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Wednesday, December 31, 2014

King of the NFL Pick 'Em

Jerry Wetzel with one of his many fantasy football trophies
The NFL regular season has come to an end.  That also signaled the end of the Banshee Sports NFL Pick 'Em Competition.  The champion for 2014 is none other than Jerry Wetzel.  If that name sounds familiar, that may because Jerry also won second place in the 2013 March Madness contest.  Or, it could be because Jerry Wetzel is my father.

The Banshee Sports NFL Pick 'Em Competition involved straight up picks (no point spread involved) with assigned confidence points.  On his way to victory, Jerry posted a record of 170-85.  The second place entry was Art Guthman with a record of 168-87.  Interestingly, J.B. Errico also posted a record of 170-85 but finished in third place due to confidence point allocations.

As a reward for his excellent prognostications throughout the NFL season, Jerry has won a six-month subscription to the barbecue sauce of the month club.  Trust me, Jerry Wetzel is not always as smug as he looks in this picture, so if he invites you over to share the fruits of his labors on the grill, you should accept.

All in all, the inaugural Banshee Sports NFL Pick 'Em competition was a resounding success.  If you want to make sure you are part of the fun next year, leave a comment or drop me a line.

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NFL Prediction Final Report Card

The NFL regular season is over.  No more what-if scenarios.  No more scoreboard watching.  The playoff field is set.  It's time to hand out the final grades for Wild Banshee's preseason predictions.  And, this is not going to be pretty.

AFC East:  I picked the New England Patriots to win the AFC East.  Not only did the Pats accomplish that, they also clinched home field advantage throughout the playoffs.  As I stated in the preview, Belichick's defense finally has the dynamic personnel to be worthy of sharing a locker room with their offensive counterparts.  In hindsight, this might look like an easy prediction, but predicting division winners, even when they have elite quarterbacks, is not automatic.  My misplaced faith in the Jets prevents a perfect A+ in this division, but I still give myself an A.     First Quarter Grade: A     Midterm Grade: A     Third Quarter Grade: A     Final Grade: A

AFC North:  In the preseason, I predicted that the AFC North would be an incredibly competitive division.  However, I thought that in the end only the Bengals would make the playoffs.  The Bengals did make the playoffs, but they were one of three playoff teams from this division.  In the end, the Pittsburgh Steelers posted eleven wins and won the division by beating the Bengals on the last night of the season.  The Raven also earned a wildcard.  Thanks to the faltering of the Bengals, my grade in this division took a serious nosedive in the last couple weeks of the season.  Kind of like my Spanish grade in the last few weeks of my senior year, but, I digress.  First Quarter Grade: A     Midterm Grade: A-     Third Quarter Grade: A     Final Grade:  B-

AFC South:  When I picked the Houston Texans to win the AFC South, I knew I was going out on a limb.  Turns out, the division race wasn't particularly close, despite some ugly outings, it was the Colts who cruised to a comfortable division championship.  Meanwhile, the Texans got to start their winter vacation before the new year.  Since I did correctly predict that the Colts would qualify for the postseason, I do not get a failing grade for the division.  If a few things had gone differently on the final Sunday of the regular season, the Texans would have made the playoffs and I would have smugly given myself a high grade.  But, when your pick for division champ fails to make the playoffs, you gotta take your medicine like a big girl.  First Quarter Grade: A-     Midterm Grade: C     Third Quarter Grade: C+     Final Grade: C-
(Abrams/USA Today)

AFC West:  At the start of the season, I predicted that the Denver Broncos would win the division and that the San Diego Chargers would earn a playoff spot as a wildcard.  Through the three-quarters mark of the season, I was feeling pretty proud of myself.  The Broncos did win the division by a wide margin, but the Chargers went into a late season swoon that left them on the outside looking in when the playoff spots were finalized.  I have nothing to be embarrassed about here, but I cannot get a full A if one of my playoff predictions fails to make the postseason.  First Quarter Grade: A-     Midterm Grade: A-     Third Quarter Grade: A+     Final Grade: A-

NFC East:  It is always hard to make predictions in your favorite team's division.  Although I picked the Eagles to win the division, I admit that I viewed things in the preseason through burgundy colored glasses.  In reality, the Cowboys won the division and they did it in convincing fashion.  The Cowboys' 12-4 record includes a road win at Seattle and a trouncing of Indianapolis in Week 16.  Meanwhile, the Eagles posted a respectable ten wins but failed to make the postseason.  And the Redskins ... well we shall never speak of this horror again.  First Quarter Grade: B     Midterm Grade: B+     Third Quarter Grade: B     Final Grade: F

NFC North:  Based on my predictions in this division, it is fair to wonder if I have ever watched a football game in my life.  On previous report cards, I tried to blame this predictions on delicious indulgence in Big Ron's Rum Punch.  However, as an adult, I know that I need to take responsibility for my actions regardless of how much Malibu may be involved.  I do not give myself a failing grade in this division because the Packers did make the playoffs.  However, since the Packers won the division and secured a first round bye, I certainly do not get any bonus points for this pick.  I have learned my lesson, though.  I will think long and hard before ever again predicting success for a Cutler-led team.  First Quarter Grade: B-     Midterm Grade: C     Third Quarter Grade: D     Final Grade: D

NFC South:  Writing this column has not good for my self esteem, and it's not getting any better as we move to the NFC South.  In the preseason, I predicted that the Saints and the Falcons would both make the playoffs.  Nope!  The Carolina Panthers "won" the division.  I put that in quotation marks because a team with a losing record didn't "win" much of anything.  However, the Panthers will be playing in the postseason.  No one else in this historically terrible division got even a sniff at a wildcard.  And, the Falcons fired their coach.  Never a sign of a successful season.  My predictions really are worthy of a suspension from this blog.  However, since Banshee Sports is a one person operation, the worst that I can do is give myself another F.  First Quarter Grade: C     Midterm Grade: C     Third Quarter Grade: C     Final Grade: F

NFC West:  In the preseason, I picked the Seahawks to win the division.  I also predicted that Seattle would be the only team to make the playoffs from the NFC West.  I elaborated on that prediction by stating that if a second team did qualify from the NFC West, it would be the Cardinals and not the Forty Niners.  When the dust settled, the Seahawks won the division and clinched home field advantage throughout the playoffs, and the Cardinals won a wildcard berth.  I can't get too chippy and gloaty about this, though, since I didn't have the courage to actually declare that the Cards would win the wildcard.  But, as I've demonstrated in the rest of the NFC portion of this column, picking the correct order of finish in a division is not easy.  Perhaps self-pity from the rest of this column is weighing in here, but I am giving myself an A for foreseeing the demise of the Niners and the strength of the Cardinals.  First Quarter Grade: B+     Midterm Grade: B+     Third Quarter Grade: B+     Final Grade: A

Overall Grade:  After plugging in the numbers, my NFL Prediction GPA comes to a 2.13.  That is an ugly drop off from the rest of the season, but it's right back to where I was in 2013.  My lesson from this is that predictions are hard.  If they were not, we would all move to Vegas.  First Quarter Grade:  B+     Midterm Grade: B     Third Quarter Grade: B     Final Grade: C

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Friday, December 26, 2014

Cooking with Banshee: Ward 8

The Ward 8 holds a special place in the history of the Banshee Lair.  The Lair's first real party was on December 31, 2011.  My baby sister played bartender that night and ran across the recipe for the Ward 8 in my bartending book.  What followed was a night that will live in infamy.  What I'm trying to say is this drink is smooth and tasty, but it wallops you with a sucker punch if you are not careful.  Enjoy.  But don't say I didn't warn you.

Ward 8

2 oz bourbon or Tennessee whiskey
1 oz lemon juice
1 oz orange juice
Splash of grenadine

Combine all ingredients in a shaker full of ice.  Shake to mix.  Strain the liquid into a glass filled with ice.  Enjoy!

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Sunday, December 21, 2014

Temper Temper: Sports Tantrums of Fall

As autumn came and went, the warmth of summer gave way to the cold of winter.  But, in the sports world, the cooling of the temperatures did not correlate to the cooling of tempers.  It's time to look back on the best sports tantrums of fall.

1.  Sticks and Stones.  Every team has a few crazy fans, but it seems like Alabama football might have the market cornered on crazy middle aged women.  The winter edition of Temper Temper for 2014 included a mother of three going all WWE on a young Oklahoma fan at the Sugar Bowl.  After an October loss to Ole Miss this fall, this old-sounding lady lit into Paul Finebaum on the radio.  I'm not sure what Paawwwl said to provoke this, but clearly Phyllis from Mulga thought it was fightin' words.

2.  Stealth Mode.  When NASCAR changed their postseason format this year, the goal was to ratchet up the intensity on the track.  Mission accomplished.  But, when the engines were turned off at the end of the races, the tempers were just getting fired up.  After the October night race in Charlotte, things got a bit carried away in the garage area.  This clip starts with a little bit of bumper cars.  Then there is some pushing and shoving and shouting between the #2 team and the #11 team.  Just when things appeared to have cooled down, Matt Kenneth unleashes a stealth attack on Brad Keselowski.  And, yes, these guys are both former series champions.

3.  Haymakers and Hans Devices.  Less than a month after the fracas in Charlotte, Brad Keselowski found himself in the middle of another brawl.  This fight starts in earnest when Kevin Harvick pushes Keselowski from behind into a group of Jeff Gordon's crew members.  Then it's on.  My favorite part of this clip is the crowd noise.  I don't know if this was broadcast on the big screen displays at Texas Motor Speedway or if the fans could actually see the action from their seats.  Either way, it sounds like a WWE event.

4.  Tell Us How You Really Feel.  Despite never having won fewer than nine games in a season, Bo Pelini was fired as head football coach of Nebraska.  On his way out the door, Pelini told his players exactly how he felt about the university administration.  And, it wasn't pretty.  This was supposed to be a private meeting, but the audio leaked.  This speech goes on for quite a while, but you get the gist in the first five minutes.  Another gem comes around the 16:45 mark when Pelini says, "This stays here."  Warning: this clip is NSFW.

5.  Don't Tug on Superman's Cape.  The NFC South has been so dismal, this fight is the best thing that happened in this division all season long.  I'm not a big fan of the Superman celebration, but I am a big fan of backing it up if you're going to do it.  In this video, Cam Newton gets in the face of the Saints defenders who took umbrage to his antics.  Then a fight breaks out that spills into the hallway of the Super Dome.

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Wednesday, December 10, 2014

NFL Prediction Third Quarter Report Card

Every NFL team has played thirteen games and has three to go.  That means that the intensity is heating up and the playoff picture is coming into focus.  It also means that it is time for another look at Wild Banshee's preseason predictions and to hand out some grades.  It's time for the Third Quarter Report Card.

AFC East:  Like everyone else with half a brain, I picked the New England Patriots to win the AFC East.  As we near the final stretch of the season, the Patriots early season struggles are a distant memory.  Despite a Week 13 loss at Green Bay, the Patriots are tied for the best record in the AFC.  However, my ridiculous overestimation of the New York Jets prevents me from getting a perfect A+ for this division.  First Quarter Grade: A     Midterm Grade: A     Third Quarter Grade: A

AFC North:  Prior to the season, it was fashionable to predict the demise of Cincinnati.  Despite the departure of both their offensive and defensive coordinators to head coaching jobs, I stuck with the Bengals and picked them to win a highly competitive division.   At this point in the season, all four teams can still win the division, but the Bengals hold a slight statistical lead.  I'm giving myself credit for picking the Bengals and for predicting that the Browns had a legit chance to win the division.  First Quarter Grade: A     Midterm Grade: A-     Third Quarter Grade: A

AFC South:  In the preseason, I predicted that the Texans would win the division and that the Colts would make the playoffs as a wild card.  Although the Texans are still in contention for a wild card, it appears that I overestimated the magic of Bill O'Brien as head coach.  It is the Colts who have a two-game lead in the division.  Picking playoff participants is hard.  Since I still have 2 in the running in this division after 14 weeks of play, I get a passing grade for this division.  First Quarter Grade: A-     Midterm Grade: C     Third Quarter Grade: C+

AFC West:  At the start of the season, I predicted that the Denver Broncos would win the division and that the San Diego Chargers would earn a playoff spot as a wild card.  Despite a little midseason swoon by the Chargers, that is exactly how things stand after Week 14.  Picking first and second place in a division is a solid achievement, so I deserve a pretty outstanding grade.  First Quarter Grade: A-     Midterm Grade: A-     Third Quarter Grade: A+

NFC East:  In the preseason, I picked the Eagles to win this division and be the only team from this division to make the playoffs.  After Week 14, the Eagles and Cowboys are tied for first place at 9-4.  As things stand right now, the Cowboys would lose the tie breaker to both the Eagles and the other wild card contenders.  The problem for me is that I thought it would be the Redskins competing with the Eagles down the stretch.  The Redskins are nothing short of horrendous, and the Cowboys appear to be in this race for the long haul.  Despite what I said at the Midterm Report Card, my grade is no longer trending in the right direction in the NFC East.  First Quarter Grade: B     Midterm Grade: B+     Third Quarter Grade: B

NFC North:  During the Midterm Report Card, I referenced the fact that I might have been indulging in Big Ron's Rum Punch when I wrote my preseason predictions.  As the season progresses, it seems appropriate to admit that there were actually copious amounts of Big Ron's Rum Punch consumed during the writing of NFC North portion of the column.  I'm not even going to get into what I predicted.  Suffice it to say that my faith in the Bears was idiotic.  My lack of faith in the Packers was equally stupid, and my dismissal of the Lions was downright moronic.  First Quarter Grade: B-     Midterm Grade: C     Third Quarter Grade: D

NFC South:  In the preseason, I predicted that two teams would make the playoffs from this division.  Boy, was I wrong!  This is quite possibly the worst division in the history of the NFL.  Maybe in the history of sports.  Every team in this division already has at least eight losses.  That means that the division winner will be at best a .500 team.  Thing is, I might have picked the correct division winner.  Right now, the Saints are tied for the top slot in this terrible division.  It's hard to grade a mess like this, but I do get some credit for having the right teams in the right order.  First Quarter Grade: C     Midterm Grade: C     Third Quarter Grade: C

(Getty Images)
NFC West:  At the start of the season, I predicted that only one team in the NFC West would make the playoffs.  I thought that if a second team made it, it would be the Cardinals.  After Week 14, the Cardinals are in the driver's seat to win the division outright, but the Seahawks are surging at just the right time.  The way things are trending, it looks like both of those teams will make the postseason.  It also looks like the 49ers will have time for golfing in January.  Predicting the correct directions of San Francisco and Arizona franchises deserves some credit, but I cannot give myself an A of any sort if I don't pick the correct division winner.  First Quarter Grade: B+     Midterm Grade: B+     Third Quarter Grade: B+

Overall Grade:  I did the math, and my GPA comes to a 3.0.  That keeps me holding steady at a B average after Week 14.  First Quarter Grade:  B+     Midterm Grade: B     Third Quarter Grade: B

Think I was too lenient?  Want to make some predictions of your own?  Then, by all means, leave a comment and let me know.

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Sunday, November 30, 2014

Cooking with Banshee: Cranberry Blue Cheese Spread

Thanksgiving is behind us, and the holiday season is in full swing.  It's a season that is filled with socializing.  This Cranberry Blue Cheese Spread is perfect for formal parties, impromptu gatherings at the house or office pot-luck lunches.  It's easy to make, but it looks and tastes elegant.

Cranberry Blue Cheese Spread

4 oz crumbled blue cheese
16 oz cream cheese
1 Tbs cognac
1 bunch fresh chives, chopped
1/2 cup walnuts, chopped
3/4 cup dried cranberries, chopped

Allow the cheeses to reach room temperature.  Combine all ingredients.  Mix well.  Refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.  Serve with crackers.

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Saturday, November 29, 2014

Thankful Sports Fan

Like so many other areas of public discourse in America, the world of sports is too often filled with negativity and criticism.  I want to take a break from that.  In this season of giving thanks, I want to take a few moments to talk about the things in sports that I am thankful for in the past year.

Fenway Park tribute to Derek Jeter
1.  Derick Jeter.  I know, I know.  Many of you were tired of hearing about Derek Jeter by the time this baseball season ended.  I, however, am wholeheartedly thankful that I got to grow up as a sports fan during Derek Jeter's career.  I am also thankful that baseball fans had the opportunity to show their appreciation for Derek as he made his farewell tour.  As the year drew to a close, many media members and elitist bloggers took great pains to tell the world that Derek Jeter's numbers did not deserve to be compared to the all-time greats.  They told the world that any decent shortstop who played for the Yankees during Jeter's era would have a dazzling collection of World Series rings.  Those people may be entirely correct, but they are missing the point.  Life is hard.  Sports are supposed to be a fun distraction from the rest of life.  And, Derek Jeter provided a ton of fun.  From his flip play in Oakland to the home run that earned him the name Mr. November to the RBI in his final at-bat, Jeter had a flair for the dramatic.  And, Jeter did it all with a smile on his face.  No athlete has ever seemed to understand how blessed his life was the way that Derek Jeter did.  And Jeter never brought shame to his fans by showing up in a PED report or in a tabloid scandal.  Whether his stats are worthy of all-time great status or not, I am thankful that I got to come of age and grow into adulthood during Derek Jeter's career.

2.  Rory McIlroy.  Sport at its highest level is always a joy to behold.  During a thirty-day span this summer, Rory McIlroy treated the world to one of the finest exhibitions of golf the world has ever seen.  On July 20, 2014, Rory won the Open Championship at the Old Course at St. Andrews.  McIlroy followed that up with a win at the World Golf Championship at Bridgestone Country Club in Akron, OH before capping off August with a victory at the PGA Championship at Valhalla.  Rory then finished off the year as an integral part of the victorious European team at the 2014 Ryder Cup.  I am thankful that I got to witness this level of golfing greatness.

Sisters at fight night in Vegas
3.  Boxing.  Boxing is one of the oldest forms of sport known to mankind.  Yet, the sweet science is a recent addition to my sports viewing repertoire.  Over the past few years, I have been watching HBO and Showtime coverage of mid-level prize fights, and in the last twelve months, I started regularly buying PPV events.  In May, I had the amazing opportunity to attend a world championship fight between Floyd Mayweather and Marcos Maidana.  I devoted an entire post to the experience of fight night in Vegas.  I am truly thankful for the opportunity to attend this fight in person, and I am thankful for the extra perspective I have now while watching fights on TV.

4.  World Cup in a Friendly Time Zone.  A few years ago, it was inconceivable that I would have soccer included in any twelve-month sports retrospective.  Perhaps every World Cup has been as great as the 2014 edition, but this year's event in Brazil took place during the daylight hours here in the United States.  That allowed co-workers to gather in break rooms, friends to gather in barrooms and families to gather in living rooms to watch the beautiful game.  For many of us, it was a chance to learn and bond.  For others, it was a chance to finally share their passion with sports fans who were previously oblivious to the finer points of a corner kick.  I am thankful that the 2014 World Cup was played in a time zone that allowed for such learning and camaraderie.

(Terry Renna/AP)
5.  Resurgence of Dale Jr.  For the past decade, the sport's most popular driver was by no means one of its most successful drivers.  Not even close.  But, in 2014 Dale Earnhardt, Jr.'s results on the track began to match his popularity.  His Nationwide teams were also strong all year long and finished the season with Chase Elliott winning the series championship.  Sure, the legend of Dale, Sr. plays a factor in Junior's popularity, but Junior is beloved unlike any driver because, despite his wealth and fame, he acts like one of us.  When Junior joined Twitter, he didn't flood his timeline with shots of his celebrity friends.  He tweeted about rooting for the Redskins and how his friends were doing at the local dirt track.  When Junior wins a race, he doesn't talk about sipping Cristal in a club that the rest of us can't afford to enter.  No, he talks about drinking beer at Whiskey River.  One of the most personal posts I've ever written for this blog was after a Junior victory in 2012.  I am thankful that the celebrations were not few and far between for Dale Earnhardt, Jr. and his fans this season.

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Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Veteran's Day Salute to Athletes

In the sports world, we often speak of teams "going to battle" and players "laying it all on the line."  As we celebrate Veteran's Day, it is important to remember that their are athletes who have done this in the literal sense.  These are just a few of the athletes who put country before self and interrupted promising careers for military service.

The men who paid the ultimate price, men such as Pat Tillman and Christy Mathewson, deserve to have their own columns on a day such as Memorial Day.  Therefore, this column is confined to men who served and returned to the sports world.  This is not a comprehensive list.  As someone who never served, it would be inappropriate for me to rank these men, so this list is presented in alphabetical order.

Rocky Bleier.  United States Army, 1968-69.  NFL.   Rocky Bleier is best known for winning four Super Bowl championships with the Pittsburgh Steelers in the 1970's, but before those days of glory on the gridiron there were dark days in the jungles of Vietnam.  After a star career at Notre Dame, Bleier was drafted by the Steelers in 1968.  After his rookie season, the running back was drafted once again ... this time by the United States Army.  Bleier volunteered for duty in Vietnam.  In August of 1969, Bleier was wounded by a bullet and shrapnel while on patrol in a rice paddy near Heip Duc.  Bleier's wounds were serious enough that doctors told him he would never be able to play football again.  While recovering in an Army hospital, Bleier received a note of encouragement from Steelers' owner Art Rooney.  Bleier took Rooney's words to heart and eventually worked his way into the Steelers' starting lineup for the 1974 season.  In 1976, Rocky Bleier and Franco Harris combined for the rare feat of having two running backs on the same team rush for 1,000 yards in the same season.

Bob Feller
Bob Feller.  United States Navy, 1941-1945.  MLB.  While visiting his terminally ill father, Bob Feller heard that the Empire of Japan had attacked the United States at Pearl Harbor.  Two days later, the 23-year old Feller enlisted in the United States Navy.  Despite his young age, Feller was already an established star pitcher for the Cleveland Indians when he voluntarily headed to war instead of spring training.  Feller volunteered for combat duty and was assigned to the U.S.S. Alabama.  Feller later stated, "I told them I wanted to ... get into combat; wanted to do something besides standing around handing out balls and bats and making ball fields out of coral reefs."  Feller got his wish.  When Feller was discharged from the Navy in 1945, he had earned six campaign ribbons and eight battle stars.

Warren Spahn.  United States Army, 1942-45.  MLB.  When the United States joined World War II at the end of 1941, Warren Spahn was struggling to earn a spot on the Boston Braves major league roster.  By the time Spahn retired in 1965, he was the winningest left-handed pitcher in the history of baseball.  In between, Spahn fought in the Battle of the Bulge.  During that campaign, Spahn suffered frostbite so severe that doctors considered amputating the pitcher's feet.  Fortunately for Spahn and for baseball fans, that drastic measure was avoided.  By the time Spahn left the service, he had achieved the rank of First Lieutenant and had earned a Bronze Star and a Purple Heart.  After the war, Spahn recorded thirteen 20-win seasons and two no-hitters.  One of those no-hitters came after his 40th birthday, proving his battlefield toughness translated to the pitcher's mound.

Roger Staubach.  United States Navy, 1964-68.  NFL.  Veterans Day is not just a time to remember those who served in combat.  Everyone who volunteers for military service does so knowing that a combat deployment is a realistic possibility.  That's a tremendous sacrifice for any 18-year old to make, but it is an especially big sacrifice for someone with the talent to play top level college football.  When Roger Staubach enrolled in the Naval Academy, he signed up for a military commitment beyond his four years of college.  While playing quarterback at Navy, Staubach won the Heisman, the Maxwell and the Walter Camp Award.  Staunch was drafted by the Dallas Cowboys, but his professional career was put on hold for four years while he fulfilled his commitment to the United States Navy.  During one of those years, Staubach volunteered for assignment in Vietnam.  Staubach finally made his professional football debut in 1969 as a 27 year-old rookie.  Staubach led the Cowboys to a Super Bowl victory in 1977.  Perhaps Staubach's most lasting contribution to the sports world was when he coined the term "Hail Mary" in the football context.

Ted Williams.  United States Navy, 1942-46, 1952-53.  MLB.  Yes, you read that correctly.  Ted Williams served two stints in the military.  Both were during wartime, and both were in the middle of his playing career.  The "Splendid Splinter" is widely regarded as the greatest hitter who ever lived.  In 1941, Williams batted .406.  No one has matched that mark since then.  World War II erupted after that historic season.  Williams went to do his duty during the war and became a naval pilot.  Williams did not see combat during World War II, but he was recalled to to active duty in the Korean War.  During the Korean War, Williams flew numerous combat missions.  Williams is possibly the greatest athlete on this list.

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Thursday, November 6, 2014

NFL Prediction Midterm Report Card

Week 9 in the NFL is in the books.  Every team has played at least eight games.  That means that we've had half a season to judge teams.  It also means we've had plenty of time to judge Wild Banshee's preseason predictions for each division.  It's time for the Midterm Report Card.

AFC East:  In the preseason, I picked the Patriots to win the division.  Despite getting off to a rough start, the Patriots have never slipped out of first place.  Right now, the Patriots are in the midst of a five-game win streak that includes absolute demolitions of the Bengals and the Broncos.  The Patriots are firing on all cylinders on both sides of the ball as they head into the bye week.  I would give myself an A+ for this prediction if I hadn't also predicted that the Jets would be the Patriots' primary challengers.  First Quarter Grade: A     Midterm Grade: A

AFC North:  I predicted that the AFC North would be a tough division.  I expected the Bengals to win the division and thought that every team would be competitive.  After nine weeks, all four teams are locked in a virtual dead heat.  The Bengals are technically on top of the division with a record of 5-2-1.  The Ravens are technically in last place with a record of 5-4.  Pretty good predicting, but right now the Bengals are trending the wrong way while the Steelers are one of the hottest teams in the league.  (This column was written before the Thursday night game between Cleveland and Cincinnati.  That game will be reflected on my next report card.)  First Quarter Grade: A     Midterm Grade: A-

AFC South:  Before the season started, I predicted that the Houston Texans would return to their winning ways and steal the division back from the Colts.  I also predicted that the Jaguars would make great strides forward this year.  In other words, I was a moron.  I gave myself a lot of leniency in the first report card because I believed so strongly in the savior of Penn State and new Texans head coach Bill O'Brien.  But, honesty is important to me.  I did at least predict that the Colts would be a playoff team, so I do not get a failing grade.  First Quarter Grade: A-     Midterm Grade: C

AFC West:  Before the season, I predicted that the Broncos would win the division and that the Chargers would win the wildcard.  At quarter pole of the season, the Chargers sat atop the division while the Broncos were also playing solid ball.  At the halfway point, the Broncos have reclaimed the top spot in the division, but they are coming off a miserable performance in New England.  The Chargers are still in the hunt for a wildcard, but they have slipped behind the Chiefs in the division standings and are in the middle of the pack in the AFC overall.  First Quarter Grade: A-     Midterm Grade: A-

Probably safe to throw this ticket away.
NFC East:  The Eagles were my preseason pick to win the NFC East, but I didn't expect any of these teams to be great.  At the halfway point of the year, Philly holds a narrow lead over Dallas, but the Cowboys are trending in the wrong direction with a quarterback who is nursing a broken back.  Yes, a broken back.  The Redskins and the Giants continue to be Jekyll and Hyde teams leaning heavily in the Hyde direction.  I expect my grade to continue to improve as the season progresses, but for right now, this is not A quality work.  First Quarter Grade: B     Midterm Grade: B+

NFC North:  I was in Virginia Beach when I wrote the prediction column, and it appears that Big Ron's Rum Punch got the better of me when it came time to write the NFC North portion.  I predicted that the Bears would win this division.  Instead, the Bears are one of the worse teams in the NFC.  The Packers are in the thick of the wild card race, as I predicted, but it is the Lions who are on top of the division at the halfway point of the season.  First Quarter Grade: B-     Midterm Grade: C

NFC South:  I predicted that the Saints would win the NFC South, but I did not predict that this would be the worst division in football.  Turns out, this might be the worst division in the  history of football.  New Orleans leads the division with a 4-4 record.  At this point it seems inconceivable that any of the other teams could challenge for a wild card.  It certainly will not be the Falcons, a team I picked to make the playoffs.  First Quarter Grade: C     Midterm Grade: C

NFC West:  Before the season started, I predicted that only one playoff team would come out of this division.  If two teams did make the playoffs, I believed that they would be Seattle and Arizona.  At the midpoint of the season, this scenario seems very likely, but it is the Cardinals and not the Seahawks who have the best record in the division.  The Cardinals actually have the best record in the entire NFL after eight games.  I give myself credit for predicting the decline of San Francisco, but I cannot get an A if I didn't pick the correct division winner.  First Quarter Grade: B+     Midterm Grade: B+

Overall Grade:  After consulting my trusty calculator, it looks like my grades have slipped a bit, but they are still, not an embarrassment.  First Quarter Grade:  B+     Midterm Grade: B

Think I was too lenient?  Want to make some predictions of your own?  Then, by all means, leave a comment and let me know.

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Thursday, October 30, 2014

Cooking with Banshee: Asian Asparagus

Believe it or not, the Banshee does eat vegetables.  Asparagus is one of my favorites, and this recipe for Asian Asparagus is one of my favorite ways to serve asparagus.  I found this recipe at  It appears here with a few minor tweaks.

2 lbs fresh asparagus
1 Tbs cornstarch
1/3 cup + 1 Tbs soy sauce
2 Tbs grape seed oil (can substitute vegetable oil)
4 cloves minced garlic
1/2 tsp ground dried ginger
3 Tbs honey
1.5 Tbs dry sherry
2 tsp Sriracha sauce (can substitute 1/2 tsp crushed red pepper)
2 tsp sesame oil
1 Tbs toasted sesame seeds

Steam asparagus until crisp tender (approximately 8 minutes).  Place in an ice bath to stop the cooking process and set aside.

In a small bowl, whisk together 1 Tbs of soy sauce and the cornstarch.  Set aside.

Add the grape seed oil to a large skillet and heat over medium heat.  Add the garlic and ginger.  Sauté for one minute.  Add 1/3 cup soy sauce, honey, sherry, Sriracha and sesame oil.  Whisk to combine.  Simmer over low heat for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.  Whisk in the cornstarch and soy sauce mixture.  Stir and heat until thickened.  Add the asparagus to the skillet and toss until evenly coated.  Heat until asparagus is warm.

Transfer to a platter.  Drizzle with remaining sauce and sprinkle with sesame seeds.

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Saturday, October 18, 2014

Book Review: Season of Saturdays

This is only the second book review ever published on Banshee Sports.  Once again, it is a book by Michael Weinreb that pushed me out of my comfort zone.  Season of Saturdays is a must-read for those who love college football.  More importantly, Season of Saturdays is a must-read for those who love someone who loves college football.

The full title of the book is Season of Saturdays: A History of College Football in 14 Games.  The structure of the book remains true to that title.  Weinreb is informative and entertaining as he tells tales of football games of the past and connects them to the current state of the game.  But, the soul of the book is captured in the prologue when Weinreb writes:
I grew up with college football in my blood.  I am not so blinded as to fail to recognize its inherent hypocrisies, and yet I still enjoy it more purely and completely than I enjoy almost anything in my life.  I don't want it to die.  I don't want it to fall victim to corruption and violence.  I don't want it to whither in a courtroom due to the failures of bureaucrats.  I want it to find a rational path beyond this point of crisis.  I want people to understand. 
What follows is my attempt to explain.

I read this paragraph many times, and tears came to my eyes each time that I did.  This was not the only paragraph in the book that had that affect on me.

To be clear, Season of Saturdays is not a maudlin or preachy text.  It is actually a fast-paced and oftentimes funny read.  But, at the same time, I found it poignant in many places because Weinreb captures the spirit of a college football fan in a perfect and vulnerable way.  Until I read this book, I thought that I was alone in these feelings.  Since reading Season of Saturdays, I have recommended it, loaned it, and given it to many others.

If you love college football or love someone who does, I cannot recommend Season of Saturdays highly enough.

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Thursday, October 9, 2014

NFL Prediction Report Card

Before the NFL season started, I posted my official NFL preseason predictions for each division.  It's hard to believe, but we are a quarter of the way through the year.  That means it's report card time.  Let's take a look at my predictions and hand out some grades.

AFC East:  After going out on  limb with my 2013 predictions by predicting that the Dolphins would win the AFC East, I returned to conventional wisdom and picked the Patriots to win the division this year.  The Patriots got off to a rough start, but they are tied for the division league with a record of 3-2.  The Patriots seem to be hitting their stride a quarter of the way through the season as they come off dominating win over the Bengals in primetime in Week 5.  Prediction Grade: A

AFC North:  In the preseason, I predicted that the Bengals would win this division while the rest of the teams would finish around the .500 mark.  After the first three games of the year, the Bengals looked like one of the best teams in the entire league.  Even after taking a brutal beating in New England, the Bengals sit perched atop the division with a solid record of 3-1.  As predicted, the Browns, Steelers and Ravens are all still in the hunt, and none of those teams have a losing record.  Prediction Grade: A

AFC South:  My preseason prediction was that the Texans would win the division and that the Colts would make the playoffs as a wild card.  After five games, the Texans and the Colts are tied at 3-2.  Those two teams will play each other on Thursday night in Week 6.  If I had left the predictions at that, I would have earned another solid "A," but my declaration that the Jaguars would make great strides forward deserves at least a slight deduction.  Prediction Grade: A-

AFC West:  Before the season, I declared that the Broncos were the only team with any hope of winning the AFC West.  The Broncos are certainly a good team.  They have a record of 3-1 with their only loss coming in overtime on the road at Seattle.  However, it is the San Diego Chargers with a slight lead in the division with a record of 4-1.  I did predict that the Chargers would be a playoff team, but I can't get a full "A" when I flip-flopped the teams at the top of the division.  Prediction Grade: A-

NFC East:  After those AFC grades, it looked like I was on the way to being the valedictorian of preseason prognostications.  It gets a little uglier as we move to the NFC.  I picked the Eagles to win the NFC East with a record of 9-7.  The Eagles are tied for the division lead, but it looks like might be a little better than I thought with a record of 4-1.  I predicted that the Redskins would be the primary challengers to the Eagles.  I felt so good about that hunch that I actually put a little coinage down on Skins in Vegas.  That appears to have been a stupid thing to do as Washington has started the season at 1-4 and shows no real signs of life.  Another stupid thing to do was to write off the Cowboys as a lost cause.  The Cowboys are a very solid 4-1.  The Giants are also showing signs of life at 3-2.  In other words, I underestimated Philadelphia, and everyone besides Washington is competing for the division crown.  Prediction Grade: B

NFC North:  For the second year in a row, I picked Chicago to win this division.  And, for the second year in a row, that seems to be incorrect.  It's early yet.  The Bears have plenty of time to rebound, but they have already lost close games to the Bills and the Panthers and took a whipping from the Packers on their own home field.  Meanwhile, the Packers have gotten their offense rolling in the last couple of weeks and are tied for the division lead with the Detroit Lions.  Prediction Grade: B-

NFC South:  In the preseason, I predicted that the Saints would win the NFC South and that the Falcons would make the playoffs as a wild card.  By the time the season ends, the Saints and Falcons could certainly both make the playoffs, but at the moment, it looks like my picks have been as sloppy as the play in this division.    The Saints and Falcons have both struggled to early records of 2-3.  Meanwhile, the Panthers have not regressed the way I predicted and sit at the top of the division with a record of 3-2.  Prediction Grade: C
(USA Today Sports Images)

NFC West:  Before the season started, I predicted that Seattle would win the division and that they would be the only team to make the playoffs from this division.  I further predicted that if a second team did make the playoffs, it would be Arizona.  At this point in the season, the Seahawks and the Cardinals are both 3-1 and have a slight lead over the Niners at 3-2.  In other words, as I predicted, this division has lots of good teams that will put a beating on each other..  Prediction Grade: B+

Overall Grade:  I did a little math, and it looks like my GPA would be a 3.35.  Overall Grade:  B+

Think I was too lenient?  Want to make some predictions of your own?  Then, by all means, leave a comment and let me know.

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Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Temper Temper: Sports Tantrums of Summer

Normally, the summer provides us with many outrageous outbursts.  For the most part, players and coaches kept their cool despite the hot temperatures this summer.  But, those who did make the list made it in style.

1.  Fighting Tooth and Nail.  Soccer may be the beautiful game, but Luis Suarez was the center of an ugly incident at the 2014 World Cup.  Heading into the World Cup, Uraguay had hopes of taking home soccer's greatest prize.  However, those hopes bit the dust, literally, when Luis Suarez clamped his jaws on an opponent.  During group play, Suarez, who already had a history of bizarre lapses in judgement, bit Italy's Girogio Chiellini on shoulder.  The bite wasn't noticed by the referee on the pitch, but, after further review, Suarez was given ten-game ban that included the elimination round of this year's World Cup.  Uraguay did not advance past the first round of elimination matches.

2.  Minor League, Major Fight.  Most of the time, minor league baseball is a great outing for American families.  One of the reasons is because an average person can still afford good seats at a minor league park.  But, on July 25, 2014, the fans behind the plate at a Triple A game between the Reno Aces and the Albuquerque Isotopes got a little closer to the action then they bargained for.  The animosity between these teams stemmed from the fact that Isotopes' shortstop Erisbel Arruebarrena hit a home run the previous night and broke one of baseball's unwritten rules by taking a little extra time making his trip around the bases.  The Aces showed their displeasure at Arruebarrena's showmanship by throwing a few high and tight pitches during Arruebarrena's first at-bat the following night.  Arruebarrena eventually struck out.  Then a brawl ensued.  Two things are noteworthy here.  First, this is the second consecutive appearance by the Albuquerque Isotopes in the Temper Temper column.  When last we saw them, one player bit off a piece of a teammate's ear.  Second, even though the netting keeps the players from actually spilling into the stands, you can hear women and children crying as the melee approaches the seat.  Grown men fighting is scary in person, but from the safety of a computer screen it is incredibly entertaining.  This post is camera phone footage of the brawl.  Click here if you want to see more professional videos, complete with play-by-play commentary.

3.  Take It All Off.  Single A baseball is a special sort of American experience.  And Joe Mikulik is a special kind of Single A manager.  Mikulik has a long history of histrionics, but his meltdown on August 17, 2014 in a game in Salem, VA, showed some true creativity.  Dressing down an umpire is nothing new for a manager, but Mikulik drew the attention of the national media when he dressed himself down at home plate.

4.  That Bites.  On September 13, 2014, the MGM Grand in Las Vegas, NV hosted Mayweather-Maidana 2.  The match, billed as "Mayhem," was a rematch of Floyd Mayweather and Marcos Maidana's dramatic bout on May 3, 2014.  The first fight was not expected to be a competitive affair, but on that night, the gritty Maidana turned the sweet science into a brawl.  Both fighters engaged in a fair share of rough-housing during the first fight.  That style continued into the rematch.  During a clinch in the 8th round, Mayweather appeared to be lacing and smothering Maidana with his glove.  Then something weird happened. You can judge for yourself after watching the video, but it seems like Maidana chomped down on Mayweather's fingers.  Maidana's camp vigorously denied the accusation, but most of those denials came through an interpreter who was also Maidana's manager and who was clearly doing his own talking.  Unlike Suarez, Maidana was completely justified if he did indeed bite the pound for pound champ's fingers.  Also interesting is the fact that Mike Tyson, architect of the most famous bite in boxing history, was sitting ringside for this fight.

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Thursday, September 11, 2014

Cooking with Banshee: Coal Region Hot Sauce

I'm a Virginia girl now, but I grew up in the anthracite coal region of Pennsylvania.  It's a place where the lungs and the dirt are both black.  The Pennsylvania coal region is home to a cornacopia of delicious ethnic dishes, but the most unique food from the coal region might be hot sauce for pizza.  In Carbon and Schuylkill Counties a cup of this sauce automatically comes when you order pizza.  Anywhere else in the state or the country, they have no idea what you're talking about.

My father and I are loyal to our roots, so one weekend after moved out of the area, we decided to recreate the regional treat.  We spread out a slew of ingredients on the kitchen counter and made a  different batches until we had mastered the recipe.  What I present here is Hot Sauce #3.

3 cups tomato sauce
4 TBS hot pepper rings, minced
4 TBS onions, minced
4 TBS crushed red pepper
2 TBS Frank's Red Hot
1 TB sugar
1/2 TB minced garlic
1/2 TB salt

Combine all the ingredients in a sauce pan and bring to a boil.  Reduce heat.  Simmer for 5 minutes.  Remove from heat and allow to cool before canning, jarring or otherwise storing.

Tips and Insights:
As you can see in the picture, this sauce is meant to be slathered on pizza, but I have known people to put it on a variety of Italian foods.  The sauce can be room temperature or even straight out of the fridge.  It is best on real, Italian style, hand tossed pizza, but it will improve any pizza.  This recipe makes about four 8 oz. jars of sauce.  You can make as much or as little as you want.  The ratios are the key.

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Sunday, August 31, 2014

NFL Preseason Preview 2014

In just a few more days, the NFL season will finally begin.  That means it is time for the 2014 edition of the Banshee Sports' NFL Preseason Preview.  Last season, the preseason preview only correctly predicted 5 of the 12 playoff teams.  That is not a strong effort.

I'm not too ashamed, though.  Even the Seers in the Desert had the Texans and the Falcons near the top of the preseason odds to win last year's Super Bowl.  I am very strict about holding myself accountable for my predictions.  At the end of the season, I gave myself a final grade of "C."  I'm looking to improve substantially on that mark this year.

So, without further ado, Banshee Sports presents the 2014 NFL Preseason Preview.

AFC East:  In last year's pre-season column, I did something incredibly stupid.  I picked against Bill Belichick and the New England Patriots.  I am not making that mistake again.  Any offense that is run by Tom Brady will be a force to be reckoned with, but the first time in a long time, the defense could be as good as the offense.  Belichick has always has good defensive schemes, but the talent acquisitions this offseason, particularly Darrelle Revis, make this a scary group.  I think the Jets are the most likely challenger to the Patriots, but they will ultimately finish around the .500 mark and fall short of the playoffs in a tight wild card race.  Division Winner: New England Patriots

AFC North:  The AFC North is possibly the most difficult division to predict in all of football.  There is a legitimate playoff argument to be made for all four teams in the AFC North.  It is fashionable this preseason to predict the demise of the Bengals due to the departure of their offensive and defensive coordinators and boredom with quarterback Andy Dalton.  But, talent still counts, and the Bengals have far more offensive talent than any team in this division and should get to ten wins.  The Ravens have the best chance to unseat the Bengals at the top of the division, but ultimately they and the rest of the division will finish around .500.  For the second year in a row, this division will only get one team into the playoffs.  Division Winner: Cincinnati Bengals

AFC South:  The AFC South is a confusing division.  Last season, the Texans were inexplicably terrible.  That allowed Andrew Luck and the Colts to win the division despite some glaring flaws.  The Colts did little to address their shortcomings this offseason.  Meanwhile, the Texans drafted Jadaveon Clowney with the first pick in the draft and hired Bill O'Brien as head coach.  While at Penn State, O'Brien transformed former walk-on Matt McGloin into a starting NFL quarterback in just one season.  If O'Brien is even half as successful with Ryan Fitzpatrick or Ryan Mallett , there is reason for great optimism in Houston.  The Texans will not be in the upper echelon of all NFL teams, but they will win enough games to win this division.  The Jaguars will make take great steps forward this year, but they will be unable to wrestle a wild card berth away from the Colts.  Division Winner: Texans  Wild Card: Indianapolis Colts

AFC West:  There is only one team with even the slightest hope to win the AFC West.  That team is the Denver Broncos.  Last season, the Broncos went 13-3 on their way to an AFC Championship.  The Broncos still have Peyton Manning under center, and they have improved on defense during the offseason.  These improvements came as the result of free agent signings and healing time for injured players.  Last season, the Chiefs made the playoffs as a wild card.  Despite the offensive mind of head coach Andy Reid, the Chiefs will struggle to score this year due to a lack of weapons and the limitations of Alex Smith.  The Chargers will be challenged by multiple trips to the East Coast for likely 1:00 p.m. start times, but Phil Rivers will have another great season and lead the Chargers back to the playoffs.  Division Winner: Denver Broncos  Wild Card: San Diego Chargers

NFC East:  The Redskins and the Eagles are the past two winners of this division, and it will be those two teams who battle for the division crown again this season.  The Redskins posted a horrific 3-13 record in 2013, but there is reason for optimism in the nation's capital.  With a fully healthy RG3 and the addition of DeSean Jackson, the Redskins could be one of the most dynamic offenses in the league.  If the defense can stay healthy, the Redskins should have a solid season.  Last season, the Eagles offense under Chip Kelly took the league by storm, but NFL coaches learn fast.  The Eagles will likely find that the league will have adjusted to many of the Eagles' innovations from last year.  The timing of the schedule may be the deciding factor in this division.  The Eagles and Redskins both have to travel to San Francisco, but the Eagles get to play the Niners in Week 4.  The Niners will be without Aldon Smith and likely Ray McDonald due to suspension and will probably still be adjusting to new faces in the secondary.  By the time the Redskins head to the Bay Area in Week 12, San Francisco will be back to full strength.  Advantage Eagles.  Division Winner: Philadelphia Eagles

NFC North:  The black and blue division has long been known for physical defense and punishing running attacks.  This year, Green Bay and Chicago are the two best teams in the division, and they both have very shaky defenses.  However, they are both capable of having one of the best offenses in the league.  The big question here is which team's quarterback will stay healthy throughout the year.  I shook my Magic 8 Ball, and decided to bank on Jay Cutler.  Both teams will notch double-digit wins and make it to the playoffs, but it will be the Bears who win the division title.  Division Winner: Chicago Bears  Wild Card: Green Bay Packers

NFC South:  Last season, Carolina came out of nowhere to win the division with a 12-4 record, but free agency and age will cause the Panthers to take a big step backwards.  The Saints, on the other hand, are now fully recovered from the bounty scandal and are heading into a second year of Rob Ryan leading the defense.  As a result, New Orleans will retake its usual place at the top of the division.  Barring another rash of devastating injuries, the Atlanta Falcons should rebound this year and grab a wild card berth.  Division Winner: New Orleans Saints  Wild Card: Atlanta Falcons

NFC West:  The NFC West is home to the Super Bowl Champion Seattle Seahawks, and there is no reason to believe they will not repeat as division winners.  In fact, if Percy Harvin can stay healthy (and I do understand that is a big if) the Seahawks could be even better than last season.  Meanwhile, San Francisco is not the same team that they were in recent years.  Injuries, arrests and free agency departures have caused a near total overhaul on defense.  The bottom half of this division is simply too tough to survive that kind of handicap.  If a second team makes the playoffs from this division, it will be the Cardinals and not the Niners.  Division Winner: Seattle Seahawks

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Monday, August 25, 2014

Cooking with Banshee: Firecracker Grilled Salmon

Typically, Banshee Sports is not the best place to come looking for recipes that will extend your life.  But, this salmon recipe is delicious, and it won't make you feel like you ought to update your will.  This Firecracker Grilled Salmon is incredibly flavorful.  The basics for this recipe came from  The idea for the glaze came from a commenter on that site.  Do not let the ingredient list intimidate you.  This is actually easy to make and definitely worth the expense.

Salmon Marinade Ingredients:

4 salmon fillets (8 oz each), skin removed
1/2 cup peanut oil
4 Tbs soy sauce
4 Tbs balsamic vinegar
4 Tbs green onions, chopped
1 Tbs brown sugar
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 1/2 tsp ground ginger
2 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
1 tsp sesame oil
1/2 tsp salt

Salmon Directions:
Combine all ingredients besides besides the salmon in a bowl and whisk together.  Place the salmon in heavy duty gallon sized ziplock bag.  Pour the marinade into the bag.  Refrigerate for 24 hours (at least overnight), turning occasionally.  Heat the grill to medium-high heat.  Place fillets on the grill.  Baste with glaze.  Grill for 5 minutes.  Flip the fillets.  Baste again with glaze and grill for 5 more minutes or until the fish flakes with a fork.

Glaze Ingredients:
Marinade leftovers
4 Tbs dry white wine

Glaze Directions:
Remove the fish from the marinade.  Pour the marinade into a small saucepan.  Add the wine.  Simmer for 5 minutes at medium heat.

Serving Directions:
Serve the salmon over a bed of rice.  Drizzle additional glaze over the plated salmon and rice.


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