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

Friday, August 29, 2014

’TIS THE SEASON

The Penitential Season, that is, which got kicked off Wednesday as the month of Elul began.

That means that only one month remains before the Jewish New Year rolls in, to be followed by Yom Kippur. Those are holidays marked by a certain degree of sober introspection, for this is the time when we traditionally take stock of our lives and try to turn towards the paths of righteousness.

During Elul, morning services conclude with the sounding of the Shofar, the ancient ram’s-horn trumpet that serves as both a warning and a call to action: a spiritual alarm clock of sorts. And we recite Psalm 27, the special psalm for the penitential days, from now until Hoshana Rabah in the latter part of next month.

Psalm 27 has always resonated with me, but this year it hits especially close to home with this verse in particular:

Ki avi v’imi azavuni va-HaShem ya-asfeini - Though my father and mother leave me, the Lord will care for me.

This is the first New Year I will be facing as an orphan: My father and mother have now both left me. It is a sobering realization... and yet it is the way of the world.

As for me, I have plenty of sober introspection of my own to face. I suspect most of us do as well. The Human Condition, they call it.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

THE CHEESE AISLE DICTIONARY, Vol. 21

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, the Expression of the Day:

Santayana Claustrophobia [san-ta-yan-a claws-tro-fo-bi-a] (n) - The fear of learning from history.

The phrase is a mash-up of Santayana (George Santayana famously said, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it”) and claustrophobia, the fear of enclosed spaces.

“When I see what’s going on in Europe these days, it’s just like before World War II broke out. Those people must be suffering from a collective case of Santayana Claustrophobia!”

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

JUSTICE, DELAYED BUT NOT DENIED

Sometimes the wheels of Justice grind slowly, but grind they do... and most of us hope never to get caught up in them. Herewith, a story...

It was June of 2013, and we were in Philadelphia to attend Elder Daughter’s graduation from clown school the Pig Iron School of Advanced Performance Training. We had an opportunity to see an extraordinary group of actors demonstrate their craft in various performance pieces, and a graduation ceremony that managed to be both touching and amusing, a ceremony that was entirely fitting for this, Pig Iron’s very first APT class.

At the time, the Missus was suffering from a torn ligament and associated tendinopathy, a Footly Condition that made it extremely difficult and painful to walk. Consequently, she applied for - and received - a temporary handicapped placard from Cobb County, Georgia that enabled her to use designated handicapped parking places.

Parking Placard

But apparently, some of the beat patrollers in Philly never got the memo, because on our final morning there, after having parked in a streetside handicapped parking place, we returned to our car to find a parking ticket on the windshield. The officer who issued the ticket noted that our placard (which was mounted correctly on the rear-view mirror) had been issued in Georgia but that the car we were in - the Mistress of Sarcasm’s ride - was registered in Connecticut. This, at least in his mind, was evidence that we had not only parked illegally in a handicapped space, but that we had done so fraudulently. Fraudulently, by Gawd!

The ticket was for a jaw-dropping $1001. Yes, you read that correctly: It was a thousand-dollar parking ticket.

Great Googly Moogly! I had thought, until then, that the only way to get a thousand-dollar parking ticket was to park at a kindergarten... on top of all the children.

Needless to say, with that much cabbage on the line, we were not about to “pay the two dollars.” Instead, we filed an appeal online with the City of Philadelphia. After all, isn’t portability the whole point of having a portable handicapped parking placard?

After waiting about seven weeks, we received a polite letter informing us that the charge had been dismissed. Justice had been served.

And the timing was exquisite.

The morning of the letter’s arrival, the day’s Torah reading had included the immortal verse from the Book of Deuteronomy, “Tzedek, tzedek tirdof: Justice, justice shalt thou pursue.”

Yesterday, the cycle of our annual Torah readings brought that selfsame verse around once more, reminding me of this story of Justice, Delayed but not Denied. And so, Esteemed Reader, I share it with you.

Monday, August 25, 2014

AUGUST GUILD EVENT

This evening’s Guild event will be held at Saltyard, a tapas and small plates place just north of the Brookwood Interchange on Peachtree. The theme - such as it is - is “Floral, Herbal, and Sweet,” which are flavors I can get by mixing myself an Aviation cocktail with Nolet’s gin, but which can also be teased out by the appropriate wines and accompanying dishes. For my part, it gives me an opportunity to try a restaurant I’ve never even heard of before.

Here’s what’s on the menu:

Reception
NV Manuel Janisson & Roland de Bruyne Kirkland Champagne Rosé**

First Flight
2013 Bevan Dry Stack Sauvignon Blanc*
2012 Quintessa Illumination Sauvignon Blanc**
Lime and cilantro grouper ceviche, wonton chips
Smoked salmon chips, lemon-dill mascarpone
Crispy oysters, lemon-dill aioli 

Second Flight
2012 Michel Gassier Cercius Blanc*
2009 Pegasus Bay Chardonnay***
Seared diver scallop, creamy polenta, red curry butter, mâche leaves

Third Flight
2010 Hamilton Russell Pinot Noir*
2012 Melville Estate Pinot Noir***
Roasted mushroom, caramelized fennel risotto, fines herbes, arugula pistou

Fourth Flight
2011 Highland Estates Merlot Grand Reserve**
2010 Catena Zapata Cabernet Sauvignon***
Braised pork cheeks, herbed whipped potatoes, glazed carrots, jus

Dessert
2003 Château La Gravière Tirecul Monbazillac***
Crème brûlée, blackberries

Lagniappe
2003 W. H. Smith Pinot Noir****
1996 Domaine Cady Cuvée Volupté Coteaux du Layon Saint Albin**
2003 Mitolo Reiver Shiraz - Barossa Valley***

Will Houston Steve be there? Alas, not this time. Nevertheless, I’ll follow my usual procedure and post my impressions in an after-event update.

Update: A few really nice wines, especially as the evening progressed and we moved into the reds. As for the food, great appetizers, fine dessert, and toothsome pork cheeks... and a totally forgettable risotto. The star was the seared diver scallop dish, served with a bright red curry butter that somehow magically worked perfectly with the Pegasus Bay chardonnay. I could have eaten a bathtub full of those bad boys.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

FROM THE ELISSON ARCHIVE: PHYSICS AS ART

Bouncing Ball
Parabolic ping-pong. The bouncing ball traces graceful parabolae in its flight.

This photograph - the original was a black-and-white Polaroid - was taken by illuminating a bouncing ping-pong ball with a strobe light. The bouncing ball describes a series of parabolae of decreasing height: physics as art.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

ANOTHER DON, GONE*

Don Pardo
Don Pardo, 1918-2014. Requiescat in pace.

His voice was strong until the last,
But now Don Pardo’s onward passed.
When he arrives at Heaven’s shelf,
Saint Pete will say, “Announce yourself!”

Don Pardo, whose voice was familiar to millions as the announcer for Saturday Night Live for all but a single season since 1975, has died at the age of 96.

To be perfectly honest, I had absolutely no idea that Mr. Pardo was anywhere near that old. His larynx betrayed nary a hint of his advancing years, not even a quaver.

I wonder what it must have been like for him to go about his everyday life - supermarkets, restaurants, et al. - and being the recipient of numerous Quizzical Looks ’n’ Comments: “You sound like someone I know!”

Ave atque vale, Don Pardo. You were a “Pardo-v” our lives for so long, and we will miss your unique voice.

[*The title is a subtle allusion to an old - and completely unrelated - post.]

Monday, August 18, 2014

RUFF STUFF

Ruff Stuff
Stella displays her Ruff Stuff.

I never ever get enough
Of Stella-Kitty and her rough

When Stella-Kitty struts her stough
Don’t dare to give her any gough

In winter, she could be a mough
And keep you warm with all her flough

Thursday, August 14, 2014

ITCHY

Dennis Kucinich
Liked to eat spinach.
But when he ate spinach, he’d itch.
He’d say, “Son of a bitch!
I’ve an itch in my niche
And whether you’re poor or you’re rich,
An itch in the niche
Is a gold-plated bitch
’Cause you can’t just reach up there and skritch.”

ROOTY TOOTY CLAFOOTIE

It’s mid-August, but here in the greater Atlanta area the past couple of days have felt more like late October, with crisp, clear mornings and a much more moderate temperature than usual.

This is good.

I love the transition from summer to autumn, and if by some miracle it takes place a bit early, you will not hear me complaining.

And yet, I love summer. One of the little pleasures of Sweaty Season is the availability of delicious sweet Bing and Rainier cherries at reasonable prices, and so there will be, more often than not, a bag or two of those little beauties residing in our fridge this time of year.

I’m not sure why I was inspired to actually do something with our latest pile of cherry inventory besides eat them out of hand, but I got it in my head to use them for cooking up something sweet... and so I did.

There’s a classic French dessert called clafoutis (AKA clafouti, pronounced “clafootie” to rhyme with “tutti frutti”), a sort of rusticated cherry tart that is a bastard child of a Dutch baby pancake and a fruit cobbler. It’s been around long enough to have shown up in Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking, and to have surfaced in numerous places online. The recipe is pretty straightforward, the hardest part being pitting all of those damned cherries.

I tweaked the formula a bit by macerating those cherries in kirschwasser for a couple of hours... and instead of a tablespoon of vanilla, I cut that amount in half and added a teaspoon of almond extract, a flavor that is a natural complement to that of cherries. About an hour in a 350°F oven and... BOOM.

Cherry Clafoutis
A rooty tooty, fresh and fruity clafoutis.

Was it good? Yes, it was, damn it.

Before we know it, summer really will be winding down. In the meantime, we may as well enjoy the wonderful flavors the season has to offer. Clafoutis! Have one today.

Update: The estimable Big Hominid calls another clafoutis treat to our attention: Jasmine Cuisine’s Clafoutis Choco-Cerise from Québec. ’Cause, you know, chocolate and cherries.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

REQUIESCAT IN PAGLIACCI

Robin Williams
Robin Williams, 1951-2014. Requiescat in pace.

“I heard a joke once: Man goes to doctor. Says he’s depressed. Says life is harsh and cruel. Says he feels all alone in a threatening world. Doctor says, ‘Treatment is simple. The great clown Pagliacci is in town tonight. Go see him. That should pick you up.’ Man bursts into tears. Says, ‘But, Doctor... I am Pagliacci.’” - Rorschach, from Watchmen (Alan Moore)

The worlds of comedy and acting lost a shining light yesterday, and we are all diminished.

It is a cruel irony that so many of those with the great gift of bringing laughter to others are unable to cope with the pain in their own souls. So it was with Robin Williams.

Ave atque vale... and nanoo-nanoo.

Monday, August 11, 2014

ROWDY RENAISSANCE

A Reuters photographer recently shot a photograph of a brawl in - of all places - the Ukrainian Parliament.

That, in itself, was not especially noteworthy. Sure, you don’t necessarily expect a country’s lawmakers to be duking it out in the midst of a legislative session, but this was Ukraine, after all. Besides, governmental civility has been on the decline in our own country for years. We might not have reached bottom yet, but who is to say that fistfights won’t be breaking out in the House of Representatives after the next election?

What was remarkable about the photograph was not so much its subject matter as its composition. Inadvertently, the image was an almost perfect exemplar of a beloved Renaissance compositional technique involving the use of the Golden Spiral. Caravaggio would have understood this photograph perfectly, although he might have wondered just what exactly a Parliament was supposed to be.

Ukrainian Bitch-Fight
Art is where you find it: Ukrainian solons duke it out in a manner befitting Michelangelo or da Vinci.

(I tweaked the lighting a bit and “oilpainterized” the image before sticking it in this frame, in case you were wondering.)

Friday, August 8, 2014

ON THE SEINFELDIAN CATCHPHRASE

One of the best things about watching Seinfeld back in the 1990’s - aside from the fact that Jerry grew up in my hometown and would throw in the occasional local reference - was the high probability that you would hear a catchphrase in the making. Nobody before or since could coin popular verbiage like Jerry Seinfeld and his gifted team of writers.

Even today, two decades later, those Seinfeldian catchphrases linger in the American pop culture consciousness:

“Not that there’s anything wrong with that.”

“These pretzels are making me thirsty!”

“Can you spare a square?”

“There was shrinkage!”

“No soup for you!”

[I’m sure you have your favorites. Feel free to stick ’em in the Comments.]

Well, art - and catchphrases - are where you find them, and I found one that would have done Seinfeld proud. Well, maybe not, but I will let you adjudge that for yourself.

A few weeks ago, I was at a local get-together, where I heard a young lady relate a story about having locked her Vacation Essentials - a week’s supply of cash and weed - in her hotel room’s electronic safe.

You’ve seen those little safes, haven’t you, lurking in the closet of your (somewhat upscale) hotel room? You stick your valuables in ’em, close the door, punch in a four-digit code, and the door locks. When you want to retrieve your personal effects, you enter the same four-digit code to unlock the door, hoping all the while that the hotel’s corrupt security staff hasn’t absconded with Aunt Minnie’s pearl necklace. The young lady who was relating this story had stowed her stash of hash and cash in her room’s little safe, but when it came time to open up the box, the box did not want to cooperate.

Not having any viable alternatives, Little Miss Cannabis called security, who promptly sent someone up to assist. Turns out the problem was simple: The little battery that powers the safe’s locking mechanism had died. A replacement was installed, the code was entered, and the door began to swing open...

...when the young lady realized that she didn’t want the security guy to see the contents of the safe, for reasons that should be obvious to the casual observer. So, in a triumph of Quick-Witted Thinking, she gave him a perfect reason to avert his eyes:

“Don’t look in there! It’s full of dildoes!

Not only was she able to recover her supply of weed ’n’ wampum, Little Miss Cannabis had inadvertently birthed the best non-Seinfeld Seinfeldian catchphrase I’ve ever heard. There’s gotta be at least ten thousand creative uses for that sentence, a phrase that rolls so trippingly over the lips...

“Sir, is everything OK with your meal?” “It’s full of dildoes!”

“Would you care to order dessert?” “It’s full of dildoes!”

“How does your mom like it at the assisted living center?” “It’s full of dildoes!”

Go ahead... try coming up with your own!

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

BOOKENDS

[This was originally posted at Blog d’Elisson in May 2008 after Elder Daughter and I had returned from our Japan trip. Given that today is the 69th anniversary of the atom-bombing of Hiroshima, I thought it was appropriate to repost it now. It is especially apropos in view of the discussions concerning the unfortunate deaths of civilians in Gaza.

War is never pretty. War is hell, as General William Tecumseh Sherman famously observed. But sometimes war is necessary, and the death and destruction resulting therefrom are an alternative to even more death, destruction, and human misery.]


Genbaku-Domu


Twenty-three years ago, when She Who Must Be Obeyed and I visited Hawai‘i for the first time, we spent a goodly chunk of one day visiting the Pearl Harbor Memorial: the site where a devastating attack by Japanese forces compelled the United States to enter World War II.

It was a moving and sobering experience. Standing there over the sunken remains of the USS Arizona, oil from which continues to seep to the surface of the harbor, brought tears to our eyes. And as if that were not enough, there were veterans of that terrible morning among us, men grizzled with age and care, who were there to tell their own stories of what they saw, what they lived through on that day.

USS Arizona

Oil still seeps from the grave of the USS Arizona.

Seven years later we were back at Pearl Harbor, this time with Elder Daughter and the Mistress of Sarcasm in tow. Having been there once before did not make our second visit any less moving. In fact, now that the novelty of being in Hawai‘i was gone, we could focus more on the emotion of being in a place where so many lives had been lost, where such destruction had taken place.

It was a little strange to note the astonishing number of Japanese tourists....even more than had been there in 1985.

Pearl Harbor

Japanese tourists at Pearl Harbor, 1985.

Back in the early 1990’s, when the Japanese economy was flying high and Japanese sararimen were beginning to feel their oats, many of them dared to actually take vacations instead of working 24/7. Hawai‘i was, for them, a favorite destination for obvious geographic reasons...and Pearl Harbor, being of significant historical and touristic interest, was a frequent stopping place. They were, by and large, young people, people for whom the events of December 7, 1941 were the dry stuff of history books.

I could not truly begrudge their presence there, if for no other reason that the events of that day created the world we live in now, a world that includes a newly-rebuilt Japan arisen from the destruction of war, a Japan that has worked its way into the position of a first-world economic colossus. Learn about history, I thought, seeing them. Understand what happens when national interests collide. Understand that when you fuck with the bull, you get the horn.

Fast-forward sixteen years.

When Elder Daughter invited me to build the itinerary for our recent trip to Japan, I knew it would have to include a stop in Hiroshima.  It wasn’t only that I had known the story of that ill-fated city - the first city ever to suffer a nuclear attack - since I was a young Snot-Nose. It was because I wanted the other Bookend.

Bookends. Pearl Harbor at one end, Hiroshima at the other, enclosing a four-year shelf containing tomes filled with misery, death, and devastation. It was important that I see both ends of that terrible War-Shelf.

One month ago today, we were there... in that very place that, on August 6, 1945, was kissed by a man-made sun and turned into a charnel house.

Hiroshima is a City with a Mission these days. Its chief industry appears to be the promotion of world peace and disarmament, a sermon this city’s history uniquely qualifies it to preach.

The Peace Museum does not soft-soap Japan’s militarism or the events that led to the United States involvement in World War II. It appears to adopt a cool, analytical stance with respect to its portrayal of the events that culminated in Hiroshima’s selection as the first sacrifice to the Nuclear Gods. [Factors such as good weather and having suffered no prior bombing damage were critical. Low clouds saved Kokura from being Target #2; Nagasaki got that bomb instead.]


Museum Model

Diorama at the Peace Museum in Hiroshima shows the devastation wrought by “Little Boy” - a single 15-kiloton U-235 gun-method bomb detonating at 580 meters altitude. The red ball illustrates the size and position of the fireball one second after detonation, at which time it was 280 meters in diameter.

There are plenty of Western visitors to Hiroshima, and among them many Americans. Americans are not resented here, so many years after the Bomb - as is the case elsewhere in Japan, we are astonishingly well-liked. Maybe not a mirror image of things in Hawai‘i, but close enough.

The Genbaku Domu - the Atomic Bomb Dome, the former Prefectural Industrial Promotional Hall that was one of the few structures standing after the Bomb dropped - stands as a mute witness to terrible events, surrounded by the new city grown Phoenix-like around it. The vast number of people who died that day were victims of a chain of events that had been set in motion well before the attack at Pearl Harbor.

River and Dome

The Genbaku Domu, surrounded by a modern Hiroshima reborn from the ashes.

Victims Memorial

The Peace Memorial Hall for the Atomic Bomb Victims.

Hypocenter

The hypocenter...580 meters directly below where the Bomb went off.

I will not second-guess the people whose decision it was to drop that Bomb. The alternative, best as they could envision it, was a bloody, drawn-out invasion of the Home Islands, an invasion that would have killed far more Japanese than did the bombings at Hiroshima and Nagasaki. But Japanese lives were not the main consideration at that point. Victory - and American lives - were.

We looked past the thousands upon thousands of paper cranes, the uncountable memorials, the silent specter of the Genbaku Domu, to a vibrant city where the Hiroshima Carp were beginning a new baseball season and where we were greeted with smiles. We sat down and enjoyed a hole-in-the-wall lunch of okonomiyaki (a thin pancake covered with soba noodles, Hiroshima’s famous local oysters, bean sprouts, sweet soy sauce, and a thin omelette) and jizake (the local brew), and thought...of bookends.

Update: Call it synchronicity, but I find it fascinating that the golfer who just snagged his first PGA Tour win at the AT&T Classic (held last week at the TPC Sugarloaf northeast of Atlanta) was none other than Ryuji Imada, a native of (where else?) Hiroshima. Guy really knew how to bomb the fairways, I guess...

CINNAMON BUN

She wore her hair in a cinnamon bun
Under her bed she kept an elephant gun
Ever since ’04 she’d been on the run
From the Kimchi ’n’ Cookie Cartel

She got a new tattoo every other week
The last one was a doozie – on her left butt cheek
Her voice was husky (when she cared to speak)
And she had me in her spell

She wore her hair in a cinnamon bun
She wore her hair in a cinnamon bun
No woman I knew showed me more damn fun
She wore her hair in a cinnamon bun

She swore like a sailor and could hold her gin
She’d steal your heart with her crooked grin
Some said she was well-versed in the ways of sin
And might end up in Hell

One day she vanished – never said goodbye
All she left was a hairbrush and her good glass eye
And a recipe for kimchi that’d make you cry
From its garlic and chile smell

She wore her hair in a cinnamon bun
She wore her hair in a cinnamon bun
No woman I knew showed me more damn fun
She wore her hair in a cinnamon bun
She wore her hair in a cinnamon bun
She wore her hair in a cinnamon bun

[This is yet another of my attempts to write a country song. What country? I have no idea. But I’d love to set it to music... anyone want to give it a try?]

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

DAY OF MOURNING

Happy Tisha b’Av!
A completely inappropriate holiday greeting. [Of course this is not a real sign - it was made with the help of the infamous Church Sign Generator.]

O day of mourning, Tisha b’Av
It’s not a holiday we love

For nine days we’ve refrained from meat
Today, no leather on our feet
We do not drink; we do not eat
(A beefsteak would be indiscreet)

O day of mourning, Tisha b’Av
It’s not a holiday we love

We think of death and of the grave
We do not wash ourselves or shave
If one is a religious Jew
One will not try to cop a screw

We sit upon the floor at night
Chant elegies by candlelight
Recalling tragedies of yore
(That’s why we’re sitting on the floor)

A grunt or nod, but no “Good Day”
When next we trudge to shul to pray
That mankind’s hatred disappear
(A prayer that falls upon deaf ear)

O day of mourning, Tisha b’Av
It’s not a holiday we love

Sunday, August 3, 2014

ON UNSPEAKABLE URGES

Has this ever happened to you?

Once in a while an idea comes along that is so spectacularly evil... so dastardly... that it becomes an obsessive drumbeat in the back of your noggin. Somehow or other, you have to find a way to confront that Unspeakable Urge, no matter how self-destructive it is, lest that drumbeat in your head drive you to the brink of madness.

When one of my friends from synagogue posted a recipe for Double Chocolate Chip Challah on her Facebook page, I knew I had an Unspeakable Urge to deal with, and I dealt with it in the classic, time-honored manner: by giving in to it.

Gawd forgive me.

Double Chocolate Chip Challah - Raw
Double chocolate chip challah, after the loaf has been shaped. This was a four-strand braid.

The resulting loaf is best described as the bastard offspring of the forbidden union of challah and chocolate babka. It’s sweet but not overwhelmingly so - a bit on the rich side, but not wet and obscene like the best babkas can be. You can eat it slathered with butter or (gasp!) cream cheese, although it’s perfectly good all by itself.

Double Chocolate Chip Challah
The finished product. Prior to baking, the loaf is glazed with egg wash and sprinkled with fleur de sel.

And of course, you can make French toast with it.

Double Chocolate Chip Challah French Toast

I would be ashamed of myself, but I have no shame.