Today Is January 20th, 2020

Tom Fitzmorris January 20, 2020 21:30 Almanac

Monday, January 20th, 2020

Crab Nebula. Belgium Independence. Belgian Endives. Chicory. Greensburg. George Burns. Big Cheese.

The holiday celebrating the life and inspiration of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jris today. While thinking about that, remember that the banks, government offices, postal service, and many schools are closed.

Eating Around New Orleans Today

Check restaurant websites for special holiday hours.

Looking Up

In 1969 on this date, the star whose explosion created the Crab Nebula was found, right under one of the jumbo lumps of the crab. It was a pulsar--an invisible neutron star that gives off pulses of radiation as it whirls rapidly. The Crab Nebula is the expanding cloud resulting from a spectacular supernova explosion in 1054.

This is the off-season for our local blue crabs. Crabs like warm weather. The lake and other nearby waters do contain crabs this time of year, but most of them bury themselves and are waiting for the water to warm up so they can move more freely. This means they're not eating much, which means that they're not very fat. But in the past few years, crabmeat has continued to be available through the fall and into the winter. The price goes way up, but people buy it anyway.

The seasonal swings in availability and price have caused some restaurants to start using pasteurized, foreign crabmeat. We can't really blame the restaurants entirely for this. The average customer who enjoys soft-shell crabs or fish with crabmeat on top doesn't want to hear that it's out of season. They just want the dish, and they get upset when they can't have it. The restaurants comply, finding that far fewer people can tell the difference than complain about the absence of crabmeat.

For the connoisseur, however, this is the time to eat oysters. And to build up an unsatisfied hunger for crabmeat that will return a lavish reward when the crabs start crabbing around again.

Eating Around The World

Today in 1831, Belgium became an independent country after being dominated by the French and Germans (among others) for centuries. It has retained much French culture, particularly in its cooking. For that reason, Belgium is the most underrated food country in Europe, with superb restaurants that lack the haughtiness of their equivalents in France. There is no better place in the world to eat mussels and fried potatoes, both of which are Belgian obsessions. They have many other distinctive dishes. Also, four different words for Belgian endive. And they still mix chicory into their coffee--one of the few places on earth outside New Orleans that does. (In fact, most of the chicory we use in coffee here comes from Belgium.)

Food Calendar

In recognition of the Belgian national day, January 20 is National Belgian Endive Day. These spearhead-shaped heads of nearly white lettuce are cultivated by a unique process. They first grow a bushy head of lettuce with many-lobed leaves. All that is cut off and fed to animals. The roots--which resemble pale, stumpy carrots--are packed, standing up, in boxes stored in a dark, cool barn. When it's time for a harvest, the boxes are filled with a nutrient solution and brought into a warmer but still dark area. That's when the white leaves emerge to form the Belgian endive. They're usually eaten raw, but are sometimes cooked. The bitter flavor is palate-perking, and its unique crisp texture adds sparkle to a salad.

Web rumor says that today is also National Cheeselover's Day. The word "cheese lover" makes me think of those catalogs that used to come in the junk mail offering membership in clubs from which you got a selection of different hyper-pasteurized (so they could be mailed at room temperature) cheeses, all of which tasted more or less like very mild Cheddar.

Delicious-Sounding Places

Greensburg, Indiana 47240 is midway between Indianapolis and Cincinnati in I-74. About ten thousand people live there. It has been the center of that farming area since the 1820s, and was incorporated in 1859. Its logo shows its courthouse tower (which resembles the Campanile in Venice), which is famous for having a tree growing through its roof. Storie's Restaurant is right across the street. Have a nice green salad.

Edible Dictionary  

chicory, n.--An herbaceous, perennial plant that grows wild in north-central Europe, as well as in cultivation around the world. Both the roots and the leaves of the plant are commonly eaten. Several varieties of the plant give us Belgian endive, curly endive, and radicchio. All are used primarily as salad greens and have a mild bitterness and astringency that adds to their appeal. The roots of the chicory plant are eaten by humans as well as farm animals. A substance in the roots appears to fight parasites in the intestinal tract. The root of one variety of chicory is roasted and ground to make an additive to coffee. Coffee and chicory blends are popular in New Orleans, Belgium, and parts of India. In Belgium, where the vegetable is served everywhere, it's also called chicory, endive, and witloof ("white leaf").

Deft Dining Rule #722: The presence or absence of chicory coffee in a New Orleans restaurant is no longer indicative of anything.

Food On The Air

George Burns was born today in 1896. He lived to be just a couple months shy of 100. He and his wife Gracie Allen starred in one of the great radio sitcoms for over twenty years. In the 1950s, their show began another decade on television. When Gracie (who had all the good lines) died in 1964, Burns faded from sight for a long time. He made a major comeback in the 1980s, with a string of movies and concerts. A running joke on the radio show concerned his love of singing and his lack of singing talent. But he wound up recording some Western songs anyway. He usually had food sponsors for his show, notably Hormel (the maker of Spam), and Maxwell House Coffee.

World Food Records

The record has since been topped, but on this day in 1964 the largest cheese ever made up to that time was a Cheddar created by the Wisconsin Cheese Foundation for the New York World's Fair. It weighed seventeen tons and required over 40,000 gallons of milk. The following year it was eaten at a meeting of cheese lovers.

Food Namesakes

British actor Tom Baker was born today in 1934. . . Actress Stacey Dash was born today in 1967. . . Scot actor Finlay Currie was born today in 1878. . . Supreme Court Justice David Josiah Brewer was born today in 1837.

Words To Eat By

"The kind of crabbing my wife likes to do is to return from an afternoon's swim or sunbathing session, open the refrigerator door, and find a generous plate of crab cakes all ready to cook."--Euell Gibbons, natural-foods enthusiast and writer.