merry christmas darlings

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I could swear that about ten years ago the holiday fireplace channel on TV was much better than it is today.

As far as I can remember, it wasn’t on a loop. Or at least it was a really long one. I have memories of drinking rum and eggnogs at my ex-boyfriend’s house and watching it for hours, trying to spot the seam where the loop happened. We also tried to closely watch the arm stoking the fire to see if the arm made exactly the same movements twice.

That was a bit difficult after all the rum.

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Side note: who watches hours on end of the holiday fireplace? It’s no surprise we’re not together anymore.

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But last week I had friends over for Christmas dinner and we put the holiday fireplace on, and every hour, exactly on the hour, it would go black and silent for about 5 seconds and restart, to the point where we would stop our conversations to wait for it to get going again.

Budget cuts, maybe? I’ll admit I was pretty disappointed.

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Other people probably have much more interesting fond “remember when” memories than I do.

Still, I made up for my disappointment with Christmas cookies. Lots and lots of Christmas cookies.

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May your Christmas be as cookie- and friend-filled and less holiday-fireplace-filled than mine.

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Speculaas

I’m sorry, I know most North Americans don’t like scales at the best of times, and these are finicky. My scale decided after the cinnamon that it no longer wanted to measure anything, so I just tried to eyeball relative amounts. This is fun, not science.

(Okay, that was sortof a lie. Science is super fun.)

Ingredients – Spice Mix

4 grams cinnamon
1 gram ground cloves
1.5 grams nutmeg
0.5 gram white pepper
0.5 gram aniseed
1.5 grams ginger
0.5 gram cardamom

Ingredients – Cookies

half cup butter, room temperature
two thirds cup brown sugar
two tablespoons milk
two teaspoons baking powder
half teaspoon baking soda
one cup all purpose flour
spices (above)
half teaspoon salt

Directions

In the bowl of a standmixer, cream together butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add the milk and beat until combined.
Sift in all remaining ingredients and stir until just mixed. Throw it in the fridge for at least an hour, but preferably overnight.
When you’re ready to bake, preheat the oven to 325 degrees Fahrenheit. Line two or so baking sheets with parchment paper and set aside.
Roll out the cookie dough to about a quarter of an inch thick, and cut out shapes using your favourite cookie cutters.
Bake until the centre of the cookie looks dry (time will depend on the size of your cookie cutters; mine took about 16 minutes).

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Other pictured recipes:

Chocolate chip meringues (I omitted the walnuts. I also highly recommend using mint chocolate chips if your grocery store isn’t sold out of them like mine was.)
Marshmallow, pretzel, and candycane fudge
Soft ginger cookies (I rolled mine in coconut sugar)

Footnotes:

I’m off to Vietnam for the next few weeks (I’m long overdue for an on the road, wouldn’t you say?) and I won’t be posting until I’m back. Wishing all of you a most cuddly Christmas (or other December festivity) and a very sparkly New Year!

left neglected

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My stubbornness tends to arise most at 2am when I know I should be sleeping, but I just don’t want to put my book down.

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Since the manfriend is on a world tour (5 continents in a two-month period… whattheheckI’msojealous), I was expecting it to be lonely when I got home around 10.30 last night from circus. I was not expecting the entire apartment building to be black. I’ve never seen it that dark in the 5-and-a-half-plus years I’ve been with the manfriend, so it freaked me out a little. I turned to another guy arriving home at the same time as me and asked what happened and if our key fobs would work, and he was all like no, power outage, duh.

Right.

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So I climbed up 16 floors worth of stairs in heels (for the second time in 4 days; thanks elevators) and managed to find and light 5 candles and settled in with a pieced together non-oven-or-microwave-requiring dinner and Left Neglected by Lisa Genova.

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Have you read this book? I just finished Love Anthony and enjoyed it so I thought I would read another of her books, and oh my gosh, I could not put it down.

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It’s beautiful and unfathomable and heartbreaking. It makes me wonder if that’s what stroke patients go through. It makes me want to call my mom at 2am on a Wednesday when I’m reading by candlelight in a power outage and ask if she’s read it and if that’s what she went through. It makes me want to never get in my car again unless my cell phone is safely locked away in the trunk. It makes me want to cry.

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Anyway, I highly, highly recommend it, even though I’m not quite finished. I also recommend having homemade ice cream on hand at all times, because you never know when the power will go out and you’ll need it for dinner.

True story.

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Turkish Ice Cream (vegan)

Adapted from the ever-brilliant Joy the Baker

Ingredients

3 cups full fat coconut milk
half cup sugar
two teaspoons vanilla
two teaspoons rosewater (I bought mine in Turkey, but it should be available in specialty food stores. If you can’t find any or don’t want to buy a whole bottle – although how else are you going to make Turkish delight? – I would sub a hard alcohol like whiskey, or leave it out entirely)
one cup unsweetened shredded coconut
half cup salted pistachios, shelled (did I need to say that?) and coarsely chopped

Directions

The day before you want to make the ice cream:
You’ll need to clean out the ice cream maker bowl and put it in the freezer. I always forget this step and end up depressed that I can’t make ice cream immediately.
When you’re actually ready to make ice cream:
Combine one and a half cups of coconut milk with the sugar in a saucepan over medium-low heat. Stir until the sugar has dissolved, and remove from heat. Add remaining coconut milk, vanilla and rosewater. Throw it in the fridge until it’s completely cold – at least a few hours.
Throw it all in an ice cream maker and follow the manufacturer’s directions. Writing this step into my recipes always feels like such a cop out; I’m sorry.
Ten minutes before the ice cream maker manufacturer thinks it should be done, add in the shredded coconut and pistachios. You can reserve some for topping the ice cream if you’d like.
Store in the freezer in an air-tight container.

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misheard

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In the first few seconds of the intro to Selena Gomez’s The Heart Wants What it Wants, she repeats “what the heart wants” a few times in this quiet electro auto-tune voice. It’s catchy. It’s cute. It’s horribly whiny.

And all I can hear her saying is “What the fuck, Juan?”

Which vastly improves it, if you ask me.

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And then there’s Taylor Swift’s new song Blank Space. The first 10 times I listened to it, I heard:

Gotta love those Starbucks lovers
They’ll tell you I’m insane

I was really confused about what Starbucks lovers were. So confused that I Googled the lyrics in hopes of finding the meaning, which was when I discovered the real words.

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She is actually singing:

Got a long list of ex-lovers
They’ll tell you I’m insane

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Anyway, the takeaway from this little excerpt of my life is that I’m deaf, and I have terribly embarrassing taste in music.

On the bright side, Christmas cookies!

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Vanilla Shortbread

Ingredients

one and a half cups butter
one cup berry sugar (also called caster sugar)
one teaspoon vanilla
seeds scraped from one vanilla bean
three and a half cups all-purpose flour
quarter teaspoon salt

Directions

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Line a baking sheet or two with parchment paper and set aside.
In a stand mixer, cream the butter, sugar, and vanilla (extract and seeds) on medium until light and fluffy.
Sift in the flour and salt, and mix slowly until combined. You should be able to press together the cookie dough into a ball or block. Add a bit more flour and throw it in the fridge for a bit if it’s too sticky.
Roll out the dough to around a third of an inch thick, and cut out shapes using cookie cutters. Transfer to the baking sheet, re-roll scraps, and continue until the dough is gone.
Bake for about 18-20 minutes or until the edges are just starting to look golden. Cool to room temperature – I find shortbread tastes better the next day. These also freeze well, so you can make them well ahead of any Christmas festivities (if you don’t eat them all first).

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baby it’s cold outside

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I was super organized for Christmas this year.

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I decided not to do too much Christmas-specific baking, since I bake all the time for this blog anyway. I also decided to go out and do things with my friends in lieu of Christmas gifts.

So when I say organized, what I’m really saying is very successfully implementing tactical avoidance.

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But it wouldn’t be Christmas without a pre-Christmas pumpkin pancake brunch.

I mean, this is the first pre-Christmas that I’ve had a pumpkin pancake brunch, but now I’m totally sold.

Trust me on this one. You will be too.

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Pumpkin Pancakes with a Maple Apple Topping (vegan)

Ingredients

Pancakes

three quarters cup all-purpose flour
half cup pastry flour
two teaspoons baking powder
two tablespoons brown sugar
quarter teaspoon salt
three quarters teaspoon cinnamon
quarter teaspoon of each nutmeg, cloves, and ginger
one cup unsweetened almond milk
two thirds cup pumpkin purée (not pumpkin pie mix!)
two tablespoons canola oil
one egg replacer egg (I used Ener-G)
one teaspoon vanilla

Topping

quarter cup maple syrup
one or two apples (I used two tiny ones), cored and sliced super thinly

Directions

Sift together dry ingredients. In a separate bowl, mix almond milk, pumpkin, oil, egg, and vanilla.
Make a well in the centre of the flour mixture, and fold in wet ingredients until just barely combined. Let rest for 10 minutes.
While resting, grease and heat a cast-iron skillet over medium heat.
Prepare the filling: microwave maple syrup and apple slices for two to three minutes, stirring every minute. How long you microwave them for will depend on how soft you want them.
I make my pancakes two at a time using half a cup of batter each. Cook for about 4-5 minutes on one side (or until the edges are drying and the middle is starting to bubble) and flip, cooking until golden brown on both sides (this took me about 3-4 more minutes on the second side).
Serve warm with maple apples on top (and whipped cream if you’re not vegan).

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it was nice while it lasted

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So, umm, yeah.

I know, I know. It wasn’t all that long ago that I said I wasn’t ready, but I’m getting pretty excited for Christmas now.

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That may have something to do with the giant cinnamon bun and bag of jellybeans and bar of chocolate I just ate. I can feel the sugar coursing through my veins. I could get excited about pretty much anything right now.

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Just don’t lecture me about the amount of sugar that’s in Christmas baking, okay?

We don’t need that kind of drama.

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Chili Hot Chocolate Chocolate Chip Cookies (vegan)

I prefer these when they’re extra chewy a day or two after baking, but hey, go nuts. It’s almost Christmas, after all.

Ingredients

three quarters cup canola oil
one cup sugar
half cup brown sugar
two teaspoons vanilla
one and a half tablespoons ground flax
half cup unsweetened almond milk
two cups all purpose flour
half cup bread flour
three quarters cup chili hot chocolate powder (I used this one. Regular hot chocolate powder is fine if you can’t find a chili one)
one teaspoon baking soda
half teaspoon salt
one cup chocolate chips

Directions

Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Line a baking sheet (or two) with parchment paper and set aside.
Mix all the ingredients from oil to almond milk vigorously (this is easiest in a stand mixer, but work with what you’ve got). Sift in the rest of the dry ingredients. Mix well. Fold in chocolate chips.
Scoop onto prepared baking sheet by the spoonful. I pressed mine down a little bit to flatten them before baking.
Bake for 10-12 minutes, until the middle looks set. Try not to over-bake though or they won’t be chewy.

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it’s on.

A few weeks ago I issued a throw-down.

(At least, I’ve been told it was a throw-down. I’m not sure that would have been my word choice, as I’m generally too mild-mannered to do much throwing down of anything.)

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Back to the point:

It seems Wael saw my blog post, and – like me, despite the mild manners – is a sucker for a challenge.

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This doesn’t surprise me, since he has an insane work ethic and does CrossFit and is a ridiculously clean eater and does his own home renovations.

I know a lot about this person for having only met him once.

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So, while I wait for his rebuttal (it better not be salad. Nobody wins anything with salad.), this is part two of my entry.

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(Also, there doesn’t yet appear to be any clarity on how this competition is going to be settled. In the meantime, my best friend is the go-between for our trash talk, and I suppose she will be the one to try our creations. So, at the end of the day, she’s probably going to be the real winner. Well played, L.)

Peanut Butter Balls (vegan, gluten free)

Ingredients

one cup peanut butter (I used a mix of natural and the sketchy kind, because that’s what I had at home. If you use natural, you may need to add more dry ingredients to make it stick)
half cup coconut flour
half cup cornmeal
half cup icing sugar
one teaspoon vanilla
about two thirds cup dark chocolate, melted
one teaspoon coconut oil

Directions

Using a stand mixer (or by hand, it’ll just take longer) mix everything except the chocolate and oil together until completely combined. Throw it in the fridge for at least half an hour.
Once cold, remove from the fridge and roll spoonfuls into dough into balls – I aimed for ping pong ball size and got about 20. If you want to stick lollipop sticks into them, do this now. (Warning: about a quarter of my lollipop sticks kept falling out; they stick better the colder the dough is.)
Freeze for at least half an hour. Just before you’re about to take them out, melt the chocolate and coconut oil and stir until smooth.
Dip each ball in chocolate and set on parchment paper (I used a baking tray; a plate would also work) until the chocolate hardens (this should happen pretty quickly as the balls are already cold).
Store in the fridge or freezer.

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already?

It totally freaks me out that stores are already decked out for Christmas. And are playing Christmas music. And the Christmas Market has already been open for a week.

When did that happen?

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In my head it’s still June.

June 1997.

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I’m not ready for Christmas. I haven’t planned out my Christmas baking, or bought any Christmas presents, or lost the weight I want to lose before I wear my Christmas party dress.

Instead I’m making peanut butter banana muffins, watching way too many episodes of bad TV on Netflix, and lying on the living room floor pretending to do Pilates.

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Incidentally, if you ever find time passing too quickly, just go hold a two-and-a-half-minute plank.

(Real wisdom, right there.)

(You’re welcome. That’s what I’m here for.)

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Peanut Butter Banana Muffins (vegan)

Ingredients

one and a half cups overripe bananas, mashed (about 3 large bananas)
one third cup peanut butter (use a natural kind if possible. Smooth or crunchy is your call)
half cup unsweetened almond milk
half tablespoon ground flax
half cup canola oil
one teaspoon vanilla
two cups all-purpose flour
one teaspoon baking powder
one teaspoon baking soda
one teaspoon cinnamon
half cup dark chocolate chips (optional. And I totally snuck in a whole cup)
half cup pecan bits (optional)

Directions

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit. Line a muffin pan with paper liners (or grease really well) and set aside.
Mash and mix bananas, PB, almond milk, flax, oil, and vanilla until as combined as you can get them. The oil will probably refuse to incorporate. That’s cool.
Sift in flour, baking powder, baking soda, and cinnamon. Stir until there are only a few visible bits of flour left, and then fold in chocolate chips and pecans (if using). You shouldn’t be able to see any dry ingredients anymore, but don’t over mix.
Spoon into the prepared muffin cups – I like mine almost full because you get nice round muffin tops. Bake for about 25 minutes, or until an inserted toothpick comes out clean.