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April 26, 2008

The Peaceful Hills Boulangerie


It snowed twice today, but that didn't stop Jennifer and Allie from raiding our pantries and setting up a lemonade stand in the most well defended cul-de-sac this side of Baghdad. In the shade of the DUKW and a Weasel, they were hawking lemonade, diet cokes, and cookies for well-below my cost, but above theirs, of course, since they'd just grabbed it all and run breathlessly out the door.

Jennifer has her eye set on a hundred-and-ninety-dollar fresh-water puffer fish the size of an artichoke she found in some overpriced pet store down the hill. Never mind that her 10 gallon aquarium has caused more deaths than Pol Pot. Never mind that she is single-handedly responsible for a riparian genocide that could sustain all the starving children in Baifra on fish sticks in perpetuity.

She has her eye on this fresh-water puffer named Rosie that follows her finger as she smears her prints on the aquarium at the Rolls Royce of pet stores down the hill and slowly it dawns on me that this is why she's hawking ice cold Diet Cokes in the snow for half of what they cost me. But I digress.

The title of this post is the "Peaceful Hills Boulangerie", so you were probably expecting to read about baking bread, at some point. Or maybe you were hoping to find out what a Boulangerie was, and I'll tell you now that it's a french baker, but I'm getting ahead of myself.

I cleaned out my pantry yesterday and stumbled across the old Panasonic bread machine. Now I bought it in Dallas and we had it shipped to Denver when we moved here and in the divorce, it was the only thing I got that came from inside the house.

Now I haven't turned the thing on in ten years and probably it's about half because no one in their right mind would want a bread that came out of anything made by Panasonic. Somehow, Panasonic just doesn't have the same cachet as if it had come from a Boulangerie - Pâtisserie - Chocolaterie in the Rue Cler district in Paris.

But I busted it out and dusted it off and begged the only sister that still speaks to me to email me her coveted Walnut Beer Bread recipe. And she did and I followed the directions reasonably well, but her recipe is for a double loaf and the directions are for making bread by hand, instead of by Panasonic, which is somewhat different, as it turns out. Plus, her recipe is undoubtedly is designed for people living at or below poverty level - errr sea level I meant.

My compound clocks in at right around 7,500 feet above sea level, so things are a lot different here and Jennifer and I spent some amount of time and anguish trying to translate the recipe into a one-loaf-high-altitude-bread-machine-version, but ultimately, when I opened the bread machine, I discovered that my loaf of bread was stillborn.

It's times like these that I feel like killing strangers and in my seething angst I tossed the rest of the yellow onion into the woods behind my house. I didn't have any use for it, and the deer and the elk can't stand them. They will seriously eat needles off of Pine trees and bark off of Aspen trees, but they won't eat onions and they won't eat Daffodils. Why? I don't know. They just won't.

So I called my sister but she'd picked a particularly inopportune time to attend a funeral so I walked over to my neighbors' house, with my tail tucked firmly between my legs, reluctantly lugging this soggy-doughy-still-born-Panasonic-cinder-block under one arm like a deflated leather pigskin.

I have good neighbors up here and they all tolerate me fairly well, which is saying a lot and anyone that knows me would readily agree. I don't work so I watch their houses when they're gone and I have a list of animals on the "approved shooting" list and I loan out my wood splitter and my trailer cutter pull-behind ATV mower. But anyone that's ever been up here will readily admit that the compound looks like a still photo of Normandy on D-Day + 1, but I digress.

Rosemary mentioned that I should pay meticulous attention to the water temperature. If it's too cold, the yeast won't activate, and if it's too hot, they'll die. She offered me her candy thermometer, but I lied and assured her I had one and wandered back to the compound and tossed the bread out into the yard.

I decided to go back to the drawing board. It's not how many times you get knocked down, after all, it's how many times you get back up. I retrieved the yellow onion from the woods and carved the pine needles out of it. I peeled off a layer under running water just for good measure.

Then I got on my computer and surfed the web and compared some other recipes and tried to find advice from housewives that know about these things - about the ideal temperature for high-altitude yeast fermentation; about how the gluten chains trap carbon dioxide exhaled by sugar chomping yeast and the proper ratios of flour to sugar to salt to water and I calculated the amount of water in a large egg and finally, I decided that I needed to warm the beer I added to the machine, cut back on the walnuts, and reduce the amount of oil that I was using to make the bread.

When I returned to the kitchen, a red and gray fox with black legs came trotting up looking for his daily ration of guppies and gold fish, but settled for a soggy-doughy-still-born-Panasonic-cinder-block bread and trotted off, contented as a dog gnawing on a pig's ear.

Of course, I didn't have a candy thermometer, so I got the algae coated digital thermometer out of the aquarium and stuck the sensor down into the witch's brew of beer-egg-onions-peanut oil in a metal measuring cup. A seasoned chef would heat it in a double boiler, but instead I set it directly on the stove's eye just as a mule deer nearly stepped on the fox so I went to grab my camera to shoot some pics.

Unfortunately, my camera has grown so unwieldy and complicated that it's very nearly useless. I knew I had a problem when I reached for it and couldn't pick it up with one hand. So I started taking off the extra battery grip and the Stroboframe Pro T flash bracket with custom anti-twist bracket and Speedlite 580EX and changing lenses and putting the battery compartment door back on and putting in a battery and by the time I finally stumble outside, there's a whole herd of mule deer coming through and I'm just shooting like mad, of course.

Everyone is afraid to drive down the cul-de-sac because it looks like Afghanistan after the Soviets pulled out and Jennifer and Allie, wearing their heaviest snow clothes, are peddling ice cold lemonade and Diet Cokes door-to-door and it might be 50º F, but I doubt it.

The deer wander past the little impromptu-card-table-store-front in the most heavily defended cul-de-sac in North America and pause in the long shadow of the DUKW's .50 caliber machine gun intending to sample the wares but Allie and Jen will have none of it and they're yelling at the deer and I'm about to bust a nut laughing.

And when I get back inside, the beer-egg-onions-peanut oil is boiling over onto the stove's eye and the egg is completely fried so I toss it all out and start over - the liquid part that is.

This time I make the effort to jury-rig an impromptu double boiler and fill a cast iron skillet with warm water and float the liquid ingredients in a metal cup inside the skillet. And fortunately, no wildlife wanders past the window this time so when the temperature gets just so, I dump it all into the Panasonic Bread Bakery and put Jennifer in bed.

"Did you girls make any money today with your lemonade stand?"

"We made five dollars."

"What are you going to do with the money?"

"I'm saving up to buy Rosie from the fish store."

And now she's reading The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint Exupéry to me. We're reading the book because he was lost during the war piloting a P-38 Lightning over occupied France. He was famous when he was shot down so they searched for him like it mattered but they could never find him and just two weeks ago, the German pilot that shot him down finally confessed after sixty-odd years that he was the one that killed the much loved Antoine de Saint Exupéry and how it had haunted him all these years.

The cat is curled up in the waterbed between us. A perfect little "Goodnight Moon" ball of fur in a Build-A-Bear toy dog bed, 9 sizes too small for the cat. But somehow, she draws herself into it in a tight little fur circle; a cat-wheel you could roll down the hill if you wanted but no one does.

I like her to read to me and this book is harder than some of the others we've read.

"Daddy....what's 'C-O-L-L-E-A-G-U-E' spell?"

"Colleague, baby."

"I'm tired daddy. Can we finish this in the morning?"

"Yes, baby."

"Daddy... why did the Germans kill that man that wrote The Little Prince?"

"It was during the war, baby. He was flying for the Allies. They were enemies, so the Germans shot him down."

"The Germans were mean. They were bad people."

"We're German, baby."

"Oh, yeah."


"Yes, baby?"

"Will your bread come out good this time?"

"I hope so, baby."

"Will it taste like that bread we liked in Paris?"

"I dunno, baby. Somehow I kinda' doubt it."

Posted by Rob Kiser on April 26, 2008 at 11:37 PM


To keep your costs down, you could have made some nutraloaf for them to sell.

But with the coming food riots, you might not want to be selling your stockpile of edibles just yet. And instead of a $200 puffer-fish, you should invest in something more nutritious -- like salmon or tuna.

Posted by: Robert on April 27, 2008 at 6:50 AM

I really got a kick out of this post. It made me laugh. More funny family moments, please.

Posted by: The Chick Voice on April 27, 2008 at 9:40 PM

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