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

Saturday, August 31, 2013


Birthday Cake!

It is considered ungentlemanly to reveal a lady’s age, but in this case, Mister Debonair will make an exception... because in so many ways, this particular lady is ageless.  I speak, of course, of the Missus, AKA She Who Must Be Obeyed, whose personal odometer ticks over another zero in the units column this day.

We have been celebrating this birthday more or less continuously since late June, when we kicked off Birthday Season with a memorable week-long trip to Las Vegas.  Last week we celebrated with a group of our friends here in the Atlanta area, along with the Mistress of Sarcasm, who had traveled down for the occasion - a marathon solo 17-hour drive from her little hamlet in upstate New York.

Today, however, is the Actual Day.

So far, it has been delightful.  A pleasant luncheon at one of the finer local establishments, followed by a walk around the historic district in Roswell, followed by an orgy of television-watching and napping.  Then, sushi!  Life is sweet.

For now, both of us are nominally the same age - for a little over a month, anyway.  And now we’re in the same decade, too.  It’s a bit sobering, on the one hand... but on the other, it is completely amazing how lovely the Missus is without even trying too hard.  She has managed to age like a fine wine, becoming more graceful and mellow with increasing maturity.  (That sure beats aging like a cheese, becoming stinkier and more blue-veined over time.)

I love my Missus.  She really does get more beautiful with every passing year.  She makes me feel like a love-struck twenty-something - just like I was when I met her almost 38 years ago.

Birthday SWMBO

Among us Red Sea Pedestrians, it’s traditional to offer the greeting “Ad meah v’esrim” (Hebrew) or “Bis hundert-tzvantzik yohr” (Yiddish), both of which mean “May you live to 120.”  It is, after all, a respectable enough age, the age attained by Moshe Rabeinu - Moses, our teacher - when he ascended Mount Nebo to look across the Jordan at the Promised Land he would never live to enter.  (Me, I always wish people an extra day - “May you live to be 120 years and one day old!” - because who the hell wants to croak on his birthday?)

So is it appropriate to wish someone a Happy Half-Way?  Just askin’.

Friday, August 30, 2013


Chocolate Anise Biscotti
Chocolate Anise Biscotti with Pine Nuts. [Click to embiggen.]

From back in the days of my Snot-Nositude, I recall with affection a certain biscuitlike affair with a pleasant eggy sweetness.  It was brittle and crunchy, a characteristic that made it an ideal snack for my baby brother, the Other Elisson, who would gnaw happily upon it while in the throes of teething.

This was zwieback, a German word for “twice-baked.”  That would make it four times better than anything that was half-baked.

I loved the rock-hard texture of those hunks of zwieback I would pilfer from my brother’s supply.  I loved their faint taste of spice... was that cinnamon?  Sure, it was baby food, but it was sophisticated baby food.

Eastern European Jews have been making a more grown-up version of this twice-baked treat for some centuries now: Mandelbrot.  Mandelbrot literally is “almond bread,” and the typical mandelbrot combines the brittle nature of zwieback with hint of marzipan-like richness.  Raisins, nuts, and cinnamon are common components.  Like zwieback, it’s prepared by forming a slab of dough, baking it, slicing the resulting loaf, and then baking the slices until dry and crisp.  She Who Must Be Obeyed makes a killer mandelbrot on those rare occasions when she permits herself to do a little baking.

Biscotti are the Italian cousins of mandelbrot.  Like mandelbrot, biscotti often contain almonds or other nuts and are made using a similar double-baking technique.  Depending on their hardness rating on the Mohs scale, biscotti may be eaten by themselves or dunked into coffee or (in true Italian style) vin santo, a sweet Italian dessert wine.

Last week our friend Jackie made a batch of chocolate anise biscotti, and she later compounded her Evil Deed by passing the recipe along to the rest of us.  Of course I had to give them a try... and I jacked them up a tad by throwing in some toasted pignolia nuts.  The results are pictured above.

Tell you what: The baking technique may be like that of zwieback, but this stuff is not baby food, oh, no.  It is, decidedly, a Grown Up Dessert.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013


The other day, as I was sitting at the breakfast table with the Usual Gang, one of my dining companions took out a small container of cottage cheese - one of those individual servings that comes packaged in groups of four or six.  He peeled off the lid.  Then, as I watched in slack-jawed astonishment, he unscrewed the top of a pepper shaker and proceeded to dump about two teaspoons of black pepper into his tiny-ass cup of cottage cheese... about a third of the contents of the shaker.  Holy crap!

Barry likes pepper with his cottage cheese, but Good Gawd Awmighty, this was an awful lot of pepper!  I looked at him as though he had grown a second head.  “Ya like a little cottage cheese with your pepper?” I cracked.

Of course, as soon as I got home, I had to try it for myself.  After all, nothing exceeds like excess.

I took a normal half-cup serving of cottage cheese and jacked it up with about half a tablespoon of Penzey’s coarse-ground Tellicherry pepper... a quantity that, taken by itself, could set your innards on fire.

Surprise!  It wasn’t overly peppery at all.  The dairy tamps down the fire, muting it to the level of a pleasant afterburn.  In fact, I suspect that you would barely even notice the presence of a few mere shakes.

I almost hesitate to write about this.  The Missus is convinced that I have burned out my sense receptors for spiciness owing to chronic overuse, and this will not help convince her otherwise.  But it’s true, I tells ya!

Try it!  You - and your taste buds - will thank me.


[This post was originally published December 29, 2005 at Blog d’Elisson.  I thought it particularly appropriate to repost it today in view of it being the fiftieth anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King’s iconic “I Have a Dream” speech.]

With our entire Family Army o’ Visitation in tow, She Who Must Be Obeyed and I spent a few hours at the High Museum of Art in midtown Atlanta today.

The High Museum is one of the genuine treasures of Atlanta culture. SWMBO and I don’t visit as often as we should, given the fact that it is all of a 40-minute drive from Chez Elisson, but the presence of out-of-town visitors is a powerful impetus to do the Things of Local Interest you don’t always make time to do.

The High has recently undergone a significant expansion, essentially doubling its size. A remarkable piece of architecture in its own right, now it’s downright humongous.

The Big Exhibit right now is a collection of Andrew “Mr. Obsessed With Death” Wyeth’s work. Crusty fishermen. Desolate landscapes. Strange-looking women with glistening eyes. Powerful art, the kind that brings out your Inner Norwegian, making you want to drink a lot of akvavit and commit suicide.

Well, not everybody has an Inner Norwegian. Nevertheless, Wyeth has painted a lot of windswept, elegiac works that resonate with the Rural New Englander in all some a few a statistically insignificant minority of us. Which explains why Andy Warhol made all the money and had all of those New York art scene groupies while Wyeth had cold lutefisk to eat and a weird looking, dried up neighbor lady to paint pictures of.

Me, I wandered off and spent some time perusing the Howard Finster folk art, bizarre Local Stuff that was produced by a divinely-inspired backwoods nutcase. Finster’s work is authentically primitive, but it comes from the heart… or at least it did before the Big Art Money discovered him. Howard no longer walks this planet, but while he did, he certainly made it more interesting-looking.

As I was looking at one of Finster’s pieces – a multimedia extravaganza with woodburning, glued-on chunks of plexiglass, paint, ink, you-name-it, I was gripped by a strange sense-memory: the memory of the smell of burning wood from woodburning. It was clear, unmistakable. Who says art can’t talk to you?

I found my way to the ground floor, where there was a children’s play area – the perfect place for little Nephew William to work off some energy with his Daddy. As I watched the two of them horsing around, I saw an older African-American couple with a little boy, evidently their grandson. And there was something about the man, a tall, slender, well-dressed gentleman with a trim, grey beard, that was familiar.

As I looked at the man, I became convinced that I had seen him before. Only problem was, I couldn’t figure out where, or in what context.

Was he a musician? Was he an actor? He wasn’t instantly recognizable, but there was that nagging sensation of familiarity. I was sure of it.

And so, I walked up to him. What did I have to lose?

“Excuse me, but you look like someone I have seen before, but I just can’t put my finger on where. Is it possible that I might have seen you somewhere?”

And he answered, “Yes, I suppose it’s possible. I was one of the Little Rock Nine. I’m Terry Roberts.”

Indeed. The gentleman was none other than Dr. Terrence Roberts, one of the nine African-American high school students who were the first to attend the historically all-white Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas in 1957, three years after the Brown vs the Board of Education of Topeka Supreme Court decision that paved the way for school desegregation in this country.

Little Rock Nine - September 1957
The Little Rock Nine (plus one) - September 1957.

What the Little Rock Nine did took amazing courage – not only theirs, but their families’. Imagine it: the Governor of Arkansas, Orval Faubus, called in the Arkansas National Guard to keep these kids out of school, whereupon President Eisenhower nationalized the Guard, sent them back to their barracks, and ordered in the 101st Airborne Division to guard them as they attended classes. Abuse, epithets, threats, loss of family employment – all of these, these students faced and overcame.

I shook his hand. “Nowadays, people have no idea what you went through, how much courage it took. It’s an honor to meet you.”

Dr. Roberts and his wife were in town visiting family – it was indeed their grandchild with them. Currently a resident of Southern California, he holds a degree in clinical psychology and is co-chairperson of the Masters in Psychology Program at Antioch University. He also does management consulting work, functioning as the official desegregation consultant for the Little Rock, Arkansas School District. He and his fellow Niners were in the papers a few months ago – probably that’s where I remembered seeing him – when statues of the group were dedicated in Little Rock, an event that made the national news.

Terrence Roberts
Dr. Terrence Roberts, today.

“Once in a while, I’ll be looking though a history textbook, and all of a sudden, I’ll see my face. It’s a strange feeling…”

What Dr. Roberts and the other members of the Little Rock Nine did, back in September of 1957, was an act of bravery commensurate with Rosa Parks refusing to sit in the back of the bus. Braver, even, because it was not a one-time act of rebellion, but a day-to-day, moment-by-moment ordeal.

We had gone to the High Museum to see Fine Art… but there we met a man who was a living, breathing part of American history.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013


Marietta Morning 082713
Morning in May-Retta.

It’s not September yet, but it’s beginning to have that Septembery feel around here.

We’ve had a few mornings with temperatures in the mid- to upper sixties - hardly something you’d expect in August.  Especially here, where the sultry Dog Days have not really run their course until mid-October.

The days are beginning to shorten.  I notice it when I leave the house for morning minyan.  It’s just a little darker... and the sky is often painted with beautiful rose and orange clouds.  (Now that it has stopped raining every single damned day, at least for the time being.)

The elementary school kids and their parents wait for the school bus in an expectant little knot over by the tennis courts.  It’s a social event for the parents as well as the kids.  I wave to them as I cruise slowly by.  My kids left that age cohort at least two decades ago, but I still remember those early morning farewells... and my own elementary school days.  And that adds to the Septemberness of things - for me, at least - because our schools did not begin their year until after Labor Day.  (Here, they’ve been at it for almost a month by now.)

I’ve been out of elementary school for fifty years now.  I wonder what kind of world these kids standing there at the bus stop will be living in another half-century from now... and whether they will remember the long-ago mornings of September-in-August back in 2013.


This evening’s Sommelier Guild event - a celebration of summer whites and reds - will be at Goldfish, conveniently located at Perimeter Mall.  It will be the first event under the Guild’s new leadership, so it will be interesting to see how everything turns out.  I will be waiting with bated breath... and since sushi is one of the offerings at Goldfish, it may be baited breath as well.

Here’s the menu, for your delectation:

2008 Raventós i Blanc De Nit Cava Rosado

First Flight:
2007 Chasseloir Comte Leloup Muscadet Ceps Centenaires
2010 Pascal Bouchard Chablis Premier Cru Montmains

Baked oysters topped with leeks, horseradish, and panko

Second Flight:
2012 Sorin Côtes de Provence Rosé Terra Amata
2012 Peirson Meyer Sauvignon Blanc Ryan’s Vineyard

Pan roasted scallops with roasted asparagus, caramelized potato cake and tomato butter sauce

Third Flight:
2010 Peillot Altesse Roussette de Bugey Jura
2010 Morlet Family Vineyards Ma Douce Chardonnay

Crab cake with succotash of green beans, corn, okra, tomatoes, leeks, spinach tomato vinaigrette

Fourth Flight:
2011 Grayson Cellars Block 9 Caiden’s Vineyard Pinot Noir
2011 CVA A Portela Mencia

Grilled redfish (skin on) with wild rice, fennel, rainbow Swiss chard, Vidalia onions,and basil beurre blanc sauce

1996 Domaine les Grandes Vignes Vaillant Coteaux du Layon

Almond cake with pear and apple compote

Based on my prior experience at this restaurant, the food should be quite nice.  The wines, as always, will have to speak for themselves.

Sunday, August 25, 2013


1913 Type 1 Indian Head nickel
A lovely specimen: a proof 1913 Type 1 Indian Head nickel.  [Photo: PCGS.]

The Indian Head nickel, AKA the Buffalo nickel, is one hundred years old this year, having been released into circulation on March 4, 1913.

Despite issues with some aspects of the design that made the coin difficult to strike well and the dates vulnerable to wear, it is still - in my not-so-humble opinion - one of the most beautiful American coins.

Perhaps it is a mark of my advancing age that I clearly remember when these bad boys were commonly encountered in pocket change.  I suppose we didn’t appreciate their beauty at the time, for they were commonplace... and generally fairly worn out as well.  But in pristine condition, this venerable nickel is a lovely little piece of artwork... the inspired creation of James Earle Fraser, whose initial F can be seen just below the date.

Years ago, we knew someone who bought an antique nickel slot machine - the old-school mechanical kind with the lever that you would pull to spin the cylindrical reels.  For authenticity’s sake, he filled that sumbitch up with buffalo nickels.  I was eaten up with envy, because that was a Cool Thing to have.

What coins do you remember from your childhood?  Which were your favorites?

Saturday, August 24, 2013


Birthday Flowers
Birthday flowers for the Missus, courtesy of Laura Belle.

A bunch of our good friends got together to celebrate The Missus’s birthday a week early, and in addition to my usual Challah-Loaf Contribution, I was asked to provide a dessert.

That’s a dangerous request to make... because when it comes to desserts, Mister Debonair is serious.

Perhaps because I indulge in the Sweet Stuff less frequently than in days past, when I do, I want to make it count.  And since this is one of those major birthdays for She Who Must Be Obeyed - the kind with a zero in the units column - I wanted this dessert to be extra special tasty good.

Cakes?  Pies?  Pfaugh.  Those are OK.  Hell, they can even be spectacular.  But your average pie or cake is not jaw-droppingly, astonishingly special.  Cobblers?  Tasty but rustic.  Same goes for your grunts, slumps, and pandowdys.

A big honkin’ dessert soufflé?  Sure, but that has to be readied in advance and prepared at the last minute... and this was not going to be at our house.  No.  A frozen dessert was the way to go, and I knew just which one I would make:

A Mousse Brillat-Savarin.

Wuddat?  It is a frozen white chocolate mousse.  More exactly, it is a frozen mixture of whipped cream and meringue, delicately perfumed with kirschwasser, with a pile of white chocolate shards embedded therein much like raisins in a plum pudding.  It is both decadent and delicate at the same time... and completely irresistible.

Italian meringue
Italian meringue: Egg whites are whipped
while hot sugar syrup is drizzled in.
Look, I’m a confirmed chocolate lover, by which I generally mean the brown stuff.  Chocolate, by most reasonable definitions, needs must contain some amount of chocolate liquor.  White “chocolate” is merely a confection, one that combines sugar and milk solids with cocoa butter.  The cocoa butter contributes a subtle chocolate aroma, but that is the extent of it.  (If you run across anything that looks like white chocolate but which includes any fat other than cocoa butter in its ingredients, drop it and run like hell.)

But in this dessert, white chocolate really shines.

The recipe is from Maida Heatter’s Book of Great Chocolate Desserts, a book that I’ve owned since 1980 (!) and which is indispensible to anyone with a sweet tooth.  There’s a copy of the recipe here that appears to be lifted right out of the book (sans Maida Heatter’s notes - and probably her permission, as well).  Following her recommendation, I use white Toblerone, which has almond bits embedded in the white chocolate.  This time, however, I substituted raspberries for the strawberries.  I may never go back to the original.

How was the rest of the meal?  It was ridiculously good... a group effort, with every family throwing something yummy on the Food-Pile.

The Challah du Jour: Rum raisin!
Our friend Laura Belle made a delicious, meltingly tender braised brisket, while husband Donnie Joe grilled huge slabs of salmon. Tasty hors d’oeuvres, grilled vegetables, garlicky roasted potatoes, and a crisp salad accompanied the mains. And desserts there were a-plenty: in addition to the aforementioned Mousse Brillat-Savarin, there was a fine carrot cake (ya gotta stick a candle in something!) and chocolate chip biscotti with a delicate anise flavor note.

It was what we call a real belt-loosener.

But the best part?  The best part was when the Mistress of Sarcasm made her appearance, having driven down from upstate New York the day before in a straight 17-hour shot... all on the down-low in order to surprise She Who Must Be Obeyed.

Happy (early) birthday, my love!

Thursday, August 22, 2013


Doro Wat
Doro Wat, a blisteringly hot Ethiopian chicken stew. (Yes, they do have food in Ethiopia.)

I’m not sure where I found the link to this site, given that I’m not a practitioner of a paleolithic-style diet, but the idea of a mouth-tinglingly spicy chicken dish was irresistible.  I had to give it a try.

Probably the first time I had heard of Doro Wat was when I read Steve Graham’s infamous cookbook, Eat All You Want and Die Like a Man.  Any dish worth a chapter in that particular Monument to Wretched Excess was certainly capable of piquing my interest, not to mention my tastebuds.  So when I was reintroduced to it by nom nom paleo, I simply ignored all of the Caveman Prescriptives and focused on the recipe.

A couple of ingredients caught my eye.  One was berbere, an incendiary mix of hot chile peppers, fenugreek, allspice, turmeric, cardamom, cinnamon, coriander, ginger, and Gawd knows what else.  I was in the happy position of having a small jar of berbere in my pantry, a freebie I had gotten at the local Penzeys spice shop.

Another was ghee, which - despite its fearsome sounding Indian name - is nothing other than clarified butter, the kind of stuff you’d use for dipping chunks of lobster.  It’s easy enough to make, and if you’re too lazy to melt a bunch of butter, you can simply buy the damn stuff.  You don’t even need to refrigerate it.

The basic procedure: Caramelize a pile of red onions, add spices, dump in some chicken stock, shove the chicken into the pot, and simmer for an hour or two.  I like to do this in a Dutch oven, which allows me to stick the whole thing into the “oven oven” at 325-350°F, where it can sit unmolested for a couple of hours.  Got a slow cooker?  That’ll work just fine.

Caramelized Red Onions
These red onions have been slowly caramelizing in melted ghee for about an hour... and there’s now some grated ginger, minced garlic, and a buncha berbere to keep it company.

As an added touch, the dish is garnished with halved hard-boiled eggs before serving... no doubt so that the chicken’s entire life cycle is represented.  Weird but tasty.

How was it?  It was delicious.  The chicken was tender and spicy, providing a gentle burn at the back of the throat.  (She Who Must Be Obeyed was happy with the spice level right where it was; I could have jacked it up a few more notches.)  Meanwhile, the onions and broth cooked down into a delightfully savory sauce.

As for the paleolithic diet business, I personally do not give Shit One about eating like a troglodyte.  But I know tasty when I taste it... and I’ll be tasting this stuff again.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013


I take my nightly melatonin.
It’s good for sleep; less so for bonin’.
Thus, for the times I’m feelin’ frisky
I take a little shot of whisky.

Friday, August 16, 2013


...like somethin’ from the oven.

At least, so went the Pillsbury jingle from some time back.  But when I want to say lovin’, I’m not poppin’ any Pills into the oven.  It’s gonna be one of these bad boys:

Challah 081613 (Shaped Loaf)
The loaf has been braided and left to rise for about an hour.

Challah 081613 (Egg Wash)
A thin coating of egg wash is brushed on and a sprinkling of poppy seeds applied.

Challah 081613 (Done)
Thirty minutes in a 350°F oven and it’s Challah o’ Clock.

I try not to eat a lot of bready stuff these days, but my weekly challah loaf is one of my weaknesses.  A finer way to start the weekend - Shabbat dinner with family, good friends, and a fine Butter Conveyance Device - has yet to be invented.

Update: This loaf got especially good reviews, and the only thing I could think of that might differentiate it was my using date honey instead of the usual buckwheat or tupelo honey.  Date honey (silan in Hebrew) is not bee honey; it is, rather, a syrup produced from the sweet fruit of the date palm.  We have a bottle that we purchased at Masada last year, and it’s hard to imagine a more appropriate ingredient for a loaf of challah!

Thursday, August 15, 2013


The other day, the Missus and I drove past a construction site where million-dollar homes were sprouting like the proverbial mushrooms that sprout after a spring rain.

Speaking of rain, we’ve been getting far more than our normal share this summer.  It has rained pretty much every day over the last two months... or it seems like it.  I will spare you the joke about seeing a bearded neighbor building a very large boat in his backyard.  Oops.

But back to the construction site.

The Missus observed that it “looked like they were raising a bunch of houses,” adding that she meant “raising” (building), not “razing” (demolishing).

I thought about that for a moment.  It’s unusual to have two words that sound alike but which have opposite meanings.  But just how unusual are these antonymic homophones?  Wiktionary has a page full of ’em, but very few have the crisp elegance of the raise-raze pairing.

Well, if anyone should know, it’s my friend Johnny Tabs, who has a whole blog that is largely devoted to picking apart homophones.  So what say ye, Johnny?  Do you have an inventory of antonymic homophones. - or homophonic antonyms - that you would consider sharing with us?  Inquiring minds want to know.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013


Fart Balls - Raw
A heap of Fart Balls, all ready for the oven.

If you want your kid to shout,
Prepare for him a Brussels Sprout
And place it on a nice big plate.

Now sit back and enjoy the hate.

Brussels sprouts (or, as they are called in Brussels, “sprouts”) are, indeed, rarely to be found on your average Snot-Nose’s list of favorite vegetables.  That might be owing to the fact that many people have no idea how to prepare those little cabbagettes... or it may simply be a case of kids being clueless about Tasty Noms. And that’s fine, because, well, more for me.

You could simply boil those bad boys until they turn into grey-green sludge, but that would be wrong.  I’ve sliced - really, shredded - them on a mandoline and used them raw in a salad, where they contribute an unusual peppery flavor.  Those shreds also can be sautéed in a little olive oil or butter... yummy.  I’ve pickled them and I’ve deep-fried them Michael Symon-style.  But my favorite preparation involves oven-roasting them.

Roasted Brussels sprouts go exceptionally well with various combinations of bacon, balsamic vinegar glazes, garlic, and/or capers.  A couple of days ago, I got the bright idea to roast them with some capers and then to add some dried currants that I had plumped up in hot balsamic.  That attempt earned the official She Who Must Be Obeyed Seal of Approval, an accolade that - at least in the case of the humble Sprout - is not given lightly.

Here’s how you do it:

Brussels Sprouts, Elisson Style

Get yourself a pile of Brussels sprouts. Pick fresh sprouts with tight, firm heads.  Wash and trim the sprouts, removing any loose or discolored outer leaves; if the sprouts are larger than, say, a nickel, split them in half.  Place them in a bowl while they’re still wet and add a tablespoon or so of olive oil, a good sprinkle of kosher salt, and a teaspoon or two of drained capers.  If you prefer, add a few minced garlic cloves.  Spread out on a foil-lined baking sheet; if you’ve split the sprouts, arrange them cut side down.  Cover the sheet with aluminum foil and roast in a 425°F oven for ten minutes.

While the sprouts are roasting, take a tablespoon or two of dried currants and soak them in enough hot balsamic vinegar to cover.  (I combine the currants and the balsamic in a heatproof cup and nuke it for 30-40 seconds.)  Strain off the vinegar after the currants have had time to get nice and plump.

Remove the foil covering the sprouts and continue to roast for another ten minutes.  When done, remove them from the oven and toss with the drained balsamicated currants.  Add salt and pepper to taste; serve hot.

Fart Balls - Roasted
These little guys are ready to serve!

If you’ve used the garlic when making this recipe, it will not take you long to discover why some people refer to them as “fart balls”: They are capable of producing an astonishing amount of sulfurous flatulence.  (Surprisingly, omitting the garlic pretty much eliminates that nasty side effect... at least, that is our experience based on a single data point.)  But whether you call them fart balls, sprouts, or Little Green Spheres of Death, they are delicious Grownup Food.  Kids, you’re on your own.


Fremont Street Cowboy and Cowgirl
Two landmarks of downtown Las Vegas - the Neon Cowboy and Cowgirl on Fremont Street. (Click to embiggen.)

Vegas Vic and Vegas Vicky, two long-term denizens of Glitter Gulch, welcome visitors to downtown Las Vegas.  Alas, we were there during the day: After dark is the best time to see Fremont Street, when that enormous canopy is illuminated with millions of lights and the neon signs are going full blast.

My attention was focused on that humongous goose.  I at first thought it was a duck - it does give off a sort of a rubber ducky vibe - but realized that it had to be a goose, owing to the presence of the legendary (and Vegas-appropriate) golden eggs.  That’s a whole lotta Goose-Schmaltz on the hoof, right there.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013


Mister Debonair 2011 One of my Esteemed Readers recently posed the question: Have you ever dropped your cell phone in the toilet?  And what did you do to fix it?

Now, let it be said that Mister Debonair does not generally offer tech support.  Nor does he involve himself in matters that are best left to “Hints from Heloise.”  It is unseemly.  Nevertheless, if someone has taken the time to reach out, as it were, who is Mister Debonair to withhold a helping hand?

In the event one has suffered the tragedy of dropping a cell phone in the Water Closet, the first order of business is to fish it out... which will be a task with varying degrees of unpleasantness, depending upon how much, ahem, business has been transacted prior to Phone-Droppage.

Immediately rinse the phone under cool running water, for reasons both obvious and subtle.  You must remove any substances that might act as electrolytes... and, of course, any Toilet-Cooties, assuming you wish to ever use the phone again.

Now set the phone in a bowl of uncooked rice overnight. Thanks to its hygroscopic properties, the rice acts as an absorbent, soaking up most of the water (and, one hopes, most of the Toilet-Cooties.)  In the morning, take the phone out and attempt to turn it on. If it works, feel free to use it, although, on account of the aforementioned Toilet-Cooties, you may wish henceforth to hold it at a discreet distance from your face.  If it does not work, a visit to your local Cell Phone Purveyor may be in order.

Do not eat the rice.  (Do I even need to mention this?)

Even better, take the “ounce of prevention” route and do not use your phone while you are using the Water Closet. Who the hell wants to listen to you dropping the kids off at the pool, anyway?

Wednesday, August 7, 2013


I spend a lot of time at the grocery store: I freely admit it.

It’s not so much that I have adopted the European habit of shopping for my ingredients on the very day I plan to prepare them, although I am moving in that general direction.  It’s just that it’s so damned convenient, what with there being several options within a relatively short distance.

In the immediate area, there’s a Trader Joe, and across the Main Drag from that a Whole Paycheck Foods.  Go a little farther afield, and you have a Fresh Market and a Publix.  Next up are two Krogers, one south of us (the nicer one) and one eastward.  I haven’t even mentioned Target, which offers groceries as well, since the only grocery item we purchase there on a regular basis is coffee for our Keurig machine.  Hell, there’s even a Wal-Mart, if you want to enjoy Cautionary Fashion Statements while you shop.

Of all of these, I tend to gravitate toward the Publix.  It’s not the best store in town, but they carry most of what we need... and I know where almost everything is.  (When I go to Kroger, I spend half the time wandering around aimlessly, trying to figure out where the fuck they stash the peanut butter.)

Wednesdays are always extra fun, because that is the day that seniors - people 60 and over - get a five per cent discount... and judging solely by the number of Superannuated Folk that show up on Wednesdays, you would think they were giving away free sides of beef.

I can’t be too much of a Smart-Aleck here, because I get that five percent discount... and, sad to say, I don’t even have to remind the cashiers.  (Bastards.)  They try to be politically correct - it’s called a Transaction Discount on the receipt - but nobody is fooling anybody.  It is the Old Guy Discount, and even though its impact on my grocery bill is comparable to that of a fart in a windstorm, I’m not so proud or vain that I will turn it down.

Membership in the Old Guy Club has its privileges, after all.

Monday, August 5, 2013


Roger the Shrubber
“Are you saying Ni to that old woman?”
Roger the Shrubber: Oh, what sad times are these when passing ruffians can say Ni at will to old ladies. There is a pestilence upon this land, nothing is sacred. Even those who arrange and design shrubberies are under considerable economic stress in this period in history.

King Arthur: Did you say shrubberies?

Roger the Shrubber: Yes, shrubberies are my trade. I am a shrubber. My name is Roger the Shrubber. I arrange, design, and sell shrubberies.
Many of my Esteemed Readers will recognize the above scene, lifted from the 1975 film Monty Python and the Holy Grail.  But this is not going to be a disquisition on Matters Pythonesque, but rather, Matters Drinky.  That’s how I roll.

Roger may have been familiar with shrubs of the herbaceous kind - after all, it was his stock in trade - but there is another kind of shrub: a fruit-based syrup fortified with vinegar.  It was, way back in the day, a popular method of preserving short-lived summer fruits and converting them into something eminently drinkable.

The shrub is a real Old-School concoction, long out of favor.  I first came upon the term while reading Patrick O’Brian’s Aubrey-Maturin novels, which are set in the era of the Napoleonic Wars - prime time for the shrub.  The book Lobscouse & Spotted Dog (Which It’s a Gastronomic Companion to the Aubrey/Maturin Novels of Patrick O’Brian) contains a recipe for a brandy-laced raspberry shrub, but none of my more recent cocktail compendia even mention the term, much less provide examples.  What with the Cocktail-Nerd Renaissance, however, shrubs appear to be making a comeback.  This is all to the good, because it’s always nice to rediscover Tasty Things.

To make a shrub, all you do is macerate crushed fruit with an equal amount of sugar - anywhere from a few hours to a couple of days will do the trick.  Then you add in an amount of wine or cider vinegar equal to the amount of sugar you had used.  Strain out the solids, stick it in a bottle, and you have your shrub.  Some recipes call for boiling the fruit with the sugar - it’s quicker, but you lose some of the bright flavor notes of the fruit when you cook it.  (Apricots may be an exception - they taste really good when cooked, in my not-so-humble opinion.)

Having recently snagged a package of raspberries at the local Costco (“Our stuff looks cheap because you have to buy it by the metric buttload”), I figured I would give this shrub business a try, using this basic recipe (specifics here).  Just call me Elisson the Shrubber.

Macerating Raspberries
Raspberries macerating in sugar. After this sits for a day or two, I’ll strain out the solids and add vinegar. Presto: Shrub!

I can’t wait to mix this up with something.  Seltzer?  Gin?  Rum?  The possibilities are endless.

Raspberry Shrub
Raspberry shrub. Just add booze. Or whatever.

Now, if I can just stop saying “Ni!” to old women, I’ll really be in good shape.

Update:  Now I’ve got a blueberry shrub in the fridge, sitting alongside the raspberry shrub.  I wonder if they’ll get busy in the dead of night and start throwing off tasty little shrublets.

Sunday, August 4, 2013


Annular Eclipse - May 30, 1984 
The annular solar eclipse of May 30, 1984 - here shown in its partial eclipse phase - as projected through a telescope onto a white card.

On May 30, 1984, Atlanta was treated to a rare event: an annular solar eclipse.

In an annular eclipse, the Moon is far enough away from the Earth so that it is unable to completely obscure the Sun’s disc.  The result: a “ring of fire” at maximum eclipse.  Not as dramatic, perhaps, as a total solar eclipse, but nevertheless an exciting and unusual sight.

The path of the eclipse was narrow enough so that I had to drive to midtown Atlanta in order to experience it.  (Here in Big Chicken country, we were treated to a far less exciting 98% partial eclipse.)  I parked near the Turner Broadcasting campus and settled myself on the lawn there, along with several dozen other amateur astronomers and eclipse junkies.

The period of annularity was brief - about a minute - but long enough to observe the strange semi-twilight that settled over the city.  Almost thirty years has passed, and it’s still fresh in my mind.


This Friday evening just past, we gathered with our usual group for Shabbat dinner - our first time in four weeks, owing to our prodigious travel schedule.  Accordingly, we offered to host.

Was it a pleasant evening?  Of course it was.  Good friends and good food always make for good times.  Throw Shabbat into the mix and it becomes extra special.

Of course, it ain’t Shabbat without a fresh-baked challah.

Challah 080213

Also on the menu: “Everything” salmon burgers and Buffalo-style grilled corn.  Oooooooh, tasty.

Salmon Burgers

Buffalo Roasted Corn

As I tended to grill-related operations, Houston Steve was kind enough to shake up a few Aviation cocktails.  I had procured a bottle of Nolet’s Silver Dry Gin earlier in the day for just such an eventuality, and Steve did his job well.  As a special treat, we drank from our newly acquired vintage etched glass coupes, the cobalt blue bases of which complemented the purplish color of the drinks beautifully.

Aviation Cocktail

Quite possibly the best Aviation I have ever had.

What better way to welcome the Sabbath bride... and to celebrate our happy homecoming?

Thursday, August 1, 2013


Now that we are back in town, we are resuming our normal weekly rituals.  Among them is dinner out with our Thursday night gang.

It’s a simple routine, really.  At 6:30 post meridiem, we assemble at the synagogue for afternoon and evening services, which are mercifully brief.  Afterwards, we go to one of the local eateries to enjoy a little social time.  And food, of course.  Food is always involved where we Red Sea Pedestrians congregate.

Invariably, a lively discussion will follow services while we decide where to have supper.  Shall we have Italian?  Go to the Marietta Diner or any of its sister operations on the far side of town?  Or shall we stay closer to home?  What’s it gonna be?

This evening’s selection was one of our favorite local spots - the Shangrila Bistro.  It was a Tibetan restaurant when it first opened about three years ago, thus the name.  Alas, the anticipated hordes of East Cobb yak-meat eaters the owners envisioned when they drew up their business plans failed to materialize in sufficient numbers.  A change of management, with a concomitant change in menu, ensued.

The new version of Shangrila is not perhaps as groundbreaking: There no longer are any exotic Tibetan dishes on the menu, which now consists mainly of popular Chinese and Thai standards leavened with the occasional Malaysian concoction.  The execution is good, the prices reasonable, and the portions ample, all conditions which by themselves would keep us coming back... but the real draw is the server, Tina.

Cheers may have been where “everybody knows your name,” but Tina is waaaay better than that.  Not only does she know our names - first and last - but she knows what we typically like to order, including whether we like our dishes mild, spicy, or ferocious.  She knows our voices, too: Last time I called in a to-go order, she recognized me immediately.  Friendly and sociable, she feels more like family than a servitor.  Going to The Pump is a treat, and Tina gets a good deal of the credit.

This evening her mother-in-law was at the restaurant, with Tina’s four-month-old son in tow.  This gave everyone a chance to oooh and aaah over the baby, whom we had previously only seen in photographs - or in the form of his mommy’s distended belly prior to his arrival.  Did I say family?

Why The Pump?  Knew you’d ask.  The Shangrila Bistro is located, strangely enough, in a little building tucked neatly behind the local Shell station... the kind of place where you’d never think to look for a restaurant.  Thus, The Pump.