Friday, August 20, 2010

Cinnamon Rolls and Bacon: The Title Track

My soul will be satisfied as with fat and rich food, and my mouth will praise you with joyful lips.
—Psalm 63:5

Now that this blog has been around for a while, I suppose it is high time I explained why I chose Cinnamon Rolls and Bacon as the title. As you may have discovered, if you're looking for breakfast recipes, this is not the site you need (although I will try to make up for that at the end of this post). No, it's more than just the morning meal that I'm concerned with here. Cinnamon rolls and bacon have become our traditional Sunday morning fare, and, by extension, a metaphor for Sabbath living; we commence the week with joyful table fellowship, gratitude for God's kindness, and a very tangible celebration of the resurrection—all of which should spill over into the rest of our daily lives.

Many of the families in our church community have come up with lovely and creative ways to make the Lord's day the high point of the week, and one tradition that our own family has adopted and grown to love is a copious Sunday breakfast. What better way to begin a day of rest, worship, and feasting than by weighing down the table with buttery homemade cinnamon rolls and oven-fried bacon?

But lest you think we are slowly killing ourselves with cholesterol, remember that Sunday comes but once a week. So, while some may argue that such luxuries are bad for the arteries, when taken in weekly moderation they are unquestionably good for the heart.

We want our children to grow up loving the Sabbath, tasting and seeing that the Lord is good from the moment the day begins. Before they can understand the goodness of God in almost any other way, kids can understand the rich combination of butter and sugar upon their tongues, and ours have learned to love it and look forward to it week after week.

There was a time when I was not confident enough in my baking skills to attempt making a pan of cinnamon rolls from scratch on a weekly basis, so we usually opted for the cardboard can variety instead. Those (or a box of doughnuts) will still suffice in a pinch, but now that I've found a reliable recipe, it's awfully hard to settle for anything less than homemade. I bake them the night before and pop them back into the oven on Sunday morning until they're warmed through and ready to be frosted by one of four eager volunteers who will, of course, get spatula-licking privileges when the job is done.

And then there is the bacon. I always check the little "sample slice" windows they provide on the backs of those packages at the grocery store, and if there's not a fat-to-meat ratio of at least three-to-one, I pass it by. The fat is honestly the part we want. Those little pink stripes of meat are simply there for looks—garnish in the form of pork.

But lest you think that bacon is nothing more than a greasy indulgence, let me explain its deeper significance. (No, really!) Bacon is also an edible reminder of one of the things that we, as Christians, believe—that Christ, in His death and resurrection, has fulfilled the Old Testament ceremonial laws, including the prohibition against eating unclean animals (i.e. pigs). Those animals represented the gentiles (i.e. us) who are now granted full membership with the New Covenant people of God. Ergo, bacon is, for us, a very tasty (and greasy) way to celebrate the gift of the gospel to the gentiles.

Granted, when we started our Sunday morning tradition, we simply liked the occasional rasher of bacon and hadn't considered of any of those theological points. It's not as though we set out to plumb the great metaphorical depths of all our breakfast choices. But still, having noticed some of the religious implications of bacon, we did think it seemed that much more fitting for a Sabbath meal.

To complete the morning feast, in addition to the cinnamon rolls and bacon, our kids are also treated to their weekly glass of chocolate milk, and we each have an egg or two fried in (what else?) a bit of bacon grease. We also grace the table with a bowl piled with whatever fruit may be at its seasonal peak. Right now it's peaches and nectarines that leave sweet juice dripping down our chins and forearms with the first bite.

The Sunday table is no place for fasting. Nor is it a place for half-hearted feasting weighed down by guilt. If it helps, leave off the first syllable when you say, "Cinnamon Rolls," for there is no sin in them at all. They are instead a reason for joy and gratitude, and one small way that we set this day apart from the rest—this day that points us toward the great wedding feast at the consummation of all things. Therefore, as Nehemiah exhorted God's people long ago, "go your way. Eat the fat and drink sweet wine and send portions to anyone who has nothing ready, for this day is holy to our Lord. And do not be grieved, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.”  (Nehemiah 8:10)


Sabbatarian Cinnamon Rolls

1 packet of yeast (2 1/4 tsp.)
1 1/2 c. warm water (I normally use half milk, half water.)
1/3 c. sugar
1 1/2 tsp. kosher salt (or 3/4 tsp. table salt)
1 egg
1/3 c. unsalted butter, softened (Crisco works in a pinch.)
1/2 tsp. vanilla (real, if you have it)
3 1/2-4 c. white bread flour (All purpose flour works fine)

In a mixing bowl, dissolve yeast, sugar and salt in water. Wait about five minutes until foamy. Stir in remaining ingredients. Knead in flour when stirring becomes too difficult. (I use the flat beater on my KitchenAid for everything and skip the kneading hook altogether.) This dough will be nice and squashy, not stiff. Resist the temptation to add more than 4 cups of flour to the dough.

Let rise until double in a greased bowl covered with oiled plastic wrap. At this point you can punch it down and refrigerate it until Saturday night. (I find the dough easier to work with when cold.) Otherwise, dump the dough out on to a very generously floured board. Roll (or pat with well-floured hands) into a rectangle about 16" x 20".

1 stick (1/2 c.) butter (Absolutely no substitutions!)
1 c. brown sugar (or up to half white sugar)
2 T. (yes, tablespoons) cinnamon

Melt the butter and spread evenly over the rectangle of dough. Mix together sugar and cinnamon and spread evenly over the butter. Roll it all up, pulling the dough toward you to stretch it a bit as you roll. (This results in lots of nice, thin layers to unroll as you eat and keeps the butter and sugar from melting out and forming a caramelly ooze on the bottom of your pan. If you like the caramelly ooze, then, by all means, roll these more loosely.) Slice into 20 even slices. (Again, this is easier to do if the dough is chilled.) Arrange rolls in a 4 x 5 pattern in a well buttered 9 x 13 pan. (I have always had best results with glass.) Let rise until almost doubled, and bake at 375° for 25 minutes. (Longer if the dough is cold to start with, a bit less if it's been a hot day in the kitchen. See note below.) Cool.

This recipe is up to you. Some people like cream cheese or buttercream frosting, and I can't argue. But my normal recipe is simply:
1-2 c. powdered sugar
1 tsp real vanilla
Enough heavy cream to reach desired consistency—spreadable or drizzlable, depending on what you like.

Mix sugar, cream and vanilla thoroughly. Frost cinnamon rolls. (If you baked them the night before, save this step for after you have rewarmed them in the oven for 5-10 minutes. Otherwise the icing may scorch or melt away into sticky nothingness.)

Additional Notes:
  1. Sometimes these have a tendency to rise skyward into little cinnamon roll mountain peaks. Check them half way through baking, and if they are forming something of a topographic map of the Rockies, then take a flat spatula and gently press them back down into a surface more reminiscent of the Iowa landscape.
  2. You can double the dough recipe and, after letting it rise the first time, freeze half of the dough in an oiled gallon sized Ziploc bag for next week's cinnamon rolls.
  3. If there are too many rolls for your family, share the joy, or else bake the rolls in two 9" round cake pans. Carefully wrap (foil inside a plastic bag) one of the two pans after they are baked and cooled, and freeze until next week. They keep surprisingly well. Then just thaw overnight, and warm in the oven before frosting.
  4. Bonus: If you leave the vanilla out of the dough recipe and omit the cinnamon and sugar from the filling, this recipe makes fabulous crescent rolls suitable for Thanksgiving dinner. Just roll the dough into two dinner plate-sized circles instead of one big rectangle, and butter each circle with half a stick.  Slice each circle like a pizza into 12 or 16 equal wedges and roll up starting with the wider end, firmly adhering the pointed end to keep from unrolling. Let rise on two greased or parchment-lined cookie sheets, and bake at 375° for 15-20 minutes, until golden.

Thursday, August 5, 2010


Way back in the distant past, when I worked as a full-time designer, our magazine staff would hold a weekly meeting to discuss projects and coordinate our schedules. At one of these meetings, I mentioned that I would be taking some time off for a family reunion, to which my coworker responded by offering me her condolences. "I'm so sorry!" she said, "Family reunions can be such an annoying waste of vacation time."

I remember being taken aback by that comment. It had honestly never occurred to me that family reunions are, for many people, a real drag—an endless week of sidestepping touchy subjects, of reviving ancient grudges, of navigating through a web of gossipy whispers and hurt feelings and bitter misunderstandings. Blood may be thicker than water, but after a week like that, I can understand why water would sound a lot more refreshing—and why condolences would be the proper response.

"No, no! It's not like that," I answered, "I actually like these people!"

We recently returned from our annual Kvale family reunion in western Washington, and I would like to take this opportunity to amend my response; I don't just like these people. I love them. This reunion is not an obligation. It's a privilege.

For twenty-five years now, my mom and her eight brothers and sisters and their families have spent three days vacationing together, a tradition begun by my grandparents when I was young and continued for these many years since they've been gone. And now that I have kids of my own, it makes me happy just to see how my boys can hardly contain their excitement as they anticipate the days spent with aunts and uncles and cousins and second cousins by the lake—and how they can hardly contain their disappointment as we drive back home, leaving all of that fun and camaraderie behind.

Like most families, we're a quirky, varied bunch of people, and the memories I have are quirky and varied, too. I remember the time my uncle fell asleep on the lawn, and the brothers-in-law surrounded him with empty beer bottles pulled from the recycling bin. I remember the time my cousin organized all of us kids into a grand performance of a Belinda Carlisle pop ballad, using ping-pong paddles as "guitars." I remember the time my grandmother woke up early (as usual) and decided that 5:30 a.m. would be a great time to empty the dishwasher—with all the clinking and clanging and banging echoing throughout the lodge. I remember singing cheesy Sunday School songs by the campfire—in full, four-part harmony heavily weighted toward the alto section. I remember knock-down, drag-out games of Scrabble in the wee hours of the morning.

We've done hiking, and swimming, and line dancing, and foosball, and softball, and golf. And I'm sure that for every memory I have, there are hundreds more that stand out in the minds of my relatives.  But one activity has remained constant despite the changing venues and the growing numbers; each of the three days of our reunion is brought to a close by a time of singing and prayer. There are 70 of us (give or take) in one room, thanking God together for His faithfulness to our family, and asking Him to meet one another's needs. The older I get, the more I see how remarkable it is to have these opportunities every evening. And if my coworker's comment is any indication, we enjoy a peace between us that, it seems, is extremely rare.

I'm not saying that our family relationships are never painful—even heartbreaking—at times. Like every extended family, we're part of Adam's fallen race. But unlike many extended families, we are also part of the Second Adam's race. A spirit of patience and forgiveness pervades our interactions, and in spite of our differences we share a unity that cannot be explained by family ties alone. Blood may be thicker than water. But what flows between us is thicker still.

Who could ask for a better inheritance? My grandparents didn't leave us all with yachts and Caribbean condos and stacks of cash. Sure, none of us would mind boating around the Bahamas with an unlimited budget. But we'd never take it in exchange for the kind of family we have been given. Each summer, we have a living, breathing reminder of what kind of long-term equity we are working to build. Raising nine children on the kind of money my grandfather made by milking cows, felling trees, and pumping gas might, by many, have been deemed fiscally irresponsible, but who, looking around at one of our reunions, could argue with his rate of return or the generational worth of his assets? We are rich beyond all calculation, regardless of what our mutual funds say.

From my grandparents, I inherited a red cast iron gum ball machine. In terms of material possessions, that's all I got. But the true inheritance that they passed on to me—and to my children—is a crowd of cousins, countless happy memories, a delightful summer tradition, and a confident hope in the reunion that will include not only my grandmother and grandfather, but all the faithful who have gone before them. No condolences necessary.

Total Pageviews