December 8

Chocolate And Hazelnuts. Brownies. Gianduia. Lemon Squeezer. Count Chocula. Cottonseed Oil. Popeye's Creator. Moonlight Cocktail.

Days Until

Christmas 17. New Year's Eve: 24. Eat Club Gala @ Brennan's: 5.

Our Great Chefs

Alon Shaya, the chef-partner of Domenica and the Israeli restaurant Shaya, was born today in 1978 in Israel. His family moved to Philadelphia, where he became interested in cooking. Almost all of his gigs were in Italian restaurants, including a lengthy spate in Italy in the months before John Besh opened Domenica in 2009. Alon has been the tastemaker at Domenica since the beginning, making his own extensive list of salumi and what I think are the best pizzas in town. One of his most interesting side projects has been serving special menus for the major Jewish holidays. They're not kosher--too much prosciutto and pork sausage hanging around Domenica for that--but these dinners have been as delicious as they are engaging.

Looking Up

Starting today, the time of sunset will be a little later each day, after months of heading backwards on the clock. Sunset in New Orleans has been at 5:00 p.m. for the last ten days or so. Today the sun will set at 5:01. This happens even though the days will continue to shorten until December 21. We'll gain ten minutes of afternoon light by Christmas. It's the very first sign of summer.

Today's Flavor

It's National Brownie Day. I can't figure out why so few people make brownies from scratch. It's flour, sugar, cocoa, eggs, and milk. How complex is that? What do we need a mix for? Also, when you order a brownie in a first-class restaurant, doesn't it seem a bit out of place to you? Regardless of the excellence of the brownie or the quality of the ice cream?

Gourmet Gazetteer

Brownie Creek is a usually dry creek in south west Nevada, two miles from the California state line. It's about thirty-five miles due east as the crow flies from Yosemite National Park. When it carries water, Brownie Creek flows five miles from Sagehen Flat at 9445 feet down to the hauntingly lunar Queen Valley at 6400 feet. It picks up water from springs in the mountains, but not much. The nearest restaurant to the mouth of Brownie Creek is across the state line ten miles southwest on US 6 in Benton, CA.

Deft Dining Rule #645:

If a restaurant serves a brownie as one of its main dessert selections, it is almost a certainty that hamburgers are among its best-selling entrees.

The Old Kitchen Sage Sez:

Brownies are better the day after you bake them than they are that day. They're much easier to slice, too.

Edible Dictionary

chocolate nibs, n., pl.--The heart of the cacao bean, the nibs are the source of most of the distinctive flavor of chocolate. That flavor only emerges full after the nibs have been roasted and ground, at which point they delivery a powerful flavor of chocolate, but not a good one. Its bitterness has to be mellowed out with cocoa butter and some kind of liquid for it to begin being pleasant. Or the nibs can be used in bakery recipes, in which case their flavor would spread through the batter. The used of ground chocolate nibs has been on the rise among more ambitious bakers.

Food Inventions

On this date in 1896, inventor J.T. White patented a new kind of lemon squeezer that strains juice and keeps it off your hands. I'd like one of those! . . . Count Chocula was registered as a trademark for a kid's chocolate-flavored cereal today in 1970. The Count was a harmless cartoon of the infamous vampire. Today is the birthday, in 1765, of Eli Whitney. His famous idea--the cotton gin--accelerated the development of the American South. While the cotton fibers were the value part of the cotton crop, the seeds that were extracted by the gin were a good source of cooking oil--or would be, after they figured out how to remove the objectionable smell from cottonseed oil. Wesson Oil is cottonseed oil. I'm still waiting for some distiller to come out with Cotton Gin for making very, very dry martinis.

Food On The Funny Pages

The man who is probably more responsible for the vast amount of spinach eaten in America was born today in 1894. Elzie C. Segar was a cartoonist who began a newspaper comic strip called Thimble Theatre in 1919. Its two main characters were hapless adventurers Castor Oyl and Ham Gravy. In 1929, a new character named Popeye appeared and soon took over the strip. He was a sailor with unaccountable strength, which he attributed to his lavish eating of spinach. That fantasy inspired kids all over the land (myself included) to eat as much spinach as possible.

Music To Drink By

Moonlight Cocktail, a major hit for the Glenn Miller Orchestra, with Bob Eberle and the Modernaires on the vocals, was recorded today in 1941.

Food Namesakes

Actor Lee J. Cobb was born today in 1911. He played tough guys who probably would never be caught eating a Cobb salad instead of a steak. . . Baseballer Darryl Strawberry was indicted in 1991 for alleged tax evasion. . . James "Pigmeat" Jarrett, a Georgia blues pianist who played until his nineties, was born today in 1899. . . Richard A. Baker, a famous film makeup artist, was born today in 1950.

Words To Eat By

"Looks can be deceiving; it's eating that's believing."--James Thurber, New Yorker magazine humor writer, born today in 1894. Here are two more of his lines about food and drink: "The most dangerous food is wedding cake."

Words To Drink By

"It's a native domestic Burgundy without any breeding, but I think you'll be amused by its presumption."--James Thurber again, in a New Yorker cartoon.