A Blessed House

Two loaves of molasses bread

Mixed: 3:15 pm

Molded: 4:40

Baked: 5:15

Barely out of the oven in time, we drove up the hill, the inside of our car smelling of warm molasses bread, our chatter focused on the house blessing to come. Orthodox folk have so much fun to look forward to throughout the year! And I just love everything about the blessing of a home.

The holy water flung here and there,

the singing as we process around,

the little jobs for the kids, being with beloved friends, playing dolls with my goddaughter, impromptu singing around the piano, and opening our hearts to the prayers for this family, this family that we admire and love. The gift of warm bread is just a tiny thanks for all this family has given us.

My husband laughed at a cliched conversation between myself and the amazing mother of this family. She stated how lovely my home always was, right after I’d told her how beautiful her house looked. Moms… homes… candles… children… messes… gardens… warmth… even bread. All of these elements, so sacred, are parts of our lives that really matter, that can heal wounds and save souls. And blessing your house each January or February, walking into each and every corner with crosses and candles and holy water makes a difference in your life and mine. I’m still basking in the afterglow…

When You, O Lord were baptized in the Jordan
Worship of the Trinity was made manifest
For the voice of the Father bore witness to You
Calling You His beloved Son.
And the Spirit, in the likeness of a dove,
Confirmed the truth of His word.
O Christ, our God, who has appeared
And enlightened the world, glory to You!

Keeping Track

Someday I won’t be in charge of so many people and where they need to be, and what they want to eat, and whether or not they’ve cleaned up their rooms. Some day. But that day is not now.

If you don’t know yet–I’ll let you in on a big secret. I’m a horrible cook. Chopping, searing, braising, creating with beets and goat cheese? Eek.

My husband, on the other hand, learned to cook early on in our marriage when I was going to school full time (landscape architecture) and working full time (waitress, gymnastics coach, draftsperson.) I was busy, and he likes to eat tasty vittles.

Fast forward many years and Douglas is the Mediterranean Master. He can whip up anything from Moroccan to a first class risotto. My mom even gave him a full chef’s uniform for his birthday a few years ago. Super fun.

I bake. And I nag my kids about their rooms, and I tend to burn things when I’m off helping with homework and telling kids to STOP playing those video games.

(Sorry.) This is a Long Story!

When I bake I have to keep track of the process or else I lose track of the process. I’m a list maker; if I can just get something written on paper, all anxiety seems to ease. So these little scraps of paper follow me from mixing, to molding, to baking. And sometimes they get a comment or two added to them; it’s satisfying to write your baking emotions in black and white.

Do you use lists to help you stay sane? Or maybe I’m insane–look at all of these lists that are around our home…

Knowing that most of my friends are easily as busy as I am, I hope this idea helps. Or maybe it just helps confirm to you that I am slightly crazed and desperate not to let the industry of paper and ink entirely disappear…

Cheers–and happy giving!

A Heart of Love

Mixed, molded and baked on Valentine’s Day

This (somewhat lopsided) heart-shaped bread was made specifically for my sweet goddaughter, Maria Rachel. Not quite two, she’s a bread eater (!!!) and already very loved (!!!). But I figured, why not a little more love–a little more bread on this busy February 14th day?

We filled our day with scooter rides, wearing pink, giving out Valentines, admiring the newly blooming plants, and lots of tackles and kisses and laughter. (Plus my husband and I zipped away for dinner out!)

Hope your day was also filled with hearts, and love…

Get Well Bread

One loaf of rosemary bread

Mixed: 9:45 am

Molded: 12:30 pm

Baked (in a pot): 1:30

It seems that the whole world around me is coughing, sneezing, spluttering, feverish and generally wishing they were in bed watching old movies… In the last couple of weeks the choir at church was reduced by half, the preschool too, and we received messages about whooping cough, chicken pox and bronchitis from various school nurses. How can this be? It’s 60 degrees outside and sunny. The door is wide open, the little one is barefoot. We even spent the morning at the beach…

Surely the rest of the States–the ones who are shoveling ten feet of snow from their front walks have every right to be sick. Sick and tired. But us–here in ever-blooming paradise?

Despite the lack of logic, one of my favorite friends is nursing a family of ailing ones, and she herself is down with something, so I figured I’d try to be a good Samaritan and bake her a loaf of bread.

So I did. And I’m off to be the delivery girl, and wish her a speedy recovery.

And to you!!! I wish the same. That good health surrounds you, and if not, that there are old movies galore and some friend from Samaria to bring you (chicken soup–I’m terrible at making chicken soup, which is why I didn’t volunteer that foodstuff) and maybe even some rosemary bread.

Cheers, everyone!

The BISHOP and the bread

24 crusty rolls, some of them mixed with olive tapenade

Mixed: 9:15 pm

Molded: 6 am next morning

Baked: three batches, beginning at 7 am

For Bishop Joseph’s visit to our parish

Being Orthodox, we are blessed by a visit from our bishop at least once a year. He spends the weekend with us, answering questions, telling us what’s on his heart, and presiding over services. As a family we make extra space in our lives to attend the various events; just being available allows for all sorts of adventures to take place.

Adventure Number One: Arriving early early for Saturday evening vespers and the little one getting to play in the church.

Adventure Number Two: Rising at baker’s hours to make rolls for the luncheon. That’s 5am folks–5am with the house hushed and time all to myself. Now that’s adventure!

Adventure Number Three: John Ronan asking for a pumpkin muffin that sat on the Bishop’s own plate. Wish I had a photo of that one. Thanks, Mr. Bishop, for your pumpkin muffin!

Despite my 5am wake time, this kind of baking and giving is not a stretch. It’s the kind of stuff you and I do every day, isn’t it? We cook and clean, we drive and encourage and comfort. We work, and plant radish seeds, and fold laundry, and even re-learn algebra when we need to…

I’ve written this post a dozen different ways now, and each time it comes out sounding like a sermon. I’m not a bishop–I’m just a jane, and I guess what I really want to say is–I love baking! And I’ve come to really love giving…

It has taken a bit of work to get me here… To really love the giving part.

Before I sign off, and ask you to write the sermon instead–aren’t Bishop Joseph’s vestments simply gorgeous? Just being in the same room as that cloth made me want to sew for an entire weekend straight.

And weren’t those rolls also gorgeous?!!! More about my pot baking success soon. (And that’s a warning… If you read these posts regularly and don’t yet own an enamel or cast iron pot, I urge you to be on the lookout for one you might invest in. Baking bread inside them is like having your own portable brick oven shipped to you from a quaint French village… And I’m gearing up to share recipes and techniques that will all center around that blasted pot.)

Okay, now it’s your turn. I’d love to hear whatever sermons you might have for me. Though the Giving Virtue may have crowded out some of my Sour Stinginess–there’s still plenty of space in my heart that needs a good remodeling. Fire away! I’m ready and waiting…

My Never-Been-to-Maine Pumpkin Bread

First off–I have to admit that I’ve never been to Maine. I have been to Vermont, and stayed in an old farm house, and that’s close, right? And I have a friend from Maine… And my husband vacationed in Maine when he was a boy…

Anyway, I’ve adapted a very popular web-recipe: the Downeast Maine Pumpkin Bread found here. The recipe was so good–almost perfect–that I wanted to share it with all of you. I’ve fiddled with it to increase the spice punch, decreased the amount of sugars, added a bit of whole wheat flour and orange juice and zest, and I’ve increased the baking time. The bread stays moist and super delicious for days. It’s a wonderful bread for giving…

Time Commitment: Half hour to assemble ingredients and mix, and another hour to bake.

Tools you need:

  • Two loaf pans
  • Cooking spray
  • an oven :)
  • large bowl and wooden spoon, plus measuring cups and utensils…

Ingredients:

  • 1 (15 ounce) can pumpkin puree
  • 4 eggs
  • 1 cup vegetable oil
  • 1/2 cup water and orange juice mixed (or just water)
  • zest of one orange
  • 3/4 cup white sugar
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup whole wheat flour (you can use all white if you don’t have any whole wheat)
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons ground nutmeg
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
What to do:

Step One: Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Mix wet ingredients in a bowl along with the sugars. (Regarding the OJ/water mixture: Zest one orange, then squeeze the juice into a measuring cup. Add water to the cup until you have 1/2 cup of liquid.)

Step Two: Add spices first, then flour, salt and soda. Stir round and round and round and round…

Step Three: Place the two loaf pans in the center of the oven and bake for 65-70 minutes. Do the knife-through-the-center trick to check for doneness…

Step Four: Let the loaves cool. (Make yourself a pot of tea, call a friend to join you.)

Step Five: Enjoy!


Saint Brigid and Her Feast

Mixed and baked two loaves of my Never-Been-to-Maine Pumpkin Bread (recipe coming later this week–you’re gonna love it!)

Gave one loaf to an old schoolmate just diagnosed with cancer 😦

Researching and writing The Life of Saint Brigid: Abbess of Kildare was one of the most rewarding writing experiences I’ve had yet. Not only did I enjoy getting to know fifth century Ireland, learning about the foods and habits of people of that time and about the budding days of Christianity where the people were so receptive to Christ’s love–but I absolutely came to admire this young girl named Brigid–this open-hearted daughter of a slave, who loved man and beast, rich and poor, and who always held Christ foremost in her heart.

Celebrating her feast day each year has enriched our lives and brought about some good and healthy family fun, plus a lot of introspection….So much of celebrating Saint Brigid happens on the eve of her feast day–January 31st… and yesterday being that day, I’d like to share with you some of what went on.

First, I read the story of Saint Brigid to our little one early in the day. We cuddled and he asked questions, and that set the tone for all that happened afterward. In the late afternoon, we baked, making pumpkin bread to share, and Saint Brigid oatcakes for our meal, placing a portion for her on the windowsill.

For our evening meal we ate roasted chicken (fifth century folk did a lot of roasting on feast days) and made colcannon, a traditional potato, leek, cabbage mixture. There were the Saint Brigid oatcakes, too, along with honey butter and jams. I had a few sips of ale too, which made me feel especially Irish.

And after dinner we washed up, then prepared the table for making crosses. John Ronan and I broke the seed heads off the stalks, we soaked the stalks in warm water for about an hour, then brought everyone to the table and started weaving. Morgan, our favorite neighbor friend joined us. She wanted me to make sure I mentioned how she was part of the cross weaving gang!

I was the weaving manager, giving lessons round the table. My husband and daughter are especially proficient, making better crosses than I can, but the two boys struggled. Andrew threw several wheat shafts up into the air after an attempt or two, and John Ronan, using pipe cleaners, still fumbled and didn’t quite get the gist of it. Morgan, a perfectionist at times, also spent a bit of time moaning about her non-cooperative fingers. But we didn’t give up! Aid arrived, and everyone ended up making something that resembled a cross. John Ronan was so proud of his creation that we immediately hung it over his bed. Love the way little people think with their hearts…

So on this beautiful day of the feast of Saint Brigid, I leave you with this prayer of hers that I love…

O God, bless my pantry!

Pantry which the Lord has blessed.

Mary’s Son, my friend,

come and bless my pantry!