February 12

Lentils

Days Until. . .

Mardi Gras--5
Valentine's Day--2

Happy Carnival!

For a hundred years, tonight was the traditional time for the Knights of Momus to parade down St. Charles Avenue to Canal Street. Momus was the first satirical parade, famous since the 1870s for making fun of people in power. The Knights left the parade scene a few decades ago, but a krewe formed from many former Momus members still gets good and crazy under the name Chaos. They will pass in front of Desi Vega's Steak House tonight. That would be a great place to have dinner while awaiting the parade, and a glass of port afterwards.

Food Calendar

It is International Lentil Soup Day. Lentils are an ancient part of the human diet, having been cultivated since prehistoric times in the Middle East. They have two things going for them: they're highly nutritious, and they taste great. Lentils are legumes, more closely related to chickpeas and green peas than to red beans, limas, or other New World beans. They come in many colors, from green to red to brown; the latter are most common in our part of the world. Lentils lend themselves so well to soup that they are found in that role throughout the Mediterranean. I order lentil soup whenever we find it; after hundreds of samples, I can't say I've ever had a bad one. The best come from Italian and Lebanese restaurants. Lentils play a particularly large role in the Indian menu. Not only do they serve them as soups and as beans, but they also mill them into a flour that's made into poppadums, those big thin wafers you get at the beginning of an Indian dinner. The unique shape of the lentil gave rise to the word "lens," with which it shares a shape. (I know that sounds unlikely, but it's true.)

The Old Kitchen Sage Sez:

When the cook in the house
Prepares lentils and fish
The reviews from the spouse
Are complimentary-ish.

Edible Dictionary

spinalis, [SPIN-eh-liss], n.--The layer of lean meat that covers the side of a rib roast opposite the bones. It's also known as the rib cap is separated from the ribeye by a thick layer of fat. When removed, it has a convex shape, like a beanie. The spinalis is about three quarters of an inch thick, and is extravagantly marbled with fat, even when the grade of the beef is low. Spinalis was almost unheard of outside of anatomy classes until around 2006, when some meat purveyors began selling it as a separate cut. It's extraordinarily tender, and can be grilled or roasted.

Gourmet Gazetteer

Chili is in the central western extreme of Illinois, a hundred miles from the capital at Springfield, but only twenty miles from the Mississippi River. The seemingly endless cornfields begin to break for the short tributaries that run into the Mississippi, but it's still country sections bounded by perpendicular roads forming perfect squares. A few farm building are at Chili, but not much else. It's thirteen miles southwest to the nearest restaurant, the interestingly named Hoop 'n' Wink in Ursa. I hope they have chili on the menu.

Food Inventions

Today is the birthday, in 1791, of Peter Cooper, a man active in everything from industry to politics to education. He built the first steam locomotive in the United States, the Tom Thumb. We remember him as having patented a gelatin dessert in 1845. After the patent expired, the concept evolved into Jell-O.

Food In Science

Today in 1976, FD&C Red Dye #2 was banned from use in food in the United States, after Russian scientists found it caused cancer in lab rats. As a result, we had no red M&Ms for many years. At the local level, Barq's Red Cream Soda became colorless for a time. There was no change in the flavor, but everybody said it did taste different. That dye was replaced by others that didn't cause problems.

Food Namesakes

Actor Joe Don Baker was born today in 1936. . . Sir Anthony Berry, British politician, was born today in 1925. . . Pro baseballer Chet Lemon stepped up to the Big Plate today in 1955. . . Former governor of Indiana Conrad Baker was inaugurated into life today in 1817.

Words To Eat By

"Kissing don't last: cookery do!"--George Meredith, British writer, born today in 1809.

Words To Drink By

"An American monkey after getting drunk on brandy would never touch it again, and thus is much wiser than most men."--Charles Darwin, born today in 1809. "If this is coffee, please bring me some tea; if this is tea, please bring me some coffee."--Abraham Lincoln, born today in 1809.