Thursday, November 25, 2010

Ronny Turiaf is the Baking Soda in the Knicks' Recipe For Success

The kitchen at WWOD? Headquarters is occasionally mangled and messed by my amateur gastronomy. And, not to brag, but I've been known to come up just short of the medal round in various local cooking competitions. In those situations, well-intentioned strangers are almost uniformly complimentary. Although I may not ready to host an episode of Cafeteria Fraiche, I've got a few staples down pretty good, including a delectable Chili con Cornbread (which is my signature chili with a layer of cornbread baked right on top).

With Thanksgiving upon us, food and cooking are frequent topics of conversation. Being non-denominational, gift-free and focused almost exclusively on gluttonous self-indulgence (with a heaping helping of football), Thanksgiving is threatening to pass Halloween as my favorite holiday.

Perhaps the only unsavory aspect of the very well-seasoned and toothsome day, at least in my family, is the annual question controversy of who will prepare what dishes for the big extended family sit-down feast. Who makes the stuffing? Is grandma cooking the turkey? If not, who is breaking the news to her? What about a ham? How many pies can we be expected to eat and compliment? What happens if an aunt shows up with a goat cheese salad that nobody really wants to dig into after it spent better than two hours in the car on the way over? And, most importantly, were any of these items cooked around nuts of any sort? Great Sacagawea's Ghost, let there not be nuts in that pecan pie!

Despite any delusions of Altonesque proficiency simmering in my soul, I've volunteered to not cook anything this year to help keep the peace. Aside from the obvious bonus of not having to spend Thanksgiving morning figuring out how to transport various foodtsuffs across statelines, I also am spared the first-bite fear of screwing up a recipe. It's one thing to cook something mediocre for myself or for a few friends who came over on a Sunday to watch football and drink beer, but it's another to explain to my grandmother why my pie crust isn't flaky or there seems to be too much salt and not enough celery in the stuffing.

When dealing with a recipe that calls for more than a dozen ingredients in various weights and measures it almost always seems like it's the one or two things that are barley used at all can wreak the most havoc if misused or forgotten. Add 5 tablespoons of butter instead of 4? No problem. Run a 1/4 cup short of the 4 cups of flour? Don't sweat it. But if you forget that 1 teaspoon of baking soda then you might as well do everyone a favor and immolate whatever you're cooking in a cleansing house fire. Because somehow that relatively minuscule quantity of that tasteless ingredient somehow means the difference between success and failure regardless of the artisinal quality of every other scrumptious ingredient.

Even though it's almost always used in small quantities, bread won't rise without baking soda and your cake won't be fluffy. Your cookie dough won't expand while it's baking on its cookie sheet and your shortbread may end up tall and un-crumbly. Despite not tasting good and seeming more chemical than culinary, baking soda allows all the other ingredients to shine. As I've watched the Knicks pull themselves out of their early-season hole, I've come to realize that Ronny Turiaf is the baking soda in the Knicks' recipe for success. Whatever athletic alchemy he is performing in the paint allows the other high-priced groceries that Knicks GM Donnie Walsh brought in to shine. In games that Turiaf has played (and not left early due to injury) the Knicks' record is 8-4. In games that Turiaf has started at center, the Knicks are undefeated with five wins. Looking at the box scores from any of these games, one wouldn't think that Turiaf's contribution was critical. Just like one glance at a 15-item recipe for carrot cake wouldn't leave you thinking that the 1 teaspoon of baking soda was make or break. You might think the butter was more important or all that cream cheese and confectionery sugar in the frosting. And, you'd be right in a matter of speaking. Just like you'd be correct to say that all Amar'e Stoudemire's scoring and all of Raymond Felton's assists are more important than Turiaf's 5 points and 3 boards per night. By volume, he's not doing that much. But without him all the tasty things about those other ingredients go to waste and this team won't rise.

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