At a writing workshop, a colleague once asked me why I was writing a short story collection centered around travel writing when I wasn't the ideal person most envisioned as a protagonist of such novels. After all, that category is reserved for the Eat, Pray, Love types.
I trace my interest in travel writing back to my earliest childhood memories. Shortly before I was born, my family migrated from a small Tennessee town to Chicago in search of better jobs and opportunities.
Homelessness met them instead, and we bounced around from shelters to hotels and guest houses. We slept wherever we could safely crash, depending on how much money we had.
My family secured our first place of residence in Northern Chicago when I was around five, when the neighborhood was a cultural mix of Black and Eastern European communities. We lived comfortably. Food became our love language: Chinese takeaway on Thursdays, pizza on Fridays.
My mom taught me how to make dough from scratch. We treated guests to rich and layered lasagnas.
A tradition that sticks out is baking chocolate chip cookies on New Year's Eve.
Annually my older sister and I baked chocolate chip cookies that we ate while watching the Dick Clark special as the ball dropped. It was one of the few times I stayed up late.
We kept this tradition until I was seven when she'd fallen in love with a boyfriend who gave her a prized stuffed lion as a token of his affection. She sat me down, and in her calmest voice, explained that she was going to spend the holiday with him instead of me. I took the lion and stormed out of the apartment and threw it in the garbage.
Looking back on it, the chocolate chip cookies symbolized my vision of tradition. I imagined normal families, who didn't move around so much, baking cookies for special occasions. It was an expression of love that permeated my mind. The smell of brown sugar and butter sauntering from the kitchen promised me - I'll never leave you. They triggered memories of when I was the baby of the family, the spoiled brat who had all the love and support of my older siblings and my family. It was the only time we lived under the same roof. My father died, we moved out of the apartment and scattered across the country.
Chocolate chip cookies were one of the first food items I learned to bake when I transitioned to veganism. My best friend showed me her recipe, which I adapted using my family's recipe. At first, I thought everyone knew how to bake chocolate chips cookies, but they weren't. When I taught in Korea, I brought over a hundred of these cookies to a vegan potluck - no one saved me any. In graduate school, I brought these cookies to a vegan cafe that hired me to bake chocolate chip cookies. They always sold out, no matter how ugly these cookies were at the beginning. I only bake them for potlucks and special occasions now because it takes me back to those memories. Cookies are wholesome, sweet, warm - the embodiment of home.
If this is your first time baking vegan, keep in mind that you may need to make a few adjustments. Baking times vary and the cookies may be a little pale and soft, but don't fret. Since they contain less fat, vegan baked goods can dry up quickly, so let them rest for about twenty minutes before serving.
Chocolate chip cookies
Makes about two dozen
2.5 cups flour
1 cup vegan butter, cold (Don't substitute oil for this, not even coconut oil)
1.25 cups sugar
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
Dash of cinnamon
Dash of ground ginger (Optional, but it opens up the vanilla)
Pinch of salt
1-2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 teaspoons flax meal
6-7 teaspoons aquafaba (The water from a can of white beans)
1 cup vegan chocolate chips
1. Preheat your oven to 350 degrees F. Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper. You may use foil, but please spray with a generous amount of cooking oil.
2. Combine the flax meal with 6 teaspoons of aquafaba and vanilla extract. Set aside for at least five minutes to thicken.
3. In a larger, separate bowl combine the flour, sugar, baking soda, baking powder, cinnamon, salt, and ginger. Set aside.
4. Take the vegan butter out of the refrigerator. Place in a microwave-safe dish, and microwave for 10 seconds. The butter should still be cold to the touch.
5. Pour the wet ingredients into the dry ingredient mixture. Then, add the vegan butter and with an electric mixer, beat until combined. This should take no more than two minutes. Then pour chocolate chips over batter and beat for 30 seconds.
6. Using a small ice cream scoop or two tablespoons, shape the dough into balls. Place on parchment-lined cookie sheets, leave space for the cookies to spread.
7. Bake in the oven for 10 to 12 minutes. The cookies may be a little pale and soft in the middle, but don't worry. Once exposed to air, they'll continue to dry out.
8. Put cookies on a plate, container, or a bowl if you fancy. Enjoy!
Christina Marable is a mental health and wellness copywriter based in Washington, D.C. She is an alumni of Voice of Our Nations Arts (VONA) as a Travel Writing fellow. In 2018, she earned her Master of Fine Arts (MFA) in Creative Writing, where she completed her book of interlinked short stories. Currently, she’s querying her book. Her work’s been featured in Mace and Crown, LIVESTRONG, and Meaning Garden. Contact her at christinamarable.com. She’d love to hear from you!