Cupid Squad

Rally your squad and spread some love and cheer with a few good deeds this Valentine’s Day!

Story and Photography by Kerry Guice

Sweetheart Rolls Recipe

In these days of social media, political tension and declining personal interactions, it's more important than ever to teach our kids the value of spreading kindness. I don't mean with grand gestures and spending lots of money (as wonderful as that is), but small and simple daily tasks that can truly lead to living a much happier life. With that thought in mind, this Valentine's Day I decided to tell my own sweetheart that I didn't want a gift this year; I would instead spend that money on a full day spreading love through random acts of kindness led by my kids and their friends—“The Cupid Squad.”

We went all over town with one goal in mind: to create smiles. I have to say, we succeeded, and we may have been left at the end of the day with the biggest smiles of all. That's the funny thing about love: the more you give, the more you get, and I mean that quite literally.

According to Emory University, when you are kind to another person, your brain’s pleasure centers light up as if you were the recipient of the good deed rather than the giver. Showing kindness also produces oxytocin, which contributes to overall heart health and creates feelings of optimism and higher self-esteem. Several studies show that consistently being kind leads to living a longer and healthier life. This “Helper's High” can even be felt just by witnessing acts of kindness (which explains why we all love Ellen DeGeneres and Oprah so much)!

The Cupid Squad started the day at the Hilary Clinton Children's Library, where they hid homemade bookmarks inside of books for readers to discover. We wrote sweet or encouraging notes on the bookmarks and even taped a quarter or two to a few of them. The kids sneakily giggled the whole time.

When we left the library, we (along with Ozma the puppy) went to the neighborhood fire station where the Cupid Squad surprised the firemen with homemade Strawberry Sweetheart Rolls and a thank you note for helping keep the community safe. The kids got to see the firehouse and the truck, and smiles were definitely all around!

We left the fire station and headed to the grocery store, where the Cupid Squad passed out flowers to shoppers. This was my favorite part of the day. I was worried that a lot of people would be skeptical about the Cupid Squad's intentions or ignore them. None of us will forget the looks on people's faces when approached by a child with a flower and a smile. Halfway through this stop Matilda said, “I can't stop smiling!” Neither could us moms. Eventually we kept passing people who'd already gotten a flower and everyone looked lighter and happier. It was amazing.

When we left the grocery store, we stopped at the laundromat and left some laundry detergent out for anyone to use, and a little bin of activities to keep kids entertained while waiting with their parents for their laundry to be done.

The next stop was at our school to hide a few small garden stones around for students to find. The Cupid Squad finished the day by leaving bags of hand warmers and ponchos on bus stop benches throughout town. It was a long day, but the Cupid Squad didn't want it to end!

Start your own Cupid Squad, then share your experience to spread kindness even further. It doesn't take much—all you need is love.

Strawberry Rolls

Strawberry Sweetheart Rolls

Makes about 20 rolls

2 cups whole milk (or almond milk)
3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) melted butter
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon almond extract
1/2 cup sugar
1 packet active dry yeast
5 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
2 teaspoons salt

For the filling and icing:
2 cups white chocolate chips, divided
1 tablespoon granulated sugar
2 16-ounce bags frozen, sliced strawberries
Pinch salt
1/2 cup powdered sugar
1 tablespoon orange juice
1/4 teaspoon almond extract
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
4 ounces cream cheese

Pour milk in microwave-safe bowl. Heat 1 minute or until warm. Over medium-low heat in small saucepan, melt butter completely (without letting it brown), then whisk in sugar. When sugar is dissolved (about 1 minute), slowly whisk butter and sugar into the milk. Milk mixture should be warm—if it's room temperature, microwave for 30 seconds at a time until warm (but not hot). Sprinkle the packet of yeast over the top, and let sit 3-5 minutes, or until the yeast begins to bubble. Stir the almond and vanilla extracts into the milk and yeast mixture, then carefully stir in 4 of the 5 cups of flour. Cover the bowl with a kitchen towel and let rise for 1 hour. While dough is rising, mix the remaining 1 cup of flour with the salt, baking soda and baking powder. Carefully knead the remaining flour mixture into the dough until completely combined and dough is no longer sticky. Place dough back in the bowl, cover with a dish towel and set aside while making the filling and icing.

For the filling:
Stirring often on medium heat, bring the frozen, sliced strawberries to a simmer in a medium saucepan with powdered sugar and salt (use frozen berries because fresh aren't in season and will be less sweet). Simmer about 10 minutes, then remove from heat and add the orange juice, almond and vanilla extracts, and stir to combine. Carefully strain/separate berries from the liquid, reserving both the liquid and the berries. Set berries aside and return the liquid to the pan. Over low heat, stir in 1 cup of the white chocolate chips and the 4 ounces of cream cheese. Stir constantly until completely combined and thickened, then remove from heat and set aside to cool slightly.

To assemble:
Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. On a liberally floured surface, roll the dough out into a rectangle. Dough should be fairly thin (about 1/4 or ⅓ inch). Sprinkle the sugar over the dough, then spoon dollops of the strawberries over the dough, spreading as well as you can. It won't seem like enough, but too many strawberries would make the rolls too wet. Add a tiny drizzle of the icing to the dough if you need to. Sprinkle the remaining 1 cup white chocolate chips over the strawberries. Very carefully roll the dough up, starting with the side furthest away, rolling the dough forward, toward you. Roll as tight as you can while making sure strawberries and chocolate chips are being rolled up evenly into the dough rather than squeezed down. With a thin, sharp knife, slice 1-inch-thick rounds from the roll (discarding the ends), and place in a well greased pan about  1/2 -1 inch apart. Cover with a dish towel and let rise about 20 more minutes, then bake for 15-20 minutes until golden brown. Remove from oven and let cool slightly before drizzling icing (you will NOT need all the icing—use as much or as little as you want, and store the rest for up to one week in the refrigerator). Top with a few more white chocolate chips (optional), and serve warm.