Hang In There Bread

I spotted my priest, Father Nicholas, spooning strawberry jam onto a store bought white thing that resembled bread. That was midday Monday. That was his lunch…

It’s Wednesday and I’ve been thinking about that moment ever since. When I realized I’d have a few hours to bake today, I knew who needed a fresh ring of rosemary rolls, and a jar of homemade kumquat marmalade (so good!). He’s an incredible faster, that man, but I don’t want him to tumble from the altar with so many services left to go!

[Be Gone–you old, preservative-filled white bread, kept in the church refrigerator!]

Rosemary rolls, and kumquat marmalade–to be handed over after unction tonight.

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It’s Holy Week for us Orthodox–blessings to all of you who are in the midst of this beauty.

For those in Fort Collins, our old home town, digging out from the snow storm–I send you good wishes for an AMAZING summer (in which all of your vegetables grow enormous and every day brings sun and respite).

And to the rest of you lovely folk, near and far–Cheers and happy baking and giving!

Just My Size

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I am not a large human and have found that kitchen gifts once given to my kids are quite useful. Here’s an inventory of my mini-utensil stash, which lives on my counter year round.

Artichoke pitcher: Made by me, in pottery class, while studying landscape architecture a few centuries ago.

Hedgehog: Hangs on for dear life, and appreciates being part of the kitchen gang.

Mini-whisks, mini-ladels: Three of them. Two of them.

Mini metal spatula (hiding behind one of the wooden spoons): Used to be for play, now for cookies and fish sticks, and most everything that comes out of our counter-top oven.

Mini-wooden spoons: These are used often, often, often. Especially for mixing fresh flour into my sourdough starter.

And did I mention the hedgehog?! I do like these little creatures and I just had to write them into The Hidden Garden, where they get to play inside the gate of the Old Man’s heart…

There’s nothing childish about being small. If you haven’t yet raided your little one’s toy kitchen, you can always write to Saint Nicholas come Christmas. 🙂

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Nicole

It’s easy to make new friends on facebook, or twitter, or pinterest, or instagram, isn’t it? Friend requests come flowing in and I think–wow, if they lived next door, would they really want to be my friend? ! 🙂 Since I have neighbors who seem terribly uninterested in striking up a friendship with me or my boisterous family, I’m thinking the distance of my computer to yours has a lot to do with the courage folks seem to have in seeking out new people to correspond with…

Over the years, especially through the online work I do with Conciliar Press and other writers, I’ve made lots of real friends that I’ve never actually met in person. These people are dear to me, and if we ever have the chance to meet face-to-face there will be shouts and hugs and much admiring that other three-dimensional being.

But the other online state of friendship has more to do with pithy comments and pressing little hearts as likes. It’s just a bit of fun, and if I happened upon some of these folks on the street I might not know what to do with them! 🙂

All this to say, I’m proud of Nicole, and pretty pleased with myself, too, that the two of us decided to meet and say hello. We were introduced via facebook through a mutual friend–and there wasn’t really any pressing reason for us to strike up a friendship, except that we’re both part of the dying breed of redheads 🙂 And we both like books, and chocolate. (Okay, those three things might be enough!)

No matter how it happened. I mixed and molded. I baked and hip hopped across town, a loaf of warm sourdough filling the car with an almost edible odor. We sat, and chatted, and  I admired her curls, and she talked about her work as a librarian… It was lovely.

Here’s to Nicole, and hopefully many future gatherings where books are at the forefront of the conversation!

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No Fooling March

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It’s almost April first, and looking back on the last few weeks, I am thankful that some hard lessons learned in the past few years have given me the gumption and the experience to say NO. Do you ever get caught in that place when you have four too many things all happening at once? Or a life that resembles an over-stuffed purse? To stay sane in March, I said no to blogging, and no to volunteering at lunch hour, and no to making soup for church. I said no again and again, because if I didn’t, I’d be much thinner right now and probably a terrible mix of grumpy and sick.

I think I’m through the worst of the fire, and headed back into Yes territory. My littlest son and I have fallen into a nice routine of homeschooling in the morning (long story!!!); I get a bit of work time in the early afternoon while he’s at school, and the late afternoons are dedicated to everything family–driving hither and yon, soccer, yogurt making, laundry, searching out the rabbits from under the nasturtiums–you know!

I have been able to do a bit of baking this last week. Because Teen Star ended, and my duties as Mom Chaperone ended, and, well, my daughter/singer/performer/Miss Madeleine was AMAZING?! We wondered how she would do up on a giant stage, singing her little 16-year-old heart out, and she wozzied the crowd. That girl has guts, and charm, and a mighty big voice for her little body, and she just about won the whole crazy thing! Very fun to see someone want to do something, and then succeed. We’re so proud of how hard she worked and are praying that she will use her talent wisely…

Baking! I’m headed back on track and my first moment of giving that I want to share with you was to support a young mom who’s fighting cancer. She lives kind of far away, so some special friends volunteered to take food the 45 minutes south and fill up that family’s freezer. Pans and pans of food left town, and thankfully I was able to help with the effort and send some warm sourdough along in the car. It was a small gift, but I’m thankful I was able to give alongside so many generous others.

Moment number two and three were both mass bakings for events at church. On Friday I mixed up some molasses bread and carted that off to our akathist service followed by a soup dinner, and today I rose at 5am!!! to bake two enormous loaves of bread to support our Saint Brigid’s homeless ministry. Getting my hands and heart back into giving has made me extra grateful for the gifts I have–of family, home, friends, sunshine, bunnies, time to write, children and a husband to love, words, music, and the occasional burst of quiet. Giving brings gratitude…

So March is ticking its way out as I type. Just a little under two hours until April Fools, and who knows what tomorrow will bring? I’ve got about three dozen bread recipes I’m itching to try, and a list a mile long of people I want to give something to:

Nicole

The new guy who just bought the house on the corner who has chickens

My son’s amazing first grade teacher

The Montecito Library librarians

Kate, who is pregnant

Our mail carrier

I might even mail some cinnamon rolls to my son for Pascha

…what about you–is this a Yes or a No season in your life?

Him and Her

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When is the last time I baked a loaf of bread? Last Saturday, when I baked prosphoron all day (post coming about the new pan soon!), then hiked it over to a neighbor’s house so they could get it to church because I was off to a school play where I set up tables for three hours, then waited on tables for another three.

I have been running, folks. I have spent the last month grateful when I had time for a shower, and so thrilled to lay my head down on the pillow each night. It’s that kind of season in our home and I haven’t been baking.

In fact, my husband made a pot of jambalaya last week and sent my dad off to the store for a baguette. 😦

My little fellow above has needed extra attention as of late. Struggling in the school setting, we brought him home to do school here, then added back in half days at school in the afternoons; I even spent an entire week observing in the first grade classroom (A Whole Week in First Grade!). His life has been unsettled as we seek to find the very best situation for his learning, and on top of that we are filling out paperwork and meeting with teachers and administrators, and assessing his behavior with district folk … It’s a lot, but it’s where much of my energy is flowing at the moment. And he’s so worth it…

And then there’s her:

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Almost sixteen, a caring friend to those around her and an adorable daughter–a gifted girl. Madeleine’s world just got more exciting with a high school play (stories by Chekhov–it was awesome!) overlapped by being chosen as a finalist in a local teen show that highlights singers. She will be performing on Saturday, March 23rd at the Granada Theatre–all five feet of her, up on that giant, gorgeous stage. Every day it’s another email, another set of photos, another mentoring session or rehearsal. Because there is so much media involved, and because she is still a minor, that means parents need to be a part of everything. Everything! It’s super fun, but where’s the bread? 🙂

So, that’s the kind of giving I’m doing these days. Being a mom on two fronts, for two precious people who need my support. I am beginning to long for some sourdough, but think I can wait a little longer until life settles.

It’s their season, and things will shift soon enough, I’m sure.

Hoping your season is filled with joy and good things. What is holding your attention at the moment–I’d love to know!

The Hidden Garden

I almost forgot to let you all know that The Hidden Garden, my newest children’s picture book is now a real-live Something! No longer a computer file, or a hope, or a wish. It’s been transformed into ink and paper and a book to hold and share!

This is a pretty exciting thing for an author. (…and a baker’s daughter…)

Here is the cover.

Hidden Garden (cover only)

And here is a summary of the book.

Within every heart is a hidden garden. We can neglect it until the weeds take over and the flowers wither and die. Or, with the help of Christ, we can care for it and make it a place of beauty, grace, and joy.

This charming parable will encourage children (and adults) to open the gate to Christ and tend the garden of their heart with loving care.

And here is a picture of me holding lemons–just because.

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And here is what three very nice people have to say about the book…

…just beautiful! So simple yet profoundly moving. This is exactly the view of salvation I want my children to absorb. The list of ways to open the gate of our heart at the end of the book are applicable to children and adults alike. Literature that makes me want to be a better human being is truly a gift.

–Molly Sabourin, author of Close to Home, podcaster, blogger, and professional photographer

The garden is much more than a metaphor in the Christian faith. It is a sacrament. Jane Meyer has not so much written a new parable as transcribed–in the simplest prose for the very young–the heart of the Gospel. The Hidden Garden is a beautifully written book and a vibrant bouquet of color from the hand of illustrator Masha Lobastov.

–Vigen Guroian, Professor of Religious Studies at the University of Virginia, and author of The Fragrance of God

Those who read this colorful book will realize that it is never too early–or too late–to care for one’s heart as for a garden.

–Jim Forest, author of Saint George and the Dragon

So, if you’re interested in finding out more, just hop on over to my website and check out The Hidden Garden book page. There’s also a fun link to an interview with Masha Lobastov, the illustrator.

And I’m on Twitter. And on Instagram. And on Facebook. (Sheesh, that’s a line up of ridiculousness right there…)

You can purchase copies at the Conciliar Press website, and pretty soon Amazon and other online sites will be stocking it. You may always head over to your local bookstore with the ISBN number: 978-1-936270-38-5, and they can order you a copy as well…

Lastly, if you’d like a signed copy of the book, for yourself, or for a little one, just email me and I would be happy to sign a book and ship it straight to you. They are $20, including stateside shipping (let’s chat if you live outside the States). Easter is coming and this sweet book would be lovely tucked in a basket next to those dyed eggs and bunny finger puppets.

Back to baking. Rosemary rolls on the rise!

Stealthy Valentine’s Giving!

Step One: Mix dough for chocolate shortbread cookies.

Step Two: Let the little one cut out the hearts, then bake.

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Step Three: Wrap the cookies, make a little heart-shaped Happy Valentine’s Day note, tie with red ribbon.

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Step Four: Put the gifts in a sweet little handmade bag for carrying.

Step Five: Scope out the neighborhood and make a plan (we decided to leave treats for those folks on our block who are single and live alone–plus give one to the Dunns, whom we love, and one to the folks who are renting on the corner).

Step Six: Sneak and tiptoe so folks don’t see us. Put the treats in mailboxes if mail hasn’t been brought in yet.

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Step Seven: Slowly squeeze treats through Jack’s mail slot, but be quiet because he is home!!! And when he hears us at the door, drop the treats and…

Step Eight: Run!!!

Leave a Note

When I don’t know what to bake, when the kids aren’t asking for one thing or another, I usually err on the side of sourdough. I get to use my starter, the bread can be served with sweet (toast with cinnamon sugar, or chocolate hazelnut spread, or french toast) or it can be wonderful with savory things (soups, bruschetta, sandwich bread, as a side to Greek salad), etc… So last week I baked up some sourdough in the late afternoon and had a warm loaf to share .
My daughter gets to rock climb with school twice each week so I took a loaf to her enthusiastic instructor. It was dark, and we needed to return home quickly, so I left the bag with the bread inside, tucked under the windshield wiper of the school van. I searched and searched my car and purse for a pen or pencil so I could write something–I didn’t want it to look like leaving it was mistake, or some other misconception. But we couldn’t dredge up anything to write with. How’s that for being a writer?!

And then I forgot to call to at least let them know leaving it wasn’t an accident.

So, a week later I see the instructor and mention the bread.

SOOOOO, you are the ones who left it! The teacher said slowly. We wondered. We weren’t sure if it was for us, or??? It’s still on our kitchen counter.

I apologized, and said it might still be good for French toast, or bread pudding 🙂 He was gracious, even thankful, but stale bread? Boo…

Next time I will leave a note. I already packed an extra pen into my purse, just in case. I like pens!

And I will bake another loaf of bread for this dear man and his wife. Stale sourdough is okay, but a fresh loaf?!!!!

Cheers, Friends!

Trick :: Long First Rise–What Then?

Photo by Matt Roberts, who made that fun movie about my bread giving..

Photo of rosemary rolls by Matt Roberts, who made that fun movie about my bread giving..

Once you’ve baked for a bit and know what dough should look like at the various phases then it’s fairly easy to begin fudging here and there with ingredients, proofing times, and oven temperatures.

Today, I will be away from the house for more than a first rise. I’ve been away from the house almost all week, which is why I haven’t been blogging or baking, because I’m spending this week in first grade.

After the first day of school back in first grade I came straight home, flung off my boots, and took a two-hour nap. OH MY!

But we have no bread in the house and children are begging.

So, I’m mixing up some dough for rosemary rolls and here’s what I’ll do.

Reduce the amount of yeast in my mix, add some sourdough starter, use cold water (I always use cold, filtered water) and make sure the dough isn’t sitting in a sunny place. Mix it all up and let it rise, rise, rise.

When I come home, after about five hours of rising, the dough will have spent much of its energy. So… I’ll get the pots into the oven, heat it all up, and when the oven is close-ish to its 450 degrees I’ll shape the rolls and let them sit for about 10-15 minutes–maybe less–I’ll keep those eyes of mine wide open and decide then. If I let them have a long second rise then I’ll end up with flatbread. Not that I have anything against flatbread, but that’s not today’s mission!

I’ve done this before, and it works. A long first rise means a very short second one. A short first rise means a longer first one–or maybe even two additional rises. We shouldn’t be slaves to our recipes and it’s pretty fun experimenting with yeasties to see just how they can be manipulated and stretched so that we’re not anxious and fretting about being in the kitchen when we really should be sitting in a desk learning first grade goodness!

Two and a half more days to go and then I’m back to being a grown up. Cheer me on, would you?!

Butter :: Recipe

Bread and Butter.

Even in the home of a baker, where the bread was good enough to eat without any embellishments, we always had butter on the counter, soft, ready for spreading.

My dad would come home from the bakery with an armload of fresh baguettes, or a beautiful sourdough jaco, or maybe on occasion some kaiser rolls. The bread always went straight to the kitchen counter that separated the breakfast nook from the cooking area. We didn’t use bread knives, just tore off pieces as my mom was making spaghetti, or a turkey soup was slowly boiling. Every evening before dinner this happened, for as long as I can remember, and the bread was never eaten without butter. Spread thinly, sometimes not so thinly, I once questioned my dad about butter, knowing the bread could stand alone. He just laughed. It enhances all of it, Janie. The flavors, the wheat and the salt and the starter… What would bread be without butter?

Knowing what I know now, not only is bread better with butter from a taste standpoint, but mixing those carbs and fats are better for us as well. Butter is good for you! Haven’t you heard?!!!

Anyway, on this eve of Saint Brigid’s feast, we are making up a little bit of butter just for the fun of it. We already have some in the fridge, but in memory of a beloved and faithful dairymaid, we are butter churners tonight.

Here’s how you do it :

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Find a cute small jar with a lid.

Add the heavy cream–not too full–only half–so that there’s room for shaking. Just cream, nothing else.

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Shake–with or without music–with or without cousins… (My drama girl is always up for shaking…)

20 minutes (or less) of shaking. Shake, shake, shake! (At some point you will feel like nothing in there is moving, that’s because you  have now made whipped cream! Just keep shaking, trade off between little ones and grown ups so it’s not a chore, and some bit of time after this you will hear that the butter has separated. You can shake some after this, we do, but I’m not sure it’s really necessary…)

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And you have butter, and a wee bit of buttermilk, too. Strain off the buttermilk to use, or drink, (do NOT pour it down the drain; it’s too delicious) and enjoy  the wonderful fruits of your shaking!

Here’s an excerpt from The Life of Saint Brigid--Brigid, a woman of Christ whom I long to emulate!

Brigid saw Christ in everyone she met, and had a particular love for those less fortunate than herself.

When the poor came knocking at the kitchen doors, Brigid handed out loaves of bread, jars of butter and jugs of milk.

With her heart and hands opened wide, she even gave away the food meant for the chieftain himself!

Cheers, dear friends. Enjoy a moment of dairy-maiding!