Monday, May 31, 2010


Q: Is it OK to put turkey on a Greek salad?

A: Only if you’re especially Hungary.

Friday, May 28, 2010


Eli, Hizzownself: The older you get, the less inhibited you are in many ways.

* * *

Today is Eli’s eighty-fifth birthday. Yesterday, he kicked off the morning by playing four games of doubles racquetball - something he does routinely twice a week. He only won the first and last games, a clear indication that he is slowing down.

Buffalo Eli
Eli shows his less-inhibited side.

Despite his age, our Dad is not a complete Luddite. I’m writing these words on his very own computer, the selfsame machine that The Other Elisson and I purchased as a birthday gift for him last year. After a lengthy delay, it’s now hooked up to the Inter-Webby-Net and Eli is taking his (very tentative) first steps into cyberspace.

Whether this evolves into any sort of electronic comfort zone is completely up in the air. Dad is very much a child of the pre-computer generation, from the days when secretaries would type his business correspondence, telephones did not sport automatic answering devices, and mail was something that you stuck in an envelope with a stamp.

But it’s nice to imagine him using a few rudimentary tools such as Wikipedia and IMDB... and maybe even reading this stupid-ass blog once in a while.

Errr... maybe this computer business isn’t such a good idea after all...

Thursday, May 27, 2010


This past weekend, the Mistress of Sarcasm and I enjoyed the hospitality of Elder Daughter and her two housemates.

It was our first chance to check out Elder Daughter’s new digs. Formerly living solo in an Adams Morgan apartment, E.D. moved to a large, rambling house in the rapidly gentrifying H corridor where she is part of a sort of Roomie-Family. It’s a huge improvement over her former situation.

Miss Kitty
Miss Kitty, one of the Animal Denizens of Elder Daughter’s house.

In addition to Elder Daughter and her housemates, there are several animal denizens of the residence as well. A parade of Foster-Dogs, one of whom (Craig) bears an astonishing resemblance to Laurence Fishburne, runs through at regular intervals. There’s a cat - Miss Kitty - who has adapted well to home life after having been rescued from the streets. And then there’s the appropriately-named Minnie...

Minnie - one Tiny-Ass Dawg.

...the tiniest frickin’ dog I’ve ever laid eyes on.

That Minnie is small is not too surprising when you consider her Chihuahua ancestry. But she is not just small, she is minuscule. Teeny-tiny. Small enough to be carried up Richard Gere’s ass with room left over for a whole family of gerbils.

Small enough to fit in one hand.

And she’s got a big, feisty heart, all out of proportion to her size. She takes no crap from the horde of big dogs as they traipse through the living room: She growls and barks at them like she’s ready to tear ’em a new one. Amazing.

Yet she is cuddly, in her own tiny-ass way.

Chris and Minnie
Chris and Minnie: Tiny-Ass Love.

Best yet: Minnie is Ren Hoëk personified. She even speaks with a bizarre, Peter Lorre-esque accent! Gotta love it.

Update: Friday Ark #297 is up at (where else?) the Modulator... and this week, CatSynth hosts an exceptionally well-done Carnival of the Cats #324.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010


As the month of May slips away, soon to be replaced by June, I think back on my Snot-Nose Days. Back then, we’d be in school for the first three weeks of June, our summer vacation beginning roughly around the time of the solstice.

By the time the school year had worn down to those last few days, things were downright steamy. This was back before classrooms were air-conditioned, and hundred-degree days were not unknown. You could get a sunstroke running around on the playground during recess.

In the neighborhood, the arrival of summer was marked by the arrival of the ice-cream trucks. Good Humor was the odds-on favorite, but we would occasionally see a Mister Softee or Bungalow Bar vendor, the last marked by his unique gable-roofed vehicle. My parents looked down their noses at the Bungalow Bar with disdain, a disdain I grew to share for no apparent reason; I never tasted one.

The real harbinger of summer was not the ice-cream men in their various flavors, though. It was the Mosquito Truck.

Yes! The Mosquito Truck, a forgotten institution in these post-DDT days. It was a Jeep fitted out with a device that generated prodigious volumes of Mosquito Fog, an opaque white cloud packed with dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane. Mosquitoes saw that cloud coming and simply committed suicide rather than face a horrible neurotoxic death.

How often would we kids get caught in that Fogbank o’ Doom, inhaling the chlorinated hydrocarbon perfume? Plenty often. Gawd only knows what insidious damage our little bodies sustained... but at least we were not at risk for yellow fever or malaria. And, many years later, I was happy to father children that did not have two heads, or flippers, or Froggy Eyes.

You don’t see Mosquito Trucks too often anymore... at least, not here in the States, where 1,1,1-trichloro-2,2-di(4-chlorophenyl)ethane is (metaphorically) as radioactive as plutonium and more tightly controlled than cannabis. The ban on DDT may have saved the American Bald Eagle, for which we should be grateful... but it was nice, once upon a time, to life in a (mostly) mosquito-free environment.

Does anyone else remember the Mosquito Truck?


The sharp-eyed Mistress of Sarcasm could not help but notice this Washington, D.C. taxicab’s ID number as we left last week’s TEDxPotomac conference. And I could not help but capture it for posterity as we all cracked up laughing.

Camel 2

Makes you wonder just what kind of rides this guy was selling, eh?


Smokemeisters Henry L., Jerry C., and Elisson whip out their meat.

There’s an old joke about a rabbi who is out of town on a mid-week business trip. He checks into his hotel and heads out to a local eatery... and, as he peruses the menu, a thought pops into his head.

“I’ve never tasted of the flesh of the swine,” he thinks, “and I have always wondered what it’s like.

“Surely, if I were to order pork just this one time, God would forgive me - and besides, I’m away from home, and nobody will ever find out.”

His rationalization thus worked through, he orders the whole roast suckling pig. (Might as well go “whole hog,” eh?) And as soon as the waiter disappears with the order, the rabbi is horrified to see the president of his synagogue’s Sisterhood walk into the restaurant, accompanied by her husband (the ritual director) and their two children.

Of course, they recognize their rabbi immediately and, like one would do when encountering a hometown friend in a faraway place, they come over to greet him. The rabbi gives them a friendly smile, a hearty greeting, all the while silently praying that they will just go away and be seated on the far side of the restaurant.

No such luck. They insist on having the rabbi join them... and he is in no position to refuse.

Moments later, the waiter arrives, bearing a huge domed platter. He whisks away the dome to reveal a roast suckling pig, complete with apple in mouth - and the Sisterhood president and her family gape in open-mouthed horror.

The rabbi looks at the pig, then looks at them. He looks at the pig again, then looks back at them.

“Can you believe it? I order a baked apple, and look at the big production!”

* * * * *

All this is a lengthy prologue to the story of my Birmingham barbecue adventure... competing in a kosher barbecue cook-off at an event held by the Men’s Club at Temple Beth El, the Conservative synagogue there.

[That’d be Birmingham, Alabama, not the one in Old Blighty.]

Lots more below the fold.

I couldn’t not attend, for several reasons. First, our own Men’s Club had fielded a team to compete in the cook-off. Second, I’m a regional president of Men’s Club, and I wanted to be there to represent the region. Third, and most important, barbecue is in my blood... even if it got there by osmosis from She Who Must Be Obeyed.

SWMBO, you see, is a native-born Texan... and along with Eastern European Jews, Texans are one of the two kinds of people who know how to deal with beef brisket. If you fit into both categories simultaneously, there’s no stopping you... and thus I volunteered my services.

This being a kosher cook-off, certain special rules applied. To ensure that all meats, condiments, seasonings, other food ingredients, and utensils were acceptable, these were all provided by the hosting club. The meat itself - all kosher beef brisket and ribs - was supplied by the event’s sponsor, a well-known supermarket chain.

What chain was that, Elisson? I’m glad you asked. Piggly Wiggly, of course! Who better to sponsor a kosher barbecue cook-off?

When Pigs Fly!
Who better to sponsor a kosher barbecue cook-off?

Now, it should be explained that the relationship between Jews and pigs is, generally speaking, not especially close. Because observant Jews do not eat the flesh of the porcine mammal, they do not, as a rule, get jobs as swineherds. This being said, however, Jews differ from their Abrahamic brethren the Muslims in that they do not regard mere representations of pigs with horror and loathing. The smiling Piggly Wiggly mascot offends us not a bit, nor do images of Piglet (of Winnie-the-Pooh fame), piggy banks, or even foods that look like pigs:

Pig Cake
Above: Pig Cake (contains chocolate, but no pork). Below: Panera’s Jalapeño & Cheddar Bagel Breakfast Sandwich (complete with ham and cheese). It’s OK if it looks like a pig, but not if it contains pig.

The Pig Cake pictured above is no problem for the average Red Sea Pedestrian as it contains no pork. On the other hand, despite its having been constructed with a Jewish breadstuff, the Jalapeño & Cheddar Bagel is verboten to the observant. It ain’t what it looks like, it’s what it’s made of... and even that matters only if you plan to eat it.

In any event, several members of our team arrived the night before, in order to season the meat and get it on the smoker in the wee hours of the morning. I arrived shortly after the Butt-Crack of Dawn, just in time to see the beans being assembled.

Award-Winning Beans
Our award-winning barbecue beans on the simmer.

There was competition, lots of it: twenty teams in all, with fanciful names like “Jews, Brews, and Barbecue,” “Delicious, Divine, and Devoid of Swine,” and “Limp Brizkit.” Most were local; we were the only entry that had come from a distance. And that, to be honest, was the point. We were there to make our presence known, to say hello. Taking home a trophy would be a bonus.

Our meat was ridiculously good, not least because we had gotten a head start on pretty much everybody by firing up our smoker in the dead of night.

Meat on the Smoker
Ribs and brisket.

For the last few hours, we kept the meat wrapped in heavy-duty aluminum foil to retain moisture. When I unwrapped the ribs, a puddle of orange oil - rendered out of the meat - told me that they would be heinously tender... and they were.

The drill was simple. At a designated time, the teams had to plate up five servings - first beans, then ribs, finally brisket - and deliver them unto the judging table. The dishes were then distributed amongst the twenty judges, a group comprising professional barbecue judges, local media celebrities and restaurant owners, and even a stray rabbi or two.

A few of the judges, hard at work.

We had a reasonable amount of brisket left over after plating up the judges’ samples, but it didn’t last long after our team (plus various competitors and hangers-on) descended on the remnants like a pack of starving wolves. Can’t say I blame them.

At the end of the day, we carried off two trophies - one for our beans, another for our ribs. Not bad for the visiting team! We’ll be sure to field a squad for next year’s event.

Monday, May 24, 2010


Jack: If they want to drink Merlot, we’re drinking Merlot.

Miles Raymond: No, if anyone orders Merlot, I’m leaving. I am NOT drinking any fucking Merlot!

- Sideways, 2004
It’s time for another Sommelier Guild event. This one’s at Paul’s in Peachtree Hills, and it will feature Merlots of the World... Miles Raymond’s opinion notwithstanding.

I’m hoping to see Denny there, although Houston Steve will, alas, be unable to attend. It promises to be a tasty affair indeed - here’s the menu:

Speaker’s Wine
Beringer California White Merlot 2008

First Flight
Sant’ Venezia Giulia 2003
Banfi “Mandrielle” Tuscany 2005
Casa Lapostolle Cuvée Alexandre Colchagua “Apalta” 2007

Vegetable stuffed tortelloni, sage pecan brown butter, pecorino cheese

Second Flight
Aux Trois Frères Côtes de Castillon 2005**
Château Taillefer Pomerol 2005
Château LaFleur Morange “Mathilde” Saint-Emilion 2006

Blackened Atlantic salmon, Ellijay apple salad, sugar snap peas, balsamic reduction

Third Flight
Woodward Canyon Columbia River 2001
Kenefick Ranch Napa 2005*
Stephanie (by Hestan) Napa 2006**

Char-grilled lamb chop, forest mushrooms, eggplant zucchini tart, rosemary rosette potatoes, caramelized garlic au jus

Trentadue Chocolate Amore NV**

Chocolate pecan bread pudding, caramel sauce

I won’t insult my Esteemed Readers by pretending to be suffering through this meal. No: I will enjoy every bite, and (hopefully) every sip.

Update: My favorites noted with asterisks. White Merlot? Like the ugly sister of (already unlovely) white Zinfandel... feh.

Saturday, May 22, 2010


Yeah, I know, I know. It’s not Friday.

But I spent Friday well away from the Infernal Electronickal Computational Device, running around Georgetown and other parts of the District of Columbia with Elder Daughter and the Mistress of Sarcasm. We spent the evening at Washington, D.C’s first Slideluck Potshow, an event comprising a potluck dinner and slideshow featuring the work of various visual artists. After all that, who had time to monkey around on Teh Interwebz?

Today’s non-Friday Random Ten is drawn from the selection of choons on my iPhone, given the the iPod d’Elisson sits 650 miles away back home. But there’s still plenty of Good Stuff:
  1. Free Bird Jam (live) - Ben Folds Five

  2. Act II, Scene 2: Flesh Rebels - John Adams, Nixon in China

  3. Mr. Freedom X - Miles Davis

    From 1972’s hyper-funkadelic On the Corner album, AKA “the most hated album in jazz.”

  4. Werewolves of London - Warren Zevon

    I saw a werewolf with a Chinese menu in his hand
    Walking through the streets of Soho in the rain
    He was looking for a place called Lee Ho Fook’s
    Going to get a big dish of beef chow mein

    Ah-ooooo, werewolves of London
    Ah-ooooo, werewolves of London

    If you hear him howling around your kitchen door
    You better not let him in
    Little old lady got mutilated late last night
    Werewolves of London again


    He’s the hairy-handed gent who ran amok in Kent
    Lately he's been overheard in Mayfair
    You better stay away from him
    He’ll rip your lungs out, Jim
    Ha, I’d like to meet his tailor


    Well, I saw Lon Chaney walking with the Queen
    Doing the werewolves of London
    I saw Lon Chaney Jr. walking with the Queen
    Doing the werewolves of London
    I saw a werewolf drinking a piña colada at Trader Vic’s
    His hair was perfect

    Ah-ooooo, werewolves of London
    Ah-ooooo, werewolves of London

  5. Merikäärme - Alamaailman Vasarat

  6. Inca Roads - Frank Zappa

  7. Lo Yo Yo Stuff - Captain Beefheart and the Magic Band

  8. Rat Race - The Specials

  9. Birdland - Weather Report

    Covered by numerous artists, most people are familiar with Manhattan Transfer’s version of this piece... but Weather Report’s original is far superior.

  10. Dead Man’s Dream - Procol Harum

It’s Friday Saturday. What are you listening to?

Wednesday, May 19, 2010


/Kuna on Stairs
Hakuna observes the goings-on in the kitchen from the back stairs.

This image is a composite of two shots: one taken with flash, one without. I like the coffee, cream, and chocolate colors.

Cassock Kuna 051810
Curled up comfortably on the ottoman.

Hakuna’s blue eyes are wide open as she gives me her classic Suspicious Glare. “You ain’t planning to use that damned flashy thing, are ya?”

Tuesday, May 18, 2010


Tonight marks the start of Shavuot, the Jewish Festival of Weeks... exactly fifty days from the second day of Passover.

It’s a convenient holiday on which to commemorate the Giving of the Law, for which reason it is known as z’man matan torateinu. But it has ancient agricultural roots, being observed at the time of the wheat harvest. It’s when the Israelites would bring their first fruits to the Temple in Jerusalem, a time of great rejoicing.

Back then, having food to eat was reason enough to rejoice. And having wheat meant the priests could have their barbecued beef and lamb rolled up in a nice pita bread.

In previous posts, I have referred to Shavuot as the Rodney Dangerfield of Jewish holidays: it gets no respect. But ya gotta love a holiday that, despite its having no “official” food traditions, practically requires the consumption of blintzes.

And having mentioned blintzes, how can I not mention my beloved MIL’s excellent blintzes?

Cheese Blintzes
A brace of Momma Ceil’s cheese blintzes, gently frying in genuine butter.

If you want to taste the best blintzes that ever blew down the boulevard, go here for the recipe. In the meantime, chag sameach - a Happy Shavuot. (And Happy Pentecost to our Christian friends.)


Religion is, at its root, the unprovable belief in an invisible man [who] will fuck with you until you understand just how much he loves you.” - skippystalin

* * * * *

Skippy’s definition is a pretty good one, as far as it goes. As he puts it, “If you take any major faith out of its cultural and historical context and set it up on a compound in Texas, it would look awfully silly and dangerous.” I can’t argue with that, especially the silly part, being part of a religious tradition that includes hundreds of complex, niggling rules and regulations; and as well involves, at a specific time of the year, parading around holding tree branches and fruit.

Whether or not that is more ridiculous than some of the practices of other major faith traditions - eating God comes to mind - is left as an exercise for my Esteemed Readers and their individual consciences. Ridiculous, after all, is in the eye of the beholder.

But in my mind, what you believe is not nearly as important as what you do... and one of the most important functions of any religion is how it helps its adherents deal with the most difficult life events. At the top of that list has got to be death, because that is the gateway to that Undiscovered Country none of us knows a whole lot about.

These are a few of the thoughts I had as I sat next to She Who Must Be Obeyed in the local Catholic church, saying farewell to a friend of very long standing.

* * * * *

Well, I went to the doctor
I said, “I’m feeling kind of rough.”
“Let me break it to you, son:
Your shit’s fucked up.”
I said, “My shit’s fucked up?
Well, I don't see how!”
He said, “The shit that used to work,
Won’t work now.”

- Warren Zevon, My Shit’s Fucked Up

* * * * *

We had met Mike and Patricia back in the old neighborhood, twenty-nine years ago. Along with several of the other local residents, we formed a loose confederation of friends that managed to stay in touch and intact despite numerous relocations and the occasional divorce. Together, we’ve watched our children grow into a small mob of young men and women; now we’re seeing weddings and babies, another generation beginning anew. And together, we’ve dealt with various medical scares... and we’ve dealt with loss. Now we were dealing with it again.

Mike was a true Son of Georgia, having grown up in Commerce and being graduated with a Georgia Tech degree. Very successful in business - he was a senior executive in The Southern Company - he nevertheless retained his salt-of-the-earth prankster demeanor. When he found out that he had pancreatic cancer, rather than curl up into a ball and die, he fought it tooth-and-nail for sixteen months. Alas, in the end, it won.

We sat there in the church, SWMBO and I, surrounded by the Old Gang, grieving along with Mike’s family. His wife, Patricia; their two sons David and John; his brokenhearted mother. The priest conducted a Mass of Remembrance, a church ritual that is (to SWMBO and me) strange and yet strangely familiar, given that so many elements are rooted in our common Abrahamic tradition. And so it was that our old friend was ushered into that Final Passage.

Afterwards, we went back to Mike’s home and did what people do when they lose a friend or family member: find solace in each other’s presence. Our mutual faith traditions teach us to comfort those who mourn, after all... and isn’t that what makes humans more than mere animals? That - and the curiosity to ask what is behind that dark, impenetrable Veil of Mystery.

If Heaven is being amongst that which we love the most, Mike’s Heaven will be filled with family... plenty of Georgia Tech basketball players... a whole lotta sand, sunshine, and sailboats... and maybe even a little beer.

[Me, I have no idea what awaits us, and I’m not in a big hurry to find out.]

Mike was, in his own way, fortunate. He left us all too soon, but he lived a full life up until the very end. I will miss him. Requiescat in pace, big fella!

Sails at Sunset

Saturday, May 15, 2010


“Kill the pig! Bash him in!” - William Golding, Lord of the Flies
If you own an iPhone or iPad, do not - I repeat, do not - get the game app Angry Birds.

The Missus stumbled upon it about a week ago while searching out popular iPhone apps. After downloading it for the grandiose fee of 99 cents U.S. and messing around with it for a bit, she turned me on to it. I’m not sure if I will ever be able to forgive her... because Angry Birds is insanely addictive.

There’s a backstory that sets up the game. It seems that a group of hungry green pigs - evidently the source of Dr. Seuss’s green ham - have stolen a clutch of eggs from a small flock of birds, with the intention of frying up and devouring said eggs. And the birds, understandably, are pissed off. The game proper consists of using a slingshot to shoot suicidally angry birds at various fortifications in order to demolish them, killing the pigs hiding within. As the game progresses, the fortifications become more complex... but you have at your disposal several different types of birds, each with unique destructive abilities. With the number (and types) of birds fixed for each game level, you need to control the trajectory of your shots to attack the weak points of the pigs’ hiding places.

Sure, it’s ridiculous... but the sound effects are hysterically funny, and the game has a catchy tune that plays when you complete each level.

Did I say it’s insanely addictive? Yes, I believe I did.


A few days ago, I decided to book myself an appointment with my Skin Croaker. (That’s Damon Runyonese for the dermatologist.)

Guys my age tend to spend a lot of time with the Dermo. With us, it’s not so much the pocky zits of adolescence, or even the occasional Taint-Warhead, but the effects of five or six decades of cumulative solar radiation exposure. As much as we all love a nice suntan, the radiation that tans us is also slowly trying to kill us.

When I was a young Snot-Nose, we would visit the Grand-’Rents in south Florida every year... and every year, I would roast myself to a nut-brown turn. Down the road, I may end up paying a stiff price for those childhood suntans, because Mister Skin never forgets an insult.

I know too many people who have been carried off by melanoma... including a colleague in her mid-forties who managed to survive a brain aneurysm only to succumb to malignant melanoma two years later. And so, whenever I see something that looks like it may be problematic, I hie myself down to the skin-doc and have it checked out.

She Who Must Be Obeyed had noticed a spot on my chest several months ago, and we both had been keeping our eyes on it to see whether it was changing or growing in an inauspicious manner. But after a while I decided that I didn’t like the looks of it; it was time to have the Dermo weigh in.

It took only a moment for her to make the diagnosis. “It‘s a barnacle,” she said.

Say what?

“It’s a barnacle. A skin tag. A benign actinic keratosis. People of a certain age start accumulating these things - they’re like barnacles on a boat. When you get enough of ’em, we can zap ’em off, but since it costs the same to zap one as it does to zap a dozen, you might as well wait until you get a few more. And you will get a few more.”

Sweet. I’m growing Gawd-damned barnacles.

It’s no big deal, but SWMBO has already drawn her line in the sand. “If you start growing a bunch of those things, and they start getting big and hanging off your face,” she warned, “they are coming right the fuck off.”

Well, OK, then!

Friday, May 14, 2010


What would possess a real writer - someone who actually made a successful, decades-long career out of journalism - to start a blog?

Well, considering the declining fortunes of print media, maybe it’s a case of “If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em.” It may not be a valid explanation of the facts on the ground, but it works for me.

Regardless of his reasons, my friend Nor Grebnief has decided to take up blogging. His brand-spanking-new site is called This&That; I encourage you to pay him a visit.

Even if he does cop to ironing his underwear. Yeef!

Thursday, May 13, 2010


Nutritionists will tell you that whole grains are an important part of a healthy diet.

Me, I’ve been a fan of the whole grain for years. Coarse rye bread? Westphalian pumpernickel - the kind that is as dense as white dwarf star matter, the slices of which must be pried apart with a knife due to their powerful gravitational attraction for one another? Yummy.

Whole Grain Swedish Rye
A slice of whole-grain Swedish rye bread. Mmmmmm. Grain.

When I get a Cereal Jones, I will, like as not, get out the Grape-Nuts. I discovered last year that Grape-Nuts are nothing more, nothing less than dried, ground-up knobbly bread crumbs, made from wheat and barley - yet that did not diminish their appeal. (As ridiculous a name as “Grape-Nuts” may be, it has a skosh more cachet than “Dry-Ass Bread Crumbs.”)

It occurred to me, however, that I was missing out on some grainy goodness by dumping milk on my Grape-Nuts. What if I were to up the Grain Quotient by soaking my Nuts in a grain-based product?

What if I were to have my Grape-Nuts with beer in lieu of milk?

Yes, indeedy: Beer-Nuts.

I resolved to try it forthwith. Grabbing a bottle of Newcastle, a fine brown ale, I poured a bowl of Euell Gibbon’s choicest nuggets into a bowl and proceeded to combine the two. As soon as the foam subsided, I dug in.

Grape Nuts? Check. Newcastle? Check. Spoon? Check. Church key? Check. All systems go!

More Beer-Nuts
Breakfast of Champions.

Surprisingly, the combination wasn’t bad at all. Instead of slightly sweet dairy flavors overlaid on a nutty grain substrate - the usual milk-and-cereal blend - the Beer-Nuts version was more assertive, the grain complementing the mild bitterness of the hops and kicking it into overdrive.

I will need to think of a way to exploit this. Beer-Nuts - the Brave New Breakfast!


Two beds of pansies flank the front door of Chez Elisson, and this time of year those flowers are in full bloom. Or at least, they oughta be.

On one side, the plants are in full flower. On the other, nary a bloom is to be seen. It almost looks as though something was eating the plants... but there was no evidence of the usual insectoid culprits. It was a mystery.

No longer. This evening as I was pulling out of the driveway, I saw a rabbit crouched down on the front lawn. “Cute little bunny,” I thought.

Then I watched as the nefarious little trickster hopped over to the flower bed and started glomming on those pansies. “Sonofabitch!” I thought.

I stopped the car and called She Who Must Be Obeyed, who was still in the house. “Take a look out the front door. Now we know who’s been eating the flowers.

“Try to get a picture of the little shit, willya?”

And, whipping out her trusty iPhone, she did:

The lapine perpetrator - an Eastern cottontail.

So now you know what I’ll be doing in the evenings...

“Shhhh... be vewwy vewwy quiet... I’m hunting wabbits!”

Tuesday, May 11, 2010


A two-year-old Elder Daughter (then Only Daughter) checks out her shadow.

Today is Elder Daughter’s birthday.

Alas, I will not be with her to hoist an Adult Beverage with her and drink her health, or to snarf down a chunk of birthday cake. We can blame geography for that: I’m here in Atlanta, and she’s in Washington D.C., 650 miles away. But next week, the Mistress of Sarcasm and I will pay her a visit, and so I will get a chance to extend my greetings in person then.

Washington 2006

She’s an amazing young woman, our Elder Daughter, able to juggle a busy professional life with a boatload of side projects and interests. She has lived overseas and traveled to parts of the planet I am never likely to see. She can dance up a storm and can sing with a Broadway-caliber voice. She is creative, intelligent, funny. And she is easy on the eye.

Elder Daughter, traveling companion: at the Imperial Palace in Tokyo.

If I sound like a proud and happy daddy, I am. Happy birthday, Elder Daughter!

Sunday, May 09, 2010


Every once in a while, one of my daughters will discover that something I say - an expression, comment, or observation I use frequently - is not entirely original.

An example: When someone compliments me for doing a good turn, I may occasionally respond, “Well, I am the Nice One.” One day, the girls realized that I hadn’t been the first to utter that statement - I had lifted it from the 1981 Terry Gilliam film Time Bandits, where it is spoken by Ralph Richardson as the Supreme Being.

When someone asks me how I am, I may respond, “I’m better than bad; I’m good.” Tautological, perhaps, but hardly original. Ren & Stimpy Show fans will recognize it from the fake ad for “Log.”

It’s Log
It’s Log
It’s big, it’s heavy, it’s wood
It’s Log
It’s Log
It’s better than bad, it’s good!

Today, after watching Time Bandits for perhaps the 576th time, the Mistress of Sarcasm asked me whether it was that movie that inspired me to wear colanders on my head. For it seems one of the Bandits - Fidgit, played by none other than Kenny Baker of R2-D2 fame - spends the entire film wearing a colander atop his pate.

Time Bandits
Time Bandits, 1981. Kenny Baker (second from left) sports a colander throughout the movie.

My truthful answer, for once: No. Time Bandits never crossed my mind when I first wore a Perforated Metallic Chapeau. My muse was none other than that most estimable Velociman, who had written a post about (of all things!) a vintage colander. Bah, I remember thinking. What’s the point of simply writing about mundane kitchen devices... why not use them for comic effect? Thus was born the legendary Colander Borg-Man.

I don’t claim to be the first to slap a spaghetti strainer on my dome - hell, there’s a whole bunch of idiots on Flickr who have evidently been doing it for years - but I certainly did not steal the idea from Time Bandits. (If I had, I might’ve done it sooner.)

It’s nice to know, though, that I follow in the footsteps of a Cinematic Giant (so to speak).


Or in plain English, Mother’s Day.

This is the day set aside by the Greeting Card Consortium, the Amalgamated Florist Combine and Trust, and the Restaurant Industry for honoring our maternal parents. And it is fitting and proper that we do so, for all of us who walk the planet had a mother.

My mother has been gone for twenty-two years now - I always think of her on Mother’s Day - but there are other mothers in my life.

There is Ceil, the Mom-in-Law d’Elisson, who did me the estimable service of having a daughter who would eventually become the mother of my own children. I can never thank her enough.

There is Toni, who never got to be a mom to me while I was growing up, but who momma’ed four wonderful children of her own to adulthood before meeting and marrying my daddy, Eli hizzownself.

And, of course, there is She Who Must Be Obeyed, my true love and helpmeet these past three decades and change, the mother of my two wonderful daughters. Raising our family together has been the adventure of a lifetime, filled with challenges, happiness, tears, and occasional heart-clenching fears... and it has been my great good luck to have done it all with her.

Mother and Daughter
SWMBO and the Mistress of Sarcasm enjoy Mother’s Day together. If only Elder Daughter could’ve been here...

To these wonderful ladies... and all our motherly friends near and far... Happy Mother’s Day!


Brian was one of those people who sit at stoplights picking their noses, not caring whether they have an audience. And right now he was in full-on Booger-Hunt Mode, index finger crammed into his right nostril to the second knuckle.

Success! He carefully extracted the glistening prize, pausing a moment to examine it.

Now, a decision. Roll it between his fingertips, forming a flickable pellet, or wipe it on the floormat?

Neither. He carefully applied it to the window. Within moments, his friends all knew of his achievement, thanks to the newest, most revolting social networking site of all...


Saturday, May 08, 2010


As I was preparing dinner Friday afternoon, I thought of George Washington Carver.

Carver, you may recall, was a brilliant scientist with humble beginnings. Born into slavery in Missouri in 1864, he obtained a college education despite the prodigious roadblocks African-Americans faced in the Reconstruction era South. Carver found his intellectual home when, in the closing years of the nineteenth century, he received an invitation to join the faculty of Tuskeegee Normal and Industrial Institute from its founder, Booker T. Washington. Signing on as head of the Agriculture Department, he would remain at Tuskeegee for for the rest of his life, an achievement-packed career lasting 47 years.

An accomplished agronomist, Carver created over 200 recipes using peanuts. While some 105 of these were for various foodstuffs, the rest were for non-food applications such as cosmetics, coatings, plastics, fuels, and even explosives. Yes, if you wanted to make a bomb from commonly available agricultural materials, George Washington Carver could show you how to make nitroglycerin out of peanuts.

But it was when Carver turned his attention to the sweet potato that he really came into his own.

Ipomoea batatas - the humble sweet potato - grew profusely in the South, but for years had been considered a weed, its warty orange-fleshed tubers a “clownish lampoon of a proper potato,” according to Mark Twain. Carver, however, saw a cornucopia of commercial possibilities in the garish vegetable. In his nearly five decades at Tuskeegee, he developed 117,432 different products - dyestuffs, explosives, fertilizers, medications, preservatives, construction materials, hair replacements, medical prosthetics, and many, many more - all from the sweet potato. The ocarina, a musical instrument that vaguely resembles a sweet potato (and which is in fact commonly referred to as such) experienced a nationwide surge in popularity thanks to Carver’s having played it in the Tuskeegee All-Star Jug Band. In 1940, shortly after Einstein sent his famous letter to President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Carver was the first to see the potential of the sweet potato as a source of inexpensive, clean atomic power; years later, the Navy would name its first sweet potato-powered submarine the “George Washington” in his honor. Today, a life-size statue of George Washington Carver, sculpted entirely from a single, enormous mutated sweet potato, stands at the front gate of the former Tuskeegee Normal and Industrial Institute - now Tuskeegee University.

And yet nobody was more surprised than Carver to discover that, in addition to all of these life-enhancing uses, the sweet potato was actually edible.

* * *

Yes, indeed: The sweet potato is eminently edible. And you don’t need a lot of sugar and marshmallows with which to festoon it, Thanksgiving dishes aside. Simply scrub your sweet potatoes well, rub down the exteriors with kosher salt, and bake in a 350-400°F oven until tender. A dab of butter is all you need. Or try a squeeze of lime and a scattering of chopped cilantro if you want to be exotic.

I thought of George Washington Carver - amazingly enough, the man never actually ate a sweet potato - as I was preparing a side dish, a purée of sweet potatoes and roasted garlic.

Yes, you heard that right. Sweet potatoes and roasted garlic. It’s a recipe I adapted from Chez Panisse Vegetables, a 1996 book by Alice Waters, one of the pioneers of the local/organic food movement. I’ve long had a deep respect for Chez Panisse, where She Who Must Be Obeyed and I had a memorable dinner one spring evening back in 1984. [The restaurant’s name is not, by the way, pronounced “Cheese Penis,” but, rather, should be pronounced to rhyme with “clay valise.” Don’t ask me how I found this out.]

The recipe calls for two pounds each of sweet potatoes and russet (baking) potatoes; a head of garlic, 1-2 cups of hot milk, and extra-virgin olive oil. (Having no russet potatoes on hand, I simply used sweet potatoes.) You take the head of garlic and slice the top off, drizzle it with olive oil, and wrap it in aluminum foil, then roast at 425°F for 30 minutes or so until nice and soft. The roasted cloves, aromatic and mellow, will pop right out with a little gentle pressure; reserve these. Peel and quarter the potatoes, sprinkle with a teaspoon of kosher salt, then steam them for 20 minutes or until tender. Run them (along with the reserved garlic cloves) through a food mill or ricer, then add 1-2 cups of hot milk to moisten them up. Add a splash of extra-virgin olive oil, a little freshly-ground black pepper, and you’re good to go.

This is one of those dishes that combines ingredients that you don’t expect to work well together to reveal multilayered, complex flavors. I was astonished at how good it was. Try it, and be astonished too! Ol’ George would be proud.


Ever since I saw The Time Machine - the 1960 George Pal version with Rod Taylor and Yvette Mimieux - and became hopelessly fascinated with time travel, I have loved the magic of time-lapse movies.

In a time-lapse film, hours and days flash by in seconds. Traffic becomes a pulsating river of light, and clouds puff into and out of existence. Time travel may be a physical impossibility, but thanks to the magic of the camera we can pretend that it is real.

Follow this link to Tim Tyson’s site and check out this stunning high definition time-lapse of the view overlooking the Chao Phraya river. That river, the lifeline of Bangkok, looks like nothing so much as a busy street in this speeded-up view, the boats doing their complicated, syncopated dance as the hours zoom by.

Friday, May 07, 2010


A few days ago, the Missus and I were in Harry’s Farmers Market picking up a few odds and ends. Now that it’s owned by Whole Paycheck Foods, Harry’s is a bit pricier than it was back when it really was a farmer’s market... but you still can’t beat their selection of produce. And that’s mainly what we had gone there for. That, and a bottle of sherry wine vinegar - a key ingredient of my homemade vinaigrette.

Of course, it’s almost impossible for me to stick to a fixed purchasing agenda at Harry’s. There are way too many interesting goodies to distract and entice me. Indian food? Check. German food? Check. South African goodies? Check. English candy bars? Check.

Somehow, this time, I avoided all of those temptations... only to fall under the spell of the Meat Department, where I espied a beautiful chunk of bison chuck.

Bison is purported to be much better for you than beef. Way less fat. And in my previous encounters with it, I have found it to be quite flavorsome. Just a few days ago I had made myself some bison burgers. Cooked medium rare (more on the rare side), they were nice and beefy, yet not dry despite their low fat content.

I purchased that chunk of Bison-Flesh. After all, how often does one get a chance to eat one’s high-school mascot? We made our exit, managing to get out of the store without bumping into the Food Network crew (Alton Brown, a local resident, often films segments of “Good Eats” at this Harry’s location) and took our Food-Swag home.

As far as what to do with that gorgeous chunk of meat, I had formulated my plans the moment I had laid eyes on it. It would make a fine Hungarian goulash. Sure - bison goulash! Why not?

I’ve found that, with braised or stewed dishes like Hungarian goulash, carbonnade flamande, coq au vin, beef brisket (Eastern European style), etc., their flavor improves markedly if you cook ’em a day or two in advance. You also get a chance to skim off the excess fat that rises to the surface and then congeals in the fridge.

Normally, when I make my goulash with beef chuck, I can scrape off a goodly amount of thick, orangey beef grease. (The orange color comes from the humongous amount of paprika in the dish.) But today when I brought that bison goulash-laden pan from out of cold storage, I was surprised to find that there was no fat on the surface at all!

This is huge. The flavor of beef with a whole lot less saturated fat. That’s gotta be a good thing, right? (Plus there’s that mascot business.)


Holy crap! Is it Friday already?

Why, yes. Yes, it is. And that means the weekend is almost here... so close I can practically taste it, along with the Bison Hungarian Goulash I have prepared for this evening’s repast. It also means that it’s time for yet another Friday Random Ten, the weekly Morass o’ Music as puked up by the Little White Choon Box. Oh, boy!

So - what’s on today? Lessee:
  1. All Along the Watchtower - Dave Matthews Band

    This Bob Dylan song has been covered by a small army of other notable bands, including the Jimi Hendrix Experience and Dave Mason. What does it mean? Damned if I know... but it is awfully catchy.

    “There must be some way out of here,” said the joker to the thief
    “There’s too much confusion, I can’t get no relief
    Businessmen, they drink my wine, plowmen dig my earth
    None of them along the line know what any of it is worth”

    “No reason to get excited,” the thief, he kindly spoke
    “There are many here among us who feel that life is but a joke
    But you and I, we’ve been through that, and this is not our fate
    So let us not talk falsely now, the hour is getting late”

    All along the watchtower, princes kept the view
    While all the women came and went, barefoot servants, too

    Outside in the distance a wildcat did growl
    Two riders were approaching, the wind began to howl

  2. Three Is A Green Crown - The Incredible String Band

  3. Incognito - The Judybats

  4. Look at the Sky - Original Cast, Urinetown - The Musical

  5. She Came In Through The Bathroom Window - The Beatles

  6. Morning Bell - Radiohead

  7. Right Off - Miles Davis

  8. Gimme Some Loving - Spencer Davis Group

    When I was a freshman in high school, I would listen to the radio (AM, of course) as I washed up in the morning - and I have very clear memories of listening to this 1967-vintage song.

  9. I Lost All My Money At The Cock Fights - Minus The Bear

  10. Careless Love - Madeleine Peyroux

It’s Friday. What are you listening to?

Thursday, May 06, 2010


All curled up in her little bed
She sleeps.
Whene’er she sees the Laser Dot
She leaps.
At night, in mousie-hunting stealth
She creeps.

Hakuna curls up for a nap... not in her little bed this time, but on the ottoman in the den.

Hakuna lives the life of Reilly these days. (If Reilly were a cat, that is.)

Long, languorous naps in the daytime... a few frenetic sessions of Laser Dot chasing... and nocturnal hunting expeditions that leave her collection of Fake Mousies scattered throughout the house. For a kitty, it doesn’t get much better than this.

Friday Ark #294 is afloat at the Modulator - and this Sunday, Carnival of the Cats #321 will be hosted by Nikita at Meowsings of an Opinionated Pussycat. Be sure to stop by and visit... and tell ’em Elisson sent ya!

Update: CotC #321 is up... but at Life from a Cat’s Perspective, where Samantha, Clementine, and Maverick have done a fine job of pinch-hitting after medical issues sidelined Nikita’s human companion.

Wednesday, May 05, 2010


requires no batteries, stores images or alphanumeric characters with equal ease. Data retrieval uses principle of SELECTIVE REFLECTION™ in conjunction with electromagnetic radiation source (not included). Access any part of your database with simple manual operation! Available pre-programmed with large variety of software.

Store below 451°F.


* * *

With technology like Amazon’s Kindle, smartphones, and Apple’s unfortunately-named iPad, one could very well wonder what the future holds for printed books.

There is, as there always is, a tradeoff. Reading a book with the latest portable Ars Electronica means forgoing some of the sensory pleasures of page and print: the tactile qualities of the paper, the subtle smell of the binding, the feeling of holding an object that has both physical and intellectual substance. These are important qualities, especially in certain books that celebrate the publisher’s and designer’s arts. McSweeney’s offerings come to mind, as do the leather-bound tomes sold by the Easton Press... and, in the Olden Days, the products of the beloved Heritage Press.

But then there’s the portability factor. One hand-held device can hold an entire library’s worth of books, which certainly is convenient if you want to polish off a shelf-load of stupid-ass Danielle Steele novels during your beach vacation. To an old gink like me, a Kindle will never have the home-enriching beauty of a shelf full of books, but at least you can carry a pile of cheesy novels around with you without giving yourself a hernia... and without people seeing that instead of reading War and Peace you’re working your way through the latest Kitty Kelley hatchet job.

I do not own a Kindle, nor do I have any plans to purchase one. If ever I should invest in an iPad, it will be driven by other applications besides electronic readers. But since I do have an iPhone, I gave the Kindle app a whirl, purchasing Lincoln’s Dreams, Connie Willis’s 1987 novel about a woman who has horrifyingly detailed dreams about the Civil War, seemingly via a direct channel into Robert E. Lee’s mind.

The novel itself was good enough, although not on a par with Doomsday Book (1992), Willis’s Hugo and Nebula Award-winning magnum opus. Reading it on my iPhone was no problem; the type was comfortably large, even if (given the small screen size) each page took only a few seconds to read.

It was not too deep into the book, however, that I began to notice a huge number of apparent typos... the kind of typos that result from scanning printed pages and converting them to a text file with an OCR program. However good your OCR software may be, there will always be errors - and this Electro-Book was packed with ’em. It made for a certain low level of background annoyance (never a good thing while reading) resulting from having to stop and decipher a nonsense word every couple of pages.

I will therefore not be in a hurry to download more books to my iPhone.

Sure, it was cheaper than a print edition. Plenty faster delivery, too. And I’ve heard all the clichés: caveat emptor, you get what you pay for, et cetera. But if this Electronickal Literature business is ever to get off the ground, publishers will need to have a little respect for their readers. Proofread and correct your fucking publications, will ya?!?

Meanwhile, a question: How long will it be, d’you suppose, before printed books are as obsolete as Egyptian papryrus... or a clay tablet inscribed with cuneiform symbols?


Today is the fifth of May, AKA Cinco de Mayo - a holiday that celebrates Mexico’s 1862 victory over the French in the Battle of Puebla.

It’s not much, as holidays go. Most Mexicans ignore it, with the exception of those living in the state of Puebla. In that respect it’s a little like the Mexican equivalent of Shavuos.

Surprisingly, however, Cinco de Mayo is a big deal in the United States, having been observed in California since the mid-1860’s. Presumably, Californians were happy to see Mexico kick France in the ass back then, but now the day has become one of those Celebrations of Ethnicity that Americans love so much. We have Saint Patrick’s Day for the Irish, Columbus Day for the Italians, Oktoberfest for the Germans (a whole month in order to provide sufficient calendrical lebensraum), and Chinese New Year for the Chinese (who simply refer to it as “New Year”) - so why not a day for our friends south of the border?

Besides, we Americans love our food and drink - so what better than a holiday the observance of which consists of drinking yourself silly on Margaritas and then stuffing your face with good, healthy Mexican food?

Me, I’m not much of a Margarita drinker. I prefer my tequila reposado or añejo neat, or with a shot of sangrita, that quintessential Mexico City chaser... but if ever I do visit Margaritaville, I like mine straight up, Martini-style. The ice-headache-inducing frozen goop that passes for a Margarita in most places? You can keep it.

Better yet, pass me the single malt Scotch. Salud!

Tuesday, May 04, 2010


Another Shopping Center

In this modern era of Environmental Consciousness, recycling is all the vogue. As it should be: Anything that can mitigate the effects of our wasteful American love of everything disposable is a Good Thing.

It’s not a new concept by any means. When I was a young Snot-Nose, soft drinks were sold in heavy glass bottles. You would bring back the empties when it came time to reload tour Soda-Pantry, and you would receive a deposit... something on the order of two cents a bottle. That was real money to a kid in those days when a bottle of Coke cost a thin dime. The bottles would be shipped back to the bottling company, where they would be cleaned and reused. There was a lot of transportation involved, but it made sense when fuel was three gallons for a dollar.

Stores like Whole Paycheck Foods make a big deal about their commitment to the environment. They sell reusable grocery bags, which patrons are encouraged to use in lieu of disposable plastic bags. And despite the fact that I spent years in the pay of the Great Corporate Salt Mine selling hundreds of millions of pounds of plastic to those selfsame folks who make those disposable bags, I’m all for the reusable bag. They’re sturdy, and they hold a metric shitload of groceries. If I could only remember to bring the Gawdforsaken things into the store with me.

Speaking of Whole Paycheck Foods, they’re building one just up the road from us, in a perfect spot to duke it out for the Upscale Foodie Dollar with Fresh Market and Trader Joe. It’s at a shopping center yclept Merchant’s Walk, an open-air mall sort of affair that was built in the late 1970’s and that was heavily renovated sometime back in the 1990’s. I guess commercial space of this type has a useful lifecycle of some 20-25 years, after which it needs to be torn down and built anew... which is exactly what Whole Foods is doing. Recycling on a grand scale, you could call it.

Great swaths of the former Merchant’s Walk have been leveled, razed to the ground, in order to accommodate the new Whole Foods and its peripherals. Where once was a (defunct) Media Play store and a branch of the county library now stands flat land festooned with mountains of Asphalt-Chunks, bricks, concrete, and other detritus. A Wachovia Bank branch was torn up and carted away... but not before another one was built 200 feet south of it.

Say what?

Yes: They built a new bank right next door to the old one, which they then tore down. Suddenly that doesn’t sound so “recycly” any more, does it?

It seems one of the provisions Whole Paycheck Foods insisted on when they agreed to fund this massive piece of reconstruction was that their store be visible from the street... and the old bank, situated on a slight rise, was blocking the view. The solution? Remove the bank and the hill it sat on.

According to the Whole Foods website, one of their corporate Core Values is “caring about our communities and our environment... We respect our environment and recycle, reuse, and reduce our waste wherever and whenever we can.” Perhaps... but am I the only one who mourns the loss of that little hill upon which the bank once sat?

They may sell pricey organic free-range broccoli and locally raised quail. They may sell delicate baby arugula that is picked as lovingly and as thoroughly as your pocket is picked at the checkout stand... but they’re Big Organic, and at the end of the day, their environmentalism rings just a tad hollow. Or am I just being cranky?

Monday, May 03, 2010


One of the first things they teach you in Newspaper School is how to write headlines. It’s a tricky business.

You have to convey a lot of information in a short space, and you have to make sure the headline looks good on the page. Two-line headlines have to be written so that there is a natural conceptual break between the lines; the lines must also be the right length to fit the column. Awkwardness is a constant danger.

Headlines should use the active voice. In addition, they have a few stylistic quirks that differentiate them from body text. One example: Quotes are enclosed in single, rather than double, quotation marks.

Avoid “headlinese”... unless you write for Variety, where headlines like “Mick, Nick nix pix” are part of the house style. Resist the urge to get cute or to editorialize. And watch out for double entendres. A headline like “Textron Inc. Makes Offer To Screw Co. Stockholders” (a real example) is not going to please the folks at Textron - or at the screw company.

It’s a lot of rules to remember, so it isn’t too surprising when someone messes up: an epic fail by the Woonsocket (Rhode Island) Call, indeed.

[Tip o’ th’ Elisson fedora colander to Ole Phat Stu for the link.]

Sunday, May 02, 2010


We Americans love our Silly Shit. If you doubt that, just turn on the TeeVee any Sunday evening, when you can see the spiky-haired Guy Fieri hosting the latest silly-ass game show, “Minute to Win It.”

The show is simplicity itself. A contestant is given an increasingly difficult series of stunts to perform, with sixty seconds to perform each one successfully. Get the job done and you win prize money; screw up enough times and you go home unhappy. The stunts are fairly uncomplicated tasks, usually involving some sort of physical dexterity or coordination; props are basic items like playing cards, plastic cups, and ping-pong balls. The Philip Glass-like music that plays while the robotic-voiced female announcer explains each task is a surprisingly high-toned bonus.

Of course, all of this has been done before... and on a much lower budget. I’m referring to the vintage TV game show “Beat the Clock,” in which contestants were given sixty seconds to perform various stunts with props that usually consisted of simple household items. “Beat the Clock” was a television fixture in its original run from 1950 to 1961, a time when contestants would actually get foam-at-the-mouth excited about the prospect of winning a C-note. But in American popular culture, everything old shall be new again... and so we have “Minute to Win It.” It’s the closest thing we have to an authentic Japanese game show (except for “I Survived A Japanese Game Show,” which is really a meta-gameshow). To make MTWI more authentic, all the producers need to do is add a liberal dose of Contestant Humiliation. They’d really have something then.

I have no idea whether the show is any kind of success. Given the continuing devolution of the National Taste, however, I suspect the producers are printing money by the ream.

Personally, I’d prefer to watch Guy Fieri in his native Food Network environment, pounding down monster portions of Diner Food and popping his patented Shit Eatin’ Grin at the camera. But that’s just me.