Mug Cakes: 14 ingredients, 4 cakes (V)

IMG_1164 (1)Is it just me, or does it feel as though we’ve been home for a month already? It’s only day 10 of this quasi-quarantine, and I almost can’t grasp the idea that my life was proceeding at a normal pace just over a week ago. My heart goes out to all of the people suffering from the virus, those in actual quarantine: I can’t begin to imagine how difficult that is! Regardless of the level of affect you’re feeling from these circumstances, I hope that, if you’re able, you’ll try spending some of the extra hours in your kitchen. In fact, you’ll only need about five minutes for today’s desserts!IMG_1111

I explained last week that I hoped to provide some recipes that wouldn’t require unusual ingredients because I don’t want to provide any temptation to disrupt the social distancing efforts! I knew that this mission would eventually lead me to mug cakes, and I couldn’t hold out for long–today is the day. Not only are these single-serve treats incredibly convenient to make at home; they have been a blast to create! The quantity of wasted ingredients and time often limits the number of trials I can execute in my recipes (usually about three tries max), but these cakes provided opportunity for lots of attempts and tweaks with relatively minimal consequence. It’s a win-win situation for us: I end up with less guilt and more experimental freedom, and you end up receiving recipes that have been thoroughly tweaked until they’re the most delicious they can be!

There’s also something quite appealing about single-serving desserts. They’re personal; they come together quickly; you don’t have to share with anyone (maybe my favorite factor); and they eliminate the struggle of self-control that so easily taints indulgence with guilt. Plus, I assume that the idea of baking an entire cake or pie isn’t exactly realistic for those of you stuck at home by yourself for the foreseeable future! There’s simply very little, if anything at all, that one can criticize about adorably tiny, warm, yummy cake. IMG_1154

I’d argue that this concept of single servings is applicable beyond food right now, though. With such chaos ensuing in our world and so much extra time in our schedules to observe that chaos, I find myself consuming news updates and mindless entertainment by the heaping spoonfuls. The magnetism of my phone, of every notification, is something of which I’ve become increasingly cognizant: I don’t know that I’ve gone more than a few minutes without it next to me since this ordeal began.

Perhaps this is something you’ve found yourself experiencing as well–I think the majority of us have been roped in by the incessant online dialogue in some capacity. And while it’s responsible to stay informed about the goings on in society, especially in times such as these, it’s just as responsible to care for yourself by limiting your media consumption. By nature, pandemics are rapidly progressing: things are changing by the hour in every affected city. But will knowing about these changes immediately, each as they occur, really contribute anything to us beyond stress and depression? Not likely. Unfortunately, there is no shortage of bad news right now. This means that it’s entirely possible for us to remain in a steady track of receiving this negative information if we expose ourselves to it. IMG_1175

Please, for your own health, come up for air now and then.

As reckless as it might feel (and I completely sympathize with this feeling), put your phone away for a few hours, even just one. Go outside. Read something that’s not current events. Call your family (without going to speaker so you can still check your phone). Give your complete attention to something that’s not a newsfeed. And know that you can do so without even a bit of guilt. The world will continue on, and you will eventually learn what you missed. Like the saying goes, everything is best in moderation. And it’s the moments we allow ourselves to indulge in the things that this virus hasn’t uprooted–those sweet, single-serve joys– that will eventually see us through it.

Though the fig tree does not bud
    and there are no grapes on the vines,
though the olive crop fails
    and the fields produce no food,
though there are no sheep in the pen
    and no cattle in the stalls,
yet I will rejoice in the Lord,
    I will be joyful in God my Savior.

Habakkuk 3:17-18

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Mug Cakes: 14 Ingredients, 4 cakes (V)

MUG WALNUT BROWNIE

Ingredients

  • 2 TBSP all-purpose flour
  • 3 TBSP cocoa powder
  • 2 TBSP light brown sugar
  • pinch of salt
  • 2 TBSP applesauce
  • 2 tsp oil (I used extra light olive oil)
  • 2 TBSP almond milk
  • 1/8 tsp vanilla extract
  • a few walnuts, broken into pieces (optional, or you can use another nut)

Instructions

  1. Mix all dry ingredients together in a mug with a fork.
  2. Mix in wet ingredients.
  3. Mix in walnuts, and sprinkle the last of them on top.
  4. Microwave until cooked through, about 1 minute 30 seconds.

CARROT MUG CAKE

Ingredients

  • 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 3 TBSP light brown sugar
  • 1/8 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • pinch cloves
  • pinch salt
  • 1/4 cup shredded carrot (lightly fill cup, don’t pack it)
  • 3 TBSP almond milk
  • a few walnuts, broken into pieces (optional, or you can use another nut)

Instructions

  1. Mix together all dry ingredients in a mug with a fork.
  2. Mix in carrots and almond milk.
  3. Mix in walnuts, sprinkling the final pieces on top.
  4. Microwave until cooked through, about 1 minute 30 seconds.

BANANA NUT MUG CAKE

Ingredients

  • 1/2 small banana
  • 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/8 tsp cloves
  • pinch cinnamon
  • pinch salt
  • 1/8 tsp baking powder
  • 2 TBSP light brown sugar
  • 2 TBSP almond milk
  • a few walnuts, broken into pieces (optional, or you can use another nut)

Instructions

  1. Mix together all dry ingredients in a mug with a fork.
  2. Mix in the almond milk.
  3. Mash the banana into the mixture.
  4. Mix in the walnuts, leaving the last bit to sprinkle on the top.
  5. Microwave until cooked through, about 2 minutes.

APPLE CINNAMON MUG CAKE

Ingredients

  • 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/8 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 3 TBSP light brown sugar
  • 4 TBSP applesauce
  • 1/2 tsp oil (I used extra light olive oil)
  • 2 TBSP almond milk
  • a few walnuts, broken into pieces (optional, or you can use another nut)

Instructions

  1. Mix together flour, baking powder, cinnamon, and 2 TBSP light brown sugar in a mug with a fork.
  2. Mix oil, milk and 3 TBSP applesauce into the dry ingredients.
  3. Mix in walnuts, sprinkling the last bits on top.
  4. Spread the last TBSP of applesauce on top of the mixture.
  5. Sprinkle the last TBSP of light brown sugar on top of the applesauce.
  6. Microwave until cooked through, about 2 minutes.

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Banana Pancakes–3 Ways (V)

IMG_0782What an unusual time to be blogging, to be doing anything, really. You’ve probably shared my bewilderment with this situation, with how quickly our world was stricken with this virus and how instantly our lives came to a halt. In an attempt to grasp onto some sort of normalcy (and to contribute to the growing trend of baking as a therapeutic practice), I will keep on cracking away in my kitchen and sharing the results! Today, I wanted to start this semi-quarantine period with a pancake recipe that you likely wouldn’t need to leave home to make–I don’t want to encourage any unnecessary trips to the store! The goal of my posts right now is to provide a little bit of calm, of quiet, in this very chaotic time.

Maybe that’s also why I chose to make pancakes; something about a nice, hot stack of pancakes seems to conjure up instant feelings of relaxation, of contentedness. Pancakes are for days when everything is right in the world–whatever that looks like in your current life situation. Fifteen years ago, that meant that my sister and I had convinced our dad to make flapjacks with us that we’d catch out of the pan with excited squeals while cartoons buzzed from the living room behind us. More recently, it means that I’ve had a long week of rehearsals and have managed to score a cozy morning at home in sweatpants, free of physical and mental obligations.IMG_0806

One of the first things that came to mind when I’d decided on this recipe, though, was the song “Banana Pancakes” by Jack Johnson. It’s one of my favorites for a few reasons. For one thing, I just love its cheerful, relaxed tone–a tone that has earned it a special place in my Winding Down playlist on Spotify. And like pancakes in general, the song possesses reminiscent qualities for me, as it has been one of the songs our family listens to during our annual beach vacation for as long as I can remember. Just hearing the first few guitar notes transports me to that breezy back porch on Edisto Island, air laced with the smell of salt water and sunscreen and the sound of laughs. In fact, it’s such a strong emotional response that I’ve found myself getting a bit teary when the song plays on a particularly rough day.

Jack Johnson was clearly no stranger to this sentiment–the feeling of being separated from and even unaware of the goings on of the world and yet still experiencing a peaceful celebration of the present place you find yourself. You can just feel his lyrics assuaging the anxiety of the listener– reassuring her that, through whatever turmoil was going on around them, they could find joy and rest, simply in each other’s company:

“We could close the curtains
Pretend like there’s no world outside
We could pretend it all the time
And can’t you see that it’s just rainin’
There ain’t no need to go outside”

You can probably see where I’m going with this.

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I sympathize with everyone out there who is frustrated and stir crazy and lonely. I sympathize with those who feel like they can’t just relax at home during a time when so many people are suffering. I sympathize with all the people who are afraid of just how long this could go on and who wonder how we’re supposed to just pick up where we left off when it’s over. I’m grateful that I can’t sympathize with those who are feeling the direct effects of this illness.

None of us have ever experienced something quite like this in our lives–unrest is inevitable. I hope, though, that you can find moments of solace in the confinement:  through time with your family, through the rare quietness we’re experiencing, through pancakes. Remember that, by enduring this solitude, you’re playing a role in the efforts to fight this emergency–you’re important. By no means should we exercise any sort of denial about what’s going on. But, while we’re here, on our couches, in our kitchens, working from our living rooms, we may as well let ourselves enjoy the time we have–it isn’t for nothing. Besides, when you’re content indoors, “There ain’t no need to go outside.”

The Lord your God is in your midst,
    a mighty one who will save;
he will rejoice over you with gladness;
    he will quiet you by his love;
he will exult over you with loud singing.

Zephaniah 3:17

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Banana Pancakes–3 Ways (V)

Ingredients

VERSION 1

  • 1 small banana, mashed (about 1/3 cup)
  • 1 TBSP oil (I used light olive oil)
  • 1 flax egg (1 TBSP ground flax mixed with 3 TBSP cold water, left to thicken in fridge for at least 5 minutes) **you can use a real egg if you’re not vegan
  • 1/2 cup almond milk
  • 3/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/8 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • vegan butter, for frying

VERSION 2

  • everything in VERSION 1, except
  • whole wheat flour instead of all-purpose
  • 2 additional TBSP almond milk

VERSION 3 **not vegan**

  • 1 small banana, mashed (about 1/3 cup)
  • 1 TBSP oil
  • 1 egg
  • 1/2 cup almond milk
  • 100g sourdough starter (doesn’t need to be ripe)
  • 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 cup whole wheat flour
  • 1/8 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • butter, for frying

Instructions

  1. Mix together all wet ingredients in a large bowl.
  2. In a smaller bowl, whisk together all dry ingredients.
  3. Heat a skillet over low-medium heat, and grease well with butter (I have a gas range, so I have to keep the heat on the lower side to avoid sticking. You may need to use a higher setting on electric stoves!)
  4. Whisk the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients just until combined. It will probably be lumpy!
  5. Scoop out batter for a pancake (size is up to you!), and cook until the underside is a warm brown.
  6. Enjoy immediately–add all the toppings your heart desires first, of course–and store leftovers in the fridge!

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Sweet and Smoky Skillet Cornbread (V)(GF)

IMG_0661This is the second week in a row that I’ve “let my South Carolina show” by giving you some southern-inspired recipes! Though sweet tea, lemonade and cornbread are about as classically down south as flavors come, I wouldn’t dare claim that my creations resemble the real deal culinary classics of my home. You won’t see me throw around words like authentic or traditional–simply because my aim was not to recreate history with these bakes. I did consider that route, but that was before I did a bit of research about old fashioned, southern cornbread and deduced some information that prompted me to pursue a more unorthodox route. Basically, classic southern cornbread is nothing like your well-known Jiffy box mix: it’s often made with white cornmeal instead of yellow, its texture isn’t nearly as aerated, and it’s sometimes made by purists who omit the milk and sugar and eggs entirely. I don’t know about you, but I love milk and sugar and eggs. Plus, I preferred to avoid having dozens of great grandmas rolling in their graves because I horrifically insulted the pure name of cornbread with my wannabe version.IMG_0630

Needless to say, it didn’t take me long to decide that trying to make authentic cornbread would actually end up being the least authentic choice I could make. I did, though, in my online digging, get caught in the web of cornbread-making videos. One of my favorites was by a woman who goes by Mamma Cherri, a London YouTuber with a substantial following. I was immediately drawn into her cornbread video, which began with her taking a trip to a market to purchase the ingredients (plus a few random items she needed to grab). It then shifted to her very cluttered kitchen, where she quickly walked through the process of making the cornbread, haphazardly tossing ingredients into bowls and rarely pausing to explain as she worked. What made the video so appealing was just how incredibly natural it was. Mamma Cherri’s kitchen looked like any family kitchen, cramped and cluttered; she didn’t use any real measuring cups; the video had no added effects or even transitions; her daughter simply followed her around with a camera while she shopped and baked, the two of them engaging in comical banter throughout the process. As I chuckled, watching her cut the cornbread with a comically massive knife because that’s what was nearby, I realized how invested I had become in this woman’s life in the span of eight minutes. I wanted to meet her; I felt like I knew her; I trusted her. IMG_0670

Okay, that sounded a tad creepy. But it’s true! And it got me thinking: it’s amazing how attracted we are to authenticity. There are few qualities more instantly magnetizing about people than that of being completely genuine, or “unapologetically themselves,” as reality t.v. loves to put it. But what’s equally amazing, sadly, is how tirelessly we try to adopt characteristics and lifestyles and interests that have nothing to do with who we are–just because we think that our authentic selves can’t measure up to others’ standards unless we add some sort of embellishment. In a culture dominated by fantasy–impossible bodies, impossible experiences, impossible makeup, impossible wealth–it’s often hard to realize what reality even is, let alone understand that your personal reality is 1) normal, and 2) adequate. I promise you, it is both of those things. IMG_0608

On this hump day, then, I want you to remember that nobody remembers someone for being just like someone else; I want you to try loving the parts of you that don’t line up with the manicured photos on your Instagram feed. When it comes to cornbread AND life, you can’t go wrong with real authenticity.

See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him.

1 John 3:1

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Sweet and Smoky Skillet Cornbread (V)(GF)

Ingredients

  • 1 cup yellow cornmeal
  • 1/4 cup gluten-free all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp baking soda
  • 1 1/2 tsp salt
  • 3/4 tsp smoked paprika
  • 1/4 cup sugar (vegan if desired)
  • 1/4 cup vegan butter, melted (plus an extra 2 TBSP for skillet)
  • 1/2 flax egg (1/2 TBSP ground flax seed mixed with 1 TBSP plus 1 1/2 tsp water, left to thicken in fridge for at least five minutes)
  • 2/3 cup “buttermilk” (2 tsp vinegar mixed with enough almond milk to make 2/3 cup, left to sit for at least 5 minutes)
  • 1/8 tsp liquid smoke

Instructions

  1. Place a small cast iron skillet in the oven (mine was about 7” across the bottom), and preheat the oven to 400°F.
  2. In a large bowl, whisk together cornmeal, flour, baking powder, baking soda, smoked paprika, salt and sugar.
  3. Add “buttermilk”, flax egg, and liquid smoke to the dry ingredients, and whisk until incorporated. Then, whisk in the melted butter.
  4. Remove skillet from the oven, and place 2 TBSP of butter into it to coat the bottom.
  5. Carefully pour cornbread batter into the skillet on top of the butter.
  6. Bake in the preheated oven for about 18-20 minutes, until a knife inserted into the center comes out clean. Allow to cool in the skillet before slicing. Enjoy with a bowl of chili, barbecue, or on its own!

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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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