Props for an Art Deco / Modernist flat

One of the great things about blogging is that you come into contact with others who share (sometimes unlikely-seeming) obsessions. Over the past two months, I’ve heard from a couple of fellow Poirot fans who are mad about Poirot’s flat and the various props and pieces used therein.

The first fellow, an avid prop collector by the name of David, pointed out something I hadn’t yet realized: there is a Picasso print in Poirot’s first flat called “The Piano (Velasquez)”… and the painting itself was from 1957! An anachronism!  😀

The second gentleman I was chatting with is furnishing an entire flat in Art Deco style, and he sent me some really awesome photos of pieces of furniture he’s found. Some are very like the pieces in the series! Amazing!!!!!!!

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Poirot Gourmet, cocktail edition: Elixir de Spa du Chef

I’ve been eager to try out various cocktail recipes with my newly-acquired Elixir de Spa. (For more information about this liqueur from Spa, Belgium, see this previous post.)  This one is called Elixir de Spa du Chef. It’s a nice, summery, champagne-based drink with lime juice, Angostura bitters, and of course Elixir de Spa.  🙂  The recipe can be found here.

My personal word to the wise: don’t leave out the bitters! The champagne and liqueur together is going to be very sweet, and although I tend not to blink at drinking sugar, it’s not everyone’s thing! I don’t often use bitters, but I was happy enough to use them with this drink.

Let’s make the most of our last couple weeks of summer, all! Santé!

Poirot Gourmet, cocktail edition: Elixir de Spa Poire

Things are heating up (or cooling down?) here in the “Poirot Gourmet” corner of the blog, because Kelly has discovered the joys of importing Belgian. Things are about to get that much more authentic, dear readers! Have I got some fun in store for you…  😉

Agatha Christie implies in the book The Big Four that Poirot originates from the Belgian city of Spa, in the eastern province of Liège. The TV series seems to follow this line of thinking as well, particularly in the episode Four and Twenty Blackbirds, where Poirot introduces Hastings to his mother’s Liège-style cooking. I had been poking around a bit for interesting-looking Belgian recipes to share here, but I thought I might as well get more specific. What is gastronomically unique to the area of Liège, I wondered?

Poirot is fond of liqueurs, and lo and behold, I chanced upon one that actually hails from his hometown. By name: Elixir de Spa!

You can read all about this liqueur here, along with recipes for cooking and cocktails. It is made from a wide variety of aromatic plants and herbs, and is apparently renowned for its digestive effects. (That alone sounds like something Poirot would go for, doesn’t it?) Although it is a liqueur, I was somehow expecting something a little more bitter– perhaps the word “elixir’ conjured up purely medicinal associations, or my assumption may have come from the 40% alcohol volume. But no; it is quite sweet, and although I have no idea what’s in it, there is a definite anise or fennel flavor in there, like liquorice. But it isn’t overwhelming; rather, a pleasant and subtle melange of flavors, VERY smooth. It’s a long time since I’ve gotten a buzz from a liqueur, so there you go.

Anyway, I found a cocktail recipe on that page called “Elixir de Spa Poire,” and it seemed very appropriate to feature here. 🙂  The name Poirot can be read as a contraction of “poire” (pear) and the diminutive “-ot,” as in “little pear,” possibly suggesting his shape. Some read the name “Poirot” according to traditional name etymology, presuming someone who grows pears or lives by a pear orchard. At any rate, from what I’ve read, pears actually seem to feature prominently in the food prep of this region… so Elixir de Spa Poire it is!

The recipe is fairly straightforward– the liqueur, pear juice, fresh mint, and orange zest.  I omitted the ice for serving and also used sparkling pear juice (call it a tribute to the famous bubbling waters of Spa). 😉  The result is AMAZING. Next time I will use ice, and possibly drink it for the rest of the summer!

I look forward to seeing what other interesting things can be made with Elixir de Spa. 🙂

Poirot gourmet: French/English fusion edition!

Today’s Poirot gourmet represents a bit of French and English fusion! Inspired by “Four and Twenty Blackbirds” and The Mystery of the Blue Train, I’ve assembled a collection of comestibles which read like a compromise between Poirot and his dinner friend, Mr Bonnington.  🙂  Both book excerpts deal with a fillet of sole.

A blog called Reading Feeding, which deals with food and books, pointed out this passage from The Mystery of the Blue Train between Poirot and his valet, George.

‘The brown lounge suit, sir? The wind is somewhat chilly today.’

‘There is a grease spot on the waistcoat,’ objected Poirot. ‘A morceau of Filet de sole à la Jeanette alighted there when I was lunching at the Ritz last Tuesday.’

‘There is no spot there now, sir,’ said George reproachfully. ‘I have removed it.’

Très bien!‘ said Poirot. ‘I am pleased with you, Georges.’

‘Thank you, sir.’


Filet de sole à la Jeanette
also appears as a dish in the Tommy and Tuppence novel The Secret Adversary. The speculation was: is this a real dish, or a Christie invention? One anonymous commenter noted:

“Actually a real dish made with a tarragon sauce. Jeanette Bertrandy – La bonne cuisine Provençal.”

This seems to coincide with a dish called Fillet of Sole with Tarragon Sauce
(Filets de Sole Sauce Estragon). A note posted with the recipe: “Tarragon, an herb member of the wormwood family, is a popular herb in Provence and is used often with fish, chicken or eggs. This recipe is adapted from the delightful cookbook of Bernard Loubat and Jeanette Bertrandy, La bonne cuisine Provençal.”

I took their word for it and tried my hand at filets de sole sauce estragon. If this is indeed the preparation mentioned by Poirot to his valet George, there would be ample opportunity for a pretty impressive grease spot to manifest itself on his waistcoat. Butter, olive oil, and more butter contribute to this rich and flavorful dish.

Poirot’s friend, Mr Bonnington, had very different ideas on how to go about fillet of sole! From “Four and Twenty Blackbirds”:

‘Mess!’ said Mr Bonnington. ‘That’s what’s the matter with the world nowadays. Too much mess. And too much fine language. The fine language helps to conceal the mess. Like a highly-flavoured sauce concealing the fact that the fish underneath it is none of the best! Give me an honest fillet of sole and no messy sauce over it.’

It was given him at that moment by Molly and he grunted approval.

To compensate for the “French kickshaws” he disliked, I thought I’d throw in some nice Stilton on (square) English cream crackers.

As the story goes…

‘Good evening, sir,’ she said, as the two men took their seats at a corner table. ‘You’re in luck today– turkey stuffed with chestnuts– that’s your favourite, isn’t it? And ever such a nice Stilton we’ve got! Will you have soup first or fish?’

Mr Bonnington deliberated the point. He said to Poirot warningly as the latter studied the menu:

‘None of your French kickshaws now. Good well-cooked English food.’

To round it off properly– a couple of blackberry and apple tartlets! I made these with a bottom layer of crushed blackberries, followed by apple slices, whipped cream, and a blackberry to top them off.

‘Four and twenty blackbirds baked in a pie! Or blackberries if you prefer to be literal! …He had been eating blackberries again, by the way. A greedy fellow– cared a lot about his food. Eh bein, greed will hang him all right unless I am very much mistaken.’

A waitress brought them two portions of blackberry and apple tart.

‘Take it away,’ said Mr Bonnington. ‘One can’t be too careful. Bring me a small helping of sago pudding.’

Lastly, some crème de menthe for a digestif, and to keep things from being too English!  😀

Poirot Gourmet, from the Orient Express!

Sorry I haven’t been Poirot-ing much; we’ve been on vacation! But I thought I’d drop a bit of “Poirot Gourmet” here for you today.  🙂 (And no, I am not actually traveling on the Orient Express while presenting this episode, sorry!) 😀

Here, we have smoked salmon cream cheese on baguettes with olive oil and sea salt. To drink: a little crème de violette.

And here’s your book reference!

M. Bouc, who was already seated, gated a greeting and summoned his friend to the empty place opposite him. Poirot sat down and soon found himself in the favoured position of being at the table which was served first and with the choicest morsels. The food, too, was unusually good.

It was not till they were eating a delicate cream cheese that M. Bouc allowed his attention to wander to matters other than nourishment. He was at the stage of a meal when one becomes philosophic.

“Ah!” he sighed. “If I had but the pen of a Balzac! I would depict this scene.”

-Murder on the Orient Express

Poirot – acrylic on canvas board

An 8×10″ canvas board sketch, done last night. This one is stylistically a bit on the impressionistic side. 🙂  I thought it was a nice effect with the natural fall scene. The shot is from The King of Clubs.

I showed this painting to my 9-year-old son. He made approving noises… and then began to hum the Pink Panther theme. *sigh*…..

Poirot gourmet: une petite omelette

Here’s a picture of a summery lunch (in progress!) for today’s “Poirot gourmet.” An omelette with sautéed mushrooms, garden chives, Danish brie, and Havarti. To drink: a shandy.

Poirot’s passion for omelettes is pretty well-documented, appearing in stories like “The Third-Floor Flat,” Lord Edgware Dies, Mrs McGinty’s Dead, and several other places. But the shandy may be a new one for you. Here’s the book reference…

‘What shall I get you?’ said Spence. ‘No fancy stuff here, I’m afraid. No blackcurrant or rose hip syrup or any of your patent things. Beer? Or shall I get Elspeth to make you a cup of tea? Or I can do you a shandy or Coca-Cola or some cocoa if you like. My sister, Elspeth, is a cocoa drinker.’

‘You are very kind. For me, I think a shandy. The ginger beer and the beer? That is right, is it not?’

Hallowe’en Party

ITV’s Poirot and BBC’s Sherlock

It’s no great secret to Poirot fans that Agatha Christie’s most famous detective owes a lot in concept to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes stories. Both authors created bachelor gentlemen “consulting detectives”; each had a sometimes-flatmate as their admiring, not-quite-as-intelligent chronicler of tales; each were conceited to the nines due to a nearly flawless track record of deduction wizardry; each foiled Scotland Yard’s best men; etc. Rather than go into too much detail with the books alone, this blog post takes a look at the screen translations of those two universes as portrayed in the Poirot series and the BBC Sherlock series. The biggest difference in interpretation is the fact that Poirot is a period drama, while Sherlock is a modernization. Yet, fans of both series may find a good deal in one to remind them of the other. For example…

Mark Gatiss. The multi-talented Gatiss is well known as a writer and producer of several series, including (of course) Sherlock, in which he also stars as Mycroft Holmes. As for Poirot, Gatiss was a scriptwriter for Hallowe’en Party, The Big Four, and Cat Among the Pigeons. A few of the similarities between the series may possibly be traced to him as a result. He also acted in a certain episode of Poirot…

Appointment With Death. In this episode, Gatiss plays Leonard Boynton, the insecure stepson of the murdered woman. Seeing Gatiss flex his sarcastic chops against Poirot, it’s hard for me not to think of his banter with the other great fictional detective. There’s something else about Appointment With Death that is significant for this side-by-side: the story line of the man who fled across the desert to Samarra, attempting in vain to cheat Death. Originally used by Christie in her novel, exactly the same story is trotted out as an important framing narrative in Sherlock episode The Six Thatchers (Season 4, Ep. 1).

The “death” and resurrection of the detective. In true Holmsian fashion, Christie had her detective undergoing a fake death and dramatic return, much to the shock of his “Watson.” Gatiss did the screenplay for The Big Four as well as working on The Reichenbach Fall and The Empty Hearse, and the episodes of the two series were released very close to the same time. Yet Gatiss has claimed no deliberate influence between the two scripts– apparently they were conceived quite independently and at different times. Nonetheless, you can spot a few things in production if you look– including an iconic shadow on the pane of each of these detectives when their resurrected selves emerge from hiding once more. (Book-Poirot’s elusive brother, the highly-intelligent but constitutionally indolent Achille, was Christie’s nod to Mycroft. He was not included in the TV adaptation of The Big Four.)

Other cast members. Here, I’ll just note certain major characters from Sherlock who play other roles in Poirot. Along with Mark Gatiss as Mycroft…

Amanda Abbington (a.k.a. Mary Watson) is one of the teachers in Poirot episode Cat Among the Pigeons.

Tom Brooke is also noticeable as Wiggins in Sherlock and Tysoe in The Big Four (the journalist following up shady leads). The characters are even a bit similar, in that Wiggins and Tysoe attempt to work alongside Sherlock and Poirot professionally to a certain extent.

An actor who stands out as an arch-villain in both series: Toby Jones, who plays the notorious Ratchett in Murder on the Orient Express, and the equally creepy, sinister, wealthy Culverton Smith in Sherlock’s The Lying Detective.

Lindsay Duncan, who has a recurring role as Lady Smallwood in Sherlock, is Lady Tamplin in Poirot’s The Mystery of the Blue Train.

Would you believe that Sherlock’s “Anderson” (Jonathan Aris) is a receptionist in Lord Edgware Dies?? That whole critical conversation about the pince-nez, Mrs Van Dusen, and the need to telephone to Donald Ross happens with him.

The judge in Sad Cypress who condemns Elinor to death is Benedict Cumberbatch’s dad (Timothy Carlton), who plays the elder Mr. Holmes in Sherlock!

Honorable mentions for being recognizable: Haydn Gwynn is a painting-forging museum curator in Sherlock, and Coco Courtney / Miss Battersby in Poirot. Russell Tovey is a young Lionel Marshall in Evil Under the Sun, and is later seen as the terrorized guy in The Hounds of Baskerville.

“The Yellow Face” (ala The Six Thatchers) and “The Chocolate Box.” I’m cheating on this one because I’m comparing an episode with a short story, but hey, it’s my blog. 😉 In the Holmes story “The Yellow Face,” the detective says to Watson: ‘If it should ever strike you that I am getting a little overconfident in my powers, kindly whisper “Norbury” in my ears.’ Christie spoofs this moment at the end of story “The Chocolate Box” with Poirot asking Hastings: ‘If you think at any time that I am growing conceited… you shall say to me “Chocolate box.” Is it agreed?’ These are both rare instances of recorded failures of Holmes and Poirot. In the TV series, Poirot ends up getting his solution correct at the end after all and his line to Hastings does not appear. In the Sherlock episode The Six Thatchers, the detective wearily issues his directive about Norbury to Mrs Hudson. I include this example because I still cannot watch the end of this Sherlock episode without thinking of Poirot.

The Lost Mine: Hastings attempts to set Poirot straight on the rules of Monopoly, but Poirot’s brain can’t handle the illogic inherent in some of the game details. So when Hastings protests: “But it’s not in the rules,” Poirot retorts, “Well then, Hastings, the rules are wrong!” Sherlock snaps almost the identical dialogue at John Watson in The Hounds of Baskerville. One can’t help but feel it was lifted wholesale from the Poirot script. 🙂

Holmes: It’s this or Cluedo.

Watson: Ah, no. We are never playing that again.

Holmes: Why not?

Watson: Because it’s not actually possible for the victim to have done it, Sherlock, that’s why!

Holmes: It’s the only possible solution.

Watson: It’s not in the rules.

Holmes: Well, then the rules are wrong!

Retirement references. Christie, as a nod to the concept of Holmes retiring to Sussex to look after beehives, mirrors that idea with Poirot retiring to the country to (unsuccessfully!) grow vegetable marrows. In the words of Christie’s Tuppence from the book Partners in Crime: “This is our last case. When they have laid the superspy by the heels, the great detectives intend to retire and take to beekeeping or vegetable marrow growing. It’s always done.” 🙂 We see Poirot’s futile attempts at retirement at the beginning of The Murder of Roger Ackroyd. We don’t see Sherlock with beehives in the other series, but there is a passing reference to it in the episode His Last Vow.

Janine: So, we’re good, then?

Sherlock Holmes: Yeah, of course. Where’s the cottage?

Janine: Sussex Downs.

Sherlock Holmes: Mm, nice.

Janine: It’s gorgeous. There’s beehives, but I’m getting rid of those.

How the actors in the title roles portray a walking brain. Both Suchet and Cumberbatch made use of the classic “steeple hands” position throughout the series to indicate their detectives entering a spell of deep thought. Interestingly, they each employed other distinctive techniques to convey the cerebral aspect of their characters. Suchet manages this by setting his voice into a much higher register, the “head” voice suggesting that the brain dominates Poirot’s entire personality to the exclusion of everything below-neck. Cumberbatch also wanted to evoke a “mind over matter” aspect of Sherlock’s physicality, and he did this by losing a significant amount of weight for the role. Doyle, of course, does describe his detective as very thin.

Giraud. Sherlock Holmes gets several references in the Poirot stories, in book and on film. Some are by name; several are by allusion (written monographs, the parsley in the butter, etc). In The Murder on the Links, Christie invents the odious Giraud to provide a rival detective for Poirot. Giraud prides himself on his great observational skills, his collection of tiny clues, his attention to cigarette ash and tire marks, and– in the episode– his trademark pipe. He is clearly aspiring (and failing) to be a second Sherlock Holmes, a “human foxhound.” I include this in my catalogue of similarities because we do get to see some pipe-smoking in the flashback episode of Sherlock, The Abominable Bride. 🙂

Offhand, those are the most noticeable “overlaps” I see when watching one or the other series. One could possibly find some connections as to how Lestrade and Japp are played (perhaps in getting their respective sleuths out of jail?), or Countess Rossakoff and Irene Adler, or Miss Lemon and Miss Hudson. However, to my mind, those are more general similarities– they don’t make me think automatically of the other series.

Are there any others you’ve noticed?  🙂