The Food Almanac: Thursday, July 11, 2013

It's National Blueberry Muffin Day!

Celebrity Restaurateurs Today
Drago Cvitanovich was born today in 1922, in a small town near Split, Yugoslavia (now Croatia). He moved to Louisiana along with many of his countrymen, and joined the oyster industry in Plaquemines Parish. He moved to New Orleans in the 1950s, and worked for a time at a restaurant owned by his brother-in-law Drago Batinich. When that Drago's, this Drago opened his own place, also called Drago's, in what later became Fat City.

The new Drago's menu was half seafood and half Croatian food. It was also half-full, on a busy day. Its specialty always has been oysters. Drago handled that end of the business personally, drawing on his contacts with the oystermen in Empire and thereabouts. The place seemed to be going nowhere when the family decided to reinvent the place. One dish did the trick: char-broiled oysters, such a phenomenon now that it's as widely imitated as barbecue shrimp or oysters Rockefeller. That was about ten years ago; now, led by Drago's son Tommy, Drago's is one of the most successful restaurants in town. Drago is pretty much retired now, but he shows up at the restaurant daily. In his prime (not long ago), he was the fastest oyster shucker you ever saw, and kept up a conversation all the while he did it.

Today's Flavor
Today is National Blueberry Muffin Day. Beware: the "blueberries" in many commercial muffins are actually little bits of dried apple colored blue. However, a good blueberry muffin is wonderful. Make some: blueberry season is ending down here, but it spreads north trough the next couple of months. The most famous blueberry muffins in New Orleans were (and are) those baked at the Pontchartrain Hotel. Although the restaurant offerings of the Pontchartrain are much diminished from their glory days when the Aschaffenburg family owned the place, the blueberry muffins still go on. Actually, they're a little on the dry side, but they do make a breakfast something special.

Gourmet Gazetteer
Flounder Bay is a manmade harbor on Fidalgo Island, in the northwest corner of Washington State. It's eighty-five miles north of Seattle, and across the sound from Vancouver Island. It's chock full of pleasure craft, and surrounded by the fishing and vacation village of Anacortes. The restaurant to go to is Flounder Bay Cafe, on the west side of the bay.

Annals Of Dueling
Today in 1804, the most famous duel in American history came to a bad end when Aaron Burr killed Alexander Hamilton.Hamilton--the man most responsible for assembling the U.S. government as we know it--fell in Weehawken, New Jersey, across the Hudson from Manhattan. Burr, who came out of the deal with a badly damaged reputation, came to New Orleans, where he began starting other trouble. Now, of course, men challenge one another with knives in the kitchen (i.e., the Iron Chef).

Gambling And Food
Today in 1913, within walking distance of the Dueling Oaks, the New Orleans City Park Casino opened. It served as the central refreshment stand for the park (and still does). When we were kids, we associated a visit to City Park with the sno-balls, popcorn, and hot dogs we gleaned from the Casino. Then we climbed all over the big live oaks outside between merry-go-round rides and turns on the swings. Ah, innocent childhood.

Dressing Up For Dinner
Today is the birthday, in 1934, of Italian fashion designer Giorgio Armani. I wish I could wear one of his suits, but you need a certain kind of physique for those beautiful duds. Avid eaters rarely have such a shape.

Edible Dictionary
gnocchi, [NYAW-kee], Italian, n.Small dumplings, similar to pasta but thicker and softer, usually made with a blend of wheat flour and potatoes. Gnocchi are typically about the size of the last segment of your little finger. After being made, they're rolled across a form (a dinner fork works perfectly) that gives it a ribbed look. They're boiled and served with the same sauces used with standard pasta, as well as with some distinctive sauces. Brown butter with sage and cream sauces with truffles are two gnocchi variations that turn up in upscale restaurants. Because they're filling and often rich, gnocchi are more often served as a preliminary course in a meal instead of as an entree.

Annals Of Overeating
Former U.S. President William Howard Taft was sworn in today in 1921 as Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. First and only man to head two branches of the Federal government. But he was the size of two men, at well over 300 pounds.

Treat Of The Day
Many locations of the 7-11 chain of convenience stores around the world will give you a free 7.11-ounce Slurpee today if you ask. Note the date.

Food In The Wild
Today in 2001, a patrolman in Vancouver was accosted by a duck who walked up and grabbed him by the pants leg. The duck kept pulling the cop, who kept breaking loose, down the street to a catch basin. There, in the drainage, were eight baby ducklings. The policeman fished them out with a vegetable strainer, and the reunited duck family resumed its walk to a nearby pond. I'm thinking of some tale of how delicious they all were in the police kitchen that night, but I can't bring myself to write it.

The Saints
Today is the feast day of St. Benedict, founder of the Benedictine monks, the first Christian monastic order, in the sixth century. His rule was "Pray and work." Cooking and baking have always been a big part of the work. The Benedictines at St. Joseph's Abbey near Covington bake an enormous amount of bread everyday, most of which they give away to the poor.

Food Namesakes
Bobby Rice, pop singer in the 1960s and 1970s, was born today in 1944. He was heard on the Fireballs' song Sugar Shack. . . Mel Appleby, of the rock duo Mel 'n' Kim, was born today in 1966. . . Blind Lemon Jefferson, one of the most influential early blues singers and guitarists, wailed for the first time today in 1897. . . Brazilian physicist Cesare Lattes discovered himself today in 1924. He discovered the pi meson, so small its filling could not be tasted.

Words To Eat By 
"Mother: "It's broccoli, dear."
Child: "I say it's spinach, and I say the hell with it."--E. B. White, long-time New Yorker writer, born today in 1899.


Words To Drink By
"They never taste who always drink."--Matthew Prior, On a Passage in the Scaligerana.