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The Food Almanac: Tuesday, February 4, 2014

The Food Almanac: Tuesday, February 4, 2014

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Annals Of Sandwich Making

Today is the birthday (in 1902) of Charles Lindbergh. Beyond his obvious claims to fame, he was the inspiration for a nearly-extinct sandwich. The Lone Eagle is a grilled turkey, ham and cheese sandwich on white bread. After it’s assembled, two of the corners are cut off, rotated ninety degrees, and cheese gets melted over the whole thing. It is supposed to look like an airplane.

Chronicles Of Candy

Today is the disputed birthday (although we’re sure the year was 1930) of Snickers, the biggest-selling candy bar in the world. Two billion dollars’ worth are sold every year. It was Frank Mars’s second major creation in what would become an immensely successful line of candy bars. Like the Mars Bar (later renamed Milky Way), Snickers consisted of layers of nougat and caramel, covered in chocolate. The magic touch was the addition of peanuts. Snickers was named after one of the Mars family’s horses. It reached a low point when people started deep-frying them. All that’s left now is to crumble bacon and blue cheese on top of it. Then the world will end.

Today’s Flavor

Today is Stuffed Mushroom Day. The impulse to stuff a mushroom is strong. You pull the stem out and it leaves a gaping pocket begging to be filled. The range of stuffings is matched by the variability of the results. The best stuffed mushrooms are fantastically tasty tidbits. The worst are murky, soggy blobs in which it’s hard to tell where the mushroom ends and the stuffing begins.

Begin with fresh, firm, mushrooms. Expensive exotic mushrooms should be left to make their own statements. Shiitakes or portobellos are fine, but the basic white mushroom may be the best of all. Buy them a size bigger than you think you need.

For the stuffing, crabmeat, small shrimp, or oysters; a little bacon; bread crumbs; garlic or green onions, and seasonings. The stuffing should be moist but not wet. After stuffing, the mushrooms should go under a hot broiler until toasty, but not so long that the mushrooms start flattening out. The final touch is a small amount of something rich. Melted cheese or hollandaise is the ultimate.

Certain foods are the perfect size for a mushroom cavity. Snails, for example. Crawfish. Big lumps of crabmeat. Whatever you do, be prepared to stuff, bake and sauce your mushrooms immediately before you serve them. Hot mushrooms filled with warm stuffing turn to glop quickly.

Deft Dining Rule #156:

Never order stuffed mushrooms without knowing what they’re stuffed with.

Edible Dictionary

vermouth, n. Wine fortified with neutral spirits and flavored with herbs. The name comes from the German word wermuth, a reference to wormwood — the herb most famously used to flavor absinthe. Wormwood is uncommon in vermouth now, but it was in the original vermouth created by Antonio Carpano in the 1700s. That vermouth was red and on the sweet side. Later, French producer Joseph Noilly produced a white, dry vermouth. The white version is still often called French vermouth, and the red referred to as Italian, although both kinds are made in both countries. The wine element of vermouth is almost never discussed in terms of its origins. The formulae for the herbal additives are among the best-kept secrets in the trade. White vermouth is a critical ingredient in the making of martinis, and is rarely drunk on its own. Sweet or red vermouth is also a cocktail ingredient — most notably in the Negroni. Its also good on its own, on the rocks — sometimes blended with white vermouth to make a cin-cin.

Gourmet Gazetteer

Mayo, Florida 32066 is about midway between Tallahassee and Gainesville, on US 27. The population of about 1000 people lives on a flat plain in a town with a regular, squared street grid. It’s in an area that once grew more citrus and sugar cane than it does now, because of freezing conditions that come this far south a little too often. Quite a few restaurants are there, including the Mayo cafe, where we expect you could get a good cole slaw and a sandwich. I wonder what they do if you ask them to hold the mayo

Music To Go Hungry By

Today in 1983, Karen Carpenter died of starvation at age thirty-two. She suffered from anorexia nervosa — the mental illness that makes a person believe that she’s too fat, and must not eat, even though in fact she’s already dangerously undernourished. That this should happen to the extraordinarily successful singer — she and her brother were The Carpenters, whose records still sell briskly — got the word out that it could happen to anybody. Once I overheard a young woman sigh and say, “Sometimes I just forget to eat!” I said, “Are you crazy?”

Annals Of Food Writing

Alexis Benoit Soyer was born in France today in 1810. He was a chef who moved to London and became famous for, among other things, inventing the soup kitchen. With a portable setup and with the help of the British government, he fed thousands of starving Irish during the Potato Famine there. He is well remembered in the United Kingdom. He was an extraordinary culinarian, inventing kitchen equipment and writing a number of books.

Annals Of Dessert

In Brussels today in 1998, Microsoft’s Bill Gates had a pie thrown in his face. A cream pie with a lot of whipped cream. Was it lemon? It should have been. And renamed “Vista Pie.”

Food Namesakes

This is the brithday (1947) of Dan Quayle, the Vice-Presodant during the first Bush Admunistrition. British comic actress Hylda Baker came out of the oven today in 1905. . Noodles, the guitarist with rock group The Offspring, was born as Kevin Wasserman today in 1963.

Words To Eat By

“Life is too short to stuff a mushroom.” — Shirley Conran, British restaurateur and author. (This quotation is also credited to many other sources. And it’s not even true. Stuffing a mushroom is a lot less work than boning out a quail, for example.)

Words To Drink By

“You must be careful about giving any drink whatsoever to a bore. A lit-up bore is the worst in the world.” — Lord David Cecil, English writer in the mid-1900s.

He must have been drinking when he said this.

Fat Tuesday: The Many Different Doughnuts Of Mardi Gras

The history of doughnuts is intrinsically linked to the celebration of Mardi Gras. "Fat Tuesday" — the Christian day of revelry and indulgence before the austere season of Lent — features dough deep-fried in fat as its main staple.

Among the first foods to be deep-fried were Roman scriblita, a precursor to today's doughnuts and fritters. Originating in the medieval era, most Christian European traditions have developed a version of fried dough for Shrove Tuesday (another name for the day before Lent starts). The rich treats presented a way to use up all of the butter, sugar and fat in the house prior to the self-denying diets of Lent. Traditionally it was an opportunity for indulgence, a day when, once a year, communities would go through the labor-intensive and expensive process of deep-frying in order to partake in a luxurious treat.

About The Author

Emily Hilliard is a folklorist and writer living in Washington, D.C. She writes the pie blog Nothing-in-the-House and recently released the cookbook PIE. A Hand Drawn Almanac with illustrator Elizabeth Graeber. Find more of Emily's work on her website.

In Poland and Polish communities in the United States, such as in the Midwest, Fat Tuesday is given another name — "Paczki Day," referring to the dense yet puffy jelly-filled doughnuts enjoyed on the occasion. Paczki were traditionally filled with rose hip jam or a stewed plum concoction called powidla, though today they often contain a variety of different jams and custards.

The history of colonization and immigration from the "old world" to the new can be traced through the evolution of doughnuts such as paczki. These celebration foods were important, and were both preserved and altered as they interacted with new ingredients and other influences in their new homes

Portuguese malasadas, also enjoyed on Shrove Tuesday, or "Malasada Day," were another such confection. The raised doughnuts were brought to Hawaii by sugar plantation workers in the late 1800s. Though originally they had no holes or fillings, they have evolved there to include fillings with Hawaiian ingredients such as guava and coconut. They are also popular among Portuguese communities in New England.

The German take on pre-Lenten doughnuts are called fastnachts (or fasnachts), bearing the same name as the traditional Carnival celebration, which translates as "fast night." The golden-brown yeasted treats, related to bismarks and berliners, are also found in Pennsylvania Dutch and Moravian enclaves in the United States. (In Maryland, the same doughnuts are called kinklings.) Traditional fastnachts are fried in lard and, like malasadas, do not have a hole or contain filling. The Pennsylvania Dutch version often includes mashed potatoes in the recipe, making a heartier and denser doughnut — something to stick to your ribs until the end of Lent.

The Salt

Meet The Calas, A New Orleans Tradition That Helped Free Slaves

Crazy For Cronuts: Picking Apart The Tasty Trend

Beignets are the most widely known Mardi Gras doughnut. The recipe for the light and eggy pillows of fried dough was brought to Louisiana when French Acadians were deported there in the 18th century. But there is another, lesser-known Carnival doughnut in New Orleans — calas. Sweet, fried rice dumplings, calas originate from the West African enslaved people who were brought to the area in the late 1700s. The recipe was passed on among Catholic African-American families who served them at Mardi Gras and other celebrations, and they're making a comeback in New Orleans restaurants, where they're offered as both savory and sweet dishes.

Italy has two pre-Lenten fried confections: Both castagnoles, fried cake puffs soaked in liqueur, and cenci (also called frappe), crispy strips of fried pastry similar to funnel cake, are enjoyed during Carnevale.

As it goes with traditional recipes that have undergone many relocations, transitions and generations, there are many variations and not one definitive source for all of these varying Carnival delights. No matter which you chose, celebrate next Tuesday the way it's supposed to be — with a hearty helping of dough and fat.


Polish paczki are dense yet puffy fruit-filled doughnuts that have become a Fat Tuesday mainstay in Polish communities across the United States. They're traditionally filled with rose hip jam or stewed plums, but you can use your favorite jam. This recipe is adapted from Polish Heritage Cookery by Robert and Maria Stybel (Hippocrene, 2005).

The almanac

Today is Tuesday, Feb. 4, the 35th day of 2014 with 330 to follow.

The moon is waxing. The morning stars are Mars, Saturn and Venus. The evening stars are Jupiter, Mercury, Neptune and Uranus.

Those born on this date are under the sign of Aquarius. They include Polish-born American patriot Tadeusz Kosciuszko in 1746 French cubist painter Fernand Leger in 1881 actor Nigel Bruce in 1895 aviator Charles Lindbergh in 1902 legendary golfer Byron Nelson in 1912 civil rights activist Rosa Lee Parks in 1913 actors Ida Lupino in 1918 and Conrad Bain in 1923 feminist Betty Friedan in 1921 comedian David Brenner in 1936 (age 78) actor John Schuck in 1940 (age 74) former U.S. Vice President Dan Quayle in 1947 (age 67) Rock and Roll Hall of Fame member Alice Cooper in 1948 (age 66) actor Lisa Eichhorn in 1952 (age 62) football Hall of Fame member Lawrence Taylor in 1959 (age 55) country singer Clint Black in 1962 (age 52), actor Gabrielle Anwar in 1970 (age 44) and boxer Oscar de la Hoya in 1973 (age 41).

In 1789, George Washington of Virginia, the commander of the Continental Army during the Revolutionary War, was elected the first president of the United States by all 69 presidential electors who cast votes. John Adams of Massachusetts was elected vice president.

In 1792, George Washington was unanimously elected to a second term as U.S. president in a vote of the Electoral College.

In 1861, the 25-year period of conflict known as the Apache War began at Apache Pass, Ariz., with the arrest of American-Indian leader Cochise for raiding a ranch. (Cochise escaped his U.S. Army captors and declared war.)

In 1938, Adolf Hitler seized control of the German army and put Nazi officers in key posts as part of a plan that led to World War II.

In 1974, urban guerrillas abducted Patricia Hearst, the 19-year-old daughter of publisher Randolph Hearst, from her apartment in Berkeley, Calif.

In 1976, an earthquake measuring 7.5 on the Richter scale killed nearly 23,000 people in Guatemala and Honduras.

In 1997, a jury in a civil trial in Santa Monica, Calif., found O.J. Simpson liable in the killings of his former wife and her friend and he was ordered to pay a total of $33.5 million to the families. Simpson had been acquitted in his murder trial.

In 2004, a Pakistani scientist considered the key figure in his country's nuclear weaponry development admitted he leaked that technology to other countries.

In 2006, widespread Muslim protests of caricatures depicting Muhammad in a negative way turned violent. Angry demonstrators smashed windows, set fires and burned flags. Syrian mobs burned Danish and Norwegian embassies because newspapers in those countries published the drawings.

In 2012, Russia and China vetoed an effort by the U.N. Security Council to end the violence in Syria with an Arab League peace plan.

In 2013, law enforcement officers stormed an underground bunker in Midland City, Ala., killed 65-year-old Jimmy Lee Dykes and rescued a 5-year-old boy he had held hostage for a week.

A thought for the day: Scottish Olympian and missionary Eric Liddell said, "In the dust of defeat as well as the laurels of victory there is a glory to be found if one has done his best."