April 7

National Coffee Cake Day

Coffee Cake. Prohibition End. Ptomaine. Coffee Hill. Bolete. Corn Flakes. Coppola.

Drink And The Law

Today in 1933, Utah ratified the Twenty-First Amendment, thereby putting the final nail into the coffin of Prohibition. President Franklin Roosevelt signed legislation allowing 3.2 percent alcohol beer immediately. And there was rejoicing in the land--except in Oklahoma, where Prohibition continued until, coincidentally, this same day in 1959.

The Physiology Of Eating

The man who created the word ptomaine (from the Greek ptomas, meaning "corpse") was born today in 1817. Francesco Selmi thought that the nitrogenous compounds in spoiled food were responsible for food poisoning. That's not exactly true; those ammonia-like aromas are a symptom, not a cause. The expression "ptomaine poisoning" is no longer used in the medical world for food poisoning, although many laymen still call it that.

The Old Kitchen Sage Sez:

It is much less likely than you think that your bout of food poisoning came from a restaurant.

Today's Flavor

It's National Coffee Cake Day. I once overheard someone in a bakery say that he didn't like coffee cake because he didn't like the taste of coffee. Of course, there's no coffee in coffee cake--unless you spill your mug into it. The basic coffee cake is a sweet, crumbly, thick cake of flour, eggs, sugar, and butter, topped with a streusel of sugar, nuts, and cinnamon. It's often baked in a tube pan, leaving a hole in the center. Coffee cakes often include other ingredients; apples and blueberries are common. They're best eaten right after they finish cooling. With a cup of coffee, naturally.

Gourmet Gazetteer

Edible Dictionary

bolete, n.--A mushroom in a large family of meaty varieties. The bolete's most distinctive aspect is that the underside of the cap doesn't have gill-like spore structures, but a spongy mass with thousands of pores. The family includes some of the most prized mushrooms, notably porcini and cepes. They grow all over the world, including in Louisiana. They are very common on the North Shore of Lake Pontchartrain; the undersides of these are often a brilliant yellow. Only a few members of the family are poisonous. (But no mushroom should be assumed safe until checked by an expert mycologist.) The biggest drawback of local boletes is that the insects and worms love them as much as we do, and attack them at morning's first light. To harvest boletes, you have to start early in the morning.

Deft Dining Rule #169:

If the little espresso cup is more than half-full with a single shot, it isn't really an espresso.

Annals Of Processed Food

It's the birthday in 1860 of William K. Kellogg, the founder of the cereal company that bears his name and the creator of modern processed cereal. He developed the original corn flakes with his brother John. It was not an entirely new idea. The Aztecs also made and liked processed corn products that were almost identical to modern cereal. The two Kellogg brothers were health nuts--vegetarians for starters, but with a lot of much less valid ideas.

The Saints

Today is the feast day of St. John Baptist de la Salle. Born in 1651 in Reims, France to a wealthy family, he became a priest, and took on a mission to improve education among the poor. To that purpose, he founded a Catholic religious order, the Christian Brothers. The brothers still operate schools around the world. Both my son and I are beneficiaries of Christian Brothers education (he at Christian Brothers School in City Park, I at Archbishop Rummel High School). The Christian Brothers also became well-known in this country for their winery, built in 1882, in the impressive, castle-like Greystone just north of St. Helena in Napa. They sold the winery in 1989; Greystone is now the home of the Napa campus of the Culinary Institute of America. So the legacy of teaching goes on. Christian Brothers Brandy is still around, too.

People We'd Like To Have Dinner With

This is the birthday, in 1939, of film director and winemaker Francis Ford Coppola. More than a few restaurant and food scenes appear inThe Godfather and its two sequels, the movies for which he's most famous. Coppola's career as a vintner is equally impressive. He bought the old Inglenook estate in Napa, including the Victorian house of the Gustave Neibaum family, who founded the winery in the 1880s. Coppola recently renamed the estate Rubicon, a reference to the marvelous meritage-style blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and its usual partners that he makes there. Maybe he'll bring a few vintages. (Actually, I've had lunch with Coppola already, at his home in Napa. He grilled some great pizzas.)

Fine Dining On Television

Andrew Sachs, the actor who played Manuel, the incomprehensibly incompetent waiter on the British TV comedy Fawlty Towers, was born today in 1930. He might have been able to get by were his boss Basil Fawlty (played by John Cleese) not such a ninny himself.

Food Namesakes

Peanuts Hucko, a clarinetist on the Lawrence Welk orchestra, was born today in 1918. . . Yvonne Lime, an actress on television (Dobie Gillis, Happy, and Father Knows Best) was born in 1938. . . John Oates, of the rock duo Hall and Oates, was born today in 1949. . . Pro baseball pitcher Ricky Bones was born today in 1969.

Words To Eat By

"How can you eat anything with eyes?"--W. K. Kellogg, cereal magnate, born today in 1860.

Words To Drink By

"A drinking man's someone who wants to forget he isn't still young and believing."--Tennessee Williams.