The chain saw whined and dug in for another bite. I inspected the deep wedge carefully and took one last look at my dog-eared copy of ‘Lumberjacking for Dummies’. Somewhere into my final cut the tall tree shivered and then, with sharp staccato snaps it leaned to one side, accelerated in its fall and – with a final whoosh of air – cracked its one-ton bulk down onto the big rock in front of the cabin.
Up here at 3600 feet, winter snow is a serious matter. Even though we’re barely into the middle of September, it’s already on the tongues of our cabin neighbors. Big snow year? La Niña, El Niño? Jon, halfway down the road, is putting on a new roof and eying the sky nervously. Warming his hands before a bonfire, he checks out his roof system: how will it hold up under a real mountain snow load?
At our cabin, we dig out a patch of snow and send it down the steep slopes to each side. This tree was getting in our way.
As I trimmed the side branches and cut rounds from the fallen tree, I felt the hum of its twenty years through my saw: kids shrieking on the low slopes, breaking off the huge icicles that grow from the cabin eaves; late-night visitors arriving on skis to knock snow from their boots; a black bear snuffling the huckleberries; a crazy man finishing the lid of an igloo by floodlight. By the time the chainsaw ran dry on bar oil, the saw dust had plastered my jeans and filled my shoes. I was happy to call it a night.
Inside, where it was warm and clean, I had another project going. Since the limitations of our old thin-walled oven always made it difficult to produce a high-rising loaf, I’d brought some quarry tiles up from Seattle, and was eager to give them a try. I was after something real: a Mountain Man kind of bread.
I put the quarry tiles onto the center rack of the cabin’s Tappan oven (circa 1970 – in almond) and fired it up. When the oven was good and hot, I bunged in the dough I’d let rise overnight. While the bread baked, I made one of my favorite cabin soups – Creamy Chopped Broccoli Soup.
And then I put on my comfy slippers, pulled out an Ian Rankin mystery, and sat looking at the darkening hulk of the distant mountains. While the soup simmered and yeasty smells pervaded the cabin, I settled into my Mountain Man mode. Crusty at the edges and a little soft in the middle, like the excellent bread that came out of that old oven.
Even so, I reflected, listnening to the fire snap and crackle – it’s all good now, isn’t it?
Mountain Man Bread with Creamy Chopped Broccoli Soup
Mountain Man Bread
24-hour rise; makes one 2 lb loaf
3 cups flour + 1 cup flour for benchwork
1¼ teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon yeast
2 Tablespoons sugar
1½ cups water at 125º
4 Tablespoons melted butter
- Dry mix 3 cups flour, salt, yeast and sugar in a 4-quart mixing bowl. Pour in the warm water and stir with the handle of a wooden spoon to incorporate. Let sit for half an hour and then knead for 10 minutes on a floured counter. Put the doughball back into the bowl, cover with a cloth and set near the fire to rise for several hours.
- Barely melt 4 Tablespoons of butter and pour over the risen dough. Work the butter into the dough, and knead on a floured counter. With the addition of the butter, your dough will take in a bit more of the flour. Work for a few minutes until supple. Put doughball back into the bowl, cover with a piece of plastic wrap, and put into the refrigerator to rest overnight.
- In the morning, take out the bowl, punch down the dough and let sit on a counter for a few hours, covered with a cloth.
- Line a bread basket with a thin cloth (dish towel or cloth napkin) and sprinkle flour on the cloth. Deflate the now puffy dough, form it into an elongated ball, and put it into the lined basket. Sprinkle more flour over the dough, cover with the edges of the cloth and let rise for 1½ hours.
- Put the rack of your oven one notch below center, and set 6 quarry tiles close together on the rack. Preheat oven to 425º for 30 minutes or more.
- Once loaf has risen and the oven is preheated, quickly remove the dough from the cloth and shove it onto the hot quarry tiles. Close the oven door and bake at 425º for 30 minutes. Lower heat to 350º, and bake another 20 – 30 minutes, until crust is medium brown. (For extra bloom, throw 4 ounces of hot water onto the bottom of the oven in the first 5 minutes of baking.)
- Cool on a rack for 1 hour before digging in!
See ‘Baking Bread on Quarry Tiles’ for more info or click HERE
Creamy Chopped Broccoli Soup
2 lbs. broccoli
2 cups boiling water
½ medium onion, finely chopped
2 TBS butter
2 tsp olive oil
3 TBS all-purpose flour
1 ½ cups milk
1½ tsp salt
½ tsp fresh ground black pepper
- Using a chef’s knife or Santuko knife, finely shave the outer florets from each head of broccoli, working around to get as many bits off the stalks as you can. Finely chop any part of the stalk that is thinner than your little finger, discarding the trunks. Boil broccoli in 2 cups water in a 1½ quart saucepan for 3 minutes. Remove from heat and use the cooking water in the next step.
- Melt butter in a 2 quart saucepan, add oil and sauté onions until translucent, about 5 minutes. Sprinkle flour over the onions and stir gently until the flour is saturated. Add ¼ cup hot water, stirring it in until smooth, and then add another ¼ cup and do the same. Stir the rest of the hot water in by ½ cup measures, making sure the sauce is smooth each time before continuing.
- Slowly add the milk and, once the cream sauce is bubbling, add broccoli, salt, and pepper. Bring the soup slowly to a simmer. Simmer at least ½ hour to mingle flavors. Serve with Mountain Man Bread or similar crusty bread.
To download a printable version of this soup recipe with a BONUS recipe in MSWord, click HERE
Sandwich note: With its tight crumb structure, Mountain Man Bread makes a mean sandwich. Once I’d cut and stacked all the wood from that tree and another the next day, I sat in my grubby clothes and devoured a turkey sandwich piled high with lettuce and tomato. If the snow came tomorrow I was ready for it, I thought, as I took another bite.
Snow note: To give you some idea of the forces of nature at work in the Cascade Mountains, I’ve appended this photo, taken in February, 2006, during an above average winter. Our cabin’s peak is sticking out at right, under the mantle of some 14 feet of snow!