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Ferdinand’s Flowers

25 Sep

“Once upon a time in Spain there was a little bull and his name was Ferdinand.”

So begins Munro Leaf’s tale of the bull who would not fight. Rather than play and butt horns with the other little bulls who dream of one day fighting at the bullfights in Madrid, Ferdinand enjoys the simple pleasure of smelling the flowers. One fateful day he goes to sit under his favorite tree and accidentally sits on a bee. The bee of course exacts revenge by stinging him, Ferdinand jumps, and then runs around crazily trying to soothe the pain. Seeing this, the men from the bullfights think he must be wild and fierce. He is taken off to Madrid to fight, but upon arriving he sees all of the ladies with pretty flowers throwing their roses into the ring. When it is his turn to fight, he simply sits down in the middle of the ring and breathes happily…just smelling the flowers. No matter how they poke, prod or provoke him, Ferdinand will not fight and he is sent home.

“And for all I know he is sitting there still, under his favorite cork tree, smelling the flowers just quietly. He is very happy.”

If I had to wager a guess, the first place I read The Story of Ferdinand was probably at the Squirrel Hill branch of the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh. Other than The Giving Tree, it is one of the few stories I remember reading as a child that seemed to stick with me and speak to me at every age.

Maintaining self confidence is something that has always been a struggle for me. I was a kid who was mostly content to go along with what my friends had planned. As long as the people I was with were in good spirits, I probably was too. I was very self-conscious about the things I liked. The first time I met someone with the same musical interests as me, my head almost exploded with joy. I saw a lot of really terrible movies throughout high school purely because I didn’t really want to speak up and say, “No, I’d rather not see that.” In my head it was better to go along with things than be a bother or be difficult.

And I would think of Ferdinand…

Ferdinand didn’t feel guilty about not wanting to fight. He ignored everyone yelling at him and simply enjoyed the smell of the flowers. Ferdinand was in control of his own destiny, even if that was just to sit under his favorite tree.

That’s what I always wanted out of life: to be content with myself just as I am, to enjoy the things in life that make me happy, and to let the rest roll off of me like water on a duck’s back. In the face of others telling me what I should do, like, or think, I wanted to be able to make my own decisions and stand by them confidently.

I would think of Ferdinand every time I stepped up to sing at karaoke, stood in front of my mirror before a job interview, or decided all on my own to stay in one night and learn how to make croissants instead of going out to a noisy bar.  And his story reminded me to just be myself and BE HAPPY.

And so I decided to have him join me permanently…

While he is still healing, I thought it would be nice to make some little “flowers” that smell so wonderful I think almost anyone would stop to enjoy the scent.

Cinnamon Rosettes (aka Flowers for Ferdinand)

These aren’t your typical ooey-gooey cinnamon rolls, but they are soft, sweet, and have lots of bits of caramelized cinnamon-and-brown-sugar for you to enjoy since each one is baked in its own little tin.


  • 2 cups flour
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 3 tbsp. unsalted butter
  • 2 tsp. dry active yeast
  • 1/2 tsp. salt


  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 2 tbsp. unsalted butter, melted
  • 2 tsp. cinnamon

Warm the milk and a pinch of sugar to between 110 to 115 degrees F. Sprinkle yeast over milk and let stand until foamy, about 5 minutes. In a small bowl, whisk together egg and remaining 1/4 cup sugar, then slowly whisk in yeast mixture. In the bowl of a stand mixer, combine flour and salt.

Turn the mixer on a low speed and add the egg mixture, stirring until combined. Add butter and mix until incorporated. Fit the mixer with a dough hook and let it knead the dough for a minute or two, then knead by hand until smooth and elastic.

Roll the dough into a ball and put it in a greased bowl. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap or a tea towel and let the dough rise in a warm draft-free place for one hour or until it doubles in volume.
Prepare filling by whisking together the brown sugar and cinnamon.

Butter a muffin tin and set it aside.
Once dough is doubled, turn it out onto a lightly floured surface, deflate gently, and then roll into a large rectangle (about 10 x 14 inches). Brush the dough with the melted butter. Sprinkle the filling evenly over the dough’s surface.

Tightly roll the dough over the filling, forming a 12 to 13-inch log. With a sharp knife, gently slice the log of dough into 12 equal pieces.

Place one piece in each muffin cup and then loosely cover the pan with plastic wrap or a tea towel and allow the buns to rest for another 30 minutes. The dough will not rise a lot, but they will puff slightly.

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees F.
Bake rosettes for 15 to 20 minutes, until puffed and brown. The final internal temperature should be between 190-200 degrees F. Gently remove them from the muffin tin and cool on a rack.

Makes 12 buns.

I’m pretty sure that Ferdinand thought these were the sweetest smelling flowers hed ever smelled, and I bet you’ll enjoy them too. Plus, there is no better way to start a crisp, autumn weekend than with a warm cinnamon bun, a cup of coffee, and a reminder to just be yourself.

Ciao for now,


Back to Bohemia

18 Jul

By 8:30 am on Saturday morning, it was already sticky and nearing 80 degrees. As I walked up the enormous hill near my house with a cabbage, lengthy French baguette, two pounds of bacon, a carton of eggs, two rolls of paper towels, a bottle of vinegar, two apples, three peaches, some kielbasa, a latte, and a red-eye (a cup of black coffee with a shot of espresso—the only real way to start a day), I wondered what on earth possessed me to stop for groceries on the way back from my morning run.

Oh yes that’s right, I’d woken up at 7 o’clock in the morning with a wild craving…for braised cabbage. What. The. Hell. This is what pregnant women must feel like, I imagine. For me it was just that since we came back from Prague, I haven’t been able to stop thinking about the braised cabbage and smoked pork knuckle I had the first night we were there.

I’m sure that part of it was honeymoon bliss combined with exhaustion, but the food just tasted so good. As we kept cool and had a movie marathon day this past weekend, I put on a big pot of goodness to braise. This doesn’t happen often but it came out so right the first time. It’s a simple recipe too, which makes it even better. One bite and I was back in the Czech Republic. Now if only I could get that beer again…hmm…

Braised Cabbage of Happiness

  • 1 head of cabbage, cored and shredded
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 1 tbsp. butter (I used some bacon fat too!)
  • 1-2 slices of bacon, chopped
  • 1.5 tsp. caraway seeds
  • 1/3 cup apple cider vinegar
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 1 tbsp. sugar
  • Black pepper to taste
  • One small apple, grated

Melt the butter in a dutch oven or heavy bottomed saucepan over low heat. Add the onions and sauté very gently for 10 minutes. The onions should be soft, translucent and lightly golden. Add the bacon and cook five minutes more.

Add the cabbage and caraway seeds to the pot and mix well. Cover the pot tightly and cook for five minutes.

Add the vinegar, water, salt, and sugar. Stir everything together thoroughly and then increase the heat and bring the liquid to a boil. Boil for 1-2 minutes and then reduce the heat to low, cover the pot, and simmer gently for one hour. Stop by the stove and give it a stir every so often. Near the end, add the grated apple. I like to apple to stay crunchy, but if you like it soft go ahead and add it earlier.

If you want to make this into a meal, here’s a quick protein to go with it. Kielbasa is the most similar thing (that I’ve found) to the kranjska klobása served at the food carts in Prague, so that’s what I used. Making it from scratch is definitely in my future, but I digress.

Cut 3 oz. of kielbasa into half moon shapes and fry until lightly browned. Add 1/3 cup of chicken stock, 1/3 cup of beer, and a squirt of spicy barbecue sauce to the pan. Simmer until the sauce reduces to about 1/3 cup. You can also add a few tbsp. of milk if you like a sauce with a little bit more body. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Pour yourself a frothy beer and enjoy being in a Bohemian state of mind. Dobrou chut’!

Ciao for now,