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

Tuesday, May 27, 2014


Princeton Plate Detail
Detail from a vintage 1930 Wedgewood plate featuring Princeton University’s Blair Hall... my home for junior and senior years.

Beginning tomorrow, the Missus and I will be making our once-every-five-years pilgrimage to my Alma Mater in order to attend Reunions. It’s a big event, with attendees ranging from doddering old gentlemen from classes in the mid-1930’s to the newly minted graduates of the Class of 2014. Our class falls roughly halfway between those extremes: we’ll be celebrating our fortieth year.

Forty years. Hard to believe, innit? We are now those semi-elderly alumni in their venerable class blazers, the ones we never could imagine ourselves as when we were the new kids on the collegiate block. We’re now the ones with (in some cases, at least) grandchildren almost old enough to start thinking about college themselves. Great Googly Moogly.

There will be plenty of catching up with friends of long standing... getting to know some of the classmates we missed out on knowing when we were undergrads...shooting the breeze... drinking and partying until the wee hours. (We old goats still have our stamina.) It’s why I always look forward to going back to the Best Damned Place of All.

There’s a certain synchronicity that attaches to the weekend, as well. This coming Saturday, our dear friend Houston Steve will celebrate the fiftieth (!) anniversary of his Bar Mitzvah by chanting the haftarah - the prophetical selection that follows the traditional reading from the Torah. Although we won’t be in Atlanta to hear him, the week’s Torah portion is Nasso (“take a census”): what could be more appropriate for the weekend when we will be going back to Old Nassau?


This evening will bring yet another Sommelier Guild event, this one a celebration of the wines of Italy. Italian Stallions, the invitation calls ’em, and I am hoping that appellation refers to the heartiness of the selections we’ll be drinking and not any possible resemblance to Horse-Piss. We will be dining and drinking at La Grotta in Buckhead, a place with pleasant associations for both me and She Who Must Be Obeyed.

Based on the evening’s menu (thirteen different wines! six dishes!), I will be eating and drinking way, way too much. Is that bad? You decide:

2012 Abbazia di Novacella Stiftkellerei Neustift Kerner***
Prosciutto di Parma, fresh melon, mint, aged balsamic glàce, salmon tartare in pastry cups

First Flight
2011 Vestini Campagnano Pallagrello Bianco
2010 I Pentri Castelvenere Falanghina Flora
Seared calamari, basil pesto, EVOO

Second Flight
1999 Dalla Valle Pietre Rosse Sangiovese
2009 Monsanto Chianti Classico Riserva**
Beef short rib-stuffed tortellacci, red wine brodo

Third Flight
2010 Passopisciaro Rosso Nerello Mascalese**
2008 Col d’Orcia Brunello di Montalcino**
Tortelloni stuffed with braised onions, cooked prosciutto, fresh thyme and mascarpone cheese with fresh oregano tomato sauce

Fourth Flight
2010 Paitin Serra Barbaresco***
2010 Paitin Sori Paitin Barbaresco***
2009 Produttori del Barbaresco***
Risotto, wild mushrooms, Parmesan,white truffle oil

Fifth Flight
2007 Castello del Terriccio Tassinaia
2009 Tolaini Valdisanti***
2010 Giacomo Grimaldi Barolo**
4-ounce filet mignon with Gorgonzola cheese in a Barolo and Pommery mustard sauce, roasted garlic mashed potatoes, seasonal vegetables

1997 Castello di Brolio Chianti Classico**
2009 Rosso di Montalcino Le Ragnaie
2010 Beaulieu Vineyard Georges de Latour Private Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon**
2007 Punset Barbaresco
2004 Lamborghini Campoleone

Leave the gun. Take the cannoli. And don’t forget the vino rosso.

A fine collection of foodstuffs set off by a very agreeable palette of wines... enjoyed al fresco thanks to the weather having been cooperative. I’d call this Guild Event a success. 

Wednesday, May 21, 2014


Robertson Davies Elderflower Rye
The Robertson Davies Elderflower Rye.

Appropriately enough, as we prepare to head for the Great North Woods for (part of) our summer travels, here comes a cocktail of Canadian origin: the Robertson Davies Elderflower Rye.

Being from south of the border, I had no feckin’ clue who Robertson Davies was until I did a bit of Online Research. Turns out he was one of Canada’s most celebrated authors, The Deptford Trilogy being among his notable works. Hmmm... a few more books for me to read after I clear away the existing pile on my nightstand.

I have no idea whether drinking this cocktail will help inspire the writerly impulse, but it can’t help to try and find out. Here’s how you make one:

2 ounces rye whiskey (The Fairmont Royal York uses Knob Creek rye)
1 ounce Aperol
1 ounce St. Germain elderflower liqueur

Combine in a cocktail shaker with ice; stir and strain into an old-fashioned glass with a honking big ice cube. Drink several and then write about the experience.

Well, I’m enjoying one of these bad boys as I grill a dry-aged New York strip steak and prepare a vat of asparagus-spinach soup. And it’s Just Fine.

[Tip of the Elisson fedora to Ben René for the recipe.]

Wednesday, May 14, 2014


Sourdough Starter.jpg
A lively, foaming bucket of home-grown sourdough starter, resurrected after having been kept in the freezer since before Passover. After thawing it out, a few daily feedings were sufficient to wake it up and keep it happy.

This is my starter. There are many like it, but this one is mine.

My starter is my bread’s best friend. It is my loaf’s life. I must master it if I want lively loaves. My starter, without me, is useless. Without my starter, I am useless. I must feed my starter well. I must ferment my dough better than my competitors who are trying to outbake me. I must bake or be baked. I will...

My starter and I know that what counts in baking is not the number of loaves we bake, the clatter of our pans, nor the aroma we make. We know that it is the taste of our loaves that counts. We will bake tasty loaves...

My starter is made of cells, even as I, because it is a living being. Thus, I will learn it as a brother. I will learn its weaknesses, its strengths, its components, its behavior, its leavening power. I will keep my starter well fed and ready, even as I am well fed and ready. We will become part of each other. We will...

Before Gawd, I swear this creed. My starter and I are the defenders of our dough. We are the lords of our leavening. We are the saviors of our sandwich bread.

So be it, until we can boast of our baguettes and drink a toast to our toast!

Monday, May 12, 2014


“It’s crackers to slip a rozzer the dropsy in snide.” - Magersfontein Lugg

Seed 75
The Seed 75 cocktail, a perfect way to use that bottle of Old Tom gin you have in the back of your Booze-Box. (What, you don’t have a bottle of Old Tom gin in the back of your Booze-Box?)

One of the nicer local eateries hereabouts - Seed Kitchen and Bar - offers a cocktail called Capture the Flag, a concoction that includes Maestro Dobel tequila, lemon juice, a house-made port-pineapple syrup, and Ramazzotti, the last being an Italian amaro. It’s probably the Missus’s favorite cocktail, and I can’t say I blame her for liking it as much as she does. It is sweet, but not overly so, and it has layer upon layer of flavors. Oh, and it also packs a wallop, something to watch out for, as that alcoholic fist is well disguised in a highly drinkable glove.

The only problem I see with this Adult Beverage is that I cannot, as yet, make it at home - that is, until I manage to convince one of the bartenders at Seed to fork over the recipe for the port-pineapple syrup. But in the meantime, there is another tipple on offer there that I can make at home: the Seed 75. And it is a fine drink. It’s simply Hayman’s Old Tom gin, lemon juice, and pomegranate grenadine. The last one I made, I used 2 ounces gin, the juice of half a Meyer lemon, and a scant ounce of my homemade grenadine, and it was superb. (You really need to use an Old Tom gin for this; the more familiar London dry gin style doesn’t really work.)

What to eat while you’re sipping on your Seed 75? How about some Cheesy Smoked Paprika Crackers, courtesy of those fine folks over at Serious Eats? I ran up a batch of these bad boys a few days ago and now I’m regretting it, for they are powerfully addictive.

Cheesy Smoked Paprika Crackers
Cheesy Smoked Paprika Crackers. These decadent little bastards are sprinkled with smoked sea salt and fleur de sel.

Postscriptum: The quotation above will be familiar to anyone who read Mad magazine in the 1950’s or early ’60’s. It was a recurring catchphrase - at least, in Mad - that had been lifted from The Fashion in Shrouds (1938), one of Margery Allingham’s Albert Campion crime novels. It means, “It’s crazy to pay off a cop in phony money,” in case you’re curious.

Postscriptum the Second: See that tray of crackers? There were a handful of ’em left over from Friday evening, nicely wrapped for future use. But not any more. (Urp.)

Sunday, May 11, 2014


JPN 4211.jpg
Elder Daughter, in a photograph taken six years ago during our legendary Japan trip.

Today, May 11, is a celebratory twofer: It is Elder Daughter’s thirty-fifth birthday (!) and it is, appropriately enough, Mother’s Day as well.

Yes, it was thirty-five years ago today that She Who Must Be Obeyed delivered unto us our firstborn daughter. Dr. Phil’s tiresome catchphrase - “This is going to be a changing day in your life” - was never more apropos, for that day indeed changed our lives forever.

Until the moment she arrived, I looked forward to the Blessèd Event with a mixture of eagerness and stark, staring fear. Being a Daddy, after all, was a huge new responsibility, and I did not want to be found lacking in the necessary skills to do the job right. All uncertainty and doubt evaporated the moment we saw our beautiful new daughter: It was love at first sight in the deepest and most abiding sense.

She’s a wonderful woman now, thirty-five years down the road, with a keen insight for people, an ebullient personality, and a unique creative intelligence. I could not be prouder to have her as a daughter.

Of course, none of this would have been possible without the motherly part of the equation - She Who Must Be Obeyed - and it is a happy coincidence that Elder Daughter’s birthday so frequently coincides with Mother’s Day, as it does this year. SWMBO has contributed far more than half of Elder Daughter’s DNA. She has been a gentle guiding hand; a source of wisdom, love, and support; and an unflinching advocate for both our daughters. I could not ask for a finer mother for my children, and I love her with all my heart.

To Elder Daughter, happy birthday! May you have long years in health and happiness, without limit to any good thing.

To She Who Must Be Obeyed, happy Mother’s Day! Our daughters are the most wonderful gift you ever could have given me, and so much of their thoughtfulness and insight are the result of their having your example from which to learn.

To the other mothers in my life - Mimi, Mamacita Chelo (¡mi querida!), Toni, and all the rest - happy Mother’s Day! For where would we be without mothers? Nonexistent, that’s what. And without their love, we might exist... but it would be a miserable existence.

Friday, May 9, 2014


I look forward to Fridays.

Even though I’ve been retired from the Great Corporate Salt Mine for over five years, I still have a keen awareness of what day of the week it happens to be at any given time... and Fridays are one of the good ones.

We generally get together with a group of friends for Shabbat dinner, a dinner that we sanctify with the lighting of candles and the appropriate blessings over wine and bread. Much of the time, that bread consists of home-baked challah, a couple of loaves of which are just about ready for braiding and shaping even as I write this. The wine may or may not be kosher, but that’s OK with our group.

Tonight the main event will be thick beefsteaks, carved by Yours Truly from a massive primal cut and grilled to what I hope will be perfection. She Who Must Be Obeyed will prepare a fish dish for those who do not partake of the beefness. Others have been tasked with the preparation of side dishes - vegetables and starches, et al. - appetizers, salad, and dessert. It’s a sort of Foodly Crowdsourcing, a potluck supper with some structure. And it’s always a delight.

May your weekend be pleasurable and (for those of my Esteemed Readers who are Red Sea Pedestrians) may your Shabbat be filled with love and peace.

Friday, May 2, 2014


The Elisson Bookshelf

It’s been a little over six months since my last Bookshelf Post, so I suppose it’s as good a time as any to bring you, my Esteemed Readers, up to date on the books I’ve been reading.

As I pointed out in my last bookly summary, the above photo is somewhat misleading, filled as it is with Dead Trees. More and more I find myself gravitating toward books in electronic form: This past six months, exactly half of my reading has moved to my iPad and iPhone. Electronic books are eminently portable, and new ones can be delivered unto my devices in seconds at the touch of a button (or, more likely, the click of a mouse, accompanied by the instant drainage of bank account.) When I use my iPad, I can read in the dead of night without the need for a reading lamp... and I can adjust the size of the font all the way from microscopic to Old Blind Guy. Hardcopy books, on the other hand, still deliver a more satisfactory tactile experience... and when the electrical supply fails, I can still read by natural light.So there’s that.

Enough prefatory drivel! Here are the last few months’ worth of reads, with electronic versions marked with an asterisk:

  • Command and Control: Nuclear Weapons, the Damascus Accident, and the Illusion of Safety - Eric Schlosser

  • This book will scare the ever-loving crap out of you. The Damascus accident is not something that took place in Syria - it was a fire in a Titan II missile silo that came very close to wiping Arkansas off the map. And it is by far not the only close call involving our arsenal of Doomsday Weaponry. When you learn how vulnerable nuclear weapons are to simple accidents, you realize that it is a thoroughgoing wonder that in the time since these devices were invented almost seventy years ago, there has not been an accidental nuclear detonation. Yet.
  • Relish: My Life in the Kitchen - Lucy Knisley

    Lucy Kinsley tells the story of growing up and being exposed to Good Food in an unusual combination of memoir, graphic novel, and cookbook.

  • Insane City* - Dave Barry

    Nobody captures the complete nuttiness of south Florida quite like Dave Barry. This novel includes Haitian refugees, a giant snake, a horny orangutan, a billionaire, and a good-intentioned, somewhat nebbishy young man who is trying to juggle all of the above without blowing his Big Wedding.
  • Doctor Sleep* - Stephen King

    The long-awaited follow-up to The Shining, one of King’s great novels from the 1970’s, catches up with Danny Torrance many years after the horrific events in The Overlook. Informed by the author’s own struggles with alcoholism, it’s vintage King: horror, but with a warm heart beating at its core. 

  • Fate is the Hunter - Ernest K. Gann

    Ernest K. Gann, author of The High and the Mighty, recounts his adventures as a pilot in the early days of commercial aviation... a considerably more hazardous business then than now, and as always one that requires grace under pressure, the ability to make quick decisions, and a cool head. 
  • The Simpsons and their Mathematical Secrets* - Simon Singh

    Given that the writing staff for “The Simpsons” has an exceptionally large percentage of talented mathematicians, it is hardly surprising that they would cram all kinds of subtle (and not-so-subtle) mathematical jokes into the show. This book has the lowdown on the ones you saw... and the ones you may not have noticed.
  • Tartine Bread* - Chad Robertson

    Chad Robertson, the mad genius behind the Tartine Bakery in (where else?) coastal California, shares his knowledge on making amazing sourdough breads. It has become my sourdough bible, and it’s where I learned to make great sourdough boules, baguettes, and English muffins.
  • Frozen in Time: An Epic Story of Survival and a Modern Quest for Lost Heroes of World War II* - Mitchell Zuckoff

    The adventures of a band of American soldiers stranded on the Greenland ice cap during World War II... and of the salvors who, half a century later, searched for and located their wrecked plane.
  • As a Driven Leaf - Milton Steinberg

    A novel set during the early Rabbinic period, this is the story of the moral and intellectual struggles of a scholar who, disillusioned with the faith of his people, seeks enlightenment among the pagan Romans who occupy their land.
  • Russka*- Edward Rutherfurd

    A novel of sweeping historical scope and turgid phrase, this book nevertheless provides the reader with some insight into the history of both Russia and the Ukraine and the fraught relationship between the two.

  • The Telling Room: A Tale of Love, Betrayal, Revenge, and the World's Greatest Piece of Cheese* - Michael Paterniti

    The title says it all. After having read this book, I want to live in Spain where I can drink wine and eat cheese.

  • A World Lit Only by Fire: The Medieval Mind and the Renaissance - Portrait of an Age* - William Manchester

    Manchester puts forth the thesis that Ferdinand Magellan’s historic voyage - his expedition succeeded in circumnavigating the globe, even if Magellan himself did not survive it - spelled the end of the Dark and Middle Ages, a lengthy period that is in itself an instructive cautionary tale concerning the effects of an insufficient separation of Church and State. An excellent book that has an enormous amount of information about just how nasty things were Back in the Day.

  • Calculating God*- Robert J. Sawyer

    Aliens arrive in Toronto (yes, Toronto), looking not to meet our leader but to study prehistoric extinction events in an effort to better understand the nature of God.

  • The Stars My Destination* - Alfred Bester

    A science fiction classic from the 1950’s that introduced the idea of teleportation by mental power alone (the “Jaunte”), it’s one that I had managed never to read... until now.

  • The Golem and the Jinni - Helene Wecker

    A love story involving characters of very different backgrounds. This is Helene Wecker’s debut novel; I believe it is the beginning of a fine career as a novelist.
  • The Man Who Ate Everything - Jeffrey Steingarten

    Jeffrey Steingarten manages to overcome his loathing of Greek food after he is appointed food editor of Vogue magazine. A collection of food-related essays - many amusing and most of them informative. (Thanks, Cappy!)

  • Religious Literacy: What Every American Needs to Know - and Doesn't - Stephen Prothero

    The premise of Stephen Prothero’s book is that Americans are the world’s most vocal proponents of religiosity, but at the same time they are by and large completely ignorant of what’s actually in those Bibles that they love to thump... not to mention the basic tenets of other major world religions. Faith is a powerful force in today’s world, as anyone who remembers the 9/11 attacks can attest, and this ignorance does not serve us well.

  • Dark Summit: The True Story of Everest’s Most Controversial Season - Nick Heil

    The 2006 climbing season was the deadliest since 1996, that latter captured in Jon Krakauer’s riveting account Into Thin Air. Everest has since become ever more commercialized, but the dangers still persist - as evidenced by the massive death toll in 2014 after an avalanche on the Khumbu Icefall struck a group of climbers and their Sherpa guides, wiping out twelve. I am happy to leave the mountain climbing to others, thankyouverymuch.
So what have you been reading lately?