Negative Hot Cross Buns in the Bread Machine

Negative Hot Cross Buns

No, not negative in a bad way.  Rather, it’s like a photographic negative in that the icing on top of the buns is carved away to reveal the cross on top, rather than the cross piped on top of the plain bun. In our house, we are unrelenting sweet-tooths (sweet-teeth?).  The amount of icing on a hot-cross bun has always been a bit disappointing.  I came up with a way to up the frosting ante, if you will. After all, Lent is over in the morning.  S0 I frosted the bun, then carefully scraped away a little frosting to make the shape of a cross.  Religious homage, lots of icing–everybody’s happy!

I read that hot-cross buns were originally served on  Good Friday to pilgrims who had to travel a long distance to get to their Easter place of  worship.  They were a little snack to tide the pilgrims over until the next meal on their trek, and the little cross on top (which I would guess was carved into the bread before baking, rather than made of sugar and vanilla) added to the importance of the day.

The following recipe started in the new New York Times Cookbook, but I changed it quite a bit–I didn’t need 24 buns,  I didn’t have currants, nor did I have a lot of time,  but I did have a bread machine and some sultanas I could soak in brandy, so here’s what I came up with.  (And by the way, if you haven’t made the buns yet and breakfast is already over, I certainly see no reason why you shouldn’t have them for dessert after lunch. )

Ready to rise

Hot Cross Buns                             

Nude buns fresh out of the oven

makes 8

1/4 cup sultanas (golden raisins)

2 Tbl. brandy

1/2 cup whole milk

1 1/2 tsp. butter, softened

1 1/2 Tbl. water

1/4 cup sugar

1/4 tsp. salt

1 egg, beaten

1 3/4 cups flour

1/8 tsp. cinnamon

1/8 tsp. nutmeg

1/2 tsp. yeast

Place the sultanas in a small bowl with the brandy. Let sit for 30 minutes then drain.  In a small saucepan, scald the milk. Add the butter, water, sugar, and salt.  Let cool to lukewarm.  (My bread machine has me add the liquid ingredients first, then the dry, with the yeast last–you do it how yours tells you to.  Also, my bread machine pulverizes the raisins into tiny bits, which works for us because there is an anti-raisin group in my home. But if you want whole raisins, knead them in after the dough comes out of the machine.) Pour milk mixture into the bread machine pan.  Add the beaten egg.  Add the flour, sultanas, cinnamon, nutmeg, and yeast.  Switch machine to “dough” setting.  When complete, remove dough (it will be wet) to floured board and knead a few times until smooth, adding a little flour if needed to make a workable dough.  Divide dough into eight pieces, forming each piece into a tight, round ball.  Place on a lightly greased (or use a Silpat) baking sheet and let rise about 30 minutes.  Bake at 350 degrees for 20 minutes.

While buns bake, mix 3/4 cup powdered sugar, a dash of vanilla, and enough half-and-half or milk to make a smooth icing. Ice the cooled buns as desired (regular or negative).


Turn-Down Service

I miss my little children.  I love my teenagers very much, of course.  But I miss being able to take care of them like I did when they were little:  pulling them onto my lap and smothering them with kisses, being the recipient of energetic, spontaneous hugs and kissing the top of their heads (I still get hugs, but now I can’t even see the top of their heads), tucking them snugly into bed and knowing I could keep them safe from just about anything bad.  Now, of course, things have changed, which is what has to happen and what should happen.  They are almost adults.  They come say goodnight to me when I’m in bed, and then go off to their rooms for (occasionally) a little more homework or (usually) a little more texting.

But when they go out at night, I provide turn-down service.  It’s a nice way to remind them that I still want them to be comfy and cozy, and that home is still a refuge from the rest of the world.  Bed is one of my favorite places, and, if I do say so myself, I excel at making a deliciously comfy bed (which is both blessing and curse–makes it hard to get out of in the morning).  First of all, I make the bed (if it isn’t already–I only make their beds on school days) so that the sheets are smooth and tucked in properly.  Then I get to pretend I work at Bed Bath & Beyond (which I’m guessing probably isn’t quite as fun as you’d think…), and I plump up their pillows and turn back a corner of the sheet and the quilt to make the bed look as inviting as possible.  Finally, I turn on the bedside lamp (that has, naturally, an incandescent lightbulb), rather than the overhead light, which makes the room seem even cozier and nest-like.  They can fall into bed, reach over to turn off the lamp, and let their cares and worries wait until the morning.

I think it’s pretty hard being a teenager these days, probably a lot harder than when I was one. Providing turn-down service to my fast-growing children (who really aren’t children at all anymore) may seem a bit silly, but it’s a nice little treat for them to come home to, and it makes me feel a whole lot better.

The Olive Project

The crop

The harvest

It’s kind of like the Manhattan Project, only different.  Although, if I made them into martini olives then it could be the Martini Project, because I much prefer martinis to manhattans.  But I digress.

I feel like Martha Stewart Ingalls Wilder.  That is, I’m “putting food by,” but the food in question is olives, hence the Martha Stewart vibe.  And the olives in question are home grown, so you see where I’m coming from.  On February 13, I picked a couple of jars worth of olives from our tree.  I don’t know what kind they are–if they end up tasting good I’ll look into it.

I found directions in Hobby Farm Home Magazine on how to cure olives in water.  There is a way to cure olives in lye, but that seemed outside my skill set.  Lye-curing involves protective clothing and the possibility of severe injury if not done correctly.  Didn’t seem fun.  So anyway, the directions said to put the olives in ordinary water to cover, seal them in a jar, and then rinse the olives and change the water every day for 40 days (it’s all very biblical, isn’t it–olives, 40 days, washing in water…).  So I did that.  On March 20, just about 40 days later, I tasted the olives.  They were incredibly bitter still and, basically, nasty.  So back in the water they went.

The process of soaking is interesting.  The black color leaches out of the olives with every water change, and they become more and more purpley-mauve in color.  Also, right at the beginning, the olives must let off some sort of gas, because every day when I’d open the jar to change the water, they would fizz and sizzle like they were carbonated, to the point where you could see the little bubbles in the air, like a freshly poured class of 7-up.   Each day the fizzing would grow a bit less pronounced, until they pretty much stopped fizzing altogether.  Day 38 shows the beautiful color of the semi-cured olives.

Day 38

Around this time, however, disaster struck.  Well, that’s a bit strong.  Let’s say a nuisance occurred.  I lost the directions!  And Hobby Farm Home didn’t have them on their website!  I knew I had to do something with oil and salt at this point, but what?  After poking around a bit online, I found the University of California Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources Publication 8267, which tells how to water-cure both Kalamata style olives (black) and Mediterranean-style (green).  Since I’d already started, I went with Kalamata-style. Unfortunately, my original directions didn’t mention cracking or slitting the olives, presumably to help the pits leach out the bitterness, which is apparently quite important.  Oh well, next time.

On March 26, I put them in a mixture of brine (made with pickling salt), red wine vinegar, and olive oil, where they were to rest in a cool, dark place for a month.  They sat in my pantry until today,  April 18.  Now I know it’s six days short of a month, but I am impatient.  I had to try them!  Well, I am very pleasantly surprised.  There is still a little bitterness, but it is very minimal, and I’m sure over the next week or two that residual bitterness will dissipate.  There I was, at 7:30 this morning, eating olives (and believe me, I’m not a pizza-for-breakfast kind of gal)!  But I’m pretty proud of myself.  They’ll keep in the fridge for up to a year.  I only did two jars this year in case they weren’t worth the trouble.  But it really wasn’t much trouble, and it was a fun little project.

I now have two jars of quite official looking olives in my fridge, rubbing shoulders with the pepperoncini and the Tapatio, just as if they were store-bought!  So if you get a jar of olives from me for Christmas, act surprised.


The Costco Conundrum

Entrance of a typical Costco warehouse club.

Image via Wikipedia

In the checkout line in Costco in Vacaville today, I was looking around to see what was in other people’s baskets (because I am nosy).  But what I noticed was kind of surprising .  There were $10 packages of biscotti, boxes of fresh ravioli, giant bottles of Maker’s Mark (well now, hang on a minute–that certainly isn’t a luxury item…), $200 coffee makers (the kind that uses the little pods of coffee, which seems like it would be an expensive way to go)….  And it wasn’t in just a few carts–it seemed like everybody’s cart looked like that.

Then as I left Costco, there was a man begging on the corner of the Costco driveway.  He certainly didn’t look underfed, and I think he seemed clean, so he wasn’t homeless.  But he held a sign that said he’d lost his job, had a family, and he needed help.  So which is it?  Recession or not?

We’ve been used to living high on the hog for a long time.  That is, until 2008.  Then we all got religion and started cutting back and buying lots of potatoes as the value of our houses plummeted.  But housing prices certainly haven’t rebounded in our neck of the woods, and unemployment is as troubling as it has ever been.  I think what I witnessed today is evidence that we’re bored with being poor!  I’m not sure we’ve got the sticking power to stay with austerity measures much longer.  We’ve medicated ourselves for so long with buying stuff, that we miss that high.  Shopping’s fun (no, I’m serious.  It is.)!

How did people who lived through the Depression do it?  I mean, that thing went on for, what, 10 or more years?  Maybe it’s because there wasn’t the plethora of cheap goods available that there is now, so there wasn’t so much to choose from, so much available to buy.  I don’t know.  But I know that those people who grew up in the Depression spent their whole lives pinching a penny until it squeaked, because they’d seen what could happen if you used up all your money.

Believe me, I am as big a fan of consumption as the next person.  And I’m so tired of worrying about money.  When we have a good money month at my house, and it feels almost like old times, I struggle not to overspend, at, say, Costco.  But I think we’ve got to keep the financial reins pulled tight, because now, we too have seen what can happen if you use up all your money.

Gorgeous Vacaville in Spring (plus dessert!)

Who would think a place that is so hot, so dusty, so golden and brown in summer, could be so lovely, so fresh, and so green come spring?  When we first came to Vacaville, over 20 years ago, we didn’t seem to have the four distinct seasons we have now.  Spring has become as lovely, though in a different way, as autumn.  I don’t remember there being such a clear-cut spring.  I think there used to be sort of a dulling of the winter chill that lasted a few weeks at most, and then the blast of summer was upon us.  The last few years we seem to have had an actual spring, with daytime temperatures in the 70s, nights cooling off nicely to the 50s–it’s lovely.  Above you see a beautiful California oak just beginning to bud, a redbud in full glory, and the myriad shades of green in the hills.  Below see the pretty little blossom of an almond tree, a part of Vacaville’s ranching heritage.  It’s an awfully nice place to live.

For me, spring always has to include something made with a strawberry and rhubarb combo.  Some years I make a pie, but making piecrust isn’t my very most favorite kitchen task, and I just didn’t feel like it.  This year, a Strawberry Rhubarb Crumble sounded like just the ticket.  This recipe is out of Bon Appetit magazine, I think the February or March 2011 issue (I cut out so many recipes,  sometimes I’m not quite  sure from whence they come).  I tried this for the first time because I had been given some vanilla beans, and I wanted to use them.  I made a few minor changes to the original recipe, so I’ll type it the way I made it.  Even the anti-fresh fruit and vegetable contingency in my family enjoyed this dessert.

Strawberry and Rhubarb Crumble

3/4 cup all purpose flour

2/3 cup plus 1/2 cup sugar

Large pinch salt

6 Tbl.  (3/4 stick) chilled butter, cut into 1/2″ cubes

1/2 cup old-fashioned oats

1/2 cup toasted walnuts, coarsely chopped

1 whole vanilla bean, split lengthwise

1 pound strawberries, hulled and halved (or quartered if they are huge), about 4 cups

12 oz. rhubarb, preferably bright red, ends trimmed, stalks cut crosswise into 1/2″ thick pieces

Vanilla ice cream

Combine flour, 2/3 cup sugar, and salt in bowl of food processor. Pulse once to blend.  Add butter.  Pulse once or twice more, just so mixture clumps together and is kind of lumpy.  Pour into a bowl.  Stir in the oats and the chopped walnuts.  Place bowl in refrigerator.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.  Grease with butter or spray with Pam an 11 x 7 x 2-inch glass baking dish.  Place remaining 1/2 cup of sugar in a large bowl.  Using the tip of a sharp knife, scrape in the seeds from the vanilla bean; whisk to blend well.  Add strawberries and rhubarb to sugar in bowl and toss to coat well.  Scrape fruit filling into prepared baking dish.  Sprinkle the slightly chilled oat topping evenly over filling.  (If your baking pan looks close to overflowing, put it on a thin cookie sheet to bake.)

Bake crumble until filling bubbles thickly and topping is crisp, about 45 minutes.  Let cool 15 minutes.  Spoon warm crumble into bowls, and plop a nice little scoop of the vanilla ice cream into the bowl, too.  Very tasty.  Serves 6.

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