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Archive for the ‘dessert’ Category

When I was a little girl I loved Valentine’s Day. I adored picking out boxes of valentines, receiving treats from friends, and the color red. The holiday felt happy and easy to me. While helping my kids put together their valentines for class parties, I realized how much the holiday is a girl event in my household. When my son began attending school, he couldn’t be bothered with giving valentines to his classmates. Writing his name was a chore, and I, the valentine task master had to see to it that he wrote his name 26 tedious times. He paid scant attention to which cards he addressed to his classmates and had to redo one when I delicately pointed out that he had just addressed a card professing sweetness and love to his least favorite kid in the class. He was lukewarm on deciding upon homemade baked treats and requested only that I not make chocolate cupcakes. This year, we went his old standby, almond thumbprints shaped into hearts with a strawberry jam filling.

 

At least the standby is a tasty favorite.

My daughter is old enough now to celebrate Valentine’s day with her classmates and she approached the holiday very differently. The other night, while I tucked her into bed, she dictated how she planned to prepare her valentines. Like a mini project manager, she explained to me what she planned to write, when she would “work” on them, how there needed to be stickers involved, and that she wanted chocolate cupcakes with pink frosting and heart-shaped sprinkles as treats for her class. She was very specific about the chocolate.

 

The icing and cake decisions were a serious business.

 

She sat diligently at the table, and wrote not only her name, but the word “love” on each card. She squealed loudly when she discovered the cupcakes in the morning and made sure to dress in one of her favorite shirts for the school party.

For years I thought the holiday of love was awkward, complicated and kind of crappy. To me, it was a holiday symbolizing unreasonable expectations and exclusion of those unfortunate (or fortunate) enough to have avoided being stabbed by cupid’s arrow. Even with a loving a partner, the holiday still has the potential for skewing sideways. Having an exuberant daughter, excited about bits of papery love and little heart stickers, makes me embrace the holiday again.

 

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I had a brief moment yesterday, between gluttonous handfuls of leftover Christmas cookies, where I decided I was going to do a six week sugar detox. I also made a birthday resolution to train for a half marathon. Maybe it was my self disgust for my unabashed consumption of vegan cookies that caused me to pause, with a Russian tea cake in my hand and powdered sugar dust on my scarf, and declare a boycott on all sweets. Fortunately, about 24 hours later, I realized my ban on all things sugar-laced was completely unrealistic. Ironically, I didn’t come to the same conclusion about training for a marathon. Maybe it’s because running sounds easier than eliminating sugar. I feel crazy for even writing that last sentence.

Personally, I don’t believe in short-term diets for weight loss. They are a temporary, unrealistic solution to a long-term problem, which is precisely why I realized my ban on sugar was not going to work. As the sugar levels in my blood decreased, I remembered my “everything in moderation” motto. I don’t need to permanently remove cookies, and chocolate, and cupcakes from my diet. That would depress me, because I love to bake and eat treats. I just need to not eat homemade treats by the fistfuls during the holidays. Unless I am willing to make a major lifestyle change, one in which I truly believe–like eschewing all meat and dairy for diet and ethical reasons or adopting a new appreciation for the sounds of my feet hitting the pavement in a slow trot–the sugar stays. In considerably lower doses, of course.

After a Christmas cookie exchange at our house and an extravagant display of vegan cookies on Christmas Eve, the favorite and most requested recipe was the vegan Mexican Chocolate Snickerdoodles from Isa Chandra Moskowitz’s, Vegan Cookies Invade Your Cookie Jar. She has posted the recipe to her website, The Post Punk Kitchen, which includes a video of how to make the cookies. A few things to note about the recipe: I’ve never found chocolate extract at the store and usually just double the vanilla extract. I like to add a heaping pinch of rock salt to the cinnamon sugar topping, because chocolate, cayenne and salt together is soooo tasty. Also, the dough is on the wet side so I usually end up adding in a small handful of flour to make the dough more pliable. These cookies are chocolaty and spicy–a lovely “adult” cookie and nice accompaniment to a glass of champagne on New Year’s Eve.

 

A cookie definitely worthy of eating by the fistful.

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As someone who is swiftly moving toward middle-age, my perception of who I am and what I am capable of doing physically, gets a bit more skewed each year. It is really only when I go to places like the doctor’s office or am faced with recovering from an illness that I am reminded that my 30-something-year-old body doesn’t necessarily reflect the youth I feel in my brain.

July was a rough month. Relatively, of course. My friends and family are dealing with much more difficult health issues than my out of office surgery and a follow up bout of bronchitis. But that doesn’t erase the fact that my appointment with the periodontist to get a much needed gum graft and then a midnight trip to the emergency room to open my lungs left me feeling old and mildly depressed. To give me a sense of my recovery time for the surgery, my doctor compared the two-day healing process of my wisdom teeth getting pulled at 18, to the two weeks it would take to heal just the roof of my mouth alone. The graft itself would take six to eight weeks. He then kindly reminded me that I no longer had the body of a teenager.

Aging is sneaky. I don’t pay much attention to the fact that my body is getting older because I feel young in my mind. I think that is a good thing, except when I am restricted from riding my bike and leaving my couch by two different professional men in white coats. Lying around the house watching bad daytime t.v. and movies is really overrated. I promise, it is. Sure, we all dream about rotting about the house after spending countless hours in front of the computer working on a bland report. But after a week of bad chick flicks and Harry Potter movies one, two, four and five, I began to feel restless for communication plans and email threads about LDAP servers. Okay, maybe I am exaggerating about the LDAP server part. But the bad t.v. left my brain feeling soggy, like an old bowl of oatmeal coagulating in the sink. I felt glassy-eyed and slow –certainly the Vicodin working its “magic.”

I feel like my old self now–healthy and strong. And after a month’s rest from cycling, I am ready to tackle hills. But mostly, I am reminded to be thankful that my body is back to performing those simple functions we all seem to take for granted–like eating and breathing, being able to walk down the driveway and take out the garbage without fear of falling, or in my brother-in-law’s case, being able to make it through the day without the excruciating pain of a disabling migraine.

I keep wondering if the age of my brain will ever catch up with the age of my body. Probably not until I am forced to accept my old-age fate. I expect that I will grow crotchety, stubborn and unwilling to relinquish my car keys or submit to the fact that I can no longer physically function without a walker and a LifeCall. But I think we are programmed to not surrender to aging. It’s what drives us to stay alive. To accept the fate of our age feels like growing old, and well, giving up. And really, who wants to do that?

While I was marooned on the couch, Scott kept my spirits from descending too far into the post-surgery, pit of pain by feeding me peanut butter, chocolate and banana shakes. The peanut butter and soymilk gave me a hit of protein, and the chocolate syrup and ice cream, well we all know the medical wonders of those healing foods. Four Advil and one of these smoothies and life with a mouth full of sutures hovered somewhere around bearable.

Peanut Butter Cup a’ Love Shake

3 large scoops of vanilla soy ice cream
1 frozen banana
1/3 cup of peanut butter
1/4 cup of vegan chocolate syrup (give or take a squirt depending on how much chocolate you like. I like to use AH!laska.)
1 1/2 cups of soymilk

Before you begin, take some time to cut up a bunch of bananas into small rounds, place them in a ziplock bag, and stick them in the freezer. Once you have frozen bananas, place all of the ingredients into the blender and blend into a thick and decadent shake.

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About every few months or so, the kids go through a mental growth spurt. The precursor is atrocious temper tantrums and attitude issues that make my insides shiver and speeds up the graying of my hair over the thought of the teen years. One would think that after 5+ years of these changes, Scott and I would have a grasp on how to handle the outbursts and boundary pushing. Silly naive me, thinking that because we figured out how to handle the last round of episodes that we would be ahead of the game for future rounds. But like most parents, we forget that children are mutating creatures with no owner’s manual.

I think other people also forget that it is much easier to have the answers to why our kids are acting out and how us parents should be responding. Especially when they don’t have to live, manage, handle and enforce the boundaries day after day after day. Even I forget what is like to manage a child hell bent on ignoring me when I see other parents reacting to angrily to their own child’s crappy behavior. I think, “Yelling won’t help,” or “Wow, her kid is out of control, and she isn’t doing anything.” And then I stop myself, because I don’t have the back story. I don’t know how many times that kid pitched a fit before 7 am, or whether or not that parent just got off a full day of work dealing with adult-aged preschoolers only to have to come home to a fresh bout of tantrums.

People often comment to us about how great our kids are. And they truly are (pat, pat, pat). They don’t always realize that our kids are good because we set rules, teach manners, and provide guidance on how to behave. My children may be young, but they are old enough to learn how to become respectful members of society. As responsible parents, it is our job to teach them what it means to be respectful. Our children are well behaved because we taught them to be that way. This society has way too many self-entitled, disrespectful people walking around, and I won’t ease up on teaching my children how not to become one. Some may think we are being strict, I call it taking my job seriously. Sure, we can yell less. Us parents are human, and we sometimes forget that the best way to get our children to listen isn’t by speaking louder. It is important for us to remember our own boundaries.

My little petunia called me into her bedroom the other night for the umpteenth time to delay her inevitable sleep. Her excuses to put off going to bed can get lengthy and cliche. Most nights, her requests for water, potty trips and favorite stuffed animals are a prelude to me taking a tedious, cement-footed trip down the hall. But more often than not, her requests are random, creative and remind me to relish her sweet, precocious personality. Calla called out her usual, “Mommy, I need you.” When I arrived at her bedside, she said, “Can we go to the zoo right now?” I told her no, a night trek to the zoo was not in her near future but that we could go soon. Easily placated by fun to come, she said, “Okay. And when we go, can you pack lollipops and apple snacks and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches?”

Tonight both kids caught a terminal case of the sillies. Lennon, the dancing comedian, got out of his bed five or six times just so he could stand in the door to make me and his sister laugh. His enthusiasm at watching us giggle radiated through his smile. Sure it was way past their bedtime, but the laughter was infectious, and the memory-making opportunities were prolific. Sure they needed their sleep but tonight’s fun trumped protocol. There is a time and a place for lifting boundaries.

I don’t have a recipe that involves lollipops and apple snacks, but I do have one for a lovely and moist apple cake handed down to me by my mom, who received it from a kind woman named Mrs. Vlamis–who I am sure taught her kids the importance of respect…and maybe yelled once or twice in her lifetime.

Mrs. Vlamis’s Greek Apple Cake
(this is a “prepare the night before for the next day” kind of cake.)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Dice and peel 3 1/2 cups of apples (any kind will do) and set aside.

Combine in a bowl and then set aside:
2 cups sugar
1 1/2 cups vegetable oil (I usually use canola)
juice of half a lemon
2 tsp vanilla
3 tsp egg replacer whisked together with 6 TSP water

At this point, the mixture will be thick. Then add:
3 cups of flour
1 1/2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt

Fold in:
the diced apples
3/4 cup of golden raisins (regular raisins work nicely too.)
1/4 cup chopped walnuts

Bake in a greased and floured 9×13″ pan for one hour. When it is ready, an inserted toothpick should come out clean.

When the cake is almost done baking, mix together:
1 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup soymilk
1 stick of Earth Balance margarine
2 tsp vanilla (I like to substitute in brandy here)

Mix in a pan and stir continuously while the mixture boils for two and a half minutes.
Pour the mixture over the top of the hot, baked cake and let it stand overnight.

Try hard not to eat it for breakfast the next morning.

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Frosting leftovers

This week I had a container full of homemade coconut butter cream frosting languishing in the fridge leftover from the most patriotic act I have ever partook. Sure, I care about politics, but I have never been particularly patriotic. In fact, I have been known to be somewhat caustic and cynical when comes to the state of our country. But something about that Obama guy has me feeling all hopeful and proud. Anyway, on Tuesday night in honor of our new President, we threw an inauguration party, and I made homemade vanilla cupcakes and topped them with blueberries and strawberries and coconut frosting in an attempt to make a replica of the American flag (yes, I forgot to take a picture.) I was inspired by this crazy cupcake decorating book called hello, cupcake! that Scott got me for my birthday. And while the flag in their book was styled professionally and looked beautiful, mine was a pathetic smattering of out-of-season fruit thrown onto the cupcakes in a manic attempt to get dessert decorated in five minutes.

Not wanting to waste good frosting and not feeling like consuming another batch of cupcakes, I figured I could use it on something else, or eat it straight out of the container like my mother-in-law. But really, I am not big on eating frosting with a spoon. I flashed on a distinct, not-so-good memory as a kid eating red frosting on saltine crackers with my sister and quickly decided that there are infinitely better ways to consume frosting. Though my mother-in-law may beg to differ, frosting really needs to be cut with something like cake or black coffee—preferably both at the same time.

So last night after dinner, Scott challenged me to make vegan cinnamon rolls. A true quest since I have always shied away from making anything that involves active yeast. For some reason, yeast mystifies me. Anything that requires some kind of chemical reaction, bacteria and the careful following of steps is bound to throw me off. Yeah sure, baking is science but adding yeast to the mix takes it all to a whole new level. But I had wanted to make cinnamon rolls for a long time and wasting good frosting is criminal so I got to work.

After mixing all the ingredients together and meticulously following the directions, I waited for my dough to rise. And I waited, and waited. Yes, the yeast was active, I could see some puffiness, but as I wrapped my scarf around my neck for the umpteenth time, I decided that we kept our house too cold during the winter to be expecting dough to rise.

What’s a baker to do? Kick up the heat? Or clear off space in the laundry room in hopes that the heat from the washer and dryer warms up the dough? I cheaply chose the latter, because that is just how I am. For some reason, I couldn’t justify turning the heat up a measly three degrees to get the place warm enough to activate my sluggish yeast.

In an attempt to be somewhat sanitary, I pushed aside the laundry soap and made room next to the random hair clips, rocks, coins and shreds of tissues fished out of pockets and the lint collector to make room on top of the dryer for my cookie sheet. I just needed to make sure that the whole thing didn’t shake to the floor while the washer jumped its way through the spin cycle.

While my pretty pinwheels did grow some while sitting in the laundry room, my dough never really got to a yeasty out of control mass of dough begging to be punched down. I guess that means I still have something to strive for, but that said, for a first batch of cinnamon rolls, mine were pretty good. I smeared them with the coconut butter cream frosting and fed them to my favorite people, and we sat at the dining room table, unraveled the gooey rolls and dunked them into hot cups of fresh coffee.

I am going to hold off on posting a recipe for vegan cinnamon rolls. While these were tasty, they don’t quite measure up to Cinnabon status just yet.

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