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

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

INTERPRETATION REDUX

Some of my Esteemed Readers may recall that in the fall of 2012, when Superstorm Sandy was bearing down on the Northeast, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s emergency management news conferences included the presence of one Lydia Callis, whose highly animated and expressive signing effectively stole the show from Hizzoner.

Here it is just a little over two years later, and with another major Weather-Related Disaster bearing down on Gotham, we have another New York City Mayor - this time, it’s Bill de Blasio - who has found an ASL interpreter who is, if such a thing is possible, even more animated than Ms. Callis. Lookee:



I will be astonished - and maybe a bit disappointed - if SNL does not pick this one up and run with it just as they did last time.

[Tip o’ th’ Snow-Laden Fedora to The Other Elisson, who turned me on to this little nugget of newsly information.]

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

THE ANTISEPTICS OF YESTERYEAR, or
THE PINK BADGE OF COURAGE

Médecin, n’enquerez de sepmaine
Où elles sont, ne de cest an,
Qu’à ce refrain ne vous remaine:
Mais où sont les antiseptiques d’antan?

[mes excuses à François Villon]

Back in our collective Snot-Nose Days, no medicine chest or first-aid kit was complete without a little bottle of antiseptic, something that could be daubed on those all-too-frequent scrapes and bruises to prevent them from becoming little hotbeds of purulence.

Television ads touted two of the more popular items: Bactine and Unguentine, two completely different products despite the common -ine suffix. Bactine, originally developed in postwar Germany by the same nice folks at Bayer that gave us aspirin and heroin, was (and still is) a liquid antiseptic containing benzalkonium chloride as the active germ-fighting ingredient and lidocaine for topical pain relief. Unguentine, as its name suggests, was (and is) an ointment containing camphor, phenol, tannic acid, and zinc oxide. I’m guessing that the phenol was the main bug-killer while camphor provided the pleasant medicinal aroma. Maybe they stuck the zinc oxide in so you could also slather it on your nose by way of a sunscreen.

We didn’t use either of those fancy-pants medicaments. No, not us. The Elisson clan was Old-School.

First in our antiseptical armamentarium was good old Tincture of Iodine, a solution of elemental iodine and sodium iodide in alcohol. Owing mainly to the alcohol, iodine tincture stung like a bastard when it was applied to an open wound. For that reason alone, most kids hated it... but the powerful halogen pong - the very definition of “antiseptic smell” - was a bonus.

People still use iodine as an antiseptic. It’s extremely effective, and newer formulations like Betadine that contain iodophors like povidone iodine (a complex of elemental iodine with polyvinylpyrrolidone) are not nearly as sting-y or stinky.

The other Big Gun in our ancient first-aid kits was a fluorescent pink medication: Merthiolate. Merthiolate is a trade name for sodium ethyl mercury thiosalicylate, AKA thiomersal (frequently spelled thimerosal in the United States), still used as a preservative in some vaccines... but no longer sold as a topical antiseptic in this country owing to concerns over the fact that it is an organomercury compound and thus potentially toxic if misused. A sister compound, Mercurochrome (dibromohydroxymercurifluorescein, AKA merbromin), was equally popular - and is now equally unavailable here.

Purex Tincture Merthiolate
My ancient bottle of Purex Tincture Merthiolate, still useful for the occasional cut or scrape.

Back in the day, nobody was worried about potential mercury poisoning - never mind that you would literally have to take a bath in Merthiolate for it to be toxic. Every scraped knee or skinned elbow was decorated with that familiar pink fluorescent color. It stung just like iodine when it was applied, although it didn’t have that iodiney funk. No matter. We kids wore the pink badge of courage proudly: It meant that we were out playing and getting banged up, rather than living mushroom-lives indoors, watching TV.

Not for us, that wimpy Bactine or prissy Unguentine. We glowed in the dark with our Merthiolated and Mercurochromed wounds.

As noted above you can’t buy that stuff now, at least not in the United States. But I still have a little bottle of Purex Tincture of Merthiolate squirreled away in my medicine cabinet. It’s probably somewhat north of 40 years old now, but there’s still some of that fluorescent pink crap in there... and I still daub it on my boo-boos, just for Old Times’ Sake.

Monday, January 12, 2015

FRACTAL FOOD

Romanesco
Romanesco. Is it broccoli? Is it cauliflower? Or just a mathematician’s wet dream?

The other day while I was browsing for some evening provender at Whole Paycheck Foods, a pile of Romanesco caught my eye.

It was a bizarre bit of synchronicity. I had only just the prior day read an article about that most mathematically fascinating vegetable, all the while bemoaning the fact that I had never seen it offered in the Atlanta food stores I frequent. And yet, there it was in all its fractal glory. I had to buy some.

Koch snowflake. [Courtesy Wikipedia.]
Romanesco, one of the many faces of Brassica oleracea (broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, kohlrabi, collard greens, kale, et al.), grows in a natural version of recursion, a self-similar repeating pattern that displays at every scale. The numbers people call this a fractal, and it can be seen in both mathematical sets and in natural phenomenae. Crystals will sometimes exhibit fractal behavior as they form.

As you zoom into a self-similar fractal image, you see the same thing regardless of scale. Of course, in a living organism like Romanesco, things begin to get a little “fuzzy” as you get closer and closer, but the same overall configuration is still visible.

Why the Romanesco DNA decided to code for such elegant beauty, I have no idea. The religious-minded can use it as an example of the power and subtle wisdom of the Creator: other folks may attribute it to millions of years of mutative randomness.

As for me, it works as both Art Form and as Dinner. I sliced up and roasted that sumbitch with olive oil, kosher salt, and capers. It was delicious.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

MEN, MEAT, MALT, AND A MOUNTAIN

Flurries to the East
Snow flurries darken the skies to the east as we ascend Starr Mountain.

It’s colder than the ice cubes in a glass;
It’s colder than the hair on a polar bear’s ass;
It’s colder than the nipple on a witch’s left tit;
It’s colder than a box full of penguin shit.
Man, it’s cold!

- Eli, hizzownself

Many are cold, but few are frozen.

- Elisson

You know it’s cold when you pour a shot of Scotch whisky out of your metal flask and it flows with the viscosity of maple syrup. Water, when added to this ferociously chilly brew, doesn’t do much more than lay on top, seemingly as immiscible as oil and vinegar.

That’s how cold it was when Eric and I went camping last night, the night of a huge Polar Express system that chilled vast swaths of North America to ridiculous levels. The forecast called for it to drop down to 5°F atop Starr Mountain, with windy conditions that would bring the effective temperature to somewhere between -10 and -20°F... so of course that is the night we selected for our overnight camping trip. This is because we are Manly Men. Or fucking idiots. (Some would contend that that is a distinction without a difference.)

Home away from home
Our little home away from home.

We’ve gotten the Cold Weather Camping thing down to a science. Drive halfway up the mountain and park. Schlep our gear the remainder of the way to the top, then cast about for a suitable spot to pitch our tent. Set up the tent and start a campfire. At sunset, heat up two quarts of Eric’s tasty pot roast on the camp stove. Enjoy several wee drams of Scottish antifreeze. Crawl into the tent, get into our respective sleeping bags, and sleep. As necessary, get out of the tent to urinate. Wake up, heat water for coffee and oatmeal, build a new campfire. Clean up, pack up, break camp, and head down the mountain. Easy-peasy, right?

Sunset atop Starr Mountain
When the sun goes down, shit be gettin’ serious.

Well, that’s all well and good when you’re dealing with regular ol’ Cold Weather. Snow? Love it. Freezing conditions? No prob. But when the mercury drops into the single digits and below, it’s a whole different ball game. It’s hazardous to one’s health.

This time we drove farther up before parking the car, the better to facilitate a quick getaway should conditions prove to be too extreme in the dead of night. The fire had to be kept small, lest the windy conditions cause it to go out of control. Once the sun went down, a deep chill settled over the mountain. We would not be sipping single malt by the campfire as our dinner was warming, no. Eric made the wise decision to set up the camp stove in the vestibule of the tent, where it would be better protected from the elements... and so it was in the tent that we enjoyed our slabs of jalapeño cornbread and steaming hot bowls of Pot Roast à la mode de SWG.

It was sometime around 1:00 am that we both awakened, roused by a Call of Nature. The winds had died down by this time - the campfire long since had gone out - and in the silence of the deep night we could both feel the heat being sucked from our bodies through all our layers of clothing and sleeping baggage. Fortunately, we had a couple of extra layers with which to insulate ourselves: Eric’s Gore-Tex coat, which served to cover our feet, and a fleecy blanket huge enough to completely fill the tent. With these in place, we were protected enough to be safe, if not entirely comfortable.

As the eastern sky began brightening sometime around six - sunrise would not come for yet another hour - we awakened to the lowest temperatures of the past 24 hours. The tent’s interior and fly were encrusted with a thick coating of rime from our exhaled moisture, while our bottles of water had frozen solid. It took an effort of will to put on our frozen hiking boots and venture outside to build a new campfire, but it was worth it: A few cups of hot coffee did wonders to elevate our mood as Eric warmed his numb toes near the flames.

We broke camp and hiked the mile or so back to the car, whose thermometer registered a frigid 11°F despite its being mid-morning. Oof.

It’s hard to explain the allure of cold-weather camping to most people. Saddled with the veneer of civilized rationality with which most of us conduct our lives, they wonder why anyone in his right mind would voluntarily forsake the comforts of a cozy house, a warm bed, and indoor plumbing to bed down in a tent and sleeping bag on a frigid mountaintop. And perhaps it is completely nutty... but there is a quiet power in knowing that one is able to face adverse conditions, and that power fuels a fuller appreciation of one’s everyday life.

MAOVEL

Let a hundred flowers bloom
Doo dah, doo dah
Spider-Man and Doctor Doom
Oh, doo dah day

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

2014 - AVE ATQUE VALE

It has been my established Bloggy Tradition - as traditional as ten years can make anything - that on the final day of the year I write a post that outlines the various high and low spots of the previous twelvemonth. Triumphs, tragedies, events both personal and global in scope: all grist for the year-end blog-mill.

But this year, I’m not going to do that.

Similarly, I’ll apologize to all the folks - friends and family alike - who await our annual snail-mail Family Newsletter with breathless (hah!) eagerness, for there will be none forthcoming. I am just not in the mood. (Besides, does anyone really give a shit about all that stuff?)

Yes, this year had its bright moments... but on balance it was one vast pile of suckage. And so I will not glorify it any further, but await the beginning of a new one and pray that it is better. Optimist that I am, I believe (whether foolishly or not) that it will be. That it must be.

Twenty-fourteen, fuck you and goodbye.

Twenty-fifteen, I sure hope you represent a major improvement over your immediate predecessor.

That is all.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

EATS MEETS WEST

Or East Meets West, if you prefer.

At this year’s Momma d’Elisson Memorial Chanukah Dinner - an annual event that commemorates both the Festival of Lights and my mom, the late, great Bernice - East meets West by virtue of the menu, which consists of take-out Chinese food (East) alongside fresh, hot potato latkes (West).

But there’s another way to spin the East meets West game, and that is to take an Ashkenazic (i.e., Eastern European Jewish) food - the aforementioned latkes - and couple them with a Sephardic/Mizrahi (i.e., Iberian/Middle Eastern Jewish) food - herbed labneh.

Some time back, I saw an amazing recipe for herbed labneh with preserved lemon - a jacked-up version of a typical Middle Eastern cheese product. (Labneh is basically a thicker version of Greek yogurt. You can make it yourself by straining Greek yogurt through a cheesecloth or by taking the easy way out and buying it in prepackaged form at your local Middle Eastern grocery.) Since I happened to have a supply of preserved lemons handy (really!), I tried it. It was amazing.

It was even more amazing when spooned on top of Dee’s incomparable potato latkes. The cool, tart labneh, with its lemony savoriness (and a substantial burn from serrano peppers), perfectly complemented the latkes’ crispy crusts and creamy, potatoey interiors.

Potato Latkes - 2015 Edition photo PotatoLatkes-2014Edition.jpg
Herbed Labneh photo HerbedLabneh.jpg
Potato latkes (top); herbed labneh with preserved lemon (bottom). Put ’em together and you get a little slice of heaven right here on Earth.

I may never eat latkes with plain ol’ sour cream again.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

SOME PERSPECTIVE ON CHANUKAH

Despite its length - a full eight days - Chanukah is a relatively minor part of the Jewish religious calendar. Especially in America, the holiday has grown enormously in significance over the past hundred years or so, but this is merely the reflected glow of Christmas, the Big Event of the majority culture. For observant Jews, Chanukah is a post-Biblical holiday, one that is not mentioned in the Scriptures - mainly because the events it commemorates occurred after the canon was finalized. The usual holiday restrictions against working, et al., are not in effect.

Chanukah is not the “Jewish Christmas,” as some misguided folks sometimes seem to think. And it does not - despite stories to the contrary - celebrate the apocryphal miracle of one day’s supply of sacred oil burning for a full eight days, long enough for more consecrated oil to be prepared. That is a story intended to provide a sense of wonder for the kiddies... but like many such stories, it has taken on the strength of urban legend. Alas that there is no snopes.com to refute religious mythology: If there were, they would have a full-time job.

The real miracle of Chanukah - the reason we light candles (one for each night, they shed a sweet light to remind us of years long ago, in the words of the song) - is a war fought against seemingly insurmountable odds. It’s the war fought by the Jewish zealots, led by Matityahu (Mattathias, in the Greek translation) and his sons, against the Greco-Syrian rulers of Judea who wanted to wipe out the practice of Judaism. It was the kind of underdog-versus overdog fight that generally results in the underdog getting his ass chewed off... but not this time. This time, the vastly outnumbered forces of the Jews delivered a sound thrashing to the Greeks. For not the first and not the last time, it was the kind of salvation that would inspire the popular Jewish dictum, “They tried to kill us; they failed; let’s eat.”

The Egyptians tried to break our spirit with institutionalized slavery.
The Greco-Syrians tried to break our connection with our faith.
Later, the Persians would simply try to murder us, as would the Nazis many hundreds of years later.

They all failed. And so we eat: matzoh and its derivatives (Passover), fried foods (Chanukah), hamantaschen (Purim).

The holiday liturgy tells the story quite succinctly:      

(And) for the miracles, and for the salvation, and for the mighty deeds, and for the victories, and for the battles which You performed for our ancestors in those days, in this time.

In the days of Matityahu, the son of Yochanan, the High Priest, the Hasmonean, and his sons - when the wicked Greek kingdom rose up against Your people Israel to make them forget Your Torah and compel them to stray from the statutes of Your will - You in Your great mercy stood up for them in the time of their distress. You took up their grievance, judged their claim, and avenged their wrong. You delivered the strong into the hands of the weak, the many into the hands of the few, the impure into the hands of the pure, the wicked into the hands of the righteous, and the wanton into the hands of the diligent students of Your Torah. For Yourself You made a great and holy Name in Your world, and for your people Israel You worked a great victory and salvation on this very day. Thereafter, Your children came to the Holy of Holies of Your house, cleaned Your Temple, purified the site of Your Holiness, and kindled lights in the courtyards of Your Sanctuary; and they established these eight days of Chanukah to express thanks and praise to Your great name.

[Special addition to the daily Amidah prayer for Chanukah]

The story of Chanukah puts me in mind of another lopsided victory: the battle of Agincourt in 1415, so famously described by William Shakespeare in Henry V. The English forces led by King Harry were arrayed against a French army five times their number, and the likelihood that they would survive - much less win - was basically nil. Was it Harry’s rousing speech (“We few, we happy few, we band of brothers...”) on the eve of Saint Crispin’s Day or the hand of God that carried the English to an astonishing win? Who can tell?

There’s another connection, however tenuous, between Matityahu and Henry V. In Kenneth Branagh’s excellent 1989 film, the English soldiers carry away their dead and wounded after the battle, singing the Latin hymn Non Nobis. It is a powerful moment in the film, one that bears great emotional freight. Non Nobis, you may be interested to know, is the Latin translation of Psalm 115: “Not for us, Lord, not for us, but for Yourself win praise through Your love and faithfulness...” It’s a psalm we recite every day during Chanukah, and it is one that makes perfect sense when an Unlikely Victory comes your way.

No matter what your faith, may this season bring only good things to you!

Friday, December 19, 2014

MORE FUN AT IKEA

Veteran readers of Lost in the Cheese Aisle - and people who know me personally - know that there is some sort of sooper-seekrit extra high-strength dopeyness that possesses me whenever we visit IKEA.

I’ve written several times about our visits to the Big Blue Box. One of the things that holds a perverse appeal for me is the Ikeonian practice of giving every article a name... a practice that began because the company’s founder, Ingvar Kamprad, was dyslexic and found it easier to remember proper names than traditional product descriptions and/or codes. Sometimes the names are intuitive, sometimes not, probably because the naming convention relies heavily on Swedish and other northern European languages.

There is an actual system of nomenclature, and Business Insider nails it down pretty precisely:
  • Upholstered furniture, coffee tables, rattan furniture, bookshelves, media storage, doorknobs: Swedish placenames
  • Beds, wardrobes, hall furniture: Norwegian place names
  • Dining tables and chairs: Finnish place names
  • Bookcase ranges: Occupations
  • Bathroom articles: Scandinavian lakes, rivers and bays
  • Kitchens: grammatical terms, sometimes also other names
  • Chairs, desks: men’s names
  • Fabrics, curtains: women’s names
  • Garden furniture: Swedish islands
  • Carpets: Danish place names
  • Lighting: terms from music, chemistry, meteorology, measures, weights, seasons, months, days, boats, nautical terms
  • Bedlinen, bed covers, pillows/cushions: flowers, plants, precious stones
  • Children’s items: mammals, birds, adjectives
  • Curtain accessories: mathematical and geometrical terms
  • Kitchen utensils: foreign words, spices, herbs, fish, mushrooms, fruits or berries, functional descriptions
  • Boxes, wall decoration, pictures and frames, clocks: colloquial expressions, also Swedish place names
Of course, there are plenty of exceptions, as BI notes in their article. But that is of no consequence. All you need to know is, there is a system... and it is perfect for creating unintentional hilarity.

Simply by pronouncing the various product names in a stupid, exaggerated Swedish Chef accent, I can amuse myself for hours. Whether anyone else finds this amusing is certainly open to question, especially (as has happened to me more than once) when I am inadvertently in the presence of actual Swedish people. But there is an even better source of jollity, one that I thought of last night:

Make up your own IKEA names.

That’s right. Every IKEA product has a name, but I’ll bet we all can come up with better ones. A refrigerator, for example. Why should it be called NUTID, when we can call it KALTENBØKSEN? And when I see some horrible op-art pillow, I don’t think NATTLJUS, I think EYEBØLHURTY. (Don’t even get me started on the toilets.)

So here’s how to play along, next time you go to IKEA. Take a picture of any random object that catches your eye, and give it a new IKEA name. Then post it to Twitter or Farcebook with the hashtag #fakeikeanames. Hey, who knows? With all the FUKNKRÅPP these people sell, maybe this thing will go viral!

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

A CHANUKAH EDITORIAL



[If Dear Abby can get away with reprinting the same frickin’ Holiday Columns every stinking year, why not Elisson? We are therefore pleased to offer this ten-year-old Editorial Response previously published here and at Blog d’Elisson, one that is both timely and appropriate to the season. Chanukah begins at sundown on Tuesday, December 16 this year.]

We take pleasure in answering thus prominently the electronic-mail communication below, expressing at the same time our great gratification that its faithful author is numbered among the friends of Lost in the Cheese Aisle:
“I am 8 years old. Some of my little friends say there was no Judah Maccabee and that Chanukah is a load of crap. Papa says, ‘If you see it in Lost in the Cheese Aisle, it’s so.’ Please tell me the truth, was there a Judah Maccabee?” - Patty O’Furniture
Patty, your little friends are wrong. They have been affected by the skepticism of a skeptical age. They do not believe except what they see. They think that nothing can be which is not comprehensible by their little minds. All they care about is that fat red-suited guy who schleps presents to Yenemvelt and back. All minds, Patty, whether they be men’s or children’s, are little. In this great universe of ours, man is a mere insect, an ant, goornisht, in his intellect as compared with the boundless world about him, as measured by the intelligence capable of grasping the whole of truth and knowledge.

Yes, Patty, there was a Judah Maccabee.

He existed as certainly as dedication and courage and devotion exist. He kicked some serious ass back in the day, Judah did, throwing the Greco-Syrians out of Judea and reclaiming the holy Temple. His struggle was a struggle against assimilation, against those who would be seduced by the pop culture of the day. He fought his battles so that we Jews would retain our cultural identity and not be swallowed up in the prevailing pagan mainstream. Alas! how dreary would be the world if there had been no Judah Maccabee! It would be as dreary as if there were no Pattys. (Or furniture.) There would be no candle-lighting then, no singing Ma-oz Tzur (or even those stupid dreidel songs), no commemoration of the miraculous rededication of the Temple. No Judah? We would even today be schmearing ourselves with olive oil and burning pig hearts as sacrifices to Zeus. And our Christian friends would have no Christmas - for the culture that gave rise to Jesus would have been wiped out. The eternal light - the ner tamid - with which childhood fills the world would be extinguished.

Not believe in Judah? You might as well not believe in fairies. Or the Matzohball That Does Not Sink. Or Eliyahu ha-Navi. You might get your papa to hire men to watch all the seder tables of the world to catch a glimpse of Eliyahu, but even if you did not see him, what would that prove? Nobody ever sees Eliyahu ha-Navi drink his wine at the Seder table, but that is no sign that there is no Eliyahu ha-Navi. The most real things in the world are those that neither children nor men can see. Did you ever see fairies dancing on the lawn? Of course not, but that's no proof that they are not there. (Although those footprints in the grass were more likely made by your Papa as he tried to sneak back into the house with a snootful of booze after the office Xmas party.) Nobody can conceive or imagine all the wonders there are unseen and unseeable in the world.

You can tear apart the knish and see the tasty filling inside, but there is a veil covering the unseen world which not the strongest man, nor even the united strength of all the strongest men that ever lived could tear apart. Only faith, poetry, love, romance, can push aside that curtain and view and picture the supernal beauty and glory beyond. Is it all real? Ah, Patty, in all this world there is nothing else real and abiding.

No Judah Maccabee? Thank G-d he lived - and lives forever. A thousand years from now, Patty, nay, 10 times 10,000 years from now, he will continue to chase the Greco-Syrians out of Judea and combat the forces of cultural assimilation, making glad the heart of childhood.

Happy Chanukah!

[Originally posted on December 25, 2004.]

Monday, December 15, 2014

MURPH

Several of my former confederates at the Great Corporate Salt Mine got together for a holiday luncheon at one of the local burger palaces. About two-thirds of the group is currently retired; the ratio would have been closer to 50:50 working vs. retired, except for the fact that the ones that are still actively employed were too busy doing useful work than to lollygag at lunch.

Seeing the old gang was pleasant enough, but it did not fill me with nostalgic yearning for the Salt Mine. This did not surprise me.

As we prepared to leave, one of the fellows announced, “I’m going to pay Mrs. Murphy a visit.” It didn’t take a great leap of imagination for Mr. Debonair to suss out what he meant: He was going to visit the restroom. The phrase was clearly an alternative to the ever-popular “I’m going to see a man about a horse,” a way of quietly announcing that you will be absent for a few minutes on a personal errand that does not require more specific description in polite company. (For this purpose, one could also simply say, “Please excuse me for a moment,” but where’s the poetry in that?)

Interesting turn of phrase, that. I wonder what it says about Mrs. Murphy.

And now I have an entirely new theory as to who threw the frog in Mrs. Murphy’s chowder.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

GANGNAM, BAH - BRITISH ROYAL NAVY STYLE

Menu 2014 photo A-M2014121302a.jpg
The menu for this year’s Aubrey-Maturin Dinner, held on Sequential Day (12-13-14). “Nothing Exceeds like Excess,” quoth Captain Jack.

The stalwart Salts of the Royal Navy
Eat British Beef with steaming Gravy.
Accompanied by Yorkshire Puddings
And ev’ry Sort of tasty good Things.

They drink of Sherry and of Claret
Sufficient to enflood a Garret.
And should you ask them why they’re grinning,
’Twould be the Goose with all the Trimmings.

But that’s not all: Here come the Afters -
(Their Merriment doth shake the Rafters.)
A Figgy Pudding served aflame
And Sticky Toffee end the Game.

A crusty Pipe of vintage Port’s
The Drink to which they now resort.
Accompanied by fragrant Stilton,
By now their Appetites are wiltin’.

And thus we honour Pat O’Brian
To whom we build this Foodly Shri-an:
Creator of Aubrey and Maturin,
Our Royal In-spi-ra-ti-on!

Friday, December 12, 2014

VACCINATION

I was in line to check out at the local Food-Emporium not too long ago. There was a pile in my cart (or buggy, for those familiar with Southspeak) small enough to qualify me for the express lane, but too many people with tiny-ass orders had already had that idea. So I found a lane with just one occupant who was already in the midst of paying for her order.

This shouldn’t take too long, thought I to myself. Silly boy.

I waited for the previous customer to complete her transaction. Her cart was already piled high with full sacks, ready to go. What was the hold-up? Was she trying to write a check? Was there a button she needed to push on the little Electronickal Keypad?

No. She was telling the cashier some long-winded anecdote by way of making conversation. I could gauge the cashier’s level of interest by the not-especially-subtle eye roll she threw at me as the woman yammered on, oblivious to the growing queue of impatient would-be food purchasers behind me.

Finally, she finished her blathering and headed for the exit, whereupon I said to the cashier, “Wow... she must’ve been vaccinated with a phonograph needle!”

The cashier was old enough to get the joke; she chuckled and flashed a grin. But it suddenly dawned on me that most people living in these digital days will not understand the quip - which comes, incidentally, from the Marx Brothers movie Duck Soup - because they have no idea what a phonograph needle is.

Good Gawd, I am getting old.

CHEESES, HAVE MERCY

Cheeses at Di Bruno
A selection of cheeses at Di Bruno, an upscale Philadelphia grocery.

This is the time of year to remember to keep the Christ in Christmas. (Not that I have a dog in this particular hunt, but I’m always happy to contribute my two cents’ worth.)

On our side of the religious divide, the Elisson clan puts the Chan in Chanukah by having Chinese food along with our potato latkes... a tradition dating back twenty-seven years, and one that we observe in memory of my late mother.

And since this place is Lost in the Cheese Aisle, it’s a good idea to keep the Cheese in the Cheese Aisle. This I offer you in lieu of the expected (and overdone) seasonal riff on the “Cheeses of Nazareth.” (Oops.)

The photo above was taken in Philadelphia at the Di Bruno grocery near Rittenhouse Square. I could have spent hours getting lost in that particular cheese aisle. Fortunately for me, Dee and Elder Daughter were there to rescue me from mine own cheesy impulses.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

THE CHEESE AISLE DICTIONARY, Vol. 22

Yet more crap that should be in the dictionary but isn’t.

Long-time readers of my previous site may recall the Blog d’Elisson Dictionary, installments of which may be found in that site’s Archives. For other entries in the Cheese Aisle Dictionary, simply click on the sidebar link for Cheese-Dic.

And now, the Coinage of the Day:

eggjaculation [eg-jak-yu-lei-shun] (n) - The sudden, forceful expulsion of yolk from a poached egg when punctured by the tines of a fork.

“Damn! Every time I have eggs Benedict, I get yellow gook all over my pants... I can’t ever seem to eat ’em without having them eggjaculate all over me. They oughta call that dish ‘eggs Benedict Arnold’!”

Friday, November 21, 2014

CAPTURE THE FORMULA

Capture the Flag
Capture the Flag, Dee’s favorite cocktail. Before I could make it at home, I first had to capture the formula.

In our house, I’m the cocktail maven, the mixologist manqué with twenty-five different bizarre elixirs taking up shelf space in the kitchen. If you want something with Aztec chocolate bitters or a gin crafted with botanicals from northern Québec, Elisson is your man.

Dee is decidedly different. Unlike many ladies who prefer frou-frou drinks involving cranberry juice or little umbrellas, she goes for more assertive beverages like the gingery Moscow Mule, and more often than not will drink brown goods with a style that would do any gentleman proud. Single malt Scotch neat?  Yes, please!

There’s a notable exception, though, and that is a cocktail that appeared at one of our nicer local watering holes. (They serve food there, too, so one could equally call it one of our nicer local food-troughs... but that somehow lacks finesse.) It’s called Capture the Flag, and nutty nomenclature aside, it’s a complex, bittersweet concoction that captured Dee’s heart.

What’s in it? You may well ask. According to the menu, it contains Maestro Dobel tequila, Amaro Ramazzotti, lemon juice, mole bitters, and spiced port-pineapple syrup. In other words, it’s pretty fucking complicated. But - and this is an important but - it is pretty fucking tasty.

When we recently dined at this establishment, we were bitterly disappointed to discover that the Capture the Flag cocktail was no longer being offered. It seems that the spiced port-pineapple syrup was the culprit: Their existing supply had gotten old and had to be eighty-sixed, and they had not yet gotten around to the (considerable) task of making up a new batch.

I explained to the bar staff that their special cocktail was much beloved by both of us, Dee in particular, and - given that they themselves would not be offering it again in the near future - would they consider sharing the recipe with me? Somewhat to my surprise, not only were they happy to divulge the basic instructions for building the drink, they also gave me the details on how to cook up the Sooper-Seekrit Ingredient that makes the whole thing work, namely the spiced port-pineapple syrup.

It’s a multi-step process. You first reduce a bottle or two of port by about 50%, simmering it with brown sugar and an assortment of warm spices. Then you sear pineapple chunks in the spiced port, caramelizing them and infusing them with that spicy, porty deliciousness. Finally, you simmer the seared pineapple chunks in simple syrup. That’s a lot of work for just one of the cocktail’s ingredients.

Spiced Port-Pineapple Syrup
Spiced port-pineapple syrup simmering in a pan on Darth Stover.

The drink itself - garnished with a spiced port pineapple chunk and a lemon twist - is magically delicious. Perhaps a tad sweeter than most cocktails on my Favorites List, but that matters not. I could drink these bad boys all night long.

Oh, you want the recipe? Sorry, no can do. But I will be happy to make you one. Just get in line behind Dee.