Monday, January 27, 2014


It being that time of year, more or less, four of us celebrated Burns Night at the Tam O’Shanter, Los Angeles’s best stab at a British (ish) restaurant.  Walt Disney was a big fan.

Although it was a Burns Night special, the menu was pretty much as usual, heavy on the prime rib, though with the seasonal (not Burns-related) addition of goose, which I ordered, and it was very good, actually even better than the goose cooked at Nicholson Acres at Christmas.  Everybody else had the prime rib. 

But of course we were really there for the haggis, and to a lesser extent the reading of the Burns poem, and to a greater extent the playing of the bagpipes.  I’ve always enjoyed the sound of bagpipes and I know a lot of people say they sound like a cat being strangled, but I always wonder how many of these people have ever actually heard a cat being strangled.   Up here in the hills I occasionally here a feral cat being torn apart by a coyote and it don’t sound much like bagpipes, believe me.

The only problem haggis-wise: the good folk at the Tam seemed to think haggis was an appetizer or even an amuse bouche, so it came in a small portion on a wee saucer to be shared among the four of us.  It was OK as far as it went but it didn’t go very far, and I’ve certainly had more intensely flavored haggis.

There was, of course, the “ceremonial slaying of the haggis” (above and below) and if you think that outer casing looks like tripe rather than a sheep’s stomach, I think you’re absolutely right.

photo by Paul Norton

So when the end of the meal came, after the sticky toffee pudding and so forth. we asked our bus boy, who was of course Mexican, if there was any haggis going begging, and he seemed to find this idea very entertaining, and indeed there was, and he delivered a box of it to go, actually about twice as much as we’d been given at the start the meal.

So what do you do with left over haggis?  Well I made a pie.  This second batch of haggis was significantly different from our starter portion – tastier and way more livery – and all the better for that.  I made my pie in a slapdash sort of way, and zested it up with a bit of balsamic vinegar, Worcestershire sauce, sherry and some gravy we had in the fridge.  And let me tell you – it was a taste sensation!  I wish you could have been there.  It looked like this:

But now wait on, Watson.  If you zoom in on the picture – blow me down, isn’t there a cat’s face looming there in amid the haggis in the pie dish?  Personally I might have preferred the face of Robbie Burns or Elvis, but you have to take miracles as they come.  The fact is, no cats were strangled in the making of this haggis pie.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014


I’ve been rereading Scott Fitgerald’s The Great Gatsby.  It’s one of the novels I return to every few years, and although I always think I know it reasonably well, there’s always some surprise, something I’d completely forgotten or didn’t previously take in.  This time I came cross this paragraph describing Gatsby’s parties:

At least once a fortnight a corps of caterers came down with several hundred feet of canvas and enough colored lights to make a Christmas tree of Gatsby's enormous garden. On buffet tables, garnished with glistening hors-d'oeuvre, spiced baked hams crowded against salads of harlequin designs and pastry pigs and turkeys bewitched to a dark gold. In the main hall a bar with a real brass rail was set up, and stocked with gins and liquors and with cordials so long forgotten that most of his female guests were too young to know one from another.”

Now, call me naïve and indeed British, but I had never heard the term “pastry pig” and I imagined a whole roast pig wrapped in pastry, a sort of giant pork en croute, which would have been very splendid, a bit like Robert May’s pastry stag.  It would have been extremely hard to cook, but I thought that was the whole point.

However, poking around the internet it seems I’m the only once who thinks this.  Anyone who has an opinion thinks the reference is to “pig in a blanket” which in my country are called sausage rolls, and that seems strangely disappointing and low-key and a bit tacky for a great Gatsby party.  Although of course that may be the whole point, that Gatsby isn't as classy as he thinks he is.

Below is a picture of Gatsby from the Baz Lurhmann movie, which I found just unbearable.  I couldn't tell you what those things are on the plates surrounding Gatsby are, but I'm pretty sure none of them is supposed to be a pig in a blanket.  Not much sign of a harlequin salad or a turkey either.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014


Some people say one thing, and some people say another, and I only know what I read, and I don’t necessarily believe much of it, but there’s some suggestion abroad that eating too much tofu will feminize a man, reduce his libido and his sperm count, and make his testicles atrophy.  These are good reasons for not eating tofu, though personally I can think of others, and of course the soy bean lobby says it’s not true anyway.

My companion and I went to a cheap and cheerful Indian restaurant on Melrose Avenue, called Anarkali.  Anarkali means “pomegranate blossom” and was the name of slave girl, possibly a real person, who either was or was not ordered to be buried alive by the Mughal emperor Akbar for having an affair with his son.  That’ll teach her.

I had never heard of the restauarant, had heard no reports, but it happened to be there, and in we went, my companion and I.  We had the business lunch for two.  It was that or the executive lunch, and we could just about imagine that we were conducting business but we really didn’t feel we could consider ourselves executives.  The meal was pretty good, in a standard Indian restaurant sort of way: soup, papadams, nan, lamb biryani, chicken tandoori, vegetable curry. All for $20.  However, it must be said that when I think of a real businessman's lunch I tend to think of a steak and a brace of martinis.

Service was attentive, and why not given that the place was more or less empty, but there was some entertainment to be had from our fellow diners.  When we arrived there was a stylish African-American gent, eating alone, and he talked on his cell phone throughout his meal and then argued with the waiter about the bill.

He left, and my fellow-businessman and I were the only two people in the restaurant, then a crazy street person, approached the door, open it, took one step inside, looked around. perhaps saw me, and immediately left.  On balance I was grateful for that.

Then an SUV pulled up outside and a couple of tragic hipsters got out, a young man and a young woman.  She was wearing jodhpurs and riding boots, he was not.  The girl took off the riding boots and put them in the car, and she and the boy came in.  They sat behind me and so I didn’t get to see the full extent of their hipsterism but I did hear much discussion about the menu.  Finally the boy ordered the tofu coconut curry.  We "businessmen" sniggered just a little.

Saturday, January 11, 2014


When I first came to Los Angeles I thought I might spend a certain amount of time at the Formosa Café.  It was the hangout of many classic movie stars, but for some reason I only ever associated it with Robert Mitchum.  Who wouldn’t want to drink in a watering hole where Mitchum once drank?

Well, as is the way of these things I went to the Formosa just once, and it was perfectly fine and I’ve never been back since.  The ghost of Mitchum didn’t seem much in evidence.

Anyway I found myself reading Clive James’s memoir North Face of Soho.  Back when he was a celebrity interviewer on British TV, James interviewed Mitchum.  They had a preliminary meeting at the Dorchester but it didn’t start out so well, largely because Mitchum was speaking in a low, utterly incomprehensible  growl.

James writes, “Theoretically Mitchum was on the wagon at the time, but … when the waiter asked him if he would like something to drink he made the waiter bend down and spent a long time whispering in his ear.  The whispering was accompanied by illustrative movements of his hands, as if he were passing on arcane secrets in the art of flower arrangement.  When the drink arrived it was two feet tall, changed color on the way up, and had foliage sprouting from the top, like a core sample from an Amazonian swamp … There was always the chance that this concoction had alcohol in it, but it certainly had some kind of active ingredient, because after he’d inhaled about half of it, Mitchum’s voice suddenly came into focus.”

I had never imagined Mitchum as the kind of man who'd like drinks that were two feet tall, changed color on the way up, and had foliage sprouting from the top, but I know he was a man for all occasions.

It’s been harder than I expected to find photographs of Mitchum in full party mode, but I do like this one of Mitchum with his boys, Christopher and James.  It looks like a set up to me, a photo op,  but I like it nevertheless, a man who makes (or poses in the process of making) a roast for his kids – what’s not to love?