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Archive for February, 2017

I am not a fan of tomato ketchup. Some brands are better than others but many have a tinny after-taste which I dislike . Trouble is, I can’t remember which are good and which are not. At one time, there was also catsup ( Hunts, I think) but I haven’t seen it in recent years. I used to think catsup tasted different ( and better) but perhaps it was just my imagination and because I liked the word ” catsup” better than ” ketchup”. The ingredients  of both are very similar though some claim that catsup is tangier.

Perhaps my aversion to ketchup is conditioned by the fact that I was brought up on fruit ketchup. In India, tomatoes were relatively expensive and food companies substituted them with cheaper ingredients like bananas or even pumpkin. ” Tomato” was dropped from the product designation and the bottles were labeled just” Ketchup” or , sometimes, ” Fruit Ketchup”. Growing up in India, this is what we had most of the time  and this became the standard. Not surprisingly, it was sweeter than regular ketchup and this accounts for my bias. Fruit Ketchup is also manufactured in other Asian countries, notably the Philippines. One of the popular brands, Jufran, is available at Asian stores in the U.S. Check it out.

A Washington D.C company , Chups, makes fruit ketchup in 6 different flavors ( cranberry, mango, peach plum, blueberry and spicy pineapple) and adventurous home cooks make it in flavors such as tomatillo and sweet cherry. Another company, Blackberry Patch, makes ketchup in three flavors… raspberry Chipotle, Blueberry and Blackberry. These artisanal products sound intriguing but they don’t interest me … they seem far removed from ketchup.

Ketchup has been steadily losing ground in the U.S  because of  demographic shifts. Americans, particularly those on the coasts and the big urban centers, have developed a taste for spicier condiments and about 15 years ago, salsa overtook ketchup both in sales and popularity. Of course, a major reason is that salsa is a dip that goes very well with tortilla chips, a popular munchie at parties. I like salsa but prefer the homemade kind to the bottled variety.

My preferred condiment is hot sauce. I started out with Tabasco and Red Devil but found that their acidity overwhelmed the dishes that I was adding them to. I switched to Asian hot sauces such as Chili paste with garlic, and Sambal Oelek. They were fine but , once I discovered Sriracha, there was no going back. Sriracha has a more rounded taste and it complements whatever it is eaten with. It is amazing to think that the Sriracha company was only founded in 1987 by a Vietnamese immigrant to the U.S. So popular is it that it’s name has become synonymous with hot sauce just as Xerox was once with copiers. Of course, success breeds copycats and competition. Since the name” Sriracha” cannot be copyrighted ( it’s the name of a town in Thailand), Sriracha has spawned a host of imitators, including Texas Pete and Badia. Many of these are quite different and inferior in taste to the original. I make it a point to always buy the original products which can be distinguished by the Rooster logo.

Recently, I was surprised and delighted to find squeeze bottles of Sriracha Hot Chili sauce Ketchup at my local supermarket and it has since become my condiment of choice. I still use the hot sauce regularly but, when I want ketchup, I use the Sriracha Hot Chili Sauce Ketchup. It’s excellent.

Just as Sriracha has expanded into the ketchup business, Heinz has gotten into the hot sauce genre. The company not one but four entries in this category.. Hot Pepper Chili sauce, Sriracha ketchup, Jalapeno Ketchup and Balsamic vinegar ketchup.

I guess turnabout is fair play.

 

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When well meaning friends call us from the West Coast in winter, they often ask how we are managing, how we are holding on. Accustomed to balmy weather year round, they are perturbed when they see temperatures in New Jersey hovering in the teens and twenties. Actually, it is not at all bad and there are pleasures to be had here which people in warmer climes never experience.

It is a misconception to think that winter temperatures in New Jersey are low all the time. As I write, it is 59 deg. F ; tomorrow it will be 74 deg F. Last week we had six inches of snow and the temperature hovered around freezing ( 32 degrees F) for several days . Back in January, it even went as low as 8 degrees F. That was an anomaly and I think the average winter temperature is probably in the high thirties or low forties. The other saving grace is that the sun is out much of the time, unlike Northern Europe where it disappears for weeks on end and the winter skies are gray most of the time.

No matter how cold it is outside, the house is well insulated and, if we dress sensibly, winter is no hardship. This is particularly true for retirees like us who do not have to go out unless they want to. The snow removal crews in our Active Adult community are very efficient and the snow gets removed promptly.

” What are these winter pleasures?” you ask. Well here are some of them…

Winter foods: In winter, we cook differently, the emphasis being on piping hot soups and hearty stews and casseroles. The slow cooker comes into its own now and it is wonderful to pop the ingredients in, cook them long and slow overnight and wake up next morning with lunch already done. There is a certain ” rightness” to sitting down to a meal of Slow Baked Macaroni and Cheese or Corned Beef , Cabbage and Carrots or Pork and Celery Stew. These dishes taste especially good when it is cold and snowing outside; they just don’t taste as good in hot weather.

The fireplace: Unlike the fireplace in our old house which required real or faux wood, our new fireplace is gas fired. So what if it isn’t authentic; it heats up quickly and disseminates the warmth efficiently. Every now and then, I love to get up from the recliner and toast myself on both sides by standing close to it. What bliss !

Snug as a bug in a rug: describes how I feel at night under the down comforter. In winter, I am comfortable all night and drop off to a dreamless sleep in minutes. Not at all like  summer when, in spite of the A/C, it feels stuffy in the middle of the night and I wake up. This usually happens at around 3 am, too early to get out of bed and, yet, difficult to get back to sleep.

Watching it snow: It’s so wonderful to sit at the window and watch the snow come down knowing that one doesn’t have to go out. There is a magic in watching the snowflakes fall, accumulate slowly on the grass, the road and the roofs of the houses opposite. With fewer people up and about, everything is shrouded in a silence that makes you feel as if you are in a cocoon, warm, comfortable and relaxed. With hardly anyone about, it feels like a still life, pristine and serene in its snow white purity.

Reading: I always love to read but, in winter, there is a special charm in curling up with a good book. With few other options, there is much more time to read and that’s all good.

This is not to say that I like everything about winter. Among the things I don’t like:

Black ice: When a thin film of ice forms on the road surface or driveway, it makes for treacherous footing and can result in falls. Extended periods when the sun is hidden from view: Luckily this happens seldom, perhaps three times in a winter. Early sunsets: which means that it gets dark as early as 4 pm in late December. Luckily, the days lengthen pretty quickly and by late January it is light until past 5.

Karen, a friend of ours, says that winter is her favorite season. When it snows she loves to put on her snow boots and go for a walk. I don’t love winter that much but I do like it and wouldn’t want to miss out on it. There is a certain rhythm to the changing of the seasons; it would be boring if it was ” perfect” all the time.

 

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Going All In

( As poker players know, ” Going all in” means betting everything you have on a single pot. In the larger sense, it means giving it all you have and not holding anything back, of risking everything and not keeping anything in reserve).

A couple of Sundays ago, my wife and I went to the Villagers Theater in the Franklin Park Municipal complex to watch ” Altar Boyz”. It is an off-Broadway musical that ran for over 2,000 performances ending in 2010 and is now playing the small town circuit. It’s about a touring Catholic boy-band that is out to save the lost souls in the audience, one soul at a time, and has catchy music and spectacular dancing. We enjoyed it thoroughly.

But this post is not about the musical itself. It’s about the five dancer-actors who play the members of the band ( Matthew, Mark, Luke, Juan and Abraham). They are all young guys in their twenties or early thirties and it is apparent that acting is their life. While on stage, they show such verve and enthusiasm and are so fully in their roles that it is beautiful to watch. I looked at their bio-data and it was impressive. All of them have spent years honing their craft, singing, dancing and acting in a number of plays  at community theaters, Knights of Columbus Halls, YMCAs and other small town venues. Typically, such productions pay performers very little and , out of curiosity, I tried to figure out how much they could possibly be earning.

The Villagers Theater is larger than it appears from the outside. It seats about 240. For Sunday’s performance it was almost full. Say 220 viewers. The performance was to benefit charity, so tickets were only $ 15. Normally they are $ 22 apiece ( $ 20 for seniors).  At $ 15 per ticket, the total gate comes to about $ 3,300. In addition to the five actors, there were five musicians and three production staff… a total of 13 people to be paid. After deducting expenses, it is doubtful that each performer got much more than $ 150. Considering that these productions are limited engagements, I don’t think the actors could be earning more than $25,000 a year each. Even if they make it all the way to Broadway later in their careers ( very inlikely), they will never strike it rich. Yet, in spite of the meager pay, the  poor prospects, they persist in their craft, giving it everything they have.

I mentioned this to my wife as we were driving back and she had a different perspective. She felt that the actors were doing what they wanted to do, enjoying every moment they spent on the stage or even in rehearsals. She went on to say that they were living their lives fully, in a way that the rest of us cannot even imagine.

She has a point but I also know that I could not do what they are doing, even had I the talent. Most of us are like that, conditioned to think of  steady employment,  a good career, security. I am too but I respect those young men and I admire them. I admire them deeply.

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At the recently concluded Australian Open, 82 year- old tennis icon Rod Laver presented the trophies to Federer and Nadal. A good  of mine from Malaysia watched the match and the trophy presentation and was moved to send me a list of Aussie greats from the fifties and sixties who are still with us. It is a remarkably long list. Here it is :

Frank Sedgeman  …89

Rod Laver               … 82

Roy Emerson         … 80

Neale Fraser          … 83

Mervyn Rose           .. 87

Mal Anderson         .. 81

Ashley Cooper       … 80

Fred Stolle              … 78

Bob Hewitt              … 77

This is by no means a complete list. Others include Margaret Smith Court ( 74), John Newcombe ( 72), Tony Roche (71) , Colin Dibley( 71) and Owen Davidson (73). The only Aussie players of that era who passed away early are Lew Hoad , who died at age 59 of leukemia, and Ken Fletcher who succumbed to cancer at age 65. I can’t think of anyone else.

When I got this list I  marveled at it.  What was the secret of the longevity of these players ? But as I thought about it, I began to understand that it was not all that remarkable, that were plenty of good reasons . Here are some:

  1. Tennis is a non-contact sport. There is no danger of life threatening injuries as in football, wrestling or boxing. Since the players are on opposite sides of the court, there is no chance of collisions as in soccer,basketball or baseball. And because the ball is not being hurled at a player, there is little chance of getting beaned and seriously injured as in baseball or cricket. When a tennis player does get hit ( a rare occurrence), the ball is comparatively soft and doesn’t result in lasting injury.
  2. Tennis requires a combination of speed, agility, strength  and endurance. Players are not oversize, overweight behemoths as in football. They don’t have to be excessively tall as in basketball. They are slightly bigger and taller than the average and the combination of attributes required to play tennis ensures that they are very fit.
  3. Tennis players do not have guaranteed contracts or signing bonuses. In other pro sports many athletes, unaccustomed to having large sums of money, go berserk. They start spending like there is no tomorrow, acquire a coterie of hangers-on and not infrequently take to drugs or drink as they party. They run through their cash very fast and live the rest of their lives in poverty, lucky to get jobs if at all. The stress takes its toll and shortens life spans. In tennis, on the other hand, the players have to continue to play well to make a good living. They do not get sudden windfalls but their careers are longer and the money comes in regularly.
  4. Tennis players compete almost year round. In the U.S, football, basketball and baseball seasons last between six and eight months ( including training camp). The extended off-season means plenty of time for players to indulge in their appetites, get overweight and out of shape.. and then go on a crash diet to get fit for the coming season. Not good for their bodies or their health.
  5. Tennis is a game that can be played almost to the end of one’s life. Many tennis pros continue to be associated with the game even after they retire. They become coaches, run training academies or camps. Even when they don’t, they keep playing  for love of the game, often well into their seventies. Tennis doesn’t require much in the way of equipment or facilities and it is not difficult to find another friend or two or three to play regularly. It shows. Did you see how trim Rod Laver looked at eighty-two?
  6. . Tennis players, in general, have a more stable family life. Because of the almost year round playing season, they travel with their wives and are not subject to the same temptations as , say, pro football or basketball players.Lest you wonder if this applies only to Aussie players, here are some stats about tennis players from other countries. Among those still alive: Vic Seixas  93, Budge Patty  92, Bob Falkenburg  91,Dick Savitt 89 and Tony Trabert 86. Don Budge died at age 84, Ted Schroeder 85  Ellsworth Vines 82, Jack Kramer 88,Bobby Riggs 77 and Fred Perry (England, 85). Almost the only ones who died comparatively early were Chuck Mckinley ( d. 45) Bill Tilden( d. 60) and Pancho Gonzales ( d.67) but they were not the norm. McKinley succumbed to brain cancer. Tilden was dogged by suspicions that he was gay and it ruined his later life. Gonzales had a tumultuous life during which he was married and divorced six times and died in poverty.The reasons then  for the longevity of tennis players are  no secret. They would seem to be regular exercise, moderation in eating and drinking, stable finances, a fulfilling family life and continued devotion to exercise and fitness even in retirement.

    Happily, these are things that we all can do or aspire to.

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After his splendid performance in Super Bowl LI, Tom Brady is being hailed as the Greatest QB of All Time. It seems we sports fans are not just content to watch a great game; we have to grade our sports heroes, compare them to those of previous eras, make up lists of the all-time greats and select The Greatest. In tennis we have Federer camps and Nadal  camps, each avowing that their man is the Greatest. In NBA basketball, Michael Jordan sits alone at the top but in a few years LeBron James will no doubt be touted as  the Best ever. And in NFL football, Tom Brady is being anointed the Greatest Of All Time..

It is bad enough to try to choose the Greatest in an individual sport; in team sports, it is just plain ridiculous. As I had written in one of my previous posts, there are many factors that make it impossible to compare players from different eras. In the case of tennis, these include equipment, playing surfaces, quality of opposition, Open era or not, travel conditions and training methods but at least we are comparing one individual player to another. In team sports, the player is only one of many on a team. No matter how great he is, he cannot win unless he has a good supporting cast. Many elite players never played on a good team and never won even one ring. On the other hand, some so-so players won multiple rings though they were only bit players championship teams. Robert Horry was part of six NBA championship winning teams but no one would consider in the same class as Michael Jordan who won ” only” five. My point: Don’t use stats to declare someone the Greatest, particularly in a team sport.

Tom Brady is a terrific passer, a fierce competitor, a great decision maker with a wonderful feel for the game situation and has had a long glittering career. But don’t tell me that his seven Super Bowl appearances, his five Super Bowl rings and his four Super Bowl MVP awards qualify him as the best ever. Consider how much his career has been enhanced by having Bill Belichick as the Coach -GM of his team. Belichick is a masterful coach who has no peer when it comes to making in-game adjustments and confounding opposing teams who thought they had the game won ( Think Atlanta Falcons). He is not just a defensive genius, he is also a master motivator who consistently gets the best out of his players.  As  good a coach as he is, Belichick is an even better judge of talent and of working within the salary cap limitations. Time and again, he has picked up players from the scrap heap and coaxed one or two more good seasons out of them. He has also used trades and lower round draft picks to build the team and he has no peer in knowing when to cut a player. As a result, Brady has had a good supporting cast throughout his New England tenure. How many fewer rings would he have had if he was playing in San Diego ? How many more Super Bowls would Aaron Rodgers or Peyton Manning have won if they had Bill Belichick in their corner?

Brady’s situation reminds me of Bill Russell’s career with the Boston Celtics. Russell was a terrific defensive player, relentless on the boards and possessor of a fierce desire to win. He was limited offensively but he didn’t need to worry about scoring points. Red Auerbach, the coach- GM pf the Celtics, was the basketball version of Bill Belichick. A shrewd horse trader and a great judge of talent he was consistently able to put together great teams that meshed into unbeatable juggernauts. Good as the L.A. Lakers were, Jerry West and Elgin Baylor just did not have the supporting cast to compete against the Celtic teams of Russell, Cousy, Sharman, Nelson, Heinsohn, Havlicheck, K.C. Jones, Sam Jones and others. Bill Russell was a great player but I would not consider him the Greatest. Even among centers of his time, I would rate Wilt Chamberlain ahead of him.

This is not to put down Bill Russell or Tom Brady. If you want to say they are the most successful players in their respective sports, I would agree with you absolutely. The numbers of rings they each won prove that beyond a doubt. If you want to call them the Greatest ever, you are entitled to your opinion, but don’t expect me to agree with you. There is no such thing as the Greatest, and definitely not in a team sport. .

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What a strange, strange game! Has there ever been another like it? I shouldn’t have phrased that as a question because the answer, everyone will agree, is ” Never”.  Super Bowl LI  was really two games in one. In the first, Atlanta blew out New England 28-3. In the second , that took place over the last twenty-or-so minutes,. New England scored thirty one unanswered points to win 34-28 in overtime. Two blowouts and yet so much drama that many are calling this the best Super Bowl ever.

I was watching the game at a friend’s house in Edison and when the score got to 28-3 everyone watching, Atlanta  fans as well as New England supporters, agreed that it was over. As the commentators kept reminding us, no team had come back from such a large deficit so late in the game. My wife and I said our farewells and drove home to Somerset. I was rooting for Atlanta and wanted to get home in time for what I KNEW would be a Falcons triumph. I got home and the first thing I did was to switch on the TV. What a shock!  The score was 20-28 and the Atlanta lead was down to 8 with plenty of time on the clock ! As I watched , Matt Ryan drove the Falcons to the Patriots 23, aided by a miraculous catch by Julio Jones, How Jones caught the ball at full stretch  as it passed through the defender’s hands and yet managed to keep both feet  in bounds I will never figure out.

Perhaps there was still hope! A field goal would make it a two- possession game and put the game out of reach. What followed will, I am sure, be the stuff of nightmares for the Falcons and their fans. First, the Falcons were called for holding and then the Patriot defense sacked Matt Ryan for a huge loss pushing the Falcons well out of FG range. About then, I began to give up hope. Even when the Pats took over on their own 8, needing to go 92 yards for a TD and then make a 2-point conversion just to tie the game, I KNEW Atlanta was done. At this point, the Falcons were shell-shocked and completely demoralized. It showed in the costly penalties that they committed time and again on the New England drive. (BTW, the catch that Julian Edelman made was out of this world. The way he grabbed a batted ball in a forest of arms and legs and pulled it in mere inches from the ground… simply amazing.) It was also evident in the ease with which the Patriots drove down the field to score the game clinching TD in overtime.

How such a dramatic turnaround took place will be the subject of much discussion and analysis by football fans in the coming months. For much of the game, Matt Ryan was picking the Patriot defense apart and Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman were tearing off huge chunks of yardage. Meanwhile, Atlanta’s 27th ranked defense was playing like gangbusters, knifing through the patriots O-line, sacking Brady five times and knocking him about. And then it all changed. The Falcons offense stalled and Brady found his mojo, throwing  pinpoint seeing-eye passes to his receivers. Perhaps the Falcons relaxed just a little bit when they  had such a big lead but that should not take away from the Patriots performance. I have no idea what Bill Belichick said to the Patriots in the locker room at halftime or what adjustments he made but they worked. The Patriots raised their game, shook off  memories of their first half spanking and completely dominated the Falcons  to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat. Yes, yes, I know that’s a cliché but it exactly describes what happened !

Football fans everywhere will be grateful to both teams for giving us such a classic. New England was magnificent  but spare a thought for the Atlanta Falcons. They played their hearts out and they were classy in their post-game comments, none more so than Matt Ryan.

Hasn’t 2017 gotten off to a great start? First, an aging Federer recaptures his youth to defeat his arch rival Nadal in a match for the ages. Then the Falcons and the Patriots give us a wonderful Super Bowl.

What next?

 

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Two days after Roger Federer’s historic win at the Australian Open, I am still on Cloud Nine as I relive it. Rarely does something happen that is so perfect. Consider what COULD have happened:

  1. It could have been a one-sided match, something that happens every now and then. Remember the 2012  Olympic final when Andy Murray beat Roger Federer in straight sets.It was unimaginable , particularly since Roger had defeated him in the Wimbledon final just a month earlier. By contrast, Sunday’s final was a pulsating affair as first one and then the other player appeared to have the advantage. Even in the fifth set, Nadal appeared to have the match in hand when he went up 3-1, only to see Federer claw back and snatch an improbable victory. What fighting spirit Nadal exhibited as he contested every point and staved off a break again and again!
  2. The quality of play could have been humdrum. Even when matches are close, the standard of play may not be that great. This match was remarkable for the skilled shot making, amazing court coverage and tenacity displayed by both players. The shot -of-the-match when Nadal ran down a certain winner and rifled an unplayable forehand return past Federer was unbelievable. Even Federer was moved to applaud the shot and it will be replayed by tennis fans over and over again in the months to come.
  3. The weather could have been a factor. At a past Australian Open, the temperature fell a whopping seventy degrees in the course of the match. When the match began, the temperature was a sweltering 110 ; at the end, it had dropped to 40 degrees. Swirling winds also had an effect on the play. I vaguely remember that Ken Rosewall was one of the players and that it happened sometime in the seventies. This time around, the weather was ideal for tennis.
  4. The players may not have been so likeable. Federer and Nadal are probably the two best liked players in the sport and they are good friends. This was reflected in the post match speeches at the presentation ceremony. This loss must have been a crusher for Nadal, so close was he to winning, but he was the epitome of class. He could have claimed fatigue from the almost five hour semifinal when he prevailed over Dimitrov the previous day. But he didn’t. No excuses, no whining as he congratulated Federer on his victory. Federer too felt for his opponent and was equally gracious as he accepted the cup.
  5. The stakes were never higher. Had Federer lost, his lead in Grand Slam titles over Nadal would have been reduced to two ( 17-15). With Nadal’s favorite tournament coming up next, the margin would most probably have been further reduced to one. Nadal would have been the odds-on favorite to eclipse Federer’s record and lay claim to be the “Greatest of All Time”… a meaningless title, but one which many fans value and argue over. With this victory, Federer’s lead in GS titles jumps to four, making it that much more difficult for Nadal to eclipse him. The race is by no means over since Nadal is only thirty and has three or so good years left in him. He could still overtake Federer if he is able to remain healthy.
  6. The result. No matter who won, this would have been a wonderful contest. Two all-time greats, # 1 and #2 in Grand Slams, both coming off injuries and not expected to reach the final …  but they did. If Nadal had won, this would have been a great, great match but Federer’s win put it over the top. The aging lion fighting off fatigue and reaching deep down to edge his greatest rival… It was so right… so perfect.It would be unrealistic to expect that we will ever see such a match again , and certainly not between these two. Father Time can be put off only so long but thanks to DVRs and YouTube it is a match which can and will be re-played again and again. Thank you Roger ! Thank you Rafa !

 

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