GAMES | Stump: A case of beer, a hammer and some nails

StumpOur good friend Doug strives home a nail during a recent game of Stump in the North Elba woods.

We dropped the hammer, literally.

A few Saturdays ago deep in the North Elba woods, a group of Mrs. F’s closest St. Lawrence friends and I were slamming away at nails embedded on a sturdy New Hampshire stump. A bonfire blazed beside us. We were warmed by fellowship and a few cases of Saranac.

We were playing Stump, a game said to originate in the Granite State, home of our generous hostess Cate, who’d arranged for us to spend the weekend at a farm owned by some very good friends.

The rules of engagement are simple: Procure a decent hammer, some high-grade nails and a stump. Gather round — the game can be played by as few as two — and start hammering. But not before tossing the hammer 360 degrees and catching it. Doing so once allows you to deliver an opponent’s nail one swift strike that immediately follows the toss. It is critical, I learned, that this all be done at once. A toss around the back or under the leg warrants a second strike.

Each time your nail is struck, you naturally take a sip of your cocktail. If a spark is created by a strike, everyone drinks. Hilarity generally ensues.

Your writer, whose 1980s childhood was spent sans Nintendo, doesn’t have the best hand-eye coordination all the time, but still fared decently. So too, did Mrs. F. Granite State Cate, a fine horsewoman and an excellent writer, is also a Stump ringer. She went down to the wire with our good friend Doug, who, in addition to being inches from finishing medical school, was an ace rower during his Canton campaign. Gallons of Saranac were consumed; hilarity ensued.

Here’s a gallery from the weekend:

BASEBALL | A visit to Wrigley

The most beautiful sight in baseball, according to ejforbes Contributing Writer Leif Skodnick, is of Wrigley Field, seen here during a recent Cubs-Brewers game.

Leif Skodnick Contributing Writer

“By the shores of old Lake Michigan, where the hawk wind blows so cold…” — Steve Goodman, A Dying Cub Fans’ Last Request

I recently spent the better part of a week in Chicago, and finally got to visit Wrigley Field, a place from which I have watched countless games on television.

Just a few blocks after the ‘L’ lurches around a curve just past the Sheridan stop on the Red Line headed south, I caught my first in-person glimpse of Wrigley Field, its light standards reaching for the sky over the rooftops of Lakeview with the grandstand roof asserting its extra story of authority. Stubby stone and brick buildings crowding the park, and the smells of pizza, beer, meats being grilled and railroad brakes join the cacophony of city sounds that you don’t often hear around a major league ball park in the modern era.

With other plans on Monday evening (meaning I wouldn’t be seeing four major league games in four nights), I went to the corner of Addison and Clark and bought a $25 ticket for the noon tour of Wrigley Field.

It was probably 25 or so years ago that I first saw what Steve Goodman so aptly described as an “Ivy-covered burial ground,” where for 94 years, Cubs fans have hoped for a World Series Championship and seen those hopes “crushed, like so many paper beer cups, year after year after year… after year after year after year,” on an afternoon broadcast of a Mets game on WWOR-TV on Sears television set with rabbit ears.

When you see Wrigley Field empty of fans, it evokes a similar feeling to standing at the high water mark of the Confederacy in Gettysburg. In Gettysburg, you look upon down from the top of the hill and see the battlefield where, for the South, the cause was lost. At Wrigley Field, when you begin the tour, you look down from the top of the bleachers at the battlefield where, for the Cubs, the cause was lost… year after year, after year after year after year.

The silent history consumes you sitting in the empty ballpark. This is where Babe Ruth called his shot in the 1932 World Series, pointing to the outfield and blasting a home run off the Cubs’ Charlie Root. It’s where Mr. Cub, Ernie Banks, patrolled the infield and hit his 500th home run, where Mordecai “Three Finger” Brown and Greg Maddux pitched, where Ryne Sandberg turned double plays.

Unfortunately for Cubs fans, the history is equally or perhaps more torturous at times than it is beautiful. This is where, in Game Six of the 2003 National League Championship Series, with the Cubs leading the Florida Marlins 3-0 and just five outs away from the World Series, (which they last visited, as Goodman tells us, “the year we dropped the bomb on Japan,”) a suburban youth baseball coach knocked an-almost-certainly-to-be-caught foul pop from the glove of Cubs left fielder Moises Alou. The Marlins rallied, won the game and the series, and Cubs fans still revile Steve Bartman to this day.

Several years earlier, in 1998, the Cubs made the playoffs for the first time in nine years, winning a dramatic play-in game over San Francisco, then responded in true Cubby fashion by scoring just four runs in three games while being swept by Atlanta.

On this very same field, the Cubs have hosted four World Series, the most recent in 1945. In their two most recent appearances in the Fall Classic, not only did the Cubs lose the Series, the deciding game was played at Wrigley Field. 1932, Cubs fans had to watch as the Babe Ruth and the Yankees swept the Cubs, taking Game Four at Wrigley by the score of 13-6, and in 1945, the Cubs lost Game Seven to Detroit 9-3.

But that history is embraced by the fans of the Northsiders, with t-shirts proclaiming, “We might not win the pennant, but we never lose a party!” for sale on the streets outside.

Old StyleOld Style beer at Wrigley.

Copious amounts of Old Style beer, originally brewed by G. Heilemann & Co. and now produced by Pabst, keep Cubs’ fans throats moist during the heat of the summer and their bodies warm during the chill of spring and fall.

The main section of the ballpark is unique in that you are very close to the field. For the Wednesday day game I attended, I sat 11 rows behind the visitor’s bullpen, which is tucked just inside the right field foul line. Very few ballparks in the majors have bullpens on the field anymore, but at Wrigley Field, there’s nowhere else to put

When you visit Wrigley, there’s an eternal optimism that envelopes the place, as the “Friendly Confines” nickname bestowed upon it attests. I suppose, if you review the history, it would be unexpected, seeing as how one championship was won by a team that played here, and it wasn’t by the Cubs (It was by the Chicago Whales of the Federal League in 1915).

After we sat through a close 4-3 loss to the Brewers on Tuesday night, I returned Wednesday. Why make a trip to Wrigley Field if you aren’t going to see a day game? It was overcast and dreary, not unlike the outlook for the Cubs to make the World Series anytime soon. Light rain fell through most of the game. The Cubbies won 15-3.

In 1984, when the Cubs appeared in the postseason for the first time since 1945, Goodman, of “City of New Orleans” fame, wrote another song about the Cubs. His first, titled “A Dying Cub Fan’s Last Request,” was a tongue-in-cheek poke at the futility of the team. Goodman passed away four days before the 1984 National

League Championship Series began, and like the fan in his immortal song, his ashes were scattered in the infield. His good friend Jimmy Buffett took his place in singing the Star Spangled Banner at the first Cubs home playoff game in 39 years.

His second, the more optimistic “Go Cubs Go,” is now played after every Cubs win at Wrigley Field. On that rainy Wednesday afternoon, as the Cubs Mitch Akins downed Milwaukee infielder Rickie Weeks on strikes to end the game, the sun broke through the clouds. Weeks walked back to the dugout, the Cubs came onto the field, and I smiled and sang, “Hey Chicago, whaddaya say? The Cubs are gonna win today!”

Leif takes a seat in the Cubs’ dugout at Wrigley.

The Brewers’ Randy Wolf nears the release point.

The ivy-covered burial ground.

BEER | Saranac Pale Ale now available in cans

DSC_0449Saranac Pale Ale, a North Country staple, is now being marketed in cans.

Across the northern sections of our state, anyone who’s ever packed beers into a cooler is rejoycing: Saranac Pale Ale is now being sold in cans.

I discovered this fact a few weeks ago during a stay at Canaras, where the pride of F.X. Matt Brewery was being served in aluminum. Saranac Pale Ale, served in bars from Boonville to Bolton Landing, is the flagship beer of the Saranac line. Long served in brown glass, its sale in cans was welcome news. On our way south to home, we picked up a 12-pack. I’ve been gently depleting its hoppy supply ever since. I don’t find the taste to be altered at all. If anything, the canned version is hoppier, a plus in my book. These go down smooth and cold and complement grilled meals quite well.

Of course, F.X. Matt is familiar with canning. Its venerable Utica Club has been primarily marketed in cans so long as I’ve been drinking it.

I’ve not found these cans south of Albany nor have I looked terribly hard. Let me know if you’ve seen them anywhere in the metropolitan area. Does anyone know if Matt plans to market any of its other Saranac varietals in cans?

SCENE | A pair of birthdays, a pair of icings

TimHaving been iced, Tim meets the challenge with characteristic enthusiasm.

The suburban crowd got together the other night to celebrate two birthdays: our good friend Tim’s 30th and our good friend Amy’s 25th. We gathered at American Yacht Club in Rye, of which Tim is a member, and had a very nice little picnic.

(By way of explanation, Amy is the maid of honor in Tim’s August wedding. Lindsey, the bride, played host with help from another friend, Annie. I am the best man.)

After we’d finished our cheeseburgers, hot dogs and potato salad, it seemed time to present the birthday boy and girl with their cupcakes. But first they had to be iced.

Our friend Will produced a 40-ounce bottle of Smirnoff ice, which Amy and Tim proceeded to share. Tim had a bit of a reputation in college for being able to chug beers and Lindsey claims he has no gag reflex. Fascinating.

At any rate, the icing phenomenon has been discussed widely this spring., chief organ of the trend, has closed, but the Times carried a business story a couple of weeks ago that speculated on whether or not icing was a publicity stunt spearheaded by Smirnoff.

The story caused a bit of a stir in the Laurentian diaspora as the reported noted that many trace icing to St. Lawrence University, a fact that a lot of anecdotal evidence I’ve gathered supports. Members of the Class of 2007 confirm that icing has been a part of their playbooks since at least 2005. The Times piece also wonders if the game began in Burlington, Vt., a city that’s home to legions of Larries.

But other colleges across the land are both claiming to be the birthplaces of icing and embracing the trend. At Hobart College’s Commencement earlier this spring, a senior attempted to ice Mark Gearan, former head of the Peace Corps and president of Hobart and William Smith Colleges for nearly a decade. Gearan demurred.

Icing is happening around New York city as well. Tim’s younger brother, home for a summer internship in the financial world, reported being iced by a stranger in the middle of Grand Central Terminal a few weeks ago.

It’ll be interesting to see if the game endures or whether, as so many collegiate trends have done, it dies on the vines of summer.

Here’s a little gallery from the picnic:

BEER | Dale’s Pale Ale, canned in Colordo, was perfect for today

DalesDale’s Pale Ale, a new favorite.

Beer and I used to be quite close. Too close, probably. But that was college and since, as I’ve mostly relied on Scotch and, in the last two years, a range of cocktails to satiate.

Some months ago though, while enduring the White Plains Whole Foods on a Saturday morning (a dark, dark time to travel to the county seat for any errand), I happened upon the beer aisle. The predictable stuff was there: Samuel Smith, Dogfish Head, PBR. There was another canned beer that intrigued: Dale’s Pale Ale. Pale ales have always been favorites and I was fascinated by the idea of a canned offering. Interrupted by Mrs F., who wanted to head to the cheese case, I left my curiosity in the beer aisle.

In Arizona, hopping around Tucson with Maxie, I rediscovered it.

We bought a couple of cans at Plaza Liquors and consumed them for lunch back at his spread. The glorious hoppiness delighted us both, as did the fact that we were drinking a pale ale from a can.

Brewed by Oskar Blues Brewery in Lyons, Colo. since 2002, Dale’s claims to be the nation’s first canned pale ale. I’m not the first to sing its praises. Dale’s has received plaudits from the Times, who have crowned it the best American pale ale and also at the World Beer Championships, where the beer won a gold medal this year.

It’s a perfect and speedy remedy on unexpectedly hot days like today. I strongly endorse it.

Dale’s Pale Ale
Available in better liquor and grocery stores; at Fairway and Whole Foods in Westchester

FIND| Your grandparents got strange too

KeggerSome of the revelers on view at Keggers of Yore.

You remember My Parents Were Awesome, right? Well if you got a chuckle looking at all those beehive hairdos and David Cassidy impersonators, you should thoroughly enjoy Keggers of Yore, which is basically MPWA soaked in a giant vat of Seagram’s V.O. and yellowed by the smoke of thousands of Pall Malls. Wow.

Rest assured that all those wild nights in college — those times when you agreed to that last Jaeger shot as the pink glow of dawn crept over the horizon — were largely based on your genes. So pour yourself a glass of Cold Duck and enjoy.

And thanks to Clarke for passing this find along.

Kegger2Images courtesy of Keggers of Yore.

GIN MILLS| The Emerald Inn, an iconic refuge on the Upper West Side

EmeraldThe Emerald Inn, a piece of Old New York between 69th and 70th streets on Columbus Avenue.

Walking out of the slushy mess that was the Upper West Side of Manhattan on Monday and into the snug comfort of the Emerald Inn, an Irish bar that’s been a neighborhood staple for decades, was like happening on an oasis in a desert.

The Emerald, as its denizens know it, was started in 1943 or 1944 and has been a fixture ever since. Earlier this year, though, it looked like the Emerald might go the way of the Dodo. When the building’s owners informed the Campbell family that their rent would double, plans were made to shutter the bar at the end of April. The poor economy, however, proved the Emerald’s savior, as no new tenant could be found for the space. For two more years at least, the Times reported earlier this year, the Emerald will carry on.

Readers who enjoy the discovery of time capsules left by an earlier New York will delight in the Emerald, whose walnut paneling probably dates to the Don Draper era or earlier. A group of about eight booths surround a long, narrow main bar, behind which is cabinetry that was probably installed around 1970. Truly, the only modern things about the Emerald are its flat-paneled televisions. You might also like the people watching. Beyond the neighborhood gang who are happy to have found an unassuming oasis, the ABC crowd is also particularly fond of the place.

Try the burger or the fish and chips and obviously, take a Guinness. The food is modestly priced, but the pints are about $5. No matter — the atmosphere more than makes up for it.

The Emerald Inn
205 Columbus Avenue
New York, N.Y. 10023
(212) 874-8840

DESIGN| Wall-mounted corkscrew/bottle opener is all-American affair

StarrFriends and loyal readers Maxwell Eaton III and Kristin Sadue found this beauty at the Hotel Congress in Tucson, Ariz.

We’ve all seen the classic Coca-Cola bottle openers. In college, we attached one to our bar. Manufactured for the last 80 years or so by Brown Manufacturing, Starr bottle openers are American classics.

What we all haven’t seen is the combination bottle/opener and corkscrew our good friends Maxwell Eaton III and Kristin Sadue recently encountered at the Hotel Congress in Tucson, Ariz. Neither Max nor I have been able to find the combination Starr model for sale online. In the video below, which features Brown Manufacturing president and CEO David Brim, there’s a bit of B-roll that includes a few other examples of these fine pieces of American craftsmanship.

You can, however, purchase a standard Starr bottle opener at Patented on April 21, 1925, the Starr was invented by Thomas C. Hamilton of Boston. Raymond Brown, a Coca-Cola bottler in Newport News, Va., stumbled upon the patent later in the 1920s and began production. Today, Brown Manufacturing is located in Decatur, Ga., where Starrs are still produced.

Starr Bottle Openers
From $4.95

DINING| For Oktoberfest, it’s the Heidelberg

HeidelbergJohnny, your writer and Tim take in the Heidelberg.

The plan had been to reprise our spring trip to Lederhosen, the Greenwich Village answer to the venerable Heidelberg. I met up with Tim at his midtown office and we headed south to Bleecker Street on the Lexington Avenue line. John, who works in the financial district, was to meet us.

With visions of schnitzels and litres dancing in our heads, we walked through the village, thirsty, hungry and ready to devour some potato pancakes. As we finally reached Grove Street, I said, “The lights are out.”

They were. Lederhosen is closed on Mondays. “Geschlossen am Montag.”

What to do?

Tim was as fast on his Blackberry as Clint Eastwood on a high-noon draw. In no time he’d confirmed that the Heidelberg was open. John was informed of the change of plans. North to the old neighborhood and our old friend the Heidelberg we went.

An anchor of the ever-shrinking German community of Yorkville since 1936, the Heidelberg is just what you’d imagine a German restaurant to look like. There are dusty old paintings, antlers, exposed beams and silk flowers. The Teutonic experience is further enhanced by waiters in Lederhosen and epic litres of Radeberger, Dinkel Acker, Spaten and so on. Music, which ranged from brass-band renditions of “Ein Prosit” and the Chicken Dance to the best in today’s German pop, serenade diners and drinkers.

After a round at the bar — Tim and I took down litres of Spaten Oktoberfest while Johnny focused on Radeberger — it was on to the adjacent dining room. There, we ordered up some divine potato pancakes topped with smoke salmon and a dill cream sauce, some bread dumplings and smoked herring. For dinner, I ate a beautiful sauerbraten, while Tim went for a reliable Weiner Schnitzel and Johnny for the more adventurous Schnitzel a la Holstein (breaded veil cutlet topped with a fried egg and capers). All of these were served with delicious red cabbage.

We weren’t the only ones the Oktoberfest bug had bitten — by the time we drifted out to the wilds of Second Avenue, the dining room was packed and crowds of wurst-starved New Yorkers were salivating over boots of HB at the bar.

Heidelberg Restaurant
648 Second Avenue (between 85 & 86)
New York, New York 10028
(212) 628-2332

BEER| “Old Speckled Hen” remains a dear friend

Hen_1Morland’s “Old Speckled Hen” has been a favorite for 10 years or more.

The airing of the latest Ken Burns project, “The National Parks: America’s Best Idea,” reminds me of where I was 10 years ago. Somewhere around the end of September or the beginning of October 1999, Ken Burns’ brother, Ric Burns, debuted his “New York” documentary on PBS. Leifer, Johnny Ward and I watched every night in their room, Sykes Hall 3621. As we solidified our knowledge of city’s history, we smoked too many Marlboro Lights and drank more than our share of “Old Speckled Hen,” the Oxfordshire ale. Johnny’d brought a few cases of the stuff back from the Beverage Mart on Route 22 in Eastchester. We marched right through it and have all had a soft spot for it since.

MG LogoThe Hen was created in 1979 to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the MG plant in Abingdon, Oxfordshire where Morland’s Brewery was also located. The bitter is named for the “Old Speckled ‘Un,” a ‘29 demonstration model MG that sported a gold-flecked black body. You’ll notice the Hen’s logo takes its octagonal shape and coloring from MG’s.

With an alcoholic content of 5.2 percent, the Hen is rich but not too heavy. Morland’s, in business since 1711 and now a division of Greene King, has used the same two-strain yeast since 1796 and when combined with the Hen’s gravity of about 1,050 (another nod to MG), the result is, as Michael Jackson wrote, “a beer with a complexity of gently pear-like fruitiness and dryish, nutty maltiness.”

Jackson, the Beer Hunter, died in 2007, but his encyclopedic Web site endures. Much more on Morland’s and the Hen here.

Drink up, lads!

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