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There is something innately drilled into the core of my being: EXPECTATION.  Especially during the holidays! Whether it’s baking or hosting, going to all of the events, wearing Christmas attire or having a perfectly decorated home, I have had a crazy elf-like compulsion since birth to be Martha Stewart (except if Martha were Ina Garten).  I want ALL Norman Rockwell, ALL the time… in my mind. 

Reality, on the other hand, is an entirely different thing.  Reality is the crazy number of hours put in and the guilt-ridden financial costs spent on hosting holiday dinners for 20. It’s the astronomical number of cookie platters you make for everyone you’ve ever met in your life and the devastation they’re not enjoyed due to special diets, eating vegan or gluten free. It’s the panic of going to every single function in the name of Christmas and never allowing yourself an opportunity to breathe.  BUT YOU LOVE IT, RIGHT???  And like a wing nut, in many ways I do.

But oftentimes, rather than be filled with inspiration and the real joy of the season, it can become a quiet comparison– a festering comparison to the instagram Martha Stewarts of the world that are nailing it, leading me to question all of my life choices.

And the worst part?  Even when I do get it ‘right’ and my life looks like a Pier One commercial for exactly 30 seconds, I’m usually let down.  I can control everything until I can’t.  People are late. There is weather.  Health emergencies.  Car accidents. Job losses. And the kicker?  FAMILY.  Oh, the joys of family! Don’t we all just have the PERFECT FAMILY???!!!  

(People, I adore my family but we’re all so different we ain’t never gonna be Norman Rockwell.  We’re more like you’re 12 year old niece’s watercolor version of Thomas Kincaid you bought at the family garage sale). 

This year especially– being eight months pregnant, the expectation doesn’t stop at owning Ina’s ‘Cooking For Jeffrey.’  Following the baby forums online, every post is about “Show us your nurseries!” or “Look at my maternity photos!”  The nurseries are adorably painted and themed, and– oh my God– these maternity photos are out of control.  Many of these goddess moms look like magical unicorns with their fresh flower crowns, big bellies and ethereal see through robes, walking through rivers, so connected to Mother Earth now as pregnant women… 

Having just moved from Washington to California at the start of my third trimester (and the chaos/reality/energy that comes with making major life decisions based solely on faith and trust), your expectations about pretty much everything are OBLITERATED.  

 

When reality set in and the angels whisper-screamed, “We are well aware of what you want, Martha, but you might want to pray to Mother Mary about what you need,” it put things in perspective right quick.  

We were magically taken care of in every way possible.  Within a month, my husband had his pick of jobs, we found a doctor, we got insurance.  Thanks to a young man my husband works with, we found a place to live for an amazing deal.  It was an emotional rollercoaster of a month, and of course we still have very real and legitimate fears and concerns, but when so much is taken care of for you so fast, you trust the journey.  You trust the angels.  You’re grateful your friends made room at their inn, your donkey is a Mazda Tribute and you’re grateful to not be pressured with a Christ-child.

It has made me think A LOT about expectations… and how not a single one friggin matters.  I kinda knew this already but I didn’t.  Never to this extent. 

What does motherhood really mean?  What does ‘successful motherhood’ look like?  What is a nursery? What is actually important? When all the popular and materialistic pregnancy bells and whistles of our culture are stripped away, as they have been for my husband and I in many ways, what does being pregnant really look like? 

Maybe it’s not about unicorn maternity photos.  Maybe it looks like stretch marks and duck fuzz…

Maybe we’re not branding our baby on Instagram or shopping for baby clothes at Ralph Lauren but we have a nursery!  This is what it looks like: 

The simplicity of having no expectations, makes what you have feel sooo abundant. It makes six bags of gifted baby boy clothes over-the-top exciting to put on our little girl.  

It has me thinking about the holidays… Without money for gifts or the energy for the bells and whistles of decorations, dinners, family or festivities– things that aren’t guaranteed for my husband and I this year, what does Christmas look like now? What does it mean? Is it the worst holiday ever or does it still get to be Christmas?  

Maybe it’s not about having your own tree.  Maybe it’s being grateful for a night with your seester, who does have all her delicious and magical bells and whistles up this year:

Maybe it’s not about a table with family and all the fixings. Maybe it’s an old school shout out to the very first Christmas and what that might look like today:

And if you’re really stripped of everything you’re accustomed to, maybe it’s just the audacity and hilarity of a cat’s butt on your neck while you were trying to write a blog about Christmas:

I think it’s worth a ponder…

For me, once I let go of all the white knuckled expectation about the holidays and pregnancy, it’s been a relief. Suddenly, we’re no longer behind. We’re right where we should be. To have people around that love us is enough. It’s sooo much more than most. Every gift you receive becomes a free fall of emotional gratitude. And at the risk of sounding overly sentimental, the situation itself truly becomes the biggest gift of the season. 

 

 

As a baker, you get a lot of requests!  From vegan to gluten-free, sugar free to no-nuts, there is always a special request.  And aside from folks with legitimate concerns, we all have that ‘special friend,’ don’t we?  For me, it’s my hilarious friend Millie. She lives on her own island, an island with one TV that only plays re-runs of ‘I Love Lucy’ and Yankees games.  For HER, I’ll say I’m making pumpkin cheesecake bars…

Millie:  “I love pumpkin cheesecake bars!!! Mandi J!  Can you make me some but without the bourbon white chocolate drizzle?  And none of the pumpkin? But add peanut butter.  Can you do  bittersweet chocolate? So much better for you.  Subtract the graham cracker crust. And if you could work in fava beans, you would be my FAVORITE Mandi J.  Not that you aren’t already.”

Mandi J:  “That means there’s no crust, Mills Vanills…

Millie:  “Does it need one?”

Mandi J:  “YES.” 

She cracks me up!!!  Totally one of my favorite people as she lives on the kind of island I want to visit. So I’m always trying to do my best with requests because I want everyone to be happy!!! BUT, if I’m going to agree to the bells and whistles it has to taste good.  Also, if it is naturally gluten free, vegan, etc.?  Even better!  

 

Insanely moist vegan chocolate cake covered with ganache and a gooey coconut filling.

Today’s recipe, is a SUPER yummy, SUPER decadent vegan german chocolate cake that you wouldn’t even know is vegan!  If you love rich and ooey gooey, this recipe is totally for you!  I came up with this cake combo for my hubby’s best friend’s birthday. For the cake, I adapted a cake recipe from The Minimalist Baker that I made into three layers.  I adapted a filling from Alice’s Tea Cup and used my go-to ganache recipe that I substituted.  The combo is truly decadent… 

I would also like to mention that writing happy birthday on a german chocolate cake is always a challenge.  😉

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And seriously, DON’T worry about calories.

“Eeeeeat, EAT!!!!  Nobody likes a skinny Santa…”  🙂

Mandi

 

Vegan German Chocolate Cake
Serves 8
An insanely delicious and moist vegan chocolate cake, covered with ganache and gooey coconut filling.
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Total Time
2 hr 40 min
Total Time
2 hr 40 min
For the cake
  1. 2 1/4 c. almond milk
  2. 1 T apple cider vinegar
  3. 2 c. unsweetened applesauce
  4. 3/4 c. strong brewed coffee
  5. 1 c. melted coconut oil
  6. 1 T vanilla
  7. 3 c. + 3 T. flour
  8. 2 c. sugar
  9. 1 1/2 c. unsweetened cocoa
  10. 1 T baking soda
  11. 1 1/2 tsp baking powder
  12. 1/2 tsp salt
For german chocolate filling
  1. 1/2 c. almond milk
  2. 1/4 c. cornstarch
  3. 1 pinch kosher salt
  4. 2 c. firmly packed dark brown sugar
  5. 1 1/2 c. coconut milk
  6. 2 tsp vanilla
  7. 3 c. sweetened shredded coconut
  8. 1 c. lightly toasted pecans, coarsely chopped
  9. 20-25 full-size toasted pecans for decorating (optional)
For ganache
  1. 1 1/2 c bittersweet vegan chocolate
  2. 1 c. almond milk
Instructions
  1. Preheat oven to 350. Line three 9 inch cake pans with parchment and grease with oil or vegan friendly spray.
For the cake
  1. Throw all of the ingredients into a large bowl and whisk the heck out of it! Disperse evenly into your three cake pans and bake for 20 minutes.
  2. Rotate pans and bake for about another 8 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean.
For the filling
  1. Whisk together the almond milk, cornstarch and salt in a bowl
  2. In a saucepan, dissolve the brown sugar in the coconut milk over med-high heat. Whisk until the mixture comes to a boil.
  3. Reduce heat to low and simmer for five minutes, or until slightly thickened.
  4. Pour the almond milk mixture into the saucepan and mix over low heat until the mixture is thick and smooth.
  5. Remove from heat and mix in vanilla, sweetened coconut and pecans. Let cool.
For ganache
  1. Heat the almond milk and bittersweet chips on low until glossy and smooth. Let cool to spreading consistency. (Or don't! I used it while it was still a bit warm & let it drizzle out the sides).
For assembly
  1. Shave the tops of the cakes off with a serrated knife so that the cakes are flat when you stack them.
  2. Carefully flip over your cake pans and put one cake circle on your plate. Spread with a third of the ganache. Then spread with a third of the german chocolate filling.
  3. Stack another cake on top of the german chocolate filling and repeat with ganache & more filling.
  4. Finally, stack your last cake on top. (It will be smoother if you flip over the last layer so the crumbly side is facing down). Cover with ganache & german chocolate filling. If you'd like, decorate the top of the cake with a circle of toasted unchopped pecans.
Notes
  1. To toast pecans: Place single layer on a baking sheet and toast at 350 for about 8 minutes, until lightly toasted and fragrant.
Adapted from Minimalist Baker, Alice's Tea Cup & My Own Whimsy
Adapted from Minimalist Baker, Alice's Tea Cup & My Own Whimsy
MandiCrocker https://mandicrocker.com/

 

 

 

 

 

 

CHRISTMAS!!!!  🙂  🙂  🙂

My family had lots of Christmas traditions growing up as a kid:  eating cookies, eating chex mix, eating fried dough on Christmas Eve, etc.  One of these traditions (prior to the eating) has always been frosting sugar cookies!  We used my ‘Aunt Sheila’s’ kick ass recipe every year, a quickie almond glaze for decorating and sprinkles, shredded coconut & nuts galore! Sugar cookies are one of the first things that come to mind when I think of Christmas because it really is fun at any age.  You could be a mom with small kids that is just hoping any of the icing ends up on the cookie or a baker that is dying to try out their new cookie cutter.  IT SHOULD BE FUN!!!

Whatever you do, don’t listen to THIS lady…  😉

This haggard old recipe has as many miles as Santa’s sleigh!  *snort*

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Now… deep breath…  I need you organic crunchy types to look at me. It’s going to be as hard for me as it is for you. Personally?  I’m not a fan of Crisco or any processed chemically things. GROSS!!! In fact, this is the only recipe I used that has Crisco in it. These cookies, however?  They need Crisco.  And, sadly, not the organic stuff.  Substituting butter makes these cookies delicious but crispy.  (I don’t believe in crispy sugar cookies). Substituting organic Crisco also makes them crispy– just not the same fat content. So if you don’t want these cookies to melt in your mouth with a satisfying chew and you’re going to substitute, go with the butter! But really, just use the dang Crisco.

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Sugar cookies can be a little daunting due to the need for a rolling pin, but trust me… YOU GOT THIS. First things first, set your oven to 375 and clean your countertop where you’ll be rolling out dough. I throw my flour and salt into a big bowl.  I then combine all of my wet ingredients (evaporated milk, eggs and vanilla) in a separate bowl.

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I use a measuring cup because it all fits in there and who doesn’t like less dishes!?  

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Then, I throw my butter and Crisco into my dry ingredients,  and with this fancy pie cutter, I cut all of the fat up until I get little bitty pea-sized pieces of butter.  You can also use a cuisinart instead!  Just pulse lightly until you get the desired pea size consistency. 

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Like these guys.  🙂

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Then, throw your sugar in there and give it a mix. 

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Make a well in the dry ingredients and fill it with the wet ingredients. 20161127-dsc_4342

 

Give it a light mix until everything is barely moistened. 20161127-dsc_4346  

Flour your countertop and dump out the goods. 20161127-dsc_4351

 

And then begin to knead it a bit and squeeze, adding the remaining crumbs along the way…

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Until it comes together into a ball!  It will be flaky.  🙂

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I always cut my dough in half just because it’s easier to roll out.  Always lightly flour on both sides so nothing sticks to the countertop or the rolling pin every time you flip, move or spin the dough. 

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You want to continue to roll out until its about a 1/4 inch.  20161127-dsc_4366

 

Then the fun part… Use those cutters!  🙂

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Lay them out on a cookie tray.  They can be fairly close as they don’t spread much.  Then, bake for 8-12 minutes depending on the size of your cookie.  If you see brown around the edges, you’ve gone too long.  I’ll actually lift a cookie up above my head with a spatula to see what it looks like on the bottom.  

Also, I believe in Christmas lobsters and Christmas martini glasses… 

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And then decorate!  Okay, maybe this is the most fun part.  🙂  For the icing, you just sift the powdered sugar into a bowl.  Add a little melted butter, a whiff of almond extract and a teaspoon of milk at a time until you get the desired spreading consistency. Separate the icing into separate bowls and add food gel to make various colors. 

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And remember… YOU CAN’T SCREW UP A SUGAR COOKIE.  JUST FROST IT AND EAT IT.  “Or I’ll pull up quick to retrieve it!”  😉20161127-dsc_4416

Kisses!

Mandi

Sugar Cookies
Buttery, melt in your mouth sugar cookies that retain their shape beautifully for icing!
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Prep Time
30 min
Total Time
2 hr
Prep Time
30 min
Total Time
2 hr
For cookies
  1. 4 c. flour
  2. 3/4 c. butter
  3. 1/4 c. crisco
  4. 1 1/2 c. sugar
  5. 2 eggs
  6. 5 T evaportated milk
  7. 1 tsp salt
  8. 1 tsp vanilla
For icing
  1. 4 c. powdered sugar
  2. 1 drop of almond extract
  3. 2 T. melted butter
  4. Milk to desired consistency
Instructions
  1. In a large bowl, whisk your flour and salt together. Cut in butter and crisco with a pastry cutter until chunks resemble the size of small peas. Mix in sugar.
  2. In a sepeate bowl, whisk together the eggs, evaporated milk and vanilla.
  3. Create a well in the dry ingredients and pour the wet ingredients into the middle. Mix until barely moistened.
  4. On a floured surface, dump out the dough and knead until it forms a ball. Roll out to 1/4 inch thickness. Cut out cookies with cutters.
  5. Lay cookies out on a tray with parchment and bake for 8-12 minutes, depending on size.
For icing
  1. Sift powdered sugar in a bowl. Add extract and melted butter. Whisk together and add milk until a teaspoon of milk at a time until desired consistency.
Notes
  1. Sugar cookie dough is like pie crust dough. It will be flaky! Be careful not to overwork.
  2. Check the bottoms of cookies to check doneness. If the edges have browned, you've gone too far.
MandiCrocker https://mandicrocker.com/