Monthly Archives: June 2012

Summertime: Let’s Pit And Strip!

Standard

As summertime swings into High Gear with a crippling heat wave, the local farm stands are starting to break out the serious material.  We’ve been through Wave 1: Asparagus (a local specialty, according to legend and the Hadley Chamber of Commerce).  Then there was Wave 2: Strawberries and Rhubarb.

I’m a huge fan of the asparagus, love strawberries, and I can plumb do without the rhubarb.  I’ve never been able to abide that stuff.  Don’t like the texture, don’t like the flavor – no matter how dressed-up it is with other stuff.  Just can’t stand it.

So I’m happy to report that we’re getting in to Wave 3: Corn.  And in the grocery stores, Cherries.  I had a Produce-Buying Extravaganza this afternoon, bringing home four big shopping bags of veggies, and some other necessaries for soup-bases.  Roy has departed for Points South (New York City) to visit family, and I regard it as only right to honor his temporary departure with a spate of vegetarian cooking…because if there’s one thing Roy can’t stand, it’s a dinner without meat and potatoes.*

Tonight’s Festival of Goodness involves a corn risotto and a cherry pie.  As long as I was heating the house up by running the oven for the pie, I toasted a heap of bread chunks alongside it, so tomorrow’s Feast is going to be a Panzanella.

For now, I give you Corn Risotto With Basil Oil, and Cherry Pie With Coconut Crumble.  Bon apetit.

First, the risotto.  The original recipe is for a standard stir-till-you-go-blind babysitting risotto.  I’ve monkeyed with it substantially in order to use my load-and-go rice cooker.  If you like rice dishes at all –  risottos, rices, tapioca puddings, steel-cut oats, stewed fruit preserves, anything like that – I heartily recommend a rice cooker.  I hate single use appliances, and thought that rice cookers were one of those…until I saw the Rice Cooker Cookbook, which showed me the Error Of My Ways.  It’s now an indispensable part of my kitchen operation.  You’ll find the rice-cooker recipe for this dish below the old-fashioned one – and if you compare the two, I think you’ll find yourself taking a good hard think about acquiring one of these babies. In addition, the two recipes here feature some of the few truly single-purpose implements in my kitchen…both of which would be worth their weight in gold if they weren’t made of plastic. I wouldn’t be without either one.

3 ears of corn
2 T butter
2 leeks, sliced thinly
1/4 C dry white wine
2 C chicken stock
3 C water
1 1/2 C Arborio rice
Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste (you will need rather more of this than you expect to)
handful of fresh chives, snipped into little bits
4 T basil olive oil (find this with the olive and exotic oils at the grocery)
1/3 C shredded parmesan

Peel the corn and use the corn stripper to get the kernels off without making a mess or leaving most of the corn on the cob.  Throw the cobs away, keep the kernels.

Melt the butter in a big saute pan or risotto pan over medium heat, and add the leeks to the melted butter. Cook for about 5 minutes, giving a stir once in a while to keep the leeks from burning. Add the white wine.

Meanwhile warm the stock and water in a saucepan over medium heat. You should keep the liquid hot but not simmering.

Increase the heat under the leeks to medium, add the rice and cook, stirring constantly, until the rice is hot throughout, about 3 minutes. Begin adding the hot liquid 1/2 cup at a time, stirring constantly and adding more liquid only when the previous addition has been absorbed. After 10 minutes, stir in the corn. It will take about 20 minutes of constant stirring for the rice to absorb all the liquid and achieve a suitable creaminess. Season with salt and pepper.

Remove from the heat and stir in the cheese, the chives, and the basil oil.

OR, IF YOU HAVE THE RICE COOKER…

3 ears of corn
2 T butter
2 leeks, sliced thinly
1/4 C dry white wine
3 C chicken stock (note this is not the same amount of liquid as above, because you are not going to be pumping any in the form of steam into your kitchen.
1 C plus 2 T Arborio rice (also note this is not the same amount of rice as above)
Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste (you will need rather more of this than you expect to)
handful of fresh chives, snipped into little bits
3 T basil olive oil (also a different quantity than above)
2 T butter
1/3 C shredded parmesan

Peel the corn and use the corn stripper to get the kernels off without making a mess or leaving most of the corn on the cob.  Throw the cobs away, keep the kernels.

Melt the butter in a big saute pan or risotto pan over medium heat, and add the leeks to the melted butter. Cook for about 5 minutes, giving a stir once in a while to keep the leeks from burning. Add the white wine.  Add the rice, and stir until the edges of the rice grains become transparent.  When each has a large white dot in the middle, you are done. Empty the pan into the rice cooker.  Dump the corn into the rice cooker.  Pour the chicken stock in, stir everything up, close it, and set for the Porridge cycle.

Go put your feet up, have a glass of wine, hang out with company, anything but stand there over a hot stove stirring until your arm wants to fall off. When the rice cooker beeps, put the butter in and give it a stir.  Wait a few moments, then put the chives, cheese, and basil oil in and give it a stir.  Serve.

Serve this with a simple salad.

Finish up with the pie:

Cherry Pie with Coconut Crumble

1 crust pie shell

For topping
1/2 C flour
1/2 C (packed) light brown sugar
1/3 C rolled oats (NOT quick-cooking or instant)
1/2 C coconut flakes
1/4 t salt
1 t ground cinnamon
1/4 C (1/2 stick) chilled butter, cut into small pieces

For pie
2.5 lbs fresh cherries
2/3 C sugar
juice of 1 good-sized lime
grated zest from the same lime
2 T quick-cooking tapioca (be certain that you have got the “quick cooking” type)

Mix first 6 ingredients in medium bowl. Add butter; rub in with fingertips until mixture resembles coarse meal. Cover and refrigerate.

Preheat oven to 425°F.

Use the cherry pitter to rid your cherries of their pits.  Wear an apron while you are doing this, because some mess is inevitable.  Be aware that your fingers and any dry cuticles on the nails will take on a crimson hue: if you’re having company that you’d rather not frighten, wear a pair of those cheap latex-free gloves that you can buy in a big sack from the grocery store.  Mix the pitted cherries with the sugar, lime juice, lime zest, and tapioca in a bowl, and dump the lot into the waiting pie crust.

Put the pie on a baking pan that you don’t care very much about, or use aluminum foil to cover the pan.  This pie will boil over.  If you use the foil-covered pan approach, I strongly suggest giving the pan a spritz of non-stick spray before covering it with the foil.  Sounds like belt + suspenders, but this advice comes from Ugly Experience. Bake the pie for 15 minutes. Pull it out, knock the oven temp down to 375°F. Pat the topping over pie. Bake until done (about 50 minutes).  Pie should be boiling over, as predicted. Coolat least 30 minutes if you don’t want to be peeling the skin off the roof of your mouth.

                                                                                                                           

*Hahaha, just kidding.  Roy is going to be reading this in New York and I’m counting on the vision of a table loaded with my vegetarian home-cooking to draw him home, maybe even a little early.  And if the vision of the groaning vegetarian board doesn’t do the trick, the fact that the air-conditioning is busted in his mother’s apartment in the City, where temps are up near three-digits, may speed his return.

Race Point Dunes

Race Point, Cape Cod. No good link with cherries and corn other than the powerful statement that It’s SUMMER!

Advertisements

Dude, Where’s My Ball?

Standard

Well, it finally happened.  I guess it had to at some point.

We moved off of the driving range, and on to a Real Golf Course.

We waited for the absolute slowest time of day for the course, naturally, and we picked a 9-hole course.

And that’s all good, because it took us three (3) hours to play nine (9) holes of golf…even with a golf cart.

I was happy because only once did we almost sort-of possibly get lost and wind up hitting from a tee towards the wrong hole, and we fixed that before we sent any balls off.  And, I will admit, driving a cart around the course, on the grass and over rickety wooden bridges and stuff?

It rocks.

This, by the way,  was the Golf Course of Legend, the one where the guy hit off the fourth tee, sent his ball onto the adjacent roadway, where it hit a moving car, and bounced back onto the course and rolled right into the hole…for an Automotive-Mediated Hole-In-One.

No shit, there I was.  Or there I wasn’t, since this happened in the 90s, long enough ago that the arbor vita that were planted right behind that hole in the hopes of keeping any more insurance claims from passing motorists off the backs of the golf course had grown right up into proper tree-sized shrubs.

That’s right.  No chance of any further car-assisted holes.  Still, it felt like a Moment of History as we stood there at the women’s t and faced the road.

It was a Moment of History, too.  Personal history.  Recent history.  Because – as with nearly every tee-off we made on this course, the sound of the club THWACKING the ball was followed within 2 minutes by one or the other of us calling out “Where is my ball?”  or “Where did the ball go?” or “Did you see where that fell?”

Or, in my case, because I am sorry to admit, I turn out to be a “short hitter” the TWHACK of club-on-ball was most often followed by a muttered profanity.  And – after the third hole, wherein I lost five balls – yes, that is five (5) golf balls lost to the woods or to water on one (1) SINGLE HOLE – by a sigh, and a statement like “Oh, no, not again.” or “Blast.  It figures.” or “ROY! I need another ball honey!!”

Week before last, before the vicious heat wave socked us into immobility, Roy and I had planned this Outing To The Links.  We were actually on our way late one afternoon, when I said “Stop.”  Roy did not stop, so I said it again. “Stop, I said.”

Roy has something of vital importance in common with Buster “I Don’t Need Any Special Moniker Because I’m That Damned Cool” Kitty and Huey “That’s The Wonder Horse To You, Buddy”.  And that would be a near-total disinclination to listen to anything I’m saying, let alone follow directions, unless persuaded that listening and following on are the Path Of Least Effort.  I’ve said it once, I’ll say it again.  Ten years with Roy is what prepared me for the Prince Of The Horse Kingdom.

So Roy did not stop, but at least he initiated a negotiation.  “Why?” he said, as he continued driving toward the course like an arrow loosed from the bow.

“We can’t go to the course yet.” I said.

“Yes we can.  We’re doing it right now” he said. “If we don’t do it now, when will we do it?”

“Er,” I said. “We can do it after we buy golf balls and tees?  Because right now, we have one (1) ball and zero (0) tees, and I’m pretty sure that the Real Golf Course will not be supplying the first in a bucket, and the second in the form of a strange rubber tube sticking up from the grass.”

So off to the Wal-Mart we went, where I concluded that the Industrial Pak of tees was the one for us, while Roy located a large net sack of recycled golf balls.  I filled up the ball pocket on each of our golf bags, and stuck the other half of the Sack O Balls on our porch.  I felt that we might lose one or two, and that somewhere around August would need to refill.

Hey.  We both completely suck at golf.  What do we care whether the balls are recycled or not?  We’re so bad that we can’t even see “golf handicap” from where we stand.  We’re just lucky when the ball doesn’t dribble out of the tee box…or almost as bad, the ball doesn’t get lofted 40 feet in the air on the drive, and drop to the earth 10 feet from where we stood to hit it off.  So, the Big Bag O’ Balls it was.

We didn’t get to use any of this properly until this afternoon, when we arrived to find – thankfully – that the golf course was virtually deserted.  Deserted except for the party immediately ahead of us, that is.  We stood there at the Women’s tee…because even though Roy almost qualifies for the Senior Citizen’s tee, we both know we need all the help we can get.  And we regarded the party currently occupying the putting green on Hole 1.

Then, because golf appears to be about, in equal parts, hitting, walking, cursing, and arguing, we had our First Argument On The Links.  We couldn’t figure out whether it was OK to tee off with those guys on the green.  On the one hand, we needed to get things moving before our feet got cold and we quit, or before another party came up to sandwich us in between two (2) batches of Actual Golfers.  On the other hand, we felt that it might be Poor Form to tee off with someone on the green.  On the third hand, neither one of us had the chutzpah to think that the ball we were about to hit was going to get anywhere near that green.  On the fourth hand, we weren’t sure where it would go.  Think of it this way:  the ball could dribble off the tee, in which case we’d just sneak out and put it back and take a Do-Over.  Or we could hit it hard and fast, and get it halfway there.  Neither one of these presented a danger to the party on the green.  OR we could wait for a minute, let them clear the green, and then wallop the ball off the tee only to have it go long and hard and curve way the heck off the fairway in the direction of the second tee, thus catching up with the very people we’d hoped to avoid hitting.  Neither one of us assigned a very high probability to the ball actually going to the green.

And quite right we were.  We decided that the “safest” thing to do would be to let the party ahead of us clear the green and move on.  At which point Roy teed off, and by golly, sent his ball long and hard and curving way the heck off the fairway in the direction of the second tee, thus catching up with the very people we’d hoped to avoid hitting.  I watched it curve, and belatedly bellowed FORE!!! in the same voice I use when I catch Huey trying to dig a hole down to China with his hoof while standing tied at the hitching post.

Then I teed off, and sent my ball directly into the woods.

The driving range is easier.  You don’t have to keep track of the balls, you just have to hit them.  Also, the driving range is pretty light on “woods”.

It’s also light on “water” which we ran into right away, because while my ball actually hit a tree and bounced back to the edge of the fairway – where I clocked it off and sent it onto the green (and in only two additional strokes!!), Roy located his ball lying just short of the second tee, and clocked it off and sent it directly into the creek, where it was Lost To All Mankind.  The golf course is named after a brook, and nine holes there is enough to let me know why that is.  In Texas, it would be because “Beaver Brook Golf Course” sounds all country and festive.  Here, it’s because there is a brook, and beavers who have made little lakes.  I don’t know that every one of the nine holes had that damned creek running through it, or beaver ponds on it, but if not, it must have been an administrative oversight.

The second hold came off with some reasonable amount of time, and only one more lost ball.  Somewhere in there I actually made par on one of the holes.  The fourth, I think, the Car Hole.  It’s not easy for me to remember because the third hole was so traumatic.

I knew it was going to be bad when I saw that it was a par 5, and when we had trouble finding the flag that marks the hole.  No shit, there we were, standing on the Women’s tee – the one closest to the hole, and peering about.  “Is that it?” I said.  “Nah,” Roy said.  “Those guys on that green aren’t the ones who are in front of us.”  “There it is,” he said.  “Nope,” I said.  “The tee boxes aren’t facing in the right direction for that to be our hole.”  Finally we located a tiny pennant hidden off in the mists of great distance, and agreed that this must be our hole.

I’d checked the little bas-relief map of the hole that is provided next to the Real Golfer Tees (i.e., the Men’s tee and the Pro tee).  It revealed that the bloody brook was cutting across the fairway again, and that the putting green was surrounded on three sides by bunkers, also known as “sand traps”.  What it did not reveal was that the putting green was located on a veritable butte, and that it was surrounded on all sides by an unbelievably steep pitch that was designed to funnel your ball away from the hole and directly into the maw of the bunkers.

“Be careful,” I said.  “You’ll either need to hit really long and hit over that blasted brook, or you need to hit short and take two strokes to get up to the green.”

Ha. Ha. Ha.

That was all quite true, I should note.  The strategy on that hole really does require considering whether to go long or short.  The only error in my thinking was in supposing that this line of reasoning had anything at all to do with either one of us.

And I say this because Roy teed off, and hit the ball all of 18 inches.  He picked it back up and teed off again. This time it went perhaps three feet.

I was able, through Great And Determined Effort, to avoid saying something like “I didn’t mean to go that short.”

This is because Roy was lining up for his third go with a 3-wood, and even though I can face down Huey in a Dramatic Moment, and tell off Buster Kitty with impunity, I do have a shred of a self-preservation instinct.

On his third try, Roy hit the ball twenty yards down the fairway, where it landed in the rough.  He sighed.

Then it was my turn, and clearly that tee is Cursed.  My first go sent the ball six (6) feet away.  My second go sent the ball into the woods, where it was Lost To All Mankind.  I fetched another ball from the bag, and sent that one, likewise, into the woods.  Eventually, I hit a good (short) drive and landed my ball on the fairway.  While Roy hiked out to his all in the rough, I hiked to my ball on the fairway.  I had swapped out for the 5-hybrid, commonly known as the “Rescue Club”.  I gave the ball a firm wallop with that club, whereupon it went directly into the blasted brook.  I hiked back to the cart, got another ball. That one, likewise, went directly into the brook.  Finally, I played a ball from where Roy’s next stroke landed, and managed to send that ball directly into the brook as well.

At this point, the vision of Charlie Brown’s Kite-Eating Tree was unavoidable.

Five balls.  I lost five balls.  I managed to lose five (5) FIVE balls on a single hole.

Roy lost another few, and then I lost another few.

Then I realized that golf consists, in equal parts, of hitting, walking, cursing, and arguing AND saying “Did you see where my ball went?, “Where’s my ball?” and “Damn. I just lostanother one!”

Somewhere around Hole 5, maybe Hole 6, Roy confessed to me that he was nearing the bottom of his pocket of balls.  “What do I do?” he said.

I thought for a minute.  “We play until we run out of balls, that’s what.”

Yep.  That’s golf.  You play until you run out of balls.  Yogi Berra couldn’t have put it any better.

I was happy to find, as I made my way between the 9th tee and the 9th hole, in the trees and on the other side of the trees, stopping every fifty feet or so to hit my ball another fifty feet in the vague and general direction of the hole, that another party was in the process of teeing off on the 1st.  As I searched for my ball in the rough (again) I heard it:

FORE!!!!

right before a ball dropped out of the sky and fell three feet away from me, directly into a gigantic mud puddle left by a pair of tractor wheels rolling across ground that was too wet to support it.

After another few 50-foot hikes, I saw him, the golfer who obviously was the one yelling “Fore”.  He radiated it from every pore:  Dude! Where’s my ball?

I advised him that he’d find it behind me on the muddiest spot on the entire course, and that he’d need to hit it back across the 9th fairway and onto the 1st fairway, as there was no unobstructed line of sight between the vasty mud puddle that was the ball’s current resting place, and its ultimate destination of the 1st hole.

Yep.

You play until all the balls are gone.

It Is All Being Very Silly Now.

Standard

It is being very silly now, and it is mostly my rider.  You know I am teaching her to ride.  She is not being the best rider I have ever had, but she is almost being the worst one.  I have taught her to canter, and now she wants me to do that all the time.  Always she is putting her leg on to say Canter! and I am not always feeling like doing that work!  I would rather be eating grass, you know.  Or I would like to be making sure that new guy know that I am the Boss here, but my rider is not even letting me sniff that horse’s nose.  A bunch of the horses got to go to a show, but I did not.  I thought it would be good, because then I could go eat all of their hay, but it did not work like that.  I just had to stay in my paddock.  The one with the dirt.

Even my rider was getting to go to the show!  She told me she did not ride some other horse, but I do not understand why a rider would go to a show and not ride a horse.  What do you do at a show without a horse?  She said she had to go make sure the show was something we could do together.  I said Rider, that is silly.  I love to go to shows, and I am good at going to shows.  What else is there to know?  But she said Huey, I do not know if I am good at going to shows, so I need to find out.  I told her I would take care of that, but she went anyway and left me at home.

So that was silly.

Then another day she wanted me to be the running over sticks horse.  I said No. I am the jumping horse, and I jumped.  And she smacked me with the Magic Stick but guess what?  It did not work!!!! I did not have to stop jumping those sticks!!  She said Huey, you should not do that.  But I just said I want to.  I do not want to run over those sticks.  I want to jump.

And I did.

It has been a long time since I got to jump a real jump.  All it is now is sticks lying on the ground.  Not even logs.  I used to go over very tall fences!  Fences that are as tall as I am, and I am a very tall horse!!!!!  But I do not go over those any more.  My rider said it is bad on my legs.  I said my legs do not hurt.  She said if I was a jumping horse again, they would.  Maybe she is right.  When I was a jumping horse before, my legs did hurt sometimes.  But I still want to jump!!!  I love to jump!!!!

Today, my rider made me run over the sticks anyway.  We were having a lesson.  I do not jump the sticks as much when we are having a lesson, because then I will have to stop if someone is watching us.  That someone will tell my rider the Magic Way to make me not do that.  So that is not as good.  But today, my rider and that someone did it anyway.  I saw those sticks come out and I said I am jumping them again! But my rider made me go too fast to jump.  You have to go fast to jump, but it is a special way of going fast, and this was not the right way.  So I realized when I got there I was not going to be able to jump them and I did not want to run over them.  And what happens then is that I bonked one with my hoof.

This is bad.  I am not a bonking things with my hoof horse.  If I were that kind of horse, I would not be able to be a jumping horse at all!!!  So I do not like to bonk things.

Then it got really bad.  We were trotting, and then my rider squeezed the reins and squeezed me with her legs and I found myself going very fast!  But it was not the way I like to go fast, which is when my legs just move a lot faster.  This was a going faster that was more work.  I had to make my trot big instead of just fast, and I had to lift my belly.  It was hard!

I did not want to do that.  I said Rider! What are you doing up there! And she said I am asking you to make a long trot and lift your belly, Huey!  But I said I do not want to do that, it is hard!  And she said You have to do it anyway.   It is good for your back.

Well.  I ask you.  I have been teaching this crummy rider how to ride, and I have put up with her flopping on my back and poking me with heels and every other single thing.  And now, I have to do this too?

I said No.  And to let her know I meant No, I threw my head up into the air!  I have not done this for a long time, but it is a very good way to let your rider know that they are asking for something that is Not OK.  I threw my head up and I said RIDER!  I am teaching you to ride, and I do not want to teach you to do that!! You should stop!!

I thought she would stop then, because other riders have.  But she said No.  Huey, you are teaching me to ride!  And one thing you are teaching me right now is how to get a horse do what I want him to when he does not want to do it.  MAKE THE BIG TROT, Huey.

That is a shocking thing, to have this happen.  I threw my head around some more because I thought maybe she just did not understand.  But she just held on to those reins and she kept making me make the big trot, and she said Huey, you need to behave yourself.  Stop throwing your head around.  Now.

Well, after a minute of all that head throwing, it wasn’t making her stop making me make the big trot.  And then I realized it was harder to make that big trot if my head was all the way up in the air.  Besides, I cannot see through my own nose.  So I put my head back down, and you know what?  That big trot was a lot easier when I did that.  The rider said See, Huey?  You can do this!  And then she made me run through those sticks.

I do not know what to say.  My rider should just do what I want her to do, not all the time be making me do stuff I do not feel like doing.  Who is the teacher here?!?!

So that is a silly thing too, that rider being tough on me like that.

Then here is the last silly thing.  Yesterday, the V came again.  I did not think it was time for a shot, and it was not.  I had to get the poky needle thing again.  But this time my rider had a huge pocket full of my favorite apple treats.  The V was there messing around on my back, but I did not care, because all I could think was how to get my nose into that pocket.  My rider kept bringing one out for me, and she let me lick her hand until I got carried away and tried to chew her finger.  It was a mistake!  That finger is the same size as the apple treat, and it tasted like the apple treat.  How was I supposed to know it was not the apple treat?  But I did not get in trouble.  I just did not get to lick the apple off her hand any more.  That was not so great.  But it was interesting because guess who was there?

You will never guess this, so I will tell you:  it was also my rider.  I have not seen that rider in a very long time!  She was not my rider, not like my rider now it.  She just rode me sometimes.  She is a better rider than the rider I have now, but almost all of the riders are, so that is not saying much.  But it has been a very long time, and there was my new rider, and there was one of my old riders.  I thought I was going to get to jump!!! That is what I did with the old rider, and maybe this was why she was there!!

But no.  That did not happen.  Instead, the old rider said Oh, hi Cosmo!  That was my name before my name was Huey.  Cosmo.  It was my name for a very long time.  So my old rider said Hi Cosmo! And my new rider said You know this horse?  And I said I am not ‘this horse’.  My name is Huey.  And Cosmo.  But they were not paying attention to me, they were talking. And they talked talked talked talked, and then my old rider took a picture of me to show that she really did know me.  I said You people are being silly.  That rider knows who I am, and so do you!  But they still were not paying attention to me.

There was a lot of excitement and then my rider (my new one, who gives me the carrots and stuff) said to me Huey!  You are really Cosmo?

But I said Huey, Cosmo, that is all OK.   And then she said Huey, you did not tell me about this.  But I said What is there to tell?  I am The Wonder Horse.  That is all that is important.

Now my rider is all excited like a foal, because she said she found out who my daddy is.  She said he is famous.  I do not know.  I never met him.  She said he is a famous jumping horse.  I said I am a famous jumping horse!!!  Then she said I am a dutch warmblood.  Maybe that is true, whatever that is.  She said it was a special kind of jumping horse, and dancing horse.  I said I am a special kind of jumping horse! And I will be a special kind of dancing horse too!

That is because I am The Wonder Horse.  That is all I know.  I think it is all that matters.  That, and carrots. And grass.  And apple treats.  And pink salt.  And a new sticky ball, that matters too because I ate my last one.  And being sure that all the other horses in the barn know that I am The Wonder Horse.  That is what is important.

huey_clean01

This is me. I guess I can be a dutch warmblood too. And if I saw my famous sire, I would have to make sure that HE knows that I am The Wonder Horse. That would be something for HIM to be proud of!

Localized Drop In Entropy

Standard

Everyone got your rice-and-bean entroposcope?  Hit LIKE if you get that reference!! In the meantime, enjoy the ride.

I just love a scintillating cascade of coincidence, and the bigger, the better.

We have one set of coincidence, happening about 18 months ago.  This set involved a trip to the local horse auctions by my barn owner, who was looking for a horse for her soon-to-be-stepdaughter.  Had a particular one in mind, as I hear it.  While waiting for that horse to come up, another horse comes up. This one is super scruffy, beat up from a bad tangle with some wire, swaybacked, and clearly a problem to handle on the ground.  Not exactly the kind of creature that makes a prospective buyer want to stand up and yell “I want that one!”  Coincidentally, my barn owner both has an obvious soft spot for the hard-luck story, and an ability to see further into a millstone than most (thank you R. Kipling)…or at least, an ability to disregard superficial elements and focus on the substantive ones.  Because, as I have heard it, she noticed this scruffy rag-bag nag put on a Show Face for the auction display, and knew that this horse was more than he appeared, and stood up to say I want that one.

Then we have another set of coincidences last summer, where I met the rag-bag, cleaned up now, with a little more polish on his manners, and fell in love with him instantly.  Because I, too, have a soft spot for the hard-luck story (even though I didn’t even know there was a hard-luck story here), and I can see further into a millstone than most.  Where my trainer, I think, saw a horse with some serious breeding and major training under the mess, what I saw was a decent looking horse with a great personality, a bottomless patience, and a huge heart, a horse that was willing to meet me where I was as a rideer, which was not very far at all.  And then the coincidence that just as my trainer was deciding that the hard-luck story wasn’t really cut out for a low-level lesson program, as he got confused and stressed out by having a lot of different riders, I had decided that I was ready at last to start looking around for a horse of my own.  It was bashert, as they say in Yiddish.  It was Meant To Be.  And that is how the rag-bag nag shed his Secret Identity and emerged from the phone booth in his Real Identity as The Wonder Horse.

The rest of that is a matter of public record in these archives.

Yet, even the knowledge that we were in the presence of The Wonder Horse did not entirely slake our curiosity.  We asked, “How did he come to be The Wonder Horse?” and “Whose Wonder Horse was he before?” and “How did The Wonder Horse happen to go into hiding as a rag-bag nag?”

Yet, no answers were available.  Every investigation led to a dead end.  People thought they might have known him or seen him before, but always this has turned out to be another red herring.

It seemed we were all destined to go to our graves with the great unanswered question: Whence The Wonder Horse?

In the immortal words of the Man In Black: Get used to disappointment.

And we did.  Yet the universe had yet another surprise in store.  The entropy dropped like a rock this morning.

Huey The Wonder Horse was on deck for an acupuncture treatment for his chronic low-grade GI issues.  He was one of five horses that needed to be seen, so there was a lot of activity about the barn while we all waited.  Finally a truck pulled in.  “That’s the vet!” I said. “Oh, no, I guess it’s not.  That’s a guy with a ponytail.”

The barn owner said “He has a Driver.”

The Driver and another minion hopped out and started bustling.  I rounded up The Wonder Horse from his stall and bunged him into the cross-ties to await the vet’s acupunctuary attention.

While we were waiting for the vet, Minion 2 arrived, a young woman with a clipboard to take notes.  She regarded Huey for a minute, and then said “Oh! So this is where he wound up!”

It took a second for my brain to catch up with this entirely unexpected conversational opening.

“Wait, what?” I said. “You know this horse?”

“Oh, yes.” she said. “That’s Cosmo, right?”

“His name here is Huey.” I said. “But you know this horse?”

“Oh, yes.” she said again. “I rode him for years.”

WHAT!?!?!??!?

“You know this horse?!?!?” I said again, like a busted record.  Like I said, I didn’t have my entroposcope, and didn’t see that the beans and rice had separated in the jar.

“Oh yes.  He was at [name of local very elite very horsey private school]. I’ve ridden him many times.  Does he still throw his head up in the air when you ask him to go fast?”

“Ah. Yes.  I don’t encourage that.  We’re learning dressage.”

“Oh, he was a jumper when I knew him before.  He loves to jump. He would jump anything.  He could jump over the moon!”

Then the vet came and everything was work for a few minutes, but I was just bursting with questions.

“Did this horse you knew, was he really willing?”

“Oh, yes.  And he listened really well too.”

“This is really that horse?”

“I’m 99% sure of it.”

More of a pause for the actual vet work.

“Did this horse you knew, did he do a thing with his lip?”

“Oh, yes!  His lip flapped all the time in the ring!  It was hilarious – he’s going along like a speed train, flapping that lip, making it pop!  It made a big mess with his spit, but it was funny!”

And that’s when I knew.  The horse she knew really was my Wonder Horse.

I shared this information with my barn owner, who took it with the grain of salt it deserved, given the prior dead-end leads.  But Minion #2 shot off a text message to the trainer at Elite Horsey Private School to make sure that the horse she knew had been retired, and so it was.  So then she took some pictures of him with her phone and messaged them over to trainer, who confirmed that yes, my Huey The Wonder Horse was their Cosmo, simply known as Cosmo. Either they had more than one Wonder Horse, or they didn’t realize he was The Wonder Horse.  No telling…  Subsequent e-mail correspondence yields the information that the hock problem he had last summer is the thing that ended his GP show-jumping career, and the suspensory thing that gave us trouble this spring is what sent him into retirement.  Presumably, they retired him to what they thought was a Good Home, and which turned out some way to be Not Such A Good Home.

Well, he’s got one now, that’s what I say.  A Good Home, that is.  Black Beauty he ain’t – more like Giant Glowing Red Beauty – but the end of this story is going to be the same:  here he is, and here he stays.

So – he passes through the hands of some very responsible owners, somehow into the hands of less responsible owners, and now he’s the pet of the barn.  This is a horse with a Lucky Star.  And I’m an owner with an equally Lucky Star.  If this is what happens when entropy drops, I’ll take it.

Now if I can only keep him from jumping over the blasted ground poles…

I know my rider is all excited because she says she knows who I am now. That is silly, because she always did. And so did I. I am The Wonder Horse!

Postcards from a New England Summer

Standard

Thank heavens the heat wave broke.  I came back from my Texas Junket to accusations that I’d somehow packed up the Gulf Coast Climate and checked it in my bags through to Hartford.  No, really – the entire time I was sweltering back in the Homelands, I was getting call after call after call from Roy, the content of which was almost entirely “You will not BELIEVE how amazing the weather is here right now!! Oh, yeah, miss you.”  And yet, within 24 hours of my return, the Home Away From Home was plunged into a ghastly heatwave featuring, well, the exact same weather I had in Houston.  Temperatures, dewpoints, head indices, and all.

Dewpoints, for those of you who are unversed in assessing weather misery through the use of quantitative data, are the Real Misery Indicator.  Forget the relative humidity – that’s just a function of how close the air temps are to the dewpoint.  You can have 80% relative humidity and still be very comfortable, if the dewpoint and the temperature are both low.  On the other hand, as I type, the relative humidity in Houston is 42%, even though the area is a veritable Swamp of Suffering.  I know this because the air temp is 100.3, and the dewpoint is 73.  The heat index reflects this reality, in showing that it feels like (i.e., is as miserable as if) it is 112 degrees.

Dewpoints > 70 = Hellishly Humid to normal human beings.  The only exception of which I am personally aware to this rule is my buddy Greg, who shares genetic material with tropical amphibians.  If you really want to know, based on forecasted data, whether it’s going to be so sticky today that you want to take advantage of indoor entertainment opportunities, or so sticky tonight that you want to run the air conditioner, check on the information on this site.  There is a great deal of interesting technical information rendered into Common English, but the most important bit to me is that little chart under “So How Does Dew Point Feel?”

This is one reason that I like wunderground.  Instead of providing simple forecasts of temperature and precip probability, those dudes are forecasting dewpoints right along with it.  And if you look at the “hourly” forecasts, they have little bar graphs showing the forecasted air temp and the forecasted dewpoint on the same bar for each forecasting interval.  In general, the further apart those two numbers I am, the happier I am.  In the summer, that is.  It’s much less important to me in the winter.  The other groovy thing you get from this hourly forecast is – if you know how to read it – you can see approximately when some front is expected to pull through.  In the summer, this usually means dropping the humidity, with or without big storms.  In Texas, anything that drops the humidity in the summer is almost guaranteed to involve positively cataclysmic storms.  It’s also guaranteed to be short-term.  As in, maybe a few hours, before the sticky factor starts to rise again.  Here, at least, it should be several days.

Why is this all so important, and why am I so glad about the weather breaking, since my house and car are equipped with A/C?  It’s got to do with Huey The Wonder Horse, of course.  Everything has to do with Huey The Wonder Horse.  Just ask him.

Huey is getting worked at my pathetically feeble level 5 times a week right now.  I’ve got to get in the riding while the riding is good.  And we’re doing all three gaits (I think only racehorses consider galloping part of a regular workout).  We’re doing some conditioning, we’re doing leg yields, and Huey tells me that we’re going to have to start doing something else too because otherwise, he’s going to get bored.  B. O. R. E. D.  I told him that when he can demonstrate the stuff we’re doing on a consistent basis, we can move on.  He told me I ought to be learning faster, because it’s not his fault if I send him some cue that he confuses to mean “leg yield” when it should mean “canter”.  I told him that he is Smart enough to figure these things out and go with them, and that if he doesn’t stop jumping over the blasted cavaletti we are NEVER going to get to move on.  He said he doesn’t always do that, but since the only time he doesn’t is when we’re having a lesson and my trainer can figure out what I need to do to fix it, that”s going to take Some Time.  Then he went off about how he ought to be going out on the grass like all the other horses, and getting more carrots, so we kind of dropped it…at least for a little while.

Anyway, I am not the Heartless Creature that my cat says I am when I oblige him to get off my bed so I can make it in the mornings, or when I won’t let him sleep on my knees at night.  And because of this, I do not like to work HTWH when it’s hot and sticky outside.  I know quite well that he’s already very patiently putting up with all kinds of stuff from me that he didn’t have to deal with before he became The Wonder Horse (flopping in the saddle sometimes, accidental jabs in the side from improperly positioned heels, yanking on the mouth, etc.) and so I feel a Moral Obligation to work him at the least onerous times of the day.  When it’s vilely hot and sticky that means First Thing In The Morning.  So days of late have found me bounding limply out of bed at an Unnatural Hour, staggering in to brush my teeth, fumbling into riding breeches and a rotating selection of shabby t-shirts, and stumbling off to the barn for a Morning Work Out.  I should note, here, that when I arrive at the barn at this Unnatural Hour, the stable hands or barn owner invariably are half-way done with what I suspect to be the 5 hour job of getting all the horses turned out (or in, with the heat), feeding them, watering them, and cleaning the stalls and paddocks.  So it’s not so much that I’m ill-used as it is that I would be a Better Rider at a later hour of the day.

The break in the weather that arrived on Saturday came at a particularly auspicious moment, given my Masta Plan for the day:  Attend Horse Show as General Unpaid Day Labor, return home to make picnic dinner, and travel to Tanglewood for the Diana Krall concert, where Roy and I had tickets in the Shed and in a very good location in the Shed.

Saturday taught me that while I may have considered earlier periods to involve rising at an Unreasonable Hour, I was wrong.  This is because Horse Shows here, unlike the kind I remember from my teenage years, are All Day Affaires, and require the horses to all be loaded up and pulling out in order to get to the Show Grounds around 7am.

7am is the time of day when I like to roll over in bed, glance at the clock, and congratulate myself on having a job that requires late nights rather than early mornings, dislodge the cat again from his nest on my knees, and fall promptly back to sleep.

On Saturday, however, it is the moment that found me arriving at the Show Grounds for this marvelous small rural Horse Show.  I am assured that these shows are usually more densely populated, but the presence of a Competing Event (someother Horse Show) drained off some of the Usual Crowd and made for a smaller event.  This turns out to be a Good Thing for a couple of reasons.  But before I go into those, I should make note of the fact that I did not, repeat NOT have HTWH en train for this affaire.

This was not without it’s minor drama, I assure you.  Huey was entirely aware that a show was on tap, because a bunch of the horses got baths, and got braided, and went into slinkies, or sleazies, or whatever they’re called.  These things are completely hilarious from a Certain Perspective, and completely pragmatic from others.  Huey is not alone in his desire to get as grubby as possible as fast as possible, and the sleazies keep that from happening.  They also keep horse from undoing the painstaking hours of work that went into braiding manes, combing tails, etc.  That doesn’t change the fact that they create the atmosphere of an extraordinarily risque sort of Halloween party in the barn.

So Huey knew what all that meant, and he knew what it meant when horses in sleazies were getting loaded up into trailers at the crack of dawn.  And when I showed up to Fetch & Carry, he had a very brief moment of excitement that we might be getting to go to the show as well. Alas, it was not to be.  I did tell him that I was going to a show, and he wanted to know why he was not going to a show.  I explained that I needed to go to the show to find out how shows work here and make sure that we could go to a show together.  Huey has a Supreme Confidence in himself and scorned the notion that he would not be able to go to a show.  Because, as he said, he has been to shows.  I explained as best I could that I had not, and that I needed to check it out first.  He assured me that he would be able to handle whatever, so I had to remind him that since I am the Leader, it only matters that I know, not that he know. Then it was all OK.

The show, itself, was not at all what I’m used to.  First, it was at a dedicated show grounds rather than at a host barn.  Second, everything else.  I was used to these hunter-jumper shows where it was one horse in the ring at a time, and it was all about making the jumps and keeping very good form while doing so.  I hadn’t ever seen showing on the flat (other than at dressage shows, which were just coming into vogue when I left to go to school). This show had groups of horses and riders – from what I could tell, the same horse was entered by more than one rider at times, which would make sense for the lesson barns.  Why bring six horses when three will do?  And the show started with people handling their horses from the ground.  This was both slightly tedious and somewhat interesting.

It was tedious because, well, it involved lots of strange people and strange horses walking down a row and having the horse stand square, then trotting for a very short bit and executing a turn.  About as interesting as watching figure skaters do an “8” on the ice over and over and over again.

It was interesting because it was extremely revealing about the difference in approaches to horse handling between trainers and barns, as well as the vast differences in the relationships that different riders have with their horses.  And you got to see a lot of the differences in the horses’…I don’t know what the right word is, personalities? temperaments? training? teamwork with the riders?  I’m not sure.

One of the first things I saw when I got to the show, unfortunately, was a shocking display of temper between human and horse.  Right as I pulled in, one of the horses that was tied up to a trailer panicked and pulled back.  “Ah,” I said. “I know where this is going, because Huey has done that before!”.  But I was wrong.  One thing I’ve learned about HTWH is that he has a super-tuned hair-trigger nervous system, and he reacts before he thinks.  Yeah, I know this is true of horses in general. But Huey’s reactions are HUGE, and – having gone into Reacto-Drama mode, he does start “thinking” pretty quickly, and he settles down really fast…unless something happens to escalate the situation.  So when Huey starts wigging out, what seems to work best is for me to get as Super Mellow as I can, and to do that as super-fast as possible.  Throwing a mental blanket of Calming Vibes helps, as does keeping in verbal contact with him while he’s freaking.  Also, I don’t tie him down hard.  There’s a way of tying on the hitching post that lets the rope run through under strain, and one that doesn’t.  I’ve learned to use the first.  And if he freaks while I’ve got him on the lead-line, I just have to go with him and stay there until he settles down, which he will do pretty quickly if I don’t blast gas on the fire.  So I watched this little drama unfolding in front of me, only this horse had been tied with the way that doesn’t let the rope run through, and so what happened was the halter blew.  They are designed to do that, for this very reason.  Unfortunately, the people with this horse were of the “blasting gas on the fire” type, and responded to this situation by screaming, which anyone could have told them would just make things worse.  This was all going down right on my route of travel, so I stopped the car, set the brake, turned the engine off, and hoped the poor crazy horse would have sense enough not to plow into my car.  He did – he zipped off at a light-speed canter while cries of “HORSE!” went up all around.  Apparently, shouting “HORSE” is the Right Thing to do when one of them gets loose and rockets off.

Noted.

That wasn’t the shocking display, though.  I regarded this as a probably avoidable incident, but not exactly traumatic. What happened next, though, has been giving me nightmares.  The horse that panicked and blew off was tied up with another horse, a huge guy, who got caught up in the action.  So that trailer, having lost one horse to panic, had another one on its hands.  Possibly they weren’t Blanket Of Calming Vibes kind of horses, but clearly, they were not Blanket of Calming Vibes kind of people.  The ones that remained at the trailer got into a shouting match with the remaining (freaking-out) horses.  And – I was absolutely appalled to witness – one of them stepped up to this panicking tied-up horse, shouted at it at the tops of their lungs, and then – I am not making this up – hauled off and punched that horse in the face.  The horse backed up as far as possible and peeled its lips back from its teeth, and screamed at the person who had just socked it.   I looked at that horse and the first thought in my head was “That horse hates that person, and I wouldn’t want to be around if or when that horse finds itself alone and unfettered with that individual.”

It’s not like I didn’t know that kind of thing happens.  It was just so shocking to see it.  I ask myself if there are any conceivable circumstances under which I would think it a good idea, or find it useful, or be willing to, or even for a fraction of a second, entertain the notion of hitting Huey in anger or punishment.  The answer is an unqualified no.  Or, maybe, a No.  Or, really, I suppose, an UNQUALIFIED NO!!!!!!!

The next thing I did, of course, was to ask myself if there were any conceivable circumstances under which I could imagine anyone doing this to another horse at the barn where Huey lives, and not having Major Repercussions for it, and the answer there, I think, as well, as No.  Hell No. No Damn Way.

It was just so shocking to see this happen.  I’m still shocked.

I wondered what the hell I was in for, thinking of taking Huey to shows, whether that was the kind of stuff I could expect the two of us to be exposed to…but fortunately, there was absolutely none of that in evidence during the rest of the day.  The only drama worthy of note was the mini stallion who was Very Clearly excited to be in the presence of all of these mares; a generalized freak-out amongst the God Fearing Four Foot Walking Horses when the Wheeled Horses showed up for the driving competition (which was, itself, a delight to watch other than that several of the horses were having anincredibly difficult time dealing with it); and one magnificent pinto who wigged out during one of the Western pleasure events, and was handled expertly and with an absolute minimum of fuss by his rider, who used the Blanket of Calming Vibes to settle the horse well enough to dismount without endangering any of the other horses, and promptly took him off for some very sensible groundwork and additional schooling in the nearby warm-up ring.

All in all, very enlightening, and I think I could totally do this with Huey.  He’ll be so glad to know that, I’m sure.

Later, it was a picnic dinner (made by yours truly, rather than purchased at the deli) at Tanglewood.  Tanglewood is the Summer Home of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, and is a locale as much as it is an event, and a school.  The Tanglewood grounds offer idyllic picnicking.  That is, they are weed and (mostly) insect-free, with nice soft short grass that is actually a pleasure to sit on, scattered with grown trees for shade, and with interesting people-watching, if by “interesting people” you mean New Yorkers between the ages of 50 and 80.  The picnic dinner was a smash hit (recipe to follow) and the concert even better.  We’d seen Diana Krall at Tanglewood several years ago at the Fourth of July.  Her kids were toddlers then, and we saw her pushing them around the grounds in a stroller.  This time, we arrived as she was doing a sound-check, which she turned into an impromptu performance.

Diana Krall is a delightful entertainer.  The music is always superior, but she also – once the gig warms up – starts to talk to the audience, and does so in a way that is refreshing, intimate, and wholly fun.  She  clearly doesn’t take herself too seriously, and actually comes off as a little bit dorky…and I mean that in the best possibly way.  Last night, she needed to pause to shoo a pesky moth off of the piano keyboard. And later, that she might have inhaled a bug.   And shared with us an anecdote involving the kids and a trip through the drive-thru.  It boggles the mind.

The entertainment this time, as before, was stellar.  The only thing I have to say is this:  I wish she’d play more of her own music.  I love the standards – no one in this generation can do them like she does.  But the material from “Girl In The Other Room” – an album of original music – is so complex (in all the best ways), so textured, so nuanced, so feeling, so melodically interesting (the influence of Elvis Costello is palpable), and so generally superior to the other original music that is being made available in the contemporary market that I really wish I could hear more of it being performed live.  I do understand – it’s my sense that this album is a public processing of grief upon the death of a family member, and may simply be too painful to perform in public – but at the same time, it is my fondest wish to hear, if not that material, than other original material from this highly talented artist.

I promised a recipe, and here it is.  This one is brilliant.

1/4 C mayo
grated zest from one huge or two small lemons
1 loaf of good French bread, a baguette or a batard.  Something tasty and sturdy, with a crunchy crust, is the idea here.
1 ripe avocados, pitted, peeled, and mashed
2 plum tomatoes, sliced thin
4 oz shaved pecorino cheese. If you don’t have pecorino, then freshly shaved parmesan will do. But pecorino is better
bunch of watercress, washed and coarsely chopped
salt and pepper

Mix the mayo and lemon zest together, and let this sit in a small bowl in the fridge overnight.

The next day, cut the baguette in half long-ways, or cut off thick sandwich-sized slices from the batard.  Slather the lemon mayo over both cut faces.  Put a thick smear of avocado on one slice, then top it with the tomatoes and watercress.  Lay the shaved cheese on top.  Top with the other mayo-covered slice.  Salt and pepper to taste. Wrap tightly with foil and take with you to whatever summer paradise awaits.