The Great Nailed It Bake-Off

My roommate, Annie, and I LOVE to binge baking shows. Something about the thrill of watching people create delicious (or sometimes not at all delicious) baked goods satisfies us both to no end. After comparing herself multiple times to the struggling contestants on the Netflix show Nailed It, Annie decided it was time to actually put her skills to the test. Not knowing at all what she was in for, she asked me to create a baking challenge for her to complete in our apartment. Let’s just say I didn’t hold back.

So, after hours of brainstorming and of culinary preparation, last week at 10:30 a.m. we kicked off the Memorial Day “Great Nailed It Bake Off” in our apartment. What follows is a summary of the saga that ensued throughout the day…

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Annie surprised herself with how nervous she was, but she suited up for the day nevertheless. Initially hating this apron, she’s grown quite fond of it over the course of  this year. She was ready.

The first task was revealed: Royal Iced Steelers Cookies. She only hesitated for a moment before diving into the kitchen.

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Her confidence only grew over the next hour and a half, during which she sped through the challenge, enthusiastically pulling cookies out of the oven and inserting musical interludes. (She created three perfectly tailored playlists specifically for this occasion).

She finished with a hefty five minutes to spare, and it appeared that she actually had indeed “nailed” it. IMG_3589

Unfortunately for Annie, who’d continuously stored her cookies in our freezer between layers of icing, I withheld an important bit of information: royal icing does not set in cold temperatures.

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So the cookies didn’t look quite as…perky, a few minutes later. But this didn’t endanger Annie’s spirit. She was proud of her success–and of the job she’d done on our kitchen–and welcomed the next challenge.

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That is, until she found out what the next challenge was. Round 2, inspired by The Great British Bake Off’s “Technical” challenges, was an apple galette. Not just any apple galette, but a Warm Apple Galette with Spiced Toffee Drizzle from @thebakefeed.

 

 

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https://www.bakefromscratch.com/warm-apple-galette-spiced-toffee-drizzle/

A galette is essentially a pie without a pie pan: a sheet of pastry folded around a fruit filling and baked. Annie did not know this, nor did she have a picture to help her. Needless to say, her enthusiasm dropped drastically when she discovered the evil I’d unleashed upon her.

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A lot less singing and a lot more grunting occurred this round. But, after a frightening mandolin slicing technique that threatened the safety of her fingers, a hilarious over-abundance of apples, a personal rendition of the “fold and pleat” method in the recipe that she called the “hug and squish”, and a cooling technique that involved walking through our apartment with the galette, she presented a final product. (On our personal “gingham altar” in honor of the show)

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Despite undercooked pastry and a soggy bottom that would have sent Paul Hollywood into panic, it tasted pretty darn good. Perhaps my favorite part of the round was when she engineered a tool involving a spoon, paper towel, and tape to sop up the leakage (from the 5937397 pounds of apples she’d tried to shove into one circle of pastry). She posed with her invention after finishing the challenge.

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Nothing, though, could prepare Annie for what I had in store for the finale. I wanted challenge three to be something dear to her heart, something that would prompt her to muster up all the baking energy she had left left in her. So, for her “Showstopper” challenge, I decided to have Annie create this…

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Toothless Cake!! The product of three hours of prep work the day before, I unveiled this cake as the final element of Annie’s day. Her reaction did not disappoint.

She was ecstatic. When the timer began, though, her joy instantly transformed into a focus that was unmatched by the rest of the day. I watched as she silently glided through the kitchen with a laser gaze, fueled by the image of her beloved DreamWorks dragon.

With her intensity, I knew I could look forward to something grand at the end of the day. However, when I came back to the kitchen 2 1/2 hours later for the reveal, I had no idea just how spectacular the creation was that awaited me:

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It was ADORABLE. Her cake, that we came to lovely refer to as The Bat, exceeded every expectation I held. It was decided. Annie may have been the only contestant, but she won with this cake.

After confirming that the taste was just as spectacular as the exterior, we wrapped up our baking extravaganza. Six hours of baking behind her, Annie was exhausted, overheated, and dyed a vibrant shade of fuchsia, but so very proud.

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We both crashed that night in sugar comas, thoroughly satisfied with the result of our little event–it was an experience we truly will never forget. And we haven’t brought ourselves to throw away the bat just yet; he greets us with those bug eyes every time we enter the dining room.

Annie is plotting her revenge on me in the form of a Chopped themed challenge. Stay tuned 🙂

If you’re ever in need of a little spontaneous fun in your household, perhaps consider the possibilities that lie in the kitchen. I promise it WON’T disappoint.

There is nothing better for a person than that he should eat and drink and find enjoyment in his toil. This also, I saw, is from the hand of God…

Ecclesiastes 2:24

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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 fiancĂ©, 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
  • â…” 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 ÂĽ 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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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

 

Kindred

 

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

Between

 

Us.

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

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Chocolate Yule Log (V)

Ingredients

FROSTING

  • 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

CAKE

  • 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

Instructions

FROSTING

  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.

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)

Ingredients

  • 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

Instructions

  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 https://waltzoftheflours759559643.wordpress.com/2018/12/30/sugar-cookies-with-royal-icing-v/).
  9. Store at room temperature in sealed containers.

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Lime Shortbread Ice Cream Sandwiches (V)

IMG_4610Until about 1pm today, I hadn’t the slightest idea what I wanted to share with you in today’s blog. My week has been heavily saturated with ballet (gosh, I’ve never written about that before), hanging out with friends (also a subject I’ve just entirely neglected), and adulting (that word hasn’t ever left my mouth). Alas, I didn’t see many routes that avoided boring you with topics I’ve already unpacked…and repacked and unpacked again.

Because we’re traveling to Chautauqua, NY to perform tomorrow,  we had a short day today with class starting in the afternoon. I arrived early to gather everything I needed for the trip and return some forms that were due to the company accountant. After getting everything situated, I headed upstairs to eat the lunch I’d packed and read for a few minutes before warming up. I knew the likelihood of the lounge being free was slim–the summer dance program is currently running, so the building is swarming with kids and teens all day.  I could hear the crescendo of high-pitched conversations coming from the tables inside as I rounded the corner. However, I took my chances and went in that direction in case there was any couch space still available. IMG_4549

Oh, that couch was occupied. In fact, there were two young dancers sprawled out across the cushions, and each other. One clad in the free summer intensive t-shirt and the other in a leotard, warm up pants, and a perfect bun, the pair’s juvenile appearances seemed to contradict the lack of space between them with their giddy cuddling– in the middle of the day on the public couch right before I was getting ready to eat. Equally disappointed and horrified, I kept on towards the door, trying unsuccessfully to pry my eyes from the image before me. That’s the thing: what shocked me even more than the child lovebirds was the instantaneous transformation I experienced into a crotchety old woman at the sight of them. Without showing it externally, I walked through that lounge with a profound disgust, a sudden hatred of the smell of boyish B.O. scenting the room, a revulsion at the giggling mass of limbs taking my couch, and a hopelessness in the future of the next generation that was enough to call me Ebeneezer. IMG_4555

I exhaled with my exit from the scene, feeling thoroughly scarred from my encounter (a sensation I now accept as a teeeeny bit melodramatic) and very much ready for some food and peace. I sat across the room from a lone student and silently scorned the entire 8-12 year old population for being hateful enough to leave a girl friendless at lunch. Despicable. I opened my Tupperware feeling especially mature, lofty; I mean, I even used the plastic knife along with my fork like any civilized individual that also knows how to sit properly on a couch would. I opened my book of complex, morbid poetry and began reading–an activity that surely none of those Instagram-obsessed, iPhone owning infants would bother doing.

My steady stream of irrational self-affirmation was interrupted, though, by none other than the voice of a little girl.

“Gabriella, why are you eating all by yourself??”

I looked up from my page to see two adorable bun-heads, concernedly chatting with the girl I’d noticed when I came in. At their inquiry, she perked up and cheerfully explained how she’d come upstairs early and was comfortable on her own for a few minutes. They all cheerfully said their goodbyes, their laughs fading and bringing with them the fog of grouchy assumptions that had begun to take residence around my head. I couldn’t help but break my aloof character and smile.IMG_4667

While young people are sometimes seen as innovators, bold leaders, the real fuel for positive change in our world, our society’s view of them can frequently be dismal. We hear so often the idea that “kids these days” are spoiled, ungrateful, selfish, or lack work ethic. They’re glued to their phones, tied to cliques, boy/girl-obsessed, and don’t know how to have conversation that doesn’t involve a keyboard. I’m only 20, and I’ll admit I’ve have my fair share of cynical thoughts about kiddos I encounter. But today, I was reminded to never underestimate the inherent good in people, even those who’re taking selfies by the time they’re 6 and who never have to go through an ugly phase.

Was my response to a pair of kids who have a better love life than I do a tad bitter and tainted with personal issues?  Probably.

Is the future of our world doomed by the fact that it’s left in the hands of today’s middle schoolers?  I’m not convinced.

See that you do not despise one of these little ones. For I tell you that their angels in heaven always see the face of my Father in heaven.

Matthew 18:10

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Lime Shortbread Ice Cream Sandwiches (V)

These are a fun tropical twist on a summer dessert classic. And with a lime shortbread that stand alone, save this recipe for all year!

Ingredients

COOKIES

  • 1 cup plus 2 TBSP vegan butter (I used earth balance buttery spread), room temp
  • 2/3 cup sugar (vegan if desired)
  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 TBSP lime zest, gently packed (about zest of 2 limes)

SANDWICHES

  • vegan vanilla or coconut ice cream (Trader Joe’s soy-based vanilla is great)
  • plantain chips, crushed
  • unsweetened coconut, chopped

Instructions

  1. Cream butter and sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment on medium speed until smooth.
  2. Add the lime zest, and mix on medium speed until incorporated.
  3. Gradually add the flour, mixing after each addition, until it’s all mixed in.
  4. Gather the dough into a ball, and turn it out onto a piece of parchment paper. Place another piece of parchment on top.
  5. Roll the dough to about 1/4 inch thickness, and cut into desired shapes. Poke holes through cookies in a pattern if desired. Cookies will be delicate, so using a spatula can help.
  6. Transfer to a baking sheet lined with parchment paper, and chill in fridge for 20 minutes.
  7. Preheat oven to 325°F.
  8. Bake cookies in preheated oven for about 19-22 minutes, or until edges and bottoms just begin to brown. Time may vary depending on thickness of cookies. Allow to cook completely.
  9. Assemble sandwiches: Scoop ice cream onto a cookie, press another cookie on top, and roll in crushed plantain chips and coconut. Keep in a sealed container in the freezer until ready to eat.

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