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Where have all the flours gone?

The butcher, the baker, the candlestick maker

Once upon a time I assisted my father in butchering steers and hogs. It’s a bit of a stretch but I guess I can call myself a butcher. And, in one of my artsy-craftsy fits, I made some candles so I can lay claim to being a candlestick maker.

Lately, I have been sneaking up on being a baker. Heretofore my sole claim to being a baker was baking a cake out of a box some thirty years ago. My cooking skills are erratic. I can grill things, and roast things, and I’m a wizard with a wok. When it comes to mixing things in a mixing bowl, however, we are definitely talking about alien territory. Making dough is one of those arcane arts practiced by adepts who raise spirits from the vasty deep, and not an art for the the likes of me.

Still, I have had within me a primitive urge to bake bread, an urge fueled by boyhood memories of my mother making wonderful fresh bread. One should vigorously suppress such urges – they only lead to trouble. Some day, long after I have turned 59, I may do so, but not until then. Avoiding trouble is over-rated.

Like so many of my urges, my urge to bake bread lay latent and unacted upon for many years. That is the nature of such urges. They lay there, tossing up wisps of wistfulness, suggesting that it would be nice to do their particular madness, but otherwise passively waiting in wait until their moment. When that moment comes yours truly all too often gives them full rein (I trust all of my readers know what “giving full rein” means) and his friends and relatives shake their head and wonder what tom-foolery he has gotten up to now.

Enter frozen bread dough.

The lady in my life, the love of my heart, and my culinary companion knows how to cook; she knows how to put foodstuffs together; she knows what may be found in the grocery store and what to do with it. Oddly enough she is quite happy to let me cook. She thinks it delightful to be able to sit and watch TV whilst I potter about in the kitchen. I can’t imagine why.

She comes from a tall race. Her brother and her sister-in-law are approximately sixty feet tall or so and have children of equally heroic proportions. Her sister-in-law cooks a lot of food. She is particularly good at making wonderful bread. Once of a time whilst complimenting her on her bread in the most honest of ways (I absent-mindedly ate the better part of a loaf at a sitting) I mentioned my urge to bake bread. Deborah and Wendi indulged their primitive feminine urge TO TELL MEN THINGS and told me about frozen bread dough.

In the city one doesn’t have to know about such things, although I am sure that real cooks do. In the city there is always a bakery just around the corner where one can purchase fresh bread, fresh buns, fresh bagels, and sinfully delicious things that melt in your mouth and migrate directly to your spare tire, bypassing all of that tedious digestion stuff. It is different in the country.

In the country there are no convenient bakeries. One just doesn’t go shopping around the corner. In the old days people had very restricted diets – you ate what was in season and that was it. Nowadays everyone has a freezer filled with steaks and other goodies. Cooking regularly involves taking something out of the freezer and thawing it out. Food that has been frozen and thawed out may not be as good as completely fresh food but it is pretty close, and taking something out of the freezer definitely beats driving fifty or a hundred miles to a supermarket.

So it is that one can buy frozen bread dough. This is a wonder. You take a tube of bread dough out of the freezer, spray a bread pan with spray-on vegetable oil, put the tube of bread dough in the pan, wait about eight hours until it has thawed and the dough has risen, pop the the bread pan in the oven for half an hour, and there you are – one loaf of freshly baked bread.

It’s real. It’s real bread. It isn’t the pre-sliced, preservative stuffed, packaged stuff that they sell as bread. One of the local brands is “wonder bread” – short for “I wonder why they call it bread.”

So it is that I have become a baker. Every few days I pop a tube or two of frozen dough out of the fridge, pop into pans, wait, and bake. I even supply bread to my sweetie. Richard, the baker – amazing.

Of course this isn’t the real thing. Frozen bread dough has its share of conditioners, preservatives, and such like crap. It’s not as though I’m really making bread – I’m only baking other people’s dough. I still have to go all the way, and make the dough, rolling it, and punching it, and kneading it, or whatever all one has to do. I’m prepared. I have a cookbook that tells how to make bread. I have the whole wheat flour and the yeast. Some day soon I will make my very own dough and bake it.

I think I will wait until the pigs fly south for the winter.

Stone walks and writing

A while back Our Lady of the Large Black Dog mentioned that she wanted to put in a walkway from her detached garage to the house. She and I went to one of the local palaces of consumption (not quite local – the town of Highmore makes no pretense of being a shopping center) and priced the various squares and circles of composition material from which one can construct a decorative path.

The number of pieces that would have been needed made the project a bit on the spendy side. I pointed out that the fields hereabouts have a plentiful supply of rocks that would be free for the taking. A stone walk, I opined (such a useful word, opine) that a stone walk using native stone would be more decorative than one built from the products of the construction products industries. The besides of which it would be much cheaper.

Somehow I talked myself into volunteering to put in this walk. Idiot. There is a reason why you don’t see too many stone walks – they are a lot of work.

The neat thing about working with rocks is that they are all different in shape, size, and color. As you go along putting rocks in place you have to make a decision at each point – what rock among the rocks that I have at hand would go best go in here? Which rock will fit best into the space? Where do the particularly pretty rocks go? Where should the path be wide and where narrow? There are no definitive best choices; everything is a judgement call.

A completed stone walk is a wonderful thing. Still, one can look at the completed walk and say, “This bit here doesn’t quite work, and that bit there is a bit too uneven.” One can go in after the fact and edit things, so to speak. That is, one can if the rocks are set in dirt or sand but not, obviously, if they are set in concrete. The catch is that changing what you’ve done is more work than the original doing.

As I worked on the stone walk it occurred to me that making a stone walk is like writing. You can have a master plan – call a synopsis or call it a blueprint. You can gather resources – call it research or call them rocks. But the actual craft of writing is putting words down on paper, selecting which words to use and where to put them, harmoniously fitting words, images, themes, and thoughts together, just as the maker of stone walkways harmoniously fits rocks together, taking into account all of the individuality and irregularities.

This may be why they say writers have rocks in their heads.

This page was last updated June 2, 2003.
It was reformatted and moved May 15, 2006.

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