese Curls.  Quite the home from home for Lindsay.

And since Lindsay’s been in the Betty Ford Clinic of late, I’ve been trying to find out what kind of grub they serve up there.  So far I’ve had limited success, though I did find an anonymous online “Insider’s View of the Betty Ford Clinic” which read, “The cafeteria is like everything at The Betty, clean, well run, and “not bad”. The food compares to a “souplantation” or some such mass produced mall like fare.  It was fresh and well prepared. It is as exciting as a mall court, (but) of course, you’re not there for the food.”

Of course.  And I’ve also discovered that visitors aren’t allowed to bring in any homemade food for the inmates.  It has be factory made and factory sealed.  I guess they figure that granny’s fruitcake might have a little too much rum in it.

The truth is, all Lindsay’s recent problems stem not from food, but from drink not, and they stem specifically from a couple of very public DUIs.  The fact that cocaine was found in her car both times certainly didn’t help.  Now, most grownups have at one time or another driven when they knew they shouldn’t have, and they’ve probably had something in their car that they shouldn’t have, but hell, if I was Lindsay Lohan, I’d just have a standing account with a discreet taxi company.  Either that or just get quietly wasted at home.

Anyway, I do hope the rehabilitation works and that Lindsay pulls herself together.   And if she does I hope she’ll try to eat food that’s a bit more interesting than a bag of Cheetos.  Maybe she’d like an older literary dude as a mentor.  Hey, I’m entitled to my food fantasies.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011


In yesterday’s New York Times the blessed Dwight Garner reviewed E. Annie Proulx’s new book Bird Cloud which is her account of building a dream home in Wyoming.  Garner guts the book, filets and flays it, and tosses it into the compost bin.

He quotes this truly remarkable food-related sentence from Proulx: “I like a colorful, handily cluttered kitchen and Bird Cloud’s cabinets and drawers in red, violet, aquamarine, burnt orange, cobalt, lime, brick, John Deere green and skipjack blue inspires stir-fries, osso buco, grilled prawns, Argentinean salads of butterhead lettuce, tomato, sweet onion, roast lamb with Greek cucumber and dill sauce, frittatas, rhubarb sauce with glasses of dry Riesling for the cook. You bet.”

Garner adds, “I’m sure I’ve read worse sentences from a National Book Award-winning writer,” but then he’s definitely read a lot more books than I have.  And to be fair to both of them, he does profess an admiration for her earlier work.  How early I’m not sure.

Proulx is best known, of course, for the short story Brokeback Mountain, but long before she had a reputation for fiction, she wrote a number of how to-books including Sweet & Hard Cider: Making It, Using It, and Enjoying It, and The Gourmet Gardener: Growing Choice Fruits and Vegetables with Spectacular Results. 

There was a profile in the New York Times in 1994 headlined “At Home With: E. Annie Proulx.” Sara Rimer visited her as she was preparing a dinner party.  She cooked a rabbit, and one of the guests brought a homemade flan.  The profile says Proulx published her first short story in Gourmet Magazine when she was in her early 20s, which would date it to the middle or late 1950s, although scholars differ on these matters.  Both a SF magazine called If and Seventeen are also cited as possible first appearances.

The Gourmet story was “The Garlic War” in fact published in 1964 when Proux would have been nearly 30 rather than early 20s.  You can find it online in the Gourmet archives.  I don’t think many writers would want to be judged on their first published short story (if that’s what it is) but it does contain another spectacular food-related line, thus: “… the fragrant aroma of garlic smote Hubert’s nostrils and his eyes flashed wildly for a moment.”

Hubert is determined to give up garlic, but as with the Brokeback boys, some appetites just won’t go away.  You bet.

Sunday, January 2, 2011


There seems to be a current theory, not mine, that everything tastes better when it comes out of a skull.  This refers largely to alcohol - beer, wine, and Dan Aykroyd’s needlessly expensive vodka - but not entirely, as you’ll see. 

Personally I don’t need a skull per se.  I’m happier with a vessel that has a skull on the side, say a good cocktail glass or a martini shaker, but I don’t claim to be in absolutely in touch with the Zeitgeist.

The thing is, of course, you can’t drink from the top of an actual skull because the liquid runs out through the various holes.  Those who do use the skull as a vessel tend to slice the top off and use that as the receptacle.  The man below is a member of the Aghori Hindu Sect, and he uses that skull cup not only as a drinking vessel but also as a begging bowl. 

Lord Byron owned a rather more elegant version, of which he wrote “Better to hold the sparkling grape,
 Than nurse the earth-worm's slimy brood,” which is hard to disagree with.  Here’s a replica made by the Alchemy Forge of Sheffield, described as “excruciatingly well detailed.”

But just in case you’re not ready for the real thing, here for you consideration, as Rod Serling, might say, are some silicon cupcake moulds I recently acquired. 

And the first thing to note is that the picture on the box is completely misleading.  That brain-like icing on the top of the cupcake has nothing to do with the mould itself and has been added by some highly skilled food stylist.  For the hopeful child who wants to eat simulated brain this is as disappointing as getting a toy robot and finding that no batteries are included.  Let’s hope his mom or dad is handy with a piping bag.

Now, for my own part I can let years go by without eating, much less making, a cupcake, and yet it seemed possible, if not necessarily likely, that these moulds make work for Yorkshire puddings.   The pudding would rise at least as well as a cupcake, and some nicely browned batter might look at least somewhat like a brain.  Only one way to find out.

There’s a warning on the box that says the moulds shouldn’t be used in an oven above 446 degrees F, a curiously precise figure.  I cooked my Yorkshire puddings at 400 and although the moulds didn’t melt, they did singe very slightly, so they’re no longer pure white, which arguably makes them look slightly more like skulls.  The end result looked like this:

I think you would have to say this wasn’t a complete success.  They tasted fine, but as you see, they rose unevenly and the overall effect didn’t look remotely like a brain.  But wait, what happened when I took the puddings out of the moulds?  They looked like this:

Now OK, they may not look much (or even remotely) like skulls, but they do look at least somewhat like shrunken heads.  I suspect the  shrunken-head fad may be some years from catching on completely, but if and when it arrives, remember you heard it here first.