A Winter Solstice Ritual You Need to Know About

This is an amazing article about a place and event just added to my bucket list!

Chimani

Located in the Northwestern part of New Mexico, there’s no denying that Aztec Ruins National Monument is a special place. But the name “Aztec Ruins” is a bit of a misnomer.

Early white settlers to the region believed that the ruins had been populated by the Aztec people—the nearby town and the ruins were named “Aztec” as a result.

It wasn’t until Earl H Morris began excavation in 1916, that the archeologist asserted the ruins did not belong to the Aztecs after all. The inhabitants of this village were actually the ancient Puebloan people, also known as the Anasazi.

aztec_ruins2_NPS Early evening sunlight. (NPS)

It is believed that the ancient Puebloans began construction of the dwellings around 1100 A.D. Throughout the next couple of centuries, more structures were built and the ancient Puebloans continued to thrive.

Morris and his wife, Ann Axtell Morris, lived at the ruins and uncovered much of…

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Keeping a Promise: Ideas from My Sacred Self – Idea One

I’m adding this post to my site in hopes it may inspire others (as it did me) to do something kind for someone else this holiday season. Thank you Niki Flow for this wonderful post!! xoxoxo

Niki Flow

Yesterday on my first blog here I made a promise to figure out how to help the homeless.  The post was in response to a conversation on Twitter about an article called “Social Cleansing of the Homeless” by Christopher Taylor.

I realized that are many kinds of homelessness:

  • There are folks in the street in dire need.
  • There are also people living on the kindness of strangers and friends because they lost their home, and sometimes everything through a natural or personal disaster.
  • There are women and children in DV shelters.
  • There are refugees in war-torn countries.
  • There are older folks, forced to live in assisted living after sometimes decades in their beloved home
  • There are those who have never felt at home in their own skin.
    (and the list goes on)

I don’t have experience with helping the homeless on the street, other than the bit of change I…

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DIY Grimoire

A wonderful friend and Hermetic Adept told me a while back that I should make a grimoire for myself. I’d been studying magic, kabballah, hermeticism, and tarot with him and he had given me some great advice and a few easy spells to try. He’s an amazing mage and when he suggested I write my spells down in a book of shadows, I had to do research as to what that actually was. Book of Shadows, Grimoire, Spell Book, called by any name it’s basically the same thing – a book where you keep your personal writings, research, spells, and record anything to do with your personal power practices. I put making my own grimoire on the back burner for a while, until I purchased the book Witchy Crafts by Lexa Olick recently. If you haven’t seen this book, it is a great do-it-yourself guide to making 60 different craft projects that can be used in your witchcraft or pagan practice. I used Lexa’s instructions to create my very own Book of Shadows out of a plain vanilla 3 ring binder and I think it came out very nicely. I’m going to document my process for you here so if you want to try it out for yourself, you can!
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image MATERIALS

  • 3-ring binder – 3″ size
  • Tissue paper
  • White glue
  • Hot glue gun
  • Glue sticks
  • Acrylic paint  (I used black, metallic bronze, apple green, pthalo green, & raw umber)
  • Metallic bronze marker
  • Brushes (#20 flat & 2″ bristle)
  • Rags or paper towels for antiqueing
  • Sculpey (or equivalent) oven-bake polymer clay
  • Clay sculpting tools
  • Rubber stamps – celtic designs
  • Decorative paper for inner cover
  • Clear acrylic spray paint for varnish **See author’s note at end of blog**

INSTRUCTIONS

Step 1 – Cover images: Using the internet, find a symbol for the cover(s) of your book that resonates with you. I used a tree of life knot for the front cover and a triquetra for the back, but you can use the same image for both front and back if you like, or omit an image on the back of your book altogether. Whatever you prefer, it’s your book! You can google images using terms like “wicca”, “celtic knots”, “triquetra”, “tree of life”, etc. When you find a design you like, print it onto 8 1/2″ x 11″ paper, enlarging it so it will fit nicely onto your cover. You can get as intricate or simple as you please, but keep in mind you’ll be tracing this design in hot glue, so simpler is easier. image image Step 2 – Hot glue design: With a hot glue gun and a steady hand, trace directly over the lines of your printout, building up the lines dimensionally with the glue. This can get a little tricky so be careful! You might want to practice on a scrap design first. The hardest part is extruding the glue in a steady line and dealing with those little glue “strings” that occur when you lift the tip of the glue gun away from your work. Practice a bit and you’ll soon get the hang of it. Be sure to have extra glue sticks handy, and don’t touch the hot glue!! Allow glue to cool. Now’s the time to trim away those pesky “strings” of glue, and cut out your now 3D design with scissors or a craft knife. Trim the edges as close as you can. Center the design onto your binder cover and glue down with white or craft glue.

Step 3 -Tissue Mache: using watered down white glue and a #20 flat brush, brush glue onto a section of the outside cover of your binder. Tear tissue paper into pieces and using more watered-down glue, adhere the tissue to the wet surface. The tissue will absorb the glue and stick nicely, adding wrinkles and texture as you overlap the torn pieces. Cover the book entirely with tissue mache, including your hot glue design. Be careful to press the wet tissue firmly down to eliminate air bubbles, but don’t scrub as this will tear the wet paper. At the edges of the binder cover, wrap the tissue paper about 1/2″ over onto the inside cover of the binder. Don’t worry about being really neat here, we will cover these rough edges of your book later. Allow to dry overnight.

Step 4 – Paint: Using acrylic paint in a light color (I used apple green), paint the entire surface with two coats of acrylic paint. You want a light base color to contrast with your dark antiqueing color. Be sure to paint the 1/2″ strip inside the cover where you overlapped the tissue paper too. Allow to dry completely between coats or even overnight.

Step 5 – Clay corners and embellishments: Using Sculpey or any brand polymer clay, knead the clay until soft, then roll out a flat sheet about 1/8″ – 3/16″ thick. Cut out about a 2 1/4″ square. Slice this square diagonally to make 2 corners. I made 4 corners altogether, 2 each for the front and back covers. I used a straw to cut small rounds out of scrap clay for the “nails” and just finger pressed them onto each end of my triangle corners. You could also use brass brads, or thumbtacks with the legs cut off. Use a rubber stamp to emboss a design into the center of the soft clay corners. At this time you can also emboss other stamp designs into your flattened clay sheet & cut out as embellishments. Don’t be afraid to experiment with the clay. If you make a mistake at this point, you can just roll it out again and start over! When you have your clay corners and embellishments looking just how you want them, carefully lay them onto a piece of foil & place in a flat metal or glass oven-proof pan. Bake according to manufacturer’s directions (usually a 275°F oven for 15 minutes per 1/4″ thickness – so about 10 minutes for our pieces). Don’t overbake! Your pieces should come out firm but still be slightly flexible. Use your metallic paint to basecoat these pieces. Be sure to paint the edges and a bit of the back side so no unpainted edges will show when they’re attached to your book.

Step 6 – Antiqueing: Use a dark mixture of paint, and water it down so it is transparent (I mixed raw umber with a drop of pthalo green and a drop of black). Using a 2″ bristle brush, coat the book and allow to dry a bit before wiping off the excess with a dampened sponge, rag, or paper towel. Keep layering on and removing the dark paint until you get a nice build up of shading and your book looks old and worn. Don’t forget to also antique the inside cover areas that you painted as well. Use the same technique for your corners and embellishments, to give the metallic paint an aged, tarnished appearance. Allow to dry completely.

Step 7 – Highlights: Use a metallic Sharpie or paint pen to highlight your glue gun design and areas of the corners &  embellishments that you want to appear bright. Think about how metal doesn’t tarnish where it’s rubbed a lot (edges & high spots) and highlight accordingly. image image Step 8 – Add corners & embellishments: Use hot glue to attach the “metal” corners and embellishments to your book cover. Your book is looking good now! image image image Step 9 – Clear finish: Use spray paint to apply 2 clear coats to the outside of your binder. Allow to dry between coats. This helps finish, preserve & protect your awesome paint job.

Step 10 – Inside Cover: Cut 2 pieces of the decorative paper about 1/4″ smaller than your inside book cover. You’ll need 2 pieces, one for the right inside cover, and one for the left. You can slip one end of each paper piece underneath the ring clip to meet in the middle. The ring clip will hold the ends in place. Glue the remainder of each end paper securely to the inside cover, hiding the edges of the tissue paper overlap. You can purchase decorative papers at any good art store, use wrapping paper, or make your own. I used textured watercolor paper thinking I can color it later on. image image Voila! Your custom Book of Shadows is finished! Keep in mind that because you made this book with your own hands, it is already imbued with much personal power, and will only grow stronger with use. All you need to do now is fill it with awesome pages. It will sit beautifully on your altar, ready to serve you as needed. For ideas or examples of some gorgeous BOS pages, google “Charmed BOS” and be ready to be inspired. The Charmed television series featured a book of shadows that was truly a work of art. Another very cool grimoire can be seen occasionally on the tv show Grimm, and I’m sure there is a web page or two featuring that artwork as well. image image image Book of Shadows pages can be found at: www.deviant art.com/art/Book-Of-Shadows-279233937

Enjoy and please comment if you try this project!

**Author’s note: my polyclay embellishments were sticky when sprayed with clear acrylic so to avoid this use a water based, brush on varnish instead.**

The Father Christmas Letters – 2013

The holidays are a magical time, and this is my attempt to put some practical magic back into the world. My homage to the tradition started by J.R.R. Tolkien back in 1920. I hope I can keep it going as long as he did. Blessed Be.

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Father Christmas Letter 2013
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Illustration of Father Christmas and his home at the North Pole

B(re)aking Bread 2 – San Francisco Sourdough Style

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In my previous B(re)aking Bread post I gave you my all time favorite Classic White Bread recipe from Gold Medal Flour. You can find that blog and recipe here: https://lizstevensart.wordpress.com/2013/10/28/breaking-bread/

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I neglected to say that because I am usually only baking for two people, I most often halve that recipe and bake a single loaf, as a second would go stale before we could finish the first (home baked=no preservatives). I could freeze loaf #2 but I abhor frozen bread. Freezing dries out the loaf and totally changes the texture. Call me a bread snob, but I refuse to put all that effort into making homemade bread, just to throw it in the freezer and wreck it! So for one loaf, just divide the ingredient quantities in half. Easy peasy.

Onward to Sourdough land!!

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Okay, okay… since I don’t live in San Francisco, I can’t technically call it ‘San Francisco Sourdough’, so I am calling it ‘San Francisco Style Sourdough’ instead. You sourdough purists will know whereof I speak. The distinctive taste is what’s important for me, not (gasp!) where it was made. I suppose it should be called ‘(Insert Your Locality Here) Sourdough Bread’ lol.

I got this recipe from Chef John Mitzewich on About.com. His must-watch video explains step by step everything you need to do; from making your own sourdough starter, to baking the sourdough loaf. Watch the video here: http://video.about.com/breadbaking/Sourdough-Bread.htm. This is pretty much exactly what I do, except I didn’t make my own starter, I got it from a neighbor (thanks, Lisa Nelson)!

Now about that starter…?

Starter is really nothing more than equal parts flour and warm water which is then allowed to absorb ‘wild’ yeast out of the air and to ferment. So, basically you take a cup of flour (or combination of flours – see recipes below) add a cup of warm (100° – 110°F) filtered or distilled water & mix it in a bowl or, in my case, a quart jar. Then you loosely cover it and put it in a warm place. Every day you discard half, add another cup of flour and a cup of warm water, give it a stir and cover it again. Keep repeating for a week or more until the mixture starts to bubble and smells ‘yeasty’ or ‘beery’ as Chef John puts it. That’s your starter! From this humble mixture, great bread is born.

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Chef John’s Sourdough Starter Recipe
1/2 C rye flour**
1/2 C unbleached wheat flour
1 C warm water

1. Mix together in a bowl or jar and allow to stand in a warm place, loosely covered, for 24 hours.

2. After the first day, discard half the mixture and then feed with the same ingredients daily until mixture starts to bubble and smells like yeast or beer (can take a week or more).

3. Continue to feed mixture as long as active starter is desired.

**I had trouble finding rye flour. You can order it online from KAF or look for the Bob’s Red Mill section in the baking aisle of your grocery store. That’s where I finally found it in a one pound package.

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Or, you can use this recipe:

Easy Sourdough Starter Recipe
1 C unbleached bread flour
1 C warm water

Same steps as Chef John’s recipe – see above

Now, if you never intend to bake more than that one loaf, you can use your starter up and call it a day. But if you want to make more sourdough bread, you have to reserve a cup of starter and then keep ‘feeding’ that.

There are a few schools of thought on feeding procedures. You can discard (or use) half daily and feed the rest, keeping it in a warm place, OR you can use my lazy baker method! What I do is keep my starter in the fridge and feed it once a week with half a cup of warm water and a cup of flour. Give that a good stir, let it sit out for an hour or two, then pop it back into the fridge. Your starter will keep indefinitely either way as long as it’s fed regularly. The bonus is, the longer you keep your starter, the better it will taste!!

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Now, I know that making starter might seem intimidating to some, but it’s actually quite easy. Think of it like a science experiment. Who knew all that wild yeast was just hanging around in the air? I didn’t! Alternatively, you can buy a starter mix – King Arthur Flour online or look in your grocery baking aisle or specialty aisle. You can also get it from another baker. Some starters purportedly have been around since the Pilgrims landed! Whatever is best & easiest for you, let’s get on with the breadmaking already!

So now you’ve got your faboo starter. What next? I’ll let Chef John take it from here…

Make the Sourdough Sponge
Now to make the sponge, which is the next step. Pour the starter into a bowl and add 1 cup of bread flour and 1 cup of water. We’re going to cover that and leave it overnight and that’s what’s called a sponge which is just a fermented batter. That’s what we’re going to use to make the dough.

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Prepare the Sourdough Bread Dough
Give the sponge a stir and add 2 cups to a bowl. Then add:
1 tsp sugar
2 tsp salt
2 tbsp oil
1 cup bread flour
Stir that up and that will make a wet, sticky dough. Add another cup of flour and that will make a dough firm enough to pour on to the cutting board. Then we’re going to work in approximately a 3rd cup of flour. Go by feel. Add a little at a time and keep kneading until you have a smooth, elastic dough. Should take about 10-15 minutes

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Test the Sourdough Dough
You know you are done if you can stretch a piece of dough and see light through it. This is called the “window pane” test. Once the dough is ready put a teaspoon of oil in a bowl and oil the bowl and dough so it doesn’t dry out.

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Allow the Dough to Rise
Cover with a wet towel and let rise to double in size, about 18 hours. Sourdough rises much slower than regular yeast dough. When its ready pat it down on the board which will deflate it. Make it into a square shape and roll it into a loaf.

Put it onto a cornmeal coated pan, 2 tbsp of cornmeal, and place it seam-side down. Then, take an oiled piece of plastic wrap, and place it loosely over the dough. Let that double in size, which will take between 8 and 12 hours, so it takes a while.

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Bake the Sourdough Bread
When that’s ready make some slices in the top of the bread, about 1/2″ deep, which are for looks and to help the bread rise in the oven. Put a pan of water in the bottom of a cold oven, and put in the dough. Turn on the oven to 425°F, and bake for 40-45 minutes.

A couple times during the cooking, if you want a nice crispy crust, spray it with plain water, and that really makes that beautiful blistered crust. When it’s done it will have a hollow sound when tapped. And, listen to that slice… unreal.

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This recipe can be found here: http://video.about.com/breadbaking/Sourdough-Bread.htm where you will also find the video instructions and the recipe for the sourdough starter.

Well that’s it! The only changes I made to this is in the rising times. Since I’m above 5000′, my rise times are about half of these.

I hope you enjoy making your own sourdough bread! I know I have!!

Next post: Foolproof Pie Crust

B(re)aking Bread

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Since moving to the boonies where the closest grocery store is 63 miles away, I’ve had to learn to bake my own bread. We’re a family of sandwich eaters, so a tasty, sliceable loaf is a must have at our casa. So I’m gonna fill you in on some of the tricks that I had to learn the hard way before I give you my two favorite bread recipes.

Since I have neither an electric mixer, nor a bread machine, I make bread the old school way – by hand. So my instructions are all going to be for use without machines. To those of you who own them, I apologize, but urge you to GO GREEN and just try it without all the doodads. You might just discover your inner baker if you do. There’s nothing quite like the feel of a silken lump of dough in your hands, ripe and full of the  potential for the perfect loaf of bread.

I’ll take a moment here to talk about tools…
Certainly you need a large mixing bowl. I’d recommend one that’s large enough to hold your dough once it’s doubled. I use a stoneware bowl that comes in a graduated set of three from Williams Sonoma, but glass or even stainless will do as long as it’s big enough.

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Williams Sonoma bowls

You’ll need a cotton or linen towel that can be moistened with water to drape over your bowl while the dough rises. This allows the dough to breathe and also keeps the top from drying out. Make sure you don’t use these towels to dry dishes or your hands. Keep them dedicated to your breadmaking and you won’t have to worry about germs! You can also use plastic wrap, but you have to oil that so it won’t stick to your rising dough, and make sure it’s not too tight over your bowl or your dough won’t be able to breathe.

A comfortable, flat, non-porous surface to knead your dough on is next. You can use a large cutting board or even a countertop or tabletop will do. Just keep in mind that it will be covered in flour and sticky dough at some point so it must be easy to clean and at the proper height for you to knead on. After saying all that I must confess that, more often than not, I knead my dough right in the bowl I mix it in! I find it to be easier for me and it saves time on cleanup.

You may want to purchase a dough whisk. I first saw one in a King Arthur Flour catalogue, but couldn’t justify the $25 price tag. I made mine for free out of an oak branch and a wire coat hanger. I use it to mix the dough at the beginning stages, and it really helps since I don’t have an electric mixer. You also may want to purchase a bench knife. This is a tool that comes in handy to scrape dough and flour off your kneading surface as well as when dividing or cutting a ball of dough. You can get a bench knife at any good kitchen or gourmet store, or you might get lucky like I did and find one at a thrift shop.

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Dough Whisk from King Arthur Flour

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Bench Knife

For artisan breads you’ll need a baking stone, also available at gourmet or kitchen stores, or you can even use a large piece of unglazed ceramic tile, stone, or even cast iron. Mine is a Pampered Chef baking stone (which is actually a high-fired, unglazed ceramic tile). You have to season a new baking stone much like a cast iron skillet, and they get darker with use but are nearly non-stick if seasoned properly and bake a beautiful, crusty loaf!
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For sliceable loaves aka sandwiches, you’ll need a loaf pan or two. I prefer those that don’t have a non-stick coating. I just oil my pans or use cooking spray to keep the bread from sticking and haven’t had any problems. Any size will do, really. Your choice. Just make sure it has straight sides and is sturdy enough for lots of use. I can tell you that I got two silicone loaf pans at the thrift store, and they work great but are hard to clean. I prefer my metal pans.
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Ok enough about tools. It’s time for some secret tips…

1. Never use cold yeast!!! Measure the yeast for your recipe into a small bowl the night before and leave it out so it can warm to room temperature. Cold yeast won’t rise. This item alone could have saved me some tears if I’d known it first! (Thank you SIL Donna Constant)

2. Use regular or quick active dry yeast, not rapid rise. Rapid rise yeast is for bread machines.
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3. Yeast needs to feed on sugar and protein, so at least part of the flour you use for your bread should be bread flour because it has a higher protein content than all purpose flour.

4. Use unbleached flours. They’re better for you and are available at most grocery stores. Albertsons has a full line of unbleached flours that are half the price of King Arthur or other name brands. I buy High Altitude brand all purpose flour because it comes in a 10 pound bag, has a higher protein content than other brands, and only costs a few pennies more per pound.
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5. For those of us living at over 5000′ elevation, higher, drier air means you can cut your rising times nearly in half (less air pressure=faster rise times) but you might have to add a bit of extra water (less humidity=drier flour) to help your bread rise well, and perhaps even add an extra rise to develop the gluten in really fluffy artisanal recipes.

6. The water you mix into your yeast or flour should be just slightly warmer than body temperature – around 100° – 110°F. Don’t use hot water, it will kill your yeast and you’ll have flatbread instead of a rising loaf. Use pure spring or filtered water if you can. Good tasting water makes good tasting bread.

7. For crusty loaves, place a shallow metal pan on the bottom rack while the oven preheats, and quickly add a cup of water just before the loaf goes in (on the middle rack). The resulting steam will make a beautiful, crispy crust, especially nice for artisan breads. You can alternately spritz the oven sides and loaf top with water using a clean pump sprayer to achieve the same effect, but I find the pan method easier and less fussy.

8. For Sourdough bread you have to use a starter, then make a ‘sponge’ – which is really just a fermented starter. You can purchase sourdough starter as a mix, get it from someone else, or make it yourself. It’s important to ‘temper’ (leave in a covered bowl in a warm place) your sponge (2C starter mixed with 1 C flour and 1C water) for at least 8 hours before you mix it into dough, so you must plan ahead to make sourdough bread, but it is SO worth it! Remember, the longer you temper (ferment) your starter, the stronger the sourdough taste will be. Also, once you have starter you have to either use half each week or discard it, and feed the remaining half. The upside of that is, the longer you keep it going, the better it tastes. More on sourdough bread in the next post.

Ok, now on to the recipes! The first one is my favorite for a delicious sandwich loaf and came right off the Gold Medal Flour bag:
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GOLD MEDAL CLASSIC WHITE BREAD
Prep time: 35 mins Start to Finish: 3 hrs 25 mins
Makes 2 loaves

6-7 C all purpose flour or bread flour or mixture of both*
*(I use 3C all purpose, 3C bread, & 1C whole wheat)
3 Tbsp sugar
1 Tbsp salt
2 Tbsp shortening
2 pkgs active dry yeast (4 1/2 teaspoons)
2 1/4 C very warm water (120° – 130°F)
2 Tbsp melted butter (optional)

1. In a large bowl, stir 3 1/2 C of flour, the sugar, salt, shortening and yeast until well mixed. Add warm water. Mix until well blended. Add remaining flour 1 C at a time until dough is easy to handle.

2. Place dough on lightly floured surface. Knead about 10 mins or until dough is smooth and springy. Oil a large bowl. Place dough in bowl, turning to coat all sides. Cover bowl with plastic wrap or damp towel and let rise in a warm place 40 – 60 mins, or until doubled.

3. Grease bottoms and sides of (2) 8×4 inch or 9×5 inch pans with oil or cooking spray.

4. Gently punch down dough to deflate. Divide dough in half. Flatten each half by hand or rolling pin into 18×9 inch rectangle on lightly floured surface. Roll dough up tightly starting at 9 inch side. Pinch edges and ends to seal, folding ends under loaf. Place seam side down in pan. Brush tops with melted butter or oil if desired. Cover loosely with oiled plastic wrap or damp towel and place in warm spot to rise 35 – 40 mins or until doubled.

5. Move oven rack to low position so tops of pans are at oven center. Preheat to 425°F.

6. Bake 25 – 30 mins or until loaves are deep golden brown and sound hollow when tapped. Remove from pans to wire rack. Brush with butter; cool.

NEXT POST: Sourdough San Francisco Style