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

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

A CHANUKAH EDITORIAL



[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

MURPH

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

GANGNAM, BAH - BRITISH ROYAL NAVY STYLE

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

VACCINATION

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, HAVE MERCY

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

THE CHEESE AISLE DICTIONARY, Vol. 22

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’!”

Friday, November 21, 2014

CAPTURE THE FORMULA

Capture the Flag
Capture the Flag, Dee’s favorite cocktail. Before I could make it at home, I first had to capture the formula.

In our house, I’m the cocktail maven, the mixologist manqué with twenty-five different bizarre elixirs taking up shelf space in the kitchen. If you want something with Aztec chocolate bitters or a gin crafted with botanicals from northern Québec, Elisson is your man.

Dee is decidedly different. Unlike many ladies who prefer frou-frou drinks involving cranberry juice or little umbrellas, she goes for more assertive beverages like the gingery Moscow Mule, and more often than not will drink brown goods with a style that would do any gentleman proud. Single malt Scotch neat?  Yes, please!

There’s a notable exception, though, and that is a cocktail that appeared at one of our nicer local watering holes. (They serve food there, too, so one could equally call it one of our nicer local food-troughs... but that somehow lacks finesse.) It’s called Capture the Flag, and nutty nomenclature aside, it’s a complex, bittersweet concoction that captured Dee’s heart.

What’s in it? You may well ask. According to the menu, it contains Maestro Dobel tequila, Amaro Ramazzotti, lemon juice, mole bitters, and spiced port-pineapple syrup. In other words, it’s pretty fucking complicated. But - and this is an important but - it is pretty fucking tasty.

When we recently dined at this establishment, we were bitterly disappointed to discover that the Capture the Flag cocktail was no longer being offered. It seems that the spiced port-pineapple syrup was the culprit: Their existing supply had gotten old and had to be eighty-sixed, and they had not yet gotten around to the (considerable) task of making up a new batch.

I explained to the bar staff that their special cocktail was much beloved by both of us, Dee in particular, and - given that they themselves would not be offering it again in the near future - would they consider sharing the recipe with me? Somewhat to my surprise, not only were they happy to divulge the basic instructions for building the drink, they also gave me the details on how to cook up the Sooper-Seekrit Ingredient that makes the whole thing work, namely the spiced port-pineapple syrup.

It’s a multi-step process. You first reduce a bottle or two of port by about 50%, simmering it with brown sugar and an assortment of warm spices. Then you sear pineapple chunks in the spiced port, caramelizing them and infusing them with that spicy, porty deliciousness. Finally, you simmer the seared pineapple chunks in simple syrup. That’s a lot of work for just one of the cocktail’s ingredients.

Spiced Port-Pineapple Syrup
Spiced port-pineapple syrup simmering in a pan on Darth Stover.

The drink itself - garnished with a spiced port pineapple chunk and a lemon twist - is magically delicious. Perhaps a tad sweeter than most cocktails on my Favorites List, but that matters not. I could drink these bad boys all night long.

Oh, you want the recipe? Sorry, no can do. But I will be happy to make you one. Just get in line behind Dee.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

BAKERY OBSCENITY: A 100-WORD STORY

Pete shook his head. He had just gone over the financials with his accountant. Things did not look good. At the rate he was bleeding money, Pete’s Pastry Palace would have to close down in less than six months.

He had run a lucrative business for years and had become a beloved fixture in the neighborhood. Even the new mall failed to dent his sales. But when Boner Billy’s Bakeshop opened just down the street, Pete’s customers deserted him for Billy’s cock-shaped chocolate cakes. “Fucking sex fiends,” Pete thought.

But he fought back... and his Poon Danish saved the day.

[Inspired by the irrepressible (and occasionally reprehensible) Maven.]

Sunday, November 16, 2014

THE EXPEDITION

We’re shopping at IKEA
To get some FÜKNSTØFF
No matter what we purchase
It can never be enough.

I want to eat a meatball
The texture’s smooth, not rough
The perfect snack when we go back
To get our FÜKNSTØFF.

We’re shopping at IKEA
Our Swedish Happy Store
We’ll fill our carts, content our hearts,
And then come back for more.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

A POETIC MEDITATION UPON RELIGION

Peace, Love, and Devotion
If you are my brother -
But if you are not,
Then the answer is “Other.”

“O, Lord, save us all
From hate and bigotry
And destroy all the heretics
Who believe differently.”

Religions teach love
And sometimes compassion,
But for the outsider
Mostly smackin’ and bashin’...

O, when God looks upon us
And sees what He’s wrought,
I sure hope He don’t think
His work was for naught

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

ON THE DREADED PIZZA-BURN

I love pizza. Hell, pretty much everybody loves pizza.

What’s not to love? Gooey cheese piled atop crusty bread. Some kind of tomato sauce and/or toppings may or may not be involved. Pizza is delectable.

For me, pizza is not just food - it is a part of my geocultural identity, given that I grew up in the village of Massapequa on the south shore of Long Island, where Italians were thick on the ground. What with the relatively large population of both Jews and Italians, it’s no wonder the place carried the sobriquet “Matzoh-Pizza.”

Massapequa Triptych

Even today, you can start a passionate discussion - perhaps even a fistfight - over which local restaurant served the best pizza forty years ago. Dick and Dora’s? Dino’s? The place at Sunrise Mall?

And no matter where you are, you can always argue about Pizza Details. Do you like a thin, crispy crust? Thick and bready? Kinda thin and floppy? Do you like massive or minimal amounts of cheese? What kind of toppings do you like - are you a plain cheese pie person or do you go for add-ons? Meaty standbys like pepperoni, meatball, and sausage compete with options such as bacon, Indonesian chicken satay, and duck confit... not to mention outliers like ham and pineapple, or the not-for-the-faint-of-heart anchovy. The vegetarians will face off over the issue of whether bell peppers, mushrooms, and spinach should be included.

Regardless, there is one thing upon which all pizza lovers will agree: Few things can spoil the pizza-eating experience more thoroughly than the Dreaded Pizza-Burn.

Cheese has a relatively high heat capacity, so when your pizza arrives in front of you fresh from the oven, you have to resist the temptation to just grab a slice and shove it into your Pie-Hole. If you don’t give that bad boy a chance to cool off a bit, you will immediately sear all of the flesh in your mouth. While that’s unpleasant enough, it gets even worse as the blistered skin of your palate sloughs off over the course of the next few days... a fresh reminder of your momentary Pizza Impatience.

Don’t ask me how I know this.

If you’re the masochistic sort who likes Pizza-Burn (I am sure such people exist, though I have never met any of them), be sure to load your slice up with crushed red pepper flakes. You can get your Pizza-Burn at both ends.

Don’t ask me how I know this.

Monday, November 3, 2014

ON SPIDERS AND MUNCHKIN LIGHTS

I’m not sure why, but yesterday morning as I was feeding Miss Stella - or, more accurately, standing over the sink rinsing out Miss Stella’s plate - a song from my distant childhood popped into my head.

You know the song. Everybody knows the song. Its the one that involves a spider and a waterspout. But for some reason, as the song played in the deep recesses of my cranium, it just didn’t sound right. And I couldn’t figure out why.

The inky dinky spider went up the waterspout.

No, that’s not it.

The inky binky spider went up the waterspout.

Nope, still not it.

The inky winky spider went up the waterspout.

Damn, I was thinking by this time. What am I missing? Inky stinky? Inky blinky? Inky cacaminky?

By this time I knew I was in the midst of a major Brain Fart. I needed help.

Dee was upstairs in bed. “I need your help,” I said. She practically leaped out of the bed, concerned that something was wrong. “What is it? What do you need?”

“What kind of spider went up the waterspout?”

At this point convinced that I had lost my mind, Dee replied, “Itsy bitsy.”

Aha! Suddenly everything clicked into place. Itsy bitsy! Itsy fucking bitsy! Of course!

“Itsy” was the key to the whole puzzle. Once you have “itsy,” you see, “bitsy” follows of necessity. But “inky” plays with a lot of different friends, and that was the spanner in my mental works... the discordant note in my nutty cerebral symphony.

Random brain farts, alas, are one of the joyful side effects of getting old the maturation process. And even Dee is not immune. A few nights ago, looking for the remote control for the television, she asked, “Where did I put the munchkin light?” We both laughed ourselves silly over that one.

Thus, henceforth we shall refer to the remote control as the Munchkin Light... because we can, and because it is a way of tacitly recognizing that we are both losing our minds.

Friday, October 31, 2014

HAPPY HALLOWE’EN

Scary Clown Elisson

IT’S NOT EASY BEING GREEN, BUT EATING AND DRINKING GREEN IS ANOTHER MATTER ENTIRELY

We had so much Green Stuff last night, it seemed as though we could have been dining with Kermit the Frog... or one of his friends.

MissPiggy
“I love eating green things.”
[Photo: Munawar Hosain/startraksphoto.co at pagesix.com]

First there were bowls of creamy roasted broccoli soup with spiced pepitas, made using a recipe I found over at Serious Eats. Pepitas are nothing more or less than pumpkin seeds, and in the current Hallowe’eny pumpkin spice frenzy (Pumpkin spice beer! Pumpkin spice Oreo cookies! Pumpkin spice lattes at Starbucks! Pumpkin spice sexual lubricant!) they are one of the few forms of the Evil Orange Gourd that we actually enjoy. The pepitas looked a lot greener before they were toasted and combined with their spice mixture; meanwhile, the soup used about two whole pounds of broccoli crowns. Green plus green.

Soup by itself doesn’t really feel like a meal, and Dee wisely suggested adding some protein. We therefore enjoyed several beef kielbasa sausages as accompaniments.

Creamy Roasted Broccoli Soup
Creamy roasted broccoli soup with buttermilk and spiced pepitas (AKA pumpkin seeds).

Later, I indulged in a brace of gimlets. More green!

The gimlet, I should mention, was one of the first Adult Beverages I would order upon reaching drinking age... which, back in the day, was eighteen in New York and twenty-one in New Jersey. This meant that I could buy alcoholic beverages at a bar during summer vacation, but not during the school year. Then, a drink made with spirituous liquor cost all of $1.50, and the gimlet was a nice citrusy alternative to brown booze. Nowadays I make ’em with gin and homemade lime cordial in lieu of vodka and Rose’s lime juice, and they’re far more interesting.

All in all, a pleasantly green evening. Miss Piggy would approve.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

WHO LIKES THE RENAISSANCE?
DENNIS THE MENAISSANCE

Renaissance photo Renaissance.jpg
Elisson and Dee all decked out for Hallowe’en, early 1990’s.

Are you going to Renaissance Faire
Parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme
The turkey legs, they are tasty there
Funnel cakes, three bucks and a dime

Try not to pick up a dose of the Plague
Parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme
And don’t drink the water; ’twill make you gaig
Unless you don’t mind a mouthful of slime

Don’t wash too often, not once every week
Parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme
They’ll think you’re a weirdo if you don’t reek
Or if you’re not encrusted with grime

The Renaissance ain’t what it’s cracked up to be
Parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme
When most things were fragrant with poop and with pee
Thank Gawd we live in our Modern Time

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

THE HERRING DOCTOR

Pickled Herring
Pickled herring Elisson style, with grated apple, lemon zest, and sour cream.

A young lady, one Anne Byrn, styles herself the Cake Mix Doctor. She takes packets of commercial cake mixes, adds her Sooper-Seekrit Magickal Ingredients, and knocks out a cake that might be worthy of the Sacher-Konditorei. In theory, anyway.

There’s also a show on the Food Network called “Semi-Homemade,” in which the host, Sandra Lee - whose name sounds suspiciously like that of a cheesecake - tinkers with prepackaged dishes available in your friendly local food market to make them seem kinda-sorta homemade.

The talented Ms. Lee is also perfectly capable of cooking entire dishes from scratch, although if her lasagna recipe is any indication, you may be better off eating Pop-Tarts. In the world according to Elisson, lasagna does not contain apple cider vinegar, tomato soup, or cottage cheese. Ms. Lee, it would seem, disagrees.

The concept of a dish being “semi-homemade” is at least understandable, which distinguishes it from “semi-boneless ham.” (As George Carlin once observed, “Does it have a bone? Yes, it has a bone.”) And there is nothing wrong with taking a commercially available food product and doctoring it up to make it better. To kick it up a notch, as Emeril Lagasse might say. I have been known to do it myself on occasion.

I don’t play doctor with cake mixes (now, there’s a perverse turn of phrase!) mainly because it’s just as easy to make cakes from scratch. But herring? That’s another story. I am not about to make pickled herring from Original Raw Materials as long as I can get a good quality product in a jar... and at Costco, a quart jar of very nice pickled herring can be found for a very reasonable tariff.

It’s very nice, but with a little minor tinkering, it can be better than very nice. It can be excellent.

Take that quart jar of herring - onions, spices, and all - drain off the pickling liquid, and dump it into a large bowl. Core and grate half of a crisp, tart, unpeeled Granny Smith apple and throw that in. Add the zest of one lemon. (I use a Microplane zester, which is wonderful at removing the yellow zest while leaving the bitter white pith behind. And if you can get Meyer lemons, even better.) Now add about a cup of sour cream - more or less to taste - and stir the whole thing together. Let it sit in the refrigerator for a few hours to allow the flavors to come together, and then serve it forth.

If you hate pickled herring, this recipe isn’t likely to change your mind. But if you like pickled herring, it may very well change your life.

And there is no need to thank me. It’s my job. I’m the Herring Doctor!

A WAKE-UP CALL ON A PLATE

I used to love my bowl of cereal at breakfast time.

BreakfastCerealwithBerries
Où sont les petits déjeuners d’antan?
Whether hot (steel-cut oatmeal, Wheatena) or cold (Weetabix, Grape-Nuts, Cheerios, or whatever was handy), a cereal-based breakfast was always a quick and easy option for the morning meal. (Well, OK - for steel-cut oats, maybe not quite so quick.)

But four years ago, I made a major change to my eating regimen, and carby breakfasts mostly became a thing of the past. Sure, I’ll still indulge in the occasional pancake or waffle, but the regular consumption of cereals is something I have, albeit reluctantly, had to leave behind.

On those mornings when I dine at home - I am a frequent breakfaster with the Minyan Boyz - I find myself making myself a two-egg omelette more often than not. An omelette is packed with protein and does not have to be a calorie bomb if properly made. With just enough breadstuff served alongside it to balance the protein, it is the ideal morning repast.

Some days, I use a bit of ghee - clarified butter - to line my skillet, and I add to the eggs fresh herbs and/or some grated cheese: Cabot clothbound cheddar, asiago, or Parmesan. Other times, I go the Japanese route, adding soy and hanakatsuo (shaved bonito), with a final dusting of powdered seaweed and nanami togarashi. But on days when I want something with a bit more zing, it’s time for Elisson’s Spicy Hot Indo-Sichuan Eggs.

Indo-Sichuan Eggs
Spicy Hot Indo-Sichuan Eggs.

I start with my homemade Chinese hot oil (hong you), infused with star anise, garlic, black cardamom, cloves, cinnamon, ginger, Sichuan peppercorns, and a small mountain of árbol chiles. One teaspoon goes in with the eggs and another to slick the pan. When the eggs have set enough, I’ll flip ’em to cook the top side just until set, then flip ’em back over and trowel on a couple teaspoons of sambal udang bercili, a fiery Indonesian condiment packed with hot chiles and tiny, crispy dried shrimp. (Well, I never said this was kosher.) Fold it over, slide it out onto a plate, decorate with some chopped cilantro, and - Bukittinggi’s your uncle - you’ve got a breakfast that will warm you going in, going down, and - quite possibly - going out. It’s a real wake-up call on a plate.

Damn, it’s tasty. Try some... if you dare!