Sunday, August 30, 2009

The golf ball and the underrated dolgo crabapple

Yesterday it was officially announced that the 2013 U.S. Amateur golf championship would be held at The Country Club, in Brookline, Massachusetts, marking the centennial of Francis Ouimet's victory there in the 1913 U.S. Open. I am a member of that wonderful club, and, like the majority of members, am excited that the U.S.G.A. has chosen to recognize Ouimet's historic win in such a fashion. Several years ago, many of us had been hoping the U.S. Open would be held at TCC in 2013, but negotiations broke down over a variety of issues. However, hosting the U.S. Amateur can be construed as a possible precursor of a future Open, perhaps in 2018 or 2023. There is already a
blueprint for a couple of million dollars in "improvements" to the course in anticipation of such an event. Fortunately, due to the moribund economy, these design changes--new tees to lengthen some holes, new bunkers in landing areas 300 yards or more yards from the tees--have been tabled. But they're coming, I'm sure of that. Like all of the old, classic courses, The Country Club has fallen victim to technology, and holes that used to require a drive and a three-iron are now a drive and a wedge. 550 yard par 5s are easily reached in two shots. 350 yard par 4s are drive-able. So we lengthen the tees until we run out of space, at a cost to the membership of millions of dollars.
...The problem, as Jack Nicklaus has said for years, is the golf ball. The metal drivers have something to do with the extra length players are getting off the tee--I am 57 and hit it as far as I ever have--but by far the biggest factor is the ball. So I wonder what the solution is?
...Let me think. Let me think. Could it possibly be to regulate the ball?
...I can only think of one other pro sport where players bring their own ball to the competition. Bowling.
...Bowling and golf. Now there's some select company.
...Can you imagine a baseball pitcher who insisted on using his own ball when he took the mound? Absurd. Yet the fathers of golf insist the equipment companies are so powerful that you could never get, say, Tiger Woods to play with anything but a Nike ball. Poppycock. In tennis, another sport heavily influenced by endorsements from Nike, Wilson, Spalding, et al., the balls are given to the players. Roddick can't chose one brand, Federer another. But golf officials, somehow, haven't the guts to stand up to the players and their multiple corporate sponsors: Titleist, Nike, Callaway, Bridgestone, and the rest.
...Look, I don't care what happens on the PGA Tour. Let the players bomb 400 yard drives at the ATT Invitational all they want. But the U.S.G.A., the not-for-profit organization which oversees the game and hosts our national championship, should be able to take the Open to historic old courses without requiring them to put in a whole new set of tees in order to "defend" par. The U.S.G.A. should have the cojones to say to Tiger, Phil, and Vijay: "Thanks for coming. Here's the ball you'll be using for the next four days. It says U.S. Open on it, and it's a 90 compression balata." Or whatever. Everyone plays with the same ball. What a concept! It's called a level playing field. And it's called monetary sense. Enough of the 7,600 yard courses. Because it will never end. Technology's not going to stop here. The balls will keep going further if someone doesn't put a lid on it. Let's keep the old designs relevant and save everyone (but the course architects and equipment companies) a pile of dough.

The other big news from Massachusetts yesterday (that had nothing to do with a funeral) was here at Breakwind Farm we harvested our crop of dolgo crabapples and made applesauce. It is a tart-ish, red applesauce that we use with pork, on gingerbread, and as a stand-alone desert topped with vanilla ice cream. As you can see, part of its appeal is visual. You simply cannot find anything like this in the supermarket. So if any of you readers are thinking of planting an ornamental tree that is easy to care for and also produces a useful, unique fruit, I heartily recommend the dolgo crab. It likes full sun, is fast growing, and looks like this in the springtime.
(My bees LOVE it1) Then in late august, without the least assistance from me (I don't even spray), it produces an abundance of golf-ball sized, red crab apples, too tart to enjoy raw, but which can be easily made into applesauce or jelly.

...Here's my recipe for Breakwind Applesauce.

20 cups dolgo crab apples, stemmed and cut in half
4 or 5 regular apples, stemmed and quartered
1 1/2 cups water
1 cinnamon stick
3 cloves
juice from 1/2 lemon
5 cups sugar

Wash, stem, and halve the apples. Put in large pot with water, cloves, cinnamon stick and lemon juice. Cook 20 minutes over medium heat, covered.

At this point it should look something like this:

Put through a food mill. (This is a food mill:

Stir in five cups of sugar. Bring to a boil.
Put into 1 pint jars. Makes 8 pints.

The jars, of course, should be sterilized. Then after they've been filled and sealed, you should still boil them while completely immersed for several minutes. The result: red, delicious, dolgo applesauce, which all winter long serves as a reminder that spring is just around the bend.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Johnny Damon vs. J.D. Drew, an epic Red Sox Gaffe

The Red Sox front office has had some hits and misses in the last five years, but no miss was greater than the failure to re-sign Johnny Damon after the 2005 season. Yes, the once-beloved Damon is now hated in Boston because of his decision to jump to the despised Yankees, lured by an offer of $52 million, over 4 years. But Damon was the heart and soul of the 2004 World Series winners who broke the Curse of the Bambino, chief idiot of the self-described "idiots" who came back so improbably from the 3-0 deficit against the Bronx Bombers. He owned Boston back then. Women loved him. Men admired him. And Damon wanted to stay. Until, that is, the Sox low-balled him. Then he was gone. For $12 million, it's tough to blame him.
It is tempting to put the finger on youthful GM Theo Epstein for this front office gaffe, but Epstein was having a dispute with team president Larry Lucchino at the time, and wasn't, temporarily, with the team. Lucchino was in charge of the negotiations with Damon's agent, Scott Boras, and the Sox' final offer of $40 million for 4 years was well short of what the Yanks were willing to pay. As soon as Damon signed with New York, the bad-mouthing started. He was "an old" 32, his best years behind him. He had no arm and was just an average fielder. His shoulder was suspect. By the end of his contract, the Yankees would surely rue paying him $12 million a year.

....Guess what? The Yanks got their money's worth, and then some. Damon's having a phenomenal season in the final year of that four-year contract, and the Yanks are talking about re-signing him in the off-season. Damon still has power--22 homers already in hitter-friendly Yankee Stadium--83 runs scored, 8 steals, 52 walks, a leader in the clubhouse, popular with the fans and press...what's not to like? The Yanks are headed for the World Series, and the 35-year-old Damon is putting up numbers for his career--he has 2,389 hits and could reach 3,000--that probably will land him in the Hall of Fame.
....And the Red Sox? They're in a August swoon, and in place of Damon they went out and signed J.D. "Nancy" Drew.
....Okay, that's a cheapshot. Drew outgrew that nickname in the 2007 playoffs, when he eradicated the memory of a lousy first season with the Red Sox by helping them to their second World Series title in four years with a good post-season. At that point it seemed maybe boy wonder Theo Epstein had been smart to fling $70 million over five years at the oft-injured Drew (also represented by Boras)--$30 million more than the club had offered Damon. But with two years remaining on that contract, it's now clear: Drew is grossly overpaid; and Damon is sorely missed.

...Yes, Drew has a better arm than Damon, and plays a respectable right field. But a comparison of their offensive totals shows that Drew falls short of Damon in every category but one: walks. Theo loves walks. I prefer runs and ribbies. In Damon's four years with the Yankees,including this partial season, he has averaged 135 games, 150 hits, 97 runs, 19 homers, 22 steals, 70 RBIs, and 62 walks. Great numbers. Drew, in his three seasons with Boston, including this partial, has averaged just 116 games, 105 hits, 75 runs, 14 homers, 58 RBIs, 3 steals, and 73 walks. The guy's a walking machine. He really knows how to take a pitch. Unfortunately, he usually bats fifth or sixth, because most startling among those numbers is that Damon, usually a leadoff hitter, has averaged 12 more RBIs a season than Drew. If you also throw in the lousy offensive year that centerfielder Coco Crisp had in 2006 (105 games,.264 average, 8 homers, 58 runs, 36 RBIs)--after Damon left but before Drew was signed--you get the full picture of how much Boston has struggled to replace Damon's bat.
...Beyond that, Damon had personality and fire, something the 33-year-old Drew has shown little of during his stay in Boston.
....It's time for Bostonians to stop booing and give Johnny Damon his due. The guy was fun, he was good, and the Red Sox are worse off without him. The fact that he's headed for the post season now while Boston is reeling just rubs more salt in this self-inflicted wound. Meanwhile, the Red Sox will be stuck with the most overpaid right fielder in baseball for two more seasons. He looks like an old man now at 33. What's he going to look like in 2011?
....Why they signed you, Nancy, will always be a mystery to me.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Eggs Edward

I don't know why breakfast gets such little respect as a real meal. A person hasn't eaten in 10 or 12 hours, he should be hungry for something more than a bowl of cereal or a piece of toast. I have one friend who has a Coke for breakfast. Many others who have nothing at all, or who grab a cup of coffee while heading out the door. You've all heard the old saw about breakfast being the most important meal of the day. I think that's probably true, but at the very least you should treat it as you would any other meal by preparing it with good, fresh ingredients and varying the menu every once in awhile.
...With that in mind, allow me to share the recipe for my favorite breakfast: Eggs Edward. Step aside, Benedict, your day is over. (Really, Hollandaise Sauce before noon? Just inject me with Crisco and be done with it.)
...Here at Breakwind Farm, August is generally a time when we are knee deep in fresh tomatoes. (Not this year. The incessant rain in the northeast has postponed the tomato crop, and given much of it blight. My first tomatoes are still bright green--but that's another recipe for another day.) I started eating sliced tomatoes on toast for breakfast as a way to keep up with the harvest, and eventually began experimenting with other flavors that were complimentary. Hence the birth of Eggs Edward.

Ingredients: 2 slices crisp bacon
1 English muffin, or two slices white bread, toasted and buttered
1 sliced tomato
2 poached eggs
fresh basil
salt and pepper to taste.

This takes no longer than five minutes to prepare, start to finish, or as long as it takes to crisp the bacon. Heat water in a frying pan to a boil to poach the eggs, or you can use a fancy poaching device. The frying pan works fine, however, if you add a tablespoon of white vinegar to the water before adding the eggs. The vinegar, for whatever reason, keeps the eggs from spreading out, and the result is an imperfectly round but nonetheless compact and delicious poached egg.
Meanwhile, toast the muffin and butter the halves. Top each half with a slice of tomato, a piece of bacon broken in half, one egg (remove the egg from the fry pan with a slotted spoon, being careful to drain off the water), and slivers of fresh basil. Salt and pepper to taste. Serve with fresh coffee. Bon Appetite!!