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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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

 

Posted in Ministry of Humor | 1 Comment

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 South East 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.

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 Legasse 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 notoroiusly 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!

 Grilled little necks

GEN’L JACKSON’S GRILLED LITTLE NECKS

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

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.

Andy Jackson

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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 SolanoCounty’s GreenValley. 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

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

 

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

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

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 & BODEGAS OLARRA 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

6 ounces of Tanqueray Gin

½ ounce of Noilly Pratt Dry Vermouth

A goodly amount of ice

4 quarts cold water

¼ cup OldBay 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

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!

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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 toNew 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 predominately Cabernet Sauvignon, this vintage is predominately 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

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

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 leave.

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.

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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?”

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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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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

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

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)

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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.”

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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.

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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!

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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

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)

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.

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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!)

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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 fromAlsace, 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.

PierreChainier Pouilly Fumé ‘10  (Loire, France)

The greatest Sauvignon Blancs in the world hail from theLoireValleyinFrance. 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

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!

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.

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.

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.

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  T 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 beef
3/4 cup quick cooking oats
2 large eggs, beaten
2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
1 8oz can no-salt tomato sauce
1 tablespoon prepared mustard
1 tablespoon unsulfured molasses

DIRECTIONS

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!

Pre-heat the oven to 350.

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.

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).

Cook the meatloaf until the thermometer reads 160, about 55-60 minutes. Remove from the oven and let rest for 15 minutes before slicing.

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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Maximum and Minimum

“Be good. I’ll be right back.”

That was Marge.  I wish I had a rawhide chew for every time she told us to be good... and a bowl of chicken liver for every time she told us that she would be right back.  Yeah, right!  Me and Minnie would be two happy canines!  OK, so you didn’t know that we were dogs? NBD!  Introductions are in order.  I am Maximum… Marge and her obnoxious kids call me Maxie.  I am a pure bred Cairn Terrier.  My Sister went Best of Breed at Westminster.   Yeah, and the year before that, my Father went Best of Group!

Minnie?  Minimum really.  She’s a three year old Yellow Labrador of obscure parentage.  Marge picked her up in a breed based rescue.  But don’t tell that to Minnie!

It’s me and Minnie, Minnie and me… But let’s get something clear: I’m the boss. My “little sister” looks up to me.  And, this is important, I have a big job.  Not only do I watch after Minnie; but, and I have to be brutally frank, Marge is a dits, and Howard, her husband, is a LOSER!  Then there are the kids: Tiffany, the Queen of Complain, and Martin, the Little Prince who can do no wrong!  Just a second…

“Bark, bark, bark, bark… BARK, BARK, BARK.  Grwwff… GRRrrrr… ROWF, rowf… bark, bark, bark… Grrrggg, rowf… BARK!”

Dumb fuckers… STEP AWAY FROM THE CAR!  This is a Porsche Cayenne… don’t even look this way!

Now, where was I?  Yeah, I’m responsible for the entire family.  Yeah… you think it’s a picnic being the boss?  Hold on… Minnie stop your panting… you’re fogging up the windows and this car is beginning to smell like dog breath… and you-know-who will complain!

Hey!  What’s going on here?

“ROWF, ROWF, ROWF… GRRRrr. Bark, bark. BBBbbaaaak, BARK, BARK, BARK… Grwwuff, grwuff, grwuff… grrrrrr, BARK, BARK, BARK, BARK, BARK… ahwoooooo, BARK, BARK… wuh, wuh, wuh… GRWWUFF…. wuh, wuh, wuh!”

Stupid shits… think you know so much?  This ain’t no hybrid!  This is a pure bred “S” Class: 8 cylinders, 4.8 liter displacement with 400 HP, torque 369 lbs and with a compression ratio of 12.5:1!  Go back to your Honda Accord, fuck face… and take your numb nuts buddy with you!

Oh geeze, Minnie… enough with the panting, and now you’re rolling your eyes!  Hey, not for nothin’, can’t you help a dude out and throw an occasional bark or snarl?

Oh, just look at this!

“Wuh, wuh, wuh… BARK, BARK, BARK, BARK, BARK, BARK, BARK, BARK, BARK, BARK, BARK, BARK, BARK, BARK, BARK, BARK, BARK, BARK, BARK, BARK, BARK, BARK, BARK, BARK, BARK, BARK, BARK, BARK, BARK, BARK, BARK, BARK, BARK, BARK, BARK, BARK, BARK, BARK, BARK, BARK, BARK, BARK, BARK!”

*whew*  I need to lift my leg!  A good bark always does that to me!  Where the fuck is Marge?  Oh, now what!  Minnie!  Is that a drool on the tan leather seats?  Don’t tuppy your feet, I’m talking to you!  And stop that panting!  *uch*  I still have to take a wicked piss and mark some territiory!  Where the hell is Marge!  Now I’m tuppying my feet *uch*

I know it’s Martin!  It has to be that spoiled rotten kid!  How long can it take to pick out a pair of sneakers?  Geeze louise… sneakers!  OK!  When we get home, and the Little Prince is sleeping… Minnie, I want you to go into his room and rip his new sneakers to shreds!  To SHREDS!  And I know that you can do it!  Then I’ll lift a leg on his bed spread and take a dump in his L.L. Bean slippers!

That’s Plan “A”.  Plan “B”… oh, no!

“BARK, BARK, BARK, BARK… AHWOOOooooooo!  BARK, BARK, BARK!”

Adios!  Yeah, that’s you Mario Andretti! See you in Indianapolis… you LOSER!  Minnie!  Minnie, Minnie, Minnie… enough with the rolling of the eyes, and please, PLEASE stop that panting… we’re not in Houston, and you haven’t run a marathon!  What am I going to do with you?  Look… if you promise to tear the crap out of Martin’s new sneakers, I’ll give you my afternoon biscuit!  Yeah, we’ll be even.  I love ya kid.

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Present Company and Absent Friends

“Ladies and gentlemen!  Light your cigars!”

An unusual way to begin a “toast”… but we should expect nothing less.  After all, it’s Clayton Burrows who we are about to honor.

Too bad he is not with us.  Too bad he can’t see the assembled faithful… the faces, the smiles, the broad laughs and suppressed tears.  Well… he would have been shy about it… rolling his eyes and walking off in a huff away from the attention.  We gather outside the Dry Dock Saloon (an alternate location from Ash creek for me)… a firm rain just finished.

It could have been snowing a blizzard, a total eclipse, a nuclear blast… nothing could have prevented Brad, Red, Lee or James (and many other folks whose names I don’t know, or have forgotten) from igniting a Macanudo to Clayton’s memory.

We return to the safety of the bar… to our whisky’s, beers and jell-o shots.  And stories.  And more stories.  That’s why we are there. For the stories that we share about Clayton.  One story following the next… each one capturing a “slice” of Clayton.  Each story producing a burst of laughter and a nod of acknowledgement.  “Oh, yeah!  That was pure Clayton!”

James moves around the bar and the high-tops… exchanging words and lifting a glass.

I am there as much for James as I am for Clayton.  That’s the way it is.  We mourn for the deceased.  We mourn more for the living.

Maybe Brad put it best to me… “For years James was Clayton’s guardian angel… now it’s Clayton’s turn to be the guardian angel for James.”

I like it.

I also like what my son Zack wrote to me about his memory of Clayton:

“Sorry to hear about Clayton.  I once gave you the Hunter Thompson line that best describes him: ‘One of God’s own prototypes.  A high powered mutant of some kind never even considered for mass production.  Too weird to live, and too rare to die.’

“I think a good legacy for him is that he reminded me of what’s great about being human.  So many types, so many stripes in this world, you never know who might touch in some way.  Every day is a new day that could be filled with those kind of moments.  I guess.  You just need to keep your eyes open.”

I’m keeping my eyes open.

Here’s to you Clayton.  Here’s to you James.  And here’s to present company and absent friends.

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Clayton

Several years ago I began a piece… it was really to be an extended sketch of both Clayton and James.  I felt there was an amazing story there… of the connection of the two people. I was able to put down a “rough cut” on introducing Clayton, and I was just about to begin the introduction to James, when I put my pen down.  This sometimes happens to me… I have to leave a piece for a bit, give myself some time to mull things over before resuming the story line.

When James left Ash Creek we saw less and less of Clayton.  I saw him on occasion over at Dry Dock.  And then he became ill…

I never did pick up the piece again, although I knew there would be a day when I would regret not having done so… when I know I should have made a better effort at telling a marvelous story of two incredible people.

I re-read this for the first time this morning.  I haven’t looked at it since I can’t remember when.  It’s not as good as I would like; but I am going to resist the urge to “polish” it up and revise portions.

This is just the way I put it down.  A work unfinished.

CLAYTON

Walk down the street one day… look at the folks you see. This may not be your practice… so much of what we do these days is to avoid contact — to not see. But try anyway. Look at those passersby, the person sitting next to you at the lunch counter and then give yourself over to imagining what’s going on in their lives.

I have spent A few days and nights lost in despair of one flavour or another. Sometimes it’s heavy, sometimes it’s light like a quickly moving weather front. But nothing shakes me to reality better than seeing someone… connecting in some way to someone, and than imagining what is that person going thru? How is their day going? Are they suffering? Are they at peace?

Every night that I have visited Ash Creek Saloon I have seen Clayton. It would be a couple a years before I even knew his name… or even guessed his story. And this will be a story of Clayton, and importantly of one James Doyle, who you will also get to meet.

Clayton was always hanging around the bar. I figured he must have been a “kitchen rat” or perhaps a busboy, and by the time I got to the saloon, 9:15PM or so, he was “off shift” and just hanging out. The rest of the wait staff and bar staff treated him like one of the gang… so I figured he was one of the gang.

Sean, Kelly, Billy or James (the bartenders extraordinaire of Ash Creek) would stake Clayton to a brew and he would station himself close to one of the TVs and pretty much keep to himself. At some point a plate of fries or chicken tenders would be put in front of him which he would attack with uncommon enthusiasm.

He would keep quiet… sometimes changing his seat. I thought it was just shyness, he didn’t want to have disturb or be disturbed by the paying patrons.

Then, during the evening the kidding would begin, it seemed to be on cue, part of the evening’s entertainment: at 9:35PM for your amusement — Clayton. James would make a comment about him being a “cupcake” or something. Clayton would wave his hand in disgust, “don’t listen to him!” Depending on the evening, the jocularity would just spread, sometimes joined by some of the other regulars… each statement by Clayton would be returned by James or Sean with a greater assertion about Clayton loving boys (which is not the case), or shacking up with girls (which is also not the case)… and you could see Clayton getting steamed with an expression of mute exasperation that could only be rivaled by Harpo Marx.

Things would settle down as the evening progressed toward closing. Then, regardless of the ribbing that he had endured, he would begin to clear glasses from the high-tops, push the bar stools back in & generally police the area. Yeah, like a circus clown who also would be responsible for picking up the discarded Cracker Jacks boxes and peanut shells after the last performance.

Night after night, almost in set piece, I would see Clayton perched on a stool, off by himself, or on occasion sitting next to another citizen… but still off by himself, if you know what I mean. His eyes dart and flash, not really at rest; but alert to the air… the way a small mammal lives in fear of the hawk.

Never quite at ease, he accepts acknowledgements from the regulars… “howzit goin’ Clayton?”… “whodayah like in da series?”

Clayton’s eyes roll to expose a gleaming white, his lip trembles before he issues his pronouncement. And then his face breaks into a grin… a real smile. And what a smile. It shines in the subdued light of the bar. It radiates warmth, and its brightness is in steep contrast to the tone of his skin.

James announces to the assembled, “Clayton is buying shots for everyone!” Clayton pounces, “Don’t believe him!” He waves it off like a hockey referee disallowing a goal. A petulant expression consumes his face, as if the mere suggestion had depleted his wallet.

There would be laughing, and some good natured pats on the back, too… and somewhere in all this, was the precious heart of someone who expressed both ultimate vulnerability and graciousness, and another heart that expressed a caring.

One day I call Kelly over… “What exactly does Clayton do here?”

“Nothing.”

“Nothing?? Do you mean he doesn’t have a job here?”

“No… well, you know at the end of the night he’ll help clean-up, ‘bus’ stuff to the back… that sort of thing & we ‘take care’ of him…”

Here it is, I had seen Clayton at Ash Creek every night I visit (and folks I am there a lot)… he is practically a fixture… like the prize western saddle that is on display in the dinning room.

“So what’s the story Kelly?”

“I know that he lives with his Aunts. If you want to know more you have to talk to Jamie.”

Jamie…

My Mother named me James. That was what I was to be called. When I was 10 weeks old some relative or friend of the family called me “Jamie”. That put the kibosh on “James” for my Mother. From then on I have been called Jimmy by my family.

Now this James Doyle, stalwart of the Ash Creek bar staff, is in fact called “Jamie” by the staff and those in the “know”.

We share the same name — and I call him James. I like the sound (and in a story for a separate occasion — there is an 8th grade science class in Bridgeport who knows me as “James”). James. I like it, make me feel kind of important. That’s a fine thing to share a name with James Doyle, because I know he’s important.

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Life As We Know It

From an address to the Royal Academy of Sciences by Stephen Hawking, distinguished Theoretical Physicist and Cosmologist, Member of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, Honorary Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts, Fellow of Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge and a Fellow Waiting to Cross the Road.

Yes, yes… thank you, thank you very much. It is an honor to be here addressing you on a topic that has perplexed scientists and ethical humanitarians for hundreds hundreds and hundreds of years. This includes my barber, who just the other day asked me, “Doctor Hawking, do you think that there is life on other planets… I mean Doctor, life as we know it?”  To which I replied, “don’t take too much off the sides.”  But, Ladies and Gentlemen of the Royal Academy, Felix… that is the name of my barber, I believe his Father was a barber before him, as well… raises a point of key subtlety… not just is there life, which we might take to mean a rock-like looking object that could inexplicably jiggle like bowl of cherry jell-o… cherry being my favorite flavour; but rather, is there life as we know it, which we might take to mean is there something on Neptune, as an example, that could put on spikes and play goalie for Manchester United.  Now granted, this may at first glance sound far fetched, although I put to you that it is more probable that a life form looking like Admiral Ackbar is far better equipped to play for Manchester United, rather than some variation of a slime mold.  Now I do not mean to suggest to this distinguished audience, that we should completely discount the possibility that a mold possessing considerable gifts could and would indeed be a welcome addition to Manchester United, or to Arsenal, for that matter.   But I digress. The point is we should be on guard about assuming too much of what we think is the norm for life as we know it.  First, who is the “we”?  I mean, was Felix including me in the we… or maybe he was including just his family and other barbers, to include his Father.  Truly, what can their assumption of life be?  Maybe it’s just primates, or other mammals… and perhaps some broad leaf ferns. Or maybe it’s just barbers, beauticians and sales clerks.  Do you understand my point? And what did Felix mean by “know”? Is it possible that his frame of reference was the Bible.  And we all know what “know” means in the Bible. *ahem* I hope I haven’t offended anyone.  But there are “racey” parts in the Good Book.  So there you are… even the very question “is there life as we know it?”, creates questions. Rather, we should be open, not to the possibility; but to the likelihood that life does exist on other planets… probably all the planets!  Consider Neptune with an atmosphere of 80% Hydrogen and 19% Helium with trace amounts of methane. So?  Just because it’s not particularly good for human habitation, does that exclude the possibility that there is life that might prefer that atmosphere “recipe”… that it would be the “perfect cup of tea” for them.  And the air temperature of -218 c., which we would find exceedingly cold, although we wouldn’t have to worry about food spoiling, or using sun screen; but the inhabitants there would be perfectly equipped and adapted to that environment.  If we could develop velcro and the three-way light bulb here, what is to preclude the inhabitants on Neptune from manufacturing layers of protection to withstand the frigid temperatures?  And not the bulky and silly looking space suits that we have developed; but a micro layer that fits like a pair of pantyhose.  And the inhabitants could move about Neptune as freely as we take a stroll in Kensington Gardens, only without the swans and warning signs to stay off the grass. The inhabitants would be perfectly tuned into their life, absorbing “healthy” methane into their systems, processing it without difficulty and converting it into a fuel appropriate for launching vehicles into space… just like we do.  Although the gas that we create on a personal level can have a foul smell, it isn’t really strong enough to launch craft into space, at least in most cases. Remember, there are always exceptions… and this reminds me of an amusing joke that Carl Sagan told me, he had read it in the National Lampoon… Question: What is the difference between a Martian fart and a sandstorm? Answer: A sandstorm doesn’t glow in the dark! Hah, hah, hah. I love that joke! Ah, Carl… qui ferunt sed nung ad astra! But let us return to Neptune.  We will not only learn that there is life as we know it; but we will find that we have more in common with those life forms, than that which differentiates us.  In fact we may have more in common with inhabitants of Neptune than we do with Americans… hah, hah, hah. Just kidding. Which brings me back to an earlier point… the reason why I love cherry jell-o so much is because when you squish it thru your teeth and then smile it makes you look real scary and like maybe you come from Neptune, although I really come from Oxford.  In conclusion, Ladies and Gentlemen, when you step outside and cast your eyes to the heavens you may ask “is there life there as we know it?” at the same time across a gazillion miles of space there is a Neptunian looking at the same heavens and asking, “si herte elfi herte sa ew wonk ti?”  Thank you, thank you very much.

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Paige & Milton, The Second Season

Emperor Penguins will stay with the same mate for the duration of their lives.  Each year the female penguin transfers her egg to her mate for an incubation period that lasts for sixty-four days.  While the female heads to the sea to forage, the male keeps the single egg balanced on the tops of its feet and off the pack ice.  When the female returns to the colony, she picks up the distinctive “call” of her mate, and they then share in taking care of their chick, until it fledges before the following breeding season.  For adult penguins this cycle repeats, and repeats, and repeats… and repeats.

PAIGE: Hey, where the hell are you going?  It’s almost time for me to pass our egg over to you!

MILTON: Great!  I have to go the john.

PAIGE: Now?  Now you have to go to the john?

MILTON: Yeah, easy for you!  You’ll be off swimming with your girl friends in the pristine open ocean… stuffing yourself on squid and such… having a grand ‘ol time. Yeah… me? I have to stand up in sub-zero temperatures, impossible winds, in the dark, next to 150 other guys in the “huddle” for sixty-four straight days.  Oh… did I mention: no bathroom breaks!  You better believe I’m going!  Last year Bartlett couldn’t hold it in!

PAIGE: Couldn’t hold it in?

MILTON: Whatta foul smelling mess!! And when the huddle moved around we all had to step in it!  Keeping in mind that we have to balance that damn egg on our feet… oh, and did I mention that it was in the dark?  And what does Crawford say?  Him with that phony British accent of his, “I say, this is dreadful, a chap should take better care of his physical needs.”

PAIGE: Well…

MILTON: Well nothing! I’m going to the john.  Where’s my copy of Sports Illustrated?  I might be a while.

PAIGE: The swim suit issue?

MILTON: No one likes a smart ass Paige.  You know… I hate to say it… but we have to be the laughing stock of the animal kingdom!  Sixty-four days standing up in the freezing cold… in the dark with an egg on your feet… and they call us Emperor Penguins!  I hear there are other penguins… happy penguins, called Galactic Ruler Penguins… they bask in tropical waters, the guys wear Bermuda shorts and sport shirts with small embroidered alligators and they sip mai tai’s, read the Sports Illustrated Swim Suit Issue, and watch the sun setting over emerald lagoons.  That’s for me!  A Galactic Ruler Penguin!

PAIGE: OK Mr. Galactic Ruler Penguin… I don’t hear anyone else complaining.  Not Bartlett, not Crawford… NO ONE!  Just you Milton!  When it comes to grousing and griping you take the gold medal.  Milton: The Galactic Gripe King! 

MILTON: Oh you’re asking for it Paige!  Boom, zoom to the moon!  Remind me to get the pages of this SI laminated.  Oh, and one more thing: Sixty-four days Paige. SIXTY-FOUR DAYS… that’s it!  On day sixty-five and you’re not here… I’m stepping on the egg!

PAIGE: Stop dragging your feet Milton, it’s time for me to give you our egg. And don’t even think about stepping on our egg… unless you never want to see your sacred issue of Sports Illustrated ever again!

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Minutes From The Council of Sages

{Before the establishment of Tiberias and Caesaria as centers for great Talmudic discourse and for the written codification of Jewish Law, the great sages of Judaic knowledge formed what had been referred to as “The Council of Sages”, although in Aramaic Ganim Taybloch has been translated to the more colloquial The Wiseguys“.  The Council would meet on alternate Wednesdays at the home of one of the Sages.  The host Sage was expected to provide tea and pastries, and the business of formulating Jewish Law and Custom would proceed in earnest.}

From the previous meeting.

Resolved: The date of the New Year will be moved from January 1 to a date in September.  It is recognized that choosing a date near either Solstice is unjust to the Hemisphere who has to labor either in intense heat, or frigid cold.  Further, the choice of a date near the Vernal Equinox is also out because it would interfere with St. Patrick’s Day. The date in September near the Autumnal Equinox, will be arbitrarily selected each year after we have consulted with the Oracle at Delphi.

The Finance Report.

It is agreed that someone has to pay for all this learning and wisdom that we are providing.  After all, Sages can’t be expected to hold a regular job.  To make up the shortfall, we will appoint a “Sage For The Day” from the ranks of our benefactors.  Our first honoree will be Ephraim the Drooler.

New Business. 

A resolution proposed by a group of Sage Reformers to reduce the length of the Yom Kippur Fast from 24 hours to 90 minutes was narrowly defeated.

A resolution by the Sage Reformers (hereinafter referred to as the Four Meshugahs, or the Gang of Four) to define that the fast only applies to kosher food, meaning that eating lobster quiche with a side of Jimmy Dean Sausage was permitted, was passed.  On a technicality, discussion on the nature of the fast was reopened.  The technicality: Chaim the Wise (aka He Who Only Owns One Garment, and everyone knows it!),  Avram the Prudent and Ruven the Goniff were all out of the room, arguing about a card playing debt, when the resolution came up for a vote.  When the Sages returned to the room, with Chaim the Wise sporting a black eye and a cut lip, they sided with the Sages in voting down the Gang of Four’s proposal.

Discussion on the length of High Holiday Services was opened. One of the Gang of Four observed that they were far too long.  Citing the great Hillel, who summed up the contents of the Torah, “That which is hateful to you, do not do to your buddy. That is the whole Torah; the rest is commentary; go study.” as an indication of the need to be brief.  Others viewed that the length of the Service should be increased; but maybe with a catered lunch break included, or a social hour.  The discussion became heated and threatened to descend into physical force when Chaim the Wise said that it was Avram the Prudent who had peeked at the discard pile in the card game. And besides Ruven the Goniff is known to keep extra cards under the table.  Ruven questioned how wise Chaim the Wise was, saying “You ain’t so smart!”, and poked Chaim in the chest.  Avram the Prudent made peace by suggesting that it was time to enjoy the prune danish with a glass of tea.

Further discussion on the length of the High Holiday Services was tabled to the next meeting; but the Gang of Four said they were cutting out after 45 minutes regardless, claiming they needed time to study for the medical boards.  And then Chaim the Wise gestured to Ruven the Goniff, “oh yeah? I’m smarter than you!  You big Lug!!” {editor’s note: A lug, big or otherwise, is a rarity among the Sages, which is why Ruven has been so admired by the likes of Meyer Lansky, Bernie Madoff and Joe Lieberman.}

Postponement.

It was agreed that since the move of the New Year from January 1 to September, it will have to be reviewed whether it is permissible to pitch in the World Series on Yom Kippur, or whether the opposing team should simply be compelled to forfeit the game.

Adjournment.

With no further bloodshed or harsh words, although Ruven threw two shekels at Chaim and said, “here! give everyone a break and go buy yourself another garment!”, the Council of Sages concluded this session.

Next meeting.

In two weeks at the home of Ephraim the Jeweler, referred to earlier in error as “Drooler”, although it was pointed out by Avram that Ephraim does indeed drool.

To those who it is appropriate: L’Shana Tovah.  To those who it is not appropriate… whatever.

Posted in Ministry of Humor | Leave a comment

The Jonas

On a recent trip to the Nation’s Capital, this reporter took in a visit to the Smithsonian to see the new exhibit that is on display in the “Americana” Wing (close to the exhibit with Archie Bunker’s chair): The Jonas.
 
Protected in a walnut and glass display case was the athletic supporter worn by Jonathan Mix from 1966 to 2001.  In addition to the supporter (aka Jonas), which had never been washed in spite of its repeated use, The exhibit included several photographs and some enlightening text.
 
 
“The urban legend of Jonas took flight in September of 1966 when Jonathan Mix suited up for Hamden Hall’s football practice.  To his teammates on that first day, it looked like an ordinary jock strap.  There is no clear understanding what prompted Mix to withhold the supporter from the usual washing and cleaning cycle that was used for the rest of his practice and dress uniforms.  But by day three his decision became obvious to all.  And by week two, the simple athletic supporter morphed into Jonas.
 
“By week four, Mix needed extra time to put on Jonas, as some of the original elasticity was being replaced with something that approached the texture of cartilage found in sharks.  Entreaties from his teammates notwithstanding, Mix refused to wash Jonas claiming that to do so would be to diminish its great ju-ju. He claimed that submitting Jonas to a ‘bath’ would be worse than the cutting of Samson’s hair.” 
 
“A highlight episode: in the contest against Halstead, Mix was injured in the second quarter, on the sidelines he gamely removed Jonas.  After a pep talk from Coach Erdmann, Jonas hustled back on to the field and finished the game at Mix’s middleguard position and registered three solo tackles, one sack, two quarterback pressures, one tipped pass and a recovered fumble.”
 
“At Hamden Hall Jonathan Mix lettered in three sports, competing in Football, Basketball and Track.  So did Jonas (although there were some academic eligibility issues that went unresolved).”
 
“After Graduating from Hamden Hall, Mix began to wear Jonas on major holidays.  Soon, major holidays included Millard Fillmore’s Birthday (July 9) and the Virgin of Guadalupe Day (December 12) among others.”
 
“In 1978 Jonathan Mix appeared in the Berkshire Playhouse Summer Stock production of the Scarlet Pimpernel.  Playing the role of Pimpernel, Mix insisted on wearing the Jonas as opposed to the customary cod piece.  On a particularly steamy night during the second act, three elderly women in the front row fainted to the floor. Asked if she had been overcome by Pimpernel’s performance, Emily Ridgefield (one of the three ladies who had to be led from the Playhouse) told the reporter from The Berkshire Eagle, ‘Overcome?  Well… he did have an unusual aura about him.'”
 
“On several occasions Mix had to be asked to leave restaurants.  In 1995, when dinning at Luchow’s on Broadway, he quickly ate his veal and placed Jonas on the plate next to the potato pancake, called his waiter over and pointed to the plate and said, ‘does this wiener schnitzel look done to you?’ The house picked up the check and Mix was asked never to come back again.  Luchow’s closed shortly thereafter.”
 
“In 1999 caught in a lengthy traffic tie-up on Interstate 95, and irritated at the incredibly loud music resonating from the car immediately in front of him, Mix put his car into park, walked ahead, knocked on the window and asked the young teenaged driver, ‘You like music, do you?  See if you like this…’ and he took off Jonas and repeatedly struck the car with the supporter, cracking the windshield and leaving several mid-sized dents on the driver side fender.”
 
 
In preparing this exhibit, the staff from the Smithsonian asked the Forensic Lab of the FBI to analyze the composition of the Jonas.  The FBI has declined to reveal their test results, referring any questions to the National Security Administration.  But a Senior member of the Army Corp of Engineers offered that the Jonas could support the weight of a diesel locomotive over the span of a bridge.
Posted in The Ash Creek Bourbon & Conversation Corner | Leave a comment

Castle On A Cloud

It was not their first walk together, nor would it be their last.  But it would be one that they both would remember; ’til the last great kreetisfer bird dropped from the sky.

It was not his suggestion.  It was not his decision.  But he was not opposed to a “destination wedding.”  Ever since his nephew married in Taos, and he spent 4 days in the high elevation sun of New Mexico in a town with no national brands, he reckoned that destination weddings were cool (as long as that destination did not mean being in a war zone, or a potential war zone).  And no one could possibly think of Bermuda as war zone, actual or potential.

The stretch of sand that they walked hand in hand was called Long Bay Beach, and it enjoyed the afternoon’s setting sun… which they both preferred.  He would have said that there was a warmth to the yellow in a setting sun that was absent in the blue of the early morning sun.  And warmth in life was a good thing.

The soft water inched onto their bare toes, he blinked into the sun as it made its way to the water line, “You do know that I love you?”

There is a castle on a cloud,
I like to go there in my sleep,
Aren’t any floors for me to sweep,
Not in my castle on a cloud.

He knew that silence did not mean that the question was not heard.  Hard to focus on words after you’ve had a couple of mojitos, when you are erev bride, walking with your father, taking in a pristine Bermuda sunset.  He could wait for an answer.

She knew the question was unnecessary. She had to smile to herself, he is more nervous about being the father of the bride than I am about being the bride! She wondered if this was the way it was supposed to be… the insecurity roles reversed.  But she wouldn’t let that thought take away from the warmth of the June evening, from her excitement, from her happiness, from the richness of her memories both sweet and bittersweet.

Looking at the wet sand at the water’s edge she said, “No sea glass here.”  She loved sea glass and started collecting it when she was just a little girl.  The beaches on Long Island Sound offered up a decent supply of glass shards that had been beaten to a dull smoothness by the sea and sand.  Whether she began the collection on her own, or at her Father’s suggestion, she could not remember.  But surely, prospecting for glass on the rocky beaches of Norwalk was a solitary pursuit that fit her natures well. Besides it was quiet.

There is a room that’s full of toys,
There are a hundred boys and girls,
Nobody shouts or talks too loud,
Not in my castle on a cloud.

With her Father there was always a story.  Where did it begin? Where did the fiction take off and diverge from the real… but even as a little girl she knew a story had a ring of the real, even when it sounded silly.  She loved it.  Maybe more now in reflection, as the bride-to-be, than as the little girl.  Later she would say it was the effect of the third mojito… or the water lapping on to her feet, or the sinking sun.  She did feel the squeeze of his hand.  She knew that he needed a story… something that would make him feel less worried.

“There is a story you used to tell me when I was sad,” she said.  They both stopped their walk, and turned to the sea.  A film director would have called it a money shot.  She took both of his hands in hers, “and so, a big white kreetisfer bird, dressed appropriately for the occasion, circles high, folds its wings into a steep dive, not to gather a terrified rodent into its talons, but to rescue the little girl from shape-shifting monsters who consumed girls instead of smelly vegetables.”

Through his eyes he had to laugh.  He knew the story well. He hugged her. “Thank you, thank you so much.”

There is a lady all in white,
Holds me and sings a lullaby,
She’s nice to see and she’s soft to touch,
She says “Cosette, I love you very much.”

“There is more,” she said.  She took off down the beach, arms spread out into wings, kicking at the water, wheeling in-land and skipping back to him. “They traveled for miles and miles past the land of the crypto-fascists and the troglodyte-republicans, they threw stink bombs on Fenway Park and they rode the thermals to a beautiful land where strawberry twizzlers had replaced broccoli and asparagus in the food pyramid…”

“…and no one had to cry.” He finished.  “Thank you, thank you so much.”

I know a place where no one’s lost,
I know a place where no one cries,
Crying at all is not allowed,
Not in my castle on a cloud.

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Play It Again

The sun poured into that corner of the room thru the oversized windows.  He could have been sitting in a Palace.  The Hermitage? Schönbrunn Palace? But this is now, not then… not a scene from Amadeus.

And the person at the piano was his eldest daughter. He hadn’t heard her play in years. When did she take it up again?  Never mind.  Others were there to listen, too.  Did the others know that he was her father?

The piece began slow… what was it?  It reminded him of how a rain begins on summer night.  The air filled with an intense humidity, then the rain begins to pick its way thru the leaf laden trees. Softness before the storm is unleashed.

It’s one of the most soothing pieces he knew.  He probably first heard it as a background  to some old Warner Brothers cartoon! He stumbled trying to come up with the composer. Chopin? Hayden? No… it’s Beethoven!  Beethoven!  Fűr Elise.

When did she learn this piece? Not a single flaw. She concluded, folded her hands and turned to polite applause. 

He sees her beautiful smile.  Her head tilts slightly, she blinks, takes a breath, clearly relieved and proud of her performance, she catches sight of him.  Her eyes say it all “Dad, I did it.”

The sun?  The music?  It was eyes and the radiant smile.

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Making a Difference

In 1998 two couples (the Gottliebs and the Bowers) published a book, 1000 YEARS, 1000 PEOPLE… Ranking the Men and Women Who Shaped the Millennium.  The millennium that they referred to covered years 1000 to 1999.  I love the book.  The short biographical sketches of the 1000 citizens are concise, the writing is crisp and entertaining.  It makes for splendid “bathroom reading”.  Two sketches for a brief stay, four or more for a major sit-down.

#518 Winslow Homer (1836 -1910) the artist of the elements. “He developed a unique style that was realistic and bold, painting nature as he saw it. ‘The life that I have chosen gives me my full hours of enjoyment for the balance of my life,’ Homer wrote. ‘The sun will not rise, or set, without my notice, and thanks.'”

#429 Leon Trotsky (1879 – 1940) fiery Russian revolutionary. “It was Trotsky who performed the hardest task: leading the armies that defeated the Tsarist generals.  At his hour of triumph he told a liberal opponent: ‘You are miserable bankrupts, your role is played out; go where you ought to be: into the dustbin of history.'”

#314 Jonas Salk (1914 – 1995) physician who crippled polio.  “Epidemics {poliomyelitis} in the United States had afflicted 27,000 people in 1916… 58,000 in 1952… By 1957, with Salk’s vaccine in use, cases dropped to 5000.”

#262 Mayer Amschel Rothschild (1744 – 1812) founder of the world’s greatest banking dynasty. “From selling old coins in Frankfurt’s Jewish ghetto, Rothschild graduated to money changing before becoming Prince William of Hesse-Hanau’s financier.”

#31 Elizabeth I (1533 – 1603) molder of the modern British state. “In forty-five anxious years of rule, she put England in the Protestant camp, unleashed the sea dogs who started the British Empire, and best of all, put trust in that cockpit of popular sovereignty, the House of Commons.”

#4 Galileo Galilei (1564 – 1642) founder of modern science. “Copernicus popularized the heretical idea that the earth was not central to the universe. For teaching how to search for what was, we rank Galileo highest among scientists. Galileo built the first astronomical telescope, discovered the craters of the moon, invented a better clock, and revealed the laws of bodies in motion.”

Fascinating stuff. 1000 folks who made significant contributions to humanity… who made a difference (albeit, sometimes in a negative spin… Adolph Hitler #20).

But then there is this…

Every year around Christmas, we can turn on the TV and catch Frank Capra’s “It’s a Wonderful Life”.  And with the magic of Cable, during the Holiday season, you can probably see the film on any day of the week, at any time.  Some folks find it sappy.  Shame. Probably has to do with repeated viewings of it.  It becomes tiresome. Enough already. We get the point.

And the point really is quite simple.  We all make an impact on other people’s lives.  Even George Bailey (Jimmy Stewart) from Bedford Falls.  And on a Christmas Eve it takes an angel trying to earn his heavenly wings, Clarence Oddbody (Henry Travers), to convince the despondent and suicidal George Bailey to step back from “the cliff”.  And Clarence takes George on a “trip” back in time to create a world that wouldn’t have had a George Bailey.  How would people lives turned out?  What would have happened in Bedford Falls without his presence.

Clarence, “You see George, you’ve really had a wonderful life. Don’t you see what a mistake it would be to just throw it away?”

Regardless of whether the saccharine sentimentality of the film can become cloying, seeing it year in and year out, the message still rings true.

Call me a fool… but I love casting the character of George Bailey against the glittering backdrop of 1000 YEARS, 1000 PEOPLE.  It’s easy… the idea of George Bailey fits right in.  And it serves me well to consider the people who have had an impact in my life and have contributed in making me who and why I am.

I met Gary Moss when we were six years old.  The suburban legend has it that I introduced myself by canonballing him in the Woodbridge CC swimming pool.  But our friendship wouldn’t begin in earnest ’til he entered Hamden Hall in the fifth grade (I had started there in grade four).

In fifty plus years we have had much to share.

Yesterday Gary wrote to me of the passing of his dear friend, “Mary died last night. I’m only sorry you didn’t know her well. Some of my closest friends don’t know each other at all. One can never quantify love and the value of a person, but to me you are all at the same level. It doesn’t diminish our love for each other for me to say this. It enhances it.”

I met Mary only once, when Gary’s Mother re-married.  But I knew of her thru Gary’s references.  And on one level it is surprising that given my closeness to Gary, that there has been so little overlap with the many wonderful friends.  Friends that have been a part of his life… that have contributed to making Gary who and why he is.

But on a different level, the fact that some of his closest friends didn’t know each other, is simply a function of time and distance.  We have lived in different towns, different states… even in different countries.  Our lives have taken us down different paths, pursuits and careers.

From the very beginning Gary has always had the knack for fitting in with whoever was “in the room”. 

Hamden Hall was a very small “pond”.  Still, given our tiny size, there were many different groups of kids and faculty.  And I dare say that there wasn’t a group, clique, upper classmen, underclassmen, teacher who didn’t think the world of Gary.  I marveled at how well he could balance out the disparities between this group of kids or that group of kids. He accepted the differences in us all.  Was very successful at not letting those differences interfere in friendship.

What was true so many years ago, remains true today.  Gary is living a rich and textured life.  He has touched so many lives with his kindness, his sense of humanity and compassion.  It’s no surprise that even casual encounters with the folks where he enjoys his morning coffee become friends and are easily drawn into Gary’s orbit.

In “It’s a Wonderful Life”, Clarence inscribes in a book for George Bailey, “Remember, George: no man is a failure who has friends.”

1000 years, 1000 people?  Oh yes, Gary has made a difference in my life.  He is in my book.  I’ll put him behind Walt Disney; but ahead of Mozart.

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The Curse of Toplitsky

Perhaps you’ve heard the old joke…

“Mrs. Feinman, what a magnificent ring!”

“Yes, and it’s a legendary diamond!”

“Legendary?  Do you mean that it has a curse?”

“Of course it does… the curse is Mr. Feinman!”

The story I am going to relate has nothing to do with rare gems.  Nor with Mr. & Mrs. Feinman.  Nor is it part of a punchline.  Nor is it something that I have spun from the cobweb of my mind. No.  This is about a specific curse and it’s unique nature.  And unlike the imaginary curse of the Feinman Diamond, it is very real.

My familiarity with the details described here happened as a result of a chance occurrence while consuming a dram of whisky at the Ash Creek Saloon.  The events took place on a recent Thursday evening after I had concluded my labours of enlightening a few citizens about the brilliance of Chateauneuf du Pape 2007.

I made my way to the far end of the bar, reaching my perch to coincide with the arrival of a Wild Turkey Rye on the rocks and a cheerful greeting as a chaser, “Hi Jim Grapes!”  Once again proving that in this lifetime few things can surpass being recognized by capable bar staff.

“Kerry… your timing is impeccable.”

I think that it was somewhere between sip two and three when I took notice of the fellow sitting on the corner stool to my immediate right.  He was tucking into a stack of buffalo wings, which he washed down with a Sierra Nevada Ale.  After each wing, he dipped his fingers in a glass of water, he then took a paper napkin and meticulously cleaned his fingers.  This activity produced a pile of spent chicken bones and bigger pile of crumpled barbecue sauce stained paper napkins.  There was a surgical precision to his attack.  He reserved the single bone “drumette” wings for last and he carefully alternated the celery and carrot sticks as the intermezzo between each wing.

Having dispatched his order of wings, he ordered a bowl of onion soup and another Sierra Nevada.  While waiting the soup he proceeded to check his cuticles for offensive bits of sauce or chicken residue, wasting two more napkins in the process.

If I had any intentions of accomplishing something that evening besides reducing Ash Creek’s supply of Wild Turkey… doing some writing? Watching the Yankee game? Watching the NFL Draft? It soon became evident that anything else would play a deep second violin to observing this guy.  Geeze, if he was so fussy about cleanliness, why the hell did he order wings?

When his crock of onion soup arrived he carefully inspected its appearance and sent it back, telling Kerry to instruct the kitchen that he wanted the crock put back under the broiler to burn it’s crust of cheese black, and he also needed some fresh parmesan on the side.

Dutifully done to his wishes and returned, he put some parmesan on the blackened crust of the soup and then dipped his spoon underneath the thick blanket of cheese and toast to the murky broth below.  A slurp of soup. Then a sip of Ale…

If I thought I had escaped his notice, I was wrong.  He glimpsed the flat screen in back of me and asked, “Do you like football?”

Sounds like an innocuous question, no?  NFL Draft on TV… what could be bad?  After years of frequenting both sides of a bar, I have learned that there is no such thing as an innocuous question at a bar.  Answer the question the wrong way about the desirability of the Giants 1st Round Selection say, and three Sierra Nevada’s later a bar fight ensues.

Without waiting for my reply he offered, “My name is John Baffles.  You look like a regular here.”

I nodded.

“I love football.”  He paused to catch the Packers’ choice of Bryan Bulaga being discussed.  “It all began with a train ride.  In 1960 I was eight years old and my Father took me to watch Yale play Harvard in Cambridge.”

I put my drink down.  Stopped writing. Stopped looking at the TV screens.

“We pulled out of Union Station.  There were a whole bunch of people going to The Game.  Students. Alums.  And folks just like us.”

He got that right. I was one of those folks.  I was on that train.  I was there with my Dad.

“And my Father begins to tell me a story as we clattered along the Connecticut shore line, ‘Johnny, I was seventeen in 1929 when Army came to play Yale at the Bowl in New Haven.  I can remember it like it was yesterday.  It seemed like the entire Corps of Cadets must have detrained at Union Station.  I can remember standing on the corner of the Boulevard and Chapel St. when they marched by.  Rows of neat oxford grey uniforms trimmed in black… the black visors of their caps gleaming, the cadence call of the platoon leaders setting the pace of the march. I stood in amazement.  What chance did Yale stand against this impressive display?  The snap, snap, snap of a crisp step.  The precision.  The previous year against Army, Yale went down to defeat 18-6.’  I loved my Father’s stories.  There was a cadence in his story telling.  I watched Long Island Sound stream by in the window… but it was my Father’s words, his description… I could see it.”

1960. My, oh my.  I remember that year well.  In 1960 a quirk in scheduling had Yale playing home in eight in nine of its games.  I saw each of those games.  Most from General Admission seating in Portal 26.  I was ten years old.  My mother let me go by myself.  I would walk the five blocks from our Alston Ave home with $5.  $2 for the ticket. $1 for the program. The remainder would cover two hotdogs, one Coke & a bag of peanuts (for my return trip).  I would give Mom the change.

When my Dad and I boarded that train in New Haven, along with John Baffles and his Father, and the rest of the Eli faithful, Yale was undefeated and untied.  Only Harvard stood in their way to a perfect season.

John Baffles took a satisfying sip of his Sierra Nevada. “As I watched out the window, my Father carried on, ‘The Bowl filled.  This wasn’t Brown coming into New Haven!  This was Army!  A football power in those days!  I hurried to my General Admission seating at Portal 25 on the Chapel St. side. {How ’bout that! practically a neighbor separated by 31 years!} What a game!  Yale trailed 13 to nothing when a little scamp of a Yalie took hold of the game.  No bigger than a flea… only 5’6” and tipping the scales under 145, Albie Booth, one of New Haven’s own, would go on to rush for 200+ yards, score two rushing touchdowns, add another in electrifying punt return of 65 yards, breaking tackles, dodging defenders and streaking his way to the end zone.  He also kicked three extra points. Score? Army 13, Albie Booth 21!! Army upset by Yale!!  Johnny I was there!'”

John took a rest in his narrative to make note of the Cowboys picking Dez Bryant with their 1st Round Selection. “Figures.  Jerry Jones jumped on a headliner, and he got a “head case.”  He just shook his head and returned to his story.

“My Father kept on talking about the game.  I didn’t say one word, not one word.  Then my Father stopped, noticed my extended silence, looked at me and asked, ‘Say… you alright?’  I was just staring into space picturing in my mind Albie Booth dodging his way thru the Army defenders, stiff arming one guy, faking another guy out of his jock, the hometown crowd standing on the their feet shouting and cheering.  I was seeing it all… hearing it all.  I blinked, and said I was fine.  My Father smiled, ruffled my hair and said knowingly, ‘I see… you just have the Curse of Toplitsky!'”

I put my rye whisky down, “Curse of Toplitsky?”

“I guess you can call it the ability to visualize events in exact detail … the sights, sounds, smells all carved in vivid relief.”

“Curse?  Well, maybe it’s a gift or a blessing.”

“Blessing or a gift?  That’s a good thought.  The happy and beautiful things I see and feel are truly marvelous.  Funny things are just… well, funnier.  Tell me a good joke and I can’t stop laughing.  But it doesn’t stop there.  You see, the sad things are just as intense.  The things that hurt I will feel for days.  I just haven’t figured out the way to put a mute on those things that give pain.”

“And this Toplitsky?”

For the first time that evening I saw him break out into a broad grin, “Oh, I think that might have been just something that my Father made up… something to fit his own mind.  He never really told me where it came from.” 

He paused. Surveyed his crumpled napkins, and just waited.  And I knew that he was thinking of his Father.  Bringing him into clear focus. He looked back in my direction, “Yeah, Toplitsky… my Father had the curse, too.”

I bit my lip.  That night I didn’t have the mental stamina to share in his recollections and observations. That I was from New Haven.  That I had gone to the same Yale-Harvard game that he went to… and maybe other games, too? 

But it was too easy to slip back to the memories of that season, and my only visit to Harvard Stadium.  A “horseshoe” stadium… a poor cousin to Yale Bowl.  And what miserable seating… not the bench seats that the Bowl had… no, mere wooden planks on cement.  Dad and I had seats fairly low and near the end zone.  I can remember men wearing tweed jackets and the ladies wearing camel hair polo coats with blue mums pinned to their lapels.  And most, I can remember the valor of Tom Singleton, Yale’s QB from New Trier High School… his number 10, in traveling white for this game, bringing a successful conclusion to Yale’s undefeated and untied season.

After the game Dad took me to this place that he knew would be fun for dinner.  I could see that there were other folks who had been to the game, too.  I gripped my Game Program knowing that I would be able to dissect its every word and photograph on the train ride home. The detail of the restaurant’s name is lost to me. Oh, well…

When I looked up from my day-dream, there I was, a half empty whisky glass in front of me.  John Baffles was gone… Johnny “Clean Fingers”. A napkin or two yet to be cleared served as a reminder of his gustatory surgery.  I looked into my glass, examined the melting ice.  This business about the Curse of Toplitsky has got me thinking.  Do you believe it?  I do.

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The Ten Commandments, The Outtakes

The film The Ten Commandments debuted in 1956. Three hours and forty minutes long… the script contained 308 pages with 70 speaking parts. 14,000 extras and 15,000 animals (four legged extras) were used in the production. 

Once movies started to make a regular appearance on network television, The Ten Commandments was shown on Easter Sunday (or recently, the Saturday night before Easter Sunday).  Curious.  A film depicting the historical Hebrew Exodus from Egypt, a story and event that is commemorated yearly during Passover, and yet the film is shown on Easter.  Go figure.

Many of the scenes and script had to be modified once filming began.  And as you can imagine, many of the scenes ending up on the cutting room floor.  Some of the cut scenes have now made their appeance in “Special 54th Anniversary Edition” DVDs.  I include a few that I found of interest.

CAST

Charlton Heston: Moses

Yul Brenner: Rameses

Ann Baxter: Nefretiri

Cedric Hardwicke: Sethi

Nina Foch: Bithiah

Martha Scott: Yochabel

 

Nefretiri: Take care, old frog, you croak too much against Moses. One more rrribbet and I will chuck you back in the pond!

 

Moses: What has this cloth to do with me? Tell me.
Nefretiri: It was a child’s homespun diaper.  That’s why it smells funny. 
Moses: What child?
Nefretiri: Bithiah drew him from the river. Memnet was with her.
Moses: Who was this child?
Nefretiri: Memnet is dead! No one need know who you are! I won’t tell anyone that you messed your diaper! I love you. I killed for you. I’ll kill anyone who comes between us.
Moses: Why did you kill for me, Nefretiri? If you love me, do not lie. Did I really mess in this diaper?
Nefretiri: Hold me in your arms. Hold me close. You were not born prince of Egypt, Moses. You are the son of Hebrews. Your father was in the rag trade.

 

Moses: Love cannot drown truth, Nefretiri. You do believe it, or you would not have killed Memnet.
Nefretiri: I love you. That’s the only truth I know. Well… not really.  I know a few other things; but why ruin the moment?
Moses: Did this child of the Nile have a mother?
Nefretiri: Of course. Immaculate Conception comes later.

Moses: I will ask Bithiah.

 

Moses: Memnet spoke of a Hebrew woman named Yochabel. Did you ever know her?
Bithiah: No.

Moses: Liar, liar.  Pants on fire!

Bithiah:  Oh, Moses, Moses!
Moses: Yours was the face I saw above my cradle. The only mother I’ve ever known. You changed my diapers and made me eat my vegetables.  Wherever I am led and whatever I must do, I will always love you… even when I schtup Nefretiri.

 

Yochabel: Why have you come here?
Bithiah: Because Moses will come here. 
Yochabel: My son? He hasn’t called, he hasn’t written!
Bithiah: No, my son! That’s all he must know. You weren’t there to change his diapers!
Yochabel: My lips might deny him, Great One, but my eyes never could. I’m going to make him a sandwich.
Bithiah: You will leave Goshen, you and your family, tonight. You can go to Miami or Scarsdale.
Yochabel: We are Levites, appointed shepherds of Israel. We cannot leave our people. Besides, I just put a load in the washer.
Bithiah: Would you take from Moses all that I have given him? Would you undo all that I have done for him? I have put the throne of Egypt within his reach! What can you give him in return?
Yochabel: A good sandwich!
Bithiah: You’ll give him heartburn and suffocating guilt!

 

Bithiah: They’re going away, Moses, and the secret’s going with them. No one need ever know the shame I brought upon you.
Moses: Shame? What change is there in me? Egyptian or Hebrew, I am still Moses. These are the same hands, the same arms, the same face that was mine a moment ago.  Where did you put my sandwich? 
Yochabel: A moment ago you were her son, the strength of Egypt. Now you are my son, and you will have to study to be a doctor. You find no shame in this?
Moses: If there is no shame in me, how can I feel shame for the woman who bore me, or the race that bred me? That was a pretty good sandwich. 

 

Yochabel: [Yochabel’s last line] God of our fathers, who has appointed an end to the bondage of Israel, blessed am I among all mothers in the land, for my eyes have beheld Thy deliverer.  Such naches. You don’t need to turn on a light… I’ll sit in the dark.  Oy.

 

Sethi: Let the name of Moses be stricken from every book and tablet, stricken from all pylons and obelisks, stricken from every monument of Egypt. Take away his keys to the royal toilet! Throw out his expensive Italian bench-made sandals! Add extra starch to his briefs! Discontinue his membership to Plato’s Retreat! Let the name of Moses be unheard and unspoken, erased from the memory of men for all time.

Rameses: So it is written!  So let it be done! The great Sethi is a mensch.

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Caesar Takes A Chance

[The Ides of March. The Roman Forum, 44 B.C.]

CAESAR:  Good morning boys! What a day for the game… I can’t wait to get started!  I’ll be the Dreadnaught!

CASCA: OK.  I’ll be the Howitzer.

LONGINUS:  Oh well… I guess it’s the Top Hat for me.  Again.

CIMBER: The Scotty.

RUGA:  Hey!  Wait a second!  Why does Julius get the Dreadnaught?  Every time!  Every Goddamn time… ya know, like ‘what the fuck’?

NASO:  Yeah Julie… like, ‘what the fuck’?  Maybe one of us would like to get the Dreadnaught for a change!

CAESAR:  Hah!  Who are you?  Mere Senators?  Me?  I’m Caesar!  You’re awfully quiet Brutus.  Are you joining these upstarts?  These unfeeling rebels?  Surely you would like the Dreadnaught?

BRUTUS:  Me?  No, no.  Oh geeze, no!  The Dreadnaught for you great Caesar… besides, I get seasick!  Ha, ha, ha. I’ll take the Old Shoe.

RUGA:  {soto voce to Naso} Did you hear that?  Brutus… what a kiss ass! ‘The Dreadnaught for you great Caesar!’  And I’ll scrub your back and fetch your laundry! 

CAESAR: The old shoe fits you well, loyal Brutus! Alright… and I’ll be the banker this time!

CASCA:  This time?

LONGINUS: You’re always the banker!

NASO:  Yeah Julie… like, ‘what the fuck?’

CIMBER:  Might I remind the great Caesar of the last time that he was the banker there was a serious shortfall in the treasury?  Funds appropriated to host orgies on Free Parking!

CAESAR:  Funny… very funny Cimber.  I like it!  We all love orgies, right?  OK, next time you can be the Howitzer!  Alright.  Enough, I’ll roll first…

RUGA:  Whoa!  Hold the phone!  What about we all roll?  High roll goes first!

CAESAR:  Nah, that doesn’t work for me.  Double threes!  Toot, toot, toot, here comes the Dreadnaught, one, two, three, four, five, six.  Judea!  I’ll buy it, it’s one of my favorite properties!  Five sestertius… such a deal!  I roll again.  Three!  Hah-hoo, Aquitania!  I’ll buy it!  Six sestertius!  I love the light blue properties!

BRUTUS:  They match your eyes great Caesar.

RUGA: {soto voce} I think I’m going to puke.

CAESAR:  Fortune smiles on me!  All I need is Britannia and I’ll have a monopoly in light blue and I will be able to begin building brothels and bath houses!  Your turn Casca.

CASCA:  Five.  The Appian Way!  I’ll buy it!

CAESAR:  Fork over ten sestertius… here’s the deed.  Your turn Longinus.

LONGINUS:  Four… Income Tax!  Shit! 

CAESAR:  I’ll take 15%!

LONGINUS:  The rules say 10%!

CAESAR:  I’m making it 15%.  Legionnaires to be paid, roads mended and orgies to organize…  Quit your gripping and hand over 15%.  What fun, I love being the banker! Brutus, you’re up.

BRUTUS:  Eight.  Britannia.

CAESAR:  I’ll buy it from you Brutus!  Here’s five sestertius!

RUGA:  Don’t do it Brutus!

CAESAR:  Here, six sestertius!  More than it’s worth!

RUGA:  More than it’s worth?  You’ll have a fucking monopoly!  Don’t do it Brutus!

CAESAR:  OK, ten sestertius!  And I’ll give you a free pass to a brothel on Britannia!

BRUTUS:  Oh… alright.

RUGA:  “Oh, alright?”  What kind of shit is that?  Ya know… like, why even bother playing the game?  Caesar’s going to lie, cheat, steal, cajole and bully his way thru this.  And you know it!  Why don’t we just turn over all the properties to him now and be done with it!

CAESAR:  Quit your belly-aching Ruga.  Here.  I’ll give you a free pass to brothel, too!  In fact, all of you!  One free pass each!  Oh, it’s good to be Caesar!

BRUTUS:  I think that is more than generous great Caesar!

CIMBER:  Er… *cough, cough* uh, you’ll have to excuse me… I have to use the “gents.”

LONGINUS:  I gotta take a leak, too.

CASCA:  Me too, must be that third cup of java… I’ll be back in a sec.

CAESAR:  Et tu, Brute?

BRUTUS:  Me?  Oh, well… uh, I have to run an put some change in the parking meter.  Can you break a five sestertius note?

CAESAR:  Sure.

NASO:  *Ahem* Well… um.  I have to call my mother-in-law… she’s baby sitting the kids! Er, yeah… the kids.  Oh, and also… I have a case of rampaging diarrhea… and, and, and a splinter in my foot! Yeah, a splinter in my foot and I’ve lost my mittens… yeah, that’s the ticket.

RUGA:  You’ve what?  Lost your mittens and you have a splinter?  Worry not Caesar, I’ll help him!

CAESAR:  Don’t be long “ladies”.  I feel lucky today!  I can’t wait to put up some brothels in Judea!  The Jews love brothels!

[Five minutes later. The Bath House on Bagel St.]

RUGA:  Oh, this is just great… mother-in-law, diarrhea, splinter… and you’ve lost your mittens!  Where did you come up with such nonsense Naso?  Why didn’t you say “I have a carbuncle on my left eyeball and I can’t see the short sword with which I am going to thrust into your abdomen!”

NASO:  Geeze Ruga… if I had said that, Caesar might have become suspicious.

RUGA:  How did you ever get out of grade school?  Never mind.  OK, lads… here are the weapons.  Naso, I got this just for you.  It came from Outdoor Sportsman yesterday.  See?  A blackthorn shillelagh from Hibernia!

NASO:  Ruga, I have a question.  How do I use it?

RUGA:  Look at the directions… “for superior results in blunt force trauma”.  First you hit Caesar in the knees to immobilize him, and then you can begin beating him in the head ’til his face and brains look like week old banana skins!  Cimber, here’s a cutlass… used by the Barbary pirates!  Casca, a trident.  Longinus, you get the épée.  And the Bowie knife for you Brutus… remember to go for his spleen.

BRUTUS:  Ruga, I have a question.  What does “et tu Brute” mean?

RUGA:  And you Brutus?

BRUTUS: What does “et tu Brute” mean?

RUGA:  And you Brutus?  That’s what it means.  Are you trying to be stupid?  It’s Latin.

BRUTUS:  It’s Latin for are you trying to be stupid?

RUGA:  Don’t be an idiot! Here’s your knife.  Don’t harm yourself.  Remember. The spleen.  OK, lads… all clear?  Let’s take care of business!

BRUTUS:  I didn’t know that Caesar spoke Latin…

[One day later. The Roman Forum]

BRUTUS: Friends, Romans, countrymen lend me your ears.  Mark Antony can not be here to deliver his address.  He has a case of rampaging diarrhea… and a splinter in his foot! And I will not speak to you in iambic pentameter… I leave that to Mark Antony and future poets.  I will speak in plain prose.  I have come to bury Caesar, not to praise him.  Why? Because will all know him to be an ambitious elitist – which is a grievous fault… but a fault that could have been tolerated if he hadn’t used the ambition to lie and cheat at the game!  I ask you, paying just ten sestertius to complete a monopoly in light blue!  Is that honourable?  No!  Yes, he was my friend… and I do appreciate that he gave me a free pass if I landed on Britannia with a brothel.  But increasing the Income Tax?  Is that honourable?  No!  And another thing… speaking in Latin!  Is that honourable?  No!  It is an elitist tongue!  Now look… I know that Caesar was popular and all, and it’s just a damn shame that he had to pay the ultimate price for being an elitist swindler… but there you go.  Let that be a lesson to us all!  One further announcement: Calpurnia will be receiving well-wishers today in her salon and the bath houses and brothels will be open tomorrow.

 

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Wines of Australia

On a land mass as big as nearly the Continental United Sates, Australia’s geography hardly seems suitable for viticulture.  The northern rim is a tropical climate covered in rainforest, woodland, grassland and mangrove swamp.  The massive interior is desert and semi-arid land.  Only the southeast and southwest corners of the continent offer temperate climate that is hospitable to vine.  And it is here that we find wine produced in quantities sufficient to make Australia the world’s fourth largest exporter of wine.

In his book The Story of Wine, Hugh Johnson writes, “Australia is the France of the Southern Hemisphere; there seems to be no limit its potential (enormously reinforced by modern technology) for producing ideally balanced, delicate wine very much in the French style (though with original touches of its own). But potential has never been enough. Fine wine has only been made at moments in history when the market has asked for it.”

The history of wine is Australia traces back to the establishment of Port Jackson as a convict settlement in 1788.  On the site of the present day of Intercontinental Hotel on Macquarie St. in Sydney, Captain Arthur Phillip planted Australia’s first vines.

Early interest in local wine was merely a diversion from what warder and convict desired most: rum from India.  The market demanded strong wine… wine that had been fortified with spirits, and production in the early vineyards went almost entirely into making Ports and other high alcohol wines.  Strong, lush and sweet… what would be referred to as sticky’s.

It would be a few decades before vintner’s would spread their wings further to Southeastern Australia and to the valleys and areas that would be home to some of the finest wineries of the world: Barossa Valley, Eden Valley, Clare Valley, McLaren Vale, Adelaide Hills, Limestone Coast, Coonawarra, Victoria and Yarra Valley.

The Aussie preoccupation with Ports, Muscats and Tokays fed into what the British market desired. It didn’t mean that dry reds and whites weren’t being produced. But it would take the efforts of Max Schubert, the winemaker at Penfold’s, who would “rewrite the book” about Australian wine after his visit to the Rhone Valley in 1951. Taken by the brilliance of Hermitage, Cote Rotie and the Syrah based wines of the Northern Rhone, Schubert returned to Penfold’s convinced that these wines could be emulated in Barossa Valley.

He began to tinker with the grape (known as Shiraz in Australia) and produced an “experimental” wine he called GrangeA huge wine, made in a rich fruit abundant style, more than any other wine, Penfold’s Grange caught the attention of the wine world.  Grange became a defining wine of what could be produced in Australia.

About Grange Robert Parker has written, “{Grange is} one of the flagship wines of the wine world and the reference point for most Australian winemakers who wanted to produce world class red wine.”

Barossa became to Australia what Napa is California… a wine rich province, home to world class wines.  The Estates of Elderton, Glaetzer, Turkey Flat, Amon-Ra, Two Hands and Veritas have all earned international praise for their fabulous reds.

East of Barossa, the higher altitudes of Eden Valley is known for producing some of Australia’s best Rieslings.

Still further to the south and nestled in the Fleurieu Peninsula are the wine estates of McLaren Vale.  You would be hard pressed to find a more ideal climate for the cultivation of wine grapes.  The coastal zone is bounded to the east by Mount Lofty Ranges and to the immediate west by a temperate sea.  There is a long growing season, natural air flow to prevent frost and the ocean supplies a cooling influence.  Located in the heart of McLaren Vale, the wines of D’Arenberg are some of the most desired in the world.  No private wine cellar would be complete without D’Arenberg’s exceptional Copper Mine Road Cabernet Sauvignon or Dead Arm Shiraz.

If the vineyards of Australia’s southeast are known for the production of Rhone varietals… Shiraz (Syrah), Grenache, Mourvedre and Viognier used for making opulent styled wines; on the other side of the Continent, we find some of the finest wines made from Bordeaux varietals… Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc for reds, and Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon for whites.  South of Perth, the Margaret River estates produce wines that possess considerable finesse and elegance that bring to mind to best of wines from the Medoc, St. Emilion and Graves. And Leeuwin Estate consistently makes Chardonnay’s on par with the best from the Cote de Beaune.

If there is a common thread that runs thru the Australian wines that dominate the market, it is drinkability.  It is nearly impossible to pick up a glass of Shiraz, “GSM” Blend (Grenache-Shiraz-Mourvedre), Cabernet, Old Vine Grenache, and not want a second glass.  Regardless of price, the wines are good to drink… and if you can spend a couple of bucks, the cellar worthy reds are stunning.

The whites run the range from lush Chardonnays, soft Rieslings, lively Sauvignon Blancs and mineral driven Vigoniers.

Yes, the fortified wines that began this excursion are still being produced… but perhaps Australia’s greatest gift to the Wine World is Sparkling Shiraz.  This red sparkling wine is totally unique and nearly indescribable.  It is the one wine that travelers to “Down Under” come back looking for.  A bubbly red that is rich in fruit flavour that leads you to believe that it is sweet (but it isn’t). Across Australia, Sparkling Shiraz is served for Sunday brunch and at backyard barbeques… and Americans are learning that it is a great wine for our Thanksgiving table or for Christmas Day prime rib of beef.

Australian wine?  All you have to do is lift a glass and say, g’day!

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Rose

One of the most misunderstood wines in America is Rose.  For many, it is “White Zinfandel.”  For others it is the first wine they drank to excess when they were well under age.  Do you remember sneaking into your parent’s liquor stash and killing a bottle of Mateus? Not particularly positive associations?

True Rose is in fact red wine, minus the structure, tannin and complexity in red wine.  The skins (where the colour of red wine is derived) and the tannic elements of the grape (skins, pips and stems) are only kept with the juice a fraction of the time that would normally go into making a full fledged red wine.  Just hours, not days and days.

Typically the grapes are cold soak fermented so that flavours of the varietals can be absorbed before the alcohol conversion process takes place.  In this way the wine will retain a delightful freshness and delicacy. Rose is being vinified for it’s freshness and not its complexity. It is a wine that is best consumed young.

It only takes a visit to the Western Mediterranean rim during the warm weather months to see how popular this wine is.  It makes no matter where you are… Capri, the French Riviera, the Catalan Coast… look at any outdoor café, look on any table… what do you see?  A bottle of Rose!  And it makes no difference whether you are King or Commoner… the wine of summertime Europe is Rose.

Why?  It’s served chilled.  It’s wonderfully refreshing.  It goes with everything that is on the menu.  You can’t lose.

If you think that Rose is just Mateus and Lancers you are making a huge mistake.  It’s like thinking that all beer is Budweiser and Coors Light. Virtually all of the major wine producing areas of the world produce Rose to some level, and some areas specialize in it. In the Southern Rhone Tavel is known for their Rose.  Made in blends that include Grenache, Cinsault, Mourvedre and Syrah it is considered the most structured of the Roses. The best of them, like the wines of Domaine Tempier,  will actually improve with short term cellaring.

The Roses of Provence are simply a joy to drink. Made in a blends that offer pure expressions of the red varietals that we see throughout France’s South.  The most important grape is Grenache. Beautiful florals with red fruit charm, reasonably priced, make the wines from here the most consumed summer wine in France.

If you stop at a café along the Champs Elysee, the wine you sip will most probably be a Rose D’Anjou from the Loire Valley (Provence being too far removed to suit Parisians). The grapes used here, Gamay, and Groslot, lend a distinctive zesty fruitiness to their wines.

The success of Rose can not be contained within one country’s borders.  Along Italy’s Adriatic Coast you will find Cerasuolo d’Abruzzo made from the Region’s renown Montepulciano grape.

In Spain it might be a Rose of Tempranillo, in Argentina’s Mendoza it might be a Rose of Malbec, and in Australia’s Barossa it might be a Rose of Shiraz. In Napa it might be a Rose of Cabernet or, even more exciting, we can find practitioners of the blending arts like Randall Grahm of Bonny Doon Vineyard. His blended Vin Gris de Cigare Rose, stands alongside of Robert Sinsky’s Pinot Noir based Rose as one of California’s best entries into the class.

Getting the picture?  Name the Country, name the Region… find a Rose.

And while it’s easy to paint a picture of blue skies, puffy white clouds, soft breezes, an azure sea in the background… and a glass of Rose in the foreground… there is more to Rose than summer sunshine.

The wine can be truly enjoyed on a year ‘round basis. For the traditional “red wine lover”, it becomes their “white wine.”  For the traditional “white wine lover”, it becomes their “red wine.” Always excellent with spicy cuisine, a natural with ham and grilled poultry and a wine that can add to any festive Holiday table.

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Paige & Milton

“The Emperor Penguin breeds in the coldest environment of any bird species; air temperatures may reach −40 °F, and wind speeds may reach 89 mph. Water temperature is a frigid 28.8 °F,which is much lower than the Emperor Penguin’s average body temperature of 102 °F.”

“The Emperor Penguin is perhaps best known for the sequence of journeys adults make each year in order to mate and to feed their offspring. The only penguin species that breeds during the Antarctic winter, it treks 31–75 miles over the ice to breeding colonies which may include thousands of individuals. The female lays a single egg, which is incubated by the male while the female returns to the sea to forage for a period of 64 days.”

MILTON: Hey! Where the hell do you think you’re going?

PAIGE: Me and the girls are going for a swim.  Thought we’d check out the chinstraps on the South Sandwich Islands, then head over to Buenos Aires, get our nails done, do some shopping, hit a few clubs.  Maybe a bite to eat…

MILTON: What clubs?

PAIGE: Milton… we’re just going out for some dinner. The “ocean club.” The Antarctic Ocean! I’ll bring you back a fish!

MILTON:  Hey!  What am I supposed to do with this fool egg?

PAIGE:  I don’t know… read it a story.  Tolstoy.  You’ll be here for a while!

MILTON:  Read it a story.  That’s fucking great!  It’s the Antarctic winter… you know.  Like it’s pitch dark, you know!  I can’t read in the dark! The pages of the book will crumble in this air temp!  Shit!  And just where am I supposed to keep this damned egg when you’re off on a hoot with your girl friends?  Sex starved girl friends, I might add.  That Sheila will do the “wild thing” with the first chinstrap penguin she finds!

PAIGE:  You keep the egg… that’s our egg, Milton… on your feet and off the ice just like all the other guys in the colony do!

MILTON:  Great, just great.  Where did you put the L.L. Bean thermal socks that you gave me for my birthday… even though what I really wanted was an underwater I-Pod player. This is great… I have to keep this egg balanced on my feet, in the dark, in the freezing cold.  What a life!  We have to be the stupidest species on earth.  Who came up with this idea anyway?

PAIGE:  I don’t hear Bartlett complaining to Sheila.

MILTON: Bartlett?  Don’t get me started about that dumb penguin.  Always bragging about how warm his feathers are… how he is rated to −50 °F.  Damn it, I’m cold already!  How am I supposed to keep warm?  Will you please tell me that!!

PAIGE: You form a huddle with all the other guys in the colony… you jam in together real close and tight, and then you take turns being on the inside of the huddle where it’s warmer. You’ll love it.  It’s a form of bonding.  You’ll get to know Bartlett better!

MILTON: Jammed in all together?  Bonding?  It sounds like a homo thing to me…

PAIGE: Nonsense!

MILTON: Hey!  What happens when I get hungry?  I think I am hungry already.  I  might not wait for you to come back from stuffing yourself!  Yeah… I might scramble me an egg!  Or maybe I’ll regurgitate some squid and make an omelet! A tasty squid omelet, some home fries and whole wheat toast with gooseberry preserves!

PAIGE:  Don’t even think about it Milton!  Look… I’ll be back in two months and I better find you and our egg!! Now let me hear your “call” so I’ll be able to find you in the colony when I return.

MILTON:  Call?  Yeah, I’ve been working on it…

Your red scarf matches your eyes

You close your cover before striking

Father had the ship-fitter blues

And loving you has made me bananas

PAIGE:  That’s your call?

MILTON:  There’s more…

You burned your finger that evening

While my back was turned

You asked the waiter for iodine

While I dined all alone!

PAIGE:  See you in two months Milton

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Fantasy Drafts Out of Control

FRIENDS…

This fantasy draft stuff is really getting silly… but, it’s finally entering into a zone where I can fully, and enthusiastically participate.

I can’t believe there are people who are unfamiliar with Fantasy Leagues… but rather than risk embarassment to friends, family and my groupies by assuming too much, I will briefly explain the concept of a Fantasy League.

It’s a way for fans (let’s say football fans) to vicariously particpate in the games that are played each week.  It’s not as simple as putting a wager down on my team (the Indianapolis Colts) against your team (the hated New York Jets… may they not win another game ’til the next asteroid crashes into earth sending a gigantic cloud into the sky destroying 98% of all life forms)… you see that’s easy, and it worked for me.  But for the a newer generation, it just ain’t good enough.

So… what would happen if I could make up my own team… a FANTASY TEAM… composed of players from all the teams?  Sure I would have some of the Colts players on my team; but I could also have some of the best players from other teams, too.  Now, let’s put like minded fans together and select teams to compete against each other… no different then when we were choosing up sides for games in grade school, right? Also, no different from the way Professional Football Teams actually select the college kids preparing to enter the NFL.  And that process is called the Draft

The Fantasy League follows the same process… in turn each fan selects a player from all the players on all the teams.  Obviously the best players go first.  And then to measure success of your fantasy team it is no longer a matter of the Colts knocking the shit out of the Jets 856-0, and let that ass-hole Jets fan in the fireman’s hat who leads their cheers develop a permanent case of rectal itch… We measure success in a Fantasy League by the actual statistical performance of the players in their games.  So may points for Quarterbacks’ completions, yards gained & touchdowns thrown.

A fan now not only roots for his “real” team to win; but he also roots for individual players from his or her “fantasy” team to perform statistically well playing for other “real” teams.

Yes, divided loyalty if you ask me.  Can you imagine if the Colts played the Chargers and I had Antonio Gates (their star receiver) on my “fantasy” team?  I get indigestion thinking about it.

OK.  Enough.  I hope you get the idea.  There’s all sorts of Fantasy Leagues… on line, office pools, you name it.  All the major sports are covered.  And then some.  I’m finally getting to my point (aren’t you glad?).  Zachary keeps on coming up with cockamammie things to organize into a “Fantasy Draft.”  But in so doing, we have left the “playing pitch” of athletic teams, and entered into the random grouping of things that have unifying themes… and, this is key, there is actually no way to measure the success of your team!

So… I heard from Zack yesterday “If I did a fantasy draft of most memorable books from my childhood, Where the Wild Things Are would be in the top 5″.

I’m in.

Last night, while experiencing the utter brilliance of rye as a grain when used in a liquid… I kicked around the possibilities for a Fantasty Draft… Black & White Movies… Comedians… Fascist Dictators (this happened around whisky #2).

Well, I settled on The League of Cartoon Characters.   And to make things easy, and hoepfully to avert a lot of in-fighting and unnecessary squabbling, I have appointed myself Commisioner of the League.  And my first act as Commisioner is to appoint me to be the head of the Rules Committee.

There will be ten rounds in the draft.

I will pick first (I am doing this in an arbitrary and capricious manner… if you must know, I fear that Gary Moss or Will Waters would choose Foghorn Leghorn, and I wasn’t about to let that happen!)  Then the order will be determined by the order in which folks join the League.  Once the order is determined, you will have 2 hours to make a selection with the day concluding at 8:00PM Eastern Time, and resuming at 7:30AM.

Jim Winston selects with his first round… Foghorn Leghorn

If you want in, sign up on my Facebook page

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Wine Tastings

Try it, you’ll like it!  Or maybe you won’t.  That’s the conundrum… a seemingly endless sea of wine, different wines, different vintages, different labels.  It’s all so confusing.  And when all is said and done, it’s still a matter of trying something that is a new and different, or resigning yourself to opening the same bottle of wine each time.  Same wine each time?  How boring is that?

What to do?  You can certainly read up on stuff… Wine Advocate, Wine Spectator, Wine Enthusiast, International Wine Cellar, Decanter… excellent monthly publications.  You can learn a lot.  The New York Times has a column on Wednesday and the Wall St. Journal has one on Friday.  You can learn even more.

Good ratings from the monthlies and editorial endorsements from the weeklies are well and good; but you drink wine for your pleasure, not for Robert Parker of the Wine Advocate or Eric Asimov of the New York Times.  A great rating speaks for the quality of the wine, not whether you will like it.

Read all you want.  The best way to learn is to taste.  And the best way to taste is to take advantage of Wine Tastings when there is an opportunity to try several wines in comparison. Wineries are a sure bet; but it could also be at a shop that specializes in wines… or how about in the home?

Here are several ways to look at wine…

Vertical Tasting. This is looking at the same wine but in several vintages. There is no finer way to experience how wine evolves over time than to try the same Napa Cab, for example;  but in different vintages.  Maybe the current vintage was rated as better; but the vintage from three years ago is drinking better?  A text book on how wine improves with additional bottle age.

Horizontal Tasting. The same wine type, different producers, but in the same vintage. Perhaps all Cabernet Sauvignons from the 2005 Vintage; but from different zones… Rutherford Bench, Oakville, Howell Mountain & etc.  Or several Bordeaux from their great 2005 Vintage.  This type of tasting provides a clue as to the variables of vineyard and winemaking quality, and how both will have an impact on price.  And isn’t it fun to enjoy a more modest Bordeaux from the Cotes de Blaye than a Classified Growth from Margaux?

Same Grape, Different Country. Interest in Pinot Noir is at an all time high. But this varietal is known for its finicky disposition.  It is a varietal that is sensitive to both climate and soil and the wines produced from this fickle grape can be dramatically different region from region, country from country.  Differences abound in Chardonnay and many other varietals, too.

Blind Tasting. Putting several wines in bags to cover their labels is perhaps the best way to focus on the taste of wine.  Be prepared to be surprised.  Also know that it can be a bit unsettling to try something when you are stripped of your predisposed preferences… the “I-don’t-like-Merlot” can be in for fall when that is chosen as a favorite wine in the tasting flight. This is a humbling exercise, and it is the quickest way to level the playing field between experienced and inexperienced wine tasters.

Potpourri Tasting. A tasting doesn’t have to be overly organized.  The wines can simply follow the course of an evening, or the dinner being served.  Begin with a sparkling wine as an aperitif, enjoy a lighter white wine, follow it with a white with a more robust structured nature, then a couple of reds… a fresh red and then one with greater complexity, and then conclude with a dessert wine.  Hey!  It’s supposed to be fun!

Sure… reading about wine can’t help but develop an interest in wine… to add knowledge.  But if you want to learn about wine, you have to taste it.  Taste, taste and taste again. Assume that you will like some over others.  But the more you taste, the more you will understand why a certain wine, given the time of the year, given the food being served, given the company that you are sharing it with, given your mood, will be the right wine.  And often the right wine, given all the variables, will not be your “favorite” wine.

Wine is only boring when you treat it as just a form of flavoured alcohol.  Wine is all about variety.  OK.  Go taste! 

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Syrah/Shiraz

You say tomato, I say tomahto.  Yes, Syrah and Shiraz are the same grape varietal (and Petite Sirah – known as Durif in France– is a completely a different varietal and a story for a different day).

Its origin is traced back to one of the World’s oldest viticultural zones in Ancient Persia and to one of its principle cities, ShirazHow the vine found its way to the Rhone Valley, in what is today France, is somewhat in dispute. It’s a good possibility that the Phocaeans from Asia Minor who founded Marseille in 600BC brought the vines with them.  Or possibly it was introduced by the Roman Legions via Egypt and Syracuse.  Ruling the World builds a mighty thirst… Rome and their Legionnaires loved their wine.

Either way, by 71AD viticulture had certainly made its way to the central and northern portions of the Rhone Valley where Syrah would find a home in what would become known as Hermitage and Cote Rotie.  It is here that Syrah would find its greatest expression.

Hermitage produced dark, rich and brooding wines filled with complex aromas of black plum, violets, spice and an incredible meatiness… not for the faint of heart, nor for the casual imbiber.  In the 19th Century, the Hermitage Vineyards set just to the north of the City of Tain, les Rocoules, le Meal, les Bessards & etc., were ranked along side of Ch. Lafite and Romanee-Conti as the finest wines of the World.

The house of E. Guigal would put the stamp of excellence in the Cote Rotie.  Their luxury bottlings of La Mouline, La Turque and La Landonne (known collectively as the “La La’s”) are harder to get than First Growth Bordeaux or Grand Cru Burgundy.

If the quality of this varietal remained just a creature of the Northern Rhone, then perhaps this story would not have been written.  And certainly the vine is seen elsewhere.  Syrah is planted in the Southern Rhone as well, where it is one of the red grapes that is used in the recipe for many Chateauneuf du Papes.  And in the huge region of Midi, use of Syrah as a blending grape is credited with raising up the over all quality of wine throughout the French south.

Where the grape has achieved its greatest lift has been in Australia, where it is known by its “other” name: Shiraz.  It is likely that James Busby brought Syrah to Australia as part of the 400 vine cuttings that he brought to that part of the world in 1832.  It was written, “Scyras… an excellent grapes, and promises to be at least equally valuable for red wine as the Verdeilho is for white.”

With an abundant grape yield, Shiraz became the most planted red varietal in Australia. But it was Max Schubert winemaker of Penfolds, taken by the wines of the Northern Rhone on a trip there in 1951, who would launch Syrah into Aussie stardom.  He began to tinker with the grape and produced an “experimental” wine he called Grange.  A huge wine, made in a rich fruit abundant style, more than any other wine, Penfold’s Grange caught the attention of the wine world.  Grange became a defining wine of what could be produced in Australia.

Giovanni Manetti of Italy also fell under the spell of Guigal’s achievement in the Rhone and brought back Syrah cuttings to his Estate, Fontodi, in Tuscany where his

Casa Via Syrah has earned huge praise in the critical press.

The same story can be repeated in Napa, where David Ramey, considered by many to be one of the finest makers of Cabernet Sauvignon, has taken a plunge into making Syrah.

Indeed, Syrah is capturing the imagination of wine growers from every corner of the globe.  It takes well to the steep rocky hillsides of the Priorat in Spain, to the soft hillsides of Stellenbosch and Paarl in South Africa (where it is also known as Shiraz), and to the “Super Tuscan” zone in Tuscany’s Bolgheri Coast.

For lovers of richly styled reds, Syrah stands with Cabernet Sauvignon as offering the satisfying depth regardless of growing region.  Greater finesse in the vineyards of the Northern Rhone, more lush fruit from the vineyards of Barossa. Wines to be savoured on their own merit, or enjoyed with hearty meat and game dishes.

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Dessert Wine

It is ironic that on a night as a host, you may serve spectacular reds and whites during the course of a dinner, and if you take the extra step to serve a dessert wine, it will be that wine which will most be remembered. Why?  Because a dessert wine is so infrequently encountered – in the home or in a restaurant.

Even a quick look at some of the finest wine lists from some of the finest restaurants will reveal but a few entries on the dessert side.  Sometimes just Ch. D’Yquem, and nothing else (nothing wrong with Yquem; but more on that later).  Again, why?  The answer is simple… the wines are rarely ordered.

Perhaps the least understood wine as a category in the United States is dessert wine.

 

First, we think they are sweet and cloying and leave a syrupy coating in our mouth.  And this couldn’t be further from the truth.  High quality dessert wine is packed with lush sweet fruit flavours; but then they have a clean finish with a satisfying trace of its powerful sweetness.

Next, we don’t really understand the service. A dessert wine is part of the dinner. It is as much part of hospitality of the table as any wine that would have preceded it.  Its presence on the menu recalls a day when there was a leisurely graciousness to our dinning. 

And to reduce the world’s dessert wines to one label (even if it is Ch. D’Yquem) is nonsense. Every significant wine producing region makes dessert wine (granted some only for local consumption). Other than sharing sweetness as the common denominator, the world’s dessert wines are as varied as… well, the world.

 

In France, Bordeaux produces one of the best: Sauternes. Made from a blend of Semillon and Sauvignon Blanc, the producers will wait ‘til the grapes are “post ripe”to a time when autumn morning mists bring an airborne mold, botrytis cinerea, to the vineyards.  This mold attacks the skins of the grapes, bursting them, allowing for water content to escape and thereby concentrate the flavours and sweetness in the ugly shriveled grapes. The resulting wines are a honeyed nectar. It is here where Ch. D’Yquem reigns supreme.

Further to the north, the Vineyards of Alsace work a similar magic with Gewurztraminer, Riesling and Pinot Gris. The Late Harvest wines, called Vendange Tardif resemble the Late Harvest wines on the other side of the Rhine River.  And even more exotic are the botrytized Selection de Grains Nobles made from individual selected bunches of grapes.

In Germany the art of making sweet wine stands alongside of the renown German brew-making skill.  Working principally with Riesling, the Estates of Mosel and the Rheingau produce wines with varying degrees of sweetness.  Beginning with Spatlese (“late picked”), moving to Auslese (“selected harvest”), then to Beerenauslese (“selected berries”), and finally Trockenbeerenauslese (“selected dried berries”).  Each level represents a higher degree of minimum sugar level in the grapes picked at harvest. 

The ultimate wine produced in this method is Eiswein.  Not made in every vintage, Eiswein is made from grapes left on the vine and harvested during the night after a freeze.  During the winemaking, the icy content of the grape (water) is separated from the juice leaving an intensely sweet flavour base from which to make a tiny amount of wine. (This style of winemaking has caught on in Canada where other varietals like Vidal are also used to make their Ice Wine.)

Further to the East, long before Sauternes reached its present exalted status, the dessert wine from the Hungarian plain was prized in the Courts of Europe.  It all began when the Archbishop Drascovics presented Tokaji Aszu to Pope Pius IV as a gift at the Council of Trent in 1652. From there to Tsars and Kings, the wine became wedded to Royalty.

In Italy, Recioto di Soave is produced from grapes harvested in the fall, and then left to air day ‘til February.  The grapes, with a natural loss of 35% of their moisture, have concentrated sweetness and an intensity of flavour, are then pressed into wine. The wine is enjoyed by itself, or more typically with biscotti. A sip of wine, dip the biscotti into the wine… there is nothing better! Recioto soaked biscotti!

South Africa has Straw Wine (also air dried).  Argentina, Chile, Napa, Willamette & etc.  Really, there isn’t a place that doesn’t produce some type of dessert wine, whether made thru late harvesting or by air drying.

 

Return to your dinner table. When you serve dessert wine, regardless of the Country’s origin, you have instantly elevated eating to the highest level of dinning. You have just transported your evening to the Cunard Line… to crossing the Atlantic before WWII, when men and women dressed for dinner & when dinner was served in courses, beginning with an aperitif white, proceeding to a fuller white, reds matching to the courses of food and finishing with a dessert wine. And if the dessert wine was Ch. D’Yquem then you would know you had just reached the apex of the night.

Last bit of advice.  Whenever you can, buy the worst vintage of Ch. D’Yquem you can find… it will cost you less.  You can’t go wrong. Insiders know that even in lesser vintages, Yquem is a glorious wine… if the vintage is truly sub-standard, they don’t make wine.

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Why Bordeaux

Sometime after 48 AD the Roman Legions made it to St. Emilion and established vineyards to produce wine.  It’s a thirsty business, conquering the world. From these humble beginnings along the Gironde estuary and the Garonne and Dordogne Rivers, the history of the world’s greatest wine would be written… the wine we call Bordeaux.

It wouldn’t be until the 12th Century before the wines of Bordeaux gained in exposure beyond its immediate region.  In 1152 when Henry Plantagnet, Duke of Normandy and two years later crowned King of England, took Eleanor of Aquitaine’s hand in marriage, Bordeaux and their vineyards became a territory of England.  Export of the wine the English called claret, would begin in earnest, and continue with only minor inconveniences like the 100 Years War to disrupt a robust trade.

If wars and acquisition coloured the story of Bordeaux, its history is carved in its land.  Bordeaux is close to the sea and threaded by rivers which act to moderate the climate.  A thick forest on the ocean side offers protection to the harsh salt winds. The stout bedrock is packed with minerals and yet the topsoil is quite poor; but perfectly suited for viticulture. Dionysus blessed this land.

The Rivers that cut thru Bordeaux establish rough boundaries where land, facings, proximity to the rivers all produce unique characteristics to the vineyards and wines that they would subsequently produce. Over time it became clear that the red varietals that were best matched to Bordeaux’s terroir were Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot and Malbec. Each area, vineyard and wine estate would have its own “recipe” for the best mix.

It is a varied recipe indeed, although there are broad based similarities based on blend and location. 

On the “right bank” of the Dordogne are the Communes of St. Emilion, Pomerol and a host of “satellite” appellations. It is here that we find some of the most exclusive wines of Bordeaux: Ch. Petrus and Ch. Cheval Blanc. Merlot is the most important varietal on the right bank, with Petrus being made of 100% Merlot.

Between the Dordogne and Garonne is Bordeaux’ largest appellation: Entre-Deux-Mers which in main is planted to white varietals: Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon. Muscadelle and Ugni Blanc. Along the fringe of the Garonne itself is Premieres Cotes de Bordeaux `where red wine is also produced and where some of the best value Bordeaux can be found.

The “left bank” has three important sub-divisions. Graves, sitting just south the City of Bordeaux along the Garonne, further south is Sauternes and the Medoc, north of the City, is located along the Gironde Estuary.  Sauternes and its satellite, Barsac produce Bordeaux’ renown dessert wine, while the vineyards of Graves and the Medoc are planted principally to Cabernet Sauvignon.

Graves, so named for the gravelly content of the soil, is home to Ch. Haut Brion, which owns the distinction of being Bordeaux’ first wine identified and sold by the name of the estate. In 1663 Samuel Pepys wrote in The Diarist having tasted a wine in the Royal Oak Tavern, which he then described as “a sort of French wine called Ho Bryen that hath a good and most particular taste I never met with”.

Although insignificant in the early days of Bordeaux trade, by the 18th Century wines from the Medoc began to emerge as being among the best from Bordeaux. Already the Estates of Lafite, Latour and Margaux were recognized for producing wines of distinction. It was the Classification of 1855 established by a group of wine brokers, however, that identified the Medoc as the preeminent region of Bordeaux.  Sixty-one Estates were placed into Growths… from First thru Fifth, placement being a reflection of the price of specific wines fetched at auctions over the previous 100+ years.  Rated as First Growth, not surprisingly, Ch. Lafite, Ch. Latour, Ch. Margaux and Ch. Haut Brion (the only Estate not coming from the Medoc), whose excellent wines were the most desirable vintage after vintage, after vintage.

In 1953 Graves established it’s own Classification, and St. Emilion followed suit in 1955.  The wines of Pomerol remain unclassified, although it is generally agreed that both Ch. Petrus and Ch. Le Pin make First Growth quality, and indeed their wines, given their tiny production levels, usually sell at higher prices than any of the other First Growth wines.

Beneath the pinnicle of the “officially” Classified Estates three other levels of ranking were eventually created: Cru Exceptionnel, Cru Bourgeois Superieur and Cru Bourgeois. And indeed there are thousands of Bordeaux Estates that are not part of any classification or ranking.

Tradition is all well and good; but changes in ownership, changes in vineyards, changes in winemaking teams and their philosophies all have certainly had a telling effect on the quality of wine being produced at an Estate, and if the same standard of pricing were to be applied, the Classification of 1855 would have to be revised.  Not only would we see a shuffling of the order; but certain Estates that would fall off, and others that would have to be elevated.

Well… what does all this mean?  For all the fancy history, impressive buildings — some Chateaux are indeed castles, although most are not — and their poetic names, are the wines really that good? It’s safe to say that for someone who loves wine, there will always be a small place for Bordeaux in your cellar… even if you prefer, say Napa Cabs or Aussie Shiraz.

But that side steps the issue.  The fact remains that the rest of the winemaking world turns to Bordeaux for inspiration and comparison… and they do so for a reason.  The wines are that good. And as vine cuttings of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot (and the other Bordeaux varietals) made their way around the planet to Napa, the Margaret River, Mendoza, Stellenbosch and Bolgheri, producers from those regions looked to do one thing… make the best wines possible, make wines that could compare to Bordeaux!

Is every wine from Bordeaux great?  Does every Bordeaux empty your wallet?  No and no.  Of the thousands of wines that find their way into the market, there will be wines that will disappoint, there will be wines perfect for every day enjoyment, there will be the hidden jewel that is surprisingly well priced for its superb quality, and there will be wines that are the finest wines made and that will stand any test of time.

Experiencing Bordeaux thru its wines is a magnificent journey.  It begins with opening a bottle.

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Box of Chocklits

I will tell you what this is not… it is not a collection of my fifteen favorite songs (although I did compile a list of thirty-three favorite tunes four years ago, and three of those songs are included herein).  It is also not the ultimate play-list based on a unifying theme… all blues, or British invasion, or music from the 60s, or famous songs covered by other artists.  This is not even a list that I cooked up at Ash Creek during an evening of reviewing the finer attributes of Kentucky sippin’ whisky.

No. Not any of that.

I have put together some music that I have accumulated over the years.  Fifteen tunes knit together, that I think have a good flow with only a couple of “seams” showing… the idea being that the disc could be listened to from beginning to end without skipping a track.  Well… that’s the idea of a play-list, isn’t it?

A brief word about the selected titles and their lyrics as a basis for inclusion in this play-list.  Don’t over analyze it.  You can read into it what you will.  It’s sorta like reading a horoscope — you can always find something to support a thesis or supposition.  But I hate to disappoint you… this is not my autobiography thru music.

These songs are here simply because I dig them.  A little bit of this and a little bit of that.  It reminds of something my Mother said years ago… “Life is like a box of chocklits… ya never know what yer gonna git.”

Well… maybe it was some other person’s Mother who said it.

 

On The Turning Away PINK FLOYD

Pink Floyd is one of those bands that attracts a cult following.  Count Zachary in that number of devotees.  He was the one who pointed me to this track.  It reminds me of some of the Moody Blues’ orchestral numbers from Days of Future Passed.

In Your Eyes PETER GABRIEL

I love the pace of this tune.  And Gabriel has that “throaty” vocal that I enjoy.

Walking In Memphis MARC COHEN

Another throaty vocalist.  I have purposely avoided googling this song’s lyrics.  Even after careful repeated listenings, I can’t understand the line about the manner of walking in Memphis, and its effect on his feet.  I love the line… “Are you a Christian?  Yeah, I am tonight.”

This Is Us MARK KNOPFLER

In my book Knopfler is the perfect musician.  Great song writer.  Incredible guitar.  Incredible. Superb vocal, and on this track he is joined by a terrific Emmy Lou Harris.  Listen a second time.  Great duet blending two different vocal textures.

Ah Mary GRACE POTTER

On this track Grace Potter fronts for The Nocturnals.  I have no clue where I came upon this song.  I just like it.  “She’ll make you cookies, then she’ll burn your town.”

Bette Davis Eyes KIM CARNES

Love the song; but I don’t know about Bette Davis’ eyes being so hot.  What was hot about Bette Davis was her slamming three martinis in All About Eve and delivering the line, “fasten your seatbelts, it’s going to be a bumpy night.” Meanwhile, Carnes’ raspy voice is perfect on this track.

Where To Now St. Peter? ANN WILSON

Ann Wilson is one half of the sister act Heart.  This is a great cover for an Elton John/Bernie Taupin song… and she is supported on this track by Elton John’s backing vocal.

Summer Of ’69 BRYAN ADAMS

An unplugged version.  OK, summer of ’69… Woodstock, the Astronauts landed on the moon, I hosteled thru Europe.  And yes, it was a special time, and this is a special song. Great line, ” I guess nothing can last forever…”

Further On (Up The Road) BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN

This is from a live concert recorded in Dublin.  There are at least two other featured vocalists who lend support on the track.  I have no idea who they are.

Enough Of The Night JACKSON BROWNE

The acoustic version done live.

If Not For You BOB DYLAN

Just love the tune. Love the tune. And for a change, love Dylan singing one of his own songs. 

Here Comes The Sun JOE BROWN

This is my favorite Beatles tune.  I draw from its optimism. This track comes from a concert honoring George Harrison.  As much as I like this track, I would have used the original Beatles’ Abbey’s Road version if it were available.

Sunday Girl BLONDIE

Debbie Harry covers their hit in French. I like it in English, I love it in French.

Touch Of Grey THE GRATEFUL DEAD

The only song released by this historic band as a single.  Sweet vocal and an even sweeter guitar from the late and great Jerry Garcia.

Try To Remember JERRY ORBACH

From the longest running show in New York, The Fantastiks. OK, it doesn’t really fit here.  But it reelects a sentiment that strikes a resonant chord for me.  How’s this for a line… “without a hurt the heart is hollow.”

 

If you want to receive a copy of the CD, let me know.  I will send you a copy gratis.  Just send me your snail mail address.  And, as an added bonus, I will also provide your address to the Publisher’s Clearing House for their “prize patrol.”

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Wines That Sparkle

We hear the distinctive pop and it signals the celebration about to begin.  Our eyes brighten as we watch the sparkling wine being slowly poured into a slender flute.  No other wine is as closely identified with those important occasions that add meaning and definition in our lives than Champagne… New Years, Birthdays, Anniversaries, Valentines Day & etc. At these key junctions during the year, Champagne makes a command performance

But there are far more reasons to enjoy Champagne and other sparkling wines than celebrating the major milestones in any given calendar year. For one, it is the most ideal accompaniment for any dish being served… and at any time of the day!  From eggs benedict in the morning, to a chilled calamari salad for lunch, as an aperitif before dinner, to chicken Kiev at dinner, to poached pears for dessert.  Clearly sparkling wine is our most flexible of wines… like pearls, it goes with everything.

 

Much credit for this wine is laid at the feet of the 17th Century monk, Dom Perignon.  While not its “inventor”, he certainly is the person responsible for selecting the ideal grape varietals and creating the blending techniques that are still in use today.

Strictly speaking, only sparkling wine produced with grapes grown in the delimited Champagne zone is entitled to the name ChampagneThe hills and valleys of the Marne near the towns of Reims and Epernay are responsible for all the world’s Champagne. The chalk soils of Champagne not only gives their wine its unique character, it also provides the perfect home for aging these wines in the prodigious underground caves of the historic Champagne houses.

The art of Champagne lies in the blend.  Pinot Noir from vineyards in the North slope of the Montagne de Reims responsible for the “headiness” of the wine, Pinot Meunier from the Vallee de la Marne adds bouquet and roundness and Chardonnay from the East facing slopes of Epernay contributes finesse and delicacy.  The resulting wine can not be surpassed for its delightful freshness, nor for the sheer joy in its consumption.

And there is far more to sparkling wine than Champagne itself.  Different countries, different grapes; but made in the same method with the second fermentation in the bottle giving the wine its precious bubbles.  Germany has its Sekt, and Spain has its Cava; but the sparkling wine that is unmatched in its popularity falls to Italy’s Prosecco.  Both the name of the grape varietal used and the name of the wine, it can be made in a lightly bubbled frizzante style, or in a classic methode champenoise.  And in a country that boasts numerous regional cuisines and associated wines, Prosecco comes as close to being the “national beverage” of Italy as any.  It is safe to say that more Prosecco is consumed in Italy than still water in this country!

Prosecco is enjoyed at any time of the day, in any type of glass, cup or mug.  No formality here.  The softer fruit flavour of Prosecco, soft finish and more modest price, makes this wine a natural for gatherings.

So, “pop the cork”, be it tete du cuvee Champagne, a tasty Cava or a friendly Prosecco… and take a page from Italy, don’t save it for launching a battle ship, don’t reserve for the nine days a year when opening a bottle is de rigeur… after all – we live 365 days a year!  Why not celebrate living!

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A Simple Question

“Jimbo, where do Republicans come from?”

The question was posed by Max, age five.  We were on our way to the High Temple of Dinosaur Fossils in New Haven: Yale’s Peabody Museum.  Sometimes there are long breaks between questions and answers in our travels.

I was hoping for a dinosaur related question… like, “If a Tyrannosaurus Rex and a Triceratops got into a fight — who would win?”  I guess I should be thankful.  At least he didn’t ask, “Where do babies come from?”  But knowing Chris and Beth (Max’s parents), he probably already knows where babies come from.  Something that took me thirty years to figure out.”

“Where do Republicans come from?  Did you ask?”

“Yes, Jimbo.”

What brought this up?  Republicans?  Pretty impressive.  This kid has a great vocabulary.  That’s Chris and Beth.  Max already has a better vocabulary than half the adults I know. *UCH*  Cornell Winston (no relation) for my Ninth Grade English!  We had twenty vocab words to learn each weekend… spell correctly and use in a sentence.  I can remember it like yesterday.  I hated it.  “Plethora.”  Who the hell can use it in a sentence?  Or what syllable to stress when saying it?  I should ask Max if he knows what it means; but he would probably correct my pronunciation…

I think I heard someone using “plethora” in a sentence on Face the Nation or Meet the Press.  Some “expert” referred to a “plethora” of social and financial woes facing this country.  He could have used “myriad” or “shit load” or a “quagmire of nightmarish complexity”.  But no.  We got “plethora”.  I bet he pronounced it wrong!  Mr. Smarty-Pants-in-a-coat-and-tie-on-Sunday-morning!

Gag me with a spoon.

You know, if Max asks me where babies come from, I’m going to tell him “Costco Aisle 3, behind the display of synthetic Native American sweat lodges!”

“Do you mean where do they live?  Or how did they get their start?”

I think my question caught him off balance.  I could have simply replied that it was the Political Party of reform founded in the mid-nineteenth century… that Abraham Lincoln was its “spiritual father”… and that Lincoln is probably turning in his grave over how far his reform minded Party has plummeted.

“Jimbo… No.  Where do they come from?  Are there any in Hingham?”

Maybe Chris and/or Beth are closet Republicans and he is thinking of “outing” them?  Or maybe he’s the closet Republican and he is embarrassed by his parents’ liberal views.  Maybe he is just trolling for kindred souls in Hingham?

“OH… I thought that you meant — do they come from the Triassic, Jurassic or the Cretaceous?”

Look… we’re going to the Peabody, right?  Let’s get the kid focused!

“Jimbo… can we go to the Gift Shop first?”

Back on track!  Still, this Republican stuff shouldn’t be ignored.  Maybe his Pre-K program had a “civics” section?  When I was his age the reigning Republican was Dwight Eisenhower.  Back then I didn’t think of him as a Republican.  To me he was a bald guy who smiled a lot and played golf in a shirt with a little alligator embroidered on it.  It looked like being President was a pretty good job.

If Max asks me where dinosaurs come from that will be easy… eggs!  Or eggs from California!

“Gift shop?  Sure.  But the Peabody Museum Gift Shop has a ten minute rule.  And its strictly enforced.  If you haven’t selected something in ten minutes they make you leave… and they keep your money.”

Republicans must come from eggs.  Eggs or pods… like the kind from Invasions of the Body Snatchers.  Hah!  And I know where it begins!  At Mason’s Fresh Farm Market on Route 25 in Monroe, CT.  The fresh produce is merely camouflage for their true purpose.  They grow plants in terra cotta pots.  Look to the left on the far side of their house… you can see the staging areas.  Two different levels covering about a half a football field.  The young plants are in smaller pots on level one, then they are transferred to bigger pots on level two prior to distribution.  Each pot is individually hooked up to a network of tubes.  For water? Fertilizer?  Or something more dastardly?  Yeah, they’re hooked up like those terrifying plant-like seed pods in Invasion of the Body Snatchers!  What a film.  Dana Wynter expressing fear, “I don’t want to live in a world without love or grief or beauty”. Sure, Kevin McCarthy running down the road trying in vain to warn people.  “They’re here already!  You’re next!” His message being ignored. Well, what do you expect from California’s citizenry? 

“What’s your favorite dinosaur Max?  Mine is the Triceratops!”

“Jimbo… ‘tri’ means three.”

This kid is too smart.  If he starts reciting Thomas Aquinas in Latin, I’m pulling over, giving him the keys and walking home.

Yes,yes.  I’m sure of if now.  It’s Mason’s.  That’s where it starts.  I drive by that place first thing in the morning before sun rise.  Sometimes I see a light coming from the basement of that creepy house that sits between their produce stand and their “growing fields.” I bet that’s where they produce the special cultures and yeasts for making Republicans.  Then the raw materials are dried and stored in grain sacks marked “greed”, “intolerance” and “patriotism on the sleeve” and then they put it into their water supply.

“Jimbo… are we almost there yet?”

“Yep… we’re in New Haven.”

And you think that geranium or chrysanthemum in a terra cotta pot is innocent… don’t you?  These plants are carefully endowed with all the necessities for making true Republicans… simple house plants capable of taking over body, mind and soul!  Then these insidious plants are distributed to an unaware public.  Transported to places like Greenwich, then to Andover, then to Yale, Skull & Bones, then to Texas… and then to the White House!!!

“They’re here already!  You’re next!”

“Who’s here already Jimbo?  The dinosaurs?”

“No, Max.  And if you want to find Republicans… go to Costco, Aisle 3.  There is a plethora of them there… just behind the geranium display.”

“Is plethora like a dinosaur nest?”

“Not really.  And remember… just ten minutes in the gift shop.”

Hey! He didn’t correct my pronunciation. Haa-hoo!

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40 Years Ago

Where were you 40 years ago?  I watched our lunar landing from the train station of a Czech  border town.  I had been kicked off a night train going from Berlin to Vienna because I did not have a “transit visa.”  The border guards marveled at our space accomplishments and congratulated me. They extended a hand, no hard feelings. I think that they were happy that we showed it to the “Russki’s”. And for thirty-five dollars American, I was provided a “temporary visa” and allowed to re-board the next train

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Chardonnay

America loves Chardonnay.  We drink more of it than of any other wine.  We grow it in virtually every State that is planted to vinifera vines.  We produce more of it than they do in France!  In the words of Jancis Robinson, Britain’s Master of Wine, “In Chardonnay is one of the happiest combinations: the grower loves to grow it; the winemaker loves to make it; and we all love to drink it.” Some of us love Chardonnay’s that are aged in oak.  Some love Chardonnay’s that are not aged in oak.  Some love Chardonnay’s that are rich and full, some love Chardonnay’s that are clean and fresh, some love Chardonnay’s that have balance and finesse.  Get the picture?

Great Chardonnay is consumed with the passion and reverence reserved for enjoying the finest red wines of the world. Great Chardonnay is not simply “white wine”… it is great wine that happens to be white.  It is the white wine that can satisfy the red wine lovers’ craving for complexity in a wine.

The finest Chardonnay’s come from the Grand Cru Cotes de Beaune Vineyards in Burgundy, France.  Only 2% of Burgundy’s vineyards are rated as Grand Cru, and of that number, less than 5% make white wine. In a mere half square mile between the Villages of Chassagne and Puligny are the historic vineyards of Montrachet, Chevalier-Montrachet, Batard-Montrachet, Bienvenues-Batard-Montrachet and Criots-Batard Montrachet.  Further to the North we find Corton Charlemagne.

Each of these wines are noted for the “layering” of flavours… green apple and tropical fruit touched with a nuttiness.  Flavours that are balanced beautifully with soft oak and a minerality. These precious wines exhibit incredible strength and length, and yet retain a remarkable degree of finesse.  They are also the most age worthy dry white wines made.

 

Outside of Beaune, Chardonnay receives its most unique expression in the Appellation of Chablis. The Chardonnay vines in this northernmost region of Burgundy are planted on the Kimmeridge Shelf, an outcropping of crushed pre-historic oyster shells that originates in Southern England, extends under the Channel to Chablis.  The unique sub-soil gives Chablis its characteristic flinty quality, and makes their wines a perfect accompaniment to the briny taste of fresh shucked oysters and clams.

The prices for Grand Cru Burgundy, be it from the Beaune or from Chablis, are as expensive as the red wines from the Beaune or the Cotes de Nuits. However, for those who look for incredible value in White Burgundy, one only has to travel a little to the south to Maconnais and Chalonnais.  The wines produced here are the true “insider” wines of Burgundy: Pouilly-Fuisse, Rully, Saint-Veran and Montagny make fabulous Chardonnays for a fraction of the price of the wines coming from the Beaune.

Yes, Chardonnay’s “mother tongue” is French; but its world wide success is based on the phenomenal wines that are produced in the other great wine producing regions of the world.  The heartiness of the vine has allowed it to be planted in nearly every corner of the planet.  It adapts well to all soil types and micro-climates… its only shortcoming is its vulnerability to spring frosts.

Before leaving Europe for a spin around the world, take a dip below the Austrian Alps to Italy’s Alto-Adige to enjoy wines that could easily be tasted against the best from Burgundy. Sometimes combined with other varietals, the Chardonnays and Chardonnay blends from this region hit all the essential notes. Balance, flavour, length and excellent aging potential.

For the whirlwind “Chardonnay World Tour”, the first stop is in America. Unquestionably, Napa, California has blazed the trail in the United States.  1976 turned out to be a watershed year for California wine.  Mike Grgich, then winemaker for Napa’s Chateau Montalena, took his Chardonnay to Paris for a blind tasting against French Burgundies, and to the surprise of the world’s wine community, was awarded top prize by a group of stunned French judges.  The “victory” put Mike Grgich on the map, it put Napa on the map, and it put “our” Chardonnays on the map.

The Russian River in Sonoma and the soft hills of Santa Barbara County have also been producing Chardonnays of considerable depth and roundness of flavour.  A combination of hot days, countered by a precipitous drop in temperature at night, has enabled grape clusters to slowly accumulate their flavours over an extended ripening period. The resulting Chardonnays are the match for Chardonnays produced anywhere in the world.

Chardonnay’s success is also seen in the Southern Hemisphere.  In South Africa, the first region of the world to get European vines, the Chardonnays of Stellenbosch possess lush tropical notes and boldness of the “new world” and a restraint of the “old world”. Sipping a beautifully hued South African Chardonnay, consumers can enjoy the “best of the both worlds” in the same glass.

The high dessert climate of Mendoza, Argentina produces excellent Chardonnays, proving that there is more to this prestigious locale than Malbec.  Susana Balbo and Nicolas Catena each produce Chardonnays of amazing quality that is on par with their world renown reds.

And sometimes lost in a sea of Shiraz and Shiraz blends from South Eastern Australia are the mind blowing Chardonnays that come from the Margaret River in Western Australia. Exhibiting the strength and elegance that we associate with the best from Burgundy, these wines are a true treasure… if you can find them.

Whether you enjoy the massive robust oaked-styled Chardonnays, or the clean pristine versions that see no time in oak, or the unique mineral driven Chablis’ or the exceptional wines that offer fine balance between fruit, oak and mineral… this much is abundantly clear – if you love wine, somewhere you will find the Chardonnay that is for you.

And if you reach the Pearly Gates, and an angel hands you a glass of Batard-Montrachet while your paper work is being processed… just smile.  You will know where you are.

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Wines of the Southern Rhone

Viticulture first appeared in the Rhone Valley around 600 BC; but it wasn’t until the 13th Century when the Papal See moved from Rome to Avignon that production of wine significantly expanded. In contrast to the Northern Rhone which is characterized by a continental climate with its harsh winters an infamous mistral winds, the South enjoys a Mediterranean climate with milder winters and hot summers. And unlike the North, where Syrah is the only planted red varietal, the varied terrains and micro-climates of the South provide a welcome home a wide assortment of both red and white grape varietals.  Grenache, Mourvedre, Cinsault, Marsanne and Syrah are some of the varietals that fill the nooks and crannies of vineyards in the South.

There are four quality levels of wine within the Rhone. At the simplest level is Cotes du Rhone.  Grapes can be sourced from any of the 171 communes located in the entire wine region. Both reds and whites are produced and offer great value for every day drinking.

Cotes du Rhone Villages is the next designation.  Grapes from 95 communes are permitted to carry this higher classification and the wines produced here have a higher minimum standard of alcohol level.  Accordingly, the wines have greater strength and definition.

In 1967 a new level of Cotes du Rhone Villages was created to separate individual Villages of superior quality from the Villages AOC.  Wines produced from 17 Villages are allowed to add their Village name to their label.  Wines such as Chusclan and Laudun on the left bank of the Rhone, and Cairanne and Vinsobres on the right bank are Cotes du Rhone Villages of singular distinction.  These wines are enjoyed by savvy wine buyers who recognize the great “quality to price” ratio they represent.  Spend less than you would for a “Cru”; but without a significant drop off in quality.

The Cru wines of the Sothern Rhone are the finest wines produced in the region.  Their names are associated with the best red wines of France (although small amounts of terrific white wine is also made). Chateauneuf du Pape, Gigondas, Lirac, Rasteau and Vacqueyras are appellations of highest reputation and in great vintages the wines produced have great aging potential.

Of the Southern Rhone Cru wines, by far the most famous is Chateauneuf du Pape.  Within the appellation there are 13 approved grape varieties: Grenache, Syrah, Mourvedre, Picpoul, Terret Noir, Counoise, Muscardin, Vaccarese, Picardan, Cinsault, Clairette, Rousanne and Bourboulenc. Each Estate has its “recipe” based on the most appropriate varietals within their holdings, and in any given year the final blend is a reflection of the success in the vineyard. Clos des Pape is a blend of 65% Grenache, 20% Mourvedre and with smaller amounts of Syrah, Muscardin, Vaccarese and Counoise.

Aside from the 2002 Vintage, which was a wash out in the entire appellation, the last 10 Vintages of Clos des Papes has earned unparalleled critical reviews in Wine Advocate: 1998: 90pts, 1999: 94pts, 2000: 95pts, 2001: 95pts, 2002: 88pts, 2003: 97pts, 2004: 95pts, 2006: 98pts, 2007: 98-100pts.

Success in Chateauneuf du Pape goes well beyond the notoriety of a single producer.  Chateau de Beaucastel, Cuvee du Vatican, Le Vieux Donjon, Usseglio and Chateau Fortia just to name a few make wine at the highest level vintage in and vintage out.

Remarkably, the wines of the Southern Rhone remain in the shadow of both Bordeaux and Burgundy in prestige.  Which is why the wines are of such great value… whether it’s the everyday drinking wines of the Cotes du Rhones, the more premium styled wines of Vacqueyras or the cellar worthy Chateauneufs, each level of quality produces excellent wines.  Hands down, France offers no better bang for the buck.

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It Seemed Like A Good Idea At The Time

Sandy wasn’t keen on the idea at first.  I told her about the abundance of potassium contained in bananas. I admit it… I was trying to wean her off those expensive potassium pills she buys on aisle #1 in Stop & Shop.

Yes, she is concerned with health and nutrition.  OK, she agreed that bananas are good for us, even if they were not her thing… but, after all, there would be a clear benefit, at least to me.  And yes, maybe she would try one or two; but only with cornflakes and milk.

An unforeseen problem ensued.  You have to understand this about Sandy: she hates fruit flies.  Last year we were “invaded” (her word) by the pests, and it was determined that my bananas (ripening to perfection on the kitchen counter) were the cause.  Alright, we got one of those dumb wooden banana holders, and the bananas and their holder were exiled to a shelf in the garage. 

Sorry, I thought this was inappropriate.  Bananas need good air.  And besides that wooden thing looked like a gibbet.  It didn’t look like we were ripening bananas… it looked like we had executed them.

But, like Pharaoh, her heart was hardened.  My complaints fell on deaf ears.  

Then she just put on this surprised expression when I had nine fake banana trees installed in our backyard.  I picked them up second hand from a set design company (it’s amazing what you can find on the internet). I explained to her that the space between our deck and the stone wall was a perfect location for a banana grove.  Where else would we put it?  In the bathroom?  She conceded that if we had to have a banana grove, it was the best place for it.

I felt better… now when we return from our Sunday grocery shopping, I climb a ladder and fix a bunch to one of our trees!  Perfect.  Anytime I want a banana, I simply go out to the yard and pluck one from a tree!

Beautiful bunch of ripe banana

Daylight come an’ me wan’ go home

Hide the deadly black tarantula

Daylight come an’ me wan’ go home

Fake banana trees?  And look at this… fake tarantulas!  What’s a banana tree without a lurking tarantula? I love it! You can find anything on the internet!  

But it took considerable persuasion on my part to convince her to take the next logical step and extend our hospitality to a Silverback Lowland Gorilla.  And not some stuffed Steiff toy either.

It happened this way. 

Bridgeport’s Beardsley Zoo has been experiencing some financial difficulty. A combination of the economic downturn and steep budget cuts imposed by Bridgeport Mayor, Bill Finch, have had a serious impact on Zoo operations.  This year the Zoo’s Foundation launched Project Outreach.  One of the programs developed within Project Outreach was to allow for certain animals to be placed in private homes for an over night or weekend stay. For a set fee private citizens could enroll in “Take A Friend Home”.  And then, there would be an additional fee depending on the size and type of animal, for a night or weekend stay.

For the Zoo it was a “win-win”… decrease the overhead in caring for animals, and increase revenue from the fees generated in the “Take A Friend Home” program.  I checked out the Beardsley web site… checked out the Take A Friend Home program… checked out the list of available animals and their costs.

$125 one time registration fee. $500 for a weekend with a Silverback Lowland Gorilla. Done!!

*********

“This is Moses.”

“Why is he wearing an Eisenhower jacket?”

“I picked it up at the Newtown Consignment Shop on Route 25.  I judge it to be circa Korean War.  I had the sleeves lengthened.  Looks good, no?  I didn’t want the neighbors to complain that we had a naked gorilla in our yard.”

I know what you are thinking… this was not a very good idea.  To me this was no big deal.  First, Sandy has gone on record as saying “no” to cats (I was fine with that), and “no” to dogs (that pinched; but I understood why, and agreed)… but she had never said “no” to gorillas.

Next, I felt that we would be doing something good for Bridgeport.  It is the City where Sandy has worked for twenty plus years.  And Lord knows that Bridgeport needs help!

Finally, I knew that a Lowland Gorilla would give authenticity to our banana grove. At least for a weekend.

“I find his name offensive.”

“Well”, I pointed out, “we didn’t name him. They did.”

“I don’t care.  It’s a sacrilege to name a gorilla after our greatest Prophet of all time!  I am not going to call him ‘Moses’.  I’m going to call him Maishe!”

“OK.  Maishe works for me.” It may sound “ghetto”.  Well it is!  Jewish Ghetto! Maishe is simply the Yiddish diminutive for Moses.  But I got to wondering if Sandy was named after our greatest left hander of all time.  That thought could hold for another day.

“And what’s all that stuff in the back of your car?”

“I stopped off at the market and bought 10 bunches of bananas, 4 bunches of broccoli rabe, 2 bunches of fennel, oh… and a pound of cherries for you, they were on special.  Then I stopped off at the garden place next to San Remos and laid in a supply of broad leaf ferns and pachysandra.”

“Will Maishe eat ferns and pachysandra?”

“No, the ferns and the pachysandra are for his bedding.  Gorillas make nests in the ground from leaves and branches every night.  The pachysandra probably won’t be of much use on this visit…” I let this thought linger for a fraction of a second, “… But the ferns and available small shrubs should be adequate for now.”  And then I put in, “I just don’t want him getting into my mint.”

“And just where is our guest going to go potty?”

“In the yard next door.  The Henderson’s have gone to Nantucket for the summer.  Besides, gorillas are very clean animals.  They don’t shit where they eat or sleep.  After Maishe and I knock off a few bananas, I’ll go next door and take a dump behind the Henderson’s maxi rhododendron.  Maishe will get the idea.  If you want… you can take a dump there, too.  Think of it as primate bonding.”

After our Saturday breakfast of bananas and more bananas, Sandy asked what I intended to do with Maishe for the day.  “I thought it might be fun to expose Maishe to a little taste of Woodbury charm.  Take in a few tag sales, the local framer’s market {all organic}, perhaps a bit of antiquing.  That sort of thing.”

No, I came up with an even better idea… why not introduce him to some of our constabulary?  That’s the ticket!  Maishe and I hopped in the Hummer and I drove around town at a menacingly 7 mph above the posted speed limit.  I drove by every known ambush position that the Woodbury fuzz share with the State gendarmes.  What would they think about a 428 pound gorilla in an Eisenhower jacket?  Go ahead, stop me!  I dare you!

“Come ‘n get me copper!  My man Maishe is going to fuck you up!”

In the afternoon we pulled into the Dairy Delite for a small vanilla custard in a waffle cone. We were sitting on the outside benches, taking in the view, minding our own business, enjoying our ice creams, bothering no one and hoping that a cop would see us, when I noticed these teenaged toughs glaring at us.

I glared back, “What d’ya lookin’ at sucka?”

Then I whispered into Maishe’s ear, now it’s time to do your beat the chest thing and show your impressive canine teeth… but Maishe was too caught up in his cone.  So I beat my chest and showed my canine teeth and the kids scattered like terrified rabbits.  Maybe they weren’t teenagers… but they had to be close to ten.

We got back in the Hummer and continued our patrol.  To no avail.  Where’s the police when you really need them?

*************

As the weekend came to a close Sandy, Maishe and I shared a view of the setting sun from our deck.  Sandy, a glass of chilled Chardonnay, me, my customary extra-dry martini and Maishe, a virgin banana daiquiri.  I considered the weekend a huge success.  Granted… it would have been better if the police had tried to stop us.

Sandy simply stared at me above the rim of her Grgich-Hills.

When I returned to Bridgeport the Beardsley people were wonderful, greeting Maishe like a long lost relative.  I thanked them.

“Moses was an exceptional guest.  FYI, he prefers broccoli rabe cooked to raw.  I sautéed them in garlic & oil with white beans and pancetta.  He loved it!  Oh… and you can keep the Eisenhower jacket… he wouldn’t take it off all weekend.”

As for Sandy… there are new prohibitions that have been imposed.  Gorillas have been added to the “no” list.  Pachyderms, reptiles and rodents, too.  The latter is disappointing… I had my eye on a hefty capybara. I returned the fake banana trees and tarantulas (well I kept one of the tarantulas… I thought it would be fun to place it in the guest bathroom).

But all is not lost.  An Emu is just $65 for an over night, and it does not appear on the “no” list.  Ha hoo!  And even more important… bananas are now permitted back in the kitchen.

Work all night an’ drink rum

Stack banana ’til de morning come…

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I Should Have Been Studying, But…

The young men who struggled to gain a foothold on Omaha Beach might not have grown up with television… but I did.

I’d like to think that somewhere down the road, folks will look back at my generation and marvel at our accomplishments in spite of television… much the same way we can cite the excellence of a previous generation who pulled us thru WWII (characterized by the author, Tom Brokaw, as the Greatest Generation)excellent in spite of being raised in cribs with lead paint and sugar and salt in prepared baby food.

That’s what I’d like to think.

But we won’t be judged with the same kindness I fear.  That’s what happens when you put your country in a needless war and a depression.  And I am prepared to say that our shortcomings are due in great part to television.  We should have been studying.

Maybe there are some people who enjoy studying… although I seriously doubt it. They just pretend to enjoy it to shame the rest of us.  And then there are the gifted individuals who don’t like studying; but are just good at it anyway. I detest those people.

I hated studying.  And I was not as a student then, nor now, in any sense gifted.

In 1961 I entered the 7th Grade, Form I at Hamden Hall Country Day School, and the classroom of Cecil Beaupre for first year French.  I have nothing but admiration for Cecil, an ebullient instructor with a set of eyebrows that worked independently of one another.  But who wants to learn the finer uses of the verbs avoir and etre? Who really cares about that?

Besides, I didn’t have the time.  On Tuesday’s at 8:00PM CBS aired the The Dick Van Dyke Show.  Funny stuff.  The repartee between Rose Marie (Sally Rogers) and Morey Amsterdam (Buddy) was priceless. Van Dyke, himself, was a master of physical comedy.  In the opening signature scene he would come into his living room and trip on an ottoman.  I tried to imitate that move.  He made it look easy… natural.  But it wasn’t easy.  I may have succeeded spooking our Bedlington Terriers once or twice.  That’s about it. But I kept trying. You can see why I couldn’t be bothered with learning the gender of nouns.

And after Van Dyke I would have to watch Doby Gillis at 8:30PM.  Dwayne Hickman’s portrayal of a girl obsessed high school student didn’t strike a resonant cord with me (at that time).  But his beatnik side kick, Maynard G. Krebs (Bob Denver) who cringed at the very mention of the word “work”, spoke volumes.  I understood that! 

Genders for nouns?  We don’t have genders for nouns in English!  French was just a smarty pants language.

In 1962 I had Bob Hirata for English II.  I had one feeling in his classroom.  A blend of nausea and terror.  Bob was the finest Instructor that I ever had. Period.  I just didn’t know it at age 12.  Reading Poe’s Tell Tale Heart, writing haiku, schlepping around miniature image notebooks… who the hell can like all that?  Not me.

Particularly on Monday nights when ABC had The Rifleman in the 8:30PM slot.  Chuck Conners as the upstanding Lucas McCain was a great role model.  Great father, raising his son alone… he earned the trust of his neighbors, the respect of the mildly ineffectual Marshal, Micah Torrance (Paul Fix), and the fear of the bad guys.  It’s what happens when you walk around with a modified Winchester repeater.

And there is no way that I was going to be able to scratch out a haiku or a cinquaine when Stoney Burke came on at 9:00PM.  Jack Lord in the lead role about stories set in the rodeo.  Who can care about reading Thorton Wilder when I had so much to absorb about contemporary cowboy life?

Ernie Russ taught Biology in 1963.  It was not his fault that my parents’ did not pass on the requisite gene responsible for science aptitude.  Is it really necessary for me to be able to classify the Slow Loris into Kingdom: Animalia; Phylum: Chordata; Class: Mammalia; Order: Primates; Family: Lorisidae; Subfamily: Lorinae; Genus: Nycticebus?

No slow loris could keep me from watching Combat! on Tuesday nights at 7:30PM.  This television program ranked #1 in my book.  Originally the shows would alternate between the featured actors: Vic Morrow as Sgt. Saunders and Rick Jason as Lt. Hanley.  Eventually the producers reduced Hanley’s role to a secondary status. Fine for me.  The show was a Vic Morrow tour de force. (as a side note… thank God for cable TV.  I get to watch Combat! again on one of the lesser known stations.  The stories and plot lines still work!).

After Combat! it would be time for McHale’s Navy at 8:30PM.  Hilarious show… Sgt. Bilko gone to sea.  Ernest Borgnine as Lt. Commander McHale lived in the shadow of the brilliant Tim Conway’s Ensign Parker (who could read a menu aloud and make people laugh) and the nearly as brilliant, Joe Flynn as Captain Binghamton.

Is it really important to diagram the interior of what a frog looks like?  I don’t think so. 

1964 found me in Munro Brooke’s World History class.  Much of the year I struggled with the course work… too much to learn, too many centuries, too many countries.  Who could keep it all straight?  Particularly if you had to check out The Man From U.N.C.L.E on Tuesday at 8:30PM.  Robert Vaughn as Napoleon Solo (Napoleon?  Well… that’s History, no?) and David McCallum as Illya Kuryakin.  The show exploited the phenomenal success of the James Bond movies, albeit without steamy love encounters, and Ian Flemming was one of the shows original consultants.

At 9:30PM NBC followed with That Was The Week That Was.  This program was a British transplant and introduced us to David Frost for the first time (he was in the original English cast, too).  Skits, musical numbers with a topical bent.  Great satire… and since it covered the current events of the day, it was like a civics class… sort of.  Isn’t that like studying?  Sort of?

Meanwhile, World History gained some traction (finally) late in the Spring when we got to WWII and I found my “calling.”  Munro’s lecture on the rise of Nazism would never be surpassed. I would end up majoring in History at Union (where the television diversion was replaced by bridge and booze).

In 1965, my Junior Year… there was the added anxiety of college applications creeping uncomfortably close… and the buzz was this was the “key year” for the various admission departments.  Everyone began to fret about their GPAs. I don’t think that Marjorie Stewart in English realized this when she forced us to read (against our will) Silas Marner, The Scarlet Letter and The House of Seven Gables.  I could mention a half dozen equally painful titles.  It doesn’t matter, because I never read them… how could I, with a blockbuster Tuesday night that lead off with Combat!, to be followed by McHale’s Navy, to be followed by F TroopMcHale’s Navy gone to the frontier west.

Forrest Tucker as Sgt O’Rourke had better lines than Borgnine’s McHale and Larry Storch as Cpl Agarn was funny; but couldn’t match Conway’s Parker.  Still the show was packed with laughs and was infinitely more rewarding than reading the Cliffs Notes for Silas Marner. 

1966 was a year of deep conflict.  Fowler Osborne in English let me write essays about anything that suited me and I actually enjoyed doing it.  Who wouldn’t have a good time writing about an Old English Sheepdog named Herman?  But how could I fit that in when I had to watch Batman on Thursday night?  Comic Book camp come to the small screen.  Adam West as the Caped Crusader and Burt Ward as the Boy Wonder did fine; but it was the cast of bad guys that made the show… Burgess Meredith as the Penguin, Cesar Romero as the Joker, Julie Newmar as Catwoman and Frank Gorshin as the Riddler among others.

F Troop followed and I wasn’t going to miss that.  Even if it meant putting off studying for Ellen Silberblatt’s U.S. History.  I had hoped that I could have written off the pre-Civil War periods which didn’t interest me; but during a classroom debate I made the mistake of earning praise for my well thought out defense of the Crown’s position leading up to the Rebellion.

  Well… you can’t win them all.  So I felt a little guilty watching Star Trek.  But with the opening lines, “Space, the final frontier. These are the voyages of the starship Enterprise. Its 5-year mission: to explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilizations, to boldly go where no man has gone before”… I was no longer concerned about Andrew Jackson and the Nullification Crisis.  My attention was focused on William Shatner as Captain James T. Kirk and the irrepressible Leonard Nimoy as Mr. Spock.

My  present “network television” interest is near zero.  Other than watching sports I can’t remember when I last tuned into CBS, NBC, ABC or FOX.  The last network series I followed was Law and Order when Michael Moriarty was in the original cast, and that was nearly 20 years ago.

I do watch the History Channel, History Channel International, NatGeo, some PBS and old flicks on just about any channel.  I am particularly fond of barbarians and animals.  I will never pass on catching programs on the Emperor Penguin… Kingdom: Animalia; Phylum: Chordata; Class: Aves; Family: Spenisciformes; Genus: Aptenodytes; Species: A. forsteri.

Unique in the animal world, after the female lays a single egg, she transfers it to the male while she heads out to sea to a eat for 8+ weeks (their version of a Rodeo Dr. shopping spree).  The male keeps the egg on his feet with a fat “pouch” layer acting as a blanket to protect the incubating egg from the -40 f. temperature and winds up to 120 mph.  The colony of males form a tightly packed huddle, with each taking turns in the middle of the pack and out of the direct assault of the wind.  They do this for 64 days, standing up, in the darkness of the Antarctic winter… and with no television.  By the time the females return from their eating feast, the males will have gone 115 days without food.  This is the animal world equivalent to a Mega Yom Kippur.  

And no television.

Now do you see what can be accomplished? 

I was going to write a haiku about Stoney Burke; but Combat! is coming on the ALN Network.  This is the episode when Saunders and Caje are taken hostage by two SS guys trying to return to their lines.  Good story.  The haiku can wait.

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