AlmanacSquare January 17, 2017

Days Until. . .

Mardi Gras–28
Valentine’s Day–29

Deft Dining Rule #434:

Before you order a dish described as including spinach, find out whether the spinach will be visible and tastable. If not, it’s just in there to boost sales. Everybody falls for spinach.

The Old Kitchen Sage Sez:

Next time you cook spinach for anything, give it a single shake (less than a pinch) of nutmeg. When you eat it, you’ll wonder why it tastes better than usual.

Gourmets In History

Benjamin Franklin was born today in 1706. He didn’t invent the almanac, but he certainly set the standard for the genre with his Poor Richard’s Almanack. It made him into a rich man who could afford the fine food and wine that Franklin enjoyed. In his honor, choose as the next entree you order one that costs the amount of the bill on which Franklin is remembered. Or not: he was famous for his common-sense style of living and doing business.

Food In War

On this date in 1827 the Duke of Wellington, Arthur Wellesley, was made supreme commander of all British troops, twelve years after he defeated Napoleon at Waterloo. The dish beef Wellington was created in his honor by a chef whose identity has been lost. It’s a seared filet mignon (sometimes a very large section of the tenderloin) covered with foie gras and mushroom duxelles, then wrapped in pastry and baked. It’s a grand dish to see, but just okay in terms of taste. It seems very British, and has a way of being overcooked. I’ve always thought it ironic that beef Wellington is served most often in fancy, very French restaurants.

Gourmet Gazetteer

Leektown, New Jersey is in the southern part of the state, twenty-six miles north of Atlantic City. It’s a flattened X-shaped intersection in the Pinelands that flank the Garden State Parkway. Looks like a lot of trailers are in those woods, and not much town. Leektown is named for the Leek family, which settled there over two centuries ago. For food, Allen’s Clam Bar sounds good. It’s two miles away in Tuckerton.

Today’s Flavor

It’s Hot Buttered Rum Day. A drink dating back to Benjamin Franklin’s times, this is spiced rum served warm; the butter is to make the spices rise to the top, where the aromas can be better released. Interesting when it’s cold outside, but I can think of hundreds of better things to do with rum. Better we should make it Beef Wellington Day.

Annals Of Popular Cuisine

Today in 1871, Andrew Hallidie patented the design of the cable car, the kind used to this day in San Francisco. When we see a picture of a cable car, three things come to mind. First, the St. Francis Hotel, our favorite hotel in America, and the home of Michael Mina’s fantastic restaurant. The cable car passes right in front of it. Second, we think of Chinatown, because if you hop onto the cable car at the hotel, it takes you there, and to within a block of the Great Eastern, our favorite Chinatown restaurant. Finally, the cable car reminds us of Rice-A-Roni. Television commercials for “the San Francisco treat” (it’s really the Lebanese treat) always showed cable cars with ads for Rice-A-Roni on them. Those ads are still on many of the cars. One more: they remind us of Tony Bennett, and that song, and. . . well, now we want to be in San Francisco.

Edible Dictionary

orange brulot, n.–A flavored, alcoholic coffee served at the end of a grand meal heavy on dazzling presentations. For this one, an orange is cut through its skin all the way around its equator. After loosening the skin from the juicy sections beneath, the skin on both the top and bottom are turned inside out, creating a goblet on top and a stand underneath, with the meat of the orange in the middle. Cafe brulot (coffee flamed with brandy, cloves, and cinnamon) is poured into the top half and served. The oils from the orange skin mix with the coffee to give an interesting aroma and flavor. After you drink the coffee, you eat the orange if you like. Orange brulot was popular in the 1940s through the 1960s in fancy restaurants. It may well now be extinct.

The Saints

Today is the feast day of St. Anthony The Abbott, who lived in the third century. He is the patron saint of butchers, as well as of pigs and those who raise them.

Food Namesakes

Actor Noah Beery was born today in 1882. . . Captain James Cook became the first person to cross the Antarctic Circle intentionally, on this date in 1773. . . Aviation pioneer Norman “Squab” Read was born today in 1891. . . Raphael Ritz, a Swiss artist, was born today in1829. . . Model, former Playboy Playmate, and former Hooters waitress Kimberly Spicer was born today in 1980. . . It’s the birthday (1933) of ventriloquist and puppeteer Shari Lewis, and indirectly also the birthday of her favorite puppet, Lamb Chop.

Food In The Comics

Today in 1929, Popeye the Sailor made his first appearance. He walked into an existing comic strip by Elzie Segar called Thimble Theater, and before long he’d pushed almost all the other characters in the strip into the background and became one of the biggest stars of the comics page. His major contribution to American culture, however, was in making spinach cool. His love of canned spinach was so influential among kids (including this one) that a statue of him stands in front of City Hall in Crystal City, Texas, the spinach-farming capital of America.

Spinach pie.

In New Orleans, we think of something else when we hear Popeye’s name. The national fried chicken chain started here (in Chalmette) was, however, not named for the sailor but for Popeye Doyle, portrayed by Gene Hackman, in The French Connection. That’s what Popeyes creator Al Copeland said, anyway. King Features, which syndicates Popeye, disagreed, and wound up forcing Popeyes Famous Fried Chicken to pay royalties for use of the equally famous sailor’s name. I can’t say I’m nuts about the product Popeyes puts out these days. But when it first opened in 1973, I had it at the top of one of my early Ten-Best lists. That spicy style was something really different back then, and I though it was worth driving miles to get the stuff.

Words To Eat By

“Kill no more pigeons than you can eat.”–Benjamin Franklin, born today in 1706.

“A mother never gets hit with a custard pie. Mothers-in-law, yes. But mothers? Never.”–Mack Sennett, early filmmaker, master of slapstick movies, born today in 1880.

Words To Drink By

“Love makes the world go round? Not at all. Whisky makes it go round twice as fast.”–Sir Compton Mackenzie, English writer, born today in 1883.

5 Readers Commented

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  1. Darren on December 17, 2014

    Why the name calling? Are you on the naughty list? Seems to me that Tom’s job is a critic and therefore gives his opinion, In fact I here him often say that it is just his opinion. He could be like other publications and simply state what a restaurant has on the menu, its hours etc. with nothing about the pros and cons of the place.

  2. Dennie Crane on December 17, 2014

    You sir are completely correct about both your points. Vermont DOES make the best maple syrup and Fitzmorris is an over-inflated windbag.

    • Darren on December 17, 2014

      Just like Rush listeners, don’t like the guy but cant stop reading his blog or listing to the program.

  3. Tom on December 17, 2015

    Maple syrup is graded and most people prefer the lighter, higher graded syrup, but many actually prefer the taste of the darker, amber, lower graded syrup. I rarely see the light maple syrup in the south. As for me, I keep Steen’s cane syrup and “real” maple syrup on hand all the time (and never the maple flavored corn syrup “table syrup”).

  4. p williams on December 17, 2015

    you may be a windbag,but its a gentle and refreshing breeze, so keep huffing and puffing.