Cinnamon Swirl Buns (with Icing!)

Happy Easter Everyone!

Holidays are natural excuses for dolling up and doling out the big guns, and when I say big guns, I mean plump pies with crimped crusts, cookies that look like they were decorated by a 4-star pastry chef and well, just about any sugary-sweet and perfectly-baked goodie that makes the whole family gasp, "WOW!"

Ron and I (because that is the extent of our "family") don't have the kind of expendable income for florescent-dyed baskets brimming with sugar-coated marshmallows and chocolate bunnies. I don't think we would go for that even if we did. But we still have a sweet tooth. I wish I had created a more au-natural Easter basket for the two of us filled with fair trade chocolate, fresh fruit, trail mix, shredded paper for the grass and some Cadbury eggs for good measure (There really is something addictive about all that candy we enjoyed as children, isn't there?), but I let the busy week get the better of me and instead of waking up to sucrose, fructose and glucose, we woke up to a barren kitchen bereft of bunny trails and all of the above. In fact, I didn't even dye eggs with onion peels like last year (see below). Shame on me!

Our Stradone family brunch wasn't until 1 p.m. We were up at 8:15. Five hours is just a bit too long to be without sustenance for us; low blood sugar sure makes us grumpy. So to counteract the potential for a sucrose dive or mid-day migraines (or more likely a bickering fight), Ron pulled out his go-to baking cookbook for ideas and inspiration, the Home Bakebook of Natural Breads & Goodies (circa 1972). And so the spontaneous Easter Cinnamon Swirl Bun was born. They are super light and fluffy, sweet and sticky. You'll want to hang by the kitchen for the oh-so-sweet smell, too.

Ingredients (yields 15 buns)

Basic Roll Recipe
  • 1 Tablespoon dry yeast
  • 1 1/2 cups warm water
  • 3 Tablespoons raw sugar
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 Tablespoons butter
  • 1 egg
  • 2 cups whole wheat flour
  • 2 cups white flour
Cinnamon Bun Extras
  • 1/2 Cup of butter, melted, divided in half
  • 1/2 Cup raw sugar
  • 1 Tablespoon ground cinnamon 
  • 2 Cups of powdered sugar, sifted
  • 2 Tablespoons of butter, melted
  • 1 Teaspoon of vanilla extract
  • 2-4 Tablespoons of heavy cream (you can substitute milk or water)

Generously grease a 9"x13" rectangular baking dish. Prepare the roll recipe first. In a large bowl, sprinkle the yeast over the water and let dissolve (about 5 minutes). Stir in sugar, salt, butter and egg. Slowly stir in the flour until the dough pulls away from the side of the bowl.

Dump the dough onto a floured surface and knead until good and elastic, about 5-7 minutes, adding sifted flour to prevent sticking. Make a dough ball and flatten, then roll out to an approximate 9" x 18" rectangle, about 1/4"-1/2" thick. Brush on 1/4 cup of the melted butter. In a small bowl, mix the sugar and cinnamon, then sprinkle atop the butter. Carefully fold in one long edge of the dough towards you and continue to roll until you have one long log. Using a sharp serrated knife, carefully cut off the uneven ends and discard. Make 15 equal-width rolls by making 14 cuts spaced evenly apart. (Each cut should be about 1" apart.)


Place buns equal-distant apart from each other, spiral side up, in the greased baking dish.
Cover and let rise in a warm location until doubled in size. Preheat the oven to 350˚.

Meanwhile, prepare the icing (!!!).  In a medium mixing bowl, whisk the sugar, butter and vanilla. Slowly whisk in the cream until your desired consistency is reached. (If you want it thicker, add less; thinner, add more.)

Once buns have doubled in size. Brush on the remaining 1/4 cup of melted butter. Pop in the preheated oven and bake for 25-30 minutes or until golden brown. Let cool for 5 minutes and then spread on icing.

Divide and devour!

Why not try something new and break out of the boring (yet oh-so-consistently-yummy) cinnamon bun rut. Next time we're gonna try adding chocolate chips to the cinnamon-sugar swirls. (It would be like a chocolate croissant, only better!) Ron recommended using orange blossom water and orange zest for the icing. You could also add your own mix of nuts, dried fruit or jam to the swirls. Almond slivers and raisins? Pistachios and dates? Go for it! Have fun and enjoy!


To Die For Blueberry Muffins

Okay, it's Spring now, thank God. But wouldn't you know that we here in Richmond, VA would have a freak snow storm with more accumulation than all Winter put together! Followed by an icky, mucky day that saw Ron and I huddled indoors cursing Punxsutawney and clutching cups of Oolong. As per usual we comforted ourselves with food, glorious food. Roasted sweet potatoes with onion and red pepper...a French omelet with tomato and Pecorino Romano...Veggie sausage...Toast...And, of course, blueberry muffins! A true feast fit for (cold) kings.

Here is my coveted recipe using fresh blueberries via Allrecipes.com. (I've made then with frozen too, but I highly recommend using fresh; save this recipe and add it to your July blueberry season repertoire.) It is not my creation, but they are just too good not to share, and frankly, there was just nothing that I could improve upon. I've tried several variations of blueberry muffins, but I stopped looking when I found this one. It's my absolute FAVORITE, and I think you'll enjoy them too.

These are super simple too; you won't need a blender! This recipe makes 8 over-sized muffins filled with gooey blueberries and topped with crunchy, sugar-cinnamon crumbles. This is one instance, and perhaps the only instance, where large muffin tops are a good thing!

There's just nothing better than biting into a warm, fresh-from-the-oven muffin and slathering on a small pad of butter and watching it melt. Then licking the crumbs off the plate and reaching for seconds...

I 've always loved blueberry muffins, even as a child. They are by far my all-time favorite simple pleasure made only sweeter by a bit of childhood nostalgia. And make sure to savor the indescribable delicious aroma while they're baking! Enjoy!


Travel At Home

One of the great things about living in Richmond, VA -- a city built on history (think General Robert E. Lee and the Civil War) in a state which carefully tends its place in grade-school text books for begetting four of the first five presidents (Washington, Jefferson, Madison, Monroe) and harboring the first capital of this nation, Jamestown (just to name a few) -- is the right-outside-your-door opportunities for encounters with the past. 

A View of Washington's Monument
Belle Isle

First African Church - 1011 Main St.
Confederate Monument - Hollywood Cemetery

Granted, this is the United States we are talking about where the modern history, in terms of colonialization on, is only 400-something years deep. We don't have the same deep-root boasting power of the European continent, by far. Regardless, I love living in Richmond because if affords me the opportunity to dive into the past as far back as 1607 just a stone's throw from my home. 

"Virginia Colonization" - 1906

I am a proponent of being a tourist, or better yet, a traveler in my own city, taking a weekend to enjoy the unique history of a place, spending a slow morning people-watching in an off-the-beaten-path coffee shop, coursing the shopping promenades and buying locally-made or locally-harvested wares. If the price is right, I'll take in a museum before ending the "trip" at a restaurant I've yet to try.

The Tourist's Pocket Map of Virginia - 1835

Though I've been a resident of Richmond for 12 years, I find there is always something new to discover. Traveling in your own city is a less expensive and less daunting alternative to a true "vacation." One with similar mind opening benefits. Even if you've lived your whole life in just one city, chances are you're missing something...whether it's that old antique mall up the road, an eatery that just opened, or the birthplace of a local celeb. Just setting the intention of seeing things differently and being willing to try new things (which is the natural mind-set and expectation of a vacationer) opens you to new things.

Can't set aside a full weekend, or even a day? Just a few hours exploring your local stomping ground can give you new eyes into your city's past and an expanded appreciation for, well, everything! Walk down a street you've never tread and pop your head into each and every shop along the way or visit a local history museum. A quick google search and you're ready to hit the road. With a little more planning and prep, you could even have yourself a dandy picnic packed for enjoying amidst oaks and flowers of a grand estate garden.

A vintage postcard of The Virginia House

The images below are from my recent "trip" to The Virginia House, the hillside residence of Alexander and Virginia Weddell. (Again, 12 years living here and I, and my travel companion Nisha, had never heard of this place!) The house and gardens recently opened to the public, but by appointment only. Thanks to First Lady McDonnell and their Year of The Historic Home, we bypassed the red tape...and the entry fee! 

Mr. Weddell's study and library boasted an impressive collection of books and artifacts.

Gorgeous objects d'art filled every spare surface.

Intricately carved wood, dating to the sixteenth century, adorned the walls, staircases, furniture and accessories.

I fell in love with this place: dark wood, but full of light. The hand of the craftsman and artist was everywhere. You could get lost in the details but always find something new at every turn.

No English Tudor is complete without lead-paned windows.

I've got a bunch more pics from the The Virginia House's neighbor, the more widely-known English tudor known as Agecroft Hall, which I'll be posting next week.


Zesty Potato Salad

Folks, today is the first day of Spring. Do a dance, and then make this fresh and easy potato salad which is the dish I've made for my Spring Equinox Fire Ceremony + Potluck tonight. After all, we are heading into the two quintessential seasons of outdoor parties and tag-along salads be it potato, tuna, egg, three bean or pasta.

This one is especially great because it offers a nice alternative to those mayo-based varieties, the fresh lemon juice and garlic pack a ton of flavor, and it can be made ahead of time and served warm, cold or room temperature!

Ingredients (yields 8-12 servings)
  • 5 lbs. white potatoes (about 12 medium potatoes), cleaned and cubed
  • 3 tablespoons of fresh parsley, chopped
  • 1/4 of a red onion, minced
  • 2 tablespoons of fresh garlic (3 large cloves), minced
  • 3 tablespoons red wine vinegar
  • 4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • The juice of two lemons
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • parsley sprigs or green onion or chives to garnish
Boil potatoes for 10-15 minutes until fork is easily inserted. Drain, and let cool in strainer for 10 minutes. Meanwhile, in a large bowl whisk together olive oil, lemon juice, vinegar, parsley, onion, garlic, and salt and pepper. (You are basically making a vinaigrette.) I taste the concoction and add more olive oil if it is too strong, or more lemon juice if too bland. Then fold in cooled potatoes. Garnish with parsley sprigs, chopped green onion or chives, if desired.

It really couldn't be easier! And if you happened to boil your potatoes a few minutes too long as I did, no worries. The smudgy potato parts that break off when tossing will add a bit of creaminess!


Backyard Vignettes

Everything outdoors looks better wet. Except maybe cats.
Nabby wants to go in, and is confused by my frolicking in this chilly drizzle.

So, i take that back. Most everything outside looks better when wet. Wood. Plants. Roads. That's why car commercials rent large sprayers or borrow the town fire hose to paint the asphalt dark. I prefer to let nature's impulses dress up my backyard in all its colorful glory. And the colors in Spring are especially vibrant and awake.

I really love days when fog and mist hover till late morning, when the sky spits on you and the air is wet and heavy. Days when everything is covered with bulbous droplets that sparkle if the sun should chance an appearance.

Days when I can tramp about in my knee-high Hunter boots, in the mud and puddles, like a young child out for an exploration adventure. I'm happy I've regained that sense of childhood wonder. 
And I don't need to go beyond my back gate for vignettes and encounters with miraculous beauty.

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