The Trade–Bread for an Arizona Blue Moon

Enormous pain a la Suzanne

Mixed: 9:30 pm Tuesday

Folded: 12:15 pm Wednesday

Molded: 12:45 pm

Baked: 3 pm

Gave to: our hosts here in Scottsdale

We’ve traveled to the Arid Zone to visit with family over the holidays. My husband’s enormous clan is out here and we always try to make our way out to Scottsdale, (and Chandler, and Tempe, and Phoenix–they live everywhere!) sometime during the winter. If you’ve ever heard my fainting-in-the-heat stories, you might understand why we prefer the cooler weather…

Always received with warmth, this year there is added enthusiasm as I’m trying to bake and give away bread, even here. Plus, several of my sister-in-laws are hoping for baking lessons. Already we’ve made one no-knead/pain a la Suzanne recipe, which despite the fact that we had the most basic of flours, came out beautifully. I just don’t think you can mess that recipe up.

Anyway, I think we’re getting the better end of the stick. We’re contributing our cheer, and a little bread:

And they’ve already given us a sunset

…and a blue moon.



Good Cheer

One petit pain a la Suzanne with an added dose of fontina from Albert Vera’s Italian shop here in LA

Mixed: 8:30 pm Saturday

Folded: 12:40 pm Sunday

Molded: 1 pm

Baked: 3 pm

Gave: to my dad, the baker–and the rest of the gang

My dad is a jolly fellow. If he had a long white beard and were a little larger and more rotund he’d make a fabulous stand-in for Santa. He’s also the king of malapropisms… Just the other day he replaced the word “crouch” for “crotch…” My favorite is when he asked what it was like to sleep on a wonton.

My dad’s silliness is why my husband wanted to be photographed with a loaf of bread on his head. He was being egged on. My dad’s gift of good cheer rubs off–and I wanted to post this photo here, to savor it. Humor is a great healer, a balm that soothes so many tricky or difficult situations. It’s a gift more precious than cheesy bread!

So I’m encouraging you to let down your guard and be silly. To nurture and champion your funny bone this new year…

And here’s a fun quote for you from Oscar Wilde–

Some cause happiness (and good cheer) wherever they go; others whenever they go.

Thumbs Up

Petit pain a la Suzanne

Mixed: 9:30 pm Christmas Eve

Folded: 1:15 pm Christmas Day

Molded: 1:30 pm

Baked: 3:45 pm

Gave: to the family!

Apparently my family thinks I should keep on baking. I received two new baking pots this 09 Christmas and another addition to my bread baking library. I couldn’t have been more thrilled. I already had a batch of bread rising, so used the green pot (that you can see better below) for making this beautiful loaf for our Christmas dinner:

All week I’ve been in hyper-baking mode. The family has been helpful, but more than once they’ve been shushed away from a hot loaf or a batch of scones. “Those are for…” I was continually saying… I took a poll and determined that they were getting a bit miffed by the fact that I was churning out bread, but there was none, not even a crust, in the cupboard. So today, this Christmas day, I baked just for us–our own loaf, not cut in half, perfectly whole and hot–and delicious!

Mmmm. It was good.

Tomorrow I’m back to sharing, and now I have two new pots, that will fit side-by-side in the oven, to fiddle with.

Two. One so I can bake for the new neighbors down the road, and the other, for… us:)

By the way, I’m taking orders for the new year.

Christmas Miracles

Countless cranberry muffins–some specifically for Tina.

One pain a la Suzanne for the Butlers to eat at midnight.

One jaco for Evelyn and her crew.

More bread in the works…

It’s Christmas Eve. The tree is lit. The healthy members of the family are about to head out the door to our late night church service. The gingerbread house is half eaten. A present or two have been opened. The little ones are drifting off to sleep in between bouts of coughing.

I think of St. Romanos on this Christmas Eve–hundreds and hundreds of years ago. The last straw breaking, tears streaming down his face–so many that they watered the wood floor at his feet, so tired of being laughed at for his lack of melody, for being illiterate and unlearned, for being so simple, for spending his life just cleaning, and polishing and dusting the church. I think of him and marvel at the Christmas gift he received. And wonder why we put things like scarves, and new ipods, and jewelry on our Christmas lists. We should be asking for miracles on this night, on this night that epitomizes miracles. On this night when God became man.

And I rewind further and think of Mary, forging Christmas history for all of us, and the new life she held in her arms. What child is this? Could she see the heavens, the earth, the planets, the future, in his baby brown eyes?

I needed yet another bag of flour today–I’m going through a five pound bag a day, it seems, and there was a new homeless woman outside Trader Joe’s where I went to brave the crowds and purchase more. She held a Merry Christmas sign, and sang out a cheery hello and thank you when I offered her a pre-made bag of food that our church distributes. (I keep them in the trunk of the car…) I wondered what talents she longed for Once Upon a Time–like St. Romanos. If she wanted to be a singer, or an actress, or a doctor once. If she got tired of cleaning and polishing and dusting. If abuses were ever shouted her way… If she even knows that hoping–that crying out–for Christmas miracles is an option?

And I wonder what mother held her, and looked into her eyes–and what did that mother see? Does she know what’s become of her baby daughter, that she’s holding a sign, sitting cross-legged on the sidewalk–the sun setting behind her?

St. Romanos was illiterate. He was frequently mocked by his coworkers. Called Stupid more than once. People can be so cruel–even people tending the church, people pretending to be holy. He cried out to Mary for help after a particularly humiliating Christmas Eve service, and to his surprise she came. His Christmas gift arrived in the form of music–the voice of an angel and the ability to write and compose. He eventually wrote over a thousand hymns for the church…

Yesterday I really didn’t know what to think of Christmas this year. I’ve been scattered, not centered, and the fevers have got me whirling between beds, dodging coughs, and picking up the endless trail of tissues. I was counting on our midnight church service to help me refocus… But God has sent me this moment of quiet and reflection–this story of St. Romanos, who was brave enough to cry out.

I think I’ll light a candle, and then slump my body over for a bit and pray. I can think of some folks out there who could use a few mighty miracles tonight. I could always use a little healing of my own… I think some has already come my way…

What sort of miracle would you like to see this day–this day of God being born for man and all of creation?

I’d love to know…

Bakery Field Trip–The Real Deal

Brief baking hiatus

Too embarrassed to bake in my father’s house…

Our family is sneaking in a quick visit to wish our LA clan a merry Christmas. I haven’t baked in two days, and the only giving has been one of trying to keep our things from invading every corner of my parent’s clean home. I could never outgive my parents–nor would I ever try. They are the most generous people I’ve ever met…

But bread baking isn’t far from our minds. My brothers are just about to launch a new commercial baking enterprise, and yesterday we got to visit the construction site. There were dough mixers, conveyor belts just for baguettes, proofers, retarders, and a lot of talk about a certain dough cutter… There is an artisan oven being installed as we speak. It was a great field trip–so that’s what I’m bringing you today. A peek into Etxea Bakery; they will be testing bread in their new custom, Italian-made oven before the New Year arrives.

Dad and Chris, the contractor.

Such pretty new machinery

The intermediate proofer

Loves the machines!

Enormous proof box--got locked in one of these in St. Louis once. Almost ended up in the headlines...

Baguette conveyor belt

Bare bones of a rack oven--you insert a full rack on wheels into the oven for baking

Michel and his crew are installing the Italian-made, custom deck oven

My son with a very odd conversation piece from years past

And the Winner is?…

Been baking up a storm. Scones to school. Bread to Cheryl. Bread to Cara…They all deserve more than what I could ever give…

But forget about the oven for a minute. It’s time to give away a copy of The Woman and the Wheat. Yippee!!! By the way, an awesome review on the book was posted to Ancient Faith Radio yesterday. The review made me cry–which makes me think Katherine Hyde, the reviewer, better keep on writing herself; she’s that persuasive!

Audio review of The Woman and the Wheat

I’m thrilled with this list of favorite children’s books. What a line up! There are several here that are completely new to me–and I have thousands on my shelves. I can’t wait to read each and every new one mentioned…


The Serpent Came to Gloucester by M.T. Anderson and Bagram Ibatoulline

Fingal’s Quest by Madeleine A Polland

A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle

Tales of the Kingdom by David R. Mains, Karen Burton Mains and Linda Lee Wells

The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein

The Clown of God by Tomie de Paola

The Little Red Caboose by Marian Potter and Tibor Gergely

The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis

Olivia by Ian Falconer

If you give a Pig a Pancake by Laura Joffe Numeroff and Felicia Bond

Amelia Bedelia by Peggy Parish

A Bad Case of Stripes by David Shannon

Little House on the Prairie by Laura Ingalls Wilder

We’re going on a Bear Hunt by Michael Rosen and Helen Oxenbury

The Chronicles of Prydain by Lloyd Alexander

The Complete Tales of Winnie-the-Pooh by A. A. Milne

The Little House by Virginia Lee Burton

Betsy-Tacy by Maud Hart Lovelace and Lois Lenski

Leo the Late Bloomer by Robert Kraus and Jose Aruego

The Christmas Miracle of Jonathan Toomey by Susan Wojciechowski and P. J. Lynch

The Abbot & I : as told by Josie the Cat by Sarah Elizabeth Cowie

The Little Engine That Could by Watty Piper

From I-ville to You-ville by Mersine Vigopoulou, Emani Heers, and Fr. Peter Alban Heers

A Child’s Garden of Verses by Robert Louis Stevenson

Make Way for Ducklings (and other books such as Lentil, and Homer Price) by Robert McCloskey

The Keeping Quilt by Patricia Polacco

The Life of St. Brigid: Abbess of Kildare by Jane G Meyer 🙂 and Zachary Lynch

The Miracle of St. Nicholas by Gloria Whelan

One Wintry Night by Ruth Bell Graham

Books illustrated by Gennady Spirin

Books illustrated by Ruth Sanderson

The Weaving of a Dream by Marilee Heyer

The Ox Cart Man by Donald Hall

All the Places to Love by Patricia MacLachlan and Michael Wimmer

Go, Dogs, Go!, The Cat in the Hat and How the Grinch Stole Christmas by Dr. Seuss

Christmas Trolls by Jan Brett

When Mama Comes Home Tonight by Eileen Spinelli and Jane Dyer

The Monk who Grew Prayer by Claire Brandenburg

The Man and the Vine by Jane G Meyer (another :))and Ned Gannon

Beatrix Potter books

Something from Nothing by Phoebe Gillman

Love You Forever by Robert N. Munsch and Sheila McGraw

Goodnight Moon by Margaret Wise Brown and Clement Hurd

At the Back of the North Wind by George MacDonald

The Gruffalo and The Smartest Giant in Town by Julia Donaldson

Goodnight Gorilla by Peggy Rathmann

The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle

Celebrate the Earth and The Story of Mary by Dorrie Papademetriou

The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane by Kate DiCamillo

Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak

Stone Soup by Marcia Brown

The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett

Five Little Peppers and How They Grew by Margaret Sidney and Ann M. Martin

Angel in the Waters by Regina Doman and Ben Hatke

Hippos Go Berzerk by Sandra Boynton

The Hobbit by JRR Tolkien

The Rainbow Fish by Marcus Pfister Herbert and J. Alison James

Little Women by Louisa May Alcott

Tear Soup by Pat Schweibert, Chuck DeKlyen, and Taylor Bills

The Donkey’s Dream by Barbara Helen Berger

Christmas Cookies by Amy Krouse Rosenthal and Jane Dyer

The Golden Book of Poetry edited by Jane Werner

A Chair For My Mother by Vera B. Williams

The Velveteen Rabbit by Margery Williams

And the winner is…


A high school friend from my Samohi days, whose favorite children’s book pick was Shel Silverstein’s The Giving Tree. Samantha, how fun!

Okay, off to the post office with the book. I wish you all a blessed and beautiful last Saturday before Christmas!

A Tribute to Community

One giant pain a la Suzanne. Came out so beautifully yet again!

Mixed: 5:30 pm Tuesday

Folded: 10:10 am Wednesday

Molded: 10:30 am

Baked 1:15 pm

Gave to: Renato–owner of Via Maestra 42

My husband works from home. He has been without a company cubicle, office politics and a commute for over ten years. He spends most of his day with a headset on, jabbering on the phone; I love it–he’s like a farmer who heads out ten paces to the fields in the morning, and comes in for lunch, and dinner. It’s a huge blessing to have him around. (Like when I desperately need someone to turn the oven on for pre-heating, but am on the other side of town!)

But being at home, surrounded by finches, doesn’t provide a lot of intellectual or friendly stimulation, even for those who prefer the hermit-side of things. So my husband found a happy solution. Every morning he walks out of the neighborhood and into the big-wide world of Santa Barbara to hang out at his favorite haunt: Via Maestra 42, a little coffee shop cafe owned by an always-smiling and big-hearted, Renato Moiso.

It being Christmas and all, my husband wanted to take a loaf of bread over to Renato and his crew. I happily got to mixing and folding and molding and sent him over as delivery man yesterday with the giant hot loaf of my new favorite sourdough mix.

But much to my surprise, Renato liked the loaf so much that he put it on display! I was stunned when my husband recounted the story. Who wouldn’t want to eat that hot loaf of bread? I’ve lived in Italy–I should have known. Most any Italian would first want to show it off, so that it might be talked about…

…then consumed. Sharing is one of the Italian’s most famous virtues. My loaf became yet another symbol of love for your community…

My husband headed over for coffee again this morning. I’m wondering if the bread ever went home to someone’s table, or if it’s still there, hovering over customers as they order their morning cappuccinos. I won’t ask. I love my husband, and Renato and the staff of Via Maestra too much. It simply doesn’t matter. I’m so grateful for this place where my husband blends in and converses with real, not virtual, people.

What about you? Do you have favorite haunts who welcome you like family–who might even prop your bread up on a stand and display it for an afternoon or two? (Or more… :))

Music Trumps Ginger Snaps

48 Ginger snaps

Three elderly homes

Every year our church school celebrates Santa Lucia Day by visiting convalescent homes and singing for the folks who live there. It is always moving to see a group of bright-eyed children singing their hearts out for folks who are struggling through their last days. Today, at the first home, a toothless woman swayed in the front row in her wheelchair, singing out every word to every Christmas song–even the ones the kids sang in Latin. She was moved by the music, and I was moved by her.

At the next home a man who has lost his speech conducted the kids from the front row. He waved his hands in participation and the kids just smiled and kept right on singing… In the back row, yet another woman in a wheelchair snuggled with a bright pink and well-loved monkey. She waved the monkey’s hand at my son, then snuggled her chin back into the safety of the monkey’s chest while the music played on…

And lastly we were blessed to spend a few minutes with some beloved parishioners, one who is blind. You could just feel him soaking up the sounds of the children–his eyes closed, but his face completely absorbed. Every year we come into this sanctuary of a home, where two old but very wise friends spend their days. The smell in the home is one of hope and love; hard to describe. I hope the kids felt it as much as I did. It’s probably what made them sing so boldly despite the fact that it had been a very long morning…

The ginger snaps were a small hit–wrapped in their red ribbons… But the music! The music made the day, stirring some straight to song, and me straight to tears.

May your final days, as we move toward Christ’s nativity, be filled with song and melodies, and maybe even a few ginger snaps :)…

Stormy Weather

bowl full of pomegranate seeds

hot cup of Hoji-cha green tea

seed cookie

struggling with giving more…

For two days I have baked, but haven’t blogged. Wednesday I made two lovely loaves of molasses bread and shared them with the folks at church. During Advent we have a paraklesis every Wednesday, then a short teaching, then a soup dinner… Homemade bread is always welcome and it’s great to see the folks enjoying it with such vigor during this time of fasting.

Yesterday I shared a loaf of French bread with Kh. Jan, Father Nicholas and their dinner guests. They are the ultimate givers. If I could, I’d make them a loaf of bread every day.

And there’s the rub. Even though I’m enjoying baking bread and giving it away in these small doses, I’m struggling that we’re not doing more. So many pleas are coming in the mail and we just can’t write any more checks. And it’s freezing at night, literally, and despite California being a haven for homeless folks, freezing weather is freezing weather. And when it rains, I feel guilty, sitting here sipping my tea, Dragon Tales on in the background, the dishwasher and heater humming…

Last week I met a young girl who held a sign asking for help. I stopped. I didn’t used to stop. I chatted with her and heard a bit of her story. She was so cute with her clean, round face surrounded by a colorful knit Scandinavian hat. I asked her her name and took her phone number–said I’d call. Even thought about offering my office as a place to sleep.

For days I felt guilty, her name coming to mind over and over–and yet I wouldn’t call. On the one hand my heart seems to be softening and on the other hand I see just how hard I am.

So, it continues to rain, and I continue to bake, and drink my green tea in my cozy home.

My friend, who works with the homeless day in and day out, says you just need to be satisfied with what you can do right now. That the guilt can overwhelm you and drag you under.

Baby steps.

The thought of Cheyenne weighs heavy on my mind. I never should have said I’d call–it was a false thing to do–just something that made me feel oh-so pleased with myself at the moment. I deserve an entire lecture on good intentions.

If you have any words of wisdom for stormy days like this–I’d love to hear your thoughts…

My Long Lost Sourdough

Giant three pound loaf of pain a la Suzanne–made two nights in a row–first night only unbleached flour with some starter, second night, added some rye and whole wheat, plus sour…

Mixed: 9:45 pm at night

Folded: 12:45 pm next day

Molded: 1 pm

Baked: 3 pm

Gave: first loaf to brand new neighbor across the street (she just moved in and already has her Christmas tree up!), second loaf to the Harris Family, who are much bigger and better givers than I’ll ever be…

After rising over night

Sitting for the two-hour rise

Hot and in the pot

I’ve already told you that I grew up as a baker’s daughter. The bakery was not a small artisinal shop on a corner, it was a large operation that sat on an entire city block in Venice, CA. Pioneer French Baking Company began in 1908–so bread was plentiful in our home, even when shoes were not.

Our family’s bakery made hundreds of different types and shapes of bread. From Squaw bread to classic French to sourdough. Our sourdough was famous all through Southern California–made the old fashioned way with only patience to allow the yeast to work, not commercial additives–and it’s the bread that my father brought home most days when he returned from work. I ate a lot of sourdough growing up.

Then, I left the house, and moved to the Bay Area. There was plenty of sourdough there to keep me happy.

But alas, when my husband and I moved to Colorado for an eight-year stint, despite the fact that we were in the “bread basket” of the States… we were in Wonder Bread heaven. It was depressing…

My dad even flew out for a two-day baking retreat to try and teach me how to bake sour in my own kitchen. We bought all the necessary equipment: wooden bowls for keeping the sour alive, special flour with high protein content, dough scrapers, etc… And yet, all I could manage to make were golden weapons. Beautiful baguettes that never rose properly, that weighed much more than I did–I would lean them by my front door to use as a weapon for bad guys.

Now, I’ve returned to California and have improved in my baking skills slowly. There’s plenty of good bread to choose from–all around me–not just coming out of my own oven.

Look at that delicious crumb!

But!!! I’ve finally been able to produce a loaf of sourdough that mimicks that amazing bread from my childhood. Made in an unconventional way–this No Knead recipe I’ve mentioned a few posts back that I’m calling Pain a la Suzanne–has me completely captured!

So, for you sourdough enthusiasts who live in Wonder Bread world… I urge you to give this one a go. You’ll need to follow the recipe here: No Knead Dough Recipe

and add a bit of sourdough starter to the initial mix (I’ve been adding about 1/2 cup). Despite all my excitement about using our ancient starter from France, you (really :)) don’t need all that nostalgia to make a good one. Just a bit of flour, water and time. There’s good information for making sour here: Sourdough Starter information though it is not the only way of doing it. There are resources all over the web…

Three pounds of sourdough--yum

So, what about you? What sorts of things do you make from scratch because you just can’t find the same thing on the market? And how long did it take for you to perfect it? Me and sourdough–well, perfect isn’t the best word, but looking back, it’s been about twenty years of trying…

Twenty years. Not bad!