Friday, April 18, 2014

Traditional Foods for Good Friday

Hi again, everyone! I hope you've all been having a good Triduum. Since today is Good Friday, I decided to make Hot Cross Buns. Hot Cross Buns are a traditional Lenten food whose origins go back to the time of ancient civilizations. Here's an interesting excerpt I found on the web:
"Hot cross bun, a round bun made from a rich yeast dough containing flour, milk, sugar, butter, eggs, currants, and spices, such as cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice, and cloves. In England, hot cross buns are traditionally eaten on Good Friday; they are marked on top with a cross, wither cut in the dough or composed of strips of pastry. The mark is of ancient origin, connected with religious offerings of bread, which replaced earlier, less civilized offerings of blood. The Egyptians offered small round cakes, marked with a representation of the horns of an ox, to the goddess of the moon. The Greeks and Romans had similar practices and the Saxons ate buns marked with a cross in honor of the goddess of light, Eostre, whose name was transferred to Easter. According to superstition, hot cross buns and loaves baked on Good Friday never went mouldy, and were sometimes kept as charms from one year to the next. Like Chelsea buns, hot cross buns were sold in great quantities by the Chelsea Bun House; in the 18th century large numbers of people flocked to Chelsea during the Easter period expressly to visit this establishment."
-Oxford Companion to Food, Alan Davidson 
Hot Cross Buns are simple to make and delicious. The Kitchn food blog has a recipe here which I modified to make my own. Although I didn't make any today, I've included the recipe for another traditional Lenten food: Franciscan Penitential Biscuits. I invite you to give one of the recipes-or both- a try!

Hot Cross Buns

makes 12


  • 2/3 cup lukewarm water
  • 1 packet of dried yeast
  • 3 tablespoons granulated sugar
  • 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup whole wheat flour
  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1/3 cup milk
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon mixed spices or to taste (I used 1 and 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon and 1/2 teaspoon each of ginger, allspice, nutmeg, and cloves)
  • 1/2 cup currants or raisins (optional- I didn't use any)
For the "cross" topping:
  • 1/2 cup all-purpose flour 
  • 1/3 to 1/2 cup water
  • milk, for glazing
  • oil, for greasing
  • syrup or honey, for glazing (optional)


1. In a small bowl, stir together lukewarm water, yeast, sugar and 1/2 cup of the all-purpose flour. Set aside for 15 minutes.
2. Heat the butter and milk together in a small saucepan over a low heat until the butter has just melted; remove from heat and cool to room temperature. Whisk in the egg.
butter and milk
butter, milk, and egg
3. In a large mixing bowl, stir together the remaining flour, salt, mixed spice, and raisins/currents. Pour the yeast mixture and the milk mixture over top. Stir together until there are only a few floury patches remaining. Tip the contents of the dough out onto a work surface and knead until smooth, about 5-7 minutes.

4. Grease a large bowl with cooking spray or with some oil. Place the dough in the bowl, cover with oiled plastic wrap, and leave in a warm place to rise until doubled in size, about 1 hour.
before rising
5. Divide the risen dough evenly into 12 pieces and roll them into balls. Place onto a parchment-lined baking tray spaced a few inches apart. To form balls, grab a piece of dough and smooth the top and sides and tuck pieces underneath (this is a bit hard to explain, so please refer to the pictures). Slash a cross into the top of each bun using a sharp knife or razor. Cover with oiled plastic wrap and leave to rise for 30 minutes until doubled in size.
after rising
piece of dough
smooth top
smooth sides and tuck underneath, forming a mushroom or little sachet shape
tuck nicely on the bottom- this side will go down on the pan
don't worry if you don't have a very sharp knife- just do the best you can
6. While the buns are rising, preheat the oven to 350°F.

7. Make the "cross" topping by stirring together the flour and enough water to make a loose paste. Transfer to a piping bag fitted with a small, plain tip (or a sandwich bag with the tip of one of the corners cut off).

flour paste and milk for brushing
8. Brush the risen buns all over with a little milk then pipe the cross mixture into the cross-shaped cuts.
after rising
to get the paste into the bag it's helpful to flip out the top of the bag so that the top stays clean
after brushing with milk and applying the flour paste
9. Bake for 20 minutes until golden brown all over. While still warm, brush them with golden syrup. Cool completely then store in an airtight container for up to 5 days.
freshly baked!
I brushed mine with agave- yum!
10. Enjoy!

The next recipe is a favorite among my friends. The recipe is from a member of the Franciscan Sisters of the Eucharist. Although they're called "penitential" biscuits, they really aren't penitential at all!

Traditional Franciscan Penitential Biscuits

a copy of the recipe handwritten by a friend


  • 1 cup bran
  • 1 cup white flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/3 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 and 1/3 tablespoons sugar
  • 1/4 cup molasses
  • 2/3 teaspoon salt
  • 1/3 cup shortening
  • 1/3 cup buttermilk
  • 1 egg


1. Mix ingredients in a large bowl.
2. Shape into balls with an ice cream scoop (a helpful tip I've learned is to spray the scoop with cooking spray first).
3. Place on a greased or parchment paper-lined cookie sheet.
4. Serve with butter or honey butter.
the penitential biscuits are on the top and bottom plates
5. Enjoy!

My thoughts on the no-shampoo hair method

A month or so ago I was talking to a friend when she mentioned that she had began using baking soda and vinegar to wash her hair. Your first reaction may be "Ewww!!" or "What?!!", but there is actually a huge group of people who insist that using regular shampoo is harmful for hair. I won't go into why they think this, but if you'd like to know, just google "no-poo" (as the method is affectionately called) and plenty of websites should come up. Since a few people I know had tried it, I decided to give it a go. I went about seven weeks without shampoo, but today I decided to go back to my normal routine. What follows is some basic information on the method, my results, and why I switched back to regular shampoo and conditioner. 

Here's a quick overview of the method. Basically, you wash your hair with a mixture of baking soda and water, rinse, and then condition with a mixture of apple cider vinegar and water. Advocates for the method claim it's cheap, easy, and eco-friendly, and although it definitely is cheap and eco-friendly, I found it more of a hassle than regular shampoo and conditioner. For the "no-poo" method, you have to premix the ingredients and the resulting mixtures are very liquid-y. Once you apply the baking soda mixture to your hair, you massage it into your scalp. There is no lather, but only a gritty and slightly tingly feeling. For the vinegar mixture, you pour it all over your hair and wait. Although the vinegar smell does rinse out, the in-shower experience isn't particularly pleasant. 
My very curly hair!
Those who use the "no-poo" method also claim it helps with hair manageability- you don't need to wash your hair as often and some say they no longer need product (frizz cream, gel, etc.) at all. Since I have very curly hair, product is a normal part of my hair routine. After showering I apply a frizz cream or leave-in conditioner to the ends of my hair and a gel throughout, then run a wide-tooth comb through and I'm done. I tried not using products during my "no-poo" experience, but my hair is just too curly- it might have frizzed less, but the curls were not defined and were more limp. For a while I forwent shampoo but still used product. Some days I loved it and other days I didn't, which is how it was when I used shampoo, too. I'm not sure if my hair ended up being less greasy. I don't nomally need to wash my hair everyday, so I didn't notice too much of a difference. I started getting a little bit of dandruff, though, so maybe my scalp was getting a little too dry!

After weeks of using baking soda and vinegar, today I made the switch back. For me, the biggest issues were the smell of the vinegar, non-lathering effect of the baking soda, and the dandruff. As I mentioned before, the vinegar smell does wash out, but what's left is just a hair smell. Normally I use Herbal Essences Color Me Happy shampoo and conditioner (I don't have color hair, but it smells amazing!) and I missed having wonderful smelling hair. 

Other than the scent issue, my results may not have been typical because of how curly my hair is. Most reviews and testimonies I read online were from people with straight or slightly wavy hair who probably didn't use much product to begin with. Overall, I'm glad I tried it. Although it wasn't a big success for me, I still recommend trying it, especially if you have straighter hair. If you have any questions feel free to ask, and if you try/have tried the "no-poo" method please share your results in the comments section below! 

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Pre-London Update #1

Hello everyone!

As I mentioned in my first post, one of my reasons for starting this blog was to document my study abroad experience from start to finish. It's about five months until I leave, and I plan to record updates at least once a month until I'm up and away. 

Just in case you missed my first post, I'm in the process of arranging to study abroad this upcoming fall semester, fall 2014. The university I'm applying to is about 30 minutes outside central London to the south-west. My university here in the states has a partnership with the one in England, which played a major part in why I decided to study abroad there. In case you didn't know, studying abroad is very expensive, and I'm certainly not rich. Because our universities are partners, my home scholarship will cover my tuition abroad, which alleviates a huge expense. My parents are paying for some of the cost, and I'll be paying for the rest. Since making the decision to study abroad, I've tried to be extremely frugal and have taken on extra hours at work. It's a big commitment of time and resources, but I haven't spoken to anyone or read any testimonies online from people who regretted their decision. I know that if I had decided not to go, I would have regretted it. 
So anyways, five months. It seems so far away and yet so soon (cliche, I know). It's especially nerve-wracking because nothing is official yet. I've made arrangements to make arrangements and talked to lots of people and starting planning, but nothing is set because I haven't been officially accepted into the program. Although my friend Gabby, who is studying abroad with me, and I have been making plans to study abroad for over five months, it was only last week that we were able to submit applications. I'm not sure when we will be notified if we've been accepted...but hopefully soon! If/when we are accepted we can apply for housing and pick our courses. 

To prepare, I've been studying British history. Considering that my dad is a professor of British and Irish history, my knowledge of the subject is embarrassingly limited. By the time I leave, though, I will be an expert! I have a very basic textbook of English history that I've been making my way through and have been supplementing it with several other history books. Right now I'm about at 1668 during the reign of Charles II. I've really been enjoying my personal studies, and I know that when I'm finally in England I'll appreciate the historical sites so much more since I know the stories behind them. (I'm also visiting the Magna Carta exhibit at the Museum of Natural Science this weekend- yay!) 
Bayeux Tapestry: Harold is crowned
In addition to learning history, I've been reading and watching YouTube videos about other people's study abroad experiences and advice. Most people say pretty much the same thing: it was great, plan early, and don't over-pack. Gabby and I have already started planning some weekend trips around England. Two places I really want to go are Edinburgh and Bath. There are lots of places accessible by train from London, so it's tempting to try and do them all, but we've been trying to narrow down the list so we can make sure we have time to do the things that we really want. We haven't made a final decision about our big study week trip, but we're thinking of going to Rome and Assisi. (Although I've always wanted to visit Germany and Austria, I don't think that this study abroad trip is the ideal time. After graduating hopefully I can teach English overseas! I've been practicing my German so I'll be ready- I'll get there eventually!)
Edinburgh, Scotland
Five months is a long time, but I'm already so excited! I have an adventurous spirit and tend to let my imagination get the best of me, so I have really been trying to be realistic and practical about this trip so I don't get let down. I know that inevitably not everything will go according to plan and that we won't visit every place we want, but I know that even if it's not perfect, studying abroad will be a fantastic experience. 

I should also mention that I'm now officially a whovian. My family watches some Dr. Who and my sisters are fans, but before now I'd never watched enough to get addicted. That's changed, though. In the past month or so I've made my way up though series 4 of Doctor Who (Doctors 9 and 10), and I can officially say I'm hooked. Whenever I hear the theme music a shiver runs up my spine...I'm worried I'm forming an obsession! I still have all of the 11th Doctor to go and then Peter Capaldi as the 12th Doctor in the fall! I can't wait! 
The Doctor and Rose Tyler
The grammar enthusiast in me loves this! (4.5: The Sontaran Stratagem)
Have a wonderful weekend!