April 12

Licorice Grilled Cheese

Days Until. . .

Easter --4 Jazz Festival--16

Today's Flavor

Today is National Licorice Day. Most licorice on the candy rack contains no actual licorice. The natural licorice flavor--similar to those of fennel or anise--comes from the root of a European plant. It contains, in addition to the distinctive taste, a compound called glycyrrhizin--the sweetest natural substance on earth. It's being used in a new kind of artificial sweetener that hasn't quite been perfected yet. Licorice is more widely used in drugs and herbal medicine than in cooking. I've only encountered actual licorice root once in a dish: the deconstructed oysters Rockefeller at MiLa. Today is also Grilled Cheese Sandwich Day. For most people, that's a trigger for childhood memories. For me, it conjures up the lunch counter at Woolworth's on shopping trip with my mother. Those sandwiches were good, but I preferred the version served in the school cafeteria, made by putting a slice of cheese on a hamburger bun and baking it until the cheese stuck the two halves of the bun together. Once in a great while I make a grilled cheese sandwich at home, when I have some interesting cheese to do it with. Not standard Cheddar, which released too much grease when melted. Something like Gruyere, or raclette, or Jarlsberg, or Fontina, or even the aggressively aromatic tete de moines, grilled on bread with some texture and nuttiness. . . yes!

The Old Kitchen Sage Sez:

Licorice is the liver of candy. And you can quote me on that.

Gourmet Gazetteer

Boiling Point is an area--you couldn't call it a neighborhood, exactly, although quite a few residences are there--in the mountains just north of Los Angeles. It's on the Sierra Highway in Agua Dulce Canyon, at the 3200-foot level. The reason for the name is a mystery. Nice overlook of L.A. from up there. The nearest restaurant of note is the Sweetwater Cafe, appropriately located in Agua Dulce, four miles west of Boiling Point.

Edible Dictionary

poi, Hawaiian, n.--A soft, starchy side dish made mostly of cooked, mashed taro root. Taro has been raised as a food crop in Hawaii for hundreds of years. Fields of the plants, whose leaves look like small elephant ears, are still grown widely throughout the islands. Poi, however, is in decline even among Hawaiian natives, who serve it mostly as a baby food and as an essential at luaus. The surest way to mark yourself as a tourist is to ask for poi. The natives dread the moment when it will be brought up in conversation with mainlanders.

Food Festivals Through History

In ancient times, this day began a seven-day festival in honor of Ceres, the goddess of growing grain and of motherly love. She gave her name to the words cereal, as well as to the first-named asteroid. Her festival, which began being celebrated in the third century B.C.E., was called Cerealia. I wonder if Kellogg's and Post ever thought of bringing that back to life. Seven days of revelry about cereal! (Hmm. I guess we've answered that question.)

Music To Eat By

On this date in 1969, Simon and Garfunkel released The Boxer, the only national hit that made reference to a certain kind of New Orleans-style sandwich. It's in the first line.

Deft Dining Rule #51:

If you arrive at a restaurant less than a half-hour before closing time, and the dining room has only a few people who are finishing up their meals, find another place to eat.

The Saints

This is the feast day of St. Zeno of Verona, one of many patron saints of fishermen. He died today in 371.

Food Namesakes

Jean-Francois Paillard, a French classical music conductor, was born on this date in 1928. (A paillard is a thin, grilled slice of meat, in case you didn't catch the food connection.) . . . Yung Wing, the first Chinese student to graduate from Yale University, arrived in the United States today in 1847. . . Howard Baker Sr., former Tennessee governor and U.S. Senator, was born today in 1902. . . William Cookworthy, a Quaker minster and pharmacist in England, got his life cooking today in 1705. He invented the first porcelain that didn't have to be imported from China to England. . . Guy Berryman, the bassist with the group Coldplay, was born in Scotland today in 1978.

Words To Eat By

"My mother was a good recreational cook, but what she basically believed about cooking was that if you worked hard and prospered, someone else would do it for you."--Nora Ephron.

Words To Drink By

"Champagne and orange juice is a great drink. The orange improves the champagne. The champagne definitely improves the orange."--Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh.