Friday, November 29, 2013


I was chatting with my god the other night and he said, “Geoff, you shall drink red and white wine, and beer, and gin martinis ...”  He didn’t do any of that “thee” and “thou” stuff, for which I was grateful.  “And you shall on occasion drink a vodka and tonic or a Manhattan.  But you shall not drink Malibu or Bailey’s Irish Cream, for they are an abomination.”
         And you know the amazing thing was, that’s EXACTLY what I’d been thinking myself.

I now read that the god of the northern Nigerians has decided that 240,000 bottles of beer needed to be destroyed in order to curtail immoral behavior in the area, perhaps of the sort seen above and below. 

God of course worked through a police force who smashed the bottles while yelling,  "Allahu Ahkbar." I’d have thought that yelling “God moves in mysterious ways” would have been just as appropriate.

The attitude of the Jewish god toward alcohol is mixed as far as I can tell.  A little wine here is good, too much wine there is bad; which is pretty much what my god thinks too.  The Jewish scriptures are silent on matters of the Martini and the Moscow Mule, as far as I know.  But I did just find this classic ad:

The essence of Jaffa orange with just a hint of fine chocolate, indeed.  Sabra Liqueur is still being made, I discover, and the bottle is based on the design of a 2,000-year-old Phoenician wine flask found in a Tel Aviv museum.
         Leviticus does tell us, “Do not drink wine nor strong drink, thou, nor thy sons with thee, when ye go into the tabernacle of the congregation, lest ye die;” which is pretty definitive.  Sabra Liqueur may look all soft and smoochy, but it’s 27% alcohol by volume, so perhaps best avoided on tabernacle night.  That’ll make god happy, which is the whole point, right?

Thursday, November 28, 2013


Some surprisingly smart and clued up people in America have been known to say to me, with a sense of awe and surprise, “What? So they don’t celebrate Thanksgiving in England?”

To which I reply that although by and large we’re pleased that the Pilgrim Fathers didn’t starve like dogs on their American adventure, the folks back home still don’t necessarily see it as a cause for nationwide celebrations.  We prefer to save our dry turkey and our family-related angst for Christmas.

Many Thanksgiving traditions are still pretty alien to me – not least the green beans in mushroom soup - but one tradition I rather enjoy is carved butter.  My local supermarket is selling butter in the shape of turkeys, moulded rather than carved I suppose, if you were being a stickler.

But here in Nicholson Towers we decided we’d go for something more hands-on, both more minimalist, à la Carl Andre, but also more ancient: I give you - Butter Henge.

It's handcrafted and artisanal, right?

Monday, November 25, 2013


Flavorwire's "50 novels for Foodies" by Emily Temple includes The Food Chain.  Well, why wouldn't it?

"In which a trendy restaurateur, the namesake of the chain of “Golden Boy” restaurants, is invited to join the Everlasting Club, a kind of epicurean bacchanal that has been raging nonstop for 350 years. Dark and disgusting and delicious."

In some pretty decent company too - Proust, Joyce, Anthony Bourdain ....

Full list here:

Saturday, November 23, 2013


Like me, you were no doubt quietly moved by the announcement that Hull, in Yorkshire, has been named as UK City of Culture for 2017.  I have never been to Hull, despite spending much of my life living just 60 miles away.  They tell me it’s nice.

Culture of course is where you find it, but there’s evidence that the folks in Hull might need to raise their game between now and 2017.  Take a look at this Hull memorial to local lad Mick Ronson – a slightly raised “stage” in front of a caff.

Mick Ronson was obviously a good lad and a good guitarist, but you couldn’t help feeling he’d have been as happy in the local chip shop as he was glamming it up on stage with David Bowie.  Here they are glamming it up on a train in Britain in the 1970s, eating British Rail food in the restaurant car.  Given the circumstances they look a lot more cheerful than they might.

My Hull-connected friends tell me that one of the city’s great local delicacies is something called “chip spice” – a dry mixture that you shake onto your chips, usually bought at the local chip shop, though they’re also available for home consumption and sold as American Chip Spice. 

The word is that it’s a tradition that dates back all the way to 1979 when a man named John Science introduced chip spice at the Yankee Burger restaurant on Hull’s Jameson Street.  Word is also that in the old days the flavor was more complex than it is now.  Certainly the modern version doesn’t sound complex at all: Salt, Paprika, Tomato Powder, Monosodium Glutamate, Onion, Garlic.   It’s actual connection to America seems non-existent.

And now (above) a couple of likely Hull lads have developed a more modern, MSG-free version that they’re selling under the name SPICE’IT.  And no, I have no idea why they think they need an apostrophe in there.  The essential ingredient in all three flavors seems to be dextrose.
I’m told that another Hull specialty is the “pattie” (above) – again available mostly in fish and chip shops.  There are variations, but essentially it’s slab of mashed potatoes with onion and sage, sometimes battered, sometimes breadcrumbed, and then fried.  Obviously it’s a cheap substitute for those who can’t afford fish, and it’s often served on a bread roil, in which case it’s a “pattie butty” and in either case it usually comes with chips, just to keep up the potato intake.

As an Englishman living in the States I have to take a certain amount of flak about English food, but the all-potato diet strikes me as the kind of thing a great many Americans would eat given half a chance.  On the other hand, I’m not sure they’re quite ready for this:

Friday, November 22, 2013


When I first came to live in the United States I felt, like many an immigrant, confused and adrift.  Food was not actually the most troubling thing, but it did sometimes make me feel very alien.  What was I suppose to understand by the term “everything bagel”?  It sounded very cosmic but was inevitably an disappointment.  But it wasn’t nearly as disappointing as “American cheese."  It seemed comprehensible that any country would lend its name to such a hideous, chemical construction.  

Well, to cut a long story short, the Simpsons played an enormous part in my assimilation, teaching me a vast amount about America and American ways.   The fact that the show was written by a bunch of Yale-educated weirdoes probably helped.  And of course I cherished the classic scene of Homer Simpson staying up all night eating 64 slices of American cheese, which suggested that some people out there found American cheese as absurd and hilarious as I did.

And now I read about another immigrant, Gary Shteyngart, an author whose novels include The Russian Debutante’s Handbook and Absurdistan.  That’s him below doing some all-American eating.

He’s just written a memoir titled Little Failure.  Shteyngart was born in Leningrad in 1972 and moved to the US seven years later.  He decided to become a writer aged four or five.  He did it at least partly to please his grandmother, who “paid” him in food.  For each page he wrote she gave a slice of (wait for it) Soviet cheese.  I’m guessing it looked something like this:

I don't know whether American cheese would have come as a shock to him or not.  However, while searching for images of Soviet cheese (yep, it’s a full life), I did find the image below.  This looks like cheese spread rather than cheese you could slice, and mete out on a page by page basis, but I’d buy it just for the graphics.