Sunday, March 23, 2008

Sorry for the long absence

I can't believe that it's been more than a month since my last blog post. Somehow, nearly the entire month of March has passed me by. I guess the combination of deadlines at the office along with extra work to meet them, plus company every weekend has made it difficult to find spare moments to keep up with everything.

But I have found time for cooking, and I've even managed to finish up a few knitting and sewing projects. Unlike our dog Charlie, pictured above resting his head on my husband's foot, I haven't been laying around and sleeping, though there have been times of rest as well...thanks be to the Lord for that.

We've had a great time with all of our various friends and relatives who have visited us this month, and we're looking forward to another little dinner party this coming Friday after work. We're having two couples join us for dinner, both of whom are active in ministry in the Philippines. One of the couples plans to move there permanently after retirement, and we're looking forward to hearing more about their potential plans for that time. The other couple is funding a number of missionaries in the Philippines, and both couples regularly return to the country for ministry.

At this point, my husband and I haven't felt a call to do overseas mission work, even on a short-term basis. We've actively helped others who do this, seeing ourselves as "senders" rather than "goers." But we always want to be open to what God might have for us. And we're very grateful to have opportunities to help others who are "goers", sometimes financially and always with prayer. We're not at all financially wealthy, except by the standards of the developing world, but God always provides enough to share.

I hope that you're all doing well this month, and that you've taken time to really meditate on the gift of Jesus and His life, death, and resurrection. We're blessed to be able to celebrate this month with the mainline part of the Church on Resurrection Sunday, and then again next month with the Messianic part of the Church on Passover...As you probably know, Jesus celebrated Passover during the week before His crucifixion, and that Last Supper Passover Seder was the model for what we now know as Communion. What a rich and blessed heritage we have, and what an overwhelmingly precious gift we have received in Jesus!

Hot Cross Buns

As my husband and I work together to establish our own family traditions, we've been trying to focus on those that have real meaning to our faith and values.

For example, we've eliminated just about everything at Christmas related to Santa Claus, so that we can focus on the real meaning of the holiday, which is Jesus' birth.

And for the time of the year when we celebrate Jesus' death and resurrection, we've been eliminating the Easter Bunny from our home. It's not that Santa or the Bunny are bad; they just seem to distract from what is real and important in our lives.

So for Resurrection Sunday, I thought a lot this year about what to bake and how to decorate, and I decided that our family's Hot Cross Bun recipe is meaningful to me. Not only does it remind me of my maternal grandmother and her Danish heritage, but it also makes me think of Jesus' death on the cross because of the cross cut into the dough before it's baked and then embellished with frosting afterward.

I experimented with my mother's recipe this year, because I wanted to use some of my Herman sourdough starter as a base. So I combined two recipes, one from my mom's collection and one from one of sourdough cookbook to come up with what I think turned out to be the best Hot Cross Buns I've ever made. They are moist and sweet and have just a hint of cinnamon and nutmeg in the dough, along with a nice distribution of currants. I served them as part of our dinner on Sunday when we had family and friends joining us.

1 tsp. dry yeast
3/4 cup lukewarm water (115-120 degrees Fahrenheit)
2 Tbsp. sugar
1-1/2 cups sourdough starter
1 Tbsp. butter, melted
1 tsp. vanilla
1 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp. nutmeg
2/3 cup currants
2 to 2-1/2 cups all-purpose flour
(Note: You will also need additional butter, powdered sugar, milk, and vanilla extract for finishing.)

Add yeast and sugar to warm water to activate the yeast. Measure sourdough starter into mixing bowl and add the rest of the ingredients except for the flour, and mix to combine. Add the flour a small portion at a time until you have a stiff dough. Turn out onto floured surface and knead until smooth and elastic, adding more flour if necessary. Dough will be soft.

Place dough into greased bowl and cover with a warm, moist cotton (not terrycloth) towel. Set in a warm place and let rise for two hours until doubled in size. (Note: Because we keep our thermostat low, I had to let it rise for more than two hours so that it would be doubled in size.)

Punch down the dough and shape it into 1-1/2-inch balls. Dip top of dough balls into more melted butter and place on greased baking sheet. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise in a warm place until doubled in size.

Cut deep cross in each bun with scissors. Bake at 400 degree Fahrenheit for 10-15 minutes or until golden brown. Cool slightly. Then pour glaze (made with powdered sugar and a little milk and vanilla extract) into crosses and serve.

A Tote Bag for Spring

Here is one of the projects I made during my absence from this blog. A dear friend of mine, who has been there for me during both good times and bad over the past 9 years, had a birthday, and I made her this tote bag for a gift. I was thrilled by her response to it.

This project started with the little pieced basket square that I ended up using to embellish the front of the bag. I had a couple of little quilt block "kits" in my stash that I decided that I should put together and use finally. (They've probably been in my possession since the early '90s.)

So I made this little basket square and then searched in my stash for coordinating fabrics. I was thrilled to find this gorgeous green floral, and then equally pleased with the match it made with both the basket square and the pink floral that I used for the lining. As my dear friend said when she saw it, "Oh, it's so girly! I love it!"

I love this bag, too, but I love even more that I could share it with my dear friend. It has two interior pockets, each divided into little sections. One section is sized just right for a cell phone, another for her glasses case, and the others in miscellaneous sizes to accommodate other necessities. And the bag is roomy enough to hold her yarn for crochet projects, too...She's a really clever lady, who loves to design her own crocheted hats. Maybe someday she'll even make one for me? :-)

Blueberry Scones

One of my friends loves to watch America’s Test Kitchens on public television. My husband and I rarely turn on the TV, unless it’s a special sporting event, like the World Series or the Super Bowl. So I would never know about programs like this or their websites, if it weren’t for her enthusiasm in sharing these recipes.

So to that friend I am very grateful for sharing with me recently the recipe from America’s Test Kitchens for Blueberry Scones. Hands down, these are the best scones my husband and I have ever tasted!

Unlike many scone recipes, which are dry and crumbly, these scones are moist without being cake-like. And they’re sweet and buttery, too…definitely richer than other recipes I’ve tried. But if you don’t make them often, I think they’re worth the few extra calories.

1 stick + 2 Tbsp. frozen unsalted butter
1-1/2 cups fresh or frozen blueberries
½ cup whole milk
½ cup sour cream
2 cups all-purpose flour
½ cup + 1 Tbsp. sugar
2 tsp. baking powder
¼ tsp. baking soda
½ tsp. salt
1 tsp. grated lemon zest

Grate the stick of butter into a bowl and then freeze again until needed. Keep blueberries in freezer until needed, too.

Whisk together milk and sour cream in a medium-sized bowl and then refrigerate until needed.

Whisk together flour, ½ cup sugar, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and lemon zest in a large bowl. Add frozen grated butter to the flour mixture and toss until thoroughly coated.

Add milk mixture to flour mixture and fold with spatula until just combined. Transfer dough to a liberally floured work surface, dust dough with more flour, and flour your hands as well before kneading the dough six to eight times, adding flour as needed to prevent sticking. At this point, it should just hold together in a ragged ball.

Roll dough into a 12-inch square. Fold it into thirds like a business letter (bringing part of it up half way and then bringing the other part down over the folded part). Then lift the short ends of the dough and fold into thirds again to form a 4-inch square. Transfer dough to a plate lightly dusted with flour and chill in freezer for five minutes.

Transfer chilled dough to floured work surface and roll into a 12-inch square again. Sprinkle blueberries evenly over the surface of the dough, pressing them down to slightly embed into the dough.

Roll the dough into a tight log. Lay seam-side down and press log into a 12-x4-inch rectangle. Using a sharp, floured knife, cut rectangle into 4 equal rectangles, and then each rectangle into two triangles. Transfer the eight triangles onto a parchment-lined baking sheet.

Melt remaining 2 Tbsp. butter and brush it over the tops of the scones. Then sprinkle them with the remaining tablespoon of sugar. Bake at 425 degrees in a pre-heated oven until tops and bottoms are golden brown, about 18-25 minutes. Transfer to wire rack and let cool 10 minutes before serving.

To Make Ahead:
Refrigerate unbaked scones overnight or freeze until needed. When ready to bake refrigerated scones, heat oven to 425 degrees and bake as directed above. For frozen scones, heat oven to 375 degrees and extend the cooking time to 25-30 minutes.

Important Tips:
  • It’s important to work the dough as little as possible—knead and fold the dough only the number of times specified.
  • The butter should be frozen solid before grating, and if it your climate is warm or humid, you’ll also want to chill the flour mixture and the work bowls. If using frozen berries, do not defrost them.
  • An equal amount of raspberries, blackberries, or strawberries can be used instead, as long as larger berries are cut into ¼- to ½-inch pieces first.
  • Refrigerate or freeze leftover scones in an airtight container. To serve, place scones on baking sheet again and heat in a 375-degree oven until warmed and re-crisped.