Sticky Buns for Sticky Times

Happy Valentine’s Day! Your special gift this year is being barred in the house with the ones you love. And ONLY the ones you love. Or people you strongly dislike, if you’re in a shitty roommate situation. For weeks. Possibly months? What’s not to love? Well chickens, it was a good run. It was a great run, actually. Eight months or so of relative normalcy. We can’t really complain. But…I won’t lie. On Wednesday, after picking the kid up from daycare for what will probably be the last time for a while, and listening to the mind-blowing daily case count (and this was the day before the REALLY mind-blowing case count and then the Friday night press conference bomb), I had a bit of moment. I started panicking with what to do with my only child with no brothers or sisters to entertain him, no daycare or playdates with pals. I immediately started mourning our library visits and swimming lessons and fries at the mall afterwards. Walking down the road for treats and hangouts at the coffee shop. Shipping him off to Nanny and Poppy’s for a sleepover and going out for dinner with friends, all of us admiring each other’s fashionable face masks before taking them off to drink cocktails and eat food and play Before Times. Everything we’ve been able to do since June or so, when Newfoundland was able to live normalishly (it’s a word now) and let’s face it, a bit smugly. Personally, I was basking in the glow of “Newfoundland is number one at something! Take that Margaret Wente!” 

But then I pulled myself up by my soon-to-be-snugly-fitting leggings, and told myself, you know what? If fries at the mall are the only thing you have to mourn this year, then that’s pretty goddamn great. Give a thought to the moms in big cities who’ve been doing this for most of the year, homeschooling multiple kids in tiny apartments with only a shitty park across the street for relief. So suck it up, with your one child at home who doesn’t need to be homeschooled yet, your cozy house with your healthy family in it, your open grocery stores, your curb side liquor store pick-up, and your stunning Newfoundland winter vistas with miles of open space, and just get it done. 

Now, that’s not to say there won’t be tears and screaming into pillows and giant tablespoonfuls of Nutella licked while wearing my bathrobe, turned back-on to my child. I’m only human. But the rest of this winter is all about being grateful for small blessings and taking things one day at a time. 

So. Valentine’s day. Who cares, really. We all know it’s just another annoying holiday that makes single people feel sad (instead of awesome and lucky and hello, a lot of people are massively jealous of you right now), and makes couples feel pressure to impress their second half. Or most of all, as I’m quickly realizing what will be the theme of my life for the next few years, Valentine’s Day makes moms feel inadequate. For not being organized enough to give every kid in the daycare class a Hot Wheels car with a homemade printed sticky label that says I “WHEELIE” LIKE YOU VALENTINE! (I’m looking at you Grayson’s mom.) And honestly, let’s tell it like it is. The only person who really deserves a Valentine this year is our Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Janice Fitzgerald, for being the only sensible voice of reason at that press conference table, and for keeping us sane and safe and basically saving all of our asses. I would buy a Valentine’s Hot Wheels for her. With a label that says I AM WHEELIE GLAD YOU’RE RUNNING THIS SHOW. But any holiday, no matter how shoved down our throats it is, calls for treats. I’ll take whatever excuse I can get these days. I would have made a celebratory cake for Groundhog Day had the shit been hitting the fan on February 2nd, back in the innocent days of shaking our heads at the sad state of Ontario. 

So for Schmalentine’s Day, I’m offering up my favourite recipe for sticky buns. I first had them over twenty years ago when Didi and I and another half dozen friends took a road trip to Englee to visit her parents, Hoodie and Helga. We all stayed in their summer house, with a few of us across the road at Didi’s nan’s place. Helga and Nan Christina, and if I’m remembering correctly, a few aunts, made a huge spread of food for us to take on a boat trip out to Devil’s Cove and the resettled community of Canada Harbour. It was one of those perfect days that a tourist would pay hundreds of dollars for, that we got for free because most Newfoundlanders have an uncle with a longliner. It’s in my top ten of favourite days ever, and every time I eat sticky buns I think of sharing food with friends on a summer day, and almost getting hypothermia because I thought taking a dip in the ocean at the tip of the Northern Peninsula would be a good idea. Anyway, they’re simple and easy, they’ll scratch that cinnamon bun itch without all the pandemic stress of trying to find yeast, and they’re oozing with love and comfort. And like, a lot of butter and sugar. But it is Lockdown 2.0: February Edition, so don’t be afraid to treat yourself. It’s an easily tweakable recipe with a great base that you can play around with. The original recipe calls for milk but I’ve used homemade yogurt. Mostly because I was learning to make homemade yogurt and messed up a bunch of batches and had a lot in the fridge. The experiment worked out so well I use it all the time now. You can reduce the butter and sugar, swap out cardamom for the original cinnamon, sub in half whole wheat flour or coconut sugar instead of brown to fool yourself into thinking you’re making yourself a healthy snack. Lemon zest is good, too, if you have no oranges in the fridge. These are all things I’ve done with great results. It’s a good, solid, highly adaptable recipe for the 2021 Pandemic Pantry. Just make sure you use full-fat milk or yogurt, or your dough will be too dry to roll.

Orange Cardamom Sticky Buns (adapted from Helga’s Sticky Buns, or Caramel Rolls)

4 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup butter, plus extra for spreading
3/4 cup full-fat yogurt (not Greek)
1 cup brown sugar
1 tsp ground cardamom
Zest of one orange
Handful of halved pecans (optional)

Preheat oven to 350°F and grease a 9×9 glass dish. Sift flour, baking powder and salt together. Add 1/4 cup of the butter and mix with hands until the texture of grainy sand. Add yogurt and mix, bringing the dough together to form a ball, without over mixing or kneading too much. On a floured surface, roll into a rough rectangle with a 1/2 inch thickness. Spread with some softened butter, thinly or thickly, however you would butter your bread. Sprinkle with 1/2 cup of the brown sugar, the cardamom, and the orange zest. From the long edge, roll tightly and slice into 1-inch pieces. Place the pieces into the greased pan, without stressing about making them look pretty, you have enough stress in your life right now. In a small pot on the stove, melt the remaining 1/4 cup of butter and mix in the remaining 1/2 cup of brown sugar. Add the pecans if using and stir to coat. Spoon the mixture on top of the rolls, and bake for 15-20 minutes, or until the buns are cooked through and the tops are nice and crispy/caramelized looking. 

Happy Valentine’s Day, chickens. Wishing you full bellies, warm hearts, soft pants, clean hands, and rolled-up sleeves with arms jabbed full of vaccines until we can share some buns together. xo