Neron's Window

Neron's Window

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

The aroma of bread baking

Nothing beats the wonderful aroma of bread baking. Neroni finds the aroma almost intoxicating, along with the lovely smell of seafood. And not being very far from either most of the time, has him running to the kitchen door of whomever is preparing such delicious treats. Now, it is unusual for a cat to love bread, but even cats in Italy love their daily share. When Mama or Papa take out the flour, cornmeal, eggs, yeast, and salt to make the rustic, Tuscan style bread, he comes running, ready to lie on the brown tile floor and watch and listen while the oven begins to hiss its warm-up sounds, and the flour falls into the bowl as it decends from the old tin sifter. He notices how quickly the cook's hands move to include the salt and to make a "well" in the middle to provide a warm place for the water and yeast. Then, after mixing, he knows that he must wait ten minutes for the lovely smelling bubbles to arise and for the flour sides of the well to be moved into the center with the yeasty water. Then after the current cook pushes it all around, a ball begins to form and Neroni looks with interest at what happens to this ball. Humans call it kneading, just like his kneading of the old carpet piece placed near one of his favorite sleeping spots, the south facing window, where in the afternoon between 2 and 5, nothing much passes by and he can get some needed rest.

Finally the ball goes into the old stone bowl, and the baker of the day places it beside the large, stone-lined oven to rise to perfection. Here, Neroni waits for the cook to turn to prepare other dishes for the evening meal and he hopes there might be some of his favorite included on the menu: seafood, especially octopus. Oh, the delight of those little fellows swimming in water, then gently placed on the cutting board and salted, cut, and ready to join the pasta in Mama's red sauce for dinner. If he is lucky, he just might be given a tid bit or two for his afternoon snack before that much needed nap.

After his sleep, Neroni comes awake with the sound of the dough ball being punched down on the floured counter top, then shaped by the knowing hands into a marvelous loaf to be placed in the cornmeal dusted pan, only to sit again by the warm oven to rise a second time to its rounded loaf shape and spread with some egg to add a glow,and then to be placed, finally, in the oven where the smell of fresh baking bread arises and travels out into the house and into the alley. This is where he must now go to make his early evening walk, or passegiatta, to check out the neighborhood and to confer with the other gatti as to what will be on their dinner tables and to assure them that his will be the best. Fresh bread, an antipasta, and penne and octopus, with lemon cake and espresso for afterwards, with a probable lick of cream from the whipping bowl for him, as everyone knows he loves that taste. Dolce vita.

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