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

Thursday, February 28, 2013


Last night the Missus and I had our friends Gary and JoAnn over for an impromptu weeknight supper.  Nothing too complicated, it being a weeknight and all.  But what to serve alongside the vegetables that JoAnn would bring?

Years ago, back when the world was young and dinosaurs roamed the earth, one of our favorite dinner dishes was something out of the New York Times 60-Minute Gourmet, one of our go-to sources for tasty, even elegant recipes that, true to the book’s title, could easily be prepared in an hour or less.  The dish, Bavette de Boeuf Sauce Chasseur, sounds seriously ritzy owing to its Frenchified name, but really all it is is a broiled flank steak with tomato-mushroom sauce.  And it’s easy as hell to make.  She Who Must Be Obeyed and I used to enjoy it on a regular basis, but as time went on we moved on to other things.

Bavette de Boeuf Sauce Chasseur
Bavette de Boeuf Sauce Chasseur.  Sounds impressive; tastes impressive; easy to make.

Time to bring it back, I thought.

First thing I got my hands on was a good-sized flank steak.  It’s a great cut of meat: good beefy flavor and no waste whatsoever.  The only danger is, you really want to avoid overcooking it and drying it out.  I learned to love this cut of meat when I was in college: When they served it in Commons, the University dining hall, we would call it by the derisive sobriquet “snake meat” - and then we would go back for seconds and thirds.

To prepare the meat, I simply sprinkled it with some kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper and let it sit out at room temperature for about an hour.  The salt acts not only as seasoning, it tenderizes the meat.  I fired up the grill and, while it heated up, prepared the sauce.

In a good-sized skillet over medium heat, using a squirt of olive oil (and a dab of butter for flavor), I sautéed up a half pound of sliced mushrooms and one large minced shallot, adding a liberal pinch of kosher salt and a few grinds of black pepper.  After about 4-5 minutes, the mushrooms began to brown and the kitchen was fragrant with that wonderful aroma of shallots and mushrooms getting all friendly.

Into the pan went about a half-cup of dry white wine - I conveniently happened to have had the remnants of a bottle in the fridge - which I let simmer for a minute or two.  Then I added a 14.5 ounce can of diced tomatoes, a half-cup of beef broth, and about half a teaspoon of dried tarragon, and, stirring occasionally, set the whole mess to simmer over a low flame while I cooked the meat.

By now the grill was red-hot: time to put the meat on.  I like to do flank steaks about 3-5 minutes a side: You really do not want to let it sit over the grill any longer, lest you end up with something more suitable for resoling shoes than serving at table.  (If it were me alone, I’d lean toward the three-minute time, but the Missus likes her beef medium to medium-well, so I gave it four minutes on each side.)  When it was done, I took the meat off the fire and tented it with foil while I finished the sauce, which had been merrily simmering away.

In a small cup, I mixed a teaspoon of cornstarch (arrowroot works, too) with a tablespoon or two of beef broth, then added enough of the slurry to the sauce to thicken it up just enough: I like it to be in that happy zone somewhere between “runny” and “gloppy.”  Then I carved up the meat, slicing it on the diagonal across the grain.  The meat went on a platter with a liberal sprinkle of freshly chopped flat-leaf parsley, while the juices from the meat went into the skillet and joined the sauce, which was now ready to ladle over the meat.

If the weather had been crappy, I could easily have broiled the meat in the oven, but using the grill meant not having to clean a broiler pan... yay!  And as for the meal, it may have taken a grand total of forty-five minutes from start to finish to prepare, including prep time.  Worth every second, too.

Yes, I am aware that there are some amongst my Esteemed Readers who do not care for mushrooms.  (You know who you are.)  But that is OK: more for me.  And who knows but that this recipe might just change your mind?

Wednesday, February 27, 2013


Great Moustaches of the Seventies
See if you can figure out which one of these idiots is me.  Shouldn’t be all that difficult, I would think.

Bonus points - and not much else - for figuring out who the other three are.  And no, not one of ’em was a porn star (at least, to the best of my knowledge).

Tuesday, February 26, 2013


I almost hate to admit this, but I observed a milestone today... and this Online Journal, being a manifestation of today’s Ars Electronica, is as good a place to announce it as any.

For the first time since I have no idea when, I no longer subscribe to a printed newspaper.

We’ve taken the Atlanta Journal-Constitution since moving here almost fifteen years ago... the paper Denny famously refers to as the “Atlanta Urinal and Constipation.”  Not the best paper by any stretch, but I believe the local fishwrap serves a noble purpose.  Nevertheless, their subscription rates have increased steadily over the last few years, and these days they’re not quite so willing to cut a deal in order to retain a long-term subscriber.

And now that they offer a digital edition at a much more reasonable tariff, why not save a tree or two?

As of today, the Elisson household has gone digital.  With the daily newspaper, anyway.  As far as I can see, the only real downside is that it is impractical to line a bird cage with an e-paper... and since we have no bird, who gives a crap?


The February Guild event will be held this evening at Petite Auberge in Druid Hills, showcasing Bordeaux wines from 2006.

Ahhh, Bordeaux.  My first love in the world of Serious Wine - once I had outgrown my earlier Manischewitz-Bali Ha’i-Boone’s Farm tippling habits.  I started experimenting with real wine midway through college and continued my research after moving to Sweat City in 1974.  Burgundy was OK in my book, but Bordeaux was what really rang my vinous chimes.  It still does.  Even today, when there is a plethora of excellent California wines available, the ones made in the style of Bordeaux are the ones I gravitate towards.

Speaker’s Wine:
Château Haut La Péreyre (Entre-Deux-Mers) 2011

First Flight:
Château Cantemerle (Haut-Médoc) 2006**
Château Haut-Batailley (Pauillac) 2006**
Château La Tour-Carnet (Haut-Médoc) 2006**

Pan-seared pheasant quail breast served over a red cabbage, arugula and fresh grape slaw, tossed with a blood orange olive oil and balsamic vinaigrette

Second Flight:
Château Prieuré-Lichine (Margaux) 2006***
Château Beychevelle (Saint-Julien) 2006***
Château Lafon-Rochet (Saint-Estèphe) 2006**

Herb-rubbed pork tenderloin served with shiitake mushrooms and a light cream sauce over potato pancake 

Third Flight:
Château La Lagune (Haut Médoc) 2006**
Château Boyd-Cantenac (Margaux) 2006***
Château Lagrange (Saint-Julien) 2006***

Beef Wellington: Beef tenderloin, ham and mushroom duxelles baked in a puff pastry crust, served with a Bordelaise sauce and grilled asparagus  

Château Rayne-Vigneau 2005 (Sauternes Prémier Cru) - France**

Apple Crème Brulée: Classic Crème Brulée infused with apple essence

Château Fombrauge (Saint-Emilion) 2000***

After it’s all over, I will update this post with my usual post-mortem commentary.  Meanwhile, all a-Bordeaux!

Update: The wines were all fairly good... not a clunker in the lot, although there were no real standouts. The Sauternes was a bit thin, but otherwise OK, and it went just fine with the dessert.

The food?  All very well prepared dishes that were carefully selected to act as foils for the various wines.  The beef Wellington was tasty enough despite its crust being a bit soggy, but let’s face it: who the hell actually orders beef Wellington any more?  It’s a stodgy sort of dish, popular in the 1960’s, that attempts to gild the Prime Rib lily.  Then again... Prime Rib!

Monday, February 25, 2013


Sichuan Hot Oil
Hot oil in the process of becoming Hot Oil (hong you), being simmered with bay leaves, star anise, black cardamom, cloves, ginger, and garlic. After about 20 minutes on the stove, Sichuan peppercorns and arbol chiles get into the act.

This month’s Saveur magazine featured a piece on the red-hot cuisine of Chengdu, deep in the heart of Sichuan province in China.

I have not been to Chengdu, nor have She Who Must Be Obeyed and I any near-term plans to pay a visit there... but last fall we had a chance to do so by proxy, thanks to the good offices of Houston Steve and Debby, his charming and ever-patient missus.  They took a couple of weeks in October to bounce around the Chinese countryside, and what’s a visit to said countryside without stopping by the home of some of the most breathtakingly spicy food on the planet?

The provincial cuisine of Sichuan (AKA Szechwan) was not something I grew up with.  In my snot-nose days, pretty much the only Chinese food you’d see in this country - outside of the Chinatown sections of major cities, anyway - was Cantonese.  Tasty enough, it was... but compared to some of the other provincial styles, it was admittedly bland.  But when Sichuan-style cooking started showing up, it was a revelation.  It had personality.  It had fire.  And a day or so after you ate it, you’d experience that fire all over again in a completely different part of your anatomy.

Some time ago, I purchased a nice big jar of Sichuan peppercorns from the discount pile at a local Foodie Haven.  These little pinkish-red fellows are not true peppercorns; they are actually the dried seedpod hulls of a citrus-like tree, and the tingly, buzzing sensation they impart to the tongue is very different from the typical pepper burn.  Thus it was when I saw a recipe for hong you - Sichuan hot chile oil - in the abovementioned Saveur magazine, I had to run up a batch immediately.

What’s not to love about a hot oil infused with a metric buttload of arbol chiles, along with Sichuan peppercorns, black cardamom, cinnamon, cloves, star anise, bay leaves, ginger, and garlic?  I don’t know whether to eat it or use it as liniment.

I cannot wait to taste this stuff.  Perhaps I will use it to baste a filet of salmon... that will get the Missus’s attention for sure.

Update: Ohhhh, yeah.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013


Monkey Gland Too
The Bloody Monkey: an especially colorful Monkey Gland cocktail made with the juice of the blood orange.

A couple of months ago I wrote a post about the Monkey Gland cocktail, a concoction of gin, orange juice, absinthe, and grenadine.

As I said back then, “it’s going to be fun making these when blood orange season comes along - the color will be dramatic and the flavor sweet and citric.”  Well, here ’tis: a Monkey Gland made with the deep purple juice of the Moro orange.

It is every bit as delicious as it is beautiful.  But don’t let that color fool you - this is no girly drink.

Monday, February 18, 2013


Levon enjoys a postoperative snooze.

Right now I’m taking a nap. But after the realization sinks in of just what exactly you have done to me, I’m gonna try my level best to kill your ass.

Be warned.


Levon enjoys a moment of nut-lickage this morning... his last opportunity to do so.

Lick ’em while you got ’em, little guy.

Levon won’t have his much longer... at the tender age of six months (less one day), he is being de-balled today.  The surgery is probably taking place even as I write this.

Do I feel bad?  Not really, although as a male I do have a certain amount of rachmones - compassion - for the little fellow.  But it’s the price he must pay for a lifetime of comfort.  One thing we do not need is a moaning, groaning tom spraying odoriferous Cat-Piss all over the house.

Update: Levon is home, minus one set of beitzim, and doing just fine.

Friday, February 15, 2013


Years ago - it was only my second blogpost, back at the Old Place - I wrote about the fine institution known as the churrascaria - the Brazilian steakhouse.

Most of these places have the same basic kind of deal: You pay a fixed price that includes a salad bar and all the meat you can possibly cram down your gullet.  When you are ready for a meat delivery you simply display a green card, whereupon a small army of eager gaucho-clad waiters descends upon your table like flies on shit a duck on a junebug. The waiters bear heavily laden skewers from which portions are either slid or sliced off.  When you’ve had enough (or simply want a chance to catch your breath), you flip the card over and show the red side, and the waiters then keep their distance.

I am a carnivore of the first water, and yet we have not done the churrascaria thing for years.  It’s just too damn much meaty goodness (if such a thing is possible).  But last night the Missus and I went to Sal Grosso with our friend Gary and JoAnn and stuffed ourselves to a fare-thee-well.

There were all kinds of viands circulating around the room.  Top round.  Bottom round.  Middle round.  Top sirloin.  Rump roast.  Double lamb chops.  Leg of lamb.  Chicken legs.  Filet mignon.  Garlic beef.  Pork ribs.  Bacon-wrapped filet.  Bacon-wrapped chicken.  Chicken-wrapped bacon.  Hot dogs. (No, not really.)

With respect to the meaty stuff, I did not try every single item - selectivity is critical to a proper Pig-Out Dining Experience - but most of the beef choices were excellent, especially when accompanied by a nice bottle of Argentine malbec.  The salad bar was somewhat disappointing, at least compared to the last time we had been there - but then again, we really didn’t go there to eat a frickin’ salad, did we?

The downside: The meat, seasoned expertly as it was, must have had a metric buttload of salt in it.  Signs of advanced dehydration began to set in sometime in the deep of the night.  Usually when I get up at two in the a.m., it’s to drain the lizard, not refill it. Yeef.

My Meat Jones was satisfied, anyway.  I can go back in another ten years or so.  Until then, no hurry. 

Here’s an idea for a Hallowe’en costume: Wear an Argentine cowboy outfit with one of those fake nose-glasses-moustache things on your face, and carry a chunk of meat on a skewer.  When someone asks you - and they will - who or what the fuck it is you’re supposed to be, just tell ’em:

Gaucho Marx.

Thursday, February 14, 2013


Antique Valentine
Valentine card, circa 1938, from collection of SWMBO’s late Dad.

Some years back, we had our garbage collection people come by to schlep away some of our excess household detritus.  We’ve been in this house longer than we’ve lived anywhere else, and between that and the fact that we’re in our seventh home, we have managed to accumulate Beaucoup de Crap.

The owner of the company himself, one Joe Hatfield, came by to do the job.  I had already known his name for years (it appeared on his company’s invoices), but it was not until that night that I found out that he was descended from that Hatfield clan.  You know: the one that famously feuded with the McCoys back in late nineteenth-century West Virginia and Kentucky.  The archetypical hillbilly family feud!

About those McCoys I don’t know a whole lot.  There’s a bit of folk etymology that credits those McCoys as the inspiration for the expression “the Real McCoy,” meaning genuine, the real thing - but that is almost certainly bullshit.

But the Real McCoy is about as good a descriptor for my beloved sweetheart, She Who Must Be Obeyed... because she is, indeed, the Genuine Article.

How she has managed to put up with me for the past thirty-seven years (thirty-five of which we have spent in the Blessèd State of Matrimony), I have no earthly idea.  But believe me when I tell you that I am not complaining.

There are no guarantees in life, but with SWMBO at my side, I feel as though I can deal with just about anything.  (Not that I am looking to be tested, mind you.) 

When I look into her eyes, I am transported back to the first days of our acquaintanceship, those early days of blossoming love.  We are not new to each other - not any longer - and yet every day feels fresh.  It’s a mystery, how that works.

Arthur C. Clarke’s once famously observed that any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.  The same could be said for the human capacity for love.

And so, on this day that we set aside for celebrating that particular kind of magic - for which the flower, chocolate, greeting card, and restaurant industries are profoundly grateful - let me proclaim that I am still profoundly and happily smitten with my very own SWMBO... the Real McCoy.

(Which is not to say that she won’t kick my ass after she reads my previous post.)


Clear lotion in the bottle
Lubrication in the tube
Rub it on your schmutschkie
Rub it on your boob

Take that ol’ Kentucky jelly
Get out the Astroglide
Schmear it ’neath your belly
For a sexy slip ’n’ slide

The Brylcreem boys once told us
That a little dab’ll do ya
So when your arms enfold us
Hope you don’t mind if we “goo” ya

[Written in celebration of Valentine’s Day 2013]

Wednesday, February 13, 2013


Last night the Missus went out to dine with a bunch of her former (and current) colleagues.  Prior to their departing for the restaurant, one of them regaled us with a true story, this kind that inspired the beloved blogger aphorism, “You just can’t make this shit up.”

It appears that Ms. J. (the one telling the story) had an elderly aunt who had two great loves in her life: her Pekingese dog and her ever-present pack of cigarettes.  She would survive the first but eventually be done in by the second.

When the dog crossed the Rainbow Bridge - which is to say, passed on to the World to Come - as dogs tend to do when they are of an age, the elderly lady could not bear to part with him.  And so she had the little guy packed off to refrigerated storage until such time as he could receive the tender ministrations of the taxidermist.  Yes, indeedy: She had the dog stuffed and mounted in what must have been a realistic pose.  Alas, the poor defunct pooch was missing an eye, but nevertheless he proceeded to occupy a place of honor by the hearth, where he sat quietly for years.

[If you think this sounds like an episode of the short-lived TV series The Marriage Ref  (“That dog was givin’ me the malocchio!”), it does - but that is simply coincidence.]

Presumably he would receive an occasional dusting, but that’s about it in the maintenance department.  Stuffed pooches, after all, do not need to be walked and fed... a big advantage, in my book.  But I digress.

Came a time when Auntie’s cigarette habit caught up with her in the form of a case of lung cancer... and as her condition deteriorated, she prepared to move to hospice.  A representative from the hospice came to meet her as part of the pre-induction formalities, accompanied by Ms. J’s sister.

After the visit, the hospice rep remarked, “Your aunt’s dog is so well behaved - he just sat there quietly the whole time!”

As I said - you just can’t make this shit up.

Postscript: When the lady finally passed on, she was buried with her taxidermied Animal Companion.  Whether they also threw in a carton of cigarettes is a subject best left to useless speculation.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013


A very mature bottle of Old Grand-Dad bourbon... at forty-nine years, it’s old enough to be a grand-dad.

Everybody who keeps Spirituous Liquors at home has a few really old bottles knocking around in the deep recesses of their booze pantry.

I can reach into the back of my own liquor cabinet and pull out a handful of bottles that are over three decades old.  There’s a bottle of crème de vanille that I bought sometime in 1974 - for some reason I must’ve thought I might have some use for it, but I never found one.  There’s a barely used bottle of Mandarine Napoléon that someone purchased for me at an airport duty-free shop around 1980, thinking it was the equivalent of Grand Marnier. (It is not.)  My Irish Mist and Drambuie (very nice whisky-based after-dinner liqueurs) are about that same age.  And, up until recently, I had a bottle of Old Nassau coconut rum (named after the island in the Bahamas, not Princeton University, although it was the latter association that may have convinced me to buy it) that I had obtained in 1983... fully thirty years ago.

Spirits in glass bottles generally have impressive shelf lives: They don’t change a whole lot.  The contents of my most ancient bottles are still fine with the exception of the coconut rum, which began to develop weird off-flavors during its long rest.

Dixie Belle Sloe Gin
[Click to embiggen.]
During a recent conference in the Baltimore area, one of the participants trotted out an old bottle of Dixie Belle sloe gin.  It had originally come from Philadelphia, evidently a hotbed of early 1960’s sloe gin production.The bottle had never been opened and was a good fifty-plus years old, having been present at said participant’s wedding back in 1961.  Nobody had the slightest desire to crack it, either: Sloe gin doesn’t sell well with a single-malt Scotch and/or single-cask bourbon crowd.

All this was on my mind when a few nights ago, as we prepared to have dinner with our Friday evening gang, I was offered a preprandial Adult Beverage.

“Wine?  Or something stronger?” our host Debbie offered.

“Something stronger,” I responded, and so we went off to check out the contents of Debbie and Sid’s little lacquer liquor locker.

Among the contents of said locker I espied a bottle of bourbon, a venerable old brand called Old Grand-Dad.  Just how venerable, I had no idea... until I examined the bottle more closely.

The label was most definitely Old School in its design.  The base of the bottle bore an embossed inscription showing its volume as 4/5 quart.  Hah! A fifth... an antique size long since displaced by today’s standard 750 ml.  And on its neck was a green tax stamp.

Back before mid-1985, bottles of spirits here in the United States used to come with a tax stamp - a little strip of paper indicating that the appropriate Governmental Authorities had been paid off - affixed to the top of the bottle.  Most bottles had a pink stamp; bottles of 100-proof (“bonded”) spirits carried a green stamp. The tax stamp on this bottle bore two dates, indicating that the contents were made in 1959 and bottled in 1964.  We were pouring drinks from a forty-nine-year-old bottle of Old Grand-Dad... old enough to be a grand-dad itself!

The bourbon was none the worse for wear after its long rest under glass.  Rich and smooth.

Sid joined us for an after-dinner conversation via Skype from his place in Malaysia, where he is on assignment.  Turns out that the bottle was left over from his Bar Mitzvah... a drinky keepsake.  And at the rate Sid and Debbie consume spirits, it may very well last another forty-nine years.

Monday, February 11, 2013


Not long ago, I had a Glass of Ale,
The Taste of which enticed my jaded Tongue.
So good it was, I drank it by the Pail,
With Relish scarcely felt since I was young.

A Belgian Brew, it smacked of local Yeast
From Brussels, or perhaps Antwerpen-town.
I gulped it: Had I been a wild Beast
Not one Drop more could I have gotten down.

Most times I favor Wine, a noble Drink
To tipple with my Veg’table and Meat.
And yet, this noble Ale, I should think
Could make a Feast of kingly Fare complete.

Another Glass of Lambic I shall quaff,
And then it’s time for Bed.  I shall be off.

[When Kevin throws down the gauntlet in the comments, I needs must respond.]


Apricot Ale
Samuel Smith’s Apricot Ale. Tasty yummy good.

Ever since my first trip to Belgium some thirty-odd years ago, I’ve been a fan of that country’s fruit-infused ales.

At first blush, it sounds disgusting.  Ale?  With fruit?  Feh!  Yet surprisingly (to those who have not tried it, anyway), it is damned tasty.  Don’t think “wine cooler” or “Mike’s Hard Lemonade.”  Think “Seriously Grown-Up Beverage.”

The Belgian style of fruit-flavored ale is a subset of the general style of ales known as lambics. Unlike conventional brews that are made with brewer’s yeast under highly controlled conditions, lambics are produced by the spontaneous fermentation of wild yeasts and bacteria.  This results in a dry, even vaguely sour type of suds... almost like the bastard child of beer, wine, and cider.

Lambics are interesting enough as is, but when fruit or fruit syrup is added, the resulting secondary fermentation creates a marvelously complex, sweet-sour beverage.  The classic Belgian fruit lambic, kriek, is made with Morello cherries, and it is amazing.  Other versions include framboise (raspberries), pêche (peach), and cassis (black currant); in my not-so-humble opinion, however, kriek and framboise are the best of the lot.  Either one goes really well with Chinese food - an unexpected but felicitous pairing.

There’s no rule that says fruit ales must be based on lambic, but the ones I have had that are not have generally been disappointing.  For that matter, until recently I had never had a fruit ale made anywhere but Belgium that was worth the effort to open the bottle.  It may have something to do with the local wild yeast.

But that all changed a couple of months ago when I dined with the Mistress of Sarcasm at the Manna Dew Café in Millerton, New York, not far from her home stomping grounds.  To my surprise and delight, I came across something new.  New to me, anyway.  And it was excellent.

I speak of Samuel Smith’s Apricot Ale.

Samuel Smith and the products of the eponymous little brewery in Tadcaster, England may be familiar to many of my Esteemed Readers.  Said products include several fine beers and ales, including an impressive (and powerful) Imperial stout.  But the notion of an English fruit ale had been somewhat offputting to me until I tried the good Mr. Smith’s apricot ale.

Is it lambic?  No, it is not.  But it has many of the same flavor characteristics, and the flavor of apricots (to which, I will confess, I am rather partial) complements the tart ale beautifully.

The only problem I had was finding it here in the Atlanta area.  None of the local beer or spirits shops had even heard of it, and the people at the local Whole Paycheck Foods simply scratched their heads in bemusement.

Thus it was that when I stumbled upon it at the Whole Foods market in midtown, I snatched up every bottle on the shelf.  Carpe Bierem!

I am also happy to report that, like its Belgian brethren kriek and framboise, Samuel Smith’s Apricot Ale goes really well with Chinese food.  It is an apricot ale to go ape over.

Saturday, February 9, 2013


Levon's Pad
Hey, Daddy-O... ain’t my bachelor pad the coolest? 

What’s that you say?
You want Levon?
(Don’t want a crampon or a tampon?)

The hipsters answer, “Chill out, Dad...
“Your Levon’s hangin’ at his Pad.” 

Levon’s enjoying his Bachelor Pad, all right.  Hope he still likes it in another nine days when he gets his little nutsack emptied out.  (Ouch.)

It occurs to us that this little guy is exceptionally well-traveled.  In addition to his home here in the ’burbs of north Atlanta and the cattery where he kived out his first two months, he has stayed at a laundry list of places:
  • SWMBO’s brother Morris William’s place in Denton, Texas
  • SWMBO’s mom’s place in Foat Wuth, Texas
  • A hotel room in Vicksburg, Missisippi
  • A hotel room in Philadelphia
  • The home of some of Elder Daughter’s friends in south Philly
  • The Other Elisson’s place on Long Island
  • The Mistress of Sarcasm’s place in upstate New York
  • A hotel room in Roanoke, Virginia
  • The Straight White Compound in Tennessee
  • Our friends Gary and JoAnn’s house
The amazing thing is how quickly he adapts to his surroundings no matter where he is. Right now he’s back home after having been away several days while we had our kitchen floor refinished... and it’s as though he was never gone.  He’s curled up on my office chair behind me as I type this, in one of his favorite spots. (It’s one of my favorite spots too - he’s within easy reach whenever I feel the need to give him a random skritch!)

Friday, February 8, 2013


The Mistress of Sarcasm is facing down a major Winter Storm Event... so in the meantime, she is keeping herself (and us!) entertained. Enjoy.

Thursday, February 7, 2013


The other day, this jar of Pee-Bee caught my eye:

Skippy Natural Creamy Peanut Butter Spread.  Oh, boy - no need to stir!

What got my attention was not the (prominently displayed) word “natural,” though.  It was the (not-so-prominently displayed) product description.  This was not “Peanut Butter,” but rather, “Peanut Butter Spread.”  That set off a small but insistent alarm bell in my head.

That’s the kind of product description that tells you that something Ain’t Quite Kosher.  Kind of like those bags of “Chocolatey Chips” that are made with fake chocolate, with some other kind of fat replacing the cocoa butter.

I looked at the label.  Sure enough, there it was: palm oil.  Palm oil!

I know what you’re gonna say. “But, Elisson, it’s natural!”  Yes, it is.  And so is a fresh, steaming turd.

First, a little history (with a tip o’ th’ Elisson fedora to Jon Krampner, author of Creamy and Crunchy: An Informal History of Peanut Butter, the All-American Food):

Natural peanut butter - the kind that’s made with just peanuts, salt, and maybe a little sugar - will separate at room temperature, the oil forming a layer at the top of the jar.  You have to stir it up before you use it, a messy process.  Keeping the jar in the refrigerator slows the separation but does not prevent it completely.

One way to stabilize peanut butter is to hydrogenate the peanut oil.  Hydrogenation raises the melting point of the oil so that it remains solid at room temperature; this, in turn, keeps the oil from separating.  It also improves the shelf life of the product.  Most commercial peanut butter you see on the supermarket shelf contains hydrogenated oil.

Procter and Gamble - the guys who make Jif - long ago figured out that the hydrogenated oil you used didn’t necessarily have to be peanut oil.  It could be soy, cottonseed, canola (rapeseed), or any other vegetable oil - all of which were cheaper alternatives to peanut oil.  This led to a protracted battle with the FDA over labeling standards, which eventually were written to allow a minimum of 90% peanut content in peanut butter.  (The industry, of course, wanted a lower number.)

Well, if you can use something that didn’t come from a peanut, you could use fractionated palm oil. It doesn’t need to be hydrogenated... and that means you can still call it “natural.”  Plus, it’s cheaper than peanut oil, and it stabilizes the goop enough so you don’t need to stir it.

Imagine, then, a product with less than 90% peanuts, the balance being salt, sugar, and fractionated palm oil.  You can’t call it peanut butter, but you can call it “natural,” since the palm oil is not hydrogenated.  How fucked up is that?

 “I say it’s spinach, and I say the hell with it.”  E.B. White, with illustration by Carl Rose, in the New YorkerCondé Nast Publications.

As E. B. White said in this famous vintage-1928 New Yorker cartoon, I say it’s spinach, and I say the hell with it.

[At least there’s still one Skippy that isn’t full of shit.]


Still more stuff that should be in the dictionary but isn’t.

Long-time readers of my previous site may recall the Blog d’Elisson Dictionary, installments of which may be found in that site’s Archives.  For other entries in the Cheese Aisle Dictionary, simply click on the sidebar link for Cheese-Dic.

And now, the Word of the Day:

charliemingus [char-li-ming-us] (n) - The act of performing oral sex while listening to jazz.

Charliemingus is often preceded by foreplay in the form of be-boob.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013


One day I went to the mountain climbers’ store,
’Cause I needed carabiners and a whole lot more.
Took my swag home and and stuck it in the drawer,
And then I didn’t think about it any more.

Then one day the Missus kicked me to the floor
And she told me to get my ass out the door.
Turns out there’s one thing that’ll make her sore -
It’s when you put the crampons in the tampon drawer.

It’s the kind of mistake that will cut you to the core -
Don’t ever put the crampons in the tampon drawer.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013


A bloggy buddy of long standing - the estimable Bakerina - introduced me to a remarkable website: Thrilling Tales of the Downright Unusual.  Sort of like James Lileks meets Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow meets Epic Mickey.

The best part?  There’s a page (the Pulp-O-Mizer) where you can design your own retro-pulpified magazine covers.  Here’s one:

Strange World
Attack of the Spambots: Looks like the future is now.

This is the kind of site that can provide hours and hours of dopey amusement.  Its creator, one Bradley W. Schenck, has a unique skill set and artistic vision... and if part of the website is designed to sell merch (calendars, coffee mugs, posters, cards, T-shirts, iPad cases, et alia), I can hardly blame him.  Who can count how many hours went into creating the amazing design and graphics of Retropolis?  Well played, Mr. Schenck!


A bittersweet and sobering observation: My mother (of blessèd memory) walked the planet for sixty years, three months, and twenty-five days.  Not nearly long enough.

And, as of one week ago today, I have succeeded in outliving her.  (Keyn ayin hara!)

I would have been perfectly happy waiting another two or three decades to reach this peculiar milestone, but life had other plans for both of us.

Sunday, February 3, 2013


Dutch Toilet
Dutch Toilet with Long-Stemmed Roses. Photo by SWMBO, 1987.

If you ever should go ask my spouse,
There is only one Bowl in the house
That she would call “Super.”
I call it The Pooper,
And if I leave the seat up, she’ll grouse.

Saturday, February 2, 2013


Marmota Monax, raise your Head -
By your Example we are led.
When you inhale the wint’ry Air,
Will you retreat into your Lair
Affrighted by a Shadow Fell,
Or (much more likely), human Smell?
If by the Sun a Shadow’s cast,
Might you predict a frosty Blast?
Perchance a Cloud obscures the Sky,
An Omen that warm Weather’s nigh.
Compared to you, Science is “Blawney,”
O Oracle of Punxsutawney.

Yes, today is Groundhog Day, that peculiarly American institution in which the scientific underpinnings of modern meteorology are discarded in favor of the random meanderings of a large, confused, squirrel-like rodent.

I long ago gave up on trying to get tickets to the Big Event in Punxsutawney.  Scalpers have jacked the prices up to where they are more dear than Masters passes.  Too bad, because the parades and pageantry put Mardi Gras in New Orleans to shame.  (Also, fewer trombones.  Phil doesn’t like ’em.)

Have you purchased Groundhog Day cards for your friends and relatives?  Sent Groundhog Day flowers and chocolates to that special someone?  Why the fuck not?  And if you have not already booked a table at your restaurant of choice, it’s probably too late - the place will be packed with Groundhog Day revelers.  You’ll have to fall back on Plan B, the ever-popular Groundhog Day Backyard Barbecue.

Enjoy the day... and may the shadows be few!

Friday, February 1, 2013


Big Stupid Tommy pointed me to Abby White’s article about a band, one that was popular in the 1980’s but that afterward fell on hard times like so many others of the era.

As I read the article, what was so striking was discovering the sheer magnitude of nostalgia-driven affection this group inspired among people of a certain age.  And yet, with me being a child of the Baby Boom generation, this should hardly come as a surprise.  We’re all about the nostalgia, am I right?  What else keeps Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr in business?  And what else could possibly be keeping Keith Richards alive?  I am convinced that Mr. Richards (bless his wrinkled soul) is nothing less than a vampire, one that feeds upon nostalgia rather than hot blood.

But I digress.

What band could it be?  Toto?  Wang Chung?  Duran Duran?  Culture Club?  No: none of these.

I speak of Rock-afire Explosion, a band that will be familiar to anyone who spent any time at all in Showbiz Pizza, a favorite place amongst the Snot-Nose Set of thirty years ago.  The geniuses who created Showbiz Pizza understood the needs and wants of the juvenile consumer: plenty of video game distractions with their jangling bells and flashing lights, coupled with crappy pizza and birthday cake.  They had the birthday party business down to a science... and they had the Rock-afire Explosion, an animatronic - nay, animaltronic - band that would alternately amuse and scare the shit out of the young customers.

Billy Bob
The legendary Billy Bob, the Rock-afire Explosion’s frontman, probably traumatized thousands of toddlers.  Photo by Michael R. Bunch, Nashville Scene.

Those young customers remember the Rock-afire Explosion fondly.  That’s natural, since in their fuzzy memories of early childhood they associate the group with good times.  Fun times.  And nasty pizza.  Did I mention that the pizza was nasty?  Not that anyone cared - they could have sliced up human turds and scattered them over the mozzarella and sauce and few would have noticed the difference.  ’Cause... video games!

The Explosion fell on hard times early on, when the Pizza/Video Game/Birthday Party industry 
was hit by the double whammy of the video game implosion of 1983 and the apparent discovery by 42,000,000 six-year-olds that human turds don’t make the best pizza toppings.  Showbiz Pizza ultimately merged with its archnemesis, Chuck E. Cheese Pizza, the mascot of which was a Big Bird-size rat... and for various reasons outlined in Ms. White’s article, the Rock-afire Explosion gradually shuffled off toward the dustbin of history.

Me?  I harbor no warm memories towards Billy Bob Bear and his gang... except for having hosted birthday parties for both Elder Daughter and the Mistress of Sarcasm at the local Showbiz Pizza when they were mere sprouts.  But they say nostalgia is a dish best served old... and it don’t get much older than this.

So, ’fess up, Esteemed Readers - were you fans of the Rock-afire Explosion back in the day?  Nobody will judge you.  Much.