January 26

Australia. Kibbe. Grappelli. Exit Louisiana. Turkey. Pistachios. Hanger Steak. Paul Newman.

Days Until. . .

Mardi Gras--33 Valentine's Day--20

Eating Around The World

It's Australia Day, the Down Under equivalent of our Fourth of July. On this day in 1788, eleven ships full of convicts from England arrived in Australia and began the colony. We avid diners most thank Australia for its wine and lamb. Both are of very good quality, and exceptional values. Australian wines at one time seemed almost too cheap. That's a result of their vineyards having been purchased and planted over a hundred years ago, when land was almost free. Australia didn't have to shut down its wine industry as Americans did during Prohibition, then start it all back up again. However, demand for Australian wine is good enough now that many new wineries, paying modern prices for their physical plant, are opening. Many of those new wines are substantially inferior to what I'm accustomed to getting from down under. (Yellowtail comes to mind.) The goodness of Australia's wines is largely due to a paradox. The soil in most of Australia is among the oldest and poorest in the world. Without nearby volcanoes and new mountain formation, the soil's nutrients have largely been washed out over the eons. However, that's a good thing for grapevines, which produce the best wines when under stress.

Edible Dictionary

tucker, n.--An Australian semi-slang word meaning "food." It carries the denotation of good, basic grub rather than fancy fare, although that's not an ironclad rule of usage. The expression "bush tucker," refers to the kind of food one might find growing wild in the wilderness, and that the hunter-gatherer aborigines ate. "Tucker" is my son Jude's middle name. We had the food meaning in mind. We have been chided for this by friends, but Jude likes it enough that his screen name in his movie-producing career is "Jude Tucker."

Gourmet Gazetteer

Smokehouse Creek runs through the badlands part of the Texas panhandle, sixty-seven miles northeast of Amarillo. It's usually a seeping stream fed by a few springs. In drought times, it's sometimes dry. It meanders a dozen miles before reaching the braided streams of the Canadian River, whose water runs through the Arkansas and the Mississippi before being sucked up into the water system of New Orleans. Smokehouse Creek is in desolate territory, but it comes within six miles of M A N's Cafe, just on the other side of Signal Hill.

Music To Listen To Food Radio By

Stephane Grappelli, the greatest jazz violinist of all time, was born on this date in 1908, and lived to be almost ninety. During his eighties, he played the Blue Room and other venues in New Orleans a few times; I always went to see him. The short bits of music I play on my radio show after commercial breaks are all Stephane Grappelli's inspired improvisations.

Food Through History

Louisiana seceded from the Union on this date in 1861, the sixth state to do so. To look at it from the narrow perspective of cuisine, it was a big mistake. I wonder what would have happened had the state not seceded and had avoided the penalties of Reconstruction. On this day in 1784, Benjamin Franklin wrote a letter to his daughter that included this opinion: "For the Truth the Turkey is in Comparison a much more respectable Bird [than the eagle, which had just been chosen for the national emblem], and withal a true original Native of America." Once again Ben proved that his mind was synchronized with his palate, as has been true of so few other American leaders.

Physiology Of Eating

This is the birthday of nutritionist Ancel Keys, whose experiments with World War II C-rations led him to discover that overeating saturated fats can lead to heart disease. That was not previously known, but we know it now, don't we? He later wrote a landmark book, The Benevolent Bean.

Today's Flavor

It's Pistachio Day. The most famous pistachio confection in New Orleans is the cannoli dipped in pistachios from Angelo Brocato's Ice Cream Parlor. This is also International Hanger Steak Day. Hanger steak doesn't show up on many beef charts or in many books. A French butcher's chart shows it as onglet. Hanger steak (not "hangar," as it's often misspelled) is so named because it's not attached to any bones. It just hangs there, massaging the pancreas. There's only one in each cow. It's alleged that butchers saved it for themselves. Some stories say this was because it was too tough to be salable; others say it was too delicious for mere customers. Hanger steak is not for everybody. It is a bit on the chewy side, like flank or brisket. The unique flavor is worth the bother. It's more assertive than that of most beef. If you like dry-aged beef, you'll like this. Hanger steaks are grilled whole, preferably over a very hot fire, and cooked rare or medium rare at most. It really should be sliced in the kitchen, against the grain, or it may prove difficult to eat. Marinating it in something acidic--pineapple juice is the classic--is a good idea.

Deft Dining Rule #780:

The more tender the meat, the less distinguished the flavor.

Food Entrepreneurs

Paul Newman was born today in 1925. He passed away in 2008. Although his acting career certainly makes him immortal, he's also right up there with Emeril, Paul Prudhomme, and Chef Boy-Ar-Dee in the number of food products whose labels show his face on the label. It seems that a new one comes out every other day. They're of great quality, as bottled food products go. And all the profits go to charity.

The Saints

Today is the feast day of St. Timothy, whose intercession we ask when we are beset by intestinal or stomach problems, as many of us avid eaters sometimes are.

Food Namesakes

Jazz singer Anita Baker was born today in 1958. . . Eddie Ballantine, the orchestra leader on the old Breakfast Club radio show, was born today in 1907. When you see his name on a menu, it's a mistake. There is a galantine (a forcemeat wrapped with sliced meat, usually of a bird), and a ballottine (the original, much smaller version of the turducken--birds within birds). But there is no such dish as a "ballantine.". . . Harvey Wallis Salmon, Missouri politician and Confederate soldier, was born today in 1839.

Words To Eat By

"The embarrassing thing is that the salad dressing is outgrossing my films."--Paul Newman.

Words To Drink By

"How come if alcohol kills millions of brain cells, it never killed the ones that made me want to drink?--Unknown.