Tropical Layer Cake

IMG_9443Disclaimer: I’m writing this at a time of night when I’d normally be listening to sappy music or journaling, so you’ll have to excuse any emotional rants that develop (and typos).

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about my family’s Christmas visit to Pittsburgh. Well, that’s a bit of an incorrect summary–I wrote about the horrible goodbye after my family’s Christmas visit to Pittsburgh.  That empty feeling that I get when I’m separated from them certainly hurts for the moment, but thankfully we have no choice but to eventually move on from the sting of leaving each other and resume our individual lives: mine here, my sister’s in Columbia, and my parents’ in Charleston.

Still, there are just some things missing each time I make the transition from family-time to “independence,” things that I don’t always realize I long to have when I’m on my own. One of them is family dinner. I don’t mean to mislead you into thinking we’re a family from a picture in the 1950’s unit of your Social Studies textbook, sitting around a nicely set table at 6 o’clock every night. In fact, we rarely had the time to eat at a normal hour for many of the years I lived at home, and living room dinners became frequent. But just the occasion of all being in a house (not an apartment), all sharing a prepared meal (not whatever I threw together for myself), and intentionally doing it together (instead of whenever it fits in each person’s schedule)–it’s so different.

This weekend I was blessed to experience just that–a dinner that was truly a family-away-from my family night. A group of us came together to prepare a surprise meal for a family that generously hosts frequent dinners for us in their home. We each tackled a dish (you can guess what I was in charge of), came a couple hours early, cooked together, and spent the evening enjoying each other’s company. I think that cooking and eating food together is one of the most rewarding activities to share with friends and family, and the evening was certainly a testament to that.

In the middle of our meal, I was struck by this sudden swell of gratitude. (I say sudden because it was abrupt enough to pull me away from my candied pecan brussel sprouts, which is no easy task). I was honestly a bit overwhelmed with the feeling. Being a young adult is hard. Ballet is hard. Figuring out life away from home is hard. I often find myself, especially with my long-time struggles with injury, projecting my insecurities onto others. I allow myself to imagine that my coworkers and friends see me as weak or invaluable as a dancer, that the only reason they spend time with me is because of my job in the company. It’s been a sort of self-inflicted isolation that unfortunately causes me feel distant from the community that I cherish so dearly. But that night at dinner, those negative, untrue thoughts didn’t threaten to ruin my night.

I felt loved. Appreciated. Not just because I’m a dancer at Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre. Maybe a little bit because I make a mean cake. 🙂 But mostly because I am part of a family-away-from-my-family here. And that makes Pittsburgh just a little more like home.

And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.

1 Corinthians 13:13


(Forgive my lack of photos–this was a spontaneous recipe and was eaten before I could get pictures!)

Tropical Layer Cake


  • 1 cup butter, room temperature
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 4 eggs, room temperature
  • 3 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 2 tsp salt
  • 4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2/3 cup almond milk, room temperature
  • 1 cup plus 1/2 cup fresh mango puree, separated, room temperature
  • 1 tsp nutmeg
  • 1/2 cup Malibu rum (optional)
  • 1 1/2 cups fresh, diced pineapple
  • 1 batch vanilla swiss meringue buttercream (Just leave out the vanilla)
  • solid part from a 13.5 oz. can of coconut cream
  • toasted coconut


  1. Preheat oven to 350°F. Grease two 9″ cake tins with parchment paper, and line the bottoms with parchment paper.
  2.  In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream butter and both sugars on medium speed.
  3. Add each of the eggs in, mixing on low-medium speed between each.
  4. Mix in milk.
  5. In a separate bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and nutmeg.
  6. Begin adding both the flour mixture and 1 cup of the mango puree to the butter/sugar mixture, alternating between the mango and the dry ingredients and mixing after each addition until both are completely incorporated.
  7. Pour cake batter evenly between both tins.
  8. Bake until knife inserted in the center of cake comes out completely clean, about 40 minutes.
  9. Remove cakes from oven, and allow to rest in pans for five minutes. Then flip them out onto a cooling rack (drizzle with Malibu rum if desired), and leave to cool completely.
  10. Make the swiss meringue buttercream, or if you’ve already made it, place it in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Whip on low-medium speed until fluffy if needed. Whip in coconut cream, using the entire solid portion of the can or until the desired flavor is reached.
  11. Mix diced pineapple into the remaining 1/2 cup mango puree until all pineapple is coated.
  12. Assemble: Trim domed tops off cakes. Spread a layer of coconut buttercream on first cake. Top it with pineapple/mango mix, and then place the second layer of cake on top. Cover both cakes with buttercream, and press toasted coconut around the entire outside of cake.
  13. Pipe designs as desired on top of the cake, and top with another ring of pineapple/mango mix if desired. Serve immediately.



Mango Rum Donuts (V)(GF)

IMG_9357Because I could fill an entire novel with the ridiculous, unexpected things that I do and experience, I thought I’d just give you the highlights in bullet form today:

  • I ran into the corner of a wall so hard before a company Christmas party that I had a line running through my eyebrow, and it was tender for two weeks afterwards
  • During that Christmas party, I received coffee at the white elephant; I was probably the only person in that room who passionately hates coffee.
  • During my first Nutcracker show of the season, my wig was slowly sliding backwards for half an hour; I didn’t realize it until the third person made a joke about my receding hairline.
  • I did another show without knowing I’d left my very visible hot pink croissant sock on underneath my character shoes.
  • My parents and I were rear ended at the intersection 100 feet in front of the grocery store we were trying to get to (No damage to either car!).
  • I had to light the Advent wreath at church and didn’t realize there was a step in front of me–nearly fell and took the whole wreath down.

These obviously display the more comical side of unpredictability. But with all the inconsistencies of life–comical or not–I’ve been thinking about our innate desire for reliability. Even the most free-spirited, spontaneous people I know need some sort of constant in their lives, something in which to place secure hope when everything else becomes fragile. The present popularity of mindfulness, self-awareness, and various forms of meditation allude to this universal search for being grounded–further, a craving for a sense of belonging, or a concrete purpose. IMG_9299

Something struck me in the message our priest gave during service this weekend. He was speaking on the story of the Magi coming to visit the infant Jesus and present Him with gifts. These three men, he noted, would have been some of the most intelligent, experienced scholars of their time: with royal education, their knowledge of astrology, geography, and other subjects would have far surpassed that of the majority of the population at the time. His first point was that these men, despite having access to the greatest wealth of information and skills available, embarked on a journey to find a supposed Savior whom they had never actually seen and who wasn’t even old enough to speak yet. They, with all of their abilities, still felt something missing in their lives, an urge that led them to pursue this Jesus and then choose allegiance to God over allegiance to their king.

His second point, though, is the one which I find most moving; and I think it’s something easily forgotten. Yes, the three Magi likely represented the top tier of academia of their people. However, as our priest said, every single person sitting in the church today has knowledge that surpasses the wildest dreams and imaginations of the Magi. Our world has unlocked expanses of information and explored fields of study that didn’t even exist in Biblical times. The most basic level of worldly understanding today is far beyond the most well-versed minds of the time of Jesus’ birth. And yet, we are still searching, still longing for that same “missing piece.” Hundreds of years, scientific discoveries, medical breakthroughs, technological advancements, and social evolutions later, we are still looking for something more. IMG_9325

What a testament to God’s greatness! The reason we will always look for greater truth and purpose is because God Himself is the only perfect, constant source of it; it’s also the reason that we’ll continuously come up empty-handed as long as we go about our search by using our own abilities, by tirelessly attempting to harness the limited powers of the human mind and spirit. God has blessed us with the anatomical tools needed to explore the universe He created–to unfold new pieces of science and mathematics and psychology every day. We’ve still only uncovered a sliver of what is left to be learned. But no matter how advanced our understanding becomes, we will always be left feeling unfinished without God.

Life can be really frustrating, really painful, and really unpredictable. I encourage you, when the events of this world threaten to tear you apart, seek the only true source of stability. You can breathe knowing that He never intended for you to figure out how to find inner peace on your own because if you could, you would never realize your need for His goodness. Like the Magi, take the risky step away from your ever-changing comfort zone and towards that star.

After they had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen when it rose went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they were overjoyed.  

Matthew 2:9-10


Mango Rum Donuts (V) (GF)



  • 2/3 cup vegan butter, room temperature
  • 1/2 cup vegan sugar
  • 1/4 cup vegan light brown sugar
  • 1 flax egg (1 TBSP flax mixed with 3 TBSP water, left to thicken in fridge for at least 5 minutes)
  • 1 cup Malibu rum
  • 2 2/3 plus 1/4 cups gluten-free all-purpose flour (I like Bob’s Red Mill Gluten-Free 1 to 1 Baking Flour)
  • 1/2 tsp nutmeg
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  •  11/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp baking soda


  • 1/4 cup fresh mango puree
  • 3 TBSP Malibu rum
  • 1 1/4 cups powdered sugar
  • 1 tsp light corn syrup
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • toasted coconut (optional, for topping)



  1. Preheat oven to 425°F. Lightly grease 12 wells of a donut pan.
  2. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine butter and both sugars. Mix on low-medium speed until completely combined.
  3. In a separate bowl, whisk together flour, nutmeg, salt, baking powder, and baking soda.
  4. Mix flax egg into butter mixture.
  5. Begin adding flour mixture and rum to butter mixture, alternating between each and mixing after each addition, until all ingredients are incorporated.
  6. Use a bag to pipe batter into donut pan wells, or spoon batter into them (piping is much easier but not necessary).
  7. Bake in preheated oven for 10-11 minutes, until donuts spring back when gently pressed.
  8. Allow to cool in pans for five minutes, then turn donuts out onto a cooling rack.


  1. In a bowl wider than the donuts, whisk together all ingredients except toasted coconut.
  2. When donuts aren’t warm, dip top of each donut into glaze and place back on cooling rack.
  3. Allow glaze to set; then repeat this process, dipping each one again. This time, sprinkle toasted coconut on top immediately after dipping.
  4. Allow glaze to set if you can wait, and enjoy!