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

Friday, August 31, 2012

BLUE MOON BIRTHDAY

Moon over Alabama

Once in a blue moon
You may find that Special Someone
Once in a Blue Moon
You may find your love

And when you
Find that Special Someone
Take her in your arms
With that Blue Moon above

Well, I found my Special Someone... and today is not only her birthday, it’s the day of this year’s Blue Moon.

A blue moon, according to the latest popular definition, is the second full moon in a calendar month.  It’s a meaningless term if you’re using the Hebrew calendar, mainly because the months all start with the new moon: A full moon can only take place in the middle of the month.  But in the Gregorian calendar, it’s an unusual, yet by no means rare, event.

The last blue moon took place on December 31, 2009 - a New Year’s Eve blue moon.  As for the next one, we’ll have to wait until July 31, 2015. Then, in 2018, we’ll have the truly uncommon phenomenon of two blue moons in a single year.

Ahhh, but a Blue Moon Birthday - now, that’s an even more unusual event.  Before today, the only time a blue moon fell on SWMBO’s birthday was in 1966.  The next time won’t be until 2023.  I certainly hope (b’li ayin hara) we’ll both be around to celebrate it.

But in the meantime, my beloved Missus gets to commemorate yet another Trip Around the Sun.  May it be a good one, my love - and may it bring a year filled with good things without limit!

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

THE HUNGRY GAMES: A 100-WORD POLITICAL PROGNOSTICATION

Costco Hot Dog

The Thirty-First Amendment to the Constitution was a real game-changer. But it was necessary.

Political discourse had become so hateful and vitriolic that the Republic itself was in danger. The parties would no longer compromise, would not work together in any way for the greater good. SuperPACs, with their immense corporation-fed coffers, had taken over the election process, now an endless barrage of mudslinging.

Things had to change.

They did. Now, elections were no longer decided by popular vote. Instead, candidates competed in an Election Day hot-dog eating contest.

The winners went to Washington. Losers were next year’s hot dogs.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

AUGUST GUILD EVENT

Sauvignon Blancs

This month’s Guild event, to be held this evening at Goldfish, will feature sauvignon blancs from around the world.

Normally I don’t get all hot and bothered over white wines: I am a red wine kind of guy.  Nevertheless, I am willing to make exceptions when the occasion demands... and the chance to enjoy dinner at Goldfish is just that sort of occasion.  Here da menu:

Speaker’s Wine:
2010 Magnificent Wine Company “Fish House” - Columbia Valley, WA

Mushroom Ravioli With Lemon Butter

First Flight:
2011 Veramonte “Ritual” - Casablanca Valley, Chile*
2011 Man Vintners - Western Cape, South Africa
2011 Whitehaven - Marlborough, New Zealand**

Lemon Pepper Shrimp with Asparagus, Tomato and Spinach Risotto

Second Flight:
2010 Domaine Fournier Sancerre “Les Belles Vignes” - Loire Valley, France*
2010 Vincent Delaporte Sancerre “Chavignol” - Loire Valley, France*
2010 Pascal Jolivet Sancerre - Loire Valley, France**

Pan Roasted Sole with Wild Rice, Fennel, Rainbow Swiss Chard, Vidalia Onions and Basil Beurre Blanc Sauce

Third Flight:
2010 Quivira Dry Creek Valley “Fig Tree” - Sonoma County, CA
2010 Joseph Phelps St. Helena - Napa Valley, Napa, CA*
2010 Merry Edwards - Russian River Valley, Sonoma County, CA

Herb Roasted Chicken with Shiitake Whipped Potatoes, Garlic Green Beans and White Wine Cream Sauce

Dessert:
2010 Marisco Late Harvest “The Ned” - Waihopai River, Marlborough, New Zealand*

Almond Cake with Pear and Apple Compote

I’ll post my comments, critiques, and impressions as an update after all the eatage and drinkage.

Update:
Excellent food... and a few very nice wines.  The Sancerres, especially, were quite tasty, perfectly set off by the pan roasted sole.  But my chief allegiance remains with the Red Wine Crowd, so I will look forward to the next event.

Monday, August 27, 2012

ON THE VIRTUES OF PERIPHERAL VISION



Next time anyone ever tells you that peripheral vision isn’t all that important, send them to Evan Longoria of the Tampa Bay Rays. Better yet, ask the reporter who, by all rights, should have had the upper part of her head taken off by that foul ball...

COCKTAIL DU JOUR

Aviation Cocktail
The Aviation.  (That little dark purple thing in the bottom of the glass is the maraschino cherry.)

Today’s cocktail is the Aviation.  It’s named for its purplish-blue color, imparted by crème de violette... but the name is also appropriate because a couple of these gin-based babies will have you flying high.

The Aviation was created sometime prior to 1916 by one Hugo Ensslin, and today numerous variations exist.  Here’s the one I made:

2 oz gin (many recipes specify Plymouth gin; I used Hendrick’s)
Juice of ½ lemon, freshly squeezed
½ oz Luxardo maraschino liqueur
¼ oz crème de violette

Add ingredients to ice in a cocktail shaker.  Shake well and strain into a cocktail glass.  Garnish with a cherry.  (If you can get your hands on Luxardo maraschino cherries, even better.  They are the Real Thing, small, dark purple, and intensely flavored - a far cry from the fluorescent red horrors we all think of when we hear the words “maraschino cherry.”)

Crème de violette is hard to find, for which reason many recipes for this cocktail omit it, with no major ill effect.  But if you can find it, it does add an interesting sweet floral note to the drink... and, of course, there’s that characteristic color, the color of a high-altitude sky.  Cheers!

CHARCUTERIE FOR YOU ’N’ ME

Duck Pastrami
Homemade duck-breast pastrami.  (Not quite enough to feed an army.)

I think that I shall never see
A product of charcuterie
That makes me thank my great good luck
More than a nice pastrami (duck).

I’ve been tinkering with various methods of food preservation for years now.  Gravlax - cured salmon, Swedish-style - has been in my repertoire for years, and I have started hot-canning goodies like pickled asparagus, pickled okra, roasted peppers, brandied figs, and cherries in wine.  But until recently, I never messed with preserved meats.

It was Leslie the Omnibabe who inspired me to try my hand at charcuterie - the art of preparing and preserving various meats.  She had told me about a book that was being offered as a free Kindle edition: The Deli Maven’s Cookbook, by David W.Cowles.  It’s not an especially well-written book (it is, after all, self-published), but it does provide a good introduction to the world of delicatessens and appetizing stores (yes, there is a difference) and the foods available therein.  But what got me salivating was the recipes, including several for various kinds of cured and smoked fish and meat.

One of those meats is pastrami, which is what corned beef hopes to be reincarnated as in its next life.  It’s way more peppery and garlicky than corned beef... and way more flavorful, to my way of thinking.  Given the choice between corned beef and pastrami, I’ll take the pastrami every time.  Steamed until tender, sliced thin, and served hot on Jewish-style rye bread with coarse-grained mustard, it makes the best deli sandwich ever.  Shredded and added to scrambled eggs or an omelette, it is a superb breakfast.  And pastrami hash can kick corned beef hash’s ass like a red-headed stepchild.

As good as beef pastrami is, though, duck breast pastrami is even better.  Houston Steve and I had been served a few morsels as part of a charcuterie plate we shared a few months back at Seed, the snazzy new local dining spot, and we were both hooked for life. But Heywood’s Provision Company, the local source for Seed’s duck pastrami, offers it only during the colder months, and so I knew I would need to find a suitable recipe in order to make it myself.

Enter The Deli Maven’s Cookbook.

The book includes a recipe for beef pastrami that works perfectly well for duck as well... and I know this because I have made both versions.

Oh.  My.  Gawd.

Not that I need to be eating a whole lot of cured meat (it does, after all, contain plenty of sodium and nitrites), but when the Pastrami Jones strikes, it’s a lot cheaper to make your own.  To paraphrase Scarlett Oy-Hara, “As Gawd is my witness, I’ll never be hungry for pastrami again!”

Sunday, August 26, 2012

TOMMY: A 100-WORD HORROR STORY

Tommie the Zombie
(Photograph by Morris William.)

When the Zombie Apocalypse struck, no sentient being was immune. Humans were affected the most, but orangutans and other Great Apes, along with dolphins, also suffered the Plague of the Undead. The severity of the infection appeared to be proportional to the intelligence of the victim species.

The strange creatures living on the remote Island of Sodor were affected as well. Strange? Nay, bizarre was a better description... for how else could one characterize intelligent beings of metal, wood, and glass?

Childlike though they were, their intelligence doomed them. Today, Tommy the Zombie Tank Engine roams the rails, howling, “Traaaaaaaains!”

[Inspired by the above photo of an actual Thomas the Tank Engine toy.  Defaced?  Defective?  Or undead?]

Saturday, August 25, 2012

ONE GIANT LEAP

Neil Armstrong
Neil Armstrong (1930-2012), the first man to walk on the Moon. R.I.P. (Photo - vintage 1956 - courtesy Wikipedia.)

Neil Armstrong, the taciturn hero who had the unique distinction of being the first human being to set foot on another heavenly body, died today at the age of 82.

Nobody who witnessed the Apollo 11 landing back in July of 1969 will ever forget the nail-biting excitement of the final descent of the Eagle - the Lunar Module - to the lunar surface.  It was the kind of landing that, all by itself, would have been the stuff of legend: Armstrong had to manually pilot the LM over a boulder-strewn field and find a suitable landing spot, all the while with only seconds worth of fuel remaining.  Oh, and did I mention that all this was on the frickin’ Moon?

Armstrong made it look easy.

When we heard the news, She Who Must Be Obeyed told me that she visualized Ed Harris whenever she heard Armstrong’s name.  And that is hardly strange, despite the fact that Ed Harris never played Armstrong.  (He had the roles of John Glenn and NASA Flight Controller Gene Kranz in The Right Stuff and Apollo 13, respectively.)  Over the years since the moon landing, Armstrong assiduously avoided the media spotlight to the point where his face has become vague in our collective memory.  His accomplishment, however, never has.

Buzz Aldrin on the Moon
To some, the reclusive Armstrong was as faceless as this iconic image suggests. But this is not a picture of Armstrong. Instead, it was he who photographed fellow astronaut Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin on the Moon. (Photograph: NASA)

Neil Armstrong was not a touchy-feely kind of guy.  If he spoke about Apollo 11 at all, his focus would typically be on the technological and engineering aspects of the mission, not on the emotions he must have felt as his foot touched the lunar surface... or as he stood and looked at the distant blue marble of Earth suspended in the black sky above him.  Whatever his feelings were then, he has taken their memory with him into the World to Come.

It is tempting to say that they don’t make heroes like Neil Armstrong any more, but the existence of men like Captain Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger puts the lie to that statement.  There are heroes born every day.  Alas that they no longer have the opportunity to show their courage and skill on such a grand stage.

Ave atque vale, Commander Armstrong.  You took that first step (after such a long schlep!) and showed us that we puny men may dare to dream of conquering the stars.

Friday, August 24, 2012

CHALLAH DU JOUR - WITH A DIFFERENCE

Baking Challah
I see a bread loaf risin’... Thirty minutes in the Hot Box and our challah is good to go.

It’s Friday, which means it’s time yet again to post the latest in a seemingly interminable series of Challah-Related Photographs.

I blame Elder Daughter for this. She is the one who launched me upon the sea of Breadly Endeavor, a voyage that both concerns and pleases me.  Concerns, because the last thing I need is a huge wad of refined carbohydrate in my face... and pleases, because it is the work of my hands in a very literal way, not to mention the fact that it’s frickin’ delicious.

Challah 082412
The finished product. Mmmmmm.

This one is a Challah with a Difference, though.  Normally, I use a small amount of sugar and honey, which gives the loaf a subtle sweetness while making the yeast happy.  While we were at Masada last month, I scored a bottle of silan - date honey.  (When the Bible speaks of the Promised Land as “Eretz zavat chalav udevash,” - land flowing with milk and honey - it is date honey to which it refers.)  And so it is date honey’s unique flavor that perfumes this loaf.

It’s more than just a Butter Conveyance Device™ - it’s a Butter Conveyance Device with a connection to the Land of Israel!

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

CYGNUS, BOFUS

Admiralty Swans
A pair of swans, afloat. Photographed by the Mistress of Sarcasm.

Swans mate for life, or so it’s said,
With but one spouse until they’re dead.
To tell of their monogamy,
White feathers signal purity.

But, conversely, the lowly duck
Cares not a whit whom he may fuck.

SNOOZY SNOOZERSON

Snoozy Snoozerson
Hakuna, AKA Snoozy Snoozerson.

Hakuna takes her traditional afternoon nap.  This follows her traditional mid-morning nap, which in turn follows her traditional morning nap.

Later, she will change things up by taking an Evening Snooze.

It’s tough to be a cat.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

WATER, WATER EVERYWHERE

When we were in Israel, we saw plenty of water... and not only the kind you use to dilute your single-barrel bourbon.

There was the Mediterranean Sea. Tel Aviv is a coastal town, and we took advantage of our proximity to the beach.  The sand was hot, the water cool and inviting.  The biggest hazard? Getting smacked in the head by a flying squash ball from the ubiquitous young men playing matkot - beach tennis.

Tel Aviv Sunset HDR
The sun sets over the Mediterranean - the view from our hotel in Tel Aviv.

Following the coastline northward, we admired the sea once again in Caesarea...

Caesarea HDR
The surf at Caesarea.  Pretty, but no surfers in evidence.

...and watched it crash against the shore in Rosh HaNikra, hard by the Lebanese border. The shady grottoes there offered a bit of respite from the summer heat.

Waters of Rosh HaNikra
Look - there’s a dude standing on that rock looking like he’s ready to jump in.  Don’t do it, Rock-Dude!

Color Grotto
One of the grottoes at Rosh HaNikra.

As we headed east, there was the Sea of Galilee - Yam Kinneret - where Jesus is supposed to have walked on water.

Yam Kinneret at Dawn
Yam Kinneret - the Sea of Galilee - at sunrise.

We saw no drunken U. S. Congressmen skinny-dipping there, thank goodness. That might have put us off our feed.

Strangest of all, though, was the Dead Sea, AKA Yam HaMelach - the Salt Sea. Like the Sea of Galilee, the Dead Sea is not a true sea, but rather a largish lake.

Dead Sea
The Dead Sea as seen from Masada.  The mountains in the background are in Jordan.

Due to its extreme salinity (~31%), fish do not live in the Dead Sea... except possibly for the Wild Gravlax.  The beach is encrusted with a thick rind of natural halite - rock salt - and walking upon it without shoes is akin to walking barefoot through a hot parking lot paved with a blend of asphalt and broken beer bottles.

Floating Like a Cork
Fulfilling a decades-old dream, Elisson bobs like a damned cork in the amazingly saline waters.

They warn you before you take a dip in the Dead Sea that you should take off any metal jewelry.  I’m guessing that if your rings or other adornments are of the wrong type of metal, they will either corrode or they’ll act like some sort of weird Voltaic pile and generate enough electricity to cook you like a fly on a bug zapper.  They also tell you that if you have any tiny crevices or imperfections in your skin, the Dead Sea salt will seek them out like a laser-guided pain missile.  Get any of that stuff in your eyes?  Fuhgeddaboudit.

Fortunately, I did not - as they say - Feel the Burn.  The water felt strangely heavy, almost oily, but it buoyed me up as though I were floating on mercury.  The burn came later, after I showered, toweled off, and parked myself on a beach chair.  What did that time-and-temperature sign say, anyway?  Fifty degrees?

Holy Crapoly - that’s One Hundred Twenty Two on the old Fahrenheit scale.  In Hebrew, that’s Cham Meod, which translates loosely as “hotter than a two-dollar pistol.”  I sure could’ve used a G&T...

Monday, August 20, 2012

LIKE TALKING TO A WALL

Talking to the Wall
Elisson gets up close and personal with the Western Wall.  (Photograph ©2012 Gary Feinberg Photography, used by permission.)

There’s an old joke in which a member of an American tour group in Jerusalem sees an elderly man praying by himself in the far northern corner of the Western Wall plaza - the Kotel Ha-Ma’aravi.  Curious, the American waits for the man to finish praying before walking up to ask a few questions.

“How often do you come here to pray?”

The elderly fellow responds, “Oh, I come here every day.  Three times a day, morning, afternoon, and evening, a Jew is supposed to pray.  And thanks be to HaShem, I’ve been able to daven here at the Kotel ever since the Six Day War in 1967.”

“Three times a day?  Every day since June of 1967?

“Yes, that’s right.”

“May I ask what it is you pray for?”

“Well, I say the prayers like I was taught when I was a little boy... the Sh’ma, the Shemoneh Esrei, Aleinu Leshabeakh.  I also pray for the health of my family and friends - the few that are left, that is - and the safety and security of the State of Israel.  I also pray that there should be peace in the world, between us and our Muslim and Christian brothers, peace for all mankind.”

“Why, that’s wonderful!” says the tourist.  “And how is all that working out for you?”

The old guy shrugs his shoulders.  “To tell you the truth, it’s like talking to a wall!”

* * *

It took me nearly sixty years, but last month I finally got to see that selfsame Wall, the one towards which, for nearly two millennia, Jews worldwide have turned their faces while praying.

[I should point out that the Kotel Ha-Ma’aravi, despite the apparent veneration directed towards it, is not itself in any way sacred.  Jews may pray at the Wall; they never pray to the Wall.  And the Wall is not, as news outlets are so fond of saying, “the most sacred site in Judaism.”  That title is reserved for the Temple Mount, which sits above and to the east of the Wall.  But Jews are forbidden to pray there, as the spot where the Temple once stood is occupied by the Dome of the Rock, a Muslim holy site constructed in 689-691 C.E.  The Kotel, a portion of the western retaining wall of the Mount, is as close as we can get.]


Interactive panorama of the Kotel Plaza.

We got our first glimpse of the Kotel Plaza on Friday evening, having arrived in time to see the crowds streaming in prior to sunset and the onset of Shabbat.  It had been a quick cab ride from our hotel to the Jaffa Gate, then through the Armenian and Jewish quarters.  As we passed through stone archways and through narrow, walled streets, pedestrians of all descriptions  walked alongside us.  Many of them were decked out in full ultra-orthodox regalia, wearing traditional long coats (kapote) and with streimels - cylindrical fur hats - atop their heads.  You’ve gotta be seriously religious to wear a fur hat in Jerusalem in the summer.

The plaza was jam-packed, with more people arriving every minute.  As we approached the Wall, She Who Must Be Obeyed, along with the other women in our group, peeled off towards the Women’s Section, worship at the Kotel being sexually segregated.  That left us men to continue onward, pressing our way into the gathering crowds.

I had planned to go all the way to the Wall itself, but our little group stopped about halfway, distracted by hordes of young men - Yeshiva bochers - singing and dancing. Parking myself at one of the many tables set up to accommodate worshipers, I observed the singing and dancing with one eye whilst listening to a black-hatted gentleman next to me as he davened Minchah, the afternoon service, with characteristic fervor.     

There was a small pile of prayerbooks on the table, so I picked one up with the intention of saying my own Minchah prayers... and the book opened, seemingly of its own volition, to Shalom Aleikhem, a beloved Friday night hymn.

     Shalom aleikhem, mal’akhei ha-shareit
     Mal’akhei elyon
     Mimelekh mal’khei ham’lakhim
     Ha-Kadosh Barukh Hu...

     Peace be unto you, ministering angels,
     Messengers of the Most High,
     The King of Kings,
     The Holy One, blessèd be He.

One of the first Hebrew melodies I learned as a youngster was Shalom Aleikhem, and as I stood there with the rosy light of the setting sun reflected upon the ancient stones of the Kotel, I remembered singing that very same hymn to my grandfather - Eli’s father - some fifty years ago. Tears welled up in my eyes.  Could Grandpa Jack ever have imagined that one day I would stand in this place and think of him?

There would be another visit to the Kotel during our trip, a visit during which I would read Torah while standing at Robinson’s Arch, would touch those ancient stones with my own hands, and would follow the wall along its entire length, walking in the cool shade of the tunnels.  I would stop at a little alcove, as close to the actual location of the old temple’s Sanctum Sanctorum as it is physically possible to go, and cram a few kvittlach  - scraps of paper inscribed with prayers - into the crevices between the stones.

But that was to be later.  This was Friday evening - erev Shabbat - and amidst the joyous thousands, it was just me, the Wall, and my grandfather of blessèd memory.

SAUCE FOR THE GOOSED: A 100-WORD FINANCIAL FABLE

Ponzu

He made his fortune with a simple invention, a sauce made from citrus, vinegar, seaweed, dried bonito, mirin, and shoyu. When people discovered that it was a perfect foil not only for sashimi but for tataki and shabu-shabu as well, the bottles flew off the shelves.

Company shares flew off the shelves too, thanks mostly to their tremendous yield. Alas, what the growing hordes of investors did not know is that they were being paid not out of earnings, but from new investors’ contributions. When the pyramid finally collapsed, billions were lost.

Meet Kobayashi Ishihara, inventor of the Ponzu Scheme.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

COCKTAIL DU JOUR

Ginger-Peach Old Fashioned
A ginger-peach Old Fashioned, ready to jump down my eager throat.

Today’s cocktail selection is my very own Ginger-Peach Old Fashioned, combining two flavors that work especially well together: the velvety sweetness of peach with the warm, sharp bite of ginger.

To make this tasty little fellow, you’ll need to do a little advance prep.  Both the peach-infused rye whiskey and the ginger liqueur take about three days... so be sure to plan ahead.

Take a handful of dried peaches - make sure you use peaches that have not been treated with sulfur dioxide - and stick ’em in a clean quart jar.  Add about a fifth of rye whiskey and let the whole mess marinate for about three or four days on the kitchen counter.  Strain and store in a clean bottle.  You can even eat the (hic!) peaches.  Bourbon more to your taste?  All right, then - use bourbon instead.

Ginger-Peach Old Fashioned

2 oz peach-infused rye whiskey
1 oz DIY ginger liqueur (recipe here)
3 dashes Fee Brothers orange bitters

Add ingredients to cocktail shaker with ice.  Stir and strain into chilled cocktail glass.  Garnish with maraschino cherry or orange twist.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

CRIMSON TIDE

Gravlax
Gravlax with capers and lemon zest.  [Click to embiggen, which may cause your mouth to enmoisten.]

Well, more of a salmon-colored tide, really.  (Got your attention, though, all y’all ’Bama fans!)

Almost looks like the billows of a Fishy Ocean lapping at the shore of the serving platter, doesn’t it?  But no... it’s just a mess of home-cured gravlax.

It’s amazing what you can do with fish, salt, sugar, a few spices and herbs, and about 48 hours.  (Plus a couple of shots of Hendrick’s gin.)

Speaking of shots, we enjoyed this with a few wee drams of well chilled Aalborg Akvavit.  Mmmm, mmmm, good!
 

Monday, August 13, 2012

THIRTY-SEVEN YEARS

Today I stopped in at out local Stoopid-Market to pick up a few necessities. As I waited in the queue to check out, the music playing over the PA system caught my attention.

It was Bruce Springsteen singing “Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out,” the second track from his landmark 1975 album Born to Run, a song I had heard him perform live in Houston 37 years ago.

In 1975, the very thought of ever hearing Springsteen playing in the local grocery store as you paid for your pickles and flour was so beyond the pale as to be unimaginable. But here we were, not quite four decades later, and... well.

Thirty-seven years is a hell of a long time in Popular Music Land. And I wondered what had been playing 37 years before those late summer days when I would come home from work, stick my vinyl copy of Born to Run on the turntable, and blast “Thunder Road” at wallboard-cracking volume (much to the consternation of my neighbors). Here’s what:

Artie Shaw, “Begin the Beguine”
Bob Hope & Shirley Ross, “Thanks For the Memory”
Seven Dwarfs, “Whistle While You Work”
The Andrews Sisters, “Bei Mir Bist Du Schoen”
Fred Astaire, ”Nice Work If You Can Get It”

All of these big hits from 1938 are perfectly familiar to me, although they’re not tunes I am liable to hum at random as I potter around the house on any given day.  But classics though they may be, (some of them, anyway), they’re still Old People’s Music.  They belong to a previous generation.

In 1975, Artie Shaw, the Andrews Sisters, Fred Astaire, and Bob Hope were no longer lobbing tunes up onto the charts (unless you count Bette Midler’s 1973 cover of “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy”).  Despite their still being well known components of American popular culture, they were nevertheless relics of a bygone age, essentially defunct from a musical standpoint.

And yet here it is, the year 2012 - and Springsteen is still at it.  Wrecking Ball, his latest album, charted at Number 1 in the United States, the tenth of his albums to do so.  That ties him with Elvis in terms of top-charting albums, placing him behind only the Beatles and Jay-Z.

AARP Bruce
A sign of the times: Bruce Springsteen graces the cover of AARP Magazine, Sep/Oct 2009.  

Longevity-wise, does the difference between Springsteen and all those hitmakers of the late 1930’s arise out of the sea change in popular culture that took place in the mid- to late-1960’s?  Or is it the tenacious grip with which we Baby Boomers have latched on to the touchstones of our youth?  I suspect it is a combination of both.

Now - who the fuck is Jay-Z?

SEEN ON ROSWELL ROAD

COM4TBL

If that’s what you’re driving, I suppose you are.

Friday, August 10, 2012

A REVERSAL OF STEREOTYPE

This morning, as we gathered at the Local Bagel and Smoked Fish Emporium for our usual post-minyan breakfast, an Asian family - mother, father, two young kids - came in and sat down.

Being the outgoing sort, I went over to introduce myself... and, as I espied the platters of smoked fish and bagels on their table, I couldn’t help but ask: “Do you eat this sort of stuff often?”

The father replied, “Oh, yes. We go out for Jewish food every week.  Only one problem, though...”

I could see it coming.  It was all I could do to avoid the Eye-Roll.

“A week later, you’re hungry again.”

[OK, part of this story is true.  Guess which part.]

Thursday, August 9, 2012

THE EVIL TWIN

Attendees at the annual Hysterics at Eric’s - that legendary blogmeet cum birthday party - may be familiar with a breakfasty treat She Who Must Be Obeyed has prepared on more than one occasion.

I speak of the Apricot Kugel, a confection concocted of egg noodles, butter, sugar, eggs, sour cream, cream cheese, cottage cheese, apricots, and 11 secret herbs and spices.  It’s more than just breakfast... it’s a monster Calorie-Bomb of overwhelming deliciousness, a single portion of which provides 1247% of your minimum daily requirement of Fat-Ass-But-Yummy.

A kugel is nothing more and nothing less than a pudding - specifically, in this instance, a noodle pudding (lokshen kugel, in Yiddish).  But this one is so deadly, so massive, so delightfully dense, that it has its own gravitational field. Yow!

When I wrote about SWMBO’s apricot kugel back in the fall of 2008, I speculated on the advisability of tinkering with the recipe in a sort of Alternative Universe sort of way...
“Perverse as I am, I can’t help but imagine a Bizarro World version of this delicious dish, a version made with prune jam (AKA lekvar) and pitted prunes in lieu of the apricot preserves and dried apricots. SWMBO is both horrified and repulsed by this idea...but what do you think? Does a Prune Kugel sound appetizing? Or would it make you run for the hills? Or toilet?”
Well, today I had to crank out a couple of kugels, and that presented me with the opportunity I had been waiting for.

Here’s the Apricot Kugel, fresh out of the oven...

Kugel-Apricot

...and here’s its Evil Twin.  Presenting, for possibly the first time ever, the Prune Kugel!

Kugel-Prune

OK, I will admit, part of the reason I did this was for the laughs - for the sheer audacious weirdness of it.  Face it: Prunes are kinda funny, which is why the dried fruit boys are trying so desperately to rebrand prunes as “dried plums.”  Well, you’re not fooling anybody.  A dried plum is still a fucking prune.

Nevertheless, prunes do get a bad rap, most of it undeserved.  Possibly it’s their grim blackish-purple coloration (“Mmmm, bruisefruit!”), possibly it’s their legendary laxative effect.  As to this latter issue, it has been blown out (you should excuse the expression) of all proportion.  I will tell you that unless you’re a serious prunehound, you’re taking a bigger risk of crapping your pants by chewing more than one stick of xylitol-sweetened gum or having a handful of sugar-free chocolate-coated cherries.

Think about it, though.  Prunes are indeed dried plums, and plums - like apricots - are stone fruit, both of which (incidentally) play well together in other Jewish dishes such as tzimmes.  They are nothing less than the dusky cousins to the apricot, peach, and nectarine... and so why not give them their well-deserved place in the sun?  Or at least as a kugel ingredient.

I’m looking forward to that first bite - almost as much as I’m looking forward to seeing SWMBO’s horrified face when she sets eyes on the damned thing.

Monday, August 6, 2012

ASHEVILLE JOURNAL

S&W Building
A fine example of Art Deco architecture in downtown Asheville.

It was the last weekend before She Who Must Be Obeyed had to be back at the Educational Salt Mine, so we ran off to Asheville, North Carolina for a long weekend with our friends Gary, JoAnn, Houston Steve, and Debby.

We’ve been to Asheville several times before, but this was different, being a combination Boys’ Golf Trip and Girls’ Shopping Expedition.  So it was that on Friday morning, Gary, Houston Steve, and I traipsed off to Black Mountain, there to enjoy the best $27 round of golf money could buy.  Sure, the course was not much more than a glorified cow pasture... but at least it was set amongst the green, mountainous landscape of western North Carolina, where you could admire the scenery if not our miserable play.

Hole 17
The infamous seventeenth hole at Black Mountain, an eyeball-popping 747-yard (!) par 6.

The course did have one outstanding feature: a par 6 hole measuring 747 yards from the tips, at one time the longest golf hole in the United States.  It has since fallen to number five on the list, but I’d nominate it for the post of the ugliest par 6 on the planet.  Yeef.

Aside from the scenery, Asheville has several other outstanding features.  It’s a mecca for artists, with everything ranging from the lowliest big-eyed-clown street art to amazing high-end creations in paint, ceramics, and glass.  Throw a rock at random and you’re likely to hit an art gallery... and in the River Arts District you can probably clock a few patrons at the same time.  We happened to be there on the weekend when the Biltmore Village Art and Craft Fair was being held, so that gave us an opportunity to see even more of the stuff the local artisans and craftists were turning out.

Chicken Alley
Wall art at (where else?) Chicken Alley.  No actual chickens were harmed in the making of this mural... we think.

It’s also home to Tops for Shoes, among the biggest and most beloved discount shoe outlets on the eastern seaboard.  Nothing - nothing! - gets the ladies quite as excited as the prospect of spending a few hours shopping for shoes and handbags at Tops.  No matter how many of the fucking things they already own, there’s always the desire for more... but I guess I can’t complain, since I’m the same way about Bottles of Strong Drink.

In addition to being an Artists’ Colony, Asheville hosts an ever-growing number of eateries, many of which have become particular favorites.  We hit The Market Place, Carmel’s, and Kubo’s the three nights we were there... and then we compounded the evil by going to the French Broad Chocolate Lounge for afters Saturday night.

Pot de Crême
Chocolate Pot de Crême at the French Broad Chocolate Lounge.  I would be ashamed of myself if I were capable of feeling shame.

All I will say about the Chocolate Lounge is that they make a stupendous Coconut Macaroon Brownie... and that it is actually possible to suffer from chocolate overload.  Oy.

Alas, it was all too soon that it was time for us to pack up our luggage, golf clubs, and other purchases - wait, where the hell did all these shoes come from? - and head back home to Georgia.  But not before engaging in a bit of Signature Narrischkeit...

Colandrical Elisson
Elisson does what he does best... finds a colander and sticks his head in it, the better to appear ridiculous. (Photo credit: Houston Steve)

Yes, it’s a colander.  Yes, it’s firmly attached to a vertical wall.  What of it?

Friday, August 3, 2012

THE UNFORTUNATE GONFF FROM BANFF

One time while in Banff
I encountered a gonff
Who stole all my money away.

And I said, “Thanks a bunch!
I can’t pay for my lunch -
O, leave me a sawbuck, I pray!”

He replied, “Ain’t you bold
To demand back your gold!
It conflicts with the Mendicant’s Way!”

Then I smashed in his head.
Satisfied he was dead,
I had but one more thing to say:

Criminals - thieves ’n’ such
Shouldn’t talk all that much.
Conversation with crime doesn’t pay!

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

ARCHAEOLOGY IN ACCO

Acco Mosque
The Jezzar Pasha Mosque at Acco.  This mosque was built by the Ottoman governor of Acco in the late 18th century, Ahmed al-Jezzar (“The Butcher”) Pasha, equally famous for his cruelty, his impressive public works, and for having defeated Napoleon in 1799 (Wikipedia). 

One of the many places we visited during our recent visit to Israel was the coastal city of Acco, also known as Acre, which lies at the northern end of Haifa Bay.  It’s not too much farther north before you hit Rosh HaNikra, which sits right on the border with Lebanon.

Acco is of historical interest owing not only to its being one of the oldest continuously inhabited places in the country - it was also the capital of the Crusader state that ruled over parts of the Holy Land at various intervals between 1104 and 1291, when the Egyptian Mameluks finally booted the Crusaders out.

There are all sorts of excavations going on as the ancient Crusader fortress and its surroundings continue to yield their dusty secrets.  Enormous subterranean vaults and rooms are being dug out inch by inch, with areas completely inaccessible even as little as a decade ago now exposed to the light of the sun.  (Not everything that goes on in the ancient Citadel is strictly archaeological, as evidenced by the presence of a crew filming “Israeli Idol” while we were there.)

Acco Vault
A recently excavated subterranean vault beneath the Crusader Citadel.

Some think of the Crusaders as heroic warriors - at least, so do many of the Christians among us.  We Jews have less pleasant institutional memories, given the bloody ravages that the Crusaders conducted against the Jews of Europe as they worked their way southward to the Holy Land.  But that is history, and all that is left are memories, bones, and stones.  And artifacts that evidence a fairly normal quotidian existence.  Lookee:

Mystery Room

Here’s a room which at first blush gives little obvious evidence of its intended purpose.  A storage closet?  A kitchen? An abattoir?

No... it’s a toilet!

I recognized it in an instant - well before our guide explained its purpose.  For to my eyes it was altogether reminiscent of the basement-level restrooms in Cuyler Hall at Princeton, where I spent my freshman year.  But there was another clue as well...

HUMMUS A FEW BARS, AND I CAN FAKE IT

She Who Must Be Obeyed claims that beets taste like dirt, which is why she won’t eat ’em.

Hummus, on the other hand, sounds like dirt.  Hummus, humus, what’s the difference?

Last night, SWMBO was entertaining several Friends of Long Standing - the girls from the Old ’Hood.  On the menu were burgers - both salmon and beef - along with roasted sweet potato sticks, peppers, and a fine romaine salad.  We needed an appetizer, though.  What to serve?

Ah! we both thought simultaneously.  Hummus!  We always keep a supply on hand for just such situations.

Hummus
A bowl of hummus, decorated with a sprinkling of roasted pine nuts and za’atar.

Hummus is the quintessential Middle Eastern dip, consisting of mashed chickpeas with sesame, lemon, and garlic.  There are alternative versions - a particularly popular one is hummus foul, made with fava beans - spelled variously as foul or ful.  (It’s pronounced “fool,” in case you were curious.)  But most of the hummus we see here is the good old chickpea version.

Hummus, a traditional Arab dish, is popular in Israel as well - hardly a surprise, since Mediterranean food traditions tend to cross cultural lines.  Since it may be eaten either with meat or dairy meals, it is popular among observant Jews who follow the traditional dietary laws.  Not only that, it’s nutritious - plenty of vitamins, plus a good balance of protein to carbohydrates - and it tastes good.  What’s not to like?

I doctored our hummus up with a squirt of olive oil, a handful of toasted pine nuts, and a generous sprinkling of za’atar (a Middle Eastern herb blend containing varying proportions of hyssop, sesame seeds, and sumac).  It tasted great - not like dirt at all.

Unlike beets.