Top Ten Disney Animated Films, Revisited

Maybe it was just a break from our usual “convos” about sports or music, but there came a day when Zack and I got to considering the canon of Disney animated films. What were our favorites? Favorite characters? Best music?

From the post in 2006, “I rattle off my top 3, thinking mainly music: Beauty and the Beast, Little Mermaid, Sleeping Beauty… He counters: Jungle Book, Aladdin, and The Lion King… although the music is key for me, Zack feels it’s secondary… Then he tosses down the gauntlet to me, “and my Parrot (Aladdin) trumps your Crab (Little Mermaid)!”

Then I upped the ante: “In an unprecedented move I have decided to list my 10 favorite Disney’s in a specific order (as opposed to an alphabetic listing of the Top Ten)… each film listed is accompanied with a few articulate observations and enlightening details. Bear in mind, I’m not a movie critic… and who knows, next year I might change my mind, and besides, you can never tell what new magic Disney may produce”.

OK. I have seen any number of Disney films over the last 13 years, both in the theatre and on DVD; and after reading through my list from 2006, I thought that a repositioning of my Top Ten Favorites was in order. Yes, changes abound. Five titles have been dropped, and there has been some internal shuffling on the remaining five.

My List from 2006

  1. Beauty and the Beast
  2. Sleeping Beauty
  3. The Little Mermaid
  4. Lion King
  5. Aladdin
  6. Winnie the Pooh
  7. The Jungle Book
  8. Fantasia
  9. Pinocchio
  10. Robin Hood

My List, Updated 2019

  1. Beauty & the Beast (1991)

    Beauty and the Beast

    I think I have seen this film more times than Casablanca, and that alone is reason to secure this Disney in my top spot. From the opening sequence when David Ogden Stiers intones the “backfill” to the story, to the ending credits when Celine Dion and Peabo Bryson sing their version of the title track, I am in my glory.

    Above all, I love the music… and in particular the staging of the initial musical number with Belle walking into town… interacting with the locals. And then, more spectacular, the waltz scene has a “state of the art” 3D quality and plays to Angela Lansbury’s more vulnerable version of the title track… a version I actually prefer to the ending track. There is more, also memorable is the ensemble rendition of “Something There” which is well presented with the music simply backing the sequence when Belle’s tenderness for the Beast emerges.

    Other Disney story lines maybe superior… but this is simply my favorite… and when I need 40 winks, I will seek out a couch, get comfy and wait for the music to ease me… tale as old as time…

  2. Sleeping Beauty (1959)

    Sleeping Beauty

    When “Disney naps” became a feature of my life, this film got its major boost into a top 10 slot. Unlike other Disney’s that feature original songs and scoring (songs, by the by, that often are Academy Award winners), Sleeping Beauty’s score is predominately adapted from Tchaikovsky’s Ballet Suite of the same name. And I love Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker, Swan Lake, and Sleeping Beauty. I have never tired of their main themes.

    And as much as I love the music, Sleeping Beauty features one of my favorite “bad guys” (but in this case the “bad guy” is a lady): the powerful sorceress Maleficent.

    And for humor, I love the scene in the cottage when Fauna, Flora, and Merryweather get busy making a cake and special dress for the Princess Aurora’s Birthday.

    But when all is said and done… for me, it’s about the music.

  3. Tangled (2010)

    Rapunzel

    I love the color palette used in this film. Softer tones… more like pastel rather than oil. This effect is well seen in the outdoor settings around Rapunzel’s Tower, as well as in the dance scene in the town. The story line is one of Disney’s best, supported with very clever dialogue. Funny, rich with sarcasm and a touch of smart-ass.

    The assembled thugs at the Snuggly Duckling Tavern are brilliantly drawn, and are turned into a rogue’s band of “merry men” who contribute to the developing mayhem in the plot.

    I never tire of the scene when Flynn first meets the frying-pan-wielding Rapunzel in the tower. It is hysterical, loaded with classic rapid fire slapstick sequences.

    But the prize in this film has to go Mother Gothel, as evil a looking crone if ever there was one, but who we see predominantly as a rather chic-looking-diva-Cher wannabe. A splendid “bad guy” in the best of Disney tradition. She has show piece songs, and wonderful lines: “Rapunzel, look in that mirror. Do you know what I see? I see a strong, confident, beautiful young lady…. Oh look, you’re here too!”

  4. Alice in Wonderland (1951)

    Alice with caterpillarI don’t recall seeing this film in a theatrical release. And truth be told, I only picked it up in the DVD a couple of years ago. In short time it has become one of my Disney favorites. This movie has more songs and characters than any other Disney animated film. And while I usually place highest stock in music, my love of this film is based on the “hodge-podge” of characters that populate the film’s vignettes.

    Each sequence has its featured performer. There is a talking door knob, the Mad Hatter (superbly voiced by Ed Wynn), the Cheshire Cat (Sterling Holloway of Winnie the Pooh fame), the March Hare, the oyster-eating Walrus, the White Rabbit and the highly irritable Queen of Hearts.

    But my favorite character is the hookah-smoking caterpillar. Although the film offers an excellent collection of unconnected scenes, the caterpillar scene is my favorite. The caterpillar draws a puff from his hookah, sends a ring of smoke in the air, and corrects Alice’s recitation, “That is not spoken correctically. It goes: How doth the little crocodile improve his shining tail. And pour the waters of the Nile, on every golden scale. How cheerfully he seems to grin, how neatly spreads his claws. And welcomes little fishes in with gently smiling jaws.”

  5. The Little Mermaid (1989)

    Little Mermaid

    I love the opening sequence showing the wooden ship pitching in the rolling sea… we listen to Fathoms Below and then follow the path of a fish that escaped from the deck of the ship to the undersea world of Triton, King of the Mer-people, Ariel his daughter, and a terrific villainess, Ursula the Sea Witch (wonderfully drawn with a fabulous voice over by Pat Carroll).

    But the character who steals the show is Sebastian the Crab. His lilting “island accent” sets the tropical tone of the film… and I don’t whether Samuel E. Wright, Sebastian’s voice, sounds like that naturally or if the accent is staged. No matter, he is a perfect and he leads two songs that both get nominations for the Academy’s Best Song Award: Kiss the Girl and Under the Sea… which is why the “crab” takes Aladdin’s “parrot” hands down.

  6. The Jungle Book (1967)

    The Jungle Book

    This Disney has a real good story line and another all star cast of voices. My favorite voice is George Sanders as the Tiger Shere Khan. I have a real soft spot for Sanders… his role as the supreme cad Addison DeWitt in All About Eve combined the elegant sophisticate with the low gutter snipe. In Shere Khan he brings that lofty patrician Lloyd Harbor tone combined with the menacing sense of evil.

    Then there is Sterling Holloway, one of my Disney favorites (Winnie the Pooh and the Cheshire Cat), this time in the role of Kaa the Snake. Phil Harris as Baloo the Bear is lovable and hugable… I just have a hard time squaring the Disney image with his public persona of the hard boozing, heavy smoking reprobate of Vegas lounge acts. Louie Prima as King Louis is top stuff, too. As is Sebastian Cabot’s Bagheera.

    But my favorite character is Pat O’Malley’s Colonel Hathi of the Elephant Dawn Patrol. He executes a near perfect parody of the aging British Officer serving out his time is some Colonial backwater, reliving memories and glories of “Chinese” Gordon and Khartoum.

  7. Peter Pan (1953)

    Peter Pan

    This is not only a terrific Disney “classic” film, Peter Pan is also a terrific attraction at Disney World! And what’s the best part of the ride? It’s when your pirate ship flies above the City of London and circles Big Ben. The illusion is perfect! A superb rendition of the scene from the film.

    Yes, Peter Pan has an engaging story line, but I watch this film as often as I do because of Hans Conried! He, the voice of both Mr. Darling and Captain Hook. If there was a contest for Best Disney Voice characterization, Hans Conried would be a finalist (and favored to win!).

    Captain Hook is Disney’s most lovable villain. More bumbling than truly evil, yet skilled in the art of intrigue. And besides, he was a snappy dresser!

  8. Moana (2016)

    Moana

    Great characters, good story, funny lines, a tropical beach setting and Lin-Manuel Miranda’s music. Need I say more? This is the most recent Disney release to make my Top Ten!

    Once again we meet an outrageous scene stealer: “Do you know who Maui is? Only the greatest demi-god of all the Pacific Islands, with his magical fish hook he slowed down the sun, pulled islands out of the sea, battled monsters! And I should know, because I’m Maui.”

    Maui, oversized and with a penchant for perfectly timed side-splitting sarcasm! And he has a show-stopping tune “Thank You” that dips into some clever rap:

    Well, come to think of it, kid, honestly I can go on and on
    I can explain every natural phenomenon
    The tide, the grass, the ground, oh
    That was Maui just messing around

    I killed an eel
    I buried its guts
    Sprouted a tree, now you got coconuts
    What’s the lesson?
    What is the take-away?
    Don’t mess with Maui when he’s on the break-away

    But by far the best and most clever song (“Shiny”) is reserved for the giant crab Tamatoa. And it certainly sounds like Lin-Manuel Miranda was channeling David Bowie with the tune.

    Did your granny say listen to your heart
    Be who you are on the inside
    I need three words to tear her argument apart
    Your granny lied!

    I’d rather be shiny
    Like a treasure from a sunken pirate wreck
    Scrub the deck and make it look
    Shiny

    Shiny indeed. And this film shines on all levels. From charm, to funny, to poignant, to scary and back again!

  9. Pinocchio (1940)

    Pinocchio

    This is one of my favorite Disney story lines, and more than anything I love how the characters are drawn… I don’t like cats but Figaro is a cat you want to cuddle, only Disney artists could create a flirt in the form of Cleo the goldfish, and Monstro as the whale frightened me when I was a kid… but my favorites in the cast were Stromboli the “impresario” and Lampwick the juvenile delinquent.

    The opening scenes in Geppetto’s work shop remains one of my favorite sequences. Jiminy warming his tush by the log fire, the clocks, and the merry dancing after the Blue Fairy converts the lifeless marionette into a wooden boy.

    And yes, I have a soft spot for Jiminy Cricket, too. You got to love “small folk”. And his rendition of “When You Wish Upon a Star” garnered an Academy Award for the Best Song.

    n.b. The voice for Honest John’s side kick Gideon is Mel Blanc — he of Warner Bros. cartoon fame.

  10. Hercules (1997)

    Hercules

    This is the long shot, or the surprise from left field, or I have only seen it fully thru once! Then, you may ask, how did this happen? If blame is to be cast, look to Zack. Hercules was completely off my radar. I didn’t see the theatrical release, nor did I see it in DVD. Until. Until Zack told me that the drawing of Hades, and his voice characterization (James Woods), was beyond Mars.

    Zack underprojected! I loved the film. And I have an interest in antiquity that touches on Greek mythology. Disney spins the classical muses into a Motown singing group. Thumbs up on that!

    But that’s not why Zack pointed me to this film. It was James Woods’ portrayal of Hades.

    Hard to believe that based off of one viewing of this film, it would make my Top Ten. That speaks to how fabulous Hades is!

    And it’s not only me who thinks highly of Hades —

    “The role of Hades is one of James Woods’ all-time favorite characters. So much so, any time Disney needs him to reprise the character for any cartoon show and video game, such as Hercules: The Series or Kingdom Hearts, he has agreed to do so. When this film was about to go over-budget, he offered to refund his salary and finish the film for free. Disney decided against this, and finished the film anyway.”

The Afterword

Fun for me to review my choices from 13 years ago. As I predicted in my original post, things can change. What we love today, we might not love as much tomorrow. And who knows when something new will catch our eye and heart. From my original Top Ten, the loss that troubles me most is “Fantasia.” I love the music in the film so much, that I can enjoy the variety of pieces with my eyes closed. Yet the animation adds a special dimension to the music that should never be kicked to the curb.

Maybe the problem is limiting what you love to a Top Ten format?
The Lion King and Aladdin are both missing here. So is Lilo and Stich, and Frozen. And more can be mentioned.

Sometimes you just have to go thru the discipline of picking “win-place-and-show”. Which is what I have done… just expanded it to: Win, Place, Show… yadda, dadda, dah — to ten.

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Church on Fire

I so admired you both for the wonderful friendships that you had. Even for me, 11 & 9 years your junior, I loved that you had friends that felt that 25 Alston Avenue was a welcoming place. And while I was far removed from your social activities, there were brief episodes when I could revel in the joy of that camaraderie, while still being very junior in your company.

Was there a better place for spending time with friends than our kitchen? Maybe. But of the night that I am thinking, it was the kitchen that was the “stage” on which an epic event occurred – and to which I now relate (to the best of my ability… remembering, that I was quite “junior”).

I assume the day was a weekend. A weekend night. Other than you, the only person who I can remember that was there: Jeff Gordon. Although I am sure others were involved. Judy Poverman? “Hangin’ out” was an expression that was not in vogue then, but it describes what you were doing. If memory serves, folks were standing around, and maybe one or two of you were perched up on the counters that framed the kitchen space. Why was Jeff Gordon stretched out on to the floor, I can’t say. Not enough room on the counters? No comfortable place to lean up against? Maybe just looking to take a load off his feet?

Regardless. There he was, a step or two before the refrigerator. Hands comfortably clasped below his head and sharing in with the conversation.

Enter Dad. He surveyed the scene of young people in the kitchen. And then made his way to the fridge looking to have a cold beverage to relieve a thirst. He steps over Jeff… and it is my assumption that he in no way wished to distract from the conversation at hand… but he definitely was aware that Jeff was an impediment to accessing his route to the fridge.

Notwithstanding, Dad takes a seltzer bottle from the fridge, and I am confident that his original intent was to drink a good sized glass of seltzer, and then he paused. Why?

Why? Well… let’s just say it was “Dad being Dad.”

He paused, he sniffed the air. And then announced, “I think I smell a church on fire!” And with this, he shot a healthy stream of seltzer into Jeff’s snoot.” Jeff, innocent Jeff, unsuspecting Jeff, defenseless Jeff, Jeff lying on the floor with hands clasped behind his head.

As a result, Dad had “unleashed the beast”, and I think a more typical “teenaged water fight” ensued. It may have spread to other rooms in the house. But for sure, shrieks and laughter abounded & 25 Alston Avenue suffered no serious damage.

Ultimately, cooler minds prevailed. Perhaps sadly.

Over the years, there have been occasions when the “Church on Fire” story has been illuminated in our shared stories. Or, invoked as a possible activity… as in: “Shall we do puzzles tonight, or play Church on Fire?”

How could we not feel the warmth from that weekend night? There is nothing that surpasses a beautiful memory that produced such joy, laughter & mayhem.

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2018, A Year in Wine Tastings: Top Ten Wines

In 2018 I led 63 Wine Tastings, mostly in the Grapes Bordeaux Room, a few in private homes. Over the course of the year there was a high degree of diversity to the themes. From modest wines that we enjoy with “comfort foods” on an everyday basis, to exclusive Grand Cru wines of Burgundy that are meant for the cellar. We covered wines regionally — Rioja, Sicily, Napa, to name a few. We looked at varietal comparison — including Zinfandel, Pinot Noir and Riesling.

From last year’s Tastings I have put together my Top Ten Wines tasted. {SPOILER ALERT: the wines selected are not necessarily the best wines tasted — although some are — rather each of these wines simply declared: “look at me!” Wines in each case raised an eyebrow and were wonderfully satisfying.} Before we head to the listing there are four additional points to make.

  1. The wines are listed alphabetically, so give no weight to the order.
  2. There are actually 16 Wines in the Top Ten. The “rough cut” number was 31, so as you can see, I did some serious pruning.
  3. I love tasting wines that are unfamiliar to me. Part of knowing a “little bit” about wine is that it can cloud our judgment when we critically examine what’s in the glass. A wine from a known producer, or a wine that we have tasted in previous vintages can predispose us to liking or not liking a wine. It’s human nature! Therefore, it’s understandable (at least to me) that my Top Ten is populated almost entirely of wines that were completely new to me – with the following exceptions: the two Châteauneufs, Pierre Gimonnet, Clos Henri and Dal Forno.
  4. I wanted to resist putting in two wines of the same type/region into my list. This proved impossible to do. Why? Because we had two “monster” vintages from Châteauneuf available to taste: 2015 and 2016. And it would have been a crime against wine not to have each vintage represented in my Top Ten.

Aia Vecchia Bolgheri Superiore Sor Ugo ’14 (Tuscany, Italy)

Aia Vecchia is the name of an old building which is today the centre of a company deep in the Tuscany countryside between Bolgheri and Castagneto Carducci. The property consists of 69ha, 30 of which are under vine. The 2014 Sor Ugo is a blend of 50% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Merlot, 15% Cabernet Franc and 5% Petit Verdot. Aged for 18 months in new Allier barriques. In the glass, the wine shows colors of red garnet accompanied by a bouquet of cherries, menthol and a hint of rosemary. On the palate, the wine is round and rich without being overpowering. It is spicy on the mid-palate and lively on the back-end, with flavors of black current, licorice and coffee, followed by a long-lasting finish that is slightly minty and boasts a juicy mouth-watering sensation.

Best’s Great Western Riesling ’17 (Victoria, Australia)

Great Western is part of Central Victoria’s Grampians wine region – one of Australia’s most historic and highly regarded wine regions. The first grapes were planted at Great Western during the 1850s as the gold mining boom receded and people looked for a more permanent means of livelihood. Another floral riesling showing lots of acacia, honeysuckle and cherry blossoms. Medium-bodied with some fleshy tropical and stone fruit, which are delivered in quite a friendly manner across a bed of steely acidity and right through to the tangy finish. 93pts James Suckling

Celler Cecilio Gratallops Black Slate ’15 (Priorat, Spain)

The Black Slate series wines are produced by different producers from different villages of Priorat for US importer Eric Solomon, as is the case of the 2015 Black Slate Gratallops from Celler Cecilio. They want to show the character of the Priorat grapes in the different villages. It’s a blend of Cariñena, Garnacha and Syrah from (guess what?) slate soils that fermented separately with indigenous yeasts and with 20% of the volume being raised in oak barrels for some eight or nine months. I noticed the Syrah here, combined with classical Gratallops sweet Garnacha and a pinch of spices. The palate is medium-bodied, with the fine slate texture, generous, warm and showy, but without excess, with the graphite holding it together. This is a Gratallops Vi de Villa. 90pts Wine Advocate

Ch. Doisy-Védrines ’15 (Barsac, Bordeaux)

The 2015 Doisy-Védrines might very well be one of the best values in all of Bordeaux. Aromatic intensity is mirrored on the palate, where the wine reveals remarkable depth and richness. A host of apricot jam, wild flowers, honey and hazelnut notes flesh out in the glass. Creamy, unctuous and incredibly inviting, the Doisy-Védrines hits all the right spots. This is a superb showing from the Castèja family. 95pts Vinous; 95pts Wine Advocate; 94pts Wine Spectator

Clos Henri Pinot Noir ’14 (Marlborough, NZ)

The 2014 Pinot Noir has a pale ruby color and slowly evolving nose of warm cranberries, mulberries and kirsch with underlying notes of black earth, truffles and mossy bark. It packs a lot of red berry and earth flavor layers into an elegant, medium-bodied palate, with firm, chewy tannins and a refreshing acid line to support, finishing with lingering savory notes. 91+pts Wine Advocate; 93pts James Suckling

Clos St. Antonin Châteauneuf du Pape ’15 (Southern Rhône, France)

The Sabons of Domaine de la Janasse purchased this sizable estate in the Côtes du Rhône in 2015, making this the first vintage for them under this label. To complete the Clos Saint Antonin range of wines, the family selected two parcels that previously went into Domaine de la Janasse to create a Châteauneuf du Pape for Clos Saint Antonin. It’s an overnight success. “The gem of the collection is the 2015 Chateauneuf du Pape. Selected from two lots that used to go into Domaine de la Janasse’s bottling, this is redolent of ripe berries and stone fruit, with a lush, silky, nearly weightless feel on the palate. It’s a lovely example of the delicate, elegant style of Grenache increasingly being produced from Châteauneuf’s sandy soils. Aged in a combination of concrete vats and foudres, it should drink well for 10 years or more.” 94pts Wine Advocate

COS Cerasuolo di Vittoria Classico ’14 (Sicily, Italy)

A blend of Nero d’Avola and Frappato. The 2014 Cerasuolo di Vittoria Classico reveals beautiful integrity and elegance with wild raspberry, blue flower and raw pistachio nut that is a bit sweet and salty at the same time. Buoyant and bright berry fruit takes center stage and although there are some post-fermentation aromas that might stick out to some experts, I embrace them as an integral part of this unique wine’s distinctive personality. The bouquet is almost electric. It has many elements that recall a young Nebbiolo with powdered licorice, cola and dried ginger. I tasted this wine from vat and tasted it again as a finished product. The label has been restyled to boast one of the most distinctive and contemporary designs I have even seen in Italian wine. 94+pts Wine Advocate

Dal Forno Romano Valpolicella Superiore Monte Lodoletta ’10 (Veneto, Italy)

The 2010 Valpolicella Superiore Monte Lodoletta is more precise and focused compared to the 2011 edition that I tasted at the estate at the same time. This was not an easy vintage in Valpolicella compared to other parts of Italy that enjoyed a classic growing season. Instead, this Northern corner of Italy suffered from heavy rains and some hail damage. Overall yields were lower as a result. But the wine sings in terms of its brightness and aromatic intensity today. The expressive bouquet covers all the bases from black fruit to spice to drying mineral or flint. All of these elements conspire to bring robust flavors together with smooth and seamless transitions. 95pts Wine Advocate

Domaine Faiveley Grand Cru Mazis-Chambertin ’12 (Côte de Nuits, Burgundy)

The 2012 Mazis Chambertin Grand Cru from Faiveley has a beguiling nose with brambly red berry fruit, damp earth, cold flagstone and just a faint smear of marmalade. The palate is medium-bodied with fine, supple tannin matched with assiduous acidity that lends tension and poise. It is quite backward, even compared to other grand cru 2012s, but there is the substance and the breeding here to suggest a seriously long and pleasurable evolution. This is one of the standouts of the Côte de Nuits. 97pts Wine Advocate; 95pts Burghound; 94+pts Vinous

Domaine Font de Michelle Châteauneuf du Pape ’16
(Southern Rhône, France)

Third-generation Guillaume Gonnet is firmly in charge of winemaking at this family domaine, situated just up the road from Vieux Télégraphe. I tasted a number of lots that will go into the 2016 Chateauneuf du Pape, including a Grenache out of vat that included nearly 10% white varieties. This was ripe and pure, with lovely fruit and spice. A Syrah from 800-liter new oak was rich, velvety and warm, while a blend of Grenache and Counoise was more pomegranate-like and tart but with silky tannins. A prospective blend Gonnet prepared was creamy and lush, with no obvious oak and just a slight bit of warmth on the lengthy finish. 94pts Wine Advocate

Domaine Paul Blanck Riesling Grand Cru Schlossberg ’14 (Alsace, France)

Growing vines since 1620, the Blanck family founded their Domaine in Kientzheim only in 1921. Lead today by Philippe (sales) and Frédéric (winemaking) Blanck, the family company cultivates a total of 35 hectares of vines, of which 50% are situated in the prestigious Grand Crus Schlossberg, Fürstentum, Mambourg, Sommerberg and Wineck-Schlossberg. The 2014 Riesling Schlossberg has a very deep, rich and mineral, as well as herbal bouquet of ripe Riesling and lemon aromas. Full-bodied, rich and intense on the palate, this is a very elegant, complex and concentrated, stimulatingly piquant and persistent Riesling. It has an explosive and very juicy fruit, with firm yet fine tannins. A great Schlossberg! 94pts Wine Advocate. DRINK DATE: 2022 -2034

Domaine Pierre Usseglio et Fils Panorama ’16 (Vin de France)

From vineyards on the banks of the Rhône River just south of Châteauneuf, the 2016 Vin de France Panorama is a blend of Merlot, Marselan, Grenache and Syrah made and aged entirely in stainless steel. This medium-bodied wine is loaded with jammy raspberry fruit and supple tannins. Impressively ripe without going over the top, and will drinking beautifully for the next few years.

Donnafugata Ben Ryé ’15 (Sicily, Italy)

Ben Ryé is made from late-harvest Muscat d’Alexandrie grapes, Bright dark golden-yellow with orange tinges. Enticing aromas of very ripe tangerine jelly, orange oil, white flowers, raisins, figs, marzapan and honey. Rich, dense and suave, with a creamy almost unctuous mouthfeel and flavors that are very similar to the aromas. Closes long and extremely dense, with repeating caramel apple, honey and peach flavors. One of the richest, creamiest Ben Ryés in memory, but a touch more acidity might have provided better lift and in that case I would have scored this even higher. Still, this is an absolute knockout, and you’ll never guess it has 14.5% alcohol. 95pts Vinous

Pierre Gimonnet Special Club Grand Terroirs de Chardonnay ‘12 (Champagne, France)

Pierre Gimonnet & Fils, directed by Olivier and Didier Gimonnet, cultivates 28ha of 1er and Grand Crus in the Côte des Blancs, namely in Cuis (14ha), Cramant and Chouilly (11ha), Vertus (2ha) and Oger (1ha). Most of the vines are older than 40 years, with the oldest vines planted in 1911 and 1913. The 2012 Special Club Grand Terroirs de Chardonnay is sourced only from old vines, mostly in Cramant which makes 60% of the cuvée. 55% of the vines harvested in the Grand Cru village of Cramant were planted in 1911 and 1913, but also the 58-year-old vines in the Montaigu plot in Chouilly Grand Cru (which makes 24% of the cuvée, next to the 16% from the Croix-Blance parcel in Cuis) are exclusively picked for the Special Club. Expressive orchard fruit, lemon confit, white flower and vanillin notes, along with gentle contours, all give the 2012 its considerable near and medium-term appeal. There is a lovely sense of radiance to the 2012. 90pts Vinous

Sanguinhal Touriga Nacional ’14 (Lisboa, Portugal)

The Lisboa wine region stretches from Lisbon along the Atlantic coast to the Bairrada DOC. Touriga Nacional is a variety of red wine grape, considered by many to be Portugal’s finest. Despite the low yields from its small grapes, it plays a big part in the blends used for Ports, and is increasingly being used for table wine. Touriga Nacional provides structure and body to wine, with high tannins and concentrated flavors of black fruit. The Sanguinhal is aged 12 months in French oak, this wine is rich and spicy. It has concentration as well as juicy blackberry fruits. With its edge of tannin and smooth texture, it is ripe, perfumed and ready to drink

Sequum MIXT’13 (Napa, CA)

Most of the fruit for MIXT is from the 1½-acre Kidd Ranch in Napa Valley. This 32-year-old, dry farmed vineyard is located on the valley floor within St. Helena. The whole is greater than the sum of the parts: the blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Zinfandel, Syrah, and Petite Sirah confirms this axiom. Discover how the grapes’ separate identities become uniquely integrated once MIXT or thoroughly co-mingled. This is a hearty coming-together of our Cabernet Sauvignon, Zinfandel, Syrah and Petite Sirah. It dances in baked plum and raisins as a tartness of cherry and savory dried herb counterbalances the ripeness and sizable tannin.

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A Problem in the Bronx Zoo

We share 98% of our DNA with the Lowland Gorilla.  Can we say that we are fairly close on the evolutionary tree? Among the features that we have in common are opposable thumbs and finger nails. Finger nails?

Finger nails!  Think about it!  Finger nails grow… all the time! Do you think gorillas in the wild have nail clippers or emery boards? Perhaps they are inveterate nail biters?  Well… it turns out that within a gorilla troop there is one individual that is designated as a “manicurist”.  This falls in line with the cooperative “grooming” that is very much a part of primate behavior.  The gorilla manicurist uses a small rough-edged rock (perhaps a stick) to pare back the length of nails.  What is not known is whether the manicurist is role specific to a single gorilla in the troop, or whether the role is performed on a rotational basis within the troop.

But a problem has developed with gorillas in captivity.  Zoo keepers have failed at effectively replacing natural gorilla manicurists with human ones.  At the Bronx Zoo three manicurists from the Pop & Polish Nail Salon on Young Avenue were hired to take care of the Zoo’s gorilla population. It didn’t work. The manicurists complained about the gorillas’ brutish and rude behavior. One manicurist was livid at a young male making uninvited advances.  About the dominant male, another said, “All the big one did was grunt and try to look down my blouse!  I didn’t sign on for that!”   

OK, back to the drawing board…

n.b. In the wild, lowland gorillas use tree sap as a cure for painful in-grown toe nails.  There is much that we can learn from our primate cousins!

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Powder Room

We’re not talking about the Alamo here.  I’m not referring to where the Texans kept gun powder, cannon balls and other ammo.  We’re talking 25 Alston Avenue, and that small room wedged in between our kitchen and our breakfast room. 

I think Mom was responsible for identifying our downstairs bathroom as the powder room.  I’m not sure if I ever heard Dad referring to it that way.  And for sure, Mommie Soph didn’t it.  Looking back at it, the term had a certain Race Brook Country Club feel to it.  And clearly at Race Brook this room was reserved exclusively for women’s use.  I don’t know if there was even a toilet in Race Brook’s powder room!  I think of it as a place where ladies went to re-powder their noses, fix lipstick and engage in chit-chat with a friend.  I love the scene in All About Eve when Eve Harrington (Ann Baxter) and Karen Richards (Celeste Holm) use the powder room to spar & unsheathe their claws!

The powder room on our first floor was certainly open to men!  True, we did have counter space & a good sized mirror to the right of the sink, and a plush stool placed so it could be put to use for a lady guest to adjust make-up and such.  But there was only enough room to accommodate one person at a time!  Meaning, Boopie Grant and Selma Decker would have to seek other space to engage in a private convo!

Aside from the plush stool, the most distinctive feature of our powder room was the wall paper.  Not some flocked floral as seen in All About Eve!  But rather an Edwardian Wedding scene drawn by The New Yorker’s famed artist: Saul Steinberg.  The background was a light pink, with Steinberg’s characteristic simple line drawing spaced marvelously in a repeated pattern.  I loved that print!  It gave me something to look at while dropping a deuce (other than staring into the mirror)!

Not everyone was a fan of that print, however.  Gary Moss, for one, felt the wedding party was staring at him.  And I can see where that might cause a high degree of anxiety and/or embarrassment!

Mom eventually changed the wall paper to a black and gold flocked something-or-other.  Maybe Dad felt the wedding party was staring at him, too?  Sad.  We went from New Yorker clever to neo-bordello!

{This is the closest rendition of that print that I could find.}

n.b.  One other anecdote to share about another use of our powder room.  One night after dinner I developed a particularly toxic case of gas… farts that could singe your nostril hairs.  I decided that the powder room was the best place to do my homework.  I took my books, sat on the stool and while doing my homework I proceeded to unleash an impressive string of “silent-but-deadlies”.  I thought this was the best way to ensure the safety of the household.  Good thought.  But Dad needed to use the “gents” himself, and he opened the door to the powder room which immediately released the collected sulfur-based miasma and buckled his knees.  His reading glasses may also have slipped off his nose, too – although I am not sure of this final detail. 

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Lox, Onions & Eggs

While it is true that Mommie Soph’s “recipe book” had neither the volume nor diversity of a The Fanny Farmer Cookbook, there were elements in her canon that were true masterpieces.  And I am proud to say, nay… incredibly proud to say that I acquired one!  Sorry, it isn’t her gefilte fish, which by all rights should have won a Nobel Prize for Food. 

The dish that I have been able to replicate is her exquisite “Lox, Onions & Eggs.” This her one dish that I can truly say that thirds were never enough! I would watch her make it in our kitchen at 25 Alston Ave, the smell of the chopped onions frying in a healthy layer of melted butter was intoxicating.  Once the onions had moved from translucent to just turning brown, more butter was added, then a good portion of chopped lox would be added to the pan.  Once the lox turned from deep orange/red to a light pink, it was time to add some quantity of beaten eggs (and probably a bit more butter).  And the she would set to business scrambling up this superb assemblage!  I adored the finished product, and would scarf down two helpings in a blink of an eye, and would ready my plate for a touch more!  I could actually hear my arteries congealing!

When Mommie Soph passed I didn’t think too much of this cherished dish, until one day I saw it on Ratner’s menu in NYC!  Well, I assumed that if anyone could make a good version of Lox, Onions & Eggs it would be a highly regarded Jewish establishment like Ratner’s on Second Ave. Wrong!  It was a crushing disappointment!  They “shortcutted” it!  The Lox and Onions (raw, sliced, not diced!) were simply scrambled up with the eggs at the same time! 

And after that sad episode I decided that I was going to take-on making the dish á la Mommie Soph!  And be in mind that this was in the day when my efforts at cooking were restricted to flipping burgers & steaks on the grill.  Yes, I knew how critical it was to cook the onions and lox in advance of adding the eggs in order to successfully emulate the dish that Mommie Soph lovingly provided.  Although I didn’t know the difference between a teaspoon and a tablespoon, I am confident that I created a dish that did Mommie Soph proud! 

n.b.  Over the years I have scaled back use of butter without negatively impacting the end result.  Even without the heavy handed use of butter, I doubt that anyone would mistake this dish as “full on healthy”.  So be it!

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Bobby Galvin & Pancho

Her name was Dorothy, or Dora. Or, at least that was the closest proximity coming from her native Polish.

But before I get to that, let me expend a few sentences on “looking up”. Looking up to the both of you. Memory is a gift, and no gift is more treasured to me than remembering days when you were there, and your friends would come acalling to 25 Alston Avenue. I am sure there were more faces that are no more than a blur to me today. But then? Alan Cadan loved strawberries and sour cream. And then there was Bobby Galvin. There was one evening when he took Lynn and me out in his jeep… top down. Wouldn’t it be fun to pretend that the jeep had broken down on Chapel St, and then have me, the little kid, out on the street pushing the jeep along? Thankfully we were on a bit of a downgrade.

Yes, it was fun for me. Something that I will never forget, even though it may not be remembered by either Lynn or Bobby.

And so, Pancho. Dorothy. Looking back, we had a household staff! Sorta like West Wing, only better! We not only had Mommie Soph. We had a live-in maid. And then we had someone else to add supplemental hands to the necessities of the home. Enter Dora/Dorothy. She was Polish, and she conversed with Mommie Soph in the native tongue to both: Polish. And although there can be no pretenses about Mommie Soph being an “aristocrat”, Dorothy called Mommie Soph deferentially “Pani” (masculine form “Pan”). A Polish term reserved for respect to someone of higher station. Think “Lord” or “Lady”.

I guess it didn’t take long for Bobby, when visiting our domain, to keep hearing a volume of this pani, or that pani when he hung the moniker of “Pancho” on Dorothy. And it stuck.

Wonderful textures and tapestry of our life together.

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Christmas Chez 25 Alston Ave

 CHRISTMAS CHEZ 25 ALSTON AVE

It would be easy to recall on Christmas morning my excitement in seeing all of the presents, superbly wrapped and displayed in front of our fireplace, with Christmas/Holiday cards on the mantle framing the scene. What 10 year old wouldn’t love that?  And I loved our Christmas Eve Dinner, which was a redux of Thanksgiving.  But if memory serves, I think Mom added mincemeat pie to the dessert offerings.  I was sure to have watched The Christmas Carol… I preferred the Reginald Owen version back then, although I can recall that Paul felt the Alistair Sim version was superior (and I switched my allegiance to Sim decades ago).

Then, something else that was special for me in 1960.  Christmas was a time when the both of you would have returned home from college. Our home just ‘lit up.” There were jig-saw puzzles to do, knock-hockey to play, and that maze game with the steel ball.  I’m sure that your friends might have been in and out.  But for sure, for me… 10 years old at the time, the fact that you were home added to my anticipation of December 24, and December 25.

And then, {SPOILER ALERT: this is critical} there was the Christmas “dividend”.  Dad would have organized a Christmas Party for Chipp’s New Haven tailors at the loft on Eld St.  Mommie Soph was placed in charge of marshalling the “suppliers” for the festivities.  Further, and this is the dividend part, Mommie Soph would return home, après party, with the leftovers which were consigned to the cool of our porch… and it was this “buffet” that provided the fodder for our grazing on Christmas Day.  In my teen-aged years I learned that a cold slice of Pepe’s Pizza for breakfast is hard to surpass.

The menu for Christmas Day, 25 Alston Ave:

Pepe’s Pizza (or, more appropriately: Apizza)

Deli, from M&T

Pastries from Lucibello’s

Addendum: a case of Scotch Whisky was provided for Mr. Toplitsky, the head of the Tailor’s Union. Not part of our “dividend”… Dad only had Chivas Regal for 25 Alston Ave.

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The Hand Game Chronicle

Patty-cake, patty-cake baker’s man
Bake me a cake as fast as you can

That’s how it all begins.  A simple poem paired with hand movements, and an 18 month old boy or girl seated on Mom’s (or Dad’s) knee learns the basics in coordinated movement set to rhyme.

Roll it, pat it & mark it with a “B”
Put it in the oven for baby and me!

Of course, nature being what it is, it’s natural for parents to change the “B” to a more apropos letter… “mark it with an “S”, put it in the oven for Suzy and me!”  Proving once again that rhyme, if inconvenient, can be discarded.

Then this little exercise is concluded by raising baby’s arms and saying “Yay”!  And there isn’t an 10 month old who doesn’t recognize that this is the most satisfying part of the game.  The “Yay”, arms held high… a toddler’s version of a “touchdown celebration”!  Everyone laughs.  Finally, Mom (or Dad, or both) will be rewarded with a photo-op smile.

It isn’t too long in a child’s development when the love for this sort of hand game will either whither and die, or will expand and flourish (at least for another several years).  And I think for the most part this divergence in the path is along gender lines.  I am not suggesting that there is a distinctive genetic marker that predisposes girls to picking up more elaborate hand games, but I can’t ever recall seeing boys in the school yard engaged in interactive hand movements coordinated to humorous rhyme. 

Even for girls, this cooperative hand play will fade from the scene (around 9 or 10?), though not be entirely snuffed out.  There will be a period of “dormancy”, and then this proclivity would re-emerge in an altered state… the hand games provided the base syncopation for further elaboration.  Added to the hand movements will be dance steps, and the poetry will be replaced by words set to a melody. Also gone, the specific play between just two (sometimes three) participants. Cue the Electric Slide and the Macarena, among others! Enter large group play!  {SLIGHT DIGRESSION: There are many dances that have involved intricate choreography from Galliards in 16th Century Europe, to contemporary Square Dancing and Texas Line Dancing… ornate?  Yes, but missing the overall effect of specific hand movements and associated gestures.}

ANNOYING DIGRESSION CONTINUED: Curiously, with the Electric Slide et al. men reappeared on the stage.  Take in a scene during these “group dances” at a Wedding or Bar Mitzvah, and women far out number the men. {FOR MY PERSONAL AMUSEMENT: I have to shake my head, it’s laughable when I see men fueled with a little booze taking the plunge into these artful dance steps, manfully trying to keep pace, but more often than not, looking like a hair out of place.}

Just maybe, just maybe —   I looked as much the fool as a shirt-undone-besotted-guy dancing the Macarena, when I tried to learn one of Suzy’s hand games. And it is to these grade school-age hand games that we now fully turn.

I think the “golden years” for girls and hand games begins around age 7.  What do I base this on?  Because Shaina’s Olivia is 7 and it seems to be a reasonable launch point.  Olivia has picked up one at her dance class and has even begun to initiate her younger sister, Becca into the finer details of “Avocado, Avocado”. CURIOUS POINT: Learning these hand games appears to be a peer taught, outside the home activity.  Maybe some of these hand games have profanity laced doggerel that parents aren’t supposed to hear?  At Olivia’s age, Shaina played “Ms. Mary Mack” with Katie Quell.  Possibly this was the girl equivalent of “Barnacle Bill the Sailor”?

I wish I could recall when I first saw Suzy working thru “Shame, Shame, Shame”, or who she was playing it with.  But I can’t.  And neither can Suzy (I asked her). Maybe Val Tamburo?  But for sure, when I first observed this hand game in action I was impressed by the variety of the claps, slaps, pats & etc., all employed in perfect time to the meter of the recited words. Recited in unison!

I loved the way it started… each person pressed hands together (as if in prayer), and then both swing their hands left and right, slapping the backsides of each other’s hands… all the while saying in rhythm, “Shame, shame, shame.  On a hot summer day….”   

I dunno.  It seemed like something fun to learn.  But… try as I might, I never made it past the first lines, nor could I master the more involved sequence of hand movements. Suzy showed great patience in trying to get me fully on board.  She put the movements into “slo-mo” for me… taking me thru the steps, one by one.  It was for naught… I didn’t have the patience. But…. And wait for it… at the conclusion of the recitation, each participant was required to “freeze”, and try to stare the other person down!  I was redeemed!  Regardless of how I mangled the verse and movements, I was, and remain, world class at “hold the pose, stare, don’t blink”!

Now my kids are grown and have children of their own.  I realize that hand games are a minor part of our culturalization… perhaps more important for girls than boys?  But even for me, sitting side stage, I love that there is a marvelous simplicity in inventing games that require nothing more than a friend, some words and some joint clapping and slapping.  No audio.  No gadgetry required. I can’t imagine there was ever a hand game played that didn’t have laughs’ giggles and smiles… before, during and after.

And yes, I’m looking forward to seeing my granddaughters demonstrating their hand game expertise.  Perhaps new variations?  Not that I’m an expert on this stuff. If there happens to be questionable words or phrases contained therein, I promise to keep my delight hidden from my children. After all, regardless of their age… they are still my children, and Dads have to be mindful.

APOLOGIA: OK, Ok… if my grandchildren laugh at my children’s expense & if I laugh, too… I’m declaring that I’m off the hook. Unless it involves farting.

Shame, shame, shame
On a hot summer day

Hey, hey
Eenie, meenie, disobeenie
Oooh bop bop, boleenie
Atchee, catchee, liveratchee
I hate boys!
Give me a peach, give me a plum
Give me a piece of fruity gum
When the teacher rings the bell
All the children scream and yell
No more paper, no more books
No more teachers’ dirty looks
Just sit down, turn around
Don’t move, just freeze!


Suzy & Me. Wedding Day!

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Our “Anniversary”, Sort of…

15 years ago Sandy and I had our first date.  It happened to be the “Virgin of Guadalupe Day” (Not fake news, you can fact check me on this). And, as is our custom on December 12, we are returning to the scene of the “crime”.  Tonight we will enjoy the hospitality of Carole Peck’s Good New Café. 

Yes, a milestone year, I only wish I could have afforded more than one carrot.

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Bessie’s Tuna Fish Salad

There came a day when I had a chance to sample some of Bessie’s tuna fish salad. I don’t know if this was a handed-down recipe from her native North Carolina. Maybe she saw the recipe in a magazine? Maybe she just made it up “on the fly”. And maybe it was a “one-off”, something that she never made again.

I guess that I could reach out to her for the background. But I prefer leaving the source and inspiration to the fog of mystery.

Now look… there is nothing elaborate in making tuna fish salad, right? Canned tuna fish, mayonnaise and maybe some light seasoning… lemon pepper? The key is the quantity relationship between tuna fish and the mayo; and honestly that’s a judgment call and left to personal taste. Then, whether to add a bit of chopped celery and that is more a matter of style… like whether to use kidney beans in your chili.

Taking the above into consideration, Bessie’s iteration was to add chopped onion and chopped hard boiled eggs to the mixture. A radical innovation? No. Just, as it turns out, a wonderful enhancement to what is clearly a pedestrian dish.

Picasso had his “blue period”. And I am going thru a “tuna period”. This is a warm weather event that follows an exhaustive use of my Weber grill. And recently I have taken on the challenge of recreating Bessie’s recipe… as already stated I didn’t need forensic evidence to establish the ingredients. Just a matter of assembly and tinkering with the proportions! But I took this as a serious endeavor, and not surprisingly, during the prep I decided to eschew my typical consumption of a beaker or two of gin.

Further, after my first try (which was very good), I decided to add elbow macaroni to the mixture… now morphing the recipe into a cold macaroni-tuna fish salad. After three times I’d say that it’s pretty good (Sandy says, “very good”), or in the least, this version is “interesting”. I was not looking to replace Bessie’s recipe… which is impossible to do. Too much of a person’s love and judgment is embodied in a recipe, and that can’t be replicated. I know this well. Do you really think there is a soul who could make an Extra-Dry Tanqueray Martini to surpass mine? QED

IN THE SPIRIT OF BESSIE’S TUNAFISH SALAD

INGREDIENTS
2 small cans: Tunafish packed in water, drained
Some: Mayonnaise
Some: Chopped Onion
Some: Chopped Celery
1-2: Chopped hard boiled egg
1 cup: Elbow macaroni, cooked and chilled
Some: Fresh ground pepper
Some: Paprika sprinkled on top

DIRECTIONS
1. Mix everything up, and consider yourself lucky that I didn’t make up an elaborate 15 step process.

n.b.  The use of paprika is a tribute to Mommie Soph who I think put paprika on everything except her Special K breakfast cereal.

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Beating Back the Devil

I had to blink.  It’s been a few years since I was in a saloon that “spoke to me.”  Let me make this clear… I was a visitor.  And I know the difference in being “part of a place” and of being just a visitor.  For a decade or more, the Ash Creek Saloon was my second home.  And to those that frequented that watering hole, we knew who belonged and who was an outsider — a guest.  And that’s the way it is when you have a place of local patronage.

My point here, I knew I was a guest.  Yet even a guest can take appreciation of a place that has an energy and life produced of kindred souls of the “neighborhood”.  I was just planning on a quick stop, a brief review of the private wine tasting I had just conducted, a whisky and a nosh and off to home.  And then from the far end of the bar, four stout souls (had to be regulars) launched a cappella into song…

Farewell and adieu to you, Spanish Ladies
Farewell and adieu to you, ladies of Spain;
For we’ve received orders for to sail for old England
But we hope in a short time to see you again

Hearing the song, I felt encouraged to order another whisky.  If I had heard a local cover band doing “Sweet Home Chicago” I would probably have done the same thing. Upon hearing music, there is a natural draw for something that you’ve heard – that you know – that acts as a welcome anchor.  That encourages you to stay and linger, to stay and savor.  So why not another Wild Turkey Rye?

And these guys were surprisingly good.  Maybe a barbershop quartet? Hard to believe that they’d sound that good after a handful of beers and a hard day at the office!  That is unless their office was a local oyster boat, and singing sea shanties were part of their natural make up.  Or, these guys sounded like fraternity brothers who had to learn the song during their pledge year, and never lost connection to the melody and lyrics.W

We’ll rant and we’ll roar like true British sailors
We’ll rant and we’ll roar all on the salt seas
Until we strike soundings in the channel of old England;
From Ushant to Scilly is thirty-five leagues

I first heard a portion of the song in the film “Master and Commander”.  It’s one of my favorite films. A story is set on the frigate H.M.S. Surprise during the Napoleonic Wars.  I’ve heard a couple of covers of the song over the years, and I love it.  Each time it puts me in mind of canvas sail bulging in the wind, the tar and pitch of the rigging, the smell of salt air & the roll of ship in the waves.  It’s all in my mind, for sure. I’ve never set foot on a square rigged ship.  But such is the power of our imagination.

We hove our ship to with the wind from sou’west, boys
We hove our ship to, deep soundings to take;
‘Twas forty-five fathoms, with a white sandy bottom
So we squared our main yard and up channel did make

Or maybe those guys were Brits “on loan” from a Bristol pub!  Or maybe off a North Sea oil rig?  For my part I was happy that they were there… regardless of their “home port”.  Happy to put my return home on pause, put my paper work aside & sip a second whisky.  The song concluded I joined the raucous applause and hoots from the gathered in the bar.  Someone shouted, “Again!”  And the foursome obliged, and then followed it with another tune that I recognized: “Don’t Forget Your Old Shipmate.”

Safe and sound at home again
Let the waters roar, Jack
Safe and sound at home again
Let the waters roar, Jack

Long we’ve tossed on the rolling main
Now we’re safe ashore, Jack
Don’t forget your old shipmate
Fal dee ral dee ral dee rye eye doe!

Since we sailed from Plymouth Sound
Four years gone, or nigh, Jack
Was there ever chummies, now
Such as you and I, Jack?

After the second verse it seemed like the entire bar, men and women, joined in the chorus. 

Long we’ve tossed on the rolling main
Now we’re safe ashore, Jack
Don’t forget your old shipmate
Fal dee ral dee ral dee rye eye doe!

This was too much!  I looked around… maybe this was one of those flash mob things?  Maybe the entire bar worked on the same oyster boat? Same pledge class?

Yes, I was and outsider.  I was side stage to the goings-on. But very happy to enjoy the diversion from my work.  It was good to hear folks joined in song, leaving the airs of negativity behind, laughing, raising a glass, and beating back the devil that has gripped our land by the throat.

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The Bad Guys

As far back as our oldest surviving piece of literature, Beowulf, (written in Old English), the forces of good have been pitted against the forces of evil. Beowulf, a hero of the Geats, comes to the aid of Hrothgar, the king of the Danes, whose mead hall in Heorot has been under attack by a monster known as Grendel. After Beowulf slays him, Grendel’s Mother attacks the hall and is then also defeated. Without the existence of Grendel, and Grendel’s Mother (a Mother! Can you imagine! And I will be referring back to her later), how would we regard Beowulf? He’d be just another besotted Baltic thug in need of a bath and a night to sleep it off.

Literature, be it in poem, song or prose can’t survive without some level of “good guy/bad guy.” Without that blend we are deprived of what makes us human. We would lose a vibrant tension that feeds our emotional needs. It would be like throwing out all the colors in crayon box except tan.

From Beowulf, flash forward to the 20th century. This lesson was not lost on Walt Disney. In 1937 from a Grimm’s fairytale he created his first heroine. She had “Lips red as the rose. Hair black as ebony. Skin white as snow.” But a bad guy was needed. Without Queen Grimhilde, Snow White would merely be remembered as a 14-year-old Princess who sings songs to animals and hangs out with seven little men (which, I might add, has all the makings for an X-rated porn film). For the evil Queen, Disney envisioned her as a mixture of Lady Macbeth and the Big Bad Wolf. He wanted her to be beautiful, but (in his words) her “beauty is sinister, mature, plenty of curves — she becomes ugly and menacing when scheming.” No way around it, Grimhilde was scary. And for the narrative’s success, the innocence, kindness, and beauty Snow White needed Grimhilde’s evil as a counterpoint.

Disney knew that “bad” was essential in helping define the “good”. Lady Tremaine had to be there to make Cinderella’s life miserable. And Baloo the Bear’s raison d’être was to nurture and protect Mowgli from the vengeance seeking Shere Khan the Tiger. Simba in the “Lion King” needed to overcome the villainy of his Uncle Scar (he who was responsible for the death of Simba’s Father).

These bad guys fascinate me.

Before you think otherwise, I have not placed all my chips on “black” in roulette. I love the hero and the underdog just like you do! Further, there is something totally endearing in Disney heroes and heroines.  Well drawn, filled with charm. Then why this interest on Disney’s dark side? Let me assure you it’s completely accidental.

It began quite simply. One day I shared a conversation with Zachary about the acting talent Disney has recruited over the years to be the voices of characters in their animated films. By any standard this is an impressive list of women and men. We went thru the Disney canon (SPOILER ALERT: the Pixar films were off-limits). And it struck me, and I think Zack, too… that some of the best voice characterizations were villains. The bad guys. Sometimes, completely unsympathetic stinkers.

For my own purposes the next step was to define what made the Disney bad guy, bad… and in many cases scary bad. I see it as a mix, in some combination, of drawing, script (what they said, or what they did) and voice. Then having identified and defined the attributes of each villain… why not rank them?  {Be advised that I place a good deal of weight on voice, which I will get to anon.}

How would Disney mucky-mucks go about selecting the artist assigned to the job of drawing the bad guy. Is it based on his or her artistic skill? Maybe the artist just hates little kids? Or is a poor tipper? There has to be something there. The artist has to channel an inner meanness!  In the right hands the drawing of Ursula the Sea Witch should just naturally flow onto the page. Ursula is a brilliantly drawn bad guy, and is my vote for the direct link to Grendel’s Mother (you remember her! Wrecking the mead hall in Beowulf).

While a drawing can quickly identify a character’s perfidy (you don’t have to read the script or hear the voice to know that Jaffar in “Aladdin” is evil!), the words and deeds of a character will as a matter of course reinforce the nasty in the drawn character. For pure meanness of spirit, nothing can surpass Maleficent’s lines when she confronts the shackled Prince Philip in her dungeon. It is my favorite scene in the film. First you have her scary descent down the stone stairs in her castle. She enters the dungeon cell with her ever present raven, and then with Tchaikovsky’s score in the background (No. 9, Finale), she calmly paints a picture tinged with bone chilling irony: “Oh come now Prince Philip. Why so melancholy? A wondrous future lies before you — you, the destined hero of a charming fairy tale come true. [looking into the crystal at the head of her staff] Behold — King Stefan’s castle. And in yonder topmost tower, dreaming of her true love, the Princess Aurora. But see the gracious whim of fate — why, ’tis the self-same peasant maid, who won the heart of our noble prince but yesterday. She is indeed, most wondrous fair. Gold of sunshine in her hair, lips that shame the red red rose. In ageless sleep, she finds repose. The years roll by, but a hundred years to a steadfast heart, are but a day. And now, the gates of a dungeon part, and our prince is free to go his way. Off he rides, on his noble steed, a valiant figure, straight and tall! To wake his love, with love’s first kiss. And prove that “true love” conquers all!”  She “seals the deal” by laughing as she exits the dungeon. Maleficent is clearly a really bad guy!

But what happens when a character looks evil in the drawn image, does horrible things, and then sounds like a lout? Well, that’s a perfect storm isn’t it? But remember… this exercise began with the idea that some “A-List” talent provided the voices for these characters. And now turn to my rankings of Disney Villains, you will see that a menacing voice is my standard. I want to be able to close my eyes, hear a line delivered, and know that the character is the devil incarnate.

Shere Khan (The Jungle Book): George Sanders

Shere Khan

I am convinced that Rudyard Kipling came to Walt Disney in a dream and whispered in his ear, “Cast George Sanders as the Tiger, or don’t make the film.” My choice of Sanders as numero uno bad guys is largely sentimental. It is driven by my love for his performance in the film “All About Eve.” He played the arch cad Addison DeWitt, for which he won the Academy Award for Best Supporting. DeWitt was elegantly attired, possessed splendid vocabulary… his lines were delivered with a soothing but sinister cynicism. His role as Shere Khan is a perfect extension of his performance as Addison DeWitt. There is an obvious degree of sophisticated nastiness in Shere Khan. He is at once a royal Bengal Tiger, clearly of high culture, yet ruthless in his quest to settle a score with humans.

Scar (The Lion King): Jeremy Irons

Scar

An argument could be made that Irons portrayal of Scar should take top prize. Scar had a much bigger part than Shere Khan. Scar is instantly unlikable. Killing his brother King Mustafa? Plotting to kill his nephew, the heir apparent? Siding with the hyenas against the pride? Scar is really, really bad! Positively medieval! And then there is Irons himself… he had the perfect resumé for playing Scar. He was Claus von Bülow in the 1990 film “Reversal of Fortune” — the New York socialite who murdered his wealthy wife and was acquitted on appeal! Plus, Irons has the voice! Similar to Sanders, a dignified continental tone that speaks of wealth and treachery.

Hades (Hercules): James Woods

Hercules

I knew nothing of this film. I had absolutely no interest in seeing it on DVD or Netflix. It was Zachary who pointed me in the direction of the film because of James Woods portrayal of Hades. First, Hades is a terrific drawing… a flaming monster, colored in a blue hue that changes to a brilliant red when he blows his stack. And with a mouthful of pointy teeth. The guy is bad news. For the most part Woods keeps a modulated tone, and it’s his delivery of the lines that makes the performance memorable. His pace and timing can’t be surpassed… certainly as distinctive as, say Christopher Walken’s. Then, many of his lines are adlibbed. “My name is Hades, Lord of the Dead. Hi. How ya doin’?” wonderfully smart assed in the vein of Robin Williams’ Genie in “Aladdin”. The difference between to two characters? Genie is a lovable hero, and Hades is a sinister dude. And trust me, you don’t want to see him when he’s angry.

Ursula (The Little Mermaid): Pat Carroll

Ursula

Ursula is the “perfect storm”. She has everything: drawing, dialogue (to which we can add a killer song) & voice. I can remember Pat Carroll in Danny Thomas’ “Make Room for Daddy” 50s sitcom. And nothing prepared me for her appearance as a larger than life octopus/sea witch. Booming voice, appropriate for her girth, and belting out a fabulous song… I admit that in the past I’ve been nasty/They weren’t kidding when they called me, well a witch/But you’ll find that now-a-days/I’ve mended all my ways, repented, seen the light and took a switch/true? Yes. And I fortunately know a little magic/It’s a talent that I always have possessed, but now dear lately, please don’t laugh/I use it on behalf, of the miserable, lonely and depressed! Poor, unfortunate souls! So sad, so true! This one longing to be thinner, that one wants to get the girl and do I help them? Yes, indeed! Now it’s happened once or twice/someone couldn’t pay the price/and I’m afraid I have to rake them across the coals! Rake them across the coals indeed! And at the end of the film she is transformed into a towering creature of the sea unchecked in her appetite for power and domination. Terrifying! (SPOILER ALERT: She loses).

Maleficent (Sleeping Beauty): Eleanor Audley

Maleficent

Take a look at old illustrations and woodcuts of Satan. Goat’s horns adorn the devil. And what do we see when Maleficent first appears. Her slender form cloaked in black, her head gear? Goat’s horns! Need we say more? Jiminy Crickets! This is not someone you take home to your Mother! And then in front of the gathered royalty and nobilty, there to honor the betrothal of the infant Princess, Maleficent bangs her staff on the stone floor, the sound echoes in the great hall, and she announces in carefully chosen words to the assembled “The princess shall indeed grow in grace and beauty, beloved by all who know her. *But*… before the sun sets on her 16th birthday, she shall prick her finger — on the spindle of a spinning wheel — and DIE!” Talk about a mood killer! Is this the time to bring up that at the end of the film she turns into a fire breathing dragon?

Grimhilde (Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs): Lucille La Verne

Grimhilde

For a first time effort in villainy Disney did a helluva job. Whether in regal appearance clothed in purple and black, or transformed into the hideous crone, hunched with hawked nose and wart, Grimhilde is both chilling and scary. Not only was she frightening in the film, the Evil Queen was so frightening in Disney World’s “Snow White’s Scary Adventures” that the attraction was closed down! Writer for the Tampa Bay Times, Sean Daly described the Queen in the ride, “Bulging eyes. Gnarled fingers. Smoker’s-cough cackle. She lurks in Snow White’s Scary Adventures, a herky-jerky kiddie ride that starts innocently — until your car crashes through a wall into the black-light darkness. Before your eyes can adjust, she makes her move. I was 5 when I first went face-to-face with that woman. I sobbed. And like millions of others, I’ve never forgotten her.” And what higher tribute for a “bad guy” could there be?  Scaring the snot out of children since 1937!!

Iago (Aladdin): Gilbert Gottfried

Iago

This maybe considered a controversial pick considering Iago was second banana to the film’s principle evil character: Jaffar (Jonathan Freeman). And Jaffar as scheming evil-doer stands with the best of them. Then why do I place Iago above Jaffar? Yes, the idea of a bad guy being a parrot is amusing. But the reason Iago made my Top Ten is because Gilbert Gottfried has a spectacularly irritating voice! It’s like Cyndi Lauper and Fran Dressler times ten. Gottfried’s voice is actually nausea inducing. Are you bothered by raw chalk scratching against the blackboard? Honestly, I don’t know how anyone can last thru Gottfried’s stand-up routine no matter how funny his jokes might be.  Unlike the other bad guys listed here, when I see Iago in the film I can actually see Gottfried’s squinting delivery of the lines!

Mother Gothel (Tangled): Donna Murphy

Mother Gothel

Some have noted that Mothel Gothel’s drawing bears a striking resemblance to Cher. I agree. And maybe that alone wins her a place on this list! We only get a very brief view of Gothel in her decrepit form. Other than that, essentially she is pretty hot looking for a bad guy. But there is an element to Gothel’s evil that we don’t see in other villains. She is at times self deprecating, at times patronizing, sarcastic and never far from displaying a self-serving charm... Rapunzel, please, stop with the mumbling. You know how I feel about the mumbling. Blah blah blah blah blah, it’s very annoying! I’m just teasing, you’re adorable. I love you so much, darling. The animation of that scene has to be one of Disney’s best. But behind the smiles and faux caring, there is no question about her meanness and selfishness. Enough with the lights, Rapunzel! YOU are not leaving this tower! EVER! [sits down dramatically] Great. Now I’M the bad guy! Gothel is bad in a very I-know-that-type-of-person way. And how scary is that!

Queen of Hearts (Alice in Wonderland): Verna Felton

Queen of Hearts

I think the Queen of Hearts is more “incorrigible” than “evil”. Yes she shouts and scowls and looks damn angry most of the time. Not the stuff of pure villainy. I include her here because of her maltreatment of the King. Sorry, she is a text book bossy, pain in the ass wife. In short, the Queen of Hearts is the bane of existence for every decent, kind hearted  & weak-kneed man. The Queen is forever sending folks to the block for beheading, and the King has to sneak around to grant pardons! And sneak is the operative word here. Forget that she is twice the size of the King!   We may not fear the Queen of Hearts… but the King certainly does!

Captain Hook (Peter Pan): Hans Conried

Captain Hook

In my first draft of the Top Ten, Hook placed much higher. But truth be told, I find Hook loveable! And besides, he’s a snappy dresser! In fact, I thought about creating an entirely separate category: “Bad Guys, But Loveable.” Yes, the hook is a scary prop. Yes, he has a bad attitude. He even actively enlists Tinkerbell as a confederate against Peter Pan! By far his worst offense! But dastardly, blood-dripping-from-the-mouth villain? Really? He is a buffoon who stumbled into the bad guy part. But I have to include Hook on this list for one very important reason. Hans Conried is fantastic! He also voices Mr. Darling. And he hits all the right notes in both parts. Rolls his “R’s” splendidly, and I don’t think anyone could have expressed exasperation and frustration better than Conried! Yes, Hook is guilty of deceiving Tinkerbell! But look more closely, Hook was merely exploiting the seething jealousy that Tinkerbell had for Wendy! Hook addresses Tinkerbell, And that’s why I asked you over, me dear, to tell Peter I bear him no ill will. Oh, Pan has his faults, to be sure. Bringing that Wendy to the island, for instance. Dangerous business, that. Why, rumor has it that already she has come between you and Peter… Oh, Smee, the way of a man with a maid: taking the best years of her life and then casting her aside like an old glove! But we musn’t judge Peter too harshly, my dear. It’s that Wendy who’s to blame. Yes, even a lovable villain deserves a place on my list!!

Captain Hook throws shade on the author, to the amusement of Princess Summer.

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Hand Melons

This story begins with Margie’s Market on Whalley Ave. I can remember going there with Mom. There maybe no other market on the planet where you are not allowed (I’ll say it again, not allowed) to pick out your own fruit and vegetables. Margie had to select for you. You told her want you wanted… 6 peaches. Fine. She would go over to peaches and pick out six for you. You could not touch the fruit before hand to, perhaps, inspect the ripeness. No. She chose. And while Mom put in her request Margie was sure to keep a watchful eye on me, lest I get too close to the baskets & trays of produce.

Perhaps it is only fitting that in a prestige market like Margie’s she would be able to source fruits and vegetables from select boutique purveyors. And such was the case with her cantaloupes! Her cantaloupes came from a farm from who-knows-where. The little sticker on the melon identified it as “Hand”. And the melons were insanely good! A brilliant green inner rind. Their size approached the size of a honeydew. Flavor could not be beaten.

As case would have it, sometimes there was a disruption of availability. And as you can imagine, Mom was not going to take this inconvenience lying down. And considering this was in the day before the internet, my guess is that Mom confronted (maybe approached is the better word) Margie about revealing the source of these magnificent melons. How much cajoling she had to do to gain this important piece of information I can’t say. But she did.

And one day, she enlisted Sherman Grant as her confederate, and they drove up to Greenwich, NY to the Hand Farm. If you didn’t know, Greenwich, NY is well northeast of Schenectady and south of Montreal. She loaded up the trunk of the Caddie with cases of Hand Melons and drove back to New Haven.

I’m confident she told Mr. Hand that she traveled all that way because the melons were worth taking the extra step for (or in this case driving 7 hours round trip). She may have left the impression that she was a fruit seller, or was there on behalf of Margie. I can’t say. She had pulled stunts like this before. And, just guessing, I think she got a better price.

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JIMMIES PARKING LOT, a short addendum to my previous post

I missed an important detail of the “Jimmies Experience.” It has taken a couple of beastly hot and humid days here in Woodbury to fully restore my image of Jimmies, and more specifically, of the parking lot.  After a summer scorcher, the black top retained the heat well into the night.  Forget about coming off the beach during the day and walking barefoot across the parking lot.  The beating sun was not only “re-cooking” squished French fries, bits of discarded rolls, clams & etc. that littered the black top, but the heated asphalt would also do a number on your feet!  You gotta know that those damned seagulls would be laughing their beaks off as you hot-footed your way to the counter!

But even at night the surface of the lot radiated a warmth that intensified the rich scent of fried foods, pungent condiments & spilled sodas! Yes, I loved the hotdogs, lobster rolls, fried clams, and French fries… but take away the parking lot, take away the cooking grill open to the air, take away a hot summer night and you have missed what made Jimmies so special (you can take away the seagulls).  Ohhhh… to be transported back to a July Saturday night… to enjoy some clams on the half shell, two dogs, an order of fries and an order of fried belly clams – I can hear my arteries congealing now.

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Roar of the Greasepaint, Smell of the Crowd

In the Spring of 1967 I took part in Hamden Hall Country Day School’s production of George Bernard Shaw’s “Androcles and the Lion”.  I was the Lion. In spite of the prominence of the name in the title, the role of the Lion in the play is actually a bit part.  Thankfully my lines and action were to gruff, growl, roar & hop about the stage and a brief dance with Androcles. I was on stage for the introductory scene, and then in the concluding scene. That’s it.  I was recruited for the part by my English Teacher, Mr. Fowler Osborn who served as the play’s Director. Key for me was no memorization.  Mr. Osborn allowed me to improvise my “lines”.  Improvisation… this is important, as you will see in the story I am about to relate.

A couple of months ago I was in Woodbury’s IGA, LaBonne’s, to pick-up 2 bagels, cream cheese & a fresh tomato for Sandy’s and my traditional Wednesday morning repast.  LaBonne’s is wonderfully local.  There is a fully stocked Stop & Shop… and even more stocked ShopRite both just 12 minutes away in Southbury.  Not only do these markets have greater product selectivity, but they are also cheaper!  Still there is a draw to our LaBonne’s.  You get to know the people who work there, and you get to mingle with like minded neighbors who prefer to stay local.  Even if you don’t know all the names and faces of the other shoppers, there is something reassuring in seeing folks that “live down the street.”

And on this one Wednesday, as I am waiting on line at the register, a man tapped me on the shoulder and introduces himself to me, “Excuse me, I hope you don’t mind me for being bold, but you have an interesting look.  I am the Artistic Director for Woodbury’s Main Street Players and we are mounting a new production and I have a part for you… If you are interested.”

If you are interested.  It’s only been 51 years since my last theatrical appearance…  But the title of the play certainly captured my interest. I was to be cast in the role of General Fitz John Porter in the play “The Court-Martial of General George B. McClellan.”

McClellan holds a fascinating place in U.S. Military History.  A graduate of West Point’s famous Class of 1846… famous because the class produced 22 generals that fought in the Civil War.  McClellan graduated second in a class of 59 Cadets (West Point’s largest class to that point), and his classmates included Confederate Generals Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson, A.P. Hill & George Pickett.  After the Federal defeat at the First Battle of Bull Run, Lincoln called on McClellan to take on command of the newly created Army of the Potomac.  McClellan feuded constantly with the General-in-Chief, Winfield Scott… and engineered Scott’s removal from overall command.  McClellan then was appointed to be General-in-Chief, in addition to being in Command of the Army of the Potomac.  After the crushing failure of his Peninsular Campaign when Robert E. Lee out fought him before Richmond, Lincoln removed him from Command of all Federal Armies, although McClellan retained Command of the Army of the Potomac.

After securing Richmond, Lee moved to strike directly into the North, took the Army of Virginia into Maryland looking for bases of re-supply and to bring pressure on Washington, DC.  Providence played into McClellan’s hands when two Union soldiers discovered a mislaid copy of Lee’s detailed battle plans (Special Order 191) wrapped around three cigars.  Armed with this valuable intelligence, the Army of Potomac pivoted to meet the Confederate movements.  One of the Civil War’s historic engagements, the Battle of Antietam, ensued on September 17, 1862.  It was the bloodiest day in United States history with a combined 22,717 dead, wounded or missing. Union forces held the field, and Lee retreated back across the Potomac to Virginia. McClellan made no attempt to move the Army of the Potomac in pursuit of the weakened Lee.

Lincoln was at wit’s end with McClellan feeling that an opportunity to deal a decisive knock-out blow against the main Confederate battle army had been missed.  Lincoln took the occasion to visit McClellan’s Headquarters at Antietam.  At the meeting President Lincoln sacked McClellan.  McClellan would never command an army in the field again.

Lincoln meets with McClellan at Antietam. Gen’l Fitz John Porter, on far right

The “Court-Martial of General George B. McClellan” is a counter-factual account of the aftermath of Antietam.  The play is set in a military courtroom, and traces the building discord between Lincoln and McClellan thru a series of flashback vignettes, culminating in charges of gross insubordination being brought against McClellan.

My part as General Fitz John Porter takes place in the flash back scene of the Lincoln/McClellan Antietam meeting. Porter served under McClellan in the Army of the Potomac and participated in the Peninsula Campaign, the Second Battle of Bull Run and the Maryland Campaign.  A protégé of the disgraced McClellan, Porter was indeed court-martialed and found guilty of disobedience and misconduct for actions during Bull Run and dismissed from the army on January 21, 1863. In 1878 a special commission under General John Schofield exonerated Porter.

Porter’s one line in the scene given just prior to Lincoln’s arrival is: “General, my I offer you a cigar?”

During our first full rehearsal I decided to add a small embellishment and delivered the line as follows:

“General McClellan, may I offer you a cigar?  And General McClellan this is not just any cigar!  It’s one of three cigars found by Corporal Mitchell and First Sergeant Bloss of the 27th Indiana Volunteers with the Lee’s Orders for the campaign! I can already attest to the excellence of the cigars!   I took the liberty of trying one!  Exceptional leaf tobacco used in the wrapper… sourced from the Connecticut Valley I’d wager.  Other elements were probably from Cuba judging by the nearly intoxicating scent, flavor and the dazzling lift of smoke that gently floated in the September air.  Excellent length, a superb smoke that can be savored for 30 minutes or more.  And what better way to savor a fine cigar than to celebrate your brilliant victory over that Rebel scoundrel! Think of it like Coach Red Auerbach lighting up a good sized stogie when he knew the Boston Celtics had the game ‘in the bag.’ Everyone in the Arena knew what was what.  The fans, the opposing players, and in particular the opposing coach!  Even with time remaining on the clock, the outcome was settled!  Game over!  When Auerbach lit up that cigar and he was smooshing the opposing coach’s nose in shit!  So Sir, enjoy the smoke!  Game over, Bobby Lee!”

After the rehearsal the Artistic Director advised me that they would be going in a different direction for scene.  I was thanked for my efforts and enthusiasm, I was relieved of my sword… but I was allowed to keep my cap.

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Alt Version, Romeo & Juliet

Recently discovered manuscripts written in Shakespeare’s own hand provide valuable insights to the Bard’s writing process. Half finished, or discarded sonnets, and partially written scenes of his plays are a wealth of information and speculation. It has been suggested by some scholars that Shakespeare often grappled with writer’s block. Frustrated by the process of finding words and putting thoughts to paper he would in exasperation create an alternate story line from the original theme. A clear example of this is seen below.

Romeo & Juliet

Two households, both alike in dignity,
In fair Verona, where we lay our scene.
Dear Capulet, Dear Montague lay down your strife.
Handsome Romeo takes fair Juliet as wife.
Proud, loving parents happy as can be,
Not a tear jerk ending for you see!
Ev’ryone lives happily ever after.

finis

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Consider THE Dog

I was born and raised in New Haven, CT; and as such, from birth I was hardwired for Pizza, or more appropriately, groomed to participate in the debate over the relative merits and ranking of New Haven’s three anointed Pizza Emporiums… Pepe’s, Sally’s and Modern. {first small aside, many locals prefer the “purity” of the variant spelling seen in Sally’s & Modern’s signage:  “Apizza”, and its pronunciation – a-beetz}. In spite of the on going controversy over which establishment is top dog, one thing is abundantly clear… we New Havener’s point to our Pizza, as a collective {second aside, I also have a soft spot for Ernie’s Pizza on Whalley Ave}, as the best in the country.  It is a source of pride, even community & gustatory hubris.

The spreading of the New Haven Pizza “gospel” to the balance of the American landmass can probably be best attributed to Yale University (New Haven’s other claim to fame).  Or better put, Yale students… who since 1925 (Pepe’s launch date), developed a love for Frank Pepe’s iteration of the Neapolitan tomato pie.  Cheap, tasty and addictive.  Then (and this is the key part), B.A. in hand, or Law Degree, or whatever else, these very same young men (women to a far lesser degree ‘til later in the 20th Century), returned to their homes in Grosse Pointe, Sewickley, Lake Forest, Ladue, Shaker Heights, Spartanburg & etc. to take up positions in the banks, investment houses, law offices, medical practices & etc.; and proceeded to getting on to their chief purpose in life: ruling the universe. Yet even in the rarified air of success and affluence, there is something of New Haven that played on their heart strings, that conjured memories of their youth… that pulled them back to that City (and it wasn’t Payne Whitney Gym or the Yale Bowl or re-visiting the classroom and the Profs)… it was the “smell” of Wooster Street! New Haven Pizza! It became an obsession!  An obsession magnified by the lack of quality Pizza that was available locally in their chosen homes.

Talk about something long enough in your workplace, in the boardrooms, with friends and family and the word is bound to get around.  And it wasn’t just Yale Alums who praised the quality of the New Haven “Holy Trinity”.  What about all those John Harvards and Princeton Tigers who took up seats on the opposing side in the Yale Bowl?  Where do you think those other Ivy League students (and Alums) went to eat before or after the football game? No secret here!

So you can well imagine that it was just a matter of time when someone (or several people as it turns out) would look to commercially exploit this pizza “obsession”.  Which is why there is a Nick’s New Haven Styled Pizzeria in Boca Raton, FL; a Pete’s New Haven Apizza in Washington, DC; a Salvation New Haven Styled Pizza in Austin, TX; and more “wannabes” too numerous to cite here. Proving once again that imitation is the greatest form of flattery.

But the substance of this essay is not about pizza.  It’s about the hotdog. Our hotdog.  You see, to the local cognoscenti there is another equally compelling story to tell.  But unlike Wooster St., which was walking distance from the Yale Campus, the undergrads would have had to drive to Jimmies of Savin Rock to tuck into the most splendid hotdog on the planet. And further, for the most part Jimmies catered to a seasonal summer crowd when the undergrads would have returned to their homes. Understandable then, that there would be fewer Yalies and outlanders who would have traveled across town lines to West Haven (West Haven! God forbid!), recognized the greatness of Jimmies, and then spread the word about a “drive-in” (in my days) that had all the look of common “festival” and cheap amusement park dives.  Fewer people knew about Jimmies.  Pepe’s et al.?  Truly great, but cosmopolitan.  Jimmies?  It was us!

Amusement park dive? Ahhhh… looks can be deceiving.  Particularly when you fetch the food from a counter, bring it back to your car, set up the trays of food on the hood and then have to ward off the circling seagulls from snatching an unattended,  perfectly plump fried clam, or… God forbid… your hotdog! {third aside, somewhat longer… there was a rustic charm to the seediness of Jimmies’ parking lot.  On a warm July Saturday evening, the parking lot would be chock-a-block packed. Folks on line to get food.  Folks sitting in their cars eating.  Folks standing outside their cars eating. Cars slowly circling thru the lot looking for a space to open up.  Music playing from car radios. Conversations, an occasional harsh word or two, laughter.  A thickness to the air.  Humidity and a light breeze coming off the Sound carrying scents of French fries, grilled hotdogs and briny clams on the half shell. Discarded food, cups and cardboard trays littering the strips of pavement between the parked cars.  And the ever present opportunistic seagulls waiting to participate in this outdoor feast.}

In 1925 James “Jimmie” Gagliardi opened a roadside stand near the Amusement park at Savin Rock {another brief aside, the same year that Frank Pepe “hung his shingle” on Wooster St}.  Gagliardi’s culinary innovation was to split a hot dog to more uniformly cook the dog and speed the grilling process.  Whether the Roessler’s hotdog was used from the get-go, I can’t say.  But for sure, by the time I hit Jimmies in the mid-1950s, Roessler’s of New Haven was the source for the featured hotdog, and the importance of this detail can’t be exaggerated.  There was a symbiotic relationship between grilling technique and the key source ingredient that produced a hotdog that retained a “crunch” when you took a bite.  And that light snap survived thru a coating of mustard, relish and kraut.

And also of paramount importance, the roll was perfectly suited for the finished dog. Not some thick “pillow” of a roll, but rather a thin layer that was slightly toasted on the grill.  Nearly delicate! Dog placed into the bun, no major adjustment was necessary.  The roll compressed superbly into the sides of the dog, condiments added if desired, and in all likelihood, half your first hotdog would have been polished off by the time you reached your car.

By the 50s the modest stand had already seen a couple of moves, and at least one enlargement (including an inside dinning room).  Jimmies was now in capable hands of Sal (Jimmie’s son).  The food counter was divided into three parts with independent registers… on the far left: clams on the half shell were chucked and ready for immediate consumption (as a teenager, the fresh clams were my appetizer course).  On the far right: the station where you picked up your beverages… I loved the non-carbonated pineapple drink.  Center stage was occupied by the grill and the place where you ordered hotdogs, French fries (none better), lobster rolls (hot & butter soaked), fried clams (divine)… and that’s where my interest stopped, although I am sure other items were on the menu as well.

Patrolling the grill (and the center register) on summer nights was the responsibility of Tony DeLucca.  Whatever Sal paid Tony, it wasn’t enough… it wasn’t enough by miles.  Waiting on line to place an order at Jimmies was a form of entertainment just watching Tony ply his trade… maneuvering rows of hotdogs lined up on the grill like a Greek phalanx.  Dogs placed on the grill by a helper, then Tony would take charge, turning the rows, then deftly slicing the dogs to their characteristic split (fancy TV chefs today would nod approvingly at his speed and accuracy), turning the rows of dogs for reverse side grilling, turning once more for exposed side grilling, then the placement of dog into roll, onto a tray, then to combine with other items ordered: fries, fried clams & etc. (picked up from frying stations behind the main grill) and added to the tray, or second tray, and then the stunning element of this experience… Tony would have calculated what you owed in his head, had the sale rung up in the register, hand out for your cash… and all the time never missing a beat with marshalling his never ending rows of hotdogs.

Hard not to sound like an “old fart”… but although Jimmies is still in business today.  It just ain’t the same.  Roughly in the same location. Still owned by the Gagliardi family. Few of the elements that made it an attraction for me are in play today.  Do I miss having to navigate a path to the counter thru a dropped-food minefield of stepped-on French fries, blobs of ketchup, mustard and the like?  No.  How bout having to keep an eye out for the cruising seagulls overhead ready to clear their digestive tracts?  Take pass on that, too.

 Yes, I miss the smell.  I miss the informality and feeling of community in a shared activity – finding a parking place, walking up to the counter, standing on line cheek to jowl with others, conversations overlapping, probably recognizing a half dozen folks, schlepping the food back to the car and eating under the stars.  There was a wonderful consistency to the experience.  The food was in balance within the setting. Do you really want to eat hot dogs and fried clams from a china plate?  The cardboard container filled with fried clams (and a lemon wedge perched on top) was fine for me.

The new Jimmies is now a dinning room experience.  China and cutlery. An elaborate menu.  Waitstaff.  Beer and booze.  Marvelous windows look out to the Sound.  But where is the smell?  Where is Tony DeLucca?

Although I think the French fries are as I remember, what about the dog?  Aye, there is the rub.  Roessler’s is long out of business after surviving a brief revival in Norwich.  And from what I can tell from my last visit, I think the hotdogs aren’t being made on a flat top grill any more.  My dogs looked like they had been split and made under a broiler.  I consider this a setback on par with Pluto being declassed out of planet status.

I have taken on the challenge to make “THE Hotdog.”  But let’s be clear, trying to re-create the Jimmies’ hotdog of yore would be like trying to re-stage the Battle of Agincourt.  It ain’t happening. My effort is simply to make an exceptional hotdog.

First, lucky for us all, there is another New Haven hotdog company making a damned fine dog:  Hummel Bros.  I use the “big bite” size.  Next, I have switched to the top split roll {last aside, this type of roll is called “New England” style. New England is also a designation for a style of Lobster Roll served cold, made with mayo and served with lettuce!  It reeks of upper crust gentility and should be avoided at all costs!}. I have been very unhappy with commercial traditional side split rolls.  Too thick.  Top split rolls are thin, light slice-of-bread like.  Much better for pressing into the finished dog.  Lacking a flat top grill, I have opted to cook my dogs (scored, but unsplit) on my barbeque grill.  I have also decided to up the ante on condiments to “banquet” level.  Subtracted: mustard, relish & kraut.  Added: shredded jack cheese, crumbled applewood smoked bacon & topped with a cup of Jim’s Famous Invisible Rattlesnake Chili (8 hour, slow cooked and I have provided the recipe below).

P.S. The above recipe notwithstanding, more often than not, I scarf down my dogs with just mustard and relish.  Never been much of a sauerkraut guy.

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THE MAMALOSHEN

In 1791 Catherine the Great created the Pale of Settlement.  It was the territory within Russia where Jews were permitted to live. It included all of BelarusLithuania and Moldova, much of present-day Ukraine, parts of eastern Latvia. And with Second Partition of Poland in 1793, the Pale included much of Poland and all of Lithuania.

My maternal Grandmother, Sophie was born in 1880ish Warsaw, then still part of the Tsarist Empire.  She spoke Polish, understood Russian, both Slavic languages; but the lingua franca for Jews, spoken in the home, and amongst their co-religionists was Yiddish (the mamaloshen – “mother tongue”), which was and is a Germanic language.  When she moved to America at the turn of the 20th Century, she added another Germanic language, English to her verbal skill set (although she never gained literacy in it).

My Mother was able to pick up Yiddish from my Grandmother (we called her Mommie Sophie).  Mom developed a decent facility with Yiddish, and as a kid I would sometimes hear Mom and Mommie Sophie having extended conversations in Yiddish.  Drawing the camera back, I think it was their language of “disagreement.”  I couldn’t understand what was being said (and I am sure that was the idea), but words were exchanged in a hurried and excited manner, in a somewhat elevated volume. It wasn’t as if they were telling dirty jokes in Yiddish, either.  It wasn’t, “chubdah, chubdah, chubah, chubdah”; and then a bunch of laughter. Yeah, I think they were disagreeing about this, that or the other thing. Probably something family related, and not whether the flanken was too dry.

My Dad knew a few words and phrases, too.  More than anything, he put Yiddish into play as a vehicle for humor.  Which brings to me to the following.

Zack has sent me a book: The Encyclopedia Blazertannica, which is an alphabetic listing of subjects that, by and large, relate to things soccer. However, under the letter “Y” is this off-topic entry:

YIDDISH: No language does spite more creatively.

Two of the examples contained to illustrate the point.

“Ale tseyner zoln bay dir aroysfaln, nor eyner zol blaybn – af tseynveytok!”

 Or, in English, “May all your teeth fall out except for one – so you can get a toothache!”

And my personal favorite…

“Zol dayne fis vern farholtzzene dayne bokyh ful mit vaser un dayn kop gamakht fun gloz azey ayer fis farbent, vet ayer boykh zidn un dayn kop vet plastn!”

Or, in English, “May your feet be made of wood, your stomach be filled with water, and your head be made of glass so when your feet catch fire your stomach will boil and your head explode!”

Lest you guess otherwise, I never heard such horrible words from the lips of Mommie Soph, or my Mother!

Yes, I know a few words and can get the gist of a couple of phrases.  And it shouldn’t come as a surprise that you know a few words, too!  English is a voracious language, gobbling up vocabulary from languages across the planet… including Yiddish.  Among the terms that have crept into our tongue… bagel, blintz, chutzpah, glitch, kibitz, klutz, lox, nebbish, nosh, schlep, schlock, shnook and tushie… all are derived from Yiddish/German that entered into this country via Ellis Island… just like my Grandmother did!

L’chayim!

 

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Chuck’s

A few years ago I joined a group on Facebook: “50s & 60s Westville”.  And with all the mishegas about Facebook and privacy issues, I still enjoy the good things that there… love the jokes, the animal oriented stuff.  And of course pictures of family and friends.  And I include this Westville Group in the “good” column.  And as an aside, judging from the folks who actively post and comment within the site, you’d have to think that Westville had the highest concentration of Jews outside of Jerusalem.

Many of the posts deal with school stuff and folks trying to find other folks “Anyone know where Cynthia Scheinberg is these days?  We were friends in Sheridan.”

Businesses also pop up, “Who remembers Jackson Marvin’s in the Village?” Or, places… “Loved going to summer concerts at the Yale Bowl.”

But most of the posts spin around places to eat.  And as you can imagine there is a ton of posts on the Wooster St “pizza shrines” and of course Jimmies of Savin Rock.  No, not part of Westville per se; but definitely within our orbit.  

Something else you should know, most of the folks who are connected in the Group no longer live in the area.  The chief archivist, who posts most of the old photographs, lives in Colorado. But everyone seems keen to hop in with a favorite deli, hamburger joint, pizza parlor… or to debate the finer points of Jimmies’ lobster roll versus Chicks’. I submitted Whitey’s in Guilford (by the water tank, just off of I-95) for roasted clams and corn.

A place that often surfaces is Chuck’s. My experience there was limited to less than a half dozen times. So it’s hardly as memorable for me as it was for you.  A recent post included a picture, and here it is… Enjoy!


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So, Felicity it is

Felicity?  I know, I know… not a great name for a Guinea Hen!  But what could we do?  The fancy, shmancy breeder had already named her Felicity!  I wanted to name her Margaret, or Elizabeth, or Eleanor, or Sacagawea, or Dolly. {Stop right there!  I know what you’re thinking!!  “Yeah, Jim! Sounds just like something sexist that you’d think of! Dolly Parton & big breasts!” Well… Margaret Meade had breasts, too!  Although maybe not as impressive.   And besides, I was thinking of Dolly Madison!}.

So, Felicity it is.

Yes, I detect puzzlement in your expression.  Wherefore Guinea hen?  OK, so I was leafing thru a past issue of Smithsonian and there was an article that caught my eye: “The Uncommon Intelligence of the Guinea Fowl.” It turns out that these birds are more than your next dinner!  Smart as a whip, they are!  As smart as mynah birds, ravens, cockatoos… and according to the Director of Animals and Society Institute of Ann Arbor, Guinea fowl posses the intelligence on par, or better, than an octopus or a common house cat. Although further study is needed, he said, and I quote, “I wouldn’t be surprised after additional testing that a Guinea hen will be seen as intelligent as a bonobo ape, just lacking opposable thumbs.”

I admit that Sandy, while intrigued, was not keen on adding a Guinea Fowl to our household.  I pointed out that she had previously excluded dogs, cats and silverback gorillas from our home… but no prohibitions about Guinea hens or wolverines.  Would she rather have a hen or a wolverine?

So, Felicity it is.

The breeder, Mrs. deVargas, was a total whack-job, she insisted before signing the papers for Felicity, that Sandy and I prove that we had college degrees. We also had to sign a statement that we didn’t smoke, and that we were vegan (yes, we lied about the vegan thing). We then all sang the Star Spangled Banner. Ceremony and  paper work taken care of, Mrs. deVargas (I think that she was probably in covert-ops, and breeding Guinea fowl was just her cover), bid us farewell and sent us off with an “alphabet board”, instruction pamphlet, well wishes and, oh one more thing… “Felicity doesn’t like reggae music.”

Alphabet board?  Let me explain.  It turns out that Guinea fowl can be trained to understand commands and actually spell common words.  This is done by placing food treats on squares on the alphabet board… each square containing a letter. I used pistachio nuts as an inducement to peck at specific letters. She actually preferred the shells to the nuts.  Go figure.

She was a quick study.  Although she had trouble with vowels.  After a particularly exhausting training session, I just lost it and asked her, “Why did the chicken cross the road?”  She glared at me and then pecked out, ”G fck yrslf.” She came within an eyelash of being turned into Felicity ala Marsala!

This problem with vowels had gotten the gears in my mind spinning.  Biblical Hebrew was written without vowels!  Maybe Felicity was some sort of Orthodox hen? I tinkered with the idea of creating a Hebrew alphabet board and seeing if I could train her to peck out the kiddush (the blessing for wine).  After some thought I decided against it, and put the alphabet board away.  The entire exercise was proving too stressful for both Felicity and me.

I have moved onto other avenues with her.  Music.  Did you know that female Guinea hens can chirp? Well, not really chirp… more like half way between a chirp and a hum.  This behavior is not meant to attract males, but as a means of communicating and keeping track of new born chicks.  After six months of training, Felicity had the Canon in D down! Although she prefers Irish drinking songs!  And the best part is that mimicking music comes naturally to her, no need of going thru bags of pistachio nut treats.  As it turns out, pistachios, the nuts or the shells, give Felicity a world class case of gas.  And heaven help you if you are at “ground zero” when Felicity cuts a fart!  One time Sandy missed the early warning sign — Felicity raises her left leg, always the left.  Unlucky, Sandy strayed too close to the blast zone and before she could retreat to safety the knee-buckling stench cracked the crystal on her wrist watch (and other gruesome things, too nauseating to mention here).

In spite of this unfortunate gastric reaction to pistachios, I have to smile… Felicity is part of our family.  I now use shredded mini-wheats instead of pistachios for treats. The grueling training sessions are past, and Felicity now enjoys being read to.  She loves John Irving novels and Shakespeare.  Shakespeare!  I have to shake my head… it took me decades to begin to love Shakespeare! Oh, one last note – Mrs. deVargas had it right!  Felicity does not like reggae! If she hears a Bob Marley track, she begins to raise her left leg and Sandy and I have to scramble to kill the song!  Who is training who?

Felicity… she is in command.

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The Feathers Were Ruffled in the Den

Although the classification of pickles at first glance has little bearing on the brief tale I am about to relate… but in so much that I experience that is the “now”, there is a story from the “then” that is imbedded therein that shines like a jewel.

On February 2, 1963 I was Bar Mitvahed. Mommie Soph looked for an appropriate gift to honor the occasion. Perhaps the gift of stock that could improve in value? And in this matter she adhered to Aunt Tiny’s advice that there was only one stock worth purchasing: IBM. Whether Mom’s opinion was also consulted, I can’t say. But Tiny’s position was followed, and 2 shares of IBM stock were purchased for me.

Then the day arrived when the stock certificate arrived at 25 Alston Avenue. And on that day, or perhaps the day after, Aunt Clara happened by for an afternoon visit. I can imagine Aunt Bella was there, too – she usually was. With pride Mommie Soph took out the stock certificate to show around. “See what I got for my Jimmy! Two shares of IBM stock, and Tiny says this is the best! THE BEST!”

Well, Clara carefully inspected the certificate and declared that this was the wrong stock! “Sophie! You purchased the wrong stock. Look here!” And of course Mommie Soph couldn’t read the words! “This says: International Business Machines! NOT, IBM!” And Clara was insistent on this!!

Now if Clara intended to make a joke it would have been one thing. But that was not the case, she truly believed that Mommie Soph had made a mistake, unfortunate maybe, but an egregious mistake nonetheless!! The feathers were ruffled in the den!

Yes, it took several minutes to sort this out. I am sure Mom was called in to referee this dispute (and maybe even Tiny had to be called to confirm the facts!). The dust settled, and the Chatzek sisters could continue on to a satisfying cup of tea. Peace had returned to the den.

And pickles? Well, and this issue has not been completely resolved to the interested parties, Sandy and I just spent the better part of a half hour discussing the difference between jars of pickles labeled “full sour” pickles & “kosher dill” pickles. For me, it simply a matter of marketing. Pickles are: sweet, half sour or full sour – and that Kosher Dill are full sour unless otherwise noted.

So, what can I say. Somehow this debate brought to memory a quiet afternoon that took place in the den at 25 Alston Avenue fifty-five years ago.

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Through the Eyes of Uncle Saul

My Uncle Saul taught me how to play gin. Not just the basic rules of the game, but when to take risks to get a card to complete a hand; and when a hand held little promise for success, the defensive strategy that had to be used to limit a loss. Along the way I was tutored in the finer points of “gamesmanship”. How to distract an opponent with gab, a well placed insult or a condescending comment meant to lull an adversary into a false sense of security.

I can imagine Saul laying waste to his card playing buddies.

Saul also fed my curiosity about dinosaurs. Many a Saturday afternoon, with an egg capturing net in hand, we would go on a dinosaur egg hunting expedition in the acres around his home in Woodbury. Along the way we would find butterflies, crickets & a diversity of birds, for which Saul could speak at length. “Jimmy, look at that hawk circling overhead!” And then Saul would tell me that the birds were descendants of dinosaurs. Which I thought was BS, although I didn’t tell him so at the time.

But on one of many family visits to Yale Peabody Museum, Saul pointed out to me the difference between the “lizard hipped” sauropod dinosaurs like Brontosaurus and Stegosaurus; and the “bird hipped” bi-pedal dinosaurs like T-Rex! Bird hipped! Hawk? The connection seemed unlikely… particularly to a little kid like me.

As I write these words, I look at a picture on my desk. Aunt Meggie & Uncle Saul on the lawn outside their Cape Cod home in Chatham. I focus on the details. Meggie, powder blue light crew neck sweater over charcoal slacks, wind picked-up curly chestnut colored hair. Saul, tennis sweater over shorts, arm on Meggie’s shoulder, face pivoted directly toward her in wide smile, impervious to the wind that was coming in from the Atlantic sea. God, I love that shot.

My memories of my Aunt and Uncle are indeed rich. Lucky for us who can draw on early experiences that help shape our lives. And yes, I am a good gin player, and I continue to enjoy my love of dinosaurs.

But it took me decades to unearth the greatest treasure that my Saul gave to me. It was the idea that I could “see” the world.

Maybe it began on a late spring day in the early morning sun as we progressed along the walking path in Middlebury… a tiny stream to our left, and surrounded by leafy trees. Saul called my attention to the leaves resting in the sunlight, “Jimmy, what is the color of those leaves?”

Easy. “Green”

“Green? Is it all the same?” He didn’t wait for the answer. “No, see how the sun strikes the exposed surfaces to the direct light? The leaves are illuminated into a brilliant yellow! And the undersides? A lime green! And look closely! The veins of the underside of that leaf can clearly be seen in the deeper green!”

There was nothing extraordinary in the words he chose, nor the manner in which he directed them to me. And as he we walked he made mention of this, that or the other thing… the sound of the modest brook tripping across the rocks, or how the air felt in a shaded portion of the trail. Details relating to the five senses. Each detail simply put for my hearing. But at no point did Saul say, this what you must sense. Or, this is how you do it. No, that would be left for me to discover. But open the door, he did.

Then there came the day in my 11th grade year when I wrote an essay for Miss Stewart’s English class on the “Beauty of a Green Banana.” I received a “C” for that essay, and it was one of the two grades that I ever objected to during my academic career. I questioned Miss Stewart about the grade and, focusing on the under ripe taste of the fruit, she said that she couldn’t fathom how I could find beauty in a green banana.

Maybe my writing deserved a “C”; but I replied that I wasn’t writing about the taste of the banana… but at its appearance. A point that was lost on Miss Stewart; but wouldn’t have been on my Uncle Saul. I still doubt that in the 11th Grade I appreciated the ‘building blocks” that Saul had given me.

Even as a sophomore at Union College when I watched Professor Hugh Allen Wilson’s hands race over the harpsichord’s keyboard as he worked his way thru Bach’s Brandenburg No. 5, I looked beyond the sound to feel and see that musical piece. It was not just “green”. But amazing shades of green. And on occasion veins of bright color popped thru during the cadenza.

And today? Today I revel in a Sancerre from grapes grown in a tiny section of that Loire Valley appellation. Vines that have deep roots into ancient soils composed of a marl… a sedimentary layer combined of clay and tiny fossilized Jurassic oyster shells. Shells deposited when dinosaurs ruled the land. The stratum is called the Kimmeridge Shelf and it gives the Sauvignon Blanc grapes here its distinctive, and unique, character. The hue, scent and taste of these wines can’t be replicated anywhere. I look at the greenish tinge of the wine, the unmistakable fragrance of fresh gooseberries, the clear fruit and mineral laced taste —

Yes, I am thankful for Uncle Saul who decades before opened the door for me to see and experience the world.

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A Year in Wine Tasting

As some already know… I am the lucky guy on the Grapes Team who gets to lead wine tastings for our local customers… something I have been doing for 17+ years.

Since January 1 I have hosted 64 tastings, both on premises and in private homes.  Many tastings are of a “generic” nature, an eclectic group of wines from different wine producing regions, with a spread of price points.  Some are focused on “modest drinking” wines with themes like “Country French” or “Comfort Food Wines.” Some tastings are geared to “cellar worthy” wines – like “Brunello” or “Grand Cru Burgundy.” This year I was also able to host tastings from Wine regions that we had never offered as a “stand alone” before: Alsace, Sicily, Austria, Santa Barbara County & Washington State.

By November my Tasting Schedule is nearly done and I have decided to review the wines that I have tasted over the year and select my favorites. And I have decided to limit the number to 10, even though I am sure that I could double that number without cutting a sweat.  Ahhh, but part of the exercise to focus on the joy of a singular wine.  Be forewarned, these are not necessarily the 10 best wines tasted; but rather wines that some how raised an eyebrow of surprise, wines that always pleased, and wines that I would without hesitation add to my personal cellar.

The “cheat sheet”:  Don’t get your knickers in a twist – most of the wines noted here are white.  Why?  Because stand out whites create immediate separation from the herd.  Great reds, regardless of their unquestioned greatness, get lost in a sea of great reds.  I included the Valserrano Monteviejo because it was an entirely different beast from the rest of the Valserrano portfolio (a portfolio that I love & is as classic as Rioja gets).  I had originally intended to include no wines from our Grand Cru Burgundy Tasting (and 11 of the 15 wines we tasted were off the charts great); but I have to include the Corton-Charlemagne here.  I’ve tasted perhaps a dozen vintages of this wine, and the 2014 might just be the best I’ve tasted.  Also from that tasting a wine from one of my all-time favorite Estates: Zind-Humbrecht.  And as much as I love Zind’s portfolio, this is the first time I could pour one of their Grand Cru wines.  Heavenly.

OK, there you go.  Wines are listed alphabetically.  And yes, I fibbed about keeping it to ten.

Allamand H ’13 (Mendoza, Argentina)

The Estate is a joint project from Cristian Allamand and Martín Castro from Mendoza who were friends because they played rugby together. After some years, they put their small family vineyards and projects together in 2005 and they are full-time in this since 2009. They only use grapes from their own vineyards.This is the best wine that Cristian Allamand is capable of making with the fruit of those vineyards he works and/or directs on a daily basis through the course of the year. Cristian offers this wine only on those vintages he considers outstanding.  The 2013 is 90% Cabernet and 10% Malbec aged for 12 months in new French oak and 2 years in bottle prior to release

Argiano Brunello di Montalcino ’12 (Tuscany, Italy)

Argiano is one of the most important estates in Montalcino. It is located in the southwest quadrant and sees most of its vineyards at 300 meters above sea level, on a flat plateau with beautiful views and a protected microclimate. The Amiata mountain in the distance blocks much of the incoming bad weather. One area of the estate has heavy clay soils. International grapes are planted here. Sangiovese (clone M1) is also planted here in part. Other Sangiovese vines make their home in light, calcareous soils that help enhance aromas. The Argiano 2012 Brunello di Montalcino does a great job of interpreting the vintage and of showcasing its special microclimate on the southern flank of the Montalcino appellation. Both these elements point to warm-climate Sangiovese. and Argiano accepts that challenge with creativity and expertise. This is a proud expression of the grape with thick texture, determination and a succulent approach. Aromas of dark cherry, moist earth, tobacco and grilled herb lift from the bouquet. Bright acidity marks the close. The wine still carries its baby fat and needs a few more years of cellar aging in order to fully express itself. 96pts James Suckling, 94+pts Wine Advocate

De Morgenzon Chenin Blanc Reserve ’15 (Stellenbosch, SA)

De Morgenzon’s Chenin Blanc comes from low-yielding vines planted in 1972, which were originally planted as bush vines but recently lifted onto trellises. The vines are planted in decomposed granite soils, at altitudes of 250 to 300 meters above sea level. Close proximity to False Bay ensures cooling breezes in the warm summer months. The grapes were picked in four different passes in order to achieve optimum ripeness and balance in the final wine. The grapes were handpicked in the early morning hours, with bunch selection done in the vineyard. Fruit was cooled down and then gently pressed, whole bunch, and the juice was settled overnight without the use of settling enzymes. Fermentation occurred naturally in French oak barrels (25% new), using indigenous yeasts. The wine was aged on its lees in barrel for 11 months, without any topping or batonage. This show stopping white displays effusive aromas of white flower, stone fruit, honey and toast which erupt into opulent flavours of pear, orange blossom, caramel and spice. It’s a world class wine offering that strikes a brilliant balance between lush fruit and crisp, mouth-watering acidity.Decanter Gold; Decanter International Trophy Winner.  92pts Vinous; 92pts Wine Advocate

Domaine Bonneau du Martray Grand Cru Corton-Charlemagne ‘14 (Côte de Beaune, Burgundy)

A highly restrained nose features notes of cool and ultra-pure citrus, green apple, white flowers, herbal tea and wet stone. There is a distinctly racy mouth feel to the super intense and well-delineated medium weight plus flavors that are strikingly focused on the chiseled, clean, dry and moderately austere finale that delivers stunningly good complexity. I very much like this understated effort as it is an exercise in harmony and refinement and while there is the usual taut muscularity of a classic Corton-Charlemagne, it certainly doesn’t lack for elegance either. In a word, sublime. 95pts Allen Meadows’ Burghound; 95pts Vinous

Domaine de la Janasse Châteauneuf du Pape ’13 (Southern Rhône, France)

A great wine – from a difficult vintage – that shows the talent and hard work of this brother/sister pair, the 2013 Châteauneuf du Pape reveals a healthy ruby/purple color to go with perfumed notes of black and red raspberry, pepper, licorice and violets. Medium plus in body and elegant, with gorgeous purity and fine tannin, drink this terrific 2013 over the coming 8-10 years. 91pts Wine Advocate; 91pts Vinous; 92pts Wine Spectator

Domaine Faury Condrieu ’13 (Northern Rhône, France)

Along the steep, narrow valley that traces the northern Rhône, the appellations of Côte-Rôtie, Condrieu and Saint-Joseph take their place among the great wines of France, and Domaine Faury is one of the region’s most artisanal producers. The Condrieu is 100% Viognier aged 11 months on its lees, in a combination of 10% new barriques, 30% used barriques and 60% stainless. Bright and engaging, with a gorgeous mix of Jonagold apple, green almond, anise, white peach and honeysuckle notes that all meld beautifully through the pure finish. Drink now through 2017. 100 cases imported. 93pts Wine Spectator

Domaines Schlumberger Riesling Grand Cru Saering ’11 (Alsace, France)

Established in 1810 together with the the well-known factory of textile machinery the Domaines Schlumberger in Guebwiller do not just own the largest vineyard area of all private wine producers in Alsace (130ha), the family also cultivates “at least 80% of the total area” in 3 of the 4 local Grands Crus: Kitterlé, Kessler and Saering. The 2011 Saering is a dry, racy white driven by ample minerality and crackling acidity, with finely layered flavors of pink grapefruit, melon, star fruit and ground white pepper, which lingers on the finish. 93pts Wine Spectator

Domaine Zind-Humbrecht Grand Cru Brand Riesling ‘15 (Alsace, France)

Zind-Humbrecht is managed by Olivier Humbrecht, one of the world’s only winemakers to attain MW status.  His passion for Alsatian wines and Biodynamic farming translates into a portfolio of legendary wines recognizable for their purity, intensity and, above all, their faithful expression of each individual vineyard site. From granite soils, Humbrecht’s 2015 Riesling Brand is terribly pure, fine and highly precise, delivering crushed stones and lemon perfume, as if it were another Sommerberg. Exciting! On the palate, this is a lush yet pure, intense and ripe, yet mineral and piquant Riesling; it has great elegance, noble intensity and great terroir expression. What a stimulating richness but also purity here, a beautifully fine tannin grip (as if it was Pinot Noir), and a long and persistent finish. This is a must buy of the vintage. Olivier compares the 2015 to 1983, which was also a very warm year and delivered elegant wines. This is pure, rich, lean, piquant and mineral, very stony, lush and fruity. Most of all, it is full of energy and fascination! A must buy! 96pts Wine Advocate

Donnafugata Mille e Una Notte ’11 (Sicily, Italy)

The 2011 Mille e Una Notte is based on Nero d’Avola, although the wine sees smaller percentages of other grapes in supporting roles. This is a thick and darkly saturated expression with a bold flavor profile that reveals dark fruit, jammy blackberry, exotic spice and moist chewing tobacco. The 2011 vintage falls under the IGT Sicilia appellation (but newer vintages will be labeled under the Contessa Entellina appellation). The intensity of the bouquet is remarkable as is the thickness and weight of the wine’s texture. Mille e Una Notte is an all-Sicilian wine with an interesting Bordeaux slant. The tannins are firm but very well integrated. 94pts Wine Advocate

Eroica Riesling ’15 (Columbia, WA)

Joint venture between Chateau Ste. Michelle and Dr. Loosen. “The 2015 Riesling Eroica is another beautiful, pure and racy white that has vibrant acidity, medium-bodied richness and classy notes of lychee nut, petrol and honeyed minerality. Drink this pure, juicy and impeccably balanced beauty over the coming 4-5 years. It will keep for over a decade if you’re so inclined as well.” 91pts Wine Advocate

Henri Bourgeois Sancerre “Jadis” ’14 (Loire, France)

This cuvée comes from kimmeridgian marls, recognizable for its cluster of comma shaped small fossilized oyster shells shaped like (ostrea virgula), from the famous and well exposed slopes of Chavignol. For this wine, low yields, organic fertilizer only, use of grass cover, everything is made to respect the terroir and to obtain the finest fruit. Its green gold color has some bright and luminous reflections. Its nose is quite expressive and complex. It evolve all along the tasting. It opens beautifully on exotic fruits, green mango, citrus, honey and a hint of menthol. The mouth is powerful, round and harmonious. One can taste fresh grapes but also a refreshing and sharp minerality. It is a particularly long lasting wine. “From the Kimmeridgian marl soils in Chavignol, the 2014 Sancerre Jadis displays a smoky bouquet of crushed stones along with ripe and intense white stone fruit and refreshing citrus aromas. Firm and mineral on the palate, with grip and a refreshing lemon flavor, the Jadis is finesse-full and powerful, as well as elegant and filled with tension and salt. This is a complex wine with a lingering stoniness and salinity, as well as mango aromas. Excellent aging potential. Great purity. “93pts Wine Advocate

Klein Constantia Vin de Constance ‘12  500ML (Stellenbosch, SA)

Intense, with dried orange peel, nectarine, apricot and kumquat notes laced with a vibrant green tea edge. The long finish picks up a bitter almond hint for added tension, while the unctuous fruit sails through. This is still very youthful and densely packed, so no rush at all. Muscat de Frontignan. Drink now through 2040. 95pts Wine Spectator

S.A. Prüm Urziger Würzgarten Riesling Kabinett ‘09  (Mosel, Germany)

From the red slate of Urzig and from the legendary 2009 vintage. Insane depth and length and everything’s in the correct place, time in the bottle to develop. The prevailing portion of the vineyards are on steep slopes up to 70% which provide by low water supply and poor soils and low yields. The vines are deeply rooted in iron-rich red slate from the Devoninan age. These steep hills make the use of machinery almost impossible so the work must be done by hand. The red, ferrous fine groundslate gives a distinctive character to the wines from this site, contributing luxurious fruit and spice. The Riesling growing here shows exotic, unique character with great depth and length. Shows complex aromas and flavors of violet, black currant, nectarine and slate, with a saline, savory undercurrent. Though rich, this is light-weight and detailed, with fine length. Drink now through 2025.

Valserrano Finca Monteviejo ’12 (Rioja, Spain)

Made from grapes from a single vineyard planted over 60 years ago with the Tempranillo 95%, Graciano and Garnacha varieties. Cold prefermentative maceration, followed by fermentation at a controlled temperature and long subsequent maceration to extract tannins and color. Aged for 24 months in new Allier and Vosges oak casks. Garnet-red colour, with lots of depth and bluish glints around the rim of the glass. Aromas of red-berry fruits like redcurrants, cranberries, blackberries, etc. When the wine is swirled in the glass these aromas are heightened and complemented by aromas of jammy and liqueur fruit, accompanied by underlying noble wood nuances such as cedar which give the wine greater complexity. On the palate fresh tannins balance the acidity harmoniously, with a bouquet made up of notes of fruit and lactic, mineral and spicy nuances coming through, with reminders of pipe tobacco and cedar wood. A pleasant, long, lingering aftertaste. 93pts Peñin

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A Time With Alan

A post script before you read… hmmm, I guess that would make it a “pre-script”? I am sure if I delved into my previous writings, this story may have already been covered. Such is my plight… I love telling stories, and sometimes my friends and family have to endure a telling of a tale that they have heard before. Maybe several times. Well… too bad. And in a couple of years I may send you this story again. I love it…

Growing up in New Haven, Connecticut there is something special about a summer evening, particularly a Saturday night. And of the evening I am about to describe I was lucky to be in my “late teens” and blessed to have a metabolism of a humming bird.

Now this you have to understand of the Saturday evening noted here, I was already amply fed. Several slices of London Broil (the preferred cut on 25 Alston Ave), and multiple sweet corn (courtesy of Margie’s produce on Whalley Ave), a slice or two of watermelon, and you would think that I was good for the night.

Ahhh… teen aged boys don’t eat. They take on fuel.

So, when the suggestion came up (I’m thinking circa 9:00pmish) that perhaps we should repair to Jimmies of Savin Rock (West Haven, CT) to knock off a couple of “dogs” and a couple of dozen of clams on the half shell, Alan (my brother-in-law) was in full agreement… along with my parent’s house guest Jacques Spiro.

The stage was set. Summer. Saturday night. Air heavy with humidity, and a slight emptiness in my stomach.

Even my Grandmother, Mommie Soph, endorsed this expedition. Urban legend: Mommie Soph slipped Alan a double saw buck to cover part of the costs of this descent into additional eating. And if she kept quiet that we didn’t eat enough at the dinner table, she didn’t betray her upset.

My informal take for that night: 2 dozen clams on the half shell, 3 hot dogs, 1 order of french fries, 2 lobster rolls, 1 order of fried clams & a pineapple drink to wash it down.

I am blessed to have enjoyed Alan’s company and fellowship for 5 decades. It should seem wrong to single out one episode and place it above others. Well… I have been wrong in other matters, but I choose this night to highlight.

Today? It’s a steamy June evening, and I am drawn back to that summer evening from years ago, a simple evening really, when Alan and I just could revel in the moment. Sharing time with Jacques, telling stories & observations and laughing… laughing. Oh, yes… and tucking into Jimmies of Savin Rock’s finest. And lest you think otherwise, Alan & Jacques were not mere spectators in this culinary debauchery. Although I did not play close attention to their levels of consumption, I know that we were all on par after the initial round of clams.

A memory sweet for me, and forever fresh.

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Mom’s Yartzheit

In many ways Sandy is a blessing in my life. Sandy pays close attention to honoring the memory of her family members that have passed away. And she has been kind enough to add Mom, Dad & Mommie Soph to the list of departed family… family to be honored with the lighting of a memorial candle (and an extra candle to the memory of an unknown Holocaust person who may not have someone to light a candle).

And tonight I will light a candle to Mom’s memory (and also to a Holocaust victim). If the date is incorrect, it is only because I have given Sandy an incorrect date to enter into her calendar. Regardless, a candle will be lit.

And I think I am going to peruse my “memory shelf” and select an item to take down, dust off and turn into the light.

Let’s see… this is something small. And it also included Mommie Soph and Bessie. Location: Mom’s bedroom. Time: late evening, after 10:00pm & certainly around my bedtime. That old TV in the room was probably on. And the ladies were sharing a favorite 25 Alston Ave night time snack. A buttered Kaiser roll with sardines, onion & tomato.

This, by the way, was not a single occurrence event. I watched it unfold several times. I had no interest in this concoction initially, but their enjoyment of this snack became too seductive. And there came an evening that I asked for a sandwich to be prepared for me, too. Although my first dip into these waters may have been sans sardines. Eventually I came around to the full sandwich. And honestly, I can’t recall having it since.

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Matzo Therapy

Call it an inspiration.  Sandy was leafing thru the pages of Scientific American when she happened on an article about Emanuel Rifkin, a Salt Lake City CPA, who decided to build a geodesic dome in the Utah dessert out of matzo. One can only guess that Rifikin (one of nine Jews who live in Utah) ordered more matzo than he needed for his Passover table.  Hoping that he was going to make a financial windfall, he had been pleased when he had cornered the market in matzo for all the mountain states, and at the close of the Passover he peered out his kitchen window to pallets of matzo boxes stacked up on his driveway. What to do with the extra boxes of matzo?  After all, one only uses one or two boxes of the stuff during the eight day holiday.  That is, unless you live in Brooklyn and are feeding the entire congregation of B’nai Tsuris… then you might use up to nine boxes.  But as already noted, the Rifkins lived in Salt Lake City!

Perhaps it was to be expected when Rachel (his wife of 17 years) suggested that Manny find lodgings elsewhere.  And that is when the ambitious Rifikin, armed with R. Buckminster Fuller’s blueprint for a geodesic dome, loaded up his matzo into a ten-wheeler and headed for the desert.  And to the amazement of all, build it he did!  Further, he saw that when he was in the finished dome he felt an unmistakable calm as he rested from his labors.  Surrounded by walls of matzo and in the desert air his skin tightened and he felt rejuvenated.  The salutary effect was real.  It wasn’t long before word spread about this curious structure in the middle of “nowhere”. The newsprint media covered it. Reported to be better than a salt cave, health nerds began traveling to his doorstep, and paid a high fee to spend two hours in his matzo dome.  The Hollywood glitterati soon began chartering flights to Salt Lake City. You get the idea.  Fortune follows the brave!

One can only imagine Manny Rifkin in the Utah desert sipping a chilled Mogen David and counting his Ben Franklin’s.  Who would have thought?  Matzo Therapy!

And now to Sandy.  She read this article when our pantry also had a modest surplus of matzo. We had purchased five boxes in advance of the Passover Holiday and had overshot our needs by 3.5 boxes. The words of the article danced in her head as she put the finishing touches on her latest coloring project.

This coloring “thing” has captured Sandy.  She sets up shop on the kitchen table.  Spreads out a stout collection of pens, pencils, markers and fine brushes in front of her… selects an elaborate drawing and spends a couple of hours coloring it in. With music playing in the background (or the news on the kitchen TV), she is the picture of contentment. Coloring therapy?  And the finished products are really good. 

Maybe it was just a natural progression of thinking… the article in Scientific American, a pantry with too much matzo, and maybe a touch of “matzo induced constipation”?  Sort of simple, really.  Sandy decided to make use of the unwanted matzo, and she put her coloring talents to creating matzo art!  You could say it was a new form of matzo therapy!

This first piece of matzo art was made while listening to Pachelbel’s Canon in D.

Serenity, Before the Onset of an Intestinal Blockage

Next, Sandy applied herself to capturing the likeness of the first Hebrew Super Hero: Constipator the Great.  The roots of this legendary figure are indeed linked to the biblical Exodus story.  We have learned that the Hebrews had to flee Egypt in a hurry before Pharaoh reversed his decision to let Moses’ people go. “They could not tarry”.  The bread was not allowed to properly rise, and so the Hebrews had to settle to making a flat “bread” – matzo!  However, a considerable excess of this “bread” had to be left behind.  And it was said that the Egyptian host spent days gorging out on matzo and the charioteers, archers & foot soldiers suffered from serious bloating, twisted bowel syndrome and painful rectal itch.  Pharaoh’s army was completely incapacitated before leaving the gates of Egypt.  No need for Moses to split the Red Sea for the escaping Hebrews.  That was clearly an unnecessary literary device exploited by Cecil B. DeMille.  The savior for the Hebrews was Matzo Man!

Drawn while listening to the Rolling Stones’ “Can’t You Hear Me Knocking.”

Matzo Man

Sandy followed Matzo Man with a piece of three dimensional art.  On a plain matzo board she placed four slices of American cheese, which she said represented the Four Horseman of the Apocalypse.  Then she applied a quantity of scrambled eggs, which she said represented the Turmoil caused by the Rangers giving up the tying goal with 17 seconds left in the game. And a sprinkle of Tabasco Sauce, which she said represented a mistake.  N.b. The bacon-like objects I photo-shopped in.

Made while listening to Al Roker’s weather report.

Eggs on Matzo

After breakfast Sandy returned to two dimensional art.  I asked her to knock-off my favorite Georges Seurat canvas.  She agreed; but first she wanted to find a way to overcome the handicap of coloring on matzo’s irregular surface.  Particularly the perforations.  The problem was solved by mixing matzo meal and anchovy paste and applying it to the matzo board. Voilà! An ideal surface to use! The results are uncanny!  Her best piece of art to date!

 In the manner of, A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte

How to follow up that superb rendition of Seurat?  First, let me say I don’t want to limit Sandy’s enthusiasm for her art.  But she may have over-reached her skill set.  But she is set on giving this a “go.”  We have just taken a long term lease on a vacant aircraft hangar at Oxford Airport, and Sandy has decided to make a 1:2 scale model of a Blue Whale out of matzo.  Costco has agreed to sell us 30,000 boxes of their surplus matzo.  We were able to get a very good price, even better than their usual low price.  The trucks arrive next week, the sound system will be installed by mid-May, coloring will begin in June and construction will follow in November.  Stay tuned.

Balaenoptera Musculus

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Welsh Rabbit/ Welsh Rarebit & Laculle Brut Premier

Can someone tire of Eggs Benedict on New Year’s morning? The brief answer is “no.” The recipe that follows is not meant to replace in our hearts the supreme brunch dish. On the other hand, Eggs Benedict is a particularly fussy dish to make. Consider the careful assemblage necessary in making the hollandaise sauce, and the tricky nature of poaching eggs — plus or minus 10 seconds and the yolk is all wrong! The anxiety! Runny hollandaise and overdone eggs! And given the speed to which we can dispatch what is served to us, was all that time and work invested in producing it really worth the trouble? The brief answer is “yes.” Especially if someone else is making it… and cleaning up afterwards!

To quote the Prince of Denmark, “Ay, there’s the rub.”

Which brings us to the dish below, Welsh Rabbit, which takes all of 25 minutes (max) from when you switch on the lights in the kitchen to when you’re happily downing forkfuls of cheesy toast, and washing it down with a flute of chilled Brut Champagne! But before we continue, a word about the name of the dish itself. The origin of the name is obscure, it first appeared in print in 1725 as Welsh Rabbit, and then in 1785 it was altered to Welsh Rarebit, perhaps because the dish didn’t contain a whisker of rabbit in it! In his 1926 edition of the Dictionary of Modern English Usage, the grammarian H.W. Fowler states a forthright view: “Welsh Rabbit is amusing and right. Welsh Rarebit is stupid and wrong.” So there you are, and I’m glad that we’ve put that thorny issue to rest.

The prep of Welsh Rabbit is indeed simple and the cooking simpler yet. Whisk in hand, stirring the sauce over a low flame even allows for a sip or two of Champagne before sitting down at the table! A great way to launch a New Year if you ask me. But Welsh Rabbit is more than a great brunch dish, it’s also good for a light Sunday supper. And famously, this was a White House late night snack favorite of FDR.

And now to the Champagne, and what Thomas Jefferson referred to as “old reliable”. Reliable because there isn’t an occasion or food where Champagne fails to add to your enjoyment. Shame that for too many folks Champagne is only put into use on “major” celebration days, and then only for a ceremonial toast. Champagne is brilliant wine to open for just about any food! And the Champagne recommended here is produced by a small grower — a vigneron who has the option of selling his grapes to the big concerns (like Veuve Clicquot) or in good harvest years reserving some fruit and creating wine under his or her own label. And if you lived in Paris you would probably drive to Champagne a couple of times a year (about 90 minutes away), stop into your grower of choice, buy a couple of cases of your favorite and laugh all the way back to Paris, “Let the stupid Americans drink all the Veuve Clicquot they want!”

Laculle Brut Premier (Champagne, France)

The Laculle family have been making Champagne in the small village of Chervey, nestled in the Cotes des Bar for the past 3 centuries. The family’s winemaking activity dates back to 1789. From this year of the French Revolution onwards, each generation has followed in the family’s wine-making footsteps. Patrick took over the family business in 1980 and married Agnes Moutard in 1986. Patrick uses exclusively his own grapes of his small, 10ha vineyard. 100% Pinot Noir. Soft floral scent, bright on the palate, clean finish with a small persistent bubble.

Welsh Rabbit/Welsh Rarebit

Ingredients

6 ounces of Tanqueray Gin
½ ounce of Noilly Pratt Dry Vermouth
2 tbsp unsalted butter
2 tbsp all-purpose flour
1 tsp Dijon mustard
1 tsp Worcestershire sauce
½ tsp kosher salt
½ tsp freshly ground black pepper
½ cup porter beer
¾ cup heavy cream
6 ounces shredded cheddar cheese (about 1½ cups)
2 drops Tabasco
4 slices of toasted rye bread

Directions

  1. Put gin and vermouth into a glass pitcher, fill with ice, stir vigorously while incanting, “You who know all, thank you for providing us juniper and all the other obscure ingredients responsible for creating this sacred liquid!” Strain into a pre-frozen Martini glass of admirable size. Skewer the olives on one of those tacky cocktail swords, place in glass. Immediately begin consuming. Now you can begin the food prep, and the cooking!
  2. In a medium sauce pan over low heat, melt butter and whisk in the flour. Cook, whisking constantly for 2 minutes or so, being careful not to brown the flour.
  3. Whisk in mustard, Worcestershire sauce, salt & pepper until smooth.
  4. Add beer and whisk to combine. Pour in cream and whisk until well combined and smooth.
  5. Gradually add cheese, stirring constantly, until cheese melts and sauce is smooth (about 4 minutes). Add Tabasco. Spoon sauce over rye toast.

n.b. I used Sierra Nevada Pale Ale in place of the Porter. Sierra Nevada actually makes a Porter. I’m sure it would be good to use, I just have a reflex reaction against a beer that is darker than motor oil. Although this recipe calls for 4 slices of rye toast, the quantity of cheese sauce can comfortably cover two more slices of toast. And… (a drum roll would be appropriate) are you a fan of grilled cheese with bacon and tomato? (crash the cymbal) Put a slice of tomato and a strip or two of crisp bacon on your rye toast before applying the blanket of cheese sauce!

p.s. I made up the Thomas Jefferson quote… although he may in fact have at one time or another referred to Champagne as “old reliable” – after all he lived in France for years!

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Muffin-tin Mini-Quiches & Konrad Sauvignon Blanc ’14

I was looking for a “tasty utilitarian something.” Something that could work for breakfast/brunch, or as an appetizer during cocktails, or as a first course in a fancy-shmancy dinner. I picked up this recipe for Muffin-tin Mini Quiches from Eating Well and while it lacks a pie crust, it doesn’t lack flavor. And it certainly comes in ideal serving portions for use in all of the serving opportunities noted above. Further, you can make it ahead of time (like I did). After the quiches have cooled and removed from the muffin tin, wrap the quiches individually in plastic and refrigerate for up to 3 days (or freeze for up to 1 month). To reheat from fridge, remove plastic, wrap in paper towel and microwave on high for 30 to 60 seconds. Tonight the quiches will be served before our standing rib roast.

My “go-to” white is Sauvignon Blanc. And for tonight I’ve selected a wine from New Zealand. Loire Valley would also have been a good choice… Sancerre, Pouilly Fumé and Quincy all produce excellent Sauvingon Blancs. Other Loire whites would be great choices, too: Muscadet or Dry Vouvray. Pinot Gris from Alsace or Pinot Blanc from the Alto-Adige are other wines that I love both as aperitifs and to go with the quiches.

Konrad Sauvignon Blanc ’14 (Marlborough, NZ)

A brilliant, pale straw green colour. This is a ripe style of Sauvignon showing elements of passion fruit, mango, melon and stone fruit, as well as subtle yoghurty complexity from a whisker of barrel fermentation. The palate if soft, full and dry taking richness from the excellent fruit weight achieved in the vineyard. Classic Marlborough Sauvignon flavours of tropical fruits and underlaid by a vein of exotic fruits reminiscent of guava and lychee. The extract of the wine fills the mouth while acidity keeps the palate alive through to a clean, dry finish.

Muffin-tin Mini-Quiches

Ingredients

6 ounces of Tanqueray Gin
½ ounce of Noilly Pratt Dry Vermouth
2 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
1½ cups finely diced red-skinned potatoes
1 cup diced red onion
Salt
8 large eggs
1 cup shredded smoked gruyere cheese
½ cup low-fat milk
½ tsp ground pepper
1½ cups chopped fresh baby spinach

Directions

  1. Put gin and vermouth into a glass pitcher, fill with ice, stir vigorously while incanting, “You who know all, thank you for providing us juniper and all the other obscure ingredients responsible for creating this sacred liquid!” Strain into a pre-frozen Martini glass of admirable size. Skewer the olives on one of those tacky cocktail swords, place in glass. Immediately begin consuming. Now you can begin the food prep, and the cooking!
  2. Preheat oven to 325°F.  Coat a 12-cup muffin tin with cooking spray.
  3. Heat oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add potatoes, onion and ¼ tsp salt and cook, stirring ’til the potatoes are just cooked through, about 5 minutes. Remove from heat and let cool 5 minutes.
  4. Whisk eggs, cheese, milk, pepper, ½ tsp of salt in a large bowl. Stir in spinach and the potato mixture. Divide quiche mixture among the prepared muffin cups.
  5. Bake until firm to the touch, about 25 minutes. Let stand 5 minutes before removing from the tin.

n.b.  The smoked gruyere fills in a layer of flavor that could accomplished with diced bacon or ham. And next go ’round I might add ham anyway!

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Slow Cooker Salisbury Steak & Domaine la Bouvade ’15

I consider this dish an exercise in trying to shed a childhood nightmare. When I attended Hamden Hall Country Day School, Salisbury Steak was on the hot lunch rotation — meaning I would see it at least once a month (and this was in the day when there was only one option presented on a daily basis for the hot lunch program). And from my perspective everything was wrong about the dish… its appearance on the plate (a brown lump covered in a vile looking brown sauce), its smell and taste? Honestly? I could never make it past the appearance! Granted, that may have been a function of the recipe regardless of who prepared it. Was it prepared in the kitchen or in the bathroom? Even today, in drawing up a memory from my distant past, I gag at the very thought of seeing that lunch!

Time to beat back the demon! OK, so Salisbury “Steak” is essentially a ramped-up burger served with an onion/mushroom brown gravy. And when I look at that dispassionately, it has all the makings of a “comfort food dish” perfect to enjoy on a cold and damp winter Sunday. Add to that, this recipe calls for using a slow-cooker! Prep before noon, watch the football game, ready at dinner time! Serve it with classic sides of peas and mashed potatoes, open up a bottle of “bistro” red and I’m giving it a go!

To the wine choice! First, in general I love wines from the Southern Rhône for good home cookin’. And second, in this instance, we’re looking at a killer vintage (2015) for the major winemaking regions of Western Europe. And what is great about a broad vintage success? The weather pattern responsible for the greatness is democratic… meaning, it had an impact on the modest properties as well as the apex estates. Meaning? Drink modest, and drink well!

Domaine la Bouvade Côtes du Rhône-Villages ’15 (Rousset-les-Vignes, Southern  Rhône)

This is a delicious Côtes du Rhone-Villages from 40 to 45 year old vines. Rich and gushing with fruit. Rousset-les-Vignes is located between Nyons and Valréas. This little village is a pure gem, overhanging the Rhône Valley, with a magnificent surrounding landscape of garrigues, vines, orchards and fields of lavenders! This little paradise, thanks to its various terraced and sloped terroirs of shingles, limestone-clay and siliceous schist, provides perfect vine growing conditions. The 2015 has a nice deep, brilliant velvet color. Round, ample and soft nose of ripe black fruits and spices. Very elegant and balanced, the palate delivers the aromas with bunches of red and black fruits, while being extremely fresh, clean and juicy, with light touches of pepper… just to remind of the Rhône and South origin! Fresh and juicy length. A pure pleasure at the best possible value!

Slow Cooker Salisbury Steak

Ingredients

6 ounces of Tanqueray Gin
½ ounce of Noilly Pratt Dry Vermouth
1½ lbs ground beef
1 egg
¼ cup minced onion
¼ cup bread crumbs
1 clove garlic, crushed
½ tsp salt
¼ tsp pepper
1 small sliced onion
6 oz sliced mushrooms
1½ cups beef broth
1 package brown gravy mix
1 tbs ketchup
1 tbs Dijon mustard
2 tbs corn starch

Directions

  1. Put gin and vermouth into a glass pitcher, fill with ice, stir vigorously while incanting, “You who know all, thank you for providing us juniper and all the other obscure ingredients responsible for creating this sacred liquid!” Strain into a pre-frozen Martini glass of admirable size. Skewer the olives on one of those tacky cocktail swords, place in glass. Immediately begin consuming. Now you can begin the food prep, and the cooking!
  2. Mix ground beef, minced onion, bread crumbs, garlic, egg, salt and pepper together in a good sized bowl. Form into desired sized patties (5 or 6, depending on preference). Brown patties in skillet.
  3. In slow cooker, create a bed of sliced onions & sliced mushrooms on the bottom. Place the browned patties on top.
  4. In a bowl mix beef broth, gravy mix, ketchup & mustard and pour over the patties and veggies.
  5. Cook on low for 5 hours.
  6. Remove patties to a platter. Transfer the sauce to a skillet, whisk in the corn starch over medium-high heat, mix and let cook ‘til it sauce thickens. Return patties back to coat with sauce before serving.
  7. Go to town.

n.b. Other wine choices: always “regional” Italy always works: Barbera, Aglianico, Nero d’Avola, Montepulciano d’Abruzzo & Morelino di Scansano. Pinotage from South Africa. Bonarda from Argentina.

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I Voted!

And here’s the great news!  In Connecticut they allow you to vote on behalf of other people, too.  You know… folks who can’t make it to the polling place.  Not only that, I got to vote for folks who live in other States!  Further, besides providing us with ballots from any county in any State, we are also given as many envelopes and stamps as we need to mail the ballots in!  I have been busy voting for better than a month. I’m telling you, Connecticut is a super great State!

I have 20 cousins (who have given me power of attorney to cast votes on their behalf) who all live in that Arizona County where that Sheriff is running for re-election.  I think you know who I’m talking about. Anyway, my cousins tell me they love the weather in Arizona and I should consider moving down.

I also have 14 Fraternity Brothers living in Florida, each has assigned me voting rights.  Although one died this past March.  No matter, it’s somewhat of a secret.

And then there is my Sister Blanche who has retired to North Carolina.  Before I could cast her ballot, the majordomo of the League of Women Voters demanded that I produce a photo of her.   Then (roll my eyes), I had to go into a long winded explanation on how Blanche likes to wear dinosaur suits, and she was afraid that she was going to get hassled by meat eating dinosaurs at the polling place. Well, we’ve all heard about voter intimidation.  Here’s a picture of Blanche.

parasaurolophus

And then there is my Grandma Esther.  She has voted in every election since Chester A. Arthur was placed on the ballot.  She said, and I quote “He went to Union College!”   The voting operatives in Woodbury demanded to know if she was a citizen and I assured them that she was a solid American!  Born in Bialystok, Connecticut.  I then had to explain that Bialystok was a tiny hamlet in northeast Connecticut and neighbored Warsaw, Connecticut. I was given the thumbs-up!

On election day, Grandma is good for polishing off 3 or 4 six-packs of suds.  She insists on drinking only Imported beer… imported from St. Louis!

Esther owned a duplex on Central Park West, and made a habit of using the hansome cabs for target practice.  She now lives in New Hampshire.

granny

All the candidates have been talking about “getting out the vote”.  Well, in Connecticut we take such encouragement to heart!  And what’s all this jazz about voter fraud?

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Richard Parker’s Fall Soup & Gearbox Sangiovese

It’s wonderful to be relieved of responsibility of preparing a Sunday repast. On an Autumn day, leaves drifting downward in the crisp air, having a man frog on hand to labor in the kitchen is a good thing. And today Richard Parker (my man frog) prepared his famous blend of meat and veggies in a rich broth that just sings Autumnal fare. Sometimes we refer to this dish as game day chow. Why? You put the recipe together just before the 1:00pm football game, put it in the slow-cooker and then focus on the game. Then by the end of the first half of the 4:00pm game, it’s time to take-up napkins and spoons. Time to break off a piece of crusty French bread, take a sip of “drinking” red & tuck in!

The wine? This is a wine that I have used with a previous recipe. Forgive me. I love the wine that much for the informality of tonight’s dinner. Simply put, you can put this wine against any comfort dish and it works. I love Gearbox even better slightly chilled.

Gearbox Sangiovese ’14 (Lodi, CA)

Sangiovese is the great grape of Tuscany, famous for the Chiantis and the world class Brunello that they make. This wine tastes like a stand-out Tuscan red but with more supple fruit, a more friendly supple mouthfeel, still a great food match but with an added silky soft finish. The wine is brimming with red berry fruit, spent a year in neutral oak. The wine is a steal! A great Barbeque red, rich tomato based sauces even great with spicy foods. Dark bing cherries, and raspberries with hints of cinnamon and cloves, and a bit of thyme. Superb fruit on the palate with bright acidity. This wine is an extremely versatile red, the ultimate crowd pleaser.

Richard Parker’s Autumn Soup

Ingredients

6 ounces of Tanqueray Gin
½ ounce of Noilly Pratt Dry Vermouth
1 lb lean ground beef
2 whole carrots, diced
4 celery stalks, minced
1 medium onion, minced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 can crushed tomatoes (28 oz)
2 whole bay leaves
1 tsp dried oregano
1 tsp dried basil
Salt and pepper to taste
1 can cannellini beans, drained and rinsed (15oz)
1 can red kidney beans, drained and rinsed (15oz)
1 cup ditalini pasta, uncooked
Grated parmesan cheese

Directions

  1. Put gin and vermouth into a glass pitcher, fill with ice, stir vigorously while incanting, “You who know all, thank you for providing us juniper and all the other obscure ingredients responsible for creating this sacred liquid!” Strain into a pre-frozen Martini glass of admirable size.  Skewer the olives on one of those tacky cocktail swords, place in glass. Immediately begin consuming.  Now you can begin the food prep, and the cooking!
  2. Put everything except beans, pasta and cheese into a slow cooker
  3. Cook on low 7-8 hours, or high 3-4 hours.
  4. 30 minutes before the end, add in beans (drained and rinsed) and dry pasta. Add salt and pepper to taste
  5. Remove bay leaves before serving. Top with grated parmesan.

n.b. Richard calls this “soup”; but truth be told it has the consistency of a thick chili. I used ground bison.  And, no… browning of the meat is unnecessary.  No fears, the dry pasta cooks in the soup. A crusty garlic bread is a terrific side dish.  And if this dish sounds too simple.  It is.  Just don’t tell Richard Parker.  He’s a proud frog and takes his craft seriously.

richard-parker-serves

Richard Parker serves a light refreshment before supper.

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Games Before the Digital Age

Having just acquired a rather nasty case of shingles, a reminder of my overly protected childhood (but clear evidence of not overly protected enough) when I contracted chicken pox, I find myself in a fair amount of pain. My effected area is my left leg, from knee to ankle, giving good portions of my leg an uncanny resemblance to a cooked Maine lobster tail.

A famous (but not famous enough for me to remember his name) 4th Century Nepalese monk developed the now renown distraction technique when dealing with pain issues. My preferred method of distraction would be to line up 3 beakers of gin, and down them in rapid succession. Regrettably, my medical people put the kibosh on that approach since it would be in conflict with some rather large and expensive pills I have been obligated to take.

Meanwhile, if I had followed my method I would probably be passed out still in my blue chair, completely oblivious to the pain. Instead I am fully awake, very much aware of the pain & burning in my leg (which if I didn’t tell you before, is my favorite leg), praying that these designer pills will fully kick-in before Candelmas Day.

As an alternate form of distraction, I decided to apply myself to looking at pre-digital games, and ranking them according to the length of time it took before outright boredom and irritation set in. I felt that this important task (I think of it as a public service) required the help of my personal think tank (a group of brainy retainers, including a Phd from Cornell, the person who has cut my hair since 1996 and Stew Leonard’s Cash Register Monitor) to develop the metrics necessary to create an accurate ranking. Once the results were tabulated, we turned the document over to an intern at Deloitte-Touche for authentication, and possible oversight.

I am pleased to present the results (as I look longingly at the brilliant dark green bottle of the Tanqueray, a mere 27’ from where I now sit).

1. Dreidel: 38 seconds (I wanted to put down 15 seconds, but was advised that a number that low would hint at anti-Semitism)
2. Parcheesi: 10 minutes
3. Chutes & Ladders: 20 minutes
4. Monopoly: ‘til 10 minutes before the game is actually concluded. Great game, but the end-play is borrrrrrrring!
5. Clue: ‘til the game is concluded
5. Risk: 20 minutes if played with two people; but doubled with each additional player.
6. Scrabble: Two hours, as long as dirty words and made-up words can be used (otherwise I don’t play).
7. Cribbage: ‘til the game is concluded. Must be played on a hand carved cribbage board in a room with at least two padded wing chairs and a large standing world globe.
8. Gin rummy: ‘til the deli and Dr. Brown’s soda runs out.
9. Chess: ‘til the game is concluded; but the game would reign supreme if the chess pieces were made out of chocolate or different flavors of licorice. Then if a person captured an opponent’s piece, he or she would get to eat it! And then consider this. Since the game is representative of war and battle, players should be encouraged to wear opposing military costumes. Ferinstance, one person dresses like a Hoplite and the other like a Don Cossack. And you not only get to eat your opponent’s Bishop, for example, but you get to punch him in the balls! And, and… if he captures your Rook, then he gets to light the torch and scorch your left leg!

Taking applications for those wanting to be added to my think tank.

n.b. Since my original writing, it turned out that I didn’t have shingles, but rather a raging skin infection.  The docs in the ER advised me that if the infection had been left untreated I would have developed a good case of gangrene.  And then, on a different tack, the pain I was feeling in my leg was a good “dress rehearsal” for the pain I would if should I get shingles.  Time to get the shingles vaccine! And/or increase the amount of Tanqueray Gin in my strategic reserve.

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Lunch with Kara Morrow

Columbus Magnet School, I’m thinking 1988.  My Shaina was in Carol Lewis’ kindergarten class, and I was taking advantage of a Wednesday off from work to join in for lunch.  Carol would take wallpaper samples from area home decorating businesses, cover place mat sized discards in plastic wrap and assign a name to an incoming class member.  Then, for lunch… lunch for kindergarten taken in the class room… a student was given the task of putting the place mats on the three (or four?) tables in the room (n.b. there are no desks in Columbus School. Established on the Bank Street model.  Tables, block corner & spaces).

A parent coming for lunch, Carol would let daughter or son set the tables.  I had a guest mat.  And Shaina put Kara Morrow at our table.  And so began a memory for my life time.

I brought a simple sandwich (probably bologna and cheese) and a clementine. Shaina?  Probably a turkey roll-up, string cheese, a Clementine (we’re Clementine people) and a juice box.  And one person down to the left of me, Kara brought a lunch that would put a smile on the greatest of gourmands. And tribute should be paid to her Mom, Lokie, who prepared this repast.  I wish I could remember in detail the variety of foods that Kara tucked into.  I can’t.  But I can well remember the joy in her expression as she worked her way thru… Sandwich? Cup of soup? Carrot and raisin salad? Rice pudding? You get the idea.

And so a simple picture has remained with me going on nearly thirty years.  A picture that I love, in part because it gives me a chance to connect to a picture of Shaina at that age.  My Dad told me years ago that you remain young when you can see life through the eyes of the young.

Since the days at Columbus, I chanced a meeting with Kara, then high school or college age… I think it was at a SoNo Art Festival.  She was with friends, and it was just a “hey, how are you!”  I loved it, and it triggered the memory of Columbus School.  I may have mentioned that lunch, probably not. Sorta silly to bring up so incidental a detail.  But that lunch would never have been far from my mind.

And perhaps our lunch that day found its best representation in a book that I loved to read to my children:

“Well,” said Frances, laying a paper doily on her desk and setting a tiny vase of violets in the middle of it, “let me see.” She arranged her lunch on the doily. “I have a thermos bottle with cream of tomato soup,” she said.

“And a lobster-salad sandwich on thin slices of white bread.  I have celery, carrot sticks, and black olives, and a cardboard shaker of salt for the celery.  And two plums and a tiny basket of cherries.  And a vanilla pudding with chocolate sprinkles and a spoon to eat it with… and she made the lobster-salad sandwich, the celery, the carrot sticks, and the olives come out even.”

bread-and-jam-for-frances

A beautiful picture.  A beautiful memory for me, only to sadly learn that for Kara, life didn’t come out even.

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Mom’s Vinaigrette

The days of summer brought a change in our “diet” on 25 Alston Avenue. Cookouts… hamburgers, hotdogs, london broil, sweetcorn, chicken & watermelon (the basics). Pink lemonade and Iced Tea (served in the pitcher that had an English hunt scene done in relief).

There was another food essential that can not be left out. Mom’s vinaigrette salad. A simple composition of cucumbers, scallions and cherry tomatoes. It was the “green” side dish that appeared on the table regardless of the entree. This salad was kept in a 2qt jar stored in our fridge, and regardless of how it was attacked, the jar was never empty, never absent. Obviously it was being continually being replenished during cookout season by the kitchen staff: Mom, Mommie Soph & Bessie.

I loved that salad, and fork in hand I would often snack on it straight from the fridge. And when I was a teenager (with the metabolism of a hummingbird) on a late night refrigerator raid I would knock off two cold hamburgers and several mouthfuls of vinaigrette salad.

I just came across a recipe for a cucumber and onion salad which reminded me of Mom’s salad. So on this past rainy Sunday I decided to give the recipe a test drive. I replaced the onions with scallions and added the necessary cherry tomatoes. The recipe also called for a tablespoon of pepper. I don’t think Mom used pepper; but I decided to add it to the vinaigrette… further, I think Dad, who loved pepper, would approve!   I also added some fresh dill… because I love fresh dill, and it’s in my herb garden!

n.b. In a recent correspondence with Paula she attributes the original architect for the salad to Mommie Soph. I have placed it with Mom because I saw her make it. Although she could have easily learned it from Mommie Soph.

JIM’S VINAIGRETTE SALAD IN THE STYLE OF MOM

2-3 large cucumbers, peeled leaving decorative “stripes”, and cut into thin rounds
1 bunch of scallions, cut into ¾” pieces (both white and green)
Several cherry tomatoes (or grape tomatoes) for “color”.
½ cup of sugar
1 cup white vinegar
2 cups water
1 tbsp pepper
2 tbsp. fresh dill

Place in a 2qt jar that has a good lid to seal contents. Turn upside down and back several times to mix ingredients. Keep in the fridge. Serve cold, and replenish as circumstances warrant.

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Dried Plants

Mommie Soph, Ellen and I were sitting in the den one evening. Maybe Mom and Bessie were in the kitchen or dinning room? And while in the den we were joined by a bat. Ellen and I bailed out and slammed the den door shut (with Mommie Soph remaining, calmly inside the den to keep the bat company… I suppose). That is one of the few times (maybe the only time) that I can remember that den door being closed.

In that corner behind the door (when it was opened) became a secret place. And I have been trying to recall its “contents”. I think it was one of the locations for HI-FI speaker (the other for sure was in the dinning room). And then I think it was home to one of Mom’s dried plant arrangements. Mom’s plants of choice were pussy willow and eucalyptus. And there may have been other locations where these plants were on display.

If we put the kitchen “fragrances” aside… and also the smell of cigarette smoke – I think the smell I remember most from 25 Alston Ave was the smell of eucalyptus. There was a dustiness to the green shade of the leaves that seemed to carry perfectly to the dusty scent.

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Lot 667

Lot 665, a papier mâché musical box in the shape of a barrel organ. Attached the figure of a monkey in Persian robes playing the cymbals. This item still in working order, shown here… Sold! For 30 francs to the Vicomte de Chagny, thank you Sir.” 

“OK then, Lot 667 Ladies and Gentlemen a fine linen toga edged with purple and gold metallic thread and worn by Gaius Julius Caesar on that fateful day, the Ides of March 44BCE. Made out of the finest spun linen of the period, the toga, a size 40 short, still bears faded wine stains produced during a celebration (perhaps several), lipstick smudges along the collar, and more critically, significant areas of dried blood here, here and here.  The several rips here, here, here and here are evidence of where the knives of the assassins penetrated the garment and inflicted mortal damage to the surprised Caesar. The toga was discovered, perfectly preserved, in the property room of the Globe Theatre. May I have an opening bid of 1000 francs?”

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Cards on the Mantle

I’m not one for sending cards (or making phone calls, either). But there was a day that I was into sending cards. And it was when we were on 25 Alston Ave.

I think it was August when someone would come to our house with samples of holiday cards. Mom was in charge of selecting an appropriate card, the greeting on the inside, and of course the “signature”. Nothing too Christmasy, “Happy Holidays” or something else neutral, Sid and Eve Winston (or maybe just Sid and Eve).

And then I was allowed to do the same. Mom’s order would have been for fifty (probably more). I had the minimum for personalization: twenty-five.

The cards would come in late November.

I can see Mom working from an extensive list of recipients in the dinning room (or the breakfast room?). She would carefully address the envelopes with a fountain pen in her neat script. I’m sure she would have selectively added extra words on the inside. She would be sending cards to “everyone”… family members, the close friends (the “Boopies”), Dad’s work related friends (Norman Hilton, Abel Greenberg, Elliot Gant, Seymour Landman & etc.), YPO folks, and maybe Racebrook friends (Frank Piazza, Lou Bush), neighbors (the Gordons, the Cohens)…

Oh, I can imagine the numbers could get up there. And I reckon that 70% of the folks who got “holiday cards” from Mom and Dad were Jews.

For me the joy was two fold… First, picking the card out in August. I didn’t find particular joy in the addressing part (it seemed too much like homework). But the real joy was getting cards and putting them on the mantle in the living room alongside of the cards that Mom and Dad got. My take was small. Made no matter. I still contributed to the appearance of our mantle. Chock-a-block full!

All those cards! Pretty impressive! Sorta like measuring the status of the deceased by the length of the cortege.

But I loved looking at all those cards. The variety of sizes, colors and the drawings or scenes. The inscriptions never interested me, although I am sure that Mom and Dad would make a careful note who sent us cards. I guess the idea is that if you send someone a card, they should return the gesture.

I can’t imagine getting into the card-sending again. Although – maybe if I found the right card???

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Carrots, Celery & Dad

The other day Sandy was busy assembling the salad course for our dinner… adding some cut carrots and celery to salad in the bag. I couldn’t resist pinching a few. I was nosily crunching my way when a small picture came to mind. I found myself in the breakfast room of 25 Alston Avenue. It would have been 7:45 or so on a weeknight. Although I had already eaten (remembering that we had à la carte dinning), I was waiting for Dad to come home. He would have taken the 6:00PM train out of Grand Central. And on the table when Dad sat down would be a small plate with carrot sticks and celery. Sometimes I would help myself to a few.

Thinking about this… the carrots and celery was not a Mommie Soph thing. This was not some Eastern European culinary tradition. But it was a Race Brook Country Club thing! When we would sit down to dinner at the Club, a relish tray (spiced crab apples, cottage cheese, and Indian corn relish) would be put down, and so would a dish of carrots, celery (and black olives).

Maybe this happened in other Country Clubs, or in other homes, too. But somehow it strikes me as a small piece out of sync. It was like Dad (and/or Mom) wanting to extend a “goyish country club detail” to our home. Not this was in my thinking in 1957. No, seeing the carrots and celery on the table meant that Dad was home for dinner.

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A Business Partnership in Antiquity Gone Bad

Before crossing the Rubicon River in 44BCE, Julius Caesar took time to time to write to his ally and colleague, Brutus…

Dear Brutus,

I am ready to make my return to Rome.  I am bringing a Legion, and knowing that it is a violation to Roman Law and authority, I am prepared to bring battle to my opponents. The blood of my enemies will flow like a river. I will win. I will rejoice in their agony.  I will put dung beetles on their rotting corpses!  On the lighter side, in my baggage train are 20,000 cases of wine from Gaul (it’s good to be Caesar!).  I have Sancerre from the Loire, crisp Rieslings from Alsace, all the Grand Cru Burgundies, excellent Hermitage and Côte-Rôtie, I took all of the Ch. Cheval Blanc that I could get my hands on and some delightful sipping Rosés from Provence. Oh, and some cheddar cheese from Britain.

Once I have defeated that weasel Pompey and all the Senators that support him, I want you to arrange a triumph.  I want floats, bands, caged beasts and prostitutes.  After a week of frivolity, we are going to open the J. & B. Wine Emporium… Julius and Brutus!  I have purchased a perfect location on the Appian Way (plenty of parking for chariots and ox carts!).  I have even thought of our slogan… “Wines for the Nobility at Citizens’ Prices!”  You and I will be rich and I can pay off my substantial debts.

And so Brutus… how’s by you?

Julie

The response from Brutus…

Dear Julie,

I am looking forward to your return.  Pompey is actively plotting against you.  But you will win Julie… Ev’ry guy here’d love to be you Julie, even when taking your lumps. There’s no man in town as admired as you, you’re ev’ryone’s favorite guy. Ev’ryone’s awed and inspired by you, and it’s not very hard to see why. No one’s slick as Julie, no one’s quick as Julie, no one’s neck’s as incredibly thick as Julie’s. For there’s no man in town half as manly. Perfect, a pure paragon! You can ask any Tom, Dick or Stanley and they’ll tell you whose team they prefer to be on!

I’ll begin planning the triumph.  I’m thinking your float can have vine cuttings from Gaul and a miniature villa.  You will be riding on a donkey in front of it dressed like Bacchus with a fake beard, surrounded by an entourage of nymphs, fawns and centaurs! As for the Emporium… the slogan works! But I’m thinking that B. & J. Wine Emporium has a better sound… Brutus & Julius.

Brutus

Youth of Bacchus

A memo from Julius Caesar to Brutus dated Prid. Id. Mart. {March 14th 44BCE}

From the Desk of Caesar

Prid. Id. Mart.

Brutus:

I want to run an “Ides of March Sale” tomorrow. Move all the cases of the 47BCE Bordeaux to the front of the shop and mark them down 50%.  They’re past good drinking and we might as well convert those cases into cash.  Put the Port’s and Madeira’s into the remainder bins, down 35%.  But send a case of Rainwater Madeira to Lucius Cimber.  Charge that dirt bag full price.  Create a mixed display of Whites — Albariño’s, Pinot Blanc’s and Grüner Veltliner’s and make a large sign “Special Sale, Flavorful Weekend Whites Now 20% Off Suggested Retail Prices!”  And then a smaller sign underneath “While Supplies Last!” We got to begin pushing white wines.  Set up a wine tasting table for Riesling, Gewürztraminer and Torrontes.  Put the sandwich board sign next to the table “Add some tasty spice to your Holiday Table — Today Only 25% Off!!” Something else… I just cut a huge deal with one of our distributors who is going out of business (actually I had him murdered… it’s good to be Caesar!) — Clear some space near the fire exit in the back, we have 200 cases of Châteauneuf du Pape and 20 cases of Krug Champagne coming in.  Oh, and also three wheels of Jarlsberg cheese.  Have two sent up to my Villa, and the third over to that goniff Gaius Casca with my complements.  I will meet with these nuisance Senators tomorrow.  Please plan an orgy for the evening.  What Senator doesn’t love a good orgy!

See you tomorrow!

Julie

The Ides of March, Brutus overheard muttering as he left the Theatre of Pompey, “B. & J. Wine Emporium has a much better sound…”

assassination of julius caesar

n.b. The line “And so Brutus… how’s by you” in its orignal Latin appears as Et tu, Brute

 

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For My Friends and Family

Some of you were there to see Sandy at her worst… the encephalitis a raging storm gripping her mind and body.  I have said to some of you, “I would have gladly signed a contract with God two and half years ago to get Sandy where she is today.”  And that is the truth.  But human nature is a funny beast, isn’t it.  We step back from the precipice and we become greedy, and we want more.

Honestly, a day doesn’t go by when I don’t think how lucky Sandy and I are.  It’s not about what we don’t have or can’t do, it’s about what we have and what we can do.  And that’s another thing about human nature… we learn to adapt. It’s a great thing.

On Sunday Sandy and I went to breakfast at Constantine’s in Woodbury. Although it’s not a favorite place of ours, I do enjoy the dark wood and coziness of the old booths. Sandy had her back to the entry; but I had a very good view of a woman bringing her elderly Father in for breakfast. Even with a walker, and the help of his daughter, he moved forward with the greatest of difficulty. The very act of getting from walker to seat was done in the smallest of increments.

It all brought to mind a writing piece I penned a few years ago about another breakfast…

Breakfast at the Silver Star

Posted on May 19, 2002 by Jim

Shaina commented to me that all the mirrors in the Silver Star Diner gave the place a spooky feel… I agreed that there were a ton of mirrors; but I thought it was sort of neat to be able to sometimes see things from a couple of different perspectives at the same time.

We had stopped in at the Silver Star for a late breakfast. I was to drive Shaina to Stamford to pick up the Saturn so she could head north for a few days to see her boy friend John.

Shaina ordered pancakes, and while my original yen was for a tuna melt on rye, the scrapple on the menu caught my eye, so I settled for my usual 2 eggs over easy w/hashed browns, toast, and scrapple. While we were chowing down, I caught sight of this guy in one of the mirrors, pushing this woman in a wheel chair to the booth in back and diagonally across from us.

Shaina’s view was direct, while mine was via a mirror. I watched as the man attended to the foot piece of the chair so he could help her stand slightly as she slid into the booth. Once he had her settled he folded the chair up so it wouldn’t obstruct the aisle.

The fellow had a pony tail, greying hair and the woman had very nice red hair, cut very short… I judged them to be somewhat younger than me, perhaps early to mid- forties. Her legs were withered match sticks… she wore light blue slacks, a deeper blue top and a white sweater…

I watched her expression as the fellow busied himself with putting the chair away… and she had this totally serene look to her face, and yes, a contented smile…

Shaina also watched this…

“What do you see?” I asked her…

And Shaina looks… and I said, “you know, I see a person who is absolutely thrilled for what she has…and perhaps all we can see is things she doesn’t have…”

The more I studied her, the more I thought about how lucky she was… how lucky to be able to have such joy in her eyes, to be able to breathe the air, feel the sunshine, have a breakfast on a beautiful day…

And I felt lucky, too… it underscored how important the small things are in our lives…

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Linguine Bolognese with Château Les Mongettes ’11

My old friend Art Riccio could weave stories about his “from-scratch” sauces… hours in the making, putting to shame anything pre-made.  It’s a bit intimidating to have a buddy (who I have known since 7th grade) who watched his parents (and maybe grandparents and assorted aunts and uncles) prepare homemade sauces and, as a result, is intimately connected to the process of creating insanely good sauces.

Me?  I was looking for something to do on an afternoon.  This is definitely a “day off” activity… any short-changing of the time it takes to naturally reduce and thicken the sauce will produce a meek version lacking character and depth.

Besides… the patience and care in the preparation, the emerging aromas in the kitchen, the periodic inspection and stirring the pot and the relaxed approach to time offers an excellent opportunity to enjoy a martini or two… occasionally dipping in a chunk of bread to more accurately test the developing sauce.

What could be better?

Wine? From my personal portfolio of café/bistro wines I have selected a red from the Southern Rhône.  I could have just as easily chosen a Primitivo from Puglia, a Montepulciano from Abruzzo, a blend from the Languedoc, a country red from Portugal… or a country red just about from any of the main wine producing regions of the world!  What do these wines share in common?  Good fruit, dry finish with an exceptional palate cleansing level of acidity — which is why the wines work so well with food!  Think about the type of dishes that we would enjoy if we traveled thru Europe and dined at a small bistro or café – a place where the décor maybe nothing special, nor the place settings particularly grand, and yet the food would be well prepared “comfort” type of plates and the “local” wine would always hit the perfect notes regardless of what was ordered.  Further, these reds are usually served slightly chilled. And yes, Mongettes is perfect a little chill & would also be a great “cross over” red to salmon, swordfish and other robust seafood dishes like paella.  Also veal & poultry dishes (and a good choice for the Thanksgiving table!)

Château les Mongettes ’11 (Costières de Nîmes, France)

Some of the most pleasurable wines for “every day drinking” come from the South of France. Vineyards that stretch along the Mediterranean from the Spanish frontier, to the Italian Rivera and trace a path up the Rhône Valley, and produce some of the world’s best drinking wines.  Invariably these wines are a blend of Rhône varietals, and have many of the same flavor attributes of Châteauneuf du Pape; but are less costly! This wine is a blend of Grenache, Syrah, and Mourvèdre from the Domaine’s vineyards situated in the southeast of Nîmes. A very easy-going wine with plenty of red berry fruits, anis, a touch of spice and a lovely long, fine dry finish.

Linguine Bolognese

Ingredients

6 ounces of Tanqueray Gin
½ ounce of Noilly Pratt Dry Vermouth
A goodly amount of ice
4 blue cheese stuffed olives
1 tablespoon olive oil
4 ounces bacon or pancetta, diced
1 ½ cups chopped yellow onions
¾ cup diced carrots
¾ cup diced celery
1 tablespoon minced garlic
1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon ground black pepper
2 bay leaves
½ teaspoon dried thyme
¼ teaspoon dried oregano
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
½ teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 pound ground beef or ground veal
½ pound pork sausage, removed from the casings, or ground pork
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1 cup red wine
2 (14 ½-ounce) cans crushed tomatoes and their juice
1 (14 ½-ounce) can tomato sauce
1 cup beef or chicken stock or broth
2 teaspoons sugar
¼ cup heavy cream
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
3 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley leaves
1 pound spaghetti
1 cup freshly grated Parmesan

Directions

  1. Put gin and vermouth into a glass pitcher, fill with ice, stir vigorously while incanting, “You who know all, thank you for providing us juniper and all the other obscure ingredients responsible for creating this sacred liquid!” Strain into a pre-frozen Martini glass of admirable size.  Skewer the olives on one of those tacky cocktail swords, place in glass. Immediately begin consuming.  Now you can begin the food prep, and the cooking!
  2. In a large pot, heat the oil over medium-high heat. Add the bacon and cook, stirring, until browned and the fat is rendered, 4 to 5 minutes. Add the onions, carrots and celery and cook, stirring, until soft, 4 to 5 minutes. Add the garlic, salt, pepper, bay leaves, thyme, oregano, cinnamon, and nutmeg and cook, stirring, for 30 seconds.
  3. Add the beef and sausages, and cook, stirring, until no longer pink, about 5 minutes. Add the tomato paste and cook, stirring, for 1 to 2 minutes. Add the wine and cook, stirring, to deglaze the pan and remove any browned bits sticking to the bottom of the pan, and until half of the liquid is evaporated, about 2 minutes.
  4. Add the tomatoes and their juices, the tomato sauce, beef broth, and sugar and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer, stirring occasionally, to keep the sauce from sticking to the bottom of the pan, until the sauce is thickened and flavorful, about 1 1/2 hours.
  5. Add the cream, butter, and parsley, stir well, and simmer for 2 minutes. Discard the bay leaves and adjust the seasoning, to taste. Remove from the heat and cover to keep warm until ready to serve.
  6. Meanwhile, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the pasta and return the water to a low boil. Cook, stirring occasionally to prevent the noodles from sticking, until al dente, 8 to 10 minutes. Drain in a colander.
  7. Add the pasta to the sauce, tossing to coat. Add 1/2 cup of the cheese and toss to blend. Divide among pasta bowls and serve with the cheese passed tableside. (Alternatively, toss only the desired portion of pasta with a bit of the sauce at a time in a serving bowl, reserving the remainder for another meal.)

Miscellany

Don’t let the long list of ingredients throw you off the track. It’s time consuming; but it ain’t hard. This recipe is from a version that Emeril Lagasse used in a Food Network segment in 2004. The cook time of 2 hours and 20 minutes runs less then many recipes I found.  Still, leisurely in its pace, it is miles more time for any other dish I have made not done in a slow cooker. The prep time of 30 minutes is nearly half of what I need (I am notoriously slow and it troubles me not). I made three adjustments to his recipe.  I cut his cinnamon and nutmeg in half based on many comments from reviewers of the recipe.  For the meat I used a meatloaf mixture (pork, beef & veal combination). And lastly, I used linguine instead of spaghetti.  The recipe is as it appears in the Food Network site.

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Gen’l Jackson’s Grilled Little Necks & Sancerre

The recipe for this dish was inspired by the “Hero of New Orleans”. On January 8, 1815, Andrew Jackson in defense of New Orleans led 5,000 soldiers of several militias from the western States and territories and won a decisive victory over 7,500 British.  Of his men, General Jackson was reputed to have said, “They stood like grilled little necks.” This dish combines roasted clams, andouille sausage & smoked paprika cooked in a wine broth.  It’s embarrassingly simple to prepare. I served the little necks with thick sliced Italian bread that I toasted on the grill… perfect for “dunking.”

I opened a bottle of Sancerre to accompany the dish. I love Loire Valley Sauvignon Blancs… they have a superb minerality, and fresh acidity that work so well against flavorful seafood cuisine. I could have gone with an Albariño from Spain, too… for the same reason. Falanghina from Campania has richness that would work. And if Chardonnay is your thing, then a crisp 1er Cru Chablis would be the ticket.

Domaine des Hauts de Maimbray Sancerre ’13 (Loire, France)

The vineyards of the Domaine have the characteristic kimmeridgean marl (clay-limestone) which produces the exceptional mineral sense of this Sancerre. Upon harvest, the must undergoes a cold soak to extract flavors prior to alcoholic fermentation begins. Aged on its lees for 3 to 4 months in stainless steel tanks. An exceptionally fresh wine is the result, beautiful gooseberry and citrus overlaying a firm minerality. On the palate this wine presents a bracing blend of fresh flavors, yet shows restraint and elegance.  A satisfying finish with good acidity in the balance making the wine ideal either as an aperitif or alongside seafood and lighter dishes. One glass is never enough, have a second bottle ready to open!

Gen’l Jackson’s Grilled Little Necks

Ingredients

6 ounces of Tanqueray Gin
½ ounce of Noilly Pratt Dry Vermouth
A goodly amount of ice
3 dozen little neck clams, well scrubbed
½ lb andouille sausage, cut into ¼ inch slices
6 oz unsalted butter
3 cloves minced garlic
2 tsp smoked paprika
½ cup dry white wine
¼ cup sliced peppadew peppers
1 lemon cut into quarters
3 tbs minced fresh flat leaf parsley

Directions

  1. Put gin and vermouth into a glass pitcher, fill with ice, stir vigorously while incanting, “You who know all, thank you for providing us juniper and all the other obscure ingredients responsible for creating this sacred liquid!” Strain into a pre-frozen Martini glass of admirable size.  Skewer the olives on one of those tacky cocktail swords, place in glass. Immediately begin consuming.  Now you can begin the food prep, and the cooking!
  2. Put clams directly on the grill, medium high heat.
  3. Put butter in an aluminum roasting pan on grill. Let butter mostly melt down, add garlic, paprika, sausage, peppers and wine.
  4. As clams open up, remove from grill and put into roasting pan.  When all the clams are in the roasting pan (discard unopened clams), squeeze two lemon wedges over clams and close cover on grill.  Heat for 3 – 5 minutes.
  5. Take off heat.  Serve clams in individual serving bowls, add some broth and garnish with fresh parsley and a lemon wedge.  Serve with thick cut grilled toast.

p.s. I made the stuff up about Jackson saying that his men stood their ground like “grilled little necks.” It just seemed to fit.

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Thank You Dr. Horoscope!

OK… I admit it.  I have never put much stock in horoscopes.  I know lotsa folks follow their daily horoscopes.  Good folk.  As a brief aside, and not to confuse the issue, Adolf Hitler wouldn’t make a move before he consulted his astrologist.  Why take any unnecessary chances, right?  Call me a doubting Thomas… but in reading thru the daily horoscopes, I could find tidbits that would apply regardless of sign.  Human nature, I guess… we can find things that support our fears and aspirations in anything.  Horoscopes included.

Maybe someone else’s horoscope reads better than yours on a particular day?  Too bad you can’t trade, or at least modify the undesirable parts in your horoscope?

Fret no longer.  Dr. Horoscope to the rescue!  A new on-line horoscope service offers a cure for what ails in your horoscope.  Register (for a small, inconsequential sum… think of it as a “co-pay”), and the good Doctor provides the cure. 

Enclosed find a recent survey of the Doctor’s efforts.  His “Rx” is noted in brackets in bold face.  It is clear that the good Doctor is not without an “agenda”, as can clearly be seen in one entry.  Perhaps the sign of a rival professional?  Or maybe a classmate that tormented him in middle-school? Or his next door neighbor who ran over his cat?

Aries (March 21 – April 19)

It’s a breeze for you to accomplish a lot today now that the playful Leo Moon harmonizes with energetic Mars. You may be tempted to set aside your obligations to pursue pleasure {don’t worry…go for the pleasure!}, but it’s probably not a good idea to trade your promises for immediate gratification {this does not apply to eating fudge brownies}. Don’t try to shift the blame for your current dilemma onto anyone else {except your boss}. Just consider the consequences and do what makes the most sense in the long run. Find a creative way to have your cake and eat it too {like calling in sick, and arranging for a tee-time at Pinehurst}.

Taurus (April 20 – May 20)

Although you can’t completely avoid the weight of responsibility today {nonsense! Forget about it!}, you are likely to be more concerned with expressing your feelings than doing your job. Your romantic heart is in direct conflict with your practical head, distracting you from finishing your chores {chores, shmores… you are forgiven. And as for “romantic heart”, give up reading those trashy novels}. Even if you are motivated to push further ahead, you don’t have to do anything drastic now {spot on! Take it easy!}. Allow the emotional tension to reach its crescendo and then subside before you swing into action. {“Tension to reach its crescendo”? This is a reminder that you shouldn’t wait too long if you have to go #2}

Gemini (May 21 – June 20)

Your co-workers or friends may keep you quite busy today {that’s because they are a bunch of shirkers}, and that’s just how you like it {Not exactly. You only pretend that you like it. You actually seethe. And that’s OK}. You are at the top of your game, showing off your charm and wit as you fly from one activity to another. But strong desires are brewing just out of sight, so don’t bother wasting your resources on trivial matters {just make sure that you’re not trailing toilet paper from the back of your pants when you leave the bathroom}. Save some energy in reserve for when you will need it over the next few days. Setting a sustainable pace now improves your chances for success down the road {I recommend one gin martini every 90 minutes beginning at 3:00PM}.

Cancer (June 21 – July 22)

You could be so sympathetic to people’s emotions that sometimes it’s tough to know how to respond {don’t dwell on this. It’s their problem You have plenty on your plate as it stands}. However, today you’re more likely to immediately react to a difficult situation at work than to take a wait-and-see approach. Don’t overcompensate with wildly impulsive behavior just to prove your point {d’accord. “Regular’ impulsive behavior should suffice}. Too much confidence leads to recklessness, which might create new problems faster than you can solve the old ones. {think of it is as using the wrong club on the water hazard  par 3, and plunking your ball into the “drink”. *tsk, tsk* You should have used the 7 iron instead of the 9 iron.  Over confidence & you pay the price.  See?} Taking the time to listen to what others want enables you to discover a more lasting resolution. {Nix.  Others will mess with your head. Besides, listening is exhausting}

Leo (July 23 – August 22)

You appear to be an open book to everyone around you while the demonstrative Leo Moon lights up your 1st House of Personality. {Except that your personality stinks} Although some of your peers may not recognize it, you’re in touch with profound emotions that are still working their way to the surface {like rotten egg farts produced by eating too many greasy fried pork chops and drinking a quart of Boones Farm Apple Wine}. Your thoughts carry even more weight now because they haven’t been expressed. {not expressed because you can’t put more than 6 words into an articulate sentence} Once you share what’s on your mind, the tension should dissipate quickly {and quickly transfer to those who had to suffer listening to your jaded world view}. But there’s no need to shock anyone with your colorful disclosure. {your appearance is enough of a shock.  Do yourself a favor… take a very long walk off a short pier}

Virgo (August 23 – September 22)

You don’t want everyone to know your likes and dislikes, prompting you to keep your preferences quiet today {this doesn’t apply to your preferences in adult beverages}. You can easily rationalize hiding your desires by attributing it to your unwillingness to hurt anyone’s feelings. {Why hide your desires?  Do as you see fit, and let the devil take the hindmost} However, your predicament won’t be fixed by simply withdrawing. Remaining silent about your wishes contributes to the problem and not the solution. {Silence is not a negative here. It gives you an opportunity to plot your revenge}Talk about your emotions with enough sensitivity that you don’t push others away {Limit your use of swear words to less than twenty in any conversation}. No one can fulfill your needs if you don’t take a chance and tell them what you want. {and after you have given the waitstaff your order, put your napkin on your lap}

Libra (September 23 – October 22)

You want to show your friends how much they mean to you now {but didn’t before}, but nearly everything you do feels contrived and somehow misses the mark {which is why it is time to buy their friendship}. Falling short of your own expectations might lead you to try even harder {this would be a big mistake and add anxiety to your life. Try lowering your expectations, and failing that, fill your bathtub up with warm tapioca pudding and sit in it for a half hour.  Your concerns will disappear}. Forget about impressing others in your personal life today {it’s none of their business}. Instead, just concentrate on doing your job to the best of your abilities {unless you’re a civil servant}. An unexpected reward may come your way as long as you get your work finished on time. {finishing a task on time is its own reward, don’t get greedy!}

Scorpio (October 23 – November 21)

Shifting gears and planning your next career move now may not be as easy as you wish {try playing LOTTO & Powerball big time, that way you won’t have to change careers}. Fortunately, you feel strong enough to manage the pressures of change without letting anyone know that you are struggling with the transition {enjoying a few Long Island Ice Teas goes along way to relieving stress}. Nevertheless, revealing your vulnerability {a bad idea} and admitting that you can’t do everything by yourself {a good idea} can actually create opportunities for positive growth {sharing the work load is always a good thing and will give you more time to pursue positive growth in your summer tan}. Expressing your feelings {let me buy you a drink} sets the stage for others to offer you the heartwarming support you need. {Quod erat demonstrandum}

Sagittarius (November 22 – December 21)

You’re dreaming of distant horizons now that the Moon is visiting your 9th House of Faraway Places{ALERT: someone is casing your house in Aspen}. However, reaching your destination may require more than simply heading off in the right direction. {HINT: it’s on the other side of the Hudson} Luckily, with a little extra effort today you can organize your life so it resonates {“resonates”… remember using fancy words lend credibility to whatever you do!} with your long-term goals. Think small at first {like remembering to put down the toilet seat} and tend the seeds of your ideas until they grow into a strategic action plan that guides you into the future {like remembering to always put down the toilet seat}

Capricorn (December 22 – January 19)

A relationship with a powerful person may have more impact on your future than you want to admit {but only if he is wearing a uniform and asks you to step out of your car}. However, this is not the best day to ignore a problem {it may not be the best day; but it’s a good day}, for it won’t just go away on its own now {rubbish!  These things tend to sort themselves out}. Push your buried anger out into the open so it can’t fester any longer in the dark {and the next time, instead of burying anger, create a funeral pyre. It’s more dramatic}. After the air is clear of judgment, everyone is likely to feel more optimistic about the future and willing to invest in your success. {Wear blue.  It’s a successful color and a good look for you}

Aquarius (January 20 – February 18)

You seem to know what someone wants before anyone else does today, but you still might not be in the mood to drop everything and lose yourself in service {Not in the mood? Put another shrimp on the “barbie” and chill out}. The Moon’s presence in your 7th House of Companions reflects your heightened sensitivity to the feelings of those around you. {Your heightened sensitivity is actually a case of the hives.  Give up eating strawberries for a month} But don’t be too self-critical if you just want to escape into your own world for a while {as long as it doesn’t involve spending more than 20 minutes in the bathroom}. After all, replenishing your emotional vitality enables you to be more supportive of others. {If you’re in a jam, Costco has an “emotional vitality” aisle.  Lay in a supply!}

Pisces (February 19 – March 20)

You may be disheartened if you realize that you can’t satisfy your craving for adventure now {that’s what happens when you have pilonidal cysts}. The extroverted Leo Moon is occupying your 6th House of Habits, encouraging you to take a chance and break out of an old routine {resist the temptation to remove your clothes in the “Pool Room” of the Four Seasons}. However, something tells you that it’s not quite time yet to step out of your comfort zone {it’s the snotty waiter who sneers at your wine selection}. Fortunately, you will be better prepared to make your move later on if you stop and focus on every little detail that confronts you today. {Focus on every little detail?  What a waste of time! Look at the big picture, keep your eye on the horizon, look both ways when you cross the street, holding hands is a good thing, and never doubt whether today will be a fine day}

mad doctor

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My Family

To say that my Mother was a “pack rat” is a major understatement.  It’s been years since our home at 25 Alston Ave was sold.  After the sale of the house, boxes of “stuff” found their way into the homes of those interested parties.  Occasionally I look at the collection of boxes that contain the oddments of our time there, and bear testimony to my Mother’s inability to throw anything out.  This collection of memories has moved from several locations… attics, garages and basements that I have, at one time or another, claimed as a nest.

Not too long ago I visited our basement looking for an appropriate Claret to go with the repast I was preparing when a picture poking out of a box caught my eye.  The box was boldly marked: “from the store room, downstairs.”

The store room refers to a location in the basement of 25 Alston Ave, beyond my Grandmother’s make-shift butcher’s corner, up a couple of steps and nestled below the den on the first floor.  As a child I could spend hours and hours looking thru a mysterious “treasure chest” of family artifacts and ancient pictures.  Pictures and portraits of older friends and family that were as foreign to me as the pickelhaube that I was told my Great Uncle Barney retrieved from the killing fields of Belleau Wood.

The picture that had captured my attention was taken in front of the family home in Auburn, New York.  Paper clipped to the picture, some brief notes yellowed with age about the family members (I can even vaguely recognize my Mother’s distinctive cursive script).   The home was on William St., around the corner from South St. As a side note, #33 South had been home to William Henry Seward.  Seward, Governor of NY, then Senator, Presidential aspirant and then Secretary of State under Abraham Lincoln & Andrew Johnson.  He was responsible for purchasing Alaska from Russia, but of far greater significance, at least to my Brother Paul and me, Seward was a graduate of Union College.

Seated on porch, the left: Martin Knightsbridge, cousin. Prizefighter.  Seated on porch, the right: Fitzhugh Knightsbridge, cousin. Notary Public & barber. Standing on far left: Emile LeFong, born in Alsace, affianced to Faith Hanratty. Asst foreman of Hanratty Merchants & Dry Goods. Next to Emile: Faith Hanratty. Senior at the Auburn Normal School, and voted the Apple Queen at the Auburn Harvest Festival & Pig Roast.  Seated at table, left: Judge Perkins Hanratty, Retired, Trustee of the Second Auburn Bank & Trust, Co-Founder of Auburn’s Chowder & Marching Society, Choir Master of the Genesee Congregational Church, President of Auburn YMCA, Delegate to the National Organization to Promote the Use of Carrier Pigeons, Member of the Planning & Zoning Board’s Ritual Committee, Head of the Auburn Land Trust & Owner of Hanratty Merchants & Dry Goods. Standing behind table: Perkins Hanratty, the Younger, Pigeon Keeper. Seated at table, right: Mother Hanratty, Mother of Judge Perkins Hanratty, Director of Auburn’s Tea & Sympathy Committee, Member of the Corsage Club, Past President of Auburn’s Toast of the Town, Asst Librarian of Auburn Historical Society, Member in Good Standing of the National Association of the Rose, Past President of the Auburn Quilting and Canning Group, Organized the Ladies Auxiliary of the Seward Rod & Gun Club, Member of the DAR, Founder of the Auburn League of Bereaved Women, Previous Winner of William Henry Seward Memorial Turkey Shoot & Piano instructor. Standing behind Mother Hanratty: Alice Hanratty, second wife of Judge Perkins Hanratty. Standing on far right: Ricardo Lazzarati, born in Corsica, dance teacher & friend of Alice Hanratty.

My family — and it does me proud to be part of such a distinguished clan!  Who would have thought it!

You know… on closer inspection, maybe that’s not my Mother’s handwriting.

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So, I had this dream…

Dreams, dreams… they are the wonder of my mind.  A collection of events, places, people and time frame that are roughly sewn into a patch-work quilt of impression.  Lacking a clear beginning or end.  Fact spiced with fiction, or fantasy encasing reality. Or, just alarmingly unreal.  Take your pick.

There are dreams that amuse and give me a degree of joy.  And there are dreams that scare and give me anxiety.  Regardless, it’s a fascinating exercise to see how these dreams relate to what’s current in my life. Ideas that traced a path thru my mind.  What happened today or a couple of days ago.

On Sunday afternoon I finished reading Nechama Tec’s book Defiance.  It’s a book about the Bielski Partisans in Poland during WWII.

I needed a break.  I flipped on the TV and began scanning for a film that would be a good diversion… Lifetime?  That’s the Channel with those drippy movies that Suzy and Sandy could watch two or three in a row!  No thanks.

OK… Shakespeare in Love.  That’s more like it!  One of my favorite films!  “Good sir?  I heard you were a poet… has the poet no words?”  I love it.  Love every line! “This is not a life, Will.  It is a stolen season.”

Another Channel has Titanic. Not a real favorite of mine… although I will always watch the first 20 minutes or so… ‘til the scene in steerage when Jack and Rose dance.  And there are good lines. “That’s one of the good things about Paris: lots of girls willing to take their clothes off.”

And here’s one I haven’t seen for an age!  The Mouse That Roared.  Peter Sellers plays three different roles: Tully Bascombe. Prime Minister Count Rupert of Mountjoy and best of all… The Grand Duchess of Fenwick Gloriana XII.  “There isn’t a more profitable undertaking for any country than to declare war on the United States and be defeated!”

Oh… and something from my present vocation… wine.  Russell Crowe’s A Good Year.  “In France it’s always the landowner who makes the wine, even though he does nothing more than supervise with binoculars from the comfort of his study. No, I enjoy making wine, because this sublime nectar is quite simply incapable of lying. Picked too early, picked too late, it matters not – the wine will always whisper into your mouth with complete, unabashed honesty every time you take a sip.”

The pages of Defiance lurk in my mind, yet each of the films just noted possess many memorable things I so enjoy… actors, settings & lines.  Even the unlikely appearance of Sellers dressed in royal raiment as the Grand Duchess!

And to my dream…

It’s a village that skirts a series of walled vineyards thick with ripe fruit.  The village is mostly deserted.  Doors hanging from hinges.  Shots heard, from deeper in the village, and from the wood beyond the vineyards. Must be partisans.  Behind the crumbled wall of the Clos Leonardo Di Caprio looks left and right, and then casts an eye upward towards the church steeple.  A sniper?  Even in my dream I know that this isn’t real!  This is a movie set!  I can see a boom mike!  A rumble of trucks coming from the wood.  Into the small a vacant square in front of the church, the trucks stop and unload fully armed soldiers.  Shouts. Shots, screams.  Di Caprio considers his next step.  He hears soldiers coming from thru the vineyard rows.  He lifts Gwyneth Paltrow over the wall just as a soldier is about to bring his rifle butt crashing into her skull…

And the director shouts, “DOUBLE!”

New do

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Déjà Vu, All Over Again: Act II, Scene 2

romeo & juliet

“But, soft! what light through yonder window breaks?

It is the east, and Juliet is the sun.

Arise, fair sun, and kill the envious moon,

Who is already sick and pale with grief,

That thou her maid art far more fair than she:

Be not her maid, since she is envious…”

“Aye me!”

“She speaks:

O, speak again, bright angel! for thou art

As glorious to this night…”

“O Romeo, Romeo! wherefore art thou Romeo?”

“Shall I hear more, or shall I speak at this?”

“What man art thou that thus bescreen’d in night

So stumblest on my counsel?”

 

“By a name
I know not how to tell thee who I am:
My name, dear saint, is hateful to myself,
Because it is an enemy to thee;
Had I it written, I would tear the word.”

“How camest thou hither, tell me, and wherefore?

The orchard walls are high and hard to climb,

And the place death, considering who thou art,

If any of my kinsmen find thee here.”

 

“I have night’s cloak to hide me from their sight;
And but thou love me, let them find me here…”

“I hear some noise within; dear love, adieu!

Anon, good nurse! Sweet Montague, be true.

Stay but a little, I will come again.”

 

“O blessed, blessed night! I am afeard.
Being in night, all this is but a dream,
Too flattering-sweet to be substantial.”

 

“I come, anon –

A thousand times good night”

{Romeo, alarmed by the sound of the approaching Nurse, loses his grip of the balcony wall, and falls backwards to the gorse bush in the garden below.   He passes out, sharp thorns covering his entire body— Romeo awakens}

 

“Me thinks I have seen this scene before.”

 

“Aye me!”

 

“She speaks:
O, speak again, bright angel! for thou art
As glorious to this night…”

 

“O Romeo, Romeo! wherefore art thou Romeo?”

 

“Shall I hear more, or shall I speak at this?”

 

“What man art thou that thus bescreen’d in night
So stumblest on my counsel?”

 

“By a name
I know not how to tell thee who I am…”

“How camest thou hither, tell me, and wherefore?
The orchard walls are high and hard to climb,
And the place death, considering who thou art,
If any of my kinsmen find thee here.”

 

“Not your kinsman, it is the gorse bush I fear.”

 

“I hear some noise within; dear love, adieu!
Anon, good nurse! Sweet Montague, be true.
Stay but a little, I will come again.”

 

“O blessed, blessed night! I am afeard.
Being in night, all this is but a dream,
Or maybe a nightmare.”

 

“I come, anon –

A thousand times good night”

{Romeo, alarmed by the sound of the approaching Nurse, loses his grip of the balcony wall, and falls backwards to the gorse bush in the garden.  He passes out, sharp thorns covering his entire body, even penetrating his cod piece — Romeo awakens}

 

“What pain is this?”

 

“Aye me!”

 

“She speaks:
O, speak again, bright angel!”

 

“O Romeo, Romeo! wherefore art thou Romeo?”

 

“Shall I hear more, or shall I speak at this?”

 

“What man art thou that thus bescreen’d in night
So stumblest on my counsel?”

 

“By a name
I know not how to tell thee who I am…”

“How camest thou hither, tell me, and wherefore?
The orchard walls are high and hard to climb,
And the place death, considering who thou art,
If any of my kinsmen find thee here.”
“Pray wait while a change into a doublet of thicker cloth,

But for your sweet embrace and single kiss

I would endure a bed of thorns,

Still I must vouchsafe my personal parts…”

 

“I hear some noise within; dear love, adieu!
Anon, good nurse! Sweet Montague, be true.
Stay but a little, I will come again.”

 

“O blessed, blessed night! I am afeard.
If the gorse bush claims me again,

I may suffer injury that will prevent me from

Producing progeny.”

 

“I come, anon –

A thousand times good night”

 

{Romeo, alarmed by the sound of the approaching Nurse, loses his grip of the balcony wall, and falls backwards to the gorse bush in the garden below.  Sharp thorns cover his entire body, he tries removing thorns from his manhood; but passes out in pain – Romeo awakens}

 

“Vex the gods!  I own more thorns than the bush!”

 

“Aye me!”

 

“She speaks.”

 

“O Romeo, Romeo! wherefore art thou Romeo?”

 

“Shall I hear more, or shall I speak at this?”

 

“What man art thou that thus bescreen’d in night
So stumblest on my counsel?”

 

“It is but Romeo, is thy nurse nearby?’

“How camest thou hither, tell me, and wherefore?
The orchard walls are high and hard to climb,
And the place death, considering who thou art,
If any of my kinsmen find thee here.”

 

“I have night’s cloak to hide me from their sight;
Although it is of no use should I end up in the gorse bush.

My fair, doth your family own property elsewhere?

Perhaps lacking a garden?

Failing that, perhaps you could move

Your suite to the ground floor?”

 

“I hear some noise within; dear love, adieu!
Anon, good nurse! Sweet Montague, be true.
Stay but a little, I will come again.”

 

“O blessed, blessed night! I am afeard.
Have your Nurse come to me should I fall.

She can attend to my personal parts

As I will be in need of more than one

Form of relief.”

 

“I come, anon –

A thousand times good night”

{Romeo, sneezes once, twice, thrice, loses his grip of the balcony wall, and falls backwards to the gorse bush in the garden below, gripped by the thorns, unable to move, he gives in to tortured sleep – Romeo awakens}

 

“What is the cause of this cursed dream that plagues me?

Maybe an undigested bit of beef,

A blot of mustard, a crumb of cheese,

A fragment of underdone potato?

Who comes?”

 

{Mercutio enters}

 

“Aye, not Capulet, nor kinsman, it is your friend Mercutio”

 

“Alas dear friend, dreams of the lovely Capulet maiden weigh heavy,

Help me shake these apparitions from my eye!”

 

“Perhaps this tale of two Elderly women

Staying at Grossingers will lighten your mind.

One says, ‘The food here is horrible.’

And the other rejoins,

‘And such small portions!’ “

“Hah-Hah! Well played! Let us off to the bawdy house!”

{Laughing, Romeo and Mercutio exit} 

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The Courtship of Reginald & Gwyneth

R: Musca domestica… The adults are about 5-8 mm long. Their thorax is grey with four longitudinal dark lines on the back. The whole body is covered with hair-like projections. The females are slightly larger than the males, and have a much larger space between their compound eyes.

G:  Oooh Reggie, you know so much!

R:  Each female can lay approximately 500 eggs in several batches of about 75 to 150. The female is receptive for mating after 36 hours. The male mounts her from behind to inject sperm.

G:  Oooh, Reggie you’re going to make me blush!

R:  Normally, the female mates only once, storing the sperm to use it repeatedly for laying several sets of eggs. But we rarely partake of Musca domesticas, Gwyneth my pretty catesbeiana!.

G:  I should say!

R:  Now here’s a tasty treat for us… Culiesta longiarelata!    

G:  Oooh, Reggie!  You speak Latin so well!

R:  And can I interest you in a superb Puligny-Montrachet?  It’s a 1er Cru les Pucelles of decent vintage.  I love the hue, a scent of tropical fruit with a slight smoky tinge, breathtaking on palate and a glorious finish and the way it glides into the horizon and forecasts a star-kissed eve!

G:  Oooh, Reggie!

R:  And now a morsel of Rhithrogena germanica.  Prefect with the Puligny!  Gwyneth, my Green Beauty… are you pondering what I’m pondering?

G:  Oooh, Reggie!  If we hop over to the log flume, the whip and the Cyclone and ride them dozens times after all the Rhithrogenas and Puligny?  Won’t we throw up?

R:  Rrrrribbet!

Reginald & Gwyneth

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Welcome Desdemona!

You might think I’m crazy spending $22,000 on a truffle pig.  Crazy like fox!  Do you know how much truffles cost an ounce?  They are not called “black diamonds” for nothing!  Napoleon III had a 150 carat truffle mounted in platinum as a gift for the Empress Eugénie!  I read about this truffle pig farm located in Périgord in a back issue of The New Yorker… these pigs have the uncanny ability to shnuffle about in the under brush near oak and hazelnut trees, and dig up with their snout a treasure trove of these “turd” like objects. When a prize winning pig became available, I couldn’t resist! Visions of recipes made me drool!  Thoughts of re-sale value of truffles danced like sugar plums in my dreams!  Maybe I could even give up my day job?

Luckily for me Desdemona (although someone suggested the name “Pancetta”, I ruled it out because it lacked class) was trained not to eat truffles. She is content to eat pastries.  She can make a box of linzer tortes disappear before your eyes! She also adores raisin scones, cannolis, hamontashen (ironic, no?), baklava and stollen.  Her favorite is maple syrup glazed donuts stuffed with bacon (even more ironic!).   Desi is also known to knock off a steak and kidney pie and a large Pepe’s white clam pizza.

I discounted the idea of shlepping around the countryside looking for stands of oak and hazelnut trees.  I decided to go right to the source.  My contacts informed me that Stew Leonard Jr. just took delivery of mini-van filled with truffles for his extended family’s use.  No worries there… I’m taking Desi over to the Norwalk Stew Leonard’s on Saturday… I’m just a little worried about getting her past the baked goods department.  Once past, we’ll just blend in with the rest of the shoppers, and I’ll let Desi do her thing! 

Hah-hoo!  I figure once we clean out Stew’s we can head into the City and hit Dean & Deluca!  You bet!  By Sunday my investment will be covered, and I will begin to harvest dividends!

Still think I’m crazy?  And when Desi has outlived her usefulness? Welldo I need to draw you a map?

shmuel

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Note on the Fridge

Calpurnia:

I’m off to Pompey’s Theatre and then to the Senate.  Much to do before I take the army to crush the Parthian Empire.  Meantime, before I leave I have to bring the Senators to heel.  And before I crack the whip, I need something festive to distract them.

I have sent invitations to Longinus, Brutus, Casca, Cimber and a few other Senators to a casual soirée at our place tonight.  Be a dear & organize the evening for me.

The menu –

For starters… ten dozen oysters, a wheel of Jarlsberg cheese, a couple boxes of saltines and maybe a hundred or so “pigs in the blanket.”

Then on to… three saddles of venison, twelve guinea fowl, twenty quail, a brace of pheasant (make that five braces of pheasant and a coach), enough partridge eggs to fill a bath, four wild boar, one tame boar (you don’t want to know), a crashing boor (that’s a joke), a dozen joints of mutton, three kid goats bathed in milk, the things that look like small lobsters – crayfish! We need two hundred.  Make that three hundred – Brutus loves crayfish!  Twenty oxtails for braising (Calpurnia, tell the butcher that I want the rest of the oxen cut up for our freezer into whole filets, medallions, bone-in rib eyes, shoulder roasts, briskets, flanks, top rounds, porterhouse, New York strip, London broil, skirt and ground top sirloin.  And save the belly skins – send the hides to my sandal maker.  I want ten pair above the calf, fifteen pair to the ankle, two pairs of flip-flops & a brief case.  If there is anything left make yourself some pocket books).  Oh – don’t forget the sauce for the crayfish – not too spicy! (it gives me gas)… Maybe some parker house rolls?  You decide.  And then two veggies and a starch.  If you can’t find a starch ground rhino horn will do.  Biscotti and espresso for dessert.

Seven cases of La Tâche Vintage 60 BCE… if you can’t find that, 58 BCE will do (but I won’t be happy).

For entertainment –

We will need twenty courtesans of the first rank (use the “Wink and I’m There” Agency), fifteen prostitutes from “Dockside Paradise and Bait House”, the Roman Legion 100 Lute Orchestra, that comic that we saw when we went to the mountains for our vacation (I forget his name) and the Punch and Judy Puppet Troop.

That should do it!

Oh – I almost forgot!  Take my Imperial toga to the cleaners and tell those idiots that they better get the wine and vomit stains out of it this time or they will be food for the lions!

Thanks!

xoxoxo Julius

p.s. And don’t forget! No calamari! Ever!! They give me a rash, and besides they look and taste like rubber bands!

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Turks & Caicos Pork Chops w/Mango-Mint Salsa

Maybe I’m just fed up with the winter.  Or maybe I’m thinking that a year ago I was walking my youngest daughter down the aisle in Turks & Caicos, enjoying the turquoise Caribbean Sea and the amazing fresh, spicy and citrus spiked cuisine.  The recipe included here is from Cooking Light.  The prep called for cooking the pork chops in a skillet, I decided to dig my Weber out of the snow and cook the chops on the grill… more in keeping with the great dishes served in Turks. My mint patch is under a thick blanket of snow, so I had to use the fresh spice display of Stop & Shop.

Rosé in the winter?  Well… yes! We have seen the popularity or Rosé during the warm weather months take-off; but truth be told the wine is enjoyed year ‘round.  Check out the famous ski resorts of Europe… the après-ski festivities by the log fire or in the hot tub, bottles of refreshing chilled Rosés flow like water!  And with the spicy pork chops on the menu tonight, Marley Rosé is the perfect call.

Marley Rose

Marley Rosé ’12 (Green Valley, CA)

This stunning Rosé is 100% Syrah from Solano County’s Green Valley. Its soft salmon color is inspired by the golden pale Rosés of France’s Provence region. Made in the classic saignée method to retain the freshness of flavor. This pleasingly dry wine exhibits lush flavors of orange peel, soft and supple on the palate and is best enjoyed chilled. From first sight to last sip this wine is a refreshing escape to Provence or Zermatt (or to the sunny Caribbean)!

T & C Pork Chops

Turks & Caicos Pork Chops w/Mango-Mint Salsa

Ingredients

6 ounces of Tanqueray Gin
½ ounce of Noilly Pratt Dry Vermouth
A goodly amount of ice
¾ teaspoon chili powder
¼ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon ground allspice
4 boneless center-cut loin pork chops
1½ Cups finely chopped mango
2 tablespoons chopped fresh mint
½ teaspoon grated lemon zest
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
2 teaspoons sugar
¼ teaspoon crushed red pepper

Directions

  1. Put gin and vermouth into a glass pitcher, fill with ice, stir vigorously while incanting, “You who know all, thank you for providing us juniper and all the other obscure ingredients responsible for creating this sacred liquid!” Strain into a pre-frozen Martini glass of admirable size.  Skewer the olives on one of those tacky cocktail swords, place in glass. Immediately begin consuming. Now you can begin the food prep, and the cooking!
  2. Combine first 3 ingredients in a small bowl; sprinkle evenly over pork.
  3. Heat a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Coat pan with cooking spray. Add pork; cook 4 minutes on each side or until done.
  4. Combine mango, mint, lemon rind, lemon juice, sugar, and red pepper in a medium bowl. Serve with pork.

n.b. I patted the pork chop dry, doubled the rub ingredients and put the chops in one of those freezer bags and shook the hell out of it ‘til the chops had a good coating. As noted in my intro, I put the chops on the grill. Sweet potatoes are the perfect side, a green veggie and you’re set to go!

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From the Joke Library

This has been in my inventory for many years… first told to me by my Brother-in-Law Alan.  I took it off the shelf yesterday and shared it with someone with whom I regularly trade stories.  Today he asked me for an abbreviated version of the joke.  Can you imagine asking Leo Tolstoy to take out 200 pages of War and Peace?  See my point?

But the guy is a good friend so I spent the better part of a day agonizing over what to trim.  I have a desk full of drafts, and an ashtray full of cigarette butts in front of me.  And I don’t even smoke! {I use the butts for inspiration… the great Anthony Burgess said he couldn’t write a word without a mountain of cigarette butts in front of him.} I cut this, I cut that. I changed tenses at least three time and in two places I modified the syntax… and I’m not even sure what syntax is! {When I was in the 8th Grade a classmate told me it had to do with a girl’s “moon time”, and here I thought it was a model name for a Chevy convertible}

I hesitate sending this joke to you in this condition… some of my best lines, parenthetical diversions and elaborate details have been omitted. But, as I say… he’s a friend!

*ach* What we do for our friends!

 ***

Sammie and Beckie have been married for 40 years… and lately Sammie has noticed a decline in Beckie’s enthusiasm in their lovemaking.  Distraught over not satisfying the love of his life, he turned to someone he trusted for help… his Rabbi.

The Rabbi offered him some special prayers to say before their lovemaking.  Which he dutifully did; but to no success.

He went to the Rabbi a second time and confessed that the prayers, although very special, didn’t work.  Beckie was merely going thru the motions & he was heartsick.

The Rabbi, listened carefully, then excused himself to go into the adjacent bathroom and returned with a wash cloth.

“Samuel, I am giving you this very special cloth to which I have blessed using a unique prayer used by Solomon the Great.  I want you to seek out a verile young male in our community and invite him to Sabbath dinner.  After dinner have the young man join you and Rebecca in your bedroom.  You say the prayer I have already given you, and while you are making love to your bride, let the young man wave this sacred cloth over you.  Rebecca will weep tears of joy!”

Sammie did as told.  Still no success.

Too embarrassed to go back to the Rabbi, Sammie looked at the young man and said, “You!  Stay where you are! Don’t go anywhere! We’re going to do this one more time… but this time we’re switching positions! Give me that cloth!”

And with this, Sammie hops out bed, and grabs the towel from the young man.  The young man assumes the position in the bed and soon Beckie is overcome, crooning and groaning and delight, “Oy, oy…. Yes!  Yes!!  Yeessss… 000h, so true!”

Sammie glares in amazement, “You see!  YOU SEE!!  THIS IS HOW YOU WAVE A TOWEL!!”

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Osso Bucco and Burgundy

This is a favorite dish of mine.  And it’s “showpiece” for great wine. The recipe itself I took from Food Network’s Giada DeLaurentis. It is simple to follow and is textbook example of a great dish not needing to be overly elaborate or complicated to prepare.

With regard to the wine selection… it always good to pair a regional food dish with wines that would be “local”, or at least from the same country.  But more fun is going outside region and country to wines that still pair admirably. Or in this case, maybe it’s just because I love Burgundy, both red and white, that I look for reasons to open bottles! And Osso Bucco provides an opportunity to open up either full flavored whites, or elegant reds.  For me, Burgundy was an easy call, and I opened a bottle of each. Nebbiolo based reds like Barbaresco or Barolo would also be great, as would be a balanced Pinot Noir. Alternative whites… Vernaccia or Viognier.

Burgs for osso bucco

Domaine Marius Delarche Pernand-Vergelesses Rouge ’11 (Côte de Beaune, Burgundy)

Winemaking at Domaine Marius Delarche is now in the hands of Étienne Delarche (son of Marius), who is recognized as one of the young “Turks” of Burgundy.  He is taking the great wines of the Domaine to even loftier heights of quality. The Domaine is centered in Aloxe-Corton, with holdings in Grand Cru, 1er Cru & Villages, in Aloxe-Corton and adjacent Pernand-Vergelesses. This is extremely pretty Pinot Noir that wakes up the taste buds in the most delightful way. This is a great value, medium bodied with awesome fresh alive clean fruit and insane length on this wine for its price point. Packed with minerals, chocolate, white flowers and a good measure of sappy and pure Pinot fruit. What especially impressed us was its bottomless juicy core—lots of concentration but not weight, which makes it a serious pleasure to drink. The effortless balance of stony notes and spices is a nod to the family’s impressive vineyard terroir.

Domaine Paul Pillot Chassagne-Montrachet 1er Cru la Grande Montagne ’10 (Côte de Beaune, Burgundy)

The wines of Domaine Paul Pillot are recognized as some of the finest in White Burgundy today.  The Domaine is 13ha divided among several climats in Chassagne-Montrachet, Saint-Aubin and Santenay. Pillot is one of just five producers in 1er Cru la Grande Montagne, the others being Domaine Bachelet-Ramonet, Domaine Fontaine-Gagnard, Domaine Lamy-Pillot and Olivier Leflaive. Total production levels are among the smallest in all of Chassagne-Montrachet. The vineyard of la Grand Montagne is right at the top of the Chassagne appellation. This is admirably elegant and pure with a lovely nose of cool white flower, white peach and pear, all of which are liberally sprinkled with wet stone nuances. There is good punch and superb delineation to the racy, linear and impressively complex flavors that culminate in a racy, linear and attractively stylish finish. Good juice here that will round out with time.

Osso Bucco

osso bucco

Ingredients

6 ounces of Tanqueray Gin
½ ounce of Noilly Pratt Dry Vermouth
A goodly amount of ice
1 sprig fresh rosemary
1 sprig fresh thyme
1 dry bay leaf
2 whole cloves of garlic
Cheesecloth
Kitchen twine, for bouquet garni and tying the veal shanks
3 whole veal shanks (about 1 pound per shank), trimmed
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
All purpose flour, for dredging
½ cup vegetable oil
1 small onion, diced into ½” cubes
1 small carrot, diced into ½” cubes
1 stalk celery, diced into ½” cubes
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1 cup dry white wine
3 cups chicken stock
3 tablespoons fresh flat-leaf Italian parsley, chopped
1 tablespoon lemon zest

Directions

  1. Put gin and vermouth into a glass pitcher, fill with ice, stir vigorously while incanting, “You who know all, thank you for providing us juniper and all the other obscure ingredients responsible for creating this sacred liquid!” Strain into a pre-frozen Martini glass of admirable size.  Skewer the olives on one of those tacky cocktail swords, place in glass. Immediately begin consuming.  Now you can begin the food prep, and the cooking!
  2. Place the rosemary, thyme, bay leaf and garlic into cheesecloth, and secure with twine. This will be your bouquet garni.
  3. For the veal shanks, pat dry with paper towels to remove any excess moisture. Veal shanks will brown better when they are dry. Secure the meat to the bone with the kitchen twine. Season each shank with salt and freshly ground pepper. Dredge the shanks in flour, shaking off excess.
  4. In a large Dutch Oven pot, heat vegetable oil until smoking. Add tied veal shanks to the hot pan and brown all sides, about 3 minutes per side. Remove browned shanks and reserve.
  5. In the same pot, add the onion, carrot and celery. Season with salt at this point to help draw out the moisture from the vegetables. Sauté until soft and translucent, about 8 minutes. Add the tomato paste and mix well. Return browned shanks to the pan and add the white wine and reduce liquid by half, about 5 minutes. Add the bouquet garni and 2 cups of the chicken stock and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low, cover pan and simmer for about 1½ hours or until the meat is falling off the bone. Check every 15 minutes, turning shanks and adding more chicken stock as necessary. The level of cooking liquid should always be about ¾ the way up the shank.

  6. Carefully remove the cooked shanks from the pot and place in decorative serving platter. Cut off the kitchen twine and discard. Remove and discard bouquet garni from the pot. Pour all the juices and sauce from the pot over the shanks. Garnish with chopped parsley and lemon zest.

n.b. You can use red wine and beef broth instead of white wine and chicken broth. I doubled the veggies.

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Courtesy of Lynn

I hate to admit it… but I am finding some of these “old people” jokes that my sister keeps forwarding to me to be pretty good.  I’d like to think that the ones I laugh at are purely funny, rather than I am getting to that age.  The joke included herein has a good punch line twist.  Maybe I find this joke so funny because there is a TV commercial that is currently running featuring an elderly couple that I find absolutely hysterical… it’s to the point where if I’m out of the room when it airs, Sandy calls out to me…. “Jim, come in here quick!! The Swiffer commercial is on!”

It actually gets worse… at random times I have been known to get a sheepish grin on my face, and have to stifle a giggle.  The other day, waiting at a red light, Sandy glanced at me and said, “You are either peeing in your pants, or you thinking of that commercial!”

I nod, “Would you be disappointed if I wasn’t thinking of the Swiffer ad?”

At no additional expense to you, in addition to Lynn’s joke, I am including the YouTube link to “Morty! Are You Listening?”

 

***

An elderly couple had dinner at another couple’s house, and after eating, the wives left the table and went into the kitchen.  The two gentlemen were talking, and one said, “Last night we went out to a new restaurant and it was really great. I would recommend it very highly.’ 

The other man said, “What is the name of the restaurant?” 

The first man thought and thought and finally, exasperated said, “Cripes! What’s the name of that flower you give to someone you love? You know… the one that’s red and has all those thorns?” 

“Do you mean a rose?”

“Yes, that’s the one!” And then he turned towards the kitchen and shouted, “Rose! What’s the name of that restaurant we went to last night?” 

 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Xw9Bp2AszNw

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Red State Casserole w/Marley Bush Vine Blend

Perfect for Sunday supper, great to enjoy at the ski lodge or on any snowy day…

I am almost embarrassed by how easy this dish is to prepare.  Almost.  I could lead you down the path, recounting how I soaked the navy beans over night and slow cooked the beans for hours in a treasured “Boston Bean Pot.”  The venison sausage?  Sourced from the Merritt Parkway a mile past exit 42.  The Chili?  From a sacred recipe handed down thru the generations in my family… first made on the back of a Conestoga wagon when Old Jed Fleischner traveled from Ellis Island to New Haven.

I could tell you all that… but it just ain’t so.

The venison/pork sausage I ordered online from the Cajun Grocer in Louisiana (I get turduckens from this outfit, too)… the can of Bush’s Grillin’ Beans (Black Bean Fiesta), made in Tennessee, but available in just about any super market (by the by… if there was a Nobel Prize for food… Bush’s Grillin’ Beans would win).  Hormel Chili is from Austin, Minnesota not Texas, it works in this recipe.  Remember… KISS… “keep it simple stupid”.  Lastly, sliced Vermont White Cheddar from Sargento, a Wisconsin based Company.  Other than the sausage, everything is easily found in your local market, whether you live in a “RedState” or not.

I have made this dish three times.  Each time a bit different… changing types of sausages and würsts based on mood, or what’s in the fridge.  Please note… that if my pantry drops below 6 cans of Bush’s Beans our home goes into DEFCON-4 alert.  My favorite remains the Black Bean Fiesta recipe; but the others would be fine.

And wine for this “hodge podge” dish?  A cockamamie “field blend” wine from California.  It’s a perfect juicy style of red that complements this dish to a “t”.

I never tire of these types of “field blend” wines.  And what’s more, it appears that talented winemakers love the challenge of bringing together disparate varietals into a harmonious blend. These wines share an “attitude” of fun… a unique blend of grape varietals that changes vintage to vintage based on success in the vineyard.  In this case the source for this wine is a single un-irrigated vineyard with vines that range in age from 40 – 70 years. Made from a “hodge-podge”of grape varietals from gnarly-looking bush vines that naturally produce tiny yields. The resulting Marley Bush Vine Blend is a succulent red… a blend of Syrah, Zinfandel & Dolcetto, the right amount of time on in oak to balance out the fruit and it drinks like a dream. This is the kind of wine that flows, you open one bottle and before you know it you will be opening another.  It’s that type of wine!

Marley The Bush Vine Blend ’09 (Green Valley, CA)

Rich and lush, superb black berry on the bouquet, toasty oak, Asian spices and kirsch. The wine has a great nose. Raspberry, blackberry and chocolate notes emerge on the palate and lead to a long, fruit-filled finish. Enjoyable now, this hedonistic opulent red will continue to provide pleasure through 2018. The style of this wine will make it a great “house red”… perfect for Fall and Winter entertaining.

red state casserole

Red State Casserole

6 ounces of Tanqueray Gin

½ ounce of Noilly Pratt Dry Vermouth

A goodly amount of ice

1 lb venison/pork sausage cut into ½” slices

½ lb other würsts cut into ½” slices

1 21oz can Bush’s Grillin’ Beans Black Bean Fiesta recipe

1 15oz can Hormel Chili

1 pkg Sargento sliced Vermont White Cheddar

1. Put gin and vermouth into a glass pitcher, fill with ice, stir vigorously while incanting, “You who know all, thank you for providing us juniper and all the other obscure ingredients responsible for creating this sacred liquid!” Strain into a pre-frozen Martini glass of admirable size.  Skewer the olives on one of those tacky cocktail swords, place in glass. Immediately begin consuming.  Now you can begin the food prep, and the cooking!

2. Preheat oven to 400°F

3. Heat sausages and würsts in a skillet, flipping occasionally 3-5 minutes. Put beans into pot over medium heat.  When sausage/würst is cooked, drain and add to the pot with the beans. Mix thoroughly, and cook for another minute or so.

4. Put beans and sausage mix into a casserole.  Spread the chili over the mixture, making a separate layer.  Layer the cheddar slices over the mixture.  Use the entire package to create a thick “blanket” over the mixture.

5. Put into the oven for 10 minutes.  Then switch oven to broil.  Broil the casserole ‘til the cheese topping turns a deep golden color.

6. Dig in

n.b.  There can’t be an easier dish to modify than this one.  Don’t fret about the “sausages”.  Andouille, chorizo, bratwurst, hot dogs & just about “anything”.  It’s a function of what you have on hand and how spicy you want the end result. I like a mix of textures and tastes. Hormel also makes a spicy Chili.  It would work, too.  Smokier taste?  Bush’s does a “mesquite” recipe that would be great.  Also… I added no additional seasonings… but I can imagine that chili powder, red pepper flakes, or hot paprika would add extra dimension of “heat” if that’s a preference.

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THREE FACES OF HELL

I knew that he loved the sun, and even with his eyes closed his face seemed to enjoy the spray of sun that filtered thru the blinds of his room.  If his hospital bed were closer to the window he would have seen the sun picking at the chop of the inner harbor.  I looked for signs of recognition; but saw none.

We have been together for going on fifteen years.  When he first mentioned that sleep is his enemy I just passed it off as an exaggeration.  Sadly, there was more truth than fiction to his assertion.  I was there during those many nights.  I know. I was there when his face would contort and shout “No!  No, please no!” in a nightmare that had captured him.  His body would jerk, again “No, no!”

I would wake him slowly, “It’s alright”, I would say… “You’re safe, you’re here. There is no reason to be afraid.  I am here.”

It would be easy to imagine a two headed saliva dripping monster as the source for his out cry.  But that’s not the way it was. 

“No, where is it, where is it!”… he shouted.

We would talk in the morning… and over green tea he would weave the story.

“This has happened to me before. It’s a re-occurring theme. It’s an academic nightmare.  I haven’t been in a classroom for forty years.  And I’m late for class.  I’m not even sure where the classroom is, not even sure what building to go to. I start to feel panic, the rise of nausea rising in my gut.  There is more.  I have skipped class all semester, done none of the reading… I can’t even remember the gender of the instructor. I’m thinking, ‘well, I have age on my side, I am older than any of the other students by miles, and I just know more.  I will get by.’  But no, I can’t bluff not picking up a book for the entire semester. Who am I kidding?  The anxiety builds without let up.  I take my seat in the class.”

“That’s it? That’s the ending?” I ask. He would explain to me that it wasn’t so much a story with a beginning, middle and an end… rather it was just a scene.  And although it didn’t sound like much, the worry terrified him.

Then there was a night that his cry-out brought me from a sound sleep.  I quickly turned on the light and he was sitting upright, and kept repeating “He was there, he was there… I know he was there!”

His story couldn’t wait for the morning.

“I walked up the stairs to my childhood home.  It was a center hall colonial.  There were four bedrooms around the center hall on the second floor. My bedroom was the first off the stairs on the right and my parents’ bedroom was diagonally across on the left.  I opened the door to my room, and there was my Dad sleeping in the bed closest to the door. I jumped back.  Startled by the surprise.  The room felt like a sauna.  I felt every ounce of strength drain from me.  It’s the way that you would feel if you had been racked for a week with fever… I was weak all over and tried to stand.  I slumped to the hall floor just outside the door, unable to move.  My Dad was there, and I was unable to move.”

I knew that his Dad had passed years, and years ago.  And if there had been conflict in their relationship I can’t say.  But his expression spoke volumes, unnerved in disappointment, tears trickled down his cheeks, worry and anxiety in his eyes as he slowly shook his head from side to side.

The mind is an incredible thing.  Hear a loud sound when sleeping.  A peal of thunder?  A car door slamming?  And your mind will instantly create a dream around it.

One night I kept reading my book after he had turned off the light on his nightstand.  It wasn’t long when he drifted into sleep.  Before turning off my light, the car alarm next door was set off; I glanced to my left, his face seized up and he shouted as loud as I ever heard “NO!”  He awoke with a start, as if forcing the vision to stop.  He took a few deep breaths, looked at me and I said, “I have just seen the face of Hell.”

He went on to say, “Everyone thinks its horned devils with pitchforks.  Actually, it’s far more mundane… and far worse.”

And now I sit in his hospital room.  I watch him breathe.  I hold his hand.  I pray.  I pray not to see a face gripped in fear. I pray his last vision is of a warm beach, a soft curve of sand sloping to a gleaming blue sea… hearing the voices of those he loves carried in the breeze.

— From the Pen of Hester Bloom

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Leave it to Hammacher Schlemmer

So… tootsies cold are they?  And regardless of the boot, overshoe or thermal socks, you just can’t get your precious toes warm enough on those frigid winter days! Rest easy… the astute buyers at Hammacher Schlemmer have found the perfect solution!

 

Penguin Over-Feet

Do you think you have it cold?  Emperor Penguins endure the harshest conditions of the Antarctic winter to breed.  With air temperatures of -40° F, wind gusts of 75MPH, the males of the colony cluster together into tight huddles, balancing a single egg on the top of their feet.  For two months the males stand in the pitch black of winter with their feet as the only protection from the pack ice for their incubating egg. Now you can enjoy the same protection for your feet!  First, we send you a kit for making a plaster of Paris cast for each foot.  Follow the very clear and easy instructions, include your inseam measurement and return in the self paid carton.  Our work shops will then individually hand craft form fitting over-feet made with real penguin skin that will give your feet the same insulation and protection as an Emperor Penguin! No bulky socks, no cumbersome boots! Perfect for trekking across frozen ponds and negotiating icy driveways! Please allow 12 weeks for delivery.

 

Item 83947 Price $899.99

Item 83948 Price $989.99 [Four Toe Version, Not Shown]

penguin feet

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High Tide in the Sea of Copernicus

Carthage House
Chatham, Massachusetts
September 20, 1996

My Dearest Jimmy,

Now that my teaching days are well past, this is my favorite season.  It’s warm enough during the day to still enjoy our yard and a walk on the beach; but now the summer people are gone.  And to think that two decades ago Saul and I were summer people!  But even back then Saul and I tried to steal at least two September weekends (as long as the High Holidays didn’t interfere) to enjoy the quiet.

Our favorite time of the day was the evening.  We would put on light sweaters, go out back and watch the moon rise over the sea.  It was our time.  In my last few years with Saul, after we had both retired, these times were even more precious. We would sit in our Adirondack chairs down by the pair of Chinese Red Maples.  We had a clear view of the water and the heavens.

We would stay until our sweaters were insufficient against the early autumn air. Then Saul would take one long last look at the moon, slap his knees and say, “Well ol’ girl, it looks like its high tide in the Sea of Copernicus, time to bring the dory ashore!” And we would go in.

I am enclosing two letters that I think might be of interest to you.  I was putting together a carton of books to donate to the ChathamElementary School’s Book Sale, and I stumbled upon them tucked in a Civil War Atlas.  One is written in your hand, and the other is a typed carbon copy from Saul.  Both were neatly folded and pressed between two maps of the Battle of Chickamauga.  If Saul had mentioned the correspondence to me back then, I had long since forgotten its contents.

Thinking of those days — it was a difficult time for the country.  Upsetting in so many ways.  I know that from the time that you were a little boy you loved Saul; and it warms me to think that when you became a young adult you held his views in such high regard. Jimmy, know that Saul treasured you – he loved your sense of humor.  He always said that there was a spark of life in your brown eyes!

I am sitting at my desk looking out to the yard and to a three quarter moon suspended over the water.  The night is mostly clear with just a few wispy clouds tracing a path below the moon.  I think of you, I think of your Mother & Father, and of course I think of my Saul.  I do believe that the tide is high in the Sea of Copernicus.

Love, Always.
Aunt Meggie

—————-

Union College
October 7, 1968
Dear Uncle Saul,

I am writing to you for your good advice and counsel.

The election is looming ahead.  Where are we to go?  Who are we to support? I don’t like our choices.  It makes me sick to think of where our Country is going.  The divisiveness is horrible.  Generation against generation.  Father against son.  Those that served and sacrificed their lives in WWII set against those that are unwilling to do the same in the stink-hole of Viet Nam.

Viet Nam will go down as the tragedy of my generation.  And now we will have to choose between Nixon and Humprhey?

I ask again, “Where are we to go?”

Sorry to trouble you.  Please give my love to Aunt Meggie.  Remind her that she can send oatmeal raisin cookies to me via parcel post at any time!  Particularly during Finals!

I hope this finds you well.

Love,
Jim

————–

Kings House
Woodbury, Connecticut
October 17, 1968

Dear Jimmy,

I feel your concern, and I too am deeply troubled by our Country’s course.

My short answer would be support Humphrey.  He is a good man.  He has solid liberal credentials that have been obscured by his attachment to the Johnson Administration.  I believe, given the opportunity, he will establish his independence; and separate from the present Foreign Policy that has us mired in Viet Nam.

Remember this – regardless of who wins in the general election, we vote for the top 1000 appointments that the President makes.  These people are recruited from the “talent pool” from each of the Parties.  It is through these appointments that information is evaluated, policies are formed and policies implemented.

Even if Humphrey loses, we have seen the mess the Democrats have given us.  Maybe the bright guys on the Republican side have a better solution?

Something I have learned – no President, regardless of Party affiliation, is as good or as bad as he first appears.  Being a President is a real tough job, and it takes decades for history to weigh in with its judgment as to success or failure.

I have passed your cookie request to Meggie.  I can’t promise that her response will result in a “care package”; but I do detect warm fragrances emanating from the interior of our kitchen!

Stay well, study hard, keep your smile and never doubt whether tomorrow will be a fine day.

Love,

….
n.b.  Saul loved “naming” his residences.  He felt it lent a gentrified English tone to a home and it gave Saul a sense of remaining “connected”.  Homes were named for street locations… The Woodbury house followed his childhood home on Kings Highway, Brooklyn… and the Chatham home for the Woodbury home on Carthage Road.

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Toad Hall Stew & Bodegs Olaga Reciente Rosé

“’Oh, yes, yes, in there,’ said Toad impatiently. ‘I’d have said anything in there. You’re so eloquent, dear Badger, and so moving, and so convincing, and put all your points so frightfully well–you can do what you like with me in there, and you know it. But I’ve been searching my mind since, and going over things in it, and I find that I’m not a bit sorry or repentant really, so it’s no earthly good saying I am; now, is it?’”

Two things before we begin.  The recipe described herein is indeed not “Toad Hall Stew” but rather “Frogmore Stew”… a wonderful dish whose origins trace to South Carolina low-country.  The variations of the recipe are many.  But essentially it is a one pot dish based on shrimp, sausage and corn on the cob. Once again I have selected a version for its ease of assembly and its superb tastiness.

Next… as the above quotation bears witness, I am a big fan of Wind in the Willows. There is something that has always drawn me to the character of Mr. Toad… a gentleman of high birth, living in a grand home, enjoying a life rich in leisure pursuits, dressing impeccably, a gracious host, full of bombast and knowing how to set a fine table.

“There he got out the luncheon-basket and packed a simple meal, in which, remembering the stranger’s origin and preferences, he took care to include a yard of long French bread, a sausage out of which the garlic sang, some cheese which lay down and cried, and a long-necked straw-covered flask wherein lay bottled sunshine shed and garnered on far Southern slopes.”

So forgive me for deceiving you as to the name of the recipe.  But of this I have no doubt… it is a dish worthy of Mr. Toad.  This would be a repast that could grace the back patio of Toad Hall.  I can see Toad extending his hospitality to Rat, Mole and Badger… the friends enjoying the informality of the fare, watching the setting sun kiss the river bank, talking of adventure and sipping a chilled Rosé.

mr toad

The wine choices are several. Crisp to fuller whites would work. Alsatian Pinot Blanc or Riesling come to mind. Albariño from Spain would be a great choice, and if you are set on Chardonnay, select a more mineral driven version such as Chablis or Pouilly-Fuissé. A lighter red would also be fun… a slightly chilled Beaujolais from one of the Cru’s (Morgon, Moulin-à-Vent, Fleurie & etc.) would be the ticket.  Rosés for sure.  My favorites come from Provence; but for Toad Hall Stew I am choosing a fuller style of Rosé of Tempranillo from Rioja.

Bodegas Olarra Reciente Rosé ’12 (Rioja, Spain)

100% Tempranillo. Cold soak macerated prior to allowing natural yeasts to begin converting sugar to alcohol, ensures the fresh elegance of fruit is retained in the finished wine.  A classic saignée method employed by the producers in Provence for their Rosé’s. Crisp and fresh, this salmon colored wine is delicious offering up rose petals, hints of orange rind, raspberry and strawberry.  Clear, dry finish with a bright level of acidity making the wine a perfect accompaniment to anything served from your barbecue grill.  Or, excellent as a refreshing apéritif on a sunny afternoon!

 frogmore stew

Toad Hall Stew

Ingredients

6 ounces of Tanqueray Gin
½ ounce of Noilly Pratt Dry Vermouth
A goodly amount of ice
4 quarts cold water
¼ cup Old Bay seasoning
1 Tbs. kosher salt, plus more, to taste
4 celery stalks, cut into 1-inch pieces
1 yellow onion, diced
1 garlic head, halved crosswise
2½ lbs. small red potatoes
4 ears of corn, shucked, each cut into 4 pieces
2 lbs. smoked sausage, cut into 1½-inch slices
2 lbs. medium shrimp, deveined, in the shell

Directions

  1. Put gin and vermouth into a glass pitcher, fill with ice, stir vigorously while incanting, “You who know all, thank you for providing us juniper and all the other obscure ingredients responsible for creating this sacred liquid!” Strain into a pre-frozen Martini glass of admirable size.  Skewer the olives on one of those tacky cocktail swords, place in glass. Immediately begin consuming.  Now you can begin the food prep, and the cooking!
  2. In a large stockpot over medium-high heat, combine the water, OldBay seasoning, the 1 Tbs. salt, celery, onion, garlic and potatoes and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer until the potatoes are tender when pierced, 10 to 20 minutes.
  3. Add the corn and sausage to the pot and simmer until the corn is tender, 4 to 5 minutes. Add the shrimp and simmer until opaque, 3 to 4 minutes. Taste the broth and adjust the seasonings with salt.

n.b. I used a Vidalia onion.  I switched to jumbo shrimp (sorry, medium shrimp aren’t worth the effort). I also don’t devein shrimp (just a nuisance step that I find totally without merit).

glorius mr. toad

The world has held great Heroes,
As history books have showed;
But never a name to go down to fame
Compared with that of Toad!

The clever men at Oxford
Know all that there is to be knowed.
But they none of them know one half as much
As intelligent Mr. Toad!

Posted in Sandy's Table | Leave a comment

Zmartwychwastanie

I remember this as if it happened yesterday. 

We were from a small isolated forest village near the Vistula.  Our village was so small that it made other small villages look like cities.  Maybe that’s why they didn’t send a lorry for the few of us, just two guards with mausers left over from the Great War, and two kapos with small truncheons. 

The feldwebel who wore an ill-fitting uniform stinking of dirt and sweat and whose breath reeked of cheap spirits, formed us into a line of march.  It became clear that we shared something strangely in common.  He didn’t want to be assigned to this duty taking us from our homes.  And we didn’t want to leave our homes.  That didn’t stop the feldwebel from carrying out his assignment.

We were each allowed one small grip and we began our walk to shouts, insults and beating.  The kapos were intent on showing a servile gratitude to the feldwebel by conducting their beatings with added enthusiasm and cruelty.  We walked and walked in the early morning light.  The late March air was fresh and encouraging.  We fell into silence, only the sound of our heavy breathing, an occasional cough and trudging footsteps mixed with the sound of spring birds.

Now I could hear the nearby brook running over the rocks. I have always loved early spring days.  The brisk feel of the morning on the skin, winter in retreat and the hope of warm weather ahead.  Hope.  I glanced to my left, the rising sun throwing shafts of light through the stand of birch trees and pine that framed the brook.  I could see patches of lingering snow clustered in the shadows interspersed with fresh green bursting from the ground.  And the birds. Flying from limb to limb, tree to tree. In song and flying free.

The sound of the brook again.  I know that stream well. Swelled with winter run-off, icy cold.  I would come to the stream with my father on a day just like this.  A young boy with only one thing on his mind.  My father would hoot at me as I ran to the edge of the stream.  I would pick out a perfect rock to stand on, take off my boots, roll up my pants and step onto my rock perch in the racing water.  The water would sting my ankles and I would begin to count… one, two, three, four.  My father would be holding his belly laughing. Fifteen, sixteen, seventeen… I would concentrate on keeping my balance on the smooth rock.  Thirty-one, thirty-two, thirty-three… how long could I remain in the water? Maybe I would set the record?

To this day, I can still hear my father laughing.  The memory of his laughter faded as we walked deeper into the wood and away from the brook.

We walked and walked, no rest, we stumbled, felt a hard kick and endured the heel of a mauser.  Then a rifle’s report. Our blood stained the melting snow.

The gripping pain, I could not cry out.  And I heard my father say, “Do not fear.  You will soon find yourself in paradise, you will sit at the table with all your loved ones, see their smiles and you will know adonai.”

birch trees

— translated from the original in Polish

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The Last Supper

{March 14, 44 BCE}

CAESAR:  Calpurnia!  I’m home!

CALPURNIA: Waaaaaaaaaaah!

CAESAR:  What is it now Calpurnia?

CALPURNIA:  Waaaaaaaaaaaaah!  Oh, Julie I feel so horrible!  Waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaah!

CAESAR:  Settle down Calpurnia and ‘splain to me what happen’.

CALPURNIA:  Well… I know that you were going to have a hard day at the Senate and I wanted to make you a very special supper and Little Julie was going to help me with cooking and you know how much he wants to please you and when I asked him to wash the arugula he thought I had said “Caligula” so he washed the cat and he didn’t mean to hold the cat under the water for as long as he did but he thought that it was the only way he could clean the cat’s ears and he was trying so hard to make you proud of him and the poor little dear began to cry when Caligula finally floated to the surface of the bath and after we made a funeral pyre and burned the cat that mean Senator Tillius Cimber who lives next door complained about the courtyard smelling like smoky egg farts and he said that he was going to tell our landlord Casca about it and have us thrown out even though we already want to move to that new development on the Appian Way and then I remembered that I left the ox-tails braising on the range and when I ran back into the kitchen I could smell the ox-tails burning and not just crispy the way you like them but dried out the way you don’t like them and when I went to see if there were any more ox-tails there weren’t any left because I had used them for Little Julie’s school sandwich and the only food we have left is marinated olives, a day old baguette and a half eaten strawberry-rhubarb pie and I didn’t want to disappoint you!  Waaaaaaaaaaaaah!

CAESAR: We hab’ no ox-tails?  Look… we can go out to dinner.  Now stop cryin’.  I’ve got a joke you never heard in your life.  I know a girl who’s so dumb she thinks a football coach has four wheels!  Ha, ha, ha!

CALPURNIA:  How many wheels does it have?

CAESAR: Never mine’.  Look, I’ll make a reservation at Club Babalu.  Brutus tol’ me they make ox-tails with black beans, saffron rice and habanero chilies and they serve it with a Vino Nobile.

CALPURNIA:  Waaaaaaaaaaaaah!

CAESAR: Wass wrong? You no like Vino Nobile?

CALPURNIA:  Casca made me so darn mad!

CAESAR:  Now what?

CALPURNIA: He said that he is going to hold us to our lease.  We have to pay him five month’s rent before we can leave.  I guess we’re stuck here!

CAESAR:  Well, now… that all depends.

CALPURNIA:  On what?

CAESAR:  On whether we can break the lease or not.  We are going to become the two most unpleasant, disagreeable nasty people in the whole world.

CALPURNIA:  How?

CAESAR:  We’ll force ourselves!

lucydesi

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Sunday Evening at Sandy’s Table

I picked up this recipe from Cuisine at Home, and it was simply named “Tasty Beef Stew”. Easy to follow and assemble; but thinking that the name was lacking, I re-named it in honor of one of my favorite Peter Sellers’ send-ups, The Mouse That Roared. Made in 1959, Sellers plays three roles in the film: The Grand Duchess Gloriana XII, Prime Minister Count Rupert of Mountjoy & Tully Bascombe. The Duchy of Grand Fenwick decides that the only way to get out of their economic woes is to declare war on the United States, lose and accept foreign aid. They send an invasion force to New York(armed with longbows) which arrives during a nuclear drill that has cleared the streets. Wandering about to find someone to surrender to, they discover a scientist with a special ultimate weapon that can destroy the Earth. When they capture him and his bomb they are faced with a new possibility: What do you do when you win a war?

For the wine I decided on a California“ field blend.” I love these types of wine that feature varietals that are atypically blended to take advantage of a successful harvest. Each Vintage is new… a reflection of that year’s bounty… the ultimate “winemaker’s brew”!  This is our second Vintage with the wine… the first was predominantly Cabernet Sauvignon, this vintage is predominantly Syrah. This wine falls under the technical classification of “Crowd Pleaser”! Perfect to enjoy alongside of a tasty beef stew!

Balius Xanthos Proprietary Red ’10 (Napa, CA)

Both “Balius” and “Xanthos” are derived from Greek Mythology and were the names of Achilles’ horses. The 2010 Xanthos is a deep, dark plum/blackberry color in the glass and a nose of sweet black and blue fruit and dark chocolate. Velvety smooth and soft in the mouth with polished tannins, flavors of black plum, cocoa, anise, and blackberry jam fill out the profile of this California red. Fruit forward but balanced with good acid making it easy drinking for all occasions. The wine is a blend of 63% Syrah, 16% Segalin, 11% Merlot, and 10% Zinfandel and was aged for 18 months in 40% new French oak.

n.b. Xanthos was actually not the name of Achilles’ horse… it was his landlord.

The Duchy of Grand Fenwick Beef Stew

Ingredients

6 ounces of Tanqueray Gin
½ ounce of Noilly Pratt Dry Vermouth
A goodly amount of ice
6 strips of thick sliced bacon, diced
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
1 tsp kosher salt
1 tsp. Spanish paprika
1 tsp dried thyme
½ tsp black pepper
¼ tsp cayenne pepper
3 lbs boneless beef chuck roast, cut into 1½ inch chunks
1 lb small red potatoes quartered
2 cups baby carrots
1½ cups diced celery
2 dried bay leaves
2 tbsp tomato paste
1 tbsp minced garlic
1 tbsp beef base
2½ cups low sodium beef broth
1½ cups vegetable juice cocktail
2 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
1 cup frozen green peas thawed
1 cup frozen pearl onions thawed
2 tbsp red wine vinegar
Chopped fresh parsley

Directions

  1. Put gin and vermouth into a glass pitcher, fill with ice, stir vigorously while incanting, “You who know all, thank you for providing us juniper and all the other obscure ingredients responsible for creating this sacred liquid!” Strain into a pre-frozen Martini glass of admirable size.  Skewer the olives on one of those tacky cocktail swords, place in glass. Immediately begin consuming.  Now you can begin the food prep, and the cooking!
  2. Cook bacon in a skillet over medium heat ‘til crisp. Drain bacon on a paper-towel lined plate; reserve drippings.
  3. Combine flour, salt, paprika, thyme, black pepper and cayenne in a bowl; add beef and toss to coat.  Heat 1 tbsp of drippings in same skillet over medium. Sear half the beef until brown, 3 minutes per side.  Repeat with 1 tbsp of drippings and remaining beef; transfer to a 4 to 6 quart slow cooker.  Add any remaining flour mixture to the slow cooker; top with potatoes, carrots, celery and bay leaves.
  4. Stir tomato paste, garlic and beef base into the skillet and cook over medium heat, 1 minute
  5. Combine broth, vegetable juice and Worcestershire and stir into skillet, scraping up bits from the bottom.  Bring to a simmer over medium-high heat and cook until thick, 2-3 minutes.  Pour broth mixture over beef in slow cooker.  Cover slow cooker and cook until the beef is fork-tender on high setting 3-4 hours, or low setting 6-7 hours. Discard bay leaf.
  6. Now, with the extended down time, a second Martini would be in order… a time to reflect on this glories of this beverage.
  7. At the very end, add peas, pearl onions and vinegar to the stew.  Garnish servings with parsley and bacon.
Posted in Sandy's Table | Leave a comment

The Incident at the Pool

I stared down at my jambalaya, took a glance at the Ranger-Bruin hockey game at the screen in the far corner of Ash Creek Saloon and savored a sip of my Wild Turkey Rye on ice.  Folks to the left and right of me were drinking quantities of Hurricanes, the ladies were festooned in flashing gizmo glasses and beads… many, many strings of beads… it being Mardi Gras, even here in Norwalk, CT.

Hector offered me a taste of a Hurricane.  Not bad… it reminded me of Planters Punch, which I used to enjoy years ago when traveling to warm weather destinations.  I stayed with my Rye.  But the guy seated to my right was to content to keep pounding Hurricanes… which he did without apparent enthusiasm, pausing only to scribble a few words onto a sheet of paper, actually several sheets of paper… stationary that appeared to be stained by Hurricanes and shreds of spicy chicken wings.

And here I thought I was the only patron who used the Ash Creek’s bar for writing purposes!  After a couple of forkfuls of jambalaya (very good, by the way), this guy started to bug me.  Not a regular.  Drinking Hurricanes like they were OJ… and writing.  Writing what?   For the first time I had a sense of how folks at the bar would view me!  Writing what? And for all I knew, he was a gifted writer!

Well, even gifted writers have to go and relieve the accumulating pressure on their bladders… if you know what I mean (and I think we all do)… particularly if you have been guzzling Hurricanes.  And when this fellah left to take care of his bathroom needs, I couldn’t resist taking a peek at what he was writing.

Thru the various cross-outs and re-starts, legibility seeming to be negatively impacted by the volume of Hurricanes, I could make out the following… “Dear Jorge: Thank you for attending the Conference, your participation was instrumental to its success and greatly appreciated by the firm’s Partners & Senior Management.  I personally wanted to offer my sincerest apologies for the incident at the pool. On behalf of our Team, please accept this gift…”

Incident at the pool?

Hector replenished my Rye Whisky, the Rangers were up 2 nil… did I mention the Jambalaya was top shelf? 

Whatever this “incident” was… it had to be special to send this guy to composing a letter of apology thru the fog of Hurricanes at Ash Creek Saloon! Who knows… maybe there was the risk of losing a key client or contact? Maybe his job was on the line? 

Halfway thru my second Rye, I figured it out…

First… the pool.  It had to be outdoors, embarrassing incidents don’t take place at indoor pools other than peeing in the pool, and peeing in the pool doesn’t require getting sloshed on Hurricanes and writing a letter of apology. Next, the Conference.  It had to be International… Jorge, right?  Super Brain, super connected with multiple degrees from M.I.T., Wharton and Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, multi-lingual, makes big bucks and wears tailor made threads.  Time and place? The conference just concluded in some warm weather location.  Outdoor pool, right?  This Hemisphere. Barbados?  No, closer to the States. Bermuda?  Wrong season. OK, Turks & Caicos.

The nature of the Conference? The demise of the Spotted Owl?  Global Warming? What killed off the dinosaurs?  Ixnay.  It’s impossible to create an embarrassing incident that warrants a tactical fix-up in a Conference involving a beaten-up subject.  This Conference clearly involved big time players, with heavy money at stake.  Probably in the bio-medical sphere… sorta like Jurassic Park, only real! 

And this Jorge dude?  He’s the technical lynch-pin.  He’s the one that the “Team” was counting on to close the deal with the international investors (which probably included the likes of NASA, the Colombia Drug Cartel, Walt Disney and an unnamed Shanghai Restaurant).  Jorge is a wünderkind, in addition to being a genius, child prodigy cello player and a great dresser, he is an avid sportsman… exceptional downhill skier and polo player.  In fact he met his future wife while competing in a polo tournament at the Taupiri Polo Club in Auckland, NZ.  She is a five time Sports Illustrated Swim Suit Model & a member ofSweden’s Olympic Downhill Ski Team.

Speaking of the “team”… Our “hero”, taking a wiz (and maybe more) in Ash Creek’s loo, works for a hedge fund… one that has a ton of money, and was left unscathed by either Bernie Madoff or Wall Street’s collapse.  The “Team” (with “Senior Management” involved) had spent 21 months putting together the deal, and the “Conference” in Turks and Caicos (actually the third one during that time frame) was in preparation for signing-off on the details and before the official “product roll-out”.  Mr. Hurricane was probably lower down on the feed chain (either highest level mid-tier, or lowest level upper-tier), but in anticipation of the beaucoups of green that would fall into his lap, he had already gone to contract for a good sized home on Meads Point in Greenwich.

To the incident itself.  “All work and no play, makes Jack a dull boy”.  And it is clear that at this high powered Conference where the work was undoubtedly intense, a gazillion dollars hanging in the balance, and when matters concluded, the play would be equally intense. And so we find our intrepid hero, rubbing shoulders with the heavy hitters on the Team, and the other heavy hitters at the Ocean Club West… a tall beverage in hand, admiring the beautiful free-form pool with its bridge connecting to an island with tropical flora and a gazebo.  Azure waters, blue skies, a settling sun, the sweet scent of gardenia lifting on a pleasant sea breeze, a satisfying Mojito… or Planter’s Punch… or maybe even a Hurricane in hand! Life was good… no, make that: life was great!  Conference done, 95% of details locked up (which the higher ups felt was good enough to launch into a happy dance).  And life was getting even better with each frosty cocktail.  The sun continued its descent to the horizon forming a breathtaking sunset. Aided by the booze, the natural inhibitions for Mr. Greenwich Hedge Fund also descended.  Caught up in the moment and in the scenery (which included spectacular looking women) he strolled across the arched bridge to the island with a Rum-Whatever in each hand, finishing off one, he merrily tossed the empty glass into the pristine pool and approached a woman who he had culled from the herd of fabulous looking women that populated the artificial island.

Perhaps he didn’t adequately measure his point of attack.  Or maybe he was just using a line that he used as an undergraduate.  Or maybe he was just too stewed to know any better when he approached this rocket, “Excuse me Miss… I’d give the world for several strings of beads so I could have a look at your breasts!”

Well… maybe it worked when he was an undergraduate… or at least when he traveled to New Orleansfor Mardi Gras.  Call it unfortunate that his target on this occasion was none other than “5 Time Swim Suit Model”… the fact which he rapidly discovered when the previously unseen Mr. Jorge stood up from his near-by chair to defend his wife’s honor.  Making things worse, our friend, on realizing the gross faux pas, accidently spilled the contents of his Long Island Ice Tea (or whatever he was drinking) down Mrs. Jorge’s cleavage.  And understandably, Mrs. Jorge got up from her chair with quite a start, knocking into a small table, badly twistng her ankle in the process, losing her balance, savagely gripping Mr. Jorge’s arm… who in turn lost his balance, collided with a waiter bearing a tray full of mojito’s, rum swizzles, flaming scorpions & etc., and with no hope of recovering their collective balance, the trio… Jorge (in his bespoke tailored suit), Mrs. Jorge (who also lost a heel in the commotion) & the waiter (who gamely tried to retain as many cocktails on his tray as possible) tumbled into Ocean Club West’s free-form pool.

Maybe that vision of calamity was on Mr. Hurricane’s mind as he returned to his place next to me at the bar.  Maybe he was thinking about the missing 5% on closing the mega-deal. Or maybe the Hurricane’s took him to the blue skies and puffy clouds, before the regrettable incident at the pool transpired.  Would that it be true…

Hector put yet again another Hurricane before him.  It was an Ash Creek Special… $20 for all the Hurricanes you can drink, and clearly this guy was getting his money’s worth!

He picked up his pen to put it to the paper, he blinked a couple of times and let the pen fall from his hand… he tried to wipe the haze from his eyes… he turned slightly and looked at me…

I looked back, smiled and sympathetically nodded my head, “Writer’s block?”

Posted in The Ash Creek Bourbon & Conversation Corner | Leave a comment

The Day of Rabbit’s Worry

On a day that I was thinking about, our friend Rabbit found himself in a fit of worry and agitation.  He paced the greeting spot of his well tended home that was comfortably tucked into a corner of 100 Acre Wood.  Now Rabbit was by nature a worrying sort of rabbit, it was just that on this day he was expecting a visit from his Tax Attorney, Edward Bear, who would also be known as Winnie the Pooh, and sometimes Pooh Bear; and that increased Rabbit’s sense of worry and agitation. 

As Tax Day neared it always brought an air of joy for Winnie the Pooh because it gave him the chance to visit all of his friends in 100 Acre Wood, help them file their returns and stay for perhaps a light snack.  Briefcase in hand, as Pooh Bear neared Rabbit’s Howse he launched into one of his favorite hums:

It’s such a grand ol’ day

And someone has to pay

And pay all day on such

A grand ol’ day

tump-tiddie-day, tump-tiddie-day

Meanwhile, Rabbit scurried around his abode hiding away his recently harvested vegetables.  “Oh dear, dear!  I think I hear him outside!” the nervous Rabbit said to himself.

“Halloooo Rabbit!” Pooh called out.

“Wh-wh-who is it?” Rabbit trembled.

“I think it is me”, answered Winnie the Pooh.

“Is that y-y-you Pooh Bear?” Rabbit asked, after he finished storing away his prize cabbage.

“It is if you say so Rabbit!”  Pooh happily replied, and with no further encouragement Pooh Bear entered thru Rabbit’s front door, although there was no door to speak of.

“Er, hello Pooh Bear – it’s so n-n-nice to see you again, I think. It’s that time of the year, I suppose…” Rabbit nervously observed.

“You must be referring to T-A-X time Rabbit, and you must be right because I brought my brief case, and I only bring my brief case when it’s that time of the year! Oh, bother!”

“Is there something wrong Pooh Bear?  Did you forget something?” Rabbit asked, thinking that his return might be a matter of difficulty.

winnie and rabbit

“Well, Rabbit…” And Pooh Bear wandered over to Rabbit’s cupboard, “I am glad you asked.  It’s a smallish matter really.  You see, I feel a distinct rumbly in my tummy and I was thinking that I might enjoy a smackerl of something to eat.”

And before Rabbit could say “oh, dear”, Pooh Bear was in the cupboard peering into each stored jar and moving this and that.  And while he surveyed the contents of Rabbit’s larder, Pooh Bear quietly hummed:

There’s a rumbly in my tummy

And I know it, and I know it

Eat a carrot, munch an onion

And you fix it, and you fix it

There’s a rumbly in my tummy

Pooh will fix it, Pooh will fix it!

It only took Pooh Bear a few minutes to collect all manner of vegetables which he then dutifully presented to the unbelieving Rabbit, “Why Rabbit, look what I found! A few ribs of celery, two bulbs of fennel, a bunch of heirloom carrots, a head of romaine, 3 Vidalia onions, some beautiful turnips, six beef steak tomatoes, lovely radishes and an exceptional cabbage!”

“My cabbage! B-b-b-but…”

“Nonsense Rabbit.  These are perfect for you to make into a very tasty snack!  While you stir-fry, I will find us something to wet our whistles!”  And Pooh Bear went to the pantry where Rabbit stored his beverages.

“Oh, d-d-d-dear”  the worried Rabbit stammered, and he proceeded to rinse, pat dry, chop and begin stir-frying the entire contents of his cupboard, including his prize cabbage.

Pooh Bear shuffled thru the bottles in the pantry, “Maybe a nice Chardonnay Rabbit?” 

“Ch-ch-ch-Chardonnay?  Oh, that would be fine Pooh Bear… I think.”

“Why Rabbit!  You have a Corton-Charlemagne from Burgundy!”  And before Rabbit could offer an objection, the sound of a popping cork could be heard and Pooh Bear emerged from the pantry with the opened bottle of Grand Cru and two good sized glasses and he joyfully began his I Love Burgundy Hum…

B-U-R-G-undie, undie!

I love it, I love it!

With fish cakes and rice

It’s so nice…

And Pooh stopped his hum, “Oh, bother!  Rabbit, we’re not having fish cakes and rice and I don’t think I can fit V-E-G-table stir-fry into my hum!”

Rabbit called a temporary halt to his cooking, “Pooh Bear, if you’re disappointed about the fish cakes and rice, I can put these vegetables away and perhaps we could look at my t-t-t-tax return?”

“Nonsense Rabbit!  The stir-fry smells deeee-lish-usssss!  And besides, it will be so good to have with this deeee-lish-usssss C-O-R-T-O-N Charlemagne! Oh, bother!”

Now what is it Pooh Bear?”

“I seemed to have finished off this bottle of Burgundy all by myself!  But no fear Rabbit, I espied another bottle hiding in your pantry behind a dusty bottle of some dumb Chardonnay!”

Rabbit ran to block Pooh Bear’s path to the pantry; but he was two steps too late… “W-w-w-wait Pooh Bear!!”  But before Rabbit could get out another word, the tell tale sound of a popping cork told Rabbit that his last bottle of Grand Cru Corton-Charlemagne had been opened!  Poor Rabbit had to resign himself to the situation, and he set to putting out modest plates of vegetable stir-fry on the dinning room table.

“This is a very fine snack, Rabbit.  Although I find the portion size to be on the S-K-I-M-P-Y side.”  And with this, Pooh Bear wandered back to the kitchen and helped himself to all that remained of the vegetable stir-fry.  “This is just what I needed to go with my Burgundy,” and with perfect efficiency Pooh Bear finished off all that remained of the Burgundy… making the wine and the stir-fry come out even.  “There!  Deeee-lish-usssss! Why Rabbit… you didn’t get to taste any Corton-Charlemagne!”

“I n-n-n-noticed,” was all that the worried Rabbit could say.

And Winnie the Pooh placed his napkin back neatly on the table, stood up, patted his full tummy, took his brief case and walked to the front door, which was really not a door, and announced, “Thank you Rabbit!  I’m off to Kanga’s home!  She makes exceptional pot-stickers and she has an admirable Châteauneuf du Pape!”

“B-b-b-b-but Pooh Bear….”

“TTFN Rabbit!!” And our stalwart Edward Bear, the most acclaimed Tax Attorney in all of 100 Acre Wood, marched off, brief case in hand, in the direction of Kanga and Roo’s place… and he picked up his favorite hum:

It’s such a grand ol’ day

And someone has to pay

And pay all day on such

A grand ol’ day

tump-tiddie-day, tump-tiddie-day

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The Story Behind the Burr-Hamilton Duel

The historical record is clear. On July 11, 1804 Aaron Burr (then Vice-President of the United States) engaged in a duel with Alexander Hamilton (“Founding Father” and former Secretary of the Treasury) below the cliffs in Weehawken, NJ. Both men discharged their Wogden dueling pistols. The intentions of the protagonists have been a matter of debate. Hamilton’s shot sailed considerably high and wide, fueling speculation that he intended to delope (throw away his fire). Burr’s shot found its mark, and a day later Hamilton died from his wound.

The feud between the two men, conducted for the most part in published opinions and speeches, simmered for years. The root cause for the mutual animosity lay in their differing political beliefs, but matters came to a head when their disagreement took a different tack during a chance meeting at Fraunces Tavern on June 20, 1804.

What transpired on that day was a “duel” of a different sort. The verbal war of words had escalated and was faithfully recorded by Amos Whitwater of the New York Evening Post (the newspaper founded by Alexander Hamilton). An extract is included herein.

{New York City, Twenty-First June, 1804} Neither A. Hamilton nor A. Burr expected to see each other at Fraunces Tavern. The different points of view of the two men have been well recorded and need no further elaboration here. Upon seeing Burr enter the room, Hamilton rose from his table and declared “I am grateful, Sir, for your maieutic inquiry about my views.”

Burr, not recognizing the word, questioned the use of maieutic. Mr. Hamilton returned, “The word, Sir, comes from the Greek word for mid-wifery: ‘maieutikos’. The great Plato, in one of his dialogues describes Socrates using maieutikos as a method of bringing forth new ideas by reasoning. Not that this would do you much good, Mr. Burr.”

Mr. Burr approached Mr. Hamilton, paused and pointed an accusatorial finger and said, “Sir, it continues to astound me that your arguments show a stunning lack of ratiocination!” Mr. Hamilton put down the damask napkin that was in his hand and questioned, “Ratiocination?” Burr explained, “Ratiocination — the process of exact thinking! In this regard, Sir, you fail!”

A look of bemusement descended on Mr. Hamilton’s face. He retrieved his napkin from the table, dabbed both corners of his mouth and calmly said, “Mr. Burr, you are a Stinky Ca-Ca.” Mr. Burr seized the napkin from Mr. Hamilton’s hand, “Stinky Ca-Ca, Sir?” Hamilton took back his napkin, “The Stinky Ca-Ca, Sir, an unimportant and ineffectual Indian Tribe!”

You insult me, Mr. Hamilton! You are a base scoundrel, Sir!” Mr. Burr thundered, he took back the napkin, struck Mr. Hamilton thrice in the face and announced, “You may withdraw your words here and now! Or I will have my honour restored on a dueling field!”

Sir, my seconds will call on your seconds and a time and place will be selected that will put closure to our dispute!” Mr. Hamilton responded, “One way or another, our matters will be resolved! Good evening, Mr. Burr!”

The outcome of this affair remains to be written. It is the hope of all that cooler heads will prevail. A. Whitwater

Cooler heads did not prevail and on July 11 both men proceeded to their agreed upon appointment. After felling Hamilton with his shot, Aaron Burr handed his pistol to his second, William P. Van Ness, and was heard muttering, “Stinky Ca-Ca indeed!”

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Paella & Dom. du Grand Boujassot Sablet ’10

If you are one to fret and labor of the choice of wine to go along side of a dish… fret no longer.  Years ago I discovered a dish that offers fool proof opportunity for wine pairings.  The dish is Spanish paella, and it is one of my favorite dishes for wine.  It is a classic dish that combines meat, seafood and poultry into a sumptuous feast for both eye and palate. Wine? Choose Red, White, Rosé or sparkling… you can’t miss. For my first attempt at making paella in my kitchen, I selected a Southern Rhône that I have used at many of our wine tastings. It offers concentration of flavors and texture that matches well against the richness of the dish.  My second choice of wine would have been an Albariño from Spain or a Pinot Gris from Alsace.  Other choices?  Rioja?  Sure!  Zinfandel… Cru Beaujolais, Barbera, Grenache… yes, yes, yes. You get the idea… stay away from heavy duty Cabs, Classified Bordeaux, and just about everything else should be fine.  For Whites stay crisp and/or flavorful… Sancerre, Grüner Veltliner, Viognier, Torrontes, Gavi. I would stay away from the buttery and heavy oaked Chards (but I don’t like those types of Chards for anything)… but if you are in the mood for Chardonnay, open a Pouilly-Fuissé or a modest Burgundy from the Beaune.  Rosé? Select and chill.  And for sparkling I’m a big fan of Prosecco… Cava from Spain would also suit.

Domaine du Grand Boujassot Sablet ’10 (Southern Rhône, France)

Marie-Claude & Pierre Varennes own 7.5ha in Gigondas and Sablet. Pierre Varenne inherited the fields of Gigondas from his parents in 1974 and his wife Marie-Claude inherited the fields of Sablet. The appellation of Sablet was originally classified as a Côte du Rhône Village but with improved quality it is has been awarded its own Village designation. It is located 12 miles to the east of the town Orange. This wine is a typical blend of 70% Grenache and 30% Syrah from wonderful 70 year old vines. The vineyard is sand, alluvium, calcaire and chalk. The word Sablet is the French word for sand. Sablet shares its soils with the neighbouring Gigondas Appellation. The Dentelles de Montmirail foothills rise sharpley just to the east of Sablet and offer a small area of south-facing limestone-based slopes where some of the more successful Sablet vineyards are situated. This is where you will find Boujassot’s vineyard, which has perfect sun exposure and drainage to make great red wine. The wine has an absolutely killer nose, rich and dense with berry fruit and glorious concentration on the palate, awesome richness, great texture that only the best Southern Rhône possess.

There are a plethora of paella recipes. The ingredients and variations seem endless.  I settled on using the recipe that came with the 15” paella pan that I ordered.  The pan is key.

paella

Paella Mixta

Ingredients

6 ounces of Tanqueray Gin
½ ounce of Noilly Pratt Dry Vermouth
A goodly amount of ice
1 tsp thread saffron
2 tsp smoked paprika
2 medium onions, chopped
2 red bell peppers, chopped
2 pounds tomatoes, chopped
8 piquillo peppers, sliced
4 cloves garlic, chopped
3 chicken thighs, cut into 2” pieces
12 large shrimp, uncooked
12 littleneck clams (or mussels)
1 lb chorizo, cut into 1” pieces
8 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
2 cups bomba or calasparra rice
6 cups low sodium chicken broth
Lemon wedges

Directions

  1. Put gin and vermouth into a glass pitcher, fill with ice, stir vigorously while incanting, “You who know all, thank you for providing us juniper and all the other obscure ingredients responsible for creating this sacred liquid!” Strain into a pre-frozen Martini glass of admirable size.  Skewer the olives on one of those tacky cocktail swords, place in glass. Immediately begin consuming.  Now you can begin the food prep, and the cooking!
  2. Add broth, paprika and saffron to a pot, cover and heat. In a separate 15” paella pan, add 2 tbsp olive oil and brown the chicken pieces and the chorizo, about 5 minutes, Remove. Add the remaining olive oil and cook the onions over medium high heat until translucent, about 5 minutes.  Add the tomatoes and garlic and simmer another 5 minutes until they have a “sauce” like appearance.  Add sea salt and pepper to taste.
  3. Pour in rice and stir until the rice is covered with the tomato mixture (known as sofrito).  Add the chicken and chorizo pieces.  Slowly add the heated broth to the paella.  Stir the rice mixture around until it is evenly distributed throughout the pan.  Important… do not stir after this point.
  4. Simmer for about 10 minutes, then place the shrimp and the clams into the mixture one by one, evenly distributing throughout.  Simmer for another 15 minutes, or until the broth has been absorbed, add extra liquid if necessary.  Remove from heat, cover lightly with foil and let sit for another 10 minutes.  Garnish with piquillo slices and lemon wedges.

n.b. I added two lobster tails, split in half lengthwise, and in half again across and introduced to the cooking process when I added the other seafood.  After reading other recipes, I learned that some burned rice on the bottom is desirable.  When you can smell the “toasting” of the rice, take the pan off the heat and tent the paella with foil ‘til the moisture is absorbed. I loved the charred rice!  I didn’t peel or de-vein the shrimp before cooking, although you can. I like peeling the shrimp as I go along (that’s why we have extra napkins at the table!). I will probably make some changes the next go ‘round… replace the chicken stock with water? Go seafood only?  We’ll see! Cheers!!

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A Man of Letters & An Invisible Rabbit

I call it a “mail box surprise”!  Amongst a few bills and some irritating political adverts, a letter.  A real letter! A good friend chooses to communicate with me not by phone, not by email, or texting… but in the “old fashioned way”, with pen, paper and stamp.  I include the contents of this missive in its entirety.

But before… a few more prefacing remarks.

My friend and I go back a ways. To say that we are cut from the same cloth is an understatement.  We love telling stories and jokes.  Long stories and long jokes. The longer and more involved the better.  We discovered years ago that our manner of thinking entailed side tracks and digressions (many), an occasional loss of train of thought (too many Tanqueray Martinis) and a casual disregard for whether anyone else cared.  In writing we pay little attention to grammar, preferring to write in phrases and fragments joined together by ellipses and some dashes. Parenthesis’s are employed to indicate an embellishing detail, or an amusing detour.

Further, we have a similar sense of humor: that rare combination of 8th Grade funny, locker room vulgar, post-collegiate smart-ass & a touch of Jewish angst.  Maybe that’s why we get along so well.  How can I argue with someone who has proclaimed that the greatest advancement in the 20th Century was the creation of the mango pitter. 

After years of conducting our correspondence we haven’t decided which is worse, the writing of the letter (which can take forever) or the reading of it.  I mean… what happens if the strategic reserves of gin run out in the interim?

***

To you, who is living proof that Montezuma’s Revenge is real:

I don’t think you know the Gordon’s.  They have a home in Greenwich, a place in Guilford on the water, a pied à terre near Columbus Circle and a ski lodge in Stowe.  He majored in downhill skiing at Dartmouth, grateful that his Grandfather invented the clothespin, or something just as stupid.  His wife is a partner in Milbank,Tweed and thinks that Genghis Khan was a liberal.

We met them several years ago because their Daughter Michelle and our Sydney were on the Sharks Swim Team.  And then we got included in their For-Adults-Halloween Celebration.  The invitations for the party get sent out just after the school year starts.  This is done both as a courtesy and, as I was soon to learn, to provide enough time to make, or acquire, suitable costumes.  Hard to believe that I got into this?  Well… I did.

The first year we went as Dorothy and the Scarecrow.  Margie was perfect… the blue gingham pettifore over a short sleeved white blouse with puffy shoulders, the ankle socks and ruby shoes.  Pig tails with blue ribbons, too.  And I was a credible Scarecrow.  That goofy hat, olive burlap shirt, baggy canvas pants and lots and lots, of straw (that straw gave me a horrible body rash and a case of rectal itch that lasted for days).

We got an Honorable Mention in the costume judging.  The Gordon’s took first prize as Gomez and Morticia Addams.  And they did look very good (did I mention that Mitchell Gordon is head of QC for White Castle’s Frozen Hamburger Division).  We apparently lost points for not having Toto as part of our costume.  Go figure.

But this only strengthened our resolve to take first prize the following year.  I wanted to go as Rameses and Nefretiri.  But Margie said I would have to shave my chest, and besides, my pec’s weren’t good enough (can you imagine?).  We settled on Little Red Riding Hood and the Wolf.  Margie was splendid again, and was earning a reputation for looking very good as a pre-teen.  My Wolf costume cost a bundle, made me sweat like a stuck pig (wolf-pigs? See how that works?) and by the end of the evening no one could come within of five feet of me without the aroma causing their knees to buckle.  We got another Honorable Mention.  The Gordon’s as Juan and Eva Perón took first prize. Did I mention that Desirée Gordon was a scratch golfer?

The next year I vetoed Alicein Wonderland and the Mad Hatter.  I told Margie that she was contributing to some of the male guests’ sexual fantasies for bopping under-age girls! I also declined to switch roles.  We decided to change things up. I went as a Carrot and Margie went as Belgian Endive.  Another Honorable Mention, although I had to endure several mildly insulting remarks about the size of my “carrot”.   I thought that we deserved at least a Second or Third Place.  I think I must have polished off 20 White Castle Hamburgers during the course of the night.

The following year we went as Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum.  There were three other Tweedle Dee and Dum’s there!  We didn’t finish “in the money”, we didn’t get an Honorable Mention… we weren’t even the best Tweedle Dee and Dum.  The Gordon’s took First (again!) as Alice in Wonderland and the Mad Hatter!  Margie didn’t talk to me for a week.

The tide turned after Thanksgiving.  That’s when Margie applied herself to the task of promoting us to the “winner’s circle”.  Quiet at first.  Just books and brochures accumulating on the kitchen island.  Then came the fateful day when she announced that we were going to win the next costume judging with Henry VIII and Ann Boleyn!  I could see no reason to object.  Besides it would give me reasons to say stuff like “anon” and “forsooth” for an evening.  As in, “Forsooth, me thinks I will have another White Castle Hamburger, anon…”

Little did I understand Margie’s full commitment to winning this thing.  In February she signed up to audit a course in Costume Design given at NYU’s Tisch School.  And at course’s end, she decided to put her knowledge to practical use by volunteering to help the wardrobe mistress at the Delacourt Theater.  She cut, sewed and mended the costumes used for the summer Shakespeare productions in Central Park.  And of course she began making our costumes.  Our house filled with silks, brocades, fine linens and all manner of things.  I was fitted out with silk hose, a doublet, one of those weird coats with those oversized square shoulders, a dagger (useful for spearing burgers), a fake beard and that funny flat hat they wore back then (I actually think the hat is great, and I still wear it when I take Charlie out for his walk).  Margie’s costume was beyond belief… chemise, silk hose, petticoat, farthingale, corset, bumroll, parlet, kirtle and gown.  It took her an hour to get dressed!  For sure, she looked every part the Queen!

It would have been a tragedy if we did not win.  But win we did! The Gordon’s finished with an honorable mention for Douglas MacArthur and Chiang Kai-shek (Desirée as the General).  First place prize was a Fabergé looking egg made of milk chocolate.  I am sure that it cost a small fortune. A week later, Sydney and her girl friends ate the egg during a “sleep-over.”  Margie had to be sedated.

For Margie, more than losing the egg, that victory just took the starch out of the sails for future endeavors… the energy spent on Henry and Ann extracted too high a toll.  Come August, not even a peep about what we would wear this year.  And when the invitation arrived just after Labor Day, it remained unopened on the kitchen island.

When I asked her about it last week, she just shook her head “no”.  Not only was she uninterested in making or renting a costume… she didn’t even want to go to the party!  I reminded her about the White Castle Hamburgers and that it was my one time in the year when I looked forward to indulging in the “garnish” sized burgers (do you know that Refrigerator Perry one time ate 136 White Castles in 25 minutes… what took him so long?).  I could understand not wanting to spend on costumes. I knew that between Henry VIII, Ann Boleyn, the Carrot and Belgian Endive we had blown our costume budget for a decade. I suggested that we could just go in some innocuous attire…  I thought that it would be easy for me; I could part my hair down the middle, wear a brown suit, walk around with a cigar and tell folks that I was H.L. Mencken, “Distinguished Man of American Letters” (he, who declared that the Martini was the only American invention as perfect as the English sonnet!).

She agreed that Mencken was easy to pull off, and that with the Martini quote, it was a great connection to me.  And, with the White Castle Hamburgers not withstanding, she was still firm in her decision to miss this year’s festivities.

On Saturday night she caught me sulking during my Martini Hour, and she finally relented.  She would go as “Harvey”, the invisible rabbit that Jimmy Stewart envisioned in the movie!

After my second Martini, I agreed that it was a superb idea (but part of this may have been the Martini’s!). I will show up at the Gordon’s door as Mencken while Margie is at home darning socks or putting up bread & butter pickles… and when Desirée asks me where is Margie, I will say, “Why Desirée,” pointing to my vacant side, “Don’t you recognize Harvey, the invisible ‘pooka’ rabbit?  Now, kindly direct us to the room containing the treasure trove of burgers that your generous husband has so graciously supplied… Come along dear, er… Harvey!  Desirée, we will speak to you anon.”

Call me Meyer; but I think that we are going to win!  Creativity untethered!

Sorry dear friend; but I don’t have the strength to inquire about you and yours.  But you have to understand my strain.   And now that I think about it… maybe you do know the Gordon’s!

In full sincerity, and wishing you all the best, I remain now & forevermore,

H.L. Mencken or Elwood P. Dowd (the choice is yours)

Posted in Stories & Brief Tales | Leave a comment

Bagel Man and Shmear

… or why it is not a good idea to have two martinis before story time

 

“Let’s see… Berenstain Bears?  Winnie the Pooh?  Bread and Jam for Frances?  I love the drawings in that book.”

“Dad… you always fall asleep when you read Frances stories to me…”

“I’ve had a long day.  How ’bout Stand Back the Elephant is Going to Sneeze! The drawings in that book are hysterical.”

“Dad… do we have any Super Hero stories?”

“Super Hero?  Super Hero!  Who told you about Super Hero’s?”

“Ari Widlansky’s father reads him Super Hero stories.”

“You mean Ari Widlansky’s father reads him comic books!”

“But Dad… they’re fun.  Lots of action… saving people, beating up the bad guys and driving cool cars like the Bat Mobile!  At Tumblebugs, sometimes Ari and I pretend that we’re Batman and Robin!”

“Batman and Robin?  When I was a kid I used to like the Green Hornet and Kato.”

“I don’t know them.  Are they good guys or bad guys?”

“They’re good guys… just like the Lone Ranger and Tonto, and Captain Kangaroo and Mr. Green Jeans.”

“And they’re Super Hero’s, too?”

“In a manner of speaking.  Hey… here’s Blueberries For Sal.  That’s a great story!”

“Dad… are there any Jewish Super Hero’s?”

“Other than Sandy Koufax and Groucho Marx?”

“Dad!  Stop making stuff up!”

“Well… when I was a kid we had Bagel Man…”

“For real?”

“For real.  He had super power strength… could walk thru brick walls.  He had an enormous brain capacity and could instantly solve complex math problems, he scored a perfect 800 on his college boards, he had total memory recall and he could name every English Ruler going back to Ethelred the Unready.  And for all his Super Power strength and smarts, he still was someone who was kind and thoughtful enough to help an elderly woman to walk across the street… and if some wise-guy delivery person on a bike got too close, he would whip out his Reverse Semi-Automatic Bialystok Stun Gun, and shout, ‘Stand fast you knave!’ and then blast the kid into the next time zone!”

“Wow!  Did Bagel Man have a side kick?”

“Side Kick?  Sure!  Shmear!  Shmear went everywhere with BagelMan… they were a team.  They even went to the opera together!  One time they got first row mezzanine seats for the Metropolitan’s production of Don Giovanni.  And in the scene when Don Giovanni sings, “Versalino! Eccelente Marzemino!” as he was about to descend into the dark netherworld, Bagel Man stood up from his seat and shouted, ‘Don’t do it!  I’ll save you!’ And he started to jump down to the stage, when Shmear stopped him and said, ‘It’s OK BM, Mozart wrote it that way.’ And Bagel Man looked around at all the people in the audience staring at him, and said to Shmear, ‘Thanks, dear friend.’ And Shmear said, ‘That’s what friends are for!’  That was Shmear’s famous line… he was always saying, that’s what friends are for… Like when they went to the 21 Club for dinner and Shmear picked up the check, he would say, ‘That’s what friends are for!’  Bagel Man and Shmear!  Truth, Justice, Observing the Sabbath and making sure that young men get into medical school!  And like all Super Hero’s they had one vulnerability… they wouldn’t rescue the downtrodden or stop a felony on Rosh Hashonah or Yom Kippur.”

“Dad?  Why don’t we read Bread and Jam for Frances.”

Posted in Ministry of Humor | Leave a comment

Cranial Fracking

There are gems, and then there are the real gems.  This is from a New Yorker‘s “Shouts & Murmurs” section written by Ian Frazier. I love this type of elaborate, detail filled comedy writing.

CRANIAL FRACKING

Recently, I signed a lease with a major oil company allowing it to begin “cranial fracking” – deep drilling to tap the vast reserves of natural gas found in the human head.  These reserves are not distributed uniformly in all individuals.  In my case, however, a gas-rich formation known as the Jersey Deposit runs from behind my eyebrows to beneath my bald spot and then angles downward to the point of my chin.  According to the prospecting crews, this cranial structure holds enough CH4 (methane) to power all ofNew Englandfor twenty to fifty years.  When this bonanza was discovered, oil-company representatives came to me hoping to lock in permanent and exclusive extraction rights for a fee that was truly eye-popping (although that may also have been a result of seismic “thumper trucks” they used).

As the details were explained, I wished I had paid more attention during the brief cranial section of my earth-sciences classes in high school.  Apparently, back in the Silurian period, some four hundred and thirty-eight million years ago, my head was completely covered by a shallow inland sea.  In time the sea receded and a swampy Carboniferous growth sprang up.  In the resultant ooze, distinct parietal ridges appeared, trapping some of the carbon.  Ages passed, I was officially born, there was the difficult year in kindergarten, and very slowly, under extreme pressure, valuable gas was formed.  I have suspected its existence since about the fourth grade.  I was hammering a nail into my nostril, just to see what would happen, as kids will do, when suddenly there was a tremendous explosion that sent the nail and the hammer flying and injured a neighbor in his yard across the street.  After that, I knew that I was different, although I wasn’t sure that I wanted to be.  But now like thousands of similar people, I count myself lucky to possess this resource.

Getting at it has always been the hard part.  With some guys (and most of those whose heads contain the Jersey Deposit formation are men, curiously), a gas seep rises clear to the surface of the head.  Then all that the extraction workers have to do is part the hair (where there is hair) and screw in a well cap and valve directly into the skull.  With me and others like me, however – no so easy.  First, entry sites must be established just at the front of each ear, where the overburden is shallow and the head is narrowest.  Then multidirectional diamond-tipped drills bore through the obstructing bone until they reach the remote inner levels, where the richest concentrations of gas lie hidden.  Often, this is a hit-or-miss process.  A moment’s inattention on the part of the drilling technician, who is sitting in his apartment and also checking his e-mail, can cause mistakes.  The bit may emerge unexpectedly, scattering skull fragments, and plunge onward through one’s hat or glasses, as has happened on more than one occasion to me, I am sorry to say.

Quite honestly, the whole process hurts like bloody hell.  After the drill has reached the gas deposits, contained in thousands of tiny pockets no more than a few molecules across, the surrounding bone must be microscopically shattered to free them.  This is done by backing out the drill, taping on a small firecracker, lighting it, shoving it back in the well bore, and shouting, “Fire in the hole!”  After a muffled sound, smoke comes out, sometimes accompanied by bits of teeth and brain lining, depending on how accurately the charge has been shaped.  I don’t have to tell you that this is the moment when I must keep our country’s energy future in mind in order to withstand this horrible agony.  Also, unavoidably, some of the gas escapes before the well can be capped and hooked into the distribution network.  Cranial gas is itself a very potent agent of climate change, and my own, as it turns out, is considerable worse than most.

A stream of surfactant at very high p.s.i. is then shot back into the well bore to flush it, and then the fluid is sealed up permanently in skull chambers, sometimes causing temporary dizziness and nausea.  This fluid-containment system insures that nothing will ever come out, although in the unlikely (but not uncommon) event that it does migrate into your mouth, it tastes like pineapple.  Reports have said that a flammable facial exudate possibly also results from this process, though no connection has been found.

Until the past few years, none of the technologies I’ve described were available.  If you had a head full of top-grade crude, you simply went to the squasher and, 0ne-two, you were done.  Back then nobody bothered about utilizing other cranial hydrocarbons, because there was no need.  Today, the equipment is so sophisticated that it can find a single molecule of gas in a head of almost solid bone, like Senator Inhofe’s.  However, I am no blind to the controversies – that is, when the pumping mechanism is working properly and I am not blind for other reasons.  I know that people have made negative comments, which are right, but they are not the ones who know about this personally and are getting paid.  Yes, everything now tastes like pineapple to me, and there’s the pain, and I have these Christmas-tree valve arrays that make it impossible to fly on air-planes, and my pores combust spontaneously if I don’t keep the moistened towels on, but I recommend the procedure without reservation.

The only thing I would say is, if you are thinking of putting your signature on the cranial-gas lease agreement, it’s best to wait until your kids are grown and out of the house.  If you have a spouse or domestic partner, separate, and obtain a divorce if necessary.  You will want to spend all your time in a corrugated-metal building with an oil-soaked earthen floor.  Find a good oil-patch lawyer and have him begin proceeding against you as a preventative measure.  Direct wire transfer of lease monies to the Caymans is the only way to go.  And here’s a secret: guy wires.  Attached from your head to the building’s rafters, they provide neck support that feels wonderful.  You will thank me down the road.

Posted in Ministry of Humor | Leave a comment

Father Knows Best

Emperor Penguins endure the harshest climate on earth… the Antarctic.  The Penguins mate for life and share in caring for the single egg that is produced during the winter breeding season.  After laying the egg, the female transfers the egg to her mate who balances it on the top of his feet to keep the egg off the pack ice.  While the females of the colony head to the ocean to feed, the males gather together in a protective huddle to help withstand the -40° air temperatures and wind gusts that can reach 89 mph during the darkness of the Antarctic Winter.  After 64 days of foraging at sea, the females return to the colony, identify their mate’s distinctive call, and then the pair alternate in going back to the sea, in feeding and in caring for their newly hatched chick.

MILTON: Cortie, my Son… it’s time for you and I to have a little chat!  Come here boy and listen to your Father!  Son… I know what you’re thinking… “Holy crow its cold!  And this is our Spring!”  Remember Cortie… We’re Emperor Penguins.  Emperor Penguins, I say!  And do Emperor Penguins let a little cold bother them?  No!  It would be like saying that Babe Ruth was bothered by an inside fastball!  Or that Stephen King was bothered by the dark!  Are you listening to me son?  Oh, sure… I can see worry written all over your face.  You’re thinking… “It’s cold now… what happens in the Winter when the wind picks up some and the temperature dips a bit… and we have to take care of a confounded egg?”

Well Son… {har, har, har} Let your Father put your mind to ease!  You see Son; all the guys get together… it’s like a club.  One timeBartlett called it the “He-Man Women Haters Club”.  But that got him into big time difficulty with Sheila, his bride.  Are you listening to me Son?

Yes, it gets a tad brisk… brisk I say, and all of the guys in the colony gather together in a tight formation that we call a huddle.  And then we take turns moving into the center of the huddle where it’s out of the wind and a bit warmer.  I know what you’re thinking… “What do we do in the huddle for two months in the dark?”  Well, Son… mostly we gossip about the ladies and tell jokes.

This is the joke that ‘ol Doc Reid told last year… “It seems that there’s this fellah who was walking down Chestnut St.in Philadelphiaholding a giraffe by the leg. {har, har, har… I love this joke} And a policeman stops him and says, ‘hey buddy, why don’t you take that giraffe to the zoo?’ So the guy and the giraffe set off walking in the direction of the zoo.  And about 2 hours later, the beat cop spots the guy and the giraffe walking in the other direction, so he stops them, ‘hey buddy, didn’t I tell you to take that giraffe to the zoo?’  And the guy answers, ‘I did.  And we had such a good time, so now we decided to go to the movies!’ {har, har, har… I love that joke!}

That’s a joke, Son!  You’re allowed to laugh!  {har, har, har… hmmm, this boy’s in the boat; but both oars aren’t in the water!}  That’s a knee slapper, Son… in fact Casey Martin laughed at that so hard that he stepped on his egg!  Are you listening to me boy? {I think I heard that joke 150 times in two months time and it’s still funny! No one tells a joke better than Doc Reid!}

Now look Cortie… the cold, the wind, the darkness, not eating for two months… it’s not as bad as it sounds.  Oh, once in awhile one of the guys in the huddle cuts a nasty fart and tries to lay the blame off on someone else… and some harsh words can be exchanged.  But nothing serious… are you following me boy?

I see that there still is concern in your eyes.  Hmmm?  I know what you’re thinking… “What about the ladies?”  {har, har, har}  Well son, you have no worries there… your Father is a natural “ladies’ man”!  Nod your head son!  Women won’t be able to resist you!  Oh, it will take a little practice for sure… pay attention Son.  The first thing you do is raise your head and look at the sky!  That’s when the ladies take note of our golden coloured “bib” and it sets their hearts aflutter. Follow me boy, then you drop your head low first to one side, hold the pose, and then the other side, hold the pose… pretend you’re checking under your wings for B.O.  See?  Why by the time I checked under my left wing your Mother’s heart melted.  I could hear her panties sliding to the floor!  That’s just an expression Cortie!  You payin’ attention to me boy? {I see there’s a light on in the attic; but no one’s home!}

PAIGE:  Milton!  What stories are you putting into our Son’s head! Cortland you pay your Father’s stories no never mind!

MILTON: Cortie, I see that your Mother has returned…  Paige, I hope you have brought our Son something to eat! He’s a growing boy you know!  I think I’ll head out for a swim and grab a little squid for lunch… Remember Cortie… We’re Emperor Penguins!  Emperor Penguins I say!  We stand in a line with Caesar, Charlemagne, Napoleon, Kaiser Wilhelm and J. Edgar Hoover!

Posted in Ministry of Humor | Leave a comment

Theft of the Blue Chair

Go ahead, ask me why am I sitting in my blue club chair, naked as a jaybird, in the meat locker of the Stop & Shop in Southbury, reading Sir Thomas More’s Dialogue of Comfort against Tribulation (in the original Latin).

I am glad you asked.

The matter of the blue chair has become a source of contention between myself and Gary Moss, my long standing friend (we go back to the 4th grade, or so).  This chair originally graced the small study of my Brother Paul’s bedroom in our home on 25 Alston Avenue.  When Paul fledged the nest to Union College in 1957 and my Mother decided that rearing tropical fish was not in her skill set, the chair moved from the study to the bedroom proper, and to the place that had previously been home to a rather large fish tank.

Our two Bedlington Terriers took advantage of the chair’s more convenient location by using the chair as an indoor “fire hydrant.”

It should be pointed out that back in the day the chair was covered in a black and ivory houndstooth check fabric of shetland wool sourced from the hand looms of Scotland’s Thomas Adie.  Also noteworthy, the wool for the handcrofted tweeds of the Isle of Harris is cured in sheep’s urine.  This latter tidbit of information explains why it’s not a great idea to stand next to a gent wearing a sturdy Harris Tweed sport coat during a light rain, as the moisture returns the wool to its original pungent aromas.

The fact that the Bedlingtons peed on the chair with alarming regularity produced a yellowish tinge to the black and ivory at “lifting the leg level”, not to mention giving the chair an earthy scent that would be immediately recognizable to anyone standing next to an Oxford Don in a drizzle. I won’t give dignity to the rumors that I may have contributed to the Bedlington’s activity in “blessing” the chair.  Certainly not while sober.

When I took full possession of the chair in 1972 the fabric was changed to its present blue so that it could be added to the other pieces that would become the living room on Courtland Avenue.  The chair has survived seven moves and was added most recently to the den in Woodbury where I can sometimes be observed reading, listening to tunes, watching a flick or enjoying a superbly assembled Tanqueray Martini.

If Sherlock Holmes needed Professor Moriarity as a raison d’être, and Adolf Hitler needed the Jews… then Gary Moss needs my blue club chair. For reasons that are best left to the analyst’s couch, Gary has launched a crusade to recover my chair. He has lamely suggested that he is trying restore the chair to the beauty it once possessed… this being a favor to the memory of my dear departed Father.  It is rare for a day to go by without an email being sent to me with fabric suggestions… a sea foam chintz, an Edwardian fox hunting scene, another print with leopards poised in ambush on the veldt.  And it doesn’t stop there.  Now I am getting recommendations for replacing the entire chair… divans that look like cast-offs from a Hollywood set for a French bordello and stiff wing chairs that look as comfortable as a saguaro cactus.  In the words of Sir Thomas More, he is hocking meir in chainik!  I like the chair the way it is!

He is not letting this rest.  He has recently removed the chair from our den without my consent (undoubtedly with the aid of a sympathetic confederate… I have my suspicions as to the person’s identity).  But I am not without my resources… and within days I was able to track down its new location, secreted in the aforementioned meat locker of Stop & Shop.

Now I sit in my beloved chair in this cozy refrigerated room… surrounded by hanging sides of beef.  I come here three times a week and spend an hour or two in the nude reading More and other classical scholars. 

I call this the silver lining in the cloud

You see… my metabolism has slowed to the rate of a tree sloth.  I swim 3000-4000yds four days a week and if I look at the pictures in Bon Appétit I gain two pounds!  I love those ads on TV promoting easy ways to lose weight without dieting. Intriguing, but bull shit!  But even with eating less and exercising more my results have been less than satisfactory.  There has to be a more efficient way to burn calories.  How about cold?  In cold temperatures our bodies have to burn more calories to keep our body temperature up to 98.6°!  I could always volunteer to spend a winter in a Siberian Gulag.  Good thought… but I want to lose some weight, not die of exhaustion and malnutrition!

Hmmmm, maybe I could take advantage of my friend’s passive aggressive hostility and find an alternate way to help shed some pounds?  The cold treatment!  Not only could I subject myself to the frigid air of the meat locker, I could magnify the demand from my “body thermostat” for heat by taking off my clothes!

There is some precedent for this Spartan behavior.  It’s the compulsory military training that free citizen males had to endure in Sparta’s heyday in the 6th to 4th centuries B.C.E.  The mental and physical rigour of the training became the model for every elite military formation from the Praetorian Guard, to the Knights Templar, to the Brigade of Guards, to the Navy Seals.

It is that legendary discipline that allowed a force of 300 Spartans led by King Leonidas to confront Xerxes’ Persian Army of 100,000 at Thermopylae in 480 B.C.E.  Never mind that all the Spartans died in that battle… it’s the attitude that counts!

I sit here amongst the cows willing myself to ignore the cold, taking comfort in the wisdom of Thomas More’s well selected words, and the knowledge that I am burning extra calories.  I resist the urge to take a whiz on a hind quarter; but think to the day when my goal weight is reached and I can return my chair to the confines of our den.  Some have suggested that I could speed this process along if I were to sacrifice my enjoyment of gin, fine whisky and Côte de Beaune Burgundies.  Yeah, right… like that’s even a remote possibility!  No thank you!  I prefer to turn to More: “Adversarius vester diabolus tanquam leo rugiens circuit quoerens quem devoret…

At 3:00pm a well chilled martini… next week I begin Saint Thomas Aquinas’ Summa Theologica.

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Soft Shell Crabs and Scubla Pomédes

OK… I admit it. When the new issue of Wine Spectator arrives, the first page I look at is the last page! I can’t wait to see the featured chef, the featured recipe and the recommended wines. The May issue just hit the stands and the back page has this insane recipe for soft shell crabs served with succotash that simply “called to me.” I made it on Friday night (thank goodness that soft shells are already in season due to our warm spring). The recipe is easy to reproduce and it is off the charts great!

I opened a bottle of this incredible White Blend from Italy and a French Rosé. I love the Whites coming from Italy’s Colli Orientali… when it comes to blends they have the “magic zizz-wheel”… that style of white is unmatched in the wine world (and that’s coming from a Burgundy lover!). And Provence is home to the best Rosé’s. Both wines were “spot on” for the dishes.

There are two other whites that would also pair exceptionally well… a Bordeaux Blanc or an Albariño from Spain. The chef’s recommendation was for a Virginia Viognier. Actually… there is a Virginia Viognier that I love. It is made by Chrysalis Vineyards… not available in CT (I buy it directly from the winery).

I enclose notes on all the wines… and of course, the recipes!

Scubla Pomédes ’07 (Colli Orientali, Friuli, Italy)

The wine is made by Roberto Scubla and he is one of the greatest white wine makers in Italy. Pomédes is the flagship white wine from the Estate, a blend of 65% Pinot Bianco; 25% Friulano and 10% Rhine Riesling. Grapes are hand-picked just after normal ripening adding richness and depth of flavor. To make the wine whole grapes are gently pressed; the must is then decanted at low temperature to retain the delicacy of the natural fruit flavor; fermenting is done in a combination of French Barriques and tonneaux, half new and half used. Aging on its lees last 8 months and the wine undergoes frequent batonage, with further 10 months aging in stainless steel tanks. The result is a complex, rich, spectacularly perfumed wine. The wine is textural roller coaster loaded with apricots, mango, pineapple, garden herbs, flowers and spice with excellent length and persistence. This is truly a World Class White that we are extremely proud to be able to offer. 310 cases produced… just 70 cases imported to America.

Rimauresq Petit Rosé ’11 (Côtes de Provence, France)

At the heart of the Provence wine region, half way between Nice and Marseille, Rimauresq takes its name from the river Real Mauresque which flows thru the vineyards. The Domaine itself is located at the foot on Notre Dame des Anges and the Massif des Maures mountain range. Rimauresq is just one of a handful of Appellation Côtes de Provence vineyards that was awarded Cru Classé status in 1955. It is from these exceptional vineyards that Pierre Duffort and his winemaking team creates wines of elegance and finesse. 2011 Rimauresq Petit Rosé, a blend of Grenache, Cinsault and Carignan offers superb aromatic subtlety and wonderful freshness. The fruit aromas are exquisite. And Cinsault with its structure, perfume and softness is the perfect linchpin between the Grenache spice and Carignan fruit that give this Rosé such beautiful dry fruit flavours of soft red fruit kissed with florals.

Ch. Monestier La Tour Blanc ’10 (Bergerac, Bordeaux)

From a five hectare section of Monestier’s 11-hectare white wine, hillside vineyard in the Dordogne River Valley planted at 5,000 vines/ha with 46% Sémillon, 36% Sauvignon Blanc, and 18% Muscadelle whose average age is 25 years. Soils are clay and limestone quite similar to those found on the plateaus of Saint Emilion and Castillon. A fresh, dry wine, with great aromatic definition and very good length on the palate. It displays intense aromas of honeyed citrus, dried herbs, and minerals. Ripe, fig-like and melon flavors become apparent on the palate. Pure and richly fruity, this medium-bodied dry white. Drinking window two years. Stéphane Derenoncourt is the consultant. who also makes some of the greatest wines in Bordeaux: Ch. Pavie Macquin, La Mondotte, Ch.Smith Haut Laffite, Ch. La Gaffelière, Domaine de Chevalier, Ch. Prieuré Lichine, Clos Fourtet as well as 60 Wineries around the world.

Adegas Moure Abadía da Cova Albariño ’10 (Ribeira Sacra, Spain)

Abadia Da Cova Albariño is blended with 15% Godello. It was fermented and aged in stainless steel. Fragrant melon, citrus, and floral aromas inform the nose of this rich, savory white. The Godello component rounds the wine out nicely. Drink this tasty effort over the next 4 years. 90pts Wine Advocate; 92pts Peñin Guide to Wines of Spain.

Chesapeake Bay Soft-Shell Crabs With Succotash

Ingredients

6 ounces of Tanqueray Gin
½ ounce of Noilly Pratt Dry Vermouth
A goodly amount of ice
4 blue cheese stuffed olives
9 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided
½ Vidalia onion, cut into small dice
3 links Edwards smoked sausages, cut into 1/4-inch-thick half-moons
5 ears Silver Queen corn (or other sweet white corn), kernels cut from the cob
1 cup shelled lima beans, parboiled
½ cup Peppadew peppers, julienned
1 Hanover tomato, seeds removed, cut into small dice
½ tablespoon fresh tarragon, minced
Juice of ¼ lime
8 jumbo soft-shell crabs, cleaned and gutted
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons Old Bay seasoning
2 cups arugula, cleaned and dried
1 cup remoulade (see note in Step 5)

Directions

  1. Put gin and vermouth into a glass pitcher, fill with ice, stir vigorously while incanting, “You who know all, thank you for providing us juniper and all the other obscure ingredients responsible for creating this sacred liquid!” Strain into a pre-frozen Martini glass of admirable size. Skewer the olives on one of those tacky cocktail swords, place in glass. Immediately begin consuming. Now you can begin the food prep, and the cooking!
  2. Heat a sauté pan over medium heat. Add 3 tablespoons butter, onion and sausage, and cook until onion is almost translucent. Add corn and cook until it is almost fully cooked. Then add the lima beans, peppers and tomato to heat through. Add tarragon and a squeeze of lime, and salt and pepper to taste. Keep warm.
  3. Salt and pepper the crabs. Mix flour and Old Bay well. Lightly dust the crabs with the flour.
  4. Heat 2 large nonstick pans over medium heat. Add 3 tablespoons butter to each. Place 4 crabs in each pan, top-shell side down, and cook until golden. Flip gently, adding more butter if necessary. Cook until golden. Be careful: Soft-shell crabs may pop and sputter as they cook.
  5. Serve immediately over succotash, with some arugula and remoulade on each plate. Note: To make a quick remoulade, mix 1 cup mayonnaise with 2 tablespoons minced herbs (parsley and tarragon especially), and 1 or 2 minced cornichons. Some people insist on garlic, too. Cover and let meld in the refrigerator.

n.b. I used local soft shell crabs… and freely substituted for the peppers, sausage & tomato.

Posted in Sandy's Table | Leave a comment

As I Was Saying

My kids suggested that a return would be beneficial for me.  So here I am, in the town of my childhood… Pequot Landing, Connecticut… in the section known as the Village, a mile as the crow flies from Long Island Sound and the ‘beach community” and another mile in the other direction to the Post Road, and yet another mile to I-95. I am sitting on a bench in a triangle known as McClellan Park. Calling this slice of land a park is perhaps a stretch; but as a boy I would ride my bike here with my friends and weave in and out of the benches placed strategically around a statue of the Union General George McClellan.  Invent games to our heart’s delight.  We would go over to Nelson’s Pharmacy buy our baseball cards, occupy a bench to trade our cards and chew bubble-gum.  And to a little boy McClellan Park was as good as it gets.  There will be more to tell of my memories of this place, and my time here… that will wait for another day.  And as I sit in my favorite bench with its perfect orientation to the noon day sun, I watch passing cars and listen to the sounds of today…

“I am telling you I was there…”

“I thought you said that you were going over to the Flanagan’s to return their lawnmower which you’ve had in your garage for three years.”

“Yes, that’s true…”

“Well, I think it was about time.  I mean three years?  And here it is… Michael may have to go to that re-hab place again.”

“Re-hab?  You’re mixing Michael Flanagan with Michael Flynn over on Olmstead Lane.  The Flanagans are selling their house and moving to Bozeman, Montana.  I think Becky is getting a position at the University and Michael is along for the ride.  He probably won’t need the lawnmower there either.  And why are you bringing the mower back?  Surely Richard could have dropped it off on the way to the golf course?”

“Yes, I know…”

“Stop right there! You’re always making excuses for Richard.  He could have just as easily taken the mower over to the Flanagans so that you didn’t have to, and besides, what was so important about going to the bank on a Saturday?  I mean it’s such a nuisance driving to the Village on a Saturday in July when all the ‘summer people’ are out and about.”

“A nuisance.  I couldn’t agree more.”

“Yes, but…”

“No buts!  It’s a nuisance I say!  You can’t find parking.  Lines everywhere you go.  Bratty snot nosed kids running into the street, or leaving their bikes on the sidewalks so you can’t even walk from Nelson’s Pharmacy to the bank!”

“Yes, the bank…”

“I was in Nelson’s the other day and who should walk in?  Why, it was Fran Tishman from our Class.  Although I think her married name is Blaine.”

“As I was saying… I was in the bank when this man walked in with a pelican under his arm…”

“That’s not right… it’s not Blaine, it’s Beckstoffer.  Yes, Beckstoffer.  He’s a mechanical engineer of some sort.  Was a mechanical engineer… he’s dead now.”

“Maybe that’s why Fran is back in town?  She always took an interest in Timmy Sutherland, and now that Betty left him?  Well… do I have to draw you a map?”

“Nonsense, Fran couldn’t stand Timmy… she liked Tommie Pfinster!  And besides, Tommie has been living in Oregon for years!”

“So, let me finish… who expects to see a man walk into the Standard Savings and Loan with a pelican…”

“Tommie Pfinster.  Tommie Pfinster… now there’s a story!  His family had all that money.  Do you remember?  Always the best cars.  Vacations here and there.  And when Tommie got into trouble, the old man paid off the cops and the judge.”

“The judge… big time!”

“So… this guy is in the bank…”

“Tommie gets into Lake Forest College…”

“You mean his old man ‘buys’ him into Lake Forest College”

“You’re probably right.  And for Tommie it was party, party, party all the time.  And probably a new girl every weekend!  Study?  Study what?  How to inherit all that money?”

“You know… I think the money came from his mother’s side.  I think she was a Mellon or a duPont.  Tommie’s father just landed in the ‘ice cream’ and went along for the ride.”

“The ice cream!”

“Look… would you expect a hold-up guy to have a pelican under his arm?”

“Sure! Fran Tishman liked Tommie!  What girl wouldn’t want to fall into some ice cream?”

“Well… maybe Fran didn’t know that Tommie was in Oregon.”

“Let me tell you about Oregon.  Strange people live there.  They are not like us.  You wouldn’t want to live there.   Strange weather pattern. There are some parts of North Carolina that wouldn’t be bad… Oregon?  Never!”

“He was probably hiding the gun under the pelican…”

“My cousin lives in Chapel Hill and I went and visited her there last year.  It was lovely.  Maybe a tad too big what with all the college students and all.  But lovely nevertheless.”

“What was that about a peacock?”

“Pelican.  It was a pelican.”

“Do you remember the Peacock Ball in High School?”

“The Peacock Ball!  Do I remember?  Hah!  Do you remember that dreadful date that I had?”

“It was a pelican…”

“Pelican?  No, his name was Peterson.  Ricky Peterson!”

“I remember him!  He used to sit in back of me in Modern European History and he would make this disgusting ‘bathroom sounds!’  It was so gross.  What did you ever see in him anyway?”

“He was wearing black…”

“All the guys were dressed in black!  It was the Peacock Ball!  Girls in gowns and the boys in tuxedos.”

“No. The man with the pelican.”

“Pelican?”

“Say what you will.  Ricky Peterson looked great in a tux!”

“No!  The stick-up guy who came into the Standard with a pelican!  I was there!”

“A stick-up at the Standard!”

“Heavens!  What did he look like?”

“He was white.  Although it might have been a she.  I have trouble telling the difference between male and female.  It was white with a big bill, small beady eyes, webbed feet and not smelling great.”

“Didn’t smell great?  Sounds like a low type to me.  Someone connected with ‘summer people.’  One of those foreign au père’s who probably didn’t shave under her arm pits or use deodorant!”

“No, it was the pelican!”

“Pelican?  Pelican!  Dear girl whatever are you talking about?”

“As I was saying… After I dropped off the mower I went over to the Standard to convert all my change.  You know how the Standard has one of those machines that counts all your coins?  Well… Richard puts all of our change into those cardboard tubes that Lagavullin Single Malt comes in.  You know what I’m talking about?  So there I am with two tubes, and they weigh a ton!  I am at the ‘coin-o-matic’ minding my own business when in comes this guy dressed in black with a pelican under his arm, and real polite he takes out a pistol and announces that this was a hold-up and no one will get hurt if we remain quiet and don’t do anything brave or stupid.  The only people in the bank at that time was me, Gladys Caulkins, Milton Goodkind the electrician, two summer people who I don’t know, the three girls behind the counter and Mr. Teasdale the manager.  Not like I was going to do anything brave… I just hoped that he wasn’t going to take my loaded Lagavullin tubes!  No, nothing of the sort!  He firmly said that he wasn’t there to trouble us and that he was only there to rob from the capitalist oppressors and usurpers.  Well, luckily, I suppose, the bank keeps sacks of money, probably marked of course, just for such emergencies, and Mr. Teasdale dutifully hands over three sacks of marked cash.  And the robber, who kept that pelican under his arm the entire time, THANKS US, and says that he means us no harm.  Thanks us!  Can you imagine! And before he gets to the door to make his getaway, Gladys Caulkins stops him and says that she has always loved pelicans, and she opens her pocketbook and gives him a twenty dollar bill!  Can you imagine!

“Gladys Caulkins!  That Communist!”

“Can you imagine!”

“You know… I am just remembering… Fran’s husband was named Blackstone, not Beckstoffer… and he wasn’t a mechanical engineer, he was an accountant.  But he’s still dead.”

“Dead!  Can you imagine!”

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These Are The Facts!

FACT: Gaius Julius Caesar was murdered on March 15, 44 BCE… the Ides of March.

FACT: Caesar was forewarned about his impending doom by a soothsayer.

FACT:  The soothsayer did not have a union card.

FACT:  The soothsayer did not have a valid permit and tax stamp that would allow him to sooth within Rome’s city limits.

SIDEBAR OBSERVATION: Caesar’s lack of precaution is perfectly understandable. Why would Caesar heed the warning from someone who did not have a valid license to practice his craft in Rome?

FACT: Caesar was feared and hated by the nobility and Senators of Rome (calling to mind the plight of Captain Alfred Dreyfus).

FACT:  Caesar wouldn’t eat a ham sandwich, and he did not ride in a chariot on Saturday’s.

FACT:  Caesar’s father was a money lender.

FACT:  Caesar’s birth name… Goniff Julius Kaiserwitz

FACT:  Caesar was bald and had a big nose.

FACT:  Although guilty of megalomania, Caesar’s murder was a “hate crime” perpetrated by a cabal of loyalist anti-Semites who carried out their murderous activities after learning of Caesar’s true Jewish heritage (calling to mind the plight of Julius Rosenberg).

These are the Facts!

A preview of the next installment of “These Are the Facts!”

FACT: The name on Barack Obama’s birth certificate: Benjamin Abramson (as if we couldn’t have guessed!)

Posted in Ministry of Humor | Leave a comment

I Ain’t Superstitious

My Father took it upon himself to remind everyone in our family when a birthday was imminent.  It went something like this, “Your Sister’s birthday is on Wednesday, don’t forget to call her!”   This would be repeated, as necessary, throughout the year.  Thank goodness we have a small family.  I am not sure at what age this little “poke to the ribs” became an irritant.  But it did.  And soon enough I was able to reply to his reminder, “Dad, I know whenLynn’s Birthday is… you don’t have to remind me.”

Did that stop him?  No.  Maybe reminding us was a way to help Dad remind himself? Or maybe it was just a quirky superstition?

We lost our Family Reminder in 1983.  After he passed away, who was there to pick up the baton?

Well, I ain’t superstitious, black cat just cross my trail

Well, I ain’t superstitious, oh the black cat just cross my trail

Don’t sweep me with no broom, I might get put in jail

My brother and I are pretty good about this birthday stuff.   I have the good fortune of being born on a momentous national holiday… February 2.  Paul’s birthday falls 9 days later on February 11 (this lead to a longstanding inside joke: “can you name two great Americans born in February other than Paul and Jim Winston?”).

The problem could arise withLynn.  Although, she too, is born on a national holiday… October 31.

When my right hand itches, I gets money for sure
When my right hand itches, I gets money for sure
But, when my left eye jumps, somebody’s got to go

I worked it out in 1984.  “Hi Lynn… it’s Jimmy.  Dad asked me to give you a call and remind you that it’s my birthday next week… so don’t forget to give me a call!”  See?  Simple problem, simple solution.

Well, I ain’t superstitious, black cat just cross my trail
Well, I ain’t superstitious, black cat just cross my trail
Don’t sweep me with no broom, I just might get put in jail

Lynn understood the importance of this exercise… and she had no trouble falling in line, “Hi Jimmy… it’sLynn… I’m calling to remind you that it is my birthday next week, and I want you to give me a call.”

And that’s the way it goes.  Although sometimes Lynn travels to distant lands around our birthdays and it becomes necessary to make appropriate adjustments, such as… “Jimmy, Alan and I are going to the Vaticanto meet with the Rabbinical Ambassador to the Holy See and I might miss your reminder call about your birthday… so please remind me no later than January 15th.”

We call that a reminder to the reminder. (Dad would be proud of this innovation)

Well, the dogs are howlin, all over the neighborhood
Whoa, the dogs are howlin, all over the neighborhood
That is true sign of death, baby, that ain’t no good

But something is astir in the cosmos.  This year I began receiving calls far earlier than expected… Paul rang in 2 days early.  Lynncalled before I had the chance to remind her.  It didn’t stop there.  I got an early gift fromSandy… a jar of gooseberry conserves (also an inside joke, I have been looking for gooseberry jam for years… I don’t even know if I will like it… but I use gooseberry to describe the wonderful scent of Sauvignon Blanc from Sancerre).  And the icing on the cake came yesterday when I got an early happy birthday email from Ellen!

Well, I’m not superstitious, blow that black cat across my trail
Well, I’m not superstitious, a black cat across my trail
Don’t sweep me with no broom, I just might get put in jail

Why all this early stuff?  Did folks know something that I didn’t?  Like… better call now, because Jim might not make it to February 2!  So… last night, “erev’’ my birthday, after my 4th Wild Turkey on the rocks, failing to see a dark figure in a black shroud pointing in my direction… I paid my tab at Ash Creek Saloon and headed for home.

Me?  Superstitious?  Not really… but belated greetings are looking better and better.

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Painting with Lenny

Hello again dear friends! When I was driving my mother to the airport yesterday, we passed by this charming wooded glen that framed a pond… there was this narrow dirt road that meandered into the distance… actually it was an Interstate; but I imagined that it was a country lane. There was a cheerful white clapboard house with a small dock that edged into the pond.  The birds were chirping, and you could hear the rustle of squirrels and chipmunks scampering in the undergrowth.  Well, we couldn’t really hear anything because our windows were rolled up and I drove by too fast! Mother was worried about missing her flight back to Minneapolis!  Hah, hah, hah!

So you know what I’m thinking?  You’re right!  That wooded glen would be a perfect subject for our painting today!  So let’s get started shall we? Let’s prep our palette with the colors we’ll need.  I love doing this!  We’ll need reliable Burnt Umber and Raw Sienna!  Do you remember those colors?  When I was a little boy, when friends came over to play, my Mother made me share my crayons… I would give my friends Burnt Umber and Raw Sienna to use and I kept the good colors to myself!

OK, what else?  Hmmmm. A little Prussian Blue, a touch of Cerulean, some Cadmium Red… don’t you love saying Cadmium Red? Cadmium Yellow and now a dab of Yellow Ochre.  Next Viridian, Cobalt Violet… oh sure, English Light Green, Emerald.  Some Black and of course White.  Must have White!  Don’t you love the way White looks like a Carvel Vanilla ice cream cone without the cone?  I’m putting on extra white!  Sometimes I just wish I had a bigger palette!

Next… a bottle of Tanqueray Gin, a bottle of Noilly Pratt Dry Vermouth and the necessary accoutrements!

Alrighty then… let’s put the gin and a wee bit of vermouth into this handsome glass pitcher, fill it with ice.  Let’s stir enthusiastically, and say together, You who know all, thank you for providing us essence of juniper and the other obscure botanicals responsible for creating this sacred liquid! OK, let’s strain carefully into a generously sized pre-frozen Martini glass… don’t spill any onto the palette!  Don’t won’t any to go to waste! And for a finishing touch, lemon twist, stuffed olives or Gibson onions?  Today, I think it’s three of these plump olives!  Let’s impale the olives on this little plastic sword.  There… I like to imagine that I am the Duke of Marlborough at Blenheim giving it to the Franco-Bavarian Army!

Let’s take a sip! Hmmmmmmmmm, how dry it is… boy that’s good!  OK, time to paint!!

Let’s take some Cerulean, a little bit of our glorious White and an eentsy-weensty Cadmium Yellow and blend them for our sky.  There… that looks about right… a little more white… better.  OK, let’s take our palette knife and coat the sky!  I love a palette knife… sometimes I use this to cut coconut cake with frosting!  Do you know why I like coconut cake with frosting?  Because the frosting looks like tiny mounds of white oil paint! One time the frosting looked so good that I decided to put some on my palette for a little snack while I paint; but that lead to an embarrassing incident… so I don’t do that any more!  Hah, hah, hah!

Time for some evergreens.  I think of them as the stately sentinels of the forest!  Let’s put them on this side, and why not? A few over here, too. After all this is a happy place.  And do you know what makes me happy?  Yes, a quick sip of my Martini, and now it’s time for a happy gingko tree!  Don’t you love to say gingko?  I do. Gingko! Gingko trees go back to the Jurassic Era.  Let’s put our gingko in its fall colorings.  We’ll mix Cadmium Yellow and a tad of Sienna to create a brilliant autumnal gold.  There!  You know what?  Let’s put a Stegosaurus by our gingko!  Let’s take some of our Burnt Umber and a little Raw Sienna and make a happy Stegosaur approaching the pond to have a drink. You don’t have to put a Stegosaurus in your painting. You can put in a Kentrosaurus in your painting if it makes you happy!  Remember, this is your painting!  I’m going to make my Stegosaurus even happier by putting some splashes of Cerulean and Cobalt Violet on his back plates!  There’s a happy fellow!

Over on this side of the pond let’s put a playful Rottweiler!  And?  He’s about to get a stick, and what’s this behind these low shrubs?  Why our spirited Rottweiler has stumbled upon Norma Fensky and that tool Jerry Sherman in flagrante delicto! And let’s just put a suggestion of under things over by this forsythia bush.  A push-up bra there and size 44 waist boxer shorts… there.  Perfect! Isn’t this special?

Painting sure is thirsty work… you know I think this Martini is a top five effort!  Clearly one of my best! And this is a superb olive… I like them on the firm side, don’t you?

OK… time to put in our friendly cottage.  I think it should go about here… but you can put your cottage where you want to.  Remember, this is your painting! I think I am going to put the front screen door hanging by one hinge… and let’s give the dock a wonderful weathered look like it’s in need of serious repair. And let’s put a small rowboat half on land, and half under the water. There… a nice homey touch that gives our painting an air of refreshing authenticity.

Let’s add that dusty lane curling into the distance now.  There.  Maybe you’ll want to add the owner of the cottage passed out under the rhododendron?  Or just walking away in handcuffs with a State Trooper? Remember… make this painting yours! I think I’ll leave this a deserted road and maybe just put some orange reflective tape that indicates that this area was a crime scene. There!  I think this composition is coming along beautifully, don’t you?

Do you know what Saul Bellow said about Martini’s?  One is not enough, and three are too many!  So before we put in some happy clouds, let’s quickly mix up another Martini. Ahhhhhhhhhh, another superior example of liquid art!

Right!  Time for some fun clouds!  I love clouds… don’t you?  Not the streaky kind… the puffy kind.  So let’s put a few here.  They remind me of plush marshmallow’s… or lovely frosting on coconut cake!  Hah, hah, hah.  Happy clouds… put them where you’d like.  And I think I am going to add a Delta 727 heading to Minneapolis over here. Uh-huh.  And why not put a tiny speck way over here next to this happy cloud?  Do you know what that is?  It’s a Lockheed Martin F-16 Fighting Falcon armed with Sidewinder missiles!  Won’t Mother be surprised!

There! Oui, c’est fini! And ready for the Louvre! And thank you dear friends for painting with Lenny today!

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Adult Macaroni & Cheese

Macaroni and cheese is another “comfort food” that can act as a gustatory return to foods we loved when we were kids. And there is a little kid in us that never departs! Call me short-changed; but I never had “mac and cheese” as a kid. Yet it was a dish that we made for our kids. And if memory serves, they liked it. The boxed varieties are easy to make, filling and cheap.

 The idea of “elevating” a common dish to a higher status is certainly not new. There are countless casseroles that certainly begin with simplecity, and then other ingredients are added to make something new and in certain cases, something special.

This is a “special” dish. Lobster has the way of doing that! I first had it at Carol Peck’s Good News Café in Woodbury, CT. Carol is a gifted Chef.  Her dishes and seasonal fare are superbly prepared, exceptionally presented, and served by a highly competent and well trained staff.  It doesn’t get better.

Her Adult Macaroni and Cheese is sinfully good. After Thanksgiving, I was in the mood to try something different. Why not Carol’s “signature dish?” I went looking for recipes on-line for macaroni and cheese with lobster and found several.  All seemed about the same… more or less with the same ingredients, and ease of assembly. I just dug a little deeper ‘til I located her recipe which is presented below.

My choice of wine differs from many of the suggestions I saw on-line… usually a richly styled Chardonnay was the recommended pairing.  As much as I love White Burgundy or Chardonnay, it just doesn’t play into the opulence of this dish. Rather the wine should be more minerally based with a bit of a crisp edge to cut thru the richness. Several wines come to mind… Pinot Blanc from Alsace, Verdejo from Rueda, a Grüner Veltliner from Wachau, or a Sauvignon from theLoire. At Carol’s Restaurant I usually opt for a Pinot Blanc. For my first go at making this dish, I am going to give the Loire a shot.

n.b. If you are committed to the idea of a Chardonnay… make it a 1er Cru Chablis.

Pierre Chainier Pouilly Fumé ’10  (Loire, France)

The greatest Sauvignon Blancs in the world hail from the Loire Valley in France. In particular from two appellations: Sancerre and Pouilly Fumé. The Pierre Chainier is a great example of this appellation. The wines are famous for their gunflint character and develop superb smoky aromas from the local soils that match with fresh and alive citrus fruit and gooseberry. This sophisticated white is great as an aperitif, awesome with shell fish and seafood. White-yellow with hints of silver. Very aromatic on the nose. The palate is fresh and zippy at first, leading to the crisp fruity flavors of classic Sauvignon Blanc.

Adult Macaroni and Cheese

Ingredients

6 ounces of Tanqueray Gin
½ ounce of Noilly Pratt Dry Vermouth
A goodly amount of ice
4 blue cheese stuffed olives
8 sprigs fresh thyme
8 sprigs fresh flat-leaf parsley
12 black peppercorns
1 bay leaf
2 lemons cut in half
4 1½ pound live lobsters, preferably fromMaine
Handful of coarse salt
2½ pounds dried penne
3 tablespoons vegetable or olive oil
2 cups freshly grated Parmesan cheese
2 cups provolone cheese (imported, grated)
1 pound fresh spinach, washed, dried, and chopped
3 cups heavy cream
1 tablespoon truffle oil
Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Directions

  1. Put gin and vermouth into a glass pitcher, fill with ice, stir vigorously while incanting, “You who know all, thank you for providing us juniper and all the other cockamamie ingredients responsible for creating this sacred liquid!” Strain into a pre-frozen Martini glass of admirable size.  Skewer the olives on one of those tacky cocktail swords, place in glass. Immediately begin consuming.  Now you can begin the food prep, and the cooking!
  2. To cook the lobster fill an 8-10 quart pot three-fourths full with water. Add the thyme, parsley, peppercorns, and bay leaf. Squeeze in the juice of the lemons, then drop them in the pot. Cover and bring to a rolling boil over high heat. Add the lobsters and cook 12 to 15 minutes. Drain the lobsters in a colander, cover with ice, and let cool.
  3. When the lobster is cool enough to handle, pull the tail from the body and remove the claws. Discard the body, or reserve for use in a sauce or stock. Cut the shell from the tail using a knife or scissors and remove the meat. With the blunt end of a knife chop off the tips of the claws as close to the ends as possible (this will help release the meat from the claws). Crack the claws in the center, break open, and carefully remove the claw meat without breaking apart. Meat from the larger claws will have a piece of cartilage in it; this can be pulled out from the area where the claw fingers meet. Cut the tail meat into 1/2 inch slices. Leave the claws whole to use as a garnish. Set the lobster meat aside until ready to assemble the pasta dish.
  4. To cook the pasta, fill a 6 to 8 quart pot with water, add salt, cover, and bring to a boil over high heat. Add the penne and stir. Cook the pasta for approximately 8 to 10 minutes, until al dente. Pour into a colander to drain. Do not rinse the pasta; just toss it to remove any excess water. Sprinkle the oil over the pasta and toss with a large chef’s fork. Pour the pasta onto a sheet tray or shallow dish to cool (if it looks too sticky, sprinkle some more oil on at this point). Let the pasta cool to room temperature.
  5. When the pasta is cooled pre-heat the oven to 425 degrees F. Toss the cooled pasta in a bowl with the Parmesan and provolone cheese, spinach, heavy cream, and lobster meat (except claws). Season with salt and pepper. Transfer to a large round, oval, or oblong baking dish and bake for approximately 25 minutes, until bubbling hot. Garnish with the lobster claws.

Miscellany

Carol’s recipe calls for this dish to serve 10 for a buffet. I  halved it. Also, I decided to use frozen lobster tails.  I love the texture of South African lobster, a bit firmer than theMaineversions.  I unthawed them and used two (total weight just under 1½ pounds) and followed the cooking instructions.

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The Visit

“I think it all began when my parents wouldn’t let me wear blue jeans…”

“Wouldn’t let you?” The doctor is in.

“Well… that’s not entirely right.  I didn’t know that blue jeans existed until I went to college!  Well look… sure the other kids were wearing blue jeans when I was a kid… it wasn’t something that I really thought about ‘til I went to college.  I spent my entire youth in grey flannels… grey flannel pants, grey flannel shorts.  I went to school in grey flannels, I played in grey flannels.  I even had grey flannel Bermudas… the kind with cuffs. My Dad had them made special for me because we went to Hamilton every June.”

“You say you really didn’t think about blue jeans until college.  Still you were feeling different from your peers?”

“Different?  Back then? Who knows?  But Sydney Kaufman gave me some trouble.”

“Oh? And how old would you be at this time?”

“Maybe seven or eight?  Her Father owned Kaufman’s Variety.  It was a small store on the corner of Edgewood and West Rocks Ave.  It had candy and comic books… maybe other things; but that’s all I can remember.  Mr. Kaufman terrorized us kids.  He had this big fat unshaven face.  He couldn’t keep his shirt tucked in, and there was always a button undone by his fat belly.  He sweated a lot, and didn’t smell good.  And he wouldn’t let us read the comic books in the store.  He would scream at us, ‘get outta’ here you kids! You wanta’ read the comic books? Pay a dime and read the comic books! Read outside! Don’t be bothering my real customers!’ He wore grey flannels, too.  There are ten reasons for Anti-Semitism to exist, and he was two of them!”

“Interesting.”

“Anyway… this Sydney Kaufman lived in our neighborhood, had curly red hair and freckles and she was in my Sunday School class.  She sat in the desk next to mine.  We were the shortest kids in the class, so we had to sit in the front row… right in front of Mrs. Goldberg’s desk.  I felt like we were being punished. I don’t know which was worse… sitting next to Sydney Kaufman or in front of Mrs. Goldberg.  It was three hours of agony every Sunday.  And then for reasons I can’t guess, one day my Mother gets a call from Sydney’s Mother asking if Sydney can come over our house to play!  And before I can say anything, my Mother agrees!  I immediately got nauseous!  I couldn’t believe it!  Why did my Mother agree to this?  Was this Mrs. Kaufman’s idea?  Or Sydney’s idea?  And if it was Sydney’s idea… what did she think we were going to do?  Skip rope?  We probably didn’t like the same things… and hey!  Didn’t she have any girl friends?”

“You found a girl having interest in you upsetting?”

“Hey!  I was seven or eight!  What boy at seven or eight likes girls?  Maybe Joel Schwartz, OK.  But he was a weirdo.  Actually, I heard that Joel runs a successful hedge fund today and is a scratch golfer. But for all I know, he still is a weirdo.  Sydney should have gone over to his house… they had the first color TV set in the neighborhood; but all he wanted to watch were old black & white movies. Joel had this irritating laugh.  One time we took our bikes over to Edgewood Park, armed with pea shooters and we set up our ambush positions near the entrance over by Chapel & the Boulevard.  And who comes by but Sydney Kaufman!  She was wearing a light blue plaid dress and riding a Schwinn.  Joel hit the spokes of her front wheel and I got her on the calf.  It must have stung like hell! She fell off her bike and scraped her knee.  Then Joel and his goofy laugh gave away our positions!  And Sydney shot back… ‘I see who you boys are! And you’re in trouble now!’  She took off on her Schwinn crying and ratted out Joel to Mrs. Kaufman!”

“But not you?”

“No I dodged the bullit that time.  But I got nailed later.  Sydney and I got married just after college. We were married for just three years.  It was a train wreck.  We never should have gotten married in the first place. Luckily, no kids.  Honestly, I was a miserable husband.”

“I think it goes back to you not being able to wear blue jeans.”

“Thanks Doctor… I will see you next week.”

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Bison Meatloaf with a Spanish Red

We didn’t call it comfort food when I was a kid. We called it food. It was served in generous portions, and in my home, where my Grandmother “Mommie Soph” ruled in the kitchen, comfort food could have been re-defined as “not-less-than-seconds”.

bison meatloaf

For me, comfort food conveys all the best of home… dry socks after shoveling snow, a crackling log fire with the wind beating against the window panes. We sit down to the table of a simple repast that never fails. And the wine I love speaks to the same simplicity and generosity. I call it a “bistro/café” wine… the type of wine that you find in the simple places traveling the small roads of Europe. Wine that you’d enjoy with lusty enthusiasm… killing a bottle by yourself, and all the time wondering, why can’t we get wine like that home? 

Well… you can!

Vall Sanzo ’07 (Castilla y León, Spain)

This is one of the hottest values in market place. The wine is 100% Tempranillo from vineyards located between Ribera del Duero and Toro. This is very high quality at a very low price. Gorgeous sensuous dark fruit with a lovely palate feel that smacks of a much more expensive bottle of wine.

“The 2007 T-Sanzo Tempranillo was naturally fermented and aged in French and American oak for six months. It exhibits an expressive perfume of wood smoke, pencil lead, violets, cinnamon, incense, and blackberry. This leads to a mouth-filling, generous, richly-fruited wine with lots of spice, superb balance, and a lengthy fruit-filled finish. Drink it from 2011 to 2019. It is a terrific value. – 90” — Jay Miller, Wine Advocate

Bison Meatloaf

Ingredients

6 ounces of Tanqueray Gin
½ ounce of Noilly Pratt Dry Vermouth
a goodly amount of ice
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 small onion, diced (one cup)
8 ounces white button mushrooms, finely diced
1 small carrot, finely grated
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
1 clove garlic, minced
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 1/2 pounds of ground bison
3/4 cup quick cooking oats
2 large eggs, beaten
2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
1 8 oz can no-salt tomato sauce
1 tablespoon prepared mustard
1 tablespoon unsulfured molasses

Directions

  1. Put gin and vermouth into a glass pitcher, fill with ice, stir vigorously while incanting, “You who know all, thank you for providing us juniper and all the other cockamamie ingredients responsible for creating this sacred liquid!” Strain into a pre-frozen Martini glass of admirable size. Skewer the olives on one of those tacky cocktail swords, place in glass. Immediately begin consuming. Now you can begin the food prep, and the cooking!
  2. Pre-heat the oven to 350.
  3. Heat oil in a large skillet, add the onion and the mushrooms and cook until the liquid is evaporated and the mushrooms begin to brown (about 8 minutes). Stir in the carrots, tomato paste, thyme and garlic and cook, stirring, 2 minutes more. Allow to cool completely.
  4. In a large bowl (Mommie Soph would use it for cereal!) combine the bison, oats, eggs, Worcestershire sauce, mushroom mixture, salt & pepper. Mix until just well combined. Transfer the mixture to a 9″x13″ baking dish and shape into loaf about 5″ wide and 2″ high (I like to make mine like a snow man… but that’s just me).
  5. Cook the meatloaf until the thermometer reads 160, about 55-60 minutes. Remove from the oven and let rest for 15 minutes before slicing.
  6. Dig in! Remember, this is comfort food! Open a second bottle, and prep a third!

n.b. Bison? You can certainly use lean chopped beef, although bison is mighty tasty. And since the dish is be paired with a Spanish red, maybe we should refer to the meat as toro?

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Cioppino & Albariño

This is the deal. On Friday I am responsible for the dinner and the wine. I can grill, I can roast, stir-fry… re-heat. It’s my call. Sometimes, take-out, or I can pick out a restaurant. Killing a raccoon on Swamp Road in Newtown doesn’t count. And of course, an appropriate wine. Continue reading

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The Field Marshall Ish Kabibble

True.  Nothing makes a man feel better than wearing a uniform!  Few know of my military background. My Father’s Grandfather served nobly with Chinese Gordon at Khartoum (he was his tailor).  For skill and bravery under fire (he had to had to retrieve the General’s jodhpurs from the Mahdist insurgents), he was awarded the Victoria Cross and made Knight of the British Empire.  His later honors include: Order of Bath, Order of the Garter & the Royal Order of Lox.  With a long history in the service of arms, it is understandable that my Father was upset that I did not gain an appointment to West Point.  But I did attend the Smedge College of Military Knowledge.  After graduating with a degree (with Honors) in Obscure Mixology, I was posted to Ft. Jackson, SC for my active service.  I was the lead bartender at the Officer’s Club, where I quickly distinguished myself by producing what is still considered the finest Singapore Sling ever made.  Although my pay grade was Sergeant, I saw steady advancement thru the ranks and retired from the Army with the brevetted rank of Field Marshal.  My uniform design was a cross between the uniform worn by Harpo Marx in Duck Soup and the uniform worn by the legendary Raymond, Doorman of the Waldorf Astoria.

Ish Kabibble

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Basic Rock (with apologies to Mel Brooks & Carl Reiner)

This story started in a simple way… It took place years ago. It was a Saturday afternoon, mid-September, Dad was at work and Mom and I traveled to Woodbury to visit my Aunt & Uncle.

“I thought that the New Year was on January 1!” Continue reading

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So… Have You Seen The New Penny?

My day was not going well… nothing that $100,000 or a whisky wouldn’t cure.  And then I looked at the change I got from Pauli’s Bagels first thing in the morning (a plain “everything” bagel and a grapefruit juice), and included therein was a shiny new penny (shiny, so you know I didn’t pick this up from the #3 pump at the Global Gas Station)… Continue reading

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Uh-Oh! Part II

It appears that the U.S. Mint has time on its hands.  Understandable, I suppose.  Creating the same coins every day… every week… every month. I can imagine all the excitement that must be generated when they gear up to change a digit for the next year.  Continue reading

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Ten Things I Remember About Being a Kid on a July Day

1. No School. As oft mentioned in these pages, I hated all forms of school (except gym).  It began with Grade Four, and my dislike continued unabated.  It could have rained every day in July; but no school?  There was sunshine in my soul. Continue reading

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Outside the Lines

Zack and I have been trading playlists for a bit.  We both love music.  And I am impressed with his devotion to current music and his interest in music from “my” era.  Still, there seemed to be something missing in our exchanges.  Continue reading

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Why I Am Not Going To Summer Camp This Year

Let’s be clear on this.  They can’t make me! If I have to I will remain in this bathroom forever.  I will turn off all the lights.  I will grab the plush bath towels taken from the Connaught Hotel in London and wedge them under the door.  Then I will turn on the bath water and let it over flow to fill the room… and then I will drown in the dark.

That will teach them! (maybe before drowning I will slash my wrists with my Father’s razor so there will be blood… there has to be blood)

I know what you’re thinking.  I’m being overly dramatic.  I’m making an unnecessary fuss.  After all… who doesn’t love going away for the summer, and leave behind the anxieties of home, family and suburbia?

Wait a second!  I’m putting the light back on.  Oh, look at this!  I think I have a zit on my chin!  Shit!  I’m too young to have this! And they want me to go camp?  With a zit?  Sure.  Would, My Father, Mr. Fancy Shmancy Partner of the hedge fund go to work with a fuckin’ zit on his chin?  NO!  He would rather walk across broken glass!  But does he care about me?

Maybe I won’t have to slash my wrists and drown in the dark.  Maybe I will starve to death.  A slow, long drawn out heart wrenching end that will be covered by all the papers!  Hedge Fund King Suffers A Loss!

That’s it!  I will refuse all food!  Just like I should have done at Camp Wilderness!  Camp Wilderness?  No electricity.  No plumbing.  Rustic charm.  Builds character… so the brochures claimed.

I am turning off the lights again.

My highlights from camp last year…

I threw up after lunch on the first day.  The grey lunch meat turned out to be very old cheese (Mark Sklarz, our tent counselor, said it was caribou).  I spent the rest of the summer surviving on soggy potato chips and chocolate milk.

I cut my foot on the boat dock on day two.  I needed 15 stitches to close the wound.

Did I mention no plumbing?  The Camp outhouse, a four seat version, was probably considered a palace during the Civil War, when it was erected. On warm nights with a westerly breeze, you could smell that outhouse a quarter mile away.  Our group tent was just 75yds away.

Camp Wilderness bordered a large pond considered of strategic importance.  Why?  I have no clue. But the adjacent wood became a home to a nike missile site in the early 1960s.  Not a cause for major concern ‘til a July night last year when Lance Pendleton (from Massapequa) thought that it would be fun to build a fire for roasting marshmallows next to the ammo dump.  Lance’s parents had to come and explain his actions to the Camp Director, Reuben Feingold and the F.B.I.

On the third day, when I was at the fishing cove, a seagull swiped my snacktime graham cracker. 

On a rainy afternoon spent in the Arts & Crafts Cabin,  I drove a finishing nail into my thumb(maybe it was a blessing to learn at an early age that “handiness” will never be one of my strengths).

Mr. Feingold told us that if we failed to “buddy-up” during pond swim, we would suffer a horrific diarrhea attack that would last a week.  On my fourth day at camp, during the afternoon swim, my “buddy”, Clay Gillette, was out of sight on the far side of the diving raft when the buddy-up whistle blew. I was by myself.  Red Verderame, the Swim Front Counselor, sent me from the water.  I had horrific diarrhea for a week.  I spent the rest of the summer hiding from Mr. Feingold.

While I’m not keen on reptiles, I am a fan of dinosaurs.  Not that there was going to be a chance of stumbling on a stegosaurus at Camp Wilderness.  But that didn’t stop Joey Horton (who wasn’t keen on reptiles or dinosaurs) from staking out Hostess Twinkies on the perimeter of our tent.  This was his idea of how to keep carnivorous reptiles (and sweet-eating dinosaurs?) at bay.  Joey?  He had problems.

The Camp softball diamond had a rut four steps from second base.  During the Battle of the Bulge they would have called the rut a fox hole.  In addition to spraining my ankle in that rut while trying to stretch a single into a double, as I lay on the ground in agony, I suffered the added indignity of having a seagull (probably the same one who stole my graham cracker) score a direct hit on my baseball cap and left shoulder with his diarrhea load.  It was painfully obvious that diarrhea would be a common affliction for campers and birds alike. Let’s not forget the Saturday my Father had to give up playing at Pinehurst so that he could answer for my behavior to Mr. Feingold.  Was it my fault that Randy Chapnick was standing 50yds behind the archery target?   Yes, I overshot the target.  But I was demonstrating to Clay Gillette what the English Archers of King Henry V did to the French men at arms at the Battle of Agincourt.  And besides, my arrow barely penetrated Randy’s butt.

I am putting the light back on. 

 My Father has a bottle of iodine in the medicine cabinet somewhere in here.  ? … smells like the single malt scotch he likes to drink.  Hmmmm.  Maybe if I swallow enough of it I will poison myself.  And even if I don’t die, I will probably throw up!  That’s it… I’ll puke on his prized after-bath robe that he took from the Hôtel George-V in Paris! The stains will never come out!!

“No… I’m not coming out!  I’m never coming out!  You can’t make me go!  What’s that you say?  Lobster and sweet corn?  It’s almost ready?  Did Mom pick up some White Birch Beer?  Great… OK, I’m coming out.  Dad, I think I have a zit… oh, one more thing… I’m sorry Dad, but I accidently spilled some iodine on your bathrobe.”

 

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The Landing

I pressed my nose and hands to the glass, unconcerned by the finger prints and nose shmears left behind.  Yes.  It was good to be a kid on Alston Avenue in the Winston household where a smudge here or there wasn’t a matter of alarm.

I strained to catch evidence of accumulating snow.

My vantage point was the landing between the center halls of our first and second floors.  The window located there looked out to our backyard.  And on a good night there was enough of a moon to cast a silver glow on the grass, the bare limbs of our verbena tree and the roof of our garage.  That silver coating?  Maybe it was snow?

Actually the best place to confirm falling snow was the window from our den on the first floor.  The street light placed just to the left of our house projected a perfect triangle of light that would illuminate falling flakes.

For me, snow was a matter of faith.  It’s what I prayed for.  And prayers began in earnest a week or so before Thanksgiving.  Call it a New England tradition… snow, Thanksgiving were key ingredients in our regional psyche.  Even before a snow day became a critical part of my academic planning, I loved snow.  Great to play in it, great to shovel it.  Great to come back inside to dry socks, hot chocolate and an afghan on the couch.

On the night that I am thinking of, the results from first floor outpost yielded negative results.  Failing to see snow from the den window, the landing was my “court of last hope.”  I knew that if I pressed up close enough to the glass, and concentrated, I could, with the help of suitable prayer, will the snow to fall.  Maybe if I squinted, the silver layer on the grass would morph into a dusting of snow?  A dusting being the necessary step to “inchage”… and inchage being the foretelling of “footage.”

Yes. Bring on a blizzard.

Strategically the landing was a mere five steps from the second floor hall and the bedroom I shared with my Grandmother.  And more than an altar for my snow prayers, the landing was a treasured spot for all types of imaginary indoor play that could occupy my childhood.

The landing, for example, was an ideal location for a machine gun emplacement.  Using cushions from the den couch, pillows from my bedroom, and assorted blankets & comforters, I could construct a formidable redoubt.   A broomstick would be pressed into service as an M60 machine gun.  Occupying the heights, I had covering fire for the downstairs center hall, I had an excellent line of sight to our backyard, and to the Gordon’s yard next door.

It was also a brief distance to my bedroom and the alternate line of supply.  The bedroom was the place where I could stash provisions and extra ordinance (navel oranges serving both purposes: doubling as food and as hand grenades).  Armed thus, I could withstand any assault or siege for ninety minutes… or more!

Our Bedlington Terriers walked in fear!

In peace time, the landing was our home’s primo sun spot in late mornings.  The Bedlingtons knew this.  And so did I.  Sometimes we need to re-charge our batteries, re-gain strength from a strenuous morning of taking out enemy patrols or from peeing on the living room drapes (by this time, I was mostly house trained.  The Bedlingtons, by contrast, never had a housebroken day in their lives).

Baa-Baa and Rocky (the Bedlingtons who took liberties with our drapes) and I would share a sun drenched wedge on the landing.  I snoozed.  They snoozed.  It takes plenty of energy to knock out the Wehrmacht and to pee on the drapes.  And a brief snooze goes a long way in restoring essential life’s forces.

Mammals know this.

I am sure that I see snow there.

I pressed yet closer to the pane, feeling the cold of the glass.  And as much as I would have wished otherwise, a yard draped in silver doesn’t convert into a snow field, regardless of prayer.  Even a young mammal like me knew that…  no matter how close I pressed to the window.

Yet… I could blink.  There was hope still.  And regardless of age, hope is always a good thing.

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Reason #5 Not to Move to Atlanta (or the reason why Sherman put the city to the torch)

Atlanta: home to Vito Goldberg’s Pizzeria, and home to the “Dirty Diaper Pie.” Made on a caraway pizza crust, a tasty tomato pie, topped with homemade chopped chicken liver, onions and crisp bacon. Wash it down with an ice cold Dr. Brown’s Cel-Ray Tonic.

Uh-huh… this isn’t culinary “fusion”… I think this qualifies as a violation against two historic cuisines.

Where is Sherman now that we need him? Maybe we should muster the legions from Wooster St. and mount a surgical strike?

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Mama Mia, That’s a Spicy Meatball!

What could I do?  Is it a crime to laugh?  OK, so I was by myself… sort of.  I was in Norwalk’s TD North Bank to take care of a couple of things.  Just one person standing at the teller’s counter.  The teller.  And two other bank officers (?) sitting at desks in the open area of the bank.  And me.  I was filling out a deposit slip when a tidbit of memory hit me… and it began.  A smile first, then a giggle escaped… then my mind, without any direction from me, hit the “replay button”… another giggle… this one longer, another replay… I shake my head trying to move to other things… another replay, the memory comes back into deeper focus, now a full laugh… and now I am in deep trouble.  All I can think of is this TV commercial from some 40 years ago, and I am standing in a bank, by myself, filling out a deposit slip and laughing, and that maybe, just maybe… the other people in the bank have no clue what’s going on.  Sure, at this point I am self aware, but the damn commercial keeps playing in my head and I try to stifle the next laugh… which makes an even more disruptive sound.

So… what are the other people in the bank thinking, seeing a man off by himself laughing?  Well… it’s one of a couple of things.  A. He is deranged.  B. He is deranged and he has an Uzi under his poncho and we are all about to die! C. He’s just an old dude and he is peeing in his pants.

Oh, did I mention that I had brought into the bank a cardboard tube, that originally housed a bottle of Auchentoshen Single Malt Whisky, but now contained 15lbs of coins?  TD Bank has one of those coin converter things.  And I begin to walk over to that machine… smiling and laughing… maybe those other folks are thinking, “he doesn’t have an Uzi… he has a pipe bomb!”

I should also point out that I had a very similar incident about 25 years ago.  On this other occasion I was standing on line at the Manufacturer’s Hanover Trust on the corner of 44th St. & Fifth Ave, when a joke that I had recently added to my repertoire kept coming into my head.  As is my custom, I was trying to get down the timing of the joke. I kept going over its pauses and points of emphasis in my head.  Gosh it’s real funny joke… and there I am standing on line, talking to no one else, clearly alone… and laughing in a rather obvious manner (did I tell you that it was a very funny joke?). 

Well… this is in New York.  A rather big bank.  And a rather large number of people were in there at the time.  And unlike TD Bank North in Norwalk… this bank had a Guard with a side arm.  And after a minute or two of laughing to myself, it was apparent that everyone who had been standing near me had moved several feet away… and I now had the bank dick standing 18″ in back of me, tapping me on the shoulder with his left hand, with his right hand poised on his revolver, asking, “Sir? Is there something wrong?”

So I had to tell the Guard the joke. 

I can’t recall if he thought the joke was as funny as I did… but I attribute that to his sense of relief that I didn’t have an Uzi or that I didn’t pee on the floor.

This time, as I walked over to the coin-o-matic, chuckling pretty good, Marguerita, the teller with a friendly smile (who I see just about every week), catches sight of me, pauses for a minute… and she smiles, then she let’s out a giggle… I laugh a little more, then she laughs even more, and tries to stifle the next one… then the lawn maintenance guy standing at the counter he begins to laugh.  Even the stick-in-the-mud manager sitting at his desk…he’s shaking his head and smiling, and then he begins to laugh, too.  The entire place is laughing.  And I am the only one who knows the commercial.

Thank you YouTube for allowing me to share this.  It’s a minute of pure creative genius. 

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=41Yl24z8b_c

I’m thinking that I might not be alone in this “laughing-to-yourself-in-public” thing.  And even if it hasn’t happened to you before, it could happen in the future.  First, I recommend that you don’t walk into a bank laughing if you are carrying a bazooka. Second, if you must laugh, I recommend that you have a brief joke or anecdote prepped that you can immediately share, to allay the fears of the staring and concerned citizens that maybe nearby.  “Hah, hah, hah!  I just remembered that I forgot to put my Grumpy Underoos in the wash!  Hah, hah, hah”.

Brief, however, has never been my forte.

The joke I told the guard:

“There’s this business executive who commutes on the train.  Greenwich to Grand Central in the morning, Grand Central to Greenwich in the evening.  Every day, every week, every year.  For him the train is his time… neither at work dealing with problems, nor at home dealing with problems.  He actually looks forward to being on the train!  In the morning he reads the New York Times, on the ride home The Wall Street Journal.

“On one particular ride home, he was sitting in the “club seats” that face each other, deeply involved in his reading.  Without his notice, he is joined by an older teenager who sits opposite from him.

“The train pulls out of Grand Central and when the conductor comes by to collect tickets, the executive lowers his paper, and takes note of the teenager across from him.

“The boy has several tattoos, and piercings… ears, lower lip, right nostril, both eyebrows.  Half is head is shaved, the other side is spiked up on top like a stegosaurus, with dreads cascading well below his right shoulder. The spikes are coloured purple and the dreads orange.

“The executive stares silently at the kid, unable to go back to his reading.

“The kid stares back.  And finally says to the guy, ‘Hey, man!  What ‘your starin’ at?'”

“The executive takes off his reading glasses, ‘I’m staring at you!'”

“And the kid says, ‘Hey! What’s buggin’ you?  Weren’t you young once?  Hey, didn’t you do real exciting things when you were younger?  Real fun and crazy things?'”

“And the man says, ‘As a matter of fact I did. When I was your age, I fucked a parrot once.  And what worries me is that maybe you’re my kid.'”

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Penguins of the Caribbean

Emperor Penguins endure the harshest conditions of the Antarctic winter to breed.  With air temperatures of -40F, wind gusts of 75mph, the males of the colony cluster together into tight huddles, balancing a single egg on the top of the feet, while the females trek 60 miles to the Antarctic Ocean to spend two months foraging for food.  Skeletal remains of Emperor Penguins have been found as far north as Barbados.  In a cave near Gun Hill Signal Station in St. George bones of several male and female penguins were discovered.  Carbon dating places their time to early 18th Century.  Opinion is divided whether this find represents a “break away” colony of Emperor Penguins, or the “leftovers” from a pirate clambake.

MILTON: Arrrgh!  There’s me wench!

PAIGE: Milton?  Milton!  For heaven’s sake take off that ridiculous eye patch!

MILTON: Arrrgh!  Me name is Long Beak Milton!

PAIGE: Long Beak?

MILTON: Arrrgh!  Just ask the ladies of the colony!  They’ll tell ya’!  Arrrgh!

PAIGE: Yeah, long beak?  HAH!  Look… I don’t have time for this!  Every year it’s the same story… I’m ready to transfer our egg to you, and you pull some cockamamie stunt!

MILTON: Belay that!

PAIGE: What’s this?  What’s happened to your left foot?

MILTON: Arrrgh!  It got shot off by a canon ball and now it’s me peg leg!

PAIGE: You call that a peg leg?  It looks like a bad Ferragamo with a 2″ Cuban heel!  I suggest you lose that poor excuse for a Hollywood prop or you’ll never be able to balance our egg on just one foot!

MILTON: Arrrgh!  Forget the egg!  We be heading to the trade winds in the north!  You, my sweet wench, and me!  To the Isle of Barbados!

PAIGE: Barbados?

MILTON: Oh, yes… others have done it!  It’s been told!  And think… no more sub-zero temperatures, no more gale force winds, no more winter darkness!  It’s time to cast off, hoist the mains’l, we be bound for the Caribbean and we fly the skull ‘n’ bones! We’ll make love under a star lit canopy with mild breezes caressing us!  No long schlep to the Antarctic Ocean for food!  No!  We’ll take a quick dip in a nearby lagoon, fetch a fish or two and then kick back on the beach, listen to some tunes, sip a Planter’s Punch.  Ah… the Caribbean.  Tell me it’s not a better life than freezing your balls off!

PAIGE: Milton take off that idiotic eye patch and fake “leg”!  I’m giving you our egg. OUR egg! I’ll see you in two months!  Arrrgh!

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Mrs. Tilden Suffers a Meltdown

“OK class… here are your parts for today. Gifford you’re Caesar. Martin you’re Antony. Jean-Margaret you’re Calpurnia. Elizabeth you’ll be Portia. Gaylord… Cicero. Lawrence… Brutus. Tall Simon… Cassius. Red Hair Simon… Casca. And Fitzhugh, you’re Titus Vestricious Spurinna the Soothsayer…”

Say what you will… but each of us moves to the unique rhythms of the seasons and the comings and goings of the moon’s phases. Some of us are less tuned in to the seasonal changes and the lunar cycles. But few who could be more ruled by the time and day of the year, than Agnes Tilden, Class of ’16 Mount Holyoke, Summa Cum Laude in English Literature, and a Fifth Grade Teacher at The Middlesex School. You could tell it was October, early in the school year, because without variation, year after year, after year, she would regale her class with Washington Irving’s tale Legend of Sleepy Hollow. She found great satisfaction in reading aloud to the class… sharing a classic piece of American Literature. To help enact the scenes, she would enlist students to portray the roles of Ichabod Crane, Brom Bones and Katrina Van Tassel. If she had her druthers, she would have turned off the fluorescent lights with their annoying hum, and bathed the room in candlelight.

Beginning after WWII, every November a class trip to Old Sturbridge Village would be organized. You could count on it, just as you could count on the students’ amazement at the size of the one room District School.

December was the time for Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. Reading to the class she expressed Scrooge’s skepticism at seeing the ghostly apparition of the deceased Jacob Marley, “You may be an undigested bit of beef, a blot of mustard, a crumb of cheese, a fragment of underdone potato.”

Marcia Peterson, the Sixth Grade Teacher, would say, “You could fall into a coma for ten years, awaken, walk into Aggie’s classroom and tell what month it was, and probably the day, by what she was reading or doing with her class.”

March was the month for Shakespeare. And it had to be Julius Caesar. You could count on it.

“Class we are in Act I, Scene II… Gifford you begin.”

CAESAR: Calpurnia!

CASCA: Peace, ho! Caesar speaks.

CAESAR: Calpurnia!

CALPURNIA: Here, my lord.

CAESAR: Stand you directly in Antonius’ way, when he doth run his course. Antonious!

ANTONY: Caesar, my lord?

CAESAR: Forget not, in your speed, Antonius, to touch Calpurnia; for our elders say, the barren, touched in this holy chase, shake off their sterile curse.

ANTONY: I shall remember: When Caesar says ‘do this’, it is perform’d.

CAESAR: Set on; an leave no ceremony out.

“Fitzhugh? Fitzhugh, you have the next line….”

“Mrs. Tilden… what’s a Soothsayer?”

“It’s a person who makes predictions about what will happen in the future, and then makes a public pronouncement…”

“I get it. Like my Dad, when he plays golf with my Uncle Colin and he tells him that if he uses a 7 iron on the Par 3 Second Hole, he’ll put his tee shot into the pond. And Uncle Colin ignores him, saying that my Dad was just messing with his head, and sure enough Uncle Colin plunks his ball into the water a good 15′ short of the green!”

“Fitzhugh… that’s a charming story. But within the context of Julius Caesar, a soothsayer refers to a person who has a natural gift, and the wisdom to see into the future. Maybe more like a fortune teller, or an Oracle, and it was serious…”

“Well, it sure was serious with my Uncle Colin. He told my Dad that he just lost his favorite-good-luck golf ball, and that if my Dad didn’t shut up, he was going to take his putter and hit him on the coconut with it!”

“It sounds like your Uncle has anger management issues…”

“You can say that again. My Dad is always telling him that he picks the wrong ‘horses’. My Dad explained to me that ‘horses’ is just an expression… and that it referred to picking bad stocks, backing bad political candidates, and being miserable at choosing wives. One time, when Dad told him that the person he voted for was a jerk, Uncle Colin threw his gin ‘n’ tonic against the wall!”

“Yes… let’s return to the play. Fitzhugh, it’s your line.”

SOOTHSAYER: Caesar!

CAESAR: Ha! Who calls?

CASCA: Bid every noise be still: peace yet again!

CAESAR: Who is it in the press that calls on me? I hear a tongue, shriller than all the music, cry ‘Caesar!’ Speak; Caesar is turn’d to hear.

SOOTHSAYER: Beware the ides of March.

“Mrs. Tilden… I have a question. What are ides?”

“Fitzhugh… it means the mid-point day of the month. And the mid-point in March would fall on the 15th day. Back in those days, it was a way that they marked the calendar. Gifford, it’s your line.”

CAESAR: What man is that?

BRUTUS: A soothsayer bids you beware of the ides of March.

“Mrs. Tilden I have a question.”

“What is it now Fitzhugh?”

“Mrs. Tilden. I was born on February 15th… does that mean I was born on the ides of February?”

“No, Fitzhugh. And I know it may sound confusing… but ides falls on the 15th day of March, May, July and October. In the other months ides falls on the 13th day.”

“Mrs. Tilden, this is so confusing. Ides of March? Why not just say March 15th? Why didn’t Shakespeare just write, ‘Watch yourself on March 15th’, or ‘On March 15th be careful’, or ‘Pssst! Caesar! March 15th will be a very bad day for you.’ This ides stuff, it could be the 13th or the 15th… you know, how was Caesar supposed to know. Unless Shakespeare had the soothsayer tell him exactly what it meant.”

“Fitzhugh, enough. Caesar knew exactly when the ides of March was. As we will see, he chose to ignore the warning. Gifford, your line.”

CAESAR: Set him before me; let me see his face.

CASSIUS: Fellow, come from the throng; look upon Caesar.

CAESAR: What say’st thou to me now? Speak once again,

“Mrs. Tilden… I don’t like Shakespeare. He uses all these strange words and expressions. Ides? Who in the world talks like that anyway? It’s too difficult to understand, and that’s why no one likes to read Shakespeare. We all hate reading him… ask anyone in the class. Even my Mother has trouble understanding Shakespeare and she went to Sarah Lawrence! And everyone in the play has funny sounding names. Well, not Caesar. The golf pro at my Dad’s Club is named Caesar. But everyone else. And Caesar? I can never remember if it’s “a” before “e”, or “e” before “a”… and I know you mark off for things like that.

ENOUGH, Fitzhugh!! Fitzhugh, it’s your line!”

SOOTHSAYER: Psssst! Caesar! Watch your back on March 15th!

“See? Isn’t that better? Gifford didn’t you understand what I was saying? Maybe if I said it that way to begin with, I wouldn’t have had to repeat myself so many times.  And Mrs. Tilden, I have such a stinky part in this play. No one listens to me. I hate Shakespeare! I will never be able to remember how to spell Caesar, and my parents are already telling me that they want me to go to an Ivy League school! Mrs. Tilden, how can I ever get into Yale if I can’t spell Caesar… and if I’m given crummy parts in the play? And my Dad says if I don’t get into Yale I will probably end up waiting tables at Howard Johnson’s! I mean, Howard Johnson ice cream is OK; but I can’t take all this pressure!”

“This behavior is unacceptable! UNACCEPTABLE!! Waiting tables at Howard Johnson’s will be a big step up from where you’re going young man!!!”

The day after school let out for summer vacation, Agnes Tilden handed in her letter of resignation to the Headmaster of The Middlesex School. No reason was given. When asked about it, Marcia Peterson, perhaps her best friend on the teaching staff, would say, “I think she saw that it was just time to go. Just time to go. Aggie knew that she had no more to give.”

The day before summer vacation began in that year of 1960, Mrs. Tilden took me aside and said, “It’s ‘a’ before ‘e’, just like it is in the alphabet… that’s how I learned to remember it.”

I did not go to Yale. I didn’t even apply. Rather I traveled to the tiny burg of Gambier, Ohio where I attended Kenyon College and graduated in 1971, cum laude with a Bachelor of Arts Degree in American Literature. As fate would have it, my junior year I was cast for the part of Brutus in the campus production of Julius Caesar.

Caesar was never a favorite play of mine. Although I have seen King Lear at least a dozen times, including two performances with Morris Carnovsky in the lead. If it were playing nearby, I would see that play tomorrow.

A Chinese poet once said, “life travels in circles.”

So it does. And each December I gather those who care to listen, to the comfort of my den, light a cheerful fire and open my volume of Dickens to read aloud…

“Marley was dead: to begin with. there is no doubt whatever about that. The register of his burial was signed by the clergyman, the clerk, the undertaker, and the chief mourner. Scrooge signed it. And Scrooge’s name was good upon ‘Change, for anything he chose to put his hand to. Old Marley was as dead as a door-nail.”

I read every word. Every December. You can count on it.

— F. John Clarke

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Meeting the Winemaker & the Breathtaking Wines of Domaine Leflaive

Someone whispered at our table, “the four toughest jobs in the world in order of difficulty: Winemaker of Domaine Leflaive, Mayor of New York City, Coach of Notre Dame Football and President of the United States.”

John and I were in New York to meet Eric Remy, Winemaker of Domaine Leflaive, and to taste his remarkable wines.  Thirty folks sat down, as Eric introduced us to the Domaine, and took us thru some of the most extraordinary wines that are produced anywhere. Folks… tasting these wines?  Hearing from the winemaker himself?  Well… it just can’t get any better!

If you already know about Leflaive, you can skip to the next paragraph.  It would be easy to say that Domaine Leflaive is the White Burgundy counterpart to Domaine Romanée Conti in Red Burgundy.  But that doesn’t do justice either to Leflaive or Romanée Conti. Let me be direct… the wines of Domaine Leflaive are as essential to any cellar, as much as Ch. Latour is… or Giacosa Barolo, or Dominus or any other age worthy red wine. Leflaive Burgundies age out superbly in the cellar. And to think of Leflaive as a white wine to be pawned off on nuisance dinner guests, qualifies as a crime against wine! NO! These wines are to be savored, appreciated for their complexity, the layering of flavours, their rare combination of strength and finesse… the very same attributes that we love in great red wine!

Leflaive is great wine, and so little of the wine is made.

THE DOMAINE

The History of the Domaine goes back to 1717 when Claude Leflaive settled in the Village of Puligny and began assembling parcels of vineyard around Puligny. But due to France’s inheritance laws, the size of the Domaine was trimmed to a mere 2 hectares by the turn of the 20th Century. In 1920 Joseph Leflaive took charge of the Domaine and began a period of acquisition. About 20 hectares were added bringing the size of the Domaine to 22.43 hectares with vineyards in 4 Grand Cru, 6 1er Cru, 5 Appellation Village and 2 Appellation Bourgogne (p.s. Ch. Lafite Rothschild, first Growth Bordeaux, farms 107 hectares). In 1990 Anne-Claude Leflaive  and her cousin Olivier Leflaive became joint Managers of the Domaine. Olivier focused on his négociant business, and in 1993 Anne-Claude took sole control of the Domaine. Under Anne-Claude’s direction, Leflaive moved into biodynamic wine production, and today, along with Madame Lalou Bize-Leroy, Leflaive is considered to be a leader in the field of biodynamism..

THE WINEMAKER

Eric Remy joined Leflaive in 2003 as assistant winemaker, and became winemaker in 2008 succeeding the legendary Pierre Morey. Following in the footsteps of a legend is never easy. But Remy has met the challenge square on with a level of confidence and skill that not only positions him as winemaker; but also Leflaive’s régisseur and vigneron. It speaks volumes to his talent that he is in complete charge of all wine operations at Leflaive, from vineyard, to winemaking, to managing the cellar and bottling. In today’s wine world it is a true rarity.

THE 2008 VINTAGE

Eric refers to this vintage as the “miracle vintage.” From the outset each phase of a growing cycle appeared threatened by one form of bad weather or another. After dodging the threat of mildew in May, and then oidium in July… the rainy weather at the end of August/beginning of September brought the specter of botrytis!  And then the “miracle.”  The north wind began to blow on September the 14th, and rescued the vintage as the whole of Burgundy saw ideal conditions return for the harvest. Cool, dry and sunny. Eric noted that the sugar levels were high and beautifully balanced with high level of acidity… and the wines produced were rounder in contrast to the angularity of the equally successful 2007 vintage.

THE WINES

We began with the Bourgogne, up next was the Village Puligny-Montrachet, then Meursault 1er Cru Sous le Dos d’Ậne… and then the focus of the morning: 4 1er Cru Puligny-Montrachet and 3 Grand Cru. After the formal tasting we were able to taste some older vintages that acted as a reference point for how magnificently these wines age out. John and I each went back to re-examine our favorites… we compared notes, and as miraculous as the vintage itself… we were in agreement on the three best wines! The last time this happened Hoover was in Oval Office!

To say that great White Burgundy is “hard to get” is an understatement. But the wines of Leflaive? It’s easier to find stegosaurus teeth in your backyard.

Domaine Leflaive Puligny-Montrachet 1er Cru Les Folatières ’08 (Côte de Beaune, Burgundy)

From a 1.25 hectare parcel sandwiched between 1er Cru Le Clavoillon and Grand Cru Chevalier-Montrachet planted between 1962 and 1983. Fermented in oak casks of which 20% was new, and aged 12 months in oak and additional 6 months in tank before bottling. My notes include expansive aromatics of lemon, sweet flower and excellent minerality. LONG. Allen Meadows’ Burghound rated the wine “Outstanding” giving it a 90-92pt score. “A high-toned and clearly more elegant nose of green fruit, spice, stone and subtle floral nuances combines with detailed and admirably understated naturally sweet and minerally flavors that are striking in their purity, all wrapped in a long, linear and quite finely balanced finish. A wine of pungent minerality and finesse.” Drink 2016+

Domaine Leflaive Puligny-Montrachet 1er Cru Les Pucelles ’08 (Côte de Beaune, Burgundy)

From a 3.05 hectare parcel adjacent to both Grand Cru Bâtard-Montrachet and Bienvenue-Bâtard-Montrachet planted between 1954 and 1981. The elevage for Pucelles follows Foaltières with a touch more use of new oak. For me Pucelles is to White Grand Cru, what Cos D’Estournel is to First Growth Bordeaux… a wine recognized as “more than 1er Cru”; but “less than Grand Cru”… more expensive then other 1er Cru, yet less expensive than most of the Grand Cru. This Pucelles had amazing depth and concentration in a superb display of power matched with elegance. Length that goes and goes! Allen Meadows’ Burghound rated the wine “Outstanding” giving it a 91-93pt score. “A textbook Pucelles nose of honeysuckle and citrus is trimmed in a discreet application of oak that does not continue over to the delicious, round and quite generous medium-bodied flavors that possess excellent depth on the focused and unusually powerful finish. There is an ample amount of underlying tension that adds relief to the otherwise densely concentrated dry exact.” Drink 2016+

Domaine Leflaive Bâtard-Montrachet Grand Cru ’08 (Côte de Beaune, Burgundy)

From 3 different parcel, two on the Chassagne side and a third on the Puligny side totaling 1.91 hectares planted between 1962 and 1989. Fermentation in Voges and Allier oak casks 25% which are new, aged for 12 months in oak, and then 6 months in tank before bottling. This is a dramatic wine, loaded with layering and complexity with an unmistakable petrol-minerality and intensity of scent that leads flawlessly to fleshy palate that begs for future keeping. Allen Meadows’ Burghound rated the wine “Don’t Miss!” 92-95pts “Here the nose is notably tighter and more reserved with aromas of citrus blossom and zest, spice, smoke, fennel and hints of acacia that introduce big, muscular and wonderfully complex broad-scaled flavors that culminate in a long, focused and explosive finish of breathtaking length and intensity. This should reward at least a decade in the cellar and drink well for a similar period thereafter. This too is terrific and very Bâtard.” Drink 2020+

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Resolutions, And The New Year

OK, OK…. look, I was meant to get this out before… like maybe between Christmas and New Years.  Or at least, last week.  But… you know, I’ve been very, very busy. First, there was all that snow, and the drop in barometric pressure makes it difficult for me to focus on writing.  Like my sinuses felt like they were going to explode!  And then I got influenza and got a real good look at how all those people died in 1918… and I’m not talking about in the trenches of northwest France… but in the living rooms of Jersey City!  And then a particularly mean spirited patron of Ash Creek made off with my early drafts.  I think it was unintentional… but you never know.  Do you know how hard it is to start from scratch knowing that some of my most brilliant material will be lost to the ages? How would Mozart feel? Now you have an idea how I feel… totally lost, cast adrift. And I promise, never… never ever to be so careless. I’m starting this year right… I will not be careless and I intend to grow four inches taller! Actually, there are no mean patrons at Ash Creek, at least around me… no, it was a dog.  Yeah, it was my frolicking Bernese Mountain Dog, Claude who ate the drafts and that’s why I’m so late!  Yeah, Claude the fuckin’ Bernese Mountain Dog….  

Once again we begin a New Year, and many of us enter into “personal contracts” to do this or that in the New Year.  Typically these are goals pointed towards improvement… to lose weight, to obey the speed limit, to be more considerate of our co-workers, to never go into the express check-out lane with 12 items.  You get the idea.

There are parallels in Religious traditions as well.  Both Yom Kippur and the Lenten period are times when folks take an accounting of their lives and commit to self improvement.  This is enhanced by a fast, or making a sacrifice of some type.  As an example, for years I have eschewed consuming white zinfandel, both on Yom Kippur and during Lent.

It maybe a surprise to some that the tradition of making resolutions is not “new” nor is it a creature of American invention.  In 13th Century the Abbey on the Firth of Forth had a “Resolve Day” that was observed the day before the Summer Solstice.  Yaroslav the Wise, Grand Prince of Novgorod established a Day of No Vodka in 1021 (he was succeeded by Bryachislav of Polotsk two days later after Yaroslav was assassinated).  In 490 BC the City State of Athens created Run Naked Day (which no one observed except that dude who ran from Marathon to Athens and subsequently died from embarrassment… although Herotodus wrote that his death was due to exhaustion… Hah!). Ramses II in 1274 BC after winning the Battle of Kadesh ordered a What Can I Do For My Pharaoh Day.

So, you see that this resolution and commitment to improve thing goes back pretty far in history.  Here is a brief list of some famous personages and their recorded resolutions.

Alan Ladd: “I will grow four inches taller this year.”

Josef Stalin: “I will kill all senior officers Colonel grade and above this year.  And I will grow four inches taller.”

Voltaire:  “I will write to my Mother at least once a week.  And I will grow four inches taller.”

Stephen Douglas: “Ha-hoo! I will marry Mary Todd this year!  And I will grow four inches taller.”

Dudley Moore: “I promise to always put down the toilet seat, and not because I’m asked to!  And I will grow four inches taller.”

Herman Goering: “I will use less rouge and only wear mascara when I go to the State Opera House. And I will lose four inches.”

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Basketball, As They Know It

It’s not often that we are visited by life forms from another planet… or life forms that declare themselves as such, in a clear manner.  Unlike, for example, Roger Clemmons, Boy George and Sarah Palin, who have kept their true extraterrestrial identities hidden from view.

But such was the case when “representatives” from You-Wouldn’t-Recognize-The-Name-If-You-Heard-It Planet, in a Galaxy, also completely unknown to us, and a Star System that even George Lucas couldn’t cook up, visited earth on what might best be described as a reconnoitering patrol, and left behind indisputable evidence of their presence.

We can thank the efforts of Edward Cadbury-Howard of Oxford’s Department of Antiquities and Forensic Science Fiction for his work in what will go down as one of the great mysteries of this, or any, millennia.  And as is often the case, this story of success was a product of hard work and blind luck. 

First, the discovery of the object itself.  Cadbury-Howard, at the time, was a Visiting Lecturer in Archeology at Yale University when he happened upon a “slab” of considerable size and strange composition… bringing to mind the “monolith” from the film 2001 Space Odyssey, except that it wasn’t 2001, it was 2002, and it wasn’t the moon; but it was on a beach on Long Island Sound in Woodmont, CT where the slab was unearthed.

Call it blind luck when Cadbury-Howard, a few professors from the Department, and a group of graduate students stumbled upon the historic find by chance when they were actively engaged in digging a pit for a New England clam bake.

Little did the troop expect to come upon anything other than sand (although one of the grad students mentioned that Captain Kidd supposedly buried treasure in these parts).  After taking several hours to excavate the slab, the academics carefully wrapped it in a Land’s End “double king” beach blanket and carted it back to the University for a detailed analysis.

The lobsters, clams and sweet corn would have wait for another afternoon.

At Yale, specialists in metallurgy were summoned to work on the physical make-up of the slab, while the obscure etched symbols that totally covered every surface of the artifact, occupied Cadbury-Howard for eight years.  After the partial results of his hard work were published last September in the Royal Survey of Galactic Intelligence, the find was hailed as the 21st Century equivalent of the Rosetta Stone.

The Rosetta Stone unlocked the key to Egyptian Hieroglyphics, and paved the way to understanding ancient Egyptian History and Civilization.  The Woodmont Slab (as it is now known) unlocked the key to understanding communication from a world unknown.

{Let’s pause here.  I don’t know how much of this outer-space-Roswell-NM-“they’re-living-amongst-us” you are prepared to believe.  But let’s say for argument, that it’s true: They are here, or were here. So think about it… 300,000 years of human habitation (give or take), we have populated New Jersey and got as far as touching ground on the moon.  That “they” got to us, before we got to “them”… I mean… aren’t you just a little bit nervous about their abilities to open a can of whup ass on us?}

Working with a dedicated team of cryptographers on loan from the U.S. Navy and a group of Eagle Scouts from Temple Mishkan Israel, Cadbury-Howard made the break-thru discovery when he was finally able to convert a section of the bizarre symbols to: “These words are razors to my wounded heart.” [Titus Andronicus, Act I, Scene 1].  That led to deciphering the following: “Men at some time are masters of their fates: The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, but in ourselves, that we are underlings.” [Julius Caesar, Act 1, Scene 2]

Further study revealed that the complete works of William Shakespeare were inscribed in the upper third of, what was determined as the front facing portion of the Woodmont Slab. Just below Shakespeare’s Sonnets, Cadbury-Howard found Douglas MacArthur’s Farewell Address to the Corps of Cadets at West Point:

“The long gray line has never failed us. Were you to do so, a million ghosts in olive drab, in brown khaki, in blue and gray, would rise from their white crosses, thundering those magic words: Duty, Honor, Country.

“This does not mean that you are warmongers. On the contrary, the soldier above all other people prays for peace, for he must suffer and bear the deepest wounds and scars of war. But always in our ears ring the ominous words of Plato, that wisest of all philosophers: ‘Only the dead have seen the end of war.’

“The shadows are lengthening for me. The twilight is here. My days of old have vanished – tone and tint. They have gone glimmering through the dreams of things that were. Their memory is one of wondrous beauty, watered by tears and coaxed and caressed by the smiles of yesterday. I listen then, but with thirsty ear, for the witching melody of faint bugles blowing reveille, of far drums beating the long roll.

“In my dreams I hear again the crash of guns, the rattle of musketry, the strange, mournful mutter of the battlefield. But in the evening of my memory I come back to West Point. Always there echoes and re-echoes: Duty, Honor, Country.

“Today marks my final roll call with you. But I want you to know that when I cross the river, my last conscious thoughts will be of the Corps, and the Corps, and the Corps.

“I bid you farewell.”

On the obverse side, the Woodmont Slab contained observations covering varied subject matter.

“The Blue Planet has many diverting activities meant to entertain their population.  These activities are organized in buildings where humans consume beverages that induce vocal encouragement to support contesting groups of humans wearing unique costumes.  This activity is referred to as Basketball.  The contestants wear head coverings, and perform on a smooth surface that is very cold by Blue Planet’s norm, most similar to – {Editor’s note: this has yet to be decoded}.  The humans carry specially fashioned sticks and pursue a tiny black disk.  The object of this pursuit is to put the black disk in an enclosure protected by a human in heavy armor.  Sometimes the humans hit each other with their sticks, and sometimes they take off their crude hand coverings so they can better hold each other’s garb or strike at each other’s faces.  This always brings an enthusiastic response from the humans in the building.  Although it seems to cause concern for the humans wearing striped shirts.”

{This is basketball? Do you think we really have to worry about these “visitors”?}

Also on this side of the Slab was a recipe for a Mojito: “Lightly muddle 2-4 sprigs of fresh mint, with a small amount of sugar with a little club soda until sugar dissolves and the mint can be smelled. Squeeze in the juice of one lime, add 3 ounces of dark rum, shake and top with ice and club soda. Garnish with a sprig of mint.”

{Dark rum? Dark rum! I’ve made dozens of Mojito’s and you use light rum! These guys have a lot to learn!}

Nearly half of the Woodmont Slab remains to be deciphered.  The work continues.  Questions as to why the beach in Woodmont was selected as a location for depositing the Slab is a source of great speculation.  What were they looking for?  Maybe Captain Kidd’s treasure? Maybe they found it!  Word spreads quick about stuff like that… even to planet watcha-callit. Cadbury-Howard has suggested that it was left as a “study aid” or “travel guide” for future visitors.  Perhaps these questions will be answered as more of the Slab is deciphered.  Maybe there are other slabs to be discovered? One thing is quite clear… in the words of Cadbury-Howard, “These chaps came quite a distance.  Maybe they just got lost in space!”

Interesting.  I am not ruling out that this is an elaborate hoax perpetrated by clever Yale students.  Still, the possibility exists that it’s the real thing and that we are, in all likelihood, not alone.  Sure they made a mistake identifying hockey as basketball. But what the hell… even they are entitled to a “mulligan”. Dark rum in a Mojito?  ??? !!! These guys maybe on to something!

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Proud of You All

Well, it’s like this… I got to thinking about Mommie Soph.  That my memories were tweaked by sharing a standing rib-roast with Alan, Lynn, Andy, Sandy, Shaina and John on Christmas Eve may seem a bit out of place.  Christmas Eve?  Mommie Soph?

To me the Christmas connection was simply due to a part of her remarkable make-up.  I am sure that she did not encourage Mom and Dad to accept the “material” part of Christmas into our household.  But she didn’t stand in its way.  And she seemed perfectly good at moving to the rhythms of the Holiday Season.  And she certainly took to Dad’s commission to take charge of the Chipp tailor’s Christmas Eve party on Eld St. She would provision out the party with pizzas from Pepe’s, deli from M & T and pastries from Lucibello’s.  A case of Scotch whisky would also be on hand (an offering of the Season for Toplitsky the head of the Tailor’s Union in New Haven).  We benefited, too!  All the leftovers found there way to 25 Alston Avenue.

It didn’t stop there.  Mommie Soph looked at Santa Claus (or as she would say, “Sendy Close”) as an American folk hero.  What could be so bad?  And on Christmas morning when I opened my gifts, she was so happy for my joy.  I saw it in her eyes.

So you see… I have been thinking about her.

And I just want to say how proud I am of her descendants… the women in our family are so strong.  Sarah, Shaina and Sophie, you are named in her honor… but each of you carry part of Mommie Soph in you. Each of you do her honor.  Each of you is special.

So… on the next clear night, look to the heavens… there is a star there (just to the left of Orion’s Belt)… find it.  And think about a young girl who traveled from a far away place, by herself, across two countries, across the ocean… who worked as maid in her first home in New Haven, who married a kosher butcher, who brought two special girls into this world, who succeeded her husband (who died so young) as a butcher, who ran a successful business, helped bring the rest of her family to this country, who helped establish her sister’s husbands (and my Dad) in their businesses, who supported her daughter’s desire to attend college (and then law school) when the family counseled against it… a woman who never learned to read or write, and yet possessed a wisdom that few could match.  A woman who wanted happiness and prosperity for her family.

Find that star.  And when it winks at you… wink back.  Greatness flows thru you.
With love for you all… Jimmy

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A Private Space

There are those days, those times, when we need a private space. Some place that provides us with a sense of security. The place could be mental or physical.

Even for a young prince of the household… which I certainly was, catered to by my Mom and Dad… Mommie Soph, Paul, Lynn and Bessie… there were some days lost in solitary play, other days camouflaged by worry and fear… and strangely, always a happy warmth.

Maybe it was because I rebelled against taking naps. Or maybe it was a laissez-faire approach that my parents took to a child coming nine years after Lynn. Regardless, there was a point when my childhood naps were not structured. They took place on an ad hoc basis when I tired from play… and I would simply drop down to catch a few winks where ever I happened to be. Under the dinning room table. Behind the wing chair in the living room. On an arbitrary stair leading up to the second floor.

Or, in my private space.

The banister on the staircase from the center hall curled to the right at the base and at its foot there was a small place that was perfect for a temporary perch… somewhat hidden from view and next to a radiator.

The radiator part proved important for naps during the winter months… it made the small space even cozier. I would pigeon hole myself there, knees drawn up, arms crossed to retain warmth… and I would drift into a nap, listening to the general murmur of the home, footsteps, activity in the kitchen and muffled voices.

If our Bedlington Terriers took notice of me, I can’t say.

I can remember liking that I was out of the regular trade route of the house, that my presence, while obvious to me, could be misplaced… that I could be “lost”, yet still there… and found (if necessary).

The decades have passed. I am grateful that I have my “blue den-chair”, worn down to comfortable perfection. Great for slouching, hanging my legs over the arms and good for promoting poor posture. Ideal for reading, watching the tube, sipping a martini or snoozing.

And occasionally when the need for a nap sneaks up on me, my mind takes me to that private space on a winter’s morning, next to a gurgling radiator. Even in memory it is a place of safety.

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Not Breakfast at Tiffany’s

“I’m Hung-over. I need food.”

“Me, too… well, not hung-over. What looks good?”

“I dunno… let’s see.  The lumberjack omelet?  3 eggs, sausage, bacon, ham, monterey jack cheese.  Anything missing?”

“That looks good.”

“Hey.  Do you go to those Chamber of Commerce deals?”

“Those networking things?  Bunch of mortgage lenders, media types, software designers and one person doing origami wedding invitations?  Oh yes, coffee would be great thank you.”

“Yeah, that’s about right.  Yes, I’ll have coffee, too. Have you ever done something… as an adult, that is… you know, undesirable behavior?”

Undesirable?  You mean like going-to-jail undesirable? Once I went into the under-ten-items check out line with twelve items.  Later I developed headaches and deep abdominal pains.  I haven’t made that mistake since.  But they don’t put you in jail for abusing the express check out line.  Why, did you use improper language at the Chamber gathering?”

“No. I’m serious.  Something that you really regret… but like, it wasn’t your fault. Really.” 

“Where are we going with this?”

“Well… you know the Chamber of Commerce thing?  Well… I have a friend…”

“Stop right there!  A friend?”

“Yeah… yes… Pat. Someone you don’t know.  Yes, thank you.  I’ll have the western omelet. Whole wheat toast.”

“Pat?  I’ll have the eggs benedict and please ask the kitchen not to overcook the eggs.  The last time we were here they came out like rocks.  And more coffee, please.  Pat?”

“Yeah, Pat.  Pat went to a Chamber of Commerce open house at the Golden Nookie… that dim sum place that just opened.  And this is crazy… I mean real crazy.  But Pat has a couple of Planter’s Punches… you know, tall drinks served with a tiny parasol, an orange slice, a pineapple spear and cherry.  Maybe not the regular drink choice… but it was what they were serving.”

“Pat?”

“Yeah… you know, had a tough day at work, one Punch follows another… a bite of a dumpling, a little Planter’s and things look good, right?”

“Pat?”

“Yeah… well you know, it’s the Chamber of Commerce, right?  Boring as hell, even with dumplings from the Golden Nookie, and you’re knocking down rums… you glance across the room and someone catches your eye.  So Pat goes over.  You know… light conversation.”

“This hollandaise is perfect.”

“And one thing leads to another… you know, Pat thinks this person is well turned out. Lookin’ good, smellin’ good.  Sure some of it is the Planter’s Punch. So look, I’m not passing judgment on what people do in the bedroom.  That’s their business, right?  Who should dictate what’s acceptable? Just because the Bible says it’s an abomination…”

“The Bible?”

“That’s my point.  Why should the Bible be the authority on what’s right or wrong between consenting adults?”

“Does this story involve whipped cream, scented oils or leather masks with brass zippers?”

“Or what gives the Supreme Court the right…”

“The Supreme Court?  How did we get from the Chamber of Commerce to the Supreme Court?”

“So Pat ends up taking this person back home.  And you know what happens next.  A couple of nightcaps… not that they were needed… sooner or later, in the bedroom, no lights, the room spinning, in the sack…something completely unplanned…”

“This is an abomination?  I think this happens thousands of times every night in America, and even in countries where there is no Chamber of Commerce.”

“No.  I’m fine on coffee, thanks.  It’s not just sex… but the type of sex…”

“Uh-oh… was a goat involved?”

“So… look, Pat is there, right?  Ten sheets to the wind, in a dark room, nearly passed out, flat out on the bed, and oral sex…”

“A goat gave you head?  Yes, the Bible frowns on that… and so would your mother”.

“Not a goat.  Just a person of unexpected gender.”

“I see.  The Bible frowns on that, too.  If you pick up the check, I won’t post this on Face Book.”

“Thanks. Check, please.”

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The Secret is Out!!

Sandy and I have, what you might call, pet backgrounds.  Specifically, dogs.  I love dogs probably more than Sandy.  I mean… more than Sandy loves dogs. *cheesh* Talk about your freudian slips!

We’ve talked about different breeds.  I am committed to Keeshonden.  Sandy loves Lhasas.  This difference in canine preferences had the look of an evil cloud in our lives.  But a dog, either a Lhasa or a Keeshond, at this time just isn’t in the cards.  And, after all, we do get to visit with our four-legged “grandchildren”.  Still… there was something missing.

We finally agreed that we wanted something more than a goldfish; but less than a dog.

In August I was browsing the pages of The New Yorker when an advert caught my eye… one of those tiny little ads with just a small graphic, a name, and address and a phone number:  The Litchfield Dinosaur Egg Farm, Goshen, CT.

Cool.  Labor Day weekend we went up to Goshen to take in their Fair, stopped into Nodine’s Smokehouse and laid in a supply of bangers, and then went over to check out the “egg farm.”  Let me assure you… not your typical egg farm!!

First, we had to fill out a ten page questionnaire.  I think it’s easier to gain an audience with the Pope!  Why we passed muster when I saw that four other couples were turned away, I can’t tell you.  But we happily put on hospital scrubs and were escorted into the nursery.  State of the art as they say…

At this point I had a distinct advantage.  Sandy may know dogs… but she knows gornisht about dinosaurs.  I saw a clutch of Triceratops eggs.  My favorite dinosaur!!  But talk about impractical!  If a Golden Retriever (Sandy’s other preference) would be too big for our home… what about an adult Triceratops, the size of a school bus!  Keeping it fed?  Cleaning up after it did a number 2?

Sure I wanted one!  Who wouldn’t?  I could see myself training it to take out the State Police radar traps on I-84!  But let’s get real.

After an hour plus of looking, we finally selected a Compsognathus, and brought our egg home with incubating soil that was engineered to replicate the conditions of the Late Jurassic Period.  The soil cost us more than the egg!

We chose a Compsognathus because adults get no bigger than a wild turkey, their diet consists of small rodents, lizards or tuberous plants, they have a cute coat that looks like feathered scales, they don’t make a lot of noise… AND, this cinched the deal, they are easy to house break.  This latter detail, Sandy pointed out, put the Compsognathus ahead of me!

OK, OK… forgive me if I can’t contain my excitement… but on Sunday, November 8, after months of incubation at the farm and our home, Sheila cracked thru her thick shell!

The secret is out!  Sandy and I are the proud parents of a precious Compy girl!

The folks at the egg farm tell me that I can begin leash training Sheila after the New Year.

Oh my… they do grow up fast don’t they?  Our Vet said that our girl should top out at 6 lbs and a little less than 3 feet long.  Much of her length is contained in her tail which we have been told will play havoc with anything on our coffee table in the den.

For now she is content sleeping and scarfing down bangers from Nodine’s.  But come the Spring a rodent won’t be safe on Woodbury Hill!

Something else to report… the folks over at the farm warned us that one is never enough!  Can you imagine it?  Next year Jimbo happily strolling the grounds as his pack of Compy’s flushes out small prey, and, at his direction, tear into the calves of folks who hog the guest parking spots at Woodbury Hill.  Oh, YES!!

To be continued…

Compsognathus_BW

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The Golem of Carthage Rd

This happened years ago.  It was a grey March Sunday, and I can remember it like it was yesterday.

“How manifold are Thy works, O Lord!

In wisdom hast Thou made them all;

The earth is full of Thy creatures.

Thou openest Thy hand, they are satisfied with good.

Thou hidest Thy face, they vanish;

Thou withdrawest their breath, they perish,

And return to dust.

Thou sendest forth thy spirit, they are created;

And thou renewest the face of the earth.

May the glory of the Lord endure forever;

Let the Lord rejoice in His works!”

“Geeze, Uncle Saul… do you always say that prayer before making meat loaf?”

Maybe it was the novelty of seeing Saul doing the food prep for Sunday’s dinner. There he was in this silly apron, with the fixings for meat loaf arrayed before him, looking to the ceiling and reciting this prayer. Uncle Saul in gingham should have been enough to fix the memory in my mind.  But it would be the careful orchestration of the afternoon that ensured this Sunday spent on Carthage Rd, would earn a place in my personal pantheon of unforgettable days.

He had moved the assembly from the kitchen counter to the breakfast nook and to the table that had been cleared for his use.  With sleeves rolled up he looked down at a rather large bowl… to the side a quantity of chopped chuck, two eggs, quaker oats, chopped onion, grated carrots, worcestershire sauce, kosher Salt and pepper.  He combined the ingredients and dug his hands into the bowl and began kneading the mixture.

“Jimmy… this isn’t just a meat loaf.  It’s going to be a golem.  I need you to walk around the table seven times counter clockwise.”

I did this. It seemed harmless enough.  Saul busied himself with blending the meat.

“Good afternoon to you Lord of the Universe.  This is Saul, your devoted servant, Son of David, Son of Sarah who is speaking.  I have come with a claim against you on behalf of my beloved wife, Miriam.  Why do you permit Assistant Principal Simmons to vex her?  I shall not move from here!  From this very spot, on Carthage Rd in Woodbury, I shall not move!  This travesty must come to an end.  Magnified and Sanctified is Your Name!”

Miriam?  I called her Meggie.  So look, I had no clue what was going on.  I was following Saul’s instructions.  You know… he was a neat guy… even in a gingham apron.

“Jimmy… this time walk seven times around the table clockwise.”

OK. By this time, Herschel, Meggie and Saul’s Miniature Schnauzer, joined me on the clockwise circuits.

“Uncle Saul… what’s a golem?”

“A golem?”

He took a pause from his mixing and blending.

“There was a famous Rabbi in Prague in the 1500s… Judah Loew ben Bezalel.  He was known as the Maharal.  Remember, any Rabbi worth his salt had to have another name.  That’s how you know that they were good!  And this Rabbi was plenty good!  Back then the Holy Roman Emperor Rudolf II didn’t care for the Jews… although that by itself wasn’t too unusual.  But folks were being killed, which was a little harsh, or forced to leave Prague, which, even then, was a pretty good town.”

“Uncle Saul, I’m confused.”

“OK.  Rabbi Loew got tired of the Jews being pushed around.  Simple.  He wanted the suffering to end.  He decided that what was needed was a super hero to help protect the Jews.  This was in the day before you could buy cops and judges.  He, Rabbi Loew, would have to make an enforcer.  Of course, with God’s help!”

“I’m still confused…”

Uncle Saul resumed working on the meat loaf.  He began to shape it into a large baking pan.

“Rabbi Loew had the recipe for making a golem!  He went with one of his students to a clay bed by the River Vltava. He tore clumps of clay from the bed, said special prayers and incantations, had the student walk counter clockwise seven times around him, then seven times clockwise… from the clay he formed a figure with a head, legs. arms and bulging muscles, said more prayers, chanted more incantations and brought life into it: the Golem of Maharal! It grew in size ’til it loomed over the Rabbi and his student… stand back oppressors!”

This sounded very, very scary.

“Uncle Saul… I’m not sure on this… you’re making a golem out of the meat loaf?”

“Yes… I don’t like the way clay tastes.  After the golem serves its purpose, we can eat it!

Uncle Saul continued to shape the meat loaf into a rather stout figure.  To me (and Herschel) it looked like a meat loaf gingerbread man. What transpired next deepened this journey into the strange.  Uncle Saul entered what appeared to me as a one sided conversation with the meat loaf.  Herschel and I could only watch and listen and guess the nature of the meat loaf’s side of the conversation.

“Help me!” Saul announced to the ceiling.

{“If you bring life to me, my rage will consume the living, my strength will lay waste to Assistant Principal Simmons!”}

“They that sow in tears shall reap in joy!  The Lord has commanded me to bring you forth!”

{“Verily, it’s the Lord’s decree!”}

“Then obey it!  You must arise from the pan and do as I bid!  You must be our strength, our champion!”

{“With an out stretched hand, with a clenched fist, a hulk, a GOLEM!”}

“Yes!  A Golem; but one who works the Lord’s will and still helps the unfortunate to cross the street!”

{“I obey the decree!”}

“Simmons… Simmons, Simmons!  Send her plagues… non-stop humming in her ears, painful rectal itch, ill-fitting brassieres!”

This sounded serious to me.  Meggie taught science in Bridgeport; but I didn’t know this Assistant Principal Simmons.  But for sure, I didn’t want to be in her shoes and neither did Herschel!

“Jimmy… we’re almost ready.  Get the Heinz ketchup from the fridge.”

This I did.  And Saul put some on a plate, took his finger and then began a meticulous application of ketchup on the ‘forehead’ of the Golem. Saul explained…

אמת

“Jimmy… this is the Hebrew word ’emes’.  It means truth.  Now let’s put the Golem in the oven at 375 and we can sit down to dinner at 5:30.”

I wish I could tell you what effect all this had on the life of Assistant Principal Simmons.  But I can’t.  It would be in my nature to make stuff up.  Particularly regarding the ill-fitting brassieres.  But I will resist.

I think it is fair to ask how can I remember a day from my childhood in such clear detail?

So… I ask you.  Could you forget a day like that?

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