Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Christmas Week

Currently, Andrew is doing a bajillion push-ups for P90x and I'm eating strawberry mousse. This aptly sums up my holiday week.

I feel like most of my holiday break has been about fabulous food. After all, there are so many great foods in the world. Chocolate. Cheese. Chocolate cheesecake. There was also some exercise interspersed within the week (that P90 Tony is EXtreme and he kept telling us to "bring it") in order to feel like I could live with myself and my relationship with heavy cream. There was also some Christmas Day Harry Potter 7: The Deathly Hallows (part one), as well as some snow on December 26th. Really, snow in December in Georgia is something of a Christmas miracle.

This year, Andrew and I tried to start developing some Christmas traditions. Away from both our families, I realize how important it is to really take ownership of what traditions we want to pass on to our children. If I can get some of these habits cemented early in their lives, they won't be able to object -- it's tradition.

-Kids, you remember you are supposed to clean the bathrooms on Christmas Eve? It's what we've always done.

-Kids, thank you for the 1 hour massage coupon you all bought me for December 26th. This is a very important tradition for all of us.

-But Mother, what is the "sit quietly and read a book for two hours so there can be peace on earth" tradition? We hear the children from the other villages get to do things like 'play,' and 'open gifts?' What are 'gifts' mother?

Perhaps not all these traditions will work out. We shall see.

Notably, Andrew and I decided decorating Christmas cookies should have a place in our holiday rituals. I think I might have taken it a bit too far though -- insisting we make our own cookies, our own icing, prepare two different kinds of icing: outlining and flooding icing, insisting we color the icing, organize the cookies into two trays: pretty and not-pretty etc. The whole process ended up taking about three hours. If only I had people to give these cookies to...

Instead, most of them died a slow, stale death.


Christmas cookies

Guess what tray Andrew's robot cookie ended up on?


Let's just say the gingerbread man next to him is missing a leg.

For dinner traditions, since there were only two of us, I also decided not to make a turkey or ham for Christmas. Instead, I thought an intense five-course meal would be more delightful. Mostly, I think it just meant more work. I don't plan on doing this ever again. I wouldn't make it in Iron Chef. Too many things going on at one time in the kitchen means I forget to add baking powder to the cinnamon rolls, sour cream to the cheesecake, and eventually decide it's just faster to take things out of the oven with my bare hands.

The day started with some pumpkin cinnamon rolls. Cinnamon rolls are a wonderful tradition for all.

Love that golden color:
pumpkin crolls2

But I love frosting more:
pumpkin crolls

For dinner, we ate a lot more food. I also learned that I don't really know how to properly set a table. Andrew helped me though. His mother taught him those kinds of things. My mom taught me how to play Lottery Scratch-its. Love you mom.

Place settings:

I still don't really know where bowls go. I guess I should have paid closer attention in Mrs. Reno Hoff's hospitality class.
place setting

We ate these mushrooms:

And this salad with homemade dressing (it had scary anchovies in it..but was still good) and homemade garlic croutons:
caesar salad

Some beer-cheddar soup and chives:
beer cheddar soup

Some fresh homemade bread:

Twice-baked potatoes and salmon:
Parenthetical note: clearly I don't know how to construct a plate. I didn't have parsley so I put folded chives on the plate. This may have been a mildly tacky decision.

And finally, mini cheesecakes:
mini cheesecakes
Blueberry for Andrew. Pumpkin for me.

Christmas time especially made me miss Oregon. We opted not to fly home and save ourselves quite a bit of money. I'm not sure if anyone else has ever spent Christmas with just his or her spouse, but it is strange. Opening presents takes about five minutes. Eating takes about 20 minutes. And essentially you find yourself unsure of what to do with all the extra time you're left with on Christmas Day. It was special for us though. A time to enjoy the blessing of being together (which is so easy to take for granted) and a time for life to slow down, to regroup, to prioritize, to be sure that the trials and triumphs of the past year have not crowded out the more important things, like love. Or the most important thing, that God becoming flesh and dwelling among us, that God incarnate, God with us, means there is always hope. Always light. And always life.

Now I have to go do P90x for the rest of my life in order to combat the evil cinnamon rolls. There is still a pan left in the fridge and I intend to destroy them. By eating them.

Missing all my friends and family this season and hoping the holidays were jolly for all.

The Browns
(technically Andrew had no part in this post so he cannot be responsible for anything that was said. The opinions expressed here are the views of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of Mr. Andrew Brown)

Sunday, December 19, 2010

How to Get Fat (Second Installment)

Part Two: Cinnamon Rolls

In my family, I didn't grow up with a lot of holiday traditions. On more than one occasion, we've eaten Christmas dinner at a Chinese restaurant. Not that I'm complaining -- who doesn't like a little Kung Pao Christmas chicken with family?

We did have some traditions though. Apart from a lot of Christmas decorations themed around pigs, one tradition my mother always implemented on Christmas morning was the partaking of cinnamon rolls. These cinnamon rolls were usually store bought Pillsbury rolls and were always eaten hot while we opened Christmas presents.

While I don't currently have any Christmas piglets hanging on my walls, I've definitely carried my mother's cinnamon roll tradition with me into adulthood. However, I'm not super into packaged store bought things when you can make them yourself. Most things that come packaged at the store have a lot of weird things in them, like Yellow 5 and MSG and death.

Therefore, I've been more than happy with my take on some homemade Pioneer Woman cinnamon rolls. I'm not saying these are necessarily healthy treats to give small children, but the ingredients are whole and and seem to be from known food groups (except maybe sugar...). I also think the whole process is really quite fun (and also messy) and produces a mondo fabulous cinnamon roll. These pans of c-rolls also make really good Christmas gifts. I've included two different frosting options because I think they both make good additions.

Lettuce begin:

Cinnamon Rolls:
2 cups milk
1/2 cup oil
1/2 cup sugar
1 pkg yeast (2 1/4 tsp)
4 1/2 cups all purpose flour, divided
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 1/2 tsp salt

1 stick butter, melted (or more if needed)
1 cup sugar

Maple Glaze Option (From Pioneer Woman):
1 pound powdered sugar
1/4 cup milk
3 tablespoons melted butter
1/8 cup freshly brewed coffee
dash of salt
1/2 tablespoon maple extract

Better Frosting Option:
3 oz cream cheese
1/2 cup butter, softened
1 tsp vanilla
2 cups powdered sugar

Cook milk, oil and sugar over medium heat. Before it boils, remove from heat and allow the mixture to come to a lukewarm temperature. Sprinkle yeast over the top of the liquid and let is sit for 1 min. Add 4 cups AP flour and stir just until combined. It should look like this:

beg. dough

Cover the pot with a towel and let the dough rise for 1 hour. In case that's confusing, here is a towel over a pot:


Next, take the towel off. If it was around Easter time and you had someone with you, you could say, "It is risen!" And the other person could say, "It is risen indeed!" And if that joke offends anyone, Karyn was the one who said it first. But really, the dough should rise a bit.

finished dough

Add another 1/2 cup flour and the rest of the ingredients (baking powder, soda and salt) and stir until combined.

added flour

Next, divide the dough into two balls. Roll each of the balls into 10x30 rectangles.

dough rolling

That picture was taken in our old apartment when I only had a finger span amount of counter space. So happy that is no longer my condition. Anyway, pour half of the melted butter (about 1/4 cup) and sugar (about 1/2 cup) over the dough and sprinkle generously with cinnamon. You sort of have to use your hands to get everything spread evenly. It gets a bit messy.


Gently roll the dough into a log. Roll it so it's a long log...not a short mondo log. Then gently cut the dough into one and a half inch slices and place in a pie pan that has been coated with melted butter.

This recipe normally fills two pie pans with some extra cinnamon rolls left over.

I find a good home for the extra cinnamon rolls that won't fit in the pan is in a cupcake tray where they can bake individually.


cinnamon rolls1

Bake the lovely rolls at 375* for 13-17 minutes.

After the cinnamon rolls are complete, then your options really begin. If you want to use Pioneer Woman's glaze (which is good) just whisk it all together and pour it over the rolls while they are still warm. It does look pretty:

cinnamon rolls pan

finished c.rolls

If you go the frosting route, cream together the butter and cream cheese, then stir in vanilla and add the powdered sugar a little at a time until the mixture is smooth. I usually put the frosting in a plastic bag and snip the tip and wait for the cinnamon rolls to cool a bit for easier frosting action.

frosting tip

Just swirl some around on top of each cinnamon roll and spread with a spatula.


These look oh so good as well.

finished frosting

Then, because life is really short and buttermilk syrup is really good, pour it on as well.


Now, with no feelings of guilt, eat a cinnamon roll.


If you do feel guilty, don't worry. I've read Michael Pollan's In Defense of Food and I'm pretty sure it says: "Eat food. Mostly plants. Not too much. And an occasional cinnamon roll."

I know that's my eater's manifesto.

Merry Christmas!

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

How to Get Fat

Part One: Buttermilk Syrup

I can't really remember what life was like before graduate school. I remember something about taking long walks, drinking lattes (who am I kidding, I definitely still do that), reading books for fun...even being bored. One thing I'm certain I did a lot of was cooking. And baking. Baking and cooking and being bored. I think that was my life in Augusta.

Now I write papers. And I read books. I write 20 page papers and read really long books. Hopefully my future life will be some combination of both reading and cooking. The end.

Anyway, I wanted to share some of my holiday recipes because, well, I just finished the semester so I'm reverting back to my old ways. In the face of a five week holiday hiatus, I basically just want to bake and read The Hunger Games trilogy (that is my book recommendation for the month -- sometimes teen fiction can totally be scholarly).

Andrew's aunt shared this recipe with me several years ago and it's been an obsession ever since. This buttermilk syrup is amazing with pancakes or waffles, over ice cream, in your coffee, over brownies, apple's like the color black of baking fashion. Andrew says I'm bad at similes and metaphors. I disagree.

So here it is:

Buttermilk Syrup
1 tbl white Karo syrup
1 cup sugar
3/4 cup buttermilk*
1 tsp baking soda
1/4 cup butter
1/4 tsp vanilla
*if you don't have buttermilk, you can make it by adding 1 tablespoon lemon juice or white vinegar to one cup of milk and letting it sit for 5 minutes.

note: this recipe is a lot like a science experiment; meaning, it gets really big because it foams at the mouth a lot -- so use a really big pot or you'll regret it.

Cook all ingredients over medium high heat in a LARGE pot, stirring constantly.
It will look safe and harmless:

first stage

Eventually the mixture will form into a nice liquid.

second stage

But then it gets mad and you have to stir it a lot.

third stage

It should foam like this:

fourth stage

When the foam begins to darken to a butterscotch color, remove from heat.

But that's the tricky part -- what exactly is butterscotch color?

I did a google image search for "butterscotch" and here is one of the top results:

butterscotch pony

This is Butterscotch Pony. She "is a life-sized plush pony that loves to be groomed and cared for. She has many features similar to that of a real pony, including moving eyes, ears and head, soft fur coat and a swishing tail" and is available for $225 on Amazon (

Soooo when the buttermilk syrup is the color of Butterscotch Pony, you should remove it from the heat. Probably a little darker than this would be just right:

butterscotch color

More like this:

better color

I would say the whole process take around 10-15 minutes. Don't undercook it though, or it won't thicken. When the foam has subsided, stir to combine the ingredients and pour into a small serving pitcher.



Let it cool a bit in order to thicken a little more, then pour it over everything in your kitchen to make it taste better.


Then go eat raw celery.

Happy Holidays!

Friday, December 10, 2010

Just in Time

Somewhere in that mass of marching soldiers is my husband:

It didn't take me long to find him.

Andrew made it home a few weeks early. Merry Christmas to us. And to you.