The Food Almanac: Friday, January 25, 2013

It's Irish Coffee Day!
Irish Coffee
Wikimedia Commons/ Marler

Irish Coffee

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

Days Until. . . 
Mardi Gras--18
Valentine's Day--20

Restaurant Milestones
Iris opened today in 2006. One of the two or three best new restaurants to open since the storm, the restaurant was created by chef Ian Schnoebelen and Laurie Casebonne. Both had worked at the fine French-inspired Magazine Street restaurant Lilette, from which they picked up a few moves. Iris originally opened in the tight cottage on Jeannette Street just off Carrollton where Boucherie is now. Iris moved in 2009 to the French Quarter, in the Bienville House Hotel. Its food remained imaginative and polished, with few references to the local style and many unusual ingredients. The wine list is also exceptional. Dinner at Iris is full of nice surprises. Ian and Laurie are shortly to open a new, more casual restaurant in the Marigny

Today's Flavor
Today is Irish Coffee Day. A shot of Irish whiskey and a float of whipped cream isn't too terrible an idea on a cold evening. It's not all that great an idea, either, which is why waiters rarely offer Irish coffee at the end of dinner the way they used to twenty or so years ago. It ruins both the coffee and the Irish whiskey. 

An older and better coffee-and-spirits drink is a New Orleans original: cafe brulot. Invented at Antoine's in the late 1800s, it starts with lemon peel, cloves, and cinnamon flamed in brandy. While it's burning, the waiter pours the stuff on the tablecloth, where the blue flames burn harmlessly but dramatically. Then the coffee is added. A special rig evolved for cafe brulot, involving a brass panholder held up by well-dressed demons, and thin, tall cups for serving the potion. 

Cafe brulot has become a universal end-of-dinner item in most of the traditional grand New Orleans restaurants, and has spread well beyond its boundaries. The best version is at Arnaud's, where they stud an orange with cloves, then cut the skin away from the fruit in a spiral. The waiter pours the flaming brandy down the spiral, which not only is quite a show but brings the oils in the peel into play, adding flavor as well as making the room fragrant.

Gourmet Gazetteer
Duck, West Virginia is right in the center of the mountainous state, on the east bank of the Elk River. It's mostly woods in those hills, with some farming here and there and plenty of coal mining. Maybe the name is a reference to what you do when entering a coal mine. The nearest restaurant is Granny's Kitchen in Frametown, four miles away.

Edible Dictionary
pasta fazool, Italian, n.--Italian-American slang for pasta e fagioli (fah-JOE-lee), literally pasta and beans. It a soup, made with small pasta tubes and various beans, all cooked down with herbs in a stock. It's not customarily made with meats, although it can be. Pasta fagioli has the reputation of being the cheapest dish on an Italian menu, and the kind of thing that a poor Italian immigrant might eat. This is doubly unfair, because a well-made pasta fagioli is quite delicious and certainly healthful fare, despite its inexpensive provenance. You hear the expression "pasta fazool" mostly in old movies these days.

Food Inventions
Today in 1870, one Gustavus Dows patented a soda fountain that became the standard for drugstore soda counters. The works involved a tank that combined carbon dioxide with water. The soda water then went under its own pressure into an ornate double spigot that would add bubbly water slowly or in a thin, forceful stream.

Food In Literature
Scottish poet Robert Burns was born today in 1759. His most famous verses were the words to the New Year's song Auld Lang Syne, but for our purposes we note his poem Ode To A Haggis. Haggis is a sausage-like meatloaf made of parts of cattle and sheep you're better off not knowing about. It makes hogshead cheese look like filet mignon.

This is also the birthday, in 1874, of British novelist, playwright and spy William Somerset Maugham. His most famous work was Of Human Bondage. From our limited perspective, three works stand out: Cakes and Ale, The Alien Corn and The Breadwinner.

Food Namesakes
Eliakim Spooner patented a machine for seeding fields today in 1799. . . Auto racer Buddy Baker was born today in 1941. . . Wilson Kettle, a Newfoundland fisherman, died at 102 on this date in 1963. At the time of his death he had still living 11 children, 65 grandchildren, 201 great-grandchildren and 305 great-great-grandchildren, for a total of 582 living descendants. That's still a record. . . Twin Canadian actors and clothes designers Chip and Pepper Foster were born today in 1964. How great it would be if they had a brother named Bananas! . . . Former U.S. Senator from Washington Homer Bone was born today in 1883.

Music To Dine By 
Two Italian operas, composed by two men whose names are famous in the restaurant world, both premiered on this date, 17 years apart. The first, La Cenerentola, was written by Gioacchino Rossini and opened in Rome in 1817. Rossini not only gave his name to the still-popular dish tournedos Rossini but actually invented it. He was quite a cook and gourmet. The second opera was by Vincenzo Bellini: I Puritani. Its opening day was this date in 1835. TheBellini cocktail (champagne, orange juice, and peach nectar) is probably not named after the composer, though some sources say it was. (The real namesake is, I think, the painter Giuseppe Bellini).

Words To Eat By
"It is illegal to give someone food in which has been found a dead mouse or weasel."--Irish Law.

Words To Drink By
"A cup of coffee--real coffee, home browned, home ground, home made, that comes to you dark as a hazel-eye, but changes to a golden bronze as you temper it with cream that never cheated, but was real cream from its birth, thick, tenderly yellow, perfectly sweet, neither lumpy nor frothing on the Java: such a cup of coffee is a match for twenty blue devils and will exorcise them all."--Henry Ward Beecher.

"Only Irish coffee provides in a single glass all four essential food groups -- alcohol, caffeine, sugar, and fat."--Alex Levine, collector and author of Irish wit and wisdom.