The Iron Gate

Below the dam at Iron Gate

This morning after breakfast, our boat approached the great dam on the Danube built in the 1960’s as a joint hydro-electric project by the governments of Yugoslavia and Romania.  Behind the dam lies a sixty-mile-long finger lake submerging what was for centuries one of the most beautiful and treacherous stretches of water in Europe.  The Danube narrows precipitously in the gorge between the Carpathian and Balkan Mountains, at times becoming no more than 150 feet wide.  Before the dam was built, the seventy miles of the Iron Gates consisted of rapids, whirlpools, jagged rocks just below the surface of the water, and the constant threat of capsizing.  For centuries, writers told hair-raising tales of their passage through the Iron Gates, and river traffic down the Danube generally stopped  at Veliko Gradiste (the Roman fort of Punicum) and recommenced southeast of the gorge, after a strenuous overland trek across the mountains.  The Roman general Trajan built a road alongside the river to transport his legions and supplies, drilling holes into the rock of the sheer cliffs above the waterline and pounding  poles into the holes to support a cantilevered wooden walkway.  Some of the holes are still visible, although most of them, along with entire villages and many priceless archeological sites, lie submerged beneath the water above the dam.

The first lock

We transited two locks between the lower and the upper Danube, raising our little boat a total of 100 feet.  The second lock was big enough to hold two ships across and three end to end, although we were the only boat headed upstream during our trip.  (We did meet — briefly — two older and larger riverboats heading downstream in the second lock, and all of the passengers on all three boats were out on deck waving at each other.  River cruising in this part of the world isn’t exactly crowded.)

The Danube in the Iron Gate

The scenery sailing through the Iron Gate is truly spectacular, reminding many of us of the Norwegian fjords.  On the Romanian side, near the place where Trajan had a bridge built across the Danube, Europe’s tallest rock sculpture can be seen from the river: King Decebalus, the ruler of Dacia, defeated by Trajan in the second century A.D.  No likeness of Trajan parallels it, though, to commemorate his victory.  At sunset, we saw one of the most beautiful little castles imaginable, set just above the river on the northern bank.  How it escaped being drowned along with the rest of its history we can’t imagine.

King Decebalus

For more photos of the Iron Gate, click here.

Laurie

 

Bulgaria

Across the Danube from Romania is the fascinating country of Bulgaria, the only country in Europe that has never changed its name over the centuries.  We docked in Ruse, a very large city, and drove immediately to the beautiful village of Arbanassi, where all the streets seem to go up, no matter which way you’re walking.  Two black goats tethered under a tree across from a big al fresco restaurant reminded us that people here live close to the land.

Bulgaria endured five centuries of Turkish occupation during the heyday of the Ottoman Empire, and evidence of that period of oppression is still found everywhere.  For example, our first stop was the magnificent 16th-century Church of the Nativity in the heart of Arbanassi, which looks like a simple barn from the outside.  The Turks decreed that the Orthodox Christians of Bulgaria could practice their religion, but that their churches could be no taller than the tallest Turkish soldier on his  horse, with his sword raised.  Being rather ingenious people, the Bulgarians frequently dug out deep chambers just inside the doorways of the churches, so that they would be able to build high-ceilinged sanctuaries.  The church we visited, however, was all on ground level, but every inch of the interior was decorated with frescoes depicting scenes from the Bible and portraits of saints.  The pictures glowed in the dim light, touches of gold leaf picking out the haloes and the jewelry of the figures.  The artists who created these spectacular works were superbly talented, especially in their ability to depict their subjects realistically.

Inside the Church of the Nativity

As a special treat, a four-person choir of professional singers, dressed in historic Orthodox Christian robes, performed several ancient polyphonic songs in the main sanctuary.  The acoustics gave the sound an unearthly beauty and power, and everyone later agreed that it had been a transforming experience.

Arbanassi also boasts the fascinating 15th-century Konstan Calieva House, now a museum showing the daily life of a wealthy merchant family of the period.  The home was protected by iron bars on the windows and a massive oak door on iron hinges, in case of an attack by bandits.  Rich Oriental carpets covered a wooden platform that ran the length of the main room under barred windows, where the family entertained guests with Turkish coffee poured from small brass pitchers.  The bedroom, furnished with another carpet-covered platform, boasted a stucco-faced stove that heated the entire house through vents near the ceiling, a very modern touch in a medieval house.

In a spectacular setting above the Yantra River, only a few miles from Arbanassi, is the beautiful village of  Veliko Turnovo, the medieval capital of Bulgaria.  Houses cling to the steep cliffs on one side of the river, while the other bank is protected by the stone walls of a massive fortress.  In the village itself, we were finally able to satisfy our shopping urges — down a winding cobblestone street were dozens of small shops and artisans’ studios, where we could watch the craftsmen at work. In one, a master coppersmith made bowls and platters and tall pitchers; in another, a young woman wove colorful shawls; in a third, a wood carver fashioned small wooden toys in fanciful shapes.  We  found a small wine shop staffed by a charming young woman, who recommended a particular Bulgarian wine (which we later discovered, to our pleasant surprise when we opened it in our cabin, was excellent).  In a tiny jewelry shop, I bought a handmade silver pendant, decorated with gold and colored enamel, on a steel chain.  The artist herself wrapped my purchase and gave me a little card describing her technique.

Woodworker in his shop

The next day, we visited the small — and, we were told, the poorest — town in Bulgaria, our last stop in that country during the cruise.  Vidin has a beautiful riverside park that runs along the Danube from the center of town to the medieval fortress of Baba Vida, which I

think means “Grandmother of Life.”  We walked into the town and noticed that the cobblestone streets were in serious need of repair and many of the buildings could have done with a little loving attention, but the cafes were busy and the local population looked healthy and well dressed.  We had been told that there was an impressive synagogue, built in the 1880’s and destroyed by five several years ago, that was well worth seeing, so we set out in search of it.  A tourist information center sign over a doorway produced a young man of limited English but good will, who pointed down the street and indicated it would be on the left.  We walked and walked, growing hotter and more tired by the minute, and finally decided that if we hadn’t seen the synagogue by the time we reached a sign where the street curved, we would go back to the boat.

Vidin synagogue

Just as we got to our turn-back point, a gap in the trees opened up, and there it was: a spectacularly beautiful building, now just a shell with a roof, but unmistakably a 19th-century synagogue in a once-prosperous Jewish community.  The windows still displayed their decorative metal tracery, and the interior was supported by metal columns that had withstood the fire.  The fence around the building had a gate, which was standing open, so we went inside.  A group of young people was already there, walking around the upper level and looking with interest at the remains of what must have been the finest building in town.  Gerry said there must be no Jews left in Vidin; even a small Jewish population would never have left their synagogue in such disrepair for so long.  It was very impressive, nonetheless, and a sad reminder of the effects of World War II in eastern Europe.

 

Speaking of the Jews in this part of the world, we learned a very interesting story about Bulgaria.  In the early years of the war, Hitler sent a dispatch to Czar Boris III, the king of Bulgaria, demanding a certain number of Bulgarian troops for the war effort.  Boris reluctantly agreed, with the proviso that he would send no troops to fight the Russians, since Russia had liberated Bulgaria from the Turks after 500 years of occupation.  Then Hitler sent an order directing that all the Jews of Bulgaria be loaded onto trains and shipped to the camps in the north.  After a sequence of “lost” orders and miscommunication, the Czar and one of the leading Bulgarian politicians arrived at a solution: the infrastructure of the country was in need of repair, so many of the more prominent Jews were sent to work on road and bridge projects.  Boris reported to Hitler that he couldn’t spare any of his Jewish workers, and Hitler backed down.  More important, the Patriarch of the Orthodox Christian Church proclaimed that any Bulgarian who assisted the Nazis in the deportation of the Jews would be excommunicated.  As a result, Bulgaria’s 48,000 Jews were saved from the Holocaust.  Only Denmark, with its 8,000 Jews, can claim to have done the same.

For more photos, click here.

For more photos of Vidin and the synagogue, click here.

Laurie

 

Bucharest, the “Little Paris of the Balkans”

To compensate for the weather yesterday, this morning dawned bright and sunny, with the promise of a warm day ahead.  We had the choice of an extended tour of the city of Bucharest or a visit to the Black Sea and the ancient seaside village of Constanta before embarking our riverboat.  Although we’d seen something of the city en route to Bran Castle, we wanted to learn more about the Romanian capital, so we elected the city tour.  (Also, the prospect of a second long day on a bus was less appealing than what we knew would be a walking-intensive day of sightseeing.)

Bucharest is laid out around several large plazas linked by wide avenues in many cases and narrow streets in others.  The architecture of the city is eclectic, to say the least, with a strong French influence tempered by dashes of Italian, Spanish, and Middle Eastern design.  Although Bucharest suffered a good deal of damage during World War II, many of the elegant nineteenth-century buildings survived and have been restored.  Romania is strongly Catholic (of the Orthodox branch), and Eastern Orthodox churches abound in the city, despite 45 years of Communist rule after the war.

 

The Athenaeum, Bucharest

One of the most beautiful buildings in the city is the Athenaeum, built in 1888 as a concert hall and still in use for that purpose today.  In fact, during our visit, musicians were assembling and warming up onstage for an orchestra rehearsal.  When we walked into the grand foyer on the ground floor, the sight literally took our breath away.  Graceful arches, massive columns, curving marble staircases, gold leaf, glittering crystal chandeliers – the Athenaeum would be the crown jewel in any city in the world.  As Gerry remarked, though, it appears that to meet the requirements of the Romanians with Disabilities Act, there must be stairs so that you don’t have to haul yourself up by a rope.  If there were elevators in any of the buildings we visited, they were well concealed.

Grand Foyer, the Athenaeum

 

The concert hall is on the first floor (second floor to us Yanks) and is as spectacular in its own way as the foyer.  The semicircular walls behind the seats are painted in a diorama representing the entire history of Romania, from the days of the Romans to the last years of the nineteenth century.  The ceiling of the concert hall is a dome studded with round windows that can be shuttered to keep out the light during performances.  Above and behind the stage are the pipes of an immense organ, gleaming like the folds of a golden curtain.  Red velvet seats and gold leaf touches on carved wood add richness and warmth to this beautiful performance space.

Athenaeum Concert Hall

 

Romania’s most famous composer and teacher of music was George Enescu, who died in 1955 and is revered throughout the country.  His statue is prominently displayed on the landing of the grand staircase of the Athenaeum, and there are bronze plaques on several buildings in Bucharest marking places associated with his life and career.  One of his best-known students was the great violinist Yehudi Menuhin, not a bad way to cement your reputation as a teacher.

Our second stop was at the massive People’s Palace, now the Palace of Parliament.  (We learned long ago that in many countries, the word “palace” is used for any imposing building associated with government and is not restricted to royal residences.)  This monumental atrocity, the second largest building in the world after the Pentagon, was intended to be the crowning showpiece of the Romanian despot Nicolae Ceausescu.  He had his finger in every aspect of its design and construction, making changes even after something had been built, with the result that the building was only two-thirds finished in 1989, when Ceausescu was deposed, tried, and executed.  It has been almost completed now, with only a vast network of underground tunnels left unfinished.  It contains a thousand rooms, and rumor has it that not even the people who work there have seen all of them.  All the materials used in the building were Romanian, even if that meant the total depletion of the natural resources from which they were taken.  The estimated cost when construction was halted in 1989 was $5 billion; we don’t know what was spent to complete it.  We do know that the income from renting various halls and rooms doesn’t come close to covering the cost of basic maintenance, so the building is falling into disrepair.  Ostentatious, tasteless, and unimaginably extravagant, the building is a monument to the ego of one man, who didn’t care if he bankrupted his country in the process of proclaiming his own importance.

People’s Palace, Bucharest

 

In order to make room for the building, Ceausescu ordered that 28,000 homes be torn down and the hill on which they stood, one of the seven upon which the city was built, be leveled.  The residents of those homes were relocated to concrete-block apartments, where they often lacked water, electricity, and decent sanitation.  They were not permitted to keep their dogs in the apartments, so the animals were abandoned to live on the streets, resulting in today’s 500,000 stray dogs in and around Bucharest.  As well as homes, many historically significant buildings, mostly churches, were demolished; a very few were moved to other locations in the city.

We had a charming young local guide as we toured less than five percent of the palace, which helped to ameliorate the sense of distaste we felt at the waste of precious resources squandered on the building.  She had every relevant statistic at her fingertips and knew to the last ounce what the 185-foot-long gold-embroidered velvet draperies weighed that flanked the windows on a pair of staircases.  She had a quick wit, too, which reminded us that the Romanian people were able to endure life under a Communist regime partly through the subversive use of humor and satire to deflect cruelty and oppression.

These days, the palace houses the Romanian Parliament, which occupies only a small portion of the available space, and most of the vast rooms are empty of everything except carpets on the marble floors.  They are rented for events and conferences, which helps to pay for the upkeep.  The Romanian Olympic gymnast Nadia Comenici held her wedding in one of the largest of these rooms, where Ceausescu had planned to have a giant portrait of himself on one wall and one of his wife on the facing wall.  But then he became jealous of his wife for some reason (apparently she was a terrible woman, with a will of iron) and decided to put his own portrait on one wall and a gigantic mirror on the facing wall instead.  Fortunately, neither of these decisions was implemented.

We covered two kilometers and climbed over 200 steps during our tour of the palace (yet another statistic our guide, Lara, gave us at the end – if she’d done it at the beginning, she might have lost a few of us), so we were ready for lunch.  This time, we were driven to a delightful tavern, Cara Cu Bere, in the heart of the old city, where a phalanx of cheerful young waiters served up a menu of traditional Romanian cuisine.  From the spicy beet soup to the chicken to the epergnes holding pickled fruits, it was a unique dining experience.  If you’ve never tried pickled grapes, well, what can I say?  Like a lot of experiences, I’m glad I did it once, but once was enough.

I can’t leave Romania without saying a little more about Nicolae Ceausescu and his wife, Elena, who was despised even by her own children.  The dictator habitually made speeches, surrounded by a cadre of the faithful,  from the balcony of one of the ministries, where 300,000 cheering people would gather in the square and the street below.  One fateful day in December 1989, when he appeared on the balcony, he was stunned to hear the 300,000 people shouting for his resignation.  He looked around for his entourage and found himself alone.  Escape by the usual routes was impossible, so he summoned a helicopter to pluck him from the roof of the ministry and fly him to safety.  Unfortunately for him, the helicopter had to land somewhere within the country, and Ceausescu was quickly arrested, together with his wife.  After a hastily-arranged show trial, both were convicted of crimes against the people and were taken from the room to a courtyard, where they were summarily executed.  The trial and the executions were filmed in their entirety and were shown on Romanian television over and over during the following days, so the people would know it was true that the despot was dead.  A video about Ceausescu containing some of this footage was shown to the passengers on the riverboat and was very impressive.

Back on the bus, we headed out of the city for the last time and toward Cernavoda, a town near the mouth of the Danube where our riverboat was (we hoped) docked and waiting for us.  As we crossed the bridge to the other side of the river, we could see two riverboats docked side by side, but there didn’t seem to be much in the way of a pier.  Our driver began to maneuver the coach down progressively narrower and less-paved streets in the general direction of the river, until we were slogging through mud and dodging goats and stray dogs.  Our Tauck tour director, a very pleasant and competent woman from Hungary, growing slightly worried, began asking plaintively over the microphone if anyone had seen the ship, and if so, would that person please let the driver know.  Just then, the river appeared before us, and there was Treasures, Tauck’s newest riverboat, launched just last October and still sparkling and new.  The boarding process was mercifully swift, and we were soon settled into our cabin, where all our luggage was awaiting our arrival.

As you may know, the cabins on most riverboats are notoriously small, since the boats themselves are required to be quite narrow and low enough to pass under bridges and through constricted waterways.  So no 1,000-square-foot suites, unless you rent the lounge for the duration of the trip.  On Treasures, all the cabins are 150 square feet, including the closet and the bathroom, except for one deck of larger rooms.  We’d initially booked a standard cabin, but then we realized that this cruise would be just the beginning of our ten weeks in Europe, for which we needed a whole lot more luggage than we would have needed for the cruise alone.  The boat has no facilities for storing luggage, so we would have to keep it all in our cabin.  In addition, the question of closet space occurred to me, since I’m the one who does the packing and unpacking.  Our travel agent checked with clients who made this same cruise on this boat last fall and learned that there was one small closet for the two of them, so I knew I couldn’t even unpack one of our suitcases.  So we bit the bullet and upgraded to one of the larger cabins, for which we are unbelievably thankful.  Three weeks on the river in 150 square feet with your loved one could lead to homicide and suicide, in that order.

The boat (I refuse to call it a ship, although its proper designation is MS Treasures) is absolutely beautiful and immaculately maintained.  Every aspect of its design and decoration has been carefully thought out to maximize the space available and to make the passengers as comfortable as possible.  The interior colors are shades of gold and bronze, with black and brown accents, and the furnishings are scaled to the size of the boat.  Our bed is very comfortable and inviting after a long day of touring, and we have a walk-in closet, a tub and separate shower, and two French balconies that give us a floor-to-ceiling, almost wall-to-wall view of the passing scenery.  I’ll describe the amenities like food and wine next time – or I’ll ask Gerry to do it, since that is his specialty.

And so we sailed for Ruse, Bulgaria, and the beginning of our first riverboat adventure.  For more pictures of our day in Bucharest, click here.

Bucharest and Beyond

 Flying from Sarasota to Bucharest reminds me of the old saying, “You can’t get there from here.”  Well, actually you can, but it’s not easy.  After long layovers in Atlanta and Amsterdam, we arrived in the capital of Romania thirty hours after our flight left Sarasota, jet-lagged and exhausted, for the start of a 24-day Tauck cruise on three of the world’s great rivers: the Danube, the Rhine, and the Main.

The trip began with two nights in Bucharest at the J. W. Marriott Grand Hotel, a beautiful facility in the city center directly across from the gigantic People’s Palace (more about that later).  Our first morning in the city dawned cold and rainy, which seemed to suit the day-long tour we chose: a long bus ride to the mountains of Transylvania and Bran Castle, a fortress used by Vlad the Impaler (better known as Dracula) during his military campaigns in the 15thcentury.  Interestingly, the name “Dracula” has nothing to do with vampires, but just means “Son of the Dragon,” his father having been a member of the medieval Hungarian chivalric Order of the Dragon.  Vlad is seen by Romanians as a sort of Balkan Robin Hood, a brilliant fighter and strategist who fought the Ottoman Empire during its long – and largely successful – attempt to take over the entire region surrounding the Black Sea.  Vlad’s reputation for extreme brutality, even in a brutal period, culminated in his being called “the Impaler” because of his favorite and particularly gruesome method of dealing with his enemies.  To illustrate his creative brand of cruelty, there is a story, perhaps apocryphal, about a dinner to which he invited several boyars who had adopted the Muslim custom of wearing turbans.  Vlad hated Muslims, having spent his life at war with them,  and demanded that they remove their turbans, knowing that they would refuse.   When they rejected his demand, the servant who stood behind each boyar with food and wine stepped forward with a hammer and nails and firmly attached the turbans to the guests’ heads.

Bran Castle, Transylvania

 

Bran Castle itself is a beautiful stone fortress, built in the 13th century in the Carpathian Mountains as a defense against invaders who had to use the narrow pass to reach the lowlands.  In the early 20thcentury, the castle was given to Queen Marie of Romania by the people of her country in appreciation for her service, and she used it as a summer retreat for years.  Now a cultural museum and a major tourist attraction, it gives modern visitors a sense of what life must have been like centuries ago (although the furnishings are not from the medieval period).  In one of the small rooms, a table was set for Easter, with beautiful rustic breads and a basket of elaborately decorated eggs.

Romanian Easter Eggs

We climbed winding steps encased in stone walls so narrow we couldn’t imagine how a very large person could keep from getting stuck.  We ducked under low archways to reach rooms with spectacular views through arrow slits across the valleys on either side of the fortress.  The dark oak beams that support the walls and ceilings of the rooms date from the time of the castle’s construction and are still as sturdy as they were 700 years ago.  The central courtyard, with its cobblestones and picturesque well, could have served as the stage set for a Rossini opera.  What was intended for defense has become a charming fairytale castle, making it easy for us to forget its long and bloody history.  Even on a gray and rainy day, and even after an arduous climb from the village of Bran 250 feet up an uneven rocky pathway to the castle steps, it was a memorable experience for us.

Restaurant in Bran, Transylvania

 

Afterwards, we had our first encounter with what Romanians consider a simple lunch.  We walked from the castle down a narrow street to a restaurant called Popasul Reginei (which I think refers to the Queen of Romania, the Romanian language having evolved from Latin), where four small deer entertained us from their paddock outside the windows.  The tables were set with blue-patterned Bohemian china and wine glasses, and at each place was a large plate of artfully arranged antipasto, which we assumed was our lunch.  Wrong.  The next course was grilled chicken and beef, accompanied by a salad.  And then came dessert and coffee.  The whole meal was liberally laced with Romanian wine and beer, so when we finally (after two-plus hours at the table) waddled out to the waiting bus, we had no trouble sleeping all the way back to the hotel.  If Romanians eat this way at lunchtime, we can’t imagine what their dinners must be like.

By the way, we saw no gypsies during our time in Romania, although they do make up part of the population.  I asked our guide about the origin of gypsies, who are sometimes called Romani, because I’d thought they might have originated in Romania.  On the contrary, other European countries have a much larger concentration of gypsies, and their place of origin is shrouded in mystery.  The word “gypsy” is derived from the word “Egypt,” since at one time gypsies were thought to have come from there.  It seems more likely that they originated further east, perhaps even in Mongolia, but no one knows.

The Romanian countryside is very beautiful, rain or shine, with broad plains planted with wheat and barley and sunflowers, then the rolling foothills of the Carpathian Mountains, and finally the mountains themselves, forming a natural barricade between the northern and southern parts of the country.  We had heard of the Balkans, of course, but we must admit that before we planned this trip, we wouldn’t have been able to locate Romania on a map.  We expect to be much better educated about this part of the world by the end of the cruise.  If you’d like to see more pictures of Bran Castle and our visit to Transylvania, click here.

Next installment: Bucharest, the “Little Paris” of the Balkans.

Laurie

Pluck is off to Australia

We know that many of you have been wondering about what is going on with Pluck, our beautiful black colt who won the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf in 2010.  He ran a couple of lackluster races in 2011 and was found to have fractured two cannon bones, an injury from which he recovered normally.  Then he was entered in a race the day before the Breeders’ Cup in 2011, but that afternoon he developed colic, which is nothing like what babies get: his intestines became twisted, and if they had stayed that way for more than a couple of hours, he might have died.  He was vanned to a veterinary specialist in Lexington, and emergency surgery was performed to unkink his intestines, barely in time to save his life.  He made a good recovery, but it was decided to interrupt his racing career and look into sending him to stud instead.

Two weeks ago, we were informed by our managing partner that the remaining 55% of the horse that our partnership owned had been sold to the Vinery Australia, the stable that bought 45% of Pluck right after he won the Breeders’ Cup.  They love his daddy, More Than Ready, in Australia and are delighted to get our colt as a stallion for their brrodmare stables.  We were sorry to give up our interest in him, but this is the best possible outcome for him.  Our share of his winnings and his sale price has made it possible for us to continue to buy and own race horses, and we will always be grateful to him.  He was our first real purchase (after a one-percent interest in six yearlings that got us into the game), and what a gift he has been!

We thought you’d like to see some of the pictures we’ve collected of Pluck.  Even if he hadn’t been such a great race horse, he would always have been the most beautiful horse we’ve ever seen.  Let’s all wish him a long and happy life.

Laurie

At the finish line

Pluck in the lead at the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf

Pluck at Goldmark Farm early 2010

Salmon Coulibiac Dinner

About once a year, we invite a few friends over to try our brioche-wrapped wild king salmon dish, using a recipe by Rose Levy Beranbaum from her book Rose’s Melting Pot. While she is best known for her book, The Cake Bible, I think her Melting Pot is one of the best cookbooks around. No recipe better exemplifies this than “Russian Rivers Salmon Pie (coulibiac)”. It is not an easy dish to make- and is full of opportunities for disaster – and takes parts of three days to prepare at that. But it elegant and wonderfully flavorful, and visually is beautiful and unusual.

It might help to understand the narrative by going to the gallery link here.

The brioche is prepared two days before service, from bread flour, eggs, and butter. It goes through two rises, with refrigerator time in between, to keep the butter from separating, and firming the dough. It is kept chilled until ready to roll out on the third day.

The salmon is briefly poached in chicken broth and white wine, with sliced mushrooms on top. The poaching broth is poured off and used to make a veloute, along with egg yolks and lemon juice, a roux, and seasonings. After thickening, the veloute with the mushrooms added is placed over the salmon and put in the refrigerator to chill until set, up to a day.

Crepes are made from cornstarch, milk, eggs, and minced dill and parsley. These, too, can be made a day ahead and chilled.

Next, couscous is prepared, adding chopped hard-boiled eggs, and minced dill and parsley.

The day of service, the brioche is rolled out and lined with dill crepes to keep the brioche from getting wet from the salmon mixture. Layers of couscous and salmon-veloute are alternated, followed by a final dill crepe covering, and the brioche is pulled together, trimmed and sealed, decorated with pastry cut-shapes and brushed with an egg glaze.

After resting (the coulibiac, not the chef) it is baked for an hour.

The coulibiac is removed from the oven, cooled, sliced, and served with clarified butter. Now do you see why we only make it once a year?

 

In Lingerie wins the Black-Eyed Susan

After stepping on her own feet and stumbling out of the gate, In Lingerie won the $300,000 Grade II Black-Eyed Susan at Pimlico on Friday afternoon with a flourish, defeating a field of eight other three-year-old fillies on a sunny day in Baltimore.  We weren’t able to attend, since we’re only a week away from leaving on our long summer trip, but we were well represented in the Winner’s Circle by Phil and Robin and their two older children, Lindsay and Jacob.  This was the grandchildren’s first racing experience, and we’re afraid that they will expect to be in the Winner’s Circle every time they go to the track from now on.  We’ll have to explain that we won’t always have a horse in the race, much less a winner.

The decision by the trainer, Todd Pletcher, and our managing partner, Aron Wellman of Eclipse Thoroughbred Partners,  to pull In Lingerie out of the Kentucky Oaks and run her on Preakness weekend instead proved to be a wise one.  Our filly was in perfect condition and had been training beautifully for the past weeks, so she was able to show what she could do under the right conditions, running on the dirt for a mile and one-eighth, a longer distance than she’d ever run before.  Her next race might be the Mother Goose at Belmont, a Grade I Stakes race at a mile and one-sixteenth the day before the Belmont Stakes.  In Lingerie is already rated the 11th-best filly her age in the country, and if she continues to perform at this level, she could well be named the 2012 three-year-old filly of the year.  How exciting is that?

Meanwhile, here are some pictures from the Black-Eyed Susan, showing what a strong and determined race our filly ran.  We couldn’t be prouder of her.

Laurie

Ready to run

In the post parade

Racing with an injured foot

About to take the lead

At the finish line

May Racing Update

The 2012 Derby is history and was fantastic or disappointing, depending upon your connections, or your bets. Cousin Kenny Rosenberg handicapped winner I’ll Have Another, and we reveled in the joy of our partners at TVI, who have ownership in fourth-place finisher Went The Day Well. He closed from a 17th place start to finish driving, and is a legitimate Preakness contender, coming out of the race with only an insignificant ( re: Graham Motion) leg cut.

On the social scene, cousins Maxine and David Rouben, who graciously agreed to host us at their Louisville home for the Oaks, had a great Oaks Day perched in a box at the finish line, well out of the passing rainstorms. Devastated we weren’t there after our “In Lingerie ” was scratched. No word on their handicapping skills.

Rosie Napravnik, a female jockey, won the Oaks for the first time in history (see earlier post about Rosie).

Where we are concerned, since we last reported, Vapour Musing finished third in a maiden race, contending in to the stretch, then appearing to drop the bit — picking it up again the last 1/16th, but falling short of a maiden win.

You know that Sweet Cat finished second to a monster finish by Jazzy Idea on a very soft turf, and State of Play is, at last report,tentatively scheduled to run at Belmont on May 19.

 

 

 

Racing Update

Hello all,

We are just back from a two-week driving trip to visit kids and grandkids in St. Louis and Washington, D.C.  As you know if you read the previous post, our connections decided not to enter In Lingerie in the Kentucky Oaks tomorrow. She is not injured, but Todd Pletcher and our CEO Aron Wellman felt her last work did not warrant an entry in the Oaks, given the level of competition. The fourteen best fillies in the country will be competing in this “Run for the Lilies” the day before the Kentucky Derby.  If our filly isn’t at her best, it wouldn’t be fair to run her against them.

In the meantime, Sweet Cat ran yesterday at Belmont in a non-graded stakes for $85,000, and finished a non-threatening second, four lengths behind the winner, Jazzy Idea, and nearly two lengths ahead of the third place finisher. The speed of the race was an extraordinary 1:10 and change, and Sweet Cat earned $17,000. Still and all, she was widely expected to win, so the race was a disappointment overall.

Further on, our third filly, three-year-old Vapour Musing, goes in a maiden special weight at Pimlico tomorrow in the 10th race, for a $31,000 purse. We don’t believe our connections have much confidence in her, echoed by her morning line fifth choice in a field of nine. BTW, of the six horses we currently own in partnerships, Vapour Musing and Fifth Gear (our new two-year-old acquisition with son Phil, who is just in training and has never raced), all of the others are Stakes winners or Graded Stakes placed. This includes Pluck, winner of the 2010 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf; Sweet Cat, third- place finisher in the 2011 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf; and State of Play, winner of the Grade 2 With Anticipation Stakes — who is recovering from stifle injuries. He is expected to run in the James Murphy Stakes at Pimlico for $100,000 on May 19, if his stifles heal.

And last, but not least, In Lingerie, expected to run in the Kentucky Oaks, was deemed not ready at this time for the level of competition that the Oaks presented, and is instead pointed toward the Black-eyed Susan at Pimlico the day before the Preakness two weeks later, where the level of competition is expected to be less intense — although not to say easy.

Keep posted!  Comments welcome.

Gerry