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.