Monday, November 03, 2008

quaint vignettes from my charming rural idyll

My husband is the type of man who might just happen to have a whoopee cushion on him at any given moment, sadly. He is also the kind of person who thinks it's real funny to gives said cushion to his four year old grandson. Who subsequently ran around for the rest of the evening frapping it loudly at people and then collapsing on the floor in hysterics. This made it difficult to follow Antiques Roadshow (shh, honey, quit farting for a second; grandma wants to hear how much the Victorian nipple electrodes are worth!) until his mommy took it away from him. And started farting it at people and collapsing in hysterics. This proves a. that there is such a thing as genetically heritable disposition, and b. we are a real classy group.

Despite the rain, this leaf season has been unusually brilliant. The deciduous trees that color up look as though they are artificially lit. I took a few pictures outside:
Welcome to the view out my front windows as of yesterday afternoon! Let's start by looking northeast from my front porch. What ARE they growing down in that white barn?

...moving ese...the twin to this tree used to stand in the middle of my driveway.

...southeast, toward Tweaker Hill (or Kendall, as its known on maps)

...and straight south.
Let's give my zillion dollar view a big hand!!! This view is one of the many reasons I keep saying that Bill Gates has nothing I want. And I'm serious about this too. CALL THE SALVATION ARMY BILL. REALLY. NO REALLY QUIT IT BILL. GO AWAY.

Remember the pumpkins?
...the full horror becomes apparent after a week out in the weather.

...This is the Opie tree looking spectacular with a wild and crazy black cohosh coming up through it

...and this is my favorite little magnolia stellata going off like fireworks.

Now that we have worshiped the glory that is my view, lets take a quick rip through the galley, shall we? Yes, lets!

The best thing about being my age is that I finally know how do some things with a certain degree of expertise. It's taken me years to finally get to the place where I think that I know a little bit about how to make bread, for example.

Out of everything I've set myself to do, learning how to work with fermentation and grain flours has been the one that turned out to be the trickiest. You can produce a pretty and edible loaf of bread on your first time out provided you can follow a recipe carefully, of course. But to really turn out something that can stand up to an informed opinion means years of practice. You have to develop a knowledge of your materials, tools and even climate with all five of your senses. The only way to do that is to just plain make a whole fuck of a lot of bread. And eat a whole lot of bread, and read about bread, and baking, and flour, and yeasts, and talk about bread, and basically turn into an obsessive with a bread grudge.

At first, when I was around 10-11, I was afraid of the breadmaking process. The dough is all...weird. It was messy and floury. But I was bound and determined that I was not going to be defeated. My grandmother used to make bread every three days from the time she was eight years old for heavens' sake, and she worked with salt batter, sourdoughs, wild yeasts and nonstandard flours!!!! If a barefoot kid in a covered damn wagon could make bread in an iron pot then I damnsure was going to make some bread too.

Making bread is a basic human skill. Once you get into it your realize that you make bread by feel and by intuition moreso than by recipe or technique-once you dig your hands in you can understand how a bunch of pre-literates could have come up with it. The ability to make fermented (and thus easily digested and long-keeping) protein food out of grains is the one thing that separated us forever from the hunter/gatherers. Making bread is how civilization started. People think its agriculture? Oh lord no. Agriculture is just planting seeds in convenient places; good lord, robins do that. Mice do that. Civilization started from the need to settle near the supply long enough to not only plant, guard and harvest a crop, but to husband the final product through its different stages of refinement as a food, document the changes, record the amounts, and store it. As beer.
Bread was not the intended final product. Bread was just a stage on the way toward making beer. Which proves that our ancestors were smarter than we are.

Because I am only partially civilized, I just make bread. In this case, challah.
...with a scroungy old Yummy Biker finger serving as a prop there upper right.

This is the best loaf of bread I have ever made in my entire history of making bread, and its also my favorite bread in the entire world. This, friends, is a challah for the ages. A resplendant challah. A perfect challah. Usually its braided, but this time I wanted it for toasted sandwiches so I left it loafy (which is a word because I said it was.) The next time I make it I'll braid it, because I'll be celebrating. Do you know why they braid it? So you can pull it into nice pieces and throw it. Yes. This is a fact. Apparently, you hand bread to people who are mourning. You chunk bread at people who are celebrating.
Consider yourselves chunked at!


  1. WHOA! That doesn't look like a "finger" to me!

  2. i used to have a bread machine in a house i lived in years ago... not quite the same, but home baked bread is the bomb!! my fav was the poppy seed recipe!

  3. mj:... its been awhile for you, hasn't it.

    voices: nothing like it. you can get damn good bread from one of those machines, too. at least its less likely to have been dropped on the floor or have doghairs in it, anyway. ahem.

  4. Call me a sentimental old fool, but there are few joys greater in this world than watching a young person discover the joy of fart humour. It brings a tear to the eye.
    Please let me know if any of your descendants are in need of being taught to "pull my finger".

  5. Teach me to pull your "finger" Vicus.

  6. beautiful pics. i love the rainbow with the bright red tree in front.

    bread looks delicious. i'm jealous. why i don't know, cause i've never attempted to bake bread.

  7. I was almost ready to pounce regarding the unbraided challah not being proper, but of course you knew that! And it makes the best french toast, too!

    I, myself, make a pretty awesome jalapeno cornbread. So awesome, even the time I dropped the one for Thanksgiving on the damned floor, and told the guests what had happened, they ate it anyway, dog hair and all.

  8. Okay please pronounce challah for me?
    Chow la?

    And it looks FAB. And I agree makes superb French toast. Yummy!
    My job as a child was to baste my grandmother horn's loaves of bread, I loved that job!

  9. Retro: The "ch" is pronounced like a hard Scottish "h" like you are clearing your throat or hocking a loog. And the other part like "la,la,la" only singularly, of course :)

  10. Been crazy-busy over here, but hoping to find time to bake a loaf or two for the artists' lunch.

    Children and whoopee cushions...some things will never change!

  11. Fabulous pictures! I am sooooooo jealous of your view - from here I get a view of our aloe vera (which is taking over the kitchen - but flowered - twice!- this summer) the tops of the cherry trees and a whole heap of very grey sky!

    My mum makes her own bread and always has done, sometimes we ate it, sometimes we used it to build an extension (still have a chip in my tooth from one particularly hard crust). I can't make bread - even with a recipe - it just doesn't work for me. So I'm really jealous of the challah too.

    Wanders off muttering jealously.....

  12. I won't know if I'm mourning or celebrating until I see the results of the election.

  13. I would like some bread for my birthday - perhaps with homemade jam. Your view is lovely.
    I make bread. I have a machine that works it for me. Then when it is rested and has rose. I toss it in a well oiled/floured pan. Wa La home made bread.
    Oh? Did I tell you I am extremely lazy. Sad but true!

  14. What lovely pictures, I've often wondered what it must be like to live in a wooden house (virtually everything over here is brick) - is it warm? are you afraid of it catching fire?

    I have often thought about baking bread - used to get this wonderful three-seed load from a hippy bakery (long gone), which was wonderful, just can't find anything like it commercially. I have heard mixed reports about breadmaker machines, so not sure whether to invest.

  15. Learn To Make Bread is on my to-do someday list, right after Get Shit Together. So, possibly in my next lifetime, then. Or the one after that.

  16. Could you please send someone over to finger my challah?

    ****runs away screaming***

    Be Back later but I want to know how 'Tweakers' hill gets its name

    ***Tweaks MJ's Nipple and runs off screaming***

  18. If you need assistance with the 4-year-old, I can hold him in my lycra.

  19. nice pictures, lovely view, fantastic planting, you had to spoil it with cooking.

    I am putting up a sign in my kitchen that says the only reason I have this room is that it came with the house.

    You can buy perfectly good bread you know . . .

    (ducks and runs)

  20. *phwaps Beast's pendulous moobs with The Champ's lycra*

  21. Bikers finger sounds like a very nasty disease, or a repetitive strain injury (aka wankers disease)

    Fresh bread rocks. I'm a bagel man, as long as the hole in the middle hasn't been poked out by an oily biker fnger..

  22. Another thing we have in common. I make bread at least twice a week and have done for years. I have also made perfectly drinkable beer, and drunks or sold loads more...

  23. vicus: you old softie you. no, we have 'pull my finger' covered already, thanks. precocious, thats my goonybird.


    pink: actually bread is pretty easy. for me it was just getting past the 'yeech, this dough is all...doughy' stage.

    xul: now there you go. anything is made better by the addition of jalapenos, i say. recipe?

    retro: i always just heard it prounounced with the 'a' as in 'ah.'

    xul: there ya go.

    dinah: artists eat lunch? you wacky foreigners and your wacky lunch eating ways, i swanee.

    hendrix: chipped tooth? oh dang. thats impressive! I've made things so bad that i actually dug a hole and buried them, but to cause actual orthodontic damage is something I aspire to now.

    CBPirate: we either get an old, dying man and an airhead, or a young, inexperienced man who's never done an honest days work in his life. whoopee. vpte Opie.

    gale: is bread mailable? I would mail you bread. I got my challah recipe out of the Joan Nathan book "Jewish Cooking in America" which kicks ass. couldn't you just dump the ingredients into your machine? I'll send you the recipe if you'd like.

    frobi: yeah, you do worry. this house actually has caught on fire in the past, twice. I mean, long, long before we moved in , of course. we (I) check the wiring every spring. and re bread machines, hey-go for it. they make very good bread. Remember Sopwith Camel? he swore by his bread machine. they really do a good job, Ratso!

    alala: you know, you can get some aggression out kneading bread. builds up the pecs, lifts the bust! better than plastic surgery, cheaper than a shrink, and tastes better than time spent in jail!

    mj: i thought thats what you were doing. *peers more closely, instantly regrets having done so*

    beast: between all the tweaking and screaming....there is Tweaker Hill. Known as such by the fact that on the other side is Kendall...meth capitol of Whatcom county. That hill is the site of a recent scandal where two dealers went up, and only one came back down. And then claimed to have no recollection of what happened in the intervening hours, or why he was covered in blood and pine needles. which is when i stopped going up into the woods by myself.

    WCSN: has it been recently laundered? is it a pleasing shade? will it match my color scheme? is it hypoallergenic? will it muffle the sound of sobbing?

    ziggi: It is a nice view. it lacks only Brad Pitt clad in only a smile, bounding through the field scattering business cards with his home phone number on them. I would lure him to my doorstep with fresh, homemade bread. you see how this works? I'M READY.

    mj: use one of your spare uterii. please.

    garfy: I know things that you don't know. and I'll do us all a favor by not mentioning them, ok? ok. btw... I make hotwater bagels. oh yeah. *buffs nails on lapel*

    muttley: oh dang, you make beer? I AM SO IMPRESSED! the only thing I've ever made that came close is some canned marinara that fermented. I had tomato champagne all over the kitchen ceiling! My boy makes beer too!

    voices: DON'T ENCOURAGE HER, you dang ol' ABBA loving discobaby you.

  24. I think there is a pot of gold in that barn you know. We too have had amazingly strong colour of trees this autumn I mean fall. I took some pics in Kew Gardens last week which I shall post up shortly. I have a magnolia stellata in my front garden - they are beautiful aren't they? I am very impressed with your bread - I make bricks that are only good for toasting. I think I get bored of kneeding - I need a kneeding slave. XX

  25. Frobi,
    Breadmakers ROCK. Pirate and I haven't bought a single loaf of bread since we got married. Supermarket bread can go fuck itself. Get the Panasonic SD-255. It is the shiznit.

  26. I assume that by saying Obama's never done an honest day's work in his life you mean a job other than politics or community action?

  27. rocky: yeah, theres some kind of 'pot' up in there. when kneading, think of something that pisses you off and set a timer. ding! five minutes have gone by while you were happily tying someones face in a knot and you never even noticed it!

    Mrs.Pirate Chaucer: 1. there you go. 2. I meant, got his hands dirty; put in a days' hard work out of economic necessity. he's got his heart in the right place and i'm glad he's won it, but he's still wet behind the ears.

  28. Chuck some up to Canada, wouldja?

    My thing is acorn squash bread and potato bread.
    I'm hungry now.

  29. God you live in a beautiful place, really. Also impressive girth on the finger, my congratulations

  30. He may personally never have suffered the fear of "how am i going to pay the rent this month? how am i going to feed my kid?" but he's certainly witnessed that kind of economic hardship in his childhood. and he's no slacker. a harvard law degree takes some effort.

    I'm not saying he's perfect. I'm not happy with his position on gay marriage, for instance. And he's a little too Christian for my comfort, but I do think he's a damn sight better than the old, white-haired dude (as Paris so aptly put it).

  31. geo: duck!

    realdoc: it is gorgeous. and impressive too ;)

    Bitch Chaucer Married Pirate Mrs: hey, we agree, and we're on the same page. I'm just expressing myself more cynically than you because a. I'm old and grumpy, and b. I saw what happened to the former soviet union under very similar circumstances. heavy emphasis on 'former' there. i genuinely hope he carries out the promise he seems to extend. now lets hope the Secret Service does their job and keeps the KKK from assassinating him before he gets a chance to try.

  32. 32 comments? What's going on here?
    I used to make some mean sourdough, starter kept for years down in the refrigerator, but haven't done any for a while. Vegas is rather dry for too much fun like that.
    No colorful leaves yet, but I am still picking tomatoes off the vines.

  33. you're saying that the way to a man's heart is through his stomach, with bread?? I think the way to a man's heart is between the ribs with a sharp knife myself!

  34. mmmmmmmm... fresh homemade bread.... sigh.