November 28

Lost Bread

Days Until

Christmas 28. New Year's Eve: 35.

Today's Flavor

National French Toast Day, but in which nation? French toast is what, in the rest of America, a dry, uninteresting version of lost bread. And that is one of the most delicious of New Orleans breakfasts. We like the French name, pain perdu. The craft of making of lost bread, after a long decline, seems to be on the rise. People in other places seem to be discovering that the bread must be soaked with the custard mixture, almost to the point of falling apart, The custard is enlivened with cinnamon and vanilla. My own standard for the dish was set by my mother, who didn't make it often enough for us kids. The unique aspect of her version was that she fried it in about a half-inch of oil. While I think we fry too many things already around New Orleans, this is one items that really gains two or three levels of oozy goodness from that method. I make it every time I have half a chance.

Gourmet Gazetteer

Chicory, Montana is forty-four miles east of Bozeman, on the west bank of the Yellowstone River. Yellowstone National Park is about thirty miles south. To the east are large farm squares in which the irrigation equipment, like gigantic compasses, make green circles on a gray-brown background. In the west are some serious mountain ranges covered with the trees of Gallatin National Forest. All of this lies atop some highly geothermically active land. Five miles away is a spa with a restaurant, the Chico Hot Springs Resort. Try the cumin-crusted sockeye salmon with lime beuree blanc. (That's really on the menu.)

Edible Dictionary

lamington, n.--A square of sponge cake coated in chocolate, fondue-style, then sprinkled with coconut. These are a midwinter specialty in Australia and New Zealand. The coconut is supposed to resemble snow. Lamingtons are traditionally made by young people. Youth groups like the Scouts sometimes sell them as fundraisers. This has made them a beloved part of the Australian culinary scene. Although midwinter is in July in Australia, what little currency lamingtons have gained in the United States has come during the Christmas season.

Deft Dining Rule #355:

If you find yourself eating Melba toast with butter in a restaurant, it means either a) the service is too slow or b) you have too little control over your hunger.

The Old Kitchen Sage Sez:

The best bread to use for making French toast (or lost bread) is completely dry, stale bread. It soaks up more of the custard and tastes better.

Food Inventions

The U.S. Patent office registered a trademark for Arm & Hammer baking soda today in 1905. That's the arm of Vulcan with the hammer on the box, there. The stuff inside is so pure that it qualifies for laboratory work. Baking soda is sodium bicarbonate. It has the ability to neutralize both acids and bases, which is how it works in baking. When it comes into contact with acid--say, buttermilk in a biscuit recipe--it releases gases, which then cause the dough to rise. Inventor John Wesley Hyatt was born today in 1837. He is best known for his invention of celluloid, as a substitute for ivory in billiard balls. It would find many other uses. But he also created a chemically-active filter for drinking water, and a new method of milling sugar cane. So his work affects our dinner tables. Today in 1869, W.F. Semple of Ohio was issued the first patent for chewing gum.

Beverages In Wartime

Coffee began to be rationed in the United States today in 1942 rationing took hold, lasting until the end of World War II. Here in New Orleans, we had an established way of stretching coffee supplies. The use of ground, roasted chicory roots as a substitute originated as a wartime measure in France, during the time of Napoleon. Only New Orleans still embraces chicory as a coffee additive. It's almost gone in Europe, with most of the last holdouts in Belgium, where most of the chicory used for coffee-blending purposes is grown.

Through History With Cognac

Louis XIII of France married Princess Anne of Austria today in 1615. The most expensive commonly-available Cognac is named for him, and is one of the principal reasons you should never utter the words, "Bring me the best Cognac in the house!" In most restaurants it sells for over $100 a shot. It contains a goodly amount of Cognac that's been aged for over a century. Remy Martin, its maker, claims that its aftertaste lingers for over an hour. Even the container is grand: a Belle Epoque-style Baccarat crystal bottle.

Eating Around The World

This is Panama Independence Day. The country officially cut loose from Spain on this day in 1821, but almost immediately linked up with Colombia. Panama would be part of Colombia until the United States, needing to separate the country for the building of the canal and the banana interests, instigated a secession. Panamanian cooking has aspects of Central American, Spanish, and Caribbean cuisines. And a little South American, too: Panamanian ceviche is excellent, and is usually served with a side order of popcorn (really!). Today is Albanian Independence Day. The nation on the east cost of the Adriatic Sea broke away from the Ottoman Empire today in 1912. On this same day in 1944, in World War II, Albania freed itself from Axis occupation. Now there's an ethnic cuisine we haven't seen yet. Blame it on the Communists, who controlled Albania during most of its last century.

Food Namesakes

Berry Gordy, the founder of Motown Records, was born today in 1929. . . Henry Bacon, who designed the Lincoln Memorial, was born today in 1866. . . Today is the feast day of St. Basil, who lived in the Eighth Century in Constantinople.

Words To Eat By

"She was so wild that when she made French toast her tongue got caught in the toaster."--Rodney Dangerfield.

Words To Drink By

"Drink down all unkindness."--William Shakespeare, Merry Wives Of Windsor.