Tuesday, August 30, 2016


One of the things I like about old cookbooks is that they’re often wonderfully imprecise about quantities – a pinch of this, a dash of that, a knob of the other.  Likewise with certain old cocktail recipe books. 

If you look into a copy of The Artistry of Mixing Drinks by Frank Meier, of the Ritz Bar in Paris, (and I confess I only have a facsimile of the 1934 reprint) you’ll find a somewhat inscrutable recipe for a drink called Queen’s Peg:
“In a large wineglass; a piece of ice, one half-glass of gin; fill with Champagne and serve.”
But how large is a large wineglass?  How large is that piece of ice?  Presumably the measure of gin is half an ordinary sized wineglass, rather than a large one, but how large is that?  I don’t know and I really don’t care too much.  And with this attitude I made my own, using cava rather than Champagne, natch.

    I also went with a tumbler rather than a large wineglass, but I thought that was near enough volume-wise, and I’m still on my large spherical ice ball kick, so that made for a pretty substantial piece of ice.  I put in a decent pour of goodish gin – Death’s Door from Wisconsin - and I topped it off with some run-of- the-mill cava.  It looked like this:

      And how did it taste?  Well, it tasted odd.  You could still very much taste the gin – Death’s Door is a pokey liquor, heavy on juniper, coriander and fennel – and you could of course taste the bubbly.  But it was less than the sum of its part, or maybe the problem was was that the parts simply refused to combine. It wasn’t bad and it was certainly drinkable but I think I’d rather have had a glass of gin and a glass of cava separately.  So then I tried again. 

Smaller glass, blue ice sphere (food coloring), different run-of-the-mill cava, much cheaper supermarket gin.  Friends, it tasted better, at least in so far as the tastes blended somewhat, which may be only to say that the taste of the gin receded in the mix, so the drink tasted more like a gin and tonic, with cava replacing the tonic.  Not the very worst idea, but still somehow an attempt to combine things that don’t really need combining.

Could I tell you exactly what quantities went into either of my two Queen’s Pegs? No I could not.  Could I make another that tasted exactly the same as either of them?  No, not exactly, although I think I could get near enough.  Whether you’d like it, I can’t say.

I looked up a few modern recipes for Queen’s Peg and they of course tend to be very precise - the modern consumer likes to be told exactly what to do - but they’re still variable.  Epicurious says 3/4 ounce dry gin to 6 ounces of Champagne, James Beard says 3/4 ounce dry gin to 4 ounces of Champagne, absolutdrinks.com says 1 part gin to 5 parts Champagne but has nothing to say about overall quantity.  The ice cube seems optional.  There’s also some debate about whether it should be served in a wine glass or a champagne flute, but really, that’s likely to be the least of your problems.

Sunday, August 28, 2016


 You know I’ve always been interested in how the owners of restaurants decide what name to give to their establishments.  And for years I’ve been walking past a restaurant with the inscrutable name No Tomatoes, an Indian café in a mini- mall on Beverley Boulevard.

Why would you call a restaurant No Tomatoes?  Why would you choose that name as opposed to, say, No Partridges, or No Bull’s Pizzles.  I’ll probably never know.

I walked past it again a couple of days ago.  It was first thing in the morning and I was on my way to an appointment.  It was early and the place wasn’t open yet, but it looked as though it was still in business.  They had even, it appeared, recently taken a delivery of large amounts of tomato. Wha?

But what really caught my eye on the menu displayed in the window was the naan ‘wich – not an especially exotic or difficult thing to make – just curried vegetables and chicken wrapped in naan - but since I’d never had one, I decided it’d buy one on my way home after the appointment.

Back I went, at about 11.30.  There were tables outside the restaurant, the front door was open, and as I stepped inside I could smell the sweet rising scent of curry, and see food sitting in warming trays.  And behind the counter there was a harassed looking man, obviously Latino rather than Indian, who said, harshly, “Closed.  No more open.”

I wasn’t quite sure what that meant.  Did it mean maybe that he was getting things ready and the food wasn’t hot yet but he’d be opening later?  Or had there been some sudden disaster, a power cut maybe?  It did look a bit gloomy in there.  I tried to ask for more details, but the guy repeated, a little louder this time, “Closed.  No more open.”  Well, I can take a hint.

So I headed home, and decided I’d go into the local supermarket on the way, and buy something for lunch.  In I went and, blow me down, they had a salami flavored with absinthe!!!  I couldn’t resist any more that you’d have been able to.

 Man that was a good salami.  I tried to convince myself that I could taste the absinthe and maybe I could, but it really wasn’t the full on Green Fairy experience. 

But I could definitely taste the hatch chiles, very hot but not burning, and there was something gorgeously rich and greasy about the whole thing. 

Probably it was better than a No Tomatoes naan ‘wich would have been, but having looked on Yelp it seems that No Tomatoes is closed permanently, so I suppose I’ll never know.  But that still leaves a few unanswered questions.  Why was the name still up, why was the menu still in the window, why were their tables outside, why was there food in the heating trays inside, and why had they bought so many tomatoes?  Somebody out there possibly knows.  Here’s a picture from Yelp that shows what I missed:

Thursday, August 25, 2016


There was a short time of my life when I used to hang out with actors (I had my reasons).  And some of them used to drink Black Velvet – i.e. Guinness and cider - because it was supposed to be good for the voice – it “opened the throat” apparently.  I used to drink it too, though my throat didn’t need any opening.

Of course we weren’t drinking real Black Velvet: that involves Guinness and champagne and was created by a bartender of Brooks's Club in London in 1861, to mourn the death of Prince Albert.  I didn't actually know that until about ten minutes ago.

Brooks's club - on a quiet night

Over the years I stopped drinking Black Velvet, and I can’t say I really missed it, but lately, when given the chance, I’ve been drinking it again.  Here’s a very decent one I had at Dargan’s, an Irish bar in Ventura.  The cider was Strongbow, the first alcohol that a whole generation of teenage English drinkers ever tasted.  Or perhaps that's just me.

The best thing is that you drink the cider through the Guinness – it all has to do with specific gravity, no doubt.  If you’re interested, that’s a Snakebite in the back – half cider, half Harp lager.

Back in the Psychogourmet Utility Kitchen I’ve been trying to do something similar but different– and a bit classier – Freixenet cava and Big Bear Black Stout.

It tasted good enough but as you can see, there wasn’t the separation I was looking for.  And Big Bear Black Stout is a big chewy, fudgy, liquorice-ish mouthful so it was a bit like drinking dessert.  Still, there’s plenty of time for further experimentation.

Now, as you may know, I am a man who is, or at least used to be, deeply fascinated by Volkswagen Beetles, and blow me down, a stash of Guinness advertising posters has been found.   I must say my first reaction that it was a lark painted by Bruce McCall, but as far as I can tell, they're, so to speak, kosher.

Those fine neutral men at Guinness evidently decided they could shift some units in the Third Reich.  The People’s car, the People’s beer.  Well, only up to a point.

Friday, August 19, 2016


For a number of reasons – including an upcoming trip to Baltimore next month - I’ve been re-reading some Edgar Allan Poe short stories. Last night’s bedtime tale was “The Man of the Crowd” – which is either the greatest ever fictional depiction of night walking, urban exploration and psychogeographic drifting; or not. 

The plot is simple enough: our convalescent hero, looking at the crowds in the street through his hotel window, spots an evil-looking old man and for no very good reason (but then who needs one?) follows him all over London for the next twenty-four hours.

I thought I was reasonably familiar with the story but I’d forgotten these lines: “Once more he strode onward with elastic tread. Suddenly a corner was turned, a blaze of light burst upon our sight, and we stood before one of the huge suburban temples of Intemperance one of the palaces of the fiend, Gin.”

As so often with Poe, you kind of wish he’d tone it down a bit, but then if he toned it down a bit he wouldn’t be Poe.  But just the term Gin Palace – it sounds so wonderful, so mythical.  It’s a palace!  And it’s full of gin!  The term of course was ironic, although some so-called gin places looked more much appealing than others.

     The old man dashes inside and the narrator follows him, but neither takes a drink, and both remain sober throughout the adventure. 

Then there’s Poe’s story “The Black Cat” in which the narrator, when violently drunk, gouges out the eye of his pet cat: something that today strikes me as far more disturbing than some of Poe's more lurid fantasies.   
“My original soul seemed, at once, to take its flight from my body; and a more than fiendish malevolence, gin-nurtured, thrilled every fibre of my frame.”  “Gin-nurtured” – well, aren’t we all at one time or another?  And then he finds a replacement cat. “One night, as I sat half-stupefied in a den of more than infamy, my attention was suddenly drawn to some black object, reposing upon the head of one of the immense hogsheads of gin or of rum, which constituted the chief furniture of the apartment. I had been looking steadily at the top of this hogshead for some minutes, and what now caused me surprise was the fact that I had not sooner perceived the object thereupon. I approached it, and touched it with my hand. It was a black cat—a very large one—fully as large as Pluto.”   
He takes the cat home with him and, as you can guess even if you don’t know, it doesn’t end well.

There’s also a column in the form of a letter, one of a series written for the Columbia Spy under the title “Doings of Gotham,” in which Poe refers to the closing down of the “Rum Hovels” of Philadelphia, which he thinks may be a good thing, though he considers it unconstitutional.

So yes, Poe was familiar with gin and rum, at least as literary tropes, and you could say the same for casks of Amontillado: “I broke and reached him a flagon of De Grave. He emptied it at a breath. His eyes flashed with a fierce light. He laughed and threw the bottle upwards with a gesticulation I did not understand.”

       It’s easy enough to find something absurd and overwrought about Poe’s descriptions of alcohol and its effects. but Poe’s own battles with the demon drink were real enough, destructive to himself and others, and sometimes downright fiendish.  He belonged to the “one drink’s too many and a thousand’s not enough” school of drinking.  One of his more tolerant supporters, Thomas A. Clarke wrote, “if he took but one glass of weak wine or beer or cider the Rubicon of the cup was passed with him, and it almost always ended in excess and sickness.”

A certain amount of walking and drifting, and no doubt staggering, seems often to have been involved, sometimes ending in Poe having to be carried home by more or less sympathetic friends and acquaintances.

But what did Poe actually drink?  I think the essential answer is: anything he could get his hands on.  When he went to West Point military academy in 1830 he was known as having a taste for brandy. His roommate Thomas W. Gibson, recalled in Harper’s Magazine that he was “seldom without a bottle of Benny Haven’s best brandy.  I don’t think he was ever intoxicated while at the Academy, but he had already acquired the more dangerous habit of constant drinking.”  Benny Havens (Harper’s or Gibson got the spelling wrong) ran a tavern that was strictly off-limits to cadets but that only made them want to go there, obviously.  Getting there was either a trudge through the woods or a float down the river but Poe (and many other’s too) thought it was worth the risk.

Benny Havens - not a man to tangle with.

Poe also claimed that other people forced him to drink, the poet William Ross Wallace, for instance, “who would insist upon the juleps, and I knew not what I was either doing or saying.”  This was in a letter to his publisher J and HG Langley, explaining why he’d arrived at their New York office in a drunken state.

There’s also an extant Poe family recipe for eggnog but however indiscriminate Poe’s tastes, I can’t imagine that eggnog ever be the number one choice for a serious drinker.  Maybe this would have been better:

Tuesday, August 16, 2016


The most fun you can have with a dry martini and a garden gnome.

That titled explained: the gnome first appears in the alchemical works of  

Philippus Aureolus Theophrastus Bombastus von Hohenheim (1493-1541), aka 

Paracelsus.  He's also often credited with the line "the dose makes the poison" - 

good advice to martini drinkers.

Friday, August 12, 2016


Some mornings you wake up wishing you were this guy.

And then in the evening, you wish you were one of these guys.

Monday, August 8, 2016


A few days back I had a wander and then lunch in Sawtelle, a bit of Los Angeles that used informally to be called Little Osaka and has now been officially designated  “Sawtelle – Japantown” which I don’t think is nearly as good.

I ended up in Ohana Burger (2030, Sawtelle Boulevard) – a place that describes itself as an Asian Fusion Burger Joint, which is just what it is.  And I ordered a specialty sandwich, The Alaskan, though really it was a fishburger; “furikake pan seared Alaskan cod – tartar sauce - lettuce - tomato - onion - bubu arare.”   

I know what furikake is – I have some in the kitchen cabinet. I think of it as rice seasoning: sesame seeds, sugar, seaweed, though I know there are variations.

But I’d never heard of bubu arare – and wasn’t much wiser till I got home and looked it up.  It’s crispy puffed rice pellets, the white things you see here:

It was good – but I wished the bun had been smaller, and I do hope that somebody somewhere is doing serious research on culinary bun-to-filling ratios.

But what really made my day in Sawtelle was going to the Giant Robot store – which sells all manner of Japanese pop tat - and buying this thing, a Funny Side Up egg mold, not actually Japanese but it was obviously in the store because it looked like a robot.

I’m not one of nature’s great egg-fryers but this spurred me on.   Stick it in the pan, drop eggs into the eye sockets and there you are a few minutes later with a robot head; more or less.

I know that egg molds come in all shapes, when I was in Melbourne I saw some in the shape of Australia, and I’ve cursed myself ever since for not buying several of them, and I discover there are also some “rude” ones:

But I think that doesn’t really work.  There’s enough food in the world that’s actually phallic without having to manipulate egg white.  Call me a prude.  Or an aesthete.

Wednesday, August 3, 2016


Well, a weekend in Ventura, 60 miles or so up the coast from Los Angeles.

A so-so martini was had at the Aloha Steakhouse – “Ventura’s only beach front restaurant.”  It was good and cold, decent olives, but awful watery:

A much more serviceable martini was had at the Sportsman Restaurant and Cocktail Lounge, which I suppose is to be expected at a place that calls itself a cocktail lounge:

But hey – you know I’ve been obsessing a little about curry – and I’ve often thought that Indian food is to the British what Mexican food is to Americans, big hot flavors, much of the food fairly mushy, involving the homogenization of massive regional variations, and yet even in LA there isn’t an Indian-Mexican fusion restaurant on street corner, though admittedly there is a restaurant named Cowboys and Turbans, and indeed a food truck called India Jones.

However, in Ventura, on Main Street, there’s the Taj Café – a thoroughly, authentically Indian establishment, 

but there on the menus is something called the Lamb Frankie, which is fusion to the max:

It’s described as “Homemade egg-washed Bombay style burritos, stuffed with lamb, cooked in a special sauce, with vegetable pickle.”  I couldn’t tell you with absolute certainty whether that’s a chapati or a tortilla on the outside (I assume the former), but the inside was just great, the hot spices bringing out the lamb flavor rather than masking it.

It worked really, amazingly well, but when you think about it, why wouldn’t it?  In my mind it will perhaps always be thought of as the Bombay Burrito, and I’m keeping my eye open for the Tijuana Tandoori.