Saturday, April 30, 2011

Early Bugs

The bugs are early this year.

Her Best Side!

We've had some relatively mild weather for a couple of weeks now and that's brought the bugs out early!

L is a sensible creature. Mostly. I like how she leaves the end with the fly swatter outside in the sun.

Our last ride I felt like L threw one huge tantrum for the whole trip. She'll do that when the bugs first start coming out and I felt bad. It's really impossible to do anything productive when your mount is tossing their head and furiously kicking at gnats. She even spooked herself once and almost lost me. I think a good hard run would have distracted her but we don't have good hard runs bareback. And I knew too if she was out eating grass she would hardly have noticed the bugs and frankly that irritated me. Which really wasn't fair to her and I felt bad about that too.

I'll make it up to her.

Sunday, April 24, 2011


Are important. A lesson I've learned from my horses.

I was going to get a nice bottle of wine to have with dinner. But you know, I do that often enough. Then the light bulb came on!

The Good Stuff

I stopped by a little Italian market and got this really nice bottle of Volpaia olive oil. It was a real treat. I'll have to have a friend blind taste test me against my daily favorite and see how I really feel about it.

The real star of the weekend however is this celery soup. It's "holy crap" good!

I was watching Top Chef Masters on TV and Naomi Pomeroy made a Celery Velouté that stole the show. So I Googled celery soup recipes and decided I'd try this recipe. Well. I used olive oil instead of butter. I used a Yukon Gold potato. I was amazed. The soup is rich and luxurious and it was just *delicious*.

Cooking Tip - did you know there's something funny about onions and fat? According to America's Test Kitchen, onions take longer to cook in unsaturated fat than saturated fat. Saturated fats are solid at room temperature. So, if you see a recipe that says cook your onions in butter for 2 or 3 minutes, you'll have to cook them for 7 or 8 minutes in olive oil.

This soup will go with just about anything at all and I thought it was especially "Springy". A keeper for sure. Oh, that's chopped parsley garnishing the soup. Chopped parsley was a good choice but my treatment was a little heavy handed. Half that would have been perfect. I always do that. You'd think I'd know by now.

Speaking of treats!

Local honey

I love honey. If you're lucky enough to have local sources for things like this - support them!

Saturday, April 23, 2011

They're baaaaack...

Wednesday afternoon, 20 April, 4:58 pm, the barn swallows came back!

What are you looking at? (June 2003)

I didn't see the scout swallows this year so their arrival wasn't expected. They're not quite as reliable as the miracle swallows are but they're close. Every year they're back at the same time give or take a few days. These are North American swallows. They've been in Costa Rica or Panama all winter.

I don't know exactly what it is about the swallows. Sure their return is as sure a sign of Spring as the peepers. And they eat bugs. Hundreds and hundreds of pounds of bugs. But it's more than that. Their flying skills are just amazing and they always strike me as having fun. They'll fly the length of the barn and come at you right between the eyes. At the last instant they'll cut left or right. They're so close you can see the little hairs around their nostrils. You get used to it and after a couple of days you don't even duck anymore.

And you should see them dive bomb the cats!

In a good year we've lost count of the chicks at around a hundred.

June 2003

And in a bad year? We had that cold wet summer a few years ago, I don't know if any of the chicks survived. That was rather sad. Those birds worked their butts off and there just weren't enough bugs to feed the chicks.

The day the chicks learn to fly is pretty funny stuff. They're obviously clueless and they're scared to death and sometimes it takes a day or two to persuade them to take the leap.

But when they get started there's no stopping them and they make it look like tons of fun!

We call it Flight School.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Under the (Cuban) Influence

Cuban Style Halibut

This was lick the plate good. I'm just sayin'.

Many years ago we had a Cuban influenced seafood restaurant not far from here. I went there often enough. I liked the food. They prepared the second best calamari I ever had. Then they took banana flan off the menu. And I never went back. I'm sure they had some really good data that said the banana flan wasn't making them any money. I find that hard to believe. They folded a year or two later. Well ya. I don't know whatever possessed them to take banana flan off the menu.

So anyway. Here I've been craving Latin style Island Food for a week and I figure I should be able to make something to satisfy my craving. So I researched Cuban fish recipes. I found...nothing. Because they don't eat fish in Cuba. Not much anyway. No really. Cuba is a poor country. Until recently they didn't have refrigeration inland, so they don't eat fish there. The fishermen are the poorest of the poor and they're about the only ones that eat fish. This is what I read anyway. Ok, peasant food works for me and I'm sure they have some lovely dishes but apparently the Cuban fisherman aren't writing cookbooks.

So. What's so Cuban about my halibut? Nothing really. But it was so delicious.

Peel some tomatoes. Put a little cross slit in the end opposite the stem, dip them in some boiling water for 30 seconds and then dip them in cold water. I used Campari tomatoes. They're about the size of ping pong balls and packaged in a plastic box. They're expensive but they're delicious. I used 6 of them for this. Chop them.

Sauté a chopped yellow onion, 4 cloves of finely chopped garlic and a teaspoon of red pepper flakes in some olive oil for a couple of minutes, just until the onions are soft.

Add a cup of dry white wine. Reserve the rest for drinking. I used pinot grigio. Reduce it by maybe half and add the chopped tomatoes. Make sure you get all their liquid. Add a pinch of salt and cook for a few minutes, until the tomatoes start to break down.

Rinse and dry your fish. I used halibut but you can use cod or haddock just as easily, maybe even striped bass. Halibut is just my favorite fish.

Edit: Season your fish with a little salt and pepper!

Add your fish to the cooking liquid, reduce the heat to low and cover it. This is more braised than poached. I'd say start checking to see if it's done in about 7 or 8 minutes. My halibut was done in about 8 and a half minutes. Just use a fork to gently poke at it and see if it's starting to flake. Finish with a liberal amount of chopped cilantro.

I had rice and green beans with my fish.

Don't be afraid to try new things in the kitchen. I over-reduced my braising liquid beyond my intent. It was still delicious. It just didn't run into the rice like I wanted. Next time I'll be a little more careful. I also forgot to finish the braising liquid with a bit of butter. That would have made the sauce a little more silky and luscious.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Other signs

The daffodils are in full bloom but there are other, more notable signs of Spring...

16 April 2011

The season's first dandelion! My Quarter Horse used to *love* dandelions.

I heard the first peepers of the season last Monday, the 11th.

Yesterday afternoon I saw my first White-throated Sparrow of the season. White-throated Sparrows summer in Maine. I used to fish deep in the Maine woods and the White-throated Sparrows forever remind me of the Maine woods. They only pass through here, usually spending no more than a day.

I'll have to start keeping an eye out for fiddleheads when I ride the woods with L!

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Food Fest!

When I changed my eating habits and lost a ton of weight several years ago I made a deal with myself. On Friday night I can eat anything I want. And I can eat as much of it as I want.

That was always chips. Sometimes dip. Bags of Oreos. Ice cream sundaes.

Then about a year ago I started to feel like crap on Saturday morning. Well...anything I want is...anything I want. So I started fixing healthier things to eat that I wouldn't normally have. Big bowls of pasta with cheese. Baked breaded fish with lemon butter sauce.

And that evolved into my weekly 5 course extravaganza I call "Friday Night Food Fest". I do this every week.

Is this a course?
Havana Martini

Maybe not if you look it up on Wikipedia but it is to me! A Havana Martini is a Bacardi Cocktail served in a martini glass. I like some lime zest in mine. I don't drink rum very much. It's hard for me to take rum drinks seriously. Probably because we drank rum when we were teenagers. But every once in a while when I'm in a tropical, island kind of mood I like a rum drink.

Strictly speaking antipasto means "before the meal". I often have a plate of roasted vegetables before the main course but sometimes it's a cheese plate. Yes cheese plates usually come after the main course but it's a light cheese plate. On the left is a bowl of sliced tomatoes with chopped red onions and in the middle is a bowl of marinated mushrooms. Favorite things to nibble.

Cheese Course

That's a bowl of olives off there on the upper right.

I love olives!

Third course! In the wintertime I usually have hot soup here or, at the height of summertime, a cold soup. A fish course is good any time and this is a classic.

Shrimp Cocktail

Never buy cocktail sauce. Just mix a little ketchup, horseradish, lemon juice and worcestershire sauce in a bowl. It's especially nice because you can tweak it to your liking.

By the way. You want to have a sauvignon blanc with a shrimp cocktail. I didn't want to open a bottle just for shrimp cocktail. As far as I'm concerned chianti goes with everything. Except artichokes and asparagus.

Grilled Chicken Salad

Grilled chicken salad with tarragon mayonnaise dressing.
  • 2 cups grilled chicken, chopped
  • 1/4 cup each chopped celery, chopped yellow onion, chopped walnuts, white raisins
  • 1/3 cup mayonnaise. I like Hellman's Light. I still don't have the trick making my own. Every time I try to make mayonnaise it's a disaster.
  • 1/4 cup white wine vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon honey
  • Tarragon, dry or fresh, to taste
Mix the last 4 ingredients into a dressing and mix thoroughly with the other ingredients.

Serve on a bed of chopped lettuce and have a couple of whole wheat pita breads with it. Just scoop some of the salad into a half a pita. It's light, it's refreshing, it's satisfying.

Remember. Dessert is important!

Mint Chocolate Chip ice cream with hot fudge and walnuts

The very best hot fudge sauce is from Brigham's.

I really look forward to Friday night.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Class warfare

The weapon of choice is taxes...

Edit: I know Emancipation Day gave us a couple more days with the IRS but as far as I'm concerned the 15th is still Tax Day.

It's Tax Day. There are a number of quotes out there but it seems the average tax refund is roughly $3000. That's a complete mystery to me.

I usually pay a few bucks. This year my combined net is a $49 payment. Most people complain about paying taxes. I have a problem with all the paperwork I have to do to just to make a $49 payment.

I don't really know what I pay in taxes. I think any payment I make to the government is a tax. Sales tax. Fuel tax. Tolls. Property and excise tax. Various fees. Licenses. Registration. I just don't keep track. I did once and it's a lot. More than you might think.

Most people I know who get refunds act like they think the government is giving them some money. But the fact is the government is just giving them back the amount by which they overpaid. And then there's these places that will give you an advance on your refund. With interest. So you give the government an interest free loan then you borrow against that and pay interest on it. Think about it. That makes no sense at all.

So the real question is why are they overpaying their taxes to begin with? And if the average is refund is $3000 that means for every person like me there's someone getting a $6000 refund. Overpaying by $500 a month. I'll take that $125 a week in my paycheck thanks.

People who get refunds are basically giving the government interest free loans. So why do they do that?

Here. If you're getting a refund you're overpaying your taxes and you need to get a W4 and use page 2 to recalculate your withholding amount.

Now 0.3% interest from my bank is another one of my hot buttons but...I'd rather it was mine than theirs.

Do you *really* think rich people pay too much taxes?

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Spring Cleaning

I have this thing for silver.

Sure it tarnishes. I think that gives it a certain charm actually. And when you polish it nothing sparkles in the sun like sterling silver. The silver is soft enough to engrave easily and hard enough to keep its sharp engraving intact. Steel is too hard to finely engrave and then, even when the artist is able to get a nice engraving, sliver plating fills in the sharp edges.

You really have to hunt for sterling silver. Look for a 925 stamp on it. That's 92.5% silver. Look for Mexican silver. Mexican artists are well known for the high quality of their engraving.

Some years ago I had corresponded with an engraver in Mexico. I don't remember where exactly. This guy had sent me some samples. A language problem left him with the impression I was a dealer looking for a source of supply rather than an individual looking for pieces. The hell of it is these samples were some of the finest engraving I've ever seen and I couldn't get him to quote me on anything less than a 50 piece set. Distresses me to this day. This guy's work should be framed.

I should be ashamed. Every year I swear I'm not going to let my saddle become such a mess. I really have to get a bag to keep it in. Oh I've covered it and that helps but it seems that makes it a cozier place for the mice to hang out.

Before. Eeuuuuw.

After. Nice.

Over the years one finds things that work really well for cleaning tack. And as long as I've been doing this I always think it's not going to be that bad, only to be sitting there 2 hours later wondering what ever possessed me to clean a saddle today?! Western saddles with their tooling can be a"challenge" to clean.

For a really dirty, sweaty, mildewy saddle I think nothing works better than Effax Leder-Combi.

It's expensive. And it doesn't seem to be anything special. But it works wonders when it comes to cleaning.

I don't like the way it conditions however. So for really dirty jobs I use the Leder-Combi first, scrub with a soft nylon brush, follow with a wipe down, and finish with this stuff.

I love the smell of the Leather Therapy Wash and it does a really good job. I think it conditions better than the Leder-Combi does and I used it exclusively until I found the Leder-Combi.

When I'm done and I've let some air move around the saddle I finish it with the Effax Mildew-Free. I got lazy last year and I didn't use the Mildew-Free at the end of the year and I paid for it with a big cleaning job. It's not that bad when I use the Mildew-Free.

And finally for a really nice soft bridle I've been using this stuff for years.

People who work with leather for a living say take care of leather like you take care of your hands. And the Farnum Leather New Balsam is like hand cream. I massage it into a cleaned bridle with my bare hands. Let it sit overnight and it's clean and soft.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Takin' a walk

Make a note! This season's first walk with L.

7 April 2011

I've blogged about this before. Walking with L has to be my single most favorite thing in the world. I can't say why exactly. Everything just seems right with the world when we walk and it took a long time to get there.

Finally this week the footing isn't quite so sloppy and it hasn't been cold and windy. Our first walk of the season always leaves me feeling pretty good. It's a pleasant thing to do on its face and usually the winter is behind us. The threat of ice and snow is past. It's time to clean tack and give some serious thought to goals.

I really have to work on L's canter. She should be "finished" by now and well, our canter is just awful. It's a huge problem. I'm embarrassed to say - I have trouble with leads. I can't always tell when she's on the right lead and she tends to take the wrong lead generally. So it's hard for me to show her what to do with any kind of confidence. She knows that and it interferes with our success.

It's a challenge I need a plan for.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Happy Birthday Sweety!

Today is L's birthday. She's 10 years old!

One beautiful horse

Smile when you do this.

Whatever motivates a horse person to hang out with horses I think fun needs to be a big part of it. We had a boarder at our barn who would smile so much when she was with her horse her face would hurt when she left for the day.

I've often said I think everyone should be as happy with their horse as I am with L. And it's one of the reasons I blog - because it wasn't always that way. I have so many stories to tell I hardly know where to begin.

Yesterday I started a stopwatch when I mounted up. We went off and we did this and we did that. After a time I checked my watch. It said "8 minutes" had elapsed. I'm thinking to myself "gee I'd swear we've been out longer than 8 minutes". We'd warmed up and we'd done some flexing and bending and we'd gone through the 3 gaits. I can feel L getting more fit with every trip now. We were just poking around and L was looking in the direction of the barn like she was thinking "we must be done by now". I furrowed my eyebrows and looked again and saw it was an hour and 11 minutes had passed. My eyes aren't so good anymore. Apparently I didn't see the hour when I'd looked the first time. See. I knew it was more than 8 minutes!

That struck me especially funny, because back when she was 4 or 5 years old, 10 minutes on L felt like 2 hours and I often thought I'd never get it. I'd climb on, we'd fight for 10 or 15 minutes and I'd be ready to collapse in a heap. She never got tired. I really think she thought it was fun. As often as not I'd wonder why it was I did this.

Obviously since then we've had our milestones and I've learned a lot. I spend most of my time trying to make it up to her and horses are very forgiving creatures. I'm not very good at it but somehow we've become good partners in this. She's one good horse.

You should smile a lot when you're with your horse.

Have a healthy breakfast?

I don't normally eat breakfast. I started having breakfast on Sunday morning a couple of years ago. To make Sunday something special. Usually it's some eggs or pancakes but sometimes I go for something wholesome and healthy.

5 Grain Cereal from Old Wessex

This stuff is actually very good! It's packed with whole grain goodness. I added a little wheat germ and dried cranberries and I squeezed some honey on it. The flavor and texture is basically that of quick cooking oats but I thought it had a scent something like bird seed.

The package said to cook it for 6 minutes but mine was done in 3 minutes.

Next time I want to try some maple syrup on it instead of honey.
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