My Funny/Yummy Food 4 Thought Column 18

                   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.

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