Chocolate Yule Log and Gingerbread Cookies (V)

IMG_9204 (1)My family spent the whole week with me for Christmas this year. It’s not uncommon for them to visit during this season–with Nutcracker shows going on after Christmas Day, dancers aren’t usually free to go home until almost January, so it’s become a tradition for the Durands to celebrate the holiday here in Pittsburgh. And while it never fails to be a wonderful visit, something about this one was particularly special.

Perhaps part of the singularity of this trip had to do with the fact that both my parents and sister were all able to actually stay with me in my apartment (with my tiny living situations in the past, we’d become quite accustomed to hotel-room Christmas). It also certainly could have been because it’s only the second year that my parents have lived as empty-nesters. Whatever the many factors, I believe that there was a larger, overriding reason, though–a rather melancholy “first” for our family that made this week as valuable as it was. This was our first family visit when we had no idea when the next time we’d all be together again would be.

I didn’t actually make the connection until last Saturday, when we were shuffling around the living room saying our goodbyes. You see, there’s a solid form of comfort in a goodbye that comes with “I’ll see you in a few months!” or “Can’t wait until summer!” Even the longest periods of separation are made manageable when a clear end is established, when a period exists to eventually halt the dreadful run-on sentence. But parting ways with the most important people in your life and having nothing to say but a nebulous “Bye…” is a terrible feeling, one that I would prefer to never experience.  IMG_9182

That being said, I do believe that this realization was present with us, even subconsciously, throughout our time here. Each moment we shared, even those as simple as cooking together or eating Chinese food after church or unloading the car, had a sense of importance simply because of the fact that we were doing it together. Even my physical therapy appointments were enjoyable purely because my mom and sister sat right next to me for the entire two hours. I can say whole-heartedly that we didn’t waste a moment of the time we were gifted; and, as corny as it sounds, it truly was the best Christmas gift I received.

I hope that you all were able to share this Christmas and New Year’s Eve with those who love you, who bring you hope and happiness. My heart goes out to all of those who are suffering or alone right now–I pray that this year would bring you joy and memories that will outlive any present hurt.

Finally, me being me, the first thing I managed to do in my emotional, angsty state after my family left was to write an emotional, angsty poem. Here’s the rough draft if you’re interested; if not, scroll down for two delish Christmas recipes!

“… How good and pleasant it is when God’s people live together in unity!”

Psalm 133:1




Matt from the bus 

told me that he didn’t understand 

why people feel the need to be close

to their families

“There are so many people in the world”

He said

“So I really just don’t need those five in my life.”

I looked in his eyes and knew

There was no resentment 

or hatred

in the words when he said them

But four days later they came rushing back to me

Like when you stand up too quickly

and the sudden newness of supporting itself

jolts your body 

And as I watched my family walk away from me–

tingling imprints of their hugs still fresh

across my sinking chest–

The fact that there are billions 

of people in the world 

was exactly the opposite of comforting

It meant that

In addition to tears blurring my vision 

and the front window screen

and soon to be hundreds of miles–

There were 7 billion people

Creating space




All I could think about

as I stood behind the door–

the frigid air quickly expelling their

leftover heat that blanketed my body– 

Was that there were

So.      many.      people.

So many people in the world 

Who were not those three


Chocolate Yule Log (V)



  • 1/2 cup vegan butter, softened
  • 1/4 cup almond milk
  • 1/2 cup cocoa  powder
  • 2 1/2 cups vegan powdered sugar
  • 1/2 tsp salt


  • 1 oz. vegan chocolate, melted
  • 3 flax eggs (3 TBSP ground flax mixed with 9 TBSP of water, left to thicken in fridge for at least 5 minutes)
  • 1 tsp apple cider vinegar
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 2 TBSP almond milk
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1 TBSP cocoa powder



  1. Place butter in bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment. Begin gradually adding powdered sugar and almond milk, alternating and mixing on low-medium speed between each addition.
  2. Add cocoa powder and salt, and mix on medium speed until thoroughly combined and smooth.
  3. Add any additional powdered sugar or almond milk as desired to needed ideal consistency.
  4. Cover and keep at room temperature while you finish the cake.


  1. Preheat the oven to 375°F. Grease a 10″x 12″ jelly roll pan (cookie sheet with sides); line the bottom with wax paper; grease and flour the top of the wax paper and sides of sheet.
  2. In a large bowl, mix together melted chocolate, flax eggs, sugar, vinegar, and almond milk with a spoon or spatula.
  3. In a smaller bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda, and cocoa powder, and salt.
  4. Gradually mix the flour mixture into the wet ingredients until thoroughly incorporated.
  5. Spoon batter onto cookie sheet, and spread into an even layer with a spatula.
  6. Bake in preheated oven for about 13 minutes, or until toothpick comes out clean, and top of cake springs back slightly when pressed.
  7. Remove from oven, and dust top of cake liberally with powdered sugar. Place a tea towel over cake. Holding the pan and towel together, flip it upside down so the cake will turn out onto the towel (the wax paper side will be on top, but leave the paper on).
  8.  Starting from one of the short ends, roll the cake and the towel together into a spiral. Place in fridge to cool for about an hour.
  9. Remove from fridge. Gently unroll cake and remove wax paper. Spread all of frosting evenly over the cake, covering any cracks that have developed.
  10. Roll the cake up again, this time without the towel. Wrap tightly in cling film.
  11. Place back in fridge and allow to chill at least another hour before slicing.
  12. Top as desired: crushed candy canes, melted chocolate, nuts, whipped cream, etc. (I love to do chocolate ganache and flaky sea salt!). Enjoy!
  13. If you have any leftover and have to freeze/refrigerate it, allow to come to room temperature again before serving.

Gingerbread Cookies (V)


  • 1/2 cup vegan butter, room temp
  • 1/2 cup shortening
  • 2 flax eggs (2 TBSP ground flax mixed with 6 TBSP water, left to thicken in the fridge for at least 5 minutes
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar (vegan if desired)
  • 1/4 cup molasses
  • 3 1/3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 2 1/2 tsp ginger
  • 1 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp ground cloves
  • 1/4 tsp nutmeg
  • 1 tsp salt
  • (optional) zest of 1 small orange


  1. In a large bowl, combine butter, shortening, flax eggs, brown sugar, and molasses. Mix well by hand or with a mixer.
  2. In a separate bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, ginger, cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, salt, and orange zest.
  3. Gradually mix the flour mixture into the wet ingredients. When it starts to form a dough, I find it easiest to use my hands to finish the mixing and form a ball with the dough.
  4. Cover, and chill in the refrigerator overnight.
  5. Preheat your oven to 375°F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
  6. Roll out the cookie dough on a lightly floured surface (doing it in sections is easiest). Cut out desired shapes with cookie cutters or the rims of glasses.
  7. Bake in the preheated oven until bottoms/edges of cookies just barely begin to darken, about 9-11 minutes in my oven. Remove, and allow to cool on cooling rack completely before icing/serving.
  8. Top as desired: frosting, sprinkles, melted chocolate, royal icing (see my vegan royal icing recipe on the sugar cookie recipe
  9. Store at room temperature in sealed containers.



Nutcracker Popcorn Trio (V)

IMG_8683I’m becoming more and more convinced that I should seek out an aspiring stand-up comic because my life is an endless supply of joke material. To truly recruit your investment in this plan, I think I’ll drop you right into the peak of my Tuesday afternoon–though peak is most definitely a poor word choice. Allow me to set the scene…

I’m sitting straddle in the corner of my kitchen floor, mismatched oven mitts on both hands; my sopping wet hair is wrapped in a drooping towel (a towel that I cannot adjust because of the oven mitts); my lunch, which I’d just finished making, sits in the microwave getting cold; a wet, uncooked loaf of bread is laying on the stove; a broom and a shoe box full of broken glass accompany me on the floor; and I’m hunched over inside our oven, which is also laden with shards of glass. This scene remains relatively unchanged for the next twenty minutes.

Now, for the sake of literary suspense, I’ll back track to that morning. I’ve just received a text from my orthopedist, informing me that he can squeeze me in that day if I come ASAP. So, realizing that the office gets busy quickly, I speedily wash my dishes, brush my teeth, spray myself with an ungodly quantity of perfume to compensate for the lack of a shower, glumly look at my makeup I know I won’t have time to use, and call a Lyft–oh yeah, my car is broken…again. I slide into the backseat, only mildly flustered and  distracted by the fact that I hadn’t even had time to make my bed.

The driver doesn’t say much…for the first minute, that is. Soon, a dramatic squirming pulls my wandering mind back to the front car seat–this man has unbuckled his seat belt and is hastily removing his coat, explaining over the beep of the seat belt alarm that “This is too much for me right now.”IMG_8698

Feeling the subtlety of his masculine display abruptly disappear along with his outermost layer, I silently chuckle as he tosses the coat onto the passenger side and then immediately dons a thick knit beanie. I watch as he completes his presentation by slouching back casually into the seat and glancing in the rear view mirror to assess my response. Doing my very best to avoid locking eyes with him, mostly because I realize I’d likely fail to keep a straight face (and Lord knows how some men interpret a simple smile), I check my phone for nonexistent notifications. I absentmindedly start to bob my head to the music playing from the front of the car, but when I see Mr. Macho perk up–not too abruptly as to break his cool–I realize my mistake. “You like this?”

I conjure up the blandest, most strictly polite response I can: “Yeah, it’s nice. It has a good beat.”

You would have thought that he’d written the song himself and that I’d just presented him with a Grammy. He smiles widely and immediately educates me on the genre of rap-reggae fusion to which I’ve just been exposed. As if I’d begged him to please allow me to hear more of this music, and as if it is a breach of Lyft policy for him to do so, he offers “I’m going to let you hear something.” 

I stop a sarcastic “Really?? Thank you!!!” before it escapes my lips and instead fake interest in an obnoxious song that is growing louder from the speakers. Eventually, I tire of this false engagement and turn my attention back to my phone. After a few seconds, I notice him looking at me in the mirror once again. Despite his one-handed steering and slumped posture, I can see something in his eyes, just a slight hint of panic–he realizes he’s lost me. Scrambling to regain his false sense of influence, he changes the song, grasping once again for my approval. Understanding the ironic power I hold over this macho individual, I start gently bobbing my head again, pretending not to notice his look of satisfaction; it has become a game, tampering with his (excuse my cliche) fragile masculinity. 


I play my role for the rest of the ride, feeling his glances constantly assess my emotion and constantly contradict his attempts at nonchalance. I must commend his ability to adapt–when an especially shaky moment arises, he proactively gains control of the situation by switching from left to right slouch, or by demanding my attention with the sheer virility of slowly scratching his beard. Thankfully for his emotional stamina, the ride only lasts a few minutes longer, and he drops me off at the door of my orthopedist. I thank him and shut the door, finally able to laugh without risk of breaking character. It’s hard to believe that only the first couple hours of my morning have passed. 

After a lengthy appointment and a much tamer ride back to the apartment, I jump at the chance of getting the shower I’d skipped earlier. I’ve learned, after much trial and error, the perfect ratio of hot and cold water that produces the longest-lasting comfort for a shower (one comes to learn these unique arts when living in a nineteenth century building). Sometimes, though, no amount of mastery can prevent the chilling spritz from coming too soon. This is one of those days, of course. I feel my muscles begin to clench as the last bit of warmth from the shower head runs down my still soapy legs and down the drain. In a panic–I am an utter wimp when it comes to cold–I brush off the remaining bubbles, fumble for my towel on the bathroom rug, quickly pat myself dry enough to yank on clothes, and then wrap my frigid hair up away from my shoulders.

After a few minutes, I make my way to the kitchen, where I’ve been anxious to bake a loaf of bread that I’ve left to rise overnight. I’ve been working on creating a crispy crust on my bread, and one method of doing this is to place a pan of boiling water on the oven floor to create steam, which in turn helps a crusty exterior develop.

**Now, I’d like to prematurely defend myself by saying that this thing I’m about to explain, I’d done it before–idiotic or not, it had taken place without disaster in the past, and I like to think that’s at least a fraction of an argument for my case. You can be the judge.IMG_8694

So, I boil a tea kettle of water and moisten the top of the bread dough to prepare it for baking (another strategy to help with crust). I slide the tray with the bread into the oven above the pan I’ve placed on the bottom rack to create my steam. Lastly, I grab the tea kettle and pour the boiling water into the clear…glass dish. The glass dish which immediately explodes upon contact with the scalding water. By the grace of God, the hundreds of shards manage to avoid my body entirely, instead decorating the inside of my oven and the floor in a dangerous layer. I’m frozen for a moment, waiting to realize that I am dreaming or somehow very confused. Nope.

And here we are, back to the floor of my kitchen on Tuesday afternoon. With the help of a broom, vacuum cleaner, and shoe box, I managed to clean up all the glass eventually, though I always see the glimmer of a few stray pieces when I open my oven door now. Kind of Christmas-y, I guess! The rest of that day was far less entertaining, which, as you may assume, wasn’t the worst outcome. All I can say is that I’m learning constantly how to embrace those days when I feel like a silly cartoon character who gets struck by lightning and then steps on a mouse trap and then gets squished under a giant’s footstep. My roommate, a writer, even fantasized my life as a writing exercise in which you’re told to insert the character into as many unfortunate, inescapable situations as possible. That’s certainly far from my actual life–I’m so very fortunate. But I do experience plenty of face-palm incidents; and, if I’ve given you a chuckle at any point in this saga, well then I guess they aren’t for nothing. I may be dreading my next ridiculous misfortune, but I’m very much looking forward to sharing whatever it is with you!

When times are good, be happy;
    but when times are bad, consider this:
God has made the one
    as well as the other.
Therefore, no one can discover
    anything about their future

Ecclesiastes 7:14


Nutcracker Popcorn Trio (V)



  • 1/2 cup popcorn kernels
  • 2 TBSP canola oil


  • 1 1/4 c light brown sugar (vegan if desired)
  • 1/2 cup vegan butter
  • 1/3 cup plus 1/4 cup coffee, separated
  • 1/4 cup light corn syrup
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1/8 tsp almond extract
  • 1 1/2 tsp salt


  • 2 TBSP vegan butter
  • 4 oz. vegan dark chocolate
  • 1 TBSP cinnamon
  • 1 tsp chili powder
  • 3/8 tsp cayenne pepper
  • 1/2 tsp salt, more to taste
  • 2 TBSP cocoa powder


  • 1 cup sweetened coconut flakes
  • 6 candy canes
  • 5 TBSP vegan butter, melted
  • 2 TBSP corn syrup
  • salt to taste



  1. For each type of popcorn, put oil in saucepan over medium-high heat. Place 2 kernels in the oil.
  2. When the two kernels pop, remove the pan from heat and turn off burner. Pour the rest of the kernels into the oil.
  3. Return the saucepan to the stove over medium heat, and cover. When popcorn begins to pop, leave a slight crack in the lid to release steam.
  4. Allow popcorn to pop, shaking saucepan occasionally, until the pops are a few seconds apart. Remove from heat, and pour popcorn into a bowl.


  1. Preheat oven to 250°F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper, and grease the top of the paper with butter. Spread one batch of prepared popcorn across the baking sheets.
  2. In a saucepan over medium heat, combine brown sugar, butter, 1/3 cup coffee, and corn syrup. Stir continuously until butter is melted.
  3. When mixture comes to a boil, stop stirring and allow to cook untouched for five minutes.
  4. Remove from heat, stir in 1/4 cup coffee, almond extract, baking soda, and salt.
  5. Pour a little at a time over popcorn on prepared trays, and stir to coat entirely. **You don’t want too much excess caramel left on the bottom of the trays–you may have a little extra left in the saucepan depending on how much popcorn your kernels yielded. 
  6. Bake in the preheated oven for 40 minutes, stirring every 10-15 minutes. Remove from oven, allow to cool completely on tray, and break apart pieces as needed. 


  1. In a double boiler, melt butter and chocolate.
  2. Stir in cinnamon, chili powder, cayenne pepper, and salt.
  3. Pour over popcorn, and stir to coat.
  4. Sprinkle the cocoa powder gradually over the coated popcorn, stirring until evenly distributed.
  5. Spread onto a flat surface to cool completely.


  1. In a small skillet, toast sweetened coconut flakes over low-medium heat until browned throughout, stirring continuously. Remove from heat, and allow to cool. (You may want to remove them from the pan immediately to avoid burning)
  2. Combined cooled coconut and six candy canes (broken) in the bowl of a food processor or cup of a Nutribullet. Pulse until fine.
  3. Stir corn syrup into melted butter. Pour over batch of popcorn, and stir to coat.
  4. Pour candy cane coconut mixture over a batch of popcorn, tossing to coat every piece. Mix in salt to taste.
  5. Allow to cool.