The Food Almanac: Thursday, January 31, 2013

It's Brandy Alexander Day!


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

Days Until. . . 
Mardi Gras--12
Valentine's Day--14

Wining Intensively
In San Francisco, the twenty-second annual Zinfandel Festival begins today in San Francisco. It's expected that 1500 Zinfandels (few if any white Zins) will be tasted by some 100,000 attendees. It's orchestrated by ZAP--Zinfandel Advocates and Producers. Zinfandel, a deep red wine nearly unique to California, is such a distinctive wine that it attracts a devoted group of fanatics. I find that the big versions age very agreeably in just five years or so. We'd drink more of it here if the alcohol weren't so high. It's not uncommon for Zinfandels to go above fifteen percent alcohol. That is not a good match to spicy food. It's great with meats and Italian eating, though. Here's the Festival's website.

Annals Of Fast Food
Today in 1990, the first McDonald's opened in Moscow. The Russians were thrilled by the friendly attitude of the workers-not common among other merchants. I'm no fan of McDonald's. But it's pretty clear that it's that sort of thing that extends American influence around the globe much more effectively than that other, much more expensive way that our leaders seem to favor.

Food And Sports
Today is the birthday (1947) of Nolan Ryan, one of the greatest pitchers in baseball history. He was a cattleman before he got into baseball, and he went back to it after his arm blew out. Nolan Ryan beef is available in New Orleans at a few stores, and its claim to fame is that he uses no bovine growth hormones or antibiotics in the last 100 days before what the cattle guys call "the harvest." It's quite good, and because it's "harvested" at a very young age, it's very tender and low in fat.

Annals Of Bad Crop Weather
In 1953 on this date, a freakishly high tide combined with a storm pushed North Sea waters through the dikes in the Netherlands and Belgium, killing 1800 people, destroying thousands of homes, killing untold numbers of cattle, and so damaging farmland with salt water that some of it has not come back yet. Sound familiar? Think of this next time you believe our own recent disaster was unique.

Drink Inspirations 
Today in 1788, Charles Edward Stuart--also known as Bonnie Prince Charlie--died at 67. He was a pretender to the British throne, and made a valiant pitch to restore it to his family. He is most famous today for a liqueur he created from Scotch whiskey, honey, and other flavorings. It became known as Drambuie, a contraction of a Gaelic expression that means "the drink that satisfies." I haven't had a Drambuie in a long time, but I think I might have one today in Bonnie Prince Charlie's honor. The best known cocktail made with Drambuie is the Rusty Nail.

Today's Flavor
Speaking of a stiff drink, today is purportedly Brandy Alexander Day. This is another of the rich, sweet drinks that were in vogue in the 1950s, but which not many people drink today. It's not bad, actually: brandy, cream, and creme de cacao, shaken with ice and strained with a grating of nutmeg.

Gourmet Gazetteer
Brandy is a vanished community on Conodoguinet Creek in southeast Pennsylvania, Just off the Pennsylvania Turnpike, which in forty miles takes you to the state capital, Harrisburg. Brandy is in an area where farm fields meet the mountains, with a 150-foot drop on the eastern edge of the creek. It's a picturesque area. It's three miles to the nearest place to eat: the Newville Diner, in the town of the same name.

Food Through History
Today in 1851, Gail Borden introduced evaporated milk to a waiting world. Not only was that the seed of the Borden dairy empire, but an entirely new dairy industry developed around that one product.

Food In Literature
Today in 1948, The New Yorker published J.D. Salinger's short story, "A Perfect Day For Bananafish." Not much in there about bananas or fish; it's more about swimming. Bananas may not seem to go with fish, but it's actually pretty good. Moran's Riverside (where Galvez is now) used to make a fine dish with trout and bananas, both sauteed in butter.

The Saints
Today is the feast day of St. Geminian, the patron saint of Modena, Italy, where the best balsamic vinegar comes from. He lived in the fourth century.

Edible Dictionary
brandy, n.--A high-alcohol spirit made by distilling wine. The word is generic, and takes in French Cognac and Armagnac, Greek metaxa, and Italian grappa, among many other brandies. While brandy is often aged in oak barrels to give it its brown color and smoky flavors, it might not be. Some inexpensive brandies never see oak, and instead get their color from caramel. Those are best for cooking, in which brandy can be an exciting ingredient. Brandies often start with grapes that don't make especially good wine. Cognac is a great example of this, although the growers will never admit to it. Some brandy finds its way into bottles shared with wine--most famously in the making of port, Madiera, and sherry.

Food Namesakes
This is the birthday, in 1921, of singer Mario Lanza. That's not a food name, but his real name was (almost): Alfred Cocozza. His best-known movie was The Great Caruso, but I like The Toast Of New Orleans, for obvious reasons. . . Ham, a chimpanzee, became the first American to fly into space in a capsule like the ones the Mercury astronauts would later use, today in 1961. He made it, clearing the way for Alan Shepard to take the same ride three months later. . . British painter Tilly Kettle was born today in 1734. . . Charlie Musselwhite, a blues harmonica player, was born today in 1944. . . American racecar driver Buddy Rice was born today in 1976.

Anna Pavlova, the spectacular Russian ballerina, was born today in 1882. She was so famous that she has a dessert named for her, one that sounds pretty good: a baked meringue with whipped cream, strawberries, kiwis, and other juicy fruits.

Words To Eat By
"I personally prefer a nice frozen TV Dinner at home, mainly because it's so little trouble. All you have to do is have another drink while you're throwing it in the garbage."--Jack Douglas,comic writer. He died today in 1989.

Words To Drink Zinfandel By
"In the mirrorlike relationship between wine and human beings, Zinfandel owned more reflective properties than any other grape; in its infinite mutability, it was capable of expressing almost any philosophical position or psychological function. As a result, its own "true" nature might never be known."--David Darlington, from his novel Angels Visits: An Inquiry into the Mystery of Zinfandel.


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