January 2

2009. Eight Maids. Milk. Milk Springs. Coconut Milk. Opening A Coconut. Spain. Smoking Bans. Peachy State. St. Basil. Aspirin.

Days Until. . .

Carnival Begins6. Mardi Gras 61.

Happy New Year!

This is the last time I'll wish you a Happy New Year in this space. But you and I will keep on saying that to people we meet for at least a couple of weeks. When do you stop saying "Happy New Year!"? I asked that question on the radio about fifteen years ago. It became a contest, to guess the last consecutive day on which someone would say "Happy New Year!" on the air. The date was May 17. "Happy New Year!" became a catchphrase on the show, reaching its ultimate expression in 2010, during which someone said the phrase every day of the year. That has persisted every year since. New listeners must be puzzled to hear not one but numerous people say "Happy New Year!" in August on the program.

The Eighth Day of Christmas

Eight maids may show up a-milking. In other versions of the same song, we're alerted to the fact dat you ate by your mama's, have gold and silver tinsel for your tree, received an indoor plastic birdbath, and ate (our own lyrics) eight links of sausage.

Food Calendar

Back to those eight maids a-milking: The first of them brings skim milk, which tastes terrible but keeps your bones strong. The second has one per cent milk--too weak for coffee, but you can make good Creole cream cheese from it. The maid sells two-percent milk, which is tolerable for cereal, but not for mashed potatoes or bread pudding. Maid Number Four has whole, three-and-a-half-percent milkfat milk. Good old regular homogenized, which these days sells less well than two-percent. Behind her is a maid with four-plus-percent milk, made by smaller dairies like Smith's Creamery. You have to shake it, because the cream still rises to the top of the bottle, like in the old days. This stuff is fantastic for making cafe au lait. Milkmaid Five has light cream--also known as coffee cream. That's is hard to find around New Orleans, although it's common in the Northeast. For most purposes, instead of that we'll have to use what the next maid has: half-and-half. Half cream and half milk, with about the milkfat content of light cream but not quite as good. (It's about fifteen percent.) Now here's the milkmaid with whipping cream at around thirty percent, good enough for making whipped cream. But for sauces, what we want is the offering of Milkmaid Eight, who has heavy whipping cream--forty percent butterfat. Put it in a jar and shake it, and you can make your own butter.

Gourmet Gazetteer

Blackeye Creek--which sounds like the perfect place to eat in the days around New Year's--runs for about two miles through the Vinegar Hill Indian Rock Scenic Area, in the northeast corner of Oregon. The creek begins at a spring on the southeastern slope of Black Butte, near the Little Doe Mine. It ends at the Granite Boulder Creek. All of this is in the well-forested Blue Mountains, a beautiful place to hike--if probably on the cold side on New Year's. It's such wild country that you have to drive thirty-one miles to Prairie City, to dine at the Hitchin' Post Cafe.

Edible Dictionary

Creole sauce, n.--A thick sauce dominated by tomatoes, with onions, bell peppers and celery, plus a generous dose of black pepper. Creole sauce differs from other common tomato sauces (like the Italian ones) in being cooked so briefly that the tomatoes retain their fresh acidity. Although the Creole culture referred to is that of New Orleans, it's an irony that Creole sauce is a minor player in the broad range of New Orleans' Creole cookery. The most popular dish made with it is shrimp Creole, followed by chicken, then veal grillades and grits. It can and is served with a wide range of foods. I suspect the reason it is in decline is that it really should be made to order, lest it become oxidized. Variations on Creole sauce involving vegetables like fennel and mirlitons are becoming more common.

The Old Kitchen Sage Sez:

Here's how to open a coconut. Buy a quarter-inch drill bit and wash it. Use it only for this purpose, and store it in a kitchen drawer. With a cordless drill, drill into one of the eyes, and drain out the coconut water. Drink it! It will be sweet and it's very healthful. Then take the coconut outside and put it on concrete. Hit it hard with a hammer until it cracks open. A good fresh coconut's meat will fall from the shell. If it doesn't, use an oyster knife to separate it. Be careful! It's easy for your hand to slip while doing this.

Eating Around The World

Today in 1492--which would prove a big year for the country--the last stronghold of the Moors in Grenada fell to the forces of Ferdinand and Isabella, and modern Spain was born. The long Islamic domination of the Iberian peninsula blended with the previous Roman influence to create a rich and unique Spanish culture. Its food, architecture, and music are among the world's most influential, from Latin America to the Phillippines. In this country, we're just beginning to learn about the goodness of Spanish cooking, but we never seem to get any farther along than that.

Eating Across America

Georgia, the Peach State, became the fourth of the United States on this date in 1788. It was the first Southern state to ratify the Constitution.

Clear-Air Dining

Today in 2007, smoking was banned in Louisiana restaurants, a move that a majority of people have wanted for years. Among them: most restaurateurs, who found the enforcement of smoking and non-smoking sections made both sides angry. Any fears about lost business don't seem to have come to pass. . . Coincidentally, today in 1966 was the first day on which cigarette packages were required to carry health warnings, the first step along the way to destroying the addictive popularity of what even smokers call "coffin nails."

Deft Dining Rule #222

The era of the two-course dinner in gourmet restaurants is now officially underway. Any more than that is now considered a major feast. This rule is in conflict with another one that says that the era of small plates is in force.

The Saints

Today is the feast day of St. Basil the Great, a Greek church leader in the Fourth Century, one of the few saints with a food name. We also celebrate St. Macarius of Alexandria. Before he became a monk in 335, he made and sold pastries, candies, and fruit confections. For that reason he is the patron saint of bakers of fancy pastries.

Annals Of Overindulgence Remedies

Aspirin was first sold in tablet form on this date in 1915 by the drug's inventor, the German pharmaceutical company Bayer. Too bad. They really needed it the day before, the morning after a wild New Year's Eve party. (Or maybe not. This was right in the middle of World War I.)

Food Namesakes

Defrocked TV minister Jim Bakker (pronounced "baker") was born today in 1939. . . Perfect-game pitcher, Cy Young Award winner David Cone stepped onto the big mound on this date in 1963. . . Nathaniel Bacon was born today in 1647. He led a power struggle that became known as Bacon's Rebellion in the early Virginia colony. . . On this day in 1929, Evelyn "Bobbi" Trout set a new women's world record for flying endurance by being airborne for over twelve hours. . . Apsley Cherry-Garrard, a British explorer of the Antarctic and the author of the well-named Worst Journey In The World, left on his life's journey today in 1886.

Words To Eat By

"My illness is due to my doctor's insistence that I drink milk, a whitish fluid they force down helpless babies."--W.C. Fields. "The human body has no more need for cows' milk than it does for dogs' milk, horses' milk, or giraffes' milk."--Michael Klaper, M.D. Yeah, but I wouldn't mind trying all of those!