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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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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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. 

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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

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Nutcracker Popcorn Trio (V)

Ingredients

FOR EACH TYPE

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

“Arabian” COFFEE CARAMEL CORN

  • 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

“Spanish” CHILI CHOCOLATE POPCORN

  • 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

“Russian” CANDY CANE COCONUT POPCORN

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

Instructions

PREPARE POPCORN

  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.

“Arabian” COFFEE CARAMEL CORN

  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. 

“Spanish” CHILI CHOCOLATE POPCORN

  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.

“Russian” CANDY CANE COCONUT POPCORN

  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.

 

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Pumpkin Caramel Cake (V)

IMG_8126Yesterday, I baked for about six hours. Often when I begin my day in the kitchen, I lose track of time and space and reality and emerge hours later, shocked at how late it is and looking exactly how one would expect me to look after spending six hours in the warm, messy kitchen. While this habit is a wonderfully effective mental release for me, it’s not ideal for the near senile nature of my joints. So, when my mom called me mid-whisking my third bowl of the day and reminded me of the importance of doing that thing I hate called rest, I grumbled an acknowledgement of her advice and decided to plan something relaxing for later that afternoon.

Hours later, I took the last pan out of the oven and proudly admired the array of sweets that now adorned our table; after a relatively unsuccessful period of recipe development the week before, I was happy to see that everything I’d made was not just edible, but tasty. It’s always nice to end up with something people actually WANT to eat. Satisfied at last, I knew it was time to wind down and heed my mother’s request for getting off my feet.

Feeling a special sort of generosity for the knee and ankle that had literally supported me in my culinary endeavors, I pulled out a bag of Epsom salt and made the decision to take a hot bath. Me being the excessive person I am, I determined within minutes to make it not just a soak, but an experience. Drawing upon all my rom-com inspired bath knowledge, I rigged a setup for Netflix on my laptop to be positioned across the tub, prepared lotion to use afterwards, pulled out a freshly cleaned towel, found my warmest sweats; I even poured a glass of wine (it took tremendous courage for my clumsy self to trade the plastic cup for real glass, but I was committed to doing this thing right). All that was left was to actually fill the tub. IMG_8071

Funny, how simple that bit sounds. Because what should have been the easiest step ended up derailing my well-manicured plan of unwinding into a pathetic comedy sketch. The first hitch was that our tub didn’t have a stopper. Without hesitation, I looked up a solution online that involved filling a Ziploc with water and using it to stop the flow. I inserted my DIY plug, turned the water on, and went to retrieve my face wash. I also started boiling a tea kettle, thinking it would add a nice boost of heat to my bath. Upon return, I was shocked to find that nearly all of the water had drained out of the tub. I quickly grabbed a washcloth and shoved it down the drain, creating a successful but by then useless dam. It was only slightly disheartening–with the image of my tranquil soak to come still fueling me, I took a breath and turned the water on again. It was lukewarm at best. Knowing this temperature would not do, I quickly grabbed a 5 gallon bucket from our closet and went to my roommate’s bathroom (which has produced consistently hotter water all year). I began filling the bucket and then, remembering the tea kettle, retrieved it from the other room and dumped it into the near empty tub. When the bucket was full, I hoisted it awkwardly (there’s no flattering method to lifting one of those when you’re in a rush) and hobbled down the hall. When the irony of my heavy lifting encroached on my attitude, I stubbornly concluded that the bath would feel even MORE soothing after this hard work to prepare it.

The next ten minutes involved multiple buckets and tea kettles, lots of rushing between rooms, and absolutely zero relaxation. At last, after what seemed a small eternity, I took the last hissing tea kettle off its stand and excitedly–but carefully, as a scalding water burn could have shattered my efforts–made the last trip down our hallway. I poured it in the water, checked that my wine was positioned in my reach, pressed play on The Office, and took off my apron. It was finally time. This, I thought, was about to make every sweaty, strenuous minute worth it. This, I thought, is why we teach our children to never shy away from hard work. IMG_8102

Closing my eyes and exhaling, ready to relax, I got in. The water was…cold. Not warm instead of hot. Not 15 minute instead of 30 minute soak temperature. We’re talking get me out of here this is not meant for a human body kind of water. I sat in shock, my brain unsure of my next move. It had worked overtime for the last 7 hours and had already retreated into passive mode–it simply didn’t have the capacity to solve one more issue. As my stubbornness was the only thing unphased by the travesty, I sat in that tub for at least ten minute. A dinner table-esque motherly internal dialogue began in my head: I went through all that work to make this bath, gosh darn it, so you better enjoy it.

After I’d sat for a length of time that satisfied my ego, I eagerly stepped out of the tub into the relief of my towel. My sweats have never felt quite so nice. Chuckling from the events that had unfolded and realizing that I undoubtedly had a topic for my blog, I turned on my electric blanket, lathered myself in gingerbread lotion, and bundled up–finally, feeling more ready than ever, for actual rest.

Then, because so many people were coming and going that they did not even have a chance to eat, he said to them, “Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.”

Mark 6:31

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Pumpkin Caramel Cake (V)

Ingredients

CARAMEL

  • 2 chai tea bags
  • 1 cup boiling water
  • 2 cups sugar (vegan if desired)
  • 1/2 cup vegan butter
  • 2/3 cup almond milk

CAKE

  • 1 2/3 cup canned pumpkin
  • 2/3 cup “buttermilk” (mix 2 TBSP apple cider vinegar with enough almond milk to make 2/3 cup; let mixture sit for at least 5 minutes)
  • contents of one of the tea bags from caramel
  • 1 cup sugar (vegan if desired)
  • 1/3 cup light brown sugar (vegan if desired)
  • 2 TBSP molasses
  • 1/3 plus 1/4 cup vegetable oil
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp cloves
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour

Instructions

CARAMEL

  1. Steep the tea bags in the cup of water for ten minutes.
  2. Set aside tea bags, and place tea in a medium saucepan. Stir in sugar.
  3. Turn burner medium-high heat. Cook until just under 340°F–it will be very dark in color and slowly bubbling throughout. It took about 15 minutes on my stove.
  4. Immediately remove from heat, and whisk in almond milk. Caramel will bubble rapidly.
  5. Whisk in butter.
  6. Return to burner, and allow to cook very briefly until totally smooth and butter totally melts. (Test consistency by dropping some onto a very cold plate or spoon.
  7. Remove from heat. Allow caramel to cool until ready to use.

CAKE

  1. Preheat oven to 350°F. Grease two 9″ cake pans, and line the bottoms with parchment.
  2. In a large bowl, combine the pumpkin, “buttermilk,” oil, contents of the used tea bag, sugar, brown sugar, and molasses. Mix well.
  3. In a separate bowl, whisk together flour, salt, cloves, cinnamon, salt baking soda, and baking powder.
  4. Add the dry ingredients to the wet gradually, mixing after each addition until completely incorporated.
  5. Drizzle caramel across the tops of both cakes. Use a knife or toothpick to swirl it around the surface. Save any extra caramel for serving.
  6. Bake cakes in preheated oven until toothpick comes out clean, about 25-30 minutes. Remove and allow to cool for five minutes.
  7. Slice cake, and serve immediately–it’s best warm! Drizzle leftover caramel sauce on top of cakes.
  8. If you do have leftovers, heat them in microwave for a few minutes before serving.

**Serving idea: my roommate made an apple compote that we served with this, and it paired wonderfully! Just an idea 🙂

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Baked Apples with Rosemary and Pecans (V)

img_7852.pngWith this being a show week, I decided to unveil my third “Ballet Bake.” This recipe is inspired by Giselle, which happens to be my all-time favorite classical ballet. If you’re not familiar with the story, it’s a rather morbid one (though most classical ballets outside of Nutcracker are). Essentially, a village girl with a heart condition named Giselle meets and falls in love with Albrecht, an engaged royal who has disguised himself as a peasant. When Albrecht’s secret is revealed by a respected villager in front of the entire community–and his fiance, and the duke, and visiting nobles–Giselle goes mad and dies of a broken heart. The second act takes place in the land of the wilis–spirits of girls who’ve been fatally betrayed by their former lovers. They are led by their queen, Myrta, and they seek vengeance on essentially all living men by making them dance until they die. Giselle enters their realm as the new recruit, but she tests Myrta’s leadership when she chooses to protect Albrecht from death by dancing with him until the dawn, when wilis lose power. The ballet ends with exhausted Albrecht departing from Giselle, who has saved his life despite what he did to her.

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It’s very dramatic, very tragic. Though clearly fantastical, something about this ballet has always produced an emotional response in me. Maybe it’s the music; maybe it’s the choreography; maybe it’s the story–perhaps they all work in combination to spur my reaction. All I know is that I haven’t danced or watched this ballet a single time without tearing up or actually crying. It was the first show I ever performed with PBT as a student three years ago, so I thought perhaps my fondness for it back then stemmed from the excitement of being in my first major ballet here. It’ll be much easier for me to control myself this time, I thought; I was just young and overwhelmed by the new experience back then, I thought. I entered rehearsals this time fully expecting to dance the story without losing my composure every five minutes, as any emotionally mature 21 year-old would.

Oh, no. Nothing changed. At all. Our pianist could as much as inhale in preparation to start playing for the second act pas de deux (dance between Giselle and Albrecht), and I’d be blinking rapidly, eyes burning in expectation of the tears to come. I’d quite mastered the casual adjustment of pointe shoe ribbons or skirt clasp to hide my sniffles. At least in the first act it was a bit more acceptable, as we were naturally supposed to be upset about our friend losing her mind and dying in front of us. But still, when the music stopped and everyone abruptly broke from character into chuckles and smiles, it took me a second to secretly wipe the ACTUAL water welling in my eyes. This ballet just has a uniquely strong hold on me.

Which is why, when I found out that I wasn’t going to be able to dance in it next weekend, my stomach felt just a little bit like I’d been punched. I had my meltdown, a nice music video-style, bawling on the drive home from work type meltdown (everyone should have one some time, they’re GREAT). It’s been a few days since then, though, which means it’s time for me to accept the frustrating situation and move on. Channeling my antsy energy into this dessert was certainly helpful in that way. But I can’t hibernate grumpily in my kitchen until this show is over, of course, even though that idea sounds wildly comforting. The reality of this week for me will be sitting in at the front of the studio or in the audience and watching my all-time favorite ballet danced every day. IMG_7722

My strongest and initial response to that fact is dread: what’s more torturous than being forced to see other people do your favorite thing right in front of you? However, as I write this, I can’t help but also think that this, in a way, is such a privilege. I mean, I’ve “watched” this story unfold countless times; but never have I been without the distraction of my next entrance, of being exactly in line, or of the stabbing pain in my calf because I’ve been standing still on stage for ten minutes. I suppose I’m pretty blessed to really SEE the beauty of this ballet. Don’t get me wrong, this week is going to be so so so SO hard. It’s going to be painful. But, it’ll be the first time I get to truly take in a piece of art that has forever been dear to my heart, and that’s pretty darn cool. Encouraging you again this week to join me in finding the hidden joys in unforeseen hardship, to sit back and enjoy the view out the window when you’re forced to take a backseat (or should I say front seat, for me). I may not be going anywhere this week, but Giselle goes to the theatre in 3 days–I better stock up on the tissues.

So I went down to the potter’s house, and I saw him working at the wheel. But the pot he was shaping from the clay was marred in his hands; so the potter formed it into another pot, shaping it as seemed best to him.

Jeremiah 18:3-4

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Baked Apples with Rosemary and Pecans (V)

Ingredients

  • 8 apples (I used Snapdragon, which are crisp with a mild flavor)
  • rosemary sprigs (I had probably 6 medium sprigs, but whatever you have works)
  • 1 cup pecan halves (not roasted, unsalted)
  • 1/2 cup very hot or boiling water

SAUCE

  • 1/2 cup vegan butter (earth balance is great)
  • 3 medium sprigs of rosemary (about 6″ each)
  • 1 cup light brown sugar
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 1 1/2 tsp cinnamon

MARZIPAN

  • 2 cups pecan halves (not roasted, unsalted)
  • 2 cups powdered sugar, plus 1/2 cup (separated)
  • 2 TBSP plus 2 tsp light corn syrup
  • 1 TBSP plus 1 tsp water
  • 1 tsp salt

Instructions

MARZIPAN

  1. Combine pecans, 2 cups powdered sugar, and salt in the bowl of a food processor or cup of a Nutribullet. Pulse until pecans are finely ground.
  2. Transfer mixture to a bowl. Mix in water and corn syrup.
  3. Using gloves, a plastic bag, or cling film, use your hands to work the mixture until even throughout.
  4. Add the remaining 1/2 cup powdered sugar to the bowl, and knead it into the mixture until incorporated.
  5. Form the marzipan into a log, and wrap tightly in cling film. Store in a cool, dry place until ready to use.

SAUCE

  1. Place butter in a small saucepan over low heat. When melted, add in rosemary sprigs. Allow to cook on low heat, stirring frequently, for five minutes. Strain butter into a bowl using a fine mesh sieve. **Leave the saucepan out for later
  2. Add brown sugar, salt, cinnamon, and water to the melted butter in the bowl. Mix until combined. Set aside.

APPLES

  1. Preheat oven to 375°F.
  2. Using a paring knife/spoon, remove the core from each apple, leaving enough on the bottom to hold sauce inside (If you accidentally pierce all the way through, patch the hole with other pieces of apple).
  3. Place the apples on the bottom of a pie dish or casserole pan (will depend on apple size). It’s okay if they touch each other.
  4. Place the saucepan you used to cook the butter over medium heat. Toast the cup of pecans with one spring of rosemary, stirring continuously, for about 2 minutes or until they smell nutty and are beginning to brown. Remove from heat.
  5. Divide pecans evenly into the hollowed apples.
  6. Spoon the sauce into each apple over the pecans. If you choose, save a little to drizzle on top when they come out of the oven.
  7. Arrange any remaining rosemary around the apples in the bottom of the pan.
  8. Pour the hot water into the bottom of the pan, and place in the preheated oven. Bake for about 40 minutes, or until apples are tender. Use foil to cover tops of apples if pecans begin to burn (I like the taste of burnt pecans, but some don’t).
  9. While they bake, split the marzipan log into 8 even sections. Ball each section, and roll it very thin between sheets of parchment paper. Cut a hole in the center of each section.
  10. Remove apples from the oven. To serve, place apple in bowl, and spoon some of the remaining sauce and liquid from the pan on top. Drape a sheet of marzipan over the apple, with the hole exposing the pecans in the center.
  11. Enjoy immediately!

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