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mini cakes

“Who I am is certainly part of how I look and vice versa. I want to know where I begin and end, what size I am, and what suits me… I am not “in” this body, I am this body. Waist or no waist.

But all the same, there’s something about me that doesn’t change, hasn’t changed, through all the remarkable, exciting, alarming, and disappointing transformations my body has gone through. There is a person there who isn’t only what she looks like, and to find her and know her I have to look through, look in, look deep. Not only in space, but in time.

There’s the ideal beauty of youth and health, which never really changes, and is always true. There’s the ideal beauty of movie stars and advertising models, the beauty-game ideal, which changes its rules all the time and from place to place, and is never entirely true. And there’s an ideal beauty that is harder to define or understand, because it occurs not just in the body but where the body and the spirit meet and define each other.”
-Ursula K. Le Guin on Aging and What Beauty Really Means (you can read more on Brainpickings, or find her book here.)

mini cakes

mini cakes

mini cakes

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peanut butter-banana-coffee shake
A few months back I took part in With Food + Love‘s “21 Days to Lean and Green” program. It’s a three week mind and body reboot, focusing on slowing down and putting yourself, and your health, first. It was a great experience – Sherrie is a constant and thoughtful encouragement, and in that short time she gave a lot of great tools to help me stop and think about not only what I am eating, but why I am eating it. If you are looking for a little New Year motivation to work on healthy eating habits, this is a great place to start. The course consists of a 45 minute coaching session, 100+ plant-based seasonal recipes, unlimited email support, great handouts and resources, plus much more (which you can read about here). While my healthy eating is constantly in flux, I’ve found myself going back to recipes and handouts from this program when I need to refocus. There are also a few things Sherrie spoke to me over the phone that were so helpful to my personal food struggles, and they have really inspired me make better choices in my daily life.(Sherrie’s next session is starting soon, and if you sign up now and mention this post, you can take 10% the Lean and Green program.)
peanut butter shake | the vanilla bean blog

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peanut butter granola with cacao nibs and bittersweet chocolate | the vanilla bean blog
It snows in here.
It snows forever, but there’s no Christmas underneath this weather.
When it blows here and gets real cold,
I wanna trip myself and fall upon your fabulous sword
and move
here by the stained-glass window.
Forget about the inside ghetto.
Down here on the hardwood floor,
the lines on the ceiling start to swim once more
like a cheap Renoir,
a fake Van Gogh,
a pop Monet,
a blue Degas.
I breathe you.
I need you.
-Over The Rhine, Jack’s Valentine

I’ve had those lyrics running through my head since January; always winter, never Christmas* has sort of become my theme song this year. I apologize if I’m beginning to sound like a broken record, but when your days consist of shivering, coughing, and cleaning up after sick peeps, you start to view the world through crazy eyes. And wake up every morning craving coffee. And chocolate cake. Although, I’ve discovered, eating cake for breakfast doesn’t really make my day any better, in fact, all that butter and sugar first thing can make it rather worse. So that’s when I came up with this breakfast bowl: peanut butter granola with cacao nibs and chocolate. Just a tiny bit of bittersweet grated over the top makes for a delicious bite, and is just enough chocolate to soothe my frazzled nerves.
peanut butter granola with cacao nibs and bittersweet chocolate | the vanilla bean blog
peanut butter granola with cacao nibs and bittersweet granola | the vanilla bean blog
peanut butter granola with cacao nibs and bittersweet chocolate | the vanilla bean blog
‘[B]efore them were the sands, with rocks and little pools of salt water, and seaweed, and the smell of the sea and long miles of bluish-green waves breaking for ever and ever on the beach. And oh, the cry of the seagulls! Have you ever heard it? Can you remember?’*
*Both from The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe, by CS Lewis.

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I don’t know if this is the place for it, but I have to come out and say that I am still terribly upset about how this season of Downton Abbey ended. And yes, I had no idea it was coming, and yes, as [A] has pointed out to me several times it is just a TV show, but I’m still moping around. This has caused me to stay  up way too late and do all sorts of reading about the show, where I found interesting articles about why this outcome is better for everyone and why it’s not the writer’s fault and whatnot. And then of course I’ve spent time chiding myself for caring so much about people who aren’t even real in the first place, and analyzing why books and shows have this kind of power over my emotions.

But, of course, I’ll get over it. And all that lamenting and internet-surfing did actually pay off, as I came across a little interview with Julian Fellowes, who single handedly writes every episode of Downton. He was asked that lovely little question what advice can you give new writers? and his answer spoke to me on several levels. I’m not sure I consider myself a writer, although I’ve always loved to write and do so often. But I found his answer, tenacity, so important to my daily struggles in mothering, and eating well, and how I spend my time, and trusting myself, and, of course, writing.

I’m always a bit nervous about speaking as someone who is successful, but I suppose I’m allowed to. Actually, tenacity is the quality that you cannot do without. I’ve known very talented people who do well and I’ve known very talented people who do badly, and I’ve known not very talented people who do well or badly. The one quality that all the ones who do well have is tenacity. They just don’t give in, and they keep plugging away.

There are moments when you do feel very desperate. You just think nobody is ever going to respond to your work, that it’s never going to happen. And somehow you just have to push through that whether you do it with a big whiskey, or taking a day off, or whatever. You have to push through that sense of not being valued…I think the danger for the young is that they lose faith in the quality that their work has. And yet, that nugget – whatever it is – that is the nugget that will make it happen if they are to be successful. I mean, it’s easy to say, and it’s hard to follow through, but again it comes back to having belief in yourself.  -Julian Fellowes

a happy birthday

this evening, I sat by an open window
and read till the light was gone and the book
was no more than a part of the darkness.
I could easily have switched on a lamp,
but I wanted to ride the day down into night,
to sit alone, and smooth the unreadable page
with the pale gray ghost of my hand.

-Ted Kooser
[This poem reminds me of my dear friend, Melody, (happy birthday!) who is frequently reading, and writing, and dreaming of stories. She is a fantastic writer, in fact, you should read some of her work! You can find a lovely piece here.]
If you follow any food bloggers on Twitter, you probably have heard about a pie for Mikey today. Mikey was husband to Jennifer Perillo, author of the blog In Jennie’s Kitchen. Jennifer lost Mikey suddenly this week,  and has asked her readers in his honor to bake his favorite peanut butter chocolate pie, to share with someone they love.
I don’t know Jennifer, but I’ve thought about her and her family all week. She comes to mind at odd times, and I find myself tearing up, feeling the fear of the unknown and remembering the ache of loss. Tomorrow can feel so out of control  – all we have is this moment, this present.
I couldn’t make a pie today, so instead I ate some peanut butter with chocolate chips in honor of Mikey. I ate the smooth, sticky peanut butter: so sweet and messy, like so many of my days. I ate the deep dark chocolate: so complex and mysterious! It washed over me like it always does – bringing peace but leaving that bit of bittersweet in my mouth. When my little ones wake up from their nap we will share another bite of this; I will watch their faces light up at the special treat we will savor together.
So dear Jennifer, you may not read this, but I send you peace like a river. Joy like a fountain. Love like an ocean. Strength like a mountain. May you find comfort.

And my dear [A]. My days are lovely because you are in them. Our little family is my treasure and my light. We have worked so hard and loved so well. You’re my favorite one.

I have a thing for vegan desserts. I’m not a vegan, but every January [A] and I partake in a vegan diet to cleanse our systems and add more fruits and vegetables into our bodies. When we first started doing this, way back in college, it was rather difficult to find good vegan food. It had just started to become mainstream, and we didn’t realize all our options. We were constantly starving, roasting up potatoes and cracking open a can of corn for every meal. Seriously. The day we came across natural peanut butter in our tiny little co-op was like Christmas; we almost ate a whole jar on some apples. Now-a-days it’s rather ‘easy’ to eat meat and dairy free – there are so many choices in the grocery store, and most coffeehouses and hip restaurants serve something that caters to this life choice.
I’ve always been interested in vegan food because the time each year I eat vegan, I want some great options. Fresh fruits and vegetables are obvious, but this girl can only hold out on baked goods for so long. It’s become a sort of secret challenge – coming up with vegan desserts that taste as good as anything made with butter and eggs. We have several dear friends who are vegan, and I’ve wanted to have a good selection of meals and desserts that I can serve them when they come over – something we’ll all enjoy. It’s so important to me that the people dining at my home feel comfortable with what we are eating.
So about these cupcakes. My dear friend Bethany approached me to make desserts for her sister, who is vegan. I had a great recipe for vegan chocolate cake, and experimented with making it into cupcakes. It worked like a charm: these cupcakes were just as good as my dairy version. I had also previously experimented with a dairy free version of cream cheese peanut butter frosting, so I stepped it up a bit and added bourbon – yum. I mean, super-yum. The chocolate frosting worked great, too; we had winners. Really, it didn’t taste like a granola girl concoction. Imagine dreamy, creamy chocolate or peanut butter frosting on top of moist, rich chocolate cupcakes. Time to call up your vegan friends and have a party.
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