Friday, September 22, 2023


 If you go to see Wes Anderson’s Asteroid City (and why the wouldn’t you?), you’ll  notice the presence of the Martini dispensing machine.


It’s a not a terrible idea and it’s certainly not a new one, and here of course it's fictional, but in the real world there have been all kinds of cocktail making machines and robotic bartenders, to serve different purposes, the Drinkomatic was obviously for small scale domestic use, 


while the “Cocktailmatic” introduced by Auto-Bar Systems in the early sixties was for large-scale commercial ventures, “where dispensing of drinks in a hurry is a problem” 


And so we come to George Jean Nathan – 1882 -1958 - drama critic and editor of The Smart Set and The American Mercury, the man who apparently said, ‘ I drink to make other people interesting.’ 

There is a story, apocryphal I imagine, that Nathan had a system or device or some Rube Goldberg-style contraption in his home that sprang to life when he put his key in the front door of his apartment building, so that by the time he got into his own apartment a martini had been mechanically and magically prepared.  If this is true I haven’t been able to find any visual evidence of such a machine.

But leaving aside whether the story’s true, I can’t help thinking that the real problem is that although making a martini certainly involves mechanical processes it also somehow requires some human intervention and intervention to make it live (though this obviously does not apply to, for instance, the Pina Colada).


It would obviously be ideal to have a loved one waiting at the door with a martini when you got home, possible a butler, 


or just conceivably Vincent Price.


Tuesday, September 12, 2023


 I’ve always had a fondness for the state of Idaho, and since I’ve never actually been there I suppose you’d have to say that my fondness is for the IDEA of Idaho.  And this fondness is largely because of the Idaho potato.  So when I saw a packet of Idahoan Perfect Mash, instant potato mix, ‘perfect in 1 minute’ in my local supermarket, well obviously I couldn’t resist.

Now, I am not foolish enough to believe everything I read on food packaging but wouldn’t the appearance of that word ‘Buttery’ on the packet above suggest to the unwary consumer that there might be some butter in there?  No, no, don’t be so naïve.  

    The small print on the packet says it contains rapeseed, coconut and sunflower oils, milk solids, cream and buttermilk, none of which seems like a bad thing, and of course the pack doesn’t actually say that it contains butter, just that it’s buttery – and you can see why they wouldn’t say ‘rapeseedy’ on the pack.

Equally you might argue that I could add my own butter, just as I would with actual mashed potatoes, but by that token if you have to add the butter yourself, then any food in the world could be construed as buttery.

And it so happened we had some savoury spicy mince in the fridge, left over from a not particularly successful Mexican taco adventure, 

so we spiced it up some more, made and added the instant mash, and put it in the oven to make a sort of Conjunto Shepherd’s Pie.


And then after a while as we looked it heating in the oven, we thought the potato topping looked awfully dry, at which point we decided to add a whole lot more butter.


The end result was perfectly OK – fusion you might say, but I wouldn’t.

Friday, September 8, 2023


 “Have nothing in your mouth that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful.” ― I’m misquoting William Morris because I had a sandwich t’other day in Lloyd Park, currently home to the William Morris Gallery and once home to the man himself.


There’s a caff there too, run by Deeney’s which appears to bea two-establishment chain, with a Scottish vibe, famous for their haggis toasties such as the Macbeth - haggis, cheddar cheese, rocket, caramelized onion and mustard;  the Hamish Macbeth which has all the above for plus bacon; and the Lady Macbeth with veggie haggis and vegan mayonnaise, you know for the ladies, though I never imagined Lady Macbeth to be a picky eater.


I had the Macbeth (above), and I’m pretty sure I’d never had a haggis sandwich before, and it was very fine.  Whether it was better as a sandwich than it would have been with neeps and tatties is debatable, but I had no complaints.


How very different from breakfast next day at L’Hirondelle, also in Walthamstow. The sandwich menu looked like this:

and I concluded, perhaps hastily, that if they can’t spell sandwich they probably can’t make a good one, and is a wrap really a sandwich, anyway?.  So I went for the Eggs Benedict with smoked salmon which I know some people call a Royale.  It looked ok:

and it tasted like arse because the eggs were barely half-cooked, with globs of raw albumen.  Made me wish I’d had a sandwhich.


But then, OMG, a day later in Richmond, I encountred a kind of perfection, at the Cricketers pub: swings and roundabouts innit? There was whitebait. I can’t remember when I last had better:


and then there were Pork Belly Bites – deep fried I assume – melting fat and great crispy skin, with apple sauce.  Made me feel all Arts and Crafts.


Tuesday, August 29, 2023


It's a croissant with Boursin and a venison sausage.  Could have used more Boursin. Couldn't we all?

Monday, August 21, 2023


There was a fine (and provocative) piece by Jay Rayner in the Observer about the ‘binary choices’ facing the happy eater.  Do you go for tea or coffee, white sliced or sourdough, jam or marmalade?  These I found easy to answer but some of his other examples don’t seem quite so binary.  Vodka or gin he asks, and he doesn’t like gin, but for me there’s no definitive answer.  Gin in a martini, obviously, but vodka in a gimlet or a Bloody Mary.  Anyway I’m not here to pick a fight with Mr. Rayner – I’m no fool, unlike Gordon Ramsay.

But his ideas fitted in with some thoughts I had at The Grocer, a decent bar/restaurant in Spitalfields Market.


First impressions were great.  Our waitress, named Anneka, (lot of tattoos, one or two facial piercings – which I guess is standard for London waitresses) met us at the door and said ‘Sit anywhere you like.’ These are the best word I can ever here when entering an eatery.  The alternative is a server who insists on putting you at a small table, in a dark corner next to the toilet.  Hurrah for Anneka.  We went for a booth.


We ordered fish and chips which were good but they did, for me anyway, raise a binary question; does a pickled onion go with fish and chips? I know this is not one of the great existential questions but in fact I’ve got through my life this far without wanting a pickled onion with my fish and chips, and I’ve very rarely had one. What does that say about me?


However, The Grocer’s fish and chips came with a very small pickled onion, perhaps a bit large to be a cocktail onion but only just, and it was impaled on a cocktail stick which was in turn impaled in the fish, like this:


It was, of course, no problem.  I ate it and it didn’t trouble me, and if I hadn’t wanted to eat it I wouldn’t have, but I was still a bit surprised to find it there at all.  Jay Rayner says this kind of thing has a lot to do with where you’re born and raised, saying ‘Tell me whether you are chips with curry sauce rather than chips with gravy and I’ll have a strong sense of where you’re from.’  I think this is true, though for me personally the choice between curry sauce and gravy largely depends on if I'm in Yorkshire, and how many pints of Tetley’s I’ve had.


Anyway, the real beauty part of fish and chips at The Grocer was the vinegar: artisanal, old fashioned, slowly oak matured, and all this done in the Old Nuclear Bunker at Coverack in Cornwall, which looks like this:­


And some people claim to prefer ketchup with their chips.


Wednesday, August 9, 2023


Look, none of us doubts that there are profound and mysterious connections between 

food, passion, love, sex and death.


Even so, I was surprised by a recent headline in the Daily Telegraph that read,

YouTube chef ‘chopped up lover and dumped his head in the sea.’


I won’t intrude on the grief of the people concerned by naming names, though of course you can look it up. What actually fascinated me about the headline was that the paper thought  ‘chopped up lover and dumped his head in the sea’ needed to be in quotation marks, whereas YouTube chef didn’t.  I suppose this mean that anybody who calls themselves a YouTube chef,isa YouTube chef.


The Telegraph article enters the Nicholson archive alongside other headlines that include 


‘I’ve got a taste for killing,’ says cannibal who ate man’s tongue.


The Head in the Hellman’s Box


Hunger forced her to eat raw batter


Teen ‘poisoned dad’s pasta and choked mum’


Chef cut corners on pie that killed worshippers


Sausage Tycoon killed in his sauna with a crossbow


How very different from the home lives of our own dear Angela and Helena.

Friday, August 4, 2023



There has apparently been ‘outrage’ in parts of the crisp 

eating community because certain Marks and Spencer 

crisp packets marked ‘British potatoes’ are overstamped 

on the sell-by label with the words ‘contains non-British 


An M&S spokesman said: ‘An unprecedented industry-wide shortage, caused by drought last year, meant we – and other businesses – were forced to source some potatoes from outside the UK for a few weeks ahead of this year’s British potato harvest.’  So it’s only temporary anyway, supposedly.  


However, it’s said there’ll be another shortage this year because of a wet spring, plus rising costs of machinery and fertilizer.  In other words British farmers can’t make a profit growing potatoes, and when I see how cheap it is to buy a bag of supermarket spuds, I’m amazed they can make any money at all.


And so we come to Agnès Varda (1928 -2019) French (Belgian born) filmmaker, screenwriter, photographer, artist and so on.


She’s best known, to me anyway, for Cléo from 5 to 7(1962) about a woman waiting to hear the results of a cancer test, with appearances by Jean-Luc Godard and Eddie Constantine.  I don’t believe it features any potatoes.  Unlike her film The Gleaners and I(2000) in French Les glaneurs et la glaneuse.


‘Glaneurs’ as I understand it, gather crops left in the field after harvesting, so it has connotations of foraging, scavenging and collecting.  Historically they’ve usually been women, as in Millet’s ‘Des Glaneuses.’ I believe it’s also currently a brand of combine harvester.


In the movie, Varda goes to a field where imperfect (though perfectly usable) potatoes are dumped, and identifies with the discarded and misshapen tubers.  She takes home some heart-shaped spuds and lets them grow wrinkly and sprout, sees a resemblance with her own wrinkled hands, and compares her aging body with the far more rapidly aging potatoes, and thinks that she too has been discarded. So it’s all about death and decay and patriarchy.


Also I hadn’t realized heart-shaped potatoes were so easy to come by.


Later Varda did an exhibition and dressed up as a potato. Potatoes can get you obsessed like that.


And then today, life being the synchronicitous thing it is, my Instagram pal Barbara Lounder put up pictures of two different kinds of basket for gathering potatoes. Her captions reads ‘One from Norfolk, one from Unama’ki. These are currently in my exhibition “Family Gathering/Gathering Family” in Sydney NS at Eltuek Art Centre. The exhibition is on until August 18.’  Brava.

More locally, here in the Nicholson archive, we have lately taken possession of a plate featuring the ‘Baked Potato Man’ by John Finnie – 1985, Wedgewood – one of series of street food trades that includes ‘The Street Seller of Hot Green Peas.’  But it’s hard to get obsessed with hot green peas, I'd say.





Tuesday, July 25, 2023


I knew it wasn’t going to be a big foodie weekend in Swansea, there were others commitments.  I didn’t think it would be all laverbread and crempogs; and that was just as well.  We were staying in a chain hotel with pretensions to being a boutique hotel, and since it was in the middle of nowhere, and since the weather was dodgy, it made sense to eat Friday night dinner in the hotel bar.

Now, I’m sure that people more sophisticated than me know all about Trash Can Nachos, but I had no idea.  It isn’t really a very special or inventive notion – you stick a lot of nachos in a topless and bottomless tin can, add grated cheese, sour cream, jalapenos, some tomato glop, and then the waiter drops it all out at your table into a big bowl. Who knew? 


Trash can pics by Caroline Gannon

Only subsequently did I discover this was a ‘thing.’ It appears to be devise by Guy Fieri, which isn’t much of a recommendation in itself, but why stop at Nachos?  It would surely work just as well with refried beans or Irish stew, or even, at a pinch, laverbread.


On the way to the hotel from the station we’d seen there was a Denny’s in a nearby retail park - the only one in the UK as far as I can tell. And the fact is I do love Denny’s – I think it’s a high point of American culture, so on Monday morning on the way back to the station in we went, if nothing else to see how it compared with the American original.  And the answer was, so-so.   


The menu was similar but there was no chicken fried steak.  Below is the Chicken Fried Steak I had last year at Denny’s on the Twentynine Palms Highway.


But I can imagine they wouldn’t sell a lot of that in Swansea so I ordered the American Slam – scrambled eggs, hash browns, sausage, bacon.  What came was this.


The shrewd observer will note the eggs are fried; I’d been given the wrong, and possibly someone else’s, breakfast. But the lad who was serving (and being run ragged by lack of other staff) was apologetic and happy enough to replace it.

I think it was a bit greasier than its American cousin would have been, but it was fine.  The lighting was a bit fancier than I think they’d have in an American Denny’s – but I’ll need to go back and check that.