Dressage #1 (and it is #1)

There are so many things that I want to say about dressage that I am having a hard time organizing this post. Whenever I find myself in such a predicament, I find that getting some of the silliness out of the way can help find a real direction. So without further ado, I give you some of my observations about those of us who are to deep in to get out- not that we would ever ponder such an option.

I couldn’t help myself.

You may have noticed what appears to be a lock of hair in the picture above. It is a lock of hair. It is from my horse’s first haircut- when I trimmed his mane for what is known as the bridle path. I’ve saved this lock from every horse I’ve ever owned and am considering having a bracelet made from this one! It’s not a dressage thing; it’s just the sort of behavior exhibited by horse nuts in general.

Ann Romney jokes aside, the atmosphere surrounding dressage is a bit rarified for some. Images like the one here do not help.

I believe he will also be able to stand up on this trip.

My horse came over from Spain on a plane, and it cost me a pretty penny plus years of planning and saving to be able to afford it. Like most of my dressage friends, I clean stalls, carry water buckets, and even vaccinate or give other shots when necessary. I do not fly out to sunny California when I feel like riding. Rather, I hope that the weather is decent so that I can ride (when don’t I feel like riding?) in my outdoor sand box. Indoor arenas are for sissies (sez me because I do not have one).

I do not buy into the myth that the most expensive stuff is the best stuff. Dressage is expensive enough as it is. For those of you who know gear (for anything), you know that it can literally make the difference between life and death. Does paying over $200 for a pair of breeches make me ride better? On the other hand, paying a bit more for a helmet does have an appealing sort of logic to it. Or even boots… to a point. I know children who are trotting around in $500 boots.

Dressage riders who choose to compete participate in a sport that requires us to wear white spandex pants. Really? Whoever thought that one up definitely had a host of minions to do all the dirty work for them. Here I am in my tidy whities at a show.

White gloves too!

White saddle pads are preferred, though black or navy are acceptable and look especially good on a grey. The only thing harder to keep clean than yourself  wearing white while grooming and tacking up is a white saddle pad. I have some friends who even school in them. Tradition  is great and serves a valid purpose (hey, I think I just found focus for my next post), but in the schooling arena wardrobe? I think not.

On the subject of “bling” dressage riders are nuts. Did you notice the bling on my tie (yes, my tie!)? Subtle, yes? It matches that on my boy’s bridle! I have a friend who makes them if you’re interested. I have to get my color fix outside the show arena because more than what you see above is way beyond tacky. Despite our desire to stand out a little, it really is about how well our horses are schooled. On the other hand, something shiny does give one a bit of a boost…

Our rigs are another source of humor for me. Since I was knee high to a pony I’ve been fascinated by trailers (for both people and horses). Imagine my ecstasy when I discovered that you can get a 2H StL LQ (a two horse straigh- load with living quarters)! I only have a 2HStL w/TR (tack room). Life is tough. Here is what they use in Afghanistan.

Getting there is part of the adventure, yes?

You will notice that the horse above is wearing a blanket. I have heard certain members of my household mumble that my horses have a larger winter wardrobe than most humans. Well that may be true, but we insist on shaving off the horses’ winter coats so they won’t sweat when we school indoors all winter. We even blanket in the fall to prevent the growth of a winter coat! And as for shoes, the same grumbler has pointed out that one horse gets the equivalent of a high-end pair of Nikes every six weeks while he only gets two pairs per year. For the record, the youngster above had such fantastic feet that he is shoeless. My farrier (and he is MINE!!) does not charge an month’s worth of hay to take care of my herd. He is a saint.

Actually, most things can be sources of humor for me- even a spectacular dismount that results in bruised ribs that still trouble me as of this post. See my post entitled “Well I Never!” for the full story on that one. The biggest source of happy amusement right now comes from schooling my young horse (the one in the picture) and myself. His antics make me laugh, and sometimes I swear he is laughing at me too!!

Borders, and Tribes, and Affairs! Oh My!

Some words of introduction here: When I was in Afghanistan, I kept a journal. I wrote down lots of things ‘as they happened’ or ‘the way I remembered them! Now that I am home again, those entries have been placed in an already existing file of writings that I call “Skeletons” because they need to be fleshed out. Maybe I should call it “Bones” because some of them need connecting as well!

 

I recently attended another meeting at the Ministry of Tribal and Border Affairs (MoBTA). My understanding of my task was that I was to offer some guidance to fourteen Afghan guys who would be conducting surveys around the country to find out what folks (tribal leaders) think about Reintegration and Reconciliation (R2). Aside from the irony of me training Afghans on how to get information from their own people, I was skeptical from the start.

My  RM was wearing her Afghan costume. The only other woman there was an English Army person. She wore her civvies and a cute yellow scarf. Neither she nor the RM said a word the entire meeting. This was clearly another case of “Meg’s in charge. Let’s just sit back and watch.”  I chose to wear my ACUs that day but took along a lovely pink and green silk floral scarf just in case (Luckily for all of us, I can’t find that picture! Will keep looking.). It’s a good thing I did because the room was filled with all sorts of tribal elders from down South and representatives from various GIRoA ministries. The imbed over at  Ministry of Borders and Tribal Affairs (MoBTA) was not known for his organizational or communication skills, but this took the cake, or the naan, or whatever they take over here. It was one big interpretive dance (presenting a train heading for a cliff) from the moment we entered the room until we left.

The Afghan gentlemen, were not quite so reserved. In fact they were quite animated at times, like when they argued for ten minutes about the wording of a particular question that they had already decided was stupid.  By the time this argument flared up I was contemplating the best way to go about painfully attracting my interpreter’s attention  because he was joining in the discussion instead of keeping us abreast of things!! The non-Afghans in the room had no clue what was going on and no way to stop it!

This argument only saw the light of day because we had to go through each question one by one and let everybody “vote” on it. I would say the question number then the Minister of Mustaches would read the question in Dari and Pashto. It is safe to assume that some, if not all, of the fantastically dressed Elders couldn’t read (another fashion note: One Elder had a hideous cold and was using a huge silk Hermes scarf that he was using as a hanky. Made quite a show of it too!).

Hermès Hanky

The Elders were not rude- they just weren’t cordial. The more urban dudes had no issue with the  presence of women in the room or the fact that I was (supposedly) running things. Well, things were getting out of control, and the guys weren’t going to take ‘shushing from any woman- not even one in an Army uniform. My mind was racing, trying to figure out how to salvage some semblance of order when I recalled an article that I had read about the Jirga and how men are honor-bound to listen when women speak for peace. Desperation can lead us to take risks. So… I took a deep breath and started talking (I had managed to make my interpreter recall his job for the moment)  The minute I/he said ‘peace’ the room was silent. I owned that meeting for the rest of the afternoon…or maybe they just let me think that, but we had a great discussion about surveys, PEACE, reintegration, PEACE, reconciliation, PEACE, even the Taliban and Pakistan, and PEACE.

Buying Sunglasses in Kabul

They never did say what they think the role of women is in the R2 process, but THEY are the ones who brought up the question (or maybe that’s just what I let them think), and I put my hand on my heart and thanked them. Smiles almost all the way around.

 

Of Parties and Secrets

A little while ago, I had a party at my house. It was originally supposed to be a farewell party for myself- so I could see all the folks I would really miss before I headed back to Afghanistan again. Well, most of you know what happened with that, but I’ve never let a little thing like impending unemployment stand in the way of a good party. So, on with the show!

Parties always provide an excuse for me to clean house. Clean stalls in August heat? No problem. I have been known to lose my vacuum. Parties also give me a chance to break one of the cardinal rules of entertaining: never try a new recipe for guests. I cleaned my house (sort of), and concentrated on what matters- the menu! Here’s what we ate: prize-winning country ribs (they actually did win the People’s Choice Award at a rib cook-off in Athens, GA, corn and black bean salsa, roasted potato salad with rosemary and balsamic dressing, sliced tomatoes with mozzarella and basil leaves, mixed berry salad. And that’s just what we made! Friends also brought some yummy concoctions and potables!

If you’re lookin’, you ain’t cookin!

”But, what about dessert?” you ask. That’s where we get to the secrets and entertainment rules part. I made one old standby, my baklava. The rule breaker was a white chocolate cheesecake, doubly so, because I made a huge departure from the recipe. I’ve been making baklava and cheesecakes of all kinds since I was in high school, so I’m fairly conversant in phyllo pastry and cream cheese.

Whenever there’s a do, folks ask if I will bring baklava or a cheesecake, or both (really good friends can ask that). Folks also always ask for the recipes, but until now, I have never shared. Here’s why. I can’t stand it when people claim that they invented or thought of something that has been around since before they discovered thinking. Maybe it’s a Southern thing, but it’s extremely bad form to take someone’s recipe ( not to mention other things) and pass it off as your own. It’s culinary plagiarism, and if one gets caught, there is a heavy penalty.

Chances are that some of you will recognize parts of my recipes. If you recognize all of it, I will be very surprised, but pleased… great minds and all. My baklava recipe is a combination of recipes from one of those cookbooks that is so well loved that it is in need of replacement.

Culinary credit- a secondary source.

I also do a lot of measuring “to taste” and will advise you to do the same. So without further ado, I give you…

Yours should look something like this.

My Baclava (it really is easy. I promise!!)

5 cups of nuts, very finely chopped- I like a mixture of pecans, almonds and walnuts

1 cup sugar

2 t cinnamon

1 box phyllo pastry

1 stick butter, melted

½ cup olive oil

For the syrup you will need:

 Syrup

1 ½ c water

2 ½ c sugar

6 cloves (or to taste)

2 sticks or 1 t cinnamon (or to taste)

1/8 t salt

zest of one lemon and one orange (you can use dried here, also to taste)

1 c honey

Preheat oven to 325.

Instead of messing about brushing every delicate sheet with butter (been there, done that), lift 5-6 sheets of pastry and place on bottom of pan. (The ideal pan is the same dimensions as your pastry, but then again, I love the edge pieces with all the extra pastry, so you decide here.) Spread about 1 cup of the nut mixture on the pastry. Add more sheets of pastry. Add more nuts. You get the picture.

Work quickly. You’ll get faster as you develop your own methods. Keeping a damp cloth over the pastry will help keep it from drying out.

With a very sharp, serrated knife, slice the baklava- diamonds, squares, whatever. Combine the melted butter and olive oil. Pour over the baklava. Make sure you coat every piece.

Place on middle rack in oven and bake until golden brown.

Make the syrup while the baklava is baking.

Place all ingredients except honey in a saucepan. Dissolve the sugar by stirring. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 10 minutes. Remove from heat and add honey. Set aside and check the baklava. The recipes I have used all say it takes an hour to an hour and a half to cook this stuff. Not so in my oven. More like 30-40 minutes.

When the baklava is a nice golden brown, take it out of the oven. Pour about a cup (+/-) over the pastry. Let it soak. Keep pouring syrup in intervals until it reaches top of baklava. You will probably have some syrup left over (you should). Keep this because the baklava will soak up everything you have just poured on, and you may want/need to add more!

Let the baklava cool. Refrigeration tends to make it soggy. Cover and let it continue to soak. When presenting, you can leave in pan (not traditional, but practical at larger parties) or, if practical, remove and separate each piece. Place on a dish. There will be syrup running everywhere. That’s a good thing!!

Make some good coffee and enjoy!! Btw- the leftover syrup is good on all sorts of things!

Oh! I nearly forgot! Some people think the edge pieces are too untidy to share with guests. That’s up to you, but I happen to think they are the tastiest. Just sayin’.

So… I have now bared a small corner of my inner cookbook. I am still too insecure to share the rib recipe though.

 

Turkish Coffee- another thing that shrouded in a myth of difficulty