Kumquat Adventures

Two loaves of kumquat bread

Mixed and baked: 4 pm

Gave second loaf to Kh. Jan

We have a kumquat tree

I love kumquats. They are a unique little citrus–you eat them whole, right off the tree, peel and all. The inner layer of the peel is the sweetest part of the fruit, with the juice being extremely sour. If you like super sour candy, then here is a natural version for you to try…

Our tree is exploding with fruit so I spend hours de-seeding, then blending the fruit so I can use it in many different ways. I add the blend to my chocolate chip cookies (so good!), I make a kumquat nut bread (here\’s the recipe), and sometimes we mix it with other fruit to make smoothies. It’s powerful stuff, and so delicious!

Here’s what it looks like once it’s blended

Anyway, today I was de-seeding another batch of fruit and decided to pop one in my mouth. I tripped, and inhaled quite a lot of juice into my windpipe, and for the first time in my life I couldn’t breathe. I doubled over in the hall, and couldn’t breathe in; I couldn’t breathe out, nor could I cough. I knew holding my breath wasn’t an option for too long, so I forced myself to inhale. No air, just a constricting and burning feeling, and a strange curiosity at how the juice was forming some sort of bubble or cover or cap in my trachea… I forced myself to cough, but the reflex didn’t respond. So odd! I was stuck.

Again, I forced myself to inhale and a horrible, desperate sound came from my throat. I tried again, and it hurt, but I could tell that a tiny bit of oxygen was getting through because my vision, which was turning fuzzy, cleared. My husband bent near to help, and the little one kept asking if I was okay, but what could they do?

I inhaled again. Oh, it was awful.

Finally, the whole mess in my lungs started to ease. I’ll spare you the details. I have a new appreciation for those who have asthma attacks. Not breathing is very disturbing…

A half hour after I’d recovered, and could manage a few basic sentences, I left the rest of the gang home and went to vespers alone. I lit a candle for everyone, even one for me, grateful for the lovely, easy air we breathe night and day. And then I gave the second loaf of kumquat bread to my daughter’s godmama, who is always ready with a hug and bursting with good cheer…

And now I’m home, seeing everything around me with an intensified sense of awe and thanks.

Amazing what the juice of one little kumquat can do…


Reflections on Giving-July 2010

Two rosemary boules

Mixed: 8:30 pm

Molded: 7:30 am

Baked: 11 am

Lately I’ve been wanting to take a moment and reflect on this blog. After all, my bread baking and giving has been an experiment; it only seems right to step back and take stock and see what sort of path I’m heading down…

Right after I launched the blog, I struggled with the realization that I am broadcasting my efforts in good works to the world. That instead of opening up my heart more to my neighbors, and concentrating just on that, quietly, and secretly…  that instead, I set myself up to give publicly, which could very well lead to the equivalent of  taking a daily dose of pride pills. I’m not in need of any more selfish pride… While wrestling with these thoughts I ran across words like, “clanging gong” and “pharisee” too frequently for my comfort. Was God trying to tell me something?

I prayed and struggled with this for quite some time. I spoke with my husband, and with friends, then finally set up a time with my priest to specifically discuss this. He encouraged me to continue the blog, and reminded me that absolutely every good thing we do can be a source of pride and temptation. The key is our response–it’s how we internalize a compliment or a word of praise. It’s whether I allow prideful thoughts to seep in and corrupt this fun experiment I’ve embarked on.

The photo of the loaf of bread above is a fairly true portrait of how things have gone these last eight months. Round, edible, almost ugly, but sanctified… For this particular batch I intended to mix and mold the bread in the evening, but forgot about the mix and found it in the morning, overflowing the bowl I had started it in. Rescue mode. I reworked the dough, revitalizing the yeast with a bit of new flour, then molded and finally baked the bread. Overall the two loaves of rosemary bread came out fine, even give-able, sanctified by the prayers kneaded in and the cross scratched into the crust, but not beautiful. Certainly not beautiful.

Beauty is an ultimate goal of mine each day: Can I be beautiful in the way I act toward my children, toward my husband, toward those I encounter when I’m out and about? Can I bring some beauty into our home, for us to behold and admire, which might lead us to praise God? Can I be beautiful in my prayers, in the way I work, in how I answer the phone and respond to email?

Much of what I’ve done these last eight months has been functional, passable; and, for the most part, sanctified by prayer, apologies and confession. But true beauty is hard for me to manage often. Odd things, very odd things pop in to distract me. I don’t pay enough attention to the little one, or criticize my daughter too often about her habits, or lose strength and just get snippy! Ugh… the yeast is at work, it’s overflowing the bowl and things are going awry! I have to backtrack, move into rescue mode and get back on the path. I have to say extra prayers, cross myself and move on. And the end product is rarely beautiful, but I pray it is sanctified, saved…I pray that even though my actions aren’t always fully beautiful, that there’s a bit of Christ eeking out of me into the world…

There’s a whole layer of my life that I’ve intentionally left out of this blog. I’m hoping to inspire others, not to depress, and so I’ve often written a post these last few months, then deleted it. From January until June I underwent some unexpected trials and I chose not to share them with you. I couldn’t see what good would come of my complaints. But now that I’m on the other end of the struggle, I can see some of the learning, with hopefully more to come.

I have struggled with a thyroid condition for fifteen years. It’s not terribly difficult to control and I’ve been on an even track for a long while now. But in January, my pharmacy accidentally gave me the wrong medication. For three months I slipped–lower, lower, lower, lower, lower… All the while Lent was pressing in on me, and I struggled to stay afloat. I thought I was raging one of the most difficult spiritual battles of my life. It’s true, I was. For I believe that your body, and mind, and your soul are all interrelated and share in the task of keeping one sane and healthy. But this battle wasn’t solely spiritual, as I’d thought. On Holy Friday I got a call from my doctor. Your thyroid numbers are really off, Jane. Really off. Deadly off. I had never been so relieved to hear such bad news in my life!

During this time when my body was sinking further and further into non-activity (when your thyroid stops working your whole system slows, just like yeast does when you stick it into the fridge!)… I was able to keep baking! Baking and giving. When I had very little energy to even smile, or stay alert while driving, God somehow gave me what I needed to reach out and do something for others. This was a huge encouragement to me, and proof of God’s mercy on me. My numbers were so low that I should have been sleeping almost all the day through, like a little newborn… Many scary symptoms began to show their heads, but I was given the strength to homeschool my daughter, to traipse my kids back and forth across town when I was half asleep, and to not crack into a million pieces.

So, here I am, feeling human again, writing again, smiling again, and so very thankful for my returned health. And though living the perfect day, or making the perfect loaf of bread is a rarity, maybe even an impossibility, it’s worth it to keep pressing forward, asking God’s help all the while. You never know what sort of life secrets you will learn when you’re in the midst of struggle. I’d love for you to share some of the secrets you’ve learned.

In the meantime…

gotta run; bread’s on the rise.

World Cup Bread–Spain vs Netherlands

Six loaves of Tijgerbrood (Tiger Bread) or Dutch Crunch

Mixed: 10:30 am

Molded: 11:50 am

Baked: 12:30 pm

Gave to Mark, Michele and family, two Bodnars and two Shannons

I was definitely a good sharer this day–and if I’d known how good this Dutch bread would be, hmmmm, I might have sided with the stingier me. Horray for innocence!

Okay, there were four teams in the semi-finals of the World Cup. Uruguay, and I posted about that country’s bread choices just yesterday; Germany, and I really did make a German sourdough rye, but it was so awful to look at that I kept my camera hidden until it was eaten; the Netherlands, and you’ll hear more about their bread in a moment; and Spain.

Spain. We raced home from church to catch most of the final today, and in the past days I dedicated quite a bit of time trying to find a Spanish bread to fiddle with. But the more I looked, the more I realized that the Spanish really are much better when it comes to rice (paella!), and red wine, and Valencia oranges. In one bread book it says that the pan cateto looks like a “squashy cottage loaf,” that the pan gallego is a “rather misshapen round,” and that the ensaimadas look like “little Moorish turbans.” I was not inspired. I was not in the mood to bake little Moorish turbans.

On the other hand, I had quite a good time making a Dutch favorite: tiger bread. Just the name made me curious, and the more I hunted down recipes the more I realized what a really large fan base there is of this Dutch Crunch. People will travel miles for a good loaf, and many will eat this bread every week, for their whole lives.

And indeed, it was delicious! I followed this recipe to the letter and the bread came out beautiful and with no snafus. We shared the six small loaves between 14 people and believe me, there wasn’t one tiny crumb to spare.

So, with Spain winning the world cup, I’m wondering what the regional foodstuffs might tell us about their success.

  • 4th place–Uruguay. The faina deserved 32nd place from the 32 teams, but the sweet anise bread was amazing. HOWEVER, it did have a 1/2 cup of butter in it–not an everyday training bread for the troops.
  • 3rd place–Germany. German sourdough rye can fuel you for a long while, and not kill you with an overdose of fatty stuff… But, it’s kinda ugly.
  • 2nd place–Tijgerbrood. The name is inspiring, and the bread is sooo good. But, maybe the Dutch ate just a few too many slices Sunday morn before the match? I would have.
  • 1st place–Spain. They prefer rice.

Okay, you got me. I don’t know what any of it means. But I did enjoy the weeks of play and especially rooting on those teams who played hard, and creatively,  and clean… Now it’s time for us to call the cable company and remove the television from our lives. I’m looking forward to four years of quiet until 2014 when I’ll find myself baking an international line-up once again.

Predictions anyone?

World Cup Bread–Uruguay

Baked two loaves of Uruguayan sweet anise bread

(Also made some faina…)

Mixed: 8:15 am

Molded: 10:15 am

Baked: 11 am

Gave to Steven and Elaine, nice neighbors who just moved in next door

My husband and I are big soccer fans. Almost geeky in our love for the sport. He played as a child, and we both played for many years as adults. There’s something really addicting about chasing after that black and white ball–and scoring goals. I really loved to score goals 🙂

So, each year when the World Cup comes around we break all our normal television rules, call the cable company for service, and rise at whatever time needed to watch the matches. Yes, geeky in our love…

Anyway, I’m a big South American fan and come the semi-finals I was rooting on Uruguay with fervor. I got so excited about their chances that I decided to look up some Uruguayan bread and bake away. I got even more excited when I found a recipe for a gluten-free flatbread called faina or farinata. It’s a mixture of garbanzo bean flour, parmesan cheese, salt, black pepper and olive oil. It sounded wonderful and I was ready to pass on this great new find to all my gluten-intolerant pals. But… the faina is pretty near horrible stuff. I made it two nights ago and everyone in the family gave it a willing whirl. The comments that passed around the table went like this: “disgusting,” “awful,” “how could you?!”

I began to despair for Uruguay. If this is what the team is fed on then no wonder they lost to the Netherlands.

Here it is–I made a tower out of the pieces that I cut into cracker-like shapes. I’m not sure what else to do with it–except play. The kids said it might make a good Lord of the Rings lembas if we were in an epic tale of despair versus hope, (and that we would win by feeding it to the bad guys) but….

Ahhh, but I gave the Uruguayans a second chance with the Sweet Anise Bread recipe that I found. I fiddled and adjusted a few things, and wow, what a delicious bread! I was happy to share with our brand new neighbors on the corner, which led to an afternoon of getting to know them–a blessing we haven’t had from tenants in that house in a long time.

So, Germany and Uruguay play in just a few hours. Depending on the outcome, I think I’ll know which bread they ate for breakfast before the match.

Forgiveness Bread

Two loaves of no-knead sourdough

Mixed: 9:30 pm

Molded: 10:15 am next day

Baked: 12:45 pm

Gave to neighbor over the hedge

I knew when my young son was given the shiny yellow motorcycle, that he wouldn’t possess it for long. The railing on the balcony looked too enticing and I’d seen toy after toy, rock after rock, ball after ball zoom over barriers: hedges, fences, rock walls, anything that had another side.

He was not quite two, and he held the toy for maybe three seconds, then whiiiizzzz it went over the balcony of the giant cruise boat, into the super deep blue of the Pacific.

So yesterday I wasn’t surprised to find John Ronan throwing several of his beach toys over the ten foot hedge that borders our neighbors. Buckets, shovels (large shovels!), sifters, rakes… they all made their way up and over while I was cleaning indoors. Our neighbor doesn’t like this. Even if my son is cute, and willingly says he is sorry; this passion of his is getting old.

Since he was just a baby one of his favorite activities is seeing things destroyed or launched abroad. How many times have I built an amazing block tower or marble track to only appreciate it for a millisecond before it tumbles to the ground? I’m not always sure what to do with this love of his–we try to curtail the destructive part, but even when we play catch he prefers to whip the ball full speed off into the distance than to aim with accuracy at his fellow player.

My weekly beach days are not just to appreciate the beauty of the water and the feel of the sand on my feet, but to allow my little fellow to get in some good throwing time…

Anyway, I asked his help as I made the bread today–letting our future pitcher know that it’s time to do something constructive for our nice and patient neighbors… He sort of helped, but better than that he was more than willing to write a card, and come with me to deliver the bread. I quote-he dictated…

Dear Bob and Georgie:

I am sorry I threw the stuff. I hope you like the bread. I will not ever throw anything over the hedge again.