Archive for February, 2005

civet coffee

There’s two things that stand out for me about getting older:

1) I get heavier.

2) I fall asleep in front of the TV on weekend afternoons.

I haven’t got round to properly addressing the first issue, but the second is under control. As soon as I feel the eyelids begin to sag, it’s off to the the kitchen to brew up an instant extra-strength Douwe Egberts latte in the microwave. Ten minutes later, with caffeine coursing through my twitching veins, I’m alert and able to concentrate more fully on the television, deliriously wondering why Granada Men and Motors is only on late at night.

Today was slightly different. Instead of the usual freeze-dried sweepings, I opt for Civet Coffee, described on the pack as “the rarest coffee in existance”, of which “only 500KGS are found each year”, produced “after fermentation in the civet’s digestive tract”.

Yes, you heard me correctly, and the way it works is this: The Common Palm Civet Cat (actually part of the Mongoose family, and feared by many to be a possible source of the SARS virus) prowls the coffee plantations of Sumatra at night eating only the finest, ripest cherries. The stones – which eventually become coffee beans – are then collected by workers, who comb through the cat droppings to find them. In case this still isn’t clear, I’ve produced a flow chart to document the process.

So what’s it like, this coffee? As you can see by the picture below, I first test its aroma. It’s possible that it has a slightly nutty tang, but I’m no expert, really. If I’m honest, it just smells like normal coffee.

It looks just like coffee too, all brown and powdery. I fire up the French Press and brew up a sample, and once in a mug, well, it tastes like coffee. Nice coffee, sure, but at the price this stuff sells for you’d want a least of hint of civet digestive tract to linger; a soupçon of gastric juice or a small trace of expelled mammal scuzz. But there’s none of that. Just coffee.

After three mugs I’m feeling a little wired, but I’m no closer to understanding why this stuff is so expensive. Does scarcity automatically equate with price? If I ran some beans through a domestic cat, I’m pretty sure that (even at its most efficient) it wouldn’t produce anything like half a tonne of stock annually. Could I charge accordingly?

Civet Coffee is available from the Algerian Coffee Stores on Old Compton Street, in the heart of London’s popular homosexual district, or online from the manufacturer, who also produce a nice line in regurgitated weasel coffee as well as some tea that’s been hand-picked by specially trained monkeys. It costs £22.95 for 57 grams.

Baron Wolman

My favourite rock ‘n roll photograph of all time adorns the inside gatefold sleeve of Creedence Clearwater Revival’s Pendulum album. It’s a shot taken from the stage, looking out over the audience. The only band-member visible is singer John Fogerty, his arms stretched out like a scarecrow and his back to the camera. What’s extraordinary about the picture is the audience reaction. Hundreds of faces in the crowd of thousands are clearly in focus, and each and every one of them is smiling gleefully, even ecstatically. I always wondered why. Had Fogerty just told a joke? Had he ordered gumbo for the entire auditorium? In my mind the moment catches the opening lines of ‘Travelling Band’, with the singer holding his arms out to emphasise the first couplet: “737 coming outta the sky… won’t you take me down to Memphis on a midnight ride.” I’d love to know what the real story is.

Anyhow, turns out the picture was taken by Baron Wolman, a photographer from the early days of Rolling Stone magazine. He even sells prints of the Creedence photo on his site. In one of those impulsive ‘I need one of those more than I need to eat’ moments I almost bought one, before realising that I actually wouldn’t be able to afford to eat if I did.

Yet another thing to save up for, along with the robot cat and the holiday in North Korea.

without whom…

Blogjam version 8.0 is powered by a combination of WordPress, MySQL and PHP. It was built on a Mesh Matrix 64 3500 running Windows XP Home Edition and an ancient Dell Optiplex running Red Hat Fedora Linux. Coding was undertaken using Edit Plus and NEdit with a running supply of Chilean red wine, pork pies, pictures of kittens, Parma ham and tiramisu. Blogjam is hosted by the lovely Pair Networks, with bandwidth aid from Dreamhost and Blueyonder.

Inspiration: David Hudson, Vittorio Bertola and the ginger b3ta massive.

work in progress

I could put up one of those rubbish ‘website under construction’ images, but I can’t be arsed. Suffice to say, things may get a little broken round here as I tinker with WordPress 1.5.

The Poilâne Loaf

It’s Valentines Day, and I’m alone yet again. I figure there’s two ways I can spend the evening.

1. In front of the PC, guiltily downloading free video snippets from, fitfully yanking myself to climax as, sobbing hopelessly, I ponder the joyless futilty of my lonely existence, my squalid bedroom thick with the scent of cat waste, even though I have no cats.

2. By reviewing some more overpriced food.

It’s lucky for you, dear reader, that I eventually choose the latter option, as I’ve elected to document my selection through the medium of photography.

I decide to pass judgement on the Poilâne Loaf, yours for just €30.50 (inc. p&p to the UK) from the company’s website or £7.60 from the Poilâne bakery in London’s exclusive Belgravia neighbourhood. Made from simple ingredients in brick ovens weighing over 100 tons, this sourbread recipe was developed in the 1980s by Lionel Poilâne after studying submissions from more than 10,000 bakers he’d contacted over the previous years. As you can see from the picture below, where I’ve a used a copy of The Swell Maps’ CD collection “Collision Time Revisited” to give an idea of scale, the resultant loaf is about as big as a cow’s head.

The side view (shown below) is perhaps even more spectacular, a thick dusting of flour giving the loaf an almost alpine appearence, as if Poilâne had based his fabled concoction on the clambering winter slopes of the mighty Alpe Duez.

With a thick golden-brown crust and a slightly smokey flavour, the bread can be eaten in many different ways, although most commonly this task is undertaken using the mouth. I decide to rustle up a sandwich au jambon or, as we say in English, a ‘ham sandwich’. Et voila, bon appetit.

After a couple of these fellas I feel pretty sick, but still manage to wash the remains down with a nice big glass of Baileys. I imagine the resultant mix of half-digested dough and creamy liquor will expand in my stomach, leading to the kind of disastrous results that occur when you feed a hedgehog bread and milk. Assuming I survive the night, I’ll be reviewing scrambled eggs on toasted Pain Poilâne in the morning. Happy Valentines Day.

Red Organ Serpent Sound

I can vaguely remember when searching for the word ‘blogjam’ bought up less than a single page of results (these days there’s 49,300 returned), back in the days when Alta Vista was the web’s best search tool and was little more than an unsightly erection in the pristine combat pants of covetous, greedy venture capitalists. 1999, in other words.

Which is odd, because according to this this piece here, the term was coined by ‘Cassandra’ in December of last year. I give up.

In other news, there’s a very occasional update to my sister’s Iraq blog. Not that she’s there anymore, but she’s been corresponding with a US soldier fella who has been.

And on a musical tip, I recommend that everyone immediately goes and sees Tom Vek (like Gang of Four wrestling with early Spandau Ballet whilst David Byrne sucks on cheap fondue, muttering random, garbled passages from Bukowski and Crews) and Red Organ Serpent Sound (Hanoi Rocks meets The Black and White Minstrel Show, furtively molesting a turnip).

OK. I’ll stop that now.

extremely super

I love the Super Bowl. This time last year I was reporting live on Janet Jackson’s breast expose, and this year’s show has started in equally priceless fashion – Alicia Keys dueting with dead genius/junkie/philanderer Ray Charles, with backing vocals provided by several dozen special needs children, the camera lingering awkwardly on their hopeful, bewildered, innocent faces. The song? ‘America The Beautiful’. Given US television’s obsession with physical perfection, it’s a freakishly brave move by the network – mawkish, cloying televisual slop at its very finest. Add to the mix New England quarterback Tom Brady, whose grandmother died at a nursing home superbowl party this week, and we could be heading for the most schmaltz-ridden sporting event in history. And just think; Paul McCartney is still to come at half-time…

pork pie periodical

Today I purchased a pork pie from The Ginger Pig, one of London’s premier meat boutiques, the kind of old-fashioned place where the produce is well-loved and very much part of the family. You’d like a cut of Daisy, Sir? Certainly, no problem. Lovely temperament, she had – was almost sorry to slaughter her. Tastes great, too.

Normally I wouldn’t write about such a mundane act, but at five pounds a pop I thought I’d better document the pie’s demise in detail. The picture below shows the produce carefully wrapped for transport. This technique, although outwardly primitive, will keep the contents fresh for up to two days when utilised in conjunction with a dependable refridgerator.

Our next image shows the pie sans wrapping. Please note the traditional pastry cracking and colour, a lovely set of golden-red hues, bringing to mind an African safari sunset or the parched floor of the Kyzyl-Kum Desert in Central Asia.

The next step is to cut the pie. Tradition dictates that I choose a serious blade for the job, in this case a 10-inch cook’s knife made by Gustav Emil Ern at the world-famous steel works in Solingen, Germany. You’ll notice the smoothness of the laceration made in the image below, a picture also demonstrating the meat suspended in the traditional transparent pie liniment, or jelly. This feature was added to the recipe during the latter part of the 18th Century, when stock was used to fill up any airholes created during the baking process, extending the shelf-life of the pie whilst retaining the succulence of its nectareous cargo.

I don’t really think I’m ready for this jelly, but I get stuck in all the same. It’s scrumptious, of course, the opulent pig-flesh tempered with a hint of anchovy essence, oganic bacon brawling for predominance with sage, thyme and ground mace. It’s quite delicious, a meticulously fused riot of herb and spice, gastronomic alchemy in a grease-proof paper wrapper.

And then it’s gone.

If anyone wants me to review their food, please get in touch. Especially restaurants. Or pretty ladies.