January 11

Pil-Pil Shrimp. Louisiana. Warm Milk. Hot Toddy. Rhubarb Patch. Cornell. Rubicon. Boniato. Gruyere. Possum.

Days Until. . .

Mardi Gras--47 Valentine's Day--19

Origins Of Creole Cuisine

On this date in 1803, James Monroe and Robert R. Livingston boarded a ship bound for France, where they hoped to buy the Isle of Orleans. That's the land bordered by the Mississippi River, Bayou Manchac, Amite River, Pass Manchac, Lake Maurepas, Lake Pontchartrain, and the Gulf of Mexico. They hit the jackpot. Napoleon told them he'd like to sell all of Louisiana, from Canada on down, for the United States. I wonder what New Orleans would be like now if the Louisiana Purchase had not happened. My favorite scenario is that Louisiana would have become an independent nation, with New Orleans as its capital. Its territory would include the main stream of North American commerce, the breadbasket Midwest, and many other riches. There would have been no Civil War, allowing the culture and economy of New Orleans to blossom instead of being stamped out by Reconstruction. We'd have our French, Spanish, and African heritage and food, but with money and power. Imagine!

Today's Flavor

This is National Warm Milk Day and National Hot Toddy Day. Hot beverages for the morning and the evening. Along different lines entirely is National Rhubarb Day. On this date in 1770, Benjamin Franklin sent some rhubarb to a friend in Pennsylvania, beginning a footnote to American agriculture that still exists. Nobody admits to liking rhubarb a great deal, although it cane me made into interesting things. I've had great rhubarb pie (in the diner of a train), and for many years Paul Thomas Winery in Washington State made a wonderful wine from rhubarb. The vegetable has big leaves (borderline poisonous) and a long, red, edible stalk; after trimming, it looks like red celery.

Deft Dining Rule #154:

Eat unusual vegetables with great relish. It will persuade those around you that you're a real gourmet.

Gourmet Gazetteer

Grit is a crossroads community in the farming countryside of central Virginia, fifty-three miles east of Roanoke. The main action as far as dining out is concerned is in the adjacent towns of Hurt and Altavista, three miles west. I think T.A.'s Place sounds most promising for reasons I'm at a loss to explain.

Annals Of Culinary Education

Ezra Cornell, who made his fortune with the telegraph and the Western Union Company that he co-founded, was born today in 1807. He endowed Cornell University in Ithaca, New York, one of the leading colleges for careers in the hotel and restaurant industries. Albert Aschaffenberg. who led his family's Pontchartrain Hotel here in New Orleans, was one of many of our local Cornell lights.

Wine Inspirations

Today in 49 BCE, Julius Caesar crossed the Rubicon River, a gauntlet laid down by the Roman Senate. When the soon-to-be first emperor of the Roman Empire moved his armies into battle against the Roman establishment, it changed the course of history. "Alea jacta est," Seutonius is supposed to have said to Caesar. ("The die is cast," meaning that that Caesar had reached the point of no return. What that has to do with the superb Napa Valley wine called Rubicon is less clear, except that it was coined by Francis Coppola, the film director of The Godfather movies certainly show his feel for the dramatic. He reunited two prime vineyards that were part of the original Inglenook winery to grow the grapes for this Bordeaux-style red blend.

Edible Dictionary

habanero, n.--One of the hottest peppers in common use, the habanero is a bright red, heart-shaped capsicum pepper about two inches long and an inch and a half in diameter. It originated in the tropical regions of Central America, but is named for Havana, Cuba. It's closely enough related to the scotch bonnet pepper that the two names are interchangeable except by passionate pepper buffs. Hot sauces made with habanero peppers are extremely hot, and are usually thinned out with carrots or other vegetables to make them usable even in small quantities.

The Old Kitchen Sage Sez:

Next time you clarify butter, save the foam that you skim off the top and the solids left in the pan after you pour the clarified butter out. Mix this with garlic and parsley and use it for garlic bread.

Annals Of Food Safety

Sir James Paget, a British surgeon and physiologist, was born today in 1814. He discovered that trichinosis--a bad muscle disease--was caused by the small roundworm parasites that most often get into the body from undercooked pork. That caused everybody to grossly overcook pork for over a century. We now know that the trichina worms are killed by a temperature of 139 degrees for nine minutes, which leaves pork medium rare. And that commercial pork hasn't had the problem to begin with in decades.

Cheese In War And Peace

In the middle of World War I, a beleaguered France took drastic measures today in 1917 and placed price restrictions on Gruyere cheese. The population shook its collective fist.

Food Namesakes

Don Cherry, who had a big hit with the sentimental song Band Of Gold, was born today in 1924. . . Francesco Parmigianino, a Renaissance painter, was born today in 1503. . . The movie Orange County premiered today in 2002, a comedy. . . Gold pro Ben Crenshaw stepped up to The Big Tee today in 1952. (A Crenshaw melon is a variant of a cantaloupe.)

Words To Eat By

"I want a dish to taste good, rather than to have been seethed in pig's milk and served wrapped in a rhubarb leaf with grated thistle root."--Kingsley Amis, British novelist. "Reagan promised everyone a seven-course dinner. Ours turned out to be a possum and a six-pack."--Jim Hightower, former Texas Agriculture Commissioner and populist columnist, born today in 1943.

Words To Drink By

"How pleasant is the day when we give up striving to be young—or slender."--William James, American philosopher, born today in 1842.