Mayonnaise

Mostly what I seem to find written about mayonnaise these days is the debate about which is better – Duke’s or Hellmann’s. They make the point that when the mayonnaises are tasted blind, people – even staunch supporters of Duke’s or Hellmann’s – can’t pick the difference out in a blind taste testing. I think I’ve read about and thought about about this Duke’s vs. Hellmann’s question enough to know what I believe to be the truth. First, both are excellent examples of mayonnaise – just try a taste of Miracle-Whip and that will make my point. Or, if you happen to be staying with friends and your only option is a mayonnaise they’ve bought at the health foods store, you’re in trouble. More about that later. If you grew up in the South, the sight of the Duke’s label is enough to make you sure that it’s the best mayonnaise. If you grew up in the North, I think the same is true for Hellmann’s. Whatever you grew up being served by your family is the mayonnaise you think is the superior. But, there’s a lot more to say about mayonnaise.

Oh, I almost forgot: Along with the Duke’s vs. Hellmann’s debate, there are also those who confess always avoiding mayonnaise, but finally becoming fans when they make it homemade. Allison Roman, in her 2017 cookbook ‘Dining In’ – which by the way is fabulous (in fact, my favorite cookbook of the last 10 years, which is saying a lot) – says this: “Pretty much the only downside to being my father’s daughter is that, growing up, I, too, was taught to hate mayonnaise, that it was my enemy, not to be consumed under any circumstances. As a result, for nearly twenty-five years, I ate my tuna sandwiches with only mustard and celery, endured very dry BLTs, and always ordered my In-N-Out without special sauce. All that changed the day I learned to make my own mayonnaise, it was called ‘aioli,’ but let’s be real: they are nearly the same thing. I found the process of drizzling oil into eggs, creating a thick, smooth, velvety sauce that was yellow with egg yolks, completely therapeutic. And guess what? It was also crazy delicious…”

My love for mayonnaise began at an early age. The first foods I was able to make for myself as a kid were sandwiches. At my house… there were always pickles and mayonnaise and occasionally strips of leftover bacon in the refrigerator… and peanut butter and bread in the pantry. Along with the ubiquitous tin of Charles Chips on the counter. I made crazy sandwiches using all of these ingredients. I later heard such crazy, multi-ingredient sandwiches were called dagwoods . The name came from the comic strip Blondie and a character with that name. Many of the best southern sandwiches I love… pimento cheese, chicken salad, egg salad, crab salad – all use mayonnaise as a key ingredient. And then there’s potato salad and coleslaw… Where would we be without mayonnaise?!
In Rick Bragg’s article For the Love of Mayonnaise, he tells the story of his love for his Mama’s mashed potatoes. In all the places he lived, he tried to recreate them, but failed. Here’s an excerpt from the article: “I always wondered where the magic came from. It being my mother’s mashed potato recipe, I just assumed it was love. I have had them in a thousand meat ¬and ¬threes, spooned out by ladies in hair nets and orthopedic shoes, and in a thousand perfect bistros, dusted with parsley or parmesan. None were as good as hers, conjured in her battered pot in the pines of Alabama. I asked her secret. “Just butter, milk, salt and pepper,” she lied. I know she lied because I tried it, homesick, in New York, Los Angeles, Miami, other places. I almost lit Cambridge on fire, trying to create what that old woman had.
Her potatoes were creamy, perfect, with real butter pooling in small lakes. Lumps were for tourists. Skins were for Philistines. These, cliché or not, melted on your tongue, with just a little extra, a lingering taste of … what? I could duplicate everything but that. Then, lurking just outside her kitchen one Thanksgiving, I saw. It was not some magic turnip, or some deepwoods spell. It was just a damn condiment. After mashing, salting, peppering and adding whole milk and what seemed a half-pound of butter, she opened the refrigerator and reached for a quart jar of mayonnaise. She took one heaping spoonful, for about a gallon or so of mashed potatoes, and whipped it in, meticulously, so that there would be no more than a hint, that touch, on any fork.”

There are plenty of people, like me, who love mayonnaise and couldn’t do without it. My friend Alex Hallmark maintains that he told his bride, Jo Ann, on their honeymoon ‘Jo – you must never run out of mayonnaise.. It would be grounds for divorce.’ And, all these years later, her mayonnaise inventory always includes a quart in the refrigerator and two quarts in the pantry.
Yes, there are many mayonnaise lovers, but there’s also a vocal community who hate mayonnaise. This mayonnaise hatred is passed down from generation to generation – if your mother or father hates mayonnaise, together you play a game of mayonnaise avoidance – with lots of questions when ordering out, and the explanation for why you don’t like coleslaw, chicken salad, tuna salad, etc. There’s a group on Facebook about mayonnaise hatred. There’s a website, too. They express their disdain for the condiment I love. Part of their mission is to try and convince others to join their tribe. I won’t tell you some of the things they say, for fear that you might consider their dogma, and maybe even join them.
The categories of their disgust include the look, the texture, and the taste. There are also lots of tales about people’s first encounter with mayonnaise. They usually start with eating at a friend’s house. They took a bite of a sandwich, and noticed a strange taste, whereupon they opened the sandwich up and saw something white and unfamiliar, and gross looking – they say.

There have been other attacks on mayonnaise… The Health Department said it wasn’t safe, especially in picnics in deviled eggs, potato salad, etc. Then, the nutritionists came along and proclaimed it unhealthy because of all the eggs… cholesterol. Then, there’s a more obscure notion that mayonnaise created friction between the Gentiles and the Jews. There’s the Milton Berle joke: ’Anytime somebody orders a corned beef sandwich on white bread with mayonnaise, somewhere in the world, a Jew dies.” The Jews liked rye bread and mustard, and the gentiles ordered white bread and mayonnaise.

When we opened Wellspring Grocery, I wanted to have a mayonnaise for sale – hey, I needed some to take home! When visiting all the stores while researching Wellspring – stores in California, Texas, Washington State, and Colorado – I never saw any real mayonnaise.
The hippies got a lot of things wrong when it came to food, and mayonnaise would go at the top of this list. Here’s why: companes like Health Valley, Hain, and Westbrae had many different product offerings, all under the banner of good health – nut butters, salad dressings, pasta, and more. They all had mayonnaise. But in formulating their mayonnaise, they looked to Best Foods – the best selling mayonnaise on the west coast, and Hellmann’s, the best selling mayonnaise on the East Coast – which were basically the same recipe. The ingredients included sugar – the hippies substituted honey. For oil, they used a very heavy flavor-forward expeller pressed oil, which gave the oil a terrible texture. All in all, the mayonnaise would rate an F in my taste testing, against Dukes.

I tasted through the natural food offerings, and I think I picked Westbrae as the least heinous. But, when I was doing product reviews after the first six months in business, I realized I was selling almost no mayonnaise. Maybe two jars a week. The mayonnaise tasted bad, was really expensive (3 or 4 times as much as Dukes or Helmann’s per quart). I decided to take the plunge – I ordered a case of 32oz Duke’s. I couldn’t put my normal mark-up, or I would have a price-sore-thumb compared to what they were selling it for at Harris Teeter, Kroger, or the Food Dog.

Here’s what happened: the shelf with the mayonnaise began to heat up. I think I sold a dozen quarts of Duke’s the first week. But guess what: I didn’t sell a single quart of Westbrae, and when I looked at my profit, I had to sell six jars of Duke’s to make the profit of three jars of Westbrae. I carried on with the strategy, and looked at other categories like ketchup, corn chips, and others – to see if I could apply my strategy there, as well. My rule was…if I wouldn’t take what I was selling home and be happy with it, it was time for a change.

When Ann and I were running Wellspring Grocery, we had a policy that no one could check themselves out at the end of a shift. As they left the store to go home, we checked receipts and backpacks. There was a young man who worked in the product department named Kris. Every time I checked his backpack at night, he had an inordinate amount of globe eggplants he had purchased. One night I asked him, “Kris, what in the hell are you doing with all these globe eggplants?” He told me he had a way to make them that was easy and that he was addicted to. Here’s the story he told me about the eggplant:

You know how eggplant soaks up oil when you’re cooking it? Well, if instead of oil you use mayonnaise (he knew I was a mayonnaise lover), it clings to the outside and doesn’t absorb into the flesh. Cut the eggplant into rounds. He said if he had time he would salt the eggplant and get rid of some of the water, but if he didn’t have time, he would just slather the mayonnaise liberally on both sides, put it on a sheet pan, and bake it in the oven. Sometimes he would bake it at 250 for a longer amount of time, or sometimes 350 for shorter. You want it to become a beautiful brown before you turned it. He usually turned it once. He couldn’t really tell me how long it was before he flipped it; he cooked it every day so he said he just cooked it by intuition—the best way to cook by the way. Sometimes he would season the mayonnaise… most often with garlic, crushed red chili, and a whisper of oregano. When using dried oregano, your intention should always be to put so little in that people can’t tell it’s in there.. Anyway, I immediately took a globe eggplant home and tried Kris’s method, and it became a staple in our house as well. The kids liked it with a slice of cheese and maybe a spoonful of tomato sauce on top. I remember preparing a large sheet pan of eggplant using this recipe to make eggplant parmesan.

Tom Robins wrote a book called Villa Incognito, about 3 young men who were shot down in the Vietnam War. The military thought they were POWs, but in fact they were MIAs because they chose to be. One of the three was from Mount Airy, NC, and loved the life in Vietnam – beautiful women, plenty of drugs and a castle-like Shangri-la to live in, but one of the three, named Dickie, was from Mt. Airy, North Carolina – and he missed mayonnaise. When one of the women he was hanging out with traveled to one of the major Asian cities, she returned with a jar of mayonnaise – although I believe it was Hellman’s and not his beloved Duke’s. Tom Robins describes the love of mayonnaise this way: “All Carolina folk are crazy for mayonnaise, mayonnaise is as ambrosia to them, the food of their tar-heeled gods. Mayonnaise comforts them, causes the vowels to slide more musically along their slow tongues, appeasing their grease-conditioned taste buds while transporting those buds to a place higher than lard could ever hope to fly. Yellow as summer sunlight, soft as young thighs, smooth as a Baptist preacher’s rant, falsely innocent as a magician’s handkerchief, mayonnaise will cloak a lettuce leaf, some shreds of cabbage, a few hunks of cold potato in the simplest splendor, restyling their dull character, making them lively and attractive again, granting them the capacity to delight the gullet if not the heart. Fried oysters, leftover roast, peanut butter: rare are the rations that fail to become instantly more scintillating from contact with this inanimate seductress, this goopy glory-monger, this alchemist in a jar.”

Ginger and Lime

There’s nothing like getting to attend The Masters Golf Tournament in Augusta, Georgia, for someone who loves golf. My good friend, Bill Rogers, who I caddied for on the PGA tour in the early ‘70’s, won the Open Championship in Scotland in 1981 (I wasn’t on the bag). Because he’s won a major championship and was named Player of the Year in 1981, he is an honorary invitee of The Masters. One year he called me with a proposition- if I would bring ingredients and cooking utensils to make breakfast and dinner for his house guests…mostly men from Texas, he would provide me with a place to sleep and weekly clubhouse badge, and I’d get to ride to and from the golf course in his courtesy car down Magnolia Lane. Of course, I couldn’t say yes fast enough. I did a good enough job the first year, that I was invited back the next, and it became an annual ritual.  One night, Bill invited Tom Fazio to dinner… we often had dinner guests – Jerry Pate, Roger Cleveland, and others- Fazio asked me what was for dinner, and when I told him, he said, “I’ve given up meat for lent, you’ll have to make me something else.”

When I already had 10 people to feed for dinner, becoming a short order cook and making a separate dinner was not a beauty. I was tempted to make him scrambled eggs, but I managed to make him a frittata. Anyway, the next year, I brought my best friend Peter Roy to help with the cooking. Peter added some of his Louisiana specialties like gumbo, and even brought a grill to have a steak night. For breakfast, one morning during the week, I would always make Wilson Street pancakes (I’d even bring my special griddle to cook them on). But most mornings, I would attempt to get these Texans to have cereal and fruit with their toast and coffee. Inevitably, they would come down and ask if I could make them a couple of eggs. One year, the large hand of bananas was getting too ripe, and I hatched an idea. I’d make a banana pudding using my Whole Foods private label ginger snaps instead of vanilla wafers. After dinner that night, I told the boys I’d made a special dessert, and since this batch wasn’t big enough for people to go back for seconds, I portioned it out. After his first bite, the man at the head of the table announced, “I’m a buyer of anybody’s portion for $40!” To which the guy next to him said, “You couldn’t have mine for a $100!” These were alpha males.

Anyway, I believe there are certain foods that go together so well, that I always associate them together. One of those combinations that I find extremely sympatico, is ginger and lime. My neighbor here in Blowing Rock is Jo Ann Hallmark, and her vocation is making wedding cakes. You just wouldn’t believe what these brides ask her to do. Each August, she asks me what I would like for my birthday cake. My birthday is September 18th, but I’m always in Durham by then. Most years, I request her coconut cake, and one year, I believe she made me German chocolate. But in most recent years, I’ve asked for a key lime pie with a ginger snap crust. There it is- ginger and lime. Here are a few more food combinations that I would list as legendary.

  1. Cherry and almond
  2. Coconut and curry
  3. Chocolate and orange
  4. Gingery and soy (sauce that is, not milk)
  5. Pork and fennel seed
  6. Peanut butter and molasses
  7. Clams and bacon
  8. Bacon and ________

There are other combinations that have been commercialized, like tomato and basil. And if I taste one more uninspired tomato basil soup or sauce, I’ll scream. But for sure, the worst commercialized combination is pumpkin spice. I wrote something about this combination two years ago, where I listed all of the pumpkin spice abominations. Starbucks started this thing with their pumpkin spice lattes. They used to start their pumpkin spice shenanigans around Thanksgiving, but I read this year, they did it before Labor Day. I don’t think they had it at the time I wrote about the horrors of pumpkin spice, but now Charmin even has pumpkin spice toilet paper…omg.

 

 

 

The Target

The object of the game of golf is to get a small sphere (the ball) from point A to point B in the fewest strokes. Point A is where you tee off, and point B is where you hole out on the green. To play well, you must aim. Aiming requires presence, commitment and trust.

There’s a golf saying that if you don’t pick a target, you’re guaranteed not to hit it. Harvey Penick, the famed golf instructor from Austin, Texas, coined the phrase, “take dead aim.” I think what he was talking about, is to be very specific when you take your aim in golf. Claude Harmon (The Boss) used to say, “Aiming a golf shot is a lot like aiming a gun. If you miscalculate a little bit from where you stand, it’ll be a much bigger miscalculation 200 yards away where the ball will land. I believe aiming at a target is more complicated than simply picking a place to aim in the golf swing. Almost every professional golfer, once they arrive at the ball and survey the lie and consider the slope and the wind, will stand behind the ball and visualize how the ball will travel from where it is to where they want it to end up. Jack Nicklaus said he liked to visualize the ball taking off and the first bounce after it had hit the ground, assuming his stance to play the shot. Johnny Miller used the same routine when he played.

There’s plenty of attention paid to exactly how to aim. The Boss used to describe it like many others using a railroad track image. He’d say, “If you’re standing on the rail closest to you, your target line is the other track running beside it. In other words, your body is parallel left to where you want the ball to go. A common mistake beginning golfers make is attempting to aim their body at the target. The club face is aimed at the target, but if you aim your body at the actual target, you end up aiming right, and aiming right is not a good thing. The Boss used to say, “Aiming right encourages all the wrong things in the golf swing…whereas you can get away with aiming left, you can’t get away with aiming right.

The part of the target I’m interested in discussing is summarized by George Knudsen:

 “The idea is to plant the image of the target in your mind. The more vividly you can imagine the target, the more intensely you can react to it. Target awareness takes your mind’s eye off the ball and puts it where it belongs: out there in space.”

One of the things that draws me to golf…that fascinates me about the game is how you can continue to learn and experience new things.

“Golf is….the study of a lifetime. You can exhaust yourself but never the subject.”– David R. Forgan  

I had a serious stroke in 2011 that left me paralyzed, but I had a lot of good physical therapists that helped me make an amazing physical recovery. I still play golf although the game I play today has almost nothing to do with the game I played pre-stroke. Like everyone who has had a stroke, I suffered a brain injury. You just don’t realize how much your brain does that you take for granted. The brain injury that most affected my golf game is my lack of impulse control. I want to jump ahead. In rehab, the cognitive therapist, Candice, used an exercise with a deck of cards. She would deal 3 cards face up, such as Jack of clubs, Queen of hearts, 4 of diamonds. My task was to call them out in the order they were dealt, but I couldn’t do it. I would always jump to the last card and skip the middle one. How that brain injury affects my golf game is that instead of simply making my swing, I impulsively hit at the ball, which means that I often hit 3 or 4 inches behind the ball, or my body compensates and lifts up, and I contact the ball in the middle, which is called a skull (a Vince Skully). Being a teacher and knowing just a bit about the game and the swing, I’ve tried everything to solve this flaw, but nothing has worked.

Two weeks ago, I was preparing to write this essay, and warming up at the practice tee before the round, I was focused on maintaining my target connection throughout the swing. But I realized that somewhere in the backswing and in the transition to the front swing, I lost the connection. Even worse, the ball became the target. I hit a few more balls on the range where I recommitted to keeping my connection rather than thinking about how to swing. I hit a couple of beauties and went to the first tee with the commitment of playing my round with this intention. During my round, I hit my usual fat ones and some Vince Skullies as well, but I played better tee to green than I have in years, and I broke 80 (77) for the first time this summer.

Here are a few more examples of how target awareness and maintaining your connection can positively influence the outcome of the shot. Here are a few examples:

I was playing at the Duke University course with my regular Sunday morning group. It was quite chilly and had been raining a lot, so the turf was soaked. On the tenth hole, which was our first, I pulled my second shot left of the green. I had a terrible bear lie, basically the ball was sitting on mud. The ball was also way below my feet, and the pin was very close to the left side of the green. I was short-sided. I surveyed my predicament, and came to the conclusion that the shot was essentially impossible to play. But, I decided to try something. I walked back to my ball with the spot clearly in my mind. I didn’t know how I was going to swing, I just knew I was going to try to relax, and keep the spot (the target) in my mind as I played the shot. I don’t know how, but the shot I played almost went in. I’m sure there was a lot of luck involved. I hit a slightly behind the shot, so it was very lucky the ball flew the right distance. But I am convinced the mind-body connection can produce amazing results if we get out of our heads, and believe that something extraordinary can happen.

Here are a few more examples:

I have met several extraordinarily talented golfers for whom the harder the shot, the better they do. Meaning, they can play a cut shot from the woods around a tree, onto the green with better results than a five iron from the middle of the fairway to a pin right in the middle of the green. Here’s why I think that happens: when the shot requires precision, visualization is essential, and they focus their attention on the target, and allow their instincts and athleticism to play the shot. There’s far less thinking, and the shot is played escaping the mind and coming to our senses. When the ball is in the middle of the fairway, there’s lots of time to think, and during the shot, there are a lot of swing thoughts that cause the result to be far below their expectation. I think that’s why Bubba Watson plays big cut shots (left to right) or big draws (right to left) when curving the ball is not required. My friend Bruce Davidson from Scotland told me a story about his recent conversation with Seve Ballesteros, “Seve told me once that his worst pitch shots were from right in the middle of the fairway to a central pin. He always hit those further away than if he was out of position to a tight pin. He also told me that Langer was, by far, the best at the former…..I took that to mean that imagination was necessary for the ones Seve liked versus Teutonic regimentation for the ‘Langer pitch’.”

There are some holes on your home course where golfers play where the miss/error seems to be in the same place the majority of the time. This is the result of what golfers refer to as the hole or the shot “doesn’t fit my eye.” This means you find it hard to connect and commit to a target. Maybe the tee aims you to the right, and with your swing motion, this usually results in a bad miss to the left.  Or maybe, there’s catastrophic trouble on the left, and you miss way to the right. If you’re anxious and afraid of where you don’t want to the ball to go, it makes it almost impossible to connect to the target of where you do want the ball to go. Standing behind the ball and looking at all the places where it would be bad for your ball to end up makes target connection very difficult. A good friend of mine, John McNeely told me there’s a hole at Pebble Beach #8, where he always plays a beautiful drive. When he arrives at a hole that doesn’t fit his eye, he looks at the shot and imagines he’s driving on #8.

I remember playing in a college tournament in Georgia when I was at WFU (I believe it was at Calloway Gardens). Our team was on the range after a practice round, and I heard shot after shot that had a special sound of really good contact. I turned around to see who it was. It was a player from the University of Alabama with blonde hair and a syrupy smooth swing named Jerry Pate. My curiosity got me, and I walked back to take a look. He was hitting 4 irons and every shot was struck perfectly solid. I watched him hit 15 or 20, and the balls finished so close together, out 185 yards away that you could have put a blanket down and covered them all. There were some spectators sitting behind him, and one of them asked, “What’re you working on?” Jerry replied, “I’ve been hitting terribly and I’m trying to work it out before the tournament starts.” The buffoon replied, “Well you’re aiming way to the left.”

Jerry said, “I’m not sure where I’m aiming, but the balls are going where I’m looking.”

The Nighttime Pro (Practicing Medicine Without a License)

When I play golf these days, the scores I shoot are high, and one of my goals is to play well enough where none of the members of my foursome start trying to give me a lesson. It’s unconscionable to me how golfers think they can give people lessons just because they play and read golf magazines, or have taken a lesson themselves. If something they’ve read or heard is working for them, they tend to try and teach that particular aspect of the game, which golfers call “tips” to whomever they come in contact with. I witness the most heinous examples of “practicing medicine without a license”, which is a phrase my boss, Claude Harmon, often used. One of the things that was unique about The Boss, is that he was never intimidated by the members of the clubs where he taught, and he never hesitated to speak his mind. I can recall numerous times when we would be down on the practice tee, him giving a lesson, and me teeing up the balls and listening intently to exactly how he was going about his craft. He’d see one of the members, usually an alpha male, giving a son, daughter, or wife, a golf lesson. He’d walk over – close enough, but not too close- and ask the question, “Are you practicing medicine without a license?”

He would make eye contact but never get an answer. He would then follow up with this question, “How’d you like someone operating on your gallbladder but had never been to medical school?” He would then come back to where I was standing, and resume giving his lesson.

The Winged Foot Golf Club is located in Mamaroneck, New York, in the heart of Westchester County. It is 36 holes of the finest championship golf found in this country. There are some clubs who could argue they have one 18-hole course the equal of the WFGC west course, but no one could say they have two courses as good as the East and West course at Winged Foot.

There’s only one possible criticism of WFGC, and that’s the inadequate driving range. It is way too small, doesn’t have sufficient sunlight to grow grass, and what grass they do have, can’t withstand the constant pounding of balls done by the membership. Many of the members who want to practice in the evening after work go on the other side of the parking lot and behind the hedge where there’s a tee with pretty good turf, but you have to hit your own balls down the eighth fairway of the east course. There are a lot of places where you hit your own balls (shag balls), and they have caddies that will shag the balls, but at this time of day, you have to pick up your own balls. There was a member whose name was Don Edwards. He was a good player and had won the WFGC Men’s Championship in past – quite an accomplishment at a club filled with so many fine golfers. He was always working to improve his game, and was something of a golf maniac in his obsession to keep getting better. He was behind the hedge most evenings in the summer…The Boss called him, “The Nighttime Pro” because whoever else was there practicing would surely get a lesson from Don. One of the summers I was there, The Nighttime Pro was working to improve his shoulder turn, and would go through a series of bizarre and callisthenic-like movements in his pre-shot routine. When The Boss would have a lesson and see his student mimicking some of The Nighttime Pro’s movements, he would get a big smile on his face, and say, “Whooo whoo whoo” (his classic Jackie Gleason imitation).

“I see you’ve been to visit The Nighttime Pro.” He’d chuckle and look at me and say, “That Nighttime Pro keeps us in business. One session with The Nighttime Pro will take us five sessions to get back to even.”

 

 

 

Jonas’s Chicken

His brown leather, ankle-length boots were always clean and shined like he was going to church. I remember that vividly about this man, and his blue denim overalls and the way his odd surfboard-shaped afro looked. And how on those days when it was hot, he dipped his red bandana into cool water to mop his brow. But what I really remember was the chicken. Jonas’s chicken – the beginning to the delicious end. That’s the way it is with food folks.

Jonas would come early, usually Saturday morning, to start the fire. I was young and my family had fled the heat of Charlotte to spend a glorious week in the mountains at my Uncle Robert’s lake house on Lake Tahoma, near Marion NC. We did that once a year throughout my childhood. It was a grand house with a beautiful screened porch that overlooked the lake. And on one morning on each the weeks during our stay in the mountains, Jonas would pull up next to the house in his light blue Ford pickup to cook chicken.

In the best years, my mother’s parents, Ditty and Poppa, would come along with us. And, for me, that meant Azalea. Not the flowering shrub, but a woman whose name was pronounced “Az-uh-lee”. She was African American and essentially a member of our family. She chain-smoked Kent cigarettes and played the numbers and did a lot of cooking. When she was around I followed her like a puppy. My brother Doug would fish and Azzy loved to fish, too. When she wasn’t fishing with Doug, I was with her in the kitchen, watching her cook. That says something about me. She was irreverent and funny and hated hot weather, and didn’t put up with any bullshit from me. And on those days when Jonas came to cook, the two of them would plan the evening meal…which really meant when Jonas’s chicken would be ready to serve and Azalea would have the sides ready, too.

It was a hardwood fire. He had to have it just so, using a shovel to get it right. That’s how he spent the morning. There were three or four chickens set aside to cook and he brought a quart mason jar of sauce that consisted of melted butter, salt, pepper, red chili flakes, and apple cider vinegar. Simple. He swore up and down that any tomato in a mop sauce would burn on the skin and give the chicken a bad flavor. I’d watch him build the fire all morning and then would sit midday with him and eat lunch… a plate of leftovers that Azalea made. I remember her creamed corn accompanied by sliced tomatoes. Azalea loved black pepper and the creamed corn was deeply flavored by it. She’d even add more to hers after it was served!

There was a fat man named Mr. Queen who was the caretaker of the lake. As a 9 year-old in the South, you rarely knew grown-ups’ first name. He raised night crawlers that he sold to people to use as bait. He also had fresh mountain trout for dinner that he kept in a tank. But the best part for me was that he and his wife kept a large garden by their house on the lake. They allowed us to pick our own corn and then pay for it by the ear. Mrs. Queen sold lots of other produce, too…okra, tomatoes, squash. That was basically the only produce we ate during the week – especially the sweet corn. And whatever was going to be served with the chicken was going to come out of that garden.

Jonas only put the chicken on when the fire was just right. Not a minute before. The coals had to be strong and the temperature low. No flame. It takes practice and talent to keep ash off of the chicken – to not mess with the fire – and let the slow process unfold. I’d stand with him and talk – pretty much all day. Mostly, we’d talk about my Uncle Robert as we had that in common; Jonas worked for Uncle Robert. He did odd job/handy man tasks, and would sometimes drive him to Asheville and back. But what Uncle Robert was most proud of was Jonas’s chicken. Jonas would mop the chicken, dipping the brush into the mason jar and coating the birds carefully. I hope that I never forget that chicken.

Azalea would cook half-runner beans and corn, okra and tomatoes, potatoes and parker house rolls – sometimes cornbread. All the vegetables were served family-style in large bowls and platters. A few small bowls with pickles, and it was a feast. And that chicken…damn, it was good. Certainly the best chicken of my life. It was cut up in the kitchen and served straight on each of our plates. I always asked for dark meat.

After the meal, we’d always have dessert. Sometimes it was finished with sliced watermelon, or if we were lucky, blackberry cobbler served with vanilla ice cream. But Jonas’s chicken always stole the show. It was that good. While we were eating, he’d put out the fire, clean up and drive off in his pick up.

I’ve tried to recreate that chicken over the years, but I always fail. I don’t cook it long enough, or the fire’s too hot, or the sauce is wrong. But I’ll keep trying, and someday, I’ll get it right. I swear I’ll get it right.

 

The Quiet Calm

the sensation, pleasure and even the sound of a

well struck shot are well documented…..at the instant of contact you immediately know

when it’s right, feels right and sounds right….. when you find the sweet spot,

the sensation travels up the shaft into your hands and is then parceled out to all the

pleasure centers available to us as humans…..”aaah laddie,” the old Scot said,

“that’ll bring ya back for more !”

 

what’s not discussed or written about as much….is the quiet

calm that comes over you when you find yourself, often unexplainably, about/

prepared to play a shot where you feel certain success is just a moment

away…part of the immense happiness I feel when this happens occurs because that annoying voice in my head, my therapist calls it the

“harpie voice “, decides “i think lex is okay on this shot, i think i can clock out.”

the annoying voice (you know the one that is supposedly looking after your

best interest by instructing you what to do and what not to do in deadly serious tone) decides

this particular shot will not require “his” attention…..that he can sit

this one out and so this voice recedes, and so…this adds immeasurably to the quiet and the calm.

i’ve often wondered if this quiet calm can be called up or induced, and i pay very close attention, and i’m fascinated when it occurs.

 

the tenth hole at the duke university course, a place that i’ve played more rounds than any other golf course in the last forty years,

for whatever reason, the drive looks just right to me from the tee.

it is a challenging shot that gets my attention and requires

precision….there’s plenty of room to the left to start the ball, but a

bunker at 265 at the left edge of the fairway….the right side is

totally tree lined with tall pines…..the tee is slightly elevated so

you can see everything perfectly……i usually hit a solid, quality

drive off of #10….today was no exception, and as i stood over the

ball, i sensed there was plenty of time and absolutely no worries about

where my ball would end up…..my swing felt free and “oily” without any need to control things or exert any

effort….it flew farther than any drive I hit all day with what felt to

be the most effortless swing of the day….the anticipation to feel and

watch my drive on # 10 was joyful in itself….and even if the ball had

flown off line and been struck off center there would have been some

goodness in the shot. the kind of goodness that is not present when i

play a shot where i am worried, afraid and try to control things by overthinking them….a shot

where my athleticism is blocked by too much thought….where i am stuck

up in my head thinking how to swing…..

 

“give up control to gain control, there’s no need to force things. just let yourself be.” – george knudsen

 

as “the boss” claude harmon so aptly said,

“mr. jones i am not certain what you are thinking about standing up there

over the ball……but it couldn’t be good!”

 

back to the feeling of the quiet calm….it’s not the same feeling you have

laying on the couch or in a hot bath….there’s more presence and focus,

and whereas you feel calm there is energy pursing through your body, an

exhilaration…..the confidence that something positive is about to

happen to you. maybe the closest feeling to this quiet calm is being eighteen

about to take a beautiful girl into your arms…..where confidence

and focus and happiness are all born out of a carefree, abandon of

sorts. where you are not thinking but rather letting go and being

present…anticipation and thrill that a hard slider

into the middle of # 10 can’t match….but they are in the same “family”

somehow to me.

 

” ye’ll come away from the links with a new hold on life, that is

certain if ye play the game with all your heart, ”  shivas irons

 

 

Bruce Lietzke

I lost another friend to cancer recently. Bruce Lietzke was someone I spent loads of time with when I caddied on the PGA tour in the early 1970’s. I first met Bruce through college golf when I was playing at Wake Forest and he played on the powerhouse golf team at the University of Houston. His team included the now famous golf instructor Jim McLean, and the PGA Player of the Year in 1981, Bill Rogers. Bill and Bruce were best friends, and I caddied for Bill in the early ’70’s. Bill and Bruce spent lots of time with each other, playing every practice round possible together. Needless to say, I knew them well during those years, and I became very familiar with the way Bruce played and thought about the game.

Even though Bruce would never represent himself this way, I believe he was a modern day golfing shaman who played the game with a level of acceptance and detachment I’ve never witnessed in any other professional golfer. A few stories to illustrate my point:

One day, we were playing a practice round at Westchester County Club. There was a par 5, I think it is number twelve. Bruce played one of his mammoth cuts off the tee, a perfect drive that was really long onto a plateau, where he not only had a shot at the green and two, but was able to do so with a long iron. The pin was in the back right, and if you missed to the right of the green you were dead. Bruce aimed to the left of the green, and hit his 3 iron so that it landed on the green, kicked right, and ended up inside of ten feet for a putted eagle. The next hole was a short par 4 and Bill said, “Leaky, how do you play this hole? Where do you aim?” He answered and then played a shot exactly the way he described. After 2 or 3 more perfect holes from tee to green, I asked him, “Leaky, what swing thought are you using today?” (Me, ever the golfer looking for clues on how to better play. Being a tour caddy was a fertile ground to ask the best players in the world for insight into the game.) To my question Bruce replied, “Lex, I’ve been making the same swing for over thirty years. I don’t need any swing thoughts. I don’t take lessons or tinker with my swing and I haven’t had a lesson since 1974, which was really just my brother watching me hit a few balls. Most of the players out here on tour are constantly attempting to make a better swing. I just want to make my swing, and I know how to do it without thinking. In fact, when I’m really playing well, I feel like I’m outside of myself observing my swing.” This kind of acceptance and detachment is not only unique, but it delivers great insight into how a man can play at the very highest level while still hitting less practice balls on the range in a month than most of the players hit in a week.

Bruce was the envy of most players. He had a life outside of the tour, and took more time off than almost anyone (and when he did go home to be with his family, he never practiced or played). His caddy once placed a plentiful green banana given to him at a tour stop under his driver head cover to find it black and rotten when he returned 6 weeks later – proving he hadn’t played a single hole while home on break. Matt Faye recently wrote an article paying homage to this southeast legend and noted that, “Family and friends say Lietzke’s 30-year professional career was always just a job, evidenced by his annual breaks from competition in the summer. Whether he was riding four-wheelers, vacationing with his family, fishing or tending to his muscle car collection, Lietzke had his priorities straight, said his nephew and Beaumont Country Club golf professional Rob Lietzke. ‘Golf was probably about the 10th most important thing in his life…he was one of those guys where it was never about what he was doing. It was about everyone else.’ Rob said.” Bruce once had an off day at one of the Florida tournaments – I think he shot 74. Jim McLean asked him, “Bruce are you gonna go practice?” To which Bruce replied, “No way, why would I go practice when I’m hitting badly?”

Bill Rogers told me that when they played together in college, he and Jim Mclean told Bruce he’d never make it at the next level playing that big slice. They said, “Your divots go dead left, Bruce. How can you play like this?” I guess he showed them how wrong they were.

Bruce once told me, “I play one shot. It starts to the left and curves to the right. And so, if the pin is on the right hand side of the green, I aim at the middle of the green and let it cut towards the flag. If the pin is in the middle of the green, I aim at the left edge and let it fade towards the pin. If the pin is on the left side of the green, I’ll either be putting from the right part of the green or, if I’m really playing well, I’ll aim left of the bunker and try to get it close.”

My fondest time with Bruce was after I had left caddying on the tour and landed a job as a golf professional working for Claude Harmon at Winged Foot Golf Club in Westchester County, NY. Bruce was playing in the tournament in White Plains and came to WFGC to have lunch and play nine holes with me. We played the back 9 after a sandwich, and he would ask me on the tee, as I was familiar with the course, “Where do I drive to have the best approach into the green?” He would then unleash one of his long towering fades into the exact place I told him to go, and I will never forget how far his ball went. The seventeenth hole at Winged Foot is a long par 4 dogleg to the right (Bruce’s favorite shaped hole). It was a hole that if I hit a good drive, I would have two hundred yards left on my second shot. Bruce’s drive, which started in the left rough and finished right center, left him an 8 iron into the green.

Bruce’s swing shape was in to over, swinging the club very inside on his backswing. The downswing plane was outside of his backswing. He swung way to the left with amazing body rotation. I can still see his high finished and the usual smile on his face as he observed the masterpiece he just struck.

As a student of the game, here’s what is interesting to me: someone once told me (it was probably Jim McLean) that in the days of building the railroads of America, it was widely understood that the most powerful and accurate way to swing a sledgehammer was with this same shape of swing—in and over. I think one of the reasons that this shaped swing is best is because swinging inside on the way back makes you less likely to sway and promotes good body rotation. On the way down, there’s almost no chance of the club getting stuck behind you, so you can create speed as there is no need for adjustment as you near impact.

In my opinion, we can all learn so much from Bruce’s acceptance of his own swing. So many of us never develop our own swing because we’re always trying to change. I’m not suggesting you try to swing like Bruce Lietzke, but that you just make your swing. Lastly, it’s very typical for young players to swing with Bruce’s swing shape from in to over- it’s a natural motion for most beginners. Unfortunately, almost all of them receive golf instruction to change.

And a beauty to you, Leaky.

 

 

Pimenton

If you know the story behind a food or drink you’re about to consume, I believe it tastes better…more enjoyable and interesting. It’s almost as if you can taste the story, and that enhances your sensory experience. Here’s an example:

For me, this is the incredibly delicious, smoked Spanish paprika, pimenton. I’d list it as my current favorite in the spice category. Herbs, like rosemary, sage, thyme and parsley are leaves of plants. Spices on the other hand, are the bark, berries and seeds of plants. In the case of one particular plant, Coriandrum Sativum, cilantro comes from the leaves of the plant and coriander comes from the seeds.The story of pimenton is awesome. Columbus, on one of his voyages to America, encountered a plethora of chiles being grown there. He took them back to Spain and gave some of the seeds to Catholic monarchs at the Jeronimo monastery in the Extremadura region of Spain. This monastery grew the chiles and distributed seeds to other monasteries in Spain. The spice then made its way all over Europe. Jeronimo monastery not only grew the chiles, but the monks developed an extensive process for drying the chiles, smoking them over regional oak wood, and stone grinding them into the powder. They called this ground powder pimenton, and it became a cornerstone of Spanish cuisine… being used in soups, sauces, stews, sausages, there’s even a famous octopus dish that uses the spice.

During one of my trips to Spain while working for WFM, I enjoyed a chicken and rice dish, where pimenton was the predominant spice. Many of my private label products came from Spain, and there I learned that in different categories of food, such as dried beans, Spanish quality represents the very top quality in Europe; whereas France and Italy get most of the press about their impeccable ingredients. I think Spain is overlooked and receives short shrift of the attention. Pimenton even has a D.O., which stands for denomination of origin – a designation primarily used with wine. A denomination of origin requires products/ wines to adhere to certain standards of products in order to use the name. I love that the traditional the fact that pimenton has a D.O., which requires this spice to be created in the traditional, time-honored method. This relates to the drying process, type of wood utilized, grinding equipment, etc. Pimenton cannot even be refined with a modern, metal industrial grinder because it creates too much heat, and robs the spices of its complex flavor.

When I left Spain, I tried to find a chicken pimenton dish online, and I couldn’t find one anywhere at the time. Many cultures combine chicken and rice into a dish. When you cook chicken and rice together, the fats from the chicken drip down onto the rice, making it uber delicious. So, when I couldn’t find a recipe online, I decided to make a chicken, rice and pimenton dish on my own, which for me is always more fun than following a recipe. This weekend, I’m going to cook this dish, which is bone in chicken thighs, cooked on top of rice and vegetables with pimenton stirred into the rice. This spice is also used as a rub overnight on the chicken thighs.

Things to Know:

  1. The heat level of chiles today is measured on the Scoville scale.
  2. In the early days of pimenton, they realized that different levels of chiles had different levels of spiciness.
  3. There are 3 different heat levels of pimento: dulce(sweet), agridulce (medium), picante (hot).
  4. Pimenton is available in some food stores, but widely available online. The best smoked paprika comes from de la Vera, which is right down the road from the monastery where it all originated.
  5. The tins of pimenton are beautiful! It is nice to have all three heats on hand, but if you’re going to buy just one, I’d buy the agridulce.

 

 

Golf Swing as a Dance

I believe that the golf swing is very similar to dancing….

“The golfer who can sense his swing as dance, will focus on his body and a swing instead of seeing the ball and a hit” – George Knudsen from The Natural Golf Swing.

In the same way that everyone has their own swing on the golf course, everyone also -for better or worse- has their own moves on the dance floor. A couple of stories to illustrate my point:

I have always loved to dance, and being a showoff, have often taken up more than my fair share of the dance floor with wild and bodacious dancing. In college, when Ann and I were in rare form, the other dancers would often form a circle around us and watch. I was once asked by a particularly awkward and inept dancer if I could teach him to dance like me. His issues included thinking too much, trying way too hard, and not really even wanting to be on the floor in the first place. His dancing consisted of the basic ‘white man nod’– arms bent at 90 degree angles and held up like a goal post, nodding and jerking his whole body forward. But I basically told him, you can’t tell someone how to dance, you have to feel the music and dance in your own way. Start dancing, and watch the people on the dance floor that seem to have a freedom of movement and a rhythm with music, and you’ll learn.

Just like you have to dance with your own body, one could argue that swinging a golf club is just the same. There’s a story about my golfing mentor and master professional Claude Harmon, for whom I worked at the Winged Foot Golf Club in Westchester County, NY, that illustrates this point. A man came into the golf shop and asked Mr. Harmon (aka, ‘The Boss’), “Can I have a golf lesson? I’d like to learn to swing like Sam Snead!”

To which The Boss said, “meet me on the putting green in 20 minutes.” The man then said, “Oh, I’m a fine putter I just want to hit some”. The Boss, always taking control of such situations said, “If you want a lesson meet me in 20.” The man decided to show up on the putting green, and Mr. Harmon told him to come to the hole he was standing at, stand flat-footed, and without bending his knees, to pick the ball out of the hole. Of course he couldn’t come close to performing this task, to which The Boss said, “Sam Snead can do this in his sleep, so of course I cant teach you how to swing like Sam. What I can do is teach you how to swing like a better version of yourself.”

The best way to learn to swing a golf club is to watch golfers who have balanced swings full of freedom. Just a few days ago, I was marveling at the effortless, powerful and relaxed swing of Rory McIlroy. I’ve included a link here of his swing (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ieu9zi43iW4).

Unlike Rory, many golfers often don’t select a specific target at all. They’re impatient, and want to move on to the hitting. This is most often seen on the practice range where you’ll see golfers raking one ball after the next, and aimlessly hitting them with rapid fire.

“Target awareness takes your minds eye off the ball and puts it where it belongs: out there in space.” – George Knudsen

Claude Harmon used to tell his associates the challenge in the golf swing is to coordinate and sequence all the parts of the body involved. He used to say, the way to remember it, “think of your breakfast, ‘HASH’ – in the backswing, the order of the movement is hands, arms, shoulders, and hips. Golfers often move their hips first in a premature jump back to the right foot. If you don’t get the sequence right on the backswing, you won’t get the sequence right on the downswing, which is the part where you actually connect with the ball.”

The other thing that both dancing and swinging a club have in common, would be balance, freedom, and lack of tension or anxiety. Here’s one of my favorite videos of the legendary dancer, Fred Astaire, hitting some golf balls. Notice the rhythm and lack of tension as he dances himself through a number of balls on the driving range: (https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=10&v=34viwApgPyE).

I once watched Billy Harmon, Claude Harmon’s youngest son, give a golf lesson, and he was attempting to get his student to get the sequence right, and he told the student, “the swing is a dance between the faster hands and arms, and the slower hips and body. You can either have Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, or Michael Jackson and Tina Turner, but you can’t have Michael Jackson and Ginger Rogers, or Fred Astaire and Tina Turner- it just won’t work!”

And a beauty to the wisdom of the Harmon family…

 

 

 

Beginning Golfer #1

I’ve just returned from the range, the practice area, at the golf club. I witnessed a scene that occurs just about every weekend here in Blowing Rock, a mountain community with a lot of second homes. Here is my description of what I think preceded what I witnessed today. Blowing Rock residents and members of the golf club have their kids come visit for the weekend and bring their children- the grandkids. They arrive on a Friday afternoon after school or work and leave Sunday afternoon or Monday morning. On Friday, Grandpa plays his regular Friday afternoon golf game and shows up for his Saturday morning regular game, as well. He gets a pass to do this with the understanding that, on Sunday, he will take his grandson or granddaughter to the range to hit golf balls and introduce them to the game.

Golf is an extremely difficult game to learn. You make a swing motion that is 12 to 15 feet long that involves weight transfer and rotation with an attempt to make contact with a small ball sitting on the ground. However, here’s the real challenge… the ball is on the ground and you want it to go in the air. Grandpa has usually cut off an old club for his grandson, Tommy, to use that is almost always too long and too heavy. After a dozen or so attempts, Tommy hasn’t gotten one ball in the air. The best ones roll along the ground, what’s called a “top” in golf, but many of the attempts are “whiffs,” missing the ball all together. Tommy is having no fun and Grandpa begins with his woefully wrong instruction. He starts with, “Tommy, swing a little easier,” followed by, “don’t go back so far,” and then, the worst of all, “keep your head down.” After a dozen or so more tops and whiffs, Tommy is about to cry and Grandpa is getting mad. He then resorts to putting his hand on Tommy’s head and holding it still. My boss in the golf business, Claude Harmon, if he had witnessed such a scene, would approach Grandpa and ask, “Did you ever hear of practicing medicine without a license? How would you like someone operating on you who hadn’t been to medical school?”

I’ve taught a lot of beginning golf lessons and the first requirement is to make sure the student (in this case, Tommy) is having fun. It would usually begin with a short cart ride to try to find someone playing golf that has some skill and hopefully a full swing. The second part is more tedious, teaching the student the proper grip; your hands are the only part of your body touching the club, and if you don’t get that right, you’re in for a long slog in learning the game. I was once learning from the boss who was teaching a beginner the grip and patiently putting the student’s hands on the club in the proper position. He always taught us to do this at waist level so the student could see their hands. He would make a game of it, putting the student’s hands there two or three times, and then would stand back and allow the student to do it themselves. I remember one day, at about this point in the lesson, the young man who was taking the lesson said, “When am I going to get to hit some?” The boss replied, “Johnny, if you went to a piano lesson the first day, would you expect to play a song?”

I believe the best place to start with a beginning golfer is on a putting green, early in the morning or late in the afternoon, when there isn’t anyone around. First of all, it’s easier to get a putter that is not too long or too heavy, and secondly, there are endless games you can play and a chance that the youngster would have some fun. I would always begin by explaining that the object of putting is to get the ball rolling on green and instead of using your hand, you use the putter. Then, get the student to roll some balls with their hand toward different holes on the green, where they could see that because the green isn’t flat and has contour, the ball rolls different directions from right to left or left to right, uphill, or downhill, in what’s called a “break.” Every putt has a different contour and therefore, a different break. This is why you want to do this when there are not a lot of people around, as this can be distracting. Next, I recommend putting three or four balls in a circle around the hole, twelve or eighteen inches around the cup. They can usually make the most of these and it gives them a little confidence.

In my next post, I’ll describe what I would do on day two with a beginner.