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

Friday, October 31, 2014


Scary Clown Elisson


We had so much Green Stuff last night, it seemed as though we could have been dining with Kermit the Frog... or one of his friends.

“I love eating green things.”
[Photo: Munawar Hosain/startraksphoto.co at pagesix.com]

First there were bowls of creamy roasted broccoli soup with spiced pepitas, made using a recipe I found over at Serious Eats. Pepitas are nothing more or less than pumpkin seeds, and in the current Hallowe’eny pumpkin spice frenzy (Pumpkin spice beer! Pumpkin spice Oreo cookies! Pumpkin spice lattes at Starbucks! Pumpkin spice sexual lubricant!) they are one of the few forms of the Evil Orange Gourd that we actually enjoy. The pepitas looked a lot greener before they were toasted and combined with their spice mixture; meanwhile, the soup used about two whole pounds of broccoli crowns. Green plus green.

Soup by itself doesn’t really feel like a meal, and Dee wisely suggested adding some protein. We therefore enjoyed several beef kielbasa sausages as accompaniments.

Creamy Roasted Broccoli Soup
Creamy roasted broccoli soup with buttermilk and spiced pepitas (AKA pumpkin seeds).

Later, I indulged in a brace of gimlets. More green!

The gimlet, I should mention, was one of the first Adult Beverages I would order upon reaching drinking age... which, back in the day, was eighteen in New York and twenty-one in New Jersey. This meant that I could buy alcoholic beverages at a bar during summer vacation, but not during the school year. Then, a drink made with spirituous liquor cost all of $1.50, and the gimlet was a nice citrusy alternative to brown booze. Nowadays I make ’em with gin and homemade lime cordial in lieu of vodka and Rose’s lime juice, and they’re far more interesting.

All in all, a pleasantly green evening. Miss Piggy would approve.

Thursday, October 30, 2014


Renaissance photo Renaissance.jpg
Elisson and Dee all decked out for Hallowe’en, early 1990’s.

Are you going to Renaissance Faire
Parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme
The turkey legs, they are tasty there
Funnel cakes, three bucks and a dime

Try not to pick up a dose of the Plague
Parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme
And don’t drink the water; ’twill make you gaig
Unless you don’t mind a mouthful of slime

Don’t wash too often, not once every week
Parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme
They’ll think you’re a weirdo if you don’t reek
Or if you’re not encrusted with grime

The Renaissance ain’t what it’s cracked up to be
Parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme
When most things were fragrant with poop and with pee
Thank Gawd we live in our Modern Time

Wednesday, October 22, 2014


Pickled Herring
Pickled herring Elisson style, with grated apple, lemon zest, and sour cream.

A young lady, one Anne Byrn, styles herself the Cake Mix Doctor. She takes packets of commercial cake mixes, adds her Sooper-Seekrit Magickal Ingredients, and knocks out a cake that might be worthy of the Sacher-Konditorei. In theory, anyway.

There’s also a show on the Food Network called “Semi-Homemade,” in which the host, Sandra Lee - whose name sounds suspiciously like that of a cheesecake - tinkers with prepackaged dishes available in your friendly local food market to make them seem kinda-sorta homemade.

The talented Ms. Lee is also perfectly capable of cooking entire dishes from scratch, although if her lasagna recipe is any indication, you may be better off eating Pop-Tarts. In the world according to Elisson, lasagna does not contain apple cider vinegar, tomato soup, or cottage cheese. Ms. Lee, it would seem, disagrees.

The concept of a dish being “semi-homemade” is at least understandable, which distinguishes it from “semi-boneless ham.” (As George Carlin once observed, “Does it have a bone? Yes, it has a bone.”) And there is nothing wrong with taking a commercially available food product and doctoring it up to make it better. To kick it up a notch, as Emeril Lagasse might say. I have been known to do it myself on occasion.

I don’t play doctor with cake mixes (now, there’s a perverse turn of phrase!) mainly because it’s just as easy to make cakes from scratch. But herring? That’s another story. I am not about to make pickled herring from Original Raw Materials as long as I can get a good quality product in a jar... and at Costco, a quart jar of very nice pickled herring can be found for a very reasonable tariff.

It’s very nice, but with a little minor tinkering, it can be better than very nice. It can be excellent.

Take that quart jar of herring - onions, spices, and all - drain off the pickling liquid, and dump it into a large bowl. Core and grate half of a crisp, tart, unpeeled Granny Smith apple and throw that in. Add the zest of one lemon. (I use a Microplane zester, which is wonderful at removing the yellow zest while leaving the bitter white pith behind. And if you can get Meyer lemons, even better.) Now add about a cup of sour cream - more or less to taste - and stir the whole thing together. Let it sit in the refrigerator for a few hours to allow the flavors to come together, and then serve it forth.

If you hate pickled herring, this recipe isn’t likely to change your mind. But if you like pickled herring, it may very well change your life.

And there is no need to thank me. It’s my job. I’m the Herring Doctor!


I used to love my bowl of cereal at breakfast time.

Où sont les petits déjeuners d’antan?
Whether hot (steel-cut oatmeal, Wheatena) or cold (Weetabix, Grape-Nuts, Cheerios, or whatever was handy), a cereal-based breakfast was always a quick and easy option for the morning meal. (Well, OK - for steel-cut oats, maybe not quite so quick.)

But four years ago, I made a major change to my eating regimen, and carby breakfasts mostly became a thing of the past. Sure, I’ll still indulge in the occasional pancake or waffle, but the regular consumption of cereals is something I have, albeit reluctantly, had to leave behind.

On those mornings when I dine at home - I am a frequent breakfaster with the Minyan Boyz - I find myself making myself a two-egg omelette more often than not. An omelette is packed with protein and does not have to be a calorie bomb if properly made. With just enough breadstuff served alongside it to balance the protein, it is the ideal morning repast.

Some days, I use a bit of ghee - clarified butter - to line my skillet, and I add to the eggs fresh herbs and/or some grated cheese: Cabot clothbound cheddar, asiago, or Parmesan. Other times, I go the Japanese route, adding soy and hanakatsuo (shaved bonito), with a final dusting of powdered seaweed and nanami togarashi. But on days when I want something with a bit more zing, it’s time for Elisson’s Spicy Hot Indo-Sichuan Eggs.

Indo-Sichuan Eggs
Spicy Hot Indo-Sichuan Eggs.

I start with my homemade Chinese hot oil (hong you), infused with star anise, garlic, black cardamom, cloves, cinnamon, ginger, Sichuan peppercorns, and a small mountain of árbol chiles. One teaspoon goes in with the eggs and another to slick the pan. When the eggs have set enough, I’ll flip ’em to cook the top side just until set, then flip ’em back over and trowel on a couple teaspoons of sambal udang bercili, a fiery Indonesian condiment packed with hot chiles and tiny, crispy dried shrimp. (Well, I never said this was kosher.) Fold it over, slide it out onto a plate, decorate with some chopped cilantro, and - Bukittinggi’s your uncle - you’ve got a breakfast that will warm you going in, going down, and - quite possibly - going out. It’s a real wake-up call on a plate.

Damn, it’s tasty. Try some... if you dare!

Tuesday, October 21, 2014


Many years ago, my parents gave me a tallit – a prayer shawl – to mark a very special occasion.

When I first got the tallit, it was clean and new. I would wrap myself in it and feel, somehow, safe and comforted, as if enfolded in loving arms. Over the long years, I came to value that feeling.

I would sometimes imagine that one day I would be buried in that tallit, my body enshrouded, one corner of the tzitzit (fringes) removed to render the garment ritually unfit. (After all, the dead are not able to praise God.) And that was a comforting thought, too, that of spending eternity enveloped in the embrace of my beloved tallit.

Over the years, as I spent more time in the synagogue, my tallit began to show signs of wear. Some of the knots – those without religious significance – began to unravel. A few stitches started to come loose here and there. This did not bother me; after all, the loose threads, worn spots, and gradual darkening of the fabric meant that my tallit was being used, not sitting folded up in its bag in the back of the closet. There were a few tear stains, bittersweet reminders of sad days when I sought the consolation of prayer. Even these, I treasured.

I sometimes debated with myself. Should I take it and have it dry-cleaned? The decorative knots redone? Minor repairs? Or was part of the garment’s charm the fact that it bore the stigmata of long, loving use?

Was a tallit like a Velveteen Rabbit among ritual objects? If I used it and loved it long enough, would it become Real?

Two years ago, during our trip to Israel, I purchased a new tallit for myself – a souvenir of Old City Jerusalem. It was (and is) snowy white with black and silver accents, a remembrance of the sacred precincts where I bought it and to which we turn in prayer every day. I wear it only on special occasions: Shabbat and holidays. That, I figure, will slow down the inevitable accumulation of wear and tear.

Nevertheless, despite having that bright new tallit to hand, on weekdays I still utter the ancient benedictions and enfold myself in my old, worn tallit. And it still comforts me, almost forty years on.

But there are times I wonder. Would that tallit want to be buried with me? Or would it be happier with its loose seams tightened, freshly knotted, cleaned and ready to begin life anew?

Monday, October 20, 2014


For all you LOTR nerds out there...

Is it just me, or has anyone else noticed that the inscription on the One Ring - in the language of Mordor (“Black Speech”), written in the Elvish tengwar script, and visible only when the ring is red-hot - can be sung to the tune of the Ode to Joy in the final movement of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony?

Ash nazg durbatulûk,
Ash nazg gimbatul,
Ash nazg thrakatulûk
Agh burzum-ishi krimpatul

Try it... it works!

Friday, October 17, 2014


Simchat Torah - the Festival du Jour for us Red Sea Pedestrians - always carries a bittersweet undertone. At least, so it seems to me.

It is the last float in a lengthy parade of holidays that begins with Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur - the High Holy Days - and segues into the joyous fall festivals of Sukkot, Shemini Atzeret, and Simchat Torah. It’s an awful lot of holidays packed into three weeks... and to make things even more confusing, the last two are observed on the same day in Israel but on two consecutive days elsewhere.

On Simchat Torah we complete the annual cycle of Pentateuchal readings, closing out the book of Deuteronomy with the story of Moses dying atop Mount Nebo after having had a far-off glimpse of the Promised Land he would never have a chance to set foot in... and then immediately starting over again with the first lines of Genesis, the story of Creation. It is beautiful, this juxtaposition of death and birth, of grief and joy, of endings and beginnings. Yet now the holidays are over, and soon the brightly colored leaves of early Fall will be replaced by the dreary chill and the bare trees of late November.

And I am a year older. Am I a year better, or wiser?

Nevertheless, it’s a happy day. Silly, even. The most degenerate among my crowd of Georgia bloggers would be amused no end by the sight of me standing by the shulchan (reading) table wearing a top hat... or of Houston Steve decked out in my Warrior Dash buffalo horns... or of Papa Lou, a diminutive 87-year old gentleman, sporting a baby bonnet. And did I mention the rolling bar cart, from which frequent nips of Jack Daniel’s and Seagram’s fine products were taken amidst the proceedings? And the all-pervasive air of foolishness?

The word “festive,” after all, comes from the word “festival,” right?

It is inappropriate to take pictures during a major holiday, just as it is on the Sabbath, so (alas) there is no photographic evidence to hand. Surely Papa Lou is grateful.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014


It’s a tradition - well younger than some, but nevertheless, a tradition - that every October, a modest group of (mostly former) Online Journalists gathers in the unpresumptuous hamlet of Englewood, Tennessee to celebrate the birthday of the gentleman who styles himself Eric SWG.

Within that tradition, there are nested other sub-traditions that are observed to a greater or lesser degree. Boudicca frequently puts together a dish of her irresistible ziti for Friday supper, and Eric will prepare a repast of country-style ribs (along with a few tenderloin beefsteaks) to feed the assembled multitude Saturday night. Saturday breakfast at the Tellico Junction Café is de rigueur (a term you will not hear uttered at the Tellico Junction Café, by the way.) Offerings of gin and single-malt Scotch whisky appear as if by magic. Depending on the roster of attendees, there may be an impromptu concert by the Elderly Brothers - Denny and Jimbo - sometimes with John Cox, Dax, and Eric joining in. There have also been front yard rocket launches and trips to the gun range.

Not all of these sub-traditions are honored in any given year, but there is one that is never neglected... even if it is sometimes delayed until most of the party-goers have departed. That, of course, is the Declamation of Fine Poetry, and Eric is a Past Master of the art.

Eric generally will focus on his personal favorites: Robert W. Service, Ogden Nash, and Robert Burns. But he is a versatile fellow, our Tennessee Renaissance Man, and sometimes he treats us to something extra special. This year did not disappoint, because Eric trotted out the works of a Poetic Artist with whom many Americans are blessèdly unfamiliar. That would be William Topaz McGonagall, a failed poet of the first water. Failed, indeed, for McGonagall’s chief claim to fame was that his poetry was so atrocious, so hilariously piss-poor, that well after his death his work (if it can be called that) continues to attract an audience of incredulous, yet amused, readers. Here’s a taste:

Oh! ill-fated Bridge of the Silv’ry Tay,
I must now conclude my lay
By telling the world fearlessly without the least dismay,
That your central girders would not have given way,
At least many sensible men do say,
Had they been supported on each side with buttresses,
At least many sensible men confesses,
For the stronger we our houses do build,
The less chance we have of being killed.

These lines make up the conclusion of “The Tay Bridge Disaster,” a poem that formed a perverse sequel to McGonagall’s earlier celebration of that short-lived bridge’s completion, namely “The Railway Bridge of the Silvery Tay.” That was the poem our gracious host read to us, the last stragglers at the end of the Hysterics at Eric’s, 2014 edition... and it contained this eerily prescient stanza:

Beautiful Railway Bridge of the Silvery Tay!
I hope that God will protect all passengers
By night and by day,
And that no accident will befall them while crossing
The Bridge of the Silvery Tay,
For that would be most awful to be seen
Near by Dundee and the Magdalen Green.

Prescient... and laughable, another brick in the McGonagall edifice, one that contributed to his unique stature as possibly “the worst poet in the English language.” Which, by the bye, makes his style almost impossible to parody. But old Mister Elisson, he do love a challenge... so here goes:  

Once a year, bloggers gather near Etowah
Some come from nearby places, others far
They ride in the airplane and in the car
To get to Englewood, which is near to Etowah.

Their host is a man who quotes poetry
And who lives near a very large dogwood tree
And who likes his single-malt Scotch whisky
Which puts him in the mood to quote poetry.

He reads the works of Service, McGonagall, and Nash,
And drives a car – Vivienne – which we hope he won’t crash
And his guests fill his kitchen with all kinds of trash
While they listen to him quoting Service and Nash.

His birthday is in the month of October,
And the bloggers who celebrate it rarely are sober
But they’re happy to have been invited over
To hang out together in the month of October.

So here’s to the Renaissance Man of Tennessee
Who next October will turn forty-three
He calls himself Eric the Ess Doubleyou Gee
And he lives near Etowah, Tennessee.

Yes, I know it sucks. It’s supposed to.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014


Blood Moon
The full moon as seen Tuesday evening. Any resemblance to the “blood moon” of this morning’s total lunar eclipse can be blamed on Lightroom and Photoshop.

This morning, we were to have been treated to the sight of a Blood Moon, a Hallowe’enish name for the coppery disc seen during a total lunar eclipse.

A lunar eclipse, even during totality, does not completely darken the face of the moon. This is because sunlight is diffracted around the edge of the Earth by our atmosphere. The dark copper color of the Moon is simply the reflected light of sunsets and sunrises all around the world.

No soap here in the Atlanta area, though: Low clouds in the western sky obscured any possible sight of the setting moon. Bah. (Fortunately, lunar eclipses are not all that uncommon.)

Perhaps my Esteemed Readers in the more westerly parts of the country will have better viewing conditions. Enjoy!

Monday, October 6, 2014


Betty Grable
Betty Grable 20th Century Fox” by Frank Powolny - 20th Century Fox studio promo portrait. Licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.

One of the Minyan Boyz, a gentleman who retired a number of years ago from an important (and presumably well remunerated) gig at a major corporation, has taken up glamour photography as a hobby.

To quote the definition from Wikipedia, glamour photography is “a genre of photography in which the subjects, usually female, are portrayed in erotic or exciting ways... typically less explicit than pornography and erotica.” So you may or may not get a peek at a nipple now and again, but don’t expect to get a glimpse of schmutschkie.

This fellow’s work is actually quite good, and it enlivens many a post-Minyan breakfast when he passes his latest work around. His new iPhone 6 doubleplusfuckinghuge - the one with the Diamondvision™-size Retina display - shows his photographs off beautifully.

Glamour photography has been around for a long time, probably as long as photography... but it reached a sort of zenith during WWII and the years immediately afterward, with models such as Rita Hayworth, Betty Grable, Bettie Page, and Marilyn Monroe posing for what were popularly called pinup photos.

Another term for pinup photos is cheesecake photos, for reasons which are somewhat obscure. Life Magazine’s opinion was that
The origin of the term “cheesecake” to characterize these pinup shots is a matter of some contention, although one of the most widely accepted explanations is that men who first saw these sorts of photos in the early pinup days would exclaim that looking at them was “better than [eating] cheesecake.”
(In case you’re curious, the corresponding term for pinup photos featuring male models is “beefcake.” Ecch.)

Me, I like cheesecake photos... especially those featuring actual cheesecake. Viz:

Togarashi cheesecake slice
Togarashi cheesecake.

I don’t bake cheesecakes very often, for reasons which should be obvious: If I bake ’em, I eat ’em, and I don’t really need to be packing my face with these most insidious and deadly calorie bombs. But I could not resist trying out this one.

You’re looking at a togarashi cheesecake, generously flavored with nanami togarashi, a delightfully complex Japanese spice mixture that contains chili pepper, orange peel, black and white sesame seeds, Japanese pepper, ginger, and seaweed. There are other kinds of togarashi - shichimi togarashi, f’rinstance - but I like the heat and citrusy undertones of the nanami version. It’s also great sprinkled on eggs and on smoked salmon.

The recipe, which I first saw in an inflight magazine, may be found buried in this online article. I adapted it slightly by jacking up the amount of togarashi and substituting Lyle’s Golden Syrup for the sorghum.

How bizarre does it sound, anyway... a cheesecake recipe featuring a gingersnap crust with a filling containing an obscure spice and goat cheese? Bizarre enough. But the results were surprisingly good. The goat cheese was undetectable, at least as far as the usual “goatiness” is concerned, having contributed just a trace of sharpness that plays well off the lemon and the warmth of the chili. In this cake, the marriage of sweet and hot is a match made in heaven.

Betty Grable would’ve loved it - as long as you didn’t tell her that it contained a Japanese ingredient, that is.

Thursday, October 2, 2014


Amarillo Arnie liked to play his cards close to the vest... when he was wearing one, that is. Arnie, you see, was a champion strip poker player. The possibility of being vestless was, alas, part of the game.

But when Arnie invented No-Limit Texas Hold ’Em Strip Poker, the world of competitive clothes-removing card games was shaken to its core. Suddenly, terms like “the flop” took on a whole new meaning... especially among older players.

This didn’t faze Arnie in the least. Even when he had no pockets for his pocket rockets, he was all too happy to go all-in.