Friday, October 05, 2007

Secrecy, Classification, and Torture (and snickerdoodles)

I understand the need for secrecy in government action sometimes. I do. Operational security can often be one of the most critical places of strength.

The Bush administration claims that the legal opinions regarding what is, and isn't torture, what is and isn't allowed or constitutional or legal regarding treatment of prisoners are matters of operational security don't even stand up to a casual critical assault. Not even close.

They claim that these things need to remain classified because they do not want the enemy to know what methods of interrogation will be used to prevent them from developing countermeasures against them.

Bullshit. The prisoners and their commanders and comrades in the field already know exactly what will be done to them. Because You're doing it to them you dumbshit!

When my unit in Vietnam crossed the borders on classified operations to harrass and inhibit activity on the Ho Chi Minh trail, the NVA, the Cambodians, the Laotians, all knew what we were doing, because WE. WERE. DOING. IT. TO. THEM. If I shot an NVA Colonel with a sniper rifle, every troop in his command knew that there was an American with a great big fucking elephant gun up in the hills. They had a dead guy with a big ass gushing hole the size of a gatorade bottle through his chest to prove it.

It was a secret from my Mom. It was a secret from the American Press. It was a secret from you.

Bush and his partners in this particular crime are very interested in keeping this from you because they do not want to be in the position of having to defend their reprehensible actions and their casual depravity when it comes to matters of simple human decency.

As to the question of what is and is not torture I humbly suggest this. Bush, Cheney, and each lawyer that defended these tactics as humane and legal each submit themselves to one week under that kind of treatment. I did. I lasted a whole 35 agonizing minutes on the waterboard. I impressed the living shit out of my pretend "captors." They called it off, not because I broke, but because they didn't want to do permanent harm to me. I held out because I knew that they would, and must, play by those rules. That, and the fact that the last time they poured the water over my face I purposely inhaled and swallowed some, making me puke all over those cocksucking bastards. I promise you that if I were to ever encounter one of them on a street, or preferably a dark alley, mayhem would ensue, even today.

Now, fuck all this. I'm heading back to the kitchen. My neice is here visiting and we're making Snickerdoodles.


This post had not been up for fifteen minutes before there were two angry emails demanding the recipe for Snickerdoodles. OK.


1/2 cup butter, softened
1/2 cup shortening
1 1/2 cups white sugar
2 eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons cream of tartar
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons white sugar
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon

Preheat oven to 375°.

Cream together the butter, shortening and sugar. Mix in the rest of the ingredients except for the two tablespoons of sugar and the 2 teaspoons of the cinnamon. Spoon out the dough and roll into walnut sized balls. Roll those in the mixed sugar/cinnamon and place on an ungreased cookie sheet. Bake 7-8 minutes to get a crispy on the outside chewey on the inside cookie. Remove from cookie sheet immediately. Eat just as immediately.


Friday Random Ten

If it's Friday, it's time for a random glimpse at the soundtrack of the day.

Texas Girl at the Funeral of Her Father - - - Randy Newman
For No One - - - Beatles
After The Gold Rush - - - Neil Young (live bootleg)
Stainless Steel - - - Speedy West
Kokomo - - - Buckwheat Stevenson
Rose Room - - - Teddy Wilson
Swing 41 - - - Django Rienhardt
Sugar - - - Leon Redbone
One Bourbon, One Scotch, One Beer - - - Snooks Eglin
If I Could Be With You - - - Mae West (with the piano great Harry "the Hipster" Gibson)

Random bonus

That Ole Devil Called Love - - - Billie Holiday

106 Books Meme

Being a committed and shameless bookworm I loved this one. Got turned on to it through PZ Meyers. The original is from Evolving Thoughts through Science Blogs. You take the list of 106 books, bold the ones that you have read, italicize the ones you have partially read. Here goes.

Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell
Anna Karenina
Crime and Punishment

One Hundred Years of Solitude
Wuthering Heights
The Silmarillion
Life of Pi : a novel
The Name of the Rose
Don Quixote
Moby Dick
Madame Bovary
The Odyssey
Pride and Prejudice
Jane Eyre
The Tale of Two Cities
The Brothers Karamazov
Guns, Germs, and Steel: the fates of human societies

War and Peace
Vanity Fair
The Time Traveler’s Wife
The Iliad

The Blind Assassin
The Kite Runner
Mrs. Dalloway
Great Expectations
American Gods
A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius
Atlas Shrugged
Reading Lolita in Tehran : a memoir in books
Memoirs of a Geisha
Wicked : the life and times of the wicked witch of the West
The Canterbury tales
The Historian : a novel
A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man
Love in the Time of Cholera
Brave New World
The Fountainhead
Foucault’s Pendulum
The Count of Monte Cristo
A Clockwork Orange
Anansi Boys
The Once and Future King
The Grapes of Wrath
The Poisonwood Bible : a novel
Angels & Demons
The Inferno
The Satanic Verses
Sense and Sensibility
The Picture of Dorian Gray
Mansfield Park
One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest
To the Lighthouse
Tess of the D’Urbervilles
Oliver Twist
Gulliver’s Travels
Les Misérables
The Corrections
The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time
The Prince
The Sound and the Fury
Angela’s Ashes : a memoir
The God of Small Things
A People’s History of the United States : 1492-present
A Confederacy of Dunces
A Short History of Nearly Everything
The Unbearable Lightness of Being
The Scarlet Letter
Eats, Shoots & Leaves
The Mists of Avalon
Oryx and Crake : a novel
Collapse : how societies choose to fail or succeed
Cloud Atlas
The Confusion
Northanger Abbey
The Catcher in the Rye
On the Road
The Hunchback of Notre Dame
Freakonomics : a rogue economist explores the hidden side of everything
Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance : an inquiry into values
The Aeneid
Watership Down
Gravity’s Rainbow
The Hobbit
In Cold Blood : a true account of a multiple murder and its consequences

White Teeth (own but haven't gotten to this one yet)
Treasure Island
David Copperfield
The Three Musketeers

I read, all the time. I usually have at least two books in progress and can produce a volume of most of the ones that are in bold. Right now I'm reading The Coldest Winter, David Halberstram's final book, on Korea, and Joseph Wambaugh's Hollywood Station. Fuck you and your judgements, I like Wambaugh.


Thursday, October 04, 2007

Tahitian Vanilla Cheesecake Tart

That just sounds astonishingly good doesn't it? Sweet milk chocolate dancing jesus, you simply have no idea! I have had people call this elegant, powerful, subtle, sublime, decadent, just about every adjective imaginable, and many clearly unprintable. I tried to put something together today about the article in the New York Times about the breathtaking and certainly criminal behavior of the Bush administration but it was beginning to sound like "Fucking. Motherfucking. Bastard. Cocksuckingmotherfuckingfuckstickbastardgoddamnbitchmotherfuckers!" So, I gave up and went into the kitchen.

You'll need a very specific item. If you buy yourself a 10 by 2" fluted tart pan with a removable bottom and the only thing you ever do with it is to make this recipe just once you will call it money well spent. You can substitute a 10" springform pan, but it won't have the visual impact that goes with the fluted tart pan. Do it. Trust me. Do. IT.

There are some things you need to do ahead also.

So, first things first, you need a good glob of crème fráiche, also, you must have a layer of light sponge cake. Two days before, you might as well start on the crème fráiche.


2 cups (1 quart) heavy cream (try to find cream that is not ultrapastuerized)
2 tablespoons buttermilk
1 Tahitian* (fresh, not dried) vanilla bean, split lengthwise

*if you don't have access to an ultra snooty gourmet store you can use two regular dried madagascar beans from any store.

Combine the ingredients in a sterilized canning jar with an airtight lid. Set them in a warm place, on top of the refrigerator, or the cupboard over the oven for at least twelve hours, but as long as 36. You want the resulting crème to be thick but still barely pourable. Then refrigerate, it will continue to thicken as it chills.

Make the sponge cake the day before so it will be cool and resiliant. If you haven't made some already, make a batch of lemon curd.


1/3 cup sifted cake flour (sifted and leveled off with a knife)
2 1/2 tablespoons unsifted cornstarch
4 large eggs (room temperature)
1 large egg yolk (room temperature)
1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon superfine confectioner's sugar
3/4 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar

Grease two 9" cake pans generously and flour. Tap soundly and shake to remove any excess flour. (you can also spray with Baker's Joy® which is canola oil and flour in a spray can. I loves me summa this stuff)

Preheat your oven to 450° with the rack on the lower level.

In a small bowl whisk the cake flour and the cornstarch to combine them evenly.

Separate 2 of the eggs into a large mixing bowl with the whites in another. Put the next two eggs in the yolk bowl along with the extra yolk, add 1/2 cup of the sugar. Whisk this until it is light, lemon colored and fluffy, and at least tripled in volume. Then whisk in the vanilla. Sift half of the flour/starch mixture over this and gently fold it in with a rubber spatula, until it has disappeared into the mix. Then repeat that with the rest of the flour.

Beat the egg whites until foamy. Add in the cream of tartar and whisk mercilessly until soft peaks form. Beat in the remaining 1 tablespoon of confectioner's sugar and whisk until stiff peaks form.

Fold the egg whites gently into the yolk batter and pour into the prepared cake pans. Tap them sharply on the countertop (I lay a towel down to muffle the noise, otherwise the dogs get all agitated thinking there are bad guys outside the door) to raise up any bubbles. I also run a thin blade knife all through the batter to nail any nasty little buggers that might be trying to hide from me.

Bake at 450° for seven to ten minutes, until the cake is golden brown and springs back when lightly tapped with your fingertip. Place on a cooling rack and immediately run around the inside of the edge of the pan, invert over the cooling rack and remove the cake from the pan. If you don't do this while the cake is still hot it will weld to the sides of your pan and you'll never, ever, get it out. If you can find removeable bottom cake pans, so much the better. Allow to cool completely.

You'll only need half of one cake for the tart. In a 9" pan these will be about 1/2" thick. I have a little 1/4" knife jig that I made which guides my knife and keeps my cuts level as I slice each cake horizontally. The rounds that I don't need are wrapped individually in Press 'n' Seal® and frozen for later use.

Now you're ready to make Sweet Cookie Tart Crust. Hose the tart pan you bought and washed throroughly down with Baker's Joy®. The Baker's Joy is the only real option here, unless you want to try and invert a pan with a removable bottom to shake out the excess, but then you'll have a total mess on your hands and feel like an idiot to boot. Better to just get the stuff. House brand baker's sprays from a bake shop or Smart & Final are just fine.


8 tablespoons cold unsalted butter cut into 1" cubes
1/4 superfine confectioner's sugar
1 1/2 cups all purpose (bleached) flour (it's alright if this is a little scant)
1/8 teaspoon sea or kosher salt
1 large egg yolk
2 tablespoons heavy cream

In a food processor with the metal blade pulse the butter and sugar until totally combined. Add the flour and the salt until it is the size of small peas.

In a small bowl, use a fork to combine the yolk and the cream. Dump this into the food processor and pulse it until just incorporated, about 8 or 10 times. It will still be somewhat crumbly. Empty this into a plastic bag and press with your fingers until it starts to hold together. Remove this from the bag, and place it on a large sheet of plastic wrap. Use the plastic wrap to knead the dough until it is one smooth piece. Flatten that into a 6" disc, wrap it well with the plastic and stick it in the freezer for about 10 minutes.

On a marble or other absolutely smooth and level rolling surface (marble is the best because it remains a bit below room temperature all the time) place a sheet of plastic wrap and flour it lightly. Bring your 6" disc of pie dough and cover that with another lightly floured sheet of plastic. Roll it out as evenly as you can until it is a fairly circular disk that overlaps the bottom disc of the tart pan by about 3". The best way that I've found to transfer the crust is to take the whole plastic dough thing up by the plastic and drape it over a regular inverted cake pan, then remove a layer of the plastic, pick up the dough by the cake pan and put it into the prepared tart pan, then lift off the last of the plastic.

Now, after all that work you're only ready to start on the big stuff. Usually I have discs of dough, and rounds of sponge cake stashed in the freezer with my jars of lemon curd waiting for me in the pantry. Aren't you jealous? The thing is having things like stocks, mother sauces, and other essentials already laid up is what brings dishes like this one a bit closer to the realm of impulse. Stuff like that comes in real handy.

Have the tart shell with the crust in the main working area. Preheat the oven to 350° with the rack in the middle position.

Brush the lemon curd evenly onto the bottom layer of the crust, making sure to go at least 1/4" up the sides. Place the sponge cake round, crust side down onto this. Now we will make the cheesecake filling.


1 cup + 2 1/2 tablespoons softened cream cheese
2/3 cup baker's sugar (I use the vanilla sugar from the pantry)
2 teaspoons cornstarch
2 large room temperature eggs
4 teaspoons freshly squeezed, strained lemon juice
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 recipe Crème Fráiche

Just before the final mixing, remove the split vannila bean from the creme and use a small spoon or a knife to scrape out the caviar specks. Dry the bean husk and put it into the container that you use for your vanilla sugar.

Use the big stand mixer for this. This is a very thick batter and unless you have Popeye arms, hand mixing simply will not do. The attachment should be the balloon whisk. Beat the cream cheese, sugar, and cornstarch until very smooth. Beat in the eggs, one at a time, beating until smooth with each egg and scraping down the sides of the bowl with a rubber or silicone spatula. Add the lemon juice, vanilla, and salt and beat until incorporated. Beat in the crème fráiche just until blended. Do. Not. Over. Beat.

Pour this over the top of the cake layer in the tart shell. It will reach almost to the top, but the center will settle down nicely as the sponge cake works its magic and absorbs liquidity and flavor. Bake at 350° for 45 minutes. Turn off the oven and let stand, without opening the door, for another hour. Open the door just enough to where it will hold without snapping shut and cool for another 30 minutes. Remove from the oven to a cooling rack until it is room temperature. Then cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 6 hours.

To unmold, simply pop the bottom disc of the tart pan, then use a very thin metal spatula to separate the tart from the bottom disc onto a cutting board. To cut, use a thin bladed, very sharp knife that has been heated in hot water and wiped dry. Wipe it clean, heat it again, wipe it dry between each cut.

If this is your dessert you can serve shitburgers for dinner and people will talk about your wonderful dinner party for the entire holiday season.


Mail Call

This morning made me choke all up. There were two cards from the Sgt. Major's daughters. Both were hand drawn with crayon.

One shows their father, dressed in his uniform on a horse, I'm portrayed as an indian, with feathers and warpaint on a horse, and the girls are each on a horse, as princesses.

The other shows us all around the pool with the BBQ going, and the horses and dogs at the table with us. In big block letters underneath it says "Our Happy Family."

They are mounted in the hallway, right next to a Chagall lithograph. He'd understand.


Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Key Lime Pie. . .(my version, not the classic)

I have heard people wax on and on all poetical and stuff about the wonderfulness of Key Lime Pie. I love pie, I love the keys, all that stuff, but to my taste, most of the pies you get there suck out loud. Sticky sweet and not even close to bringing the wonderful flavor of the small, thin skinned, full of seeds, key lime.

I can almost hear the screams of the butter clogged southern tracheas and the fossilized Florida "purists" for my having the audacity to call this "Key Lime Pie" when it isn't swimming in all that good southern standby ingredients like sweetened condensed milk. I say, "Fuck you" back. In the first place, there ain't no such thing as Key Limes anymore. They cut down all the lime trees and built trailer parks.

Botany Note Before Oddjob Busts My Chops

What is called a Key Lime is no longer grown in the keys, hurricanes, pollution, and human encroachment wiped it out as a commercial crop. When you see Key Limes in the store, you're buying Mexican Limes.

Step 1: Gingersnap Crust


1 1/2 cup finely ground gingersnap crumbs (you can go ahead and use commercial gingersnaps but i recommend using Pal Cookies all you have to do is leave them out on a plate overnight and then rip them to shreds in a food processor)
2 tablespoons baker's sugar
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon fresh ground nutmeg
5 tablespoons melted unsalted butter

Mix all the ingredients together and using your very clean fingers or the back of a spoon (in your very clean hands of course) press the mixture into a 9" pan looking for total coverage and an even distribution. Be creative or not when forming the edge of the crust. I usually just pinch it to form a little ridge along the edge of the pan. Bake at 350° for 10 minutes. Cool and refrigerate.

Make a double batch (2 cups finished product) of Lime curd and chill that.

In a small bowl soften 1 envelope of unflavored gelatin in 3 tablespoons good amber rum. (I use Havana Club because even though I'm sober I remain partial to communist hootch. Their economy and government suck out loud but the Cubanos make a beautiful rum. Mount Gay® from Barbados is a close substitute or even a Puerto Rican Añejo would do, but no dark rum please, if you would rather do without the rum use water) Also allow 8oz of cream cheese to come to room temperature in the bowl of your stand mixer.

Cream the softened, moistened gelatin and cream cheese together at a low speed using the paddle attachment of a stand mixer. Add in the lime curd. Mix it very well. Put it into the crust and chill in the refrigerator.

For topping you can use fresh whipped cream, piped in any decorative manner you wish, or since you have some left over egg whites from making the lime curd I figure might as well go with a light Italian meringue. You with me? (I knew you were brave)


1/2 cup powdered sugar, measured then sifted to remove any lumps
2 tablespoons water
4 egg whites
1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar

Have a 1 cup heat proof (like tempered glass) liquid measuring cup handy by the stove.

In a small heavy saucepan stir the sugar and water together until the sugar is completely moistened, then heat, stirring constantly until the sugar dissolves and the syrup is bubbling. Stop stirring and turn the burner down to its lowest setting. On an electric range, turn the burner all the way off and leave the pan on it.

In a mixing bowl using the balloon whip or a hand whisk beat the egg whites until foamy. Add in the cream of tartar and and beat until stiff (Viagra stiff) peaks form.

Increase the heat under the the syrup and boil until your candy thermometer reads 236° (soft ball stage), pour the mixture into the measuring cup (which you can lube with a bit of cooking oil or spray to make the pour easier) to stop the cooking.

If you are using a stand mixer, or doing this by hand (my choice), pour a little bit of the hot syrup over the egg whites and mix vigorously for about 5 seconds. Do this until all the syrup is mixed in (don't forget to use a rubber spatula to get all the syrup out of the measuring cup).

Take the pie assembly out of the fridge and mound the meringue all over the top. I like to use a small silver spatula to make little peaks and decorative swirls, but then I'm a total kitchen show off, do what makes you happy. For a great little added touch I like to dust the very top of the meringue with a bit more powdered sugar because it gives it such a wonderful little caramel flavored crunch.

Put this all under the broiler for 20 seconds to a full minute, watching carefully to prevent any burning, but waiting for that beautiful golden brown of a perfect meringue. Cool, away from any drafts for 30 minutes, then refrigerate for at least 4 hours.

To serve, cut with a wet, thin bladed knife, wiping with a napkin between cuts.

Give this one a try. Serve it to your Southern Friends and watch them as they struggle with the instinct to call you a Goddam Yankee Carpetbagger but fail to do it because this pie is way better than the crap they've been serving.

Laughing at their cognitive dissonance is allowed and encouraged.


Lemon Curd

This is a great filling for pastries and many great pastries. (like the tahitian vanilla cheesecake tart, even thinking about that one will make you gain six pounds)
Tata over at Poor Impulse Control was asked if she had her father's recipe. This is a very classic, very common recipe. It's where most very good pastry chefs would begin.

It is one of the better reasons I can think of to make friends with someone who has a lemon tree. Tree ripened lemons are essential for the richest flavors. Commercially picked lemons will not have the needed sugars or the complexity something like this requires. If you can't find backyard or homegrown lemons, hit the farmer's market. Grocery store lemons will only suffice if there is no other alternative.


2 teaspoons finely grated lemon zest
4 large egg yolks
3/4 sugar (again, i use the vanilla sugar that is in the pantry)
6 tablespoons fresh lemon juice (strained of pulp)
4 tablespoons softened sweet butter (cut into 1/4" cubes before softening)
pinch kosher or sea salt

Put the lemon zest into a medium mixing bowl and suspend a fine mesh strainer over it.

Using a heavy non-reactive saucepan, beat the yolks and sugar until well blended and creamy. Stir in the lemon juice, butter and toss in the pinch of salt. Cook these all together over a medium heat, stirring constantly. Hint: Use a wooden or a slotted spoon, not a whisk, we're not trying to whip up volume but to keep the ingredients moving.

The mixture will thicken and begin to coat a wooden spoon. Now comes the trick. This mixture must Not Be Allowed To Boil. That will make the yolks curdle and that means you have to throw it all out and start over. Whenever you see steam starting to appear, take the pot off the stove and keep stirring away, remembering to scrape the sides. When the mixture has gotten silky thick and reads 196° pour it at once into the strainer. Press the mixture through with the back of the spoon until only a thick residue remains. You can throw the residue away or smear it over a toasted bagel like I do. No one will call you foolish if you do. Gently stir into the zest, and while still hot place in a sterilized small canning jar. Seal tightly.

You can also substitute limes for the lemon to make the base for a wonderful version of Key Lime Pie that doesn't involve sweetened condensed milk. Use equal parts for the zest and the juice. Reduce the sugar to 1/2 cup and when cooking reduce the ending temperature to 185°.

This makes about a cup of finished curd. It. Rocks. Out. Loud.


Tuesday, October 02, 2007

A Couple of Thngs

Wesley Clark has a petition and a campaign up to pressure congress to Dump Rush from Armed Forces Radio. From what I remember troops in the field will listen to the enemy's radio if they play better music. Dump Rush, play the new Bruce Springsteen, or what ever else the troops want to hear.


Eric Massa calls Rush out. Although because he's running for congress he only takes it as far as saying he'll appear on Rush's show.


The only thing I have to discuss with that fat, cowardly, lying fuck is choice of weapons. I would love to not only let him choose the weapons, but would further say that if it's pistols, he can borrow mine to practice if he doesn't own his own, then pick the hand I use. Same deal with swords. Rapiers are my favorites, but I wouldn't hesitate a lick if he chose sabers, samurai swords or fucking Kabars. Again, he can choose if I'm right or left handed for the duel. Oh, yeah, and Rush, under the code duello which our founders operated from, there will be an agreed referee with a shotgun to shoot down cheaters.

(it really doesn't make a difference, I can shoot and use a sword or knife equally well from either side. It just sounds so fucking cool to let them choose the hand you use.)

Sunday, September 30, 2007

Horse Crazy

The day is still very young, Medskoolgirl, the son and I have just finished breakfast when the buzzer at the gate sounds, setting off a rousing chorus of dog barking. I hit the open switch and go out to meet our guests.

Larry, is dressed in total urban cliche cowboy gear. Dark indigo jeans, most likely first time worn, brand new everything else all the way to the hat. I say "Nice hat" and we shake hands. His family is stunningly beautiful. His wife is a lovely Vietnamese woman. During the introductions I hear the unmistakeable lilt of her accent and immediately switch to Vietnamese myself. I introduce myself and welcome her to my home. She is wearing an expression poised between shock and delight, the kind that isn't quite sure which side of the fence it will fall toward yet. I assure her that all is well. She introduces their twin six year old daughters. They are delightful. The first thing they say to their father is "He talks like grandpa!" They are treasures. I invite them all into the house and introduce them to my kids. The daughters are entranced by all the musical instruments, I show them a few of the different ones, let them pluck at a few of the harps before asking them if they would like to go and meet the horses.

I am told that this is the best idea they've heard in a long time. The girls are literally skipping on our way out to the barn. On the way I'm going over what will happen with their dad. I tell him that we'll turn them out into the round pen and spend some time getting to know one another. Larry does notice that I'm wearing basketball shoes, not boots, he asks about it and I tell him "My left ankle is fused, I can't point my toes to get into boots, plus shoelaces are a lot easier for the EMT's to cut off." Then he asks about the mountain bike singlet that I'm wearing under my Wranglers. I tell him that "There's no inseam, after a few hours in the saddle that becomes important and the padded ass is a big plus too." He sees the clip on spurs that I have on the Reeboks and says "I suppose that's another cross cultural statement?" I laugh and say that's just practicality and nothing more.

One by one we greet each horse, pass out treats and I show Larry how to put on a halter and how to lead the horse. At first he is hesitant, after all, if you aren't used to them the first thing you notice about a horse is how big they are. Then you start to imagine all the very easy ways something that big could do great damage to you. Pretty quickly though he slides right into it. In that very short amount of time I can see that Rosalita is the best choice for him. She's easily the calmest, and certainly the most tractable of the herd.

Once we have them all in the pen we spend some time just walking around with them. Easing into the whole thing. The girls are perched on the fence and are full of questions. Like "Why is this corral round?" "So nobody will ever feel cornered." Stuff like that. I tell them that the two grey horses are Arabians and one girl asks "Are they Muslims?" I chuckle at that and just say "Probably. The Koran says that this kind of horse was especially beloved by the Prophet."

After a bit, I toss a lead rope to Larry and tell him to bring Rosalita over to the fence. Hilarity ensues. I don't let it go on all that long. I just tell him that there are two games which a person will never win with a horse. Chase and Tug 'o' War. He give me a look that says "OK asshole, then how am I supposed to get this rope on that horse?" I give him a licorice bit and say "Hold out your hand and call her." He does, she comes. Good sergeant, good horse. I clip a rope on Sally and bring her next to Rosalita. Then it's time for Casey to go into his stall. He doesn't really want to go, so I holler to the house for Medskoolgirl to come and handle him. I show Larry how to curry the dirt on the horse's back up and then flick it off with a brush. Then we go over picking out the hooves, and checking the shoes for fit and tightness. I say "Let's go get you a saddle trooper."

In the barn we pick out a big, roomy western rig, with lots of padding. Wide and comfy. I snatch up a little aussie, and a couple of bridles and we head out to the horses. It takes a while because I'm walking him through the process, step by step. It's something that is natural and automatic for me, breaking it down into single steps is a chore. I goof it up almost as much as he does but we manage to get it done. Medskoolgirl has been dancing around the ring showing off for the gallery. We get all mounted up and begin to work in earnest. I'm trying to pass as much information as I can, trying to put something I've done my whole life into understandable language. I can see though that we're getting places. He's into the whole heels down and erect posture. He's keeping his hands still. I also see the things we need to work on. He keeps trying to "steer" the horse. That's not how it works. He also needs to relax. There's nothing better than being relaxed and allowing gravity to work its magic for keeping somebody on the back of a horse. I figure that relaxation will come with time. For now, we've been at this a bit over an hour. I call time. Larry wants to keep going and I tell him that horse muscles are totally different from all other activities and that he will thank me in the morning for calling this now. Besides, I point out how wonderfully patient his daughters have been while he rides and they watch. It's time to change that.

I take the big saddle off of Rosalita and put on a little one, built for kids. Rosalita adores kids, probably because they don't weigh all that much, but I also think that she knows and understands the extreme trust that is put in her when she carries a child. Since their twins and they both are equally excited about being on horseback I flip a coin and hoist the winner up on Rosalita's back. The first thing that I notice is that she was paying attention while I worked with her dad. She tries to do all the things that I told him to do without me saying a word. I say "You are a naturalborn rider darling." We start doing circuits around the ring and Rosalita is working like I have her on a lunge line. I ask "Are you ready for the merry go round?" I'm rewarded with a beaming smile and vigorous nod so I cluck Rosalita up into her signature gait, the walking canter. That's where she reaches and canters with her front legs while walking with her back legs. It is a smooth rolling gait that is a joy to sit. The girl starts to laugh out loud because its so much fun.

I holler out to my son to get ready to start riding this girl double on Sally while I put the next girl on Rosalita. This is because Medskoolgirl is off with Casey taking jumps.

The next rider does exactly the same as her sister. She's been paying attention to both of the previous riders and I have the pleasure of sitting back and watching her do everything right. At just about the same time in the ride she tightens up her legs a tiny bit and clucks Rosalita into the walking canter. As she passes her face is a study in joy and triumph. The mother wants no part of riding for now. She's not scared for her husband or her girls, but she's not at all interested in giving it a try.

After a bit we all decide (well, actually I decide the girls would still be riding today if they could) it's time to put the horses up. I tell Larry that it's back to lesson time. We take the horses back to the barn and go through putting the tack away, then picking the hooves again, giving them a brush, then a wash, then another brushing and comb out on the mane and tail. He's really starting to relax around them now. I ask if anybody's hungry. They are.

We barbeque some burgers around the pool and Larry and I sit down for about the deepest conversation we have ever had. He's seen some of the pictures I have in the hallway from Vietnam and he says "I knew you were a veteran, but I didn't know you were a SEAL." I say that I don't much like playing it up, that it was a long time ago. I also tell him that if I hadn't been injured to the point of not being able to physically stay on the teams that I probably would have ended up as a lifer myself. I tell him that I'm worried about the way the current state of affairs is having a harmful effect on the proud military that I gave my service and dedication to. He says that a lot of things are changing, just like they always change. I say "No matter what else I want you to know that I would rather do things to help out rather than just go on and on about how I support the troops and shit like that." I hate folks that say how much they honor the sacrifices and then don't do anything. I also say that I am impressed with him as a man, not just a soldier and that he and his family are welcome in my house anytime. His wife chimes in that the girls have two weeks off of school and would absolutely love another chance to come riding. In Vietnamese I say "You bring those beauties out anytime you want, you don't need the foriegn devil for protection." She giggles demurely and Larry gives me the raised eyebrow "What did you just say to my wife" look. I tell him to learn Vietnamese if he wants to know what I said.

All in all, a very good day. Larry is coming out again in a few days (when his muscles are a bit less sore) and we will go over the drill for putting on cavalry tack.