Saturday, June 30, 2012

how to: host a christmas party in july

Okay... to say I am excited about today's how-to post would be a MAJOR understatement.  I mean, put the words Christmas and party together, and I am all ears.  Today Chrystina, over from Chrystina Noel, is helping us plan the perfect Christmas in July party!!  I love Christmas... and I love parties.  Why I have never hosted a Christmas in July party is absolutely beyond me.  But not to worry... after reading Chrystina's post today, I'm totally having one... already picked out the date.  Feliz Navidad!
When I read on Julia's site that she is obsessed with Christmas, I thought to myself - I know the PERFECT "how to" post to join in the week - how to throw a Christmas party in July.

Hosting parties is one of my favorite things. Hosting themed parties is even more awesome. I hosted a Christmas in July party a few years ago, but I'm beginning to think that another one might be in order soon.

Here are some tips on hosting your own Christmas in July party:

1. Make your guest list. Let's face it, this event is not going to be for everybody you know. Not everybody loves Christmas, not everybody loves themed parties. Take this into consideration when making your list and invite people who will truly be able to get into the festive spirit. Also, knowing the amount of people that you could potentially be dealing with will help set the scene.

2. Choose your favorite Christmas activities. Consider your audience and decide what types of Christmas activities would suit them best - whether it be adults, teenagers, kids or even if there are going to be toddlers there. Here are a few suggestions: making cookies, making gingerbread houses, coloring Christmas-themed coloring books, making hot chocolate/spiced cider, reading The Night Before Christmas, Secret Santa, cookie swap, making ornaments, stringing popcorn, watching Charlie Brown Christmas, watching A Muppet Christmas Carol, wearing ugly Christmas sweaters, and Christmas caroling. This is also the time to figure out if you want to serve a meal at this party. For me there were enough other things going on that I didn't feel a meal was necessary, but to each his/her own - there's no going wrong with a good meal.

3. Figure out how to get others involved. Interactive parties are always more fun - the guests feel as if they are part of the planning process and they get just as excited. Take the activities that you chose and decide how to make it interactive. It can be a potluck and everybody can bring their favorite Christmas dish (that way you don't need to cook as much if you've decided to serve dinner). They can help decorate cookies. They can bring candy or frosting for the gingerbread houses (and this saves you money). They can bring coloring books. You can have a make your own hot chocolate bar and provide whipped cream, marshmallows, peppermint sticks, cinnamon sticks, and more. You can have an ugly sweater wearing contest where all the guests have to vote. The options are limitless.

4. Send out invitations. My suggestion is make them extra-festive. Although I'm definitely a handmade invitation lover, sometimes we really just don't have the time for it. And that's why they created website like Evite. Look how many options there are (this is page 2 of 5):

5. Make a Christmas playlist. Include all of your favorite songs - the ones that really psych people up. Because it's not Christmas season, you only have to choose your top 15 or 20 songs and you can put them on repeat because people aren't sick of hearing them. Here's a copy of my Christmas Mix from this last year for suggestions:

6. Add the final Christmas touches before the party. #1 - This will get you in more of a festive spirit. #2 - Your guests will be in a festive mood from the second they walk through the door. Put a wreath on the door. Put on your favorite holiday apron. Switch out your dishcloths for the ones that are red and green. Put cookies in the oven so your house smells like heaven. Light your holiday-scented candles. Put your playlist on in the background. Get ready to enjoy!! At my party we made gingerbread houses, decorated cookies, and sang carols. There were a bunch of engineers there and there's nothing that engineers love more than getting a chance to build their own house (especially civil and architectural engineers). Check out some pictures of the evening. (Have I mentioned I have some of the most awesome friends in the world?).


Friday, June 29, 2012

how to: plan the perfect road trip

Today's post is perfect for any of those summer vacations you have coming up.  Kimberly, over from It Began at Camp 4, is a road trip expert... and today she is sharing all of her awesome travel tips with us! Thankfully I was able to cheat and read Kimberly's post before we made the 10 hour drive to the beach... trust me, I took notes.
I'm so excited to be guest posting here at Black Tag Diaries today!  I decided to write about road trips because I love a good road trip.  Our family has traveled over 18,000 miles by car in the last 3 years.  All of it with small children and most of it in chunks of 1,000 miles or more.  We've been everywhere from Seattle to Orlando and covered 19 states.  I like to think we've learned a few things about what works and what doesn't along the way. Rule number 1, is to start with a positive mindset.  Remember: it's a road TRIP.  The TRIP is the vacation.  If you have only point A and point B with 3,000 miles of nothing in between, you'll be whining, "are we there yet?!?" before you've even left town.  Think about ways you can get the most out of the drive. Rule number 2: children and road trips are not mutually exclusive.  Our first long distance road trip happened when our kids were four and two.  We traveled more than 3,000 miles over a 3 week time period.  We all loved it.  The rules are slightly different with small kids, but it is doable. Of course challenges come up though, so here are some tips based on things we've learned along the way:

  • As I said, enjoy the trip.  Use google to your advantage and find things to do along the way.  It could be something more involved, like stopping at a certain museum, or something as simple as taking an hour to picnic or play at a neat park or playground.  
  • When traveling with children (or big people with the restlessness of children), respect their limits.  We try to stick to about 6 hours of car time a day if we can.  When we drive longer, the kids are less cooperative.  Use the extra hours in the day to swim at the hotel, spend some time at a playground, or check out some local sights. 
  • Go with the flow.  You don't have to plan out your entire route before you leave home.  On multi-day trips, we often have an ending point and vague idea of where we'll travel.  Each  night, we'll look at the map and do a little research on the towns along the way.  Then we decide which specific route to drive based on how we're feeling and what sights seem interesting on that day.  This makes it possible to check out those travel pamphlets in the hotel lobby and discover things you never knew existed when you left home.  Many of our favorite stops have been parks or attractions we discovered by chance along the way. 
  • But be aware too.  Keep an eye on the news as you travel.  Things like hurricanes or large storm systems might make a change of route prudent.  You might want to do a quick search for large festivals, as well....says the mom of 3 who ended up traveling through South Dakota during Sturgis. 
  • As much as space will allow, bring snacks with you.  You can buy them while they're on sale and avoid gas station prices.  I surely can't be the only woman that gets more than a little snippy when I'm hungry.  That steady stream of snacks comes in handy.  We keep the full supply of food in the back of the car and keep a small soft-sided cooler and a square bottomed bag up front with a variety of food to eat as we drive. 
  • Some specific foods that work well in the car with minimal mess: applesauce pouches, fruit snacks (we like the Clif Kid ropes and they work great for bribing the kids), Pringles because they don't get crushed, bagels because they're only minimally susceptible to crushing, boxes of raisins, M&Ms for a chocolate fix without the melty mess, juice boxes, canned drinks.  We'll also bring along a gallon of water to easily refill the kids' sippy cups.  I like the shape and sturdiness of the Ozarka bottles for packing, but I often refill them with tap water along the way. 
  • If you have a portable DVD player, it can be nice to pass the time watching a few movies.  We usually pack a few from home in a small carrying case, but Redbox rentals can be really nice too.  The great thing about Redbox is they are all over the place and you can return the movie in a different location from where you rented it.  We've rented at a Walgreens in Montana and returned at a WalMart in Washington.  It's a very convenient way to reward good behavior or get an hour or two of peace and quiet.  
  • If you don't get carsick, those miles on the road can be a fabulous time to catch up on some reading.  I know several couples who read to each other on road trips and then talk about the book.  If reading is a problem, check out books on CD.  You may be able to borrow these from your local library.  We've found several young adult books that were appropriate for the kids, but still entertaining for the adults.  My personal opinion is that audio books that are read by the author are often more enjoyable to listen to because the reader/author accurately gives the intended inflection to the words.  
  • Let children pack a small bag of activities to keep with them in the car.  Crayons are off limits because they will melt in the heat, but colored pencils work well along with a small spiral notebook.  Other favorites are hand held video games, stuffed animals and toy cars.  Anything our girls want to keep next to them in the car needs to fit in the bag.  Honestly though, they end up making toys of out the strangest things.  From creating a "plane" out of clothes pins they found, to pretending their feet are telephones.

Car Organization
  • It's helpful to have a trash bag available at all times. Dump or toss the bag at every gas stop.  Some people like to attach a bag to the back of a seat, but I prefer using paper bags I've saved from fast food stops.  The flat bottom keeps it upright, and in our van it will easily sit between the two front seats.  You could also use a Rubbermaid cereal container lined with a plastic bag.  The sturdiness will keep it from get crushed under foot and the lid will keep the trash contained. 
  • An inverter can be extremely helpful.  This device plugs into the car's cigarette lighter and gives you regular outlets to attach plugs to.  This allows you to travel with the regular chargers for your electronic devices rather than trying to keep up with both regular and car chargers. 
  • Thoroughly clean the car before you leave.  If you have kids, remove their car seats and clean underneath them.  It's difficult to have a good attitude about a trip if you start out dealing with clutter and mess.  Once you're on the road, clear all of the trash out of the car at least once a day. 
  • If you're traveling for a long time with frequent stops, consider packing 2 or 3 days' worth of supplies for the entire family in one large suitcase.  The rest of your supplies can be packed into Rubbermaid or Stearlite containers.  These containers often stack more neatly and efficiently in the back of the car than a bunch of differently shaped suitcases.  When you arrive at a hotel, bringing in one suitcase is much easier than unloading an entire car.  Just don't leave valuables in the car.
  • Minimize the clothes you bring and plan to do laundry.  If you are staying at mid-range hotels, self-serve laundry facilities are often available.  I like to travel with the Purex 3-in-1 laundry sheets.  They are detergent and softener in one on a dryer sheet type material.  It's easy to throw a pack of these sheets and a roll of quarters in a ziploc and be ready for the laundry room.
  • Plan for illness.  Especially with kids, it can be miserable to search out a pharmacy in an unfamiliar city in the middle of the night.  We keep a shoebox size Stearlite container in our suitcase with a thermometer, antibiotic ointment, band-aids, and any medications we frequently use.  
Save Money
  • A road trip is a road trip.  It's not going to be cheap.  It can be a lot cheaper than you'd think though and the biggest place you can cut back is on food.  As I said, bring snacks and drinks with you.  Pack shelf stable lunch supplies (peanut butter is our favorite).  Stay at hotels that offer a free hot breakfast and take full advantage of it.
  • When you do stop for meals, don't over buy.  If you are eating fast food, it will be cheaper to just buy the main "dish" and then utilize the chips and drinks you brought with you.  Remember that restaurant portions are usually too large for one person to eat.  We will often buy two adult meals to split between two adults and two kids.  This saves us money, none of the food goes to waste, and we often have room leftover in our stomachs and our budget to get a dessert for everyone to share.
  • If there is a particular hotel you like, join their loyalty program.  Our favorite is Country Inn and Suites.  We rarely pay full price for a room there because we utilize their loyalty program, Club Carlson.  We also haggle for our rooms.  If we reserve a room ahead of time, we ask if we can upgrade to a suite when we arrive.  Sometimes the answer is, "yes", sometimes it's, "no", sometimes it's, "yes, but it will cost $10".  It never hurts to ask though. 
  • Because we homeschool, we often travel during the school year, when it's less crowded and more sales are available.  Many times we won't reserve hotel rooms for these trips, we just walk up to the desk and ask if there's an opening.   A hotel does not want to leave rooms empty and if they know you can easily find another room in town, they will often negotiate on price.  Don't be afraid to ask if they can do better than their initial price quote.  We have saved big bucks this way, but we've also been burned.  Keep the national directory of your favorite 2 hotel chains in the car and if you're going to be arriving late or everyone's nerves are already shot, call ahead and be sure a room is available so you don't waste time looking for one.
  • If you enjoy outdoor activities, a National Parks Pass can be a big money saver.  We love collecting the National Parks Passport Stamps and an annual pass to get into the parks has saved us a lot of money on entry fees.  If you stay closer to home, a State Parks Pass may be a worthwhile investment. 
You can visit the travel section of my blog to see a map of where we've been and read blog posts about any stops that look interesting to you.  Then grab the keys and take a trip!

Thursday, June 28, 2012

thankful thursday {link up}

{Link up your own Thankful Thursday post below...}

This Thursday I am thankful for...

1) Time away.  This week has been so great... just to get away.  No work... no meetings... no routines...     just beach.  Yes, please.  

2) Wedding fun.  After our time at the beach we are heading to Birmingham so I can photograph a wedding... added bonus- these are 2 very dear friends.  It will be a beautiful event between 2 awesome people.  Be on the lookout for a sneak peek next week.

3) Guest bloggers.  How awesome have the guest posts been this week?!?  I know, right.  And there are 2 more scheduled!  I'm loving these great how-to's... planning on trying all of them soon. 

What are you thankful for this week? Grab the Thankful Thursday button from the right sidebar and link up your own post below. Be sure to visit the other Thankful Thursday participants and share the love!!

Also linking up with:

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

how to: make your own pizza for family pizza night

Get ready to change your dinner plans for this evening... because whatever you had planned beforehand won't be nearly as awesome as making your own pizza.  My friend Lindsey, over from Grits and Grace, is here today to give you the step-by-step-pizza-run-down.  I love, love, love how this has become a weekly tradition for her family and totally plan to steal this idea... you will too.  Take it away Lindsey!

This is Lindsey over at Grits and Grace and around my house, we love some pizza.

We also love babies and books and the park and chocolate chip cookies, but you'll have to read all about those things over here.

Today I'm happy to be writing for Julia while she's gone someplace fun and exotic.  I'm not jealous, I mean some of us have to stay home and enjoy the kiddie pools right? {love you Julia, hope you're having fun}

Back to the point.  Pizza.  Yummy, delicious, homemade pizza.

Now I know you figured pizza is best from the freezer or the Papa (we're partial to John, ourselves), but give me a few moments to change your mind and I promise you'll never have to have that argument over which toppings to get on which half ever again.  

In our house, almost every Friday night is Pizza Night.  It's a tradition I stole from my aunt who moved up to Boston and got all Yankee-fied on us but who still makes amazing pizza when she's back in God's country for a visit.  I loved the idea of using dinner to make memories for my kids and pizza is definitely easier than frying chicken with a toddler on your hip.

Here are some of my little helpers:

Olives or extra cheese?  Woe is me, I just can't decide.

So here's how we do it:

step one.
You've got to have really awesome crust.  Now, you can take what appears to be the simpler way out and buy Pillsbury, or you can trust me and make your own.  Nowadays, whipping up a batch of pizza dough takes me as much time as opening the a can of store bought.   I won't judge you if you go that route, but give this a try just once in your life to say you have, promise?
Here's what I do:
I follow the never fails me directions of The Pioneer Woman.
Which means I mix yeast with warm water and add it to salted flour drizzled with olive oil.
Then I put it in a bowl, cover it in a towel and let it rise in my microwave for 1-2 hours.
Note: do not turn microwave on.
You can make it days before and stick it in the fridge.  It's versatile like that.

Here's what it looks like just mixed...

...and now two hours later...

puffy and ready to roll.

step two.
Assemble your ingredients.  Now, here's the beauty of pizza night.  It's your kitchen so you can put whatever you want on your pizza, and trust me, anything's good.  The other night I made Summer Pizza with leftover squash, zucchini, and carrots.  My husband's favorite is when I have leftover ham from a big family dinner and I dice it and throw it on top.  Here's what we were working with for Father's Day pizza:

Mushrooms, green peppers, black olives (my weird kids love 'em), italian sausage and pepperoni. My cheese is a block of mozzerella I grated myself. I used to let my six year old grate the cheese until she grated her knuckles.  

step three.
Don't forget your sauce.  Again, you can buy pizza sauce.  Or you can be frugal, simple, and delicious and open up a can of crushed tomatoes with italian spices.  Or if you grab a can of diced tomatoes on accident like I did, blend them in your blender with a teaspoon of olive oil drizzled in.  Perfect, simple sauce

and if you don't like it this chunky, blend it some extra.  Heating isn't necessary, but you can if you want.  It does intensify the flavor.

step four.
Preheat your oven to 500 degrees.  That's right, it goes that high.  If you have a pizza stone, put it in the oven to preheat also.  If you don't, go to Walmart and buy one.  You won't regret it.

step five.
Clear your space.  I use my kitchen table because I'm too lazy to move things off my counter and it's a better height for my girls to help.  Then get out a cookie sheet or pizza board if you're really fancy.  You'll want to build your pizza on this to make the pizza to stone transfer easy.  You can also cook the pizza on a cookie sheet and that's fine too.

step six.
Start rolling.  Sprinkle a generous amount of cornmeal over your work area.  This will keep the dough from sticking.  One dough recipe will make two large pizzas, so divide it in half to begin.  I then take one half and divide it into thirds for my girls to make their own.  They're regular little chefs.

Now, place the dough in the center of your work area and begin flattening it.

It's going to be elastic-y and stretchy and will bounce back.  That's good, you did it right!  Just keep working it.  When it's about six inches across, I get out the rolling pin and work from the center out. 

Thin pizza is lower in carbs, but won't hold as many toppings, so use your judgement.  It will puff up some in the cooking process.  And those fingerprints? They help hold on the toppings.

step seven.
Build it up.  Spread the sauce to your desired taste, usually about a half cup worth.  Then top with whatever makes you happy.  

Here's Annabelle putting on lots of cheese...  

and here's daddy's pizza with everything under but the pepperoni.  They get a little crisp when on top and I love that.  I also pinched the edges of my dough up to create a thicker crust and hold in all that goodness.

step eight.
The transfer.  Don't be scared.  The secret is lots of cornmeal under the pizza dough and sprinkled onto the stone.  Slide a spatula underneath and gently work the pizza from the cookie sheet or board and onto the stone.  Once you get it going it should slide right off.

step nine.
Cook in the center of the rack for approximately seven minutes or until cheese is melted and crust is golden.

step ten.
Enjoy!  and post lots of pictures!


Annabelle being patient.

Silly girls.

Gus can't wait until he's big enough for pizza night.  Until then, it's  secondhand in mommy milk.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

how to: start your own business

Today's how-to guest blogger is Cami, over from First Day of My Life.  Cami has recently started her very own juice bar business in Florida... so, who better to post about how to start your own business!?! Her tips apply to anyone thinking about pursuing their dreams... big or small.  The floor is all yours Cami...
How to Start Your Own Business

Hello to the beautiful folks at Black Tag Diaries! I'm Cami from First Day of My Life. I am so excited that Julia has allowed me to chat with you ladies about how to start your own business!

I recently started Camille's Juice Bar in Flagler Beach, Florida.

It was such an exciting adventure - I just wish I would have been able to read a "how to" start. So, I am going to offer you some advice, just in case you have been toying with the idea of starting your own business...

find what you are passionate about
What is it that makes you happy + excited about? Is it taking photos? Is it surfing? Styling hair? What is it that makes you anxious to wake up in the morning? Find what it is - and embrace it. 

For me, it is helping people to become + maintain their health. Juicing fresh fruits + vegetables helps that. I've juiced for myself for a long time now and it makes me feel healthy, energized, and just plain great. I want to share it with others because I know how wonderful it is for your health.

figure out how you can turn it into a business
Ok, now you know what you are passionate about - how can you turn it into a (profitable) business? If your passion is taking photos, start a photography business. Surfing? Surf camps for kids. Styling hair? Hair stylist. There are SO many opportunities no matter what your passion is - you just need to really think about it.

start small
Ok, lets be honest - with today's economy start-up companies are a little tough...especially if your capital is minimal. That's okay though - start small! Make your business a side business until you can make it into your primary source of income. It is important (I think) to not bury yourself in debt. Especially just starting out!

turn to others for advice
Find a mentor. Your mentor can be a family member who has started their own business - a friend - someone who is currently doing what you would like to do - or even if you want to start from scratch, there are plenty of executive coaching programs available that will be able to help.

Here's a tip, too...everyone + their mother will have an idea of what you should do instead of ____ or what you should do to add on to what you already have - listen to their idea but don't put it into action. (Unless you've asked someone for help and that is their advice.) So many people have (and are) telling me how I should do things, how I should expand, etc. but they don't know my real vision of what I am doing...only YOU know that. Thank them for their advice and move on.

make sure you wake up each morning excited to work
Make sure your job is not a job. What I mean by that is - make sure that you will be excited and happy to go to work each and every morning...not miserable that you have to go to "whatever it is that pays the bills." That's not a way to live. Most importantly - make sure you are happy.

If you have any questions or just want to chat about it - feel free to send me an e-mail or tweet me :) I'd be more than happy to help in any way I can!

Thank you, Julia, for having me! I hope I inspired some of her lovely readers to find their passion + go for it!

Monday, June 25, 2012

how to: diy vintage-looking photos in a jar

Get excited people... because today's how-to post is flipping' awesome.  Heather from Brown Eyed Bell(e) is a genius.  I am totally trying this project soon... this would be perfect for a bridal party or baby shower display.  Be prepared to be amazed!  Take it away Heather...
My name is Heather and I blog over at Brown Eyed Bell(e).
I am super excited to be a part of Julia's "How-To" week. Today I will be sharing with you how to put photo's in a jar and make them look a little vintage-y.

The supplies are simple, three things, a quart sized mason jar(I used the smooth one, for ball art, from Michaels), oil (I used canola), and a 4X6 picture cut to size, you can use a black and white photo for a more vintage look.
Step 1: cut picture to size if not already done.
Step 2: Insert picture inside Mason Jar
Step 3: Fill with your oil.
Step 4: Optional, add some dried flowers into the oil. Lavender oil anyone?
When it's done it looks kinda 3D to me. I love it and have received many compliments! :)
Pretty easy, eh? If I can do it, you can too!
Thanks again, Julia for having me on your blog today!

Sunday, June 24, 2012

how to: declutter

Today my friend Salena, over from McKay Moments, is here to give us some awesome delutterizing tips.  (Yes... declutterizing is totally a word... I'm claiming it.)  I definitely need to take notes on #4 and #9... hoping to put Salena's how-to tips into action very, very soon...
Hi, everyone! I am very excited to be posting here this week while Julia is away. Julia and I know each other through our husbands, and boy, could I tell some stories about the two of them from way back in church youth group, but that's another story! Anyway, my post is kind of long, but I think you will find some simple and practical tips that you can incorporate into your own family's life just like my family has. Happy decluttering!  - Salena

1. Have a place for everything. Think about where the items are used and how they are related to each other. Remember that not all storage has to be hidden, contrary to my grandmother's belief. After having our son, we added this hanging rack near our door. It's perfect for the diaper bag, my purse, and my husband's keys.

2. Purchase storage that is visually pleasing and can be used in more than one way when possible. You will be more likely to put things where they belong. I personally love this storage ottoman in my living room because it not only goes with our decor, but it's the perfect place for our son's toys and it serves as extra seating when we have guests over.

3. Don't be afraid to have a "junk" drawer or two around the house. We all have those miscellaneous items that we don't know what to do with. A food utensil tray, drawer divider, or old baby food jars can work wonders. Just don't forget to clean out unneeded items from time to time!

4. When making purchases for your home, envision where you are going to put an item before you even buy it. Ask yourself if it is necessary and if it will be used and enjoyed by your family in the long run. This will not only help with keeping your home clutter-free, but it will also help your wallet!

5. Invest in a paper shredder and file cabinet, and create some type of mail station in a convenient location that the whole family can use. Get in the habit of sorting mail as soon as it comes in and set aside one day a week to file and shred papers as needed. Our mail station looks like this. Bills are in the holder to the right, and we have a small whiteboard nearby where we post when bills are due so we don't forget.

6. Don't be afraid to sell or donate items your family no longer needs or uses. There are some great resources out there, depending on where you live. Also, there is nothing wrong with regifting an item as long as it is in good condition and works properly!

7. Never leave a room without putting something away as you go. If you are a parent, begin teaching this even when they are babies. They will love it when they are little, and it will become a habit that you (and their future spouses) will appreciate as they get older.

8. Allow time in your daily schedule for the following- wiping down the kitchen and bathroom countertops, sinks, and toilets, and sweeping the floors. I know it's not a fun task, but if you do it daily, you are spending 10 minutes tops, where as if you let it go, you are spending much longer. Also, it keeps down the germs, and that equals less sick time!

9. Rinse and wash your dishes as soon as possible after every meal. This is personally one of the hardest things for me to do, and I have a dishwasher! However, when my dishes are rinsed and put away, it just makes my whole house feel cleaner.

10. Schedule some time to do some major decluttering at least twice a year. I am a teacher, so Christmas break and summer break work best for me. I make a list of some bigger decluttering projects that I want to tackle (such as cleaning out my son's toy box, organizing and labeling photos, or cleaning out clothes from my closet I haven't worn in a year or more), and I give myself a reasonable timeline for completing these tasks. When I am finished, I treat myself to something nice like a pedicure or a new book for my Kindle (which is another way to help keep down the clutter!)

Saturday, June 23, 2012

how to: make homemade cinnamon rolls

To kick off our how-to-mania-week, I'm super excited to introduce my blogging BFF, Jaimie, from Living in the Light!  And wait until you see what Jaimie prepared for you guys today!  I know I'll be trying this recipe as soon as I get home from the beach... heck, we might be trying this recipe out tomorrow... cinnamon rolls for beach week??  Brilliant.  Jaimie... take it away!
Hi!  I'm Jaimie from Living in the Light.  I'm so happy to be guest-posting for Julia today!  It's an honor to write for one of my favorite bloggers, and I'm excited to start this how-to series with something yummy!

Cinnamon rolls are usually a special treat; they look like a lot of work and taste like they should be for dessert only!  I'll tell you a secret: growing up, my mom would make them for breakfast, as an accompaniment to chili or chicken soup, and it wasn't very difficult to do.  Now I do the same for my husband and me, and I often make cinnamon rolls when we have company for breakfast.

When Julia asked for ideas of how-to posts, I asked to share this simple tutorial on how to make homemade cinnamon rolls.  Now you'll see how easy, delicious, and even healthy homemade cinnamon rolls can be.

(This recipe was adapted from a recipe for Angel Rolls from Taste of Home magazine.  My mom changed it to make the recipe for cinnamon rolls.)

Homemade Cinnamon Rolls
3 1/2 c flour (2 1/2 c white, 1 c whole wheat)
2 T sugar
1 T yeast (or one packet)
1 tsp salt
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 c warm soured milk or buttermilk*
1/2 c vegetable oil
1/3 c warm water

4 T (1/2 stick) softened butter
1/3 c brown sugar
2 T cinnamon

frosting (adapted from a recipe from The Cake Doctor cookbook):
4 T (1/2 stick) softened butter
4 ounces (1/2 box) low-fat cream cheese, softened
1 tsp vanilla
2 cups powdered sugar

*to make soured milk, pour 1 T lemon juice into glass measuring cup.  Add enough milk to make 1 cup.  Microwave on high one minute.  Milk will appear thick and curdled.

1) Heat oven to 400 degrees F.  In large bowl, combine 1 c white flour and 1 c whole wheat with sugar, yeast, salt, baking powder and baking soda.  Add milk, vegetable oil, and water.  Beat until moistened.
2) Stir in enough remaining flour to form a soft dough.  Dough should leave sides of bowl but still be soft and slightly sticky.
3) Turn dough onto floured surface and knead until smooth and elastic, 2-4 minutes.  Let rest 10 minutes.
4) On lightly floured surface, roll out dough into rectangle approximately 11x15 inch rectangle.  (No need to be exact.)  Spread evenly with softened butter (the back of a soup spoon works well for this).  Sprinkle liberally, to edges of dough, with brown sugar and cinnamon.

 5) Starting from a short end, roll up dough, using enough pressure to roll tightly.  (Use both hands.  The only reason I'm using one in the photo is because the other hand was holding the camera.)

6) Pinch closed the edge of the dough along the length of the cylinder to keep from unrolling.

7) Using a sharp, serrated knife dipped in flour, cut into 16 slices (or 12 if you want bigger rolls).

8) Place rolls on greased jellyroll pan.  Another way to bake them, which I have started doing since I took these pictures, is to fit six or eight rolls in each of two greased pie plates.  This squeezes the rolls together, which makes them rise higher and have soft sides, unlike when they're baked spread apart in a large pan as shown in these pictures.  Either way works just fine; it depends on how you like your cinnamon rolls which way you do it.

9) Bake rolls for 15-18 minutes or until browned on top.  While rolls bake, make frosting.

10) To make frosting, beat butter, cream cheese and vanilla in medium bowl until well-combined and creamy.  Gradually beat in powdered sugar until desired consistency.  If baking cinnamon rolls in pie plate, make frosting fairly thick and spread over hot rolls as over a cake.  The frosting will melt into and between the rolls.

Alternately, make a glaze (as shown below) with 2 T milk, 1 tsp vanilla, and approximately 1 cup powdered sugar.  Spoon over cinnamon rolls.

However you make them, these cinnamon rolls are delicious.  And with very little sugar and part whole-wheat flour in the dough, you can feel good about eating them as well.  They taste great without the frosting, if you want an even healthier option, but the frosting is, well, the icing on the cake!

If you make these, leave a comment or hop over to my blog and let me know what you think!  Happy baking!