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

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

THE INTERNATIONAL BREAKFAST TABLE

Not that I don’t enjoy a plain old bowl of cereal now and then, but this morning’s breakfast had a sort of international flavor.

The Missus fixed herself some scrambled eggs. That, in itself, is remarkable, as She Who Must Be Obeyed has never been a big fan of the egg. As a well-hidden ingredient in a dish, no problem; but right out there in your face, saying, “Hello there! I’m an egg! Right out of the chicken’s ass!” not so much. But she has learned to appreciate the joys of egg whites, whether scrambled or in the form of an omelette. Today she scrambled them with some Monterey Jack cheese for a tasty, nutritionally balanced American-style breakfast.

Along with the Mistress of Sarcasm, I took the Eastern route... all the way to the Land of the Rising Sun. Nihon-no tamago - scrambled eggs, Japanese-style - are easy enough to make. You beat a few eggs (I used a couple of whole eggs and a couple of egg whites) with a tablespoon of shiro dashi, fold in a handful of hanakatsuo (shaved, dried bonito flakes, the inspiration for the title of John Lennon’s Shaved Fish album), toss ’em into a hot pan with a little oil, and scramble away.

Nihon-no Tamago
Nihon-no tamago: Scrambled eggs, Japanese style.

By way of decoration (and seasoning), I sprinkled a little aonori - powdered seaweed - on the finished product, along with some nanami togarashi, a piquant concoction of chili pepper, orange peel, black sesame seed, white sesame seed, Japanese pepper, ginger, and seaweed.

Meanwhile, Elder Daughter built herself a Mediterranean breakfast, an uncomplicated bowl of Greek yogurt, sliced fresh figs, and honey. I would’ve envied her, but I was enjoying my nihon-no tamago way too much.

Breakfast: It isn’t just cornflakes any more!

HAPPY HEINZDAY...

...to my ever-loving, most beauteous She Who Must Be Obeyed.

Heinzday SWMBO

My love is like a fine wine: She gets richer, more subtle and mellow with every passing year. (Thank Gawd she’s not like a cheese, getting stinkier and more blue-veined.) I am a lucky guy.

Monday, August 30, 2010

BERNADETTE UPDATE

Some of my Esteemed Readers may be curious about the doings of the Mistress of Sarcasm’s recently-adopted pussycat Bernadette. Wonder no more.

Bernadette and the Mistress

Bernadette is doing wonderfully (cat ayin hara). After having spent well over a year in not one, but two different shelters - the first one having been shut down due to lack of funds - she has found a truly happy home with the Mistress. And now she is willing to put up with the rest of us as well...

Elisson and Bernie

The only downside? That white and grey hair of hers gets all over everything. A small price to pay, if you ask me...

Bernie
Hair? What hair?

Update: Friday Ark #310 is afloat at the Modulator, with Captain Steve at the helm after a well-deserved (and long-overdue) week off.

Carnival of the Cats #338 will be hosted by Kashim, Othello, and Salome, the Three Tabby Cats in Vienna - be sure to stop by and visit after it goes up Sunday afternoon.

Update 2: CotC #338 is up... and it’s a beauty!

(VANITY) TAG, YOU’RE IT

Whether you call ’em license plates or tags, if you drive a motor vehicle pretty much anywhere in the world, you’re familiar with those metal devices that serve to identify your particular ride with a unique combination of letters and/or numbers.

It’s a peculiarity of my memory that I can recall the numbers on my parents’ license tags from fifty years ago... and yet if you asked me what the tag number is on the Elissonmobile, I’d be hard-pressed to provide an answer without digging out my registration papers or looking at the back of my car. Weird, huh?

When it comes to getting license tag numbers for our cars, we’ve always accepted the random results of our trips to the county tag office. But most jurisdictions allow you to get creative... for a modest extra fee.

I speak, of course, of Vanity Tags - custom-selected license tag numbers that are used my many people to express their individuality or convey a message. And since your message is limited to a very small set of alphanumeric characters - a 140-character tweet on Twitter is War and Peace by comparison - you have to be creative. Paging Uncle Rebus!

If you’re a tennis player, you might consider buying a tag that says 10SNE1. For a urologist, how about PPDOC?  And there’s the somewhat tautological LICNSPL8.

We knew someone in Houston who had a plate that read GHOTI. It’s an artificial word that illustrates English phonics: Pronounce the GH as in tough, the O as in women, and the TI as in nation, and you have... fish!

Lately, we’ve noticed quite a few interesting vanity tags around town. Here’s a sampling:

MALT J
I’m guessing this guy likes his Scotch whisky. Your average chocolate maltoholic doesn’t like to advertise.

HAPYCAR
This tag was attached to a sunny yellow Volkswagen Beetle. Too fucking happy for my taste.

OH2BNSF
We caught this tag while in the Virginia Highland district of Atlanta, many of the denizens of which would indeed be perfectly happy living in San Francisco. (I’ve ruled out the possibility that this tag refers to both oxygen and the Burlington Northern - Santa Fe railroad as too much of a stretch.)

G8RN8ON
The thought of a “Gator Nation” might horrify some folks... but this was simply a University of Florida supporter captured in his native Gainesville.

IPEDDLE
Anyone who has spent as much of his career in sales will appreciate this tag. But for the spelling, it could also have been a slap at the mechanical reliability of the vehicle to which it is attached.

What vanity tags have you seen lately? And are you vain enough to have a set of your own?

Sunday, August 29, 2010

EAST AND WEST

Today has been an Eggy Day here at Chez Elisson.

We started off with an intimate brunch for about twenty people, celebrating the impending Heinzification of She Who Must Be Obeyed. But the main driver for the festivities was the presence of Elder Daughter, who arrived Friday evening and who will be visiting until mid-week. Having both Elder Daughter and the Mistress of Sarcasm together in the same town is, alas, an all-too-rare treat these days, so we wanted to make the most of it.

One of the dishes we served this morning was a honking big Chicken Sausage Frittata (recipe here), a concoction of eggs, onions, bell peppers, chicken sausage, and sweet potatoes. I used some chicken andouille sausage the Missus had found at Costco; the results were tasty and crowd-pleasing. Healthy, too!

A frittata, of course, is naught but an Italian-style omelette, one in which the ingredients are dispersed through the Egg-Matrix rather than simply enveloped. You’d be hard-pressed to find a more satisfying breakfast or brunch dish. Of course, the pitcher of Bloody Marys the Missus threw together didn’t hurt anybody’s opinion of the food, either.

Tomatoes and Feta
No, this is not a frittata. It’s a couple of sliced yellow tomatoes, along with some Greek feta, olive oil, and a dusting of dried capers, olives, and oregano.

Fast forward to evening, following the triumphant return of the ladyfolk from their shopping expeditions. Now: what to eat?

We still had a pile of eggs left over from the morning. Why, we could have yet another frittata... but this time I turned eastward for inspiration. Okonomiyaki!

It was only a week ago that She Who Must Be Obeyed and I had learned how to make okonomiyaki, a dish that many call a Japanese pancake or pizza, but which really bears more resemblance to a frittata... or even a big-ass latke. And perhaps a latke is the closest Western equivalent, in that a latke contains both egg and flour (or matzoh meal) along with some sort of vegetable. Instead of potatoes or zucchini, however, okonomiyaki substitutes Napa cabbage and pickled ginger. And I don’t know of too many latkes that contain fried tempura batter, shaved bonito flakes, shiro dashi, seaweed, and the Infamous Spooge-Tater.

That’d be nagaimo, the Japanese mountain yam. It looks like the bastard child of a sweet potato and a tree branch, but any resemblance between the nagaimo and these, its putative parents, ends as soon as you start grating it. What you get is a white, goopy substance that could make a healthy living as a stand-in on a porn film set. Thank Gawd it gets “lost in the sauce,” as it were, once you mix it in with all the other ingredients.

Once the batter is all mixed together, it’s a fairly simple matter of throwing it on a well-oiled griddle and flipping it over to brown both sides. To serve it, I gave it a liberal squirt of okonomiyaki sauce, then a liberal dusting of dried fish shavings (hanakatsuo) and powdered seaweed (aonori), omitting the optional Japanese mayonnaise that contributes calories and MSG (but not much else). As added entertainment, the delicate hanakatsuo flakes wave and dance in the steamy vapors emitted by the freshly-cooked dish.

OkonomiyakiElisson
Erison-no Okonomiyaki, my version of a favorite dish from Osaka and Hiroshima.

I am happy to report that my first attempt at making this semi-exotic Eggy Latke of the Rising Sun was a complete success. The girls - all three of ’em - devoured it happily... and it tasted every bit as good as the one Taka-san made last week.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

ICED TEA TSUNAMI

Has this ever happened to you?

You’re drinking a nice big glass of iced tea... perhaps at home, perhaps at a restaurant at which you are enjoying dinner with a group of friends.

You pick up the glass and bring it to your lips, tilting it so that the tea can flow freely toward your eagerly waiting mouth.

That’s when the bed of ice cubes in the glass, temporarily frozen together into a single lump, decides to break apart in a manner similar to a glacier calving an iceberg, causing a tsunami of iced tea to leap out of the glass and onto the front of your shirt.

Has this ever happened to you?

Naw, it’s never happened to me, either.

Friday, August 27, 2010

FRIDAY RANDOM TEN

It’s Friday, and since I haven’t put up a Friday Random Ten in a while, I thought - why not?

Why not, indeed.

Even after all this time, you know the routine: I post ten randomly-selected cuts from the Little White Choon-Box, occasionally with lyrics or useless commentary. Perhaps, in this manner, you will be inspired to augment your own Musical Library... or to scratch your head in wonderment at the bizarre crap I listen to.

What’s playing this week? Let’s take a look:
  1. Helmi Otsalla - Alamaailman Vasarat

    The best Finnish alternative band you never heard in your life.

  2. Inner Mounting Flame - Mahavishnu Orchestra

  3. Illegal Smile (Live) - John Prine

    When I woke up this morning,
    Things were lookin’ bad
    Seemed like total silence was the only friend I had
    A bowl of oatmeal tried to stare me down... and won
    And it was twelve o’clock before I realized
    That I was havin’... no fun

    Chorus:
    Ahh, but fortunately I have the key to escape reality
    And you may see me tonight with an illegal smile
    It don’t cost very much, but it lasts a long while
    Won’t you please tell the man I didn’t kill anyone
    No, I'm just tryin’ to have me some fun

    Well, last time I checked my bankroll,
    It was gettin’ thin
    Sometimes it seems like the bottom
    Is the only place I’ve been
    I chased a rainbow down a one-way street... dead end
    And all my friends turned out
    To be insurance... salesmen

    (Repeat Chorus)

    Well, I sat down in my closet with all my overalls
    Tryin’ to get away
    From all the ears inside my walls
    I dreamed the police heard
    Everything I thought... what then?
    Well I went to court
    And the judge’s name was... Hoffman

    Ah, but fortunately I have the key to escape reality
    And you may see me tonight with an illegal smile
    It don’t cost very much, but it lasts a long while
    Won’t you please tell the man I didn’t kill anyone
    No, I’m just tryin’ to have me some fun
    Well done, hot dog bun, my sister’s a nun


  4. Demons - Fatboy Slim

  5. A Night in Tunisia - Dizzy Gillespie

  6. Just a Gigolo - Louis Prima

  7. Brandenburg - Beirut

  8. Kolomeyke - The Klezmatics

  9. Packt Like Sardines In A Crushd Tin Box - Radiohead

  10. Windows - Chick Corea

    From the landmark 1966-vintage Inner Space double LP set. I discovered this album as a freshman in college, some four years after its release. Now, here it is 40 years after that and Inner Space still sounds fresh, despite my familiarity with almost every note.

It’s Friday. What are you listening to?

Thursday, August 26, 2010

THE HUMBLE BLOOD TURNIP

There are some foods that cause people to choose sides. You cannot be neutral.

Liver. Collard greens. Turnip greens. Broccoli rabe. Stinky cheese. Head cheese. Chitterlings. Love these foods or loathe them, you will not sit on the metaphorical fence.

The common garden beet - beta vulgaris, AKA beetroot, is one of those foods.

Me, I loves me a beet or two. While (to me, anyway) plain old canned beets are insipid, pickled beets are just fine. Oven-roasted with a little olive oil and sea salt, they can be positively superb. And as a key component of borscht, they cannot - forgive me - be beat.

She Who Must Be Obeyed sits on the opposite side of the Food Fence from me on the matter of beets. She can’t stand ’em... says they taste like dirt. And, admittedly, an earthy pong is frequently a quality of this most earthy of vegetables.

I’m in the process of making a traditional Eastern European Jewish concoction with beets: rossl. There’s nothing too complicated about it: You simply peel and slice up about five pounds of beets and put them in a clean crock, then dump in about two quarts of water that you’ve boiled, then allowed to cool down until barely warm. The water should cover the beets completely. Then you just let ’em sit on your kitchen counter for about a month. Every day or so, you skim off the whitish goop that forms on the top and then stir the beets up, and if the liquid level starts getting low, you top it off with more boiled and cooled water. After a few weeks, you should have a nice, clear deep purplish-red liquid sitting on top of those beets. You can then stick the whole mess in the fridge for use as a base for borscht, or as a braising liquid for beef brisket.

Mine’s been fermenting for about three days. It ought to be ready right after the High Holidays.

When I began this process, I found that I had about half a pound of surplus beets, all nicely julienned into coarse batons. What to do, what to do? Aha! thought I. I’ll make pickled beets!

All I did was whisk together about 1/4 cup of balsamic vinegar (apple cider vinegar would have been a good alternative) with a bit of extra virgin olive oil and a teaspoon of Colman’s mustard powder, then poured this vinaigrette over the beets and let them marinate for a few hours. Delish... and even better after a day or two.

The only problem? Beets are jam-packed with betalaine pigments, which have a tendency to pass through the human body relatively unchanged... which can lead to some interesting - some might say horrifying - side effects. But that’s just something we beetniks have to deal with.

Monday, August 23, 2010

WHAT’LL YA HAVE?

This past weekend, She Who Must Be Obeyed and I joined Houston Steve and Debby, his lovely Better Half, for a Japanese cooking lesson and demonstration.

The event was put on by the local Japan-America Society, the stated mission of which is to “promote mutual understanding between the people of Japan and the State of Georgia through establishing and promoting ties and programs in the areas of culture, customs, education, commerce and politics.” Food, I’m guessing, falls under the rough heading of “culture.”

Taka-san
Taka-san, our host and instructor.

Our host was Takao Moriuchi, AKA Taka-san, the chef/owner of the semi-eponymous Taka Sushi and Passion restaurant in Buckhead. Taka-san pointed out that of the over 1,000 Japanese restaurants in Atlanta, only about ten are actually owned by Japanese. The giveaway: If a sushi place includes the name of a Japanese city or a trendy part of Tokyo - “Ginza” or “Kyoto” come to mind - then it ain’t Japanese. (Japanese restaurant owners usually name their places after themselves; local examples include Hashiguchi, Sushi-Huku, Taka, and the now-defunct Soto.)

[Taka-san sends out what may be the most entertaining weekly e-mail ever, packed with info on what’s fresh at the restaurant and tips about healthy lifestyles and eating... all written in his own inimitable English. You can check out his blog, too.]

We watched as Taka-san made hot soba (thin buckwheat noodles) and cold udon (thick wheat-based noodles). Both are prepared in a broth made from water, konbu (a kind of seaweed), katsuobushi (dried bonito shavings), soy sauce, usukuchi shoyu (a milder version of soy sauce), shiro dashi (AKA white soy sauce), and mirin (a kind of sweetened sake) - the cold version has a skosh more soy sauce and mirin. Easy-peasy.

Gyoza!
Every culture has its own version of dumplings with a savory filling: pelmeni (Russian), wontons and potstickers (Chinese), kreplach (Ashkenazic Jewish), ravioli (Italian); the Japanese, with their gyoza, are no exception. Taka-san showed everyone how to mix up a bowl of gyoza filling - ground meat, chives, green cabbage, Napa cabbage, celery, green onion, garlic, ginger, sake, soy sauce, sea salt, black pepper, shiro dashi, and sesame oil. Then, with the skill born of years of practice, he took a prepared gyoza skin, moistened one edge, added a spoonful of filling, and deftly folded the thing together, fluting the edge on one side with delicate, origami-like folds. The finished dumpling was beautiful, a marriage of food and Fine Art.

The results were not quite as beautiful and jewel-like when the rest of us made ours... but at least they held together for the steaming or pan-frying that finished them off. And they tasted just fine, dunked in a mixture of ponzu sauce and chili-sesame oil.

The part I had been looking forward to most, though, was okonomiyaki.

Along with Elder Daughter, I had tried okonomiyaki when we visited Hiroshima two years ago. It was delightful, an example of the kind of Local Food Specialty that has all but disappeared in this country. (Except maybe for the Evansville, Indiana fried-brain sandwich.) It is variously described as a Japanese pizza or pancake, but I think frittata - the thick Italian omelet - comes closer to the mark. I despaired of ever finding it in this country, until...

...Enter Taka-san, who happens to be a native of Hiroshima... and is the man who brought okonomiyaki to Atlanta. I had to hold myself back from doing a Happy Dance right on the table.

Okonomiyaki, loosely translated, means “whatever you want, grilled” - the closest Japanese equivalent to the “What’ll ya have?” cry of the Varsity counterman. The essential ingredients are tempura flour, egg, tenkasu (crunchy fried tempura dough nuggets), shredded pickled ginger, cabbage, green onion, and shiro dashi... and an especially heinous vegetable known as nagaimo - the Japanese mountain yam. When the raw yam is grated, it disintegrates into white mucilaginous spooge.

To this assemblage is added the main protein ingredient, generally some form of traif like shrimp, squid, or oysters - this last being an especial favorite in Hiroshima. You mix it all up in a bowl and throw it on an oiled griddle, making a thick pancake-like affair that you brown on both sides. The result is Osaka-style okonomiyaki. (In Hiroshima, the ingredients are layered: a flour pancake base, the yam/cabbage/onion/ginger mixture, some fried noodles and/or bean sprouts, and then a thin egg omelette on top.)

Before serving it forth, you must apply the Requisite Decorations: a lattice-like squiggle of okonomiyaki sauce (a sort of thick, sweet version of Worcestershire), another squiggle of mayonnaise, a sprinkling of hanakatsuo (bonito shavings), and a dusting of aonori (powdered green seaweed). Then, and only then, are you good to go.

As I bit into my piece of okonomiyaki, I tasted the crunch of the cabbage, the savory warmth of ginger and onion, and the saltiness of the soy and shiro dashi... and I remembered a warm April afternoon two years ago, sitting across from Elder Daughter in a tiny restaurant in the midst of a city that had risen from the ashes.

Friday, August 20, 2010

MALL EATS

Back in July when She Who Must Be Obeyed and I were in South Florida visiting Aunt Marge and Uncle Phil, we spent a few minutes checking out the snazzy stuff at what is clearly one of the more upscale shopping malls around.

I speak, of course, of the Aventura Mall.

While you can find J. C. Penney and Sears there, the real action is at higher-end retailers like Macy’s, Bloomingdale’s, and Nordstrom. Hell, there’s even a Ferrari store. No, you cannot pick up a 458 Italia there, but if you are so inclined, you can load up on Ferrari-logo merch: watches, sunglasses, T-shirts, baby buggies, even a Ferrari tricycle. Doesn’t little Ethan deserve a Ferrari tricycle, that the other preschoolers may eat their shriveled little toddler-hearts out with envy?

What really got my attention at Aventura Mall wasn’t so much the brick-and-mortar based retailers, but the kiosks. Most shopping malls have an assortment of kiosks scattered about their aisles, usually selling various grades of crap. Dead Sea cosmetics, cell phones, Rosetta Stone language instruction software, ugly cheap hats, that sort of thing. But Aventura has more. Aventura has...

Mall Caviar
“Caviar & More” kiosk at Aventura Mall. [Click to embiggen.]

...a frickin’ Caviar Kiosk.

Yes: You can buy all sorts of caviar right there at the mall, along with blocks of goose liver mousse, truffles, and other Fancy-Pants Comestibles. Where else but South Florida? [That’s a rhetorical question. I’m sure there’s a mall somewhere in Southern California where you can find a Caviar Kiosk. But still...]

Kinda shoots a hole in the argument that the economy is completely in the toilet, don’t it?

If you needed more evidence that we Americans have more money than brains, though, I can give you some. A few days ago I was browsing around in Harry’s Farmers Market in Marietta. (No, I wasn’t stalking Alton Brown, who makes frequent appearances there.) I passed a display of what looked like exotic game-based patés...

Fancy Pet Food
Exotic paté display at Harry’s? [Click to embiggen.]

Looka dis stuff! Duck! Venison! Buffalo! Pheasant, fercryinoutloud! But before throwing any of it in my cart, I took a closer look and confirmed my suspicions. This was dog food!

What the fuck kind of people give their dogs duck and pheasant to eat? (Probably the same people who buy Ferrari tricycles for their kids.)

Thursday, August 19, 2010

PENSIVE PUSSYCAT

Pensive Hakuna
What could she possibly be thinking? Inquiring minds want to know.

Hakuna sits on our bed, a pensive expression on her fuzzy face. She’s thinking about something... Gawd only knows what it is.

Update: Friday Ark #309 is afloat at the Modulator, with our very own Hakuna batting lead-off (to mix a metaphor). Sunday evening, be sure to check in with Nikita at Meowsings of an Opinionated Pussycat for edition #336 of Carnival of the Cats.

Update 2: CotC #336 is up. Thanks, Nikita and Elvira!

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

MANACLES

In accordance with time-honored practice, Jews throughout the world read from the Torah last Saturday, just as they do every Saturday. (Mondays and Thursdays, too.) The weekly portion - Shoftim (“Judges”), from the Book of Deuteronomy - began with the instruction to appoint judges and officers, public officials that
“...shall judge the people with righteous judgment. You shall not pervert judgment, you shall not respect someone’s presence, and you shall not accept a bribe, for a bribe will blind the eyes of the wise and make just words crooked. Justice, justice shall you pursue.”
It is an especially appropriate set of passages to be reading right now, because these days, judges are in the news.

Simon Cowell and Ellen DeGeneres won’t be returning to “American Idol” next year, and Kara DioGuardi’s position is none too secure. This has the collective bowels of the Hollywood press and the American Idol-viewing public in an uproar. Will the show be any good without Simon? Does anyone really give a crap?

Right here in Cobb County, Georgia, you had the story of Judge Kenneth Nix, who resigned after allegations surfaced that he touched two female county workers inappropriately... flicking them on the ass after they sat in his to take a picture. Why in Gawd’s name a judge would ever think it was OK for female employees to sit in his lap for a photo shoot is far beyond my pitiful imagination, but what do I know? I am told that the headline in the Marietta Daily Journal read: “Nix Takes Licks After Flicks.”

On a more serious note, just this past week Solicitor General Elana Kagan was confirmed as the 112th Justice of the Supreme Court. For those who care about statistical trivia, Justice Kagan is the fourth female Supreme Court Justice... and right now, along with Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Sonia Sotomayor, the third sitting female judge on the highest court in the land.

Justices Kagan and Ginsburg, along with Justice Stephen Breyer, provide another handy statistic: There are three Jews currently sitting on the Supreme Court. That’s right: fully one-third of the Court is Jewish, in a country where Jews constitute less than two percent of the population. Some people – people like Pat Buchanan – feel that that’s way too much... but there’s no Constitutionally mandated requirement that there be any consideration of religion, race, and ethnicity when selecting people to serve on the Court, the role of which is to review cases and rule on whether the laws involved are acceptable under our Constitution. Black, white, Hispanic, Jewish, Episcopalian - none of that matters. Or should matter. The only real issue is whether a prospective Justice can interpret court cases in light of their constitutionality.

But still... why so many Jews on the Court? It’s a reasonable question... and the simple answer is that Jews are heavily represented in the legal profession that feeds into the Court. This only makes sense, if you think about it. What other profession, aside from the law, is so completely suited to the entire philosophical and religious outlook of us Red Sea Pedestrians?

Our faith is not so much a faith as it is a Code of Laws to follow – that’s what Torah means, Law – and our holy books are filled with what amount to court cases – rabbinical authorities arguing the merits of one interpretation of the Law over another. That’d be a good working description of the Talmud.

One of our most beloved Bible stories is one having to do with a court case, one in which King Solomon adjudicates a dispute between two women. The women were of questionable repute, though that point was not emphasized in my Little Golden Book of Bible Stories. As the story goes, one of the women had rolled over in her sleep and crushed her baby, whereupon she pulled a hitchy-switchy, exchanging her dead child for her roommate’s baby. The roommate suspected something was not quite kosher - like any normal mother, she knew her child - and brought the matter to court, where the wise King solved the matter. Most culturally literate Westerners know how the story ends, so I won’t repeat it here.

Who better to sit on the High Court than people for whom dealing with niggling legal issues is part of their cultural DNA?

Going back to the words of Deuteronomy, there are a couple of phrases that catch the eye. You shall not respect someone’s presence: This means that a judge should not treat the wealthy with undue deference... nor should the poor be treated differently simply because they are poor. You don’t tilt the table toward the one out of avarice or respect for wealth, or to the other out of misplaced charity; to do so is a perversion of justice. Which, boiled down, means that Lindsey Lohan shouldn’t get preferential treatment because she’s a Hollywood actress... and when the village wino is hauled in for urinating in public, he shouldn’t be able to play the “I’m just a poor wino” card and get off.

Justice, justice shall you pursue: Tzedek, tzedek tirdof in the original Hebrew. The word “justice” is repeated, and our Sages teach us that the Torah does not bandy superfluous words about. Some authorities interpret this repetition to mean that not only must you pursue justice, but you must pursue it through righteous means. The district attorney who withholds potentially exonerating evidence in order to secure a conviction is himself committing a crime, even if the accused is really guilty. How we arrive at a verdict is as important as the verdict itself.

This business of Justice and the pursuit thereof is especially appropriate today... for today marks the ninety-fifth anniversary of the lynching of Leo Frank.

The Leo Frank case was a perverse landmark in American jurisprudence. Frank, who managed a pencil factory, had been accused of the murder of Mary Phagan, a thirteen-year-old girl who worked at the pencil factory. The sensational nature of the crime, coupled with the competition between the Atlanta Constitution and the Atlanta Georgian for readership, ensured that the trial would be conducted in the midst of a media-driven frenzy.

The trial itself was a complete mess: an abomination by today’s standards, rife with inconsistent witness accounts and outright lying, subornation of witnesses, lack of physical evidence, and some of what little evidence there was spirited away by reporters. Frank’s (perfectly reasonable) agitation and nervous demeanor did not help him. And overlaid on top of the whole steaming pile was a nasty subtext, one that was flogged relentlessly by populist anti-semite Tom Watson: The case pitted a Northern industrialist Jew against a poor Southern Christian girl. No longer merely a murder case, it became a battlefield upon which was fought a struggle-by-proxy of class and religion... and of course the Evil Jew just had to be guilty. That, in any event was the popular narrative... and news, then as now, is all about making events fit the narrative.

Frank was convicted and sentenced to death - no surprise, given the constant, vicious outpouring of public anti-semitic sentiment drummed up by Watson and his Jeffersonian magazine and the sensational reportage of the local press... all of which heavily influenced the jury. Today, a change of venue would have been a foregone conclusion at the very least.

After the trial, new evidence began to surface that cast doubt on the verdict, yet repeated requests for an appeal were denied. The day before Frank was scheduled to be executed, Governor John Slaton commuted his sentence to life imprisonment, citing his concern that the verdict fell somewhere in the area between reasonable doubt and absolute certainty. The commutation inflamed Watson to new heights of vitriol; he called for both Slaton and Frank to be lynched.

Shortly afterward, a fellow inmate at the Milledgeville prison attacked Frank, slashing his throat. Frank survived that attack... but he had only a month to live.


One of the two sets of manacles with which Leo Frank’s wrists and ankles were bound during his lynching.

A group of prominent citizens that included local business leaders, a judge, and a former governor, organized a gang that kidnapped Frank from Milledgeville and brought him to Marietta, where they lynched him. The lynching took place at Frey’s Gin, about six miles west of where I write these words, the morning of August 17, 1915.

The Frank case put Georgia’s Jews on notice: They were not especially welcome in the Peach State. Roughly half of them left. Tom Watson, the great defender of mob law, was instrumental in reviving the Ku Klux Klan even as he advanced his political career... and in response to the anti-semitism he helped rouse, the Anti-Defamation League of the B’nai Brith was formed.

Nearly seventy years later, in 1982, Alonzo Mann, once Leo Frank’s office boy and now an eighty-two-year-old man in poor health, came forward with a hair-raising story. He described how he had seen Jim Conley, the janitor at the pencil factory whose inconsistency-riddled testimony was instrumental in convicting Frank, carrying Mary Phagan’s body... and how Conley threatened to kill him if he spoke out. In 1986, the Georgia State Board of Pardons and Paroles pardoned Frank posthumously, wording the pardon in a way that would cause minimal offense to the (still very significant) faction that believed Frank guilty. It was a tacit recognition of the intensity of the passions stirred up by the case, passions that are still very much alive after close to a century.

Things have changed since 1915. Atlanta is now home to a thriving Jewish community of about 120,000 - almost a hundred times as many as remained in 1920. And a Person of Color is president of the United States. I like to envision Tom Watson rotating in his grave... perhaps he’ll drill his way down to Hell if he’s not already there.

Monday, August 16, 2010

SOUND

Jerry’s post about his collection of Ancient Electronica brought back memories of some of the stuff I used to listen to back in the day.

As a teenage kid just beginning to get interested in music, I divided my time between listening to LP records - those vinyl things, kiddies - on my parent’s console stereo and listening to FM radio on their ancient Grundig Majestic radio.

That vintage 1957, vacuum-tube operated Grundig was pretty impressive for its time. Turn it on, give it a minute to warm up, and it could receive AM, FM, and shortwave radio. It also had a button marked “PU” that was a complete mystery to me. Smellevision, maybe? There was a “tuning eye” that helped you find the strongest signal - very helpful, considering that tuning was done by turning a knob. And it played FM stereo with a nice, mellow tone... a huge contrast with the tinny-sounding world of Top 40 AM radio. I was hooked.

But it was only after I arrived at college in the fall of 1970 that I discovered real high-fidelity stereo. For that I could thank my various roommates, several of whom had reasonably decent electronics. And it was a revelation. Crisp, clear sound... excellent stereo separation... it made listening to music an entirely new experience. And I began jonesing for a system of my own.

I saved every buck I could get my hands on. All the money I made from my summer job at the Odoriferous Vitamin Factory - what I didn’t spend on weekend drinkage, anyway, was put aside for the cause. And then, over the winter break in January 1973 - my junior year - I took the grandiose (to me, anyway) sum of $650 and bought myself a stereo system.

There was no question of “keeping up with the Joneses” at my school, where there were seriously wealthy people there with small fortunes invested in high fidelity equipment. But what I got was perfectly functional: a BIC-Lux receiver, Dual turntable, and a pair of Advent Large loudspeakers. And the first thing I did was to put the thing together in my bedroom at home.

Then I grabbed an LP - Traffic’s “Shoot Out at the Fantasy Factory” - and cued up Side Two. I heard the faint hiss of the stylus dropping into the groove... and then magic happened. The first notes of “Evening Blue” rang out of those glorious Advents, crisp and clean, nary a whiff of distortion or fuzz. The bass rattled my insides... but not too much.

It was glorious. It was wonderful.

I’ve owned all kinds of music-playing toys since then. I’ve replaced that receiver at least a couple of times, and I’m on my third turntable. Those Advent speakers with their resin-doped paper cones finally gave up the ghost in the early 1990’s; their successors, a nice big pair of Altec-Lansings, are still going strong. New peripherals, like a cassette deck and a CD player, are now part of the system. But now, most of the time, I listen to music on portable devices. It’s rare for me to sit down in the den and put an LP - or even a CD - on the box.

But once in a while, I’ll take that old Traffic LP out of the basement and cue it up. It still makes magic happen.

DRIVING SCHOOL: A 100-WORD STORY

Defensive driving classes would never again be the same after the state legislature authorized an updated curriculum. The same information would be covered, but driving schools were given considerable latitude with respect to style of delivery.

Out-of-work comics flocked to become driving school instructors... but Mort had other ideas.

Affecting a hunchbacked posture, he growled, “Now is the winter of our discontent made glorious summer by this son of York; time to change your oil and check your fluids.”

“Is this a stop sign which I see before me?” he declaimed.

Mort’s Tragedy Driving School was, unexpectedly, a huge success.

ELVIS PRESLEY...

...is still dead.

His soul Left the Building (to coin a phrase) this day in 1977.

I remember hearing the news in a certain haze of disbelief. Elvis? Dead? Why, he was only forty-two... an age that still seemed remote to my then twenty-four-year-old self. And, ohhh, the ignominy - to be found stone dead, perched upon the Porcelain Throne, pants around ankles, caught in mid-squeeze. In flagrante defecato.

Declan Patrick MacManus had just released his first album, using a stage name that combined his grandmother’s maiden name and that of the soon-to-be late King. More than three decades down the road, Elvis Costello is still a big name in the music business... but when people use the name “Elvis” without further qualification, they’re invariably referring to the boy from Tupelo, Mississippi.


Elvis Aaron Presley, 1935-77.

Like all human gods, musical and otherwise, Elvis Presley was amply equipped with feet of clay. Food? He loved it to excess, gradually transforming himself from the young, whip-thin Elvis of “Hound Dog” and “Jailhouse Rock” to the bloated latter-day Elvis of Las Vegas. Sex and drugs go hand-in-hand with rock ’n’ roll, and Elvis partook of them in the sort of Mass Quantities we have come to expect from our Musical Legends. But, as Mostly Cajun points out, at least Elvis kept his hands off young boys.

The Tupelo lad who became one of the great cultural icons of twentieth century America has been gone 33 years now, and Graceland is once again thronged with heartbroken fans who keep vigil on the anniversary of his passing.

Requiescat in pace, Elvis. We hardly knew ye.

Friday, August 13, 2010

SWAMP-VEAL

Gator-Boy
The reptilian maître d’ at the Perkins Family Restaurant and Bakery in Gainesville, Florida.

As She Who Must Be Obeyed and I were on our way back from South Florida last month, we elected to snag our mid-day meal at the Perkins Family Restaurant and Bakery, conveniently located near the interstate highway in Gainesville.

Perkins is kinda-sorta like Bob Evans, or any other of those semi-nondescript full-service chain restaurants. It falls somewhere in between fast food and the higher-end chain ops like Outback, Carrabba’s, Red Lobster, or Longhorn. You can get a reasonably good meal - nothing too fancy - for about a sawbuck, including tax, tip, title, and license.

The large Polymeric Alligator Effigy at the entrance caught my eye right away. Clearly, the alligator was performing two roles: Not only was he serving in his usual local capacity as college mascot - after all, this was the home of the University of Florida - but the presence of an apron and moustache would indicate that he was also filling the role of waiter... or even maître d’.

[Alligators, being reptiles, are not capable of growing their own moustaches. The one our maître d’ was sporting must have been a Facial Merkin, perhaps a remnant of a prior meal.]

It later occurred to me that our reptilian friend was also performing a third function. Standing there as he did, he made a perfect Jimbo-Repellent... for, as everyone knows, Jim’s loathing for anything that resembles an alligator or crocodile is practically legendary.

In line with local sensibilities, no alligator dishes appeared on the menu at Perkins. Eating the local University Mascot no doubt violates some sort of taboo... and besides, you have to be somewhat adventurous to want to eat something that, in Jimbo’s words, resembles a “large, heavily armored, spiked turd.” I, myself, have eaten of the alligator, and I find that its flavor resembles nothing so much as veal.

You were expecting chicken? Sure you were. But really, alligator tastes just like veal. Veal that has lived in a swamp all its life.

Hey, now there’s a Marketing Concept for you! Swamp-Veal™! The other other white meat!

Thursday, August 12, 2010

COLD CUTS

Every once in a while, I’ll stop over at the Local Smoked Fish and Bagel Emporium (AKA the Grand Purveyor of Toroidal Foodstuffs) and order a deli sandwich. My usual selection horrifies most people, including the Missus: pastrami, chopped liver, and tongue on rye.

Pastrami isn’t the scary part, even if, flavor-wise, it’s a lot like raw whale. And, while She Who Must Be Obeyed is not a fan of organ meats (and thus will never eat anything that has ought to do with liver), she reserves a special horror for the idea of eating tongue. “Never,” she says, “taste anything that can taste you back.”

But tongue is one of those underappreciated cold cuts that makes fine eating... for those who dare it. With possibly one exception: when it’s your own tongue.

We were at table yesterday evening, enjoying SWMBO’s handiwork - a fine supper of chicken andouille sausage, asparagus with fleur de sel, and sautéed red and yellow bell peppers, the kind of dish that appeals to both the eye and the palate. And somehow, in the process of Food-Chewage, I managed to bite my tongue.

Pretty much everyone will manage to bite his or her tongue once in a while. It may hurt for a while, but the tongue is an organ that heals rapidly. The only problem is when the place you bite swells up, making it easier to hit it again with a poorly-aimed chomp.

But this time, I bit down hard enough to hear the “pop.” Just like the sound an old-fashioned hot dog makes... the kind with the skin. Yow!

OK, I thought. I just bit the fuck out of my tongue. But how bad could it really be?

When SWMBO got a look at it, she almost passed out... that’s how bad.

I’m hoping this nastiness will heal up quickly. But it makes me think about all those people who, of their own free will, go and get their tongues pierced. Are they out of their frickin’ minds?

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

AUGUST GUILD EVENT

Alas, I missed out on the July Sommelier Guild event due to my being out of town... but since that was the annual Let’s Talk Business, And While We’re At It, Why Don’t You Bring Your Own Bottle Of Wine This Time dinner, I didn’t have too many regrets.

Tonight, however, is different.

Tonight’s event is a tasting of Sauvignon Blanc wines of the world. Not that I’m particularly fond of white wines - I’m not - but we will be at the Atlanta Fish Market, in Buckhead, one of my favorite suppliers of Piscine Provender.

Here da menu:

Speaker’s Wine: Chile
2009 Concha y Toro Casillero del Diablo Reserve

First Flight: New Zealand
2009 Clifford Bay (Awatere Valley, Marlborough)
2009 Whitehaven (Wairau & Awatere Valleys, Marlborough)***
2009 Spy Valley (Marlborough)

Yellowfin Tuna Carpaccio, Shallot, Chives, and Extra Virgin Olive Oil

Second Flight: California
2008 Quivira “Fig Tree” (Dry Creek Valley)
2008 Cliff Lee (Napa Valley)
2009 John Anthony (Truchard)(Napa Valley)**

Florida Black Grouper with a Saffron Risotto

Third Flight: France
2008 Jean Reverdy et Fils Sancerre “La Reine Blanche”
2008 Domaine Vincent Delaporte Sancerre “Chavignol”**
2008 Henri Bourgeois Sancerre “Le M.D. de Bourgeois”**

Rainbow Trout Meunière with Browned Lemon Butter and Capers, Whipped Potatoes and Thin Beans

Dessert: Chile
2007 Concha y Toro Late Harvest (Maule Valley)***

Warm Italian Rum Raisin Bread Pudding With Vanilla Bean Crème Anglaise

Now, I know that the prospect of a Fishy Dinner makes some people’s flesh crawl. But not me: I love fish, and I am perfectly able to eat it for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Except, maybe, for budgetary reasons. Fish ain’t cheap.

This evening I hope to be joined by the Irascible, Superannuated Paraplegic - Denny, hizzownself - with whom I can tell all manner of Fish Stories. Then we can break out the cards and play “Go Fish.”

Update: Looks like Denny will not be joining us this evening. He’s going to Bonaire in a few weeks for a scuba diving vacation, so he’s taking the time to jump in the pool and check out his equipment. Not too bad for a guy whose legs don’t work, huh?

Update 2: Excellent food and wine pairing. My favorites indicated with asterisks. And there’s more...

Lagniappe:
Domaine Le Portail Cour-Cheverny 2004
Etienne de Loury Terre de Fumée Sauvignon Blanc 2006

These were provided by Parks, one of the Revered Elders of the Guild. Wine from Cour-Cheverny is not sauvignon blanc; rather, it is made from the Romarantin grape, an unusual varietal. It’s a fairly new appellation, having been proclaimed in 1993.

Monday, August 9, 2010

KLAATU BARADA RIPTO

Patricia Neal
“Gort! Klaatu barada nikto!” One of the most famous lines uttered in any science fiction film.

From my buddy Ivan over at Thrilling Days of Yesteryear comes the sad news of Patricia Neal’s passing at the age of 84.

Neal, whose film career spanned six decades and included films such as The Fountainhead, A Face in the Crowd, Hud (for which she received a Best Actress Academy Award), and Breakfast at Tiffany’s, was married to Roald Dahl (author of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, James and the Giant Peach, and The Fantastic Mr. Fox, among others) for thirty years. Alas, Roald got caught having an affair with one of Neal’s friends, and for that, she threw him under the bus.

The role I’ll always remember Patricia Neal for is her portrayal of Helen Benson in The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951). Radiating a quiet strength, she is the one person who is not terrified by Klaatu, the Alien Visitor - the so-called “Man from Mars” - and is in turn entrusted with the three unforgettable words that will prevent Scary Robot Gort from destroying the Earth if anything bad happens to Klaatu.

Miss Neal - a Southern belle who was born in Kentucky and who grew up in Knoxville, Tennessee - radiated that quiet strength in her personal life as well, a life that was peppered with tragedies.

In 1965, while pregnant with her daughter Lucy - the youngest of five children she had with Dahl - she suffered three (!) burst cerebral aneurysms, the aftermath of which left her paralyzed, unable to walk or talk. Despite seemingly unsurmountable odds, through extensive rehabilitation she was again able to act... a post-trauma comeback that rivals that of the celebrated Mel Blanc. Because she was still recovering from her stroke during casting for The Graduate (1967), the role of Mrs. Robinson, originally offered to Neal, went to Anne Bancroft... but when she returned to the Big Screen in The Subject Was Roses a year later, she snagged an Academy Award nomination.

Patricia Neal, we’ll miss you. Requiescat in pace.

CHRISTMAS IN JULY

So here we were, SWMBO and I, on one of the hottest days of the year in Atlanta, sitting in front of the Big Screen Teevee with our friends Gary and JoAnn, watching A Christmas Story. You may well be moved to ask why: Not only is July decidedly not a Christmassy Time of the Year, but none of us are what you’d call Christmassy People, given that the four of us are Red Sea Pedestrians. Why, indeed?

Here’s the Long-Winded Explanation.

Those of my Esteemed Readers who have been following my adventures for a long time know that I am an admirer of the works of Jean Shepherd, the late humorist, raconteur, and radio personality.

I suspect that, these days, most of the people who know about Shep discovered him through the movie A Christmas Story, director Bob Clark’s paean to growing up in early 1940’s Indiana. It’s become a sort of seasonal Cult Classic, this movie has, thanks in part to TBS’s practice of showing it in a repeating loop for a full 24 hours on Christmas... but it stands on its own as a filmic collation of Shep’s inimitable tales, all of which I had been on familiar terms with since the late 1960’s.

Most of the stories on which the film is based were short pieces that Shep had assembled into a novel of sorts, In God We Trust, All Others Pay Cash. He did this by the expedient device of writing interstitials that set the various stories up as reminiscences between a Ralph, now a writer returning to his hometown to write a magazine article, and his old buddy Flick, now a bartender. Only one of these Flashback Stories really has anything to do with Christmas: “Duel in the Snow, or Red Ryder Nails the Cleveland Street Kid” - the Founding Myth of little Ralphie’s BB-gun obsession - and many of the others are set in Ralph’s adolescent years. The book’s tone is far more satirical and biting than the movie’s rose-colored atmosphere of happy reminiscence... which to me is a Good Thing.

Prior to the appearance of A Christmas Story on the big screen, several of Shep’s pieces had been adapted for television by PBS. There were four: The Phantom of the Open Hearth (1976); The Great American Fourth of July and Other Disasters (1982); The Star-Crossed Romance of Josephine Cosnowski (1983); and Ollie Hopnoodle’s Haven of Bliss (1988). Alas, none of these has yet been released for home video... but I still have them preserved on precious cassettes of VHS magnetic tape. It’s extremely entertaining to see some of the same vignettes, familiar to millions thanks to A Christmas Story, portrayed by different actors (James Broderick as Ralphie’s dad, Matt Dillon as the teenaged Ralphie) and in different settings, as well as to see many of Shep’s other adventures brought to life.

Ironically enough, the
Christmas Story House is
closed on Christmas.
What does this have to do with Christmas in July? Knew you’d ask. When we were in Cleveland with Gary and JoAnn in late June, we had been seeking out appropriate Touristic Activities with which to keep us occupied. Almost by accident, we discovered something that was right up my Jean Shepherdly Alley: A Christmas Story House and Museum.

It seems that when director Bob Clark was looking for places to shoot the exteriors for A Christmas Story, Hammond, Indiana (the basis for Shep’s fictional “Hohman”) was deemed by Shep to be too modern. The early ’40’s look he was after was in Cleveland... as was a Higbee’s Department Store, an important consideration. And so West 11th Street in Cleveland became Cleveland Street in “Hohman.”

The house at 3159 West 11th Street was used for exterior shots as well as some interiors. Later, it fell into complete disrepair, until a canny California investor bought it and restored it (at great expense) to its full Filmic Glory, converting it into a museum. Or perhaps a shrine. And it was a perfect place to stop by and soak up some Jean Shepherd nostalgia, regardless of one’s level of interest (or lack thereof) in Christmas per se.

Here are some pics:

Exterior
The exterior, complete with old mailbox and vintage Radio Flyer sled.

Leg Lamp
SWMBO and the Leg Lamp. “It’s a major award!”

More photos below the fold... and a surprising postscript here.

It turns out that Gary and JoAnn, who visited the Christmas Story House with us, had never seen the movie. We resolved, then and there, that we would watch it together upon our return to Atlanta... and so we did. And as many times as SWMBO and I have seen it, it was especially enjoyable to watch it with our friends, who could now appreciate the museum visit in retrospect... and who laughed at the same stuff we did.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

HDR IMAGERY

A few years ago, while visiting Tim Tyson’s blog, I discovered a kind of photography I had previously been unaware of, one that opens up a whole new type of imagery.

I speak of High Dynamic Range (HDR) photography, which combines the data contained in multiple digital images taken at different exposures to create a single photograph. The results can be remarkable, even surrealistic.

No photography - from the earliest daguerreotypes to the latest high-resolution digital imaging - is capable of covering the extreme range of lighting conditions our eyes can perceive. We can see by starlight on a moonless night, and we can see on bright sunny days - a dynamic range of about a billion-to-one. But as soon as you try to crush that huge spread between the darkest darks and the brightest whites down to something you can capture on film (or on a digital sensor), you’re giving something up.

The newest digital light sensors can capture a dynamic range of about 11,000:1. You lose a lot of that when you display your image on an LCD screen, which is capable of about 1000:1 range... but even that is way better than a paper print’s 100:1.

Back when people still used film to take photographs, you could improve the dynamic range of your display by using transparency film - slides - instead of print film. But you had to get the exposure just right. Transparency film has little room for exposure errors: no latitude. With contrasty films like Kodachrome 64, you had to be within a half-stop of dead center. If you were making prints, you could use techniques such as dodging or burning to jack up the dynamic range of an image, darkening highlights or bringing out shadow detail. Not an exercise for the timid or lazy.

With digital imaging technology, though, we now have the ability to take three, five, or more separate exposures, each shot with different exposure values in order to “bracket” the main shot, and combine them to capture the brightest whites, the blackest blacks, and pretty much everything in between. The mashed-up image files are huge 32-bit jobbies with a huge amount of visual information; to display them, they have to be crunched down to 8-bit files using a process called tone-mapping. The results still can’t compete with the dynamic range of the human eye - not by a long shot - but they can have a certain aesthetic appeal.

The latest versions of Photoshop incorporate HDR imaging capability, but I have found that Photomatix, a stand-alone HDR imaging program, does a much better job. I’ve been screwing around with HDR for several years now, off and on - here are a few I’ve done...



Depending on how broad your exposure bracketing is, and depending on the specific settings you use during the tone-mapping process, your results will vary from somewhat normal-appearing to otherworldly. Give it a try!

Friday, August 6, 2010

IRON CHEF - CLEVELAND?

Lolita
The dining room at Michael Symon’s Lolita.

Most people don’t automatically think of Cleveland as Iron Chef territory. New York? Los Angeles? Chicago? San Francisco? Las Vegas? Those are restaurant towns.

But Iron Chef Michael Symon is from Cleveland, which means that, as far as food is concerned, this city is anything but a Mistake on the Lake.

When the Missus and I were there in late June, we had an evening free to sample the Local Provender... giving us a chance to check out Michael Symon’s offerings.

There are, in fact, two to choose from. Lola, his old restaurant in the Tremont district, outgrew its original home and moved to plusher digs downtown, in the process becoming a bit snazzier and more expensive. We opted to try Lolita, the restaurant that superseded Lola at its original location on Literary Road.

Holy crap, was it good.

Lolita has a definite Neighborhood Place vibe. There’s a bar that seats only about six, and spots are at a premium - it’s where you want to be when happy hour starts at five o’clock. But we were not there to drink - well, okay, one Martini for me and a Campari and soda for the Missus - but to see whether all of this Iron Chef hype was legitimate or bullshitimate.

I had a perfectly grilled sliced hanger steak with skordalia, chickpeas, and pickled chilies. For a side, there was no resisting the flash-fried Brussels sprouts with anchovies and capers. Meanwhile, the Missus had the daily fish special... and it was fishtastic. Even the coffee was way better than average... which is high praise for restaurant coffee.

One of the things that impressed us the most was the friendly, helpful staff. Our waiter was knowledgeable, able to describe not only what was in the various dishes but also how the various flavors would work together. None of the snooty, snotty, “This place is owned by a Media Darling and therefore you are beneath us” attitude you might think to expect. It seems that Symon runs his places very much in the family business style: Turnover is low, and most of the staff has been around for many years.

Now - given how much we enjoyed this meal - I suppose we’ll have to find an excuse to come back to Cleveland so we can check out Lolita’s big sister Lola.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

WEASEL RIPPAGE

My wine-drinking buddy Pat is a true Renaissance Man, being not only a serious oenophile (he’s the immediate past president of the Sommelier Guild of Atlanta, where Denny, Houston Steve and I get together once a month to get our drink on), but a collector of postcards and - surprisingly enough - a Frank Zappa fan.

At least, this is what I infer from seeing his latest post, which shows the cover of the Man’s Life magazine that inspired the infamous album title and jacket design for Zappa’s 1970 jazz-rock album... the last one to be released by the original Mothers of Invention. Here ’tis:

Weasels Ripped My Flesh
Man’s Life, September 1956. Clearly much rougher than Boy’s Life.

Supposedly, Zappa went to artist Neon Park with a copy of the September, 1956 issue of Man’s Life magazine, saying, “This is it. What can you do that’s worse than this?” Of course, Mr. Park had an answer:

Weasels Ripped My Flesh
Weasels Ripped My Flesh, 1970. This cover is familiar to any Frank Zappa fan.

By today’s debased standards, this album cover is pretty tame... but Warner Brothers (Zappa’s distributor at the time) was apparently not happy about it. Shows you how much they knew.

I’d love to get my hands on a copy of that Man’s Life rag. Never mind the cover story, which admittedly has a sort of toothsome appeal as well as historical interest... check out those other stories. “Can Women Justify Their Need for EXTRA-MARITAL RELATIONS?” and “Sin Happy Vacationists Are Overcoming Cape Cod” both sound delightfully breathless... just the kind of overblown shit that people in the mid-fifties would get all in a lather over. I’m surprised there wasn’t a feature story on “Smacking the Crap Out of My Beatnik Neighbor,” or “Ten Easy Ways to Spot a Communist.”

I wonder how many other albums were inspired by tacky magazine covers. Anyone out there know of any?

GOOD EATS

Scallops
Sautéed sea scallops.

Just in case you’ve been wondering what’s on the menu here at Chez Elisson these days...

Monday
Roasted venison tenderloin with chipotle pepper rub
SWMBO’s Four-Bean Salad

Tuesday
Sautéed sea scallops with lemon zest, pimentón (smoked Spanish paprika) and piment d’Espelette (Basque red pepper)
Arugula salad with pine nuts and walnut oil vinaigrette
Steamed Brussels sprouts with fleur de sel
Heirloom cherry tomatoes with shallots, feta, olive oil, and basil

Wednesday
Grilled bison strip steak with jalapeño-cilantro pesto
Arugula salad with pine nuts, shaved aged Gouda, and walnut oil vinaigrette
Roasted beets with balsamic vinegar dressing
SWMBO’s Four-Bean Salad
Assorted olives
Fresh apricots with Idiazabal cheese

What’s missing? Well, there are not a lot of carbs here... but that’s mainly because I was too lazy to throw a sweet potato in the oven. Besides, who needs a bunch of starch when you’re already stuffed with arugula and Brussels sprouts? So what if I crap green?

[Now, I’ll be the first to point out that, with regard to the venison tenderloin, there is Absolutely No Fucking Way the Missus will ever eat that stuff, no matter how attractively prepared. Oh, well - more for me.]

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

MEMO TO MEN

When you are in the midst
Of micturition,
Don’t let go of the dick
With which you’re pishin’.

Your stream might become
A trifle wayward
Exposing the walls to
The risk of sprayward.

If you would win
The pissing game,
Maintain your grip
And take dead aim.

UNFAMILIAR TERRITORY

Some time back, I posted a photo of my bathroom scale, which displayed a number I hadn’t seen the likes of in a long, long time.

It’s now a little less than two months later, and Mr. Scale has once again entered unfamiliar territory. Unfamiliar, that is, by virtue of the fact that we haven’t visited it for several decades.

Scale 080410

Holy crap - below 170! Fully thirty-eight pounds less than I weighed four months ago.

[Just in case you’re curious, I’m right about where I want to be, with a BMI below 24. As long as my morning poundage is below 174, I’m happy.]

Yesterday, just for shits ’n’ grins, I pulled an old pair of pants out of the basement. Last time I had tried to put them on, I could barely get ’em up over my knees. Now, they fit perfectly.

How old are they? I suspect that they’re the oldest article of clothing I own. Black, with a slight flare below the knee, they have a vague aura of the early 1970’s about them. Which only makes sense...

...because they were the pants I wore to my college graduation.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

ANCIENT ARTIFACTS

During my recent New York trip, I had the opportunity to stay with The Other Elisson. A little Brotherly Bonding, if you will. And in the process, I had a chance to rediscover some fascinating artifacts.

One of those relics is the original recipe book - vintage 1953 - that came with our parents’ first Waring Blendor.


The 1953 Waring Blendor Book. Gawd only knows what vile substance created that brown blotch on the upper left.

I remember that kitchen appliance, clear as day. It was a two-speed model (fancy!) with a massive cream-colored base, a thick glass carafe with the distinctive Waring cloverleaf cross-section, and a grey plastic lid. Its power cord was designed for heavy-duty use; the damn thing was like nothing so much as a grey anaconda with copper electrical prongs in lieu of fangs.

When Mom would use the Blendor - Waring’s preferred spelling at the time - the kitchen would be filled with a shrieking sound of whirring blades and the unmistakable pong of ozone. On the “high” setting, it was downright scary. But if you wanted to liquefy something, the Waring Blendor was just the thing.

The recipe book, seen from our vantage point over half a century removed, is quaint and amusing. Cold ham loaf... cream of mushroom soup... Danish fish pudding... gaaaah. There’s even a section containing Special Tricks for Men to Try - testosterone-soaked stuff like orange sauce for wild duck, béarnaise sauce for steak, and baked beans. Also, quiche lorraine!

Some ten years later, we would upgrade to an eight-speed Osterizer. That one came with a recipe book as well, full of equally horrifying recipes. Deviled salmon... Tahitian pork chops... and something called The Noodler!

But wait: There was more. Another recipe book (“Salads and Salad Dressings”) looked like a candidate for inclusion in James Lileks’s Gallery of Regrettable Food. It was chock-a-block with recipes for molded gelatin-based salads (one of the Major Food Groups of the 1950’s, along with Miracle Whip and tobacco), most of which are positively nasty.
“Say, Madge - this Molded Avocado-Kumquat Salad
looks to be Quite the Thing!”

For a brief moment, I thought it might be fun to throw a retro Gelatin Dish Party, wherein each couple attending would contribute a dish made from one of the recipes featured in this book. Think of it: you could start off with a nice Beet Salad Mold, move on to Molded Avocado-Kumquat Salad and Cottage Cheese in Tomato Aspic, and finish the meal with a Desserty Bang by serving a Peaches and Cream Mold. But would anyone really want to eat any of this crap?

The most treasured artifact of all, however, was a possession that, at one time, had belonged to our mother. It shows signs of having been used frequently over the years and it bears the patina of age, but it is still in remarkably good condition...

The Old Family Colander
Yours Truly models Momma d’Elisson’s old colander. Sharp-eyed readers will spot the Star of David motif.

Why, it’s our old Family Colander!

SING REQUIEM FOR MITCH


Mitch Miller, 1911-2010. R.I.P.

Mitch Miller, musical conductor, impresario, and the host of the popular television show “Sing Along with Mitch,” has died at the age of ninety-nine.

Mitch now will be singing along with the Choir Eternal... while those of us left here on Earth will needs consider singing a dirge.

Despite the fact that Miller had already made his reputation as a highly influential record producer and orchestra leader, it was “Sing Along with Mitch” that made him a household name during its 1961-64 original run. The music on his show was old-timey, even a bit hokey - typical songs were “You Are My Sunshine,” “By The Light of the Silvery Moon,” and “Down By the Old Mill Stream” - but America, then only beginning its love affair with rock ‘n’ roll, ate it up. A male chorus would sing while viewers at home were encouraged to join in, following the bouncing ball as it worked its way through the lyrics. It resembled nothing so much as a primitive version of karaoke... with much douchier music.

Miller was no fan of rock ‘n’ roll. Instead of artists like Elvis Presley and Buddy Holley, his tastes ran more to Patti Page, Ray Conniff, and Percy Faith. He oversaw the production of plenty of hits, but had an unfortunate love for novelty records (think Rosemary Clooney singing “Come on-a My House”), nearly torpedoing Frank Sinatra’s career by having him do songs like “Mama Will Bark” and “The Hucklebuck.” You remember that one:

Here’s a dance you should know
When the lights are down low
Grab your baby, then go

Do the Hucklebuck (do the Hucklebuck)
Do the Hucklebuck (do the Hucklebuck)
If ya don’t know how to do it
Boy, you’re out of luck (boy, you’re out of luck)...

Classic... not.

With Mitch Miller’s passing, an era in American popular culture comes to an end. I, for one, will not miss it.

Requiescat in pace, Mitchy. When they play your Funeral Song, we’ll all sing along.

Monday, August 2, 2010

THE BALLAD OF THE BUNWAD

Our Bunwad Stores were getting low,
So to the Market I must go,
Thus to avoid the Wifely Griping
Occasioned by Paperless Ass-Wiping.

I got my Butt into the Car
And drove to Target – ’twas not far.
Unto the Bunwad Aisle emergent,
I now needs must choose my Abstergent.

Look – that one’s Package has a Bear
(How does he wipe, with all that Hair?)
And this one’s Roll is extra-large,
With Squares enough to wipe a Barge.

This Other, extra strong and tough –
Like Garnet Paper on the Duff.
Here’s yet a Third, so extra cushy
It’s like a Pillow on the Tushy.

O, all these Choices drive me nuts –
Why all these Papers for our Butts?
To clean one’s Ass – a simple Job –
One only needs a dry Corn Cob.

No more, no more the Charmin Bear
With Orville Redenbacher there!

AN ENCOUNTER WITH INNUMERACY

A recent post by Kevin Kim - the Big Hominid - told the tale of a Burger King cashier who was only marginally capable of doing simple math.

Kevin’s story reminded me of my own First Encounter with innumeracy, an encounter that took place in coastal Georgia close to half a century ago.

It was springtime, and we were on our way to South Florida to visit with the maternal grandparents - an annual pilgrimage that we were now doing by car rather than by airplane. Back then, of course, interstate highways were thin on the ground; this made the journey lengthier but far more colorful, since you would have to drive through a myriad of minuscule burgs in the boondocks.

One of the wider spots in the road was the small city of Brunswick, Georgia, lying roughly midway between Savannah and Jacksonville. We would cruise through there on U.S. Highway 17, swinging past the nascent resorts of St. Simons and Jekyll Islands... but on this particular trip, the Old Man - Eli, hizzownself - must have been feeling a bit sharp-set, and so we stopped to grab a bite of lunch at one of the local drive-in restaurants.

Drive-in, I say, not drive-through... for back then, you did not pull up to the window at, say, a McDonald’s, and get a burger handed to you in a paper sack. No: You pulled into a parking place, and a waitress on roller skates would zoom up, take your order, and within minutes deliver it unto you, placing it on a tray that she would hang from your window.

Following established protocol, we pulled into our space and a young lady skated up and took our order. Shortly afterward, she brought out our meals. That’s when she started having problems.

This was the early 1960’s, you see, when there was no such thing as an electronic cash register or a computer that would automatically add up your check. Waitstaff in those days would write down your order, add up the various prices, calculate the tax (in those rare places that actually charged a sales tax), and would present you with the total. You, in turn, would check the waiter’s arithmetic, for, like as not, an error or two could easily creep into that total.

Here, though, the poor girl was flummoxed... for though she had written the numbers down right and proper, she had absolutely no clue as to how to add them up.

Eli, gentleman that he was, did the job for her. Then he paid the check... and then we drove away, completely dumbfounded. Not so much that there were actual adult people who couldn’t add a column of numbers - after all, this was the South! - but that such people could get a job whilst lacking such a basic part of the required skill set.

Now, almost fifty years later, nothing surprises me. The younger generation’s reliance on electronic devices is now so total that without their calculators and computers, not a man-jack among ’em would not find himself reduced to the helpless state of that poor, innumerate carhop in Brunswick, Georgia. Kevin’s story is evidence... and I weep to know it.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

ENCROACHING PSYCHOSIS, AS INDEXED BY CATS

Louis Wain cat painting
Cat painting by Louis Wain.

Once in a while, I’ll see a photograph or a piece of art that causes me to flash back upon a distant memory. I had that experience a week or so ago, when my lovely and talented sister-in-law Rebecca posted some images of her Horsy Artwork.

Just as they say to writers, “Write what you know,” that same advice is likewise appropriate for painters: “Paint what you know.” In Rebecca’s case, that’d be horses. Rebecca, you see, is a horsewoman whose side business is breeding Arabians. It’s only natural, therefore, that many of her Painterly Works feature said Arabians. But there was one in particular that caught my eye...

First, though, a bit of history.

Back in my Snot-Nose Days, my parents were great believers in the scholastic benefits of reading. Not only would they schlep me to the library every week, they stocked the house with Educational Literature.

When I was five years old, they bought a set of encyclopedias. Not Encyclopaedia Brittanica, mind you, but something a little more low-rent: Compton’s Pictured Encyclopedia. Compton’s would later score an historical footnote by being the first outfit to offer a CD-ROM-based multimedia encyclopedia (multipedia?), but what I remember were those twenty-four heavy volumes, all bound in embossed black faux leather. I read them incessantly.

A few years later, Time-Life got into the educational book business by offering several multi-volume “buy as you go” collections. Chief among these were the Life Science Library and the Life Nature Library, both of which caught the attention of my didactically-minded parents. Written for the educated lay reader, they were well illustrated and completely fascinating - at least, in the eyes of a pubescent Elisson. It’s entirely possible that much of my interest in science was catalyzed by my having that pile of Time-Life books to pore over.

One of the Life Science Library books, The Mind, featured a piece on one Louis Wain, an English painter born in the mid-nineteenth century. Wain’s claim to fame was his paintings of cats. Early on in his career, his work was whimsical, with more-or-less realistic cats, often in anthropomorphic poses. Hosting tea parties, strumming a mandolin, playing cricket - that sort of thing.  Innocent stuff.

But then, things began to change.

  At about the age of fifty, Wain began exhibiting the symptoms of adult-onset schizophrenia, becoming delusional and paranoid.  And his once naturalistic kitty-paintings began taking an ominous turn.

Wain’s cats started to leer at the viewer, staring ominously, paisley patterns floating in the background.  They seemed to radiate paranoia and fear.

As Wain’s psychosis deepened, his cat paintings became more fragmented and bizarre.  Some crackled with mental electricity... others had the aspect of Indian gods, casting a malevolent gaze.


Eventually, Wain’s cats became all but unrecognizable as cats, devolving into intricate fractal patterns.  If you look hard enough, you can see a kitty in there somewhere, but it takes an effort of imagination.


The story of Louis Wain and the way his paintings mirrored the progressive deterioration of his mind made a strong impression on my pre-adolescent imagination.  The story, of course, turns out to be not quite as simple as the Life Science Library presented it: Despite all those psychedelicats, Wain continued to paint completely naturalistic kitties through his entire career as well. But still... that book provided food for thought.

Fast forward to Rebecca and her artwork.

Wain Horsie

When I saw this - how do I describe it? - Electric Horsie, I felt a nagging at the back of my mind. Why did it look so familiar?

That’s when it struck me. Louis Wain! The Nutty Kitty Guy! That painting looked like Wain himself could have painted it... probably sometime between the time he started hearing voices in his head but before the onset of full-blown visual hallucinations.

Of course, none of this is meant to imply that Rebecca is ready for the rubber room... just that this one painting struck a chord and triggered an old memory! Hell, even Hakuna sometimes reminds me of a Louis Wain painting...

Wain ’Kuna

KING RAT

This Friday evening’s dinner, hosted by our friends Barry and Malka, turned out to be a Major Feed.

Seared ahi tuna. Grilled Cornish hens and tenderloin steaks. Fingerling potatoes with dill. Sautéed Portobello mushrooms. Polenta with cannelini beans, grape tomatoes, and basil. And my contribution: a boatload of ratatouille niçoise.

Grilled Ratatouille
Grilled ratatouille niçoise. Yummy.

Ratatouille, aside from being the name of a popular animated film, is a dish from the Occitane region. Think “South of France” and you pretty much have it. It’s usually a stewed mess of tomatoes, onions, eggplant, zucchini, and bell peppers, fragrant with herbs... but I had seen Bobby Flay make a grilled version on the Food Network just a few days before, and it looked like it was worth a try.

Since Barry and Malka had invited a small army to dinner, I tripled the recipe. The result? King Rat - a king-sized pile of ratatouille, enough to ensure savory leftovers to last the weekend through.

Was it good? Yes, it was good. Most versions of ratatouille I’ve had in the past were on the soggy side, but here, grilling the veggies (instead of stewing them) gave them a nice caramelized overtone while leaving them reasonably firm. And Flay’s recipe, which includes beaucoup garlic and fresh oregano, has plenty of bright Mediterranean flavor. I recommend it... and besides, didn’t your mama tell you to eat your vegetables?

THE FIRST RULE

Sensei: Grasshopper, what is the First Rule of the Water Pik?

Grasshopper: Sensei, the First Rule of the Water Pik is to be sure the irrigator tip of the Water Pik is in one’s mouth before engaging the “On” switch.

Sensei: Very good, Grasshopper. And what is the Second Rule of the Water Pik?

Grasshopper: Sensei, the Second Rule of the Water Pik is, if you ever violate the First Rule, do not admit it.