The Food Almanac: Monday, Dec. 10, 2012

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

Days Until. . . 
Christmas: 15
New Year's Eve: 21

Today's Flavors
Today is National Lager Day. Lagers are the most popular style of beer in the world. Spell it backward, and you have "Regal," one of the major New Orleans beer brands until the 1970s. Its brewery was where the Royal Sonesta Hotel is now, in the French Quarter. We seem to be drifting here, as if I'd had too many lagers. A beer that's been "lagered" has been kept in barrels in cold storage for several weeks after it was made. The slow fermentation at these temperatures turns out a beer that's significantly lighter than, say, an ale.

While some sources say that Eggnog Day is Dec. 24, today is more appropriate. Especially this year, with the early and persistent presence of Yule-like cool weather. Eggnog is one of the few seasonal items that hasn't been dragged into the rest of the year. On the other hand, it appears in supermarkets earlier each year. Store-bought eggnog seems to be incapable of going bad, no matter how long it's in your refrigerator. What's in there, anyway?

Eggnog originated in England. "Nog" is an Old English word that refers to a strong beer or ale, and the small cup from which it was drunk. Old recipes show eggnog as a mixture of milk and eggs, with that ale added. These days we add quite a bit of sugar and use spirits like brandy, whiskey, or rum if we want it alcoholic. 

Eggnog is not hard to make at home. My eggnog uses uncooked eggs, but that carries a small health hazard. Cooking changes the flavor but not disastrously. Some half-and-half, sugar, and vanilla complete th recipe. Separate the eggs, cook the yolks with the milk or cream as slowly as you can, and take it up to 160 degrees on a meat thermometer. Then chill it, beat egg whites stiff and stir them in, grate the nutmeg, add the brandy or rum, and. . . Merry Christmas!

Edible Dictionary
wassail, n. — A drink made of warmed and spiced beer, cider, or wine, sometimes containing honey, sugar, or fruit juices. It's mentioned in several Christmas carols. The word reveals the ancient origins of the beverage: "wassail" derives from a Norse toast meaning "to your health." We get it through Old English. The original form of wassail probably involved beer. Its modern descendants are those spiced beers mall breweries put out this time of year. The version of wassail most commonly made these days is made with sweetened wine and spices. Something much like it was known in Roman times during the festival of Saturnalia — the celebration the Church co-opted and turned into Christmas.

Deft Dining Rule #459
If you go to the trouble of making homemade eggnog, you may as well grate your own nutmeg.

Gourmet Gazetteer
Rum Branch is a rural crossroads in the southeast corner of Missouri, 18 miles west of the Mississippi River. It's in a wide, flat plain leveled by the meandering river, whose course has changed several times in recent history as a result of tremendous earthquakes centered at New Madrid, 66 miles south. This is great farming country for corn, cotton, and other crops. The stream for which to townlet is named comes out of the hilly Hickory Ridge just east, and follows a former route of the Mississippi for about thirty miles to the Castor River, which flows into the modern Mississippi. The nearest place to grab a bite to eat, if not a dram of rum, is Charley Brown's, five miles southwest at Advance.

The Old Kitchen Sage Sez

Any eggnog — even the stuff out of a can — can be improved by whipping egg whites into soft peaks and stirring it into the existing nog.

Alluring Dinner Dates
Actress Dorothy Lamour was born in New Orleans today in 1914. After becoming Miss New Orleans, she went to Hollywood, where she was the eye candy in the Bob Hope-Bing Crosby Road movies. She was famous for showing off her figure in sarongs. On top of that, she was an excellent singer and all-around big star. She hosted her own radio variety show for a while, theSealtest Variety Theater. Something ought to be named for her here, I think.

Celebrity Chefs Today
New York-based restaurateur, chef, and Food Network personality Bobby Flay came out of the oven today in 1964. Especially in his recent role as American Iron Chef, he has become one of the most-watched and most controversial of American chefs. From our perspective, we're miffed that he has come out and said he doesn't like (read: doesn't understand) New Orleans food.

Food Namesakes
Today in 1949, Fats Domino recorded his first big hit, "The Fat Man," for Imperial Records. . . The movie Big Fish premiered today in 2003. . . Kofi Anan, Secretary-General of the United Nations, won the Nobel Peace Prize today in 2001. . . Hermes Pan, American choreographer, danced onto the Big Stage today in 1909.

Words to Eat By
"I felt like a wonderful sandwich, a slice of white bread between two slices of ham." — Dorothy Lamour, talking about Bob Hope and Bing Crosby in the movies she made with them. She was born in New Orleans today in 1914.

"Fame is a fickle food
Upon a shifting plate, 
Whose table once a Guest, but not
The second time, is set. 
Whose crumbs the crows inspect, 
And with ironic caw
Flap past it to the Farmer's corn; 
Men eat of it and die." — Emily Dickinson, born today in 1830

Words to Drink By
"I saw a sign that read 'Drink Canada Dry' and I've just started." — Brendan Behan