Most Excellent Dinner Rolls

My family loves bread...and I've been making various forms of bread since the monkeys were wee little things. Slice bread, beer bread, mango bread, cinnamon rolls, pizza crust, foccacia, multi-grain, bread sticks, etc etc - and most of it I think I've gotten fairly comfortable with - well, except maybe sandwich bread. The one thing I've been hesitant/cowardly about trying is dinner rolls. For some reason I don't remember watching my Meme make dinner rolls. I remember seeing them rising on top of the fridge but I guess I never got up early enough to catch her making them. I watched her make just about everything else (she never bought a loaf of bread - of any kind - from the store - and refused to use the bread machine she was given years later). And since noone else in my family knew how to make bread, I grew up believing dinner rolls came from a package. That is, until last November.

Last Thanksgiving was the first time we celebrated the holiday on our own - with just our little family. We were invited to join other friends and family but I really wanted, for once, to do our own thing. To cook the food we like, to celebrate in our own way, to create our own traditions - and to continue our healing journey back together. In making this choice (which, unfortunately, also came with a few guilt trips thrown our way, which I kinda understand but don't find helpful or necessary - then again, isn't that what holidays are all about? Not that I'm bitter), I had the opportunity to make the entire Thanksgiving meal on my own (with the help of the man and the monkeys, of course). Even down to the dinner rolls. I decided if I could do everything else (yes, even the stuffing, which wasn't hard BTW, and since we don't eat animals there was no turkey to worry about), I could at least try to make the rolls.

So I got online and found a super easy recipe for herb dinner rolls. Keywords: Super.Easy.

In fact, it's really not much different than making oh, say, pizza dough. There's an extra step allowing time for the rolls to rise a second or third time, which can be tricky (it seems like we're constantly waiting on bread to rise around here - I really need to work on my time management) but really, other than rise times, it's so easy I'm surprised more people aren't talking about it, or doing it. And you can control which herbs you want to use, what kinds of flour you prefer (we used whole wheat) and what format you want to serve them in. We rolled these into little balls then placed them into muffin tins (three balls in each) and let them rise a bit more before baking. I also made this same dough again a few weeks later but rolled them into breadstick form brushed with butter and garlic salt. The kids dipped them in marinara sauce. Most excellent.

Once they're done rising, they are brushed with butter and baked till golden (but don't overcook them!).

The last time I made these fabulous dinner rolls the chatter around the table went something like this: "These are the best rolls I've ever had!"..."Man, these are good!"..."I think we should start a lemonade stand and sell these rolls!"..."I bet we could make lots of money selling these!"..."Wow, these really are good!"..."I can't stop eating them!" (I think that last one was more of a distress call).

They are ridiculously good. And ridiculously easy. There are no excuses for buying processed dinner rolls in a package ever again. Seriously, people. It's not rocket science. If my kids can do it, so can you! Give it a try! You'll be amazed!

Here's the recipe:

Herb Pull Apart Rolls
1 packet active dry yeast (or 2 1/4 tsp)
1 cup warm water
1/4 cup melted butter
2 cups flour (we used whole wheat bread flour)
2 T sugar (we used brown sugar)
1 1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp thyme
1/2 tsp oregano
1/4 tsp dill
(could also just use rosemary - or whatever herb combinations you like)

Mix yeast and warm water, add sugar till it bubbles. Add melted butter, flour, salt, herbs. Mix until well blended. Add flour in 1/2 cup increments while continuing to mix until the dough becomes smooth and elastic. Place the dough in a greased bowl and cover. Let it rise for about an hour (doubles in size). Punch down the dough. Turn dough out on a floured work surface (slipmats work great for this) and roll into a small disk. Divide into 6 equal pieces, then divide each piece again into 6 equal pieces and roll these into 36 small balls. Put 3 balls into each greased muffin pan and cover and let rise in a warm place another 45 minutes. Preheat oven to 400. Brush rolls with butter and bake 15 minutes. Makes 12 rolls.

Here's a similar online version (with a how-to video) (we felt the recipe needed more herbs so I increased those in my version).

Happy eating!

The Peaches of Summer

There's nothing better than hand-picked Hill Country peaches.

Summer is at its best when the kids are in these peach trees sampling the harvest, juice running down their hands, squealing about how yummy and sweet the peaches are. It's become one of our many summer rituals. Hopefully someday soon we'll have our own peach tree to harvest. Until then, we'll continue supporting our local orchards...climbing and picking...picking and eating.

We tried buying peaches from the store. Hard. Dry. Bitter. Nope. Not for us. It's worth the hour drive, it's worth the hot summer weather, it's worth the time it takes walking from tree to tree in search of the best.

It's worth spending the day with friends and kiddos learning the art of the it grows, the sap it leaves, it's color, it's texture, it's smell, what it looks like when the perfect peach is ready to fall, which peaches are best to leave to ripen a bit more, how many turns it takes till it breaks from it's limb - we've been told there's an art to picking perfect peaches. It's our quest to learn.

And let's not forget the art of blackberry picking. When I was young blackberry bushes grew wild along the fences. We could pick and eat till we were as plump as the berries. We grew our own blackberry bush this year and it produced nicely for us, but nothing beats walking thru rows and rows of 7ft tall bushes seeking out only the blackest and most juiciest berries. I love blackberry cobbler, but this year I decided to try making blackberry jam instead. And of course, peach preserves.

Mushing, boiling, stirring...

Filling the jars with homespun yummy-ness...

And gratitude.

For a once empty cabinet now bursting with jams and preserves (with lots left over to share with friends). And for another summer filled with memories spent wiping peach juice off our chins while rambling thru a forest of fruit. 

The efforts are not lost...the time is not spent unwisely. There's nothing I'd rather be doing with my children.

In fact, I think we'll go back for more!

Cinnamon Rolls

My gypsy girls learning the art (and deliciousness) of homemade cinnamon rolls...






icing... takes more time, but homemade is always better!

*For those interested in giving it a try, the recipe came from the Tassajara Bread book. You can find it online here (we omitted the raisins; we used whole wheat bread flour; and for the icing, I used only powdered sugar and a little almond milk to make a light glaze). Delicious!

A Little Light Reading for June

June June June...goodbye to June. But truth be told, June lingered a bit for me this year. I don't think I've ever been so happy to see the arrival of July. I did quite a bit of reading in June. Maybe that has something to do with it. In fact, looking back, it's possible I had my nose in a book the entire month. I read: The Bond, The Help, The Lovely Bones, The Red Tent, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime, Swallows and Amazons, Bossypants, Midnight's Children, Madame Bovary, Confederacy of Dunces, along with a few other misc books. And for book club I read Lisa See's newest book, Dreams of Joy (not pictured). I also squeezed in Birdsong and A Town Like Alice (both forgettable...and not pictured) and The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.

My favorite of all of these was The Help and The Red Tent. Both worthy of shelf-space. I enjoyed Confederacy of Dunces; and Swallows and Amazons made me want to drive to Maine and have sailing adventures with my gypsies...and The Bond was a good read by Wayne Pacelle regarding our call to defend animals. Bossypants was funny but I'm ever so thankful I didn't spend actual money on it, only to see it mocking me from the overstuffed bookshelf. Bwahahahaha, you fool! Seriously, it's books like that (and Madame Bovary and Midnight's Children, and to a lesser degree The Lovely Bones) that secures in me a desire to make out with my library card.

The stack on the left in the upper picture was part of what the girls picked out from the library. They read a few E. Nesbit books, a few Cam Jamsen books, a few Dick King-Smith books, and together we listened to The Wind in the Willows (on CD in the car), The Secret Garden, the Anne of Green Gables seriesThe Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar, almost all of Little House on the Prairie and The Incredible Journey. We are now working our way thru Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of Nimh (also on CD in the car).

And I have to mention that my little 7yo gypsy gal won a groovy bicycle at our local library for all this family reading. She was one of ten children chosen (out of 400) to win one of the ten bikes, which were given to the top readers in various age groups for the month of June. My older gal was sad she didn't win but the two older reading groups were fairly stiff competition. I didn't even bother to take my camera to the award ceremony because I was certain they had both been out-read. And can I just add that quite a few of the bike winners (including two siblings) were from either homeschool families or kiddos who attend private school. So, yay for the homeschoolers!

A picture of the winners will be in the local paper next week so as soon as I get my hands on a photo I'll add it right *here.*

I'm still working on The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks and A Fine Balance (seriously, where's my bicycle?). I got bogged down by Midnight's Children, which I'll admit I eventually just gave up on. That book required way too much understanding of things I don't know or apparently can't understand. The writing is atrocious. It hurt my little brain.

I also gotten bogged down by what I thought would be a quick read, Jude the Obscure, by Thomas Hardy. It's actually fairly enjoyable and I love the's just...I don't know. I think in all honesty I've lately become distracted from books because of the introduction of Dexter into my life. A friend suggested I pick up the first season from the library and try it out...and now I find myself determined to catch up with the rest of the cable-drunk world on what this Dexter thing is all about...and it seems to be taking up all my reading time. Curses! And there's five seasons to get thru! Hmph! Isn't this exactly what I was trying to avoid by not having cable? Apparently my little brain has simply shut down (book-overload?) and wants to be entertained the old-fashioned way. Or do I have that backwards?

I suppose it's possible I fried my brain. It is kinda hot out. I blame Bossypants. Actually, it hurts to speculate. And besides, Dexter is hawt! Creepy - but hawt. I think I'll just keep watching until my brain stops hemorrhaging. Or will that just make it worse? Gah, I'm so confused!