Thursday, December 29, 2011


Sometimes I’m reassured to know that I’ve married into the right family.  Every year at Christmas my sister-in-law Leyardia sends us a food parcel.  It contains a fruitcake and a Christmas pudding of her own making, along with some local produce, from where she lives, on Lopez Island, just off the coast of Washington state.

There are always some jars of Lopez Larry’s “Soon to be Famous” mustard sauces.  These are good things – there are ten flavors in all that include Smokey Chardonnay, 
Dill Caper and
 Roasted Pickled Garlic. However, as far as I can tell the level of Larry’s fame really hasn’t increased much over the decade or so that I’ve been eating his mustard, which I think is a shame, and this despite “Soon to be Famous” being a registered trademark.

Also this year as a special, and surprising treat, Leyardia also sent two cans of Papa George gourmet tuna, actually troll caught sashimi-grade, wild albacore, cooked in the finest extra virgin olive oil, if the can is to be believed.  I admit that the term “troll-caught” was a new one on me, but I now know that a troller is a small boat (somehow related to a trawler, I guess) on which fishermen use hook and line to catch fish one at a time, clean them and pack them in ice.  All this is super-environmentally friendly and obviously a very good thing.

Even so, I’d have thought there wasn’t much you could do to canned tuna to make it gourmet, but blow me down, this stuff is terrific, really solid, tasty but delicate, in fact rather like beautifully cooked fresh tuna, but in a can.  It seems way too good to put in a sandwich: I’m thinking salad Nicoise is the way to go. Here’s an illustration from the Papa George website showing how to fillet a tuna

But the real reason I thought I’d married into the right set of in-laws was the card that accompanied the parcel.  Leyardia and her husband Charlie had recently visited the Mutter Museum, belonging to the College of Physicians of Philadelphia, a medical cabinet of curiosities, and also a chamber of horrors, full of skeletons, bodies in jars, casts of hideous deformities, and so on. The card she picked was this one:

The caption on the back reads “Mega Colon or Hirschprung’s Disease occurs when the nerve supply to a portion of the colon fails to develop.  The muscles receive no signals to contract and move waste through the system, causing chronic constipation that leads to overdevelopment of the colon.”

As Leyardia so wisely added, “Nothing says Christmas quite like a dried Mega Colon.” That’s my girl.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011


So, the blessed Christopher Hitchens has moved on to a fine and private place.  I never met him, though I know quite a few people who did.  They’re divided between those who think he was the most amusing company anyone could ever have, and those who were introduced to him half a dozen times and on each occasion he behaved as though he’d never met them before. 

I suspect that like all truly heroic (or do I mean tragi-comic) drinkers, Hitchens wasn’t really all that interested in food.  He offered the advice that you should try to eat something at every meal, a funny line to be sure, but one that only a really serious drinker was likely to come up with.

Hitchens also writes, “Alcohol makes other people less tedious.”  Now, only a fool would challenge Hitchens on the subject of alcohol, but my own experience is that alcohol makes tedious people far more tedious (if they’re the ones drinking it) and makes them utterly intolerable if you’re the one drinking it.

Hitchens also said that the only worthwhile miracle in the New Testament is the turning of water into wine.  That’s undoubtedly a good miracle but I can’t help thinking that the business with the loaves and the fishes wasn’t too shabby either.  Of course there is always the possibility that the feeding of the five thousand was actually metaphorical, about satisfying a spiritual rather than a physical hunger: sometimes the Bible can be quite hard work for those who insist on a literal interpretation.

It is surely the most meaningless or ironies that Christopher Hitchens died just a few days before North Korean leader Kim Jong Il.  As you may have read elsewhere in this blog Christopher Hitchens once described North Korea as resembling a Christian heaven; a place without irony, art or privacy, with no respect for individuals, and where you're required to offer perpetual thanks to the great leader.

I’m not any more persuaded by the notion of a Christian heaven than Hitchens was, but if by any case we’re both wrong, I think we can safely say that neither he nor Kim Jong Il will be there.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011


Well, Diane Keaton has published a memoir titled, Then Again, and it sounds more interesting than the average Hollywood autobiography, and even her “food issues” (is there any actress who doesn’t have “food issues”?) seem more interesting than some, at least the way she tells it.

The story goes that while she was dating Woody Allen she heard another actress say that bulimia was a terrific way of staying thin, and she threw herself into it with abandon; putting 20,000 calories a day into her mouth, though never letting them be digested. 

Her daily intake sounds truly extraordinary: for breakfast a dozen buttered corn muffins, fried eggs with bacon, pancakes and four glasses of chocolate milk.  Lunch - three steaks with baked potatoes and sour cream, apple pie and two chocolate sundaes with extra nuts.  Dinner: a bucket of KFC, several orders of French fries with blue cheese and ketchup, a couple of TV dinners, chocolate-covered almonds, a bottle of 7Up, a pound of peanut brittle, M&Ms, a Sara Lee pound cake, and three banana-cream pies.  Oh yes, and some mango juice.

The ever-perceptive Woody Allen was impressed by her appetite, and seems not to have thought there was anything strange about it, though of course he did send her off to a shrink anyway to deal with her “insecurity.”

“The demands of bulimia outshone the power of my desire for Woody. Pathetic, but true,” she writes.  And then one day, according to the book, when she was 25, she just stopped, and has been just fine ever since. 

I mention this (and only partly in the cause of shameless name dropping) because I once had dinner alongside Diane Keaton, and it seemed to me that she scarcely ate anything at all, just played with a plate of salad, and she had a glass of red wine with ice in it.  I, meanwhile, was tucking into steak tartare and O’Brien potatoes and I felt a bit of a savage.

However, Dian Keaton did say (and the way she said it, it didn’t seem to have been all that long ago) she’d been at a State Fair and eaten deep fried butter.  At the time I, and I think everybody else at the table, found this extremely improbable.  Now it seems a little less so.

Monday, December 5, 2011


I was flipping through Terry Richardson’s Diary – only metaphorically – it’s just a photo blog - and I came across some photographs captioned “Lydia Hearst at the Chateau Marmont.”

And the first thing I thought was, boy, that’s a really nice stove.  The first place I ever lived in LA had a stove like that, if not quite as big, so maybe it’s an LA thing.  Perhaps the Chateau Marmont retains the old stoves as a kind of retro design feature, but I don’t know if they get a lot of use.  I’m sure I don’t know the half of what goes on in the Chateau Marmont, but I’m going to bet that not much cooking gets done in the rooms and bungalows, and certainly not the kind that requires a double oven.  And certainly judging by the pristine state of the stove in the Richardson photographs, definitely not in his.

But then those photographs reminded me of some other pictures, the ones taken of Julie Strain by Helmut Newton and titled  “In My Kitchen, Château Marmont, Hollywood” - they date from 1992.

Now this is perhaps what the critic Lawrence Weschler would call a “convergence,” although since I’m sure Richardson knows the Newton photographs, maybe it’s actually a kind of homage.  I did wonder a first whether it might even be the same kitchen and the same stove, but as you can see, it’s not.  The kitchen door opens the other way for one things, and the stove is actually rather cooler and more stylish in the Newton pictures.

The Newton kitchen is also less pristine, with newspapers in the trash (one has Newton’s picture on the front), a pot and a kettle on the stove, and most tellingly there’s a box of Rice Crispies in both the photographs seen here.  The presence may look accidental but it’s been moved between shots.  So is it a deliberate compositional element in the photographs?  Or did Helmut and Julie stop and have a bowl of cereal halfway through the shoot?  I’m sure there are ways of finding out, but in the wider world of photographic research it might seem a tad trivial.

However at the risk over over-egging the pudding here, if the Richardson photograph contains an homage to Newton, the Newton contains an (admittedly passing, and possibly ironic) homage to Fritz Lang.  In the second Julie Strain picture she's rather delicately changing the hands of the clock.  In Metropolis, Fritz Lang imagines something more robust is required.

I’ve not been able to find a picture of Fritz Lang in his kitchen, but here he is in a restaurant (or at least on a restaurant set) with Keith Andes, while making Clash By Night.  The movie features Marilyn Monroe as Peggy, a girl who works in a fish cannery.  Yeah, right. 

Thursday, December 1, 2011


Well, this is exactly why a man might run a blog called Psycho-Gourmet.

There’s a recent piece by the divine Elina Shatkin in Squid Ink, the food blog of the LA Weekly, about a book titled  “Natural Harvest: a Collection of Semen-based Recipe.  The headline says, “We threw up in our own mouth” which seems an especially interesting use of the royal “we” - plural throwings-up but into a singular mouth.  Blimey.

There’s a quotation from the book’s blurb, “Semen is not only nutritious, but it also has a wonderful texture and amazing cooking properties. Like fine wine and cheeses, the taste of semen is complex and dynamic. Semen is inexpensive to produce and is commonly available in many, if not most, homes and restaurants.” And so on.  The Squid Ink reaction is “blech, gag, barf.”

I think there’s a little too much protesting going on here. Come on, if semen is the worst thing you ever have in your mouth you’re doing very well.  In any case, the book’s ontological status seems at best uncertain.  Squid Ink doesn’t want to believe it’s real. I, of course, do want it to be real, though in fact I don't think it is, and that strikes me as a great shame.

You’d probably expect nothing else from a blogger who once authored a novel titled The Food Chain, in which a certain amount of jissom-ingestion goes on: mystery ingredients, magical elixirs, mystical essences, that kind of thing.

Perhaps what’s most surprising about The Food Chain is that over the years quite a lot of people have thought it would make a movie, including most famously Griffin Dunne. I once had lunch with Mr. Dunne at Chez Gerard in London to discuss the project.  He was enormously late; not really all that unexpected since he was jetting in from Paris, where he’d spent the night carousing with Rosanna Arquette and others.  I felt confident he’d get there eventually but I was starving, so at last, in his absence, I finally ordered.

At which point he arrived, flustered, windswept, genuinely apologetic, but dramatic and elegant, and looking quite the star.  I said I’d just ordered, and without looking at the menu or asking me what I was having, he said to the waiter, “I’ll have exactly the same.”

The waiter and I were both equally impressed by that.  I hope to do it myself one day.