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

Wednesday, September 28, 2011


New years are times for new beginnings, and as Jews in the Western world, we get more than one crack at a new year.

There’s the Gregorian civil calendar’s New Year, which falls, conveniently enough, on January 1. And there’s Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, beginning this evening at sundown, the first day of the month of Tishrei.

[Strangely enough, Tishrei is actually the seventh month of the Jewish calendar: Nisan, the month in which Passover falls, is the first month. But the new year begins on the first of Tishrei, and that’s when 5771 becomes 5772. Go figure.]

New years are times for new beginnings, and as both Elder Daughter and the Mistress of Sarcasm prepare to relocate - the first to Philadelphia, the second to rural Connecticut - I can only pray that their own New Beginnings in New Places are everything they hope for.

As the sun sets today, it ushers in a ten-day period of repentance and introspection, the Aseret Y’mei T’shuvah, a period that reaches its spiritual climax with the solemn Day of Atonement, Yom Kippur. It’s the perfect time of year to do a little self-assessment and to repair the cracks and fissures in our relationships with friends, family, and the world at large.

Houston Steve, who is a Past Master of making statements of profound simplicity and simple profundity, says that we could boil down all of the Yom Kippur confessional prayers to one little nugget: Forgive us for not doing the right thing. (All the rest, as Hillel might have said, is commentary.)

It’s a request that can be directed at The Big Guy, but it works at least as well when asked of one’s fellow humans... and so, Esteemed Reader, if I have not Done the Right Thing during this past year, please forgive me. And please accept my wishes for a safe, sweet, and healthy New Year, without limit to any good thing - whether your year begins this evening at sundown or not.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011


Q: What’s the favorite wine grape of Georgia?
A: Peanut Noir.

This month’s Guild event will be held this evening at one of my favorite restaurants - Rosebud, conveniently located just up the road from the Mistress of Sarcasm’s place.

It will be a celebration of Oregon pinot noirs, with especial focus on the Willamette Valley and the great 2008 vintage. That it will be a red wine-themed event is good enough for me: the location simply adds to the attraction with its Southern-inspired dishes based on fresh, mostly local ingredients.

As usual, I’m hoping that the Cranky, Superannuated Paraplegic and Houston Steve will both be there, adding their political palaver to the general merriment. Here’s what’s on the Food ’n’ Drink Docket:

Speaker’s Wine:
2008 Stangeland Pinot Gris - Eola-Amity Hills, Willamette Valley

First Flight:
2008 Red Hawk “Grateful Red” - Willamette Valley
2008 A to Z Oregon Pinot Noir
2009 Willamette Valley Vineyards “Whole Cluster Fermented”***

Alaskan salmon tartare with grained mustard, sorghum, fried capers & pinot braised apricots

Second Flight:
2008 Panther Creek “Winemaker’s Cuveé” - Willamette Valley
2008 McMurray Ranch - Willamette Valley
2008 Domaine Serene “Yamhill Cuvee” - Willamette Valley***

Mexican Coca-Cola braised duck, African squash purée & scuppernong preserve

Third Flight:
2009 Namasté Willamette Valley “Prosperity”****
2009 Eyrie - Dundee Hills - Willamette Valley
2008 Soter Mineral Springs Ranch - Willamette Valley***

Vanilla roasted Berkshire pork loin, braised local greens & smoked apple potato purée

2008 Girardet Gewurztraminer “Frostbite” - Southern Oregon****

Pinot braised pears, White Lily sweet biscuit & buttermilk ice cream

1999 Archery Summit Premier Cuvée - Willamette Valley

This ought to be a good one. I’ll provide the usual post-mortem after it’s all over.

Preferences noted with asterisks. A few pleasant surprises - the peppery Namasté, the wonderful nose on the Willamette Valley Vineyards Whole Cluster - but if I’m going to spend, say, $30 on a bottle of wine, I’m better off buying a bottle of Hall cabernet at Costco. Of course, that’s just my opinion... I could be wrong.


Matcha being finely powdered Japanese green tea, the stuff the Japanese tea ceremony is built upon.

Matcha is to regular, everyday green tea what Château d’Yquem is to Mogen David. It has a delicate flavor that really cannot be compared to anything otherwise tea-related. And, in its finer grades, it is ferociously expensive. Lipton’s it assuredly ain’t.

If you really want to experience matcha in all of its varieties and forms, you have to go to Kyoto, the cultural heart of Japan. When I was there with Elder Daughter three years ago, we stayed at the legendary Hiiragiya Ryokan, a traditional Japanese inn of the first water... and the room next door to ours was where Charlie Chaplin observed the Japanese tea ceremony while visiting Kyoto in the 1930’s.

It’s everywhere you turn in Kyoto, that matcha. Purveyors abound, and the powdery stuff finds its way into all manner of confections and beverages - even the ubiquitous Kit-Kat candy wafers. While we were there, I couldn’t get enough of it.

Nihon-no Kitto Katto
Matcha-flavored Kit Kat. Nummy num num!

It frustrated me for years that Häagen-Dasz made a green tea (matcha) ice cream, but never sold it in the States. That seems to have changed, which is a mixed blessing. The last thing I need is yet another irresistible ice cream flavor staring at me as I wander through the frozen food section of the local stupidmarket.

But I had a solution. I could make my own matcha-flavored ice cream... and I could control just how decadent to make it. That, Esteemed Readers, is exactly what I did a couple of days ago. You can do it too:

Elisson’s Matchless Matcha Ice Cream

1 cup heavy cream
1 cup half-and-half
¾ cup sugar (or ~⅓ cup baking Splenda)
2 tbsp light corn syrup
3-4 tsp matcha

Place the cream, half-and-half, sugar (or baking Splenda) and corn syrup in a saucepan over medium heat; heat, stirring frequently, until the sugar dissolves. Add the matcha and whisk to blend well. Remove from the heat, strain to remove any matcha-clumps, and refrigerate until well chilled. Place into an ice cream freezer and freeze according to the manufacturer’s directions.

Damn, I wish I had taken a picture of it. A beautiful pale green, a wonderful creamy texture, and a flavor that beat any green tea ice cream I’ve ever had outside of Japan - or in Japan, for that matter - like a redheaded stepchild. Oh well. There’s always next time.

If I could make glutinous rice cakes and fill ’em with this stuff, I’d have Matchless Matcha Mochi. But that’d be gilding the lily, neh?

Monday, September 26, 2011


Action News Chopper
The Channel 2 Action News Chopper perches above Chez Elisson.

I don’t know about you, but it always makes us a little nervous when either (1) a police helicopter, or (2) a television news helicopter is hovering just a few hundred feet above our house. And so, when the Missus and I heard the sound of what turned out to be the Channel 2 Action News Chopper, we stepped outside to investigate.

It appears there had been a gas main break on the Big Street right outside our neighborhood. Fortunately, by the time the chopper showed up, the break had been repaired and traffic had once again been allowed to resume. Nothing will ruin your day like a humongous gas explosion a couple hundred yards from your front door.

Sunday, September 25, 2011


The Chairman stood at the dais in Kitchen Stadium, a half-eaten chunk of halvah in his hand.

Soon it would be time to announce the Secret Ingredient, the essential component of both the challenger’s and the Iron Chef’s dishes. Each would have one hour to create a series of culinary masterpieces, after which the panel of judges would decide whose cuisine had reigned supreme.

Iron Chef Japan had run its course; Iron Chef America was on its last legs. But this would be the Chairman’s greatest creation: Iron Chef Jewish.

With a shout, Battle Chicken Schmaltz was underway: Geh Cook’n!

Saturday, September 24, 2011


Eric and Yours Truly, begrimed and besplattered, after surviving the Tennessee Warrior Dash.

Every once in a while, something impels me to do something completely ridiculous.

You, my Esteemed Readers, already know this. How else to describe the act of wearing a colander upon one’s head... or of planking... or of wearing matzoh-patterned underwear... and then posting photographs of said activities on the Internet for all and sundry to see?

For that matter, anyone who writes over 4,400 posts on personal Online Journals over the course of seven years, purely for the purpose of self aggrandizement and time-wastage, is more than capable of Teh Silly.

All of which goes a long way toward explaining why I elected to journey to Manchester, Tennessee this past weekend, there to participate in what can best be described as a gathering of Masochistic Whackos. I speak, of course, of the Warrior Dash.

The organizers of the Dash advertise it as “The Craziest Frickin’ Day of Your Life!” Well, I dunno. I’ve had quite a few crazy frickin’ days in my life... but I will concede that I’ve never before had one that involved running a five-kilometer obstacle course, a course that culminated in leaping over burning coals and then slithering through a trough of mud, head kept low in order to avoid strategically placed strands of barbed wire.

It’s quite a business, this Warrior Dash. The Tennessee event had over 10,900 participants. Given that it has already been held in twenty-seven locations (including Australia) this year with six more left to go, you’re looking at roughly 360,000 Warriors, which at $50 a pop translates to a cool $1.8 million. That pays for a lot of mud, beer, and propane.

The Tennessee Dash was held on a 700-acre farm in Manchester, coincidentally the same location that hosts the annual Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival, just off Interstate 24 roughly halfway between Chattanooga and Nashville. It’s also the exit you’d take to get to Lynchburg, home of Jack Daniel’s Tennessee Whiskey - but, alas, we had no time for such diversions. We were Warriors, and we had a race to run.

It was, of course, Eric that first broached the idea of doing the Warrior Dash. I’m not quite sure what attracted him in the first place. Was it the sweet Warrior swag - the über-cool hornèd chapeau, the T-shirt, the “I Survived Warrior Dash” medal? Was it the free beer after the race? The thrash-metal concert? The fireworks? Or was it simply the notion of doing something both ridiculous and messy, something that would also pose a certain physical challenge? I know not. All I know is that the Tennessee Renaissance Man asked me to go along in order to provide moral support... and to participate if I cared to. How could I resist?

As it turns out, Eric sprained his ankle a scant ten days before the Dash. Iron-willed, stout-hearted idiot Mountain Man that he is, he nevertheless refused to bail, managing to limp his way though the entire five kilometers... and to conquer every single obstacle along the way.

Down and Dirty
Hey - this is even more fun than Chocolate Pudding Wrestling!

The obstacles? None of them were too difficult for a veteran of Marine boot camp... or even for me, for that matter. Heights do not bother me, nor does fire, darkness, or piles of junked cars. The only real physical challenge - aside from the fact that me running the entire 3.2 miles flat out is simply never going to happen - involved crawling over a long horizontal skein of cargo netting, and even that wasn’t at all unmanageable.

This is not to say that some people didn’t have problems.

One person failed to successfully negotiate the Warrior Roast, which required leaping over a couple of troughs of fiery burning coals, landing in said coals. Toasty. Another leaped into the mud pit - the final obstacle - and suffered a spinal injury, necessitating an evacuation by helicopter. (There is, in fact, a line on the participant waiver that states, “I agree to not dive into or enter the mud pit head first.”)

Muddy Shoes
These shoes have run their last: A pile of mud-encrusted running shoes awaits cleanup and eventual donation to charity.

I will state right up front that I have never been as filthy in my life as I was after the Dash. But I would do it again in a heartbeat.

She Who Must Be Obeyed may have other thoughts on the matter.

Thursday, September 22, 2011


Pardon me, boy
Is that the Chattanooga choo choo?
Track twenty-nine
Boy, you can gimme a shine
I can afford
To board a Chattanooga choo choo
I’ve got my fare
And just a trifle to spare...

         - “Chattanooga Choo Choo,” Mack Gordon and Harry Warren

This now politically incorrect tune was made famous by Glenn Miller and his orchestra seventy years ago, hitting Number 1 on the charts on Pearl Harbor Day. Last Sunday, it was running through my head a good part of the day, inspired mainly by the fact that the Missus and I, along with Eric and Princess Fiona, were actually in Chattanooga, the home of the eponymous Choo Choo. Not only that, we had stopped by to visit that selfsame Choo Choo, now a hotel and convention center occupying the former Chattanooga Terminal Station, there to wander around and absorb some of the local atmosphere and caffeine.

Long before Glenn Miller came along and the Choo Choo became a part of American pop culture, Chattanooga was well known to Southerners as an important rail nexus. Owing to regional geography, the city was of critical strategic importance during the Late Unpleasantness American Civil War; it later became an important way station for both freight and passenger service.

Nowadays, you can book yourself a hotel room at the Chooch, and if you care to, you can even sleep in a restored Victorian sleeper car. We did not do this, preferring to bunk in in the more pedestrian digs at the local Marriott... but we had a grand time just visiting.

In a certain way, all of this served as Mental Preparation for me, as I will soon be taking a lengthy train trip to the Northeast in order to assist Elder Daughter with her relocation from Washington D.C. to Philadelphia. It will have been damn near fifty years since my last comparable journey, a trip from New York to Miami and back on the (now long defunct) Atlantic Coast Railway’s Florida Special. Those were the days when train travel had a certain element of romance associated with it - an element I was far too young to appreciate. Now it’s just plain functional: Unlike air, train travel can be changed or cancelled at the last second at no cost.

In Chattanooga, however, the Choo Choo is no longer able to get you from Point A to Point B. You can cop a few Z’s, order a drink at the bar, check out the model railroad museum, or buy touristical gewgaws at the innumerable gift shops. But if you want a train that operates, you must look elsewhere.

As for Track 29, we never did find it. And the only thing with a shine was my scalp, more and more of which is visible these days.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011


New Sofa ’Kuna
A regal Dame Hakuna surveys her realm.

In our household, cat-juggling is a way of life.

No, it’s not remotely comparable to dwarf-tossing. We don’t actually pick the cats up and throw them around. Perhaps a brief explanation is in order...

Bernadette, the Mistress of Sarcasm’s cat, has been staying with us while she has been roaming around the northeastern U.S. Bernie is a very sweet kitty, but she is extremely shy around anyone who is not the Mistress of Sarcasm, whom she loves dearly.

Cookbook Bernie
Bernadette inspects the kitchen’s Cookbook Library. “Where’s the recipe for that Senior Citizen Kitty Kibble?”

Hakuna, the official Resident Kittycat at Chez Elisson, tends to be fairly quiet these days, but past experience tells us that she is not likely to be especially friendly with Bernadette (or any other cat) should they meet face-to-face. And so, rather than take the chance of traumatizing either of them, we’ve been keeping them apart from one another.

It’s not all that difficult. Bernadette has her own bedroom, complete with food, water, and a litterbox. Likewise, Hakuna has a supply of food and water - and her own litterbox - in the master bath. (There’s also food and water and another litterbox downstairs.) When Hakuna has the run of the house, Bernadette stays in her room with the door closed... and when Hakuna settles in in our bedroom, we close the door and let Bernadette come out and roam around. Juggling the cats, we call it: They stay out of each other’s way, and they are both happy.

Bernie is very quiet: she does not advertise her presence vocally. Nevertheless, I’m sure Hakuna suspects there’s another cat around.

Big-Eyed Hakuna Too
The wizardly Hakuna attempts a combination “Invisibility Spell” and a “Making My Eyes Real Big and Cute In Case The Invisibility Spell Doesn’t Work Spell.”

Like Neighbor, the Mistress’s previous Animal Companion, Bernadette is a climber. She has managed to scale the highest pieces of furniture in my office, thus far (keyn ayin hora) without knocking anything over. And she has taken a real liking to Hakuna’s Senior Citizen Kitty food, devouring it by the bowlful. Weird... kinda like a thirty-year-old turning down a T-bone steak and instead going for the Early Bird dinner special with extra prunes and Metamucil.

Maybe we’ll let these two meet each other when the Mistress returns. To be continued...

Monday, September 19, 2011


Those of us who grew up watching animated cartoons undoubtedly found ourselves identifying with certain characters... often because we would perceive traits in those characters that we admired. or that reflected similar aspects of our own personalities.

There was Bugs Bunny, who would (generally) never go out of his way to pick a fight - but if anyone messed with him, he would administer a serious beatdown. “Of course you know this means war!”

There was Dudley Do-Right, who despite a general air of cluelessness, always defended the honor of his sweetheart Nell while fighting for Truth, Justice, and the Canadian Way.

There was Popeye, a member of our armed services, a student of the Sweet Science of fisticuffs... and a man who understood the value of proper nutrition.

At one time or another, who among us has not felt a hot flush of Donald Duckian anger... or of Daffy Duck-style ridiculousness? And breathes there a milquetoast who cannot relate to the Ur-Milquetoast of Cartoondom, Mickey Mouse hizzownself?

Me, I never cared much for the Hanna-Barbera stable of characters, but there was one among them for whom I always felt a sort of kinship. I speak, of course, of Fred Flintstone.

I’m not sure what it was I liked so much about Fred. Patterned on Jackie Gleason’s immortal Ralph Kramden of The Honeymooners, he was - to put it delicately - a Neanderthal of the first water. Not exactly the sharpest knapped-edge flint knife in the drawer... and yet he was a solid citizen, a good and loving husband, and blessed with a prodigious appetite. All qualities I could respect. Also a tad stubborn and short-tempered, qualities maybe not to be respected, but certainly ones I had in common with him.

(I always thought Betty Rubble was more attractive than Wilma Flintstone, though. Maybe it was her bizarre, yet infectious cackle laugh, a laugh that SWMBO can duplicate perfectly. Barney never knew how good he had it.)

I liked Fred, but I never thought of myself as identifying with him... at least, not until very recently.

Here’s Fred...

Buffalo Flintstone

...all ready for his monthly lodge meeting. Yes, Fred was a member of a Fraternal Organization, the Loyal Order of Water Buffalos - the model and inspiration for any number of similar organizations today, such as this one:

Antedeluvian Buffaloes

After the events of this past weekend, though, maybe I have more in common with Fred than I previously thought...

Warrior Elisson
Yeah, there’s definitely some Fred Flintstone there.


Today be a day that comes but once a yarrrh.

Sure, it be the nineteenth o’ September... but I be referrin’ to International Talk Like a Pirate Day, matey. It be a day on which swashbuckleheads buckle their swashes and swash their buckles... and talk like pirates until the words come out of their buckin’ ears. It be easy... not harrrhd at all!

There be a lot most people don’t know about pirates. Just because Jack Sparrow be all popular and such doesn’t mean ye can call yerself a poopdexpert... unless ye know the answers to these questions:

Why did Bluebeard kill so many of his wives? (He hated it when they’d arrrhgue with him.)

When pirates count, what type of numbers do they use? (Carrrhdinal.)

What is a pirate’s greatest pleasure? (An arrrhgasm.)

No, go and talk amongst yourselves. Like pirates.

Thursday, September 15, 2011


People sometimes wonder why the Internet is crushing the life out of the local papers. I don’t. Not any more.

Sure, I like the tactile experience of sitting at the kitchen table and reading the paper, flipping the pages while I slurp on a cup of coffee. I like the detailed reportage, although most of it comes in prefabricated and fitted to the Popular Narratives by the wire services. There’s not a lot of original reporting at the local level these days, or so it seems... even the movie reviews have been farmed out.

Now, the local fishwrap is just a wizened shadow of its former self. Plenty of useless ads, though, and I get a metric buttload of paper to chuck in the recycle bin.

But the Internet has the really good funnies.


Borders RIP
Desolation: A local Borders store, now completely devoid of books. The company is in the final stages of liquidation.

It’s official: Borders is now defunct.

What used to be our go-to place for books, CD’s, and even just plain hanging around to drink coffee and peruse the latest literary offerings is now an empty shell.

You could see the signs of impending doom from a great distance. Once upon a time, music held equal pride of place on the Borders shelves. Over the years, however, you could see the inventory dwindling as CD sales gradually became cannibalized by Internet-transmissible digital media. In the age of the iPod, after all, why buy a CD when you could legally download digital music file for far less - and use illicit file sharing to get that same music free, if you were of a mind to do so?

Books were different. It took longer for the internet to make inroads there, mainly because with music, the experience of listening - assuming reasonably equal sound fidelity - is the same regardless of the medium of transmission and storage. An iPod’s .mp3-driven sound is not quite as good as that of a CD player’s .wav files, but when you’re in the car, there’s no effective difference. With books, however, reading a digital tome on a Nook or Kindle is not quite the same tactile experience as a real, solid, hands-on book.

What killed Borders - in part, anyway - was the easy availability of those real, solid hands-on books from Internet-based sellers like Amazon. With Amazon, you got your book for a bargain price, generally without paying sales tax - and you only had to wait for it to show up on your doorstep. (If you didn't want to wait, you could buy an electronic copy and download it right away.) A brick-and-mortar operation could never compete.

It’s purely amazing that Borders was able to hang on as long as it did.

There is, to my jaundiced eye, a little karma in all of this. As in, “my karma just ran over your dogma.” The Wheel turns, raising up even as it brings down. As Borders, with its ubiquity and its economy of scale, did to the old mom-and-pop booksellers on Main Street, so has the Internet done unto it. It is the way of the world: The bear eats the slower runner, and the bear is ever hungry.

I will miss browsing those stacks of books, those racks of magazines. It was a great place to kill an hour or two.

Requiescat in pace, O Borders. Ave atque vale!

Tuesday, September 13, 2011


Even 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...

word of mouse [wurd uv maus] (n) - communication by electronic social media.

“That new movie looked like it was gonna tank, but once word of mouse got out, tickets started selling like hotcakes. Gotta love that Facebook and Twitter, eh?”

Monday, September 12, 2011


Zappa Plays Zappa at the Fox
Zappa Plays Zappa at the Fox Theatre in Atlanta.

She Who Must Be Obeyed is a Good Sport. I have proof.

To set the stage, a brief digression on our tastes in music. SWMBO and I both cut our musical teeth in the late 1960’s-early 1970’s, listening to the usual FM radio fare... but I also cultivated an interest in jazz, jazz fusion, and Zappaesque narrischkeit. Eventually, thanks to the influence of SWMBO’s brother Aaron, I would even add modern opera to my list of Stuff I Like To Listen To (And That Most Other People Barely Tolerate).

I’ll admit right up front that some of the Choons in my Choon Collection are not for everybody. People who tolerate - or even enjoy - older Miles Davis material like Kind of Blue are not necessarily going to want to be anywhere near Bitches Brew or On the Corner. And the music of Frank Zappa is, like caviar or single malt Scotch, an acquired taste for some. Or many.

When I try to listen to any of this stuff in the car, the Missus tries to put on a game face, but she can only go so far. Once things start getting, ahhhh, dissonant, she starts to lose it. Back to XM31, stat!

And thus it was a happy surprise when SWMBO agreed to accompany me to a concert at the Fabulous Fox Theatre last Thursday evening. Not only was it a weeknight - a school night! - the concert would test her musical patience. It was the kind of music she would grimace at were I to try to play it in the car, you see.

Opening the bill was Dweezil Zappa, playing the music of his late father. I had caught Dweezil’s “Zappa Plays Zappa” act in early 2010, but that was at the Variety Playhouse - a considerably more funky and intimate venue than the huge Moorish Revival Fox. This was the Big Time.

The main act was Return to Forever, one of the seminal jazz fusion bands of the early 1970’s. I had liked RTF well enough back in the day and was curious as to whether the music - and the musicians - had aged well. This incarnation of the band lacked Al DiMeola, but it still had Chick Corea, Stanley Clarke, and Lenny White, core members from back in the beginning... all of whom, it should be mentioned, had played on Miles Davis’s classic Bitches Brew.

It should also be mentioned that Bitches Brew is one of my favorite jazz albums, while simultaneously being one of SWMBO’s least favorite.

The newest member of the RTF crew was jazz violinist Jean-Luc Ponty, another beloved artist from the Olden Days. Ponty, who had carved out a career for himself as the pioneer of electric jazz violin, had performed with Frank Zappa’s band, with Elton John, and with the Mahavishnu Orchestra. He was, in a sense, the musical connection between Return to Forever and Zappa Plays Zappa... and his presence on the bill was what impelled me to buy the ducats.

It was a risky purchase. My original plan was to take the Mistress of Sarcasm to the show, knowing the Missus’s aversion to certain things Zappaesque and/or remotely smacking of Miles Davis. But the Mistress was out of town.

Happily, SWMBO agreed (albeit a bit reluctantly - it was a school night, after all) to accompany me.

Dweezil and his band play “Village of the Sun” and “Echidna’s Arf (Of You)” in a clip taken from a 2008 show. Steve Vai and Napoleon Murphy Brock, in this video, were not present at our show, alas... but Sheila Gonzales, the sax player, was. NB: “Echidna’s Arf” starts at the 3:25 mark. For the rest of the song, click here.

The show itself was remarkable. Dweezil and his crew played flawless renditions of the Olde Classics - nobody else has a sound quite like it - and Return to Forever played as tightly as they ever did, with Clarke thumping away at his bass and Corea pounding the keyboard with his signature Latin rhythms. Ponty’s violin soared... and SWMBO was a good sport throughout, never once asking that we change the station.


Fifteen years ago, Stanley Tucci, Tony Shalhoub, Ian Holm, Isabella Rosselini, and Minnie Driver appeared in a fine little movie about a Big Night.

The story centers about two brothers, Primo (Shalhoub) and Secondo (Tucci), Italian immigrants who arrive in the Golden Land of Opportunity - New Jersey - where they run a restaurant showcasing Primo’s excellent (and uncompromising) fare. Unfortunately, offering authentic Italian cuisine to food-ignorant Americans in the 1950’s is like casting pearls before swine. Their restaurant lacks a steady clientele...

...but Pascal (Holm), who operates a competing eatery nearby, has no such problem. A showy, larger-than-life personality, he has figured out the secret of success: Give the rubes what they want. Spaghetti, meatballs, flaming dishes prepared tableside, stereotypical music - it’s crap, but Pascal is doing quite well offering it up.

He’d like Primo and Secondo to sell out to him - they’re at the end of their financial rope - but they refuse. Pascal then offers to invite Louis Prima to come to dinner at their restaurant. A massive crowd is virtually guaranteed, and the brothers go all out to put on the Feed of the Century. But will Prima show?

We had our own Big Night this Saturday evening just past. Our friends Jackie and Johnny Tabs had received a pile of pasta-making equipment from Jackie’s mother, and several months ago they hatched a plan to have a small army of friends over to eat freshly made pasta.

Jackie and Johnny Tabs
Johnny Tabs and Jackie show off the fruits of our labors: a passel of pasta.

The pasta in question was a joint project, requiring the combined efforts of Jackie (who had grown up watching her mother make the stuff), Johnny Tabs, and me. We assembled mid-day Friday and proceeded to crank out a substantial batch of trenette (a long linguini-like pasta) and fettucini.

Crank out - literally. For once the pasta dough is made by carefully combining flour and eggs and kneading until satiny, the process involves repeatedly running the dough through hand-cranked metal rollers, squeezing it down to a uniform thickness. Then the skein of dough is run through the cutting rollers, creating long strands of the desired width.

We’ve all eaten plenty of dried pasta, the kind that comes in a box from the supermarket, and it’s a perfectly adequate Tomato Sauce Conveyance Device... but the hand-made stuff is another thing entirely. Cooked down to a perfect al dente degree of doneness and properly dressed, it is a true delight.

Fresh pasta: trenette (back) and fettucini (front).

We elected to serve our pasta three ways: with Jackie’s red sauce and SWMBO’s meatballs; with Houston Steve’s pesto (made with his home-grown basil); and with sautéed garlic, broccoli rabe and chicken andouille sausage. It turns out that trenette is the pasta of choice for serving with pesto (trenette alla pesto genovese being a signature regional dish) - who knew?

Pasta Three Ways
Pasta with pesto (top left), with red sauce and meatballs (top right), and with broccoli rabe, garlic, and sausage (bottom). Serious yum.

Laura Belle and JoAnn concocted a couple of monster antipasto platters, and I threw in a jar of my home-preserved marinated roasted peppers. A tasty salad, a few bottles of Chianti, a caffè correto, Marc and Shelly’s trifle, and Jackie’s pizzelle rounded out the picture.

Just as in the filmic Big Night, Louis Prima never showed. And just as in the filmic Big Night, everyone had a blast anyway. The only thing we were missing was the timpano.

Sunday, September 11, 2011


Nine Ten Eleven
We remember. Original artwork by Elisson.

O beautiful for patriot dream
That sees beyond the years,
Thine alabaster cities gleam,
Undimmed by human tears!
America! America!
God shed His grace on thee,
And crown Thy good with brotherhood
From sea to shining sea!

It has been ten years now, and I still cannot sing the rarely-heard third verse of ”America the Beautiful“ without getting a lump in my throat and tears in my eyes.

I was lucky. I had no friends or family among the victims of the September 11 terror attacks. My loss was that same loss that all of us Americans suffered that terrible day, the loss of innocence. It was a collective failure of our imaginations, that we could not have envisioned terrorists flying hijacked planes - not to distant ports for ransom, but into buildings as jet fuel-laden bombs.

I remember that day. I was in the car on the way to the office when SWMBO called. Turn on the radio, she said - there was something going on in New York. Something involving a plane - was it a Cessna? was it something bigger? I thought - crashing into the World Trade Center. A feeling of nervous dread crept over me. Turning on the radio, the first thing I heard was that a jet airliner had collided with one of the twin towers. Moments later, when a horrified newscaster reported a second plane striking the other tower, that nervous dread became a sickening certainty: We were being attacked. What was next? Moments later, we knew.

We remember the smoke billowing from the doomed towers, papers fluttering down like snow, hopeless people jumping in despair.

We remember the First Responders, the courageous firefighters and police officers who dashed into the buildings in the hopes of rescuing as many as possible.

But I also remember...

...the New York of my younger days, when the Empire State Building ruled Manhattan’s skyline from its perch in Midtown, the gleaming Art Deco spire of the Chrysler Building a silvery second banana. Alas, that is the skyline we see once more, an empty space at the island’s foot where the towers once stood.

...the first time I saw the World Trade Center up close, seeing its sheer massiveness.

...dining in Windows on the World, looking north over the entire island as the setting sun cast a reddish glow over the city.

...business meetings at the World Trade Center, amidst the hustle and bustle of the New York workday.

...countless flights into Newark International, the towers by then a familiar landmark to the east.

I remember the world as it was. It will never again be the same.

Thursday, September 8, 2011


Hakuna is nothing if not perceptive.

Despite our (thus far successful) efforts to keep her apart from Bernadette - Hakuna does not play well with Strange Kitties - we’re sure she has figured out that there is another cat somewhere in the house. Her body language gives her away.

Hakuna’s angst at dealing with fellow felines, however, pales in comparison to her loathing of the annual Veterinarian Visit. As soon as she spots the green Sherpa carrier, she immediately tries to slink away and make herself scarce.

These days I have a couple of advantages. Hakuna, being sixteen years old, is still pretty spry - but she has slowed down somewhat. It’s a lot easier to corner her in our bedroom, because she can’t cram herself under our new bed. And it’s a lot easier to to grab her once she’s cornered. The growling and yowling generally subside after a couple of minutes.

Today, as soon as she saw the Sherpa, she tucked her tail between her legs and slowly crept off to the bathroom, attempting to don her Cloak of Kitty Invisibility as she hid behind the door adjacent to the toilet. It did not work, alas.

Once we got to the vet, things proceeded without incident. ’Kuna may hate that green Sherpa when she sees it at home, but once at the vet, she clings to it like a life raft in heavy seas. And once she is out, she sits quietly on the floor, looking every bit like one of those big-eyed kittens in the Cheesy Black Velvet Paintings whilst making herself as small as possible.

Big Eyes
Maybe if I give him the Big Eyes, he won’t give me... The Needle!

What is it with this distaste for the Kitty-Medico? Do the sounds, smells, and surroundings bring back unpleasant memories of early kittenhood? Does she recall being poked, prodded, having blood drawn, getting injections, and having a thermometer jammed up her ass from the last visit? I can certainly empathize, being no fan of the annual physical myself.

Or are her concerns more... sinister?

Has Hakuna heard the legends - legends communicated quietly in the dead of night between Household Beasts, much as human children might tell ghost stories around a campfire - legends about a place where cats and dogs go to get The Needle? Is she thinking about Matata, who one day went to the vet and never came back?

Bernadette: potential replacement?
Is she worried that we’re going to kick her to the curb, throw her under the bus, boot her right over the Rainbow Bridge? I can just imagine what she’s thinking:

“Uh oh - the Goofy One brought the Green Thing out. That can only mean one thing: We’re going to the Place of the Little Room with the Metal Table. I hate that stinking place! I hate listening to those damned yappy dogs!

“Oh, crap - he’s closed the door. I’m trapped. Trapped! Maybe if I make myself look real small he won’t see me. No, damn it - here he comes! Ooof-ah!

“Shit. I just thought of something. That other cat! I know she’s in this house somewhere! Maybe she’s my replacement... and today’s the day they’re gonna give me The Needle! I am so screwed!

Don’t worry, little Hakuna. Bernadette is simply a guest, not a potential replacement sent here for a trial period. All we’re doing is making sure you’re as healthy as possible so we can enjoy each other’s company as long as possible.

And sorry about that thermometer up the ass. It’s just business.

Update: Friday Ark #353 is asail, ably captained by Steve the Modulator... and Carnival of the Cats 9/11 is up at Mind of Mog. Go pay a visit, y’heah?

Tuesday, September 6, 2011


The Missus and I had a pleasant enough Labor Day. Brunch with a few of our friends, followed by several hours of sitting in front of the television set watching the bright red blobs on the weather maps dance across the screen.

The local tornado sirens got a workout. Every half hour or so, they would begin wailing their song, warning us that a funnel cloud was whirling its way through some part of Cobb County. West Cobb - and southern Cherokee to the north - were getting a pounding, thanks to the remnants of Tropical Storm Lee. All told, about four tornadoes touched down in the area. We were more fortunate here in east Cobb, where all we got was a badly needed drenching.

The vile weather meant that the ribs we were going to enjoy for dinner would need to undergo Oven-Cookage rather than being smoked outdoors on the grill. But they turned out fine, thanks to liberal lashings of Billie Bob’s Sooper-Seekrit Barbecue Rub, augmented by a dose of Chinese five-spice and chipotle powder. Fall-off-the-bone tender, they were. Sautéed wild mushrooms and some broccolini stir-fried with soy, garlic, and sesame oil completed the menu.

We may complain about a few things in life. We’re not crazy about the remodeling job we did in the upstairs bath, the house needs painting, et cetera, et cetera... but we’re really quite lucky overall. Our neighborhood has been spared some of the heinous weather we’ve seen here both yesterday and in late April, and our friends and family managed to get through Hurricane Irene without too much difficulty. And we have more than enough to eat. Who says you have to wait until Thanksgiving to be thankful?

Monday, September 5, 2011


Frozen Chocolate Mousse
It looks like a slice of cake, but it’s no cake: A chunk of Frozen Chocolate Mousse awaits my eager desserty appetite.

Thirty years ago, I purchased a book that would change my life.

It was Maida Heatter’s Book of Great Chocolate Desserts. I liked chocolate, and I liked desserts. How could I not buy that book?

What set that book apart was Maida’s engaging writing style. Her recipes were meticulous and precise, with no detail, however trivial, left to the imagination. Yet instead of being tedious and persnickety, she walked you through each step like a patient teacher and confidante. If you followed her instructions, you couldn’t fail.

And ohhh, those chocolate desserts. When I think of the Heatter dessert oeuvre, I am reminded of my friend Gary’s comment about ice cream: All ice cream flavors are good; some just taste better than others. Maida’s confections were all excellent. It was only a question of which ones you liked best.

Chocolate mousse. Chocolate pots de crème. Mexican chocolate icebox cookies. Frozen white chocolate mousse. Made-from-scratch chocolate pudding. The best honkin’ hot fudge sauce on the planet. Torte soufflé au chocolat. Sachertorte. Chocolate cheesecake with amaretto. Chocolate angel pie. Chocolate Regal. Brownies. Chocolate chip-coconut macaroons. Craig Claiborne’s Rum Chocolate Dessert. Good Gawd, you could eat yourself to death... and this was just the tip of the Choco-Berg.

Later, I would investigate other Heatter desserts, recipes from her other books. But the chocolate dessert book remains my main go-to guide when I want something that is reliably, ridiculously decadent and delicious. It hasn’t disappointed me yet.

Frozen Chocolate Mousse with Mexican Chocolate Crust

[I made this a few nights ago for a dinner party - the first time trotting out this particular Heatter recipe in about 25 years. It’s too dangerous to keep around the house, which is why we don’t have it more often. This time I added my own little twist by jazzing up the crust with some Mexican spice.]

8 ounces Nabisco Famous Chocolate Wafers
1 tsp ground cinnamon
¼ tsp freshly ground black pepper
¼ tsp cayenne pepper
¾ stick unsalted butter, melted

Preheat the oven to 350ºF. Take a 9-inch springform pan and grease the sides - not the bottom - with butter.

Nabisco Famous Chocolate Wafers come in a nine-ounce package. Take four wafers out of the package; set aside or eat. Put the rest in a food processor fitted with a metal blade and process until you have fine crumbs. (Alternatively, seal the wafers in a plastic ziplock bag and beat the crap out of them with a hammer or rolling pin... or use Eric’s technique of painstakingly grinding the wafers with a mortar and pestle.) Add the cinnamon, black pepper, and cayenne; blend well. Dump the crumbs into a bowl and blend with the melted butter.

Put about ⅔ of the crumbs in the pan and, tilting the pan, press them against the sides of the pan with your fingers to create uniform sidewalls. Then add the rest of the crumbs to the pan and press against the bottom of the pan to form a uniform crust. Bake for 7-8 minutes. Set the pan aside on a rack to cool completely.

1 tbsp dry instant espresso or coffee (I used a single-serving packet of Starbucks Via)
½ cup boiling water
12 ounces semisweet chocolate, coarsely chopped
1¼ cup granulated sugar
4 eggs, large or extra-large, separated
3 cups whipping cream
⅛ tsp cream of tartar
Pinch of salt

You can use any good-quality semisweet chocolate in this recipe. I’ve made it with Nestlé’s Toll House chocolate chips with excellent results. Most recently, I used a blend of half semisweet and half bittersweet Callebaut chocolate. Just make sure you use real chocolate. If it contains any fat other than cocoa butter, it’s not real chocolate - it’s chocolate-flavored shite, and it does not belong in your kitchen.

In a small, heavy saucepan over medium heat, dissolve the instant coffee in the boiling water. Add ½ cup of the sugar (reserve the remaining ¾ cup) and stir until dissolved. Turn the heat down low and add the chocolate, stirring until melted and completely smooth. Remove from the heat and allow to cool for a minute or two, then add the egg yolks, one at a time, beating with a wire whisk after adding each one. You should end up with a smooth, thick chocolate mixture. Set aside to cool.

In a chilled large bowl, beat the cream just until it holds a shape. (Don’t beat it until it’s too stiff. You want whipped cream, not butter.) Set aside.

In a second bowl with clean beaters, beat the egg whites until foamy. Add the salt and cream of tartar. Beat until the whites begin to hold a shape, then slow down the beaters and add the remaining ¾ cup of sugar, a spoonful at a time, beating until well-incorporated. Speed up the beaters and beat until the whites hold a definite shape but are not stiff or glossy. Fold a third of the chocolate mixture into the whites, then fold in another third. Then fold the whites into the remaining third of the chocolate.

In a large mixing bowl, fold the whipped cream into the chocolate mixture. Then pour the mousse into the prepared crust and smooth or swirl the top. Stick the whole mess into the freezer. After about an hour cover the top with cling wrap or aluminum foil and wrap the whole thing up airtight. Freeze overnight.

To serve, use a heavy knife to cut around the sides of the pan, then release the sides and remove. If desired, you can use a wide spatula to remove the mousse from the pan bottom before serving, but this isn’t necessary.

Cut the mousse into slices with a heavy knife; it will slice easily and cleanly. You can serve it with a little whipped cream or just as-is; either way, it’s ridiculously delicious and completely decadent.

And if your ass gets fat, blame Maida. I still do.

Saturday, September 3, 2011


Green Friend

Williams-Sonoma is one of my favorite places for kitchen gadgets and Foodie Exotica.

They’re past masters at the art of repackaging. They can take ten cents worth of cupcake mix, stick it in a fancy box with a retro design, and sell it for $12.95 to suburbanites with more money than brains. But I give them credit for having pretty much any cooking-related device I might decide I need... including a fine array of top-quality colanders.

(You’d think they would set up a perimeter when they see me coming, but no. Not yet, anyway.)

And here’s something I never thought I would need: a Hulk spatula. Pancakes wouldn’t dare stick to the griddle with one of these around.


Evil twins, separated at birth?

Bozo and His Rocket Ship

Scary the Clown

These images remind me of the 1938 B-movie classic Angels with Dirty Faces, starring James Cagney and Pat O’Brien and featuring the Dead End Kids. As the movie begins, young hooligans Rocky Sullivan (Cagney) and Jerry Connolly (O’Brien) are robbing a railroad car. A cop gives chase, and as the two are making their escape, Rocky saves Jerry’s life by yanking him out of the way of a train. But Jerry is the faster of the two, and he is able to get away, while Rocky is collared and sent to reform school. He grows up to become a career criminal, while Jerry takes the opposite path, becoming a priest.

Could this be what happened here? Did Bozo (here pictured using advanced transportation to visit an array of ethnic stereotypes) run just a little faster, evading whatever passes for the Railroad Bull in Clowny World, leaving his twin brother to spend a life behind bars? One can only speculate.

Friday, September 2, 2011


Hakuna Considers Her Next Move
“OK, so it’s my turn. Now what?”

Once upon a time, Friday was the day of choice for bloggers to post photographs of their cats. That, of course, was before cats took over the Internet.

I’ve been lax about posting pics of Hakuna lately. As a Matronly Dowager-Kitty, she tends to sleep a lot during the day, and I don’t like to pester her overmuch with the camera. And Bernadette, who is bunking in with us while the Mistress of Sarcasm travels around the Northeast, is notoriously shy, so capturing her on film a CCD sensor is tricky business.

Rahel, however, has not let me off the hook... and so, submitted for your approval is the above shot of Hakuna as she considers her next move in the Chess Game of Life.

Thursday, September 1, 2011


My Esteemed Readers will often ask me, “Mister Debonair, how should I go about the business of impressing a Special Someone?”

This is a timely question, because I found myself in that exact situation only yesterday. It was SWMBO’s birthday, and I wanted to celebrate the occasion in an appropriately festive, yet romantic, manner. Most people would choose to spring for an expensive feed at some intimate boîte... but I am not most people. No, this occasion demanded something with a certain je ne sais quoi.

As I thought about options for the evening, I remembered a time long ago, back in the earliest days of our relationship, when I fixed a home-cooked meal for the young lady who would eventually become The Missus. Then, as now, I believed that an elegant meal, personally and painstakingly prepared in the Home Kitchen, is far more impressive and romantic than anything you could get at a restaurant. (That, and you need not worry about tipping the surly waitstaff for expectorating in your mashed potatoes.) Then, unlike now, I believed that SWMBO would enjoy the exact same foods I do, including lamb.

After over thirty-five years, I am still a believer in the grace and elegance of a home-cooked meal. But I know better than to serve leg of lamb to the Missus, who would sooner pound nails into her skull with a ball-peen hammer than eat of the tender, wooly beast.

No: the evening’s menu would be simple, yet appetizing... and fully acceptable to She Who Must Be Obeyed. No lamb. No duck. No dark meat chicken. No goat cheese. No excessively frizzy lettuce, raw onions, or beets.

I opted for hanger steak, a flavorsome, yet relatively lean cut of beef, which I pan-seared and served with sautéed shallots and a red wine reduction. Accompanying this was a salad of vine-ripened tomatoes with fresh basil, a sprinkling of fines herbes, a splash of olive oil and balsamic vinegar, and a light dusting of Balinese sea salt. By way of a vegetable, I roasted off some Brussels sprouts and dressed them with chopped capers and preserved lemon.

The drinky part of the meal was a lovely 2007 Mandolin pinot noir.

We dined by the light of candles, the two of us, and SWMBO’s grey-blue eyes reflected their soft glow, just as they did in the days when we first met. I don’t know whether the dinner impressed her - but she still impresses the hell out of me.

So take Mister Debonair’s advice: If you want to make a big romantic splash with that Special Someone, get out your pots and pans... and don’t forget the candlesticks! (I’d rethink the Brussels sprouts, though. Nothing will kill a Romantic Evening faster than a bellyful of Fart Balls.)


Just in case you think LeeAnn is the only one who is exposed to bizarre Slice o’ Life Dialogue in the course of her daily toils, here’s an actual conversation that was overheard - and reported verbatim - by one of the Mistress of Sarcasm’s friends while grabbing a quick meal at a local KFC outlet:

Chicken-Loving Patron: Gimme a 21-piece bucket of chicken.

Cashier: Is that for here or to go?

Chicken-Loving Patron: Mutha Fucka! How I’m gonna eat 21 pieces of chicken here?

Cashier: Bitch, I don’t know your life!