The Food Almanac: Thursday, August 29, 2013

It's National Chop Suey Day!
Staff Writer

Aurora D Photograpny

"Chop suey" translates idiomatically into "mixed food in small pieces," which describes a great deal of Chinese food. So it was probably pretty generic when Americans first encountered it when Chinese people began appearing in large numbers.

Memorable Weather Reports
Hurricane Katrina--one of the two or three most powerful Atlantic hurricanes in history--swept across New Orleans this morning in 2005. It changed everything, in ways we're still discovering. Everyone who was here then, and came back, will talk about that event the rest of our lives. And take pride that, even in our sometimes clumsy way, we lived through it and kept our identity.

As unlikely as it may seem to people who have never been here, our eating culture was one of the strongest forces that pulled us back together into a coherent city. We saw that in the very earliest recovery, when the first thing most returnees wanted to do was to eat some real New Orleans food. It started with red beans and poor boys and gumbo, but we were very quickly back to oysters Bienville, soft shell crabs, slow-roasted duck, and all the rest of it. If all that and the restaurants that served them hadn't come back as quickly as they did, many people who came back would have wondered why they did, and left again.

The day that New Orleans becomes Anywhere, USA is the day it dies.

Our Famous Restaurateurs
On the other hand, some wonderful things happened this date. It's the birthday, in 1960, of Ti Adelaide Martin. She and her cousin Lally Brennan own and manage Commander's Palace and Cafe Adelaide. Ti is the daughter of Ella Brennan, one of the most accomplished of American restaurateurs. Ti clearly learned a lot from her mom. But even her mom learned a few new lessons in their struggles to reopen Commander's Palace after Katrina. It took a year and a half--much longer than anyone ever imagined. But when it open, it resumed its position as the city's top restaurant. 

Chef Todd English was also born on this date in 1960. In Amarillo,Texas, of all places. He became a superstar in Boston with the opening of Olives in 1989. Olives is an Italian-inspired restaurant, the result of time spent in Italy following English's stint at New York's La Cote Basque, one of the last of the classic French restaurants in the Big Apple. English now has a number of restaurants around the country, and on the ships in the Cunard Line.

Today's Flavor
By coincidence, Today is Eating Away From Home Day. That's what most of us in the New Orleans area had to do on this distressing day in 2005. And it's what an increasing number of people across America do every day. Just before the 2008 recession, more meals in this country were eaten out of the home than in it. That reverted to the opposite statistic during the slack years. But dining out is once again edging towards a majority of U.S. meals.

It is also More Herbs, Less Salt Day; Lemon Juice Day; Chop Suey Day (see below), and Swiss Winegrowers Day (the Swiss drink almost all of their wine themselves, so to hell with that).

Edible Dictionary
hurricane, n.--A sweet rum cocktail made with three shots of dark rum, an ounce each of passionfruit syrup (Hawaiian Punch concentrate works fine), orange juice, lime juice, and grenadine. It's served over ice cubes with a slice of orange and a cherry as garnish, in a tall glass made to resemble the glass chimney of a storm lantern. It was created in the 1940s at Pat O'Brien's in New Orleans. The famous French Quarter bar says that the drink came about because of the excess of rum they were forced to buy in order to get an allocation of Bourbon and Scotch. The special glass in which its served is a souvenir found somewhere in the homes of many Orleanians and their visitors.

Gourmet Gazetteer
Hurricane, Louisiana is in the north central part of the state, fifty-six miles east of Shreveport. Of all places in Louisiana, this one is among the least likely ever to feel the effects of a hurricane--either the storm or the drink variety. It's a junction of country roads through gently rolling farmland, most of it planted in cotton and soybeans. All the nightlife is in Arcadia, four miles south, where the Country Cottage is the place to eat.

Annals Of Dieting
Dr. Nathan Pritikin was born today in 1915. The diet plan that bears his name posited that a high-carbohydrate, low-fat regimen would not only result in weight loss, but also prevent heart disease, from which he believed he was suffering. The thinking these days is that the opposite is true, but dieting vogues swing as often and popular style of cooking. But in the 1970s it was all the rage, enough that some restaurants opened with menus the kept to the Pritikin Plan. I went to one such, and found it among the worst I ever reviewed. Losing weight is a laudable goal. Eating with pleasure is also important. Tricky to achieve both goals with the same meal.

Annals Of Chinese Food
Today in 1896, Li Hung Chang, ambassador and military hero from China, visited New York City. Things Chinese were very much in vogue, as that country's opening to the West for the first time revealed a fascinating world. Chang was feted with grand dinners, but he rejected all that, insisting that his own chefs cook for him. This was allegedly the moment when and where chop suey was invented, but that's unlikely. "Chop suey" translates idiomatically into "mixed food in small pieces," which describes a great deal of Chinese food. So it was probably pretty generic when Americans first encountered it when Chinese people began appearing in large numbers. That was in California in the 1860s, during the building of the Central Pacific Railroad. Now, think about this: when was the last time you saw the words "chop suey" on a menu?

Deft Dining Rule #524:
Never eat in a Chinese restaurant that specializes in chop suey, unless it's over fifty years old.

Books About The Table
Oliver Wendell Holmes Sr., the father of the Supreme Court Chief Justice, was born today in 1809. He wrote The Autocrat Of The Breakfast Table, the first in a series of novels with the words "breakfast table" in their titles. They were about life in New England.

Food Namesakes
Actress Rebecca de Mornay was born today in 1962. (Mornay sauce is a bechamel with cheese added). . . Edward Denny Bacon was born today in 1860. He was a British author and the curator of the King's stamp collection. . . Kyle Cook, lead guitarist of the American rock band Matchbox Twenty, was born today in 1975.

Words To Eat By
"You don't get ulcers from what you eat. You get them from what's eating you."--Vicki Baum, Austrian-American writer, who died today in 1960.

Words To Drink By
"Work is the curse of the drinking classes."--Rev. William A. Spooner, for whom the expression "spoonerism" is named. He died today in 1930.

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