Late-night footsteps in the laneway – hurrying home – make that Memory Laneway, for this was more than 15 years ago (maybe 20… none of us can remember exactly) – an evening that ran late, a merry dinner party in a fashionably designed coach house in a Toronto laneway, hosted by a friend of the author. My invitation, however, came not from her (the friend) or from him (Bob Blumer, the author), but from Alison Fryer of the Cookbook Store in a quasi-publicistic capacity. Why me? I’m not sure. Unless Alison was showing a remarkable degree of prescience and knew I would be writing about the evening 15 (20?) years later – tonight, in fact – and trying to remember what exactly took place. I remember Bob Blumer cooked salmon in the dishwasher. And there was an artist’s palette before that with tasty dips of various hallucinatory colours on it, like squeezes of paint. Such shenanigans were new and exciting to me then. I still love them. I don’t think there was dessert.
Cut to now. Bob Blumer, star of the tv shows The Surreal Gourmet and Glutton for Punishment, has a new book out, called Glutton for Pleasure (Whitecap, $29.95). It’s a “best-of” book, a candid collation of recipes, anecdotes, wit and wisdom, summing up his career to date. I am delighted to come across it because I have lent my other Blumer books to ne’er-do-well friends over the years and they have long since disappeared.
Blumer makes his home, famously, under the D of the HOLLYWOOD sign in Los Angeles, but he is often in Toronto and Vancouver and his native Montreal. As fans of his tv shows can attest, he is a bit of a nomad, a culinary troubadour, more a Feste than a Toby Belch for there is a merry beauty in his fooling. He once crossed America in an Airstream trailer he had converted into a mobile kitchen with two huge pieces of toast sticking out of the roof as if the thing were a giant toaster. The first part of this book is a narrative of that road trip; later sections deal with more recent successes – like the time he broke the Guinness World Record for flipping pancakes – 559 in an hour at the Calgary Stampede.
The book is dedicated to Mimi – I think the same Mimi who had her own unique breakfast place on Bathurst just north of Queen. It was a shrine to cool toys, to the pre-lapsarian-Peewee-Herman aesthetic, and I totally see why she is Blumer’s muse. Perhaps the most valuable lesson Glutton for Pleasure seeks to impart is to not take yourself so seriously. Not in life, and certainly not in the kitchen. The book is larded with puns (my favourite is for a mango yoghurt drink called Lassi Come Home) and a good many home truths. “Some of the best dinner parties I’ve ever attended have taken place in cramped apartments, on rooftops, and with improvised utensils,” writes Blumer. We all know what he means.
And the recipes? They are delightful, look doable, not too bizarre. I shall certainly try Cauliflower Popcorn and Lamb Cupcakes. And here is the Dishwasher-poached Salmon I remember from all those years ago. This afternoon I tested the recipe with a couple of fillets from Kensington Market, sealing them up with olive oil and lemon juice in tightly-wrapped tinfoil, letting the packages sit in the top tray of the dishwasher for a full cycle. They were delicious if a tad overcooked (I have a very efficient German machine). It would definitely be a talking point at any dinner party.
Oddly enough for someone so interested in dramatic appearances, desserts have never been Blumer’s strong point. “When I wrote my first cookbook,” he explains, “I dodged the whole dessert bullet by compiling a list of 10 Ways to Avoid Making Dessert.” He did the same thing in his second book. Things like “Hire an ice-cream truck to swing by after dinner.” And “Dole out chocolate-covered espresso beans one at a time” Or “Open a box of Pepperidge Farm Pirouettes.”
This time he bites the bullet with recipes for such delights as bacon brittle (aka pig candy) which he then goes on to use in maple bacon ice cream. Surreal? Well, no – not really. A bacon ice cream just won gold at Toronto’s Gold Medal Plates event. And that’s the real surprise about this book: for a manifesto of surreal gastronomy, it’s amazingly practical.
You can find a copy at the Cookbook Store.