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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“Everything but the Kitchen Sink” Pizza (V)

IMG_7031I just submitted my PA voter registration application: I figured after having lived in Pittsburgh for 3 years and now officially working a full-time job here, it was about time for me to put away the South Carolina voting ID. I’m not proud to say that my slow pace in getting it done has unfortunately been typical for me in the realm of this civic duty: I didn’t even vote the first time I was able–I say that through a grimace, but I’m being honest. Despite the incredible privilege that being able to vote is, the task often feels overwhelming. Politics in general, I should say, can feel overwhelming.

I rarely feel confident expressing my stance on political issues. In fact, I have a terrible habit of avoiding the formation of strong opinions in the first place–but particularly with politically-driven topics. It simply takes a LOT of time and familiarity for me to feel educated enough, aware enough, and bold enough, to take concrete stances. I admire those people, especially as young as me, who confidently advocate and argue for their positions on important issues that circulate the media, with growing tenacity when elections approach. But for many topics, I am just not there quite yet. How in the world am I, a 21 year-old ballet dancer, supposed to know the best strategy to progress with relations with Iran, or the long-term effects of a new tax cut? Questions like these often wedge themselves uncomfortably between me and potential opinions, or decided support for a political candidate. When I do get sudden motivation to combat my chronic equivocation, I’ll go through phases of being determinedly informed: watching full debates, reading daily news articles, conversing with my parents about current events. Often, though, my initially fiery curiosity dwindles with the simply overbearing quantity of “stuff” I still don’t know, the impossibility of learning everything I’d like to before building my political identity…thus, my engagement fades and my repertoire of opinions remains rather sad. As someone who feels more strongly about my moral ideology than anything else, I’m always left wishing those beliefs were enough to carry my voting responsibilities.

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I started thinking about this the other day. I was reading a passage in Deuteronomy–some may be acquainted with its riveting paragraphs about rules of animal sacrifice and the many ways in which you can become unclean (and then clean again); it’s a book that’s certainly no lesser than the other elements of the Bible but that anyone would agree is not an easy beach read. In fact, I’ve been struggling for weeks with Deuteronomy and other Old Testament books, finding that really engaging and studying them, especially at 6am, is something I fail to master most mornings. 

As I re-read a some chapters, though, a few verses struck me enough to interrupt my robotic skimming through the lines.

“At the end of every three years, bring all the tithes of that year’s produce and store it in your towns, so that the Levites (who have no allotment or inheritance of their own) and the foreigners, the fatherless and the widows who live in your towns may come and eat and be satisfied, and so that the Lord your God may bless you in all the work of your hands.” Deuteronomy 14:28-29

“There will always be poor people in the land. Therefore I command you to be openhanded toward your fellow Israelites who are poor and needy in your land.” Deuteronomy 15:11

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impromptu pizza selfie

At first glance, these are statements certainly charged by the simple “do-good” mentality, the agreeable call to “love your neighbor.” But what struck me is how God really starts to sound political here! Without advocating for any particular ideology (you know I don’t do the sharing opinions thing 😛 ), I won’t hesitate to point out that these verses indirectly address topics of immigration, role of government, and poverty/ the rich-poor gap. I was not only taken aback by the clarity of instruction for God’s people, but for the relevancy of the words in today’s climate. This, while not quite a cheat-sheet, was the reminder I needed that my Christian beliefs not only help guide my political engagement, but they stress the importance of it in the first place! I started that day feeling perhaps I wasn’t quite as ill-equipped for this journey towards participation as I thought.

Though in principle they’re near opposites, the struggle for me to swallow both the dry pages of biblical books and the massive exchange of current political information in the world. Maybe the beginnings of overcoming my fear of each is to realize that they’re not quite as disconnected as I think. While a healthy society in this world can’t function without separation of church and state, I’m encouraged by the notion that an individual’s personal beliefs should be the first priority when it comes to making their voice heard in society. Getting to vote is such a blessing. Choosing how to vote is intimidating. But those things you do feel strongly about, those moral principles that drive your day-to-day life, the values that you wish everyone could share– start there.

A man’s heart plans his way,
But the Lord directs his steps.

Proverbs 16:9

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“Everything but the Kitchen Sink” Pizza (V)

Ingredients

CRUST

  • 1 packet of instant yeast (2 1/4 teaspoons)
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 2 tsp sugar
  • 3 TBSP olive oil
  • 1 cup warm water (not hot, not room temp)
  • about 2 1/4 cups + 2 TBSP bread flour (may vary slightly)

PESTO (This is a loose recipe–adjust to taste or use your own favorite pesto!)

  • two handfuls basil
  • one handful parsley
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1 TBSP lemon juice
  • 6 TBSP water
  • salt/pepper to taste

TOPPINGS

  • heaping 1/2 cup oyster mushrooms
  • heaping 1/2 cup lobster mushrooms
  • Vidalia onions, sliced
  • olive oil for cooking mushrooms and onions
  • green onion, chopped
  • fresh figs, sliced
  • salt
  • pepper
  • vegan cheese (I used Violife’s feta block–it was great!)
  • balsamic vinegar

Instructions

CRUST

  1. Combine sugar, warm water, salt, and instant yeast in a bowl. Stir. Mix in olive oil.
  2. Begin adding flour gradually, mixing with a wooden spoon until it’s completely combined. Dough should be sticky but hold together nicely.
  3. Work dough into a ball, place in a greased bowl, cover with dish towel, and let rise in a warm place until doubled in size, about 1 hour. (Prepare toppings while it rises).
  4. Preheat the oven as high as it will go (according to my oven thermometer, mine reached about 515°F). Place a pizza stone or overturned baking sheet in to heat up.
  5. Split dough in half; work first half into a ball. On a lightly floured surface, slightly press the dough ball flat, and press your fingers in a ring about an inch from the edge to begin forming a crust.
  6. Continue to stretch the dough with your hands–sometimes laying it across your fists and letting it droop as you move your hands around it helps. Continue until the crust is very flat with a slightly thicker crust. (It will be approximately 10″ in diameter.
  7. Place prepared crust on piece of parchment paper. Top with desired toppings, and brush crust with olive oil.
  8. Using a cutting board, slide pizza onto stone/tray with the parchment still underneath, and bake in preheated oven for about 9-10 minutes, or until the crust and underside is deep golden brown.

TOPPINGS

  1. Caramelize onions: cook onions over medium-low heat in a skillet until brown and translucent with about a TBSP of olive oil, a drizzle of maple syrup, and a pinch of salt.
  2. Cook mushrooms: soak mushrooms in warm water for 20 minutes if dehydrated. Cook in a skillet over medium heat with olive oil, garlic, salt, and green onion until tender.
  3. Combine all pesto ingredients in a food processor/Nutribullet.

 

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Golden Milk Cinnamon Rolls (V)

img_3991.pngThis has been quite a week for me! I went from being home with my family, going on vacation, and getting taken care of–to being away from many of my friends in a new apartment with a car and a job that starts in 5 days. I’ve certainly experienced my fair share of “growing up” moments, but I’d say the past 48 hours take the cake.

This month will certainly be interesting: with a sporadic day time schedule and a whole lot of work to do in the apartment, I’m going to be spending a LOT of time with boxes, clothes, bleach, and rags, things that talk far too little for my taste. I am often a textbook extrovert in that I thrive on being around others. Yesterday after my dad left for the airport, I spent no more than maybe 30 minutes without calling or Facetiming people. For the entirety of the day. My need for human interaction is a forceful one alright, and it’s certainly manifested when you put me in an unpacked apartment that’s almost 3 times bigger than our previous one.

IMG_3868I’m sure there are those of you reading this that envy my situation; I have plenty of friends who treasure  silence and relative isolation as they would a rare gem. In fact, both of my roommates this year can lean towards that direction. I simply don’t relate: as much as an occasional date with Netflix and my bed is pleasant, I stress the word occasional–it takes exhaustion to bring me to that point. I do want to stress that this kind of personality classification is not a clean dichotomy. It’s uncommon (and likely overwhelming) to meet a pure extrovert or introvert; usually the terms can get pretty mangled in overlap. So, in attempts to make use of this transition time–in a spare moment I’m not deep in a corner cleaning our rather “antique” apartment–I thought I may as well write about it. Here is a rough draft of my very scattered thoughts on the topic today: they’re about as dizzying as the spiral of a cinnamon roll.

 

Not a Cat Person

A quiz I took online told me that I am 

80% extroverted and 20% introverted

That I’m “energized and renewed” from being around people

And I believed it 

 

Until I closed the tab and my chest quivered,

Twitched just slightly beneath my ribs 

When it caught sight of the lack of notifications on my home screen, 

A blatant absence of excuses to remain 

numbly iMmersed

 

It was my body’s involuntary defense against the threatening encroach of silence

that was beginning to smirk it’s

slow, unwelcome smile

Like Alice’s friend the Cheshire Cat–

I never knew whether you were supposed to like the Cheshire Cat–

Because the sensation that I felt with the inevitable blackening of my screen

And corresponding encounter with the booming congregation of my own thoughts

the blaring insufficiency of external stimulation

death of immediate responsibility

 

Silence

 

Something that is charming and warm and fuzzy to some

But that is none of those things for me

That had seen its chance in my sunken breastbone and sprung into inaction

Like a feline ricocheting violently inside the hushed walls of my skull

That sensation

 

Was near indistinguishable from being in a room pulsing full of people

 

And so my diagnosed extroversion 

Lost the numerical luster of its prominence

And became quickly tarnished with a confusing, ironic rust

Perhaps as ironic as an extrovert writing a poem about cats

 

My Presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.

Exodus 33:14

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Golden Milk Cinnamon Rolls (V)

Ingredients

ROLLS

  • 6 TBSP vegan butter
  • 1 cup almond milk
  • 1 packet active dry yeast (2 1/4 tsp)
  • 1/4 cup pure maple syrup
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp turmeric
  • 1/4 tsp vanilla
  • 4 cups flour

FILLING

  • 1 cup brown sugar (vegan if desired)
  • 6 TBSP vegan butter, melted
  • 1 tsp black pepper
  • 2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp salt

GLAZE

  • 1/2 cup almond milk
  • 2 TBSP pure maple syrup
  • 1/4 tsp turmeric
  • 1/4 tsp ginger
  • 1/2 tsp black pepper
  • 2 cups powdered sugar (vegan if desired)

Instructions

  1. Combine almond milk and butter in microwave-safe bowl/measuring cup. Microwave in 20 second intervals until butter is mostly melted, stir to completely melt butter.
  2. Allow to cool until warm to the touch but not hot (around 100°F-110°F if you don’t feel comfortable feeling it on your own)
  3. Place mixture in the bowl of a stand mixer, and stir in yeast. Leave for about 10 minutes. Yeast should appear spongy on top.
  4. Mix in maple syrup, salt, vanilla, and turmeric on low speed.
  5. Add 2 cups of flour, a cup at a time, mixing on low-medium speed until incorporated.
  6. Switch the bread hook attachment on your mixer, and continue adding  the remaining flour, mixing on low-medium speed and scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed.
  7. Increase mixing speed to medium, and continue mixing until dough is very smooth and elastic, around 6-8 minutes.
  8. Grease large bowl with oil; place dough in bowl, and cover with saran wrap.
  9. Allow to prove in a warm place until doubled in size (about 1 hour in my apartment), or prove it in the refrigerator overnight.
  10. Make filling: mix all filling ingredients together until even.
  11. Remove plastic wrap and roll out dough on a lightly floured surface into to a 12″ x 18″ rectangle.
  12. Spread filling in an even layer across the entire rectangle.
  13. Roll the dough lengthwise, starting with one of the 18″ sides. Slice into 9 even sections with string. (They should be 2″ each).
  14. Grease a square baking dish, and arrange rolls in the tray. Cover with saran wrap, and allow to rise for 15 minutes. Meanwhile, preheat your oven to 350°F, and begin making glaze.
  15. Combine almond milk, maple syrup, turmeric, ginger, and black pepper in a bowl. Mix well. Do NOT add powdered sugar. Set aside.
  16. Remove saran wrap from rolls, and pour 1/4 cup of the almond milk mixture over the top of them.
  17.  Bake in the preheated oven for 25 minutes.
  18. While they bake, mix powdered sugar into remaining almond milk mixture to make glaze.
  19. Drizzle glaze over all the rolls, and enjoy!

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