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

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

SWEET SIXTEEN

Chez Elisson - July 2014
Chez Elisson, in an HDR image taken July 2014. [Click to embiggen.]

As of today, we’ve lived here at Chez Elisson for sixteen years - this being the anniversary of our closing.

Neither I nor The Missus have lived under a single roof for that length of time anywhere else. The closest I came was fourteen-plus years at our Unqua Road home in Massapequa, New York, where I spent many of my formative Snot-Nose Years.

Over the long years, the tiny Japanese maples that flank the front door have gotten huge, and the magnolias on either side of the house have grown to astonishing size. Many of our other trees have had to undergo massive pruning. We have not gone quite so far as our neighbor across the street, who yanked out almost all the trees on his property after last year’s near miss with an EF-1 tornado.

Most recently, we’ve dressed up the old cheesebox bungalow with a new roof. Looks pretty snazzy, no? Plus it keeps the rain off our heads at night.

Monday, July 28, 2014

FORBIDDEN FRUIT: A 100-WORD STORY

Life in the Garden was wonderful.

The weather was always perfect, appropriate for a nudist resort. Food was always on hand, costing only the effort required to pull it from the trees. No rules... just right.

Well, one rule. Don’t eat the fruit from the Tree of Knowledge.

The Serpent was having none of that. He persuaded Eve to eat, and the rest is Scripture: “I will greatly multiply thy pain and thy travail; in pain shalt thou bring forth children, and when thou art old, thou shalt be wrinkled.” 

“Shit,” thought Eve. “I never should have eaten that prune.”

PANEM ET CASEUM

Three-Cheese Pizza - up close
Homemade three-cheese pizza with mozzarella, taleggio, Parmesan, and a shitload of black pepper.

Never mind bread and circuses... give me bread and cheese and I’ll be a happy camper. And what is a better exemplar of the glories of bread and cheese than the pizza?

[OK, there is the Grilled Cheese Sandwich. Made with good bread and a flavorsome cheddar or Gruyère, it’s a perfectly fine alternative... but that’s a story for another post.]

Having grown up in the New York area, pizza was a part of our lives from Day One. After all, I lived in Massapequa, a village on the south shore of Long Island that was called Matzoh-Pizza by many of the locals, owing to the relatively large proportion of Jewish and Italian residents. The local product consisted of two types of pies: the round Neapolitan, with a thin, floppy crust laden with cheese and tomato; and the Sicilian, a rectangular version with a substantially thicker and breadier crust. I was a Neapolitan fan from Day One... or at least as far back as I can remember.

When I left the northeast and moved to Texas, I was horrified to find that I had moved to a pizza desert. Oh, there was pizza a-plenty, but the Real Thing - that glorious Neapolitan pie of my youth - was thin on the ground, available in only a few places. Mostly there was the crap available from places like Pizza Hut and Pizza Inn... and, later, Domino’s. Year later, though, Houston was where I first discovered the Tuscan-style pie, with a shatteringly crisp crust that - as Laurence Simon was wont to say - you could slit your wrists with. Wow.

Pizza options abound these days. In our neighborhood - assuming you have no interest in the fast food offerings of Domino’s, Papa John’s, and the like - you have places like Capozzi’s, Aurelio’s and Uncle Maddio’s. Of these, Capozzi’s offers the closest thing to the Pies of My Youth. Oh, and there’s a California Pizza Kitchen, an outfit that I liked a lot more when they had duck sausage pizza with spinach on the menu. Oh, well.

It wasn’t until last week that I tried my hand at making my own pizza from scratch. That was a mistake. It’s way better than the commercial stuff, so now I have a new Food-Temptation to resist.

The key is to let the dough - made with a blend of finely ground 00 flour and all-purpose flour - rise in the fridge overnight or longer. The long fermentation allows all sorts of nice flavors to develop.

And what to enjoy with this cheesy delight? How about a Nantucket Red?

2 ounces white tequila
1 ounce Aperol
Juice of half a lemon
Grapefruit soda

Combine the tequila, Aperol, and lemon juice in a cocktail shaker with ice. Shake vigorously and strain into a highball glass with ice. Top with grapefruit soda; stir. Garnish with a lemon peel.

One of the trendy Atlanta restaurants was advertising this drink, so I made my own version. It’s named, strangely enough, for a style and color of pants - presumably one that is popular in certain New England vacation spots. Nantucket Red: That sounds so much more appetizing than “Charleston Chino,” doesn’t it?

Thursday, July 24, 2014

THE STING: A 100-WORD STORY

Don Giacomo Finocchio sat behind his enormous oaken desk. An incongruously tiny cup of espresso sat before him from which he sipped, pinkie finger upraised delicately.

His consiglieri had been pressing him to strike against the Nunzios for weeks now. Yet Finocchio had not acted rashly. There were negotiations to conduct, arrangements to finalize, before he could make his move.

Everything was ready now. “Fluttuare come una farfalla, pungere come un’ape,” he thought to himself as he raised his wand, unleashing his sting. Miles away, every Nunzio caporegime fell stone dead.

Being a fairy Godfather, Finocchio thought, had its advantages.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

IVY LEAGUE DRINKAGE

Princeton Cocktail
The Princeton Cocktail: sophisticated, elegant, a bit arcane, and fully capable of Getting the Job Done.

I had never given much thought to the fact that there exist mixed drinks named after various educational institutions... but apparently, Ivy League cocktails have been around for quite some time, according to an article that had been graciously forwarded to me by Leslie, the Omnibus Driver.

Some of these cocktails sound like they’re worth a try, while others inspire a certain degree of fear and loathing... and that’s based solely on their ingredients, not on their names. Nevertheless, given my educational provenance (and given the contents of my little Lacquer Liquor Locker), I had to give the Princeton Cocktail a try. Here’s what to do:

2 ounces Old Tom gin (I used Hayman’s)
Couple dashes orange bitters (I used Fee Brothers)
¾ ounce ruby or tawny Port, preferably chilled (I used Warres Tawny)

Combine the gin and bitters with ice in a cocktail shaker. Stir well and strain into a cocktail glass. Carefully pour the Port into the glass along the side so that it forms a (mostly) separate layer at the bottom. Squeeze a bit of orange peel over the drink and discard (the peel, not the drink, Harvard Boy.)

If you don’t have Old Tom gin in your collection of spirits, you can concoct a rough approximation by using two ounces of Plymouth gin with a half-teaspoon of simple syrup.

Savor this cocktail slowly. Owing to the layer of Port at the bottom, its character changes with every sip. Have a few of ’em, and they’ll transport you to the verdant fields and Gothic spires of Old Nassau.

Blair Hall HDR

Update: I’ve now had a chance to try making one of these with Ransom Old Tom gin, and it’s also excellent, with a more complex malty character. Either way, a fine cocktail.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

MAKE MINE A DOPPEL

Me and Tucci
Me and Stanley Tucci... separated at birth?

They say everyone has a doppelgänger, someone who bears an eerie resemblance to another individual. I’m not sure there is anyone who has the unfortunate lot in life to be my doppel, but at various times in my life, there have been a few that - some have said - at least looked vaguely like me.

In my high school days, it was Dustin Hoffman. After The Graduate came out, all too many people would greet me by saying, “Plastics,” a bizarre foreshadowing of my career with the Great Corporate Salt Mine. And later, during the long years when I sported a moustache, other comparisons were inevitable

Now that I’m a bit older and my hair has become, ahhh, significantly less in evidence, new comparisons have begun to pop up... like the one pictured above. Not quite a “Separated at Birth” moment - Mr. Tucci is eight years my junior - but still...

Saturday, July 19, 2014

MOLE REMOVAL

The other day I went to see the doctor, and he removed a mole.

No, it’s not what you think. The doctor was not my dermatologist, and I did not go to his office to have something snipped off my skin. This was Dr. T., a personal friend, and he and I were taking an afternoon dip in his swimming pool. The good doctor removed said mole - the mammalian variety - from said pool, where it had drowned.

The mole is a creature of the earth: A swimming pool, being mostly filled with water, is not its natural habitat. The poor little feller was out of its element, and a mole in water will fare little better than a fish out of water.

[Those inclined to squeamishness should probably stay on this side of the jump.]

Thursday, July 17, 2014

SUNBEAM

Sunbeam Stella
Astride a sunbeam, Stella seems to cast her own light.

Stella, the fluffy kitty
Has a very tiny nose
From looking at this picture
You might even think she glows

FISH ON A DISH

Montreal Steak Salmon
Roasted salmon with Montreal Steak seasoning, lemon zest, and piment d’espelette. Yowza.


Sometimes, to paraphrase the Incredible String Band, a fish on a dish is just what I wish. And when the good folks at Costco are selling slabs of wild-caught sockeye for a very reasonable price, how can I resist? I ask you.

I love salmon filets prepared any manner of ways, and simple tends to be best. I like to grill ’em on a well-soaked cedar plank, which gives them a nice light smoky flavor. The Missus will wrap them in heavy-duty foil and park them on the grill, a method that allows the fish to baste in its own natural juices. Delicious. And if that’s too complicated, twenty minutes in the oven at 350°F gets the job done nicely.

When it comes to seasoning the fish, there are all sorts of choices. Williams-Sonoma, purveyor of (mostly) overpriced foods and gadgets, sells an excellent rub under the name “Potlatch Seasoning.” Plain old salt and pepper work well, too, and you can go the Asian route with any number of variations on the teriyaki or ginger-soy theme. Lately, though, I’ve been happy with Montreal steak seasoning, a McCormick standard that works even better added to hamburger meat or sprinkled on fish. According to Wikipedia,
“...the Montreal deli Schwartz’s is credited with the creation of Montreal steak seasoning. The story of its creation is that, during the 1940’s and 1950’s, a Schwartz’s broilerman by the name of Morris ‘The Shadow’ Sherman began adding the deli’s smoked meat pickling spices to his own rib and liver steaks. Soon the customers began asking for the same. Due to its popularity, it eventually became a norm in Montreal delis and steakhouses such as the nearby Moishes Steakhouse and the Main Deli Steak House to spice their steaks similarly.”
This time I added another twist by adding a liberal amount of lemon zest and piment d’espelette, the fiery Basque red pepper.  Just what the doctor wishes he had ordered.

Oh, that green stuff on the plate? Arugula dressed with lemon juice and gremolata-infused olive oil. Sounds too frou-frou for you? Tough titty.

Monday, July 14, 2014

CAREER CHANGE: A 100-WORD STORY

Ron was sick to death of the shop.

He used to love the place, no question. It was only natural that he ended up there, helping brother George run things after Fred was killed in the War. But the stress of dealing with customers was nothing compared with the gut-grinding agita of working alongside George.

So he left, opening a golf shop that was equally popular with muggles and wizards... for Ron’s practice balls could work wonders, magically bouncing off water, avoiding sand, and veering away from trees.

People would queue up for blocks to buy buckets of Strange Balls.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

I PITY THE POOR FOOL...

... who doesn’t like a tasty fool for dessert.

Lemon-Blueberry Fool
Lemon-Blueberry Fool.

When most of us think “British desserts,” we think of heavy suet puddings with picturesque names like Spotted Dick, Drowned Baby, and Treacle Sponge. And of course there’s the ubiquitous flaming Christmas pudding. All fine and dandy, but not what one would call summery.

There is a completely different sort of British pudding, though (pudding, that is, in the British sense - a generic name for dessert). That would be your fool, in its simplest form a concoction of berries and whipped cream.

The Lemon-Blueberry Fool shown above is a little bit more complicated. It combines two flavors that go together beautifully - lemon and blueberry, a match made in Food Heaven. The assertive sharpness of the lemon is tamed by converting it into a tart, silky lemon curd, while the blueberries’ flavor is intensified by gently cooking them into a compote.

The basic recipe is here at seriouseats.com. I made a few minor tweaks, to wit: (1) When making the lemon curd, I add the butter (cut into small chunks) after the sugar-egg yolk-lemon juice mixture is fully cooked, and (2) I strain the hot lemon curd before chilling it.

This stuff is light, yet satisfying. (Well, not too light. Butter, egg yolks, whipped cream, sugar. Oof.) It’s a perfect dessert for a warm summer evening... and it tastes every bit as good as it looks.

Monday, July 7, 2014

A FEW THOUGHTS ON A LOST ART

Today, July 7, is an anniversary of sorts.

I started keeping an Online Journal ten years ago today, with a post that, not surprisingly to those who know me, made mention of certain unmentionable digestive issues. (Online Journal sounds so more professional and important than “blog,” that distasteful-sounding nonce word that comes from hacking off the first two letters of “weblog.”) That was at a site I chose to call “Blog d’Elisson” out of a combined failure of creativity and a desire to honor my father. I was, after all, Eli’s son, and so that became my nom d’électron.

What was the point of all this? You may well ask. I had already accumulated a small pile of miscellaneous scribblings, and I suppose I was curious as to whether anyone else would find them amusing and/or worthwhile. All it took was a precipitating event to get me started. And, as I discovered later, there was the element of catharsis, as well: It felt good to write about certain things... even if they were painful. Writing as anodyne.  

The catchphrase I used on that site was “Another Monumental Exercise in Self-Aggrandizement and Time-Wastage,” the first such exercise having been the static website I started sometime around the turn of the century. I hesitate to try to calculate how many hours I have pissed away writing at both Blog d’Elisson and here, but when you consider that there is a combined total of over 5,000 posts at the two sites, you can assume that, at least, the Time-Wastage part of my mission has been successful.

As far as Self-Aggrandizement is concerned, blogging is not necessarily the most efficient way of tooting one’s own horn. (If that were my main concern, I would have been better served by simply renting a billboard on Atlanta’s Downtown Connector and slapping my grinning face on it.) My use of that term, originally, had been facetious... and yet I cannot deny the modest ego boost I got back in the early days of my bloggitry when I would get a new blogroll link - hell, any link - or a comment. Those, along with my pageview stats, meant that somebody out there in the Internet-Ether had read something I had written, sometimes liking it enough to lob a comment back over the net or plug a link into his or her own site. That somebody was most likely a total stranger, and yet those invisible linky connections, over time, sometimes morphed into real-life friendships. One element that made those friendships remarkable was their sheer unlikeliness: These were people I would probably never have encountered in everyday life - yet we became bound together solely by the strength of our ideas and our ability to express them.

That, to me, was what made Old-School Blogging special. It built communities... without necessarily intending to. And it did not rely on a self-selected network of “ffriends” to keep it going.

Alas, Facebook (which I refer to as “Farcebook” in my blacker moods) has eaten the guts out of blogging. That is, any guts that remained after the commercial interests jumped in. Most of the people who used to write personal blogs have given up and migrated to Facebook, where their connectivity is measured in their number of ffriends, their likes, their status updates, their shares. Blogroll links and comments just aren’t sexy any more.

That’s too bad, because - to me, anyway - blogs were where I discovered people whose politics were different from mine... or the same. People who looked at the same things I did and came away with completely different takes. People whose senses of humor were all over the map. People who saw the beauty in the mundane. People who were just plain nuts... but entertainingly so. People who could write... and make me want to read more. And people who interacted with you, people with whom you could have a dialogue.

Rob Smith, who styled himself Acidman on his famous - some would say infamous - blog Gut Rumbles, used to call his blogging “a ceaseless quest for adoration from people who don’t know me.” Sounds an awful lot like Self-Aggrandizement, doesn’t it? And that is hardly a surprise, for it is normal for males to seek the Three A’s: admiration, appreciation, and acknowledgement. Adoration and aggrandizement might be a bit more extreme, but they certainly fall somewhere in the spectrum with those other A’s.

Since mid-2010, I’ve been writing here at Lost in the Cheese Aisle, where the elements of self-aggrandizement and time-wastage, while still present, are no longer worth memorializing in the form of a catchphrase. The title of the blog comes from one of the Missus’s more endearing characterizations of me: when I’m acting especially distracted or confused, she calls it “being lost in the cheese aisle.” (I am actually capable of getting lost in the cheese aisle. Oooh, cheese!) That ADHD-ish facet of my personality can be exasperating, but I like to believe that it adds to my charm... at least, such charm as I may possess.

And I suppose I will keep writing here, albeit with diminished frequency. I started all of this Online Journalism for my own amusement - despite any and all appearances to the contrary - and as long as it continues to amuse me, I’ll keep flogging the beast.

Sunday, July 6, 2014

BLOWN AWAY

That was my reaction to this video of fireworks in West Palm Beach, Florida... filmed from the midst of the explosions, using a GoPro Hero 3 silver camera attached to a DJI Phantom 2 drone.

Remarkably, the drone was not damaged despite its proximity to the bursting shells.



Now I wanna get me my own drone. At the very least, I can use it to terrify the local conspiracy theorists.

Friday, July 4, 2014

PATRIOTIC TOES

Patriotic Toes
Our friend Arlene sports a snazzy July 4 toenail job.

On Independence Day, anything goes -
So get yourself some Patriotic Toes.
When red, and white, and blue adorn thy Nails,
Your Love of Country cannot ever fail.
Not all the Bombast of a Fireworks Show
Can match the Colors painted on your Toe.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

INCONSOLABLE

When I am in a nasty mood,
Not all the spangled pulchritude
Of Vegas beauty pageant winners -
No porterhouses (grilled) for dinner,
Accompanied by dry Martinis,
And caviar-bespeckled blinis -
No cakes from the Cacao-Bean
Can serve to ease my vile mien.

Monday, June 30, 2014

TODAY’S PERFORATED HEADGEAR PINUP

Colander Spoon Elisson

If there’s a colander, I’ll wear it.
(If I’m feeling generous, I’ll share it.)

On this final day of June,
Check out my snazzy Colander-Spoon!

[Strainer positioning assistance provided by Elder Daughter.]