December 2011

Winter Solstice Traditions

December 15, 2011

The Winter Solstice is one of the most beautiful and sacred to my family. There is something so needed in that quiet day, before the joy and explosion of Christmas arrives, and as we are wrapping up all of the holiday crafting, creating and cooking.
My husband and I both had our own Solstice traditions long before we had children. We attended a silent meditation that lasted from sun down until sun rise. There was nothing but the sound of the breath to envelop us during the journey into the longest day, and a true acknowledgment that this is the season of inward reflection. As morning approached, we would gather outside to rejoice, dance and sing at the return of the light.
As our children have entered our lives, some of those same traditions have stayed with us, and while we have created new ones as a family, those memories have helped to shape the meaning of this day.
As the day of the Solstice arrives, our time is again spent in silence with one another. Yoga Sun Salutations, breath work and meditation greet us as the day breaks. I love family yoga, something about moving together through our breath, and purposely bringing the flow of grace into our home brings me comfort. While yoga is such a beautiful practice as individuals, creating energy as a group can be one of the most powerful experiences.
The solstice brings a day of no light to our home. No electricity is used (except in the heating of our meal on our gas stove), no lights switched on or television in the background. The quiet and the dark are always pronounced, and it feels wonderful to sit in that space. Candles are lit, fires are made, and everything seems to move at a slower pace.

As the day progresses, a cold hike is always in order. Stories are told, songs are sung, and warm hot chocolate is carried. This time out of doors is one that I personally cherish. It has always been cold and bare, and yet somehow full of life. A reminder that even in the quiet and stillness of winter days, there is much that goes on beneath our feet and over our heads. The birds in the trees, the lonley berries on the branch, the sound of water beneath the frozen stream. All are reminders of the coming days of life returned. of rebirth and renewal that will soon lie ahead. For now though, the time of inner reflection is needed.
In the spirit of that reflection, we come together to paint, draw, and write, and to simply just be together in a creative space. As the last light of day makes it’s stand, we gather our art supplies, journals and creative thoughts for the coming year ahead. In many ways, the Solstice acts as a New Year’s celebration for our family, and our time is spent in thought on what the coming year will look like. Wishes are made, and a drawing, painting, poem or story is framed and hung as a symbol of our family’s resolution for the coming year.

A simple meal is made, almost always of soup and bread, and the children are read stories by the fire or candle light. Jammies are put on, teeth brushed, tea drank and prayers said. The Light will arrive early the next morning, and the children are always excited to fall into sleep.
With the quiet of the house now even more pronounced, my husband and I slip into discussion. Sometimes profound, sometimes silly, sometimes reflective. We have a long night ahead of us to keep vigil. Yoga is done, tea and wine drank, and hope for the future always makes it’s way in. This is our time, both as individuals and as a married couple, to share what we need form this year. We tend to fall in and out of sleep, but the fire always stays lit and the candles never burn through.

Just before dawn, the boys are awoken, and find a bag of treats waiting at their feet. Their sunshine bag is filled with nuts, oranges, and golden treasures. Crowns that were made in years passed are placed upon their heads, and warm coats, socks and boots are put on. As the sun rises, we make our way out of doors to mark it’s coming, once again renewed in the promise that darkness never lasts forever.
Sleep then once again descends. After a warm breakfast and a hot drink, we slip back under the covers and let ourselves go.

Why do we celebrate in this way? Why create such elaborate traditions and ritual? I suppose that for us, in the midst of the chaos of the holidays, the Solstice brings a moment of complete silence. We can be assured that through these traditions, if nothing else, we have given our children a moment of pause to remember that no matter how dark a day may be, the light will always return for them. That they are never alone, never out of reach of help and love, and that they can face the times of darkness with grace and faith. We do make a big deal of this day, and it’s symbology represents larger themes that we want to play out in our lives. It is a day that takes us backwards into traditions of the past, and moves us forward into another year of blessings and joy. It is a day of darkness, a day of silence, and a day of peace.

*This piece was originally published in the Winter 2010 edition of Rhythm of The Home magazine*

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A Gluten Free Bread Wreath

December 14, 2011

Gluten Free Bread Wreath

I have been playing a lot with bread lately. Being a gluten free household, and being completely gluten free myself while pregnant and nursing, bread has not been something that I have found myself loving. When Jacob was first diagnosed with celiac, I remember standing in front of the gluten free breads at Whole Foods wondering just how much one loaf of bread weighed. It was the densest, heaviest, most awful tasting thing I had ever come across. Being a bread maker who had a passion for a crusty loaf of bread made fresh, this was a heart ache.
As the years have gone on (somehow it has been 5 years???) the breads have improved so very much, and more than that there are fantastic flour blend recipes that can be found to make a variety of breads at home. I have found myself returning, somewhat, to a love of bread making with my children, and it is always a joy to smell a fresh loaf in the oven.
The day before Thanksgiving I got a hankering for dinner rolls. I wanted the kind that you pull apart and that are so light and soft that butter just seems to melt over them. I missed those rolls. I pulled down every book I had on gluten free cooking, but I found nothing. As the hours wore on and breads for stuffing came out of the oven, I came across a bag of Pamela’s Gluten Free Bread mix in the my pantry. I had used this mix for a pizza I had made a while back, and I remembered that it had a recipe for white bread rolls. They suggested making up the dough, and placing it into muffin tins to rise and then bake.
It was the only recipe or suggestion I had found, so I went for it. The rolls came out smelling wonderful, and they were delicious. They were moist, not too dense, and they had a great flavor, but they were not what I had wanted. They were a slightly harder roll, and while they were a hit at the dinner table (Jacob ate 6), I still longed for that soft bread that I saw everyone else enjoying.
After the holiday was over, I played around with making rolls the same way, but with other bread recipes found in books, websites, etc. The result was the same, great flavor, but harder roll. Feeling a little deflated, I walked away from the kitchen for a few days (I am pretty sure that my family would have revolted if one more roll had come their way).
Deciding to give it one last try, I came back with a theory that maybe pull apart rolls got their softness from being baked against each other, rather that allowing heat and air on all sides, like the muffin tin created.
With that in mind, and Christmas coming soon, the bread wreath was born.

 

I made a batch of my favorite white sandwich bread dough, and using wet hands, I placed 1/3 cup mounds of dough into a wreath shape on a parchment lined bread board (you can do this on anything). Again, using wet hands, I shaped the tops to a smooth look, and then let it sit for about 10 minutes. I had heated my oven to 175, then opened the door to let a blast of heat out, and placed the dough in to rise for 60 minutes. I was feeling jittery at the end of the hour, as it hadn’t risen a ton, but I decided to carry on and see what we got.
70 minutes later, a rustic, yummy looking wreath loaf emerged from the oven, and my heart started to flutter just a little.
Of course as pretty as it looked, it was still missing that melted butter goodness that makes soft pull apart rolls so good. I decided on an herbal blend of parsley, basil and thyme, and mixed that with salted butter to paint on top. Since I had no thought of it before hand, I was grateful for the bay leaves and cranberries that I had stored that added the perfect holiday touch, and turned my pulled apart rolls into a festive holiday centerpiece.
Of course the biggest question is how do they taste? Well, I think that they are as close as  I could come to a pull apart dinner roll. They are soft, just slightly chewy, and they sop up gravy like nobody’s business. I am happy indeed.
** As a note, I have tested at least 6 different bread recipes for these rolls. I have found that most of the new blends of bread flour, especially “white” flour do well. My favorite came from Living Without Magazine. and Gluten Free Girl. The only mix that I liked these with was Pamelas. 

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