I can’t remember the last time I had a valentine on Valentine’s Day. The holiday and all of its attendant bustle around romance, and the capitalization thereof, make me a bit queasy. My desire for love is a constant thrum that I try to keep at a dull roar, but the frenzy of Valentine’s Day often magnifies that thrum to a deafening, ugly-cry-inducing volume. It’s not that I don’t love love. I love love. It’s just that, despite all the years of work I’ve done on myself—all the self-inquiry, therapy, truth-telling, online dating, meditating, app using, manifesting, list-making, book reading, boundary setting, blind dating, and heart opening—with the aim of bringing a wonderful partner into my life, he’s still. not. here. So. Another Valentine’s Day sans love. Am I bumming you out yet?
I’m not trying to, I promise. I’m just being honest. And I like being honest with you. Because I know, even though it sometimes feels lonely in the space of singledom, I am most certainly not alone. And yes, I know I don’t need a valentine to buy me roses; I get them for half off in the discount floral section of Ralphs Grocery every week, thank you very much. I’ve gotten rather good at giving myself gifts, which is why this next announcement I have to share is particularly exciting for me. It feels like a gift to myself. It’s something I thought I’d only do when I had a partner, but I got impatient. And here we are. I’m doing it.
I’m moving to Topanga Canyon.
For those of you who don’t live in or near LA, this may not mean much. So let me break it down: Right now (and for the past nearly eight years), I’ve lived in a city. First in San Francisco, and then in West Hollywood. I look out my windows and see some wise old sycamore trees, some gaunt palm trees, and a sea of concrete: streets, sidewalks, apartment buildings, fire stations, fire escapes, concrete, asphalt, steel, metal, city. As you know if you’ve been a regular reader, this has been a challenge of varying degrees for me over the past couple years in particular. I went to Vermont last October and almost didn’t come back. I crave green, and stillness, and the opposite of gridlock.
I’ve always wanted to move to Topanga. From the moment I decided to move to LA, friends nudged me in the direction of its lush hills. But it just didn’t seem like a place to move as a single lady. I wanted to be in the way of all the men. The largest cross-section of eligible bachelors in town. I wanted them streaming past my door morning, noon, and night. You get the idea. Topanga seemed more like the place to go for the largest cross-section of crystal-loving back-to-nature Joni Mitchell types, a category I may or may not fall into—but I digress. The point was, it wasn’t the right time for me and Topanga.
But after I returned from Vermont last fall, I started looking with great devotion at the possibility. Given the right circumstances—a place to myself in close proximity to other people—wouldn’t it be lovely? To wake up to quiet, green (or golden, depending on the season) mountains. To go out my front door and be in the wild. To forage for mushrooms after the rain? To look out my bedroom window and see the ocean through the frame of the canyon?
Topanga is nestled into the bosom of the Santa Monica Mountains, north of Santa Monica and south of Malibu. It’s a community of homesteaders and artists, farmers and families. The town has kept out large chain stores and favored small mercantiles, health food stores, and cafes. There’s an outdoor Shakespeare theater called the Theatricum Botanicum and a restaurant called Inn of the Seventh Ray. I think my Alive Tribe ancestors would be proud. But most importantly, there are trees everywhere. It’s a fifteen minute drive to the ocean.
This, all of this, is the greatest gift to myself.
It’s a strange thing we do, withholding love from ourselves in the ways we need it most. I had made my geographical and physical happiness contingent on a partner, on some future moment in which I’d have someone else to want the same thing I wanted. But wasn’t it enough when I wanted it, all on my own?
Of course, there were questions of safety and practicality at play—and I’m fortunate to have found an incredible home with lovely people close at hand. I cannot wait to show you every single room of it. Particularly the kitchen, since I will finally—FINALLY—have a kitchen I can shoot in. And the views! Oh, the views. Holy Saint Valentine.
Let’s have some brownies about it, shall we?
These brownies are my answer to wanting something millennial pink, chocolate, delicious, and refined sugar-free to gorge myself on whilst celebrating my move and lamenting yet another year without a valentine. The brownies—from my friend Laura’s genius cookbook The First Mess—are fudgy, rich, and just the right amount sweet and salty. Incredibly, they’re also vegan, grain-free, and refined sugar-free. You seriously won’t know the difference. This is hands-down my favorite brownie recipe. Here I used Jodi’s one-bowl interpretation, from her site What’s Cooking Good Looking.
I smothered these brownies with an ultra-tangy blood orange blossom frosting made from whipped cream, crème fraîche, cream cheese, honey, and a blood orange juice reduction. The blood orange juice reduces to the most vibrant fuchsia red concentrate while the brownies bake, and the frosting whips together in just a few minutes. The addition of orange blossom water makes these extra dreamy. It’ll be hard not to eat the whole batch.
- LESS TANG: If you want a less tangy option, substitute mascarpone cheese for the crème fraîche and cream cheese.
- VEGAN: For a vegan frosting, omit all dairy and use 2-3 cups of chilled coconut cream instead.
BLOOD ORANGE BLOSSOM FUDGE BROWNIES (VEGAN OPTIONAL).
My favorite vegan fudge brownies (from Laura Wright's The First Mess) are topped with a luscious layer of tangy blood orange blossom frosting. It's a citrus season Valentine's Day dream, vegan optional!
Fudge Brownies from The First Mess
- 3/4 cup smooth, unsalted, unsweetened nut or sunflower seed butter (I used almond)
- 3/4 cup unsweetened applesauce
- 1/4 cup + 2 tablespoons maple syrup
- 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
- 1/2 cup chopped bittersweet chocolate (70%), plus more for garnish
- 1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
- 3 tablespoons coconut flour
- 3/4 teaspoon baking soda
- 1/2 teaspoon sea salt
Blood Orange Blossom Frosting
- 1/2 cup blood orange juice, from 2-3 medium blood oranges
- 2/3 cup heavy whipping cream, divided
- 1/3 cup whipped cream cheese
- 1/3 cup crème fraîche
- 3 tablespoons honey or sweetener of choice, or more to taste
- 1/2 teaspoon orange blossom water
Fudge Brownies from The First Mess
Preheat oven to 350ºF and line an 8x8" pan with parchment paper—give yourself some parchment overhang on all sides.
In a medium saucepan over low heat, combine the nut butter, applesauce, maple syrup, and vanilla extract. Stir until smooth, then add in the chopped chocolate and cocoa powder. Stir until completely smooth. Remove from heat.
Add the coconut flour, baking soda, and sea salt, and mix until smooth.
Pour the batter into the prepared pan, and bake for 25-30 minutes, until the brownies are firm and have a few light cracks on the top.
Remove from the oven and immediately pop the brownies in the freezer. Allow them to cool completely, then transfer to the fridge for at least an hour.
Blood Orange Blossom Frosting
Place blood orange juice in a small saucepan and bring to a boil, uncovered. Reduce to a high simmer and continue to simmer until the juice has been reduced by about half, 20-25 minutes. Place in fridge to cool.
When brownies are ready to frost, add 1/3 cup of the heavy cream to the cream cheese in a large mixing bowl. Mix on low until completely smooth—you're doing this to eliminate any clumps that might come from the cream cheese. Then add the remaining heavy cream, crème fraîche, honey (adjust sweetness as needed, acidity of citrus may vary), and orange blossom water and mix on high until medium peaks form.
Once the frosting is holding its shape, add in 3 tablespoons of the reduced blood orange juice. Use a silicone spatula to mix.
Once the brownies have chilled in the fridge, slather the frosting on top and sprinkle with finely chopped chocolate to garnish. To slice, run a sharp knife under hot water, dry, and cut. Keep frosted brownies in the fridge until ready to serve.
For a vegan variation, substitute the whipping cream, crème fraîche, and cream cheese for 2-3 cups of chilled coconut cream!