Sunday, May 21, 2006

Tragedy at the Track

During the 131st running of the Preakness Stakes yesterday, the unthinkable happened: Barbaro, the 2006 contender for the Triple Crown, pulled up lame in the first furlong of the race. After bursting through the starting gate prior to the bell, Barbaro calmly went back to his gate, reloading without any apparent injury. All the horses sprung out of the gate, and within 15 seconds, it was obvious that something had gone sickeningly wrong. Barbaro's right hind leg jutted out grotesquely as his jockey, Edgar Prado, struggled to pull him out of the race before any more damage occurred to the leg.

Caused simply by a taking a bad step, Barbaro broke his right hind ankle in two places, and it looks bad for racing's next great hope. It's nearly impossible to put a horse in cast so the leg can heal, and it's even harder when it involves a spirited young horse who only wants to run. Horses with the kind of break he received are normally immediately put down at the track, but because of his breeding value and stature, surgery is being performed today on his life-threatening injuries. His racing career is thuddingly over, his immortality limited to being the 2006 winner of the Kentucky Derby. I had my head in my hands and tears in my eyes, devasted and horrified, as I watched Barbaro hobble around on the track yesterday, not wanting to believe that this amazing creature in his prime was so gravely injured. A shaky, hushed phone call from a friend watching the race elsewhere left me feeling like we had witnessed a death in the family.

Watching a horse in prime condition break down in the biggest race of his career, I was reminded of Ruffian, the championship filly of 1975. Considered by many to be the top female horse of all time, she was nicknamed the "Queen of the Fillies" after being named 2 year-old Filly of the Year in 1974, and winning the Filly Triple Crown in 1975. I was horse-crazy 6 year-old girl at the time, aware enough of Ruffian to name every female toy horse I had after her. (Yeah, my Barbies rode horses, instead of going shopping).

Remaining undefeated in her first ten races, a match race was proposed between her and Foolish Pleasure, the 1975 winner of the Kentucky Derby. Ruffian was in front by a half-length when in the third furlong, the sesmoid bones in her right front ankle snapped. Twelve-hour surgery was performed, but when she woke up from the anesthsia, she wildly thrashed around, causing more damage to her ankle. She was euthanized a day after the race, and buried near the finish line in Belmont Park.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

How America Eats

Taste of Home, a cooking magazine with the median age of readership around 60, has a circulation of 3.4 MILLION. (!!!) This blows my mind. For comparison's sake, V is 30,000 copies; This Old House is 1.2 million; Martha Stewart Living is 1.9 million, and things like Time and People have a circ around 3.5 to 4 million copies.

So there's this magazine primarily dealing in recipe exchanges that covers the canned soup/jello salad arena that ALSO has one of the top 15 circulations in America. It's impressive. As much as I'd like to think food habits have changed in America (with a wider variety of produce and known ingredients available everywhere, for starters), seeing these actual numbers show what the reality really is. Bottom line: people who cook at home like food that's convenient and simple to cook.

Check out their website for great pictures of the contributing cooks.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Eatin' Out - Fish

280 Bleeker btw Jones and 7th Ave
Shellfish on ice in the window (check). Dark wood bar with friendly and pretty bartender (check). Peanuts to shell, eat and throw on the floor (check). Chalkboard with specials (check). A "Red, White and Blue" special served every day: 6 Blue Point oysters + a PBR for $8 (check). Families sharing big meals (check).

Fish, an unpretentious raw bar (or shellfish house/lobster shack/clam bar, if you prefer) owned by a fish distributor, has all the requirements for a good seafood place. Fortunately, the restaurant delivers what the look promises: reasonably-priced fresh seafood that makes you long for an open deck with a beach breeze, instead of a crowded street in the heart of the West Village. While the lobster roll was only decent (light on the butter and tough meat) the fries were crisp, uncut and delicious. The rest of the the menu is griled fish entrees, po' boys, chowders and salads with the service young, distracted, flighty and well-meaning. I will definitely will go here again, if I can remember where here is. (Will I ever NOT get lost in the West Village?)

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Duck Duck Goose

From last week's New York Times:
(In 2004 California passed a law banning the production and sale of foie gras by 2012.)

"I hope I'm retired by 2012," said Thomas Keller, owner of the French Laundry in the Napa Valley and Per Se in Manhattan, who believes the government should not tell people what to eat. "If force-feeding a duck is cruel, then packing chickens in a cage is cruel, and then the veal and the beef. We are all going to be vegetarians soon if they have their way. We should probably start converting now."

I have mixed feelings about foie gras. My mixed feelings coming down to -- Damn. Foie gras is gooooooood. I love foie gras. L-U-V LOVE it. It's really one of the most amazing foods on the planet, right up there with bacon, the original food of the gods. And I try not to think about animal cruelty in these cases because it down right ruins my appetite. If I were to examine any meat-eating too closely, I might I have to quit doing it, if I was unable to justify the total dominance of one creature over another by eating it. No thanks. I want to keep enjoying lamb; and duck; and pig; and goose and every other little delicious creature. Isn't this more about the laws of nature? Or something...whatever, I enjoy my meat, that much I know.

I was watching Anthony Bourdain's "No Reservations" show on the Travel Channel where dude seriously put away about 12 different foie gras dishes while eating somewhere in Montreal. I have no idea how anyone could put away that much of the rich, silky goodness that is foie gras and still walk around. But I definitely envied him.

On the same note, Bill Buford has a most amusing article in the May 1st issue of the New Yorker about butchering a pig fresh from the Union Square Greenmarket in his Manhattan kitchen. This, of course, after bringing the whole critter home on a Vespa; through the lobby of his doorman building; and up the elevator after scaring away another tenant, all the while carrying a whole pig only covered with a plastic sheet.


Thoughts on the 2006 Kentucky Derby:
1) I absolutely loved seeing Barbaro, a deserving horse if there ever was one, win the Derby. This colt is six for six in his lifetime, and his dominating 6 1/2 length win shows what a pro he really is. Plus, I had him across the board...He'll probably take the Preakness in two weeks and then who knows what will happen with the Belmont, the grueling 1 1/2 mile race that has taken out Triple Crown contenders for 4 of the past 5 years.

2) Derby parties are goddamn fun. I can't believe I was thinking about cancelling MY personal favorite Calyer Street tradition (beyond 36-hour fires, that is). I had a great cross-section of enthusiastic yet horse-ignorant friends getting into Derby, including the annual casualties of unwise folk becoming disasters on WAY too many juleps. Derby always means getting drunk and sober about three times over Derby Day, for them juleps sneak up and try to kill you. Remember, nothing says Derby like stumbling drunks and fake Irish accents! The special guest appearance of "Pat from Ohio" for the weekend added to the fun (and a cleaner house).

UPDATE 5/25/06: These photos of the warehouses that caught on fire, and their interiors, at the Greenpoint Terminal Market are pretty great.