ralph robert moore
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Copyright © 2013 by Ralph Robert Moore.
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Return to lately 2013.
like god speaking down into our day
january 1, 2013
A recent morning the water in our bird baths froze, first time this Winter, orange and purple leaves preserved in the ice.
We love this time of year, between Thanksgiving and Christmas. Because it was finally getting cold outside, Mary and I decided to make a big pot of turkey stock, then use that stock to make soup. What's usually referred to (at least in the South) as frame soup.
We started early in the morning, around nine. Took the turkey carcass out of the freezer, along with another bag filled with the frozen chaos of turkey legs and wings. Dumped everything in a tall metal pot we use sometimes for steaming lobsters. Added an onion, cut in half, skin left on for color, two crisp stalks of celery, a few carrots whose length I snapped, half a head of garlic, sprinkle of stiff bay leaves, handful of black peppercorns. Dragged the pot over to the sink, filled it with cold water until the turkey was drowned, bay leaves floating.
I love making stock. Ten minutes of effort, then all day long your home is filled with the soul-satisfying aroma of something good bubbling, getting better. In every room, in every closet. I guess in part I love it because it means we're not going out (because who would leave a stockpot unattended?) We're going to be lazy, watch some TV shows, maybe a movie or two. Doing it in the middle of the week, no longer having to work, makes it all the sweeter, like running a red light on a dark, empty street.
Mary made some breakfast burritos for us. Absolutely delicious. Pork sausage meat cooked with chopped onions, looking for browned, looking for translucence, then when they're almost done you use the backside of a wooden spoon to swirl two cleared circles in the skillet, and in those bared spaces drop two eggs. You let the eggs cook until they're almost set, then break them up with the spoon (in other words, they're not scrambled with the pork and onions.) Once everything is ready, you steam a couple of large flour tortillas. Place half the mixture on each tortilla, add a freshly-grated mixture of Mexican cheeses, roll the tortillas up burrito-style. Heat them in the microwave for 30 seconds to melt the cheese. Unfold them long enough to add big spoonfuls of red, red salsa. Wrap 'em back up, eat 'em. This tall, warm, soft cylinder filled with moist deliciousness, held by your hands as if praying. I love the fuckers.
Once the stock reached a boil, I turned the heat down to a simmer. Skimmed any gray bubbles floating on the surface. And had a thought.
A few weeks before, Mary and I were watching something on TV, I forget what it was, and there was a commercial for a new food product. I love new food products. This was for, in essence, homemade bread in a box. "Just add water." "Less than 1 hour."
Who doesn't want fresh-baked bread? And seemingly, without a lot of effort?
So the next time we were in a supermarket, we bought a couple of the packages. One for Italian Herb bread, and the other for Country White bread. Their other offerings, which we didn't buy, are Multi-Grain and Stoneground Wheat. Grains are fine, but you know. Let's start with something I'm more likely to enjoy.
The product is Fleischmann's Simply Homemade No Knead Bread Mix.
The box includes a packet of yeast and a smaller package of sugar (food for the yeast.) You draw a cup of warm water from the tap (between 105 and 115 degrees Fahrenheit), pour the water into a bowl, sprinkle on its surface the yeast and sugar, and stir. After about three minutes the yeast wakes up and starts eating the sugar, producing a foam on the surface of the water (which it did.)
You add the large packet of flour into the bowl, then stir "until a ball forms." Well, the mixture never did form a ball, unless you expand the definition of "ball" to include some nightmarish creation from a Cronenberg movie. But at least it did adhere into enough of a mass that I was able to shake it out of the upside down bowl onto a cutting board. I added some flour on top (as the instructions recommend), and shaped it into a reasonable-looking loaf. We then covered it with a kitchen towel and let it rise for 25 minutes, as instructed. "Loaf will rise, but will not double in size." (I like the scan of that instruction, the internal rhyme and the use of one-syllable words until the quickness of "double".)
Then you place the loaf in a 400 degrees Fahrenheit oven for 20 to 25 minutes. And it's done.
Okay, here are the issues. For one thing, because the bread dough is allowed very little time to rise (only 25 minutes), the loaf itself never gets that tall. If you've ever made bread before, you know you have to let the dough rise, then punch it down, and let it rise again. That's how bread is made. But if Fleischmann's did it that way, they couldn't claim in their ads that the whole process takes "Less than one hour." They'd have to say, "Takes about 3 hours. Maybe." Because the finished bread isn't that tall (it's about two and a half inches tall, baked), it's kind of impractical to use for a sandwich. And the other thing: Probably because you don't knead the bread that long (again, so Fleischmann's can claim a short prep time), the "crumb" of the bread is too loose. If you were to make a sandwich, the sliced bread in that sandwich would probably fall apart on its way to your mouth. (The crumb of this bread is similar to the crumb of a cake. Could you make a sandwich using two cake slices?) Other than those issues, the bread itself, if not "good", was at least "good enough", although maybe just a tad too herby.
While we were doing all this, Mary also made a big batch of chili, because we were planning on having nachos Saturday morning (with the rest of the chili saved for chile rellenos the following week.)
In the midst of all this cooking, we gradually became aware a light rain was falling outside our windows.
And that's such a beautiful thing, anywhere in the world, rain falling, like God speaking down into our day, but it's especially wonderful here in Texas, where we don't get much rain. Months can float by, like clouds. And then there it is, the thousands of tappings on the roof, sliding down the glass.
Mary and I grinned at each other in our kitchen. And kissed. For more than thirty years, we've shared our lives, to the exclusion of everyone else, and all else. Yet another happy moment in our madness.
So the soup was a bust. After all that time, it didn't really have much flavor. But that's okay. The bread? It got better the more butter you spread across its cut side, as everything does, but even so, we'll never make it again.
The chili, as always, was great. Spicy and dirty.
And the falling rain? The overhead light in the kitchen turning the tops of our heads into halos? And that kiss?
Well, well, well.