Wednesday, January 30, 2013


There was an article in the New York Times a couple of days back by Kate Murphy, with the headline “Between the Recipes, Scribbles Speak Volumes” which turned out to be an interesting piece about the marginalia that people write in cook books.

I think this is an interesting one.  I buy more than my fair share of used cookbooks and I really don’t mind a few annotations along the lines of “needs more lard” but occasionally you come across a book that looks as though somebody has actually dropped their lunch on the pages, and I find that kind of hard to deal with.  Pen and pencil marks OK, actually smears of old food, not so much.

Kate Murphy writes, “The cutting wit of the renowned British food writer Elizabeth David is evident in the marginalia of her cookbooks, now kept at the Guildhall Library in London. Her scribbles are on bits of paper (grocery receipts, bus tickets, postcards, Post-it notes) distributed throughout the texts.”

        Elizabeth David was one of those people who the older she got, the less she cared about what people thought of her, and it seems she hadn’t cared all that much in the first place.  I seem to remember some late TV appearances when she seemed a glorious old grotesque.  And obviously she didn’t hold back on her marginalia.

According to Kate Murphy, “In her copy of The Cooking of Italy (1969) by the American food writer Waverley Root, she wrote, ‘Waverley Root is a pitiful phony.’”  Which oft was thought, but ne'er so well expressed.

 And then, “Referring to a recipe for cold macaroni salad involving “tinned pears” in “Ulster Fare” (1945) by the Belfast Women’s Institute Club, Ms. David wrote, “Sounds just about the most revolting dish ever devised.”

And my first thought was that surely she must have eaten more revolting things than that: you could construct something similar in any chain restaurant with a salad bar.

But then a little research made me wonder if in fact Ms. Murphy had taken some of this info from a 2009 article by Tim Haywood in the Guardian, which in its online version comes with a partial, and perhaps mistaken, correction, thus: “A misprint meant that anybody essaying the macaroni salad recipe at the end of the piece below would have had even more grounds than the late Elizabeth David to detest this dish. As a reader wrote: "Try 'peas' instead of 'pears'. Better?"

Pears or peas: revolting or not.  You decide.

Incidentally, Tim Hayward is no slouch in the cutting wit department either, he writes in that article, “Now I should be quite clear from the outset that I've always been a little ambivalent about David. She famously moved food writing out of the dark didactic corners of domestic science and began to write beautifully and poetically about food as a sensual experience, but she also in her early career wrote unashamedly for the posh and focused attention away from British cuisine and on to Mediterranean food. I find it hard to read her work without enjoyment but it also defines a kind of ‘holidays-in-Provence’ middle-class elitism.”

Which ain’t bad at all

Sunday, January 27, 2013


I posted a couple of weeks back about how sad (I might have said dismal) some food writing is.  But then again, sometimes food writing isn’t sad at all.  Sometimes it’s a hoot and a holler, and frankly if it ain’t one or the other what’s the effin’ point?

Here is Jonathan Gold in the LA Times, describing a restaurant I’m obviously never going to, named Cortez, in Echo Park.

“What you think about Cortez is going to depend in large part on what you think about crowds, and noise, and screechy jazz, about well-meaning servers who are slightly impatient with the idea of service, and about spending most of an hour leaning up against a shoe box-narrow windowsill waiting for a seat to open up.”

He doesn’t quite eviscerate the restaurant in the rest of the review, but after an opening like that, who needs to?

The above photograph is by Francine Orr, evidently taken at a quieter time, though it looks like you still have to share tables.

Friday, January 25, 2013


As Mark Twain might very easily have said, “Those who love art and sausages should watch neither being made.”

Now, for one reason or another, these days I tend to see both being made, and just so you know, I’m continuing with my career as a thoroughly amateurish smoker  and sausage maker.  Here are some merguez I made earlier, which of course don’t need smoking.

And the fact is, now that I’ve learned a bit more, I realize that the smoked sausage is a potentially risky proposition.  The big problem is botulism, a form of food poisoning, actually pretty rare, but nevertheless sometimes lethal, so not a thing to be messed with.  I discover that it was originally called sausage disease, but then the name was classed up to botulism, because botulus is the Latin word for sausage.  Wiktionary says the word is “Probably a borrowing from Osco-Umbrian,” which somehow makes me feel better.

Apparently the way to prevent botulism is to use a “cure” containing sodium nitrite, some of which I’ve now ordered.  I went for Prague Powder No. 1 – how can you beat a name like that?

Of course spoiled food is no laughing matter, although one man who seems to have found it fairly risible, if also a medium for profound meditations on the nature of decay and transience, was the German artist Dieter Roth (1930 -1998), who currently has a big exhibition in New York at Hauser and Wirth.

Back in 1970 Roth had a show at the Eugenia Butler gallery in L.A., for which he filled some cases with cheese and left them in the gallery to see what happened.  

Well, nature being as it is,  the results probably weren’t really all that surprising; except perhaps for the arrival of health inspectors.  There are images around of the end result but I can hardly bear to look at them, much less post them.

Roth also made sausage art - he called it Literaturwurst - for which he took books or magazines he disapproved of, put them through a grinder, and turned them into sausages, using actual sausage recipes, replacing the meat with the pulped up book, and adding water instead of fat.  One book was enough for a limited edition.

The culmination of the series came in 1974 using the 20 volume complete works of Hegel, one sausage per volume, which looked like this:

These works are sometimes, hilariously it seems to me, referred to by po-faced art galleries as “artist’s books.”  Yeah right.

I think this is great stuff, but let’s face it these aren’t really sausages, they’re pieces of paper mache, and I don’t suppose anyone is ever likely to eat one of them, given the auction prices of Roth's work, though it would be pretty cool if some contemporary art provocateur did: Jake and Dinos Chapman perhaps.  At least there’d be no risk of sausage disease.  Might need a beer with it though.

Sunday, January 20, 2013


First, thumbing through the ads at the back of my copy of Eatomic Secrets - which include Prosser’s Ice Cream, Lobo Joe’s catering service and TWA: “”The Best bill of fair in the air” - I came across this fine, hand-crafted ad: 

 This is so refreshing. Compare and contrast with “Fancy Feast Elegant Medley” which offers, “White meat chicken Tuscany with long grain rice and garden greens in a savory sauce.” 
Archer’s say loud and clear that horsemeat is good enough for pets – and too good some would say.  Britain currently has an attack of the vapors because they’ve found that Irish horsemeat has been furtively slipped into some hamburgers.  Personally I would go out of my way for a horse burger, though admittedly I think people have a right to know what they’re eating, just as I wouldn’t want my horse burger to turn out to be buffalo.

And then, the other other matter, speaking of cocktails of the past, I happened to watch the 1955 movie The Big Knife, starring Jack Palance, based on a play by Clifford Odets, about the many evils of Hollywood, and a stage bound period piece if ever there was one, with everybody doing a whole lot (really a WHOLE lot) of acting.  Rod Steiger in particular leaves no piece of scenery unchewed.

Briefly, but crucially, it features the divine Shelley Winters, as the careworn actress, going by the name of Dixie Evans, who’s clearly never going make it in Hollywood.  Early in the movie she says, “I don't care if I do see a snake. I'm sure I'd much rather see a snake than a Hollywood producer.”

And toward the end as things start to unravel and everyone is threatened with doom and exposure (a hit and run accident is involved), it’s discovered that Dixie is sitting in a “bar across from Schwab’s” ready to spill the beans that will destroy everything for everyone.  One of the hideous Hollywood flunkies delivers the unimprovable line, “A woman with six martinis can ruin a city.”  I’ll drink to that.