Thursday, April 26, 2012


 Some fellow writers tell me they love to sit in restaurants or bars, listening to people talk.  They write down the dialogue they overhear, and then they incorporate it into short stories or novels.  Sounds like a good plan but it never works for me.  In general I think “real” dialogue never sounds all that real by the time it’s got to the page.  However …

I was in San Francisco over the weekend, and having dinner in pretty good French restaurant, Café de La Presse (snails, charcuterie, cassoulet, that kind of thing), and there was a man on the next table ordering a drink from the waiter.  The guy looked a bit like Adam Savage of Mythbusters, but more groomed. 

The dialogue went like this.

ADAM SAVAGE LOOKALIKE: I’d like a Perfect Manhattan.
WAITER: A Perfect Manhattan.
ADAM SAVAGE LOOKALIKE: Shaken violently.
WAITER:  Shaken violently?
ADAM SAVAGE LOOKALIKE: Yes.  (Pause) Violently.

You couldn’t make this stuff up, unless you were Harold Pinter.

The other good thing that I did in San Francisco was visit the Beat Museum where I picked up a couple of items I knew I should have bought on my last visit; a pair of sponge beer cozies (sometimes spelled koozies), the things you wrap around your beer can to keep your beer cold and/or your hand warm.  As you see, one is emblazoned with the face of Charles Bukowski, the other with Hunter S. Thompson.

Frankly I can’t see Chas using one of these things to hold his beer.  He wasn’t the kind of guy whose beer stuck around long enough to get warm, and he surely didn’t care about getting his hand a little wet. Thompson seems more likely.  A man who uses a cigarette holder might also use a beer cozy, though I can’t find any photographic evidence for this.

I suspect that, at a pinch, you could even use one of these cozies to sheath your cocktail shaker, as you shake your Perfect Manhattan, yes, violently.

Monday, April 23, 2012


I realize that a lot of outsiders think the citizens of LA are, without exception, a bunch of pretentious, vacuous, airheads.  I don’t put much effort into disabusing these outsiders, but if pressed I would say a) that you can find pretentious, vacuous, airheads just about anywhere, and b) that demonstrably there are millions of people in LA who are not pretentious, vacuous, or airheaded.

But then something pops up in LA culture that seems designed to give too much ammunition to the other side.  I give you The Vagrancy Project, a private, or perhaps secret (though obviously not very), dining club, run by one Miles Thompson who used to work for the Animal/Son of A Gun people.
According to, “Here's how it works: Vagrancy's built a master list of slightly-above-average attractive people who receive a proprietary list of event dates. The first handful of repliers (they keep it mad-intimate) are then privy to must-have, on-the-DL important-ness like location & time, length of the meal …
    “Topping 10+ courses, the donation-based fetes themselves -- which'll eventually fund a less private, more open-to-the-public restaurant -- all have themes (e.g. "I Live in the Wild", "Welcome to the Jungle") and include … foodstuffs like 24hr-marinated goat rib cubes served w/ fried garlic root; tea, butter & raisins-topped rabbit; and skate w/ burnt milk, wine grapes & the oddball Italian vegetable Castelfranco ..”

Now I’m not sure exactly how many layers of irony there are in that extract but that phrase “a master list of slightly-above-average attractive people” does make you want to give someone or something a good kick, and at least means I’ll never have to go to one of these events.  I’ll bet you won’t either.  And if you think it’s thrillist that’s being annoying rather than Thompson himself, well, the kid can be pretty annoying in his own right.  On the Cooking Channel blog he says, “we’re searching for our home. We’re traveling from place to place with a dream.”

In fact there’s review in LA Weekly suggesting that the Vagrancy Project is basically some dude who invites people to dinner in his own East Hollywood apartment and charges them, which I suppose isn’t quite legal, hence the “donation.”  And I’ll admit that the food actually looks kind of interesting, as you see above and below.

Now, as it happens, the in-laws were in town this week and the Loved One and I did our best to entertain them.  We felt they weren’t secret dining club types any more than I am, and so we took them to Oki-Dog. 

I realize that isn’t the best picture of an oki dog, but if you take it out of the paper it collapses like a dwarf star, and although it’s still perfectly edible, it doesn’t look very photogenic. I’m not sure whether the in-laws enjoyed the food or not, but they certainly enjoyed this sign in the parking lot. Another sign nearby also forbids gambling.

And then in further attempts to entertain the relations we took them to the desert, and stopped in Ridgecrest, and ate breakfast at Kristy’s Family Restaurant, which is a very solid, honest, diner and we were not expecting much in the way of innovation or experimentation.  How wrong we were.  There on the menu, was deep fried banana bread: maybe not an absolute first, but a new one on me.  The waitress told us it was the invention of the manager.  I can’t see it catching on with habitués of secret dinning clubs but on a weekday morning before a romp in the Mojave, and especially with a side order of sausage, it was just what the desert rat ordered. 

Wednesday, April 18, 2012


A while back in this blog I wondered whether Matt Groening was a foodie.  I still have no absolute proof either way, but my spies tell me that on the very night that the 500th episode of the Simpsons premiered Matt G was eating in a Korean restaurant with Jonathan Gold, scoffing clay-roasted duck stuffed with ginseng.  Then they went across the street for grilled pork neck and beer, and Matt gamely tried the grilled intestines when they brought them out to go with the drinks.  So if nothing else he’s certainly a willing experimentalist.

There’s also evidence that somebody else on the Simpsons crew has the Psycho-Gourmet spirit.  In the episode Once Upon A Time in Springfield (actually episode 450) the one in which the Krusty the Clown Show gets reworked to attract girls.  Somewhere in there Krusty is seen sitting next to a dumpster pouring “cheap gin” on bread to make a sandwich, which I think is as close to genius as anyone could demand. Thanks to faithful reader Bruno Fiuza for bringing this to my attention.  I'd seen the episode, but somehow I’d missed this perfect moment. 

Actually the cheap gin sandwich doesn’t seem such a terrible idea, if you ask me. Vodka goes great on sorbet, kirsch goes well with pineapple, a red wine marinade is common enough on beef.  So why not gin on bread?  And of course there is the example of Canned Heat aka Sterno, a denatured and jellied alcohol, that is (allegedly) drinkable when passed through bread, using the bread as a filter.  

In this scenario the bread isn’t supposed to be eaten, but my wife’s brother didn’t know that.  He just spread Sterno on bread and ate it.  My wife’s brother was a complicated character.  I never got the chance to meet him.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012


Things are a little stressed at the moment around the old Psycho-Gourmet test kitchen.  

I’m doing a lot of “real” writing, i.e. the kind that earns me money and keeps a roof over my head.  It’s called “work” I suppose.

Nevertheless I’m still very fond of my blog, and I know the importance of continuity, and 
I also know that a few naked bodies is a big help in increasing the number of hits a blog 

So here, above and below, are a number of more or less ironic images of people eating 
drinking, cooking, serving, food shopping, in greater of lesser degrees of undress, some 
in private, though some very definitely in public.

I’m quite not sure why these activities look so comical and absurd, but they do, don’t 

Anyway, enjoy.

Monday, April 2, 2012


Sometimes I forget how much I like the writing of Harold Pinter.  I never forget that he’s a great writer, and he apparently never forgot it either, but sometimes I forget just how much fun his writing can be.  And I think he’s generally more fun when he’s writing screenplays, because then he knows he’s not writing “great literature,” and it frees him up no end.  And it’s been occurring to me recently how much of the fun is food-related. 

I happened to see the movie of The Servant on TV not very long ago, and one of best scenes is when the servant Barrett (played by Dirk Bogarde) and master Tony (played by James Fox) are getting on reasonably well.  Barrett is cooking the meals, they’re eating together, and Barrett sounds like a much put upon housewife.   They’re in the drawing room “Black candles, black ceiling” it says in the screenplay.  I can't find a still from the scene, alas.  They're talking about the food.

TONY. Fabulous.
BARRETT.  Not bad.
TONY. It’s fabulous.
BARRETT. Bit salty.
TONY. No, no, it’s marvelous.
Silence.  They eat.
     I don’t know how you do it.
BARRETT.  It’s nice to know it’s appreciated.  It makes all the difference.

The scene is far more creepy and sinister than when they’re playing master/servant games of domination and submission.  But inevitably it’s The Quiller Memorandum that provides the maximum food fun.  First, there’s the scene where a couple of MI5 spooks are having lunch in their club and discussing the death of Jones, one of their agents.

GIBBS. How was he killed?
GIBBS. What gun?
RUSHINGTON. Long shot in spine, actually. Nine point three. Same as Metzler.
GIBBS. Oh, really ?
They eat.
     How's your lunch?
RUSHINGTON. Rather good.
GIBBS. What is it?
GIBBS. Ah. Yes, that should be rather good. Is it?
RUSHINGTON. It is rather, yes.

Does anyone doubt that MI5 spooks don’t let the death of an agent spoil a good lunch?

  Then we’re in Berlin in the Olympic stadium where Quiller (George Segal) first meets his boss Pol (Alec Guiness) who’s apparently more interested in his sandwiches than in Quiller.

 POL bites into his sandwich and grins at QUILLER … He offers the sandwiches to QUILLER.
POL. Some leberwurst ?
QUILLER. No thanks.
POL. Or some schinken? (He examines the sandwich.) No, wait a moment, what am I talking about, this isn't schinken, it's knackwurst. What about some knackwurst?
QUILLER. I'm not hungry.
P0L. Aren't you? I am.
He bites into the sandwich, chews a moment and then stands.
     You don't mind if I eat while we walk?

Is there anything more thoroughly sinister than eating knackwurst sandwiches when you’re about to send a man on a mission that’s likely to result in his death.  And then there’s the majestic scene late in the movie, when things have hotted up.

POL. You're on a delicate mission, Quiller. Perhaps you're beginning to appreciate that.          Let me put it this way.
He takes two large cream cakes and arranges them on the table.
       There are two opposing armies drawn up on the field. But there's a heavy fog. They   can't see each other. They want to, of course, very much.
He takes a currant from a cake and sets it between the cakes.
     You're in the gap between them. You can just see us, you can just see them. Your mission is to get near enough to see them and signal their position to us, so giving us the advantage. But if in signalling their position to us you inadvertently signal our position to them, then it will be they who will gain a very considerable advantage.
He points to the currant.
     That's where you are, Quiller. In the gap.
He pops the currant in his mouth and eats it.

From time to time, when there are currants or cakes on the table I try to deliver Pol’s little speech, but it’s fiendishly difficult to remember, and who would dare to compete with Alec Guinness?

In my experience it’s very rare for a writer to sound like his own writing, or one of his own characters, but Pinter apparently did.  In Intelligent Life magazine the theater critic Irving Wardle describes a dinner he had with Pinter and his first wife, Vivien Merchant.  The marriage was doomed in the way that first marriages of very successful men so often seem to be, but Pinter laid it on with a shovel.  Wardle writes,

“I met them one evening after rehearsals for a play he was directing at the Arts Theatre, and we went to some fly-by-night Olde English eatery. “So what are you going to do,” Harold barked (at Vivien Merchant), “when the moment comes?” “When the moment comes, I shall do what I like.” “What?” “I shall do whatever I like.” “I see,” he said through his teeth; then loudly to the assembled diners, “You hear that? She says she’ll do what she likes. What would I like? I’ll have—Mr Pickwick’s Boiled Dinner!”

Eating with Harold Pinter must have been a very dramatic affair.