September 15

It's Tres Leches Day

Taft. Marco Polo. Central America. Tres Leches. Dijon. Blue M&M. Bobby Short. Bottle Of Wine.

Days Until. . .

Summer ends 7

Gourmets Through History

Today is the birthday in 1857 of William Howard Taft, the twenty-seventh President of the United States. He weighed over 300 pounds, a record for the chief executive. Big guys were common in those days of massive eating. Banquet menus from that time make today's wine dinners look like snacks. Taft, after he finished his term as President, became the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court.

Turning Points In Eating

Marco Polo was born today in 1254. The explorer from Venice traveled widely in the Far East, establishing trade with those lands. The primary commodity: spices. Marco Polo is often credited with having brought pasta to Italy from China, but pasta was already there. Still, there was once a restaurant in Gretna (in the building where Kim Son is now) named for Marco Polo. Its menu combined Chinese and Italian food. Not a big hit.

Eating Around The World

This is Independence Day for most Central American nations. Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, Nicaragua, and Costa Rica all broke away from Spain today in 1821. There is without question a distinctive Central American cuisine. It has two sets of roots, in Spanish cookery and in that of the native pre-Columbian populations. It's based on the foodstuffs native to the area: corn, chile peppers, and beans.Each Central American country has its own particular dishes, and many of them have different styles of cooking on their east and west coasts. One items found in all of the countries is the tamal--cornmeal and a little meat enclosed in a banana leaf. But even that shows big differences as you move around the isthmus.New Orleans has never had many Central American restaurants. The most persistent was Pupuseria Divino Corazon, a Salvadoran cafe in Gretna that is no longer with us. New Salvadoran restaurants have opened since the hurricane, notably the two locations of Pupuseria Macarena. We've occasionally had Nicaraguan and Honduran restaurants, even very good ones. Someday we'll support them long enough for them to become permanent.

Today's Flavor

In honor of the independence of the five Central American nations today in 1821, this is Pan-American Tres Leches Day. In any restaurant where you find it, tres leches cake can be counted on to be the best dessert in the house. Meaning "three milks," tres leches is made by layering a firm yellow cake with marshmallow cream, then soaking the whole thing in condensed milk, evaporated milk, and fresh milk. A good deal of variation appears in the recipes. Not all of them use the marshmallow cream. Some use fresh cream instead of one of the milks. Coconut milk also shows up in some. Crushed fruit, rum, and nuts in others. There's some dispute about its origins, but it seems to us that Nicaragua has the best claim. Tres leches is now found in almost every Central American restaurant in the United States. With good reason: it's wonderful.

Deft Dining Rule #2

Eat it where it lives. To paraphrase: When in El Salvador, eat pupusas.

Gourmet Gazetteer

Fishville is nineteen miles north of Alexandria, in the center of Louisiana. It's in the Kisatchie National Forest, and has long been a casual spot for outdoor recreation in the long summers. Many swimming holes are in the area, fed by numerous creeks, all of which are running streams with fish to be caught. Fishville is old enough to have once had a French name: Poissonville. The place to eat some fish is nine miles south of Fishville in Ball: Paradise Catfish Kitchen.

Edible Dictionary

Dijon mustard, n.--Strictly speaking, this is a prepared, smooth mustard made in the city of Dijon, in Burgundy, France. It is so highly through of, however, that similar mustards (often called dijon style) are made in other places. It's made of crushed, dark-brown mustard seeds, verjus (the unfermented juice of wine grapes), a little wine, and/or wine vinegar. It's used in as many ways as a mustard can be, but it's perhaps best known as the starting point for two essential sauces: mayonnaise and vinaigrette.

Annals Of Candy

Today in 1995, the tan M&M's were replaced by blue ones, as a result of a poll of M&Ms eaters that revealed a groundswell of interest in a blue piece. Interestingly, the tan M&Ms entered the pouch to replace purple ones in the 1940s.

Music To Drink Cheap Wine By

Jimmy Gilmer was born today in 1940. He had two rock radio hits, both with food/drink titles, that appeared six years apart. The first was Sugar Shack, in 1963. The second, with a completely different sound and under the name The Fireballs, was Bottle Of Wine. It blistered the radio in 1968.

Music To Drink Cognac By

Bobby Short, perhaps the greatest male American cabaret singer in history, was born today in 1926. For decades, he played in the Cafe Carlyle in New York City, a little club that was packed with his fans every night. I'm one of them. Short had a preference for the standards, rendered in a unique, sassy, jazzy way. He accompanied himself brilliantly on the piano as he sang with enough vibrato to shake leaves off a tree. He died in 2005, but his albums are still available. I'd recommend My Personal Property.

Food Namesakes

David Stove, an Australian philosopher, was born today in 1927. . . His countryman Terry Lamb, professional rugby football player, hit the Big Field today in 1961.

Words To Eat By

"Dessert is probably the most important stage of the meal, since it will be the last thing your guests remember before they pass out all over the table."--The Anarchist Cookbook.

Words To Drink By

"A drunk was in front of a judge. The judge says 'You've been brought here for drinking.' The drunk says 'Okay, let's get started.'"--Henny Youngman.