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

Friday, May 31, 2013

FRIDAY FIRST O’ FERIEN RANDOM TEN

The iPod d’Elisson
The iPod d’Elisson, AKA the Little White Choon Box.

Ferien is a delightful German word for “vacation.” I call it delightful because it is, deep down, not German at all - it’s borrowed from the French term faire rien - to do nothing. It’s the perfect vacation activity!

Today being the first day of SWMBO’s summer vacation, what better time to post a Friday First o’ Ferien Random Ten?  So let’s see what the Little White Choon Box has queued up for us today.  Hint: there ain’t a whole lot of Beach Music, vacation or no...
  1. Philosophy - Ben Folds Five

  2. Goin’ Away to Sea - The Klezmatics

  3. My Shit’s Fucked Up - Warren Zevon

    Well, I went to the doctor
    I said, “I’m feeling kind of rough”
    “Let me break it to you, son
    Your shit’s fucked up”

    I said, “My shit’s fucked up?
    Well I don’t see how”
    He said, “The shit that used to work
    It won’t work now”

    I, I had a dream
    Ah shucks, oh well
    Now it’s all fucked up
    It's shot to hell

    Yeah, yeah, my shit’s fucked up
    It has to happen to the best of us
    The rich folks suffer like the rest of us
    It’ll happen to you

    That Amazing Grace
    Sort of passed you by
    You wake up every day
    And you start to cry

    You want to die
    But you just can’t quit
    Let me break it on down
    It’s the fucked up shit

    Yeah my shit’s fucked up
    Fucked up


  4. One Way Out - The Allman Brothers

  5. Improvisation No. 2 - Django Reinhardt

  6. Star Trek Rhapsody - Weird Al Yankovic

  7. Act II, Scene 1: Look Down at the Earth - John Adams, Nixon in China

  8. Cold Duck Time - Les McCann & Eddie Harris

    From the brilliant “Swiss Movement” album, recorded live at the Montreux Jazz Festival in June 1969.

  9. Aalafiya/Shir LaShalom - The Afro-Semitic Experience

  10. How to be Dumb - Elvis Costello

It’s Friday. What are you listening to?

Thursday, May 30, 2013

HAPPY BIRTHDAY, MEL

Mel Blanc's Resting Place
The final resting place of Mel Blanc and his thousand voices.[Photo: Wikimedia Commons]

Today is Mel Blanc’s birthday.  The Man of a Thousand Voices would have been 105 today.

Alas, he’s been gone since 1989.  I like to imagine him wandering the World to Come, cracking the heavenly hosts up with his voice impressions and comic routines.  “Anaheim, Azusa, and Cu... camonga!”  “What’s up, Doc?” “I tawt I taw a puddy tat!”

Ivan Shreve has an excellent tribute up at Radio Spirits.  Go take a look.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

BIBLICAL FRUITS

The Bible talks about ancient Israel as being a land flowing with milk and honey... but when it comes to the matter of solid foods, you cannot help but notice the frequent references to other local foodstuffs, the fruits of the land.  Dates, figs, olives, and pomegranates are mentioned numerous times, symbols of abundance and peace.

They’re all still there in modern Israel.  Lookee:

Dates on the Hoof
Dates... before they’re picked and dried to look like cockroaches.

Figs on the Hoof
Figs on the hoof.  Note the distinctively shaped leaves, perfect for covering up the crotchal area of any putative Adam or Eve.

Olives on the Hoof
Olives grow near a wall in the Old City of Jerusalem.  All we need now is a juniper tree and we’ve got a good start on a locally grown Martini.

Pomegranates on the Hoof
Ripening pomegranates hang on the tree at the Golan Heights Winery.

Now, all this talk about food has made me hungry.  Fig Newton, anyone?

TEMPESTUOUS TEAPOT

Retail is a tough business.  You bust your chops competing with (seemingly) everyone on the planet, including internet-based merchants, and you’re getting killed.  Business pundits are predicting that your venerable brand is not long for this world, but still you plug away, trying to turn things around.

Hell, you’ve now got one of the country’s most celebrated designers on your team - Michael Graves!  Fresh after winning the University of Notre Dame’s Richard H. Driehaus Prize, the man who created a whole line of creatively reimagined household products for Target is now cranking out all kinds of wonderful stuff for you.  And so you advertise it on massive billboards...

J C Penney Billboard
Heil!  Your hot water is ready, schweinhund!

Wait, what?

Is that what... er, who I think it is?

Let’s get another look at that thing:

Michael Graves Website
Screenshot from the Michael Graves Design Group website.

Ohhh, I get it. It’s a teakettle! One that bears a striking resemblance to a certain twentieth-century personage... complete with distinctive hairline and moustache, skinny tie, and raised spout arm salute.

This is the kind of  massive PR snafu that ends up in textbooks as, well, a Textbook Example of what to avoid.  I’m betting that the design isn’t all that obviously Hitlerian in real life, but it’s kinda hard to miss in the photograph.  The reflection that resembles the skinny tie is just the finishing touch.

I cannot imagine that the billboard designer, at least, didn’t have a brief WTF moment when looking over the copy.  It’s one of those things that may not strike you right away; however, once you see it, you cannot unsee it.

J C Penney, to its credit (and chagrin), has taken down the billboards and scrubbed their website of the image.  They’ve also used social media, tweeting “Certainly unintended. If we’d designed the kettle to look like something, we would've gone w/a snowman.”  But it still sits on the Michael Graves Design Group website and Facebook page... and, apparently, the kettle has become a hot item, selling on eBay for about five times the original retail price.  I’m hoping that buyers are motivated more by a desire to get their hands on a possible collectors’ item than by any neo-Nazi political views.

Wonder if it whistles “The Horst Wessel Song” when the water boils?

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

LOVEBIRD, MY ASS

Son of Velociraptor

I sit here locked inside my cage,
O, if you only knew my rage -
Imprisoned, sitting on a perch
And, like a preacher in a church,
You listen to me talk all day
Yet care not what I have to say.

Just open up the door here, Jim,
And then I’ll tear you limb from limb
In my life-story’s newest chapter,
This scion of Velociraptor.

EIGHTY-EIGHT

Ivories
Eli tickles the ivories, May 2010.

Anyone with even the slightest musical bent knows that eighty-eight is the number of keys on a piano.

I grew up with the sound of piano music in the house, thanks to my Dad.  He had a library of sheet music that covered almost every genre, and it was a rare day that he did not sit down and play a few of the old standards.  He was no Jerry Lee Lewis, pounding out “Great Balls of Fire,” no.  But if you wanted to hear “Tangerine” or “My Funny Valentine,” he would happily oblige.

Today is Eli’s eighty-eighth birthday - a year for every key on the piano.

Alas, he is no longer able to play.  If I want to hear his music, though, all I have to do is close my eyes, and it all comes back clear as a bell, even unto the squeak of his foot on the reverb pedal.

When people ask me how he is doing, I have generally offered a noncommittal “He’s hanging in there.”  But now that the weather is warming up and the days are lengthening, that’s not really an adequate descriptor.  He’s actually doing pretty well, all things considered, and his positive attitude and sense of humor are helping to see him through what can best be described as Non-Ideal Circumstances.

Today there will be cake, and family, and love.  And in a few days, when She Who Must Be Obeyed and I arrive, there will be more.  You don’t get to celebrate that many eighty-eighth birthdays, after all - strictly one to a customer, and not all customers get one.

Happy birthday, Daddy!

(There are a few photos below the fold, if you care to take a peek.)

Monday, May 27, 2013

MEMORIAL DAY

American Flag

Memorial Day is the opening shot of summer, the unofficial start of the season that is bracketed at the other end by Labor Day.  For schoolkids, it’s an indication that vacation time either has already arrived or will do so soon.  And for millions of others, it’s a day to hit the grill... or the local shopping mall.

For me?  Not so much.

This day is, to me, a solemn holiday, much in the style of Rosh Hashanah or Yom Kippur.  It’s a time to be thoughtful, perhaps a bit introspective... a time to remember those brave souls who made the ultimate sacrifice as they defended their country.  Our country.

Wishing someone a Happy Memorial Day seems a bit inappropriate.  I try to wish people a meaningful holiday, with the meaning up to the individual I am addressing.

So, to my Esteemed Readers - enjoy the day in whichever manner you choose, and may it be meaningful in all the right ways.

WATER OF LIFE

Homemade Akvavit photo HomemadeAkvavit.jpg
A golden bottle of do-it-yourself akvavit, the Official Booze of Scandinavia.

The Auld Scots must have loved their spirituous liquors, for they called their distillations uisge beatha - the Water of Life - a term which survives to this very day.  Whisky!

There are other lively waters, though, and one of the tastier ones is the Scandinavian tipple akvavit, which name means, appropriately enough, Water of Life.  How original, think ye in snark-fashion... but akvavit has little in common with Scotch or Irish whiskies except for its alcohol content.

Your basic akvavit  - Aalborg is a good example - tastes like a caraway-infused vodka, which it pretty much is.  Fancier versions add other herbs and spices to the mix, but the predominant flavor will almost always be caraway or dill.

You can find one or two different brands of akvavit on the shelf in your local Booze-Shoppe, provided it is a reasonably well-stocked operation.  You may even find Linie Akvavit, a brand that carries on the tradition of shipping its product back and forth between Norway and Australia, crossing the equator twice in the process.  But if the well is dry (so to speak), it’s easy enough to make your own, thanks to this handy recipe from Andreas Viestad (via Epicurious and Houston Steve):

Do-It-Yourself Akvavit

2 teaspoons caraway seeds
1 teaspoon fennel seeds
2 teaspoons dill seeds
2 star anise pods
1 tablespoon coriander seeds
1 whole clove
1 one-inch cinnamon stick (optional)
2 teaspoons cumin seeds (optional)

Add the above spices to a 1-liter bottle of vodka. Let stand 2 to 3 weeks, shaking the bottle occasionally, then strain and discard the solids.  Presto - you have akvavit!  Chill (I keep mine in the freezer) and enjoy an ice-cold shot with gravlax, herring, or pretty damn much any appetizer you feel like eating.

Friday, May 24, 2013

IT’S A GOOD THING

Martha and the Mistress
Martha Stewart, adorned with the Mistress’s needle-felted finger puppets. Photo pinched from Martha Stewart’s official blog, “Martha: Up Close & Personal.” ©2013 Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia.

I have to admit, there were times when I questioned whether the Mistress of Sarcasm knew what she was doing when she shifted most of her artistic output from hand-made jewelry to needle-felted finger puppets.  Was there really a market for these whimsical little creations?  Could she actually make a living - or most of one, anyway - with an inchoate mass of wool and a barbed needle?

I need not have been overly concerned, it seems.

Seeing is believing, Esteemed Readers.  The Mistress makes these little beasties come to life, each one with its own distinctive personality... and they are making new friends.

At last weekend’s Trade Secrets garden show in Sharon, Connecticut, they caught the eye of Martha Stewart, who dubbed them “adorable.”  And that, Esteemed Readers, is a Good Thing... innit?

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

ON PICKLED FISH

I have written numerous times on these Electronic Pages about my love for smoked fish.  There are, however other ways than smoking to preserve a fish, pickling being one of them.

Herring is the fish most of us associate with pickling.  It can be put up any number of different ways: aside from pickling, it may be smoked (e.g., kippers) or fermented (e.g., surströmming, the notoriously stinky Swedish fish).  But ask a random sample of people if they’re familiar with herring, and pretty much anyone who answers in the affirmative will be thinking of pickled herring - the kind that comes in a jar with onions and wine or cream sauce.

Years ago, I took a lengthy sojourn in the Netherlands, a place known for its love of the herring.  While there, I was able to indulge my appetite for herring in uncountable different forms.  To this day, I have no idea what most of them were... but they were, for the most part, delicious.  And not a one with cream.

For years, there was one type of herring that held almost no appeal for me (not counting surströmming, which I hope never to encounter) - and that was matjes herring.  As a youngster, I could barely stand it, owing to its mushy, oily texture; its myriad of hair-fine bones; its weird spices; its vague sweetness coupled with extreme saltiness.  Give me a jar of herring and onions in wine sauce any day - matjes herring (form the Dutch maatjesharing, for soused herring) was always just plain nasty.

My whole attitude toward matjes changed during our trip to Israel last year.  There, it was a regular feature at our breakfast buffets: I decided to give it a chance.  Lo and behold, this was not like the matjes herring with which I had been familiar.  This stuff was not overly salty or full of little bones.  It had subtle, interesting flavors.  Why, it was... quite tasty!

A couple of weeks ago, I stumbled upon some prepackaged matjes at the Buford Highway Farmers Market. Emboldened by my positive experience in Israel, I tried it... and once again, I was delighted.  Who knew?

Look, this stuff isn’t for kiddies.  It is, to put it delicately, a much more strongly flavored item than, say, Vita creamed herring in the jar.  But I’m a grownup now - or at least, I’m old enough to pass as one - and so foods with a bit of, ahhh, character do not put me off.

What’s this?  You say you prefer creamed herring?  Not a problem... but if you want to kick that stuff up to the next level, get a jar of it and add in some shredded Granny Smith apple (with the peel) and lemon zest.  Shove it back in the jar and let it sit for a day or two before eating.  You’ll be glad you did!

FUNNELS

The EF-5 tornado that swept through Moore, Oklahoma Monday, leaving 24 people dead amidst a swath of horrific devastation,  is just the latest manifestation of the scariest weather phenomenon on the planet.

It is impossible to suppress a shudder when watching the (incessant) television coverage of the disaster.  In some respects it’s déja vu all over again, after having seen similar scenes played out in Joplin, Missouri; Tuscaloosa, Alabama; and Ringgold, Georgia within the past few years: the horrifying result of God’s own vacuum cleaner making a few passes over the carpet of the earth.  But the sheer scale of destruction in Moore is mind-numbing, with entire neighborhoods scraped off the planet’s surface as though they had never existed.

The only other comparable events that come to my mind are the razing of parts of the Bolivar Peninsula in coastal Texas by Hurricane Ike (2008) and the impact of Hurricane Andrew (1992) in south Florida.  In both instances, destruction was so thorough that the land was scoured completely, to the point where it resembled Hiroshima after it was leveled by the atomic bomb on August 6, 1945.  It is hard to imagine anyone being able to survive a storm like that, save for divine providence.

Tornadoes figure deeply in my subconscious, despite my relatively limited experience with them.  Most of that experience, in recent years, has taken the form of staring in gape-mouthed horrified fascination at the TeeVee Screen, watching the weather maps and praying that those big red and magenta blobs stay well away from our neighborhood... or hunkering down in the basement and hoping that the tornado that was on the ground a mile or two west of us - and headed directly for us - would dissipate before we (and Chez Elisson) got sucked away to Oz.  More direct experience, I have no desire whatsoever to have... but it is an occupational hazard for those who live in the Southeast.

Tornado Frequency Chart
A map of the frequency of F3 and greater intensity tornadoes by area. Darker colors highlight the area typically known as Tornado Alley. (Wikimedia Commons)

Oklahomans, as most of us know, have it worse.  They are ground zero for wind-funnel activity, parked right in the bull’s eye of Tornado Alley, which stretches from north Texas to southern South Dakota.  Big tornadoes are far more frequent in the Alley... and huge, catastrophic ones are more likely to strike there than elsewhere.  The Moore storm may have raised the bar on Disastrous Storms,  owing to its exceptional size (up to two miles wide!) and intensity... but it was not completely unexpected.

Strangely enough, the Mistress of Sarcasm had her own close encounter with a tornado the very next day, a funnel that swept through her small town in upstate New York, knocking down a tree in her front yard in the process.  The storm swept eastward into the remote northwestern corner of Connecticut and dumped a heap of hail - quarter- to golf ball-sized stones - in Falls Village, enough to accumulate in inches-deep drifts.  Fortunately, she had been a few miles to the east, missing the worst part of the storm.

Copake Tornado
A funnel touches down near Copake, New York... a very unusual phenomenon for the area.  Photo: Larry Selfridge (via Terri Moore).

Compared to a typical Tornado Alley storm - and especially the Moore disaster - this one was a mere fart in a hurricane.  Nevertheless, scary business... because no matter where you are, tornadoes can happen.

Which is, I suppose, why I dream about them.  Tornadoes and tsunami.  Maybe it’s my subconscious’s way of saying, “Whether you’re paranoid or not, sometimes someone really is out to get you!”

Monday, May 20, 2013

THE CHEESE AISLE DICTIONARY, Vol. 17

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:

clocksucker [klok-su-ker] (n) - (1) An excessively time-consuming activity; (2) A person or activity, involvement with whom or which constitutes a waste of one’s time.

“Carole always has her nose buried in that iPad - that Facebook is a real clocksucker!”

Sunday, May 19, 2013

MISTER LEVON AT NINE MONTHS

Levon 041013

He’s nine months old today,
Still just a kitten.
And when the story of his life is written,
I know with solid certainty but that,
There is, and never was, a finer cat.

Friday, May 17, 2013

A MOST FELICITOUS COMBINATION

Canfield's and Bitters

Canfield’s Diet Chocolate Fudge soda and Fee Brothers Aztec Chocolate Bitters.

Take a nice cold can of the former, pour into a chilled glass, and add a few dashes of the latter.  You like ice?  Add some ice.  Stir.

A little half-and-half kicks this up yet another notch.  It’s a match made in heaven!

POST-SHAVUOT FRIDAY RANDOM TEN

The iPod d’Elisson
The iPod d’Elisson, AKA the Little White Choon Box.

As I was casting about for something to post today, I remembered that it was Friday - the perfect day for a Friday Random Ten!  It is no longer a weekly habit, this business of posting a list of ten songs spewed out randomly by the Little White Choon-Box on shuffle mode... but it can be amusing.  To me, anyway.

Let’s see what’s playing today, shall we?
  1. Where To Now St. Peter - Elton John

    From Tumbleweed Connection, still one of my favorite Elton John albums.

  2. You - Radiohead

  3. The Oldest Baby in the World (Live)  - John Prine

  4. Black Suits Comin’ (Nod Ya Head) - Will Smith

  5. Natiivit - Alamaailman Vasarat

  6. Duet - Natraj

  7. Roll Over Beethoven - The Beatles

  8. Bay Bondye Glwa - Boukman Eksperyans

  9. My Blue Heaven - Django Reinhardt

  10. The Low-Down White - Jean Shepherd

    Yes, the selfsame Jean Shepherd whose short stories were cobbled together to make A Christmas Story.  Here we have him reciting a Robert W. Service poem, a performance that is familiar to anyone who has spent time with our friend Eric.
It’s Friday. What are you listening to?

A FACEBOOKY LOVE POEM

I could not friend you fast enough
To satisfy my heart;
Ten thousand miles ’twixt you and me
Cannot keep us apart.
O, let your status say, “In Love”
And I will ne’er be blue -
How sad the world would be today
Had I not friended you.

[First seven words “grace-iously” provided by Grace Davis - that’s all it took to get me started writing this little bit of social media-inspired verse.]

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

DOWN FROM THE MOUNTAIN

Moses Smash! - Gustave Doré
Moses smashes the Tables of the Law upon seeing the Israelites worshiping the golden calf, as depicted in this famous engraving by Gustave Doré. Oh, those pesky Israelites!

When Moses came down from the mountain
With two slabs of stone in his hand,
He prepared to give pagans a trouncin’
And to make all his people pound sand.

They walked forty years in the desert,
Until all but a handful were dead,
And all of their milk turned to yogurt -
Then Moses, he laid down his head,

Saying, “Welcome a new generation,
To lead us all unto our land,
Where we can become a great nation,
And work toward a future that’s grand.

“It’s a land flowing with milk and honey
All loaded with dates and with figs
And neighbors that look at us funny
But (like us) refuse to eat pigs.

“So follow the words of my Teaching,
A light unto nations you’ll be -
And the Law I’m incessantly preaching
Will serve you well, now that you’re free!”

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

A DECIDEDLY UNTRADITIONAL DINNER

Beef Rendang
Beef Rendang, a decidedly untraditional dinner for erev Shavuot.

Sundown this evening heralds the arrival of Shavuot, another arcane (to non-Jews, anyway) Jewish holiday.

It’s the Rodney Dangerfield of Jewish holidays, Shavuot is.  Even though it’s a pilgrimage festival on a par with Passover and Sukkot, it’s short - only two days here in Diaspora-ville - and has no fancy dwellings or meals associated with it.

The major culinary tradition, such as it is, is to eat dairy... which is why, in a streak of typical Elissonian perversity, I cooked up a meaty Indonesian curry for supper: Beef Rendang.

Beef Rendang, interestingly enough, is that rara avis among Asian dishes, one that can be made kosher without any substitutions or changes in the recipe (provided you use kosher beef to begin with, that is): there’s no dairy or shellfish or weird fermented Asian sauces involved.  Lots of spices, instead - and coconut milk, which is, of course, not dairy.

The recipe I used is the one published last month in Saveur magazine.  Although it takes some time (about four hours or so), it’s not overly hands-on or technically difficult, provided you can get your hands on all of the ingredients - and, thanks to the (kinda sorta) conveniently located Buford Highway Farmers Market, sourcing bizarre Asian ingredients ain’t a problem around here.

Beef Rendang on the simmer
The beef simmers in its bath of spices and coconut milk. After a few hours the liquid will dry out and the meat will develop a deep brown color with correspondingly rich flavor.

What sort of ingredients?  Well, aside from the beef - a chuck roast, hacked up into one-inch cubes, does nicely - you need lime leaves, lemongrass, cloves, nutmeg (a whole one, mashed up in a mortar and pestle), shallots, garlic, Thai chiles, ginger, turmeric, galangal, candlenuts, cinnamon sticks, and unsweetened coconut milk.  Most of the ingredients are converted into a paste in the food processor, and then the whole mess is simmered slowly for about four hours or so.  It’s a little like a braise in reverse: instead of browning the meat and then cooking it partly submerged in simmering liquid, you start by simmering the meat.  The brown color develops over time as the sugars in the coconut milk and the beef caramelize and develop deep, rich flavors.

Served over brown rice perfumed with black cardamom and lime leaves, what our Beef Rendang lacked in Holiday Tradition, it made up for in sheer tastiness.  We can have cheese blintzes tomorrow.

Chag sameach!

DYING OF A BROKEN HEARTWOOD

“The Lord is close to the brokenhearted, and those crushed in spirit, He saves.” - Psalms 34:18

Fallen Oak in Sharon
The grieving widow falls: The second of the mighty Twin Oaks of Sharon, Connecticut has passed on.  [Photo: Ruth Epstein, Waterbury Republican American]

Just a few weeks ago, I wrote about the unfortunate loss of one of the Twin Oaks of Sharon, Connecticut.

For over two centuries, the Twin Oaks held court over a quiet field.  Saplings during the Revolutionary War, they managed to survive over ten score years’ worth of storms.  Hurricanes, blizzards, hail... nothing fazed the Twins until last fall, when Hurricane Sandy dealt a mortal blow to the northern oak.

Alas, this afternoon the Mistress of Sarcasm called to inform me of more sad news: The remaining oak now belongs to the ages.  As reported in the Waterbury Republican American this Sunday past, the second tree - the Widow of Sharon, if you will -  cracked and tumbled to the ground sometime Friday night.

Sad to say, nothing lasts forever.  People, trees, love, a good cigar - all eventually are buried in the Sands o’ Time.  As I said in that last post, in the fullness of time, nothing endures. It is for us to enjoy things while we are able to do so... including the sight of majestic trees.

Anecdotal evidence tells us that people can die of a broken heart - the stress and grief occasioned by the loss of a loved one - and there may even be a scientific basis for that belief.  Cases of a spouse passing away soon after the death of a loved one are, seemingly, not all that unusual.  But this may be the first case in recent memory of a tree being so affected.

Ave atque vale, O grieving Tree-Widow!  How must we mourn you, you who died of a broken heartwood!

(ALAS, YOU CAN NO LONGER) ASK DR. BROTHERS

Dr. Joyce Brothers, RIP
Dr. Joyce Brothers, 1927-2013. Requiescat in pace.

Dr. Joyce Brothers, who first attracted national attention in 1955 by winning the top prize (honestly!) on The $64,000 Question, passed away yesterday at the age of eighty-five... the same age my mother would be if she were still walking the planet.

That quiz show appearance catapulted Dr. Brothers into the public eye; once there, she never left.

In the days when television was a relatively nascent medium, Brothers became the first TeeVee Psychologist, dispensing advice on relationships well before Dr. Ruth, Dr. Phil, and the execrable Dr. Laura and kickstarting a broadcasting career that lasted over forty years. What set Brothers apart was her deep compassion and understanding of the human spirit: she did not need to pander to the sexually repressed, the voyeurs, and the self-righteous. 

Having become a household name  in the 1960’s, Brothers appeared in numerous films and television shows, most often playing  - who else? - Dr. Joyce Brothers.  A frequent talk show guest and game show panelist (the latter especially appropriate given the circumstances of her early celebrity), she was possessed of that kind of humorous self-awareness that allows a fortunate few (William Shatner and Robert Goulet come to mind) to enjoy a sustained presence in General Pop-Cultural Awareness by simply being themselves.  The benchmark of real success in that arena - to me, at least - is to make a cameo appearance on “The Simpsons” - and Dr. Brothers passed that test handily.

I was privileged to have met Dr. Brothers several times over the past 35+ years, along with her late - and much beloved - husband Milton, who passed away in 1989.  Her daughter Lisa is a college classmate of mine, and her parents would come to our periodic reunions to keep an eye on the grandkids while Lisa and her husband Amir would spend time with their old school friends.  I remember Dr. B as a charming, petite woman with a warm smile and sparkling blue-green eyes.

She was a Class Act, was Dr. Brothers.  I never had the chance to ask her what she thought of today’s generation of TeeVee Psychologists and Doctors, but I suspect she would view many of their antics with a degree of loathing.  Alas, her like will not be seen again.

My deepest personal condolences go to Lisa, Amir, and the kids - Micah, Lily, and Talya.  Your Mom (and Grandmom) was a special lady - one of a kind. 

Requiescat in pace, Dr. Joyce Brothers!  Ave atque vale!

Monday, May 13, 2013

URDU? DON’T MIND IF I DU

Namak Elisson
Yours Truly with a couple of recent arrivals from Karachi.

It didn’t take too many months of exposure to the Bloggy-Sphere before I learned that the world of the Internet is a strange and wonderful place, one that is interconnected in so many delightfully unexpected ways.

Perhaps it was the time an advertising guy in New Zealand contacted me, requesting permission to quote a post I had written about the Honda Element, which vehicle would eventually become the Elissonmobile that has served me faithfully for the past eight years.  He had been writing an article about first impressions, his contention being that despite popular opinion, first impressions are not always the ones that matter.  As support, he planned to cite the initial skepticism that greeted penicillin, French impressionism... and my initial thoughts about the Element.  (I agreed, and as a result I have a magazine from New Zealand with my grinning face in it.)  

Last month, a gentleman from Pakistan asked if he could include a handful of my 100-word stories in an anthology of ultra-short fiction he was preparing to publish.  After exchanging a few e-mails (how many stories? which ones? how did you find my book?), I gave him the green light... and so now I am pleased to announce that you can now read some of my nutty short pieces (and no, that’s not a Fecal Joke) in Urdu, if you care to do so.

Namak Paray
My 100-word stories in Urdu - who knew? Namak Paaray, a collection of short-short stories by Mubashir Zaidi.

The author/anthologizer is one Mubashir Zaidi, a Karachi media personality and TV news producer.  His book is entitled Namak Paaray, a reference to a cracker-like snack popular in Pakistan and India... and possibly a hat-tip to the description I wrote for my own book, Shorts in a Wad: “Snack Food for Thought.”  There are a couple of copies right here in my hot little hands, thanks to old-school air freight.

Yes, indeedy - the Internet is surely a strange and wonderful place.  Urdu - who knew?

Update: Here’s a review that appeared in Dawn, Pakistan’s top English newspaper.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

MOTHER’S DAY

SWMBO and Elisson - 2012
The Missus - the mother of my children - still manages to tolerate me after all these years. Yay!
[Photo ©2012 Gary Feinberg Photography.]

Once again, it’s that day revered of florists, greeting card manufacturers, and restauranteurs - especially those proffering a Sunday Brunch.  Mother’s Day!

Sure, it has become commercial.  What holiday has not, aside from Shavuot, Tisha b’Av, and Maundy Thursday?  Everyone is scrambling to make a buck, and if we can do it by utilizing everyone’s love for his or her mother (why, everyone’s got one!), why the hell not?

But there really is something to it... because if you give it the tiniest amount of thought, we all owe an unrepayable debt to our mothers, who contributed half of their DNA and carried us under their hearts for (in theory) nine months, wiped our little bottoms, woke up at oh-dark-thirty to feed us, bandaged our cuts and scrapes, put up with our tantrums, helped us with our homework, and dragged us to the clothing store so we wouldn’t look like street waifs.

You were adopted, you say?  Then your mother didn’t just raise you because she pooched you out of her body - she did so by choice.  She picked you out.  Most impressive!

Mom and me, May 1984.
The love between mother and child is something that is unique to everyone, and everyone’s mother is the best mother in the world.  My own mom was, in her own way, a rara avis - a Rare Bird. In an era when Barbara Billingsley would wear pearls while she cooked dinner for Ward, Wally and The Beaver, my mother would spend several days of the week knocking the little white ball around the golf course.  Sure, she’d put dinner on the table - but she had her own life, one that included sports, gardening, and heavy amounts of reading.  (I owe my lifelong love of science fiction to her.)  I never realized how unusual all of this was until I had a lengthy talk with my former next-door neighbor early last year, in which said neighbor told me how much she admired my mother’s independence and free spirit, attributes that (apparently) set her apart from most of the other suburban neighborhood ladies.

Alas, this is my twenty-fifth year of observing Mother’s Day without my mom on the planet to enjoy it with me.  I have, as of this writing, outlived her - something I never expected or planned to do.  But, as they say, Excrement Takes Place.

Nevertheless, I am fortunate enough to have my wonderful macheteneste - SWMBO’s mommy - as well as Toni, the bride of Eli, hizzownself, representing the generation senior to mine.

And I have She Who Must Be Obeyed, a mommy herself these past thirty-four years.

I have been blessed with the love and companionship of a wonderful helpmate.  Even more important, she has given us two - count ’em! - two daughters that are still the very apple of their Daddy’s eye.

Happy Mother’s Day, my love - you and all the mothers who have brought love and beauty to my life!

Update: Our Mother’s Day observance - brunch at South City Kitchen in Vinings - was Hella Good.  I would have been perfectly happy having nothing but my first course, a plate of chicken livers with jowl bacon, benne seed, cilantro, and “Kentuckyaki.”  Best fried chicken livers I have ever put in my face, ever.  Everything else was just gilding the lily, even SWMBO’s slab of orange buttermilk chess pie with spiced blueberry compote.  When can we go back there?

Saturday, May 11, 2013

LOOKA MY BABY, (MOSTLY) ALL GROWED UP

Elisson and Elder Daughter
My (firstborn) baby and me: Elder Daughter helps us celebrate my 60th birthday last fall.

Today is Elder Daughter’s birthday.  It’s hard to believe - for me, anyway - that she’s been walking the planet for thirty-four years now, because there’s still that bit of Daddy’s Little Girl she carries around with her.

And yet, it’s no trouble at all for me to imagine her as a fully-fledged adult.

She’s been on her own now since getting out of college a dozen years ago.  Among her many talents, she is a performer, an artist, a creator, and a farmer.  She has worked in the corporate world, both in the for-profit and non-profit sectors, all the time managing to find time to create and perform in all sorts of stageworks.  These days she lives a busy life, managing to keep the wolf away from the door while completing the second year of graduate-level Advanced Performance Art training.  Who else (with the help of her sister, the Mistress of Sarcasm) would compose and perform a mini-operetta in the style of Philip Glass in honor of my sixtieth birthday?

Plus, she makes a mean challah.

I am in the enviable position of having children who both learn from me and from whom I am able to learn.  They get their prodigious common sense and people skills from their mother, the most estimable She Who Must Be Obeyed; from me, they have inherited an appreciation for the musical works of Frank Zappa.

Elder Daughter, I love you.  Enjoy this birthday (and many, many more to come, keyn ayin hara)  in good health - may it bring you everything you wish for, without limit to any good thing.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

FUN WITH FARMERS

Purple Asparagus
Roasted purple (!) asparagus with my favorite accompaniments: lemon zest and freshly grated nutmeg.

Yesterday Debbie M. and I took a trip across town to the Buford Highway Farmers Market in order to forage for Exotic Foodstuffs.

I love the BHFM, I really do.  All kinds of exotic produce, meats, fish, and Ethnic Goodies.  You need ghost peppers? Chicharrones?  Fresh galangal?  Candlenuts?  Gochujang?  You can find all of that crap there, and then some.  Debbie was more than patient as I bounced excitedly from aisle to aisle in full ADHD kid-in-a-candy-store mode, finding endless distractions and Objects of Interest, some of which I actually planned to take home and eat.

A lot of the basic, no-frills produce is there, priced at a fraction of what the Lily-White Suburbia food shoppes charge.  Plus, you can score some really scary-looking stuff.  Why stop at a chuck roast when you can bring home that steer’s heart, lips, testicles, and horrible, snakey pizzle?  Why, indeed.

I might have been tempted to bring home a jar of squid ink, but it was, at almost $80, a tad pricey.  Maybe next time.  Debbie, meanwhile, grabbed a whole yellowtail, hacked up to her specifications (filleted, head on).  Yummy.

I was happy to find a heap of chicken backs and feet, which I will use to make a flavorful chicken stock, the kind that has real flavor and body.  It beats the prepackaged stuff like the proverbial red-headed stepchild.

And, lookee: Purple asparagus!  Why eat green or white asparamagoosalum when you can get weird dark violet stalks that look like the bastard child of asparagus and Gilbert Grape?  It really is purple, at least in the raw state - strangely, roasting seems to take away some of the purple color and bring up the green.  Tastes just like green asparagus, too, and has the same stinkifying effect on the old Pee-Pee.  But, still... purple asparagus!

TOUGH LIFE, INNIT

Mighty Hunter, Too!
Levon plays Mighty Hunter, hiding amongst the pillows atop our bed.

He’s a playful little guy.

He loves to dash around the house, hiding around corners and jumping out in an attempt to startle.  Peek-a-boo, Mighty Hunter!

His latest ritual: standing up and grabbing my leg as I stand at the bathroom sink as if to say, “Pick me up, Daddy!”  So I do, giving him a few minutes to march around the countertop and inspect the sink.  As soon as he starts showing too much interest in the toothbrush and the Water Pik, down he goes.

And there’s the tummy rubs.  Always, the tummy rubs.

Levon En Repose
“You gonna just stand there looking stupid?  This tummy ain’t gonna rub itself, ya know!”

Tough to be a kitty, innit?

IT’S A CHICKEN

Our friend Malka’s best buddy Tova is visiting from Israel, and she is having a grand time being squired around Atlanta.  Shopping, restaurants, even the Georgia Aquarium... and all a mere prologue to New York, where she and Malka will be headed in a few days.

She has certainly shown that she has good taste in cats...

Tova and Levon

...and who can blame her?

The food in here Georgia is, for her, a constant source of amazement.  Last weekend, a small army of us descended on Greenwood’s on Green Street (home of the insanely calorific Greenwood’s Holy Shit Chocolate by Gawd Cream Pie) with Tova in tow.  The fried green tomatoes were impressive enough, but then Houston Steve and Barry R. decided to split an order of fried chicken - mainly owing to it’s being way too much for any one normal person to consume at a sitting.

When the chicken arrived at the table, Tova nearly jumped out of her chair.

“איזו חיה זו?” she asked Malka. What animal is this?

“It’s a chicken,” replied Malka.  She did not say, “a giant, mutated chicken,” but she could have.  Drenched in honey-pepper sauce, the thing was the size of a damnèd Thanksgiving turkey.  (I would have said an ostrich, but then I’d be guilty of exaggeration.)

They say everything’s bigger in Texas... but Texas chickens don’t hold a candle to the humongous Yardbirds of the Southeast!

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

SMILE: A 100-WORD STORY

Haji was critically ill when I was summoned by his family.

Although I’m no doctor, I can see the Angel of Death. People call me in to find out whether sick relatives will die or not. The villagers have tested me many times; my predictions have never been wrong.

The Angel always comes alone, yet never departs alone.

When I reached Haji’s bedside, he was already there, a smile on his face.

“It’s the first time I’ve ever seen you smile,” I observed.

The Angel replied, “I smile only for those who go with me... and it’s not Haji’s turn.”

[This is a guest post by Mubashir Zaidi, a TV news producer based in Karachi.  His new collection of short-short stories, Namak Paaray, was released on May 1... about which more later.] 

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

OLD VERSUS NEW

“Old age and treachery will overcome youth and skill every time.” - Ancient Greek proverb

Oh, yes.  Yes, it do.



Feast your eyes upon this Audi advert featuring Old Spock (Leonard Nimoy) and New Spock (Zach Quinto). It’s frickin’ brilliant.

[Thanks to Rob Bricken at io9.com for the link... and to Alisa S. for bringing it to my attention!]

Sunday, May 5, 2013

GAME OF THRONES: A 100-WORD REVENGE FANTASY

Tyrion and Jaime were brothers; more than that, they were rivals who would bicker at every opportunity.

Their latest set-to had begun when Tyrion had taken a thin sheet of isinglass and laid it upon Jaime’s Seat of Relief, with horrifying results that amused all but Jaime.

Jaime had his revenge before long, smearing poison ivy upon the Seat of Relief frequented by Tyrion. To make matters worse, he had arranged for Tyrion’s dinner to be dosed with a potion possessing a pronounced laxative effect. As Tyrion scratched frantically, he wondered...

How long would this Game of Thrones go on?

THE LITTLE GUY...

...ain’t quite so little anymore.

Just a few days after we brought him home in late November, he looked like this:

Levon on the Scale, Nov 27, 2012
“Looka me!  I’m tiny ’n’ cute!”

Now, a little over five months later, here he is, more cuddly and playful than ever:

Levon on the Scale, May 5, 2013
“Say, buddy - whatchoo lookin’ at?”

Consider that, at a little over six pounds, he has a long way to go.  Ragdoll kitties can be massive, typically growing to be 20 to 30 pounds.  Yeef!

ON CAKE

Rum Chocolate Dessert (again)
A slice of Craig Claiborne’s Rum Chocolate Dessert, a (nearly) flourless chocolate cake from Maida Heatter’s Book of Great Chocolate Desserts (1980).

Enthusiasm is hard to fake
When you’re looking at a slice of Chocolate Cake.

I’ve eaten soup made from a rattlesnake,
But it’s not near as good as some Chocolate Cake.

Whether I am asleep or I’m awake,
My desire is deep for a Chocolate Cake.

If some respite from your hectic life you’d take,
Take a moment to devour some Chocolate Cake.

Saturday, May 4, 2013

GET LOST... BREAD

Every so often, the Missus gets called upon to contribute a dish for her school’s quarterly staff breakfast.  In the past, she’s brought in her apricot kugel... and even a pile of my home-baked bagels.  This time, she ginned out three pans of Blueberry French Toast Casserole, using a time-honored recipe from our friend Debbie M.

The French do not call this dish “French toast,” nor do they even call it “toast” in the same way that the Chinese refer to Chinese food as “food.”  They call it pain perdu - lost bread - because a dousing with egg custard is an excellent way to reclaim stale bread that would otherwise be tossed to the birds.

The good news?  Everyone loved it.  The even better news?  There was a whole pan left over for us to snarf up at home... perfect for a rainy Saturday morning.

Blueberry French Toast Casserole
A massive slice of Blueberry French Toast Casserole. Now, doesn’t that look positively inviting?

I had mine with a grating of fresh nutmeg and some warm maple syrup, the gift of friends in northwestern Connecticut who make it themselves from the maple trees that grow on their land.  (Really.)

It’s easy enough to make.  Here’s how:

Blueberry French Toast Casserole

1 loaf challah (egg bread)
8 ounces cream cheese
2 cups blueberries (frozen or fresh)
8 eggs
⅓ cup maple syrup (real maple syrup, not that Log Cabin crap)
½ cup granulated sugar
2 cups half and half

Grease a 9 x 13-inch casserole dish. Slice the crust off the bread - if you like a crustier, chewier French toast, by all means leave some or all of the crust on. Break the bread into bite-size chunks and scatter half of it in the dish. Break the cream cheese into pieces and scatter them over the bread. Sprinkle the blueberries over the bread and cream cheese. Cover with the remaining bread.

Mix the eggs with the sugar, syrup, and half and half and pour over the dry ingredients. Refrigerate overnight.

Bake at 350°F for one hour.  Serve it forth with lashings of warm maple syrup on the side... and get out of the way, because you do not want to be anywhere between the ravening hordes of breakfast eaters and that casserole dish.

Postscriptum: We don’t eat French toast here at Chez Elisson very often, owing to its being hugely carby and fattening.  And irresistible - let’s not forget irresistible.  Most of that last pan will reside in the freezer until a suitable occasion presents itself.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

SNATCH

Every once in a while, the Missus and I will encounter something that gets our attention... as in, causing us to whip our heads around in a neck-snapping double-take.

We had one of those moments at IKEA last week.  She Who Must Be Obeyed spotted them first, a couple with an eye-catching logo.  After a while, when we caught up to them as we wandered the giant rat-maze that is IKEA, I asked if I might take a photograph.  Here they are, faces blurred to obscure their identities... because I did not tell them that I planned to slap their likenesses all across the Intertubes.

Snatchy Couple

Let’s look at that T-shirt legend again, shall we?

Snatch
“99 Problems, But a Snatch Ain’t One.”  Indeed.

I have no idea what those other 99 problems could possibly be, but my attention was focused on the one thing our couple’s problem wasn’t, i.e., a snatch.  (Presumably, that was the intention of whoever designed the T-shirt.)

“Snatch” being a word that has an honored place among the 460-odd synonyms for “vagina,” one could speculate on whether this couple was, in fact, boasting about their sex life.  Quality?  Frequency?  Who can say?  But a look at the young man’s physique, along with a nodding acquaintance with weightlifting terminology, suggests that the T-shirt is, rather, a mildly boastful statement of iron-pumping skills.

The snatch is an activity in which a weight is raised in one quick, uninterrupted motion from the floor to a position over the lifter’s head. Sounds easy, but when you’re dealing with world-class competition, those weights get pretty massive: The current world’s record for a snatch is 214 kg (472 pounds!), held by one Behdad Salimi of Iran.

Presumably, a snatch is not one of Mr. Salimi’s 99 problems either.  A hernia, however, might be one.

Update: Kevin Kim takes time off from running around the steamy streets of Seoul to inform us that the line is a comic paraphrase of Ice-T’s 1993 rap choon “99 Problems.” Eleven years later, Jay-Z took the song and recast it, retaining the title and chorus. So it’s been around a while... two decades, to be exact.

“Got 99 problems and a bitch ain’t one...” Longevity, apparently, ain’t one either.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

THE YELLOW SHARK AT THE OK CAFÉ

Herewith the liner notes from Frank Zappa’s last album... released on November 2, 1993, one month and two days before his death from prostate cancer:

“It begins with L.A. artist Mark Beam, a longtime Zappa appreciator who felt compelled to anonymously bestow upon the Zappa family a Christmas present in 1988. Carved out of a surfboard, Beam’s ‘kind of a mutant fish” arrived unnanounced at the offices of Intercontinental Absurdities (Zappa HQ), and eventually found its way to Frank’s basement. A note inviting the owner to complete the piece of art by placing an item of choice into the fish’s bloody jaw was ignored.

“In the summer of 1991, one Andreas Moelich-Zebhauser, manager of the European contemporary music group, Ensemble Modern, sat in the basement with Zappa and EM conductor Peter Rundel, discussing the music the Ensemble had just commissioned from Frank for the 1992 Frankfurt Festival. Suddenly, Moelich-Zebhauser spied the fish. He took its sailfin for a dorsal.

“‘When I saw the yellow shark,’ Moellich-Zebhauser recalled in English he apologized for, ‘for me it was completely clear that it must become the symbol of our event, of our tour! Because the yellow shark, he’s so pregnant with some of Frank’s characteristics. He’s very hard and a little poison, but on the other hand he’s very friendly and charming. Two things which Frank can be very often: poison for bad people, charming for good ones! Of course, also it’s such a good logo.’

“Not realizing Moellich-Zebhauser's bizarre plot, Zappa generously gave the ‘shark’ to him, writing a ‘little deed’ in order to get it past any suspicious customs agents. The deed read: ‘This is to confirm to whom it may concern that this yellow shark is Andreas Moellich-Zebhauser’s personal fish, and he can do with it whatever he wants. - Frank Zappa.’ ‘Andreas would drool over that object,’ said Zappa. ‘He loved it. The next thing I know, the whole project is being called “The Yellow Shark,” which he said sounds really good in German (“Der Gelbe Hai”), and I said it sounds really dorky in English. People think the name of the music is “The Yellow Shark.” I said we’ll call the evening “The Yellow Shark.” What the fuck are you going to call it? Doesn’t make any difference.’”

The album that resulted from Zappa’s collaboration with Ensemble Modern, of course, was likewise dubbed “The Yellow Shark,” and I was reminded of it this afternoon as the Missus and I were at the OK Café grabbing a bite of lunch. This, you see, was hanging on the wall:

The Yellow Shark at the OK Café

It resembled the logo for Zappa’s valedictory album more than just a little:

Zappa’s Yellow Shark

Is it too much to hope that Mark Beam had anything to do with the fish on the wall at the OK Café?