Spiced rum caramel and a gingerbread cake

Christmas day has come and gone and I've looked at Orion's Belt from the cracks of evening branches, so proud of Virginia and the secrets between the birch trees. Thus far, highlights have included a Lego Movie Quote-Along with Aaron, chilly afternoon runs decked in fleece, going shot-for-shot with Dad's side of the family (who knew the Kohrs could handle their tequila so well?!!?!), and excitedly brushing up on my Italian...(!!!!!!) 

On Christmas morning we ate cinnamon buns with an orange cream cheese frosting and I painted a gingerbread cake. Gingerbread is my all-time favorite treat when it comes to holiday goodies. I love that the cookies look like little people and that I can dress them in whatever edible outfit I so choose. I love blending molasses and spices and then licking the beaters for that spicy warmth. I love it because it's so perfectly cozy. 

It's the season we long for extra arms to cover us in hugs and lips to soak our skin in kisses. Peppermint hot chocolate reminds us that we are not alone, and gingerbread traces our back with gentle fingertips. The holidays are SO DAMN COZY; a season for warm laundry and secrets and I really love that.

After we had sipped our port and the grownups retired the couch, Alec, Felix, Tina, Alex, and Ian all floated into my family room and down around the poker table. This location has served as our stomp-ground for many, many moons.  Back in the old days, our evenings consisted of truth or dare and shots and tumbles into the hottub. One night there were 25 sleeping bodies in my basement, and Al, Fe, and Teens and I made a nest out of blankets on the floor of the bathroom, allowing fifteen-year-old kids to climb over our bodies as we stayed up all night and told stories. Now that we're older, we casually drink beer and talk about our lack of funds and our excitement for what has yet to come.


Whenever these kids come over, I make them eat. I made them eat this cake, which sounds like it's not very good, but I promise you it is. The gingerbread and caramel and buttercream play together in a sweet game of leapfrog perfectly suited for the holidays. This year, I made them a pile of desserts: chocolate covered marshmallows, toffee, mexican wedding cookies, vanilla cupcakes, and gingerbread cake.

You can find the entire recipe, including the cake and caramel buttercream HERE, at Top with Cinnamon's adorable little blog. This cake demanded I make wet caramel for the first time ever, finally succeeding on attempt #3 (the first two attempts burnt as I stared over the saucepan and swore.) The original recipe calls for whiskey, but my cousins brew a mean spiced rum so I threw that in there instead. And then I threw the rum caramel into the frosting and OH WOAH. Four layers of nothing but cozy, delicious sugar.

spiced rum caramel sauce

1 cup plus 2 tbsp  granulated sugar sugar

1 1/4 cups heavy cream

1/4 cup unsalted butter

3 tsp spiced rum 

1 – 2 tsp flaky sea salt

Heat the sugar in a large saucepan over medium heat. Once the sugar starts to melt, swirl the sugar around the pan to break up any clumps without stirring. If necessary, use the bottom of a rubber spatula to gently smash any of the clumps.  

While the sugar melts, warm the cream and the butter in a separate saucepan until the butter is fully melted. Set aside. 

After the sugar is melted and has taken on a warm, amber color, remove the saucepan from the heat. Immediately whisk in the warm cream and butter. If the sugar begins to solidify, return the pan to the medium heat until the mixture is liquid. Stir in the salt and the rum. Pour the caramel through a sieve and then into a heat-proof bowl.  

You can put this caramel sauce on anything. Brownies, vanilla bean ice cream, apples, or the gingerbread cake. And said cake consumed with some sort of fire (candles always do) and sweet wine and laughs on a late night.

- Stay cozy 


Vegan chocolate-cranberry cake

The smell of coffee still triggers memories of Sunday mornings at my grandparents' former Pennsylvania home. On snowy December mornings before church, the grown-ups would pour themselves cups of coffee from the drip machine, discussing Pittsburgh football and the developments of the extended family while my brother and I snacked on the glorious and artificially-flavored Butterscotch Krumpets. My Pop-Pop leafed through the newspaper, and I copied him with the Sunday comics. 

I got a whiff of those memories earlier this week while making a chocolate cake. (!!!!!) Here the short story: the cake recipe called for freshly-brewed coffee, and so I brewed said coffee, and then promptly proceeded to spill the stuff all over my right hand. As the bad words fell from my mouth, I thought of those Sunday mornings and thought "Awww, never mind, Coffee. It's okay that you burnt me." It's funny how good memories can affect temporary pain.

But enough about that! On to the cake! Chocolate-cranberry cake! That's accidentally vegan because I'm running out of groceries and had to make do with what was in the kitchen!! A lot of exciting dishes (and art projects) start that way. 

I made this cake for a Christmas Party I attended Thursday evening. One of my high school best friends, Corinne, and another amazing high school friend, Austin, were visiting California along with Corinne's parents, and Corinne's godfather invited all of us to his big holiday blowout. Whew! In addition to all these familial connections, Corinne and Austin got ENGAGED (!!!) about a week ago, and were celebrating it up fiancé-style.. They two hit it off during sophomore year, when Corinne took on the seemingly-innocent role of Austin's Spanish tutor. I don't know how well Austin currently speaks Spanish, but given the circumstances,  I think the lessons seem to have paid off. (wink wink nudge nudge.) 

So in the spirit of Christmas and celebration, I tore through the cabinets of my baked goods and threw everything into a bowl, sneaking licks along the way. Chocolate cake batter is a dessert of it's own caliber, and provides a warm darkness that wraps me in up in a sexy, silk blanket. Sugared cranberries spill on a white plate, and I play Michael Bublé's Christmas album while still in my bathrobe and glasses. 

Christmas takes place in the kitchen, in my car, and the living room with Wes and Dylan. As the oven warms the chilly air (yes, LA is chilllllly!!!) and sprinkles and cranberries line the counters, I clap my hands in joy and say "it really is beginning to look and feel a lot like Christmas." 

One week and I'm on a redeye back to Virginia. Until then, friends, enjoy some chocolate cake. Don't let the vegan-ness of this cake steer you away; it's moist and fantastic and perfect for holiday parties. It's my little gift to the cows this year. The can keep their eggs and milk for the season while I lick the batter from a spoon.

vegan chocolate cranberry cake 

1 1/2 cups flour

1/3 cup cocoa powder

1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder

1/4 teaspoon salt

1 cup organic can sugar

1/2 cup safflower, vegetable, or canola oil

1 cup chilled brewed coffee

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

2 teaspoons apple cider vinegar

1 cup cranberries tossed with 2 tablespoons sugar 

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Using oil or spray, grease an 9-inch cake pan, then cut a circle of parchment and place it on the bottom, then oil. This makes such a wonderful difference!

In a medium bowl, combine the flour, cocoa, baking powder, salt, and sugar. Whisk together to break up any cocoa clumps. In a second medium bowl, combine the oil, coffee, and vanilla. Pour the wet ingredients into the dry and stir together until smooth. Stir in the cranberries.

Add the vinegar and stir. Some fizzing may occur as the vinegar interacts with the baking powder. Immediately, pour the batter into the pan. Bake for 30 to 40 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean. Take the cake out of the oven and cool completely on a rack. When cool, frost with the chocolate frosting and garnish with any remaining cranberries. 

Here is the chocolate frosting recipe I used. To keep it vegan, I substituted the butter with Earth Balance's buttery spread. 

This recipe was adapted from Big Girls Small Kitchen. Thanks, ladies!

- stay cozy

Adventures in Solvang

A natural museum, the exhibits painted in christmas shops and miniature ponies; Solvang is place for dreamers, tasters, and holiday-enthusiasts. Arrive at night and you'll be greeted with twinkling fairy lights and glass of pinot noir, preparing you for a sleigh ride into December.

Thanksgiving back east means frosted grass, 8am bloody marys, and collecting pinecones to decorate the centerpiece. Mish would be hard at work in the kitchen, while Uncle David and I lay flat on our bellies watching the parade as we chomped vodka-soaked celery sticks. Out in California, Thanksgiving is painted in shades of blue and gold. In the middle of this colorful landscape sits the town of Solvang. When my friend Dave first told me his family lived there, I proceeded to google image it and immediately thought he had sent me to some small town in Holland. Solvang was more than just blue and gold; it was red and white and Christmas-y and full of chocolate fudge and skeet shooting and coyotes and stars. So when Dave extended a Thanksgiving invite to Kaitlyn and I, we squealed and I threw my wooden shoes in a suitcase. 

We arrived just after sunset on Wednesday, meeting up with Dave and his best friend Dante. Molly and Rick Ballantine melted my soul with their immediate offering of red wine and enthusiastic embrace. Back in our Harrisonburg home, Kaitlyn and I slept next to one another in separate bedrooms. Neither of us could have predicted we'd eventually be sleeping next to one another in a Solvang bedroom equipped with amazing bathrobes and a cerulean wedding chest that I wanted to steal. But oh, oh, oh, I was glad we did! Especially at 8am, when Kaitlyn pulled the covers over her face and whispered "Happy Thanksgiving."

Thanksgiving-y things happened. There was a parade and a tennis game. I successfully threw a football. Oh, and cornhole!! Cornhole was great companion for this holiday, especially when paired with team Amante and team Daitlyn and team Stella Artois. Then there was the pinot noir, the turkey, the corn souffle, the roasted green beans, and the sausage-and-apple stuffing?! I was so excited I could have knocked the table over! (Which would have been a shame. There was a lot of wine on that table.) 

Celebration continued until the wee hours of the morning and then some more over the next 36 hours. We sang Sinatra around the piano, tasted wines, shot rifles that shattered clay pigeons, and visited the Sock Loft. We gave ourselves flash tattoos in the laundry room. Ohio and Michigan played against one another Saturday morning, and we celebrated with mimosas and pushups upon ever point scored. It led to some very tipsy and very enthusiastic exercise.

And in Solvang, where the food and fudge shops and wine pours from the sky, I remember that first kitchen meal. That time where I knew I was safe and with good people who cared about food and friends. We ate these carrots alongside flank steak, salad, and salted potatoes as the stars came out to play. 

molly's roasted carrots

8 imperator carrots (or others of a similar variety)

Olive oil 

Kosher salt and pepper to taste

Peel the carrots. Use a chef's knife to cut them into slices. (I like an uneven cut. It looks beautifully imperfect and rustic.)

Place the carrots on a baking sheet and drizzle with the desired amount of olive oil. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Using your hands, mix the carrots around the baking sheet to evenly distribute the oil and seasonings. 

Bake for 20-45 minutes, depending on how you like them. I do a solid 30. The longer you cook them, the softer they get. The edges also get oh-so-wonderfully charred. 

Let the holidays continue! I've discovered the Christmas radio station and now my LA drives are 10x more festive. Cheers, cheers, cheers.

- Stay cozy