Prior Novembers

Been baking…

This November has been one of movement for me. I feel like I’ve been in a small canoe, and have had the whole Santa Barbara channel to cross. Every day has required strenuous strokes just to keep me on target, and look!!! I’ve almost reached shore. Shore means many things, but especially and specifically it means that my hope of finally making an Advent wreath will come true. I’ve set aside some time this afternoon and can’t wait.

But before we leave November behind, I want to reminisce a bit. Two very exciting things happened last November right when I was beginning this blog. One year ago I sat aboard an airplane, and flew to France with my brothers. What an unexpected and almost dreamy trip that was. I was able to blog about my time in the village where many of my predecessors lived. All the baking ones came from there. And I’m still thankful today for the adventure and fun and inspiration that came from my time away.

The other significant past November post is when I found the recipe to Jim Lahey’s no-knead bread. I’ve utilized variations of his recipe over and again this past year, and if you don’t like to bake, or are looking for a new, simple way to make bread, you at least need to give this one a whirl. I’ve had such fun baking in my enamel pots (I now have three) and am grateful for good bread made with so little effort.

What about you, though. Tell me about your Novembers, either past or present. I’m curious to know what makes this time of year special to you…



Into the Fire

Batch of French rolls

Mixed: 10:30 am

Molded: noon

Baked: 1 pm

Can NOT remember who I shared these rolls with (it was two whole days ago). Now I know I’m getting old!

It’s cold. My husband loves to see how long we can go before we turn the heater on. In coastal Southern California you can get away with never having air conditioning, and you can make it far into fall without adding extra heat to your home. Yet every year my husband seems to want to stretch our No-Heating a wee bit further along the calendar, as if we’re in some sort of wilderness contest. This year, he’s hoping to wait until AFTER Thanksgiving…

Because my preferred temperature range is somewhere between 70 and 80 degrees, I took matters into my own hands the other chilly day and collected firewood from a nearby wood. I hefted several large chunks of broken oak into the trunk, carted it home, cleaned out the fireplace, donned my wool cape, and settled into a chair to do some handiwork in front of the fire. Bread was on the rise.

While I was staring at the flames I thought, how fun to pop some dough into the ashes and see what happens! I’m strange that way. Not always terribly grown up… Playing with fire and dough seemed just the right thing to do!

So, I found a little metal tin, filled it with one of the rolls that was rising,

and into the fire it went.

There was this perfect little tunnel in between the logs.

I covered the tin with foil to keep out the ash

and 25 minutes later the little roll was partially burnt, but all the way baked.

I love trying to do things like maybe they did ages ago. Last January I spent the whole month trying to bake with ingredients and techniques that they might have used in the fifth century–during Saint Brigid’s time. What about you, have you ever tried cooking or baking out of your fireplace. I’d love to hear your stories–they might inspire me to more fire fun… 🙂

Oh, and guess what. My husband’s ears must have been burning. Or maybe he thought 58 degrees in the house was a bit on the chilly side. The heat is on, and I am so TOASTY HAPPY!!!

Happy Thanksgiving everyone…

Farmer’s Market II

Two loaves of no-knead sourdough

Mixed: 10:30 pm

Molded: 7 am next morn

Baked: 8 am

Donated both loaves to the market

I’ve been tumbling from one event to the next this last week. I organized a dinner for 60, finished up the last giveaway of my books, ran a three-day sale, kept up with homeschooling my daughter, plus wanted to have some close friends over so actually endeavored to scrub the house. It’s that time of year…

So, when my husband gave me a hard stare and asked whether I really wanted to mix up a batch of dough for the farmer’s market at our church, I stopped and tried to weigh his words carefully. Sometimes we give too much–we stretch too far, and we end up sacrificing beauty for hurry. I don’t like to hurry–there’s very little peace found in hurry.

In the end I decided to spend the energy and make the bread. Thankfully it’s a recipe that only takes a few minutes to mix, and very little effort to bake. And the two loaves were purchased and carted off even before I got the camera out of the bag. I’m glad I baked, and the added money will help folks in need this winter season. But I’m heeding my husband’s words still, and trying to not end up on that hampster wheel of spinning in circles, unable to see beyond the cage.

Being Orthodox, this season of Advent is a time of prayer, fasting and introspection. Bread baking fits so beautifully into this scheme, and with the cold weather here, I plan on mixing batches and batches of dough as these forty days pass. Here are a few other things I’m doing, then, I’d love to hear from you.

  • Crocheting a shawl made of wool from Peru–I’ve just started and am almost through with the first skein
  • Planning on making an Advent wreath right after Thanksgiving. Can’t wait…
  • Reading through all four Gospels with a group of very lovely women–two chapters at a time
  • Hoping to do a wee bit of de-cluttering and giving away
  • Need to trim the hedge!
  • Continue to help John Ronan with his reading lessons
  • Finish the story about Saint Romanos

Now, what about you?

Pirates and All…

Baked more than bread and cookies!

(In the oven went: 72 burritos, nine batches of cookies, and four loaves of bread just for fun…)

Having been involved in many school fundraisers over the years–everything from selling frozen cookies, to read-a-thons–I’m most pleased with the one fundraiser that my son’s high school puts on each November. At Providence Hall, all the students head into our community to serve an organization–and in turn they simply ask friends, neighbors and family to sponsor their efforts. It’s a win/win/win event. The school ends up with a few extra dollars in the till, the kids gain experience in serving others, and the organizations that are chosen get the robust and creative energy of teenagers for a day!

Each year I have helped lead a team of young people as they cook and serve a dinner for the Saint Brigid Fellowship, an organization run by our church that aids the homeless population there.

And each year it amazes me how powerful it is to reach out to those who truly are needy. In need of food, in need of care, in need of comfort.

I shot the photo above before the sun dipped low–and before most of the 50 or so people showed up for dinner. Once things really got going my camera was put away… But, I did take this one photograph of a fellow pirate before heading home. I was an injured pirate recently, after the last fire raged through the hills here in Santa Barbara, when my eye was damaged by a flying ember. So I shared that story with this gentle man, and he offered a great big chuckle and this gorgeous smile.

These sorts of events always tear at my heart. I add my little bit of effort and kindness, and then I remove myself so easily from the place. Drive home in the Volvo, singing hymns, or humming along with the radio. I walk through my door, put on jammies, maybe light a fire, maybe have a cup of tea. I kiss my children goodnight, then climb into my cozy bed, fresh with clean sheets and a fluffy pillow. I don’t dream about the pirate, or think about where he is sleeping that night. I don’t wonder whether he liked the meal, or if he’ll be able to find food the next day.


I don’t think of all that right away. But… it does sink in. My heart is changed, and each time I stretch a little more, stretch to give, stretch to be kind, and my heart becomes a little sweeter–a little more understanding of people–pirates and all.

Lastly, I want to tell you a wee little story. We baked so many cookies that night! We baked my typical recipe times nine. Every time I make cookies, I hide all sorts of good-for-you things inside. Nuts, flax seeds, oatmeal, wheat germ–whatever I happen to have in the cabinet.

Well, after the dinner was served, we put the cookies out and there were many eager eaters. One fellow, a helper that evening, asked if there were nuts inside and I said, yes, almond meal and walnuts. Phew! He was so happy he hadn’t tried a cookie–though MAD because they looked so yummy. He has an almond allergy.

A half hour later, a young homeless man ran up to the table and asked if the cookies had almonds in them. Yes! we said with a grin. But the grins faded when he told us that he also suffered from an almond allergy. Three doctors were there on site, so he was treated, but I felt horrible. Just terrible. I approached him, and the team of doctors to offer my apologies and do you know what the young man said?

Did he say–“You should have put out a sign!” or “Why didn’t you announce that there were nuts in the food!” No.

He said, “Mam, it’s all my fault. I’ve been allergic for thirty years and should know better. Don’t feel bad.”

Now, that’s a lovely lesson for all of us. He shouldered the responsibility–and was kind and humble in his response.

So today, I’m trying to learn from those we served. Things I’m allergic to get thrown my way all the time: I’m allergic to whining, and to kids pestering me with requests when I’ve already said no. I’m allergic to teenagers who talk back. The question is, can I bear these allergies with kindness and humility? Can I take responsibility even, for them?

Can I?

Winners–Basil and Woman and the Wheat

(A huge cooking and baking day today. Along with some students from my son’s high school, we’re making a meal for 60 to service the homeless in our area. Photos to come!)

And the winner of The Woman and the Wheat is:


Raja Marji

Thank you so much for the giveaways! How important it is to surround our children with Orthodox books! We already have the book, The Man and the Vine. We would love to have The Woman and the Wheat to add to our library… +God bless you!


And the winner of Basil’s Search for Miracles is:


Our family would love either of these…thank you for doing this!

(Turns out, blue canopy is Sara. She sent Heather and I this message earlier today:)

Jane and Heather,

Thank you so much for your generosity.  My kids and I are so excited to win the copy of Basil’s Search for Miracles, especially my 7year old, BASIL!

We live in Southern California and have four children, Basil (7), Juliana (5), Simeon (3), Emelia (1).

Thank you for promoting and creating wonderful Orthodox literature,

Blessed Advent,

Last of all, don’t forget that both The Man and the Vine, and The Woman and the Wheat will be on sale from SVSPress ($15 each instead of $18 each) for three days, starting TOMORROW! (November 16-18th.)

Feel free to tell your friends.

Morning Giving (leaves lots of room for afternoon adventures…)

Three loaves of French bread

Mixed: 7:45 am

Molded: 10:15 am

Baked: 11:30 am

Gave one to one teacher, and another to another…

Morning baking. Morning giving. Nothing like hot bread for lunch. I don’t think I’ve ever given bread away quite so early in the day! As we drove to hand out the loaves, my little five year-old John Ronan suffered as the aromas of warm bread filled the car. At one point he even yelled, “Mama! My tummy’s calling out for the bread. Listen!”

We kept the third of the three loaves and ate lunch in the car. Salami, cheese, apple sauce–fresh bread and a long drive up the coast. It was Veteran’s Day and all the kids had school off. With my husband away on business, I didn’t want to stick around town and bother the kids about cleaning their rooms (as I so often do). So… with the morning behind us, and the whole day ahead of us, we drove north for adventure.

And when we pulled up at the Guadalupe Sand Dunes, we found plenty of adventure. Talk about a beach day! Sand enough for all of California to sink their toes into…

Cheers, friends. Tomorrow, the first day of Advent, we announce the winner of the giveaways! Can’t wait…

Chicken Soup

Four loaves of French bread infused with some parmesan cheesy-ness

Mixed: 10:45 am

Molded: 12:30 pm

Baked: 1:40 pm

Gave two loaves to the Dunn Household

When I was in high school, my best friend and I, even though we never planned it, often ended up wearing almost identical outfits. We’d show up at a football game, or at youth group, and we’d spot each other from across the room and laugh. We influenced one another in so many ways, and we liked it that way…

I thought of this the other day when my daughter’s neighbor friend was home sick. The same cough had entered our home, and the same response came to both moms. Chicken soup!

So, on this day, with bread on the rise, I knew just who I’d share with. Identical outfits were needed–bread and soup, and books and extra tissues, and lots of love…

Book Giveaways–The Woman and the Wheat (+ four more)

I’m so excited to be giving away another book! The Woman and the Wheat is my latest picture book released, and has received some very nice reviews. Here’s the page on my website that will tell you a bit more about the story. (Did you know my dad and brothers are actually professional bakers?!) And…you can hear a review of the book on Ancient Faith Radio, a place I go often for spiritual refreshment and learning…

This book giveaway is open for comments right now! All you have to do is leave a comment below to enter. If you’re in the mood, I’d love to hear (if you have a wee one in your life right now) what picture books you’re reading to your little ones at the moment as we tumble deeper into fall and head towards Advent. In our home, we are reading a lot of human body books, and several thick books on machines, too. Oh, and The Curious Garden by Peter Brown is a present favorite. The Woman and the Wheat actually gets very high marks from my inventor-boy; he likes the page when the grain is being ground into flour the best… 🙂

So off to the miller did the wheat go next where a large stone wheel turned round and around. The wheel moved the stones and the stones ground the wheat as streams and puffs flowed into bags, and the wheat turned into flour…

I’ll close the comments for the giveaway at midnight, Sunday November 14th, and announce the winner on Monday, November 15th.

The Monster Bonus (don’t stop reading now!)

I’ve rounded up some of my writer friends to join in the book giveaway this week! I’m so excited. As I stated in my last post, I’m hoping that this Christmas many story books will end up wrapped and given to little ones as gifts. This is not about making money as writers–or about getting famous. You know this, right? As writers, we make just pennies from our work–we all engage in this as a ministry, not to make oodles of dollars and retire in the Bahamas! So, if you’re looking for gift ideas, start with a book that will enrich, inspire and encourage.

  • Heather Zydek, a mom of the cutest little girls, and a very vibrant, energetic woman and great writer, is giving away a copy of Basil’s Search for Miracles. Yay, for Heather! You can see more about Basil and read reviews of the book on the Amazon page. And to enter her drawing, just leave a comment below, here on my blog… It’s a two-for-one deal. If you leave a comment below, two people will be drawn as winners. One for my giveaway, and one for Heather’s! Double the fun.
  • Katherine Hyde is giving away one copy of Lucia, Saint of Light. What perfect timing. The name’s day for Santa Lucia is coming up on December 13th. I’ve worked alongside Katherine for many years now, and she is one of the most organized, talented editors I know. She’s also a very creative writer–and I’m sure we’ll see many more books by her in the future. Here’s my review of her book on Ancient Faith Radio.  Click here to visit her at her blog and enter your name in the Lucia, Saint of Light giveaway!

Lastly, don’t forget that both The Man and the Vine, and The Woman and the Wheat will be on sale from SVSPress ($15 each instead of $18 each) for three days, from Tuesday, November 16 through Thursday, November 18th. Tell your friends.

Sending you warm wishes…


Birthday Cake

(My husband) baked one very large cake

for one very small person…

He flew out of bed while it was still dark, to heat the (still-broken–only-baking-on-convection) oven and start the (Jungle) cake.

Later in the day, we had a party in the forest.

John Ronan, who turned FIVE, wanted a surprise party. So we did just that–surprised him, jumping out from behind the trees! He’s still talking about that…

We hiked to the oak grove,

ate some cake, tried to sing him Many Years, but because it wasn’t officially his birthday, he shut his ears…

He opened presents, then we shot a photo of the gang. What a gang–what a day!

If I could be five again, I might want a Surprise Adventure Birthday in the Forest, too.

What about you–if you were five again, how might you want to celebrate? 🙂