Blending with Tea: Three Smoothies!

It’s been a while since I’ve posted any healthy recipes, but these were much needed. After a highly emotional weekend with ample occasions of eating my feelings, my body was in desperate need of something fresh! Plus, I had a full container of kiwis left from some kombucha I flavored last week that were desperately calling to be utilized (ha– I really do sound like a healthy blogger this week!)

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When I say I ate my feelings, though, I’m not referring to a nice indulgent dessert, a proper “treat yourself” evening. I’m talking about pajamas, ugly crying, graham crackers and tub frosting. That’s exactly what my roommate and I experienced on Friday–it was the night our other roommate Allie, our best friend, got married. We’d spent the entire day with her and her mom, helping her prepare for the ceremony and assembling the bouquet and doing whatever else needed to be done. It was such a sweet day, and we were both incredibly thankful to have been a part of it. I’ve blogged in the past about the preparation for Allie’s wedding day: it had been a long time in the making, and I was fortunate enough to watch every step leading up to it. I was sitting with Allie on her living room floor when she initially told me about some guy named Kenny she really wanted to get to know. I was there the night she sent her first text, helping her engineer the perfect message before she hit send. She’d come over to my apartment to figure out what to wear on their first date, and I’d enjoyed dinner with them minutes before he proposed. I watched them get to know each other, fall in love, and make the decision to spend their lives growing in that love for each other and for Christ. My best friend, the one who used to giggle with me about crushes over sushi and Disney movies, became a wife this weekend.

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So, needless to say, after tearfully watching our best friend drive away from our porch and into her new chapter of life that night, Annie and I couldn’t race to the pantry fast enough.

Our recovery time wasn’t long, though, because after staying in an Airbnb for a night, the newlyweds returned just in time for us to drive them to the airport and say goodbye–for good. They were heading off on their honeymoon and then directly to California for the summer. I struggled to hold it together during the car ride, Allie’s arm tightly around my shoulders in the backseat. I became frustrated with my own mind, which decided to eagerly bring back every wonderful memory I’d ever shared with her to add to the sting of the occasion. We all laughed and chatted, filling up any silence that arose or tears that threatened to arrive early. When Annie asked what airline they were flying, I felt an emptiness unfold in my stomach with the realization that it was actually happening. She gathered her bags as the car came to a stop and picked the perfect airport mask. I followed her out onto the sidewalk, and the four of us tallied up their luggage before initiating the inevitably lengthy series of hugs: Allie and me, Annie and Kenny, me and Kenny, Allie and Annie, Allie and Annie and me, all four of us.

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You can always tell when it’s the last one, though. I’ve experienced enough goodbyes to know the feeling–the hug that’s just a little bit tighter and a little bit longer, the one that has to make up for all the hugs you suddenly realize you won’t have after it. Well, we eventually got to that hug, Allie and me. Another thing about goodbyes is that they instantly make you aware, in one moment, of everything you wish you had said or could say now to someone, all at the same time. As I hugged her, I wished that I would have told Allie more often how her friendship is the deepest I’ve ever experienced outside of family. How she challenges me, loves me, cares for me, and teaches me more than I could ever explain. How I have such admiration for her pursuit of the Lord, her heart for the  students she works with, her selflessness. How she cried with me and laughed with me and held me through my lowest moments. How she doesn’t have even a fraction of an idea just how beautiful she is. How, regardless of where our lives take us, I’ll never forget the experiences we walked through together throughout these last four years. IMG_3266

But I couldn’t say anything in the moment, let alone all of that. Instead we both said a lot of I love you’s, blinked through our soaked eyelashes, and finally stepped apart. As I watched her walk towards the airport, away from me and Annie and a pretty hefty chapter of our lives, my heart felt just about as heavy as I’d expected. When she finally turned her gaze away, though, Allie grabbed Kenny’s arm and dropped her head onto his shoulder; and even though that painfully symbolic gesture could have felt like salt in the wound of our goodbye, it didn’t. Kenny is the reason that I was able to make it through this weekend. Allie didn’t walk away from us on her own that afternoon–she walked away clinging to a person who adores her, who loves her unconditionally, who I know without a doubt will build a life with her rooted in faith and loyalty. What more could I ask for my best friend?IMG_3211

And while that doesn’t negate the need for frosting and graham crackers, it does reassure me that, through the sadness, everything really is going to be okay. For all of those tackling goodbyes in an already difficult time, I feel for you. Know that no amount of devastation can steal your sweet memories (or your sweet frosting 🙂 ).

 

For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.

2 Corinthians 4:17-18

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Tea Smoothies!

Ingredients

KIWI MINT SMOOTHIE

  • 1 cup almond milk
  • 1 mint tea bag (I used Twinings green mint)
  • 2 kiwis, peeled, chopped and frozen
  • 1 packet stevia
  • 1/2 cup Greek Yogurt (frozen in ice cube trays for a frozen smoothie)

BLUEBERRY PASSION SMOOTHIE

  • 1/2 cup plus 2 TBSP almond milk
  • 1 Tazo “Passion” tea bag
  • 1/2 cup frozen blueberries
  • 1 packet stevia
  • 1/2 cup Greek Yogurt (frozen in ice cube trays for a frozen smoothie)

LOADED BERRY SMOOTHIE

  • 1/2 cup plus 2 TBSP almond milk
  • 1 Trader Joe’s “Berries and Cherries” tea bag
  • 1/2 cup frozen raspberries
  • 1 packet stevia
  • 1/2 cup Greek Yogurt (frozen in ice cube trays for a frozen smoothie)

Instructions

  1. Heat the almond milk, add the tea bag, and allow to steep until milk is cold. Squeeze out tea bag and throw away, stir the brewed milk, and refrigerate until ready to use.
  2. Blend the tea, fruit, Greek Yogurt, and stevia in a blender or Nutribullet. Add more of any ingredient as desired to taste. Enjoy!

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Lavender Chamomile Honey Conchas (Vegan aside from the honey! It’s organic)

IMG_2414It’s time for recipe two (out of I have no idea how many recipes yet) of my Baking with Tea series! I formed a plan for my flavors early on going into this week because I was generously gifted fresh honey from my beekeeper friend! The decision about what to actually make, though, was a rather spontaneous one: after an original plan to develop a cupcake recipe, I began feeling a itch to work with enriched dough instead! So, I sat down on my laptop fifteen minutes before the time I’d allocated for baking that day, and I began randomly reading about sweet bread recipes from around the world. Conchas immediately caught my attention, especially because I had, surprisingly, never seen them before–I realized that it was surprising when I called my sister to excitedly fill her in about my discovery, and she already knew exactly what I was talking about!

For those of you like me who are new to them, a concha is a Mexican dessert that consists of a sweet, enriched dough bun and topping much like a crisp cookie dough. They’re often decorated with patterns that evoke their name–concha is the Spanish word for seashell. There are similar versions of this concept in other cuisines, including a Japanese sweet called melonpan (melonpan often visually correlate to their name as well, with designs more like melons than shells). IMG_2446

I couldn’t believe that I’d never been exposed to either striking dessert! Being the token “baking nerd” among most of my friends and family, I sometimes feel like it’s my duty to be a foolproof well of dessert knowledge. When my sister informed me of her familiarity with these, then, my first honest reaction was embarrassment–I wanted to take back the innocent explanation I’d done and pretend that I’d known what they were all along. Of course, my sister did not find any issue in the fact that they were new to me. She was simply excited to hear that I was making them and that she could picture an idea of what I might come up with!IMG_2377

The reason I elaborated on our conversation is because this is quite a familiar situation for me. As a perfectionist, an older sibling, a type A personality, an Enneagram type 2, and probably every other stereotype that connects to those, one of my biggest fears is failure. My worst nightmare life experiences involve some form of appearing weak or incapable. I once joined a group of guys playing catch with a football at a party (an activity that I’ve enjoyed for years), and upon walking over to receive the first throw to me, I missed the ball, and it proceeded to smack me right in the center of my forehead. Sure it hurt a little, but the only significant pain I felt was in my very soul–my stomach was still in knots of humiliation by the NEXT MORNING.IMG_2359

It’s funny–well, mostly funny– looking back at those situations now: it seems silly how upset I could get over something hilarious like that. In fact, the panic about everyone suddenly questioning my athletic ability significantly hindered my chances of enjoying the rest of that fun afternoon! I assume I’m not alone in my tendency to protect my ego– we’ve all blindly nodded in conversations to avoid admitting we don’t know what someone is referencing, or sidestepped a question when it’s incorrectly expected that we know the answer. No one aspires to feel inferior around their peers.

That’s something I’ve really been challenging myself to change, though–that mindset of constantly twisting others’ knowledge and strength into my own inferiority. Because if I go around pretending I know everything (I’m speaking from experience as a 100% former child know-it-all), then I’m naturally squandering my opportunities to learn! It’s hard to listen well to someone or engage fully in an activity when all you’re thinking about is how you can keep up your facade…of keeping up. IMG_2435

So, the next time someone asks you if you know about a relevant news headline that’s actually news to you, or looks for your opinion about an artist or author you’ve never heard of in your life, or encourages you to participate in a task you fear you’ll mess up–embrace the unfamiliarity! Ask all the questions, admit you need further explanations, and throw away the fears of showing your humanity. Together, let’s do our best to remember that each day we do so becomes a chance to leave stronger and more knowledgeable than the one before. Wishing you plenty of baking, failing, and learning during this quarantine.

Let the wise hear and increase in learning,
    and the one who understands obtain guidance,

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge;
    fools despise wisdom and instruction.

Proverbs 1:5, 7

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Lavender Chamomile Honey Conchas (Vegan aside from the honey! It’s organic)

Ingredients

BUNS

  • 1 cup almond milk
  • 1 packet active dry yeast (2 1/4 tsp yeast)
  • 1/3 cup aquafaba (liquid from canned chickpeas)
  • 1/2 cup melted margarine
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 2 lavender chamomile tea bags
  • 1/4 cup plus 2 TBSP honey (plus more for drizzling at the end)
  • 4 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for kneading

TOPPING

  • 2/3 cup vegetable shortening
  • 2/3 cup sugar (vegan if desired)
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 3 lavender chamomile tea bags
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • food coloring/fruit juice for dying (optional)

Instructions

BUNS

  1. Warm milk in a microwave-safe bowl/cup (It should be lukewarm, around 105-110°F). Mix in yeast packet, and set aside until activated–yeast should get a bit puffy.
  2. In a large bowl, combine margarine, contents of tea bags, salt, aquafaba and honey. Mix well.
  3. Once the yeast is activated, add it to bowl and mix in.
  4. Mix in flour in multiple additions, until it’s all incorporated.
  5. Turn dough out onto a floured surface, and knead until very smooth and elastic–use more flour as needed to avoid sticking, but as little as possible is best. Use the windowpane test if you’re familiar with it to judge when it’s ready.
  6. Place the dough in a greased bowl, and flip it to coat the dough.
  7. Cover, and allow to rise until doubled in size (time with vary with environment; mine took up to three hours in certain conditions).
  8. Meanwhile, make the topping: combine all ingredients in a bowl, and mix until it come together (using your hands is messy at first but most effective, in my opinion). It should hold together when pressed without cracking. If you added juice for coloring, you may need to add a bit more flour to keep it from getting too wet. Set it aside.
  9. Prepare baking sheets by lining with parchment paper or greasing.
  10. After the dough has risen, gently punch it down, turn it out onto a floured surface, and separate into twelve even sections. Gently form each section into a ball by pulling the dough out and down into itself, and place them on the baking sheets (Leave lots of room between because they GROW).
  11. Separate the topping dough into twelve even amounts. Using a tortilla press or rolling pin, press each piece into a wide circle, flouring the rolling pin or press to avoid sticking.
  12. Place each circle on top of one of the buns as you make them, gently pressing the bottom edges to the bun and cutting off any excess.
  13. Using a sharp knife, score desired patterns into the topping dough of each bun.
  14. Gently cover with cling film/wet paper towels, and allow to rise until visibly puffed, around 30-40 minutes. Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 325°F.
  15. Bake the buns in the preheated oven for about 18-20 minutes, or until the bottoms are slightly browned. (I actually prefer the temperature a bit higher, but it becomes easy to burn them at 350°F, so be especially cautious if you choose that route!)
  16. Drizzle with honey, and enjoy immediately!

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Baking with Tea: Brown Sugar Oatmeal Scones (V)

IMG_2042Before I get into the contents of the blog, I have to note the massive opportunities I overlooked in writing it. When I took these photos, my sole motivation was to highlight the flower shape of the scones without actual foliage, which I don’t currently have. It wasn’t until I texted the pictures to my family that I realized my puzzle pieces could be an homage to Autism Awareness Month–if only that had been intentional! Then, as I was finishing the post, I suddenly remembered that I had done a floral-themed shoot…on Earth Day. Well, regardless of whether it was my initial intention or not, I’d like to acknowledge both beautiful occasions! I’ll celebrate them despite the fact that I had no idea I’d be doing so before I started this–and, if you read the blog, you’ll see that perhaps that was more fitting than anything else…

I’ve been thinking, as I write at my kitchen table, about all the things surrounding this moment that I would have found unbelievable days, months, or years ago. Every single sentence I pull from the description of today has factors that attest to just how much change has occurred in my life! Let me demonstrate with this simple statement:

On this cold Tuesday afternoon in Pittsburgh, I’m writing a blog post for a recipe series about baking with tea.

First of all, the fact that I’m in Pittsburgh is something that I couldn’t have predicted for most of my life; I’ve never had any direct or indirect ties to the city. Second of all, I would have once blatantly refuted the idea that I might have a baking blog by now. Multiple people had tried to convince me to start one a while back, and I was convinced it was beyond my abilities. Thirdly, the fact that the recipe of choice was centered around tea would have been laughable for a long time because I passionately hated all varieties of tea until around 2017!  There’s also no reason that, before March, I would have anticipated being home writing on a Tuesday afternoon instead of at work–that’s something many of you can understand.  Finally, on a more recent note, I would have been shocked and disappointed two weeks ago as I strolled around the neighborhood in short sleeves, to know that today wouldn’t even reach 50°.IMG_2121

The reason I share this “exercise” of sorts is that it’s a reminder of the fact that, no matter how intently we study the past and present, we can never produce a guaranteed illustration of the future. In fact, our speculations are often wayyyy off. It brings me back to a few weekends ago, when I watched Blade Runner for the first time (great movie with a great sequel, by the way). My roommate and I chuckled at how comical the 1982 filmmaker’s depiction of what 2019 was in comparison to the true reality of that year. The boxy vehicles, eccentric fashion, and impossibly accurate photograph enhancement software from the movie certainly did not resemble the 12 months we’d just lived in ANY way. What’s more, just recall the sheer quantity of apocalypse day predictions that have come and long since passed, or the rapidly changing estimations regarding the current pandemic. Even the ideas I had about how I’d allocate my time today have shifted since I woke up this morning. When it comes to foreseeing the time ahead of us, we humans are simply unreliable.IMG_2070

While this inability is discouraging to a degree–I often wish that I could experience the security of knowing with certainty what awaits me in my life–it’s equally, if not more, comforting. When I look at the sentence I analyzed earlier about my day, I noted that essentially every part of it was something I would’ve never anticipated in the past. And yet, nearly every part of it was also positive in some way: I love Pittsburgh and have called it my home for four years now; I have a blog that keeps me inspired and allows me to share my passion for baking with others; my former aversion to tea has, thankfully, reversed course entirely; and despite the difficulties of quarantine, I’ve found countless rewarding elements of the extra time at home (Sorry, I can’t think of a reason to celebrate the freezing temperatures). What I mean to emphasize is that, if I’d had the option of dictating the future based on my own safe predictions, I would have never experienced the delights of those surprises.

In a time when phrases like “latest death toll projection” and “flattening the curve” and “re-opening phases” are bombarding our individual thoughts and global dialogue (and especially when many of the outlooks tied to them present grim depictions), it’s easy to fall into a despondent, fatalistic attitude. Without crossing the line into denial–certainly, many of these prophecies hold scientific weight–it’s incredibly relieving to acknowledge the unpredictability of life, to remember that no blue print contrived by humans is set in stone. Life will produce its unique combination of expected and unexpected scenarios, despite how vehemently we try to anticipate them.

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What’s more, I believe that we were created by a God who can and will orchestrate goodness through this crisis, even if every single negative prediction surrounding this chaos plays out. Our grasp of normalcy changes by the hour–just imagine what the Maker of flowers and animals and human brains and galaxies can do with today. With tomorrow. With this tragedy. We can appreciate every form of relief available during this time; knowing that we don’t have to (we literally can’t) foresee the days ahead AND that one day we’ll realize something good came from this, something beyond anything we could ever imagine in this moment–what a relief that is.

Now listen, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.” Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Instead, you ought to say, “If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.”

James 4: 14-15

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Brown Sugar Oatmeal Scones (V)

Ingredients

  • 1 cup quick-cooking oats
  • 1 cup almond milk
  • 1/3 cup vegan butter, room temperature
  • 1/2 cup light brown sugar
  • 1/2 tsp vinegar
  • 1 flax egg (1 TBSP ground flax mixed with 3 TBSP water, left to thicken in fridge for at least five minutes)
  • contents of 3-4 tea bags, depending on strength of tea (flavor of your choice: my favorites are Earl Grey and Jasmine)
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for shaping
  • Optional: extra brown sugar or turbinado sugar for topping

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 350°F. Grease a baking sheet or line with parchment paper.
  2. Combine the almond milk and oats in a microwave safe measuring cup or bowl. Microwave for one minute, place in a large bowl, and then set aside.
  3. In a separate bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and contents of tea bags.
  4. Mix the vinegar and light brown sugar into the bowl with the oatmeal. Then, mix in the butter (it should incorporate pretty easily as the oatmeal will still be a bit warm).
  5. Mix in the flag egg.
  6. Begin adding the flour mixture to the wet ingredient mixture, mixing until it’s completely incorporated.
  7. Transfer dough to a floured surface, and press into a disc or rectangle, about 1/2 inch thick (either wetting your hands or flouring them will help in handling the dough). Cut desired shapes of scones, flouring your knife/cookie cutter/jar to avoid sticking.
  8. Place the scones on the prepared baking sheet and top with brown/turbinado sugar if desired.
  9. Bake in the preheated oven until just browned on the bottoms, about 15-16 minutes. Transfer to a cooling rack to cool, and enjoy!

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Arnold Palmer Mini Cupcakes (V)

IMG_0492One of the perks about living here in Pittsburgh–and in East Liberty, especially–is that everything I ever need to access is within a five mile radius. I live just a fifteen minute drive from work, and I can walk from my apartment to multiple schools, a few pharmacies, a library, a number of grocery stores, and dozens of restaurants. I’ve become quite comfortable with being able to leave and get something I need and be back home within minutes, which is a luxury I’d never experienced until I moved here. This means that, if I realize I’ve forgotten a staple while shopping or suddenly run out of a baking ingredient, it’s not too much of a hassle to go out and get it.

When I realized on Saturday, then, that I wouldn’t have enough flour left to feed my sourdough starters and bake a loaf, it only slightly bothered me that I’d already done my grocery shopping at ALDI the day before and made a Trader Joe’s trip that morning to get an ingredient that ALDI didn’t carry. I decided to stop at Target on the way home from church the following morning to grab some flour and sugar.

It was a shockingly sunny day for March 1st–we’ve had an abnormal amount of daylight this year, and I’ve struggled to trust that it’s not too good to be true and that some torrential disaster isn’t going to descend upon us any day now. Needless to say, I was sans jacket and in an especially perky mood with my Vitamin D battery fully charged. I’d even picked out a cute, floral outfit that morning to match my seasonal mood. With that in mind, I didn’t mind making the stop; however, I was very much ready to be back in my kitchen and finish up the cupcake recipe because I was so close to finishing it.

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I headed up the stairs, grabbed a basket, and went directly towards the baking aisle. I picked up a bag of sugar and a bag of whole wheat flour, and then I reached far between the shelves and picked out an all-purpose flour (I’ve always been a back of the shelf gal because I’m convinced the best selection is never in the front with the most-touched items). Plus, the closest bags definitely looked like they’d seen better days. Satisfied with my haul, I hoisted the basket onto my hip and made my way to the front of the store to my favorite line, the 10 or less checkout lane.

As the woman in front of me pulled out her wallet, I was relieved to drop my weighty basket onto the conveyor belt. As I did, I noticed the familiar face of a pianist from the studios behind me, and we exchanged warm smiles. Wow, it really is just a happy day, I thought, as I turned back to my basket and the dusty pile of flour that was spewing from its holes. Oh no.

I froze when I realized the bag had broke, momentarily unsure what to do as the white powdery mess of my basket moved towards the register. I instinctively grabbed it and held it still, realizing that this in no way solved the problem but for some reason wanting desperately to avoid allowing it to reach the cashier. With one hand anchored, I attempted to use my other to prop the bag of flour up so that the tear was at the top. Naturally, this sent more clumps of flour shooting out of the basket’s holes and puffs of smoky white particulate billowing over the rest of my groceries. I immediately felt the need to inform someone but was stuck in that awkward pull between interrupting the ongoing checkout traffic to get someone’s attention and silently but unsuccessfully attempting to fix the problem on my own. Finding that neither of these options pleased me, I settled on emitting a series of increasingly audible whisper-shouts for help that came out as sporadic, unnoticed “um’s” and “excuse me’s.”IMG_0477

At last, the cashier flagged another employee for help (though she was most certainly clued in by the white disaster two feet from her station and not from my sorry S.O.S. attempts). Like a child who’s just been caught stealing a cookie and awaiting her fate, I looked, wide-eyed, at both of them until the woman in front of me in line reassured me that I could go get another one. With this, I snapped out of my trance, let go of the basket, and bee-lined back to the other end of the store to get more flour. Of course, that cheery outfit I’d proudly donned earlier included a long skirt with the skinniest hem in my closet–it greatly limited the range of my steps. And so, through the crowded walkway of Target, I executed a strange, brisk speed walk, my shins aggressively hitting my skirt with each hurried pace. I stooped to grab a new bag, inspected it for any weak areas, and retraced my path, which I then noticed was sprinkled periodically with white dots of flour.

I reached the register just as the kind employee who’d come to my rescue was finishing wiping down my basket and its contents. I thanked her repeatedly and avoided eye contact with everyone except the Target dog on the debit card screen until the transaction was complete. Then, I grabbed my bags and attempted to walk down the stairs in a way that would mask the fact that I was lugging 15 lb of groceries, still fighting the circle of fabric around my ankles that had never felt narrower than now. I unlocked my car, basically threw the flour into the passenger seat, realized how stupid that choice was, checked to make sure I hadn’t just caused a second disaster, and sighed in relief as I started home. I mused at the fact that I, Allison Durand, thought I could take a quick ingredient stop that would actually be quick. As usual, my life is endlessly entertaining.

Lucky for me, it would have taken a lot more than a little spilt flour for my mood to take a downturn on that sunny day. Takeaways for today: 1) Take advantage of the joy of sunlight and warmth when it’s here! 2) Thank your store employees for dealing with hot messes like me. 3) Cupcakes are ALWAYS worth the extra trip out.

Happy March, y’all!

From the rising of the sun to the place where it sets,
    the name of the Lord is to be praised.

Psalm 113:3

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Arnold Palmer Mini Cupcakes (V)

*Makes about 3 dozen

Ingredients

SWEET TEA CURD FILLING

  • 1 1/4 cups sweet tea
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 3 TBSP cornstarch
  • 1/4 cup butter

CUPCAKES

  • 2/3 cup canola oil
  • 2/3 cup sugar (vegan if desired)
  • 1/4 cup lemon juice
  • 2/3 cup lemon flavored seltzer water
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 3 TBSP lemon zest

SWEET TEA ICING

  • 5 black tea bags
  • 1/2 cup boiling water
  • 1/2 cup vegan butter
  • 1 lb. (about 3 cups) powdered sugar, (vegan if desired)
  • salt to taste

Instructions

SWEET TEA CURD FILLING

  1. Whisk the sweet tea, sugar, and cornstarch together in a saucepan, and turn heat to medium.
  2. Stirring constantly with a spoon or spatula, cook mixture until it thickens and coats the back of your utensil (this will happen just before it’s hot enough to come to a boil).
  3. Immediately remove from heat, and whisk in butter.
  4. Allow to cool completely in the fridge (Spread onto a baking sheet for faster cooling if needed.

CUPCAKES

  1. Preheat your oven to 350°F. Line a mini muffin tin with liners or grease well.
  2. In a large bowl, mix together oil, sugar, and lemon juice.
  3. In a smaller bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, salt, and lemon zest.
  4. Begin adding the flour mixture and the seltzer water to the oil mixture, alternating and mixing between each addition until all of the ingredients have been incorporated.
  5. Spoon batter into cupcake cups, filling them about 2/3 full.
  6. Bake in the preheated oven for about 10 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center of a cupcake comes out clean.

FROSTING

  1. Steep the tea bags in the boiling water for ten minutes. Remove bags, squeeze excess tea from them, and allow tea to cool completely.
  2. Place vegan butter the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment.
  3. Begin adding powdered sugar and tea, a little at a time, mixing on medium-low speed after each addition (Use the tea sparingly to make sure your frosting isn’t too loose).
  4. Continue until you’ve added all the powdered sugar and as much of the tea as you can while keeping the frosting thick.
  5. Mix in salt to taste.

ASSEMBLY

  1. Using a small knife or piping tip, carve out a small ball of cake in the center of each cupcake top.
  2. Fill the hole with the sweet tea curd filling.
  3. Pipe the frosting onto each cupcake, covering the filling.
  4. Top as desired (I used lemon zest and home made sweet tea caramel), and enjoy!

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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 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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