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Dear County Agent Guy

Blizzard bread

January 24, 2020
By Jerry Nelson - Columnist , Farm News

The lights flickered and the house went dark. A jolt of dread shot through my wife and me.

Losing power normally isn't a big deal. But it can be as serious as a judge on Sunday in the midst of a merciless prairie blizzard.

We waited quietly for a few moments, hoping that our electric service would somehow heal itself. Muscle memory soon kicked in and we began to scour the house for flashlights and candles.

I eventually found a couple of flashlights only to discover that they were, in fact, expired battery storage devices. I wondered why nobody had invented a solar powered flashlight until it dawned on me that a guy wouldn't need a flashlight if the sun were out.

We have plenty of candles - when I first met my wife, she owned more wax-based light sources than a wholesale candle supplier - but we couldn't find a lighter. It was one of the few times when I wished that I smoked.

It's difficult to "Netflix and chill" when you don't have electricity to operate your TV. And as the house cools, the "chill" part becomes an increasingly uncomfortable reality.

After what seemed like an eternity without power - approximately two minutes - the lights came back on. Hurrah! We were civilized people once again even though the raging snowstorm had blocked the roads and cut us off from civilization.

Even a brief electrical outage can rouse my latent survivalist instincts. I will fantasize about living "off the grid" until I recall the unpleasant implications of visiting the privy at the height of a howling blizzard. Been there, done that; don't ever want to do it again.

Thinking back to my childhood, I recalled how the aroma of baking bread brought high levels of cheer and comfort to our farmhouse during blizzards. I scrounged around to see if we had bread-making ingredients and found a jar of yeast that appeared to have been purchased during the Reagan Administration. I tried to awaken the fungal microbes with an enticing bath of warm sugar water. Nope. I guess they weren't kidding about the expiration date.

I finally located packets of yeast that were manufactured during the current millennium. Then I hopped onto the internet and downloaded a likely bread recipe. This was somewhat embarrassing as I remembered how my mother and grandmothers could make highly successful breads without measuring a single thing.

The dough rose nicely. After plopping the wad of glop into a bread pan, it rose again but collapsed like an old balloon just as I was about to toss it into the oven. I reformed the loaf, hoping to thus resurrect it. The dough only rose halfheartedly. It was as if the blizzard had sapped its ambition.

I baked the half-sized loaf anyway and the comforting aroma of fresh bread filled the house. But the product that plunked out of the bread pan was more like a construction material than a foodstuff. I didn't dare throw it to the dog for fear that he would break a tooth.

Grandma had been able to bake bread in a woodfired cookstove with no measuring instruments other than her hands and her eyes. I wasn't able to duplicate that simple feat even with the assistance of a thermostatically controlled electric oven and the entirety of the internet at my fingertips.

I'm grateful for electricity because it enables my computer to function. Without my computer, I would have to pound out my columns on the rusty old Remington typewriter that lives in our basement. The typewriter doesn't have autocorrect, so I would need about a quart of white-out per column. The Remington also lacks a thesaurus which means that doing without electricity would "stink" instead of being "unpropitious."

Upon completion, I would have to hand off my columns to a passing Pony Express rider, a wiry young man who has a weather-beaten face and a large leather pouch slung over his shoulder. And then I would have to hope that the rider had enough antifreeze in him to survive the bone-chilling journey.

The blizzard continued to keep us housebound, so I took another stab at bread-making. I decided to disregard all the internet-based advice and rely on instinct.

The kinetics of kneading bread dough is cathartic. Another bonus is the feeling of accomplishment after the oven magically transforms that gooey glob into a wondrous delicacy whose only adornment should be a pat of melting butter.

The second loaf came out airy and scrumptious, and our farmhouse smelled like heaven. I decided that being stuck at home during a blizzard isn't so bad - just as long as you have electricity and unexpired yeast.

Nelson is a freelance writer from Volga, S.D. Reach him by e-mail at jjpcnels@itctel.com.

 
 

 

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