Wednesday, April 27, 2016


Sometimes I worry that taking photographs of what you’re eating is an incredibly lame and naff thing to do, and there’s certainly a level of good bar or restaurant where I wouldn’t dare do it, but I’m slightly cheered by an interview with Anthony Bourdain in the Daily Beast. 

The interviewer is Noah Rothbaum who writes, “That, of course, brings up the question that puzzles many diners of the smart-phone age: to Instagram or not to Instagram? I’m expecting a monumental outburst about bad manners in restaurants, but instantaneous documentation is no longer an issue for Bourdain. ‘All I can say is, get with it, grandpa,’ he says. ‘I go out to dinner a lot with large groups of chefs and every one of the sons of bitches pulls out their phones, and we’re all taking pictures and we’re all tweeting each other at the same table and commenting on each others Instagrams of the same plate.’”

But it’s a small consolation because then I wonder whether taking photographs and writing about, and even just being interested in food and drink, is perhaps an irredeemably decadent and effete waste of time.  And I think I’m not the only one who worries about this.  All that shouty, sweary, testosterone-fueled, “bro” school of cooking and writing – everybody from Gordon Ramsey down – that’s just compensating, right?

And I certainly sometimes wonder about the essential masculinity of sipping a dry martin.  Lowell Edmunds, a classics scholar at Rutgers, in his book Martini, Straight Up: The Classic American Cocktail has a chapter titled “The Martini is a man’s drink, not a woman’s drink,” – I think he’s being ironic at some level, but still  ...

 More reassuring perhaps is this picture of Anthony Bourdain and Josh Homme – the latter a man so secure in his masculinity that he can call name his band Queens of the Stone Age.

To shore up my own insecurities I made a martini in proximity to an ironic Arnold Schwarzenegger avatar – The Gnominator:

And I wondered if there was room in the world for a cocktail named the Martini-nator but I suspect that’s trying too hard, and in any case I think Arnold is and always has been, a beer drinker (although it occurs to me the in the lower picture he may be swigging some kind of protein shake).

And then I had a sandwich (see below).  Is this a measure of rampant sexuality or of profound phallic neurosis?  I don’t have to decide right now, do I?

Sunday, April 24, 2016


OK, I fear no good may come of it, but a deep fat fryer has entered my life, and my kitchen. 

Mostly it’s for fish and chips/French fries, and maybe fried chicken, and possibly battered squid, but you know, a man likes to experiment and so I’ve been making my own potato crisps/chips.   This takes a lot of work and a lot of time, and you finish up with something not quite as good as you can buy in any gas station. But at least you know they’re artisanal.

And the fact is, your local gas station is unlikely, even at a moment like this, to be selling  chips made from purple potatoes.  But here, from the Nicholson test kitchen, are some I just made.

See, even the vegetable world mourns the passing of the fuchsia-favoring funkster (as the New York Post liked to call him).  Actually I think he's eating a cracker rather than a potato chip, but it's the best pic I could find.

Saturday, April 23, 2016



So my drinking buddy and I went to happy hour at Wolf and Crane, a bar in Little Tokyo that has a convincingly Japanese feel without straining for it.  I think it has something to do with the wood.

The name, I assume, comes from Aesop’s fables – wolf gets bone stuck in throat, asks a nearby crane to help remove the bone, crane does so, then asks for a reward, wolf says,  “Be content. You have put your head inside a wolf’s mouth and taken it out again in safety; that ought to be reward enough for you.”

Something to think about as you survey the drinks list which features something called Wolf and Crane, which isn’t a cocktail as such, it’s a can of Sapporo and an unidentified (at least by me) Japanese whisky – which I always think is a pretty good way to drink both beer and whisky.

But they do real cocktails too, obviously, which are not noticeably Japanese.  The buddy started out with something called 1884 – a greyhound variant with added simple syrup.  It looked like this:

 I don’t know why it’s called the 1884, though I can think of reasons.   It was the year The Modern Bartender by O.H. Byron was published.  And the year this cocktail shaker was patented.

It was also the year of a peasants revolt in Japan – the Chichibu Incident, but I can’t swear that’s the origin of the name.  My buddy found the 1884 just fine - but he thought the glass was a bit girly.  So when he next ordered the Fiona Apple cocktail (yep, that’s what it’s called) - Mezcal, Fresh Lime Juice, Apple Spice, Bitters - he asked how it came. “In a bucket” said the bartender, which I thought was funny at the time though there might have been days when I wouldn’t have.  It came looking like this:

Anyway the drink tasted very fine – genuinely sweet and sour, citrus and apple, sharp and tangy and strong: and conceivably you might say it was the alcoholic equivalent of listening to a Fiona Apple song.  I wonder if Ms. Apple knows about it.  She’d probably like it.  We know she likes a drink and has a great sense of humor.

Monday, April 18, 2016


Having enthused about the Wurst of Lucky Peach, and having made some claims to be a sausage maker in my review, I reckoned it was probably time to make some more sausages.

As I’ve said before – there’s no mystery about sausage making.   You grind up some cheap meat, pork and turkey in this case:

You season it to taste - I generally under season rather than over season, so I went heavy on the garlic and paprika, but there's onion, cumin, black pepper and a few other things in there too:

You stuff it into a hog casing:

And voila you’re a sausage maker:

Admittedly all this is a lot easier when you have an electric meat grinder, as I now do, but I started out making sausages with a hand grinder, and it was much harder work, but arguably more satisfying for that very reason.
Two other bits of sausage lore surfaced while I was digging around.  First this vending machine that sells hotdogs.  I wish I knew more details:

 And then this startling bit of information which was in a New Yorker article about airships, though I’ve subsequently seen that the information has been circulating for a while.  The article runs: “The gas cells of many of the early zeppelins were made from so-called goldbeater’s skin: cow intestines beaten to a pulp and then stretched. It took two hundred and fifty thousand cows to make one airship. During the First World War, Germany and its allies ceased production of sausages so that there would be enough cow guts to make zeppelins from which to bomb England.”

This doesn’t seem to be a hoax, and I don’t want to contradict anyone.  On the other hand I’ve found the photograph below which I believe shows the inside of the Hindenberg, and it sure doesn’t look like cow guts.   Maybe I just don’t understand how the process of beating cow guts to a pulp turns it into a large skin.

I think it also raises the questions of why the Germans didn’t just make (or perhaps continuing making) their sausages using pig guts.  

Sunday, April 17, 2016


I went to the local Thai supermarket and bought some snacks.

The ones below were labeled "cuttlefish crackers” and a sticker on the back said they had nori/seaweed seasoning, and I assumed that was the speckles. but I didn’t think they tasted of seaweed, they just tasted of sugar, which I didn't much like.  Also they didn’t look at all like the picture on the pack, which I suppose is not uncommon in the world of food packaging but it still made me suspicious.  Not a hint of fishiness either.

These next ones were “cuttlefish crackers mix spicy.”  They were way less sugary, which was good, and the flavor was just hot in a blunt, broad spectrum kind of way.  Again, nothing I could identify as cuttlefish.

But then there were these, which are actually cuttlefish, “taotong roasted seasoned cuttlefish” to be precise – and they were actually quite good, savory, quite chewy, but again nothing that I could identify as obviously fish-like.

Maybe the problem is I don’t know what cuttlefish tastes like.  And until I researched it for this post, I didn’t have much idea what they looked like either.  Thus:

Tuesday, April 5, 2016


It never rains: a book review I did for the Angeles Review of Books


Geoff Nicholson on The Wurst of Lucky Peach : A Treasury of Encased Meat
Sausage Subversion

Los Angeles Review of Books

The Wurst of Lucky Peach : A Treasury of Encased Meat
Clarkson Potter
pub date:

 “PEOPLE WHO LOVE SAUSAGE and respect the law should never watch either one being made.” I thought that was a quotation from Mark Twain, and it’s possible he did say it at some time, but if so, he was quoting either Otto von Bismarck or John Godfrey Saxe of The Daily Cleveland Herald (there’s quite a lively online debate about origins).

In fact, although it has a nice ring, I don’t think there’s very much wisdom in the quote. I can’t speak for jurisprudence, but as an amateur sausage maker, I’d happily let you see me at work, and I hardly think you’d find it unwatchable. There’s nothing very mysterious or objectionable about the process, and we all more or less know what’s involved. You take the tasty but less pretty parts of an animal, grind them up, add some fat, season well, and put the result in a length of gut. Ok, sure, I know there are non-animal and skinless versions, but these are the outliers, and as Robert Sietsema says in the book under review, the skinless variety “are the orphans of the sausage world.”

But if you’re really too sensitive a flower to be able to watch, then you probably shouldn’t read The Wurst of Lucky Peach, or indeed any other “treasury of encased meats,” as it styles itself. It also professes to be a “cookbook as a scrapbook,” partly a work of reference, containing a “curated atlas we call the Sausage Quest” — sausages of the world arranged by continent — as well as an anthology and celebration, by multiple writers, some of whose pieces have been reprinted from Lucky Peach magazine, although most of the selections are new. Contributors include Rick Bayless, Jonathan Gold, René Redzepi (of Noma), Amelia Gray, and a host of others.

They provide some very readable essays of greater or lesser length, from a short rant in favor of mustard and against ketchup by Peter Meehan, to an attempt by Gideon Lewis-Kraus to explain the dubious appeal of the currywurst, “this disgusting cut-up hotdog we inexplicably like to eat,” all the way through to long-form examples such as Adam Leith Gollner’s account of traveling through the back roads of rural Ontario in search of Mennonite summer sausage: “The trademark flavor profile in the sausage comes from the bacteria, not from the spicing,” says one Canadian sausage maker. 

The book has sprightly illustrations by Tim Lahan, and some fine moody photographs by Gabriele Stabile.

In order to gauge accuracy, rather than to find fault, I began by looking at what the book had to say about the British sausages I know best. I grew up in Sheffield, Yorkshire, eating “tomato sausage” from a butcher named Funks. No mention of tomato sausage here, nor of haslet or Oxford sausage, or a few of my other favorites, but what’s included — on haggis, saveloys, chipolatas, toad in the hole, and so on — is perfectly sound. It’s also pretty funny when it comes to black pudding: “Attention UK blood sausage marketing team,” reads a typically chatty entry in the atlas section on Europe, “You were on the right track in swapping blood for black, but you missed the mark in designating your national boudin noir as a ‘pudding.’”

A fair point, and nicely put, and this kind of wit is what makes the book a success. Nobody wants a solemn, humorless tome about sausages. There’s something inherently subversive, irreverent, and vaguely lewd about the subject, and those of us who already know and love Lucky Peach magazine, are well aware that subversion, irreverence, and lewdness are part of the stock in trade of its editors and writers, even as they remain thoroughly serious about their enthusiasms.

The introduction by editor Chris Ying, who is also editor-in-chief of the magazine, encapsulates the attitude and sets the tone:  "We tried halfheartedly to limit the number of dirty jokes in this book but failed often and with gusto. Sausage’s phallic nature never ceases to make me giggle, and although The Wurst of Lucky Peach is rife with references to this fact, there could have been more. Please feel free to jot down your own additions in the margins."
Ok then — allow me one bit of sausage humor that’s not in the book. Rob Gronkowski, the New England Patriots tight end (no, that’s not the joke) made a guest appearance on Top Chef, and was interviewed by Padma Lakshmi who said, “I have a feeling you eat a lot. ”
“Yes, I eat a lot,” Gronkowski replied. “I need a big sausage.”
“Me too,” said Lakshmi.
(It’s funny because she used to be married to Salman Rushdie.)

The book doesn’t claim to be encyclopedic — for that you’d probably look to the various works of Antony and Araminta Hippisley Coxe — but if you want to know what goes into a Greek loukaniko as opposed to a Brazilian linguica, as opposed to a longganisa from the Phillipines, The Wurst of Lucky Peach will serve you well. You’ll also find plenty of basic information about the more familiar boudin, boerewors, chorizo, and merguez, and many, many kinds of hotdog.

And comprehensive or not, I can’t imagine there’s any reader who won’t find something new and surprising here. How many of us are familiar with the Estonian verivorstid or the Korean sundae “often dunked in gochujang (chili paste) to counter the metallic tang of its iron-rich filling”?

For that matter, how many of us could actually stomach the opka hesip — sausage and stuffed lung — a favorite of the Uyghur people in the far northwest of China, sold by street vendors on the old Silk Road? It’s described here by Fuchsia Dunlop, the English author and Chinese-trained chef, who writes, “Cooked, the sausages are pleasantly piquant, the lung a strange hybrid of savory custard and offal that appeals, surprisingly, to those who like English puddings.” This seems more than surprising, but I’m prepared to trust her on this one.

Elsewhere you’ll find instructions for making your own sausages, Texas Hot Gut and duck crépinettes among them, and there are recipes using ready-made or store bought product: brown jambalaya, pigs in a blanket, little smokies with grape jelly and chili sauce.

All this is fascinating and valuable stuff in itself, but in the end it’s the quality of the writing that hooks you, and is the book’s real attraction. These writers know their stuff and know to wear their knowledge lightly and elegantly. You might open it because you want to know the defining features of sheftalia, but then your eye will be caught by recipe for a “Gatsby sandwich,” then you’ll turn to a piece by Ivan Orkin explaining why the sausages you get in Japan seem so downright German (because of World War One prisoners of war apparently), and then you may end up immersed in Lisa Abend’s piece about Swedish tunnbrodsrulle, a hotdog on flatbread with instant mashed potatoes and shrimp cocktail: “it is unspeakably
vile” she writes having sampled one example.

In the introduction Chris Ying writes, “Our team dug deep into our libraries […] to pull together as much accurate sausage reconnaissance as possible.” And this book had the same effect on me. The contributors’ enthusiasm for research and arcana is catching. I found myself searching through my own collection to see what Apicius and Alan Davidson and The Decadent Cookbook had to say on the subject. Plenty, let me tell you. In the last of those works the pseudonymous authors, Medlar Lucan and Durian Gray, give a 15th-century recipe for porpoise sausage: blood, oatmeal, and ginger are involved, and the instruction to “let it seethe easily.”

This in turn led me to a few fictional texts. There are, of course, references to sausages in Great Expectations: for instance, “I was so very nervous,” says Pip, “that I had already lighted the Aged’s sausage like a torch, and been obliged to blow it out.” No double entendre intended there as far as I can tell. There are sausages in Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle, too, where the secret ingredient is rat. And there are certainly sausage rolls in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire.

I even found myself leafing through Moby Dick in hopes of finding a mention of whale sausage, but as far as I can tell there isn’t one. Nevertheless I was reminded of a line in that book when Melville seems to be making a direct address to the reader and to posterity, “To write a mighty book you must choose a mighty theme.” The sausage fits the bill perfectly.


Link to the LARB right here:

Monday, April 4, 2016


Things are changing in the old Mojave desert, especially in Yucca Valley, but maybe we knew that already. Hell, I’ve been going there long enough that I remember when the food options were pretty much limited to a Sizzler and a gas station hot dog.  Now there’s fine, or at least hipsterish, dining. Up in Flamingo Heights there’s now La Copine Kitchen serving beignets and flax and whey English muffins but I wasn’t feeling quite strong enough for that.

Parry and Harriet’s in Pioneertown remains my idea of a good time in the desert (that's Harriet and Pappy above).  I remember the first time I went there, 20 some years ago. I saw all the pickup trucks and bikes parked outside and thought it looked kind of scary, but I braved it and went in, and of course it was just fine.   I seem to recall I had a steak sandwich and quite a few beers.  It felt good – and there was a band playing that had a kickass lead guitarist.  There often is.  This is Giant Sand with Pappy and Harriet's as a backdrop.

 Returning there this weekend for an early Saturday lunch with a couple of Anglo-Dutch pals who are driving across the States in a rented RV, there were more bikes and bikers there than I’d ever seen, and it wasn’t even noon.  I guess the boys were having their brunch-time brews before hitting the road.  Before we were settled and served, the place had emptied out.

The Pappy and Harriet menu featured, would you believe (well yes, you probably would), kale salad.  I didn’t order it, obviously.  I had the Desert Burger, which you see here. (That stuff on the plate that looks like an explosions of cheese and fries, is in fact cheese fries.)

 There was no band playing at that time of day, though there was a gently decaying taxidermy moose right above our heads:

And there is the wall of fame, photographs of musicians who’ve passed through the place at one time or another.  There’s Peaches and Robert Plant – side by side but in separate frames – something symbolic in that, no doubt.

But the most impressive change in recent years in Yucca Valley has been the arrival of the Kimi Grill, an honest to goodness good quality Japanese restaurant, attached to the Travelodge motel on the west end of town.

The sushi looked like this – the squid with caviar was my favorite:

The sashimi looked like this – the salmon was the knock out:

I think they get through a lot of flowers.  And of course you may ask yourself, how does a restaurant in the middle of the desert get sushi-grade fish?  And I suppose the answer is they get it the same way that restaurants NOT in the desert get their sushi-grade fish.  I think we all know by now that freshness is no virtue whatsoever when it comes to sushi.

Elsewhere, only the very smallest change has affected the Route 62 Diner, which is now Carla’s Route 62 Diner.  Décor and menu remain the same, the latter featuring dishes named after rock and roll stars.  I had the corned beef hash and scrambled egg – pretty standard diner fare, but I felt better for knowing it was named the Buddy Holly.

Wisest to avoid the Chubby Checker, I thought.