Well, the weather here has been nine kinds of epic Shitty for as long as anyone can remember. June was cold and wet. July was a blistering drought. August was hot and wet. September gave us the hurricane and another tropical storm, and offered historic floods. October has just been wet. But not particularly cold.
The sun came out for 1 hour when I was at the Big E last weekend – my first and visceral response to this was to shudder, cringe, and wail “The Yellow Eye, It Burns Us, My Precioussss”. In fact, it was such a visceral response that I am pretty sure I actually did this. Thankfully, I was with my friend who is Bulgarian and thus has a totally different set of cultural referents and sense of humor. Or, at least, so I assumed…right up until we stumbled across the display behind the ersatz Maine state-house…a vendor of Hobbit Holes. No kidding. Round doors and everything. And she shrieked “Hobbit Holes! I WAAANT one!” and started speculating wildly on what the movie producers had done with all of the Hobbit Holes from the set of the film, because those were the ones she had fallen in love with. I should probably say here that my buddy is a theoretical physicist currently doing a post-doc at an Ivy League college whose name is a Household Word. Not really the sort of person I’d associate with a powerful desire to own a Hobbit Hole.
I wanted one, too, but not nearly as much as I wanted a team of six Percheron draft horses and a shiny bright red wagon with brass trim. We hit the Big E just in time to take in the Big E Six-Horse Hitch Showdown. And we had seats. Good ones. There were eighteen teams, so a total of, what, 108 draft horses? All dressed to the nines. With braids in their hair and little feathery antenna bursting out of their manes. Oh, my God, these horses were beautiful.
I have always had a major penchant for draft horses, since I, myself, am built along those lines. Call me Junoesque, call me Rubenesque, call me statuesque. Or call me Economy-Sized, or Value-Sized. Whatever you want. I’m a strapping lass, and I’ve been over the 95th percentile for size and weight since the day I was born, at 21.5″ long and 10 lbs. I wear a size 10 shoe, or size 11 if it’s Stuart Weitzman, and I do not yet own a pair of field boots for riding, because none of them come sized to fit the magnificent contours of my muscular calf. So I have always had a huge sympathy with draft horses. They’re super-sized. They’re sleek and muscular (as I was, before hitting middle age). They’re powerful (as I still am). They’re oversized. They have truly splendid gaits and make an incredibly imposing spectacle when dressed up for a night on the town (check, too). They are my spiritual equine kin. No Arabs for me. No Barbs. And for chrissakes, no Thoroughbreds. Any horse that you’d think to enter in a speed or endurance race – not my homies. Horses that have huge gorgeous gaits and a general appearance of “Power” – that’s my krewe. Huey the Wonder Horse is a warmblood – a half-breed between some kind of wicked hot critter like a Thoroughbred…and a draft. For him, given his body and his color and his temperament, it’s probably a Belgian up in the Family Tree.
Given my total attachment HTWH, I was a natural sucker for the teams of Belgians entered into the competition. And there were some beauties! And they were all super affable, checking out the crowd, smiling at us, as they pranced around the ring.
But, for me, what really stole the show was a particular rig of Percherons. Percherons come in two flavors, pretty much: grey, and black. Most of the Perchies in the show were of the black sort. The clear Crowd Favorite, though, was a team of greys. Six of those beauts. And perfectly color-matched – with the lightest dappled pair in the front, the mid-grey dapples in the middle, and the darkest grey dapples in the back. And a fire-engine-red wagon, and bright red ribbons on the tack of the horses. And bells. These were the draft-horses from Central Casting. The only way to have improved the look of the thing would have been to have them pulling a sleigh loaded with kids and a Christmas tree. Holy cow, they looked great. And boy, did the crowd love them.
They didn’t win, probably because they paid a price for color-matching instead of putting the best-suited (but not matched) horses in harness together. They still looked damned good, anyway. I’d have taken them home. Even though they do eat like 50 lbs of hay per day.
Speaking of eating hay, today I had my first-ever ride as the Official Owner of Huey the Wonder Horse. I rode him a lot on Monday – first for a lesson and then to try out a bunch of saddles. I see that he thought all of those saddles were his, by the way. I’m not going to disillusion him since his clear favorite is the one I actually decided to buy, and therefore the only one he will be wearing. It should show up next week. I can hardly wait.
So I rode, and fixed a boo-boo, and then – because we are getting our first freeze tonight, at last – I brought over his Winter Jacket and blanketed him up after work today. It is still sort of trickling in that he is mine. I have to keep practicing saying it. “my” “horse”. It feels kind of like after you get married and need to learn to say “my” “husband”. Takes a while before it comes off naturally. It’s still not coming off naturally for Huey, but I’m working it. My horse was chowing down, as usual, when I dropped in to put his winter coat on. He did not wish to stop eating while I fastened the eight hundred straps on this thing. That complicated matters quite a bit, as some of the straps are right below his neck…a spot that is very difficult to get at when he’s dedicated to keeping his mouth on the floor. All in all, it was not dissimilar to the experience of putting a 4-year-old into snow pants, a jacket, and mittens. Noodle-y arms and all. But he’s all snug right now, and probably pretty happy.
And as you will be, if you check out this amazing chicken dumpling soup. It is surprisingly easy to make, and cooks up quickly enough to do it after work.
Chicken Dumpling Stew
1½ lb. boneless, skinless chicken thighs, cut into bite-size pieces
8 T (1 stick) unsalted butter, cut into small pieces, plus 2 T butter
3 carrots, peeled and thinly sliced
1 yellow onion, chopped
2 celery stalks, thinly sliced
2 C plus 2 T all-purpose flour
4 C chicken broth
½ C peas
2 t baking powder
½ C milk
1 T finely chopped fresh chives
Season the chicken with salt and pepper. In a large stock pot over medium-high heat, melt the 2 T butter. Add the chicken and cook, stirring often, until golden, about 4 minutes. Add the carrots, onion, and celery, season with salt and pepper, and cook until the vegetables begin to soften and the chicken is opaque, 4 to 5 minutes. Sprinkle with the 2 Tbs. flour and cook, stirring, for about 2 minutes. Add the broth and peas and bring to a boil.
Meanwhile, in a food processor, combine the 2 C flour, the baking powder, the 1 t salt and the 8 T butter. Pulse until the mixture forms coarse crumbs the size of peas. Add the milk and pulse until the mixture forms a soft dough. Turn out and knead briefly until it hangs together in a mass.
Pinch off small balls of the mass of dough and drop into the boiling stew. Reduce the heat to low, cover the pot and cook until the dumplings have nearly doubled in size, 7 to 10 minutes.