The Food Almanac: Monday, January 6, 2014

Stay warm, America!
Wikimedia Commons/ cookbookman17

Some beans are allowed to mature and dry, others are picked when young and eaten whole after being steamed or boiled.

Today is the birthday anniversary of Leah Chase, the reigning queen of Creole cooking in New Orleans. She was born in 1923 in Madisonville, and came to New Orleans in 1937. Miss Leah, who made Dooky Chase restaurant into a mainstay of local dining, started her cooking career at the old Coffee Pot restaurant in the 1940s, and she keeps at it today. In fact, one of her cookbooks is very appropriately entitled And I Still Cook. Her most recent cookbook is another one of her favorite lines: Listen, I Say Like This. Dooky Chase is back open at last, serving mostly lunch and early dinner. What a wonderful lady. To know her (or even to just meet her) is to love her.

Gourmet Geography
Beans is a town that really came out of its shell when a dam on the Holston River backed up water into a reservoir called Cherokee Lake. Beans is right on the western edge of the reservoir, and what was formerly a poor farming town in the hills of extreme eastern Tennessee is now a place of docks and boathouses and recreation. It’s on US 11W, the highway that runs from New Orleans to Canada. Beans even has a restaurant: the Valley Bar and Grill. I hope they have red beans.

Edible Dictionary
yardlong bean, n.–Foot-and-a-half-long bean would be more accurate. They’re also known as snake beans, which also captures the essence. Yardlong beans are related to black-eye peas and crowder peas. Although the beans inside the pods are sometime allowed to mature and dry, most of the time the pods are picked when young and eaten whole after being steamed or boiled. Yardlong beans are most popular in Southeast Asia. When they’re found in this country, they’re usually being served in a Vietnamese, Thai, Malaysian or Indonesian restaurant. [related]

Looking Up
Today we turn the final corner on the way to summertime. This morning’s sunrise was the latest of this year (by standard time, anyway). The earliest sunset was about a month ago, and the shortest day two and a half weeks ago. Everything looks a little brighter each day from now until the summer solstice, when winter will be long forgotten. Now, all we have to do is get through the temperatures in the teens tonight.

The Saints 
Speaking of local saints, today is the traditional birthday, in 1412, of Joan of Arc, the patron saint of New Orleans. She was born in Domremny, France, and became a French hero in the Battle of Orleans when she was only 19. Our namesake French city adopted her as their patron, and so did we. A statue of St. Joan stands in the triangle at Decatur and Conti.

Alluring Dinner Dates 
British cookbook author and food writer Nigella Lawson was born today in 1960. Her two best known books are How To Eat and How To Be A Domestic Goddess, both of which sold in the hundreds of thousands. Then she went to television, first in England and now on the Food Network. She grabs attention with lusty, borderline sexy commentary about the pleasures of cooking and eating. She claims no particular training in cooking; she does what comes naturally. She seems to know what many food writers and TV people don’t: what tastes good. Being very attractive has helped, too.

Annals Of Cereal
Today in 1880, Tom Mix was born. He was the original movie cowboy, going back to the silent movie era. A radio show sponsored by Ralston Cereals featured Tom Mix as the lead character, but portrayed by other actors. The jingle comes to my mind, sung to the tune of “When The Bloom Is On The Sage.” Here are the lyrics:

Shredded Ralston for your breakfast
Starts the day off nice and bright
Gives you lots of cowboy energy
And a flavor that’s just right
It’s delicious and nutritious
Bite-sized and ready to eat
Take a tip from Tom*, go and tell your mom
Shredded Ralston can’t be beat.

*Tom Mix, not this Tom. Maybe I’ll sing this on the radio show today if somebody asks. One more bit of trivia: Tom Mix is the cowboy on the cover of the Beatles’ Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band album.

Restaurants On Television
Vic Tayback, who played the memorably the grumpy cook-owner of Mel’s Diner on the TV show Alice, was born today in 1929.

Food Namesakes
Pro football player Robert Bean walked onto the gridiron of life today in 1972. . . He was followed by fellow pro Bubba Franks in 1978. . . Theoretical chemist and winner of the 1999 National Medal of Science Stuart Alan Rice conducted his first experiment–breathing air–today in 1932. Theoretical chemists are being consulted by some avant-garde chefs lately. . . Allan Appel, who writes novels about time travel (among other things) came to us from out of 1945 today. . . Pro baseball pitcher Brian Bass stepped onto The Big Mound today in 1982.

Words To Eat By 
“In taking soup, it is necessary to avoid lifting too much in the spoon, or filling the mouth so full as almost to stop the breath.”–St. John Baptist de la Salle, the founder of the Christian Brothers.

Related Stories
6 Ways to Enjoy Fresh Fava Beans

Words To Drink By
Stir the eggnog, lift the toddy, 
Happy New Year, everybody. 
Phyllis McGinley, American poet and writer of children’s books.