Straight Ahead

Two sourdough rounds

Mixed: 7:45 am (but first I activated the sourdough starter, as an experiment the evening before, by mixing in some fresh water and flour)

Molded: 4 pm same day

Baked: 6 pm same day

I’m still in experiment mode when it comes to making a genuine loaf of sourdough. With my oven pitching fits, I figure, why not fiddle around with the dough and just see what happens?

So, I mixed and kneaded, waited and waited, and molded and waited some more. Sourdough is the perfect fiddle dough. I like that the heat or cold or humidity of the day dictates when the bread will be finished. Sourdough is Adventure Bread.

Anyway, despite having to bake on convection, when I pulled the bread out of the oven it was beautiful.

Who to share with? At 6:45 pm, it’s quite late to run out into the street and find hungry folk. It’s already dark here at that time, and though I contemplated just sitting on the curb to wait for someone to walk by–someone who had an “I-could-use-a-nice-loaf-of-freshly-baked-bread” look, I decided to ask for advice instead.

I asked my husband. “Where to–left or right?” I was thinking that I’d just strike out into the neighborhood until I found someone.

But my husband is not a black and white thinker. “How about straight ahead?” He flashed me a smile.

“Okay,” I said, “Jack or Cindy?” (Since we don’t sit directly opposite one house, but sort of opposite two.)

“Let’s flip!”

So, I tracked down a penny  and tossed it into the air. Tails. Tails meant Jack.

Knocking on Jack’s door I was sure that he’d already had dinner. But, once again, the Law of Giving, which I’m slowly getting to know, proved that indeed Jack was hungry for a warm loaf of sourdough.

Onto the next batch!


You Can Do it, Sam

Baked a huge, buttery batch of cookies. Shared more than half with lots of 13 year-olds…

Teaching a child to share is a major theme in homes where toddlers scoot about. It’s still something we’re working on with our four year-old–hey, it’s something I’M still working on! Since starting this blog, I’ve tumbled across many picture books for little ones that focus on that all-important theme. Not too long ago, I wrote about The Quiltmaker’s Gift, an exceptional book of ultimate giving that should be in every picture book library. I’ve also posted about Easy as Pie; a tale that is not so much about sharing as it is about the fun of baking good and tasty treats.

Since I’m not only a mama who spends lots of time in book stores and libraries, but also an adorer and writer of children’s books, there will undoubtedly be more posts like this as time goes by. Hope you don’t mind!

You Can Do it, Sam is another sweet story that helps inspire little readers to share. Sam and his mama bear decide one snowy morning to bake twelve small cherry cakes. They measure and stir and bake them in the oven, then head out into the neighborhood to share. Sam’s a little bit nervous about being the one to do the giving.

Mrs. Bear pulled up close to the first sleepy house.

Here we are, Sam. I’ll wait here and YOU take the cake.”

“All by myself?” whispered Sam.

“Go, go, go!” Mrs. Bear put her arm around Sam. “You can do it, Sam.”

Cherry cakes! This book is really fun, and has given me ideas to think about for my own giving. First of all, Mama Bear packages the sweet cherry cakes in bright red bags with little tags that say, “A Tasty Surprise.” I’ve been wanting to come up with a unique way to wrap my bread for giving. I’d like it to be simple, and homemade looking, and not expensive. Right now I simply find some brown paper, or an old gift bag, and hand the bread over that way… I’d love your thoughts…

And…. I know just how Sam feels when he’s nervous about giving away his cakes. I feel each and every time an uncertainty about what I’ll say when the door opens, about whether the folks will actually eat the bread–or will think it’s horrible, poisoned, and just toss it into the trash. Sam has to be brave. You can do it, Sam!

You can do it, Jane!

Door Number Three

Two loaves of no-knead sourdough

Mixed: 10:30 pm

Molded: 10 am next day

Baked: 1:40 pm

First, I love the rain. I love overcast days. I love the fog. And the snow. Even hail. We get so little inclement weather here, so anything outside of sunshine and 70 degrees is lovely, and, to me, it beckons adventure.

I love adventure 🙂

I also love to be cozy. Funny how we can love so many things–even things that seem to be opposite one another.

This homeschooling year, Tuesdays are very light teaching days for me. We leave big blocks of time open for heading to the library, or driving to another town to see an exhibit, or for long stretches of research, reading or writing. So… just yesterday, Tuesday, my daughter (the homeschooling one) was deep into books on stress, taking notes for a science paper. Feeling, seeing, smelling the rainy weather, I just knew I had to bake and share some bread. With no teaching to do, John Ronan and I had the whole afternoon free.

By midday, dough that I’d mixed the night before was on its second rise. The little one and I were looking at a blog posting together; he was in a snuggly mood. The author of that blog had written about crafty winter projects. With the munchkin in my lap, we scrolled through the pictures, read the text and out came a grand proclamation, “Mama! Let’s make a Teddy Bear!”

Feeling adventurous (since I’ve never made a Teddy Bear or anything like it) I said, “Well, yes! Let’s make a Teddy Bear.”

Ten minutes later we had downloaded instructions to the funniest little Easter Birdy. I braved the garage and hefted out the sewing storage box, and then hefted out the sewing machine too. I turned on the oven (since the dough was just about finished rising) and…

We started to sew!

She took four happy hours to make. John Ronan followed every step and cheered me on. Just LOVE that boy. And the Easter Birdy had a very eventful afternoon playing on the rocks and swinging next door; she even got to go to preschool today in John Ronan’s ducky lunchbox.

But back to the oven–an oven who was having another off day. BAD oven. It seems the bottom element isn’t heating, except when it feels like it, so when I should have been baking bread at noon, I was finally putting the dough into the right sort of heat 1 hour and 40 minutes later. I’m sure you want to hear all the details…

  • Convection still works so we heated the oven that way. The convection heating element is behind the fan, behind the very back of the oven. The Oven Guy, Jerry, taught me that this week.
  • No-knead bread is very forgiving. You just can’t seem to completely mess it up. This bread had way overproofed (seems to be a habit of mine this week) yet, I tell you, that sourdough was still quite tasty…
  • I burned the top of the bread. Baking on convection will do that. I’m not a convection oven fan. I always think, Now, why would you want to bake something in the very windy, drying heat of the Sahara Desert? I’d prefer to bake behind a protected and heat-radiating rock face on a Greek island…
  • Thankfully, the sourdough that came out of the green pot was less charred looking. I set that loaf aside for the giving…

Fast forward to 5 pm. Cleaned up the scraps from our sewing day. Then…

Knocked on the blue screen door to our right, the loaf of sourdough wrapped in brown paper and tucked under my arm. Nobody home.

Knocked on the bright red door on the corner. No answer.

Knocked on the green door where they grow exotic everything in the front yard. Two year-old Owen answered. Then he knocked down two pumpkins that were sitting on their porch wall. I handed over the sourdough to a very thankful mommy, who then had to run after Owen because he had escaped out to the side yard. I celebrated, on my way home, the meeting of two new neighbors.

What a day. Lots of rain.

Three doors.

Two loaves of sourdough.

And one Easter Birdy.

Thunderclaps and Cheesy Bread

Four French bread recipe boules (with some extra cheesy goodness grated in)

Mixed: 1:45 pm

Molded: 3:15  (had to retard the bread in the fridge while the oven was heating)

Baked: 4:30

Good news and bad news. Bad news. The bread was overproofed–either my yeast is going bad, or I’m just being lame. Good news. It’s raining! Fall has arrived (finally!) and we’ve not only had a bit of rain, but we enjoyed the most dramatic evening  of thunderclaps and lightning. A rare occurrence here. Wonderful. And, well, other good news. My oven heated right up to 500 degrees. Looks like I got lucky, since later in the evening my husband tried to bake a frozen tart, and it never really unfroze. 😦

We’ve been wanting to share a loaf of bread with Carissa and her husband Sean for a long while. Carissa used to babysit John Ronan when he was a babe, and ever since she moved into the neighborhood we’ve hoped to pay her a visit. A cheesy loaf of French bread seemed just perfect for her, so we stopped at her home and yelled out her name from the curb. “Carissa!” We just about left (we usually don’t show up at peoples’ homes and just shout for them, but the front door had a padlock on the handle, which made us think that it wasn’t used, and we didn’t know what else to do..) “Carissa!” Little John Ronan yelled the loudest. Just as we were leaving she burst onto the porch, and we all hugged. Hugs are so very good.

One more loaf to give away. The Heath family often hosts teenagers to play games and watch movies in their very cool, boat-like home up on the hill behind us. I needed to pick my teenage Andrew up, so packed them a loaf of bread as well. Mrs. Heath bakes–so I felt a bit silly bringing her something I’d made, and yet, she announced when I handed over the small boule, “Yay! We’re having stew and didn’t have any bread to go with it!”

Giving is good. Though sometimes I feel uneasy about figuring out where the bread should go, this uneasiness helps me step outside of my selfish skin and keep sharing at the top of my to-do list.

And with more thunderclaps predicted

for thunder and lightning are perfect music to accompany kneading and baking–it looks like I’ll be busy for several more days, dancing in puddles, and handing out loaves of cheesy (and hopefully not overproofed) bread…

To the Beach!

Rosemary boules

Mixed: 12:10 pm

Molded: 2:30 (and overproofed…)

Baked: 3:45 (and underbaked…)

Gave a boule to the Harris Family

This sweet little (overproofed and underbaked) boule is sitting next to me as I drove to the Harris house. I posted last time about my under-performing oven, and this sad little loaf of bread is the result. The Harris’s are all-forgiving, so I knew I could share with them. And I was in the mood for sharing. Thank goodness for friends!

Sharing is contagious. Our neighborhood has become a place of exchange. Lemons for avocados, chicken-sitting for avocados, okay, just take the avocados!!! (By the way, we gladly accept avocados as payment for anything, since we don’t have a tree, but those who have a tree can ONLY eat so much guacamole…)

Anyway, back to the bread, our oven is being quite uncooperative. I baked the rosemary boules at less than an ideal temperature (400 :() I was looking to bake in a neighbor’s oven, but then I turned the oven on and it worked!–sort of… Not really.

So, we had Jerry, the OvenGuy, over to take a look. And guess what? He turned the oven on and it heated to 500 degrees in no time. Figures. ($89)

And of course, you know the story, when we ran a trial run today… It didn’t work.

Okay, we still ate the bread, just like the all the Harris’s did. Here was our dinner:

I’m not even going to talk about it. Life without a properly working oven is pretty lame.

For me anyway…

So, today, instead of baking, despite the fog and the mist, and the overall drizzlyness, we went to the BEACH!!!


Bread on the rise

And no oven to bake in!

It seems the bottom heating element is broken. Guess what? This will be the third bottom element for our seven year-old oven. Hmmmm. Mr. Thermador? Are you out there?

The crisis. My husband is making soup two days in a row. Butternut tonight and a lamb stew tomorrow. Where is soup without bread? (È possibile mangiare la zuppa senza pane? Ma!!! C’est où la soupe sans une belle baguette? Dis moi! Izuko suimono nashi omochi–where soup without rice cakes?!–)


So, I’ve mixed up a batch of dough and all I need is an oven. Halfsies anyone?

Sun Bread

Rosemary Rolls–shared with neighbors

Seed cookies–shared with science class

Sourdough on the rise…

My youngest is attending preschool for the first time, two mornings a week. It’s his first foray out of the house–and his play time gives me a few extra moments to really concentrate on my Madeleine, who is homeschooling this 8th-grade year. The school is just a two-block walk, and they have dance class, and art class, and music class, and a playground with water features! Plus, they get to go to the library… When Madeleine and I walk John Ronan to school, and settle him into class, we always longingly look at each other–wishing we too could stay the day there and play!

Though John Ronan is a clear machine boy–with a penchant for underground pipes, copper downspouts, gears, lights, levers, and pulleys, he’s also a baker’s son, and a baker’s grandson, and a baker’s nephew. Bread abounds in this family, so I laughed when the preschool teachers handed me two books that he had checked out, both about BAKING. Too funny.

The one I particularly liked is Sun Bread by Elisa Kleven. The story begins,

The wind it whooshed, the snow it whirled,

The rain streamed down; it sloshed and swirled

And washed the colors from the world.

The prose is really lovely, and full of humor, and the story centers on a very grey and wintry world that a baker makes bright and cheery by creating a giant loaf of bread that looks like the sun. This world is populated by creatures of all sorts who are invited to share the sun bread,

“The baker’s made a sun!” they cried.

The baker let them all inside…

And filled them up from toe to head

With puffy, hot, delicious bread.

Then, they dance and sing while eating bread, and eventually the sun itself finally comes out to play. The baker’s giant loaf of sun bread reminded me of this loaf that my brother’s made a few weeks ago.

This would be an adorable book to bring out in the middle of winter, just when you and the kids are starting to tire of the white sky and grey clouds… I know it’s only fall now, but the days pass quickly and before we know it, winter will be here!

Meanwhile, I’m off to the preschool to return the book and collect leaves along the way. Our sky is blue today, but I just might shape the sourdough that’s rising into a giant sun anyway!

For a Song

One loaf of no-knead sourdough for Val

Mixed: 8 pm

Molded: 7 am next day

Baked: 8 am

October 1st is the feast day of Saint Romanos, a man who, after being shamed in public, was miraculously granted the gift of composing music. He lived in Constantinople in the fifth century, born only about 40 years after Saint Brigid of Ireland. His story, (and here’s a fairly condense yet dramatic version) highlights the beauties of humility, prayer, and song. Because I admire this saint so much–I’ve actually written a children’s book about him! What fun to dive back into fifth century research and learn about the Byzantine world (how I would LOVE to be transported to ancient Constantinople! Hagia Sophia and the Blachernae church were both wonders…) The story is complete, and I hope to send it out to publishers vite vite!

So… I baked up a yummy loaf of artisan bread for our new choir director at church, Valerie Yova, in honor of Saint Romanos’ feast day. She has brought so much vibrancy and organization to our community, so this is just a small way to say thank you for her efforts. The photo above is from an icon of Saint Romanos that was presented to Valerie before she came to Santa Barbara. It was written by a parish priest in San Diego, her former home…

Valerie is so very knowledgeable in all things regarding church music, and she helped give me some very important leads to Byzantine scholars when I was researching Saint Romanos… She’s just now beginning a course for chanters in Byzantine music. And if you’ve never heard Byzantine music before–head to the Cappella Romana website where they have samplings of many of their recordings. Saint Romanos wrote several of the kontakions that they have sung, and their sound is heavenly…

Lastly, just because it was fun to hop around on Youtube to dig up Byzantine music, here are two Orthodox choirs named after Saint Romanos.

  • A Greek choir in Modesto, CA. Saint Romanos Choir sings a seven-minute version of  O Pure One in Greek.
  • Saint Romanos the Melodist Choir of Melbourne, Australia sings in Arabic during a Paschal celebration.