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

Monday, January 31, 2011

THE ORIGINAL FACEBOOK

Once upon a time, before there was Facebook...

Facebook

...there were Facebooks.

At Princeton, entering students were given a slim volume entitled The Freshman Herald, containing photos of the entering freshman class, along with basic information: the student’s high school (or, like as not, prep school), home address, and birthdate. (E-mail addresses were not even a twinkle in Al Gore’s eye back then, alas.)

This was, in popular parlance, the Facebook... because it was fulla Faces.

The Facebook was a useful form of entertainment, providing hours of amusement. Checking out that sea of Unknown Physiognomies of every description... it was fascinating. You could pick a face out at random and, armed with nothing but a hometown or school name, create an entire Imagined Biography.

There were plenty of times that the real biographies were far more fascinating than anything we could have invented.

Facebooks were standard issue at most of the Ivy League schools, including Harvard, where Facebook-the-Website originated.

The book pictured above, incidentally, is not from my class: I came in the previous year. Mine - a softbound edition with an orange-and-black cover - is buried somewhere in the Archives d’Elisson, and will most likely surface when I least expect it. But for some reason I ended up with this snazzy hardbound copy from the Class of 1975, and I have kept it unto this day. And why not? It has a photo of my buddy Urethra Franklin in it... so there’s that.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

THE CHEESE-LOG ROLL

That’s the semi-cutesy name I’ve given my blogroll, the list of blogs I read with frequency varying from multiple times daily to Once in a Blue Moon.

The list is generally stored on my sidebar, although I use Bloglines - an RSS feed aggregator - to actually read ’em. A select few are visited directly, thanks to hard-coded links on my sidebar.

I am notorious for Blogroll Excess. Other bloggers have, on occasion, lampooned me for my ridiculously large ’roll. Fair enough.

That’s all gonna change... out of necessity, mainly. Bloglines has, alas, been taken over by an outfit calling itself MerchantCircle - I will resist the temptation to call them MerchantCircleJerks - and the handy-dandy blogrolling function that made it easy to put my RSS aggregator list on the sidebar is now gone. (At least they didn’t shut the site down completely, as originally planned.)

That’s why there’s no blogroll on my sidebar, in case you were curious. It’s not ’cause I don’t love ya.

I will be reconstituting my blogroll by hardcoding it into my template, which is (1) a great big pain in the arse, and (2) a disincentive for a bloated blogroll. But these days, nobody cares about blogroll links, do they? Everyone is busy Twittering and Facebooking, and the Bloggy World has gone to shit, mostly.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

BABY

I just had a Food-Baby
A really ugly kid
There really was no option
But to go slam down the lid
I took the silver handle
And I sent that kid away
I surely hope I do not have
Another one today

Friday, January 28, 2011

TWENTY-FIVE YEARS AFTER

Challenger explosion
The Challenger disintegrates shortly after liftoff on January 28, 1986.
Photo: Wikimedia Commons


Today marks the twenty-fifth anniversary of the loss of the space shuttle Challenger.

As with other major Catastrophic Events, who among us who was alive at the time (and old enough to be aware of the world around us) does not remember where we were and what we were doing when we first heard the news?

Shuttle Mission STS-51L would have been exceptional in any event, given that it had an Ordinary Citizen - a teacher, no less - aboard. Christa McAuliffe, flag-bearer of Ronald Reagan’s Teacher in Space Project, had been selected from over 11,000 hopeful applicants to accompany the Shuttle crew in an attempt to boost public enthusiasm for math, science, and space exploration. Thus it was that the Challenger’s fateful launch was seen by record numbers of impressionable (and soon to be horrified) schoolchildren, who would be taught a Life Lesson they would never forget.

There’s an old Yiddish expression: Men tracht, und Gott lacht. Men make plans; God laughs at them.

The Challenger disintegrated at 11:38 a.m. EST, roughly 73 seconds after liftoff. Nobody who was present at the launch site or who was watching the event on live television could have felt anything but a brief WTF moment followed by the terrible, slowly dawning realization that something bad had happened, something most emphatically Not In The Script. That evil, Hydra-headed vapor trail definitely did not fit the Standard Mission profile.

Me, I was in Middleoffuckingnowhere, Tennessee, entertaining a customer on behalf of the Great Corporate Salt Mine. We got the news while at lunch, probably 90 minutes or so after the event. To say that it put a damper on the day would be an understatement; I drove back to the Nashville airport - a three-hour trip - in a morose frame of mind.

That night, President Reagan postponed the scheduled State of the Union address, instead giving the lost astronauts a touching valedictory that quoted John Gillespie Magee, Jr.:

“We will never forget them, nor the last time we saw them, this morning, as they prepared for their journey and waved goodbye and ‘slipped the surly bonds of Earth’ to ‘touch the face of God.’”

And we should not forget them, either. Francis “Dick” Scobee. Michael J. Smith. Ellison Onizuka. Judith Resnik. Ronald McNair. Sharon Christa McAuliffe. Gregory Jarvis. Ave atque vale!

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

IN SEARCH OF THE LOST BREAD

Chocolate Babka French Toast on the griddle
Chocolate Babka French Toast. Yes, you heard me.

The Moody Blues may have been looking for the Lost Chord, but not me. I went about trying to find the Lost Bread: pain perdu.

Pain perdu, as any foodie (or Francophone) will tell you, is nothing more or less than French toast, that popular breakfast staple. It’s not all that difficult to make. Slice up some bread, soak the slices in a mixture of egg and milk, cook ’em on a griddle until the bread has turned a nice golden brown, and Bob’s your uncle: Breakfast! The name (“lost bread”) owes its origins to the fact that French toast is typically best when prepared with stale bread, bread that would otherwise be tossed to the birds. (Stale bread, it seems, is less likely to become soggy when soaked in the milk-egg mixture.)

I don’t eat a whole lot of French toast these days. It’s somewhat high in carbs and calories, especially when doused in its usual accompaniment, maple syrup. But the Local Bagel and Smoked Fish Emporium makes a creditable version using their house-made challah bread.

There was a restaurant in Savannah that made French toast using banana bread in lieu of the usual stale white loaf... which they would serve up with a little pot of crème Anglaise, as if banana bread French toast were not already decadent enough by itself. I will confess that She Who Must Be Obeyed and I accompanied the Mistress of Sarcasm to that place all too many times.

Today, however, as I watched one of my Minyan Buddies enjoying the abovementioned challah French toast, I had a brainstorm. If you can make French toast out of banana bread, why couldn’t you use a substrate that is even more ridiculous and decadent? There were perhaps a dozen loaves of chocolate babka sitting on the counter. Wouldn’t that make a Jim-dandy French toast? Yes, I thought. Yes, it would.

Tommy, the proprietor of the Local Bagel and Smoked Fish Emporium, had no interest in glopping up his griddle with molten chocolate, so he declined to make it for us... but he was interested enough (with some prodding by his daughter and by Mary Beth, the waitress) to make me an offer I could not, in good conscience, refuse: He would give me a chocolate babka to take home and French-toastify, to see whether it was any good.

Which I proceeded to do, bringing the results back to the Emporium for the intrepid staff to try.

Chocolate Babka French Toast
The finished product, with a dusting of confectioner’s sugar and cinnamon.

Was it any good?

Let me put it to you this way. When Mary Beth tasted it, her eyes rolled back in her head like a porn star.

If you’d like to try it yourself, get ahold of a chocolate babka, slice it into inch-thick slabs, and soak ’em in a blend of one cup milk, two eggs, a dash of salt, and a teaspoon of vanilla. (Rum would work just fine, too.) Throw it on a well-buttered griddle until cooked through. Dust with confectioner’s sugar and a bit of cinnamon. Eat.

Now, aren’t you ashamed of yourself? I would be, but I have no shame.

JANUARY GUILD EVENT

Here he is,
Your Komodo dragon...

- Bert Parks, in The Freshman (1990)

This evening’s Sommelier Guild dinner will be at the Thorn Tree Restaurant in Norcross. According to Denny, the Grouchy Old Cripple and Guild Secretary, the restaurant is named for the semi-legendary Thorn Tree Café in Nairobi, Kenya. The décor, I am given to understand, features plenty of defunct animals, something our friend Keesie would no doubt appreciate.

Bear with us
Lions and tigers and bears, oh my! (Well, lions and bears, anyway.) This little fellow stands guard over the North American Game Room while guests enjoy their dinners.

The wines will all be 2007 California cabernet sauvignons from the Napa valley. As for the food, I do not expect to see Komodo dragon on the menu. What do I expect? This:

Speaker’s Wine:
2007 Roots Run Deep - Educated Guess**

First Flight
Sterling Vineyards
Franciscan
Markham***

Salmon
Pan seared Atlantic salmon. Serious yum.

Pan Seared Atlantic Salmon
Grilled Broccolini, Whipped Idaho Potatoes, Beurre Rouge, Micro Basil


Second Flight
Hess “Allomi”
Mount Veeder*
Antica (Antinori California)**

Smoke Braised Pork Shank
Parmesan Chive Risotto, Natural Jus, Orange Gremolata


Third Flight:
Faust (by Quintessa)
Shafer One Point Five**
Stanton Cellars**

Grilled Eye of Rib
Thyme and Caramelized Onion Hash Browns, Port Demi Glâce


Dessert
Amarula Cream Liqueur (Product of South Africa)

Cabrales Cheese Soufflé

Grrrr!
If I said I didn’t like the food here, I’d be “Lion.”

Alas, no Filet of Lion’s Arse here. (The owner is cheeky, but not that cheeky.)

I’m expecting Houston Steve to join us this evening, so the political repartée should be particularly tasty as well.

Update: The food was uniformly excellent, with the possible exception of dessert. My favorite wines are indicated by asterisks, as usual... and just for shits ’n’ grins, I added a few photos.

Moose, no squirrel.
Choose your caption: (1) Moose, no squirrel. (2) Me so horny.

Monday, January 24, 2011

FAREWELL, MIGHTY JACK

LaLanne Barbell
Mighty Jack LaLanne, 1914-2011. Requiescat in pace. (Photo ©2010 CBS News.)

I was saddened to hear of the passing of one of America’s original Fitness Gurus: François Henri “Jack” LaLanne, who died last Sunday at the age of 96.

LaLanne was a lifelong proponent of vigorous physical activity and good nutrition, healthy practices for which he proselytized with a hyperevangelical fervor. The analogy with religion is deliberate and one with which LaLanne himself wholeheartedly concurred. ”Billy Graham was for the hereafter. I’m for the here and now,” he once said.

Just how tough was Jack?

One time in San Francisco, he swam from Alcatraz to Fisherman’s Wharf. That would have been impressive enough - he was 60 years old at the time - but to make it more interesting, he was handcuffed, shackled, and towing a 1,000-pound boat at the time. That was one of his minor feats of strength.

LaLanne Tows 70 at 70
Jack LaLanne celebrates his 70th birthday by towing 70 boats with 70 people from the Queen’s Way Bridge in Long Beach Harbor to the Queen Mary, a total of 70 kilometers. Nuckin’ futz much?

When he first met Arnold Schwarzenegger - then an up-and-coming young bodybuilder, soon to take the Mr. Universe crown - on Venice Beach, the two of them got into a contest to see which one could do the most pushups. LaLanne did 750 pushups with one hand; with the other hand, he handed Arnie’s ass to him, finishing the contest by slapping him silly. Reportedly, Schwarzenegger was so morose at being humiliated in front of his friends that he refused to eat or shit for a fortnight.

Then there was the time LaLanne pulled an entire freight train a full two miles, using a chain and bit that he held between his massive teeth. Despite warnings to impressionable children not to try similar stunts, dentists reported a rash of teenage athletes with mouths full of teeth ripped out by the roots. Unlike LaLanne, they had not trained for the feat by eating an entire Boeing 707, bolt by bolt, over the course of thirty-eight months. Iron-poor blood? Not Jackie.

Jack LaLanne was the one person on the planet who could kick Chuck Norris’s ass. In fact, he frequently did - at least, until he was in his mid-eighties.

There were many who thought that LaLanne would never die, that he was mighty enough to beat the crap out of the Unexpected Visitor. But they were wrong, alas. A final, fatal bout of pneumonia carried him off, after first allowing ninety-six trips around the sun to soften him up a little.

Even in death, however, LaLanne - like John Barleycorn - proved the strongest man at last, acting as the sole pallbearer at his own funeral. Tough guy, that Jack! They sure as hell don’t make ’em like that anymore.

SEE MY BEARD...

Bearded Elisson
...ain’t it weird?

I stopped scraping my face during the Great Atlanta Wintry Weather Event two weeks ago, out of an admixture of laziness and curiosity. It had been some six-plus years since I last had any substantial amount of Facial Hair (pencil-thin moustaches notwithstanding), and I wanted to see how much more salt had crept into the salt-and-pepper.

Having a hairy face is a morning Time-Saver, that’s for sure. It also allows one to economize on razor blades and shaving cream.

A beard distracts the observer’s gaze from the thinning hair atop my head, simultaneously hiding a multitude of chins. It allows me to cultivate a Rabbinic Demeanor, conveying a certain sense of maturity, experience, and - dare I say - a scholarly, learnèd appearance.

Of course, one could say that I just look like a grizzled old goat, too.

[I may or may not keep it. Been there, done that, as they say. Once that pile of snow by the driveway is gone, any Face-Hair is fair game.]

Friday, January 21, 2011

REMNANT

Remnant
The Energizer Bunny of snow-piles, this little mound keeps going, eleven days after the storm.

This little pile of snow is all that remains of the Great Atlanta Snow- and Ice-Storm of 2011. At least it’s all that remains around here.

The only reason it survived as long as it has is because it’s where we piled the snow we shoveled out of the driveway. But the fact that it is still there, still frozen a full eleven days after the storm, is completely remarkable. This is Atlanta, not frickin’ Milwaukee!

Update: It’s Sunday evening, a full two weeks after the storm began... and that pile is still there.

Update 2: Monday morning. Still there!

Update 3: Thursday, at mid-day... damn thing is still there! Not much left of it: a couple of snowballs worth at best. But after almost 18 days - in Atlanta, no less - the fact that there is any snow left at all is nothing short of amazing.

Update 4: Saturday, January 29. The little mound of snow has breathed its last, fully twenty days after the snow storm began. Ave atque vale, Snowball!

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

PAINTERLY

Arizona Mountains

The mountains of Arizona take on an almost painterly aspect in this photograph by BIL and frequent commenter Morris William, who - like me - cannot resist gazing through the airplane window at the grand sweep of our nation as it rolls by 35,000 feet below him.

Thomas Kinkade - the self-styled Painter of Light - wishes he could paint like this. But to fit his trademark style, he’d have to goose it up with a few cottages... a babbling brook... a lighthouse... perhaps a sleepy, snowbound village... all suffused with golden, glowing light. Kinda like:

Kinkade Lighthouse
I’ll stick with Morris William’s vision, thankyewverymuch.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

DINNER FOR THREE. WHEE!

Roasted Steelhead

The Mistress of Sarcasm joined us for dinner this evening, a circumstance that makes the most mundane meal a bit of a Special Occasion. On the menu:
  • Roasted Steelhead Trout with Pomegranate-Balsamic Glaze
  • Sautéed Beet Greens with Shallots, Garlic, and Dried Currants
  • Tomato-Beet Purée
  • Roasted Asparagus with Lemon Zest and Nutmeg
I loves me some beets. The Missus may hate them - she says they taste like dirt - but the Mistress of Sarcasm is gradually learning to enjoy this Rootiest of Root Vegetables. Plus, they create amusing color effects in one’s excreta.

The big discussion in the household now is whether to get a new ice-cream maker. She Who Must Be Obeyed has her eye on one of those snazzy electric models that uses a bowl you stick in the freezer a day in advance; this would replace our old-school model that requires the use of crushed ice and rock salt.

Owning an ice-cream maker is a mixed blessing. On the one hand, it puts fresh, homemade ice cream at your fingertips. On the other hand, it puts fresh, homemade ice cream at your fingertips. With our existing machine, making a Frozen Dessert is just enough of a pain in the ass that we don’t do it too often. If a new machine makes it easy enough, we just might start consuming more ice cream, sorbet, and gelato... and that may not be an entirely Good Idea.

Maybe I can make beet-flavored ice cream. Weird taste and colorful excreta!

What say you, Esteemed Readers? Should we... or shouldn’t we?

Monday, January 17, 2011

THE ELISSON REPOSITORY OF MUSICAL TALENT...

...ain’t me, that’s for sure. It seems to have skipped a generation.



The Mistress of Sarcasm plays the ukulele, covering Regina Spektor’s “Us.”

Sunday, January 16, 2011

ON FOOTGEAR...

Daddy Shoes
Elder Daughter models a pair of her Daddy’s Cole-Haan loafers.

Eric, the Tennessee Renaissance Man, poses a fascinating question: How many pairs of shoes do you own? The question is directed at guys, who normally do not give much thought to Footwear-Related Matters except in the most practical situations. (It’s the kind of question that makes for a dandy meme, but I won’t go there.)

Eric claims to own eleven pairs of shoes. His post piqued my curiosity enough to impel me to do my own Shoon-Inventory. Here’s what I found:

Casual
1 pair Aldo walking shoes, black
1 pair Cole-Haan loafers, tan
1 pair Johnston & Murphy walking shoes, brown
1 pair Johnston & Murphy lace-up walking shoes, brown
1 pair Johnston & Murphy loafers, tan
1 pair Johnston & Murphy tassel loafers, brown/black
1 pair Johnston & Murphy walking shoes, green suede
1 pair Merrell walking shoes, black suede
1 pair Picolinos walking shoes, black

Dress/Formal
1 pair Bass tassel loafers, cordovan
1 pair Cole-Haan tassel loafers, black
1 pair Johnston & Murphy tassel loafers, black
1 pair Johnston & Murphy tassel wingtips, black
1 pair Johnston & Murphy white bucks
1 pair Kenneth Cole patent leather formal shoes, black
1 pair Stacy Adams patent leather formal shoes, black

Sports
1 pair And1 sneakers, white/silver
1 pair Ecco golf shoes, black
1 pair Keen hiking boots, brown
1 pair Merrell athletic shoes, brown
1 pair Nike athletic shoes, black
1 pair Nike golf shoes, white
1 pair Puma running shoes, white
1 pair Shimano bicycling shoes, black/blue
1 pair softball cleats, black

Other
2 pairs Crocs, black and orange
1 pair flip-flops, navy
1 pair Skechers leather sandals, black
1 pair Texas cowboy boots, cordovan/black

That’s thirty pairs of shoes, Esteemed Readers. Good Gawd - who knew?

I could throw half of those shoes out and I’d never miss ’em. F’rinstance, of the seven pairs of dress shoes I own, I really could stand to deep-six three. A couple of pairs are somewhat old and worn-out and should have been given the heave-ho years ago, while the Kenneth Cole formals are just plain fucking ugly. Gawd only knows what possessed me to buy ’em. (Actually, it was She Who Must Be Obeyed, who thought they were cool for about twenty seconds.)

The And1 sneakers - not quite as ugly as those Kenneth Coles, but close - were originally purchased exclusively to wear on Yom Kippur and Tisha B’Av, as they contain no leather - now I just wear the black Crocs.

Speaking of Crocs, the fact that I have one pair each in orange and black comes in especially handy at Princeton reunions.

Tiger Crocs
Mix-and-match Crocs at Princeton Reunions. Check out the tiger Jibbitz™!

Those softball cleats are about thirty years old. I had a pair of bowling shoes that was even older than that, but a few years ago when they got to be about forty, I made the mistake of trying to wear ’em... and the soles cracked right in half.

I try to rotate the casuals and get some use out of most of ’em, but - in true Guy Form - my normal tendency is to find one pair I really like, then wear ’em to death. I’ve killed plenty of shoes that way.

No, I’ve never met Imelda Marcos, although her daughter Imee was a schoolmate of mine for a few years. Is thirty pairs of shoes a lot of shoes? Or is it a fuck of a lot of shoes?

Thursday, January 13, 2011

ROYAL ICING

SnowJam Nightglaze

The ice-encrusted snow in front of our house shines in the streetlamp’s glare, contrasting sharply with the dry concrete of the driveway.

The road out of our subdivision is still a solid sheet of ice, its gentle slope transformed into a fearsome declivity. Once outside, the roads are mostly clear, albeit with a few patches of black ice here and there to snare the unwary or careless driver. Warmer weather tomorrow should improve matters.

How bad has it been? She Who Must Be Obeyed, an employee of the county Public School District, will have had the entire week off - tomorrow’s closing has already been announced. I feel safe in saying that this Winter Weather Event has been even worse than Snow Jam 1982, even though the snow/ice/snowstorm 29 years ago involved a whole horde of people getting stuck - or heavily delayed - on the way home from work.

Now, what do we call it? Snow Jam 2011? Snowpocalypse Atlanta? The Royal Icing? Got any other suggestions?

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

THE WONDERFUL WIZARD OF PEZ

We’re off to see the Wizard -
The Wonderful Wizard of Pez!


The Wizard of Pez

Is it wrong to covet this? And what’s more perverse? To own - or want to own - this Collector’s Set of Pez dispensers, or, alternatively, the one that features the major Star Wars characters?

[In case you’re curious, I have neither.]

Update: Terminal Pez-Nerds will really get their panties damp over this:

Snow White Pez
The Pez Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs Collectors Set: a useful mnemonic aid for those who have trouble remembering the names of all the dwarfs.

Gee, and it comes with a storybook. I wonder what kind of story? “Snow White - Not Poisoned After All, But Choked On a Piece of Pez”?

SHOVEL

With the roads in our part of the world still nigh unto impassable, we spent the day at home yesterday. Our major accomplishment: shoveling the walk and driveway. She Who Must Be Obeyed wisely reasoned that it needed to be done while temperatures were relatively high, i.e., just about at the freezing mark... because once the mercury dipped down into the low 20’s at night, the heavy, ice-crusted snow would become like concrete.

It’s good aerobic exercise, shoveling snow. Enough so that heart attack deaths among men aged 35-49 triple during shoveling season. (Take an out-of-shape middle-aged guy, cold winter air, and a whole lot of heavy lifting and throwing, and you’ve got the makings of a Hearty Infarct.) But SWMBO and I know how to pace ourselves.

Scraping a driveway is an unusual activity around here: It’s been years since we’ve needed to do it at all. Generally, snowstorms here leave an inch or so of accumulation that melts away fairly quickly. This time, no. Plenty of snow with a nice thick ice-crust on top, with cold temperatures and cloudy skies that keep things from melting. Kind of like being up North with none of the public snow-removal amenities. But I got into the rhythm of it. Scrape, lift, throw. Scrape, lift, throw. The snow was heavy, and each shovelful required cracking through a quarter-inch of crusty ice to get to the dense, creamy filling beneath.

Our lightweight aluminum shovel helped make easy work of it. I recalled the ancient snow shovel we used to have back in the Northern wastes, the one I would use to clear our sidewalks back in my Snot-Nose Days. That one was made of steel, with a heavy, smooth wood handle - difficult to grasp and brutal to lift even without a load of snow in the scoop. We called it the Iron Monster. I wonder that any of us survived the winters, using that massive bastard.

Later, after a movie-watching interlude with our friends Gary and JoAnn - they had hiked over from their neighborhood on the other side of Roswell Road - it was time to make dinner. With most of our Serious Proteins frozen solid, I settled on a pasta dish: a Giada di Laurentiis recipe that involved a shitload of sliced shallots, all caramelized gently with a bit of garlic.

[The Mistress of Sarcasm calls di Laurentiis “Giadasaurus Rex” on account of her freakishly small forearms and hands. (Think Kristen Wiig’s character Eunice on SNL.) Is that wrong?]

ShallotaPasta
Shallota Pasta, my version of Giadasaurus Rex’s recipe. Yummy good, this.

I substituted whole-wheat orecchiette for Giada’s spaghetti and ended up with a fine Comfort Food Dinner, perfect for a snowy winter day. We shoveled it into our eagerly waiting faces... and then we slept, visions of shovels and snow dancing in our heads.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

A RARE SIGHT

Icicles

Most of the time, three-foot icicles are thin on the ground around here... but not right now.

FROM THE ELISSON ARCHIVE

Georgetown Facades

Georgetown Facade Too

Colorful building facades in the Georgetown district of Washington, DC... a pleasant contrast to the drab, desaturated post-snowstorm hues here in the Atlanta area.

THE ELISSON BOOKSHELF

The Elisson Bookshelf

Yet another installment in the ongoing series entitled “What I’ve Been Reading Lately.” Since my most recent update at the end of September, here are the volumes that have graced my nightstand:

October
  • Packing for Mars: The Curious Science of Life in the Void - Mary Roach

    Mary Roach seems to have found a niche for herself: writing books that deal with serious subjects in a humorous, lighthearted manner, e.g., Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers. In Packing for Mars, Roach describes some of the real difficulties of spaceflight, both short- and extended-term, leavening things with the occasional foray into Unmentionable Areas. If you wanted to know exactly how astronauts take their Space-Dumps, this is the book for you.

  • Sh*t My Dad Says - Justin Halpern

    The hardcopy version of the popular Twitter feed that became a less-popular television series. Good bathroom reading, but nothing special.

November
  • No Impact Man: The Adventures of a Guilty Liberal Who Attempts to Save the Planet, and the Discoveries He Makes About Himself and Our Way of Life in the Process - Colin Beavan

    Colin Beavan and the Girls
    The Mistress of Sarcasm, Elder Daughter, and Colin Beavan celebrate the conclusion of last May’s TEDxPotomac conference. Colin was one of the featured speakers; Elder Daughter emceed.

    Beavan calls himself a Guilty Liberal, but he did something that differentiated himself from the rest of the herd: He and his (reluctant but cooperative) family tried to live without using any electricity or generating any waste - zero net environmental impact - for an entire year. In New York City, no less. Despite the occasionally annoying rainbows ’n’ unicorns tone of the book, give the guy credit for acting on his beliefs.

  • The Bedwetter: Stories of Courage, Redemption, and Pee - Sarah Silverman

    An actual biography from the queen of shock comedy. Gotta love a book with the word “pee” in the title.

December
  • Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk: A Modest Bestiary - David Sedaris

    Modern fables told with an acerbic tongue and a blackly comic tone.

  • Found in Translation: Common Words of Uncommon Wisdom - Pamela Jay Gottfried

    Rabbi Gottfried brings her own unique perspective to this slim volume that explains certain Hebrew and Yiddish terms.

  • Full Dark, No Stars - Stephen King

    Some of Stephen King’s finest work can be found in his short novels. These don’t reach the heights of the pieces in his celebrated Different Seasons collection, but they’re just fine if you need your fix of Scary Stevie Stuff.

  • Everything Ravaged, Everything Burned - Wells Tower

    David Sedaris recommended this collection of short fiction, worth reading solely on the strength of the horrifyingly humorous title story. And I recommend it as well.

  • My Year of Flops: The A.V. Club Presents One Man's Journey Deep into the Heart of Cinematic Failure - Nathan Rabin

    Anyone can review a popular film, but it takes a real lover of the genre - or a masochist - to deliberately look at movies that bombed. Many of them sucked, some horrifically so... and yet there are a few underappreciated gems amongst the dross.

January
  • The Windup Girl - Paolo Bacigalupi

    Bacigalupi has created the most amazing Future Dystopia, a world in which fossil fuels have been consumed almost unto extinction, a world in which energy is provided by food calories and stored in wound-up springs. Genetically manipulated foodstuffs, genehacked plagues, and artificial lifeforms are all part of the story, set in Thailand some two centuries hence. Scary good reading.

So: What have you been reading lately?

Monday, January 10, 2011

HOW TO DRIVE ON ICE

Snow on the Deck
About five inches of snow decorates our deck furniture.

With nearly about 4-5 inches of snow on the ground here - and a thin, Krispy Kreme-style glaze of ice atop it - She Who Must Be Obeyed and I have no immediate plans to leave the neighborhood.

We’ve spent enough time in icy northern climes to know that the best way to drive on icy roads is... to not drive on ’em at all. And around these parts, once the roads get ice on ’em, it tends to stay there until Nature makes it go away: Snowplows and salt trucks are thin on the ground.

Snow Jam 1982, the snow-ice-snow event that struck Atlanta twenty-nine years ago this week, would have served as lesson enough. My afternoon office commute, normally a sedate seven-mile affair on the local side streets, turned into a hair-raising two-and-a-half hour slip ’n’ slide, during which my heart was in my mouth the entire time. It’s something of a minor miracle that I made it home at all... and that’s before the storm really got underway. The hills and curves here, coupled with the total lack of snow removal, make for a degree of excitement you just don’t experience in, say, the Northeast.

Twenty-five years ago, on a business trip to North Texas, I had a similar experience with icy roads, driving from the Dallas-Foat Wuth airport to Iowa Park in a snowstorm. On the way back, in Wichita Falls, I hit a patch of black ice and slid into the back of a truck, knocking out my left headlight. (Even if you’re only going two MPH, you can’t stop if you’re on black ice.)

After a scary three-hour drive back to the DFW airport - think snow-covered, icy roads, dusk, and one headlight out - I flew to Houston, where there had been an ice storm. Every freeway overpass was shut down, rendered completely impassable by an inch-thick glaze of ice. Out of the frying pan, into the fire, was all I could think at the time.

I remember my first experience with freezing rain, back when I was a newly-licensed driver. Even on quiet neighborhood streets, it was impossible to keep my car on the road; it would slowly slide to the curb if it moved at all. And as I rolled my windows down, half-inch-thick “windows” of ice remained frozen in their place. Weird.

I guess you can drive in these conditions, provided you follow a few simple rules:
  1. Don’t accelerate.
  2. Don’t brake.
  3. Don’t steer.
  4. Don’t tailgate. If there’s another car within 1000 feet, you’re too close.
Even better: Don’t start the car. Leave it in the garage.

As for us, we’re going out for a walk. Hope we don’t slip and break our necks.

Update: We ended up bundling ourselves against the freezing drizzle and taking a nice hike over to Gary and JoAnn’s house on the other side of Roswell Road.

The normally busy thoroughfare was desolate...

Roswell Road, Deserted

...as was the nearby shopping area.

Quiet Avenue

And in a few spots, a wisp of greenery would struggle to show itself.

A Wisp of Greenery

AAAAAAAAAAAAGGGHHHHH!

“Tragedy is when I cut my finger. Comedy is when you walk into an open sewer and die.” - Mel Brooks



I don’t give a crap that it’s a Wally-World ad: It’s the funniest damn commercial I’ve seen in a long time. Plus - a screaming clown!

Sunday, January 9, 2011

SPARKLE

Sparkling-Eyed Hakuna

She chases mousies through the night.
She is a cat: it is her right.
Her eyes, they sparkle in the light.

She thinks she looks like Sasha Fierce,
But in her heart she’s Mildred Pierce.

MENTAL OVER LENTILS

Lentil Soup
Lentil soup with beef sausage: the perfect comfort food on a cold, wintry night.

Esteemed Readers who know me know my love for the humble Lentil.

There are few dishes more satisfying on a cold winter night - especially a night marked by freezing precipitation - that a hot bowl of lentil soup.

It’s not a complicated affair, really. A pound or two of smoked beef sausage, browned off in a heavy Dutch oven and set aside. A few carrots, a yellow onion, a parsnip, and a celery stalk, hacked up into appropriately small chunks and sweated down together in that selfsame Dutch oven with a few minced garlic cloves and a splash of olive oil. Add a bit of fresh thyme, a bay leaf, a few quarts of stock, and a pound of French green lentils.

What, you don’t have French green lentils, the veritabobble Lentilles Vertes du Puy? Use another kind of lentils. Hell, use split peas if you wanna. It’s all good. Just be sure to pick through ’em to make sure there are no foreign objects in amongst them little bitty legumaceous bits, and rinse ’em in two or three changes of water before dumping ’em into the pot.

Simmer for about ninety minutes, then throw that beef sausage back in. Add a goodly quarter-cup of fino sherry - the really dry stuff - fish out the bay leaves, and serve it up.

At various times, we’ve made this soup with chicken stock, beef stock, or even just plain water. This time I used a richly flavored chicken and goose stock I had made a couple of days ago, and the results were eminently satisfying.

Let the snow and sleet blow; let the winds howl! We are cocooned in our warm, cozy home, and we have lentil soup!

FROSTY, PART DEUX

There’s a winter storm barreling its way toward the Atlanta area that has all the local weather forecasters shitting their collective pants.

The fun starts tonight with snow, followed by more snow, sleet, and freezing rain. The icy crap will knock the snow accumulations down - we may see anywhere from three to five inches hereabouts, plenty enough to build a Snow-Golem - but will make the roads far more treacherous. And if enough ice coats trees and power lines, power outages will follow just as lobbyists follow politicians.

Those of us who lived in Atlanta twenty-nine years ago will remember the infamous Snow Jam ’82 in early January. Three inches of snow, a nice layer of ice laid down by a night of freezing rain, and another three inches of snow the next day. With the snowfall having begun mid-afternoon on a Tuesday, the late-afternoon commute became a nightmare of snarled traffic, wrecks, and abandoned vehicles. I was able to make it home - a seven-mile trip - in a mere two and a half hours, and I considered myself lucky. We were confined to the subdivision from that Tuesday until the following Saturday morning, thanks to the combination of hills and icy roads that surrounded our neighborhood.

This time, at least, the forecasters seem to be on top of things. Maybe even too much on top of things. With all the breathless predictions of record snowfall (they’ve since backed off a bit, citing an earlier changeover to sleet that will mean less snow accumulation but more of that pesky ice), you’d think the Frosty A-Fucking-Pocalypse was on its way to town.

In my experience, the more dire the prediction, the less significant the storm. Still, you never know... and I’m certainly not planning to be on the roads. Even absent the hordes of moronic Southern drivers, you still have to deal with Mr. Frozen Overpass, Mr. Tree, Mr. Utility Pole, and Mr. Ditch, none of whom are especially friendly when you encounter them at speed.

Update: As of 9:30 p.m., no snow has fallen here in Marietta. It’s a different story just east of downtown, however, where The Mistress of Sarcasm reports two inches on the ground already.

Update 2: 9:45 p.m. - it has begun. Big time... as close to a whiteout as I’ve seen hereabouts in a long, long time.

SnowJam 2011

Saturday, January 8, 2011

WORKING FOR SCALE

Salmon Skin
Something is definitely fishy here.

[Overheard in a Coney Island restaurant: “The food’s pretty good here, but whatever you do, don’t order the whitefish!”]

Eli (hizzownself) and his bride Toni just celebrated their twentieth anniversary this Thursday just past. They’ve just completed their annual trek down to Florida, where they will winter over until sometime in April before returning to their New York home.

They drive, making the trip in a short two days. Not bad for an eighty five-year old guy, eh?

I remember that drive from back in my Snot-Nose Days, when I was a mere prepubescent passenger. It started out fifty years ago (!) as a touristy, five-day trek up the eastern seaboard, but as the roads improved and interstate highways spread their concrete tentacles throughout the land, we were able to whittle it down to two days... and that’s when the southern terminus of the drive was North Miami Beach, not somewhere in the general vicinity of Ocala.

One thing we discovered early on: There wasn’t a whole lot of good radio programming available in parts of the Deep South, especially on a Sunday morning. FM radio was, in those days, a rarity in a car - you listened to the AM band if you listened to anything at all - and satellite radio was not even a fever dream. But one morning as we drove through South Carolina, we listened spellbound to an African-American gospel show, the music and enthusiasm completely infectious.

Came the commercial break - gotta pay the rent! - we listened to an advertisement for a local fish market. I cannot, almost a half-century later, remember the name of the market... but what I do remember is the announcer-lady telling customers that when they came to the fish market, they should “be sure to ask fo’ Mister Scales.”

Eli still chuckles when we tell this story. I guess if you’re gonna work in a fish market, why shouldn’t your name be Mr. Scales?

Friday, January 7, 2011

WALLOW IN THE TALLOW

/TallowintheHollow
Spilled beef tallow floats, ice floe-like, in the Houston Ship Channel.  Photo: A.P., U.S. Coast Guard.

A storage tank containing a quarter of a million gallons of liquefied beef schmaltz sprung a leak Tuesday, spilling 15,000 gallons of the fragrant grease into the Houston Ship Channel.

Swimmers and sunbathers barely noticed the floating chunks of solidified tallow in the Channel, where it qualifies as “background noise.”

Charley Thibodeaux, a resident of Breaux Bridge, Louisiana who was vacationing in Houston, said, “It’s actually kinda cool. Looks like pictures I seen of Antarctica, with them chunks of ice. And it kinda smells like French fries - you know, them good ones McDonald’s usedta to make before the Socialist gummint made ’em use that vedgible oil.”

The waterway is temporarily shut down as the Coast Guard completes a cleanup that involved the deployment of six vessels with containment booms and 150,000 pounds of raw julienned potatoes.

Local Britons have announced a day of mourning. Nigel Gilroy-Poon, head of the British American Business Council, Social Club, and Fortnightly Tea-Party, bewailed the spill, calling it “not only an environmental tragedy, but a loss to British culture of the first magnitude. Alas for all the suet puddings that, now, will never be!”

Thursday, January 6, 2011

RABBIE’S HOUSE

A couple of years ago, I wrote about one of the local landmarks here in Atlanta: the Robert Burns House.

The house, built in 1910, is a reasonably accurate replica of the cottage wherein wee Rabbie Burns, the beloved Bard of Ayrshire, first saw the light of day almost 252 years ago. Today it serves as the monthly meeting-place of the Burns Club of Atlanta; it is not open to the public except on rare occasions. But that didn’t stop us from running over there last Sunday afternoon - it’s just a short ways down the road from where the Mistress of Sarcasm lives - and grabbing a few photographs.

Robert Burns House
Burns House stone

Looking at this simple, unassuming cottage, it’s easy enough to allow your thoughts to be transported far away in time and space, to a land of misty lochs and fens, where a few drams of uisquebae are helpful in removing the damp and chill from the bones, and where oaten bannocks bake on the hearth. Can one live in such a place and not have at least a wee bit o’ poetry in one’s soul?

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

GOLDEN HORSESHOE

Seekor kuda adalah seekor kuda, tentu, tentu,
Dan tidak ada satu orang pun yang bisa bicara dengan seekor kuda, tentu...
Terkecuali, tentu, seekor kuda itu adalah TUAN ED terkenal.

Pergi langsung ke sumbernya dan tanja seekor kuda itu.
Dia akan memberikan kepada Anda jawabannya
Yang Anda bisa menerima.
Dia selalu menjalan lurus sehinga...
Membicara dengan TUAN ED.

Orang-orang berbicara dan berbicara dan omong kosong banyak
Tetapi TUAN ED tidak mau bicara,
Terkecuali dia mempunyai apa-apa untuk bicara.

Seekor kuda adalah seekor kuda, tentu, tentu,
Dan kuda ini akanbicara sehinga kerongkongnya sakit
Apa Anda sudah dengar seekor kuda yang bisa bicara?
Baiklah, dengarlah ini—
“Saya TUAN ED!”


Demented polyglots will recognize the above as the theme song for Mister Ed, a semi-beloved sitcom of the early 1960’s, rendered in Bahasa Indonesia... a language for which the music is singularly ill-suited.

Mister Ed first aired fifty years ago today: January 5, 1961. Starring Bamboo Harvester as the eponymous (and occasionally voluble) Mister Ed and Alan ( Angus) Young as Wilbur Post, his bemused keeper, the series was the opening shot in a long volley of increasingly harebrained television comedies to which viewers of the early 1960’s were subjected.

Wilbur and Mister Ed
Wilbur and Mister Ed.

The central conceit of the series was that Mister Ed was able to talk... and he would talk only to Wilbur, thus creating many opportunities to make trouble. This would have most people doubting their sanity, but it apparently did not bother Wilbur, who was not, apparently, the sharpest knife in the block. These days, with video cameras everywhere, you would think Ed might have trouble keeping his abilities under wraps, but the ubiquity of talking animals on YouTube would point toward a strategy of hiding in plain sight.

A talking equine was not an original concept even half a century ago. Ed had his antecedent in Francis the Talking Mule, star of seven feature films from 1950-56. And since there is no concept so lame that Hollywood will not generate knockoffs of it (e.g., The Addams Family and The Munsters), there eventually followed My Mother the Car, which featured an antique vehicle that would speak only to its owner (and into which the owner’s deceased mother had been reincarnated. Reinferronated?) MMTC had the distinction of being recognized by TV Guide as the second-worst television show of all time; as stupid as Mister Ed may have been, there were depths to which it did not descend.

Alan Young is, as of this writing, alive and well. I remember him best not for his role as Wilbur Post, but for playing David Filby - and his son James Filby - in George Pal’s The Time Machine (1960), a double role that utilized his (almost) Scottish origins quite effectively. In 2002, Young had a cameo role as a flower shop worker in the Simon Wells-directed remake of The Time Machine, and, as the story has it, when he when to the costume department to get outfitted, the starched collar he received was the exact same one he wore in the George Pal film.

Sheer coincidence, they say. But that’s gotta be as bizarre as... a talking horse.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

GLITCH

My friend Barry tells a story about a visit to New York some time ago. It seems that, as his wife and daughter were in a subway station awaiting their train, they espied a rat lurking down by the tracks. Not an altogether unusual sight in the New York subways... but what was unusual was the fact that the rat was clutching a can of Pepsi-Cola in its little rat mitts and was holding it up to its little rat face, gulping it down in an altogether human manner.

To this day, Barry regrets not having been there with them, camera ready to hand. That image would have been worth a fortune to a competitor with a big advertising budget and a snarky sense of humor. “Pepsi - preferred by New York subway rats five-to-one!”

What made me think of this story was the recent iPhone alarm app glitch.

On the morning of New Year’s Day, SWMBO found that her iPhone’s alarm clock did not go off. Not a big deal on a Saturday or Sunday, because we get up at pretty much the same time every day out of sheer habit, but still, it was a mystery that wanted solving. Had she somehow not set the thing properly? Set it for p.m. instead of a.m.? Had the ringer been turned off? Inquiring minds needed to know... because come Monday, that alarm’s ability to get our asses out of bed would be much more critical.

It turns out that we were not the only ones who had this problem. iPhone users everywhere reported that their alarms did not function after the turn of the year, in some cases causing great consternation on the part of the users. Missed appointments, showing up late for work, that sort of thing. The fault lay with a subtle OS4 software-related glitch that caused the alarm app to fail on January 1 or 2. As more reports came streaming in - thousands of people were impacted - it became clear that only alarms that had been set to go off on a one-time basis were affected; repeating alarms were OK.

Andy Borowitz lampooned Apple with a faux-news piece about Apple having to cancel a press conference to address the glitch when Steve Jobs failed to show, owing to his having overslept when his iPhone alarm malfunctioned. Heh.

Meanwhile, Droid owners reported no alarm-related problems. And that made me think of the rat with the Pepsi can...

...because Apple has graciously handed the Droid folks a gift equivalent to handing an 8x10 glossy of a Pepsi-drinking subway rat to the good folks at Coca-Cola. I wonder if they’ll be snarky enough to use it.

Do you have an iPhone? Miss any appointments last weekend?

Saturday, January 1, 2011

ONE-ONE-ONE-ONE

January 1, 2011, alternatively styled as 1/1/11.

Is this the year we all decide to forgo superfluous syllabary and say “Twenty-Eleven” instead of the windy and ridiculous “Two Thousand Eleven”? Inquiring minds want to know.