Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Strawberry Sweet Rolls with Fresh Strawberry Cream Cheese Glaze

I was having a hard time finding my own words to describe these sweet rolls so I went to my boys for help. They each gave me three words to describe these bad boys:
Specs (age 7)
Tank (age 10)
Monkey (age 13)
Legiiit (he specified the spelling)
Tyht (i.e. "tight"--he also specified the spelling for this one)
Stretch (age 16)

So, what do you think? Are you tempted to give them a try?
Don't let all the steps and ingredients intimidate you. These only take about an hour to make, total, including baking time.

Sweet Rolls:
1 cup warm water
3/4 cup room temperature buttermilk (if you don't have buttermilk you can substitute 1 tablespoon vinegar or lemon juice and add milk to make 3/4 cup then allow to sit for 10 minutes before using)
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup butter, melted and slightly cooled
3 Tablespoons dry yeast (not rapid rise)
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
2 eggs
5 to 6 cups flour (I used all 6 cups)

In the bowl of a mixer, combine water, buttermilk, sugar, melted butter and yeast. Stir well with a wooden spoon and proof for 15 minutes (this just means let it sit for 15 minutes so the yeast can soften and get activated). Add salt, eggs and flour all at once and mix with a dough hook for about a minute. Scrape the sides of the bowl and mix on medium speed for 10 minutes. Scrape the bowl again and allow the dough to sit for 10 minutes more.

While the dough sits, you can prepare the filling and glaze. You may want to preheat your oven now too (375 degrees).


1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup white sugar
1 teaspoon strawberry extract (more if you want a stronger strawberry flavor)
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 cup butter, softened (you want this really soft--soft enough to spread easily on the roll dough once it is rolled out)
1 cup strawberries, chopped finely (optional)

Using a fork stir together the brown and white sugar, the cinnamon and the strawberry extract until well combined. Set aside.

Fresh Strawberry Cream Cheese Glaze:
4 oz cream cheese, softened

1/4 cup butter, softened
1/2 cup strawberries, washed and pureed in a blender or food processor
2 pounds powdered sugar
milk to thin out the glaze as needed

In a medium bowl beat together the cream cheese and butter until totally combined and fluffy. Add the pureed strawberries and powdered sugar alternately a little at a time making sure the glaze is well blended after each addition. Add milk to reach desired consistency. Set aside.

After the dough has rested for 10 minutes, turn it out onto a floured surface. Roll the dough into a 12x18 inch rectangle. Spread the softened 1/4 cup butter (from the filling step) on the rolled out dough and sprinkle with the sugar, strawberry extract mixture and the finely chopped strawberries, if desired.

Starting at the long end, roll the dough into a log. Pinch the seam together and using a length of dental floss or thread cut the log into 12 large rolls (to cut, loop the floss under the log of dough and pull up, crossing the ends--like you would if you were going to tie a bow or knot--and pulling tight until it cuts through the dough. This is a lot easier way to cut dough than with a knife). Place on a large Silpat or parchment lined cookie sheet and bake in a 375 degree oven for 15-20 minutes or until light golden brown (I did mine for the full 20 minutes).

When the rolls come out of the oven, spread the glaze over them while they are still warm.Sprinkle additional chopped strawberries on top for garnish, if desired and serve.

This makes 12 LARGE rolls. We all ate one last night and had one for breakfast this morning. I reheated mine in the microwave for about 20 seconds and it was every bit as good as the one I had last night. Seth ate his for lunch. He said "It was good" which is kind of high praise coming from him. :)

(This recipe is adapted from a couple of different cinnamon roll recipes located here and here).

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Leia & Han

I made a Valentine for my husband this year. It's kind of perfect for us.
I got the Han and Leia silhouettes HERE, from Natalie at Doodlecraft. Thanks for enabling me to make the perfect Valentine for my scruffy-looking nerf herder husband, Natalie.

Did you have any big plans for Valentine's Day weekend? I gave some little gifts to my boys (boxers and little heart-shaped boxes of chocolate) and I made a delicious dinner for my family--tortellini, spinach and italian sausage soup, homemade breadsticks and strawberry cake.

We didn't go out. The weather here has been pretty intense. Church was cancelled for tomorrow. The only other time I have had church cancelled for weather was in the middle of a hurricane when we were visiting Florida a few years ago. My kids missed their Valentine's parties at school yesterday because we had a snow day. With windchills of -15 degrees and below we haven't spent a lot of time outside so we're all getting a little cabin fever. 

My kids don't have school all next week (midwinter recess) and I'm starting to wonder if we'll all survive--it has the potential to be worse than being stuck in a cave with a wampa ice creature. A planet like Tatooine with two suns sounds kind of appealing right now. We may have to get a pet tauntaun if this keeps up much longer.
Sorry. I'll stop with the Star Wars references now.

I hope you had a nice Valentine's Day. Feel free to save my Leia and Han valentine for next year if you'd like.

 And because I can't resist, here's one last little bit of Star Wars wisdom for you this Valentine's Day:


Thursday, February 12, 2015

Bear Hugs and Teacher Valentines

Here are the Valentines that my two little boys are giving this year. I wanted to get them finished and posted earlier for anyone looking for a cute valentine printable, but extenuating circumstances prevented me from completing them until this afternoon. If you are looking for a last minute idea, you are in luck. If not, you can always pin it for next year.

I was looking for a treat that was allergy-friendly for any kids in the classes that may have food allergies. These are mini Haribo gummy bears and they are peanut, tree nut, soy, wheat and dairy free. They are also extra cute because they are tiny. I was thinking you could use cinnamon bears or even Teddy Grahams if you can't find the mini gummy bears (although I'm not sure about the allergens in those things).

They are super easy to put together. All you need is scissors and a stapler. Cut out the bears and staple them to the bags of gummy bears. Done. My kids didn't bring home class lists this year, so to make it easy they just signed their names to the back.

I also did some quick teacher Valentines. The teachers are always in need of classroom supplies and I know one of the teachers specifically mentioned that she needs dry erase markers so I am sending these with the boys as well.
 I printed and cut out the Valentine cards and attached them to the markers with washi tape (because who doesn't love washi tape?! Am I right?). It doesn't get much easier than that.

Here are some bear hugs and teacher valentines for you to print if you'd like. You should be able to just click on the image and then right click and save as. Let me know if that doesn't work because I saved them in PDF format too and I could share them that way as well.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Card Therapy

The first weeks of February leading up to Valentine's Day always give me a creative itch. I haven't taken much time to do anything crafty lately, but I did make a card. When my youngest was a baby and toddler I used to make cards almost daily, then life got in the way and while I still enjoy it, I fell out of the habit.
So, here's a simple little Valentine I created.

I started a card inspiration board on Pinterest. There are so many talented card makers out there. It makes me happy to see their cute creations. My inspiration for this one came from a card by Teri Anderson (see it here).

I had grand aspirations to get Valentines mailed to all our loved ones this year. It didn't happen. January and February are by far the hardest months for me. It feels like the never-ending snow has buried us. The banks on either side of our driveway are at least 6 feet tall in places. It has been so gloomy too. I'm calling it a victory that I made cookies yesterday and cleaned my house today.

Card making was therapy for me at one time. Maybe I need to allow myself a little more time to do it more often.

What do you do to get through the bleak midwinter days?
Have you made anything fun lately?

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Chess Pie

I am kind of in love with this pie. It might not be all that handsome, but it is sweet and rich and humble. It has all those attributes that might make a pie attractive and irresistible.

What exactly is chess pie? Let me tell you: It is a simple, custard-y, old-fashioned, southern plate of deliciousness.
Sometimes when I only have one pie crust and I'm trying to decide what to fill it with I'll opt for chess pie. I always have all the ingredients on hand and really it couldn't be easier.

This is the recipe I like to use from Southern Living.  The cornmeal and vinegar keep it humble but don't let the odd ingredients scare you.

prepared pastry dough for a one crust pie
2 cups sugar
2 tablespoons cornmeal
1 tablespoon flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup butter, melted
1/4 cup milk
1 tablespoon white vinegar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
4 large eggs, slightly beaten

1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees.
2. Roll out your dough, trim, flute edges and prick with a fork and use beans or pie weights to keep the crust from shrinking.  I use this awesome Williams-Sonoma pie weight that my favorite in-laws gave me for my birthday last year.
3. Bake crust for 4 to 5 minutes. Remove pie weight. Cool the crust completely before proceeding to the next step.
4. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
5. Stir together the cornmeal, flour, salt, butter, milk, vinegar and vanilla. Add the beaten eggs stirring until well combined.
6. Pour the filling into the crust.
7. Shield the edges with aluminum foil to prevent over-browning (my crust got a little browner than I typically like it because our oven isn't calibrated properly so I have to watch things and I got distracted, but it was still so good!)
8 Bake for 50-55 minutes or until set. Remove the foil the last 10 or 15 minutes of baking and allow the crust to brown.
9. Cool completely on a wire rack. The pie should be fine at room temperature for a day or two (if it lasts that long) but if you're worried, keep it in the fridge.

Can you almost taste that buttery, custard-y goodness? It is really rich and pairs well with a glass of 2%. You really only need a sliver but it's so good you might want seconds. Lemon chess pie is a good classic southern variation. I also love it with freshly whipped cream.

Two things--1. the recipe says you can use margarine or butter. Just say no to margarine. Butter all the way, baby. 2. Opt for pure vanilla extract. I know it's more expensive but it is so much better than artificial vanilla flavoring.

You should try it. Seriously. Grab a fork. Let's go
Now if it could only wash the dishes and do the taxes...

Monday, February 2, 2015

10 Fantastic Books for Black History Month

We love history in our family. Here are some good books we've come across over the years that we thought we'd share for Black History Month this month.

Picture Books (all of these picture books are non-fiction)
   1.  The Story of Ruby Bridges by Robert Coles, illustrated by George Ford
 Six year old Ruby Bridges was the first black girl at an all white school in New Orleans. Her story is an amazing one of courage and love. I cry every time I read it.
   2.  Rosa by Nikki Giovani, illustrated by Bryan Collier
The inspirational story of Rosa Parks whose refusal to give up her seat to a white man on the bus made her one of the most important people in the civil rights movement.
   3.  Martin's Big Words by Doreen Rappaport illustrated by Bryan Collier
A family favorite. This book takes words and phrases from the actual sermons and speeches of Martin Luther King Jr. and incorporates them into a simple narrative about his life and influence. We make a point to read it every MLK Day, but it is definitely too good to read just once a year. You'll want this one in your home library.
   4.  Henry's Freedom Box: A True Story of the Underground Railroad by Ellen LeVine, illustrated by Kadir Nelson
Based on the true story of a slave who mailed himself to freedom, this book has beautiful illustrations and an interesting story to keep young readers engaged.
   5.  Ashanti to Zulu: African Traditions by Margaret Musgrove, illustrated by Leo and Diane Dillon
Another favorite. Leo and Diane Dillon's illustrations are gorgeous in this Caldecott-winning cultural primer. You'll love reading the facts about African tribes from A to Z.

Historical/Realistic Fiction:
   6.  The Watsons Go to Birmingham, 1963 by Christopher Paul Curtis
We have an audio recording of this book read by LeVar Burton that we listened to on a road trip a couple of years ago and loved his reading of it. It tells the story of a family from Michigan who take their own road trip to Birmingham, Alabama during the civil rights era. The 16th Street Baptist Church bombing plays a major role in the story. The movie by the same name ( released in 2013) is currently available on Netflix.
   7.  The Slave Dancer by Paula Fox
In the spirit of full disclosure, it has been years since I read this, but I remember liking it. It's the Newbery Medal winner for 1974 and tells the story of a young man named Jessie who travels on a slave ship and witnesses the barbaric conditions that the slaves are subjected to.
   8.  To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
One of my all time favorite novels, To Kill a Mockingbird deals with themes of racial inequality, prejudice and rape. Although the subject matter is quite serious, it is just a delightful book in so many ways. If you haven't read it before, move it to the top of your to-read list.

   9.  The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot
Glad you're immune to polio? You can thank Henrietta Lacks. Henrietta had cervical cancer and her cells (called HeLa cells) were the first cells to be able to be cultured in a laboratory. This immortal cell line has facilitated a myriad of scientific advancements. It is a fascinating book. I have reviewed it before and you can read my review here.
  10. The Souls of Black Folk by W.E.B. DuBois
I read this in college but recently decided to look it over again. It is a compilation of several essays by DuBois reflecting on his personal experience and is considered "a seminal work in the history of sociology, and a cornerstone of African-American literary history". You can find it on Project Gutenberg and read it for free.

I know there are tons of other wonderful books that would be great to read this month in honor of Black History Month; I've just mentioned a few here. Do you have any favorites?

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Spelling Bee

Bee Hives, Opelika, AL (painted in Waterlogue App).
Friday afternoon, Nate comes home from school and tells me he has qualified for the school spelling bee. I am ecstatic. Only two kids from each class have earned this honor. This is huge. This is the boy who was at odds with the public school establishment up through 3rd grade (he got in-school suspension the sixth day of kindergarten, for Pete's sake). This is the boy that has been diagnosed with a working memory deficit and ADD and "slower processing speed". This is the boy that struggled with spelling in 3rd grade. He has always been bright, but he has grown by leaps and bounds the last year and a half. I am so proud!

We couldn't be farther from LA, but still I have visions of him jumping rope to the rhythm of words like "obsequious" and "antediluvian" while Laurence Fishburne sits behind a desk in a leather swivel chair and coaches him.

***** I was in the class spelling bee in 7th grade. I made it to one of the final rounds and got eliminated on the word "gangrene". I spelled it like the color green. That would kind of make sense, wouldn't it? I have never forgotten the actual spelling of the word, or the bitter taste of disappointment. I decide that I am going to do what I can to help my sweet boy succeed.

***** On the way home from church Sunday we start quizzing Nate on spelling words. My husband keeps pelting ridiculously difficult words at Nate and I keep saying "he's in fifth grade". I don't think he'll be asked to spell "oligonucleotide" or whatever other behemoth of a word that dad has thought up. "Spell restaurant" says dad. It's too hard. Nate is afraid to even try.
"I'll give you a clue," I say. "It has some letters you can't hear."
He begins tentatively:
My dreams of him participating in the Scripps National Spelling Bee go up in a puff of smoke, but we all have a good laugh. It was actually a really intelligent guess given the clue I gave him. I think he's probably on his way to being a darn good Boggle or Scrabble player.

As we continue on our drive, dad decides it is high time that the little boys learn to spell "Mississippi". We all chant "M-I-S-S-I-S-S-I-P-P-I" for a couple of minutes until Specs pipes up from the back seat, giggling, "I like the 'PP' part."

My life may not be the stuff that movies are made of, but it can be pretty entertaining nonetheless.

Epilogue:  Nate participated in the spelling bee this past Monday. He came in a respectable 7th overall; he ranked 3rd out of the other 5th grade spellers. He was eliminated on the word "daughter" which he insists he spelled "D-A-U-G-H-T-E-R," but maybe he was misheard. I'll never know because I didn't get to attend due to a previous commitment. At any rate, he got to use that "G-H" that didn't work out for him in "restaurant".