Bernadette Peters Hates Me, by Keith Stewart

FB Cover Bernadette Peters Hates Me (2)

Anybody can be funny once, right? Tell a joke at just the right time, hit a line with perfect comic timing, unintentionally craft the perfect sentence. Well, Keith Stewart is not just anybody.

How I Met Keith

I had the pleasure of meeting Keith at the Appalachian Writers Conference last summer and he is the kind of guy who just immediately makes you smile. I knew no one; Keith immediately introduced me to a few people and checked in on me a couple more times to make sure I was doing well. So when I found out his book, Bernadette Peters Hates Me, True Tales of a Delusional Man, was set for a book-signing and release party at the Morris Book Shop, I put the date down in red on my calendar and I’m so glad I did.

Bernadette Peters Hates Me is a book of short, comic essays that frankly, has just about the best cover art I’ve ever seen (Dwayne Booth) and causes me to laugh out loud every time I pick it up, no matter how many times I’ve read the essay. I’m in the midst of some gritty work for my everyday job as of this minute, so Keith’s book is providing me some essential medicine.

Hot Yoga

During the signing of Bernadette Peters Hates Me, Keith read from an essay called Hot Yoga or How to Self Administer Your Own Stroke. Little did the poor man know I would nearly fall out of my chair laughing in recognition, having been subjected to the same two-week torture by my best friend as a birthday present.

Once there [at the Bikram yoga studio], though, what I discovered was far from a glorified new way to lose weight. What I discovered was the Devil himself has decided to tap into the multi-million dollar fitness industry with his own special workout.. . .After changing, I confidently opened the door to the studio. What hit me next was a wall of heat that can only be explained by preheating your oven to five hundred degrees and sticking your head inside it. . . . I tried to keep up with the different stances and not be self-conscious of how I looked doing them. This became much easier to do as the 105-degree heat and the bright, fluorescent lights and the annoying teacher’s voice all kept smashing into me. My last conscious sight was  (my friend) Jeff on his back with his leg in a position that looked like he had been mangled in a car wreck of a skiing accident. He mouthed to me, “I’m sorry. We shouldn’t have come.”

hot yogaThen, what I call Bikram Tourette’s Syndrome took over my body. I think it was my body’s only way of getting through this trauma. I started occasionally yelling out random curse words as I tried to twist and contort my body in ways just not possible.

I’m laughing too much to type the rest. Bernadette Peters Hates Me spares no one, least of all the author, in its quest for a great chuckle. Just what I needed today!

Return to Sender

I particularly enjoyed the essay titled, Return to Sender – The Letter File. Here, Keith shares with us a smattering of the letters he wished he’d sent: offering his services to Rutgers University’s graduation; to the gentleman sitting in front of Keith at a Judds Concert; to the winner of the “Worst Blind Date Ever” award. And Talk Derby to Me is irresistible on this Preakness Saturday.

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Bizarro

Lasix is a common drug used in the racing industry. It prevents a horse’s lungs from hemorrhaging blood due to the stress of exercise. . . . [I]t is marked in the racing program with a (L) beside the horse’s name for full disclosure.

I had no knowledge of any of this. The only Lasik I had heard of was the out-patient surgery that miraculously corrected one’s vision.

I started noticing almost every horse in the race had an (L) beside its name. “Wow,” all these horses have had Lasik? I had no idea horses were that near-sighted,” I announced to my friends. Everyone stared at me. Not noticing, I started wondering out loud, “Has anyone seen a near-sighted horse who was not lucky enough to have the Lasik procedure? Has anyone seen a horse with horse-sized sports goggles strapped on so it could see? Do they manufacture horse contact lenses, and how in the world would you put them in the horse’s eyes?”

MENU

Keith Stewart provided his suggestions for a book club menu, and a recipe!

Some favorite food for book club that would go with the book: a combo of classy and redneck, just like me! Perhaps thinly sliced pickled bologna served on saltines, along with sausage stuffed mushrooms. The mushrooms are really simple, but delish:

Ingredients: 35 large fresh mushrooms 1/2 pound bulk pork sausage 1/2 – 1 cup shredded part-skim mozzarella cheese 1/4 cup seasoned bread crumbs

Directions: 1. Remove stems from mushrooms and finely chop; set caps aside. 2. In a large skillet, cook sausage and mushrooms over medium heat until meat is no longer pink; drain. Remove from the heat. 3. Stir in cheese and bread crumbs. 4. Fill each mushroom cap with about 1 tablespoon of filling. 5. Place on foil-lined baking sheets. Bake at 400° for 16-20 minutes or until mushrooms are tender. Yield: 35 appetizers.

Sounds great to me.

MUSIC

So this will be a huge shock: Bernadette Peters! Keith Stewart was kind enough to offer his favorite Bernadette song list:

Rose’s Turn, Everything’s Coming Up Roses, Tell Me On a Sunday, Unexpected Song, and

Bernadette

Bernadette Peters in Annie Get Your Gun by Al Hirschfeld

Children Will Listen. My favorite song that I thought Bernadette sang, but it was Madeline Khan instead: I’m Tired, from Blazing Saddles.

But I offer a few more. Many of Keith’s essays allude to songs.

Luck Be A Lady Tonight, Frank Sinatra

Great Balls of Fire, Jerry Lee Lewis

Return to Sender, Elvis Presley

The Future’s So Bright, Timbuk3

Signed, Sealed, Delivered, I’m Yours, Stevie Wonder

Seasons in the Sun, Terry Jacks

Born to be Blue, The Judds

Happy Reading! (Now, back to my work . . .thank you Keith for the giggle break!)

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The First Saturday in May

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Vintage Caulfiled and Shook postcard

Vintage Caulfiled and Shook postcard

The most exciting two minutes in sports.  The run for the roses.  The first leg of the triple crown.  The Kentucky Derby.  The pride of American horse racing has been run consecutively every year on the first Saturday in May since 1875 in Louisville, Kentucky, at a track called Churchill Downs, famously known by its twin spires.  The Kentucky Derby may be the most famous thoroughbred race in the world (OK: it IS but I don’t want some English “Darby” fan to give me a hard time) but some of history’s most famous thoroughbreds never raced in the Derby.  Would it surprise you to know that renowned twentieth century champions Man O’War and Seabiscuit neither raced in the Run for the Roses?

Gibson Girl by Harrison Fisher

Gibson Girl by Harrison Fisher

I wanted to share with you today a couple of great written descriptions of great Kentucky derby races and then some recipes and suggestions for your own derby day festivities.  A bit of a departure from my usual format but I’m wearing my derby hat, and to paraphrase Scarlett O’Hara:  “When I’m wearing a new hat, it seems like everything I know just leaves my head.”

From Secretariat, by William Nack.  The end of the race was primarily between horses Shecky Greene (jockey Larry Adams), Sham (ridden by hall of fame jockey Laffit Pincay Jr) and Secretariat.

Turcotte took Secretariat back toward the gate.

He reached to his helmet and pulled a pair of plastic goggles over his eyes.

A starter came to him again, reaching out.

Secretariat stepped into the starting gate.  The doors slammed shut behind him.  Locked inside, he pushed forward and threw his head in the air.  Adroitly, like a mountain goat, an assistant started slid in over the bars beside him.  He reached for the bridle to hold him.  Turcotte yelled, “Take it easy with him.  He’s anxious.  Handle him easy now.”

The starter’s hand gently touched the extension of the bit.  Feeling the hand, the colt settled down at once.

The last horse – Gold Bag – settled into the gate on the far outside.

It was 5:37.

[Secretariat’s jockey Ron] Turcotte reached down and grabbed a full handful of Secretariat’s mane, holding it to keep his balance at the break, and he bent forward in the fallen stillness.

. . . Secretariat now lay fifth.  So far his move had carried him from last to fifth, and it left him only six lengths behind Shecky [Greene] as they went to the half-mile pole at the far turn.  Shecky had a length and a half lead on Sham, racing the six furlongs in 1:11 4/5, almost six twelves in a row.  He had not let up a moment since the break. . . . Secretariat raced the first three-quarters in 1:03, which put him four lengths behind Sham.  He had dead aim now, Turcotte felt, and he was still running powerfully beneath him, breathing well at the turn, inhaling and exhaling rhythmically.

Turcotte’s only hope now was that the colt would have something left for the final quarter mile down the lane.  If he keeps running like this, Turcotte thought, I won’t have to ask him until the quarter pole. . . .

Secretariat moved to Sham at the top of the lane.

This was what the thousands had been waiting for.  They were all on their feet-deafening and growing louder as Secretariat and Sham raced through the top of the straight, Turcotte pumped and pumped again.  He was riding hard.  He threw all his weight and strength into building the colt’s momentum, driving his arms and torso forward at the forward thrust of Secretariat’s reaching stride.  Sham was in front by a length beyond the quarter pole.  Pincay had still to draw his stick.  He had been hand-riding Sham, and he was confident passing the quarter pole and ito the upper stretch, which is where he thought he felt something on his right.  He did not hear or see it; rather he felt it there, and so he looked under his right arm and all he recalls seeing were the blue and white checked blinkers and the massed brown of Secretariat’s neck.  He was about a half length away.

Pincay drew his stick.Secretariat-Wins-Kentucky-Derby

Secretariat then changed leads for the fourth time in the race, from left back to right at the top of the lane, and now he moved to to Sham, picking up momentum again.  He cut the martin to a half length and then a neck as they drove to the three-sixteenths pole.  Turcotte and Pincay rode furiously, alternately pumping and going to the whip.  They switched their sticks from the right to the left hand.  They muscled Sham and Secretarial down the stretch, tow of America’s strongest riders leaning and lifting together, while the dome of the grandstand rocked with noise at the sight of it.  Slowly, digging in relentlessly, Secretariat gained ground on Sham through the upper stretch, and by the three-sixteenths pole he had come to Sham to swallow him and then they were nose and nose.  Together they drew away from the field.  Churchill Downs vibrated to the spectacle of it.

In the end, Secretariat won setting a record for the race that has never been broken.  It is a monumental example of the beauty of the sport.  Here’s a youtube video of the 1973 Kentucky Derby race in full:  https://youtu.be/74Usj3K4oZ0.

Calumet Farm

Calumet Farm

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Wild Ride by Ann Hagedorn Auerbach is one of my favorite equine books.  It is the true and tragic

Alydar

Alydar

story of Lexington’s fabled Calumet Farm.  If you’ve ever flown into Lexington and looked out the airplane window the white painted fences, well-manicured green lawns and luxurious thoroughbred horses below belonged to Calumet Farm, as once did the valiant Alydar.  In 1978, Alydar finished second to Affirmed in all three legs of the Triple Crown, an “achievement” not seen before or repeated since. With each successive race, Alydar narrowed the margin of victory; Affirmed won by a length in the Kentucky Derby, by a head in the Preakness, and by a nose in the Belmont Stakes.  Alydar subsequently became one of the most successful sires in American racing, far eclipsing Affirmed’s record in the breeding shed.below belonged to Calumet Farm, as once did the valiant Alydar.  Alydar finished second to Affirmed in all three legs of the Triple Crown, an “achievement” not seen before or repeated since. With each successive race, Alydar narrowed the margin of victory; Affirmed won by a length in the Kentucky Derby, by a head in the Preakness, and by a nose in the Belmont Stakes.  Alydar subsequently became one of the most successful sires in American racing, far eclipsing Affirmed’s record in the breeding shed.  In 1990, Alydar died under mysterious circumstances coinciding with the diminishing fortunes of Calumet’s then owners.  It is this which Ann Hagedorn Auerbach’s book explores to a great extent.  Although there’s no real description of the Kentucky Derby, she does have this to say about Alydar’s win in the Blue Grass Stakes:

For much of the race Alydar trailed.  But as he turned for the homestretch and began to pass, one by one each of the other horses, Lucille and Gene [Markey, Alydar’s owners] were helped out of the car and taken to the rail, where they watched Alydar win the race by thirteen lengths.  As his victory was confirmed and announced, Lucille moved slowly toward her husband and pressed her cheek against his.

Here’s the Kentucky Derby video of Affirmed and Alydar:  https://youtu.be/55_vvvCLjQU.  I must admit, every time I watch, I want Alydar to win.

ENTERTAINING!

If you aren’t attending the Derby, your day is all about entertaining at home and I’ve got all the recipes you need.

I know, I know:  You want Mint Juleps.  I located a 1982 sports article quoting the late wife of former Kentucky Governor A.B. “Happy” Chandler as saying mint juleps were “horrible stuff.”  The article called her Millie.  Her granddaughter, Erin, happens to be an acquaintance of mine and fortunately, provided me the following update!

I don’t know who Millie is but I scanned the article and apparently they were MIS quoting my grandmother, Mammy (Mildred Watkins Chandler… NEVER referred to as millie!!) my grandfather never had a drink in his life and I doubt Mammy advertised a special recipe for Mint Juleps… she did love a Whiskey Sour though!!

For what it’s worth, here’s the “Chandler” recipe:

“For a genuine  julep, you take two sprigs of mint, peel the leaves off into a glass, and ground them thoroughly until they are bruised.  Then you add two tablespoonfuls of syrup (sugar with water), throw in crushed ice, add two jiggers of bourbon, and put a few sprigs of mint on top.  Put the glass into the refrigerator until it is iced.  Bring it out and you have a real mint julep.”

Garden & Gun magazine provides the following on its website:

MINT JULEP RECIPE

½ oz. superfine sugar
1 oz. hot water
8 mint leaves, plus one mint sprig
2 oz. bourbon

Dissolve the sugar in the water in an old-fashioned glass (or julep cup, of course). Add the mint leaves and press them lightly with a spoon — you want to seduce the oil from the mint leaves, not beat it out of them. Add the bourbon, fill the glass with cracked ice, and stir. Plant the mint sprig in the ice alongside a short straw, and serve.

And here’s a recipe from Lexington’s classic cookbook, Creating a Stir:

4 cups shaved or crushed ice

Sugar Syrup

1 pink quality bourbon

6 fresh mint sprigs

Powdered sugar

Pack ice into six julep cups to within 1/2 inch from top.  Add 1 jigger sugar syrup and 1-2 bourbon to each cup, stirring until each cup frosts.

Dip mint sprigs into powdered sugar and place 1 in each serving.  Serve with a cocktail napkin.

Sugar syrup:  1 cup sugar, 1 cup water, 1 bunch fresh mint.  Bring sugar and water to boil in small saucepan, stirring until sugar dissolves.  Remove from heat and add mint.  Cover and let steep for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally.  Drain, discarding solids.

PIE

The other absolute essential is a chocolate/bourbon/pecan pie creation that used to be called “Derby Pie,” but now cannot be called “Derby Pie,” anymore because some huge corporation bought the rights to the name “Derby Pie” and now the only pie than can be called “Derby Pie” is said corporation’s “Derby Pie” thus ensuring that a) I will never tell you what corporation that is; and b) I will never buy one.

But here is a great recipe for a chocolate-bourbon-pecan pie from an absolutely gorgeous cookbook published by the Central Baptist Hospital Foundation Cancer Program in Lexington, Kentucky.  If can be ordered by calling 859 260-6105, faxing 859-260-6117, email: cbhbeyondthefencecookbook@bhsi.com, and more information is available at www.beyondthefencecookbook.com.  This cookbook provides funding for the Central Baptist Cancer Foundation and is beautifully photographed with images of Lexington’s historic horse farms, landscapes and locations and the recipes are well-researched, well-tested and delicious.  If you want a wonderful gift, this is it.  Commercial over, here’s the recipe:

1 cup sugar

1 cup light corn syrup

1/2 cup butter (DO NOT USE MARGARINE – COME ON – daeandwrite note)

4 large eggs, beaten

1/4 cup bourbon

1 teaspoon vanilla

1/4 teaspoon salt

6 oz semisweet chocolate chips (USE GOOD ONES)

1 cup chopped pecans

1 (9 inch) pie shell

Preheat oven to 325.  In a small saucepan, combine sugar, corn syrup and butter. Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until butter melts and sugar dissolves.  Cool slightly.  In a large bowl, combine eggs, bourbon, vanilla and salt.  Mix well. Slowly pour sugar mixture into egg mixture, whisking constantly.  Stir in chocolate chips and pecans.  Pour mixture into unbaked pie shell.  Bake 50 to 55 minutes or until set and golden.

I serve with home made whipped cream topped with mint.  Or vanilla ice cream.

The only other thing you really need for a Derby party is a hat.  But feel free to add some County Ham and biscuits, Bourbon balls, fresh asparagus with hollandaise, strawberries with whipped cream, corn pudding . . ..  OK:  I’m hungry.

Happy Reading & Eating & Betting!

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