Diary: Week of 11/18 /2018. Thanksgiving. After our brunch today at the Lakehouse (reported last week), I set about the relatively few ingredients missing from my list of Thanksgiving needs. I am in the happiest of moods, and so are the other people doing their Thanksgiving shopping. Again and again, these folks come up to ask me something. Some think I work in the supermarket, and others just stop. They learn what I do for a living, we shoot the breeze, and I give recipes and cooking advice.
For our own dinner, I am charged with the big proteins (the turkeys and the ham) and the centerpiece dessert (my satsuma-flavored cheesecake). All of this will become really spectacular late Thanksgiving afternoon tomorrow.
Elsewhere, Mary Ann has been acquiring the parts for making sides, pasta dishes including a vast amount of macaroni and cheese, dips, salads, and the like.
It has been a long time–at least three years–since MA and I held Thanksgiving dinner at home. Before then, a large contingent of our in-laws and their many kids came to the Cool Water Ranch every year.
Those were especially evident after Jude and Mary Leigh left town to create their own lives. The echos of their visits during those relatively lonely times are still to be heard. “It smells like Thanksgiving in here!” once said son Jude, as he opened the kitchen door from the lawn and took a whiff of the ham glaze on the stove. At a younger time, with just as pleased a smile, daughter Mary Leigh decreed, “Thanksgiving is the best holiday. I like it even more than Christmas!” Amazing words from someone who wasn’t quite into her single-digit years. She still holds to that opinion. Or does she? I wonder.
As I launch into my cooking, the nostalgia continues. As was always the case in the Golden Age of the Tom and Mary Ann Fitzmorris Family, I make the cheesecake first. It takes about an hour start to finish–but starting with the time the baking is done, I have to let the cooling process spread out in hour-long steps, to prevent the top from cracking. This means I have to wake up three or four times. That last time was at about two in the morning.
The cheesecake is flavored with satsuma juice. Floating on top are slices of the Plaquemines Parish citrus, which is always in season at this time of the year.
The last time I awaken, it’s six a.m. Thanksgiving morning, it’s chilly but clear. In another time-honored ritual, I load charcoal into the Big Green Egg, which is just out of the shop after a much-needed overhaul. It heats up quickly, and the smoking commences. It will be in there for about four hours at around 350 degrees. While I’m waiting for that, I reduce my root beer glaze concoction. It’s never the same twice. Aside from the Barq’s (what other root beer will suffice?), the glaze contains, satsuma juice, orange zest, powdered ginger, cloves (the spice, not the garlic) nutmeg, and cinnamon sticks. Also here is the last of my supply of Tabasco Caribbean hot sauce.
For the first time ever, I find myself without brown sugar of the standard, humidified kind. I make due with some granulated brown sugar from Lafourche Parish’s sugar mills. This causes the glaze to become candied. I didn’t like that, but Mary Leigh–the most avid fan of my famous root beer ham–said she thought this was the best version of all time.
My cooking comes to a halt at nine, when I go on the air at WWL Radio for two hours in a live broadcast from the Cool Water Ranch kitchen. That’s a tradition going back at least twenty years, and I love hosting it. While I talk and cook, any kids present watch the Macy’s Parade from Manhattan on TV.
Every year during the Golden Era, at around 10 a.m., MA would declare that we wouldn’t have enough food cooked for the number of guests that would be coming over. The inevitable would occur, and we’d wind up with a vast oversupply of leftovers, even by the standards of Thanksgiving. This would happen every Thanksgiving until we got wise. This year, we stopped at exactly the harvest. The only dish that appeared to be a heavy surplus consisted of the three enormous pans of macaroni and cheese. But the number of little kids (and big kids and totally grown-up people who still eat like kids) was just right, and every scrap of of the yellow pasta was consumed.
From what people were telling me, this was one of our best Thanksgiving feasts ever. Even MA’s brother Lee–who always serves fantastic layouts of classy eats at his parties–was impressed.
Most of the guests came late, which was a big help to me. Late in the game, MA handed me the makings of barbecue shrimp and cornbread-and-Italian-sausage to convert into something great. I wasn’t happy with it, but I did what I was told. And then it was time to slice the cheesecake, which I am proud to say was as fine as I always make it.
The several young children who were in attendance included Palmer, a four-year-old who was sharp as a tack and endlessly curious about everything he so much as heard mentioned said in the room. He was a harbinger of the two even younger boys we would spend the next few days with.
But before we could do that, we had to get the guests to go home. A lot of them didn’t want to leave. They did, however, help with the clean-up, orchestrated mostly by Mary Leigh. I did something I read about once in a book of etiquette. If lingerers stay too long, one should put on pajamas, thank the guests for coming, and say “Stay as long as you like, but I am off to bed. Early morning.”
Early morning indeed. Tomorrow in the A.M., we had to get ourselves to the airport for three nights in Los Angeles, the home of our son Jude and his wife Suzanne and their sons (our grandsons) Jackson and Bennet. This, really, was the heart of the
days I am taking off this weekend. (Which, dear reader, explains why you have not found me in your mailbox around this time. lately. We’re back as of today.)
MA and I differ in our ideas of the best times to travel. MA, who travels much more than I do, loves to gad about, almost always at times and places when and where something big is going on. That involves working through crowds. I don’t like crowds and avoid them even if it means skirting peak moments of the destination. I think the idea of a Thanksgiving visit to our kids in L.A. is wonderful–if it can be done a couple of weeks before or after Thanksgiving. According to published statistics, the busiest travel days of 2018 were the two days before Thanksgiving Day, and the Sunday after. There was clear evidence of this at the Louis Armstrong New Orleans Airport, where all (and we looked) the parking spaces were full. We had to search for blocks before we found a recently-excavated overflow parking facility that was nothing if not inconvenient. It took a half hour just to find the primitive spot. As a result, we came close to missing our flight.
The flight was no fun, and took two hours longer than scheduled because of a strong westerly headwind. I was jammed in the center seat with a moaning guy who had misplaced his c-pack machine. The plane stopped briefly before takeoff. (Security had the c-pack.) Things never improved after that. This is the sort of thing you encounter when you run with the crowds. Which I don’t.
Fortunately, there was a reward at the end of these ordeals. After taking a long shuttle driven into by a very nice chauffeur from LAX to Talouca Lake (a restaurant-rich suburb of Los Angeles), Jude met us at Novo Café, an excellent but basic Italian restaurant we found on our last trip here. With him were the other grandparents (one of whom has a large cat about the size of my own. Same color, too). I’ve liked these folks since I first met them. They like our kids, too. And here were our wonderful little ones. This one is just turned three, and the other is seven months. Both have big blue eyes that scan everything constantly, as if it all meant something big. Which it does, of course. Mary Ann will see to that.
Reveillon Begins. Preview The 2018 Menus
The Christmas season is a puzzle for restaurateurs. They’re either insanely busy with private parties–some of which can take over the entirety of even very large restaurants like Arnaud’s–or they’re completely dead.
Adding to the perplexity is an increase in recent years of independent travelers (as opposed to conventioneers) showing up in large numbers throughout December. That’s a calendar page which historically has been very slack.
That’s why in 1988 Sandra Dartus came up with a great idea that played right into this. She was working for the French Quarter Festival at the time, and created a program called “A Creole Christmas.” (It’s since been named “Christmas New Orleans Style.”) She approached restaurateurs with the idea of creating special holiday menus as part of the promotion.
She named it “The Reveillon,” recalling a historical feast in New Orleans and other francophone places going back centuries. Local diners, ever keen for an excuse to dine festively, became the Reveillon’s best customers. The word got out, though, and now people come from all over for Reveillon awakenings.
As of this moment–according to the official Christmas New Orleans Style brochure (available widely around town)–sixty-five restaurants officially take part this year. Another five to ten will put on similar menus, without hooking up with the Reveillon organization. And som other new additions will come along. It’s not impossible for the total to exceed 100 restaurants. All serve dinners of four to six courses of food themed to the holidays. There are a few other rules.
The official data just came out, and I am already hard at working making up my list of recommended Reveillon restaurants. I’ll start the search now and keep going, one a day, until the Reveille ends in the New Year. Check in every day for be the first to know. Just come to this, our home page of NOMenu.Com. Enjoy!
November 28, 2017
New Year’s Eve: 34.
National French Toast Day, but in which nation? French toast is what, in the rest of America, a dry, uninteresting version of lost bread. And that is one of the most delicious of New Orleans breakfasts. We like the French name, pain perdu. The craft of making of lost bread, after a long decline, seems to be on the rise. People in other places seem to be discovering that the bread must be soaked with the custard mixture, almost to the point of falling apart, The custard is enlivened with cinnamon and vanilla. My own standard for the dish was set by my mother, who didn’t make it often enough for us kids. The unique aspect of her version was that she fried it in about a half-inch of oil. While I think we fry too many things already around New Orleans, this is one items that really gains two or three levels of oozy goodness from that method. I make it every time I have half a chance.
Chicory, Montana is forty-four miles east of Bozeman, on the west bank of the Yellowstone River. Yellowstone National Park is about thirty miles south. To the east are large farm squares in which the irrigation equipment, like gigantic compasses, make green circles on a gray-brown background. In the west are some serious mountain ranges covered with the trees of Gallatin National Forest. All of this lies atop some highly geothermically active land. Five miles away is a spa with a restaurant, the Chico Hot Springs Resort. Try the cumin-crusted sockeye salmon with lime beuree blanc. (That’s really on the menu.)
lamington, n.–A square of sponge cake coated in chocolate, fondue-style, then sprinkled with coconut. These are a midwinter specialty in Australia and New Zealand. The coconut is supposed to resemble snow. Lamingtons are traditionally made by young people. Youth groups like the Scouts sometimes sell them as fundraisers. This has made them a beloved part of the Australian culinary scene. Although midwinter is in July in Australia, what little currency lamingtons have gained in the United States has come during the Christmas season.
Deft Dining Rule #355:
If you find yourself eating Melba toast with butter in a restaurant, it means either a) the service is too slow or b) you have too little control over your hunger.
The Old Kitchen Sage Sez:
The best bread to use for making French toast (or lost bread) is completely dry, stale bread. It soaks up more of the custard and tastes better.
The U.S. Patent office registered a trademark for Arm & Hammer baking soda today in 1905. That’s the arm of Vulcan with the hammer on the box, there. The stuff inside is so pure that it qualifies for laboratory work. Baking soda is sodium bicarbonate. It has the ability to neutralize both acids and bases, which is how it works in baking. When it comes into contact with acid–say, buttermilk in a biscuit recipe–it releases gases, which then cause the dough to rise.
Inventor John Wesley Hyatt was born today in 1837. He is best known for his invention of celluloid, as a substitute for ivory in billiard balls. It would find many other uses. But he also created a chemically-active filter for drinking water, and a new method of milling sugar cane. So his work affects our dinner tables.
Today in 1869, W.F. Semple of Ohio was issued the first patent for chewing gum.
Beverages In Wartime
Coffee began to be rationed in the United States today in 1942 rationing took hold, lasting until the end of World War II. Here in New Orleans, we had an established way of stretching coffee supplies. The use of ground, roasted chicory roots as a substitute originated as a wartime measure in France, during the time of Napoleon. Only New Orleans still embraces chicory as a coffee additive. It’s almost gone in Europe, with most of the last holdouts in Belgium, where most of the chicory used for coffee-blending purposes is grown.
Through History With Cognac
Louis XIII of France married Princess Anne of Austria today in 1615. The most expensive commonly-available Cognac is named for him, and is one of the principal reasons you should never utter the words, “Bring me the best Cognac in the house!” In most restaurants it sells for over $100 a shot. It contains a goodly amount of Cognac that’s been aged for over a century. Remy Martin, its maker, claims that its aftertaste lingers for over an hour. Even the container is grand: a Belle Epoque-style Baccarat crystal bottle.
Eating Around The World
This is Panama Independence Day. The country officially cut loose from Spain on this day in 1821, but almost immediately linked up with Colombia. Panama would be part of Colombia until the United States, needing to separate the country for the building of the canal and the banana interests, instigated a secession. Panamanian cooking has aspects of Central American, Spanish, and Caribbean cuisines. And a little South American, too: Panamanian ceviche is excellent, and is usually served with a side order of popcorn (really!).
Today is Albanian Independence Day. The nation on the east cost of the Adriatic Sea broke away from the Ottoman Empire today in 1912. On this same day in 1944, in World War II, Albania freed itself from Axis occupation. Now there’s an ethnic cuisine we haven’t seen yet. Blame it on the Communists, who controlled Albania during most of its last century.
Berry Gordy, the founder of Motown Records, was born today in 1929. . . Henry Bacon, who designed the Lincoln Memorial, was born today in 1866. . . Today is the feast day of St. Basil, who lived in the Eighth Century in Constantinople.
Words To Eat By
“She was so wild that when she made French toast her tongue got caught in the toaster.”–Rodney Dangerfield.
Words To Drink By
“Drink down all unkindness.”–William Shakespeare, Merry Wives Of Windsor.