The Food Almanac: Thursday, December 12, 2013

Today’s Flavor
Today is National Hot Cocoa Day. I never was much on cocoa–cafe au lait fills the same need in my beverage selections. But my wife loves the stuff, and on cold days she makes a very rich version of it that reminds her of the cocoa they make at the El Tovar Hotel in the Grand Canyon, where she used to work. She said that many of the staff put on a lot of weight every winter just from drinking that cocoa.

My favorite use of powdered cocoa is to dust desserts, notably chocolate truffles and tiramisu. If you place a doily on top of the item to be cocoa-dusted, you can get interesting patterns.

Another source says that today is National Ambrosia Day. “Food of the gods” is what that word literally means. So why should a concoction of coconut and orange sections get such a name?

Gourmet Gazetteer

Cake Mountain, Arizona is about seventy-five air miles northeast of Tucson. It’s in a rugged, uninhabited, isolated area, so getting there by road adds another 100 miles to the trip. Cake Mountain stands 6522 feet high, the highest peak in the arid area. Biscuit Peak is about a mile and a half to the south, to keep the bakery theme going. But bring a lot of food and water. Or go to Tortillas Mi Pueblito, the nearest restaurant, thirteen miles west as the balloon flies, in Mammoth.

The Saints
Today is the feast day of Our Lady of Guadalupe, the patron of Mexico and the entire New World, especially the Spanish-speaking part of it. There is hardly a family-owned Mexican restaurant that doesn’t have a reproduction of her famous image somewhere.

Edible Dictionary

caciocavallo, Italian, n., adj.–A cheese popular in the southern half of of Italy, and made there since Roman times. It’s a pale, straw-colored cheese that has different flavors and textures, depending on how much aging it receives. It can be anything from a soft, sliceable cheese to a hard, sharp one suitable for grating. Its name–which translates as “cheese on horseback”–is a reference to the bags once used in the initial stages of its making. They resembled saddle bags. An unusual use of caciocavallo in Sicily is a dish called caciu in the local dialect. It’s a seared slab of cheese served with a vinegar and oil sauce. Its texture and color makes it resemble meat. It’s served during Lent, mostly.

Music To Dine In Italian Restaurants By
Today is the birthday of Frank Sinatra, in 1915. Certainly no vocalist is more played in restaurants, or anywhere else. Indeed, I’m listening to his classic A Jolly Christmas album as I write this. “May you live long,” he used to say, “and may the last voice you hear be mine.” Even though he died in 1998, his voice is still the last one a lot of people hear. If I could have two selfish wishes, the first would be to be sixteen again, and the second would be to be Frank Sinatra.

Deft Dining Rule #872:
A restaurant that plays a great deal of Frank Sinatra on its sound system will have many regular customers.

Food In The Movies
On this date in 1967, the film Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner premiered. It was about the reaction that a proper white couple (Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn, no less) had when their daughter brought an African-American fiancé (Sidney Poitier) home to meet the folks. I was disappointed that they didn’t focus more on the food being served.

Food In The Funnies
The Katzenjammer Kids, the oldest comic strip still running, made its first appearance today in 1897. One of the running jokes in the German-flavored strip was the efforts of Fritz and Hans (the Kids) to steal Mama’s pies from the windowsill. Mama always seems to be baking pies, and Der Kaptain always seems to be thinking about eating.

Food Namesakes
Nilda Pinto, a writer from Curacao, was born today in 1918. Artist Edvard Munch,whose famous painting was “The Scream,” probably came out screaming today in 1863. . Philip Drinker, who invented the iron lung, took his first sip today in 1894. . Jim Bunn, Congressman from Oregon, was bunn today in 1956.

Words To Eat By
“Animal crackers, and cocoa to drink
That is the finest of suppers, I think
When I’m grown up and can have what I please,
I think I shall always insist upon these.”–Christopher Morley.

Words To Drink By
“Alcohol may be man’s worst enemy, but the Bible says love your enemy.”–Frank Sinatra, born today in 1915.

Rhyming Recipes for Christmas.


Hi Janet:)
I haven't been keeping up with blogging as frequently lately but when I saw this post in my side bar, I just had to pop over for a visit!

LOVE rhyming recipes especially this time of year. Thanks so much for sharing, Janet.

I'm sure you've seen this one before but, just in case,

One cup of sugar, one cup of milk
Two beaten eggs beaten fine as silk
Salt and nutmeg (lemon will do)
Of baking powder teaspoons two
Lightly stir the flour in
Roll on pie board not to thin
Cut in diamonds, twists or rings
Drop with care the doughy things
Into fat that briskly swells
Evenly the spongy cells
Watch with care the time for turning
Fry them brown just short of burning
Roll in sugar, serve when cool,
Price a quarter for this rule.

Among the Debris, Something Divine

Something bright and beautiful pulses in the shadows of “The Night Alive,” the extraordinary new play by Conor McPherson that opened on Thursday night in a Donmar Warehouse production imported from London by the Atlantic Theater Company.

I do not use the word extraordinary simply as a critic tacking on a blurb-friendly adjective. Mr. McPherson, the Irish dramatist who gave us “The Weir” and “Shining City,” has a singular gift for making the ordinary glow with an extra dimension, like a gentle phosphorescence waiting to be coaxed into radiance.

In this case, it may take you a while to perceive that glow, though you won’t want for diversion before you do. What exists on the stage of the Linda Gross Theater initially appears to be all murk and squalor.

Strewed with garbage bags and clothes and festering objects of dubious identity, this is the Dublin residence of someone who, as your mother might observe, has never been taught to pick up after himself. As designed with unforgiving precision by Soutra Gilmour, it is not a place you would want to try to navigate in the dark.

Even the person who lives here, Tommy (a marvelous Ciarán Hinds), a mountainous slob of a man, stumbles upon making his entrance, having returned from what he had assumed would be an uneventful errand. He went out for some chips. He has come back with a young woman, whom he has never met before and who is covered in blood.

What follows is a group portrait of five highly imperfect people fumbling in the dark, which is true even when it’s daytime. As one character says, with the plain-spoken lyricism that runs through Mr. McPherson’s dialogue, “It’s like my eyes have been taken out, and I just can’t see what’s in front of me, like it’s always nighttime, so when nighttime really comes, you think it feels like a relief.”


All of the people we meet here, embodied with uncompromising and sometimes ugly vividness by a superb cast, have made messes of their lives. That includes even the fastidious Maurice (Jim Norton), the older uncle from whom Tommy rents the room he has turned into such a rubbish heap.

In the weeks covered by “The Night Alive,” which is directed with an auteur’s thoroughness of vision by Mr. McPherson, Tommy’s slovenly digs will also become home to Aimee (Caoilfhionn Dunne) — she’s the bloody figure from the first scene — and Doc (Michael McElhatton), who assists Tommy in his fitful career as an odd-job man. Then there’s Kenneth (Brian Gleeson), an innocuous-seeming stranger who shows up one night to wreak memorable havoc.

Tommy describes Doc as “disabled.” (Doc’s thoughts, Tommy says, “will always, always, be five to 10 minutes behind everybody else.”) But then, so are all these characters, in their inability to make sense of, or find order in, their lives.

To be human is to be disabled, in Mr. McPherson’s view. That’s what separates people into isolated zones of idiosyncrasy and also what makes them reach out for one another. This is the source of the play’s boisterous comedy as well as its aching poignancy.

Physical attempts to connect are the stuff of both slapstick and the sort of suspense you associate with horror movies. Sex, as it’s described to us, is a lonely business. Aimee, a sometime prostitute, limits her services to manual stimulation, which Tommy says is fine by him.

“The full job, and all that huffing and puffing, it’s so unbecoming,” he says, with bluff gallantry.

When Tommy talks on the phone to his estranged wife about their two children, it at first seems as if he were ranting to himself, because he’s using a headset. Common gestures of friendship, like patting someone’s shoulder, register as stilted and unnatural.

When a drunken Maurice collapses into grief after an anniversary funeral Mass for his dead wife that was attended by exactly three people, Tommy restrains him in a headlock that is as close as anyone comes to a full embrace. (Maurice’s wife died three years before, after falling on the ice he didn’t take her arm, as he normally would have, because they weren’t speaking.)

A sense of families splintered into atoms — of siblings divided and parents forcibly separated from their children — pervades “The Night Alive.” Doc is forever showing up at Tommy’s place, because his sister’s boyfriend keeps throwing him out of their house. You can understand why.

Though blessed with odd moments of extrasensory insight, Doc is a prattling nuisance. And his relationship with Tommy brings to mind that of Art Carney’s pesky Norton to Jackie Gleason’s impatient Ralph in “The Honeymooners.”

“The Night Alive” might register as a sitcom uncomfortably spliced into a tragedy, except for that underlying and connective sense of the numinous. Whenever you think you’re settling into a familiar groove of dialogue, with eccentric losers engaged in antic bickering, the play ascends to a plane that can only be called transcendent.

Something like divine grace animates a glorious vignette in which Tommy, Aimee and Doc break into spontaneous dance to Marvin Gaye singing “What’s Going On,” their awkward movements taking on an uncanny poetry. In contrast, a late-night encounter between Doc and Kenneth has a feeling of satanic evil, of pure motiveless malice unleashed upon an uncomprehending world. (If you know Mr. McPherson’s work, particularly his “Seafarer” — seen on Broadway in 2007, with Mr. Hinds and Mr. Norton — you’ll know the Devil is a very active presence in his universe.)

The otherworldliness of these scenes is accomplished partly by subtle shifts in lighting (by Neil Austin) and sound (by Gregory Clarke). Music in “The Night Alive” always feels like an epiphany, a heaven-sent vision of a symmetry we can never fully understand but feel mighty grateful for.

The title of Gaye’s song reverberates throughout. What is going on? “Marvin, you said it there, man,” Tommy says, high on adrenaline after dancing. “That is the question. The man who answers that one will . ” He doesn’t finish the sentence. After all, we can’t ever fully explain a world that often seems cruel and arbitrary.

But, for those enchanted moments when he and his friends are moving to Gaye’s music — and in the play’s benediction of a final scene, which seems to take place outside of time — there’s an ineffable, all-answering rhythm to life. That’s the redemption of great art, whether it comes from a song out of Motown or a play out of Dublin.

Watch the video: Εβδομαδιαίες προσφορές 2808 έως και 0209 (November 2021).