Diary: Sunday, May 6, 2018. A New Dish In An Old Place. I’m up pretty early because I have a horrible thought–one too foreboding to share even with the Diary readers, who tell me that when I get deeply personal in these words, they think it’s my best writing. Gee, I hope not.
On a lighter note (literally), I give my weekly performance in the choir loft at St. Jane’s. I see that I may be the cantor in a couple of weeks. At home, the Marys tell me that they want me to join them for lunch, as soon as possible. An exciting possibility has loomed over their house renovation. Mary Leigh is an artist-carpenter more or less full-time, and so are most of the people she works with. One of them has advanced the idea that it would be fun to gather and knock out a lot of ML’s tasks. These are all young people with ability and energy, and the possibilities in this latter-day Amish barnraising are thrilling.
I haven’t seen the project up close since they started working. I am most amazed by how the Marys came up with the money for the project to begin with. I didn’t buy my first house until I was twenty-six. She beat me by a year. Having lunch with the Marys allows me to keep up with the progress. ML’s restaurant for these Sunday afternoons is La Carreta. But we go there so often that I’ve become bored with it.
But it’s the day after Cinco De Mayo, which might explain the presence of a new dish on the menu. It’s billed as a quesadilla–the Mexican-American dish often described as a Mexican pizza. But this new thing is much more imaginative. For starters, it’s made with duck legs, an ingredient I’ve had only once before in a Mexican eatery. (The other one was the brilliant Hugo’s in Houston.) The flour tortillas perform the pizza-like quality. A spicy, brick-red chilpotle sauce introduces the pepper component. The duck meat winds up inside the tortilla envelope, sealed with queso. Everybody at our table was impressed by this. If La Carreta will not serve molé poblano like I keep asking them to, this new duck dish will add the creativity.
The Marys take off on other pursuits. I return to the Cool Water Ranch and go for a four-lap, 90-minute stroll around and through the woods. It’s the first time I’ve done this in many months. Most of the grounds at the ranch have been sodden to sloshy for the last six months or more. At last, the ground is drying up to allow walking in all parts of the Ranch without the use of white rubber shrimp boots.
Not only that, but two weeks ago Mary Ann lit a fire under herself and me, and we bought a small push lawn mower to trim the main lawn at the Cool Water Ranch. Again, this is because of the unwalkable wetlands that occupy most of the Ranch. For the first time in several seasons. We still have our tractor, and I think it still works. But MA has fenced it in, for the benefit of Bauer, our long-term guest dog. Sometimes I wonder whether I live in a kennel.
Meanwhile, on the other side of America, my three-year-old grandson Jackson enjoys the Cinco De Mayo celebrations today. They’re everywhere you look in his hometown Los Angeles. Tomorrow, he’ll continue to have fun by celebrating what he calls “Six-O-De Mayo.” The kid has a brilliant sense of humor, like his grandad. Heh, heh.
La Carreta. Covington: 812 Hyw 190. 985-400-5202.
New Orleans-style turtle soup is as unique to our cuisine as gumbo. Unlike the clear turtle soup eaten in most other places, Creole turtle soup is thick and almost a stew. The most widely-served style of turtle soup in the area is descended from the one at Commander’s Palace, which is distinctive in using as much veal shoulder as turtle and in including spinach as an ingredient. My recipe is influenced by that one, as well as the incomparable version at the old Brennan’s (quite different, with more tomato), and the wonderful old-style version they did at the now-extinct Maylie’s.
The hardest part of any turtle soup recipes is finding turtle meat; if you can’t, using veal shoulder turns out a very credible mock turtle soup. It is traditional to serve turtle soup with sherry at the table, but I’ve never liked the alcoholic taste and aroma of that. I add the sherry into the recipe early to get the flavor, but not the bitter alcohol.
- 3 lbs. turtle meat or veal shoulder or a combination of the two, including any bones available
- 3 bay leaves
- 3 whole cloves
- Peel of one lemon, sliced
- 1 Tbs. salt
- 1/2 tsp. black peppercorns
- 2 sticks butter
- 2/3 cup flour
- 2 ribs celery, chopped
- 2 medium onions, chopped
- 1 small green bell pepper, chopped
- 2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
- 1/2 tsp. thyme
- 1/2 tsp. marjoram
- 1 cup dry sherry
- 2 Tbs. Worcestershire
- 1 cup tomato puree
- 1 tsp. black pepper
- 1 Tbs. Louisiana hot sauce
- 2 hard-boiled eggs, chopped
- 1 bunch flat-leaf parsley, leaves only, chopped
- 1/2 of a 10-oz. bag of spinach, well washed and chopped
1. Simmer the turtle meat and/or veal with bones in a gallon of water, along with the bay leaves, cloves, lemon peel, salt and black peppercorns. Keep the simmer going very slowly for about two hours.
2. Strain the stock, reserving the liquid and the meat. If you don’t have at least three quarts of stock, add water or veal stock to get up to that quantity. Chop the meat into small shreds and set aside.
3. Make a medium-dark roux (the color of a well-used penny) with the butter and the flour. When the roux is the right color, add the celery, onions, bell pepper, and garlic, and cook until the vegetables are soft. Add the thyme, marjoram, sherry, Worcestershire, and tomato puree. Cook for a minute, then add the stock.
4. Lower the heat and add the pepper, hot sauce, and meat. Simmer for a half-hour, then add the egg, parsley and spinach and simmer 10 minutes more. It’s ready to serve now, but it gets better if you let it simmer for an hour or two more.
5. Correct seasonings with salt and black pepper and serve in heated bowls.
Serves six to eight.
May 9, 2017
Mother’s Day May 13
Food At War
Today is V-E Day, marking the end of World War II in Europe, in 1945. At exactly the same moment, a great song called Candy hit number one, sung by Johnny Mercer and one of our favorite girl singers, Jo Stafford. It’s all before our time, but we like it anyway.
Food On The Frontier
A man largely responsible for the easy availability of beef in the American diet was born today in 1855. John “Bet A Million” Gates, the inventor and promoter of barbed wire, pushed his product on rangers, who found it cheap and effective. And suddenly the herds grew.
Annals Of Beer
Emil Christian Hansen, a scientist working in Danish breweries, developed a means of culturing brewer’s yeast in such a way that its performance (and therefore the flavor of the beer) became much more consistent than it had been. He also discovered that there are two species of brewer’s yeast: the kind that floats, and the kind that sinks. He was born today in 1842.
Today is Coca-Cola Day. It was sold for the first time on this date in 1886. Invented by pharmacist Dr. John S. Pemberton, Coke and beverages like it (Dr Pepper, for example, which was already in the market) were sold more in drugstores than anywhere else. Pemberton offered Coca-Cola as a “brain and nerve tonic.” He sold on average a big nine glasses a day during the first year at his Atlanta drugstore. A few years later, unhopeful for the future of his invention, Pemberton sold the rights to the formula to Asa Candler for $2300. Candler added an ingredient much more important than any of the ones Pemberton thought of: marketing. Indeed, the promotion of Coca-Cola to the general public worldwide is one of the most important chapters in the history of advertising.
The aspect of Coca-Cola that most interests me is that the formula for it is so bitter that it requires a great deal of sugar to bring it into a balance that tastes good. Nine teaspoons of sugar are in every twelve-ounce can. Imagine putting that much sugar in coffee or any other beverage! Part of the balance is also struck with the acidic carbonated water. If you’ve ever had a Coke that was allowed to go flat, you know how insipidly sweet it is. The bubbles play against the sugar.
Whatever else can be said about Coca-Cola, there’s no question we drink far too much of it. Really, it’s brown sugar water. Anybody try the new version of Coke with vitamins and minerals?
Melon, Texas is a tiny farming community on the flat chapparal country in the southern bootheel of the state, sixty miles south of San Antonio on the road to Laredo. They may well raise watermelons there; plenty of them come from that part of Texas. Mexican food is king in this land. The nearest restaurants of interest include Frio Cafe, Los Cazadores [“The Hunters”] Bar and Grill, and Taco Parado Cafe, all three miles north in Pearsall.
Bubble Gum (flavor), adj.–In sno-ball stands around New Orleans and many other locales around the Hot South, a flavor called Bubble Gum is almost universal. The reason for its popularity owes almost entirely to its unique color: a bright blue. What it’s supposed to taste like is less obvious. The story is that a company making flavors for the entire range of sweet confections had a formula it sold to a maker of actual bubble gum. The company making the gum went out of business, and the flavor company was stuck with a significant inventory of the bankrupt company’s signature flavor. The flavor company decided to try it as a new sno-ball flavor. It was colorless, though, so the options were wide open. There was no blue flavor at the time, so that’s the hue it took on. And that’s the whole story.
New Orleans Restaurateur Hall Of Fame
Felix Gallerani was born today in 1938, in Tirol, the part of Italy near Austria. Felix came to New Orleans in the 1970s to be the chef of the flagship restaurant in the Hilton Riverside Hotel. However, he shortly thereafter decided he’d had enough of the kitchen and went into the dining room as the maitre d’. He held that position for a very long time at Begue’s, where he became well known. He spent a few years at the front door at Broussard’s before buying Cafe Volage in the 1990s. (It was where Barcelona Tapas is now.) He sold the restaurant in 2007, and passed away a year later. He used to call into my radio show to talk about food and the antics of his parrot, Pistachio.
Pitcher Catfish Hunter pitched a perfect game for Oakland against the Minnesota Twins today in 1968. . . Graphic designer Saul Bass was born today in 1921. . . Henry Baker, one of the earliest users of microscopes in science, was born today in 1698. . . Today in 1919, Edward George Honey proposed an international holiday celebrating the end of World War I, Armistice Day. . . Today in 1999, Nancy Mace became the first female graduate of The Citadel, a previously all-male military college.
Today is the feast day of St. Michael the Archangel. Among many other roles, he is the patron of bakers and grocers.
Words To Eat By
“It takes a lot of dough to make the upper crust.”–Alfred E. Neuman, fictional goofball and mascot of Mad Magazine. He was on its cover for the first time today in 1956. Today is also the birthday of Mad itself, in 1952.
Words To Drink By
“But Daddy. . . Coke has vitamins!”–My son Jude at age three, trying to persuade me to let him have Coca-Cola right before bedtime.
A Rising Tide Of Coffee Lifts All Frothed Milk.
Click here for the cartoon.