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

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

DOING IT BY THE NUMBERS


WTF is this? You may well ask. Keep reading...

My long-time bloggy friend Leslie - she who drives the Omnibus - posted a piece on Farcebook about coloring pages for adults, which (along with the comments appended thereto) reminded me of the ancient and estimable art of Coloring by Numbers.

Painting by Numbers, with its sibling Coloring by Numbers, were massively popular amusements a half-century ago. You had a piece of cheesy artwork - a jumping fish! a tribe of Native Americans! a sunset in the mountains! a horse race! - deconstructed into its component colors, the various segments and slivers delineated by light blue lines. Each segment would be marked with a number to indicate which little cup of paint or which pencil you would use to fill it in with the appropriate color. And when you were done, voilà! You had a piece of artwork on heavy paper or - in the case of the paint-by-numbers sets, a thin canvas-covered board - suitable for framing.


A typical Venus Paradise color-by-numbers set. [Photo credit: The Fancy Tail.]

I loved those damned things. I cared not whether they involved paint or colored pencils (although I strongly suspect my parents had a strong preference for the far less messy pencils). All I knew is, coloring by numbers provided hours of semi-idle amusement, a fine way to pass the time during warm afternoons in Florida while visiting the grandfolks. You couldn’t stay at the beach 24/7, after all.

There was another way to waste pass the time, and that was with a kit that bore the delightfully spelled moniker “Kopeefun.” The principle behind Kopeefun - a product that dates back to the mid-1930’s - was simple: You took a page of newspaper comics (or the specially provided cartoons that came with the Kopeefun kit - see above), laid a sheet of specially treated Kopeefun paper on top of it, and rubbed the paper with a popsicle stick, thus transferring the images to it. You then would use the same method to transfer your images from the Kopeefun paper to a blank sheet. Those with a perverse turn of mind could put Dick Tracy’s head on Nancy’s body, or have Charlie Brown duking it out with Snuffy Smith. Hours of hilarity, I tells ya.


Kopeefun. This package design (circa 1952) mashes up the crappy typography of the early 1950’s with charming artwork from the late 1930’s.

For all of the wonderful electronic amusements today’s kids have at their disposal, I wonder whether they’re really any better off. Nowadays you could get the same results using Photoshop, but you’d be missing out on the tactile pleasure of holding a pencil in your hands or scraping a damned popsicle stick over that glorified piece of wax paper.

Ahhh, those were the days.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

NON MOLESTARE I CANGURI



Do not provoke the kangaroos
And do not try to give them booze
Do not invite one on a cruise
For if you do, you lose. You lose!

[Poem inspired by a news story concerning the above-pictured giant specimen recently seen wandering the streets of Brisbane, Australia. At over six feet in height and massing close to 210 pounds, “Dave” is not the sort of beast one wants to encounter whilst taking a neighborhood stroll.]

Monday, May 25, 2015

FIREFLIES



There are sights, sounds, and smells that instantaneously transport me back in time some fifty-odd years, back to my childhood. And for some reason, so many of these mental touchstones are associated with spring or early summer, the days when Nature has completed its awakening.

Some days ago - it was a warm, pleasant Sunday morning - Dee and I had taken a walk to the Local Bagel and Smoked Fish Emporium and back, a round trip of some two and a half miles. On the way we passed a few patches of fragrant honeysuckle, the combined sight and smell of which brought me back to the days when, as free-range kids, we would walk past hedges festooned with honeysuckle blossoms. We would pluck the flowers and, gently tugging at their bases, would extract their pistils, a drop or two of sweet, delicately perfumed nectar clinging to their tips.

Yesterday evening, after supper, we took a stroll around the neighborhood. (When I was growing up, our neighborhood’s streets all ran at right angles, so one could walk “around the block.” In our Atlanta suburb, however, there are no orderly, rectangular blocks. The streets go every which way, with loops and culs de sac. So I suppose we took a walk around the loop.)

As the sun began to dip below the horizon, we began seeing the intermittent flashes of fireflies. First one... then another, then another, until the Morse code of yellow glows became almost continuous static. And suddenly I was a ten-year-old again, seeing the world through curious, wondering eyes.

* * *

This year, Memorial Day coincided with the second day of Shavuot, the Jewish Festival of Weeks, AKA the Festival of First Fruits, AKA the Season of the Giving of the Law. It’s not entirely commonplace, this particular superposition of holidays. The last time it took place was a mere three years ago, on a day that also happened to be my father’s eighty-seventh birthday. But the time before that was back in 1985, and before that, 1971.

Nevertheless, it is a felicitous combination. In the United States, as elsewhere in the Diaspora, the second day of Shavuot is one of the four days during the year that the Yizkor service is held, a service of remembrance for departed loved ones. It is a service that fits hand-in-glove with the overarching theme of Memorial Day, the day on which Americans remember those who died while serving their country in the military.

Although several of our relatives served in the United States armed forces - my father, my uncle Phil, Dee’s father Bill and stepfather Dave - none of them died while active members of the military. That painful honor fell to Dee’s cousin Donnie, after whom she was named - the first resident of Tarrant County, Texas to be killed in the Korean conflict. Neither Dee nor I ever had an opportunity to meet Donnie, but we honored his memory twicefold this day.

And I thought of those fireflies.

I thought of those flashing, glowing lights, small and evanescent, fluttering over a lawn on a warm spring evening. In my mind’s eye, I could see that each one was the soul of a loved one - a mother, a father, a relative, a friend - or perhaps someone unknown to us, someone who had died while defending our country. Like fireflies, those souls surround us always, whether or not we know they are there... and sometimes, as the dusk comes on and the shadows deepen, they send us a little flash, a little glow, to remind us that they are forever with us.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

DESIGN FLAW


Houston Steve demonstrates the head-cracking technology employed at a local business center. I smell lawsuit!

There’s a retail center/office complex a few of us have been frequenting these last several weeks, one which boasts a minor architectural design error. You can spot it in the photograph above if you have a sharp eye... or even if you do not.

A decorative concrete cornice runs along the outside of the building between the ground-level floor and what we here in the States would call the second story. Normally, that would not be a problem... except that there is a business on that second story, the access to which is through a door that is reached by way of an outside staircase.

That staircase - a rattletrap construction of metal risers and concrete treads that had no doubt been added as an afterthought - had been deteriorating for some time. Rust had begun eating holes in the risers; it was only a matter of time before the entire thing collapsed. So the management acted preemptively and brought in a squad of construction jocks to rebuild the stairs.

They approached the task in stages, working on the rightmost sections of the stairway while leaving the left side open to those who wished to brave the ascent. (For those too fearful or lazy to do so, an elevator was conveniently accessible.) Finally, after several weeks of seemingly slow progress, the right side was reopened for business while the left side was sealed off to be rebuilt.

Alas, there was a flaw... probably one that had been there but that we had not previously noticed. An architectural boo-boo of the sort that sometimes happens when you add a feature - an exterior staircase, say - that was not envisioned in the building’s original design. The cornice, you see, overhangs roughly a quarter of the right side of the staircase... a rude surprise to anyone who keeps to the right as they walk upstairs. I suspect that whoever designed that decorative cornice never thought that it could be decorated with splatters of blood and bits of cracked skull.

Not to worry, though. There’s a nice flat area along the outside of the cornice where the local Ambulance Chasers can affix their business cards.

Friday, May 15, 2015

A MANLY, MEATY MEAL


Hanger steak with green peppercorn sauce. [Click to embiggen.]

Earlier this week, I had an evening to myself as Dee ran some errands across town.

More often than not, I won’t pay much attention to what I eat when I’m on my own for the night, but Alone Time does allow me to monkey around in the kitchen to my heart’s content.

You’d think I would use the time to prepare the kinds of foods that Dee prefers not to eat. Things like duck, venison, lamb, liver and onions, that sort of stuff. And, yes, on occasion, that is exactly what I will do. But not this time.

Hanger steak - a cut the French call l’onglet, whatever the hell that means - is one of my favorite kinds of beefsteak. It’s not widely available here, but the local Whole Paycheck Foods generally has a few sitting in the meat case on any given day. When I saw them there last Sunday, they had to compete for my attention with a huge beef shank - the kind that looks like it could serve as a Neanderthal’s club, complete with six inches of bare protruding bone. But the shank, glorious as it was, would have to wait, I decided. Hanger steak... that’d be Just The Thing.

You don’t really have to do much to these babies. Salt and pepper ’em, give ’em a light dusting with ground thyme, and then sear ’em in a hot skillet until medium-rare. Then slice ’em up. A twelve-inch slicing knife is my preference, but a straight razor or a Gerber mini-magnum would work just fine.

For extra decoration, I just defrosted some leftover green peppercorn sauce... homemade veal demi-glace, green peppercorns, shallots, red wine reduction... and supplemented it with the wine I used to deglaze the pan. And for the vegetabobble, I roasted some sliced Brussels sprouts along with capers, dried barberries, and diced-up preserved lemon. As Shockheaded Guy might say, those sprouts were taking a ride to Flavortown.

I suppose that to make this a completely Manly Meal, I should have preceded it with a Martini... or at least polished off a bottle of wine with it. But I did not. Instead, I had some soda water, which permitted me the luxury of a manly, yet discreet, postprandial belch.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

PALINDROME WEEK

Madam, I’m Adam.

And let me introduce you to a few more of my Palindromic Buddies... namely, this entire week.

Beginning this Sunday immediately past, and continuing for the next nine days, every date is a palindrome - at least, when rendered in American style. Viz:

5-10-15
5-11-15
5-12-15
5-13-15
5-14-15
5-15-15
5-16-15
5-17-15
5-18-15
5-19-15

Now, aren’t you glad you know about this?


“Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a shit.”

Monday, May 11, 2015

TWO LIVES


Elder Daughter and her proud Daddy.

Everyone’s life is marked by milestones, the signposts along the Road of Earthly Existence that we use to mark significant events as we travel from the initial on-ramp to the Final Exit. Lifecycle events, some call them. Baptism or B’rit Milah. The first day of school. Bar or Bat Mitzvah. Confirmation. Quinceañero. The first date. Being graduated from high school and college. Getting married. Buying a car or a house for the first time. Getting a job.

When I look at the big milestones in my life, perhaps the one that stands out the most is Becoming a Father. When Elder (then Only) Daughter was born - an event that I both eagerly anticipated and dreaded at the same time - it marked a dramatic change in my circumstances. I was now responsible for another human being, a baby girl who stole my heart with her very first breath.

I can divide my life into two parts: Part I - Before Fatherhood and Part II - Fatherhood. Nine years ago, the two parts were of similar dimensions, but Part II has been gaining ground ever since. And, truly, it is almost as though they are two different lives.

Being a dad means having your emotions amplified. You feel love and joy more than ever before, and with that comes the fear of loss, a dread the starkness of which is unimaginable during Part I. The world is simultaneously more pleasurable and more fraught. In 1997, when Dee and I dropped Elder Daughter off in Boston to begin her university career, we watched our no-longer-quite-a-baby disappear into the maw of Boston’s T. It’s hard to describe the bittersweet import of that moment, the combination of elation and terror that we felt as our taxicab pulled away to take us to the airport.

Nevertheless, I’ll take Part II any old time.

The “two lives” analogy is especially apropos today, as it is Elder Daughter’s thirty-sixth birthday.

Because letters serve both as consonants and as numbers in the Hebrew alephbet (well, where did you think the word alphabet came from, anyway?) we Red Sea Pedestrians often assign numeric values to words, and vice-versa. The word חי (chai = life) is written with the letters chet and yad, corresponding to eight and ten, respectively: thus life = eighteen. Thirty-six, then, means two lives.

Elder Daughter can appreciate this analogy as well, for she has spent eighteen years as a dependent and eighteen years on her own. Call them First Life and Second Life, if you will.

She is quite a young woman, this Elder Daughter of ours, filled almost to overflowing with vitality, creativity, and intelligence. As Dee so beautifully puts it, she lights up a room with her smile and personality.

Happy birthday, Elder Daughter! Enjoy every moment. We love you!

Sunday, May 10, 2015

THREE MOMS, TWO KIDS


My mom Bernice, of blessèd memory.


Dee and her mom.


Dee, flanked by the Mistress of Sarcasm and Elder Daughter.

The three moms are my mom, Dee’s mom, and Dee herself. The two kids - children without whom Momlihood is impossible - are, of course, our own two daughters.

Today is Mothers Day, and despite the fact that it was originally created to be a Greeting Card Occasion, this second Sunday in May really is a perfectly appropriate time to remember the mothers in our lives, the people who - probably more than anyone else - have shaped our lives and personalities and made us what we are.

My own mother has been gone from this Mortal Coil for twenty-seven years now. Perhaps my biggest regret is that she never got to see her granddaughters grow up, never got to know them as intelligent, creative, and thoughtful adults. And for my daughters, she is but a fading memory. Alas.

But we still have plenty of mothers to be thankful for. Have you hugged a mother today?

Friday, May 8, 2015

SMART CARTS FOR DARK ARTS


Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry now offers courses in Driver Education.

Everyone is entitled to at least one Nerdly Sphere of Excessive Fascination, and for the person that owns the car above, that would be the fiction of J. K. Rowling.

Other folks have other obsessions: guns, toasters, vacuum cleaners, rare coins, comic books and the like. And you have to figure that a media empire worth billions of dollars is going to provide plenty of grist for the old Obsession Mill. I mean, you have actual Harry Potter theme parks, fer cryin’  out loud.

A couple of days ago, Houston Steve and I were cruising along one of the neighborhood streets when we noticed a green Honda Element sporting the above license plate.

I’ve been the proud owner of my own Honda Element - the one and only Elissonmobile - for ten years now. Honda no longer manufactures them, but I see them on the local roads every day. They’re just unusual enough to be noticeable.

That DARKART license tag, though... that really stands out in a crowd. I’ve seen it several times before, but this is the first time I was able to get a really clear picture of it. And it seems we have a real Potter fan on our hands here. If the tag itself isn’t enough to convince you, perhaps the “Hogwarts Alumni” license plate frame will. Or the “Republicans for Voldemort” bumper sticker on the lower left.

It might be a good idea to stay out of this guy’s way. The combination of road rage and wizardry is not something I ever care to see. Being the target of a Electrovoltaicus Defunctus spell just would not do...

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

THE DOCTOR IS IN


The Doctor Cocktail... it’ll cure what ails you.

Feeling under the weather? Try one of these.

Doctor Cocktail

2 oz Jamaican rum
1 oz Swedish Punsch
1 oz freshly squeezed lime juice

Combine ingredients in a cocktail shaker with ice; shake vigorously and strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with a lime twist.

What the hell is Swedish Punsch? Glad you asked. It’s a spice-infused liqueur traditionally made with Batavia arrack, a sort of Indonesian rum, which makes it a fine complement to any rum-based concoction. Because it can be hard to find at your local Adult Beverage Emporium, I make it myself using a recipe I discovered at Serious Eats.

Although the traditional Doctor Cocktail formula calls for Jamaican rum (Myers’s dark rum is an excellent choice), I’ve made it with Haitian and Venezuelan rums with excellent results. The drink pictured above was made with Wray & Nephew White Overproof Rum, a highly potent Jamaican popskull. I ought to call it The Anesthesiologist.

Monday, May 4, 2015

TIME, GENTLEMEN

It’s Star Wars Day (May the Fourth be with you!), and so all kinds of science-fiction driven nerditry is being splattered all over the Internet in honor of the occasion.

The various Star Wars films are to have taken place in a fictional setting “a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away.” The “long time ago” business was a nice twist on George Lucas’s part: We’re all accustomed to thinking of advanced technology as being something associated with the future rather than the past, and what’s more advanced than a civilization that can travel the stars? On the other hand, “a galaxy far, far away” is a bit redundant, since any galaxy other than our own Milky Way is, by definition, pretty Gawd-damned far away.

Thinking about things that may (or may not) have taken place a long time ago in galaxies far, far away got me to thinking about time travel, a staple imaginary technology of science fiction. The idea of being able to travel in time has long been a pet fascination of mine since seeing George Pal’s 1960 production of The Time Machine as a not-quite-eight-year-old kid. Even without obsessing over details like the Grandfather Paradox, there are plenty of other niggling technical details to worry about.

Immunity to the diseases of the past or future, for instance. How ironic would it be to travel hundreds of thousands of years into the future only to be felled, not by some dread Morlockish descendant, but by the billionth generation of today’s increasingly antibiotic-resistant bacteria? Blecch.

What about the electromagnetic radiation that surrounds you as you travel? As you move faster through Time, would sunlight become shifted toward unimaginably high frequencies, turning into a deadly hail of X-rays and gamma rays? Would the speed of your travel attenuate their effects?

Yes, sometimes I actually wonder about this kind of stuff.

Do you ever find yourself thinking about time travel (you nerd)? And if so, which Time Machine would you rather have?

This one?



This one?



Or this one?



Leave your answers in the comments - and the rationale behind your preference, if you feel like getting all ’splainey.

HAPPY STAR WARS DAY


Q: Who was Darth Vader’s big sister?
A: Darthy Vader.

“May the Fourth Be With You.” - the Lisping Jedi


THE CHEESE AISLE DICTIONARY, Vol. 22

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

Long-time readers of my previous site may recall the Blog d’Elisson Dictionary, installments of which may be found in that site’s Archives. For other entries in the Cheese Aisle Dictionary, simply click on the sidebar link for Cheese-Dic.

And now for today’s entry:

Carnyvore [car-ni-vor] (n) - person who subsists on a diet consisting primarily of turkey legs, nachos, cotton candy, Dippin’ Dots, and funnel cakes.

“Last time we went to the State Fair, George nearly killed himself eating all that crap at the midway. He’s a real carnyvore, that one.”

Friday, May 1, 2015

BONUS QUESTION

Back in the days of stone knives and bearskins, I was the lone engineer amongst my friends in college, all of whom were studying things such as international politics, English, history, and the like. One of my roommates went so far as to write a 600+ page (!) thesis on the politics of the Commonwealth of Virginia. (Writing a thesis was a requirement for securing a bachelor’s degree; writing a thesis the size of a cinderblock was more an exercise in testing the patience of one’s faculty advisor.)

As an engineering student, my course load was heavily weighted towards the mathematical and the scientific - things like physical, organic, and inorganic chemistry; thermodynamics; fluid mechanics; separation processes; engineering statistics; multivariable calculus; differential equations; and biochemistry. I had my share of electives, which I used to pursue interests such as typography, photography, and Shakespeare. But nary a course in politics or history did I take, and there are times I regret not having done so.

Like now, f’rinstance.

That is mainly because my good friend Houston Steve has a son who, while completing his Ph.D. dissertation at the University of Georgia, has been an instructor for an Introduction to Comparative Politics course. And despite my general loathing for things political, taking Josh’s course would probably be entertaining as well as educational. Submitted as evidence is part of the final exam he has been administering to his students this week, some of whom had requested that he include a bonus question for extra credit. And Josh was only too happy to oblige:

Bonus Essay

Part I: Take one item from Column A and one item from Column B and do a comparative political analysis of the two, using an argument/theory/set of arguments that we have touched on this semester (midterm material is fair game here).

Part II: Choose one item from Column C and add it to your analysis from Part I. Would the argument change at all? How would item A and B deal with item C?

Be creative. If you can source from memory, do, but it will not hurt you not to source. Feel free to bring in culture, religion, economy, violence—anything; the world is your oyster on this one.

Column A
Volturi (Twilight)
Death Eaters (Harry Potter)
The Matrix (The Matrix)
Australia (Mad Max)
The UGA Football Team

Column B
United Federation of Planets (Star Trek)
The Wall (Game of Thrones)
Gotham (Batman)
Pandora (Avatar, or “Dances with Smurfs”)
The Jedi Council (Star Wars)

Column C
Zombies (Your pick of universe)
The Aliens (District 9)
Cthulhu (H. P. Lovecraft)
Cylons (Battlestar Galactica)
Dragons (Your pick of universe)

I suspect that there may be a few of my Esteemed Readers who might want to have some fun with this... specifically Eric and Kevin. So, what say ye? Anyone wanna try your hand at writing this Bonus Essay? I might even prevail upon Josh to grade it for you, now that he has successfully defended his dissertation and is now officially Piled High and Deep.

Monday, April 27, 2015

APRIL GUILD EVENT

It has been several months since I’ve attended a Sommelier Guild event: This evening marks the first one since September. That’s an unprecedented streak of non-guildly behavior, alas, the result of either bad timing or restaurant selections that did not inspire me to part with my hard-earned simoleons.

But now we’re in familiar waters with an evening at Goldfish, over at Perimeter, and the (seasonally appropriate) theme of the evening is spring whites and reds.

Now, those Esteemed Readers who know me also know that whites are generally not my wines of choice. But I will put up with them in order to get to the reds that I crave. Now: what’s for dinner and drinkage?

Reception
2013 Mittelbach Rosé of Zweigelt - Austria

First Flight
NV Baron-Fuenté Brut Grande Réserve Champagne*

Fried oysters, tartar sauce

Second Flight
2012 Ancient Oak Chardonnay Russian River (Greg La Folliette, winemaker)
2011 Louis Michel Chablis Premier Cru Montée de Tonnerre*
or
2012 Louis Michel Chablis Premier Cru Montée de Tonnerre**
2009 Pegasus Bay Chardonnay New Zealand***

Crab cake, frisée, avocado, citrus salad, cilantro

Third Flight
2010 Produccions A Modino San Clodio
2000 Tardieu-Laurent Vacqueyras Vieilles Vignes**

Gulf shrimp and grits, andouille sausage, spinach, tomatoes, garlic cream

Fourth Flight
2012 Arietta Quartet**
2011 Woodward Canyon Artist Series***
2010 Buoncristiani OPC***

Filet mignon, gnocchi, broccoli, and mushrooms

Dessert
2012 Chapoutier Banyuls*

Molten Center Chocolate Lava Cake

Lagniappe
2007 Rochioli Sauvignon Blanc*

Per my usual practice, I’ll let you know what I think of the various wines and foodly items. You never know what you might discover!

Update:
The food was tasty enough, aside from the not-quite-molten center chocolate lava cake - and the wine offerings improved as the evening progressed. Strangely, the whites - with the sole exception of the Champagne - were served at room temperature. I’m guessing it was a restaurant screw-up, but it’s one that should have easily been corrected.

Most people like their white wines chilled. Serving them right out of the ice bucket isn’t ideal, since it mutes their flavors. Nevertheless, something a bit lower than the cellar temperature (62-68°F) that’s optimum for most reds is what to shoot for. 49-55°F is in the right ballpark.

Thank Gawd I prefer red wines. I’m just sayin’.

Saturday, April 25, 2015

PEZIDENTS!

How many of you can lay claim to swag this sweet?


“1829! In the midst of an ever-deepening sense of prosperity, Chester Alan Arthur climbed to the top of his bedroom wall, thrust his defiance at the Javanese, and shouted, ‘Give me Them, or I’m going Over There!’”

It’s... Presidential Pez!

I’m hoping to add Warren Harding, Richard Nixon, and Millard Fillmore to my collection. And eventually, perhaps, I will be able to score a William Henry Harrison, who died in office a mere thirty-two days after having been inaugurated. In recognition of its namesake’s short tenure, the William Henry Harrison Pez dispenser has room to hold only a single Pez candy.