Tag Archives: bread

I eat bread and take naps.

Last week I took a nap three days in a row, something I’m sure I hadn’t done since I was three years old! What it was about my condition or the environment that facilitated that, I am still pondering….

I’d flown from my daughter’s new home in Wisconsin to Tucson, Arizona, to visit friends Martin and Mabel. Those are nicknames, of course. If I didn’t care about preserving their privacy I’d use their real names, which are more beautiful and carry for me some of the flavor of who they are. These people are dear to me because of what we have shared over several decades: joys and sorrows and homeschooling, food and gardens, chickens and laughing and lots of babies. And over all and in all, the love of God.

Mabel confessed to me once that she just wanted “to make bread and babies,” and I always wished I had thought to say that first. But no one could hope to match her turns of phrase, songs that spring up from her good heart ready to bless and teach, and her amazing metaphors. On this visit she described Martin and herself as being a heavy stone on the end of a string, keeping a helium balloon with a happy face on it from floating away. I don’t remember who was symbolized by the balloon (It wasn’t me!)

The temperature was mostly in the 80’s while I was there, maybe the low 90’s, but as their house is about 2500′ elevation and the desert air is so dry, I never felt uncomfortably warm. Their spirit was peaceful, no air conditioning spoiled the mild October atmosphere, Mabel and Martin both cooked healthy food for me, and the bed was firm. I took the cure.

We talked and talked, drank tea, and walked a little  –  then I strolled alone Sunday morning in the cool air, and admired the mesquite trees, ocotillos, purple cactuses and palo verde trees. I attended Divine Liturgy at the elegant and evidently new Holy Resurrection Orthodox Church.

Mabel has not stopped making bread, and she fed me two kinds — first a hearty no-knead oatmeal stout bread baked during my visit. Then sourdough rye from a Tassajara Bread Book recipe; she sliced a good portion of that loaf into a ziploc for me to take on my journey home. I can’t remember ever eating anything like that bread, each fat slice sustaining enough to the body and soul that a single one would have done for a meal — but orange zest, caraway and other seeds combined in a flavor whirl that made me unwilling to wait for the next meal to have that experience again.

I think God knew that it would be hard to come back home where the fires were still burning, to a ravaged land full of sad stories, so He provided these friends to remind me of and lavish on me His everlasting Love, to shore me up beforehand. And He surprised me with naps!

I hadn’t cracked open my own copy of the Tassajara Bread Book in a very long time — my book that I bought because of Mabel in the first place. But I came home determined to revive once again my old sourdough habits, at least long enough to bake up a batch of that Sourdough Rye. It’s not as easy to turn out a homey metaphor or proverb that pleases, or to make pizza dough like Martin does, but I guess that just means I’ll have to visit again soon.

 

 

Roses, a towel, and Isidora.

When you have washed the dishes and are letting the dirty water drain out of the sink, remember Saint Isidora, who is commemorated on May 10. Today I thought of her when I had occasion to wear a kitchen towel on my head; I have posted her story below.

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cistus at church

I had scheduled an oil change for my car this morning, and planned to drop it off at the mechanic early enough that I would have time to walk the mile to church, and join two other women to bake Orthodox communion bread called prosphora.

Because I was plotting about how long the walk would take me, what time to leave home, etc., I forgot to bring along the bandana I always wear to keep my hair out of the dough. When I arrived on the property I took some flower pictures and then hunted around for a substitute. I couldn’t find a spare scarf in the church or in the lost-and-found, but there was the stack of frayed but clean terrycloth kitchen towels in the corner of the kitchen, and a safety pin in a drawer… Ah, I thought: Isidora was known to wear a rag on her head, so I will do this in her honor.

Icon over the church hall porch

The following is from the website of the Orthodox Church in America:

Saint Isidora, Fool-for-Christ, struggled in the Tabenna monastery in Egypt during the sixth century. Taking upon herself the feat of folly, she acted like one insane, and did not eat food with the other sisters of the monastery. Many of them regarded her with contempt, but Isidora bore all this with great patience and meekness, blessing God for everything.

She worked in the kitchen and fulfilled the dirtiest, most difficult tasks at thisidora-of-egypt-frescoe monastery, cleaning the monastery of every impurity. Isidora covered her head with a plain rag, and instead of cooked food she drank the dirty wash water from the pots and dishes. She never became angry, never insulted anyone with a word, never grumbled against God or the sisters, and was given to silence.

Once, a desert monk, Saint Pitirim, had a vision. An angel of God appeared to him and said, “Go to the Tabenna monastery. There you will see a sister wearing a rag on her head. She serves them all with love, and endures their contempt without complaint. Her heart and her thoughts rest always with God. You, on the other hand, sit in solitude, but your thoughts flit about all over the world.”

The Elder set out for the Tabenna monastery, but he did not see the one indicated to him in the vision among the sisters. Then they led Isidora to him, considering her a demoniac. Isidora fell down at the knees of the Elder, asking his blessing. Saint Pitirim bowed down to the ground to her and said, “Bless me first, venerable Mother!”

To the astonished questions of the sisters the Elder replied, “Before God, Isidora is higher than all of us!” Then the sisters began to repent, confessing their mistreatment of Isidora, and they asked her forgiveness. The saint, however, distressed over her fame, secretly hid herself away from the monastery, and her ultimate fate remained unknown. It is believed that she died around the year 365.

I have seen this icon for years in the church, but only recently did I get a good enough photo to think about putting up here, and then I read about Isidora just a few weeks ago, close enough to her feast day that I waited to share it now. But who knew that I would so conveniently find another connection to the saint? My fellow bakers smiled at my enthusiasm and immediately asked, “What’s for dinner tonight?”

What streams and shines.

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The abundant rain made January of 2017 less depressing than average for that dark and cold month of the year. It looks likely that my town will have received 40 inches for the season-to-date before the end of the week. Usually we get 20+ inches. When it rains the air is cleared of pollutants and the burn restrictions are lifted – so we had lots of wood fires which are always cheering!

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Christmas joy and lightness always carry me through Theophany on January 6th, but then I have the reality of a Christmas tree that needs taking down eventually. I strained my shoulder slightly a few weeks ago, which slowed me down, but it gave me time to read five books in just the first month of the year, often sitting in front of that woodstove. I started drinking coffee, which is a mood-elevator for sure… and now suddenly, it’s February, and the weather has been 20 degrees milder.

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manzanita

Flocks of goldfinches and juncos have returned to the garden, swooping down from the bare branches of the snowball bush. The juncos peck around on the ground, and the finches hang all over the nyger seed feeder, even in the rain.

And flowersgl-asparagus-2-8-17-standing-water are coming on dear Margarita Manzanita, buds on the currant bushes and calla lilies. I went out and took pictures just now under the umbrella, so everything is too wet to be optimal, revealing how one of my asparagus beds is less than optimal – we didn’t dig down deep enough into the adobe clay, and now there is standing water. That may not portend good for the future of that planting.

I made several gallons total of various soups in January, including Barley Buttermilk Soup, which I decided to try incorporating into bread yesterday. Here you have it, Barley Buttermilk Bread. It was enough dough that I ought to have made three loaves of it, but what I did was bake one oval loaf on my pizza stone, with butter brushed on top toward the end, and a round one in the Dutch oven. I added some oat flour which made it soft, but by this morning its crumb is very nice, and I like it very much… even too much.

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It’s been a long time since I had eggs from hens who ate lots of greens. My fellow communion bread-baker James brought some pale blue-green eggs from his Americaunas to our last baking session, and I was the lucky one to take them home, just as he had brought them, in the bottom of a paper shopping bag. They are so wonderfully orange-yolked, I had to take their picture, too. They go well with Barley-Buttermilk Bread. 🙂

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Every week the peas and the poppies have been beaten down by the rain…

gl-poppies-p1060639But they keep growing and blooming. Overall, they appear to thrive in it. I am reminded of this verse from the hymn “O Worship the King,” which likens God’s provision for us generally to the moisture that falls.

Thy bountiful care, what tongue can recite?
It breathes in the air, it shines in the light;
It streams from the hills, it descends to the plain,
And sweetly distills in the dew and the rain.

Sometimes, it is not only a metaphor.

Brunch with Sophia and Brigid

ForglP1030339 a long time I’d been hoping to keep St. Brigid’s Day with some kitchen activity; I even programmed the idea into my online calendar and every year toward the end of January the e-mail reminder arrived, “If it’s not a fasting day, make Irish food.” As the day came and went year after year, always on the eve of a major feast of the Orthodox Church, there was never time or energy to enact my plan. Until this year.gl P1030341

I had invited my goddaughter Sophia for a birthday brunch on February 1st, and when I started planning the menu I realized that we could remember St. Brigid at the same time and have an Irish theme to the food.

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St. Brigid’s Oaten Bread would be the center of the spread, and I found many recipes for it online,  all  identical. I added a few more menu items imitating an “Irish Breakfast,” which I know was not perfectly authentic, but we relished the bread and everything else, warmed by a good fire in the stove and drinking Irish Breakfast tea to boot.

Next year I might incorporate more of the Celtic traditions surrounding St. Brigid, including the fact that February 1st is considered Celtic Spring, and the custom of not bringing snowdrop flowers into the house until that day. From Heather’s comment on my snowdrop post, and from other sources, I learned more about the saint and the season just after my party. I didn’t even think to bring snowdrops into the house on that Celtic spring day, because I had so many flowers left from our house blessing the week before.

glP1030347Confession: I actually did alter the bread recipe a bit, partly because I had an egg yolk left over from making these Candied Espresso Walnuts (a food that would have been strange to St. Brigid). I thought she would have thought it natural to use the extra yolk in the bread, because a farm girl like her would not waste it. And she would not blink an eye when she saw me adding an extra tablespoon of butter; I know this because more than one story about her reveals her appreciation of this wonderful food. Sophia and I blessed our Brigid’s bread by spreading extra butter on our thick slices.

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The next day after St. Brigid’s we would commemorate the Presentation of Christ in the Temple, which is also called Candlemas because we bless candles. This year our rector mentioned Groundhog Day and its marking of shadows. He noted that because we came to church, we ourselves saw no shadows, only the Light of Christ shining in the world.

I like what Macrina Lewis wrote recently about these days and others through the church year:

…many of our major Christian feasts hearken back with echoes through prior centuries to pre-Christian religious and cultural celebrations, often tied closely to the earth and to the earthly rhythms of human life: birth, death, harvest, preparation, feasting. In the illuminating glory of the saBrigid2ints’ lives and the liturgical expression of the church, these feasts, these divine seasons, have been revealed in their fullness, elucidated and offered as a way for each of us to personally participate in their mysteries directly. What was formerly in shadow…has been illumined with the knowledge of faith and the fullness of God’s presence.

Thinking about those earthly rhythms, I have to say that the darkness of January did not get me down this year as it has tended to do in recent years, and I wonder why… Is it because I have so much work to do? Just watching the birds through the window as they explore my new garden must elevate my mood. Certainly being part of a worshiping community, right here in my house, keeps the gloom at the level of something “out there” that we don’t have to partake of; we worked joyfully to spiff up the house and cook a meal together for the occasion of our house blessing last week. The skies have featured rain or wind, which is not the kind of weather that leads to a prohibition of wood fires, and now three of us in one house both appreciate and even build fires almost every day.

I’ve continued to sorrow and to grieve the loss of my husband, but in sharper, briefer episodes than the kind of depression that can come from lack of sunlight. The sadness often comes over me when I’m standing in church, as sitting in my Father’s lap, and He soon comforts me by making me feel all the love and loveliness in His house. Into the darkness of a hurting and wintry world, Jesus Christ shines warm and bright.

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