Thursday, December 31, 2009

2009 - AVE ATQUE VALE

As the ball drops in New York tonight (and the peach drops in Atlanta, for a little Local Flavor), we’ll be saying farewell not only to 2009, but to the Two-Thousand Oughts... the first decade of the New Millennium.

It’s hard to believe that it was ten years ago when all of that pre-millennial nonsense was going on as we prepared to close out the penultimate year of the Twentieth Century. Y2K computer paranoia. Stockpiling food in the basement. We’re all gonna die! (Little did we know what real horrors awaited us a scant 21 months later.)

The main excitement back then, of course, was seeing the Odometer o’ th’ Years tick over, placing a two in first position: an event that took place uneventfully. We’ve all had ten years to get used to it... hell, there are plenty of people who have lived their entire lives in the Two Thousands... but who among us doesn’t remember how strange it was to see that date for the first time, whether on a newspaper or on a coin? Two, followed by three zeroes? MM, in Roman numerals? Now, of course, it’s all Old Hat.

But now 2009 is making its last few circuits of the drain as it prepares to float down the Sewer of Years. Let’s give it a proper sendoff, shall we?

For us, 2009 marked the end of my lengthy career with the Great Corporate Salt Mine, as I elected to retire rather than face yet another in a long series of household relocations. Since then, I’ve found plenty of stuff to keep me busy, much of it involving writing.

This was the year of the Great Mother-Daughter Bonding Experience. Echoing our trip to Japan last year, She Who Must Be Obeyed helped Elder Daughter celebrate her thirtieth (!) birthday by sojourning with her in Arizona. And with the Mistress of Sarcasm now back in Atlanta, the bonding business extends to both our girls.

In addition to Elder Daughter’s big birthday, this year we celebrated the thirty-fifth anniversary of my graduation from college (involving, per our custom, a trip to Princeton for Reunions) and our thirty-second wedding anniversary. But as anniversaries go, the one that means the most to me at this moment is our Meet-A-Versary, for December 31 is the very date on which I met my beloved She Who Must Be Obeyed. For it was on this very day in 1975 - thirty-four years ago! - that the two of us first laid eyes on each other down in Sweat City, Texas... and our respective worlds haven’t been the same since.

SWMBO, 27 December 2009
She Who Must Be Obeyed... even after all these years. (Especially after all these years.)

As is our custom, we’ll celebrate the arrival of the New Year with a small group of friends. Dinner, movie, champagne (the Good Stuff!) at midnight. Perhaps a few riffs on Beatles RockBand, just for shits ’n’ grins. But no heavy-duty carousing... it makes the brain hurt too much.

As we take our tentative steps into the second decade of the Twenty-First Century (by the secular calendar, anyway), let me extend my traditional wishes to you, my Esteemed Readers... and to my friends, family, and (of course!) my wonderful bride and our daughters... for a 2010 filled with health, happiness, and love, without limit to any good thing.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

FINEST OF THE VINOUS

Wines in a Basket

For that small handful of my Esteemed Readers who actually give a crap about what wines Houston Steve and I enjoyed along with our guests at the recent Third Annual Aubrey-Maturin Dinner, here’s a list:
  • Sichel Sauternes 2002

  • Château Saint-Michel Sauternes 2000

    Strasburg Pie

    Both Sauternes were exquisite when paired with the Strasburg Pie.

  • Emilio Lustau Old Oloroso sherry

  • Maison Bouachon Châteauneuf-du-Pape 2005

  • Marqués de Riscal Rioja 2003

    Remember that Dr. Stephen Maturin hailed from Catalonia.

  • Château Pavillon Rouge Margaux 2000

    An excellent bottle in the early prime of its life. The “junior edition” of the famous first-growth Château Margaux, a “supple, delicious, flavorful effort.”

  • Château Lascombes Margaux 1974

    Lascombes 1974

    A wine made from grapes that were hanging on the vine when I was graduated from college.

  • Château Gloria Saint Julien 1976, 1978

    A fine cru bourgeois. Current price range is about $55-100 per bottle.

  • Joseph Drouhin Chorey-les-Beaune 2006

  • Twin Valley Estate Tawny Port

    From Australia, one of the many places Captain Jack and his particular friend Dr. Maturin visited in the course of their travels.

  • Dow Late-Bottled Vintage Port 2003

Not a loser in the bunch... and enough to wash down the enormous piles of Roast Beef, Roast Goose, Veg, and various Puddings that sate upon the groaning board.

Urp.

BRIGHT EYES, SMUG EXPRESSION

Ringo, December 2009

Ringo, the cat at Chez Morris William, wears a somewhat smug expression in this photo.

I guess he’s entitled to it. You’d be smug, too, if the New York Times science section posted a link to a picture of your asshole... and kept it up for a month.

Update: Ringo rings in the New Year at the Modulator’s Friday Ark #276. The feline fun continues at Mind of Mog, where Carnival of the Cats #303 will be posted on Sunday, January 3.

Update 2: CotC #303 - a nice, palindromic number - is up.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

HOW NOW, COW TOWN?

We’re back after spending this past week in North Texas, specifically Denton (home of the University of North Texas as well as SWMBO’s baby brother Morris William and his family) and Foat Wuth, AKA Cowtown, stomping grounds for the Momma d’SWMBO.

It has been a gas, seeing our young nephew William and his sister Madison in their current state of Growing-Up-edness. William has always been quick to make witty wise-beyond-his-seven-years observations, but Madison, now three, has really come into her own. She loves to perform - the Dreidel Song is a particular favorite - and has her own way of keeping other people from horning in on her action. “You need to be quiet - you’re special!” she’ll say... and by “special” she means a more age-appropriate alternative to “STFU.”

And we had snow. Snow! The few inches we got wasn’t a patch on the mighty snowstorms of my Northeastern youth, but you’d never know that from seeing the excitement in the faces of William and Madison. Snow! What kid doesn’t love to play in the White Stuff until face and fingers are cold and raw, the better to warm up over a mug of hot cocoa?

Snow!
Nephew William practices his mad snowball-throwing skillz.

No trip with the Elisson clan is complete without the uncovering of some sort of Bizarre Connection. One of the landmarks in Denton is the University of North Texas Murchison Performing Arts Center, named for its chief benefactor (and former regent) Lucille G. “Lupe” Murchison. Lupe Murchison was the sister-in-law of Clint Murchison, Jr., founding owner of the Dallas Cowboys, whose family’s many business interests included the Daisy Manufacturing Company, makers of the famous Daisy Red Ryder BB Gun (“You’ll shoot your eye out, kid!”). My connection? I used to study astrophysics with Clint’s daughter, back in my university days. Weird, huh?

Anyway, we’re back home now, watching as the year winds itself down to its last few days. No big celebration this year... just a quiet get-together with friends.

Peking Duck may, at some point, be involved.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

IN A BLUE MOOD: A 100-WORD STORY

Tsu’ris was slow to suit up. Last out of the locker room, as usual.

It wasn’t that he didn’t love the sport. He did. Everyone did. It was about the only thing the Sky People had taught them that was worth more than a thanator turd.

No: It was the opposing team. They made him nervous, with their strange green skin. His friends made rude jokes about them… and he knew the dislike was mutual. More than once, he had heard one of them mutter “bloogie” under his breath.

No matter. It was time.

Time for the annual Ar’mi-Na’vi game.

Friday, December 25, 2009

FRIDAY RANDOM TEN

There’s only about ninety minutes left of this Friday, but it’s not too late to see what’s playing on the Little White Choon-Box. Let’s take a look, shall we?
  1. Uncle Meat - Frank Zappa

  2. Weasels Ripped My Flesh - Frank Zappa

  3. Gun Street Girl - Tom Waits

  4. Bodhisattva - Steely Dan

  5. Quite Rightly So (Live) - Procol Harum

    This is the leadoff cut on Procol Harum’s Shine On Brightly album. I remember buying the LP sometime shortly after it came out, solely on the strength of my having liked PH’s older singles “Whiter Shade of Pale” and “Homburg” - and when I heard this song, I knew I had made a good investment.

    For you (whose eyes were opened wide, whilst mine refused to see)
    I’m sore in need of saving grace. Be kind and humour me
    I’m lost amidst a sea of wheat
    Where people speak but seldom meet
    And grief and laughter, strange but true
    Although they die, they seldom cry

    An ode by any other name I know might read more sweet
    Perhaps the sun will never shine upon my field of wheat
    But still in closing, let me say
    For those too sick, too sick to see
    Though nothing shows, yes, someone knows
    I wish that one was me


  6. Free Bird Jam (Live) - Ben Folds Five

  7. Look Into The Sun - Jethro Tull

  8. The Beach Gets Cold - Michael Leviton

  9. Let’s Make The Water Turn Black - Bohuslan Big Band

  10. Because - The Beatles

It’s Friday. What are you listening to?

WHITE CHRISTMAS

White Christmas in Big Sky
Christmas snowscape in Big Sky, Texas. Photo by SIL Rebecca.

North Texas enjoyed a (rare) white Christmas this year... if by “enjoy” you mean “suffered through myriad car wrecks, strandings, and travel snafus.” We rode out the storm at our brother- and sister-in-law’s place in Denton, hunkered down as the white stuff flew. A diet of Thai food and oven-grilled steaks made the time pass most pleasantly, and we even managed to drink a toast to the season... getting well-oiled in honor of the Well-Oiled One, one could say.

On the way down to Foat Wuth, we could not help but observe that Texas drivers just don’t have a frickin’ clue. When the roads are covered with slush, you should be slowing down and leaving additional following distance between you and any cars in front of you. Perversely, Texans seem to like doing the exact opposite.

But this is all whiny nitpicking.

We have enjoyed a wonderful Shabbat dinner with SWMBO’s family, including a magnificent beef brisket braised with onions... a reminder of why it’s nice to be with family at this time of year.

To our Christian friends, a most Merry Christmas... what’s left of it, anyway... and to everyone, a happy, healthy New Year full of all manner of good times, good things, and good friends... and the warmth of family to encompass you.

A PLAGUE OF PLAGIARISM

“Whatever has been is what will be, and whatever has been done is what will be done. There is nothing new under the sun.” - Kohelet (Ecclesiastes) 1:9

As I was reading synopses and reviews of James Cameron’s new SF epic Avatar, it occurred to me that certain elements of the story were... familiar. And, no, I’m not talking about the obvious parallels between Avatar and Dances with Wolves. I’m referring to the science-fictional underpinnings of the film.

Hmmm, lessee. Crippled guy uses futuristic technology to transport his mind into an alien body, eventually “going native” when he realizes that life as a strong, healthy alien is better than life as a crippled, miserable human. Why, that sounds vaguely familiar! It’s a story that is well-known to any reasonably serious SF reader: Poul Anderson’s “Call Me Joe.”

In Anderson’s 1957 short story, Ed Anglesey, a crippled, bad-tempered scientist uses an electronically-enhanced telepathic link to control an artificially-created lifeform that is capable of living on Jupiter. The story focuses mostly on the psychology of Anglesey and that of the creature (“Joe”) he controls; by the end of the story, Joe has taken over and become self-aware, subsuming whatever is left of Anglesey.

While the plot of Avatar is certainly different, the premise is strikingly similar.

This sort of “kinda-sorta plagiarism” is nothing new in Hollywood. It was an issue with Mike Judge’s dystopian comedy Idiocracy, which bore an awful lot of similarity to Cyril Kornbluth’s cynical 1951 short story “The Marching Morons.”

It was also evident in last year’s short-lived cop series “New Amsterdam,” which looked remarkably just like a teevee version of Pete Hamill’s novel Forever.

And James Cameron himself is no newbie at this. Harlan Ellison, the notoriously prickly SF writer, sued Cameron after Terminator came out, based on certain components of that film’s premise that appeared to have been “borrowed” from a couple of Ellison’s scripts for the old Outer Limits series. In one, “Soldier,” a brutal warrior from the far future is transported back to 1964; in another, “Demon With a Glass Hand,” a man discovers that he is really a robot... sent back to 1960’s Earth from 1000 years in the future after aliens have conquered the planet. Ellison eventually received screen credit.

Look: As Ecclesiastes pointed out a looooong time ago, there is nothing new under the sun. Ideas morph, change, grow, evolve. And anyone who grew up reading science fiction or watching it on the big or small screen is going to have had some exposure to certain storylines. But if you’re gonna use them, you should at least throw a Credit-Bone to the guys who thought ’em up.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

AN OBSERVATION, MADE WHILE WATCHING THE TUBE

SWMBO: Honey, you’re just like Brad Pitt.

Me: Yeah. Brad Armpitt.

ON UNWANTED CHANGE

Kevin Kim posed a question in a recent comment:

“Getting used to your new comment setup here. Got sick of Haloscan?”

No, Kevin. I did not get sick of Haloscan, alas.

I installed Haloscan commenting on this site some five years ago. I did it mainly because Blogger did not provide trackback at the time; Haloscan offered trackback along with a robust, relatively spam-free commenting system.

With Haloscan, I was able to monitor all incoming comments from a single screen, with each comment associated with the post on which it was left. It was convenient; it was easy. And did I mention (relatively) spam-free?

Alas, Haloscan has morphed into Echo, which, while offering a few new gewgaws and gimcracks, has taken away all the functionality I enjoyed with Haloscan. My choice was “Convert... or lose all your old comments.”

I converted. And I am mighty displeased with the results, to the point where I may very well bail on this new Echo system. That is, unless they see fit to restore some or all of the old Haloscan funtionality. Hell, even Blogger comments are better than this crap.

Any other (former) Haloscan users care to weigh in?

STAR WARS AND AVATARS

We’re here in north Texas with SWMBO’s brother Morris William and his family, watching a swath of winter weather blow through. Snow and sleet may become a part of the picture, gladdening the hearts of those Dentonites and Fort Worthies that wished for a white Christmas while making miserable anyone who actually has to get out and travel.

On the tube, Spike is showing Star Wars. Having come to the party a bit late, I have no idea whether they’re showing the latter-day, digitally altered Greedo-Shot-First-Or-At-Least-Simultaneously version, or the grittier, less-polished original that was showing in the theatres the year She Who Must Be Obeyed and I tied the knot. That was back before they subtitled this movie “Chapter IV - A New Hope.” Then, it was the only hope.

Star Wars set the moviegoing world on fire, back then, much as Avatar seems to be doing today. Myself, I have not yet seen Dances with Wolves (in Blueface) yet, but it’s on the agenda for the week.

There seem to be a lot of people touting Avatar as the sort of cinematic breakthrough that, once upon a time, Star Wars was. Maybe yes, maybe no. I find it difficult to compare a high-tech hyperstravaganza upon which was spent some $350-400 million and which features a politically charged backstory about the (big-E) Environment and Noble Savages, with a (relatively) low-budget space opera that somehow, through the recycling of 1930’s movie serial tropes, caught the imagination of the world.

Whatever.

Meanwhile, as I watch Star Wars and reminisce about that summer long ago, that summer when I embarked (to mix a Spacey Metaphor) on my own personal mission to explore new worlds where I had never been before (Marriage! Children!!!), that summer when the adventures of Han Solo, Luke Skywalker, Princess Cinnabon-Hair Leia, and Darth Vader were fresh, shiny, and new, I find myself asking myself a lot of ridiculous questions. Backstory questions.

Grand Moff Tarkin, f’rinstance.

Did he have to take a civil service exam to get his job? Was he a Lesser Moff for a few years, waiting for his boss to get kicked upstairs or assigned to an administrative post somewhere else? When he was in elementary school and the other kids wanted to be firemen, or ballerinas, or Emperor, did he secretly think to himself, “I wanna be a Moff when I grow up. And not just any crappy low-pay-grade Moff, either - I wanna be a Grand Moff”?

Just curious...

Update: A White Christmas indeed. We have about three inches on the ground here, and it’ll be a cold night. Travel is likely to be problematic during the morning hours, at least: the concept of “snow-plow” seems not to have penetrated to this part of Texas. And salt is something you put on a beef brisket before you smoke it.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

MY GOOSE IS COOKED, CONT’D.

This year’s Aubrey-Maturin Dinner was a huge success: The guests were compatible; the conversation and wine flowed endlessly (oh, and what wines we had!); and the food was stupendous.

Both the Missus and I agreed that the Roast Beef of Olde England that Houston Steve prepared was possibly the best roast beef we have ever had, a four-rib standing roast encrusted with sea salt and porcini mushrooms, cooked to a perfect degree of doneness.

The goose, along with its accompanying giblet gravy, was excellent as well, with medium-rare breast meat and crispy skin. I would eat one of those every week if I could afford it, or if my waistline and coronary arteries could stand it. Duck would be a much more affordable substitute (albeit almost as cholesterolific): an average-size duck will run you $14 or so, whereas a goose will set you back between $40 and $45.

This year, I spatchcocked the goose before roasting it. [I love that word. Spatchcock. Spatchcock. Say it a bunch of times and it just gets funnier. Spatchcock.] You lay the bird down on a cutting board and, using a pair of heavy poultry shears, cut along either side of the backbone to remove it. You then flatten it out, opening it up like a book. Save that backbone - you’ll need it for the sauce.

I salted the bird down with kosher salt. Alton Brown’s recipe for roast duck recommends using one tablespoon of salt per pound, but I cut down on that somewhat, since a goose is about twice as big as a duck... and I wasn’t going to let the bird sit for 3-4 days before cooking it. So: about two tablespoons of salt on the underside (inside) of the goose, and the same amount (mixed with a teaspoon of baking powder) on the skin side. The alkaline baking powder helps make the skin extra crispy. [If you try using table salt instead of kosher salt, just toss the whole bird in the trash: it will be far too salty to eat.] Using a small, sharp knife, make small slits in the skin every half-inch without cutting into the flesh. Set the bird on a rack over a paper towel-lined pan and put it in the fridge for 1-3 days.

A day before roasting the goose, I made a stock from the giblets (reserve the liver) and the backbone. (You did save the backbone, didn’t you?) Toss ’em in a saucepan with a couple of carrots, a yellow onion, and a celery stalk (cut into large chunks); a few parsley stems; ten whole peppercorns; a sprig of fresh thyme; and 2-3 peeled cloves of garlic; then cover with water and bring to a gentle simmer. After 4-5 hours, strain the stock and chill in the fridge overnight. Toss out the vegetables and reserve the meaty bits - when they’re cool enough to handle, chop up the heart and gizzard, pull the flesh of the neck off the bones, and mince that up. Sauté the (previously reserved) liver in a dab of butter, then mince that up too and add it to the other giblets. Put the giblets aside to chill in the fridge untill you need ’em.

When you’re ready to roast the bird, preheat the oven to 300° and place skin-side down on a rack in a roasting pan. Roast for one hour, then drain the grease from the pan and turn the bird over so that the skin side is up. Continue to roast until the breast meat reaches an internal temperature of 180°F, then crank the oven temp up to 450°F and roast for another 15 minutes or so, just enough to crisp the skin. You’ll want to drain the grease from the pan every hour. Save that goose schmaltz - it’ll come in handy next time you want to fry some ’taters!

With our eight-and-a-half pound bird, the whole roasting process took about three hours and thirty minutes. But use that thermometer - you don’t want to overdo it.

While the bird is roasting, make the giblet gravy. Take the chilled stock - you should have about a quart - scrape off the congealed grease from the top and discard, and set aside about a cup of the cold stock. Put the rest of the stock on a medium flame and simmer until the volume is reduced by about a third. Stir two tablespoons of all-purpose flour into the reserved (cold) stock and mix well, so that there are no lumps. Whisk this flour-stock slurry into the simmering stock.

Continue to simmer the thickened stock for about 30 more minutes, then add the reserved minced giblet mixture. Stir in about two tablespoons of Cognac and a splash of Cointreau.

When the goose is done, pour off any remaining fat from the roasting pan and then deglaze it with about a cup of dry white wine. Be sure to scrape up all the tasty fond from the pan. Add this stuff to the simmering gravy.

When it’s time to serve the bird, add a small handful of fresh, torn basil leaves to the gravy; correct the seasoning. Just before serving, stir in a knob of butter. Serve hot alongside the goose.

At the Aubrey-Maturin Dinner, we had Houston Steve’s legendary Yorkshire puddings with the beef and goose. There is no finer Gravy Conveyance Device than a Yorkshire pudding baked in a muffin tin; it’s just the right size and even has a convenient well to hold the gravy. I wonder whether one could make those Yorkies with goose schmaltz in lieu of the usual hot-from-the-oven beef drippings... Ha! An experiment suggests itself!

Monday, December 21, 2009

THE TWEEZER

The Tweezer always comes in Pairs
The better to remove the Hairs
That grow profusely in the Nostrils
Of Congressmen and other Wastrels.

I care not if it rains or freezes,
As long as I have my Pair of Tweezus.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

MY GOOSE IS COOKED

Well, it’s gonna be. Right now it’s raw, sitting in the fridge downstairs... but it will be going into the oven shortly, there to be roasted to a golden turn. The giblets and backbone have already been cooked down to a rich stock that will serve as the base for a fine sauce.

Yes, it’s time for this year’s Aubrey-Maturin Dinner. Here’s the Bill of Fare:

Aubrey-Maturin Dinner Menu 2009

The Strasburg Pie is cooling in the fridge even as I write this. It’s nothing more (or less) than a whole duck foie gras in all its hyperfatty glory, crammed into a puff pastry shell with a full pound of bacon: There exists no more decadent, calorific, cholesterol-laden dish on the face of the planet. I’ll post photographs later, of course.

Friday, December 18, 2009

FRIDAY RANDOM TEN

Friday.

Not just Friday, but an amazingly cold, nasty Friday here in Atlanta, the beating heart of the Deep Souf. I’ve spent the entire morning running errands, driving around in a cold, soaking rain, the drops pelting down in great wind-driven sheets.

I suppose it could be worse. A few degrees colder, and we’d be having an ice storm instead.

But now I’m in my nice, warm house, listening to this week’s Randomly Assembled List of Tunage, selected stochastically by the iPod d’Elisson. Let’s take a look and see what’s playing:
  1. O’Reilly At The Bar - Dan Hicks & His Hot Licks

  2. Skylark - Don Julin

    Gotta love Don Julin. Who else plays Frank Zappa tunes on the mandolin?

  3. The Mikado, Act II: Here’s a How-De-Do! If I Marry You - d’Oyly Carte Opera Company

  4. Zanset Nou Yo - Boukman Eksperyans

  5. Ani Shelach - Neshama Carlebach

  6. The Eyes of Fate - The Incredible String Band

  7. Meet Me Tomorrow Night - Professor Longhair

  8. Spanish Ladies - Robert Shaw

    Perfectly apropos, considering that we will be having yet another Aubrey-Maturin Dinner tomorrow evening.

  9. Barnyard Story - Procol Harum

    Chicken in the farmyard
    There’s an oven in your bin
    You’re growing old with sorrow
    You’re growing fat with sin
    I was living in the graveyard
    I was hanging from the wall
    I was living in the desert
    I was trying not to fall

    Once I stood upon Olympus
    Then the heavens opened wide
    I beheld that flaming chariot
    And I saw the sacred bride
    Now and then my life seems truer
    Now and then my life seems pure
    All in all, my thoughts are fewer
    Maybe death will be my cure


  10. Oh No - Frank Zappa

It’s Friday. What are you listening to?

Thursday, December 17, 2009

THEN AND NOW

The Girls: 2009 vs 1991
The Elisson Ladies today... and as they were eighteen years ago. [Click to embiggify.]

It’s always a treat to have Clan Elisson together under one roof, as we did for the past several days. It’s just like the Olden Days, when our daughters were young and impressionable. Back then, they actually believed that the twisted song lyrics I would make up were the real thing; later, they would discover to their chagrin that they had been pwned. It’s one of the pleasures of being a Daddy.

Here, the Mistress, She Who Must Be Obeyed, and Elder Daughter pose behind a photograph taken sometime shortly after we had moved back to Sweat City Houston in 1991. I love this picture, but I suspect I will be thrashed for posting it. It’s one of the hazards of being a Daddy.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

KEYWORDS, WE GOT KEYWORDS

I’m always fascinated by the search terms people stick into Google and other such Electronickal Searchy Devices, particularly the ones that cause the searchers to be directed here. F’rinstance, here are the most popular keywords people were using today:

harpo marx gookie face pictures
leo kottke
old time gilgo beach
crack blood bowl 1.1.2.2
hydrodynamic science projects
she’s vibrator dependent blogspot
harelip jokes
half rubber game images
peter heering liqueur
100-word poems
underpants poems
boys aim low
meaning klattu barada nikto
chester karras
kippas under fedora
underpants poem

OK, I understand why some of these keywords might send someone here. I’ve either written about some of these things, or they’ve shown up in one or more of my Friday Random Ten posts.

The “crack blood bowl” one had me scratching my head, though. Seems there’s some sort of video game called Blood Bowl, with a patch available for same. But to find me, someone had to scroll through five pages of Google results, only to find my April 2005 archive, which by coincidence contained the (widely separated) words “crack,” “blood,” and “bowl.” As in “crack for toddlers,” “iron-poor blood,” and “bowl of Grape-Nuts.” I’m guessing that’s not what this person was looking for.

How useful all this is is anyone’s guess, but I’ll confess to feeling a certain perverse satisfaction in knowing that when anyone Googles the term “underpants poem,” this site leads the list of 1,110,000 results. Good to know I’ve accomplished something important in my span on this planet.

Monday, December 14, 2009

PARKINSON’S LAW OF LATKES

Fifty-four years ago, C. Northcote Parkinson set forth the law that today bears his name: “Work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion.”

That’s the explanation for why college students pull all-nighters just before a term paper is due, regardless of how many months they’ve had to do the work. Or why half the construction workers at any given job site always seem to be completely idle.

Parkinson also formulated a second law that states: “Expenditures rise to meet income.” Which means that no matter how much money you make, you will always feel like you’re losing the Rat Race.

Had Mr. Parkinson been with us last night, he could very well have observed yet another law in action:

“Consumption of potato latkes always rises to meet the available supply.”

LatkesCooking

For obvious reasons, I call it Parkinson’s Law of Latkes. And it explains why, even if you fry up a whole lotta latkes, there never seem to be any left over...

Saturday, December 12, 2009

MOIST EYES, BRIGHT LIGHTS

Yesterday evening, as dusk began to duskify, She Who Must Be Obeyed and I stood in our sunroom and prepared to light the Chanukah lights.

I say “lights” and not “candles” because we use Ner Lights, little glass ampoules of olive oil, each containing a wick. You just snap the top of the ampoule off and you’re good to go. They’re not cheap, but they are far less messy than paraffin candles, and they cast a beautiful warm glow.

As we said the blessings, I saw that SWMBO’s eyes were moist... and I knew why.

With the Mistress of Sarcasm having just relocated to her own apartment, it was just the two of us: empty nesters once again. It would take some adjustment time for us to not feel a little lonelier, just the two of us rattling around in Chez Elisson. Sure, Elder Daughter was on her way to Atlanta... but for the moment, it was Just Us.

It had been a while since it was Just Us on the first night of Chanukah. Last year, even though both the girls were away, we had had a small army of friends over to celebrate with us. Following our long-standing tradition, there were platters of Chinese food... and heaps of potato latkes. Thus do we honor the memory of the Momma d’Elisson.

But yesterday evening it was just the two of us.

Holidays have a way of reminding us of the passage of time. Every year they seem to come around sooner, as the perceived pace of our lives accelerates relentlessly. We remember those same occasions and how we marked them in years past... and we cannot help but think of just how many years have passed. Was it all that long ago that we would say these same blessings with our girls eagerly waiting for us to trot out the evening’s haul of gifts?

This evening, things were a little different. For the first time in years, both of our daughters were here, standing with us to chant the prayers and illuminate the lights.

And SWMBO’s eyes were moist once again... and I knew why.

Friday, December 11, 2009

ANOTHER USELESS STATISTIC

According to my Sitemeter, this little exercise in self-aggrandizement and time-wastage should see its 400,000th visitor sometime in the next couple of days.

400,000. Yeef.

If you were to assume that each site visit was from a different person (an obviously wrong assumption), and you were to lay those people head-to-toe, it would make a line of (very uncomfortable) people 43.4 miles long. Mash ’em all into a single cube, and that cube would weigh something like 31,000 short tons... somewhat shy of a Metric Buttload, but still impressive.

The fact is, however, that this site somehow does attract Repeat Offenders Visitors, some of whom I have actually met face-to-face. It’s one of the little pleasures of This Bloggy Thing We Do.

But whether we have broken bread together in Real Life, or are solely Electronic Acquaintances, I’m glad you have stopped by to visit my demented little corner of the Internet...

<BARTLES & JAYMES>

...and thank you for your support!

</BARTLES & JAYMES>

Update: Visitor #400,000 (IP 69.254.192.172) zoomed through Sunday evening, December 13, at 11:46:44 pm EST, from somewhere in Tucson, Arizona. Next milestone: half a million!

FRIDAY RANDOM TEN

This evening at sundown, Jews mark the beginning of the eight-day festival of Chanukah. We’ll be celebrating here at Chez Elisson, not least because Elder Daughter will be flying in from Washington, D.C. to spend some Quality Time with us.

In accordance with a long-standing tradition, we will feast on Chinese Food and potato latkes: It is our way of remembering the Momma d’Elisson.

But meanwhile, it is Friday, which means it’s time to check out this week’s randomly generated list of musical selections, as horked out by my Little White Choon-Box. What’s playing today?
  1. The Search - Pat Metheny Group

  2. We Want A Rock - They Might Be Giants

    Nobody else writes songs quite like these guys: infectious tunes coupled with quirky lyrics. The Mistress of Sarcasm and I were fortunate enough to see them perform in Savannah back in May, 2006.

    Where was I? I forgot
    The point that I was making
    I said if I was smart that I would
    Save up for a piece of string
    And a rock to wind the string around

    Everybody wants a rock
    To wind a piece of string around
    Everybody wants a rock
    To wind a piece of string around

    Throw the crib door wide
    Let the people crawl inside
    Someone in this town
    Is trying to burn the playhouse down
    They want to stop the ones who want
    A rock to wind a string around
    But everybody wants a rock
    To wind a piece of string around

    Throw the crib door wide
    Let the people crawl inside
    Someone in this town
    Is trying to burn the playhouse down
    They want to stop the ones who want
    A rock to wind a string around
    But everybody wants a rock
    To wind a piece of string around

    If I were a carpenter I’d
    Hammer on my piglet, I’d
    Collect the seven dollars and I’d
    Buy a big prosthetic forehead
    And wear it on my real head

    Everybody wants prosthetic
    Foreheads on their real heads
    Everybody wants prosthetic
    Foreheads on their real heads

    Throw the crib door wide
    Let the people crawl inside
    Someone in this town
    Is trying to burn the playhouse down
    They want to stop the ones who want
    Prosthetic foreheads on their heads
    But everybody wants prosthetic
    Foreheads on their real heads

    Throw the crib door wide
    Let the people crawl inside
    Someone in this town
    Is trying to burn the foreheads down
    They want to stop the ones who want
    A rock to wind a string around
    But everybody wants a rock
    To wind a piece of string around


  3. Mineral Man - Leo Kottke

  4. Snuff That Girl - Urinetown, Original Cast

  5. Moggio - A Tribute Band for FZ

  6. Blinded By The Light - Bruce Springsteen

    The lead-off cut on The Boss’s lead-off album. Everything I love about Springsteen’s early work is captured in this one five-minute, four-second tune.

  7. Yaphet - Miles Davis

    I knew Miles before he was a block.

  8. Monkey Lust - Leo Kottke

  9. Too Long at the Fair - Bonnie Raitt

  10. Tupelo Honey - Van Morrison

It’s Friday. What are you listening to?

A CHANUKAH EDITORIAL

[If Dear Abby can get away with reprinting the same frickin’ Holiday Columns every stinking year, why not Blog d’Elisson? We are therefore pleased to offer this previously published Editorial Response, one that is both timely and appropriate to the season. Chanukah begins at sundown on December 11 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 Blog d’Elisson:
“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 Blog d’Elisson, 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.]

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

THE NUCLEAR OPTION

Dinner tonight consisted of boneless beef short ribs, char-grilled after having been doused in a Korean-style marinade of soy, rice vinegar, sesame oil, garlic, pear, and sliced scallions. Delicious.

Sticking with the Korean theme, I served myself some kimchi on the side. And since there was no way in hell SWMBO was gonna eat that kimchi, I roasted some Brussels sprouts to serve as a second vegetable.

Kimchi and Brussels sprouts. Now, there’s a combination to conjure with.

If there is a better recipe for Nuclear Farts, I have yet to find it. Hell, the flatulence that resulted from yesterday’s Kimchi Omelette was enough to make strong men weep: Adding the sprouts is like throwing gasoline on a fire.

I’ll be heading up to the bedroom in a few moments, and my only hope is that the Missus is sleeping deeply enough so that the intermittent Stench-Bombs don’t awaken her.

I’ll bet they make for some really interesting dreams, though...

PEEK-A-BOO

Peek-a-Boo Hakuna

A watchful Hakuna hides in plain sight at the top of the stairs.

Update: In “News of the Predictable,” the sun once again rises in the east, and this week’s Friday Ark (#273) is afloat over at the Modulator. For yet more Catstuff, stop by Carnival of the Cats, the official home page of the Bloggy-Sphere’s longest-running Kitty Carnival, where you can catch the 300th edition Sunday evening.

Update 2: CotC #300 is up.

I DARE YOU TO EAT THIS

Here’s a meal that will wake you up, no matter what time of day you have it...

Kimchi Omelette
Kimchi omelette, accompanied by some perfectly normal haricots verts with sea salt and lemon.

A Kimchi Omelette!

Three eggs, beaten, with about a half-cup of kimchi - Korean pickled cabbage. It’s their version of sauerkraut, a dish without which no Korean meal is complete. And most versions are spicy, ranging from the merely tongue-tingling to rocket fuel, sphincter-searing hot.

Next time I make this, I may try adding some matzoh meal and frying the resulting mix in oil. Yep: Kimchi latkes... perfect for spicing up that Chanukah dinner!

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

THE INNER SOUL

When a candidate for public office faces the voters he does not face men of sense; he faces a mob of men whose chief distinguishing mark is the fact that they are quite incapable of weighing ideas, or even of comprehending any save the most elemental — men whose whole thinking is done in terms of emotion, and whose dominant emotion is dread of what they cannot understand. So confronted, the candidate must either bark with the pack or be lost...

All the odds are on the man who is, intrinsically, the most devious and mediocre — the man who can most adeptly disperse the notion that his mind is a virtual vacuum. The Presidency tends, year by year, to go to such men. As democracy is perfected, the office represents, more and more closely, the inner soul of the people.

We move toward a lofty ideal. On some great and glorious day the plain folks of the land will reach their heart’s desire at last, and the White House will be adorned by a downright moron.

- H. L. Mencken, writing in the Baltimore Sun, 26 July 1920

The question that comes to mind is the same one a bored child repeatedly asks during a long road trip: “Are we there yet?” I suspect that we’ve been there for some time already, and we ain’t leaving any time soon.

[A tip o’ th’ Elisson fedora to Houston Steve and his son Josh - the latter for unearthing this lovely quotation, and the former for sending it my way.]

YET ANOTHER MODEST PROPOSAL

Anyone who has traveled by air lately is well aware of the ever-proliferating inventory of nuisance fees the airlines are levying in an attempt to bolster their sickly bottom lines.

You want to sit in the front end of the coach cabin? Unlimber that wallet. Want a snack? Or a (gasp!) meal? Get out your ATM card. Want to speak to a real live person when booking your tickets? It’s gonna cost you.

Years ago, on a Peoples Express flight, I had to pay for my cup of morning joe. I not-so-jokingly asked the flight attendant whether I would need a quarter to use the toilet. And she didn’t laugh.

But now, the big revenue enhancer for the airlines is the fee they collect for checking your luggage. Not only will you shell out for each bag you check (excluding any massive overweight charges for which you may be liable), you’ll pay even more if you do it at the airport when you check in. (Paying when you check in online in advance of your flight will save you about a five-spot per bag.)

When people are discouraged from checking bags, of course, it means they have extra incentive to schlep as much as possible on board. Which means that the statutory “one carry-on bag plus a personal item” gets stretched as much as possible. It’s mind-boggling, the sheer amount of crap people attempt to haul onto an airplane these days.

Can you blame ’em? Checking bags exposes you to additional delays and the possible loss (temporary or permanent) of your luggage. People don’t need more reasons to carry their bags on board.

Imposition of a checked baggage fee simply exacerbates an already bad situation... but I have a solution. (Of course I do.)

Simply change the rules. Charge for carry-on bags and allow people to check their luggage for free.

Imagine it: Fewer roll-aboards crammed into those overhead bins. No more delays as people frantically search for a place for their valise, only to end up having to gate-check it when all the overheads are packed solid. Less risk of getting brained when that little old lady in 16E yanks her wheeled satchel full of lead bricks out of the bin.

The business travelers who have to hurry off to a meeting as soon as they land? Carry-on baggage fees are no problem for them. Can anyone say “expense account”?

Whaddaya think? Good idea? Bad idea? I think it’s a great idea, and I will be pleased to accept a suitable honorarium from the airlines when they realize just how great an idea it is and how much revenue they’ll generate.

As if.

Monday, December 07, 2009

1941

Hiroshima
The Genbaku-Domu (Atomic Bomb Dome) in Hiroshima.

Eleven years ’fore I was born
The sound of aircraft split the morn
Awakening a sleeping giant
Who set about crushing an evil tyrant.

No: Make that tyrants. There were two
That eventually received their due,
With Reich and Empire crushed at last.
On Seven December, that die was cast.

And thus to tyrants I would warn,
“You fuck with the bull, you get the horn.”


Today is the sixty-eighth anniversary of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, an attack that propelled the United States into World War II. One could say that, not only was it (as President Franklin D. Roosevelt pronounced it) a day that would live in infamy, it was a day that had a profound impact on the shape of the world in which we live.

In other, unrelated news, today is Tom Waits’s sixtieth birthday. Happy birthday, Tom!

Sunday, December 06, 2009

DECEMBER GUILD EVENT

Tonight brings the annual Champagne Dinner, courtesy of the fine folks at the Sommelier Guild of Atlanta.

I’m expecting the Grouchy Old Cripple to show up at this event. Houston Steve, alas, will be absent, having chosen to attend an author’s lecture and book signing event at our synagogue. SWMBO will be there at the synagogue as well - she generally chooses not to go to the Guild events - so she will have a chance to listen to Mitch Albom speak about his latest magnum opus, Have a Little Faith.

I’ve already read the book, which, as of this writing, still leads the New York Times bestseller list for nonfiction. It’s of especial interest to us because about half the book is about Rabbi Albert Lewis, late of Cherry Hill, New Jersey... our rabbi’s father.

But since I’m all about the Food and Drink, I’ll be at Lola instead. And here’s what I’ll be having...

Speaker’s wine:
Gloria Ferrer Chardonnay 2006

First Flight:
Ferrari Carano Tre Terre Chardonnay 2007 2006
Domaine Chandon Pinot Meunier 2005*
Robert Sinskey Pinot Noir 2007

Chicken Piccata with white wine, lemon, parsley, & capers

Second Flight:
Mumm "Cordon Rouge" Brut NV*
Taittinger “La Française” Brut NV*
Bollinger “Special Cuvée” Brut NV

Grouper with fingerling potatoes, artichokes and basil

Third flight:
Mumm Napa “D.V.X.” Brut 1999 2000
Roederer Estate “L’Ermitage” Brut 2002 1998
Schramsberg “J. Schram” Brut 1999 2000*

Grilled pork tenderloin with Chilean plums and onion

Dessert:
Mumm Napa “Cuvée M” NV

Lemon curry gelato

I could whine about how much I’m gonna suffer, but nobody will be fooled by a display of Crocodile Tears. No: I’m expecting a swell feed and plenty of fine wines. Eat yer hearts out.

Update: A few last-minute vintage changes are noted above. My particular favorites (all the wines were good this evening) are marked with an asterisk.

Saturday, December 05, 2009

EIGHTY-TWO

Bernice 1943
The Momma d’Elisson in 1943... not quite sixteen years old.

Today is my mother’s eighty-second birthday.

I’d have baked a cake, except for two reasons. First, Mom hasn’t walked the planet in over twenty-one years... and so a cake is not on her agenda these days. Nor is much of anything else.

Second, Mom never was much of a baker. She liked cake well enough, but I can only remember her baking one cake in the entire time she and I shared space on this Mortal Coil. Perhaps because it was such an unusual event, I can still remember exactly how that cake - a spice cake, of all things - smelled and tasted.

No, Mom would have been perfectly happy with store-bought cake. Her watchwords were, “Why do anything yourself if you can pay someone else whose job it is to do it?” Hilaire Belloc said it best:

Lord Finchley tried to mend the Electric Light
Himself. It struck him dead: And serve him right!
It is the business of the wealthy man
To give employment to the artisan.


[Which explains why I don’t do electricity or plumbing.]

Mom may be gone, but she lives on in her granddaughters. Both Elder Daughter and the Mistress of Sarcasm have inherited bits and pieces of her personality, her sense of humor, her intelligence and common sense, and even her looks...

Elder Daughter sepia     Mistress sepia

I sure wish she could see them now. And, who knows? Maybe she can.

Friday, December 04, 2009

BUZZ

For some reason, people who stayed in the guest room slept exceptionally well, lulled to sleep by a gentle buzzing that was so soft, it seemed to be a product of the imagination.

After a while, though, it became clear that the buzzing was not imaginary at all. It was all too real, as evidenced by the numerous honeybees that seemed to appear out of nowhere.

The homeowner, not surprisingly, grew suspicious. Upon removing a section of wallboard, this is what he found:

Bee Wall 1

Great jumping snakes! It’s a whole honkin’ beehive! Jeebus!

One could imagine that that is what the Devil’s nutsack looks like.

In the upper left corner of the photo, you can see a hand prying away chunks of honeycomb. I don’t know what became of the hive; I know only that it was removed.

“Was I the homeowner in question?” you ask. No: That distinction belongs to one Jerry Foster, an occasional commenter here but better known to me as the lifelong friend of The Other Elisson.

Jerry, as it turns out, is a dab hand with a camera. Inspired by my recent Buggy Post, he sent me a few of his shots. Here are a couple:

Hummingbird
A hummingbird on the wing.

Honeybee in Flight
Even more impressive: a macro shot of a honeybee in flight.

According to Jerry, “The bee photo was a royal bitch. I was shooting micro and had a set up near a bunch of flowers.” I can only imagine how many bad shots it took before the Perfect Bee came along at just the right distance from the lens...

Update: Friday Ark #272 is afloat over at the Modulator. Fuzzy, buzzy fun!

FRIDAY RANDOM TEN

Oh, boy! It’s Friday, time once again for the weekly collection of Random Musical Selections as crapped out by the iPod d’Elisson.

This has been a busy week, what with the In-Laws here for the tail end of the Thanksgiving holiday, and the Mistress of Sarcasm moving into her new digs just east of downtown Atlanta. That involved a whole lotta schleppage of items ranging from the Small and Compact to the Bulky and Massive. But I’ve gotta hand it to the Mistress: She can spend a few days slapping on some paint, hanging a few things on the wall, and arranging her stuff, and Presto! - she’s at home.

We’ll miss having her here with us, that’s certain... but she’ll be a whole lot happier in her own place. And her commute will be a lot shorter, too.

Meanwhile, let’s take a look and see what’s playing today:
  1. Shou-Biznes - Leningrad

    А я тут перед вами кривляюсь и танцую
    Играю на гитаре пою, бля ну и хули
    А денег ведь нам платят, как кот наплакал
    Такой бля Шоу-бизнесс, ебаный мазафака

    Где ваши руки, бейте в ладоши суки
    Где ваши руки, бейте в ладоши суки
    Где ваши руки, бейте в ладоши суки

    А выпить музыканту, нужно литров пять
    Чтобы, хотя бы в ноты немного попадать
    А денег ведь нам платят, как кот наплакал
    Такой бля Шоу-бизнесс, ебаный мазафака


  2. Cowboy’s Dream #19 - Dan Hicks & His Hot Licks

  3. You And Whose Army? - Radiohead

  4. Psycho Killer - Talking Heads

  5. Rypistynyt profeetta - Tuomari Nurmio & Alamaailman Vasarat

  6. Sun King - The Beatles

    Here comes the sun king
    Here comes the sun king
    Everybody’s laughing
    Everybody’s happy
    Here comes the sun king


    Quando para mucho mi amore de felice corazón
    Mundo paparazzi mi amore chicka ferdy parasol
    Presto obrigado tanta mucho cake and eat it carousel


  7. Show Biz Kids - Steely Dan

    CHORUS:
    While the poor people sleepin’
    With the shade on the light
    While the poor people sleepin’
    All the stars come out at night

    While the poor people sleepin’
    With the shade on the light
    While the poor people sleepin’
    All the stars come out at night

    After closing time
    At the Guernsey Fair
    I detect the El Supremo
    From the room at the top of the stairs
    Well I’ve been around the world
    And I’ve been in the Washington Zoo
    And in all my travels
    As the facts unravel
    I’ve found this to be true

    CHORUS

    They got the house on the corner
    With the rug inside
    They got the booze they need
    All that money can buy
    They got the shapely bods
    They got the Steely Dan T-shirt
    And for the coup de grâce
    They’re outrageous

    CHORUS

    Show business kids making movies of themselves
    You know they don’t give a fuck about anybody else

    CHORUS


  8. Werewolves of London - Warren Zevon

  9. Hello In There (Live) - John Prine

  10. All Wi Doin Is Defendin - Linton Kwesi Johnson

It’s Friday. What are you listening to?

Thursday, December 03, 2009

NOT JUST FOR NEWTONS

These days, the only experience most people have with figs is with the fig jam that forms the core of the Fig Newton cookie.

In case you were wondering, Fig Newton is a trademark of the National Biscuit Company, AKA Nabisco. It is not named for Isaac Newton, who discovered the principle of gravitic attraction that explains why your ass weighs so much more after you eat a whole package of Fig Newtons. Rather, it is named for the city of Newton, Massachusetts, a city whose inhabitants (one could surmise) enjoyed eating those eponymous confections... confections that, when consumed in sufficient quantities, could have a pronounced laxative effect.

But there’s much more to figs than Fig Newtons.

Dried figs are pleasant enough, but they taste like pastryless Newtons to me. If I am that desperate for fiber, I’ll engulf a passel of prunes, preferably. But fresh figs - when you can get ’em - are a revelation. They have a delicate, slightly jammy flavor, meltingly sweet but not cloying. Delicious.

And if you want a dish that can perform double duty both as appetizer and dessert, why not try broiled fresh figs with Stilton cheese?

Simply stem a handful of fresh Brown Turkey or Mission figs and slice them in half, revealing their purple-pink, jewel-like interior. Put a slice of Stilton on each fig half, then run ’em under a broiler until the cheese begins to melt and turn brown at the edges.

Figs with Stilton

Sure, it’ll make your entire house smell like old socks. But it will be worth it when you taste that combination of sweet-salty-cheesy-figgy goodness!

Betcha this would be really good with a fine old Port...

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

TIGER EXPLAINS IT ALL...

...right here.

Or, more properly put, Skippy explains it all. L’affaire Tigre, that is.

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

CHEESE, LOUISE

You can keep your pies of mince
And your scented jams of quince
But give me to eat
A cheesy treat
The noble, tasty Blintz.


Cheese Blintzes
A brace of cheese blintzes, gently frying in butter.

One of the benefits of having SWMBO’s Momma visiting us is the chance to tuck into that most excellent of Ashkenazic Jewish dairy foods: the Cheese Blintz.

Technically, a blintz is a pancake. A central European sort of crêpe, if you will, gastronomically related to the Russian blini, which are, classically, wheat or buckwheat pancakes raised with yeast. (Crêpes are made without yeast, but blintzes may be made with or without.)

Blini - the archetypical blintz - are usually decorated with butter, sour cream, jam or preserves, or (even better) caviar. Blintzes, on the other hand, will typically be filled with either a mildly sweet cheese mixture or fruit, rolled up and pan-fried.

I’ve had both fruit- and cheese-filled blintzes over the years, and my vote goes for the cheese. A properly prepared blintz, pan-fried in golden butter and served with sour cream and a dab of orange marmalade alongside, is ambrosia of the highest order.

SWMBO’s Momma is a blintzeteer extraordinaire. She is the Princess of Blintzes. And she is gracious enough to share her recipe:

Cheese Blintzes - Momma d’SWMBO Style

This recipe is enough to make about 50 blintzes.

Filling
32 oz farmer cheese
3 8-oz packages cream cheese, softened
10 Tbsp butter, melted
1 tsp salt
3 egg yolks
¾ cup sugar
1 tsp vanilla
½ tsp lemon zest

Wrappers
3 cups flour
2½ cups water
1 tsp oil
3 tsp salt
12 eggs

First make the filling. Blend together the farmer cheese, softened cream cheese, melted butter, salt, egg yolks, sugar, vanilla, and lemon zest. You can use small-curd cottage cheese as a substitute for farmer cheese - just drain it as much as you can, using a cheesecloth-lined strainer. (Your filling will be a bit runnier if you use cottage cheese.)

Refrigerate the filling while you make the wrappers.

For the wrappers, beat the eggs and oil together, then add the water and mix well. In a separate bowl, blend the flour and salt, then add the liquid ingredients and whisk together. Don’t overwork the batter.

Heat an eight-inch nonstick skillet over medium-high heat and add enough batter to coat the skillet with a thin layer - about ¼ cup per wrapper. When the batter sets up, and begins to come away from the pan at the edges, it’s done - dump the pancake out on to a clean dishtowel and start on the next one.

While the next wrapper is cooking, assemble the first blintz. About one-quarter of the way up from the bottom of the wrapper, place a heaping teaspoon of filling, then roll up the wrapper around it like a burrito: center, sides, then center again to seal the edges. Place on a tray or large plate, seam-side down. If you pile the blintzes up in more than one layer, place aluminum foil between the layers to prevent sticking.

Now all you have to do is melt some butter in a skillet (enough to cover the bottom of the skillet completely) and lightly fry those bad boys until they’re golden brown on top and bottom. Serve hot, with lashings of sour cream and/or the jam/jelly/preserves of your choice.

Calories? Who gives a crap? These are blintzes, baby!