Just Like Your Kid: Trouble But Worth It Cinnamon Rolls

Nothing gold can stay.
Nothing gold can stay.

Exactly five hours from now (or thereabouts, as these things go), I am taking my child to France.

Not France, exactly.

Worse: taking her to Boston to hand her over to a group of (hopefully kindly) strangers who will then shuffle her off to Anglet by way of Paris/Normandy in a mere 48 hours. She will be gone for ten months, and as these things sometimes go, I may not actually see her for any of those ten months.

If ever there was a time for comfort food, this is it.

This is when I start hunkering down, loading up the pantry with staples and filling the ‘fridge with things that are substantial and too much of them.

If we weren’t busy with frantic, last-minute packing, I would make these cinnamon rolls.

I call them Just Like Your Kid Cinnamon Rolls. They are a pain in the ass, but in the end oh so very worth it.

When I made these the first time, I held my breath. I have made gluten-free cinnamon rolls before, and they were tough, dry, awful things that were saved only by copious amounts of cinnamon and overly-sweet cream cheese icing and a burning need for a cinnamon roll.

These cinnamon rolls. Zoiks.

They are everything they should be. Soft and yielding and hot and sweet and pungent with the sharp smell and taste of cinnamon. They melt in your mouth. These cinnamon rolls are the thick, fluffy blanket I want to wrap myself in when I think of food that is comforting.

Bonus: they are gluten-free. My god. Could it get any better?

Side note: of course you can make them with regular flour. Whatever comforts you most.

If I had time on this morning where I am trying not to think too hard about sending my baby off to another country for nearly a year, I would go ahead and make a big batch of these. I would wake her up with one of these and a cup of coffee (with cream and just a little sugar but not too much anymore because she is using less these days) on a tray to her room.

I would spoil her in the way I do, with food delivered to her in the morning and the simple grace of allowing her to rise into this new day gently.

But since I can’t do that, and we don’t have anymore time, you’ll just have to make these and let me know how they work out.

Just Like Your Kid Cinnamon Rolls

Note: Read the recipe through first. This is not a complicated recipe, but the butter that needs to be softened needs to be very, very soft for spreading.

Ingredients

Dough

2 tablespoons butter
1⁄4 cup white sugar
2⁄3 cup milk, warmed (80 to 100 degrees)
1 tablespoon yeast
1 large egg (room temperature is best)
1⁄4 cup canola oil
1 1/2 cups gluten-free all-purpose flour
1⁄4 teaspoon baking soda
2 1⁄2 teaspoons xanthan gum
2 teaspoons baking powder
1⁄2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla

Filling

1 cup packed brown sugar
2 1⁄2 tablespoons cinnamon
1⁄3 cup butter, very softened (spreadable)
Icing

8 tablespoons butter, softened
1 1⁄2 cups powdered sugar
1⁄4 cup cream cheese, softened
1⁄2 teaspoon vanilla
1⁄8 teaspoon salt
Method

Wake your yeast as you would your teen: gently. Place warmed milk into a large bowl and allow to bubble for a few minutes.

Add sugar, butter, oil, and vanilla to milk/yeast mixture. Stir gently until completely combined.

Add egg and stir to combine.

In a smaller bowl, combine salt, gluten-free flour, baking soda, baking powder, and xanthan gum.

Add flour mixture to mixing bowl. Stir until well combined. This dough is somewhat sticky, but if it seems unworkable, add a little more flour, just a tablespoon at a time. You don’t want it too dry.

Place dough in a greased container and put in a warm place to rise for 45-60 minutes. I like to preheat my oven to 200 degrees and then turn it off. If you are using gluten-free flour, the dough will not double in size, but it will rise just a bit.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees and grease a square glass baking dish. 8″x8″ works great.

Get ready to roll.

Tear off a piece of plastic wrap, about 18″ long or so and lay it on your counter. Place the dough on this plastic wrap, then cover the dough with another piece of plastic wrap.

If you skip this and act like a teenager and think you just know everything (#RollsEyes) then you will wind up with a sticky mess and no cinnamon rolls and YOU SHOULD ALWAYS LISTEN TO YOUR MOTHER (or, in this case, this recipe. #Trust).

Roll dough to 1/4″ thick rectangle between the plastic wrap. I use a wine bottle if I don’t feel like digging out my rolling pin, and I have also used floured parchment paper instead of plastic wrap (when I am feeling uptown) or plain old waxed paper.

Your rectangle should be about 13″ or so long and nearly as wide as the plastic wrap.

Spread very softened butter on the dough.

Combine brown sugar and cinnamon together and sprinkle liberally onto the dough, leaving a 1″ edge clean (the long edge farthest away from you).

Now here’s the tricky part – rolling the dough into cinnamon rolls.

Use the bottom piece of plastic wrap to begin to roll the dough away from you. You are going for a tight log shape. The tighter, the better, but don’t sweat it. When you get to the naked part of the dough, the part with no filling, then you’re done and that naked edge will help seal the log shape.

Use a serrated knife to cut the log into eight pieces. Tranfer these pieces to your greased baking dish. Leave a little breathing room between each roll.

You could let them rise a little longer here if you’d like. OR you could make them up to this point the night before, put them in the ‘fridge, and then bring them to room temperature in the morning before baking.

Bake for about 2o minutes until tops are golden brown. To check for sure that they are done, run a butter knife into the very center rolls. If dough sticks, bake a little longer.

Combine frosting ingredients while the cinnamon rolls bake, and frost the cinnamon rolls while they are piping hot. Don’t expect these to last long, but if you manage to have leftovers, cover and keep in the ‘fridge.

What’s your comfort food?

This Is Not A Manifesto: Corn Dog Edition

This is not a manifesto. It's a corn dog.
This is not a manifesto. It’s a corn dog.

I love a good manifesto.

It warms the cockles of my heart when someone stands up and puts it out there: who they are, who they are not, what they believe. Things they might, in fact, die for if shit went south and got overly dramatic or fraught.

Take corn dogs, for instance.

I have an old friend who is almost like a brother who now mostly exists for me on Facebook. He was a great friend in person and is now a great friend online.

But he has gone his entire life not having ever tasted the ambrosia that is a corn dog.

How is this possible? In this day and age, with an abundance of corn dogs to be had, how can he have not eaten the greasy golden goodness of tube meat encased in sweetcrunchycreamy corn bread?

And back the fuck away with ketchup. Mustard only. #ThisIsNotAmateurHour

When I expressed my disbelief in this corn dog-sized hole in his heart (that was hitherto undiscovered) and my own love of corn dogs, he said, and I quote:

“I would’ve pegged you as anti-corn dog.”

A dagger. Like a dagger to the heart.

How can ANYONE be anti-corn dog? Is that even possible? I question the validity of the term itself.

And where on earth would he have gotten the anti-corn dog vibe?

This is not the first time I have run up against this sentiment. In my yoga teacher training, I routinely get asked for healthy recipes, and people there say they need to look at my blog when they are trying to eat something that is good for them.

Let’s go to the record: my last two recipes have been for cake and Nanaimo bars, a tooth-achingly sweet yet delicious concoction that serves very few and still manages to use an entire stick of butter in one of its three layers.

I make a coffee cake that uses two cups of  sugar and an entire bar of cream cheese.

The book that I just wrote features more dessert recipes than any other kind in any other section. By a lot.

Yes, the things I create are gluten free. But health food? They are not.

So it seems fitting to set the record straight.

This is not a manifesto.

I believe in eating well.

I believe in fresh food, cooked with love.

I believe in butter, lots of it, and heavy cream. I also believe in full-fat cream cheese and whole milk.

I love sugar. I don’t believe in sugar substitutes. If you substitute agave for sugar, do it because agave has its own delicious taste, but don’t try to fool yourself into thinking it is magically better for you than regular sugar. #DittoHoney

I think everyone should be able to eat something delicious when they come to my house, regardless of their dietary restrictions. Sometimes this means limiting fat, salt, and sugar. These are instances in which I will do whatever I need to do to make a person feel welcome.

If something makes you feel bad, don’t eat it, and ignore the haters. #IAmLookingAtYouGlutenShamers

I am not above a box of macaroni and cheese. Nor am I below it. Mostly it is somewhere in the middle, right behind my navel.

I have eaten an entire bag of chips for dinner.

I don’t believe in diets. I don’t believe in dieting. I don’t believe in “cheat days.”

I believe in moderation in all things, including moderation (thanks, Oscar Wilde).

I believe that cooking and feeding people is an art that everyone should have access to. So stow your elitist bullshit (like the $20 fried pig’s tail – are YOU FUCKING KIDDING ME – currently on offer at a local nose-to-tail hipster place that I won’t name but should).

And I believe that when you go to the fair or a carnival, GET A FUCKING CORN DOG.

So. Mike. For you, here is a corn dog.

Mike Kendall’s First Corn Dog

Note: Because I believe good food should be affordable, I won’t always use organic things. GMOs are up for debate, and I will not enter the fray here. HOWEVER. Because hot dogs are generally made of, as my friend Luke says, lips and assholes, spend your money on good ones. Either go to a butcher you trust, or at least go kosher. I like Hebrew National  (#SupportTheJews #MyFatherWouldBeProud) and Applegate’s uncured, no nitrates organic stadium dogs for both taste and texture. You can also use veggie dogs if you must; I used ToFurky’s vegan version of hot dog in testing.

Ingredients

One package of hot dogs

1 cup gluten-free all-purpose flour (gluten-filled flour works here, too), plus a little more to coat the dogs

1 cup cornmeal

6 T sugar

1 1/2 tsp baking powder

1 1/2 tsp salt

1 egg

1 1/4 cups buttermilk (OR, easy cheater way: Add one tablespoon of apple cider vinegar to 1 1/4 cups of milk and let sit for ten minutes. Proceed as directed. #BOOM)

Vegetable oil for frying (a nice big bottle. #Yum)

Method

I use an enameled cast-iron Dutch oven for frying. If you have a fryer, that works, too. Heat oil to 350 degrees. I aim for about three inches of oil in the pot; you may not need as much. You do, however, need to heat it to 350. #Trust

Mix dry ingredients together in a medium-sized bowl.

Mix wet ingredients in a small bowl. Add wet ingredients to dry and mix until there are no lumps (I like a whisk for this purpose. Don’t be gentle; it’s not a baby bunny.).

There are two ways to go about frying up some homemade fair food.

Easy way:

Cut hot dogs into 2-inch pieces and coat in flour. Dip into batter, then remove with a fork and drop into hot oil. Fry until golden brown, moving them around as needed to ensure crispy goodness all over. Use tongs or a spider to remove to paper towels to drain.

Eat a ridiculous amount of these.

Less easy way (requires more attention and the purchase of sturdy skewers):

Pour batter into a tall drinking glass.

Skewer your hot dogs through the end almost all the way to the top. Roll hot dogs in flour to coat, then dip that dog into the batter.

Place in heated oil and fry that baby up until the outside is golden brown and delicious, about three minutes. Make sure to flip around in the oil so that all sides are brown.

Pro tip: As you lower the dogs into the oil, go slowly and swirl the top of the dog in the hot oil. This seals the batter so that it doesn’t fly off in all directions and looks more like fair corn dogs.

Remove from oil and place on paper towels to drain. Serve with mustard, or, begrudgingly, with ketchup.

I won’t lie: sriracha mayo is also delicious here, as is honey mustard.

Recipe notes

  • Leftover batter can be fried on its own and sprinkled with powdered sugar. Go for broke and top with a can of cherry pie filling or chocolate pudding and it’s like the fair has come to you.
  • Leftover batter also keeps in the ‘fridge for a day.
  • Add cayenne to your batter, a teaspoon or two, for a little spicy dog.

 

 

 

The Peace of Wild Things

Aren't we all a little crackers?
Aren’t we all a little crackers?

My particular friend sent me a love poem the other day.

I had seen it before; this poem has made the rounds of self-help books and memes for many several years, usually as a call to nature.

The Peace of Wild Things

When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.
– Wendell Berry –

I don’t know why, but on this rainy day this poem, sent by my particular friend, takes me to a place of deep, abiding stillness.

That place where nothing really matters, not in a melancholy way but in the way of knowing what it means to be truly content with what simply is.

That place that has no boundaries except the sides of the universe that stretch infinitely.

That place where nothing is unforgiven, no fault is laid, there is no rush, pressure, or blame.

That place that might be called Grace in its most passive form: free and unmerited favor. Bestowal of blessings.

Obvi not a place that exists in the real world, except maybe on those rare occasions when you truly have nothing to do, all  day to do it, and a particular friend of your own with whom to do it. Then time slides through and around you like water slipping over a mossy rock.

The peace of wild things lives here, in this place.

There are other ways I can get to this place of grace…in the peaceful company of wild things.

Yoga, sometimes, when I am not beating myself up. Trikonasana, heart to the sky. Ardha chandrasana, open and balanced.

Sex, if I am being honest (which I always try to be), particularly the satisfying kind, tangled in the bedsheets afterwards, on the sleepy precipice, cells bathed in their own lovely wash of delight.

And cooking. Food.

Cooking takes me there, to grace. Even as my mind is racing through possibilities or running down a list of ingredients there is a meditative calm and stillness at the center of this work that isn’t work.

To describe myself in such terms – calm, meditative, still – is a rare and precious thing.

And yet.

When I come to the kitchen, there it is. And if it’s not there I can surely find it at the bottom of the bowl.

That place that is so quiet and still that I can hear my own voice, strong and steady in my throat and heart.

That undemanding timespace that somehow knits back together the very best parts of myself.

It doesn’t quite matter what I make.

It’s the act. The art.

Everyday Crackers

Crackers may seem an odd choice, but if it’s good enough for Jesus (grace and all), it’s good enough for me. Plus, these are easy and delicious and very nearly impossible to screw up. Very forgiving. #Grace

Ingredients
3 cups gluten free all-purpose flour blend
1 ½ tsp. salt
2 tsp. sugar
4 T. olive oil
4 T. butter, frozen and grated
1 cup water
Add-ins: 1 ½ tsp. fennel, 1 ½ tsp. sesame seeds, ½ t. salt, ¼ t. cracked black pepper, combined, toasted, and cooled

Method
Preheat oven to 400⁰. In the bowl of a food processor, combine dry ingredients (including add-ins). Pulse to mix. Add olive oil and butter, then pulse to mix (the mixture will resemble cornmeal). Add water and mix until dough comes together. The dough will be sticky.

Lightly flour two cookie sheets. Working the dough as little as possible, pinch a bit of dough out of the food processor (approximately 1” balls). Place on the cookie sheet. Pinches of dough should be an inch apart. When you have filled the cookie sheet, lightly flour the flat bottom of a glass (or a measuring cup, or anything flat), and press each pinch of dough to 1/8” thick. The thickness is not as important as evenly pressing the dough is; uneven crackers will brown on one edge and not the other. Poke each crackers three times with a toothpick (this is important!).

Place cookie sheets in the oven and bake for a total of 12 minutes, rotating the crackers halfway through for even browning. Remove immediately from cookie sheets and cool on a wire rack. These crackers will stay fresh in an airtight container for three days, but you can pop them in a hot oven for a couple minutes to re-crisp if necessary.

Recipe notes

  • Oven temperatures vary and can greatly affect your outcome. Keep a close eye on your crackers, especially towards the end, to see if modifications to the bake need to be made.
  • These crackers can also be rolled out and cut into rectangles or squares with a pizza cutter.
  • Between batches, place the dough in the refrigerator.
  • Use all olive oil instead of butter to make these vegan. They may be slightly tougher.
  • Topping options are nearly unlimited, and you can also add fresh herbs into the dough when you add the water.
  • For a most delicious variation, add the zest of two lemons, ½ cup of dried blueberries (no sugar added), and 1 T of chopped thyme. Makes a beautiful, subtle, purple cracker. Serve with soft cheese.
  • These crackers can be made in a large bowl without a food processor. Work the dough as quickly as you can, and make sure all ingredients are incorporated.
  • For easier clean up, these can also be baked on parchment paper.
  • Store crackers in an airtight container. I have had them for as long as a week with no loss of texture, but I ate them all before I could experiment further.