Monday, July 22, 2024

THE INFAMOUS SANDWICH

          You know, one of the things people sometimes ask me is, ‘Geoff, is a taco a sandwich?’



And, because I’m that kind of guy, I’m often able to direct them to legal precedent.  There’s a lot of debate about this kind of thing in America, usually in food courts that have some restriction on what kind of restaurant can open there. I’ve been following it for years.

 In the most recent case I know of - Quintana v. Fort Wayne Plan Commission – the developer Martin Quintana wanted to open a Mexican restaurant - Famous Tacos - on his property, but years earlier he’d agreed with the commission and a local homeowners’ association that he couldn’t open a ‘proper’ restaurant there, but he could open ‘A sandwich bar-style restaurant whose primary business is to sell “made-to-order” or “subway-style” sandwiches (which by way of example includes, but is not limited to, “Subway” or “Jimmy John’s”, but expressly excludes traditional fast food restaurants such as “McDonalds”, “Arbys” and “Wendys”).’




In 2022 Quintana tried to get the zoning restriction amended, and it went back and forth through the courts until May of this year when it was agreed that ‘The proposed Famous Taco restaurant falls within the scope of the general use approved in the original Written Commitment. The proposed Famous Taco restaurant would serve made-to-order tacos, burritos, and other Mexican-style food.’

         The court agreed with Quintana that tacos and burritos are Mexican-style sandwiches, and the original zoning law didn’t specify that the sandwiches had to be American-style.  ‘The original Written Commitment would also permit a restaurant that serves made-to-order Greek gyros, Indian naan wraps, or Vietnamese banh mi.’  So everybody wins, I think.

 

This was on my mind a couple of days ago when I ate something designated a ‘French taco,’ a thing I’d never heard of before, at Moozak’s French Tacos, in a small food court called Medz Corner, in London’s Kensington High St.

 



If I may quote the website: ‘Step into the world of French tacos, where two delicious cultures come together in a mouthwatering fusion. These "tacos lyonnais" are a blend of Mexican and French flavors that anyone can enjoy.’

 


I had the Lamb Special which is described like this on the menu:  ‘Saucy Minced Lamb, Crispy Chicken, Fries, Mozzarella Cheese, Signature Cheese Sauce.’

 

Yep the French fries are inside the taco, smothered in two kinds of cheese.  I’m prepared to believe there was chicken in there too, though I didn’t detect any crispiness.

 

It was a hell of a meal, and personally I’m not sure I’d have considered it either a sandwich or a taco – I’d probably have said it was a wrap.  It tasted pretty good, and there was enough food to serve at least two and a half people. So yes, I was overwhelmed, but in a more or less in a good way. 

Monday, July 15, 2024

I MAY HAVE EATEN WORSE


As Gerard Manley Hopkins put it, 'No worst there is none.' Here's one I ate about a week ago.


Of course, Mrs Lovett's pies have the great advantage of being fictional.  Mine was all too real, and admittedly it wasn't in London.

But not all the pie news is bad. A few days back, in London, we were in the Viaduct Tavern. Some sources will tell you that there are jail cells in the cellar, once associated with Newgate Prison, though other sources say this is nonsense.  Even so the place is happy to call itself a gin palace, as well they might.  The interior looks like this:



 And there we were presented with a pie-based menu, which ticked a great many boxes.  I briefly fantasized that there was some rehabilitated Mrs. Lovett working out back expressing herself through pastry, but no, these were Mr. Barrick’s Pies:

 

PHOTOS BY GANNON-NICHOLSON STUDIOS.

We went for the Pork and Black Pudding

 


and the Chorizo Style Pork and Wensleydale.

 


The Pork and Black Pudding was good, though I could have used a lot more black pudding. but the Chorizo and Wensleydale was superb - a highpoint in pie art, largely because of that cheese topping.  I can’t tell you exactly what they do to the Wensleydale to create the effect, something to do with curds and whipping I imagine but don’t hold me to that.  In any case they’re doing something very right.

 

       And possibly the most exciting thing I discovered in my recent pie research was that it is apparently possible to own a prop pie as used in Sweeney Todd, such as this one belonging to a collector who goes by the name of ‘Guardian Devil.’  What a time to be alive.




Friday, July 12, 2024

MANY SIZES FIT ALL



 Say what you like about the people of Yorkshire, but when it comes to dessert, we are not chauvinistic.  All the years I was growing up in Sheffield, we thought of an Eccles cake, a thoroughly Lancashire creation, as a perfectly acceptable way to round off a meal.  

The Oxford Companion to Food describes an Eccles cake as ‘similar to BANBURY CAKES except that they are normally round in shape and the filling has fewer ingredients’ – so not really all that similar at all, and I have never knowingly eaten a Banbury cake.

 

Fergus Henderson and the lads at St John evidently like an Eccles cake too and serve it with a triangle of Lancashire cheese, which is as it should be.

 


Here’s one I ate earlier:



Until recently my local Co-op here in Essex sold Eccles cakes and I bought them regularly, but lately they’ve not been on the shelves.  Whether this is a change of policy or just a hiccup in the supply chain I’m not sure, but I suppose time will tell.

 

Fortunately the so-called farmer’s market up at the local garden centre is now stocking giant Eccles cakes, which are frankly too big for my needs but it’s no great trouble to cut them in half or thirds or whatever.



The garden centre is also selling Chorley cakes – with which I was unfamiliar. The Oxford Companion describes them as a variation on the Eccles cake but ‘usually somewhat plainer.’  



In fact the Chorley cakes I bought are made by the same people who make the standard size Eccles cake but the difference is significant, and these are better in my opinion, being less sweet. Apparently one recommendation is to serve them buttered which strikes me as going a little too far, but different strokes for different folks, and all that.

Monday, July 1, 2024

FUN WITH BIVALVES

 

Some say, and if you ask me, they say it far too often,  ‘It was a brave man who first ate an oyster.’  (The quotation comes in various forms and is attributed to a wide variety of people).

 

Ed Ruscha, of course.

I’m not saying it’s untrue, but my feeling is, it was a brave man, or woman, who first ate just about anything. Imagine pulling a leg off a sheep and thinking that would be good to eat.

 

And how about potatoes?  They’re dirty, misshapen, subterranean lumps that you can barely get your teeth into until they’re cooked.

 

Anges Varda, who else?

Or maybe it wasn’t a question of bravery but of desperation.  We have to imagine that there was a lot of trial and error in the eating lives of early man. ‘Hey, those laburnum flowers look good, I’ll bet they’re really tasty.' And so on.

 


In my family as I was growing up the only person who ever ate oysters, and only when we had a day at the seaside, was my grandmother.  Nobody joined her.  It was just another weird thing that my weird grandmother did.

 

I was well into my twenties before I ate my first oyster, bought from a stall in Bridlington.  It really didn’t require any bravery.  It was great.  I’ve been eating them ever since.

 

And then a week or so ago we spotted some oyster plates in the local antiques emporium. Resistance was useless.  

 

Photo by Caroline Gannon, who else?

Of course having acquired some oyster plates, we needed to acquire oysters.  This was June, and there used to be a big fuss about not eating oysters when there wasn't an R in the month, but nobody seems to pay attention to that anymore, certainly not my fishman.

 

Saturday night, what could be better than half a dozen Malden oysters served on elegant, if slightly kitsch, glass plates?

 

Photo by Caroline Gannon, who else?

Living well is definitely the best revenge, which is another one of those things that people say far too often.

Wednesday, June 26, 2024

HALF MAN, QUARTER SANDWICH

Sometimes the man eats the sandwich.

First two pics by Caroline 'Flashgun' Gannon.

Sometimes the sandwich eats the man.


And sometimes a headline is more exciting than the article underneath it, e.g. ‘Beckett and Guggenheim’s four days in bed, with a break for sandwiches.'

 


It’s a cracking headline if not exactly a great surprise.  According to the article, Peggy Guggenheim made the sandwich/Beckett remark in a ‘documentary about her life,’ though it doesn’t give chapter and verse.  In any case, it won’t come as a complete surprise to anybody who’s read her memoir Out Of This Century, Confessions of an Art Addict.



 

She depicts Sam Beckett as the kind of lad who’d happily spend four days in bed whether there was a woman in there with him or not. He was nicknamed Oblomov after the lead character in the novel by Goncharov. ‘I made him read the book and he immediately saw the resemblance between himself and the strange inactive hero who finally did not even have the will power to get out of bed.’

 



On the other hand she writes in Out of This Century that after she and Beckett first got together, after a dinner at James Joyce’s pad, they stayed in bed overnight and all the next day until dinner time that evening.  ‘We might be there still, but I had to go to dine with Arp, who unfortunately had no telephone.  I don’t know why, but I mentioned champagne, and Becket rushed out and bought several bottles which we drank in bed.’

 

I have a few questions.  How many bottles is ‘several’?  And did she drink her share of the several before going out to dinner, in which case she must surely have arrived three sheets to the wind? Or did she just stand up Arp?

 

In any case, no mention of sandwiches. Which I think is a shame.


Arp's the one in the middle below, supported by Hans Richter and Tristan Tzara.




 

 

Wednesday, June 19, 2024

CHEESY HUMILITY



It was Manningtree Pride last weekend, and in the interests of inclusivity we (Caroline, Jen and me) went to the Crown and had some cheesy chips.

 


We also had some curry sauce, which was probably a mistake.

 

ANOTHER CAROLINE GANNON SPECIAL.


Incredibly this wasn’t the highlight of the day.  The highlight was the raffle at the fire station – a pound for five tickets - and I won this, a rainbow cocktail shaker.  Best pound I ever spent.  Better still, I borrowed the pound from Caroline. 

 


Looks even better with booze in it.


PIC BY CAROLINE GANNON

Another highlight was being blessed on the beach by the ‘Funky Celebrant.’  




A photograph of the blessing, taken by Mikaela Jade, even appeared on the BBC, which made it all especially worthwhile.  Yep, we’re in there – see if you can spot the blogger!





Monday, June 17, 2024

OVER PARR

 Colonialism: what is it good for? Absolutely nothing.  Say it again.  

 

And in the magazine Third Text, edited by the very distinguished Richard Dyer, it is said many times, in many ways, and I just got around to reading Number 182, May 2023, my eye caught by an article titled ‘Martin Parr and the Legacy of British Colonial Photography’ by Cammie Tipton-Amini. 

 

This is Martin Parr in his own home in Bristol, shortly after I’d bought him a pizza.  I was interviewing him for a magazine.


 

Cammie Tipton-Amini has a lot to say about a small publication of Parr’s titled  7 Colonial Still Lifes, published in 2005, consisting of seven images taken in Sri Lanka, six forming a slim volume, the seventh a signed print. 

 



Tipton-Amini is especially taken by this image, which is simply titled (or captioned) ‘Nawara Eliya.’  

 


Nawara Eliya is the name of a city known locally as ‘Little England,’ and that’s a helping of porridge served in a bowl with the crest of The Hill Club, and as Tipton-Amini points one, the bowl is showing signs of wear, though The Hill Club itself seems to be thriving.  This is from their website:



         Tipton-Amini doesn’t seem to be any keener on porridge than she is on colonialism.  She says porridge is ‘outstanding in its ordinariness’ and ‘the most boring food imaginable.’ but worse than that it is ‘a sign pointing directly to a sinister British colonization.’ 

         ‘Like porridge’ she says, ‘many of Parr’s photographs are shrewdly thick in layers of ambiguity and nuanced meaning.’

Am I being a complete literalist if I find myself asking how porridge can be the most boring food imaginable, while also being ‘shrewdly thick in layers of ambiguity and nuanced meaning.’  Or are we just talking negative capability here.?

         

         She then goes to attempt a postcolonial reading of Martin Parr’s 1986 collection The Last Resort, to argue that the images in that book ‘bear a striking resemblance to the nineteenth-century British colonial photographer John Thomson’s collection Street Life in London (1877). Thomson is the first street photographer to reverse the colonial lens back on to his own people with similar results. ‘

         Thomson was a Scotsman, and it does seem that Street Life in London made his reputation, though only after he’d been one of the first photographers to travel to the Far East. Illustrations of China and Its People, ran to four volumes, and yes many of the pictures in those volumes do seem to present the Chinese people as the exotic other.  There's a lot of text in the books too.

 


         Tipton-Amini focuses on the image below which she names as ‘The Fruits of China,’ 

though anywhere else I’ve found it, it’s just called ‘Fruit,’  a collotype, dating from 1868.

 


    Tipton-Amini writes, ‘In a nearly sexual enactment, China lays herself bare for the English viewer to take.’  I can’t even, but I’m glad it’s only ‘nearly.’

 

And then she says, ‘The glass of wine front and centre is the only non-Asian, Occidental element. Wine and the glass itself are of European descent and make for a jarring juxtaposition.  The central wine glass and wine impose a Eurocentric presence.’

 

Is this true?  Now I’m no expert on Chinese food and culture – I leave that to Fuchsia Dunlop, but there is this thing called the internet, and a bit of online research suggests that wine was around in China from at least 7000BC, so I’m not sure how entirely European that is.

As for the glass, well, that’s far more interesting.  My further patch research suggests that 19th century Chinese wine goblets looked like this:

 



or this:

 



So yes, that does look like a European wine glass in the Thomson photohgraph, but how did it get there?  Did John Thomson carry it around with him waiting for the moment when he could use it in a still life?  Or did he just pick it up on his travels because maybe European-style wine glasses were already around in China at the time?  Although of course that would still make them bad or wrong.

I don’t expect an answer.