Thursday, 07 April 2016 09:23

The sky is falling

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The packaging should read: Home Safety Devices, brought to you by the Chicken Little Company of Products.

Inside the plastic? A smoke alarm that can intelligently determine the difference between the beginning smolder of a house fire, and an invisible waft of toast char.
It was with no small amount of hope that we invested in this promise of no longer having to fan the ceiling with newspapers every time we plunged half a bagel into the toaster.
But the new contraption was as high strung as the old.
With toasty edges, came the same eardrum shearing screech as before.
The good news, I suppose, is that we’ll never sleep through any actual danger. Though being revved into a recurring state of fight-or-flight does its own kind of damage.
It can, for instance, begin to make you believe that other household safety appliances have engaged in a conspiracy against your peace of mind.
Take our carbon monoxide/natural gas alarm.
Designed to prevent users from wondering whether the furnace will explode without warning, or whether a bout of sleepiness is in fact something from which we’ll never wake, we confidently plugged this dual-detector into an outlet at the top of the stairs.
And then, it began to lose its little silicon mind.
One day, after baking a loaf of bread, a marrow-curdling shriek did erupt.
“Gas!” the display read as I yanked it out of the wall. “Evacuate immediately!” it directed. “Do not use the phone!”
And at that very moment, the phone rang.
I stared at it, expecting my last blink of existence.
Until, that is, I stopped to consider that I smelled no gas. Not a burp from the oven or stove.
Not from the fireplace.
Not wafting through the vents, from the furnace that’d been turned off for the season.
Call me passive. Tell me I haven’t enough sense to save myself, but I neither evacuated, nor ran up and down the lane, alerting the neighbours.
I opened all the windows, and within half an hour of calling, a nice man from the utility company soon sorted things out.
“You were baking? Might’ve been that,” he said, waving his sniffing device here and there. “A little pocket of gas sometimes likes to float up the stairs.
 “Oh, and see here, there’s a pinhole leak in your furnace. It’s nothing much. Not today’s problem.”
He handed us a pink, not red, card, and left to move onto the next non-emergency.
Two days later, the leak was fixed. And then?
Naturally, the alarm went off twice more, and these times, since I’d not been baking, did this without a scapegoat.
So is there a moral to the story?
Well. If your gas alarm urges you out of your house, by all means, let it!
As for me, as for today, however, I’m baking oat crackers. But before I do, the natural gas detector is going outside to play in the yard.
Oatmeal Crackers (makes 60)
1/4 cup lard
2 tablespoons butter, softened
1/4 cup sugar
1 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup quick oats
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt, plus more for sprinkling
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 cup buttermilk
In a large mixing bowl, using a wooden spoon, beat together lard, butter and sugar until mixture is smooth and light.
In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, salt, and baking soda.
Add flour and buttermilk to lard mixture, and stir into a (cookie-like) dough.
Wrap dough in plastic wrap. Refrigerate 30 minutes.
(Work with one third at a time, leaving the rest covered in the fridge.) Place dough on a lightly floured surface. Using a floured rolling pin, roll dough to about 12x13 inches.
Cut with a sharp knife into 4x1-inch rectangles. Using a small offset spatula, transfer to a Silpat-lined baking sheet.
Bake at 325F for 12-14 minutes. Crackers are done when golden.
Remove from oven and sprinkle lightly with Kosher salt (optional). Allow to cool for a few minutes before transferring to a rack to cool completely. Repeat with remaining dough.
Great for nibbling. Perfect for cured fish appetizers.

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