On bread

This is going to get long: I warn you now.

A couple of years ago, I began baking bread. I do it for ritual, I do it to eat at home. I bring it to potlucks (as I mentioned, it’s a money-cheap way to bring something people will love for potluck).

Here’s how I do it, with some links to some other options. Note that these are optimised for my particular preferences and needs (and I talk about what those are, as we go along). Adjust as makes sense to you.

Things that affect my baking:

  • I am short: I hate kneading on the counter because it’s totally the wrong height. I knead in a mixing bowl, sitting on the floor so I can put my upper body into it. This is admittedly weird. Knead on the counter/table if you prefer.
  • I live in a little tiny house. It has a little tiny oven (just big enough for a standard baking sheet, one rack, etc.) I am not fancy about my baking.
  • I have very little storage space: I do not own a baking stone, fascinating other baking tools, or a mixer: I just don’t have space for them. This is the fairly minimalist version.
  • I am aiming for ‘good bread’, usually, not the ‘ultimate best bread ever’. Those usually take more time than I realistically have.
  • My preference for bread is a lighter (less chewy) crust, and reasonably dense. Your preferences may vary – the resources section has some other places to go learn more about variations.

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Taking a week

One of the good things about working for a school is the vacations.

(There are also downsides: my breaks are unpaid time, and I don’t get any say in when I get them – it makes it very hard to do things requiring time off during the school year.)

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Happy Solstice!

The shiny new coven, Phoenix Song, celebrated our first Summer Solstice today.

It’s become the practice, in our tradition, to use the solstice as a time to revision the group for the coming year. (Yes, the timing’s a little odd, but it’s something that grew organically from stuff we were actually doing, and it turns out to work nicely.) What do we want to do together? What do we want things to be like? How do we want to honor where we’ve come from, while continuing to move forward?

In the group I hived from, the tradition has been to create something that is present in the temple all year as a reminder. In our case, that’s a little impractical (we’re doing ritual in two different spaces, and neither of us has space to spare.

We decided, instead, to do a deliberately impermanent piece of art. (Before I go any further, I want to be clear: L and I discussed whether we were okay with my posting photos, and she’s fine with it. While our interpretations and thoughts about some of this are private, the basic photos aren’t.)

L has a very lovely garden, in which she spends tremendous amounts of time. Her garden also has a flat paved part: this is what we used as our canvas. We used entirely natural ingredients: no artificial colorings like food coloring. We also paid attention to what will not cause havoc to L’s garden as things blow away, get rained on, etc.

Our materials included:

  • bentonite clay (white)
  • green french clay (the pale green)
  • red french clay (the dusty red/brown)
  • tumeric (the far more orange red/brown)
  • dried safflower (the red/orange dried petals)
  • dried lavender (the gray/purple ones)
  • dried hibiscus (the dark red)
  • rose petals (undried, from our friend’s garden last night: these are from a rose called Dart’s Dash)
  • powdered eggshell – we tried something to get it to mesh to blue/purple, which did not work, but they produce a lovely dusty white that shades differently from the white clay.)
  • marigold, dianthus, and a few other flowers from L’s garden.
  • spoons and paper funnels to direct materials (and fingers!)

For next year, we’d really like something in the blue/purple range: this may prove to be tricky. We used far less of our materials than we’d anticipated: maybe 2 ounces each (and probably less) of the clays, and about an ounce or two of everything else. The finished space is about 8×6 feet, give or take.

Timing: I arrived at 1, we finished at 4. We didn’t do other formal ritual set-up, etc. but there was some setting up and getting things ready, and so on. It took less time than I was anticipating, but it was intense work.

If you’d like larger versions of the images (plus a couple I didn’t include here, you can go to my LiveJournal gallery.

Our workspace: note cat perfectly positioned for maximum difficulty. (This is L’s cat, a Bengal by breed. She was actually *very* good once we got started.)

Our workspace

Our first spiral: Everything starts at the center. Bentonite clay, red and green French clays, marigold.

first spiral

Our first pause

Our first pause

(There was a second pause, too: check out the gallery for that one.)

We’re done:

Final outcome


My favorite detail shot (another in the gallery)

Favorite spiral

Friday Recs and some happy news

(People reading my LiveJournal already know this one): I finished some great conversations yesterday with the head of the school I work for, where we have found a way for me to earn enough more money I can afford to stop looking for a new job. This is very good, because the library job market right now is miserable, and this gives me some time to continue to build some specific skills and do more professional projects. (And continue working at a place I very much like, which is no small thing.)

The other side the good news is that this means I’m not moving any time soon, and thus, can truly make longer-term plans about the coven. This means I should probably start calling it by name, and note a few upcoming things.

Name: The shiny new coven’s name is Phoenix Song (my home tradition has a particular focus on the phoenix imagery), and I wanted a name that would bring together that focus with the group’s heavy focus on music and arts in ritual.

What’s coming: I do plan to have a very small website (elsewhere on this domain) by early fall. I’ll have a few more details up in a post soon about some of the structure and other choices (summarising much of what I’ve been talking about here.) We have plans to opening to considering new members sometime this fall, but exactly how is still in process, and we intend to proceed very slowly and gently.

Expect to see lots of discussion here, not so much about what we’ve chosen to do (though I’ll use it as an example) but as what I’m thinking about as I move forward with this, and what matters to me.

Friday rec:

Since I spent Monday making a new kind of bread, a bread recommendation.

I stumbled across The Fresh Loaf site a while back, and used the pita bread recipe linked from the right column of the main page with great success. They’ve got all sorts of great articles and comments and ideas for all levels of home baking. (well, not bread machines, maybe. But everything else.) Also many really nifty recipes, many of which have photos and other commentary.

Bread is one of the most magical and nifty things I do. First, the whole process of baking bread is about transformation and change and getting something new, nourishing, and powerful out of some pretty minimal ingredients.

But more than that, it’s such a sensory process. There’s the dusting of the flour on your hands, the sweetness of the honey, the feel of the dough as you knead it, the delight of hands in warm olive-oil rich dough in the winter. I take a great joy in having fresh, homemade bread, for ritual, too.

If you’re at all interested in making your own bread, go check them out.

Friday Recs:

Sorry for not getting further on the three things I have in draft right now (they’re all related to finding a group and evaluating a group you might be interested in). This week has been unusually busy, as it’s been graduation week (complete with two full days of meetings, and being out late for one reason or another on Tuesday/Wednesday/Thursday (I’ve got one more week of work to go before my summer break: as I say about this job, the vacation time is excellent, the not getting paid part of it is not so good. I’m hoping to find temp work, but am not, shall we say, entirely optimistic. (I have good skills, but it’s obviously not a great market for it.)

You are probably less interested in this than in my new tradition of Friday recommendations.

After our last formal festivity today, I saw Prince Caspian in the movie theatre, which was visually gorgeous (and I thought they did some very nice subtle things with costuming and visuals.) I’m a longtime lover of the books, allegory and all, but it’s been a while since I re-read, as I prefer watching a movie first, then re-reading, to the other way around. (I spend more time in the movie enjoying it as a movie, and less time gritting my teeth about how it’s different.) I may have more comments about it later.

My actual recommendation:

But the one I really wanted to talk about was buying more herbs. I buy my dried herbs from Penzey’s, also available online. But the store is the really fantastic thing: I walk in there just for the pick me up from the amazing smells.

Penzey’s, based in Wisconsin, produces their own dried herbs. They are high quality, amazingly inexpensive (I can walk out of there with 10 small containers of different things for $15 or so), and widely varied. I can, for example, get both cassia and cinnamon, two kinds of basil, different processed versions of rosemary (full, cracked, and powdered – handy for a friend who hates the ‘sticks’ of them as a texture. They also sell a stock base (handy for people like me who live alone, and do not always have it on hand, or only need a little at a time. I make my own as well, but don’t always have it handy in the right amount), various kinds of salts, and a few other things.

My purchases this time were to restock things I’d run out of – dill, basil, parsley, and one of their mixes, Green Goddess, which is my favorite all purpose one. (It’s dill, basil, and various other things, including a little salt and sugar) that you can mix up into a delicious dip/dressing/etc. with a little yogurt. Healthy and yummy.

Really, though, one of the reasons I adore it is the hit to the sense of walking into the store – a chance to smell the mingled herbs and spices, the chance to try out sniffing unfamiliar ones, or things that have turned up in recipes I’ve looked at. And a chance to add something a little bit special to my cooking for not a large investment. I use them heavily in my bread-baking, too, of course.