The Food Almanac: Monday, June 10, 2013

It's National Iced Tea Day!

Eating Around The World 
This is Portugal Day. The reason is unusual: it's the anniversary of the 1580 death of national hero, poet and adventurer Luís de Camões. (Nobody knows when he was born.) Even stranger, Portugal lost its independence to Spain that year, and remained part of Spain for sixty years. But they and we celebrate, especially on the culinary front. Portugal's cuisine, although uncommon in American restaurants, is influential. It followed the peripatetic Portuguese sailors around the world. The most popular dishes are those made with beans and sausages, but the best involve seafood--Portugal being a country of fishermen. The most famous Portuguese-American chef is Emeril Lagasse, who grew up in a Portuguese community in New England. So let's toast Portugal with a glass of port--among the world's greatest wines, and the unique property of Portuguese vineyards.

Music To Drink Caipirinhas By 
João Gilberto, Brazilian singer (in Portuguese and English) and guitarist, was born today in 1931. His is the male voice at the beginning of The Girl From Ipanema. The short radio version of the song cut his part out and goes straight to the sexy voice of his wife (at the time) Astrud.

Edible Dictionary 
spaetzle, spätzle, [SHPEHT-zleh], German, n.--Irregularly shaped morsels of pasta, particularly popular in southern Germany, Switzerland, Austria, and down into the Tirol of northern Italy. The word translates as "little sparrows." Spaetzle are the size of small peas, with little tendrils of dough. They're cooked and used as any other pasta would be: to add starch to a dish and to take up the flavors of sauces. They're made by hand using a funnel mounted on a track that spans the top of a pot. The pasta dough is loaded into the funnel, and is pushed down into holes in the track as the funnel moves back and forth. The resulting dumplings--no two of which are alike--fall into the boiling water below to be cooked.

Today's Flavor
Today is National Iced Tea Day. Well, we certainly drink enough of that. Although there are times when iced tea hits the spot, in gourmet restaurants you're taking a chance by ordering it, especially when everyone at your table does so. Waiters register iced-tea drinkers as penny-pinchers and low tippers, and give less good service. Not all of them do, but the effect is widespread enough that we wouldn't recommend it. The restaurant doesn't care: nothing a restaurant sells carries a profit margin that can match that of iced tea.

The greatest improvement to iced tea in my memory was when classy restaurants began to served simple syrup with iced tea. It obviates the need for long, clanky stirring of slow-dissolving sugar. I read an article a few years ago in Texas Monthly that investigates the proper making of iced tea in minute detail.

Deft Dining Rule #615: 

Bottled iced tea in restaurants is primarily a scheme to get you to pay for additional glasses, instead of getting unlimited free refills. The tea itself is not as good as freshly brewed.

Gourmet Gazetteer
Tea Table Mountain is in southwest Oregon, ninety-three miles north of Klamath Falls. Its shape very much suggests its name: a broad, round, flat top is surrounded by steep sides all the way around, giving the appearance of a clothed table. Its origin is clearly volcanic. A four-wheel-drive track gets one up the 350 feet to the summit at 5750 feet. The nearest restaurant--the Diamond Lake Junction Cafe--is thirteen miles west across arid, sparse forestland in the little town of Chemult.

Moving Food Around 
Today in 1869, a shipment of frozen beef from Texas arrived in New Orleans. It was the first long-distance shipment of frozen food in the world. It was a big deal, and occasioned celebration in the streets. (This is no joke.) The event was commemorated in 1989 with some kind of fuss at Brennan's.

Annals Of Popular Cuisine 
On this date in 1965, the first Subway sandwich shop opened in Bridgeport, Connecticut. Fred DeLuca, a seventeen-year-old, had the idea of selling sandwiches to earn money for college. There are now 32,996 Subway restaurants serving their mediocre sandwiches in eighty-six countries. I congratulate the outfit on its success, and scratch my head wondering why anyone would eat a Subway when they could have a poor boy.

The Saints
This is the feast day of St. Brigid of Ireland. She lived in the fifth century, long enough ago that she heard St. Patrick preach. She is the patron saint of poultry farmers, cows, and milkmaids.

Annals Of Teetotaling 
This is the birthday, in 1935, of Alcoholics Anonymous. Dr. Robert Smith started it by laying off the bottle for a full day. He and his friend Bill Wilson, who also had a problem, talked through the idea and launched it with zeal. I have several friends whose lives were saved by AA. I like the organization for that reason, and also because its only goal is sobriety for its members. AA turns up where it's needed. Every cruise ship, for example, has a scheduled AA meeting daily, under the name "Friends of Bill W." I hope neither you nor I will ever need to attend, but it's good that the help is there

Food And Drink Namesakes
Frederick A. Cook was born today in 1865. He was an arctic explorer who claimed to be the first person to reach the North Pole. His claim is not generally accepted as valid, but a society named for him says it was legitimate. It's still a controversy among those who care. . . Another explorer named Cook--Captain James Cook, a frequent visitor to this department--ran aground on Australia's Great Barrier Reef today in 1770. . . Movie actor Russell Waters was born today in 1908. . . Fairfield Porter, an American painter, made his first strokes today in 1907.

Words To Eat By
"Portuguese, species of geese indigenous to Portugal. They are mostly without feathers and imperfectly edible, even when stuffed with garlic."--Ambrose Bierce.

Words To Drink By
"A hardened and shameless tea-drinker, who has for twenty years diluted his meals with only the infusion of this fascinating plant; whose kettle has scarcely time to cool; who with tea amuses the evening, with tea solaces the midnight, and with tea welcomes the morning."--Samuel Johnson.


"If you are cold, tea will warm you--if you are too heated, it will cool you--if you are depressed, it will cheer you--if you are excited, it will calm you."--William Gladstone.