And They All Said "General...Who?"

General Tso's chicken, for tonight's dinner. Well, who, specifically, is General Tso, and why is his chicken dish so popular? The writer in me had to know.

Words, phrases...getting it right for even the most discriminating reader. Have you ever done this?

Some years ago, we were at a luxury resort in Playa del Carmen, Mexico. It is in the Yucatan, along the east coast just a bit south of Cancun. Life had been hectic. Life had been unkempt. So rather than do the typical (when I'm in charge) death march vacation, we sat by the pool, drank excellent margaritas and pina coladas, and read.

I had chosen a book by a well-known author... Well known - hell, his best-seller had found two-hundred fifty million buyers worldwide. So, with great enthusiasm (and something of a hangover) I tucked into his long-awaited sequel.

It was hideous. Aside from being something of a poor retelling of the movie National Treasure, it sported some amazing factual errors. One howler in particular had a Blackhawk helicopter settling onto its skid on the White House lawn.

Only, the Blackhawk's undercarriage has wheels.

So, writers do research. About everything. Including dinner.

The menu for tonight was General Tso's Chicken. I'll bite (I know, right?). Who was General Tso? I expected a Chinese warlord, maybe someone who hid in the hills ahead of the Japanese in the 1930s. Could be someone who was involved in the 1920s upheavals (Sand Pebbles, anyone?).

Well, it could have been anybody. What I wasn't ready to read was that it was nobody in particular. It was a dish cooked up (uh, huh) by a chef in the United States. It is a wildly popular dish that is fabulous, high in all of the bad things that make great food great and can be ordered - to be delivered - almost anywhere. In fact, at the United States Naval Academy in Annapolis, MD, it is called Admiral Tso's Chicken.

Research, reading... It's what's for dinner.