Tuesday, June 27, 2017

SPUDS YOU LIKE

The weekend found me in Ventura – 70 miles up the coast from Los Angeles - and Saturday afternoon found me in Dargan’s Irish Pub, eating “Tipperary Chips and Dip” – as the menu put it:  “A local favorite! Creamy Cheddar cheese, pico de gallo, jalapenos & corned beef, served in a dipping bowl surrounded by homemade potato chips.” Thus:


Well that’s some fusion cuisine you’ve got there.  I’m sure pico de gallo (a kind of Mexican salsa – literally “beak of rooster”) gets around, but whether you could get it in the real, geographical Tipperary, I’m not so sure.  Tasted pretty good though.
          
Anyway, life being as it is, I went into a charity bookshop afterwards and bought a two dollar copy of Paddy’s Lament, Ireland 1846-1847: Prelude to Hatred by Thomas Gallagher. It’s a book that explains some of the reasons why the Irish hate the English, and gives them some brand new reasons as well. 


It mentions and quotes the work of Arthur Young (that’s him above, fine looking feller), an English writer on agriculture, economics and the rights of agricultural workers.  He was a great traveler through Ireland and in due course published A Tour in Ireland, with General Observations on the present state of that Kingdom, made in the Years 1776, 1777, and 1778, and brought down to the end of 1779, obviously a good while before the famine, when things were evidently not all bad.


“If any one doubts the comparative plenty, which attends the board of a poor native of England and Ireland, let him attend to their meals: the sparingness with which our labourer eats his bread and cheese is well known; mark the Irishman's potatoe bowl placed on the floor, the whole family upon their hams around it, devouring a quantity almost incredible, the beggar seating himself to it with a hearty welcome, the pig taking his share as readily as the wife, the cocks, hens, turkies, geese, the cur, the cat, and perhaps the cow-and all partaking of the same dish. No man can often have been a witness of it without being convinced of the plenty, and I will add the cheerfulness, that attends it. . . .”

Young estimated that a barrel of potatoes, containing 280 pounds of spuds, would feed a family of five for a week – that’s 8 pounds per person per day, though presumably in a family of five, with children, not all would need or get the same amount.



There is certainly some Irish heritage in my background enough that my dad never ate, perhaps couldn’t eat, a meal without potatoes.  He bought them by the sackful from a local farmer.  They came in a paper sack rather than a barrel, and came half a hundredweight at a time, i.e. 56 pounds.  These did in fact last us a good while – we were only a family of three - although not long enough that there was any danger of them going off.


And I happen to have found the wonderful illustration above, from the website of the Monolithic Dome Institute, of Texas, showing an artist's rendition and then the interior reality of the first Monolithic Dome potato storage facility, built in Shelley, Idaho in 1975.


Sunday, June 18, 2017

THE CLEAR AND THE NOIR


I know my readers are a sophisticated bunch, so you’ve probably seen the movie of The Lady in the Lake (1947) – based on Chandler’s novel - where Marlowe is played by Robert Montgomery and also played by the camera so that everybody talks directly into the lens, hands the camera a cigarette, takes a swing at the camera, and so on, and we only see the actor when he appears in a mirror, which he does surprisingly often.  It’s kind of clever but it also kind of doesn’t work.





Still, the movie is much enlivened by the presence of Audrey Totter, an actress with a 40 year career, starting as a compelling yet not quite A-list movie actress, and later appearing in all kinds of TV series from Alfred Hitchcock Presents via Dr Kildare and Wagon Train right through to Murder She Wrote, which was her last appearance in 1987.  Here she is in Life magazine, in character I assume, though I haven't worked out which one:




By noir standards there really isn’t a lot of boozing in the movie of The Lady in the Lake, but there’s one scene where the Audrey Totter character (Adrienne Fromsett) takes Marlowe back to her apartment for a drink she returns from the kitchen with a bucket of ice and two tall glasses of some clear liquid (alas you can only see one of them here): 


And my question is: what’s in that glass?  Raw vodka?  Raw gin?  We know that noir women are hard-drinkers but surely even they didn’t serve tumblers of raw alcohol to their gentleman callers.  White wine?  Well that’s probably the best guess, though even in 1940s Hollywood that would surely have seemed a bit gauche.  Or perhaps there are some mysteries that even Marlowe isn’t meant to solve.


Friday, June 16, 2017

THE GROOVE IS IN THE HEART


Lord knows, those food fantasists Bompas and Parr (that would be Sam and Harry to their pals) don’t need much help from me in publicizing their activities, but a small plug seems in order given that they’ve now been doing whatever it is they do for 10 years.  Frankly it feels longer.  I can’t quite remember a time when my inbox wasn’t enlivened by tales of the lads’ activities.



I do however remember them when they were doing a “make your own chewing gum” event (above) in a pop up store in Whiteleys in Bayswater, but that seems a million years ago.


In subsequent years they’ve gone through (among many other schemes) Alcoholic Architecture, Egg Healing, Grope Mountain (above), and chocolate anuses (below - and no I don’t know who the model was and perhaps don’t want to).


They now to celebrate their first decade there are simultaneous exhibitions in England and Brazil.  They’re opening a “satellite installation” called Temple of the Tongue, in their London studio, which will complement a retrospective exhibition, Tongue Town, at the São Paulo Museum of Modern Art in Brazil.  May I say, blimey.


Everything looks better in a glass display case.
This seems remarkable and wonderful in every way, and somewhere in all this there may even be a small audio contribution from me about zoophagy and Francis Buckland.  I say “may even be” in the sense that I recorded something for them, but who knows whether or not it ended up on the cutting room floor.  That’s Francis Buckland below


Also, as the Bompas and Parr lads conquer all media, I see that their work appears in a new book titled Visual Feast: Contemporary Food Styling and Photography.  This kind of thing, photographed by Metz+Racine:




Monday, June 12, 2017

GIN WORRIES



As you perhaps know, last Saturday was World Gin Day, just like any other day you may say.  Still, it turns out this is an ancient tradition going back to 2014.  There’s a website which says “The concept is simple: get people enjoying gin together all over the world … A day for everyone and anyone (over drinking age of course…!) to celebrate and enjoy gin! Whether you’re already a fan of the juniper spirit, or looking for an intro, World Gin Day is the perfect opportunity to get involved.”


I did my part (above) but I couldn’t help thinking these festivities might require a rather specialized definition of “world.”  Drink a lot of gin in Isfahan Province, do they?  But that was too easy, so I started looking for gin stories from unlikely but possible places, and I came up trumps with an article on the East African News website about gin production in Rwanda.  The less than zesty headline runs “Rwanda: Standards Board, PSF feud could cost 500 jobs.”  But beneath it there’s some fascinating stuff. The article continues:


      “Since April 2014, RBS has been pushing local gin manufacturers, a budding industry of about 10 players, to start packaging their products in glass bottles of volumes ranging from 250ml, 500ml, 750ml and 1,000ml.
“The manufacturers currently use plastic bottles (polyethylene terephthalate) in packaging of the gin products mainly consumed by low income earners with the price of the smallest gin bottle costing less than Rwf400.” 
(That’s about 47 US cents or 38 pence, Sterling)


The article then quotes some scientific research about those plastic bottles, which is by no means unfamiliar:
“A sip from the water bottle sends hormones straight into the throat  … Water, gin and other fluids in plastic bottles appears to contain far more estrogen-like substances than water in glass bottles. The effect on snails is very clear, say German researchers who believe that we are only seeing the tip of the iceberg.
“Endocrine disrupters are believed to be the main reason for men’s declining sperm quality, and that more and more boys are born with malformed genitals.”
           Just one more thing to worry about as you sip your martini.




Sunday, June 4, 2017

THAT GUY

Yeah, that guy.  If only he'd had a takeaway curry in his other hand.



 

SOME LITERARY KIDNEYS




Even if you know next to nothing about Joyce’s Ulysses there’s a chance you may know the lines, “Mr Leopold Bloom ate with relish the inner organs of beasts and fowls. He liked thick giblet soup, nutty gizzards, a stuffed roast heart, liverslices fried with crustcrumbs, fried hencods' roes. Most of all he liked grilled mutton kidneys which gave to his palate a fine tang of faintly scented urine.”


To which a reader might ask, “Yes, but what about the external organs?”  Although I suppose (unless we’re discussing testicles) there’s only really one seriously edible external organ and that’s the skin.
Given the flexibility of Bloom’s Jewishness, chances are he wouldn’t have objected too much to eating pork skin.  And even, perhaps especially, observant Jews  are fans of gribenes, chicken or goose skin cracklings.


Anyway, this Joycean literary allusion was in my mind as I made devilled (not grilled) kidneys for Sunday breakfast, loosely following a Fergus Henderson recipe, substituting sherry for chicken stock.  Came out pretty well, I thought.


Had I been cooking them for dinner I would almost certainly have added brandy and made kidneys flambé, but that always brings up another literary allusion: Peter Handke’s The Ride Across Lake Constance.   



I had certainly tasted kidneys before I saw a production of the play, though I’d never had them flambéed.  And now I can never even think of them without summoning up these lines:



Oh and I just found this.  It’s from the Observer, April 2009, and appears in Tom Adams’ interview with Claire Walsh, JG Ballard’s very longtime girlfriend, conducted “just days after his death.”  Was there a rush?


Anyway, Adams writes, “Up until recently, in weeks when his appetite was buoyed by steroid, he (Ballard) would take her up the road to Kristof’s, a regular haunt, and insist she had oysters while he had his favorite devilled kidneys.”  This makes me like Ballard even more than I did already.