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…

Continue reading “Cupcake Wrecks”

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Hummus

Hummus is smeared across my shoes, embedded into the breathable synthetic fiber, clinging tenaciously inside the vents. It’s as much a part of me as it is my footwear now, inextricably melded into the very foundation of existence.

In Israel, hummus is not an appetizer or a condiment; hummus is a meal. Thick swirls of silken chickpea puree undulate behind lashings of fiery red or green schug, mountains of minced garlic and onions, whole beans, and a flurry of smoked paprika, to be scooped up in warm, soft, pillowy pita bread, all in one fell swoop. Mind you, that’s only the most basic preparation, the bare minimum for admission.

Generous pools of toasted sesame tahini and grassy olive oil meet and mingle, blending, harmonizing together. Tiny rafts of minced parsley float on top, pushed along by the lively desert air. A few heavenly bites in, and small dish of fresh chopped tomatoes and cucumbers suddenly arrives at the table, unannounced. Are they complimentary? Did I order them and forget? This is best left unquestioned, because their brightness is an indispensable part of the party now.

More people pull up chairs, dropping mashed eggplant and strings of pickled red cabbage as they land. Roasted mushrooms sparkling in the midday sun, teasing umami flavor across every bite. A pinch of za’atar here, a sprinkle of sumac there, herbaceous, tangy, tart; no two tastes are ever quite the same. Chasing the same high becomes maddening, an impossible pursuit, yet never once does the endeavor disappoint.

Temperatures begin to fall as the sky glows orange, slowly fading to deeper and darker shades of red. Still, the central bowl remains as bountiful as the conversation, changing shape and color as friends filter in and out, adding their own flavors into the mix. Sometimes spicier, sometimes saltier, the unique blend always seems to suit the personalities gathering around.

Should the bottomless platter of pita travel too far out of reach, outstretched forks and spoons dart out like heat-seeking missiles, locked on to the central schmear. For all intents and purposes, it’s a creamy salad at this point, so why not skip the formalities and go straight for the good stuff?

When the moon trades shifts with the sun, stars blaze ahead, never once allowing darkness to descend. Alley cats cautiously emerge to scavenge for scraps; perhaps an errant chickpea that escaped, a messy dollop of baba ganoush splattered on the sidewalk below. The day continues on heedless of time, interrupted only by the intermittent silence of chewing. Only when the spread is fully demolished, dishes wiped clean, does the party finally pack it in.

Hummus is not just a type of food. Hummus is a way of life.

Lest I leave you hungry for more, here are a few of my favorite hummus recipes:

Broccoli and “Cheese” Hummus
Curry in a Hurry Hummus
Hummiki (Hummus-Tzatziki)
Hummus Primavera
Nacho Hummus

Thank God It’s FryDay

yEtiquette tip: Just order the French fries.

Your friends are lovely people, all of them, I’m sure. Some may just not have the confidence to ask for what they want. Perhaps they’re simply not self-aware enough to even know what they really want. They could be forgiven for all the salads, dressing on the side, no croutons, please, because this is the culture we live in. It’s polite to take the spartan, healthy path, while denying more decadent desires.

That’s why you’re doing them, yourself, and society at large a great favor by ordering the French fries. Don’t ask, don’t make a scene about it, still go for those giant bowls of frilly lettuces all the same. Nonchalantly push the glorious golden spuds into the center of the table, make subtle gestures to share if you must provide further encouragement, and consider the ice officially broken.

 

The Devil Eats Chocolate

“That’s very fattening.”

Dropping like a stone out of the clear blue sky, the unsolicited comment stopped me cold. I hadn’t even been aware of the man standing in front of my cart, blocking my slow procession down the aisle. An instinctual flicker of rage flashed before my eyes, as if I had been slapped and called out back for a fight. This? This innocent little chocolate bar I held in my hand, fattening? What had it ever done to deserve such a harsh insult, completely unprovoked?

I looked up quickly, startled by the intrusion. There was only one way to respond, as far as I could see.

Looking this odd stranger straight in the eye, I spoke clearly and calmly.

“Yep.”

Immediately, the decision was made under that advice. Into the cart went the candy, tossed nonchalantly. That was all such a careless exclamation warranted.

Pulling the cart away from the shelf, away from this intruder, an incredulous grin began to spread across my face. What a laughable claim! What a strange thing to interject! Perhaps I should be grateful he’s so deeply concerned with my nutritional well-being. As if “fattening” was a terrible condition that could be contracted and spread like a disease, it was so kind of him to take a stand against the evils of all confectionery the world over, starting with my misinformed purchase.

Taking my plunder outside the store, there was only one way to dispose of such dangerous contraband. Quickly removing the wrapper to dissect the scored rectangles, it broke like the flimsy villain facade it hid behind, shattering into dark brown splinters that glittered inside the foil sheath. Vanquishing the beast, piece after piece succumbed to a sharp bite of the teeth, and a slow melt over the tongue.

May this beast inflict its fattening ways over society no more.

The Dark Ages

When night falls, it plummets like a stone and crash-lands with a resounding thud. Darkness overtakes the sky by brute force, smudging out the sun in an deepening stain marring the clouds. There’s no gentle transition, no ombre sunset nor starry twilight. Like flipping off a light switch, the day is suddenly, starkly over.

Shelter is found in pinpricks across the landscape, by the electric flames of a thousand burning bulbs. They illuminate houses in neat little rows, strung together like bulky Christmas ornaments adorning the city, spilling their garish yellow glow across swaths of concrete. Biting into chunks of impenetrable shadow, clearing away the blackness pouring down all around, each luminous oasis is provides a brief flash of comfort.

Welcome home, they seem to whisper, You’re safe here. Behind glossy window panes, families gripe and groan about daily chores over hot dinners. Couples young and old sit quietly in front of a flickering TV screens, immersed in the latest new scandal or big ticket movie available to stream. Life continues on without missing a beat, unconcerned with the oppressive plague of night that has taken hold just beyond view. The darkness disguises our reality outside, but does not change that constant truth.

Build a Better Blog

Inspiring, overwhelming, humbling, invigorating, enlightening, stunning, and motivating; such a rush of seemingly discordant emotions percolated throughout hours of workshops and sessions during the 2018 WOWsummit. Bringing together bloggers from across the country for a 2-day celebration of this incredible online community, connecting screen names to real faces turned a potentially dry educational experience into a real-life reunion party. Beyond meeting and greeting, the main goal here was to share experiences, build stronger networks, and dispense invaluable advice.

With so much information to absorb packed into each discussion, you could easily fill a book after just one day on the expo floor. Condensing down some of the top tips that resonated with me, my notes are not all-inclusive nor definitive advice for guaranteed success, but bold reminders of how to step up my own game. There’s always more that can be done, whether you’re a complete novice or seasoned veteran, often with little extra effort needed. Want to know what resonated with me most? Here are the top tips that continue echoing through my brain…

Finding Your Voice and Personal Brand:

  • Think about your values
  • Speak from personal experience
  • Understand your purpose, know what you have to offer
  • Establish a mission based on your passion
  • Never lose yourself in branding; a human face is what others can connect with
  • Keep it real, not necessarily polished
  • Check in with your audience to find out what’s important to them
  • Numbers don’t tell the full story; quality over quantity always rules
  • Be honest, vulnerable, relatable
  • Have a focus, define your niche
  • Don’t dilute your brand by partnering with companies that don’t fit with your perspective
  • Define your own success; set goals, personally and professionally
  • Be consistent
  • Engage as much as possible
  • Have a schedule
  • Put yourself out there and reach out to brands you already support
  • Network, create connections with other bloggers

Working with Brands:

  • Make sure it’s a good fit; same audience, same perspective
  • Pay attention to detail (no spelling errors, get names right)
  • Do your research to know what they’ve done in the past
  • Give examples of what you will post, link to past work
  • Be clear about terms, goals
  • Encourage ongoing relationship, ambassadorship
  • Offer many options for collaborations
  • Giveaways, Facebook chats/ask and expert/Twitter party/unboxing
  • Don’t be afraid to negotiate
  • Make real connections; talk on the phone, meet in person if possible. Make it personal.
  • Stay in touch, follow up

To say that this is just a shallow overview would be generous. Anyone who’s attempted to blog for more than a day understands what a complex, crazy venture it is, which is why we’re all our greatest resources. What are your best practices for success? What keeps you blogging? Or, if you haven’t started, what’s stopping you from diving into the pool and joining the blogosphere? Come on, don’t just dip in a toe; jump head-first! There’s nothing to lose, and a whole community to gain.