Bleh (Rye) Bread

You know. Sometimes a new fiddling just doesn’t finish well (or even middle well). Ever since the marbled rye in South Dakota I’ve been dreaming of making a wonderful rye bread of my own. I’m not sure why I haven’t dared an actual marbled rye recipe yet. I’m not sure why I keep trying recipes that take days of starter-making and a hyper watchful eye.

So far I’ve tried a sourdough rye of my own invention. Bleh. (My daughter gave one of the loaves away to a neighbor that we don’t know well. Thankfully, it was pretty to look at, and she mentioned in the giving that it was experimental bread. Humbled, though. I wouldn’t want to eat that loaf again.)

I also tried to make a sourdough rye out of The Village Baker. I love this bread book, but it took about two weeks for me to actually get all the steps right. The bread was ugly, and I refused to give one away.

There’s that pride of mine! Refusing to give because of appearances!

And yet, when we cut into one of the loaves the next day, it was actually quite good. We all ate sandwiches using it, but the kids aren’t begging me to try again.

Still in a rye mood, I finally mixed up a batch of rye crackers! Ahhhhhh. So very tasty. My youngest helped, and was excited to use his steam roller (rolling pin) and we cut the dough into hearts, teddy bears, angels, and butterflies. These crackers are amazing. My son actually called me a genius for this baking effort. That’s a five-year-old for you. Tasty rye crackers=genius!

For now I’m done with both bleh bread and rye bread. I need to gain a little steam before more experiments…

(But just in case, if you happen to have any rye advice or favorite recipes, send them along. You never know when a new mood might strike!)

Last news. More Simple Gifts on the way. The next post will be all about Anna Larsen. Can’t wait to share!


Last week.

Two loaves of Peter Reinhart’s Oreganato (from his Brother Juniper’s Bread Book)

Despite my struggles with new rye bread recipes, I am thankfully still in the mood to experiment. The weather is changing to cool–we even have had rain! When you live in Southern California long enough, you become a great cheerleader for rain clouds. I am cheering those clouds on by turning on my oven. Rain is the perfect time for baking–since while things are rising, or baking, you can sit in a chair and sip tea and read a book. All very perfect things to do when it’s raining.

Last week again.

So, anyway, I made two loaves of this very scrumptious bread infused with garlic, parsley and oregano. I will make it again, because (1) it was good, and (2) the oregano in my garden needs a forceful trimming to induce new fall growth, and using it in bread is just too fun. Nothing stops growing in this place.

Our chicken-owner friends, who live just around the corner, took on the tasting of Oreganato loaf number two. It really is important to have people in your life who will eat your experimental bread and not get mad at you when it’s bad. Thankfully, Mr. Reinhart’s recipes seem to be anything but icky. yum yum…

We gobbled up our own loaf, and with the few extra ends that remained, I cut them into cubes and made croutons. yum yum again!


What about you? Do you mind experimental bread? If you’re up for being a guinea pig, and live somewhat near me, send me a quick note, because as long as there are clouds and happy threats of rain, I’ll be baking and happy to share!



I love granola. But purchasing it in bulk at the  health food store is costly… At a recent farmers market at our church, a friend made a batch of granola–exactly the kind I like–so I begged her for the recipe and have been making it now for months… Thanks, Jennifer!

Yum. So easy, and much more forgiving on the wallet.

And, this recipe is glooten free. Okay, gluten free, (who came up with the word gluten, anyway?) as long as you buy gluten-free oats.

This recipe can easily be halved or adjusted… Adjust amounts of seeds, add raisins or dried cranberries, or other nuts, perhaps pumpkin seeds or goji berries–all according to your liking. I keep my batches of granola in a big jar in my pantry. It keeps well for a long time, but I go through a batch of 7 cups of oats every two or three weeks.

Time Commitment: 10 minutes to assemble and mix, 60 minutes to bake

Tools you need:
  • Two cookie sheets or large glass baking dishes
  • mixing bowl
  • an oven :)
  • wooden spoon


  • 7 cups oats
  • 1/2 cup raw sesame seeds
  • 1 cup raw sunflower seeds
  • 1 cup chopped or slivered raw almonds
  • 1 cup chopped raw walnuts or pecans
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup  unsalted butter, canola oil, or grapeseed oil
  • 1 cup maple syrup
  • 1-2 tablespoons nut butter (peanut, or cashew or almond…)
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
What to do:

Step One: Preheat oven to 325 degrees

Step Two: In a large mixing bowl, combine oats, nuts, seeds, cinnamon and salt. Stir round and round.

Step Three: If using butter, melt butter in a small pan. Add the nut butter and maple syrup and stir till blended. Cool, and add vanilla to liquids. If using oil, then melt nut butter–add oils and maple syrup and stir over low heat. Add vanilla.

Step Four: Pour the wet ingredients over the dry, and mix.

Step Five: Divide the mixture in half, spreading it out onto two cookie sheets. Bake for 30 minutes at 325, then take out the granola, turning it with a spatula, and bake another 15 or 20 minutes, until toasted and golden brown.

Step Six: Yum! Store in an airtight container. Even this granola can be shared. You can put cooled granola into clean mason jars and give as gifts, or invite a friend over for breakfast and eat with milk and fresh berries, or plain yogurt like I do 🙂

Baker’s Hours

The alarm rings and I slip out of bed. It’s still night, still dark. Still in the fives.

First I light a candle, then whisper prayers. Soon, I’m in the kitchen, the quiet kitchen–all the house still asleep. Those faces like angels, relaxed, dreaming, cuddled next to favorite pillows and stuffed creatures. They’re easy to stare at, those sleepy, beautiful little ones.

Flour is in the air. The mixer is running and suddenly the morning light slips through one window, then another. Bright light fills corners and highlights the white cabinet, the pale yellow wall, the shutter, the palm.

I step away from the kitchen, open the front door and listen to the mockingbird who is shouting every tune he has ever learned in succession. The neighborhood is filled with his wild melody and I smile, thankful for the way he greets the day.

Baker’s hours.

Monk’s hours.

A new mama’s hours.



Me, and a mockingbird.

Holy Week=Loaves and Loaves

Prosphora–six loaves

Mixed: 10:15

Molded: 11:15

Baked: 11:45

We have so many prosphoron bakers at our church that my name has never been added to the official list. But this Holy Week, with services every day, liturgy almost every morning, I had a feeling that a few extra loaves would be welcome. So when I posed the question to Father Nicholas Monday evening, he said that three loaves, or five even, would be VERY welcome.

If you’ve ever read my children’s book, The Woman and the Wheat, then you’ve certainly read my sentiments about how to spend a day baking. But the book really isn’t about baking and bread at all, it’s about Christ, and the miracle and love and joy that we find in that cup that is offered to us each and every liturgy. And that’s what Holy Week is all about, and what Pascha is all about, and what baking prosphoron in all about. Love, and joy and Christ.

I’ll be blogging, in the next few months, about my adventures with prosphora. Basically, you need to reverse your bread-baking instincts and focus on one thing–the seal. I’ve got a few tips for you, and look forward to putting together that series of posts.

Meanwhile, it’s still Lent and I’ve got some forgiveness giving to do. This morning, once the stores open, I’m off on my hardest task–to take a loaf of pumpkin bread to a crabby business owner. I asked my husband if he might enjoy taking it to her in my stead, but he gave me one of those you-can-be-brave looks. In just an hour, I’ll be off!

Hoping you’re having a beautiful, lovely spring day.

More soon!


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.


Run for Cover

Not much baking this week. After making an amazing batch of sourdough, which you witnessed in the last post, I made a too-moist, horrendous next batch, which zapped my zeal (the dough had way too much moisture–and I pretended not to notice). I didn’t dare share–and we still have one uneaten half loaf that will end up in the trash bin soon. It was pretty icky.

I then turned to rye crackers. Lots of success there. Cut them into little hearts and they all got eaten up in a minute. And it being Cheesefare, my husband made a delicious souffle! But enough about the end product, I’d like to give you a few hints that might help you during your baking efforts.

I have a small drawer in our kitchen island where I keep all the cloths I use when baking. Four of these cloths are thickish white napkins that I use especially for making no-knead bread, and two of them are cotton tea towels that I use for covering my rising dough. I do not wash them after every use, I allow them to dry, then remove any dough or flour with my scraper, shake them over the trash to get whatever loose flour is there, then put them back in the drawer for next time. Sometimes… they do need to be washed, but not often. Here I am using my cloths to cover a large batch of bread I was making. (I took everything outside into the cool air to try to slow the rise since I needed to run carpool.)

But whenever I can–I try not to use my cloths. They can be messy, and take time and effort to clean for the next use. I have found lids and plates from various cupboards that fit tightly over the rims of my two big bowls. They help keep the dough moist during its first rise in the bowl,

and if I’m making a round loaf, which is often the case, then I simply rinse out the bowl and use it again (but now upside down) to cover the dough during the second round of proofing.

The whole purpose of covering your dough when it rises is to maintain moisture and heat so the yeast can have its heyday and expand your dough. If you were to leave the dough uncovered, a dry crust would develop and it would be an Ugly Loaf of bread once baked. The crust would inhibit oven spring, making the bread more dense, and carmelization would most likely not occur. I know. I’ve done it!

If you have any tips that help you in the rising of dough, please share 🙂

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!

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…


  • 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!

Sourdough Recipe

Growing up in a family of bread bakers who specialize in sourdough I can tell you two things. I recognize the look, taste and smell of a perfectly made loaf, AND I have been completely intimidated by that living yeast to tackle this style of bread baking, until now. You know, I’m not getting any younger. I’ve decided on many fronts that I’d rather continue to try new things and fail instead of living in a little bubble spinning in the same circles. Sourdough is a good challenge–and I’ve made several batches now of really delicious bread!

Sourdough is made with the simplest of ingredients. Flour, water, salt and that wonderful mixture of sour sponge. (Sourdough starter–or sponge– is flour and water and many little living yeasties that are kept alive by consistent feeding. It’s like having a little puppy in the house–a puppy who lives in the cupboard. Here’s a recipe for making starter from scratch that explains the process well.) Because making a starter takes quite a bit of time, ask around to see if there’s someone you know who might be willing to share theirs. I’ve given away many small batches of starter already this year to neighbors and friends…

Note: I don’t give any firm times in this recipe for when to mold the dough and when to bake. This is not a loaf of bread for beginners because you’ll need to be familiar with the way dough looks when it’s ready at each stage. Much will depend on the temperature and moisture in your kitchen, and the liveliness of the sponge. That said, go ahead and give it a whirl–there’s nothing like learning by doing–and you can always make croutons if it doesn’t come out quite right!

Time Commitment: Between 20 and 24 hours, depending on the conditions in your kitchen. You’ll need to activate your starter before you begin, so think about that as you’re planning…

Tools you need:
  • Cookie sheets or bread peel
  • Large mixing bowl
  • an oven :)
  • Wooden spoon
  • Other tools I use, but that aren’t imperative: spray bottle, parchment paper, dough scrapers, baking stone,


  • 3 cups all purpose flour
  • 3/4 cup bread flour
  • 1/2 cup sourdough starter
  • 10-12 ounces of cool or lukewarm water
  • 2 teaspoons salt (I like sea salt)
  • rice flour or corn meal for dusting
What to do:

Step One: Activate the starter. If your starter hasn’t been used in a few days, then it could do with a bit of refreshing before you begin. Add a little flour and water into your starter several hours before you want to mix your dough.

Step Two: Combine all dry ingredients in a bowl and mix with a wooden spoon. Add the starter, mix some more, then add the water. (I keep my starter fairly liquid, so I have to adjust my water accordingly.)  Stir, then get your hands into the dough and mix.

Turn it out onto a clean surface and begin kneading. Knead for about 8-10 minutes. Pray while you knead… Sing some Sourdough Slim ballads such as You Are My Sunshine while you knead, maybe even do a little yodeling :).

Step Three: In a large, clean mixing bowl, either dust the bottom of your bowl with flour, or oil it. Place your dough in the bowl and cover it with a moist, clean cloth. Allow to rise until double in bulk. I typically mix my sourdough in the early evening or late afternoon. The first rise will take around 12-15 hours. Sleeping during this rise makes the most sense!

Step Four: Time to prepare my pans for baking. First, I take out a sheet of parchment paper and place it on a cookie sheet. I sprinkle the paper with rice flour (you can also use corn meal) in order to easily remove the bread when it’s baked. Another method I use is to dust rice flour on my husband’s favorite wooden pizza peel and allow the bread to rise there…

Mold your dough. I like to shape my sourdough into round boules. Once your loaves are molded, cover them again with a damp cloth.

Step Five: Allow the dough to again double in size. This rise takes less time than the first, usually about 5-8 hours. About 30 minutes before baking, preheat the oven to 500 degrees.

Step Six: Your loaves are ready to bake and the oven is HOT. Score the loaves with a sharp knife or razor blade. I use a small, serrated pairing knife. Place your cookie sheet onto the baking stone in the center of the oven, or peel off your bread directly onto the stone. Take a spray bottle and spray in your oven, (I like to spray below the bread, but be careful of the heating elements…) to create steam. I typically do this twice during the first 10 minutes of baking.  Bake for 10 minutes.

Reduce the heat of the oven to 425 degrees. Sometimes I will remove the cookie sheet at this point and allow the bread to bake directly on the baking stone for the rest of the time. Bake another 20-24 minutes, depending on the shape of your loaves (rolls require a shorter bake) and the true heat of your oven.

Remove the bread, and cool on a rack, unbothered, for at least 30 minutes. Then, the best part.

Give one loaf to a neighbor and eat the other:)