December 25

Gingerbread

Days Until. . .

New Year's--6

Merry Christmas!

From the tightly-focused perspective of this journal, Christmas stands out as the most important feasting day on the calendar, replete with traditions and permissions to indulge. That has been the case for most of human history, and perhaps even for pre-humans. Millennia before the Church named December 25 as the date of Jesus's birth (in the mid-300s), people felt good about the fact that the sun was beginning to return to their skies, after six months of shrinking daylight. It's been proven that even butterflies can detect this subtlety. So celebrate being alive! Everything's going to be all right, just like it was last year and every year before. Jesus told us that himself. Eat! Drink! Laugh! Sing! Love all people!

Deft Dining Rule #1225:

It's impossible for a Christmas dinner to be too big.

The Old Kitchen Sage Sez:

Christmas is a good time to open your best bottles of wine, if there are people around with whom you'd love to share your life. (But serve a few bottles of the less expensive stuff first.)

Annals Of Christmas

The celebration of Christmas in the United States has not always been around. At one time, it was banned in New England. Christmas wasn't a legal holiday anywhere until 1831. That year, Louisiana became the first state to declare Christmas a holiday. (Arkansas did too that year, probably following our lead.) There wasn't a Christmas tree in the White House until 1856. So for once, Louisiana was the cutting edge when it came to Christmas.

Wine-Inspired Inventions

Today in 1960, Dr. Irving Cooper, a brain surgeon, received as a Christmas gift a gadgets that removed wine corks by injecting carbon dioxide into the bottle. The pressure popped the cork out. He noticed that the gas was cold enough to freeze small spots of skin on his hand as it came out. From that, he created a method of using liquid nitrogen to freeze small areas of the brain that caused tremors. Other uses have since appeared, and the technique is now widely used in medicine.

Chefs Through History

On this date in 2000, the movie Vatel was released. Chef François Vatel orchestrated a fabulous feast for King Louis XIV of France in 1671 on behalf of his employer, the Prince du Conde. His story is one of intrigue and gourmandine, that ends with Vatel's suicide when the fish shows up late, and he feels he has not fully satisfied the king. The Vatel Club is an association of French chefs. There once was a New Orleans chapter, but (I'm not sure it still exists.

Edible Dictionary

figgy pudding, n.--A British holiday treat, best known for its being mentioned in the second stanza of "We Wish You A Merry Christmas," after which it completely takes over the song. Figgy pudding is a variant of plum pudding, a dense, cake-like confection riddled with spices and dried fruits. It's more of a tradition in England than here. There, the preparation of the pudding takes at least weeks and sometimes a whole year. The ritual stirring of the ingredients is a big party. The Royal Sonesta Hotel here used to hold such a pudding-stirring party for all the town's media hacks (which is why I know about it). Then the pudding is set out to age, traditionally in a cloth bag hanging from a hook. It's served flaming in rum. Its flavor is like that of a very moist fruitcake.

Gourmet Gazetteer

Gingerbread Island is a small lump of land rising from the tidal Seekonk River, which separates Providence and East Providence, Rhode Island. The island is just south of an abandoned railroad bridge over the river. There's nothing on Gingerbread Island, and all my efforts to figure out why it has that name have come up with nothing. However, something about gingerbread puts me in a Victorian frame of mind, which leads me to suggest having lunch or dinner at Victoria's, just over the west bank of the Seekonk.

Restaurants In The Movies

Today is the birthday of Humphrey Bogart, in 1899. His acting career is legendary, but his definitive role was as the owner of Rick's Café Américain in Casablanca, in the movie of the same name. He was ready to give it up to pursue a woman. Most restaurant owners say that would be plenty enough reason to get them to leave their joints. Especially with Nazis breathing down their necks.

Music To Drink Margaritas By

It's the birthday, in 1946, of Jimmy Buffett, whose song "Margaritaville" defines a leisure style for a lot of people. He owns a chain of restaurants named for him and the song; we have one of them in the French Market area. Good place if you're a Parrothead. Less good if food is your bag.

Music To Eat Red Beans And Rice By

It's the birthday, in 1929, of Chris Kenner, a great New Orleans R&B musician whose songs were made more famous by others than by him. Land Of 1000 Dances was his big hit.

Music To Eat Chicken By

It's also the birthday of Cab Calloway, who (in a zoot suit) led a classic Big Band in the 1930s, with a musical style entirely his own. Food is a recurring theme in his songs. For Minnie The Moocher, in Calloway's signature hit, "Each meal she ate was a dozen courses." He wrote the definitive song about cooking poultry, A Chicken Ain't Nothin' But A Bird, including this stanza:

You can boil it, roast it, broil it
Cook it in a pan or a pot
Eat with potatoes, rice or tomatoes,
A chicken's still what you got--boy!"


The most delicious Cab Calloway food song, though, is Everybody Eats When They Come To My House." They do indeed, from the first line of the song to the last.

Food Namesakes

They're all Brits today, for some reason. English writer, actor, and gay character Quentin Crisp was born today in 1908. . . It's the birthday, in 1642, of Sir Isaac Newton, one of the great scientists of history. He is ever associated with two fruits: apples and figs. . . Alastair Cook, professional cricket player, ran through the Big Wicket today in 1984. . . Mike Pringle, a Scottish politician, came to be today in 1945.

Words To Eat By

"In my experience, clever food is not appreciated at Christmas. It makes the little ones cry and the old ones nervous."--Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr.