Monday, June 1, 2020

DECONSTRUCTING FERGUS

I always say that my favourite London restaurant is Fergus Henderson’s St John, and while this is completely true, it’s depressing how rarely I go there.  Of course nobody goes anywhere at the moment so I’ve been consoling myself by following St John’s Instagram page and was especially taken with this image of what I take to be ‘deconstructed’ egg mayonnaise.

It’s an image that confirms many of my prejudices; the main one being that you really do need an anchovy or two to make egg mayonnaise go with a swing.  I generally make it with a as sandwich but I suppose Fergus would thinking than serving up a sandwich at St John would seem a bit crude.

Here’s one I made earlier, some years earlier, 


and here’s one I made just today:

Tuesday, May 26, 2020

MARMITE NIGHTS

Comfort reading is probably better for you than comfort eating, though sometimes they overlap.


I read a little more PG Wodehouse, specifically ‘The Juice of an Orange’ which is about an essentially benign Hollywood screenwriter, Wilmot Mulliner, who’s put on all-orange-juice diet by his doctor, and he becomes a good deal less benign as a result.  Hunger makes him mean and angry.  


He goes to a story conference at which his boss Jacob Z. Schnellenhamer
has a pile of sandwiches on his desk (at least some of them beef), ‘A scenario-writer, informed of the facts of the case, would undoubtedly have thought of those sandwiches as Sandwiches of Fate.’

 Schnellenhamer ‘was not one of those men who can eat sandwiches aloofly and, as it were, surreptitiously.  When he ate a sandwich there was no concealment or evasion ... There was a brio, a gusto about his performance which stripped it of all disguise.  His sandwich flew before him like a banner.’

The famished Mulliner can’t stand it. He blows his top.  ‘Stop it! I say,’ thundered Wilmot, ‘stop eating those sandwiches immediately.’  And he’s immediately fired, but one way or another his meanness and anger is appreciated and respected and he becomes the business manager of Hortensia Burwash  who’s also been on a similar diet.


Which brings me to Helen Mirren as so many things do.  I’ve belatedly started following her on Instagram and she posted the above picture with the caption, ‘Maybe my most favorite super.  Any guesses?’  The image got over 23,000 likes and over 1,500 comments many of which are frankly absurd, suggesting she’s eating jelly, fig jam or Branston pickle with her cheese. A few do cheese and Marmite, which is what it looks like to me, and  sounds fair enough for an Essex girl like Helen.


I also found the above pic of Ms. Mirren drinking in a place called Pal’s Lounge her stepson’s bar in New Orleans.  The cocktail is called, a Helen F***ing Mirren.  Foaming perhaps.  Apparently it contains ‘Belle Isle honey habanero Moonshine habanero, house-made Crescent Vodka Earl Grey tincture with a Belle Isle honey habanero Moonshine lollipop floating on top.’  There are many things I don’t want on top of an alcoholic drink the lollipop is very definitely one of them.  
I also used to think Marmite was another, but most Marmite cocktails just have Marmite around the rim of the glass which is actually not much different from salt around the rim of a Margarita.



Thursday, May 21, 2020

PIZZA POWER


I was in a big supermarket in Cornwall just before Christmas and I saw a very large man peering into a freezer cabinet.  And in incredible excitement he called to his wife, standing maybe ten feet away “Look! Look! Look what they’ve got!.”  The wife came over and looked, and so did I.  What they had were frozen pizzas.  The man chose one, and his wife chose another.  This made them very, very happy.

Now, I’m not a man to criticize other people’s food enthusiasms but this man was as excited as I’d have been if there were zebra steaks in the freezer.


I suppose the fact is I really don’t GET pizza.  This is no doubt a personal failing, and you may say (as people do) that’s because I’ve never had REALLY GOOD pizza, and this may well be true.  In general pizza is what I have when I can’t think what else to eat.  And by now I know two things, 1) it’s always a disappointment, and 2) it’s usually better the next day if I have a leftover slice for breakfast.

So I was surprised to find myself strangely excited by this picture that appeared on Instagram a few days ago.


It’s from Wylie Dufresne who used to run the restaurant WD-50, in Manhattan, a damn fine establishment: molecular gastronomy but not offensively so.  These days WD-50 is closed and Dufresne runs Du's Donuts & Coffee in Williamsburg, and frankly I don’t really GET doughnuts either, but that’s just another of my failings.

The Instagram image suggests Dufresne is teaching himself to make pizzas, and this one looked great, although closer inspection reveals that it’s something called a potato pie which seems in every way more desirable than a ‘real’ pizza – and those fried green onions really do look good.

In fact I was so moved by the picture that I decided to have a pizza.  Not a really good one, obviously.  I bought a very cheap and not very cheerful base, fried up some Cumberland sausage and green onions, put them on the pizza, added some black olives, and you know in the end it really wasn’t all that good.  The base was the real problem.  I scraped off all the topping and threw most of the base away.  I didn’t even bother saving any for breakfast the next day.


I was going to say ‘a lesson learned’ but I don’t think I learned anything I didn’t already know.  But then the next day, Instagram being what it is, Mitsuru Tabata once of Acid Mothers Temple who describes himself as ‘Guitarist, bassist and vinyl junky. Aka burger man. Also curry addict.’ posted an image of a pizza he’d made:


 It looked good.  And then another one:


Once again I was tempted (I’m hoping that 'powder cheese' is just a dodgy translation of grated cheese) but I know myself – I’m resisting.  For now.



Tuesday, May 19, 2020

POP GOODNESS

You know a lot of people say to me, ‘Geoff, that’s a very big box of Coco Pops you’ve got there.’  And I can’t deny it.  720 grams.  The heart wants what it wants.


And then some other people say, ‘Geoff what exactly is in Coco Pops?’  And once I might have said 'I suppose a lorry load of rice, sugar and chocolate.  Maybe chocolate flavouring.’  But know I know better.  It’s right there on the pack.  


Added goodness – with an asterisk!!  I feel so reassured.  For health-fans: the asterisk refers to Vitamin D.

Monday, May 11, 2020

IT'S MY PARTY AND I'LL SNEER IF I WANT TO


I watched the DVD of Abigail’s Party the other day (‘devised’ by Mike Leigh).  I’d never seen it before.  Probably I should have but you know, some people have never seen Michael Snow’s Wavelength, I just hadn’t seen Abigail’s Party.




It says on the DVD box (for Abigail's Party, not Wavelength) that it features ‘the cocktail party from hell’ but I don’t think it features a cocktail party at all, unless you think gin and tonic or Bacardi and coke constitute cocktails. And certainly nobody in the play refers to it as a cocktail party.


I didn’t like Abigail’s Party much. I thought it was just a bunch of middle class thespians working too hard and sneering at the vulgarity of lower class suburbanites, though I dunno if I’d have felt that way if it’d seen when it was new  - 1977.  I mean, probably I’d have thought suburbanites totally deserved to be sneered at.  I may have softened a bit over the years.

Beverley (the ‘star turn,’ performed by Alison Steadman) is obviously categorized as a Philistine because she puts red wine in the fridge, doesn’t like olives, and serves cheese and pineapple on sticks. Hold that thought.



Life being as it is – a very good friend who knows my taste for kitsch and martinis sent me a copy of Shaken and Stirred: Derek Nimmo’s Complete Cocktail Companion, from 1984.  Readers not from England will be unlikely to know who Nimmo was.  He’s described in the author bio as being, as well as an actor, a ‘wit and raconteur’ don’t those words send shivers up the spine? 


Now I can’t swear that Nimmo wrote every or any word of the book – the text is copyright Victorama, which I discover was a ghost writing agency for celebs, founded by Giles Brandreth. Readers not from England will be unlikely to know who Giles Brandreth is, but trust me, in these parts those words send shivers up the spine. 

Still, the Nimmo does contain this gem in a section titled ‘Giving a Cocktail Party.’ Nimmo (or somebody) writes, ‘Apart from the usual party extras such as crisps, nuts and cubes of cheese … you might like to have a few bite-size extras …  pineapple chunks on sticks with cheese.’

Was this irony? I have no idea but it was obviously written well post-Abigail’s Party, and Nimmo’s image was not that of a suburbanite, he always played posh, though he probably wasn't as in life posh as he appeared in performance. Anyway this brings us to the divine Elaine Paige – who put this up on her Twitter feed.


She wanted us to know that she was getting through the lockdown thanks to cocktails rather than cock, though I don’t see that the two things are mutually exclusive. The fact that she put it on Twitter suggests Elaine might be more fun than I thought she was.  I wonder if cheese and pineapple on a stick features at these virtual cocktail parties. I’ll be disappointed if not. 







Friday, May 8, 2020

PORK ALERT

T’other day I had a pre-prandial bag of pork crackling, made by Snak Shed.  This was by no means the first time.  The package looked like this (no, I have no idea why it’s cracklings rather than crackling).



Looked like this when it was open:


Then I ended the meal with Hartley’s blackcurrant jelly – package looked like this - so glad it was fat-free:


And it looked like this once I’d made it all sophisticated with tinned mandarin oranges and lemon juice and put it in a couple of opium-themed glasses:


But here’s a thing.  The number one ingredient in the pork scratching, you’ll be unsurprised to learn, was pork rind.

But what was the number five ingredient in the jelly, after the glucose and fructose, sugar and water? Yes, guessed right – it was pig – actually pork gelatin.  The beast that keeps on giving.

Wednesday, May 6, 2020

SUMMONED BY BEER



If John Betjeman were alive and drinking beer, I imagine he’d at least have a taste of Two Tribes Metroland IPA.


On the can it says, ‘Introducing a light bodied, easy-to-drink Session IPA for   Metroland citizens.’

I always prefer it when beer is easy to drink, but I’d have thought that only selling to ‘citizens of Metroland’ might be a bit restrictive.

Monday, May 4, 2020

THE SECRET SAUCE/SOURCE



I’ve been whiling away the empty hours by turning to an online version of The Secret Museum of Mankind.  


It’s been put online by one Ian Macky, who sounds like a heckuva guy.  According to his website he lives in northern California, drives a Triumph TR6, and is interested in succulents and Tesla Coils among other things.  

Macky describes The Secret Museum this way, ‘Cannibals. Fakirs. Crime and punishment. Rituals. Slaves, cults and customs. Warriors and weapons. Equestrians and equilibrists. Musicians and mendicants. Dance, dress, undress and body modification. Structures, conveyances, beasts, and more breasts than you can shake a stick at! This is The Secret Museum of Mankind.’  It wasadvertised and sold as the ‘World's Greatest Collection of Strange & Secret Photographs.’
All of this is sort of true.

However, much of the book is scurrilous, imperialist, probably white supremacist avant la lettre.  Its capacity to find the non-white races simultaneously savage, disgusting and comical, is so extreme that it is in itself comical, though that doesn’t make it any less forgivable.  And of course the problem is all in the captions, since the images don’t quite speak for themselves.  Interpreting images from other and little known cultures is always tricky and never neutral, but The Secret Museumreally doesn’t try.

Still, the images remain fascinating, and I was interested in the pictures relating to food in Africa, of which there are a good few, as you see below.   Africa incidentally is conceived of here as just one big undifferentiated landmass.  Names of places and tribes are thin on the ground in the text. I’ve omitted the more glaringly offensive parts of the captions, which probably makes me guilty of post-colonial revisionism, but here as you see: 


WOMEN GRINDING THE CORN THEY HAVE GROWN

These two wives are painfully grinding Indian corn for their husband's repast. How little can be ground at a time is shown by the few seeds on the nether stone.


Women of the Kavirondo tribe, inhabiting the north-east end of Lake Victoria, are most enterprising. They pursue agriculture, herding, hunting, and fishing with their menfolk, and are their tribe's only ‘medicine-men.’ The flesh of some wild animals is greatly esteemed by the Kavirondo, particularly that of the wild cat and leopard; plucky and dextrous hunters, the fiercest hippopotamus and largest elephant invariably succumb to their traps and spears.

Meat is dear to the heart of every African native, and best of all he likes it red and raw from the animal just after it has been shot. He will gorge himself on meat grilled or fried, minced or chopped, or cut into strips and dried in the sun … 


 Rice is the staple food of all the Malagasy tribes, and appears at every meal. Manioc root, potatoes, and other vegetables also form part of the ordinary dietary, with a little meat or fish. Other things eaten as a relish with rice are snails, locusts, certain kinds of caterpillars, moths, and a heterogeneous collection of creatures dredged from shallow water and including shrimps, water-beetles, and insect larvae, so that a certain variety is ensured to this otherwise vapid food. 

Vapid? I mean, really.

Meanwhile I have been moving on, reading more Barbara Pym.  You’ll see how this ties in.  Less Than Angels, published in 1955, is set among anthropologists and their co-workers in London.  Various (mostly male) characters are always going off ‘into the field,’ though the action of the book never leaves England.  

Here are some characters at a suburban party for anthropologists and civilians, and Pym did work at the International African Institute so this adds some authenticity to what might otherwise seem to be some unlikely dialogue.

‘What do people eat in Africa?’ asked Mabel earnestly.
‘The Hadzapi tribe will eat anything that is edible except the hyena,’ declared Alaric precisely.
‘Oh well …,’ Mabel spread out her hands in a hopeless little gesture.
‘Our butcher wouldn’t offer you hyena, anyway,’ giggled Phyllis.
‘Most Africans are very fond of meat when they can get it,’ said Tom.
‘Yes, and many of them relish even putrescent meat,’ said Alaric solemnly
‘Do they understand the principles of cooking as we know it?’ asked Rhoda.
‘Oh yes, a good many of them do,’ said Alaric, ‘In some very primitive societies, though, they would just fling the unskinned carcase on the fire and hope for the best.’

Here is a picture of a youthful Hadzapi (they’re a hill tribe in what is now Tanzania) sinking his teeth into something or other, definitely not hyena, though hard to tell whether or not it’s putrescent.  The picture comes from the flickr feed of Possum Inc.





You can find Ian Macky and The Secret Museum online here:


Thursday, April 30, 2020

JAMMY DODGES

‘I got a letter from the government the other day’ – actually it was a text from the NHS, telling me how to cope with the lockdown, and they helpfully suggested I might read a book or watch a film. (Some grown person was perhaps paid to come up with this idea).


So, of course, since I would always do exactly what the government tells me, I started reading The Code of the Woosters and when I came to page 99 I found this description of dinner at Sir Watkyn Bassett’s country pile, Totleigh Towers.    
Bertie Wooster narrates: ‘Whatever Sir Watkyn Bassett’s moral shortcomings, he did his guests extradorinarily well at the festive board … it was plain to me in the first five minutes that his cook was a woman who had the divine fire in her.  From a Grade-A soup we proceeded to a toothsome fish, and from the toothsome fish to a salmi of game which even Anatole (that’s Aunt Delia’s chef) would be proud to sponsor.  Add asparagus and jam omlette and some spirited sardines on toast, and you will see what I mean.’

Well, I was doing OK until the jam omlette.  I’d never heard of such a thing.  I mean obviously I could work out what it was, but I didn’t know anybody actually ate it – but apparently they do.  A little light googling reveals they eat it all over the world.  In no time I found these versions:

Australian:

This is from taste.com.au

Polish:
         
This is fromcookpad.com

And of course American:

This one's from mrbreakfast.com


The general feeling seems to be that it’s a ‘sweet breakfast treat’ but I suppose anything you can have for breakfast you can have for other meals, even between the salmi and the sardines.



The film I watched, actually rewatched, was Edward Scissorhands – and this time I was struck by the wives who come to the party to welcome Edward to the neighbourhood, bearing dishes that they hope will please him.  The star of these dishes is Ambrosia Salad which I’d vaguely heard of as some kind of all-American suburban extravaganza, but I’d have struggled to tell you what it was. 


from realhousemoms.com


Turns out to be a fruit salad, made with canned fruit – chiefly though not necessarily exclusively, mandarin oranges, pineapples, cherries - along with mini marshmallows, the whole thing bound together with some kind of dairy product, such as whipped cream, sour cream, yoghurt or cottage cheese. 
I think it might be a quite hard work to get that down between the salmi and the sardines, but thanks to the NHS I'm prepared to give it a go.

Friday, April 24, 2020

BLACK AND SHINY

It's so black and shiny!


Yes, that'll be the plastic.  Tasted pretty good though.

And let us never forget David Goodis:



Where black pudding is a metaphor for revenge.  Who know?  Nobody in the black pudding-making community, I suspect.


Monday, April 20, 2020

DRIFTING STILL



Just so you know, I’m keeping on walking – in accordance with government guidelines, naturally.  There are lots of cats and birds just walking in the road – because there’s so little traffic.  There is also an increase in road kill – not cats, but pigeons, plus the occasional rabbit and hedgehog.

But how about this for a surprise – growing up in the road between the tarmac and the kerb – garlic!!



I don’t know if it’s wild garlic or an escapee from somebody’s garden.  It smells great, and in general I believe in foraging but somehow gutter garlic seems a bit unappealing.  Call me overdelicate.

PHEASANT FUN


I’ve had the above image in the files for ages.  As you can possibly see from the bigger version below, it’s a wartime ad for the Milwaukee Road station which appears to be in Aberdeen, in the heart of South Dakota’s pheasant country.  That sounds like a lot of miscellaneous geographical references, but that’s not my area.  The rest of the ad says they serve 20,000 pheasant sandwiches a month to servicemen, which is a lot of pheasants.


And it so happened that my local Co-op apparently over-bought their supply of pheasant breasts, and were selling them off cut price, so I snapped up a couple.  No, I did not panic buy. 




And I thought of doing something fancy with them but couldn’t decide what, and in the end I fried them up and went for a pheasant sandwich, so that I could feel solidarity with the brave lads in South Dakota, some seventy odd years ago.