February 16

Mardi Gras. Tut. Almonds. Bologna Lake. Rollmops. New Peach. McDonald. Food Mill. Del Sharbutt.

It's Mardi Gras, a day with several eating traditions. The first is eating and drinking whatever you want. Meat and alcohol are both proscripted for the Lenten season that begins tomorrow. So we overindulge today. The word "carnival" means "farewell to meat." My personal observance of this tradition involves eating a steak. And not just any steak, but a seriously large one of fine quality. I get it, in the company of anyone who cares to join me, at the Crescent City Steak House. I'll get there around two-thirty to begin the indulgence. The strangest aspect of Mardi Gras is that, despite this emphasis on indulgence of the senses, it's the worst day of the year to eat a gourmet repast. If you can avoid going to a restaurant, it's a very good idea to do so. Many other parts of the world have eating traditions on this day. The entire French-speaking world does, of course. The French connection is how Mardi Gras arrived in Louisiana. This is the day for pancakes in places that refer to this day as Shrove Tuesday--notably Liberal, Kansas. (See below.) In Hawaii, the Portuguese presence in its past left behind a tradition of making malasada, a kind of doughnut. The Amish people in Pennsylvania Dutch country make fastnacht, a potato cake served with dark syrup today. In Iceland, they call this Sprengidagur, which translates as "Bursting Day." They they celebrate by eating peas and salted, cured meats. Deft Dining Rule #158: If you can't let yourself have a Lucky Dog on Bourbon Street on Mardi Gras, you have no soul. If you let yourself eat a Lucky Dog any other time, you have no brain.

Days Until. . .

Mardi Gras--12

Annals Of Fast Food

Richard McDonald, one of the two brothers who opened the original McDonald's fast-service hamburger restaurant in Los Angeles, was born today in 1909. He came up with the building design, including the golden arches.

Food Calendar

It is National Almond Day. The Almond Board of California (where seventy-five percent of the world's commercial almond crop is grown) knew nothing about it, but. . . Almonds are best known in New Orleans for their involvement with trout amandine. That's really a French dish, but it was once so common in New Orleans restaurants that we considered it our own until Ella Brennan and Paul Prudhomme at Commander's Palace decided to remake the dish using pecans. Now that seems to be the city's favorite nut-and-fish dish. Almonds are a very good thing to have hanging around your pantry, for use as an appetite-arresting snack. The oils in them are good for your cholesterol balance.

Gourmet Gazetteer

Bologna Lake is in northeastern Minnesota, nine miles from the Canadian border. This is wilderness country, the glacier-scraped lakes and marsh-lined rivers interspersing the gently rolling terrain. Bologna Lake is about a half-mile east-west and a third of a mile north-south, with a small island in its center. It drains into the well-named Frost River. Surprisingly, you don't have to travel far to get to the nearest restaurant: Gunflint Lodge, a wilderness vacation resort right on the Canadian border.

Edible Dictionary

amandine, [AH-mahn-deen], French, adj.--Garnished with almonds. The almonds are almost always sliced, usually thinly. By far the most common dish done amandine style is fish, with the fish either broiled or fried, and the almonds toasted and usually tossed in a butter sauce. Vegetables also get the amandine treatment, particularly green beans (a Thanksgiving classic), broccoli, and peas. Chicken amandine is not unheard of. In recent years, small rounds of brie are baked with butter and almonds, particularly in coffeeshops. Amandine usually connotes a savory dish; pastries, even with a lot of almonds, are rarely referred to with that word. A common misspelling is "almondine."

Food Inventions

Today in 1932, in France, Jean Mantelet patented a kitchen device that evolved into the Moulinex food mill. This is a wonderful tool: you load vegetables or fruits that you want to strain into a hopper, you turn a crank, and two spring-loaded blades push the food through a metal screen with small, perforated holes. It gives, among other things, perfectly smooth mashed potatoes without messing up the texture or flavor. It's a very handy gizmo than not enough American kitchens have.

Ancient Drinks

Pharoah Tutankhamen's tomb was opened on this date in 1923. The discoverers were surprised to find unopened bottles of Champagne in there. The Pharoah's favorite bubbly appeared to be Tuttinger.

Annals Of Food Research

On this date in 1932, the first patent ever issued for a tree went to James Markham, who developed a new variety of peach. Its principal asset was that it ripened later than other varieties. So it was mostly a marketing thing.

Food On The Air

Today in 1912, Del Sharbutt was born. He had the classic radio voice, with the depth and resonance of an elevator shaft. Radio guys of my generation dearly wished they had voices like Del Sharbutt's. In his commercials for Campbell's Soup, he ad-libbed what would become the soup's catchphrase: "Mmm-mm good!" He was on all the major radio networks, but is best known as the announcer on Your Hit Parade.

Food And Wine Namesakes

Today is the birthday (1955) of Margaux Hemingway, who was named for the first-growth Bordeaux wine Chateau Margaux. . . Rapper Ice-T--whose real name Tracy Marrow also refers to comestibles--was born today in 1958. . . British actor Ian Lavender was born today in 1946. . . Ricou Browning, actor and director, came to life today in 1930.

Words To Eat By

"Don't eat too many almonds; they add weight to the breasts."--Colette."Training is everything. The peach was once a bitter almond; cauliflower is nothing but cabbage with a college education."--Mark Twain."His mind was like a Roquefort cheese, so ripe that it was palpably falling to pieces."Van Wyck Brooks, American author, born today in 1886. He was talking about fellow author Ford Madox Ford.

Words To Drink By

"Hard work never killed anybody, but why take a chance?"--Edgar Bergen, speaking as his dummy Charlie McCarthy. Bergen, born today in 1903, was a radio ventriloquist with a long-running show in the 1940s and 1950s. He was Candice Bergen's dad.