The Food Almanac: September 21, 2012

Staff Writer
Get your day off to an appetizing start with food facts and trivia from Tom Fitzmorris
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In The Food Almanac, Tom Fitzmorris of the online newsletter, The New Orleans Menu, notes food facts and sayings.

Today's Flavor
This is National Spinach and Artichoke Dip Day. We will live to see that stuff pumped through pipelines around the country, with terminals in every chain restaurant and supermarket deli. The popularity of "spindip" (chain restaurants' name for it) is only slightly explained by its appeal to the palate. A more powerful engine is that it's inexpensive to make, and restaurants earn a stunning markup on each order. The presence of spinach dip on a restaurant's menu speaks of a dearth of imagination in the kitchen — unless it's also the kind of place where you'd conceivably eat a hamburger.

All that said, it must be admitted that a good version of spindip makes for tasty party food. Perfect for, say, watching a football game on television. The challenge in making it is to prevent the glop effect from taking over. I like it best when the leaves of spinach still are firm enough that you can feel them in your mouth while eating. It's also easy to make spindip too rich. The cheese aspect particularly should be kept under control.

Deft Dining Rule #507
Ordering spinach dip lets the waiter know you're an inexperienced diner and possibly an unskilled tipper. If you must have it, get the youngest person in the party to order it.

Gourmet Gazetteer
Spinach Creek is a tributary of the well-named Goldstream Creek in central Alaska. It's about 14 miles long, dropping more than 1,000 feet as it takes cascades of water down a mountainside. Fourteen miles is also about how many air miles it is to Fairbanks. Spinach Creek is exceptional, by Alaska standards, in having both of its ends accessible by roads. The lower end is even crossed by the Alaska Railroad. And it's only seven miles to the nearest restaurant: the Blue Loon, on the outskirts of Fairbanks. Try the spinach-artichoke dip. It's everywhere.

The Old Kitchen Sage Sez
If you have the time, it's worthwhile to soak artichokes for an hour or two in a mixture of a quarter-cup of lemon juice and one quart of cold water. Do this after you've rinsed them, but before cooking. It makes the leaves more tender and helps the flavor.

Edible Dictionary
bastilla, [bahss-TEE-ya], Arabic, n. — Also spelled pastilla. A flaky meat pie, one of the most distinctive and popular dishes in Morocco and elsewhere in northwest Africa. It's usually made with chicken, although other birds and fish are also used. The pastry part is flaky like phyllo, but a little heavier in texture. The chicken is cooked a long time, until it falls apart in a thick stew. What makes bastilla unique is that it has a touch of sweetness and cinnamon in its flavor, along with a touch of red pepper. It's as good as it is offbeat.

Food in Show Biz
Chuck Jones was one of the guys who directed Bugs Bunny, the Road Runner, and other Warner Brothers cartoons. He was born today in 1912. He must have been quite a gourmet, because I've seen his drawings of Bugs on napkins in quite a few restaurants. There's a good one on the stairs at Arnaud's, for example.

Comic actor Bill Murray was born today in 1950. Murray performed an unforgettable food bit in the movie What About Bob?, in which he plays a nutcase who stalks his psychiatrist. The psychiatrist gives him a snack, and Murray goes into what could only be called a foodgasm.

Food in Literature
Today in 1937, J.R.R. Tolkien published The Hobbit. Hobbits were a race of small beings separate from but somehow related to humans. They lived quiet lives of peaceful indulgence. They ate six meals a day and enjoyed them enough that they could be called gourmets.

Food Namesakes
All of the birthdays today involve members of Congress for some reason. New Jersey congressman Bob Franks was born today in 1951... Theron M. Rice, a congressman from Missouri, was born today in 1829... Clarence C. Dill, a senator from Washington, was born today in 1884. He put forth the Radio Act, the first regulation of commercial broadcasting, a desperately needed law in the 1920s.

Words to Eat By
"I'm a nut, but not just a nut." — Bill Murray, born today in 1950.

Words to Drink By
"Wine is the most healthful and the most hygienic of beverages." — Louis Pasteur.