Everyone has a favorite holiday.
Children usually pick Christmas. Others may opt for the food and family of Thanksgiving, the patriotism and picnicking of Fourth of July or the costumes and candy of Halloween.
My favorite holiday isn't marked on most calendars, and it's not a paid day off work. For me nothing tops opening day.
ABOVE:?The Rapid Robert Dog honors Bob Feller, which the Cleveland Indians plan to do during its 2011 season.
My devotion to baseball has waned some in recent years - watching the Cleveland Indians of late can have that effect on a person - but the arrival of the new season coincides with a break in the weather, and it's easier to embrace all those cliches about how things are going to get better and every team has a chance for a magical season.
Every holiday has its own food traditions, and no food is more of a part of baseball than the hot dog.
But, let's face it, recipes that consist of ''put hot dog in bun and add mustard'' wouldn't make for much of a food page. So here are a few ideas for fans who want to get a little creative with traditional baseball fare.
Hot Dog Sauce
2 1/2 pounds of ground beef, browned and drained of excess fat
1 large onion, chopped
5 cups of water
2 12-ounce cans of tomato paste
1 1/2 tablespoons each of cloves, cinnamon, chili powder, allspice and Worcestershire sauce
3/4 tablespoon cumin
1/2 tablespoon dry mustard
1/4 cup of dark brown sugar
Mix first three ingredients together and put in blender in batches until ground fine.
Add remaining ingredients, mix well and let simmer for 3 to 4 hours to blend flavors. Taste throughout cooking and adjust seasoning to taste.
Freezes well for later use.
1 head Napa cabbage, outer leaves and base discarded, separated into leaves
2 large carrots, coarsely grated
2/3 cup kosher salt
2 heads garlic, cloves separated and peeled
3 tablespoons of peeled and coarsely chopped ginger
Juice from four lemons
1 tablespoon sriracha sauce
1/2 cup of honey or sugar
Spread out a layer of cabbage leaves in a large glass or plastic bowl (not metal). Scatter some of the carrots over the cabbage then sprinkle some of the salt. Repeat the process until all the cabbage, carrots and salt are used, leaving a layer of cabbage on top. Put a plate or platter on top of the salted cabbage and then add some weight by putting an iron skillet or another heavy object on top of the plate. Let it sit at room temperature overnight.
The next day, transfer the cabbage and carrots to a colander and rinse off the excess salt. Drain well and the blot excess water off with paper towels. Stack the leaves with the shredded carrots clinging to them and slice crosswise into 1/4-inch ribbons.
Combine the cut cabbage with the remaining ingredients and toss well. Let it chill and the flavors blend for at least one hour but preferably several days in the refrigerator. Store in a non-reactive container, and don't let the pickled mixture come in contact with a metal lid.
(Recipe taken from Crescent Dragonwagon's cookbook "Passionate Vegetarian")
The Rapid Robert Dog
The Indians plan to spend the 2011 season honoring the memory of Bob Feller, who died in December at age 92. Feller won 266 games in his major league career, and he gave up nearly four full seasons in his prime when he volunteered to fight in World War II.
The obvious ingredient to honor his Iowa farm-boy roots would be something with corn, but I didn't want to make a corn dog, didn't want to experiment with a cornbread bun and didn't want to top a dog with a corn relish.
So I turned to the Internet for ideas, and I found a story on Iowa.com that said Maytag blue cheese is produced there, and the all-natural pork sold by Niman Ranch is raised there. I've had bacon and blue cheese on burgers, so why wouldn't it work on a hot dog? And I happened to have Niman Ranch bacon in the fridge.
I got some meaty knockwurst and wrapped each with two strips of Niman Ranch bacon (held in place with toothpicks). Normally, those dogs would have cooked on the grill, but it still was in the 30s over the weekend, so I opted for the oven instead and cooked them until the bacon started to get crispy (at least 20 minutes at 400 degrees).
We topped the dogs with crumbled blue cheese and onions that were grilled in bacon fat - I'm sure they grow onions in Iowa, but the main reasons they're on there is just about anything would be better with onions grilled in bacon fat.
This was a great hot dog. An all-beef dog wrapped in bacon is the best of both worlds, and adding onions and blue cheese makes for an enticing combination.
Shin Soo Choo Dog
Feller, arguably the greatest player in Cleveland Indians history, couldn't be more All-American. The man who probably is the best player on the 2011 Cleveland Indians is Korean.
So, instead of topping a hot dog with kraut, I decided to top one with kimchee, a pickled cabbage dish that is popular in Korea. I found a recipe in one of our cookbooks, ''Passionate Vegetarian'' by Crescent Dragonwagon, which I've included here. It needs to be started at least a day in advance.
It's a potent combination of flavors - sour/tart from the lemon juice, salty from the pickling of the cabbage, sweet from honey, some heat from the sriracha and a bit floral from the chopped ginger. It's not going to become my favorite hotdog condiment, but I've got a jar of it now and plan to use it again.
And the real inspiration for the hotdog wasn't Choo but the fact that my daughter and I love fiery sriracha sauce and I was trying to come up with an idea where I could incorporate it.
The best way to make Shin Soo Choo dogs is to ''Give 'em the heater,'' as Lou Brown tells pitcher Rick Vaughn in ''Major League,'' and add as much sriracha as you can stand on top of the kimchee.
The Battle of Ohio Dog
Since the advent of interleague play, the Cleveland Indians and the Cincinnati Reds have faced off in a series dubbed ''The Battle of Ohio.''
I grew up a Reds fans in southern Ohio, became an Indians fan after moving here and still root for both teams.
Each team also has its own hot dog tradition. Cleveland fans eat 'em with Stadium Mustard, that spicy brown condiment originally served at Cleveland Municipal Stadium (I'm not going to get into the Stadium Mustard vs. Bertman's Ballpark Mustard debate here).
Cincinnati is the town where hot dog parlors (Skyline, Gold Star, Empress) outnumber McDonald's (at least they did when I lived near there), and each chain has a loyal following for its chili-topped dogs.
This dog combines both, using a slather of Stadium Mustard with my mom's Cincinnati-style hot dog sauce recipe. This chili sauce has been a favorite for a long time, getting rave reviews at church dinners and office picnics when my folks lived in Sandusky, and the Battle of Ohio Dog combines my love for both teams.