Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Monday, December 07, 2009

Thursday, December 03, 2009

Historic track @ Churchill Downs

Of all the places where a hoof meets earth, the race track at Churchill Downs in Louisville ranks among the most famous. The surface that hosts the Kentucky Derby and 800 other races each season gets more than its fair share of attention and care.

Managing the track at Churchill Downs is a multimillion-dollar business and the focus of daily conditioning.

The surface is considered "hard" by horse-racing enthusiasts, as are Belmont Park in New York and Pimlico near Baltimore, the three tracks that make up the Triple Crown of horse racing.

Churchill Downs keeps its track the same mixture of 75 percent sand, 23 percent silt and 2 percent clay. "All the material used here at the track comes from southern Kentucky," explained a track guide. "It's all stored in big piles here and mixed and added whenever it's needed.”

A hard surface makes for a fast track. Track technology is changing and new materials are in use at other tracks. For example, Keeneland in nearby Lexington, Ky., has a synthetic track. The mixture is a blend of sand, polyfibers and a tarlike compound, making for a much softer track.

"If you pick up a handful of the synthetic track and squeeze it, it'll crumble apart when you let go. If you squeeze this track material it'll stay in a clump
when you let go." the guide said.

Consistency is of even more value than texture. Churchill Downs wants the same track for every race so a horse taking to the field for the 2010 Kentucky Derby has the same track that Secretariat had in 1973 when he set a record of 1:59 2/5.

Trainers and owners all want the track to stay the same as they race their horses and watch training times. A surface that changes would produce inconsistent results from one run to the next.

Daily care of Churchill Downs includes leveling, adding water, harrowing and packing.

"We don't need to level the track every day, but the harrowing and packing is done after every race and after every morning workout," the guide said. "The harrows fluff up the top 3 inches of the surface and then the packers come along and pack it down to make it hard."

Without the constant harrowing and packing, the 1-mile track would begin to erode from underneath and that would lead to soft spots and possibly holes in the surface, creating a dangerous condition for horses and riders. Water is sprayed ahead of the harrows and packers to help keep the track mixture consistent.

"On a hot day they'll add 100,000 gallons of water. How much water is applied is determined by the speed of the tank trucks. When it's hot you'll see the trucks creeping along,” the guide said.

When it rains, the surface is packed so hard that water will stand on the track.
"It's still a hard track even when it rains. But that's the kind of track that often favors the long shots (horses not generally favored to win). Some horses just really like a muddy track and that's why we call them ‘mudders,’" the guide said.

A recent flood at Churchill Downs illustrated how hard and well-maintained the track is. Hurricane-like rain and wind swept through the Louisville area in August, leaving the track under more than 2 feet of water. When the water drained, the track was still there and needed only spot repairs, officials said. The attached museum, however, sustained significant damage and many of the artifacts will require careful restoration.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

More of this

"This is the unsustainable path we’re on, and it’s the path the insurers want to keep us on. In fact, the insurance industry is rolling out the big guns and breaking open their massive war chest – to marshal their forces for one last fight to save the status quo. They’re filling the airwaves with deceptive and dishonest ads. They’re flooding Capitol Hill with lobbyists and campaign contributions. And they’re funding studies designed to mislead the American people.

Of course, like clockwork, we’ve seen folks on cable television who know better, waving these industry-funded studies in the air. We’ve seen industry insiders – and their apologists – citing these studies as proof of claims that just aren’t true."
President Barack Obama...

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Manifesto not so much

A bag of Cheetos, a can of Mountain Dew, out of the convenience store, into the car and off to work. The scene may sound outrageous enough for comedy but chips, pop and off to work is a common act in a national drama with food. Michael Pollan thinks the play is a tragedy and wastes no time making his points in his latest book, "In Defense of Food: an eater's manifesto."

Pollan is deeply cynical in the details defining his attacks on nutrition, food science, and the health industry. While well-researched and compelling, In Defense gets diluted by lazy claims deriding the industrial food complex. Yes, everything in the book has been said before and Pollan makes sure to reference his points.

References are only as good as the sources and conclusions only as good as the underlying arguments. Processed foods might not be good for us all the time. But it's hard to draw a distinction between a bag of chips and a can of pop for breakfast and a bag of flour from reading In Defense. If it's processed it's bad.

Pollan's lashing about tends to reduce the value of the central themes found in the book important to an enlightened and much-needed discussion about food and eating. We've arrived at a point where we're both "overfed and undernourished," food and eating are cleaved from culture, and that diet and nutrition fads substitute for actual healthy living are among the valuable broader points Pollan brings forward.

Let's take a quick look. Pollan talks about wheat and bread explaining that the milling process removes the nutritional value of the flour used to make bread. The effects of milling on flour are well known and Pollan is hardly providing a news flash. It was modern food science that learned how to return the nutritional value to the flour used in baking bread. The bread you buy in the grocery store today isn't like what grandma used to bake. Grandma wasn't providing for millions of people either.

In Defense struggles with economics by encouraging "those of us who can" to spend more time and money on food. That's nice. The burgeoning obesity problem and associated health issues Pollan attributes to food and eating are more pronounced among the poor and working class where cheap sugar and carbohydrates fill empty stomachs. The same groups also struggle with time. In the best of situations you have two people working, and if there are children involved, a meal of "mac & cheese" out of a box is the path of least resistance and lowest cost.

In Defense is a worthwhile read for the thinking it should stimulate. Leaning on it as an actual "manifesto" of managing the global challenges to food security is thin gruel.

Friday, July 31, 2009

Truck Farm

Maybe I'm a wee bit defensive about farming but I still think there's lots of room for creative, and even humorous, endeavor:

6:48 run time

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Monday, June 08, 2009


Endings and beginnings, pages turned, chapters closed, fresh starts, perils and opportunity…

It’s actually much harder than I expected sitting here now three days after the high school graduation ceremony and two days after the graduation party. I’m relieved the young man has completed this phase of his life and I’m happy for him to be able to move on to the next phase. This is good and wonderful and something he has earned in his own odd way.

But I’m sad, too. I’m going to miss him. The young man will be around but it won’t be the same. He has stepped onto a new platform where mom and dad aren’t the engineers and conductors they’ve been for the last 18 years. We hope he has what’s needed now to be able to take care of himself.

Times are tough. He has to compete for a shrinking resource base on several fronts. Much of what he has grown up with is going to disappear in his lifetime. Hopefully, he has the skills to adapt. There have been enough hard knocks in his life so he has a taste of adversity and should know how to make adjustments.

In an interview, the film maker George Lucas said his hopes for his children and people in general are to be able to take care of themselves, find some happiness, and one day to give something back.

Yeah, me too, George.

Saturday, May 30, 2009


Five tomatos, four peppers, two rows of beans and one hill for zucinni. The Great Recession Garden is in.
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Sunday, April 12, 2009

Pirate update

The current pirate news story is exiting the stage with the safe return of the American hostage and the death or capture of the pirates. Greasy, creepy business and I think the pirates know the stakes are even higher now than before.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Pirates of the day

I don't have any romantic Hollywood notions about the Somali pirates. They're clearly tough, desperate and dangerous people into high-risk international crime. But I do have an odd admiration for their enterprise and their sheer defiance of power and authority.

The crazy bastards arm themselves to the hilt, climb into fishing boats, head out into the ocean 200 or 300 miles and forcibly seize passing ships. Everything about it is dangerous – everything. By press accounts, the returns are damn good certainly by pirate standards.

There's something honest about this crime. The pirates are willing to risk their lives in a grim, brutal face-to-face confrontation with their victims. Contrast the crime of modern piracy to that of the pasty weasels seated at computer screens on Wall Street bilking the public out of billions.

Pirates attack a ship knowing full well the attack can go haywire and knowing full well that the response to the attack is likely to bring on more direct firepower than a gun lugging pirate will ever be able to survive. Criminals on Wall Street not only get away with the fraud, they get rewarded for it – all without having to break a sweat.

Until such time as I see a Navy destroyer “come about” and head into the mouth of the Hudson River, I think I'll just keep my odd sense of admiration for the pirates.

Thursday, April 02, 2009


The latest work video:


Bread Alone

There was real fear. Something could go haywire at any time. The whole process could end up as a wreck and I was pretty sure that's where I was heading. At any point a nasty turn would doom the outcome.

“Oh for Pete's sake,” my daughter says. “What's the worst thing that can happen?”

“A big mess?” I reply. “Maybe a fire?”

“There won't be any fire. And what do you do with a mess?” she asks.

“Clean it up?” seemed the reasonable response.

“That's right – a mess. And we'll clean it up like any mess,” she says. “But it'll be good and there won't be any mess.”

The book Bread Alone by Daniel Leader and Judith Blahnik had put the fear of bread baking into me. Years ago I'd bake bread all the time and I didn't think too much about it. My mother used to bake bread constantly and I'd learned from her. Back in the day, mom used to do all of our cooking on a wood-fired stove including baking in the oven. It wasn't until 1966 that the kitchen was remodeled and a shiny new electric stove went in.

The urge to return to bread-baking strengthened over time. Ten years living in Kansas exposed me to the culture of growing wheat, the memories from my childhood remained strong, the increasing interest in local foods, fresh foods, organic foods all took root and finally, the huge upsurge in commodity prices and food in 2008-09 lead me to buy the book “Bread Alone.”

The book is touted as something practical. What it turns out to be is precise. You need to use spring water. It's important to have sea salt. The wheat must be organic and ground in a certain way. Temperature control is crucial. Your oven must be made correctly with the proper kinds of stone. An electric oven is useless and whatever lowly consumer-level oven you have must be fitted with proper baking stones.

I was scared. There was no way I could bake a loaf of bread in our kitchen. Bread Alone told me so.

Armed with courage supplied by my daughter we went ahead that day to bake bread. The outcome was in doubt: no thermometer, tap water, electric oven, regular flour, ordinary table salt, no baking stones... The process was doomed.

Yet, at the end of mixing and kneading and rising and kneading and rising and finally baking we ended up with a couple of loaves of whole wheat honey bread. Well, the crust was a little too brown. Okay, the interior was somewhat doughy. Yes, it had an odd swirl to the grain. Parts of it tasted good though.

What went wrong? Bread Alone was on the coffee table so we cracked it open. Temperature control was the big thing and when we interpreted our experience with what we read in Bread Alone it was clear we needed to make temperature adjustments when baking.

What about the rising part? Well, tap water is treated and that can affect the yeast. Hmmm. Maybe we didn't get the right bounce out of the yeast. And temperature control with the water helps with the yeast and with the mixing and all that's needed is a thermometer. Sea salt? Oh, never mind.

Organic stone ground wheat is big in Bread Alone. But give me a break. Getting exactly what Bread Alone calls for is hard, expensive and probably a mail order deal. And, not to mention, there in the chapters about wheat flour is a begrudging comment, “This does not mean you can't make these breads with ordinary supermarket flour!”

Bread Alone is a good read and if you have an interest in baking the book is a fine addition to your collection. There are recipes and plenty of instruction – precise instructions. You'll find some history and some stories and you'll find inspiration.

Along with the fear Bread Alone caused, the book also elevated my interest further and helped push me to take the next step and actually bake some bread.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Not just an omelet

One morning I'm making an omelet for Hockey Boy and it isn't turning out the way I want. So I tell him, "One day I'll make you the perfect omelet."

He asks what the perfect omelet would look like and I describe this symmetrical, evenly brown, moist and bubbling omelet I'd consider perfect. He considers and eats his somewhat mangled omelet saying it tastes just fine.

Tuesday morning, the spouse wakes me up telling me that sometime in the middle of the night, Hockey Boy cooked a "drop dead gorgeous omelet."

I've heard of things called "drop dead gorgeous" but never an omelet. "Shoulda took a picture," I mumble.

"He did," I'm told. And there you have it. A drop dead gorgeous omelet.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Bring on the gardens

That sod has been broken at the White House for a garden is some of the best news in the world. Last fall I turned over a patch of lawn in the back yard for a garden, too. It's my Great Recession garden.

We'd quit with the vegetable garden several years ago because we just couldn't manage enough time to properly tend the thing. With the baby of the family leaving high school this spring I felt it was time to give it another go.

Oh, it'll be no big financial savings. But fresh veggies from the garden? I'm sooo looking forward to summer.