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

Tuesday, October 21, 2014


Many years ago, my parents gave me a tallit – a prayer shawl – to mark a very special occasion.

When I first got the tallit, it was clean and new. I would wrap myself in it and feel, somehow, safe and comforted, as if enfolded in loving arms. Over the long years, I came to value that feeling.

I would sometimes imagine that one day I would be buried in that tallit, my body enshrouded, one corner of the tzitzit (fringes) removed to render the garment ritually unfit. (After all, the dead are not able to praise God.) And that was a comforting thought, too, that of spending eternity enveloped in the embrace of my beloved tallit.

Over the years, as I spent more time in the synagogue, my tallit began to show signs of wear. Some of the knots – those without religious significance – began to unravel. A few stitches started to come loose here and there. This did not bother me; after all, the loose threads, worn spots, and gradual darkening of the fabric meant that my tallit was being used, not sitting folded up in its bag in the back of the closet. There were a few tear stains, bittersweet reminders of sad days when I sought the consolation of prayer. Even these, I treasured.

I sometimes debated with myself. Should I take it and have it dry-cleaned? The decorative knots redone? Minor repairs? Or was part of the garment’s charm the fact that it bore the stigmata of long, loving use?

Was a tallit like a Velveteen Rabbit among ritual objects? If I used it and loved it long enough, would it become Real?

Two years ago, during our trip to Israel, I purchased a new tallit for myself – a souvenir of Old City Jerusalem. It was (and is) snowy white with black and silver accents, a remembrance of the sacred precincts where I bought it and to which we turn in prayer every day. I wear it only on special occasions: Shabbat and holidays. That, I figure, will slow down the inevitable accumulation of wear and tear.

Nevertheless, despite having that bright new tallit to hand, on weekdays I still utter the ancient benedictions and enfold myself in my old, worn tallit. And it still comforts me, almost forty years on.

But there are times I wonder. Would that tallit want to be buried with me? Or would it be happier with its loose seams tightened, freshly knotted, cleaned and ready to begin life anew?

Monday, October 20, 2014


For all you LOTR nerds out there...

Is it just me, or has anyone else noticed that the inscription on the One Ring - in the language of Mordor (“Black Speech”), written in the Elvish tengwar script, and visible only when the ring is red-hot - can be sung to the tune of the Ode to Joy in the final movement of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony?

Ash nazg durbatulûk,
Ash nazg gimbatul,
Ash nazg thrakatulûk
Agh burzum-ishi krimpatul

Try it... it works!

Friday, October 17, 2014


Simchat Torah - the Festival du Jour for us Red Sea Pedestrians - always carries a bittersweet undertone. At least, so it seems to me.

It is the last float in a lengthy parade of holidays that begins with Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur - the High Holy Days - and segues into the joyous fall festivals of Sukkot, Shemini Atzeret, and Simchat Torah. It’s an awful lot of holidays packed into three weeks... and to make things even more confusing, the last two are observed on the same day in Israel but on two consecutive days elsewhere.

On Simchat Torah we complete the annual cycle of Pentateuchal readings, closing out the book of Deuteronomy with the story of Moses dying atop Mount Nebo after having had a far-off glimpse of the Promised Land he would never have a chance to set foot in... and then immediately starting over again with the first lines of Genesis, the story of Creation. It is beautiful, this juxtaposition of death and birth, of grief and joy, of endings and beginnings. Yet now the holidays are over, and soon the brightly colored leaves of early Fall will be replaced by the dreary chill and the bare trees of late November.

And I am a year older. Am I a year better, or wiser?

Nevertheless, it’s a happy day. Silly, even. The most degenerate among my crowd of Georgia bloggers would be amused no end by the sight of me standing by the shulchan (reading) table wearing a top hat... or of Houston Steve decked out in my Warrior Dash buffalo horns... or of Papa Lou, a diminutive 87-year old gentleman, sporting a baby bonnet. And did I mention the rolling bar cart, from which frequent nips of Jack Daniel’s and Seagram’s fine products were taken amidst the proceedings? And the all-pervasive air of foolishness?

The word “festive,” after all, comes from the word “festival,” right?

It is inappropriate to take pictures during a major holiday, just as it is on the Sabbath, so (alas) there is no photographic evidence to hand. Surely Papa Lou is grateful.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014


It’s a tradition - well younger than some, but nevertheless, a tradition - that every October, a modest group of (mostly former) Online Journalists gathers in the unpresumptuous hamlet of Englewood, Tennessee to celebrate the birthday of the gentleman who styles himself Eric SWG.

Within that tradition, there are nested other sub-traditions that are observed to a greater or lesser degree. Boudicca frequently puts together a dish of her irresistible ziti for Friday supper, and Eric will prepare a repast of country-style ribs (along with a few tenderloin beefsteaks) to feed the assembled multitude Saturday night. Saturday breakfast at the Tellico Junction Café is de rigueur (a term you will not hear uttered at the Tellico Junction Café, by the way.) Offerings of gin and single-malt Scotch whisky appear as if by magic. Depending on the roster of attendees, there may be an impromptu concert by the Elderly Brothers - Denny and Jimbo - sometimes with John Cox, Dax, and Eric joining in. There have also been front yard rocket launches and trips to the gun range.

Not all of these sub-traditions are honored in any given year, but there is one that is never neglected... even if it is sometimes delayed until most of the party-goers have departed. That, of course, is the Declamation of Fine Poetry, and Eric is a Past Master of the art.

Eric generally will focus on his personal favorites: Robert W. Service, Ogden Nash, and Robert Burns. But he is a versatile fellow, our Tennessee Renaissance Man, and sometimes he treats us to something extra special. This year did not disappoint, because Eric trotted out the works of a Poetic Artist with whom many Americans are blessèdly unfamiliar. That would be William Topaz McGonagall, a failed poet of the first water. Failed, indeed, for McGonagall’s chief claim to fame was that his poetry was so atrocious, so hilariously piss-poor, that well after his death his work (if it can be called that) continues to attract an audience of incredulous, yet amused, readers. Here’s a taste:

Oh! ill-fated Bridge of the Silv’ry Tay,
I must now conclude my lay
By telling the world fearlessly without the least dismay,
That your central girders would not have given way,
At least many sensible men do say,
Had they been supported on each side with buttresses,
At least many sensible men confesses,
For the stronger we our houses do build,
The less chance we have of being killed.

These lines make up the conclusion of “The Tay Bridge Disaster,” a poem that formed a perverse sequel to McGonagall’s earlier celebration of that short-lived bridge’s completion, namely “The Railway Bridge of the Silvery Tay.” That was the poem our gracious host read to us, the last stragglers at the end of the Hysterics at Eric’s, 2014 edition... and it contained this eerily prescient stanza:

Beautiful Railway Bridge of the Silvery Tay!
I hope that God will protect all passengers
By night and by day,
And that no accident will befall them while crossing
The Bridge of the Silvery Tay,
For that would be most awful to be seen
Near by Dundee and the Magdalen Green.

Prescient... and laughable, another brick in the McGonagall edifice, one that contributed to his unique stature as possibly “the worst poet in the English language.” Which, by the bye, makes his style almost impossible to parody. But old Mister Elisson, he do love a challenge... so here goes:  

Once a year, bloggers gather near Etowah
Some come from nearby places, others far
They ride in the airplane and in the car
To get to Englewood, which is near to Etowah.

Their host is a man who quotes poetry
And who lives near a very large dogwood tree
And who likes his single-malt Scotch whisky
Which puts him in the mood to quote poetry.

He reads the works of Service, McGonagall, and Nash,
And drives a car – Vivienne – which we hope he won’t crash
And his guests fill his kitchen with all kinds of trash
While they listen to him quoting Service and Nash.

His birthday is in the month of October,
And the bloggers who celebrate it rarely are sober
But they’re happy to have been invited over
To hang out together in the month of October.

So here’s to the Renaissance Man of Tennessee
Who next October will turn forty-three
He calls himself Eric the Ess Doubleyou Gee
And he lives near Etowah, Tennessee.

Yes, I know it sucks. It’s supposed to.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014


Blood Moon
The full moon as seen Tuesday evening. Any resemblance to the “blood moon” of this morning’s total lunar eclipse can be blamed on Lightroom and Photoshop.

This morning, we were to have been treated to the sight of a Blood Moon, a Hallowe’enish name for the coppery disc seen during a total lunar eclipse.

A lunar eclipse, even during totality, does not completely darken the face of the moon. This is because sunlight is diffracted around the edge of the Earth by our atmosphere. The dark copper color of the Moon is simply the reflected light of sunsets and sunrises all around the world.

No soap here in the Atlanta area, though: Low clouds in the western sky obscured any possible sight of the setting moon. Bah. (Fortunately, lunar eclipses are not all that uncommon.)

Perhaps my Esteemed Readers in the more westerly parts of the country will have better viewing conditions. Enjoy!

Monday, October 6, 2014


Betty Grable
Betty Grable 20th Century Fox” by Frank Powolny - 20th Century Fox studio promo portrait. Licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.

One of the Minyan Boyz, a gentleman who retired a number of years ago from an important (and presumably well remunerated) gig at a major corporation, has taken up glamour photography as a hobby.

To quote the definition from Wikipedia, glamour photography is “a genre of photography in which the subjects, usually female, are portrayed in erotic or exciting ways... typically less explicit than pornography and erotica.” So you may or may not get a peek at a nipple now and again, but don’t expect to get a glimpse of schmutschkie.

This fellow’s work is actually quite good, and it enlivens many a post-Minyan breakfast when he passes his latest work around. His new iPhone 6 doubleplusfuckinghuge - the one with the Diamondvision™-size Retina display - shows his photographs off beautifully.

Glamour photography has been around for a long time, probably as long as photography... but it reached a sort of zenith during WWII and the years immediately afterward, with models such as Rita Hayworth, Betty Grable, Bettie Page, and Marilyn Monroe posing for what were popularly called pinup photos.

Another term for pinup photos is cheesecake photos, for reasons which are somewhat obscure. Life Magazine’s opinion was that
The origin of the term “cheesecake” to characterize these pinup shots is a matter of some contention, although one of the most widely accepted explanations is that men who first saw these sorts of photos in the early pinup days would exclaim that looking at them was “better than [eating] cheesecake.”
(In case you’re curious, the corresponding term for pinup photos featuring male models is “beefcake.” Ecch.)

Me, I like cheesecake photos... especially those featuring actual cheesecake. Viz:

Togarashi cheesecake slice
Togarashi cheesecake.

I don’t bake cheesecakes very often, for reasons which should be obvious: If I bake ’em, I eat ’em, and I don’t really need to be packing my face with these most insidious and deadly calorie bombs. But I could not resist trying out this one.

You’re looking at a togarashi cheesecake, generously flavored with nanami togarashi, a delightfully complex Japanese spice mixture that contains chili pepper, orange peel, black and white sesame seeds, Japanese pepper, ginger, and seaweed. There are other kinds of togarashi - shichimi togarashi, f’rinstance - but I like the heat and citrusy undertones of the nanami version. It’s also great sprinkled on eggs and on smoked salmon.

The recipe, which I first saw in an inflight magazine, may be found buried in this online article. I adapted it slightly by jacking up the amount of togarashi and substituting Lyle’s Golden Syrup for the sorghum.

How bizarre does it sound, anyway... a cheesecake recipe featuring a gingersnap crust with a filling containing an obscure spice and goat cheese? Bizarre enough. But the results were surprisingly good. The goat cheese was undetectable, at least as far as the usual “goatiness” is concerned, having contributed just a trace of sharpness that plays well off the lemon and the warmth of the chili. In this cake, the marriage of sweet and hot is a match made in heaven.

Betty Grable would’ve loved it - as long as you didn’t tell her that it contained a Japanese ingredient, that is.

Thursday, October 2, 2014


Amarillo Arnie liked to play his cards close to the vest... when he was wearing one, that is. Arnie, you see, was a champion strip poker player. The possibility of being vestless was, alas, part of the game.

But when Arnie invented No-Limit Texas Hold ’Em Strip Poker, the world of competitive clothes-removing card games was shaken to its core. Suddenly, terms like “the flop” took on a whole new meaning... especially among older players.

This didn’t faze Arnie in the least. Even when he had no pockets for his pocket rockets, he was all too happy to go all-in.

Monday, September 29, 2014


The Guild takes us to the sunny climes of the Mediterranean with this evening’s Spanish-themed wine event at Eclipse di Luna.

With the exception of a single red blend from Argentina, all of this tasting’s wines are from Sunny España. And given that my knowledge of Spanish wines is pretty much confined to the basics of Rioja and sherry, to me this looks like a fine opportunity for a little education. Plus... how can one refuse tasty Spanish food, served on an “all you care to eat” basis?

Here’s the bill of fare...

2011 Agro de Bazán Granbazán Albariño Etiqueta Ambar, Rias Baixas, Galicia, Spain*

Gambas al Ajillo - Sautéed shrimp with garlic and Calabrese peppers
Ostiones Fritos - Fried Chesapeake oysters with a citrus herb aioli

First Flight
2010 Bodegas Palacios Remondo La Montesa (75% Garnacha, 20% Tempranillo, 5% Mazuelo) Rioja, Spain*

Ensalada de Manzána - Arugula, radicchio, Granny Smith apples, candied walnuts and Manchego cheese with apple cider walnut dressing
Calamares Fritos - Lightly fried calamari with pico de gallo

Second Flight
2008 Bodegas y Vinedos O. Fournier BCrux (60% Tempranillo, 30% Malbec, 10% Merlot) Mendoza, Argentina****
2005 Bodega Hacienda Lopez de Haro Reserva (90% Tempranillo, 5% Graciano, 5% Garnacha Rioja), Spain**

Salmon a la Parilla - Grilled salmon, smoked piquillo pepper relish and kalamata tapanade

Third Flight
2010 Bodegas Volver Tarima Hill (100% Monastrell) Alicante, Spain**
2011 Vinessens Sein (60% old vine Monastrell (60 yr old), 40% young Syrah) Alicante, Spain
2012 Castaño Solanera (70% Monastrell, 15% Cabernet, 15% Garnacha) Yecla, Spain**

Costillas Españolas - Spanish-style ribs and aged balsamic vinaigrette
Patatas Bravas - Spiced potatoes with romesco sauce

Fourth Flight
2012 Tintonegro Malbec Limestone Block, Mendoza, Argentina*
1998 Muga Torre Muga, Rioja, Spain****
2004 La Rioja Alta Reserva Viña Ardanza (80% Tempanillo, 20% Garnacha Rioja), Spain**

Carne a la Parilla - Grilled hanger steak, roasted tomatillo sauce and cucumber salad

2006 Alvear Fino En Rama (100% Pedro Ximenez) Montilla Moriles, Andalucia, Spain

Per my usual practice, I’ll post an update with my post-drinkem commentary.

The food was excellent and available in quantities limited by our own appetites. Our dessert wine, a fino PX, was anything but desserty - it would have fared much better being paired with the first round of appetizers. Other than that, the wines were hit and miss, with a few nice surprises thrown in: The BCrux and Muga were killer.

Saturday, September 27, 2014


We’re all familiar with palindromes, those words and phrases that read the same in both directions.
  • Bob.
  • Madam, I’m Adam. (Possibly the first palindrome ever.)
  • A man, a plan, a canal - Panama!
Years can be palindromic as well. The last three were 1881, 1991, and 2002; the next will be 2112. (The turn of the millennium accounts for the relatively close proximity of 1991 and 2002, only eleven years apart instead of 110.)

Like countless others, my mother never saw a palindromic year. Her entire lifespan - a too-short sixty years - began well after 1881 and ended before 1991. And yet Dee and I, along with Elder Daughter and the Mistress of Sarcasm, have experienced two.

We Red Sea Pedestrians in the Diaspora, given that we use both the Gregorian and Hebrew calendars, get a crack at yet another palindromic year. The setting of the sun this past Wednesday evening marked the start of 5775. (Bob! 5775, Bob!)

Too bad none of us now living are likely to get to see the year 2222. “Palindrome” doesn’t quite capture it. What should we call it?

Wednesday, September 24, 2014


New Year Challot
Round (or round-ish) challot, especially baked for the New Year, await their slathering of honey.

A New Year begins as the Old Year ends:
Shanah Tovah to my Jewish friends.

שנה טובה ומתוקה

May the year 5775 bring you health, happiness, and all manner of good things without limit. (Same goes to our non-Jewish friends. Just because your Calendrical Odometer doesn’t tick over when ours does doesn’t mean you should miss out!)

Friday, September 19, 2014


Yes, it’s International Talk Like a Pirate Day. Again.

So: What arrrh you going to do about it?

Have a parrrhty?

Wear a carrrhstume?

Or just ignarrrh the whole fucking thing?

Sunday, September 14, 2014


Widow's Kiss Cocktail
Widow’s Kiss Cocktail.

There’s nothing that will bring you bliss
Like the sweet, sultry savor of a Widow’s Kiss.
It tastes of herbs and apples and mystery,
And if you have one or two, it will set you free.

This seductive little marvel uses Calvados, the delicate apple brandy of Normandy, as its base. It is a bit on the sweet side thanks to a dose of Bénédictine, and deliciously floral as well, owing to the presence of Chartreuse. (The traditional recipe calls for yellow Chartreuse, but since I have only the green variety, that’s the one I use. It makes for an extra powerful cocktail.) Here’s how to make one:

1½ oz Calvados (Laird’s bonded apple brandy or applejack can be used in a pinch)
¾ oz yellow Chartreuse (Green Chartreuse works just fine)
¾ oz Bénédictine
4 dashes Angostura bitters

Combine ingredients in a cocktail shaker with ice. Stir well and strain into a cocktail glass. Garnish with a lemon twist. Drink carefully... didn’t I say it was powerful?

Thursday, September 11, 2014


Tai Kimuchi

Tai kimuchi - dried red snapper cured in soy and chile pepper - and an Aviation. Don’t judge.

I made the cocktail with Nolet’s gin and Meyer lemon - a real high flyer. The perfect apéritif for a dinner consisting of leftover gumbo.


We’re not necessarily the sort of people you would consider early adopters.

We’re not the first in line to buy the latest technological gimcrack or gewgaw. (The iPhone 6 will probably have to wait.) And yet we are not complete Luddite dinosaurs. Viz:

Yes, this is a real product. And today, for the first time, I tried it... and it worked. It worked most effectively, living up to its (refreshingly candid) advertising.

Now there’s no need to get cocky... or at least to get cocky-aroma in the old nostrils.

It’s a refreshing surprise to find a product that does what it claims to do... and even more surprising, to find its place in the market despite never being advertised on television - to my knowledge, anyway. Social media seem to be doing the heavy lifting, along with Internet-based sales and distribution - a real 21st century business model.

Why, it’s the best thing since sliced loaf bread!

Wednesday, September 10, 2014


The TeeVee was playing in the den as I was fixing supper this evening, and I heard an ad that summoned up a bittersweet memory. It was for a tobacco cessation drug.

Chantix... helps reduce the urge to smoke.

I remember when I was visiting Eli, hizzownself, back in early January. He was still with us then, but it was evident - especially in retrospect - that he was nearing the end of his rope. He was just... tired.

His cognitive abilities were starting to slip. He would ask to be taken back to his room, forgetting that he already was in his room. And yet he could still be sharp as a tack.

We were watching the TV in his room and an advertisement for Chantix came on, along with the familiar tagline: “Chantix... helps reduce the urge to smoke.”

And apropos of pretty much nothing, I said, “Charlie Chantix...”

Eli responded immediately. “Helps reduce the urge to solve mysteries.

It was a flash of lightning amidst the thickening fog, but it was a flash nonetheless... and Dee and I were there to bear witness.

I miss you, Dad.


The other day, one of Dee’s students presented her with an edible gift.

Eschewing long-standing traditions, said student did not bring the usual apple for the teacher. Instead, she fell back on her own family heritage with a Foodly Offering of zereshk polo.

Zereshk polo? WTF izzat?” I can hear you asking. It’s a reasonable question, unless you spend time hanging out with people of Persian extraction. It is nothing more or less than a rice pilaf (pilaf, polo, and pullao being linguistic and culinary relatives) with a liberal dose of sweet-sour zereshk (barberries), along with saffron to provide a subtle flavor counterpoint.

Zereshk Polo
Zereshk polo, fresh from the Polo Grounds. Yum.

What elevates a Persian-style polo above its ricey cousins is the marvelous caramelized crust that forms on the bottom of the pan as it cooks. When the polo is ready to be served forth, the pan is inverted onto the plate so that that crust - the precious tahdig - sits on top of the pile of polo. The considerate host will ensure that everyone gets his or her share of tahdig by hacking it into manageable portion-size chunks.

On a somewhat unrelated note, Dee and I had been watching a show on the Food Network the previous evening, the one in which Rachael Ray and Guy Fieri take turns mugging for the camera while coaching teams of skillet-wielding toddlers. When one of said toddlers prepared a smoked chicken gumbo using red bell peppers in lieu of green, it struck me as unusual: Green peppers are one of the traditional components of the “trinity,” the Cajun-Creole mirepoix that forms the base of all good gumbeaux. (If that’s not how you spell the plural of “gumbo,” it oughta be.)

Neither of us are big fans of green peppers, gumbo being one of the few dishes in which we use them (the other is gazpacho) - so right then and there I resolved to try making a gumbo with red peppers. Said gumbo, crammed with chicken Andouille sausage, turned out to be similar in flavor to the conventional version but far more colorful. Even better, it was a fine accompaniment to my little plate of zereshk polo at lunch the following day.

Red Pepper Gumbo
Andouille sausage gumbo with red bell peppers. When your Polo Match is gumbo versus polo, everybody wins!

In case you’re curious, I did not put the polo in the gumbo. That’d be a no-no.