We have come to the longest night. I’ve been hesitant about posting this bread recipe, or anything really. I have experienced deep grief in my life, and abiding loss, but I cannot imagine – oh, I cannot imagine. I don’t want to imagine. We stand up in solidarity, we bear witness, we offer whatever we can, an effort to shoulder some small piece of a heartache that surely must be as vast as the universe.
And we have faith.
We have faith that Newtown’s children were loved as fiercely, as imperfectly, as relentlessly as our own, and that the fact of that love will someday bring some sort of solace. Faith that their families will find, as Marilynne Robinson writes in Housekeeping, “Remembrance, and communion, altogether human and unhallowed. For families will not be broken. Curse and expel them, send their children wandering, drown them in floods and fires, and someday old women will make songs out of all these sorrows.” Even these, these awful awful sorrows.
Faith that there can be random acts of kindness. Faith in joy and love. Faith that we – and our politicians – have the courage, the bravery to stand up and say that this is wrong. It is wrong that people have access to these assault weapons, weapons that are designed to kill hundreds – hundreds! – of people near-instantly. Enough. No more.
Faith traditions at our house are mixed and mingled. This time of year, I find my faith in the softly honeyed smell of beeswax as we make Hanukah candles, and in the bright freshness of pine as we string lights on our Christmas tree. It is in the time-worn plaster pieces of my Grandma Roe’s crèche, and in the mound of lacey-edged latkes my stepmom lavishes on us. I hear it in the familiar guitar strains of my mom’s old Ed Gerhard CD, and it flickers in the Diwali lights that sit on our mantle.
Faith winks at me from the familiar, sparkling curl of candied orange peel, and I feel it in the weight of the cans of organic vegetarian chili we deliver to the food bank. It is there in my Grandma Jan’s blintz recipe, copied down and taped in my notebook, and in the cookies we make and share, make and share, make and share again.
Kyle has faith in the pounding of his feet on the road as he runs, in the goodness of his children, in hard work and helping hands. I have faith in my family, in stillness, in being mindful of the renewal in each day’s dawn: the pinking of the gray sky, the deep breath of cool air as the day begins. I have faith in baking bread: in the peace of the process, and in the sustenance I can offer when it is done. Jacob and Lucas have faith in us, and in you: faith that the world is good and right and safe, that there is magic and wonder and love there for the taking.
My cousin was here Monday night and told a story from his childhood, about a time when he was small and a friend was over, cataloging the vast array of gifts he had received for Christmas. My cousin gaped at him: “Wow. You must have been so good this year.” His mom, her heart no doubt breaking a little, explained the Santa ruse to him that very night.
There is a time when it is right to step back and reveal the resources that often help make holiday magic: Santa isn’t fair, really. But for this year at least, he is still visiting our kids, and in all the chaos the past weeks have wrought, so many torn and bloody happenings around the world, I want to nestle my kids in his big fat lap of safety, illusory and vapid though it may be. The cruelty faced down by the Maccabees, Herrod’s rage and murder, the darkness that is the very reason we all celebrate so fiercely our holidays of light: there is world enough, and time, when they are bigger.
We went to get our Christmas tree the day after Newtown, meandering down and back up the coast with Dan and Kate and the girls. Swinging on giant swings with views of the Pacific, roasting marshmallows, eating PB&Honey on gorgeous homemade oatmeal bread. There was hot cocoa (cocoa! cocoa!) in the thermos. We kept the radio off, and listened to a holiday soundtrack of our own making – Pink Martini, Elvis, Stevie Nicks. John Lennon and U2. Even Bruce. We were joyful together, so thankful to be able to hug our boys, and our nieces. The kids climbed on haystacks and swung on the biggest tire we have ever seen, and I marveled at them, their dear wonderful selves. We put as much love as we could into each other, into the world.
My brother Dan wrote this poem last week. It feels to me like some sort of prayer today – as we prepare for the holidays, our children still here with us, still young enough for wishing on stars. I am so thankful for them, and for their faith in the beautiful mysteries of the world.
The abstract form of desire:
star down, Sonia wishes on
brevity—naming each listed
thing as she ticks on fingers
second of all, a second extending
to eternity if we’d agree, extending
bedtime as it does. Santa arrives
when he does. The certainty
of wishing at age four is itself
a miracle—one we feel compelled
to temper with the unknown
wrapped in narratives of Santa’s
all-knowing beneficence. O god
but better O ancestors: mom
you must be laughing at those stars,
this granddaughter of yours
so wrapped in the objects
of the season. Second of all,
after the snowglobes & unicorns,
pink unicorn pillows that talk,
after we remind her to wish
for what we’ve already bought,
after she pours us into kisses but
before she drops to sleep, time
hexes our eyes, hexagons of light
cast on the walls by what operation—?
We write these lists to remember.
Cars pass into the night, labor
coheres into breath, babies age
sitting in back seats falling to dreams.
For toasting, for gifting, and for sharing with people in need of something warming. I have been making two loaves of this most weeks, on whichever day the boys leave leftover oatmeal in the pot Kyle has been cooking for the three of them each morning. (It is cooked in water, unseasoned – but you could use oatmeal cooked in milk, or pre-seasoned – it would impact the flavor but not the process). It makes wonderful toast, and sandwiches, and snacks. This is a sweeter bread, the crumb hearty from the oatmeal but also offering an almost cakey texture. There is a crisp chew to the crust – and when you toast it, you might get echoes of pound cake. Spread with peach jam, or orange marmalade, or just some good salty butter – this is my favorite breakfast bread these days. This recipe makes two loafs, one to keep and one to share. If you have someone in need of holiday cheer, it might be just the thing.
1 1/2 cups warm water
3 teaspoons yeast
3 tablespoons brown sugar
1 tablespoon granulated sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
2 tablespoons unrefined coconut oil
1 cup cooked oatmeal, cooled and thickened up (leftover in the pot is perfect ;) )
4 cups bread flour, plus more as needed (up to 1 1/2 cups depending on moistness of oatmeal)
Put the water in the bowl of your stand mixer. Add the yeast and one tablespoon sugar, let dissolve. Add the rest of the sugar, the salt, and the coconut oil. Mix well. Add the oatmeal, and mix well. Add two cups of bread flour, and mix until blended. Let this mixture sit for about five to ten minutes, until it has thickened a bit. Add another two cups bread flour. At this point, you should have a kneadable dough: if not, add additional flour, a little bit at a time, until you do. (It should be a sticky dough, but definitely dough – it will be just this side of batter when ready to knead).
Knead in your mixer with the bread hook or by hand, adding small amounts of additional flour if needed so that the dough cleans the bowl/doesn’t stick to your kneading surface. Once it is relatively smooth and elastic (about eight minutes in my mixer) form it into a ball, put it back into the bowl, cover and let sit for the first rise. It should double in volume, which should take 1-3 hours, depending on room temperature etc.
Grease two bread pans lightly, or line them with parchment (my preference). Once the dough has risen, divide it in two and form into loaves. Put them into the pans, pushing it into the corners and getting it relatively flat. Let rise again – it will not quite double in volume but should definitely come up above the edges of the pans. While it is rising, heat your oven to 385 F.
Once the second rise is complete, bake for 40 minutes, until the tops are golden brown and the loaves sound hollow when you tap them. Cool a couple minutes in the pans, then on racks until they are completely cool. Resist cutting while hot! The crumb sets beautifully, but you have to let it get there.