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

Wednesday, November 30, 2011


Parking Lot Mural
Street art is everywhere in the City of Brotherly Love. This mural overlooks a parking lot in central Philadelphia.

One week ago today, we departed northwestern Connecticut and wended our way south towards Philadelphia, where we had planned to spend Thanksgiving with Elder Daughter.

Owing to the weather - a drizzly, blustery mess - and the pre-holiday traffic, what should have been a four-hour trip ended up taking closer to six. Feh. But we got to our destination as dusk fell, giving us enough time to get settled in before going out to secure the Essential Provisions.

Ya can’t make a Thanksgiving dinner without provisions.

Our first stop was the local farmer’s market, a few blocks walk from Elder Daughter’s apartment. After loading up a few bags there, we went to the Stupid-Market and a nearby Booze-Shoppe for the remaining items on our list. By then, we were getting a tad peckish, so we ran home for an improvised Asian-style dinner courtesy of Elder Daughter.

For (probably) the first time ever, it was going to be just the four of us at the Thanksgiving table. Elder Daughter’s roommates were away; we had the place to ourselves. Nothing to do but cook and converse all day.

The menu combined several of our traditional favorites with a few new goodies. She Who Must Be Obeyed prepared the sausage-rice stuffing that has graced our holiday table every year for almost three decades, while the Mistress made a sweet potato pudding using our friend Gary’s recipe. I have to say, her made-entirely-from-scratch version was appallingly good.

SWMBO simmered up a pot of butternut squash soup, aromatic with curry and garam masala. Elder Daughter busied herself with baking a loaf of home-made challah... and to keep herself busy while the dough proofed, she put together a cherry-apricot pie and a brace of apple tarts.

It’s knice to be kneaded: Elder Daughter rolls up her sleeves and makes challah for the Thanksgiving table. The Pilgrims should only have had it so good.

While all of this was going on, I was occupied with fixing a batch of cranberry-ginger chutney, using my own homemade crystallized ginger (the stores having been completely sold out). Once that was done, it was time to turn my attention to the turkey, which we braised in the same manner we had tried just a couple of weeks ago. With Elder Daughter’s able assistance, I made two pots of gravy: one was a thick, sagey, giblet-enriched sauce, the other unadorned for the sake of SWMBO and the Mistress, both of whom loathe Turkey-Innards of any kind.

Elder Daughter put together a salad of raw spinach, simply dressed with a little olive oil and garlic, and we were ready to dine. We probably could have cooked a few more dishes. Green beans... spinach-jalapeño cheese casserole... but what would have been the point? It was just the four of us.

Dressing and Taters
Sausage-rice stuffing (top); sweet potato pudding “Gary” (bottom). No Elisson family Thanksgiving is complete without ’em.

Our meal was superb, not least because it was a true Family Effort. But for me, the best part was just being together with the Missus and our two wonderful daughters, there in the land of cheesesteaks and soft pretzels.

Neither of which we had during our visit, by the way.

A quiet lane in Center City. Except for the window A/C units, this street looks much like it did in Revolutionary times, right down to the cobblestones.

Friday was spent wandering around in Center City. We grabbed a coffee at Cake and the Beanstalk and some gelato (of course!) at Capogiro. Then, down to the south side for some sammitches at Paesano’s Philly Style and a look at Isaiah Zagar’s street art.

Sandwich heaven: Feeding my face with the celebrated Arista at Paesano’s Philly Style.

Zagar mosaic with inset
One of the many mixed-media mosaics created by celebrated street artist Isaiah Zagar, this one adorning the side of a building near South 7th and Passyunk. Inset: Zagar (left) with son Jeremiah (center) and wife Julia (right). [Click to embiggen.]

Before we knew it, it was Saturday: time to head back home. It’s never easy saying farewell to our girls, and this time was no exception. But knowing that they both are establishing themselves in their new homes and making the most of their individual talents is a great comfort. Surely, it’s yet another thing to be thankful for.

Strolling in Philly

Tuesday, November 29, 2011


Watering Hole

Our business in New York having been concluded, we worked our way north, crossing back over the Hudson at the Tappan Zee and cutting eastward into Connecticut at the far northwestern corner of the state.

It’s hard to imagine a greater contrast than that between the concrete and steel canyons of Manhattan and the rolling fields of northwest Connecticut. We had no trouble sleeping in New York; twenty-eight stories insulated us from street-level noise, and, as confirmed suburbanites, we’re used to a certain amount of sound at night. Hell, the Missus can’t fall asleep unless the teevee is on - so much for peace and quiet. But in the Mistress’s environs, the only thing that serves by way of a lullaby is the rustling of the breeze on the bare trees and the soft chuckling of a nearby creek.

It’s so pitch black at night, we’d take a flashlight with us to help us navigate between the Mistress’s house and our lodgings across the street. The alternative was to stumble around in the dark, risking an encounter with the local wildlife. Lions and tigers and bears, and suchlike. And wild turkeys.

Next time I go up there, I’m bringing my camping headlamp.

Monday morning was bright and temperate, a perfect day for a walk. We first went up the hill behind the Mistress’s house - a fairly steep climb on uneven ground - to visit the Moss-Covered Rock. Then we walked back down, crossed the road, and took a path that wended its way through dense woods. On one side was private property; on the other, state land. Not a place to wander around in a deer suit.

Lower Barrack

Old Cat

The path deposited us back onto the Mistress’s street a few miles away. As we continued in the direction of the house, we happened upon an old boneyard, and decided to take a look at the moldering stones.


Most of the markers were heavily weathered, almost (or completely) illegible. Some carried dates ranging from the 1850’s through the 1880’s. Some told sad little stories: siblings, neither having attained the age of ten, buried side-by-side with their parents... infants who never lived to be weaned... young brides. It was a tough world then.

But the Bury-Patch was not derelict. There was a fairly new marker with a 2005 date on it:

Janeway Grave

As I gazed upon this final resting place for what, evidently were the New(er) Arrivals, I thought that the name on the stone sounded familiar. Eliot Janeway... where had I heard that name before? And then, thanks to my exceptional powers of memory (I remembered that I had my iPhone in my pocket, that it was equipped with Google, and that there was a usable 3G connection where we stood) it came to me: Eliot “Calamity” Janeway had been a well-known economist and writer, an advisor to President Lyndon Johnson (and before him, FDR), and an influential forecaster of economic trends. The Eliot Janeway lectures on historical economics at Princeton University - my alma mater! - had been endowed in his honor.

And here he was, luxuriating in his Eternal Dirt-Nap, mere yards away from the Mistress of Sarcasm’s new home. Who’dathunkit?

We spent Monday evening enjoying the culinary pleasures of Millerton, New York, just across the state line. Tuesday, we ventured northwards, to Great Barrington, Massachusetts, where we had a fine lunch at the Barrington Brewery (their chocolate stout cake is not to be missed). Afterwards, we browsed the shops in the picturesque town center, including a small (but exceptionally well-stocked) cheesemonger, who was kind enough to mong me a few chunks of the Stinky Stuff. In Sheffield, a few miles to the south, we sat in on the Mistress’s ukulele lesson before crossing the line back into Connecticut to provision ourselves for a home-cooked meal.

Some of my Esteemed Readers might be wondering about Bernadette, the Mistress’s cat. You will be happy to know that Bernadette is doing fine. She has adapted beautifully to life in her new home and is back to her old, cuddly self. She even gets along with (or at least tolerates the presence of) Ellie May, the resident Kinda-Sorta-Basset Hound. Ellie May, for her part, loves Bernie.

Bernie and Ellie May
A Bernadette’s-eye-view of Ellie May. The outstretched leg on the left belongs to Yours Truly, graphic proof that Bernadette loves her grandpa once again!

Rain moved in Tuesday night, but we didn’t care. The next morning would see us heading out to Philadelphia, the next stop on our Peripatetic Northern Wanderings... and the topic of the next post.

Twin Oaks
The Twin Oaks field in Sharon, Connecticut. The Sharon Land Trust purchased the land in 1998 to preserve this little piece of world-class scenery from encroaching development.


Manhattan - West Side View
Manhattan, seen from across the Hudson River.

Thanksgiving week had us all over the map. It was a map of the northeastern United States, true, but nevertheless we covered a lot of ground.

Our first stop was New York. Upon arriving at La Guardia, we caught a cab for midtown Manhattan and were, happily, able to check into our hotel room immediately despite the early hour. We weren’t there long, though: Within minutes we were on the subway, hurtling through the tunnel under the East River, headed toward Williamsburg, Brooklyn... and our rendezvous with the Mistress of Sarcasm and her friend Aaron.

And to think that I saw it on Lorimer Street: Nobody does Subway Signage quite like Little Olde New York.

Williamsburg is a pretty happening place these days. The streets are a-bustle with urban hipsters; the cafés and restaurants pack them in. We wandered the length of Bedford Avenue, where I made several happy discoveries. Not only was there a place where I could get big time lost in the cheese aisle, it was that very day when the Wafels & Dinges food truck put in an appearance.

De Wafel-Truck. Thomas DeGeest dishes out a Liège waffle to the Mistress from his Wafels & Dinges food truck.

The Bedford Cheese Shop is worth a post on its own. I’m not sure what I enjoyed more - looking at the amazing array of fine fromage and charcuterie, or reading the florid, sex-crammed descriptions that adorned the merchandise. As for the Wafel-Truck, its offerings, which included both crisp Brussels- and the chewier Liège-style waffles, brought back pleasant memories of long-ago visits to Belgium.

After lunch, we wandered in the direction of East River Park, where we stumbled into Smorgasburg, a sort of Saturday foodie flea market where local vendors and Grub-Artisans were showing off (and selling) their various wares. As fortune would have it, the day we were there was the last one of the season... and we were lucky enough to arrive not too long before the vendors began packing up to leave. That gave us enough time to browse and sample but not enough to do serious damage.

An assortment of tasty macaroons awaits the author’s slavering jaws.

The setting sun told us that it was Head Back Into Manhattan o’Clock. We freshened up at the hotel, then strolled downtown in the direction of Union Square. Time to meet Eli (hizzownself), Toni, and the other Elisson for dinner at Bobby Flay’s Mesa Grill.

New York Sunset
View of the setting sun from our hotel room.

Deciding where to eat in New York is an almost impossible task, with so many world-class options from which to choose. We wanted a place with excellent food, but one that was reasonably casual: no jacket and tie for this boy. The Southwestern fare at Mesa Grill looked like just the ticket. We were not disappointed.

Afterwards, we stopped in to call on Joyce, a friend of the Mistress whose pied-à-terre was conveniently located just a few blocks away near Gramercy Park. Cookies, conversation, coffee, and a fine Port awaited us there. After a very pleasant visit, a brisk walk along Park Avenue took us back to the hotel.

The next morning found us navigating the PATH train to New Jersey, where we picked up the Mistress’s car and headed off towards Connecticut. And that is a story for another post.

Empire State Building
The Empire State Building, in all its towering Art Deco glory.


Shalom Lewis - our rabbi - has had a few surreal moments in the past couple of weeks.

Two weeks ago, he, his wife, and his mother flew to Detroit to attend the premiere of the latest Hallmark Hall of Fame production, a Teevee-Movie based on Mitch Albom’s best-selling book Have a Little Faith. As documented in an earlier post, the movie concerns itself, in no small part, with Rabbi Albert Lewis - Shalom’s late father.

Surreal moment number one for him was sitting in the theatre and seeing his father portrayed on the screen, with the actor who played his father - Martin Landau - sitting right behind him. Nearby were his mother and the actress who played her. Also there was Laurence Fishburne, who played Pastor Henry Covington in the movie. But Shalom couldn’t look at him without seeing Morpheus, Fishburne’s character from The Matrix. (Perverse as I am, I would be thinking of another of Fishburne’s characters, Cowboy Curtis from Pee-wee’s Playhouse.)

Surreal moment number two was when he had the opportunity to speak at the I Am My Brother’s Keeper church, Pastor Covington’s spiritual home in Detroit, with the congregants tacking on the random “Hallelujah!” to his sentences... and with Landau, Fishburne, et al., in the audience.

The movie was broadcast this past Sunday evening. If you missed it, it will go on rotation at the Hallmark channel next week.

Thursday, November 24, 2011


Boids is everywhere these days, I tells ya.

First there was Erica, the Wiseass Jooette herownself, whose complacent quotidian existence was thrown into turmoil (or, as she might say, toimerl) by the unanticipated arrival of one Doofus the Cockatiel.

Doofus (AKA Vlad the Impaler, on account of his purported viciousness) was clearly an escaped pet, cockatiels not being native to Sheepshead Bay. His owner evidently has been in no hurry to track him down, however, and it is not an unreasonable conjecture that said owner might have, ahhh, gently encouraged Doofus to escape.

Meanwhile, upon our recent arrival in northwestern Connecticut, we saw all manner of avian life.

Flocks of mallard ducks graced the local lakes. Canadian Canada geese filled the skies with their characteristic V-formations, no doubt heading south to Georgia so that they could shit all over our neighborhood in our absence.

Monday morning, we saw a brace of wild turkeys in the Mistress of Sarcasm’s back yard. After pecking their way around the perimeter, they waddled off into the woods, up the mountain that sits behind the house. The Mistress informs us that they are daily visitors.

Wild Turkeys
Gobble, gobble: Wild turkeys invade the Mistress’s back yard.

Are they tasty? I wondered. No, responded the Mistress. Apparently, that experiment has been essayed: The turkeys, disappointingly, are gamey, stringy affairs. That surprises me not at all, but still, I would be willing to try one. Think of it, a non-factory-produced bird fed on... whatever the fuck it is that wild turkeys eat. Slower wild turkeys, I imagine.

The weirdest Bird-Sighting we had, though, was the pheasants.

In Sharon, Connecticut, there is a pheasant farm that raises and sells Mongolian ring-necked pheasants. They’re beautiful birds, with their characteristic red head and white neck feathers; they also make excellent hunting and eating.

And they’re smart enough to recognize an opportunity when they see one.

Just before Hallowe’en, northwestern Connecticut was hammered by a rare early nor’easter, a storm that dropped a foot and a half of sodden, wet snow on trees that still were carrying most of their leaves. Predictably, a lot of limbs snapped off, wreaking havoc with the distribution of electrical power (the Mistress was off the grid for four full days) and damaging untold numbers of trees.

The pheasant coops at the Sharon Pheasant Farm were, apparently, no match for the storm’s destructive power. They collapsed, releasing over 6,000 pheasants into the Great Outdoors. I can picture it now, pheasants jabbering to each other in whatever passes for Pheasant-Language:

“Awright, guys... the wall’s down and there ain’t no screws in sight! Let’s make a break for it - anyone stayin’ behind ends up on a plate!”

Since then, pheasant spotting has become an Everyman’s Sport in Sharon and its environs. Sunday, as we passed through the town - even as the Mistress was relating the story to us - a solitary pheasant stood in the middle of the road, as if to dare motorists to flatten him. We approached cautiously and slowed to a standstill, whereupon the unperturbed bird marched to the other side of the road as if to inspire a retort to the age-old Chicken Riddle.

Boids. I tells ya, there’s a soifeit of boids in da Nawtheast!

Wednesday, November 23, 2011


I have a brother - the other Elisson - and I love him, but the post title refers to the salient characteristic of the city in which we now find ourselves. Philadelphia!

We got here late this afternoon after an excruciatingly long drive from the uppermost corner of Connecticut. Despite the dreary weather, it was scenic - at least, until we got to New York City. From there, it was all downhill. Traffic-wise, anyway. The New Jersey Turnpike, as it is wont to do on Erev Thanksgiving, moved at a snail’s pace.

I felt right at home.

It has been a busy week. We started it off Saturday in New York, roaming all the way from the spires of Murray Hill and Park Avenue to the far-flung boulevards of Brooklyn. Then, off to northwestern Connecticut, with side trips into New York and Massachusetts. Philly is the last stop on our itinerary before heading home Saturday evening.

There will be turkey. And dressing. And plenty of other Fine Comestibles. Elder Daughter has it in mind to bake a couple of pies... and perhaps a small pile of Mexican Chocolate Icebox Cookies. I won’t argue.

In a few moments, we will go out to complete our pre-Thanksgiving Food-Shoppage: SWMBO, the Mistress of Sarcasm, Elder Daughter, and I. Yes, we’re all together for the holiday... and for that, I am truly thankful.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011


Every so often, Rahel reminds me that I’m overdue for posting a photo of Hakuna, the Grand Cat-Dowager of Chez Elisson.

Mea culpa.

Without further ado, then, a Kitty-Photo, this one of Hakuna doing her best imitation of one of those little pillbugs:

Pillbug Hakuna


Of course, if I ever encountered a twelve-pound pillbug, I’d crap a peach pit.


Just wondering...
The other day, when I saw one of any number of TeeVee News pieces on Joe Paterno, I thought to myself, “Self, that guy looks awfully familiar. Yeah, I know it’s Joe Paterno, but he reminds me of someone else. Hmmmm... who could it be?


With respect to the photo of Paterno, one could ask the question, “Why is this man smiling?” One could also ask, “What, exactly, is he saying with those shrugged shoulders and that shit-eating grin?”

[Tip o’ th’ Elisson fedora to Velociman for the image of JoePa.]

Sunday, November 13, 2011


A bed of mirepoix (onion, celery, carrot) and other goodies such as parsley, garlic, and dried porcini mushrooms. This is the flavorful base upon which Mr. Turkey will be braised in wine and stock... an alternative to the usual roasted bird.

It’s become a sort of tradition among our circle of friends: Most Friday nights, we will get together for dinner. Some weeks, when everyone feels like taking it easy, it will be at an uncomplicated local eatery like Panera. Other times, it will be at someone’s home, with each couple bringing a Foodly Contribution assigned by the hosts. Since many of us are Red Sea Pedestrians, we use the occasion to welcome the sabbath in more-or-less traditional manner, with the appropriate blessings over wine and bread.

This past Friday, the rotation came to Chez Elisson... which suited us just fine, because we had something special in mind.

We wanted to celebrate Thanksgiving early.

See, we plan to spend Thanksgiving - the real one - with Elder Daughter and the Mistress of Sarcasm up in the Northeast. But that means that our usual practice of having a small army of our friends over for turkey ’n’ trimmings would go by the wayside. That, we reasoned, would never do.

She Who Must Be Obeyed, ever clever, came up with the idea of having an early Thanksgiving-cum-Shabbat dinner. Instead of the traditional dishes, several of which we have been serving every year for over a quarter-century, I suggested trying new versions of the basic Thanksgiving food groups.

Instead of oven-roasted acorn squash, we would kick things off with steaming bowls of butternut squash soup, jacked up with a goodly dose of curry and garam masala.

Instead of a roasted turkey, we would have a turkey braised in stock and white wine.

Instead of plain old cranberry sauce, we would have cranberry chutney with ginger.

Instead of Gary’s sweet potato pudding, we would have a sweet potato and Yukon Gold hash.

Sweet Potato Hash
Sweet potato and Yukon Gold hash. Downright tasty, it was.

I’m here to tell you, it all turned out rather nicely. SWMBO, who can be quite persnickety in matters having to do with Thanksgiving turkeys, was extremely pleased with the braised bird... and the freshly home-baked loaf of challah that kicked off the meal, as well as the homemade French vanilla ice cream (accompanied by brandied figs) that was but one among several desserts didn’t hurt a bit.

The best thing? Enjoying a good meal with good friends. If that isn’t something to be thankful for, what is?


Here followeth an actual dialogue between the (male) proprietor of a local Hair Cuttery and She Who Must Be Obeyed:

Proprietor: “How long have you been married?”

SWMBO: “It’ll be 35 years next June.”

Proprietor: “Wow, that’s a long time... I’ve been together with my partner for six and a half, but that’s about 350 in lesbian years.”


Yesterday evening, Cook’s Warehouse - a purveyor of kitchen supplies whose latest outlet is conveniently located adjacent to the new Whole Paycheck Foods Market in our neighborhood - hosted a Grand Opening celebration. We, along with several of our friends, decided to make an evening of it.

In addition to raffling off numerous Cookly Goodies (none of which we won, as it happens), they were dispensing all manner of free food and beverage samples. And the place was packed to the rafters with excited Foodie Suburbanites.

Of course, there was one guest they may not have been counting on...

Colander Borg-Man 2011
This year’s new and improved Colander Borg-Man!

Yes, any time there’s a store that’s chock-full of Objets de Cuisine, there’s sure to be a colander among all of that nice, shiny merch... and Colander Borg-Man will be on it like stink on shit white on rice.

It’s what he does.

Friday, November 11, 2011


Today is Veteran’s Day.

It is also November 11, 2011, the shorthand abbreviation for which is 11-11-11.

I’m posting this at eleven minutes and eleven seconds after eleven o’clock: 11:11:11.

[Alas, I won’t be around to do this again the next time it’s possible, one hundred years from now... so I may as well have my fun now. And I suspect that every other hammerhead in the Bloggy-Sphere will be doing pretty much the same thing.]

Being that it is Veteran’s Day, it’s a good opportunity to post a few pics of the family vets...

Billie Bob, USN
Billie Bob, the father of She Who Must Be Obeyed, photographed in his Navy days.

Army Phil
Uncle Phil, who served in the ETO in World War II where he had some harrowing experiences. Fortunately for us, he managed to survive ’em.

Eli, hizzownself, also served during WWII, doing stints in India and China. Alas, no photographs handy... but there’s a huge box of old pics tucked away in his attic, containing such little treasures as an autograph from one Lucille Ball, back in her B-movie actress days.

A tip of the Elisson fedora - nay, the fedora comes off! - for the men and women who have served, and who continue to serve, our country on this calendrically special Veteran’s day.

Thursday, November 10, 2011


“A knave, a rascal, an eater of broken meats...” - King Lear, Act II, Scene 2

Back in the day, it was a serious insult if someone accused you of eating broken meats. Leftovers, hamburger, whatever you wanted to call it - if you ate that kind of crap, you were lower than the proverbial Whale Shit.

Nowadays we do not contemn the eater of broken meats... especially if those meats have been ground up and compressed into a sausage casing. You can hide a lot of sins that way.

Steve Graham’s recent post about chorizo sausage amused me. Here’s a guy who has written what he claims to be the world’s unhealthiest cookbook (Eat All You Want and Die Like a Man), yet manages to be horrified at the idea of eating a sausage that contains a hog’s salivary glands.

I guess everyone has their limits when it comes to food. Me, I won’t eat brains. Or gonads - unless they’re from a sea urchin. Or tripe, or chitterlings. But things like tongue and sweetbreads (the thymus and/or pancreas glands) don’t faze me at all. I suspect that many people’s unwillingness to eat certain organs may have to do with the functions those organs perform in the living beast (chitterlings, kidneys) - or is the result of our knowledge that we have those parts, too, and we don’t want anyone eating them (testicles and other Reproductive Organs).

Eggs. Bird eggs are tasty enough. Chicken eggs are what I mostly eat in the egg department. But I’ll happily eat fish eggs... that there’s what the fancy-pants peepuls call “caviar.” Howsomever, I won’t eat milt - fish sperm. The idea kinda skeeves me out. And ant eggs - very popular in parts of Mexico - don’t hold the slightest appeal for me.

But back to sausage. Sausage is one of those foods that was invented as a way of preserving and making palatable a whole raft of Nasty Animal Parts... all those assholes and elbows. Sometimes the nastiness is well hidden, other times not: Just ask Houston Steve about his experience in France when he tasted of the dreaded andouillette. Yeef!

It requires a certain suspension of disbelief, a wink and a nod to oneself, to pretend that sausage is anything but Horrible Meat. Of course, there is a spectrum of Meat Product Vileness that runs from the innocuous frankfurter to the heavy hitters: andouille, chorizo, and those Head-Cheesy-looking things. Take it from me, though - if you’re a third-grade teacher planning a class trip, think twice before you take those kids to the bologna factory. It’ll scar ’em for life.

Oh, and as for some of the things I won’t eat, take a peek below the fold. If you dare.


Anyone who has lived in the Southern United States is familiar with the term “Bubba.” It’s a popular nickname in this part of the world, one that also functions as a term of endearment. Elsewhere, it finds use as a mildly pejorative synonym for “redneck”: “My brother-in-law is such a bubba, when we served corn on the cob at the Fourth of July picnic last year, he saved the cobs to wipe his ass with.”

Bubba is frequently the sobriquet of an elder brother... which makes perfect sense, because “bubba” is exactly how a small child might pronounce the word “brother.” Similarly, elder sisters in this part of the world were often called “Tipper” - a childish mispronunciation of “sister.” The most well-known Tipper in recent years is Tipper Gore, the former wife of Al “Father of the Internet” Gore and champion of the concept of slapping warning labels on music with offensive lyrics.

There’s another folk etymology out there for Tipper: that it derives from the 1940 song “Tippy, Tippy, Tin.” But that’s a load of crap, because the name predates the song by a long shot. Others claim that it comes from the Irish word tabar, meaning “well.” But I tend to believe in Occam’s Razor in these matters: the simplest explanation is probably the right one.

So Bubba and Tipper are really Brother and Sister. Makes perfect sense to me.

[I learned all this from Recondo32 at the recent Hysterics at Eric’s, for which a Fedora-Tip is due.]

Wednesday, November 9, 2011


I will confess it: I’m not a big fan of author Mitch Albom, the sports journalist and writer who hit the big time in 1997 with his inspirational best-seller Tuesdays with Morrie. I could tell you that this is due to my native cynicism, which causes me to eschew the mawkish and sentimental... but that’d be mostly bullshit, as I am the type who gets a lump in his throat at the end of Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. Really.

More likely, it’s because Albom writes warmhearted books that touch upon themes of life, death, and life after death... themes that practically cry out for a few big-eyed puppies or sad-faced clowns by way of illustration. There’s nothing wrong with all of that; it’s just not what you’ll generally find in the ever-growing pile on my nightstand. Give me a book about murderous Nazi dwarves, or slavering insectile aliens who quote Ogden Nash while they drain the Earth’s oceans of salt, or a collection of David Sedaris stories about oversized turds and sneering Parisians any day.

Here’s the kind of stuff Mitch Albom writes:

Tuesdays with Morrie
A reporter - Albom - reconnects with a dying college professor, with whom he has a weekly series of conversations about big-eyed puppies Life and Death. Nonfiction.

The Five People You Meet in Heaven
Eddie, a lonely 83-year-old wounded war veteran, makes his living repairing rides at an amusement park. He is killed while trying to save a little girl from a falling ride. Upon awakening in the afterlife, he learns that heaven is not a land of fluffy clouds, but a place in which your life is explained to you by five people who were in, who affected, or were affected by, your life. (What happens after you hear the explanation is left to the reader’s imagination.)

For One More Day
What would you do if you could spend just one more day with someone you’ve lost? Charley “Chick” Benetto is a retired baseball player... and a divorced alcoholic who is estranged from his adult daughter. He returns to his childhood home where the burdens of his unfulfilled dreams and miserable life compel him to attempt suicide, whereupon he he meets his mother, who despite having died eight years prior, welcomes him as if nothing ever happened. “You never call, you never write, you never put a rock on my headstone...”

Have a Little Faith
The story begins with an eighty-two-year-old rabbi from the author’s old hometown asking him for a favor: to deliver his eulogy. Two interwoven stories of two different men of faith - one an ex-convict and former drug dealer turned minister, the other the aforementioned rabbi - from whom Albom learns the difference faith can make in people’s lives. Nonfiction.

Not an oversized turd or insectile alien in the lot... but mawkish platitudes warm sentiment aplenty.

I read Tuesdays with Morrie back in 1998, about a year after it came out. Gawd only knows what I was thinking. Touching, heartfelt... pfui. It made me imagine a motivational poster... something with big-eyed puppies or sad-faced clowns. Something like this:

Tuesdays with Morrie
“Hey, kid - want some advice? Don’t buy any green bananas.” [Click to embiggen.]

After that, I took a break from Albom. I didn’t read either of his novels, and I normally would not have read his latest nonfiction opus, Have a Little Faith... except for the fact that the eighty-two-year-old rabbi profiled in the book - one Albert Lewis - is someone I had actually met. As it happens, he was my rabbi’s father.

So I read the book. How could I not? Having a personal connection to the subject of a best-seller is not something that happens every day. The Missus and I had only met our rabbi’s Av (daddy) a few times, yet along with many other members of our congregation we felt a certain kinship with the man, the subject of many a d’rash (sermon). And the book wasn’t too bad, despite its expected surfeit of Albomian sentimentality. The cover design was also a nice touch, intentionally evoking the appearance of Albert Lewis’s old prayerbook, crammed with handwritten notes and held together with rubber bands.

Now the book has been adapted for the small screen, a Hallmark Hall of Fame Teevee Movie that will be aired Sunday, November 27 - Thanksgiving weekend. This means that our rabbi will have the unique experience of seeing his very own father portrayed by Academy Award-winning character actor Martin Landau. How cool is that? Take a look:

I can’t look at Martin Landau without thinking of one of his great roles, that of a washed up Bela Lugosi in Ed Wood for which he won a Best Supporting Actor Oscar. At one point in the film, recreating Lugosi’s “Scientist” character from Glen or Glenda, he intones, “Pull the string! Pull the string!” in a hilarious Hungarian accent. In synagogue, when I am functioning as gabbai (a sort of choreographer, go-getter, and general Man About Shul), I often find myself instructing the person who is to draw the Ark curtain to pull the string! in that same dopey accent.

Here’s our Rabbi Lewis - Rabbi Shalom Lewis - holding a sign bearing his father’s name - a prop from the Hallmark production.

Lewis Prop

At the end of the day, I’ve gotta hand it to Mitch Albom. Sentimental? Sure - even a bit mushy, perhaps. I may not be his biggest fan, but even cynics like me can appreciate a little warmheartedness, especially when it touches - however peripherally - our own lives.


Georgia is the last state in the South that forbids the sale of alcohol on Sunday. Last year, after numerous failed attempts, an initiative ended up on the ballot that would do nothing more than allow each local jurisdiction to vote on, and act upon, the matter. So, for example, the city of Roswell could put the issue of Sunday booze sales in front of the voters so that they could decide the issue.

That initiative passed, but not without the usual opposition from conservative church leaders and liquor store owners. The first group wanted to preserve that last of the old Sunday blue laws - “It’s the Lord’s day; keep it special!” - and the second wanted to avoid the necessity of staying open seven days a week to compete with supermarkets and warehouse outlets.

Even the Governor weighed in with a bullshit argument: “If you want to drink on Sunday, you should plan ahead.”

What a stupid restriction. You can buy alcohol at any licensed restaurant or bar after noon on Sunday, but you can’t buy a bottle of schnapps at the local Booze-Right for home consumption. Which alternative is more likely to put you on the road with a load on?

For those who argue that “it’s just one day a week,” I would say, “Why?” Why not restrict alcohol sales to a thirty-minute period immediately after sundown on Saturday? It makes the same amount of sense and is just as arbitrary and ridiculous.

Yesterday, numerous localities tossed the matter in front of the voters... and, with perhaps a single exception, overwhelmingly voted in favor of Sunday package sales. Overwhelmingly, as in 70% or more for, less than 30% against. Color me shocked. (Not really.)

Our little corner of the world did not vote on the matter, so we will live with the status quo ante for the time being. But it’s only a matter of time before the local merchants get tired of losing business to the stores in Roswell and Alpharetta just up the road.

Monday, November 7, 2011


Rapini with sausage and orecchiette
Rapini - broccoli rabe - with sausage and orecchiette pasta.

Massapequa, New York - my hometown - was chiefly notable for being the stomping grounds of Alec Baldwin and his clan of acting brothers; celebrated comedian Jerry Seinfeld; and popular joke-butt Joey Buttafuoco, who enjoyed a brief period of notoriety on account of his involvement with underage girlfriend and would-be murderess Amy Fisher in the early 1990’s. It was also the summer residence of one Carlo Gambino, boss of the eponymous Cosa Nostra crime family.

Massapequa was also notable for its ethnic makeup. Typical of many areas on the south shore of Long Island, it had large populations of both Italians and Jews. It was not for nothing that it was called “Matzoh-Pizza” by local wits.

Last week, I paid culinary homage to both facets of my old hometown’s personality.

Tuesday, with She Who Must Be Obeyed having had dinner arrangements elsewhere, I did what I usually do when I’m on my own: I prepare something the Missus doesn’t especially care for. In this case, I had a pile of broccoli rabe sitting in the fridge, a vegetable that SWMBO generally disdains owing to its bitter edge. For me, however, that bitterness only adds to the vegetable’s appeal.

Broccoli rabe (AKA rapini) pairs up very well with hot Italian sausage. I elected to cut a few calories and go the chicken-based sausage route, adding a few extra shakes of red pepper flakes to kick up the heat index. Sautéeing freshly washed rapini with some minced garlic and red pepper flakes kept it crisp-tender while taming its fearsome bitterness. Along with all this went some orecchiette pasta, a bit of chicken broth (reduced along with a cup of the starchy pasta cooking water) and a finish of freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano. It was a meal like you might find in Apulia... or Massapequa.

* * *

The week rolled by and before we knew it, it was Friday. Following in the footsteps of Elder Daughter - who became an accomplished bread baker during her summer Farm-Sojourn in Massachusetts - I decided to bake a challah.

I had tried baking challah a few times before, always with less-than-satisfactory results. My first loaf was flavorless; my second, wet enough to require baking in a pan, was overly cakey and sweet. This time, however, I adjusted the sweetening downward a tad, using a 50:50 blend of sugar and honey, and was careful to use enough salt. I also took pains to add enough - but not too much - flour, adding a few minutes of kneading after the first rise.

Challah à la Elisson
Challah à la Elisson: for perhaps the first time ever, I manage to bake a pretty decent loaf of bread.

Whatever I did must have worked. For once, this loaf was a bready home run: the right flavor and texture that cried out for you to tear off just one more little hunk. How good was it? Usually, our store-bought loaves survive Shabbat dinner mostly intact - this one was pretty much demolished. Easily the best loaf of bread I have ever baked. (Actually, the only really decent loaf I’ve ever baked.)

It was a challah that might have been at home in any Brooklyn bakery... or in Massapequa.

* * *

As a coda to the week’s Foody Activities, we joined a group of friends at the local Tibetan place - yes, there is actually a Tibetan restaurant in the neighborhood, strategically tucked away behind a Shell station - where I stuffed myself with (what else?) yak meat, served up in a hearty stir-fry with scallions, baby bok choy, and gaboons of cumin and cilantro. For afters, we all repaired to Chez Elisson, where I cranked out a load of ice cream flavored with matcha green tea.

Matcha Ice Cream
Matchless Matcha Ice Cream.

It was a dessert that would have been perfectly at home in Kyoto... but probably not in Massapequa. “Green tea ice cream? Yo, I gotcher green tea ice cream right here!

Friday, November 4, 2011


Leaves and Sky HDR
Eric’s backyard in late October: no finer place to be.

It has become an annual tradition amongst a certain set of Online Journalists - most, but not all, of whom are based in the southeastern United States - to travel to the wilds of McMinn County, Tennessee sometime around late October. That’s when Eric, the Original Tennessee Renaissance Man, opens his home to said Online Journalists for a weekend-long birthday celebration.

What started out as a blogmeet, a sort of combination drunken debauch and mutual admiration society, has evolved into a very personal gathering of friends. The Missus and I have shown up five out of the past seven years (we were barely on Eric’s radar screen in 2005 and couldn’t make it in 2007) and we enjoy it more every year.

There are traditions. Breakfast at the Tellico Junction Café; shooting pool; a roaring, crackling fire in the backyard; Eric’s grilled country-style ribs; impromptu guitar-picking concerts by the Elderly Brothers; poetry recitations; the bittersweet leave-taking on Sunday morning. Occasionally there will be other activities: shooting, rocket launches, the inflation of the Ceremonial Rubber Sheep. But the best part is the conversation... the being together.

The roll call:

Big Stupid Tommy
Recondo32 and Georgia
John Cox
Princess Fiona (mistress of the painless flu shot!)
And, of course, Elisson (dat’s me!) and SWMBO.

It was great meeting Rube and Anna for the first time - they’ve been part of the Blown-Eyed Jawja Blodgers orbit since the Wreckyll in Jeckyll back in April 2005, but since they live in London, they don’t make it to this side of the pond too often.

Harris Fire
Drink enough whisky, and the campfire might just start looking like this.

I won’t try to write a detailed recap - Erica’s monumental post pretty much captures it all - but it is a tradition of sorts for me to memorialize the event in verse. This time, I’ve gone completely off the reservation. Enjoy.

Hysterical (apologies to Allen Ginsberg)

I saw the best minds of the blogosphere destroyed by Facebook,
  tweeting hysterical shortposts,
dragging themselves through Etowah streets at dawn,
  looking for a jack and tow truck,
Q-tipheaded bloggers burning for the ancient heavenly connection
  to the starry dynamo in the machinery of night,
who got stuck on subways for the endless ride to holy Brooklyn
  on the F-train after too much whiskey and wine with K-Nine,
a lost battalion of platonic conversationalists sitting around a
  backyard fire, escaping the pooltable doom and gazing at the moon,
  yacketayakking screaming laughing whispering facts and memories
  and anecdotes and eyeball kicks and shocks of hospitals
  and jails and wars,
whole intellects disgorged in total recall for two whole days and nights
  with brilliant eyes, meat for supper cast on the hot grill,
who came from somewhere in South New Jersey leaving a trail
  of ambiguous picture postcards of Atlantic City Hall,
who lit cigarettes in backyard backyard backyard camping in snow
  on lonesome hills in grandfather night,
who lounged hungry and lonesome through Houston seeking
  jazz or sex or soup, and followed the brilliant Bostonian
  to converse about America and Eternity, a hopeless task,
  and so took car to Englewood,
who sang all night rocking and rolling their lofty incantations
  which in the yellow morning were stanzas of gibberish,
who cooked porcine animals’ ribs sausage steaks bacon
  & kugel, dreaming of a biscuit gravy kingdom,
who drove crosscountry sixteen hours to find out if I had a vision
  or you had a vision or he had a vision to find out Eternity,
who lived in Boston, who journeyed from Boston,
  who came back to Boston & flew on the plane,
who fell on her knees in Eric’s garage, hopelessly attempting a pushup
  but finally making a ridiculously long bank shot on the eight-ball
  for her redemption,
who came from Florida and stopped to see the Flambina on the way
  and who has her hands full with teenager teenager almost teenager,
who brings waffles and bacon to the masses and knows the ineffable
  secret of all that is smothered, scattered, chopped,
  channeled, and paneled,
who carries satchels of assorted hats & weaponry and plays
  dress-up with miscellaneous bowlers and kepis and vests,
who schlepped all the way from London to endure
  a whisky-soaked evening & to meet new friends,
and who therefore ran through the icy streets obsessed with
  a sudden flash of the alchemy of the use of the ellipse
  the catalog the meter & the Wordpress platform,
to recreate the syntax and measure of poor bloggy prose
  and stand before you speechless and intelligent and
  shaking with joy, pilgrimaging yet again to wish
  happy birthday to the original Tennessee renaissance man.

Confederate Eric
Eric is never crazy about having his image plastered all over the Internet, but this photo by Richard (and mildly photoshopped by Yours Truly) captures his soul in a way that really speaks to me. Happy birthday, ya hammerhead!

Thursday, November 3, 2011


Don’t let all those slick Food Network productions fool you: Cooking is hazardous work.

Most professional chefs, I’ll be willing to bet, boast an impressive array of slice marks and burn scars. Any working environment that involves sharp objects and high temperatures is going to leave its marks.

Houston Steve learned this the hard way. Sunday night, as he was preparing a chiffonade of cilantro, hacking up the tender leaves with a big honking chef’s knife, one of the cuts missed the target by a wee bit. “Hmmm,” he thought. “That felt more like meat than cilantro.”

Indeed it did, for he had sheared through the very tip of his left thumb, nearly severing it. Bet that made for a messy cutting board.

A quick trip to the local emergency facility and things were stitched up nicely. Alas, the injury meant that Steve could not play in the following day’s golf tournament... an especial shame in view of the fact that the event was held at his own club, with him being the chief organizer. Instead of swatting the White Dimpled Ball, he was relegated to sitting in a golf cart and harassing the foursomes as they came through...

All Thumbs
“See my thumb? Gee, I’m dumb!” Barry and Houston Steve (with bandage) give us a big Thumbs Up.

Lest I sound all snotty and sarcastic, let me be the first to say that I have no business getting cocky. With all the cooking I do, there but for the grace of Gawd go I. Of course, not drinking a brace of Martinis before commencing to cook might help. Heh.

Speedy recovery, Steve-O.


Most Wednesdays, the Minyan Boyz will convene at the local Caribou Coffee for breakfast. The menu there is by no means extensive, but in addition to the expected array of coffees, they offer a fine multi-grain hot cereal - an excellent meal with the addition of a few golden raisins and sliced almonds. Better yet, they know me well enough to have my order waiting for me before I even step up to the counter.

It ain’t Cheers, where everybody knows your name, but I’m perfectly happy if they know what I’m going to eat.

Those jolly Caribou folks like to post a trivia question every day, the correct answer to which will save you one thin dime (!) on your order. They’re generally not too challenging, meaning that I’ll know the answer four times out of five. The one they put up yesterday was especially amusing...

Caribou Trivia

Having trouble? Here’s a hint: The answer is contained within the question.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011


[On our drive back from Tennessee a few days ago, John Cox pointed out that Warren Zevon’s “Werewolves of London” and Lynryd Skynryd’s “Sweet Home Alabama” share the same bass line. True dat... and the lyrics kinda sorta work well together, too!]

I saw a werewolf with a Chinese menu in his hand
Carry me home to see my kin
He was lookin’ for the place called Lee Ho Fook’s
I miss Alabamy once again

Well I heard Mr. Young sing about her
You better not let him in.
Well, I hope Neil Young will remember
Werewolves of London again.

Sweet home Alabama
Where the skies are so blue
Aaahoo, werewolves of London

In Birmingham they love the governor
Lately he’s been overheard in Mayfair.
Now Watergate does not bother me
Huh, I’d like to meet his tailor.

Aaahoo, werewolves of London
Sweet home Alabama
Lord, I’m coming home to you

Well, I saw Lon Chaney walkin’ with the Queen
And they’ve been known to pick a song or two
Lord they get me off so much
Doing the Werewolves of London.
Now how about you?

Sweet home Alabama
Where the skies are so blue
Aaahoo, werewolves of London

Aaahoo, werewolves of London
Sweet home Alabama
Lord, I’m coming home to you
(And my hair is perfect.)


A bottle of Crystal Skull vodka accompanied by a brace of matching shot glasses.

When I saw this at Eric’s place this past weekend - one of a plethora of birthday gifts showered upon the Tennessee Renaissance Man - I could not help but think of Kevin Kim’s book, Water from a Skull. Not that there was water in that skull-shaped flask...

... and not that our activities had a whole lot to do with spirituality. Rather, they had a whole lot more to do with spirits... of the distilled sort.

Given that Hallowe’en was just around the corner, how could you not love a glass skull full of vodka? No wonder they call it “skullpop”!

Probably a good thing Dax wasn’t there this year, if only because I’d hate to think of the trouble he could get into with that skull.