Ugly Transformed


My last post was all about a really awful-looking loaf of bread. See it above? All wrinkly, white, dense and unpresentable? But with all those good ingredients inside, I decided to reuse what I had ruined. Ever heard of bread recycling?!

I I broke pieces of the ruined bread from day old loaves and made a very wet mix of new dough. I chose to use the no-knead method, and hoped that this magical recipe, which I have never ever ruined, despite the many variations I’ve tried, would help redeem my good ingredients…


And voila!

The bread turned out beautifully, and off it went to be shared, with another loaf of no-knead that I mixed a jar of red pepper mix into…


I like that all of this happened. That the ugly happened and that I was willing to do the work and search for a new beauty. It’s a good metaphor for me–because brokenness is around me, around all of us, but with work we can save the good and make something new and redeemed from the bad. It just takes effort, and faith.

And guess what? I’m off to Paris, friends, and will be writing from there! Sending you all love…


Ugly Bread

It all started out so beautifully. A wonderful mix of sourdough, kamut and rye… The late night kneading. The early morning molding…

But, you know. The afternoons are busy and there I was, tending to twelve different things at once–the bread was in the oven…

Somehow the oven was turned off. No need blaming anyone. Who really cares! I have a distinct appreciation for ugly bread–I have a whole photo folder dedicated to ugly bread pictures. Here is my latest. Isn’t it something?!!!IMG_4066Eek.

It’s awful.

The oven was turned back on and I finished the bake an hour later. At least it made the bread edible–not as bread, but as French toast the next morning.

But giving? I’m sorry to say, folks. I just can’t fathom giving something this horrible looking to anyone.

Not anyone.

So, I took it on a photo shoot, and let the bunnies have a sniff.

IMG_4063If you bake, then you can sympathize. Even my baker brothers can’t send every one of their loaves into the world.

Here are a few of my other, truly ugly creations:

IMG_0331st n close up braidingsour ugly baked

Cheers, Friends! Happy giving…

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!

The Mailman, the Advent Wreath and the Ugly Bread

Two loaves of no-knead sourdough

Mixed: 9:30 pm

Molded: 11 am next day

Baked: 12:30 pm

The bread was warm and it was only a little after midday. I love giving away bread right out of the oven–it’s like an extra gift–handing over something warm, something that speaks of right now, the heat making one conscious of that very moment.

I galloped down the walk, thinking I’d find Hector at the mail truck. Hector was one of my first fans–I gave him a copy of Hands Across the Moon right after its release in 2003 and he left me the sweetest handwritten thank you card in my mailbox (the book was for his daughter :)).  But Hector wasn’t at the mail truck, it was a new postman, PJ. I introduced myself and he took the bag, dipping his nose to smell the bread. “I worked in a bakery in Germany for 12 years!” he exclaimed. “You like to bake?” he asked, looking a bit perplexed. I nodded. “This looks like real bread.”

I smiled, pleased that that particular batch of bread came out well…

We chatted for quite a long time, my husband coming to the curb to join us, and John Ronan hurling greetings and exclamations from afar into the conversation. This was a good giving day for me…

And I needed a good giving day, because… just a few days ago I made the ugliest batch of bread ever. So ugly that I refused to pack it up and send it along, even to neighbors who love me. Just look…

Don’t EVEN try to respond and say that it doesn’t look that bad. Please. The photo doesn’t even do the ugliness justice. These three pale loaves looked sickly and forlorn. We ate two–but the third loaf still sits sadly in a bowl near the sink. I thought of cutting it up and making croutons, but truthfully, I don’t even want to bother…

All is well though. I redeemed my baking skills and even got crafty to prove that I’m capable of a wee bit of beauty. I’ve been wanting to make an Advent wreath for the house, to help mark the time as we approach Christmas. Typically, an Advent wreath in an Orthodox home should be ready to light on November 15th, but I was running–hardly breathing–when the first day of Advent hit back in November. I decided not to feel guilty, but to shoot for getting one ready as most Westerners do–on December 1st.

I also decided I would not run around town trying to find supplies. That I’d build the wreath as much as possible from the greens and such in our yard. Here’s how it went:

First, I plucked bay leaves from our potted tree out back. The tree is quite big now, about six feet tall, so it won’t miss a few leaves. I don’t know much about being crafty, so I winged this whole project. I pulled out my needle and thread, and individually sewed each leaf to an extra metal wreath frame I had in the garage. The sewing took quite a while, maybe a half hour, but it was relaxing, especially as I pierced each leaf and that sweet bay scent floated around me…

Then, I gathered pine needles from the ground out back, and sewed those in bundles to the frame as well.

We have three billion extra pine needles in our yard, so if you EVER need any, please come by. In fact, here’s a bonus photo of just one small pile back in September…

Next, I added pinecones (yes, plenty of those, too!) and some nandina berries from one of our shrubs out front. I placed the whole thing on a plate and smiled. The hard work was done–I just needed some candles to finish it off…

So, the following day I picked up several votives in just the right colors to sit inside the wreath, along with a raised votive to hold the center, white candle. (And… I popped into our neighborhood florist and bought from them one sprig of baby’s breath.)  I like the way it turned out. Here it is in the natural light of our backyard.

So, since we’re a bit behind, we lit the first three candles to catch up. Here’s the symbolism for the lighting of each candle. (I’ve seen variations on the colors and even the themes of the candles, but this is what we’re going with this year.)

Week One–green. Faith. For God’s promise to send the Messiah

Week Two–blue. Hope. Christ, born of a virgin, came in the form of a man and brings us hope

Week Three–gold. Love. For God so loved the world that He gave us His only son

Week Four–white. Peace. For the angels said to the shepherds, “peace on earth, good will toward men.”

Week Five–purple. Repentance. Repent, for the kingdom of God is at hand

Week Six–red. Holy communion. For Christ comes to us through his body and blood

Week Seven–white. Christ. For unto us a child is born, pure and wonderful and who brings us light.

And here’s our home, dark, except for the three Advent candles, glowing.

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.


Feasting on Bread

new recipe–Greek bread with black olives, cilantro and red onions in honor of Saint Nektarios

Mixed 11am

Molded 12:15-1pm–took forever!

Baked 2pm

Gave to Noah Nektarios and his family

Well, it’s not like Noah can really eat Greek olive bread yet. He’s only three weeks or so old. Just a little munchkin. But his patron saint is Saint Nektarios–and we’re fans too, with our John Ronan being born today, on his feast day. So, I made this Greek recipe for the two of them, but really, the parents are the ones gobbling it up.

It must be disaster week for the Woman and the Wheat. I should have known better. Every time I try to bake a recipe out of “Cooks Encyclopedia of Breads” there is some flaw that I encounter. Last week I made a Swedish knackebrod–which has a cool name, and a fun shape, but the cracker was almost inedible. Tasteless. And once before I tried to make some Indian bread from Cooks. Bad. Quite bad…

I knew something was a bit wrong when the recipe for today’s olive bread said that the dough had six cups of flour and then to add an entire chopped red onion, plus a cup and a half of chopped black olives. That’s a lot of moisture to add to a small mix of dough, so I cut way back on the added ingredients and still, it was a complete mess. Here I am, trying to work in the ingredients. I was supposed to just sort of pocket them inside, but, then it would turn out like a Greek hot pocket. That would be weird.

st n yucky kneading

My daughter was in the kitchen while I was kneading. I wish I had audio for you. For the first ten minutes, as I fought to incorporate the olives and onions and all their moistness, there was the most amazing sloshing and squishing noise coming from the dough. She and my son were in hysterics and saying all sorts of horrible things about my bread baking.

Then later, as I tried to place a braided cross over the top, my daughter said the bread was so ugly that I shouldn’t even think about giving it to someone on the street. Harsh critic indeed. But look at it. She has a point.

st n close up braiding

Anyway, chock it up to experience and meanwhile I’ll think about chucking the Cooks Encyclopedia. I’m going to try one more recipe of theirs just for kicks, and if they disappoint me once again, then into the recycle bin it goes…

Last note. Even with it being a very ugly loaf, and having to flow with the punches mid-mix, the bread really was delicious! My daughter even tried a bite… Here it is after the bake:


Happy feast day, Noah. I hope to meet you soon!