The Food Almanac: Thursday, May 16, 2013

It's National Coquilles St. Jacques Day!
Wikimedia Commons/ Seth W

Today's Flavor
It is National Coquilles St. Jacques Day. It is named for St. James the Greater, one of the twelve Apostles and a fisherman. He's associated with scallops for some reason, and often depicted holding a scallop shell. Throughout Europe, scallops are named for James. So coquille St. Jacques are scallops, served in a thick cream sauce with leeks and fish stock. It once was a very popular dish in fancy, faux-French restaurants around the country, but we all got sick of the pasty sauces with the processed little scallops (Summing those were actually scallops.) I think the dish is due for a revival, but using dry-pack sea scallops, and mushrooms with a more pronounced flavor. A little Cognac, too.

Gourmet Gazetteer
Poor Boy Creek, California is in the Sierra Mountains near the Nevada state line, thirty-seven miles as the crow flies south of Carson City, Nevada. It's about the same distance to Yosemite National Park. The creek's route is recommended for strenuous hiking. You can see snow-capped mountains nearby much of the year. The nearest place to eat is the town of Markleeville, two miles north on State Route 89. The Wolf Creek Restaurant And Bar looks good--but whether they make poor boy sandwiches is unknown.

Annals Of Meat
Today is the birthday, in 1832, of Charles Philip Armour, the founder of the meat-packing company that bears his name. His breakthrough was using refrigeration and canning to keep meat fresh long enough that it could be sold in a widespread distribution system.

Wine And The Law
Today in 2005 the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that a state canno t prohibit the shipment of wine directly to a consumer from out of state, if the state allows wine shipments from within its borders. Louisiana was one of the states in which it was difficult to order wines by mail or on the Web; that has eased a good deal. The wholesalers and retailers are still fighting it, though. Personally, I think it's better to buy wines in a store, because they'll probably be cheaper than they are online, and you have the advantage of being able to talk to someone not connected to the winery. On the other hand, the great thing about mail-ordered wines is being able to get wines not distributed locally.

The Royal Menu
Today in 1770, the future French King Louis XVI married Marie Antoinette. She was fourteen; he was an older man, fifteen years old. Their time was the last gasp of the excesses of the ancien regime, and ended with the guillotine in the French Revolution. After that, the unemployed chefs of the aristocracy started opening restaurants in hotels, and the restaurant business began. But let's think some more about two people in their mid-teens being married.

Annals Of Popular Cuisine
Today in 1965, Spaghetti-O's were introduced to a waiting world. Canned pasta already in sauce. How hard is it to boil pasta? To make a fresh tomato sauce, even with canned tomatoes? For goodness sake, to open a jar of one of the many more-than-decent bottled pasta sauces out there? (Locally, we like Sal & Judy's) It's hard to imagine that anyone eats canned pasta except at the extremes of survival. We think we'd dig for edible roots first.

Edible Dictionary
lo mein, [low-MAIN], Chinese, n.--A Chinese dish made with a predominance of soft, boiled noodles. The noodles are made with wheat flour, and so is a lot like Italian spaghetti, but perhaps a bit thicker. It's tossed with the familiar chopped Chinese vegetables and meats in a medium-thick, broth-based brown sauce. The first name comes from a Chinese word denoting the tossed aspect. The sauces are more or less the same as the one used with crispy fried noodles to make chow mein. A large part of the popularity of lo mein is because it travels well in takeout orders.

Deft Dining Rule #525
Ordering the following dishes marks you as not being seriously interested in Chinese food: chop suey, egg foo yung, fried rice, egg drop soup, and chow mein. Unless the restaurant is making some sort of ironic statement with those dishes, in which case at least one of them must be ordered.

Deft Dining Rule #526
Ordering lo mein in a Chinese restaurant is like ordering spaghetti and meatballs in an Italian restaurant, and bound by the same considerations.

Twice As Much For A Nickel
The five-cent coin that became known as the nickel was introduced today in 1866. It replaced the silver half-dime, which was irritatingly tiny. It's hard to imagine, but many people still alive (I am one of them) can remember a time when a nickel would actually buy the parts of a hamburger lunch. Those little square hamburgers made by a number of superannuated chains started out as a nickel, and I remember the Krystal selling them for that for a week in 1966. (They were regularly ten cents then.) An order of fries and a soft drink were each a nickel, too. If I ever become too wealthy for my wife and kids to spend it all, I will open a hamburger stand with nickel hamburgers. Everything else would be expensive, especially the T-shirts and caps.

The Saints
This is the feast day of St. Honorius of Amiens, France, who lived in the seventh century. He is one of the many patron saints of bakers and patissiers. Always depicted in full bishop's attire, he is shown carrying a paddle with bread on it.

Food Namesakes
Darrel Sweet, the drummer for the 1970s rock group Nazareth, got the Big Beat today in 1947. . . MSNBC Newsman Tucker Carlson went live today in 1969 ("tucker" is Australian slang for food).

Words To Eat By
"Good manners is the noise you don't make when you're eating soup."--Bennett Cerf.

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Words To Drink By
"A man who doesn't drink is not, in my opinion, fully a man."--Anton Chekhov.