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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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!

Framed in Love

We have three children heading in three different directions this fall. One off to college in Seattle, one tumbling into her sophomore year of high school, and the last just starting first grade–at a new school–actually at his very first school ever. Lots of changes.

And I have two new jobs! An editing position, and a support role for my brothers and their business.

Yes, summer’s end is here.

Which probably means more regular baking. Gotta have bread for those pb&j’s. And that will mean more giving. Hurrah!

Speaking of giving. I’ve done a bit of that lately–but, I’m keeping those stories to myself. Sometimes when your heart asks you to help another–the backstory of the circumstance, the middle story, and even what is to come needs to be guarded and kept private. That seems to be the trend as of late, so just know that I’m a busy bee here in my kitchen, and that this has been a prayerful time of giving, and of hoping for healing…

One thing that won’t change as we transition into fall are my excursions to the beach! Did you know that I spend time at the beach every single week, sun or storm, rain or raging wind? And here’s what I found at the beach this very day. A heart-framed view–a fitting reminder of how I’m trying to live my life–everything framed in love.

Dear Summer,

I’ll miss you, but I am excited about this time of new beginnings. Thank you for all the gifts you’ve brought my way these last three months–the warm days, new friends, the plums, the evening barbecues.

Oh, Lord, the author of Summer and the coming seasons, too… Help me to be a woman, who frames her days–every single one of them–in love.

jane

Measuring

Most bread baking books will tell you how important it is to get your measurements right. They will recommend weighing your ingredients, instead of using measuring cups. Here’s what Daniel Leader and Judith Blahnik say in their book Bread Alone:

A scale is vital. I like the ultra-precise Pelouze Balance Beam, but home bakers will do fine with a small spring scale. Bakers are incredibly precise about their ingredients. They weigh everything. It’s more reliable and specific than a measuring cup…

Well, I have to admit that I have yet to invest in a Pelouze Balance Beam scale. 🙂 It’s true, though, with so many environmental variables surrounding the baking of bread in a home kitchen, it helps to have consistency at least in your ingredients and measurements. One trick I’ve developed comes with the measuring of salt and yeast.

I’ve converted old baking powder containers into spice and salt containers.

This allows me to get fairly accurate measurements from one batch of bread to the next so that I know how to better make adjustments. I’ve converted some other spices to these containers, too. Spices that are potent and whose quantities need to be monitored carefully.

Plus, the wide mouths allow little bakers easy access to the ingredients.

And there’s no way to measure my delight when little–or big helpers–join me when I’m baking.

Nope, no scale, Pelouze or not,

that measures delight…

Not Afraid of New

Been baking, been baking!

And writing…

As a writer, my most awesome adversary is fear. Do I really want to know that character’s deepest secrets? Do I want to reveal so much of myself through my words? What if I spend my whole adult life pursuing this career and end up being a dud? Fear. It’s the root of writer’s block. Fear. It’s what makes me stop writing mid-thought and head to the kitchen for potato chips.

Having been a gymnast as a young girl, each day I was challenged to try new tricks. I was asked to become stronger, more flexible, faster and more daring. In general, the entirety of a child’s life is built on learning and having to master new trick after new trick. Dressing themselves. Tying shoes. Learning to swim, and read, and make friends, and share, and brush their teeth until they gleam.

I’m not a child anymore; my life has steadied, and is full of routine. The learning curve has dipped… I’m even forgetting things! We’ve lived in the same house for over ten years. We send the kids off to school with the same peanut butter sandwiches. I struggle with the same vices over and over again–against impatience, against anger, against being sluggish and selfish. And I’m noticing that the older I get, the more fearful I become.

I see this in myself, and it has turned me more toward prayer, but it has also brought about a desire for being child-like again, for being vulnerable and willing to tackle something new. And as I try new things, I know my kids are watching.

Here are a few simple things that I’ve been up to…

Jalapeno bread. The other day I chopped up some spicy peppers and tossed them into the mix. Super spicy. I’ll be making this mix again when cheese is back on the menu!

French corners. I recently pulled out the sewing machine and taught myself how to make a version of French corners. Took three napkins till I’d figured it out, but now I know!

Japanese bags. I recently purchased some fabric and a crafting book from a Japanese company, to help in that country’s recovery . I love the little book, which has patterns for bags and book covers and blankets. Problem is, the headings are in English, but the text is in Japanese! I went for it anyway, admiring all those foreign characters, trying to match the photographs and pattern drawings.

Giving in the spirit of forgiveness. I’m still in the middle of this new experiment and have had only one success. But there are 17 days left until Pascha; time is on my side.

What about you? What sorts of new things have you either talked about learning or are currently trying? Knitting? Planting a garden? Surfing, sailing, skateboarding? Playing the harmonica?

I’d love to know!


Far

Two loaves of no-knead bread

Mixed: 9 pm

Molded: 2:30 pm next day

Baked: 4:35 pm

Gave to two homeless men at MacKenzie Park

John Ronan is in the giving mood these days, and this time he wanted to go “far.” We headed left, and since I’ve been sporting a three-day headache, I tried to manipulate…

“We’ve walked all the way down our block. How about this house? Look! There’s a little boy just riding his bike up the driveway.”

He didn’t take the bait. “Mom…. That’s not far.”

We turned right. I trodded on, and he galloped ahead. State Street loomed. Rush hour traffic and no traffic light, just a crosswalk that is never ever noticed by motorists. I clutched his hand. He was determined.

We crossed the street–it took about five minutes for enough cars to notice us and all the four lanes to be halted. Finally on the other side we spotted two men sitting by a picnic table. Before I had time to ask if this was far enough, John Ronan had sprinted directly to them and stopped with a big hop right in their midst. They were drinking, and red-faced, and had gaps for teeth…

“Hi! I was a spotted doggy for Halloween!” my son announced. “We brought you some bread!”

I caught up and smiled.

“But isn’t that your dinner, little boy?” one of them slurred.

“We have food at home.” John Ronan spun in a circle. “Why are you sitting on the ground?”

They didn’t hear the question, but were pleased with the attention of a five year-old. I could tell. They wanted to chat. So the old and the new talked for a few moments. It was a conversation a wee bit difficult to follow.

And then John Ronan sprinted off.

“Run after him!” the man on the ground said to me urgently. “The street!”

“Enjoy the bread,” I said as I ran after my cheerful giver. We crossed the street, and we ran some more. Somewhere on the way home my headache lessened. Ah, to be a child who doesn’t judge. I’m thankful to have such a wise soul in my midst. Far is good–pushing the limits is something that comes easily with youth–something I used to do.

By going farther…

we learn,

we are pushed and we grow,

and we become better givers…

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?

Love That Boy!

Baked twice today

Rosemary rolls in the morning

Two French boules in the afternoon

Sitting at the dinner table the other evening, my 15-year-old son asked to be excused. He had loads of homework and other things to do, but I said no. I just wanted to look across the table and have him there for a while longer. It seems he’s always gone. Either buried under books when he’s here, or … not here.

Right now, he’s not here.

He left yesterday afternoon to help lead a retreat for a local organization. It’s all about loving God, and since that’s one of my main hopes for my children: that they love God, I was willing to send him off, yet again.

I suppose this letting go isn’t meant to be easy. But I won’t let go without a fight. Several rosemary rolls and a long note made their way into my son’s backpack. He loves those rosemary rolls…

Round Two

The second round of giving, after my son and his friends had embarked on their weekend adventure, went like this…

Hot bread, what should I do?

Hmmm.

I’m too tired to walk to the park.

I’m too lazy and unkempt to meet any new neighbors.

I’ll just sit on the front steps till someone walks by, and give the bread to them.

I opened the front door and walked down the path to the steps by the street. Before I even sat down, Sparky came romping across the street (he’s a dog who likes to sit in the front window of his home and peek out the curtains), followed by his owner, Cindy.

Have you eaten? Want some bread? Yes?!

Yes!

Round Three–Question

So, tell me. Three children to raise and let go, how does that work mathematically? Thrice the pain and struggle? Are the heaps of joy at watching them grow three times as high and wide? Will I need to knead three times as much bread to keep my hands busy and my heart in prayer?

If you’ve been there, I’m listening!

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!

Fifth Century–Signing Off

No bread (the twenty loaves sort of did me in!)–but made LOTS of crosses

What fun it’s been this last month dipping back in time to the world of Saint Brigid. The 400’s were a time of big change in Ireland and I’ve enjoyed all the added research, and trying my hand at baking with new ingredients (barley, oats, and brewer’s yeast) and using new methods (clay pots and dutch ovens).

To really celebrate the feast day of Saint Brigid I made crosses here at home with my daughter…

…and we played a little bit with the wheat heads…

…then headed over to the private school where my big kids used to attend: St. John’s Academy. After telling a classroom of students about Saint Brigid, and reading them her story, we made crosses of pipe cleaners for them to take home. We teamed big kids up with little ones, but it was new to everyone… They worked so hard! In fact, we worked so hard there was no one left to grab a camera and take shots. You should have heard the buzz of chatter, and seen the little fingers bending and the concentration in their eyes as they listened to my instructions. Beautiful.

I did get some photos of their crosses after the fact, sticking out of their backpacks, ready to go home and be hung over their doors so that they might think of Christ through all their comings and goings. We talked about how Saint Brigid used the cross to tell the dying chieftain the story of Christ’s life and death and resurrection, and also mentioned how the Irish place them over their front doors, near their roof, as protection from fire. Every child in that room has had his own experience of fright from fire these last two years, so we all agreed that it would be comforting to have an added reminder of God’s protection in our homes.

There was one little boy that I spotted in the midst of all the fun, who was paired with another munchkin who was struggling to bend and turn and shape with his hands. His cross was a bit of a pipe cleaner jumble. He looked depressed when he showed me the finished product as we packed up to leave.

So, today, I’ll pop back over to school at lunch time, a few pipe cleaners hidden in my purse, and we’ll make a new one while eating a pbj together. I think that’s what Saint Brigid would have done.

Don’t you?