Counter Action: Orange–coconut sweet rolls

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It’s November 16? What the heck? Where did autumn go?

I don’t know if it’s the new weather scheme, or the new crazed schedule, or the longer commute, or what … but ever since I moved here for grad school 14 months ago, time has been whizzing past me like a caffeinated peregrine falcon.

My default source for life allusions is Betty MacDonald’s The Egg and I, and here, as at many times, I will step back and let it explain how I feel.

Our spring and summer had been strenuous to the point of exhaustion and I, at least, having read many books about farms and farmers, had looked forward to winter as a sort of hibernation period. A time to repair machinery, hook rugs, patch quilts, mend harness and perform other leisurely tasks. Obviously something was wrong with my planning, for it took me sixteen hours a day to keep the stove going and three meals cooked. I leaped out of bed at 4 A.M., took two sips of coffee and it was eleven and time for lunch. I washed the lunch dishes and pulled a dead leaf off my kitchen geranium and it was five o’clock and time for dinner.

If you’re in a similar predicament, maybe you’re gulping down dried fruit and instant mac-and-cheese in the ten free minutes you have per day. But at some point in the near future, I hope you have the time to make something slowly — maybe a bean soup, maybe a pan of roasted vegetables, maybe these yummy rolls. Whatever it is, don’t feel guilty about taking the time to make it. Savour every minute it takes to prepare … and then savour every bite when it’s finished.

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Orange–coconut sweet rolls

(using the Pioneer Woman’s cinnamon roll dough as a base)

Ingredients:

  • 2 c. milk
  • 1/2 c. vegetable oil
  • 1/2 c. sugar
  • 2-1/2 tsp. (or 1 packet) yeast
  • 4 + 1/2 c. flour (divided)
  • 3/4 tsp. baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp. baking soda
  • 1/2 T. salt
  • 1/2 c. butter
  • 3/4 c. coconut
  • 2 oranges
  • splash of orange juice
  • about 1-1/2 c. powdered sugar
  • pinch of salt

Directions:

  1. Combine milk, oil, and sugar in a large pot. Heat and stir until comfortably warm (but not too warm to stick your finger in).
  2. Sprinkle yeast on top. Let sit for 5 minutes.
  3. Mix in 4 c. flour. Cover pot with tea towel and set aside to rise for 1 hour.
  4. Stir in 1/2 c. flour, along with baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Transfer dough to fridge while making filling.
  5. In small saucepan, brown butter. In toaster oven or conventional oven set to 375°F, toast coconut until golden-brown. Zest oranges and set zest aside, then peel, seed, and dice orange pulp.
  6. Turn dough out onto floured surface and shape into flat rectangle, roughly 12″ x 24″. Pour browned butter over dough, then sprinkle liberally with coconut, 3/4 of the orange chunks, and 1/2 of the orange zest.
  7. Starting from nearest long edge, roll dough and filling into a log. Cut into 1-1/2″ sections and place in casserole dish.
  8. Let rise 20 minutes, then bake at 375°F for 15–18 minutes.
  9. In small bowl, combine remaining orange zest and pulp with powdered sugar, splash of orange juice, and pinch of salt. Adjust powdered sugar:liquid ratio until you have a reasonably thin glaze.
  10. Remove rolls from oven. Top with glaze. Best right after baking, or keep covered at room temperature for 2–3 days.

 

Counter Action: Sweet potato dinner rolls

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Sometimes I feel like I have a good grasp on this adult thing.

I go off to work in my suit and nametag (or to class in nice jeans and a cardigan). I pack lean protein and leafy greens for lunch. I work at a standing desk and swig water all day. My gums, my joints, my weight, and my professional profile are on my mind. Cat hair on my clothing legitimately worries me.

And then I get home and all bets are off. Cookie dough leaps from the fridge into my mouth of its own accord. I still read YA fiction. Cat hair is of no concern. Given a slow holiday weekend, I’ll watch several episodes of Buffy the Vampire Slayer in a row with no remorse. A couple of weeks ago, I realized that the church where I attend Evensong also offers a free yoga class right after Evensong … so I could conceivably wear my yoga pants to church?? Is this real life?

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These rolls are a bit of both worlds. They’re the kind of thing you could serve at a fancy dinner party or your in-laws’ Thanksgiving. Or you could make half a tray for yourself and eat them with turkey and cranberry sauce, cackling to yourself as you watch your fourth straight episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. It’s a flexible recipe, really.

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Sweet potato dinner rolls

(barely adapted from an AllRecipes.com recipe)

  • ½ c. warm water
  • 2¼ tsp. dry active yeast
  • 4 T. brown sugar, divided
  • ½ c. sweet potato purée (½ of a large sweet potato, sprayed with cooking spray, microwaved under plastic wrap for 3–4 minutes, and mashed thoroughly)
  • 3 T. unsalted butter, melted
  • 2 eggs, beaten slightly
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 3½–4 c. flour
  • 1 T. butter, softened

Directions:

  1. Combine warm water, yeast, and 1 T. brown sugar. Let sit 5 minutes.
  2. Add rest of brown sugar, butter, eggs, salt, and sweet potato purée. Mix thoroughly.
  3. Add flour slowly until dough is kneadable and not too sticky.
  4. Knead dough until it is smooth and elastic, and passes the windowpane test. Place in warm greased bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and tea towel. Let rise in warm place (like an oven that’s been turned on for a minute or two) for an hour.
  5. Punch down dough and roll into balls a little larger than golf balls. Cover again with plastic wrap and tea towel and let rise in warm place for an hour.
  6. Bake rolls at 375°F for 10–12 minutes. Brush tops with softened butter and continue baking until golden brown.

———

EDIT:

Comment policy: Feedback is always welcome! Just please make your comments and links relevant to the post. Comments judged to be run-of-the-mill spam or generic web traffic magnets (e.g., “Follow me!” or “Read my blog!”) will be deleted. Interesting or funny spam will be preserved for posterity. Like my attitude toward beets, this policy may change at any time.

Counter Action: Overnight artisan bread

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Taking food pictures is always fraught with danger.

My roommate has three cats, all aggressively friendly and as stubborn as tiny mules. Last night, for example, they all curled up in my room, intending to spend the night there. I had different plans. I’ve mediated enough of their nighttime spats and picked up enough fallen books to banish them to the living room.

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The kids: Salem at the top left, Bandersnatch Cutiebutt opposite, and Crookshanks supervising from below.

Salem was on board with this right away — she can take a hint. The Bandersnatch was displeased but eventually deigned to leave. And Crookshanks … oh, Crookshanks. The guy is either a seriously deep sleeper or a seriously good actor. After I’d spent several minutes nudging him, blowing in his face, and clapping my hands, he finally rolled over onto his front, where I could pick him up and haul him out.

It’s a similar process when I want to use the cats’ obstacle course — a.k.a. the kitchen table — to take photographs. I can’t turn my back for a second, or else they’ll be on the table sniffing my setup. I have to get everything together in one trip, then snap pictures wildly, pausing only to clap my hands several times or blow in the kids’ faces.

Is this food photography or jungle photography? Sometimes I’m not sure.

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The dough for this bread can be thrown together in five minutes, dumped in the fridge, and forgotten for up to 18 hours. When you’re ready to bake it, just pull it out, plop it on a preheated pizza stone or dutch oven, and bake until golden brown. There’s no kneading, no proofing, no waiting around for the dough to double twice. It’s that easy, and that delicious: soft and flavorful on the inside, with a thick, crunchy crust. If you want to tell your dinner guests how you made it, feel free to amaze them. Or let them think you’ve spent weeks nurturing the perfect pâte fermentée. It’s your choice, really.

Overnight artisan bread

(Taken from The Baker Chick)

Ingredients:

  • 3 c. all-purpose flour
  • 1/2–1 tsp. yeast
  • 1–3 tsp. salt
  • 1-1/2 c. warm water

Directions:

  1. Combine all ingredients in large bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and place in fridge.
  2. Eight to 18 hours later, remove dough from fridge. Place pizza stone in oven, with baking tray below. Preheat to 450°F.
  3. Form dough into ball and place on hot pizza stone. Pour 1–2 c. water into hot baking tray and immediately close oven door.
  4. Bake 40–45 minutes, or until bread is golden brown and sounds hollow when tapped from underneath. (If you like, open oven door 2–3 times during baking to spritz more water on the pizza stone. Alternately, to avoid the hot water method, bake bread inside dutch oven or other covered ovenproof dish. With this method, bake covered for 30 minutes and uncovered for 15.)
  5. Cool, slice, and enjoy. Bread is best the day it’s made. Alternately, store in sealed container for 2–3 days.

 

 

Counter Action: Berry bread with browned butter

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Weekends at the Cat Homestead tend to be pretty chill.

There’s church. There’s yoga pants and running in the rain. There’s quite a lot of reading, some writing, and a nice chunk of whatever TV show I’ve brought home from the library.

I also get to explore topics I don’t have time for during the week — like this excellent letter from Kurt Vonnegut to a school board chairman who shoveled 32 copies of Slaughterhouse-Five into the school furnace. And this list of ideas for how we evaluate media’s treatment of women. And this refreshing change to the trend of “user as product”. And this hilarious Twitter feed of things overheard in “Britain’s poshest supermarket”.

My favourite item from that Twitter feed: "Daddy, does 'Lego' have a silent T like 'Merlot'?"

Possibly my favourite item from that feed: “Daddy, does ‘Lego’ have a silent T like ‘Merlot’ does?”

And of course, weekends are also for cooking. Last week my roommate’s bounty from her workplace included three pints of local blueberries and two of blackberries. I heaped them onto my breakfast oatmeal and whirled them into smoothies right and left, but evidently I’d hit upon the Augean stable of horticulture, because there never seemed to be any fewer. Finally, in desperation, I took one cup of blueberries and one of blackberries and turned them into this bread. Evidently, exposing berries to browned butter stops them from multiplying. Perhaps it would have a similar effect on zucchini? It’s worth a shot.

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Berry bread with browned butter

(adapted from Joy the Baker’s browned butter blueberry muffins)

Ingredients:

  • 7 T. butter
  • 1/3 c. milk
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 1-1/2 c. flour
  • 1/2 c. sugar
  • 1-1/2 tsp. baking powder
  • 3/4 tsp. salt
  • 2 c. berries (your choice — blueberries, blackberries, raspberries, a mix …)

Directions:

  1. If you already know how to brown butter, do it and skip to step 2. If not, read on. Cut butter into chunks and place in thick-bottomed saucepan over medium heat. Stir as it melts. When it begins to crackle, that’s a good sign — it’s the water cooking out of the butter. Continue to heat and stir until butter is light brown. Remove immediately from heat.
  2. Combine browned butter with milk and vanilla.
  3. In separate bowl, combine flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt.
  4. Mix wet and dry ingredients. Fold in berries.
  5. Pour into greased loaf pan. Bake at 375°F for 40–50 minutes, or until skewer inserted in center comes out clean.

———

Photo credits: Wine from PublicDomainPictures on Pixabay.

Counter Action: Plum cobbler with browned butter

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It’s done!

I’m all moved in to my new place!

Holy moly, this is a good day. My old place is finally sparkling clean, my books and kitchen gear are finally upstairs in my new place, and I am a happy muskrat.

All together now! "When life is naught but boxes / And heavy packing tape, / When moving seems to swallow you, / Sit down and eat some grapes."

All together now! “When life is naught but boxes / And heavy packing tape, / When moving seems to swallow you, / Sit down and eat some grapes.” CHORUS! “Sit down and eat some grapes, / Sit down and eat some grapes. / A durian might do the trick, / lychee will give you quite a kick, / But really to get out of scrapes, / sit down — and — eat — [cymbal] some grapes!”

In celebration of this frabjous day (callooh, callay), I give you this plum cobbler made with browned butter. If you feel guilty about eating it for breakfast, skip the sugar on top and add a couple of spoonfuls of cornmeal to the batter to give it a nice healthy-feeling crunch. Otherwise, put a big scoop of vanilla bean ice cream on that bad boy and dive in. In either case, I won’t judge you a bit.

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Plum cobbler with browned butter

(from Joy the Baker, who adapted it from the Pioneer Woman)

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 c. (1 stick) butter
  • 3/4 c. + 1 T. white sugar (divided)
  • 1 c. flour
  • 1-1/2 tsp. baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1/2 c. milk
  • 1/2 c. plain yogurt
  • 3 medium plums (black or red — your choice), sliced into 8 pieces each

Directions:

  1. If you already know how to brown butter, do it and move on to step 2. If not, read on. Cut the butter into small chunks and place in a small saucepan over medium heat. The butter will melt and start to crackle; this is a good sign, as it means the water is being cooked out of the butter. When the butter starts to turn light brown, remove it from the burner and pour it into another bowl. (If you let it stay in the hot saucepan, it will keep cooking and might burn.)
  2. In another bowl, combine sugar, flour, baking powder, and salt.
  3. Add browned butter and milk to dry ingredients. Mix well.
  4. Pour batter into greased pie pan and arrange plum slices on top. Sprinkle with 1 T. of sugar.
  5. Bake at 350°F for 30 minutes or until golden-brown. Keep refrigerated for 2–3 days.

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Photo credits: Accordion player from music4life on Pixabay.

Counter Action: Zucchini–basil–feta muffins

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I know it might be hard to believe after last Thursday’s post, but I really try not to complain much. Too hot in the office? I’ll drink more water. Too cold in the office? I’ve got a blanket. Man yelling obscenities outside my bedroom window for half an hour? LOL, #citylife, what can you do.

But there is one thing that I will happily complain about for hours. I’ll gripe and grouse and whinge like there’s no tomorrow, given the chance.

What is that topic?

Is it malnutrition? Malaria? Corrupt regimes? Orphan drugs? The political situation in Burma?

Nope.

It’s moving.

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No, not that kind of moving. I like that kind.

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Yeah, this kind. The boxes/tape/strained back/jammed thumb/lost keys/lost tempers/horrible weather kind of moving. Always a fun time all around.

What’s that you’re saying? “Sonya, what do you think is the very worst thing about moving?”

I am so glad you asked.

The very worst thing about moving is that when you start packing your things, you look around and say to yourself, “I don’t have that much stuff. This should go pretty fast.”

This is where you’re wrong, my friend. Beef-in-the-trifle, the-sun-orbits-the-Earth, Iraq-has-WMDs wrong. Your cupboards and drawers are actually a Pandora’s box of files and socks and the tiny hotel soaps you always thought you’d use. You’ll put tape on what you think is the last box, do “one last check” of the kitchen cabinets, and oh, just kidding, you’ve got another cubic meter of Tupperware to squeeze in between Box o’ Books #27 and Why Are We Bringing This Chair, It’s Super Uncomfortable.

Hint: It might not really be  a chair.

Hint: It might not be a chair.

Every time I move, I swear I’m going to downsize my possessions until I can fit everything into two steamer trunks. I will then move into a Tumbleweed Tiny House and live a frugal, minimalist life, surrounded only by things I truly care about.

Then another friend posts an offer of free books on Facebook, and all bets are off. (Incidentally, welcome to the family, Lord of the FliesGood Omens, and The Magicians.)

During the Time of Moving, I find that it helps to have quick, tasty, easy-clean-up meals and snacks all prepared and ready to go (preferably with no heating required, since the microwave will inevitably be the first thing to go in the van). These muffins qualify as a good moving snack: they’re hearty and filling, with rich flavours to keep you and your crew happy … or less snarky, anyhow.

What’s your favourite moving meal or snack?

Zucchini–basil–feta muffins

(Adapted from Running to the Kitchen)

Ingredients:

  • 1-1/2 c. all-purpose flour
  • 1-1/2 tsp. baking powder
  • 1 tsp. baking soda
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 1/2 tsp. pepper
  • 1/2 c. milk
  • 1/4 c. olive oil
  • 2 eggs
  • 3 T. chopped fresh (or 1 T. dried) basil
  • 1-1/2 c. grated zucchini
  • 1/2 c. feta

Directions:

  1. Sift together flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and pepper.
  2. In separate bowl, combine milk, oil, eggs, and basil. Mix well.
  3. Mix wet and dry ingredients until barely combined.
  4. Stir in zucchini and feta.
  5. Spoon batter into greased or paper-lined muffin cups. Bake at 350°F for 18–20 minutes. Makes 12 muffins. Store in sealed container at room temperature for 3–4 days.

Ideas for variations:

  • When you’re mixing in the zucchini, add half a chopped fresh jalapeño, half a cup of fresh corn, and/or a third of a cup of diced sundried tomatoes.
  • Add three tablespoons of cornmeal to the dry ingredients for some extra crunch.
  • For added heartiness, leave out up to half a cup of the all-purpose flour and use whole-wheat flour to make up the difference.
  • Substitute Parmesan, mizithra, or cotija for the feta. Alternatively, use a blend of cheeses.

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Photo credits: Runner from Picography, Navy men from tpsdave, and cacti from charlemagne49 on Pixabay.

Counter Action: Rosemary challah rolls + an announcement!

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Yes, these are the uncooked rolls. Don’t worry.

Summer!

Summer summer summer!

It’s been a long time since I could wear shorts or eat super-fresh tomatoes. I think it’s going to my head.

Add sunlight and sprinkle with fresh basil, and this is roughly how I feel.

There are so many lovely things going on this summer, I hardly know where to begin. There’s Shakespeare in the park and cultural festivals and street food fairs. There’s concerts and hikes and races and parades.

Granted, I won’t be participating in all of the above, but it’s still lovely to know that they’re going on. It creates an atmosphere of community investment.

And speaking of communities … let’s alight briefly on the topic of fandoms.

Pixabay: "No results for 'fandom'. Did you mean 'fado'?" Me: "Aaarrrg, no --- oh, heck, why not."

Pixabay: “No results for ‘fandom’. Did you mean ‘fado’?”
Me: “Aaarrrg, no — oh, heck, why not.”

Fandoms, I’ve found, are like moles: Most people have at least one, even if they’re not always willing to discuss them in public. I technically belong to the fandoms for SherlockDoctor WhoStar Wars, and Marvel movies, though not to the extent that I’ll create fanart, write fanfic, or debate my theories passionately online. I just love the complexity of the stories, characters, and settings, and I love being one of millions of people who share that love.

I’m a scoche more invested in the Harry Potter fandom. And by “scoche”, I might mean that I own a house scarf and take great pride in having been sorted into Ravenclaw on Pottermore.

(At this point I’d like to point out that my roommate, a legitimate grown-up with a corporate job and a fiancé, has all four house scarves, owns a wand, has visited the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, and periodically cooks recipes from The Unofficial Harry Potter Cookbook. So, clearly I have a ways to go before I am a True Fan.)

One thing I love about the Harry Potter fandom is how dedicated it is. Any other readers might have lost patience with a series that went years between installments. Not so the Potterheads — at the next midnight release, they were there, ready and waiting, wearing robes that got a little shorter every time. There are precious few fictional worlds as magnificently detailed, intensely beloved, and universally appealing as the world of Harry Potter, and that’s something that deserves celebration.

Lasers optional but highly recommended. (A good motto for life, I've found.)

Lasers optional but highly recommended. (A good motto for life, I’ve found.)

So here’s the announcement: The week of July 20, this blog will be one massive Harry Potter tribute. If you’d like to be a part of this project, please let me know. I’m looking for the following:

  • Fanart
  • Fanfics
  • Personal essays describing what Harry Potter has meant to you
  • Critical essays on various aspects of Harry Potter (feminism, politics, economics, class dynamics … go for it)
  • Themed recipes you’ve developed
  • Themed songs you’ve written
  • Original crochet patterns for house elf ears
  • In short, virtually any creative endeavours inspired by Harry Potter.

If you have something you want me to consider for the final lineup, either send it to me via private message or post a link to it in a comment below. Tell your friends. Tell your neighbors. Let’s make the week of July 20 one big joyous celebration of all things Potter.

Caution: Topical whiplash ahead.

Caution: Topical whiplash ahead.

And now, to finish off, here’s something completely different.

Rosemary challah rolls

(a combination of recipes from Jewish Recipes and The Pioneer Woman)

Ingredients:

  • 1¼ c. warm water
  • ½ c. sugar
  • 1 packet (2¼ tsp.) active dry yeast
  • 2 eggs
  • 1½ tsp. salt
  • 3/8 c. oil
  • 3–4 c. all-purpose flour
  • 2–3 c. whole wheat flour
  • ~3 T. melted butter
  • ~1 T. kosher salt
  • ~1 T. rosemary

Procedure:

  1. Mix warm water, sugar, and yeast in large bowl, and let stand until yeast is dissolved.
  2. Add eggs, 1½ tsp. salt, and 3/8 c. oil. Stir well.
  3. Add flour 1 c. at a time, mixing well, until dough is kneadable. Turn out onto floured board and knead until windowpane is achieved. (For more about the windowpane test, check here.)
  4. Set in oiled bowl and let rise 1–3 hours or until doubled in size.
  5. Punch down and form into rolls a little larger than golf balls. Place in oiled pan and let rise 1–3 hours or until doubled in size.
  6. Brush tops of rolls with butter. Sprinkle with rosemary and salt, then brush again with butter.
  7. Bake at 375°F for 30–40 minutes, or until golden brown.
  8. Brush again with butter, pull apart, and enjoy. Makes about 24 rolls.

 

Photo credits: Concert from beeki, fado player via dunyazade, laser show from Logga Wiggler, and crash test dummy via Nemo on Pixabay.