Sunday, April 25, 2010

Season's Almost Over. Back to Laundry and Housekeeping and Cooking.

It still surprises me to say this, but baseball season is almost over -- and I'm sad.

I know.  For most fans, the season just began.  It’s so early in the Major League Baseball season that even the most hopeful fan can’t seriously ask, “How ‘bout those Cubbies?”

But I don’t follow MLB.  I follow HSB – high school baseball -- and only one week remains in the regular season.  One week.  Two games.  Fourteen innings.  Eighty-four outs.  To paraphrase Yogi Berra, it's over when it’s over.

When Son was little, he tried several sports.  Up in our attic is a box stuffed with little soccer and basketball “participant” trophies – the sort handed over to any eight-year-old whose parents are willing to stroke a check to the league and buy a pair of diminutive shinguards.

For Son, baseball’s the sport that stuck.  Seven years later, the trophies for those big-inflatable-balled sports share space with our Christmas decorations and a noisy family of bats (the winged kind).  The baseball trophies, on the other hand, including a pair of gargantuan Dilworth Little League championship trophies that nearly justified the construction of a trophy room Chez Wiles, still occupy the place of honor on Son’s bedroom shelves.

Those first few seasons nearly did me in.  Baseball devours a family evening or a weekend.  A game can last for-fricking-ever.  And with extra innings, for-fricking-ever and ever.  Amen.  Soccer and basketball, with their stopwatches and gameclocks and precisely-timed halves, snug right into a family calendar.  The Great American Pasttime contrarily laughs at the notion of “schedule.”  No time limit.  No neat little 10-minute periods.  No predictable Thursday practices.

Little League practices and games might be scheduled for Monday, Wednesday, Thursday and Saturday one week and Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday the next.  Where little Mia Hamms and LeBron Jameses might have to show up 15-30 minutes before gametime, little Derek Jeters are expected 60 minutes prior.  In baseball parlance, by the way, 60 minutes early translates into 75 minutes early.  If you’re on time, you’re late.

It took me an entire season – maybe two – to learn to relax and enjoy the games.  One reason, of course, was flat-out fanny-clenching fear for my kid.  Fear that he would be “that kid” – the one out in left field picking daisies and turning cartwheels.  The one who swats at the ball and twirls into a 360.  Or, worse, the one who hits the ball, but runs to third base instead of first.  I'd worry that he was never going to hit the ball.  And then, worry that he'd never hit it again.

If for one second on those back-crippling bleachers, I stopped worrying for Son, I’d then have to chase away my own demons: I could be doing laundry right now.  I could be catching up on bills right now.  I could be changing the sheets right now.  I could be cooking dinner right now. Instead, I’m being held hostage by an imposing man named "Blue" who wears a mask and makes lots of angry hand gestures, and a team of elementary-school-aged, bat-wielding terrorists with tight-fitting pants.

What a long way I’ve come.  I now bask in baseball.  I’m there early, I stay late.  I’ve got hand-warmers for games in freezing temperatures and freezer packs for games in sweltering heat.  I know what it means to “turn two,” “strike out the side” and “protect the plate.”  I know that the laundry will get done, the bills will get paid and, sometime during the week, a dinner will get cooked.  I also know that, in the course of the season, Son and Darling Daughter will eat their weight in Chick Fil A nuggets.

Turns out there's a limit to how many Chick FIl A Original sandwiches (no butter, extra pickles) I can eat, however.  Instead, I try to keep some easy-to-prepare, easy-to-eat food in the fridge, like Bacon and Egg Salad, Lentil and Feta Salad, and Black Bean Corn Salad.  This week, I had  a hankering for Pimento Cheese.  Given my distrust for sandwiches in general and mayonnaise in specific, I have to make my own.  This version uses lemon juice and cayenne to cut the cloying tendency of mayonnaise.  It’s great on wheat bread, celery sticks, crackers, or my favorite – a spoon.

One week, two games, 14 innings, 84 outs, and one fresh bowl of homemade pimento cheese.  I think I’m going to be OK.

Best Ever Pimento Cheese Spread
Growing up in Charleston, pimento cheese (or, as some folks pronounced it, "minner" cheese) sandwiches were served at receptions of every sort -- all fancy, on white bread with the crusts cut off.  Most people, though, would use the store-bought variety, which is probably what turned me away from pimento cheese for so many years.  This version, though, is flavorful and zesty and fresh-tasting -- worthy of any reception table, crusts and all.

6 tablespoons mayonnaise
2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
1/8 teaspoon ground cayenne pepper (or more to taste)
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
fresh ground black pepper
2 teaspoons grated onion (optional)
10 oz. extra sharp Cheddar cheese, freshly grated (do not use pre-grated)
4 oz. canned pimentos, chopped

In a medium sized mixing bowl, combine all ingredients except cheese and pimentos.  Gradually stir in cheese and pimentos until well combined and moistened.  Chill for an hour or two, and use as a dip for celery sticks or a spread on sandwiches or crackers.
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