May 11

MacArthur Park. Margarita. Spam. Thailand. Mint. Massaman Curry. Printed Menu.

Days Until. . .

May 15th Dining Restriction Update--4

Eating Around The World 

On this day in 1949, the kingdom of Siam renamed itself Thailand. Thai people are rightly proud of two things: that they were never dominated by another country, and that their food is uniquely delicious. By coincidence, this is the birthday of history's most famous Siamese twins, Chang and Eng. They were indeed born in what was Siam then, and they were never separated.

Today's Flavor 

Today is National Thai Food Day. Thai food is clearly Asian: cut into bite-sized morsels, dominated by vegetables with smaller amounts of protein. Its sauces make Thai food distinctive. They're made with lots of fresh, up-front herbs like cilantro, lemongrass, and galangal (a relative of ginger). Thai cooking includes many varieties of curry, none of which are much like Indian curry. The standard varieties are red curry, green curry (usually blended with coconut milk), musaman curry, which is mild and sweet with raisins and nuts, and Panang curry, which tends to the yellow side and makes the mildest statement.The curries are juicy stews, but there are other kinds of dishes. Probably the most famous is pad thai, a combination of rice noodles, chicken, shrimp, peanuts, bean shoots, carrots, and hot red pepper with a bit of chicken stock. This is a dish about which we can truly say that we've never had a bad version. It tastes better and better as you eat it until, getting up the last little bits, you're hungry for more, no matter how much there was to begin with.Thai cuisine goes well beyond those major dishes to include some great soups, spring rolls with peanut-based dipping sauces, fried rice with pineapple, and many more specialties. One advisory you find on almost every Thai menu is that they'll cook it to any degree of hotness. The choices are usually mild, hot, extra hot, and Thai hot--the latter being on the delicious threshold of pain.

Gourmet Gazetteer 

Mint is a large ranch in the high desert of Central Arizona. It and its neighbor the Stringfield Ranch are on a dry wash that can fill from bank to bank when the occasional storm comes through. Which it doesn't often. It's in an isolated spot among 5000-foot mountains fifteen miles north of Prescott. Table Mountain is visible a mile and a half away, but for a table where you can actually eat, you have to drive eight miles to Gabby's Kitchen in Chino Valley.

Edible Dictionary 

masaman, adj.--One of the many varieties of Thai curry, masaman (also spelled musaman) curry includes a greater component of aromatic spices often thought of a going with sweet sauces: cinnamon, cloves, and nutmeg. Its flavor profile can have a touch of sweetness, and sometimes even raisins. The name comes from either "Muslim man" or "musulman," a clear reference to Middle Eastern influences. Although it can be served with a hot red peppers, it's more often made on the milder side.

Deft Dining Rule #881:

If you've never had a dish made "Thai hot," tonight is not the night to try it. Order your curry "extra hot" and see if that doesn't do it for you.

The Old Kitchen Sage Sez:

The combination of Thai curry paste (any color) and coconut milk is so appealing that you can use it for a vast range of dishes. Anything involving seafood or chicken, for example. Take a leap of faith on this.

Music To Eat Cake By

On this date in 1968 McArthur Park, written by Jimmy Webb and sung by Richard Harris, was released. Nobody knows what the lyrics mean. My daughter once asked me why somebody would leave a cake with green frosting out in the rain, especially if it took a long time to bake, and the baker lost the recipe. And, more important, why someone would write a six-minute song about it.

Annals Of Cocktails 

Carlos Herrera, the inventor of the margarita, died on this date in 1992. He assembled the concoction of tequila, lime juice, triple sec, and ice, with a salt rim, at his restaurant, Rancho La Gloria, near Tijuana, in 1947. The story goes that he named it after an actress who called herself Marjorie King, a regular customer who preferred tequila shooters.

Annals Of Canned Food

The name Spam was registered as a trademark by the Hormel Company today in 1937. It's short for "spiced ham." That's what it is: ham and pork shoulder, in a can. Not horrible, but not good, either.

Food In Show Biz 

Foster Brooks, whose comedy routines were built around his allegedly being intoxicated all the time, was born today in 1912. We don't consider drunkenness funny anymore, so his act seems appalling in retrospect. He died in 2002. . . Today in 1994, the Broadway musical Grease opened for what would be the first of 1503 performances.

Food Namesakes 

The dancer and choreographer Martha Graham was born in 1894. . . Margaret Brewer, the first U.S. Marine Corps General of her sex, got the promotion today in 1978. . . Ex-Mafia boss Joe "Bananas" Bonanno died today in 2002. . . Faith Popcorn, a management consultant known for predicting trends, predicted on this day in 1947 that she would be born later the same day.

Words To Eat By 

"How pleasant is the day when we give up striving to be young—or slender."--William James, 19th-century American philosopher, born today in 1842.

Words To Drink By

"Reagan promised everyone a seven-course dinner. Ours turned out to be a possum and a six-pack."--Jim Hightower, Texas populist politician, born today in 1943.

Annals Of Menus

On this date in 1854, Ottmar Mergenthaler was born. He invented the Linotype machine, which set letters in solid lead slugs a line at a time, mechanically, by an operator using a keyboard. That replaced the hand-picking of letters, one at a time, that characterized most printing of the time. The first newspapers I worked for, in the late 1960s and early 1970s, still used Linotype machines, but the technology was near the end of its road. One of the last users of Linotype was a printer in Texas that specialized in restaurant menus.