The Food Almanac: Wednesday, April 3, 2013

It's National Chocolate Mousse Day!
Wikimedia Commons/ Jules


Today's Flavor
This is National Chocolate Mousse Day. It's getting so that a good chocolate mousse is hard to find in restaurants. Its vogue seems to have passed, as has that of its insipid cousin, white chocolate mousse, which enjoyed a tremendous popularity in the 1980s. Chocolate mousse is not really hard to make; you just need to be careful making it. I have a very good recipe here. The best restaurants for chocolate mousse these days are the Rib Room, Andrea's, and Antoine's. There's a fantastic chocolate mousse cake at Nuvolari's.

Culinary Landmarks
Today in 1985 was the last day of business for the Brown Derby restaurant, a Hollywood hangout of the highest order in its heyday of the 1940s and 1950s. It was owned by Bob Cobb, whose name lives on everywhere as the inventor of the Cobb salad: lettuce, tomatoes, radishes, chicken, blue cheese, avocado, and crumbled hard-boiled egg, brought out layered in a glass bowl and tossed at the table. The Brown Derby in L.A. is not to be confused with the so-called Original Brown Derby on LA--Louisiana Avenue, that is, corner of Freret. It was a long-running corner bar, grill and liquor store distinguished mostly for its catchy name and the illustration of a derby on its wall.

Gourmet Gazetteer
Iceberg Island is a half-mile northwest of the lighthouse at Iceberg Point on Lopez Island. It's one of the smallest of a cluster of islands that make up the northwestern extremes of Washington State. The Canadian border is twelve miles west, and the Canadian city Victoria is five miles beyond that. Iceberg Island is a bird sanctuary. No icebergs are likely here, although gooves in the rock indicate heavy glaciation at some time in the past. You won't find any iceberg lettuce for a wedge salad here, either: Iceberg Island is uninhabited. However, you're only seven miles away from Love Dog Cafe on Lopez Island, which can be reached by private boat or ferry.

Edible Dictionary
wedge salad, n.--A large salad made by cutting an iceberg lettuce into quarters by two cuts from top to bottom. Because iceberg's leaves form dense heads, they hold together after the cuts are made. The dressing--usually a thick blue cheese concoction--is poured over the wedge. In recent times, crumbled bacon has become part of the recipe. Sometimes tomatoes (also cut into wedges) and sliced onions garnish the salad. Surprisingly, nobody claims to have invented the wedge salad. Its simplicity makes it logical to assume that it's been around as long as iceberg lettuce. That would take it back to the early 1900s, when the variety was developed in California and called "crisphead." The salad itself also had a different name: "head lettuce salad" or "heart of lettuce salad." After going completely out of vogue (except in old restaurants that never change anything), the salad roared back under its new name, and is now among the most popular salads in America again. Especially in steakhouses.

Music To Dine Elegantly By
This is the birthday of singer Doris Day, who let out her first notes in 1924. She became more famous for her many movies, but on record she had a marvelous gift for putting emotion into a song, with the finest female voice in the popular music world of her time. She started with the big bands and recorded for decades. She sounded like the kind of woman who would snuggle up with a guy and make him feel warm inside.

The Saints
Today is the feast day of Mary of Egypt, the patroness of reformed prostitutes and sexual temptation. She reformed herself by spending fifty years as a hermit in the desert, living on berries and herbs the rest of her life. (For more on Berry and Herb, see Food Namesakes, below).

Deft Dining Rule #808:
Truck stops are almost never good places to eat.

Annals Of Beer
Two weeks after Congress legalized 3.2-percent alcohol beer (the first step in ending Prohibition), Eleanor Roosevelt announced that this weak brew would be proudly served at White House functions. But if you went along with FDR's programs, he'd sneak you round back for some white lightning.

Annals Of Coffee
Today in 1829, James Carrington patented a new kind of coffee mill. Before it was introduced, the standard way of grinding coffee was to put the beans into several thicknesses of plastic sandwich bags and run over it several times with a Hummer.

Abuse Of Food In The Movies
Butter. Last Tango In Paris. Marlon Brando, born today in 1924. I cannot bring myself to go into details.

Annals Of Food Research
William James Farrar, the father of modern Australian wheat farming, was born today in 1845. He developed a strain of wheat that resisted drought and grew in the extraordinarily poor soil of Australia. Even with that, the country cannot support a large population on its own crops.

Food Namesakes
Jan Berry of the surfing rock group Jan and Dean was born today in 1941. . . Former German chancellor Helmut Kohl was born today in 1930 ("kohl" is the German word for cabbage). . . George Curry was born in Louisiana today in 1861, and went on to become one of the leading figures in New Mexico politics during its territorial period. . . Herb Caen, who wrote a what's-going-on column in the San Francisco Chronicle for decades, was born today in 1916.

Words To Eat By
"Erasers would taste good with this sauce."--Blonde bombshell actress Jan Sterling, born today in 1921, speaking about the sauce she found on escargots.

Words To Drink By
"They who drink beer will think beer."--Washington Irving, born today in 1783.