December 29

Champagne Flutes. Colly Birds. Pepper Pot. Wine Rotation. Brunswick Stew. Texas. Bowling Ball. Mississippi Swim.

Days Until. . .

New Year's Eve 2. Carnival Begins 9.

The Fourth Day of Christmas

This is the day when the four calling birds arrive. Actually, the original lyrics of the song were "four colly birds." "Colly" is an obsolete Britishism for blackbirds, the kind we've heard were once baked in a pie. Never had them that way, but I've heard it's pretty good. In other versions of the song, you go out for a Christmas tree, four colored lights, your true love sends a simulated alligator wallet, and (in my version) you get four quarters of a muffuletta.

Restaurant Anniversaries

Antoine's reopened for the first time following Hurricane Katrina on this date in 2005. It was the second (after Arnaud's) of the old-line, grand Creole restaurants to do so, and was a pleasant surprise. So much damage was done to the restaurant's original building that it almost fell. On this day in 2005, I was walking back to my car after lunch at the Court of Two Sisters and saw the passageway to Antoine's kitchen open, and saw some cooks standing around. I walked in and met familiar staff. They said it would be opening night, and that two hundred people were already booked. I asked if they could take four more. My family and I were there that night. Things weren't perfect, but it was an evening I'll never forget.

Today's Flavors

Today is National Pepper Pot Day. Pepper pot is a soup whose roots go back to the native people of the Caribbean islands. It's most often identified with Jamaica, where it's made with chicken, pork, beef, or all three, with many leafy vegetables. It reminds me a bit of New Orleans gumbo z'herbes, and may in fact be related to it. The odd thing about pepper pot is that it's not really all that peppery. At least not the versions of it I've had. It's also National Wine Rotation Day. While wine bottles in storage for future drinking should be disturbed as little as possible, most of us who collect a few wines (as opposed to the really dedicated, avid oenophiles) lose track of what we have on our shelves or in our closets. You might have some older bottles that will soon be past their prime. Pull it all down off the shelf and see what's up there. Restack the wines with the ones most in need of drinking at the top, and the ones that will last a long time at the bottom. Once a year will prevent sad wine deaths.

Gourmet Gazetteer

Pepper Mountain towers 2137 feet two miles south of the Columbia River, thirty miles east of downtown Portland, Oregon. It's in Mount Hood National Forest, and is a much liked as a hiking and camping area. You can catch highly edible fish in a number of streams in the area. If you didn't bring tackle, the nearest restaurant is The Last Detail, seven miles southwest of the peak of Pepper Mountain.

Edible Dictionary

Brunswick stew, n.--Brunswick stew is the best-known American dish with squirrel meat as a main ingredient. Even so, it's not much prepared anymore. Selling wild-caught squirrel meat is illegal, and so you will not likely see the dish in a restaurant. If you do, it will be made with chicken in place of the squirrel. A better idea is to make it with rabbit. Other ingredients include bacon, tomatoes, potatoes, corn, and beans. The version made in Louisiana usually contains a noticeable cayenne component (no surprise there). Two Brunswick Counties--on in Virginia, the other in North Carolina--both claim that the dish is named for them.

Deft Dining Rule #23:

Unless you're literally starving, don't eat bad food, even if you paid for it.

The Old Kitchen Sage Sez:

When you cook mushrooms, spread them out in the pan. If they pile up, the water they exude as they cook turns to steam and makes them comes out like canned. It's usually best to add them later rather than earlier in the sauce-building process, but that's not axiomatic. Nobody wants an axiomatic kitchen, anyway.

Eating Across America

Texas became the twenty-eighth state today in 1845. Among its several nicknames the most descriptive is Land Of Contrasts. From the food perspective, the contrast is between the Mexican-inspired cooking of the western part of the state and the Texas version of Cajun cooking in the east. In the major cities--especially in Houston--the ethnic diversity in the restaurants is among the greatest in the country. Houston has become an extremely good restaurant town in the last twenty years. That said, it must be noted that the typical restaurant in Texas cities and suburbs is an outlet of a chain.

Tenuous Food-Sports Connections

The bowling ball was invented today in 1862, giving rise to this joke:
Q. "What's the difference between the food at [your least-favorite restaurant] and a bowling ball?"
A. "You can eat a bowling ball!"

Annals Of Avid New Orleans Fans

Today in 1930, Fred P. Newton completed a swim in the Mississippi River from Ford Dam in Minnesota to New Orleans. That's 1826 miles. He was the first person to make such a swim. He entered the water on July 6; it took him over 700 hours of swimming. It must have been chilly toward the end. He climbed out of the water, walked across the railroad tracks, sat down in the Morning Call, and had three cups of cafe au lait and two orders of beignets, as if nothing had happened.

Popular Food Inventions

Robert C. Baker is a member of the American Poultry Hall of Fame for his success in developing new ways of distributing, cooking, and serving chicken and turkey. He was born today in 1921. He developed the fried chicken nugget in the 1950s, but didn't patent it. McDonald's rolled out the Chicken McNugget (which they did patent) in 1979.

Food Namesakes

Eydie Gormé married Steve Lawrence today in 1957. . . Jeanne Poisson, Marquise de Pompadour, was born today in 1721. Madame Pompadour, as she is better known, was the mistress of Louis XV, as well as a master of intrigue. . . Astronaut Nancy J. Currie lifted off today in 1958. She made four shuttle flights and spent over a thousand hours in space, eating the stuff astronauts eat.

Words To Eat By

"Pounding fragrant things--particularly garlic, basil, parsley--is a tremendous antidote to depression. But it applies also to juniper berries, coriander seeds and the grilled fruits of the chili pepper. Pounding these things produces an alteration in one's being--from sighing with fatigue to inhaling with pleasure. The cheering effects of herbs and alliums cannot be too often reiterated. Virgil's appetite was probably improved equally by pounding garlic as by eating it."--Patience Gray, British food writer of the mid-1900s.

Words To Drink By

"When you stop drinking, you have to deal with this marvelous personality that started you drinking in the first place."--Jimmy Breslin, American newspaper columnist.