Monday, December 31, 2007

2007 - AVE ATQUE VALE

Today is the last day of 2007.

This year brought the usual ups, downs, and Moments of Excitement. Both Elder Daughter and the Mistress of Sarcasm put the quietus to relationships of long standing with Significant Others; both moved into their own apartments - no roommates! - for the First Time Ever. And all within a single two-week span.

We vacationed in new and interesting places, spending a long weekend in Washington, D.C. for a delightful mini-family reunion and a full week in Cancun. The latter was a vacation that had been postponed from the prior year, and, as it turns out, it was well worth waiting for. Good food, sunshine, and a few Adult Beverages shared with good friends - what’s not to like?

The Missus, after enduring an orthodontic treatment plan that involved braces, surgery, and a three-month No-Chewing Period, finally had her orthodontic appliances removed in February. Her smile is more beautiful than ever...not that there was ever anything visibly wrong with it.


She Who Must Be Obeyed: This year’s model.

As many of my Esteemed Readers know, today is a special day for me and SWMBO: Not only does it mark the annual Odometer Turnover of the civil year, it is the anniversary of the Infamous Blind Date on which we met, 32 years ago in Sweat City. Who would have imagined that we would be together, thirty-two years later? Who would have imagined that we would be living in our seventh house, in our second sojourn in a city neither of us gave a moment’s thought to until 1981? That we would have two grown children? That we would still be irretrievably, hopelessly in love? And that I would be writing these words on a laptop computer small enough to fit in a briefcase with room to spare, connected wirelessly to readers - friends - throughout the world?

As in prior years, we don’t have a whole lot planned. Our daughters are both away in their respective Home Cities, alas. Braving the infamous Atlanta roads - where the drivers are incompetent enough without the extra assistance provided by New Year’s libations - in order to eat an overpriced dinner in town no longer possesses the appeal it might once have had. No: Instead, we’ll stay home and enjoy dinner and postprandial beverages with a handful of good friends. We’ll roast a whole beef tenderloin, and I’ve got the stockpot simmering with the makings of a fine Madeira sauce. A little Voovy Clickit to toast the New Year, and we have most of what we need.

The one constant in life is change, and 2008 promises to be a year with many changes...like all the ones before it. May those changes all be positive ones for you, Esteemed Readers, and for those you love.

Happy New Year. Enjoy the next Twelvemonth in safety and health, without limit to any good thing.

Sunday, December 30, 2007

THINGS CERTAINLY HAVE CHANGED

Then: “May I borrow a cup of sugar?”

Now: “May I borrow a tablespoon of Cognac?”

TOLKIEN WEPT

We were in the car with our friends Gary and JoAnn when we passed a church. On its marquee were displayed the words, “It’s a Boy!” She Who Must Be Obeyed thought for a moment that the minister must’ve had a baby…and then we all realized that the sign was, no doubt, referring to the baby Jesus.

Somehow, our conversation turned toward the matter of the baby Jesus’s bris. His circumcision.

Yes, Jesus was circumcised. He was a Jewish child, after all, born of a Jewish mother. Mosaic Law, then as now, would have called for a male child to have been inducted into the Jewish Covenant through the ritual of brith milah at the age of eight days, at which time he would be given his name. And it says so, right here:
And when eight days were accomplished for the circumcising of the child, his name was called JESUS, which was so named of the angel before he was conceived in the womb. [Luke 2:21]
Would there have been a party afterwards? we wondered. Catering? Smoked fish and bagels? Probably not, since Joseph, Mary, and their newborn babe were on the run and funds were short. Also lodgings, since nobody goes out of their way to camp out in a stable.

This business of Jesus’s bris got me thinking about the matter of Sacred Relics.

We Jews are not very big on Relics, believing as we do in a completely incorporeal Deity. For us, there is no equivalent to the piece of the True Cross or the swatch of the Seamless Robe. Nobody knows where Moses is buried, but even if the whereabouts of his remains were known, it’s unlikely that they would be a focus of veneration. Just not our style.

But, I wondered aloud, what would be the most sacred object of all to a Christian? The Holy Grail?

No: It would be the foreskin of the Baby Jesus.

Wouldn’t it stand to reason that the holiest of Holy Relics would be that very same annulus of flesh, removed by an unnamed mohel (likely Joseph himself)?

What would you call it? I asked. And SWMBO had a ready answer:

“The Ring of the Lord.”

[Good thing I don’t believe in Hell...otherwise, I would so be on my way there for this post...]

Saturday, December 29, 2007

CARP DIEM

Mr. Carp
Gefilte fish on the hoof.

This proud beauty will be converted into Gefilte Fish by Bro-in-Law d’Elisson in two days, if all goes according to plan.

Update: The final result is below the fold.

Gefilte Fish
The end result: Homemade gefilte fish.

I can only assume this was delicious. Alas, SWMBO and I were at home, 850 miles away, and so could enjoy this fine Gefilte Fish only by proxy.

AN OBSERVATION

Is it not ironic that as we men become older and the time remaining to us diminishes, we must take an ever-increasing amount of time to urinate?

Friday, December 28, 2007

FRIDAY RANDOM TEN

Here we go again with yet another installment of Blog d’Elisson’s Friday Random Ten, in which I post a list of ten random songs hocked out of the iPod d’Elisson like so many Musical Loogies.

It’s the last Friday of 2007. The Missus and I are spending this Holiday Interregnum at home, bent to the task of cleaning and organizing our mare’s nest of a basement. Oh, joy. It’s a job we’ve managed to put off for over nine years, but, as they say, “Enough Z’nuff.”

Music, meanwhile, lightens the Load of Labor...so let’s see what’s on the box today:
  1. Polovtsian Dances - Borodin (L. Stokowski, conductor)

    The musical inspiration for the 1953 Broadway show “Kismet,” from Borodin’s opera Prince Igor.

  2. Mama Told Me Not To Come - Randy Newman

    Most people are more familiar with the cover version by Three Dog Night...but this is the Real Thing.

  3. Smoke - Ben Folds Five

  4. The Luckiest - Ben Folds

  5. Act II, Scene 3: Dance - Philip Glass, Akhnaten

  6. You And Whose Army? - Radiohead

  7. Kiss Me/Ladies In Their Sensitivities - Sondheim, Sweeney Todd

    From the original Broadway version in 1979.

  8. Mardi Gras In New Orleans - Professor Longhair

  9. Smoking - Bill Hicks

    Hicks died of cancer in 1994. Not lung cancer, as the title of this track might cause you to infer, but pancreatic cancer. Oof.

  10. Wood & Stone - Moonraker

It’s Friday. What are you listening to?

FUZZY FRIDAY

Paper Affair
Matata nestles on a paper sack.

Matata, the Meatloaf All Covered in Hair,
Is perched upon a sack from Paper Affair.
The feeling of Paper doth comfort her bottom.
Mad Relaxin’ Skillz? Matata’s gottum.

Friday Ark #171 is afloat, its voyage ably commanded by Steve, the Modulator.

This Sunday, Laurence Simon himself takes the reins at Carnival of the Cats for Installment 197, the final CotC of 2007. You won’t want to miss it.

Update: CotC #197 is up over at Lair’s lair. I guess he really is ready to hand the Carnival reins over to new management, as evidenced by the fact that his count is off by one. Heh.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

AIRWAVE POLLUTION...

...will take place tomorrow at 9:00 a.m. EST, as I fill in for my friend Richard Smith, host of the Sandy Springs Health Hour on Radio Sandy Springs.

Richard is on holiday, and he has once again invited me to take over his show in his absence. The last time he did this, a howling mob of enraged locals stormed the station, torches and pitchforks in hand. Some of ’em even had pitchsporks. Modern times.

I will have all kinds of “healthy” topics to talk about. Just enumerating the stuff I’ve eaten this week would cause most physicians to hork up a peach pit in sheer horror.

Feel free to tune in - click the link above to listen over the ’Net - and give me a call. I’ll be happy to make a complete hash out of your health-related questions.

THE WEEK OF LISTS

Based on what I’m seeing in the daily fishwrap, the most popular pastime during this week between Christmas and New Year’s Day seems to be the compilation of various and sundry lists.

The best of 2007.

The worst of 2007.

Movies, celebrity gaffes, who died...they’re all in a list somewhere. It’s all about the Retrospection, that annual indulgence that is carved into the DNA of every newspaper or magazine writer. Make a list, and elevate thereby the forgettable to the memorable. Make a list - it’s easier than writing real content.

What kind of lists would I be tempted to write? Most hilarious moment at a blogmeet? Too many candidates, alas. When this guy showed up with the Inflatable “Love Ewe” Vinyl Sheep? When this guy donned a dirndl? When this lady showed up at the Atlanta airport wearing a Zeejus shirt? How the hell do you choose?

Most over-the-top meal? No contest there: Our recent Jack Aubrey “Drool, Brittania” dinner would’ve made Lucullus himself blush.

Naw, I’m not gonna do it. No end-of-year retrospective for me. As fun as 2007 was, there’s too much to look at on the road ahead for me to be gazing at the rear-view mirror.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

SWEETIE PIE

Sweeney Todd

This is the perfect time of year for the Missus and I to catch up on our movie-watching. With both of us on vacation, and with both of us having the unspoken desire to avoid working on cleaning out the basement, it’s Movie Week at Chez Elisson.

Yesterday, we caught director Tim Burton’s take on the infamous legend of Sweeney Todd, the Demon Barber of Fleet Street.

Having been longtime fans of Stephen Sondheim’s Broadway musical version - we both saw it in 1979 during its original run at the Uris Theatre - we were not expecting excellence, but were simply hoping for Burton not to have made a ballocks of things. But we were pleasantly surprised. Burton, with the help of his longtime associate Johnny Depp, has created a dark, brooding masterpiece, painted in shades of black, ash grey, and blood scarlet.

I won’t synopsize the plot here for those unfamiliar with it...but I will tell you that this is not a happy little Christmas film for the kiddies. The Broadway production was exceptionally grim and violent; the film, far more so, since the scenes of barbershop throat-slashings are jacked up with cinematic special-effect realism.

It is a tale of fury, hate, and vengeance; it is a love story - no, several love stories; and it is a tragedy. Its doomed, damned protagonist performs the most horrific acts for the most understandable of reasons, and our empathy only serves to increase our sense of horror as events rush headlong to their conclusion.

Depp, in his first singing role, does justice to Sondheim’s eccentric, operatic score. More, he imbues each song with the emotional intensity it demands, a true feat of acting. It would be snarky and unfair to dismiss this movie as “Edward Razorhands”: Burton and Depp are perfectly suited to the material.

I was not as crazy about Helena Bonham Carter, whose voice does not appear to be quite the thing for her part. We were spoiled by having seen Angela Lansbury play Mrs. Lovett on Broadway, you see, and Lansbury owned the role.

Alan Rickman does a star turn as the evil and morally corrupt Judge Turpin; Timothy Spall is perfectly cast as his nasty associate, Beadle Bamford. [Along with Helena Bonham Carter, both Rickman and Spall are Harry Potter film alumni...a piece of Useless Trivia.]

Go see it...and order ketchup on your popcorn. You’ll be glad you did.

I’ll be interested to hear the Mistress of Sarcasm’s take on this movie. We had a copy of the 1982 second touring production on videocassette, taped from the PBS broadcast, and it became a great favorite of the Mistress when she was a toddler...with the violent and/or nasty parts excised, of course. To this day, she calls the show “Sweetie Pie.”

Which only makes sense. There were, after all, pies involved.

MERRY CHRISTMAS

This morning, I woke up, got dressed, and ran over to the local God Shoppe for morning Minyan. Driving home, I could not help but notice the quiet, the complete absence of normal traffic. Parking lots at all the local shopping venues were vacant, in sharp contrast to every day of the past several weeks. Or every other day of the year, for that matter.

It’s Christmas, the one day of the year that’s not “business as usual” among the world of Gentiles.

[This is a special day on the Jewish calendar. We refer to it as Yom Sh’lishi (“Third Day”) in Hebrew, or Dienshtik (“Tuesday”) in Yiddish. It’s special because only one out of every seven days meets the necessary criteria to be called Yom Sh’lishi.]

The Missus and I will celebrate the day in the traditional Jewish manner: by going to the movies. It used to be nice going to the movies on Christmas, because nobody would be there but the Jews...and maybe the odd Buddhist or Hindu. Alas, many of our Christian neighbors have now adopted this practice as well, preferring it to a long, drawn-out family dinner. So it’s not as solitary as it used to be.

Another Christmas tradition - with us Hebes, anyway - is dining at the Chinese restaurant. No doubt, this tradition started when the Chinese joint was the only place open for business on Christmas besides the movie theatre. But for us, this year, there will be no Chinese food: Instead, there will be prodigious helpings of leftovers at Houston Steve’s.

To our Christian friends, a most Merry Christmas. May the day bring you peace, health, and all good things to you and to those you love.

Update: No Chinese food for supper, anyway. But then again, there’s lunch...

Monday, December 24, 2007

CAPTAIN JACK (WILL GET YOU STUFFED TONIGHT)

Name
The Table...set for a dinner in British Royal Navy style, circa 1810.

This past summer, acting on a whim, I borrowed a copy of Patrick O’Brian’s novel Master and Commander from Houston Steve.

I had seen the 2003 Russell Crowe film of the same name, the one that was cobbled together out of several books from O’Brian’s canon, and I had read the occasional post at Velociman’s site that made reference to Captain Jack Aubrey. And so I was curious to learn more about Captain Jack and his particular friend, Dr. Stephen Maturin.

Within less than three months, I had read the entire series of Aubrey/Maturin novels: twenty in all.

Possibly owing to O’Brian’s peculiar writing style - the books themselves are written as though they were created contemporaneously with their main characters - the world of the Royal Navy during the period of the Napoleonic Wars became real enough to touch. And yesterday evening, in our own way, we took a step back into that world.

For in the course of plowing through Master and Commander and its nineteen sequels, I had discovered a most interesting book: Lobscouse and Spotted Dog: Which It’s a Gastronomic Companion to the Aubrey/Maturin Novels, by Anne Chatzinoff Grossman and Lisa Grossman Thomas. Inspired by O’Brian’s books, this mother-and-daughter couple researched and wrote a cookbook featuring typical recipes and dishes of the period. I promptly ordered a copy, which I passed on to Houston Steve once I had burned through it.

I’m not sure which of us got that special gleam in the eye first, the gleam that announces to the world that one is about to do something Spectacularly Bizarre but Fun, but in short order we both agreed that we would need to have an Aubrey/Maturin Dinner featuring at least a few recipes from the cookbook. Eventually, keeping in mind the fact that we would actually be eating the food, we settled on a menu that consisted of the kind of fare that would appear on the Captain’s Table. No foremast-Jack provisions for us, no burgoo or pease pudding - we would dine on great roasts and rich pies, followed by sumptuous puddings in the British style.

Here’s the menu:

Aubrey/Maturin Menu
The Bill of Fare. Drool, Britannia! [Click to embiggen.]

What I will tell you is that the dinner we had yesterday, beginning at eight bells in the afternoon watch, was not just a reasonably faithful recreation of what Captain Jack Aubrey might have served his dinner guests (absent the servants and the pitching and rolling of a ship at sea), it was possibly the most cholesterol-laden, calorific, and costly meal I have ever had. There was enough Manly Provender to make Steve H. Graham scream like a little girl and run away. And it was delicious.

Houston Steve’s Navy dress uniform
Houston Steve’s Navy uniform set the tone for the evening.

More below the fold...

The festivities started with a toast to Messrs. Aubrey, Maturin, O’Brian, and to the King’s health, with a glass of fino sherry - Gonzáles Byass Tio Pepe. The sherry was also a fine accompaniment to one of the starters, Toasted Cheese, an especial favorite of Captain Jack. Soft tack (bread) moistened with porter and buried in a lava-like mantle of bubbling, crusty Appleby English cheddar...what’s not to love?

Bread and Cheese
Home-baked bread and Appleby cheddar.

Toasted Cheese
Toasted Cheese.

Also for starters was a Strasburg Pie, which is simplicity itself: duck foie gras crammed into a puff pastry shell along with about a pound of bacon. Foie gras - fatty duck or goose liver - is the sort of foodstuff that causes PETA supporters to have brain hemorrhages. It is Concentrated Decadence, something that combines extreme costliness and exquisite taste with a nutritional profile that will have you grabbing for your heart medicine after merely looking at it. To make the pie, I used a whole duck liver: Clocking in at almost two pounds, it represented a chunk of meat worth more than a C-note.

Strasburg Pie
The most expensive pie you’ll ever have.

It was delicious, especially washed down with glasses of a 2004 Doisy-Védrines classed-growth Sauternes - the traditional accompaniment for foie gras.

You say you hate liver? No problem...more for me, and you’ve just saved yourself a bundle.

With the Toasted Cheese and Strasburg Pie having been disposed of, it was time to move on to the Main Event. Houston Steve had lovingly prepared a five-rib standing Roast of Beef by rubbing it with salt, pepper, and dried porcini mushrooms, next roasting it at high temperature to create a seared crust, then finishing it off slowly over the coals of the grill.

Checking the Roast Beef
Houston Steve checks the Roast Beef for doneness. Perfect!

Once the gargantuan block of meat reached the appropriate internal temperature of ~130°F, Steve took it off the grill and tented it with foil. Meanwhile, he prepared the Yorkshire pudding, a confection of flour, eggs, and hot beef drippings that mainly serves to ensure that none of the cholesterol-laden Beef Schmaltz goes to waste. (And it’s tasty, too.) As the Yorkshire pudding baked - in individual muffin tins for ease of serving - Steve tended to an assortment of roasted vegetables, also done on the grill: Brussels sprouts, onions, carrots, parsnips, new potatoes, and beets.

Yorkies
Individual Yorkshire puddings.

Since the humongous Roast Beef by itself did not provide an adequate overload of cholesterol, fat, and costly protein, I had roasted a goose as well. Have you ever eaten goose? Most people these days are unacquainted with this fine bird, owing to its Extreme Fattiness. But it’s a fine alternative to the ubiquitous turkey, and much more flavorful...provided you are a fan of the Dark Meat. If you like duck, you’ll love goose; if not, stay the hell away.

Mr. Goose
Our goose was cooked.

I had volunteered for the job of roasting the goose because, despite the minor annoyance of having to swab grease out of the oven, I was able to extract a full quart (yes, a quart) of Goose Schmaltz from the bird as it roasted over a five-hour period. As much as I like Duck Schmaltz as a cooking ingredient, Goose Schmaltz is even more...schmaltzy. I can’t wait for the next time I make Pommes Sarladière...or maybe duck leg confit.

With the goose I had made a giblet gravy, adding to the minced giblets some chopped carrots and onions (roasted in the goose fat), fresh basil, and Calvados. It set the goose off delightfully, as did the red wine reduction Steve had made for the roast beef.

So: Roast Goose, Roast Beef of Old England, and appropriate veg with which to accompany it, including steamed kale (another English tradition). All enjoyed with the mellow strains of “Roast Beef of Old England,” “Heart of Oak,” Locatelli, and Bach playing in the background, and glasses filled and refilled with claret - Château Tour Léognan Graves 2002 - and a fine white Graves of 2005.

“The bottle stands by you, sir!”

“A glass of wine with you, Houston Steve!”

“This is a most capital claret...let us drink to the King’s health!”

Beef and Bird
The Main Event.

We ate and drank at a leisurely pace, the only way to survive such a massive influx of rich foods. Thus, we waited some time after gorging ourselves on the Dinner Proper before moving on to Afters.

Steve and the Puddings
Houston Steve prepares to unwrap the Pudding.

Houston Steve, being of English extraction, has the innate English love of the boiled Suet Pudding. His son Josh has inherited that love, as evidenced by his making - three months prior - the Christmas pudding that we enjoyed. Christmas pudding, it seems, is one of those things that improves with age, and is often prepared a year in advance of its planned consumption. It’s so densely packed with suet, dried fruits, and sugar that bacteria simply throw up their little hands in frustration and say, “We give up!”

Pudding Josh
Josh shows off his Christmas Pudding.

Along with the Christmas pudding, Houston Steve had prepared a Spotted Dog. Also known as Spotted Dick, this is a suet pudding that is like nothing so much as a cake - albeit a cake made with beef suet in lieu of vegetable shortening or butter, and steamed for several hours instead of being baked. Laden with aromatic cinnamon and nutmeg, with dried currants to give it the proper spotted appearance, it was - surprisingly - quite nice. Of course, it didn’t hurt to ladle a few spoons of hot custard sauce over the Dog, or its darker Christmassy brother.

Puddings
The Afters: Spotted Dog to the rear, Christmas Pudding in front.

Christmas Pudding Flambé
The Christmas pudding, alight with flaming brandy.

Helping to wash all of this down were liberal lashings of hot coffee, Warres Warrior Port, and rainwater Madeira (the Missus’s personal favorite). Almost as an afterthought, we trotted out the ratafia biscuits - which are pretty much the exact same thing as today’s Amaretti, little crisp macaroons made from sugar, egg whites, and apricot kernel paste.

Russell Crowe’s portrayal notwithstanding, Captain Jack Aubrey is described in Patrick O’Brian’s novels as a portly man of roughly sixteen to eighteen stone: 224-252 pounds. After this dinner, it was easy to see why the good Captain might have carried a bit excess avoirdupois. Oof.

Stomachs packed with provender sufficient for a normal week (and arteries packed with cholesterol sufficient for a normal month), it was finally time for us to go our separate ways. But as we walked out to our car, I could almost hear the bosun’s whistle, the sound of the feet of the foremast jacks scrambling to quarters, and the Captain giving the order to set the topgallant mast. And there was the faint tang of salt in the air, here in Cobb County, Georgia, hundreds of miles from the sea. I smiled...and tried to suppress a discreet belch.

Elisson in the guise of good Dr. Maturin
“I say, would you happen to have any Bromo-Seltzer?”

Sunday, December 23, 2007

ASK MR. DEBONAIR

Mr. Debonair

Herewith an inquiry from a fellow Jawja Blodger:

Dear Mr. Debonair,

What is the simplest way of thawing a frozen turkey in the shortest time possible?... or do I just have to practice my Russian accent, open the fridge every so often, poke it with a trowel and pretend it's a Siberian mammoth?... the label lied, Mr. Debonair... so what's the scoop?...

Sincerely,
Straight White Chef


Dear Straight,

Your question was especially timely, as I, too, faced a Thawing Issue this morning as I prepared to roast a goose - yes, a goose - to serve as one of the main courses at this evening’s Dinner in the Tradition of the Royal Navy.

I had purchased the goose several days ago, frozen as hard as a chunk of anthracite. I figured that four days in the fridge would soften it up...and it did, albeit incompletely. The thing was still rock-solid at the core, and it took a frantic cold-water immersion to get it to the point where I could yank the entrails out of its ass remove the giblets comfortably.

And thus, I share your pain. Here you were, ready to regale your guests with a succulent Roast Turkey, and instead, you found a bird-shaped cinderblock in your fridge. Bring on the porkchops! So much for following the directions on the package.

The fact is, thawing a large bird is tricky. You want the critter to stay cold, as bacteria multiply rapidly once the temperature gets much above 40°F. But you don’t want to be asking your dinner guests to wait until Christmas 2016.

The key - as at least one of your commenters has already noted - is to immerse the bird in cool water. Water has an excellent heat transfer coefficient, which means that cool water will thaw your turkey a lot faster than warm air...and the meat will remain safe to eat.

You’ll still need a few hours, but that beats waiting until the proverbial cows come home. Unless you eat the cows, in which case, who gives a shit whether your turkey ever thaws out?

Friday, December 21, 2007

MERRY FISKMAS

Mac over at pesky’apostrophe slaps CNN’s Roland Martin upside the head for his semi-obtuse editorial concerning the Christmas season.

Parts of Martin’s article make perfect sense. Unfortunately, other parts are so appalling that I wanted to take a shot at it as well, especially since comments are closed on his post.

Let’s have some Fisky Fun, shall we?

This whole push to remove Christ from the Christmas season has gotten so ridiculous that it’s pathetic.
Who, exactly, is trying to “remove Christ from the Christmas season?” Let’s keep reading and find out!

Because of all the politically correct idiots, we are being encouraged to stop saying “Merry Christmas” for the more palatable “Happy Holidays.” What the heck are “Seasons (sic) Greetings”? Can someone tell me what season we are greeting folks about?
The Holiday Season, numbnuts. “Season’s Greetings” or “Happy Holidays” includes both Christmas and New Year’s Day...and if by chance you’re speaking to someone from a non-Christian faith tradition, you can even stretch it to include Chanukah. Or Ramadan, if it happens to fall in December. Or Kwanzaa, for those who observe it. There’s nothing “politically correct” about it...it’s just all-inclusive. Get over yourself.

A Christmas tree? Oh, no! It’s now a holiday tree.
Yeah, I agree with you there: that is stupid. Because decorating trees is a pagan custom that got subsumed by Christianity specifically for the celebration of Christmas. Calling it a “holiday tree” is ridiculous and insulting. My holiday has nothing to do with it. Don’t do me any unasked-for favors.

Any Christmas song that even remotely mentions Christ or has a religious undertone is being axed for being overtly religious.
Whether this is an issue depends on the venue. In public schools? Keep it nonreligious, please - not everyone is a Christian. Private venues? Go for it, Bunky. Get as religious as you want. I don’t see any lack of religious-themed Christmas music on the raddiddio.

And I’m sorry, forget X-M-A-S. Malcolm X? Yes. X replacing Christ? No.
Sorry, Roland: You’re displaying your ignorance. The “X” in “Xmas” does not “replace Christ.” It’s the Greek letter chi...the first letter of christos (Greek for Messiah, meaning the Anointed One). It’s an abbreviation, but a polite one...ya dumb fuck schmo.

Don’t get me wrong; I’m very respectful of other religions. I don’t want anyone to be afraid of discussing the Jewish faith when we address Hanukkah. And we shouldn’t dismiss Muslims when the annual pilgrimage to Mecca is held during December. In fact, Americans are so ignorant of other faiths that we can all learn from one another.
Nobody’s “afraid” of anything here...but this is a bit of apples ’n’ oranges. Chanukah (or Hanukkah - spell it any old way in English) is a minor holiday, and the Muslim hajj pilgrimage is a required act of faith. They’re really not comparable to Christmas, the holiday that dominates American society beginning right after Hallowe’en.

But this seeming backlash against Christianity is bordering on the absurd, and we should continue to remember that Jesus is the reason for the season.
Backlash? Backlash? Aren’t we getting a little...overheated with the rhetoric, here, Roland? Give me a fucking break.

I know that may sound strident, but it’s true. We spend an inordinate amount of time focused on shopping and buying gifts, but really, what does any of this have to do with the birth of Jesus? We have families all over the nation killing themselves to buy a tree they can’t afford, running up their credit to buy toys and other gifts, all in an effort to make someone else happy.

What if families decided to forgo gifts, and instead, used their shopping days giving back to those in need? What if more of us went into our closets, grabbed old toys and clothes, repackaged them, and provided them as gifts to those without? Instead of gorging on food, what if we used some of the dough to feed those who are in need? What if we blew off those gift cards to electronic retailers and signed up with Networkforgood.org, and gave someone a gift card to their favorite charity?

Sure, I know I sound like a reincarnation of a flower child, but really, do we have to be so crass during the Christmas season?
Not that it really concerns me, but here, Roland, you have hit upon a nugget of truth. Christmas has been taken over by the merchants, alas...and Americans don’t really seem to give a shit. But, since I don’t celebrate Christmas, it’s not my problem to solve.

Its (sic) time that we return to traditional values, and end this ridiculous charade. It’s important that we take a fuller account of WHY we celebrate Christmas, as opposed to falling for the barrage of ads that tell us what is most important.

Parents, don’t be so consumed with the notion that your children will have a terrible Christmas because the tree isn’t overflowing with gifts. The true love that you show them is more important than anything else.
Amen, bruthuh.

America might be the king of capitalism, but secularism must never become so prevalent that our religious traditions are discarded.
Don’t blame the secularists for “discarding religious traditions.” They’re a convenient scapegoat. I don’t have a problem with nonreligious people, and you shouldn’t, either. They’re part of the crazy-quilt social landscape of America, along with the Baptists, the Mormons, the Catholics, Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, Wiccans, agnostics, and atheists. At least in this country, we make a reasonable attempt at getting along.

Thus endeth my rant. [Gets down off soapbox]

FRIDAY RANDOM TEN - FESTIVUS EDITION

Here we go again with another installment of Blog d’Elisson’s Friday Random Ten, in which I post a randomly selected list of ten Choons spewed right out of the iPod d’Elisson.

Sunday, December 23, marks the celebration of Festivus, the Holiday for the Rest of Us. A proper Festivus will include a Festivus Pole of bare aluminum...for tinsel is distracting. Other Necessary Rituals include a ceremonial Airing of Grievances, followed by Feats of Strength and a recounting of Festivus Miracles.

Will we be Festivating? Well, yes and no. We won’t be observing Festivus per se, but we will - along with Houston Steve - be enjoying a Dinner in the tradition of the Royal Navy, honoring Captain Jack Aubrey and Doctor Stephen Maturin of Patrick O’Brian’s Aubrey/Maturin series of novels. We’ll start with toasted cheese (“Killick! Killick, there!” “Which I’m bringing it already, ain’t I?”) and Strasburg pie, then move on to the centerpieces: Roast Goose and a massive Standing Rib Roast of Beef. Dessert will consist of two boiled Puddings in the British style: Spotted Dog and a Christmas Pudding. There will be plenty of sherry, Madeira, Port, and claret with which to wash it all down...and, of course, the coffee so beloved of Captain Jack and his particular friend Dr. Maturin.

But meanwhile, we have music to listen to, don’t we? Here we go:
  1. Boys - The Beatles

  2. Gone (live) - Ben Folds

  3. Riivattu - Tuomari Nurmio & Alamaailman Vasarat

  4. Lord Raise Me Up - Matisyahu

  5. Act III, Scene 2: Attack and Fall - Philip Glass, Akhnaten

  6. Mrs. O’Leary’s Cow - Brian Wilson

  7. Settle For Nothing - Rage Against The Machine

  8. Retox - Fatboy Slim

  9. Brick (iTunes Originals version) - Ben Folds

    Six a.m., day after Christmas
    I throw some clothes on in the dark
    The smell of cold
    Car seat is freezing
    The world is sleeping and I am numb

    Went up the stairs to her apartment
    She is balled up on the couch
    Her mom and dad went down to Charlotte
    They’re not home to find us out
    And we drive
    Now that I have found someone
    I’m feeling more alone
    Than I ever have before

    Chorus
    She’s a brick and I’m drowning slowly
    Off the coast and I’m headed nowhere
    She’s a brick and I’m drowning slowly...

    They call her name at 7:30
    I pace around the parking lot
    Then I walk down to buy her flowers
    And sell some gifts that I got
    Can’t you see
    It’s not me you’re dying for
    Now she’s feeling more alone
    Than she ever has before

    Chorus

    As weeks went by
    It showed that she was not fine
    They told me, Son, it’s time
    To tell the truth
    And she broke down and I broke down
    ’Cause I was tired of lying

    Driving back to her apartment
    For the moment we’re alone
    She’s alone
    And I’m alone
    Now I know it

    Chorus

  10. Steppin’ Out - Joe Jackson

It’s Friday. What are you listening to?

FUZZY FRIDAY FOR FESTIVUS

Festivus approaches, and the Ark sets sail
With elephant and cockroach; where do they stow the whale?
We’ll air our Grievances and display Feats of Strength
And drink some Brandy with Creme de Menthe.
Festivus Poles will adorn all our cities.
But meanwhile, let’s visit the Doggies and Kitties.


Friday Ark #170 is afloat under the able command of the Modulator.

This Sunday (Festivus!) be sure to take time away from your Airing of Grievances in order to visit Missy, KC and Bear as they host the 196th Carnival of the Cats.

Update: Surprise! CotC #196 is up...at Cat Blogosphere.


Thursday, December 20, 2007

THE BULB THAT IS BOTH HUMBLE AND NOBLE

I refer, of course, to that most savory member of the vegetable kingdom, the Onion. The Onion is at once inexpensive, even common - and yet, who can imagine the finest, most elegant dishes without its aromatic touch? A kitchen without onions is no kitchen at all.

Even so, the onion - that most changeable of vegetables - is not for everyone. Some people can eat them out of hand like an apple; others cannot tolerate them even in their mildest forms. The Missus is somewhere in between: she cannot abide raw onion in even the smallest amounts, yet a nice, crunchy deep-fried onion ring is a source of pleasure to her. When first we met, she would strip the fried batter off, leaving the onion itself, but these days, she will actually eat the entire ring, onion and all. Progress!

Every so often, I develop a serious Onion Jones, and there is nothing for it but to have something seriously oniony. I’ve enjoyed a Soup of Many Onions in the past - it combines regular ol’ yellow onions, spring onions, leeks, scallions, chives, and garlic (an Oniony Cousin) to make a perfect springtime soup - and Russian Cabbage and Onion Pie.

But with cold, blustery winds and lowering skies outside, it’s Soup Weather for sure. Something hearty and warming. What better than French Onion Soup?

Most of the time, French Onion Soup is merely a convenient excuse to eat the slab of crouton and the pound of molten cheese with which it is topped. The soup itself is usually a thin, darkish broth with occasional chunks of onion. Meh.

I found a recipe that sounded interesting, though, and so I thought I’d give it a try. The key is to cook the hell out of the onions...s l o w l y.

You start with four pounds of yellow onions. Not sweet onions like Vidalias or Walla Wallas: you want good, strong yellow onions, the kind that make you weep profusely when you slice ’em. And slice ’em you must. Not crosswise, but pole-to-pole. Split the onions, then cut off the root end - this will make peeling them a cinch.

Spray the inside of a heavy Dutch oven with cooking spray, add three tablespoons sweet butter, and the sliced onions, then stick it (covered!) in a 400°F oven for an hour. Stir the onions - they will have wilted and started to give off their juices - and put them back in the oven, this time with the lid slightly ajar, for about 90 minutes.

[I had a meeting across town, so after about 45 minutes, I turned the oven temp down to 200°F and kept the onions covered. When I returned a couple of hours later, they had softened up nicely, and I just picked up with that second 90 minutes of cooking.]

Now, take the Dutch oven out (use mitts!) and put it on a medium-high flame for about 15 minutes to cook off the excess liquid. Stir frequently. Now, cook for another 7 minutes or so over medium-high heat, scraping the bottom of the vessel. You’ll see a lot of aromatic brown goop start to build up on the bottom and sides of the Dutch oven. After the seven minutes is up, deglaze the pan with a quarter cup of water, scraping all that goop up. Cook the onions down for another seven minutes and deglaze again with a quarter-cup water. Repeat once or twice more, and you will have a pile of soft, dark-brown, extremely flavorful onions.

Caramelized Onions
Caramelized onions. These have been deglazed four times.

Add a half-cup dry sherry (Dry Sack is not dry sherry, BTW) and deglaze the pan one more time, allowing the sherry to evaporate for about five minutes. Now add two cups water, two cups beef broth, and four cups chicken broth (use low sodium, if possible), a few sprigs of fresh thyme, and a bay leaf. [I had a supply of fresh bay leaves given to us by our friends John and Jackie, and I will tell you that fresh leaves beat that dried-out grocery store crap any day...but if the dried-out crap is all you have, use it by all means.] Bring to a simmer, cover, and cook for 30 minutes. Take out the thyme and bay leaf, and you now have a pot of Serious Onion Soup.

French Onion Soup
The soup.

To serve, slice up a baguette and roast the slices in a 400° oven for about 10 minutes, until nice and crisp and golden at the edges. Ladle out the soup into broiler-proof bowls set on a baking sheet, top with a couple of the honkin’ big-ass croutons you just made, and now bury that sumbitch with shredded Gruyère cheese.

[Do NOT use domestic “Gruyère” cheese. I have never seen a domestic Gruyère that was worth a shit, or that tasted remotely like what Gruyère is supposed to taste like. Spring for the real thing: Swiss or French Gruyère.]

Run the bowls under a hot broiler for a couple of minutes, until the cheese has turned into molten lava and has started to brown. Remove from the oven and let cool a couple of minutes before serving it forth. If you want to be fancy, sprinkle a few bits of chopped fresh parsley to dress it up. And be careful when you start eating: this soup carries a Mouth Burn Alert!

French Onion Soup
Ready to serve.

Yeah, it’s a little whole lot more time-consuming than opening that packet of Lipton’s Instant, or going down to Houlihan’s...but good things take time, and even SWMBO agrees that you will never taste a better bowl of French Onion Soup. Unless you live in France, and even then, it’s questionable. It’s the first time I’ve ever made this soup, and I can guarantee, it won’t be the last.

IN TRAINING

One of the fun things about our friends in the medical profession is their ability to regale us with Funny Case Histories. As an example, a few weeks ago our friend Marc - a pediatrician - shared a story of Toilet Training Gone Wrong.

Well, not wrong, per se. Just strange. And amusing.

It seems that the parents of one of Marc’s patients had utilized the approach of Faecal Anthropomorphication in the course of toilet training their child. Giving dookie a human face, so to speak. It’s a tactic that was used with great success on South Park with the infamous Mr. Hankie.

To wit: Instead of referring to the child’s excrement using cold, impersonal, neutral descriptors such as “poopie,” “poo,” “doodie,” “cockie,” “Number Two,” “Big Jobs,” or even the prosaic “shit,” they gave it a Name. Herman, they called it.

“Sweetie, do you have to make Herman?” they’d say.

Perverse as this may seem, it was effective. Toilet training proceeded without a hitch, and eventually a Herman in the Pants became a rara avis.

Until one fateful day, when Junior came down with a case of the Trots. The Hershey Squirts. Bubbly Bowels. And after seeing the results, the kid came unglued.

“Mommy! Daddy! Something’s wrong! Herman melted!!!”

[Note: Herman’s name has been changed in order to protect the identity of the family involved.]

MR. DEBONAIR SHARES A RECIPE

Mr. Debonair

Dear Mr. Debonair,

I love creamed herring, but the kind they sell at our local market is kind of bland. Can you offer any ideas on how to make it a little more appealing?

Sincerely,
Bored Fish


Dear Bored,

I share your pain. There have been so many occasions on which I have said to Mrs. Debonair, “Darling, this would have been a perfect meal except for the bland herring.” She does not take offense at this, as she has nothing to do with the Herring Selection: any quality defects are invariably my fault. Mrs. Debonair loathes pickled fish.

But there is a simple way to take your average, everyday bottled Creamed Herring and jack it up. Kick it up a notch, as my Stovewhore Buddy Emeril is wont to declaim. Bam!

All you do is take your bottled herring - Vita is a perfectly workable brand - and add a modest dose of lemon zest and grated Granny Smith apple. (Be sure to grate the apple with the peel on.) Cover and let it sit in the refrigerator for a few hours - or overnight - for the flavors to marry. Exquisite!

Now, do as Mr. Debonair does. Leave the herring on the bottom shelf of the refrigerator, way in the back where you won’t remember it for a month. Then, when your fridge starts developing a strange pong reminiscent of a k.d. lang concert, discover the herring. Discard.

GOOD EATS

Please note that the latest Carnival of the Recipes is available for your delectation at Everything and Nothing, a blog whose title might serve as a description of the subject matter of “Seinfeld.”

Still hungry? The Kosher Cooking Carnival observes its 25th incarnation at me-ander. Tasty!

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

SELF AMUSE

Princess Tallulah
I made a monkey from a sock
So that I’d have what with to play.
With him I play ’most every day,
I so love playing with Macaque.

It’s fun, sometimes, to throw a rock
And break a neighbor’s window pane.
My Monkey-Friend must share the blame,
For I was playing with Macaque.

The other kids from down the block
Are jealous of my Monkey-Friend.
They each want one; the latest trend
Was spawned by me - me and Macaque.

I keep it under key and lock.
For what one loves, one must protect.
Without it, I would be a wreck,
I could not do without Macaque.

EAT THIS

Surprising as it may seem to those who know me, there are things I will not eat.

I have a reasonably adventurous palate, although not nearly as adventurous as it was back in the day. I’m not afraid to try unusual foods: sushi of every description, Shanghai Hairy Crab, exotic meats. I’ve had rattlesnake, which tastes a lot like chicken. (A chicken that’s spent its life crawling on its belly. ) I’ve tasted fried alligator tail, which tastes a lot like veal. (Veal from a calf that spent its short life living in a swamp.)

I’ve had haggis - that Great Chieftain o’ the Puddin-Race - and found it tasty. I’ve had Chicken-Head Curry in Thailand, Fish-Head Curry in Singapore. Yum.

But this...this I cannot begin to deal with...

Matzoh Blog Soup

Matzoh Blog Soup, of course.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

FROM THE ELISSON ARCHIVE

Cambridge, May 2000
Cambridge, England, May 2000.

This pastoral scene is from Cambridge, England, where I had traveled on behalf of the Great Corporate Salt Mine in order to meet with one of our major global customers. What you see is, literally, a Cam Bridge: a bridge over the River Cam.

It was an interesting enough trip: I had not been to Jolly Olde for over a decade, and this was my first journey by rail outside the immediate environs of London. In retrospect, it was a little like riding the Hogwarts Express, except without the bogie-flavoured jellybeans. And, happily, we managed to schedule enough free time to permit a leisurely walk around the grounds of Cambridge University.

I felt right at home at Cambridge...and well I could have, for the architecture at my own Alma Mater borrowed heavily from the classic Tudor Gothic style. And a classic Limerick came to mind:
There was a young man of St John’s
Who wanted to bugger the swans,
But the loyal hall-porter
Said, “Pray take my daughter!
Them birds are reserved for the dons.”
Indeed. Thankfully, I saw no swans...and dons were thin on the ground, this being Reading Period, when students were busily preparing for final exams.

There’s a Cambridge on this side of the pond as well, and Elder Daughter spent many years there following her graduation from Boston University. We’ve spent many a pleasant weekend there, using it as a jumping-off place to explore the Greater Boston area, or to sample the delights of Harvard Square...but there is something to be said for the Original, what?

Monday, December 17, 2007

DAMNED WITH FAINT PRAISE

I see that Miss Erica, the Wiseass Jooette herownself, has tagged me with this fine award:

Nutty Award

Yes, it’s the “I Am A Little Nutty” Award: a squirrel humping a pine cone, rampant on a field of blancmange.

I’ve seen this meme floating around the Bloggy-Sphere these past few weeks, and I knew it was only a matter of time before it showed up on my doorstep.

Can’t imagine why, though.

[What does it take to be tagged a Bull Goose Looney around here, anyway? Do I have to link to actual photographs of Human Stool? Publish my Colonoscopy Pics? I’m just sayin’.]

Sunday, December 16, 2007

BOXING DAY...

Boxing Day

...comes early to Chez Elisson.

DOCTOR DEBONAIR SPEAKETH

There’s nothing more will put you out,
And enfrown your Happy Face,
Than when a Zit should chance to sprout
Upon your Private Place.

No leverage with which to squeeze,
However much you strain –
No vantage point (if you should tweeze)
From which to take your aim.

Should you succeed to get a grip
Upon the Painful Site,
Be warned: for if you “Let ’er Rip”
You’ll shriek all day and night.

No: Better that you take a bath
Enriched with Epsom Salt,
And calm Carbuncle’s Flaming Wrath
With lots of Single Malt.

Tho’ music soothes the Savage Breast,
You’d best rely on Scotch
To put your seething Boil to rest,
If it sits near your Crotch.

Friday, December 14, 2007

STEAMY McDREAMY

No, I’m not talking about a couple of beefcake medicos from “Grey’s Anatomy.”

I’m talking about Steampunk, that peculiar literary and artistic genre that conflates the Victorian/Edwardian Age of Steam aesthetic with anachronistic technology. I first came into contact with it when I read J. W. Jeter’s Morlock Night back in 1979. Jeter, in fact, coined the term “steampunk,” and he is widely credited with establishing the genre with that novel, but perhaps the best example of the type is The Difference Engine by William Gibson and Bruce Sterling. Gibson (who invented the word “cyberspace”) and Sterling, both of whom had been pioneers in the so-called cyberpunk arena, set their story in an alternative world in which Charles Babbage’s steam-driven “difference engine,” a mechanical computer, brought the Information Revolution smack-dab into the middle of the Steam Age.

It made for an interesting story, but it also inspired many other writers to create their own strange worlds, worlds in which electricity played a minor role (and electronics a nonexistent one), replaced by steam and clockwork. Sometimes their stories were set in Victorian times, sometimes even earlier. And some stories incorporated fantasy elements to varying degrees. Thus, graphic novel opuses such as The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, set in the late 19th century, full of anachronistic clockwork technology, and populated with characters from miscellaneous literary fiction: Captain Nemo, the Invisible Man, Allan Quatermain, Dr, Jekyll, et al. Or bizarre pastiches such as “The Amazing Screw-On Head.”



Ya gotta love “The Amazing Screw-On Head.” Airships, machine guns, werewolves, robots, a Zombie Villain, alien demi-gods...and Abe Lincoln. “I’m so excited, I just made water in my pantaloons!”

[You could even make the case that a film like Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow is a variant of steampunk. Dieselpunk, perhaps?]

Steampunk comes alive in worlds of polished wood, brass, copper, and crystal rather than plastic. Some people have taken it farther than simply writing about these worlds. They have begun dressing the part...and transforming objects so that they fit within the steampunk aesthetic.

Take a look at this clockworky item here, for example.

Steampunk Laptop - closed
Image: Richard Nagy.

With its elegant wood case, brass mechanism, and winding key, one could easily mistake it for a music box. But no:

Steampunk Laptop - open
Image: Richard Nagy.

It’s a frickin’ Lap-Top Size Computational Engine! Just insert the key and turn it on.

This little gem was created by one Richard Nagy, AKA the Datamancer, whose work was among several imaginative steampunk creations showcased recently at Newsweek.com. Another mad genius is Sean Slattery, AKA Hieronymus Isambard “Jake” von Slatt, who operates a site called The Steampunk Workshop. Jake does a lot of interesting arty stuff with dangerous chemicals - I like this guy already! - but that’s just part of the picture. He also likes to tinker with computer components, converting them into brass, wood, and copper masterpieces that look like they were built rather than pooped out of a mold.

Check this out:

Steampunk Keyboard
Image: Sean Slattery.

This keyboard was created by laboriously attaching vintage typewriter keys to a “vintage” IBM keyboard and setting the whole into a handcrafted brass frame. Jake has complete details - including video - at his site, in case you want to make your own. Here’s a closer look, showing the brass frame:

Steampunk Keyboard Close-Up
Image: Sean Slattery.

And as if that were not enough, check out the flat-screen Image Display, appropriately ’punked up:

Steampunk Desktop
Image: Sean Slattery.

Perfect for blogging inscribing Interconnected World Wide Web-Logs back in the Gaslight Era.

Damn! I want me one of these! And now, I must needs go take a bit of snuff.

[Tip o’ th’ Elisson fedora to Velociman, who sent me the link to Jake’s amazing site.]

FRIDAY (ALMOST) RANDOM TEN ELEVEN

Welcome to Blog d’Elisson’s Friday Random Ten, the weekly Exercise in Self-Aggrandizement in which I post a list of ten Random Bits o’ Musical Entertainment straight from the Little White Choon-Box d’Elisson.

Today, just for fun, I’ve added an eleventh selection, one not chosen at random. I picked it because I like it. Perhaps you will, too.

Let’s get started, shall we?
  1. A Case Of You - Joni Mitchell

  2. Across The Universe - Rufus Wainwright

  3. Bolero de Django - Django Reinhardt

  4. What’s He Building? (live) - Tom Waits

  5. Scene 5 - He Didn’t Say Goodbye - Philip Glass, Les Enfants Terribles

  6. Thorn Tree In The Garden - Derek and the Dominos

  7. Vanha Lapsuudenystävä - Alamaailman Vasarat

  8. Township Rebellion - Rage Against The Machine

  9. Pop’s Love Suicide - Stone Temple Pilots

  10. Japura River - Philip Glass

  11. You’ll Pay for Your Day at Pleasure Island - Michael Leviton

    Today’s Non-Random Selection is by Michael Leviton, an artist who came to my attention in Savannah back in May of 2006.

    I had journeyed to Savannah to see They Might Be Giants with the Mistress of Sarcasm. Just days earlier, I had attended the Blown-Star Blodgemeet in Austin, after which I had driven to Sweat City in order to transact some Great Corporate Salt Mine business. I then flew back to Atlanta and, without stopping at home, drove down to Savannah just in time for the show.

    Opening for TMBG was Leviton, a slender, dark-haired young man who stood on the stage with a ukulele...that instrument so beloved of 1930’s crooners, later cast into a dark well of semi-disrepute by the infamous (yet hilarious) Tiny Tim. Anyone who might have feared a reprise of Tiny Tim’s falsetto antics was in for a pleasant surprise, however, for that young man was amazing. His songs were wistful, well-constructed tunes, charmingly played on that most slyly disingenuous of instruments...but it was the lyrics that got my attention. Filled with subtle wordplay and sneaky rhyme schemes, they celebrated Summer Love with an undercurrent of cynicism that gave them just the right amount of bite.

    With most opening acts, you want to hear them perform a couple of songs - as few as possible - and then get the hell off the stage to make way for the featured act. (You know - the one you paid to see.) But not this guy. I was perfectly happy to listen to him play as long as he wanted to. Rarity of rarities.

    Mr. Leviton is modest about his songs, the lyrics of which are not printed on the album notes or splashed all over the Internet. Nevertheless, he was gracious enough to share them with me and give me permission to post them...so I will be putting them up from time to time as the mood strikes me. Just be warned: Simply reading the lyrics doesn’t give you the real flavor of the songs.

    There ain’t no map to ecstasy;
    You reach romance by storm,
    Shipwrecked with sails all torn, baby.
    There ain’t no captain’s call before you fall.
    No, you will not be warned
    ’Til on maelstrom wings you’re borne, baby.

    Then your heart will bloom.
    You’ll croon love’s tune.
    That sweet typhoon’s left you marooned in paradise,
    A happy castaway who will be rescued soon.
    And that will be your doom, because...

    You’ll pay for your day at Pleasure Island.
    For love is grand until it ends
    And then your heart will be broken;
    That ride costs a token.
    You’ll foot the bill for every thrill.
    I promise that each caress, each moment’s passion,
    Is another check the bank will soon be cashin’.

    Love isn’t blind, just short-sighted.
    You get sick on champagne
    And all those dangled carrots,
    Never to fall again.
    Baby please, what fool would dare it?
    Not me. I ain’t no sucker,
    Though they’re born every minute.

    Kids today can’t live without their pleasure.
    But I’ve learned that sword’s a double-edger.

    Oh yeah, I’m in debt
    To a girl I can’t forget.
    I pray for love rekindled,
    But I know that’s just another swindle.

    I paid for my day at Pleasure Island.
    Seduced by land,
    Now I can’t stand
    The way it feels.
    But when I remember ephemeral affairs,
    I must admit that I got a deal.

It’s Friday. What are you listening to?

FUZZY FRIDAY

The Friday Ark’s a regular tradition,
Setting sail each week with animals and such.
We’re honored once again with Pole Position,
For which I thank the Modulator much.


Yes, the Friday Ark sets forth on its 169th weekly voyage this morning with Eric’s cats (figuratively) leaning over the bow, saying, “We’re Kings of the World!”

Sunday evening, be sure to check out Carnival of the Cats, the 195th installment of which will be hosted by venerable catblogger Mog over at Mind of Mog.

Speaking of Carnivals, let me not forget to mention that Haveil Havalim #144 is up at Random Thoughts. It’s the Chanukah-themed “Too Many Latkes” edition of this fine collection of posts from the Jewish Bloggy-Sphere.

Now, go - you have links to click!

Update: CotC #195 is up...with Bob and Fred the leadoff batters!

Thursday, December 13, 2007

OUT OF TIME: A 100-WORD STORY

Time Machine

Malachi Mavis climbed into his Time Machine and pressed the lever. After what seemed like hours of loud vibration and a disconcerting nauseous sensation, he arrived in Far Futurity. Success!

Exiting the machine, Mavis found himself in a beautiful glade, flanked by shining glass structures. White-robed men and women strode by and smiled at him.

A cherubic oldster explained that disease, hatred, and warfare had been swept away millennia ago, after the Pod Wars.

“So, we won?” offered Mavis.

“Depends on what you mean by ‘we,’ kemosabe,” said the oldster. “We’re from Epsilon Eridani. You’re what we call ‘indigenous protein.’”

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

BACHELOR DINNER

Roast Duck with Spinach Latkes
The Bachelor Dinner du jour: Roast Duck with Spinach Latkes.

The Missus is still in Texas - she comes home tomorrow - and thus I was faced with the necessity of preparing Yet Another Bachelor Dinner.

Sure, I could go out to eat, but where’s the fun in that? I make a poor Solitary Diner, and in any event, I had wanted to spend a few evenings at home testing the manifold capabilities of Darth Stover and his friends.

Yesterday I had fixed up a boatload of Chicken Tikka with brown rice, perfectly satisfying Bachelor Fare. But while I had been in the store nabbing some provisions that morning, I espied a package containing half of a duck. Mmmmm, duck. I loves me some duck. And at $7.99, the price was right. Better than right.

Duck is the perfect Bachelor Dinner, for SWMBO won’t go near it. She’s emphatically not a Dark Meat fan, and what is a duck but Dark Meat? It’s just the thing to eat when she’s too far away to complain about the Duck-Pong that inevitably fills the kitchen.

Preparing the duck was simplicity itself, especially since it was pre-roasted. Skin-side up in a shallow roasting pan for 20 minutes at 375°F in our fancy-pants new convection oven, and it was Duck o’Clock.

Instead of heating up the little package of gloppy orange sauce that came with Mr. Duck, I pulled from the freezer a small container of poultry demi-glace, prepared back at Thanksgiving time by simmering the turkey/roasted chicken stock I had made - the base for a delicious Cider-Calvados Gravy - until it was concentrated and syrupy. While the demi-glace thawed in the microwave, I made a little roux with some flour and oil, then whisked in some of that demi-glace to make a fine, glossy sauce. A squirt of Cointreau to add a flavor note of bitter orange, and Bingo! I had a restaurant-quality brown sauce for Mr. Duck.

It being the final night of Chanukah, I figured I would indulge myself in something fried for a side dish. But what?

Ahh! Spinach latkes!

Spinach latkes were one of the pleasures of my long-ago youth, thanks to the kind ministrations of the Grandmomma d’Elisson (AKA the Momma d’Eli, AKA Grandma Shirley). And they’re easy to make. I drained a can of Del Monte spinach - I’m sure fresh or frozen would be great, but that ain’t how Grandma Shirley did it - and added a liberal dose of chopped yellow onion, a couple of eggs, a handful or two of matzoh meal, some coarse salt, and freshly-ground pepper. After letting the mixture sit in the fridge for 30 minutes, it was ready to fry up in a hot skillet full of peanut oil.

I was thoroughly satisfied with my efforts, but were they better than Grandma’s? Never in life. I’d give anything to taste the ones my Grandma Shirley used to make. They were magic. Not too pretty to look at - they’re green pancakes, fercryinoutloud - but, oh, that ineluctable flavor, the crispy edges and tender interior.

Right now, I’m comfortably full...and the kitchen has the vague aroma of Grandma Shirley’s apartment. It makes me happy.

Chanukah Lights

Postscript:
It’s two days later, and I just snarfed up the leftover spinach latkes. There were three left, and I ate ’em cold, right out of the fridge, while standing in the middle of the kitchen. Closing my eyes, I could imagine that it was forty-five years ago, as that spinachy-oniony flavor tickled the deepest sense memories of my reptilian brainstem. It was, for me, a strange combination of sensual pleasure and of loss...loss occasioned by the passage of time.

If you remember the flavors of your childhood, you will never, in your deepest heart of hearts, grow old.

FIRST ENCOUNTER: A 100-WORD STORY

Clark Kent was on his way home from another frustrating Friday night football game.

He had had to watch, seething, as Lana Lang was pawed by half the members of Smallville High’s football squad. The worst part was, she ate it up. And knowing that, as Superboy, he could win State singlehanded did nothing to ease his frustration. That had to be his secret.

As he trudged along the dirt path that led to the Kent farm, he saw a strange, glowing rock.

He picked it up. Immediately, his guts spasmed, clenching painfully.

It was his first encounter with Craptonite.

NASHVILLE ENGLEWOOD CATS

Eric’s cats, stay offa that pool table
Eric’s cats, kill varmints, then say “Mew”
Eric’s cats, been playin’ since they’s kittehs
Eric’s cats, he’s got him three or two


Actually, Eric has three cats these days, although I only saw two of ’em this past weekend. Ginger, it seems, shares a Reclusive Personality with our own Hakuna.

Bob and Fred, however, were companionable enough...and both of ’em even came out to bid me farewell as I got in the Elissonmobile to head home Sunday afternoon. Here they is:

Fred

Fred looks comfortable as he stretches out.

Bob

Bob is so dark, he sucks up all the surrounding light. I like the chiaroscuro pattern he makes on Eric’s driveway in this shot.

A HELPFUL HINT

Mr. Beezer
Who better than Mr. Beezer to provide Hair Care advice?

Monday, December 10, 2007

ASK NOT FOR WHOM THE HORN HONKS...

...it honks for thee.

A few days ago I was talking to Velociman, and the conversation eventually degenerated - as it so often does - to matters Vile and Repugnant.

Somehow (I forget exactly how), we got onto the topic of roadkill. It may have been because V-man was enroute to Jacksonville and, while cruising through a wide spot in the road, may have seen some fragrant small-town menu offerings at the local barbecue, chili, and outpatient surgery joint. But how we got there, topicwise, matters less than the fact that, well, we were there.

Most of us of driving age have had Roadkill Experience. If we ourselves (Gawd forbid) have never had direct vehicular contact with a living beast, we certainly have seen the aftermath. I particularly remember seeing a dead cow alongside the inner shoulder of northbound I-85 in Georgia one day. Wonder what the other guy looked like. A cow is a massive thing to deal with at 75 MPH, unless you’re driving an eighteen-wheeler. And even then, it’ll put a major ding in your grille.

Hate to be on the Disposal Crew, the guys who have to drag those fly-blown, reeking carcasses off to the local Rendering Plant: “Your Local Used Cow Dealer.” Nasty job, that.

There was also one time - same road, perhaps a little farther north - I was driving at dusk and had to slow to a crawl because a herd of deer had wandered onto the roadway. I was hoping one of ’em wouldn’t panic and send the whole herd thudding frantically into my car. If you’ve ever tried to visualize what the expression “deer in the headlights” means, this was it: about twenty pairs of eyes, glowing with the reflected light of my low-beams, milling stupidly about.

The Missus and I have driven long stretches of fog- and rain-shrouded interstate at night in the cold season, knuckles white with tension on the wheel, fearing the sudden appearance of a deer or other large beastie. You do not want one of them going through your windshield as you cruise along at well over a mile a minute.

The smaller critters may be less scary from the standpoint of being less likely to cause you to become Roadkill-Kill, but what they lack in retributive potential, they make up for in emotional engagement. It’s hard to see a half-decayed cat or dog on the shoulder of a highway without feeling a momentary pang, the knowledge that that carrion-heap might possibly have been someone’s pet.

And so we assuage our pain by lowbrow attempts at humor. We give the roadkill a funny name.

Road Pizza.

Road Latka. (Smaller than a road pizza.)

We make up dopey songs:
Oh, Tom-a-Toad,
Oh, Tom-a-Toad,
Why are you lying in the road?
Yeah. Roadkill Humor. It’s black humor, sure, because at its heart, there is the dark realization that the Secret McDonald’s Motto has more than just a grain of truth to it: We are all meat.

I still have a very clear memory of my first up-close-and-personal encounter with roadkill. I was in second grade, give or take a year or so, and I was playing with some friends who lived across the street from our elementary school. We heard the squeal of brakes...

...and minutes later, we were in the midst of a small crowd that had gathered where a dog had been struck by a car.

It had been a spaniel of some kind, with a brown and white coat. From the neck up, he looked normal enough - almost as though he had inexplicably decided to take a nap in the middle of the street. But from the neck down, he was like nothing so much as a big, wet sack of Jimmy Dean Breakfast Sausage. With paws.

We watched - too fascinated to be sickened - as someone used a flat-bladed shovel to scrape the remains of the dog up into a bushel basket. I can still hear the sound of that shovel against the asphalt, sounding out the death-knell for someone’s family pet. It was the sound of mortality, and I was hearing it for the first time.

A TENNESSEE SOJOURN

Tennessee Vista

What with the Missus being away in Texas helping our SIL manage our little nephew and niece while she recovers from surgery, I have been living the Bachelor Life these past several days.

It was a perfect excuse to make the trip up to Tennessee and inflict my presence upon Eric and Fiona...and so that is exactly what I did. After services Saturday morning, I procured a few Essential Provisions and headed up to Straight White Guyland.

Eric had made advance preparations by way of marinating an enormous amount of lamb in Worcestershire sauce: six thick chops and a couple of steaks, cross-sections of a good-sized lamb leg. He had also fixed a pan of his Tennessee Roasted ’Taters, taking a passel of creamer potatoes, cutting them into chunks, and marinating them in a mixture of olive oil, sea salt, pepper, Worcestershire sauce, chopped onion, garlic salt, and Parmesan cheese. These then went into the oven while Eric grilled the meat.

Wherever the hell Eric gets his lamb, I wish they’d start supplying the meat markets down our way. This stuff was so tender and mildly flavored - none of that “lamby” gaminess that keeps some people from enjoying this, The Other Red Meat - that even SWMBO might have liked it. The mint sauce (not to be confused with mint jelly) set it off perfectly, as did the 2004 Château de Lescours St. Émilion we used to wash it down. And those potatoes? Hoo, boy.

The rest of the evening was occupied by a few genial games of Pocket Billiards - I even managed to win a few - accompanied by the fine music of Tom Waits and Butch Thompson and the consumption of liberal lashings of single malt Scotch whisky. Eric, ever the perfect host, pours his Scotch with a liberal hand, and after a few Not-So-Wee Drams of Aberlour a’bunadh (a single cask strength, non-chill-filtered malt matured in sherry oak) and Glenlivet Archive 21-year-old (thanks, Denny!), we had both managed to find our Happy Place.

No trip to Eric’s is without its share of mysteries and surprises. Here’s one:

No Jake Brake
No Jake Brake? Wuddat?

On the way through Athens, Tennessee, enroute to Englewood, I saw the above sign. But what the hell did it mean?

Any of my Esteemed Readers care to guess? The answer’s in the Extended Entry.

A quick peek at the Inter-Webby-Net revealed that the Jake Brake, AKA Jacobs Brake, is a specific brand of engine brake, the name of which has become a generic term for compression-release engine brakes on large vehicles.

Engaging a compression-release brake on heavy equipment will, absent special muffler systems, make a loud machine-gun-like racket, and so some municipalities ban their use in certain locations...as is the case right outside Tennessee Wesleyan College in Athens. Can’t disturb the students at their studies, I suppose.

Friday, December 07, 2007

FRIDAY RANDOM TEN

Welcome to Blog d’Elisson’s Friday Random Ten, the weekly adventure in Random Musicality where I post a list of ten cuts as pooched out by the iPod d’Elisson on the “Shuffle Songs” setting.

I’m recovering from a two-day Team Building Exercise at the Sweat City headquarters of the Great Corporate Salt Mine. Tonight’s Big Fun Evening at Dave & Buster’s marked the end of a marathon session of meetings and presentations, a veritabobble test of one’s Sitzfleisch.

WTF is Sitzfleisch? It is nothing more than Patience...the ability to stay put for long periods of time. An invaluable component of the Corporate Skill Set.

So: What do we have today, Johnny?
  1. Mr. Pinstripe Suit - Big Bad Voodoo Daddy

    Now...
    Friends, let me tell you about
    This cat that I once met.
    Smooth talker...with an export cigarette.
    I don’t believe I ever saw him
    Without a cocktail in his hand,
    And no one swings as hard
    To the big bad voodoo band.
    Now he strolls through the city
    Like a big ol’ alley cat
    With his pinstripe suit
    And a big bad voodoo hat.
    I don't believe I ever saw him
    Without a kitten on his hand,
    And no one swings as hard
    To the big bad voodoo band.

    Chorus
    Hey, Mr. Pinstripe Suit.
    Hey, Mr. Hi De Hi De Ho.
    Well, I know you got the answers
    That we all wanna know.
    Hey, Mr. Wingtip Shoes.
    Hey, Mr. Always On The Go.
    Well, I know you got the answers
    That we all wanna know.


  2. Strawberry Fields Forever - The Beatles

    This particular version is the demo sequence from Beatles Anthology 2. It’s a beautiful, simple vocal by John Lennon, with minimal instrumentation, providing only a hint of what would become one of the most celebrated pop singles of all time.

  3. You Can’t Always Get What You Want - The Rolling Stones

  4. Come Together - The Beatles

  5. The Last Polka - Ben Folds

  6. Blue Angel - Squirrel Nut Zippers

  7. Maahan - Alamaailman Vasarat

  8. Save My Soul - Big Bad Voodoo Daddy

  9. Tupelo Honey - Van Morrison

    From the album of the same name, my very first Van Morrison purchase back in 1971. It was the album that turned me into a Van Morrison fan: money well spent.

    You can take all the tea in China
    Put it in a big brown bag for me
    Sail right around the seven oceans
    Drop it straight into the deep blue sea
    She’s as sweet as tupelo honey
    She’s an angel of the first degree
    She’s as sweet as tupelo honey
    Just like honey from the bee

    You can’t stop us on the road to freedom
    You can’t keep us ’cause our eyes can see
    Men with insight, men in granite
    Knights in armor bent on chivalry
    She’s as sweet as tupelo honey
    She’s an angel of the first degree
    She’s as sweet as tupelo honey
    Just like honey from the bee

    You can’t stop us on the road to freedom
    You can’t stop us ’cause our eyes can see
    Men with insight, men in granite
    Knights in armor intent on chivalry
    She’s as sweet as tupelo honey
    She’s an angel of the first degree
    She’s as sweet as tupelo honey
    Just like honey from the bee

    You know she’s all right
    You know she’s all right with me
    She’s all right, she’s all right (she’s an angel)

    You can take all the tea in China
    Put it in a big brown bag for me
    Sail it right around the seven oceans
    Drop it smack dab in the middle of the deep blue sea
    Because she’s as sweet as tupelo honey
    She’s an angel of the first degree
    She’s as sweet as tupelo honey
    Just like honey from the bee

    She’s as sweet as tupelo honey
    She’s an angel of the first degree
    She’s as sweet as tupelo honey
    Just like the honey, baby, from the bee
    She’s my baby, you know she’s all right...


  10. Mystery Dance - Elvis Costello

It’s Friday. What are you listening to?