Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Carrington; Morning Watch

Carly woke up when her brother Sam touched her on the arm. He didn’t say anything, he didn’t need to. She quickly got dressed, strapped on her revolver, put on her boots and went downstairs. Sam was in the kitchen, yawning. The kitchen was dimly lit, only a faint glow came through the glass panel of the wood stove. It was four in the morning.

“‘Anything new,” she asked while stretching.

He shrugged. “The chickens were making a little bit of noise, but I didn’t see anything.”

“Did you use the flashlight?”


Carly nodded. Uncle Max was big on not showing light at night. It had better be a dangerous situation to justify using a light. Uncle Max said that lights attract attention, especially the bad kind. More than one of the kids had taken a beating for it.

“What’s it like out,” she asked.

“Not too cold, maybe 40 or so. No wind, clear sky. Moon is still up, but it’ll set in an hour or so.”

Sam handed her an orange whistle on a lanyard cord, the night watch rifle and two spare magazines. Carly removed the magazine from the rifle, checked to verify that there was a round in the chamber and re-inserted the magazine. The rifle was a Ruger 10/22 with a flashlight and a silencer that Uncle Max had built. The silencer had been illegal at one time, but nobody had seen a cop in four years. Uncle Max was fond of saying that the law was what was in your holster. The whistle was to be used only in an utter emergency. Sound carried these days, since there wasn’t any background noise to speak of.

She put on her coat, hat and gloves, picked up the rifle and went into the light lock. The “light lock” was a mud room with a door on either end, one into the kitchen and one to the porch. The inside was painted flat black. At night, the windows in the doors and in the mud room were covered with heavy drapes. Carly figured that the term “light lock” came from her cousin Tyler’s love of science fiction.

Carly paused on the porch to let her eyes adjust, which didn’t take very long. It was scarcely brighter in the kitchen than it was outdoor, She thought for a few seconds, then opened the door to the mud room and pulled out a white poncho, more of a cloak, really. She didn’t know if anybody was about, but why give them an edge, she reasoned.

She went out and made her rounds. The barn was secure, the sheep, chickens and the few cows were quiet. She still was not used to how few animals there were in the barn anymore. It was a lot harder to make good hay ever since the nights that the sky burned, which meant that fewer animals had be fed through a winter. The pigs were long gone, there was hardly enough food for the people, let alone scraps for pigs.

The night security watches, when everyone else was asleep, were the only times that Carly made the next stop on her rounds: The family graveyard. There were no tombstones, only carved wooden boards. She stopped at the grave of Billy, her brother. People once called her and Billy “Irish twins;” Billy had been eleven months older that her.

Fourteen months ago, Billy got a bad cut on his arm as he and Sam were skinning a deer. Back in the old days, that would have meant a trip to the emergency room for some stitches and ten days’ worth of antibiotics. Billy might have then had a small scar to talk about. Now there were no ambulances, no emergency rooms and no antibiotics. Billy had died of blood poisoning five weeks later. They couldn’t even bury him until the Spring thaw.

There was a little snow on the marker. Carly brushed it off with a gloved hand. There had been no real time for her to mourn or grieve. Life was hard since the skies burned and it seemed to her that each year was harder than the one before. If it wasn’t for having been Billy’s primary nurse as he slid down towards death, Carly would have thought that he was the lucky one.

It was getting on towards sunup. Carly went back to the house. She built the makings of a fire in the wood cookstove in the kitchen, then used a stick to transfer fire from the wood stove to the cookstove. The cookstove had been in the basement of the small barn for decades, too heavy to take away and too beat-up to sell. It had taken the men and boys days to move it into the kitchen and to move the propane stove out to the small barn. They counted themselves lucky to have it; lots of families were cooking now in their fireplaces.

Carly then went to the sink in the basement and used the hand-pump to draw water for the morning meal, She was carrying the second pail up from the basement when she felt the first kick. Hell of a thing to be born in this day and age, Carly thought.

Carly was sixteen years old.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Easy Bread From Scratch

Making white bread is fairly easy. Fresh bread is very tasty without all of the preservatives and other crap. It does take time, but most of the time is spent waiting, so you can read, screw around on your computer or go for a walk during some of the waiting times.

This recipe will yield one loaf. It will scale up for two loaves by doubling the ingredients; you'll also need to double the flour addition steps (see #2 and #4).

Ingredients and Gear:

1 package of active dry yeast (¼ oz.)
1¼ cups of warm water (100-115°F)
1½ tablespoons of white sugar
1½ tablespoons of softened butter
½ tablespoon of salt
3¼ cups of bread flour-- some wizened old lady in the store told me that King Arthur flour is the best to use.
Vegetable oil
1 2-qt pan of water (optional)
Heating pad and cloth towel (optional)
2 large bowls
1 5x9 loaf pan (two for two loaves)
Plastic wrap or wax paper
Cooling rack
Measuring stuff
Stand mixer or food processor with a dough blade (optional)

1. Put the warm water into a large bowl. Whisk in the yeast and the sugar. Let it stand for ten to fifteen minutes. You should see signs that the yeast is growing.

2. Stir in a cup of flour, mixing well. You can use a mixer, though a hand mixer will not handle the entire mixing process. A sturdy food processor with a dough blade or a heavy stand mixer will work nicely.

3. Mix in the salt and the butter. (If you add the salt before you mix in the first cup of flour, you will kill off most of the yeast, the dough won’t rise and the result will have the consistency and the taste of drywall.)

4. Add flour, a ¼ cup at a time, mixing it well. Towards the end, you are probably going to be mixing it in with your hands (unless you're using a powerful food processor or a stand mixer). Keep mixing the dough until it has all pulled together. It may take you a time or two to know when this happens; the dough will have picked up almost everything in the bowl.

5. Lightly flour a large flat surface (this is a reason to keep your countertops clean). Start kneading the dough. There are a bazillion techniques, one is to push the dough flat, fold it over on itself, turn it a ¼-turn, push it flat and keep repeating, adding flour as necessary to the surface. You need to do this for about ten minutes. You'll be finished when the dough becomes somewhat elastic and it won’t be sticky. What you are doing is breaking down the gluten so that the bread will rise properly. (If you use a stand mixer or a food processor to do the kneading, you may need to add additional flour or the dough will be too sticky.)

6. Optional: If you have a cold kitchen, half-way through the kneading process, either put the pan of water on the stove and boil the water or turn on the heating pad.

7. When you are done kneading, put a little bit of vegetable oil in the other large bowl. Put the ball of dough in the bowl and turn it over so the entire ball is lightly covered with oil– this keeps it from sticking to the sides. (Don’t clean up the flour left on the countertop, you’ll need it.)

8. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap or wax paper, cover with a towel and set aside to rise. If your kitchen is cold, put the bowl on top of a heating pad and then put a towel over the bowl. Or you can put the bowl the top rack in a cold oven. Put the pan of very hot water on the bottom rack. This will warm the inside of the oven to 80-90°. If you leave it out on the counter in a cold kitchen (like up here in South Cryogenica in the winter), it won’t rise property. Given a choice between the "hot water in the oven" method or the "heating pad" method, the heating pad is far easier to use.

Be careful here if you use the "hot water & oven" method. You can over-rise the dough. In a 63°F kitchen, I've found that using a heating pad for the first rise works the best.

Let it rise for an hour, it will double in size. If it rises too much or too little, adjust your rising time as need be.

9. (If you are using a cold oven to rise the dough, take the pan of water out of the bottom rack and put it back on the stove to reheat it.) Take the wrap of the bowl and punch the dough down to deflate it. Dump the dough onto the floured countertop. (If you doubled the recipe for two loaves, this is where you must cut the dough into two equal amounts.) Flatten the dough out and shape it into a size that will fit the loaf pan(s). A little kneading in this step doesn't hurt, but don't go nuts. You can over-work the dough.

10. Lightly grease the inside of the loaf pan. Put the dough inside. Lightly coat one side of a sheet of plastic wrap or wax paper with vegetable oil and lay it over the top of the loaf pan, oiled side down. Do not stretch plastic wrap tight.

11. Put the loaf pan aside to rise for 45 minutes. If you have a cold kitchen, put the loaf pan back in the cold oven on the top rack and the pan of hot water on the bottom rack for 30 minutes. Or you can put the loaf pan(s) on a heating pad and cover them with a towel.

12. Take the loaf pan and the water pan out of the oven and set the loaf pan on a countertop. (Do whatever you want with the hot water). Set the oven rack so it is in the middle of the oven.

13. Preheat the oven to 425°.

14. Remove the wax paper/plastic wrap from the loaf and put it in the oven for 30 minutes, and turn the oven down to 375°. You can test for doneness by taking the loaf out of the pan and tapping it on the bottom, it should sound somewhat hollow. If you want the sides to be a little crusty, take the loaf out of the pan 5 minutes early and then put the loaf back into the oven.

15. Remove the loaf from the pan (if you didn’t in the previous step) and set it on a cooling rack. Let it cool almost all the way to room temperature (by touch) before you slice into it. Store in a bread bag.