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

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

SUNSHINE ON A SPOON


Lemon sugar: the sunny, aromatic result of running Meyer lemon zest together with granulated sugar in the Cuisinart.

Some years back, when personal blogs were still a Thing, I discovered a certain site whose author wrote eloquently about food culture, cooking, and (especially) baking. Had I not already been thoroughly entranced by the way she expressed her love for the Kitchenly Arts, her piece about Patricia Neal would have snagged her a permanent spot on my blogroll. (Remember blogrolls?)

At that time, my baking “expertise” - such as it was - did not extend to breadmaking, so much of what she wrote on that subject was lost on me. But there were a few recipes that I essayed, and the results were good enough that they are still part of my repertoire unto this day.

Yesterday I was casting about for something sweet I could make for dessert. It was Dee’s birthday, and Houston Steve and his lovely daughter Monica were going to join us for dinner. Monica, alas, has issues with gluten - real ones, not the “I feel so much better since I went paleo” ones - and so cake was out of the question, moreso since Dee does not generally care for cake, birthday or no. And that’s when the Lemon Curd light went on in my brain.

It’s hard to beat a proper lemon curd, especially when you make it with Meyer lemons. It’s a tad on the rich side, but it has the perfect balance of custardy creaminess, sweetness, and bright citrus. Paired with a fresh blueberry compote, it is sunshine on a spoon - the kind of dessert that can be served any time of the year. And I’ve never seen a recipe that can outdo the one I copped from the Bakerina over ten years ago. I’m happy to post it here on the (hopefully unlikely) chance that Jen’s blog goes dark, but you really should go back to the source: There’s so much more there than just this one recipe.

Meyer Lemon Curd

½ cup sugar
3 large eggs, plus 4 yolks
¾ cup freshly squeezed Meyer lemon juice (about 4-5 lemons worth)
2 tsp lemon zest
4-8 tbsp chilled butter, cut into small chunks

Zest the lemons, being careful not to remove any of the white pith. (A Microplane grater is perfect for this purpose.) Put the sugar in the work bowl of a food processor with the zest; process for about one minute until the sugar is aromatic and lemony.

Once you zest the lemons, juice ’em. For the best yield, have them at room temperature (nuke them for about 15 seconds if they are cold from the fridge) and roll them around on the countertop while applying gentle pressure with the palm of your hand. By doing this, I only needed three good-sized Meyer lemons to get the requisite six ounces of juice.

In a metal bowl or the top of a double boiler, whisk the eggs, egg yolks, and lemon zest-sugar together until blended. Place over simmering water and cook, whisking frequently, just until the sugar is completely dissolved. Add the lemon juice. Continue whisking and stirring as you cook, bringing the mixture to 160˚F. As you approach the target temperature, the mixture will become foamy; the foam will then subside and the mixture will begin to thicken. You’re looking for a consistency like loose sour cream. Do not overcook or the mixture will curdle - you do not want a pile of lemon-flavored scrambled eggs.

Remove from the heat and press through a strainer into a clean bowl. Now, whisk the butter into the still-warm mixture, one chunk at a time. [Use the full 8 tbsp if you want a richer curd - I generally use 6 tbsp, which still gives rich and tasty results.]

Place the bowl in a larger bowl of ice water until chilled, then decant into a serving bowl or storage container. You can parcel it out into individual tartlet shells, ramekins, or wineglasses if you wish before serving it forth.

Damn, this stuff is good. There’s a bit left over from last night, and the knowledge that it is sitting there defenseless in the refrigerator is testing the limits of my self-control.

Friday, August 28, 2015

TRADEOFF

I swapped my Viagra
For melatonin
There’s a little more sleepin’
And not as much bonin’

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

MUFF

This morning I took my morning meal with the Minyan Boyz at the local Panera, as dictated by our normal Breakfasty Rotation.

There’s no smoked fish at Panera, and the bagels are bagels in name only, their only resemblance to the Real McCoy being their toroidal configuration. Nevertheless, the coffee’s decent enough, and those who partake of the sweet stuff can choose from a plethora of pastries, cookies, and cakes.

I noticed that, in amongst the bakery treats, there was a selection of muffin tops. Yes, Panera actually sells muffin tops, using the vaguely sexual-sounding sobriquet “muffies.”

Muffies.


A Panera muffin top, AKA “muffie.” Photo credit: Cakespy.

If all this sounds like an episode of Seinfeld, it is. Elaine, who eats only the tops of muffins, theorizes that a shop that sold only muffin tops would be hugely successful. Her former boss, overhearing this, takes the idea and runs with it, opening a shop he calls “Top of the Muffin to You!” Unfortunately, to get the proper muffin top quality, he can’t simply bake muffin tops by themselves: he must bake whole muffins and remove the tops. That creates a serious problem: how does he dispose of the leftover muffin stumps?

I really have no idea how Panera has managed to wrestle this issue to the ground. I envision a murky underground business, one that is conducted in the dead of night behind the store, one in which grimy wads of cash exchange hands and sacks of muffin stumps are quietly heaved into the back of a panel truck with fake license plates.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

VITREOUS SIMIAN


Submitted for your delectation, here is “Porcelain Monkey” - Warren Zevon’s left-handed tribute to Elvis Presley. Bitter and brilliant.

He was an accident waiting to happen
Most accidents happen at home
Maybe he should’ve gone out more often
Maybe he should’ve answered the phone

Hip-shakin’ shoutin’ in gold lamé
That’s how he earned his regal sobriquet
Then he threw it all away
For a porcelain monkey

He threw it away for a porcelain monkey
Gave it all up for a figurine
He traded it in for a night in Las Vegas
And his face on velveteen

From a shotgun shack singing Pentecostal hymns
Through the wrought iron gates to the TV room
He had a little world, it was smaller than your hand
It’s a rockabilly ride from the glitter to the gloom

Left behind by the latest trends
Eating fried chicken with his regicidal friends
That’s how the story ends
With a porcelain monkey

He threw it away for a porcelain monkey
Gave it all up for a figurine
He traded it in for a night in Las Vegas
And his face on velveteen
Porcelain monkey, har har har har

Hip-shakin’ shoutin’ in gold lamé
That’s how he earned his regal sobriquet
Then he threw it all away
For a porcelain monkey

He threw it away for a porcelain monkey
Gave it all up for a figurine
He traded it in for a night in Las Vegas
And his face on velveteen

Porcelain monkey, har har har har
Porcelain monkey, hey hey hey hey
Porcelain monkey


May you not spend your final moments riding the Porcelain Monkey... and let us say, “Amen.”

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

YES, YOUR EMINENCE

Is there anyone else who suppresses a chuckle every time one of those GMC truck ads comes on? I’m referring to the ones that are backed by The Who playing “Eminence Front.” It’s one of my favorite songs from the Who’s latter-day canon, but it seems to be misplaced as the anthem for a TV commercial selling motor vehicles.

Those ads remind me of when Ronald Reagan invoked Bruce Springsteen’s “Born in the USA” during a campaign speech in 1984:

“America’s future rests in a thousand dreams inside your hearts; it rests in the message of hope in songs so many young Americans admire: New Jersey’s own Bruce Springsteen.”

Obviously, Reagan and his clueless staffers had never bothered to look any deeper than the song’s kinda-sorta patriotic sounding title, because had they ever listened to the lyrics they would have found precious little to resonate with their “It’s Morning Again in America” campaign theme. Springsteen’s song is a working class lament, and its refrain - Born in the USA! - is a cynical counterpoint to the story of Vietnam veterans who suffered through the war only to become disaffected and marginalized upon their return home.

And so here we are, thirty-one years down the road, and it looks like, once again, somebody didn’t do his homework. “Eminence Front” is a bitter, cynical song despite its powerful, driving chords:

The sun shines
And people forget
They spray flies as the speedboat glides
And people forget
Forget they’re hiding
The girls smile
And people forget
The snow packs as the skier tracks
And people forget
Forget they’re hiding.

Behind an eminence front
Eminence front - it’s a put on.
It’s eminence front
It’s eminence front - it’s a put on.
An eminence front
Eminence front - it’s a put on.
Eminence front
It’s eminence front
It’s eminence front - it’s a put on.
It’s a put on
It’s a put on
It’s a put on

Come and join the party
Dress to kill
Won’t you come and join the party
Dress to kill.
Dress to kill.

The drinks flow
People forget
That big wheel spins, the hair thins
People forget
Forget they’re hiding
The news slows
People forget
The shares crash, hopes are dashed
People forget
Forget they’re hiding.

Behind an eminence front
An eminence front - it’s a put on
It’s just an eminence front
An eminence front - it’s a put on.
An eminence front
An eminence front- it’s a put on.
Eminence front
It’s eminence front - it’s a put on.

It’s a put on
It’s a put on
It’s a put on
It’s a put on

Come on join the party
Dress to
Come on join the party
Dress to
Come on join the party
Dress to
Come on join the party
Dress to kill
Dress yourself to kill.

It’s about wealthy hedonists with their drugs and expensive toys, poseurs who hide their problems behind a façade - an eminence front. Possibly they could use a GMC truck as one of those expensive toys, eh?

Does anyone else wonder about those ads, or is it just crazy old me?

Monday, August 17, 2015

ON THE FOODLY BUCKET LIST

Mimi Sheraton, celebrated food writer and former restaurant critic for the New York Times, has come out with a new book: 1000 Foods to Eat Before You Die: A Food Lover’s Life List.

Ms. Sheraton, at the age of eighty-nine, has had way more food experience than most of us. I figured I would see what I had been missing out on... or, put another way, whether I needed to reorder my Foodly Priorities in case (Gawd forbid) I should get hit by a bus or meteor tomorrow.

I’m still plowing through the first chapter, which focuses on British and Irish foods... and I have been pleasantly surprised to have enjoyed several items on her list, including roast goose (albeit not with sage-onion stuffing), roast beef with Yorkshire pudding, Gentleman’s Relish, shepherd’s pie, steak and kidney pie, fish and chips, codfish cakes, and Stilton cheese.

Cheddar cheese is also on Ms. Sheraton’s list, and here is what she has to say:

“By far the best and most complex of all, and the rarest in the U.S., is the Isle of Mull cheddar, from the Sgriob-ruadh farm (the Gaelic means ‘red furrow’ and is pronounced ‘SKEE-brooah’) on the Isle of Mull in the Inner Hebrides.”

Thanks to happy coincidence, I had only a few days prior procured a chunk of that very cheese at Star Provisions, the high-end food purveyor where I go when I need, say, a whole lobe of duck foie gras. It had gotten my attention because the Isle of Mull is the home of the Tobermory Distillery, some of whose fine products I have sampled thanks to my malt-loving buddy Eric. Apparently, the dairy lies hard by said distillery, and the cows’ diet is supplemented with spent barley mash. Lucky cows.


And, yes, that Cheddar is pretty damned good... although I also am a fan of Vermont-made Cabot Clothbound cheddar. Which one is better at any given moment depends on your mood, and what you’re having it with.

I can’t wait to see what other goodies Mimi and I agree upon. I’ll keep you posted...

BITTER CENTENNIAL


Manacles, believed to be the ones used on Leo Frank during his abduction. [Van Pearlberg; photo Elisson]

There’s a nondescript spot on Georgia Route 120 - Roswell Road, as it is known heareabouts - just over seven miles from my home in East Cobb County, just a few feet past the Interstate 75 underpass. It’s where the old Frey’s Gin Road used to be, and today it’s a stone’s throw from Marietta’s iconic landmark, the Big Chicken. I was just a few hundred feet away from that spot yesterday as I stopped in at Harry’s Farmer’s Market to pick up a few foodly odds and ends.

It’s a nondescript spot, but one with a tragic historical significance. One hundred years ago today, that is where Leo Frank was lynched.

Leo Frank’s story is a long and complicated one, one that still resonates powerfully today. But for years, it was spoken of in hushed tones if at all - by the perpetrators of the lynching and their descendants; and by the members of the local community, both Jewish and gentile. Discussion would not bring back the dead; discussion could only arouse old grievances, hates, and bitter feelings. But when an event is shrouded in silence, we learn nothing from it - including how to prevent similar tragedies in the future.

For those who are completely unfamiliar with the case, the bare-bones outline is as follows: On April 26, 1913, Mary Phagan of Marietta, Georgia - a thirteen-year-old employee of the National Pencil Factory in Atlanta - went to the factory to pick up her wages from Leo Frank, the factory superintendent. The following morning, her dead body was discovered in the basement. The investigation, rife with inconsistencies, eventually settled on Frank as the prime suspect, and an arrest followed. Frank was found guilty after a sensational trial. Appeals were denied; he was sentenced to hang. But two days before his term ended, then-Governor Slayton, who had become concerned that Frank’s trial could not possibly have been fair given the relentless media attention and the highly charged public opinion that prevailed, commuted Frank’s sentence to life in prison.

There was a group of state and Cobb county notables that were not having any part of what they perceived as a gross miscarriage of justice. They quietly laid plans to have Frank kidnapped from the state prison farm in Milledgeville where he had been lodged (and where an attempt on his life by a fellow prisoner had barely missed succeeding) - and on the night of August 16, 1915, an army of Mariettan stealth-ninjas extricated Frank from prison without a single shot being fired. After a seven-hour drive up country roads in the dead of night, the kidnappers arrived in Marietta. After alerting the locals - a lynching, after all, is no lynching without a crowd of excited locals to observe and cheer - Frank was hanged from an oak tree, his body left dangling for hours.

None of the kidnappers or members of the lynch party, and none of the conspirators who had made their dark arrangements, were ever charged with any crime... mainly because the people who would normally have been expected to enforce the law were all in on it.

There were profound implications. Jews who had been a part of the local community for decades understandably felt unwelcome; many deserted the South permanently. Members of a revitalized Ku Klux Klan burned a cross atop nearby Stone Mountain; on the other side of the cultural divide, the relatively new Anti-Defamation League found a sense of purpose. And the case receded into the shadows.

But in the mid-1980’s one Alonzo Mann, who had worked at the pencil factory as Leo Frank’s office boy, came forward to state that, on that fateful day in April 1913, he had seen Jim Conley, the janitor, carrying a girl’s body down to the basement. Conley had threatened to kill Mann if he spoke a word about what he had seen... and Mann, whose parents had sternly instructed him to keep his mouth shut, was never able to offer any exonerating testimony at Frank’s trial. Now Conley was dead, and an elderly, ailing Mann finally felt that it was time to speak out.

The authorities, of course, had been aware of Conley, and had briefly considered him a suspect. But Frank was a much better catch. Conley was just another black man, while Frank represented everything the average Southerner, only fifty years after the Late Unpleasantness, had come to resent. He was a wealthy, Ivy League-educated Northerner - and a Jew to boot. If he could be convicted, why, it would fit hand-in-glove with the narrative of continued Northern rapine and pillaging of the South. And one of those Christ-killers, too! We have us a real monster, boys!

Little Mary Phagan deserved justice. Instead, she got a circus.

Frank has since been pardoned by the State. His pardon did not address the matter of guilt or innocence in the Phagan murder, but was a recognition of the fact that the State had failed to try him fairly or to protect his person. Author Steve Oney, who researched the case for a full seventeen years before writing his book And The Dead Shall Rise: The Murder of Mary Phagan and the Lynching of Leo Frank, has said that he is 98% sure that Frank was innocent... but given the age of the case, there is always that nagging two-percent doubt. But - at least in my mind - Frank’s accusers failed to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that he was guilty. Spectacularly failed.

But that mattered not. So strong was their belief in his guilt - pumped up by firebrand populist demagogues such as Tom Watson, publisher of The Jeffersonian -  that facts were mere inconveniences to be swept away or ignored. The mobs chanted “Hang the Jew - or we’ll hang you!” during the trial, and an ad-hoc committee of the finest Mariettans eventually gave them what they wanted.

It is an object lesson on what happens when we allow ourselves to be carried on the tide of public opinion without taking the time to critically examine facts. When the narrative becomes a substitute for reality, we are in Deep Trouble... a tale especially cautionary in our days of social media, where everyone with a Twitter or Facebook account is a potential Tom Watson shouting into an echo chamber of like-minded souls.

It’s a full century later, and Cobb County now is home to a thriving Jewish community. It is where I have lived for over a third of my life. Meanwhile, I hope the ghosts of Mary Phagan - the first innocent victim of this tragedy - and Leo Frank, who was a victim no less than little Mary, are in Heaven sitting together, bemoaning the cruelty and stupidity of the humans that put them there before it was their time... and yet hoping for a better future for all of us.


Update: Steve Oney, in an article in The New Republic, writes about how the Frank lynching foreshadowed today’s polarized political climate.

Saturday, August 15, 2015

ON REFLECTION

“Va-yivra Elohim et ha-adam b’tzalmo; b’tzelem Elohim bara oto...” (And God created man in His image; in the image of God [He] created him...) - Genesis 1:27

“For a human being stamps many coins with one stamp, and all of them are alike; but the King of the kings of kings, the Holy One, blessed be He, has stamped every man with the stamp of Adam the First, and nevertheless not one of them is like the other. Therefore every man may say: The world was created for my sake, hence I must be upright, just, etc....” - Babylonian Talmud (Tractate Sanhedrin, Chapter IV, Mishna III)

* * *

During our morning services today, the topic of discussion was how we humans were created b’tzelem Elohim - in the image of God, as it is phrased so eloquently in the Scriptures.  But what can this mean? Our Deity is eternal and invisible, without form or body, unlike we mortal humans. How can we claim to be made in the image of God?

It occurred to me that God, though He cannot be seen directly, can nevertheless be seen by reflection. [In this manner we see that God is the exact opposite of the Transylvanian vampire.] And we - we mortal humans - are the reflected images of God.

The quality of that reflection, of course, is highly variable... because every individual is reflected in a different, unique mirror. Some of those mirrors are nearly flawless, but that is the exception. Most of us are reflected through mirrors that are cracked or distorted... in some cases, veritable funhouse mirrors, the shiny surfaces of which may be obscured by grime, bespattered (so to speak) with an encrustation of sins and misdeeds.

There’s good news: We all have the capability of doing good, of helping to repair the world in a myriad of small ways, of being better people... and when our actions take us in those directions, we scrape away some of the crud that diminishes our reflected images. Spiritual Windex, you could say. And if our personal mirrors are warped or cracked, what of it? We can still try to keep them as clean as possible, for even a distorted reflection carries the image of God within it. Humans don’t need to be perfect, after all - what is required of us is that we do the best we can.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

WOBBLE


I sing you these words of great renown:
Weebles wobble but they don’t fall down.

Whether nude or wearing a dressing gown,
Weebles wobble but they don’t fall down.

Furrow your brow with a thoughtful frown:
Weebles wobble but they don’t fall down.

In an ocean of wisdom your soul will drown:
Weebles wobble but they don’t fall down.

As sure as Bozo’s a red-haired clown,
Weebles wobble but they don’t fall down.

Shout it from the tallest tower in town:
Weebles wobble but they don’t fall down.

Wear this knowledge like a golden crown:
Weebles wobble but they don’t fall down.
Weebles wobble but they don’t fall down.
Weebles wobble but they don’t fall down.

[Image credit: The Life of JWo]

TAKING THE CURE



When people used to speak of “taking the cure,” they’d be talking about visiting the spa in order to enjoy the hot mineral waters. But not me.

I take the cure and rub it all over my meat.

No, I’m not trying to go all Nasty Grandpa on you, dear Esteemed Reader. I’m talking about charcuterie: the fine art of curing meat.

Yesterday I finished making a nice batch of pastrami. You take whatever meat product you’re using - usually a beef brisket - and apply a rub composed of curing salt (salt and sodium nitrite), black pepper, ground coriander, brown sugar, and garlic. After the meat has cured for a week, you rinse it off, soak it in water to remove excess salt, and then cover it in a mixture of black pepper, ground coriander, garlic, and powdered smoke. Bake it at 250°F over a pan of hot water until cooked through, then steam. Presto: hot pastrami!

The amazing peppery, garlicky fragrance that wafts through the house? That’s just a bonus. (The Glade and Air Wick folks can eat their hearts out.)


Pastrami... fresh out of the oven.

You wanna kick it up a notch? Simple: make it out of duck breast instead of beef brisket.

Ohhhh, yeah.

Update: Duck pastrami and scrambled eggs. Need I say more?

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

IN WHICH I DESPOIL A SCIENCE FICTION CLASSIC

Science fiction fans will remember Frank Herbert’s 1965 novel Dune, a landmark work that eventually gave rise to a whole series of books. Herbert ended up writing six Dune novels in total, ranging in quality from “meh” to “excellent,” with none of the sequels quite measuring up to the original. (After his death, his son Brian, along with collaborator Kevin J. Anderson, would milk the property relentlessly with additional sequels and prequels.)

Dune was a rarity: a science fiction novel set in a fully realized imaginary universe, one that had a complex society, technology that was simultaneously highly advanced and yet limited in comparison with our own, and memorable characters. It cried out to be filmed, yet was so intricate as to be practically unfilmable. That did not stop people like Arthur P. Jacobs and Alejandro Jodorowsky from trying, although they never succeeded in getting a project off the ground... too damn bad, because that film would have been amazing. (Imagine Dune as envisioned by H. R. Giger. Yeah, that H. R. Giger.)

Instead, after a decade or so of Development Hell, executive producer Dino De Laurentiis hired David Lynch to write and direct his own version of Dune. At first blush, one would think that the creative mind behind films such as Eraserhead and The Elephant Man - not to mention the enigmatic television series Twin Peaks - would be just the person to bring Dune to the big screen with the appropriate creative vision. One would, alas, be wrong.

The 1984 De Laurentiis production of Dune was, to put it mildly, disappointing. The art and set design were the sole bright spots in a movie that featured weird voiceovers, huge narrative and motivational gaps, and plenty of scenery chewing. That’s too bad: the property deserved so much better.

It had its moments. Kyle MacLachlan and Sting in a knife fight! Sting wearing a glorified diaper! Mentat Piter de Vries (played by Brad Dourif with majorly bushy eyebrows, a complete 180° turn from his later, eyebrowless portrayal of Grima Wormtongue in the LOTR films) mumbling the Mentat Mantra, a glorious piece of nonsense Lynch created for the film:
“It is by will alone I set my mind in motion. It is by the juice of sapho that thoughts acquire speed, the lips acquire stains, the stains become a warning. It is by will alone I set my mind in motion.”
Baron Harkonnen in his antigravity belt, soaring around the room and laughing like a maniac! And, of course, the bizarre Guild steersmen, so mutated by constant exposure to the melange spice that they resemble giant versions of Donovan’s Brain.

Nevertheless, some people see something salvageable in this glorious mess of a film. At least, film editor Michael Warren did. He decided to patch together the original theatrical film along with numerous deleted scenes, storyboards, and extended television footage to create what he thinks is a New and Improved Dune, which he was kind enough to upload to Vimeo.

Is it any good? Well, I just started watching it, so it’s too early to say. But one thing caught my eye, and that was some of the early footage that featured illustrations of José Ferrer in his role as the Padishah Emperor Shaddam IV. Why, that face and uniform looked sorta... familiar!


General Elisson and the Padishah Emperor. Separated at birth?

Update: It appears that the video has been taken down, no doubt because of the spike in attention it received as a result of the Digg link. Perhaps the nice folks at Universal had some intellectual property concerns.

Oh, well. That’ll save me the three hours I would have pissed away watching the thing.

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

NIHON-NO KAKUTERU


Japanese Cocktail.

This semi-opaque little gem is the Japanese Cocktail (Nihon-no Kakuteru, 日本のカクテル), which is a peculiar name for a drink that complements a French base liquor with tiki ingredients. But I didn’t make the name up.

From what I can glean from my various sources, the cocktail was created by “Professor” Jerry Thomas back in the early 1860’s, the formula having been published in his landmark 1862 anthology How to Mix Drinks, or The Bon-Vivant’s Companion. The name came not from the ingredients - there’s absolutely nothing Japanese about ’em - but (probably) from the fact that the first Japanese mission to the United States was staying in New York at that time.

In its simplest and most original form, a cocktail is simply a base liquor, a sweetener, and bitters. The Old Fashioned, for example uses rye whiskey or bourbon as a base, with sugar or simple syrup as a sweetener and, most commonly, Angostura bitters. Substitute Cognac for the whiskey and orgeat for the sugar, and you have a Japanese Cocktail. Think of it as a tikified Old Fashioned, or perhaps the bastard child resulting from a hookup between Cognac and marzipan. Mmmmm, marzipan.

Japanese Cocktail

2 ounces Cognac
½ ounce orgeat*
3 dashes Angostura bitters

Combine ingredients in a cocktail shaker with ice. Stir well and strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with a lemon twist.

*You can use ready-made orgeat, which is expensive and often made with crappy ingredients like high-fructose corn syrup. Or you can make your own.

If you like tiki-style drinks - Mai-Tais and the like - give this fellow a try. It’s a delightful little nip.

Saturday, August 1, 2015

STEAMPUNK COUNTY, TENNESSEE



There’s a little bitty county in northeast Tennessee
And if you should go there, some strange sights you’ll see
The trailer parks and yards are filled with junk
But the whole dang county has gone steampunk

They wear them dark steampunky goggles
When they fly in their steam-powered dirigibobbles
They don’t care ’bout the TVA and electricity
’Cause they sit on a coal seam and the fire is free

You see steam-powered cars on the Interstate
Don’t need no Exxon - oh, boy, it’s great
Even their computers run on steam
They’ve got the water vapor-motivated calculatin’ machine

The girls wear leather helmets and Victorian skirts
And the men got dusters over their puffy shirts
Not a wrinkle to be found - creases sharp and clean
It ain’t no surprise - their irons have steam

So come on up and visit us in Steampunk County
We don’t care if you’re a Yankee or Canadian Mountie
Just don’t bring no batteries – ’lectricity’s unseemly
Here in the county where the punks are steamly

[Inspired by Alex Bledsoe’s novels of the Tufa... which, incidentally, have nothing whatsoever to do with steampunk.]

Friday, July 31, 2015

EXPECT THE UNEXPECTED

“If you expect the unexpected, it is not unexpected: it is expected, I expect.” - The Bard of Affliction

Sometimes I think the Big Guy Upstairs is trying to tell me something, and I’m not sure it is something I want to hear. At least, that’s the feeling I had when I prepared to sit down at my office desk and work on the Torah reading I’m doing tomorrow morning.

Reading Torah takes some preparation. You’re essentially looking at a large parchment scroll filled with carefully handwritten text... but said text consists only of Hebrew consonants. The vowels that enable you to pronounce the words correctly and the cantillation (trope) notes that provide the melody are not there. Even more fun - there’s no punctuation. You have to know the material well enough to fill in the missing data - on the fly.

What’s it like? Here’s an example:

Y HV FTN WLKD DWN THS STRT BFR BT TH PVMNT LWYS STYD BNTH MY FT BFR LL T NC M Y SVRL STRS HGH KNWNG YM N TH STRT WHR Y LV R THR LLC TRS N TH HRT F TWN CN Y HR LRK N NY THR PRT F TWN DS NCHNTMNT PR T F VRY DR N TS JST N TH STRT WHR Y LV ND H TH TWRNG FLNG JST T KNW SMHW Y R NR TH VRPWRNG FLNG THT NY SCND Y MY SDDNLY PPR PPL STP ND STR THY DNT BTHR M FR THRS NWHR LS N RTH THT WLD RTHR B LT TH TM G BY WNT CR F CN B HR N TH STRT WHR Y LV

If you can look at this (apparent) gibberish and belt out a flawless rendition of Lerner and Loewe’s “On The Street Where You Live,” you have some idea of what I’m talking about. Now, pretend your native language uses a different alphabet - to you, Roman letters are just a bit mysterious - and you have an even better idea.

So: preparation. Especially since I’ll be reading the Ten Commandments (the version from Deuteronomy, which differs slightly from the one in Exodus), a reading so central to our religious identity that the congregation stands during its recitation.

What I did not expect was that, as I sat down, I heard a sharp CRACK! and my office chair deposited me on the floor in a heap. Part of the metal frame had given way due to a hitherto invisible stress fracture.

That chair was guaranteed for ten years. It was ten years and six months old. Damn.

The bad news is, I need a new chair. The good news? There’s a tax holiday this weekend, so I can maybe save a few bucks on said new chair. But that’s kinda not good news, because it means the office supply emporium will be packed with eager bargain hunters. Gaaaah.

Well, the chair is broken. At least I’m not. Things could be worse.

Thursday, July 30, 2015

MICHELANGELONIMBUS



Today I saw a cloud that looked like the Pietà.
A testament to Heaven’s glory, thought I. What could be greater?
But as I watched, the cloud dissolved and slouched,
Becoming, so it seemed, a chubby woman on a couch.

With yet more time the lofty breezes did their work,
Turning God’s art to just so much chaotic murk.
O, Entropy, thou changest beauty into dross:
Perhaps that was the testament that was meant for us.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

BRUSSELS BILLIARDS


The Fart Ball Rack.

Are you sick and tired of your fart balls Brussels sprouts rolling all over the fucking place? Have you ever wondered how professional chefs keep those little green gas-bombs evenly distributed on their roasting pans?

Well, wonder no more. We have the solution to a problem you didn’t even know you had: the official Fart Ball Rack™! Simply place your Brussels sprouts in the triangle, move it around until they form a nice, tight pattern, and then apply your seasonings.

The photo above shows a wooden prototype, but the final product will be made of heat-resistant silicone and will include several sizes in order to accommodate any size of choux de Bruxelles, from those tender little quail egg-sized beauties all the way up to humongo-sprouts with Rocky Mountain Oyster dimensions. Its just the thing for every anal-retentive chef!

If you feel especially playful, you can get a chopstick and practice your three-cushion billiards shots. A standard half-sheet pan has about the right aspect ratio. Sharpen your game while you keep your kitchen orderly and those pesky Fart Balls in their place!

Dee came up with this concept as I was preparing some roasted Brussels sprouts with balsamic vinegar. I think it’s Kickstarter-worthy. What say ye, Esteemed readers?

YET ANOTHER HOLIDAY YOU DIDN’T KNOW ABOUT


A rare treat: a distiller’s reproduction of the Scotch whisky that was abandoned in Antarctica by Ernest Shackleton in 1909 and found over a century later... in perfect condition.

I have been informed that today is National Scotch Day.

I really have no idea who makes these faux holidays up. Sometimes it’s the obvious work of the greeting card industry: Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, and all of the other Trivial Celebrations of Close Kindred all started as individual attempts to honor a beloved family member but eventually mutated beyond all recognition thanks to the likes of Hallmark, et al. This one would seem to be the doing of the Scotch Whisky Distillers’ Collective, who probably got the naming rights via the time-honored method of applying palm-greasage in the right locations. (Apparently they did not secure an exclusive, for it is also National Crème Brûlée Day. And, perhaps more complementary in theme, it’s Bagpipe Appreciation Day. )

Of course, the appropriate thing to do would be to have a wee dram... or perhaps a cocktail based on Scotch whisky. Single malts generally don’t play well with others - prima donnas! - but blended Scotch is the base of several nice tipples, including the Rusty Nail (Scotch and the Scotch-based liqueur Drambuie), the Mamie Taylor (a Scotch whisky version of the Moscow Mule), and the Rob Roy (a Martini using Scotch in lieu of gin) - the latter having been a favorite of my late mother.

Naah. Screw the cocktails. It’s single malt for me... and to put us in the proper frame of mind, here are a few Scotch whisky-inspired limericks:

It’s National Scotch Day - rejoice!
The Balvenie’s often my choice.
Sometimes I’ll be havin’
A wee dram of Bunnahabhain,
Though those Scottish names just sound like noise.

Laphroiag tastes like coal tar or pitch,
And for many, that flavor’s too rich.
If you drink Lagavulin,
You’re really not foolin’ -
That’s one smoky son-of-a-bitch.

The warm malty drams of the Highland
Are tasty, no matter their stylin’.
When the glass hits my lips
And I take a few sips,
It’s not long before Elisson’s smilin’.