December 16

Turtle Soup. Lunch At Arnaud's. Rabbit. Tea Party. Chocolate Covered. Goose. Confit. American Pie. Coins For Liquids.

Days Until. . .

Christmas 9. New Year's Eve: 16.

Food In Literature

The Tale Of Peter Rabbit, who ate so well that he got very fat (this is sounding better by the moment!), was first published today in 1901 by Beatrix Potter. Now I'm thinking of grilled rabbit tenderloin with peppercorns, and--well, this isn't Easter, is it? Today is the birthday of the author Jane Austen, author of Pride and Prejudice, Emma, and many other brilliant works about manners and women. For a few years the Upperline Restaurant observed Austen's birthday, serving a dinner in the style of her 18th-century British milieu. People would attend dressed in period clothes. Only JoAnn Clevenger could come up with something so rich.

Beverages Through History

Today in 1773 the Boston Tea Party episode transpired. About 350 crates of tea flavored the Boston harbor's waters that day. Too many jokes have asked what china and pastries were served for me to add to their number. The event, aside from galvanizing the inchoate American Revolution, figures into the transition from tea to coffee as the preferred hot beverage in the United States.

Today's Flavors

It is rumored that today is National Chocolate Covered Anything Day. Have you ever eaten a chocolate-covered ant? They're not bad, but not great, either. They're "repletes"--ants whose job in the colony is to hold a supply of honeydew brought to it by the ants who go out to gather it. They get to be the size of peas or even grapes, and they're very sweet to eat. When I first started writing food columns, people who'd known me a long time used to ask, "You're a gourmet now? Do you eat fried grasshoppers and chocolate-covered ants?" As if that were the only gourmet food in the world. (They're not gourmet food at all, of course.) This is also Get The Christmas Goose Day. What could be more traditional than a Christmas goose? But what could be harder to find in a restaurant? Not even the Reveillon menus this year feature any roast goose, as they have in the past. Too bad. Starting about ten years ago, more people are thinking about roasting a goose for the holiday table. Most stores I've checked this year have them, all frozen. They're not cheap--they're generally around $25 for a 10-pound bird--but they seem to be selling. You'd like the bird if you tried it. It's lighter in flavor, texture, and color than duck. And since it has even more fat than a duck, the flavor is richer. To prepare a goose properly, you need to buy it in the next day or two. It takes a couple of days to thaw (it will almost certainly be frozen). And then you have to let it age for a few days in the refrigerator. If all that sounds complicated, the cooking process continues to be so. But it's worth it, both for the sake of your palate and tradition. The tremendous amount of fat left over from cooking a goose can be made into a roux. I did that once and combined with a stock from the goose carcass to make a singularly great gumbo.

Gourmet Gazetteer

Kibbe is a rural crossroads community in east central Georgia, 163 miles southeast of Atlanta. It's a farming area whose fields grow cotton, pecans, and peaches. It was founded as a station stop on the old Seaboard Air Line Railroad. No restaurants there, but seven miles south in Vidalia is a good place called the Tree House. Don't count on getting the Lebanese dish of ground beef and lamb call kibbe there, though. Neither the grilled kibbe nor the raw kibbe.

Deft Dining Rule #243:

It's one thing for a restaurant to use fresh cranberries in its cooking and baking, but if you find fresh cranberry juice in the bar, you're in a really classy place.

The Old Kitchen Sage Sez

The best use of a turkey baster (the kind with the rubber bulb) is to suck out the excess fat that fills up the bottom of the roasting pan under a goose in the oven. Get that out of there to prevent fires. On a related note, I once saw in a lab-equipment catalog a small version of the same thing. The catalog called it a "quail baster."

Music To Eat In The Car On The Levee By

Don McLean's song American Pie came out today in 1971. It memorialized the simultaneous deaths of Buddy Holly, The Big Bopper, and Ritchie Valens, although you would never have known that to listen to the song. The lyrics didn't make a lot of sense. Not only was it irritating, but at eight and a half minutes long it got more airtime than any other Number One hit. I say it's responsible for the death of Top Forty radio.

Edible Dictionary

blanquette, [blahn-KET], French, N.--This word is a double entendre. It has in it a reference to whiteness (the French word "blanc"), as well as a play on the word "blanket." A blanquette is a white meat served in a white sauce so thick that it's hard to tell where the sauce ends and the protein begins. This presents the danger of a very bland dish, but in the hands of a chef who's trying to accomplish more than the visual it can actually be very good. The best I remember was during the glory days of the French chefs in the Midi restaurant in the former Le Meridien Hotel on Canal Street, which often had blanquette de veau on their excellent lunch buffet. But thinking about that now makes me feel that I may as well be talking about the days of nickel pay phones.

Food Inventions

On this day in 1887, a patent was issued for the first coin-operated machine that dispensed beverages. William Fruen's machine sold coffee and tea. I wonder what it tasted like after it sat in there a few days, as it did.

Food Namesakes

William "Refrigerator" Perry, Chicago Bears defensive back, was born today in 1962. . . Theo Bitter, who was a Dutch theatrical designer and artist, came to life today in 1916. . . Anthropologist Margaret Mead, who brought to light the freewheeling (to us) lifestyle of the people in Samoa, was born today in 1901. . . British actor Christopher Biggins was born today in 1948. (A "biggin" is an enamel-coated cast iron drip coffeemaker of the kind much revered in New Orleans.)

Words To Eat By

"Dear, would you like a little goose?" "You try that here and I'll hit you!"--Actual conversation between a husband and wife attending an Eat Club Reveillon dinner where goose was on the menu, at the Monteleone's old, deceased restaurant called the Hunt Room Grill, December, 2002. "Feed the poor and get rich. Feed the rich and get poor."--Colonel Harlan Sanders, creator of Kentucky Fried Chicken. He died today in 1980.

Words To Drink By

"Claret is the liquor for boys; port for men. But he who aspires to be a hero must drink brandy."--Samuel Johnson.