December 6, 2012
In A Pickle
Trout Au Vin, and Other Delicious Dishes
Friends, winter has come. An entire set of Meetings in Nashville has been dedicated to ringing in the season. The air is cold, there is no baseball, and it is all we can do to keep ourselves occupied while trying not to be driven mad by the latest Ken Rosenthal rumor about Justin Upton, or Jon Heyman report on Zack Greinke. We are forgiven, then, for turning to food. After all, food is frequently warm, cooking it makes us busy, and it does not require the presence of baseballing men on our televisions or radios.
Which is not to say that food and baseball don't make a natural pair. A bite and a beer, both the eating and the acquiring, can ease the boredom of a slow fifth inning in a meaningless August blowout, particularly as the hot dogs in many ballparks have been supplemented by more upscale options and the available beers have expanded from the usual selection of Bud, Bud Light, Bud Lime, Bud Dark, Bud Plus, and Bud Unleaded. Still, when I say "upscale," I for the most part mean "hamburgers from Shake Shack instead of Carls Jr." As far as I know and have been able to Google, nobody's yet offering escargot in the mezzanine on the third-base side. What I would like to demonstrate for you, if you'll permit me, is that some classic dishes in French cuisine can provide a gateway to thinking about baseball and baseball players while simultaneously making you ravenous.
Let's start with an appetizer of chicken liver pâté on wee toasts. Chicken liver is not my favorite animal organ in the world. I might even call it "kinda gross" were I in a less dignified frame of mind. But in the hands of a proper cook and by the blade of a proper food processor and through the might of a proper pound of butter, that kinda gross chicken liver can be transformed into a silky, smooth, delicious pâté.
Adjustments, it is said, are at the core of baseball success. In an at-bat, in a game, in a series, in a season, your opponents figure out your strengths and weaknesses and your strategies. In a career, all of that happens and your body fails you and your employer's needs change and the larger environment of baseball shifts to emphasize different skills and abilities. At a certain point in the careers of some players, at a certain level of potential failure, the word "adjustments" stops being operative and "radical overhauls" come into play.
With that and chicken livers in mind, could there be two things in the world grosser for a baseball pitcher than not having a UCL and not having a fastball? R.A. Dickey overcame both of these handicaps and used an old family recipe—his grandfather taught him his knuckleball—to turn himself into the 20-"win" marvel we saw in 2012, the Cy Young winner in the National League three years after putting up a 4.62 ERA in 64 1/3 relief innings for the Mariners. Sometimes the ingredients for success are hidden deeper than simple hard work and dedication can reach. Sometimes you need a food processor. The risk of reinvention is that you'll completely ruin the raw materials you started with, but in baseball, as in livers, if your upside is Triple-A, then what's the risk? Playing baseball may be great fun, but chopped liver ain't a meal and the minor leagues aren't a career.
Speaking of reinvention, sometimes the keys to a prime eveningtime dish are right in front of you at breakfast. At least in America, eggs and bacon are a morning staple, but beat the eggs and put them in a pie crust with that bacon and thirty minutes later you've got a quiche lorraine for supper. Thirty minutes of baking, I mean. Please do not just let your eggs sit for 30 minutes and then eat them. Or if you do, please sign the attached waiver of your rights to sue me.