Brion Gysin became friends with Gertrude Stein and Alice Toklas in the 1930’s when he was living in Paris, painting and hanging around with Picasso, Man Ray, Max Ernst and others. He later moved to Morocco and opened a restaurant. That only lasted a few years. He returned to Paris and stayed at the Beat Hotel in 1958 with his friend William S. Burroughs. He developed a “cut up technique” where he would take a poem and cut it apart and then tape it back together. The permutation poem is made up of single phrases with the words rearranged in different order. He worked with words, music, sound and photography.
One of his great claims to fame, however, came out in Alice B. Toklas’ cookbook originally published in 1954:
(which anyone could whip up on a rainy day)
This is the food of Paradise – of Baudelaire’s Artificial paradises: it might provide an entertaining refreshment for a Ladies’ Bridge Club or a chapter meeting of the DAR. In Morocco it is thought to be good for warding off the common cold in damp winter weather and is, indeed, more effective if taken with large quantities of hot mint tea. Euphoria and brilliant storms of laughter; ecstatic reveries and extensions of one’s personality on several simultaneous planes are to be complacently expected. Almost anything St. Theresa did, you can do better if you can bear to be ravished by ‘un evanouissement reveille.’
Take 1 teaspoon black peppercorns, 1 whole nutmeg, 4 average sticks of cinnamon, 1 teaspoon coriander. These should all be pulverized in a mortar. About a handful each of stoned dates, dried figs, shelled almonds and peanuts: chop these and mix them together. A bunch of canibus sativa can be pulverized. This along with the spices should be dusted over the mixed fruit and nuts, kneaded together. About a cup of sugar dissolved in a big pat of butter. Rolled into a cake and cut into pieces or made into balls about the size of a walnut, it should be eaten with care. Two pieces are quite sufficient.
Obtaining the canibus may present certain difficulties, but the variety known as canibus sativa grows as a common weed often unrecognized, everywhere in Europe, Asia and parts of Africa; besides being cultivated as a crop for the manufacture of rope. In the Americas, while often discouraged, its cousin, called canibus indica, has been observed even in city window boxes. It should be picked and dried as soon as it has gone to seed, and while the plant is still green.
Alice B. Toklas was later linked with marijuana brownies and they were sometimes called Alice B. Toklas brownies. It is funny she became almost synonymous with marijuana brownies because most likely she never even made this recipe or tried any marijuana. It created quite a sensation when it first came out and the publisher was briefly worried that it might cause them some legal problems but there was nothing to worry about. The book has never been out of print.
The cookbook was written after Gertrude Stein’s death and was meant to be part autobiography. It is full of anecdotes about Alice’s life along with classic French recipes. In one review the book was referred to as the precursor of Julia Child’s The Art of French Cooking. It is interesting reading but I find her recipes to be a little vague.
Potatoes Smothered in Butter
from The Alice B. Toklas Cookbook
Peel 2 lbs. medium-sized potatoes, cut in eight pieces. In a saucepan over medium heat put 3/4 cup butter. When the butter has melted, put the potatoes into the saucepan and cover. Stir with wooden spoon from time to time. Reduce heat after 1/4 hour. If the butter is too reduced add more. (This will depend on the kind of potatoes used.) Increase heat to medium, then to high. The potatoes should be browned and crisp on the outside and soft on the inside. Salt (no pepper) and serve very hot.
My son went to Moscow last year and ate Mashed Potato Quesadillas in a restaurant one night. He has been on my case ever since to make them for him. I had never heard of such a thing! He said they had veal in them. I’m not a huge veal fan so I have substituted chicken but I think any meat or no meat would work fine.
Mashed Potato Quesadillas
2 cups mashed potatoes
1 lb. boneless chicken, cooked and diced or shredded
1/4 cup red onions
Shredded cheddar cheese
8 flour tortillas
Make the mashed potatoes with butter and milk and a little salt
Cook the chicken in garlic and adobo with the onions
Chop the chicken and mix it in with the potatoes.
In a large skillet, spread the potato mixture onto half a tortilla and top with shredded cheese.
Fold over and cook till the cheese melts and tortilla is lightly browned.
I originally set out to make Moussaka but since I didn’t have any eggplant on hand, I decided to substitute potatoes for the eggplant. It turned out pretty good. After doing a little research, I discovered that this dish is made in Eastern Europe with potatoes and it can have either eggplant or potatoes or both. I love flexibility!
4-5 large potatoes (1.5 lbs)
1.5 lbs. ground lamb (you can use beef but it’s not the same)
1 large onion, finely diced
1 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup red wine
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
0.25 tsp. ground allspice
1.5 cup tomato puree (or crushed tomatoes)
2 tbsp. tomato paste
Salt and pepper to taste
1.5 cup grated Parmesan cheese (or more, sometimes I use a mixture of different cheese I have on hand)
6 Tbsp salted butter
6 Tbsp flour
2 cups milk, warmed
4 egg yolks, lightly beaten
Pinch of ground nutmeg
Peel the potatoes and cut them in half so they cook faster. Boil them in water for about 15-20 minutes – they should be just barely done (still firm).
Drain, cool and slice them in 1/4 inch slices. Set aside.
Make the Meat Filling:
Add about a tablespoon of olive oil to a large sauté pan. Add onion, garlic and meat. Meat should be cooked through with no pink.
Add wine to pan and allow it to simmer and reduce a bit before adding cinnamon, allspice, tomato paste, and crushed tomatoes.
Allow the sauce to simmer uncovered for approximately 30 minutes so that excess liquid can evaporate.
Season to taste with salt and pepper.
Melt butter over low heat. Using a whisk, add flour to melted butter whisking continuously to make a smooth paste. Allow the flour to cook for a minute but do not allow it to brown.
Add warmed milk to mixture in a steady stream, whisking continuously.
Simmer over low heat until it thickens a bit but does not boil.
Add a little to the egg yolks and whisk to mix.
Add the mixture back into the sauce and mix well.
Add a pinch of nutmeg.
Stir until sauce thickens.
Lightly grease large casserole dish.
Place a layer of potatoes on the bottom.
Top with a layer of meat sauce.
Spoon over 1/3 of the sauce.
Sprinkle with 1/3 of the cheese.
Top with remaining cheese.
Bake in a 350-degree oven for 40-45 minutes or until cheese is a nice golden brown color.
Potato pancakes were a family favorite in Russia when I lived there. Russians love their potatoes. They eat them cold in salads, boiled with meat, and fried. I made up this recipe to make it a little more interesting. This can be an entire meal or a side dish.
Zucchini – Potato- Feta Pancakes
1 large zuccini (or two small to medium) Grated
3 medium potatoes (any kind you happen to have around) Grated
1 small red onion (I cut a big one in half) Grated
3/4 cup Feta cheese – You can use either soft or crumbled
4 Tbsp flour
Salt and Pepper
Sour Cream or Plain Yogurt
You can grate everything by hand but it is much quicker and easier if you have a food processor. Takes about a minute.
Mix in the eggs, flour, cheese, salt and pepper
Salt would depend on how salty the Feta is, I would taste it first. I use about 7 turns of black pepper.
Put some oil in a non-stick pan and get it good an hot. Then put a generous spoonful in the pan and flatten it out. It will take a while to cook. Probably about 5 minutes on each side. Then I put them in a glass place in the oven at 350 degrees F to keep them warm and let them cook a bit more.