Millet flatbread

Millet flour flatbread

Millet flour flatbread

Hello, kids! It’s Saturday storytelling time! Just kidding, of course, It’s Tuesday. It’s just taken me that long to finish this story. My original plan of not thinking too much about the stories has given way to a reality in which I think about them all the time! For some reason that makes it harder for me to finish them. But I think that’s a good thing. As you may recall, each week I post a vernacular photo, and I write a story about it an invite others to as well. Here’s this week’s photo. Who is this man and why is he on the road? Where is he coming from, and where is he going?
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I bought some millet flour a while back, because I love the taste of millet. I tried baking something using only millet flour, and it didn’t turn out too well! So this is a mix of both. It’s a yeasted batter, poured into one of my beautiful new old French pans. You could use any smallish baking sheet with a shallow edge. The bread is soft on the inside and a little crunchy outside, and it has an intriguing, pleasant flavor…I’m not sure how to describe it! Nutty, I guess, like regular millet.

Here’s Sitting on Top of the World by the Mississippi Sheiks.

THE STORY

I’m sitting on top of the world, I really am. Here I am, in the middle of nowhere, completely alone, no way home, and I swear I’ve never felt better. I swear it. I watched her taillights as she pulled away, bright winking demon eyes in the dust. And then she was gone and I listened to the settling gravel. I felt myself bathed in a white light that shone only on me, like some crazy celestial glow from above, for Christ’s sake. Well, I felt that it shone for me, and I felt cleansed.

And then a cloud passed over the sun, and I saw where I really was, some dismal dirt road stretching into the great, ignorant American backwoods as far as I could see. But I wasn’t going to let it get me down. I was feeling good, I tell you. It’s a noisy goddamn world, and it was a drink of cool water, standing here by myself, with only the birds for company. I’d never just stood and listened to the birds before, and it was on my goddamn list of things to do.

But I felt foolish standing in one place for too long, so I started walking. I was sporting my white shoes, and they were sharp. It broke my hardened heart to see the gravel making its crazed pattern on them. If there’s one thing I despise, it’s scuffed shoes. I am not ashamed to say that I have turned away from a man because the sight of his worn shoes offended me. I can just see her now, frowning in shame and embarrassment at my rudeness, turning away from me as I turned away, in a ridiculous dance of mortification.

I met her at a party, and I could see in an instant that she wasn’t like everyone else. A midwinter Sunday at dusk. We’d all gathered at Paul and Sylvia’s place to drink some gin and play some gin, to while away the long tedious winter evening. She was completely out of place. Everyone faced inward, they were animated and colorful, and she was still and quiet, staring out the window at the shadowing dusk, when the church bells rang out Christmas carols. If there’s one thing I despise it’s Christmas carols: insipid, nostalgic tripe.

She was not my type at all. No beauty, no elegance, no sparkle. Mouse brown hair, grey wool tights, and a damn gunnysack of a grey wool dress. And yet I couldn’t stop following her with my eyes. As she moved from room to room I watched her go. I watched her watching other people, her expression alternately amused and saddened. She did not sparkle, but she had a glow about her. Once I’d started following her in earnest like a confounded puppy dog, I thought she’d notice. Any other female on the planet would notice, she would flirt. But she didn’t so I found myself in the embarrassing position of having to secure an introduction. But she wasn’t speaking to anyone; she didn’t seem to know anyone. Finally, in my desperation, I grabbed a bowl of olives. I walked to her and I said, “I wish they were emeralds.” The shame! Neither original nor witty, and I’m only sharing this to demonstrate the depth of my strange urgency and bewilderment. And she laughed. Not a charming chuckle, but a short burst of surprised laughter. I don’t know if I despised her or loved her in that moment, but from then on, I could not leave her alone.

Well, I followed her though I knew it would be trouble. She wanted nothing to do with me at first, and I had to persuade her, I had to move slowly. We went on dates, for Christ’s sake, like goddamn teenagers. I didn’t touch her for a month. Every conversation was like a crazy game. My wittiest quips fell flat, but she would brighten and glow at the oddest times, when I felt the most foolish. She didn’t like me much, but I wanted her terribly. It was ridiculous, but I had lost my ability to ridicule, she had killed it. She scared the hell out of me. I felt as though I didn’t know myself.

I saw a rabbit by the side of the road, staring up at me with wet dark eyes. He turned tail and ran, offended, no doubt, by my scuffed shoes. I could have eaten him, I was so hungry, except, of course I had no gun, and I’m no hunter. I walked along, thinking about food, having a small laugh at myself and my nonsensical ineptitude. Oh, I could order a sandwich at any luncheonette in the country, I could order drinks and snacks with the best of them, but out here in this wasteland I felt truly lost. I tried to recall the stories from my boys’ magazines. “Alone in the wilderness.” And how did those hirsute men survive? Those burly fellows in flannel and canvas, how did they do it? Could I see myself fashioning a trap of twigs and reeds, catching some poor animal, and then roasting it over a clever campfire lit by rubbing two sticks together? I could not. I could not see it, and I could not do it. I couldn’t sit with my arm half submerged in icy water and tickle the belly of a trout, thus seducing him into my frying pan. I could not do it. I couldn’t even manage the overalls.

Although at the moment the thought of icy water wasn’t half bad. I wore my great coat—in the latest style, but far too warm, as she had said it would be. I’d told her that I needed it as protection from all of this natural beauty, as armor against rustic charm. And she had frowned and said nothing. She was right, of course, and I was miserable, at once strangely chilled and dripping with sweat. I took the coat off. I rolled my sleeves up, I draped the coat over my arm, but the wool of it was itchy and uncomfortable. I was faced with a terrible question: would I ever make it back to civilization? Because if so I could not abandon my coat, it had been very hard to track down—I’d done some stepping. I sat on a rock and the white bright sun filled my eyes with water, as I remembered a time we’d shared my coat. It had been a frantically cold evening. She’d met me, running through shards of snow and light, her face bright and warm. I thought she was happy to see me. I’d allowed myself to believe that she was happy to see me. But she was shivering in a light coat. We shared a taxi, and I wrapped my coat around us both, like a blanket, and she had let me press up against her surprising warmth. She had let me hold her hand. Like some rube kid, I melted at the touch of her hand.

Once we had touched, we were attached. I felt it in an instant. My reaction was unaccountable. I was so happy and scared that I cried. Though not in front of her, not in front of anyone. I never felt like that in all my life, and I hope to never feel like that again. She had no idea what a man wanted, what a man needed. She killed me with her awkwardness and curiosity. Her body was pale and colorless, but it shone in iridescent hollows against sharp bones. It was luminous, and it makes me ache to think about it now.

Or maybe that’s the hunger. The food is all gone with her, all gone. We had packed a picnic in our car—her idea. I had laughed at the idea of a picnic—a party for the ants, I’d said, and for the unfashionable. It was so tedious to leave the city; it just wasn’t worth the effort. She hadn’t liked my jokes, and now here I was with nothing. Then I remembered a bag of sunflower seeds in my coat pocket. I like to suck the salt off, and then spit out the shell. After a few I remembered that I had no water. But I kept eating till my lips stung with the salt, just to show I didn’t care. Hot, miserable, sweating and desperate with thirst, I happened upon a building. A low brick building plastered with advertisements for beer and soda pop and oranges. Eureka, I had found a store.

“I didn’t mean you,” I had said, “Of course I didn’t mean you.” She clutched the steering wheel with a fury, and turned her face from me. “You’re not unfashionable!” In fact she’d become almost stylish, since we’d been together, despite the fact that she wouldn’t let me buy her anything. She drove with angry speed, and I swear I feared for my life. To die out here, in the country, a desolate and ignominious death, I swear I could think of nothing worse. She was not appeased. She did not slow down.

“You don’t understand!” she cried, and when I say this I mean that she was nearly crying. “You’ll never understand.”

“Well,” I replied, in a soothing voice, “Why don’t you explain it to me. Slowly.”

She shook her head and wouldn’t talk, and I loved the way her hair settled in fetching curls behind her ears. She drove because I couldn’t. I’d always lived in the city; I had never needed to drive. One of the many practical skills that she possessed that I did not, but I did not begrudge her these skills, she was welcome to them, I had no use for them. Finally she stopped. She had to because she was overcome with tears. She turned her face to me, her sea-grey eyes clouded and glowing, like waves after the rain. They were rimmed in red, her whole face was red and contorted—she was not at her best. But she was, I’d be lying to say she wasn’t. I’d never seen her more beautiful. Her lips trembled and she snorted and tried to catch her breath in little hiccupping gulps. She said, “Don’t you see? There are no unfashionable people! There are no fashionable people! It’s just people, all over the world, wearing clothes. Some are comfortable in their clothes, some are not, but it’s all just people wearing clothes. Don’t you see? All the rest is…is…is…is…is…nothing. It’s worse than nothing. It’s lies.”

She left me by the side of the road. I was sure she’d come back, but she did not. And to my surprise, I felt relieved. A weight had been lifted. I was free from the constant noisy worrying whirring of her thoughts. I was free from the heaviness of her honesty, from the burden of her expectations. I was sitting on top of the world.

I bought a cola, a warm bottle of cola from a dusty shelf. Nothing had ever tasted so good to me. No well-mixed cocktail had pleased me in this way. The place was dusty and quiet, like the road, but at least it was dark and cool in here. I had expected the shop keeps to be dusty and quiet, too, with maybe five teeth to share between them. So imagine my surprise to find a lady—not young, maybe ten years older than me, but quite well-dressed. Her outfit was nicely put together, though everything was a few years out of date. She gave me a very sharp look, and I suddenly understood that I knew her, that I had known her when she was the most admired and talked-about person in the city.

“By god, Veronica,” I said, “What the hell brings you out here?”

Her skin was soft and lightly wrinkled, her hair beginning to gray. Her eyes were watery but shrewd. She stared right at me, and she said, “For without are dogs, and sorcerers, and whoremongers, and murderers, and idolaters, and whosoever loveth and maketh a lie.”

I lightly laughed. She was not wrong! I thought about buying another cola, and maybe a sandwich. I wondered if she sold sandwiches.

She said, “What should be in it, that men should love lies; where neither they make for pleasure, as with poets, nor for advantage, as with the merchant; but for the lie’s sake. But I cannot tell; this same truth, is a naked, and open day-light, that doth not show the masks, and mummeries, and triumphs, of the world, half so stately and daintily as candle-lights. Truth may perhaps come to the price of a pearl, that showeth best by day; but it will not rise to the price of a diamond, or carbuncle, that showeth best in varied lights.”

I laughed again, but I thought of leaving.

She said, “It is a pleasure, to stand upon the shore, and to see ships tossed upon the sea; a pleasure, to stand in the window of a castle, and to see a battle: but no pleasure is comparable to the standing upon the vantage ground of truth and to see the errors, and wanderings, and mists, and tempests, in the vale below.”

I give Veronica my coat. I set it on the chair beside her, and she gazes fondly at it, petting the fine soft wool. I leave the store and set off, walking. I abandon the road; I follow a path that winds through small trees. The earth is wet and black, and tars my shoes with mud, but I don’t care. The trees grow taller, and I walk through patches of shade and patches of sunlight, bewildered by the alternating coolness and warmth. I come to a creek rushing through smooth grey stones, the water chattering and singing with a clear cold voice. I step in up to my knees, I dip my head in the water. When I reach the road again, I leave my sodden shoes by the side of it, and I start on the long walk back to town.

THE RECIPE

1 t yeast
1 t sugar
1/2 cup warm water

1 cup flour
1/2 cup millet flour
1 t baking powder
1 t salt
lots of black pepper
1 egg
1/2 cup water
1 T olive oil

Combine the yeast, sugar and 1/2 cup warm water and leave in a warm place to get foamy about 15 minutes. Whisk in all of the other ingredients, and return to the warm place for a few hours or all afternoon.

Whisk the batter again. Put a generous coating of oil in a medium-sized pan with edges–a cake pan or roasting pan will work, but something with shallower sides is probably best. I used a 12-inch round pan. An 11 inch tart pan would work if the bottom isn’t removable. Pour the batter into the pan, and let it sit till the oven preheats.

Preheat the oven to 425.

Bake for about 20 minutes, till it’s golden brown and firm to the touch. I put mine under the broiler for a few minutes at the end to brown the top.

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2 thoughts on “Millet flatbread

    • Shucks, I thought I’d gotten over these rookie mistakes! I used a slightly hotter oven, but I think my oven doesn’t get as hot as other peoples’!

      Thanks for pointing this out!

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