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Friday, November 23, 2007

Unnaturally bright

A photo on Flickrfrom risa

Towhees, juncos, sparrows, finches and cowbirds sought grain on the well-house roof this morning, after our first really major frost, the day after Thanksgiving. We have been limiting them to the smaller bird feeder that hangs by the kitchen window, due to the depredations of squirrels and banded pigeons, none of whom were evident in this neighborhood in the early nineties.

Yesterday, we fed the first shift of our (local) progeny: Daughter (AKA Grinin) and her Young Man, and Last Son, who styles himself a Black Belt in Beer, and brought with him some of the products of Belgium. They took away quite a bit of leftovers, including all the remaining walnut-pumpkin bread, and so I am baking today for the second batch, Middle Son and his flock, who live in what he calls the Barony of Three Mountains.

Today's loaf contains a small handful of flax seed, beaten in a mortar, quite a bit of oats, some creamed butternut squash (from leftovers) and quite a lot of chopped chives, which I brought in from the garden covered with white rime and very cold in my hand.

As the loaf was rising, I discovered that my ironstone baking platter had disappeared.

"Where's my baking dish?"

"Um, it has a ham in it... for tomorrow."

"Eeeee, this is a Serious Matter."

"Hang on! I might have an acceptable substitute. Do I have ten minutes?"

I looked in the mixer. "Yes, just."

So, in the midst of breaking ice for the poultry and other chores, Beloved found a strange, flat, rectangular box, which I had never seen before, and opened it gingerly to reveal a stoneware pizza baking platter. She's had it, she says, for six years, obtained while helping to make some fundraiser a success with a discrete purchase.

It's perfectly round, about three quarters of an inch in height, with a quite level upper surface and, verso, a grid-shaped raised pattern to bolster the strength of the clay (which seems brittle, at least to the eye, but maybe isn't) and to distribute heat more evenly, and, interestingly, is not glazed. One has to wash it without soap and it comes with a soft, pliable cleaning scraper.

What's nice is that one can grease the platter and then use it to shape the loaf directly, rather than greasing or flouring a cutting board, shaping the loaf and then transferring it to a pan. I've formed the loaf and carried the platter in to the dining room to sit by the fire and grow. We shall see how it bakes.

We're having an interesting day, visually -- the house is in a bowl or column of intensely bright sunlight, while all around, about a quarter of a mile off, the fog has not lifted. The sunlight is reflecting from the walls of mist into the house with that kind of horizontal brightness one associates with sun-bright snow. The interior walls and ceilings are unnaturally bright.

I stepped outside and found a large red-shouldered hawk sitting on the end-post of the grape vines, who took off and flapped desultorily to a cottonwood behind the poultry yard. The chickens, ducks and geese were stricken with dread and all stood about in frozen postures for quite some time, but, poultry sense of time being what it is, they eventually forgot about the hawk and went about their business while the hawk remained, seemingly uninterested in the goings on directly below.

Hawks have an evil reputation among keepers of chickens, but as these were never allowed outside their roofed-over pen until fully grown, it may be they are to heavy-bodied to interest our local hawks. None have ever made any attempt on them, which is more than can be said for foxes, dogs and raccoons.

While I was watching all this, a movement beneath one of the old apple trees at the far end of the neighbor's pasture caught my eye, and, concerned lest we were also under surveillance by a red fox (they, too, have appeared here only in recent years), I went for the binoculars and then trained them on the spot, discovering, at the very edge of the bright fog, what appears to be the large male ring-necked pheasant who spent last summer in our veggie garden. So he had survived the visit from this summer's fox. We hadn't seen him since then.

So much going on! I feel like going out again and finding Beloved in her chore coat and miry boots and risking making her a bit cross by insisting on a hug.



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