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These are chocolatey, smooth, chewy buns or rolls.   The bread itself is chocolate, and then there are bursts of flavor from little melty pockets of semisweet chocolate.  These are gooooood.

So that you can see what a difference it makes, the bun on the left was not brushed with the cornstarch wash; the bun on the right was.  It not only deepens color and intensifies shine, but also helps form a thin, tender, and chewy crust. 

Chocolate-Chocolate Buns
1 c. semisweet chocolate chips,divided   
½ tsp. oil                                          
3/4 c. semisweet chocolate chips
1 1/3 c. milk                                     
1 Tbsp. butter
3 to 3 ¼ c. flour (to start with)
1/4 c. cocoa
1 tsp. salt                                           
1 pkg. RapidRise yeast * or 2 ½ tsp. instant yeast
1 egg                                                                          
½ tsp. cornstarch                           
1/4 c. water                                      

In a small zip-top baggie, combine ¼ c. chocolate chips with ½ tsp. oil; set aside.  Put remaining ¾ c. chocolate chips in the freezer while you make the dough.

In a small pan, heat the milk and butter until very warm, about 120-130 degrees F.   Meanwhile, in  a medium bowl combine 2 c. flour, the cocoa, salt, and yeast.   Pour in the warm milk mixture.  Add the egg and beat until everything is smooth.  Add 1 cup flour and knead 5 minutes or until satiny-smooth.  Let rest 10 minutes.  Stretch dough on counter in a rectangle about 8x16".  Sprinkle on the 3/4 c. cold chocolate chips, roll up, and knead 1-2 minutes or until well dispersed.  Divide dough into 12 equal pieces (or 24 pieces for smaller buns).  Shape each into a smooth bun and place on a greased or parchment-lined cookie sheet.  Cover and let rise til double, about 1 hr. 15 min.  Meanwhile, combine cornstarch and water.  Stir until smooth, then boil it until it thickens slightly.  Cover and set aside. 

Heat oven to 375 degrees.  Just before baking, brush gently with the cornstarch wash.  Bake for 15-17 minutes, or until bottoms are very lightly browned (baking longer will decrease the chocolate flavor).  After removing from oven, brush again with cornstarch wash, remove to a cooling rack.  When cool, melt the chocolate & oil (in the baggie), knead the bag to mix well.   Snip a tiny corner off the baggie and drizzle chocolate over the buns.  These buns are best eaten the first day.

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These are the newly-shaped buns just starting to rise.  Yes, I covered them right after this shot; they rise much better when the surface can stay moist.

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The buns are brushed gently with the cornstarch wash right before baking, then again as they come out.  This photo is of the baked buns.  The wash, and then the chocolate drizzle on them, turn something funny-looking into something mouthwateringly attractive!

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Don't you just want to make these now?

 
 
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Yeah, it's a motley assortment on today's post...
 
I get a monthly newsletter from the Utah State University Extension; I'm passing onto you a couple good resources they listed.  One is a short article, “So You Want to Raise Honeybees?”.  It lists some things you may or may not know, but need to, before deciding if getting a hive is a good idea for your situation.

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Another recent article is
"Care and Feeding of Indoor Plants"  

It's a real pity I didn't read this years ago;  during at least the first decade out on my own, I killed every houseplant that had the misfortune of being in my house.  There was only one exception; a ficus tree that came with my husband when we were first married.  I figured that was because he got it established; he'd had it for five years already before our wedding.  (Almost 18 years later, that same tree is in the corner of our dining room!)
And I can now keep a plant alive, proving I remember to water it.  (But not too often- apparently I drowned the first several plants.) 

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What can you do in the garden now?  As soon as any snow is off the ground, it's a good time to:

-prune most trees, particularly fruit trees- you're aiming to do this after the worst of the cold is over, but before leaves come out.  There is a previous post with some excellent videos on how to prune.
-prune shrubs that bloom in the summer, like roses.  They tend to be healthiest when pruned by about 1/3 each year, though you can cut them nearly to the ground if you have to.  That's a great way to get a wild bush back under control.  (This trick works with overgrown lilacs, too.)
-clean and sharpen your garden tools and mower blade
-trim and rake out any dead annuals left over in the garden from last year.
-add mulch to beds and around trees.  This will help moisture stay in the ground longer, getting plants off to a healthier start.
-plan your garden, if you haven't already.  Find a garden spot that will get at least 6-8 hours of sunlight a day.  Most stores have all their seed packets available by now, and remember you may already have seeds in your kitchen.  Don't start seedlings indoors, though, until about six weeks before they can go outdoors.
-plant peas, if you like.  They take about two months to produce pods, and are hardy enough to plant right now.  They'll do best in a sunny place that has some sort of shade around the roots; they stop producing if the plant gets too hot.
-transplant hardy herbs and bareroot raspberry and strawberry plants (if you're local and want any, email me!)

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Related posts:
How to Prune and Fertilize Fruit Trees, Shrubs, and Landscape Trees

Starting on Your Spring Garden

Start Thinking GARDEN (what seeds you may already have, how long they'll keep, when you can till, and more)

Gardening 101
 
 
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What are you going to have for dinner on Valentine's Day? 

How about broccoli?  No, really..

If you've never had roasted broccoli, you're in for a great surprise.  Some of my kids like regular cooked broccoli, and some don't, but ALL of them like it when roasted. 

The high heat, cooking it close to the bottom heat, along with a touch of sugar, help bring out the caramelized sweetness that otherwise is locked away, far from my tastebuds!
The photo shows the Cuban version, below.

Roasted Broccoli

1 ½ lbs. trimmed broccoli
2 Tbsp. oil
½ tsp. salt
1/8-1/4 tsp. pepper
¼ tsp. sugar (honey works as well)

Preheat oven to 475 degrees (no, not 375!), put the oven rack in the lowest spot.  Cut the broccoli into florets.  Save the stems; peel off the tough outer layer, and cut about ¼” thick.  Drizzle with oil, sprinkle with salt, pepper, and sugar.  Toss to coat.  Spread on a cookie sheet and put it on the lowest rack.  Cook for 14-18 minutes, until some parts are deeply browned.

This basic recipe can be made a thousand different ways, using different vegetables, combinations, and/or spices.  Here are a few ideas, still using broccoli.

Cuban Broccoli:
Use 1 lb. broccoli and 2 onions, cut into 8 wedges each.
Into the oil, mix 2 drops lime essential oil, or 1 tsp. lime zest.  Use the same amount of salt, pepper, and sugar, but also add ½ tsp. cumin.  Roast the same as above; when done, toss with 1 Tbsp. lime juice. 

Italian Broccoli:
Before roasting, add ¼ c. pine nuts, 4 medium cloves garlic, sliced in half.  When roasted, sprinkle with ¼ c. Parmesan cheese, and fresh basil leaves, chopped.

Broccoli, Sausage, & Pasta
On that lowest rack, at 475, roast 4 oz. Italian sausage for 5-6 minutes, until sizzling.  Add 1 lb. broccoli, cut smaller, 4-6 cloves garlic, sliced, and 1 or 2 red bell peppers.  Toss and roast.  Meanwhile, bring 1 lb. pasta to a boil; cook til al dente, then drain.  Stir in the roasted mixture and serve immediately.

 
 
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God moves in a mysterious way,
His wonders to perform.
He plants his footsteps in the sea
And rides upon the storm.

Ye fearful saints, fresh courage take;
The clouds ye so much dread
Are big with mercy and shall break
In blessings on your head.

His purposes will ripen fast,
Unfolding every hour;
The bud may have a bitter taste,
But sweet will be the flower.

-William Cowper

See here to listen to a simple version of this, with the lyrics.

With the attacks all around us on family, morals, and religion, I want to share where my hope and determination come from: 

The Father to whom we pray is the glorious God who created worlds through His Beloved Son. He hears our prayers as He heard Joseph’s prayer—as clearly as if they were being offered in His presence. He loves us enough that He gave His Son as our Savior. By that gift He made it possible for us to gain immortality and eternal life. And He offers us, through prayer in the name of His Son, the opportunity to commune with Him in this life as often as we choose.

We gain a testimony of any commandment of God by keeping that commandment (see
John 7:17). This is true of the command that we pray always vocally and in secret. As your teacher and your friend, I promise that God will answer your prayers and that by the power of the Holy Ghost, you can know for yourself that the answers are from Him.
- President Henry B. Eyring, “Exhort Them To Pray”, Feb. 2012

I know that God is real, that his purposes will be fulfilled, and that he has a hand in our lives.  Things that were hard, difficult, or unfair in my life, have helped me be a better, more loving person, because of his healing grace.  He helps me learn what is right, stand bravely for it, and have confidence in his ability to help me become what he needs me to be.  “The bud may have a bitter taste, but sweet will be the flower.”


Have you heard about the new federal health mandate?  It requires all religious organizations- including schools- to provide not only contraception, but also abortion services.  Read Tim Dolan's article on it and think what you can do.  One really good option is to contact your friends or neighbors who are Catholic, see what you can do to help, and/or visit
http://join.catholicadvocate.com/hhs/
 
 
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I've seen mango salsa before, or peach salsa, but it had never occured to me to try adding fruit to regular salsa. 

Try it, you'll like it!

Pico de Gallo           

16 oz. jar salsa (mild, medium, hot, whatever you prefer)
1 large apple, diced
4 drops lime essential oil OR use the juice and zest of one fresh lime

Stir together, and use as any salsa.
Peach or mango can be used in place of the apple.  Other fruits could be good, too- strawberry, raspberry, pear, ...

The idea came from a recipe for
Tangy Lemon Coconut Salad.  The recipe was a tad too complicated for dinner that night, plus I had no fresh tomatoes.  I pulled out a jar of salsa, added the recipe ingredients that weren't already in the salsa, and put it with the salad.  It was amazing!
 
 
Here's a new, quick project: turn a T-shirt into a straight skirt; no sewing needed!  It's called the "30-second skirt".  I doubt anyone's first attempt will take that little time, but five minutes sounds like plenty!  Click on the photo to go to the instructions.  (remember, where it says "stitch" on the sleeves, you can ignore that, or use glue!)

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Here's a way to use a T-shirt to make a toddler dress- made from one adult t-shirt, no extra fabric required. 
http://www.instructables.com/id/Make-a-toddler-dress-from-a-t-shirt/


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Notes for photos below- click on any photo to go to the instructions page:

Top left :  This one starts with a "proper-sized" shirt, you cut it off however high or low you want the waistline, and sew fabric onto the bottom.  You don't need to limit yourself to plain-color shirts, either.

It's pretty much the same as the pattern for the pencil-drawing picture, to the left, but this one uses a pre-ruffled knit fabric.  I spotted some of this at Hobby Lobby earlier this month, it's likely at most fabric stores.  Or check at RuffleFabric.com (pricy but lots of options).

Top middle
: Or leave the t-shirt long and add layers of ruffles yourself. 

Top right : This is the kind of T-shirt dress I remember my mom making for my little sisters: you cut a piece of fabric about twice as wide as the bottom of the shirt, hem it along the bottom, gather it at the top, and sew it to the bottom of the shirt.   If you're nervous about gathering or just want another option, you could cut a circle skirt.

Bottom : make it a patchwork skirt, with a big bow in back.
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After seeing the ruffled-skirt dress above, I decided that was just the thing for my daughter needing a Sunday dress.  I never did find a t-shirt I liked for the project, though.  Instead, I just made a dress bodice, and then gathered a full width (selvage to selvage) of the ruffle fabric for the skirt.  It only required 19" of length for this size 4 dress.

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I added a sewn-to-the-front sash, as well.