Feed Two Birds with One Scone

Early victories in the kitchen were hard-won for me because, quite frankly, I had no clue what I was doing. I didn’t know how to bake before going vegan, didn’t seek schooling on how to after, and to this day, I’m still not keen on following recipes. My parents suffered through some truly abysmal creations that could only loosely be described as “food.” One of my first notable successes came in the form of a simple scone, too easy to mess up even if I tried.

Cobbled together from odds and ends on hand, dried cranberries punctuated the rough, triangular biscuits, while thin flecks of orange peel appeared as faint confetti just beneath the surface. Barely sweetened, crisp, yet tender and buttery, I suppose they were special because in a way, they weren’t. There was no mystery, no magic to them, but something made them particularly compelling, both for the maker and the eater. Instant gratification; reliable satisfaction.

My mom, also known as my original number one fan, was effusive at the first bite. (In hindsight, I’m sure she was overjoyed that it was just finally something edible.) It became her go-to request, sometimes taking the form of hearts on Mother’s Day or rectangles arranged to spell out an “M” on her birthday, but always the same, year after year: Cranberry-orange scones.

Having committed the recipe to memory from repeated use, I realized with horror that it never got its fair time in the spotlight here on the blog. Finally, almost two decades later, I’d like to celebrate my mom’s birthday today by doing just that. Happy birthday, mom! As tradition would have it, these scones are for you.

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Once In a Blue Moon

Only once in a blue moon does one find a cookie so fetching, so beautiful and flavorful, so irresistible that it might become a new staple on the highly anticipated annual Christmas cookie platter. Classic recipes passed down across the generation don’t crumble in the face of passing trends. Newcomers try to work their way in at the edges, but they rarely have staying power beyond one holiday season, maybe two at best.

Allow me to introduce your new baking tradition. Almond crescents have stood the test of time, appearing in a multitude of European patisseries under the title of vanillekipferl, migdałowe półksiężyce, kupferlin, and more, depending on who you ask. Melt in your mouth shortbread cookies with a snowy dusting of confectioner’s sugar, there’s no unseating this sweet staple… Until now.

Blue matcha, though actually made with powdered butterfly pea flowers rather than green tea leaves, adds an alluring hue along with subtly nuanced flavor. Placing greater emphasis on the nutty aspects of its namesake, almond butter and almond extract provide a much bolder bite than the typical blend. Anyone who thinks that all shortbread sweets are bland will have to reevaluate their assessment after even a tentative nibble.

A step above the basic butter cookie, the dough couldn’t be more accommodating for any deadline or level of expertise. No chilling, no rolling, no cutting; just mix and bake. Best of all, they can be fully prepared well in advance and stored in the freezer until the time for gift giving arrives… Or cravings strike. Let’s be honest, they’re possibly even more delicious straight out of the deep freeze, with just a touch of refreshing frost lending surprisingly authenticity to the aesthetically pleasing icing sugar.

Astronomically speaking, a blue moon has nothing to do with color. If it happens to looks blue, looming high in the night sky, it’s because of dust in the atmosphere. These treats are made of even more precious stuff than moon dust, which fully delivers on the promise in every regard.

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All That Glitters

Like a moth drawn to a flame, I find myself irresistibly attracted to all things that sparkle. Once the glint of something reflective hits my eye, all previous tasks go straight out the window. Be it a gemstone or a piece of aluminum foil, it must be examined, admired, possibly even cherished. I’m no magpie, but I do find myself with a conspicuous collection of gleaming metallic platters, shimmery eye shadows, iridescent glasses, and high-gloss nail polishes, just at a glance.

Following suit, I can’t possibly turn down any opportunity to indulge in a pinch of culinary glitter. This one, in the form of organic raw cane sugar, is entirely natural, too.

Coated in sweet crystals that catch the light, the tender bite and gentle, warm spice of soft speculoos cookies will be enough to lure in anyone, with or without a propensity to delight in all that glitters. Spread a thick layer of creamy speculoos frosting on top of that, and sandwich it with a second cookie, doubling down on that earthy golden glow is almost too much brilliance to take… Although, I trust you’ll find some way to manage.

Make space on your holiday cookie platter because these speculoos sparklers are all dressed up and ready to dazzle.

Inspired by the Florida Crystals Blogger Challenge, I’m betting that this recipe will be as good as gold. These sweet sprinkles brighten up countless recipes on their website, Facebook, Pinterest, and Instagram pages, but nothing quite like this. Making use of standard granulated, brown, and powdered sugars, the cookies radiate an almost effervescent sweetness, inside and out.

Even the word “speculoos” seems to sparkle, but if it doesn’t dance across your tongue in quite the same way, you could just as happily use creamy peanut butter instead. The results will be every bit as dazzling.

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Hello Gourd-geous!

No Thanksgiving dinner would be complete without a pumpkin pie on the menu. Over 50 million of the crusted custards meet their demise on this fateful day, despite the fact that the pilgrims didn’t serve a single slice at the first harvest celebration. Somehow, the American love affair with the warmly spiced, sweet and simple pastry blossomed into an obsession spanning the generations. Everyone has a secret recipe that their grandma made, or a special twist that no one can replicate.

My enthusiasm for pumpkin pie is admittedly a bit tepid at best. It’s just so predictable, so plain! Every bite has the same flavor, the same texture, the same sugar overload. That was, until at a friend’s behest, I tried topping tradition- Literally.

Crisp, buttery streusel, the best part of crumb cake and bakery muffins, turns ho-hum pumpkin pie into the legendary dessert that everyone will crave all year long. The creamy filling itself is still the main attraction, sweetened with a balanced hand and highly aromatic, redolent of cinnamon, ginger, and nutmeg.

Considering its popularity, there’s no need to give the classic pumpkin pie a gut renovation. Just a light touch-up, once in a century or two, may help win over some new fans.

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One and Done

One bowl. Six ingredients. No oil. No gluten.

Ready? Set? Bake!

It’s a lot to ask of one little loaf, but this pumpkin bread can truly do it all. Pared down to the bare essentials, it’s the ace up my sleeve for last-minute fall festivities or sudden sweet cravings. Everything comes straight out of the pantry and into the oven faster than you can say “good gourd!

Versatile, flexible, and endlessly adaptable, this basic foundation is just the beginning. Dress it up with nuts or seeds, get spicy with chai or apple pie blends, or go whole grain with buckwheat flour instead. Add cocoa powder, chocolate chips, and marshmallows, oh my!

This isn’t exclusively a bit of autumnal magic, either. Swap 3 – 4 large, ripe, mashed bananas for the pumpkin puree and you’ve suddenly got a crowd-pleasing perennial banana bread sensation to serve.

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Cupcake Wrecks

There should really be an emergency brake for life. Even a “check engine” light would be nice, for a bit of advanced warning when trouble is imminent. At bare minimum, airbags should come standard, right?

The signs become obvious only in hindsight, when we pick through the rubble to find where it all went wrong. Rather than one origin, one point of failure, an endless array of tiny fissures mar the surface of an otherwise solid foundation. Not cause for alarm by themselves, nothing that could ever bring down a building alone, but together, in concert, they set the stage for a crippling domino effect.

Overworked, under-slept, massively stressed, straining under oppressive deadlines, I still found myself incapable of simply saying “no.” Sound familiar? Each new opportunity sounded better than the last, and how could I possibly turn down good work? Passionate about what I do, I was living the dream, inundated by more jobs than I could handle! Everything was fantastic! Everyday was packed to the max, from the moment my sweet pup jumped on my head at 5am until I collapsed back into bed at midnight. The to-do list was endless, but I loved all of the work. If not for those harsh time constraints, it would have been perfect.

Perfection is a fallacy at best, a dangerous delusion at worst.

Suddenly, but of course, unsurprisingly, the careful cloth I was weaving began to unravel as the stitches became more hurried, sloppy, and periodically missed the mark.

Preparing for the San Francisco World VegFest a mere week after being added to the roster of speakers, I hurried to bake a hundred mini Self-Frosting Peanut Butter Cupcakes to accompany my demo, sharing some basic baking tips out of Sweet Vegan Treats. Sweet and simply, this was easy stuff; a recipe I’d been making with great success for over a decade, to great acclaim. For whatever reason though, everything was going wrong. Perhaps I had been distracted by the photo shoots scheduled for later in the day, or client emails that begged for attention. Pulling the first pan out of the oven, I was shocked to discover that I had forgotten the frosting swirl- The single most important part of the whole assembly! What’s more, my beautiful little cupcakes had transformed into bizarre biscuits, shaped like mittens, of all things. What on earth? I could only ask myself in dismay and disappointment. Where is your head, girl?!

They were ruined, beyond repair. Hastily, I slapped on shoes, taking off at a dead sprint out to Berkeley Bowl, hunting fresh ingredients to begin anew. This could still be salvaged. There was still just enough time…

Violently shaken down to my knees, the pavement suddenly rose to meet me with unforgiving impact. I instinctively gripped my battered knees, but it did nothing to the lessen the tremors. The very bottom has dropped out beneath my feet, as the ground shook angrily below. It was another earthquake, but not just another; it was the big one that everyone had warned about. The catastrophic event that California had been overdue to experience, that we should have expected from the start.

I looked up towards the hills, assessing the damage, when something even more devastating caught my eye. The volcano sitting high on the horizon, long dormant, now spewed glowing cascades of molten lava, thick and syrupy, down across the land. Smothering homes with abandon, the fires began to spread from bone-dry brush along the way, and smoke as thick as grey cotton filled the air. It was coming my way.

Scrambling on top of the nearest car to delay the inevitable, I watched as magma washed away carefully planted succulents lining the streets just ahead, swallowing each helpless plant whole as if they were the salad course before the main meal. I distinctly recall my final thoughts, as the tires began to melt from the sheer intensity of the heat: Well, at least I don’t have to do the cupcake demo tomorrow…

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