December 14

Halcyon. Bouillabaisse. Clinton's Bar Bill. Zarzuela. Fishville. The Grapevine. Lunch Loser. Nostradamus. Bread And Water.

Days Until. . .

Christmas 11. New Year's Eve: 18.

Ancient Observances

The Halcyon Days-- two weeks of relatively pleasant weather after the first blasts of cold--allegedly begin today. The Romans named the weeks before and after the winter solstice for the kingfisher bird (halcyon in Latin). They believed the bird made floating nests of fishbones. The wind god Aeolus was commanded to keep calm during these two weeks, so the kingfisher could lay its eggs. But the kingfisher lays eggs on the beach, and doesn't make floating nests, and Aeolus quit his job centuries ago. Maybe we should honor that fish-eating bird by eating bouillabaisse today. Because. . .

Today's Flavor

Today is National Bouillabaisse Day. Bouillabaisse is one of many fish stews found all along the European coast of the Mediterranean. It's easy to develop a powerful taste for bouillabaisse, because it has a powerful taste. We can't make it exactly the way they do in Marseilles, the French town famous for bouillabaisse. We don't have those borderline poisonous trash fish that they use. (Rascasse is the most famous of these; I've seen and tasted it, and it has no intrinsic appeal.) But we come pretty close. It's a great wintertime dish. bouillabaisseToday is National Bouillabaisse Day.

Deft Dining Rule #149

Any bouillabaisse served without rouille, croutons, a soup spoon, and a fork is evidence that the chef doesn't understand the dish.

The Old Kitchen Sage Sez:

If you poach fish during the Halcyon Days, you will need twice as much lemon juice to balance a wild flavor brought on by the fish's greater activity in those days, as it tries to avoid the kingfisher. Or did I just dream that?

Annals Of Angry Restaurateurs

Today in 2000, President Bill Clinton was visiting London and had lunch in a pub, running up a tab of about $36. He left without paying, thinking his people would take care of it. But they didn't, and the pub owner raised hell about it to the eagerly listening tabloid press. One of those papers, The Mirror, paid the check to settle the matter and get one more day out of the story.

Edible Dictionary

wintergreen, n., adj.--A mint-like flavor made from a native Northeastern American plant called the teaberry (also known as checkerberry or deerberry). It's a ground cover, growing very low. The fruits are small, red, spicy berries that contain methyl salicylate, the cooling ingredient in the flavor. It's used for flavoring all sorts of things, although the flavor is usually artificial these days. Wintergreen often is the flavor if the item is pink. Notable examples include pink gumballs and Pepto-Bismol. It's a flavor that many people disdain so much that they won't take a dose of Pepto even if they need it very badly.

Gourmet Gazetteer

Wintergreen is a rural hamlet in the center of Virginia, 102 miles west of the state capital Richmond. Wintergreen verges on the Blue Ridge Mountains, on the north side of the Rockfish Valley. The Rockfish River is a tributary if the James River. (A rockfish, in case you're wondering, is a lot like a striped bass.) ; it's a scenic, bucolic area. The best place to eat nearby is the Wild Wolf Brewing Company, a brewpub.

Food In Music

Today in 1968 Marvin Gaye's version of I Heard It Through The Grapevine, a song that captures the sound of that era like no other, made it to Number One on the pop charts. . . On this date in 1961, Jimmy Dean--the namesake of the supermarket sausage line--was awarded the first gold record ever given for a country song. The song was Big Bad John. Jimmy was fired from his job as spokesman for his own sausage company a few years ago. That's what happens when you sell out to corporate. This took a toll on his health, and he died this past summer.

Food In Entertainment

The Tilt-A-Whirl trademark was granted for the dizzying amusement park ride today in 1926. I wonder how many lunches were lost that way. . . On a related note, the Tom Cruise movie Vanilla Sky opened on this date in 2001. It was panned, but it brought in a hundred million dollars.

Annals Of Food Writing

Nostradamus was born today in 1503. Although he's known to all tabloid newspaper readers as the source of absurd prophecies about the future, we're interested in him because he wrote a cookbook. Its name was Excellent And Most Useful Little Book You Need If You Want To Learn Some Exquisite Recipes. (I am not making this up.) As for his predictions of the future, people are still discovering new references that come to pass. The most recent one: his prediction, in coded Basque language, that John Besh will open a Mexican restaurant here with a famous television chef. Now who would have guessed that? Wow!

Food Namesakes

Roger Fry, a British art critic, was born today in 1866. . . Today is the feast day of St. John Pan y Agua, a lay brother at an abbey in Spain in the 12th Century. He kept a lifelong diet of just the bread and water, and that's how he got his name. . . Actress Lee Remick, who appeared most famously in Days Of Wine And Roses, was born today in 1935. Whenever she visited New Orleans, she had dinner at Andrea's, which has several photographs of her on its walls. The classic dish crabmeat Remick is not named for her, but I'll bet she liked it if she ever ate it.

Words To Eat By

"All the charming and beautiful things, from the Song of Songs, to bouillabaisse, and from the nine Beethoven symphonies to the martini cocktail, have been given to humanity by men who, when the hour came, turned from tap water to something with color in it, and more in it than mere oxygen and hydrogen."--H.L. Mencken, American journalist.

Words To Drink By

"The egg creams of Avenue A in New York and the root beer float are among the high points of American gastronomic inventiveness."--Mark Kurlansky.