Tuesday, December 31, 2013


Goose on sourdough, with chestnut stuffing and cranberry sauce.

“There never was such a goose. Bob said he didn’t believe there ever was such a goose cooked. Its tenderness and flavour, size and cheapness, were the themes of universal admiration.”

Not so cheap these days Mr. Cratchit.

Sunday, December 29, 2013


I was enjoying a Christmas martini – that’s it above.  You can see the festive holly around the glass.  In fact it was a vodka martini: I’m not always a gin martini snob, though I admit that I sometimes am.  And as I drank I spared a thought (actually a number of rather divergent thoughts) for Lauren Platts, lately of Sheffield, my home town in England.  That's her below.

         A year or so back Ms. Platts, a student at Sheffield University, bought a bottle of “vodka” from a local corner shop. The man behind the counter said, “All this stuff will make you blind”.  She thought he was joking, and possibly he was, but he certainly must have known he was selling bootlegged liquor. The girl drank about a third of the bottle mixed with lemonade before going out for the night.  I’m going to imagine that she may have done some more drinking in the course of the evening. 
Next morning, as she later told BBC, some months after the event, “I woke up with the worst migraine I have ever had.”  I don’t know how bad her migraines usually were, but she went on, “I was throwing up, I couldn’t keep anything down. I wasn’t able to get out of bed for two days.”  And then things got worse and stayed worse.  “My vision goes blurred, I have black blotches and I tend to lose my peripheral vision quite a lot.  It’s really scary when you can’t see anything when you are driving or even walking down the street trying to cross the road. I think I might have it for good but I’m just grateful to be alive or not completely blind.”  Well yes, I imagine it might be a little scary if you can’t see anything when you’re driving, and not only for the driver, still ... Impaired sight may be the least of it.  Nerve damage and the inability to walk are also on the menu.  
We all know that people are na├»ve and stupid, which is why laws exist to protect them, and it does seem that the Sheffield Trading Standards Office has been very active in stamping out dangerous and potentially poisonous fake vodka, which is likely to contain industrial alcohol, and possibly chloroform.  Though results are mixed.  In one case, a Sheffield shopkeeper was fined £582 for keeping 674 bottles of counterfeit vodka under his counter. The council called the fine derisory, as would any sane person.

     Still, a significant cause of the problem, a reason bootlegging is a profitable business in the UK, may be because booze is so damn expensive there. The store brand vodka at my local L.A. supermarket after sales tax costs less than $9, the equivalent of just over £5, and there are certainly cheaper ones around.  Whereas in the UK the duty and value added tax alone on a legitimate 70cl bottle of vodka total £8.89, the equivalent of $14.63, so no bottle of real vodka in the UK is ever going to cost much less than £10.   In a perfect world this would lead to moderation in the kingdom.  In the real world it leads to people drinking antifreeze.  Lauren Platt's bottle cost £5.99.  

If nothing else, the Lauren Platts case does, I think, give us a reason to drink martinis rather than vodka and lemonade.  If you have in front of you a glass of scarcely diluted liquor than claims to be vodka, the taste and the smell are going to tell you right away if something’s wrong.  That might not, of course, necessarily stop some people from drinking it.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013


 First it was reported (i.e. I’m not entirely sure I believe it – I’ve only found one source for it) that Flight Captain Noushad of Pakistan International Airlines delayed take off a flight from Lahore to New York for two hours, while he waited for a sandwich to be delivered to him from a five star hotel.

Noushad supposedly said he "needed sandwiches at any cost" (I know the feeling) after he learned that there were no “gourmet treats” on board, only peanuts, chips and cookies. He continued demanding the sandwich even when he was told it could take two hours to get one from the hotel.  And apparently it did.  The flight was due to take off at 6.45 and didn’t leave till 9.15.  (All this is “allegedly.”)  Food on Pakistani International Airlines sometimes looks like this:

Type “Pakistani sandwich” into google and you’ll find a surprising number of surprisingly unexotic sandwich recipes.  On the website pakistanifun.com you can find a recipe for a French Chicken sandwich, but at least it’s in Urdu.

Meanwhile the BBC reported that in Khartoum rising prices mean that people can no longer afford their traditional falafels, so they’re eating cheaper foods in their sandwiches and coming up with exotic names for them.  A banana in a roll is now a Gigabyte sandwich.  Another sandwich, the Sound System, contains cows' ears.  I find it surprising that bananas are cheaper than chickpeas even in Sudan, cow ears I’m not so sure. In any case they're lining up for it (below).

A company here in the US called Best Buy Bones specializes in selling cow ears  as dog treats, “A Grease Free Alternative to Pig Ears” they say.  They come in blueberry, cherry and vanilla flavor, which is obviously going to push the price up, and they sell for about $2 per ear, which still strikes me as extortionate,  but I imagine that price is based on what the market will tolerate, and that nothing’s too good for people’s effin dogs.

In other sandwich news Anne Fishbein a very fine photographer, not exclusively but not least of food (you can see her work on http://www.annefishbein.com), published this photo on her Facebook page showing that sometimes minimalism is good too:

Compare and contrast with the this bit of sandwich engineering:

I also came across this school detention slip on a website that collects such things.

It took me a while to realize that YOLO means “you only live once,” and I suppose different people have different ideas of what constitutes living, but you can’t help thinking that the “youth of today” might come up with something a bit more zesty than sandwich throwing.

Crossing my own sandwich threshold – I ate a Langer’s Number 19, which is by all accounts a very famous, not to say iconic, L.A. sandwich, and as you see above it contains pastrami, cheese, coleslaw.  It was terrific, not least the coleslaw, but it was a funny thing, as I ate it I was well aware that the Loved One would enjoy that coleslaw even more than I did.  Such is the nature of long-term relationships.

And then at the weekend we found ourselves in Sherman’s New York Style Deli and Bakery, in Palm Springs, where I had great food envy.  I ordered an open face corned beef and chicken liver sandwich, which was very good indeed and looked like this:

But I kept looking over covetously at what the Loved One had ordered, the grilled cheese sandwich with crinkle-cut fried potatoes.  She let me have a couple of potatoes.  Such also, fortunately, is the nature of long-term relationships.

Monday, December 16, 2013


And speaking of things stuffed inside other things, I don’t know about you but I find I’m invited to fewer and fewer parties at which people leap out of cakes.  Dita Von Teese apparently does it quite often, including at the Hugh Hefner’s 80th birthday party, but I wasn’t invited to that.

However I do see a couple of disadvantages with the “burlesque performer” in the cake scenario.  First, when you arrive at a party and see a large, wooden thing in the shape of a cake sitting in the corner you can be pretty sure somebody’s going to jump out of it.  The second disadvantage is that since the “cake” is indeed made of wood, you’re not going to be able to eat the thing.

How very different from the home life Sir Jeffrey Hudson (1619 – 1682) also known as Lord Miniumus, a pituitary dwarf who when he was seven years old became part of the household of the Duke and Duchess of Buckingham where he was regarded as a "rarity of nature."  He was, as the saying goes, small but perfectly formed.  Whether he was quite as perfect as he appears in the portrait above, painted by Van Dyle in 1633, I’m not sure, though he obviously had appeal.  Perhaps less so as he got older.

When Charles I and his wife Queen Henrietta visited the Buckinghams the hosts threw a banquet, and at the highpoint the king and queen were presented with a large game pie, out of which young Jeffrey emerged.  Now that must have been a surprise, and of course you couldn’t actually have eaten the contents of the pie, i.e. Jeffrey, but you could at least have eaten the crust, though you have to imagine that an aristocratic banquet would have offered more interesting fare than pie crust.

In The Accomplisht Cook Or the Art and Mystery of Cooking, written by Robert May, first published in 1660, there’s a section headed “Triumphs and Trophies in Cookery, to be used at Festival Times, as Twelfth-Day, &C.” containing instructions for a feast that involves making a ship out of pastry, complete with working cannon, a stag made of pastry, with an arrow in the side of him, and his body filled up with claret wine and an arrow in his chest so that “some of the Ladies may be persuaded to pluck the Arrow out of the Stag, then will the Claret wine follow as blood running out of a wound.”  The best image I can find of a pastry stag is this one from Neues Saltzburgisches Koch-Buch by Conrad Hagger from 1719.  It doesn’t seem to have an arrow or any claret but I’m sure something could be arranged.

Surrounding the stag, were more ordinary looking but some were to contain live frogs, others live birds; “you may suppose they (the guests) will desire to see what is in the Pies; where lifting first the lid off one pie, out skips some Frogs, which makes the Ladies to skip and shreek; next after the other Pie, whence comes out the Birds; who by a natural instinct flying at the light, will put out the Candles; so that what with the flying Birds, and skipping Frogs, the one above, the other beneath, will cause much delight and pleasure to the whole company.”  Well yes, it might go that way.  Though arguably a pie containing a live pig might be even more fun.