Sweet and Smoky Skillet Cornbread (V)(GF)

IMG_0661This is the second week in a row that I’ve “let my South Carolina show” by giving you some southern-inspired recipes! Though sweet tea, lemonade and cornbread are about as classically down south as flavors come, I wouldn’t dare claim that my creations resemble the real deal culinary classics of my home. You won’t see me throw around words like authentic or traditional–simply because my aim was not to recreate history with these bakes. I did consider that route, but that was before I did a bit of research about old fashioned, southern cornbread and deduced some information that prompted me to pursue a more unorthodox route. Basically, classic southern cornbread is nothing like your well-known Jiffy box mix: it’s often made with white cornmeal instead of yellow, its texture isn’t nearly as aerated, and it’s sometimes made by purists who omit the milk and sugar and eggs entirely. I don’t know about you, but I love milk and sugar and eggs. Plus, I preferred to avoid having dozens of great grandmas rolling in their graves because I horrifically insulted the pure name of cornbread with my wannabe version.IMG_0630

Needless to say, it didn’t take me long to decide that trying to make authentic cornbread would actually end up being the least authentic choice I could make. I did, though, in my online digging, get caught in the web of cornbread-making videos. One of my favorites was by a woman who goes by Mamma Cherri, a London YouTuber with a substantial following. I was immediately drawn into her cornbread video, which began with her taking a trip to a market to purchase the ingredients (plus a few random items she needed to grab). It then shifted to her very cluttered kitchen, where she quickly walked through the process of making the cornbread, haphazardly tossing ingredients into bowls and rarely pausing to explain as she worked. What made the video so appealing was just how incredibly natural it was. Mamma Cherri’s kitchen looked like any family kitchen, cramped and cluttered; she didn’t use any real measuring cups; the video had no added effects or even transitions; her daughter simply followed her around with a camera while she shopped and baked, the two of them engaging in comical banter throughout the process. As I chuckled, watching her cut the cornbread with a comically massive knife because that’s what was nearby, I realized how invested I had become in this woman’s life in the span of eight minutes. I wanted to meet her; I felt like I knew her; I trusted her. IMG_0670

Okay, that sounded a tad creepy. But it’s true! And it got me thinking: it’s amazing how attracted we are to authenticity. There are few qualities more instantly magnetizing about people than that of being completely genuine, or “unapologetically themselves,” as reality t.v. loves to put it. But what’s equally amazing, sadly, is how tirelessly we try to adopt characteristics and lifestyles and interests that have nothing to do with who we are–just because we think that our authentic selves can’t measure up to others’ standards unless we add some sort of embellishment. In a culture dominated by fantasy–impossible bodies, impossible experiences, impossible makeup, impossible wealth–it’s often hard to realize what reality even is, let alone understand that your personal reality is 1) normal, and 2) adequate. I promise you, it is both of those things. IMG_0608

On this hump day, then, I want you to remember that nobody remembers someone for being just like someone else; I want you to try loving the parts of you that don’t line up with the manicured photos on your Instagram feed. When it comes to cornbread AND life, you can’t go wrong with real authenticity.

See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him.

1 John 3:1

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Sweet and Smoky Skillet Cornbread (V)(GF)

Ingredients

  • 1 cup yellow cornmeal
  • 1/4 cup gluten-free all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp baking soda
  • 1 1/2 tsp salt
  • 3/4 tsp smoked paprika
  • 1/4 cup sugar (vegan if desired)
  • 1/4 cup vegan butter, melted (plus an extra 2 TBSP for skillet)
  • 1/2 flax egg (1/2 TBSP ground flax seed mixed with 1 TBSP plus 1 1/2 tsp water, left to thicken in fridge for at least five minutes)
  • 2/3 cup “buttermilk” (2 tsp vinegar mixed with enough almond milk to make 2/3 cup, left to sit for at least 5 minutes)
  • 1/8 tsp liquid smoke

Instructions

  1. Place a small cast iron skillet in the oven (mine was about 7” across the bottom), and preheat the oven to 400°F.
  2. In a large bowl, whisk together cornmeal, flour, baking powder, baking soda, smoked paprika, salt and sugar.
  3. Add “buttermilk”, flax egg, and liquid smoke to the dry ingredients, and whisk until incorporated. Then, whisk in the melted butter.
  4. Remove skillet from the oven, and place 2 TBSP of butter into it to coat the bottom.
  5. Carefully pour cornbread batter into the skillet on top of the butter.
  6. Bake in the preheated oven for about 18-20 minutes, until a knife inserted into the center comes out clean. Allow to cool in the skillet before slicing. Enjoy with a bowl of chili, barbecue, or on its own!

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Arnold Palmer Mini Cupcakes (V)

IMG_0492One of the perks about living here in Pittsburgh–and in East Liberty, especially–is that everything I ever need to access is within a five mile radius. I live just a fifteen minute drive from work, and I can walk from my apartment to multiple schools, a few pharmacies, a library, a number of grocery stores, and dozens of restaurants. I’ve become quite comfortable with being able to leave and get something I need and be back home within minutes, which is a luxury I’d never experienced until I moved here. This means that, if I realize I’ve forgotten a staple while shopping or suddenly run out of a baking ingredient, it’s not too much of a hassle to go out and get it.

When I realized on Saturday, then, that I wouldn’t have enough flour left to feed my sourdough starters and bake a loaf, it only slightly bothered me that I’d already done my grocery shopping at ALDI the day before and made a Trader Joe’s trip that morning to get an ingredient that ALDI didn’t carry. I decided to stop at Target on the way home from church the following morning to grab some flour and sugar.

It was a shockingly sunny day for March 1st–we’ve had an abnormal amount of daylight this year, and I’ve struggled to trust that it’s not too good to be true and that some torrential disaster isn’t going to descend upon us any day now. Needless to say, I was sans jacket and in an especially perky mood with my Vitamin D battery fully charged. I’d even picked out a cute, floral outfit that morning to match my seasonal mood. With that in mind, I didn’t mind making the stop; however, I was very much ready to be back in my kitchen and finish up the cupcake recipe because I was so close to finishing it.

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I headed up the stairs, grabbed a basket, and went directly towards the baking aisle. I picked up a bag of sugar and a bag of whole wheat flour, and then I reached far between the shelves and picked out an all-purpose flour (I’ve always been a back of the shelf gal because I’m convinced the best selection is never in the front with the most-touched items). Plus, the closest bags definitely looked like they’d seen better days. Satisfied with my haul, I hoisted the basket onto my hip and made my way to the front of the store to my favorite line, the 10 or less checkout lane.

As the woman in front of me pulled out her wallet, I was relieved to drop my weighty basket onto the conveyor belt. As I did, I noticed the familiar face of a pianist from the studios behind me, and we exchanged warm smiles. Wow, it really is just a happy day, I thought, as I turned back to my basket and the dusty pile of flour that was spewing from its holes. Oh no.

I froze when I realized the bag had broke, momentarily unsure what to do as the white powdery mess of my basket moved towards the register. I instinctively grabbed it and held it still, realizing that this in no way solved the problem but for some reason wanting desperately to avoid allowing it to reach the cashier. With one hand anchored, I attempted to use my other to prop the bag of flour up so that the tear was at the top. Naturally, this sent more clumps of flour shooting out of the basket’s holes and puffs of smoky white particulate billowing over the rest of my groceries. I immediately felt the need to inform someone but was stuck in that awkward pull between interrupting the ongoing checkout traffic to get someone’s attention and silently but unsuccessfully attempting to fix the problem on my own. Finding that neither of these options pleased me, I settled on emitting a series of increasingly audible whisper-shouts for help that came out as sporadic, unnoticed “um’s” and “excuse me’s.”IMG_0477

At last, the cashier flagged another employee for help (though she was most certainly clued in by the white disaster two feet from her station and not from my sorry S.O.S. attempts). Like a child who’s just been caught stealing a cookie and awaiting her fate, I looked, wide-eyed, at both of them until the woman in front of me in line reassured me that I could go get another one. With this, I snapped out of my trance, let go of the basket, and bee-lined back to the other end of the store to get more flour. Of course, that cheery outfit I’d proudly donned earlier included a long skirt with the skinniest hem in my closet–it greatly limited the range of my steps. And so, through the crowded walkway of Target, I executed a strange, brisk speed walk, my shins aggressively hitting my skirt with each hurried pace. I stooped to grab a new bag, inspected it for any weak areas, and retraced my path, which I then noticed was sprinkled periodically with white dots of flour.

I reached the register just as the kind employee who’d come to my rescue was finishing wiping down my basket and its contents. I thanked her repeatedly and avoided eye contact with everyone except the Target dog on the debit card screen until the transaction was complete. Then, I grabbed my bags and attempted to walk down the stairs in a way that would mask the fact that I was lugging 15 lb of groceries, still fighting the circle of fabric around my ankles that had never felt narrower than now. I unlocked my car, basically threw the flour into the passenger seat, realized how stupid that choice was, checked to make sure I hadn’t just caused a second disaster, and sighed in relief as I started home. I mused at the fact that I, Allison Durand, thought I could take a quick ingredient stop that would actually be quick. As usual, my life is endlessly entertaining.

Lucky for me, it would have taken a lot more than a little spilt flour for my mood to take a downturn on that sunny day. Takeaways for today: 1) Take advantage of the joy of sunlight and warmth when it’s here! 2) Thank your store employees for dealing with hot messes like me. 3) Cupcakes are ALWAYS worth the extra trip out.

Happy March, y’all!

From the rising of the sun to the place where it sets,
    the name of the Lord is to be praised.

Psalm 113:3

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Arnold Palmer Mini Cupcakes (V)

*Makes about 3 dozen

Ingredients

SWEET TEA CURD FILLING

  • 1 1/4 cups sweet tea
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 3 TBSP cornstarch
  • 1/4 cup butter

CUPCAKES

  • 2/3 cup canola oil
  • 2/3 cup sugar (vegan if desired)
  • 1/4 cup lemon juice
  • 2/3 cup lemon flavored seltzer water
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 3 TBSP lemon zest

SWEET TEA ICING

  • 5 black tea bags
  • 1/2 cup boiling water
  • 1/2 cup vegan butter
  • 1 lb. (about 3 cups) powdered sugar, (vegan if desired)
  • salt to taste

Instructions

SWEET TEA CURD FILLING

  1. Whisk the sweet tea, sugar, and cornstarch together in a saucepan, and turn heat to medium.
  2. Stirring constantly with a spoon or spatula, cook mixture until it thickens and coats the back of your utensil (this will happen just before it’s hot enough to come to a boil).
  3. Immediately remove from heat, and whisk in butter.
  4. Allow to cool completely in the fridge (Spread onto a baking sheet for faster cooling if needed.

CUPCAKES

  1. Preheat your oven to 350°F. Line a mini muffin tin with liners or grease well.
  2. In a large bowl, mix together oil, sugar, and lemon juice.
  3. In a smaller bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, salt, and lemon zest.
  4. Begin adding the flour mixture and the seltzer water to the oil mixture, alternating and mixing between each addition until all of the ingredients have been incorporated.
  5. Spoon batter into cupcake cups, filling them about 2/3 full.
  6. Bake in the preheated oven for about 10 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center of a cupcake comes out clean.

FROSTING

  1. Steep the tea bags in the boiling water for ten minutes. Remove bags, squeeze excess tea from them, and allow tea to cool completely.
  2. Place vegan butter the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment.
  3. Begin adding powdered sugar and tea, a little at a time, mixing on medium-low speed after each addition (Use the tea sparingly to make sure your frosting isn’t too loose).
  4. Continue until you’ve added all the powdered sugar and as much of the tea as you can while keeping the frosting thick.
  5. Mix in salt to taste.

ASSEMBLY

  1. Using a small knife or piping tip, carve out a small ball of cake in the center of each cupcake top.
  2. Fill the hole with the sweet tea curd filling.
  3. Pipe the frosting onto each cupcake, covering the filling.
  4. Top as desired (I used lemon zest and home made sweet tea caramel), and enjoy!

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Hibiscus Shortbread with Blackberry Frosting (V)

IMG_0323Last week, a large percentage of the population celebrated the equally loved and despised holiday of love. Valentine’s Day is, as you know, the subject of both long anticipation and sharp ridicule, depending entirely on who you ask. I am not one of the  people who endlessly fumes about the ridiculousness of the day, mostly because it’s all I know: I’ve made it through a whole 21 of them very single and relatively unscathed.  I can’t pretend, though, that the red and pink mountain of decor that erupts upon me and other innocent bystanders at every attempt to walk into a grocery store for the month of January…doesn’t get a little old. This year, the fact that I had a performance on Valentine’s Day managed to mildly distract me from my lifelong lack of a significant other. The fact that 14 people within our 32-person ballet company are dating or married to each other did not. IMG_0276

So, despite my claims as a neutral party in this roses-are-red debate, I was more than happy to pause and watch (and maybe smirk) last weekend as the Target employees drained the rose tones from the card aisle until a blank white slate was left, soon to be populated by leprechauns and redheads. I had been on my way to the cosmetics when the alarming lack of vibrant celebration stopped me instantly–you know something is wrong when anything in Target can be described as understated. The first row of what’s usually greeting cards was completely empty. Not a single envelope or sign of color was left, just employees  weaving around the bare bones of the shelves that I now know are a pure white. It was so foreign a sight that I instinctively found myself looking away initially: seeing Target between displays feels like walking in on someone using the bathroom or overhearing a secret you weren’t meant to know. It’s just embarrassing for both parties. Next, I experienced a mild existential crisis: if Target displays don’t actually magically change overnight from one holiday to the next, then what else in life can’t I trust?? It was shocking, to say the least. After expelling the fears creeping into my psyche, I regained my bearings, gripped my basket a little tighter, and eventually concluded that this rare indecency for Target was, in fact, a small victory for “all the single ladies.” So I watched. IMG_0321

As someone not in a relationship, it’s always kind of nice to be on the other side of Valentine’s Day, the half-priced chocolate, concave heart balloon side. I also can’t pretend, though, that the holiday has ever been anything but good to me. I mean, I grew up receiving annual candy from my parents and grandparents (a practice that assuredly would have declined had I offered a boyfriend to lighten the load), and I’ll be a forever participant in Galentine’s Day. One of my good friends, Sam, brought me and our friend Grace chocolate flowers this year. I had breakfast and exchanged cards with my friend JoAnna. I even received second-hand Valentine’s benefits when my roommate Allie built a massive fort in our living room for a movie night with her fiancé, leaving us all with a blanket oasis to inhabit for the next week. I’m far from being able to say that I am in any way oppressed by the happenings of February 14th. And for that, I’m very thankful.IMG_0281

Being single should be nothing more than a descriptive detail about a person. Unfortunately, in a culture of overbearing rom-coms and dating apps and matchmaking television, it’s often made out to be a flaw. I walk through endlessly shifting phases of contentedness as it relates to my relationship status: I’ll go a few days with the concept of dating on the very bottom of my prioritized thoughts, and the next I’ll be whining about it seeming like everyone has a boyfriend except me. It’s normal, I think, to experience this multi-sided relationship with, well, not being in a relationship. For anyone that needs to hear this: it’s ok. But I also need to remind you all, as many times as you’ve heard it in the past, that whether or not you have someone to take to the couples event has absolutely ZERO affect on your worth. My heart breaks for those who feel the need to validate themselves by dating–of all the reasons to be with someone, that is NOT one of them. Please know how loved and important you are just for being yourself.

Being single is perfectly great. Being in a relationship is pretty cool, too (so I’ve been told). As the last remains of this Valentine’s Day fade, celebrate your life partners; but celebrate the moms and cousins and besties, too. Enjoy that assorted chocolate box whether it was from your boyfriend or your grandma (I may or may not be speaking from experience). Finally, celebrate you: after all, you were “fearfully and wonderfully made” long before you knew what going on a date was.

“I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well.” 

Psalm 139:14

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Hibiscus Shortbread with Blackberry Frosting (V)

Ingredients

COOKIES

  • 1 cup vegan butter, room temperature
  • ⅔ cup sugar (vegan if desired)
  • 4 hibiscus tea bags
  • 2 ½ cups all-purpose flour
  • ½ tsp salt

FROSTING

  • ½ cup shortening
  • 1 ½ cups powdered sugar (vegan if desired)
  • 6 TBSP fresh blackberry puree (seeds strained), plus more if desired **see option below
  • Pinch of salt to taste

Instructions

COOKIES

  1. Preheat oven to 325°F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
  2. Place butter and sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, and cream on medium speed until smooth.
  3. In a separate bowl, whisk together flour, salt, and contents of tea bags. ***If your tea isn’t already in very small pieces, blitz about a cup of the flour with the contents of the tea bags in a food processor or Nutribullet until finely ground. Then, add it back to the flour bowl.
  4. Gradually add the flour mixture to the butter and sugar, mixing between each addition. When you’ve added it all, work the dough into a ball.
  5. Roll the dough out to about ¼ inch thickness on a lightly floured surface or between two sheets of parchment paper. Use cookie cutters to cut out desired shapes.
  6. Transfer cookies to the prepared baking sheet, and bake in the preheated oven for about 12-14 minutes, or until the edges just begin to brown.
  7. Allow the cookies to cook for a couple minutes on the tray, and then transfer to a cooling rack to come to room temperature before frosting.

FROSTING

  1. Place shortening in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment.
  2. Begin adding the powdered sugar and blackberry puree, alternating until both are completely added.
  3. Add salt to taste if desired.
  4. Mix on medium speed until very smooth. Ice cookies when they’re completely cool, and store at room temperature
  5. Enjoy within a few days!

**optional: spread a thin layer of blackberry puree on cookies before frosting for a tart, colorful addition!

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Peanut Butter Cookies (V)

IMG_0149It’s about time that I made peanut butter cookies! I wracked my brain for ways to make this recipe “different,” but in the end, I decided that you can’t go wrong with a classic cookie. Since moving to Pittsburgh, I learned about a cookie tradition here that’s been cherished among residents for years: the Pittsburgh cookie table. Basically, at weddings,  guests bring trays of homemade cookies, and they’re all set out on a designated reception table. There are often hundreds of cookies–some families end up with so many that it’s even common to hire someone with the sole job of arranging all of them. Naturally, I fell in love with the idea when it was explained to me.

This summer, I have the privilege of being involved with not just one, but TWO weddings! And, though I’ll surely be baking something for each of them–I’m also going to be a bridesmaid in both! As someone who is a major fan of seeing people get married (movies included) but is single and hasn’t been to a wedding in at least ten years, this is ridiculously exciting for me. Earlier this morning, I finished ordering my second bridal party dress, so I have weddings on the brain. 

Getting married is huge for everyone involved–the couple themselves, parents, siblings, and, of course, friends. That’s where I’ll be fitting in this year; both weddings are those of my closest friends. One of the two is going to be back home in South Carolina, and it’s for my friend Bethany. We grew up dancing under the same instructor for nine years, and after sticking together through new studios and cities and general milestones of growing up, we’ve remained close even though we’re now states apart. We have that special kind of relationship where we can be too busy to get in touch for months, but then as soon as we get that one reuniting phone call or visit, it’s like we’ve never left. I’m thrilled to be a part of her celebration. IMG_0133

The other, happening in May, is for one of my roommates, Allie. We met through ballet when I moved to Pittsburgh, and from our first conversation (during which we realized we had a shocking number of similarities beyond our first name), I think we both knew we’d become incredibly close. The two of us have endured countless highs and lows of dance and adulthood and relationships together–our friendship is one of the most beloved parts of my life here, and I have no doubt I’ll cherish it forever. I’m very thankful I managed to get one year of living with her before she decided to get hitched!

Weddings are, in a way, massive parties. We look forward to them with the excitement of the fun celebration to come, especially through the process of picking flowers, colors, outfits, venues, and all the other elements that personalize the event.  The day itself, however, is steeped with the less shallow elements of beautiful ceremony and fellowship and lots of tears; but the deeper emotions are something I didn’t quite expect to experience before that awaited day arrived. Boy, was I wrong.IMG_0199

Allie tried on her dress for me and our roommate Annie this week. We’d only seen pictures until then. She’d been nervous to take it out of the bag for fear of something happening to it, and we’d waited for weeks in anticipation until she found the opportune time to show it off. The day finally arrived, and we heard her call to us from down the hall asking if we’d like to see it, to which we screamed “YES!!” in unison and proceeded to awkwardly stumble towards her voice. I helped her zip it up, and when she turned around, our jaws dropped. Allie is absolutely stunning, and the dress was simply perfect for her. Annie and I could barely formulate words through our wonderment.

I expected to fall in love with that moment, with the image of my beautiful best friend in her beautiful dress in Annie’s bathroom on Saturday afternoon. What I didn’t expect, though, and what nearly kept me from holding it together as we all stood there, were the memories that suddenly came flooding into my mind. Memories of our first year together, when we were both single and inordinately obsessed with ballet; of the nights we shared in her apartment watching movies but never paying attention because we’d talk through them every time; of holding each other and crying through some of the toughest battles we’ve faced in life. I looked at this woman, this gorgeous, mature, soon to be Mrs., and I remembered giggling next to her on the carpet of her living room and offering ideas as she nervously typed a text to some guy named Kenny she really liked. In three months, I realized, she’s going to put on this dress and marry that guy.

Needless to say, I was overwhelmed. How amazing is it that: over just a few years, the subject of sleepover girl talk evolved into a devoted, lifelong commitment! And, I was there to see it all, from the very beginning. Life is crazy. I’m so thankful for Allie and Bethany and weddings and spontaneous bathroom fashion shows and memories that–excuse my cliche–hit you like a ton of bricks. And all it took was a peek at that dress. I better start stocking up on the tissues now.

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Peanut Butter Cookies (V)

Ingredients

  • 1 cup creamy peanut butter
  • 1/3 cup shortening
  • 1/2 cup sugar (vegan if desired)
  • 1/2 cup light brown sugar (vegan if desired)
  • 1 1/2 flax eggs (mix 1 TBSP + 1 1/2 tsp flax seed with 4 TBSP + 1 1/2 tsp water, and let it thicken in the fridge for at least 5 minutes)
  • 1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 3/4 tsp salt

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven (see options below). Grease a baking sheet or line it with parchment paper.
  2. In the bowl of a stand mixer, combine peanut butter, shortening, and both sugars. Mix on low-medium speed until very smooth.
  3. Add in flax egg, and mix until incorporated.
  4. In a smaller bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, and salt.
  5. Gradually add the flour mixture to the peanut butter mixture, mixing on low-medium speed after each addition until it is all incorporated.
  6. Roll dough into balls about the size of a heaping tablespoon, and place them a couple of inches apart on the cookie sheet. Press down on each of them gently with your palm to flatten them slightly.
  7. Using a fork, press twice into each cookie, forming crossed line pattern.
  8. Choose one of the following baking options! With vegan dough, there’s no fear of raw eggs 🙂
  9. Option 1 (for a fudgy, “under-baked” cookie): Bake at 375°F for about 6-7 minutes.
  10. Option 2 (for a classic cookie with crisp edges and a slightly soft center): Bake at 375°F for 8-10 minutes.
  11. Option 3 (for a cookie that’s very browned on the bottom/outside but soft/fudgy in the center): Bake at 450°F for about 6 minutes, keeping a close watch on the bottoms since they’ll burn easily.
  12. Allow to cool on a cooling rack, and enjoy!

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Strawberry Basil Scones (V)

IMG_9953Yesterday, my normal Sunday schedule was unexpectedly derailed with a wide-scale power outage across areas of Pittsburgh. While the loss of WiFi has become culturally known as being just short of cause for national emergency, it wasn’t actually the internet that hurled me into frustration (at first). It was bread!! I’d planned, for the past three weeks, to bake a loaf of sourdough on Sunday; and every week, I faithfully took my starter out of the fridge, fed it until it was ripe enough for baking, and then ran out of time at home to actually bake bread before the work week began. After a December filled with the excitement of two or three loaves every week, I’d been experiencing severe sourdough withdrawal. That’s why my giddiness quickly devolved into devastation when, after finally having time to tackle the multiple-day commitment of baking a loaf this weekend, our power went out exactly halfway into my bread’s baking. And that’s also why I began writing this from the black cave of our living room, mourning the sad, pale sourdough still sitting in my Dutch oven across the hall.IMG_0046

The tragedy of the bread behind me, I had begun to feel the more anticipated affects of the outage: my phone was losing charge quickly, our fridge was, of course, packed tighter than it’d been all year; I couldn’t microwave food or make tea with our kettle; and, Lord knows, there was certainly sheer panic when the greater Pittsburgh area was deprived of its Superbowl Sunday. But, among the endless inconveniences that always emerge when the stool of technology is knocked from beneath us, I found that the most drastic was that of darkness. As I sat cuddled in a hoodie and throne of pillows, I was taken aback by the sheer lack of light–so much, so, that I continuously glanced at the time to make sure that it actually was only 6:30.

It’s bizarre, realizing how out of sync our societal clock is with the natural rhythm of the Earth. It’s almost as if the more technology we introduce into our lives, the further removed we become from the natural, instinctual schedules of the world. This increasing gap, or disconnect, if you will, holds comical irony: the aim of new technology is to allow us to become more connected, more capable– yet the further technological advancement weaves its way into our daily lives, the harder we crash and burn when we become deprived of it. Today, the idea that we’re helpless without our phones or the internet is becoming less of a needy complaint and more of a reality.IMG_9938

Of course, it’s idealistic to even suggest that we could abandon this comfortable reliance, take a step back in time and off the grid and reconnect with nature. But it’s quite enjoyable to entertain the idea of what life would be like if we chose to align ourselves with the clock of the Earth instead of our smartphones. What would it feel like to rise with the light of the Sun and not our bedside lamps, and to rest as dictated by the night sky? What if heading to bed at 7 was considered average instead of geriatric? Would we feel a little more like we were living with nature instead around it or on it?

I don’t spend much time contemplating our relationship with the Earth, but as I stared at my screen contrasted against the blackness of the room around me, I couldn’t help but feel it was one of tension, almost direct conflict. With no man-made lighting and a sky outside that begged for me to pack up my day and get under the covers, I felt increasingly stubborn as I typed away, screen brightness as high as possible and flashlight at the ready in my lap–it felt like I was defying the authority of the natural world. There’s something powerful about darkness, real darkness, the kind we’ve managed to entirely eliminate from our existence with street lights, interior lights, spotlights, etc. There’s a reason that grandparents always talk about how amazing the night sky used to be when you could actually see it. IMG_9966

With my strange sense of defiance, though, also came respect. As I watched the Earth fall into sleep around me, yesterday, I felt a unique closeness to creation. Humans have a tendency to assert their dominance over the planet we’ve been given: so much so, that we’re realizing more and more the importance of protecting and preserving it–and that we’ve already caused irreparable damage. I think it’s easy to forget, in our technological race to the top, that this place we inhabit is just as living, changing, and evolving as we are. I’ve always been fascinated by the number of biblical passages that discuss creation worshiping God. The imagery of “mountains quaking before him” and “coastlands waiting for his teaching” is just so beautiful! And it’s so unlike the characterizations of nature we employ through our actions: we see it as passive, inexpressive, even a barrier to our advancement, sometimes.

Yesterday’s power outage was just a small blip in the fast-paced continuum of my life, of life in 2020 in general. But it’s those moments that remind me that another breath, another rhythm, was established long before my own 6:30 alarm habit. And, further, they remind me that, occasionally, falling into step with it is a real treat.

“But as the animals, and they will teach you, or the birds in the sky, and they will tell you; or speak to the earth, and it will teach you, or let the fish in the sea inform you. Which of all these does not know that the hand of the Lord has done this? In his hand is the life of every creature and the breath of all mankind.”

Job 12: 7-10

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Strawberry Basil Scones (V)

Ingredients

SCONES

  • 2 1/2 cups white whole wheat flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/2 cup vegan butter, cold
  • 1/2 vegan sugar
  • 1 flax egg (1 TBSP ground flax mixed with 3 TBSP water, left to chill in the fridge for at least 5 minutes)
  • 1/2 cup “buttermilk” (1 tsp apple cider vinegar mixed with enough almond milk to make 1/2 cup)
  • 1/3 chopped, fresh basil (lightly packed into cup)
  • 1 cup diced strawberries (I used frozen strawberries, thawed enough to easily chop)

GLAZE

  • 1 cup vegan powdered sugar
  • 2 TBSP almond milk
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • salt to taste

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 350°F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
  2. In a large bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, and salt.
  3. Using forks or a pastry cutter, cut the cold butter into the flour mixture until the mixture becomes small crumbles. Place in the fridge or freezer to keep cold.
  4. In a smaller bowl, mix together the sugar, flax egg, buttermilk, basil, and strawberries.
  5. Take flour mixture out of the fridge/freezer.
  6. Mix strawberry/basil mixture into the dry ingredients, stopping as soon as they’re combined.
  7. Separate mixture into two sections, and form discs out of each. Cut each disc into four equal parts (or 8 if you want smaller scones), and separate them slightly across the pan. You can flour your hands and the surface of the parchment to more easily form the scones.
  8. Bake in the preheated oven for about 30-35 minutes, or until the bottoms of the scones are just browning.
  9. While they bake, make the glaze: whisk all ingredients together, and set aside until ready to use.
  10. Take the scones out of the oven, and transfer to a cooling rack to cool completely. Drizzle glaze on top of them, and allow to set. Enjoy!

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