December 28

Three French Hens. Ralph's Birthday. Poor Richard. West End Blues. Hen Creek. Chewing Gum. Dishwasher.

Days Until. . .

Christmas 3. Carnival Begins 10.

Third Day Of Christmas

Someone who loves you may send: Three French hens. Or t'ree French breads. Three boughs of holly. A calendar book with the name of my insurance man. Or (in our new version of the song) three beignets.

Restaurant Anniversaries

Today in 2003, Ralph's on the Park opened. The building--across the street from City Park--had housed the Tavern on the Park and a string of other establishments dating back to the 1860s. It took Ralph Brennan almost two years to repair structural damage and perform a sparkling renovation. The city's avid eaters awaited the restaurant eagerly because of its chef: Gerard Maras, who wound up staying just a year and a half. The name of the restaurant wasn't decided upon until right before opening night. Everybody in town had an idea. (Mine: "Park Place.") All the bad luck Ralph's had in construction was reversed after Hurricane Katrina, which caused minimal damage to the restaurant.

Annals Of Annals

Today is the birthday, in 1732, of the almanac that created the genre: Benjamin Franklin's Poor Richard's Almanack, which he published for twenty-five years. It made his fortune, and allowed him to indulge in, among other things, the advanced pleasures of food and wine. George Washington and Thomas Jefferson were also gourmets. It's been a long time since we had such a person in the White House.

Music To Eat Seafood By

On this date in 1928, Louis Armstrong and his Hot Five recorded West End Blues, now considered a seminal work both for Armstrong and jazz in general. Written by King Oliver, it was about the resort community on Lake Pontchartrain, which at the time had clubs and dance halls in addition to the restaurants we knew it for. West End very much has the blues these days. Katrina left nothing standing. Since the park is outside the levee system, it's unlikely that restaurants will be built at West End ever again.

Edible Dictionary

chowder, n.--Chowder is one of several culinary categories that can be described as something between a soup and a stew. The broth usually involves seafood, while the more solid parts almost always includes potatoes. The main flavoring elements are fish or shellfish (clams and scallops in particular). Bacon or something like bacon (pork cracklings, for example) give chowder its most distinctive flavors. The kind of chowder described above is the one most popular in the Northeastern part of America, and particularly in New England. When I find myself in New England, I eat clam chowder at almost every meal. The Yankees make it very thick. One cookbook says it should be almost as solid as mashed potatoes. I don't go along with that. Nor do I care much for the tomato-laces Manhattan style of clam chowder, which comes under heavy fire from New Englanders.

Gourmet Gazetteer

Sugar Land is at the center of a flat, damp plain where sugar cane was formerly grown in great profusion. But being twenty miles from downtown Houston, the waves of development ran over the sugar fields in the 1980s, and now the entire area is filled with housing tracts, shopping malls, manufacturing plants, and office buildings. If you know what a sugar cane field looks like, you can see a few of them living on. The sugar refinery that operated for 160 years closed in 2002. The 80,000 people who live in Sugar Land are quite affluent, with an average income of over $100,000. You will have no trouble finding a place to dine in Sugar Land. The Live Oak Grille is pretty good.

Food Inventions

The first U.S. patent issued for chewing gum came out today in 1869. It was not a success. In fact, it appears never to have entered the marketplace. William Finley Semple's formula used rubber as a base.. The idea seems to survive in some restaurants, particularly in certain recipes for calamari. An invention with far greater effect on our eating habits was that of the automatic dishwasher. It was created by a woman: Josephine Garis Cochran, who patented it today in 1886. When she showed it off at the Columbian World Exposition in Philadelphia a few years later, its fame spread. Her business grew into the KitchenAid Corporation.

The Old Kitchen Sage Sez:

If you have more than four parties of twenty or more a year, and you're redoing your kitchen, put in two dishwashers. You won't believe how convenient that is. (If you stick with this rule: never have both of them filled with clean dishes at the same time.)

Deft Dining Rule #150:

If you ever encounter a bird stuffed with some kind of pate on a restaurant menu, by all means order it. It will almost never be less than superb.

Food Calendar

Today is National Amuse Bouche Day. The "amuse" is a small complimentary appetizer, served even before the appetizer. (The perfect thing three days before the new year begins.) It was once a delightful touch that made us more amenable to paying higher prices in classy restaurants. But we have now come to expect it now in any first-class place. To counteract this jaded response, some restaurants have begun serving two amuses. An amuse-bouche ought to be one bite of something really expensive, like truffles or foie gras or crabmeat. Unfortunately, we're seeing amuses that aren't much. A slice of tomato with an asparagus tip is not very amusing.

Food And The Law

Today in 1973, the Endangered Species Act was passed in this country. Some of its provisions brought the United States into line with several international laws regarding animals and plants whose continued existences were in question. That occasioned a menu change at T. Pittari's Restaurant in New Orleans, which had become famous for serving wild game, some of it very exotic--lion, for example, and hippopotamus. No doubt other restaurants around the country had to adjust, too.

Food And Literature

On this date in 1817, a famous literary dinner in London was hosted by British painter Benjamin Robert Haydon. Its purpose was to show his new painting, “Christ’s Entry Into Jerusalem.” But it is remembered more for the first meeting of John Keats and William Wordsworth. Our Food Namesakes Department notes that essayist Charles Lamb was also there.

Food Namesakes

Today in 1821, operatic composer and gourmet Gioacchino Rossini (who created the foie-gras enhanced steak dish that bears his name) moved to Bologna. . . Today is the birthday, in 1963, of Willow Bay, former model turned news anchor. She is the sister of Eric Bay, who owned the Maple Street restaurant Nautical and also managed the last incarnation of La Louisiane. . . Marty Roe, singer with the country group Diamond Rio, was born today in 1960. . . Terry Butcher, a British professional soccer player, came along this day in 1958.

Words To Eat By

"A film is just like a muffin. You make it. You put it on the table. One person might say, 'Oh, I don't like it.' One might say it's the best muffin ever made. One might say it's an awful muffin. It's hard for me to say. It's for me to make the muffin."--Denzel Washington, actor, born today in 1954.

Words To Drink By

"Everyone who drinks is not a poet. Some of us drink because we're not poets."--From the movie Arthur.