Glimpses of the Tour de France

So I said to my wife Janet the other day, ” Well dear, guess what time it is?” She said, ” What time is it, dear?” I said, “Its Tour de France time!!!” Her response was “Ugh” because she knows that for the next three weeks, I will be in the basement at night watching the recap coverage of the day’s stages on TV. Nothing like Phil Liggett and Paul Sherwen in their coverage backed up by Bob Roll and Christian van de Velde. Phil Liggett has some classic commentary like, ” He is digging into his suitcase of courage.” or ” The Heads of State are all assembling at the front.” I laugh when I hear him say,” He is riding like a scalded cat.” Or perhaps his classic,” He is wearing the mask of pain” His foil, Paul Sherwen, was actually a Tour de France rider who keeps the affable Liggett grounded when he says, ” Yes, sadly Phil, you never rode the Tour.” I love the hilarious banter between these two very knowledgeable Brits.

I have never been to the Tour but it is definitely on my bucket list. I would love to take in the pageantry and scenery of the French countryside and to see some of the iconic climbs of the Tour through the Alps and the Pyrenees.

But I have had some brushes with the Tour which included a wonderful experience a few years ago riding with our 3 time Tour champ, Greg LeMond.

Thanks to my friend Scott Weiner, I had this opportunity for two weekends in separate years, and when you get to spend that kind of time with a guy, you get to ask great questions about the Tour and get some amazing answers from a truly interesting person. You can still see glimpses of his strength when he cranks up those massive thighs on the flat or when he takes pictures with his hands off the bars for miles. A riding talent to say the least and a very friendly and approachable champion.

Riding in the Netherlands a number of years ago, I got to see up close and personal, the fervor of the Dutch people for cycling. The world seemed to stand still as all the shop owners, businessmen and women, children, and travelers all stopped to see the stages on Eurovision wherever they could. All the chatter in the cafe’s was about the Tour. I was there during the event and rode some of the classic roads of the Amstel Gold Race- the premier road race in the Netherlands. People constantly talked to me about my thoughts on the Tour and showed their visible excitement for what is like the Super Bowl of sports in Europe.

But I also have an interesting local connection to the Tour who is a most interesting guy. Jean Marc Chatellier owns an excellent French bakery in Millvale, Pa. He and I always talk about the Tour at this time of the year and I find that I frequent his bakery not only for his absolutely delicious pastries, but to spend the time talking to him all about the Tour. I like his takes on the controversies, the French riders, the Americans, the UCI and the Tour organizers. If you get the chance, go visit Jean Marc and take the time to watch this video. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7NZ4E_6NVQw&sns=em

I know that a lot of cyclists and people in general have lost interest in the Tour because of all of the doping scandals. In this edition, the controversy has been all about the Cavendish/Sagan crash and the ultimate expulsion of the reigning world champion from the event. But aside from all the madness, the Tour remains one of the most revered sporting events in the world. It puts the beauty of France on display every year and personally, I love watching all of the action. Janet eventually comes to watch especially when NBC shows the beautiful mountains and French countryside. She wears her” mask of pain” most times as she was not a bike racer, but knows how much I enjoy the tactics, and the history of this truly remarkable event. It is a lot more than guys just riding their bikes around France.

So I will be in to see Jean Marc tomorrow morning probably to see if I can get one of those exquisite cheese brioche rolls right out of the oven like the last time to accompany my extraordinarily strong coffee. He will greet me and drop what he is doing to chat about the crash, the UCI, the French riders who now are making a mark in the Tour. He is proud of his heritage and of his knowledge of cycling. I am glad to have made his acquaintance for many reasons. Vive le Tour!!!!! Thanks for reading. Word Press followers, click on the title to see pictures and video.

Grillin’

I’ve been warped by the rain
driven by the snow
I’m hot and dirty don’t you know
and I’m still…………….grillin’

My dad taught me the finer points of grilling when I was a young lad. He was a charcoal guy and showed me the lighter fluid/charcoal method and I had my initial ash tray face before I was 13.

Singed eyebrows and burnt hair smell were common in those days as I learned the basics of lighting a fire for the grill. Fast forward to later years when I inherited a grill from a friend. The electric igniter didn’t work and I turned the propane on and stuck a BIC lighting stick in the grill and PRESTO!!! Another blast to the face with a hairless expression.

,’So, Honey, I was thinking, instead of barbecued steaks why don’t we just order in a pizza?’

But I have come a long way since then and now I have a wonderful grill and a nice setting in which to contemplate life and burn some bovine flesh.

So you might ask, ” Well Pat- what have you learned over the years as you have transitioned to a Weber with continuous natural gas feed?” Well may I offer up the following?:

Meat- always cook on medium heat. Pittsburgh rare, which is basically like the charred exterior of a catcher’s mitt, coupled with bloody red and still “mooing” interior, is not optimal. Cooking low and slow is the way to go. It also gives you a chance to catch up on your Facebook and email and enjoy the obligatory grill side beer- like in my Adirondack chair. You can sear steaks, burgers on a higher setting initially to seal the juices in and get the grill marks, but you better put it quickly to medium or you will have a 3 alarm fire in your grill and won’t be able to tell the difference between the burger and the coals. They tell you to use a meat thermometer but I always gently cut into the middle of a test burger or steak and see how it looks. I try not to lose the juices with this inspection but it is the tried and true method.

Fish and shellfish- if the cut of fresh fish has skin, put it skin down right on the grill. Again, low and slow on low to medium heat. Don’t flip it and test as per the meat method. When it is finished, you can slide the filet right off the skin which is left on the grates. That way you don’t have to deal with the skin while eating. Clean the dead skin off the grill later so the varmints don’t get it.

Olive oil and dill is a great preparation for any filet of fish. For anything that does not have skin or shellfish, a piece of foil over the grill with a good marinade will work. Believe it or not, a real nice fresh filet of bluefish or other oily fish can be marinated in gin and cooked on the grill. Amazing how that tempers the strong flavor of oily fish and actually makes it more moist and flavorful. I learned that trick from a crazy man up in Martha’s Vineyard years ago. He was the same guy that almost ran us into a buoy while touting his navigational skills.

Always pay attention. You can get engrossed in a conversation, or Facebook, or email, and the next thing you know the flames are shooting out of the side of the grill and your potential meal has been temperature compromised. Like that proverbial catcher’s mitt. Always check by lifting the lid and testing with your knife. Sipping a cold IPA will always go well and even in the winter, a wool hat, a puffy, quilted jacket, and boots are key elements to year round grilling even in the worst weather. A head lamp in the winter is also key to see exactly what you are doing even when the time change has left your grilling area dark and cold.

Probably the most challenging thing about grilling is the fickle nature of your family or guests and how they like their meal prepared on the grill. ” I like mine pink, but not red. A little pink, you know, not bloody, but not too well done. Can you do it a little pink? I don’t like it rare, but I don’t want it done too well.” What the hell????? Some pieces have to be moved to the upper grill so as not to get too well done while you are waiting for the others to finish cooking. The juggling around the grill is a true art which is learned by trial and error and lots of previous criticism from family and friends.

Chicken- always pounded flat. Or as they say here, pahhhhhhnded flat. Marinated overnight in Good Seasons Italian dressing is preferred.

Pork- forget it. Too dry no matter what you do. Don’t let anyone tell you different. Cook pork inside in a roaster.

Buns- must always be toasted on the grill with the exception of really fresh ones. Inside of the bun down on the grill and not too long. Just enough to get the grill marks. Otherwise, you can remove them and throw them at the neighbor’s dog.

If all else fails, have the local pizza shop number handy. Grilling is an art that is acquired with a lot of trial and error.

Well I’ve been kicked by the wind,
robbed by the sleet
Had my head stoved in
But I’m still on my feet
And I’m still…………grillin’

Thanks for reading and don’t burn yourself.

Lyric butchering courtesy/apologies to Little Feat, Apple Music, and Emmy Lou.