Thursday, May 31, 2012

Roland Garros Day 5: Davis

Curtain Call

Player: Lauren Davis
Age: 18
Nation: USA
Current Ranking: 169
Notable Conquest: Mona Barthel (Germany, 30th seed)
Today's Result: loss to Christina McHale (USA) in straight sets

Photo via The News-Herald

Davis went through qualifying to reach her first Roland Garros main draw. She celebrated the occasion by taking out a seed in the first round. The Cleveland native comes from a medical family. Mom's a nurse. Dad's a doctor.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Roland Garros Day 4: Glatch

Curtain Call

Player: Alexa Glatch
Age: 22
Nation: USA
Current Ranking: 190
Today's Result: lost to Flavia Pennetta (Italy, 18th seed) in straight sets

Photo via TENNIS in DEPTH

Glatch was a very successful junior player, winning the Easter Bowl and the Orange Bowl, making the US Open final in both singles and doubles and attaining a world junior ranking of #5.  Her senior career has yet to take off.  It's been a decent week in Paris, though, reaching the second round for the second time.

Catching Up with Old Friends 

Juan Carlos Ferrero (Curtain Call, US Open Day 8) - It can't be easy to be Ferrero at Roland Garros.  He won this tournament nine years ago.  He'd made the finals the year before that and the semis the two years before that.  At the time, he sure looked like the emerging dominant force in clay court tennis.  Then there were many injuries.  And then, of course, Nadal came along.  What's it like for him on the grounds now?  How many people still remember?  I will always have a soft spot for Ferrero.  I'm glad he's still playing at 32.  Alas, he fell to Marin Cilic (Croatia, 21st) today on Court 7.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Roland Garros Day 3: Zopp

Curtain Call

Player: Jurgen Zopp
Age: 24
Nation: Estonia
Current Ranking: 103
Today's Result: lost to Richard Gasquet (France, 17th seed) in straight sets

Photo via Tennis Forecast

Zopp almost deserves recognition for the awesome name alone.  He went through qualifying to reach his first ever Roland Garros main draw.  He is Estonia's top ranked player.

Golden Squid Report

Greta Arn - I guess it's Finno-Ugric Appreciation Day.  At 33 years of age, the Hungarian Arn is still fighting the good fight.  She lost twice today.  In singles, she fell to Anastasia Pavlyunchenkova (Russia, 22nd seed) in straight sets.  In doubles, she teamed with Tsvetana Pironkova (Bulgaria).  The pair lost to Anna-Lena Groenfeld (Germany)/Petra Martic (Croatia), also in straight sets.

Family Adventures: Underhill State Park

Memorial Day weekend is the beginning of hiking season in Vermont.  Our first trek of the year was at Underhill State Park.  My Wife has a full write up at her blog:

Hike #11 - Underhill State Park

This was our first hike at a state park.  One thing I really like about the state park system is that they grade their hikes by difficulty.  The Green Mountain Club, the fine organization which maintains the Long Trail and many other hiking trails in Vermont, isn't so good about that.  In their many publications, only the trail map offers any indication as to easy, moderate and difficult hikes.  My Wife argues that all of the Long Trail hikes are difficult but I still contend that they're not all equally difficult.  A frame of reference is very useful for planning.

It was a beautiful day for hiking.  On the way back down the hill, I was walking a bit behind the ladies and had a very funny encounter.  As a group of 20-somethings was coming my way, one of them was whistling "Yellow Submarine."  I couldn't resist belting out "And we live beneath the waves..."  He laughed.  "I'll have that stuck in my head all day now," I said.

"That is how it came to us," he replied, "and that is how we pass it on to you."

Inspired by the idea, every time we came upon other hikers on the trail from that point on, I whistled the song, trying to plant the song in their heads.  No observable reactions but maybe I can get this going all summer.  Care to join me?  Need a refresher on the song?  Here you go:

On the way home, we stopped off at the Underhill Country Store for sandwiches and creemies: orange and vanilla on offer.  I love creamcicles so that's always a winning combination.

Monday marked the beginning of kickball season.  That's right, adults can play kickball, too, and there might very well be a league in your area.  Check out the WAKA (World Adult Kickball Association) site for details.  I hadn't played since the fourth grade but a contingent from the broomball team played the spring season with an eye to getting a jump on the summer.  There are 16 teams in the league with approximately 18 players each.  The league champion goes to Vegas for Nationals. 

For my first game, I did...okay.  I went 1-for-2 at the plate but felt lost in the field.  I'm sure that will improve with time.  Just as with broomball, some organization is required for our team to succeed, I think.   I say Mock is the man for the job!

The atmosphere is far more relaxed than the broomball league - plenty of beer on hand, too (perhaps not coincidental).  I felt a little out of my element as the first-timer.  This group is bigger than the broomball team and includes many more people whom I don't know.  Yes, yes, a stranger is a friend you haven't met yet.  Yadda, yadda...  I can already see that it will be a nice excuse to see friends regularly over the summer. 

Oh right, we lost 4-1.  It was really just one bad inning that made the difference.  I think once we get our act together, we'll be respectable.  The team finished second out of four in the spring season. 

Monday, May 28, 2012

Roland Garros Day 2: Bertens

Curtain Call

Player: Kiki Bertens
Age: 20
Nation: Netherlands
Current Ranking: 89
Today's Result: lost to Christina McHale (USA) in three sets

Photo via Kiki Bertens Tennis

It's Dutch Appreciation Week here at The Squid.  In March, Bertens went through qualifying to reach the main draw of the tournament in Fes, Morocco.  She won her first round match, the first WTA-level win of her career.  She then went on to win the whole tournament!  She qualified in Paris, too, though with a top 100 ranking, she won't have to go through qualifying at Slams much longer.  This was her first Slam main draw.

Golden Squid Report 

Tobias Kamke - There's no shame in losing to Roger Federer (Switzerland, 3rd seed), the very definition of a lousy first round draw for nearly a decade now.  Still Kamke's made it to the second round in Paris each of the past two years.  So, his ranking will take a hit - albeit a small one - with today's first round loss.  Wimbledon is his best Slam, though.  He reached the third round in 2010.  Perhaps he has a chance for a decent run if the draw gods should smile upon him.

On the Coffee Table: The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen

Title: The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (Volume One)
Writer: Alan Moore
Artist: Kevin O'Neill

Image via Wikipedia

I've been reading a lot of superhero team comics over the past several months: Justice League, X-Men, Avengers, Fantastic Four, etc.  Moore's and O'Neill's Victorian era team serves as a reminder that all of the characters who populate the comic books of the 20th century have their antecedents in the fantastical literature of 19th century Europe.  Indeed, this picture discovered by Miss Murray in the second issue of an earlier incarnation of the League demonstrates that even she and her entourage are part of a long lineage:

Image via wikia

Some of the connections between 20th century characters and their ancestors are obvious.  What is the Hulk, after all, if not a nuclear age interpretation of Jekyll & Hyde?  Loads of modern era superheroes have invisibility powers like Hawley Griffin.  Moore and O'Neill aren't shy about drawing parallels either - their League has one token female character as did all of the teams listed above in their first incarnations. 

I was instantly intrigued by the characters themselves.  My own experience with literature of the era is pretty shoddy.  Of all Volume 1's central characters, Captain Nemo was the only one for whom I had read his original book, Jules Verne's 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea in this case.  If I am to continue with this series, I may dig into the source material as well.

The stories themselves, however, didn't do as much for me - at least not at first.  Despite the costume drama trappings, many of the team story formulae are easily identified: the team formation story, the early hints of romantic possibilities, basic beat-the-bad-guy adventures and so forth.  I was also a little turned off by the admittedly era-appropriate misogyny.  But by the end of the collection, I was sad it was over.  I am quite charmed by the way literary figures keep turning up and am eager to see who makes appearances in further installments.

Mock wrote about the League as part of his A to Z Challenge.  I'm still a relative newbie.  If you want to read the thoughts of someone who lives and breathes this stuff, Mock's your man.  Also, my blogger pal Suze has an interesting post this week about the original Superman movie with pertinent thoughts about the stories that influence our lives.

My Baseball Fantasy: Giancarlo Stanton

Private League: won, 10-0 (35-44-1 overall, 8th place out of 10 teams)
Public League: won, 6-3-1 (42-33-5, 4th out of 12)
My Player of the Week: Giancarlo Stanton (Right Fielder, Marlins) with 3 home runs, 10 RBI, 8 runs, 1 stolen base and a .370 batting average

Photo via

Stanton's given first name is Giancarlo - an awesome name, in my opinion.  Before this season, he was known publicly by the far more pedestrian "Mike" Stanton.  Michael is one of his middle names.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Roland Garros Day 1: Sijsling

Curtain Call

Player: Igor Sijsling
Age: 24
Nation: Netherlands
Current Ranking: 122
Today's Result: loss to Gilles Muller (Luxembourg) in five sets

Photo via Mitra Images

This was Sijsling's first Roland Garros main draw.  He attained his career-high ranking just this week.  He is currently the second-highest ranked Dutch player.

When I launched The Armchair Squid nearly three years ago, I started with tennis.  My very first post was entitled Why You Should Watch the US Open.  Part of my initial mission for this blog was to spread the word about my sport of choice and I offered several reasons why fans of other sports should give it a try.  Some of them are outdated now, but here are a few highlights which still hold true:

Eye Candy
There's plenty of it in both locker rooms. Are tennis players the most attractive athletes in the world? Judge for yourself. No helmets so you can actually see faces. And for the most part, the clothes are flattering.

Gender Equity...Well, Kinda
Tennis players are the highest paid female athletes in the world. Tennis is one of few sports where men and women are equally popular and equally acclaimed. Does that mean there is no sexism in the game? Certainly not. The TV commentary for women's matches often makes me want to throw things. But I still contend that tennis does better than most.

International Flavor
I grew up on standard North American team sport fare: football, basketball, baseball and hockey. But in my adulthood, I've been drawn to soccer and tennis due in large part to their international platforms. The North American sports have done better along those lines recently but still come nowhere close to what you see on the tennis tour. Over the course of the year, the tours hit six continents and the player rankings reflect that. Gone are the days when Americans and Australians dominated. That fact has hurt TV ratings here in the States but for the sport overall, it's been wonderful.

During Squid Year 1, I offered similar testimonies for each of the other Majors. Here are the highlights from my Why You Should Watch the French Open post: 

Clay Court Tennis
Roland Garros, the tournament otherwise known as the French Open, is the showcase event for clay court tennis. Tennis was born on grass and, before concrete took over the planet, much of the world played the game on well-manicured lawns. But the sport which developed in Continental Europe, the Mediterranean and Latin America was played on red clay. In essence, two very different games emerged. The ball bounces low on grass, favoring players who play with power: the Pete Samprases of the world. The higher bounce on clay increases the reaction time of the ball striker, a difference in milliseconds which favors a very different variety of tennis god: Gustavo Kuerten, for instance. The dirt also is more difficult to run on so getting your opponent out of position is key to winning points. Grass court tennis is a duel at 20 paces. Clay court tennis is a knife fight in the alley.

The Beginning of the Summer Slog
This is just the beginning of a brutal four-month run, the heart of the tennis year. Two weeks after this one's over, Wimbledon gets underway. Then comes the North American hard court season, including big pay days in Montreal, Toronto and Cincinnati. Finally, the US Open kicks off in late August. Only the strong survive.

Back to the present...

The Curtain Call idea was to highlight a different player everyday who could reasonably be said to have had a good tournament, even though s/he'd lost.  I grew tired of the television commentators being so dismissive of the qualifiers and other lower-ranked players, essentially portraying them as cannon fodder for the big stars.  Consider Sijsling.  He made his first Major main draw at Wimbledon last year at age 23.  Most professional players never make it that far and plenty give up if it hasn't happened by that age.  There are 128 players in the men's draw in Paris.  Compare this to Major League baseball: 30 teams with 24 players each.  That means 720 players are suiting up in Major League clubhouses today.  Never mind all the capable players in Cuba and Japan who could walk in and take their spots given the chance.  For tennis, the Majors are the main stage.  To make it once in a lifetime is a very big deal.

This was the idea with which my blog was born: there are stories everywhere.  You just have to dig a little deeper for some of them.

When one of my Curtain Call players continues to improve and does well in the next Slam, I feature him or her in a section I call Catching Up with Old Friends.  If they continue to improve through the next two, I deem them Golden Squid, worthy of greater devotion through the ups and downs of their tennis careers and, perhaps, beyond. 

Golden Squid Report 

Rebecca Marino - Marino is currently taking a break from tennis, citing mental and physical fatigue.  What details I could find are outlined here.  I wish her well and hope she'll be back on tour soon.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

On the Coffee Table: Reinventing Comics

Title: Reinventing Comics
Author: Scott McCloud

Image via Amazon

Reinventing Comics is McCloud's follow-up to the excellent Understanding Comics.  Published in 2000, this second book explores the expansion potential for American comics in the 21st Century.  Comics then and comics now face many of the same challenges as do all print media.  With the ever-growing power of digital technology, what is the future for an industry built on ink and paper?  Can print compete with digital over the long haul?  Probably not.  So, what can the publishing industry do not only to survive the changes, but to embrace them and to thrive within the new regime?

The comics industry in the United States does face a few challenges all its own, even twelve years later.  With The Avengers smashing box office records like a Loki-wielding Hulk, there's no denying the brand marketing capacities of the comics medium.  However, comics do still target a very narrow demographic: WASP, straight, male, aged 14-35.  Moreover, the vast majority of comics to be found in the average specialty shop are still superhero narratives.  Compare this to the broader appeal of comic books in Japan, for instance, and it's understandable how McCloud and many others within the trade feel that their art has only scratched the surface of its potential in the States.

In my own comics exploration, this book has come to me at a good time for a couple of reasons.  Over the past few months, I have fully immersed myself in the early Marvel Age (early 1960s) comics.  While it's been great fun acquainting myself with all of the characters in that rich universe, I am beginning to tire of the formulaic stories.  I am eager to head in new directions and Reinventing Comics was well worth a read for the recommended reading list alone.  McCloud also provides the historical context for the importance of these works.

McCloud devotes the second half of the book to exploring the possibilities for comics in the Digital Age.  On June 6th, my college classmate Zander Cannon, along with his business partner and fellow alum Kevin Cannon (no relation), is launching a web-only publication entitled Double Barrel.  Get it?  Two cannons?  Double barrel?  Very clever.

Image via Double Barrel

The initial book, first of a planned twelve-month run, will be available on a variety of platforms at the bargain price of $1.99 for 122 pages.  Be sure to check out their blog and learn all about it.

In considering the potential offered by the digital universe, McCloud poses the question as to whether or not there's inherent tactile satisfaction in holding a book made of paper and binding as opposed to an electronic reading tablet.  For me, the answer is definitely yes.  I also think books are beautiful.  At our house, they're essentially a decorating scheme.  While I can certainly appreciate the convenience offered by digital media (he says as he composes and self-publishes upon one), I don't think I could ever be convinced that paper books should be replaced entirely.  That's not to say it won't happen, over time.  But I don't want it to happen.  Evidently, the Cannons don't either.  At the end of the twelve-month run, the books shall be collected in hardcover.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Orioles 2012: Top of the 3rd

2012 has been an amazing season for the Orioles so far.  Even with the disappointment of losing a home series to the Red Sox, the Birds have the best record in the American League nearly two months into the season.  So many things are going right for the team at the moment, as is often the case for a club on a hot streak.  The season is still young and there's plenty of time for everything to fall apart. 

Photo via Pro Sports Blogging

That said, the franchise got a fantastic jolt on Tuesday night from a pitcher who has to make a solid contribution if the run of success is to continue.  Brian Matusz pitched magnificently against a powerful Boston lineup, allowing only one earned run over 6 1/3 innings.  He was drafted 4th overall by the O's in 2008.  His career has been a terrifying roller coaster since.  He skyrocketed to the Majors, finishing 5th in Rookie of the Year voting in 2010. 

Then in 2011, the bottom fell out.  He missed the first two months due to injury and simply wasn't the same upon his return to the mound.  The zip on his fastball disappeared and opposing batters shelled him.  He finished the season at 1-9 with a whopping 10.39 ERA.  The once future ace had the look of an albatross ready to drag the whole franchise down with him - yet another early draft pick wasted.

2012 didn't begin well.  Matusz didn't get his first quality start until late April.  On May 7th, the Rangers tagged him for 7 runs over 5 innings.  But now, with June approaching, he seems to have pulled things together.  Tuesday night was his second quality start in a row and his third victory in three starts.  The Camden faithful gave him a standing ovation as he left the mound.  Perhaps we all sense that if Matusz's resurgence is for real, the stars may genuinely be aligned for this long-suffering ball club.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Family Adventures: Peter Pan

The other night, whilst getting ready for bed, Our Girl told us she wants to be an actress when she grows up.  "I'm really good at playing dead," she continued.  "Wanna see?" and proceeded to flop down on the sofa cushions. 

While this was her first time expressing such a desire, I've seen it coming for many years.  I'm not saying the girl's a drama queen.  I am a teacher and I've known plenty of those, of both genders.  But I've long thought that theater would combine a lot of the things she loves: storytelling, make believe, dress up, dance, music, art, etc.  I've always assumed that as soon as she realized it was something she could do herself, she'd want to give it a try.

Image via Saints & Poets Production Company

Coincidentally or not, I'm not sure, we went to see a play as a family for the first time this weekend, not long after our daughter's newly divulged career goals.  We saw Peter Pan as presented by the Saints & Poets Production Company at the Main Street Landing Performing Arts Center in Burlington.  This "new version" was written by John Caird and Trevor Nunn.  I was always familiar with the story growing up but I can't say I fully appreciated it until I actually read the book one summer during college.  Ever since, I have been partial to the stage and screen interpretations which stick most faithfully to J.M. Barrie's original.  This play was nice.  The company is an unusual one, with an expressed mission of promoting puppetry.  The story was mostly performed by live actors but there were a few wooden puppets - Nana and the crocodile, for instance - with all puppeteers in full view of the audience.

Afterward, we had an early dinner at San Sai.  We went with an assortment of rolls and appetizers.  I was especially pleased with the pork belly.  I forgot to mention last time that one thing I really appreciate about San Sai is the fact that one can get Japanese beer on tap.  I don't often miss Japanese beer but with sushi, nothing else quite cuts it.  Capped off with creemees (aka soft serve) at Jericho Center Country Store on the way home, it was a great afternoon.

Monday, May 21, 2012

My Baseball Fantasy: Brandon Beachy

Private League: lost, 1-9 (25-44-1 overall, 9th place out of 10 teams)
Public League: won 6-3-1 (36-30-4, 6th out of 12)
My Player of the Week: Brandon Beachy (Starting Pitcher, Braves) with 1 win, 6 strikeouts, a 0.00 ERA and a 0.56 WHIP
Beachy had just one start this past week but it was a beauty.  On Thursday, he pitched a complete game, 5-hit shutout against the Marlins.  It was the first complete game of his career.  The Braves signed him as an undrafted free agent in 2008.  He is the oldest of seven children.

Nancy S. Thompson accused me of posting man candy.  I hadn't really thought of it that way but, as I have said before, I am not too proud to pander.  So, enjoy:

Photo via Penny Arcade

Saturday, May 19, 2012

On the Coffee Table: A Civil War

Title: A Civil War: Army Vs. Navy
Author: John Feinstein

Image via

Feinstein is a master at finding sports stories about unheralded, yet thoroughly deserving athletes.  This 1996 publication chronicles a year in what he convincingly argues is the greatest rivalry in American sports: Army-Navy football.  Feinstein provides intimate portraits of coaches and players alike, exhibiting them as real people, not larger-than-life heroes.  He isn't too heavy-handed in detailing the brutalities of academy life but he makes it very clear that the players at both schools are of a different caliber than their counterparts in other big-time college football programs.  Lesser athletes?  Almost always.  More admirable human beings?  Most certainly.  The book inspires me to go out and root like crazy for all academy athletes, even the ones at Air Force - portrayed in this tale as the ultimate villains.

As a Maryland native, I am partial to Navy in this rivalry.  Annapolis is one of my favorite cities in the world.  Paris?  Kamakura?  Burlington?  They're all lovely.  But there's nothing quite like the Annapolis harbor at sunset on an early summer evening.  I can almost smell the crab shacks from here.  I also had a good friend who went to the Academy so I know something of the life, if only through vicarious experience. 

I have posted about the Army-Navy game before.  On TV, I have to admit, it's hard to see it as more than just a football game.  The broadcasters do make an effort, including many of the surrounding ceremonies and providing human-interest glimpses of the players.  But between whistles, it's just a game.  Feinstein writes in the introduction that one has to see the game live to really get it.  Having read the book, I feel I understand better. 

In The Last Amateurs, I felt a bit overwhelmed by the cast of characters in following a whole league.  A Civil War, with only two teams, is more manageable.  One of the dangers of sports writing in long form is avoiding a monotonous one-game-after-another feel.  Personally, I'd rather read the human stories than watch them but I'd rather watch a game than read about it.  In this book, Feinstein manages a nice balance between the two.  I suppose it's one advantage to writing about football rather than baseball or basketball: there are far fewer games in a season.

I'll definitely put more Feinstein books on the to-read list.  His style is both engaging and personable.  Most importantly, he manages to delve into stories easily overlooked by even die-hard sports fans.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Orioles 2012: Bottom of the 2nd

Teams usually load the middle of the batting order, the 4th, 5th and 6th spots, with power hitters.  For the 2012 Orioles, the 4 and 5 spots are pretty well locked down by the team's two most consistent hitters to this point of the season.  The #6 spot has been more fluid, as we shall see.

The Cleanup Hitter

Photo via PressBox

Adam Jones is having an All-Star caliber campaign thus far.  He ranks 6th in the American League with a .567 slugging percentage.  He's also 5th in the league in home runs with 10.

The 5th Hitter

Photo via Wikipedia

Matt Wieters is the team's emerging star.  At 25, he's already considered by many to be the best catcher in the American League.  He's slugging at .547 for the season.  His on-base percentage is .356.  At this early point in the year, it would seem that the Orioles' offense will go as far as Jones and Wieters can take them.

The 6th Hitter

Photo via Bleacher Report

While turnover at the #6 slot has been higher than at 4 and 5, the switch-hitting Wilson Betemit has gotten most of the starts here over the last nine games with five.  Betemit signed with the team as a free agent during the off-season.

Photo via Wikipedia

Overall, Chris Davis has been the stronger statistical hitter in the 6th spot, though he's only gotten two starts in that position over the past nine games.  His slugging percentage is .660 when batting 6th as opposed to Betemit's .400.  His on-base percentage is also better: .389 vs. .286.

Photo via Wikimedia Commons

Mark Reynolds, currently on the disabled list, also got a start in the 6th position.  Overall, he has a .321 on-base percentage when batting 6th and a .304 slugging percentage.

Photo via TheSportSpin

Nick Johnson also had one game in the 6th spot.  His overall numbers in that position are meager: .222 on-base percentage and a .267 slugging percentage.

My Baseball Fantasy: Joey Votto

Private League: lost, 4-6 (24-35-1 overall, 8th place out of 10 teams)
Public League: won, 6-2-2 (30-27-3, 6th out of 12)
My Player of the Week: Joey Votto (First Baseman, Reds) with 3 home runs, 8 RBI, 7 runs, 1 stolen base and a .429 batting average

It was an interesting week.  In the private league, I lost but moved up the standings.  In the public league, I've moved into playoff position - very happy about that.

Photo via Midwest Sports Fan
The Canadian Votto was my top draft pick in both leagues.  He's finally living up to promise.  He comes from culinary stock (forgive the pun): Dad was a chef, Mom a sommelier and restaurant manager.  He won the Lou Marsh Trophy as Canada's athlete of the year in 2010.

Family Adventures: Happy Mother's Day!

Happy Mother's Day!

As has been our tradition over the past few years, we went to a nursery for Mother's Day.  My Wife is the gardener in the family.  It's nice to start the season with some brand new stuff.  This year, we went to Gardener's Supply in Burlington.  I busied myself in the book section while she and Our Girl went treasure hunting.  It's really best that I stay out of the way in such ventures.  She did ask if there were anything I especially liked, though.  I've always liked snapdragons and if there's one thing I miss about summertime in the South, it's honeysuckle.  I figured the first would be easy but had my doubts about the second.  She managed to find both!

We did Mexican for lunch.  The Farm House has recently opened El Cortijo right down the street.  They have a brunch menu.  I love Mexican food in the morning - reminds me of a place in Roppongi (Tokyo) where we used to go after a night out at the clubs.  I ordered from the lunch menu but still greatly approve of the possibility of a Mexican brunch.  Their menu is right on the placemat - love that.  I went with the pollo and carne tacos.  Both were excellent, as were the optional sauces.  I probably should have ordered three but I figured I'd get to finish Our Girl's pancakes - a safe assumption, as it turned out.

Phoenix Books has opened its new branch in Burlington at 191 Bank Street.  The entire lower level is devoted to children's literature.  If you're in town, check it out!

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Family Adventures: The Perfect Club Sandwich

As noted in previous posts, the club sandwich is my standard order at diner-type restaurants, especially when trying a new place.  My feeling is that if a diner can get a club sandwich right, it's pretty safe to order anything off of the menu in future visits.  On Friday night, we had dinner at Bridge Street Cafe, one of our regular spots.  They have a wonderful club, and while enjoying it, I pondered my quality requirements.

Photo via What's Cooking America

The beauty of the club, I think, is its elegant balance of both flavors and textures.  As with any dish, quality begins with the ingredients.  The bread of a sandwich is crucial.  Bridge Street has their own homemade white and wheat - both excellent. 

I once spent a summer (pre-parenthood, of course) trying to build the perfect sandwich myself and came to the conclusion that managing moisture is the key.  The toasted bread should be dry, but not too crunchy.  The tomato and the condiments bring the moisture but, again, too much is not desirable.  My lettuce requirements are minimal.  A little is nice to add color and a slightly drier leaf is good for offsetting the juicy tomato.  But for me, too much lettuce kills a sandwich.

The key, for me, is the turkey.  The crucial variables are saltiness, moisture and volume.  The turkey need not be too salty - that's the bacon's job.  Too much turkey can overwhelm the rest of the sandwich.  But the most common flaw in a club is the turkey being too dry.  With bread, bacon and lettuce on the dry side, you've gotta have tomato, turkey and mayo firmly on the wet side.  If the turkey is too dry, the sandwich is too dry.

A thin mayo layer is sufficient.  You don't need a whole lot of flavor from the mayo.   The meat elements and the tomato will bring enough to the party but the mayo is nice for tying everything together.  I once had a club sandwich at a Denny's in Yokohama.  They used horseradish - not a good choice, in my opinion.  It's all you taste, ruining the flavor balance entirely.

Sides are not to be discounted.  A sandwich ain't a sandwich without a pickle - dill, please.  Bridge Street serves theirs with chips.  Fries can be nice, too, though potentially too heavy.

Obviously, Bridge Street passed my club sandwich test a long time ago.  I never was able to perfect my own.  Maybe that can be a future daddy-daughter summer project.

Maurice Sendak, 1928-2012

and it was still hot.

Monday, May 7, 2012

My Baseball Fantasy: González Again

Private League: lost 4-6 (20-29-1 overall, 9th place out of 10 teams)
Public League: tied 5-5 (24-25-1, 8th of 12)
My Player of the Week: Carlos González (Left Fielder/Center Fielder, Rockies) with 3 home runs, 9 RBI, 6 runs, 1 stolen base and a .391 batting average

Photo via Denver Sports Talk

González is my best player for the second week in a row.  In fact, he was the top rated player in fantasy baseball for the week.  Is a pattern emerging?

A to Z 2012: Reflections

I love the A to Z Challenge.  This was my second year and I find it a wonderful opportunity to meet other bloggers and connect with people with a wide range of interests.  I got a lot more traffic this time around - for a couple of reasons, I think.  First, I had a better link on the list.  Secondly, I managed to get on the list earlier and thus got more visits from those who started exploring from the beginning of the list.

I also love exploring baseball history and having the opportunity to share what I've learned. I'm delighted, of course, to connect with other blogger baseball fans. A lot of people commented on the photos I found and that may have been the most fun for me, too - especially finding the old black-and-whites of the early 20th century players.  I think Johnny Evers was my favorite:

Photo via Baseball Fever

I'll definitely be doing the challenge again next year - theme yet to be determined.  A big thank you to all who visited The Armchair Squid during the challenge and especially to the challenge co-hosts.  It is a beautiful thing you do.  Keep in touch!

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Orioles 2012: Top of the 2nd

Photo via Bleacher Report

The fact that the Orioles are winning is really crazy enough.  After today's 8-2 throttling - yes, I said "throttling" - of the Red Sox, the team has an 18-9 record.  The fact that they are winning with pitching is absolutely nuts.  To say that pitching has been a weakness for the franchise is a bit like saying gullibility was a weakness for the Trojans.  Over the past nine games, Baltimore's starting pitchers have been outstanding, turning in quality starts in seven of those games. 

A quality start is one in which the pitcher goes for at least six innings and allows three earned runs or fewer.  Traditionalists don't like the quality start stat because it amounts to a 4.50 ERA - not very good.  But sabermetricians don't like ERA as a stat anyway.  I like the quality starts stat because it asks a simple question: did the starting pitcher do his part to help his team win the game?  He has no control over what his offense does, what the fielders behind him do or what the relievers do - all factors which determine whether he might be credited with a win or loss.  But did he do his job?

The most effective starter to this point for the Orioles has been Jason Hammel.  Out of his six starts, he has turned in a quality start five times: 83% of the time.  To give you an idea of how good that is, Tim Lincecum has the highest percentage of quality starts in a career at 72.7%.  There's no telling whether Hammel can keep this up over the course of a long season but it's a very clear indication of how well he's pitched.  He's doing very well with the traditional stats, too: 4-1 record with an eye-popping 2.09 ERA.  Where did this come from?  Prior to this year, his best season ERA was 4.33 in 2009.  It's a long season and it's still very early but he and the club have to be thrilled by his performance thus far.

Since I panned him last time, I must point out that Brian Matusz seems to have found his groove as well.  Both of his past two starts have been quality starts.  His ERA is now down to 4.67.