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.

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.





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.

Wheatgrass Pots

IMG_0800“Grass” and “pot” in one blog title—I’m just asking for some serious ribbing from my offspring with this post. But the teasing will be worth it, cause I love these charming little winter wheatgrass table toppers. The first image shows grass seeds that were grown indoors for 2 weeks, and have been trimmed once to even out the wheatgrass growth. Before I show other photos, let me give you instructions for growing these. It’s not hard, but you have to plan ahead a couple weeks if you want these on your table for a specific event. Some people love to have wheatgrass on hand to throw in smoothies, or to juice and drink just plain. My reason for growing it was for the pop of bright green on the table, and not for nutritional benefits. I don’t think my husband would tolerate me putting grass in his food. If he knew, that is.

For wheatgrass pots

Terra cotta pots
(I used 5″ azalea or orchid pots, which are more squat than other pots, and give more surface area for growing grass.)
Terra cotta saucers to fit pots
Potting soil (with peat moss and vermiculite, etc.)
Winter wheatgrass seeds
Large clear plastic bags
Twist ties

Loosely cover hole in bottom of terra cotta pot with a stone or shard of broken pot. This will keep the dirt from leaking out when watering the pots. Add dirt to pot to about 1-inch from top. Sprinkle generous amount of seeds onto dirt, covering 75-85% of surface. You do not want area completely covered with seeds or they will choke each other out. But a decent amount of seed is needed, or the grown grass will be sparse. Top the seeds with a sprinkling of dirt, just enough to cover the seeds, about 1/4-inch.

IMG_0734Water the pots and let them drain in the sink for a bit. Put pots on saucers, then fit clear plastic bag over top of pot and saucer, fill with air, and secure bag with twist tie. Make sure bag is loose to allow for sprouting of grass. Place in sunny spot. Bag will create a mini-terrarium, and these will not need water until the grass is a few inches long, about 7-10 days.

Condensation will form on the top of the plastic, as you can see in the photo. (You can’t really see it, but the grass seed has sprouted and is almost ready to be uncovered.) Once most of the wheatgrass has sprouted and is about 3-inches tall, you can uncover the pots and leave them in a sunny spot to continue filling out. At about 14 days you will probably want to trim the grass evenly. This is the point the pots should be ready for displaying on your table or counter top. Water the pots every couple of days, when the dirt feels dry on top. The grass tends to start dying off about 4 weeks after seeds were started, probably because it gets root-bound in small containers.

Once your grass is grown, you can jazz these up a bit. The first time I grew wheatgrass was for my son’s wedding. We grew a couple dozen 8.5″ pots of grass indoors, and used them on the tables at his summer wedding reception. My daughter-in-law hand-lettered numbers onto cute little signs to stick in each pot, but I don’t seem to have a picture of the finished product. (In know, I know…bad mother-in-law!) Oh, they were darling! And they fit our frugal-wedding budget—roughly $5 per centerpiece.

Then I grew these one spring when my youngest son was drumming up clients for his lawn mowing business. I made signs that said, “Mitchell won’t KEEP OFF THE GRASS. He’s ready to mow your lawn for you…” with his contact information at bottom. I cut out the signs and glued them to corrugate (one of my favorite crafting materials), and stuck a bamboo skewer in the signs. (You have to be sure the channels for the corrugate are running straight up and down on the signs in order for the skewer system to work, so double-check corrugate direction before gluing the signs down. Learned that the hard way.) We brought these to his current clients, and those who had expressed interest in his services. I’m sure these—as well as his magnetic personality—helped secure a couple extra clients that year.

The versatility of the sign-on-a-stick is shown in other pictures. There’s an example of a birthday party centerpiece using the three little pots, breaking up “birth” and “day,” because after all, you are celebrating the day of one’s birth, right? You could also do a sign with a poetic saying like the Maya Angelou quote here, “Try to be a rainbow in someone’s cloud.” I personally couldn’t get away with this. There’s too much testosterone around my table for me to indulge in feminine whimsy. But go ahead and try an idea like this in YOUR home!




Flower Power

tissue flowers IMG_0115Cheap can be chic. Trust me—I’ve done dozens of table tops on “we have no budget,” and sometimes the lack of funds forces creativity where a big budget wouldn’t have. Here’s an example of some items I’ve mixed and matched for use on several different occasions, and they might spur you on to other ingenious ideas. To start with, the photo at right shows a tissue paper flower centerpiece made with materials I had on hand. Supplies needed and how-to details below.

IMG_0703Let’s start with the base to this theme. I purchased 1 1/4 yards each of the red and white geometric print, and the mini-floral teal print. I quartered the yardage to make four napkins of each print, then rolled the edges and hemmed them. I also bought 1 1/3 yards of daisies with bright-colored centers on a teal background. This piece I left whole, just trimming the yardage as necessary to create a perfect square, then rolled and hemmed the edges. (These fabrics were all found at Jo-Ann’s—during a sale, of course.) This square can go over a solid white tablecloth, or a mini-checked lime gingham, or just about anything that coordinates. It was much cheaper than buying a full-size tablecloth, and adds a pop of color when laid diagonally on a round or rectangular table. (Unfortunately, a couple napkins fell into bleach in my laundry room sink, so they’re ombré now—white on the edges, gradually moving into teal floral. But ombré is super hot now, right? Ugh.) The plates pictured here are Fiesta—turquoise (purchased recently) and cinnabar (a discontinued color bought several years ago).

The other element to this decor scheme, was a vase of tissue paper flowers (pictured above and below). I made these using tissue paper I keep on hand for stuffing gift bags. With no money allotted for centerpieces for a ladies tea event at church, I cut organic shapes from tissue, and scrunched and taped the pieces with floral tape onto green floral wire. I started with a fringe of tissue for the “poppies,” then added overlapping petals, pleating at the base of each petal, and rolling them onto the stems with the floral tape. Then I wrapped the stems in floral tape to give them some heft. The pom-pom flowers were just large fringe pieces cut and twirled onto the floral wire stems. You could also do this by pleating the tissue like shown on this HGTV video of “how to make a tissue pom pom“. The leaves are just two leaf shapes cut from tissue, with the floral wire running down the center between the two pieces. I glued these together with one of my son’s left over glue sticks (which fortunately hadn’t dried out yet). The wire helps to be able to shape the leaf when putting it in an arrangement. I tried to do other types of flowers, too, but these were the only ones fit for public viewing. My attempts at daffodils and tulips were pathetic.

flowers and banner IMG_0202I added some orange “poppies” to the mix for a summer bridal shower, and used the square daisy print on the table top again (not visible in this image). Cut from simple construction paper, the ubiquitous pendant banner pieces were tied together with twine. Hand-lettering is not my forte, so I ran off the letters needed in black, 220+ point type on my home printer, cut out the letters with an X-Acto, and glued them on the triangles with the aforementioned glue stick.

Then I think I used these flowers and the table topper again for my Dad’s 80th birthday party. OK, now I’m starting to sound just plain miserly… (But no worries. Dad took no offense to the pre-used adornments—he wouldn’t notice “decor” if it bit him in the behind.*) At any rate, if you happen to stumble across a versatile decorating scheme like this one, don’t be afraid to re-use elements of it, mixing and matching to suite your celebration.

*For those of you concerned I’m sounding disrespectful to my father, be assured I say this with the utmost love. I 100% guarantee he said “Get outta here,” with a big grin on his face when he read this.

Mini Herb Garden Pots

Herb Pots IMG_0697Fresh summer meals require fresh summer herbs, and if you’ve got a patch of sunshine, you can grow a pot of herbs. No need to own your own acreage—even apartment-dwellers can do this with a little bit of deck and a place to put a pot. I’ve been growing pots like these for years, and if you combine the herbs in an artful fashion, they can be decorative as well as utilitarian. The pot pictured here has (from left counter-clockwise) rosemary, thyme, sage, oregano, purple basil, and chives, with sweet basil in the center. I also plant a pot with just spearmint. In the summer, we go through mint like Kleenex, as I’ve got a recipe for mint ice tea that is absolutely to die for—posting to come! (FYI—we don’t use those two items interchangeably…)

Summer table IMG_0345NOTE: If you are going to plant a pot of mint, make sure you grab spearmint instead of peppermint, unless you want your culinary efforts to have a Pepto Bismol after taste. (Been there, done that.) Mint is a perennial if planted in ground, but it tends to take over a garden. One trick for outsmarting the all-consuming plant is to plant it in the ground inside an old cracked plastic pot. It keeps it somewhat contained, and if the roots are protected underground through winter, it comes up year after year. (More info below on the table setting at right.)

Back to the mixed herb pots. I try to do a variety of leaf shapes and sizes, and a mix of bright greens, dark greens, and purples. Mixing heights adds interest to your containers too. Last year, I was super lazy and didn’t pull the dead herbs out of their pots in the fall, and surprise, surprise, the chives actually came in again! Who knew there was an upside to lazy?

Herb Centerpieces IMG_0346Once your pots start growing like crazy, you can put together some sweet little centerpieces like these. The bright, clean labels on these 28-ounce Red Gold ® diced tomatoes really caught my eye. So after I used the tomatoes in a recipe, I rinsed and saved three cans for table decor. (Hey, reduce, reuse, recycle, right?) Then I cut squares of wet floral foam slightly larger than the cans, and soaked them in water about an hour. To do this at home, wedge the soaked floral foam into the cans (yes, you are putting a square peg in a round hole), then poke cuttings from your herb garden into the wet block. They will last a week or more, and make nice, low-profile centerpieces. No playing hide-and-seek with guests at the table around a gargantuan arrangement. An added bonus is that the fresh cut herbs smell awesome!

IMG_0701The super simple napkin rings (shown here and above on the table setting) are made from stringing wooden beads onto suede leather lacing, and then looping one end back through the first bead to secure. My daughter-in-law strung these one Thanksgiving (thanks, Jessica!), and they were great with our warm, neutral palette for fall. They also work with bright, summery colors like those pictured here. I’m a sucker for the affordable IKEA napkins, which are 50 for $1.99. The color choices are always fun, and keeping these napkins on hand helps to be ready for impromptu guests.

Springtime Table

“Spring is sprung, the grass is riz, I wonder where the birdies is…”

SpringTableBirdsIf you’re looking for a touch of springtime on your table, here’s an idea for a little inspiration. If I hadn’t already eaten all the Cadbury Milk Chocolate bird eggs (I got addicted to this Easter), I’d recreate the look to get a close-up shot of some of the fun details. But alas, those delicious little morsels are long gone. The sweet mini-nests and life-like birds came from a craft store, probably Michael’s or maybe even Frank’s (remember Frank’s?)—I’ve had them a long time, but love the touch of whimsy they add to a table setting.

Three yards of buffalo check upholstery fabric in taupe from JoAnn’s make up the tablecloth (purchased during 50% off sale, of course). Neutral napkins in sand from Pier One are super versatile for any theme, but work well with the soft palette here. Candy bracelets from Walmart (in store as well as online) make inexpensive napkin rings. Pint-sized Ball ® jars are used for drinking glasses, with gray stripe straws for sipping. Burlap is hot in home decor, so you can find that pretty much anywhere. I got a couple yards from JoAnn’s, and cut a strip off for a runner, then pulled some strands off each edge to finish it up—no sewing needed!

So now that I’ve got you thinking spring, let me share the rest of the poem started above. My Dad used to recite this to me and my sisters when we were little girls:

“Spring is sprung, the grass is riz, I wonder where the birdies is. They fly so high, so high, so high, and they drop white-wash in my eye. But I don’t worry, I don’t cry. I’m just glad that cows don’t fly.”