Jul 042018
 

Adams

Jefferson

Most people in the English-speaking world know that today marks the anniversary of the adoption of the Declaration of Independence by the Second Continental Congress meeting at the Pennsylvania State House (now known as Independence Hall) in Philadelphia on July 4th, 1776. What very few people know is that two signers of the document, John Adams (2nd president of the United States), and Thomas Jefferson (3rd president of the United States), died on this date, exactly 50 years later in 1826. That really is some coincidence. Once again I will take this opportunity to point out the huge gulf between people’s perceptions of “important” anniversaries, and the reality.

As I have been at great pains to show in several previous posts, July 4th, 1776 cannot truly be said to be the most momentous date in the long journey of the 13 British colonies to independence. Not by a country mile. But, because the date has been adopted and enshrined as the “nation’s birthday” the events of that date have assumed a much larger significance than they deserve. War broke out between one of the British colonies and British forces on April 19th, 1775 at the battles of Concord and Lexington http://www.bookofdaystales.com/lexington-and-concord/, and the War of Independence that these battles started was not concluded until the surrender at Yorktown http://www.bookofdaystales.com/surrender-at-yorktown/ on October 19th, 1781. The Treaty of Paris http://www.bookofdaystales.com/treaty-of-paris/ that finalized the terms of peace between the North American States and Great Britain was signed on September 3rd, 1783. In strictly historical terms, these three dates are much more important than July 4th, 1776. In fact, in July 1776, the members of the Continental Congress imagined that July 2nd would go down in history as the vital anniversary, not the 4th.

Richard Henry Lee of Virginia proposed a Resolution of Independence to Congress on June 7th, 1776 after receiving instructions from the Virginia Convention and its President Edmund Pendleton. Lee’s full resolution had three parts which were considered by Congress. Along with the independence issue, it also proposed to establish a plan for implementing formal foreign relations between the states and other nations independent of Great Britain, and to prepare a plan of a confederation for the states to consider. Congress decided to address each of these three parts separately.

Voting on the first part of the resolution was delayed for several weeks while state support and legislative instruction for independence were consolidated, but the press of events forced the other less-discussed parts to proceed immediately. On June 10th, Congress decided to form a committee to draft a declaration of independence in case the resolution should pass. On June 11th, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, Roger Sherman, and Robert R. Livingston were appointed as the Committee of Five to accomplish this. That same day, Congress decided to establish two other committees to develop the resolution’s last two parts. The following day, another committee of five (John Dickinson, Benjamin Franklin, John Adams, Benjamin Harrison V, and Robert Morris) was established to prepare a plan of treaties to be proposed to foreign powers; a third committee was created, consisting of one member from each colony, to prepare a draft of a constitution for confederation of the states.

Lee’s Resolution for independence was passed on July 2nd with no opposing votes. It was not passed unanimously, however. New York abstained. The Committee of Five had drafted the Declaration to be ready when Congress voted on independence. John Adams, who had been a leader in pushing for independence, had persuaded the committee to select Thomas Jefferson to compose the original draft of the document, which Congress edited to produce the final version. The Declaration was a formal explanation of why Congress had voted on July 2nd to declare independence from Great Britain, more than a year after the outbreak of the American Revolutionary War. Adams wrote to his wife Abigail,

The Second Day of July 1776, will be the most memorable Epocha, in the History of America.

Abigail Adams

I would like all my readers born in the United States who joyously celebrate July 4th as Independence Day to read that statement over very carefully. The vote for independence came on July 2nd and in Adams’ mind that was the crucial date, not the 4th. July 2nd was the date he thought would go down in history. All that happened on July 4th was that the exact wording of the Declaration of Independence was approved by Congress after several changes to the document prepared by Thomas Jefferson had been made. Celebrating the 4th is the equivalent of celebrating the day that you approved the minutes of a previous meeting when the actual decisions were taken. The world-altering decision to declare independence was made on the 2nd not the 4th.

I guarantee that the great bulk of US citizens have no idea what is in the Declaration of Independence other than “Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness” and “All men are created equal” and I know for a fact that many of them confuse the Declaration of Independence with the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. The Constitution of the United States was ratified by sufficient states to become law on June 21st, 1788, and came into effect on March 4th, 1789. The Bill of Rights was approved on September 25th, 1789, and ratified on December 15th, 1791. Thus, we have a welter of dates from the “shot heard round the world” in 1775 to the final agreement of how the new nation should be governed in 1791, and any or all of them could be marked as “significant” – 16 years of warfare and political strife out of which to choose one date: the date. July 4th got the nod.

The actual historical significance of July 4th is lost on the vast majority of US citizens, never mind the fact that there are numerous dates that are equally important, or more important, in the nation’s history. July 4th is a good day to have parades and barbecues because it is the height of summer in North America. It’s not so good for fireworks because the date falls very close to the northern solstice when days are at their longest, and so you have to wait until 9 pm or later in many regions for it to be dark enough for them. I suppose the good aspect of all of this is that parades, barbecues, and fireworks can be strung out over a very long day without bumping into each other. For many years I was either a participant in parades as a firefighter or an observer of my son as a town musician (or just a general observer because I like parades). I went to civic fireworks almost every year wherever I lived because I love fireworks. I usually cooked out in my own back yard because I found the generic US barbecue inexpressibly dull. Hot dogs and hamburgers with cole slaw and potato salad on the side are depressingly universal. It’s true that charcoal-grilled hamburgers are miles better than commercial varieties, but they are still just hamburgers. People in the US eat millions upon millions of them at fast food joints every single day of the year. Why should they be seen as so utterly special for July 4th and why should millions of families across the country invest 100s of dollars in elaborate propane-fueled grills with lava rocks as the heating element to cook generic hamburgers as the big celebratory meal? Most of these highly average hamburgers are not even cooked over real charcoal.

One memorable July 4th I showed my young son (around 7 years old at the time) how it was possible to cook breakfast, lunch, and dinner at our fire pit. He was captivated – especially with breakfast. I don’t eat standard Western “breakfast foods” (cereal, eggs, bacon, toast. etc.) for breakfast, first, because I eat only one meal a day, and it is rarely at what is the conventional “breakfast time,” and second, because if I do eat a meal at “breakfast time” it is almost never conventional “breakfast foods.” It is more usually soup or curry or whatever I have on hand. Back when my son was little, however, I did prepare him three meals per day, and his breakfasts were more conventional than mine. On this particular July 4th I used both my fire pit and my charcoal grill/smoker. First order of business was to make a big fire in the fire pit and let it burn down into hot coals. I showed my son how to make toast by finding a long stick, impaling some sliced bread, and toasting it over the coals. Meanwhile I heated one of our cast-iron skillets over the coals and cooked him bacon and eggs in much the same way as I would do at the stove.

For lunch my son cooked some hot dogs on sticks (which he loved immensely), accompanied by my chili which I kept warm in a big pot over the fire. I made chili dogs in toasted buns for myself, but my son was content with charred hot dogs dipped in chili. After that, I showed him how to make ‘smores in the fire using sandwiches of graham crackers with chocolate and marshmallow, wrapped in heavy foil. For dinner I fired up my grill and made grilled chicken, marinated in a fiery sauce, plus assorted grilled vegetables including corn grilled in their own husks, followed by toasted marshmallows, which was probably my son’s favorite part.  Ever after, whenever I lit a fire in the fire pit he toasted marshmallows, whether I cooked anything else on it or not.

I don’t expect you to cook three meals today out in the open, although it’s worth a shot once in your life. I will make an earnest plea however: Cook ANYTHING other than hamburgers and hot dogs today !!! Cook steaks, pork chops, lamb chops, rabbit, goose, duck, quail, oysters, prawns, . . . anything. Save the hamburgers and hot dogs for the other 364 days of the year.

Mar 022017
 

Today is the birthday (1902) of Morris “Moe” Berg, Major League baseball player and coach who later served as a spy for the Office of Strategic Services during World War II. Although he played 15 seasons in the major leagues, almost entirely for four American League teams, Berg was never more than an average player, usually used as a backup catcher, and was better known for being “the brainiest guy in baseball” than for anything he accomplished in the game. Casey Stengel once described Berg as “the strangest man ever to play baseball.”

Moe Berg was the third and last child of Bernard Berg, a pharmacist, and Rose Tashker, both Jewish, who lived in the Harlem section of New York City, a few blocks from the Polo Grounds. In 1910 the Berg family moved to the Roseville section of Newark because Bernard wanted to live in a less Jewish neighborhood. Moe began playing baseball at the age of seven for the Roseville Methodist Episcopal Church baseball team under the less Jewish pseudonym Runt Wolfe. In 1918, at the age of 16, he graduated from Barringer High School. During his senior season, the Newark Star-Eagle selected a nine-man “dream team” for 1918 from the city’s best prep and public high school baseball players, and Berg was named the team’s third baseman. Barringer was the first in a series of institutions Berg joined in his life where his religion made him unusual. Most of the other students were East Side Italian Catholics or Protestants from Forest Hill.

After graduating from Barringer, Berg enrolled in New York University. He spent two semesters there and played baseball and basketball. In 1919 he transferred to Princeton University and never again mentioned that he had attended NYU for a year. He received a B.A., magna cum laude in modern languages. He had studied seven languages: Latin, Greek, French, Spanish, Italian, German and Sanskrit, studying with the philologist Harold H. Bender.

During his freshman year, Berg played first base on an undefeated team. Beginning in his sophomore year, he was the starting shortstop. He was not a great hitter and was a slow base runner, but he had a strong, accurate throwing arm and sound baseball instincts. In his senior season, he was captain of the team and had a .337 batting average, batting .611 against Princeton’s arch-rivals, Harvard and Yale. Berg and Crossan Cooper, Princeton’s second baseman, signaled plays in Latin when there was a man on second base.

On June 26, 1923, Yale defeated Princeton 5–1 at Yankee Stadium to win the Big Three title. Berg had an outstanding day, getting two hits in four at bats (2–4) with a single and a double, and making several great plays at shortstop. Both the New York Giants and the Brooklyn Robins (i.e., Dodgers) wanted “Jewish blood” on their teams, to appeal to the large Jewish community in New York, and expressed interest in Berg after the game. The Giants were especially interested, but they already had two future Hall of Famers at shortstop, Dave “Beauty” Bancroft and Travis Jackson. On June 27, 1923, Berg signed his first big league contract for $5,000 ($70,000 today) with the Robins and played in his first major league game against the Philadelphia Phillies at the Baker Bowl the same day. Berg came in at the start of the seventh inning, replacing Ivy Olson at shortstop, when the Robins were winning 13–4. Berg handled five chances without an error and caught a line drive to start a game-ending double play. He got a hit in two at bats, singling up the middle against Clarence Mitchell, and scoring a run. But . . . for the season, Berg batted .187 and made 21 errors in 47 games.  Thus ended his National League career.

After the season ended, Berg took his first trip abroad, sailing from New York to Paris. He settled in the Latin Quarter in an apartment that overlooked the Sorbonne, where he enrolled in 32 different classes. In Paris he developed a habit he kept for the rest of his life: reading several newspapers daily. Until he finished reading a paper, he considered it “alive” and refused to let anyone else touch it. When he was finished with it, he would consider the paper “dead” and anybody could read it.

During spring training at the Robins’ facility in Clearwater, Florida, manager Wilbert Robinson could see that Berg’s hitting had not improved, and optioned him to the Minneapolis Millers of the American Association. Berg did not take the demotion well and threatened to quit baseball, but by mid-April he reported to the Millers. Berg did very well once he became the Millers’ regular third baseman, hitting close to .330, but in July his average plummeted and he was back on the bench. On August 19, 1924 Berg was loaned to the Toledo Mud Hens, a poor team ravaged by injuries. Berg was immediately inserted into the lineup at shortstop when Rabbit Helgeth refused to pay a $10 ($140 today) fine for poor play and was suspended. Major league scout Mike González sent a telegram to the Dodgers evaluating Berg with the curt, but now famous, line, “Good field, no hit.” Berg finished the season with a .264 average.

By April 1925, he was starting to show promise as a hitter with the Reading Keystones of the International League. Because of his .311 batting average and 124 runs batted in, the Chicago White Sox exercised their option they had with Reading, paying $6,000 ($82,000 today) for him, and moved Berg up to the big leagues the following year.

The 1926 season began with Berg telling the White Sox that he would skip spring training and the first two months of the season to complete his first year of law school at Columbia University, and so did not join the White Sox until May 28. Bill Hunnefield was signed by the White Sox to take Berg’s place at shortstop, and was having a very good year, batting over .300. Berg played in only 41 games, batting .221.

Berg returned to Columbia after the season to continue working on his law degree. Despite White Sox owner Charles Comiskey offering him more money to come to spring training, Berg declined, and informed the White Sox that he would be reporting late for the 1927 season. Noel Dowling, a professor to whom Berg explained his situation, told Berg to take extra classes in the fall, and said that he would arrange with the dean a leave of absence from law school the following year, 1928.

Because he reported late, Berg spent the first three months of the season on the bench. In August, a series of injuries to catchers Ray Schalk, Harry McCurdy and Buck Crouse left the White Sox in need of somebody to play the position. Schalk, the White Sox player/manager, selected Berg, who did a good job filling in. Schalk arranged for former Philadelphia Phillies catcher Frank Bruggy to meet the team at their next game, against the New York Yankees. Bruggy was so fat that pitcher Ted Lyons refused to pitch to him. When Schalk asked him whom he wanted as his catcher, Lyons selected Berg.

In Berg’s debut as a starting catcher, he had to worry not only about catching Lyons’ knuckleball, but also about facing the Yankees’ Murderers’ Row lineup, which included Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig and Earle Combs. Lyons beat the Yankees 6–3, holding Ruth hitless. Berg made the defensive play of the game when he caught a poor throw from the outfield, spun and tagged out Joe Dugan at the plate. He caught eight more times during the final month and a half of the season.

At law school, Berg failed Evidence and did not graduate with the class of 1929, but he did pass the New York State bar exam. He repeated the Evidence course the following year, and on February 26, 1930 received his LL.B. On April 6, during an exhibition game against the Little Rock Travelers, his spikes caught in the soil as he tried to change directions and he tore a knee ligament.

He was back in the starting lineup on May 23, 1930, but his knee would not allow him to play every day. He played in only 20 games the whole season and finished with a .115 batting average. During the winter, he took a job with the respected Wall Street law firm Satterlee and Canfield (now Satterlee, Stephens, Burke & Burke). The Cleveland Indians picked him up on April 2, 1931 when Chicago put him on waivers, but he played in only 10 games with 13 at-bats and only 1 hit for the entire season. That year Dave Harris, Senators’ outfielder, when told that Berg spoke seven languages, replied:

“Yeah, I know, and he can’t hit in any of them.”

The Indians gave him his unconditional release in January 1932, but with catchers hard to come by, Clark Griffith, owner of the Washington Senators, invited him to spring training in Biloxi, Mississippi. He made the team, playing in 75 games while not committing an error. When starting catcher Roy Spencer went down with an injury, Berg stepped in, throwing out 35 base runners while batting .236.

Retired ballplayer Herb Hunter arranged for three players, Berg, Lefty O’Doul and Ted Lyons, to go to Japan to teach baseball seminars at Japanese universities during the winter of 1932. On October 22, 1932, the group of three players began their circuit of Meiji, Waseda, Rikkyo, Todai (Tokyo Imperial), Hosei, and Keio universities, the members of the Tokyo Big6 Baseball League. When the other Americans returned to the United States after their coaching assignments were over, Berg stayed behind to explore Japan. He went on to tour Manchuria, Shanghai, Peking, Indochina, Siam, India, Egypt and Berlin.

Despite his desire to go back to Japan, Berg reported to the Senators’ training camp on February 26, 1933 in Biloxi. He played in just 40 games during the season, and batted only .185. The Senators won the pennant, but lost to the Giants in the World Series. Cliff Bolton, the Senators’ starting catcher in 1933, demanded more money in 1934. When the Senators refused to pay him more, he sat out and Berg got the starting job. On April 22, Berg made an error, his first fielding mistake since 1932—an American League record of 117 consecutive errorless games. On July 25, the Senators gave Berg his unconditional release. He soon returned to the big leagues, however, after Cleveland Indians catcher Glenn Myatt broke his ankle on August 1. Indians manager Walter Johnson, who had managed Berg in 1932, offered Berg the reserve catching job. Berg played sporadically until Frankie Pytlak, Cleveland’s starting catcher, injured himself, and Berg became the starting catcher.

Herb Hunter arranged for a group of All-Stars, including Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Earl Averill, Charlie Gehringer, Jimmie Foxx and Lefty Gomez, to tour Japan playing exhibitions against a Japanese all-star team. Despite the fact that Berg was a mediocre, third-string catcher, he was invited at the last minute to make the trip. Among the items Berg took with him to Japan were a 16-mm Bell & Howell movie camera and a letter from MovietoneNews, a New York City newsreel production company with which Berg had contracted to film the sights of his trip. When the team arrived in Japan, he gave a welcome speech in Japanese and also addressed the legislature.

After his return to the U.S. Berg was picked up by the Boston Red Sox. In his five seasons with the Red Sox, Berg averaged fewer than 30 games a season. On February 21, 1939, Berg made his first of three appearances on the radio quiz show, Information, Please. Berg put on a dazzling performance. Of his appearance, baseball commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis told him, “Berg, in just thirty minutes you did more for baseball than I’ve done the entire time I’ve been commissioner.” After his playing career ended, Berg was a Red Sox coach in 1940 and 1941.

With the attack on Pearl Harbor by the Japanese on December 7, 1941, the United States entered into World War II. To do his part for the war effort, Berg accepted a position with Nelson Rockefeller’s Office of the Coordinator of Inter-American Affairs on January 5, 1942. Nine days later, his father, Bernard, died. During the summer of 1942, Berg screened the footage he shot of Tokyo Bay for intelligence officers of the United States military. The film may have helped Lieutenant Colonel Jimmy Doolittle plan his famous Doolittle Raid.

From August 1942 to February 1943, Berg was on assignment in the Caribbean and South America. His job was to monitor the health and physical fitness of the U.S. troops stationed there. Berg, along with several other OIAA agents, left in June 1943 because they thought South America posed little threat to the United States. On August 2, 1943, Berg accepted a position with the Office of Strategic Services Special Operations Branch (SO) for a salary of $3,800 ($52,600 today) a year. He was a paramilitary operations officer in the part of the OSS that is now called the CIA Special Activities Division. In September, he was assigned to the OSS Secret Intelligence branch (SI) and given a spot on the OSS SI Balkans desk. In this role, he parachuted into occupied Yugoslavia to evaluate the various resistance groups operating against the Nazis to determine which was the strongest. He talked to both Draža Mihailović and Tito and reviewed their forces, deciding that Tito had the stronger and better supported group. His evaluations were used to help determine the amount of support and aid to give each group. In late 1943, Berg was assigned to Project Larson, an OSS operation set up by OSS Chief of Special Projects John Shaheen. The stated purpose of the project was to kidnap Italian rocket and missile specialists out of Italy and bring them to the U.S. However, there was another project hidden within Larson, called Project AZUSA, with the goal of interviewing Italian physicists to see what they knew about Werner Heisenberg and Carl Friedrich von Weizsäcker. It was similar in scope and mission to the Alsos project.

From May to mid-December 1944, Berg hopped around Europe interviewing physicists and trying to convince several to leave Europe and work in the U.S. At the beginning of December, news about Heisenberg giving a lecture in Zürich reached the OSS. Berg was assigned to attend the lecture and determine “if anything Heisenberg said convinced him the Germans were close to a bomb.” If Berg came to the conclusion that the Germans were close, he had orders to shoot Heisenberg; Berg determined that the Germans were not close. During his time in Switzerland, Berg became close friends with physicist Paul Scherrer. Berg returned to the United States on April 25, 1945, and resigned from the Strategic Services Unit, the successor to the OSS, in August. He was awarded the Medal of Freedom on October 10, but he rejected the award on December 2. His sister accepted it on his behalf after his death.

In 1946, former Chicago White Sox teammate Ted Lyons was the new manager of the White Sox, and offered Berg a coaching position. Berg declined. Boston Red Sox owner Thomas Yawkey, who was much closer to Berg when he played for Red Sox, matched Lyons’ offer, but Berg still turned them down. Berg did not apply for a teaching position, or join a law firm.

In 1951, Berg begged the CIA to send him to Israel. “A Jew must do this,” he wrote in his notebook. The CIA rejected Berg’s request. The same year Berg was hired by the CIA to use his old contacts from World War II to gather information about the Soviet atomic science but returned with nothing. He continued to serve his assignment for the CIA until 1954, when his contract expired and the CIA chose not to renew it.

For the next 20 years, Berg had no real job, living off friends and relatives. Berg received many requests to write his memoirs, but turned them down; he almost wrote them in 1960, but he quit after the co-writer assigned to him confused him with Moe Howard of the Three Stooges.

Moe Berg died on May 29, 1972, at age 70, from injuries sustained in a fall at home. A nurse at the Belleville, New Jersey, hospital where he died recalled his final words as “How did the Mets do today?” (They won.) His remains were cremated and spread over Mount Scopus in Israel.

In April 2016, it was announced that actor Paul Rudd will portray Berg in an upcoming biographical drama film called The Catcher Was a Spy, based on the book of the same name. The film will be directed by Ben Lewin and is likely to be released in 2017.

You should definitely have a kosher hot dog to celebrate today. Nowadays a number of major league baseball stadiums have kosher food stands and, of course, their standards include kosher ballpark franks. Kosher franks are certainly high quality in general because the laws of kashruth forbid many of the nastier fillers and ingredients. They have to be all meat, although what part of the animal it comes from is far from clear.

I’ll take mine on a kosher bun with certified kosher sauerkraut and mustard please. (At ballparks the “please” is optional.)

 

 

Oct 082016
 

dl7

On this date in 1956, in Game 5 of the 1956 World Series, Don Larsen of the New York Yankees pitched a perfect game against the Brooklyn Dodgers. Larsen’s perfect game is the only perfect game in the history of the World Series one of only 23 perfect games in major league baseball history. His perfect game remained the only no-hitter of any type ever pitched in postseason play until Philadelphia Phillies pitcher Roy Halladay threw a no-hitter against the Cincinnati Reds on October 6, 2010, in Game 1 of the National League Division Series.

I’ve never been a huge baseball fan, but when I lived in New York I occasionally went to games. They have a certain atmosphere. I supported the Mets and my colleague down the hall from my office at Purchase College, Rich Nassisi, was a die-hard Yankees fan. We indulged in a great deal of friendly banter about baseball over the years, so this post is my little memory of those days. I hope you enjoy it Rich.

Rich and I agree that the true baseball aficionado knows that the most crucial element of any baseball team is the pitching staff. Sure it’s great to see your favorite slugger hit a game-winning grand slam, but at the end of the day, if your team has gorillas for batters but mediocre pitching, you’re not going into the post season.  End of story. If you go to a Yankees or Mets game you’ll see that the fans pay as much attention to the pitching as the batting, because they are true baseball fans. At other venues the fans are less knowledgeable or caring. I went to a Cincinnati Reds game once and was astounded to find that the fans around me were riveted to the play when the Reds were at bat, and totally uninterested when they were pitching. They went off to get hot dogs or beer, or else chatted mindlessly about something other than baseball. Not fans in my book. Hitting is important, but it’s the pitching that counts.

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I can’t imagine that Don Larsen’s feat will ever be repeated. The fact that it took until 2010 for a pitcher to pitch even a no-hitter in the post season is telling. Perfect games are rare under “ordinary” circumstances and every pitcher who pitches one in the major leagues becomes a legend – rightly. As a small sop to his teammates I will grant the fielders some credit too !!  A perfect game means that no hitter reaches base – 27 up, 27 down – for any reason. That means, no hits, no walks, and no hit batsmen. Rarely an error occurs but does not count if the batsman does not reach base – a misplayed foul ball, for example. Only 21 perfect games have been pitched in the modern era, that is, since 1900 when the rules changed substantially, and only 3 had been pitched before 1956 (1904, 1908, 1922). Don Larsen’s World Series feat is unlikely to be repeated because these are not “ordinary” circumstances. You’re talking about the two best teams of the season that year, slugging it out to be the champions. The chances that no one on a team will reach base under any circumstances are minuscule.

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The game is also a great classic because it was between the old Yankees and Dodgers as they are fondly remembered – bitter cross-town rivals (just before the Dodgers moved to L.A.).  In the late 1940s and early 1950s you almost didn’t need to ask who was in the World Series: it was the Yankees and Dodgers most of the time (and the Yankees usually won). The games were played in those great cathedrals to baseball – Yankee Stadium (as it once was) and Ebbets Field. This was also in the days before the designated hitter was introduced into the American League. In the 1950s pitchers had to bat.

I’ll spare you a long-drawn-out description; you can find details in plenty of places. Here’s some stock footage:

Larsen came to this game as a good pitcher, but not stellar in World Series play. He made his first start in a World Series game in the 1955 World Series against the Brooklyn Dodgers and was the losing pitcher. The 1956 series was extremely tight. Behind Sal Maglie, the Dodgers defeated the Yankees in Game 1. Casey Stengel, manager of the Yankees, selected Larsen to start Game 2 against the Dodgers’ Don Newcombe. Despite being given a 6–0 lead by the Yankees’ batters, he lasted only  1 2⁄3 innings against the Dodgers in a 13–8 loss. He gave up only one hit, a single by Gil Hodges, but walked four batters, which led to four runs in the process, although none of them was earned because of an error by first baseman Joe Collins. The Yankees won Games 3 and 4 to tie the series at two games apiece.

With the series tied at two games apiece, Larsen started Game 5 for the Yankees. Larsen’s opponent in the game was Maglie. Larsen needed just 97 pitches to complete the game, and only one Dodger batter (Pee Wee Reese in the first inning) was able to get a 3-ball count. In 1998, Larsen recalled, “I had great control. I never had that kind of control in my life.” The closest the Dodgers came to a hit were in the second inning, when Jackie Robinson hit a line drive off third baseman Andy Carey’s glove, the ball caroming to shortstop Gil McDougald, who threw Robinson out by a step, and in the fifth, when Mickey Mantle ran down Gil Hodges’ deep fly ball. Brooklyn’s Maglie gave up only two runs on five hits and was perfect himself until Mantle’s fourth-inning home run broke the scoreless tie. The Yankees added an insurance run in the sixth as Hank Bauer’s single scored Carey, who had opened the inning with a single and was sacrificed to second by Larsen. After Roy Campanella grounded out to Billy Martin for the second out of the 9th inning, Larsen faced pinch hitter Dale Mitchell, a .311 career hitter. Throwing fastballs, Larsen got ahead in the count at 1–2. On his 97th pitch, Larsen struck out Mitchell for the 27th and final out. Mitchell appeared to check his swing on that last pitch, but home plate umpire Babe Pinelli, who would retire at the end of this World Series, called the last pitch a strike. Mitchell, who struck out only 119 times in 3,984 at-bats (or once every 34 at-bats) during his career, always maintained that the third strike he took was really a ball.

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In one of the most memorable images in  U.S. sports history, catcher Yogi Berra leapt into Larsen’s arms after the final out. With the death of Berra on September 22, 2015, Larsen is the last living player who played in this game for either team.

I’m stumped when it comes for a recipe today. I’ve talked about hot dogs to death in my posts, not least of all here http://www.bookofdaystales.com/baseball/ in my homage to the history of baseball. I can’t even give a recipe for Cracker Jack (as in, “buy me some peanuts and Cracker Jack), because I gave a recipe for caramel popcorn two days ago http://www.bookofdaystales.com/motion-pictures/ Life gets bleak when you post constantly for over three years. But . . . there’s always hope. Larsen’s game was played at Yankee Stadium, last of a 3-game set before the series returned to Ebbets Field. Nowadays at Yankee stadium there’s a great deal more on offer than hot dogs and Cracker Jack, although you’ll certainly find them. You won’t find anything at the stadium this year (2016) in the post season, though. The Yankees had a dismal year.  Nonetheless, here’s a listing of food stalls at the stadium from this website — http://ny.eater.com/2016/4/1/11347464/what-to-eat-at-yankee-stadium-2016

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Section 100

For the meat lovers in the crowd, there are outposts of both Brother Jimmy’s BBQ (133) and Lobel’s of New York (134), plus Parm, the well-known Italian sandwich shop in Section 104. NYY Steak Express, which serves strip steak sandwiches in Section 109, is right next to chicken wing stand Wings (109). Johnny Rockets, the faux-retro chain also serves burgers, hot dogs, shakes and fries in Section 132. And starting next week, Carl’s Steak (107) is offering a two-footlong cheesesteak for $27.

For a snack that doesn’t involve beef, the best bet is Garlic Fries (108) which offers French fries in a variety of permutations, including cheese fries and garlic fries, plus chicken fingers. Cheese lovers can go to Big Cheese (107) for grilled cheese sandwiches with Boar’s Head cheese. And those looking for something completely different can find noodle bowls and assorted sushi platters at the Noodle Bowl and Sushi Stand (Section 127B and A, respectively)

The Pepsi Food Court (126) is where fans can find Papa Johns Pizza and Nathan’s hot dogs, plus frozen drinks, craft beer, premium drafts, and cask-aged cocktails including a Manhattan, Old Fashioned, and Negroni. Making its debut at the ballpark and the Pepsi Food Court this year is lunchtime favorite Hale and Hearty Soups. A rotating menu will include a classic chicken noodle, chili mac and cheese, lasagna, sweet-corn chowder that’s gluten-free, and a vegetarian three-lentil chili. The menu also offers a variety of cold soups.

Between Sections 100 and 200 is the Tommy Bahama Marlin Bar serving drinks like a classic piña colada, tropical Tea, and “The Spicy Apple.”

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Cheese steaks, burgers, garlic fries, and ribs all seem like reasonable additions to the old stand-bys, but sushi????? I’m crushed. The point is that creating ballpark food at home is a mistake. Go out to a game, and should you ever find me at one ever again, I’ll be eating a hot dog with mustard, onions, and sauerkraut.

Aug 242015
 

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On this date in 2006 the International Astronomical Union (IAU) redefined the term “planet” such that Pluto is now considered a dwarf planet and not a planet. The definition of “planet” set in 2006 states that, in the Solar System, a planet is a celestial body which:

is in orbit around the Sun,

has sufficient mass to assume hydrostatic equilibrium (a nearly round shape), and

has “cleared the neighborhood” around its orbit (i.e. there is nothing else in its orbit).

A non-satellite body fulfilling only the first two of these criteria is classified as a “dwarf planet.” According to the IAU, “planets and dwarf planets are two distinct classes of objects”. A non-satellite body fulfilling only the first criterion is termed a “small Solar System body” (SSSB). Initial drafts included dwarf planets as a subcategory of planets, but because this language could potentially have led to the inclusion of several dozen objects classified as planets it was eventually dropped. The definition was a controversial one and has drawn both support and criticism from different astronomers, but has remained in use.

Here’s an Euler diagram of all the Solar bodies (click to enlarge):

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According to current definition, there are eight planets in the Solar System. The definition distinguishes planets from smaller bodies and is not useful outside the Solar System, where smaller bodies cannot be found yet. Extrasolar planets, or exoplanets, are covered separately under a complementary 2003 draft guideline for the definition of planets, which distinguishes them from dwarf stars, which are larger.

Before the discoveries of the early 21st century, astronomers had no real need for a formal definition for planets. With the discovery of Pluto in 1930, astronomers considered the Solar System to have nine planets, along with thousands of smaller bodies such as asteroids and comets. Pluto was thought to be larger than Mercury.

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In 1978, the discovery of Pluto’s moon Charon radically changed this picture. By measuring Charon’s orbital period, astronomers could accurately calculate Pluto’s mass for the first time, which they found to be much smaller than expected. Pluto’s mass was calculated to be roughly one twenty-fifth of Mercury’s, making it by far the smallest planet, smaller even than the Earth’s Moon, although still over ten times as massive as the largest asteroid, Ceres.

In the 1990s, astronomers began finding other objects at least as far away as Pluto, now known as Kuiper Belt objects, or KBOs. Many of these shared some of Pluto’s key orbital characteristics and are now called plutinos. Pluto came to be seen as the largest member of a new class of objects, and some astronomers stopped referring to Pluto as a planet. Pluto’s eccentric and inclined orbit, while very unusual for a planet in the Solar System, fits in well with the other KBOs. New York City’s newly renovated Hayden Planetarium did not include Pluto in its exhibit of the planets when it reopened as the Rose Center for Earth and Space in 2000.

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Starting in 2000, with the discovery of at least three bodies (Quaoar, Sedna, and Eris) all comparable to Pluto in terms of size and orbit, it became clear that either they all had to be called planets or Pluto would have to be reclassified. Astronomers also knew that more objects as large as Pluto would be discovered, and the number of “planets” would start growing quickly if something were not done. They were also concerned about the classification of planets in other planetary systems. In 2006, the matter came to a head with the first measurement of the size of 2003 UB313. That measurement had shown Eris (as it was believed to be until the ‘New Horizons’ mission to Pluto) to appear to be slightly larger than Pluto, and so was thought to be equally deserving of the status of planet at the time.

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The process of new discoveries spurring a contentious refinement of Pluto’s classification echoed a debate in the 19th century that began with the discovery of Ceres on January 1, 1801. Astronomers immediately declared the tiny object to be the “missing planet” between Mars and Jupiter. Within four years, however, the discovery of two more objects with comparable sizes and orbits had cast doubt on this new thinking. By 1851, the number of “planets” had grown to 23, and it was clear that hundreds more would eventually be discovered. Astronomers began cataloging them separately and began calling them “asteroids” instead of “planets”.

Because new planets are discovered infrequently, the IAU did not have any machinery for their definition and naming. After the discovery of Sedna, it set up a 19-member committee in 2005, with the British astronomer Iwan Williams in the chair, to consider the definition of a planet. It proposed three definitions that could be adopted:

Cultural

a planet is a planet if enough people say it is;

Structural

a planet is an astral body large enough to form a sphere;

Dynamical

an object is a planet if it is large enough to cause all other objects to leave its orbit.

The decision had some cultural and social implications, affecting a variety of spheres such as textbook publishing, toy manufacture, and the like. Most educational books printed after 2006 use the new definition. The decision was important enough to prompt the editors of the 2007 edition of the World Book Encyclopedia to hold off printing until a final result had been reached. The new designation also has repercussions in the astrological world and finds mixed receptions, with differences of opinion as to whether to make any changes to astrological practice as a result of the redefinition. Most astrologers are a little vague about the outer planets anyway, since they were not part of old systems of astrology created before the invention of the telescope, and move so slowly through the constellations that nothing much changes because of them for a long time.

The verb “to pluto” (preterite and past participle: plutoed) was coined in the aftermath of the 2006 IAU decision. In January 2007, the American Dialect Society chose “plutoed” as its 2006 Word of the Year, defining “to pluto” as “to demote or devalue someone or something.” This is really a bit silly. Pluto was not “demoted.” It was reclassified for perfectly legitimate scientific reasons. Thinking of the reclassification as a demotion is strictly an emotional reaction based on a simplistic conception of the Solar System as taught in elementary school. There’s all kinds of junk whizzing around the sun (comets being my favorite). Giving a few bits of that junk a different name is nowhere near as important as marveling in the majesty of it all.

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Pluto does not conjure up a swarm of ideas for a recipe du jour. However, in certain parts of Australia a variety of corn dog is known as a “pluto pup” so there we have it. Pluto pups are sometimes called “dagwood dogs” or “dippy dogs” but no one seems to know the origin of any of these names. I did a fairly diligent search for clues but came up empty. Since do one else seems to care, I won’t either.

Pluto pups can vary somewhat, but the basic idea is to mount a hot dog on a stick, coat it in batter, and deep fry it. Obviously you can create variants by altering the batter you choose, or using a different kind of sausage instead of a hot dog. Have at it. My choice would be for an egg batter and a chipolata (thin beef sausage). My basic batter recipe is here. https://drive.google.com/file/d/0Bx9zQ-sRgAkQMEpmZkVZLUJsR1U/edit?usp=sharing

If using any sort of raw sausage in place of a hot dog, it’s best to cook it before battering and deep frying. Take your pick of methods to cook the sausage: shallow fry, grill, broil, or whatever. Fat German sausages can be used although they are a tad unwieldy. I boil them in beer and then grill them until browned all over.

I wouldn’t consider making these at home, except possibly for a children’s party.  For me this is strictly street food or carnie food. You can get something similar in China where hot dogs are a popular snack.  Dipping sauces vary from ketchup to oyster sauce and the like.  Your choice.

 

Jun 192015
 

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On this date in 1846 the first officially recorded, organized baseball game was played under Alexander Cartwright’s rules on Hoboken, New Jersey’s Elysian Fields, with the New York Base Ball Club defeating the Knickerbockers 23-1. Cartwright umpired. Cartwright is one of several people sometimes referred to as the “father of baseball.” He is thought to be the first person to draw a diagram of a diamond-shaped baseball field, and the rules of the modern game are based on the Knickerbocker Rules developed by Cartwright and a committee from his club, the Knickerbocker Base Ball Club. Cartwright was officially declared the inventor of the modern game of baseball by the 83rd United States Congress on June 3, 1953.

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Whilst he was a member of Knickerbocker Engine Company No. 12 of the New York City Fire Department, Cartwright became involved in playing town ball (an older game similar to baseball) on a vacant lot in Manhattan. In 1845 the lot became unavailable for use, and the group was forced to look for another location. They found a playing field, the Elysian Fields, a large tree-filled parkland across the Hudson River in Hoboken, New Jersey run by Colonel John Stevens, who charged $75 a year to rent it. In order to pay the rental fees, Cartwright organized a ball club so that he could collect the needed money. The club was named the “Knickerbockers” in honor of the fire company. The Knickerbockers club was organized on September 23, 1845.

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Creating a club for the ball players called for a formal set of rules for each member to adhere to, foremost among them to “have the reputation of a gentleman.” Cartwright, along with other players, formalized the “Knickerbocker Rules”:

Members must strictly observe the time agreed upon for exercise, and be punctual in their attendance.

When assembled for exercise, the President, or in his absence, the Vice-President, shall appoint an umpire, who shall keep the game in a book provided for that purpose, and note all violations of the By-Laws and Rules during the time of exercise.

The presiding officer shall designate two members as Captains, who shall retire and make the match to be played, observing at the same time that the players opposite to each other should be as nearly equal as possible, the choice of sides to be then tossed for, and the first in hand to be decided in like manner.

The bases shall be from “home” to second base, forty-two paces; from first to third base, forty-two paces, equidistant.

No stump match shall be played on a regular day of exercise.

If there should not be a sufficient number of members of the Club present at the time agreed upon to commence exercise, gentlemen not members may be chosen in to make up the match, which shall not be broken up to take in members that may afterwards appear; but in all cases, members shall have the preference, when present, at the making of a match.

If members appear after the game is commenced, they may be chosen in if mutually agreed upon.

The game to consist of twenty-one counts, or aces; but at the conclusion an equal number of hands must be played.

The ball must be pitched, not thrown, for the bat.

A ball knocked out of the field, or outside the range of first or third base, is foul.

Three balls being struck at and missed and the last one caught, is a hand out; if not caught is considered fair, and the striker bound to run.

If a ball be struck, or tipped, and caught, either flying or on the first bound, it is a hand out.

A player running the bases shall be out, if the ball is in the hands of an adversary on the base, or the runner is touched with it before he makes his base; it being understood, however, that in no instance is a ball to be thrown at him.

A player running who shall prevent an adversary from catching or getting the ball before making his base, is a hand out.

Three hands out, all out.

Players must take their strike in regular turn.

All disputes and differences relative to the game, to be decided by the Umpire, from which there is no appeal.

No ace or base can be made on a foul strike.

A runner cannot be put out in making one base, when a balk is made by the pitcher.

But one base allowed when a ball bounds out of the field when struck.

It is likely that Cartwright et al picked some of these twenty rules based upon town ball play in Manhattan. The original rules of play at the vacant lot in Manhattan were not documented so it cannot be said which rules were Cartwright’s own invention. The twenty rules, the shape of the playing area, for example, differed from other early versions of baseball and from rounders, the English game commonly considered the immediate ancestor of baseball. Two of these rules — the one that abolished putting a runner out by hitting him with a thrown ball and the one that designated a foul as a do-over were clearly new.

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As evidenced from these rules, the first games were played between teams made up of members of the club, filled in for by “gentlemen” onlookers if they did not have enough members to make up two teams. The formation of the Knickerbockers club, across the Hudson, created a division in the group of Manhattan players. Several of the players refused to cross the river on a ferry to play ball because they did not like the distance away from home.

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Those players stayed behind and formed their own club, the “New York Nine.” On June 19 1846 these two different teams (from the same firehouse) played at Elysian Fields (thus giving us the name “field” for the site where baseball was played) . The two teams played with Cartwright’s twenty rules. Cartwright’s team, the Knickerbockers, lost 23 to 1 to the New York Nine in four innings (the length of the game being determined by the number of aces, that is, runs, scored by the winning team). Some say that Cartwright’s team lost because his best players did not want to make the trip across the river. Cartwright was the umpire during this game and fined one player six cents for cursing.

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Over the next few years, the rules of baseball spread throughout the country. Baseball fast became a popular sport and drew spectators by the thousands – with reports of scores being written up in local newspapers. Cartwright’s rules would soon become part of the rules of the National Association of Base Ball Players in 1857, and gradually evolved into those used today. You can see, if you know the rules, that the core was there from the beginning.

What else can I use as a food to celebrate the first official game of baseball other than the hot dog? Unfortunately I’ve already waxed lyrical on the subject on several occasions. For example: http://www.bookofdaystales.com/rocky-horror-picture-show-opens/ Here People magazine comes to my rescue with an article on crazy foods available at MLB locations. Here’s the Crab Mac ‘n Cheese Dog from Oriole Park.

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Check out this site for others including The Beast, the Broomstick, the Fiesta Dog, and the Krispy Kreme Donut Dog.

http://www.people.com/people/greatideas/gallery/0,,20907771,00.html#30310008

Aug 142013
 

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The Rocky Horror Picture Show (RHPS) opened in North America at the USA Theatre in Westwood, Los Angeles, on this date in 1975. It did well at that location, but not elsewhere. The cult following of the movie did not begin until the film opened its midnight run at the Waverly Theater in New York City on 1 April 1976. Because of the midnight showings it is still in limited release, making it the longest run of any movie (38 years).

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RHPS  is a 1975 British musical comedy horror film based on The Rocky Horror Show, a musical stage play, book, music, and lyrics by Richard O’Brien. Directed by Jim Sharman from a screenplay by Sharman and O’Brien, the production is a humorous tribute to the science fiction and horror B movies of the late 1940s through early 1970s. It introduces Tim Curry and features Susan Sarandon and Barry Bostwick along with cast members from the original Kings Road production presented at the Royal Court Theatre, London, in 1973.

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Fox had limited success for about a year after the film’s initial release. Its planned New York debut (on Halloween) was cancelled, and its release around college campuses on a double-bill with another rock music film parody, Brian De Palma’s Phantom of the Paradise, drew small audiences. But with Pink Flamingos (1972) and Reefer Madness (1936) making money in midnight showings nationwide, RHPS was eventually screened at midnight, starting in New York City on April Fool’s Day of 1976. By that Halloween, people were attending in costume and talking back to the screen. By mid-1978, RHPS was playing in over fifty locations on Fridays and Saturdays at midnight, newsletters were published by local performance groups, and fans gathered for Rocky Horror conventions. By the end of 1979, there were twice-weekly showings at over 230 theatres. The film has taken in US$365 million at the US box office, from DVD sales, etc. since its release. The original budget for the film was US$1.4 million.

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I won’t go into the plot too much: if you have seen RHPS you don’t need reminding, and if you have not, you should go.  You should see it in a theater rather than on DVD (a maxim that holds true for all movies as far as I am concerned).  The film opens with a criminologist who narrates the tale of Brad Majors and Janet Weiss, a newly engaged couple who find themselves lost and with a flat tire on a cold and rainy late evening. Seeking a telephone, the couple walk to a nearby castle where they discover a group of strange and outlandish people who are holding an Annual Transylvanian Convention. They are soon swept into the world of Dr. Frank N. Furter, a self-proclaimed “Sweet Transvestite from Transsexual, Transylvania”. The ensemble of convention attendees also includes servants Riff Raff, his sister Magenta, and a groupie named Columbia.

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In his lab, Frank claims to have discovered the “secret to life itself”. His creation, Rocky, is brought to life. The ensuing celebration (“I Can Make You a Man”) is soon interrupted by Eddie, an ex-delivery boy, partial brain donor to Rocky, and Columbia’s lover, who rides out of a deep freeze on a motorcycle. In a jealous rage, Frank corners him and kills him with an ice axe. He then departs with Rocky to a bridal suite. And so on . . .  Classic line from Frank N. Furter – “Don’t be upset – It was a mercy killing. He had a certain naïve charm, but no muscle.”

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There are three essential elements to a screening of RHPS:

1.    Audience members come dressed as their favorite character from the movie, often with excruciating detail.
2.    Props used by audience members recreate elements of scenes in the movie, or else make fun of certain classic lines.  For example, during the scene where Brad and Janet are running to the castle in the rain some audience members squirt water into the air from water pistols while others cower below opened newspapers (as Janet does in the movie). At the exclamation “Great Scott!” audience members throw unfurling rolls of Scott toilet paper.
3.    Audience members shout responses to lines from the screen that are now tightly scripted.  Sometimes these responses twist the meanings of the original lines.

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Audience members often perform this dance (“The Time Warp”) along with the cast in front of the screen.

If you have not been to a screening, you should do so once in your life.

Given that Meat Loaf played Eddie the ex-delivery boy, I am tempted to include a recipe for meatloaf.  I’m not a huge fan, but when I lived in New York I would occasionally have a hankering for an open face meatloaf sandwich with gravy that was a lunch special at my favorite diner. However, I can’t say I have ever had much success making meatloaf, and have also suffered through offerings of friends. So my fallback is to do something with frankfurters in honor of the main character, Dr Frank N. Furter. Here I have a dilemma. The modern frankfurter (aka hot dog), is the descendant of the Frankfurt sausage originating in Frankfurt-am-Maine. The Frankfurt sausage is a glorious example of the rich German heritage of sausage making, and would be easy to feature in a delicious recipe.  But I have to go with the hot dog because its general tackiness suits the superb tackiness of RHPS.

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It’s conceivable that the hot dog on a bun has the most variations of any dish in the world.  On No Reservations over the years Anthony Bourdain has shown us the Vancouver Japadog  (daikon shavings, nori sprinkles and wasabi mayonnaise), the Chicago red hot (yellow mustard, green relish, tomatoes, onions, dill pickle, and celery salt), and the staggering Swedish Tunnbrödsrulle (mashed potato, shrimp salad, onions, lettuce, mayonnaise, and spices).

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Here in Argentina hot dogs, known as “panchos,” are a very popular snack food.  No one is really sure when and how they were introduced to Argentina, but I suspect they are a descendant of the local choripan – a pork sausage on a long bun topped with chimichurri (see post 13 Aug) or other sauce. “Choripan” is a word that blends “chorizo” which in Argentine Spanish is a generic term for a meat sausage, and “pan” meaning “bread.” “Pancho” is simple the reverse: “pan” + “chorizo.” The thing about the Argentine pancho is that, like its global cousins, it can achieve amazing heights sometimes with toppings essentially overwhelming the dog. These are usually called “super-panchos.”  The typical super-pancho is a hot dog around 8 to 9 inches long, slightly protruding at either end of the bun (some are more than a foot long).  Some pancherías like Pete’s in Palermo Soho have a display of 20 or more toppings and you take your pick. Here’s some fairly standard combinations.

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Super- Pancho

Super 4 Quesos: Grated Roquefort, Cheddar, Parmesan, Gruyère (broiled to melt) then mayonnaise.

Mini Rusa: Diced boiled potatoes, peas, and grated carrots in mayonnaise (what Argentinos call “Russian salad”)

Palmitos Golf: Sliced hearts of palm with Golf sauce (an Argentine sauce made with mayonnaise, ketchup, bell peppers, oregano, and cumin).

Gratin Capresse: Chopped tomatoes and fresh basil leaves topped with grated mozzarella and then broiled.

It’s also very popular to add French fries on top of any of these.

The Golden Rule is to order your dog as the Buddhist monk once did: “Make me one with everything.”