Ruminations and recipes from a small kitchen in a big city.

30.1.18

Food in fiction: an occasional series.

The expensive French restaurants in New York are nearly all east of Fifth Avenue. In most of them, depending on what wine he drinks and whether or not he orders cognac with his coffee, a man and his date can spend the equivalent of the U.S. legal weekly minimum wage in an evening, or the price of a case of good Scotch or a TV set or the complete recorded works of Beethoven or a ticket to a political fund-raising ball. It is possible that in the last instance, the restaurant dinner is the better bargain; but the price is still rather steep. And for this reason, and for the benefit of impoverished lovers of French cooking and for bona-fide Frenchmen stuck in New York in average-paying jobs, the unfashionable area on the West Side has seen a mushrooming of moderately priced French restaurants. Some of them approach a good Paris bistro; others are only slightly better than the restaurants on Second and Third avenues that cater to the skid-row derelicts, with the day's bargains chalked on the windows - 'Stewed Pigs Heart and Beans, 95 cents'. The difference is in the language - 'Coeur de porc à la mode d'Angers garni' - written in purple ink on a menu, and third-rate Algerian wine, transported in tankers and tank trucks to Burgundy communes and there bottled and labeled. Though still far below the condottiere of the East Side in imaginative price inflation, the West Side restaurateur of this sort still gathers in his six hundred percent profit.
Steve Bowman has been fired from his newspaper job for drinking instead of investigating. He is subsequently and mysteriously offered $25,000 to search for the son of Jethro Parker, the man who owns the town and everything in it; double if he succeeds. Resisting the urge to drink the retainer, Bowman hits the trail accompanied by gourmet meals, willing accomplices, guns, Nazis, betrayal, Etienne, Solange ... and Ann Hathaway.

To Hell For Half-a-Crown
James Cross
Constable, London 1967

Kitchen Hand's summary: The other side of the Summer of Love

12.1.18

Chargrilled.

We spent New Year's Day at a lunchtime barbecue hosted by friends at their country house outside Maldon. It was a hot, windy day and the wind was whipping the dust up. Gold dust. I read recently there is more previously-unobtainable gold under the ground in Victoria than has ever been dug up, and that technology is now becoming available to get it. We talked about the gold but it was too hot to start digging.

Eventually our host switched on the grill. It was about one o'clock. The girls were playing in the butter house (the old churn plinth is still there) and the boys were tearing up and down the four acres, having been told not to go in the long grass.

We were still talking about gold. More goldfields prospectors died from snake bite than any other cause of death aside from dysentery. Imagine finding gold and then being bitten to death by a snake. Horrible. Then the other diggers might fight over your gold, leaving your body to bloat in the sun. Perhaps they would be held up by bush rangers on their way back to Melbourne. And then, in their turn, the bush rangers might fight over the gold, or be shot by police.

The barbecue was going well. Chicken wings, sausages, beef patties. The grill was sizzling, flames greedily lapping at the fats and juices falling from the meat.

The conversation went on. Four billion years the gold lay under the ground. Four billion years! Then, having been dug up one day in the 1860s, it has four owners - or more - in quick succession. Conclude what you like about that. Or nothing. It is the kind of factoid that sanctimonious ministers love to get their chops on. The root of all evil.

Speaking of chops, the flames were getting higher. The meat was cooking. It was char grilling. It was ready. We called the boys and the girls. Enjoy your genders, children. They aren't going to last, if some moronic bureaucrats get their way.

The flames were too high. Our host turned off the gas. Nothing. Still too high. The barbecue was beneath a tree. It could catch. He shut the lid. The flames burned harder, licking out from underneath and up the sides. I looked around the back of the barbecue. It was not an enclosed grill. Oxygen was free to shoot up from below, fanning the flames.

Now the lid was melting. It was not cast iron, but some kind of thin alloy. It wasn't meant to withstand heat generated independently of the gas jets. Our host went inside the house, taking the children in case the gas bottles should explode, and he came back out with a red cylinder. He released the safety catch and pointed the nozzle. Poof! The flames were replaced by dense black smoke. The meat was black. The dog would get it later.

We ate the salads. There was still more than enough food to go around. Nobody went hungry. But it was a shame about the barbecue. We talked about the fire.

Warm vegetable salad with toasted pine nuts.

Boil a dozen halved small potatoes, washed well but unpeeled, until almost soft.

Slice a dozen cherry or similar tomatoes in two.

Chop a red onion into rings. Grill a large red capsicum until blackened, then cool, peel, cut into strips, place on a dish and coat in olive oil.

Drop a dozen or so each of green beans, asparagus and snow peas into boiling water, cook for a minute or two and then plunge them into cold running water so they stay bright green.

Toast some pine nuts.

Place potatoes and tomatoes in a large salad bowl, add capsicum strips, asparagus, beans, onion rings and snow peas. Add a generous handful of marinated black olives. Add cubes of fetta cheese. Finish off with a sprinkling of toasted pine nuts.

*

Without looking at the melted wreck, I supposed that the drainage channels had become blocked. The host thought for a while, and then said that the only modification he had made to the barbecue was to add sand in the bottom, under the grill, to soak up the fat.

9.1.18

Craven gets carried away.

In a boardroom high in a tall building in a big city. Through the window of the tall building can be seen scores of other tall buildings full of thousands of people doing important work useful to society in myriad ways, just like the people in this building; in fact, just like in this very boardroom.

If you were to look out the window and downwards, you would see ants walking around. The ants are people. These people are not doing any important work useful to society yet - except for the lunch delivery people - but they are on their way to do so, such as working in government departments or robbing a bank.

Guy, a copywriter, and Rob, an art director, are not staring out the window. They are sitting at the boardroom table looking at Craven, an advertising account director. Craven has a piece of paper in his hand and his gaze is directed at it. The piece of paper is a television script. Language warning.


CRAVEN: Guys, this is not a TV commercial, it's a fucking Raymond Chandler novel.

GUY (BELLIGERENTLY): Who's asking you, Craven?

CRAVEN: Well, you gave me the script, didn't you?

GUY: It's not that I don't value your opinion, Craven, it's just that this is a creatively-driven agency and when creative asks the account guy What do you think?, it doesn't mean Feel free to offer gratuitous derogatory comments, it means We're just letting you read it as a privilege before go and sell it and don't give me that devil's advocate bullshit that every account service idiot in the world trots out with boring regularity just for the sake of being hypercritical.

CRAVEN IS ABOUT TO SAY SOMETHING, BUT SAYS SOMETHING ELSE INSTEAD: Well, thanks for giving me the privilege of letting me read your novel outline.

ROB: Great. We resist the idea of putting two clients in one ad, but you insist it's the way of the future and a great opportunity for unexpected scripting, so we write the fucking thing against our better judgement, and now you object. And they call creative people fickle.

CRAVEN: I'm not objecting, it just reads like an episode of Murder Inc. There are more characters than a Charles Dickens novel. You've got a retired military type who suffers accidental death possibly aided by a servant being derelict in his duty, a mother-in-law locked away in a nursing home for dementia sufferers, a greedy but stupid son, and a daughter-in-law who is prepared to murder for an instant inheritance. And that's just on first reading. You've probably got a couple of crooked casino operators and a cop on the take in there as well.

GUY: Craven, if you're going to blend snail bait and superannuation, you need a story. That is, if you want an interesting ad that people will actually watch. Otherwise change the snail bait to garden fertiliser and we can just have a print ad with a still shot of Buffalo Finance and a packet of fertiliser and a line that says Two Ways to Grow.

CRAVEN (LAUGHS OUT LOUD): Hey! That's good! I like it!

GUY: No, it's not good, Craven, it was sarcasm. You hate my ads and love my sarcasm. One of us is in the wrong business.

CRAVEN: It was good sarcasm, though, Guy. And we ARE both in the right business. Bank tellers don't have this much fun. Maybe restaurant reviewers or dog walkers or film stars or hookers. But no-one out there.

HE WAVES OUT THE WINDOW TOWARDS THE TALL BUILDINGS. A HELICOPTER BUZZES OVERHEAD AND DISAPPEARS TO THE RIGHT OF THE WINDOW. HE CONTINUES ...

But I'm not objecting to the concept, guys, I was just thinking ...

ROB: What, Craven?

CRAVEN (GAZING OUT THE WINDOW AS IF IN A TRANCE): I was just thinking ...

GUY AND ROB STIR RESTIVELY IN THEIR SEATS.

CRAVEN SNAPS BACK TO THE PRESENT AND SPEAKS IN A BUSINESSLIKE MANNER: Now don't jump down my throat. You know how the brief was originally a thirty second commercial but now it's a sixty?

(TAKES A DEEP BREATH)

Well, the way you've written it has made me think we can make it work even harder. That very last scene. Guys, you might be aware we have a fairly new client, Brewer's Fine Stationery. Well, they carry a range of upmarket deskware, one item of which is an extremely elegant rapier-like envelope opener. It's designed like a Malay Kris, which is one of the sharpest and deadliest knives in the world.

VERY PREGNANT PAUSE, THEN CRAVEN CONTINUES, WITH A BIG, WIDE, ENCOURAGING SMILE

What say we put Brewer's in the ad as well, with a third end super that says Nothing Cuts Like a Brewer's?

HIS SUGGESTION HANGS IN THE AIR LIKE A ... LIKE A SOMETHING THAT HANGS IN THE AIR AND STINKS, MAYBE THE ROTTING CARCASS OF A SHEEP.

GUY (QUIETLY AND WITH GREAT CONTROL): Craven, you cannot advertise an envelope opener on television by suggesting that you stab someone to death with it.

CRAVEN (OFFENDED): Well, you just did in your script.

GUY: It was just a plot detail, not the featured product, Craven.

CRAVEN: Well, you killed off the old man with snail bait.

ROB: That was different, Craven. That was accidental death by misadventure. It wasn't murder.

CRAVEN (UNDETERRED): He still died from the product. He still died during the ad.

SLIGHT PAUSE

All right then, it was just a thought. I'm just trying to help. It could mean an extra fifty grand plus media commission worth up to $500,000 just for the price of adding a super ...

ANOTHER PAUSE, CAUSED BY THE SUDDEN ALLURE OF DOLLAR SIGNS. CRAVEN CONTINUES WITH ADDED URGENCY

Then there's our picture framing client, Art Corners. With all that swanky furniture in the penthouse it would tie in nicely with the theme. What about You Can Frame Anything with an Art Corners Frame. Or their gilt mirror range: Look into our Mirrors. If the son had had a mirror in the right spot he could have seen her reach for the knife.

ROB: And then what, Craven?

CRAVEN: He could have reached under the sofa for his Luger and shot her dead before she stabbed him.

GUY: No, Craven.

CRAVEN: Then what about our pool construction client, Blue Water Inc - Drown Yourself in Sheer Luxury?

ROB: No, Craven ...

CRAVEN: Fantastic Faux Furs for the stole she's wearing? There’s Nothing as Genuine as a Fantastic Faux Fur!

ROB: He's on a roll.

Suddenly the helicopter returns back into view hovering exactly at the height of their floor level. It does a sudden bank towards the building and ... no, that would be in extremely bad taste.

In fact, the story ends as they so often do. They go to lunch. On the way down, the elevator stops at about thirty floors and public servants and insurance call centre staff get in. Some are wearing sweat-stained shirts, cardigans and bush-walking shoes and have those security scapula-like things around their necks telling them what their names are so they don't forget. Others are wearing holed running singlets and thirty-year-old stinking worn-out running shoes. At last, the elevator grinds to a halt at street level.

Craven, Guy and Rob get out last, holding their breath until they can light up and get some fresh smoke into their lungs to replace the fetid elevator air.


CRAVEN (GASPING): I love advertising.

GUY (LIGHTING UP): So do I. (COUGHS) And everyone in it.

ROB: Me too. We might have our arguments, but at least we don't have to wear those leotard things or whatever they are called.

CRAVEN: Lanyards.


4.1.18

"It's hard to believe the Stones have been around for ten whole years." - beach reading for the jaded mind.

I lay on the sand in the dappled shade of a ti-tree and picked up the book and started reading it. I finished it two hours later. Not bad for 214 pages, plus appendix, plus index.

When I read history I like to read it incomplete; as in the history, not the book. Rock Revolution stops dead in 1976 because that is when it was published. It is all the more interesting for that, as you get a mid-seventies view of what rock music was - but, more importantly, what it was becoming. The headline above is a quote from Chapter 5, 'The Rolling Stones: Ecstasy and Evil'.

The book is a collection of essays from Creem magazine which proclaims it 'is not intended to be a rock'n'roll textbook', alluding to some of the obtuse music writing that was around even then. Lester Bangs contributes several articles, concluding in the above-quoted chapter
'that the Stones' tour in the summer of '75 ... boded well for the future of the Stones and (implicitly) for the future of rock'n roll itself. Because as that band goes, so goes the music as an entity and all the rest of us.'
Bangs would never know the Stones would defy the flame-out trajectory of so many others. Contributor Dave Marsh, however, is still around. In one of several chapters in Rock Revolution he proclaims Aretha Franklin 'the best pop singer pop music has ever produced'. Can't argue with that forty years later.

Rock Revolution includes some entertaining typos and errors, including:
'(Pink Floyd's) best-selling album "The Dark Side of the Moon" even included a very bluesy song with (for the Floyd) a startlingly traditional structure called "Monday" which became their first hit single in the USA'.
Then it refers to David Bowie's 1973 album release as 'Pinpus'.

Finally: on the cusp of a dreadful mid-seventies music trend, Dave Marsh was wary:
'... soul ... is the heart of rock, and like rock'n roll, it is an enormous phenomenon, the best popular music the world has ever known. Or it has been. Many have qualms about the latest soul trend: disco. ... records oriented for disco are not easy to listen to. They are made for the feet and not the ears. ... disco remains a question mark - is it worthwhile as music, or merely as an adjunct to the latest dance craze? Time tells.'
Time told. Then it got worse. The eighties arrived.

*
Rock Revolution: From Elvis to Elton. The Story of Rock And Roll.
Popular Library, 1976

2.1.18

The New Advertising Breakthrough. Part Five: Craven reads the script.

Account Director Craven is the first to arrive in the office after the Christmas break. He unlocks his office and steps towards his ship-sized desk before noticing a folded piece of paper that has been pushed under the door. He stoops to pick it up. A scribbled note on the outside reads: I think you'll find we haven't let you down. R. & G.

Craven takes the paper to his desk, unfolds it and starts to read. It is a script for the proposed television commercial featuring two clients. Changing his mind, Craven stands up and crosses to his luxurious sofa, sits back and puts his feet up. He is still the only person in the quiet agency. Far down below can be heard the faraway drone of the traffic.

THE SCRIPT

WE OPEN ON A BEAUTIFULLY MANICURED LAWN IN FRONT OF A MASSIVE NEO-COLONIAL MANSION THAT PROBABLY HAS ONLY ABOUT EIGHTY ROOMS. THE LAWN STRETCHES AWAY TO INFINITY WHERE IT IS EDGED WITH MASSIVE EXOTIC GARDEN BEDS. THIS SPECIAL PARADISE IS COSSETTED FROM THE OUTSIDE WORLD BY A TEN-FOOT WALL THAT SURROUNDS THE ENTIRE PROPERTY BROKEN ONLY BY A MASSIVE SENTRIED GATE AT THE END OF A LONG GRAVELLED DRIVE.

A GENTLE PAN REVEALS AN IMMACULATELY DRESSED COUPLE SITTING AT A STUNNING IRON AND GLASS OUTDOOR TABLE-AND-CHAIR ARRANGEMENT IN FRONT OF A VAST SWIMMING POOL OF BLUE WATER THAT TWINKLES HAPPILY IN THE SUNSHINE. THE COUPLE - GENERAL AND MRS FROGATT - ARE IN THEIR LATE SIXTIES. GENERAL FROGATT IS TOYING WITH A DRINK. HE PUTS THE DRINK DOWN AND SPEAKS TO CAMERA.

GENERAL FROGATT: I made my money the old fashioned way. But Buffalo Finance trebled it, and all I have to do in life now (HE GESTURES TO THE GARDEN BEDS) is kill the snails. Everything else is taken care of.

WE SEE THAT THERE IS A PACK OF SNAIL-GO ON THE TABLE. CLOSE-UP ON SOME SAMPLE PELLETS IN A LITTLE DISH NEXT TO THE PACK.

AS HE IS SPEAKING, A UNIFORMED SERVANT HAS APPEARED LIKE AN APPARITION AND PLACES A TRAY BEFORE THE COUPLE. HE POURS TEA INTO TWO DELICATE CHINA CUPS, PLACES THEM BEFORE GENERAL AND MRS FROGATT ALONG WITH A CHINA SUGAR BOWL AND A SMALL JUG. HE THEN DISAPPEARS AS SILENTLY AS HE HAD APPEARED.

GENERAL FROGATT (ASIDE): Thank you, Ramos.

TO CAMERA: Since my wife contracted Alzheimer's Disease, my Buffalo Retirement plan has continued to fund her medical expenses without compromising my lifestyle.

MRS FROGATT INTERRUPTS, CROAKING WITH DIFFICULTY: One lump or two, dear?

GENERAL FROGATT (AS IF REPROVING HER FORGETFULNESS): Two, dear. We have been married forty-five years, you know.

INSTEAD OF LUMPS OF SUGAR, MRS FROGATT TAKES TWO SNAIL-GO PELLETS BY MISTAKE, PLACES THEM IN HIS CUP, STIRS THE TEA AND PASSES IT TO HIM. HE TAKES A SIP AND FALLS DOWN DEAD.

WIPE TO A TEN-MILLION-DOLLAR PENTHOUSE IN THE CITY, CRAMMED WITH SWANKY FURNITURE, RICH FABRICS, EXPENSIVE PAINTINGS AND GILT MIRRORS. WAY DOWN BELOW, CITY LIGHTS TWINKLE.

A MAN AND A WOMAN IN THEIR LATE THIRTIES, CHARLES AND CARMEN, ARE RELAXING ON A VAST, RICHLY UPHOLSTERED SOFA. ON A TABLE BEHIND THEM IS A FAMILY PORTRAIT OF GENERAL AND MRS FROGATT - CHARLES' MOTHER AND FATHER - TAKEN IN HAPPIER TIMES.

CHARLES SPEAKS WONDERINGLY, WITH THE RELIEVED SMILE OF SOMEONE WHO HAS WON THE LOTTERY, LOST THEIR TICKET AND THEN FOUND IT AGAIN: Daddy could have hung on for years, you know.

CARMEN PASSES A HAND IN FRONT OF HER FACE MOCK-DRAMATICALLY: Oh God, what a dreadful thought! But now, we'll never have to work again. Thank God for Snail-Go.

CHARLES: And thank God for dementia! Now Mummy's happily drooling away in a nursing home without power of attorney, so Daddy's cash is all ours, and growing at Buffalo's average 4.9% p.a. over the last ten years!

CARMEN (WHO NOW HAS A GREEN TINGE OF SOMETHING IN HER EYES THAT COULD BE ECSTASY BUT COULD BE SOMETHING ELSE. SHE TURNS TO CHARLES): Oh darling, take me in your arms!

WHAT CHARLES DOESN'T SEE IS THAT, AS HER ARMS CLOSE AROUND HIM, SHE REACHES TO THE SOFA TABLE AT THE REAR AND GRASPS SOMETHING FROM BEHIND THE PORTRAIT.

THE SOMETHING FROM BEHIND THE PORTRAIT GLINTS AND IS VERY LONG AND VERY SHARP. SHE TIGHTENS HER CLOSED ARMS AROUND CHARLES' NECK AND FALLS ON HIM, HEAVILY. HIS NECK IS IMPALED ON THE ICE PICK.

FADE TO BLACK.

VOICEOVER: Just like this commercial, life's unpredictable. So be prepared.

FADE UP FIRST GRAPHIC, WHITE LETTERS ON A BLACK BACKGROUND:
Buffalo Finance. Get rich.

FIRST GRAPHIC WIPES TO SECOND GRAPHIC:
Snail-Go. Just a few pellets and they're gone.

*

Craven is staring, apparently at nothing. The script is still in his hand. He has failed to notice his door has opened and someone has entered his office. The he notices, and the script falls out of his grasp and flutters to the floor.