Bricks and Cinnamon Rolls

Matt and I spent a weekend at home. I literally left the house once, and that was to walk around the frosty garden.

He worked on laying brick on our new hearth while I cooked. We listened to our weekend radio shows, ate good food, and made good progress on the house. I’d say it was exactly what we needed.

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As part of our weekend food fest, I whipped up a batch of cinnamon rolls with a new recipe I wanted to try. Simply Recipes is my go to source for inspiration, and this one was a winner. I tweaked a few things and added a cream cheese frosting (we wanted something between a sticky bun and a frosted cinnamon roll) and they were epic.

Carmel Cinnamon Rolls with cream cheese frosting

Adapted from Simply Recipes

Dough:

  • 1/4 cup warm water (105° to 115°)
  • 1 (1/4-ounce) package active dry yeast or 2 ¼ teaspoons
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 3/4 cup milk, warmed
  • 4 Tbsp. unsalted butter, plus more for greasing
  • 3 large egg yolks
  • 1 1/4 teaspoon. salt
  • 4 to 4 1/4 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting

Filling:

  • 1/2 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
  • 1 Tbsp. ground cinnamon
  • 4 Tbsp. unsalted butter

Pan base:

  • 1/4 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
  • 4 Tbsp. unsalted butter, melted

Method

1 Make the dough. In the bowl of an electric mixer, combine warm water, yeast and 1 tsp. sugar. Stir to dissolve and let sit until foamy, about 5 minutes.

Add milk, butter, remaining sugar, egg yolks, salt and 3 cups flour. Mix on low speed until blended. Switch to a dough hook and then, again on low speed, slowly incorporate the remaining 1 cup of flour. Increase speed to medium, kneading dough until smooth and slightly sticky (adding a little more flour if too wet), 3 to 5 minutes. Shape the dough into a ball and place in a large, buttered bowl. Turn dough over in bowl to coat with the butter from the bowl. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap. Let rise in a warm place until doubled in volume, about 1 hour (or 2 hours if not in an entirely warm place). After the dough has risen, punch down. Turn out onto a lightly floured cutting board and let sit 20 minutes.

2 Make the filling. Combine brown sugar and cinnamon in a small bowl. Melt butter; keep separate.

3 Roll dough out into a 12″ x 18″ rectangle (or wider…wider = more swirls!). Brush with melted butter and sprinkle with cinnamon-sugar mixture. Starting with the long side, roll dough into a cylinder. Place seam side down on a flat surface and cut crosswise into 12 slices.

4 For the pan prep, grease sides with butter. Pour 4 oz melted butter into bottom and evenly spread. Sprinkle brown sugar on butter.

5 Evenly place dough slices, flat side down, on top of prepared pan. Cover with plastic wrap, leaving room for the buns to rise, and refrigerate overnight.

6 Remove the rolls from the refrigerator and let stand at room temperature while the oven pre-heats. Preheat oven to 375°. Bake buns until golden, 30 to 35 minutes. Remove pan from oven and immediately (and carefully as not to spill hot topping on your toes!) invert onto a serving tray or baking dish. Let buns cool slightly and serve warm as is or with frosting if desired.
Cream Cheese Frosting (totally unnecessary but totally delicious)

Cream together 1 package cream cheese, 4tbs softened butter, a pinch of salt, vanilla and powdered sugar to taste (1/3-1/2 cup). Frosting will be thick. If you would rather have icing, thin with milk and drizzle.

 

 

Thoughts on Baby “Stuff”

Now that we are expecting a little bundle of joy, there are SO.MANY.THINGS.

I am bombarded by ads on facebook and Instagram and Amazon…you need ALL THE THINGS! Paired with that are the opinions, both current and past from moms, friends, family, coworkers, you name it, on all the stuff you NEED.

And, by the way, none of these lists are the same.

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What are we to do?

Thankfully, we have some time (babies come with that built in ramp time thank goodness…our house is far from ready for a third person!) to research, talk to people and build a list of what will work best for us.

Before we started looking at individual things, Matt and I talked a lot about our lifestyle and how we envision raising a kiddo. Disclaimer: this is what we envision…and are totally 100% aware that some if not all of this will change when the real thing is happening. Please don’t judge.

We talk extensively about priorities, and filters for choosing “stuff” for our baby:

  1. Multi-age or purpose. Can it be used for more than just 1 event or age?
  2. Minimal # of things. We don’t have space to store extra.
  3. Well made. That will last for 2 kids and then resell or pass on
  4. Secondhand when appropriate.
  5. Related to secondhand…safety. This is a big one. Does it meet current guidelines and recommendations.
  6. Nontoxic (I could write pages on this…) particularly for sleeping surfaces, bedding and clothes.

First thing you do when you have a baby? Bring them home.

We are currently a single vehicle family driving a mini cooper. It has been pretty incredible to build up a farm and do a MAJOR remodel with just this vehicle, and we are enjoying only having one car. I typically commute to work on public transportation, and then take the car to the mainland 1 or 2 days per week for work and combine all our major errands on those trips. What does this mean for us as a family of three? Well, a few things.

First, the mini is tight for us to get out and do big trips just the two of us. This means for visiting family, surfing, hiking we will want a larger vehicle. So we are exploring options to add to our family fleet. Winners at the moment are a Subaru or minivan. We know we eventually want two kids, so that is part of the equation.

Second, I do most of the errands while on the mainland. Matt rarely drives unless we are going somewhere together. Matt, Mr. at-home-Daddy, does not envision that this will change for him much once baby is here, mostly staying at home base unless they are out for fun on the island. Those trips are all pretty short. For our longer haul trips to see family etc, we will have both of us plus baby. This really impacts our need for things like strollers and carseats that easily come in and out of the car.

Like most baby gear, carseats were an abstract concept that I had not given much thought. I knew I would choose a super safe model, but then came the other decisions: toxicity (a theme I am personally really interested in), mobility, and options for infant vs. convertible etc. I did not even know those were considerations!

Then how do carseats mesh with your stroller plan? Oh boy, don’t even get me started on this one. We have been learning a lot about babywearing vs. stroller culture, and based on our travel patterns, access to walkable spaces (living on a rural island is pretty different than a city or neighborhood with sidewalks), errand routines and personal preferences (and after doing lots of reading and talking with others) are very much leaning towards no infant stroller (gasp! I know this causes horror for some to think about) or infant carrying carseat, and opting instead for a convertible car seat and babywearing initially. We will add a stroller later on when baby is heavier (or we decide we need some wheels) when they are past the infant stage and can handle an upright setup.

I am excited to try out our local chapter of the babywearing library where you can check out different carriers/wraps/slings for a month to give them a try! Matt is excited about this option too because it meets one of our other primary goals of reducing demand for new things (and needs…lets be real here, our house is small and we have no garage to store “extra” stuff).

We started building a registry with these ideas in mind so that I can research things, make a decision, and then move on. New products come out all the time (like the new Willow breast pump!? OMG this thing sounds cool and comes out this spring). I am scouring our local secondhand sources for baby gear and already scored some primo things for WAY discounted: primarily a set of cloth diapers, a Bjorn bouncer and Deuter hiking backpack carrier. Win!

Our nursery will be more kid focused than “baby”, with a gender neutral surf/beach theme in teal/orange/white and other bright pops of color. Get some years out of the effort we are going to put into it (not to mention that it will need new flooring and a window before we have a baby in it). It is a huge room, nearly 14×20, and we plan to have it has the kids room for two until one is older and wants their own space upstairs.

For Christmas I got a sewing machine, and I am excited to start sewing simple baby clothes with secondhand fabrics. My best friend sent me some patterns for baby pants that she made out of old mens sweaters! For our little summer baby I am looking at easy 1 piece romper patterns, and have an idea for making them out of secondhand shirts. Stay tuned!

Well those are my current thoughts. I know these are likely to evolve over time, and I will probably look back and laugh at my “pre-mommy” naive vision of how we operate as a family of three. But we really are trying to think through OUR lifestyle, parenting goals, and space limitations before making purchases. Besides, we know that regardless of how much stuff we have, our baby really only needs food, shelter and love to grow. The rest is really just convenience.

A Family of Three

It felt like a long haul to get here. When we started playing with the idea of starting a family, one of my concerns was how well my body would adjust to being off of birth control. I had been on it for years, primarily to regulate a very irregular and abnormal cycle. Something that seemed mundane was now very impactful on my ability to have children. After months of pill free LONG cycles (we are talking 90+ days here) I started seeing a reproductive endocrinologist to see what was going on. After a long string of tests, frustration, and not many answers, my irregular cycles did not seem to have a cause. My RE was convinced I was not ovulating, and told us it would be really hard for us to conceive naturally.

That was really hard to hear.

But we pressed on, and decided to just see how things went. No doctors, no pressure. We even started talking about kids differently. Using “if” vs “when” took some getting used to, but it helped ease the stress.

We took a fantastic surf road trip all the way to Big Sur. Then gallivanted around Quebec eating more wine, pate and soft cheese than a pregnant woman could even look at.

Then we came home and got back to life. My 30th birthday was bittersweet. I had always imagined having my first kiddo by 30 and clearly that was not in the cards.

The following Friday I was going to a big fancy gala for work. An event that would include lots of drinking, so I figured it would be better safe than sorry to take a pregnancy test. I got up, and first thing in the morning I opened my very last cheapo test, took it and set it on the back of the toilet to read, waited for the second line, reported the negative to Matt, and then hopped in the shower. Oh well, I guess the open bar would at least be an option.

No more than two minutes later, Matt got up. I was showering away and hear, “ummm, so…there’s a second line…!” I was in disbelief. The pregnancy test was POSITIVE!

We decided to wait till the next morning to take a second test, and that one registered immediately. It was clear: we were pregnant, and did it all on our own!

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I am thrilled to report that we have made it into the second trimester, and little baby seems to be happily snuggled in and growing. We are expecting to celebrate his or her (it will be a surprise!) arrival in early July!

Till then, the house remodel is full speed ahead, we are focused on eating well and spending quality time as a family of two, before we welcome family member number three!

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December 16th Check In

December is cruising by, but feels like December this year! Our house is still remodel crazy but we do have a Christmas tree up and it all feels so cozy. Last weekend Matt finished the chimney and gas line and closed up the hole in our house (phew!). Good timing too because it has been COLD! We even had two snows this month which is rare for our little island. Another milestone: reinstalling the cat porch! To put in the new gas line, Matt had to move the cat porch (outdoor litter box palace that connect through a cat door in the wall!) so the litter box has been living in the spare bathroom (ick!). Well that is all coming to a close today and we will have our clean bathroom back! One step at a time, this house is getting done.

Can you believe Christmas is next weekend? We are hosting the Feast of Seven Fishes at our house Christmas Eve and have been refining this year’s menu. I did the first round of shopping this week and will tie up loose ends next week. Matt is focused on keeping the menu authentic Italian (after all, this is an Italian tradition we are adopting from his family) and we are working hard to get the details right.

I shipped two mobiles last week and have another going out tomorrow. It has been so much fun seeing my artwork be gifted and loved! January will be focused on 3 custom orders and celebrating 1 year of being an official business!

It has been a cold and clear end to the year and we are so looking forward to celebrating the holidays with family in a week!

December Goals

The end of the year is quickly approaching! Where does the time go?!

Matt and I are in the whirlwind winter months of home remodel. It is quite a different tone than summertime. Doors could be left open, material storage and sawing outdoors…no longer! Everything is crammed into our living space and things are just a bit harder to work with.

Our current focus is finishing our new fireplace. Well, to be fair, relocating the old freestanding natural gas stove to it’s new home in a brick hearth with mantle and built in bookcases. The old gas piping and chimney have been removed and drywall repaired. Last night an hour after dark Matt put the finishing touches on the new chimney. Only one piece of new gas line to go and we are ready to start building up the hearth!

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In addition to all the remodel work, we are also prepping for hosting Christmas at our house! My family is renting a house for two night on the island and we will be hosting a Christmas Eve Feast of Seven Fishes. Time to get these tools cleaned up and the house decorated with a little Christmas cheer!

December Goals:

  1. Mail Christmas cards
  2. See the Nutcracker (local community production)
  3. Put up a Christmas tree
  4. Bake our favorite cookies
  5. Store away sea glass
  6. Finish the brick on the fireplace
  7. Winterize garden
  8. Check the oil in my car
  9. Finish 2016 travel photo books
  10. Backup photos onto hard drive

 

Fall Vacation Reflection

What is it about vacations that make being home feel so good? We have been on the road more than usual this fall. A September wedding in Big Sur wrapped up the final 12 days of summer with an epic surf road trip. Less than two week later we were flying across the country for a French Canadian dose of fall color in Quebec. Both trips were amazing, and totally different.

Road trip to Big Sur took us along Hwy 101 and 1: the classic West Coast adventure. Our mini cooper was crammed full of camping gear, food, wetsuits, wedding clothes and our two boards strapped to the roof. It was quite a sight and so much fun to pull off. 2600+ miles took us to some amazing views, great surf, with friends and family along the way. Nik and Nora’s wedding was quite the event as well and we felt like honored guests for the intimate, luxury event.

The week we were home felt the total opposite. Rushed and frantic and too much to do. We harvested tomatoes, made and froze sauce, rebuilt the chicken coop roof and added a new outdoor run. The rain was coming so we battened down the hatches and prepared our little farm for another spell away. I did my best to catch up at work while simultaneously preparing projects for more “out of office” responses in my absence. The house projects received zero attention.

But then the magic of travel happened again and all those unfinished project and work worries were 3000 miles away. On free tickets from last year’s bumped flight, we flew into Montreal and made our home in a little bohemian apartment for the next 4 days. We ate bread and cheese and pate for dinner almost every night, and found pastries for breakfast and lunch. We explored the city through all modes of transit: on foot, by bike share, metro and bus. One night we went out for a fancy dinner. We asked for a recommendation at the trendy butcher shop where we had found excellent terrine. Their sister restaurant was just around the corner and exactly what we wanted for a nice night out.

On Sunday we took a bus to Quebec City on the peak day of fall color. It was incredible, and quite a different experience from fall in the Pacific Northwest. The trees were on fire! How did we like Quebec City? That first afternoon of exploring literally brought me to tears. Multiple times. It was that beautiful and special feeling. The clouds and sky and light were perfect to see the city for the first time.

The rest of our 6 day Canadian adventure took us all around and through Quebec City. We rented a car 2 days to seek out fall colors (and more pastries and coffee). We ate and explored and ate and explored, calling another little Airbnb apartment home. We rarely find places we may want to live (we really do love Vashon) but were totally smitten with Ile d’Orleans. If we ever need to move that is on the list.

Now we are home. It took us a few weeks to really settle back in. We came home to a house swimming in tomatoes salvaged from the late season storms. Picking corn and cuddling our kitties that missed us tons. We dug out the rest of the garden and planted cover crops. We are settling back into the routine. Matt is finding his tools and picking up projects. I am figuring out my daily commute to the city. Life is returning to normal just as the days really settle into fall.

Date Cake with Broiled Coconut Caramel Topping

Monday night dinner needed dessert. In our fridge we had two huge boxes of really good dates. So I googled date cake. I love sticky date pudding but wanted something simpler. I found a recipe, tweaked it a bit, and came up with this. It far exceeded expectations and will be part of our usual rotation from now on.

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Cake

  • 1 1/2 cups water
  • 2 cups dates, pitted and chopped
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 cup butter
  • 3/4 cup white or coconut sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt

Topping

  • 4 tablespoons coconut oil
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 2 tablespoons coconut milk
  • 1/2 cup chopped pecans

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour a 9 inch square pan. In a saucepan, combine water and dates. Bring to a boil and cook for 5 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in baking soda. Set aside.
  2. In a large bowl, cream together 1/2 cup butter and 3/4 cup sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in the eggs one at a time, then stir in the vanilla. Beat in the flour, salt and date mixture. Pour batter into prepared pan.
  3. Bake in the preheated oven for 45 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean. Remove cake from oven, and set oven to Broil.
  4. Make Topping: In a saucepan, melt 4 tablespoons coconut oil. Stir in brown sugar, cream and chopped nuts. Spread mixture over warm cake and place under broiler until lightly browned, about 3 minutes. Watch carefully – it burns easily under the broiler.