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The Village Idiot

This delightfully snowy winter

Jack Deatherage, Jr.

(3/2014) Iís contemplating the Scriptures Iím going to write when the buzzing intercom interrupts my thoughts and the screen (the inside of my eyelids) goes blank. With a sigh I open my eyes, struggle off the bed I was thinking on and stagger (gods when did the joints and muscles become so stiff and uncooperative!) to the upstairs intercom. "Wha?"

"Are you sleeping?"

"No. Iím building a bread."

"Un-huh."

Why is it nonbakers canít grasp the intricacies of bread building? I donít bother to explain that Iím mentally ambeedextrous. If DW doubts Iím building bread sheíll never buy into my reading Ayn Randís Objectivism and comparing it to G. K. Chesterton and Hilaire Bellocís Distributism, working on the next Idiot column, the Scriptures, planning the garden and- Well, thereís just so much to think on while bread dough is rising.

Bread building is exhausting. Not the physical aspect of it as Iíve learned that good bread requires more thought than muscle (though thinking is less my strong suit than muscling, which isnít my strong suit either). But done properly, bread building provides hours of thinking time. Which is truly exhausting if spent in actually contemplating thought. (Sheesh. That paragraph alone leaves me wrung out. I need a nap, my strong suit.)

This delightfully snowy winter has kept me home more than usual. As DW seems unable to tolerate my constant thinking, or napping, Iíve taken to building lots of bread, rolling out egg noodles and making pizzas I couldnít afford to buy from a gourmet pizza shop. When we do leave the house weíre usually going for groceries or to visit with Cousin Luke and the Mad One.

The Mad One calls, "Iím making fried vinegar bread. You are going to learn to do this too. Bring wine." Or "Iím going to show you how to make stuffed cabbage rolls in yogurt sauce. Bring cabbage leaves, meats and yogurt."

To which I reply, "Yes dear. Iíll also bring wine. Iím going to need it."

Which earns me another "Un-huh."

I donít know if all Bulgarians cook the way Simona does. Nor do I know if all Bulgarians call their clumsy American in-laws "stupid cows" and things much worse, some of them even true. But I did come away from those cooking lessons with a greater respect for those people who can cook beyond opening a box or tossing a packet of something in a microwave. (Having been out of Momís kitchen for more than 35 years Iíd forgotten that much of her married life was spent moving from fridge, to table, to stove, to sink and back again, with occasional breaks to clean the house and do the laundry of eight people, all while keeping six children from killing each other.)

Just the vinegar bread took close to two hours from start to finish. The stuffed cabbages took about 2 months. Well the fermenting took that long. Getting the cabbage leaves stuffed and on the dinner plates took three and a half hours. Simona could have prepared the meal in less time, but she was attempting to teach me each step in the process which led to "You stupid cow", "Wanda, is he this clumsy at everything?", "Oh for Godís sake, like this!", "How many times do I have to show you?"

I brayed a lot.

And at the end of it all, "You havenít done too badly. Youíre cabbage is better than mine, but youíre lazy so I doubt youíll ever make the rolls again."

Iíll make the rolls the way she taught me, but Iím already planning little tweaks to make them mine.

Days later, to sooth my battered ego (in truth, I destroyed my ego decades ago and mostly laugh at what little is left of it) I unscrew the caps on some flasks of short mead I started back in November. To my absolute horror they taste pretty darn good. Each experiment proving to be better then the one before it! Worse! I wrote down the recipes so I can duplicate them. Damn it. Getting something to come out right is such a setback. Years of future experimentation are now wiped away. I suddenly have a clue and all my mead attempts are going to start coming out better than I deserve. (I sigh) BUT! I have taken to making my own vinegar so I can experiment with turning good mead into good vinegar!

Fortunately, the gardening season is still ahead of us and I have plenty of things I can screw up. Having no firm plan for the garden weíve been going through seed catalogs trying to decide what to order. As shipping and handling costs have risen over the years, we try to limit our purchases to as few companies as possible. Still, it looks like weíll be placing orders with at least three companies once weíre done arguing over wants and needs.

Seed Savers Exchange totals $170, though much of that will be culled. Territorial might get a $25 order. Victory Seeds has $15 worth of seed of interest to us, unless we take to growing tobacco, which is a specialty of theirs.

Then there is Stokes. I want two hybrid cabbages they offer. These are thin ribbed cabbages developed for the stuffed cabbage industry. (Who knew there was such an industry?) As much as Iíd like to grow them to share with the Mad One (weíd both have barrels of cabbages fermenting if I managed to grow a 100 foot row of these) Iím thinking the almost $8 charge for shipping & handling could buy several packets of cabbage seeds from other catalogs. Besides, Glory of Enkhuizen Cabbage is an heirloom long used to make sour cabbage and costs considerably less than the hybrids!

I found a list of seeds DW has pondered as she flips pages in Baker Creek Heirloom Seed catalog. Iíve just begun studying that list of 1,500 varieties. If we end up with less than $200 in wants Iíll be surprised.

Itís not unusual for $600 worth of wants to be butchered to a barebones $75. This year it may be even worse as I want to purchase a watering system so those plants needing steady watering donít have to depend on my stumbling attempts to carry 5-gallon pails of water to them every day during our gardenís normal summer drought.

Finally, arriving in the mail today is a gift of dried persimmons from an Italian of German descent homesteading in Oakleehoma. His partner on the farm is the former Texas homesteader, henceforth known as Diane, who used the dried fruits to set flour and water to bubbling in the most active sourdough starter sheís ever seen. I begged for a few persimmons and she asked for any fresh garlic I might have. Both of us are content with the trade, though Iím sure she got the best of it. After all, she suggested I sprout some of the seeds and grow my own persimmon trees. Like I have time between naps for another project!

Read other articles by Jack Deatherage, Jr.