Archive for September, 2012

My Funny/Yummy Food 4 Thought Column 21

September 15, 2012

                  Ardito for President of the World

There was a time when I thought I was going to end up President of the World. I had my speech prepared…

“Ladies and jellybeans, thank you for electing me as the first President of the IFOW—International Federated Overrated World Let me begin by thanking the little people who got me here – my mother and father who are teeny tiny.  How short are they?  They are dwarfed by Munchkins. They come up to the knees of fleas.  Forget about angels, my mom and dad can dance on the head of a pin!  Mom and Dad, please stand up. Oops, they are standing!” 

If this sounds egomaniacal, thanks. My belief in myself was not without basis, however, since, up to that point, I had won every election in my life. You’re waiting for me to say I only entered one election, but that’s not true. In grammar school, I was elected to the student council and as a crossing guard. “Cross me and die,” was my motto. In high school, I served consecutively as President of the Freshman Class, Sophomore Class, Junior Class, and in my senior year, President of the Student Council and President of the Music Club.  Over the top, right?

I continued in college by running for President of the freshman class.  It was a different ballgame, though and I had major competition, primarily from another egomaniacal nutcase named I. Ladd Wineberg. The I” might have stood for anything: “idiot, “insensitive,” “insane.” They were all good candidates. I. Ladd might have been too. He was handsome, tall, and sported a macho five o’clock shadow even two minutes after he shaved. He was also incredibly rich.  The kind of rich I’ll never be. He was one of those guys I knew that were destined to do well no matter how poorly they did in school.  I. Ladd did poorly. So what? Last thing I heard he owned property in Connecticut. I think it’s called Westport.

He status in life might have contributed to his belief in himself and his bravado the day all the candidates needed to make a speech to the Freshman Class. It was going to be broadcast on radio, too via the local mega-watt station (what? what? what?) in Lancaster, PA.  

This had me squirming on my seat as I sat on stage waiting to speak. I. Ladd was there, of course, but cool as a cucumber salad with iceberg lettuce.

 “You ready for this?” I asked.

“Absolutely,” said I. Ladd.

“I don’t see a speech. You have it memorized?”

“Oh, no,” said I. Ladd, “I always wing it. It’s more spontaneous that way. I’m really good speaking off the cuff.”

When it was finally my turn, I let loose with my version of the Gettysburg Address adapted for Lancaster, PA. It was pretty schmaltzy, but good. And then it was I. Ladd’s turn and he got up and nailed it. Nailed it as in built himself a coffin and nailed it shut. The “winging it didn’t really work out and his speech went down, 6 ft. down, like this…“My fellow, um, Students. I um don’t have anything formally unprepared, but, um, um, um and blabble, blabble, blabble and worse, um, then that.”  

Usually, I. Ladd strutted. Now, he stuttered and stumbled and turned beet- red as he melted into a pile of sweat on stage – or so it seemed. It was so embarrassing that I felt sorry for him – for a nanosecond. What a jerk! And by the way, crumbling didn’t faze him at all. He kept campaigning then showed up in my dorm room the night before the election to say:

 “Ardito, looks like the race is between me and you so I came over to wish you the best tomorrow. Good luck, old man”

I won. I Ladd came in dead last. I served as President of the class for a year and did such a lousy job that I ended up getting soundly beaten (by one of my best friends, FYI) for President of the Sophomore Class.

Over the years, I’ve regretted that and I would like to make up for it now by being a dynamite President once I’m elected next November. (It is November, right?). It is with great pleasure, therefore, that I formally announce my candidacy for President of the United States. I figure I’m a size-8 shoe-in given my history of winning and the platform I offer that extends even beyond my platform shoes. In subsequent columns, I will let you know where I stand on issues like Gum Control and our policy in Afganistan (is that the way you spell it?). All you other candidates look out. Here I come…

                           Elect Linguini with Shrimp and Peas for Dinner  

Yum, yum, long may it lusciously run. The first time I elected to make this dish, the crowd (mostly my wife and kids) went wild. Don’t make indulgence in this recipe foreign policy; serve it often even  if it does smack of apeas-ment. Ooooo.  

What Youza Need

1lb shelled shrimp (don’t scrimp)

3-4 Tbsp olive oil

6 Tbsp butter

8 Oz frozen peas

2 egg yolks

2 Tbsp flour
3 Tbsp grated onion

½ cup heavy cream

½ cuppa dry white wine

1 tsp red pepper flakes

3-4 Tbsp parsley

1 lb linguini 

What Youza Do

Start some water boiling and add the pasta. (This sauce takes no time.) Melt 4 Tbsp butter in a heavy duty frying pan, add the grated onion and flour and cook on low for a couple of minutes. Add the frozen peas and the shrimp, cook for a minute, then add wine. Season with salt, pepper and pepper flakes. Bring to boil and stir for 3-4 minutes until shrimp look almost done. About 2 minutes before pasta is ready, remove shrimp from burner, stir in 2 yolks and cream. Save 1 full cup of pasta water, drain pasta and add to warm pasta bowl along with saved water. Cover with the sauce, add parsley and stir. Put on parmesan cheese if you insist, but I personally elect not to do so. Enjoy.


My Funny/Yummy Food 4 Thought Column 20

September 15, 2012

              The Velociraptors’ Picnic-The Game Bites the Bullet

This is my last column about playing poker with the same group of insanely wonderful guys for 25 years. I hope you found them amusing (the columns and the guys), but I have to tell you playing every week wasn’t all fun and games—especially for the players who were losing their butts off. They never laughed and would urge the game on with comments like, “Shut the hell up and deal, will you?!” As my bud, Howard used to say, “Faster cry the losers”—except, of course, when Howard was losing and he would mostly pout and whine. He admits this.

We didn’t know it then, but we were all winners for having this wonderful long- term ritual in our lives. Too bad we lost it, but we did and I was, in part, to blame. One Thursday night, I brought a new guy by the name of T. Rex to the game, and he was a “serious” poker player. He read books, played online, hit the casinos in Vegas and was leagues ahead of the rest of us who were still asking, “Do a pair of aces beat a flush?”

T. Rex really wasn’t content with our bets of 1$ and $2 a card. He said it didn’t allow “poker as art” or betting big enough to bluff and force somebody out. I have to admit that was largely true, though the words “that’s six dollars to you” were frequently enough to get me heading for the hills. This was his “intellectual” argument, but I believe his real motivation for pushing the game to new level was more visceral– the need to feed on others.

To fill this hunger, he introduced a totally new “Pot Limit” game to the group. (No, it had nothing to do with inhaling strange substances.) “Pot limit” meant you could bet the total amount of  money that was in the pot at any time. There could be $50 to $100 in the pot, which lifted any single bet into the realm of “You’ve got to be xxpfffing  me!” It was a little different going from “that’s six dollars to you” to “that’s one hundred dollars to you, in or out?” Whatever happened to, “It’s two to you or toodleloo?” That was long gone. 

I protested like crazy, but I was outvoted. After 25 years of being married to the same game, this new game was kind of exciting, like a new love. So we began playing pot limit every other week, which went on for a while until the old game just couldn’t kindle the flame anymore and guys began wanting to play pot limit every week. So we did that, but it took its toll and in a few months, long-time lovers of our game like Kenny, Jarvis and Rich began dropping out. Eschewing the game was one thing, being chewed was another.  I hung in there until I began to take a bath frequently and it was Thursday, not Saturday night. So I dropped out too. Some of the guys and T. Rex continued playing and “new blood” was constantly brought in to keep things lively, or deadly, depending on your view. Was I ticked about losing a 25-year old cherished tradition? Do I still harbor a grudge that the game for me became extinct?  You judge as you read the following. Pass the handkerchiefs and napkins please…       

                      The Velociraptor’s Picnic

 It was the Velociraptor’s picnic and all of the dudes were there,
 older, wiser, and balding, seasoned well by the “tell” of years. 
 They came for the sport and laughter, camaraderie at its best, 
 to take part in “The Game,” earn fortune and fame and put their   
 poker skills to the test.

 Our playing was never pro-level. In fact, we had losers a lot, 
 Who played every hand and still called it grand though 
 they rarely won a pot.  
 The losers were still highly valued, though mocked a lot
  by the bunch.
 But all of that changed when T. Rex joined the gang and
  spit- roasted the losers for lunch!

 This feast didn’t sate his craving. “Raise the stakes even higher!”
  he roared. 
 This ravishing beast was intent on a feast like no one had
  dined on before. 
 And his wishes prevailed at the picnic, not that many had
  much time to think.
 You see as you’re being ingested, it’s too late to start
  raising a stink. 

  Yup, the Velociraptor gobbled, though the poker pickings’
  got slim. 
  He mashed and he chewed all his friends as his food,
   until no one was left but him.

                   Give a Hand for Finger Food

What would a Velociraptor poker party picnic be without finger food: delicious,  easily-eaten dishes with fingers sticking out of them? Ooooo, no thanks.  In lieu of those, try these: snacky stuff that is hands-down delicious and that you don’t have to put your poker hand down to enjoy. Best of all, they require a minimal amount of cutting, slicing, dicing, and shredding . That’s best left to serious poker players.

 Poker Chips and Dips
1 package onion soup mix

1 16 oz container of light sour cream

 Fresh, chopped Herbs like Rosemary and Basil (unless they scream)

Method: Mix that stuff together. Serve with your favorite chips

 Crabby Loser Bites:

This dish is devoted to Howard Mullin, crabbiest loser, most obnoxious poker winner in the history of the game. I love you, man.
What Youza Need
6 split English muffins split in two
1 jar Old English cheese spread
 ½ stick butter
1 tbsp mayo
¼ cup chopped onion or 1 tsp onion powder
1 tsp garlic powder
1tsp salt
7 oz can of crabby meat (or far better fresh)

What Youza Do

 This is not exactly diet-conscious, but blend all the ingredients together and spread 
 on six English muffin halves. Broil on high for three to five minutes until brown and bubbly, but watch closely. Slice into thirds or quarters. Feed to a ravenous crowd.

My Funny/Yummy Food 4 Thought Column 19

September 15, 2012

                        The Slanguage of Poker  

Welcome to my second column about poker, which was and remains a fascinating side interest in my life.  There are all kinds of interesting things to learn and know about poker: like what beats what and who beats whom, if they think you’re cheating? Like any game, poker has its own language, call it slanguage if you will or even if you won’t.  At our regular Thursday night game—by regular I mean 25 years—we mostly followed the idiomatic and idiotic slanguage of all poker players, but added a few phrases just suited to our game, including, “We can’t eat so much junk food” and “Whose got the Oreos?” and “Howard, you ate all the Oreos!” Here are a few important terms to know so you won’t seem like a “fish” (sucker) at a game and will be perceived more like a “Whale” (big bettor of chips, like potato chips, which are close to as good as Oreos.)

“Oh, man you got burned” – this does not mean you were trying to figure out which burner on the stove was still hot by touching each one with your finger. This means you should have won, but did not.

“A bad beat” – is worse than getting burned and requires serious aloe vera.  A bad beat is having four jacks in your hand and being beaten by four queens. “Ouch,” doesn’t begin to describe this burn. It takes words like x!@x#@~`@|!xx-!  In Vegas, a bad beat can be a good thing. If you have four of a kind and are beaten by a higher four of a kind, you can win several thousand dollars. Unlike life, you can be a loser at poker and win anyway. Isn’t poker awesome?

“You got a pair of ducks” – No, you don’t have a couple of quackers who belong in the local lake. It’s just a pair of deuces”

“By me” – does not mean you are the author of something literal; you just choose to let the bet go by. 

“Too rich for my blood” – does not mean you can no longer play because you have gout  and can’t eat any more Oreos. It just means you can’t afford to see a bet.

 “Deuces, Jacks, the Man with The Axe” – this expression triggers “Danger, Will Robinson, danger!” because it means you are playing a stupid wild card game where twos and jacks are wild and so is the king with an axe in his hand (there is one, by the way). Since virtually everything in the deck is wild, if you don’t have 5 aces in your hand, fold!

In Texas Hold ‘Em, probably the most popular poker game in the world, you ought to know terms including: The “Flop,” which includes the first three common cards dealt in the middle of the table for everyone to use. The “Turn” is the fourth card, also know as “Fourth Street.”  And the “river” – not the Mississippi, or Danube—is the last of the five common cards, which will either help your hand or send you up the creek without a paddle.

                                                Slanguage Quiz

Okay, so how about a Pop Quiz? Pick the correct letter to questions asked below.  Answers don’t appear. If you can’t figure the correct answer out, you’re an idiot—and we would like to invite you to play in our game.


  1. Your belly is sticking out from under your shirt; it’s gross, so tuck it in
  2. This refers to the button used to mark the dealer position
  3. A round thing that helps keep your shift closed, which may be irrelevant if you lose your shirt

 Forced Bet

  1. A mandatory bet on the first round of play
  2. Making a woman named Betty do something she hates
  3. Add something funny here yourself

 The Big Blind

  1. Means you’re playing with a tall, non-sighted person, which provides an excellent chance to cheat. Flip over your two deuces and call them a straight. Now, you’re learning!  
  2. The larger of two forced bets that occur every hand
  3. The blind over the picture window in most houses

                           Clams Casino a la Ardito  

My buddy and poker-playing pal, Gene Kocian loves these stuffed clams so I’m dedicating this recipe to him in hopes that he’ll enjoy it and deliberately lose a hand to me the next time we play poker. Ha! Good luck with that. These clams are kind of a combination of Clams Casino and Clams Oreganata because they’re stuffed and your guests will be too cause it’s a winner dish to deal out, especially as an appetizer. It’s a lock that will go straight to your guests’ hearts and that’s a sure bet.

What Youza Need

3 Tbsp olive oil

16 medium (2-inch) little neck clams

1 can whole baby clams with juice

2 ounces chopped bacon

2 green onions—whites and greens sliced nice

2 garlic cloves diced

2-3 Tbsp dried oregano

1 tsp red pepper flakes

3 Tbsp parsley

Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

½ cup white wine

1 package Stove Top stuffing

What Youza Do
Heat the oil over medium heat in big (2 qt) saucepan. Add bacon and sauté until crisp. Remove. Add green onions and cook until soft, then toss in garlic for 15 seconds and remove. Add the clams, white wine, salt, pepper and parsley. Cover and steam on pretty high heat until clams open. Let cool. Remove each clam, break the shells in two and keep both halves.  Also reserve pan liquid. Chop up clams and reserve.  Meanwhile, make Stove Top Stuffing according to package directions. Pre-heat oven to 450°. Put stuffing in a bowl, add salt and red pepper flakes, cooked onions and garlic, dried oregano, your chopped clams, the liquid from the pan, plus a whole can of baby clams and canned clam juice if it’s not already too juicy . Stir it up and now stuff each clam with this amazing mixture. Pile high, drizzle olive oil on top of each clam and garnish with crumbled bacon. Top with parmesan cheese if you like. Bake about 10 to 15 minutes until clams are golden brown and cooked.

My Funny/Yummy Food 4 Thought Column 18

September 15, 2012

                   25 Years of Thursday Night Poker  

One of the most enduring joys of my life is playing poker. I’ve been playing it most of my life, adult or otherwise. The bulk of my experience was playing with a regular group of  guys, (Howard, Stu, Rick, Michael), who remain close buds today. When I joined them, they had already been playing for 10 years, since their high school days. I became “the new guy,” which was my title for the next 25 years.  Even toward the end someone would ask, “Who’s the new guy with the wrinkled face and white mustache?” and somebody else would answer, “That’s either Jim or Mark’s ex-wife.”

25 years of Thursday night poker. That’s a long time to consistently do anything. With us, it was a tradition, an obsession, a religion. If guys were out town on business or their honeymoon, they flew in for the game. Over the years, we witnessed kids being born, growing up and going to college, marriages, divorces, deaths. Death was acceptable as an excuse for missing, though you were expected to send a substitute. That game is now defunct, which is a tragedy that bears some explaining and blaming, but I’ll get to that in a subsequent column.

I began playing in college when my fraternity brothers and I would pull all-nighter poker games regularly. This wreaked havoc on our ability to stay awake during classes, which was occasionally important. Back then, we played nickel, dime, quarter stakes, which meant the most you could lose or win in an evening was around $25 dollars. At the time, that was a fortune! I remember the first time I lost $25 in a single night; I was horrified. How could I do this to my folks?! How could I be so irresponsible?! Where could I dig up $25 more bucks to play in the next game?”

For the uninitiated, let me explain Poker’s lure, which may seem somewhat elusive:

Poker is like fishing:
Every hand dealt is a cast into fresh, new waters with renewed hope and a chance to land “the big one.” With both poker and fishing, you never know what you’re going to catch: it could be a four-pound bass or four of a kind. They’re really not much difference—though four of a kind doesn’t stink after three days on the table.

 Poker adds zest to life: 
 It gets your adrenalin going and blood flowing. Poker lets you live on the edge, though it can lead you to jump off a ledge, which also gets the blood flowing.

It lets you lose total track of time:
Einstein, a little known aficionado of poker, proved that time slows down as you approach the speed of light or your wife after you’ve lost a bundle at the table.  Einstein’s equation, Poker = MTWallet is a rule of the universe.

Poker is one of the fastest and easiest ways on earth to make money or lose it:
Most people have to work a long time to earn $100. I’ve been in poker hands where I’ve won $100 in 5 minutes. That’s the equivalent of $1200 an hour, which is what lawyer’s and plumber’s make. Of course, you can lose quickly too, especially if you’re a half-fast learner of the finer points of the game.

 And there’s this – poker provides what life rarely does – “The Lock!”
There are many poker hands where you know that you cannot lose no matter what. This can occur when you’re playing “low ball,” where the best hand is the worst hand possible—ace, two, three, four, five (straights down count against you). Or you can get a royal flush—which is the best possible high hand. That’s a lock and it’s a rare and wonderful feeling to experience. Of course, a lock is a little less rare if you live in Chicago, where sure things happen every year. We know that our four seasons will be June, July, August and Winter; that Empire Carpet will install the next day; that the Eisenhower Expressway will be a zoo at 5:00 PM, and that the Cubs will end their season at the bottom of the deck…but still fill the bleaches  next year. What’s the deal with that?

                    Italian Sausage and Peppers              

Was has sausage and peppers got to do with poker? Why am I anteing this up right now? Let me give it to you straight. I think it flushes out a real Italian winner of a dinner. You can also serve it as an awesome side dish or stuff half a loaf of Italian bread with the sausage, peppers and sauce. Happily devour for that full-house feeling.

  What Youza Need

9 Tbsp Extra Virgin Olive Oil

4 cloves minced garlic

1 medium onion sliced or diced

10 leaves fresh basil

3-4 Tbsp oregano flakes

3-4 Tbsp basil flakes

 Dash½ thyme

1 bay leaf

1 cup red wine

Salt & pepper to taste

Garlic powder to taste

3 large green peppers (sliced in 1/2” strips)

2 -3 red peppers (same)

2 Tbsp hot jardinière

2 lbs Italian sausage (hot or mild)

1  ½ cups crushed tomatoes

 What Youza Do  

Use a cast iron skillet or equivalent and sauté onions in 3 tbsp oil until translucent. Add garlic and sauté 20 seconds. Remove garlic and onions. Add and heat 3 more tbsp oil, then toss in all sliced peppers. Salt & pepper and saute’ on medium heat, turning often until soft (10-15 minutes). Season whole or sliced sausages liberally with salt, pepper, oregano & basil flakes, garlic powder. Add 3 tbsp oil to pan and heat on high, turning sausage until brown. Remove sausages and paper towel them and wipe out bottom of pan to get rid of some oil. Add tomatoes and season with (yes, one more time) salt, pepper, fresh basil, basil & oregano flakes, bay leaf, garlic powder, thyme, wine, hot jardinière. Simmer for ½ hour before adding sausages and peppers. Simmer for ½ hour more. Serve as a magnificent side dish, or in a lusciously oozing, Italian-sub sandwich. I promise you this is the real deal.