The Food Almanac: Friday, February 22, 2013

It's National Margarita Day!
Wikimedia Commons/ Cocktailmarler


Today's Flavor

This is National Margarita Day. The essential ingredients are tequila, lime juice, a splash of triple-sec, Cointreau, or some other orange-flavored liqueur, and ice. The rim of the glass is coated with salt, but Lu Brow at the Swizzle Stick Lounge came up with an improvement: only dip half the rim of the glass in the salt. That way you can take it or leave it.

Nice coincidence: today is also Pan-American Ceviche Day. Ceviche is a cold appetizer of fish (or sometimes shellfish) marinated in lemon or lime juice, with a little salt and sometimes chile peppers and other savory, crisp vegetables. The fish starts out raw, but the acidity of the citrus juice changes the proteins in the fish such that it comes out with the texture and flavor of cooked fish--even though it's still raw.

Ceviche was created during the Spanish colonial days in Peru. From there it spread to almost all Latin American countries, each of which added its own flavors and ingredients. So many variations on ceviche can be made that restaurants (notably RioMar) sometimes serve several kind of ceviche, with different seafoods and marinades. It's a delicious appetizer, the lightness and the acidic marinade giving a lift to the palate as the flavors satisfy at the same time.

Gourmet Gazetteer
Biscuit Creek, Michigan winds through the Upper Peninsula of the state, twenty-eight miles south of Sault Sainte Marie. After you go dugout canoeing on this scenic stream through the woods, you can hike two miles to the town of Rudyard for lunch at (coincidentally) KC's Dugout. If you don't catch any fish. A few other features in the area are named for trout, so there might be some rainbows in there.

Our Founding Gourmets
It's the birthday (1732) of George Washington. The father of our country had, among many other distinctions, a strong interest in good food and wine. (That was common among many of the Founding Fathers.) His favorite wine was Malmsey Madeira, a sweet, fortified, oxidized wine that's sort of a cross between sherry and tawny port.

Annals Of The Lunch Counter
Frank W. Woolworth opened his first store in Utica, New York today in 1879. Woolworth's would become the first chain store of any kind. Despite that, it was treated by locals as part of the fabric of New Orleans. At one time there were at least eight Woolworth's stores around town. A shopping trip to Canal Street would not have been complete without a stop in one of the two big Woolworth's for a grilled cheese sandwich, crinkle-cut fries, and a cherry Coke.

Mother's Day
This is the one hundredth anniversary of the birth of Aline Gremillion Fitzmorris, my mother and the source of my taste for Creole cooking. She was born in 1912, near Cottonport in rural Avoyelles Parish. Her enormous family (she was the fourth-youngest of twelve) moved to New Orleans in 1918. She grew up in the French Quarter, and was valedictorian of St. Louis Cathedral School in 1927. (That's her graduation picture at right.) Everybody who knew her remembers the goodness of her cooking. I still think of her versions of chicken gumbo and seafood gumbo, red beans and rice, bread pudding, lost bread, and baked chicken as definitive. My favorite description of her talents came from one of her brothers: "Aline can make a meal from nothing."

Deft Dining Rule #221:
If you're dining in an Italian restaurant and you learn that a dish is named for the chef's or (even better) the owner's mother, get that dish.

The Old Kitchen Sage Sez:
If you and your siblings haven't spent a few afternoons with your mother learning how to cook her best dishes--measuring and timing everything so anyone can use the recipes--you are throwing away her legacy. Shame!

Edible Dictionary
tapioca, n.--A starch from the root of the cassava plant, made into spheres and used mostly as the basis for sweet dishes and beverages. The spheres are called "pearls," and they range in size from small grain to the size of marbles. The most famous use for tapioca is as a pudding, but in recent times the bigger pearls have become more familiar because of their use in Vietnamese fruit drinks called "bubble teas." (The tapioca pearls are the bubbles.) Cassava plants are native to Brazil, and look from a distance like tall schefflera plants. Their starchy roots are known as manioc in Africa and yuca in Central America. In both places, cassava is a staple food, the third most eaten source of carbohydrates in the world human diet.

Annals Of Snacking
An old but probably apocryphal story has it that today in 1630, Native Americans introduced British settlers to popcorn. They popped a bunch of it, then sat down at watched The Birth Of A Nation. No. There was nothing new about popcorn. It had been grown and popped for many centuries.

Music To Eat Gumbo By
Ernie K-Doe (real name Kador) was born today in 1936. His famous song was Mother-In-Law, but he played all kinds of New Orleans music for decades. The cooking of this mother-in-law is not mentioned, but it's a long-running topic of controversy. K-Doe died in 2001.

Food Namesakes
Kate Sage, Australian Olympic hockey player, was born today in 1973. . . Samuel Whitbread, who founded the British ale brewery named for him, was born today in 1937. . . Actor Dwight Frye was born today in 1899. . . Isaac L. Rice, a New York businessman and philanthropist, was born today in 1850. . . Robert Weiner Jr., professional polo player, was born today in 1982. . . Bill Baker, an early pro basketball player, was slam-dunked today in 1911.

Words To Eat By
"Shellfish are the prime cause of the decline of morals and the adaptation of an extravagant lifestyle. Indeed of the whole realm of nature the sea is in many ways the most harmful to the stomach, with its great variety of dishes and tasty fish."--Pliny the Elder.

Related Stories
7 Twists on the Margarita

Words To Drink By
"And the sooner the tea's out of the way, the sooner we can get out the gin, eh?"--Henry Reed, English writer, born today in 1914.