1,000 Days

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1,000 Days

This is the 1,000th morning in a row that I haven't awoken wondering, "Who do I owe an apology to today?"

See, I stopped drinking 1,000 days ago. It was killing me and it was killing my relationship, so I stopped.

I didn't use a traditional support group to get sober (although they can be helpful for lots of people). I took inspiration from my mother, who has been sober herself for almost two decades, and support from my loving and patient wife, my family and friends.

Silly though, when I first cleaned up, I worried about becoming this guy:

I thought fun would be over. I was wrong. Way wrong.

It feels good to have a clear head. It's nice to know I can still be creative without the sauce - in fact - I feel that I create more sober than I ever did drunk. I enjoy baseball more than I ever have in the past, and I don't drop $90 on beer when I go to a Jays game. I'm having more fun now than I did back in my drinking days.

Even more ridiculous than thinking I couldn't have fun after getting clean was when someone asked me early on: "This is just temporary, right?" That steeled my resolve to stay clean. Also, fuck that guy.

So, if you're like I was, and you find yourself struggling with addiction and want to get clean, know that there is life after your vice. Fun can be found. Help is there - it's with your family, friends and local support groups.

And Homer, baseball isn't boring.

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Cocoa Meringue Nests

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Cocoa Meringue Nests

A co-worker of mine came in to work two weeks ago with mini-egg brownies - basically box-mix brownies with Cadbury Mini Eggs crushed and sprinkled on top. That got me thinking - I love Mini Eggs and I have never used them in baking, I usually just mash them into my gaping maw, one handful after another. I set my mind to making better use of them.

So what could I use them for? Fudgier, homemade brownies with smashed Mini Eggs swirled throughout? Giant chocolate chip cookies with Mini Eggs in place of chips? Mini Egg quiche? Nope, my mind went right to where it always goes when I think of baking - meringues.

Meringues are one of the first things I learned to make after I watched this episode of the Galloping Gourmet (unfortunately, there's no video on that link). I was about 13, and I didn't use any booze OR an electric mixer, but I made them, and they were fantastic. Flash forward about 10-15 years, and I didn't know what to get my father for Christmas. We used to pick up big-ass meringues at John Baird bakery at Eglinton Square (Now called Mrs. Bridges) around the holidays, so why not make a batch for him? They were a hit, and it's since become a bit of a Christmas tradition. I'm rambling.

I decided to make meringue nests, with Mini Eggs as... well... miniature eggs. Plain white meringues would be nice, but they would look too much like clouds, which was not the effect I was going for. I needed to make them brown, and what better way to tint the meringue and inject some extra flavour than by adding some cocoa powder? There is no better way. Well there is, by getting a kitchen torch and singeing the ridges of the meringue, but I don't have a kitchen torch, so NO. There is no better way.

Cocoa Meringue Nests - Stage 1: baking/cooking/drying

Separate your eggs and put them in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment. This is a perfect time to try the water bottle trick. TRY IT. It's magic.

egg-separation

Let the egg whites sit and get closer to room temperature - the warmer they are, the more they increase in volume when whipped.

If you don't have a stand mixer, use any glass or metal bowl and a hand mixer. Make sure there is no trace of fat in the bowl - fat and meringues don't mix. Don't use a plastic bowl because the surface may be holding on to fat residue you can't see, and your efforts will be for naught. Look at those eggs you wasted by using a plastic bowl. For shame.

While they are sitting, assemble the rest of your ingredients (save for the Mini Eggs and icing) and preheat your oven to 200º. If you're like me and you never have superfine sugar, this is a perfect time to make some. Get out your trusty food processor, throw in some plain ol' white sugar and let it go for a ride. A few minutes later - voila - superfine sugar.

Your eggs should be ready to go, so start your mixer (hand or stand), gradually increasing the speed to medium-high. When soft peaks start to form, add your cream of tartar - this helps stabilize the meringue.

Once the cream of tartar has been incorporated, add your sugar a quarter-cup at a time. Keep mixing until the meringue is glossy and stiff peaks begin to form (the meringue should stand upright without too much droop) The sugar should have almost completely dissolved at this point. The best way to check this is to take a pinch between your forefinger and thumb and rub them together. The less gritty, the better.

Stir in the vanilla, then the cocoa. I sifted the cocoa through a fine sieve to help incorporate it into the meringue, and I suggest you do the same. You don't want a clump of cocoa powder hiding out when you're trying to pipe these bad boys. 

Meringues

Makes 12 nests

  • 3 egg whites
  • 3/4 cups superfine sugar
  • 1/4 tsp cream of tartar
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla
  • 1 tbsp cocoa powder
  • 36 Cadbury Mini Eggs (plus extra for snacking)
  • Cookie icing (any kind that will set and harden)

Hardware required:

  • Stand mixer (or hand mixer & glass or metal bowl)
  • Piping bag (or big freezer bag) w/star tip
  • Baking sheet
  • Parchment paper

Cocoa Meringue Nests - Stage 2: assembled

Once fully incorporated, you're ready to pipe. Fill your piping bag fitted with a large star tip with the meringue and have ready a large baking sheet lined with parchment paper. You can anchor the paper to the sheet with a dab of meringue, but it's optional. (Personally, I think if you're doing things properly, you don't need to anchor your parchment paper.)

Pipe three-inch-ish rounds, starting from the centre, working out. Once you reach the edge, pipe a second layer, creating the walls of your 'nest'. Space them about an inch apart - you should be able to fit about 12 on a decent sized baking sheet.

Place the baking sheet in the center of your oven for 45 minutes. Rotate the baking sheet 180º and bake for another 45 minutes. After that time has elapsed, turn the oven off (leaving the oven door closed) and go to bed. (Yeah, I probably should have prefaced this recipe with this information. I apologize if I just screwed your dinner plans by occupying your oven for the next, oh, 9 hours or so. Just put that roast back in the fridge and order a pizza.) In the morning you will have perfectly pale crispy on the outside, chewy on the inside meringues.

Now, get your Mini Eggs and cookie icing. Dab a drop of icing in the well of your nest and drop an egg on it. Repeat until all of your nests are full.

Once the icing is set, you're done! Now go hand them out to your friends and family like the Easter Bunny we all know you are.

I'm in the wrong business.

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Home Opener Wins

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Home Opener Wins

After the Blue Jays dropped their home opener last weekend, I wondered how often a Major League Baseball team actually won their first game in front of the hometown fans. It turns out, since 1998 (when the last two expansion teams, Arizona and Tampa Bay joined the league) that the home team wins 55% of the time. 

I would have posted this in the wee hours of the morning on Wednesday after Seattle took down Los Angeles in the last home opener of 2014 to be decided, but you know, sleep is nice.

I also wondered if teams that won the world series had the also had the fortune of winning their  home opener. It's split 56%/44% as well.

In terms of individual team performances, if you're the New York Yankees, San Francisco Giants or Chicago White Sox, home cooking is pretty tasty. (I can't believe I just typed that.)

If you're the Oakland Athletics, you never want to play at home - their home opener results are about as good as the plumbing at O.Co Coliseum.

So there you have it. Using arbitrary end-points and irrelevant stats to produce a graphic that doesn't immediately convey a clear picture of the data being presented. I'm ready to do Blue Jays in-game stats for Sportsnet.

HomeOpenerWL

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Autographs, David Ortiz and half-price cards

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Autographs, David Ortiz and half-price cards

Back in the early to mid-2000s I didn't know much about sports. I still don't, but that's beside the point. I did play a lot of sports-based video games, and what I did know was that David Ortiz and Manny Ramirez won you games in MLB 2KWhatever, so I always played as the Red Sox, who I have now come to despise. Come to think of it, when I played Madden 200-something, I chose the Patriots /spits on floor in disgust thanks to the Brady-Moss combo. If I ever played NBA Live insert-year-here, I chose the Celtics. Maybe I had more than a feeling for the Boston area sports teams -- except the Bruins. I didn't really care much for them until last year. Then they made me laugh.

Back to Ortiz. He mashed baseballs, and he still does. He comes off as a big goofball, but passionate - he's as much a fan of the city of Boston as the city of Boston is of him. As much as I can't stand the Red Sox, he's one of those players that I can't knock. Last year, he had one of the best single season World Series performances, winning MVP honors for his efforts.

So when my very first redemption card turned out to be Ortiz's autograph from last postseason, I was... excited. More shocking than pulling the redemption card was the redemption process. I filled out the form at about 9 on Sunday night, and the card was in my possession after work on Wednesday. I live in Canada, so that a pretty sweet deal to me. This is one card I am keeping for my kids, along with a digital copy of Ortiz's "This is our f'ing city" speech.

Speaking of autographs, is it bad to want a player to do well after pulling his autograph? Because that's how I felt about Kolten Wong when I found his card in another pack of 2014's. Sure, his first trip to the big leagues was less than impressive (-1 wRC+, but only 62 PA) but he has just won the starting 2B position over Mark Ellis who the Cardinals threw 5.25 million dollars at over the offseason. Maybe that's a sign of his card rising in value good things to come.

I wish the same could be said for Cole DeVries. I pulled his autograph in a jumbo pack of Topps 2013 Series Two last weekend. 

Aside: Why am I still opening packs from 2013? Maybe because the shop I rarely frequent, 401 Games is having a spring training sale and all of their older stock is marked down to a point where I could justify buying a box of jumbo packs. You should get in there while stock lasts.

2012 proved to be an unremarkable debut season in the majors for Cole. I mean, holy shit look at this game! 2013 wound up to be even worse, so after just over 7 years with the Twins, he was granted free agency. He is still a free agent, and a quick eBay search shows this card valued at a whopping $3.20. Not that I'm looking to sell any of my cards. 

Other interesting cards pulled from the big splurge at 401 Games:

  • Sammy Ellis 1969 buy-back card. I knew nothing about buy-backs until I tweeted at Topps and got a response from Night Owl :

  • Sandy Koufax 'The Elite' - I think I already have this one. Can't remember and I haven't checked yet. Either way, dang. That's a handsome card.
  • Chris Heisey black border variant - one of 63. These things scan so well. The first black variant I've pulled, until...
  • ... a black border Chase Headley Nick Hundley.
  • Matt Cain jersey relic! I haven't been sure of these ever since I came across a John Mcinroe A&G relic that looked a lot like an AJ Burnett A&G relic, but hey. It's Matt Cain, and it's a relic. I'm happy with that.
  • Brooks Robinson 1970 WS MVP manufactured relic - looks like a pin. It's not a pin.
  • Golden Gose (not golden goose) and Gold Panda (not gold panda)

In all, not a bad haul for almost half price card shopping.

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Catflip

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Catflip

image.jpg

 Yasiel Puig flips his bat after having his head transplanted with that of my cat.

 

 

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Ervin Santana and the terrible job interview

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Ervin Santana and the terrible job interview

Ubaldo Jimenez agreed to a 4 year 50mm contract with the Baltimore Orioles on Monday, leaving Ervin Santana as the last big free-agent starting pitcher on the market, all by his lonesome. The Blue Jays have been linked to both pitchers since <k>the dawn of time</k> last November, since Josh "If He Can Stay Healthy" Johnson left for the pet food store that opened up in the abandoned metal factory in San Diego.

Fangraphs did a great piece to show that either pitcher would bring an additional 1.5 wins to the Blue Jays (and 1.1 to the Orioles) while projecting to have a season of ~3 WAR. Not a huge improvement, but an improvement nonetheless.

The scenario that has been expected to play out with these two SPs reads like so: "When Player A signs with Team X, Player B will go to the Blue Jays". Of course, that scenario has been crafted mostly by my Twitter feed, and someone in Houston is probably writing a similar blog post with Santana landing on the Astros.

Toronto could stand to benefit from Santana's services, considering they would not have to give up a first-round draft pick to sign him, and their other options to fill out the rotation are usable, but not optimal. A contract comparable to Jimenez's does not seem out of the question, and even though I am wildly unqualified to analyze baseball contracts, I would be more comfortable giving him 3/39.

Truth be told, if I was forced to choose I would have pushed for Jimenez or nothing rather than take on Ervin Santana, and it's got nothing to do with his abilities or projections. He's reached the 200 IP plateau multiple times, and he's had some very good seasons, but anytime I hear his name I think of the no-hitter he threw in 2011.

Normally, that would be a good thing, but it happened on the same afternoon I had a job interview that I did not prepare for. I remember coming out of the interview feeling overly optimistic about things, and reading about Santana's no-hitter and the Blue Jays trading for everybody's favourite boy 'round here, Colby Rasmus. 

I didn't get the job, and I took it pretty badly. Watching Rasmus play center field for the Jays every day, I soon disassociated his name with that disappointing afternoon, but not Santana. With him playing all the way on the west coast before I invested in either MLB.TV or the Extra Innings package (and KC in 2013), I can't say that I ever watched him pitch again, save for the odd start against the Blue Jays. That makes my lasting memory of him his no-hitter, forever linked with my feeling of personal failure.

Then again, maybe watching him pitch once every five days will finally help me forget that awful feeling. You know, living vicariously through sport and all that.

That, or the Yankees will sign him for some ungodly amount and he'll throw another no-hitter, this time against the Jays, and I'll just give up and start watching golf.

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