Fireworks

This last week has been almost all play and rest. A time to bask in the arms and care of family, and a wonderful way to usher in the new year. We sped our way to Arizona, first for some snow, then to the warmth of the desert. And we made so many new memories, most of them bread-free, but all filled with giving just the same.

Good news abounds. My strength has returned, my parents are moving to town (!!!!!!!!), and the sweet woman we’ve been rooting on and praying for, Nataliya, has returned home to recover. She is very weak, and very thin, but she is here and I’m hoping to be a part of the effort to spoil her…

It’s time to take stock as we tumble into a new year. I always think it’s fascinating how we humans like to box and categorize and try to put form around time. I’m especially guilty of this, with all of my lists and calendars…

One thing’s for sure–it’s time to be thankful! I don’t care if Thanksgiving is two months behind us, I am desperately grateful for this new start. I’m thankful for my health, and for my family, and for a real desire to help change the world, even if that means just baking and giving one little loaf of bread at a time.

So what are your plans for the new year? What are you hoping 2012 might hold? I’m hoping this tenderized heart of mine might stay soft

and I’m hoping for fireworks!

Things happen when sparks fly–books get written, loaves get baked, hearts are changed, and people stand back in awe, enjoying the beauty of the blessings around them…

Zennia

I wound my way up the mountain with hot bread in the passenger seat. It was a beautiful afternoon, with the sun shining all around, most of the crazed Christmas shoppers miles from me.

The gate opened and I walked up the walk, and through the front door, greeted by a whole host of wonderful Braun people. A grandma, a mama, an aunt and an uncle, brothers… Even a guy cleaning the windows. And there was Zennia, swinging away in her little chair, in the midst of it all–two months old and just hangin’ out.

I didn’t need to rush away, so stayed to chat. The bread was cut–birth stories were shared, laundry was folded. All the while, the sun made its way to the horizon, gave us a show, and Zennia was pulled from her chair and into my arms. (!!!!)

I hope some of that love that was building up in my heart when I was standing there chatting, slipped out of my skin and in through hers. All that beauty floored me, that little person, so perfect, so prepped for growing and learning and loving. Those sorts of moments make Christ live bigger within me, and I’m glad I’ve sought out these little people to hold these last few weeks.

And though giving bread is a fairly lame excuse for being around babies, it has worked! What a great scheme. Truth be told, I’ve gained far more through those few minutes of staring into a set of baby eyes than my measly loaf of Struan could ever offer to others. Thankfully folks don’t seem to mind. Not many exchanges are Even-Steven.

For example, Christ came into this world to save us. He was a baby, too. And what did He ask for in return? In return for real love and peace and joy? He asked for a corner of our hearts. He asked that we might turn and chat with him now and again. He asks for us to acknowledge that he’s not just a fairy tale figure, but a Creator who loves his creation.

Zennia knows all this already. She’s fresh from heaven and I bet the memory of her Creator is still very real, just zooming through her being.

I’m hoping that all this baby love and fresh-from-heaven-stuff will allow me to enter into this feast of Christmas like a child–wide-eyed, full of wonder, knowing that I’m cared for even in the midst of a world that whizzes all around me at super speed. A world that I don’t even get sometimes.

But I get babies.

A huge thanks to Xenia and Zennia, to Sophia and Farley Clementine, to the Rounds baby-to-come, and to every other family whom I barged in on these last few weeks. Sending you all love,

and peace.

The Gift of You

Giving. This blog is a lot about baking, but the premise of my baking is that I can learn to be a better giver. So that my heart can be turned more easily to those around me–so that I can root out the selfishness that often tries to take hold in my head and my hands and heart.

I have a lot to learn about love and beauty and having an open spirit. I’ve noticed how snarky I can be with my big kids. I see how impatient I can be with my little one–when I have a task in front of me, or when time seems short. Anyway, I’m working hard this season to give gifts that have nothing to do with what you might be able to purchase at the store.

Gifts of beauty.

Words that reflect love. Time just laughing. Patience.

Kindness. A tender spirit.

Here is a quote that a friend sent recently. It spoke to me:

Man has such powers that he can transmit good or evil to his environment. These matters are very delicate. Great care is needed. We need to see everything in a positive frame of mind. We mustn’t think anything evil about others. Even a simple glance or a sigh influences those around us. And even the slightest anger or indignation does harm. We need to have goodness and love in our soul and to transmit these things. –Elder Porphyrios, in Wounded by Love

I have had tons of fun purchasing books (love books!!!), and chocolates, and things to stuff in stockings these last few days. I’ve enjoyed wrapping gifts, and making batches of pear applesauce to give away. Baking Struan has been a delight. But being the catalyst of love in someone’s life, by listening to their troubles, or by simply offering a hug or a hand or a bit of help, is the kind of gift that I want to give. A catalyst of love.

I like that.

Sophia

Born on November 14th, Sophia is still fresh from heaven. I drove to visit her late last Friday and couldn’t get enough.

It’s really something. I’ve lived long enough now to have watched young kids grow to be adults, and then to become parents. It’s tremendous seeing how time changes so much. How little people grow so large, and can become responsible, and even wise, in just a few years. Little Sophia is the granddaughter of a good friend, and the first born of a sweet young woman, married, and beginning a new life of career and family.

I took them Struan. I plopped it on the counter, and made a beeline for the baby. And she squeaked for me, she squirmed, she chirped and whimpered. She smiled, and then she fell asleep in my lap, her arms raised over her head, her little body so completely relaxed and trusting. I tell you, I didn’t want to go home.

We drank tea, and talked of life and babies. This has all been so healing (visiting and baking for babies), like my cup being filled up with goodness, spilling out the struggles that are now becoming a part of my recent past.

So, the Struan recipe is up! Very yummy. And most of my gifts are wrapped! There are many things still left undone (Christmas cards, more baking, standing in line at the post office :(, and visiting the tax collector!!!), but this season is not for rushing, no matter what anyone says. This season is for hugs and good cheer, for sitting in a chair sipping hot tea and visiting with friends. This season is for walks on the beach, and dressing up in all your winter gear that you never, ever get to wear. This season is for remembering, and butternut squash soup, and lighting Advent candles, and reflecting on why we light them.

Enjoy this season. And if you have to let somethings remain undone (like Christmas cards, which I send out well into February) then so be it!

Cheers, friends.

Recipe: Struan

From: Brother Juniper’s Bread Book by Peter Reinhart. He researched this harvest bread and attributes it to Scottish bakers, and since I’m part Henderson, I quite like that.

Time Commitment: Hmmm. Cook the brown rice. 20 minutes to mix the dough. 90 minutes to wait for the first rise. 60 minutes to wait for the second rise. 45 minutes to bake. This recipe, though simple, will never make its way into a 20-minute-meal cookbook! My simple guideline is that I can start a bread recipe at around 2pm and have it ready for dinner, but if I begin at 3pm, we’ll be eating it for dessert.

Comments: Delicious. Nutritious, but not at all dense. I especially like this bread because I typically have all of these ingredients in my fridge and pantry. If any of the ingredients below seem strange to you, think about trying it this way first, but adapting recipes is always a part of the fun.

Tools you need:
  • Two loaf pans
  • Cooking spray
  • an oven :)
  • I use an electric mixer with a dough hook for this recipe, but it can be kneaded by hand, and will build mighty muscles if you do.

Ingredients:

  • 5 cups unbleached flour
  • 1/3 cup cooked brown rice
  • 1/3 cup quick cooking oats
  • 1/3 cup bran (wheat or oat–I mix mine together in a bin so mine’s a combo)
  • 1/3 cup corn meal or polenta
  • 1/3 cup brown sugar
  • 3 teaspoons salt
  • 2 tablespoons yeast
  • 2 tablespoons honey
  • 3/4 cup buttermilk (I have also used soy and it worked just fine)
  • 1 1/2 cups cool water
  • Poppy seeds
What to do:

Step One: Mix all of the dry ingredients into a bowl. Add the buttermilk, honey and water. If mixing by machine, get the hook moving and let it mix for about 10 minutes. If working by hand, roll up your sleeves and make sure you have your yoga pants on. Do your best to really beat and push and knead for at least 12 minutes. Don’t worry if the dough remains a bit sticky, but add flour if it’s overly wet and sloggy after you’ve kneaded a long while.

Step Two: Place the dough in an oiled or floured bowl and cover with plate or damp cloth. Allow to rise for about 90 minutes. Since there’s so much yeast in this batch, you’ll know if your yeast is less than perky. The dough should double in size during the 90 minutes.

Step Three: Prepare the two loaf pans. I spray them with canola oil.

Step Four: Turn the dough out of the bowl and divide in two with a sharp knife or dough scraper. Flatten the dough into a rectangle (ish) and fold in thirds, sealing each section with your thumbs, until you have a loaf. (If you don’t know what you’re doing, just pretend you do. Simply move the dough around for a while until it’s in sort of an oval shape :)) Sprinkle tops with poppy seeds.

Place the two dough loaves in a corner, covered by a towel for the second rise (which should total about an hour or a bit less). Make your kids a healthy snack or go dust the living room while you’re waiting.

Step Five: Turn the oven to 350 degrees–about 30 minutes before baking.

Step Six: After 40 or so minutes of rising in the pans, the dough should begin to reach the top edge of the pan. Don’t allow the dough to rise more than an hour in the pans. Pop the two pans into the warm oven and set the timer for 45 minutes. Bake.

Step Seven: Turn the bread onto a cooling rack right away. If it stays in the pan while it cools, it might get soggy. Allow the bread to cool at least for a few minutes before cutting into it.

Step Eight: Give one loaf to the mama of a new baby, and enjoy the other:)


Maria

For two weeks in a row, I’ve stolen little Maria to come and play with me. I figure if I’m going to immerse myself in the real world of babies, then there’s no better way than having one right in my midst.

(She’s not a baby though, being two and all. And I suspect she might not be too happy if I used that label in front of her. So, let’s just keep it a secret, shall we?)

Maria came over to bake. I started Struan earlier in the day so she could take a loaf home, and, together, we made rosemary rolls. She was an expert rosemary de-leafer.

And quite a good kneader.

And coming from a family of musicians, it was natural that she strayed toward the piano and sang, played, and conducted an entire symphony for me after we finished our baking chores.

That was week one.

Week two meant all sorts of book reading, brushing hair, running errands (for more diapers!), eating goldfish, playing the xylophone and the recorder and the harmonica and the handbells, and picking up pine needles. Too busy for photos, can you tell?!!!

Now is the time for little people. If you have any in your life, I’d strongly encourage you to grab hold of one and just inhale all that goodness. They’re busy, it’s true, and they can be stubborn, and super silly, but their hearts–their hearts! Still so tender and loving, and, for me, being called godmama every two minutes just makes these days all the sweeter.

Love you, Maria…