24 April 2015

Seven Quick Takes

I
Little Bear is going to help with Seven Quick Takes today, because I'm not quite managing it. Just tired, kind of stressed... Braxton-Hicks keep freaking me out, because I never felt them with Little Bear and now, after Wednesday night's excitement, I panic each time thinking that maybe these are real. I just need a quiet weekend with Matt at home to help with Little Bear.

II
When it's too quiet in the kitchen...

Me: "What are you doing?"
Little Bear (very nonchalant voice): "Eating sour cream."

Yes, yes he was.

III
I love some of the ridiculous-for-a-2yo phrase constructions Little Bear has picked up from me. When I asked what he'd like for dessert tonight:

"Um, I think orange ice cream might be best."

There are also those that make me crazy, like how he's apparently decided that saying a food "is not my favorite" is substantially different from saying "no" to it (and therefore not rude/disobedient), even though when he says, "Fajitas are not my favorite," what he means is, "I'm not going to eat that, Mama." Tuesday evening, making fajitas, my responses to the repeated "not my favorite" nonsense quickly devolved from "But you've never tried fajitas!" to "I'm sorry that you feel that way" to "Too bad."

IV
It's so great when kids learn to eat foods young that they haven't had to chance to learn that most kids don't like. That sentence was grammatically terrible; I'm sorry. But anyway, Little Bear loves pickled beets and spinach. Separately, I mean. There was probably a month straight of our weekly visits to my parents' house for supper when he would get super excited if he saw beets on the table, or burst into tears if he heard us decide not to set them out that night. His dad and papa (my dad) cannot understand this, but my mom and I think it's great! Today I made Monterey spaghetti in the slow cooker for supper: pasta, spinach, and lots of dairy. Is it cheating to smother the spinach in cheese and sour cream and then claim that my kid likes spinach? Maybe... He does eat it well in eggs and other casseroles too, though.

V
I thought I was doing pretty well, getting five to six 16 oz glasses of water a day, but the nurses on Wednesday night said I should be getting 120 oz of water a day! That's... okay, I just did the math and it's only seven and a half glasses. Fine. I can do that. But saying 120 ounces sounds like a LOT, though, doesn't it?

VI
Next week is the last session of our parish's RCIA class, and tonight the other teacher and I were discussing a feedback form for our recent confirmandi to give us their input on the program we piloted this year and the class structure. When I got off the phone Matt asked, "You're going to have them fill it out there, right? Otherwise no one is going to turn them in." He smiled and shook his head skeptically as I explained about concepts like mailing forms back to the church, or dropping them by the parish office, or bringing them to Mass on Sunday.

"It's too hard to remember to bring something extra with you on Sunday morning."
"Women carry purses," I pointed out. "They just have to put the form in their purse, and it'll be there on Sunday."
"This is why men don't carry purses; the paper would go in, and never come out again until they were out in the middle of the woods and needed something to start a fire with, and then they'd be able to find it again."

VII
You know you're out of ideas for SQT when you halfway-seriously consider your husband's suggestion that you "talk about all of the mud in our garage"... Sorry, y'all. No more brain tonight. Have a good weekend! I'm sure there are lots of people who were capable of putting actual thought into their SQT this week over at This Ain't the Lyceum.

23 April 2015

Alexandra of Rome

Today we celebrated St Alexandra of Rome, empress, wife, mother, and patron saint of our Alex.


Alexandra was the wife of the notoriously anti-Christian emperor Diocletian. She had converted to Christianity in secret, along with her daughter Valeria. Stories of her martyrdom differ; some say that she publicly acknowledged Christ by bowing before St George on his way to his martyrdom at Nicomedia, and her death was consequently ordered by Diocletian. According to other sources, Alexandra was merely exiled with Valeria, but the emperor Licinius had both women beheaded when they arrived at their place of exile. Versions of both stories relate that Alexandra asked permission to sit down for a moment while walking to her place of execution, and while seated, died peacefully before she could be killed.

St Alexandra, her story and the concern she must have felt for her daughter Valeria, have been on my mind recently as I've been watching her feast approach on the calendar. I wasn't worried at all during my pregnancy with Alex; Little Bear's pregnancy had gone smoothly, and I didn't have any reason to think anything would be different the second time around until I was blindsided with the news that she'd died. This pregnancy, with Kit, I've been trying not to worry, but it's been harder these past few weeks as we come up on the anniversary of Alex' miscarriage.

And then last night, Matt and I spent five hours in the women's center at the hospital. 

At not quite 32 weeks pregnant, a sudden midafternoon onslaught of sharp cramping, low back pain, nausea and shakes had me scared; I couldn't tell if I was having contractions or not, but I couldn't sense contractions with Little Bear until I was so far along that we almost didn't make it to the hospital in time, so my midwife told me to call Matt home from work and go straight to the hospital to be checked.

It turned out that I was contracting lightly but consistently, with contractions every 2-3 minutes, but I hadn't yet begun dilating. The nurses quickly had me hooked up to four monitors, an iv of fluids going into the back of my hand, a terbutaline injection (a smooth muscle relaxant) in my shoulder. The contractions began responding to the terbutaline right away, and since the nurses said it'd take about an hour and a half to finish the iv fluids, I sat up to read and Matt headed out to find us some supper.

Not 20 minutes after he left, I began feeling light headed, and suddenly there were three nurses in the room. My blood pressure, normally low, had dropped to 93/36. They got me laying back down on my side under a warm blanket, drinking more water in addition to the iv drip, and slowly my blood pressure began climbing erratically back up where it belonged. They kept us for an extra hour and a half to give me a second bag of fluids, but the contractions didn't come back and my blood pressure stabilized, so a little before 10:30 we were discharged.

We'd dropped Little Bear with my parents on our way to the hospital, so he got to have a trial run of going to bed at Grandma's house. It couldn't have gone much better; he apparently went right to sleep without fussing, and slept through Matt picking him up, carrying him out to the car, and bringing him in to his own bed. He didn't wake up until 7 this morning!

I took today very slowly, and haven't had any pain. Maybe I needed to be scared into not trying to do too much... it doesn't feel like I accomplish much during the days as it is, but it seems I need to spend even less time on my feet.

Saint Alexandra of Rome, pray for us!
Saint Gerard, pray for us!
Saint Alex Shiffler, pray for your little sister, that she stays put for at least six more weeks!

21 April 2015

A beautiful day

I started this post last night, but went to bed early instead of posting it. Tonight I thought about sending it to the file of drafts-I'll-never-open-again, but then I re-read it. And I needed to hear it so much, after the day that was today and the putting Little Bear to bed by myself and him getting out of bed 57 times... it's so easy to forget how good things can be when you're having a frustrating time. Nothing earthshattering happened yesterday, but I want to make sure that I remember it, how happy and content I was at the end of the day.


Today was such a good day! Mondays can be hard, with Matt going back to work and Little Bear and I adjusting back to me being the only parent at home and him checking to see if all of Daddy's rules are still in force even though Daddy isn't here... but today was wonderful.

We didn't go grocery shopping in the morning, so I got to start out the at-home part of my day with energy and the ability to get things done instead of the usual Monday dragging myself and the groceries in the door, throwing perishables in the fridge, and falling into a chair with my feet up for a half hour before I can function again.

My failed batch of homemade yogurt worked perfectly as buttermilk in the best, richest, most wonderful blueberry muffins I've ever made. So amazing! I was planning to just make my buttermilk cinnamon bread in muffin form, but when I asked Little Bear to help me make muffins he got all excited about blueberries; omit the cinnamon sugar, add blueberries and nutmeg... perfection.

A new friend came over for much of the middle of the day, and it was so good spending time talking with her and getting to know her! We had a lot in common, and both enjoyed ourselves. And Little Bear liked her and was eager to talk and interact with her right away, which is really unusual for him with new people.

Little Bear took a very short nap... I know that "no more naps" is the rule, and I need to stick to it, because otherwise bedtime is so difficult, but it's hard when he so clearly wants a nap in the middle of the day, laying down and informing me that he's taking a nap now... It's so cute when he climbs into my lap, gives me a hug, and 30 seconds later starts snoring.

Matt and I worked out the week's menu over chat mid-afternoon, so I got a grocery list hammered out in time to run to the store before picking him up. The timing worked out perfectly: I pulled into a parking spot outside his building just as the (fake) bells were chiming 5:00 on campus, and he was finished with the day's work and ready to come home right on time.

So many "little things" to be thankful for today!

19 April 2015

Happy Sunday

Today was lovely: 57 degrees above 0, a warm wind, even the first rain of the year this afternoon. Walking into church this morning, it was pleasant enough that we didn't need to be wearing jackets! Such beautiful weather. Hopefully the warmth will continue, the rest of the snow will melt quickly, and all of the mud will start drying out.

Since today's Gospel reading included the story of the two disciples who walked with Christ on the way to Emmaus and recognized Him in the breaking of the bread, our pastor spent part of his homily reminding the congregation of the importance of approaching the Eucharist with reverence; it's been a long time since I've heard a priest remind everyone that only Catholics in a state of grace (and what that means!) may receive. It's so important for priests to say this, because there have been so many decades now of many many Catholics receiving poor catechesis, there are a lot of people who honestly don't know that to receive in a state of mortal sin is itself a grave sin. It's not about excluding people from the Eucharist; it's a matter of encouraging and helping people to reconcile themselves with God so that they are able to receive the grace of the sacrament. You can't welcome God into your heart when you've nailed the door shut—you have to pull out the nails and open the door first.

The wind knocked out our power for about an hour shortly after we got home from Mass, and we decided to take advantage of the afternoon to go for a drive. We didn't exactly have a route in mind when we left, aside from "taking the scenic route to the ice cream shop," but we wound up going on a bit of an adventure around the area where we live, keeping an eye out for For Sale signs and driving by houses. It was fun, though we didn't wind up seeing anything that we wanted to call about. I think I'm close to accepting that we just aren't going to find what we want (not in town, garage, wood heat) in our price range, but I'm not really willing to give up any of those things... and Matt's still holding onto the belief that eventually the right place will come up, so we will see what happens. If the right place DOES come on the market, after looking this long—this is our third year—we'll definitely know it when we see it!

Little Bear was, of course, thrilled to realize that we were going to get ice cream, and was more than happy to share each of our dishes. Even the "small" dishes of ice cream are too much... next time, we will have to get just one dish and share it three ways, if we can agree on one flavor; Matt always wants chocolate (but not dark chocolate), and I almost always want vanilla, but occasionally dark chocolate sounds perfect. Little Bear is easy: he just wants ice cream, no matter what flavor it is!

I take that back; we all shared a dish of green tea ice cream once, and he was not a fan. Most flavors, though, he's perfectly happy with.

Matt suggested going out on the deck and taking a photo out in the wind and sun when we got home from Mass, so I'm linking up with Fine Linen and Purple today for What I Wore Sunday:


Navy blouse, Old Navy Maternity, hand-me-down
Grey slacks, Duo Maternity, hand-me-down
Grey sandals, Dexflex, Payless Shoes

Have a blessed week!

17 April 2015

Seven Quick Takes

I
Working on cooking the third pound of pasta that's crossed our stovetop today... Little Bear and I brought a great big bowl of tuna pasta salad to the Catholic homeschoolers' (plus preschoolers) potluck and get-together after noon Mass. Six families' hungry kids put something of a dent in it, but there's still quite a bit in the fridge, and we'd already planned to have a different kind of pasta salad for supper tonight; I hadn't initially planned to bring pasta salad to the potluck. Matt's really been looking forward to this tomato-basil-feta-kalamata olive Italian salad, and he's had a long week at work so I don't want to disappoint him. Looks like we won't have to think too hard about lunches for a while!

II
These days, I am loving that at many of the times when I really do need to keep sitting down with my feet up, I can say something like, "Little Bear, do you remember the fun pasta that we got at the grocery store? We put it in a bag, and you put it out on the porch. Do you remember where you put it? Can you go get it for me?" And he will jump up with a "Yes!" and run to open the door to the porch (an insulated-but-unheated enclosure off the kitchen we use for storing dry goods and drinking water) and fetch the pasta. It's wonderful.

III 
...and then there are the opposite times:

Me: "Little Bear, you are being very disobedient."
Little Bear: "Oh. Yes, I am!"

IV
Two weeks ago, my chiropractor suggested trying something that was helping one of her other pregnant patients: kinesiology tape. "Right, we're going to hold my back together with tape?" I thought. "Well, nothing else has worked..." This works, though. It works so well. Each week since, immediately after my adjustment she's applied roughly 1"x2" strips over both of my sacroiliac joints, and for as long as the tape stays in place, my lower back pain and sciatic pain are so, so much better than they have been all through this pregnancy. We're not quite sure why it works; I've heard several theories, the most prominent being that it helps lift the tissue off the joint thus reducing pressure and/or aiding circulation, but at this point I'm less concerned with "this doesn't really make sense" and more with "I can walk across the room, and roll over, and get up from kneeling..." The pelvic pain is slowly but steadily getting worse, but that's only to be expected; I'm 31 weeks today. Just about two months to go.

V
I've been so stressed recently about Little Bear bothering our neighbors at night; in the last week we've had a couple of great nights, but also several others when he's been up every hour with at least one hour-or-longer stretch of fussing/crying. His bed is against the shared wall with our neighbor's bedroom, so we can't just let him fuss until he falls back asleep. He says nothing hurts, nothing is bothering him, he's crying "because I'm crying!" i.e. because he's tired. I feel badly for bothering the neighbors, and I also worry that they'll wind up complaining to the landlord and we'll be told to leave; we have a month-to-month lease, which in general seems like a great idea because we are hoping to find a place to buy, but it could result in us getting 30 days' notice whenever the neighbors get too fed up with Little Bear. Or when they find out that I'm pregnant, in anticipation of listening to two kids crying at night.

VI
The masculine instinct to fix the problem rather than simply listen and empathize was very helpful this evening, though, when Matt was able to suggest a solution that actually bypassed/resolved all of my elaborate "nothing can make it better!"ness: No, we can't rearrange his room due to the placement of the baseboard heat and the fact that he sleeps on a mattress on the floor, unless we get him a simple frame (and possibly a box spring, depending on how low the frame is). Then his bed could be in the absolute opposite corner, alongside but above the baseboard, and we could move the white noise machine from the hallway into the bedroom corner abutting the shared wall. Craigslist-hunting we go.

VII
Um, wow. I've never looked at the "baby & kid stuff" section of Craigslist before. This is amazing. Not that we need any of the things; I'm just in awe of the sheer variety and volume of baby and kid clothes, toys, furniture, etc for sale.

Would you buy cloth diapers from Craigslist? A hypothetical question. We've talked about cloth diapering this time, but haven't nearly reached a decision yet.

Hmm. Maybe we could be planning way ahead and just pick up a set of bunkbeds instead of a single bedframe... Ooh, a handmade log bunkbed! That's pretty. Also crazy expensive, but having "handmade" in the title should be a warning that it'll be way out of our price range, right?

Several Baby Bjorns, a Mei Tai...

Okay, all done looking at fun stuff we don't need.  Have a good weekend, y'all. Don't forget to stop by This Ain't the Lyceum for more quick takes!

12 April 2015

Easter Bread 2015

(Only about a week late posting this... but today is still Easter!)

This was my second year making the Italian Easter Bread I grew up with; it turned out even better than last year's! Getting the eggs dyed was more of a challenge than last time, though...

My mom has always, as long as I can remember, dyed eggs on Holy Saturday morning. And she always always says that it's a horrible idea and the day is way too busy with everything else she has to make and do and there's really not time to dye eggs too, but it still winds up happening on Holy Saturday again the next year. So I didn't even ask, this year, what day she was planning to dye eggs... And then I picked Little Bear up from her house on Holy Thursday after my chiropractor and midwife appointments, and he came out to the car proudly carrying a basket of dyed hard-boiled eggs! "Look, colored eggs! I plunked them in the jar, Mommy!" Oops... I guess I missed my chance to dye a couple of raw eggs while the kids did all of their hard-boiled ones!

Being pregnant, and therefore susceptible to occasional bouts of craziness, I decided that I would make my own natural dye out of blueberries and color eggs for my Easter Bread on Good Friday afternoon. (Matt was not at home to tell me that this was a bad idea.) The dye simmered for almost an hour and a half, and came out a very rich purple-red:


...but after spending more than two hours in the dye, it became apparent that the eggs were not going to cooperate.

Left: two hours in dye without vinegar, because I'm pregnant and forgot. Right: two hours in dye with vinegar, because I didn't exactly measure the vinegar and we're pretty sure I put in way too much.

Then I went online and read about science and pH and egg dying, and put six drops of food coloring and one teaspoon of vinegar in half a cup of water. Five minutes later:


Maybe next year, natural dyes. Maybe next year.

Holy Saturday morning, Little Bear enthusiastically helped me start the dough. I actually read all the way to the end of the instructions at the outset this year, so I started the dough in the stand mixer and didn't have to bear a sticky sticky mess by hand this time. That was very nice. Something must not have gone quite right, though—maybe the milk was too hot? Maybe I should have followed the instructions more exactly and oiled the bowl instead of oiling the dough? For some reason, after an hour sitting next to the fireplace with a roaring fire going, the dough had still barely risen. I moved it closer to the fireplace doors, gave it another 20 minutes, and then decided I was tired of waiting and began shaping it anyway.


It did rise up nicely while the oven preheated, and even more while baking.

"I have a problem," I told Matt as the bread was cooling. "Just a little one. There's leftover frosting from the Hot Cross Buns..."

"...And you want to eat it?" 

"No. Well, yes, kind of. But no, the problem is that I need frosting for the Italian Easter Bread, and I already have a dish of leftover frosting so I should use that, but the Easter Bread frosting is supposed to have almond extract in it and the Hot Cross Bun frosting has lemon juice!"

He was quiet for a moment, possibly reflecting on how crazy his wife can be when she's pregnant. "I don't think the Italian Easter Bread police are going to come after you, dear."


VoilĂ : Italian Easter Bread, lemon frosting and all. The lemon wasn't bad, and no, the Easter Bread police didn't come after me, but I'll try to make less Hot Cross Bun frosting next year so that I can make the almond frosting for the Easter Bread.

11 April 2015

Cleaning out the fridge

Lunch today was a fridge-full-of-leftovers affair, and I'm going to pretend that that gives me a halfway decent excuse to throw together a bunch of unrelated recipes that I've been meaning to post but haven't had time or photos for...

First off, I did wind up using chicken in the pasta salad last night. It would up being too windy to comfortably eat outside, but we all crowded into the front seat and watched the birds at the migratory bird refuge while sharing slices of tomato, orange, and a big container of Strawberry-Chicken Pasta Salad. We saw lots of Canada geese, mallard ducks, a cluster of gulls, and four pairs of tundra swans!

Strawberry-Chicken Pasta Salad

1 lb farfalle, cooked and cooled
13 oz cooked chicken, chopped/shredded
fresh strawberries, diced
1-2 stalks celery, finely diced
a handful of slivered almonds
4 oz Swiss cheese, cubed
olive oil
1-2 Tablespoons balsamic vinegar
pepper

Toss the pasta with a drizzle of oil to prevent sticking. Stir in chicken, strawberries, celery, almonds and cubes of Swiss. Stir in balsamic vinegar and pepper to taste, adding a little more oil if it's too dry.


I'd never made a pasta salad without a mayo base before, but remembered Matt saying something about olive oil-based pasta salads being what he'd grown up with... I think? That might actually have been about fruit salads with a yogurt dressing vs. no dressing, now that I'm thinking about it. Hmm. Regardless, we all liked it!

----------

The true measure of a salmon cake recipe is whether they are still good after being reheated. The last recipe we tried, a year or so ago, was kind of meh reheated; I don't think all of the leftovers got eaten. Earlier this week, though, we tried the recipe Matt grew up with. I very happily ate the last two, slathered with "Tardis sauce" (tartar sauce) and microwaved, for lunch yesterday and today: now we have a recipe worth writing down.

Salmon Cakes with "Tardis sauce"

15 oz cooked flaked salmon (I used three 5 oz pouches, because I've been really unhappy with the canned stuff whenever I've bought it in the past)
2 eggs
1-2 stalks celery, very finely diced
1/2 an onion, finely diced
1 1/2 slices of bread, crumbed
olive oil

Beat eggs slightly. Stir in salmon, celery and onion. (You can stick it in the fridge for several hours at this point if you aren't ready to cook them yet.) Mix in bread crumbs and form into 5-6 patties. In a large skillet over medium heat, fry patties in olive oil 10 minutes or until browned (turning once).

1/2 cup mayonnaise
2 baby dill pickles, finely diced
a little bit of pickle brine, to taste

Whisk together. Serve with salmon cakes.

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I totally meant to post this one during Holy Week, and then time got away from me, as it has been lately... We made a Greek baked fish recipe for supper on Palm Sunday, and it turned out incredibly well. We definitely don't want to lose this one! (I was sort of following the recipe from A Continual Feast by Evelyn Berg Vitz, but made several substantial changes.)

Psari Plaki

1 good-sized white fish fillet, skinless (we had halibut)
1/2 cup olive oil
1 bunch of green onions, the white and pale green parts, sliced thin
3 cloves garlic, minced
14 oz petite diced tomatoes, drained
1 handful fresh parsley, chopped
1 teaspoon oregano
1 teaspoon salt
pepper to taste

Place the fish on a foil-lined sheet pan with sides. Heat olive oil in a large skillet and saute onion and garlic until translucent and lightly browned. Add remaining ingredients and simmer 10 minutes. Pour sauce over fish. Bake at 375 F until the fish flakes easily, probably 15-25 minutes depending on thickness of fillet.


Serve with long grain brown rice cooked in vegetable broth, and something green (salad, steamed broccoli, etc.)

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I promised Matt that we wouldn't lose this recipe either. To bring to my family's house for Easter, I made spinach artichoke dip tucked inside little cups of crescent roll dough... delicious! We may have each sampled at least one from each batch as they came out of the oven... quality control, you know. Oops, that one's shaped funny, better eat it too; can't be bringing lopsided appetizers for Easter! I'd like to make these again next year, but I need to find a mini muffin pan of our own so I'm not running over and interrupting my mom mid-Holy Saturday to borrow hers.

Spinach Artichoke Bites

8 oz cream cheese
1/4 cup mayonnaise
1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese
3 cloves garlic, minced
12-14 oz marinated artichoke hearts, drained and chopped
10 oz frozen chopped spinach, thawed and drained
1/3 of this crescent roll dough recipe (or two 8 oz rolls of crescent roll dough)
finely shredded mozzarella

Mix together cream cheese, mayonnaise, parmesan cheese, garlic, artichokes, and spinach. Divide dough in quarters (if using tubes, divide each in half). One portion at a time, roll dough into a rectangle and cut into 12 squares. Press each square into one cup of a lightly greased mini muffin pan and fill with the spinach artichoke dip. Sprinkle a little shredded mozzarella on top of each. Bake at 375 F for 12 minutes. Makes 4 dozen.

There was a little leftover spinach artichoke dip, which definitely wouldn't still have been in the fridge today if we'd had any crackers in the house this week or if bending down to the vegetable drawer for carrots didn't make me nauseous!, but it made very good "pinwheels" for lunch today spread on tortillas, warmed, rolled up and sliced.

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One more should-logically-have-been-posted-during-Holy Week recipe? Okay. Every year on Holy Thursday I have to try and remember which recipe from which cookbook I use for Hot Cross Buns. This year I combined two recipes, and I'm never going to remember that next year if I don't write it out!

Hot Cross Buns

1/2 cup sugar
1 teaspoon salt
3 1/2 teaspoons yeast
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon allspice
4 to 4 1/2 cups flour (1 to 1 1/2 cups whole wheat)
1 cup milk
1/2 cup butter
1 egg
1/2 cup raisins
1/2 cup currants
1 egg yolk + water for egg wash

Combine sugar, yeast, salt, spices and 1 cup of flour in mixer bowl. Warm butter and milk together until milk reaches 120-130 F (butter doesn't need to completely melt). On slow speed, beat liquid into dry ingredients. Increase to medium speed and beat for 2 minutes. Beat in egg and another cup of flour, scraping down sides of bowl as needed. Stir in (with mixer or by hand) enough of remaining flour to make a soft dough. Knead 10 minutes, working in raisins and currants. Cover and let rise until doubled, about 1 hour. Punch down and divide into 12 balls. Cover and let rise until doubled, about 1 hour. Brush with egg wash and bake at 350 F for 30 minutes or until golden brown. Cool on wire rack.

3/4 cup powdered sugar
1 Tablespoon milk
1 teaspoon lemon juice

Whisk together until smooth. Use icing to trace a cross on top of each bun.