February 21

Spicy Potatoes. Galette. Hash Browns. Pancake Race. Tony-Type Food Reviews. Jack In The Box. Alka-Seltzer.

Days Until. . .

Mardi Gras--7
St. Patrick's Day--25
St. Joseph's Day--27

Deft Dining Rule #249

Ask which is the worst table in the restaurant, and you'll never be brought to that table.

Edible Dictionary

shu-mai, (shoo-my), Chinese, n.--A bite-size dumpling made by wrapping a thin skin of pasta dough around a stuffing of pork with mushrooms, and perhaps other finely chopped ingredients. Shu-mai are sometimes stuffed with shrimp. They're steamed and served hot as an appetizer. The two most common dipping sauces are a combination of soy sauce and rice wine vinegar. But yellow mustard--not the hot Chinese kind, but more like the mustard you'd put on a hot dog--is also commonly served. In America shu-mai is more often found in Japanese restaurants than Chinese, but it definitely comes from China. The name means "cooked for sale." So, it's street food.

Today's Flavor

The Web buzz is that today is National Sticky Bun Day. I haven't yet mentioned that February is National Potato Month. And today is National Hash Brown Potatoes Day. Hash browns are a fuzzy concept. In shape they run the gamut from large diced potatoes to finely shredded. They're usually cooked in a hot grill or skillet, but the other ingredients combined with it ranges from nothing at all to cheese, onions, bacon, ham, and whatever else the cook at the greasy spoon has handy. Everybody has a different preference. Mine is for the way my wife Mary Ann makes them, which takes advantage of her penchant for burning things. She pre-bakes potatoes a little less than you would for eating. Then she melts some butter in a hot skillet and shreds the potatoes right into the skillet, scattering some chopped green onions as she goes. Then she walks away until she smells something burning, turns the potatoes over, and lets them go a little longer. This technique is terrible for most cooking, but happens to be perfect for hash browns, and the result is irresistible.

Gourmet Gazetteer

Dublin coddle is an Irish breakfast made with bacon, pork sausages, onions and potatoes, cooked together very slowly. Coddle Creek meets the Rocky River ten miles northeast of downtown Charlotte, North Carolina. By that point it has flowed some thirty-two miles through the rolling foothills of the Appalachians. Coddle Creek flows within three miles of Three Monkeys Tavern and Grill, In Harrisburg.

The Old Kitchen Sage Sez:

If you're going to boil potatoes for any reason, buy potatoes that are all approximately the same size. You wouldn't believe what a difference this makes not only in texture but flavor, too.

The Food Bill

Today is Food Checkout Day. That's the day when the average American has earned enough money to pay for all his food for this entire year. That day comes much earlier in this country than anywhere else. On average, we spend about 12 percent of our disposable income on food. In France, it's 15 per cent. Japan 18 percent, India 51 per cent. Here's another statistic about food, while we're at it: only 19 cents of the average dollar spent at the grocery store goes to farmers or other food producers. The rest goes for processing and marketing. I suspect that those of us who like to take a high percentage of our meals in restaurants have a Food Checkout Day much later in the year.

Food Through History

Speaking of breakfast: Today was Mardi Gras in 1950. On that day, the first International Pancake Race took place in Liberal, Kansas. It still goes on every Shrove Tuesday there, and is the premier celebration of a curious association between Mardi Gras and pancakes. It's one we honor almost not at all here. In Liberal, they invite a team of women from Olney, a town in England (where the tradition began), and the contestants run four hundred yards down a twisting course, flipping pancakes in a skillet as they do. And you'd think they have no fun in western Kansas!

Annals Of Food Writing

It's the publication date in 1925 of the first edition of The New Yorker, which for my money is still the most interesting magazine in the world. Its longtime editor William Shawn ate in the Algonquin Hotel every day, and ordered the same thing: a bowl of Special K with skim milk. This probably explains why the magazine didn't run anything about restaurants until a few years ago recently. My wish for the dining out reports in a bigger typeface has come true lately.

Annals Of Popular Cuisine

The first Jack In The Box hamburger restaurant opened in San Diego today in 1951. By my standards, it remains the worst large burger chain there is, barely edging out Hardee's for that dishonor.

Annals Of Overeating

Today is the birthday, in 1931, of Alka-Seltzer, one of the most effective remedies for an upset stomach. It's essentially an aspirin cocktail.

People We'd Like To Have Dinner With

Kelsey Grammer was born today in 1955. His character Frasier, on the brilliant television show of the same name, was the first I remember to profess a strong interest in fine dining and wine, and not as a parody, either. The wine-tasting scenes with Frasier's brother Niles reek with authenticity and captured much of their potential foolishness. The Frasier show even had a radio restaurant critic--a rare bird in real life, I can assure you.

Food And Wine Namesakes

Advertising executive Fairfax Cone was born today in 1903. . . Rap music star Wish Bone was pulled today in 1975. . . Chantal Claret, lead singer for the rock group Morningwood, was uncorked today in 1982.

Words To Eat By

"A bachelor's life is a fine breakfast, a flat lunch, and a miserable dinner."--Francis Bacon (how ironic!).

Words To Drink Coffee By

"Making coffee has become the great compromise of the decade. It's the only thing 'real' men do that doesn't seem to threaten their masculinity. To women, it's on the same domestic entry level as putting the spring back into the toilet-tissue holder or taking a chicken out of the freezer to thaw."--Erma Bombeck, born today in 1927.