Bread, My Fickle Mistress

I’ve been baking all of our family’s bread for the last year, and it has been one roller-coaster of a ride. Every two weeks or so, I bake four loaves of bread.  My husband and oldest son eat a sandwich for lunch every weekday. Sometimes we have toast for breakfast.  Sometimes I just like to eat a piece of bread with butter for a snack.  We like bread.

When I first started the process of grinding all of our wheat and baking all of our bread, I was pretty successful.  I used this recipe, and it proved to be a good one for about the first six months.  Then something happened.  I’m not really sure what it was, but my loaves went from being light and soft to dense and hard.  The gluten didn’t develop, they tasted a little too yeasty and they fell apart easily when you tried to slice them.

But, I soldiered on.  And the boys were troopers – they kept eating their daily sandwiches on this failed bread-like substance.  I tried a variety of things to help remedy the problem – more liquid, less liquid, a different combination of flours (more red wheat, less white wheat, more kamut, some soft white wheat), honey vs. molasses vs. maple syrup vs. sucanat, butter vs. coconut oil – you name it, I tried it.  Every so often, I’d get a good loaf or two, but the next time I tried to replicate what I’d done, it was back to dense bricks.

I could even tell in the mixer that it was going to be a failure.  Instead of long, rubbery strands of gluten, the dough would just come apart in short, stubby wads.  Windowpane test?  Forget it. I was beginning to think that maybe bread and I just weren’t meant to be.


Then the other day, I saw this post for Oatmeal Sandwich Bread over on Art & Lemons.  She described it as “soft” and “pillow-like,”  and I knew I needed to try it.

Her recipe was based on one from Kim Boyce’s Good to the Grain

Note to self: buy this book.  Soon.

Anyway, the recipe seemed simple enough, and it used a technique I hadn’t tried before – autolysis.  This is where you mix the dry ingredients and liquids together and let them rest for 30 minutes before adding the salt and kneading.  From what I gather, this allows the flour to better absorb the liquid, thereby allowing for more effective gluten development.

The first batch I baked came out perfectly.  Soft, pillow-like loaves with tons of flavor and a beautiful open crumb.

The second batch?  Yea – not so much.  Flat failures.

Bread, why do you hate me so?

But once again, I soldiered on.  I turned to ye olde interwebs to discover the source of my problem, and I think perhaps I’ve been overworking my dough.  It seems, based on a number of sources, that if you over-knead your bread or if you let it over-rise, the gluten strands can break.  Who knew?  I’ve been abusing my bread all this time. Here I was blaming the bread, when all along it was me.

This time, the third time really was the charm.  This bread is kind of spectacular.  I mean, if sandwich bread can be spectacular. I think I’m in love (again).

Whole Grain Sandwich Bread (adapted from this recipe at Art & Lemons)
prep time: 45 minutes
rise time: 2 hours
bake time: 30 minutes
yields: 2 1-lb. loaves


  • 2 cups warm water
  • 3 Tablespoons honey (could also use maple syrup or molasses)
  • 4 Tablespoons cultured butter, melted and cooled (could also use coconut oil)
  • 1 Tablespoon active dry yeast
  • 4 cups freshly ground hard white wheat, sifted
  • 2 cups rolled oats
  • 1 tablespoon unrefined sea salt
  1. Combine water, honey, butter and yeast in the bowl of your electric mixer and let sit for 5 minutes so yeast can bloom
  2. Add the flour and oats to the water mixture and stir to combine.  Let rest for 30 minutes.
  3. Add the salt and knead in the mixer, using the dough hook attachment, for 6 minutes.  Dough will be a little sticky and should slap the sides of the bowl as it mixes.  It should be very elastic (long, rubbery strands of gluten) after six minutes.
  4. Remove the bowl from the mixer, cover with a damp towel, and let rise in a warm place for one hour (I usually preheat my oven to 150F, then turn it off and set the bowl in the warmed oven).
  5. After an hour, the dough should have doubled in volume.  Scrape it out of the bowl onto a lightly floured surface.
  6. Grease two 1-lb. loaf pans
  7. Divide the dough in half and knead one half a few times, forming it into a loaf-shaped rectangle.  Repeat with the other half
  8. Place the dough in the loaf pans and cover loosely with plastic wrap
  9. Let rise in a warm place for one hour, or until doubled in bulk.
  10. Preheat the oven to 350F
  11. Carefully remove the plastic wrap and transfer the risen loaves to the oven (take care not to deflate them)
  12. Bake for 30 minutes, rotating them after the first 15 minutes to ensure even baking.
  13. Remove from the oven and allow to cool in the pans for 10 minutes, then turn out onto a cooling rack.  Allow to cool for at least a couple of hours before slicing.
  14. Enjoy!

In Defense of the Humble Prune

I don’t care how hard the California Dried Plum Growers & Packers try, they will never make prunes sexy.  They can change their name to “dried plums” and put them in fancy packages, but they’ll always be prunes in my book.  And the thing is, no matter how old (and constipated) it may make me sound, I really like prunes.  I don’t need them to be sexy.  I just need them to taste good.  And they do.

Prunes have gotten a bad rap over the years.  Mostly because people associate them with “regularity” and other such sensitive topics.  They were those wrinkly black things that your grandparents ate.  And yet nobody had issues eating dried apricots, or raisins, or dried cherries, blueberries, apples or bananas.  For some reason, prunes were the only dried fruit that gave people issues.  So the powers that be decided to change their name.  Next thing you know, we’ll be calling raisins “dried grapes”.  What is the world coming to when even our fruits have politically correct monikers?

I hadn’t bought prunes in years, but over the holidays, Tami posted this recipe for Zinfandel Poached Prunes.  Simply spooned over a dollop of rich mascarpone cheese, it exuded elegance.  This is how you make prunes sexy, I thought to myself, not by changing their name to something innocuous like “dried plums”.  I still haven’t had a chance to make that beautiful dessert, but I did go out and buy a passel of prunes.  And we’ve been snacking on them ever since.  My youngest thinks they’re the biggest, most delicious raisins he’s ever tasted.

People, I implore you.  Give prunes a chance.

Oatmeal with Almonds and Prunes
prep time: 2 minutes
cook time: 10 minutes
yields: 1 serving


  • 1 cup unsweetened almond milk (could sub soy or dairy milk)
  • pinch of salt
  • 1/2 cup rolled oats
  • 1/4 cup prunes, chopped
  • 1/8 cup raw almonds, roughly chopped
  • 1 tablespoon sucanat (could sub brown sugar)
  1. Bring milk and salt to a boil in a small saucepan
  2. Add the oats and cook, stirring to keep from sticking, until thickened
  3. Add the prunes, almonds and sucanat
  4. Enjoy

This is a hearty, nutrient-dense breakfast.  It is not terribly low in calories, but it makes up for that by packing a wollop of vitamins, minerals and fiber into the calories that are there.  I’m often left wanting when I eat a bowl of cold cereal for breakfast, but this sticks with you.  It’s sweet, but not too sweet.  The texture from the raw almonds is a nice contrast to the oatmeal and the prunes.   And if you use almond milk (as I did), you get an extra bit of almond flavor, which is nice.

So while this is not as sexy as poaching them in red wine and spooning them over creamy Italian cheese, this oatmeal should help you overcome some of your preconceived prune notions.  Oh, believe me – I’ll be poaching prunes soon – but until then, this will have to do.

Unexpected Beauty And a Recipe For Apple Cake

There are places in this world that have become embedded in my soul.  Something about the history and atmosphere and architecture and general overall there-ness touches me and leaves a mark that can’t be erased.  They aren’t always grand or spectacular; sometimes – rather often actually –  they’re quiet and small and simple.

Christ Church, Frederica is one of those places.  An historic church in the Christ Church Parish of St. Simons Island, nestled among giant live oaks and old crepe myrtles festooned with spanish moss, there is something magical about the gothic-style building and the cemetery grounds surrounding it.  It’s quiet, peaceful, simple.  You can feel the weight of history there.

We stopped here on our way back from touring a golf course.  It was almost an afterthought – not a scheduled stop on our route.  In fact, we were late getting back because so many of us couldn’t tear ourselves away.  Our tour guide spoke to the abundance of churches on St. Simons Island, saying that he believed you couldn’t visit a place of such beauty and not believe in the existence of a higher power.  You feel that here.

When you walk through the weathered wooden gate, surrounded by moss-covered red brick, you are struck by the serenity of the place.  There are cars going by on the road just behind you, but somehow you are sheltered from all of that.  The light filtered through the trees falls just so, dancing haphazardly in the breeze.There is unexpected beauty here – dried brown leaves on the roof of the entry gate, dappled sunlight through moss-covered trees, gray-green shingles and heavy wooden beams.  Even the hint of a yellow leaf through the dried fronds of a fallen fern, with the bokeh created by the light coming through the trees above, takes my breath away.

As you walk among the tombs and gravestones, there are little tokens left by visitors.  Some might even make you chuckle quietly to yourself.  Rachel and I joked that Bo and Luke were laid to rest here.  Irreverent?  Maybe – but I don’t think we were the first to think it.

There are small surprises around every turn.  These soft pink camellias were nearly hidden from view behind a large oak heavily draped in moss.  Had I not been looking for treasures, I might not have spotted them.  Sometimes I think my camera seeks out these little gems – like it’s leading me to capture fleeting beauty.

The interior of the church is just as lovely as the surrounding landscape.  Every stained glass window is unique and the exposed-beam ceiling and warm-wood pews are a testament to the workmanship that must have gone into the construction of the building.  This is a church that is well loved and well used.  And it is still an active Episcopal church, with daily morning and evening prayer, and Friday, Saturday and Sunday Holy Eucharist services.As with many churches, The Episcopal Churchwomen of Christ Church put together a cookbook of their best loved recipes.  Being a lover of church cookbooks, I couldn’t resist purchasing one while I was there.  In many ways it is a typical church cookbook, with scads of casseroles, gelatin-based salads and more variations on brownies and pound cakes than you might think possible.  There are some hidden gems, though – I especially like the chapter at the end titled “Men Cook, Restaurants, Olde Time”.  There you’ll find a “Cure for Dysentery or Diarrhea” alongside “Martha Washington’s Boston Cream Pie.”

In determining which recipe to make first from the Christ Church cookbook, I knew I wanted something rather simple that would reflect the unexpected beauty found on the grounds and in the building.  I adapted this apple cake from a recipe for “Apple Dapple Cake” by Mary Jane Flint, but I changed quite a few things along the way.  The original sounds delicious, and it certainly inspired the cake you see above. But, if you want the original recipe, you’ll have to order a copy of the cookbook for yourself (all proceeds from the sale of the books go to help charitable organizations on St. Simons Island and worldwide).

Oatmeal Apple Cake
prep time: 10 minutes
bake time: 45 minutes
serves: 12-14


  • 1 cup whole wheat flour
  • 2 cups rolled oats
  • 1 tsp soda
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup apple butter
  • 1 stick butter, melted
  • 3 eggs
  • 4 cups apples, chopped
  1. Grease and flour a 10×18 inch pan and preheat your oven to 350F
  2. Whisk together dry ingredients
  3. Stir together the sugar, apple butter, butter and eggs
  4. Mix wet ingredients into dry ingredients
  5. Fold in the chopped apples
  6. Pour batter into prepared pan and bake in preheated oven for 45 minutes, or until brown on top and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.
  7. Serve plain or topped with unsweetened cream, creme fraiche or yogurt.

I’ve actually eaten this for breakfast every morning this week.  With a cup of hot black coffee, it’s just what I want to start my day with.  Mildly sweet, moist, full of autumn apple flavor – it’s reminiscent of baked oatmeal, but all grown up.  There’s something really lovely about it – it’s beautiful in its simplicity.  Unexpectedly so.

Father, we thank you for this meal, for our lives, for other people, for beautiful things, for goodness, and for You.
~Christ Church Cookbook