2013 is off to a wonderful start!  We returned home, from time in Arizona with family, and jumped straight in to celebrating one of my favorite days of the year: Theophany. Do you love Theophany too? All the water, and the splashing, and the rejoicing with creation?

In Santa Barbara, we bundle off to the beach each year and sing, and the little ones splash into the waves after the cross. It’s always a day of joy! And sandwiches.

This year there was a downpour, so the crowd was a bit thinner, but I came prepared, wrapped in my Irish wool cape, complete with hood. (A definite Saint Brigid moment…) My husband found a neighboring umbrella, and my little one licked the raindrops off his lips. Lots of people were getting soaked. And then the Gospel was read–and the clouds parted–and the sun came out–and the rain stopped! No joke. The photographer for our local newspaper caught the moment as we all laughed and marveled.

Sandwiches came next, and to my delight I was then presented a gift. Several friends had been conspiring over the holidays and they stood around and told me to open the gift–right then.

First the card


Which was so sweet. Then the wrapped box, which revealed this! A beautiful cast iron, prosphoron baking pan!


(And only the day before I had opened another card and gift, from another very special friend.


I do feel loved. )

So now I have a very special baking pan for the communion bread I make for the church. Do you remember when I mentioned this a while back when I posted my recipe for prosphoron?

But more than a pan, I have confirmation in how love travels, person to person. Whatever it is you are giving, whether it’s bread, or a baking pan, or a trip to the moon, what matters most is the friend.

Thank you, my dear friends…

Kate, Seraphima, Joanne, Judy, Carla, Obadiah, Sara, Kristi, Father Nicholas, and Kh Tammy…


The Gift of You

Giving. This blog is a lot about baking, but the premise of my baking is that I can learn to be a better giver. So that my heart can be turned more easily to those around me–so that I can root out the selfishness that often tries to take hold in my head and my hands and heart.

I have a lot to learn about love and beauty and having an open spirit. I’ve noticed how snarky I can be with my big kids. I see how impatient I can be with my little one–when I have a task in front of me, or when time seems short. Anyway, I’m working hard this season to give gifts that have nothing to do with what you might be able to purchase at the store.

Gifts of beauty.

Words that reflect love. Time just laughing. Patience.

Kindness. A tender spirit.

Here is a quote that a friend sent recently. It spoke to me:

Man has such powers that he can transmit good or evil to his environment. These matters are very delicate. Great care is needed. We need to see everything in a positive frame of mind. We mustn’t think anything evil about others. Even a simple glance or a sigh influences those around us. And even the slightest anger or indignation does harm. We need to have goodness and love in our soul and to transmit these things. –Elder Porphyrios, in Wounded by Love

I have had tons of fun purchasing books (love books!!!), and chocolates, and things to stuff in stockings these last few days. I’ve enjoyed wrapping gifts, and making batches of pear applesauce to give away. Baking Struan has been a delight. But being the catalyst of love in someone’s life, by listening to their troubles, or by simply offering a hug or a hand or a bit of help, is the kind of gift that I want to give. A catalyst of love.

I like that.

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…

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!

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.

A Gift

No mixing, molding or baking. But we did refresh our beloved sourdough starter before heading home.

That lucky starter. What fun. We fed it water from la source, and wheat from the French country side. We toted it to the village church and to the bank of the Nive and to visit the lambs–we even brought it with us in the car the day we visited three neighboring villages. Now, it’s home; its second trip across the Atlantic a success. No messes in the suitcases, no explosions in the cargo bay. I remixed it last night and, ooh, does it smell good.

And I’m ready to bake. After a week of touring and translating I’m itching to get my fingers worked into some dough, which I’ll do in an hour or two. My son’s school is sponsoring a homeless dinner this evening, so I’ll be sharing molassas bread and cranberry preserves, but more on that later.

This week spent in the Basque country was an absolute gift. To spend six days with my two brothers, laughing, recounting stories, making new memories was an unexpected treasure. I made a pact with myself at the beginning of the trip that I would rejoice in every twist and turn of this adventure. No moaning, no complaining–only a grateful heart. I was there to work–to be the media woman–to take photos and video, and to translate and help guide. And there were a few times whenI had to remind myself that being tired didn’t matter, that being squished in the middle seat of an airplane for eleven hours didn’t matter. That this was a gift and I should rejoice!

And in the spirit of sharing that joy, here are some photos of our time together. Though not a single loaf of bread was baked and given away, the spirit of giving was a part of every day–between ourselves, with the villagers, with our cousins and aunt… I am grateful!

Shoulder to shoulder in St. Jean de Luz

Communicating with Pantxo on the other side of the valley

Two baker brothers and me

At our great grandfather's old bakery

Our sourdough starter on the road

Johnny in Espelette

One of Pantxo's lambs

Etxea Maitea--the family house

The boulangerie

Leaving Les Aldudes

Baguettes from Baigorry

Feet in the Atlantic