Tuesday, December 22, 2009

George Washington's Eggnog Recipe (and a cure for our tax woes)

File this post under: a spoonful of sugar makes the medicine go down.
I'm going to address the tax problem first. Stay with me here, faithful readers, it won't take long. This came to me in a flash when I heard the U.S. Postal Service is going to lose $8 billion dollars this year. So here's a solution.
Put a 1 cent tax on emails.
Every email. Every bit of spam. It will cost a penny. It will cost you, and more importantly, it will cost Williams-Sonoma, Orvis, Cabelas, 1-800-Flowers, Jos. A. Banks, and all the rest of the retailers and health insurance providers and discount Viagra peddlers who clutter up our email boxes a penny every time they send you and the tens of thousands other customers an email. Will they continue to clutter up our email boxes? Probably. But at least we'll know they will be paying a small token for the privilege. Same with all the folks (like me) who send out mass emails and forward jokes and YouTube videos to all their pals...now it will cost us. Not much. But just enough to make us think: is this really worth it? Is it necessary? Maybe it is, and maybe it's not. But if it's true, as has been estimated, that in the U.S. alone there are 100 billion emails a day, a penny surcharge would raise $365 billion a year. Almost enough to pay for the new health care bill!! More than enough to make up for the postal service deficit.

That's the medicine. Herewith the spoonful of sugar.
This is the best eggnog recipe I have ever found, and it comes from none other than George Washington. Get right to it, folks. It should sit for 3 or 4 days so the flavors can meld.

1 quart cream
1 quart whole milk
1 dozen eggs
1 dozen tablespoons sugar
1 pint brandy
1/2 pint rye whiskey (Canadian)
1/4 pint dry sherry
1/4 pint dark rum

Mix the liquors in a bowl and set aside. Separate the eggs into yolks and whites. Set the whites aside. Add the sugar to the beaten yolks and mix well. Slowly add the combined liquors to the yolks, mixing as you do so. Then slowly add the milk and cream, mixing well.
Now beat the whites until frothy and beginning to become stiff. Fold the whites into the mixture. Set for several days in a cool place. Add sprinkling of nutmeg when ready to serve.
It really needs to percolate for a few days so the flavors mesh and soften, and it will then keep in a refrigerator for at least another week, perhaps more. Mine is never around that long. The key to this recipe is it is not too sweet. Dangerously delicious.
One word of caution. One year I set the eggnog to meld in my screened porch. When I went to sample it after a couple of days, I found a dead (but happy) mouse in the concoction. So cover it with Saran Wrap if you don't have room in the fridge.
Cheers, gang! And Merry Christmas!

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Forgotten Miracle

If you're looking for a Christmas present for the hockey fan in your house, or simply want to get hold of a terrific documentary, order "Forgotten Miracle", a just-released DVD that revisits the U.S. Olympic hockey team's 1960 gold medal win in Squaw Valley. (Here's the website: Forgotten Miracle. For the flavor of the film, click on the trailer when you get there. If it doesn't grab you, you don't have a pulse. If it does, click on the Buy DVD link. Best $19.95 you'll ever spend.)
Those of you who have checked out the trailer have already discovered that I was one of the ones interviewed for the film. (And no, I have no financial stake in the DVD sales.) I was eight years old when the 1960 team triumphed in Squaw Valley, so it's a little surprising I come across as such a know-it-all. But I've actually written a couple of stories on that 1960 team for Sports Illustrated, have interviewed its two best players, Billy Cleary and John Mayasich, at length, and covered the 1980 "Miracle on Ice", where I became friends with Herb Brooks, the last man cut from that 1960 team. I also used to play hockey with two of Coach Jack Riley's sons on a team called the Bud Kings (mid-70s, Boston), and know from them how much pride Riley took in what that 1960 team accomplished. If you're interested, here's what I wrote in SI in a piece entitled The Original Miracle On Ice, which I hesitate to send you to because the SI Vault website spells Cleary's name "Geary" throughout the piece. Plus it's a reader's digest version of the events which transpired in Squaw Valley, which is far, far better told in the "Forgotten Miracle" movie.
A better story, I think, is the short profile I did of Mayasich, one of America's greatest hockey players, which can be found by clicking here: The Quiet American. The one statistic that really jumps out about him is that in his four year career as a center at the University of Minnesota, he averaged a staggering 2.68 points per game--higher than any four year stretch that Wayne Gretzky (2.62) managed during his NHL career.
Mayasich's scoring records at Minnesota still stand, but it is a measure of his greatness that for the 1960 Olympic team he played defense, not forward, breaking up rushes, initiating breakouts, and posing as a threat from the blueline with his trademark slapshot--a weapon that was still in its infancy.
Mayasich and brothers Billy and Bobby Cleary were last minute additions to the 1960 Olympic team. Bill Cleary and Mayasich had played for the silver medal winning US team in 1956, held regular jobs, and didn't want to take a year off to do the Olympic tour leading up to Squaw Valley. Coach Jack Riley was smart enough to know the team couldn't win without them, and tough enough to cut three players who had toured with the squad for nearly four months just a few days before the Olympics began. One of those players was Herb Brooks, a disappointment that helped fuel Brooks' own manic pursuit of the gold in 1980. "Forgotten Miracle" does a wonderful job recalling the chilly reception the latecomers got from their teammates when they joined the team in Squaw Valley, and how Billy Cleary in particular responded to it. At the end of the day, of course, the team realized Riley had been right. Billy Cleary led the team in scoring with 12 points in five games; Bob Cleary added eight points, including the first goal in the 2-1 win over Canada; and Mayasich was the team's best defender. But it is a testament to how late the trio arrived that in the official team photo, pictured below, the faces of Bill Cleary (first row, third from left), Bob Cleary (middle row, next to trainer) and Mayasich (top row, far left) had to be superimposed onto the bodies of the three players who'd been cut at the 11th hour: Brooks, Robert Dupuis, and Larry Alm. Can you imagine? There is no official team photograph of the 1960 team that won the Gold medal. It had to be faked.
There are any number of examples in the documentary that show how the game, and the Olympics, have changed in the intervening 50 years. The day after Mayasich collected his gold medal, he was back in Green Bay selling appliances. Captain Jack Kirrane, a Boston firefighter, was passed over for a promotion because he took the Olympic year off. And the gold medal game against Czechoslovakia was played at 10 a.m. before just a few thousand fans. It was a simpler time, a time when sports--at least in the U.S. and Canada--were truly amateur. None of the 1960 players benefitted financially from the win. No endorsements. No parades. Goalie Jack McCartan, who was sensational during the tournament, was signed by the New York Rangers after the Olympics, but he played only 12 games in the NHL. The only player from the 1960 team who was given a real shot in the NHL was Tom Williams, who ended up playing 663 games over a dozen seasons, primarily with Boston, scoring 161 NHL goals. But Williams was a minor player in Squaw Valley, with only 1 goal and 4 assists for the tournament. The best players, Mayasich and Cleary, never were given a chance.
Not that they were regretful about any of it. The quiet, intense pride of those 1960 players, now in their mid-70s, and their coach, who's 87, shines through in this wonderful documentary. Andrew Sherburne, the film's producer, who came to my house to interview me, told me how surprised he was at the humility of all the players he tracked down. Not an ounce of bitterness or arrogance in them. I wasn't surprised, having talked to a few of the men myself. They reached the highest pinnacle any of them ever hoped to in hockey: Olympic gold medalist. America's first gold medal in hockey. One that was every bit as shocking, in the hockey world, as the 1980 triumph. But without 1/100th of the attention.
In the film you can see how much enjoyment these men got from the sport, whether it was in recalling the memories of having snowballs fired at them by fans in Sweden, or recalling how one of the players, Paul Johnson, nearly left the team in the middle of the Olympics to go to Las Vegas because he needed some money. They were characters; they were honorable; they were tough as grit; and they were sportsmen who played the game for love and pride. One doesn't see their ilk much in the sports world anymore. But they are bigger than life in this film, and finally getting the recognition they so richly deserve.