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Dairy-Free Double Chocolate Banana Cake

  "What are your academic interests?"
  "Career field you could see yourself in?"
  "Have a major lined up by the end of sophomore year."
  "Oh, Journalism, you must really love writing and the news."
  "When are you opening your own bakery?"
  "What's your passion?"
  "What makes you happy?"

  I wiped off my palms for the 10th time as my well-meaning temporary advisor guided me through the sign-up process.  The entire day was devoted to getting transfers acclimated, and all around me I felt the vibe of uncertainty pulsing as we all tried to navigate our way around a new system.  Every time I turned a corner in the Union, I felt more than saw the memory ghosts intent upon making the day harder than it already had it to be.  My hands shook and I dropped a lot of things.  I came out with too many papers and enough anxiety to fill a five-gallon bucket.

  Fast forward to the weekend.  Lack of sleep and early early work mornings with far too many complicated customer interactions had me at the end of my rope.  Lying in my bed trying to will my eyes shut, I realized something.  Almost everything I do these days is forced.  Even writing, photographing, and talking about how much I love doing those things is forced.  All the fields I had signed up to explore in college were forced.  Or maybe not so much forced as they are just agiven.  I'm Ellen.  I'm a baker.  I'm a food photographer.  I'm a sweet tooth.

  I sat up and rubbed my eyes as something hit me with profound clarity.  My heart wasn't in any of it.

  Sure, I like doing this stuff, but neither is it everything to me.  I always always feel like there's something more I'm cut out for, I just haven't quite hit that niche yet.  I feel it around every corner, and that's what is leading me back to school.  To explore.  To stop working, to make myself take the time to get to know me again.

  With that thought finally put to rest I fell backwards and almost as soon as my head hit the pillow I fell asleep.  I've put a lot of thought into it since then, and it all makes sense.  The jealousy I've felt towards other more successful bloggers/bakers is not so much that I want their success as it is I want their drive and passion.  I want to put my everything into something and feel good about it, not forced or driven down.  The uneasiness that accompanies every conversation I've ever had with someone about my blog, baking, or photography stems from the very fact that this isn't something I want to actually pursue as a career.  It would drive me crazy.  I adore it all, making the food, photos, and posts....but I don't love it.  And frankly, there have been more days than not that it's driven me up a wall and across the ceiling.

  All in all, I have no idea where my exactly my passions are, but I have some inklings.  I want to follow those inklings and stop pressuring myself into having a super specific passion.  It's just unhealthy.

  I'm not leaving this space, that would still be like losing a little piece of myself.  But I do think that I'll become a bit more relaxed with it.  Try to put my spare time into different things and see what happens.  I've learned so much about myself in baking and writing, and I do not want that to stop.  I'm taking my crazy flour-dusted camera and laptop to my new apartment next month and they will stay with me through all of my upcoming college ventures.

  The pressure is off, but the oven is still on.  

  I had the biggest bunch of frozen bananas taking up freezer space, so I made my favorite banana bread and a new guy!  This chocolate-y, mildly underbaked (not even sorry about it, kinda love it actually), banana-infused hot mess was the best thing I did with my Monday off.  Dairy-free in honor of several new coworkers I've befriended over the months that unfortunately can't take the buttah or cheese.

  Oil and butter free, you don't remotely miss the dairy in these guys.  Bananas, applesauce, and a hint of molasses create all the moistness you could ever need.  Also, another deal breaker is the fact that these only require one bowl and a whisk.  I love one bowl recipes.

  Armed with this awesome new cake recipe and a weary but slightly more peaceful state of mind, I am so so ready/not ready to just be more.

Dairy-Free Double Chocolate Banana Cake
Yield: 9 pieces, or an 8x8 inch pan

  • 3 medium ripe bananas
  • 3/4 cup brown sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon molasses
  • 1/2 cup unsweetened applesauce
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 egg
  • 1 cup flour
  • 1/2 cup cocoa powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup chocolate chips
  • Mini chocolate chips for topping, optional

Preheat oven to 350 degrees and grease an 8x8 inch square pan.

Place your bananas in a medium bowl and mash 'em up with a fork.  Add the sugar and whisk thoroughly until combined.  Add the applesauce, molasses, vanilla, and egg until combined.  Whisk in the flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, and salt until just combined.  Stir in the chocolate chips.

Pour into prepared pan and bake and sprinkle with mini chocolate chips.  Bake for 25-30 minutes, until a toothpick comes out clean.  Allow to cool on a wire rack before serving.  

Sources: adapted slightly from Friday Is Cake Night


Pink Lemonade Crinkle Cookies

  It's June.  The months have been flying before my eyes these days, bookmarked by the occasional little blurb of a blog post.  I've had far too many people coming and going from my life lately.  I'm learning the ins and outs of latte art.  I'm working through a massive spring head cold.

  And I'm learning.  Always always always learning.  Some profound little life lesson/nugget of wisdom/unfortunate life experience seems to be popping up every week, and I'm just trying to take it all in.

  That being said, have you ever met a person that you just click with?  Like, almost instantaneously you feel comfortable being your weirdest self around them, and they around you.  I love those kindred spirits, and I tend to give them a little extra something when I can.  

  It's these kind of kindred spirits that awaken the baking flame within me.  Over time I find out what kind of flavors they like, baked good they prefer, and all that nonsense.  Subconsciously, my brain arranges all these little facts until one day it hits me with a brilliant idea.

  That is exactly how these delicate, sweet, tart, brilliantly pink cookies were born.  They basically embody the personality of the lady in question, and as soon as I had perfected the recipe, I couldn't wait to see her face when she bit into one.

  It's always an added bonus when such a specially catered baked good happens to thrill everyone else as well.  All who tried these were perplexed at first by the concept of pink lemonade in cookie form, but as soon as they'd had a taste I heard nothing but praise for these summer beauties.

  Descriptions ranged from "They're just the right amount of sweet," to "It's like a lemon bar, but not."  And mostly, and less confusing, "These are amazing."

  I tweaked a few knockoff recipes based on Pillsbury's ever famous Pink Lemonade Cookie to come up with these guys.  They're delicious and I'm so happy with how the lemon really shone through. 

  If you have a pink lemonade lover in your life with an insatiable sweet tooth and a face that you and everyone else just loves to see happy, make these.  Happy summer.

Pink Lemonade Crinkle Cookies
Yield: about 30 cookies

  • 2 1/2 cups flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/2 cup powdered pink lemonade mix (I used Country Time)
  • 1 egg
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 teaspoon lemon juice
  • a few drops of red food coloring
  • 3/4-1 cup powdered sugar, for rolling

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F and line two baking sheets with parchment paper.  Whisk together the flour, baking soda, and salt in a medium bowl and set aside.  

In a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment (or a large bowl with a hand mixer), beat the butter, granulated sugar, and pink lemonade mix on medium-high until very light and fluffy.  Add the egg, vanilla, and lemon juice and mix until thoroughly combined.  Add the dry ingredients in on low speed.  When the dry ingredients are almost completely incorporated, stop the mixer and add 2-3 drops of red food coloring to really bring out that pink.  Continue to mix until just incorporated.

Roll dough into 1-inch balls and roll in powdered sugar.  Place them 2 inches apart on the prepared baking sheets.  Bake for 10-12 minutes, rotating halfway through baking, or until the sides of the cookies are just starting to brown and/or firm up but the centers are still quite soft.  A soft center is key to the chewy cookie factor, they will continue to bake for a bit on the hot baking sheet.  Remove from oven and allow to cool for about 10 minutes before transferring to a cooling rack.  Store in an airtight container, obviously.

Sources: adapted lightly from I Can't Believe I Ate the Whole Thing