Meant to…

Two loaves of a whole grain, whole wheat I’m trying out

Mixed starter dough: 9:45 pm

Mixed dough: 12:15 pm next day

Molded: 1 pm

Baked: 2 pm

Okay, I really meant to share one loaf of bread from this batch, but somehow the day just ran away with me. My husband was away in Singapore, and I had a few extra duties, and the hours slipped by and the bread just sat there on the cooling rack.

Look there it is. I even pulled out my camera and snapped a photo.

At one point it was warm and steaming. And later it was cooler and ready for giving. And then I was making dinner, and asking about homework, and herding the troops toward the Mexican corn pie thing I’d made. Why, bread didn’t even make sense with this meal. By morning, the two loaves still sat there, uneaten. Shame on me.

Does this ever happen to you? Good intentions, even a fair amount of action, but the end result just isn’t quite what you had hoped?

I remember a homily long ago about good intentions. We were told not to deliberate. “Don’t deliberate,” the priest repeated. If you’re prompted toward something good, don’t wait, don’t muse and wonder and over-think… Don’t deliberate, but find a way to make the good thought happen.

And that’s what I tell myself at 6 in the morning when my alarm sounds (it quacks, actually). I think, Jane, don’t deliberate. It’s time for prayers, it’s time to move this day forward; it’s time to see what sort of beauty is right outside the curtains.

So, hopefully I won’t have too many more loaves of bread like this this Lent. Uneaten, dry and only a good intention.

Pray for me!

Rolls-in-the-Round

Like grown up play, baking allows me to be creative with my hands, and see the flour and water and yeast and salt take on they mysterious shape and life of its own. Plus, I get to fiddle with fire in the oven, and use knives as I score the bread. Tremendously satisfying and fun is the baking of bread!

Lately I’ve been baking most of my bread in pots. I find that the environment in those pre-heated, cast iron pans brings about results so much like my brothers’ million dollar French ovens… 🙂

And here is a super fun way to put bread on the table, using my typical French dough mix for these rolls, adding a bit of rosemary for umph.

Just love rosemary.

Shape the dough into rolls, then place them in the heated pots and allow them to bake together, forming rolls-in-the-round.

Yum.

The Crossing Guard

Rolls-in-the-round

Mixed: 10 am

Molded: noon

Baked: 12:45

This lent I’m trying to be more intent about giving to folks who really need food, or to others with whom I’m:

  • mad at
  • disgusted with
  • bothered by

I can really think of only two people in this town who fit this list, and so far I’ve already tried, but failed, at giving one woman a homemade and happy loaf of bread. But today?

Success!

There are two crossing guards in my neighborhood. One brings candy for the students, she puts up balloons, and waves at every car, every child and parent who passes her by. Her smile is so genuine and her demeanor so giving that you just love her, even when you’re in a hurry and she’s standing there with that STOP sign allowing ten minutes worth of kids troop by.

The other crossing guard is different. She wears bright pink lipstick and sits in her chair, a bit slumped over and –this is the thing–she tries to be like Crossing Guard Number One. She waves at all the cars, but it looks like it hurts her, like it’s a chore, as though she wouldn’t get paid if she didn’t move that hand back and forth at you… I’ve deduced that she’s trying to be something she’s not, and that bothers me.

I drive her road almost every day and have started little sarcastic conversations in my head about her. Nice wave, lady. Put a little umph into it, would you?

I recognized this in myself not so long ago when I actually said something aloud and my kids were listening. They picked up on it, (of course!!!) and I passed on my negative thoughts about this poor woman that I don’t even know.

In order to begin to heal my mean heart and change my thoughts I thought it time to bring her bread.

Today I found her bundled under rain gear, holding an umbrella with little doggies on it, her striped knit gloves on, her bright pink lipstick shimmering–rain falling all around.

“I knew you’d be out here in the rain,” I said with a smile, handing her a bag. “I made some extra bread today and want you to have it.”

“Why thanks, Sweetheart!” she said. “Now get out of this rain–you’re getting soaked!” She flashed me a genuine grin and waved her hand at me to move toward the car. “Thank you!” she yelled again.

Just a few words, a quick exchange, along with a look right into her eyes, and in a flash I loved her. I drove away and she had her nose in the bag, breathing the smell of warmth and prayers.

The mind is judgmental in everything it does. To demonstrate this point, I often recommend an exercise that consists in taking notice of people (although not in such a way as to make them feel uncomfortable). The catch is to notice people without mentally labeling them in any way. Sit quietly at an airport or a bus terminal and notice people without giving them any labels… As we walk down a crowded street, those people we notice are labeled one by one, and often not in the most flattering manner… The purpose of the exercise is to get to a point where we can notice a person without giving him or her a label. At that point we can begin to experience true compassion…

After reading those words several months ago in Archimandrite Meletios Webber’s book, Bread and Water, Wine and Oil, I’ve watched my mind seek to give labels to almost everyone I encounter. It’s hard work keeping my mind neutral, trying not to categorize people in unflattering ways.

Do you struggle with this too?

Anyway, the Law of Giving, which seems to always find the good and the hungry and just the perfect time, reigned supreme yet again.

And next time I’ll ask her her name. Why didn’t I ask her her name?!

Sharing Squared

No baking for me today…

My brother’s bread business is now delivering to several restaurants here in Santa Barbara, which means that every now and then, when the regular delivery guy needs a day off, my older brother John gets the honor of traveling up the coast–the back of his prius loaded with sourdough goodness. He’s charming enough to stop by our home on those days, and in return for his charm we offer him a cup of green tea and our morning smiles.

And usually he has an extra loaf or two of something that he shares with us.

He’s always been good at sharing. 🙂

Well, today he asked if we could use TEN loaves of par-baked sourdough. My eyes goggled a bit, and I saw massive giving in my future. Ten loaves! First, I thought about all my favorite friends and how they could make yummy gourmet sandwiches for dinner. But then, I remembered that this Lent I’m trying to really give to folks who are in need, or with whom I need to make amends. Because of the rainy and chilly weather, many of the truly downcast and desperate head straight to the Rescue Mission for dinner and a bed. So glad I was prompted to think of that…

Okay, my daughter and I were studying chapter 25 of the Algebra One book today after my brother left, and guess what? If (X+3)(X-3) then you can factor those together and get X²-3². Isn’t that cool? Both X and 3 are squared! My sharing today, being timesed by ten, felt absolutely algebraic! My brother shared with me, and I shared with the folks at the Rescue Mission. Algebra in bread-giving action…

The children were happy to go on an adventure. We even had extra fun since Morgan, our favorite neighbor-friend, spent the day with us. Here she is hiding behind some of the bread…

You know what? I felt tremendously fortunate to be the giver of ten loaves of bread on a rainy day like today.

Truly, I did…

Saint Patrick’s Day

Two loaves of brown bread

Mixed: 10:45 am

Molded: 1:15 pm

Baked: 2 pm

 

I’m a wee bit Irish. I like the Irish. Did you know in ancient days the Celts had laws regarding hospitality? If a traveler came to your door, it was your duty and  honor to feed, provide a bed, and entertain the guest, without asking a single question or a coin in return. Saint Brigid was the best bread and butter giver ever–and I bet Saint Patrick did his fair share of charity work while wandering the green hills of Hibernia too.

I met Qu’i at the front door of her new home, and she was happy to take the warm loaf of bread, saying she and her husband were indeed bread eaters and happy to be in our neighborhood. She sported a green T-shirt and was so friendly I wanted to rush home and bake some more. (Which I did :))

But today hasn’t been all about baking and giving. We just had to read The Life of Saint Patrick: Enlightener of the Irish by Zachary Lynch (who, by the way, was recently ordained Father Zechariah!!!). If you don’t know the story well, and a true story it is, Patrick was captured by the Irish as a young boy of about 16–made a slave to watch over sheep, escaped Ireland and fled back to his homeland (which took him three years), and because he was willing to give his life to Christ and listen to the Holy Spirit in his heart, returned to that very place and to that very people who had enslaved him. I’m a big fan of March 17th. Saint Patrick is my kind of hero.

 

What memories… Many years ago, my family and I stopped over in Ireland on our way to a summer vacation in France. We had only three days in the area around Dublin and somehow found ourselves one day on the top of the hill where Saint Patrick lit his Paschal fire. An Irish friend of my husband’s was showing us the ruins of an ancient abby near his home, and there we were, wandering around that very ground where Patrick confronted the king of the land with a challenge. God is merciful and hands us the most unexpected surprises. It just so happened that when I returned to the States, I had the honor of editing the very book on Saint Patrick that I read to my son today…

And so… I think Saint Patrick’s Day is a find day to give fresh bread and wander down the street to meet new neighbors. I’m sporting green in his honor, and will knit with some sheepy wool tonight with friends while drinking cups of green tea.

 

Happy Saint Patrick’s Day everyone!

Lent

Lent.

Lent began last Monday and (stealing some of Father John Finley’s homily) it’s a time of fasting, prayer and almsgiving, with the purpose of strengthening our hearts, our minds and our wills… I love this time of year. Meals are simple, prayer is more intense, and adventure always seems to come my way. I do love adventure.

But some days I’m not capable of as much adventure as is thrown at me. I know this when I start running red lights. I accidentally drove right through a red light yesterday–straight through. Was it the growing headache? Or the enormous to-do list that was circulating in my head? I had hit my adventure limit.

It all started when my brother-the-baker-who-lives-in-LA showed up with four loaves of bread early in the morning. I already had molasses bread rising, so I knew this was going to be a giving sort of day. Plus, my brother is the super adventurous type–he brings all sorts of fun in his wake. I made him a pot of green tea, and then John Ronan started making a list. “Mom,” he said in his five-year-old way. “Mom. We HAVE to do four things today. Write them down.”

  1. Buy a birthday cake.
  2. Go to the toy store.
  3. Decorate the house.
  4. Go to the other toy store.

Yes, it was my daughter’s birthday, and John Ronan had a plan.

Problem was, I also had a plan. My big kids were performing in “You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown,” and I had all sorts of errands to do, plus I was in charge of the bake sale for the musical, and all the mom volunteers, and getting the tables ready, and my parents were coming into town, and I had to clean the house, and wouldn’t it be great to just crawl back in bed and wake up on Sunday?

Adventure. Onward!

So, we got the cake, went to the toy store, went to the bank, went to the other toy store, bought balloons, cleaned the house. And all through this hustle and bustle I refused to forget about those six loaves of bread I had on my kitchen counter. So much bread!

During this time of Lent I’m hoping to give bread away to people who are hungry, or sad, or needy, or… people that I don’t like very much. I’m not a very vindictive person, and it takes quite a bit to offend me, but there are a few people in this town that I steer clear of. For quite some time I’ve been trying to get up the nerve to bring two people, in particular, bread. One lady runs the cashier at a nearby store that sells all sorts of Chinese-made trinkets. She’s grumpy and not long ago, when I asked about returning a few items because we had purchased way too much for a birthday party, she actually laughed right at me, and pointed to a sign that spelled out their return policy. She then folded her arms across her wide chest and smirked, so pleased. I just stared at her, stunned. She was mean.

Ooh. I was mad. As I walked to the car I so badly wanted to email all my friends and relate the episode, encouraging them to never shop there. But once I’d made it into the car, the good inside of me, the little man of Christ who sat hunched in an itsy bitsy corner of my heart, started to gain some ground. Just pray. It was then I realized that if anyone needed a hot loaf of bread and a smile, it was her…

So, there I was, armed with a warm loaf of molasses bread. But I don’t think my heart was fully in the right place–for she wasn’t there, (and I kept thinking about that smirk!). Instead I gave it to a young gentleman selling pixie sticks for some cause. He seemed grateful.

Not too much later, I was armed with a brown loaf of Swedish bread that my brothers had baked that morning. Heading to one of the toy stores, I spotted a homeless man smoking in a corner between two shrubs. I offered the bread but the man said, “Don’t eat bread,” between puffs. We said good-bye, turned the corner, and I literally ran into Dante, a waiter, artist, Italian friend. “Hey, Dante, how about a loaf of fresh bread?” He seemed happy to take it, and off we went–only four loaves left to consume.

Sad to say, the other three and a half loaves were still there this morning. But the musical went off beautifully, the birthday girl was pleased with her day, John Ronan got to check all four things off his list, and despite my headache and the red light, it was a pretty great, adventure-filled day.

But, please, Lord. No more days like that for a while?

And speaking of prayer… I need to forget that dratted smirk and seek out that woman in love.

Pray for me. For Lent has only just begun!

All in One Day: bread, butter, cheese, forgiveness

Mixed: 9:45 pm

Molded: 6 am next day

Baked in two batches–one at 7:15 am and another at 8:15 am.

Off to church at 9:30 am with three loaves of very cheesy bread

At our church, following morning Liturgy every Sunday, we all file outside and enjoy a time of chatting, and the kids running all over the grass, and sometimes we munch on donuts or potato salad, or carrots dipped in hummus. But on Forgiveness Sunday the coffee hour table is all about cheese. It’s our last chance to eat dairy until Pascha and so that’s what we do!

I volunteered to make bread for the table, since they wanted a table of breads, cheeses, veggies and such, so I dove in the night before and had such fun.

Side note: Since we leave for church at 9:30 on Sunday mornings, if I’m ever called on to make fresh bread for my fellow church-goers, I begin a no-knead mix the night before. This easily gives me extra hours of sleep. I would have to rise at 4:30 am if I wanted to do the whole process–from mixing to kneading to rising to molding to rising to baking–and have two batches of bread ready when we leave all dressed and spiffy-looking for church… The no-knead recipe allows me to mix the dough the night before and mold the bread at 6 am the following morning.

Anyway, on Saturday night, I rifled through our cheese drawer in the fridge and decided to use every bit of cheese there. Pecorino, Dubliner Irish, and Parmesan, all three were grated clear to the rind; I even had to call in the Capo Chef to help because my hand was cramping… My husband, “Are you SURE you need this much cheese?” Me, “Yes.” So he grated and grated and I scooped every last morsel of cheese into my three mixing bowls.

Oh, the scent of bread and cheese that floated through our home Sunday morning. My husband, “Are you SURE we need to take all three loaves to church? Can’t we just leave ONE here?” Me, “No.” We left for church hoping coffee hour might come soon.

Thankfully, the Liturgy speeds you away to other worlds–to worlds of mystery and the holy foods of bread and wine–and who cares about coffee hour then!

But once the cross is kissed–EVERYONE cares about coffee hour. Someone even got inventive with one loaf of the bread and made pizza out of it.

It was a beautiful morning, but I tell you, the day didn’t end there. More baking, and more giving and more church was still to come.

Home to a quick nap and a little picking up of the house. A bit of reading, then… chocolate shortbread. Really, getting the cheese and the butter out of the house was a snap. Grate all the cheese into bread, and bake all the butter into cookies. After Lent, I’ll post the recipe of chocolate shortbread cookies that I make every now and again. I refuse to make them often because that just wouldn’t be wise, but they are scrumptious. Made with only cocoa, flour, powdered sugar, butter, vanilla and one egg yolk, not many nutritionists would recommend this cookie being in a regular diet.

I mixed and pulled out the cookie cutters and baked up little hippo and heart cookies, wrapping several in a brown bag for my goddaughter and her family, and few more for whoever I happened to come across while at church. Because… back to church we went.

Forgiveness Vespers is one of my favorite services of the year. The church community gathers Sunday evening, on the very precipice of Great Lent, and we worship together. At the conclusion of the service we all file past one another, bow, cross ourselves, then ask: “Forgive me, a sinner.” We hug, and kiss cheeks, and the mood is truly blessed–light and yet full of truth and the importance of clearing away any relational cobwebs that may have gathered over the last year. I got to hug a whole kaleidoscope of people last night!

Oh, but I won’t forget about the cookies. We gave a bag of cookies to my goddaughter, as planned, and then another bag to a homeless man who was munching down a handful of potato chips.

Blessed.

Clean.

And in case you weren’t one of the kaleidoscope of folks that I kissed cheeks with last night…

Forgive me, a sinner.