Seasons

It seems that I go in phases with my baking. Some seasons I find myself making batch after batch of rosemary rolls (which are sooooo delicious) and other seasons may find me hovering over new recipes and trying anything that has a foreign word in the title. I won’t try to figure out patterns, that would be silly (and time consuming!), but this season, I’ve noticed, has been all about the molasses bread and no-knead sourdough.

And look, here they are, all tidy, in one basket, ready to take to church for a Friday service, then soup dinner.

Do you have soup dinners in your life, too? Times when a community comes together to do something, then you all share a meal after that something? At our church, we become a tight knit clan during Lent, praying together often, not just on Sundays, and we follow some of those times of prayer–with food. Together, we can all enjoy the soup and the bread, and swap recipes, and generally try to boost and encourage our fellow journeymen.

Long ago, my husband and I played on a soccer team, and after every single game in the summer, we shared a meal at a team member’s home. I’m sure we played better on the field  because we broke bread together so often (we were the Red Hots!). Not only did we have Lucie, with her tough-as-a-bulldog-defending, but we had Eric, who made these amazing gooey chocolate chip cookies with pudding in them. Fun to remember those times, and how the soccer plus the food made us into a family.

Anyway, back to this Lenten season, this season of molasses bread and sourdough. Spring has come, and our yard is green all over–the plum tree has set fruit,

the callas and nasturtiums and succulents are in bloom,

and our favas are almost eight feet tall and covered with ripe and ready beans.

And I’ve been writing like a mad woman. I’ve been neglecting the house and scribbling stories about journeys, and hedgehogs, and researching spices, and wondering about the Kingdom of God. And I’ve been praying, and reading, and gardening and playing with my kids. And listening. I’ve been trying to open my ears, and just listen more.

But that’s enough about me. What has this season been for you? We’re about to enter a new realm, you know, with Easter and Pascha almost upon us. And certainly there will be change–there will be roasted chicken, that’s for sure–and maybe there will be chocolate shortbread, too.

Or rosemary rolls. Not sure yet.

Happy last days of Lent, everyone! Enjoy this season, whatever that might mean for you this time around…

Pausing the Chatter

After being ill, and struggling last fall, I really didn’t want the fast of Advent upon me. I felt as though I’d already been through an intensified Lent, and wasn’t strong enough for another period of fasting on any level.

Yet somehow I made it through Advent, with joy, certainly with the aid and help of my family, friends and community.

And here I come again to another time of stretching myself, and again, my reaction is to recoil. That is the old habit, the old man inside of me, the man who wants ease, and the kicking up of his heals, the comfortable couch with the chocolates and cheesepuffs at the ready. (I don’t really like cheesepuffs, but they just sound so frivolous, don’t they?!) As much as I like to be comfortable and cozy, I want change, and I want my heart open to receive what God has prepared for me. I was open last November–raw, and hurting, but open.

So, my resolve is two things. To do, and to be. I’m hoping not to chat, and explain, and sermonize much over these next weeks. I’m hoping to just get off the couch and bake, and pray, and sleep, and eat, and give, and garden, and marvel at God and his creation. I’ll be posting, God willing, lots of photos, but I want to stay clear of lectures. I’m too good at them, and they’re not always that good for your heart or mine.

So, in that vein, these last few days have looked a bit like this.

And hopefully the next few weeks will look a whole lot like this!

Blessed Lent, my friends!

Forgiveness Giving

One loaf of my Never-Been-to-Maine Pumpkin Bread

During Lent I hoped to push myself a bit more in my giving and bake bread for folks who were truly hungry, sad, needy, or with whom I struggled. That’s why I ended up at the Rescue Mission with ten loaves of my brother’s bread, and stopped to offer cornbread to a homeless man who was begging outside of Trader Joe’s…  Thankfully, I couldn’t think of too many people that I disliked, but even so, two people came to mind in a flash. My hope was that by giving these people something from my very own hands, something that I labored over, that my heart might be softened and I might find a better love for these folks.

The crossing guard won me over in a heartbeat as she sat there in the rain and waited for the rivers of children to flee school. When I drive by her now, I hold a completely different image of her in my mind and heart than I did only a short month ago.

I wasn’t so sure about Woman Number Two. She has been rude to me and my children over and over again. Once, she even laughed aloud at me, rejoicing in my stupidity. I kept imagining that I would bring her bread and she would throw it in the trash while I watched. And I couldn’t imagine what I might say. I’m bringing you this bread because you’re so mean, and because when thinking of people I need to forgive, you came right to the top of the list!

No. That wouldn’t be right at all. For this giving is more about me and my need to love and forgive than it is about trying to help anyone else change…

The first time I brought bread to Woman Number Two she wasn’t working. I gave the loaf of molasses bread that I’d made for her to some folks peddling pixie sticks instead. But on Holy Thursday, just yesterday, John Ronan and I walked into the store and there she was, pricing little trinkets behind the counter.

She greeted me with a head nod and I slowly said my rehearsed line. My kids love to come in here, and whenever I bake I always make something to share. We live nearby, and I just thought you might like it.

A smile, a big, surprised smile, and her eyebrows went up as I handed her the pumpkin bread. She didn’t say anything for a moment and then… In all my 35 years of this store, you’re the first. I smiled. Really. 35 years, she said. She mumbled something else, but I didn’t catch it. John Ronan had already made his way to the toy aisle and I needed to supervise.

He and I looked at toy rings that squirt, and after several minutes I coaxed him toward the door. By this time the husband had made his way to the front register and as we were just about to leave he said, Are you the one who made us this delicious bread?

I smiled and nodded, and noticed the woman already eating a torn off piece of  pumpkin bread. She said, This is delicious! Perfect for lunch!

I smiled again and as we left, I heard her say, …in all these 35 years.

***

I feel thankful, and convicted. Maybe she’s had her mean days, but I’ve been just as mean. I’ve made snide comments, reveled in others’ failures, given people dirty looks. I know I’ve cut people off driving around town, and cheated, and lied. Maybe I’ve softened, but that’s all due to Christ, and maybe she doesn’t know Him?

Maybe in all these 35 years no one has cared enough to tell her of Him.

My priest once said that if you have difficult people in your life, that it helps to find a good and beautiful image of them and keep that foremost in your mind whenever thinking or dealing with them. He said that that image will not only change you, but it will eventually change them too. That pumpkin bread brought out a grateful smile that I will never forget, and I know that by braving this, my hardest episode of giving, that I’ve been…

changed.

Holy Week=Loaves and Loaves

Prosphora–six loaves

Mixed: 10:15

Molded: 11:15

Baked: 11:45

We have so many prosphoron bakers at our church that my name has never been added to the official list. But this Holy Week, with services every day, liturgy almost every morning, I had a feeling that a few extra loaves would be welcome. So when I posed the question to Father Nicholas Monday evening, he said that three loaves, or five even, would be VERY welcome.

If you’ve ever read my children’s book, The Woman and the Wheat, then you’ve certainly read my sentiments about how to spend a day baking. But the book really isn’t about baking and bread at all, it’s about Christ, and the miracle and love and joy that we find in that cup that is offered to us each and every liturgy. And that’s what Holy Week is all about, and what Pascha is all about, and what baking prosphoron in all about. Love, and joy and Christ.

I’ll be blogging, in the next few months, about my adventures with prosphora. Basically, you need to reverse your bread-baking instincts and focus on one thing–the seal. I’ve got a few tips for you, and look forward to putting together that series of posts.

Meanwhile, it’s still Lent and I’ve got some forgiveness giving to do. This morning, once the stores open, I’m off on my hardest task–to take a loaf of pumpkin bread to a crabby business owner. I asked my husband if he might enjoy taking it to her in my stead, but he gave me one of those you-can-be-brave looks. In just an hour, I’ll be off!

Hoping you’re having a beautiful, lovely spring day.

More soon!

Happy Endings

My daughter is performing in a Storybook production of Pinocchio starting today. Ducking in and out of rehearsals these last ten days, I’ve watched the characters take shape, seen a wide array of props tried and exchanged and repaired, and have simply enjoyed being transported to the Appalachians, where this version of Pinocchio is taking place…

So… I thought, on Opening Day, I’ll bake some cornbread for the cast! The little muffins will match the plaid shirts and overalls perfectly…

John Ronan was the perfect mixer, flour-spooner, and basket-carrier.

Leaving the house, we encountered my husband walking back from the coffee shop. We shared a warm muffin with him.

Two blocks later, I spotted a homeless man on the corner. I stopped, having plenty of muffins in my basket, and offered him one, which he promptly tucked into his backpack. He told me his name is Bear, and blessed me.

Next stop. Flowers. Sunflowers for my hard working actress!

And the rest of the tale departs from Storybook Land, and heads straight to comedy central. After the show, which was adorable, I fell down some stairs backstage, twisting my ankle. If you know me, you know I’ve had plenty of twisted ankles over the years… The ankle twisting led to the fall, which led to the head bonking against the wall, which led to shock (the real kind), which led to embarrassment, which led to hobbling out of the theatre with a numb and swollen foot, which led to fainting in the car. Eek! What a way to top off opening day!

No photos of the fall. I was preoccupied.

Seriously. It’s lent and I’m feeling God’s grace. For here I lounge, my foot propped up on pillows, the fountain gurgling outside the open window. I’ve listened to hours of an audio Bible recording and am grateful for time to just be, and think. All storybook productions finish with a happy ending, and despite the black and blue, the scraped knee, and the sore head, I couldn’t have asked for a better way to finish this day of living and giving.

Cheers!

Meant to…

Two loaves of a whole grain, whole wheat I’m trying out

Mixed starter dough: 9:45 pm

Mixed dough: 12:15 pm next day

Molded: 1 pm

Baked: 2 pm

Okay, I really meant to share one loaf of bread from this batch, but somehow the day just ran away with me. My husband was away in Singapore, and I had a few extra duties, and the hours slipped by and the bread just sat there on the cooling rack.

Look there it is. I even pulled out my camera and snapped a photo.

At one point it was warm and steaming. And later it was cooler and ready for giving. And then I was making dinner, and asking about homework, and herding the troops toward the Mexican corn pie thing I’d made. Why, bread didn’t even make sense with this meal. By morning, the two loaves still sat there, uneaten. Shame on me.

Does this ever happen to you? Good intentions, even a fair amount of action, but the end result just isn’t quite what you had hoped?

I remember a homily long ago about good intentions. We were told not to deliberate. “Don’t deliberate,” the priest repeated. If you’re prompted toward something good, don’t wait, don’t muse and wonder and over-think… Don’t deliberate, but find a way to make the good thought happen.

And that’s what I tell myself at 6 in the morning when my alarm sounds (it quacks, actually). I think, Jane, don’t deliberate. It’s time for prayers, it’s time to move this day forward; it’s time to see what sort of beauty is right outside the curtains.

So, hopefully I won’t have too many more loaves of bread like this this Lent. Uneaten, dry and only a good intention.

Pray for me!

Sharing Squared

No baking for me today…

My brother’s bread business is now delivering to several restaurants here in Santa Barbara, which means that every now and then, when the regular delivery guy needs a day off, my older brother John gets the honor of traveling up the coast–the back of his prius loaded with sourdough goodness. He’s charming enough to stop by our home on those days, and in return for his charm we offer him a cup of green tea and our morning smiles.

And usually he has an extra loaf or two of something that he shares with us.

He’s always been good at sharing. 🙂

Well, today he asked if we could use TEN loaves of par-baked sourdough. My eyes goggled a bit, and I saw massive giving in my future. Ten loaves! First, I thought about all my favorite friends and how they could make yummy gourmet sandwiches for dinner. But then, I remembered that this Lent I’m trying to really give to folks who are in need, or with whom I need to make amends. Because of the rainy and chilly weather, many of the truly downcast and desperate head straight to the Rescue Mission for dinner and a bed. So glad I was prompted to think of that…

Okay, my daughter and I were studying chapter 25 of the Algebra One book today after my brother left, and guess what? If (X+3)(X-3) then you can factor those together and get X²-3². Isn’t that cool? Both X and 3 are squared! My sharing today, being timesed by ten, felt absolutely algebraic! My brother shared with me, and I shared with the folks at the Rescue Mission. Algebra in bread-giving action…

The children were happy to go on an adventure. We even had extra fun since Morgan, our favorite neighbor-friend, spent the day with us. Here she is hiding behind some of the bread…

You know what? I felt tremendously fortunate to be the giver of ten loaves of bread on a rainy day like today.

Truly, I did…

Lent

Lent.

Lent began last Monday and (stealing some of Father John Finley’s homily) it’s a time of fasting, prayer and almsgiving, with the purpose of strengthening our hearts, our minds and our wills… I love this time of year. Meals are simple, prayer is more intense, and adventure always seems to come my way. I do love adventure.

But some days I’m not capable of as much adventure as is thrown at me. I know this when I start running red lights. I accidentally drove right through a red light yesterday–straight through. Was it the growing headache? Or the enormous to-do list that was circulating in my head? I had hit my adventure limit.

It all started when my brother-the-baker-who-lives-in-LA showed up with four loaves of bread early in the morning. I already had molasses bread rising, so I knew this was going to be a giving sort of day. Plus, my brother is the super adventurous type–he brings all sorts of fun in his wake. I made him a pot of green tea, and then John Ronan started making a list. “Mom,” he said in his five-year-old way. “Mom. We HAVE to do four things today. Write them down.”

  1. Buy a birthday cake.
  2. Go to the toy store.
  3. Decorate the house.
  4. Go to the other toy store.

Yes, it was my daughter’s birthday, and John Ronan had a plan.

Problem was, I also had a plan. My big kids were performing in “You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown,” and I had all sorts of errands to do, plus I was in charge of the bake sale for the musical, and all the mom volunteers, and getting the tables ready, and my parents were coming into town, and I had to clean the house, and wouldn’t it be great to just crawl back in bed and wake up on Sunday?

Adventure. Onward!

So, we got the cake, went to the toy store, went to the bank, went to the other toy store, bought balloons, cleaned the house. And all through this hustle and bustle I refused to forget about those six loaves of bread I had on my kitchen counter. So much bread!

During this time of Lent I’m hoping to give bread away to people who are hungry, or sad, or needy, or… people that I don’t like very much. I’m not a very vindictive person, and it takes quite a bit to offend me, but there are a few people in this town that I steer clear of. For quite some time I’ve been trying to get up the nerve to bring two people, in particular, bread. One lady runs the cashier at a nearby store that sells all sorts of Chinese-made trinkets. She’s grumpy and not long ago, when I asked about returning a few items because we had purchased way too much for a birthday party, she actually laughed right at me, and pointed to a sign that spelled out their return policy. She then folded her arms across her wide chest and smirked, so pleased. I just stared at her, stunned. She was mean.

Ooh. I was mad. As I walked to the car I so badly wanted to email all my friends and relate the episode, encouraging them to never shop there. But once I’d made it into the car, the good inside of me, the little man of Christ who sat hunched in an itsy bitsy corner of my heart, started to gain some ground. Just pray. It was then I realized that if anyone needed a hot loaf of bread and a smile, it was her…

So, there I was, armed with a warm loaf of molasses bread. But I don’t think my heart was fully in the right place–for she wasn’t there, (and I kept thinking about that smirk!). Instead I gave it to a young gentleman selling pixie sticks for some cause. He seemed grateful.

Not too much later, I was armed with a brown loaf of Swedish bread that my brothers had baked that morning. Heading to one of the toy stores, I spotted a homeless man smoking in a corner between two shrubs. I offered the bread but the man said, “Don’t eat bread,” between puffs. We said good-bye, turned the corner, and I literally ran into Dante, a waiter, artist, Italian friend. “Hey, Dante, how about a loaf of fresh bread?” He seemed happy to take it, and off we went–only four loaves left to consume.

Sad to say, the other three and a half loaves were still there this morning. But the musical went off beautifully, the birthday girl was pleased with her day, John Ronan got to check all four things off his list, and despite my headache and the red light, it was a pretty great, adventure-filled day.

But, please, Lord. No more days like that for a while?

And speaking of prayer… I need to forget that dratted smirk and seek out that woman in love.

Pray for me. For Lent has only just begun!

Simple Giving

New French bread recipe

One mix, three rises, short bake

First batch given to neighbor–Bob

Second batch given to a woman out for a walk

I’ve been trying a new bread recipe this week. Fiddling with a mix of flour, water, salt, and yeast that is famous in Provence, France. Once I understand the method a bit better–I’ll share the recipe with you here.

One of the many things I love about baking is the simplicity of the ingredients. As I move from the cupboard to the bowl and back again, measuring and sifting and sprinkling in the salt, I always recite those four ingredients in my head. Flour, water, salt, yeast.–so few ingredients, yet each one so essential to the final loaf.

I’ve been blogging less, now that it’s Lent, but baking just as much. And my adventures in giving have continued. On Tuesday I had an extra French boule, and set out to give it to a neighbor, who lives in a charming little house on the corner, but whom we see only now and again. I don’t even know her name.

But she wasn’t home.

Just down the street, only a block away, three little munchkins, all five years old–triplets–were running and shouting and cavorting in the street. It was easy to walk their way, toward their laughter. Two neighbors were talking. Two men I’ve never met. How can we have lived here in this neighborhood for ten years and still know so few?! It shames me.

I approached the grownups and introduced myself. “Who wants a warm loaf of bread?” I asked, smiling. The loaf was small, so I handed it to the single man who lives in the house with all the beautiful succulents that we admire. He introduced himself as Bob. I then met Mark, the father of the triplets; they live across from Bob and have the sweetest little home that has a forty foot palm tree hovering over it, and ranunculas that come up each spring. I promised them a bigger loaf in a few days. It was about time I had made a move toward neighborliness…

On Friday, another loaf of warm French bread in hand, (but still too small a loaf for the triplet family) I picked up my two big kids and some of their friends from school. We looked for someone on the street to give it to and eventually found a mom sitting by a stroller, looking tired, looking strained. The newborn was sleeping. I approached her; she was holding a cell phone, but not talking. “I baked an extra loaf of bread today and would like for you to have it. I know what it’s like when you have a newborn in the house.”

She laughed, and took it with a thanks, and the kids and I continued our after-school journey home.

It takes such basic ingredients to bake one loaf of bread. Wheat flour, a foodstuff known to man for thousands of years. Salt, a mineral used in every culture, in every land. Yeast, found in the very air around us. And water.

And giving is just as simple. A walk down the street. A knock on the door, or a wave of the hand. A word or two, and a smile. A quick exchange–the bread passing from my hand to another’s.

I find this time of giving, during Lent, when we seek to strip ourselves of all the extras, as especially poignant. Flour, water, salt, yeast.

Walk. Greet. Smile. Give. It makes me want to sing that old shaker tune…

Hum with me:

‘Tis the gift to be simple, ’tis the gift to be free,

‘Tis the gift to come down where we ought to be,
And when we find ourselves in the place just right,

‘Twill be in the valley of love and delight.
When true simplicity is gain’d,

To bow and to bend we shan’t be asham’d,
To turn, turn will be our delight,

Till by turning, turning we come round right.

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!