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

Sunday, March 31, 2013

TOTALLY TUBULAR

Tubular Levon
“Hmmm... why do I suddenly feel like Richard Gere’s hamster?”

I have a new toy... I’m such a happy boy!

Friday, March 29, 2013

ON MODERN ADVERTISING

The guys who write ad copy these days must all be on crack.  Either that, or we have entered an amazing time, a time when the “don’t give a shit” generation has finally found its voice.  Is it my imagination, or are ads getting weirder and weirder these days?

A few examples:

Charmin bunwad.  I have, in the past, written reams  (or the electronic equivalent) about Abstergent Materials and the peculiar cultural association of Excrement and Ursine Mammals.  That cultural association is popular enough hereabouts that Procter & Gamble decided to crapitalize on it, creating a family of lovable bears who somehow did not get the memo about members of the Ursidae clan and their obligation to shit in the woods.  No: These bears have indoor plumbing, and they apparently do all their dump-taking and arse-wiping on shiny porcelain fixtures.

But WTF kind of slogan is this: “We all go. Why not enjoy the go?”

Let’s parse this one, shall we?  We can start by replacing the euphemisms with their deeper, darker meanings. “We all gotta shit.  Why not enjoy taking a shit?”

It’s an interesting choice of verb, that one.  Enjoy.  And P&G has apparently given it some thought.  From their Charmin website: “Welcome to the playful side of TP. Where we believe going to the bathroom is a thing to enjoy - even celebrate. Can we make you a believer?”

Make you a believer, eh?  Hmmm... I wonder what kind of baptism that involves.  Yeef.

Look: I enjoy a cold Martini and a medium-rare ribeye steak.  I enjoy reading a good book.  I enjoy making the Two-Backed Beast with my lovely Missus.  But crimping off a length I do not, precisely, enjoy: It is not so much a source of delight as it is a relief.  A Necessity of Life, as it were.  And my choice of asswipe is not going to elevate the experience to, say, the degree of pleasure I experience when I hit a good tee shot or listen to a good piece of music... not even if using it could provide the sensation of a $1000 hooker licking my nethers.  I'm happy enough if I don’t rub myself raw or suffer the consequences of the dreaded Poke-Through.

I suppose the term “tolerate” doesn't sell much Tee Pee.  Neither does the catchphrase “We all gotta take a dump.  Why not minimize the unpleasantness?”  But enjoy?  That’s a bit of a stretch - and celebrate is definitely going too far.

Bunwad Bears
Use this handy guide to help you identify various types of bears, only some of which shit in the woods. Left to right: Charmin bear, Arctic bear, Yogi Bear. [Click to embiggen.]

Give the Charmin folks credit, though.  They’ve laid waste (you should excuse the expression) to a long-standing Cultural Taboo, and now it’s OK to talk about not just Toilet Paper, but the reason it is used.  Yes - primetime shit, complete with cartoon bears!

Universal Studios Theme Parks. “Fly like you’ve never been grounded, scream like you’ve never been shushed, let go like you have nothing to lose and hold onto what matters most!”  Huh?

This ad appears to have been written by someone who had built a career in the Greeting Card industry and who was sleeping off a three-day bender when this assignment crossed his desk.

“Scream like you’ve never been shushed.”  Really?  Am I the only one who finds that phrase peculiar?  As though being asked, at some point in one’s life, to STFU, somehow creates a psychological barrier to future Enjoyment via Loud Shouting? 

Maybe Universal should make a deal with P&G to borrow those Charmin bears.  “Wipe like you’re gonna enjoy it!”

Kia Soul.  What’s up with those fucking hamsters?  I guess there’s a demographic that likes to imagine themselves as mutated giant rodents with a taste for house music and boxy little cars in which to play it at earsplitting volume.  And, on a certain level, it makes sense.  Hamsters gotta have they Wheels.

Kia Soul Hamsters
“Hey, anyone got any toilet paper? I think I just sharted!” The Kia Soul hamsters enjoy a pleasant evening drive. Based on the noise and graphics, they’ve each done about three hits of windowpane.

Tell you what I’d really like to see: A cross-promotional campaign that would feature the Charmin bears and the Kia Soul hamsters doing guest shots in each others’ ads.  Bears driving cars and listening to Feenixpaul... hamsters wiping their shit-caked butts and raving about how much they Enjoy the Go!  I’m a Quilted Northern man, but I’d switch to Charmin if they started using those hamsters.  Just saying. 

Thursday, March 28, 2013

THE CHEESE AISLE DICTIONARY, Vol. 15

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:

cocknoscenti [kok-no-sen-ti] (n, plural) - Collectively, egotists or narcissists; people who think their shit doesn’t stink.  (From Yiddish and Italian cock no scenti: shit no smell.)

“Oh, that Margaret is so full of herself... she must be one of the cocknoscenti.”

OLD AND NEW

One of the things we enjoy about entertaining (and, after all, what is hosting a couple of Seder meals but entertainment... albeit with a Religious Purpose?) is the opportunity to offer our guests interesting dishes, be they old or new.  While we always rely heavily an traditional menu items, every so often we will put out something a bit different.  Sometimes that means an old dish we haven’t had in a while; sometimes it means a variation on a familiar theme.  And sometimes it even means a recipe we are trying out for the first time.

Is it risky, this business of essaying new dishes on an unsuspecting audience?  Sure it is.  But there are all kinds of risks in life, and this one has a pretty healthy risk/reward ratio.  We have rarely, if ever, been disappointed when we try something new, and sometimes those new items get incorporated into our holiday traditions.

Take beef brisket, f’rinstance.  It’s one of those things that was probably carved into one of those stone tablets that Moses schlepped down from Sinai... the eleventh or twelfth commandment: Thou shalt serve a braised beef brisket at the Seder meal.  Also on Rosh Hashanah.

Well, this year, just to change things up a bit, we served braised beef short ribs instead.  Meaty and tender, braised slowly in beef stock and kosher dry red wine (yes, there is such a thing), they were just fine... and even better when accompanied by one of our New Discoveries. 

Wuddat?  Glad you asked.  Carrot horseradish!  Bright orange, intensely horseradishy, and with a hint of sweetness and citrus, it was the surprise hit of our Seder.  The recipe that follows is from the Gefilteria in Brooklyn, provided courtesy of my friends at the FJMC.

Carrot Horseradish

1 lb carrots
½ lb horseradish root
½ cup granulated sugar
½ cup white vinegar
1 cup water
3½ Tbsp lemon juice, freshly squeezed
1 Tbsp lemon zest
½ tsp salt

Peel carrots and cut into one-inch chunks. Boil for 5 minutes; set aside to cool.

Combine water, sugar, and vinegar. Bring to a boil until sugar is dissolved; set aside to cool.

Wash and peel the horseradish and cut into one-inch chunks. Combine in food processor: carrots, horseradish, lemon zest, lemon juice, most of vinegar solution, and the salt. Process until well combined. Wear a gas mask when opening the food processor. (Just kidding... but please note, those horseradish fumes can be seriously pungent!)

Put in a nonreactive glass jar and add remaining vinegar as needed to adjust the consistency. Refrigerate for a few hours before serving to allow the flavor to develop.

Carrot Chrain
Carrot chrain (horseradish) - carrots with a serious kick, and a happy New Discovery to boot.

For the sake of tradition, I made good old-fashioned chopped chicken liver, enhanced with hard-boiled eggs and plenty of onions that I had caramelized in a mixture of duck and goose schmaltz.  Cholesterol City, for sure... but it hit all the right Old-School flavor notes, a perfect accompaniment to an ice-cold shot of slivovitz.

So, to recap...

Traditional: SWMBO’s wonderful chicken soup (gussied up with Gary’s matzoh balls and Debby’s caramelized onion matzoh balls).  Gold’s white and red horseradish.  Eggs in salt water.  Matzoh farfel kugel.

New twist on a traditional theme: Braised short ribs. Look out, Mister Brisket - you have competition!

Something new and different: Chicken tagine (a recipe we had never tried); roasted steelhead with Israeli spices; carrot horseradish.  

Thank Gawd this holiday only comes around once a year.  Much as we love it, we would all weigh 350 pounds...

Sunday, March 24, 2013

HERE COMES THAT PESKY PASCHAL PERIOD

Matzoh - the Bread of Affliction
Matzoh, the Bread of Affliction and Gut-Stoppage, the appearance of which signals the onset of Passover.

Passover is on its way... so close we can practically taste it.

In a certain sense, we can... because the aroma of SWMBO’s wonderful chicken soup has been permeating the house all afternoon, intermingled with the fragrance of braised beef short ribs.  Gefilte fish and made-from-scratch chopped liver (with real schmaltz!) are chilling happily in the fridge. There’s chicken tagine and roasted salmon yet to prepare, but I’ll tackle those jobs tomorrow.

Ahhh, Passover. It’s the holiday I associate with some of my sweetest memories... and, at the same time, it is bittersweet.  That is on account of its having arrived three days after my mother’s passing, close enough to have forced a premature end to the normal seven-day shiva period of mourning.  But I have had twenty-five years to deal with that loss; every year the sweet overcomes the bitter more and more.

It is an eight-day period of modest privation, when everyday foods and beverages - bread! cake! pie! whisky! beer! - are off-limits.  No Mexican, Chinese, or Japanese food.  No G&T.  And yet, we are hardly deprived, thanks to the panoply of traditional Passover foods that graces our tables and packs our kishkes.  OK, matzoh ball soup may have become a year-round menu item, thanks to both the Local Bagel and Smoked Fish Emporium and the Marietta Diner... but when else do we eat matzoh brei, charoset, matzoh farfel kugel, macaroons, and matzoh meal pancakes?  (And don’t even get me started on chocolate- and toffee-covered matzoh.  Yow!)

Matzoh gets a bad rap.  Yes, it’s dry.  Yes, it’s crumbly.  It also, famously, has the completely mostly partially somewhat undeserved reputation of being an... ahhhh, agent of intestinal blockage.  Not so, says I.  And it makes a fine meal when slathered with butter or decked out with slices of cheese or smoked salmon.

SWMBO's Chicken Soup
She Who Must Be Obeyed makes an excellent chicken and matzoh ball soup... what better use for the freshly sacrificed Paschal Chicken?

We have our festive meals and we recount the story of our deliverance, the Founding Moment of the Jewish people as a distinct nation.  We read the Four Questions (“Why is this night different from all other nights?”), the story of the four sons, the account of the ten plagues.  We open the door, as much to reassure our Gentile neighbors that there are no secret dastardly rituals taking place as to allow entry to the invisible spirit of Elijah the Prophet.  (Yes, there’s history here.)  Lacking small children, we no longer have to ransom the afikomen, the broken piece of unleavened bread that closes out the meal... but we remember when we did.  And later, in synagogue, we read the Biblical accounts of the Exodus, of the splitting of the sea, of the ancient pilgrimage festivals.

At the same time, we look outside and see the trees exploding into blossomy beauty, pink and white and red punctuated with the yellow of forsythia and the green of new leaves.  The great Wheel of Time turns once again, and our little blue gem-like marble of a planet completes another circuit of its unexceptional yellow Sun-star.  Life goes on, and we are still here to enjoy it.

If I gotta do without pizza, oatmeal, bagels, Egg McMuffins, or chocolate babka for a few days, that’s a small price to pay.  (That’s my story, and I’m sticking to it.)

For my fellow Red Sea Pedestrians, my heartfelt wishes for a chag kasher v’sameach - a happy, properly observed festival.  And for my Christian friends, a meaningful Easter season.  It’s all good!  

Friday, March 22, 2013

GOLF SEASON

Bernice 1943
The Momma d’Elisson of blessèd memory, whose twenty-fifth Yahrzeit is observed at sundown today.

We Red Sea Pedestrians are a strange lot.

Birthdays don’t matter all that much to us.  Sure, we celebrate ’em... but that’s a secular activity that is driven mainly by our participation in the American popular culture.  There’s no religious observance that attaches to birthdays, save for the recognition of a child as a Bar or Bat Mitzvah at the age of thirteen (for boys, and as early as twelve for girls).

We pay more attention to the date on which a person moves on to Olam ha-Ba, the World to Come.

The anniversary of a person’s death - the Yahrzeit - is observed by the people who mourned that person in life, a permanent ritual of remembrance.  Traditionally, one lights a candle that burns for a full twenty-four hours, and one attends services so that one may, in the presence of the required quorum of ten worshipers, recite the Mourner’s Kaddish.

It was explained to me once that birthdays are less meaningful than Yahrzeits because a person is, at birth, a mass of unrealized potential.  Upon his or her passing, however, that person has (it is to be hoped) affected other lives and brought some measurable change to the world.  He or she is, at least to the extent possible, has become a sort of Known Quantity.  You can take that explanation or leave it, but it does - at least, to me - make some sense.

If you translated Yahrzeit literally, you’d get “year-time” - anniversary.  But the term has a further implication, that of “season,” rendered Jahreszeit in German.  It’s not just that a year has passed; it’s that a particular time of year connects us to our long-gone loved ones in a unique, powerful way.

With my mother, that season is the springtime, the days leading up to the Passover holiday.  It’s a time when the days get longer and warmer, when trees are in bloom, when the yellow blossoms of forsythia (one of her favorites) paint the neighborhood.  (Yes, I know we throw a memorial dinner for her every year on the first night of Chanukah, but there’s another story behind that peculiar observance.)

I suspect that this time of year, she would have mostly been thinking, “Golf Season is here!”  She was, after all, an inveterate golfer, playing two or more times a week at a time when most of the neighborhood’s housewives were deciding whether to fix a meatloaf or hot dogs for the family supper, or what kind of pie to bring to the school’s bake sale. Always athletic, she also played tennis and bowled, covering both the white-collar and blue-collar sides of the sports spectrum.

We can only speculate upon what she would have been like in her Golden Years, had she lived to enjoy them.  Would she have slowly grown cranky and obstreperous like her own mother had done, or would she have continued to be the fun-loving Doting Grandma to her beloved granddaughters?  We can only wonder... but I like to think that she would have avoided the trap of Excessive Cantakerousness.

Tomorrow is Mom’s twenty-fifth Yahrzeit.  For a quarter-century now, she has been playing her heavenly Golf Game from the side of the fairway where the pointy part of the tee goes, and we who have been left behind to mourn her have had to do without her warmth, humor, and common sense.

This evening I’ll light that candle, and I’ll be at shul tomorrow to say Kaddish.  Perhaps I will toast her memory with a perfect Rob Roy - her favorite cocktail - and ponder the bittersweet realization that I have even now walked the Earth longer than she had the opportunity to do.  Alas.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

GIVING ME THE BIRD

Conure
Sun Conure.  This one does not appear to be pining for the fjords.  Nor is she angry.

In the Beginning was the Word...

                                                     - John 1:1

A-well-a, everybody’s heard about the bird 
Bird, bird, bird, b-bird’s the word 
A-well-a, bird, bird, bird, the bird is the word 
A-well-a, bird, bird, bird, well, the bird is the word 
A-well-a, bird, bird, bird, b-bird’s the word 
A-well-a, bird, bird, bird, well, the bird is the word 
A-well-a, bird, bird, b-bird’s the word 
A-well-a, bird, bird, bird, b-bird’s the word 
A-well-a, bird, bird, bird, well, the bird is the word 
A-well-a, bird, bird, b-bird’s the word 
A-well-a, don’t you know about the bird 
Well, everybody knows that the bird is the word 
A-well-a, bird, bird, b-bird’s the word 
A-well-a 

A-well-a, everybody’s heard about the bird 
Bird, bird, bird, b-bird’s the word 
A-well-a, bird, bird, bird, b-bird’s the word 
A-well-a, bird, bird, bird, b-bird’s the word 
A-well-a, bird, bird, b-bird’s the word 
A-well-a, bird, bird, bird, b-bird’s the word 
A-well-a, bird, bird, bird, b-bird’s the word 
A-well-a, bird, bird, bird, b-bird’s the word 
A-well-a, bird, bird, bird, b-bird’s the word 
A-well-a, don’t you know about the bird 
Well, everybody’s talking about the bird 
A-well-a, bird, bird, b-bird’s the word 
A-well-a, bird 

Surfin’ bird 
Bbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbb, aaah 

Pa-pa-pa-pa-pa-pa-pa-pa-pa-pa-pa-pa-pa-pa-pa-pa 
Pa-pa-pa-pa-pa-pa-pa-pa-pa-pa-pa-pa-pa-pa-ooma-mow-mow 
Papa-ooma-mow-mow...

                                                     - The Trashmen, “Surfin’ Bird”

We present to our Esteemed Readers the Conure, a type of small parrot (or humongous parakeet) with exceptionally colorful plumage, a long lifespan (on the order of thirty years), and a Fucking Sharp Beak.

If I were to purchase a bird as an Animal Companion, I would probably want one of these bad boys.  Beautiful, while at the same time reasonably companionable.  (The one pictured above was friendly enough - or tolerant enough - to allow me, a total stranger, to scratch his neck with my fingertip.)

I’m sure Levon would appreciate it, too.  Something for him to gaze at while burning with frustration.  “Why can’t I just play with him for a while?”

Back in our small-kid days, the Other Elisson and I used to keep parakeets.  The advantage of the parakeet, AKA the common budgie, is that despite their relatively short (~3 year) lifespans, they are easily domesticated, friendly, and their little turds - about the size of a large barley kernel - are dry and easily flicked away with a fingertip from whatever surface they land on right into your kid brother’s eye.

The Other Elisson, possibly owing to our favorable experience with parakeets, went on to commit the monumental error of getting a cockatiel, basically a huge-ass parakeet with a correspondingly rotten disposition.  His bird, Teppie (short for cocktepple, the Yiddish word for chamber-pot), was very much a one-man critter.  Once in a blue moon she would fly to me and land on my shoulder, departing hurriedly as soon as she realized that I was not the Other Elisson.  Damn bird lived over twenty years, by which time my brother was thoroughly sick of her.  (Or so he says.)  And you do not want to know how much a cockatiel shits.

Alas, the chance of me ever owning one of these feathery fellows is roughly nil: the only bird anyone is likely to give me is of the middle-fingered variety. The Missus, she does not like the Bird.  Unless it is a turkey or chicken, cooked, in which case she will deign to tolerate the white meat.

Mister Levon
“Hey, did somebody say ‘white meat’?”

SAMPLE

It’s one of the traditions of our morning minyan group: when you are observing a yahrzeit (the anniversary of the death of a loved one) or a birthday, you buy breakfast for everyone.  Thus it was that, in a slight deviation from the usual Breakfasty Rotation, we had today’s morning repast at the Local Bagel and Smoked Fish Emporium where we normally dine on Tuesdays and Fridays.

It’s the safest place in northeast Georgia, owing to the presence of anywhere from two to a dozen of Cobb County’s Finest.  No doubt they are attracted by the prospect of eating Toroidal Foodstuffs:  Anything that resembles a doughnut is fair game for the boys in blue.  (And just in case any of ’em are reading this, just kidding, guys!)

One of the gentlemen who was sitting next to me - Mayer, a jocular fellow in his upper 80’s - asked me a most unbreakfasty question: “Wanna see my stool sample?”

When an individual of a certain age asks a question like that, anything is possible.

Of course, being Elisson, I had to say yes.  And of course, he being Mayer, I knew what was coming:

THROWING A FEW THINGS TOGETHER

Or, the fine art of Picky-Pick.

Picky-Pick is what we have for supper when we have no supper planned.

Picky-Pick is the hastily assembled toasted cheese sandwich, the bowl of tuna salad with crackers and pickles. (She Who Must Be Obeyed dotes on little bitty pickles, be they sweet gherkins, dills, or cornichons.)

Picky-Pick is when you look in the refrigerator and pantry, say, “Fuck it,” and chow down on a bowl of cereal while you watch “Jeopardy.”

Picky-Pick is leftovers of pretty much any kind, especially if they consist of remnants of more than one meal.

Four-Bean Salad
SWMBO’s amazingly tasty Four-Bean Salad.

SWMBO’s excellent four-bean salad, a dish originally created in a frenzy of pure improvisation, is most emphatically not Picky-Pick - that is, unless it has been marinating in the fridge for three or four days, in which case it falls under the general category of leftovers.  Add a handful of feta cheese to it and you’ve got the backbone of a fine meal.

We had several chicken sausages left over from a weekend grilling session - the perfect underpinning for Picky-Pick - and all I needed to do was convert ’em into something resembling a meal.  That was easy enough: I cleaned and sliced up about a pound of Fart Balls Brussels sprouts, added a couple of minced garlic cloves and a thinly sliced shallot, and threw it all into the sauté pan in which I had been browning the sliced-up sausage remnants.  A splash of chicken broth to deglaze the pan, and presto!  Suppertime!

Sausage 'n' Sprouts
Sausage ’n’ Sprouts: another happy improvisation.

Sausage ’n’ Sprouts!  That stuff tasted so good, I almost forgot it was Picky-Pick.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

SPROING

Springtime Bouquet
The flowers that bloom in the Spring, tra la.

Spring has, as they say, sprung, with the vernal equinox occurring at 7:02 am today.

Ya gotta love spring in the Southland.  In the last couple of days, the Bradford pears, forsythia, and redbuds have begun bursting into bloom, shortly to be followed by the cherry blossoms, azaleas, and dogwoods.  (Maybe this year the azaleas will hold off so they won’t have withered by the time they play the Masters.)

Spring in the Southland means sitting in front of the teevee set, watching as lines of thunderstorms approach, bringing the ever-present possibility of destruction by tornadic winds.  Just a couple of days ago we huddled in the basement as our house was whipped by high winds and pelted with pea-size hail.  Yeef.

Spring in the Southland means sports.  The Tennis Ladies are out in force, filling the neighborhood courts.  As we enter the period of March Madness, April Assholery is sure to follow, bringing the Boys of Summer.  Play ball!

Springtime means Passover, with its message of renewal and redemption cloaked in constipaton-inducing unleavened bread.  I can’t wait.  For our Christian friends, it is also the redemptive season - Easter arrives on the ultimate day of the month.

Is Spring my favorite season of the year? No, not really. I always look forward to Fall, with its cool, crisp mornings and the changing colors of autumn leaves. Nevertheless, there is a lot to love about springtime in the South. You can be sure that I will try to enjoy every minute.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

HAVE A HEART

Have a Heart Cocktail
The unfortunately named Have a Heart Cocktail.  It looks an awful lot like a Bloody Monkey, but the resemblance pretty much ends there. [Click to embiggen.]

...Hey, hey, have a heart, hey, have a heart.
If you don’t love me, why don’t you let me go?
Have a heart, please, oh don’t you have a heart?
Little by little you fade while I fall apart...

                          - Bonnie Raitt, “Have a Heart”

The Have a Heart Cocktail was not inspired by Bonnie Raitt’s 1989 hit song - it’s far older than that.  Created in 1934, it was named for a forgettable movie released that year featuring Jean Parker, James Dunn, and the redoubtable Una Merkel.

They could’ve named the drink for Una Merkel, as far as I’m concerned.  It wouldn’t have sounded nearly as lame.  In fact, it would have been a wonderful way to remember an underappreciated (today, anyway) comic actress.  With that in mind, I am happy to present...

Have a Heart Cocktail (AKA the Una Merkel)

1½ oz gin
¾ oz Swedish Punsch
¾ oz freshly squeezed lime juice
¼ oz pomegranate grenadine

Combine ingredients in an ice-filled shaker; shake vigorously and strain into a cocktail glass.  Garnish with a lime wedge.  Delicious and complex.

In the event you find yourself scratching your head over some of the ingredients, a few words of explanation and/or background:

In a better world, the term “pomegranate grenadine” would be redundant.  Grenadine, by definition, is made from pomegranate (grenada, in Spanish) juice.  Alas, many of the commercial grenadines sold in your supermarket’s mixer section have never been within a mile of a pomegranate, being concoctions of high-fructose corn syrup, food coloring, and artificial flavoring.  It was not always this way: Just two nights ago I found, in the recesses of a friend’s liquor locker, a half-century-old bottle of Giroux grenadine that actually contained cane sugar and pomegranate juice.  You won’t find a bottle like that today, not any more.

My solution is to make my own, using this excellent recipe.  Best. Grenadine. Ever!  It adds a little sweetness and color to the drink, but most important, it adds its own subtle flavor.

Swedish Punsch?  WTF is that? you may ask.  It’s a sort of spiced rum-like mixture made with Batavia arrack (an Indonesian-style rum), tea, lemon, and spices: a true punch.  You can find it in your local Booze-Shoppe if they carry obscure alcohols, or you can make it yourself... if you do, and you can’t find the equally obscure Batavia arrack, just use cachaça (Brazilian sugarcane rum).

Swedish Punsch goes exceptionally well with a full-flavored gin, adding layers of complex aromas and flavors.  Both my Aunt Marge and I thought this drink was a real success - try it and see whether you agree!

Friday, March 15, 2013

IT’S EATAPETA DAY!

It’s March 15 - EATAPETA (Eat A Tasty Animal for PETA) Day!

What are you gonna have today?  Here are a few suggestions:

Pastrami!
Yummy home-cured pastrami. (Commercial is just fine, too.)

Gravlax with Capers and Lemon Zest
Gravlax with capers and lemon zest. Made from tasty salmon fish sea-kittens.

Coq au Vin
Coq au vin. That’s French for “Drunken Chicken.”

Fishies
Fish. Err, I mean Sea-Kittens.

Kosher Beef Franks
The humble Tube-Steak.

Prime Ribeyes
Delicious, meaty prime rib-eye steaks.

Beef Tenderloin
They don’t call it “tenderloin” for nothing. Like buttah.

Remember: If it didn’t have a mother, it’s probably not food!

Thursday, March 14, 2013

A BRACE O’ BLARNIFIED BAGELS, or
EAT ME, I’M IRISH

Blarney Bagels 
Freshly-baked bagels, all ready for the Eatin’ o’ th’ Green: From left to right, Montreal Steak Seasoning, Black Pepper, Wasabi Sesame, and Dead Sea Salt.  Traditional?  Hell, naw.

Nothing says “Saint Patrick’s Day” quite like a mess of hot green bagels fresh from the oven.

You think I’m kidding?  Saint Paddy himself would have loved these bad boys, and not just for their emerald hue... for it’s a little-known fact that he was actually Jewish.  The main reason he chased the snakes out of old Eire?  They were treif - not acceptable for consumption according to the ancient laws of kashrut.

While it may be a whole lot easier to run down to the Local Bagel and Smoked Fish Emporium for my Green Bagel fix, baking them myself is the only way to get the bizarre toppings I crave.  Why have plain ol’ poppyseeds when you can have Montreal Steak Seasoning, Black Pepper, Wasabi Sesame, and Dead Sea Salt?

Yeah, I know: Saint Patrick’s day is March 17 - this coming Sunday.  I like to think of this as getting a head start on the festivities.

PI DAY

Summer Berry Pie
Summer berry pie... an appropriate way to celebrate Pi Day even if it isn’t quite spring yet.

Today is Pi Day, March 14, often rendered as 3.14 in American English.

It’s also the day on which Albert Einstein’s birthday is celebrated in his adopted home of Princeton, New Jersey.  That’s convenient, because it’s actually his birthday - he would have been 134 years old today.  Take those digits and rearrange them and what do you get?  314 - March 14, again!  (Weird, eh?)

To celebrate the occasion, I am happy to reprint one of my favorite 100-word stories: Pie-Eyed Jeremy, originally posted in June 2006.  Enjoy.

PIE-EYED JEREMY: A 100-WORD STORY

Jeremy loved pie.

Jeremy loved pie with a white-hot passion.

No birthday cake for him. It had to be pie, only pie.

Dutch Apple. Mince. Blueberry. Rhubarb. Pumpkin. Coconut Custard. Steak and Kidney. Chicken Pot. If it was a pie, Jeremy would seek it out and devour it.

But pies were expensive. Fillings and crust cost money, which Jeremy had in short supply. Eventually, to support his pie habit, Jeremy turned to crime.

During a botched heist at Entenmann’s, two hostages died in a hail of bullets. Jeremy was arrested and convicted.

His last meal? Pie, of course. Cyanide pie.

Update: My friend Radio Richard reminds me that March 14 is also Steak and BJ Day. Celebrated exactly one month after Valentine’s Day, Steak and BJ Day serves as a male-centric counterpoint to the Holiday of Hearts and Flowers.  To wit:
Over the years, Valentine’s Day has become a commercial holiday for women. On February 14, intimate couples celebrate their love with candy, flowers, greeting cards, and other gifts of affection. Men do not want candy. Men have no need for flowers or teddy bears. There are two things men want: steak and a blow job.
Thus sayeth the originators of S&BJD. Radio Richard says he and his Missus observed the holiday in their own way - he ate a hamburger and she, a banana. That’s the spirit!

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

WINGS

As I was driving home today I passed a Zaxby’s restaurant just a few miles from Chez Elisson.

Whether it is a sign of advancing age-related mental deterioration, my increasingly bad eyesight, or the fierce attention I pay to watching the road when I drive, I do not know - but when I glanced at the sign in the restaurant’s parking lot, I could have sworn it said “Homeless Wings Meal” - enough to make me do a double-take.

Of course it was my imagination at work.  The sign really said “Boneless Wings Meal.”

Still, the idea intrigued me.  What sort of flavors would Homeless Wings come in?  Pee-soaked trousers?  Unwashed Bum?  Week-old Vomit Stain?  And would they come with celery sticks?

[Am I ashamed to have written this post?  You bet I am.  The homeless, after all, are not appropriate targets of snotty, derisive humor.  And yet... Homeless Wings!]

MR. DEBONAIR’S SHAVING CREAM SERAGLIO

In Days of Old, kings, whenever they were feeling the slightest bit randy, would select a young lady from their hareems with whom to spend a pleasant evening committing Unmentionable Activities.  Presumably, the benefits of variety outweighed the disadvantages of expense and aggravation.

Your old friend Mr. Debonair was thinking about that fine old institution this morning as he visited his own personal hareem.

Women?  Is Mr. Debonair polygamous?

Perish the thought.  There is only one woman - nay, lady - for Mr. Debonair, and that would be, of course, the redoubtable She Who Must Be Obeyed.

No: I speak of my collection of various creams and soaps, all devoted exclusively to the daily ritual of rasage, the scraping of little bitty hairs from where they grow on my face.  It’s my Shaving Cream Seraglio, and every day I get to decide which of its occupants will grace my Facial Follicles.

Being Mr. Debonair, I tend to use high-end shaving products.  The bargain-priced aerosol can of Barbasol is not my style.  It’s not that my face requires special Fancy-Pants treatment; it’s simply that I like to make necessary daily rituals as pleasant as possible.  (Which is why I also prefer single-malt mouthwash.)  Not only that, but I have found, over the course of years, that the more pricey shaving soaps often are more economical on a cost-per-shave basis, owing to their enhanced lubricative properties.

One of my favorites is Kiehl’s White Eagle Ultimate Brushless Shave Cream.  The slightly medicinal menthol-camphor aroma is not for everybody, but I find it cooling and refreshing.  The 2.5 ounce tube is just right for travel - the only problem is the opaque tube, which always keeps you guessing as to just how much is left in it.

Bath and Body Works carries an excellent product: C. O. Bigelow Premium Shave Cream with Eucalyptus and Menthol. It’s made by the same folks who make Proraso, that snazzy Italian shaving cream that comes in a tube, and near as I can tell this is the exact same stuff.  A honkin’ big 5.2 ounce tube lists for $10, but if you catch one of B&BW’s frequent BOGO sales you’re looking at paying all of five simoleons for an eighteen month’s supply - the stuff is just that efficient.  As with the Kiehl’s cream, a (very) little goes a long, long way.  But unlike the Kiehl’s White Eagle, the Bigelow goop comes in an aluminium tube just as toothpaste used to do back in the old days.  It is very easy to see how much is left in the tube at any given time, particularly if one is (like Mr. Debonair) scrupulous about carefully flattening the tube and rolling it up from bottom to top.  (Squishing the middle of the tube is nekulturny.)

Both of the above products are brushless shave creams that I typically apply with the tips of the fingers.  Once in a while, however, I want a more tactile shaving experience, one that involves a brush.  For that I crack open the Crabtree and Evelyn Sandalwood Shave Soap, conveniently and elegantly packaged in its own little wooden bowl.  It’s relatively pricey at $22, but it lasts for what seems an eternity... especially when used in rotation with the other members of my Shaving Cream Seraglio.  I don’t know if I purchased it for the bowl or for its pleasant aroma of sandalwood, but it provides a nice counterpoint to the others both in fragrance and method of use.

Which of them is best?  Why, that is ever so much like asking an Oriental Potentate which of the members of his hareem he prefers.  And of course, the correct answer is the same in both cases: “All of them... but it may be best if one enjoys only one on any given day.”  Thus sayeth Mr. Debonair.

Update: One of the comments on this post was left by one mantic59, who styles himself the Shave Tutor and is apparently some sort of wet-shave guru with several YouTube videos to his credit. (Here’s one.)  His real name, incidentally, is Mark Herro, and he also has a blog - Sharpologist - devoted to the manly art of shaving.  But here’s what I really like about Mr. Herro: He is the exact opposite of a comment spammer, having left a comment that was pertinent to the content of the blog post to which it was attached, with no links save for one to his (unavailable) Google profile.  He did not comment as an exercise in self-promotion, rather, simply to add to the discussion.  Mr. Herro is an honorable blogger - and he takes shaving very seriously.  Take a few minutes to check out his videos; it is time well spent.  (Unless you use one of those execrable electric razors, in which case shame on you.)

HAPPY NEW YEAR

Yes, Happy New Year!

For us Red Sea Pedestrians, today is New Year’s Day: the first day of Nisan, the first month of the year.

Wait, what?  What about all that foofaraw in September... that Rosh Hashanah thing?  Isn’t that the Jewish New Year?

Well, yes.  It is, indeed.  As it happens, in Jewish tradition, there are actually four different New Years, falling on 1 Tishrei, 1 Nisan, 15 Shevat, and 1 Elul.  (Those are names of Hebrew months, if you’re still scratching your head in wonderment.)

  • The first of Tishrei (the seventh month) is Rosh Hashanah, the holiday with which many of my Esteemed Reders may already be familiar.  It’s the New Year for the Jewish civil calendar, used for counting the number of years (ostensibly) since Creation and for determining the Sabbatical and Jubilee years.  It’s also when vegetable and grain tithes were calculated.

  • The fifteenth of Shevat, AKA Tu b’Shevat, is the New Year for trees, used to determine whether a tree is old enough (three years minimum) for its fruit to be usable.  It is a minor holiday that accumulated some mystical aspects during the 16th century, when the sages of Safed (Tzfat) instituted the practice of having a special Seder meal on Tu b’Shevat involving fruits and nuts with inedible shells or seeds or those that were completely edible, all serving to illustrate an element of the Eternal.  (Go figure.)  You could call it the Earth Day of the ancient Israelites: Unto this day it carries environmental overtones, probably on account of all those fruits and nuts.

  • The first of Elul (the twelfth month) is the New Year for the calculation of animal tithes.

  • The first of Nisan (the first month) - today! - marks the beginning of the season of redemption, commemorating the Exodus of the Israelites from Egypt - the moment that defined Israel as a nation.  As it states in the Torah, “...this month [Nisan] shall be for you the beginning of the months, it shall be for you the first of the months of the year.” [Exodus 12:1]  It also marks the year used for measuring the reigns of the kings of Israel and Judah in ancient times, as well as for the fulfillment of Temple-related vows.

Complicated, huh?  Think of them as you would fiscal years, which do not necessarily start when the calendar year begins, and you’re on the right track.

We also get a fifth New Year, the one we all know - the beginning of the Gregorian year.  That’s the New Year for writing the wrong date on your checks (assuming you still actually write checks) and for drinking heavily. But that’s a topic for another post.

Monday, March 11, 2013

ARE YOU READY FOR EATAPETA?

The eleventh annual EATAPETA (Eat A Tasty Animal for PETA) Day is almost here - March 15 will be upon us before you know it!  Are you ready?  Are you prepared?

EATAPETA Day - the brainchild of the estimable Meryl Yourish - is meant as a way to figuratively spit in the collective eye of PETA, owing (among many other things) to the odious way they have, in the past, drawn comparisons between the Holocaust and the slaughtering of chickens for food.

How does one observe EATAPETA Day?  Well, one could properly use the word “celebrate” in lieu of “observe,” for the chief ritual is the consumption of animal-based foodstuffs at every meal.  And that, for some of us sitting atop the higher reaches of the Food Chain, is cause for celebration.

Here are some things I will not be serving come Friday:

Beet Purée with Greek Yogurt
Beet Purée with Greek Yogurt. Well, it does have animal-based protein in it (yogurt and goat cheese)... but no meat, alas.

Green Beans with Sautéed Mushrooms
Green Beans with Sautéed Mushrooms and Shallots. Nope... no meat in there. Dang.

Quinoa-Suffed Poblanos
Quinoa-Stuffed Poblanos with Avocado Cream.

Mediterranean Green Beans
Mediterranean Green Beans.

Well, if any of these fellows show up, it will be as mere accompaniments to the Main Course... which will be Meat, Poultry, or Fish in any of their myriad forms.

This is more like it:

 Duck Pastrami
Duck pastrami!

Stay tuned for more meat-, poultry-, and fish-related fun... remember, EATAPETA Day is Friday, March 15!  (What are you gonna eat?)

Sunday, March 10, 2013

A FREE GIFT WITH EVERY HAPPY MEAL

Little Ball of Fluff
“Yeah... right there just below the left shoulder blade.  Up a little... a skosh to the right... ahhhhh.”

After dinner, Levon gets a little lovin’ and rubbin’ from Debby, AKA Mrs. Houston Steve.

WRITE WHAT YOU KNOW: A SONNET

The Experts tell me, “Write, Sir, what you know.”
Thus I, in all my Wisdom, deem it fit
That from my Keyboard evermore shall flow
Words like “Ass-Hole,” “Bun-Wad,” “Piss,” and “Shit.”

I am not proud; unlearnèd is my Pen,
And finer Language seems but strange to me.
It is a Matter not of “if” but “when”
That I write Verse that speaks of Poop and Pee.

As always, there are those who think me vile,
But when I write this Crap, it makes me smile.

Saturday, March 9, 2013

THE NEW WIZARD: A 100-WORD STORY

Among the most powerful beings of Middle-Earth were the wizards.

They were the Maiar, sent by the Valar to help Men in their struggle against Sauron; though their outward appearance was human, they possessed much greater abilities.

Among them were Gandalf the Grey, Saruman the White, the Blue Wizards Allatar and Pallando, and Radagast the Brown.

Radagast grumbled. “Brown. I hate brown. Just because I control beasts, why must my robes look like their shit?”

When a new wizard appeared offering to take over Radagast’s color, he was quick to agree. “And you are…?”

“Cerumen’s my name. Earwax’s my game.”

Friday, March 8, 2013

GUILTY PLEASURE

The other day, I decided to have breakfast at the local Snaffle House... an occasional guilty pleasure.

The Harsh Browns are one of the main attractions.  You can order ’em scattered, smothered, chopped, and chunked.  And if you don’t mind paying a few cents more, you can get ’em lathered, bothered, dithered, dunked, skunked, and debunked.  But I usually skip over all of that, because what I want are the Crash Downs.  Those bad boys are Da Bomb.

My favorite waitress - her name’s Jolene - wrote my order down on her pad, pen flying as she tried to keep up.  “I want ’em dipped, ripped, zipped, and ’tater chipped.  Also coated, degroated, bloated, toasted, roasted, boiled, oiled, and tinfoiled.  But not soiled.

“I also want ’em bashed, smashed, slashed, and corned beef hashed.”

“Got it.  Degroated’ll take an extra five minutes - that OK?”

I don’t mind the extra five minutes.  Degroated is the only way to go.

Maybe next time I come in I’ll order the Mashed Clowns.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

DON’T LET YOUR MEAT LOAF

Turkey Meatloaf - up close
Meatloaf: the perfect way to satisfy your Meat Tooth.

Growing up, I was never much of a meatloaf fan.

Meatloaf!  The very word used to give me the Shit-Willies.  That’s likely because I associate it with cold meatloaf sandwiches on white bread, one of the more horrifying lunches that would appear in my brown paper bag at school.  Not even ketchup could save those nasty-wiches.

(Of course, I’m the weird kid who ate cream cheese and green olive sandwiches.  Even better: cream cheese and sardines.  So the usual kid favorites were not on my radar screen.)

No, I was not much of a meatloaf fan back then, with one notable exception: my grandmother’s meatloaf.  Ahhh, that was an ambrosial concoction... beefy, oniony, garlicky.  I can still reach down into the deepest recesses of my Sense-Memory and taste it.

Most restaurant meatloaf dishes are way too herbal for both me and She Who Must Be Obeyed.  For some reason, liberal amounts of either rosemary or thyme (both of which SWMBO loathes) end up in the recipes, and even I, who can tolerate most herbs, do not care for them in the context of the Beefy Loaf.  Feh, sez I.

Having said all this, you could legitimately wonder whether I actually eat the stuff today.  And the answer, of course is yes.  On occasion... and mostly when I’m the one making the loaf.  That way I can control what goes into it.

Cook’s Illustrated published a recipe for meatloaf several months ago, and I’ve used it several times with good results.  Rather than using a lot of bready filler, it adds a hefty load of umami via the use of mushrooms (sorry, Erica), tomato paste, onions, garlic, and soy sauce, with a bit of gelatin to provide a nice, beefy mouthfeel.  It works well in both the original beef version and with ground turkey, despite the latter normally packing all the flavor of wet shredded newspaper.

Beyond the recipe proper, the real revelation is in how the loaf is baked.  Many people simple cram the meat mixture into a loaf pan and shove it into the oven, but this leaves all the grease with no place to go; it ends up being reabsorbed into the meat.  Yecch.  (This is less of a problem with bison or turkey, but still.)

Instead, what you do is take a rack, wrap it in heavy-duty foil, and poke holes in the foil to provide drainage.  You then schpritz a little non-stick spray on that perforated foil and set the rack in a sheet pan to catch the drippings.  Pack the meat into a greased loaf pan and unmold it onto the rack and you’re good to go.  (I have found that chilling the loaf once it’s in the pan helps it hold its shape better once unmolded... your choice.)

Turkey Meatloaf
Ain’t she a beauty? (Meatloaf generally tastes better than it looks.)

Thanks to the pan-less baking technique, the resulting Loaf o’ Meat is not a greasy mess... and it’s plenty flavorful even if you make it with ground turkey.   The glaze, a combination of ketchup, cider vinegar, ground coriander, and hot sauce, provides a sharp counterpoint.  (Mom never glazed her meatloaves.  I wonder if I would have liked them better if she had.)

Now, what to drink with your meatloaf?  Pretty much anything will work.  Ice water.  Beer.  Prune juice.  The carbonated beverage of your choice.  Or this:

Jasper's Rum Punch
Jasper’s Rum Punch. Recipe from Vintage Spirits and Forgotten Cocktails by Ted Haigh, AKA Dr. Cocktail. What, you don’t have a copy yet?

Jasper’s Rum Punch is easy enough to make.  First you run up a batch of Jasper’s Secret Mix: the juice of a dozen limes,  1½ cups granulated sugar, ½ whole nutmeg (grated), and 1¼ ounces Angostura bitters (yes, 1¼ ounces), all stirred together and set in the fridge to mellow for a couple of hours.  (You’ll have enough to make rum punch for a party - save the excess in the fridge.) For the punch itself, combine 1½ ounces Jasper’s Secret Mix with 1½ ounces Wray and Nephew White Overproof Rum in a glass with cracked ice.  Stir well and garnish with a cherry. Yum.

Say, EATAPETA (Eat A Tasty Animal for PETA) Day is a week from tomorrow.  Next time you feel the need to satisfy your Meat Tooth, you know what to do!

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

THE ELISSON BOOKSHELF

The Elisson Bookshelf

I have been remiss in posting about the books I’ve been reading, my last one having been about thirteen months ago.  Is it laziness?  Is it the fact that nobody actually reads blogs anymore, so what’s the point?  I dunno...

...but it’s as good a time as any to reflect on Booky World.

For better or worse, the Elisson Bookshelf is becoming increasingly virtual.  I loves me my hardcovers, and there is nothing like the heft and feel of a good solid book in my hand... yet I find myself frequenting the Kindle store more and more as time flows by.  Fact is, ever since the nearby Borders store folded, I use Amazon for most of my hardcopy purchases anyway, and the virtue of buying books in electronic form is that I get them delivered instantly, rather than having to wait (heavens!) as much as 48 hours for them to arrive.  There is also something to be said for the ability to carry an entire library’s worth of books in one hand.

The Missus once noted that I have a habit of absentmindedly caressing the right edge of my books with a finger as I read them... a subconscious way of creating a certain tactile connection to whatever I’m reading, perhaps.  Yet when I use my iPad to read, I do the exact same thing.  Weird, eh?

Anyway, here are the books I’ve been reading lately, with the electronic ones marked with an asterisk...

January 2012
  • All Clear - Connie Willis

    The sequel to Blackout, a story that uses the framing concept of Oxford historians equipped with time travel.  Willis has set several novels in the Oxford world, including her Hugo and Nebula award-winning Doomsday Book.  In All Clear, several historians from the mid-twenty-first century are dealing with the consequences of being marooned in London and its environs during the Blitz.

  • Old Man’s War* - John Scalzi

  • The concept is simple: We need soldiers to fight our wars in Deep Space as Earth tries to extend its influence and territory... and lengthy life experience is a plus. So join the Army, get a new body, and if you survive all the horrors that the Universe throws at you for a couple of years, you get a place to homestead.
February
  • Hope: A Tragedy, a Novel* - Shalom Auslander

    Anne Frank is still alive... and living in Solomon Kugel’s attic in upstate New York.

  • The Bones of Boulder Creek - S. H. McCord

    A coming-of-age story written for young adults that is touching, heartfelt, and, in parts, gripping.  A fine debut novel by (truth in advertising!) a personal friend.
March
  • Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death, and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity - Katherine Boo

    So you’re all pissed off because your Facebook pages take too long to load and the computer ate your latest status update?  Read this book and then shut the fuck up: The peeps who live in the slums of Mumbai have waaaay more to complain about.

  • A Convenient Hatred: The History of Antisemitism* - Harold Evans, Phyllis Goldstein

    A semi-scholarly analysis of the world’s oldest hatred.
April
  • Blood, Bones & Butter: The Inadvertent Education of a Reluctant Chef - Gabrielle Hamilton

    A fascinating cheffy memoir.

  • Angels of Vengeance - John Birmingham

    The third book in the “After America” trilogy, in which most of the continental United States is instantaneously depopulated by a mysterious and never-explained energy field. Now, the country is rebuilding and the rest of the world is adjusting to the new reality... some of which is less than pleasant.
May
  • Jar Jar Binks Must Die... and Other Observations about Science Fiction Movies* - Daniel M. Kimmel

    Dan Kimmel, a fellow SF fan, is also a professional film critic whose opinion of Jar Jar Binks is comparable to mine.
June
  • Steve Jobs* - Walter Isaacson

    Biography of a man whose vision has changed (among other things) the way we buy and listen to music, watch movies, and even interact with one another. It was only appropriate that I read this book in electronic form on an iPad, a device that sprang from Jobs’s perfervid imagination.

  • The Orphan Master’s Son: A Novel* - Adam Johnson

    You cannot read this novel without coming away deeply changed. A powerful, painful portrait of life and lives in North Korea.

  • Amped: A Novel* - Daniel H. Wilson

    A novel that examines the social implications of medical device implantation... when the implanted devices don’t stop at curing certain neurological and mental disorders, but begin to give people physical and mental advantages over their fellow humans.

  • Redshirts: A Novel with Three Codas* - John Scalzi

    What happens to the expendable guys in the teevee science fiction shows? And why?
July
  • Walking the Bible: A Journey by Land Through the Five Books of Moses - Bruce Feiler

    Appropriately enough, I read most of this book while we traveled about in Israel.

  • Rabid: A Cultural History of the World's Most Diabolical Virus* - Bill Wasik

    An informative and fascinating treatise on a disease you really do not ever want to get.
August
  • In One Person - John Irving

    One of my favorite novelists takes on a new topic: transvestism. A sexually charged book that, like so many of Irving’s others, transports you into its characters’ lives and - just a little - breaks your heart.

  • When General Grant Expelled the Jews - Jonathan D. Sarna

    A scholarly little tome that examines General U. S. Grant’s Order Number 11, which expelled all the Jews in the territories under his command during the Civil War. A short-lived order that was only partially enforced before its almost immediate rescission by Washington, it was a stark contrast to the soon-to-be-issued Emancipation Proclamation. Despite Order Number 11 (and perhaps because of all he subsequently did to make up for it), Grant ended up becoming a beloved figure to the Jewish community of the day.
October
  • Existence - David Brin

    In a near-future world, artificial intelligence-enhanced devices dominate society... and a message is received from somewhere Out There.  Full of Brin’s characteristic wordplay: When I read of Google’s new Glass, all I could think was, “Brin saw this coming... and his aiwear is here way sooner that anyone would have thought!”

  • Mockingjay* - Suzanne Collins

    The ongoing adventures of Katniss Everdeen in the dystopian, postapocalyptic world of Panem, and the final book of the trilogy.  So I hadda read it, y’know? 
November
  • Understanding the Haftarot: An Everyperson’s Guide* - Rabbi Charles Simon

    Essays that put the prophetical readings of Jewish liturgy into their historical and social context.

  • Once We Were Brothers* - Ronald H. Balson

    They were raised as brothers, but the Holocaust intervened... and changed their lives - and their relationship - forever.

  • Unorthodox: The Scandalous Rejection of my Hasidic Roots - Deborah Feldman

    Raised in the insular community of the Satmar Hasidim in Brooklyn, Deborah Feldman eventually left everything she knew in order to pursue her own life.  And her departure was... scandalous!
December
  • American Gods* - Neil Gaiman

    Gods need believers to survive.  What happens when they are transplanted to a new land far from their various native soils?
January 2013
  • The Source* - James Michener

    I hadn’t read a Michener novel in decades... but after our Israel trip, I was drawn to this fifty-year-old story set in a fictional community near Caesaria, in which Michener traces the evolution of Western religion and the historical underpinnings of the modern Jewish state.

  • Creamy and Crunchy: An Informal History of Peanut Butter, the All-American Food* - Jon Krampner

    After hearing the author being interviewed on the Bob Edwards show one morning, how could I not buy the book?

  • Oranges* - John McPhee

    John McPhee can take the most prosaic subject - here, the humble orange - and render it fascinating.

  • Bowl of Heaven - Gregory Benford and Larry Niven

    With the help of fellow hard-SF author Benford, Niven revisits the idea of Unusual Geometries in Space. Is it Ringworld? No, it’s... it’s... Bowlworld!
March
  • Salt Sugar Fat: How the Food Giants Hooked Us* - Michael Moss

    A disturbing - but absolutely unsurprising - look at the way the companies that purvey Processed Food make their wares irresistible. Cakester, anyone?
That’s twenty-eight books in thirteen months.  Hmmm, I’m slowing down. What have you been reading lately?

A WEEKEND IN PHILLY

Independence Hall photo IndependenceHall.jpg
Independence Hall, site of the signing of the Declaration of Independence, meeting place of the Second Continental Congress... and, most important, where we changed Elder Daughter’s diaper during our visit to Philadelphia in 1980.

The Missus and I were in Philadelphia this past weekend, having traveled there to see Elder Daughter perform in Colony, a dance piece that she had co-created last year for the D.C. Fringe Festival.  With the Mistress of Sarcasm driving down from her digs in upstate New York, it was the perfect opportunity for a mini-Family Reunion with our girls.

Given the short duration of our trip, we flew to Philly on the Silver Aerial Bus.  Flying, it should be noted, is not one of SWMBO’s favorite activities... yet this time, she displayed none of her usual agita while flying.  Cool as the proverbial cucumber, she was.

We both suspect that this is the result of having had an uneventful overseas trip this past summer, when we flew to Israel.  The toughest part of that trip was the layover at JFK International in New York: the lengthy transatlantic flight, by comparison, was a piece of cake.  (A dose of Lunesta helped.)

One thought both of us had at almost the exact same time: Since smoking is verboten on pretty much any flight anywhere, there’s little point in the airline manufacturers continuing to build planes with a “No Smoking” lamp above every seat.  Why not replace those with a “Turn Off Electronic Devices” sign?  Just an idea.

We enjoyed our time in Philadelphia, as usual.  It’s a town that boasts both excellent food and some of the most obnoxious roads, the latter being especially evident in the Northern Liberties and Fishtown sections.  (Driving on East or West Girard Avenue is enough to give a rational person a shit-hemorrhage.)  But ya gotta love a place where you can score a duck confit Cuban sammitch for breakfast.

For the first time in three decades, we had a chance to wander around parts of Old City... places we had not seen since late 1980 when Elder Daughter was a mere sprat.  I am pleased to report that Benjamin Franklin, celebrated Renaissance Man, American patriot, founding father, and noted roué, is still tucked away beneath the soil in the same spot at the northwest corner of Christ Church burial ground where we last saw him.

We had an all-too-brief visit with Susan K., a Friend of Long Standing whom I have known since our first encounter in third grade over fifty-two years ago.  She had been in town for a board meeting, giving her, SWMBO, and the Mistress of Sarcasm a chance to meet for the first time.  We were also able to spend some time with Elder Daughter’s friend Hilary, who (not incidentally) is the one who taught E.D. the secrets of Challah-Making... which means that I have her to thank for the tasty loaves that I have been producing for the last year or so.

And Elder Daughter’s performance?  Mesmerizing... and just plain amazing.  (Of course, I speak as a completely disinterested party, not as a Proud Daddy in awe of his talented child’s accomplishments.)

Penn's Landing photo PennsLanding.jpg
Penn’s Landing: The view from our hotel room.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

SANDWICH: A 100-WORD STORY

Ron spent several decades working in the adult film industry. The work paid well, enough for him to send his kids to college and buy a comfortable home.

Eventually, however, Ron’s gig became tiresome. To cure his boredom, he changed careers, becoming a highly paid consultant to the food industry.

Perhaps his greatest contribution was the invention of a sandwich that combined creamy marshmallow with peanut butter. For Ron, the two spreads were a pleasant reminder of the Old Days; for kids everywhere, the new sandwich was a massive hit.

Who better than a former fluffer to invent the Fluffernutter?

Friday, March 1, 2013

EXPLORING

Levon atop Armchair
Levon Parked upon Armchair
“Looka me!  I can climb on the chair!” Levon explores Daddy’s office. 

He’s getting bigger and more curious about his surroundings, Levon is.

I’m waiting until he discovers that he can leap to the top of the shelving units in my office.  It never would have occurred to Hakuna or Matata to do that - it was probably beyond their physical capabilities - but both Neighbor and Bernadette were past masters of Scaling the High Places.  It used to scare the crap out of me.

It’s only a matter of time.