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

Friday, March 30, 2012


The iPod d’Elisson
The iPod d’Elisson.

Dayum - is it Friday already? Why, so it is. And that means it’s time for my weekly assemblage of ten tunes, barfed up randomly by the iPod d’Elisson. Let’s take a look at what’s playing today:

  1. Roland the Headless Thompson Gunner - Warren Zevon

  2. Fish - Mr. Scruff

    Once again I shall go and get the fishmonger to prepare the fish.

    I expect you’d like to know about frogmen?

    They live on fish and catch them by diving onto them from a great height.

    Gliding down through the dark green water.

    He can breathe under water because he has amphibious nostrils.
    On the way down he passed hundreds of trout of different sizes.
    Trout are freshwater fish and have underwater weapons.
    Trout are very valuable and immensely powerful.
    Keep away from the trout.

    Why should it mean that the fish in the sea are all unable to sing?

    Just listen to me, young fellow.

    What need is there for fish to sing, when I can roar and bellow?

    Fish fish fish fish fish.

    Fish fish fish fish.
    Eating fish!

    Fish fish fish fish fish.

    Fish fish fish fish.
    Eating fish!

    I wish that I could get my hands on a dozen fish!


  3. Piggies - The Beatles

  4. O My God - The Police

  5. Tickle Me (Live) - Randy Newman

    Way before he became the House Composer for Pixar Studios, Randy Newman wrote quirky little songs like this. Three Dog Night made a career out of covering his stuff.

  6. Going Home - Philip Glass, Notes on a Scandal

    I’d love for Philip Glass to write a soundtrack for my life story... but I’d hate to have the kind of life that makes sense when juxtaposed against a Philip Glass soundtrack.

  7. Tank Graveyard - Paul Cantelon, Everything Is Illuminated

  8. Long Flowing Robe - Todd Rundgren

  9. The Lady Is A Tramp - Skanatra

    That’s right: Skanatra, a band performing Sinatra’s standards with a ska twist.

  10. Doctor Robert - The Beatles

It’s Friday. What are you listening to?

Thursday, March 29, 2012


That’d be Bread and Chocolate, Esteemed Readers. It’s the name of an award-winning 1974 film, and it also happens to be a tasty combination of comestibles.

Bread and chocolate, taken separately, may be found in a myriad of toothsome forms. When they join forces, the result may be greater than the sum of its parts.

One example: the beloved-by-Francophiles pain au chocolat, a buttery, flaky roll of croissant dough enfolding a core of bittersweet chocolate. Not having been a French schoolchild growing up, I did not come home from school every day to a warm petit pain au chocolat and a cup of café au lait in which to dunk it, but that’s probably a good thing. I would have been the first French schoolchild to weigh over 500 kilograms.

The Nutella sandwich is another felicitous bread-chocolate concoction. A thick schmear of chocolate-hazelnut spread on your choice of breadstuff - what’s not to love? It is irresistible, for which reason I never keep Nutella in the house.

One could certainly make the case for chocolate babka being a sort of bread-and-choccy Baked Good, given that it is composed of veins of cinnamon-chocolate filling dispersed in a yeast-raised dough matrix. Chocolate babka, in my not-so-humble opinion, is what the pain au chocolat wishes it had been: not merely satisfying, but enthralling.

Yesterday, I tried something new: Chocolate Bread. Yes, you read that correctly. Chocolate Bread. Check it out:

Chocolate Bread

This is something that you see now and again at the Back in the Day Bakery, and, alas, the recipe has been included in their thoroughly dastardly cookbook. Of course, I had to try my hand at it.

To all appearances, it looks like a nice loaf of pumpernickel... but once you hack off a slice and bite into it, you know it ain’t no pumpernickel. No pumpernickel I’ve ever seen, anyway.

Maybe it’s the glistening globs of bittersweet chocolate studded throughout. Or maybe it’s the crunchy topping of caramelized turbinado sugar. Perhaps it’s the mellow flavor imparted by the Dutch cocoa. Whatever it is, it’s simply ridiculous. And I mean that in a good way.

Chocolate Bread Slice

Though it carries a modest layer of chocolate-driven sweetness, its bready texture and bittersweet undertones make this a complex, distinctly un-dessertlike affair. Elizabeth on 37th, a fine Savannah dining establishment, serves this stuff up at wine tastings, and after snarfing down a few slices with a substantial draught of Château L’Argentier Coteaux de Languedoc 2005, I can vouch for the excellence of the pairing. It also goes well with cheese - Cabot Clothbound Cheddar would play very well with it - and only simple decency prevented me from slathering a piece with butter.

All of this is just gilding the lily, however. It was perfectly fine when gobbled up by the handful, ripp’d untimely from the steaming loaf.

She Who Must Be Obeyed and the girls may never forgive me. Hell, I may never forgive me.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012


The Internet is a strange place, Esteemed Readers, but it has its uses.

Take the prosaic Search Engine, of which Google is the ascendant example. So popular is Google, in fact, that it has become genericized in verb form: To “google” something means to use an Internet search engine in order to find instances of it on the World Wide Web.

In so doing, you can discover the damndest things.

F’rinstance: Students who merrily plagiarize other people’s work can now get a Rude Surprise when their teachers or professors use search engines to match strings of words in research papers to their original source materials. Can you say “flunk”?

There’s more. Several years ago, on a trip to Japan with Elder Daughter, we espied a young lady wearing a sweatshirt with a bizarre legend. Lookee:

“Cause The Crowd All Love Pulling Dolly By The Hair.” WTF is that supposed to mean!??!

At the time, I attributed the bizarre words to the peculiar Japanese propensity for decorating their clothing with random English words. Sometimes the results are hilarious to English speakers, but, like Chinese character tattoos here, the desired effect is primarily decoration, not the transmission of meaning.

That’s what I thought at the time, anyway.

For reasons that I still cannot fathom, I recently took it upon myself to do a Google search - that is, I googled - the phrase “cause the crowd all love pulling dolly by the hair.” And, whaddaya know - they’re not just random words strung together for bizarre effect.

They’re song lyrics!

Specifically, they’re lyrics from the Duran Duran song “Girls On Film”:

The diving man’s coming up for air
’Cause the crowd all love
Pulling dolly by the hair, by the hair

So: Now I know where those strange words came from. They were not random after all. Perhaps I would have known this if, at any time, I had ever given a rat’s ass about Duran Duran or their popular-for-a-while-in-the-1980’s music. Thanks, Google!

This does not make the young lady’s sweatshirt any less bizarre, mind you. It does, however, make it somewhat more understandable.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012


While browsing in the local Michael’s earlier today, I saw a few things that reminded me of my childhood.

There was a display of Testors paint, those tiny-ass bottles of enamel you would use to paint plastic models. I used to love that stuff... painstakingly applying colors to my various creations with a tiny sable-tipped brush. My sense-memory includes the solventy aroma, one that was peculiar to those enamels. In those simpler, more innocent times, it never would have occurred to us that we could have gotten a nice buzz (destroying our livers in the process) by huffing that stuff.

Now, if you buy model paint or cement, your name probably goes on a Federal registry somewhere. The days when you could purchase or use a toluene-based adhesive - anyone remember Duco cement? - are long gone.

Near the cash register, I spied a pile of Nik-L-Nips, little packages containing five miniature wax bottles modeled vaguely after the old-school Coke bottle, each containing a few drops of painfully sweet colored fluid... what soda pop looks like, no doubt, in Dwarf Bizarro World.

Nik-L-Nips, a favorite tooth-rotting confection from my childhood.

In my Snot-Nose Days, I would buy a pack of Nik-L-Nips for the going rate of five cents, US - a nickel! - then, one by one, bite off the necks of those tiny waxen flasks and suck down the precious nectar within. That left five empty bottles to be chewed, gum-like, until I’d get sick of the bland, totally nondescript petroleum wax taste.

These bad boys go for $1.29 nowadays, a price that reflects a compounded annual rate of inflation of about 6.7 percent. That’s actually not too bad... but somehow, “Buck-Twenty-Nine-L-Nips” doesn’t carry the same alliterative cachet.

If I want to relive my childhood, I think I’ll go get a couple of bottles of Testors enamel and paint something tiny. Those Nik-L-Nips? You can keep ’em.


Yesterday evening, the Missus and I, along with our two daughters, attended a cooking demonstration and book signing over at the local Cook’s Warehouse. What had attracted my interest was that the book in question was The Back in the Day Bakery Cookbook by Cheryl and Griffith Day... and that both Cheryl and Griff would be demonstrating a few choice recipes.

Those of my Esteemed Readers with good memories may recall that, several years ago, the Mistress of Sarcasm lived in the Starlight district of Savannah just a short walk away from the Back in the Day Bakery. It was where we celebrated the Mistress’s twenty-fifth birthday with all manner of tasty baked goods, including the legendary Baby Cake... and we have made it a point to stop by whenever we are in Savannah.

As a thoroughgoing amateur when it comes to Matters Bakey, I can appreciate a couple of professionals when I see them... and it has been a real pleasure watching the Days’ little business grow from a beloved local operation (which it still is) to something with a bit more national prominence, owing largely to the ministrations of people like Paula Deen and Oprah Winfrey.

Now, Paula Deen can be a bit... ahhh, scary when it comes to some of her Southern fried cooking, and when you put her in the same room with Cheryl, the results can sometimes be downright horrifying. (The infamous Cottage Cheese Lasagna and Whole Loaf of Garlic Bread Sandwich comes to mind.) But, to her credit, Ms. Deen knows real quality when she sees it - and the Days of Back in the Day have created a little piece of heaven right there in Savannah.

Griff and Cheryl Day
Griff and Cheryl sign a few cookbooks while taking a short break from Pie-Making.

We had a delightful time visiting with Cheryl and Griff, who were seeing us for the first time in our neighborhood. It would have been enough just to simply watch them at work, cranking out Roasted Chicken and Vegetable Cobbler (chicken pot pie topped with biscones, a biscuit-scone amalgam), Coconut Cream Pie, and S’Mores Pie (which, in tribute to the eponymous campfire confection, combined a chocolate pastry cream filling with a graham cracker crust and a marshmallowy meringue topping). But no, we actually got respectable portions of each dish to enjoy. I dearly wish I had not tasted of that cobbler, for now I have a Biscone Jones to beat the band. Agggghhh.


Rocket Cat Mural
Wall art festoons the exterior of Rocket Cat, a coffee shop in Elder Daughter’s neighborhood.

I’m back at Chez Elisson, enjoying the company of not just one, but both of my charming and lovely daughters.

The Mistress of Sarcasm and I left New York Saturday morning, stopping in Philadelphia to pick up Elder Daughter. We then pounded down the Interstate (and a few non-Interstate four-lanes) all the way to Atlanta in a single shot, with the Mistress driving every single mile. Yowza!

Hills of Southern Virginia

We took the scenic route, bypassing Baltimore and avoiding the entire DeeCee area. Instead, we cut through the tip of West Virginia near Harper’s Ferry and rode along the Shenandoah Valley on Interstate 81. It’s a pretty enough route any time of year, with tall hills flanking the highway. When I drove it last, in mid-October, the trees were aflame with their changing colors, and this time the redbuds displayed their pink-purple blossoms. Not even the intermittent rainshowers could dampen their beauty.

It was good to be home. In my absence, the cherry trees had thrown their blossoms and popped out their tender new leaves; the Japanese maples, just budding when I left, were now in their summer clothes. Even the azaleas were in full bloom, two weeks earlier than usual.


Atlanta in the spring. It’ll bring out the poetry in your soul... and the mucus in your nose.

Monday, March 26, 2012


Venus, Jupiter, and the Moon hang together in a darkling spring sky.

When the moon is in the seventh house
And Jupiter aligns with Mars
Then peace will guide the planets
And love will steer the stars...
- “The Age of Aquarius,” from the Broadway musical Hair

I don’t subscribe to all of that constellational bullshit... but there are some things that, when seen in the evening sky, are worthy of a second glance. The current conjunction of Venus, Jupiter, and the Moon fit that description.

Jupiter and the waxing crescent Moon. The unlit part of the Moon is visible thanks to the reflection of light from the Earth.

Friday, March 23, 2012


Despite their generally fearsome reputation, not all New Yorkers are assholes. Most, in fact, are not.

In the interest of fairness, I will state right up front that I am not an entirely disinterested party. I grew up in New York, in that vast tract of suburbia that surrounds the City That Never Sleeps. Despite the fact that I have lived elsewhere most of my life (and have thus developed the ability to view New York from the 50,000 foot perspective), I am always skeptical of those who see Empire Staters and NYC dwellers as nought but a nasty, brutish mob.

But there is that stereotype of the brusque, surly New York denizen... and like all stereotypes, it is based on a few factual observations that, just as a grain of sand stimulates the growth of a pearl, generate a certain sort of hyperbolic embellishment.

Nevertheless, as I stated at the outset of this post, not all New Yorkers are assholes - whether you buy into that unfortunate stereotype or not. Here’s evidence:

The Mistress of Sarcasm, even as I write these words, is enroute from her northwestern Connecticut home to Long Island, where she will meet me at The Other Elisson’s place. It’s a challenging enough drive for anyone, even those familiar with the territory, owing to the plethora of confusing road signs, ridiculous amounts of traffic, and the spaghetti-like maze of roads that wind around New York, the nexus through which she must pass. But the Mistress is not (to be charitable) a model of Navigational Capability... and so the trip poses an even greater level of difficulty. Thank goodness for modern satnav devices: If not for the Garmin or its electronic ilk, the Mistress would be in a Bad Way.

Which is where she found herself when her Garmin crapped out. Fortunately, I was in easy cellphone reach, and with my own phone’s route-finding abilities, I was able to put her on the right track.

So here she is, in massive New York traffic, queued up at the tollbooths for the Throgs Neck Bridge. As is so often the case, cars and trucks jockey for position... and correcting a bad lane choice (exact change vs cashier vs electronic pass) is next to impossible. A nearby van evidently found itself in just such a situation, but the Mistress, being the polite young woman the Missus and I raised her to be, let it in ahead of her.

When she reached the tollbooth, she found that the guy in the van had paid her toll. That’s six and a half simoleons, not a trivial amount. Unless maybe you’re Mitt Romney. Yowza!

So: New Yorkers. Tough and a bit surly on the outside, but at least a few of ’em have got warm, melty centers.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012


So the Missus and I decided to renew our CPR certifications after - what? - twenty years? Something on that order of magnitude. It’s a skill that you never hope to have a need for, but sometimes you have to deal with the unexpected.

And so we spent an hour in the local middle school gymnasium, crouched over our Rescusci-Dummies, mashing their plasticated chests with the requisite cycles of thirty chest compressions followed by two breaths, repeat ad infinitum.

Not much has changed in twenty years, but enough to be significant. One big difference: easier access to AED (automated external defibrillator) devices. By all means, if you should choose to go into cardiac arrest, try to do it where your buddies can find an AED pronto.

The course was just the right length to allow us all to demonstrate our proficiency in the necessary skill set, yet not enough to get completely boring. And the only complaint I can come up with is that the (personable and otherwise skilled) instructor could somehow not summon up enough verbal dexterity to pronounce the word “defibrillator” correctly.

It’s a minor quibble, sure... but I’m not sure whether it inspires the highest levels of confidence when your CPR instructor insists on calling the damn thing a “defibulator.”

(Am I just being an asshole? You decide.)

Monday, March 19, 2012


Cherry Blossoms 2012
Unseasonably early cherry blossoms brighten the neighborhood (and help clog the sinuses of the residents). Click to embiggen.

Today is the last day of Winter in the northern hemisphere: The vernal equinox arrives sometime tomorrow morning at oh-dark-thirty.

Looking around, it’s hard to imagine we even have had a winter this year. Sure, we’ve had a few actual days of cold, but this year they’ve been exceptionally thin on the ground. And lately it’s been ridiculous. Temperatures hereabouts have been in the eighties for the past several days, the longest such March streak in recorded history. Yesterday, the mercury hit 84°F, breaking a record of thirty years standing. The trees are in full bloom about three or four weeks ahead of their normal schedule. Even the azaleas have begun to blossom near our side door.

The people at Augusta National must be having hissy-fits. At the rate things are going, the flowers on the azaleas and dogwoods there will be distant memories by the time the Masters rolls around on April 5. I wouldn’t put it past them to blanket the entire course with refrigerated nitrogen just to slow things down.

Today’s pollen count - 8,164 particles per cubic meter of air - didn’t just break the old record set back in 1999, it shattered it. Allergy sufferers are miserable, and few more than The Missus, who usually gets to enjoy a gap of a few weeks between the end of her standard-time-driven seasonal affective disorder and the onset of sneezy season. Feh.

If this is March, I hate to imagine what July and August are gonna be like...

Saturday, March 17, 2012


A Better Babka

“If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.” - Old adage

“Bake a better babka, and the world will beat a path to your door.” - Elisson, based on a quote frequently misattributed to Ralph Waldo Emerson

I essayed a home-baked Chocolate Babka last week, using a recipe from the Food Network magazine. While the result was tasty enough, it was not quite what I had envisioned.... and so, being the chocolate-fueled obsessive that I am, I decided to go back to the drawing board.

What I wanted was something that hit all of the sense-memory buttons, one of those ultra-chocolatey babkas dense enough to have its own gravitational field. I wanted the kind of babka that makes me weep when I walk into Zabar’s or Dean & DeLuca. And, with a little help from the Inter-Webby-Net, I found just what I had been looking for.

It was a five-year-old post from Smitten Kitchen, one of the premier foodblogs, that got my attention. The photographs were impressive enough, but what what won me over - even before I read Word One of the recipe proper - was the writer describing her search for a suitable recreation of “the same decadent grocery store chocolate babka” she remembered from younger days.

The search criteria? “...completely over-the-top... chocolate to bread-like dough ratio is unseemly... a mind-boggling amount of chocolate.” The recipe also had to include cinnamon along with the chocolate, and have a chunky, pebbly streusel topping. Thanks be to Gawd and Martha Stewart, she found it.

And, Esteemed Readers, so did I. Now you can have it, too.

This is not a recipe for the faint of heart, given that it includes a full two-and-a-quarter pounds of dark chocolate and five - count ’em - five sticks of butter. The last time I saw that much butter, it was at a Last Tango in Paris marathon. But, in fairness, that’s for three whole babka-loaves, an ungodly amount. Just one of these bad boys will feed a small army.

Chocolate Babka Filling
The filling: two-and-a-quarter pounds (!) of dark chocolate, a cup of sugar, a few tablespoons of cinnamon, and one-and-a-half sticks of butter. Hoo-hah!

I learned from my earlier mistakes. To be able to twist the loaf properly, you have to roll the dough out thin enough... which requires a well-floured surface. and the chocolate must be chopped fine. This turned out to be an enormous pain in the ass, because my food processor’s 35-year-old steel blade chose that very day to give up the ghost. That meant a long, tedious choccy-chopping session with a chef’s knife.

But the dough was gorgeous and easy to work with. I tweaked the recipe a bit by using four cups of all-purpose flour and two cups of bread flour, and the loaves came together beautifully.

Babka in the Raw
A brace of Babka-Loaves, topped with streusel, awaiting their date with Mister Oven.

It took a supreme effort of will to keep myself from carving these fellows up as soon as they emerged from the oven. That would have to wait until later in the evening... and brother, was it worth the wait. Even the best commercial babkas are usually pareve - prepared without any dairy ingredients and thus suitable for serving at a meat meal - which means they contain margarine in lieu of butter. Not these guys. With their prodigious butter content, they tasted better than any babka has a right to taste. (Cholesterol? Whuddat?)

Streusel Topping
The surface of the moon? No - just a yummy, lumpy layer of streusel.

Finally: A babka that passes the Toll-Taker Test!

Now that I know I can do it, I’ll probably put this recipe aside. It’s waaaaaay to dangerous to be making it except for the odd rare occasion or holiday... but it’s nice to know that I can recapture the sense-memory of real, honest-to-Gawd chocolate babka any time I want.


Star and Shamrock
Sign outside the Star and Shamrock Tavern & Deli on H Street, Washington, DC.

It’s Saint Patrick’s Day! Time to wear the green and drink to excess. The menu? Corned beef and cabbage... Irish soda bread... smoked salmon... Irish whisky...

I figure corned beef is popular in Eire because it’s one of the few remaining sources of protein, now that the snakes have been driven out. And it - along with the tavern whose sign is pictured above - is one of the rare cultural linkage points between the Irish and us Red Sea Pedestrians. And so I’m all for it.

Beannachtaí na Féile Pádraig!

Thursday, March 15, 2012


In Yer Face Hakuna
“You talkin’ to me? You talkin’ to me? You talkin’ to me? Then who the hell else are you talking... you talking to me? Well I’m the only one here.”

Wednesday, March 14, 2012


What do these Iconic Figures have in common?

It ain’t Friday... it’s Pi Day.

March 14, rendered 3.14 in the style of American English, makes one think of the mathematical constant pi (π), the ratio of the circumference of a circle to its diameter. At least, if one is inclined to think that way.

Pi, as a number, is both irrational and transcendental: It is a real number that cannot be expressed as the ratio of two integers, and it is non-algebraic - i.e., it is not the root of a non-constant polynomial equation with rational coefficients. When written as a decimal, it is infinite and non-repeating. Thanks to computers, we now know the value of pi to over one trillion significant digits... although if you ask me, most of those digits are pretty damned insignificant... unless perhaps if you’re trying to calculate the area or circumference of a really big circle.

[Pie, as a food, is not irrational at all - and it can be transcendent. More about that later.]

Pi Day was created in 1988 by one Larry Shaw, a physicist at the San Francisco Exploratorium, demonstrating that Shaw is both a remarkably inventive individual and an über-nerd. There are various observances of the day, but I found it especially fascinating that, according to Wikipedia, the town of Princeton, New Jersey celebrates Pi Day and Albert Einstein’s birthday (also March 14) jointly, no doubt owing to Einstein having lived there for over twenty years while working at the Institute for Advanced Study.

It is entirely appropriate to celebrate the day by eating - what else? - pie. Cherry, boysenberry, chocolate, coconut custard, steak and kidney, lemon meringue, Key lime, pizza... no matter. Use your imagination. Whether you choose to mumble incomprehensible mathematical calculations whilst doing so is completely up to you.

And just for shits ’n’ grins, here’s a link to one of my favorite pie-related 100-word stories. Enjoy.

Monday, March 12, 2012


Peter Bergman
Peter Bergman (1939-2012), alumnus of Yale University, the Yale School of Drama, and (most famously) The Firesign Theatre. Requiescat in pace.

Many years ago, on a particularly pleasant evening, a few of my friends and I climbed the stairs to the roof of our vintage-1915 dormitory, a building that had been constructed in the sort of Collegiate Gothic style popular in the early twentieth century. As we looked down upon the wooded campus from one of the crenellated parapets, a voice floated up from below. It was one of the representatives of the Student Hoagie Agency (or was it the Student Pizza Agency?) hawking his wares... but he drew attention to himself by calling out:

“They came from little towns with strange names...”

And of course I was prepared with the proper response:

“Smegma! Spasmodic! Frog! And the far-flung Isles of Langerhans!”

The hoagie vendor may have been surprised to hear me shouting from the rooftop, but he hardly could have been surprised at my answer, for it was precisely what he had been expecting - a snatch of dialogue from The Firesign Theatre’s comic epic “How Can You Be in Two Places at Once When You’re Not Anywhere at All?”

Back then, it was hard - at least, in a certain subset of the undergraduate population - to find someone who was not deeply familiar with the works of The Firesign Theatre. Unlike the TV sketch-driven humor of Monty Python, Firesign’s material originated in radio, where their lengthy, stream-of-consciousness narratives could play out over a half-hour timespan. It was heady stuff, packed with pop cultural references, trivia, surrealism, allusion, absurdity, and parody.

Consisting of Phil Austin, Peter Bergman, David Ossman and Philip Proctor, The Firesign Theatre continued to perform up until 2011, a career spanning roughly 45 years. Their prime material, however, had run its course by sometime in the mid-1970’s, and I suspect a revival is not in the immediate offing. Brilliant as Firesign was (and still is), it’s hard to imagine people sitting still for a 28-minute audio experience in this day of YouTube videos, Facebook, and monstrously short attention spans.

Alas, a Firesign revival is now impossible for another reason: the death of Peter Bergman last Friday from complications of leukemia. He was 72 years old.

Levity is rarely an appropriate response when someone passes on to The Next World, but I have a perverse image in my head of a funeral service in which the following exchange takes place...



BEREAVED RELATIVE NUMBER ONE: The one with the ever-widening hole in it!

Somehow, I think Peter would look down and laugh.

Ave atque vale, Mr. Bergman! May you entertain the heavenly hosts as you entertained us.


Osso Buco
Delicious, succulent osso buco, carved from the legs of a tender baby calf.

March 15 - the Ides of March - marks the tenth international EATAPETA Day, the day on which we eat animal protein morning, noon and night for the sole purpose of sticking a thumb in the eye of PETA. (Well, that, plus animal protein tastes good.)

EATAPETA (Eat a Tasty Animal for PETA) Day is the brainchild of Meryl Yourish, who explains its historic origins in this post.

I’ve been observing the occasion - nay, celebrating it - for seven years now. Only question right now is, what to eat? Perhaps some lovely veal shanks: I love osso buco. (It’s osso very buco.) But lamb, venison, duck, chicken, or good ol’ beef are all possibilities, too. And fish!

[My buddy Houston Steve suggested oysters, foie gras, and veal. “I understand the foie gras and the veal,” I replied. “But what’s up with the oysters?” “They’re still alive when you eat ’em,” said he.]

There’s only one rule with respect to EATAPETA Day, and Alex Bensky said it best: If it didn’t have a mother, it’s not on the menu.

Carp Mommy


Chocolate Babka
My first attempt at making a chocolate babka. Not exactly pretty, but damned tasty nevertheless.

Not just Bab. Babka.

Babka? you say. WTF is babka?

Babka is an Eastern European confection that reaches its apotheosis in the version created by Ashkenazic Jews. Some people think of it as a cake, but it’s not a cake, exactly. Like Danish pastry, it’s yeast-raised, a sort of sweet bread. But “a sort of sweet bread” is a woefully inadequate description... like describing Angela Jolie as “a sort of cute girl.”

Babka is what happens to cinnamon bread after having lived an exemplary Bread-Life. It moves on to the next plane of existence, being reincarnated (reimpanated?) as a loaf packed with almond paste, cinnamon, and/or chocolate.

In the World o’ Babka, there are two main species: cinnamon and chocolate. Each has its partisans, and the divisions between them are comparable to those between Norman Thomas-style socialists and Tea Party Republicans. This exchange from “The Dinner Party,” an episode of Seinfeld, illustrates the bitter divisiveness between Chocolatarians and Cinnamonians:

[The bakery has just sold their last chocolate babka as Elaine and Jerry arrive...]

ELAINE: What’s this one?

CLERK: That’s cinnamon babka.

JERRY: Another babka?

CLERK: There’s chocolate and there’s cinnamon.

JERRY: Well, we’ve got to get the cinnamon.

ELAINE: No, but they got the chocolate. We’ll be going in with a lesser babka.

JERRY: I beg your pardon? Cinnamon takes a back seat to no babka. People love cinnamon. It should be on tables at restaurants along with salt and pepper. Anytime anyone says, “Oh, this is so good! What’s in it?” the answer invariably comes back, cinnamon. Cinnamon. Again and again. Lesser babka - I think not.

CLERK: 49?

ELAINE: I’ll have the cinnamon babka.

I’m going to respectfully disagree with my old homeboy here: When it comes to babka, I am a confirmed Chocolatarian.

Some of my Esteemed Readers are already aware of the deep and abiding love I have for the chocolate babka... a love so intense, I actually took one and French-toastified it. (Is that an actual verb? It is now.)

Chocolate Babka French Toast on the griddle
Chocolate Babka French Toast. Steve “Eat What You Want and Die Like a Man” Graham would be proud.

The idea of actually baking my own chocolate babka, however, never entered my mind... until recently, that is. But after having had reasonable success with challah, I figured it was time to expand my repertoire.

The results were - in my opinion, at least - equivocal.

Oh, the damn thing tasted good enough. Ridiculously good, in fact. Babkarrific! But I was not pleased with the way the filling was distributed in the loaf, no doubt a result of the dough being sticky and difficult to shape... a little like wrestling the bastard child of a Russian bear and the Tar-Baby. More flour on the parchment paper and a finer chop on the chocolate should solve that problem - if I ever make another one, that is.

The Challah of March 9, 2012
This week’s challah. The inscription on the cutting board reads ha-motzi lechem min ha-aretz (He who brings forth bread from the earth), the concluding words of the blessing said prior to eating bread.

In case you’re wondering, there was a challah, too. And while it may not have been the prettiest one I’ve made lately, it sure as hell was delicious... the coda to yet another week.

Friday, March 9, 2012


The iPod d’Elisson
The iPod d’Elisson.

It’s Friday once again, time for my weekly compilation of ten choons as spit out randomly by the Little White Choon-Box.

Music is a welcome distraction from all of the Bakey Goodness going on in the kitchen right now. The challah is about ready to assemble, and I’ve got the makings of a Chocolate Babka (!) rising in the pan. Gawd only knows how many weights I’m gonna have to lift to work this crap off...

So - with what shall we entertain ourselves today? Let’s check it out:

  1. Squonk (Live Version from Seconds Out) - Genesis

  2. Dying Sun - Moonraker

  3. Dance the Night Away - Cream

  4. Vote for Miles - Miles Davis

  5. Astral Weeks - Van Morrison

  6. Tiny Dancer - Elton John

  7. Hillary’s Way - The Capitol Steps

  8. Reggae fi Peach - Linton Kwesi Johnson

  9. Hard Sun (Main) - Eddie Vedder

  10. How Long Has That Train Been Gone - Professor Longhair

It’s Friday. What are you listening to?

Thursday, March 8, 2012


Hallowe’en is not in any way a Jewish holiday, despite the fact that many of us Red Sea Pedestrians celebrate it in its attenuated, secularized, candy-packed, American form... but that doesn’t mean we can’t come up with our own occasions for dressing up and acting silly. When better than on Purim, a holiday of revelry (a certain degree of drunken merriment being encouraged) and joy over our collective deliverance from an ancient genocidal plot?

Costumery is the order of the day. At evening services, one of our congregation’s rabbis was dressed as Charlie Chan, the other as Spongebob Squarepants. The Missus and I, relatively restrained, appeared in the guise of Morticia and Gomez Addams.

The following morning, I followed my usual tradition of wearing a Silly Hat as I read the Book of Esther. Lookee:

Reading the Megillah
Yours Truly reads Megillat Esther - the Book of Esther - whilst decked out in the requisite Silly Hat. The bound volume on the table, incidentally, is there solely to help immobilize the parchment scroll from which I am reading. The wall plaque bears the Hebrew word mizrach (east), the direction in which one normally faces while praying.

And if that’s not silly enough, how about this?

Colander and Megillah
“Is that a colander on your head, or are you glad to see me?”

Anyone care to hazard a guess as to what type of Perforated Headgear I’m wearing?

Why, it’s a Hebrew Colander, of course!

Wednesday, March 7, 2012


Every once in a while, something will happen to remind us that the blogs we read are not just random streams of electrons, but the products of people’s intellects.

A look at my blogroll shows that I’ve met a considerable number of bloggers. But regardless of whether I’ve had a face-to-face encounter with a given Online Journalist or not, I have met enough of ’em so that I appreciate that there is at least one real live person behind every blog.

And sometimes, as it always will where real live people are concerned, life intervenes.

I’m not sure who first turned me on to Neptunus Lex. Probably Eric... although it could have been any number of my blog-friends. In any event, that was the blogname of one Captain Carroll LeFon, an honest-to-Gawd Navy flyboy - a TOPGUN pilot, no less - who wrote what I consider to be the best milblog in the ’sphere.

Captain LeFon perished in a plane crash in Nevada yesterday. Life intervenes, alas.

I will mourn him... a man with prodigious courage, skills, and intellectual gifts. A damn fine writer, too. My condolences to his family, who must now make their way in the world without his guiding hand on the controls.

Ave atque vale, Lex.


The Book of Esther, this evening’s Required Reading. [Click to embiggen.]

Sundown this evening marks the arrival of the Jewish holiday of Purim, on which we Red Sea Pedestrians celebrate our deliverance from a Persian plot to exterminate us. (Sounds kinda familiar, don’t it?)

The old joke about Jewish holidays is that they all have a common theme: “They tried to kill us off. They failed. Let’s eat.”

Purim is a little different. This time, it’s “They tried to kill us off. They failed. Let’s drink.”

Yeah, getting hammered (or at least mildly tipsy) on Purim is a venerable tradition going back to the days of the Talmud. Tractate Megillot states that one should revel on Purim “ad lo yada” - until one no longer knows (ad de-lo yada) the difference between “Blessed be Mordechai” and “Cursed be Haman.” And if that’s not a good rule of thumb, what is?

The other tradition - nay, a requirement - is that one listen to the recounting of the Purim story. To that end, Megillat Esther (the Book of Esther) is chanted in services this evening and tomorrow morning. It’s actually a pretty entertaining tale for something biblical, given that it actually has a narrative complete with good guys, bad guys, suspense, mortal peril, and a happy ending. (Happy, that is, except for Haman.) But unless you understand the Hebrew, it can be a rather tough slog... yada, yada, yada. Yet another reason for having a schnapps or two.

Update: A different take on Purim-Drinkage here.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012


Hakuna Atop Her Pad

Traditions and rituals play an important role in human lives, but they are by no means exclusive to us. Cats have their rituals, too.

Take Hakuna, for example. She has established a regular practice of sitting atop her scratching pad in the morning. When we arise, we will inevitably see her perched upon that pad, posed pensively, to await her daily battle with the Red Laser Dot.

It is exceedingly rare for her to sit on that pad any other time of the day.

You may theorize that she likes the pad because it has been warmed by the morning sun, but that fails to explain why she can be found there well before sunrise. If you have any other ideas, feel free to share ’em!


The local dining scene is getting better all the time.

East Cobb, for aeons the province of popular chains and far too many Chinese and Mexican restaurants, now has a real Destination Eatery.

Meanwhile, Roswell - just on the other side of the Fulton County line - has always had a handful of decent restaurants to go with its artsy downtown area. Now, however, they’re starting to move beyond “decent” and into “super duper” territory.

Last night we joined a few friends for dinner at Table & Main, one of the newer establishments in the heart of Roswell. It’s best described as New Southern with a continental touch, with a menu featuring items like sushi-grade ahi tuna and grits, venison shank osso buco, and - yes - fried chicken. And hanger steak, which may not be strictly Southern (unless you’re talking about the south of France), but really, who gives a crap? ’Cause it’s all good.

Charleston She-Crab Soup
Charleston She-Crab Soup with a drizzle of chili oil. Charlestonians wish they had soup this good.

There’s an emphasis on fresh, locally sourced ingredients, and a refreshing degree of focus... by which I mean, the kitchen and bar don’t try to be all things to all people. The bar, for example, zeroes in on American whiskeys: bourbon, rye, and their native brethren, including a few unusual items such as High West Western Oat Whiskey. (Next time I order it, I’m gonna ask for it in a Martini glass, garnished with a few raisins on a toothpick.)

High West Whiskeys
A tasty assortment of High West craft whiskeys from Park City, Utah.  Recommended by the Mormon Tipplenacle Choir.

The food was good. Really good. One of the small plates - Meatloaf Meatballs - consisted of three meatballs with a sweet and sour ketchup-based glaze. Stupendous. If I could get my hands on an entire meatloaf made of that stuff, I’d eat myself silly. Side dishes such as fried green tomatoes with a smoked tomato coulis, beets with Sweetgrass Dairy Li’l Moo and sherry vinaigrette, and Swiss chard with onion and garlic were all expertly prepared and composed - you could easily construct a meal from them.

This is the kind of place where you want to go with friends so you can trade bites and sample several different dishes... yet you won’t want to give away too many tastes of whatever is on your plate. The Southern fried chicken - I snagged a bite from Gary - was huge, perfectly prepared, and very flavorful, with a delightfully crunchy crust. Seared diver scallops had just the right briny sweetness. The venison shank was a bit dry in spots and could have used less salt, but these minor defects were offset by the creamy grits that accompanied it.

I normally try to avoid eating dessert after a meal of such face-stuffing magnitude, but I will confess to having inveigled Gary into sharing an order of the remarkably mousse-like chocolate pudding. Chocolatey but not overly dense, it was a fine coda to an excellent meal.

Did I mention the service? Our server, Susan, was helpful and utterly charming... and Ryan Pernice, the owner, stopped by to chat with me about some of the exotic whiskey selections in which I had evinced an interest.

Table & Main is a most welcome addition to the Roswell dining scene. We’ll be back for more.

Sunday, March 4, 2012


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...

tabula rasta [ta-bu-la ras-ta] (n) - A freshly-erased blackboard. From the Latin tabula (slate) and rasta (an adherent of the Rastafari religious movement).

“I know I’m weird, but I love the first day of school. There’s nothing like coming into a classroom with clean desks, new books, and a tabula rasta.”


I’m a reasonably voracious reader in the base case, but being in the Bloggy Community exposes me to all manner of writing. I’ve seen it all, from people who (as they say) shouldn’t quit their day jobs, to people who have serious writing talent.

Most people who write from a living don’t waste their time writing blogposts - John Birmingham, one of my favorite milskiffy authors, being a notable exception - yet there are plenty of bloggers who would love to be taken seriously as writers. Of those, a minuscule percentage of those probably deserve to be.

One blogger with serious writing talent is the one and only Velociman, whose semiautobiographical freshman effort A Trip of Goats is a seriocomic masterpiece. Tongue in cheek, I sometimes describe it as a sort of Holden Caulfield meets The Three Stooges affair, but that tends to undercut just how good a book I think it is. It would make a great screenplay for a Coen Brothers movie.

Another guy with Writing Chops is Eric, who, until recently, would post regularly at his Straight White Guy site. He hasn’t been writing much there lately, but he is one of a handful of Online Journalists who can turn a phrase in a way that can make me look at familiar things in new ways. I’m hoping he finds his Bloggy Muse again... but in the meantime, he’s in school honing his scribal talents. That’s a good thing.

Not all aspiring writers are bloggers, and that’s OK by me. I’m impressed by anybody who can summon up the sitzfleisch to write a novel, but I am especially in awe of anyone who finds the time to write one despite being burdened with a nine-to-five gig. Which brings me to the point of this blogpost.

S. H. McCord (who, incidentally, is not a blogger) is a full-time classroom teacher, a colleague of SWMBO’s, who has used his personal experiences, memories, and imagination as inspiration for his debut novel The Bones of Boulder Creek.

McCord manages to do something few authors are able to do convincingly: get inside the head of a middle-schooler. (Here he has an advantage: He is a middle-school teacher.)

The story is narrated by Chris, who, as so many of us do in middle school, tries to negotiate the tricky waters of these transitional years and carve out his niche in his circle of schoolmates, acquaintances and friends. He wants to be a Cool Guy, but he’s also still a kid, able to experience childlike joy, wonder, fear... and regret. Through his eyes, and the eyes of Nathan, his neighbor and friend, he sees how the adults that control so much of our world can be loving and supportive - or spiteful and misguided.

Nathan is his friend... but not quite. Nathan is weird and geeky, and Chris is reluctant to acknowledge their mutual friendship in the school setting. How many of us have known someone like Nathan - a nerdy sort we’re ashamed to be too closely associated with, the butt of all pranks and the target of bullies, yet blessed with amazing talents and a courageous heart?

And then there’s Hallie Kate, who rides the bus with Chris and Nathan. She loves them both, but unlike Chris, she is unashamed to stand up for Nathan.

The first stirrings of adolescent love. The appreciation of a prodigious talent. Making bad choices and regretting them afterwards. Dealing with pain and loss. Discovering the transcendent beauty of nature. McCord captures all of these and more in an insightful first novel that will make you think about the nature of true friendship... a bittersweet (but mostly sweet) memory of what it was like to be young. It’s pitched at the Young Adult audience, but it’s a book that any adult can enjoy. Go getcha a copy.

And did I mention that McCord wrote all of this despite having a day job? Yes, I did.


Spring appears to have arrived early this year. The buds are bloomin’ and the tornadoes are spinnin’... and it’s only the first week of March.

In like a lion, my aching ass.

This past Friday evening was more exciting than usual. Or desirable. All day we had been peppered by weather forecasts with varying degrees of Doom ’n’ Gloom, owing to there being an enormous outbreak of tornadoes across the midwest and southeast. It brought back unpleasant memories of last April 27, when gigantic storms cut huge swathes across Alabama and Georgia, demolishing entire towns.

We were enjoying Friday evening dinner with our friends Gary, JoAnn, Laura Belle (she of the recent surprise party), and Don. Not only was it Shabbat, it was also an especially auspicious occasion: Laura and Don’s thirty-third wedding anniversary.

By nine o’ clock, dinner had been consumed; the dessert and coffee portion of the proceedings was underway. That’s when the local weather reports began taking on the sort of frantic tone that indicated we might be in for some of that unwelcome excitement.

Tornado Night
Mike Francis, of local NBC affiliate WXIA, dispenses an alarming forecast.

What really got our attention was a report that a tornado was on the ground, complete with debris signature, chewing up downtown Marietta (about six miles west of us) and headed our way. As if on cue, that’s when the sirens started to sound.

When you start hearing the names of local streets in the midst of a tornado-related weather report, your sphincters tend to squinch up a bit. Even though the really bad stuff looked like it would swing north of us, things were starting to get scary. And given the notoriously capricious nature of these beasts, we decided that the prudent course of action was to hie ourselves to the nearest basement (at our house, a short drive away) and hide out. Which we did.

After several nervous minutes, we realized that the storm had passed us by. A little rain, no hail, and no serious wind. Another bullet dodged.

The next day, the main east-west thoroughfare was closed about 2.5 miles west of us. Numerous businesses just a mile west had had their signs blown away. Nothing too serious...

...but there were plenty of people in counties west of us who were not so lucky.

It’s the price of living in the southeast, I suppose. You get the most beautiful springtime on Gawd’s green earth, and along with it is the small (but nonzero) probability that you can get blown to kingdom come. In a small way, is that not the story of life?

Update: The National Weather Service confirmed that an EF1 tornado dropped down onto Roswell Road, staying on the ground for about a mile. This was roughly three miles west of here.

As tornadoes go, an EF1 is no big deal... unless your house happens to get nailed. Fortunately, most of the damage seems to have consisted of trees having been blown over... or snapped in half.

Huge pine trees in East Cobb Park - just three miles west of Chez Elisson - were snapped like matchsticks. Oy.
Anything with enough power to snap a tree with a trunk over a foot in diameter like a matchstick deserves a certain amount of respect, don’tcha think?


Just in case you’ve been wondering what Tastee Fudz have occupied the Elisson table lately, here’s what I’ve been up to in the kitchen these past few days.

Friday provided an excuse to bake yet another loaf of challah...

Challah 030212
This week’s challah.

I’m not sure how happy I am with Elder Daughter for having introduced me to the practice of baking challah for Shabbat dinner. The main problem is, it tastes too damn good. Especially when fresh out of the oven, it is way better than anything from a commercial bakery, with just a hint of honey providing a sweet counterpoint to its perfect eggy flavor.

Friday was also a good day for a mushroom omelette. Baby portabello mushrooms sautéed with shallots and smoked paprika, to be exact. Given that this baby is packed with fungus, Erica, the Wiseass Jooette, would call it an abomination. Breakfast (or lunch) of champions, I calls it.

Mushroom Omelette
Mushroom omelette. Some shallots and a little smoked paprika convert plain old mushrooms into Fungal Ambrosia.

Dessert? Glad you asked.

How about some pear ice cream with a salted caramel swirl?

Pear and Salted Caramel Ice Cream
Pear and salted caramel ice cream.

I had a metric buttload of Bosc pears left over after last week’s Costco expedition, and I wanted to do something useful with them before they turned into brown goo. My buddy Gary makes a perfectly delicious pear sorbet, but I wanted something with dairy in it, the better to complement the salted caramel sauce I had sitting around. The answer was in my old Chez Panisse Desserts cookbook. Swirling the salted caramel into the ice cream created a combination both delicate and decadent. I’m kinda sorry I did it, to be honest.

Update: From our Saturday evening repast, here’s a side dish to reckon with - fregola with zucchini, cacao nibs, and Parmesan. “WTF is fregola?” you ask, and I answer: It’s the Sardinian answer to Israeli couscous. Imagine pasta in the form of little beebee-like spheres. If it’s smooth, it’s Israeli couscous; if rough, it’s fregola.

Fregola with Zucchini and Cacao
Fregola with zucchini, cacao nibs, and Parmesan.

This is an adaptation of a recipe from Chocolate & Zucchini: Daily Adventures in a Parisian Kitchen, by Clotilde Dusoulier. Clotilde is the sweet genius behind the aptly named blog Chocolate and Zucchini, where most of the recipes include neither chocolate or zucchini. This one, nevertheless, manages to include both.

It’s easy enough to make, and you can use pretty much any kind of pasta. You just hack up an onion and sweat it down in olive oil with a few minced cloves of garlic, then add the pasta and sauté for a couple of minutes. Now add just enough hot chicken or vegetable broth to cover the pasta; cover and simmer, stirring occasionally, until the pasta has absorbed the broth. After five minutes, throw in some sliced-up zucchini and cook the whole mess until the pasta is done to the desired degree - about ten minutes. Hint: Al dente is better than mushy. If it’s not quite done and the broth has been completely absorbed, add a little more broth. To finish the dish, add a tablespoon or so of chopped, toasted cacao nibs and a liberal sprinkling of grated Parmigiano Reggiano. Yowza!

What have you been eating lately?


I was saddened to learn, somewhat belatedly, of the passing of Nardo, the last remaining member of “The Fab Fur,” Laurence Simon’s original gang of kitties.

It was not quite seven years ago when I first had the pleasure of meeting the Simon cats - Edloe, Nardo, Frisky, and Piper - in their very own domicile.

Those were sweet days. Matata still stalked the planet back then, and all was right with the world.

Alas, time marches on. Nothing is permanent, and the all-too-short lives of our Animal Companions will serve to remind us of this bitter fact when we refuse to admit it to ourselves. And now, the Fab Fur belong to the ages.

Ave atque vale, Nardo. May memories of good times with you - and the loving attention of Myst and Bruwyn - comfort Laurence and Gina.

The late, great Nardo receives a skritch from Yours Truly.

Friday, March 2, 2012


The iPod d’Elisson
The iPod d’Elisson.

I’ve been flogging this Friday Random Ten thing for over six years now, and despite the diminished frequency of my FRT posts, it’s still fun to trot it out once in a while. For me, anyway.

In case you’re new to all this, the Friday Random Ten is where I post a list of ten songs as coughed up by the iPod d’Elisson on the “shuffle” setting. Sometimes, if the mood strikes me, I’ll even throw in a lyric or two.

Amazingly enough, my old-school iPod still functions. Yes, I know the terms “iPod” and “old-school” look a bit ridiculous juxtaposed in a sentence, but bear with me: The iPod d’Elisson dates from the pre-video era. That’s right! A full twenty gigabytes of nuthin’ but music. There are 3,587 individual files on the thing, and room for plenty more.

The iPod has evolved since I purchased mine, but the essentials are the same: It’s an amazingly compact way to store and play music. Probably no single device gave a greater jump-start to the digital music revolution. And a tiny iPod Shuffle, about the size of a square of Ghirardelli chocolate, has been a comfort to Eli as he goes about the business of recovering from his stroke, since it gives him access to the music he loves.

Now, what’s on the box this week? Let’s take a look:

  1. Paradise del’ Anima Persa - J. Ralph

  2. Minnie the Moocher - Cab Calloway

    My Dad - Eli, hizzownself - used to sing this song to me and my brother when we were little. “She was the roughest, toughest frail, but Minnie had a heart as big as a whale.”

  3. Evaporated - Ben Folds Five

  4. Time of the Season - The Zombies

  5. Sea to Sea - Matisyahu

  6. Act I, Scene 2: I Can’t Talk Very Well - John Adams, Nixon in China

  7. The Last of the Arkansas Greyhounds - Leo Kottke

    From the legendary 6 & 12 String Guitar album... which I have in both digital form and in the original vinyl.

  8. Mr. P.C. - John Coltrane

  9. Kuvernöörin tytär - Tuomari Nurmio & Alamaailman Vasarat

  10. You Got To Know How - Bonnie Raitt

It’s Friday. What are you listening to?