Baking Bread the Irish Way

It’s chilly this morning: Saskatoon thermometer at 7 am read -18̊ / 0̊ F. Pookie, the youngest of our two cats, keeps wanting to go outside and see if things have improved weather-wise, but after three minutes he’s ready to come in again.

Last night I took a notion I’d like to have cinnamon buns for breakfast this morning, so I set out the ingredients before I went to bed. When I got up I mixed the dough. As it turns out, they won’t be baking until mid-morning, but we can have them for our dessert after lunch.

I’ve half an hour before they need punching down, so maybe I can reply to this morning’s prompts and tell you about how a young prairie wife acquired the skill of bread-baking.

Ragtag daily prompt: SKILL
Fandango’s word today: DISRUPT
Word of the Day prompt: WHIFF

I’m not sure where I acquired the skill of baking with yeast, because my mom taught me almost nothing about cooking. Thankfully I had a great mother-in-law who was herself an excellent cook and taught me so much about life, love, and the pursuit of good food.

Like me, Mary hadn’t been taught how to bake before she left home and found herself needing to learn after she was married. I at least watched my dad take golden loaves of bread from the oven when I was a girl, so I knew something. When it came to bread and pies, both Dad and Mom F (I was raised by my uncle and aunt) were excellent bakers, if they had the time.

Mary grew up in Guildford, England, where a baker’s wagon would come down their stree every morning. All her mother had to do was go out to the land and pick whatever baking she wanted for the family that day. After Mary and her husband, a store clerk, immigrated to Saskatchewan she tried to learn baking skills from a recipe book her mother had given her. But her bread didn’t rise, was solid as a rock, or full of holes.

Before long her baking inability was disrupting their marital bliss as well as family finances. “We NEED bread,” her husband told her one day. “Why can’t you make the stuff? It can’t be that hard.”

“I’ve never been taught. I can’t seem to succeed just reading a recipe.”

“Ask one of the neighbour women for help. They all know how.”

Mary thought about the neighbour women she’d seen out and about. They were … well… coarse. Non one she would have ever associated with in England. In Canada things were different, she knew, but she’d listened as they talked and rudely gossiped in the store and didn’t see anything to be gained in associating with them. And then to admit she couldn’t do a simple thing like bake bread? Wouldn’t that get the gossip going!

At the time they were getting a farm paper and she took note of a column offering “Homemaker Hints by Millicent” or some name like that. Women wrote in with a question, which would be printed with the senders initials and the columnist’s response. Mary got her courage up one day and sent a letter to the column, asking Millicent’s advice on baking bread.

About three weeks later she opened this paper, found Millicent’s column — and saw her letter. Oh, but…! Here was her name…and her address…printed for all the world to see. She blushed with shame. All the women in town would be laughing at her. Mary shuddered to think what her husband would say if he ever saw this.

To add insult to injury, the recipe Millicent printed in response was the same one she’d already tried. She shut the paper and tried to forget about it.

The next morning her routine was disrupted by a few hard raps on her door. Mary opened it a crack and saw Mrs Ratigan — one of those “ill-mannered” women who lived nearby. Mary had seen her bustling around town, a large, assertive Irish woman, fussing over the children around her, wiping their drippy noses and giving them a smack when they needed one.

Mary opened the door to ask…and Mrs Ratigan marched right in. She held the incriminating page from the farm paper in her hand. “Mary Watson. Wants to make bread. I read it here.” She grabbed a chair and sat down. “Nobody ever learned to bake bread out of a book. You need a mother to teach you. Where’s your mother?”

Mary recovered from her shock enough to reply. “Back in Guildford, England.”

“Fine. Leave her there. I’‘ll be your mother this morning and we’ll make bread.”

Swallowing her pride, Mary got out her ingredients and Mrs Ratigan started giving instructions. Before the morning was done she’d showed Mary how to mix and knead, how long to let the dough rise, how to test it. Mary learned how to form loaves, eliminate air bubbles, and how to bake them.

As soon as the loaves were in the oven Mary made tea. Mrs Ratigan sat at the table and watched her pour. After a few sips, she said, “The good Lord never said a person always has to have Irish coffee. There’s Irish tea, too, you know, dear.”

Mary laughed and took the hint. She got the bottle of her husband’s brandy from the cupboard and handed it to her “mother for the day”, thinking it would likely make an acceptable substitute for Irish whiskey.

Mrs Ratigan opened the bottle, took a whiff, then poured a generous smack of it into her tea. Taking a sip, she grinned and said, “If you weren’t an Anglican, I’d say you’re one of the true faith.”

Mary laughed again. She was coming to like this cheerful, motherly neighbour.

Mary poured tea and Mrs Ratigan poured out the flavouring. By the time she left there wasn’t much left of the bottle of brandy, but Mary thought her husband would forgive the loss when he saw four lovely loaves of bread and some buns waiting for him when he came home from the store.

She’d been fearful about how the women in town would talk about her and treat her once they read her letter in Millicent’s column, but things turned out for the best after all. Sharing her need actually brought her friendly smiles and greetings from the town wives and made some satisfying friendships.

Visiting with one of these new friends sometime later, Mary discussed how embarrassed she’d been when Mrs Ratigan arrived at her door waving that paper. “Now the whole town knew! I was so ashamed and just cringed to think what you’d all be saying about me.”

“Oh, you needn’t have worried. It felt like you were one of us at last.” Her friend smiled. “Besides, Mrs Ratigan informed us all that if she ever heard anyone laughing at you, she’d conk them in the nose.”

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Well, by now my cinnamon buns are in the pan, rising. The faintest whiff of cinnamon lingers in my kitchen and it will soon be a delightful fragrance. Can’t you just taste it? Almost as good as chocolate. 😉

The Smell of Rain

The Ragtag prompt word for today is PETRICHOR
A word that neither I nor the Canadian Oxford Dictionary nor Merriam-Webster online have ever heard of.

However, Merriam-Webster, ever wishing to be helpful, offered me a dozen alternatives — just in case I was mistaken in my spelling somehow. And thus I learned a new word: PETRICOLE

Definition: A variation of PETROCOLE(S): an organism that inhabits or prefers rocky terrain

Something I am not. Keep your rocky hills; like the gopher and the sage grouse, I’m happiest on the prairie. Give me sunny Saskatchewan, where the passing cars all wave at tourists stopping to study their maps — if you read my last post.

Which reminds me of an old joke we prairie folk enjoy telling:
A prairie farmer visiting in British Columbia was asked what he thought of the Rocky Mountains. He replied, “Well, they’re all right, but they sure do get in the way of the view.”

Wiki helped me out with PETRICHOR.
Apparently it’s the earthy scent produced when rain falls on dry soil. It involves some complex blending of oils exuded by certain plants during a dry period and some bacteria emitted by wet soil.
Google defines it as “a pleasant smell that frequently accompanies the first rain after a long period of warm, dry weather.”

Here in SK we may not have as much petrichor as some other places, because we don’t have as much rain, nor the kind of plants that produce the rich smell. We’re usually overjoyed when rain falls after a period of warm dry weather, especially if it fall in July, in time to give the crops a boost.
But there’s a limit, eh? Like another old joke goes:
A fellow from Saskatchewan moved to BC because the climate, but he moved back because of the weather.

Just like my Uncle Fred. During the winter he’d go stay with his son and family at Surrey, BC, on the coastal plain, but after a few weeks he was so disgusted and depressed by all that rain he’d head home to SK again.

Speaking of which, we had a dusting of fine snow in the night and Saskatoon temp was -12 C at 7am (10 F). Predicted high -10; predicted low tonight -18 (0 F). The milder BC climate does have its appeal — if you can handle week-long stretches of clouds and rain.

I’m sure the petrichor in the mountains is fabulous. Our neighbour to the north-west has been cleaning out his dairy barn this week and spreading manure on his fields. We’re right in line, wind-wise, to enjoy that particular aroma.

God Made This Day For Me

by Edgar Guest

Just the sort of weather
and just the sort of sky
which seem to suit my fancy,
with the white clouds drifting by
on a sea of smooth blue water.
Oh, I ain’t an egotist
with an “I” in all my thinking
but I’m willing to insist
that the Lord who made us humans
and the birds in every tree
knows my special sort of weather
and He made this day for me.

And the breezes from the eastward
blowing gently on my face,
and the woods chock full of singing
till you’d think birds never had
a single care to fret them
or a grief to make them sad.
Oh, I settle down contented
in the shadow of a tree
and tell myself right proudly
that the day was made for me.

It’s my day, my sky and sunshine
and the temper of the breeze—
here’s the weather I would fashion
could I run things as I please.
Beauty dancing all around me,
music ringing everywhere,
like a wedding celebration—
why, I’ve plumb forgot my care
and the tasks I should be doing
for the rainy days to be
while I’m hugging the delusion
that God made this day for me.

From the book Collected Verse of Edgar A. Guest,
©1934 by the Reilly & Lee Co

My response to the Ragtag Daily Prompt: SUBLIME

A Skunk, by any other name…

The Word of the Day Challenge yesterday was IMPRESSIONABLE — and I missed it. I had a nice response figured out, too, but we took a trip to Moose Jaw to visit relatives and I didn’t have time to post it. Oh, well…my thoughts will keep for another day.

A fog blanketed the land yesterday morning when we started out, rather unusual considering how dry it’s been, but after an hour or so we were able to leave it behind us and enjoyed lovely warm sunshine for the rest of our trip. We had lunch with my sister, then stopped at the Public Library, and later visited with Bob’s cousin and wife. A good day!

The Word of the Day prompt this morning is: MEPHISTOPHALIAN

A huge word I will never have much use for, especially seeing it’s fictitious. Nevertheless, a bit of education never hurts, so I looked it up in Merriam-Webster online. Their definition:
Mephistophelian:
– of, or pertaining to, Mephistopheles
– wicked; fiendish
Mephistopheles:
– a chief devil in the Faust legend from the 1500s
Faust:
– a magician of German legend who enters into a compact with the devil
Faustian:
– of, relating to, resembling, or suggesting Faust
– especially: made or done for present gain without regard for future cost or consequences

Though I’ve never heard the word before, I’m too familiar with the concept. I’m sure every human being has been guilty at one time or another of doing something for present gain regardless of future consequences. For example, so-called little white lies get you off the hook at the moment, but you’re in for it when the person finds out the truth.

When you look up a word with Merriam-Webster, they kindly give you a list of several other words listed before and after the one you’ve looked up. Curious, I clicked on two of those other words, and discovered:

MEPHITIC:
– having a foul odor
MEPHITINE:
– of, or relating to…
Skunk.2nd

Bingo! Now here are words I can throw into a conversation from time to time, because we have seen indications of mephitine activity around our property.

If I get a whiff of skunk, now I can say, “There’s a mephitic odor lingering about our yard this morning.”
Or, “There’s evidence of mephitine harrassment in the night. Some predator got a deterrent drench.”
Or maybe, “Judging from the mephitine vapour wafting over the road, Monsieur Moufette has met his Waterloo.”
(Mind you, “met his Waterloo” has likely been branded as a cliché, along with “bit the dust.” I think “He’s toast” is still acceptable.)
But if I did make such high-brow statements, most of my friends would ask for a translation. So I might as well say that someone hit a skunk on the road last night.

Perhaps a person could put up a sign?
WARNING:
To all who wander around in the twilight bent on mischief. There is a risk of annoying one of the crepuscular creatures that pass through this yard. If you do, you may well receive a severe mephitine drenching.
(Squeezing in the RAGTAG daily prompt for today: DRENCH)

That ought to make tricksters think twice.
Skunk

 

Two Kinds of Friends

Thoughts
by Sara Teasdale

When I am all alone
envy me most,
then my thoughts flutter round me
in a glimmering host;

some dressed in silver,
some dressed in white,
each like a taper
blossoming light;

Most of them merry,
some of them grave,
each of them lithe
as willows that wave;

some bearing violets,
some bearing bay,
one with a burning rose
hidden away.

When I am all alone
envy me then,
for I have better friends
than women and men.

From The Collected Poems of Sara Teasdale
Last renewal 1937 by Sara Teasdale Filsinger
Published by The Macmillan Company

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A Mile With Me
By Henry van Dyke
1852 — 1933

Oh, who will walk a mile with me
along life’s merry way?
A comrade blithe and full of glee
who dares to laugh out loud and free
and let his frolic fancy play
like a happy child, through the flowers gay
that fill the field and fringe the way
where he walks a mile with me.

And who will walk a mile with me
along life’s weary way?
A friend whose heart has eyes to see
the stars shine out o’er the darkening lea,
and the quiet rest at the end of the day.
A friend who knows and dares to say
the brave, sweet words that cheer the way
where he walks a mile with me.

With such a comrade, such a friend,
I fain would walk till journey’s end
through summer sunshine, winter rain,
and then — farewell, we shall meet again!

My response to the Ragtag Daily prompt: FRIEND

Travels Abroad

My response to the Ragtag Community prompt: DAMP

Dear Cousin Francie,

Well, Lily and I arrived back home yesterday from our two-week trip to the South seas. I know you would have loved it! I can’t tell you how many times Lilly and I said we wished you were there sharing the great times with us.

We boarded our boat on a lovely, sunny day. For the first couple of days we were travelling not far from a gorgeous luxury yacht.
Wet 8

Lilly and I chose the economy package, so our boat wasn’t as high-class, but we managed quite well, though it was a little more work. We had all the showers we wanted, but washroom facilities weren’t the best.
Wet 9

At times the wind picked up and the seas got a bit wild, which made the voyage an exciting challenge for our captain and crew.
Wet 8

We expected a shower or two even in those tropical climes but we were prepared for nature’s surprises and enjoyed our trip in spite of the occasional sprinkle.
Wet 6

We visited the local markets and chatted with the vendors:
Wet 5

And stopped at other tourist spots in the city:
Wet 1

Some of our mates managed to get some unique selfies.
Wet 7

On days at sea with nothing else to do, we invented a fun guessing game. We called it, “Who’s behind the door?”
Wet4

And of course we were delighted to catch glimpses of the creatures playing in the sea around us:
Wet 3

Oh, yes, dear cousin, you certainly missed the thrill of a lifetime —and  all because you weren’t willing to leave the comforts of home. Baah! Next time we go, you’re coming along and no excuses.

Affectionately yours,
Cousin Twyleen

 

Prairie Groupings

With apologies to Linda at Linda’s Writing Blog for carrying this to ludicrity. 😉

A bevy of buffaloes made its way across the fenceless prairie, followed by a flock of aboriginal hunters dreaming of sizzling steaks. In the wings, a murder of crows settled on the buckbrush bushes that grew in the coulie. A file of coyotes trotted along the coulie as well, awaiting the aftermath of the natives’ nefarious plans.

Overhead an assassination of vultures circled, hoping the hunt would provide them with a few feasts as well. Should the hunt fail, the vultures, opportunists rather than fussy eaters, might still be left a trampled coyote or two.

Ahead of the buffalo a cluster of startled grouse flew up, propelling their plump bodies toward the coulie. Before they could recover from their sharp-tailed flight a couple of the birds met a sad fate at the paws of the wily lead coyote. Life on the prairie tended to be short for meaty birds.

Slowly the hunters advanced and the buffalo moved ever closer to the ravine ahead. Near the lip of the ravine an amazement of other natives had concealed themselves in the sagebrush. The plan was stellar. As the buffalo approached the ravine, this group would spring out at the side of the herd, making a cacophony of noise. Fenced off from flight on one side, hopefully some of the startled buffalo would dash over the lip of the ravine, where a dispatch of men with spears would finish off any survivors.

The animals, quickly attacked by a clan of carvers, would be transformed into strips of meat to be pounded and smoked by a web of women. This meat would provide the natives with food for another winter. Buffalo hides would become blankets. A scrabble of miscellaneous wild creatures would scrap over whatever remained when the natives were done.

As the moon rose over the ravine that night, a smudge of smoke rose toward the stars. Fifteen beasts from the bevy had hurtled over the precipice; buffalo meat had filled the tribal tummies and the rest was curing over the fires. The hunters, old and young, sat in a circle visiting. A herd of youngsters played “hunters and buffalo” while the mothers sang softly to dozing infants.

Writing prompts for today:
Ragtag Community :  HERD
Fandango’s challenge : FENCE
Word of the Day :  STELLAR