Sunday, December 30, 2012

Favorite Moments from the 2012 NFL Season

I know something amazing might happen today, the final regular season week of the NFL, but the following have been the most entertaining moments of the season for me. Hey, one team which shall remain nameless (but is spelled 'J-E-T-S, Jets, Jets, Jets') makes the list three times. Three!

10.  The Resignation of Fireman Ed as the ad hoc head cheerleader for the New York Jets. Can you actually resign from this sort of thing? Is there a letter or some formal written notification that must be submitted? Did Fireman Ed call up Woody Johnson and tender his resignation? How did this go down? I want to know.

Ad fucking hoc

Monday, December 24, 2012

Aggressively Mediocre: Your 2012 Pittsburgh Steelers

The 2012 Steelers give even the great Ryan Clark a headache
I have watched less talented teams in my lifetime in black and gold, but I have never watched a more disappointing team.

Oakland 34, Pittsburgh 31.
Tennessee 26, Pittsburgh 23.
Kansas City 13, Pittsburgh 16. (Yeah. I know they won. But needing OT against the Chiefs? In Pittsburgh, for cripes sake? C'mon.)
Cleveland 20, Pittsburgh 14.
San Diego 34, Pittsburgh 24.

No team with those five games on their resume has any business at all in the post-season. And so, the season is over, golf course reservations are made and, frankly, some long soul searching needs to happen at Heinz Field. Not to overstate this, but the Steelers have some things to figure out. Every time they were presented with an opportunity this season, they fell short -- sometimes by a hair and sometimes by a country mile.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Tags Lays the Hammer on Goodell and Other Thoughts on NFL Player Safety

The other day, Roger Goodell’s old boss Paul Tagliabue took his former protege down a few pegs when he completely overturned Goodell’s rulings on four former and current Saints players. Initially, commissioner Goodell suspended Jonathan Vilma for the entire season, Will Smith for four games, Scott Fujita (now with the Browns) for three games and Anthony Hargrove (a free agent) for eight games. 

In man hours, that’s a total of 31 games suspended. Reduced to ZERO by Tags. It was the right call. And not just because I enjoy seeing Goodell with a bit of omelette on his face, but because I think the NFL can change in a really productive way at this moment.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Mike Tomlin's Achilles Heel

Every coach has one. You can point to it with even the most successful of coaches. Some coaches are great tacticians (usually on one side of the ball or the other), but aren't good with personnel. Some are great at preparing their team, but not so good in game situations. Some are terrible clock managers. The knock on some guys is that they simply can't win the big one. And those are the good coaches, bear in mind.

In the five years that I've watched Mike Tomlin, I wondered about his flaw and how it might manifest itself. After the Steelers shit the bed against a bad San Diego Chargers team at Heinz Field on Sunday, I realize what that flaw is -- his teams underperform against 'lesser' teams.

Call it an achilles heel or a blind spot, this seems to be an area where he struggles. Maybe he lacks a specific talent or an ability to see this as a problem. Whatever it is -- willfulness or simply a skill deficit -- this is more than a trend. It has become a very pronounced pattern.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Rashard Mendenhall: To Fumble or Not to Fumble? That Is the Question

Steelers Coach Mike Tomlin made it a point in his press conference this week to point out that he had re-configured his depth chart vis-a-vis running back. Call it blowing smoke or sending a message; view it as speaking through the media to his players or sheer egotism. But however you see it, Tomlin made it clear that (for the time being) Jonathan Dwyer was the starting running back, with Isaac Redman the 3rd down guy and Rashard Mendenhall in a lesser role.

It's a heckuva role for a former first round draft pick to be in.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Sunday Recipe: Aunt Fulmay's Sunday Dinner Spaghetti Sauce

My great-aunt Fulmay as a very young woman
My Aunt Fulmay was actually my great aunt -- my grandmother's (older?) sister. Though her given name was Philomena (after St. Philomena) everybody in the family called her Fulmay. [Her friends from beauty school called her Philly, a great nickname for Philomena.] Growing up in Western Pa., the name Fulmay never seemed odd to me, but when I got to college, none of my college friends could pronounce Fulmay (I have no idea why), but they always said Phoo-May, as though she were of Asian descent, rather than Italian.

In a family full of great home-style cooks, all of them with big personalities, my Aunt Fulmay had one of the bigger personalities. I was modified-vegetarian through most of my 20's (I ate fish and dairy, but nothing that walked the earth.) Aunt Fulmay told me to come up for a roasted chicken and when I told her I was vegetarian, she screeched, "But honey! What do you eat?!"

Then, she offered to make pork instead. True story.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Sunday Recipe: Italian Wedding Soup Re-Imagined

Pietransieri -- the source of great recipes and culinary inspiration
If you aren't Italian and if you didn't grow up in Pittsburgh, you may not even know what Italian Wedding Soup is. It's a sad state of affairs, I know. For the uninitiated, wedding soup is chicken broth, with baby meatballs, greens (usually escarole or spinach) and tiny pasta (generally acini de pepe). But if you you grew up in an Italian family in the Pittsburgh area, you probably had wedding soup at home -- we always had it at Christmas and Easter. I remember that my neighbors, the Polish, German and Slovak ones, didn't eat wedding soup for holidays. Talk about a sad state of affairs.

At some point in the mid-1980's, wedding soup exploded throughout the area and, like the Primanti's sandwich and the pierogi, became one of the hallmark foods of Pittsburgh. [We can only be grateful that they don't race tureens of wedding soup at PNC Park.] Now you can get wedding soup at pretty much any little diner and bar that serves food. It is everywhere. I'm shocked, actually, that Monday Night Football hasn't used wedding soup as their go-to Pittsburgh food image. (If you're not a sports fan, you don't realize that MNF has a gratuitous shot of a local food wherever they are. E.G., in Philly, it's always a cheesesteak; in San Diego, generally they show a fish taco; in Cincy, there is always a lingering shot of Skyline Chili; and in Pittsburgh, it's always, always a Primanti's sandwich. 'They put french fries right. on. the. sandwich!')

Monday, October 1, 2012

What Went Wrong, Went Wrong Fast: a Eulogy for the 2012 Pittsburgh Pirates

"What went wrong, went wrong fast," John Irving once wrote and with those words, his protagonist in The Hotel New Hampshire revealed the death of his mother and younger brother in a plane crash. As a reader, you know it's going to happen; maybe not a plane crash, but you know that something horrible, something awful, something unspeakable will happen. You know this because Irving is a master of foreshadowing. (Also of pathos, which is probably relevant when discussing the Pirates, too.) Because Irving is just so damned good at it, you know what's coming, but you don't know it, which is to say that you feel something -- your Spidey sense is all tingly and at the same time, the novel is new to you. When it happens, the impact is like a sledgehammer hitting you in the face and yet, a tiny voice in the back of your brain says, "Oh, I knew that was going to happen."

The calamity which is the back end of the 2012 baseball season for the Pittsburgh Pirates season reminds me so much of Irving's crash:  the late season death keel is something we could have predicted -- well, maybe not to the extreme that has played out on the field -- but still we could have seen it coming, or at least parts of it.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Where NFL Replacement Refs meet Gary Bettman and the NHL

The New York Times reports that many casual football fans are turned off by the mind-meltingly slow pace of NFL games due to the dithering, amateurish replacement officials. The NFL's lockout of their regular refs, it seems to me to me, presents not merely a chink in the previously impenetrable armor of the NFL, but a wee bit of a vacuum. If fans are turned off by the length and pace of NFL games, might they be inclined, I dunno, to watch something else?

It is a vacuum (however slight) that could be, and should be, filled by hockey. Hockey can easily sell itself to disenfranchised football fans. After all, both football and hockey are fast and violent, both require precise teamwork and vision, and both are sports where players sometimes do things that we ordinary mortals cannot even conceive of.

And to exploit this opening ... Gary Bettman and the NHL have engaged in a pissing contest with Donald Fehr and the NHLPA. Talk about murdering the goose that lays the golden eggs.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Take That, Roger Goodell

In his tenure as NFL commissioner, Roger Goodell frequently talked out of both sides of his mouth.

"I'm for player safety," he says, while at the same time asserting, "The NFL desperately needs an 18 game regular season."

He has doled out suspensions like the most popular house in the neighborhood doles out Snickers bars on Halloween. At the same time, he awkwardly hugs every draft pick as they walk across the stage on draft day.

Remember that scene in Chinatown? "My sister! My mother! My sister! My mother!" Yeah, you know what I'm talking about.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Rationalizations and Lines: The Steelers Lose in Denver to Open the 2012 Season

'Why does that strike me as a massive rationalization?'

'Hey, don't knock rationalizations. I don't know anyone who could get through the day without two or three juicy rationalizations. They're more important than sex.'

'Aw, c'mon. Nothing's more important than sex.'

'Yeah? You ever gone a week with out a rationalization?'

The Steelers pass defense was torched by Peyton Manning last night:  Well, lots of teams have been torched by Manning in his career.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Sunday Recipe: Hot, Hot, Hot Fra Diavolo Sauce with Casareccia

The first time I had a fra diavolo sauce that blew my hair back was at a little joint in Boston's North End (pictured here. Yes, the lines are like that. No, I am not in that photo.) It was spicy and fresh -- not to wax poetic, but it tasted like sunshine.

Fra Diavolo is a spicy sauce meaning 'the devil's brother.' It is generally paired with pasta and/or seafood. (At Giacomo's, I had it with linguini and langostines. I have posted a variation on this sauce -- here -- paired with polenta.) In the years since my trip to Giacomo's, I have made fra diavolo probably hundreds of times, amidst various seasons, but right now really is best this time of year to make -- when you can easily lay your hands on vine-ripened, home-grown, dripping with flavor tomatoes and fresh hot peppers.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Gone for a Walk

A long, long walk.

Here's my wish list while I'm gone:

-- a gold medal for the US Women's Soccer Team

-- the Pirates win at least eight out these eleven home games

-- Mike Wallace comes to his senses and gets into camp

-- Goodell, et al. stop playing hardball and get the real refs signed up

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Sunday Recipe: Cocktail Hour

And now, for something really different.

It's that lazy time of summer when we've all been too hot for too long. No longer motivated to go out and actually do things, most of the time, after a long, hot day, all I want is a drink. Those of you who know me know that I am generally a beer drinker, but these are two great refreshing vodka cocktails I have been enjoying (and serving to happy visitors) for the last couple of weeks. Naturally, you can use whatever vodka you like, but I like to keep things hyper-local, from the produce I buy to the beer I drink, so I've been using Boyd & Blair Potato Vodka -- made with locally grown potatoes, distilled and bottled right in Glenshaw.

The first drink, a spicy mango concoction, comes courtesy of Rob, a distiller at B&B. It is bubbly and fruity, but also has a serious bite, thanks to the ginger beer and the arbol chilis. It's a party in my mouth.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Dear NBC, You Suck

Exhibits A and B
For many years, I have maintained that Starbucks makes coffee for people who don't actually like, you know, coffee. I suspect that the baristas breathe a secret sigh of relief when confronted with this order:  "large coffee, please," because I see all manner of complicated drinks --- things with whipped cream and syrups and all sorts of other crazy stuff essentially designed to mask the coffee flavor in coffee. I submit Exhibits A and B, pictured to left:  the Starbucks' Toffee Nut Frappuccino and Mocha Praline Frappuccino, respectively. And I rest my case. (Mocha Praline? Really? Who thought up that combo? Paula Deen?)

A week into watching the 2012 Summer Olympics from London, I can say with authority that NBC is to sports what Starbucks is to coffee -- all frothy and foamy and treacly sweet with very little coffee (or in this case, actual competition.) I don't need caramel syrup in my coffee and I don't need personal backstories to create interest in a sporting event.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

The Burnett Effect

Back here at Bucco Central ... At the start of this baseball season, I was adamant that a winning season -- not a 81-81 finish -- but an actual winning season would constitute success for your Pittsburgh Pirates. Anything less than 82 wins would be a failure.

The Pirates have, so far, exceeded expectations and, in fact, for the Pirates to finish 82-80, they would have to finish the last 59 games of the season at 23-36. So that would actually suck, right?

But the Pirates are not going to go into a 23-36 slump. They are going to remain relevant. They will not go into that good night because Allan James Burnett will not permit it.

Last night, with the Pirates reeling and keeling after two bad losses to two really bad teams, Burnett did exactly what he said he would do -- stop the bleeding. Early in the day, I was running some errands and I was thinking about the Pirates and Burnett, which made me think, "Okay, AJ, you asked for it. Can you do it?"

Friday, July 13, 2012

Gone Fishing

I'll be back just as soon as I've ingested my body weight in Wellfleet oysters.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

The MLB All-Idiot Team

From the same addled mind that brought you the All-Fat Guy Team and the All-Fro Team, I bring you the All-Idiot Team. And people, this is meant to be light, just a list of guys who have done truly idiotic, embarrassing, mind-boggling things, both on and off the field.

14.  Fred Merkle.  My historical choice because, when you have a dumbass play named after you, you've really done something special. "Merkle's Boner" occurred in game in September, 1908 as the Chicago Cubs and New York Giants were battling in a tight pennant race. In the bottom of the 9th, Merkle singled and his teammate, Moose McCormick, moved to 3rd. The next hitter singled to center and McCormick scored what seemed to be the winning run for the Giants. Merkle ran toward the dugout without touching 2nd base. The Cubs threw the ball to second and Merkle was scored a force-out for the final out of the inning. After that, the game was called -- either due to darkness or because the Giants fans had swarmed the field believing they had won -- depending on what reports you read. The Giants and Cubs finished the season tied for first and the Cubs won the pennant in a one-game playoff. The Sporting News reported the incident as "the stupidity of Fred Merkle." Nuff said.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Five Most Pivotal Moments for the Pirates

Back at Bucco Central at the All-Star Break, with your 48-37 Pittsburgh Pirates sitting atop the NL Central, I have a moment to reflect on the things that got us here. Obviously the main cogs driving the magical Pirates have been A.J. Burnett's determination and veteran leadership, Pedro Alvarez contributing regularly, Clint Hurdle's genuine affection for his players and light touch, Ray Searage's tutelage of the pitching corps, the amazing bullpen and the even more amazing Andrew McCutchen. Really, I've started to run out of superlatives regarding that guy -- he is nothing short of breath-taking. Still, in the afterglow of Sunday afternoon's beatdown of the San Francisco Giants, I spent a bit of time thinking about very specific moments, five (okay, six) key situations that have made these Buccos so bewitching.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Fishing, Fantasy and Pirates Baseball

Meanwhile, back at Bucco Central,

On Monday night, I headed down to PNC Park to take in the game with my good buddy Captain Bucco and my other good buddy UConn fan (who, it should be noted, is also a Buccos fan, but that gets complicated.) At any rate, UConn Fan, Captain Bucco and I walked out to the bleachers on a perfect evening, and we watched the game and it was as if we had dipped ourselves in magic water, to paraphrase W.P. Kinsella.

Captain Bucco shared a story, a fantasy really, of what the team might be like away from prying eyes. "Sometimes," he said, "when I'm at the gym and I'm bored on the treadmill, I allow myself to fantasize and I fantasize that A.J. Burnett and J-Mac take the entire pitching staff on a fishing trip during the All-Star Break."

"Entirely possible," I said, knowing what avid anglers Burnett and McDonald are.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Sunday Recipe: Grilled Veggies, a/k/a, Eat Like the Italians Eat

This is not a recipe, so much as a guide-post, a half-map, half-reflection on the bounty of summer. One of my favorite things to make for dinner in the summer is a mash up of grilled veggies, with grilled bread and some cheese. If you get the chance to travel in Italy, most restaurants have a sort of 'bar' of grilled veggies -- eggplants, roasted peppers, zucchini, etc. -- all available as side dishes. But this time of year, with farmer's markets booming in Western Pa., I like to serve the grilled veggies as the main course.

There are lots and lots of options for grilled vegetables and I've tried to grill everything but a cauliflower (although, now that I mention that ...) That said, certain veggies just scream to be grilled.  Exhibit A:  zucchini. And Exhibit B:  eggplant.

Maybe it's something about the squash family of vegetables, but I never eat eggplant unless it is grilled. Eggplants can get a little mushy and/or slimey, but toss them over a flame and they turn into silky, smokey goodness. The same is true for the humble zucchini and it's cousin, the yellow squash. I believe they are at their absolute best when cooked on a grill, nary a sautee pan in sight.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Pirates GM Neal Huntington -- #winning

Meanwhile, back at Bucco Central ...

Facebook was not even a glimmer in the eye of Mark Zuckerberg the last time the Pirates won and blogs like this one were unheard of, all of which is to say that my Pirates, if you didn't know, have been terrible for a very long time. And yet, the team seems to be rounding a corner around due in large part to three people:  Andrew McCutchen, Clint Hurdle and Neal Huntington. Whether or not you are on the Bucco Bandwagon or remain skeptical of the team's heretofore success, today seems like a good day to take a stroll through the biggest moves that Neal Huntington has made and evaluate them -- WIN, LOSE or PUSH.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Why the Pittsburgh Pirates Won't Have Another Back-End Collapse in 2012

We're three months into the season and, just on paper, this Pittsburgh Pirates' season looks a lot like last year's Pirates season. 70 games in, the Pirates are a heady 38-33, good for a winning percentage of .535. A .535 winning percentage may not look like much in other cities, but around here we can get downright giddy over that, almost drunk with success.

And yet, many people are are teetotalers, dour prohibitionists abstaining from the Pirates grog. The sense I get is that folks are waiting for the other cleat to drop. Right on their foreheads.

Last year, at 70 games in, the Pirates had their heads above water hovering around .500 ball and month later, they were sitting pretty at 53-48. Of course, 19 innings deep in Atlanta, Jerry Meals happened . Everything turned to crap after that and your Buccos lost 22 out of their 31 next games, at one point dropping 10 in a row. What I keep hearing is, let me know how they do in the back-half of the season, implying subtly, or not so subtly, that they will have another August swoon and everything will turn to excrement all over again.

I'm here to say -- stop worrying. Give in. Drink the Kool-Aid. Drink deep. Get on the Bandwagon -- not just your pinky toe, but all of you. Here's why:

1.  BURNETT and J-MAC (which sounds like a 70's TV cop show -- "Burnett and J-Mac:  Two partners who couldn't be more different, except that they love to catch bad guys. Thursdays on ABC!"). I admit it -- I wasn't all that fired up about the Pirates brass signing 35 year old A.J. Burnett from the Yankees. In his three seasons with the Yankees, his ERA was 4.04, 5.26 and 5.15, respectively. Except for one notable game, Yanks fans hated him. While I don't put that much stock into the feelings of New York fans, my gut feeling was that the Yankees and their All-Star batting order (with matching price-tag) might be able to put up more than five runs per game routinely, but my Pirates were not. Not by a long shot.

Turns out, I grossly misunderestimated the guy. He's turned into the thing the Pirates lacked last year -- a stopper. Burnett is the guy who, in the midst of a four-game swoon, takes the ball and says, "Look, these guys aren't getting more than one run off of me and we're gonna win this fucking thing." Who knew A.J. Burnett was that guy? I don't even think Burnett knew he was that guy. But he is and I think it's something Pirates fans will come to appreciate when they hit a rough patch, as all teams do.

This is to say nothing of the effect Burnett has had on young James McDonald. J-Mac has good stuff including a pitch that just drops of the edge of the earth, but he was wildly inconsistent. One start he'd go for seven stellar innings and in the next start he'd look like Josh Fogg on a bad day. For whatever reason, or however it happened, Burnett has helped J-Mac become a complete pitcher, one on the cusp of greatness. Oh, these are good times for fans who like to watch skilled hurlers.

2. CUTCH. Andrew McCutchen is one of those rare players who I feel lucky to get to watch. The guy is simply electric on the diamond. There may be others who are faster, but I don't know of any other player who is as fun to watch run as Cutch. Sitting in the stands at PNC Park and watching him go from 1st to 3rd on a single is like seeing Blondie at the Mudd Club or the Beatles at the Cavern. Okay, that's probably a wee bit hyperbolic, but the point is that he, like Blondie or the Beatles, is so memorable.

Just when you think he's hit maximum speed, he turns it up another notch. He can hit for average (.345) and hit for power (13 HR, 45 RBI, and a slugging pct. of .586). He closes the gaps on fly balls so quickly that he robs opposing players of potential extra base hits regularly. Of course all of that was true of McCutchen last year, too, but I think that both the success (in the first half of the season) and the misery (in the back half of the season) have helped him this year. In short, I think that psychologically his is prepared to carry his team from time to time (as he did through much of May) and he also knows what he needs to do in order to do that. There's real power in that kind of knowledge and, like Burnett, I think that 'Cutch will find a way to put his team up on his back when they need a lift.

3. SCHEDULE. Last year, in the back half of the season, the Buccos played the Houston Astros (stinky) nine times and the Chicago Cubs (stinkier) just seven times. This year, they have the Cubs (even stinkier than last year) 13 times after the All-Star break and the perpetually stinky Astros 10 times. Outside of the division, they get to play the bad stinky San Diego Padres six times (as compared to just three meetings last year) Add to that, they had to face the soon to be World Champ St. Louis Cardinals 13 times in the 2nd half of the season, but this year they only get them six times. In sum, the 2nd half of the Pirates schedule was a veritable murderer's row last season whereas this year, um, not so much. This is not as hard as parsing Proust, after all. The Pirates face more bad or mediocre teams to finish the season. All they have to do is beat the teams they should beat to keep chugging along towards their first winning season is two decades.

4.  PITCHING DEPTH. Earlier, I referenced the Jerry Meals game. While many have posited that game destroyed the delicate Pirates psychologically, I don't think the disappointment of that game was what sent the team careening into a tailspin, so much as the fact that the team was worn out, particularly the pitching staff. That 19 inning game came five games into a stretch of 20 days without a day off. The pitching staff was stretched to the limit by the Meals game and something as simple as a scheduled day off might have helped them hit re-boot. Instead, they never recovered until much later in August.

The Pirates are situated better this year with a better rotation (with Burnett and McDonald as 1 & 2  are a huge leap over Correia and Maholm as 1 & 2). The staff is rounded out nicely with Eric Bedard and Kevin Correia (right where he belongs as the #4 starter) and Brad Lincoln holding down the fort for the injured Charlie Morton (gone for the year) and Jeff Karstens. The good news is that Pirates announced Karstens will start tonight against in Philly. If he is the same Jeff Karstens we saw through most of last season, the braintrust Ray Searage and Clint Hurdle can go to a six-man rotation during stretches like the one the Pirates are in now. [See what I did there? I actually referred to Pirates coaches as a 'braintrust' and I did it WITHOUT irony.]

5.  JEAN PAUL SARTRE. What do you have to lose by climbing aboard and enjoying the ride for however long it lasts? The ability to say, "I told you so?" Son, that's no way to live. Having fun is more important than being right. My experience is enriched by allowing myself to give a shit. And let's face it -- it's all about me. Games are more fun to watch. Stats are more fun to parse. Maybe the Pirates will go down the drain like last week's spray tan. If that happens, what do I lose? Really? What does it cost me? A few months of actually caring? That would be a bad thing because ...

Maybe, just maybe, this is the year that the Pirates finish the season playing meaningful games in August and September. I, for one, want to be a part of that.
Jean Paul Sartre, noted Existentialist and Pirates fan

Friday, June 1, 2012

Pittsburgh Passion and DC Divas Set for Epic Clash on Saturday

On Saturday night, the Pittsburgh Passion, welcome the DC Divas, their long-time rivals, and this Saturday figures to be as epic as all of the previous battles between these two teams. These two beasts of the Mid-Atlantic opened the season against each other in DC, a game that the Passion won by a score of 35-34, a win that put the Passion in the driver’s seat to win their division and the 5-0 Pittsburgh squad can secure their playoff position by sweeping the Divas, a fact of which both teams are acutely aware.

In the world of women’s football, the Divas and the Passion are Duke versus UNC, the Sox and the Yanks, Lebron and Cleveland. All of which is to say, more often than not when the Divas and Passion take the field together it’s a memorable night. 

Monday, May 28, 2012

Sunday Recipe: East Meats West

The other day, I was craving meatloaf and then, of course, I reminded myself that I don’t really like meatloaf and that the only proper purpose for ground beef is to make a proper burger. But still, something about the texture and the homey comfort of a childhood favorite was calling to me. Of course, when I was a kid, I liked all manner of foods that don’t really stand up all that well to an adult palate -- freeze-pops and Big Macs, Campbell’s canned soup and tuna cassarole. They all seem so good in theory I suspect because such strong memories are attached to them. Our recollections are tainted, not to be trusted. In a good way, perhaps, but they are not to be trusted nonetheless.

For instance, my favorite meal when I was sick was Campbell’s cream of tomato soup with grilled cheese sandwiches (made with Velveeta and Town Talk bread, yo.) But the idea of that exact meal? Do I really want that now? Not so much, actually.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

On the Pittsburgh Penguins Complete Meltdown

Losing is part of being a fan. It's what we sign up for when we decide to give a shit about the athletic exploits of this sports team or that. When you become a fan, you expect to be entertained, hit some high notes and also have moments of deep despair following particularly painful losses. Every fan has a running list of the worst losses of his or her life. It's just part of the package.

If you find yourself walking around in Boston, grab a random person and ask about the worst losses she can remember. I'll betcha she names the 2003 Red Sox or the Patriots loss in SB XLII. If you're in Cleveland, I hope you have some coffee or something, because the list of disappointing losses may be longer than what you bargained for.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Penguins and the Flyers: In the Octagon for Round 1

"Hey you. Hey! Four Eyes!"
"Who me?"
"No, dipsh*t. Him"
"Wha'dya want?"
"Yeah, you. Tell your boss I said, 'Nice tie.'"

Flyers coach Peter Laviolette passes on a compliment to Dan Bylsma via Penguins assistant coach Tony Granato, with the diminutive Pierre McGuire looking on from below.

When the Penguins and Flyers play, even the coaches pop a gasket.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Sunday Recipe: Easter Ravioli with Pears and Marscapone

Every year, at both Christmas and Easter, I make ravioli and frankly, the Petracco tradition of ravioli are more sacred to me than the actual holidays. In sum, I cannot imagine Easter without them. Gram (pictured here as a middle-aged woman) lived to be 93. Might have been 94 or 95 -- we were never clear on her exact year of birth and I was 20 when she died. I grew up in a little house across the street from her little house and spent countless childhood and adolescent hours with her. I'm luckier than most people. The years I had with Gram I consider to be one of the great gifts of my life.

Gram and I did a lot of cooking together, but as to the actual ravioli, I grew up making those with my grandmother, Vera because by the time I came along, Gram was tired of the prep work and just let her daughter Vera do the rav making for our wing of the clan.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

My Top 10 -- The Women to Watch in the 2012 NCAA Tourney

It's become an annual event around here -- my listing my top players in the tourney. It should be noted that these aren't necessarily the best players in the tournament, but the players I'm watching, for a variety of reasons. In some cases, it's because I've seen them numerous times and I never tire of watching them. With a few others, it's because I've spent the season reading about them without getting a chance to see them. To think, when I started watching women's hoops, I probably couldn't have made a list of 10 players I wanted to watch; now, I find myself working hard to cut the list down to just 10. I could easily go to 15.

1. Skylar Diggins, Notre Dame. What could I write about this junior guard for Notre Dame that I haven't already written? From the moment she arrived in South Bend, she was a leader on the team. She has handled everything the media can throw at her with aplomb. She led her team to the Finals last year by upending the behemoth UConn in the Final Four on the way. She has hit buzzer beaters, made impossible dishes, created steals and willed her team to victory. Oh, and she even turned L'il Wayne into a fan. So whatever it is? She's got it. The kid can play in any kind of game. I think because of her looks (she is undeniably beautiful), her toughness is sometimes underestimated, but few in the game are as tough and as scrappy as is Diggins when her team is in a dogfight.

Notre Dame faces Liberty in the 1st round on Sunday at 2:30

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Matt Cooke Shows NHL GMs the Easy, Obvious Solutions to Head-Hunting

NHL general managers are meeting right now and one of the things they’re talking about is how to deal with concussions. What they know is they cannot keep losing players of the caliber of Sidney Crosby and Chris Pronger. What is to be decided is:  how they are to go about protecting their players?

There are some interesting rule changes being discussed:  putting the red line back (boo), removing the trapezoid behind the goalie, and the one I like the most,  a hybrid-icing call proposed by Brian Burke of the Toronto Maple Leafs. I’m sure that the equipment -- particularly the helmets -- can be improved, too.

But even with those changes, suspensions are the best, simplest way to reduce concussions caused by head-hunting.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

On Malki-Mania, Winning without Sidney Crosby and the Demise of the Washington Capitals

D'ya think Lightning net-minder Dwayne Roloson is the kind of guy who would, while on safari, poke a hungry lion with a pointy stick? Or who, despite warnings from his local, friendly apiarist, shake up a hive of honey bees while wearing nothing but shorts, flip-flops and a t-shirt? Based on his performance in Pittsburgh yesterday, I think he is just that sort of guy.

I would give this simple piece of advice to the dear Mr. Roloson:  do not poke the Russian Bear in the face like this:

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Sunday Recipe: All on a Mardi Gras Day Gumbo

As regulars know, I love all things New Orleans (except that nasty baby jesus king cake -- yech) and recently returned from a blissed out week of food, drink and music in the Crescent City. Today, to a soundtrack featuring Dr. John, Big Chief Bo Dollis, Ingrid Lucia, Trombone Shorty, Kermit Ruffins and others, Geargirl embarked on some serious gumbo research. (I fiddled around with said soundtrack on iTunes -- because I'm helpful that way.)

If you're expecting seafood in this gumbo, move on. Seafood gumbo is not in season in NOLA, so this is the winter version, with andouille sausage and chicken. There is a third variety of gumbo -- a green gumbo which I do intend to try to make when summer's bounty is available -- and I'll be using the recipe of the incomparable Leah Chase. At any rate, this is a gumbo based on that at Liuzza's by the Track. And if you happen to be in NOLA, do go to Liuzza's and eat some gumbo for me. (If it's a Monday, do get the red beans and rice.)

Monday, January 30, 2012

Sunday Recipe: Best of NOLA, the Food (and Beer) Edition

A solid week in New Orleans is only a fraction of the time you need to eat your way through the city and while I didn't have a single disappointing meal, these are the culinary highlights of my trip.

The Dooky Chase experience. Dooky Chase has been around since, well, since forever and chef Leah Chase (pictured above outside her magnificent restaurant) started working her magic in the kitchen in the 1950's. Miss Leah has been described as the Queen of Creole Cooking, but I always tell friends that she is to creole soul food what Lidia Bastianich is to italian. Yeah, Leah Chase is just that good. According to what I've read, she isn't at the restaurant full-time anymore, but we had the luck to have lunch on a day when she was there and we had a few minutes to chat with her when she stopped by our table. (Now I can die in peace. Seriously.)

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Gone Fishing

Or at least to eat some fish. And some oysters. Perhaps on Po'Boys. Or in gumbo. Let the good times roll, people.

Friday, January 20, 2012

And Thus Endeth the Great Bruce Arians Debate

Today, Steelers offensive coordinator Bruce Arians announced his retirement and nary a tear was shed in Pittsburgh, except maybe by Pig Ben Roethlisberger, who was all BFF with coach Arians.
I'm no great supporter of Arians and while it was hard to argue against a guy coming off of a Super Bowl appearance, I felt that Arians' time here was over heading into the 2011 season.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Worst. Pittsburgh. Sports. Week. Ever.

Seriously? What in the Sam Hill is going on around here?

I'll give a box of Twinkies to the person who can point out to me a worse week, because I don't need any fancy math skills to know that this:

PLUS this:

PLUS this:

equals the worst week in memory.

Just what have we as a city done to piss off the sports gods? Personally, I blame the Mayor.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Top Five Reasons I'm Nervous about the Steelers v. the Broncos

The Steelers first playoff game is just hours away. And I don't feel well. It's my annual bout of Steelers Playoff Anxiety Disorder. It's an amorphous disorder and happens every year to thousands of people in the Western Pennsylvania area. But today, specifically, here's why I'm twitchy:

5.  Health.
The Steelers head to Mile High as a veritable MASH unit -- the offense is without it's most explosive running back (and I know I've been critical of Rashard Mendenhall from time to time, but he looked really good to me the last few weeks), the line is missing monster center Maurkice Pouncey and Pig Ben is limping around on an ankle that's about as sturdy as under-cooked bacon. (Mmmm ... bacon.) On the other side of the ball, who knows how well or how long LaMarr Woodley will play on that gimpy hamstring. And of course, Ryan Clark (the team leader in tackles with an even 100) cannot play or he might actually, you know, die. I'd feel a lot better if at least some of those guys were healthy.

Friday, January 6, 2012

The NFL Playoffs, Seeding and Reason

Once again, in the land of the NFL, we have good teams traveling to play el-stinko teams in the playoffs. Last year, when the super-stinko Seattle Seahawks won the crapulous NFC West with a 7-9 record, oh did the talking heads wail. Oh, the 10-6 New York Giants didn't get to play, but the Seahawks were in. Oh, the humanity. At the time, I argued that winning your division should mean something. Even if your division is the bottom of the garbage pail. I think of it as a similar scenario to March Madness -- win your conference and you get an automatic bid. If you perform well, but don't win your conference, you should get a shot, but there are no guarantees.

Here's why division champs are important. Because the Brown hate the Steelers. And the Ravens hate the Steelers. And everybody hates Baltimore.

Monday, January 2, 2012

Sunday Recipe: New Year's Pork Roast and Sauerkraut

As anybody who grew up in Western Pennsyvlania knows, pork roast and sauerkraut are traditional New Year's Day foods and where I grew up, the population was so densely and predominantly Slovak, Polish and German, that we ate sauerkraut year round.

Now, everybody's family does their 'kraut differently. Some families like it super sour and others prefer it milder, almost sweet. So your mileage may vary on this.

My grandmother (the Scotch-Irish one, not the Italian one) leaned toward a richer version of 'kraut -- still a bit sour, but not sweet, rather just savory. I should say here that she was a great cook. I mean, truly great. And I think, in another place and time, with other opportunities, she might have made for a fine restaurant owner and cook. I'm not talking about opening a restaurant that serves foams and uses liquid nitrogen and the like, but a restaurant that makes just flat out delicious home cooking -- like the food you want to get at home, only better. This is my take on her sauerkraut (which she taught to my mother.)