Saturday, April 30, 2016

Bourbon Happens

There was a horse at Keeneland yesterday named Bourbon Happens - I noticed he came in dead last in his race; perhaps he'd stopped at the Buffalo Trace Distillery in Frankfort on his way to the track.

There has been a distillery in continuous operation at the site of what is now Buffalo Trace for 240 years. Even during Prohibition, there was special dispensation for some distilleries to operate in order to produce spirits for "medicinal purposes." Our tour-guide, Art, told us that most illnesses were "chronic" in those days, and actual prescriptions were continually written for whiskey throughout the thirteen years when alcohol was prohibited.

I knew there was a difference between whiskey and bourbon but I thought it was a "champagne" thing - that only Kentucky could produce bourbon, but that's not actually the distinction. And although 95% of the country's bourbon is made in Kentucky, what makes the difference is simply a matter of ratios: bourbon, by law, has to be made from at least 51% corn. The other ingredients include rye and barley but it's the amount of corn that determines if whiskey is bourbon. We also learned about the history of bourbon, from the original makers who were the Scots-Irish to the Whiskey Rebellion of 1791 (taxes... it's always about taxes), which George Washington put a quick end to, and which precipitated the movement of the Scots-Irish from Pennsylvania to the area that would become Kentucky. We also learned that the discovery that barrel aging enhances flavor was one of serendipity -- after the Scots-Irish whiskey makers moved to KY, they realized it was easier to get the product south to New Orleans through the waterways than to get it to the north over the Appalachian Mountains; it took a year to get the barrels to their destination, and when it became clear that the bourbon that showed up in New Orleans was far superior to the bourbon that left the distillery in what is now Frankfort, barrel-aging became part of the process. Buffalo Trace ages its Eagle Rare label for 10 to 12 years; the more basic Buffalo Trace Straight ages for 8 to 9 years, and the White Dog is essentially moonshine, sold straight from the still; it's clear, and 62% alcohol. It was offered at the tasting at the end of the tour Jen and I took today, and neither of us were remotely interested in taking a sip.

What we did try was the Eagle Rare and the Straight, along with the Bourbon Cream, which is essentially dessert in a glass - made with actual cream, which right there makes it far superior to Baileys, which needs no refrigeration, something of which I've always been suspect.

As mentioned in yesterday's post, I've never really enjoyed gambling - yet yesterday at the track: so much fun. I've also always been a confirmed hater of whiskey - yet today at the distillery: thoroughly enjoyed my small tastes of the amber liquid. I'll never switch to bourbon cocktails, but if offered... if in just the right mood... I could see myself having a dram on a cold night. I could definitely see myself pouring someathat Bourbon Cream on a bowl of ice cream, that's for damn sure. Lesson for the week: Never say 'never' in Kentucky.
horse pastures in Woodford County

Friday, April 29, 2016

A Day at the Races

Today was all about playing the ponies. We got to the Keeneland Spring Meet at about noon today and immediately started studying the racing form. Jen's friend Anita had come over from Louisville with tickets for all of us to the clubhouse (dress code: fancy, waiter service), and another friend, Misha had come down from Cincinnati, and the four of us promptly ordered cocktails, then lunch, then started placing bets.
All this info on every horse for every race - but it's the
horse's name that tells you if you're going to win!
I've never been much of a gambler. A casino has no allure for me, but there is something about looking at the list of horses and seeing if a name jumps out as a winner -- I lost money on Fear the Kitten, but how could I not bet on that? There's also other important information, like the jockey's name, the color he or she is wearing, where the horse is from, and the color of the number the horse is wearing; those are the factors I used to determine who was running fast today. At first, I was placing $2 bets to show, and I had some beginners luck and won a few bucks, then I got a little bolder and started placing $5 bets to win, and lost a few. We missed the first race but bet on the next 7, and then came race number 9, the last one of the day, and the racing form showed a horse named Prince Gagarin which I decided to bet on in honor of the late, great, musical genius the world just lost, Prince Rogers Nelson. When Anita noticed that the horse's color for the race was purple, that sealed it -- we were all betting on Prince Gagarin for Prince. I put $5 on him to win, he ran his little heart out, all four of us were screaming for him... and HE WON!!

The races are way more exciting when there's money on the line, and since I have no idea how the odds work or what my payout was going to be, and since my previous wins had paid out a couple of bucks each, I was pretty thrilled with the 30-bucks the guy at the window handed me when I turned in my ticket, which I think was about as much as I spent on betting today, so I broke even. Okay, I spent about $70 on lunch and cocktails but whatevs, that hardly counts.
A "turf race" - inside track on grass.
Prince Gagarin before the race.
Wherever there is horse-racing, there will be ladies in hats. 
The general admission area (so the riff-raff have a place to go) and grandstand
(step above but not as nice as where we were).

Tuesday, April 26, 2016


built in 1937
Lots of reasons to come to Kentucky: visit my friend Jen in Lexington, take in some horse-racing, drink some bourbon, eat at Edward Lee's restaurant in Louisville, and its proximity (a mere six hour drive) to Mill Run, Pennsylvania to see the Frank Lloyd Wright house, Fallingwater.

Horse-racing and bourbon still to come, but we hit Fallingwater this past weekend. I'm not sure when I became aware of this iconic house, but I've wanted to see it for a long time, and after the experience of seeing the FLW house in Alabama, and his residence, Taliesin West in Arizona, the big one -- Fallingwater, the most famous one, seemed like it had to be next on the list.

typical FLW open floorplan
It was a long drive to get there from Lexington on Saturday in order to take the tour of the house on Sunday, but it was worth it.

The house was designed by Wright for Edgar Kaufmann and his wife Liliane, department store magnates from Pittsburgh, at a cost of $155,000, during the Great Depression. The Kaufmanns used the home as a weekend getaway through their lives as did their son Edgar Jr., until the house was donated by Edgar Jr. to the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy in the 1963. Its most obvious and innovative design features are the cantilevered terraces which have no vertical supports, instead, huge amounts of steel reinforcements and the counterweight balance from the back of the house, which is built directly into the hillside, keep the hanging parts aloft. While looking really cool, this idea was not without flaws, and in 2002, a huge engineering retrofitting took place to keep the balconies from sheering off into the waterfall.
those crazy cantilevered terraces...
sitting room in the guest house
barrel chair designed by FLW
corner windows with no middle supports
a random Picasso on a wall - the owners had an extensive art collection
a home built on waterfalls
Nothing you've seen on any real estate show on HGTV has anything on this house.

Monday, April 25, 2016

610 Magnolia

Last year, I heard chef Edward Lee on NPR's Wait Wait Don't Tell Me, he was funny and entertaining, and since I was going to Kentucky anyway to visit my pal Jen, making a stop at his restaurant in Louisville seemed in order. So I flew to Louisville last Friday, Jen came over from Lexington to pick me up, and we had a fantastic dinner at 610 Magnolia.
If you're only getting a tiny bite of grilled ham and cheese, this is the bite to get.

Quite possibly the prettiest (and tastiest) bowl of pea soup ever.
Jen's fantastic pork belly and eel terrine.
Charred octopus, yogurt, carrot and those tiny potato chips -
the picture does not do justice to how delicious this was. 
Halibut, cauliflower couscous, baby carrots, romesco, and some other tasty delights.
Jen had a lovely cheese plate for dessert, I got the overly complicated "drunken banana cake with whipped butterscotch, dehydrated chocolate, bourbon maple syrup, dried corn, brown butter ice cream and smoke." Re: the smoke (a peaty cloud which wafted up when I removed the lid on my dish), I'm not sure I'm on board with the 'smell this/now eat this' convention of dining, and there might have been four too many ingredients in that dish, but overall, it was a wonderful meal. We also had the fancy-restaurant-staple of a sorbet palate cleanser (mango-kiwi), and chocolate truffles with the check (bourbon in the truffles, it's Kentucky, after all).
610 Magnolia - who would think such lovely food would come out of this simple building?