Thursday, October 27, 2016


In London I went out for dinner with some good folks from the Royal Photographic Society.  We went to a convincingly French joint – Terroirs - that neatly underplays its hand by calling itself a wine bar, when it’s rather more than that.  Along with various platters of cheese and charcuterie and whatnot, we also had this:

It’s “Christian Parra Boudin Noir with Soft Polenta & Girolles,” which was great, although I’m amazed to find, having poked around the interwebs, that the boudin noir comes in a can.  Maybe that’s naïve of me:

One of the other guests was the photographer Brian Griffin.  I didn’t know him at all but I’ve known his work since the 1970s.  He’s probably best known for photographs like this:

Or possibly this:

Although personally I first became aware of him via a series of great, off-kilter photographs of British businessmen when he was a staff photographer for the magazine Management Today, pictures like this one:

He and I swapped books, and I’m sure I got a better deal than he did because I gave him a run of the mill paperback, whereas he gave me a big, high-production-values art photobook.   Thanks Brian.

It’s titled The Black Kingdom – which is a reference to the Black Country where Griffin grew up – he was born in Birmingham.  It is an extraordinary volume – I’ve never seen a book quite like it, which is obviously a good thing.  It’s essentially a visual autobiography that includes some snapshots, some portraits, some staged tableaux, some diary-type written pieces.

Brian Griffin is not in any meaningful sense a "food photographer," but because food is inevitably part of his and everybody else’s past, there are some terrific and fascinating photographs in the book that feature food, like this picture of pigs’ trotters:

And this is “Black Pudding Embracing a White Pudding”:

But the one that really got to me was this, it’s captioned “Leaf Scratching or ‘Leaf Scratchun’ as they are known in the Black Country”:

If Proust had been born in Birmingham (like Brian) or in Sheffield (like me) this might have been his madeleine.   I grew up eating these things and I haven’t had them, or even seen them, in decades.  I knew them as “pork scraps” and there was a pork shop in Hillsborough just up the road from my grandma’s house where they sold them loose. 

Even, perhaps especially, here in southern California where I now live, we’re very familiar with nose-to-tail pig products, mostly because of the Latino population here, so there’s plenty of pork rinds and cracklings and chicharones, and I always assumed these “pork scraps” of my youth were also a kind of pork skin.  How wrong can you be?

Having discovered the term “leaf scratchings” I’ve been able to do a bit of research. Turns out they’re not skin at all, but a by-product from the lard making process.  Leaf lard, we know, is a superior product, made from the "leaf tissue” around the kidneys.  After the rendering has taken place, the lard is poured off and strained, and the “impurities,” the tissues and bits of meat, stay behind.  This stuff is then compressed and possibly (it’s not absolutely clear from my researches) cooked some more, and the end product looks kind of like the pages of a book that have been stuck together and shredded in places.  Once they’ve cooled down you peel off the layers and eat them.  Some bits are very crisp, others quite soft and chewy, and some of them stick together in a hard bolus which I never found all that appetizing.

There’s some suggestion online that European food regulations prevented the sale of this stuff, although it's easy enough to find a butcher called Coopers of Darlaston that’s been selling them all this time: that’s their product above.  In any case, post Brexit, I suppose European food regulations won’t be much of a problem in the near future.  Maybe it’s time for a revival.  I’ve certainly lived through far more unlikely food fads.

Friday, October 21, 2016


I was in London, doing the kind of things you do in London, which inevitably includes a certain amount of eating and drinking.  Some Colchester oysters were consumed at Bibendum:

And a Fortnum and Mason pork pie was eaten:

This was the kind of pie that can put a man into a porcine-induced fugue state.  It’s not just the pork or the pastry or the jelly, it’s the combination, the alchemy of all three working together. Don’t try getting one through customs back to the USA, however.  Long story.

On the booze front, it seems that London has gone gin crazy.    There are gin bars and gin clubs, artisanal and bespoke gin distilleries, gin parlours, all of which sell pretty good gin, some more “crafted” than others of course, and they serve it sometimes just with tonic, but also in cocktails and sometimes even in “ginfusions.”  And hereby hangs a tale. Fact is, something gin-based happened to me in London and I may never be the same again.

I found myself in Walthamstow (yes, the Stow) in a place that calls itself Mother’s Ruin Gin Palace, a name that may raise expectations it can’t ever live up to.  You might imagine something like this (which is actually the Princess Louise in Holborn):

Or this:

When in fact Mother’s Ruin is a smallish industrial building that apparently used to be a  munitions factory that looks like this:

They specialize in fruit liqueurs, which they make themselves, damson and sloe gin, rhubarb and raspberry vodka, and so on.  But when a man’s in a gin palace he tends to want his gin pretty well unadulterated, or I do anyway, and so martinis were called for, first a basic Mother’s Dry Martini, made with Plymouth gin:

And then a Rangpur Lime Martini (and yes that is a sloe gin concoction lurking in the background):

The above martini is made with Tanqueray Rangpur gin, which according to the Tanqueray website contains “the rare Rangpur lime” which can’t be as rare as all that since it can be grown, at least in California, as a house plant, and looks like this: 

But here’s the OMG part.  I watched the martinis being made in Mother's Ruin Gin Palace, and at first I thought the bartender was doing it all wrong.  He put room temperature gin and vermouth into an empty mixing glass, not a shaker, and only then added the ice.  And then there was the stirring, a shedload of stirring. 
And of course I’m familiar with the notion that you shouldn’t shake a martini because it bruises the gin, but I had always thought this was phooey, and that gin is perfectly robust enough not to bruise easily (or at all).  The stirring went on and on, and I assumed that when the drink arrived it’d be weak and watery, but you know IT WASN’T!!  Both my martinis had a softness and a rounded off quality to them that was very different from the aggressiveness that affects some shaken martinis. 

And you know it may have been the night, or my mood, or the good company, but hell, I suddenly thought there might be something in this stirred not shaken business.  Blimey.  Maybe I’ve been wrong all these years.  More research required obviously, but I do suspect that some gin-based Rubicon may have been crossed.  Blimey indeed.

Friday, October 7, 2016


Want to see a picture of your blogger with a large quantity of beef fat?  Well of course you do.

And sometimes the fat stands alone:

Tuesday, October 4, 2016


You want to see a damn good martini?  I’ll show you a damn good Martini.  What makes a damn good Martini?  Well, many things, but a full glass is high on the list of requirements, and if the bartender fills the glass so full that it reaches above the top and forms a meniscus, then you know you’re in business.

Of course it’s not just about looks, but the one above served on a rainy night in the empty and fairly soulless bar of the Balto Tavern and Tap inside the Radisson Hotel in downtown Baltimore tasted every bit as good it looked.

This next one tasted considerably better than it looked, which was a good thing since it doesn’t look that great, and it sure isn’t very full. 

This is actually called a Belvedere Martini, drunk in the Owl Bar, also in Baltimore, which is very soulful place indeed.  The Belvedere Martini consists of “Belvedere Vodka, Dry Vermouth & Bleu Cheese Stuffed Olives.”  I’m never sure about blue cheese stuffed into a martini olive – it always sounds better than it tastes, but in this case (and maybe it was me, or maybe it was the vibe of the place) it tasted pretty great.

The Owl Bar also had on the food menu, would you believe, a “Chesapeake Poutine: Crispy fries, crab meat, white crab gravy, old bay.”

I believe that a man has a duty to order poutine whenever and wherever he can, and in any form whatsoever: I hope that crab was Maryland blue crab, the local specialty, though I can’t swear to it.   And In this case the fries were a very long way from being crispy, but hey it was poutine!

The most enjoyable meal I had in Baltimore was at a Nepalese/Indian restaurant called Lumbini.  You probably know – I’m ashamed to say I didn’t – that Lumbini is where Siddhartha Gautama, the Lord Buddha, was born, in 623 B.C.E.
Here, in this earthly and earthy restaurant, we had goat curry on the bone with “Himalayan spices.”  That’s the bowl on the right, and it was very good.

But the one on the left was the real star - that’s Hyderabadi Lamb, Hyderabad being some 1100 miles south of Lumbini.  According to the menu Hyderabadi Lamb is “Lamb marinated overnight with yogurt and peanut sauce and cooked with delicious Himalayan spices.”  Again with the Himalayan spices.  Man, it was good; creamy, of course, intense, rich, fatty but incredibly bright and somehow uplifting.  I know that doesn’t sound quite possible.

There’s evidently a considerable Nepalese community in Baltimore, and we asked our waiter – very young and exotic looking, with a very stylish haircut – if he was from Nepal.  He was.  How long had he been in the States?
      “Two months,” he said, in a subdued way.
“Do you like it here?”
“I like some things,” he said, now sounding downright melancholy.
 “That’s OK,” I said.  “Nobody likes everything about America.” 
He nodded in agreement but he didn’t seem to find that altogether consoling.