Monday, October 31, 2011

Sweet Stuff

Why, oh why do I let several days go by in between blog posts?

Real life happens, I guess, and I hate to stop it to sit down and type.

This evening I have a stomach ache, so I helped Nora and Rose with hair and makeup, and Thomas went out with them to trick or treat. What a treat it is for me that we live in town and Thomas, our 18 yr old on the autism spectrum, is not ashamed to put on a mask and walk around with his little sisters. Getting candy might have something to do with it. But I think he would be happy to go out, even if he weren't hoping for the loot.

Earlier today I made a drive to Ozona to meet Mom and Daddy for lunch and for honey. Being particular about my ingredients not only costs me a lot of money, but a lot of time and effort, too. Much of the honey one buys from the store comes from multiple sources from different countries, from bees fed sugar, corn syrup and who knows what else.

A few miles from my parents is a family-owned company, Fains. It was started by Mr. Fains back in 1926. The story is a fascinating one. Mr. Fains was farming, and had 10 hives on the side. One year, the honey made almost double the money compared to the farm. This entrepeneur realized that beekeeping could be a business much more lucrative than any other option, so he set to collecting swarms, increase his business exponentially, and began a business that is still thriving, now owned by a grandson. The Fains Honey company started out in Central Texas, not far from my hometown, then moved down to the Rio Grande Valley. Use of pesticides and herbicides destroyed the honey bee environment, so after due diligence and plenty of research, Mr. Fain moved his business up to Llano area, where they are now located. Even though the region is arid, there are plenty of native plants that bloom with any little rain, especially something called Bee Bush. It has a teeny white blossom and you can smell the fragrance from far away. Sweet, like candy. Makes for wonderful honey bee food, along with many other varieties of wildflowers.

They sell their honey raw, and I am very thankful to get an amazing ingredient to be used in our milk and honey bread and granola. It gives me joy to support a family-run business. And it was a pretty nice excuse to share lunch with my parents and get to see some of my mom's new paintings she was delivering to the Fredericksburg Art Gallery in Fredericksburg, Texas for a big art show coming up next week.

I'm so proud of you, Mom! And thanks, to both you and Daddy for the fun lunch and for supporting MY business by helping with a speedy delivery so I can bake bread tomorrow!

PS If you like beautiful art work, check out and look up Fran Rowe. She has some AMAZING pieces and there are some other wonderful artists there as well. xoxo

Friday, October 28, 2011

Another Friday Night

Nora and I dropped Patrick and Maggie off at the last football game of the season. Rose was there already with her girlfriends. Thomas walked to the theater to watch a movie.

As Nora and I drove home, the sun dipped below the horizon, washing everything with dusk. I caught a glimpse of the waxing moon, catching up with the sun. It was a glorious sight for me, knowing that she is growing fat again, though still in her crescent form.

The bread was waiting for me, so I turned on the music and started to tear paper to wrap things up. Nanci Griffith gave me a hug I truly needed. What a friend is her music to me.

More work is calling my name, but I though someone out there might need a hug from Nanci as well, so I leave you with the lyrics of one of my favorite songs of all time:

Trouble in these Fields

Baby I know that we've got trouble in the fields

When bankers swarm like locust out there turning away our yield

The trains roll by our silos, silver in the rain.

They leave our pockets full of nothing but our dreams and the golden grain.

Have you seen the folks in line downtown at the station?

They're buying their ticket out and talking the great depression.

Our parents had their hard times fifty years ago,

When they stood out in these empty fields in dust as deep as snow.


And all this trouble in these fields, if this rain will fall these wounds can heal.

They'll never take our native soil.

But if we sell that new John Deere and then we'll work these crops with sweat and tears,

You'll be the mule, I'll be the plow,

Come harvest time we'll work it out, there's still a lot of love,

Right here in these troubled fields.

There's a book up on my shelf about those dust bowl days and there's a little bit of me and a little bit of you in the photos on every page.

Our children live in the city and they rest upon our shoulders,

they never want the rain to fall or the weather to get colder.


You'll be the mule, I'll be the plow, Come harvest time we'll work it out, there's still a lot of love, right here in these troubled fields.

Nanci Griffith, Dustbowl Symphony

I hope you will take a listen and I hope that her song will give you a hug as well. Now Nora and I will get back to the bakery. She is going to put labels on for me.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Winter Blew in for a Little Visit

I went to sleep last night with the windows wide open. In the middle of the night a cold wind blew in, carrying the smell of burning firewood and desert and wintertime.

Instead of closing the window, I pulled up the blanket, happy for the change.

We never rose above the 40's today, the sky was rather dark and I felt like cuddling up with a good book and a cup of tea. The truth is, I felt a bit tired, morose and wanted to shove all responsibilities in the garbage. Instead, I worked on mountains of laundry and mountains of paperwork that I had been shoving to the side. Made some phone calls. Dug through files. Drank more coffee and then hot tea. Never made it to the book.

That's okay. I did pause midday to have lunch with a new friend. A bowl of Jalapeno Cilantro cream soup at the Reata. With chunks of avocado and tomato. Quintessential Texas comfort food for a brisk day. And a nice chat that allowed me to feel like I could be real. Be myself.

This afternoon I paused the work again to help kids gather odds and ends for the Halloween costumes. Tomorrow is dress up day at school. I think they are ready. Even Thomas is catching the excitement. He will wear a cool Asian mask that our dear friend Donna gave us years back. Now what in the world will I dress up to be for the Farmer's market on Saturday? I guess I will have all baking day tomorrow to figure it out.

The windows are closed this evening, but I have an urge to go grab a couple more blankets and open them up so I can smell the smell of winter. And hear the dried pecan leaves skitter across the yard.

Ahhh. I do so love changing seasons.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Seedy Crackers

This morning as the girls and I rode bicycles to school the dark sky began to lighten and the tiny little sliver of the almost new moon glowed in the east. I find great comfort in the regularity of the moon.

It would be easier to drive the girls to school in the morning, but I am trying to stay in the habit of bike riding. We have to rush and rush, but being outside, seeing the moon, feeling the different temperatures from day to day centers me. The kind crossing guard gets us over to the elementary school. I kiss Nora, then Rose and I make the nearly two mile bike hike around the corner, down the street, over the train tracks and a little way further to the middle school. It surprises me that so few kids bike to school. We watch the sky change from black to grey to pink and peach. The school bus lights flash and shine like Christmas. Rose occasionally deigns to give me a kiss, but always says goodbye, I love you, even when we have shared cross words earlier in the morning.

This morning I whizzed the two miles back home, poured another cup of coffee, made myself an omelet, then got to work on the many bowls of bread and pizza dough waiting for me in the bakery.

Lately I have been making lots of crackers, having fun with Kamut and spelt. I thought i would share with you the recipe for my most popular experiment so far. Crackers are a pain to make in bulk, but not that difficult. Considering all the unhealthy ingredients found in store bought crackers, it is worth the while to experiment. Doesn't everyone like a little something crunchy and tasty to enjoy with goat cheese? Or tuna fish? Or chicken salad? Or plain old snacking in the afternoon?

I hope you will give them a try sometime. Be patient with yourself. The rolling out gets easier with some practice. And be CAREFUL not to burn too many. I burned one tray today because I walked away from the oven must a few minutes too long...

3/4c freshly milled spelt flour (I use organic, from Montana)
1/2 c freshly milled kamut flour (Ditto)
1/3 c sesame seeds
1/3 c sunflower seeds
1/3 c flax seeds
1 1/2 tsp salt (I use Redmond's Real Salt)
1 1/2 tsp baking powder (I use aluminum-free)
3 TBSP coconut oil (I use organic, from a source in Mexico)
1/2 c-3/4 c water
Mix all the dry ingredients. Add oil. I use an amazing organic, non-hydrogenated coconut oil. When it is completely incorporated with the dry ingredients, add the water, but bit by bit, because you may or may not need all of it. Stir it in until the dough forms a ball. Let the dough rest 15 minutes or so. Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Divide dough into 8 pcs.
I use a french rolling pin (thank you Stewart) and roll each piece out as thinly as possible. To make these crackers it is best to get the dough even thinner than pie crust. But do the best you can. I aim for a rectagular shape, but if you aim for something akin to Brazil or Texas, that will be fine, too. Use a knife or pizza cutter to cut the dough into squares or whatever shape you wish. Place on cookie sheet and bake until lightly browned around the edges. You have to be SOOO careful, because these crackers are not nearly as good burned as they are lightly browned.

After your crackers are done, let them cool, then store them in a giant glass pickle jar, the gallon size, or in a ziploc bag. They should stay fresh for a week or two, but I doubt they will stick around that long. Some of you may not have a grain mill or access to cool grains. Try to find a friend with a mill if you can and work out a trade. The freshly milled grain is so much more nutritious and delicious. But if not, experiment with whatever cool kinds of flour you can find from the grocery store. Isn't it amazing the options out there? I am thinking these crackers would be great with quinoa. Or rye. Or add a little millet.

If there is one series of lessons I wish I could teach folks when helping them learn cooking skills, it would be to have fun, learn the basics, then don't be scared to go improv every once in awhile.

If you learn to make a good cracker, you will be very popular at the next wine and cheese party. Really.

Well, I had better hit the sack. The dark morning and dark moon won't be waiting for us for long. I will be glad when the time changes back even if the evenings are darker.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Good Magic, or My Farmer's Market Finds

It was a lovely day at the Farmer's Market on Saturday. Lots of visits with neighbors and visitors. I was astonished at how many travelers popped in to our market. We aren't even on the beaten path.

Astonished, but I guess it isn't that surprising when you think about all the good things going on in one big parking lot. Pumpkins and tomatoes and eggplants and peppers and onions and sweet potatoes and green beans. Swiss chard, herbs, zucchini, spaghetti squash, patty pan squash, seedlings, flowers. Apples and pears. Cool jewelry, hot coffee and tea, parathas, samosas, scones, homemade donuts, homemade pickles and mustards and relish, salsa and jam. Chili rellenos, big pots of beans and bbq. Milk and cream and seven different kinds of cheeses. Fresh butter. Homemade soaps. Who knows how many varieties of baked goods (including my freshly milled good stuff!)? A solar power oven display, a guy from the Lion's club. Dogs and children and young artists and happy hikers and local musicians and teachers and folks who work for Homeland Security. Builders and librarians, ministers and Tai Chi instructors. Senior citizen tour groups passing by.

All thrown together on a brilliant October Saturday morning, making for a lovely picture of community and local economy. I wish everyone had a chance to check out their farmer's market. Some people tell me they don't go because they don't have the money, that goods at the farmer's market are priced too expensively. And yes, many things could be purchased at Wal Mart for significantly less. But can we afford the bargain? The cost that comes from not knowing our neighbors? The cost to our health that comes from eating cheap, nutritionally deficient, overly processed foods? The cost to our environment when we pay people to raise meat and vegetables and fruits irresponsibly?

I realize that for many of us on a tight budget, the extra few dollars a week make a huge difference. But as I have witnessed the joy that comes in developing an economy of bartering, it makes me realize that there are options out there for cash-strapped folks who are willing to be a little creative. On many occasions I have suggested to folks that they can pay what they can afford for my bread. Or barter something that they have. I have heard lots of other vendors suggest the same thing.

Have you wished you could afford to eat more healthy foods, but don't see a way it can be done? Trust me, I know what it means to be a penny-pincher, wondering if there is enough left in the bank to pay the water bill and the house and the electricity and the insurance, along with a pair of shoes for a growing kid and a prescription for a sick kid, all at the same time. And for those of you who don't work at a farmer's market, the idea of trying to fit one more thing into a busy Saturday morning might be more than you can imagine.

But as I wax poetically over the joys of our cool world of real food and neighborhood community and producers who make stuff with their own hands, I hope you won't feel like that is something just for me and my kind. There IS a way to experience that kind of food and community, but you might have to start out with some baby steps. And use your imagination and make a little extra effort. I promise that it will pay off. In more ways than you can imagine.

PS By the time the bakery and the kitchen were cleaned, the floors swept and mopped, the laundry folded, the trays and pans washed and dried, I was pretty exhausted and in need of a real meal. A chicken was sprinkled with loads of fresh rosemary from the yard, a squeeze of a couple of lemons, some chopped garlic, salt and olive oil and shoved in the very hot oven. I took a red onion, sliced, place it in a layer on a pyrex, topped with sliced zucchini, garlic, eggplant, fresh tomatoes, more onion, fresh thyme and basil, bell pepper, another layer of tomatoes, drizzled olive oil and a sprinkle of sea salt, then placed that pan in the oven with the chicken. A loaf of Italian Peasant bread was sliced, brushed with olive oil, and placed on a tray to go into the oven as well. It didn't take any work at all to throw it together, then we lit candles and the tiki torches and sat out in the balmy starry evening air, European style (almost 9pm!) and enjoyed good food, great conversation, and a fitting end to Farmer's Market day, grateful for the dozen hands or more who contributed to our dinner.

It probably would have been just as delicious if we had made our dinner with all store bought veggies, but there is a unique kind of magic that comes with knowing who helped grow your food. Very good magic.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Friday Nights Aren't Really a Party for Me, but that's OK

Whew. Another day almost done. Well, the dirty pots and pans and trays are waiting for me, but at least the bread and goodies are wrapped and ready for tomorrow.

The sun has set, the stars are beginning to pop out and the evening is still and quiet. I just had to come outside for a few minutes and feel the air since I have been working indoors since four this morning.

As tiring as my job is, I enjoy the routine and the rote order of the day. I don't really have to think when I get out of bed. I hop up, put on water for my coffee, grind some beans, put on some milk to warm, then start the mill to grinding. I have an order to the day, starting with the Hard White Wheat products, the Milk and Honey bread, the Pizza Crust dough, the Italian Peasant Bread. Then, as those doughs are rising, and I have my second cup of coffee, I pull out the Spelt berries and begin to mill them. Spelt Milk and Honey bread, Spelt and Wheat Seedy Loaf, Spelt Almond Raisin Rye, all the ingredients perform amazing alchemy in the kneading bowls. After the Spelt Challah is placed in the bowl to rise, I move on to the Kamut berries, milling them, meanwhile making the honey/sucanat mixture for the gigantic bowl of granola, using 24 cups of organic oats, eight cups of organic raisins and eight cups of almonds. Plus lots of cinnamon. Today I made Kamut Applesauce Cake and Kamut Oatmeal Cookies and Spelt and Kamut Seedy Crackers.

Sometimes the phone rings, sometimes someone pops in for a chat, but mostly I am hyperfocused on my tasks, ITunes Library cranking out a bizarre soundtrack for my day.

I love music. Many varieties. Some days I start with Andrew Peterson and continue with an inspirational playlist. Sometimes I have to have my favorite women artists, like Eva Cassidy, Sheryl Crow,EmmyLou, Cindi Lauper, Mindy Smith and Nanci Griffith. Occasionally the 80's overwhelms the mix, with Chicago, Journey, Peter Gabriel and the like.

I even like to belt out the Folk Songs arranged by Beethoven and performed by the New York Philharmonic.

This evening, as I finished wrapping up the last loaves of Spelt Milk and Honey, Twila Paris came up on the list with her collection of hymns. I grew up in a Southern Baptist church, went to seminary and served as a missionary off and on. Now I go to St James, an Episcopal church. We don't sing the same hymns, but I like the liturgy and the hymnology. Even so, there is something about the songs of my childhood that feel like balm to a tired soul. The old songs from the good old days, that actually were pretty tough old days for the hymn writers and the church of that day.

"When the Roll is Called up Yonder" came on and I mindlessly sang along for a few minutes, creasing the paper, tearing the masking tape, placing the labels. Then came the stanza, "Let us labor for the Master from the dawn til setting sun, Let us talk of all his wondrous love and care,Then when all of life is over and our work on earth is done, when the roll is called up yonder I'll be there."

So many sense memories washed over me as I sang, I had to rewind and start the song over again. I could feel the seats in the old church in Naruna, Texas, and could hear my Dad's voice as we sang in the little bitty country church, windows wide open, live oaks in the cemetery, maybe just maybe some of "Aunt" Ruth Vann's fried apple pies to go with dinner on the grounds.

And I thought of the work of my hands, and how it isn't done. Not for now, at any rate. And then I thought of how tired Philip was his last few weeks of life. I thought of how hard he would work during the day, putting on a good face, but at night, when all was still and everyone else was in bed asleep, he would tell me he was praying for the Lord to return because he didn't think he could endure much longer.

He was so tired.

He hurt so badly.

His heart had been wearing out since he was a little baby with rheumatic fever and we had been to doctor after doctor trying to get that poor thing out of atrial fibrillation and into regular rhythm. And through it all he fixed the cars and shoveled the snow, cut the firewood and restored our farmhouse and someone else's farmhouse and helped with the farm and loved on me and the kids and did who knows what all to help other people who crossed his path.

All those things crossed my mind as I mindlessly wrapped up the bread and sang along.

And I was so grateful that Philip's work on earth is done and that his worn out heart can rest now.

Then the song changed and moved on to Van Morrison and I finished loading up the tubs with the farmer's market stuff and came outside to see the dark sky and feel the air for a moment before finishing up the pots and pans.

Grief is weird. It sneaks up on you at the strangest moments.

I miss Philip so much, yet it seems like maybe it was a hundred years ago or so he walked the earth with us. Even though it is hard figuring out how to live life without him, I would never, never, not in a million years wish him to leave his rest and come back to suffering, pain and exhaustion.

I'm glad that hymn came up on the playlist and gave me such depth of sense memory. Even though it feels a little raw, it isn't as raw as it was a year or more ago. Makes me thankful for a job that gives me time to think as my hands work. I feel better for having felt the loss tonight and the bittersweet memories. Isn't that strange?

Thursday, October 20, 2011

A Quest?

Stir-fried vegetables and leftover roast made for a delicious supper. With some roasted sweet potatoes on the side. Almost everything grown by new farmer's market friends.

Kids were running in different directions, so I took my plate out to the backyard with a book. Nora helped herself to applesauce and went to the swing. Rose popped out eventually, with a nice big bowl of carrots and cucumbers and some newly purchased Organic Hidden Valley Ranch dressing.

"Is this dressing gone bad?" she asked. "What is wrong with it?"

I don't buy Ranch dressing very often, but the kids love it so when I saw the Organic version on the shelf last week, I thought it would be a nice treat.

I told Rose that the only thing wrong with the dressing was that it wasn't filled with toxic chemicals. She and Nora asked if I would please purchase them some toxic chemicals to put on their organic carrots and cucumbers.

Hmmm. Maybe we will have to try a homemade version...

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Moving On

Well, the sheep are gone. Not from here, but from the farm.

I have had them offered on Craigslist. Sold a few ram lambs to be butchered by an African guy, some Bhutanese and some Bosnian fellows. A couple of people offered to buy the whole lot to butcher them all, but I had been holding out.

It is hard the think about slaughtering heritage breed sheep who are valuable ewes with many more lamb-bearing years ahead of them. Seems like a poor economy.

So when the gal emailed me last week, telling me she and her son want to get the Jacobs registered and raise them, I was delighted. Ophelia will get to live on a new farm with her dear ewe friends and the wethers. So she, Freda, Esther, Amos and Andy and Easter Bunny, Sissy, Willow, and the remaining lambs from the spring crop went to live in West Virginia.

You know how I cried every time we had to sell off another farm animal? This time I didn't cry. I am merely grateful to have them gone to a good new home. Now Ribeye, the steer, is the only one left, besides a handful of chickens and a few baby chicks who hatched out early this fall.

And Malt O Meal, the barn cat who still patrols the farm for rodents.

Today I don't miss the farm.

I am sitting outside in the backyard watching the blackening trees stir in the cool evening breeze. The air smells brisk, like November. I don't see the crowds of Monarch butterflies today, but we did a week ago. I wonder if they have made it down to Mexico yet. Before you know it the temperatures will rise and we will be sweating again, even if it becomes November. We are in Texas, you know. But this cool spell is refreshing to my senses. I want to drink it up! Must find time to take a hike this weekend.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011


This morning the sky was gray and dark as we made our way to the schools by bicycle. I was full of coffee and warm from milling and mixing and kneading dough, but by the time we were halfway down the street by the golf course my hands were shivering and my cheeks were numb.

Tuesdays are a light baking day and perhaps a bit more pleasant than Fridays, giving me room for some experimentation. I have been making delicious grownup crackers ever since the organic Kamut came in. The big kids were pretty impressed, but Nora was not. So today as I milled I was thinking about Nora. Nora has a bit of a sweet tooth.


What to bake? I decided that Kamut graham crackers and Kamut peanut butter cookies were in order. After getting the regular goods well on their way, milk and honey bread, spelt milk and honey bread, the pizza crusts, the granola, the italian peasant bread and the spelt almond raisin rye, I got to work on the treats.

Kids get home a bit before 4. Customers come shortly after. It is fun setting out little bits of this and that for the kids to enjoy as an afterschool snack and for the customers to enjoy as samples. One of my new friends and customers took a bite of the graham crackers. Her review was the best compliment! She told me that after tasting the freshly milled Kamut version, the store bought variety were just plain boring!

It is a joy having customers come by the bakery in our home. People slow down, catch up a little, eat a slice of homemade pizza or a bite of spelt brownies and kiss babies and share stories. I have learned so much about our area already by conversations had in the bakery while wrapping up someone's bread. Local economy is spell-binding, on many levels. What a grateful heart I have for all those customers. I thank God for them.

After the bakery closed, Rose and I hopped on our bikes and rode over to the middle school for a Community Garden open house. Rose is in 6th grade and one of her elective classes is Environmental Science. She has an amazing, young, energetic and forward thinking teacher who apparently has a rather amazing support network. He and several volunteers from the community have started an organic garden outside the school. They are using recycled materials to build up the area.

Of course you can imagine it did my soul good to see that lovely garden. Rose tells me that they are outside working on it most every day.

What delighted me even more was seeing the paper-crete project. The school is collecting all recyclable paper, the children shred it by hand, add water to make it into pulp, then fill a 5 gallon bucket 3/5 full, mix in one coffee can mortar, three coffee cans water, stir thoroughly, then pour into forms to make blocks which they will use to build a tool shed for their garden.

Ten years ago or so, it was legal to cross the border in Big Bend National Park and we would often go across the Rio Grande with the kids on our camping trips to eat tacos in a little village. There we would see folks making adobe bricks for their building projects. I loved the organic ingenuity. Using material at hand, dirt, manure, straw, water from the river, they came up with building material that would last for many many years. No Lowes withing driving distance, and even if there were, no one would have the money anyway.

Well, there is no Lowe's in our town, but there is a lumberyard. The school teachers could probably go and buy some cinderblocks. But can you imagine the lessons the kids are learning as they gather up the teachers' waste paper and turn it into real, solid, long lasting blocks that will build a structure? They are using their hands and hoes and a donated wheelbarrow and wooden forms built by the highschool industrial arts kids.

I guess it doesn't take much to delight me. Simple pleasures and all that.

I was impressed. So happy to see that our school here in Alpine is willing to educate our children on many levels. Happy to see volunteers working with my daughter, people from our town who don't even have children in the school, working together because they know they are being a part of making our world a better place. One tomato plant and one paper-crete block at a time.

Somehow I think the lesson here is way deeper than I can even begin to cover tonight, but I am tired and hope to put my head down on my pillow in a few minutes.

As Rose and I rode our bikes back home, the temperature dipped even lower and we felt like we could smell the Arctic Ocean. The sun fell and we were shivering by the time we reached our warm house. The roast and the stir-fried green beans tasted like a feast. Everyone ate more bread and cookies. We finished A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle last night and haven't started a new read aloud book yet. Everyone retired with their books or Ipods or phones and we are all enjoying blankets. I think that the temperature is supposed to drop down to the 30's tonight. Can you believe it?

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Sacred Space

Some days I get up at 3 in the morning and work for 18 hours or more before I sit down.

Other mornings I get up at6:30, get the kids off to school and work steadily through a more reasonable 8 hour pace.

Today I woke up at 5:15, got up, made pancakes (4-grain, freshly milled organic, with real maple syrup from Michigan, thank you Raymond) got the kids to school and went back to bed and slept for a couple of hours. Well. 3 hours plus.

Part of me wanted to berate myself. But the other part rolled over and closed her eyes after she reminded the other part how hard we work on a regular basis.

At some point I got up, gathered my things, took care of some business, spoke to some customers who came to the door, then loaded up the rest of my paperwork because I decided I couldn't be in the house for another 15 minutes.

Here is a true confession.

I hate to do it because I don't want to ruin my reputation.

OK, here goes.

I drove over to Sonic to get a cheeseburger because I felt kind of depressed and needed some comfort. And yes, I asked for the whole wheat bun, but who knows how much whole wheat is actually in that whole wheat bun, and why bother when you are getting a fast food cheeseburger anyway, but there you have it.

I don't know why, but it has been a pretty hard few days for me. I have felt sad and tired and maybe all the work of still adjusting to new town and new business and new single-parenting and all that is still catching up with me. So I grabbed my burger and diet Dr. Pepper (don't you love the oxymoron) and asked God to please tell me what I needed to do to feel better.

Thursdays are kind of my day off, since I work so hard over the weekend. I try to get a plan for what I need to bake, come up with an ingredient list, return a few emails and rest.

For some reason Fort Davis kept coming to mind, so I pointed the car that direction, stopped in the Stone Village store to grab a couple of items I needed plus a cup of locally roasted Big Bend Roaster coffee then went back toward Alpine. Around halfway between the two mountain towns is a little roadside picnic area. I remember parking at those little tables over 20 years ago to enjoy some solitude and beauty.

Cup of coffee in hand, devotional book, journal and scratch paper, I sat down at the solid concrete table and benches.

At first I couldn't hear a thing but the voice in my head, rattling, rattling.

Then the skitter of a leaf caught my attention.

I paused to breathe in. Breathe out.

A truck and trailer rolled by.

Breathe in.

Breathe out.

I opened up my little devotional book which reminded me to be still in God's presence. Sarah Young, author of Jesus Calling, and now my invisible friend, suggested that "the more hassled you feel, the more you need this sacred space of communion."

So I was still for a moment, breathing in, when all of a sudden my attention was caught by the lovely cottonwoods surrounding my little private retreat center, I mean, the public picnic spot by the side of the road. I have always loved cottonwoods. In southwest Texas, if you want to know where some water is located, just span the horizons for some cottonwoods. Their bright green leaves were turning sunshine yellow, around the tops of the trees, and occasionally one would be flung loose, floating toward the ground, skittering across the pavement.


Funny that I didn't notice the leaves turning until I took the time to breathe in and out a few times.

After a few moments of peace and still, I prayed and threw out my concerns to God, while listening to the whirr of a cricket across the road, the bawl of a cow a few miles down at Calamity Creek Ranch, the scratch of a few leaves being blown in the parking area and the whisper of the cottonwood leaves, sounding like the Holy Spirit.

Then I got to work and put pencil to paper, taking care of business.

Shortly after, the coffee was gone, the list was done and it was time to head back home. I ran to the store to pick up ingredients I needed for tomorrow, then helped Rose work on her science experiment. She is comparing and contrasting freshly milled organic spelt and whole white wheat to store bought organic spelt and whole white wheat, using the same recipes and techniques. We will see if one or the other rises higher, has better crumb and see how they result in blind taste tests (thank goodness we have plenty of taste testers in this house.)

Then it was time to meet up the some new friends at a Home and Garden meeting at the Saddle Club in town.

I feel so much better after getting my tank filled up, at least for the moment. Tomorrow will come early and will go long. But I am thankful to have a job that contributes to the health and well being of my family and neighbors. And thankful to have a job that allows for time to breathe in and out and notice the change in the leaves. And thankful my kids are big enough to fend for themselves a couple of hours so I can meet some other gals and get to know my neighbors.

Monday, October 10, 2011


The sky is the color of a peach on the western horizon, but in the east it is grey, like silk. The blackened silhouette of the trees makes everything look like Halloween, according to Rose, who is sitting beside me. The moon is almost full and slowly makes her way up the eastern sky.

This morning Accuweather told me that the temperature in Alpine was 42 degrees. My truck thermometer registered 46. It was pretty chilly, but warmed up to the 70's which made for perfect outdoor dining this evening.

Last week the mill seemed to be dragging, so my friend and I took it apart this afternoon to clean it and put it back together. Well, mostly my friend did all the work, but I did unscrew a couple of screws and loosened a couple of bolts. I am always amazed and grateful to people who are mechanically minded and willing to share their skills and time with me!

It should be up and running just beautifully in the morning. Won't it be nice to bake in a cool house!

Thursday, October 6, 2011

I'm Rich!

Rich in grains, that is.
My ship came in, well the shipment arrived around noon on an Old Dominion truck that pulled up next to my carport.

He called just as we were finishing up Bible study and I hopped on my bike and raced back home.

Fifty bags of grain is a lot of weight lifting. The driver asked me by phone if I had a forklift to pick up the pallet. I tried not to laugh too hard.

My friend drove over and between the her, the driver and myself, we knocked the job out pretty quickly. I pulled some bread out of the freezer to tip the driver for his help.

I do feel rich as I look at all that organic grain, ready to mill into tons of loaves of bread. Well, at least a ton and a half of bread, give or take. Please God, let there be plenty of customers.

Now to find a source of local honey...

PS, it is nice and breezy today and quite warm. The sun is shining, but in a distinctly October way. My mom and I always notice that the sun has a different look in October. Fall. Welcome! It will be really fun to bake when you bring us some chilly weather!

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Feelings, Whoa, Whoa, Whoa, Feelings (Don't be scared of Barry Manilow, people)

I don't write everything I feel or think on this blog. So many moments pass by that don't make the cut. Not an intentional cut, but life is full and time to sit and type requires discipline and I don't always have it in me. Who wants to read that many words anyway?

My work is not quite done for the day but I need to sit and take a rest. Maggie and Patrick are at cross country practice. Thomas sits at the dining room table working on his homework. Rose is reading a book. Nora is working on bike tricks. I have some of my favorite music playing in the bakery (Andrew Peterson) and the cool of evening is blowing in on a gentle breeze.

So this evening I think I will blog about how I am really feeling while I sit outside in the backyard and watch the sun go down. The work won't take me long to finish up when I go back inside.

The sunflowers next to the western fence are leaning to the side, loaded with blossoms. The gorgeous vine climbing up the wall next to the car port is covered with salmon pink blossoms, providing a drunken fest for a bunch of honey bees. The waxing moon is halfway thru her journey today, and slightly over half full, sitting almost on top of one of the neighbor's pecan trees. A train whistle blows as it cruises through town and butterflies hover around the leaves of one of the pecan trees in our yard.

Sometimes I am afraid to write about our grief journey because I think that readers might pity me. Or think that I am a mess. Or maybe it will make them uncomfortable or maybe someone will think I am unhappy.

Grief is such a raw thing.

Even though we are learning and adapting all the time, it comes up when least expected.

For example, last night I accompanied Patrick to his induction ceremony into the National Honor Society. As I walked by myself into the auditorium, I felt gripped with heaviness. As I sat down, I froze my face, hoping that no one would come up to me. As I waited, alone, sobs threatened to rack my body but I dared not let a tear escape, and I sat there stunned to think that Philip was gone, and that my son would walk across that stage and his dad would not be here in the flesh to shake his hand and joke with him and tell his funny stories about growing up to be the opposite of the National Honor Society member in his highschool experience.

It hurt very badly. I felt extremely alone.

Of course, as I watched the children light their candles and receive their collars, pride and joy welled up in my heart and I thought about how proud Philip must be of his son. Of his children.

And when the kids stood in a line in front and the parents lept up to take their flash photos, I couldn't help but grin, thinking of the story Philip would tell us every Christmas about the time he was an angel in the Catholic school Christmas play. He poked his head through the heavy velvet curtains on the stage, catching a glimpse of the audience of proud parents who were snapping flash photos. Being the class clown and consumate impersonator, he wheeled around, leaping up in the air, pretending to be a parent, trigger happy with his invisible camera. The drama only lasted a mere second or two until it came to a screeching halt when one of the nuns whacked him on the head with a ruler. He was so indignant that the nun had the audacity to whack a 7 yr old angel right on his halo! I wondered if Patrick remembered that story.

Living here in Alpine feels like I have come home. I have a dear old friend who is involved in our life, an old friend from over twenty years ago, who now brings me great joy. It has been great fun reminiscing, remembering all the good old days, and realizing that now, as two grownups, we still have lots in common, and it is like a miracle that we have come full circle.

But what is weird is that even the joy and the fun of a friendship with another guy sometimes triggers grief and makes me long for the ease that comes with an 18 yr marriage and almost 20 year friendship.

I guess the point I am trying to make is that learning something new hurts at times. Grief isn't something we just "get over." As Martha, our grief support counselor would often say, "You don't get over the loss of a loved one, you get through it, and learn to adapt." (I hope I didn't misquote her too very much!)

I have never felt sustained pain before in my life, before Philip's death, that is. I felt little bits of pain and sorrow. When a church friend died. When my friends' daughter died. It was intense pain. And it lasted for a long time. But it wasn't so sustained.

That is why I mention the sweet relationship with my old new guy friend. We share some of the sweetest moments I have enjoyed in a long time. And the joy of a sunset or a sunrise always gave me pleasure in the past, but now that I have felt true pain and grief, those things are almost more beautiful than I can stand. The other evening my friend took me to the symphony and we heard Beethoven for the first half and then Holst's The Planets for the second half. The beauty of some of that musical creation was so intense, I nearly wept with joy and it was a truly spiritual experience. The love of God washed over me, (especially during "Jupiter") and I thanked God for the ability to feel and to hear and to be. Even the blood-stirring, pounding notes of "Mars" made me feel stronger and able to defeat the difficulties that threaten to overwhelm me.

I have other friends who have lost loved ones and they tell me that these mixed up, painful grief feelings are pretty normal. I guess the symphony was a pretty good metaphor for me. All those instruments. Over six or seven french horns, who knows how many violins, all the trumpets and many different instruments, including the harps and the tympani and bass drums all working together to make something absolutely astonishing. I think that the occasional throbbing of grief pain is a note that blended in with all the other beautiful parts of my life creates music that is lovely and real.

I wish we could go back two years and have Philip back being the dad of our house. I wish the kids could have their dad patting them on the back as they do their new things and achieve success. But he is gone. And who knows if they would even be running in cross country or riding bikes to the library or making new friends if he were here. We are in a new world, on so many levels, and even though it pains me at times, I hope to embrace it fully, and to show that kids that even if the tears fall, we are going to live our life.

BTW, have I mentioned how thankful I am to live in the same state as my parents? Daddy was grandpa babysitter for part of last week and took kids to school events, and watched runners cross the finish line. He made them donuts, NOT the freshly milled whole wheat variety (aren't the kids lucky to have a grandpa!) and even took the girls to McDonalds (they are still talking about it!).

I am a very lucky* woman. And you know how I know it? Thomas came out and grinned at me and when I asked him if he could please go in and wash my bread baking pots and pans so I could finish blogging, he went right in, and I can even now hear the clanging in the kitchen.

Lucky=blessed with great favor!

PS the sun has set. The clouds are threatening to fill the sky. The moon is lightly veiled and now sits near the top of one of our pecan trees instead of the neighbor's. The butterflies must have settled in for their evening and I guess I had better go finish my work so I can settle in as well. Tomorrow after bicycling the girls to school I will bicycle up the hill behind our house to the University where I will attend a symposium on economics and small businesses. They offer a free lunch. Yeay for me.

Seasons are changing, the earth is tilting

So these days I am not milking a cow in the morning.

This morning I bicycled with the girls to their schools. Nora's elementary school is just a few minutes' ride, but Rose's middle school is around two miles from our house. When school started in late August, the sky was bright and clear when we departed our house. We wore shorts and I huffed up the hills, not having ridden a bicycle for the better part of 18 years.

Now the sky is dark black velvet when we cruise away from our driveway. School buses in the distance flash and gleam red and gold. By the time we get to the end of the street and the crossing guard sees us across, pink streaks light up the sky. I kiss Nora goodbye and by the time Rose and I make our way over the train tracks, the world is washed with pink. Most mornings we are enjoying our sweaters.

I am not huffing quite so much.

Monday, October 3, 2011


The morning is brisk and the sky is clear. I read on the Accuweather website that Catawba weather is even "brisker" and was to drop down to low 40's last night.

It isn't cool enough here for a fire in the fireplace, but it would be back on the farm.

The onset of fall is my favorite time of year.

I am still waiting for the arrival of my shipment of grain from Montana. Have been waiting for a couple of weeks. Last week I was speaking to one of the gals in the office who told me they were still testing the quality of the 2011 harvest. When it was all said and done, they discovered that the protein content for the Hard White Wheat, a variety of golden wheat that I use for many of our recipes, was in the 13% range. Too low.

You see, after milling grains and using 100% whole wheat and spelt for my bread recipes for several years, it became apparent that even a half percentage point in the protein department would make a huge difference in bread quality. Many bakeries use different ingredients, like gluten, to maintain consistency in their breads. These extra ingredients also have different preservatives and chemicals that I wish to eliminate from our products. That means I have to really pay attention to the quality of ingredients I get, since I don't have the margin of those "back up" elements.

Higher level of protein is what makes bread have a lighter texture. It causes the cells of the flour to have enough heft and structure to hold up to the rising action of the yeast. When baking cookies or cornbread or biscuits, one wants a lower level of protein, to make more of a crumb. But not in a chewy loaf of italian bread. Or a flexible tortilla. Or slice of toast that won't completely fall apart in the toaster.

So after a couple of phone calls back and forth with the grain company, speaking to the guy who does the lab tests and the lady who does the real life in the kitchen bread baking tests, we decided to skip buying the 20 fifty pound bags of this years wheat and to go for the 2010 harvest, which is still plenty fresh, should last for at least two more years, and has a protein content of 14.5%.

It is on an Old Dominion truck right now, heading south, along with almost 25 fifty pound bags of Organic spelt berries and some Organic Durum Semolina grain and some Organic Kamut and Rye.

It is good doing business with a company who does what they can to make sure I have the right ingredients for the type of bread I bake. The grain from this year's harvest will be just right for many other bakers, so it won't go to waste. But I won't be stuck with something that produces an inferior bread.

I hope it gets here soon so I can return to my regular bakery schedule.

Oh, and for you, Debi, and others who are wondering what the heck Spelt is, here is a brief description I give to all my customers!

Spelt is an ancient grain, granddaddy to modern wheat berries. It is a grass, its use traced back over 5000 years to what is now modern Syria. The grain was grown in Germany and then brought here to the US by religious groups who did not believe in the practice of hybridization. So spelt has been grown in closed communities, in small volume, without the use of pesticides or other chemicals, for many years. Never cross-pollinized with other types of wheat.

It is a very high protein grain, red in color, and sweet in taste, if freshly milled. It makes an amazing bread, cake and cookie, if you know how to use it. One of the things that makes it so desirable is that for some reason, many folks who are made ill by regular wheat products can eat spelt with no ill effects. Spelt is NOT gluten-free. In fact, it is very high in natural gluten. But some folks who negatively react to wheat products are not actually allergic to the gluten, but some other factor in the wheat.

Since spelt is a specialty grain, grown in less quantity that the standard hard red wheat that is cusomarily used for most of the nation's wheat products, it is very expensive. But I have noticed that my spelt customers are some of the most loyal of the bunch, thrilled to have access to a yummy bread or cake or cookie that doesn't make them sick.

I think spelt has a hearty, rich flavor, and I love how it works in the breads I bake. My kids don't really care about the nutritional benefits. But Maggie and Patrick can each consume a loaf of spelt almond raisin rye in one afternoon. And Nora especially likes the spelt chocolate chip cookies. Rose likes the spelt seedy loaf and Thomas can consume several grilled cheese sandwiches made from spelt Milk and honey bread. All in one sitting!

But for today, at least, the mill is silent and the bakery is gathering dust until that pallet of grain arrives. I certainly hope the truck gets here after school so I have some young man and woman power to get it into our bakery! At least it isn't 95 degrees.