Sunday, September 23, 2012


Like many of us, I have been reading the reviews of Naomi Wolf's new book Vagina with increasing hilarity and disbelief.  There’s a bit about pasta that really has me (and many others) on the floor.  If I may quote.  Wolf writes,

“A friend of a friend … said he wanted to throw a party celebrating my book deal…
Alan told me that he was going to do a pasta party at which guests could make vagina-shaped pasta. I thought that was a funny and sort of charming idea …
     When I arrived at the party, though, there was a slightly ominous, mischievous stir at the far end of the loft where the kitchen was located. Alan was in the kitchen, surrounded by a crowd of guests. I made my way there, with some trepidation. As I walked toward Alan, I passed the table where the pasta maker had been assembled. A group of people stood around it – fashioning, indeed, little handmade vulvas. The objects were rather sweet looking: like the real thing, the little pasta sculptures varied – each person's experience (or body, perhaps) informing his or her interpretation. There was an energy of respect and even would-be celebration from that table, from both the men and the women.
     Alan appeared at my side. "I call those 'cuntini'," he said, laughing, and my heart contracted. A flash of tension crossed the faces of many of the women present. The men's faces, which had been so open, and some so tender, became impassive. Something sweet and new, that had barely begun, was already closing down.
     What is really interesting to me is that after the ‘cuntini’ party, I could not type a word of the book – not even research notes – for six months, and I had never before suffered from writer's block. I felt – on both a creative and a physical level – that I had been punished for "going somewhere" that women are not supposed to go.”

Oh come on.  At this point in history is there anywhere that anybody isn’t supposed to go?  I can understand that she might be offended by the word cuntini – it’s not a very lovely word - but how many writers can allow themselves the luxury of a six month writer’s block?  Anyway, as we see, she got over it eventually.

I wonder how she feels about penis pasta?  Toad in the hole?  Spotted dick?  

Thursday, September 20, 2012


Well, inevitably, things got better after Woking, and although I wasn’t in England for a culinary tour, I did put on quite a few miles, and found myself eating all over the place: enjoying a very English curry in Sheffield, a game pie from the Chatsworth House farm shop, a pork and stuffing sandwich in the George Hotel in Castleton, Derbyshire, then a meat pie in Hardwick Hall, much improved by the addition of Henderson’s relish.

 There was a roast pork Sunday lunch in the Leather Bottle in Pleshey in Essex – no stuffing but with a piece of crackling.  The crackling could have been cracklier but you at least they tried.  It also came with two kinds of spuds and 4 other vegetables, which might be trying too hard,

But of course when you really want to get fancy, it’s London that calls.  My fancy dining companion Joanna and I went to lunch at Hix Soho, named after Mark Hix who seems to be considered a kind of god in Britain.  He is also apparently “controversial.”  

 In 2009 celebrity chef Keith Floyd ate lunch at the Hix Oyster and Fish House in Lyme Regis, then a few hours later died of a heart attack.  Hix put an item on the menu named “Keith Floyd's Last Lunch.”  (Certain sources have it as Last Supper, but that surely can’t be right).  Some claimed to find this offensive, but I can’t for the life of me see why.  I assume Keith Floyd, or anyone with a sense of humour about eating, would have been royally amused.  For future reference, any restaurant that wants to put my last meal on their menu will have my blessing to do so, and I hope it isn’t just hospital gruel.

Anyway Keith Floyd's Last Lunch wasn’t on the menu at Hix Soho, but there was something called  Heaven and Earth, which turned out to be a globe of black pudding (wrapped in caul to keep its shape, I think) sitting on a bed of mashed potatoes and apple.  Pretty much impossible to resist: and tasting every bit as good as you’d want it to be.

And for main course we had cuttlefish in its own ink.  I was pretty sure I’d had cuttlefish before, but I really couldn’t remember when, and since this came with sea aster, which I had never even heard of, I followed my “eat what you’ve never had before” rule and ordered the beast.  Of course I felt a little bit Husymans-ish, ordering a mostly black meal, but I could live with that.  It looked like this: (actually much better, the light was poor, and the photographer didn’t want to look like a hayseed).

I’ve since discovered that sea aster is sweeping the nation as part of the ongoing foraging kick.  I remember when the same happened with samphire, and sea aster grows in similar places: salt marshes and estuaries.  I heard somebody on the radio describing it as a hip and happening ingredient though since Waitrose now sell it, it may have lost some of its hipness.  Uncooked it looks like this:

Once cooked it was texturally like a strip of cabbage or celery, but since it was drenched in squid ink it was hard to know what it really tasted like.  And actually that squid ink sauce was the killer element of the meal.  It was good with the cuttlefish, but it was absolutely GREAT with chips.

Any disappointments?  Only that some of the best-looking food wasn’t available for eating.   In a gazebo at Hardwick Hall, there was a fine array of vegetables grown in the garden, good looking spuds and leeks, and the longest parsnips I had ever seen, even if I’m not absolutely sure that a thin, two and a half foot parsnip is really what we’re looking for, but I'd have been keen to sample.  In any case they were only for display.

And in the Turret House of Manor Lodge in Sheffield there was a display of a medieval feast featuring a boar’s head and a mouthwatering venison pie, but they were made of plaster: nobody’s idea of a great last meal.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012


Only once, as far as I know, have I ever been refused service in a restaurant because of my ethnicity.  It was back in the day, in Brixton.  My hippyish girlfriend and I went into a Jamaican restaurant, sat down, and a West Indian waiter approached the table, a large man who in other circumstances might have appeared quite avuncular.  He towered over the table and said calmly but sternly, “We don’t serve white food.”  Of course, what he really meant was “We don’t serve white people,” but we were happy enough with his use of euphemism and we went, all too meekly, on our way.  I wish I could say we went to the eel and pie shop, seen above, but we didn’t.

Well, times have changed in old Brixton town.  The place seems to be an all-inclusive foodie heaven, largely because of the Brixton Village Market.  I went there with my pal, Jason Oddy, a top photographer, and about as far from being a “food photographer” as you could easily imagine, though his work does show food once in a while, as in this picture from his series of interiors of the homes of the recently deceased.

 In Brixton he selected KaoSarn, a Thai cafĂ© (more seats outside than in, bring your own booze, no toilet but an arrangement with the nearby pub) which gets some stunningly good reviews.  Time Out says the grilled half chicken with som tam “propels you right into the streets of Chiang Mai, the Northern Thai city that this dish originates from.”  We had some deep fried vegetables and pad thai and it was all pretty decent, even if we weren’t transported very far from Coldharbour Lane.

 The staff were, in the main, Thai and female, and a brusque lot they were too, except for one of them, the most charming and friendly by far, who (we were pretty sure) was a ladyboy, or perhaps, given a certain maturity, a ladyman.  I’m not sure how she’d have been received by the local community back in the day, but here and now she fitted right in.
Next day I went to Woking – I had my reasons - which included walking on  Horsell Common, partial setting for H.G. Wells’ War of The World. Woking seemed amazingly prosperous, and many of the food options were a bit too “nice” and/or gourmet, or in some cases corporate.  I hadn’t gone all that way just to eat in a Pret A Manger.  So I found an old school sandwich shop and bought a Cheese Salad Bap, which I took to the common and arranged in this winning still life. 

Then I opened the cellophane and examined the sandwich.  It consisted of a thin slice of processed cheese, a thick smear of margarine, and a sad lettuce leaf.  I took a bite.  It was the foulest thing I’ve had in my mouth in a very long time.  It certainly did seem like very “white” food in some sense, perhaps the kind of thing you might have bought from the back of a van, in a layby on the  A1, sometime around 1962.  Reader, I did not finish it.

And then, just a couple of days later I was reading Don DeLillo’s novel Point Omega, a wonderful book about (among other things) time, war, lost ideals, absence, and extinction, which contains these remarkable lines:
     “Lunch was movable, flexible, eat when and where you want.  I found myself at the table with Estler, who examined the processed cheese that Jessie had bought on our last trip to town.  He said it was colored with spent uranium and then he ate it, slopped with mustard, between slices of prison bread, and so did I.”
     You know, I still really can’t decide whether slopping my Cheese Salad Bap with mustard would have made it better or worse.

When he speaks of “spent uranium,” I assume he’s thinking, or at least he makes me think, of yellow cake uranium, which as I understand it, is not in fact spent, but rather on the way to becoming a substance that can be used in nuclear reactors and bombs.  Nevertheless, at least in the photograph below, it does look strangely appetizing: I’ve definitely had worse things in my bap.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012


Ah the glamour of international travel.  I just flew from Los Angeles to London, where I am now.  There was a three hour delay - so we were all given $10 lunch vouchers.  I went to the Karl Strauss Brewing Company since the nearby Wolfgang Puck Express was way too grand to accept vouchers.

I ordered my tuna sushi rolls and a glass of pinot grigio - and as I was served, I looked across a not very crowded room, and there (there was not the slightest doubt - the years had gone by, but bone structure like that never disappears) also drinking pinot grigio, and with a bloke, was Janie Jones.

Younger readers may need reminding that Janie Jones was briefly a pop singer, gave her name to a Clash song, was involved in prostitution and payola, went to prison and even more briefly befriended Myra Hindley.  Thus international travel, delays and lunch vouchers, are  a great equalizer - especially if you travel steerage, as Janie and I were doing.

So here I am in England, using my friend's house while he's away in France, twanging like a length of string cheese and I have just had a very unsatisfactory can of Manger's Irish Cider - "made from 17 varieties of apple" - why? - and why were they all so damn sweet?  

And also a bag of pretentious potato chips (US usage) or (English usage) "Tyrell's Handcooked English Crisps Lightly Sea Salted Delicious at the Seaside."  Wha?  Did some poor bugger have to hold them in his hand in the boiling fat till they were cooked?  Did they really have to  tell me the salt was a "dusting"? Or that I should store them in a cool, dry place, "a pantry would be perfect"  Are we in a PG Wodehouse novel?

So I'm sitting here in London, ready to smite an advertising copywriter, long and hard.  But I know it's just my jangling jet-lagged nerves.  It'll get better, right?