A First Year of Seasons

Whenever I thought about moving to Montana, one of the things I looked forward to was to see the cycle of all the seasons in their turn here.

I have always enjoyed the seasons of life: the anticipation of the first snow, or warm sun on bare skin, the stages of a child's growing...all those things that bring the thrill of anticipation at the same time as the comfort of having some idea of what to expect.

I've anticipated what living here would mean for me. When do the leaves fall? When do you see the robins building their nests (and crapping all over my porch railing)? When is the right time to start planting, when do you first need to have a fire at night? In our little central Arizona mountain town, we customarily had our first fire of the year on Halloween, so the house smelled of that weird first-fire smell, plus the aroma of roasting pumpkin seeds, underscored by peanut butter cup breath.

I have also been waiting anxiously to see my first fawn of the year. Yesterday, I DID!

This first year in a completely new place is a little bit like a honeymoon phase. There are still a lot of unknowns, still a lot of quirks to be discovered. I expect it will also be like the early years of a marriage in that we will need to learn not to apply expectations to our new home, based on our past relationships. My loved ones in Arizona are about half cooked right now, but I've only had the chance to wear shorts a few times. It's getting close to July and I thought I'd have a tan by now. Montana had other plans. 

And so it is that I am on a honeymoon with my new home. That little dappled bundle of adorableness yesterday reminds me that the whole experience is fresh and new....just like he is.
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My Shaving Cream is Out to Get Me

No, seriously. What is up with shaving cream cans lately?

I don't think I'm getting all Schwarzenegger on my shaving cream can in the shower, but I have had more broken cans of shaving cream in the last year or so than I did for the previous 35 years or so of shaving combined.

The push button breaks and you can't dispense the shaving cream. Or else it does dispense but in any random direction.

The can is still full, but won't dispense at all. Like a car with a completely dead battery: click click click...nothing happens.

Tops that crack, bottoms that rust. I'm starting to feel very frustrated.

Maybe I should just give it up and go for the "natural" look.

Yeah, right. THAT's going to happen.

Father's Day, Francine's Day

There are so many things to think about this Father's Day.

I think about my precious husband, father to our two sons, and what a splendid father he is and always has been. I am so thankful for him, proud of him and still (even after all these years) so very much in love with him. As I sit here, sipping sweet coffee at the table he built, in the house he built, I am always more than a little in awe of his many skills and talents. I also wish he had made this coffee, because he is much better at it than I am. ;-P

Like all married couples should do, we learned from each other over the years. He taught me many trivial bits of practical life information and skills, but more importantly, he taught me about the power of choosing. He chose his life as an adult. He chose his path. And he chose not to allow the lessons of his childhood to be any more than that: lessons. Not a weight, not a drag, not a roadmap...a lesson. I think about the two men who were so influential in my husband's life: his own father, who gave him lessons in work ethics, mechanical things and a lot more, and his Grandpa, who taught him about being meticulous and methodical, about patience and simply being a good man.

Of course, I also think about my own father, gone over 22 years now. He would have loved our place here in Montana and of all the people in my family, I think he is the one who would have "GOT IT" the most. In a way, this little dream is one I inherited directly from him. It isn't surprising that I learned a lot from my dad, but what is surprising is how many of the lessons I learned from him were then reiterated in my marriage. Maybe one of the things that is most special to me about my darling sweet hubs, is that he has so many of the same qualities as my dear father. They each have/had their flaws, like all human beings, but in the final analysis, the flaws don't signify.

And then today would have been my beloved Aunt Francine's birthday. I think she would have been 90 today,  Ah, Auntie. How I miss you! She was the patient, upbeat, comical voice of acceptance and approval all through my life. She was one of the bravest people I have ever known, and one of the strongest.

I think about the troubled times we live in, and about the many fathers who lost children and children who lost a father. I am blessed that I got to keep my Dad for so long, even though it wasn't long enough, and doubly blessed that I found in my loving husband a man worthy of being that very special person to our children: their Dad.

Yeast: The Smallest of Wonders

I mentioned in my last blog post that I wanted to try to capture some wild yeast with which to make a loaf of bread. SO very early in the morning, before the yeast bedded down for the day, I put on my camos, and got out my snares and my skinning knife, and I took to the woods.

OK, I admit it didn't take camos, a knife or a snare. Or the wilderness before dawn. It took a bowl, a cup of flour and a cup of chlorine-free water: well water. I mixed up the flour and water a bit, and set the bowl outside on the picnic table. After a while, I covered it with a towel. Had I caught any yeast? Well, my eyes aren't that good anymore, so I couldn't see any. (har har har...I crack me up.) It just so happens I DID have some yeast. Yes! Some wild, cage free, woodsy little Montana yeast!

But then, what would they be like? How would they behave? The only way to find that out was to take some of that yeasty starter and make bread, so that's what I did. I had never baked bread without using commercially-prepared yeast, so I didn't know what to expect. Also, I am not much of a recipe kind of girl and I cook by smell and appearance, etc., as much as anything. My wild yeast definitely smelled different than Red Star active dry.

Hmmmm. My kitchen took on an odd, slightly tangy smell between the days of the starter perking and the long, long rise times that the bread dough needed. Sourdough starters I had made in the past had a sort of alcoholic smell to them, but this was very different. I was starting to have doubts.

Last night before bed, I shaped my bread dough into 2 loaves, covered them and left them to rise overnight. This morning, they had barely risen, it seemed, but I was losing patience so I baked them up anyway. Believe it or not I got a glorious case of oven spring and got actual, honest-to-goodness, completely delicious bread that was light (even for a whole wheat bread and that ain't no easy trick!), smelled fabulous, wonderfully sour with a crisp-chewy crust and a lovely crumb. I should have taken a picture before I gobbled it down.

I learned a few things from my first foray into this most elemental form of gathering.

  • I think I should have left the bowl uncovered out in the open air for longer. I don't think I captured a very big herd of little wild yeasties. Yes, they reproduce and you end up with more yeast than you started with, but that takes time and time adds more sourness to sourdough starter.
  • A warmer place for the starter to start and for the dough to rise would have been better. It's fine for a bread dough (especially one like this which is only flour, water, salt and yeast) to hang around for a long time: this helps to develop the gluten, due to the glutenin and gliadin having lots of time to hook up and make little baby gluten, and of course gluten is what gives bread its structure and bounce. I'm rambling. What I mean is, I think this all took rather longer than it needed to because my kitchen is chilly. I'm half freezing typing this. 
  • I think next time, I will throw just a bit of baking powder and baking soda in the dough, to give it that extra spring in the oven. What this bread did NOT need was anything else. It did not need fat or sweetener, eggs or cheese or anything else added to the dough. This was a bread that could fully stand on its own and needed no help. A little smear of good butter on the slice is different matter, of course.
  • A loaf pan was the wrong choice for this humble, earthy sort of bread. I should have just let it be a free-form loaf, baked on cookie sheet dusted with cornmeal. Or maybe baked in a shallow bowl. 
  • Leaving the crust bare when I threw the loaves in the oven was just right. I might normally have used an egg wash, or brushed the crust with cream. For this maiden loaf, though, I wanted to see what I would get in its purest, most naked form. Naked, in this case, was just beautiful. The crust was thin, crisp, with a hint of chewiness that added something extra special to the whole business.
  • There is something really.... seriously.... profoundly humbling about this process. Who was that great-great-great(to the 10th power) grandmother who figured this out? Here I am, telling you on the freaking INTERNET for sweet fancy Moses' sake, about my attempt at doing something that people have been doing since they were still hunting mammoth. Think about that. This incredibly ancient skill that some brilliant opportunist had the ingenuity to recognize and capitalize on, which changed our world and our species forever. And I can do it, too. 
  • Then there is the yeast itself. A tiny little single-celled fungus which has the transformative powers to turn something that is inedible into something that is nutritious, delicious and beautiful. A single cell that can accomplish something as grand as that. Makes me wonder what is holding ME back.