Sunday, December 15, 2019


Like I said, I went to Cornwall, and had a Cornish Pasty in St. Ives.  This one:

The ‘L’ in the pastry stands for lamb, and I know that lamb is not an authentic filling for a real Cornish Pasty. The shop where I bought this one also sold steak and stilton pasties, which I thought sounded OK, but would have been even less authentic.

But this was the least of it – other shops were selling unthinkable variations: Red Thai Chicken Curry!  Chicken, Bacon, Chirizo!!

Later that same weekend, eating at the Seven Stars pub in Stithians I was hoping a Cornish pasty would be on the menu, so I could order one for compare and contrast purposes.  I was disappointed but settled for the turkey and ham pie, which was no less of a pasty than some of those others.

Still I think the real culinary adventure I had in Cornwall was buying a Cornish Hogs Pudding from RJ Trevarthan, Wholesale Butcher and Livestock Hauliers.  And for those who like to know about local sourcing and provenance, the label even had details of where the hog was slaughtered – at the Roskrow Abattoir, Roskrow, Penryn.

When it was cooked, the hogs pudding looked like this:

Wednesday, December 11, 2019


Hands across the religious divide, in Premier Halal Butchers in Walthanstow.

Thursday, December 5, 2019


If you’re like me, by which I mean (among other things) not Canadian, you may not be familiar with the taste, the look or even the name of Labrador Tea, Nordic Juniper, Crowberry, or Cloudberry. These are Canadian Botanicals, and now, to a strictly limited extent, I’m familiar with all of them.  These along with some other things – Wild Rose Hips and something called Artic Blend - are ingredients in Ungava Canadian Premium Gin.

There was a little cardboard sleeve around the neck of the bottle I bought, telling me about those botanicals, along with some tiny black and white images.  Here they are in colour: see if you can tell which is which. 

Ungava is, apparently, an Inukitut word meaning ‘towards the open water’ and Ungava was a district in the Northwest Territories subject to changing boundaries and administrative status.  It no longer exists as far as I can tell, though there’s still an Ungava Bay.

The gin is incredibly yellow – hence a prime candidate for ‘a yellow, a mellow martini’ (per Ogden Nash) even without vermouth.

Though, just in case, Ungava also make a Vermouth called Kayak.  It contains, you guessed, Canadian botanicals.

Monday, December 2, 2019


In the post-Warholian universe, a large part of the artist’s job involves pointing at things.  Another large part involves framing.  Of course, pointing is easier than framing and here I am in the Photographers’ Galley in London pointing at a 1992 photograph by Hannah Collins titled Sex 2, Plural/Wet.  

The wall text, which I’m standing in front of, has things to say about oysters’ similarity to female genitalia, which struck me as a tiny bit old hat.

The exhibition is rather good and is titled Feast for the Eyes – The Story of Food in Photography largely based on the book of the same name (or maybe it’s the other way round) which I reviewed for the Los Angeles Review of Books: here:

It’s strange, given my love of oysters, that the Hannah Collins image didn’t leap out at me from the book.  On the wall it’s amazing.  And let’s face it, it’s hard to photograph oysters well.

But this is something I go back and forth with.  Sometimes books seem the best way to look at and appreciate photographs, sometimes it seems you have to see them on a wall. 

Still, the one part of the exhibition that really needs to be seen in the flesh, or at least in glossy laminate, are these Weight Watchers cards:

 Over the years I’ve known quite a few people who’ve had success with Weight Watchers, and the system does apparently work for some people, including my own former GP.

Even so I can’t imagine anybody I know tackling the majority of the recipes on these cards, though I certainly do wish someone would tackle the Aspic-Glazed Lamb Loaf and invite me round.

Thursday, November 28, 2019


Just for the sake of completeness, here's Angie Dickinson with a (rather small) slice of avocado.

Tuesday, November 26, 2019


Well, I tracked down some avocados at the Tesco Metro, (I mean it wasn't exactly an expedition) and a can of lump crab (i.e the white stuff) at the Co-op – a squirt of mayo, some lemon juice, a bit of seasoning and I was ready to go all Sylvia Plath:

It tasted fine and there was no food poisoning: so win, win.

And I did a bit more avocado research. It seems they were a tough sell in Britain partly because of the name ‘avocado pear.’  People assumed that since it was called a pear you could just bite into it, like a pear.  Some education was required and provided.  This is Australian:

I also discovered from Alan Davidson’s Oxford Book of Food that one of the first Europeans to eat an avocado was Fernandez de Oviedo (spellings differ) 

who ate it with cheese, as though it was an apple.  Other Spaniards added sugar, which I suppose made it more like a pear in certain respects.

Tuesday, November 19, 2019


I remember my first avocado very clearly.  At my college you were assigned a tutor who was responsible for your moral and emotional welfare.  This included, and was pretty much limited to, inviting you round to his house for dinner with him and his wife, once in the entire three years.

And we had an avocado salad starter. At least I was pretty sure it was. I’d heard of avocados, might even have seen a picture of one, but I’d certainly never tasted one.  Obviously I didn’t want to humiliate myself by asking what I was eating, and in retrospect I do know that it was avocado.  It tasted good, even if it wasn’t quite the exotic sensation I’d been expecting.

These days I don’t eat avocados as much as I used to – and I’ve never eaten one on toast - but right now I’m in the middle of reading Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar – published in 1963 but set in New York in 1953, a time when I’d have thought that very, very few people in Britain were eating avocados.  Of course everybody else already knows how great The Bell Jaris, but I was especially taken by a scene in which the heroine goes to a fancy lunch and has an avocado filled with crab meat.  Something like this, I imagine (thanks LoveofCooking):

I was reading the book in bed last night and it sounded so good that I thought, first thing tomorrow I’ll be off down the shops buying an avocado and some crab meat (the latter in a can, no doubt).

But then I read on and it turns out that the crab gives ptomaine poisoning to everybody at the lunch. Plath is also great at describing the strangely mixed pleasures of throwing up.

To be honest this did blunt my appetite a bit as I fell alseep, but by the afternoon of the next day I was feeling strong enough to go down to the Co-op and buy an avocado or two.  I arrived there  - and they didn’t have any.  Is it possible that the avocado in England has become SEASONAL? 

Friday, November 15, 2019


Yeah well, some say the glass is slightly full, I say it’s nearly empty.  See top left:

And it only got emptier. See even further left

 And what is, or was, in the glass?  It’s a “Caliente” – “Scotch Bonnet Tequila, Agave and Lime” – it was very fine.

We were in Three Little Birds in Brixton, “Jamaican Inspired Tapas and Rum Cocktails.”  The shrewd observer might note that there’s no rum in a Caliente, but we can live with that.  The cocktail was grand. as was the food, especially the goat stew. You can see it foregrounded in the pics above.

All pics by Luna Woodyear Smiff.

Sunday, November 10, 2019


Yes, Christmas comes but once a year, though it comes and stays for a very long time.  Mince pies started appearing in supermarkets in these parts in late September – and of course I bought some.  Why do mince pies have a star on them?  Is it the star of Bethlehem?  Did the wise men come bearing mince pies?  There seems to be no biblical authority for this.

 And t’other day - November 7th to be precise - I was getting on a train at Liverpool Street, and in need of a sandwich I bought a Turkey Feast baguette from an Upper Crust shop.  

I ate it on the train.  I had one of those little fold down tables in front of me, and if I’d been at home I’d have dissected the contents to see exactly what was inside, but that didn’t seem quite right on a crowded train.  So I looked and I tasted and I made my best guesses.  Actually in other circumstances it might have been hard to guess that the sliced meat was turkey, it could have been chicken or even ham.

There was certainly lots of stuffing and I think those flakey bits you see on top are onion but I wouldn’t swear to it.  There were also some leaves.  Working out what else was in the depths was harder.  There was sliced sausage – chipolatas I suppose - and I could taste cranberry sauce. And then I realized there was cheese in there, brie I think, though if they’re going all Xmas I don’t know why they didn’t use stilton.  In fact I don’t know why they didn’t go the whole hog and shove a slice of Christmas pudding in there too.   

I’m not really complaining, or at least only a bit – it went down perfectly well and it all gets mixed up in your stomach anyhow.

Was it festive?  No, not exactly.  Did it seem a bit early in the year for a Christmas sandwich?  I’d say yes, but what do I know?  I tell myself I can eat mince pies any day of the year and when they appeared in the shops in late September I fell upon them eagerly. Now, as we approach mid-November I feel I’ve already had enough to last me a while, possibly to the end of the year – although maybe I’ll get a second wind nearer to Christmas Day. I hope so, though the turkey I could probably do without.

On the other hand, I did just tuck into a Christmas pudding.  Nice packaging 

and a product that looked like an Xmas jelly.

Thursday, November 7, 2019


What’s the point of having friends if they don’t give you stuff?  And what’s the point of having friends who go to exotic places if they don’t come back bearing food treats?

My pal Mariette returned from Sao Paolo with a box of Banana Passa:

which I imagined would be insanely sweet but they aren’t – they’re justvery sweet, but also very chewy, and somehow the effort of chewing means that you don’t get the sweetness all in one burst, which suited me fine.

And then my pal Jason showed up, back from Normandy with a bag of apples, mostly cider apples I think – and they’re great – not all the same variety – some very sour indeed some only semi-sour.

He also produced a bottle of Normandy cider – demi-sec it says on the label, which he says is the main reason he decided to move to Normandy.  It was very fine, but I wouldn’t have complained if it had been a little sourer.

Thursday, October 31, 2019


If you happen to read Chaka! Through the Fire, the autobiography of Chaka Khan, you’ll become aware of a moment in Detroit, after Chaka has played a gig at the Fox Theater,  go into a White Castle on the way back to the hotel.

White Castle is, as they say, an American regional hamburger chain with 377 locations across 13 states, mostly in the Midwest, though there did used to be at least one in New York City.  This is a White Castle in Detroit though I can’t swear it’s the one Chaka’s crew went to.  

White Castle is famous for its rather small hamburgers, though they obviously do other things too, including fish sandwiches.

Chaka is reluctant at first but then wouldn’t you know it, but things develop in the course of the journey, 'by then, I had a taste for a fish sandwich or two. By the time we reached White Castle, thinking about how tiny their sandwiches are, I’d upped the number to four.’

They arrive at White Caste, a few of them go in, Chaka stays in the limo.  She decides things are moving too slowly so she goes into the White Castle to hurry them up.  This has foreseeable consequences.
‘In my impatience, I’d forgotten that I wasn’t a “regular” person, or at least, I couldn’t live like one.  Clearly my presence was causing chaos.’ so she returns to the limo.

‘When Lisa (one of the backing singers) and the others finally emerged with the food – oops. Lisa had eaten two fish sandwiches too many while waiting for the others.
‘“Girl” I was halfway mad. Between the waiting and my appetite ... I really wanted my four!’
So she sends Lisa back in.
‘When Lisa came out she was trailed by one of the counter girls, with a huge, free bag of fish sandwiches.
‘How beautiful.’
Yes indeed what could be more beautiful than a fast food worker giving free food to a rich diva. Did Chaka give the girl a big tip? If so, she doesn’t mention it in the book.  She says gave the girl a hug.

There is in fact a joint in Barcelona named Chaka Khan,  that styles itself a ‘gastro bar exotique‘.  As far I can tell (I mean, their menu, which I've seen online, is long, labyrinthine, multilingual and inscrutable) they don’t serve fish sandwiches.

Monday, October 28, 2019


Maybe you read about this; people dying in British Nation Health hospitals having eaten sandwiches that contained listeria, which came from the Good Food Chain company, which has now gone out of business, amid accusations of a cover up. 
Now, I gather that for most people listeria is a fairly mild infection, causing food poisoning, but if you’re vulnerable - say a hospital patient – then it can kill you. And apparently it kills 46 people a year in England and Wales, though I don’t know how many of those are in hospital at the time.

And it turns that listeria seems to be everywhere, and is even acceptable within legal limits all over the food industry.  My information comes from The Times which accompanied the article with a version of this picture by Andrew Testa of somebody making sandwiches.  In fact I don't think this photograph was taken at a Good Food Chain facility.

And I did find this somehow alarming.  Partly because the filling looks so meager, but far more because the sandwich maker is obviously pressing the prawns into the bread and getting mayo all over his (or possibly her) fingers. 
And I did wonder whether I ought to be alarmed.  These days all kinds of professions wear safety gloves: manicurists and tattooists, for instance, and not least people in food preparation.  And maybe we’ve become squeamish.
Back in the day one assumed people always prepared food with their bare hands, so long as they weren’t dropping cigarette ash into your soup you thought you were doing OK. And in any case it doesn’t seem that the listeria at the Good Food Chain came from anybody’s hands, much less from a cigarette

And I kept thinking of the film Hiro Dreams of Sushi : a great chef, great sushi, and not a glove in sight.  And no listeria either, as far as I know.

I was also amazed to read in that Times article that more that 4 billion sandwiches are sold in Britain every year.

And how about this – there’a a sandwich factory in Worksop owned by a company called, would you believe, Greencore, that produces 3 million sandwiches a week for Marks and Sparks, Sainsbury’s and Boots.

And there’s more - set your face to stunned -  this company makes 900 (that’s nine hundred!!) different types of sandwich, including 300 new varities every year.  I’ll let that sink in.