If unicorns are the source of rainbows (see previous post) then eggnog must come from ferrets. If not ferrets then some other sort of small insidious mammal. (Minks, for instance. I hear they smell, too, although I may be confusing them with skunks). Ferrets are small, cute, furry, and bad tempered. I can personally attest to the fact that they bite. They are possibly also lazy, but this may be pure fiction on my part.

Eggnog has the viscosity of oil; thick enough that you could almost pinch it off
midstream, but then what would you do with the handful? Miniature Franz West replicas perhaps?  Or maybe replacement teeth  . . .

Teeth made from eggnog sounds conceptually engaging: a twist on the idea of the box filled with the sound of its own making: teeth formed from the material of their own destruction. There used to be a dentist’s office in downtown Boston with a giant plaster tooth in the front window. The tooth actually looked like a lesser West at an earlier transitional phase. The first ingredient listed on a carton of Garlelick Farms Egg Nog is “high fructose corn syrup”.

Eggnog is not the same as the (in my opinion) coyly named “milk punch”*. No eggs for one thing, or cream (but, yes, still booze). And you can’t buy it pre-made. I hear backbar has a nice version and I had a yummy one this summer at the bar at HIX. Milk punch has been around for several hundred years, as documented in recipes such as the one from the 1785 edition of  Mrs.Elizabeth Price’s The new, universal, and complete confectioner; being the whole art of confectionary made perfectly plain and easy. The frontespiece promises directions for “milk punch that will keep twenty years” but the actual recipes (one for “milk punch” and another for “milk punch for present drinking”) guarantee potability for only “ a fortnight’s time”. Both recipes call for large amounts of water, milk, lemon juice, brandy, and some sugar. I am not sure whether the 20 year promise is a mis-print or a case of false advertising.

The Germans have a variant of eggnog made with beer. I find this repellent but not surprising. Germans make very good cameras and bridges, but food: eh, not so much, to paraphrase Borat. Their drink is called Biersuppe and it apparently contains beer, cinnamon, egg yolks, sugar, milk and bits of bread. The proud Germans have made a number of videos detailing its fabrication (including the addition of liverwurst!!!) revealing it to be slightly less horrifying in appearance than pruno (prison wine). Even weasels shudder at the burden of association.

* Other relatives include possets and syllabubs


A recent early morning discussion between W and myself has determined the following:

Unicorns are raised on farms where they subsist on a diet of Reisling, oatmeal, and carrot cake. The food is consumed inside the farm’s “man shack”, entry to which is actually available to all genders. Unicorns additionally fart rainbows. The gases are employed in the production of non lead-based rainbow paint: all the colors in one can. Unicorns are, finally, distantly related to Jesus.

Carrot cake aside none of this much relates to food or art (politics, perhaps?) and yet . . . I am reminded of some of the finer aspects of Molecular Gastronomie.

The Mystic Hunt of the Unicorn Representing Annunciation, Circle of Martin Schongauer

I’ve never cooked anything sous vide (dans un vide, peut etre, but we will not speak further of my kitchen) but there’s often a mythical quality to the recipes. Nathan Myhrvold’s hay smoked chicken (cooked, in part with a blow torch) or all those foams that make your dish sound as if Beowulf’s mum leered appreciatively over them just prior to their delivery by the hapless server.

Molecular Gastronomie seems emblematic of late-stage capitalism with the twinning of food production and mechanized technology. Yes it all sounds marvelous and yummy, but: no, dear service counter worker, you will not be scampering off home, post-shift, to start shoving things into plastic bags to cook slowly till the next Millennium. It’s not so much a question of costly ingredients as the time, space, and equipment needed. It’s also a bit like a sect: only the anointed may partake and I half expect there’s a secret MG reliquary somewhere with the sliced-off tip of Ferran Adrià’s forefinger or maybe sweat from the brows of the chefs at Alinea. Perhaps on the unsettlingly-named campus of the CIA??

Vernacular/ regional cuisine is usually the product of years if not centuries of gently probing and poking at an existing formula or staple: ragout sauce or the humble naan, for example. But Molecular Gastronomie pours man-power and research into the picture like a duck press on steroids or an angel backed startup: new thingie?? Voilà, new food. I’m not against this, just a wee bit jealous. Then again, all you need for caviar is a spoon.

So new to my Xmas list that it will have to be for next year:
Food in Early Modern England: Phases, Fads, Fashions, 1500-1760

Open sourcing the tart

A lot of my ideas for cooking come from visual cues. I “see” ingredients rather than first “tasting” them, although I think the trigger to see them is the result of some sort of gustatory memory. I think of pretty much everything in visual terms, including sound.

So, and without delving too deeply into the cognitive basis for my menu planning, I started to see some alternative ingredients in response to the other week’s orange custard tart mishap. Figs, or possibly prunes, but finally I saw the little seeds and figs it was. I also timidly saw rosemary, although I wasn’t sure how to incorporate it til reading a recipe on the Mélanger blog that detailed instructions for making rosemary infused crème brûlée. Once I’ve seen some ingredients I generally check in cookbooks or on the web for recipes that contain the ingredients and either use the recipes without modification or merely as pointers. I assume this is how most people approach cooking.

The custard for the original tart came from a recipe for Portugese custard tarts on the BBC’s website.  For the second iteration of the tart I cut the amount of sugar to just under 4 oz as I found the original too sugary. And the baking time was vastly increased to account for the fact that I was making one big tart as opposed to 12 small ones. The tart cooked for around 35 minutes. I cut the figs into eighths and arranged them in a concentric pattern on the surface of the custard once the tart had been in the oven for 10-15 minutes (eg, once the custard has started to solidify a bit). Prior to ladling the custard into the puff pastry filling I toasted some pinenuts and laid them on top of the puff pastry shell; the figs were on top and the pinenuts on the bottom. Finally when the tart was nearly cooked (after about 25 minutes) I took the leftover sprigs of rosemary that I’d infused in the milk and arranged them in a circular pattern on a non-figged area of the tart.

I’ve learned alot about cooking from reading other people’s blogs and its strikes me that there’s a spirit of culinary generosity that mimics that of the Open Source (software) community. I think we’re in the midst of a web-driven culinary renaissance, fueled greatly by the efficacy of search engines. Yes you can look at Jamie Oliver’s site (which I like) or read and watch Bitten (kind of like) but you can also find a ton of content from people who are doing what they love, sharing it, and making a strong community. I see less of this in the art world . . .

Hans Haacke – Something in the air

They’re almost like pets.

I’m referring to the floating and waving objects in the Hans Haacke show at MIT’s List Center which have a greater level of autonomy than I would have expected.

But then these are objects from 1967 (or recreations in some cases). Things just *were* freer back then.

A series of prints in a separate room document other works created by Haacke while he was at MIT. Included are images of more floating things: a whole string of balloons, for instance, like a parade of white geese or rotund pre-schoolers out for a ropey walk (the one where the tinies walk in a line clutching a rope that keeps them linked together).

At times it feels as if there’s a whole sub-genre of balloon work: wistful poignant photographs of balloons, balloon installations, sound artists who work with balloons, etc. Martin Creed’s Work no. 200: Half the air in an open space, 1998, for example. The Creed work uses balloons (half a room’s worth) and photographs quite well. I’ve never seen it in person.

Haacke used the balloons to explore and elaborate upon the concept of systems. Hence the autonomy which seems less a force in other artist’s balloon work. Other artist’s pieces seems more about aesthetics, or something vaguely conceptual (or even possibly jokey). On one of my visits to the List the floating corset piece (Flight, from 1965-6, recreated in 2011) dropped; something that occurs randomly and occasionally according to the gallery attendant. In some work this might seem a technical failure, something to ignore or pretend not to have seen. In the context of Haacke’s work its a rare exception, like witnessing a shooting star; something that strays from the memetic formula but is still part of the existing genotype. In science even failure can be a point of fascination.

For some reason I equate balloons with birds.

The Haacke show also contains images of birds, so maybe he was thinking the same.

If the art is birds, are the viewers cats? worms? This line of reasoning has the feeling of a Russian fiction: The Master and Margarita, perhaps.

In the small gallery at the List the prints are oddly hung; some “normally” but others seriously askew, leaving me to wonder if this manner of display is intentional or a mistake. If birds were the viewers and not the art they would have no issues with crooked art, mid-air re-calibration being rather a feature of their species.

Ten days later the prints (which are mounted on foam-core) are still crooked, though I can’t remember if its the same or different ones. I start wondering idly if Hans Haacke is a bird, and by extension whether I would be less annoyed by the orientation of the prints had a bird been responsible. Knowing this disarray to be some sort of avian conceptual gesture would certainly make things more interesting and the artist’s talk would be delightful . . . According to the front desk staff the prints are crooked by design (I don’t ask them about the Hans Haacke=bird stuff). Ultimately I think its a nice show and I like the floating ballon and corset pieces (the real ones, not the documentation). I wouldn’t call it great. It feels a bit sparse for all that space and I’m really not sure about all those crooked prints. A dedicated iPad would do just as well for the documentation. This is MIT, afterall. Maybe if they were framed?


The Otto Piene light installation in the other half of the gallery is utterly transfixing. I have no desire to write about it as it strikes me that words would diminish its oneiric efficacy. Go see it. And look up MITHenge. I can’t help imagining a connection. Lights at the Palace of Technology.