My Pop

Three loaves of pumpkin bread–ate one, gave two away (have almost perfected the recipe!)

He’s one of a kind, my dad. This blog is about my giving, but I could never be a bigger giver than my dad. I thought it appropriate to share a bit about him with all of you–we recently drove down to LA, where he and my mom live, and cooked him a five-course Italian dinner. Stop! I wrote “we.” Okay, I did not cook anything!

Start again. We recently drove down to LA, where he and my mom live, and my beloved and very creative and chef-happy husband cooked him a five-course Italian dinner. It was our Christmas present to him… I was the dish sorter and cleaner and the table waitress.

My dad grew up in Venice, CA, was an athlete, and a baker’s son. He had sort of a rough childhood, but instead of carrying on the misery of anger and neglect, he forged a new path. He absolutely loves people, and LoVes to have fun. He’s a born storyteller and exaggerator, he misuses the English language continually, and his very essence is generous.

Scroll back up and look at him! What an outfit. He wanted to dress Italian (he’s actually Basque) so he threw on an old medal, a black bow tie, and a beret. He’s a goof. You could never embarrass him since he’s the one always making ridiculous choices for himself. Here are a few photos of the evening.

My husband and I used to live in Colorado, but moved back to California–leaving a gorgeous Craftsman home that we built near a creek–to be closer to my parents, who are both gems. We sacrificed a lot of material things leaving… But! But! Being near inspiring people is worth more than any beautiful home (it had a whole upstairs for the kids, and a library, and a separate wing for guests, and a really gorgeous bathtub and a half acre with fruit trees and grape vines, and…). But who can learn virtue from a house? Just think of the examples my kids see each time we are with them. Grandparents who get down on their knees to play with the little ones, who look straight into the eyes of the big kids and ask them how they are, grandparents who take them out fishing, who take them out shopping, who take them out walking in the neighborhood to find cats to talk to. Grandparents who pray for them.

You know? I want to be like my dad. I want to enjoy real people more than the characters I find in a book. I want to take the time and effort to bring beauty and laughter to others’ lives. I want to be that kind of person who just can’t judge another…

So, now you’ve been introduced to my dad. Jack. I bet you have people like this in your life–and if you don’t, maybe YOU can become that person. The kind of person that exudes goodness and giving… The kind of person who values others–even broken others.

Cheers, dad! I love you.


For a Song

One loaf of no-knead sourdough for Val

Mixed: 8 pm

Molded: 7 am next day

Baked: 8 am

October 1st is the feast day of Saint Romanos, a man who, after being shamed in public, was miraculously granted the gift of composing music. He lived in Constantinople in the fifth century, born only about 40 years after Saint Brigid of Ireland. His story, (and here’s a fairly condense yet dramatic version) highlights the beauties of humility, prayer, and song. Because I admire this saint so much–I’ve actually written a children’s book about him! What fun to dive back into fifth century research and learn about the Byzantine world (how I would LOVE to be transported to ancient Constantinople! Hagia Sophia and the Blachernae church were both wonders…) The story is complete, and I hope to send it out to publishers vite vite!

So… I baked up a yummy loaf of artisan bread for our new choir director at church, Valerie Yova, in honor of Saint Romanos’ feast day. She has brought so much vibrancy and organization to our community, so this is just a small way to say thank you for her efforts. The photo above is from an icon of Saint Romanos that was presented to Valerie before she came to Santa Barbara. It was written by a parish priest in San Diego, her former home…

Valerie is so very knowledgeable in all things regarding church music, and she helped give me some very important leads to Byzantine scholars when I was researching Saint Romanos… She’s just now beginning a course for chanters in Byzantine music. And if you’ve never heard Byzantine music before–head to the Cappella Romana website where they have samplings of many of their recordings. Saint Romanos wrote several of the kontakions that they have sung, and their sound is heavenly…

Lastly, just because it was fun to hop around on Youtube to dig up Byzantine music, here are two Orthodox choirs named after Saint Romanos.

  • A Greek choir in Modesto, CA. Saint Romanos Choir sings a seven-minute version of  O Pure One in Greek.
  • Saint Romanos the Melodist Choir of Melbourne, Australia sings in Arabic during a Paschal celebration.

People Who Inspire Me: Olympians

Two loaves of molasses bread (see link to recipe below)

Mixed: 2:45 pm

Molded: 4:45 pm

Baked: 5:25 pm

Gave to a family who runs the race–and hard…

Some of you may know that I was a gymnast as a young girl. I trained for many years. Five or six days a week, four or more hours each day. I stretched, strengthened, and flew my body around daily, and loved it. I also learned lessons about pain, about finding strength when you thought you had none, about staying dedicated and being determined.

The Winter Games are in Vancouver and I’m inspired. These athletes who have given themselves to sport inspire me to give of myself at the next level. Not just give bread, though that’s certainly become part of my daily life… But especially to give more light than dark. Light, not dark. That’s really my deepest quest. It’s the way I, with my aged body and sometimes failing brain, can remain an athlete for years and years, even past the days when I’ll be able to kick up into a handstand like you see above…

Have you ever noticed that sometimes, when you’re at the end of your strength, the most light and clarity about life is shed? I recently needed to find peace during a dark moment–and my body was clogged with food, my heart felt heavy, and my head was spinning. I took off running, something I typically despise, but three miles later had found immense relief and a clear vision of what to do. Think about past times when you’ve been severely ill, or have run a long race, a marathon even, or when you’ve fasted from food, or dedicated yourself to a long stint of prayer. If we look at the athlete, we know that he won’t skate to the finish line swiftly if he hasn’t broken down his mind and body in training so that it might eventually be built stronger. The very struggle and fatigue helps us find a hidden strength, energy, and vigor that can only come with giving all of yourself over to that pursuit. As a Christian, I know that I am at my best when I break down all of the Me-Barriers and allow God to flow freely through my stubborn head and cluttered heart. At my weakest, because of the struggle, I hit my peak.

So, here we are with no cable and no ability to watch the Winter Olympic Games! In general, we’re not much for the television. But I’m in the mood to be inspired…  I dropped an Olympics hint earlier today and my husband ran with it.

So, don’t tell the kids, but the cable dudes are on the way. We’ll call again after Closing Ceremonies and cancel our subscription. But in the meantime,  I’m hoping to mix, mold and bake many batches of bread…

…during commercials.

Ooh, ooh, and before I go.

I spotted the very recipe that I use for making molasses bread at this website! Yay!!! This is a wonderful recipe from Rabbit Hill Inn in Vermont–a loaf of brown delight that gets gobbled up by even the per-snicketiest sort of bread people… Most times I switch out a cup of the white bread flour for a cup of whole wheat. And sometimes I leave the butter out… Enjoy!

Fifth Century–Saved by the Monks

Two loaves of molassas bread

Two loaves of no-knead sour, plus spent barley

Gave one to the Brunners and the other to a grieving family

During this month of January I’ve been reading through this well presented book on Irish history written by Thomas Cahill. The man must be Irish himself–the book is filled with the lively humor and playfulness so typical of the Irish. I’ve enjoyed every page, and though I am familiar with much of the story, it was passages like this one, about the early monks of Ireland, that kept me reading:

…And this lack of martyrdom troubled the Irish, to whom a glorious death by violence presented such an exciting finale. If all Ireland had received Christianity without a fight, the Irish would just have to think up some new form of martyrdom…

Cahill brilliantly distills the important forces of history, focusing on the people who have made an important contribution to their cultures and times, and tells their stories. In this book we travel from Ausonius, to Augustine, to Saint Patrick and Saint Columba. We find Saint Brigid entering the story on page 172 and she stays with us until the end. There are other characters who pop in to visit: Cicero, Medb, Cuchulainn and Noisiu–so many of them impossible to pronounce, which is why I thumbed to the the pronunciation guide at the end more than once. (Thank you, Mr. Cahill!)

There weren’t any explanations of how bread was baked in the fifth century. I’ll have to write the author a personal letter about that, even though I’m not entirely sure that Irish bread baking helped save civilization in any way at all, but perhaps he has some notes he could share with me. He presented so clearly his thesis of the simultaneous breakdown of the Roman world with the intellectual and literary build up of the Irish one, that I didn’t much mind. In short–it was Saint Patrick who paved the way for hundreds of peaceful monasteries to be built around and about that grassy, green land. The monasteries housed eager Irish monks who not only enjoyed their work of creatively copying out texts, but who also savored the ancient classical texts, spending their days, and nights copying and illuminating, learning, discussing, and writing little verses of their own in the margins and on scraps of vellum. While most of the lands under Roman rule were deep into the middle ages, losing their educations by way of poverty and serfdom and the burning of libraries… the Irish were enjoying a time of peace–a time of light and discovery–and they gave these treasures back to the Western world, once the dark ages began to wane.

If you don’t know the basic story of Saint Patrick–please go get yourself a copy of Zachary Lynch’s The Life of Saint Patrick: Enlightener of the Irish. Though it’s just a children’s picture book, the story comes with all the dramatic and important details that highlight his story; it is taken straight from St. Patrick’s own Confessions.

I’ve been gushing about Mr Cahill’s writing all month. No wonder it sat on the bestseller list for almost two years in the mid 1990’s. If you’re at all interested in learning more about Saint Patrick and his influence on Western civilization, or if you’re just looking for a an inspiring read that dips you back in history, have fun with this one.

And now, back to my oven. There’s bread in there, and I need to figure out who to give it to!

Any takers?

(…And, if you’re out there, Mr. Cahill, the bread is hot, and you’ve done your share of inspiring me to deserve a loaf–or three…)

Disclosure of Material Connection: Believe me, I have not received any compensation for writing this post. Wouldn’t that be nice if I had? 🙂 I have no material connection to Mr. Cahill, and though I do know Mr. Lynch, he doesn’t know that I’m mentioning his book here… nor will I get any sous, or Euros, or even a cracker for pointing you to either of the two books above. I know these disclosures are supremely silly, and take away from the sweet nature of this blog post, but I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

People who Inspire me–Mrs. Hodson

Sourdough boule

Mixed: 11 pm (wow, usually I’m in bed before then…)

Molded: 2:15 pm next day

Baked: 4:15 pm

Gave to Ms. Hodson–teacher extraordinaire…

Here she is pictured with her daughter, before a performance of Pirates of Penzance last November.

I have no doubt that if Ms. Hodson had lived anywhere in Ireland during St. Brigid’s time, she would have been found out, led to Kildare, and asked to teach music to all the children, plus direct the cathedral choir and probably have the whole community singing like angels in no time. Rebecca has musically influenced our family for many years now, providing countless experiences for my children to sing in festivals, in operas, in weddings, but more than anything she has taught them to sing beautiful music and provided an excellent example of what it really means to teach something well…

I’ve watched Rebecca in action for a long while, and have studied her (I coordinated all the uniforms for a local children’s choir, so hung out in the back room–a lot!), hoping to pick up a few of her secrets–some I’d like to share with you today–especially if you have an active role in educating or raising children. Even though she is so musically gifted, she is foremost a teacher, and I believe that she could inspire folks to learn just about anything. She contends that any child can be taught to sing–and it’s true, I’ve seen some miracles happen!

Respect and Love

Rebecca respects children. From the get go she treats them like musicians, like professionals and she loves them with hugs and smiles and countless encouraging words. She never talks down to a child–never rebukes a note gone wrong, but instead uses positive examples to get kids moving down the right path. “Jessica, sing that again for us–that’s just what I was looking for!” And Jessica happily sings the phrase, and those who weren’t quite getting it now have an example to follow, and Jessica is thrilled for having done it right.

Discipline and Play

Rebecca encourages both discipline and play. We traveled with her to a festival in Hawaii, when my children sang in the local children’s chorus. Ms. Hodson loves to have fun, and rallies behind the kids to get in the pool and swim and scream and splash around. But when it’s time to sing, the kids are expected to stand up tall, to be completely engrossed in the music at hand. This balance or trade off of both the fun and the work was a part of every rehearsal, of every musical endeavor. The children knew that the hard work went hand in hand with laughter and learned to flip between the two through basic signals that Rebecca used. One signal I remember is her “Ooooooooo” that she would sing in her head voice and then the children would all join in. The other is a clapping rhythm that the teacher sounds out, clap, clap, clap-clap-clap.  Then the kids repeat this clapping. These signals are markers between play time and work time–they’re simple methods that work beautifully.

Expect More

Rebecca told me on more than one occasion that the kids are capable of so much, and that it’s up to the teacher to take them to the depth of their abilities. Sometimes I would look around at the scraggly group of kids lined up in the rehearsal room and think, “There’s no way she’s going to get that piece of music to sound like it’s supposed to.” But she did. Step by step, with encouraging words and so many examples of exactly what she wanted she would lure out the right notes and tones and feel. Some of my most memorable musical experiences have been listening to these children in concert–singing pieces that hold profound depth and musicality…

I think her teaching methods, of respect and love, of discipline and play, and of expecting more are worth passing on and celebrating. We had dinner together at her home, and what a dear friend she has become. I am grateful for her influence in our lives, and hope that you have someone musical in your community who inspires you, too!

People who Inspire me–Hani

Cheesy Jaco; one loaf of Aetena Hlaf or Oat Bread

Gave Jaco to Hani and his family–the oat loaf stayed home

Hani is my web guy extraordinaire. He designed my website and helps me on an ongoing basis to keep the site fresh. I’m not sure what sort of career he would have had if he were living in Saint Brigid’s time (this month is all about the fifth century for me…), but he is a creative and technical genius. Perhaps he would have handcrafted swords, like the one Saint Brigid gave away to the leper? Her father wasn’t so happy about that act of charity. Or maybe he would have helped Saint Brigid market her new community at Kildare. Somebody had to help her spread the news of that community, which attracted both folks wanting to enter the monastic life, and others who were artists, bakers, and everything in between. All I know is that Hani’s not only talented, but oh-so-very nice. An inspirational man in a world that needs to breed more gentleman like him. Thanks, Hani, for all you do…

You can find out more about Hani and the work he does here, at Hani\’s website.

Fifth Century News

Baking in the fifth century could have meant using the overnight rise technique that I’m having such fun with. I wonder how Saint Brigid, born around 453, baked her bread? Did she bake it in a pot? They loved pots; most of their meals were one-pot soups and stews, made over an open flame. Or did she have an oven at her disposal? Probably. Anyway, I do know they had barley, rye, wheat and oats at their disposal, which are the grains I’ll be fiddling with all month…until Saint Brigid’s feast day on February 1st.

(A note on the bread. The cheese jaco I made for Hani was yummy. I know, not because I snipped a bit of Hani’s loaf! that just wouldn’t be nice, but because I divided off a small portion of the dough for us to bake, then sample. The oat loaf, a new venture into fifth century food, was quite delicious! Sweet, moist, flavorful. The kids loved it and it is filled with good foods–oats, whole and unbleached wheat flour, honey and milk.  I adapted the recipe from one found in Tastes of Anglo-Saxon England by Mary Savelli.)

Couldn’t resist one more photo of Hani and his son, Lucas. When I delivered the bread, Lucas let me hold him about a dozen times. I was in baby heaven. Lucas is inspiring in his own right!

People who Inspire me–Jenny

One loaf sourdough; one loaf carrot, currant, walnut bread

Mixed: 9 pm Tuesday

Molded: 2:30 pm Wednesday

Baked: 4:35 pm

Gave the loaf of sourdough to Jenny and her hungry crew

This week and next are about two things. About giving bread to people who inspire me, and about researching bread baking in the fifth century. I’m preparing for Saint Brigid’s feast day on February 1st. Yay!

Jenny is an artist. I love being around her–the conversation always tips toward creative projects we may be working on, whether she’s sewing a pillow, or I’m crocheting a hat–or she’s decorating a home up on the Riviera. We’ve made succulent wreaths together, traveled to LA to the design center to look at fabric, and helped decorate the church with Carla’s crew each Pascha. Her creative ideas are endless and sometimes when I sit down to write, a shade of her whimsy comes over me and helps me find a better word or idea. She inspires me to be creative.

We all have these sorts of people in our lives–that God gives us–people who inspire us to reach out of our regular routine and try something new.  I’m wondering, who are the creative characters in your life?

(A note on the bread. Since I now have two small cooking pots that fit side by side in my oven, I can easily bake two loaves–one for our family and one to give away. Yippee! No more cutting jumbo loaves in half or simply giving the large loaf completely away–much to the dismay of my family. [I don’t really buy bread in the supermarket, so what I bake is what they get:)] From yesterday’s batch–Jenny got the safe loaf–the sourdough, which I know is just what it should be. Delicious. Our family tried the carrot, currant, walnut loaf from my new cookbook by Jim Lahey titled My Bread. Made with carrot juice instead of water, and with chopped walnuts plus chopped currants, pomegranate seeds, and dried cranberries, this bread was Wow!!! My husband and I loved it. It would be so wonderful paired with a gorgonzola cheese. But… the kids sort of stared at it, horrified. “Carrot juice? You’re kidding me, right? You baked with carrot juice?” Yeah, they weren’t too thrilled with the hunks I placed by their plates and ordered them to eat. They did munch down the bread, and loved grumbling about it, but I’m doubting any of it will end up in their lunches today unless I sneak in a piece, which I think is a wonderful idea! I’m off to do that right now. Just think of the fun they’ll have telling their friends about their very strange mother who bakes bread with carrot juice :))

Having fun with this cookbook

Bread made with carrot juice