Today Is January 17th, 2020

Tom Fitzmorris January 17, 2020 10:03 Almanac

Friday, January 17th, 2020


Popeye. Spinach. Beef Wellington. Hot Buttered Rum. Cable Car. Broccoli Raab. Ali.


Food In The Comics 

 

Today in 1929, Popeye the Sailor made his first appearance. He walked onto an existing comic strip by Elzie Segar called Thimble Theater, and before long he'd pushed the other characters in the strip into the background and became one of the biggest stars of the comics page. 


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 thought it was worth driving miles to get the stuff. But then I was only 22.


Delicious-Sounding Places  


Spinach Creek, Alaska is about 27 miles west of Fairbanks, out in the woods in a valley through which the Alaska Railroad runs. The creek of the name rises another 50 miles west and then ends in a lake just outside Fairbanks. I can't imagine they raise much spinach there.


Gourmets In History  


Today is the three hundred first birthday of Benjamin Franklin, who didn't invent the almanac but certainly set the standard for all almanacs that came after his Poor Richard's Almanac. It made him into a rich man who could afford the fine food and wine that Franklin enjoyed.


Food In War  


Today in 1991, the first Iraq war began. One of the Marines who saw action was Chef John Besh of the eponymous restaurant group. Being in the service is one of the things that persuaded him to take a job cooking.


In other war news, 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.


Food Calendar  


The Web rumor is that 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 (see above).


People We'd Like To Dine With 


Today is the birthday, in 1942, of the late great Muhammad Ali. We’d tell him how inspiring it was to watch him light the torch at the 1996 Atlanta Olympic Games. And then just sit back and listen.


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 former home of Michael Mina's fantastic restaurant, the one that launched him into celebrity chef world. 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  


broccoli raab, n., Italian--A green, leafy vegetable that's also known by the names broccoli di rapé, broccoli rabe, rapini, or just raab. It's only distantly related to broccoli and probably got the name because small florets are sometimes found among its ragged leaves. It's really more closely related to the turnip, and the flavor of its leaves and stems are like peppery turnip greens. Unlike turnip greens, however, it's not often cooked to the point that the leaves have wilted. Broccoli raab is most popular in Italy and China, and American restaurants serving those cuisines sneak it onto plates as a side dish occasionally. It does make a nice change of pace from more familiar vegetables, but it hasn't exploded in popularity.


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 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.


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. Whiskey makes it go round twice as fast."--Sir Compton Mackenzie, English writer, born today in 1883.