More Virtuous than I

Batch of cinnamon rolls

Mixed: 10:45 am

Molded: 12:15 pm

Baked: 1:15 pm

Gave only TWO of the fifteen away

I was NOT in the mood to share today. Something about all the sugary goodness just made me feel extra stingy…

But, my virtuous daughter

talked me into being a good and giving citizen, and don’t these boys (whom I’ve been driving in carpools since they were in second grade!) look delighted with their cinnamon rolls on the way home from school?

Hopefully I’m not too old, or stubborn, to learn virtue from a teenager.

Surf and Sourdough

Two loaves of sourdough

Mixed: 10:30 pm

Molded: noon, next day

Baked: 2:15 pm

Gave one loaf to Mr. Daly, the art teacher and SURFING supervisor at Providence Hall

I love Santa Barbara. There aren’t many places on this planet where your son (that’s my son, above) can attend a college prep high school that also offers surfing as an elective.

Mr. Daly teaches fine art, but also takes the kids out to play beach volleyball and surf. It was great to hand him a loaf of sourdough yesterday; he, in his flip flops and surf trunks… Mr. Daly is just like Providence Hall, a crossroads between formal, even Classical education, and the modern and informal surf and skate culture that our kids live in today…

Anyway, summer is almost here. In TWO WEEKS I’m going to write, and bake, and take the kids to the beach. I’m going to pray, and grow tomatoes, and have barbecues in the backyard. I’m going to let the kids sleep in a little, then take them to the library, and to the bookstore, and finally, allow them to curl up and read for hours on end.

What about you? Do you have plans for the summer? Tomato plants already started? Hopes to travel somewhere near or far?

Or maybe…a series of surf lessons lined up for here in Santa Barbara?

If so, the barbecue is waiting and we’re inviting!

Love That Boy!

Baked twice today

Rosemary rolls in the morning

Two French boules in the afternoon

Sitting at the dinner table the other evening, my 15-year-old son asked to be excused. He had loads of homework and other things to do, but I said no. I just wanted to look across the table and have him there for a while longer. It seems he’s always gone. Either buried under books when he’s here, or … not here.

Right now, he’s not here.

He left yesterday afternoon to help lead a retreat for a local organization. It’s all about loving God, and since that’s one of my main hopes for my children: that they love God, I was willing to send him off, yet again.

I suppose this letting go isn’t meant to be easy. But I won’t let go without a fight. Several rosemary rolls and a long note made their way into my son’s backpack. He loves those rosemary rolls…

Round Two

The second round of giving, after my son and his friends had embarked on their weekend adventure, went like this…

Hot bread, what should I do?

Hmmm.

I’m too tired to walk to the park.

I’m too lazy and unkempt to meet any new neighbors.

I’ll just sit on the front steps till someone walks by, and give the bread to them.

I opened the front door and walked down the path to the steps by the street. Before I even sat down, Sparky came romping across the street (he’s a dog who likes to sit in the front window of his home and peek out the curtains), followed by his owner, Cindy.

Have you eaten? Want some bread? Yes?!

Yes!

Round Three–Question

So, tell me. Three children to raise and let go, how does that work mathematically? Thrice the pain and struggle? Are the heaps of joy at watching them grow three times as high and wide? Will I need to knead three times as much bread to keep my hands busy and my heart in prayer?

If you’ve been there, I’m listening!

Recipe–French Bread

From: Adapted basic French dough recipe from a book titled Dough by Richard Bertinet. Love this book…

Time Commitment: Depending on the temperature in your kitchen, have to be in and out of the house for at least 3 1/2 hours in order to make these loaves. If you choose to retard the dough after the first rise, then it makes this recipe very flexible.

Tools you need:
  • Cookie sheets or bread peel
  • Large mixing bowl
  • an oven :)
  • Wooden spoon
  • Other tools I use, but that aren’t imperative: spray bottle, parchment paper, dough scrapers, baking stone,

Ingredients:

  • 3 cups all purpose flour (I use Trader Joe’s unbleached flour in the blue bag)
  • 3/4 cup bread flour (could use all TJ’s flour, but I like to add a bit of high protein bread flour to the mix)
  • 2 teaspoons active dry yeast (can use cake yeast, just need to double it)
  • 13-14 ounces of cool or lukewarm water
  • 2 teaspoons salt (I like sea salt)
  • rice flour or corn meal for dusting
What to do:

Step One: Combine all dry ingredients in a bowl, mix with wooden spoon, then add water. Stir some more, then get your hands into the dough and mix with your hands.

Step Two: Turn it out onto a clean surface and begin kneading. So, here’s my first tip. Don’t be afraid of a moist dough. For many years I kept adding flour to my dough to unstickify things… This was a big mistake. The bread ended up being heavy and dry. Go with the stick. As you knead, the moisture will incorporate and begin to activate the gluten. I use two types of kneading. When the dough is wet, I bang the dough onto the counter and fold it over, allowing a lot of oxygen into the mixture. After the dough starts to smooth itself out I go to a more traditional knead, using the heel of my hand. The video shows both methods… Knead for about 8-10 minutes. Pray while you knead… Sing while you knead…

Step Three: In a large, clean mixing bowl, either dust the bottom of your bowl with flour, or oil it. Place your dough in the bowl and cover it with a moist, clean cloth. Allow to rise until double in bulk; this will depend on the warmth of your kitchen. It typically takes 2 hours in our kitchen. If I want it to rise more quickly, then I heat my oven to 100 degrees (this is a very low setting and many ovens don’t go this low, but you could just heat your oven for 4-5 minutes, then turn it off…) and proof my bread inside the warm oven.

Step Four: Time to prepare my pans for baking, then mold the dough. First, I take out a sheet of parchment paper and place it on a cookie sheet. I reuse my sheets of parchment paper 2-3 times. I sprinkle the paper with rice flour (you can also use corn meal) in order to easily remove the bread when it’s baked.

I typically make two “jacos” like the ones in the video. I separate the dough in two, and press and roll them into thick, long loaves. Sometimes I’ll roll out 12 rolls, or make two round boules. When you’re molding, you’re not re-kneading the dough. Handle the dough firmly, pressing it into the shape you choose, but don’t overwork it. Once your loaves are molded, cover them again with a damp cloth.

(Step Four and a Half: This is an optional step, and is the point when you can easily put your molded loaves into the fridge for a period of retarding. I’ve retarded loaves for between two and twelve hours… Just make sure your molded dough is covered with a moist cloth; you don’t want it to dry out. If you’re putting the loaves into the fridge for just an hour or two, then it’s best to let them rise a bit before putting them next to your chilly leftovers. If you’re retarding your bread all night, then you probably don’t need to let them rise at all before you head to bed…

When you remove the dough from the fridge, if the loaves have fully doubled their bulk, then set them on the counter just a few minutes before you bake. If the dough hasn’t fully risen when you pull them from the fridge, then allow them to finish rising, then straight into the oven they go.)

Step Five: Allow the dough to again double in size. This rise takes less time than the first, usually about an hour. About 30 minutes before baking, preheat the oven to 500 degrees.

Step Six: Your loaves are ready to bake and the oven is HOT. Score the loaves with a sharp knife or razor blade. I use a small, serrated pairing knife. The scoring allows the bread to release gases where you want it to, instead of splitting along the sides. Place your cookie sheet onto the baking stone in the center of the oven. Take a spray bottle and spray in your oven, (I like to spray below the bread, but be careful of the heating elements…) to create steam. I typically do this twice during the first 10 minutes of baking.  Bake for 10 minutes.

Step Seven: Reduce the heat of the oven to 425 degrees. Sometimes, like in the video, I will remove the cookie sheet at this point and allow the bread to bake directly on the baking stone for the rest of the time. Bake another 20-24 minutes, depending on the shape of your loaves (rolls require a shorter bake) and the true heat of your oven.

Step Eight: Remove the bread, and cool on a rack. Don’t be too tempted to break open the bread right away. It continues to bake while it cools; let it sit, unbothered, for at least 30 minutes. Then, the best part. Give one loaf to a neighbor and eat the other:)

Disclosure of Material Connection: I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the brands, products, or services that I have mentioned, though I wouldn’t mind attending one of Richard Bertinet’s baking courses. The song, “Tangonino” is found on the CD for children Enfance et Musique. Pretty fun song to bake to… I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Favorite Things

Two French jacos

Mixed: 10:35 am

Molded: 1:45 pm

Baked: 3 pm

Gave to Jeff, the tennis teacher

My daughter has recently discovered a love for tennis, so we decided to take a loaf of bread to Jeff, her teacher, just because…. Despite the photo, she didn’t deliver it to him on her racket. We wrapped it in some brown paper and tied it with string…

Which… Reminds me of that rainy night outside of Maria’s room in Austria, when suddenly she burst into Raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens, wrapped herself in the curtains, then ended up collecting all the frightened Van Trapp kids on her bed for a lively sing-along…

I’ve been struggling health-wise these last several months, and a call from the doctor today confirmed that I’m still not on the strong and vigorous track. It’s been months of struggle, but even so, baking has been a blessing in the midst of all of this. Pulling a few loaves out of the oven feels like an accomplishment, and then giving them away to others has been a mental and spiritual boost that has kept me feeling productive. I should be back to normal soon, but in the meantime I just might hum a few more bars of that Sound of Music song. Baking bread IS one of my favorite things, and giving it away has made it even better.

When the dog bites,

When the bee stings,

When I’m feeling sad;

I simply remember my favorite things,

And then I don’t feel…… so bad…

What are some your favorite things?

Birthday Bread–Play by Play

More rosemary rolls–20 of them

Mixed: 6:30 pm

Molded: 9 pm (then retarded in fridge all night)

Baked: 7 am

Fed nine on my birthday/island adventure

Last year my birthday was celebrated amidst a wildfire catastrophe, so this year we decided to create our own adventure and take a day trip to Santa Cruz Island, an uninhabited slice of land that graces the Santa Barbara Channel. I’ve wanted to visit this island for years…

There are no services offered on the island, just fresh water and outhouses, so we needed to pack whatever we’d need for the day. Birthday fare included: homemade rosemary rolls (my current favorite!), hard Italian salami from Via Maestra, jazz apples, green olives, gorgonzola cheese, water, and a wee bit of wine. But first! we had to trek to our picnic spot and earn our vittles…

It was a beautiful, warm day and the vistas were inspiring…

Some of us struggled at about mile two. The trail was steep, the wind was blowing, and my daughter is a drama queen!

Finally, we ate lunch at the mountain top, amidst fields of wild grasses. The rosemary rolls were a gigantic hit!

Refueled, we hiked the remaining two miles, played in the valley, climbed trees, marveled at the foxes and soaked up the beauty of that rugged place.

In the afternoon we reboarded the boat, a few rolls left in the backpack for those in our party who don’t like the topsy turvy water. (Munching on bread helps keep the mind and the tummy from rebelling.) But who had time to think about seasickness? The channel was teeming with seals, sea lions, porpoise and humpback whales all playing in the large swells; it was quite a birthday show.

I’m already planning a trip back.

Two Kinds of Fire

One batch of rosemary rolls

Mixed: 2:35 pm

Molded: 4:30 pm

Baked: 5:15 pm

Gave to Jim and Jennifer

As I rearranged the rosemary rolls on the hot surface of the baking stone, I pulled my bare hand out of the heat and suddenly remembered that one year ago we were worried about a much bigger flame than the one that bakes bread in my oven… Right above our home near the foothills, a fire had started. It was a hot May day and it was the sound of one fire truck after the other that finally caused my husband and I to peek out our back door.

And there were the flames.

The first days were spent packing and wondering where the wind would push the fire next. When the wind shifted, we evacuated, and waited some more.

The winds blew stronger and we evacuated again. Turn of events–I ended up in the ER, a large ember having flown into my eye. Finally we fled to LA. I passed a birthday away from home, with an eye patch!

What a wild ride. When we returned home, grateful and happily ready to clean the layers of ash from the furniture and patio and plants, we also felt an immense heaviness for those who had lost their homes. There were many.

And all this, after the Tea Fire. And the Gap Fire, and the Zaca Fire before that…

So, on this May day, the first anniversary of last year’s Jesusita Fire, I was in my usual mode of mixing and molding, and baked a batch of rosemary rolls. I wanted to share them with our neighbors, Jim and Jennifer, who moved in more than a year ago. And as I walked to their home, their new home, I realized how it was all fitting together in my mind. Their new house, with the shaded porch and the gorgeous red alstromerias blooming in the front yard, is the replacement for their home that had burned in the Tea Fire 18 months ago…

Here’s to Jim and Jennifer, and to their new home, and to the right kind of fire, the kind that bakes a nice batch of rosemary rolls…