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

Wednesday, February 29, 2012


Davy Jones
Davy Jones (1945-2012), formerly of The Monkees. R.I.P.

Somewhere in the bowels of the Archives d’Elisson, there resides a copy of the TV Guide Fall Preview Issue from 1966.

That was back in the days when broadcast television bestrode the airwaves like a colossus, cable TV being a dot on the horizon, the last resort of people in fringe reception areas. A weekly magazine that had complete listings of programs for a given market, TV Guide was a costlier alternative to the TV program listings in the daily fishwrap. This meant that pretty much the only time I would purchase a copy was when they would publish their Fall Preview.

The networks, you see, would all add new shows to their schedules in September, the month that marked the beginning of the year for schoolchildren (up North, anyway), carmakers, and television programmers... not to mention us Red Sea Pedestrians, whose New Year arrives in September or early October. This custom was adhered to religiously: Midseason replacements were rare to nonexistent.

All of this meant that a single issue of the TV Guide could act as a handy reference, with reasonably thorough descriptions of all the new shows... very useful when deciding what to watch.

The 1966 Fall Preview is, in retrospect, a remarkable historical document, for there were several noteworthy shows that made their debuts that September.

There was The Jean Arthur Show, significant mainly for having been exceptionally short-lived.

There was It’s About Time, a sitcom in which two contemporary astronauts find themselves back in the Stone Age, where they must deal with dinosaurs, volcanoes, and the cave-dwelling locals (Joe E. Ross, formerly of Car 54, Where Are You? and Imogene Coca).

There was The Time Tunnel, an Irwin Allen adventure series involving (you guessed it) time travel, effectuated by having the heroes run into a Sooper Seekrit Scientific Tube and emerging at the other end to kill Hitler or some similarly stupid shit.

There was another science fiction adventure show, an obscure drama that starred a handful of semi-unknowns, among them William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, and DeForest Kelley. Not much ever became of that one.

And then there was... The Monkees.

Inspired by the Beatles - and particularly their film A Hard Day’s Night - the geniuses behind The Monkees (producers Bob Rafelson and Bert Schneider) set out to create a TV series about a rock band. They had, at first, planned to cast an existing band... but the group they had in mind, the Lovin’ Spoonful, already had a record deal which would have prevented the TV series’s production company from marketing music from the show.

Enter Mike Nesmith, Davy Jones, Peter Tork, and Mickey Dolenz.

At first, they were only permitted to sing - other musicians provided instrumental backing in a sort of reverse Milli Vanilli scheme. But eventually, as the show (and the band) developed a following, the boys won the right to supervise their own musical output. And they were not without a degree of talent.

Me, I was never much of a fan... but The Other Elisson owned pretty much all of their records, if I recall correctly.

Alas, now one of The Monkees is no more. Davy Jones died this morning of a heart attack at the age of 66. There is now one fewer Monkee in the barrel, alas.

Jones leaves, in addition to his body of work with The Monkees, a peculiar legacy. It seems that his immense popularity inspired one Gene Roddenberry to create a character for Roddenberry’s own show - the obscure science fiction adventure mentioned above - that, except maybe for the Russian accent, looked and acted very much like Davy hizzownself. That’d be one Pavel Chekov.

Jones and Koenig
Separated at birth? Davy Jones and Walter Koenig (AKA Pavel Chekov).

Alas, Davy - we hardly knew ye.  Ave atque vale!


Higgledy piggledy,
Emperor Julius
Looked at the calendar,
Saying, “Oh, my!

“If we add one Dies
We won’t have winter
Show up in July!”

Today is that rarest of days in the civil calendar: Leap Day, the intercalary day inserted once every four years (except on centennial years not evenly divisible by 400, thanks to Pope Gregory).

That extra day is necessary because the solar year is slightly longer than 365 days. A calendar year has to have a whole number of days, which means that without the occasional intercalation, you eventually end up with the seasons becoming unlinked from the months. Winter in July, that sort of thing. Thus, Leap Day.

The Hebrew calendar doesn’t bother with leap days. Since it is a lunisolar calendar - the months are determined by the moon’s phases while the year is based on the solar year - an entire month is inserted when necessary. That works out to seven leap years every nineteen years. (In case you’re interested, this year (5772) is not a leap year, but last year was.)

I have heard that, in some jurisdictions, it is next to impossible to get a driver’s license with the February 29 date on it. Whether that’s a software issue or a credibility issue, who can say? But it affects the 0.068% of the population - one in every 1461 - that manages to arrive on the planet right on the intercalary day.

How ’bout that for a Useless Observation?

Tuesday, February 28, 2012


Surprise!  Laura Belle never saw this Birthday Bash coming...

This Saturday evening just past, we threw a little get-together for our friend Laura Belle.

“Little get-together” is, perhaps, a mild understatement when describing a surprise birthday bash with close to forty attendees. But there are certain occasions that demand to be celebrated, among them those Significant Birthdays on which the tens digit of the Age-O-Dometer clicks over. And Don, Laura Belle’s other half, was all to happy to let She Who Must Be Obeyed take the reins with regard to planning and execution... because let’s face it, party planning is one thing in which the ladies far exceed the gentlemen.

If Don or I had planned this thing, it would have ended up as a dinner out with a bottle of wine and perhaps a Gooey Dessert. In other words, inconsequential. Not on SWMBO’s watch.

One of the first decisions she made was that it would be a surprise party. This is trickier than it seems, because preserving the element of surprise requires extraordinary discretion on the part of all invitees. As the invitation list expands, the chance of someone inadvertently spilling the beans grows exponentially. This can be expressed mathematically as follows:


where Lfu is the likelihood of a fuckup, Ni the number of invitees, and y the coefficient of yakkiness, a number that is invariably greater than 1.0. Here’s a graphic representation:

Aside from discretion, pulling off a successful surprise party requires subterfuge. Stated simply, the intended honoree must be sold a bill of goods, hornswoggled, and eye-enwoollened. A plausible scenario - a cover story - must be created such that the honoree can reasonably be expected to be in the appropriate place at the right time: in addition, everyone with whom the honoree interacts must have the story straight so that no unreasonable inconsistencies can creep in. This is more difficult than it seems, unless the honoree is exceptionally credulous.

[One could, if one chose to do so, find philosophical issues with such an exercise of subterfuge on a friend or loved one. Sure, you can plan a surprise party by the use of Effective Techniques of Fabrication... but does that not also rouse the suspicion that, if one is that good a liar, one could also lie about other, more delicate matters? Just a perverse thought...]

To get to the matter at hand, Laura Belle was completely taken in by the carefully planned cover story concocted by Don and SWMBO, enabling Don to transport her to our house completely unaware of the impending festivities...

Waiting for Laura

...that is, until they pulled up in our driveway where a crowd of almost forty people bedecked with glowsticks awaited them. Among the crowd was Laura’s brother Bud, who had made the trek down from Philadephia to be here for the occasion... yet another surprise.

Inside, a margarita machine merrily cranked out frozen ’ritas - one of Laura Belle’s favorite tipples - by the snootful. For those who preferred other beverages, there was plenty of wine, beer, and soft drinks.

Dinner consisted of a kale salad with black walnuts, pears, and dried cherries in a walnut-sherry vinaigrette; chicken with red peppers and artichoke hearts on a bed of orzo; roasted zucchini and yellow squash with green Vidalia onions; and slabs of grill-roasted salmon.

Birthday Banquet

It was quite the gathering. Friends, family, the Friday night dinner crowd, all assembled to celebrate one of those milestones that comes along only once every decade. And in the midst of all the conviviality, Bud trotted out a touching poem that recapped life with his kid sister... followed by Don’s slide show. Smiles, laughs, and not a few moist eyes.

After that, in time-honored Birthday Party Tradition, it was Cake o’Clock.

Blow out them candles!
Laura prepares to blow out the candles.

Dessert Array
A serious collection of desserts: Cassata cake, raspberry layer cake, vanilla ice cream, cherries in wine, salted caramel sauce, coconut, brandied figs, sprinkles, hot fudge.

Listen: Life is full of disasters, uncertainties, and Nasty Surprises... which means you’ve gotta celebrate the happy occasions every chance you get. And, with Laura, celebrate we did!

Monday, February 27, 2012


Bordeaux of 2000
“We who are about to be drained salute you.”  Nine great Bordeaux await their fate. 

This evening’s Guild event - at Petite Auberge in the Toco Hills Center - promises to be something Extra Special.

The wines of the evening will all be Bordeaux of the exceptional 2000 vintage, said to be the best year since the legendary 1961. With the exception of the Speaker’s Wine, we’re talking Serious Reds - my favorite kind of grapey beverage. And these wines, while nowhere near their peak, have all been laid down long enough to soften any rough tannic edges and create that indescribable bouquet of Old Bordeaux.

I suspect Denny, the Curmudgeonly Superannuated Paraplegic, will take a pass - although both Houston Steve and I would love to see him. He’ll just have to experience it second-hand, alas...

Here’s the list of Planned Offerings:

Speaker’s Wine:
2005 Blanc de Lynch-Bages Bordeaux**

First Flight:
2000 Château Gombaude-Guillot Pomerol***
2000 Château Monbousquet Saint-Émilion Grand Cru Classé (Classification status as of 2006)***
2000 Château Château Beau-Séjour Bécot Saint-Émilion Premier Grand Cru Classé****

Duck Breast à l’Orange: Pan-seared Maple Leaf Farms duck breast topped with a duck jus flavored with a hint of orange. Served with cauliflower gratin.

Second Flight:
2000 La Chapelle de la Mission Haut-Brion Pessac-Léognan****
2000 Domaine de Chevalier Pessac-Léognan Grand Cru Classé****
2000 Château Cantemerle Haut-Médoc Fifth Growth****

Beef Wellington: Beef tenderloin, ham and mushroom duxelles baked in a puff pastry crust. Served with a bordelaise sauce.

Third Flight:
2000 Château Ducru-Beaucaillou Saint-Julien Second Growth*****
2000 Château Pedesclaux Pauillac Fifth Growth****
2000 Château Calon-Ségur Saint-Estèphe Third Growth****

Grilled New Zealand Lamb Chops: Herb-encrusted rack of lamb served atop a vegetable root purée with a mint reduction on the side.

2005 Château Grand Garron Première Côtes de Bordeaux**

Update: Per my normal practice, I have indicated my preferences with asterisks.

Three Bordeaux

First flight: Mmmmmmmmmm, good.
Second flight: Oh. My. Sweet. Gawd.
Third flight: Ohboyohboyohboyohboy, is this stuff great!

Had we eaten only of the tasty food and not consumed the excellent wines, it would have been enough.

Had we drunk of the excellent wines and not eaten of the tasty food, it would have been enough.

How much more, then, are we indebted to the gentlemen of the Sommelier Guild who have graciously opened their cellars full of excellent wines unto us, and the staff of Petite Auberge who have turned their culinary skills to the task of preparing the tasty food, that we may enjoy them together?

Guild Panorama
The Guild sits down to a serious tasting at Petite Auberge.

And wait, there’s more. A serious Wine Event tends to bring out a lot of lagniappe... the extra bottles that show up after the formal dining and tasting agenda is complete. Here are just a few of ’em:

1986 Château La Lagune Haut-Médoc Grand Cru Classé***
2000 Château Lynch-Bages Pauillac Grand Cru Classé****
1986 Château La Dominique Saint-Émilion Grand Cru Classé**
2000 Château Moulin Saint Georges Saint-Émilion Grand Cru****

Parks, a long-time Guild member and wine merchant, refers to the act of drinking wine before it reaches its optimum age as “vinicide,” and I suspect that we may have been guilty of that particular crime... for most of these, good as they were, were well short of their peak quality. You have to wonder what these same wines would taste like in another five years or so. With luck, I’ll be around to find out.

Friday, February 24, 2012


Salted Caramel Sauce
Salted Caramel Sauce. All this stuff needs is a nice bowl of vanilla ice cream. Or chocolate. Or dulce de leche.  Or just a honkin’ big spoon...

If there is one flavor that can pull me right back to my childhood - aside from chocolate, that is, in its many forms - it’s caramel.

Who doesn’t remember the delight of digging through a sack of Kraft caramels, hunting for the elusive chocolate caramels amongst their fairer-hued brethren? The difficult-to-remove plastic film that enclosed each piece, obnoxious as it seemed at the time, was actually helpful, ensuring a more reasonable pace of Caramel Consumption.

And then there is caramel sauce, capturing that magical burnt-sugar flavor in fluid form. As a topping on ice cream, as an essential component of tarte tatin and crème caramel, or converted into caramel icing for the eponymous cake, it’s notoriously hard to resist. Small wonder the supermarket eggheads have figured out that while people will eat apples, they will eat far more apples if they can dunk the slices into a handy tub of caramel sauce. Even the Latino contingent has gotten in on the act, with their dulce de leche, a caramelized sweetened milk confection. Formerly an exotic import, it’s everywhere now - even unto becoming a Cheerios flavor right up there with Honey Nut and Berry Blast.

She Who Must Be Obeyed developed a caramel jones the other day - unusual for her - and asked me to fix up a batch of a suitable sauce. I dared not ask her what she wanted to put it on, but I suppose I’ll find out.

There are plenty of variations on the Caramel Sauce theme, but I settled on one that SWMBO had pulled up in her extensive electronic research, a recipe for a Salted Caramel Sauce from the Cooking Channel’s Kelsey Nixon.

Salted? Yes, salted. Salty and sweet have a natural affinity, with a moderate amount of salt serving to intensify and enhance the flavor of whatever it accompanies. That would explain the perverse appeal of praline bacon (bacon + brown sugar + pecans), or Mo’s Bacon Bar (chocolate + bacon), or, for that matter, chocolate-covered sea salt.

It also would explain why sea salt in its various forms has infiltrated the chocolate market. Now you can find all sorts of salt-jacked chockies, including a Lindt sea-salt and dark chocolate bar, not to mention all manner of fleur de sel-dusted caramel candies at the Fancy Chocolate Shoppes.

So this one was a natural. And it came together easily enough.

You don’t need to screw around with a candy thermometer to make a decent caramel sauce. All you have to remember is (1) not to stir the syrup as it boils, and (2) never to walk away from it, as it will change from a clear syrup to a burnt, blackened mess in mere moments. What you want to do is catch it just as it begins picking up a nice amber hue - that’s when you pull it off the heat, whisk in the cream, and toss in the butter. As soon as that cream hits the sugar syrup, caramel happens!

[Sugar. Cream. Butter. Did I say this was a low-calorie recipe? No, I did not. But then again, the Missus and I don’t eat this stuff every day.]

I used fleur de sel as my Salt of Choice, but any decent sea salt would do.

And the results? Good Gawd.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012


The redoubtable Stu Savory has come up with an interesting idea for a Blog-Meme (remember those?) involving old vinyl LP’s.

You know what those are, don’tcha? Vinyl “long playing” (LP) records are what the primitives of the mid-twentieth century used as storage media for analog sound files. They consisted of thin molded vinyl discs with tiny grooves in which were embedded the vibratory signatures of sounds. Those sounds could be reproduced with remarkable faithfulness by placing the record on a turntable rotating at a carefully controlled 33⅓ RPM and placing a diamond-tipped needle in the groove. Electrical transducers would capture the resulting vibrations and feed them into an electronic amplifier. The compact digital audio disc, appearing in the early 1980’s, eventually superseded the LP record... but there are plenty of us Old Goats who have a metric buttload of old vinyl discs stashed away.

Here’s how the meme works:
  1. Dig out one of your favorite old vinyl LP’s and listen to it. The LP must be at least 30 years old.

  2. Put up a blogpost with a scan/photo of the cover and a short review of your favorite track on the LP. Include a link back to this post and a copy of the meme rules.

  3. If possible, embed or link to a YouTube video of the artist(s) performing, preferably of the same vintage.

  4. Mail Stu a permalink to your blog entry. He may link back to you in the comments.

  5. Repeat every week for the foreseeable future. (Stu does this on Sunday, but I’m not quite as picky about the day of the week.)
As for my Old Vinyl of the week, I had a devil of a time finding something... mainly because I have over 350 vinyl LP’s in the Basement d’Elisson, most of which are well over 30 years old. But I (of course) managed to find something.

Stand Up

Here’s Jethro Tull’s Stand Up, their second album, vintage 1969. I discovered it - and Tull - a few months after its release when I was a college freshman. I still enjoy it, all these years later.

The LP jacket was designed by noted woodcut artist James Grashow and featured a cutout of the band that stood up (get it?) when you opened the album jacket. It is considered a collector’s item now.

Stand Up pop-up jacket

Martin Barre’s replacing Tull’s original guitarist Mick Abrahams signaled a shift in the group’s sound away from the blues and towards progressive rock, more in tune with group leader Ian Anderson’s thinking. It’s an arc that is very evident when you listen to Tull’s first three albums in sequence: This Was (1968), Stand Up (1969), and Benefit (1970). Stand Up represents the best of both worlds, a hard rock sound that still retains a bluesy, even jazzy tone.

There are several songs from this disc that, at one time or another, have bubbled up as favorites of mine, but “We Used To Know” - at least in my mind - is the standout track, with its minor key and plaintive lyrics:

Nights of winter turn me cold -
Fears of dying, getting old.
We ran the race and the race was won
By running slowly...

Give it a listen and a look-see if you get a chance. [Note: If you watch the YouTube video at the link, fast-forward three minutes to skip a lot of extraneous noise and waiting around.]

There are other notable songs on Stand Up. “Bourée,” a composition by Johann Sebastian Bach, was given a jazzy rendition in the video below:

As a side note, it turns out that JoAnn, one of our dearest friends, is actually a first cousin to Glenn Cornick, the bassist in the video above (and on Tull’s first three albums). How ’bout dat?

JoAnn and SWMBO
“Tull, schmull. Where da wine at?” JoAnn and SWMBO.


An unconventional assortment of home-baked bagels. Back row (left to right): cracked pepper (2), black sesame, Aleppo pepper. Front row (left to right): wasabi sesame (2), poppy seed, plain. [Click to embiggen.]

Lign in drerd un bakn beygl. I’m in Hell, baking bagels.”

- Classic Yiddish response to the question, “How are things?”

I am a big fan of the Toroidal Breadstuff, despite my consumption of wheaten goods having been sharply reduced this past two years. There is nothing quite as toothsome as the crisp, glossy exterior and warm, chewy interior of a freshly-baked bagel. Whether toasted, sliced and topped with smoked fish, or simply ripped into chunks and slathered with butter, it is a food that speaks to my cultural roots as both an Ashkenazic Jew and an American.

It was easy enough to get excellent bagels where I grew up on the south shore of Long Island. On any given Sunday morning, Dad - Eli, hizzownself - would go down to the appetizing store (AKA the local Bagel and Smoked Fish Shoppe) and come back with a white paper sack crammed with a glorious assortment of warm-from-the-oven bagels. As often as not, he would also have scored some smoked fish: Nova Scotia smoked salmon and belly lox. To me, there was no greater Food-Pleasure on Earth than a warm bagel, sliced in twain and slathered with cream cheese, then draped with silken sheets of fish. A 50:50 proportion of novy and belly lox provided the perfect ratio of smoke and salt.

On special occasions, the salmon would be accompanied by something extra. Perhaps a chunk of kippered salmon, or a few delicate slices of sable. And, once in a blue moon, there’d be sturgeon: a kingly treat. (Even then, sturgeon was ridiculously pricey.)

As far as varieties went, things back then were pretty straightforward. You had plain water bagels, of course (boiling in water before baking being an essential part of the process of baking the True Bagel), but there were also sesame seed, onion, garlic, poppyseed, salt, egg, rye, and pumpernickel bagels. The “everything” bagel (combining all of the critical toppings in one delightful amalgam) came along later, as did the loathsome cinnamon-raisin bagel.

You can get bagels in all sorts of styles these days, but anything not included in the above list is of questionable - to me, at least - historical provenance. However, far be it from me to tell you that you shouldn’t enjoy your cinnamon-raisin, blueberry, or cherry vanilla bagel... provided you have the decency to refrain from putting smoked fish on it, an act that desecrates both fish and bagel.

You can get bagels pretty much everywhere these days too, thanks to the Bagelization of America. McDonald’s, Einstein’s, the freezer case at your local supermarket... the damn things are everywhere. And, sad to say, most of them are crap. OK, I don’t expect a bagel from Dunkin’ Donuts or McDonald’s (home of the bacon, egg, and cheese bagel - a shanda!) or from Sara Lee or Lender’s (two freezer-case mainstays) to resemble a real, honest-to-Gawd bagel, but places like Bruegger’s and Einstein’s that ostensibly specialize in the things should know better. Feh.

I’ve actually thought of a few bagel toppings that, while decidedly non-traditional, are nevertheless reasonable extrapolations of what ought to go on a bagel. Wasabi-coated sesame seeds. Black sesame seeds. Aleppo pepper. Cracked black pepper. No bagel place I’m aware of offers this sort of weirdness, though... which means that if I want ’em, I have to make ’em myself.

Which is exactly what I did, using a recipe from Baking Illustrated, from the fine folks at America’s Test Kitchen who publish Cook’s Illustrated magazine.

The tricky part of baking bagels isn’t the boiling, or the kneading, or even the shaping - it’s getting your hands on the requisite high-gluten flour. Regular bread flour is OK, but you really want the high-gluten stuff for the right chew. Fortunately, I had a source: Tommy, proprietor of the Local Bagel and Smoked Fish Emporium, who set me up with a three-pound bag merely for the asking. (He buys it by the fifty-pound sack, a little more than I needed for my essay.)

You knead the crap out of the dough - before electric mixers, bagel bakers all must’ve had arms like Popeye - and then let it sit in the fridge overnight to slow-proof. During this step (the retarding process), slow bacterial fermentation takes place that gives the bagels their characteristic mild lactic acid tang.

Boiling Bagels
They ain’t real bagels unless you boil ’em.

Before you bake the bagels, you give them a brief immersion in boiling water. Mass-produced bagels are often steamed instead, a labor-saving step that results in a fluffier bagel. Yech. (Characteristic grate marks on the bottom are a dead giveaway that the bagels have been steamed.) Thirty seconds is all they need - then the toppings are applied and the bagels go into the oven.

In the Oven

Inquiring minds will want to know: How did they turn out?

Too damn good, actually. It’s been a looooong time since I’ve ripped into a sack of warm bagels and snarfed down a couple in one sitting - nowadays, I am, like as not, to limit myself to half of one, with the lovely chewy insides scooped out and discarded... much like a potato skin. But not today. I dispatched two of these lovelies within minutes of extracting them from the oven.

Am I ashamed? Hell, naw.

Do I want another one? Hell, yeah.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012


Kirk is Kirky
Spock is Spocky
Lieutenant Sulu
Drinks his sake

Len McCoy
Is acting docky
In more sequels
Than ol’ Rocky

Them writers didn’t
Have no blocky
Movie scripts, they
Wrote a flocky

[Inspired by Scott McCord, Trekkie extraordinaire]

Monday, February 20, 2012


“They gave him vinegar to drink mingled with gall: and when he had tasted thereof, he would not drink.” - Matthew 27:34, KJV

The Romans of Biblical times may have been able to build a mighty empire, but they sure as shit didn’t know how to mix a cocktail. Nevertheless, they had one thing right: Bitters are an essential ingredient.

Bitters - infusions of aromatic herbs in alcohol - have been around for a long time. Used as digestives and patent medicines, it was inevitable that they would find their way into Tasty Potables, there to contribute their unique flavor notes.

The extensive assortment of bitters at Seed, a new local eatery with a talented mixologist and a well-stocked bar.

There are bitters of all varieties. Digestive bitters are consumed neat or on the rocks after a meal, and there are some - Campari, Pimm’s No. 1, and Fernet Branca come to mind - that are major components of cocktails. If you are not familiar with the Negroni, the Pimm’s Cup, and the Fernet and Coke (a favorite in Argentina), you’re missing out.

A few others in this camp include Aperol (a little less assertive than Campari), Averna (a little sweeter), and Underberg, with its powerful gentian kick. Underberg is the one that allows Germans to survive their massive meals of wienerschnitzel mit spätzle, wild boar, and sauerkraut: served in a small glass goblet, it can keep your kishkes from locking up after the most monstrous of Mittel-Europaische dinners. It’s good stuff to have around the house.

And then there are the types of bitters that add subtle flavor notes to cocktails instead of jumping all over center stage - like the ones pictured above. Angostura bitters (from the eponymous town in Trinidad) (essential to the Manhattan), Peychaud’s bitters (can’t make a Sazerac cocktail without ’em), and orange bitters fall into this category.

Long experience has taught me that where mixed drinks are concerned, a bit of bitters can mean the difference between a pedestrian tipple and one that is exceptional. Anyone can enjoy a sweet drink - think of all those so-called “martinis” offered at your local drinkery - but it takes a refined palate to appreciate something that plays to those other, underappreciated taste buds.

Medicinal? Maybe to some... but medicine does cure what ails ya, don’t it? Pass me that bitter cup, Buttercup!

Update: What better tipple on Mardi Gras - Tuesday, February 21 - than a Sazerac? Get out that bottle of Peychaud’s, cher!

Wednesday, February 15, 2012


Ernie chuckled as he remembered that old joke, the one with the two buddies who wondered whether there was golf in Heaven. “Yes, there is,” went the punchline, “and your tee-time is tomorrow morning at nine.”

There was, indeed, golf in Heaven. Ernie played wearing his brand-new Forever Body, in a foursome with Jesus, Moses, and the Almighty Himself. He would drill 325-yard drives right down the middle and play flawless bunker shots. “Sure beats living,” he thought.

But one morning when his tee shot found a water hazard, he keeled over, half-paralyzed.

“That’s a one-stroke penalty,” said the Lord.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012


Valentine, circa 1938
Valentine, circa 1938, from the collection of SWMBO’s late Daddy.

On this, the kinda-sorta holiday cum civic occasion that celebrates the idea of Romantic Love, it’s not a bad idea to take a good look at that Noble Institution.

The chocolate and flower crowd - aided and abetted by the restaurant and greeting card industries - like to portray love as that warm, melty emotion indulged in by young, attractive couples (and the occasional cute, wrinkly seniors, provided they look reasonably presentable). A nice dinner out, a bottle of wine, perhaps a handful of all-too-perishable flowers, and we’ve followed the norms of the day, made our obeisance to Eros, AKA Cupid, the little dude with the wings and arrows.

And that’s all fine, as far as it goes. I mean, hell, after 36 years I still get all hot and bothered when I gaze into the deep blue eyes of the Missus. We’re not kids anymore, but she still can make me feel like one. (Plus, we still crack each other up. If that’s not romantic, what is?)

But love - real love - is way, way more than a box of truffles from Russell Stover and two dozen red roses.

Love is what you have left when everything in your daily routine is stripped away from you. Love is what sustains your mind when your body doesn’t want to do what you tell it to do.

Love feeds you, literally and figuratively, even unto bringing your meals to your lips, spoonful by spoonful. Love sits by your bed and watches over you while you sleep. Love makes sure the doctors and therapists are doing everything they can to bring your life back to a semblance of its former self.

Love is what you have when someone says the words “in sickness and in health” and takes them seriously... especially the “in sickness” part, the part that has very little to do with candlelit dinners, or chocolates, or vacations, or cruises. It’s the messy part that the greeting card folks don’t talk about much.

Love is what you have when you’re fortunate enough to have someone in your life that, when put to the test, puts on the Big Girl Panties (or the Big Boy Pants) and does what must be done.

I have never doubted that that’s the kind of love She Who Must Be Obeyed and I share. And that is most certainly the kind of love Eli (hizzownself) and Toni share, for I have seen evidence of it every single day since Christmas morning last.

That’s one tough, hard-ass Valentine, the Genuine Article. The wine and candles will have to wait; there’s work to be done. Love-work.

Listen: Today is Valentine’s Day, and I will celebrate it with my own Valentine. We’ll enjoy a nice dinner, a glass or two of wine. Flowers may, indeed, come into play. Huggage and kissage may even take place, if I’m lucky. But in the back of my mind, I will be thinking of Eli and Toni... and the kind of love you don’t see in the Hallmark store.

Monday, February 13, 2012


Whitney Houston
Whitney Houston, 1963-2012. There is a certain wistfulness in her expression here that hints at a deeply troubled soul.

There is really little point in my adding my two cents’ worth to the outpouring of post-mortem media bloviation in the wake of Whitney Houston’s untimely passing this Saturday past. The newspapers and teevee stations will have a completely predictable field day rehashing the high and low points of her career, the sad and sordid details of her death, the sound bites from the bereaved.

It’s an all-too-familiar script, one that practically writes itself. Talented singer and/or actor sets the world on fire with his or her brilliance, develops an unhealthy reliance on Pleasurable But Dangerous Chemicals, suffers miscellaneous setbacks and is no longer a Big Name, then dies at an early age - generally as a result in overindulgence in the aforementioned Chemicals.

In the case of Ms. Houston, it’s an especially poignant loss. When she was at the peak of her game, nobody could touch her: She had a voice that was completely incomparable, coupled with extraordinary beauty. Her smile could light up a room with megawatt brilliance.

Alas, brilliance always seems to have its dark side, especially in the world of music. A short list of great artists who self-destructed far too early would have to include Ms. Houston along with Jim Morrison, Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Michael Jackson, and Amy Winehouse. What a sad, fucking waste.

She was, for a while, a local presence here in the Atlanta area. The house she shared with husband Bobby Brown stood adjacent to (if I recall correctly) the sixteenth tee of Country Club of the South in Alpharetta, a course I used to play frequently in the context of my duties at the Great Corporate Salt Mine. In a neighborhood of magnificent houses, the Houston/Brown residence stood out, just a bit more opulent than the others surrounding it. And yet, one could sense that there was no happiness there... even before the revelations concerning Brown’s abuse of his wife were made public.

Requiescat in pace, Whitney. Your voice will always be with us to provide a measure of bittersweet comfort... a comfort you were never able to find for yourself.

Friday, February 10, 2012


Technology-enabled information sharing has revolutionized the business world. Videoconferences have begun to replace expensive travel and face-to-face meetings, while purveyors of everything from print media to music CD’s have had to adapt to the realities of the Digital Age.

When data travels at the speed of light, the paperboy just doesn’t cut it anymore as your go-to News Delivery Option.

Social media now have real impact on corporate and NGO decisions: witness the recent case in which a firestorm of Twitter- and Facebook-fed indignation forced the Susan G. Komen Foundation to reconsider their decision to stop funding Planned Parenthood. Regardless of your personal feelings on the Komen debacle, you’ve gotta admit that it showed how Media Electronica have changed the way things get done... or get criticized for the way they get done.

It also means that Andy Warhol’s oft-quoted comment about celebrity - “In the future, everyone will be world-famous for 15 minutes” - has not only become a reality, it’s almost behind the times. These days it seems more like the world has a five-minute attention span for practically everything.

Submitted for your consideration, the recent Internet-driven phenomenae of planking, owling, storking, horsemaning, et alia. All of these forms of silliness are being superseded at an ever-increasing pace by even sillier behaviors.



Some of the new memes have been inspired by gridiron heroes. Perhaps the best known of these is Tebowing - imitating the posture of Denver Broncos quarterback Tim Tebow as he prays for divine assistance in his quest for victory. (Alas for Tim, sometimes when God answers our prayers, He says “No.”)

Tim Tebow demonstrates the posture that turned his name into an Internet Gerund. Photo © TebowingNation/Facebook.

According to TebowingNation, a Facebook group, to perform the act of Tebowing means “to get down on a knee and start praying, even if everyone else around you is doing something completely different.”

Tebowing was bad enough, but in the wake of the New England Patriots’ loss in last Sunday’s Super Bowl, we now have a new meme: Bradying. That’d be mimicking the defeated posture of Patriots QB Tom Brady as he sat on the field, legs outstretched and head down, mourning an intercepted pass.

Abject misery: Tom Brady, knowing that he has failed to secure the Super Bowl XLVI title, decides to become an exemplar of Internet silliness instead.

Both Tebowing and Bradying seem to incorporate the element of Supplication Before a Higher Power. In Tebow’s case, it’s “Oh, Lord, please help me to win this game for Thy greater glory and the glory of my teammates... and, not incidentally, mine own.” Brady, meanwhile, is probably thinking, “Oh, Lord, why did you show your displeasure in this, Your servant, by allowing that ball to be snatched out of Gronkowski’s eager hands?”

But we Red Sea Pedestrians have been playing the Supplication Game far longer. Thousands of years, as a matter of fact. And so, I offer up a new Internet meme for your consideration:

Yours Truly, in chubbier days, demonstrates Tachanuning: We got yer abject humility right here!


Tachanun is the part of Jewish weekday liturgy in which, simply put, we ask the Eternal One to Play Nice and Not Smite Us, Pretty Please. Parts of it are recited while in a humble posture, head resting on arm (described as n’filat apayim, literally “falling upon one’s face.”)

Like Tebowing or Bradying, Tachanuning involves striking a pose of abject humility - yet it has the advantage of not requiring that one kneel or sit upon the ground. It’s easy enough to adapt it for an Internet meme, don’tcha think?

I figure if Tachanuning catches on, I can be world-famous for about three minutes - that appears to be the going rate these days.

Update: Kevin Kim offers a thoughtful analysis of the ever-accelerating Internet meme lifecycle.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012


Today is a Jewish kinda-sorta holiday so arcane, most Jews don’t even know about it: Tu b’Shevat.

Tu b’Shevat - literally the fifteenth day of the month of Shevat - also known as the New Year of the Trees, marks the beginning of the agricultural year of Talmudic times. I did say it was arcane, didn’t I?

There’s not much in the way of observance, since Tu b’Shevat is not a holiday per se. Tachanun, the series of penitential prayers typically recited at weekday services, is omitted... and it is traditional to eat nuts and dried fruit, agricultural products reflective of the Land of Israel. You could think of it as Jewish Trail Mix Day.

And the question: If you were a tree, what sort of tree would you be?

Monday, February 6, 2012


He’s back!Rhet Butler
(Who better to pose a rhetorical question than Rhet (orical) Butler?)


Now, this...


...is one tiny-ass pickle.

She Who Must Be obeyed loves these little guys. Sweet gherkins - another kind of miniature pickle - are a favorite of hers, but this is no sweet gherkin. It is a cornichon, a Frenchified dwarf pickle with a subtle flavor.

Any time I bring home a pint of cornichons from the local Pickle Shoppe, SWMBO can be relied upon to demolish them in short order. And why not? They’re low in calories but packed with vinegary flavor.

Best of all, the cornichon is a perfect garnish for the Pickletini, being, as it is, a Teeny Pickle. Have one today!



Hakuna has, of late, taken to nestling herself into the crack between the cushions of our family room sofa. The result - aside from a lot of cat hair on the sofa, that is - is a vaguely heart-shaped kitty, the very picture of Feline Comfort.

Sunday, February 5, 2012


Today is a day of great significance... for various unrelated reasons.

Most Americans will know it as Super Bowl Sunday, the final day of the postseason when the NFL Championship is decided. This year - Year 46 (or XLVI, as it is more commonly styled) - the New York Giants will square off against the New England Patriots. Living in Atlanta as I do, I don’t really have a dog in this hunt - but as someone who grew up in the Noo Yawk suburbs, I would be marginally happier if the Giants were to grab the trophy.

Being that it’s Super Bowl Sunday, it is also the day of the World Wide Wrap, an event of significance to Conservative/Masorti Jews in which the ritual practice of wearing tefillin (AKA phylacteries, little leather boxes containing words of Scripture) is taught to Red Sea Pedestrians around the globe. It began twelve years ago as a program at the Men’s Club of Temple Israel in Charlotte, North Carolina - today, under the auspices of the International Federation of Jewish Men’s Clubs, it involves over 250 congregations and well over 10,000 participants.

It also happens to be the 88th birthday of the Missus’s stepdad David. Happy birthday, David!

But most important for me and the Missus, this is the very day when, thirty-five years ago, I asked her to tie the knot. (Fortunately for me, Elder Daughter, and the Mistress of Sarcasm, she answered in the affirmative.) Yes: It’s our 35th engage-a-versary!

We ask many questions in our lives, but this is the sort of query that carries especial significance. Perhaps it is for that reason that a special verb is used when speaking of Proposals of Marriage. Regarding said proposals, one does not “ask” the question, one “pops” the question. Why this is, I have no idea... but I can happily say that my pop, evidently, was perfectly acceptable.

Saturday, February 4, 2012


It was sometime in 1956 or ’57 when the four-year-old Elisson noticed big doings going on next door.

Gargantuan machines came and dug out a humongous hole, piling up mountains of dirt around its perimeter. It looked like a perfect place to play, but the young lad was given strict instructions to stay the hell away from that big hole and those mounds of earth lest he be swallowed up in an unfortunate accidental manner. Soon other machines came, and with them an army of men with hammers, nails, and great planks of wood. And as the days wore on, a house - a big one, with two stories - began to take shape.

How long it took to build that house, who can say? Little Elisson certainly cannot, for it is some 55-odd years later, and his memories of those days are necessarily befogged, seen as if through a scrim of cheesecloth. But whether it was a process measured in weeks or months matters not at all. All that does matter is that it was, eventually, complete, whereupon a family moved in... and I met the Girl Next Door.

She was a dark-haired beauty, and despite her having three years on me, I was smitten. As smitten as a four-year-old could be, I suppose.

TGND, as it happens, was the youngest of four, all sisters, the eldest of whom was a full eighteen years her senior. Shortly after the family moved in, said eldest sister got married, and in true Italian family tradition, ended up living just three doors up the street in a house that her father and husband built.

We would spend lazy summer afternoons watching the butterflies flutter around the towering buddleja bush in our back yard, doing whatever little kids do. Of course, being that we were so different in age, TGND and I traveled in different circles, and as the years went by we would see less and less of each other... except on those occasions when she was called upon to baby-sit for me and my brother, the Other Elisson.

Eventually, we relocated. It was all of three blocks to the southwest, but it meant that The Girl Next Door was no longer Next Door, alas. By that time, she was a newly-minted high-school graduate anyway; she would not be spending much time in the neighborhood any longer. And three years later, I moved away - first to university, then to Sweat City - and I saw no more of TGND.

* * *

Last Monday, on the way to visit Eli (hizzownself) at the hospital, I took a brief detour and stopped in at the West Islip Public Library.

After waiting for a suitable opportunity, I walked over to the desk where sat one of the librarians and leaned over toward her, in the manner of someone who was about to ask a question but was not quite sure what it was he wanted to ask. She looked at me, puzzled at first, and then the light of recognition dawned. “I can’t believe it.”

Of course it was The Girl Next Door. It might have taken her longer to figure out who I was, had it not been for The Other Elisson having stopped by the previous week. Still, not bad - given that she had not laid eyes on me in something like forty-five years.

Remarkably, she hadn’t changed all that much... and her bright-eyed smile and little-girl voice hadn’t changed at all.

We spent the better part of an hour swapping stories, learning about each other’s families, and reminiscing about the Old Neighborhood. TGND was appalled to hear that Alec Baldwin had bought the old Bookmobile... she used to babysit him and had nought good to say about him, his obnoxious brood of brothers (except for Billy), his lecherous, Fred Flintstone-like father, or his house, which had a back yard filled with debris, unmowed grass, and raw sewage. She recalled the old butterfly-chasing days (“You used to stick ’em in that jar and kill ’em”) and her admiration for my mother, who (unlike all of the other suburban mommies in our neighborhood) showed her independence by playing golf three times a week.

Ahhh, memories.

The time flew past: All too soon, it was time to go and catch Dad as his lunch time began. And so we said our goodbyes.

As we move our playing pieces across the gameboard of Life, there are people who become part of our daily existence - family, friends, business colleagues, and the like - and there are others who, in the grand scheme of things, form the backdrop against which that existence plays out. Perhaps The Girl Next Door falls more into that second category, as do most of the people of my early days. Yet, in a small way, she will always be part of me, for she made an indelible impression fifty-five years ago, when I was of an impressionable age.

And how could I ever forget her, anyway? Fate would never allow it: She shares her given name with the real love of my life, She Who Must Be Obeyed.

Thursday, February 2, 2012


Groundhog Day
©2006 King Features Syndicate.

Today is Groundhog Day. The excitement on people’s faces is almost palpable.

I don’t know about you, but I’m almost relieved when it’s finally over.

First of all, the relentless hype has really killed a lot of the joy for me. It used to be, you didn’t hear Groundhog Day music in every frickin’ retail establishment in the world - at least, not until right after New Year’s Day, when the holiday season “officially” begins. Not any more. Now, Groundhog Carols are the order of the day, 24/7, starting right after Thanksgiving. It’s relentless.

The malls are packed with people doing their last-minute shopping for Groundhog Day gifts, and post offices burn the midnight oil to keep up with the volume of packages and Groundhog Greeting cards. And it’s almost a given in the retail business that 60% of their business is done in the weeks leading up to Christmas; most of the remaining 40% comes from Groundhog Day. A successful ’Hog Season often means the difference between success and failure for small businesses.

That, of course, means hype. Advertising. A constant barrage of TV ads. Postal workers straining under mailbags laden with massive Groundhog Day catalogs.

And then there are the decorations. It seems that everybody is constantly trying to outdo the Joneses, putting up ever-more-elaborate displays. Lights by the megawatt, inflatable groundhog lairs... sometimes it makes me yearn for a simpler time, a time when every family dug a simple hole in the front yard, and Dad was content with a handmade cardboard top hat.

Now, don’t get the wrong idea. I’m hardly a Groundhog-Scrooge. I love this time of year as much as anybody. Holiday parties, the special seasonal foods, Hog Nog - it’s all good. But sometimes I worry that the real meaning of the day has gotten lost amidst all the hoopla.

After all, isn’t the holiday supposed to be about Phil?

Not Phil as we see him today, surrounded by handlers and media flacks. Just Phil, the simple woodland creature, on a mission from God to predict the weather. His message is one of peace and dignity, one that is immune from the cares of the everyday world. Politics? Global warming? Kyoto? Photo ops? News reporters? Pfaugh. Punxsutawney Phil cares not for these things.

They are merely temporal - and temporary. But the light of Phil’s love is eternal.

Put the Ground back in Groundhog Day! And may your Groundhog Day be sweet.

[Adapted from a post originally published at Blog d’Elisson on January 31, 2008.]