Apprentice Amy Dawson and Salt-Rising Bread experts Genevieve Bardwell and Susan Brown.

This is the start of my blog series "In Praise of Gluten." I'm going to say it upfront: I love gluten. I know people who say it makes them feel sick and they feel better if they cut it out of their diet.

If they do, that's great. But I hate seeing gluten demonized. It annoys me to walk through supermarket aisles and see "Gluten-Free" commercial foods. Saying something is "Gluten-Free" is like saying gluten is a prison people need to escape. It's not.

Here's my own personal hunch. I believe the real problem many of these gluten-hatin' people have is not gluten. It's that people don't bake their own bread any longer. Plus they don't live in places where there's a local bakery that makes bread from scratch in-house.

I think most of us have memories of great bread we've eaten: crusty baguettes we dipped in sauces and soups, rye bread that made a perfect sandwich, brioche that created the best French toast -- or in the case of Marcel Proust -- the madeleine that made him write all seven volumes of "In Search of Lost Time." I have a very hard time believing the generation raised on "Gluten-Free" baked goods will have any Proustian memories of those cardboard things they're eating made with xanthan gum.

So I'm thrilled to kick off this blog series by interviewing Susan Brown, a charming and passionate baker who co-authored the cookbook "Salt-Rising Bread: Recipes and Heartfelt Stories of a Nearly Lost Appalachian Tradition." And just so you Gluten-Free readers know, the book also includes a way to make Salt-Rising Bread with a recipe just for you.

My own introduction to Salt-Rising Bread was recent. I've been baking all of our bread for two years. However, I became intrigued with making Salt-Rising Bread only two months ago. I was told about it by my friend, Bill Stern, former food columnist for the LA Weekly (I wish they'd run an archive of his reviews) and now director of the Museum of California Design in Los Angeles. Even though Bill didn't grow up eating Salt-Rising Bread, he had great memories of eating it in Kentucky.

I'd never had Salt-Rising Bread, let alone heard of it. But when Bill says something like that, I take note. I had to find out more. I researched the internet about Salt-Rising Bread and found a recipe on the King Arthur website. There were warnings about making it. For one thing, it's tricky because it doesn't use yeast. It rises without yeast. And when the starter for it is really working, King Arthur said your place would smell like dirty socks.

Indeed, our place did smell like dirty socks. So it was working!

Yet, after the loaf was baked and cooled enough to slice into, the stinky sock smell was gone and that bread became deliciously cheesy. And it made the best toast that my husband and I had ever tasted.

I researched further. I discovered that Salt-Rising Bread had cult-like devotees. People talked about it the way Proust did about his madeleine. They searched long and hard for it, just so they could go back in time. What was it about Salt-Rising Bread that gave it this miraculous ability to inspire such loyalty?

I found the cookbook "Salt-Rising Bread" by Genevieve Bardwell and Susan Brown. (Bardwell owned Rising Creek Bakery in Mt. Morris, PA, where Salt-Rising Bread was a beloved fixture on the menu.) I read through it in a way I don't read through many other cookbooks. I was riveted -- and I was moved. I made a recipe for Salt-Rising Bread out of the book. Yes, it was stinky. Less stinky than the King Arthur Recipe, but still stinky. And delicious -- the toast was the best ever!

There's something about Salt-Rising Bread that's so personal you feel a connection with the people who make it. I found the website "Salt-Rising Bread Project" which Susan Brown runs and contacted her. She generously agreed to the following interview (and Salt-Rising Bread will be known as SRB):

Polly Frost: You write very passionately in your book about Salt-Rising Bread. Would you describe yourself as a passionate person in general or is there something specific about Salt-Rising Bread that you just love?

Susan Brown: I feel passionate about Salt-Rising Bread because of my grandmother, Katheryn Rippetoe Erwin. She made Salt-Rising Bread all of her life, as did her mother and her mother’s mother. I loved my grandmother, and I loved her Salt-Rising Bread. It is to Grandmother that I owe my appreciation for this bread, and to her that I attribute my commitment to carry on this family tradition in any way that I can. Whether it was for church bazaars, PTA bake sales, funeral dinners, ailing neighbors, or just “baking day,” Katheryn Erwin’s Salt-Rising Bread was famous in her hometown of Ronceverte, West Virginia. My memories of those early morning awakenings to check to see if her starter had come, and her wonderful breakfasts of fried bacon, eggs-over-easy, and Salt-Rising toast eaten at her kitchen table, stay with me and propel me year after year to keep the Salt-Rising Bread tradition alive. Although my grandmother is no longer with us, I never butter a slice of Salt-Rising toast without feeling her right there by my side.

PF: You mastered the quirky and temperamental art of making Salt-Rising Bread. Were you always a baker?

SB: I began baking at a very young age. I grew up in a large family, and cooking and baking were ways in which I could help my mother. In a family of many children, it was one way to get some positive approbation, which I think I yearned for.

PF: Can you tell me a bit about how Rising Creek Bakery came about?

SB: Two friends and I raised our daughters together in the same small community. During those years, we often talked about someday opening a bakery together in the town. In 2010, when the girls were out of school and had gone away to college, we opened Rising Creek Bakery. Only one of us owned it, and that was Genevieve ("Jenny") Bardwell. From the start, one of our most important goals for the bakery was to bake and sell SRB in an effort to help revive and keep alive this nearly forgotten Appalachian tradition. Jenny sold the bakery earlier this year, and the new owners hope to continue baking, selling, and shipping SRB. It was a fun ride, but definitely better suited for a younger generation than we have each become.

PF: In your book you discuss the question of the start of Salt-Rising Bread, and say that the exact origin of it remains a mystery. Do you think the mystery of its origin will ever be solved?

SB: Because eating SRB was a tradition for many generations on both my mother and father's sides of the family, I always assumed that this tradition was brought with them from their native Scotland, Ireland, and England. However, we have found no evidence of this bread ever having been made in those countries. Based on our research, Jenny and I conclude that SRB originated in the Appalachian mountain region in the early 1700s when yeast was not available for baking and when women, out of their own ingenuity, discovered by necessity how to make a risen loaf of bread for feeding their families. It is likely that they left a mixture of flour and milk, or flour and water, in a warm place (near an open hearth or by a fire used for cooking) for several hours or perhaps overnight and discovered it bubbled and rose after setting several hours. This led them to realize that they could make a risen bread this way.

PF: Most people reading this blog posting sadly will never have tasted Salt-Rising Bread, even those who buy bread from artisanal bakeries or make bread themselves. What would you say they're missing? And what is the home baker missing by not making it?

SB: People love bread for many reasons. With SRB, many, many people love it because they connect this bread with a memory of a loved one who made it for them. They also love it because it has a wonderful taste and can’t be beat for the best toast on the planet. People who haven’t tried SRB are missing out on enjoying this unique tasting bread. The home baker who doesn’t make SRB is missing out on the enjoyment and personal satisfaction received when giving friends and family this bread that happily fills their stomachs and warms their heart and soul.

PF: What do you think of the gluten-free thing?

SB: To tell you the truth, I don’t think much about this. It does seem to me to be a bit of a “food fad” right now, but I’m sure that, for some people, gluten is a problem for them. Mostly, I just feel sorry for them because they have to miss out on so many wonderful breads and other foods that contain gluten.

PF: How popular was SRB at its most popular?

SB: Salt-Rising Bread had its heyday from roughly the 1930s through the 1970s. This is mainly due to the work of a Kansas (and later Pittsburgh) scientist named Dr. Henry Kohman. In the late teens and mid-1920s, he studied the science of SRB and discovered the bacteria that grow in the starter that enables the starter to ferment. From this knowledge, he was able to make a dried starter and patented that recipe. He then sold it to bakeries all across the United States. With this commercial starter, bakeries were able to make SRB much more reliably than ever before, so it was made in many states. In the early 1980s, the manufacturers of this dried starter stopped selling it, which was the end of most bakeries making SRB. It was simply just too tough to do it without the boost and reliability of Kohman’s Salt-Rising Bread Yeast (even though it was not really a yeast).

PF: This is a great era for artisanal bakeries, wineries, beer making, old cocktails and fermentation. Young people are rediscovering old ways of making and growing food. Two young women bakers took over Rising Creek and are continuing the traditions of food. Are there other artisanal bakeries right now who are making SRB?

SB: Of course, I cannot know for sure who is out there making SRB in bakeries right now, but I am pretty confident that there aren’t many. Jenny and I believe that there is currently no bakery that makes and sells as much SRB as Rising Creek does. We are aware of a few small bakeries that make a handful of SRB weekly. It requires a tremendous amount of dedication, time, patience, and hard work to make SRB on a constant and reliable basis. Sadly, few people are willing to commit to an endeavor like that.

PF: How do you find young people who didn't grow up with it reacting to it on first taste?

SB: It has been my perception that newcomers to SRB have been pleasantly surprised at its good taste. It has been very gratifying to me and to Jenny to know that we have helped to pass on and to keep this tradition alive through our work at the bakery, through our book, and through the SRB classes that we teach throughout the year.

PF: I began making SRB right after we had a major fire and mudslide where we live in Montecito, CA. The air was full of toxins for months afterwards. Nonetheless, my SRB flourished! What do you make of that?

SB: First of all, let me say that I am so sorry to hear of the destruction and sadness that your area suffered. It is hard to imagine going through something like that. As for why your SRB flourished at that time, I dare say that it had anything to do with what was occurring with the disaster. SRB was first made and has historically been made by women who were enduring hard times. It has, itself, endured for a long time since its beginnings in our mountains some 300 years ago. History shows us that SRB has lasted and continues to last because women (and a few men) have persisted and not given up on it, even during the tough times, whether they be due to weather or personal circumstance.

PF: I’m hoping my blog readers will buy your book and start making SRB regularly! Do you have any advice for them?

SB: We tell perspective SRB bakers that when you make SRB you need to have patience and perseverance. It takes a long time to make, and it doesn’t always work, so you need to be willing to keep trying.

PF: What's the difference between making SRB with just cornmeal and making it with potatoes and cornmeal and do you think one is better?

SB: It is interesting that there are actually many recipes for making SRB. However, the one similarity that all recipes share is that every recipe will use at least flour, cornmeal, or potato in the starter. Beyond that, any differences in the recipe will not affect the bread in the end. Sometimes I think that I find the potato starter makes a little moister loaf, but that is not necessarily so. Certainly, the taste is not affected by the variance in the starter of cornmeal only or cornmeal and potatoes. The difference you will see when potatoes are added to a starter is in the way the successfully fermented starter looks. Typically, a potato starter will rise more than a cornmeal starter.

PF: I love the stories and photos of Salt-Rising Bread home bakers in your book. What did it involve for you to find them and how did they enrich your knowledge of it?

SB: I have lived around women who made SRB all of my life. No matter where I have lived in the hills of West Virginia, there have been women nearby who made SRB. When Jenny and I began writing the book, we actively sought out women who made SRB and arranged to visit them in their homes. Even though many of them were strangers to us, they never turned us away, and they were always very kind in sharing their knowledge and stories with us. Sometimes, the women we interviewed would tell us the names of other SRB bakers in their area, so we interviewed them, as well. West Virginia is a small state, so it was possible for us to travel all over the state to find these women and to learn all we could from talking and visiting with them. Indeed, this was one of the most fulfilling experiences we had in writing the book. Not only did they teach us so much about SRB, but they shared some wonderful stories and memories with us that we will never forget.

PF: What have been some of your favorite letters, emails and other feedback from readers? What do they ask, does it seem to work in every part?

SB: We often say that Salt-Rising Bread is food for the body as well as for the soul. In fact, almost everyone who has eaten Salt-Rising Bread has a story to tell about it. These stories loom large in the hearts of those who love the bread. They are, indeed, another reason why the Salt-Rising Bread tradition lives on in our Appalachian homes and why it is so important and so special to preserve this bread and the stories that help keep this tradition alive. I have received hundreds of emails and letters over the years from lovers of SRB. As well, Jenny has received many at the bakery. Mostly, they tell us about someone beloved to them who made SRB. Often, they retell stories of the past that include SRB in them. Some write to ask questions about how to make the bread or how to help them solve problems they are having making the bread. Here are a few of my favorite stories that you might enjoy:

"I grew up in Sacramento, CA and would visit my grandmother in Southern California when I was a kid. That would have been in the '60s. She had two huge avocado trees in her back yard (along with wonderful walnut and Meyer lemon trees). We would go to Van De Kamp Bakery in her area and would buy the Salt-Rising Bread. As kids, my sister and I were fascinated with the windmill logo that turned and was lit up. You could see it for miles. The bakery smelled wonderful but it was even better when we would toast the Salt-Rising Bread back at the house. It made the whole house "stink" and we referred to the toast as "stinky toast". We would mash wonderful, fresh avocados from my grandmother's trees onto the buttered, still-warm toasted bread for breakfast. A little salt on top. We always looked forward to this breakfast when we would visit my grandmother. We would also buy 4 or 5 loaves of the bread to bring back home to Sacramento, and we would put them in the freezer and use them sparingly. We loved the bread."

"I grew up in Spelter, WV, just north of Clarksburg on Rt 19 (where the zinc factory used to be). My grandmother baked this bread EVERY Saturday morning of her life. I don't think she ever bought bread. She would make several loaves and a couple of cookie sheets full of wonderful large buns. We lived next door, and she would call me over just before she took the bread out of the oven. I would race over and wait (usually impatiently) until the bread came out. Then I would take one of the buns and poke my finger into the middle and wiggle it around to hollow it out a bit. I would then put fresh, real butter and my daddy's homemade blackberry jelly down into the hot bread. It would melt, and I would sit and eat that bun with a glass of cold milk. I'm 50 years old and my granny has been gone for nearly 40 years. If I close my eyes and let myself go back in time, I can still smell that wonderful aroma as the bread was baking and still feel my finger burning from sticking it into the bread (you'd think I would have learned to use a knife or fork!!!!)  and I can almost taste that wonderful treat. It's one of my most treasured memories of my grandmother, who was my favorite person in the world!"

"Some of the best memories I have of home revolved around Salt-Rising Bread (it was "Ketterings"). Whenever both my sister and I could make it home to Clarksburg, WV, at the same time, Sunday morning was Salt-Rising Toast Time. We'd have Ma's brewed, sweetened ice tea and all the Salt-Rising toast we could eat. We'd always buy 2-3 loaves so we'd be sure there was enough toast to go around because Daddy liked it, too. We'd all sit around the table or on the floor by the table and read the Sunday paper and have our toast. Our Saint Bernard, Benjamin, even got a piece or two! Ma and Daddems are gone now. My sister lives in South Carolina, and I live in Texas. I have no doubt that the toast you send will be wonderful, but the memories that I'll have with that toast will be even better."

"I am ninety years old and have very fond memories of salt '"risen"bread. As a preteen, I spent most of my summers with my widowed grandmother and her niece on the farm. Thursday was baking day and Wednesday night "cousin Mag" prepared the starter from I don't know what except there was a potato and meal and possibly some milk. The meal was our own, having been ground from our corn at a local mill. The starter was placed in the warming oven of an old wood burning stove, and how they kept the temperature up during the night I don't know, but it worked. Thursday the baking began, and we had fresh bread with homemade butter and homemade jam that day and for a few days longer."


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Pauline Kael would have been 99 today. I was privileged to call her a friend. Here's an essay I wrote for the book "Talking About Pauline Kael: Critics, Filmmakers & Scholars Remember an Icon" edited by Wayne Stengel. To read the full essay, click here.

Pauline Kael liked to dial up her friends at all hours, engaging in long conversations. She was both a great talker and -- less well-known -- a great listener. I first spoke to Pauline when she called a mutual friend with whom I happened to be collaborating on some humor pieces. I was living in L.A. and was in his apartment at the time. She asked him to put me on the phone. Pauline and I hit it off right away. We were both Californians, and also Western cowgirls-at-heart who deeply loved the arts. 

When, in the fall of 1983, I met her in person, she stared up at me. At 6'0", I was a foot taller than Pauline. She gasped, “Oh, my. You have John Wayne legs.” She meant it as a compliment. I think part of why Pauline liked hanging out with me was my height. If ever anyone should have been six feet tall, it was Pauline. She was an Amazon trapped in a tiny spark plug of a grandmother’s body. I always suspected that she felt vicariously tall when we walked together.

Soon I started writing on my own, and she generously gave a humor piece of mine to Daniel Menaker, her former editor at The New Yorker. I owe my first solo sale to Pauline. I soon learned that I wasn't the only writer she'd helped, not by a long shot. Pauline was easily the most generous major writer I’ve ever met. Not only that but her magnanimity was unadorned with the kind of ceremony most celebrated intellectuals demand. If indeed they actually do anything for younger aspirants, it’s usually just to grant them an opportunity to worship. Pauline didn’t simply help writers get published, she loaned money to those who were struggling, handed out lots of advice, picked up checks at restaurants and listened to endless tales of publishing woes. I think she had a deep feeling that an arts person had to give more to the field than she got from it. Only in that way would the arts really have a chance to flourish.

I also learned I was one of the few young writers who became friendly with Pauline without having been a devotee beforehand. Even though I’d loved movies since I was a kid, and despite her public eminence at the time, Pauline wasn’t one the critics I followed regularly. Instead, when I wanted a blast of thinking about the movies I turned to Manny Farber’s criticism in places like Film Comment and Artforum.

So when Pauline and I started talking about movies, she and I often differed. We'd sit at opposite ends of her long sofa in the dark and cozy, high-ceilinged living room of her Victorian house in Great Barrington, Mass., and free-associate. That was another California-ism we shared: a love of meandering conversation. We'd toss around ideas and opinions and let our minds venture onto subjects other than movies.

We'd talk for hours. A recent transplant to New York City, I was hurt the first time someone snapped at me, "Could you just finish one of your damn sentences?" East Coasters seemed to expect speakers to have a point. But, although super-articulate herself, Pauline was very sweet and accepting of my tendency to let my sentences trail off. 

She was also more tolerant of my opinions than I was of hers. I had a hard time forgiving her for not loving one of my favorite films, George Axelrod’s satire about Southern California and ‘60s teen beach movies, “Lord Love a Duck.” I loved “Dirty Harry” and Clint Eastwood in it; I was a fan of early Werner Herzog and Rainer Werner Fassbinder. Pauline would mutter “Oh, oh, oh” when I raved about some film or performer she couldn’t stand. Sometimes she’d give me an impatient “Oh, honey!” and roll her eyes. Particularly hard for her to understand was why I saw profundity in the Technicolor melodramas of Douglas Sirk. She really peered at me through those big eyeglasses of hers over that one. Most of the time, though, she drew me out and was eager to hear why I liked something she didn’t. She'd never talk about it, but one thing Pauline radiated was a conviction that being a writer isn't just about carefully crafting your words. It's about being part of -- and contributing to -- the artistic community. And Pauline, contrary to the impression some people had of her, would never have wanted everyone in the artistic community to agree with her.

As we talked in the winter, snow and ice would pile up outside her house. In the summer, mosquitos would hover outside her screen door as evening approached. The sun would set and she'd say, "Pol, would you mind turning on a little light?" I'd get up and switch on one of her Tiffany lamps. "That's nice," she'd happily murmur. Pauline didn't just have strong reactions to films: she reacted fully to what each moment brought her. ("Ghastly" was one of her favorite things to utter when she didn't like something or someone.) Then we'd talk some more.

To read the full essay, click here.

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The recent NYT cover piece about the late horse trainer, Jimmy Williams, called The Equestrian Coach Who Minted Olympians, and Left Behind a Trail of Child Molestation was very disturbing to me -- and not because of the accusations of child molestation on Williams' part, but because it showed how deeply destructive and insidious the #metoo movement and the NYT participation in it has become.

The NYT has been publishing articles in collaboration with, rather than investigation of, the #metoo movement. Jimmy Williams, who's been dead for more than twenty years, has become vilified. All of the statues, paintings, trophies, honors and accolades have been stripped from him post mortem. His name has been removed from the Flintridge Riding Club in the Pasadena area of South California.

Once again, the NYT is seeing itself not as a newspaper but as its own court of law in which it tries people and finds them guilty, without sufficiently backing up the claims it makes. The NYT has become a insidious manipulator of the minds of millions of Americans.

I live in Santa Barbara, CA, after having lived for several decades in NYC where I worked as a freelance writer. My humor and nonfiction were published in a number of magazines and newspapers, including the New Yorker and the NYT.

I'm painfully aware of how many people's minds and opinions in places like Santa Barbara are being shaped by the NYT. Too many people let the NYT do their thinking. They don't question it and they'll often give opinions about things that are verbatim quotes from what the NYT just published.

I was at a party here recently and a woman referred to Woody Allen as "a child molester." Two days before the party, the NYT had published a piece by their film critic AO Scott called My Woody Allen Problem in which Scott decides on the basis of Allen's movies that he's guilty of the sexual abuse Dylan Farrow claims. When I tried to explain to this woman about what Scott's piece leaves out, she just wouldn't listen. Her mind was made up by the NYT and nothing, not even if someone proved absolutely to the contrary, would budge her. (To read a brilliant rebuttal to the AO Scott piece, check out film critic Steve Vineberg here.)

That's why it's alarming to me to see increasingly shoddy journalism on the part of the NYT when it comes to the #metoo accusations, let alone their shoddy journalism about many other political issues. Most people don't read these days -- they just remember the headline they saw in the NYT, and they skim the article. So for the NYT to use "child molestation" in the title of the Jimmy Williams piece is all most people need -- they will let the NYT make up their minds about Williams. NYT readers can be a bit like religious fanatics. It's their bible and they don't question it. I'm sure I'll run into that idiot Santa Barbara woman and she'll refer to Jimmy Williams as a "child molester" just the way she did Woody Allen. And that's a dangerous thing.

I know a bit about Jimmy Williams. I competed on the California horse show circuit in the mid-to-late 1960s. I spent the first fifteen years of my life in the Pasadena area and Jimmy Williams and his stable in Flintridge were a big part of the horse scene there. I didn't want to ride hunters and jumpers -- I preferred American Saddlebred horses -- so I didn't train with Williams or keep a horse at the Flintridge Riding Club, although I did compete at the annual Flintridge Horse Show. And although I never knew Williams personally, I certainly saw a lot of Williams and his stable at the big shows, like Del Mar, Indio and Santa Barbara. And I heard a lot about him and his amazing stable of riders.

Me winning an equitation championship on the CA show circuit at 16 in 1969.

This is not to say I know whether or not Jimmy Williams is guilty of the child molestation that's claimed in the piece. It's to say that the journalism is dreadfully propagandistic for the #metoo movement and here's why:

1) The women who've accused Jimmy Williams of molesting them participated in group therapy in the 1990s after his death. The journalist never interviewed this therapist or found out anything about this therapist. What kind of therapy was being done? At that time, a number of therapists were conducting "recall memory" therapy in which they urged clients to explore hidden memories abuse that caused and underlined their current problems, often of addiction or depression. "Recall memory" therapy has been discredited since in the wake of the McMartin Day Care trial in which the McMartins were wrongfully imprisoned on the basis of "recall memory" therapy done to the children who testified.

There are those who will say, "Yes, but it was more than one woman who accused Jimmy Williams." Yet -- and I'll probably get slammed by some women for saying this, but it's true -- put women in a group and they're highly suggestible. They want to get along in the group, they don't want to be left out, they are easily swayed by what the group they're in tells them to do. Women are the easiest of cult members. You could say this is the basis of the whole #metoo movement with its apt name: I am woman, don't leave me out of this trend.

So I would like to have known what kind of therapy was being practiced on these women. And I'd like to know about the therapist. Is this another McMartin scenario?

2) There is no real discussion in the NYT piece about what the "child molestation" actually meant. Anne Kursinski claims that Jimmy Williams penetrated her when she was 11. Again, this is typical of the shoddy NYT journalism in their collusion with the #metoo movement. They will publish the allegations of sexual abuse of these women, but they don't tell you when, where, how. This isn't journalism of any high standard.

Also: what is the definition of "child"? Aside from Kursinski at 11, the accusations are abuse of teenage girls who rode with him. Teenagers may be considered underage, but why are they considered children? The answer is that the #metoo movement wants to define all women as children. A Hollywood starlet who, at 25, goes to a producer's hotel room and he comes onto her is considered as innocent as a 5-year-old. This has allowed the #metoo movement to say that women never have to grow up, and we're certainly seeing the disastrous effects of this on the Millennial generation who are caught up in this as Social Justice Warriors -- they refuse to grow up and take any responsibility for their actions. In addition, this lumps everything together under the heading of "child abuse" which labels a man the worst kind of evil scum possible. I think the definitions need to be redefined if we're ever going to have any justice.

3) I'm sorry that Williams' prize pupil, Susan Hutchison, who rode with him from the age of five and became his live-in partner at eighteen, and has denied the allegations by the other female riders, declined to comment, but I can certainly understand why she wouldn't want to be possibly misquoted or misrepresented, as I feel that trainer Hap Hansen was in it. Hap Hansen made a perfectly good point, which is: why now? Why all these decades and decades later? He's right. What good does it do? I would add that it's coming at a time when Williams can't even defend himself.

Oh, but right -- according to the #metoo movement and the NYT, to say that someone accused of child molestation has the right to defend himself is blaming the victim.

Give me a break. I only hope that one day these women will be on the other end of the firing line. And no one gives them the chance to defend themselves -- that they are simply accused and lose everything in their lives.

4) There's no real attempt at providing a context for the horse show world, particularly during that era. Yes, there's a quote or two from someone saying something about the way the times were, but those quotes are presented as apologies from friends of Williams. What's laziest about this piece is this complete lack of sociological background. Most people reading it have never been in the horse world and haven't competed at shows.

So let me fill people in on what that piece is missing:

From the time I was 12 until I was 15 I rode at an American Saddlebred Stable across the arroyo from Flintridge owned and run by one of the few female trainers at that time, Aloha Robinson. When I was 15 my parents moved to Santa Barbara and I rode for the next couple of years at another stable in Montecito.

Aloha insisted on only having girls at her stable ("Boys are just too much damn trouble," she'd say.) And unlike Flintridge Club, we weren't pampered by a staff of grooms. We had to clean out the stalls, and take care of our horses ourselves. For me that included cleaning the smegma out of the sheath of my beloved 17-hand gelding.

But most of the horse world and most of the young female riders were from wealthy families. You couldn't compete in the kids' classes at that time and win if your parents didn't buy you a top horse. Jumping classes, as well as Saddlebred Five-Gaited classes, were about the horse. The rider was important, yes. But a top horse elevated a rider to the top levels.

In the mid to late 1960s that horse price tag could be as much as $40,000. Julianne Schmutz, a Saddlebred rider, was bought a $100,000 horse by her father. Those of us who didn't have that kind of money had a few options. We couldn't compete in open classes, which included riders of all ages. When my parents moved to Santa Barbara in 1968, I left Aloha's stables and took my horse to a very posh Montecito stable owned by a local heiress, Cynthia Wood. Cynthia's horses cost as much as $200,000. For people like me who didn't have that kind of money -- and I came from an upper middle class family -- in order to do well at shows, you needed to concentrate on competing in kids' equitation classes, which were based on the rider's poise and capabilities. By the time I quit riding even the price tag even for equitation horses had reached $20,000 and up. And this is the 1960s.

So the horse show world was made up of a lot of very wealthy young women who came from families where the father, generally a Republican, was powerful or successful and often absent and busy, and the mothers were often eager to get away. And there were also adult women who were often heiresses. The horse show world was full of parties and glamor -- and a lot of drinking and sex. 

And what the NYT also leaves out is how many of these rich women lusted after male horse trainers. Nor does the piece paint any kind of picture of what 1960s and 1970s were like in the show world.

By the time I was 13, I was well aware that many of the adults were having extramarital sex and/or swinging. Once when I was staying at a motel while competing at Del Mar, I overheard a woman and a man in the next room. "Listen, you tall skinny cowboy -- get in this bed and screw me now!" the woman said. I recognized her as a married woman, and btw, a mom of a young female horse rider, and knew that she was sleeping around on her wealthy husband who was footing the bill for this fling -- with her daughter's horse trainer.

Another time I saw a woman who kept a great stable of horses being fought over by two of her much younger Mexican grooms. The woman was wearing a mink coat over her riding attire, walked up to the two men and parted them with her hands.

It wasn't just men on the show circuit who were lusty. I saw a lot of adult women who were just as hot to trot as any guy and just as capable of seducing a man as vice versa. And good for them! I never felt judgmental towards them. But to frame it now as a pack of hideously sexually aggressive men on the circuit at that time is just ludicrous. And rewriting history (something the women of the #metoo movement love to do).

And still another time, I passed by Jimmy Williams' stable and witnessed a group of adult women -- some of whom I recognized as Pasadena society wives -- throwing their hotel room keys into his hat.

And speaking of Williams and teenage girls, in 2013, I was invited to lunch at the Flintridge Riding Club by a longtime horse riding friend who was my mother's age. At that time, Jimmy Williams' portrait was still prominent in the club house. I told my friend about how I'd seen these women tossing their hotel room keys in Williams' hat. She laughed and told me about the time she'd gone on an errand to Williams' house on the Riding Club property and he was there with a teenage girl who clearly was having consensual sex with him.

If you think that all the sex with teenage girls that Williams had was forced, then you have let the NYT do your thinking for you. The wealthy young female riders I saw at the shows often drank and smoked, and later when drugs became available, helped themselves to those as well. They were not always innocent young things who had no idea about the big bad world.

For one thing, any young girl who can climb up on a powerful horse who could crush and destroy and, in the case of Jimmy Williams' riders, jump that horse for speed and height -- well, please don't tell me that girl is a helpless thing. Are you really going to tell me she could handle an enormous beast and get it to jump 6' and not buck her off and she couldn't handle a mere man who was in his 50s and wasn't nearly as big as her horse or probably even the jump she got her horse to go over? I'm having a hard time with that one.

Because I myself rode bareback from age 4, and as a young teen on the trails of the mountains above the arroyo that separated Flintridge Riding Club from Aloha's Stables. One day I was riding with my friend Kathie and a guy jumped out of nowhere and tried to attack us. Kathie and I looked at each other, backed our horses up and galloped towards the man and we laughed ourselves silly at how he ran away. So much for us being fragile, shrinking violets who couldn't handle ourselves around men when we needed to.

I grew up riding bareback on trails and unafraid of taking care of myself if need be.

And all us horsey girls knew about sex. Because no one who hangs out around horses doesn't know about sex. By the time I was twelve, I knew how horses mated and I knew that while the mares got pregnant, the stallions went off and had sex as often as possible with other mares. You had to be pretty dense not to get that picture.

And I knew that horse trainers were not, at least in those days, genteel men who excelled in comp lit at Harvard before deciding to make their living in the saddle. In my day of riding, nearly all the California horse trainers came out of genuine cowboy backgrounds. They were often cowboys, or Kentucky good ol' boys. In L. A., they often had been doubles in Hollywood Westerns. Jimmy Williams filled in for Tyrone Power and my own female trainer, Aloha Robinson, was the daughter of a cowboy and began riding in silent movies during her teens.

I never knew a horse trainer who didn't drink hard. Aloha was a scotch drinker and began around 8 in the morning. ("My doctor tells me to do this for my heart," she explained to me when I stared at her.) She always had a cigarette in her mouth and thought nothing of blowing second hand smoke at us girls. I also never knew a trainer who didn't take pain pills. Most of them had had major falls, broken ribs or other bones.

I knew perfectly well as a young teen that the kind of guy who would get on a green stallion and risk getting trampled, wasn't the kind of guy who was the head of IBM. And I also knew that's why the wives of those heads of IBM wanted to sleep with those trainers.

And I also saw that it wasn't unusual for teenage girl riders to go after much older male trainers. I bought my horse from a wonderful horse trainer, Richard Smith, a true horse whisperer. He had gently trained my horse, who was like a great big dog -- I could even go in his stall and lie on him and fall asleep without ever worrying he'd hurt me. Richard was not a looker. He claimed to be 32, but looked more like sixty. And yet, he had an appeal for rich women. The heiress I mentioned earlier who was fought over by her grooms had been his live-in lover, and at Indio horse show in the late sixties I watched a gorgeous 18-year-old heiress fall in love with Richard, wear seductive outfits around him, and quickly take him away from his former heiress and marry him when she was still a teenager.

I'm sure there are a lot of horrified women reading this and feeling as though certainly I must have been severely damaged by my experience in the horse show world as a teenage girl.

And they would be so wrong. I loved my teen years in the horse show world. I loved Aloha, even with all her imperfections, which today would probably get her barred from the horse show world -- for example, she taught all us girls to drive her car when we were underage. When I had terrible stage fright before my first competition, she gave me a valium and a swig of Scotch. I don't remember much of that first time in the ring except that I felt awful, the judge excused me after the initial round and I threw up. I told Aloha that I never wanted to compete again and that I knew everyone was laughing at me. She told me "Nobody's thinking about you. They're just thinking about themselves. Tomorrow you'll go back in the ring and do better. Life is about getting up from defeat and trying again and again." OK, the Scotch was more than a tad irresponsible, but Aloha was right. I learned from Aloha that life is not a free pass, that it even takes what was a famously known motto of Jimmy Williams "No guts, no glory," which Susan Hutchison is said to have had tattooed on her.

And I learned how to say "no" to stable guys. Aloha usually kept men out of her stable, but one day when her broken ribs were too much, she hired a handsome 6'6" young man to help out. One day I was alone with him. I was listening to The Monkees on Aloha's transistor radio in the tack room polishing my saddle. He made fun of my taste in white boy music (he was black) and switched the station to James Brown. And then, because this was the fall of 1967, he told me about going to San Francisco for the Summer of Love and the sex he'd had. I was fourteen, and intensely curious about the Haight-Asbury scene, so I asked him what he did. He looked at me in a very sexy way and said "I got to make it with 3 women. Because, you see, I'm black and they didn't want to be racist. So what do you think, Polly?" I was incredibly turned on, but out of my depth and switched the station from James Brown. "I think I prefer the Monkees," I told him. He smiled and said that he had things to do around the stable.

And that was that. He could easily have forced me. I said "no" at 14 and he didn't push it. To repeat, at 14 I knew what the game was.

And lest anyone think that I'm in some kind of denial about the horrors of the horse show world I went through as a teen, I recently got together with some of the other women who also rode at Aloha's at the same time. All of them said that despite her flaws, Aloha was one of the best things that happened to us.

Those are my specific objections to the NYT piece about Jimmy Williams. I'm deeply disturbed by the power being given to the #metoo movement, by the media and the people who fire men simply because they're been accused and erase them from the history books. We need our history. It's the context of our development and for the NYT and the #metoo movement to eradicate this is simply a ploy on their part to eventually create their own context, a context in which they control all thoughts and actions.

I hope we stop that from happening but at the moment, women can destroy a man's career and his reputation simply by posting their accusations which range from rape to a pat on the booty to just being made so darned uncomfortable by the "toxic masculinity" of some men.

What kind of era are we going thru? We’re living thru a witch-hunt stretch, similar to the Satanic ritual-abuse episode in the late ‘80s and '90s. It's as destructive as the McCarthyism of the 1950s, only this time the witch-hunting isn't being done by right-wingers, it's being done by people who consider themselves liberal progressives.

They're not liberal and they're not progressive. They're aggressive Stalinist regressives. And sane women need to stand up and demand an end to the #metoo harassment.


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I'm often surprised by how many Santa Barbarans don't shop at the wonderful small local stores here. I know one can head out to Costco and save money buying in bulk, but really -- isn't shopping at our local independent stores its own investment in the quality of our community? Sure, you can pick up some Italian ingredients from Trader Joe's to make a pasta dinner, but why not go to Tino's Italian Grocery located in the mini-mall at the corner of De La Vina and Carrillo instead?

On my most recent trip to Tino's I shopped for ingredients to make an Italian dinner for Ray and me. I had some pizza dough in the fridge, homemade from a most excellent King Arthur Flour recipe (here), and some marinara sauce, but needed to fill in with other ingredients.

As you can see, Tino's carries lots of Italian specialty products. I decided to buy some Giuliano Sliced Peperoncini, some Divina Organic Pitted Green Olives, and because it caught my eye (not for the pizza) some Cento Hoagie Spread (who doesn't love a good Hoagie?). I also perused Tino's wines.

Is there anything more romantic than a straw Chianti holder? Sadly, neither Ray nor I can drink red wine. Note to Santa Ynez Valley wineries: how about making a straw Sauvignon Blanc bottle?

For dessert I picked up some Vincente Hazelnut Cream from Sicily and their Pistachio Cream as well (either one delicious on gelato). Had I not been about to meet Ray for lunch at Miso Hungry on Canon Perdido, I would have had one of Tino's Italian sandwiches from their deli. (If you want a Tino's sandwich, it's wise to get there before the hordes of Tino Submarine lovers.)

You can even sit at one of their tables to eat.

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I'm looking forward to the book launch party for Santa Barbara Katie L. Lindley's A Man for Every Purpose: My Naked Journey Searching for Love, a deliciously candid and witty tale of the Santa Barbara author's search for true love.

As Katie herself puts it on her website "I began writing A Man for Every Purpose out of a desire to keep record of my past mistakes and simultaneously help others. I am a strong believer in the power of manifestation, which is the knowledge that people create their own realities."

The idea that women might take responsibility for their own sex and romantic lives instead of simply blaming men is a genuinely empowering concept for women to embrace and one that's currently too often forgotten in the midst of the #MeToo-blame-men movement. And it's also a really fun read.

Katie's book launch party will be held on Friday May 25th from 4 -- 7 PM at Ambience, 1266 Coast Village Road in Montecito.


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