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

Sunday, April 29, 2012


Beach Boys at Chastain
The Beach Boys bring the (overwhelmingly white and sixtyish) crowd to its feet at the Chastain Park Amphitheatre.

For the second time in two days (!), I exercised my Nostalgia Muscles by seeing a venerable Rock Act perform.  Thursday it was Greg Lake of King Crimson and Emerson, Lake & Palmer fame; last night it was the Beach Boys.

Yes, the Beach Boys.  This tour is being billed as the 50th Anniversary Tour, perfectly reasonable when you realize that the band has been around since (gasp!) 1961.  Which makes pretty much all of the surviving members Old Goats.  Like me, but even older.

It is impossible to think of American rock music without considering the Beach Boys, whose amazingly successful (and long-lived) career spans the genres of surf music, psychedelia, and good old American pop.  The band has survived the deaths of both Dennis and Carl Wilson as well as the drug-fueled mental health issues that bedeviled their brother Brian for years.

The Beach Boys were already Old Hat - at least to me - when they released their Surf’s Up album in 1971.  A smart-ass college sophomore, I declined the opportunity to see them perform at the time: I thought them a bunch of superannuated surf music bozos.  A fat lot I knew.

By the time I actually saw them perform live - at a concert at Allen Park in Houston - it was 1991.  Even then, I wouldn’t have paid coin of the realm to see them, but the price (free) was right.  And with the Missus and our two daughters in tow, we sat down and enjoyed an amazing, nostalgia-soaked performance.  What American, after all, is not familiar with great chunks of the Beach Boys oeuvre?  Put a random listing of their songs up on a dartboard; any random dart will land on a Top Ten hit.  More to the point, the Beach Boys have been cranking out their distinctive sounds since right around the time people my age were becoming aware of music.  To paraphrase the late, great Dick Clark, if music is the soundtrack of our lives, then you can hear Beach Boys tunes in the background of the Baby Boom Generational Movie from shortly after the opening shots until the end credits.

Last night at the Chastain Park Amphitheater, the Boys showed that they still have it - whatever “it” is.  They played with reasonable precision (and a host of back-up musicians) and in good voice.  And even if Brian would be just a skosh off-key once in a while, who gave a shit?  This was Brian fucking Wilson, one of the most brilliant musical minds of the last half-century, back playing with the group for the first time in over two decades... as if he had never been away.

Agewise, the Chastain crowd was roughly the same as the people who saw Greg Lake at the Variety: a veritable mob of silverbacks.  But there all similarity ended.  The Variety caters to a bohemian clientele, located as it is in Little Five Points, AKA Urban Hipsterville.  But events at Chastain draw their audience from Buckhead and other affluent areas surrounding the park, and so there is a decidedly different vibe.  Combine this with the fact that we’re talking about the Beach Boys, which goes a long way toward explaining the large percentage of ruppies (retired urban professionals) sporting Hawaiian shirts - and the almost total lack of People of Color.

The difference is amplified by the fact that Chastain offers a considerable amount of table seating, and so picnicking - often quite upscale - is part of the experience.  It’s not unknown for people to bring fine linen, crystal, candelabras, and Champagne.  Our little group managed to score a table at the right of the stage, where we enjoyed a repast that included a delightful antipasto assortment; sautéed zucchini, baby Vidalia onions, and mushrooms; Bartimus Magnificus’s excellent barbecued ribs; a crisp cucumber, avocado, and olive salad; and liberal amounts of wine, vodka, beer, and seltzer.  For dessert?  A thoroughly indecent home-baked chocolate babka.  Good Gawd.

The music?  Ahh, there was plenty of that... and almost all of it thoroughly familiar.  After all, these guys have been around for awhile.  Here’s what they played:

Do It Again; Catch a Wave; Don’t Back Down; Surfin’ Safari; Surfer Girl; The Little Girl I Once Knew; Wendy; Then I Kissed Her; You’re So Good to Me; Why Do Fools Fall in Love (Frankie Lymon & the Teenagers cover); When I Grow Up; Cotton Fields (Leadbelly cover); Be True to Your School; Disney Girls; Please Let Me Wonder; Don’t Worry Baby; Little Honda; Little Deuce Coupe; 409; Shut Down; I Get Around; California Dreamin’ (The Mamas & the Papas cover); Sloop John B; Wouldn’t It Be Nice; Sail on, Sailor; Forever; Heroes and Villains; In My Room; All This Is That; God Only Knows; That’s Why God Made the Radio; California Girls; All Summer Long; Help Me, Rhonda; Rock ’n’ Roll Music (Chuck Berry cover); Do You Wanna Dance? (Bobby Freeman cover); Barbara Ann (The Regents cover); Surfin’ USA

Kokomo; Good Vibrations; Fun Fun Fun

If you don’t recognize at least half of these songs, you are either (1) under twenty years old, or (2) you’ve been living under a rock for the past half-century.  Even if the Beach Boys are not your cup of tea, their impact on American pop culture is far and away too big to ignore.  Hell, even the Beatles - whose Rubber Soul was a major inspiration for the Beach Boys’ groundbreaking Pet Sounds album - acknowledged that Pet Sounds, in turn, was a significant influence on Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.

I suppose if I had been aware of all this when I was a smart-ass college sophomore, I might have gone to see the Boys perform back then in 1971.  It would have cost all of - what? - three bucks.  Five, max.  And it would have been money well spent.  Who would imagine that they’d still be around for us to catch their act over forty years later?

Saturday, April 28, 2012


It’s not often that a major American newspaper publishes a front-page article that deals with the minutiae of Jewish practice, but the Wall Street Journal did exactly that this past Thursday with their piece on lifting Torah scrolls.

By way of background, Jewish practice calls for public readings of selections from the Five Books of Moses - the Torah - on Mondays, Thursdays, Saturdays, festivals (Pesach, Shavuot, and Sukkot), and other holidays.  These readings must be chanted from a scroll painstakingly handwritten by a highly trained scribe on kosher parchment - a plain old printed book simply won’t do.  Making the process even more challenging is the fact that the scrolls do not contain any punctuation, vowels, or cantillation notes, so the reader must study the text in advance in order to do it properly.

At the conclusion of the reading, the scroll must be lifted from its position flat on the reading table, held up before the congregation so that three columns of words are clearly visible, and then rolled up and dressed in its belt and mantle.  That’s where the fun begins.  One person (the magbiah) does the lifting; another (the golel) does the rolling and dressing.

The WSJ article correctly notes that the scrolls are heavy, often weighing more than thirty pounds.  But the weight is not the issue.  It’s the fact that you’re lifting a sacred object - one that, owing to the fact that it consists of parchment wound onto wooden spindles, is notoriously unwieldy and tricky to handle.  And the penalty for screwing up and actually dropping the scroll is severe: Not only must you bear the humiliation of having desecrated the central religious object of Judaism in front of the whole congregation (a humiliation so intense that SWMBO invented her own word for it - Fu Na), but you and anyone who witnessed the scroll’s fall must fast for forty days.

You do NOT want this to happen.  Especially on Yom Kippur, when people are having enough fun dealing with a single day of food-avoidance.

I have plenty of experience with this business of scroll-liftage (in Hebrew, hagbah - or, more properly, hagbaha), given my regular role as gabbai at both weekday and Shabbat services at our synagogue.  I’m the guy who stands next to the reader and calls up the people who receive honors; recites certain special blessings; and corrects the reader in the event he or she makes a mistake.  And I am perfectly capable of serving as Scroll-Lifter when the occasion requires.

Lifting a Torah scroll can be likened to lovemaking: Technique trumps brute strength.  And from my spot by the side of the reader’s table, I can tell right off the bat when I’m dealing with an inexperienced magbiah... an unusual situation but one that unfortunately comes along once in a while.

The key is to bend the knees and use the edge of the reading table to provide the leverage needed to bring the scroll to the perpendicular position - straight up and down.  (If you try to simply lift the scroll by using wrist power alone, not only will you be in trouble, but you’ll be placing unnecessary stress on the wooden spindles... and a cracked spindle is not fun to deal with.)  Then, all you have to do is lift and separate, keeping the spindles the proper distance apart and maintaining tension on the scroll.

What’s the proper distance?  Wide enough so that three columns of text are visible.  You can, if you wish, show everyone what a testosterone-fueled shtarker you are and display a full ten columns, but that is contemptible.  Nobody loves a show-off.

Hagbah.  It’s less complicated than it seems, but it’s daunting because you don’t want to mess this one up.   (Even if your local rabbi lets you substitute charitable acts for the forty days of sunrise-to-sunset fasting.)

Friday, April 27, 2012


When I was seventeen
It was a very good year
It was a good year for small-town girls
And soft summer nights
We´d hide from the lights
On the village green
When I was seventeen...

...But now the days grow short
 In the autumn of the year
And now I think of my life
As vintage wine from fine old kegs
From the brim to the dregs
And it poured sweet and clear
It was a very good year

- excerpted from Ervin Drake’s “It Was a Very Good Year” - a song made famous by Frank Sinatra.

A Study in Beige
The birthday girl.

Hakuna turns seventeen today.

She may be elderly as far as the Kitty-Calendar is concerned, but she still chases the laser mouse with the eager zeal of a kitten.

Happy birthday, Koonie!


Greg Lake
An avuncular Greg Lake on stage in Llandano, Wales - 2005.  Image courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

Last night I went to see a Rock Legend perform at the Variety Playhouse: none other than Greg Lake.  Lake provided the voice and bass guitar for King Crimson in the late 1960’s; he is best known as the guitarist, bass player, vocalist, and (sometimes) producer of Emerson, Lake & Palmer.

Esteemed Readers of a certain age will remember ELP fondly.  A prog-rock group that borrowed heavily from the classics, their distinctive sound owed a lot to both Lake’s vocals and Emerson’s Moog synthesizer stylings.  I first heard of them shortly after their eponymous debut album was released in late 1970, and was a regular listener.  Even today, I can get a nostalgic thrill from listening to their Tarkus and Trilogy albums.

But there is something strange - and more than a little bittersweet - about seeing someone perform some forty years after he created the music you remember.

First, there was Lake himself, who looked less like a rock legend and more like a sandy-haired Buddy Hackett - at least, that was the observation of Bartimus Magnificus.  Downright portly and avuncular, he was.  And yet his voice was still identifiably his own, despite some age-related loss of range - if you closed your eyes, you could imagine you were listening to an ELP show back in the day.  Kinda sorta.

As for the audience, it was a veritabobble sea of shiny pates that could have been a stunt double for a Male Pattern Baldness convention.  Old guys.  Guys like me.  And Greg Lake knew his customers, spending plenty of time telling stories and answering audience questions about his journey from young sniveller to Avuncular Guitar Man... a journey shared by all of us codgers in the crowd.  Except, you know, for the Rock Legend part.

Back-up musicians there were none.  Lake played his guitar and sang the old, familiar songs with a prerecorded background trrack.  It was weird and a little disconcerting, almost as though we had stumbled into a high-rent karaoke session.

As I watched the performance, I had a nagging thought that kept recirculating in my head about, of all things, stereoscopic vision.  We see our world in three dimensions because our brains are able to fuse two separate images - those seen by the left and right eyes - into a coherent whole.  But I wondered, what if our normal fields of vision - left and right - were replaced by past and present?  What if the left eye delivered an image of Greg Lake as he was when he was a newly-famous twenty-two-year-old kid singing “In the Court of the Crimson King,” while the right eye saw the Greg Lake of today?  I looked through each eye one at a time, over and over, imagining the alternation between Young Greg and Old Greg and wondering how my brain could fuse those two images to create that strange Time Stereo Vision... and I realized that that was exactly what each one of us in the audience was doing.  Fusing the old and new in our minds to make a coherent picture.  Or trying to, at any rate.

It’s easier with some performers than with others.  McCartney, for example, looks and sounds enough like his old self to enable the Time Stereo to work pretty well.  Roger Daltrey, not so much.

Makes you wonder, though.  In twenty or thirty years time, when our children and grandkids come to visit us in our quarters at the Nursing Home, will they be playing Tarkus over the P.A.? 

Wednesday, April 25, 2012


In a few weeks, I’ll be headed to Birmingham - that’s the one in Alabama, not Old Blighty - to compete in the third annual “When Pigs Fly” Kosher BBQ Cook-Off.

Pigs and barbecue have a long and honorable history, but if you’re going to pay attention to the ancient laws of kashruth, you will not be involving any of the flesh of the swine.  Beef is what’s for dinner.  In the instant case, it will be kosher beef brisket and ribs, all happily provided by the main event sponsor, Piggly Wiggly.

Yes, Piggly Wiggly.

Moshe Ribeinu Team
“Thou shalt love our barbecue with all your heart...” The award-winning Moshe Ribeinu team at last year’s kosher BBQ cook-off in Birmingham. Pictured (L to R): Hank, Barry, Job Johnny, Elisson, and Bartimus Magnificus.

I have competed in both previous When Pigs Fly events - the last time as captain of the Moshe Ribeinu team - and both times our team has brought back glory, honor, and trophies.  For this, I can credit my worthy teammates - but most of the credit must go to Billie Bob, my worthy and esteemed father-in-law of blessèd memory.  It was he, you see, who introduced me to the legend, lore, and technique of honest-to-Gawd Texas barbecue, a gift of immeasurable worth, second in value only to the hand of his daughter.

Like many of us who spent our formative years in the frozen wastes of the North, I associated the term “barbecue” with hamburgers and hot dogs grilled over a hot charcoal fire. But that’s not barbecue; that’s grilling. An honorable cooking technique, to be sure, but one more suited to meat patties, sausages, and steaks, all of which respond well to a short burst of searingly high temperatures. Barbecuing, though, is a whole ’nuther thing, involving spice rubs, relatively low heat, and wood smoke. It’s a slow, drawn-out process, but one that is far more suitable to tougher, larger chunks of protein.

Wherever barbecue lovers congregate, there will be inevitable discussion about technique and protein preference. These discussions, being that they concern matters of style that are held in people’s hearts with religious fervor, can rise to the level of outright warfare. Many of the differences are regional: the Southeast, Memphis, Kansas City, the Carolinas all have their own strongly held opinions concerning sauce composition and consistency, cooking techniques, and meat. But being that Billie Bob (and, consequently, the Missus) hailed from Texas, that needs must be where my barbecue allegiance lies.

In Texas, barbecue is all about the beef.  A pig is considered too dinky to be worthy of the great barbecue pits of Texas, even be it a thousand-pound bull hog.  No: In Texas, if you want to throw a slab of meat upon the smoker, that meat had best be beef.  Anything else would just be Faux ’Cue.

That gives anyone with a background in Texas jiggery-smokery a huge advantage in a kosher BBQ cook-off.  And with Billie Bob’s secret rub recipe in hand, we are - not to be too cocky about it - invincible.

Today is Billie Bob’s yahrzeit - the anniversary of his passing on to the Next World.  He has been gone for twenty-six years, alas.  Bill never got to see his younger son get married or meet his youngest two grandchildren, nor was he able to celebrate his elder granddaughters’ b’not mitzvah and college graduations with us.

And yet, whenever I place a perfectly seasoned hunk of brisket on the smoker, I know he is with us in spirit if not in body. 

Billie Bob
The late, great Billie Bob. Photograph taken circa 1946.

Update: Avrumel - the elder of SWMBO’s two brothers - has posted his own tribute here, providing a different perspective on this wonderful man. Go thou and read.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012


Yesterday morning the air was uncharacteristically brisk.  After weeks of unseasonably warm weather, the mercury had dipped back down into the upper 40’s, almost as if to remind us that it was still early spring and that summer had not arrived quite yet.

It was a perfect morning to go walkabout.

For Australian aboriginal folk, walkabout is a sort of rite of passage in which one would go off and wander the bush for several months.  Presumably there is a spiritual dimension: Walkabout, beyond being an impromptu vacation of undefined length, provides an opportunity to trace one’s ancestral journeys.   But I have appropriated the term to refer to a ritual practiced by us Red Sea Pedestrians to mark the end of the seven-day (shiva) mourning period.

Barney, one of the Minyan Boyz, had had the sad task of burying Ellen, his wife of fifty-one years, the week before.  I had been there at the funeral along with many of our morning minyan regulars, each of us taking a turn with the shovel and helping tuck Ellen in for her forever sleep.  It was a sad occasion made even more heartbreaking by the fact that both Ellen and Barney had had to perform that same ritual for their daughter just over a year ago.

Jewish practice calls for a mourner to spend the first seven days of the bereavement period at home, there to be comforted by friends and family.  Worship services are held at the mourner’s home with a quorum of ten adults present - a minyan - so that the mourner can recite Kaddish, the doxology with which a Jew praises the name of the Eternal One despite having suffered the loss of a loved one.

When the seven-day period is over, it is a tradition of long standing that the mourner take a walk around the neighborhood, accompanied by friends and family.  It’s a way to announce to the world at large that the first phase of the mourning process has been completed; the mourner is now ready to take the first gingerly steps toward resuming routine life.  For life, as we know, goes on.

Monday morning marked Barney’s first day at the synagogue following the end of shiva.  He would continue to make daily visits for the next twenty-three days, saying Kaddish for Ellen every day for the thirty day period of mourning that is prescribed for a spouse.  But to mark the end of shiva, we all joined him for a circuit of the synagogue on foot.  Walkabout, Jewish-style.  It was our way to welcome him back to the daily minyan - and back to the world of the living.

Friday, April 20, 2012


Four years ago, Elder Daughter and I had just returned from a whirlwind ten-day trip to Japan.

One of the memorable places we visited was Kyoto, an ancient city that can fairly be said to be the cultural and religious heart of the country.  You can spend a lifetime exploring Kyoto and trying to fathom the inscrutable depths of its cultural life... but if you want to understand the place even on a superficial level, you have to learn to love matcha, the finely powdered, delicately flavored green tea that finds its highest expression in the cha-no-yu, the traditional Japanese tea ceremony.

It would be crude - but accurate - to say that matcha is to Lipton as 1945 Château Lafite-Rothschild is to Mad Dog 20-20.  They are both plant-based agricultural products, but one is a lowest-common-denominator affair, the other the pinnacle of a nation’s cultural expression.  (Guess which is which.)

While it would be a sin to make a coq au vin with a bottle of that Lafite-Rothschild, matcha finds its way into all manner of confections... and nowhere more than in Kyoto and its environs.  All manner of cakes, candies, ice creams, and beverages have green tea powder thrown at them.  Green tea Kit-Kats?  Sure, why not?  Green tea ice cream?  Of course!

Given my love of things containing matcha, it was only a matter of time before I discovered these:

Matcha Shortbread Cookies
Matcha Shortbread Cookies!

The recipe, which I stumbled upon in the course of a simple Google search, comes from one of my favorite food blogs, Clotilde Dusoulier’s Chocolate & Zucchini. It’s a fairly uncomplicated shortbread, kicked up with the addition of almond meal... and that all-important matcha. As soon as I saw Clotilde’s photo of those jewel-like, pale green cookies, I knew I had to crank out a batch of my own. So I did.

My only problem now is how to keep myself from snarfing down the entire lot of ’em in one sitting.


The iPod d’Elisson
The iPod d’Elisson.

It’s Friday yet again, which means it’s time for my more-or-less weekly Collection o’ Choons as spewed forth at random by the iPod d’Elisson. Let’s take a listen:
  1. Eden She Is Dead - Aaron Thompson

  2. I Might Be Wrong - Radiohead

  3. Golden Slumbers - The Beatles

  4. Heroin - The Velvet Underground

  5. I Am Yours - Derek and the Dominos

  6. Catholic Girls - Frank Zappa

  7. Into The Mystic - Van Morrison

    We were born before the wind
    Also younger than the sun
    Ere the bonnie boat was won
    As we sailed into the mystic
    Hark now, hear the sailors cry
    Smell the sea and feel the sky
    Let your soul and spirit fly
    Into the mystic

    And when that foghorn blows
    I will be coming home
    And when the foghorn blows
    I want to hear it
    I don’t have to fear it

    And I want to rock your gypsy soul
    Just like way back in the days of old
    And magnificently we will flow
    Iinto the mystic

    When that foghorn blows
    You know I will be coming home
    And when that foghorn whistle blows
    I got to hear it
    I don’t have to fear it

    And I want to rock your gypsy soul
    Just like way back in the days of old
    And together we will flow
    Into the mystic
    Come on girl...
    Too late to stop now...

  8. Yellow Fellow - Ahmad Jamal

  9. Dirty Work - Steely Dan

  10. Jää, Hyvä Mieli - Alamaailman Vasarat

    My favorite Finnish avant-garde klezmer-wacko-funky-punky band.
It’s Friday. What are you listening to?

Thursday, April 19, 2012


Shoah Memorial Plaque at Etz Chaim Of all the faculties of the human mind that distinguish us from the other animals, the one that holds the greatest potential to cause both suffering and joy is the ability to remember.

Today is Yom ha-Shoah: Holocaust Memorial Day. May we never forget.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012


Dick Clark
Dick Clark, 1929-2012. Photo from Collectiblog.

The Ball o’ Doom has finally dropped for Dick Clark, one of the icons of American television, who was just carried off by a coronary infarct at the age of 82.

Clark once famously said that “music is the soundtrack of your life.” He parlayed his prodigious ability to figure out what people wanted as their personal soundtracks and then to sell it to them into a media empire spanning television, film, and music.

Older Americans will remember his appearances on American Bandstand, which he hosted beginning in 1956 until the show’s demise in 1989. Think of it as an earlier, whiter version of Soul Train. But it was Clark’s nearly four-decades-long stint as host of Dick Clark’s New Year’s Rockin’ Eve that made him a small-screen legend in the eyes of most Americans alive today. Since 1974, it hasn’t ever felt like a proper New Year’s Eve unless we were watching Dick Clark narrate the goings-on as the ball dropped in Times Square.

Dick Clark, for so many years, was ageless. Literally: The man appeared to not age, which along with his natural ebullience and Rock ’n’ Roll Rep helped earn himself the sobriquet “The World’s Oldest Teenager.” Many speculated that Clark’s preternatural youth was either the result of mysterious injections of monkey gland extracts, or of having made a dark pact with Old Scratch.

But Clark’s seeming agelessness was, alas, an illusion. He suffered a stroke in 2004 that left his speaking voice permanently impaired and prevented him from hosting the show in 2005. Largely owing to popular sentiment, he returned to the host’s chair the following year... but you could tell how much time - and the stroke - had changed him.

Now he belongs to the ages. We can only speculate that the Heavenly Hosts are, even as I write this, rockin’ out to that old Top 40 beat, with Dick spinning those platters and smiling his trademark teenage smile on World to Come Bandstand.

Ave atque vale, Dick Clark!

[Tip o’ th ’ Elisson fedora to the Curmudgeonly Superannuated Paraplegic, who alerted me to Mr. Clark’s demise.]

Tuesday, April 17, 2012


Shrimp on Shmurah Matzoh

...on so many levels.

Compared to this, a bacon and cheese bagel is practically reasonable.

Monday, April 16, 2012


Listen! Listen! Cat’s pissin’!
Where? Where? Under the chair!
Run! Run! Get the gun!
Too late! He’s all done!

I’m not sure why, when I was in my tender Snot-Nose Years, my daddy - Eli, Hizzownself - would regale me with silly little tunes having to do with the excretory behaviors of household animal companions, but, well, there you are.

Urinating felines, of course, deserve especial opprobium, whether in song or in real life. This is because, as everyone knows, there are few things stinkier than cat piss. It’s even funkier than French washed-rind cheeses.

Cat piss is not a problem hereabouts, thanks to our cat’s inherent proclivity to urinate in a litter-filled box. This localizes matters and provides effective containment; further, our use of deodorant-laced clumping litter quickly converts any excreta to neutral boulders of what I call cacacrete.

When you travel long distances with a pet, however, you have to wonder. Will the little beast maintain bowel and bladder discipline? Over the course of a seventeen-hour car trip, will things get... messy? This was the question facing me and the Mistress of Sarcasm as we faced two - count ’em! - lengthy road trips between the Northeast and Atlanta within these past few weeks, with Bernadette Catstro, her beloved kitty, accompanying us.

We had the requisite hard-shell cat carrier, along with a portable litter box that fit neatly on the floor of the back seat of the Mistressmobile. You could say we were ready in the event pish came to shove.

Bernadette, for her part, is a wonderful traveler. She is content to sit in her carrier and snooze for hours at a stretch. She is quiet, never yowling or complaining, never making herself obnoxious. And when we let her out of the carrier to stretch her legs - 99% of the time we’re on the road - she is happy to find a convenient lap in which to park herself.

Lap-Sleepin’ Bernie

Somehow, the pish issue never came up. I suspect the creature is part camel.

Dashboard Bernie

Or part dashboard ornament. (No, she wasn’t permitted to sit there for more than a few seconds.)

Both Bernadette and the Mistress of Sarcasm are back home in Connecticut now. We miss them already. I suspect Hakuna does not share our feelings... at least as regards Bernadette.

Friday, April 13, 2012


Matzoh Brickle Matzoh Brickle - chocolate- and toffee-covered Unleavened Bread - converted into an impromptu birthday cake for our friend JoAnn by the addition of a candle.

On the seventh day, God rested from the work of Creation - at least, so it says in the Scriptures. But on the seventh day of Passover, we Red Sea Pedestrians are still scarfing down our unleavened bread... or at least refraining from enjoying the regular Puffy Stuff.

I actually don’t mind eating matzoh all that much. By itself, it’s a bit bland and boring - but then again, so is Melba toast, the dieter’s mainstay half a century ago. Properly adorned with salted butter or perhaps a thin veil of smoked fish, it’s really an excellent neutral backdrop for whatever sits upon it. It is all too easy for me to go through half a box of matzoh by simply buttering the pieces one by one, shoving them into my face as I read the paper.

Here’s the thing about matzoh. Like the Israelis, it suffers from adverse publicity, mostly unjustified. The most popular slam is that eating matzoh for a full eight days will completely lock down your colon: according to the well-worn joke, when Moses said “Let my people go!” he was not asking Pharaoh for permission to leave; rather, he was begging the Almighty for a bit of bowelly relief for his matzoh munching peeps. But that is a base canard. My own experience says that the Unleavened Breadstuff is no more (or less) constipating than an equivalent amount of normal bread. The problem is, it’s easy to eat way more of it than you intend to. An adequate intake of liquids and veggies will protect against, err, ahhh, difficulties in this sensitive area.

The main legitimate beef one could have with matzoh is its extreme friability: Nothing on God’s green earth generates crumbs more efficiently than eating - or merely handling - matzoh. For eight days, we have to put up with a snowstorm of matzoh particles. They are everywhere, and there is no avoiding them.

Aside from the matzoh-crumb issue, the only tricky part about Passover is that it lasts for eight days. [That’s here in the Diaspora - in Israel, it’s seven days just like in the Scriptures.] Avoiding chametz - leaven - in its myriad forms becomes a bit of a challenge, one that requires a certain amount of discipline. I mean, think about it: no Scotch whisky (or beer, or any grain-based alcohol) for eight full days. If that’s not discipline, what is?

That said, there’s a lot to be said for exercising a bit of personal discipline now and again. The first few days of the holiday, I’m still in Novelty Mode, enjoying the foods unique to Passover. By the time Day Seven rolls around, though, the novelty has worn off; only the self-discipline is left. I back off from bread, recoil from rolls, pass on the pizza. I can do this. I am not a victim of celiac disorder; this is only a temporary denial. Whiskey will wait until I am ready for it again. (That’d be sundown tomorrow.)

The seventh day has its own little joys. We chant the Song at the Sea, that dramatic, celebratory poem in the Book of Exodus, and envision what it must have been like to be present at our ancestors’ deliverance from bondage. And, like Sarah Palin seeing a far-away Russia from her living room window, we get a glimpse of the end of the holiday, a mere day-and-a-half away, when life returns to its normal rhythms... along with our diets.

Meanwhile, I am still up to no good. I’ve just cranked out a batch of chocolate- and toffee-covered matzoh. Anyone care for a chunk?

Saturday, April 7, 2012


Resting Place
Thomas Kinkade’s final resting place... as he might have painted it.

Thomas Kinkade, the self-styled Painter of Light, has now found permanent residence in a Dark Place at the age of 54.

Kinkade specialized in art that portrayed rustic stone cottages, grassy meadows, streams, country gardens, wooden bridges, lighthouses, and churches, all bathed in his signature Cozmik Glow™. It’s work that has a certain undeniable appeal... to the same sort of people who collect paintings of sad-eyed clowns and puppies, or who make their living selecting things to hang on the wall of the local Holiday Inn. And given his huge commercial success, there must be a whole lot of those folks out there.

I’ve written about Mr. Kinkade before, but to be honest, I did not expect that I would be dealing with Matters Obituary quite this soon.

Perhaps in the World to Come, Tom Kinkade and Bob Ross can paint glowing happy trees together while the shade of Vincent van Gogh gnashes his teeth enviously. Despite the tens of millions of dollars each one of van Gogh’s canvases fetches today, he never enjoyed any of those Big Bucks in his own lifetime, alas... unlike the prolific and crowd-pleasing Kinkade.

My only question: Will the place to which Good Painter Tom is headed be bathed in its own, err, ahhh... warm glow?

Friday, April 6, 2012


The things I learn on the Internets...

Thanks to my buddy Big Stupid Tommy, I learned of a bit of a set-to in Old Blighty, the kind of thing that ends up in the police blotter section of the local fishwrap. Which indeed this did.

Seems that a young woman came home to find her friend on the sofa with another friend, in “About To Do the Nasty” position. When she objected, her friends beat the crap out of her, maiming her face. Taking a spanner to the eye socket will do that.

It was the headline that sold me. Checkit:

Gravy-wrestling model suffers horrific facial injuries after being hit with monkey wrench when she interrupted a friend having sex

Read it all. Seriously.

Gotta give the Brits props for their Mad Headline Writing Skillz... as well as for their legal system’s handling of this horrific crime, a crime committed against a young, lovely, champion gravy wrestler.

Roll that phrase around on your tongue a few times. “Champion Gravy Wrestler.” Tasty, innit?


Today is Erev Pesach, the eve of the Passover festival. Beginning at sundown this evening, observant Jews will begin an eight-day abstention from breadstuffs of all kind, a commemoration of the hurried departure of the Israelites from Egypt.

Just as some of our Christian friends bid a temporary farewell to meat at the beginning of Lent - the term “Carnival” or “Carnevale” literally means “Goodbye, Meat” - we eschew bread for the duration of Passover. Which means today is Panevale.

Pesach celebrates the singular event that defined the Jewish people as a nation, the journey from slavery to freedom. Later, the giving of the Law at Mount Sinai would provide the religious underpinnings of the nation - the brain, if you will - but it is the Exodus that gave us our heart.

We are admonished in the Torah (Exodus 23:9) that “...you must not oppress a stranger; you know the soul of a stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.” It should be no surprise that Jews have been champions of social justice for millennia, for our historical experience uniquely positions us to have rachmones - compassion - for the downtrodden.

It is a tradition that firstborn males fast today on account of having been spared from suffering the fate of the firstborn Egyptians who were struck down in the tenth plague. To avoid this requirement, one must attend a study session during which a complete tractate of Talmud is completed, a Siyyum, an occasion that is celebrated with a meal. Our rabbi conveniently tacks on a Siyyum to the end of morning services for this purpose.

Today’s tractate was Masekhet Keritot, six chapters dealing with commandments for which the penalty is karet (spiritual excision) as well as the sacrifices associated with their (mostly unwitting) transgression. The specifics concerning sacrifices are still meaningful despite the absence of a Temple and its associated sacrificial cult, mainly because they speak to degrees of culpability: If you do wrong deliberately, the penalty is more severe than if you do wrong unwittingly. Nevertheless, there is a certain Monty Pythonesque element to some of these rabbinic formulations, and even our rabbi acknowledged having had a few good laughs while preparing for the day’s study session.

To our Jewish friends, a sweet Pesach - and to our Christian neighbors and friends, happy Easter.


Bernadette in the Sunroom
Bernadette relaxes in the sunroom at Chez Elisson.

What with the Mistress of Sarcasm spending a couple of weeks with us here in the Deep Souf, it was entirely appropriate that Bernadette Catstro accompany her. The idea of leaving Bernie all alone in the wilds of Falls Village, Connecticut was not considered for even a moment.

Bernadette is a seasoned traveler. She endured the seventeen-hour drive down from New York last week with nary a peep of complaint. Upon arrival here at Chez Elisson, she settled in as though she had lived here before. Which, in fact, she had.

We still take pains to keep her away from Hakuna: The resident kitty here does not play well with others. But that is easily done with a few strategically closed doors.

While she explores the house, Bernadette likes to keep mostly to herself. But there are times that she will trot out Teh Cuddly... and those times are oh, so sweet.

Cuddly Bernadette

Thursday, April 5, 2012


Bridge at Amen Corner
Stone bridge at Amen Corner, one of the iconic sights at Augusta National.

It’s Holy Week in Georgia.

The fact that it is the week between Palm Sunday and Easter is completely irrelevant. That is mere coincidence this year. No: In Georgia, Holy Week is the week preceding the second Sunday of April. For that is the week of the Masters Tournament at Augusta National Golf Club, the sanctum sanctorum of the golf world.

The festivities begin on Monday with three days of practice, including a beloved Par Three contest Wednesday afternoon. The tournament proper kicks off Thursday morning, four consecutive days - seventy-two holes - of golf as played by the finest practitioners of the sport.

Yesterday, I trod the hallowed fairways of Augusta National for the first time in nineteen years. My friend Gary had scored practice round tickets in Augusta National’s lottery; when he invited me to join him, there was no way I could decline. There is no other major sports event that offers spectators the chance to be in such close proximity to the players, and there is no other sports event that takes place in such exalted surroundings.

I had been to the Masters twice before, in both 1992 and 1993, with She Who Must Be Obeyed accompanying me the second time. Both times were at the invitation of a corporate customer, and both involved the entire four days of tournament play. Logistics were simple, owing to our having been lodged at a house within convenient walking distance of the course. This time was different, a one-day affair with an early-morning departure from our home precincts in Atlanta.

Tiger Woods Diptych
Tiger practices his greenside manner at Number Fourteen.

The practice rounds at The Masters are very different from tournament play. For one thing, the players really are there to practice, so they often will hit several shots from tee, fairway, or greenside locations. They will practice putting from several spots on the greens. And they will exchange the occasional bon mot with the patrons, something that happens much less frequently in the laser-intense focus of competition.

High Five
Short course, shorter caddies: the Par Three contest is a crowd-pleaser.

The Par Three tourney, held on a separate nine-hole short course, provides additional entertainment, with several players bringing their children to caddy or provide “Awwww, how cute!” moments. And on Hole Sixteen of the main course - a par-three with a lake covering the entire span between tee and green - a favorite tradition is for players to skip tee shots across the surface of the lake right onto the green. Martin Kaymer managed to ace the hole on Monday doing just that.

Skip Shot

Patrons are not permitted to bring cameras during the tournament proper, but that rule is not in force on practice days. As a result, virtually everybody has some sort of photographic apparatus in hand - a notable exception being cell phones, which are absolutely verboten at all times. Between the course and the players, there’s more than enough shutter-fodder. It is, perhaps, a small compensation for the absence of competitive play.

There’s a lot to love about The Masters besides the world-class field of competitors and the gorgeous surroundings. The patrons are well-behaved and polite, and there is none of the logo-bespattered merchandising one sees at every other golf tournament. Except for the commercial logos on the players’ bags and apparel, there is nought to be seen but the familiar Masters emblem and brand, on everything from the multitudinous variety of Golfy Swag to the very Moon-Pies and chips at the concession stand. And, remarkably enough, prices for swag and food are quite reasonable, considering that Augusta National enjoys a seller’s market. The signature pimento cheese sandwich is still a mere buck-and-a-half.

We timed our departure perfectly, escaping to our car moments before the traditional afternoon deluge. What better way to observe Holy Week - and the Yahrzeit of my mother, a lifelong golf aficionado and player - than to worship in the Cathedral of Golf itself?

Barry, Gary, and Larry
Barry, Gary, and Larry. (You can’t make this stuff up.)

Tuesday, April 3, 2012


Mom and Me, 1984
Mom and me, Massapequa, May 1984.

Sundown today marks her 24th Yahrzeit, and I will be observing it in a manner that she would thoroughly approve of... in Augusta.

Now, if I can somehow score a perfect Rob Roy, straight up, while I’m there - why, that’d be like a 300 yard drive, right down the middle.


’Nana Puddin’
’Nana ’Nana Boo Boo. I have pudding... and you don’t.

Ever since she got her (autographed!) copy of The Back in the Day Bakery Cookbook, the Mistress has been itching to make ’Nana Puddin’, one of Cheryl and Griff’s signature desserts. She became acquainted with - nay, enamored of - the original when she lived a short walk from that dastardly place. Having moved away several years ago, she occasionally will find herself in the grip of a serious ’Nana Puddin’ Jones... and that’s one tough jones to satisfy when you’re far away from the Southland.

I can sympathize... and I am nothing if not an enabler. So I went and procured the necessaries.

’Nana Puddin’, for those who are Southern Impaired, is banana pudding. But it is more than a simple dessert. It is a cultural touchstone, a Local Speciality on a par with Israeli felafel or New England clam chowder. Understand ’Nana Puddin’ and you understand the South... at least a little bit.

It’s a pretty straightforward recipe. You make a vanilla custard, densify it with sweetened condensed milk, and leaven it with a little whipped cream. You layer the custard in a serving bowl (or individual dishes) with sliced bananas and cookies. You then bury the whole mess in fluffy meringue. Gaaaaah.

But this ’Nana Puddin’ diverges from the typical Southern version in its choice of cookie filler. Instead of the traditional Nabisco Nilla™ Wafers beloved of many, Back in the Day uses butter shortbread cookies, thus jacking up the Delicious Factor by a couple of orders of magnitude. And they substitute fresh whipped cream for the meringue.

Of course, easy as it might be to just buy a packet of Walker’s shortbread biscuits, that would not be in the Back in the Day spirit... so we made our own.

I do not recommend making this recipe. Ever. Especially, do not prepare it and let it sit in the fridge for a day, allowing the pudding to thicken and infiltrate the chunks of shortbread. Because then when you eat it, your head will explode... and that’s not a pleasant cleanup job to face.