December 22

National Big Tip Day

Mussels. Puccini. La Salle. Big Tip. Frying Pan. Nuts! Big Grouper. Coelacanth. Hoagy.

Days Until. . .

Christmas 3.New Year's Eve: 11.

Great Names In Dining

Today in 1858 was the birthday of Giacomo Puccini, the composer of some of the greatest and most-performed operas: Tosca, Madame Butterfly, and La Boheme among them. Quite a few restaurants and dishes are named after him. One of the latter is at Pascal's Manale, consisting of veal scallops in a cream sauce with mushrooms. Like its namesake's operas, it's rich and rococo.

Eating Through History

Rene Robert Cavelier, Sieur de LaSalle, was born in Rouen, France (famous for its pressed duck, but that's unrelated) today in 1643. LaSalle explored North America widely on behalf of King Louis XIV, from the Great Lakes to the Gulf of Mexico. He claimed the entire drainage of the Mississippi River for France, burying a silver plate saying so somewhere around what is now Venice, Louisiana. LaSalle is largely responsible for the fact that New Orleans has as strong a French culinary heritage as it does. We thanked him by naming a street and a few other things here for him.Today in 1918, food restrictions imposed on Americans during World War I were lifted. However, the eating of buffalo tongue stuffed with rabbit livers remained banned, until it finally fell from vogue. Nobody eats the dish to this day.

Food Calendar

Today is National Big Tip Day. That is not just fanciful, but a tradition for a century or more. I've practiced it had for a long time. Certain waiters who take special care of me all year long get an extraordinarily large tip from me at this season. In terms of what it returns in pleasure, it's the best money I spend all year in restaurants.

Deft Dining Rule #323:

Give somebody a hundred-dollar tip. Choose this person carefully. He or she will return the investment many times over, and you will suddenly become someone who gives hundred-dollar tips.

Gourmet Gazetteer

Sweeten Creek flows five miles out of the very hilly terrain in south central Missouri, three miles north of the Arkansas state line. It cuts a 100-foot-deep valley as it heads toward Lick Creek. That's a tributary of the White River, which in turn flows into the Mississippi. This is pretty countryside, great for hiking. Not so good for dining out. The closest interesting eatery is called Stacked and Steamed, six miles away in Gainesville.

Edible Dictionary

A solution of two unit volumes of sugar in one unit volume of water. It most common use is as an ingredient for making cocktails, it's also used in baking and the making of New Orleans-style sno-ball syrups. While it might not seem possible to dissolve so much sugar into so little water, it can be done easily by bringing the water to about 200 degrees and stirring. Another good use of simple syrup is as a replacement for granulated sugar in iced tea. This quiets the clanging of your teaspoon against the glass as you try to dissolve the granulated sugar. Simple syrup sweetens immediately, with just a couple of stirs.

Food In The Military

Today in 1944, during the Battle of the Bulge, the Germans demanded the surrender of American forces. To this, Brigadier General Anthony C. McAuliffe replied, "Nuts!"

Food Under Water

On this day in 1938, the first noted catch of a coelacanth was made, off the coast of South Africa. The coelacanth was previously known only as a fossil, and finding a living specimen was a great surprise. A primitive fish, its fins look like legs. It may be our closest relative among the fishes. Its body contains a great deal of fat, including in its swim bladder. They're still caught, usually in very deep waters, but they're extremely rare. I wonder what coelacanth tastes like.

Food Records

On this date in 1985 in Destin, Florida, the largest grouper ever recorded was caught. The fish weighed 436 pounds. It was very tough.

Food Namesakes

Hoagy Carmichael, the band leader and co-composer of Stardust, was born today in 1899. . . It's the birthday of Thomas Cook, the original travel agent, in 1808. . . Benedict Augustin Morel, a French psychologist, came to earth today in 1809. He espoused the nutty idea that many illnesses were the result of degeneration (backward evolution). . . Today is the feast day of St. Hunger of Utrecht, who lived in the ninth century.

Words To Eat By

"But beef is rare within these oxless isles;
Goat's flesh there is, no doubt, and kid, and mutton;
And, when a holiday upon them smiles,
A joint upon their barbarous spits they put on."--Byron.

Words To Drink By

"Even though a number of people have tried, no one has yet found a way to drink for a living."--Jean Kerr, American author.