Vegan pecan pie cookie (all the pie taste, sans work)

It's December. And it's wonderful because it means I get to bake and bake and bake - unapologetically. Because baking Christmas cookies has been a family tradition since I was a little girl, we've already got a pretty extensive cookie repertoire down. And because all of those cookies are not only utterly delicious, they remind me of the days we piled into my grandmother's kitchen, pressing out the Wise Men's camels and pushing hershey kisses into peanut butter blossoms, there isn't a lot of room to expand on said cookie list.

However this past Thanksgiving, we stumbled upon a cookie that might finally make the coveted list.

The pecan pie cookie.

Seriously, this is the most perfect cookie ever created. I don't know if it's just me, but I've never successfully baked a pecan pie. OK, I think it probably is just me, but still, sometimes you want pie, but you don't want to go to all the work to get said pie. Let's face it, pecan pie, is kind of the drama queen of the dessert world.

Here's the beauty about this little cookie. If you don't want to make your own pie crust, you don't have to, you can use a premade one. If you want to make your own pie crust, you can make it extra buttery, extra flaky, extra vanillay. You can do whatever your heart desires with this little cookie.

Just don't skip the chocolate drizzle. It's necessary - just trust me.

Vegan pecan pie cookies
(Makes two dozen)
For the crust:
3 cups all purpose flour
2 cup whole wheat pastry flour
2 tsp salt
1/8 cup sugar
3 sticks vegan butter (we use Earth Balance)
1 cup vegetable shortening
2 cup cold water

For the filling:
1/4 cup (or half a stick) of vegan butter, melted
1 cup pecans (halved or chopped)
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
1/3 cup corn syrup
1/4 cup pure maple syrup
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup vegan chocolate chips for drizzle (don't skip the drizzle!)

For the crust, mix together the flours, sugar and salt. Stir in butter, vegetable shortening and cold water. Once blended, divide it into two balls, cover in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 15 minutes (makes rolling easier).

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. In a medium saucepan, combine vegan butter, brown sugar, corn syrup, maple syrup and salt. Cook on medium heat until the mixture starts to bubble. Stir in pecans. Remove from heat and set aside.

Take your pie crust out of the fridge and roll out until about 1/8-inch thick. Using a three-inch cookie cutter (I used one with fancy scalloped edges because it's the first three-inch one I actually found), cut out shapes. Combine dough and roll out as necessary, until you have 24 circles. Fold the edges around the tiny crusts, so the pecan filling can "sit" in them.

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and place crusts on sheet. Spoon filling onto cookie (not too much or it'll run over), just enough to "fill" the spot. Bake for 10-12 minutes, or until edges are light golden brown. Remove and cool on a wire rack. 

Once everything is cooled, microwave vegan chocolate chips in a ziplock bag (only took about 30 seconds in our microwave). Cut a tiny tip off the corner of the bag and use this to drizzle over cooled cookies. Allow chocolate drizzle to set (I placed in the fridge for about five minutes).

Take them everywhere and show them off, because not only are they delicious, they're super cute too.

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The grinch of Thanksgiving

I need to get some things off my chest. 

Some things I'm not so proud of. 

Some things I've been struggling with. 

And some things I'm coming to cope with. 

The last six months have been frustrating, for reasons I can't really find words for right now. I've found myself withdrawn from things I generally love, people I love. I've found myself forcing smiles and forcing happy thoughts. But the truth is, no amount of force is going to make me really mean that smile. No amount of force is going to make me positive. 

I've been selfish. I've been trying to cover up all these messy feelings, and unfortunately, today, of all days, they came pouring out. That's the thing about these emotions; there doesn't seem to be a right way to feel them. If I let myself be jealous, be sad, be unhappy, then I feel like I'm being ungrateful for what I've been given, what I've worked for. But if I don't allow myself to feel these things, then I exhaust myself trying to NOT feel them. Do you know how hard it is to NOT feel something? 

And at the end of the day, I was still bitter. Still upset. Still jealous. Still sad. Regardless of whether or not I allowed myself to show these feelings, they were still there. 

And the truth is, I haven't really found the answer to my problem - I'm not even sure there is one. I know I need to relinquish control, I need to accept that I will end up with exactly what I'm meant to. I believe deep down there is a plan for everyone, and whether or not I understand the one I've been given doesn't mean it's a bad one.

I know all these things. I need to believe these things. And yet, I'm still struggling daily with the little nuances of everyday life. Of being human. Of being flawed. Of having lost. Of not receiving. 

Three months ago we parted ways with close friends, we'd "grown apart." There wasn't a day that went by up until two weeks ago that I hadn't thought about this event. What I said, what I could have said, what I should have said. And then, two weeks ago, I was sitting in my basement with my family, our best friends and their children. And everything was so easy. The kids were bouncing around each other, the men were talking about professional wrestling (I know, I know) and the women were talking about candles or something that smelled good. And it was wonderful. It was seemless. And it hit me. Things shouldn't be so hard. Friendships don't have to be so hard. People can grow and change and can fight and bicker, but at the end of the day, it shouldn't have been that hard. 

And finally, I felt a lightness. I understood why things had to happen and I feel comfortable and at peace with what happened. 

Today someone I love had amazing news. Wonderful news. Jumping-for-joy, eat-the-whole-can-of-whipped-cream, dance-with-no-music, shout-from-the-rooftop news. And while I was overwhelmed with SO much happiness for them, I found myself wallowing in pity for me. Not because they didn't deserve it. Not because I deserved it more. But because I was disappointed. So I cried. I let myself feel whatever I wanted and then I decided to be done with it. I would be happy for them. I AM happy for them. 

And just like I didn't understand three months ago what was happening, I need to just accept that in time this will all make sense too. And regardless, it will all be OK. 

And so today, after being the grinch of Thanksgiving, I'm thankful to find this peace. And I'm thankful for the people in my life who teach me these things, help me accept these things and love me just the same. 

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Creamy vegan alfredo and zucchini noodles

I probably should have been born Italian. I have an immense love for any and everything they put on their pasta and pizzas, not to mention, the pasta. THE pizza. I am a lover of all things carbs. It's not a healthy love. In fact, it's probably been a catalyst to what made me not quite as healthy as I should be. 

One of the things that rivals my love of carbs, is the ooey-gooey, melty, creamy, liquidy-heaven alfredo sauce that you PUT on said carbs.

Mmmm alfredo sauce.

I've been in search of making the ultimate vegan version of this sauce for years now and I finally feel ready to share it with y'all. This recipe is like eight years in the making folks. That's a lot of years.

I've tried the tofu-based alfredo sauce and couldn't get past the semi-sterile taste it seemed to have. It's not a secret that I don't really have a love affair with tofu, however. I also tried the sauce using oodles of fake cheese, which while it was better than the tofu version, still seemed to complicate the very delicate balance of garlic, cheesy, creamy, simple goodness that a truly amazing alfredo has.

Finally, between a little vegan cheese, a simple white sauce base and some nutritional yeast, we have mastered the perfect alfredo sauce at the Chubby Vegan household!

Because of my unhealthy obsession with carbs, we purchased a veggie spiralizer from Williams Sonoma and have been using it to make veggie noodles. And seriously, they're so delicious and this little gadget was so worth it.

We also added some sautéed tempeh to give it a little more bulk and protein. We have made this multiple times since, and it has yet to disappoint!

Creamy vegan alfredo sauce:
(Serves 6)
3 TBS vegan butter
6 TBS all purpose flour
1.5 tsp salt
2 cups plain almond milk
1/3 cup no chicken broth (we use Imagine brand)
4 slices vegan provolone cheese (We use Daiya)
1/4 cup nutritional yeast
1 TBS minced garlic
1 TBS Italian seasoning

Optional: Tempeh, cubed and sautéed in olive oil with a sprinkle of italian seasoning. Pasta or five zucchinis, spiralized and sautéed on medium heat for 10 minutes with some olive oil. 

Melt vegan butter in a small saucepan on medium heat. Once it's melted, stir in all purpose flour. Whisk until it makes a runny paste. Whisk in plain almond milk and no chicken broth. Add nutritional yeast, blend well.  

Tear up vegan cheese slices and stir them into the mix. Bring to a boil, stirring constantly and then lower heat to a simmer and stir, for three to four minutes. Add in garlic and Italian seasoning. The sauce will thicken as it cools. Pour over pasta, veggie noodles or anything, because it's delicious. Top with tempeh or some veggie chicken strips. 

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How massively important communication REALLY is

The last few weeks have been sort of demanding. Between some downright hateful responses to a story on the website I'm an editor for (not CVM), to some throw-down, blowout, blood-curling tantrums from my kiddos, I've found myself reflecting a lot on communication lately.

Or, more specifically, the lack of communication in our everyday life. Or, even more specifcally, the breakdown of our ability to openly, honestly and respectfully communicate with each other in this day and age.

How absolutely terrifying is it, that with the technology we have at our means, the Facebooking, emailing, tweeting, Instagraming, texting, Facetiming, Skyping, phones on us making us connected 24 hours a day, we seem to be communicating less and less?

And I'm not pointing fingers at technology. Of course I can see the way it has degraded our face-to-face communication; I see the parents playing on their phones, counting their Facebook likes, meanwhile their children are playing pretend and aching for their moms and dads to sit down on the floor and join them. Any one can see that certain technologies, when abused, can lead to poor communication. But it's unfair to blame Snapchat and Netflix for the way WE use them, they're simply providing a service. We're the ones deciding what to do with them.

When it comes to all the means we have at our disposal, shouldn't it be easier than ever to call up that friend and tell them you miss them? Tell them something is bothering you? Tell them you're not happy with the way something is going? Between email and texting and phone calls, shouldn't it be simple to work your problems out, even if you're too embarrassed to do it face to face? If we want to make lasting, impactful relationships, shouldn't you WANT to communicate openly with each other?

Through the relationships I've formed in my life, I've learned so much about what I bring to the table. I've also learned what my opportunities are. I have a very dominating personality. I like to be the center of attention and I like to voice my opinion. I often find myself close friends with people who aren't so ready to communicate in this manner. I met my best friend in college. We bonded over her braiding my hair and sharing our scathing experiences with the opposite sex. She is loud and boisterous when she's comfortable with you, but when she's in a large group, her voice can be silenced. Sometimes, I found myself silencing her unintentionally. She helped me realize how intimidating I am when I communicate, because of my loud opinions, don't-care attitude and verbose choice of words at times.

Since then I have actively worked to communicate better, to not step on the little guy. I ask my friends if they have a problem. I ask my husband if I'm not hearing him. I tell my kids I'm listening and understand their feelings. I try to go out of my way to ensure the people I truly love feel heard and comfortable talking to me. And yet, at the end of the day, I still had people near and dear to me telling me that "I just didn't hear their needs," "they were scared to open up to me" and "we were drifting apart."

I've struggled for a few months now to grasp how people can just throw in the towel on a friendship. What I could have done to communicate better. And the truth is, there's only so much YOU can do. If it's just you talking, just you reaching out, just you asking questions, then it's simply a one-sided conversation. If someone would rather talk at you than with you, well, that's not really communication, is it?

Take for example my problem with work. While several readers enjoyed the article, we found a small group perceived the article in a very negative light. They were deeply offended and voiced their opinions on any platform they could. The problem was despite their fervor, they simply weren't willing to communicate with us. They were content yelling at us for gravely insulting them, but when we reached out to find out what they wanted, what they would like to see, only one of them interacted with us. ONE person. Instead, the others continued to point fingers at us, for pointing ours at them.

You cannot communicate with someone who isn't willing to communicate with you.

As human beings, we need to connect. We need to hear each other. We should speak kinder to each other. Care more about each other. With all these amazing ways to communicate with each other, we should be reaching out more. When is the last time you told your best friend you loved them? You missed them? How often do you ask people how they are, how their day was, and really listen to the answer? When is the last time someone asked you how you were, and you were honest and open with them?

George Bernard Shaw said "the single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place."

Have you really been communicating?

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Vegan chocolate-covered strawberry cupcakes

It's no secret that I'm a fan of all things sweet.

I'm particularly a fan of sweet things in cupcake form. 

And because my husband can't actually stomach a strawberry in it's berry delicious form, I have to come up with new and clever ways if I want to make a sweet strawberry treat. 

So for Sweetest Day a few weeks ago (yes, I'm a sap that celebrates this holiday, I always have and always will), I decided to turn chocolate-covered strawberries into a more edible delight for my husband.

And if you're STILL not a fan of Chubby Vegan Mom on Facebook, then you missed out on some serious vegan cupcake food porn.

This recipe uses a combination of strawberry jelly (to ensure seed-free frosting) and strawberry puree to flavor the cupcakes! 

The best part of this cupcake is how fancy schmancy it is. With the help of a quick chocolate mousse, vegan chocolate chips and a little vegetable oil, this recipe packs loads of strawberry with the perfect hints of chocolate. 

They're a wee-bit labor intensive, but I promise, they're worth the TLC. 

Vegan chocolate-covered strawberry cupcakes
(makes 24 cupcakes)
Cake ingredients:
2 cups all-purpose flour
1.5 cups cake flour
1 cup strawberries (pureed)
1/4 cup applesauce
1 cup sugar (it's a cupcake, I didn't say it was healthy)
1/2 cup water
1/2 cup vanilla coconut milk
2 tsps baking powder
Dash of salt
Optional 2-3 drops red food coloring (Our health food store sells a vegan, locally-sourced variety)

Chocolate mousse ingredients:
2  ripe avocados
1/2 cup cocoa powder
1/2 vanilla coconut milk
2 tsp sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract

Frosting ingredients:
1.5 sticks vegan butter, at room temperature, we used Earth Balance
6 cups powdered sugar
1/4 cup coconut milk
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/3 cup strawberry jelly, melted(I used some made for us by friends this past summer!)
Optional 2-3 drops red food coloring

Chocolate "shell" drizzle ingredients:
1 cup vegan chocolate chips
2 TBS vegetable oil

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. In a medium bowl mix together all your dry ingredients (all purpose and cake flour, sugar, baking powder and salt). Take your one cup of strawberries and puree them in your high-power blender or food processor. Soften your vegan butter in the microwave (again, soften, not melt) and pour into a large bowl with the rest of the liquid ingredients (strawberry puree, applesauce, coconut milk, water and optional food coloring). Stir the dry ingredients into the liquid ingredients (about a cup at a time) and then blend with a mixer.

Line your muffin pan with cupcake wrappers and fill each a little over half full. Bake for 20-25 minutes, the edges will pull away from the pan some and you'll be able to stick a toothpick into the middle and pull out out cleanly. Once they're done set them aside to cool.

Now, for the frosting. In a large mixing bowl, blend together 1.5 sticks vegan butter (at room temperature), coconut milk, jelly and vanilla extract. (Add optional food coloring if you'd like). Blend in powdered sugar (about a cup at a time), until it's all mixed together. Refrigerate until use. 

For the chocolate mousse, puree the avocado and set aside. Mix together the cocoa powder and milk and add to the avocado. Stir in the sugar, and vanilla extract, blend well with a mixer. Store in the fridge until you're ready. 

Once your cupcakes have cooled, use your finger to make a small hole in the center of the cupcake. (It should be deep enough to fill, but not so deep that it goes to the bottom). Using a bakers bag (or a zip lock bag with the tip cut off) fill the center of the cupcakes with the chocolate mousse (it's possible depending on the size of your strawberries that you may need more, make it as you need it).

Next, pipe on the frosting (I use a bakers bag and a really big tip, like the extra large ones, because they cover more ground and I'm a busy woman!). 

Set cupcakes aside and in a microwave-safe bowl, melt chocolate chips and vegetable oil. Take out and stir until well combined. Using a fork, drizzle this chocolate all over the frosted cupcakes. Wait 10-15 minutes for the chocolate "shell" to set and then serve! (We kept these in the fridge for a couple days until they were all gone). 

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