The Food Almanac: Thursday, March 27, 2014

Staff Writer
The Food Almanac

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Paella comes in many forms, with a long list of possible ingredients. (Photo Modified: Flickr/MattWestgate)

It is National Paella Day in America. Paella is catching on. While we have always been able to find a restaurant around New Orleans that serves paella, until very recently we never needed more than the fingers of one hand to count them. Nor were the ones we found especially good–again, until recent years, with the broadening of all ethnic dining in New Orleans. Always, any chef that made this most famous of Spanish rice dishes could be counted on to be very proud of it. Enough so that paella is usually the most expensive item on menus that offer it.

Paella comes in many forms, with a long list of possible ingredients. But it simmers down to this: rice, olive oil, and stock (usually chicken) are cooked in a big pan with poultry, sausages, or seafood, plus peas, beans, and savory vegetables. It’s flavored with saffron if it’s a good version. In the cheaper editions, annatto gives the color of saffron, but not the unmistakable flavor and aroma.

The dish originally came from Valencia, but now you can eat it in most parts of the world. There is some question as to whether jambalaya is a direct descendent of paella, but it’s certainly related, by way of the connection between the Spanish West Indies and Louisiana. Currently, the best restaurants for paella are Barcelona Tapas in Metairie, RioMar in the Warehouse District, Cafe Grenada in Carrollton, Liborio in the CBD, and Lola’s in Esplanade Ridge.

Gourmet Gazetteer

is in the Hiawatha National Forest on the sparsely-populated Upper Peninsula of Michigan. It’s ten miles from the northern shore of Lake Michigan. (It’s also just sixty miles from Fish Creek, which we visited yesterday.) Banana Lake gets its name from its shape. (So do the nearby Cranberry Lake and Square Lake.) It’s only about 200 feet wide, but a half-mile wide. It’s a good place for fishing muskies and trout, even in winter, when it freezes over. If you don’t hit anything and get hungry, drive your four-wheeler eight miles up the dirt Banana Lake Road to the much larger Indian Lake’s shore, for a scenic lunch at the Big Spring Inn.

Edible Dictionary

quahog, [COE-hog, QUAH-hog], n., adj.–The major edible clam species in the United States, native to the Atlantic shore from Canada all the way to Florida. The best quahog clams come from New England, where they contribute significantly to the local cuisine. The word “quahog” describes not only the species as a whole, but also to distinguish the biggest (and toughest) specimens from the smaller, tenderer littleneck and cherrystone clams. The big ones are the ones used for chowder; the smaller are eaten cooked or raw on the half shell. What quahogs never can be are soft-shell clams, which are an entirely different animal.

Food In Diplomacy

The flowering cherry trees for which Washington, D.C. is so famous were first planted on this date in 1912. They were a gift from the people of Japan. Of the more than 3,000 tree planted then, over a hundred are still alive. Many more have been planted since, of course, and the city is full of them now. We hear that the flowers are much more beautiful than the taste of the actual cherries. But that’s true of a lot of things.

Food Inventions

Today in 1860, a New Yorker named M.L. Byrn patented a design of a corkscrew. It was T-shaped, based on gadgets that had long been used to extract bullets stuck in the muzzles of guns. Corkscrews had been around before Byrn’s invention, but his design became the standard in America for decades. The business end was not a worm, as we use now, but looked more like a screw.

The Old Kitchen Sage Sez:

If a corkscrew turns a wine cork into crumbs, no matter how much you paid for it or how long it’s worked properly or how beautiful it is, throw it away.

Food Namesakes

NFL running back Tom Beer came to life today in 1969. . . Ohio Congressman Douglas Applegate was born today in 1928. . . Nathaniel Currier, who with his partner James Ives created lithographs generally regarded as the first artistic bits of Americana, was born today in 1813. . . Stacy Ferguson, a singer with the group The Black Eyed Peas,was born today in 1975.

Words To Eat By

“Rice is born in water and must die in wine.”–Unknown.

Words To Drink By

“Drink down all unkindness. “–William Shakespeare, The Merry Wives of Windsor.

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