Within the Stable Cave

Be prepared, O Bethlehem; Eden opens now to all;

O Ephratha, ready make; for within the stable cave

from the Virgin Mary pure, the tree of life has blossomed forth.

For her womb is shown to be paradise in spirit

in which is the plant divine, from which having truly fed;

We will  live forevermore, and not die as Adam did.

Christ the Lord is born to raise the image that had fallen long before.

–troparion of the pre-feast of the nativity


Christmas is here and we have settled into the slow moments of being together–right here. Our little home is tidied, the presents are wrapped, and my husband is smiling in the kitchen. The kids are filled with anticipation, and off to church tonight we go!

We’ve been fasting for 40 days and ready for a change.

Here’s what’s coming off the stove, and out of the oven tomorrow!

Breakfast: Green tea, hot coffee, orange juice whipped with a bit of cream. Chocolate chip scones and Scottish eggs.

Dinner: Beef tenderloin with pepper and parsley crust, ginger braised red cabbage, Brussel sprouts in brown butter and lemon, truffle cheese no-knead bread, polenta with pancetta, sweet and sour cippoline onions, with a bottle of Ridge/Lytton Springs 2008 Zinfandel.

Holy feasting!

Sending you all love, from our house to yours. May this season of love, peace, and giving fill your hearts with joy and thanksgiving.

And my prayers continue to speed toward those who are bathed in sorrow. May the light that shines from that stable cave, bring comfort and mercy…


Cheered by the Giving

Over baked.

That’s how I felt yesterday afternoon when I came home from a first grade class party and realized I had dough that needed tending. There it stood, looking gorgeous, looking needy and ready for some heat. After two other baking events already that day, I wanted to flee to the hills!

I am just about through with my Christmas giving; the stack of bread bags is getting very short, and good thing! I’m tired of slipping my hands in and out of oven mitts.

Somehow, after grumbling, I mustered the energy to roll out the dough. I heated the oven. I scored and baked those rolls. My husband laughed at me. And armed with rosemary rolls and pumpkin bread,



I hit the streets!

But no one was home.

And this is where things got good. With no one specific to give to I drove toward people and prayed for guidance. I spotted a woman alone at a bus stop. I pulled in and greeted her; she was all wrapped in scarves and a coat, huddled against the cold. I have extra bread, I said. My friends aren’t home and I want someone to enjoy it while it’s fresh. Pumpkin bread or rosemary rolls? I smiled as convincingly as I could. She took the warm rolls and said in her thick accent: Thank you bery, bery much! Merry Christmas!

And the pumpkin bread traveled home with the guy ringing his Red Cross bell outside the post office. Another connection made, and Christmas cheer exchanged. He was wearing cowboy boots…

The giving was the cure to my grumpiness. Giving seems to be a wonderful cure to many ills and ailments, even for over baked suspects like myself, and I am thankful to be learning these good lessons still.

And today is a new day. For the moment I have resigned from oven mitt duty. Just one day off so I can gather steam and get ready for the Sunday grand finale, when I will fill up the last of my bread bags with goodies and pass out as much good cheer as I am able.

I pray you are finding the balance between sanity and shopping. And if all else fails, just find a way to share something, or your time, or your smile with someone, and all the rest will fall swiftly into its right and perfect place.

Cheers, friends. Cheers!


Christ is Born!

It’s Christmas Eve. And Christ is almost born!

Yesterday I baked five loaves of bread, and headed out in the car to do a little elvish delivering. What fun. At each home I had the opportunity to stop and chat with friends who make our lives so much richer through their love. That kind of giving is so easy…

Today I decided to bake, but not to have a giving plan. I made three loaves of bread and once they were finished pondered the possibilities. I pondered while I cleaned the dishes, and pondered while I wrote a Christmas card or two…

And then came a knock at the door. Lucy and her daddy stopped by to deliver a plate of goodies. Lucy was so curious with this and that, we practically had a play date. We bounced from one room to the next, talking about everything. She’s five.

So, off went the first loaf of bread. With Lucy and her daddy.

The second loaf of bread (and the biggest)

headed straight up the hill to the fire station. John Ronan is particularly interested in making sure our firemen are happy and well fed, but I had to make the trip alone, since he is holed up in bed with a fever. We love to spoil our firemen. They’ve earned more than their keep saving homes in all the fires we’ve had these past five years here in Santa Barbara. I just love that they put wreaths on their fire trucks.

One loaf left. I thought about heading to one of the poorer neighborhoods to see what I might see. But on the way I drove by a friend’s house–a friend who is soon moving to Australia. I parked, and looked up at the door. I know she’s been out of town, and wasn’t sure if the house had been rented yet, so I tiptoed up the walk and rang the bell. I knew no one would answer; there were packages waiting on the stoop for someone to come home to. I glanced at the names on the packages and they were for my sweet friend, so surmised that she must be celebrating Christmas here… Yay. I left the loaf of bread by the door, without a note. I wonder if she’ll figure out that it’s from me. 🙂

So, that’s it.

Oh, that’s not it at all! With all my Christmas shopping done, and my husband tending the babe, I took a relaxing walk through the rose garden and down a few neighboring streets to show you what’s blooming here in December. We have flowers when you have snow.

Leptospermum, Mexican sage, poinsettias gone wild, birds of paradise, vinca, and roses framing the Mission. These are just some of the gifts that nature gives us in December here in Santa Barbara.

And here are few things blooming in our yard…

Pink and white camellias out front, one nasturtium trying to hide under the plum tree, new blossoms on the loquat, a fresh stem of kangaroo paws, one lone calla, and bright and forever blooming strawflowers. Gifts!

And speaking of gifts. The greatest gift of all came in the form of a baby. Christ, born for our salvation, brought peace and love to all mankind. And tonight we head to church, to sing and pray and greet one another with a holy kiss. And to partake of the holiest bread of all–Christ’s body, broken for us.

Merry Christmas Everyone…

Christmas is Coming

Being an Orthodox Christian family, we fast and feast and celebrate various events all throughout the year. Right now we are nearing the end of Advent, a period of fasting and preparation before Christmas when we celebrate with fervor the coming of Christ to our world. Fasting in the midst of a season which is known for buttery cookies and holiday hams is a little bit tricky, but we manage. We manage by eating sourdough bread and vegetable soups. We manage by spending more time reading, and praying, and being at home. This season of busyness can be paired with introspection and abstention, and the fasting helps create a very real sense of anticipation, and wow does the feasting come with added force when the actual day of Christmas arrives!

And don’t think we won’t be enjoying all those holiday wonders. The Twelve Days of Christmas is not a myth, it’s a very real tradition, and here are just a few things I’m looking forward to baking between December 25th and January 5th:

Up until now it’s been bread without butter. The sourdough and French and molasses loaves are year-round favorites and very fast-friendly, and so satisfying when it’s winter and you’re hungry… but soon the milk and butter will be back on the menu! I’m looking forward to trying a few new breads–

  • a Maine Pumpkin Bread,
  • loaves of Finnish Pulla,
  • and maybe even trying my hands at Stollen in the form of a braided wreath.
  • Oh… and some Russian Tea Cakes made with butter and walnuts!

But in the meantime, there’s plenty to do (including lots of baking and giving away of bread) with Christmas just days away! Here’s some of how we’ve been spending our time.

Enjoy these last days of Advent my friends!

Bread in Brown Paper

Two loaves of no-knead sourdough

Mixed: 9:15 pm

Molded: 10:30 am next day

Baked: 12:30 pm

Gave away to staff at my son’s school

I’m enjoying being a bread elf. Several years ago I actually gave out dishwashing soap for Christmas presents, so bread is definitely a step up. (Long story!!!) Several weeks ago I posed a question, trying to find the best way to wrap bread… . I don’t want it terribly fancied up, but I also don’t want folks to think that it’s been handled and jostled and isn’t sanitary.

So, I fiddled with two options today since between now and Christmas I’ll be baking and giving daily. First, I thought it’d be great to use some of the fabric I have stored away, and tie it up with a lovely ribbon. Once I dove into it, and began cutting, I realized I’d run through my stash of fabric quickly–plus, it looked… not as elegant as I’d anticipated–although the photo really makes it look quite passable… (Must be that excellent camera of mine again playing tricks on me)

Then, I got the brilliant idea of using paper shopping bags. I have several of them stored for various projects, so I got to work folding and ribboning, and actually like the brown-bag look.

Then I saw a post on another blog using antique tea towels sewn in half, becoming a really lovely bread bag to use throughout the year. Anyone know where to find antique tea towels?

Tomorrow maybe I’ll be in the mood for something different. Lots of bread still to bake and give. If you have any ideas–I’d love to hear them!

Christmas Cheer

Two rounds of bread baking in one day…

It’s oven season and mine is humming along (now that I have my new and improved relay board installed!). I’ve been sticking to my experiment, to always bake double of what we need and give half away. Recently I baked two pans of a lenten carrot cake, taking the second pan to church to share with friends. Then I went on a sourdough bread extravaganza, mixing up an enormous batch, which turned out to be a mighty flop. How can you give flopped bread away? It’s hard.

Backing up. I know some of you still don’t believe that last week’s ugly batch of bread was really all that ugly. I told you, the photo just didn’t show all the hideousness. I truly would have offended someone if I’d offered it as a gift.

Well, I did it again. My sourdough loaves came out ghastly.

This is hard for me–to accept that after all these years I can still make such beginner baking mistakes. But being humbled is good. I placed the bread in a beautiful wooden bowl which is the color the bread really should be. And I brought it out into the natural light so that you could really see the pale, icky crust. And I know what I did wrong–I simply had too much water in the mix. My husband thinks the second loaf resembles a portabello mushroom. Here are the photos. Feel free to gasp and be horrified!

I may be many things, but I’m not a quitter. As soon as the ugly sourdough came out of the oven, I mixed up a new batch of French bread, making sure the dough was on the dry side. How pleased I was, several hours later, when those golden loaves greeted me as the oven timer dinged…

Of course, when you’re baking two batches of bread in one day, this all takes time. Time to mix, time to rise, time to bake. Not to mention all the other time-related things I do like reading with John Ronan, cleaning the very dusty living room, washing loads of laundry, algebra with Madeleine and running to the store for hummus…

So, when the second batch of bread came out of the oven at 6:30 pm I wasn’t sure where to take it. Most meals are planned and half way eaten by 6:30 in our neighborhood, but you just have to trust in the Law of Giving.

As we prayed for our own dinner, then sat to enjoy the simple meal my husband had cooked, we discussed who to give the warm (and gorgeous) French bread to.

As I lit the candles around our Advent wreath I was inspired. How about to the only neighbor on our block who has donned her house with Christmas cheer? How about Ashley?

The two littlest and I dashed across the street–and wouldn’t you know? Ashley hadn’t eaten yet, was thrilled to have some warm bread in her hands, plus, John Ronan got to talk to her all about the making of our Advent wreath (and many other things…).

What to do with all that ugly sourdough?


It’s the season of giving. Cheers to you all!

Thumbs Up

Petit pain a la Suzanne

Mixed: 9:30 pm Christmas Eve

Folded: 1:15 pm Christmas Day

Molded: 1:30 pm

Baked: 3:45 pm

Gave: to the family!

Apparently my family thinks I should keep on baking. I received two new baking pots this 09 Christmas and another addition to my bread baking library. I couldn’t have been more thrilled. I already had a batch of bread rising, so used the green pot (that you can see better below) for making this beautiful loaf for our Christmas dinner:

All week I’ve been in hyper-baking mode. The family has been helpful, but more than once they’ve been shushed away from a hot loaf or a batch of scones. “Those are for…” I was continually saying… I took a poll and determined that they were getting a bit miffed by the fact that I was churning out bread, but there was none, not even a crust, in the cupboard. So today, this Christmas day, I baked just for us–our own loaf, not cut in half, perfectly whole and hot–and delicious!

Mmmm. It was good.

Tomorrow I’m back to sharing, and now I have two new pots, that will fit side-by-side in the oven, to fiddle with.

Two. One so I can bake for the new neighbors down the road, and the other, for… us:)

By the way, I’m taking orders for the new year.

Christmas Miracles

Countless cranberry muffins–some specifically for Tina.

One pain a la Suzanne for the Butlers to eat at midnight.

One jaco for Evelyn and her crew.

More bread in the works…

It’s Christmas Eve. The tree is lit. The healthy members of the family are about to head out the door to our late night church service. The gingerbread house is half eaten. A present or two have been opened. The little ones are drifting off to sleep in between bouts of coughing.

I think of St. Romanos on this Christmas Eve–hundreds and hundreds of years ago. The last straw breaking, tears streaming down his face–so many that they watered the wood floor at his feet, so tired of being laughed at for his lack of melody, for being illiterate and unlearned, for being so simple, for spending his life just cleaning, and polishing and dusting the church. I think of him and marvel at the Christmas gift he received. And wonder why we put things like scarves, and new ipods, and jewelry on our Christmas lists. We should be asking for miracles on this night, on this night that epitomizes miracles. On this night when God became man.

And I rewind further and think of Mary, forging Christmas history for all of us, and the new life she held in her arms. What child is this? Could she see the heavens, the earth, the planets, the future, in his baby brown eyes?

I needed yet another bag of flour today–I’m going through a five pound bag a day, it seems, and there was a new homeless woman outside Trader Joe’s where I went to brave the crowds and purchase more. She held a Merry Christmas sign, and sang out a cheery hello and thank you when I offered her a pre-made bag of food that our church distributes. (I keep them in the trunk of the car…) I wondered what talents she longed for Once Upon a Time–like St. Romanos. If she wanted to be a singer, or an actress, or a doctor once. If she got tired of cleaning and polishing and dusting. If abuses were ever shouted her way… If she even knows that hoping–that crying out–for Christmas miracles is an option?

And I wonder what mother held her, and looked into her eyes–and what did that mother see? Does she know what’s become of her baby daughter, that she’s holding a sign, sitting cross-legged on the sidewalk–the sun setting behind her?

St. Romanos was illiterate. He was frequently mocked by his coworkers. Called Stupid more than once. People can be so cruel–even people tending the church, people pretending to be holy. He cried out to Mary for help after a particularly humiliating Christmas Eve service, and to his surprise she came. His Christmas gift arrived in the form of music–the voice of an angel and the ability to write and compose. He eventually wrote over a thousand hymns for the church…

Yesterday I really didn’t know what to think of Christmas this year. I’ve been scattered, not centered, and the fevers have got me whirling between beds, dodging coughs, and picking up the endless trail of tissues. I was counting on our midnight church service to help me refocus… But God has sent me this moment of quiet and reflection–this story of St. Romanos, who was brave enough to cry out.

I think I’ll light a candle, and then slump my body over for a bit and pray. I can think of some folks out there who could use a few mighty miracles tonight. I could always use a little healing of my own… I think some has already come my way…

What sort of miracle would you like to see this day–this day of God being born for man and all of creation?

I’d love to know…

A Tribute to Community

One giant pain a la Suzanne. Came out so beautifully yet again!

Mixed: 5:30 pm Tuesday

Folded: 10:10 am Wednesday

Molded: 10:30 am

Baked 1:15 pm

Gave to: Renato–owner of Via Maestra 42

My husband works from home. He has been without a company cubicle, office politics and a commute for over ten years. He spends most of his day with a headset on, jabbering on the phone; I love it–he’s like a farmer who heads out ten paces to the fields in the morning, and comes in for lunch, and dinner. It’s a huge blessing to have him around. (Like when I desperately need someone to turn the oven on for pre-heating, but am on the other side of town!)

But being at home, surrounded by finches, doesn’t provide a lot of intellectual or friendly stimulation, even for those who prefer the hermit-side of things. So my husband found a happy solution. Every morning he walks out of the neighborhood and into the big-wide world of Santa Barbara to hang out at his favorite haunt: Via Maestra 42, a little coffee shop cafe owned by an always-smiling and big-hearted, Renato Moiso.

It being Christmas and all, my husband wanted to take a loaf of bread over to Renato and his crew. I happily got to mixing and folding and molding and sent him over as delivery man yesterday with the giant hot loaf of my new favorite sourdough mix.

But much to my surprise, Renato liked the loaf so much that he put it on display! I was stunned when my husband recounted the story. Who wouldn’t want to eat that hot loaf of bread? I’ve lived in Italy–I should have known. Most any Italian would first want to show it off, so that it might be talked about…

…then consumed. Sharing is one of the Italian’s most famous virtues. My loaf became yet another symbol of love for your community…

My husband headed over for coffee again this morning. I’m wondering if the bread ever went home to someone’s table, or if it’s still there, hovering over customers as they order their morning cappuccinos. I won’t ask. I love my husband, and Renato and the staff of Via Maestra too much. It simply doesn’t matter. I’m so grateful for this place where my husband blends in and converses with real, not virtual, people.

What about you? Do you have favorite haunts who welcome you like family–who might even prop your bread up on a stand and display it for an afternoon or two? (Or more… :))