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.

Let Them Bake Bread!

Baked all day with a host of munchkins

Many years ago, my husband and I helped found a small, classical school here in Santa Barbara. SJDA (Saint John of Damascus Academy) is still hanging in there, providing a wonderful education for families who value a small, private setting, engaged teachers, and the classical method. Both of my older children spent all their early years at this school, so it’s fun to give back when I can.

The class above has embarked on a long journey into the Middle Ages this September, so I was called upon to apprentice young bakers, using the methods and ingredients that you would find during Saint Brigid’s day. I’ve done quite a lot of research into bread baking during the early Middle Ages (see my posts from January 2010), so it was fun to share my knowledge with these eager learners.

First they chose flours–we had whole wheat, barley–plus some oat, rye, barley and wheat flakes available.

Then they added yeast (we used both dry active yeast and some of my brewer’s yeast starter).

Then sea salt that I made right here in my own backyard.

And finally, a choice of water, honey, and buttermilk (they were allowed to choose what proportion of each…).

Once all the ingredients were in their respective bowls, they set to mixing…

and kneading…

and waiting…

They sang with Mrs Sereda while the dough was rising, then climbed into the trees to read.

Then they molded the dough, and John Ronan blew bubbles.

From 9-2 we hung out, working, laughing, playing, singing, reading… And at the end of the day, each young apprentice had a loaf of bread, made with his or her own two hands, ready to taste and share… They were amazing. All kids, given the chance, are amazing.

Don’t you think?

Cakes, Strangers, and Friends

Baked TWO cakes

The people who unearthed the ruined church in Rhodes, Greece in 1500 must have been excited to piece together the life of Saint Phanourios. Imagine finding his icon and wondering, wondering, wondering why his was the only one not damaged. And then came the miracles. There must have been a lot of chatter and research and dinnertime conversation about him as his life as a soldier, then martyr, was reconstructed.

And I can imagine the first time someone baked a cake in honor of his mother. Saying prayers as they mixed, venturing out onto the cobbled roads with the cake in a basket, to find someone nearby who could use a little sustenance, then returning to the church to meditate and pray for a while longer. I’d love to visit Rhodes on August 27th. I wonder what other traditions still abound there. Here’s a link if you want to read more of his story and see a photo of the original icon.

So, in his honor, and it being a slow and easy Friday, yesterday we set to baking early. My friend and fellow author, Chrissi Hart, placed a link on her facebook page with a recipe just in time, so I mixed and measured and soon had a cake baking in the oven. But as the smells began to filter through the house, and as I explained St Phanourios’ story to my hungry daughter, we soon realized that today we’d have to bake two cakes: one to give, and one to share. (New recipes should always be tasted!)

As we drove downtown, we chatted about who to give the dense (and hopefully) delicious cake to. I’d wanted to give it to a homeless person–maybe the fellow I see often at Alice Keck Park. But Madeleine soon pointed out that that cake would be a burden to one man–it was dense, and a lot to lug around. Then, I thought of taking it to the center where my son volunteers, a place that provides preschool to homeless children. But… I remembered they don’t accept homemade goods from outsiders, but cook all the food for the children themselves…

So, since time was running out, I was excited when I spotted a family having a picnic at Kid’s World. There were six of them, and they were munching on sandwiches and soda. Perfect. I towed my kids alongside for moral support and ahemed as I walked up to the picnic table, “I’m sorry to bother you. I know you have no idea who I am, or whether you should trust me,” I started, “but today’s a special day.”

They definitely looked at me like I was a bit off.

“On this day, in honor of a saint, you bake a cake and give it away to strangers. Would you like the cake?” I said with a hesitant smile.

“Yes!” said the only little one in the group. Her eyes sparkled and the grown ups laughed.

“What saint?” asked the grandma.

“Saint Phanourios. The cake is in honor of his mother. And you don’t have to eat it–I just want to give it.”

“Well, thank you,” said a few of them.

I turned to go–to let the kids run and tumble before we headed back home, and I can’t tell you how relieved I felt to be done with that awkward giving. As always, though, I was more than glad that I stepped out of my comfort zone and did it. From across the playground I noticed them munching on bits of the cake while my two played.

And as my children played I made two new friends! Michelle plopped right down next to me and grabbed my camera, demanding my name. We negotiated a bit and decided on a photo shoot. Nothing like a new friend. 🙂

And then Stella toddled by. She quickly started handing me nature gifts, so I talked to her about the trees while her mom stood by to catch her tumbles. Here are my two favorite treasures that she placed in my hand.

Well, and then I looked at my watch, called in the troops,

came home and baked cake number two. We took that second cake to the beach, where we shared it with friends while we watched the sunset.

What did you do for Saint Phanourios Day? I’d love to hear…

Birthday Bread–Play by Play

More rosemary rolls–20 of them

Mixed: 6:30 pm

Molded: 9 pm (then retarded in fridge all night)

Baked: 7 am

Fed nine on my birthday/island adventure

Last year my birthday was celebrated amidst a wildfire catastrophe, so this year we decided to create our own adventure and take a day trip to Santa Cruz Island, an uninhabited slice of land that graces the Santa Barbara Channel. I’ve wanted to visit this island for years…

There are no services offered on the island, just fresh water and outhouses, so we needed to pack whatever we’d need for the day. Birthday fare included: homemade rosemary rolls (my current favorite!), hard Italian salami from Via Maestra, jazz apples, green olives, gorgonzola cheese, water, and a wee bit of wine. But first! we had to trek to our picnic spot and earn our vittles…

It was a beautiful, warm day and the vistas were inspiring…

Some of us struggled at about mile two. The trail was steep, the wind was blowing, and my daughter is a drama queen!

Finally, we ate lunch at the mountain top, amidst fields of wild grasses. The rosemary rolls were a gigantic hit!

Refueled, we hiked the remaining two miles, played in the valley, climbed trees, marveled at the foxes and soaked up the beauty of that rugged place.

In the afternoon we reboarded the boat, a few rolls left in the backpack for those in our party who don’t like the topsy turvy water. (Munching on bread helps keep the mind and the tummy from rebelling.) But who had time to think about seasickness? The channel was teeming with seals, sea lions, porpoise and humpback whales all playing in the large swells; it was quite a birthday show.

I’m already planning a trip back.

Giving–February Play by Play

Four loaves of French bread

Mixed: 8 pm

Molded: 10:30 pm

(Retarded overnight)

Baked: 7:30 am

Gave two to a family with a newborn, one to a super science teacher…

The morning started with baking. The French mix I made had too much moisture… The bread came out looking super yicky. I decided to give it away, anyway. Lent is a time for humility!

Contrast this to the bread my brothers are making in their new bakery in LA. Ooh, la la. That sourdough is beyond words…

Off to science class. Dropped my daughter off to learn about molecules. Then made my way down the road to deliver two loaves of the ugly French to a family with a brand new babe. The mama’s a redhead–and I’m partial to those whose recessive hair genes won out. They were having a bit of a rough morning, so I gave the bread, and a book, and off we sped.

To the playground!

And in the mix of the twenty or so children jumping, digging, swinging and begging for snacks, I spotted a busy redhead burning off her morning’s cinnamon toast. Look at her go!

Then I bought a donut for my traveling companion, and we talked about how to make chocolate machines for a while.

The donut gone–we strolled a while, then bumped into a crocodile.

(I wish–that’s right out of one of my favorite children’s books, Tumble Bumble.)

We picked up my daughter, where I learned that one of the molecule experiments got a little too lively. The teacher recommended bringing goggles next week. 🙂

And now I’m home, wanting to redeem myself and bake a loaf of beautiful bread.

Onward!