Stirring it up with ... Lucille Keller

Lucille Keller

Age: 58.

Residence: Charleston.

Occupation: Drama teacher, part time.

Family: Husband, Bert; three grown sons, David, Charles and John.

Q: Among family, friends and church members, you've acquired the reputation as a "good cook." Who or what fostered your interest in the beginning?

A: Certainly my mother's cooking. Also my brother, Tony, and his wife, Bonnie. They were newlyweds in the late '60s in Berkeley and introduced me to Julia Child's cooking, Gourmet magazine and baking whole-grain breads.

Q: Where did you grow up, and did that influence you in a culinary sense?

A: I grew up in the Upstate. My father was a minister and people used to bring us fresh produce from their gardens. But I've traveled and lived in other parts of the world, too, and that has interested me in other cuisines.

Q: Your passion is bread baking. How or why do you find it rewarding?

A: It's just fun to throw various healthy grains and flours in a bowl, watch the yeast "proof" and get one's hands in the dough. I love the smell of it as it's pulled from the oven. And the taste of it, every morning with a little goat cheese and orange marmalade, is heaven on Earth.

Q: At this time of year, you're baking breads for gifts and special occasions. What are a few kinds and what is their significance?

A: It's not Christmas without my mother's cranberry bread and gingerbread with fresh lemon sauce. She died recently, so making her breads brings back happy memories. And this weekend I had 15 women from Circular Church join me in my kitchen to prepare the rich Swedish saffron bread that we serve at church today as part of our Swedish "festival of light" celebration. Our church for about 30 years has found this observance, with the "Lucia queen" wearing a wreath of candles in her hair and bearing the saffron bread, a beautiful Advent ritual for leading us to the coming light of Christmas.

Q: Over the years, you've increasingly focused on nutritious meals with fresh ingredients. Some people find that daunting. How do you make them easier?

A: It helps to first have the mind-set that cares deeply for the health of the planet and one's own family. To me, it's easier, better for us all, and more fun to buy a fresh vegetable (local and organic if possible), steam it in a pot or roast it with some olive oil in the oven. I'd say just get rid of prepackaged meals and high-fat-heart-attack snacks. Use the money saved to go organic and as local as possible. Cook by the seasons!

Q: Being married to a minister and active in church, how do you think food brings people together spiritually?

A: As we nourish our bodies while in community, we nourish our souls, too. And we have special times when we feel especially bonded through common deep commitments to creation and to simplicity: at our eat-low-on-the-food-chain picnic on Earth Day; the simple Ash Wednesday love feast of Moravian buns and fruit; the Maundy Thursday supper of homemade vegetarian soups and whole-grain breads; the Santa Lucia Festival of Light during Advent.

Q: If you were stranded on a desert island, what food would you miss most?

A: Probably my morning homemade toast and a nice hot cup of Yorkshire Gold tea.

A favorite recipe:

Ottie Arrington's Cranberry Bread

2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour, sifted

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1 cup sugar

1 egg, beaten

2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled

1/2 cup orange juice

2 tablespoons hot water

1/2 cup chopped pecans

1 cup cranberries, cut in half

Melted butter

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Butter and flour a loaf pan.

Sift dry ingredients together. Beat eggs and add butter, orange juice and hot water. Combine with dry ingredients. Add nuts and cranberries. Combine well and pour in loaf pan. Bake 1 hour, 10 minutes.

Let bread sit a few minutes, then turn out. Spread top with a little melted butter and wrap in wax paper while hot, then place in refrigerator 3 hours. Remove paper and wrap in towel and return to refrigerator until serving.

Cook's note: "That's the original recipe. I usually let the bread cool on a wire rack, omit the melted butter on top, then wrap in wax paper and store in fridge for a week, or the freezer for longer."

-- Teresa Taylor