Bread for the Enemy

Many months ago I mused about my love for pomegranates. I wrote: “…And if you know me, I’ve tumbled across many a punica granatum. I hunt them out. I track them down. And I sit, and admire the red fruit from the car; it’s the thing that most tempts me toward thievery.”

So, wouldn’t you  know, that very thing–thievery–has come to strike my own tree, my own yard… Thieves have been about, and I’m not happy. Though I have thought about taking someone else’s fruit–yes, thought… I have never actually reached out and plucked.

But the story gets more sad and dreadful. Our beloved pomegranate tree is dying a slow but, it seems, inevitable death…

My husband and I have been using all our horticultural intellect to try to figure out the cause of this sad happening… The pomegranate tree (my favorite of all childhood fruits) a tree that was a birthday present many years ago from my parents–is just about at the branch-brittle stage. All summer we’ve watched our tree turn from green and lush

to weak and woeful…

Throughout this slow process of dying, the tree somehow managed to keep on its limbs about six pomegranates. We’ve picked one off a branch that was obviously dead, and were just about to pick two very round and gorgeous fruit that had fully ripened, but…

We returned from a long afternoon away, and the fruit was gone.

What sadness! Not only for the loss of the fruit, maybe the last fruit we would pick from that beloved tree, but sadness for the person who reached high into the branches, snitched the fruit, and tiptoed away.

What I’d really like to do is bake a nice loaf of sourdough for this person… They must need a friendly neighbor, a little dose of love, and I’d like to be someone who reaches out… Last Sunday in church, our pastor exhorted us to keep a peaceful heart–to hold captive any thoughts that enter your mind that might disturb the peace we so desperately need. “Hold those thoughts captive, and reject them!” I don’t want to think unhappy thoughts about you, my thief… So, if you swiped my pomegranates, and are reading this, leave a note on my porch, designate a time and place for the bread drop off, and I’ll bake for you.

Really. I will.

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Apples–Indian Summer Style

Two loaves of molasses bread

Brought some on our apple picking adventure to share…

It was hot at Apple Lane Farm in Solvang. Really hot. Look at those sweet red cheeks…

We were picking golden delicious–just love how there’s moss growing on these beautiful trees.

I’ve always wanted to care for an orchard of fruit trees. Anyone have an orchard that needs caring for?

And every tree needs its own St Brigid’s cross nesting in the branches. I made this one from hay while waiting for the picking to get started…

After apple picking, we scuttled over to the gazebo in Solvang and had a picnic. The molasses bread made the rounds.

Did I mention it was HOT? All summer folks complained about the constant fog and cool weather. Well, we’re getting a whole dose of summer packed into just a couple of days. Indian Summer is here and I’ll be sleeping with an ice pack under my knees tonight!

More hot to come–tomorrow I’m going to try baking bread in my car. It’s LIKE an oven in there!!!

Tuna for a Cracker

Olive Oil Crackers

Yes, I bake, but my husband is a fabulous fellow in the kitchen, someone who dances between the spice cabinet and the pantry, music blaring, wooden spoons dipping in and out of delicious sauces. He does all of the evening cooking around here, and I’m noticing that John Ronan is becoming something of a miniature version of my husband. They are often found together at 5pm, both clad in aprons, concocting dishes for dinner. I wasn’t surprised the other day when I came in from working in the garden and the little one had emptied the bottom half of the spice cabinet onto the island.

“I want to make something,” he announced with a broad grin. “With all of these!!!”

I don’t typically like disorderly clutter, but after three kids you learn that most piles have a lot to do with learning. After a deep breath, I racked my brain, trying to think of something we could make with that odd assortment of sesame seeds, sea salt, chili pepper, dried herbs, garlic, etc… Thankfully the light bulb flickered on. I had an olive oil cracker recipe that I’d wanted to try for a while, so I got to mixing, and voila!

CRACKERS! (By the way, that one with all the chili pepper on it was HOT!)

For toppings we used: sea salt, sesame and poppy seeds, garlic powder, piment d’Espelette (that’s the hot chili peppper) herbes de Provence, Italian herb mix and shaved parmesan. (Notice the three burnt crackers. I’m well known for burning things…)

The story only gets better. I really couldn’t imagine who we could share these trial by error crackers with–but then, our neighbor, Steve showed up on our porch, holding a raw filet of tuna that had just been caught in the channel. Steve’s the sort of mellow fellow who shows up on your doorstep with raw fish–AND who is willing to try anything made by the hands of a four-year-old. “Have a cracker!” I told Steve as he presented us his catch.

He ate a cracker dusted with sea salt.

And we had delicious fresh tuna for dinner.

Thanks, Steve!

Let Them Bake Bread!

Baked all day with a host of munchkins

Many years ago, my husband and I helped found a small, classical school here in Santa Barbara. SJDA (Saint John of Damascus Academy) is still hanging in there, providing a wonderful education for families who value a small, private setting, engaged teachers, and the classical method. Both of my older children spent all their early years at this school, so it’s fun to give back when I can.

The class above has embarked on a long journey into the Middle Ages this September, so I was called upon to apprentice young bakers, using the methods and ingredients that you would find during Saint Brigid’s day. I’ve done quite a lot of research into bread baking during the early Middle Ages (see my posts from January 2010), so it was fun to share my knowledge with these eager learners.

First they chose flours–we had whole wheat, barley–plus some oat, rye, barley and wheat flakes available.

Then they added yeast (we used both dry active yeast and some of my brewer’s yeast starter).

Then sea salt that I made right here in my own backyard.

And finally, a choice of water, honey, and buttermilk (they were allowed to choose what proportion of each…).

Once all the ingredients were in their respective bowls, they set to mixing…

and kneading…

and waiting…

They sang with Mrs Sereda while the dough was rising, then climbed into the trees to read.

Then they molded the dough, and John Ronan blew bubbles.

From 9-2 we hung out, working, laughing, playing, singing, reading… And at the end of the day, each young apprentice had a loaf of bread, made with his or her own two hands, ready to taste and share… They were amazing. All kids, given the chance, are amazing.

Don’t you think?

Quilted Gifts

Two loaves of brown buttermilk bread

Mixed: 7:30 pm

Molded: 10:00 am next day

Baked: 11:50

Gave to a quilting friend

One of my very favorite children’s books is The Quiltmaker’s Gift. A friend sent a copy to us several years ago and it’s a wonderful repeat read, a story you never tire of, no matter how old you might be. I read it the other day to my four-year-old, who immediately wanted me to read the prequel, The Quiltmaker’s Journey. They’re both lovely…

If you haven’t seen or read this book yet, find it and tuck a child next to you, and read! It’s a story about an old woman who makes beautiful quilts and finds people who are on the street and in need, and gives them away. She doesn’t sell her quilts, or barter them, and this angers the king, who loves getting things–not giving… Over time the king learns to give, but I don’t want to give it all away. This quiltmaker is the ultimate giver. A much better giver than I’ll ever be…

I was baking some buttermilk and Guinness beer bread and wanted to share a loaf with a quilter. Immediately I thought of a friend who sewed a lovely flannel quilt for my little one when he was born. I love people who sew–they are so amazingly creative and brave! I wish I were more courageous, and maybe someday I will be, but right now I simply sew things in straight lines, like this sweet little napkin that I worked on a few weeks ago. This was before the scones…

Here’s the after 🙂

So, if you’re in the market for children’s picture books, consider these two lovely choices. The illustrations are so marvelous you can peer over them for hours–and if you know any quilters–these two books are sure winners.

And if you’re in the mood for buttermilk beer bread

sew a quilt, give it away, and, somehow, I’ll find you!

Farmer’s Market Fundraising

All week I’ve been baking and giving. Molasses bread, a new challa recipe with sesame and anise, sourdough… They’ve all turned out nicely, and I’ve given the extra loaves to good friends.

But one day of giving especially stands out for me–and I want to share it even though I TOOK NO PHOTOGRAPHS! It was so odd. I brought my camera, tucked it into the cutest little straw basket, but I was so caught up in the moment I forgot to be an observer, and instead was a happy, wandering, purchasing participant…

Our church decided to have a Farmer’s Market right after the service this last Sunday. People from the parish brought all sorts of garden goodies: lemons and limes, oranges, avocados, bags of lettuce, buckets of strawberries, guava, apples, tomatoes, zucchini, homemade granola and salsa… The list goes on, and all out of our own gardens and kitchens. So fun. Because our figs are not yet ripe, and our oranges aren’t terribly plentiful, and because my pomegranate tree is struggling (!!! such sadness) I decided to bake several loaves of bread and bring them to the table.

I started the bread the night before, (using the no-knead recipe, adding in some of my sour starter) mixing up two 1 lb loaves of sourdough, and one giant, 3 lb loaf. I rose early on Sunday and molded, then baked them off. Ooooohh, our car smelled so very yummy while driving to church.

All the money ($843!!!) from the sale went to the Pastor’s Fund, which our church uses to help send kids to camp, to use in emergencies, etc… The reaction from the church folk was crazy! Everyone was buying up the goods, talking about their gardens and trees. It was an ultimate Woman and the Wheat experience!

I hope I’ve inspired you to think about doing this in your own community. Folks are always looking for fundraisers that don’t hurt…

And today, after I ate some homemade granola, I pulled my camera out of my little straw basket

and shot a photo of some of the goodies we snatched up.

Next time I’m hoping I’ll remember to both shop, and shoot. We’ll see!

Rye Crackers–Recipe

These crackers disappear way too fast. My husband and I are plotting an afternoon when all hands will be on deck–and we’ll quadruple the recipe, setting up an assembly line with the hopes that we’ll be able to store some away-and even SHARE some… This last batch–I ate three myself, gave three to a friend, and the rest disappeared into the tummies of my children.

I adapted this recipe from three various cracker recipes that I fiddled with, and the result is a hyper pungent mix of rye, caraway and cumin. My kids don’t particularly like any of those ingredients, but somehow these come out too savory to resist. If you decide to give them a whirl–I hope you enjoy them, too!

Time Commitment: About an hour

Tools you need:
  • cookie sheets
  • rolling pin
  • sharp knife
  • I use an electric mixer for this recipe, but it can be easily mixed by hand

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup unbleached flour
  • 1 cup rye flour
  • 1 tablespoon caraway seed
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1/2 teaspoon sea salt
  • 1/3 cup oil (I use canola)
  • 1/3 cup milk
  • 1 tablespoon molasses
What to do:

Step One: Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Combine all dry ingredients–mix.

Step Two: Add oil, milk, and molasses. Mix until it all comes together in crumbles and you can mold it into a ball with your hands. If needed, add another tablespoon or two of milk.

Step Three: (This photo makes it look like food for a pooch! Makes me miss my Zeke…) Take a fist-sized ball of dough and roll it out onto a clean, un-floured surface with a rolling pin–until cracker thin… 1/8 to 1/4 inch thick. (I don’t like using flour at this stage while I’m playing with the rolling pin, so, in order for the dough not to stick to surfaces I flip it over often…) Keep rolling and cutting until all the dough is used. Either cut into cracker-like squares with a sharp knife

or use your favorite cookie cutter and make hippos or hearts with the dough 🙂

Step Four: Transfer the dough from the counter to the cookie sheet. I use a sharp knife to help me lift the dough.

Step Five: Bake in the 350 degree oven for about 15 minutes, until slightly golden brown.

Step Six: Cool on a rack–then hide most of them so they don’t get gobbled too quickly!