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

Wednesday, December 31, 2014


It has been my established Bloggy Tradition - as traditional as ten years can make anything - that on the final day of the year I write a post that outlines the various high and low spots of the previous twelvemonth. Triumphs, tragedies, events both personal and global in scope: all grist for the year-end blog-mill.

But this year, I’m not going to do that.

Similarly, I’ll apologize to all the folks - friends and family alike - who await our annual snail-mail Family Newsletter with breathless (hah!) eagerness, for there will be none forthcoming. I am just not in the mood. (Besides, does anyone really give a shit about all that stuff?)

Yes, this year had its bright moments... but on balance it was one vast pile of suckage. And so I will not glorify it any further, but await the beginning of a new one and pray that it is better. Optimist that I am, I believe (whether foolishly or not) that it will be. That it must be.

Twenty-fourteen, fuck you and goodbye.

Twenty-fifteen, I sure hope you represent a major improvement over your immediate predecessor.

That is all.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014


Or East Meets West, if you prefer.

At this year’s Momma d’Elisson Memorial Chanukah Dinner - an annual event that commemorates both the Festival of Lights and my mom, the late, great Bernice - East meets West by virtue of the menu, which consists of take-out Chinese food (East) alongside fresh, hot potato latkes (West).

But there’s another way to spin the East meets West game, and that is to take an Ashkenazic (i.e., Eastern European Jewish) food - the aforementioned latkes - and couple them with a Sephardic/Mizrahi (i.e., Iberian/Middle Eastern Jewish) food - herbed labneh.

Some time back, I saw an amazing recipe for herbed labneh with preserved lemon - a jacked-up version of a typical Middle Eastern cheese product. (Labneh is basically a thicker version of Greek yogurt. You can make it yourself by straining Greek yogurt through a cheesecloth or by taking the easy way out and buying it in prepackaged form at your local Middle Eastern grocery.) Since I happened to have a supply of preserved lemons handy (really!), I tried it. It was amazing.

It was even more amazing when spooned on top of Dee’s incomparable potato latkes. The cool, tart labneh, with its lemony savoriness (and a substantial burn from serrano peppers), perfectly complemented the latkes’ crispy crusts and creamy, potatoey interiors.

Potato Latkes - 2015 Edition photo PotatoLatkes-2014Edition.jpg
Herbed Labneh photo HerbedLabneh.jpg
Potato latkes (top); herbed labneh with preserved lemon (bottom). Put ’em together and you get a little slice of heaven right here on Earth.

I may never eat latkes with plain ol’ sour cream again.

Sunday, December 21, 2014


Despite its length - a full eight days - Chanukah is a relatively minor part of the Jewish religious calendar. Especially in America, the holiday has grown enormously in significance over the past hundred years or so, but this is merely the reflected glow of Christmas, the Big Event of the majority culture. For observant Jews, Chanukah is a post-Biblical holiday, one that is not mentioned in the Scriptures - mainly because the events it commemorates occurred after the canon was finalized. The usual holiday restrictions against working, et al., are not in effect.

Chanukah is not the “Jewish Christmas,” as some misguided folks sometimes seem to think. And it does not - despite stories to the contrary - celebrate the apocryphal miracle of one day’s supply of sacred oil burning for a full eight days, long enough for more consecrated oil to be prepared. That is a story intended to provide a sense of wonder for the kiddies... but like many such stories, it has taken on the strength of urban legend. Alas that there is no snopes.com to refute religious mythology: If there were, they would have a full-time job.

The real miracle of Chanukah - the reason we light candles (one for each night, they shed a sweet light to remind us of years long ago, in the words of the song) - is a war fought against seemingly insurmountable odds. It’s the war fought by the Jewish zealots, led by Matityahu (Mattathias, in the Greek translation) and his sons, against the Greco-Syrian rulers of Judea who wanted to wipe out the practice of Judaism. It was the kind of underdog-versus overdog fight that generally results in the underdog getting his ass chewed off... but not this time. This time, the vastly outnumbered forces of the Jews delivered a sound thrashing to the Greeks. For not the first and not the last time, it was the kind of salvation that would inspire the popular Jewish dictum, “They tried to kill us; they failed; let’s eat.”

The Egyptians tried to break our spirit with institutionalized slavery.
The Greco-Syrians tried to break our connection with our faith.
Later, the Persians would simply try to murder us, as would the Nazis many hundreds of years later.

They all failed. And so we eat: matzoh and its derivatives (Passover), fried foods (Chanukah), hamantaschen (Purim).

The holiday liturgy tells the story quite succinctly:      

(And) for the miracles, and for the salvation, and for the mighty deeds, and for the victories, and for the battles which You performed for our ancestors in those days, in this time.

In the days of Matityahu, the son of Yochanan, the High Priest, the Hasmonean, and his sons - when the wicked Greek kingdom rose up against Your people Israel to make them forget Your Torah and compel them to stray from the statutes of Your will - You in Your great mercy stood up for them in the time of their distress. You took up their grievance, judged their claim, and avenged their wrong. You delivered the strong into the hands of the weak, the many into the hands of the few, the impure into the hands of the pure, the wicked into the hands of the righteous, and the wanton into the hands of the diligent students of Your Torah. For Yourself You made a great and holy Name in Your world, and for your people Israel You worked a great victory and salvation on this very day. Thereafter, Your children came to the Holy of Holies of Your house, cleaned Your Temple, purified the site of Your Holiness, and kindled lights in the courtyards of Your Sanctuary; and they established these eight days of Chanukah to express thanks and praise to Your great name.

[Special addition to the daily Amidah prayer for Chanukah]

The story of Chanukah puts me in mind of another lopsided victory: the battle of Agincourt in 1415, so famously described by William Shakespeare in Henry V. The English forces led by King Harry were arrayed against a French army five times their number, and the likelihood that they would survive - much less win - was basically nil. Was it Harry’s rousing speech (“We few, we happy few, we band of brothers...”) on the eve of Saint Crispin’s Day or the hand of God that carried the English to an astonishing win? Who can tell?

There’s another connection, however tenuous, between Matityahu and Henry V. In Kenneth Branagh’s excellent 1989 film, the English soldiers carry away their dead and wounded after the battle, singing the Latin hymn Non Nobis. It is a powerful moment in the film, one that bears great emotional freight. Non Nobis, you may be interested to know, is the Latin translation of Psalm 115: “Not for us, Lord, not for us, but for Yourself win praise through Your love and faithfulness...” It’s a psalm we recite every day during Chanukah, and it is one that makes perfect sense when an Unlikely Victory comes your way.

No matter what your faith, may this season bring only good things to you!

Friday, December 19, 2014


Veteran readers of Lost in the Cheese Aisle - and people who know me personally - know that there is some sort of sooper-seekrit extra high-strength dopeyness that possesses me whenever we visit IKEA.

I’ve written several times about our visits to the Big Blue Box. One of the things that holds a perverse appeal for me is the Ikeonian practice of giving every article a name... a practice that began because the company’s founder, Ingvar Kamprad, was dyslexic and found it easier to remember proper names than traditional product descriptions and/or codes. Sometimes the names are intuitive, sometimes not, probably because the naming convention relies heavily on Swedish and other northern European languages.

There is an actual system of nomenclature, and Business Insider nails it down pretty precisely:
  • Upholstered furniture, coffee tables, rattan furniture, bookshelves, media storage, doorknobs: Swedish placenames
  • Beds, wardrobes, hall furniture: Norwegian place names
  • Dining tables and chairs: Finnish place names
  • Bookcase ranges: Occupations
  • Bathroom articles: Scandinavian lakes, rivers and bays
  • Kitchens: grammatical terms, sometimes also other names
  • Chairs, desks: men’s names
  • Fabrics, curtains: women’s names
  • Garden furniture: Swedish islands
  • Carpets: Danish place names
  • Lighting: terms from music, chemistry, meteorology, measures, weights, seasons, months, days, boats, nautical terms
  • Bedlinen, bed covers, pillows/cushions: flowers, plants, precious stones
  • Children’s items: mammals, birds, adjectives
  • Curtain accessories: mathematical and geometrical terms
  • Kitchen utensils: foreign words, spices, herbs, fish, mushrooms, fruits or berries, functional descriptions
  • Boxes, wall decoration, pictures and frames, clocks: colloquial expressions, also Swedish place names
Of course, there are plenty of exceptions, as BI notes in their article. But that is of no consequence. All you need to know is, there is a system... and it is perfect for creating unintentional hilarity.

Simply by pronouncing the various product names in a stupid, exaggerated Swedish Chef accent, I can amuse myself for hours. Whether anyone else finds this amusing is certainly open to question, especially (as has happened to me more than once) when I am inadvertently in the presence of actual Swedish people. But there is an even better source of jollity, one that I thought of last night:

Make up your own IKEA names.

That’s right. Every IKEA product has a name, but I’ll bet we all can come up with better ones. A refrigerator, for example. Why should it be called NUTID, when we can call it KALTENBØKSEN? And when I see some horrible op-art pillow, I don’t think NATTLJUS, I think EYEBØLHURTY. (Don’t even get me started on the toilets.)

So here’s how to play along, next time you go to IKEA. Take a picture of any random object that catches your eye, and give it a new IKEA name. Then post it to Twitter or Farcebook with the hashtag #fakeikeanames. Hey, who knows? With all the FUKNKRÅPP these people sell, maybe this thing will go viral!

Tuesday, December 16, 2014


[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 ten-year-old 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 Tuesday, December 16 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.]

Monday, December 15, 2014


Several of my former confederates at the Great Corporate Salt Mine got together for a holiday luncheon at one of the local burger palaces. About two-thirds of the group is currently retired; the ratio would have been closer to 50:50 working vs. retired, except for the fact that the ones that are still actively employed were too busy doing useful work than to lollygag at lunch.

Seeing the old gang was pleasant enough, but it did not fill me with nostalgic yearning for the Salt Mine. This did not surprise me.

As we prepared to leave, one of the fellows announced, “I’m going to pay Mrs. Murphy a visit.” It didn’t take a great leap of imagination for Mr. Debonair to suss out what he meant: He was going to visit the restroom. The phrase was clearly an alternative to the ever-popular “I’m going to see a man about a horse,” a way of quietly announcing that you will be absent for a few minutes on a personal errand that does not require more specific description in polite company. (For this purpose, one could also simply say, “Please excuse me for a moment,” but where’s the poetry in that?)

Interesting turn of phrase, that. I wonder what it says about Mrs. Murphy.

And now I have an entirely new theory as to who threw the frog in Mrs. Murphy’s chowder.

Saturday, December 13, 2014


Menu 2014 photo A-M2014121302a.jpg
The menu for this year’s Aubrey-Maturin Dinner, held on Sequential Day (12-13-14). “Nothing Exceeds like Excess,” quoth Captain Jack.

The stalwart Salts of the Royal Navy
Eat British Beef with steaming Gravy.
Accompanied by Yorkshire Puddings
And ev’ry Sort of tasty good Things.

They drink of Sherry and of Claret
Sufficient to enflood a Garret.
And should you ask them why they’re grinning,
’Twould be the Goose with all the Trimmings.

But that’s not all: Here come the Afters -
(Their Merriment doth shake the Rafters.)
A Figgy Pudding served aflame
And Sticky Toffee end the Game.

A crusty Pipe of vintage Port’s
The Drink to which they now resort.
Accompanied by fragrant Stilton,
By now their Appetites are wiltin’.

And thus we honour Pat O’Brian
To whom we build this Foodly Shri-an:
Creator of Aubrey and Maturin,
Our Royal In-spi-ra-ti-on!

Friday, December 12, 2014


I was in line to check out at the local Food-Emporium not too long ago. There was a pile in my cart (or buggy, for those familiar with Southspeak) small enough to qualify me for the express lane, but too many people with tiny-ass orders had already had that idea. So I found a lane with just one occupant who was already in the midst of paying for her order.

This shouldn’t take too long, thought I to myself. Silly boy.

I waited for the previous customer to complete her transaction. Her cart was already piled high with full sacks, ready to go. What was the hold-up? Was she trying to write a check? Was there a button she needed to push on the little Electronickal Keypad?

No. She was telling the cashier some long-winded anecdote by way of making conversation. I could gauge the cashier’s level of interest by the not-especially-subtle eye roll she threw at me as the woman yammered on, oblivious to the growing queue of impatient would-be food purchasers behind me.

Finally, she finished her blathering and headed for the exit, whereupon I said to the cashier, “Wow... she must’ve been vaccinated with a phonograph needle!”

The cashier was old enough to get the joke; she chuckled and flashed a grin. But it suddenly dawned on me that most people living in these digital days will not understand the quip - which comes, incidentally, from the Marx Brothers movie Duck Soup - because they have no idea what a phonograph needle is.

Good Gawd, I am getting old.


Cheeses at Di Bruno
A selection of cheeses at Di Bruno, an upscale Philadelphia grocery.

This is the time of year to remember to keep the Christ in Christmas. (Not that I have a dog in this particular hunt, but I’m always happy to contribute my two cents’ worth.)

On our side of the religious divide, the Elisson clan puts the Chan in Chanukah by having Chinese food along with our potato latkes... a tradition dating back twenty-seven years, and one that we observe in memory of my late mother.

And since this place is Lost in the Cheese Aisle, it’s a good idea to keep the Cheese in the Cheese Aisle. This I offer you in lieu of the expected (and overdone) seasonal riff on the “Cheeses of Nazareth.” (Oops.)

The photo above was taken in Philadelphia at the Di Bruno grocery near Rittenhouse Square. I could have spent hours getting lost in that particular cheese aisle. Fortunately for me, Dee and Elder Daughter were there to rescue me from mine own cheesy impulses.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014


Yet more crap 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, the Coinage of the Day:

eggjaculation [eg-jak-yu-lei-shun] (n) - The sudden, forceful expulsion of yolk from a poached egg when punctured by the tines of a fork.

“Damn! Every time I have eggs Benedict, I get yellow gook all over my pants... I can’t ever seem to eat ’em without having them eggjaculate all over me. They oughta call that dish ‘eggs Benedict Arnold’!”