Wednesday, May 15, 2019

LOVE, SIN, SHAME AND MARTINIS

I think you know by now that we in the Psychogourmet Test Kitchen are pulp-positive.  In the world of pulp, the drinks are stronger, the food is bloodier (though often irrelevant), the men are tough, and the women are tougher. And here’s a small sampling of some pulp covers featuring a cocktail or two.

This first one may be just a little too subtle – 


There doesn’t seem to be much of anything in that shaker. Yes, gin is clear and ice is translucent, yet somehow that doesn’t look like a shaker with a cocktail in it.  However, the martini glass we like.  We always say that 2 small cold martinis are better than a single large one that gets warm by the time you’re halfway through it.  
I’m also a bit concerned that this is a novel of the suburbs.  That doesn’t look like any suburban bar I’ve ever seen, though it is, of course, fictional.
 *
This one I like:


– a hint of racial harmony, a guy with a gun, and a spilled drink which is obviously not a martini – a Manhattan perhaps?  But I do wish the artist was a bit better at depicting feet and shoes.  
*
 Now, who doesn’t like to test sins? 


A good-looking martini in the foreground but what exactly is she doing with the one in the back – cooling her fevered brow?  I suppose so, but given the lack of clothing (except for high heeled mules) you wouldn’t think she’d need it.  Still, I suppose sins can get you all hot and bothered.
*

And here’s another guy doing some brow-cooling on a cover that strikes me as just about unbeatable.


I like that the martinis are in a pitcher rather than a shaker.  That’s so old school – although not, if you ask me, the best way to make a martini.  The steak of course is a winner and I’m intrigued by whatever it is the gal doing with that martini glass in her bosom.  I like it, but is it even possible? 
Forget it Geoff, it’s pulp town.

Monday, May 13, 2019

A BAD DAY FOR THE FANS OF DORIS

You know, I never quite worked out why my mother took me to see so many Doris Day movies, and in some ways I never quite worked out my feelings about Doris, apart from (obviously) undying and unbending love.

I have no idea what her eating and drinking habits were, rather abstemious I'd guess, but at least she's here with what appears to be a martini in her hand.  I'll drink to that.








Sunday, May 12, 2019

THE SILENCE OF THE MUSHROOMS

If you do an image search for ‘world’s biggest mushroom’ you come up with a lot of pictures that look like fakes, though obviously not all.






This one seems real enough and the feet belong to Gina Gershon – helluva gal! 


Mushrooms have been on my mind since I bought this substantial, though hardly record-breaking, mushroom in the Co-op in Manningtree. It’s a locally grown Portobello mushroom from Suffolk, and record-breaking or not I do believe it’s the biggest mushroom I’ve ever used in cooking.



But we need to go back before this, when I saw and bought this packet of mushroom sauce mix in the Co-op:



It’s Polish-ish (in fact made by Nestle) and contains, in powered form, four kinds of mushroom: boletus, champignon (which, essentially monoglot as I am) I thought was just the French word for all mushrooms but maybe not), suillus, and xerocomus.  Xerocomus looks like this (not the world's biggest):


I did wonder whether adding mushrooms to a mushroom sauce was a mistake – and on balance I think it was. I should have added chestnuts or sprouts or at the very least lemon juice, but we live and learn.





Here’s John Cage doing stuff with mushrooms (note the lemon):








Sunday, May 5, 2019

IMPROPRIETY




Better than those improper hamburgers, well, arguably.  This is a Reuben burger at Byron in the King's Road.  They have other branches too.




'Beef patty, pulled BBQ beef brisket, sauerkraut pickle relish, bacon & onion crumb, American mustard, mustard mayonnaise, beer onions, lettuce, Byron Cheese sauce on the side. '

It was OK, but I'm not sure that Byron and I share the same understanding of the essence of Reuben. 

This is a picture of Arnold Reuben who may, or very possibly may not, be the inventor of the Reuben sandwich.




Thursday, May 2, 2019

BOTANICAL BILL



“Botanical” as a noun – it’s not really all that complicated a word, is it?  Does it really mean anything other than derived from plants?  In which case it would surely include everything from flour to cactus juice. 

But if you’re going to be making gin (or for that matter vegan face wash) announcing on the label that your product contains botanicals seems to imply that it’s special and you know, GREEN.

Of course gin has always contained botanicals – primarily juniper but some other things too, and I think these things used simply to be called ingredients.


So how about this bargain price smoked salmon, from Waitrose, with a label telling us it contains gin AND botanicals.  Do I need apple and angelica with my smoked salmon?  I never thought I did.  And I definitely didn’t think I needed gin.



It tasted fine and you could definitely taste that there was something a bit out of the ordinary going on in there, but in a blind testing I don’t believe I’d have identified the gin.

On the other hand, since gin has to contain some kind of garden ingredients what could be better than this bottle of Beefeater London Garden gin from the Chelsea Physic Garden?  Botanicals – they got ‘em! 


It’s an ‘exclusive edition’ and if the label is to be believed ‘at its heart is the flowering herb lemon verbena’ – there’s also thyme in there too, plus all the stuff that Beefeater gin usual contains – so you know it wasn’t exactly a wild experimental concoction.  Tasted damn fine though.  The bottle has two labels, one front, one back: the word botanical does not appear anywhere on either of them.

Tuesday, April 30, 2019

SO LONG RUBEN




News just in that Ruben Rueda, the legendary bartender at Musso and Frank on Hollywood Boulevard has died.

This is a great shock though in truth he had hadn't looked well in recent times and had lost a great deal of weight, though he retained the large, tailored, Musso jacket.

I think he made as good a martini as anyone ever has.  Another one bites the olive.

Wednesday, April 24, 2019

DON'T BLAME IT ON THE MOONLIGHT

So we went the Moon Light restaurant in Brick Lane.  It calls itself an Indian though there’s a definite Bangladeshi influence.  They have a great sign:


The waiter was incredibly intrusive but so exuberantly and naively so that it was impossible to take offence. I learned for example that he had recently married his cousin.  And it was only at the wedding that his parents told him that they were also cousins.  Way  too much information, dude.

The food was fine, a very good lamb biryana, a less good prawn balti, and there was a starter on the menu that I’d never seen before or even heard of, so obviously it had to be ordered ‘Biran Mas – Bangladeshi rhui fish gently spiced and lightly fried.’


That described it well enough though I had to wait till I got home to look up what rhui is.  Apparently it’s a kind of carp (sometimes called Ilish or Hilsha) and it was great, though if you’d told me it was a piece of cod I’d have believed you.



As you see above, it came with what I think of as a standard-issue Indian restaurant, salad the kind you can get in any every Indian or Indian-related restaurant in Engalnd.  They always look much the same, which is to say very unappetizing, and as far as I can tell nobody ever eats them.  They come out from the kitchen and then get taken back again.  Do they get thrown away?  Doe they get recycled?  Does anybody know or care?

But I wonder what the waiters and chefs in these restaurants think about it. Do they think the English have a strange, mysterious and ritualistic attitude towards salad.  They think it’s not meant to be eaten, it’s just meant to be there. Like a raddish rose? I haven’t seen a raddish rose for years, though I do think I might have eaten one once, but I don't really remember.



Tuesday, April 23, 2019

MORE SPUD ACTION

 Want to see some potato imagery from the Simpsons?  Of course you do. 

Homer Simpson as a potato man:



Marge and her sack of potatoes:



Tom Wolfe eating mash at the Wordloaf Literary Festival:


And do you want to see a picture of Agnes Varda dressed as a potato?  Sure, why not?




Friday, April 19, 2019

THE TYPO-FREE MARTINI

This confused us for a while.  We were in the 5thView bar, up on the top floor of Waterstone’s bookshop in Piccadilly, and I was enjoying a two-for-one martini, in their happy hour special.  (Why oh why don’t more bookshops sell martinis?  And why don’t more martini bars sell books?)  This is what one of Waterstone’s two-for-one martinis looks like (though you probably knew that):


But our eye was caught by the wine menu, specifically by this line; ‘delicious, well balanced and flavourful, with nots of red fruit and warm spice.’


Obviously ‘nots’ was a typo but it took a while to work out what it actually meant.  My first thought was that it might mean ‘lots of red fruit’, but then I thought ‘knots of red fruit’ might be a possibility. And in the end my drinking companion worked out that it was probably meant to be ‘notes of red fruit.’  She was right, I’m sure, and yet somehow I was left feeling disappointed.


Thursday, April 11, 2019

MORE FUSION FUN

You know how it is, sometimes you do something of a food-related nature, and you can’t help asking yourself, ‘Have I just created a paradigm shift or have I done something really stupid?’

I was in Waitrose, looking for something for dinner, and feeling uninspired, and I bought a pack of sushi, actually nigiri, and I knew this wouldn’t quite be enough, and as I was heading to the till I passed the pork pie section so I picked up one of those and then I spotted a tub of potato salad and I bought that too, and then I made my purchase.

I could see that display would would be important with this meal, and I arranged it to look like this:


orderly without being exactly minimalist, a bit of fusion with just a touch of Carl Andre:


The pork pie was a better example of the breed than the sushi, maybe the paradigm hadn’t shifted after all.



Wednesday, April 3, 2019

WHIFFING OF ONIONS AND ROSES

So Scott Walker has gone.  I’m very, very sorry to see him go, and yet in some way I was ready for it.  And I don’t feel any need to analyze or ‘explain’ the godlike genius of the man: you either get it or you don’t. 


But I have been thinking about the cover for the album No Regrets (above).  It’s a pretty good cover for a pretty good album.  But what is Scott drinking?  
It’s a can of Newcastle Brown isn’t it?  I never had Scott down as a Newcastle Brown drinker, did you?  Shouldn’t it have been absinthe or crème de noisette or a Cuban Breeze? 
Well, I suppose the simple answer is that with Scott Walker it didn’t matter what he drank, he’d always be a hundred times cooler than you and me.
He’s also on this album, which itself has quite a cover.


Tuesday, April 2, 2019

THE GOODBYE BEER

There are certain lines in novels, poetry, song lyrics, that are unimproveable.  Take this very simple one from Donald Fagen’s ‘The Goodbye Look:’ ‘Won’t you pour me a Cuban Breeze, Gretchen?’


Now, coming up with the Cuban Breeze part can’t have been too hard, but the name of the pourer – that’s a thing you might have had to ponder.  And I believe you could spend the rest of your life trying to think of a better name than Gretchen and I believe you would fail.

This is what a Cuban Breeze looks like. Recipes differ wildly, but vodka, pineapple juice and amoretto seem to be the general requirements.


I was thinking about the Cuban Breeze because I was in a restaurant in Waterloo called Cubana – beans, plants, yucca, shrimps – all perfectly fine.  There’s a mural of Carmen Miranda outside, though Ms. Miranda of course was not Cuban, so I suppose the restaurant is all-purpose Latin.  There was no Cuban Breeze on the extensive cocktail menu.


And I found myself singing, mostly to myself, another couple of lines from ‘The Goodbye Look.’
‘I remember a line of women all in white, 
the laughter and the steel bands at night.’

And I mentioned this to my dining companions who doubted whether there were many steel bands in Cuba.  I did not have a view on this.
In fact I’m not even sure that ‘The Goodbye Look’ is set in specific place, but rather some all-purpose banana republic where the locals hate the colonists.  


But Mel Torme (aka the Velvet Frog) has no such doubts. In his version of the song, (which is 50% horrible - OMG – scat singing!! and he sings 'Won't you pour me a Cuban Breeze ... baby'!!! - and 50% pretty great) he bellows Cuba! Cuba! But he may just be ordering a drink.

         In fact at Cubana we eschewed the mojitos and the caipirinhas, the daiquiris and the fresh strawberry coladas, and had Polish beer, which came in a bottle that looked like this:


We agreed that this was the best beer label we’d seen in a very long time.  I kept mine as a souvenir.

Wednesday, March 27, 2019

OPTIMISM, MILD OBSESSION, AND SQUID


The other night I had some of the best squid I’ve ever tasted.  It was at a Japansee restaurant in London, called Fushan, in New Oxford Street.  It looked like this:


It was deep fried and coated in a spicy batter, and it was mostly tentacles, but I can’t really tell you what made it so special – just, you know, the crunchiness and the taste (of squid).

And it appeared on the menu like this:


Karaage, I now discover means “Chinese fry” in Japanese, which confuses matters a little, though only a little.

So next day, filled with optimism and mild obsession, I went into the local Waitrose looking for more squid that I’d cook myself.  There was some to be had and it was reduced, though it was just the tubes with no tentacles. I also don’t currently have a deep fat fryer, so the squid was pan fried with garlic, lemon and parsley, and it was perfectly fine but not fantastic.  Looked like this:


And then a couple of nights later in Efe’s in Brick Lane, I had squid breaded and deep-fried Turkish-style, and at this point it started to occur to me that maybe I only really like the tentacles.  They're certainly the bits that crisp up best.


And here is another less than fantastic squid dish that I had in Tokyo; a tube again, and filled with something inscrutable and really not all that appealing.  I’m sure regular readers will explain to me what’s going on here:


And then I thought about Thurston Moore and one of his early meetings with Mike Watt.  He quotes Watt saying, “All I eat is squid.  If I’m going to go to a booze joint, they’d better have squid. So he ordered all this squid and he was shoveling all this squid into his mouth.”  This is Thurston doing his impersonation of Watt eating squid – you can find the  interview, not all of it about squid, on Youtube.



This is Mike Watt apparently eating Euros.