Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Teaching an Old Dog New Tricks

No, not those kinds of tricks. Get your mind out of the gutter. Wait, maybe I should reconsider.
At the Candy Factory, I was hired to work in the office three days a week for about six hours a day. They needed someone to help with their website using Photoshop. I love computers and really looked forward to it.
The job entailed a lot more than office work. When you work in a mama/papa business, it's important to help out. Just hope I can do all the other stuff they have asked me to do. I love bagging caramel corn, hard candy and boxing chocolates. When I leave work, I bring all those great smells home with me. Ah, it's a heavenly aroma that surrounds me and stays on my clothes for hours.
They know I'm not physically strong, so thank heavens I don't have to help lift the very large, heavy brass pot full of scalding hot boiling sugar and dump it onto a sugared table. Scooping ice cream is not for me either. Even some of the really young employees tell me how their back and arms start to hurt when its busy.
Every thing was just great until the bosses asked me to man the cash register during the 4th of July celebrations when they just get slammed. No problem. Glad to help. After a quick 15 minute instruction one day and a quick recap just before we opened, I'm on my own.
Now for the new tricks. Doors open and people are streaming in, line goes out the door and down the sidewalk. Great for business. The Candy Shop does have an excellent reputation and a lot of repeat customers that come back every time they are in town. Some even do a regular mail order after visiting.
Okay, okay, on with the story. Feeling very useful, helpful and smart to pick up this cash register thing so fast, (never ever ran a cash register before) I'm getting the line through, weighing taffy, bagging stuff like coffee cups and tea pots, stuffed animals, boxes of chocolate, punching in prices for ice cream cones, punching in related codes, doing credit cards, giving change. I'm on a roll. Until....
One group changed things up. Oops. I saw a cancel button and hit it, thinking that would cancel the transaction and I could start over. I was getting muddled, these people were taking things back, adding more stuff. Eeks. Okay, I hit the total button. What!!! $4,256.00. Something is really wrong and the customer is not amused. There is a young teenager working there who comes to bail me out. But she pushes me aside like stale bread and delves into the tape on the cash register. I try to thank her for helping, she shoos* me away like I was irritating her to the max. So I step back.
She says problem fixed. I try to cash out another customer. Oh, no. It's still saying an ice cream cone and box of candy is in the thousands of dollars. This time another employee tried to help. Even then after a successful couple of customers, it starts again with the big dollar totals. Now the owner comes over because the computer is frozen. Quietly I tell him, I'm not doing the cash register, but I'll be happy to help bag candy.
As I leave, I hear that snotty little teenager, telling everyone how stupid I am. That's it, I'm going to be her worst enemy now.
Bagging candy and caramel corn goes on the rest of the day and I know that I've contributed —just not at the cash register. This old dog knows now that she can't be taught new tricks.
Page two: Once after my retirement, I was offered a job in the bakery of a food market in Mercer, Wisconsin. I'm a foodie and thought it would be a blast to work there part-time. It was early morning work, but hey, I'm an early morning person. Got there on time, punched in my time card, filled out all the tax stuff. Then went to work.
Heavy pans, heavy flour, heavy sugar. No time to have a break. Sweep the floors, bag the bread. No bathroom breaks. Stock the floor, push the heavy tray holders, wash the dishes in a huge machine. Quick break for lunch. Did go outside in sunshine for 10 minutes and ate my sandwich. Back to work. Eight hours of hell. Had a headache, arm ache, feet ache.
Back again the next day. NOPE! Called in when I got home and told the boss the work was too hard for this old lady. QUIT. And for all that work, he never paid me. I called a number of times, he always said he would mail it. Guess what, he never did.

This old dog is enjoying sleeping in the sun, dreaming of old times, eating great meals, doing just what she wants, having fun working a couple of days at the Candy Store... knowing that at this time of her life, she has limitations. No more new tricks for her.

*Shoo, shoos - definition: used to get animal to leave; wave away

Raging Dance with Raccoons

Late last night as I was watching the News, out of the corner of my eye, a movement on my deck. My little dog Luc, at full alert, ears straight up, rushed over to the door and started to bark. OMG There was a raccoon eyeing my tender pansies. I clicked open the door, only to have Luc push through and start to chase the raccoon who fled behind the outdoor teacart for safety.

In another flash, down the deck, the clicking toes of Luc were making staccato music to his barking. Trying to see in the dim amber glow of my rope lights, Luc was in the far corner and singing and dancing furiously. At first I couldn't see anything, but as I walked down the deck, up on the rail, there they were, not one, not two but three huge raccoons snarling their own chorus down at Luc. Yelling for Luc to come to me, I also caught those nasty bandits glaring eyes. They have no fear. They continued to snarl and hiss at Luc and me.
After Luc finally came to me and into the safety of the house on my stern command, I turned my attention to those pesky rodents. Yep, they were now challenging me. Each of these "Three Amigos" must have weighed as much as a large dog - 30-40 lbs at least, maybe more. They were getting bigger and nastier by the minute. I picked up the first thing I saw, my loveseat pad from the chair and swung it at those mean spirited devils. Even though I hit all three of them with the heavy pad, they hung on, increasing the volume of their protest. I was in the fight now, and finally I landed a blow that caught one of them off guard and down he went, another one scampered away, the third lost his balance and I could hear the branches of the bushes breaking under his weight. No KOs, but Dawn, the victorious and brave fighter, WON that round.
Yep, there's more. Round Two. Breathing a sigh of relief, I turned to check on Luc who now was cowering in the house. I guess he thought I was mad at him from the excited and loud tone to my voice when I sent him into the house. What was that? Nooo. Not another raccoon. Smaller and quieter, I hadn't noticed him huddled in the corner behind the teacart. I tried to threaten him, but he wouldn't move. I ran into the house and grabbed a broom. He hasn't moved. Poking him with the end of my broom just seemed to annoy his haughty supremacy, but with continuing poking and yelling, he finally sauntered off the deck and down to safety. My beautiful flowers, patio tomatoes and English peas are safe... for awhile.
With all that commotion, I looked out at my neighbors' houses, no one came out to witness the fight, no cops came to check out the domestic disturbance. Just another night where the Georgetown population of 989 hid or slept in their houses while the army of raccoon, 28,532 in numbers, continue to plunder and destroy their town.
Tonight, one resident won the fight against the ever increasing invaders. Round three is coming...
Battleground photo above!

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Sourdough? That is the Story.

Way back when, I wrote a column called "Panhandle Polly" for the American Sportsman Magazine. Knowing nothing about sourdough, I asked my readers for recipes. So many responses came in, I was overwhelmed. Certainly sparked a life-long interest in sourdough stories and recipes.

Although some form of wild yeast leavening has been around for a long time, it is the Alaska sourdough pancakes or the San Francisco sourdough bread that most people talk about. Have you heard how the Alaska sourdough got started?

Picture a burro loaded with traps, mining equipment, pick axe, pot/pans, coats, tents, food. Old grizzled man standing in front of his crude log cabin in the deep forest. Off they go, not only in search of gold, but to trap beaver, fox or whatever finds their way to him. With one last look behind to make everything is secure, he heads out knowing he wont be back for at least a month.

It's a good trip for trapping, but no luck with gold. The money from the fur pelts, however, will carry the man through the rest of the year. Finally back home. He hurries in and builds the fire. As the cabin warms up, he's thinking about making a hard bread biscuit. Opening up the flour barrel, he found a puddle of bubbling goo in the middle. The roof had leaked and water had dripped onto the flour while he was gone. As he scooped up the mess to throw it out, he was struck by the wonderful yeasty smell. Hmm.

The trash missed out, for he put that bubbling mass into a bowl, added a part of it to more flour, and left it to rise overnight. In the morning, after several hours of unpacking, putting things away, gathering firewood, he checked the dough. Wow, the dough had double in bulk. He punched it down again arranged small rounds of dough in his Dutch oven to rise again. Can't you just see the excitement in his eyes and his mouth watering at the thought of a light yeast bread?

Putting the cast iron pot on the morning coals and adding more coals on top of the lid, he waited as the smell of fresh baked bread permeated the room. Thus the first sourdough starter was born.

My high school friend, Kathleen Hall, told me that she makes sourdough bread, or did until her husband thought it smelled bad and threw it out. She hasn't made any starters since.

Sourdough pancakes are the lightest, airiest ones you'll ever eat. After adding eggs, salt and a little sugar to the a couple of cups of starter, turn on your griddle and wait until it is hot. Then at the last minute add the soda to the sourdough pancake mixture. Once that soda hits, a chemical reaction occurs. In just a few minutes, it will bubble furiously and increase to twice its size. Then and only then do you pour half-dollar size dollops onto your griddle. They cook fast, so don't go far.

Dab of butter, maple syrup, and be surprised how many you eat.

Hey, I make a killer sourdough chocolate cake that you eat warm with butter instead of icing. It is soooo good. Want the recipe? Just ask.