Monday, February 29, 2016

Friday, February 26, 2016

SKEPTICAL BUT NOT BITTER

I was looking at my collection of bitters, the way you do, and wondering how many years it would be before I needed to renew any of them.  I think the Regans' is at least a decade old.  I only ever use them in martinis and even then not always.


Bitters, strictly speaking, are a kind of tincture; active ingredients – herbs and spices and whatnot - dissolved in alcohol.  Like a lot of these things they originally claimed to be of medicinal value.   I can’t imagine anybody ever drank bitters as a way to get drunk, and good luck to anybody trying to drink the stuff in quantity, but that Regans', for instance, is 45 per cent alcohol, which was once of much relevance to the temperance crowd.


For them there was Dr. J. Walker’s Vinegar Bitters, made in California at the end of the nineteenth century, totally free of alcohol, and good for “Dyspepsia, indigestion, rheumatism, diarrhea, consumption, catarrh, bronchitis, neuralgia, headache, boils, ulcers, sore eyes, dropsy, scald head, paralysis, erysipelas, scrofula, tetter, skin diseases, bilious, remittant and intermittant fevers, pains in the back, shoulders, heart and chest, liver and kidney troubles, stomach ache, jaundice, gout and fits, dizziness, colds and coughs, croup, palpitation of the heart, lead colic, nausea, biliousness, constipation, piles and worms.”
Well, you’d be prepared to give it a whirl wouldn’t you, though I’m not sure it would be much good in a martini.
Best thing about it is the label – like the insignia of some paranoid conspiracy cult.  Eureka indeed.


Meanwhile a friend in the “real” world sends me news of another way to spoil a martini.  Should you happen to be in Las Vegas and go to the restaurant Twist by Pierre Gagnaire (yeah, it’s really called that), you can get one of these things “a dirty martini reinterpreted as a gel.”  Yeah.


Saturday, February 20, 2016

EAT ME BEFORE I KILL AGAIN



I don’t write the news I only sneer at it.   OK, I know we’re supposed to feel that we shouldn’t eat octopi because they’re smart – they can open jars and so on  - which lord knows many humans aren’t very good at.  


I have Catholicism in my background – I can whip up guilt at the drop of a rosary bead – but I don’t feel too bad about eating octopi.  They do taste good but I’ve always had trouble cooking them – it’s not so much a question of the raw and the cooked, more the raw and the rubbery.

Anyway,  I suppose I had always assumed that octopi lead essentially blameless lives, and I never had them down as public fornicators, but I was wrong about that it seems.   For the last ten years the Seattle Aquarium has had an annual octopus breeding day – male and female octopi go at it for the delight of a paying public.  It’s educational, for the kids, right?


This year however, the event was cancelled because the male octopus – named Kong, was too big.  Kong was, and I suppose still is, a 70 pound giant Pacific octopus who would apparently require a mate of at least sixty pounds – and they couldn’t find one that size.  Any smaller than that and there was every chance that Kong would regard the potential mate as food, and eat her – whether before or after breeding, I’m not sure, and either way it puts the lie to the quiet, blameless business: Kong was definitely a cannibal and possibly also a necrophiliac.  I’ll bet that’s not as fun a date as it sounds, and it does make me feel a bit better about eating them.

I can definitely see the physical beauty and sensuality in the form of the octopus, and we do know that the Japanese have a whole category of what we might call cephalopod erotica – I’m not sure they make a hard and fast distinction between squid and octopus.
And as it happens, I’ve been enjoying some pretty fabulous Shirakiku Brand Japanese shredded smoked squid this week.  As it says on the pack “We have selected the most essential parts of squids as raw materials to process this delicious Shredded Squid which is sure to be your special favorite.”  No artificial colors, no artificial flavors – just smoked squid, sugar, salt, vinegar, monosodium glutamate, chilli pepper and sorbic acid.  Hell yes!  Did somebody say umami?  And it’s so chewy!!


There’s also, I don’t think you can deny, something definitely phallic about the squid on the pack.  Is that what it’s really all about?


Wednesday, February 17, 2016

B AND P

Is there nothing those Bompas and Parr boys can't do?

photo by Mertz and Racine








Monday, February 15, 2016

DRINKING WITH HANGMEN


 OK, so it turns out that Anthony Burgess’s Hangman’s Blood cocktail is probably based on a drink that Richard Hughes described in his novel A High Wind in Jamaica. 


I seem to think this book had a reputation among my teenage peers as being a “racy” read, but this may have been completely wrong.  The poster doesn’t look exactly decadent, though the presence of Coburn and Quinn is surely quite spicy.


The passage in the Hughes novel runs, “He (Captain Jonsen) went onboard, and mixed several gallons of that potion known in alcoholic circles as Hangman's Blood (which is compounded of run, gin, brandy and porter).  Innocent (merely beery) as it looks, refreshing as it tastes, it has the property of increasing rather than allaying thirst, and so once it has made a breach, soon demolishes the whole fort.
“This he poured into mugs, merely remarking that it was a noted English cordial, and gave it to the children to distribute among the crowd.”

I like the idea of a drink being “compounded,” and obviously it’s good that children learn a useful skill while they’re still young, but personally I think “The Bloody Hangman” would be an even better name for a cocktail.

There is also a drink known as the Bloody Motherf**ker.  (I’m no prude but I don’t want to get one of those “content warning” things on the front of my blog).  Not sure where this originates, but I first read about it in an interview with blues man R.L. Burnside on the website PerfectSoundForever.


RL: I like to make me a Bloody Motherf**ker, ya know.  A lot of people like to drink a Bloody Mary.  When I go to a bar they say, "don't you mean a Bloody Mary?"  And I say, "no I'd rather have a Bloody Motherf**ker!"  Tomato juice and Old Grandad. Cookin' with gas now.”


I can just about see substituting whisky for vodka – though it seems a waste of whisky.  And I can definitely see substituting beer for tomato juice – putting a shot of vodka in a pint of lager – known as a snakebite in the pubs where I come from, I think, though not universally, it seems - (room for a long digression here).

But why would you substitute beer for vodka?  I think we’re heading towards the Michelada, the Mexican “cocktail” made from beer and tomato juice, with all the Bloody Mary extras.  But really …  It is somewhat improved by having way a shot of tequila in it, or at least on the side. Here’s one I made earlier today, which actually tasted way better than I was expecting – but it is 88 degrees in Los Angeles today.


The Michelada, I suppose, is the opposite of the Hangman’s Blood.  You drink one Hangman’s Blood and you’re smashed.  Drink ten Micheladas and you’re still probably good to work in the agave fields, just so long as you leave out the tequila.



OK - and - if you read the comments on this post, you'll see that one of my readers points out the presence of a young Martin Amis in the movie of A High Wind In Jamaica - one of the kids who does the passing around.  I think he's the little tyke on the left here, though I wouldn't bet the family fortune on it:  


And here is in later years with Christopher Hitchens.  It's not a very high quality picture, but are they really drinking whisky and Tab?




 

Sunday, February 14, 2016

THE TELL-TALE HEART


Romance endures at Von’s supermarket for Valentine's Day.


Though of course you have to cut it into pieces before eating.

Friday, February 12, 2016

THE SAME BUT DIFFERENT


-->Somewhere in the sprawl of Anthony Burgess’s writings I seem to remember a scene between a barman and a customer, in which the customer orders  a drink, downs it, then asks for, “The same again.”  And the barman, who obviously thinks of himself as a bit of a wag, says “You can’t have the same because you’ve already drunk it.  You can only have similar.”
         And the customer says, “No, I don’t want similar, I want the same.  If I order a glass of gin and you give me a glass of vodka, well that’s somewhat similar but that’s not what I want.”

OK, got that?  So, last night at the happy hours (note the plural – 4 till 7) at Figaro Bistrot, in Los Feliz, I ordered their Mini Martini, gin of course, which looked like this:


It was very good indeed.  And after I’d drunk it I ordered the “same again,” and it was scarcely similar at all.  It looked like this, and trust me, it isn’t just the vagaries of digital photography, and an extra olive, that makes it look different:


It was similar to the first drink and it wasn’t at all bad, but it was also significantly different.
And I spent a certain amount of time trying to work out what the difference was.  Was there an excess of vermouth, had a heavy hand splashed in an excess of bitters, was it a different kind of gin?  I eventually concluded that the barman had, by accident or design, made me a slightly dirty martini – by the addition of a little olive brine.  By the time I’d reached this conclusion, I’d already drunk half the drink, and it was obviously too late to send it back, and it probably wasn’t worth sending it back anyway, it being a cheap happy hour mini martini, but still … it wasn’t in any sense "the same again."



Incidentally, Anthony Burgess did supposedly invent a cocktail in the 1960s called Hangman’s Blood, thus:
“Into a pint glass doubles of the following are poured: gin, whisky, rum, port, and brandy. A small bottle of stout is added, and the whole topped up with champagne or champagne surrogate. It tastes very smooth, induces a somehow metaphysical elation, and rarely leaves a hangover … I recommend this for a quick, though expensive, lift.”
You probably wouldn’t want the same again after one of those, right?

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

RHUBARB DITTO DITTO


Life being as it is, just a couple of days back I was looking at this image from John Leighton’s “London Cries & Public Edifices" published in 1851.
 


 It’s a curious image I think because if you look closely you can see that the guy’s carrying a pair of scales, and in the text Leighton refers to rhubarb as a “drug” – so the seller is offering it dried, powdered, as a laxative?  Seems likely.

And then the next day I was reading the Guardian and saw that Martin Parr has been photographing the rhubarb growers of Yorkshire’s rhubarb triangle nine-square-mile area between Wakefield, Morley and Rothwell.


Parr, it think is one of the greatest, most subversive food photographers ever (not a huge field, I accept) but he did get access – and access is always half the battle.


Here in southern California we still await the first rhubarb of the year.  It arrives soon I think – the cashiers in the supermarket never know what it is. It starts out pretty expensive, then goes pretty cheap, then disappears.  In this age when so many things are available all year round, this feels like a great bit of seasonality.


Back in the day in Yorkshire, well outside the triangle, my dad used to grow rhubarb – one of his few horticultural success.  I have never had any success whatsoever trying to grow it.

Meanwhile I await the Proustian arrival of the “local” crop.  There’s some argument about which parts of Southern Cali – if any – have the necessary chill factor to grow rhubarb.  Some sources say that all the rhubarb we get in California supermarkets comes from Canada. 

And while I wait I’ve been making myself the occasional martini with the addition of rhubarb bitters, thus:






Thursday, February 4, 2016

FEEL THE BERNHARD

Not obsessing about this, but ….
As I said in the previous post, David Chang (of Momofuku fame) was supposed to read from Thomas Bernhard’s Old Masters at the Eating Out Loud event at the Million Dollar Theater a couple of nights back, but decided against it because, said one of the MCs, it was too bleak and gloomy.


         Now, I haven’t read Old Masters, but I’ve read enough Bernhard to know that bleakness and gloom, and also hilarity, are his stock in trade.  But I never thought he had much to say about food and from what I can gather, Old Masters dosen’t have much to say about it either.  (I know I could be quite wrong about this).


The editorial description on Amazon runs as follows: “In this exuberantly satirical novel, the tutor Atzbacher has been summoned by his friend Reger to meet him in a Viennese museum. While Reger gazes at a Tintoretto portrait, Atzbacher—who fears Reger's plans to kill himself—gives us a portrait of the musicologist: his wisdom, his devotion to his wife, and his love-hate relationship with art. With characteristically acerbic wit, Bernhard exposes the pretensions and aspirations of humanity in a novel at once pessimistic and strangely exhilarating.”
         I’m with David Chang – I don’t think I’d have wanted to read any of that to an auditorium full of foodie hipsters either.  But there may have been alternatives.


         In Gathering Evidence, Bernhard’s sort of memoir, he recounts being at an Austrian boarding school in the 1930s.  Although he didn’t know it at the unaware of time, the school was actually for “maladjusted children:" Bernhard's "maladjustment" was bed-wetting.  He wrote,
“It was my misfortune to be revealed as a bed-wetter on the very first night. The method of treatment used on me in Saalfeld was to display my sheet with the large yellow stain in the breakfast-room and announce that it was mine. But this was not the only way in which the bed-wetter was punished: he did not get any of the so-called ‘sweet soup’ like the others—he got no breakfast at all. This ‘sweet soup’ was a mixture of milk, flour, and cocoa served in soup plates, and I adored it. The more often I was denied it—and that was almost every day—the more I longed for it. I suffered this deprivation throughout my stay at Saalfeld because I could not be cured of my bed-wetting. . .. . . I had entered a new hell.
If I’d been David Chang I’d have read that.

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

EATING UNPREPARED

Did you ever want to see Kim Gordon making guitar noise and reading aloud a recipe for corn with miso butter and bacon?  Well no, I can’t say that I did either but when the opportunity arose, how could I pass it up?  She looked liked this:


And if you go if you go to Lucky Peach on twitter you can actually see and hear a short clip of it.


The event was Eating Out Loud, organized by Lucky Peach magazine.  A big crowd - maybe a thousand people - sat in the Million Dollar Theater and listened to readings, and then afterwards milled around in the Grand Central Market, none of them/us entirely sure what to expect. 
Among the good stuff Jonathan Gold read a piece titled “Fallen Fruit,” first published in Slake magazine, Amelia Gray looked as though she might explode while reading a short story titled “Date Night,” and David Chang was scheduled to read “Old Masters” by Thomas Bernhard (wow!) but bottled out and instead read a piece about how great the food is in Tokyo.


We all got given a goody bag which contained one of these things, a plastic splayed - part spoon, part fork, part knife (or I suppose literally “blade”):


 And you know, inspired by Ms Gordon, I thought it might be great to stick this splade between my guitar strings, give it a tug and crank out some guitar abuse.


This is known in my set as "prepared guitar."  But in fact the noise was a bit tame - I think the splade probably needs to be metal, preferably heavy. 



 

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

MORE SAVORY ADVENTURES – SOME OF THEM POTATO-RELATED

-->
 If you like potatoes and peanuts – and I suspect you do – then you’re probably going to enjoy these exotic-seeming satay flavored potato chips, bought at the local Thai supermarket, complete with Thai script and all.


They tasted fine, but only vaguely of peanuts, and the list of ingredients simply specifies “artificial flavors” so you can make what you like of that.  And then despite the apparent exoticism, you’ll see they’re made by Lays, a company owned by PepsiCo, which of course doesn’t seem exotic in the least.
                                             *
These, bought at a supermarket in Little Tokyo, seemed rather more outré,:


 I wonder if that’s meant to say ridge cut rather than rich cut, but I’m not sure, and certainly I liked the salt and seaweed, whether “the Japanese” or not.  And they tasted great.  The was plenty of “mouth feel” and after I’d eaten them my lips felt both tingly and a little bit numb.  I suspect this was not because of the salt or seaweed but rather the MSG and chili powder.  Tree nuts were in there too, according to the label.
*
And then there are these little suckers:  “Kasugai Peanut & You.”   Me?  Well sure - I was mostly attracted by that image of the shrimp on the pack. 


I will say this for Japanese snack-makers – they’ve really got that whole CRUNCH thing down.  Here there’s a brittle, more or less spherical shell that’s sweet, salty, with the taste of shrimp a long way back in the mix, the flavor comes from “shrimp powder,” and there’s a peanut loose at the center of the shell.  Is it just me or do they look like very, very small potatoes?


I suppose exoticism is always a movable feast.  No doubt the Kasugai company doesn’t seem all that exotic if you’re in Japan, in fact they seem to specialize in gummy candy.  Well, I suppose somebody has to.