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The Village Idiot

Ah November

Jack Deatherage, Jr.

(11/2015) The Mad One is a good coach, being both cheerleader and a demanding culinary critic. Weíre sitting in the upstairs kitchen eating one of several primitive pizzas I shuffle off the oven stone. I call them "primitive" because they consist of homemade dough, friend Mardaís garlic, rosemary salvaged from Simonaís garden before she abandons it, various cheeses and the thickly sliced air-dried meats we found at Wegmans. Simona asks me to recreate the dough using Russian flours because that will soon be all she is likely to find near her new home. The Russian flour focaccia doesnít turn out as tasty as the American flour version because I actually follow the recipe, but she knows it works well enough that she can adapt it to her own methods (considerably more thoughtful than mine).

Luke and I shake hands. Simona hugs me as she cries. Then she and Luke are gone. No sooner are they in Moscow than I blunder onto a copy of Truly Madly Pizza while visiting the library. Sue, a librarian and bread fanatic, reminds me Iíll have two years to work with the bookís recipes so I can amaze Simona and Luke when they stop by next. I think I can manage that.

Simona fears Iíll become a complete curmudgeon while they are away. That I will stop going among people altogether and allow my anger to drive off the few who might come to visit me. I admit the idea appeals to me. Still, the growing cold season aids me in getting out of the funk Iíve been in. Going into baking mode leaves DW and me with more food ready to eat than we can possibly manage. The dogs canít eat it all either, though they happily try! I have to give some of it away. Which means I have to interact with someone. The local librarians seem agreeable with my leaving baked experiments with them.

Anyhow, the cooler temperatures justify heating the oven for more frequent pizza experiments, general bread building and the roasting of large chunks of various meats since we have to heat the house anyhow. Simona taught DW how to roast a leg of lamb so our New Yearís Day feasting will have that added to the roast duck and chicken as well as the steamed shrimp, oxtail stew, a broccoli salad, buttered homemade egg noodles with mushrooms, some breads and cakes, wine, possibly several varieties of homemade mead. If we hold the feast this winter! (The Curmudgeon is thinking we wonít.)

Having to turn on the heat in the upstairs kitchen also allows me to make egg noodles, which happen to be better this year because I have a friend who has a small flock of layers and he sells the cackle berries for $2.00 a dozen. In return for the good eggs at such a low price, I make egg noodles to gift back to the egg man. Thus, partially avoiding curmudgeonness. (Is that a word? It is now.)

Iím also experimenting with cider, honey and wine yeast. After getting cussed at for not recording the recipe of the last batch I made several years ago, I wrote everything down and taped it to the fermentation bucket and the aging jug this time. We know the last batch was close to two years old when we raised the final drops of it in honor of my accidental creation of something sublime. If a bottle of this latest batch survives the next two years, weíll open it to sip while we sup on pizza and Kaiser roll sandwiches stuffed with roasted lamb, roasted duck, chicken, beef and pork! (Yes, I built the best Kaiser rolls Iíve ever tasted, a week after Simona and Luke landed in Russia.)

Another experiment Iíve been putting off, until colder weather, is curing a bag of pig fat I have in one of the freezers. I use the cured fat to flavor bean soups, though I want to try something I noticed while at the Russian deli in Pikesville, a chunk of fat coated in a red powder. Simona told me it was salt and paprika. Real paprika, not the nasty crap we find in our supermarkets, but the good stuff smuggled in from Eastern Europe and hoarded until some special need arises. Like curing pig fat.

"Itís very good." She said of the red fat, though I noticed she didnít buy any. She was probably thinking Iíd make some for her as Iíve managed a great cured pork belly she uses to make one of the best bean soups Iíve ever eaten. With her gone, Iím left with my imagination to come up with something tasty to eat. I canít slough all the hard work off on her now. Of course, we talk on Skype and share photos on Facebook so sheís aware of the breads Iíve made, now that she isnít here to sample them. Eh-hem. She isnít pleased. I try not to laugh.

Ahh November, a good month to settle down with a copy of "Bread, a bakerís book of techniques and recipes" by Jeffery Hamelman and study up on the how and why of bread building. Having barely skimmed the book in the year Iíve owned it (I hadnít reached a level of understanding needed to appreciate the book), Iím now aware of how every single ingredient: flour, water, salt, yeast, time and temperature, plus so many other variables I was unaware of, effect the loaf that comes out of the oven.

Yes, any fool can make bread. Iíve been doing it successfully for years. To make great bread takes more than a basic understanding of the process. Well, to make great bread consistently, it takes a deeper understanding than this fool has. (I just wish the book had more pictures and less words. I like books with lots of pictures.)

While the countyís library system has several good bread-building books (offerings by Peter Reinhart, Ken Forkish and Bernard Clayton come to mind instantly, and have lots of pictures) and more than a few food books that have decent bread recipes, Hamelmanís book is not among them. However! The book can be requested via the Marina system. Of course, my favorite non-Frederick County library has a copy. Yay, Enoch Pratt Free Library!

The cheddar cheese and Kalamata olive bread (a wild variation of a Ken Forkish pizza dough recipe) Iím munching while I type also has an excellent crust, a soft and tender crumb and delightful flavor thanks in part to the cheese and olives! A coupla slices of fried ham slid between slices of this bread and Iím chomping down on a great one-handed meal. A meal I have to refrain from eating too much of!

Read other articles by Jack Deatherage, Jr.