Thursday, November 1, 2018

From the Gallery of Heroes

Willie McCovey died yesterday at age 80.

As with all such events, it was another reminder of time passing. 

Willie's death was not unexpected, since he'd been having health problems for several years, and hadn't been seen in public, out of a wheelchair, for a long time. 

I can remember, as if it were yesterday, the excitement his arrival generated when he was called up by the Giants in 1959. That evening my Stepdad told me he'd gotten four hits (and I think two triples!) in that game, batting against Hall of Famer Robin Roberts. The balls he hit that day were all screeching line-drives.

Willie's arrival that year created a dilemma for the Giants, since they already had an all-star first baseman in Orlando Cepeda, who'd won the Rookie of the Year Award just a year before. Neither player was a good outfielder, so it was clear that eventually, one of the two would eventually leave. After the 1965 season, the Giants traded Cepeda away to the Cardinals. It was a heart-breaking event. 

McCovey had grown up in the deep South, in a big family. He was close to his Mother, and seemed kind of innocent. Hearing him speak in interviews with his high-pitched, aw-shucks manner, he sounded like a gentle Giant, all simplicity and devotion. And it was true, he was decent and humble about his gift, and never let it go to his head.  

Willie's swing was a thing of beauty, uncoiling from a deep crouch, and whipping upward as he spun in place, ending with the bat pointed upward behind his back. With his huge 6'4" frame, he looked like some mythical figure from legend. At first base, he could stretch his whole long body out, which is where he got his nickname "Stretch."

I saw Willie play near the end of his career at Candlestick Park, in 1978. He was no longer the star performer he'd once been. In the first inning, a Pirate batter hit a lazy ground ball just to his right, and he half-heartedly dipped down as it squirted underneath his glove. The crowd booed. But Willie's knees and hips were shot; he was literally playing on his last legs

No one who saw him play in his prime would have questioned his greatness. He was a country boy who played his heart out. For eight years, between 1962 and 1970, he terrified National League pitchers. Unforgettable.  

Bye-bye, Willie. 

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Duet for Two Mixes

Here are two new inventions from the steel counter.

When we built our house in 1991, I wanted a stainless steel counter. I didn't have anything specific in mind regarding kitchen activity, I had just always admired stainless steel counters, which were then beginning to be considered stylish, supplanting the white painted appliances, and later tile surfaces which were big in the 1960's and '70's. Each kind of surface has its pluses and minuses. Stainless steel is very easy to clean, and presents a high sheen. On the downside, it can't be mended (the way tile can), and over time, it will exhibit a soft cross-hatch of very tiny scratches. I suppose these last could be buffed to a new shine, but who would go to that trouble? 

Neither wife nor I are serious chefs--though she's an inveterate collector of cookbooks--albeit we definitely are connoisseurs of good food and drink. Not sure how I got into the cocktail habit, but it's a pleasant hobby. People go to school to learn to be bartenders, but I doubt there's much to teach, beyond the basic ingredients, and a few memorized popular recipes. The social interactive part's probably as important as the "science"--making your customers feel at ease, unburdening their cares or just cheering them up. 

I like the idea of inventing a concoction that the "professionals" mightn't have thought of (yet). Aquavit--the Scandinavian liquor--is largely neglected by bartenders, though to my mind (and palate), it's a perfectly distinct and cooperative ingredient. Its flavor ranges across caraway, cumin or fennel, which makes it quite unlike gin or vodka. 

St. Germaine has become popular over the last decade. Not sure if it was used in previous times. Probably in Europe. 


3 parts Tanqueray "10" gin
1 part ginger liqueur
1 part Cointreau
1 part Linea aquavit
1 part fresh lime juice

Shaken and served up

garnish lime wedge

3 parts Irish whisky
1.5 parts dry vermouth
1 part St. Germaine liqueur
1/2 part ginger liqueur
1 part fresh lemon juice

Shaken and served up

Monday, September 10, 2018

Smooth landing

The recipe:

3 parts select bourbon
1 part Amaro
1 part dry vermouth
1 part B & B liqueur
1 part fresh lemon juice

poured over ice in any common tumbler 

What is dryness in language?

What is dryness on the palate?

Wet versus dry.

"You're all wet!"

"How dry of you!"

Lime is dry, and molasses is wet.

Pope is dry, whilst Swinburne is wet.

We could continue this little game for quite a while.

Meanwhile, the ice is melting.

The earth is warming.

The girls are bored.

The time's wasting.


This is a concoction which begins dry, but "opens up" the way a good red wine may, as oxygen interacts with the complex molecules in the vintage. 

Don't be put off by your first impression. First impressions can be deceiving.

Deceit. Conceit. 

"Don't be such a conceited sod!"

And so I rest my case. 

Monday, July 30, 2018

Another Aperitif

Summer again, and time for cool accompaniments to relaxing late afternoons. 

This one's composed entirely of liqueurs, with no "goods" as such. Which makes it purely an aperitif, in the European sense, suitable for college students and polite ladies, between homework sessions or shopping trips. It may be diluted as much as desired with effervescence, to vary its strength.

1 shot Aperol
1 shot grapefruit liqueur
1/2 teaspoon creme de menthe
1/2 teaspoon lime juice
topped off with unsweetened carbonated lime water

served over the rocks, with or without a garnish (orange or lemon or lime) probably in a tall glass

I think you will like this one. 

Monday, July 2, 2018

Prepare to be Frustrated

The Grammar Nazi has been away for some time, but he's back again.

Actually, this post won't be about grammar, though grammar is often on his mind these days, stimulated on a regular basis by the public sins of familiar media of every persuasion.

Grammar is about practice, and rules, and different ways of doing things, in language.

But definitions of words present another set of problems.

In our hot current political climate, words are fought over, teased, tangled, twisted, turned, toppled and traded. What words mean--who owns them, how they can be used, by whom, under what conditions--is an important issue in the continuous struggle over meaning itself, and the power that is wielded through partisan usage.

I've become so very weary lately of hearing certain words, particularly by those who strive to spin them in a certain way, being used to manipulate listeners, that I've decided that whenever I hear them, I'm not going to pay attention.

Here's a few of these words:


Whenever I hear someone say some event or condition is "diverse" I know that the user is attempting to claim the moral high ground in the interests of racial, sexual, social, political or personal bias. Diverse in this sense doesn't represent me, since I'm a white male, and therefore I must either accept my "place" as a rejected "Supremacist" or capitulate and accept my guilt with dignity and humility.


Whenever I hear someone use this word, I know that some group or interest is attempting to seize power over an authorized or existing power. Since I'm a white male, I know that the "empowering" applies only to those Other categories, whether they're sexual, racial, social or political--i.e., those who may have felt they needed more power than they thought they already had. I know that I will be asked to cede power to these formerly unempowered interests, who are more deserving. These empowerments will typically be reparations for past injustices.    


Whenever I hear the word "healing" I immediately get that sinking feeling, very like the feeling one has when one answers a knock at the front door, only to be confronted by purveyors of "Awake" or "Watchtower" pamphlets. Your first impulse is to shut the door in their faces, but it's difficult, because you don't want to offend. "Healing" in this sense has nothing to do with medicine, but is about formerly "injured" parties who now insist that in order for them (or us) to heal, society must change, or cede some space or object for their benefit, because they deserve it, having been so often, or so long, or so ruthlessly, injured, or deprived, or ignored. As a white male, I know that I've never really been injured or deprived or ignored in the way that matters. 


Whenever I hear someone use this nearly universal word, I know what's coming. Since freedom in the purest sense is essentially meaningless, until defined and applied in context, it's completely denatured. The word freedom can belong to anyone, without its being soiled or spun out of control. Conservatives may use it to defend financial fraud, taxes, environmental devastation, private property, foreign invasions, lobbying, and corruption of all kinds--all in the name of freedom. Liberals (or "progressives") can use the word to stand for economic equality, sexual deviance, reverse discrimination, unionization, pornography, progressive taxation, etc. Whenever I hear the word "freedom" I reach for my wallet, to make sure it hasn't been stolen by a pickpocket. 


The root meaning of vibrant is to oscillate at a certain frequency. A bee-hive oscillates, certainly, with the rhythmic buzzing of the bees moving their wings. City planners and their ilk have come to use the word over time to describe an urban or suburban context as possessing a kind of metaphoric "vibrancy" which they describe as favorable. A city that "buzzes" with traffic, though, probably isn't what they mean today. "Vibrancy" today means pedestrian traffic, ethnic diversity, small businesses, crowded districts, noise, confusion, and the music of exchange (perhaps not all necessarily monetary). If you like crowds of people and noise and "diverse" ethnic mixes, then vibrancy is probably something you cherish. If not, you may not consider yourself on the side of history, since vibrancy (like diversity) is usually opposed to the virtues white males may prefer, like order, convenience, beauty, openness, and familiarity. Personally, I don't like to oscillate (at least in public), or I prefer to do it in private, where it doesn't disturb others. I prefer to do my shopping where access is easy, and I know I can get what I'm looking for without unnecessary fuss. I don't want some stranger (or homeless person) vibrating too close to me, or some street vender vibrating to get my attention.

So, whenever I hear any of these words on the radio, or the television, or in conversation, I immediately turn off, tune out, and take my leave, because I know what's coming, and I just don't want to hear it. 

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

On a Photograph of Philip Hyde

Philip Hyde [1921-2006] was among the first photographers to feature and promote photographic imagery in support of environmental ideals. Beginning in the early 1950's, he along with Ansel Adams, and Eliot Porter, contributed to the growing body of work that came to be called the Western Landscape Tradition. Hyde was closely associated with the Sierra Club, and many of his photographs were used in various of its publications, as well as its books. Hyde was also among the first photographers to move to color, at a time when that technology was undergoing change. 

This image is from the cover of the Sierra Club Bulletin of October 1951. It's a vertical study taken in Yosemite National Park, and is labeled "Tree and shadow near Peeler Lake." 

What immediately strikes me about this image is its mystery of scale. Disjunctions of scale may seem like trick photography, if the eye doesn't perceive adequate context to determine size, position or relationship. 

Is the "tree" 20 feet high, the image taken from a considerable height? Or is it a foot or two high, just a little seedling sprouting between boulders? The shadow suggests the latter, and the grain of the rock also confirms that. 

I've actually witnessed this rock surface, known as "glacier polish" which one sees along the main roadway through the park. The big smooth granitic boulders are scored by sharply defined creases. It can make a very interesting visual image. 

What I respond to is the delicacy of the twigs and the feathery shadow contrasted across the white mass of hard rock. Also, there's considerable tension created by the triangular intersection of divisions near the top of the frame. It's a classic black and white study, a moment caught near dawn or dusk when the light is tilting towards horizontal. 

I was never a big fan of Hyde's color work. Perhaps it's because it always seems too staid and settled, predictable and flat. This image, however, explores another dimension. 

It's also rather nostalgic. The Sierra Club was more militant and crusading in those days, as it spearheaded the campaign against environmental devastation. David Brower was its controversial crusader, and he believed in photography as a tool in rallying the troops (and the public) against the developers and engineers and exploiters who wanted to rip up the American outback for gain. 

This photograph seems an innocent footnote to that noble history.  

Sunday, June 10, 2018

Apropos of New Chips

Apropos of nothing in particular, here's a tequila recipe.

Actually, to be frank, the idea popped up when I discovered a new "chip" in the grocery this afternoon.

One of the local Mexican restaurant chains, Chevys, specializes in freshly baked chips, familiar to devotees of that establishment, by its glorious greasy shine and texture, nothing like the dry, dull, oversalted variety so often encountered these days in Gringo country.  

They are "Have'a Corn Chips" of Laguna Beach CA 92651, whose makers have perfected the trick of packaging their chips with the oil still on them.

I put them in the oven to heat them up to warm, and paired them with a half pint of fresh guacamole. 

Wow, almost as good as Chevys!

It's all about the oil, I think. They come in small packages, about enough for 2-3 people to consume in one sitting. I suspect that they'd quickly go rancid once exposed to air, even in the ice-box. Perishable. 

In the Bay Area, tequila drinks have shoved most other goods aside, but I'm no more partial to tequila than I would be if I lived in Seattle, or Portland, Maine. I've mixed plenty of tequila concoctions, and the variety is endless. 

Here's a nice sort of variation on the margarita formula, though you could skip the salt around the rim, since the chips carry enough salt by themselves.    

The biscuit amaretto liqueur is proprietary, but it's close enough to regular Amaretto liqueur that you could substitute that. The cachaca is also proprietary, but again, I think various brands could be used. Cachaca has a sort of "hot" quality, which the sweet ingredients temper.  

1 1/2 parts tequila silver
1/2 part cachaca
1/2 part amaretto biscuit liqueur
1/2 part pineapple juice
squeeze of wedge of lime

served stirred over ice into chilled short glasses

Summer is coming. I'll say no more.