The Food Almanac: September 16, 2012

Get your day off to an appetizing start with food facts and trivia from Tom Fitzmorris


In The Food Almanac, Tom Fitzmorris of the online newsletter, The New Orleans Menu, notes food facts and sayings.

Food Calendar
This is National Wild Rice Day. Wild rice is only distantly related to true rice. The important food varieties are native to northern North America. It's the state grain of Minnesota, which grows more of it than any other state. It was historically the preserve of Native Americans, who still do most of the growing and collecting. Wild rice is not always wild anymore; after decades of trying, methods of raising it in paddies are now in use.

Wild rice has a distinctive, nutty taste, with little starch. It's traditionally served with fall dishes like duck and game. Because it's expensive to grow and harvest, wild rice is only rarely served pure. It's usually with true white or brown rice. The flavor and texture makes white rice much more interesting, and probably better than either of the rices alone. Having the white rice in there also makes wild rice easier to eat. Wild rice won't stay on a fork.

The Old Kitchen Sage Sez
Wild rice almost always needs to be washed before you cook it. Just let it soak in a bowl of water for a few minutes, and stir it to loosen the little particles of chaff. Drain, then start with new water.

Deft Dining Rule #869
The higher the percentage of wild rice in the rice pilaf, the better the restaurant.

Gourmet Gazetteer
Duck, N.C., is on Bodie Island, a barrier island lined with beaches and resort communities. It faces the Atlantic in the northeast corner of the state. Albemarle Sound is right in back of the narrow island. Duck is near Kitty Hawk, of Wright Brothers fame. All the streets in Duck are named for varieties of duck — pintail, canvasback, wood duck, etc. Lots of restaurants around there, mostly serving seafood and barbecue. I like the Blue Point Bar and Grill, right in the center of Duck.

Annals of Getting There
General Motors was founded today in 1908 by William C. Durant. It makes me wonder what the restaurant world be like without automobiles. They would certainly be more concentrated geographically. To travel far required a horse. The drive-thru wouldn't exist, nor would most fast-food places. Doesn't sound so bad, really.

Alluring Dinner Dates
Lauren Bacall was born today in 1924. The wife and frequent co-star of Humphrey Bogart, the young Bacall was a stunner, with a cool, heavy-lidded style, and a sexy, smoky voice. In many pictures of her from those times, she and Bogey are carrying on in a restaurant or bar, often with other members of the original Rat Pack. What great tables those must have been!

Food On the Air
Today in 1993, the sitcom Frasier premiered on NBC. The main character was a pompous radio psychiatrist played by Kelsey Grammer, who created the role on Cheers. In the series, Frasier and his brother Niles were portrayed as gourmets and oenophiles — or, to be more accurate, food and wine snobs. In one episode, they decided that Frasier's producer was mentally ill because she ordered a white Zinfandel. Also in the series was a foppish restaurant critic whose radio show came on before Frasier's. Why are my kind always portrayed as jerks? What? Oh.

Edible Dictionary
diver scallops, n. — The name tells most of the story. These are sea scallops (the big ones, whose meat is an inch or two in diameter) that are harvested by divers who descend to the sea bottom and collect them. That contrasts with the usual method of dredging up the scallops, which results in shell damage and the admission of silt and sand. If you've ever noticed a grittiness in your scallops, you can see why diver scallops sell at a premium. Unfortunately, diver scallops are not a sure thing. Believe it or not, standard trawled scallops sometimes are represented as diver scallops. Send them back to the chef — or at least complain — if you find grit in alleged diver scallops.

Food Namesakes
Pro-football player Todd Weiner kicked off his life today in 1975... Basketball pro Ron Brewer had his Big Tipoff today in 1955... Bilinda Butcher sings and plays guitar for the British band My Bloody Valentine. She was born today in 1961... Film director and writer Jules Bass was landed into the world today in 1935... French composer Nadia Boulanger (her last name means "baker") came out of the oven today in 1887.

Words to Eat By
"A vitamin is a substance that makes you ill if you don't eat it." — Albert Szent-Gyorgyi, the Hungarian scientist who isolated Vitamin C and discovered many of its benefits. He was born today in 1893.

Words to Drink By
"Work is the curse of the drinking classes." — Oscar Wilde.


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