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Diary For Wed., 2/27/2019: Espirutu Mezcaleria. Laser Printer Trying To Drive Me Nuts. Many New Conversations On Air.

I seem to be under a curse that washed in from the evil beings that control computer printers. My first computers and their printers arrived in my office in 1986, and have typically lasted for a year or less. Some of them went on to serve much longer than that, their replacement being caused by the ends of ink ribbons and accordion paper.

But the one I have now was the best printer ever, all but reading my mind as to what should be done next. But after it asked me to add toner, it refused to follow through. After buying two new cartridges and a drum (which, as it turned out, was missing from the machine), it was still telling me that it wouldn’t operate without yet more toner. As of this writing, I have been on the phone with the maker’s for almost three hours, with no improvement. It is deranging my mind. I don’t have time for this.

Fortunately, I am surrounded by friends and family who remind me to keep laughing, keep eating, or both. My son Jude would be best at this, since he works in computing. But ironically, he and his two very young sons (my grandsons) are hosting a four-day stay in Los Angeles by my wife Mary Ann.

And my daughter Mary Leigh, who lovingly consoles my difficulties, has dinner with me every few days. Even though she is also overseeing a plumber, an electrician, and a concrete specialist in renovating what will soon be her first house.

It was ML’s idea to have dinner tonight at a new Mexican cafĂ©, not far from the radio station. She loves Mexican cookery, and was gobbling down piles of tortilla chips with extra-spicy salsas
since she was two or three years old. She really loves those red pepper flavors.

The name of the restaurant is Espiritu Mezcaleria. The second part of the name is where you go to have a drink or two made with mezcal, a brother to tequila but from different cactus plants fermented differently. It’s the liquor that was famous for the caterpillar in the bottle. I mean as in a real caterpillar. That’s our of vogue now, and nobody pays much attention to it.

Espiritu is not your standard Mex cantina, but what will be called by most their customers “authentic.” It would be a good thing if we all stopped using the word “authentic” when talking about food. For a restaurant–and especially for an ethnic restaurant–authenticity requires cooks, suppliers, owners, and customers who grew up with the cuisine in question. All of these are in short supply in New Orleans, or even in Houston. “Authentic” is an advertising lie in almost every place I’ve found it.

I’m not experienced enough to be able to say whether Espiritu’s food and mezcal-based drinks are really authentic. But it is different from what most of us are accustomed to. We began with a flight of salsa: a green one, a red one, and a transparent yellow one. The latter was the hot one, and all were good. ML took her usual salads, one with jicama, the other with what seemed to be cabbage. She didn’t like those much. Said there tasted more Asian than Mexican. She did, however, very much like epazote (an assortment of leafy greens) with street corn–which we can safely call “authentic.”

I started with tortilla soup with chicken and like that well enough. Better was what looked like a mini-quesadilla, with more epazote. I wrapped up with panna cotta, which was close enough to be called a flan. Check this out: all Mexican restaurants have flan. Never asked for it and failed to get it, anywhere with a Latin accent. I don’t know whether that makes it authentic.

The lady who waited on us came from Venezuela. We did not talk about that, what with things being very tough there. She was very charming and had much enlightenment about the food we were about to eat.

Espiritu occupies the former location of Capdeville, on the street o the same name, among the Federal courthouses.

Espiritu Mezcalaria & Cocina CBD: 520 Capdeville St. 504-267-4975.

AlmanacSquare February 28, 2019

Upcoming Deliciousness

Today Is February 25, 2019
St. Patrick’s Day–March 17
St. Joseph’s Day–March 19
Easter–April 21


Today’s Flavor

Today is National Strawberry Day, although the strawberry industry doesn’t seem to know about it. Strawberries worth celebrating. Here in Louisiana (where the strawberry is the official state fruit), the strawberry season is in high gear, after beginning well before Christmas last year. (They seem to appear a little earlier each year.) That schedule owes to our southerly latitude. Strawberry harvests will radiate north over a great deal of the rest of the country for months.

Strawberries are unusual in that they carry their seeds not inside but outside the fruit. A botanist would jump in here and say that what we call the seeds are actually the fruits, and what we call the fruit is really a much-expanded base peg. That said, we note that few fruits can match the fragrance and lusciousness of big, ripe strawberries at the peak of the season. When they’re at their best, the best way to eat them is all by themselves–no cake, no whipped cream, no sugar, no saccharin.

Unfortunately, the goal of the agricultural industry is to grow big, colorful strawberries that stay that way long enough to make it to the supermarket and stay there for a week or more. To do that, they’ve developed strains that resist ripening while having a gorgeous, ripe-looking red cast. That’s why they don’t have the fragrance and the sweetness we remember of old.

The most glorious time for strawberries is when Louisiana strawberries are sold by the flat from trucks on the sides of roads. It’s running a little late this year, what with the colder-than-normal winter we’ve had. The berries are lots better than other sweets you could be eating. Full of Vitamin C and fiber. And, most important, full of juicy, sexy deliciousness.

Eating Traditions

Today is one of several candidates for the birthday of Mardi Gras in New Orleans. Today in 1827, students home from schools in France put on masks and paraded through the city, celebrating the last day of freewheeling eating and drinking before Lent. It would be another thirty years before the celebration jelled into the first major parade of Comus. The first recorded celebration of Mardi Gras in Mobile, Alabama (which claims to have had it first) was this date in 1703.

Annals Of Food Research

Today in 1879, saccharin was created in the lab at Johns Hopkins University by Constantine Fahlberg and Ira Remsen. It was the first artificial sweetener, about three hundred times as sweet to the tongue as sugar. That comes at the price of a slight chemical or metallic aftertaste, which I find can be masked almost completely by using a little real sugar with it. Saccharin didn’t hit the big time until World War I, when there was a shortage of sugar in the United States. Its use declined in the 1970s, when tests seem to indicate that it’s a carcinogen. It carried a warning label for years. However, since then its safety has been confirmed, the label is gone, and it’s in pink packets everywhere.

Edible Dictionary

billi-bi, n.–A creamy soup made of mussels, saffron, and cream. It was one of the standard dishes during the golden age of New York French restaurants in the postwar period and for decades after. It’s generally agreed that it was created before the war n Maxim’s of Paris. It’s Maxim’s Chef Louis Barthe usually gets the blame for the name, although there’s dispute as to which Billy B. it referred to. Billi-bi could be found in any classic French restaurant through the 1970s, but disappeared once nouvelle cuisine and other trends that tossed out the book took over. Too bad. It’s a great dish, thick and hugely flavorful.

Gourmet Gazetteer

Strawberry, California is one of numerous towns around America named after the fruit–three of them in California alone. It’s way up in the High Sierra on CA 108. It’s a town of about 100 people, big enough to have a zip code (95375). It’s close enough to Yosemite National Park and its snow-covered mountains that it has hotels and other tourist businesses. Still, enough open fields appear on the map that they may indeed grow a few berries there. Eat at Cafe 108, about two miles up downslope in Long Barn.

The Old Kitchen Sage Says:

If you’d complain if you got lukewarm or reheated food in a restaurant, why would you ever get take-out?

Deft Dining Rule #226:

You’ll never get the best food in a restaurant if you get it to go.

Beverages In Politics

Today in 1985, Geraldine Ferraro–the first major female candidate for Vice-President of the United States–appeared in a Diet Pepsi commercial on television. She was allowed control of the content of the spot, and more or less made it into a speech about women’s rights. Nevertheless, she was criticized for doing this. Walter Mondale and Ferraro lost the election in 1984 against the unbeatable incumbent Ronald Reagan.

Food In Book Titles

John Steinbeck was born today in 1902. His gripping, important novels of unfortunate people in the American West have–for some reason–titles that refer to food, although the books are decidedly on other matters. The Grapes of Wrath, Tortilla Flats and Cannery Row. Are good examples.

Alluring Dinner Dates

Today is Elizabeth Taylor’s birthday, in 1932. She had dinner at the now-extinct Christian’s once. Owner Chris Ansel asked if she would autograph a menu. She said she would if he’d pick up the check for dinner. Chris said, “Never mind.”

Food Namesakes

Today in 1912, Lord Herbert Kitchener opened a railway from Khartoum to El Obeid in Sudan. . . Pro basketballer Chris Dishman was born today in 1974. . . Film actor Alan Fudge was born today in 1944. . . NFL Hall Of Fame player Raymond Berry was born today in 1933. . . Singer Rozonda “Chilli” Thomas was born today in 1971.

Words To Eat By

“Gluttony is an emotional escape, a sign that something is eating us.”–Peter De Vries, American author, born today in 1910.

“All culture corrupts, but French culture corrupts absolutely.”–Lawrence Durrell, English author, born today in 1912.

Words To Drink By

“We should look for someone to eat and drink with before looking for something to eat and drink.”–Epicurus.