Saturday, February 27, 2010

Ordinary Chaos

Life is messy, mucky, full of juice and sticky sweetness, dog hair and mud. If you're living it right, that is. For someone with a tendency toward cleanliness, order, and the illusive "perfection," the dichotomy can be unsettling and confusing at times, to say the least.

My loving mother recently gave me a book meant to help one clearing one's clutter with Feng Shui. I flew through the book and immediately dove into shoveling out our bedroom which had been buried under I don't know how many feet of boxes and bags and piles. (We had been using it as the "place where visitors don't go" and dumping the random bits and bobs we swept up during cleaning storms behind the closed door.) I proudly dropped six trash bags full of clothing, shoes, bags and other assorted items at the Salvation Army. Then I got to the chapter on poop. Yes, poop. (Some rant about intestinal clutter, etc., etc.) It was then I realized (with incredibly centering laughter) that we (meaning I) take ourselves too seriously and, man, do we (meaning I) over analyze too much.

Don't get me wrong, I adore my refreshingly clean bedroom and still believe there is nothing as satisfying as a newly clean bathroom (or intestinal track, I suppose), but I know I need to keep perspective or else drive myself mad. So, there are crumbs on my kitchen floor (a lot of them), dog hair on my bedspread, toys on the dining room table, and a pile of laundry on the living room chair (clean at least).

To prevent a quick descent into total chaos I hold myself to the same rule we've imposed on the little bear...Put away what you're done with before getting something else out. Though it has not affect on the dust, it does keep the hounds at bay. What? You don't have mysterious dogs that accompany your clutter?

Well, nevermind that...hounds or no hounds, I think I've found some sort of balance between the sparkling and bejeweled cleaning lady in my head (think a combination of Kim Woodburn from How Clean is Your House and Vanessa Branch the Orbit gum girl) and the habit for all our human constructs to continually strive to return their natural state. Realizing the clutter and dust is just the earth's way of reclaiming her materials gives me just the right amount of perspective regarding the whole neat and clean "thing." As for why the cleaning lady in my head is a bleach-blond Brit...I'm going to leave that one to the professional over analyzers of the world.

In the meantime, here is some sticky, messy goodness in which to drown the cleaning lady in your head...

Overnight Cinnamon Rolls
(based on a recipe by Alton Brown)

You may think (like I did) why bother with all this effort, but these are so worth it. The soft-fluffy dough is like a still-sleepwarm pillow on a cold winter morning. Just be sure you have a large mug of strong coffee or a tall glass of ice-cold milk nearby to keep your taste buds from fainting outright.

4 large egg yolks
1 large whole egg
1/4 cup white sugar
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
6 ounces buttermilk (or 6 oz whole milk with splash of vinegar)
4 to 5 cups flour, plus additional for dusting
1 package instant quick-rise dry yeast (I like Hodgeson Mill)
1-1/4 teaspoons fine sea salt
Vegetable oil

1 cup packed dark brown sugar
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
Pinch sea salt
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

2-1/2 ounces cream cheese, softened
3 tablespoons milk
2 cups powdered sugar

In a small bowl whisk approximately 2 cups of the flour along with the yeast and salt. In a large mixing bowl whisk the egg yolks, whole egg, sugar, butter, and buttermilk. Add the dry ingredients to the wet and whisk until moistened and combined. Add another 2 cups of the flour and mix with stiff wooden spoon until combined. Dump onto a floured board and knead for approximate 8-10 minutes adding additional flour as needed to prevent sticking to the board or your hands. The dough should feel soft and moist but not sticky and should be smooth and elastic to the touch. Lightly oil a large bowl, transfer the dough to the bowl, and lightly oil the top of the dough. Cover and let double in volume, 1-1/2 to 2 hours.

While your dough is rising, combine the brown sugar, cinnamon and salt in a medium bowl. Mix until well incorporated. Set aside until ready to use.

Butter a 9 by 13-inch glass baking dish. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured board and gently shape it into an 18- x 12-inch rectangle with your hands with the long side nearest you. Brush the dough with the 2 tablespoons of melted butter, leaving 1/2-inch border along the one of the long edges. Sprinkle the filling mixture over the dough, leaving a 3/4-inch border along the same long edge, and gently press the filling into the dough. Beginning with the filling-covered long-edge, roll the dough into a tight cylinder. Firmly pinch the seam to seal and roll the cylinder seam side down. Very gently squeeze the cylinder to create even thickness. Using a serrated knife, slice the cylinder into 2-inch rolls (giving you approximately 12 rolls). Arrange rolls cut side down in the baking dish, cover tightly with plastic wrap, and store in the refrigerator overnight or up to 16 hours.

Remove the rolls from the refrigerator and place in a cold oven. Fill a shallow pan 2/3-full of boiling water and set on the rack below the rolls. Close the oven door and let the rolls rise until they look slightly puffy which should take approximately 30 minutes. Remove the rolls and the shallow pan of water from the oven and preheat to 350 degrees F.

When the oven is ready, place the rolls on the middle rack and bake until golden brown, approximately 30 - 40 minutes.

When the rolls are baked, let them cool while you start the icing. Whisk the cream cheese in a bowl creamy and add the milk. Whisk until combined. Sift in the powdered sugar, and whisk until smooth. Spread over the rolls and serve immediately.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

I heart snow (sometimes)

Winter is not my favorite season. It always seems like it takes so much work to get outside. And before you know it, everyone is ready to come in again. Just the thought makes me want to crawl back under the wool blanket and take a nap. Or at least grab a hot cocoa and a good book and snuggle in for a couple of hours.

Yep. That's about how I feel when I think about the process of "getting ready."

The problem is, I actually enjoy being out in the biting winter air--especially on one of those particularly sharp, sunny days. So I try to side with my heart most days and rouse my grouchy, hibernating brain into action. I don't know if its the rosey cheeks, tingling skin or shot of vitamin D that does it, but all the grumbling pays off with sparkling eyes, laughter that bubbles easily to the surface, and an extra boost of energy.

Here are some of the ways we've been enjoying our snow days....How about you?


Winter Wild Thing...

Maple snow...

Old Time Ice House...

Old timers harvesting ice...

Calm (and cold) waters...

Skating, fishing, cocoa-ing...

At day's end...

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Music for the soul

My mother always told me I'd regret not learning an instrument when I grew up. But I found more joy listening than practicing when I was young, and live music wasn't something that was really a part of our family. What I mean is no one in my family played.

There is something about "everyday" music that seeps through the skin and into the soul. It bypasses all boundaries and assumptions.

Crooked Still at the Mauck Chunk Opera House

I might not play either, but I intend to make sure the little bear experiences the closest thing to everyday music. So we go to concerts, open mic nights, music in the park. And he soaks it all in. Maybe he'll play one day, maybe he won't. But, I hope he'll always carry music in his soul.

There is something a friend sent to me the other day I know I'll carry in my soul...