June 15

National Arugula Day

Sukiyaki. Yummy. Conch Fritters. Conch Key. Arugula. Kohlrabi. Kasseri Cheese. Scouts.

Days Until. . .

Father's Day 6

Food Calendar

In Key West, It's Conch Fritter Day. But we don't have conch fritters here (consider that good luck), so let's make this National Arugula Day. Arugula is a weed, really, and for my money it's the most delicious weed there is. It grows wild all around the Mediterranean, and has been eaten since time immemorial by people from the Riviera to Sudan. (Interesting that the impoverished people of Sudan may well be eating the same thing, simultaneously, as the wealthiest people in America's most expensive restaurants.) My favorite arugula story: I was staying in a hotel in Udine, Italy, where I was with a group of Italian-American restaurateurs. We were to have a lunch in the hotel. I went down to the lobby and entered the restaurant. Just inside the door was a gigantic glass bowl filled with arugula leaves. My only thought was of how fine a meal it would be to have nothing but that, olive oil, a little balsamic vinegar, and chunks of Parmigiana cheese on the side. I was very disappointed when the maitre d' pointed me to the banquet room where the lunch was to take place. (Fortunately, we had a little arugula.) You can grow your own arugula, but since it's only good when the leaves are small (they start tasting strong, in the direction of horseradish, when they get big), you have to constantly plant it to have fresh leaves constantly. Arugula also goes under the names "rocket" and "rouquette" and "rucola." How about a big salad bowl of it right now with a zippy vinaigrette?

Gourmet Gazetteer

Conch Key one of the islands crossed by the Overseas Highway, US 1, on its way to the southernmost point in the continental United States. At Conch Key, you have sixty-six miles to go to the end of the road at Key West. It's a small island almost entirely covered with cottages on the three main streets. Most of those were built from the 1950s onward. There's no question that conchs can be collected here. The large mollusks (their shells are the kind you hold to your ear to hear the sea) are made into a variety of hot and cold dishes, and are popular throughout the keys. The nearest restaurant is Watersedge in Marathon, a mile and a half south on US 1.

Edible Dictionary

kohlrabi, n.--One of the strangest-looking of vegetables, kohlrabi is a much-altered cultivar of cabbage. The part usually eaten is a pale green bulb formed by the bulging lower ends of the stems. Despite its appearance, this bulb doesn't grow underground. The flavor of kohlrabi is often compared with the stems of broccoli or cauliflower. The bulbs are most often peeled and then shredded into an ingredient for a salad, but sometimes they're cooked. Only people who grow them are wild about kohlrabi, really. The name is much like the German word for rutabagas, which are related only distantly.

Music To Eat Sushi By

In 1963 on this date, Kyu Sakamoto made it to Number One on the pop charts with the first (and so far, the last) Japanese language song ever to make it to the top. The real name of the song is Ue O Muite Aruko ("I Look Up When I Walk"), but its American title was Sukiyaki. The writer of the song must have found the name change absurd, but he did pretty well with it. Sukiyaki is a Japanese beef dish, one not seen often even with all the Japanese restaurants we now have. It is to modern Japanese cooking sort of what beef Wellington is to French cooking. Even though it's not bad, you wonder what the fuss was about. The beef is stewed (at the table, classically) in a sauce of soy, onions, and a few other things. The song version of Sukiyaki, performed this time by A Taste of Honey, was back on the charts at Number Three in 1981.

Music To Blow Bubbles By

Today in 1968, the bubblegum song Yummy Yummy Yummy (I've Got Love In My Tummy) peaked at Number Three. The Ohio Express did it, and was never heard from again.

Music To Listen To My Radio Show By

Today in 1910 was the birthday of David Rose, a composer and bandleader whose biggest hit was The Stripper. He did much better work than that, notably an instrumental called Holiday For Strings. It's the theme music that opens each hour of my radio show. I have about a dozen versions of it, including the original recording in 1941 by David Rose and his orchestra. Many people recognize the tune as the theme music for the old Red Skelton Show on television. David Rose also wrote the themes for Bonanza and Sea Hunt.

Food Inventions

In an effort to stabilize a surplus of milk, dairy farmer Jacob Fussell experimented with making ice cream on a large scale. Production and sales were good enough that on this date in 1851, in Baltimore, he opened the first commercial ice cream plant.

The Saints

Today is the movable feast of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. For a long time a restaurant named for that veneration was a Salvadoran cafe on Belle Chasse Highway in Gretna, Pupuseria Divino Corazon, and on the wall was a painting of the Sacred Heart. . . Today is also the feast day of St. Vitus, for whom the nerve ailment chorea--it makes people appear to be dancing--is named. St. Vitus is also the patron saint of comedians. I am on my knees, needing all the help I can get in that department.

Food Namesakes

This is the day in 1992 when Vice-President Dan Quayle told a student in a spelling bee that "potato" was spelled "potatoe.". . . The rap singer Ice Cube was thawed today in 1969. . . Dusty Baker, the manager of the Giants when they won the National League pennant in 2002, was born today in 1949. . . The unrelated Gene Baker, who played second base in the 1950s and 1960s, was born today in 1925. . . And on the same day, yet another man with that name, British broadcaster Richard Baker, was born.

Words To Eat By

"'Tis an ill cook that cannot lick his own fingers."--William Shakespeare.

Words To Drink By

"May you always have red-eye gravy with your ham, hush puppies with your catfish, and the good sense not to argue with your wife."--Unknown, except that he is probably from Tennessee.

Cheese Of The Day

Kasseri, (Greek)., n., adj.--A pale yellow (almost white) cheese made from sheep's milk--although some Kasseri is made from goat's milk, and sometimes the two kinds of milk are both used. In a way, Kasseri is an aged feta cheese, with the same tangy sharpness and bready texture. It's good all by itself, or as a stuffing for cheese -filled pastries. However, you are most likely to encounter Kasseri in the flaming grilled cheese dish saganaki, a specialty of Greek restaurants.

Food In The Woods

Today in 1916, the Boy Scouts of America were granted a national charter by the U.S. Congress. I wasn't a Scout when I was a boy, although I always wanted to be. I made up for it big time with my own son, who was in Scouting for ten years before the aromas of perfume and gasoline got into his nose. We have both learned a great deal about outdoor cookery in our cumulative two or three months of camping out. I had as great a time as he did--so much so that my wife calls me a Retro Scout.