Dazed and confused? Not me. I’m just Lost in the Cheese Aisle.

Monday, April 25, 2016

PESAHDIK POTABLES

One of the challenges even a moderately observant Jew must deal with during the eight-day Passover festival is that of What To Drink.

Soft drink fanciers will generally look for beverages that are sweetened with something other than the ubiquitous high-fructose corn syrup, corn being a product that most Ashkenazic Jews traditionally avoid during the holiday. But those of us who favor higher-octane tipples face a more difficult quandary.

Most spirituous liquors, you see, are made from grain - and most are produced from one or more of the five grains that are verboten during Passover: wheat, spelt, rye, oats, and barley.

Single malt Scotch? No can do. Irish? Uh-uh. Bourbon? That’d be disturbin’. Gin? A sin.

That leaves us with a limited palette of brandies (which must be produced under strictly controlled conditions); eaux-de-vie; rums, and vodkas (which are OK if made from potatoes).

My traditional Pesach Potable is the dastardly Central European plum brandy known as slivovitz. It is not a drink for the faint of heart: Strong men have been known to become violently ill after ingesting a single shot. Lower quality versions have a bouquet that reminds one of Ronsonol... and yet a good slivovitz, while powerfully alcoholic, has the unmistakable fragrance and subtle sweetness of sunny, ripe plums.

It’ll just have to do until sundown Saturday.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

THOUGHTS ON THE TWELFTH OF NISAN


Our mom Bernice, z''l (1927-1988).

It’s been twenty-eight years since she has shared this world with us, and there isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t think of her.

The photograph above is one of my favorites, having captured just the smallest whiff of her vivaciousness. If you knew her, you’d know what I mean... and if you didn’t get to know her, alas for you.

Sometimes I wonder how much of my personality came from her and how much from Dad. My sense of humor is probably 99.8% Eli. The other day, Dee saw me react to something or other and immediately said, “What you just did? That’s Eli.”

But when I pick up a book? That’s Mom. I like to think that she’s there, invisible, looking over my shoulder whenever I read.

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

FIFTY WAYS

“The problem is all inside your head” she said one night
“The menu’s simple if just look at it right
I’d like to help you in your struggle for a bite
There must be fifty ways to love your liver”

She said “I really don’t want to get up into your grill
Furthermore, I hope you won’t think I’m an asshole or a pill
But I’ll repeat myself: If you wish to eat your fill
There must be fifty ways to love your liver
Fifty ways to love your liver”

You can have it sautéed, Sinéad
Throw it on the grill, Phil
Don’t drown it in soy, Roy
Just cook it gently
Serve it on toasted bread, Fred
Sear it ’til you don’t see red
Some fried onions are key, Lee
Please listen to me

Oooh, you can have it sautéed, Sinéad
Throw it on the grill, Phil
Don’t drown it in soy, Roy
Just cook it gently
Serve it on toasted bread, Fred
Sear it ’til you don’t see red
Some fried onions are key, Lee
Please listen to me

She said “It saddens me to see you in such grief
I wish there was something I could cook – perhaps roast beef”
I said “I appreciate that – now please tell me your belief
About the fifty ways”

She said “Why don’t we sleep on it tonight – I really care
And I believe a love like yours is more than very rare”
And then she smelled the pong of onions in my hair
There must be fifty ways to love your liver
Fifty ways to love your liver

You can have it sautéed, Sinéad
Throw it on the grill, Phil
Don’t drown it in soy, Roy
Just cook it gently
Serve it on toasted bread, Fred
Sear it ’til you don’t see red
Some fried onions are key, Lee
Please listen to me

You can have it sautéed, Sinéad
Throw it on the grill, Phil
Don’t drown it in soy, Roy
Just cook it gently
Serve it on toasted bread, Fred
Sear it ’til you don’t see red
Some fried onions are key, Lee
Please listen to me

[Apologies to Paul Simon]

Sunday, April 10, 2016

THE CHEESE AISLE DICTIONARY, Vol. 23

I could not help but be intrigued by my friend Eric’s recent Facebook post:

“...you know that you need your reading glasses when you click on a link to “Paleo Sandwich” on the internet and it turns out to be an article on a baseball player named Pablo Sandoval...”

Hmmm. Paleo Sandwich, Pablo Sandoval.

That post elicited a comment that went as follows:

“This made me laugh out loud. Beeecause... the other day, I saw an ad that I could’ve SWORE said something about a sphincter. I looked again and it said “specialized.”

I’ve experienced similar misreads... and as I get older, I find that this phenomenon occurs more frequently. One example: as we were stopped at a red light yesterday evening, I saw a license tag that said (I thought) “Okeechobeee” below the tag number. But when I realized that it was a Georgia plate, I also realized that Okeechobee - which may refer to either a lake or a county in Florida - made no sense. Closer examination showed the word to be “Oglethorpe.” Aha.

That, Esteemed Readers, is a Mondeseen - the newest coinage in the Cheese-Aisle Dictionary.

Mondeseen [mon-de-sin] (n): a word or phrase that is initially misread due to faulty eyesight, glitchy brain function, or a combination of both.

Mondeseen is a spin on the term “mondegreen,” meaning a mishearing of song lyrics or spoken words. The difference is that the focus is visual, not aural: misreading rather than mishearing.

Another example: While in the pet store a few days ago, Dee saw a sign that she initially read as “Cow List.” After the inevitable double-take, she realized that it said “Low Cost.”

I experience mondeseens frequently, and the number seems to be accelerating. I attribute this to my declining distance vision, coupled with changes in my mental acuity that I hope are the result of normal aging processes and not a rapid freefall into drooling senescence.

Time will tool, I suffuse.

[Other entries in the Cheese Aisle Dictionary may be found here.]

Monday, April 4, 2016

A CENTURY-OLD TURNING POINT

Calendar Year 2016 is already one-fourth over, and it took this long for me to realize how significant a year it is... at least for those of us who collect coins.

Yes, Esteemed Readers - Elisson is a coin collector. It’s hard to imagine a more nerdly hobby aside from stamp collecting, a pastime that makes the Dork-O-Meter go all the way to 11. My saving grace is that I’ve never gotten into it too seriously, owing to the fact that I usually spend my money on more mundane things like food, clothing, liquor, and The Interminable Mortgage. For that, I am thankful... though not as thankful as Dee, who cringes whenever I start talking about coinstuff.

Nothing, save music, can roll the years back like looking at the coins you used to see when you were young. And we had some real beauties when I was a young Snot-Nose. 

This year is not such a big deal per se, but it’s important because it is the 100th anniversary of one of the great turning points in American numismatics: when American coinage finished crossing the great artistic divide into the twentieth century.

Up until then, the dime, the quarter, and the half-dollar all had sported similar Liberty Head designs by Chief Engraver Charles Barber (the quarter and half were almost identical in appearance). Barber’s coins were boring and stodgy, generating negative reviews almost from the first day they were produced in 1892. Without an act of Congress, however, his designs could not be replaced until 1916... by which time everything else coming out of the Mint had been modernized.

It was worth the wait.

The new designs were dramatically different from Barber’s simple Roman-style profiles of Lady Liberty. The dime, by Adolph Weinman, featured Liberty wearing a winged cap, symbolizing freedom of thought - and on the reverse, the fasces - the bundle of sticks that has represented strength in unity since Roman days.
Adolph Weinman’s Liberty Head dime, popularly (but incorrectly) called the Mercury dime. [Image: Coin Community]
Weinman’s half-dollar showed Liberty in full stride towards the sun, an American flag behind her and branches of laurel and oak in her arms. The reverse featured a mighty eagle, wings partially unfolded, perched atop a mountain crag.
Weinman’s Walking Liberty half-dollar. [Image: USA Coin Book]
For the quarter, Hermon MacNeil created an image of a standing Liberty in flowing robes, holding a shield in one hand and an olive branch in the other.
Hermon MacNeil’s Standing Liberty Quarter. This version, produced in 1916, was subsequently modified to conform more closely to MacNeil’s original design. Only 52,000 of the 1916 specimens were struck, making it a rarity. [Image: CoinHELP!]
All of these coins were (you should excuse the pun) strikingly different from their predecessors. More than just utilitarian factory output, they were works of art in miniature, products of the sculptor’s imagination rather than the engraver’s. You would look at them and see America’s growing self-confidence and presence practically leaping from their shiny faces. They were not without their flaws - the quarter was difficult to strike properly and its date was notoriously prone to wear, for example - but they were beautiful.

In my Snot-Nose Days, all three of these coins were easily found in pocket change, despite the fact that they were all obsolete by then. The Standing Liberty quarter had only lasted until 1930 - an exceptionally short-lived series - yet well-worn specimens, often without readable dates, would show up daily. The so-called Mercury dimes and “Walker” halves were by no means uncommon. But when the Coinage Act of 1965 introduced dimes, quarters, and halves with a copper-nickel clad composition, silver coins vanished from circulation almost overnight.

Today, the beloved Walking Liberty design has been resurrected for use in silver bullion coins... but somehow, those lack the charm - the everyday beauty - of actual circulating coinage. As for today’s (faux) silver, the Roosevelt dime has been unchanged for seventy - count ’em! - years; the Washington quarter has essentially the same ugly obverse it has had since 1932, despite having five new (mostly forgettable) reverse designs every year since 1999; and the iconic Kennedy half, now fifty-two years old, no longer circulates at all. Où sont les dessins d’antan?

Once in a while, I’ll take some of those old coins out and look at them, rolling back the years. Damn, those were beautiful times. At least, that’s what the coins tell me.

Sunday, April 3, 2016

REMEMBERING ELI


The irrepressible Eli (1925-2014), photographed in 1990.

As the sun sets this evening, I will light a candle in my father’s memory to mark the second year since he passed on to the Undiscovered Country... that great and foreboding land to which we all must eventually journey.

Two years - at least, by the arcane reckonings of the Hebrew calendar.

They say Time heals all wounds. (They also say Time wounds all heels.) And it’s true. The ache of loss diminishes as the days and years pass - else how could we go on with the business of living, weighted down by accumulated grief? And yet there is an empty space that never goes away.

In the photograph above, Dad was sixty-five - only two years older than I am now.  But my deepest memories were of Eli as a young man, spreading out newspaper on the floor to catch the drippings from his trumpet’s spit valve... sitting down to play the piano... taking me and my brother to Coney Island Steeplechase amusement park... navigating from Bensonhurst to our home in suburban Massapequa after a day with his parents, my sleepy head resting on his leg as he drove.

Those, ahh, those were sweet days.



Friday, April 1, 2016

VILLAGE OF FOOLS


Memorial marker at Beth David Cemetery, Elmont, NY. [Photograph by The Other Elisson.]

Chelm is a small city - with about 67,000 inhabitants, you could really call it a good-sized village - in eastern Poland. Back in the early 1920’s it really was more of a village, its population at the time not much more than 23,000... more than half of them Jews, the remainder Christians consisting of Roman Catholics, Eastern Orthodox, and a sprinkling of Lutherans.

Occupying a unique place in Jewish folklore, this small, otherwise unremarkable city is the legendary home of the Wise Men of Chelm, an ironic compliment typical of Yiddish. You could say that Chelm was celebrated for being an entire village of Village Idiots... the kind of people that, when asked why the sea was salty, attributed its salinity to the large number of herring living in it. You’d have to go to Washington, D.C. to find a more concentrated source of High Doltage.

Isaac Bashevis Singer, the noted Yiddish author, wrote about the well-meaning fools of Chelm (The Fools of Chelm and Their History), and it’s easy enough to find similar collections of tales by others. A quick search on Amazon.com will suffice.

Were the Jewish residents of Chelm really fools? It’s hard to say, because they’ve vanished. Most were exterminated by the Nazis in a single, brutal operation in early December, 1939, and the remaining stragglers were picked off as the war ground on.

But at least one escaped, back in 1922 when escape was possible. That would be my grandfather Jacob of blessèd memory, father of Eli (hizzownself)... a Chelmite who was smart enough to get out while the getting was good.

What better day to remember the Wise Men of Chelm - and the real-life victims of the Holocaust who lived there - than on April Fools’ Day?

Sunday, March 27, 2016

WAITING FOR PENTECOST: A 100-WORD BIBLE STORY

They carried his broken, bleeding body to the cave, weeping with every step.

They laid him down, bade their farewells, and sealed the cave entrance with a massive rock.

Three days later, he arose, clad in pure white raiment. He leaped to the mouth of the cave, rolled the rock away, and stepped into the blinding sunlight. Almost as quickly, he retreated into the depths of the cave, shaken and fearful.

That terrible dark shape on the ground! He shivered in horror. Could it have been the Devil himself?

No matter. After six more weeks, Punxsutawney Jesus would try again.

[Originally published April 24, 2006 at the old place... and resurrected just for you.]

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

EATAPETA: THE DAY TO EAT MEAT-A

Osso Buco
Grilled butterflied leg of tender spring lamb... an excellent menu choice.

March 15 - the Ides of March - is international EATAPETA Day, the day on which we eat animal protein morning, noon and night for the sole purpose of sticking a thumb in the eye of PETA. (Well, that, plus animal protein tastes good.)

EATAPETA (Eat a Tasty Animal for PETA) Day is the brainchild of Meryl Yourish, who explains its historic origins in this post.

I’ve been celebrating EATAPETA Day for eleven years now, and the only issue is how to cram as much animal protein as possible into a 24-hour day. That’s the kind of problem I enjoy sinking my teeth into. In fact, shortly after midnight, I sank my teeth into some grilled Coffee and Cardamom-Crusted Skirt Steak I had prepared earlier on our Big Green Egg, searing it at 700°F to build a fragrant layer of char on the outside.

Breakfast consisted of Steak and Eggs: some of that selfsame skirt steak, served alongside a couple of over-easy eggs sautéed in ghee. Gotta exploit them chickens and cows to the max.

For lunch, I took my inspiration from the sea by consuming a tuna salad. Tuna, of course, is what the PETA folks like to call sea-kittens. And I’ll admit, I love to pet those sea-kittens... with my stomach lining.

When suppertime came, I augmented the remaining supply of skirt steak with some chicken soup. (You didn’t think we’d stop at just chicken eggs, didja?) By way of dessert, a few bites off a Toblerone bar... a bar made with milk chocolate. Yet more cow exploitation.

A few years ago, our friend Houston Steve suggested oysters, foie gras, and veal as the ideal EATAPETA Day meal. “I understand the foie gras and the veal,” I replied at the time. “But what’s up with the oysters?” “They’re still alive when you eat ’em,” said he.]

Alex Bensky’s Rule should guide you in your menu selections on this sacred day: If it didn’t have a mother, it’s not on the menu.

Carp Mommy
Your mommy can’t help you now, Mr. Carp.

Monday, March 14, 2016

ROUND NUMBER

Summer Berry Pie
Summer berry pie... an appropriate way to celebrate Pi Day even if it isn’t even spring yet.

Today is Pi Day, March 14, often rendered as 3.14 in American English. Coincidentally, it’s also the day on which Albert Einstein’s birthday is celebrated in his adopted home of Princeton, New Jersey. It’s not quite a holiday, but it’s certainly a day that it worthy of note... at least, by the same nerds who celebrate Star Wars Day on May 4 (“May the Fourth Be With You”).

This year, Pi Day falls on 3.14.16, which is the result you get by rounding pi (3.14159) to four decimal places. Thus, some have taken to calling this year’s version Rounded Pi Day. Since pies are so often round - Pythagoras be damned! - it’s just one more reason to have a pie today.

By way of a reminder, tomorrow is EATAPETA (Eat A Tasty Animal for PETA) Day. Therefore, a meat pie would definitely be in order.

In order to celebrate this most auspicious occasion I shall trot out (what, again?) one of my favorite 100-word stories: Pie-Eyed Jeremy, originally posted in June 2006.  Enjoy.

PIE-EYED JEREMY: A 100-WORD STORY

Jeremy loved pie.

Jeremy loved pie with a white-hot passion.

No birthday cake for him. It had to be pie, only pie.

Dutch Apple. Mince. Blueberry. Rhubarb. Pumpkin. Coconut Custard. Steak and Kidney. Chicken Pot. If it was a pie, Jeremy would seek it out and devour it.

But pies were expensive. Fillings and crust cost money, which Jeremy had in short supply. Eventually, to support his pie habit, Jeremy turned to crime.

During a botched heist at Entenmann’s, two hostages died in a hail of bullets. Jeremy was arrested and convicted.

His last meal? Pie, of course. Cyanide pie.

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

AMERICA’S RENAISSANCE MAN


Ben attempts to take one of the earliest known selfies, circa 1792. [Photographed at Palmer Hall, Princeton University.]

Benjamin Franklin was not only one of this country’s Founding Fathers, he was also an accomplished scientist with numerous inventions to his credit - a true Renaissance Man.

Many of us know that Franklin invented bifocal spectacles, the lightning rod, and (obviously enough) the Franklin stove, yet few are aware that he was also a pioneer in social media and its attendant technologies. Poor Richard’s Almanack was originally conceived as an Application (popularly abbreviated Appn) for the STeam-powered Universal Portable Interpersonal Device that Franklin invented. It was, alas, an impractical technology at the time, owing to the fact that wireless communications had yet to be invented. The almost invisible copper threads that were used to connect Franklin’s STUPIDs created an impenetrable network that impeded people’s ability to move about in old Philadelphia, and so the invention never caught on. The Almanack, happily, survived, and the pearls of wisdom therein have become part of American popular culture.  

In Poor Richard’s, Franklin warned of the dangers of distracted ambulation: “He that texts and takes a Stroll, May find himself in a Graveyard-Hole.” How ironic that the sculpture pictured above portrays him in the act of ignoring his own advice.

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

JUST SUPER


No, it’s not about you, Supes.

Today is March 1, AKA Super Tuesday.

It’s “super” because this is the day that primary voters choose 595 out of the 1,237 delegates needed to win the Republican nomination, and 859 of the 2,383 delegates needed to lock up the Democratic nomination. That’s 48% and 36% respectively.

Georgia is one of the states holding primaries today. These days, the franchise seems to be less about selecting the best candidate for the job and more about choosing the least amongst a host of evils... but both Dee and I held our noses and voted.

We won’t know who will actually be running in the Presidential race until the respective party conventions take place, but we will have a pretty good idea after today’s results are tabulated.

It’s going to be a long, unpleasant election season... but at least it won’t be boring. Of course, natural disasters aren’t boring either, but nobody wants to be caught up in them or their aftermath.

Monday, February 29, 2016

SADIE HAWKINS

Higgledy piggledy,
Emperor Julius
Looked at the calendar,
Saying, “Oh, my!

“If we add one Dies
Intercalarius
,
We won’t have winter
Show up in July!”

Today is the civil calendar’s rara avis: Leap Day, the intercalary day inserted once every four years. There is an exception: Centennial years not evenly divisible by 400 do not include an extra day, thanks to Pope Gregory. That exceptional year next occurs in 2100, extremely unlikely to be in the lifetime of anyone reading this.)

By coincidence, this year in the Hebrew calendar (5776, which is also the square of 76) is also a leap year. Hebrew leap years take place seven out of every nineteen years, which makes their occurrence somewhat more frequent than Gregorian leap years (36.84% versus 24.25%), and they’re more dramatic: A whole month is added, not just a single day.

We’re about two-thirds of the way through that extra month now, which means that the Jewish holidays for the balance of the year will seem late according to their Gregorian dates. It’s why Passover will begin in late April - four weeks after Easter, rather than at roughly the same time.

In American popular culture, Leap Day is sometimes conflated with Sadie Hawkins Day, the day on which unattached women in Dogpatch would try to outrun the town’s bachelors in a footrace, the (male) losers of which would have to marry the (female) winners. Sadie Hawkins Day was the creation of Al Capp, who drew the popular Li’l Abner comic strip in which the event first appeared in November 1937. In a testament to the pop culture influence of the funny pages, the fictional “holiday” actually caught on in many places across the country.


From Li’l Abner, the eponymous Sadie Hawkins wrestles with spinsterhood at the advanced age of thirty-five.

Laughably sexist notion that it is these days, there are still plenty of locales (high schools?) that still actually celebrate Sadie Hawkins Day, usually without the finality of the original(!) While some do so on November 15, many people consider February 29 to be Sadie Hawkins Day in view of an old British and Irish tradition that held that women were permitted to make marriage proposals only on Leap Day.

Al Capp, incidentally, was Jewish - which makes one wonder whether we Red Sea Pedestrians should observe a whole Sadie Hawkins month. Yeef.

Sunday, February 14, 2016

WOMAN OF VALOR

Antique Valentine
Valentine, circa 1938, from collection of Dee’s late Dad.

A woman of valor, who can find?
Well, I sure found one, never you mind.
- The Bard of Affliction

My Valentine is a Woman of Valor.

She has had to be brave this year, dealing with unexpected adversity - the kind that hits you in painful places both physical and spiritual. She who values independence and self-reliance so highly has had to allow others to care for her. But she is recovering - slowly, painfully, and yet inexorably - and my heart sings with every step she takes.