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

Monday, December 31, 2012



Today is the last day of 2012.

Today is the day I wax reflective and somewhat retrospective concerning the twelvemonth immediately past.  It’s a perfectly logical time to do so, those last few hours before the last digit on the annometer ticks over from 2 to 3.

As happens every year, people were born, people lived, and people died.  Some were famous, some had accomplished great things in their lives, and some were completely nondescript... except to the people who knew and loved them.  And some - all too many, really - lost their lives in senseless, stupid ways.  There is always evil in the world, and it makes itself evident in ever more horrifying manners, adding new words to the lexicon of pain and grief.  Aurora. Newtown.

Twenty-twelve was the year of Superstorm Sandy, the monster hurricane that pummeled the Northeast and laid waste to huge stretches of the New Jersey shore and the New York area... another reminder of human frailty when confronted with the immensity of Nature’s power.

This was the year Hakuna, our seventeen-plus-year-old cat, departed this world to join her sister Matata on the other side of the Rainbow Bridge.  She had a long, happy life, Hakuna did, and after Matata’s passing four years ago, she enjoyed her status as sole uncontested Mistress of the Manor.  We had not planned on bringing a new Animal Companion into our lives quite so soon, but young Levon practically dropped into our laps Thanksgiving week: So much for plans.

This was the year the Missus and I celebrated our thirty-fifth wedding anniversary... and we did it in style, treating ourselves to the trip of a lifetime: a two-week jaunt to Israel.  It was a remarkable experience, one that left us changed in a myriad subtle ways.  And now that She Who Must Be obeyed has seen that she can survive the transatlantic flights and the long bus rides, perhaps other international travel plans can be added to our Life Agenda.  Hooray!

This was the year I turned sixty.  There’s nothing quite like entering a new Decade o’ Earthly Existence to remind you of just how long you’ve been marching around the planet.  Happily, at sixty, I am fortunate enough to be reasonably healthy (keyn ayin hara!) and in halfway decent physical shape.  Those are great and good things, yet they are never guaranteed, and they always come with an expiration date. If nothing else, 2012 was a year during which I was more conscious than ever of the everyday blessings of life... for I have seen just how ephemeral they can be. It is thus incumbent upon us to enjoy them while we can.

Given that you are reading this post, the Mayan Apocalypse appears to have been a bust... which means we will have an opportunity to ride this planet around the Sun yet another time.  May we all be able to ride it together, and may the coming year bring you, my Esteemed Reader, health, happiness, love, safety, and success in all your worthy endeavors, without limit to any good thing.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012


Iversen was a man who loved the High Places.

Over the past seventeen years, he had scaled many of them, striding the crests of Annapurna, Kangchenjunga, and Lhotse.

He had lost three digits to frostbite during his 2009 ascent of the great Chomolungma, the mountain the Europeans called Everest. He had gone up the difficult north face, reckoning the missing toes a small price for the experience.

On his last expedition to the Himalayas, he had climbed K-2. Twice. Child’s play.

But when they asked Iversen to lead an attempt on K-Y, he declined, saying, “Now, that’s a slippery slope.”

Friday, December 21, 2012


On the highway there’s one thing I truly hate -
It’s the asshole who just loves to tailgate.
I’d like to strangle the mother-humper
Who insists on riding right on my rear bumper.
At seventy per, there’s no room for error
So back the fuck off, Mister Reign-of-Terror.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012


Those of us who enjoy the occasional Sunday morning brunch know that there are certain Beverage Conventions that attach to that particular ritual.

Sure, there’s the almost required-by-law glass of orange juice.  If you’re having your Sunday brunch in a decent place, it will be freshly squeezed. If not, shame on you.

There is the requisite Hot Beverage.  Make mine coffee... but plenty of people enjoy a fine cuppa (that’d be tea, if you’re British-impaired).  I do not judge here, merely observe.  (Unlike with the orange juice.)

And then there’s the alcohol.

Depending on the laws in the state where you reside, the opening shot on Brunchy Alcohol may not be fired until noon, as is the case here.  But once the sun is directly overhead, there are Options.

Some like the Mimosa, a simple blend of orange juice and sparkling wine.  If you want to do it right, use freshly squeezed juice (always!) and real Champagne.  A bargain bottle works just fine: You do not want to be using Dom Pérignon in your Mimosa unless you are the sort that lights cigars with C-notes.

There’s the Ramos gin fizz (a popular item at T.G.I. Friday’s), a concoction of citrus, gin, seltzer, and, presumably, Ramos.  And of course, the Bloody Mary, favorite of the country club set.

Well, all of these Brunchy Beverages are fine, as far as it goes, but they are now officially passé.  Defunct.  Superseded.

How so? you ask.

Well, a couple of months ago, I happened upon this bizarre, yet strangely irresistible bottle:

Smoked Salmon Vodka
Smoked salmon vodka. Insane! I know! 

How can you not have fun with an ingredient like that?

It was Josh, Houston Steve’s son, who came up with the perfect Cocktail Concept: Add some dill-infused vermouth, and presto!  You have a Loxtini - the perfect Sunday brunch bevvy.  If your brunch menu includes smoked salmon, even better!

And so, presented for your Drinky Enjoyment...

The Loxtini. Move over, Bloody Mary!

The Loxtini

2½ oz smoked salmon flavored vodka
½ oz dill-infused dry vermouth

Combine ingredients in an ice-filled shaker; stir well and strain into a chilled cocktail glass.  Garnish with a sprig of fresh dill and a chunk or two of gravlax.

The dill-infused vermouth is simple enough: Place several sprigs of fresh dill in a cup of dry vermouth, heat to the simmering point and let cool.  Strain into a jar or bottle and store in the fridge.

Bloody Mary, move over!  Mimosa, scrambooch!  Ramos gin fizz, don’t let the door hit you in the ass as you’re leaving!  There’s a new drink in town, and he’s gonna eat your brunch.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012


The Monkey Gland cocktail.

The Monkey Gland (pictured above) is that rarest of rara avis - a cocktail named after a somewhat revolting surgical procedure, an early attempt at hormone replacement therapy.

Huh? Wuddat?

Well, back in the 1920’s, a physician, one Sergei Voronoff, came up with the brilliant idea of enleadening his male patients’ pencils by grafting tissue from monkey testicles into said patients’ nutsacks.  (The procedure was touted as a means of general rejuvenation, but when men of those pre-Viagra days talked about wanting to feel younger, it was mostly for the purpose of achieving Massive Bonerage.)  And thus it was that the good Doctor Voronoff, already a wealthy man, began collecting even greater sackfuls of cha-ching... to the point where he was even able to operate his own monkey farm for the express purpose of providing tissue for his monkey-gland transplants!  Monkey glands became a fixture of the popular culture of the time, inspiring comic routines, songs (e.g., Irving Berlin’s “Monkey-Doodle-Doo”)... and even a cocktail.  This one!

You’re putting what where?  WTF, dude!??!
After the Roaring Twenties ceased to roar, the procedure fell out of favor to the point where Voronoff became an object of ridicule.  Whether this was due to the Depression-driven diminution in the number of people with more money than brains, or to the slow but eventual public realization that monkey-gland transplantation didn’t accomplish its, ahhh, intended results, nobody can say... but when Voronoff finally died in 1951, the few obituaries that were printed were written as though Doctor V had always been ridiculed for his work.  But that, Esteemed Readers, is mere revisionism, perhaps society’s way of dealing with the shame of having been Taken In.

Monkey-gland transplants (yecch!) may not have survived, but the eponymous (and, alas, somewhat obscure) cocktail does.  And while we may afford ourselves a snide chuckle at Voronoff’s legacy, the legacy of Harry MacElhone (of Harry’s New York Bar, Paris) is much more likely to enleaden your pencil.

The Monkey Gland

1½ oz gin
1½ oz freshly squeezed orange juice
1 tsp absinthe
1 tsp pomegranate grenadine

Combine in a shaker with ice.  Shake vigorously and strain into a cocktail glass.

I use the term “pomegranate grenadine” to indicate a grenadine made with real pomegranate juice, not the bullshit high fructose corn syrup with artificial flavoring and food coloring that comes in the Rose’s bottle.  (A fine recipe for real grenadine is available here.)

It’s going to be fun making these when blood orange season comes along - the color will be dramatic and the flavor sweet and citric.  Note that there is no specified garnish... but if you can score a monkey testicle, just spear it with a toothpick and drop it in for that extra je ne sais quoi.


Back in my Snot-Nose Days, one of the little delights of the Festive Season was... Christmas cookies!

Christmas was not Our Thing, you understand.  But we had many friends and neighbors who celebrated with gusto enough to go around.

Our neighbors across the street, the Williams family - their teenage daughter would often babysit me and the Other Elisson - would inevitably invite us over.  We would admire their Christmas tree and its scintillating lights, and the adults would do... whatever it was adults do when they get together.  Eat and drink.  But what I looked forward to was the moment the cookies appeared... for Mrs. Williams was a Past Master at making one of the rarest and subtlest of treats: the Rum Ball.

Ahh, those Rum Balls!  Roughly the size of a ping pong ball, they had a sandy, yet yielding texture on the inside, and a snowy layer of sweet confectioner’s sugar on the outside.  Their sweet elusive rummy flavor is buried unto this day in a secret recess in my reptilian hindbrain.  Rum balls?  Had they been Opium Balls, they would have been no more addictive.

“Don’t have too many of those,” Dad would warn us.  “You”ll get shikker.”  Could we really get drunk from eating rum balls?  I doubted it, but you never knew.  Was that an alcoholic buzz that was beginning to steal over me, or just a sugar high?

There were other cookies, too.  Julia, one of the women who worked with Dad, would each year present us with a platter of assorted Christmas cookies.  These were not store-bought cookies, either - they were all homemade in their amazing variety, a real labor of love.  Those cookies were better than anything that ever came out of a bakery.  And yet...

...not even Julia, the Sweet Genius of Christmas cookies, could make a rum ball to compete with the ones Mrs. Williams made.  Alas, they are now relegated to the Memory-Bank, for in the intervening fifty-plus years I have never tasted their like.

Monday, December 17, 2012


Birdhouse Levon Too
Birdhouse? Birdhouse? Yeah, I got ya bird, right here.

Mister Lord-of-All-He-Surveys inspects the kitchen and den from his lofty perch.


Damned internet was down for three days here... some glitch in our DSL service.

What a royal pain in the arse.

But now we’re online again... which means we can return you to our regularly scheduled program of recipes, cat pictures, and carefully staged photographs of cocktails.  And the occasional Filthy Poem.

Let joy be unrestrained.

Friday, December 14, 2012


Homestyle Hummus
Homemade hummus, decorated with a few spare chickpeas, a squirt of oil, and some za’atar.

Hum a hymn of hummus,
A pocketful of peas,
Boil ’em up, add tahini,
Pass the pita, please!

Boiled chickpeas, tahini, garlic, lemon juice, salt, and a little water.  It don’t get much simpler than that...


Lesson One: Do not fart in the Shower Stall,
For the Vapors are trapped by that hard glass Wall.
They surround the Man who lets loose his Aroma
Causing him to swoon into a Turd-Stench Coma.

Thus, if you must, let it rip at the Mall,
Or discreetly pop one out whilst you dance at the Ball -
But, lest you suffer your own fragrant Wrath,
Never, ever fart in the Shower-Bath.

Thursday, December 13, 2012


Yet more stuff that should be in the dictionary but isn’t.

Long-time readers of my previous site may recall the Blog d’Elisson Dictionary, installments of which may be found in that site’s Archives.

For other entries in the Cheese Aisle Dictionary, simply click on the sidebar link for Cheese-Dic.

Today’s Word of the Day comes to us courtesy of El Capitan over at Baboon Pirates. It meets - nay, exceeds - all of the criteria for inclusion in the Cheese Aisle Dictionary: It is a new coinage, it is useful, it is funny... and in this case, it has the added bonus of being disgusting. Score!

fartspatter [färt-spa-tər] (n) - 1: Unwanted side effect of flatus whilst urinating in a state of nekkidness: What should end up as a skivvie-skidmark instead speckles the shower curtain. 2: Excess work for employees generated due to the rantings of minor-level elected officials (city councilmen, aldermen, et al.) in an effort to increase their stature.

“When Councilman Anders started pounding on the desk and demanding answers, the records clerks knew they’d be in the office cleaning up the fartspatter until the wee hours.”

Wednesday, December 12, 2012


Anyone who ever spent any time as a kid in the city - what they call an Urban Environment these days - knows the fine art of playing the dozens.

It is a verbal art form of sorts, one that developed and was perfected in the African-American community.  It’s easy enough to play: All you do is get two or more people together and have them shout an ever-escalating series of insults at each other until everything devolves into a street brawl.

Insults that begin with the words “Yo’ mama...” are popular.  Directing insults - especially ones involving sexual derogation - at your opponent’s mother is especially effective at bringing things to a rapid boil.

“Yo’ mama is so ugly, she gotta hang a pork chop around her neck to get the dog to come to her.”
Yo’ mama got no problem getting the dog to come to her.  The dog is the one with the problem.”

Playing the dozens in the suburbs is fun, too, but it seems to be missing something.

“Your mother loses at Bunco.”
“Your mother buys her clothes at T J Maxx and shoves them into a Nordstrom bag so everyone thinks she bought her clothes at Nordstrom.”
“Your mother thinks Jimmy Choo is a kind of bubble gum.”

I got to thinking about the dozens for the sole, completely stupid reason that today is 12-12-12.  Which, as we all know, is three dozen.

My suggestion?  At twelve minutes and twelve seconds after noon, eat a dozen eggs (or better yet, a dozen doughnuts) and drink a couple of six-packs.  That way, you’d be doing 12 and 12 at 12:12:12 on 12-12-12.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012


Millionaire Cocktail
The Millionaire Cocktail.

When people ask me how I am, I will occasionally respond with, “I feel like a million bucks!  All green and wrinkly.”  (It’s not nearly as amusing after you’ve heard it for the 746th time.  Just ask She Who Must Be Obeyed.)

A few days ago, however, I fixed myself a Millionaire Cocktail, and this one really did make me feel like a million bucks... in the good way.

The recipe comes from Jason Kosmas and Dushan Zaric’s book Speakeasy: Classic Cocktails Reimagined from New York’s Employees Only Bar. The only major change I made was using Jeffrey Morgenthaler’s recipe for grenadine rather than the one Kosmas and Zaric include in their book.

Millionaire Cocktail

2 oz Knob Creek bourbon (I used the single-barrel reserve version)
¾ oz Grand Marnier
¼ oz Ricard pastis (I used Pastis 51)
½ oz grenadine
½ oz lemon juice
1 egg white

Combine the ingredients in a shaker with ice.  Shake vigorously and strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with freshly grated nutmeg.

Do not let the idea of putting egg white in your drink scare you off: It’s used in many classic cocktail recipes to create a creamy, smooth mouthfeel.

I really wanted to try this one because I wanted an excuse to use some of the fine grenadine I had concocted several days ago.  Not only that, but I had had a bottle of Pastis 51 sitting around that I had not touched in ages.  (Anise-flavored pastis, with a little water added to bring out the louche effect, makes a fine drink all by itself - as befits absinthe’s kid brother.)

Using the 120-proof single-barrel reserve version of Knob Creek made sense, with the other ingredients tempering the impact of the high alcohol level.  Regardless, more than one of these will indeed have you feeling green and wrinkly.  Or drinkly.

Meanwhile, I’m glad I tried the Millionaire... and you can take that to the bank.

Monday, December 10, 2012


Cranberry Liqueur
Homemade cranberry liqueur, fresh from the bogs of New Jersey.  Or Massachusetts.  Or wherever the hell those cranberry bogs are.

“Bog.”  It’s a funny word.  Say it a few hundred times and it sounds even funnier.

It is a word with multiple meanings.  Webster’s (their Seventh New Collegiate Dictionary, which, given its copyright date of 1967, is hardly “new” at this point) defines it as “wet, spongy ground, especially a poorly drained usually acid area rich in plant residues, frequently surrounding a body of open water and having a characteristic flora.”  It’s another word for a swamp, quagmire, bayou, or marsh, fen, or wetland.

To a Brit, a bog is a toilet... which, I suppose, says something about the toilets in Old Blighty.

And who lives in the bog?  Why, the Boggy-Man, of course.

The Boggy-Man, contrary to popular belief, does not subsist on a diet of lost children.  He is, rather, a fruitarian: Blueberries, cranberries, cloudberries, huckleberries and lingonberries all grow wild in bogs.  Only those enterprising souls who are willing to confront the Boggy-Man will harvest those tasty morsels... but the rewards are abundantly delicious.

* * *

The cranberry is a Bog-Fruit with which most of us are familiar, and one that is especially popular this time of year.  And so, when I saw this recipe for Do-It-Yourself Cranberry Liqueur, I knew I would have to give it a try.

When the Missus and I were in Texas the week of Thanksgiving, I convinced my BIL Aaron that making our own cranberry liqueur would be a worthwhile project, what with it being Thanksgiving and all.  It certainly was easy enough: all you do is simmer cranberries and orange zest in sugar and water, then add vodka and let things macerate happily for a few days.  Strain out the solids and - easy-peasy - you're good to go.

The results were quite pleasing.  We made a double recipe of the stuff, and barely a few drams survived the holiday.

But when I tried it at home, I learned that it ain’t all that simple.

You want to let those cranberries cook for about 10-15 minutes, enough so that they start to break down.  And you want to help them along with a fork, mashing them up just a little.  What you do not want to do is purée those bad boys with an immersion blender until they’re liquified - if you do, you’ll never be able to separate the tasty liqueur from the fruit solids.  I learned this the hard way when I discovered that it was completely impossible to filter the jellylike glop I had created.

Back to the drawing board.

Happily, the next attempt was eminently successful.  The results are pictured above, and I will tell you that that stuff is every bit as tasty as it looks.

I do not drink Cosmopolitans, but I’d be willing to bet that you could make a really good one by using this liqueur in lieu of the typical bottled cranberry juice.  Even the Boggy-Man would agree!

Saturday, December 8, 2012


[If Dear Abby can get away with reprinting the same frickin’ Holiday Columns every stinking year, why not Elisson? We are therefore pleased to offer this Editorial Response previously published here and at Blog d’Elisson, one that is both timely and appropriate to the season. Chanukah begins at sundown on Saturday, December 8 this year.]

We take pleasure in answering thus prominently the electronic-mail communication below, expressing at the same time our great gratification that its faithful author is numbered among the friends of Lost in the Cheese Aisle:
“I am 8 years old. Some of my little friends say there was no Judah Maccabee and that Chanukah is a load of crap. Papa says, ‘If you see it in Lost in the Cheese Aisle, it’s so.’ Please tell me the truth, was there a Judah Maccabee?” - Patty O’Furniture
Patty, your little friends are wrong. They have been affected by the skepticism of a skeptical age. They do not believe except what they see. They think that nothing can be which is not comprehensible by their little minds. All they care about is that fat red-suited guy who schleps presents to Yenemvelt and back. All minds, Patty, whether they be men’s or children’s, are little. In this great universe of ours, man is a mere insect, an ant, goornisht, in his intellect as compared with the boundless world about him, as measured by the intelligence capable of grasping the whole of truth and knowledge.

Yes, Patty, there was a Judah Maccabee.

He existed as certainly as dedication and courage and devotion exist. He kicked some serious ass back in the day, Judah did, throwing the Greco-Syrians out of Judea and reclaiming the holy Temple. His struggle was a struggle against assimilation, against those who would be seduced by the pop culture of the day. He fought his battles so that we Jews would retain our cultural identity and not be swallowed up in the prevailing pagan mainstream. Alas! how dreary would be the world if there had been no Judah Maccabee! It would be as dreary as if there were no Pattys. (Or furniture.) There would be no candle-lighting then, no singing Ma-oz Tzur (or even those stupid dreidel songs), no commemoration of the miraculous rededication of the Temple. No Judah? We would even today be schmearing ourselves with olive oil and burning pig hearts as sacrifices to Zeus. And our Christian friends would have no Christmas - for the culture that gave rise to Jesus would have been wiped out. The eternal light - the ner tamid - with which childhood fills the world would be extinguished.

Not believe in Judah? You might as well not believe in fairies. Or the Matzohball That Does Not Sink. Or Eliyahu ha-Navi. You might get your papa to hire men to watch all the seder tables of the world to catch a glimpse of Eliyahu, but even if you did not see him, what would that prove? Nobody ever sees Eliyahu ha-Navi drink his wine at the Seder table, but that is no sign that there is no Eliyahu ha-Navi. The most real things in the world are those that neither children nor men can see. Did you ever see fairies dancing on the lawn? Of course not, but that's no proof that they are not there. (Although those footprints in the grass were more likely made by your Papa as he tried to sneak back into the house with a snootful of booze after the office Xmas party.) Nobody can conceive or imagine all the wonders there are unseen and unseeable in the world.

You can tear apart the knish and see the tasty filling inside, but there is a veil covering the unseen world which not the strongest man, nor even the united strength of all the strongest men that ever lived could tear apart. Only faith, poetry, love, romance, can push aside that curtain and view and picture the supernal beauty and glory beyond. Is it all real? Ah, Patty, in all this world there is nothing else real and abiding.

No Judah Maccabee? Thank G-d he lived - and lives forever. A thousand years from now, Patty, nay, 10 times 10,000 years from now, he will continue to chase the Greco-Syrians out of Judea and combat the forces of cultural assimilation, making glad the heart of childhood.

Happy Chanukah!

[Originally posted on December 25, 2004.]

Wednesday, December 5, 2012


Since the dawn of civilization, humans have used the natural process of fermentation to convert various foodstuffs into mind-numbing potables. In fact, a useful working definition of civilization might be “getting your collective shit together to the point where you know how to make beer.”

Beer has probably been around since neolithic (New Stone Age) times, having been invented something on the order of 11,000 years ago. Wine came along three or four thousand years later, but still before the beginning of recorded history. By that time, people had pretty much figured out that anything that had starch or sugar in it could be converted into a drink that would make you feel pleasantly dopey.

Distilled spirits, in which alcohol was concentrated to much higher levels than was possible with fermentation alone, date to sometime around the twelfth century, although the technology for producing them had already been around for over a millennium. With distillation, you could make firewater out of pretty much anything that would ferment. Grains (barley, wheat, oats, corn, rice), sweet or starchy vegetables (beets, potatoes, sugar cane), fruits (grapes, cherries, plums, pears, peaches, et alia) were all fair game.

But now the game has changed.

Enter James Gilpin, UK-based designer, art director, and researcher, who has figured out how to take advantage of an as-yet-untapped raw material for whisky production.  His brainchild, Gilpin Family Whisky, is the first Spirituous Liquor produced from the urine of human diabetics.

Mmmmm... whizky.  (Photo ©2012 James Gilpin)

If you think about it, it makes perfect sense.  People who suffer from diabetes mellitus (literally, sugar diabetes) - particularly if it is not treated - exhibit symptoms of polyuria and glycosuria.  In simple terms, you piss a lot... and that piss is sweet, full of the excess glucose that builds up in your bloodstream.  In ancient days, you knew you had a problem if your honey-like urine attracted hordes of flies.

Now, it’s not clear whether Mr. Gilpin is actually taking the urine of diabetics, fermenting it, and distilling the resulting Pish-Mash to make whisky, whether he is merely adding a little Sweet Pee to an existing whisky base, or whether he is just talking about it as an exercise in thought-experimental Performance Art: I cannot say.  You can go to his website and form your own conclusions.  But it’s an intriguing idea, nonetheless.

Finally, a whisky I would have no desire to taste.  Not even a wee dram.  And yet, what better product with which to get Piss-Drunk?

Update: Leave it to my friend Kevin Kim to take it to the next level. Yeef!


Momma, 1945
The Momma d’Elisson, age 17, in her high school graduation photo.

Today is her eighty-fifth birthday.

Anyone who, like myself, plans to raise a glass in her memory would do well to have her favorite, a Perfect Rob Roy.  You can find a serviceable recipe here.

Update: It was Poker Night this evening.  When I arrived at Houston Steve’s place, I saw that the ever-thoughtful Steve had already laid out all the fixin’s for that Perfect Rob Roy.  Blended Scotch, sweet and dry vermouths, Peychaud’s bitters, and lemon peels for garnish... everything present and accounted for.  I mixed up a round of those Rob Roys right then and there.  They put everyone in a good mood for our game, and their flavor was a spirited reminder of a very special lady.   

Tuesday, December 4, 2012


Several days ago, I wrote a post about Dangerous Playthings - the kind of toys we used to amuse ourselves back in our Snot-Nose Days that no rational parent would give their kids today... alas.

What inspired me to write that post was a memory that came burbling up, unbidden, in the recesses of my hindbrain... the memory of a specific toy.  In my usual ADD fashion, I managed to forget to mention that toy in the very post that its recollection inspired.

What toy was that?  Glad you asked.

It was a Crash Car.  The Crash Car was plastic automobile - built to 1/24 scale in the form of a late 1950’s sedan, if my recollection serves - that had spring-loaded body panels, doors, and hood.  When the car was rolled into an obstacle, the front bumper would actuate a release mechanism and cause the car to blow to flinders.  Crash!

Playing with the Crash Car provided endless hours of amusement, slamming it into convenient walls and pieces of furniture, watching it fly apart, searching for all the little plastic pieces, and then snapping them all back into place for the next crash.  If only it had come with a couple of little crash-test dummies inside it that would spray some sort of (nontoxic, washable) fake blood on impact, it would have been the perfect 1950’s plaything.

There’s absolutely No Fucking Way you could sell that toy today.

Small parts, easily swallowed by kid brothers and/or sisters?  Check.

Flying shards of plastic that may embed themselves in youthful eyeballs?  Check.

Creating amusement out of destructive acts?  Check.  This wasn’t a nerdly Educational Toy intended to teach you the locations, capitals, and major products of the (then) 48 states - I had one of those, too.  The only thing you learned was that, hey, smashing up cars is fun!  Waaaay more fun than making “cookies” out of Play-Doh and then burning the crap out of them with a real working toy stove.  Or burning the crap out of your hands with a woodburning set.  (Yeah, I had those, too.)

Good Gawd, I miss those days.


Screw Cocoa Puffs.  I’m cuckoo for Kuku.

Kuku?  Wuddat?

Kuku - also spelled kookoo - is nothing more or less than a Persian frittata - an open-faced baked omelette. Here’s the one I made last night:

Fava Bean Kuku
Fava bean kuku.

I don’t have a huge amount of experience with these bad boys, but when I saw the photo of a fava bean kuku in the new book by Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi (Jerusalem: A Cookbook), I knew I would have to make one for myself.

Your typical kuku is crammed with herbs - this one has dill and mint - and generally other ingredients like tangy dried barberries (AKA zereshk, the dark little goobers in the photo above), beans (fava beans, in this case), and/or potatoes and/or nuts.  There’s also a dash of saffron and cream for another layer of flavor.  There are plenty of eggs, too, mainly serving to hold the whole thing together.

I suppose this is the child that would result if an omelette were to get it on with a latke.  Regardless, it is, to use Alton Brown’s terminology, Good Eats.


Pendennis Cocktail
The Pendennis Cocktail: Peychaud’s bitters give it a light pinkish-orange tint.

This tasty tipple is named after its point of origin: the Pendennis Club of Lexington, Kentucky.

Most of us, when asked to name a typical Kentucky drink, will call the Mint Julep to mind.  But now I can think of something based on gin as well.

What inspired me to try it was the bottle of apricot liqueur that recently began taking up real estate in my Little Lacquer Liquor Locker, a purchase I had made while traipsing around the Mistress of Sarcasm’s neighborhood.  OK, apricot liqueur, strictly speaking, is not the same thing as apricot brandy... but this is Cocktail Geekery, not rocket science.

(As an aside, the Mistress lives in an interesting part of the Northeast.  A simple trip to the hardware store and grocery involved traveling in three different states.  Ain’t geography interesting?)

The other inspiration was the Greylock Gin that I had scored on that same visit. It’s made by Berkshire Mountain Distillers, a little operation just down the road (and across the Massachusetts state line) from the Mistress’s town.  We had tried a bottle of their excellent bourbon - yes, Massachusetts bourbon! - last year, and the positive press they’ve been receiving for Greylock proved too difficult to ignore.  Turns out it is a fine example of the London dry gin style, with some pleasant pine/spruce notes and maybe a hint of anise.  Your biggest problem will be finding it unless you’re planning a trip to western Massachusetts.

The Pendennis Cocktail

2 oz gin
1 oz apricot brandy
Juice of ½ lime, freshly squeezed
2-3 dashes Peychaud’s bitters

Combine with ice in cocktail shaker.  Shake well and strain into (you guessed it) a cocktail glass.   Park your ass in a big, overstuffed leather chair and sip slowly.

Monday, December 3, 2012


In the past week, Levon has made himself right at home here at Chez Elisson.

He knows where the food and water bowls are.  He knows where Mommy and Daddy’s bed is.

He most definitely knows where Mommy is at all times.

White on White
“So that’s what happened to my kid brother!”  Levon checks out SWMBO’s fuzzy white sweater, during the making of which no actual cats were harmed.

He does not know, as of yet, how to catch the Laser Dot.  But he is working on it.

He is playful, full of youthful energy and enthusiasm, and packed with what Rudyard Kipling called “’satiable curtiosity,” much like the Elephant Child.  This, combined with his affectionate nature, brings us back to the days almost eighteen years ago when Matata was a playful little kitten.  Bittersweet, yes it is, but mostly very sweet.

You never know where he’ll show up next...

Crystal Kitty
“Is this the arena for the Bowl Games of which you humans speak?”

Admit it: doesn’t that white coat remind you of that old joke about the bear and the rabbit?

Sunday, December 2, 2012


Champagne Corks

I don’t know how I managed it, but I have managed to go a full three months without attending a Sommelier Guild event... and that one was a white wine-themed evening, at that.  But that will change tonight at six, when She Who Must Be Obeyed and I will pack ourselves off to Local Three for an evening of Drinky Enjoyment.

It’s the Guild’s annual Champagne Event, which means little plates of food interspersed with a whole lotta excellent sparkling wines.  Here’s the Bill of Fare:

Speaker’s Wine:
2008 Argyle Brut - Oregon*

First Flight:
2010 Wolf Mountain Brut Blanc de Blancs - Georgia
2009 Schramsberg Brut Blanc de Blancs - North Coast, California*
NV Ruinart Brut Blanc de Blancs Champagne - France***

Joe’s Lobster Roll: Mayo, Lemon and Celery

Second Flight: 
NV Piper-Heidsieck Brut Champagne - France***
NV Duval-Le Roy Brut Champagne - France***
NV Gossett “Excellence” Brut Champagne - France**

Steamed Prince Edward Island Mussels: Chorizo, Potato, Tomato, Garlic, Baguette, Rouille

Third Flight:
NV Gruet Blanc de Noirs - New Mexico
NV Gloria Ferrer Blanc de Noirs - Carneros, California**
2008 Schramsberg Brut Blanc de Noirs - North Coast, California**

Charcuterie Sampler: Cornichons, Violet Mustard, EVOO, and Flatbread

NV Maschio dei Cavalieri Moscato PM - Puglia, Italy

Spiced Pumpkin Tart

Per my usual practice, I’ll post my carefully considered opinions once the Missus and I have had a chance to dry out. Cheers!

Update:  Excellent dishes, and a few interesting wines - nothing that really knocked our socks off, though.  Delightful - and occasionally ribald - dinner conversation nevertheless more than made up for any perceived shortcomings in the wines.  When can we do this again?

Friday, November 30, 2012


Jack Rose
Pretty in pink: the Jack Rose Cocktail. Don’t let that Cosmo-like exterior fool you. This is a Serious Drink.

In my constant quest for Obscure Tipples, I came upon a real forgotten classic: the Jack Rose cocktail.

It’s a tasty enough drink, the Jack Rose, but it is hard to find these days: Except for serious mixologists and Bar-Nerds, most people have never heard of it, owing to a peculiar double whammy. Its base liquor, applejack, is no longer a staple of most people’s little Lacquer Liquor Lockers, and its flavoring component, grenadine, has been largely replaced by crappy faux-grenadines that bear little or no resemblance to the real thing.

When people talk about Pioneer Spirit (in the alcoholic sense), applejack tops the list. It was one of the most popular forms of hooch in colonial America, no surprise given the bounteous supply of apples in the New World. You didn’t even need a still to make it. All you had to do was let your apple cider ferment naturally, yielding a mildly alcoholic “hard” cider of about 7-8% ABV. (Back in the day, hard cider was a healthier alternative to the not especially potable water to which most people had access.) You would then leave your barrel of cider out in the bitter cold New England night, allowing it to partially freeze in order to concentrate the alcohol in the unfrozen liquid.  If the weather was cold enough, you could get your ABV up to a respectable 35-40%.

My buddy Walter and I tried doing this back when we were in high school. It did not work out so well.

The more efficient technology, of course, is good old distillation.  If you take that hard cider and cook it off, you end up with apple brandy, which, after barrel-aging, can be used as-is or blended with grain neutral spirits to make applejack.  Laird’s, the preeminent supplier of applejack in the United States, has been at it since 1780, despite the ebbs and flows of the market, historical events (Prohibition!), and the displacement of apple-based spirits by whiskeys (made from grain) and rums (made from sugar cane molasses).  Alas, these days most people don’t know jack about applejack...but they should.  It’s a really interesting spirit, a powerful dram with a lovely fruit nose.

For my version of the Jack Rose, I went with Laird’s bonded apple brandy, which is 100% apple eau-de-vie (no grain neutral spirits) and thus is probably much closer in character to old-school applejack.

The next dilemma was what to use for the grenadine.  Rose’s, best known for their sweetened West Indian lime juice, makes a grenadine that can be found in pretty much any supermarket and liquor store.  Alas, it is crap: nothing but high-fructose corn syrup, red dye, and artificial flavoring, bearing no resemblance to the lovely red pomegranate from which it takes its name.

There are a few commercial grenadines out there that contain real pomegranate juice, but having found a perfectly workable recipe online at Jeffrey Morgenthaler’s site, I figured I would make my own.  It’s easy enough, and it’s the best-tasting grenadine I have ever tried:

Get two or three big-ass pomegranates at your grocery store.  Slice ’em in half and use your citrus juicer to extract the juice.  This is Morgenthaler’s recommendation and it works just fine (although it can get a bit messy... pomegranate juice, like beet juice, stains everything it touches).  If you don’t want to deal with that, just get a bottle of POM pomegranate juice out of your grocery’s refrigerated case.

You should have about two cups of juice.  Stick it in the microwave and nuke it for one or two minutes - just enough to warm it up and make it easy to dissolve the sugar in it.  Now add an amount of granulated sugar equal to the amount of juice: two cups juice gets two cups of sugar.  Stir slowly and carefully (you do NOT want to splash this stuff around the kitchen) until the sugar is fully dissolved.  Now, for the finishing touch, add about two ounces of pomegranate molasses (available in your local Mideast grocery) and a teaspoon of orange flower water (AKA orange blossom water, also available in the Mideast grocery).  Don’t overdo the orange flower water: you just want a hint of its distinctive flavor.  Add an ounce or so of vodka by way of a preservative, then stir the whole mess and strain into a bottle.  Keep it in the fridge.

Now that you have the grenadine and your bottle of apple jack (or apple brandy), it’s time to make your Jack Rose.

Jack Rose

1½ oz applejack
Juice of ½ lemon or lime, freshly squeezed (I used lemon)
¾ oz grenadine

Place ingredients in a cocktail shaker with ice.  Shake well and strain into a cocktail glass.

Some people like to garnish their Jack Rose with a slice of citrus (lemon or lime, depending on what you used to make the drink); I prefer mine au naturel.

This is not a girly-drink, especially if you use Laird’s apple brandy to make it.  The stuff packs a 100-proof wallop... and yet it is smooth as Halle Berry’s left ass-cheek.  (Don’t ask me how I know that.)

Thursday, November 29, 2012


When George’s Grandmamma was told
That George had been as good as gold,
She promised in the afternoon
To buy him an Immense BALLOON.
And so she did; but when it came,
It got into the candle flame,
And being of a dangerous sort
Exploded with a loud report!
The lights went out! The windows broke!
The room was filled with reeking smoke.
And in the darkness shrieks and yells
Were mingled with electric bells,
And falling masonry and groans,
And crunching, as of broken bones,
And dreadful shrieks, when, worst of all,
The house itself began to fall!
It tottered, shuddering to and fro,
Then crashed into the street below-
Which happened to be Savile Row.

When help arrived, among the dead
Were Cousin Mary, Little Fred,
The Footmen (both of them), the Groom,
The man that cleaned the Billiard-Room,
The Chaplain, and the Still-Room Maid.
And I am dreadfully afraid
That Monsieur Champignon, the Chef,
Will now be permanently deaf-
And both his aides are much the same;
While George, who was in part to blame,
Received, you will regret to hear,
A nasty lump behind the ear.

The moral is that little boys
Should not be given dangerous toys.

(“George, Who played with a Dangerous Toy, and suffered a Catastrophe of considerable Dimensions” by Hilaire Belloc)

* * *

Say what you will about us Baby Boomers - we did not lead boring lives in our Snot-Nose Days.  Growing up in the 1950’s and 1960’s meant that, unlike today, we had much more interesting playthings.

Beyond the fact that my parents were past masters at giving me completely inappropriate things with which to amuse myself, the shelves of toy stores were packed with goodies that would make the eyeballs of most modern parents bug out in the manner of a Tex Avery cartoon.

There was, for example, the Gilbert Chemistry Set.

Chemistry sets, as far as I know, still exist, but nowadays they don’t include any chemicals more interesting than distilled white vinegar, baking soda, and hydrogen peroxide.  Certainly, there’s nothing that will blow up, burn the house down, or give you anything more than a minor stomach ache if you were to eat the entire jar.  Booooooring.

Old-school chemistry sets used to have all kinds of cool stuff.  There was sulfur, which you could heat in a test tube (using the handy alcohol lamp provided) so as to watch it melt and change colors from yellow to orange to red to black, all the while making the entire house reek of brimstone as though Satan himself had taken a dump on the kitchen table.  There was potassium ferrocyanide, which - aside from having real cyanide in it - could be used to make Prussian blue, an indelible dye that could fuck up your Mom’s best tablecloth from ten paces.

If they sold a chemistry set like that today, they’d have to require prospective purchasers to sign a disclaimer as thick as a Gawd-damned phone book.  (Do they still make phone books?)  Can you imagine modern parents giving little Johnny and Susie a bunch of weird chemicals, a handful of test tubes, and a frickin’ source of open flame and telling them, “Now go and play - try not to burn the house down”?

But there was more.

Mattel, beloved manufacturer of Barbie dolls and a myriad other childhood delights, used to be big into the Cap Pistol, a favorite of boys since, ahhh, I dunno, the invention of gunpowder, probably.

Cap pistols used a roll of caps - little blobs of pressure-sensitive explosive encapsulated between two layers of paper - to simulate the BANG! sound of an actual pistol, a sound that would add a veneer of authenticity to the daily grind of playing Cowboys and Native Americans.  But Mattel, innovators that they were, took the Cap Pistol to the next level with their Shootin’ Shells, which were little spring-loaded cartridges with plastic bullets, and their Greenie Stik-M Caps.

Greenie Stik-M Caps were little round self-adhesive caps sold in sheets.  No doubt the distinctive green color - pretty much all caps at the time were sold in perforated rolls and were a bright red - was an attempt at establishing a unique market identity. You would peel off a cap and apply it to the back end of a Shootin’ Shell cartridge, then stick the cartridge (and five of its brethren, similarly prepared) into your Mattel cap pistol.  When you pulled the trigger, the cap would make a respectably loud BANG! and the spring would propel the little plastic bullet across the room, right into the waiting eyeball of your kid brother or sister.  (You could also buy Greenie caps in the conventional roll form for use in your other cap pistols, but what would have been the point?)

Mattel Shootin’ Shell toy pistols were about as close as you could get to a real projectile weapon short of actually owning a BB gun or making a zip gun in shop class.  Certainly it was as close as I ever got, and even that was surprising, given the generally liberal sensibilities in my home growing up.  Good Gawd, can you imagine kids in today’s hyper-litigious times being given toy guns that actually make noise (hearing loss!), fire little projectiles (you'll shoot your eye out!  choking hazard!), and even smell of actual gunpowder (toxic fumes!)?  I think not.

This is not to say that there are no Playtime Hazards out there today.  You can still do some serious damage with model rockets, especially if you have a destructive bent... but those aren’t so much toys as Little Science Projects, the use and operation of which is typically highly controlled.  But back in the day, chemistry sets and cap pistols were honest-to-Gawd toys, the kind of things that little kids were turned loose to play with all day with little or no supervision.

How ever did we manage to survive our childhoods?

Tuesday, November 27, 2012


The Yellowtail. Not to be confused with the fish of the same name; there’s nothing fishy about this drink.

When I was in Philadelphia several weeks ago, I stopped in at The Mildred, a new restaurant that, in addition to a fine American menu, features a bar with a fine repertoire of classic cocktails.

As soon as I saw the real maraschino cherry in my Old Fashioned  - not one of those radioactive Red Dye #2-infused horrors - I knew I was in the right place.

The mixologist, one Dominic by name, not only made an excellent Old Fashioned, but also a superb Sazerac, seasoning the glass with heinously powerful Abyss absinthe.  And he also made me one of these bittersweet beauties:

The Yellowtail

1¾ oz rye whiskey
½ - ¾ oz Averna
½ oz Luxardo maraschino
2 dashes Angostura bitters

Stir in cocktail shaker with ice. Strain into cocktail glass and garnish with a lemon twist.

The ingredient that distinguishes this baby from its cousins is the Averna, one of a class of bittersweet Italian herbal concoctions known as amari (singular: amaro).  It’s a medium amaro, not quite as bitter as fernet, but with a lot more punch than its juvenile German cousin Jägermeister.  A shot of Averna is a perfect digestif after a big meal... better than Bromo-Seltzer any day. 

Like any cocktail in which bitters are not merely a bit player, this is not anything like those kiddie faux-Martinis that have recently overpopulated the Tipple-Circuit.  If your taste runs to appletinis and Cosmopolitans, perhaps you’d better look elsewhere - this drink will scrape the fuzz off a Fuzzy Navel and set fire to it.

When I think “yellowtail,” I’m usually ordering sushi.  But I have a suspicion that I will be ordering a few more of these bad boys down the road.

Saturday, November 24, 2012


The fog comes on little cat feet
And then it kicks your ass
With sounds of twisted metal
Human screams and broken glass

Thanksgiving morning brought dense fog to Beaumont, Texas, setting up the conditions for an horrific chain-reaction pileup on eastbound Interstate 10 that involved at least 100 vehicles.  Amidst dozens of injuries, two people died when their SUV was crushed by an 18-wheeler.

All the ingredients for a disaster were in place.  The speed limit on that stretch of I-10 is 75 MPH, perfectly reasonable on a dry, sunny day.  Throw in some poor visibility, along with the tendency of too many drivers to follow way too damn close - one car length seems to be commonplace at 70-75 MPH - and you’ve got Big Problems.

Fortunately, our drives to and from Texas for Thanksgiving week did not involve I-10.  We traveled the northern axis, that stretch of I-20 that runs from Atlanta to Foat Wuth... and we did not drive on Thanksgiving Day, yet one more thing for which we could be thankful.

No road condition scares the shit out of me quite like driving in fog.  Ice, snow, blinding rain - they’re all cakewalks compared to fog... especially at night.

Many years ago, I worked on a project for the Great Corporate Salt Mine that required me to cover the night shift at a contract chemical operation in Bayport, Texas, southeast of Houston.  I would leave our house in southwest Houston around 11 p.m., arriving at the plant after a 45- to 50-minute drive, part of which was on dimly lit two-lane roads.  It was December, and the combination of cold air, warm ground, and Houston’s naturally high humidity created ideal conditions for fog to form in low-lying areas... and pretty much all of  the area south of Houston is low-lying.  On any given night, it was almost a dead certainty that I would encounter several patches of pea-soup fog in which forward visibility would drop to about zero.  It was terrifying... because there was a real possibility of (1) running up someone’s ass because you couldn’t see his car right in front of you, or (2) having someone else flatten you for the same reason.  If that someone else were a tractor-trailer, things could have gotten very ugly in a big hurry.

I was glad when that project was over with.

When we used to make regular road trips between Atlanta and Houston during the holidays - either we were living in Houston and SWMBO’s clan was in Atlanta, or vice-versa - we would inevitably encounter heavy fog at night on certain stretches of I-65 between Montgomery and Mobile, Alabama.  It got to where we would break the journey in Mobile to avoid passing through certain fog-prone areas at night.  (Fog during the day could also be problematic, but it was generally denser at night and much more dangerous owing to the darkness.)

Thirteen months ago, when I drove a U-Haul truck filled with the Mistress of Sarcasm’s possessions to her new home in northwestern Connecticut, we encountered drizzle and fog in central Pennsylvania on a particularly hilly and winding portion of I-81.  What would normally have been a beautiful scenic drive through autumn colors turned into a jaw-clenching, wheel-gripping exercise in terror... at least for a couple of hours.  It was especially nerve-wracking when the truck’s windshield wipers started to show signs of giving out; fortunately, they kept working, or I might not be here writing this post.

When I got out of that truck at the next rest stop, my sphincter had clenched up so tight, my ass pulled about ten pounds of cotton batting right out of the seat.  Man, there’s nothing scarier than driving in the fog!

Wednesday, November 21, 2012


Mixed marriages are somewhat more challenging than those in which the partners share identical backgrounds... yet they can be successful despite the odds against them.  This I know from personal experience: She Who Must Be Obeyed and I have been happily hitched for over thirty-five years despite a fundamental difference in our upbringing.

What is that fundamental difference?  Glad you asked.

It is not a difference of a religious nature: both the Missus and I are Jewish.  We have never had to grapple with the issues related to raising children in a household in which two belief systems coexisted.  There was never a seasonal battle between Chanukah and Christmas factions, nor any problems with accommodating the disparate holiday observances of two different families.

It is not a difference of regional culture, despite the fact that I am a damnyankee from New York and the Missus hails from the Lone Star State, part of the old Confederacy.  The fact is, back during the Late Unpleasantness, our progenitors were too busy being chased around by pitchfork packing, pogrom plying peasants in eastern Europe to be concerned about matters Union and Confederate.  Our accents may be a bit different, but that’s about as far as our regional divide separates us.  (Well, that and SWMBO’s unexplainable desire to drink iced tea in the dead of winter.)

No: it is a difference much more fundamental than region or religion, a difference that even transcends politics.  It is a difference that is brought into sharp focus this time of year, when the Missus and I are with her family at the onset of the holidays.

She Who Must Be Obeyed, you see, grew up in a family of Unders.  I, on the other hand, was raised to be an Over from my earliest days.

I refer, of course, to the direction of the Toilet Paper Roll.  Some people adopt the benighted and backward practice of arranging the roll so that the paper hangs down under the roll; others, far more enlightened, hang the paper over the roll.

It is a tribute to SWMBO’s high intelligence and adaptability that she and I have never had any disagreements on this issue.  Since before we established our household together, she has, along with me, been a member of the Over camp.

My in-laws (save for Morris William), however, still live in the outer darkness of the Under tribe.  And I needs must grit my teeth with restrained rage whenever I take a crap in their house.


Levon profile
“Whaddaya wanna call the cat?” <eltonjohn>“He shall be... Levon!”</eltonjohn>

After a brief period of catlessness, it appears that we will be returning to Atlanta with a new Animal Companion.

Meet Levon, our practically brand-new ragdoll kitty, who hails from the same place whence came Brando.  He is insufferably cute, as befits a cat in the early stages of kittenhood.

Levon Bonds with SWMBO
SWMBO and Levon get in a little Bonding Time.

Bestowing a name on a cat is a tricky business. We considered numerous options, including Nigel, Frunobulax, Ruggedly Andy, Brenrick, and Felix Hisownscrotum before settling on Levon. It’s a name that works on more than one level. It’s an anagram for “novel,” i.e., “new.” And if you stress the second syllable - luh-VON instead of LEE-von - you have the word for “white” in Hebrew. So his name is not only a hat-tip to Sir Elton John, it’s descriptive!

Levon’s full name, in case you’re curious, is Levon Chelm - pronounced not with the ch of “cheese,” but with the guttural ch sound of “loch.”  His moniker thus functions not only as a tribute to Levon Helm, the legendary drummer of The Band (and the inspiration for Elton John’s song), but also to Chelm, the legendary village of fools from Yiddish literature.

When we return home after Thanksgiving, the house will no longer be quite so empty and quiet.  Hello, Kitty!

Tuesday, November 20, 2012


This Thanksgiving, we’ll be jacking up our cocktails with some homemade cranberry liqueur.

The serious eats food blog has a drinks section in which there is a regular feature entitled DIY vs. Buy, showcasing do-it-yourself recipes for various Drinky Ingredients.  I’ve made their Ginger Liqueur, a really good elixir with a multidimensional flavor profile.  Cheap as borscht to make, too - way less costly than comparable products available in the local Booze Shoppe.

With the annual Day of Turkification and Expressions of Gratitude looming, what better homemade tipple to essay than cranberry liqueur?

The recipe is simplicity itself.  As I write this, the cooked cranberry purée is macerating with an appropriate quantity of Russian Standard vodka; we’ll strain out the solids on Thanksgiving Day and our liqueur should be good to go.

I do not generally imbibe the Cosmopolitan, but I would suspect that using nice, flavorsome cranberry liqueur in lieu of the usual watery, obnoxious bottled cranberry juice could not help but improve it.

There are plenty of other fascinating DIY recipes over there at serious eats - anyone for Swedish Punsch?  Akvavit? - and I will be sure to try a few more.  Each recipe is prefaced by a short piece which explains the rationale for Doing It Yourself.  Check it out!

Monday, November 19, 2012


BOH, the largest producer of black tea in Malaysia, operates this tea plantation in Cameron Highlands, Malaysia.  Photograph courtesy of our friend Sid M.

When I am not swilling down mug after mug of coffee, I will occasionally mix things up a bit and have a nice cuppa tea.

Tea, as defined by Wikipedia (“It’s on the Internet, so it must be true”) is “an aromatic beverage commonly prepared by pouring hot or boiling water over cured leaves of the tea plant, camellia sinensis.”  That definition covers an awful lot of ground, since there are a myriad of ways those leaves may be prepared as well as a myriad of ways the drink may be doctored up for consumption.

When I’m in a Japanese-y frame of mind, I’ll drink green tea - tea brewed from the (mostly) unoxidized and unfermented leaves of the tea plant.  Following the Asian model, I generally take this kind of tea au naturel: no sweeteners or other additives.  But if I am suffering from a cold, I will sometimes dump in a little ginger in the form of raw ginger slices, crystallized ginger, or even ginger liqueur.  No snot-nose can withstand the double punch of ginger-laced green tea and SWMBO’s chicken soup.

Most of the rest of the time, though, I will go for one form or another of oolong or black tea - tea brewed from fermented leaves.  A little sweetener is all I need.  I will rarely dose my hot tea with lemon, saving that additive for iced tea... and not being British, I typically do not doctor up my tea with milk.  (This is not to say I don’t like milk tea - I drank plenty of it in Japan, where it’s a popular canned drink.)

Nobody who lives in the Southern United States can possibly write about tea without mentioning iced tea, one of the best summer thirst-quenchers on the planet.  Southerners drink it year-round, generally laced with liberal amounts of sugar or simple syrup - the ubiquitous Sweet Tea.  I avoid the caloric wallop by specifying unsweetened tea, to which I add my choice of Fake Sweetener.  (If that brands me as a damnyankee, so be it.)

Tea is also a dandy ice cream flavoring agent.  I loves me some tea-flavored ice cream, as long-time Esteemed Readers already know.

Tisanes - tea-like infusions made with non-camellia sinensis materials - are generally not on my menu.  But if you like your chamomile “tea,” feel free to enjoy it.  Just don’t tell Professor Elemental: “When I say ‘herbal,’ you say, ‘No, thanks!’”

Friday, November 16, 2012


The iPod d’Elisson
The iPod d’Elisson, AKA the Little White Choon Box.

I have been unconscionably sloppy about posting my Friday Random Ten lists in the last year or so. As I mentioned last time, that’s because (1) I am lazy, and (2) I am pretty sure you, Esteemed Reader, do not give Shit One about the music I am listening to at any given moment. And that’s perfectly OK.

Nevertheless, every so often I will do it anyway, even if only for the annoyance factor.

By way of a refresher, the Friday Random Ten is a list of songs generated at random (duh!) by the iPod d’Elisson when set on shuffle mode.  The actual iPod - the first-generation example of the device pictured above - has also been joined in this endeavor by a few newer devices: the iPhone and the iPad d’Elisson.  Think of it as a window that allows you a look into my ridiculous taste in music.

Let’s see what the Little White Choon Box has for us today:
  1. Swordfishtrombones - Tom Waits

    Tom Waits for no one. Heh.

  2. Flight of the Passing Fancy - Squirrel Nut Zippers

  3. Act I, Scene 1: Soldiers of Heaven Hold the Sky - John Adams, Nixon in China

  4. Stairway to Heaven - Tiny Tim

    Yes, that Tiny Tim.  Strangely enough, his cover of “Hey Jude” is pretty good.  This one is just... weird.

  5. Mozart: Requiem in D Minor, Communio - Lux Aeterna - Herbert von Karajan

  6. How Do You Do? - Radiohead

  7. I’ll Be Back - The Beatles

  8. Where’s Summer B? - Ben Folds Five

  9. Dream Gerrard - Traffic

  10. Particle Wave - Sticklips

    Tread lightly
    So as not to startle
    The shadow
    Whose particles gather nightly
    To feed on the gallows

    Don’t stand here

    In that squalid dungeon
    Whose silence
    Harbors thund’rous squalls that leave me
    Shaken from their violence

    We believe in something

    But it doesn’t have a name
    Our skulls are the cages built for
    Beasts we cannot tame

    Don’t leave me

    In those dirty trenches
    Spoon-feed me
    Whispered words to quench my thirst
    And quell the hell that stillness breeds

    I believe in the chemicals

    Coursing through my veins
    And in the electric signals
    Firing in my brains

    But how much can you take

    How much can you take
    Our skulls are the cages built for
    Beasts we cannot tame
    But some forces are too strong
    For cages to contain

    Sticklips, the brainchild of one Johanna Warren, is hard to describe - Electro-Folk doesn’t quite do it, but it is as good a category as I can think of.  This tune is from their second album, Zemi, which I highly recommend.  You can find it here.

It’s Friday. What are you listening to?

Wednesday, November 14, 2012


Sometimes less is more,
And sometimes less is less.
And knowing which is apropos
Is tricky, I confess!

 I loves me my complicated cocktails, but there’s a lot to be said for the virtues of simplicity.

Scotch whisky, f’r instance.  A good single malt doesn’t need much beyond a few drops of water and a glass for to contain it.  And any respectable bourbon is perfect with just a little branch water (ice optional).

Gin is a little different.  Most gin drinkers - including myself - will use that spirit as the base for a mixed drink, rather than just icing it down au naturel.   Even the driest Martini should have at least a whiff of vermouth.

This one - Pink Gin - is pretty straightforward, though.  It’s just three ounces of Plymouth gin and six dashes of Angostura bitters, shaken with ice and strained into a cocktail glass, sans garnish.

Pink Gin
Pink Gin.  It’d look a lot pinker with Peychaud’s bitters, but, well, there you are.

Talk about the whole being greater than the sum of its parts!


Just in case you ever wondered whether angels exist, here’s a story about an experience our friend Barry had back in 1979 that may provide some evidence.  (It’s the kind of story you’re more likely to see on David Bogner’s site, but, well, I heard it first!)

Barry and his wife Malka lived in Tel Aviv back then, and they were on their way to Haifa to spend Yom Kippur - the Day of Atonement - with family there.  Back then, it was about a 90-minute drive... no big deal.  No big deal, that is, until they got near Netanya, where the car started sputtering and blowing out huge clouds of steam.  Barry pulled over to the shoulder of the road and waited for someone to come along and offer assistance.

The problem, of course, was that it was erev Yom Kippur, the eve of the most sacred day of the Jewish year.  The road was deserted - in over an hour, the only car that passed by was a single taxicab, already laden to the gills with people trying to get to their destination before sundown.  Barry and Malka were facing a long, hungry walk...

...when a lone car pulled over.  The driver hopped out and asked what the problem was, then proceeded to look under the hood.

“It’s the fan belt.  You got a spare fan belt?”

Barry looked at the man as though he had sprouted a second head.  Who carries a spare fan belt around with them?

“Never mind.  I’ve got an extra one.”

A few minutes later, the man poked his head out from under the hood and announced that the new fan belt was installed.

“It’s a little loose, but it ought to be OK as long as you keep it under 60.  That should hold you until you can get it fixed after the holiday.”

With that, the man drove off.

Think about it, Esteemed Readers: Just before the onset of a major holiday, about the only car on the road stops to render assistance and the driver just happens to have the right part!

If you ask Barry whether angels exist, you know what answer he’s likely to give you.

Sunday, November 11, 2012


I tie my pumpkins up together
To keep them fresh in nasty weather.
And if perchance a few should rot,
I’ll have to cut the Gourdian Knot.

Thursday, November 8, 2012


We’ve all had ’em, you know... those scary moments when you realize that, but for a brief hesitation, or owing to the happy randomness of events, you narrowly escaped becoming a grease spot.

My Uncle Phil and Aunt Marge had one of those moments back in July 1996, when they took a flight from Athens, Greece to New York. They landed and got off (they were on their way home to south Florida), and their plane took off on the next leg of its journey, headed to Paris. It never made it. TWA flight 800 blew up off the south shore of Long Island, killing all souls aboard.

SWMBO and I had one a few months ago, when only the Missus’s good peripheral vision (along with the ingrained habit of looking both ways even when going through a greenlit intersection) saved us from being T-boned by a car that blithely cruised through a red light at 60 MPH.

And I had one yesterday.

It was at an intersection in Roswell, just a few miles from here. My light had turned green, and I was about to proceed across the intersection... but I hesitated long enough to look for any surprises. And a damn good thing, too, for an assclown with a serious case of the stupid blew through that crossroads at about 45 MPH, enough to have put a major dent in my day.

It’s not as though he was trying to get through a stale green light, either. Cross traffic in the direction opposite me had had the green before I did, which meant that this doofus’s light had been red for some time.

Color me unsurprised when I saw the silhouette of a cellphone clamped to his ear as he whizzed past.

May the Lord protect us all from Random Moronitude...


I don’t watch a lot of teevee these days, aside from the morning news and the Food Network and the occasional movie or series on HBO. Nevertheless, the local NBC affiliate is gracious enough to broadcast a couple of classic game shows in the evenings, right about the time the Missus and I are taking our supper.

“Jeopardy” is always fun to watch, given that the questions usually require that the contestants have a fairly good breadth of knowledge: It’s not a game for clowns and idiots. Who among us does not like to play along, shouting out answers at the screen? I would almost feel cocky about my chances of winning were I to be a contestant, except I have firsthand experience being on a quiz show. There is no overestimating the “Sweaty Nutsack Factor,” i.e., the knowledge that a metric assload of people are going to be watching you, so GOOD GAWD, DON’T SCREW IT UP! I hate to think of how I would humiliate myself on national teevee were I to be on “Jeopardy.”

Vanna White and Pat Sajak on the set of “Wheel of Fortune.” Based on Vanna White having her original skin, the photo was most likely taken circa 1963.  Image credit: TV Guide.

“Wheel of Fortune,” a tricked-up video version of Hangman, airs right around the same time. Now, there is a show that allows you to feel superior to (most of) the contestants, especially the ones who insist on buying EVERY FUCKING VOWEL.  And in addition to allowing the viewer a bit of ego-massage, WoF offers the spectacle of the amazingly well preserved Vanna White gesturing to the bank of touch screen monitors wherein the Magickal Letters are contained.  No wonder it is the longest running syndicated game show in U.S. television history.

There are several different categories of puzzles in WoF, such as Name, Place, Phrase, Quotation, Food & Drink, et alia.  There’s one called Same Name, which combines two people who share first or last names, e.g., Aretha & Benjamin Franklin or Elvis Presley & Costello.  But my personal favorite - possibly because of the wordplay involved - is the Before & After category, which concatenates two well-known phrases that share a common word.  An example: Wheel of Fortune Cookie (= Wheel of Fortune + Fortune Cookie, in case this isn’t obvious.)

Years ago, I found myself wondering about those Before & Afters.  Who writes ’em?  And what happens to the ones that never make it onto the show, for whatever reason?  For it occurred to me that there are all kinds of B&A’s that are unlikely to ever see the light of day or the gentle touch of Vanna White’s wrinkled claw.

Submitted for your delectation, here’s a (partial) list of Before & After puzzles most likely to be deemed unsuitable for use by the producers of “Wheel of Fortune.”  (Asterisked items have appeared previously in the Lists feature at McSweeney’s Internet Tendency.)
    Nuclear Winter Wonderland*

    Olympic Village Idiot*

    Banana Nut Sack*

    Plumber’s Crack Whore*

    Vanna White Supremacist*

    Wurlitzer Organ Meat

    Gaza Strip Poker

    Butt Crack of Dawn

    Baseball Bat out of Hell

    Chow Mein Kampf

    Victory Lap Dance

Got any of your own? Stick ’em in the Comments!

Sunday, November 4, 2012


With windblown hair and fierce wide hips
She kissed the Northeast with her apoca lips.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012


Photo: Lydia Callis’s Face for NYC Mayor
She has been called “a bright light in dark days” (NPR) as well as the breakout star of Superstorm Sandy.  I refer, of course to Lydia Callis, the American Sign Language interpreter who stood at the side of New York’s Mayor Bloomberg as he issued his frequent emergency management updates.

Mayor Bloomberg may have been doing the talking, but my eyes were riveted to Ms. Callis, whose amazingly expressive facial expressions made her signing fascinating... and almost intelligible to someone like me who has no clue about ASL.  In a better world, she would be teaching a Ph.D.-level course at the Colorado School of Mimes.

Sign language is not funny business, especially when serious messages about Big Events are being delivered.  And yet, expressiveness - even exaggerated expressiveness - is an important component of ASL’s ability to convey information.  What at first glance may seem ridiculous or comedic is actually a legitimate aspect of physical communication.  I will be interested to hear Elder Daughter’s take on the matter, given that she is currently engaged in graduate studies of advanced performance art.

If there is not a Saturday Night Live skit featuring someone playing (and not being quite as interesting as) Ms. Callis, I will be both shocked and disappointed.  And I wish her a long, happy career.

On a more serious note, our prayers and best wishes go out to those affected by the blow variously known as Hurricane Sandy, Superstorm Sandy, and Frankenstorm.  Our family in the New York area has, thankfully, been spared any major consequences aside from the ubiquitous power outages... but not everyone has been so fortunate.  May their burdens be lightened swiftly.

Update: Sure enough, SNL has checked in:

(Tip o’ th’ Elisson fedora to both Bou and the Mistress of Sarcasm for the link!)


Still more stuff that should be in the dictionary but isn’t.

Long-time readers of my previous site may recall the Blog d’Elisson Dictionary, installments of which may be found in that site’s Archives.

For other entries in the Cheese Aisle Dictionary, simply click on the sidebar link for Cheese-Dic.

And now for the Word of the Day...

ass-soul patch [ass-ole-patch] (n) - A tuft of hair located at the base of the buttcrack.

“Me and Joanie were getting pretty hot and heavy last Saturday night, but as soon as I saw that ass-soul patch of hers, I lost interest in a big frickin’ hurry.”

Friday, October 26, 2012


Hysterical Gothic
Hysterical Gothic.  Photoshop inspired by El Capitan.

Just in case you’re wondering about our weekend plans.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012


Bernadette on the Stairs
Bernadette regards the photographer with a semi-quizzical look.

Hakuna has gone off to the other side of the Rainbow Bridge, there to romp in the fields of catnip and stands of tuna trees with her sister Matata.  And yet, Chez Elisson is not completely catless.  Not yet.

That’s because Bernadette is gracing us with her presence... at least for the time being, while the Mistress of Sarcasm is here for an extended visit.  Next week, when she heads back home to the Northeast, she’ll pack Bernie up and cram her into the car for the two-day drive.

Meanwhile, we get to enjoy the company of this exceptionally sweet kitty.  She is, to be perfectly candid, somewhat reserved except when she is relaxing on a bed.  There, the reserve vanishes and Bernie becomes a cuddly, squishy beast.

We will miss her when she’s gone.  Doubly so.


As Hallowe’en approaches, all the little snot-noses prepare for their annual encounters with Scary Creatures. Ghosts, goblins, and all of that. Of course, zombies are very much in fashion this year, especially around these parts, what with “The Walking Dead” being filmed just south of town. Well, zombies may frighten some people, but to me, they ain’t shit.  There’s stuff out there that’s waaaaay nastier than zombies.

It was fifty years ago this week that I endured the scariest week of my life.

We all go through times when we have to deal with fearful circumstances. We worry about our health, about the fell diagnosis.  We fret when our teenage kids go out at night... and even when they are adults, that nervousness never quite leaves us.  We get paranoid about our jobs, our ability to pay the bills and keep the wolf from the door.  And there’s the bully in the schoolyard, the crazy family down the street.  Don’t forget the nutcase with the clown costume, a garage full of bad oil paintings, and a crawl space full of decomposing middle school kids.

But in October, 1962, I was scared to death... and I wasn’t the only one.  It was the week of the Cuban Missile Crisis, when the world’s two great superpowers, the United States and the Soviet Union, stood toe-to-toe at the brink of nuclear war.

My chief mistake at the time - I was a mere ten-year-old - was that I had read up extensively on nuclear weapons, a subject that had fascinated me with the same fascination a mouse feels as he stares into the eyes of a cobra.  One of the books we had in our extensive home library was a thin volume with a black cover bearing the single word Secret. A comprehensive history of the Manhattan Project, the nuclear coda to World War II, and the subsequent Bikini Island atomic tests, it had been published in the late 1940’s by Westinghouse (if I recall correctly), one of the contractors that had worked on the Project. The slim black book had all kinds of information on nuclear physics (explained clearly in layman’s terms), but most important, it had maps and photographs.  Photographs of Shit Blowing Up.

I made it my business to know what would happen in the event of a nuclear strike on New York, the nearest obvious target.  Things would get ugly pretty fast out on the south shore of Long Island where we lived, some 35 miles east of the city.  Even if we were spared the immediate destructive effects of heat and blast, we were downwind.  Fallout would get us if the blast didn’t.

Since our family hadn’t succumbed to the kind of paranoia that would have had them building a backyard fallout shelter - quite the rage in those days - I envisioned us camping out in the basement for two weeks while the worst of the radioactivity settled down.  We’d have to fill in the window wells with dirt, of course.  I had it all figured out.

This was, of course, all hypothetical.  Fever-dreams of the youthful imagination.  But when the Cuban missile crisis started to unfold, the spectre of nuclear annihilation suddenly seemed all too real.  One night in late October - was it the 26th? - it seemed imminent, as tensions between the superpowers ratcheted up to an unprecedented level.  I remember going to bed that night convinced that the missiles would be flying before dawn.  Scared shitless, I was.

Then, to everyone’s relief, Khrushchev backed down and agreed to remove the USSR’s missiles from Cuba.   Kennedy had secretly agreed to remove U.S. missiles from Turkey and Italy (mostly obsolete pieces of crap, as it turned out) in exchange for the Soviet withdrawal: To the world at large it appeared that the USSR had caved.  But at the time I didn’t care about the back-room deals or the politics.  All I cared about was that I was still alive... along with the 100-200 millions of others who would have likely been killed had things gone pear-shaped.

Had I known that the nearest likely target was a lot closer than New York City, I would have really had a shit-hemorrhage.  Years later, it was revealed that there were several missile bases on Long Island, including one right next door in Amityville. (Yes, that Amityville.) At first, the Amityville base was stocked with conventional Ajax missiles, but in 1963 the nuclear-tipped Hercules Nikes began replacing them.  Which means that we would have been pretty much at ground zero in the event of a massive Soviet attack. Yeef!

When Hallowe’en came along the following week, we were all pretty blasé.  How could ghosts, goblins, and zombies ever scare us after the week we had just been through?