March 20

National Ravioli Day

Ravioli. Spring. Salt Lick. Ovid. Saint Of Prosciutto. Mussels. Potato Song.

Days Until. . .

Easter --<15>

Looking Up

Today is the vernal equinox, the first day of spring. At five forty-five this afternoon New Orleans time, the tilt of the earth's axis with relation to the sun is such that both northern and southern hemispheres receive the same illumination. The days are already a little longer than the nights, because of the refraction of the atmosphere. The days continue to lengthen for another 92 days.

Gourmet Gazetteer

Salt Lick, population 350, is in northeast Kentucky, fifty-four miles east of Lexington. It's in a valley formed by Salt Lick Creek, which flows into the much larger Licking Creek just north of town. All these references to licking owe to outcroppings of salt all over the area. These drew wildlife to the area in enough numbers to attract people who wanted to hunt them. A local story has it that once 400 buffalo came in to get their minimum daily requirement of salt. Settlers were there by 1774, and when the railroad came though in 1890 it raised the population to its all-time high of 800. Nearby Cave Run lake, created by a dam on Licking Creek built in the 1970s, made the vicinity prime recreation and fishing territory. Salt Lick has several restaurants, including the Salt Lick Restaurant, in the middle of town.

Annals Of Criticism

Today is the birthday, in 43 BC, of the Roman author Publius Ovidus Naso, better known as Ovid. Among his most famous quoted words are these, which I always include in my books of restaurant criticism, and believe to be true:"It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes up short again and again; who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions, and spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who, at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly."

The Saints

Today is the feast day of St. John of Parma, the patron saint of that town from which the great dry-cured prosciutto hamsand the original Parmigiano cheese come.

Edible Dictionary

mouclade, French, n.--Steamed mussels served with a sauce richer than the standard combination of the mussels juices, wine, and herbs. The sauce at the bottom of the bowl starts with cream, but also has a bit of egg whipped into it. Garlic, shallots, and lemon juice remain as ingredients, but the sauce is further enhanced by a combination of aromatic spices and red pepper. It's more often served as an appetizer than as an entree, because a little of the sauce goes a long way.

Food Calendar

It's National Ravioli Day. A raviolo (singular--but who ever eats just one?) is made by inserting dollops of some flavorful stuffing between two sheets of pasta, pressing the sheets together until they adhere, and then cooking them. They come in all sizes and are made with all stuffings. The truth about ravioli was revealed to me when I was a child: the kind you don't want are beef ravioli, which are almost inevitably nasty.The standard ravioli these days are stuffed with cheese, usually a mixture of ricotta and Parmigiano. Spinach and mushrooms are other common stuffings, usually with a bit of cheese added to the mix. Some clever chefs, in their efforts to deconstruct food, have taken to casting cooked pasta sheets randomly in a bowl with the stuffing ingredients interspersed but not sealed. The first time I saw this I thought it was amusing, but it's been done too many times now. Besides, that assembly has another name: lasagna.

Food Namesakes

Fats Waller recorded the song All That Meat And No Potatoes today in 1941. Hendrik de Fish, a Belgian sociologist, was born today in 1885. . . Ferdinand Foch, the French hero of World War I, and the man for whom oysters Foch at Antoine's are named, died today in 1929.

Words To Eat By

"Serenely full the epicure may say, Fate cannot harm me. I have dined today."--Sydney Smith.

Words To Drink By

"O merry swains, who quaff the nut-brown ale,
And sing enamour'd of the nut-brown maid."
--James Beattie, The Minstrel (1771).