Thursday, May 31, 2012

The disagreeable mare

Make no mistake. I adore my Sweety. But I swear sometimes she can be a real pill.

Who. Me?

It was a little cooler yesterday but it was humid. And L was apparently feeling a little frisky. She was acting a lot like a 4 year old. After we'd warmed up she started doing this move into a trot thing when I'd gather her reins a little. I was patient about it. But every time I had her halt she'd toss her head and crank her tail and it became clear she was going to be a stinker.

So I said fine. You want to run? We'll run. So we ran. And ran. And ran. She did her big scary extended road trot, ears up, happy as can be every stride. After about 3 miles we hit the fields and I had her walk a bit to orient herself and then...we ran some more. We did a mile and a half or so at a dead run. She worked up a good sweat but she was barely breathing hard. She might be fat but she sure is fit. So we went back and lapped the barn. My trainer watched us go by a couple of times. She didn't give me any equitation points but L was getting some much needed exercise. I lost track of our laps but L was still happily breezing along. I was breathing pretty hard by then. Me and my bright ideas. At least I'd had the sense to use a saddle.

By the time I ran out of steam she was at least willing to walk.

River of sweat

She got a shower and grazed some of the best grass on the property.

I had a Mayflower Golden Ale. Didn't even pause for a picture. I can't remember when a beer tasted better!

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Road trip!

About 90 or so miles west of here is ...
The Asparagus Capital of the World

No, really. Asparagus season peaks in May and June and Hadley is known world over for its asparagus. Even Saveur says so.

Drive along River Road in Hadley and rte. 47 between Hadley and Sunderland and you'll find all kinds of farm stands and self service operations with the most beautiful asparagus.

So of course I try every year to make an asparagus trip.

The area is also known for tobacco. Connecticut Tobacco is among the finest tobacco in the world. It's named for the river, not the state.

The tobacco is dried and cured in these big sheds that surround the fields.

They're everywhere!

Connecticut Tobacco is used mostly in cigars.

And shade tobacco is used to wrap the finest cigars. Vast tent like curtains are drawn over the tobacco so it's shaded during growth.

Connecticut Shade Tobacco - Brown & Regan LLC

I have three favorite ways of preparing asparagus. One of them is steamed (well..blanched really).
  • Trim the woody white ends off
  • Cut the remaining stalks into 1 inch sections
  • Drop the cut sections into a couple of inches of boiling water
  • After 2 or 3 minutes drain them
  • Toss them in extra virgin olive oil and some lemon zest while they're still hot
  • Let them cool, add a generous pinch of grated Parmesan cheese and cracked black pepper

Asparagus is notoriously difficult to pair with wine. Apparently it clashes with just about everything. I understand Sauvignon Blanc is a well regarded pairing but for something really special try an Austrian GrĂ¼ner Veltliner sometime.

And of course I had my Memorial Day Big Mac on the way home!

Here. This McDonald's on rte. 90 in Ludlow Massachusetts was always a favorite. Just east of Springfield it's a good location and I love the old school structure. I remember when they all looked like this!

Sunday, May 20, 2012


Saturday, the 19th of May was a positively stunning day. Even the daisies were out! I don't know that I've ever seen them out this early.

Barn Daisies. 19 May 2012

One thing that isn't early this year is tack cleaning. I'm going to have to clean some tack in the next week or two!

Between the rain and the sun the grass is growing like crazy. L and I hit the fields and the grass is past her elbows. Try keeping your horse out of the grass when it's chin high! It's a challenge. Challenge or not I enjoyed a most awesome ride. And...I think we're going to have some new neighbors! Stay tuned..

I had to stop and get something special on my way home. This time of year is wheat beer season. What better way to celebrate?

Dreamweaver wheat beer

I enjoyed this beer. See how nice and cloudy it is? It has a nice frothy head too but I still prefer Allagash White.

A very special dinner as well. This is a (Great Lakes) Brown Trout fillet beside some mixed greens. I oven grilled it at 450 degrees. Ten minutes per inch. This went about 9 minutes. I mixed up a glaze with equal parts lemon juice, grainy Dijon mustard and horseradish with some wild flower honey. I glazed the trout at around 7 or 8 minutes and reserved some to drizzle around the plate. That's a salmon recipe. Brown Trout is just sensational. I scattered a pinch of dill over it. Any fresh herbs will do.

I thought the mixed greens were especially nice on a perfect Spring day like today.

Honey mustard glazed Brown Trout

Oh. I had a Charles Smith 2009 Cabernet with it. My wine of choice this time of year would have been white. Maybe a Riesling. Or a White Zinfandel. But I had the Cabernet left sitting around and had to finish it.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Pet Projects. Part 1.

What's wrong with this picture?

Medfield State Hospital, Building D1, 16 April 2012

Nothing really.

I've had a couple of pet projects occupying my time in the past few months. One of them is High Dynamic Range (HDR) photography.

The brightness range of an image from its darkest shadows to its brightest highlights is the image's dynamic range. The human eye can see an almost infinite dynamic range. Photographic technology has a (very) limited range.

As a practical matter this means is that one simply can't have a photograph with details in both the shadows and the highlights at the same time. A photograph can have one or the other, not both.

Photographers generally expose the scene for what it is they want to emphasize in their final image. Is the "subject" in the shadows? Overexpose. Is the "subject" in the highlights? Underexpose. It can be a little more complicated than that but that's basically the technique for managing limited dynamic range.

So here.
This is normally exposed

You can't see much detail in the shadows under the porch roof. And at the same time you can't see much detail in the paint peeling off the columns.

This is overexposed (by 1 f stop)

You can see more details in the shadows here but the highlights are completely "blown out". You can't see any lines delineating the bricks or the slate tiles on the roof. And the porch roof line isn't that white.

This is underexposed (by 1 f stop)

You can see some detail in the highlights, the lines delineating the bricks on the wall and tiles on the roof. The peeling paint along the porch roof line. But the shadow detail under the porch roof is gone. The shadows are basically ... just black.

Now, the business of HDR photography is digitally combining these 3 different images into a single image that captures more range than is possible with the single image. It's like saying take the first image as...the image, and take the shadows from the second image, and take the highlights from the third image.

I have not been at all impressed with the "digital darkroom". I've mostly shrugged it off. Of course I crop my pictures. And I tweak them often. Adjust the exposure here and there and do a little retouching ok, but I've found it's more about economics than it is creativity. I can't do anything (that I want to do) with Photoshop that I couldn't do in a darkroom.

But this is something different. I think. This really does have the potential for artistic expression. The final images will have high contrast (which is mostly undesireable) and, in the image above, I deliberately got heavy handed with it to make a point. The subject has a surreal quality to begin with so I think even given its heavy handedness it kind of works.

Now it's more about finding the best subjects for HDR photographs and applying a light enough hand to have the observer thinking "now that's a beautiful picture" rather than "what's wrong with that picture".

Here's a great tutorial on creating HDR images with some free software which is a great way to learn more.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

The Spring Salad

Seasonal food doesn't mean what it used to. With produce today we can get almost anything almost any time. The quality of the local produce is superior at peak harvest but we still have apples all year long, which was unheard of when I was a kid. The Spring Salad is still something special I look forward to every year.

Spring Green Salad with Wild Violets

The property around the barn just explodes with wild violets in the Spring. You can collect the blossoms by the pint container. Here in North America most people think wild violets are weeds. Maybe so. But they're edible weeds! Just don't eat the yellow ones. If you find any.


I like violets on salads and I like the blossoms on ice cream. The blossoms have some nutritional value but no flavor really. Just eye appeal. Pansies are in the violet family. Pansies are also edible. The wild violet season is short - I think maybe I'll plant some pansies over at the barn this year!

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Colors of Spring

Spring may have been early but it sure changed its mind this week! It's been cold and dreary all week long. Last weekend was green! Rain earlier in the week followed by some sunshiny days made everything burst overnight.

29 April - Everywhere it's green.

I don't know when we'll ride in the woods again. There's a lot of damage in the woods from last year's storms. One can plainly see how treacherous it can be in there. It's just not worth one of us getting hurt over.

We've spent most of our trail time touring the fields. It's a challenge keeping L out of all that beautiful grass while we're working. Before things got out of hand I poked her with my spurs every time she started to drop her head with that sense of purpose that says "I'm going to snatch a mouthful of grass!". She caught on pretty quick and she's happier when she knows the rules. Really. Not to worry - she can behave while we're working. I read something the other day: You're either training your horse or you're untraining your horse. You're always doing one or the other. That's a fact. Besides. I make it worth her while!

I just love all the shades of green and yellow this time of year.

I'm taking a liking to Long Trail brews. Every one I've tried so far I've found to be excellent! Just the thing after a nice ride.
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