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

Wednesday, August 31, 2011


SWMBO and the Girls
She Who Must Be Obeyed, flanked by the Mistress of Sarcasm and Elder Daughter.

Today marks the completion of yet another Trip Around the Sun for the Missus.

We’re getting to the point in life at which we don’t take those trips for granted. She Who Must Be Obeyed has already outlived her father, the legendary Billie Bob of blessèd memory, and I hope to do the same for my mother sometime in early 2013.

Nothing, however, is guaranteed, which means we have to enjoy life as it comes: the company of our family and friends, good food and drink, opportunities to teach and to learn, new experiences. And birthdays!

This whole past week has been a birthday present of sorts for the Missus. Elder Daughter has been visiting, enjoying a break from her summer on the farm and giving us ample (but never sufficient!) time to enjoy the company of both our daughters at once. She and the Mistress of Sarcasm are now enroute to the Northeast, where the Mistress will be doing a bit of reconnaissance before deciding where to settle down for the next few years.

Time is a trickster. Even as it hammers our bodies with the cumulative effects of gravity and age, it allows us to accumulate wisdom and memories, both of which can make us better, more fully realized human beings. In the case of the Missus, Time is graciously minimizing the effects of the former two while allowing the latter two free rein. The SWMBO of today is, in my eyes, infinitely more lovely than any earlier version of herself. She, being modest, would no doubt disagree - and she is, after all, entitled to her opinion, no matter how ridiculous it may be.

Happy birthday, my love - may it bring a year of health and happiness without any limit to any good thing, and may there be many, many more to come... with me around to enjoy them with you, of course!

Monday, August 29, 2011


Getting old: everybody wants to do it, but it’s a bumpy fucking ride. - She Who Must Be Obeyed

Every day we get up in the morning; every day we are increasingly displeased by what we see in the mirror staring back at us. There’s a new wrinkle here, a tiny imperfection there, and the gradual cumulative effects of time and gravity are ever-present. Hitherto unfamiliar infirmities lurk.

But I figure if I can still make it into the bathroom to see that baleful reflection, things just Ain’t All That Bad.

Saturday, August 27, 2011


Home-Baked Challah
Heavenly, hot-from-the-oven challah, courtesy of Elder Daughter.

Even as the ground shakes and the wind blows in the east, the wheel of Time continues to turn. And this week it brought us a very special Shabbat.

Look, I am nohow a punctilious keeper of the Sabbath. I do many things observant Jews would never consider doing on the Sabbath: turning lights off and on, shaving, handling money, driving, et cetera. (I do try not to do any actual work, but that’s not an effort I confine solely to the Sabbath.)

But there is something magical about Friday evening if we allow ourselves the privilege of entering the precincts of sacred time, however imperfect our observance. And this Friday evening was especially magical, because both Elder Daughter and the Mistress of Sarcasm were with us at the Sabbath table.

We ushered the evening with traditions that our family has followed more in the breach than in the actual performance: singing Shalom Aleichem, blessing the children, and the appropriate blessings over wine (Kiddush) and bread (Motzi). Our daughters are adults now, and I thought of all of the lost opportunities, all those weeks of their childhood when I did not recite the Priestly Benediction with my hands laid upon their heads... and yet this moment, in some small way, made up for it.

Dinner was chicken, a Sabbath tradition, and this one (an Alton Brown recipe involving a metric buttload of shallots and garlic cloves) was especially worthy of the evening. The wine was a Lenz merlot from the north fork of Long Island, a connection with my geographic roots. And the bread... ahh, the bread. The bread was a heavenly loaf of challah, made by Elder Daughter’s own hands, served piping hot from the oven.

In keeping with an untraditional (but meaningful) tradition Elder Daughter has begun observing recently, we all shared words about the things for which we were grateful this past week... and I needed only to look about me to find inspiration.


All this worry about the latest hurricane to hit the eastern seaboard sits like lead in my belly.

Irene is taking dead aim at Long Island, where resideth Eli and his missus, Toni... and my brother, the Other Elisson. I’m hoping that the barrier beaches provide adequate protection against the effects of the storm surge, because there’s nothing quite as nasty and destructive as rising water.

This, of course, follows right on the heels of an earthquake - not a California-size temblor, to be sure, but still the biggest seismic event to hit the East Coast in over six decades. It was enough to crack the Washington Monument and to split the spires of the National Cathedral. Yeef!

All of which demonstrates the truth of that old Yiddish proverb: Men tracht; Gott lacht. Men may make their puny plans, but a single act of God renders them ridiculous.

To all of those in harm’s way - and in the final analysis, isn’t that all of us? - may you be safe, and may you find shelter from the storm.


Remember when Archie Bunker scandalized the nation by daring to flush the toilet (offscreen, mind you) on prime time television back in the 1970’s on “All in the Family”?

Those times are lone, long gone.

The ongoing coarsening of popular culture eventually is reflected in television advertising. Does it make you cringe? Or laugh out loud? Whichever, ya gotta love the sheer audacity of it.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011


As befits someone of my age, I sometimes exhibit signs of CRS (“Can’t Remember Shit”) syndrome. That’s generally not a major concern, but every so often it causes concern. Is it just Plain Old CRS, or am I at risk for developing Alzheimer’s disease?

Alzheimer’s disease - these days I try not to be snarky and call it “Old-Timer’s Disease” - is a frightening possibility for anyone who attains advanced age. Scary indeed: It is incurable, it is degenerative, and the average lifespan following diagnosis is about seven years. And early-onset Alzheimer’s, which is defined as a diagnosis before age 65, is unusual but not unheard-of.

I think of SWMBO’s late grandmother, who, while never diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, clearly began to develop symptoms of mild dementia toward the end of her life. She would do odd things, like lining a bread basket with toilet paper instead of the usual napkin... or put plastic dishes in the oven... or sprinkle a casserole with Rice Krispies instead of cornflake crumbs. And she would hoard toilet paper and aluminum foil. Speaking of which...

Since the 1960’s, there has been a hypothesis floating about amongst some researchers that there is a link between aluminum and Alzheimer’s. The evidence is circumstantial, equivocal at best, and the supposed connection looks more tenuous every year. It is far more likely that age, environmental conditions, and genetic predisposition all play a role. And yet, I believe that aluminum may be a valuable diagnostic tool.

Submitted for your approval, Elisson’s remarkably effective way to differentiate between Just Plain CRS and Alzheimer’s.

If you hoard toilet paper and aluminum foil, you’re likely to be old... and you are definitely quirky.

If you forget where you put the toilet paper and aluminum foil, you have Just Plain CRS.

If you start wiping your ass with the aluminum foil and wrapping your leftovers with the toilet paper, you probably have Alzheimer’s.


My heavy travel schedule in July prevented my attending the Guild’s July event, but I will not complain too much: Being in Hilton Head, Southern California, and Orlando within a three-week span was enough fun for any one person.

But it’s August now. Sweaty, sweaty August... and probably the only time during the year that I might conceivably look forward to a tasting of white wines. And the Guild has been kind enough to oblige by arranging an evening of Sauvignon Blancs at Goldfish, conveniently located at Perimeter Mall.

Here’s what’s on the Food-Docket:

Speaker’s Wine:
2009 Mont Gras (Reserva) - San Antonio Valley, Chile**

2008 Schiopetto Collio - Italy

Mushroon Ravioli with Extra Virgin Olive Oil and Aged Parmesan

First Flight:
2010 Walnut Block “Collectibles” - Marlborough, New Zealand***
2010 Nine Walks - Marlborough, New Zealand**
2010 Cloudy Bay - Marlborough, New Zealand**

Lemon Pepper Scallops with Asparagus, Tomato and Spinach Risotto

Second Flight:
2010 Provenance Napa Valley - Rutherford, California****
2010 Cliff Lede Napa Valley**
2008 Cakebread Napa Valley**

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

Third Flight:
2008 Boschendal “1685” - Stellenbosch, South Africa*
2010 La Chablisienne Saint-Bris - Burgundy, France***
2010 Domaine Philippe Portier Quincy “Cuvee des Victoires” - Loire Valley, France*

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

2006 Chateau Guiraud (Premier Cru 1st Growth) Sauternes - Bordeaux, France*****

Almond Cake with Pear and Apple Compote

2007 Rudd Napa Valley Sauvignon Blanc
2003 Château Carbonnieux Pessac-Léognan
1999 Etienne Henri Sancerre
2002 Henri Bourgeois Sancerre
2004 Clos Henri - Marlborough, New Zealand

Ahhh, you had me at 1st Growth. I’m looking forward to a fine evening... even if all the wines are white!

Update: I was pleased to see the Irascible Elderly Paraplegic, who graced us with his presence before heading off for his annual week of scuba diving in Bonaire... and his counterpart from the other side of the political spectrum, Houston Steve. It’s always entertaining when the two of them get together!

My preferences noted, as usual, with asterisks. I’ve also added the Lagniappe section above, for the wines that were not part of the formal proceedings but which were brought by various participants. A fine dinner, indeed.

Monday, August 22, 2011


When you’re desperate for content - or preoccupied with preparations for Elder Daughter’s impending visit - why not get sucked in by a meme?

This one is courtesy of El Capitan of Baboon Pirates, who snarfed it up from several other worthy Blog-Writers.

This is the NPR Science Fiction/Fantasy Book Meme, in case you’re curious. (I like El Capitan’s term “skiffy” - it seems to fit.) And, as with all memes, you don’t need to be a member of Mensa to play. Just copy the list below onto your site and boldface the titles you’ve read. Add commentary if you care to.

Anyway, here we go:

1. The Lord Of The Rings Trilogy, by J.R.R. Tolkien
I read these bad boys back in high school. Also made the mistake of reading Bored of the Rings, the Harvard Lampoon parody, after which the Tolkien version always seemed vaguely ridiculous.

2. The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy, by Douglas Adams

3. Ender’s Game, by Orson Scott Card
I read this back when it was just a short story. It’s one of those rare books that wasn’t ruined in the process of expanding it to novel length... and it’s still a great read. (I’ve also read the rest of the Ender series, along with the Ender’s Shadow series.)

4. The Dune Chronicles, by Frank Herbert
All 6 Dune novels by Frank Herbert, plus one of the misbegotten Brian Herbert prequels.

5. A Song Of Ice And Fire Series, by George R. R. Martin

6. 1984, by George Orwell

7. Fahrenheit 451, by Ray Bradbury

8. The Foundation Trilogy, by Isaac Asimov

9. Brave New World, by Aldous Huxley

10. American Gods, by Neil Gaiman

11. The Princess Bride, by William Goldman

12. The Wheel Of Time Series, by Robert Jordan

13. Animal Farm, by George Orwell

14. Neuromancer, by William Gibson
Also Count Zero, Mona Lisa Overdrive, Burning Chrome, et alia.

15. Watchmen, by Alan Moore

16. I, Robot, by Isaac Asimov

17. Stranger In A Strange Land, by Robert Heinlein

18. The Kingkiller Chronicles, by Patrick Rothfuss

19. Slaughterhouse-Five, by Kurt Vonnegut
I went on a Vonnegut binge when I was a college freshman... read every damn book the man wrote in the space of about one month.

20. Frankenstein, by Mary Shelley

21. Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep?, by Philip K. Dick

22. The Handmaid’s Tale, by Margaret Atwood

23. The Dark Tower Series, by Stephen King
One of the few things by King I haven’t read.

24. 2001: A Space Odyssey, by Arthur C. Clarke
Plus 2010: Odyssey Two, 2061: Odyssey Three, and 3001: Final Odyssey

25. The Stand, by Stephen King
Both the version as originally published and the expanded version that came out later.

26. Snow Crash, by Neal Stephenson

27. The Martian Chronicles, by Ray Bradbury

28. Cat’s Cradle, by Kurt Vonnegut

29. The Sandman Series, by Neil Gaiman

30. A Clockwork Orange, by Anthony Burgess

31. Starship Troopers, by Robert Heinlein

32. Watership Down, by Richard Adams
A great book, and that’s no hraka.

33. Dragonflight, by Anne McCaffrey

34. The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress, by Robert Heinlein

35. A Canticle For Leibowitz, by Walter M. Miller
Brilliant... and heartbreaking. The sequel, published many years later, fell far short of the original.

36. The Time Machine, by H.G. Wells
Still the best time travel novel ever written.

37. 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea, by Jules Verne

38. Flowers For Algernon, by Daniel Keyes
The short story is better than the novel.

39. The War Of The Worlds, by H.G. Wells

40. The Chronicles Of Amber, by Roger Zelazny

41. The Belgariad, by David Eddings

42. The Mists Of Avalon, by Marion Zimmer Bradley

43. The Mistborn Series, by Brandon Sanderson

44. Ringworld, by Larry Niven
Also Ringworld Engineers, all of the Known Space series, and most of the Niven/Pournelle collaborations.

45. The Left Hand Of Darkness, by Ursula K. LeGuin

46. The Silmarillion, by J.R.R. Tolkien

47. The Once And Future King, by T.H. White

48. Neverwhere, by Neil Gaiman

49. Childhood’s End, by Arthur C. Clarke
The first science fiction novel I ever read, probably when I was about seven years old. Years later I read it again and finally understood it.

50. Contact, by Carl Sagan

51. The Hyperion Cantos, by Dan Simmons

52. Stardust, by Neil Gaiman

53. Cryptonomicon, by Neal Stephenson

54. World War Z, by Max Brooks

55. The Last Unicorn, by Peter S. Beagle

56. The Forever War, by Joe Haldeman

57. Small Gods, by Terry Pratchett

58. The Chronicles Of Thomas Covenant, The Unbeliever, by Stephen R. Donaldson

59. The Vorkosigan Saga, by Lois McMaster Bujold

60. Going Postal, by Terry Pratchett

61. The Mote In God’s Eye, by Larry Niven & Jerry Pournelle
Also The Gripping Hand.

62. The Sword Of Truth, by Terry Goodkind

63. The Road, by Cormac McCarthy

64. Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell, by Susanna Clarke

65. I Am Legend, by Richard Matheson

66. The Riftwar Saga, by Raymond E. Feist

67. The Shannara Trilogy, by Terry Brooks

68. The Conan The Barbarian Series, by R.E. Howard

69. The Farseer Trilogy, by Robin Hobb

70. The Time Traveler’s Wife, by Audrey Niffenegger

71. The Way Of Kings, by Brandon Sanderson

72. A Journey To The Center Of The Earth, by Jules Verne

73. The Legend Of Drizzt Series, by R.A. Salvatore

74. Old Man’s War, by John Scalzi

75. The Diamond Age, by Neil Stephenson

76. Rendezvous With Rama, by Arthur C. Clarke

77. The Kushiel’s Legacy Series, by Jacqueline Carey

78. The Dispossessed, by Ursula K. LeGuin

79. Something Wicked This Way Comes, by Ray Bradbury

80. Wicked, by Gregory Maguire

81. The Malazan Book Of The Fallen Series, by Steven Erikson

82. The Eyre Affair, by Jasper Fforde

83. The Culture Series, by Iain M. Banks

84. The Crystal Cave, by Mary Stewart

85. Anathem, by Neal Stephenson

86. The Codex Alera Series, by Jim Butcher

87. The Book Of The New Sun, by Gene Wolfe

88. The Thrawn Trilogy, by Timothy Zahn

89. The Outlander Series, by Diana Gabaldan

90. The Elric Saga, by Michael Moorcock

91. The Illustrated Man, by Ray Bradbury

92. Sunshine, by Robin McKinley

93. A Fire Upon The Deep, by Vernor Vinge

94. The Caves Of Steel, by Isaac Asimov

95. The Mars Trilogy, by Kim Stanley Robinson

96. Lucifer’s Hammer, by Larry Niven & Jerry Pournelle

97. Doomsday Book, by Connie Willis

98. Perdido Street Station, by China Mieville
Just finished Embassytown. Brilliant.

99. The Xanth Series, by Piers Anthony

100. The Space Trilogy, by C.S. Lewis

OK, campers - how many of these have you read? And why are so many excellent SF series - like David Brin’s Uplift series, John Birmingham’s Weapons of Choice series, or Greg Bear’s Eon novels - not represented? Inquiring minds want to know!


Archie and the Girls

Friday nights, the kids from Riverdale High would gather at Pop’s Malt Shop after the football game.

Archie and Reggie would trade insults, Betty and Veronica competing fiercely for their attention. Moose Mason would administer beatdowns on anyone he suspected of making eyes at Midge, and Jughead would inhale his weight in cheeseburgers.

This happy state of affairs ended when Pop took ill and was forced to sell the business.

Under Duncan Macallan’s ownership, the Shop became even more popular... until a drunken Reggie died in a flaming car wreck.

After that, the Riverdale kids avoided Macallan’s Single Malt Shop.


...I understand you’ve been running from the man
Who goes by the name of the Sandman.

                                            - America, “Sandman”

Mr. Sandman, bring me a dream
Make him the cutest that I’ve ever seen
Give him two lips like roses and clover
Then tell him that his lonesome nights are over.
Sandman, I’m so alone
Don’t have nobody to call my own
Please turn on your magic beam
Mr. Sandman, bring me a dream.

                                           - The Chordettes, “Mr. Sandman”

These days, that’s me: Mister Sandman. But I’m not bringing anyone any dreams, oh, no.

’Cause I’m long, and I’m strong, and I’m down to get the friction on. I’m smooth. And when I’m done, everything I touch is smooth. I am Mister Sandman.

Right now, I’m sanding down the walls in our guest bathroom. They’ve gotta be smoooooth, you see. We don’t want a lumpy, bumpy paint job, now, do we?

Let me tell you right here and now that there are few things that are a greater pain in the ass than painting over a wallpapered wall. Removing a corpse from a cesspool comes to mind. (OK, that was maybe a little over the top as far as analogies go. But we are talking Serious PIA here.)

When the wallpaper is crappy, and when it has been layered over even crappier (and far uglier) wallpaper, the job is far tougher. You have to remove as much as you can, mud over everything, and then sand it all down.

Sanding over wall compound generates an amazing amount of fine gypsum dust. It’s probably what the Devil uses for talcum powder. It gets everywhere, plugging up air conditioning and vacuum cleaner filters. Confining it to the point of origin is next to impossible. Yecch.

But here I am writing when I should be applying a coat of paint. Until later, Esteemed Readers!

Saturday, August 20, 2011


Peach-Amaretto Preserves
Half-pints of Peach Preserves with Amaretto await their destiny atop a scoop of ice cream, or as accompaniment to a toasted English muffin.

I am often disappointed by the peaches here in Georgia, but these were terrific - full of the flavors of summer sunshine. Couldn’t eat ’em all, so I decided to convert ’em into something that would keep: Peach Preserves with Amaretto.

There’s a peach kernel floating in each jar, cracked out from a peach pit. (I roast the pits first to remove any traces of cyanogenic glycosides the kernels may contain.) Those kernels contribute an elusive aroma that is complemented by the Amaretto.

This stuff practically cries out to be dumped atop a scoop or two of vanilla ice cream.

Friday, August 19, 2011


A chill in the air would be welcome right now. This has been the hottest summer we’ve ever lived through in the Atlanta area... and as I write this, the HVAC boys are banging around in the attic, replacing our upstairs air conditioning unit.

The old gal had a long run, but it was time to retire her. Alas. She had been undersized and overworked to begin with, and over the past several years her age was beginning to show. It was getting to be predictable: we would leave for a week of vacation and come home to a stifling house, some component or another having gone kaput in our absence. Finally, she developed leaks that were serious enough so that recharging her with Freon - palliative care - was no longer an option.

We could have cheaped out by simply replacing the evaporator coil, but that would have been a temporary fix at best. No: There is a point at which one must Suck It Up and invest the money in doing the job right.


Air conditioning has become, pretty much, a necessity here in the South. In days gone by, if you lived in a one-story frame house, you could get by with a few fans, open windows, and a porch upon which you could sit sipping lemonade... but summertime would not be especially pleasant. With the advent of larger two-story homes, however, you needed something to remove the hot air, especially from the upper level where it would accumulate.

The ability to keep houses cool is what enabled the South to grow, making the region habitable to legions of carpetbaggers Northerners who would otherwise stay away in droves. And it has spoiled us.

For the past several nights, She Who Must Be Obeyed has slept downstairs where it has been a comfortable 76 degrees. But there’s room on the couch for one person only, and after folding myself up and trying to sleep on the adjacent loveseat, I decided that I’d be better off sleeping in our bedroom. Yes, it has been a bit of a sweatbox - last night it was 91°F - but I managed to get a decent night’s sleep all the same. (Well, half-decent, anyway.)

It’s not an acceptable long-term situation, though, and with today’s new unit, this evening should be much more pleasant. Hey, it’ll be more efficient, too - maybe I’ll save enough on the electric bill so that the thing will pay for itself in, oh, I dunno - thirty years?

Thursday, August 18, 2011


Just about every day, I see fascinating things as I travel about town...

Hello Kitty Kar
Someone evidently loves Hello Kitty a whole lot.

Here’s a driver with a license plate that practically shouts, “Weak Bladder!” May I suggest that he keep a Traveler’s Friend with him at all times?

Mug Shots
A few Mug Shots from Phreddy’s vast collection of Royal Doulton character jugs. [Click to embiggen.]

Rosy-Fingered Dawn
Rosy-fingered Dawn in Marietta.

Some feesh at the local feesh market. “Hey, check out the dude with the mullet!”

Red Hatters
A gaggle of Red Hat Ladies at the Marietta Diner.

Seen anything interesting in your neck of the woods?

Wednesday, August 17, 2011


It was a cranberry sorbet
The kind you find at the grocery store
- Prince Blintz

This Saturday evening past, I had planned to grill a few thick ribeye steaks.

I love a good thick steak - who doesn’t? - and I have learned, over the years, that the simplest treatment is the best. A sprinkling of kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper a couple of hours prior to grilling is pretty much all you need. The salt penetrates the meat and helps to make it even more tender and delectable than it already is.

The big problem with really thick steaks is getting them to cook to a nice medium-rare (or medium to medium-well, as the Missus prefers) while at the same time building a flavorful crusty char on the outside... and without creating a band of overcooked meat just beneath that crust. You can butterfly the steaks, but then you end up with two thin steaks in lieu of one honkin’ thick one. What I ended up doing was to stick the steaks in a 275°F oven for 25 minutes before throwing them on the grill to finish them off. (I could also have finished them on a hot skillet, but that would have greasified Darth Stover more than I cared to deal with.)

They came out perfect. Absolutely perfect, with a nicely carbonized crust... and beautifully cooked through. Credit where credit is due: I learned this technique from Cook’s Illustrated. Worth the price of the subscription, it was.

I normally don’t dress my beefsteaks up too much after grilling them. Steak sauce? Pfaugh. Worcestershire? That’s for marinating ’em before grilling, if you care to use it. Ketchup? Oy. But sometimes it’s nice to have something to decorate that yummy meat.

Béarnaise sauce - Hollandaise’s refined cousin - is too rich for my taste, although it lends a high tone to a slab of Châteaubriand. And creamy horseradish sauce is more appropriate for prime rib. (Yeah, I know it’s the same cut of meat - except prime rib is roasted before being sliced into steaks.) But what about a steak?

The Argentines have an answer: chimichurri sauce, the main ingredients of which are parsley, olive oil, and vinegar. And chimichurri is fine as far as it goes, but it put me in mind of a similar green sauce, the recipe for which appeared in Saveur magazine several years ago.

Green Steak Sauce

Saveur’s green sauce, intended to be served with a thick sirloin steak, is nothing so much as a chimichurri jacked up with anchovies, capers, and garlic. (You can also add preserved lemon to give it another layer of flavor.) I hadn’t made it in years, but after serving it with that delectable steak, I wondered why I had waited. It was a fine complement to the rich meat, having just the right acidity along with the springtime kick of the parsley.

To keep alla that Beef-Flesh company on the plate, She Who Must Be Obeyed put together an heirloom tomato and arugula salad and a pile of oven-roasted sweet potato slabs; I sautéed up some zucchini and squash with garlic and shallots, along with a goodly load of mushrooms with smoked paprika.

Zucchini and Squash

A 2007 Educated Guess cabernet sauvignon was a fine accompaniment. For dessert? Light Apricot-Noyau Ice Cream, garnished with homemade cranberry sorbet... the kind you won’t find at the grocery store.

Listen: If you’re going to stuff your face, it pays to do it right. Good ingredients properly prepared can trump most any restaurant meal... plus you don’t have to worry about driving home after guzzling that bottle of wine.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011


That’s pretty much what Art Linkletter used to say.

Yesterday being the first day of school, She Who Must Be Obeyed was introducing herself to her new students, telling them a little about herself. In the course of so doing, she revealed that we have a Siamese cat.

One of the students then asked what seemed (to him) to be a perfectly reasonable question:

“What part of your cat is stuck together?”

Monday, August 15, 2011


This morning as I left the house, there was an uncharacteristic hint - just a hint - of crispness in the air. No, the frost wasn’t on the pumpkin just yet. It’s still dead-center August in the Southeast, in the midst of what may be the most ferociously hot summer we’ve ever experienced outside of Houston. Yet it was possible to feel the coming change, the inevitable turn of the seasons.

That change signaled itself yet again when I drove past a small mob of parents and their elementary school-age children at the neighborhood’s bus stop. Being the husband of a teacher, I had of course already known that today was the day the schoolkids returned to their classrooms after summer vacation. There’s a big difference, though, between knowing it and seeing it.

I smiled, right then, and waved to the crowd as I went by: None of those parents or kids knew me, I was certain, but it never hurts to be neighborly. Despite my outward smile, however, I was feeling a certain rueful nostalgia.

How long had it been since our daughters were in elementary school - or public school, for that matter? We used to have a tradition of photographing the girls on their first day of school every year. Somewhere in the bowels of Chez Elisson there is a series of pictures forming a sort of stroboscopic portrait of their respective childhoods, capturing their gradual change from little children to young women. I thought of my own Snot-Nose Days and my love-hate relationship with elementary school, the bittersweet excitement of returning after the lazy days of July and August, the endless speculation about what this year’s teacher would be like and which of my friends would be in the same class with me.

Those years are past me, now. It’s someone else’s turn to stand there waiting for the bus on the first day of school. Someone else’s job to take those First Day of School pictures. And that’s fine. It’s the turn of the seasons, you know.

The full moon hung low in the western sky as I turned onto the main road, another reminder of the passage of time. Full moon, third quarter, new moon, first quarter... phase after phase, the months and years tick by. There’s still plenty of summer left yet; Fall’s harvest moon is two months away. But it will be here, sure enough.

Sunday, August 14, 2011


This morning we were driving north on Georgia 400, headed over to have brunch with our friends Phred and Deley. Just as we were passing the sign for Johns Creek, we realized that the flatbed trailer in front of us was hauling a load of Porta-Johns.

Bizarre coincidence or random juxtaposition of events? You decide.

Saturday, August 13, 2011


Upon departing Houston Steve’s place a few evenings ago - we had just finished our regular Poker Night - we noticed a strange beast alight upon a fencepost:

Just-Molted Cicada
Out of my skin over you: a just-molted cicada rests after clambering out of its old skin.

No, it’s nothing sexual, despite appearances... simply a newly-molted cicada having just emerged from its old skin.

When we lived in Houston, August days were marked with the constant thrumming of cicada-song, a science-fictiony drone that reverberated from every tree. Cicada skins, hollow and sere, could be found attached to almost any surface: tree trunks and branches, walls, bricks... anywhere the little guys could find purchase with their tenacious little claws.

And I still remember SWMBO’s younger brother Morris William, a mere sprat of nine years when I first met him - the same age his son is today - taking cicadas and tying their forelegs together with fine thread. Thus tethered, they would fly in circles around him until they were exhausted... or until he tired of playing with them.

There is a certain attraction in the idea of one being able to shed one’s old skin and to begin life anew with a tender new exterior, one that is not hardened by years of struggles. We can do it only in the metaphorical sense - it is one of the beauties of the Jewish Day of Atonement - but the cicada does it literally, several times in its brief lifespan.

And then, tender and vulnerable, it gets eaten by a fucking bird. Hey, that’s life!

Tuesday, August 9, 2011


“Everybody must get stoned.” - Bob Dylan

“Everybody must get stone fruit.” - Elisson


A bowl of rosy-cheeked apricots - the quintessential summer fruit.

One of the small delights of summer is the availability of stone fruit in season. Plums, peaches, nectarines, apricots - I love ’em all. They’re sweet and juicy when you catch them at their peak... and part of their appeal is that they are so ephemeral. That peak is all too brief: Eat ’em too soon and they’re flavorless lumps, too late and they’re mealy balls of mush.

This being the Peach State, you would expect delicious peaches to be common here. You would be wrong. Year after year, local nectarines and peaches disappoint. They’re picked way too early, in order to accommodate the logistical requirements of the modern Agricultural-Industrial Complex, with the predictable result that they end up tasting like chunks of wood. Once in a while I’ll find good peaches, and I grab ’em up when I do.

Apricots are what peaches hope they are reborn as in their next life, one step closer to nirvana. They have a delicate perfume that is distinct from that of any other fruit, one that is complemented by cherries and almonds.

I have made apricot curd, a thoroughly decadent confection that packs a huge Flavor-Wallop. Alas, it also packs an equally huge Calorie-Wallop, containing as it does some massive amounts of sugar, egg yolks, and butter. I’ve also made apricot ice cream before - yummy, but something to be eaten in small doses lest one’s butt become enhuged. Today, however, I found a way to capture that ephemeral apricot flavor in a less conscience-shattering form: Light Apricot-Noyau Ice Cream.

Noyau? WTF is that, you ask. It’s the kernel that inhabits the apricot pit. Smash the pits to get at these little goobers and their hauntingly beautiful flavor. If you like Amaretto, you know what noyau tastes like.

To make this ice cream, take about twenty or so little apricots - about 12-13 ounces of flesh without the pits. These go into a saucepan with 2-3 tablespoons of water over medium heat, where you cook them down until they’re completely soft and fragrant. Mash them through a sieve to make a purée. Put this aside.

While the apricots are simmering, put two cups of half-and-half (not the fat-free kind) in another saucepan with a half cup of baking Splenda (you could use a full cup of granulated sugar) and a tablespoon or two of light corn syrup. Take a goodly handful of apricot pits and smash them to get at the kernels, which you then grind up with a mortar and pestle. The ground kernels go into the half-and-half, and the whole mess over a medium flame until just short of simmering. Take it off the flame and leave it to steep for 30 minutes.

Strain the warm half-and-half into the apricot purée and blend thoroughly. Chill for a few hours, then freeze according to the directions on your ice cream freezer. Hoo-hah! (And the nice thing is, this stuff is comparatively low in calories compared to typical store-bought ice cream - so I can eat it without fear of the Dreaded Fat-Ass.)

Monday, August 8, 2011


“When Av begins, happiness is decreased.” - Gemara, Masechet Ta’anit (26b)

“You can’t spell ‘bereaved’ without ‘Av.’” - Elisson

* * *

As the sun sets this evening, the blackest day of the Jewish calendar begins: the ninth of Av, AKA Tisha b’Av.

There is a whole litany of disasters and calamities that have befallen the Jews over the years, a disproportionate number of them on Tisha b’Av... at least, by popular and rabbinic attribution. Chief among these are the destruction of not one, but two Holy Temples in Jerusalem, 490 years apart. Each of these events led to a lengthy period of exile, the latter one lasting almost two thousand years. Not for nothing are we called Wandering Jews.

Many non-observant Jews don’t know a whole lot about the customs of the day - or, for that matter, its very existence. It’s not a jolly holiday by any stretch of the imagination. It doesn’t fall into the “solemn, but uplifting” category as does Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. It’s just plain depressing.

On Tisha b’Av, prayers are not chanted or sung as they are every other day; they are recited in a quiet monotone. We chant the Book of Lamentations in a haunting, elegiac melody. Common everyday pleasures such as shaving, wearing leather shoes, and the Making of the Two-Backed Beast are off-limits, as is eating and drinking. We even refrain from saying “good morning,” acknowledging our friends and acquaintances instead with monosyllabic grunts: “Yo.” “Oy.”

It says a lot about our attachment to Jerusalem and the Promised Land, that we continue to mourn its loss after so many years. Do modern Italians bewail the fall of Imperial Rome, or Austrians and Hungarians the Hapsburg Empire?

In the spring of 2008, Elder Daughter and I found ourselves in the midst of a bustling, vibrant, modern city: Hiroshima, Japan. Six hundred meters above the very spot where I stood, Little Boy had exploded on August 6, 1945 - sixty-six years and two days ago - reducing the city to smoking, radioactive ruins. The Romans managed to do the same to Jerusalem without the help of fissile uranium, plowing the site of the second Temple and its surrounding precincts until no stick was left standing. Utter destruction.

Today, flowers grow in Hiroshima. Life is persistent, and it returns where it is welcome. And after almost two thousand years, we have come home.

Flowers in Hiroshima
Flowers in Hiroshima.

There are some that believe that upon the arrival of the Messianic Era, Tisha b’Av will no longer be observed as a fast day, but rather as an occasion of joy. I don’t see that happening any time soon, yet there is a silver lining even so.

The destruction of the Temple marked the beginning of a long, painful period in Jewish history... almost two millennia of stateless wanderings. Yet it also was the end of the sacrificial cult, the Old-School religion that called for thrice-yearly pilgrimages to Jerusalem and the slaughter of untold numbers of lambs, bullocks, rams, goats, birds, et alia.

After our people passed through the fiery furnace of the Roman conquest, we emerged on the other side as a nation with a belief system that no longer demanded the blood of animals, but instead stressed ethics and learning. Two thousand years of exile would have erased every last Jew from the face of the earth if we still practiced the ancient Jerusalem-centric ways. Instead, we now have a faith that is as portable as a prayerbook, one that can fit in the space of a human heart. We have evolved, and we are the better for it.

May this Tisha b’Av bring hope in the power of the human heart to heal... and in the power of faith to grow and evolve.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011


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 for the Word of the Day...

Kabbalapitalist [ka-ba-lap-i-ta-list] (n) - someone engaged in commercial activities involving merchandise intended to appeal to an audience with a deep interest in, and an equally deep ignorance of, Jewish mysticism; a seller of red thread and Kaballah water.

“Madonna’s music sales have been in the toilet for years, but she’s not worried about where her next meal is coming from since she became a Kabbalapitalist.”

[A tip o’ th’ Elisson fedora to Barry R. for this one!]

Tuesday, August 2, 2011


Fish Head
A roly poly fish head smiles back at me after having been converted into fish stock.

Some time back, I wrote about my culinary adventures with fish heads.

Most folks in this part of the world want as little as possible to do with fish heads. She Who Must Be Obeyed fits into that category... yet, surprisingly, she has, of late, developed a taste for grilled hamachi kama, the collar of the yellowtail tuna. It’s as close as you can get to a fish head without actually getting the head itself. Delicious, low in calories, and packed with omega-3 fatty acids, it’s one of those underappreciated delicacies that serious Japanese food aficionados know about.

A couple of weeks ago, we ordered the hamachi kama at a wonderful little hole-in-the-wall place in Orlando - Sushi En - and were immediately treated like family. It’s as though we were in on the Big Secret.

Today, as I was casting about for something to prepare for dinner, I recalled that Whole Foods had whole bluefish for sale for something like $3.69 the pound. Bluefish! It’s popular up north, a veritabobble staple in the New York area, but if you ask for bluefish around here people will look at you like you just sprouted a second head. It can have an assertive personality, and it tends to be oily... both positives in my Fish-Book.

I selected a modest-sized example, just shy of two pounds, and asked the fishmonger to fillet it for me. (No sense getting fish blood all over my kitchen counters.) He did so, expertly, as I watched. I also asked him whether he made a decent living selling fish; he told me he worked for scale.

The fillets ended up in the oven, one with Old Bay seasoning, the other with smoked paprika, both misted with olive oil. Fifteen minutes at 375°F and they were perfectly done: tender, flaky, and surprisingly mild. But I also had the rest of the fish-carcass to deal with. Why not make fish stock?

Into a saucepan went the head and bones of the fish, along with a few handfuls of chopped celery, a diced onion, a smashed head of garlic, a few whole peppercorns, a bay leaf, and a small heap of parsley stems. Two hours on the simmer, strain and cool, and Bob’s your uncle: Fish stock!

It will make a fine chowder, that stock... and meanwhile, that fish head was mighty tasty. Lots of meat in there if you’re willing to dig for it. Eat them up, yum!

Postscript: Sissy Willis, in the comments, says “It’s the eyes that get me...”

For eye-bugging delight, you’ve gotta love shrimp heads, ’cause the eyes are not just staring at you, they’re on convenient little stalks. Lookit:

Shrimp heads!


I couldn’t resist posting this viddy - it’s an advert for Hovis bread that shows one hundred years of British history as seen through the eyes of a young lad bringing home a loaf of bread.

I figure Houston Steve will get a kick out of it, given his English ancestry. You will, too.

[Tip o’ th’ Elisson fedora to Erica for the link.]

Monday, August 1, 2011


For the moment, Elder Daughter is living with friends on a farm in Western Massachusetts, pending her relocation to Philadelphia.

Somehow, I never pictured Elder Daughter - an urban (and urbane) arts maven and world traveler - living the life of the Bucolic Peasantry. But there she is, and she’s savoring every moment: slaughtering chickens, milking the pigs, slopping the cows. (OK, I made the last two up.)

And - at least for the time being - she has a Tiny Kitteh!


Meet Bean, the littlest Barn Cat-in-Training. I figure it won’t be too long before Bean is making regular mouse carcass deposits in front of Elder Daughter’s door.


Arsehole longa, vita brevis.” - Elisson

Life is too short to deal with... aw, you know.