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

Monday, July 31, 2017


There was a man down Cleveland way
His name was Parma John
His sins were many, men would say
For he knew not right from wrong

But heavenward his soul will go
When his last breath he wheezes
Because the Goud’ Lord told him so
And that’s when he found Cheeses.


Happy Tisha b’Av!
A completely inappropriate holiday greeting, courtesy of the infamous (and now defunct) Church Sign Generator.

There is no balm in Gilead
Doo dah
Doo dah
The fact of which, it makes me sad
Oh, doo dah day

Time again for that most mournful of days on the Jewish calendar: Tisha b’Av, the day that commemorates the destruction of two (count ’em!) Holy Temples in Jerusalem, along with various other historical calamities that have, over the millennia, befallen us Red Sea Pedestrians.

Most people are aware that Jews fast - abstaining from both food and drink from before sundown to after sundown the following day - on Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. That, however, is a fast born of solemnity, not misery. The fasting of observant Jews on Tisha b’Av, though of equal duration, is a fast of grief.

There are several other traditions in addition to fasting: abstaining from marital relations; not wearing leather shoes, not studying Scripture, not greeting one another. As night falls, we gather in synagogues to hear the Book of Lamentations chanted in an ages-old, dirgelike melody, the only illumination a few flickering candles.

One can only speculate what history would have been like had the second Temple not been destroyed by the Romans in the year 70 C.E. It may seem heretical to say it, but the destruction of the Temple, painful as it was, was the historical event that forced Judaism to become a religion of prayer and study rather than one of pilgrimage and animal sacrifice. Without a focus in a single city - Jerusalem - it became a portable religion. It had to be portable, as Jews were chivvied and chased from one place to another... but with its redirection, it has survived to become the Judaism we know today. Most religions of the time, on the other hand, have disappeared. How many Mithraists do you know?

That’s the silver lining behind the terrible events that we remember on Tisha b’Av.

It’s now almost 2,000 years later. We Jews no longer have priests. We no longer have an altar where sacrifices are brought. (For that matter, we no longer have sacrifices, although we recall them in our liturgy.) But those traditions are still alive... amongst the Roman Catholic, Eastern and Greek Orthodox, and Anglican (Episcopalian) Churches.

Tisha b’Av begins at sundown. If you are a Red Sea Pedestrian of the observant stripe, have a meaningful fast, and may you be comforted among the mourners of Zion and Jerusalem. If you are a Red Sea Pedestrian of the less observant stripe, give a momentary thought to our painful history. And if you’re not Jewish, have a nice day.

Friday, July 28, 2017


“Hey, Rocky! Watch me pull a rabbit out of my hat!”
“Hey, Rocky! Watch me pull a rabbit out of my hat!”
“C’mon, Rocky! Look at me do the rabbit trick!”
“Rocky! Rock!”

June Foray, 1917-2017. Ave atque vale.

The legendary June Foray, the human behind hundreds of cartoon characters - most notably Rocket J. Squirrel of “Rocky and Bullwinkle” fame - passed away Wednesday at the age of 99.

People often compared her to Mel Blanc, the “Man of a Thousand Voices,” the artist who brought Bugs Bunny to life. There were those who would call her “the female Mel Blanc,” to which animator Chuck Jones was said to have retorted, “Mel Blanc was the male June Foray.”

My childhood was brightened in so many spots by Miss Foray’s remarkable talent. The world of animation - nay, the world - is poorer without her in it.

Rockyescat in pace, June.

Wednesday, July 26, 2017


Many of us remember the things that terrified us as children, whether it was a dark room, a gaggle of monstrous beings that resided - we were sure of it! - under our bed, or scary movies.

There was a long time when I, as my pre-teen years were coming to a close, could barely watch shows like The Outer Limits or Twilight Zone: the angst was just that great. (Dee still can’t bring herself to watch Twilight Zone, owing to one episode that scared the living crap out of her when she was barely into double digits.)

Even before that, I had a number of weird phobias. Well, phobia is maybe too strong a word for my reaction to objects that didn’t quite send me running off screaming, but for which I had a peculiar dread: mushrooms and chimneys. The idea of actually touching a mushroom filled me with loathing; and certain chimney shapes just... bothered me in a way that is hard to describe. (Strangely, I never feared eating mushrooms, only being in close proximity to them.)

Eventually, these sources of angst faded into the background and disappeared, being outpaced by the real grownup phobias: poverty, failure, disease, harm to loved ones, aging. One stupid-ass mushroom can’t keep up with those - plus, mushrooms are tasty.

As long as we’ve gotten on to the subject of Frightening Foods, I suppose we can all of us admit to having certain powerful food aversions. Some food items are loathsome to us because of our acculturation - while they may be perfectly delectable in some places, there’d be No Fucking Way one of these would cross my lips, f’r example - and others are simply outside our experience. My mother (of blessèd memory) would eat things like brains in black butter, calf’s foot jelly (AKA pt’cha, an Ashkenazic Jewish classic beloved by almost nobody), and sweetbreads. Unto this day I cannot abide the idea of eating brains (zombie food!), but having had sweetbreads at Alice Waters’s legendary Chez Panisse some 34 years ago, I pronounce them excellent.

But the greatest bugaboo, for me, has been buttermilk. Rich, creamy buttermilk. Nasty, gloppy buttermilk. Is it liquefied sour cream, or just regular Grade A that’s gone off?

I use buttermilk whenever I make cornbread or pancakes, but the idea of picking up a glass of the stuff and drinking it has horrified me since little-kid days, when I was handed a tumbler of what I expected was cold, refreshing sweet milk. Buttermilk, it was, and the sour, saline shock of it, combined with that weird creamy/gloppy consistency, convinced me on the spot that I should never let that stuff near my face again. It has been close to sixty years, and I’ve kept that promise.

Until now.

A true Southerner - and maybe even an adopted one like me - should have an appreciation of local folkways, especially where food is concerned. I like grits enough, and have even adapted them for those who want a more Ashkenazic version. I make cornbread from time to time. Why not enjoy it the way old-school Sutheners will do: crumbled into a big ol’ glass of cold buttermilk?

I had to put aside my childhood revulsion of buttermilk in order to do it, but here it is:

Home-made cornbread and buttermilk.

It was a pleasant surprise, with the mild lactic acid notes of sour cream and the crumbly texture of the cornbread that soaked up the liquid, resulting in something that was more reminiscent of a pudding than anything else. Ah, that’s it! Indian pudding meets mamaligeh, that quintessentially Ashkenazic/Romanian combination of corn meal mush (i.e., polenta), cottage cheese, and sour cream. A meal in itself, or even a grown-up dessert.

And now I need fear buttermilk no more.

[But there’s still no fucking way I’m eating a balut.]