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Five-Star Edition Today

DiningDiarySquare-150×150 Diary 1/2018.The Oyster Fest Gets Wet.
The high hopes for the Oyster Festival had to deal for an hour or so with a tremendous downpour of rain. I got a good idea of how it would be as I made my way along Tchoupitoulas Street from downtown to Octavia Street. There, as the rain kept coming, I tried to find a place to park within a block of Octavia Books, and actually finding one in a few minutes as the rain ended.

I’m always surprised that a fair number of customers show up for signing sessions for my books, but even more so when a lot of them turn out to be friends I haven’t encountered in a long time. Today, we were happy to encounter a lady who, while we were escaping from Hurricane Gustav, invited us to spend our first night out at her house. We were all tired from traveling, and this took the feeling of danger out. She became a great friend ever since. I would have given her a copy of my cookbook, but she had already paid for one.

We saw her again when we gathered for a light supper at the Windsor Court Hotel. The Club–an accommodation for deluxe guests–has a wonderful buffet, bar, and view. But the most delightful aspect of the Club is that Mary Ann and I used the whole thing as our wedding night just-the-two-of-us space. What a memorable place for that evening! The only possible improvement would have been to have someone there to play the grand piano–but MA would have killed me if I’d arranged that.

Ping Pong (Nectar Soda)

The origin of the name “ping pong” is unknown, but in the riverlands between New Orleans and Baton Rouge many people know what it is: a pink, frozen drink that has the flavor of nectar. Nectar, in turn, is universally recognized among Orleanians as a distinctive flavor, a blend of almond and vanilla. Nectar was one of the most popular flavors for ice cream sodas in the days when drugstores still made such things. Now nectar as an essential flavor in the vast arrays of syrups poured over finely-shaved ice for sno-balls.
I learned about ping pong from Mark Hymel, whose family has raised sugar cane and run a fine seafood restaurant in St. James Parish for generations. He handed it to me at a party at his home, and challenged me to guess what it was. I recognized the nectar flavor instantly, but was astonished to learn how it was derived. The original recipe is so sweet that you can’t drink much of it (although you will very much like those few sips). Lately, I’ve lightened up the sugar content by replacing the condensed milk with cream.

Original Recipe:
1 can sweetened condensed milk
1 liter Barq’s red creme soda
Not-So-Sweet Version:
1 cup half-and-half
1 liter Barq’s red creme soda

For either formula, mix the two ingredients in an ice cream maker and freeze. It will probably not get hard, but have the texture of a frozen daiquiri. You can solidify it by freezing it further, but it’s better as a drink, really. In fact, you can add a shot of vodka to it for something a bit more potent.

If you don’t have an ice cream maker, mix the ingredients in a gallon-size plastic food storage bag and freeze that until it starts to set. Squinch the bag every now and then until it has a slushy consistency.
Serves twelve to twenty.
AlmanacSquare June 5, 2017
Days Until. . .

Father’s Day 14
Today’s Flavor

The Web rumor is that today is National Gingerbread Day, but that makes no sense at all–gingerbread, as we all know, is for the holidays. However, a local variation on gingerbread deserves annual celebration. It’s the cookie called the stage plank. The origin of the stage plank, and even whether it is unique to this area, is unknown. The most primitive and best form of it comes from the sugar cane country southwest of New Orleans, where they were made with molasses. Those stage planks are thicker and softer than the standard, but like all stage planks they’re oblong, have scalloped edges, and either white or pink hardened icing. They have a spicy flavor over a background of caramelized sugar. The most famous stage planks here were Jack’s Rock ‘n’ Roll Cookies. They were much thinner–about an eighth of an inch–and brittle. I remember from my grocery-store days that long after the price of all other cookies had gone to a dime, the double pack of Rock ‘n’ Roll stage planks remained a nickel. In any case, when you buy a snack today, remember that this is Stage Plank Day.
Edible Dictionary

Coke, Texas is about midway between Dallas and Shreveport, in the northeast corner of the state. Although it still has about a hundred residents, it’s considered a ghost town, its downtown almost entirely defunct. It was one of hundreds of towns across America that were a day’s horse ride from the next town in any direction. They became defunct with the coming of the automobile. It was founded in the 1850s because coal mines were nearby. Coke–the solid fuel left over after coal and tars are distilled out of coal–was produced there. Here’s a web site with more about Coke, Texas. The nearest place to eat is about eight miles away in Yantis, on the reservoir. It’s the Oak Valley Catfish Kitchen.

Gourmet Gazetteer

Livermore, California is the easternmost city in the San Francisco Bay metropolitan area. With a population of 81,000, it’s one of the larger ones, as well. Founded in 1869, it was the first place in California where wine grapes were grown intensively. It still produces a good deal of wine. It’s named for Robert Livermore, who owned a ranch in the area in the 1800s. It’s now the home of some of the biggest high-tech companies in the world, as well as the longest-burning (since 1901) light bulb on earth. The best place to eat in Livermore is Wente Vineyards, an old winery with a first-class restaurant. They didn’t have liver on the menu the day I looked, but it changes daily.
The Old Kitchen Sage Sez:

A barbecue sauce made without molasses will not be memorable.
Great Moments In Wine

Today in 1988, the cork from a bottle of sparkling wine at Woodbury Vineyards in New York State was ejected by one Heinrich Medicus in such a way that the force of the natural carbonation propelled it 177 feet, nine inches–the world’s record. The bottle was neither warmed nor abnormally treated (although I’ll bet Heinrich shook the bottle a little).
Annals Of Fresh Fruit

Today in 1876, at the Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia, bananas were first sold to the American public at large. They’d been eaten before, but as something exotic, since getting them to market before they rotted had only recently become possible. Their popularity took off, and they became the most popular fruit in this country.
Food And Politics

In the early days of margarine’s marketing, the dairy industry used all the political stroke it had to keep this new competitor at bay. For example, for a long time margarine could not be colored yellow, leaving it an unappealing white color unless you mixed a drop of annatto color into it yourself. Today in 1877, the first such measure was passed in New York, placing a tax on margarine that butter makers didn’t have to pay. It was only seven years since margarine had been invented. We’d consider this a tax on bad taste, and wish there were a way to levy such a thing on. . . oh, fried Twinkies, pork belly entrees, and Vienna sausage.
Alluring Dinner Dates

Italian mezzo-soprano singer Cecilia Bartoli’s birthday was today in 1966. Her singing is as beautiful as her looks, highlighted by her famously dramatic eyes. She records and performs both opera and romantic music. My fantasy is to have her join us for dinner at Cafe Giovanni and sing a few songs. Then to permit me to perform a duet on “If I Loved You” with her. I can dream, can’t I?
Food Inventions

The Apple II, generally considered the first personal computer, premiered today in 1977. (The Apple I, in case you’re interested, was just a circuit board; you had to find your own keyboard, monitor, and case.)
The Saints

Today is the feast day of St. Boniface, a Benedictine monk who brought Christianity to Germany in the 700s. He is the patron saint of Germany,and (logically enough) of beer brewers.
Food On Broadway

Monty Python’s Spamalot won three Tony Awards today in 2005, including Best Musical.
Food Namesakes

NFL footballer Todd Burger hit the Big Scrimmage today in 1970. . . Gospel music pianist and singer Anthony Burger was born today in 1961. . . Rock drummer Zac Farro was born today in 1990. (Farro is a kind of primitive wheat, which has been making a comeback lately.)
Words To Eat By

“It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker, that we expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own interest.”–Adam Smith, the father of modern economics, born today in 1723.
Words To Drink By

“The only things that the United States has given to the world are skyscrapers, jazz, and cocktails. That is all. And in Cuba, in our America, they make much better cocktails.”–Federico Garcia Lorca, Spanish writer, born today in 1898.FoodFunniesSquare
Back In The Glamorous Times Of Dining. . .

You might find people having the same kinds of conversations that they have in these times, except that they dressed better in the old days.

Click here for the cartoon.

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