Hot Cross Buns

FullSizeRender“One a penny, two a penny, hot cross buns…” If that nursery rhyme song is your only exposure to these Easter treats, you may want to try kneading up a batch and see what everyone was singing about back in the 18th Century. This recipe isn’t quite so ancient—it came from Better Homes & Gardens New Cookbook, circa 1996.

The buns are marked with a cross as a symbol of Christ’s crucifixion, and the spices represent His embalming at burial. And as with anything with a religious bent, there’s a long, controversial history with these treats which were traditionally eaten on Good Friday to signify the end of Lent. Queen Elizabeth I, being a total killjoy, banned the sale of hot cross buns expect on Good Friday or Christmas, with punishments for ignoring her decree. Not exactly sure why they were banned…

There are other stories circulating, but they all kind of make you wonder what the fuss is about. These buns were good, but not to die for. (No Easter pun intended!)  I had trouble finding the candied diced orange peel, and ended up “shopping” in my friend Karin’s kitchen when it wasn’t in any of my area grocery stores. She had some buried in her freezer from Christmas. I wouldn’t bother hunting so extensively for this ingredient again, as it makes the bread a bit bitter. 

So why was I so desperate to make these? My sister Susan wanted to serve them for her book club babes since hot cross buns were mentioned in their selection this month. But when she looked up a recipe and saw that scary word “yeast” she called to see if I’d make them. Handy to have a food-blogging sister looking for excuses to try new recipes, isn’t it! (But yeast dough really shouldn’t be so scary, people…) I may have accidentally put a cup too much flour in these, because they were the stiffest little buns (insert joke here) I have ever made. I think the baked dough is supposed to be more light and fluffy. I may try them again, because the sweet bread with spices and currants held promise for being a pleasant pastry.

Makes 20-24 buns

4 to 4½ cups all-purpose flour
2½ active dry yeast
¾ teaspoon ground cinnamon
¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg
Dash ground cloves
¾ cup milk
½ cup butter
1/3 cup granulated sugar
½ teaspoon salt
3 eggs (room temperature—and yes you need to do this!)
2/3 cup currants
¼ cup diced candied orange peel (optional)
1 beaten egg white plus 1 tablespoon water

Powdered Sugar Icing

1 cup powdered sugar
1-2 tablespoon milk or orange juice
¼ teaspoon vanilla

In a large mixing bowl, combine 2 cups flour, dry yeast, cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves. In a sauce pan, heat and stir milk, butter, sugar, and salt until butter is almost all melted. Add milk mixture to dry ingredients and stir. Add eggs one at a time, beating on low after each addition. Beat on high for 3 minutes. Add currants, and 1 cup of flour. Add flour in 1/2 cup amounts until dough no longer sticks to sides of bowl.

Turn dough onto lightly floured surface. Knead until moderately soft and elastic, about 3-5 minutes. Shape into a ball and place in greased bowl, turning once to coat. Cover with damp kitchen towel and let rise in warm place until doubled in size, about 1½ hours.

Preheat oven to 375° Fahrenheit. Punch dough down. Turn onto floured surface. Cover with dry kitchen towel and let rest 10 minutes. Divide into 20-24 pieces and shape each into a smooth ball. Place balls on greased baking sheet, a few inches apart. Cover with dry kitchen towel and let rise until nearly doubled, 45-60 minutes.

While dough is rising or baking, make frosting. Combine powdered sugar, 1 tablespoon milk, and vanilla and beat with whisk attachment. Add more milk if needed to make frosting thin enough to drizzle.

Using a sharp (serrated works best!) knife, make crisscross slashes across the top of each bun. In a small bowl, combine egg white and water. Brush across top of each bun. Bake in preheated oven for 12-15 minutes, or until golden brown. Cool slightly. Drizzle frosting into slashes in buns to form a cross. Serve warm, or cool completely and store in airtight container.

Fork, Knife, Spoon Table!

IMG_1193 IMG_1194OK, since all the election ads made it seem shameless self-promotion is not only allowed but encouraged, here I go.

My dear friend Nette gave me this paper runner on a roll after she spotted it at a little shop. She can’t remember WHAT shop, so sorry I can’t share that info with you, but I loved that she found a “fork, knife, spoon” thing and bought it for me! (My sister Judy also jumped on the band wagon, and sent me some mini utensils dangling from earrings, but those were too small to photograph well, so just use your imagination.) 

No recipe to share, just these pics of my table with my blog-themed runner! I paired it with dark gray bandanas from Walmart for napkins. (When I bought these, they were $1.99 a piece…) The napkin rings are pewter tea pots I got from Good Things in White Bear Lake many moons ago. The plates are rimmed in navy with a cream center. Simple, but clean and classic. Enjoy.

Fall Display Pots

FullSizeRenderKale, swiss chard, and Jerusalem cherries make an interesting combo for fall pots—these happen to greet guests at my front door. The summer lime green sweet potato ivy was getting a little leggy, and the coleus had grown gargantuan, so it was time to refresh my entryway buckets with plants that love it cool and crisp. I ripped most of the plants out and put in this grouping, leaving only the green spikey thing (can’t remember what it’s called…) in the middle.

The feathery golden ornamental grass at the back adds a nice texture, something understated needed with everything else being so showy and attention-seeking. In the past, I’ve put in one tall spike or grass, and filled the rest of the bucket with different kinds of kale. But they didn’t have the variety in colors and textures I wanted this year, so I tried something new, proving you can teach an old dog new tricks. (FYI, these plants are all from Bachman’s—the nursery with the most selection close to my home.) While the rainbow Swiss chard IS edible, many signs warned the Jerusalem cherries are NOT. Apparently they’re quite poisonous to pets and kids! So I’m not sure if that will affect the Swiss chard growing in the same soil or not, if we wanted to chop some up for dinner. I know my husband Rich is just dying to try the chard…again, NOT. 

Gingerbread City Under Glass

FullSizeRenderMost gingerbread houses can put you into a sugar coma just by glimpsing the confections, dripping with achingly sweet icing, and loaded with candy canes, gumdrops, and peppermint discs. I’ve made my share of gingerbread structures with my kids—either making the dough from scratch and assembling the houses, or using graham crackers for the house, and getting right to the decorating fun. But the cost for all that candy really adds up! And then it seems like a waste to buy all those tasty treats, and then never actually eat them, right? So when I saw this gingerbread city featured in Better Homes and Garden magazine in December 2013, I was intrigued. No messy, sticky frosting? No bulk candy to buy? I’m in!

While I got my templates from the magazine, there is a simple template for the building dimensions online (to download it, you may be required to sign up for receiving emails from BH&G). The template is just the basic shapes—how you define the buildings will require you to call on your own creative juices. Scoring the windows, doors, and rooftops is what gives the 2-D houses their character, and gives the powdered sugar a place to settle and create the frosty outlines on the buildings. It was the easiest, neatest gingerbread project ever! My college-age son helped me, and we were both pleased with the process as well as the end result. And the gingerbread tasted great, too. 

You will need a 2-gallon glass canister, like the Anchor Hocking one pictured here. (I got mine at Walmart.) And you will need to pour a couple inches of granulated sugar into the bottom of the container to anchor the houses, which seems like a waste of sugar again. Not so, Santa’s little helper! If you keep the lid on your “city,” you can re-use the sugar for baking after the holidays are over. And the added benefit is that the sugar smells heavenly from having had gingerbread nestled in it, and it actually enhances your baked goods. So if you’re done with all your shopping, wrapping, and baking, and are just sitting around twiddling your thumbs until Christmas comes (ha!), take some time to create memories with this gorgeous centerpiece.

Makes about 6 buildings, and extra dough for trees, etc. About 72 servings.

5 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground white pepper
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 cup butter, softened (2 sticks)
1 cup packed dark brown sugar
1/2 cup molasses
1 egg
1/2 cup milk
Powdered sugar for decorating
Granulated sugar for decorating

In a large bowl combine the flour, ginger, baking powder, salt, white pepper, cinnamon, and nutmeg. Set aside.

In a large mixing bowl beat together the butter, brown sugar, and molasses on high speed until light and fluffy. Add egg and beat until smooth. Add half the flour mixture; beat until just combined. Add milk; beat until just combined. Add remaining flour mixture; beat until just combined. Using your hands, knead dough until smooth then divide in half. Wrap each dough half with plastic wrap and chill for 30 minutes.

Preheat oven to 350° Fahrenheit. Roll each dough half on parchment paper into about a 15×10-inch rectangle. Using a sharp knife, score free-form building and rooftop shapes (or use templates) on each sheet of dough without cutting through dough. Using a cookie cutter, cut out trees. Transfer each parchment sheet of dough to a 15×10-inch baking pan. Remove excess dough scraps. Using a straight edge or knife, add brick and window scores without cutting completely through dough.

Bake 10 minutes. Remove from oven. Carefully cut along scored lines of building and roof shapes. Bake 10 minutes more or until firm. Remove from oven. Cook completely on a wire rack. Separate gingerbread pieces.

Sprinkle powdered sugar over cookies and gently rub in. Cover with waxed paper and let stand for 30 minutes or up to 24 hours. Arrange cookies in 2-gallon glass container filled with 2 to 3 inches of granulated sugar to help stabilize cookies.

Chocolate Cherry Christmas Mice

FullSizeRenderThese darling little mice are adorable additions to any Christmas cookie platter, a welcome relief from all the buttery treats. My Mom introduced these into her Christmas baking ritual a couple decades ago, and has made them faithfully every year since. If you decide to make these, just know they are a labor of love—this is a time-intensive food project! But we all feel it’s well worth my mother’s time to make ’em. (Heeheehee) Chocolate cherry mice have become such a fave with certain family members, that Mom made my nephew Gebre his own personal box of critters for Christmas one year. (The kicker is, she doesn’t even like the chocolate-cherry combo!) When my niece Mikaela was really little, she once asked my Mom, “Are you making those rats again for Christmas, Grandma?” Guess this is one case where it’s OK to have rodents in your kitchen.

IMG_1271While this isn’t really a kid-friendly project, you could enlist the help of youngsters to unwrap (and not eat) the Hershey’s kisses you need for the mouse heads. You will need to have all your supplies out and in order to be ready to assemble these. Once done and cooled, they can be frozen, but preferably not stacked. My mother stores her sweet treats in an old (but clean!) film reel canister, the perfect thing for storing these in the freezer. If you didn’t have the advantage my Mom had of working in an AV department and scoring a find like that, look around for other large, flat containers for storage.

Roughly 48 mice

2 bottles (8-ounces) maraschino cherries with stems, rinsed, drained, and dried with paper towels (FOR BODY AND TAIL)
12-ounce bag of Hershey’s kisses, milk chocolate (or dark), unwrapped (FOR HEAD)
7-ounce container of Baker’s dipping milk chocolate (or dark), heated per directions on package*
100 sliced almonds (FOR EARS)
Tube of red gel decorating frosting (FOR EYES)

Have a baking sheet lined with wax paper ready for assembling mice. Holding cherry by stem, dip cherry and part of stem into melted Baker’s chocolate. Hold above container to let excess chocolate drain off cherry for a few seconds. With other hand, hold Hershey’s kiss by point end, flat side up. Lay two almond slice “ears” on top of Hershey’s kiss, and press on to cherry and allow chocolate to pool around “ears” and “head.” Hold Hershey’s kiss “head” onto cherry for a few seconds until it appears it is cooled enough to stay on it’s own. Once all the mice have been assembled, add two beady eyes to each mouse with the gel frosting. Store cooled mice in airtight container. Freeze.

*NOTE: You will need to reheat dipping chocolate occasionally as you work. If it thickens as it cools, do NOT add water to chocolate!!! It will turn into a solid brick. Add a bit of shortening and heat to make it creamy again.

Corrugate Reindeer Craft

IMG_4906Reduce, reuse, and recycle your way into the holidays with this cool corrugate deer project. If you’re handy with an X-acto knife and a ruler, that’s all the skill you need to make this reindeer and freshen up your Christmas decor. Scout around for clean corrugate boxes, and the only cost will be a the 18″ or 20″ diameter wreath his head is nestled in. (Got my wreath at JoAnn’s for $14.99, and this year they are on sale for $5.99!) I found this pattern on Good Housekeeping’s website, in an article on Nordic Noel, published in 2011. My poor deer has traveled from office to home and back again, and he fits in no matter where he hangs his head. Good Housekeeping craft staff used a red Rudolph nose on their version, and drew the eye on with a Sharpie marker. I cut an “X” in the corrugate and used a 1/2″ black shank eye, like those used for making stuffed animals or dolls. I also made mine with a black nose, as a nod to all of the other reindeer (that used to laugh and call him names…and never let poor Rudolph join in any reindeer games). Since the link to this pattern is broken on the Good Housekeeping site, I’ve attached pdf’s of the pattern below. You will want to copy each page on 11″x17″ paper. Happy crafting!

Reindeer Head 1 of 2
Reindeer Head 2 of 2

Paper Bag Leaves

IMG_1070Here’s a way to use up extra paper grocery bags AND decorate for fall at the same time. This might even be considered “up-cycling”—the new trend in the “reduce, reuse, recycle” movement. How hip is that? Since most of us have cupboards or closets brimming over with used paper bags, you’ve got most of the supplies you need for this craft already! You might need to pop out to Michael’s or Jo-Ann’s for the paint and brushes, and maybe for some Aleene’s tacky glue or a hot glue gun as well. But these supplies are pretty cheap, so this isn’t a break-the-bank project, even if you didn’t have everything on hand already. Here’s the supply list:

  • Craft paper bags, preferably with twisted raffia handles
  • Twisted raffia cord in natural, if your bags don’t have raffia handles*
  • Pencil
  • Scissors
  • Sponge paint brush
  • 2-ounce bottles of metallic acrylic craft paint (in fall colors)
  • Fall leaves to trace—maple, oak, birch, aspen
  • Hot glue gun or Aleene’s tacky glue (not pictured)



First step: Take a walk and look for good leaves to use as your patterns. If you want to use these as a grouping on your table, mantle, or whatever surface needs a touch of fall whimsy, try grabbing leaves from a variety of trees. Heck, you could even offer to rake your neighbor’s yard to find some choice specimens!

Once you have your leaves in hand, you’re ready to begin. Cut the paper bag down one side, and cut off bottom. Discard bottom of bag, as the folds and double-thickness make it not usable for this project. (If you think of another use for the bottoms of the bags, please let me know! If I think of a project using bag-bottoms, I’ll be sure to let YOU know.)

IMG_1101Remove handles from bag. (I’ve got a Chipotle bag pictured here, but a lot of places use bags with the twisted raffia cord handles. I suppose this would work with white bags as well as the brown. Would need more paint to cover, probably…) Cut each handle into 4 pieces, for a total of 8. If you’re using purchased twisted raffia, cut pieces 3-4 inches long for leaf stems. (*NOTE: I could not find the twisted raffia cord at Michael’s, Jo-Ann’s, Hobby Lobby, or Walmart, places where I’ve found it in the past. But I did find it online at Set aside.


Trace leaf shapes onto printed side of bag with a pencil. Trace as many as you want! The bag pictured here would yield you about 8 leaves, perfect for the number of leaf stems you get from cutting up the handles. Making a bunch at a time is easy, and then you’ll have more to work with when decorating later on.



Next, tear out the leaves along the pencil line. This works best if you use both hands, and keep your thumbs and index fingers tight to the pencil line—that way you will be able to control the tear best, and keep your leaf shape in tact. The leaves look the most natural if you squiggle as you tear. So don’t aim for perfection.


Glue your stem to the printed side of the leaf, which will be the back side. If you use a hot glue gun to adhere, you can continue on with the project right away, perfect for the impatient crafter. If you use Aleene’s tacky glue, let stems dry for 30-60 minutes before continuing. Aleene’s tacky glue is MUCH preferred over Elmer’s school glue, which takes forever to dry, and makes paper soggy.

FullSizeRender-2Here comes the fun part. Fold your leaf along where the main veins of a leaf would be, and then crumple it. Doesn’t that make it look like a real leaf? Well, you’re getting there. Some paint will help…




Paint front side of leaf with metallic acrylic craft paint, let dry a bit, and then flip and paint back side and stem. Once dry, flip and give front a second coat, if needed. I’m using purple paint in this tutorial so it shows up against the craft paper, but for my leaf grouping, I used gold, bronze, copper, rust, burgundy, and dark green. (See final picture.)


Once, your leaves are dry, you will need to crease at veins and crumple again.

Place all your leaves in a grouping in your fall display, and enjoy! And when it’s time to put these away and pull out the Christmas decorations, throw these in a Ziplock bag or a box, and they will be ready for service next fall. I’ve had the leaves you see (pictured last) for about 15 years now. I came up with this project when we needed a cheap fall craft for kids ages 6-12 at my kid’s school one year, and it was a hit. But there’s no reason to let the elementary crowd have all the fun! Make your own batch and enjoy fall colors indefinitely.

Guinea Pigs with Houses

IMG_0906Anyone have a kid beg them for a pet, and promise, promise, PROMISE they will take care of it all by themselves? Have them make their own pet guinea pig, and no one has to remember to feed and water, clean a cage, or pick up poop! This project has been a hit with both boys and girls, ages 4-12. The beauty of it is that you can whip it up with the kids in about an hour, or you can hand older kids a pile of construction paper and recycled materials and let their imaginations run wild as they build a little habitat for their hamster. (I can’t decide which rodent this creature resembles more…guinea pig or hamster?)

I came up with this project to help a group of 20 elementary kids aged 5-12 celebrate Earth Day. We had gathered toilet paper and wrapping paper tubes, berry crates, egg cartons, shoe boxes, and anything else we could think of to create an environment for their furry little friends. The guys tended to concentrate on crazy structures, while the girls often decorated the dens with stickers, markers, and glitter glue. But they ALL raved about how much fun they had doing this, and each student left the room with their new pet named and housed.

You can find the supplies to make these at Jo-Ann’s or Michael’s. I could not find pom poms at Walmart this summer when I went hunting for supplies to lead a kid’s project at a family reunion. Jo-Ann’s had variety packs with gray, white, tan, black, and brown pom pom’s in various sizes, which was fairly cheap. Michael’s had the packs sold in color and size groupings, so then you can buy exactly what you need for this. Aleene’s tacky glue is your secret weapon for this project! Do not attempt it with Elmer’s—you need the tacky glue to get fibers to stick together. Save the Elmer’s for back-to-school bags.


1½-inch pom pom (head)
2-inch pom pom (body)
½-inch pom pom (tail)
Mini pom pom (nose)
2 small black pony beads (eyes)
1 sheet pink or tan felt
Aleene’s tacky glue

Shoe box for house, jewelry box for bed, egg cartons for food dishes, construction paper, etc. Use whatever materials—recycled or otherwise—that would make a happy “home” for your new pet!

Cut a disk with little feet sticking out of it from the felt, and 2 tiny triangles for ears. Set aside. Working on a paper plate (to keep glue from your tables and counters), fluff up the 2-inch ball and the 1½-inch ball, and separate each one to get a sort of flat place to glue the two pom poms together. Use about a quarter-size glob of Aleene’s tacky glue, and set on plate to dry. (Convince your charges not to touch this while it dries for 10-15 minutes! Or else you have to keep starting all over again and will have more glue than pom pom, and a big, sticky mess.) Glue on ½-inch ball for tail.

Using toothpick, separate fibers on a head pom pom, back near the neck of the critter, and dip bottom edge of triangle pieces in Aleene’s tacky glue, and place ears in crevasse. (If you fold the triangle in half before placing in pom pom, it will look more like an ear.) Use toothpick to fluff some fur around and into the center of the ear. Use the toothpick again to dig out a spot in the pom pom for the eyes. Pick up a small pony bead with the toothpick and dip in glue. Place eye on pom pom, trying to get eyes towards side of head, as that’s where real guinea pig and hamster eyes are. Add mini nose pom pom with glue. Glue felt feet disk on bottom of 2-inch pom pom, towards head pom pom, but not onto head pom pom. Let critter dry while kids build out house.




Hardware Choker

IMG_0945This choker is another boredom-buster for the men in your life. Little men, that is… My sister Judy is teaching summer school to a bunch of 8-year-old boys. Since her elementary ed training is in music and special ed, she asked me for some craft ideas for Fridays as a reward for the poor little guys having to suffer through school in the summer. (Having raised 3 boys, I’ve got a few guy-friendly project ideas in my arsenal, and am having fun digging through files and tripping down memory lane.) Last week the fellas had a blast making Slime, and this week they’ll be doing these cool hardware chokers. I’ll post 2 more projects in the weeks to come.

You may already have the supplies to make these on hand, and if not, you’ll find most of what you need at Walmart and your hardware store for a couple bucks. (I had to hit Jo-Ann’s as well for the lanyard hooks. They didn’t have them at the Walmart near me.) These are just suggestions to get you started—you may have other choker-worthy supplies in your tool chest. The nice thing is, you can do this without firing up the glue gun, or messing with paint. And your little dude will be sportin’ a new accessory come time for school in the fall.


Suggested supplies

3/8″-16 zinc plated hex nuts (stainless steel are nicer, but more expensive)
1/4″-20 zinc plated hex nuts
1/8″ x 3/4″ zinc plated washers
Lanyard hook
Jump ring
2 pony beads (not pictured in supply photo)
30 inches of Leather lacing

Have kids lay nuts, washers, etc. out in a pattern. Symmetrical patterns will look best in the finished choker, with biggest pieces in the center. String the main middle pieces onto leather lacing and move to center. Tie knots on either side of grouping to hold in place. Leave a little space and tie knots on either side of main section. String more nuts and washers on either side, and tie knots to hold in place. String a pony bead through each of end of choker, and then string a lanyard hook through on one side, and a jump ring through on the other side. Double back with the leather lacing, pushing the ends through pony beads to secure the clasps that have been created with lanyard, jump ring, and pony beads. Adjust lacing as needed so choker is correct length. (You can add a drop of hot glue or Aleene’s Tacky glue to the leather under the pony bead for extra secure finishing.) Cut off excess leather lacing. Choker is ready for wearing!




FullSizeRenderAnyone heard “I’m boooooorrrrr-ed!” from a kid this summer? Here’s an activity that’ll keep kids occupied for hours on end. You can buy Gak (Nickelodeon’s name for it) at Toys “R” Us, but making your own Slime or goop—or whatever you want to call it—is way more fun. What magic powder turns simple glue into goo? Borax. It hooks the glue’s molecules together, making it into a polymer instead of a liquid. (Actually, according to my Physics/Chemistry major son, it is now a non-Newtonian fluid.)

Kid’s of all ages (like smarty-pants college-age Mitch—those aren’t pre-school arms pictured above…) love the tactile sensation of Slime, and you may have trouble prying it away from adults to let the kids have at it. Just be warned that Slime and fabric are disastrous together, so keep it clear of your favorite tablecloth, jeans, barbie outfits, etc. It should be played with on a hard surface, with plastic or wood utensils or toys. And that’s the end of my disclaimer, so don’t come crying to me when you’ve got Slime stuck in your sleeping bags. (Been there, done that.)

Aside from pulling out this science experiment for bored kids in the summer, I also used to keep an “I’m Bored Jar” on the kitchen counter. Whenever my offspring uttered that dreaded phrase, they had to pick a piece of paper from the jar. They might get a fun activity like making Play-Doh or a marshmallow gun, or they might get a chore like picking up Legos or cleaning mirrors. After vacuuming Mom’s van (kidding…sort of), they learned to entertain themselves.

Makes 1 cup

4 or 7.62 ounce bottle of Elmer’s school glue
(Size of bottle doesn’t make a difference in outcome, but little kids will have an easier time managing the Slime made with 4 ounce bottle.)
2 cups distilled water, divided
10 + drops of food coloring
1 teaspoon Borax powder

1. Pour glue into small bowl. Fill the empty glue bottle with distilled water, leaving a little extra room at top. Add food coloring. (To get a lime green, add yellow food coloring to your water first, plus a few drops of green.) Put cap back on bottle and shake vigorously.

2. Pour colored water into bowl with glue and stir with wooden spoon.

3. In separate bowl, combine 1 cup distilled water and the Borax.

4. Slowly pour the colored glue into the Borax water and slowly stir. You will see globs and strings begin to form. Lift the globs out of the bowl with your hands and knead out water until smooth. Add extra strings of glue as you can, and combine.

5. Store in Ziplock back or plastic container with tight-fitting lid.