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

Thursday, November 28, 2013


 Window Stella
“Where da turkey and latkes at, bitchezz?”

Stella is all ready for Thanksgivvukah.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013


[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 Wednesday, November 27 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.]

Friday, November 22, 2013


Life Magazine Cover - JFK
LIFE Magazine, November 29, 1963...a week after JFK’s assassination. I still have a copy tucked away in the Elisson Archive.

Fifty years ago today, President John F. Kennedy was assassinated.

To most Americans alive today, Kennedy is a name on a high school, an airport. The face on the (now rarely seen) fifty-cent coin. A photograph in a dusty history book.

But there are those among us for whom Kennedy was more than just an idea: He was a living, breathing man, reduced now to a half-century-old memory.

I was a sixth grader sitting on the school bus that Friday afternoon when I first heard the news, the words passing among us like an electrical discharge. Someone shot the President! Someone shot Kennedy! Most of us didn’t believe it. It had to be a baseless rumor. It was too outrageous, too incomprehensible in its enormity. We rode home, uncharacteristically quiet and numb.

Within my breast, I harbored a guilty secret. Earlier that day, as part of a social studies exercise, we had been looking at old newspapers. One, especially, had caught my attention: a special edition (Extra! Extra! Read all about it!) from Friday, April 13, 1945 - the day after Franklin D. Roosevelt had dropped dead of a stroke in Warm Springs, Georgia. The stark, bold banner headline (“F.D.R. DIES!”) was like a punch to the gut. And I had mused aloud, to no one in particular, “I can’t even imagine seeing a headline that said, ‘JFK DEAD.’” At the time, it had seemed like an idle thought; now, as I sat on the bus, that bizarre premonition sat in my stomach like a lump of lead.

As soon as I got to our house, I ran inside and turned on the radio. By that time, it was being reported that Kennedy had died at Parkland General Hospital in Dallas. What we didn’t know at the time was that taking the President to the hospital had been a formality. There was never a hope of saving him; his head had been blown nearly in half.

It’s hard to explain how bereft most of us felt. No President had been cut down by an assassin’s bullet since McKinley, sixty-two years prior; the very idea that it could happen now bordered on ridiculousness. And yet there it was.

The events of the next few days passed by in a blur. An uneventful (for us) but somber Friday evening and Saturday, most of it spent glued to the television set. Then Sunday morning, while I was at Hebrew school, the incredible: Jack Ruby shooting Kennedy’s alleged assassin Lee Harvey Oswald in the gut, in full view of the television cameras and the press photographers. Good Gawd, what next?

Monday, November 25 was a national day of mourning. School was closed for the day, which allowed us to watch the funeral procession on the teevee. The iconic image of John F. Kennedy Jr., the President’s three-year-old son, saluting his father’s casket stays with me to this day. Later that afternoon, boys being boys and all, we went down to the front lawn of the Thorn estate and launched model rockets. JFK, we rationalized, would have approved.

Kennedy was young - the youngest President ever elected - and he was a superb orator, a dynamic man of both ideas and action. He had blundered badly with the misbegotten Bay of Pigs invasion in 1961 but had managed to extricate us from the Cuban Missile Crisis the year before without leaving most of the habitable world a smoking radioactive plain of glass. He had challenged us to send a man to the Moon and return him safely by the end of the decade. He was the product of a period of prosperity and optimism.

He was not without his faults, was JFK. To call him a horndog would be praising him with faint damn, and he relied altogether too much on the friendly discretion of the media. But then, to an extent that would be astonishing even today, people saw what they wished to see in this young, handsome man-Jack with the elegant Jacqueline at his side.

One can only speculate as to what the nation’s history would have been like had Kennedy not been cut off untimely. The two big issues facing the country then were the Cold War and the growing civil rights struggle, and one can legitimately question whether those issues would have been managed differently under a prolonged Kennedy administration. Would we have gotten even more entangled in Vietnam? Would the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 have been pushed through more rapidly or would they have been relegated to Congress’s back burner? And would the later 1960’s have seen a similar spiral of increasing disillusionment and cynicism - the assassinations of Martin Luther King and Robert F. Kennedy, the election of Richard Nixon, the ongoing divisiveness fueled by the Vietnam conflict - had Kennedy lived?

National Lampoon cover, November 1977: JFK’s fifth inaugural edition, an exercise in (humorous) alternative history.

We will, alas, never know.

Thursday, November 21, 2013


Misako always looked forward to early December, time to begin her seasonal project.

First, she drew the intricate patterns carefully on thin paper. Next, she mixed up the dough (adding plenty of ginger and wasabi), rolled it out carefully, then used an X-Acto knife to cut the pieces precisely from their patterns. While they baked, she mixed up the royal icing that would hold everything together. Finally, everything could be assembled.

With great ceremony, Misako presented the finished masterpiece to Hiroshi, the Master Assassin, who smiled as he tore off and ate the chimney.

“Best Ninja-Bread house ever!” he proclaimed.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013


Skirt Steak with Garlic and Thyme
Pan-seared skirt steak with garlic and thyme... last night’s supper.

I think that it is hard to beat
A plate of tasty, yummy meat

Pan-seared with garlic and with thyme,
Accompanied by rich red wine.

A steak carved from a steer’s left flank,
The humble burger or the frank,

A breast of chicken, or (with luck),
The tender Confit of the Duck.

Upon whose bosom gravy lies,
Component of some British pies.

Bread is made of yeast and wheat,
But when I’m hungry, give me Meat.

Monday, November 18, 2013


Pissed-Off Bear
[Photo: Wikipedia. Caption: Elisson.]

Early each day to the edge of the woods
The little old bear-baiter comes
He doesn’t have too many worldly goods
On account of his fondness for rum
“Come buy one of my sticks
They’re for poking the bears
And you’ll be glad if you do
To inflict pain on ursines
Will ease most of your cares
All it takes is two bucks from you
Poke the bears, two bucks a stick
Two bucks, two bucks, two bucks a stick
Poke the bears,” that’s what he cries
While overhead, forest trees fill the skies

Wherever you go, the SPCA
Looks down on the bear-baiter’s stick
Although you can’t see ’em
You know they’re not smiling
They know the poor bastard is sick

Though his words are simple and few
Listen, listen, he’s calling to you
“Poke the bears, two bucks a stick
Two bucks, two bucks, two bucks a stick”

[Apologies to the Sherman Brothers.]


Men and women have nostrils and sinuses
But only the women possess vaginuses

Food goes in one end
Shit comes out the other
And if that don’t make sense to you
Then you ain’t human, brother

Sunday, November 17, 2013


Pêche Bourbon
Pêche Bourbon - a Peach State-y sort of Old Fashioned.

I’ve been a resident of Georgia - the Peach State - for close to a third of my lifetime. A five-year stint in the early- to mid-1980’s, along with the last fifteen years just six miles east-northeast of the Big Chicken... it adds up. One would think that I like peaches and peach-flavored foods. One would be correct.

And yet for all that my adopted home touts itself as the Peach State, it no longer is the leading producer of peaches in this country, having been eclipsed by California and South Carolina. (New Jersey, number four, is the home of the Raritan white peach, possibly the finest example of that fruit I have ever tasted.) Nevertheless, Georgia still has a peach festooning its license tag and its Statehood Quarter, along with four hundred eighty-seven roads carrying names that are variants of “Peachtree.” Old habits die hard.

Most people who are looking for a peach-based cocktail ingredient will get off the highway at the Peachtree Schnapps exit. That’s too bad, because there are far better drinks out there.

I found a wonderful example buried in the pages of Speakeasy, the excellent cocktail compendium by Jason Kosmas and Dushan Zaric. It’s the Pêche Bourbon, and it’s easy enough to make with a bit of advance preparation... about three or four days’ worth.

What you do is get a dozen or so dried peaches (sulfur-free!) and stick ’em in a big ol’ Mason jar with a fifth of good bourbon. Let the jar sit on the counter for three or four days, then strain out the peaches and keep the tasty peach-infused bourbon. (Dried peaches work well here because of their concentrated peach flavor; do not substitute fresh peaches.)

To assemble the drink, season a chilled Old Fashioned glass with peach liqueur. Set aside. In a cocktail shaker, muddle together one Demerara sugar cube, a half-teaspoon of superfine granulated sugar, three or four dashes each of Peychaud’s bitters and peach bitters. Add two ounces of your peach-infused bourbon and a couple of ice cubes. Stir well and strain into your prepared glass. Add an ice cube or two if you wish. Garnish with a sprig of mint and you’re good to go.

It looks somewhat like the bastard child of an Old Fashioned and a mint julep, but it is neither of those things. It is strong, it is seductive, and it is most definitely peachy... in every sense.


Yesterday, accompanied by Debby, Houston Steve’s ever-loving Missus, I took a ride to the other side of town in order to visit the Emporium of Scary Meats and Chicken Feets, AKA the Buford Highway Farmers Market.

Even as we speak, a potload of chicken feet and necks is simmering happily away on Darth Stover. There’s no better way to jazz up your chicken stock than to throw in a passel of fisselach - chicken feet - even if it makes for a scary looking stockpot.

It’s almost worth the drive for the astounding variety of produce. Beets, red, golden, and multicolored. (Quoth SWMBO: “I don’t care what color they are... they still taste like dirt!”) Roots, herbs, and leafy greens of every description. Bizarre Asian and South American fruits. Twenty different types of banana. Holy crap.

And then there’s the fish market, in which a stupendous variety of piscine protein is offered up for sale. If it swims, you’ll probably find it there, and the folks behind the counter are happy to carve it up any way you like. Cleaned with the head chopped off. Cleaned with the head left on. Chopped into steaks. Split in half, with or without the head. Filleted. Me, I purchased a couple of flounder, heads on, to be broiled this evening and doused in apricot-shallot sauce in a style popular in Savannah.

As I waited for my cleaned (but mostly intact) flounder to be delivered unto me, I espied a pile of buffalo carp. Technically, that name is a misnomer as this fish is not a true carp... but that is a detail not worth, ahhhh, carping about. What this fish is, is gefilte fish in the raw.

Buffalo Carp

I damn near bought a couple, in order to grind them up and gefilte-ize ’em. Then I thought of the fishy aroma that would penetrate Chez Elisson until way past Thanksgiving and the consequent displeasure She Who Must Be Obeyed would evince. No: These bad boys would have to wait.

But meanwhile, I occupied myself by thinking up a bunch of random buffalo carp-related nonsense. To wit:

Buffalo carp, won’t you come out tonight
Come out tonight
Come out tonight
Buffalo carp, won’t you come out tonight
And swim by the light of the moon

And the incomprehensible (but grammatically correct):

Buffalo buffalo carp Buffalo buffalo carp buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo carp.

All too soon, Debby and I had filled our respective carts. It was time to go home, back to the boring part of town where the fish are all filleted and the meatstuffs are not all organ-y. Now: What’s for dinner?

Update: This.

Scored Flounder
Flounder - scored, broiled, and served with apricot-shallot sauce.

Now to go strain my chicken-feets stock. Mmmmmm, chicken feets.

Friday, November 15, 2013


Indian pudding. (Photo: Shugurcän)

I have no idea how I missed this, but this Wednesday just past - November 13 - is National Indian Pudding Day.

I had no idea there was a National Indian Pudding Day.

I am sure many of my Esteemed Readers are busily scratching their heads and mumbling to themselves, “WTF is Indian Pudding anyway?” And that is understandable, because Indian pudding is little known these days unless you are a New Englander... and even then, it’s not exactly on many people’s food-radar.

That’s unfortunate. There are few desserts that share its authentic Early American pedigree, a pedigree that makes it a logical (and tasty!) addition to the Thanksgiving table. It is, in fact, a uniquely American take on a classic English dessert, the famous “hasty pudding” to which the lyrics of “Yankee Doodle Dandy” refer. Unlike hasty pudding, however, the version on this side of the pond uses cornmeal, AKA Indian meal. Also unlike hasty pudding, it is in no way hasty: It requires several hours of slow cooking.

Indian pudding is, at heart, cornmeal mush - a cousin to polenta and mamaligeh (from Italy and Romania, respectively). What turns it into a desserty affair is the addition of sweeteners and spices: molasses and/or maple syrup; cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger. These are all warm, autumnal, pumpkin pie-like flavors, and this time of year they just taste right. Add a scoop of ice cream or a dollop of bourbon- or brandy-infused hard sauce, and you’ve got yourself a treat.

There are probably as many recipes for Indian pudding as there are Indians in India... but the one I’ve used in the past comes from the redoubtable Maida Heatter, who goes the maple syrup route - very New Englandy - and who throws golden raisins into the mix. You can find it here.

The only negative, aside from the stupendous calorie load? Indian pudding is not especially photogenic. It’s not cute or pretty, like an elegant parfait or a beautifully decorated cake. It looks more like something you would scrape, cursing, off your shoe. But are you gonna eat it, or stand there looking at it? 

To be honest, I haven’t had I.P. for years - but this might be a good time to break out that sack of stone-ground cornmeal and that big old jar of 100% maple syrup. As much as I love my rice pudding, chocolate pudding, and Christmas pudding, Indian pudding is the pudding for a cold November day!

Wednesday, November 13, 2013


Yabu, RIP
The late Sam Moore. Requiescat in pace, Yabu.

Sam Moore, AKA Yabu, has passed away.

I first met Sam eight years ago in Helen, Georgia, at the first (for me, anyway) of several notorious blogmeets the Missus and I attended there. He was, to use an overworked phrase, one of a kind.

And the boy sure could tell a story.

Sam entertained us with rocket launches and fireworks. I suspect he enjoyed blowing things up. And Sam stuck his thumb in the eye of all the idiots who post pictures of their dinner (myself included) by always including a plastic dinosaur or two in any photograph of food that appeared on his blog. It was his way of looking at the world.

Alas, Sam knew he was on the way out. A couple of months back, he put up what would be his final post at Bad Bad Juju, in which let us know that he was a short-timer here on Planet Earth. (The entire blog has since been taken offline, so no point providing a link.)

Those of us in the Bloggy-Verse receive, every once in a while, a reminder that it’s not just electrons and pixels that bind us. It’s life... ideas... and friendships. Of those, some are all too impermanent; others can last for eternities. Unfortunately, bloggers are people, too, and they therefore have a shelf life. Sam is not the first Online Journalist of my acquaintance who has passed on, nor will he be the last (kein ayin hara).

Ave atque vale, Sam. Now that you’re on the other side of the Veil of Mystery, may all your juju be good.

Rocket Stretch
Stretch Ascendant. Sam’s beloved Dachshund did not let his diminutive size prevent him from reaching for the heavens. This was the last photo Sam posted... a fitting valedictory.


Sometimes you get to eat the bear
Sometimes the bear eats you
And sometimes, when you poke the bear,
He gets all pissed off, too.

People who get their impressions of what bears are like from Popular Culture will, inevitably, receive a rude surprise if they happen upon the real thing.

Admit it. When you think of bears, what images come to mind? Yogi Bear, always matching wits with Ranger Smith in his quest for tourists’ pic-a-nic baskets? The Coca-Cola polar bears? The Charmin Toilet Paper Bears, with their seeming obsession with the act of defecation and the process of cleaning up thereafter? Smokey the Bear?

Bunwad Bears
A posse of popular bears. [Click to embiggen.]

Don’t be fooled by those ridiculous media creations. A real bear would just as soon disembowel you and gnaw on your steaming innards as tell you to douse your campfire. No: That should read, “A real bear would be much more likely to disembowel you and gnaw on your steaming innards as tell you to douse your campfire.”

Much like humans, bears are dangerous despite their cuddly exterior. And like humans, they are omnivores, culinary switch hitters who can eat nuts and berries one minute, a freshly caught salmon the next, and then a screaming backpacker by way of dessert. Just ask Timothy Treadwell, who made the fatal mistake of thinking bears were nothing more than warm, lovable, hairy people.

Michael Pollan, in his book The Omnivore’s Dilemma, speculates that the development of human intelligence and language may have been driven by the evolutionary pressure of coping with our omnivorous diet. Monovores - think pandas with their bamboo, koalas with their eucalyptus leaves - don’t have to worry about whether a given dietary item might be harmful or toxic. They just eat the one thing they’re programmed to eat. Humans, on the other hand, can consume pretty much anything, flexibility that exposes us to a whole host of potentially dangerous foodstuffs. Which berries are deadly and which safe? Which mushrooms? And what about those white rocks that come out of a chicken’s ass - can we eat those? Can we eat the chicken, too? Thanks to our intelligence and command of language - the ability to transmit knowledge and culture - we are able to eat of the bounty of Nature and survive the experience.

One could speculate that bears, who also partake of the omnivorous diet, are also subject to the forces of natural selection, forces that, conceivably, could eventually create the spark of intelligence. Terry Bisson, in his short story “Bears Discover Fire,” presents that selfsame scenario, although he does not so much explain the causes as he does picture the results.

Whether bears ever manage to achieve sentience sufficient for them to manage combustion, one thing will still be certain: If you poke them with sticks, they will become somewhat peeved. And a peeved bear is something you do not want to deal with... even if he wears a tie and a porkpie hat.


Skritch photo Skritch.jpg

Tuesday, November 12, 2013


Just in case you give a crap about things like this, today’s date is 11-12-13... at least, when rendered numerically according to prevailing custom in the United States.

My friend Kevin Kim reminds us that next year will serve up the last such sequential date of the twenty-first century: 12-13-14. Just in case you give a crap about things like this.

According to the venerable Hebrew calendar, it’s 9 Kislev 5774. I suppose that could be rendered 9-9-74... just in case you give a crap about things like this.

Monday, November 11, 2013


...Or at least, so say some.

The Atlanta Braves have announced their intention to move from Ted Turner Stadium, just south of downtown Atlanta, to a new facility that will be constructed in Cobb County in time for the 2017 season. From Yahoo News:
The Braves announced Monday they are leaving Turner Field and moving into a new 42,000-seat, $672 million stadium about 10 miles from downtown in 2017. Atlanta’s mayor said the city wasn’t willing [to] match an offer from suburban Cobb County worth $450 million in taxpayer funding.
 Oh, goody.

Don’t get me wrong. I like baseball. It’s probably the only professional sport in America that I give the tiniest shit about. It is, after all, America’s game. And it’d be nice to be able to see a game without having to deal with a drive on the Connector. (Since no MARTA station services the Ted today, using mass transit is not especially efficient, alas.)

And I understand the Braves’ rationale for moving, as well. Most of their customers are drawn from the northern ’burbs, not from the center city and points south. A stadium in Cobb County puts the baseball closer to where the fans are. In addition, it gives the club a chance to create a more welcoming (read “money-making”) environment surrounding the ballpark: The Ted is surrounded by a relatively inhospitable neighborhood, one that will, alas, become a lot rougher after the Ted closes down.

But $450 million? From a county that is still furloughing teachers because it doesn’t have enough in the till to pay them for a full school year? You have gotta be fucking kidding.

What a society is willing to spend money on tells you a lot about its priorities, and I’m not too crazy about our county valuing panem et circenses more than the education of its future citizens.

Apparently, my friend Houston Steve is not overly enthralled with the news either, having expressed similar sentiments on his Facebook page. But his son Josh put matters into the proper social and historical context:
Dad. People will come, Dad. They’ll come to Cobb County for reasons they can’t even fathom. They’ll turn into your county, not knowing for sure why they’re doing it. They’ll arrive at your stadium, as innocent as children, longing for the past. “Of course, we won’t mind if you look around,” you’ll say, “It’s only $50 per person.” And they’ll pass over the money without even thinking about it, for it is money they have and peace they lack. And they’ll walk off to the bleachers and sit in their short sleeves on a humid Southern afternoon. And find they have reserved seats somewhere along the baselines where they sat when they were children. And cheer their heroes. And they’ll watch the game, and it’ll be as they’d dipped themselves in magic waters. The memories will be so thick, they’ll have to brush them away from their faces. People will come, Dad. The one constant through all the years Dad, has been baseball. America has rolled by like an army of steamrollers. It’s been erased like a blackboard, rebuilt and erased again. But baseball has marked the time. This stadium, this game, is a part of our past, Dad. It reminds us of all that once was good, and that could be again. Oh people will come, Dad. People will most definitely come.

And if they don’t, you’re just out $450 million.
 Say, can I get some guns and butter to put on my bread and circuses?

Update: Another take on the matter, from Will Bunch at the Huffington Post.


Three Dads.jpg
Three veteran Dads. On the left and right, SWMBO’s father and stepfather; in the center, my father.

It’s Veteran’s Day. Have you hugged a veteran today?

We have a number to choose from here at Chez Elisson, although in all too many cases the hugs must be at a remove. For some, physical distance gets in the way; for others, the fact that the veteran in question no longer walks this planet.

My daddy, Eli hizzownself, served in World War II in the Pacific theatre - Army.

SWMBO’s daddy - gone 27 years now, alas - was in the Navy, stationed in Oahu at the end of the war. Her stepfather served with the U.S. Army in Europe. She herself is named for a cousin who was the first Korean War casualty from Tarrant County, Texas.

My late uncle Phil also fought in Europe. He carried most of his war stories to the grave, having shared only a selected few with one of his grandsons... but at least he came back in one piece.

Phil's Army Days
Uncle Phil, of blessèd memory.

I guess I could always hug my buddy Gary, who served in Vietnam.

All of the freedoms we so easily take for granted here in the United States - including the freedom to disagree with the people who run things or who would like to do so - are ours to enjoy because people were willing to put themselves in harm’s way to defend them. All who served deserve our deepest thanks...

...along with first-class medical care and a place to live out their final days in dignity. Not too much to ask, is it?

Sunday, November 10, 2013


A pan of shallots and golden chanterelles cooks merrily away in clarified butter.

A few days ago, as I was prowling through the Cold Room at the local Costco in search of miscellaneous produce, something grabbed my attention hard enough to make me do a double-take.

It was a package of fresh chanterelle mushrooms - yellow-orange, trumpet-shaped beauties, a far remove from the usual button mushrooms or the meaty sliced portobellos. She Who Must Be Obeyed is a big fan of the sautéed mushroom, and I thought of how much she would enjoy a plate of these bad boys, properly prepared. Into my Shopping-Buggy they went.

This afternoon I schlepped out my trusty skillet, placing therein a small glob of clarified butter. After heating the pan over a medium flame, I added a goodly handful of minced shallots and sweated them down until translucent. Then, in went the ’shrooms, a sprinkle of kosher salt, and a few grinds of black pepper.

Once the mushrooms had given up their (considerable) moisture, I let ’em dry out and brown a bit in the pan. Then, the finishing touch: a generous pour of fino sherry. (I could have used Madeira in lieu of the sherry if I had wanted a slightly sweeter dish.) As soon as the fortified wine reduced down to a glaze, it was time to serve the dish forth. Which I did, to the immense satisfaction of both me and the Missus.

Sautéed chanterelles
Sautéed chanterelles, ready to serve. Mighty tasty!

We were enchanted. Nay: we were enchanterelled!

Friday, November 8, 2013


This morning I listened to the Bob Edwards show on the radio on the way home from the Local Bagel and Smoked Fish Emporium. His guest, one Paul Schneider, was talking about the Mississippi River - he had recently written a book, Old Man River, on the subject -  and at one point he compared the flow of a river to the flow of time. The ocean, by contrast, is timeless... unchanging... immense.

As I continued to listen, an old memory came floating to the surface of my mind, something drawn from the earliest depths of my childhood. And, in its own way, it had to do with rivers... and the sea.

I remembered Scuffy the Tugboat.

Scuffy! What child has not read of his adventures, adventures chronicled in a single slim volume, a Little Golden Book, one among many such books that filled the dusty libraries of almost all baby-boom generation tykes? The title Scuffy the Tugboat is the eighth best-selling children’s book of all time: It is hard to imagine anyone reaching adulthood without having read it.

Scuffy! His story is the perfect metaphor for the baby-boom generation itself, especially fitting for a book that appeared in 1946, the same year the very first baby boomers were beginning to appear on our planet. It is the story of a little toy tugboat who feels, deep in the core of his being, that he was created to act on a far bigger stage than the one on which he first finds himself, a mere toy on a shelf in a toy shop. Pfaugh! He was made for bigger things!

(Which might explain his vaguely pissed-off expression on the book cover.) 

Scuffy is taken home by the mustachioed Man with the Polka Dot Tie. (The book’s illustrator, one Tibor Gergely, was Hungarian, possibly accounting for the Man’s vaguely European looks.) But being used as a Bathtub Plaything by the Man’s young son is not on the Scuffster’s personal agenda. He is frustrated and irate, or as Gertrude Crampton, the book’s author, puts it, he is cross.

His real adventures begin when he is removed from the small, safe confines of the bathroom and set loose to float in a brook by the Man and his son. “Sail, little tugboat,” says the Man, and sail he does. The rapidly moving waters of the brook carry him away, and as the little boy cries out, “Come back, little tugboat, come back,” Scuffy issues what we can only presume to be a sneering, cocky riposte: “Not I. Not I. This is the life for me.”

The little brook soon becomes a stream, which soon becomes a river. Scuffy sails on, taking in the sights as the river grows ever wider, taking him away from bucolic scenes of milkmaids and cows and past larger and larger human habitations. Villages give way to towns, towns give way to cities, and the river just keeps on flowing.

Finally Scuffy has had enough, his mind stretched to the breaking point by the sheer magnitude of the world around him. No longer the proverbial big tugboat in a little pond, he is now a microscopic piece of flotsam in a huge harbor. He has seen floods, destruction, death. He has seen vast ocean liners compared to which he is not even a boil on a barnacle’s ass. And now, as he sees nought ahead of him but the immensity of the endless ocean, he realizes that he is well and truly fucked. “This is no place for me,” he ruefully admits...

...just as the Man with the Polka Dot Tie reaches down from the farthest end of the pier and rescues Scuffy. The little tugboat, having now been taught the quintessential lesson of post-World War II America - a place for everyone and everyone in his place - is now happy to live a greatly diminished existence: to be a Bathtub Plaything.

Moral lessons aside (“Dream Big” is not one of ’em, by the way), Scuffy’s story resonates, I am sure, with many of us whose ambitions may, at times, exceed our abilities. Reach exceeding grasp, that sort of thing. At one time or another, I suspect that is most of us... and yet I also suspect that Scuffy the Tugboat would have trouble finding a publisher today in these touchy-feely self-esteemy days.

I learned to read at an exceptionally early age, and so the first books I read packed a greater emotional wallop than they normally would have. What always made Scuffy’s story stick with me was that image of the little toy tugboat, who, having seen his riparian horizons become ever huger and who is now faced with the emptiness of the unknowable, immeasurable sea looming before him, is saved by what can only be described as a deus ex machina homo ex naualibus. I tell you, that image scared the shit out of me when I first read the book as a three-year-old... and I can still feel a little shiver in the back of my mind fifty-eight years later. And it is the same shiver I feel when I stare out at the immense, timeless sea.

Thursday, November 7, 2013


Just about every culture on Planet Earth has its version of a dish in which a meat- or cheese-based filling in encased in a jacket of dough.

The Chinese have their wontons; the Japanese their gyoza; the Russians, pelmeni; the Poles (and pretty much all the other Slavic folks), pierogi; the Jews, kreplach. And the Italians, Gawd bless ’em, have ravioli.

As a young Snot-Nose, I never gave much thought to the fact that ravioli and kreplach were culinary cousins. Ravioli was something that came in a can with a picture of Chef Boy-Ar-Dee; kreplach were a (very) occasional treat that would come to table floating in a bowl of my grandmother’s chicken soup. The first was pedestrian and leaden, the second ethereal.

As I grew older, though, I was exposed to ravioli that did not come out of a can. The good stuff, with tender pasta, delicate cheese fillings, and flavorful sauces. Vodka sauce, brown butter and sage, that sort of thing. All a far cry from that Boy-Ar-Dee tomato gravy-oli.

One day, while dining at Romano’s Macaroni Grill in Houston (of all places), I had yet another kind of ravioli: Ravioli Aperti, AKA open ravioli. Best described as a kind of deconstructed (unraveled?) ravioli, it had lasagne-like sheets of pasta surrounded by a sauce made of what normally would have been used as ravioli filling... almost as if the guy working the ravioli line had taken the day off, saying “Screw it - just throw it all together in the pan and serve it, willya?” But it worked! It was a whole new way of looking at a familiar old dish.

A couple of days ago, Serious Eats posted a recipe for meat and pear open ravioli. Aha! thought I. Ravioli aperti con carne e pera! The combination of savory and sweet sounded irresistible: I had to try it.

The recipe called for large tubular pasta - calamarata, a kind of ziti on steroids. But when I had had ravioli aperti, it had been prepared with lasagne-like sheets of pasta in the form of largish squares. And so I made my own pasta, hacking it up into 2-inch square sheets. Lookee:

Ravioli Aperti con Carne e Pera
Ravioli aperti con carne e pera... AKA unraveled ravioli.

The verdict?  Delicious. It would also be fun to try making this recipe as “conventional” sealed-up ravioli if I could only figure out what best to sauce it with... but meanwhile, we have a fine candidate for those rare meals when we decide to go a little carb-crazy.

Oh, Chef Boy-Ar-Dee? Won’t see him no more.

Sunday, November 3, 2013


Hanky Panky Cocktail
The Hanky Panky Cocktail, no doubt named for the result of imbibing too many of ’em.

I have a small but growing collection of amari - Italian bitter liqueurs - in my little Lacquer Liquor Locker. Among them you will find the sweetish Amaro Montenegro and Amaro Ramazzotti, the balanced Averna, the bright red Campari, and the powerful Fernet Branca. Generally, I will drink these bad boys neat after a large meal, but they also work very well as perprandial tipples when served on the rocks.

But can you make cocktails out of ’em? Sure you can. Any time you want a bitter or bittersweet flavor note in your Cocktaily Symphony, an amaro might be just the ticket. What would a Negroni be without Campari, after all?

Fernet Branca is one of the more assertive amari, with overtones of menthol and licorice and with mysterious bitter components providing a nuanced background. I’ve known people who would drink it by the tumblerful, mixed with nothing but ice - a bracing refreshment that is absolutely not for the faint of heart. In Argentina, it is popular mixed with Coca-Cola, of all things. (I’ve tried it that way, and it does improve the Coke.) But until now, I have not used Fernet Branca as a cocktail component.

Serious Eats just put out a whole list of cocktails containing Fernet, and I couldn’t resist trying a couple. The Fanciulli Cocktail, which combines rye, sweet vermouth, and Fernet, did not impress me. But the unfortunately named Hanky Panky, a combination of gin and sweet vermouth with just a couple of dashes of Fernet to provide a mentholated kick, turned out to be exceptional. Holy crap, this was terrific! Botanical, bitter, and complicated, the Hanky Panky is a drink for the thinking man or woman.

I made mine with two ounces of The Botanist gin, two ounces of Carpano Antica vermouth, and about a quarter-ounce of Fernet. Carpano is a bittersweetish vermouth that more than holds up its end of the bargain here, so my dose of Fernet was a bit on the high side. (Punt e Mes would probably also work well.) Perfect, sez I.

I need to feed a few of these to The Missus. Perhaps after some Hanky Panky, she’ll be in the mood for some more Hanky Panky.

Friday, November 1, 2013


Honey-Lavender Biscotti

A couple of months back, I wrote a post about Twice-Baked Goods: biscotti, mandelbrot, and the like... treats that, in one form or another, have fascinated me since my Snot-Nose Days.

Now that I have learned how to make my own, I have been guilty of - to use a term yanked from SWMBO’s playbook - perseveration. Just as my friend Gary made two hundred different kinds of ice cream and sorbet after getting his ice cream maker, I have been cranking out biscotti right and left.

Chocolate chip, anise, and pignolia nuts. Chocolate chip, anise, and pistachio. Sour cherry and pistachio.

And now, a new one, a bit off the beaten Biscotti-Track. Behold:

Honey-Lavender Biscotti
Honey-lavender biscotti. (What is the singular of “biscotti,” anyway - “biscottum”?)

Biscotti with lavender and tupelo honey! Jacked up with a touch of orange zest and vanilla, these bad boys smell like a day in the south of France.

Perhaps instead of dunking these in a cup of coffee, it might be worth washing them down with a Provençal martini or two...