October 7

It's National Bay Leaf Day

Bay Leaves. Diner. Trichinosis. Yum! St. Bacchus. Susan Sarandon. Sherry.

Days Until. . .

Halloween 24

Today's Flavor

It's National Bay Leaf Day. We use bay leaves like crazy around New Orleans, but few people are sure what bay leaves taste like, what they add to a dish, or why we drop a leaf into every pot of gumbo or beans or gravy. It's easy enough to find out. Crack a bay leaf into some hot water and let it steep like tea for a few minutes. What you'll taste is subtle--less assertive than most dried herbs. There's something like cinnamon and vanilla in there, plus a flavor that can only be called herbal. When I tried this, my first thought was to just put a leaf in my mouth and suck on it, but then I remembered stories of people choking to death on bay leaves. This is a farfetched danger, but it is real, because one of the properties of bay leaves is that they do not break down easily. Swallowing a whole leaf might cause a problem. Remove them from the pot before serving the food in it, just in case. Bay leaves come from the same laurel tree that supplies the crowns for Olympic winners, and they've long been used in cooking. I wish I had such a tree, because bay leaves do lose flavor over time. Use them sparingly, because the flavor does seem to jump to the foreground.

Deft Dining Rule #59

The addition of bacon doesn't improve every dish.

The Old Kitchen Sage Sez

Before assembling a dish that will be broiled or grilled with bacon wrapped around it, fry the bacon until it curls before you start. This is only unnecessary when the assembled dish is then deep-fried (as in oysters en brochette).

Gourmet Gazetteer

Bacon, Indiana is in the southern part of the state, some fifty-seven miles from Louisville, Kentucky. It's a junction in gently rolling farming country, with a few farmhouses nearby. The nearest place to get some bacon with your eggs or in a sandwich is Marcy's Kitchen, four miles away in the slightly larger town of English.

Annals Of New Orleans Hotels

The Ritz-Carlton Hotel New Orleans opened today in 2000. The location was ideal: the former Maison Blanche Building, which for nearly a century was the most prominent building on Canal Street. It was fortuitous that the building's facade featured lion's heads similar in design to those on the Ritz-Carlton's logo. In the previous two decades, the Ritz-Carlton's hotels nationwide were almost be definition the top of the industry. That the hotel would include a top-tier restaurant was a given. This was clearly the aim of Victor's, an historic restaurant name from the 1800s in New Orleans. Its menu featured an all-evening wine dinner created at the whim of the chef, featuring extremely dear ingredients and astounding plate presentations. I enjoyed this dinner on two or three occasions as the place tried to establish itself. That was not to be. The magic that the Ritz-Carlton created in other cities refused to occur here. It was not due to any deficiency in the food, wine, or service, but in two trends in the restaurant scene in those years. The first was that any customer sophisticated and wealthy enough to get Victor's program was the kind of person who knew that you don't go to a hotel restaurant when you're in a great restaurant town like New Orleans. Second, the young adults coming of age in that time were clearly rejecting formality in dining. They knew good food when they ate it, but they were more likely to go for simple, fresh food from the emerging local food markets. Victor's never did well, and then its original chef left, the promise of the early years was gone. Today, the Ritz-Carlton's flagship restaurant M Bistro (in the space that was Victor's) is not much more than a convenience for hotel guests, with ordinary Creole eats at high prices.

Edible Dictionary

diner, n.--A uniquely American kind of a restaurant, the roadside diner began as a stationary version of the dining cars carried on long-distance passenger trains. Some diners really were retired railroad cars, but most of them were built as restaurants and never rode the rails. They were often built by companies specializing in diners, and trucked in to the place where they'd open for business. Like railroad diners, roadside diners are much longer than they are wide, and frequently are built in a sleek Art Deco style, with much use of fluted stainless steel inside and outside. The classic diner menu begins with traditional American breakfasts, sandwiches, hamburgers, soups, and desserts. It goes on to feature inexpensive complete dinners in a decidedly American home-cooked style. The quality of diner food is much romanticized, and really unpredictable. But the appeal of a shiny diner is so strong that there's been a revival of the idea, with brand-new diners being built once again. A few books have been written on the subject.

Physiology Of Eating

Rudolf Leuckart, a German zoologist, was born today in 1822. He undertook the study of worms, particularly very small parasitic worms that can causes diseases. He figured out why eating undercooked pork can cause a problem: it admits the parasitic trichina worm into the body. He also did a lot of work on liver flukes, tapeworms, and other disgusting invaders. We don't have to worry about them much now as a result of Leuckart's research.

Annals Of Chain Restaurants

PepsiCo, the maker of the perennial second-place cola, ceased to be the world's largest restaurant operator today in 1997. It spun off its restaurant unit--which included Kentucky Fried Chicken, Pizza Hut, and Taco Bell--into a new company now misnamed Yum! Brands.

The Saints

This is the feast day of St. Bacchus, a former high military officer in the Roman army. When he converted to Christianity, he soon became a martyr. He was beaten to death in 303. A saint named for the Roman god of wine, he has a church named for him in Rome.

Music To Eat Turtle Soup By

Today in 1962, the Four Seasons' song Sherry made it to the top of the pop music charts. It became the group's most distinctive record, with the falsetto lead vocals of Frankie Valli and good harmonies by the other three singers. Sherry, baby.

Food And Drink Namesakes

Actor Dylan Baker, who was in two Spider-Man movies, came out of the oven today in 1959. . . Pakistani cricket professional Salman Butt (almost a rare double food name) stepped up to the Big Wicket today in 1984. . . Tang Wei, an actress in China, auditioned for life today in 1979. She passed.

Words To Eat By

"A couple of flitches of bacon are worth fifty thousand Methodist sermons and religious tracts. They are great softeners of temper and promoters of domestic harmony."--William Cobbett, nineteenth-century British political writer.

Words To Drink By

"A drink is shorter than a tale."--Unknown.