Brick Oven Baking .... and explosions

Thursday, April 29, 2010


    Burnt waxed paper smells like birthdays.  At least, that was the memory my sense of smell triggered, until my brain took over and I connected the flames on the waxed paper with the flames on wax candles in cakes. 
    I had rolled out each ball of dough into a see-through circle, then stacked them between squares of deli paper to move them.  Even though each individual piece was fragile, thinner than pie crust, more like strudel dough, together they formed a decent bulk, heavy enough to set on the picnic table and leave while I turned to the oven. 
    The fire hissed as I used the paddle to break it apart and move it away from the opening.  The logs cracked, the sparks made popping sounds.
    I sponged off the front stones with a wet rag, while the coals that had been pushed to the back sat stacked up on each other, glaring pale orange in the black of the ashes and flickering into an occasional flame.  The first tortilla I tried to frisbee closer to the flames, but instead of sliding through the air, it wrinkled over itself and instantly began to blister with small pockets of air, then bubble with larger pockets.  The smell of warm flour rose off of the stones, mixed in with the smokiness of the disturbed fire.  That's about all tortillas smell like, warm flour, but it's a comforting smell, a smell that makes you hungry.  I reached into the oven and adjusted it, now that it had formed a crust and risen off of the floor somewhat.  Several small jerks, in and out of the oven, and the wrinkle was smoothed out.  There wasn't really a fire anymore and I had just used cold water to clean off the gray of the powered logs, but the sheer heat of the air made my hand feel like it was burning if I held it in there for more a few seconds. 
    I began leaving the waxed paper on the tortillas, to better position them on the stones, then pulling it off carefully, as the dough crisped and began to separate.  With each piece I put in, the far edges turned a deep brown and kept the scent of hot wax in the air.  The color of the dough changed from pale yellow to white with darker circles and went from flat to expanding into gorgeous bubbles. 
    I had kneaded the tortilla dough, before portioning out the individual disks.  Fold and turn and fold and turn.  One hand pressing on the other, the heel of my palms pushing the dough apart, my fingers gathering it back on top of itself.  I love the rhythms of kneading.  You can feel the structure of the dough change under your hands, from soft and weak to firm and elastic, bouncing back to its original shape almost before you are ready. 
    Touch.  Smell.  Sight.  Taste.  Hearing.   A person can be deaf or blind.  They can have little to no sense of taste or smell.  But does anyone ever lose the sense of touch, of feeling?  Each of the other four are so centralized.  Only two ears, only two eyes.  One nose, one tongue.   And each of these so exposed, right out in the open.  Touch, though is everywhere.  You stand out on the rocks in front of the oven and you feel their edges under your feet.   You walk through a doorway too quickly and feel its edge on your shoulder.  You knead bread and feel it form with your hands. 
    Is touch more important than the other senses?  In the dark, you can find your way by touch.  If you are blind, you can learn a person's face by touch.  If you cannot taste, you can still identify foods by texture, shape, size.   Sometimes, blocking out some of your senses opens up the others.  You close your eyes and become instantly more aware of sounds, and feelings.  We have discovered ways to compensate for lack of four of our senses.  Braille, lip reading, sign-language.  Would we find a way to compensate for loss of feeling as well? 
    What would happen to wordless messages, passed through a touch on the shoulder, a kiss on the cheek, a hug to welcome or say goodbye?  Strange, that that one sense so outnumbers the others.  Perhaps we should be using it more.


Mom said...

This is definitely a sense that has always been important to you! But I think I'm fairly used to you putting your hands in my food now... ;-)

Melissa D. Jacobsen said...

I loved your discribtions. The picture of your stove is awesome! If I had one I might cook and bake more. The way you described every thing, makes it sound like you love to cook or bake. I bet it is fun using that stove. The way you went into that much detail about making tortillas, it seemed like I was there with you; feeling the dough, smelling the wax paper, hearing the pops, and feeling the heat of the fire.
I really thought it was interesting that towards the end of your blog you went on about considering the use of your different senses. Even though you hear more about blind and deaf people there are people out there that can not feel. There are also people out there that can not smell or taste. Which you mentioned you could live without long as you could feel.
Christopher Reed not only became paralized with his riding accident he lost his sense of feel and touch from his neck down too.
People in third world countries and people in the past have suffered from leaporsy, and people with that disease loose all their senses of feelins and touch and because of that they can not tell when they have sores on their bodies' because they can not feel them, so they get worse and worse.
Melissa Jacobsen

Heidi Breton said...

Leprosy ... that would definitely be difficult to deal with.

On a happier note, Beth, your prosaic poetry rings chapels full of bells with me, as always. Beautiful!

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