December 17

Chicken Under A Brick. Confederacy of Dunces. Maple Syrup. Syrup Creek. Falernum. Art Neville. Sweet 'n' Low.

Days Until. . .

New Year's Eve--14

Lucky Dogs In Literature

Today is the birthday, in 1937, of John Kennedy Toole, the author of the novel Confederacy of Dunces. The story of a character (in every sense of the word) named Ignatius J. Reilly takes place in New Orleans in the 1960s. Ignatius (for whom a Magazine Street sandwich shop is named) pursues a very odd agenda while downing Lucky Dogs and washing them down with Dr Nut--a real local soft drink from those times. Toole committed suicide in 1969, after having no luck in getting the book published. It has since become a local classic, and plans to make it a movie have been advanced but never completed. My radio colleague John "Spud" McConnell portrayed Ignatius often enough that a statue of him in character stands in front of the old D.H. Holmes location, where the book begins.

Today's Flavor

Today is National Maple Syrup Day. Maple syrup of the best quality is such a flavor revelation that it's a wonder why more of a cult hasn't grown up around it. It certainly has its fans, but most people have never tasted a real maple syrup, let alone a good one. The best maple syrup is the lightest in color, and comes not from Vermont but Canada. That country makes at least three-fourths of the maple syrup sold worldwide, and the maple syrup you find on your supermarket's shelf is probably from there. Maple syrup is made by collecting the sap that runs up from the roots of a maple tree in the spring to begin the growth of the year's crop of leaves. It's about ninety-five percent water, which must be either boiled away or removed by reverse osmosis. As is true of most reduction processes, the faster the stuff is boiled the more the flavors suffer. If you're ever in Canada, ignore the high price of light maple syrup and buy it. Like a good wine, a lot of work goes into making the best maple syrup, and a marvelous flavor comes out.

Deft Dining Rule #992:

Filling each square of a waffle with syrup seems to be the right measure of syrup, but that's far too much, especially if it's good maple syrup being used.

Gourmet Gazetteer

The Tenderloin in San Francisco is the yeasty old part of downtown, the place you'd go if you were looking for jazz clubs, prostitution, street people, gambling, winos, cheap hotels, and ethnic enclaves. That has been true since the earliest days of the city. Interestingly, it is immediately adjacent to the Union Square and Nob Hill neighborhoods, historically the poshest parts of the City by the Bay. If you exit the notoriously comfortable St. Francis on Geary Street and walk away from Union Square, you're in the Tenderloin almost immediately. The city and its real estate industry don't like the name "Tenderloin"--it's depicted in too many movies and books as the bad part of town. Nor will you find it on any maps. But everyone in San Francisco knows where it is. One advantage of the district: it's mostly flat. If you're cruising the Tenderloin and get hungry, you have your choice of at least a hundred restaurants, many of them spiffy and cool. The ethnic dining is tremendous, particularly in Little Saigon.

Edible Dictionary

Cheez Whiz, Cheez Whiz appeared on shelves in grocery stores for the first time today in 1953. It's cheese and milk emulsified with oil to be spreadable. The name alone is enough to keep the tasteful person away. But Cheez Whiz does have one tenuous claim to culinary interest: it's the traditional cheese used on the Philadelphia-style cheese steak sandwich. At least that's what some purists claim. I use provolone on mine. Original recipes are often far less good than the improvements that follow them.

The Old Kitchen Sage Sez:

The trick of beating egg whites and cream separately, then incorporating other flavorings and small bits into the mixture, almost never fails to produce a striking dessert.

Food Trademarks

Today in 1974, the one millionth U.S. trademark was awarded to the Cumberland Packing Company, the creator of Sweet 'n' Low. The patent was for the product's logo, a treble clef invoking the musical connotation of the stuff's name. It was only a coincidence that it was number one million, but Cumberland points to it with pride.

Annals Of Flying And Food

Today in 1903, the Wright Brothers made their first flight at Kitty Hawk, proving their design for the first airplane. The flight was twelve seconds long, which didn't allow enough time for the snack and beverage service.

Music To Eat Gumbo By

This is the birthday (1937) of Art Neville, the elder statesman of the Neville Brothers and the Meters. We first heard Art's voice in 1954 on the Hawkettes' perennial Carnival hit, Mardi Gras Mambo.

Food Namesakes

Émile Roux, a French bacteriologist who was such an early participant in that field that he worked with Louis Pasteur, was born today in 1853. . . Kofi Annan was named Secretary General of the United Nations today in 1996. . . The late Paul Butterfield, who led the blues band that bore his name, was born today in 1942. . . Jim Bonfanti, lead singer for the 1970s rock group The Raspberries, was born today in 1948.

Words To Eat By

"A waffle is like a pancake with a syrup trap."--Mitch Hedberg, American stand-up comedian.

Words To Drink By

"Drink wine every day, at lunch and dinner, and the rest will take care of itself."--Waverly Root, American food writer of the mid-1900s.