Baking… Books

Two loaves of French bread

Mixed: 2:45 pm

Molded: 5:15 pm

Baked: 6 pm

Gave extra loaf to Glenn

It’s hard to choose my favorite part of the bread baking process. Like writing, there are parts of the process that are prayerful, parts that require patience, and other parts that get you jumping up and down. I love how bread baking and the writer’s life match up in so many ways…

  • Assemble the ingredients, flour, water, salt and yeast=Research and write your rough draft–let the ingredients–and writing–fly all over the kitchen, and don’t worry about the mess!
  • Knead the dough until its silky smooth=Massage the story, play with the words–this is a prayerful time for me, both while kneading and while editing.
  • Let the dough rise=Walk away from the story and let it sit and ferment. This requires patience and a sense of moving on to another task for some portion of time.
  • Mold the dough into its final shape=Edit. I love editing. This part of writing involves finding  just the right shape for a written piece, and refining the individual words…
  • Bake=Give your work to others to critique. Put it to the fire test, to the heat of the oven and allow the criticism to bake out all the impurities of your writing!
  • Eat it–or better yet, give that bread away!=Send out your work. Let others read it and be blessed, or simply say it’s done and tuck it away. But always move on to the next project. If it ends up being published, then that’s just the icing on the… bread!

Today an interview on my writing life has been posted on the Examiner.com, which is an online news service that has more than 7 million readers. I’m humbled that I was asked to do the interview, and another interview, on the topic of this bread blog, will be featured next week. Here’s the link to the interview.

Sending you blessings and love… as I bake, and write…

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Spring Giving

Two loaves, one sour rye for us, one plain French, to give

Mixed: 9:45 pm

Molded: 1:15 pm next day

Baked: 3:35 pm

Gave to: Karen–neighbor down the way with the beautiful fig tree

Spring is all around. Our plum tree is in full bloom, the pomegranate has the sweetest little leaves covering its open branches, and the nasturtiums are beginning to take over the back fence. And Easter–our beloved Pascha–is just around the bend. There is so much to celebrate–and Spring is giving in abundance.

Today, we were hoping to celebrate our bread giving by sending a large loaf to the triplets down the road. It has been two weeks now since I promised them something, but have continually been sidelined by conflicting schedules. Yet again, we knocked on their rustic green door, warm bread in hand, but no one was home.

‘Okay. Where to now?” I asked my four-year old apprentice.

“There!” He pointed across the street to an empty-looking house. No lights. No cars around…

“Hmmm,” I mumbled. “Don’t think there’s anyone home to enjoy this warm loaf of bread.”

“How about there!”

A car was just pulling into the driveway of the house on the far corner, which has the fig tree out front that we always admire. We have never met this neighbor. She lives outside our nine-house radius… “Run and say hi,” I urged John Ronan. “Say hi before she gets in the door!”

And he ran.

“Hi!” He said while sprinting with those little Tom Sawyer legs of his. He sped straight across the street. Straight up her driveway. Straight up her steps and caught her as she was just opening the back door.”Hi!” he said again.

“Hi,” she said, smiling, looking around for Part Two of the story.

I caught up to explain about the bread. “Just an extra loaf, since I baked today. We love your fig tree.”

We chatted for a bit while John Ronan hopped across cracks in her driveway. She has lived in the neighborhood for more than ten years–like us–I learned. It was nice to finally meet the owner of that beautiful tree. I always knew she’d be nice. Anyone who grows a fruit tree so close to the street must be nice. She offered for us to take figs whenever we liked.

As we left, the munchkin kept up his crack jumping and said as we walked the block home, “Okay. Let’s go home and bake another loaf of bread so we can give it to the next people.”

“Did you like that?” I asked. “Did you like giving away the bread?”

“Of course!” he said, as if I was crazy for asking.

And I was crazy for asking. It’s spring, and the spirit of giving is in the sights and the scents all around. Nature is setting the right kind of example at every turn.

And who wouldn’t want to cruise the neighborhood and make friends and give away bread? Four-year olds are so smart.

“All right,” I said to my small companion…”Shall we race back to the kitchen?”

And we did.

Ingredients: Additives

Two loaves of sourdough

Mixed: 9:15 pm

Molded: 3:30 pm next day

Baked: 5:30 pm

Gave one to Dr R, ate the other with our tomato soup

A picture speaks a thousand  ingredients…

Most commercial breads have a shelf life of ten days. When you bake bread at home, using flour, water, salt and yeast, your bread doesn’t need much of a shelf life at all. You can simply enjoy it when it’s warm, eat it as toast the next day, and make croutons or bread crumbs if any is left over. Since we bake very little for our own consumption–about one loaf every two to three days for five people, we rarely have stale bread on our hands. And I’ve certainly never had a leftover loaf of bread grow mold!

Even if you’re not interested in making your own bread, I’d encourage you to purchase breads not made with preservatives. The added ingredients on a package of bread are there to prevent the growth of mold, help the manufacturers create a more uniform and “cloned” product, and to add to the flavor… They are not mixed into the dough, with love, for the benefit of the consumer, but for the profitability of the producer…

Just so you know.

Recipe–Jane’s Happy Mutt Chocolate Chip Cookies

From: This is my own mutation/creation, taken from the traditional chocolate chip recipe… I made these today to take to school in honor of Saint Patrick–thus the little green peanut m&m on the top of the cookies… (Very chic, I know…) Since it’s Lent, I abstained from eating one–but only because my mouth was numb from a trip to the dentist. God saved me!


Time Commitment: If you’re fast, then around thirty minutes

These cookies are tasty. And I trick the kids by hiding all sorts of good-for-you-things inside… Makes about 12-16 cookies. This recipe is easily doubled or tripled or quintupled

Tools you need:
  • I use a Kitchen-Aid mixer–but could be mixed by hand in a bowl, with a wooden spoon
  • Two cookie sheets
  • an oven 🙂

Ingredients:

  • 1 stick of butter–softened
  • 1/3 cup each–brown sugar, granulated sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 egg
  • 1 cup plus a pinch of unbleached flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 2/3 cup chocolate chips
  • Optional: 1/3 cup almond meal, 1/2 cup oats, 1 teaspoon or more flax seeds, 1/3 cup chopped walnuts or pecans, 1/4 cup shredded coconut, 1 tablespoon wheat germ, 1 teaspoon bran, etc…  I usually put most of this in. Always the oats and almond meal.
What to do:

Step One: Preheat oven to 375 degrees. (If you have convection, use it!)

Step Two: Mix butter and sugars until creamy. Add egg and vanilla and mix some more.

Step Three: Add dry ingredients–I don’t think it really matters what order they go in.

Step Four: Onto the cookie sheet.

Step Five: Bake in the preheated oven for 12 minutes, or until golden on top. (If you have convection, bake for 8-10 minutes–this is my preferred mode of baking chocolate chip cookies. They come out almost too delicious…)

Step Six: Cool on rack.

Step Seven: Eat one, give one away, store one away to eat with your morning cup of green tea.

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. I found the free download of the cookie song at www.freekidsmusic.com . “Cookie Batch” is recorded by The Tomato Collection, and they have their own website–and must be pretty cool folks to write a song like that. www.tomatocollection.com I also know that eating raw cookie dough could get you sick–so eat it at your own risk… 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.”

Ultimate Friday Giveaway

Been baking all week

My daughter requested a loaf of French bread for her birthday.

That was Tuesday…

My husband wanted to take another giant loaf of sourdough to Renato, the owner of his favorite coffee spot, Via Maestra, but this time not force him to eat it. Here it is below, before it took the short trip from our home to the coffee shop down the road. (See this post–A Tribute to Community–for the earlier story)

That was Wednesday, and here it is on display in Via Maestra 🙂

And Friday turned into Ultimate Bread Giveaway Day. I needed to drive my daughter to LA; she was invited to spend the weekend with her cousins. My brother, whose bakery now has all the health certificates you could ever ask for, will begin delivering bread to customers on Tuesday. They’ve been baking up a storm these last two months, with no one to eat all the product, so it just ends up everywhere–mostly given to the mayor of Hawthorne where the bakery is–who then takes it to the city’s soup kitchen and homeless shelter. When my brother showed up at his house with two giant bags of the most gorgeous sourdough, I was happy to take a loaf, or seven!

I then gave out three loaves at my son’s school. Gave one loaf to a lady walking down the street, and we’re eating a giant loaf of rye right now…Just had an avocado and roasted red pepper sandwich. Here’s a photo of some of the amazing loaves of bread coming out of Etxea Bakery.

I still haven’t given any bread to the triplets down the way.

Oh, oh…. and my daughter helped me gather some sea water at Butterfly Beach. We’re going to make our very own Santa Barbara sea salt. More posts on that as we progress, but until then, three cheers for Madeleine who braved some very, very cold water to humor her wacky mother.

Okay everyone, that’s my bread giving week. Let’s just keep chugging along together, giving to others as we can. I’d love to hear your stories…

Cheers!

Simple Giving

New French bread recipe

One mix, three rises, short bake

First batch given to neighbor–Bob

Second batch given to a woman out for a walk

I’ve been trying a new bread recipe this week. Fiddling with a mix of flour, water, salt, and yeast that is famous in Provence, France. Once I understand the method a bit better–I’ll share the recipe with you here.

One of the many things I love about baking is the simplicity of the ingredients. As I move from the cupboard to the bowl and back again, measuring and sifting and sprinkling in the salt, I always recite those four ingredients in my head. Flour, water, salt, yeast.–so few ingredients, yet each one so essential to the final loaf.

I’ve been blogging less, now that it’s Lent, but baking just as much. And my adventures in giving have continued. On Tuesday I had an extra French boule, and set out to give it to a neighbor, who lives in a charming little house on the corner, but whom we see only now and again. I don’t even know her name.

But she wasn’t home.

Just down the street, only a block away, three little munchkins, all five years old–triplets–were running and shouting and cavorting in the street. It was easy to walk their way, toward their laughter. Two neighbors were talking. Two men I’ve never met. How can we have lived here in this neighborhood for ten years and still know so few?! It shames me.

I approached the grownups and introduced myself. “Who wants a warm loaf of bread?” I asked, smiling. The loaf was small, so I handed it to the single man who lives in the house with all the beautiful succulents that we admire. He introduced himself as Bob. I then met Mark, the father of the triplets; they live across from Bob and have the sweetest little home that has a forty foot palm tree hovering over it, and ranunculas that come up each spring. I promised them a bigger loaf in a few days. It was about time I had made a move toward neighborliness…

On Friday, another loaf of warm French bread in hand, (but still too small a loaf for the triplet family) I picked up my two big kids and some of their friends from school. We looked for someone on the street to give it to and eventually found a mom sitting by a stroller, looking tired, looking strained. The newborn was sleeping. I approached her; she was holding a cell phone, but not talking. “I baked an extra loaf of bread today and would like for you to have it. I know what it’s like when you have a newborn in the house.”

She laughed, and took it with a thanks, and the kids and I continued our after-school journey home.

It takes such basic ingredients to bake one loaf of bread. Wheat flour, a foodstuff known to man for thousands of years. Salt, a mineral used in every culture, in every land. Yeast, found in the very air around us. And water.

And giving is just as simple. A walk down the street. A knock on the door, or a wave of the hand. A word or two, and a smile. A quick exchange–the bread passing from my hand to another’s.

I find this time of giving, during Lent, when we seek to strip ourselves of all the extras, as especially poignant. Flour, water, salt, yeast.

Walk. Greet. Smile. Give. It makes me want to sing that old shaker tune…

Hum with me:

‘Tis the gift to be simple, ’tis the gift to be free,

‘Tis the gift to come down where we ought to be,
And when we find ourselves in the place just right,

‘Twill be in the valley of love and delight.
When true simplicity is gain’d,

To bow and to bend we shan’t be asham’d,
To turn, turn will be our delight,

Till by turning, turning we come round right.