The sweet pink frosting on the lemon cookie beckons, reflecting the midday Scotts Valley sunlight. Adina Licht, 51, takes a bite of the lemon cookie and smiles in approval.
Because, as a vegan treat, made with olive oil not butter by 17-year-old Emily Leishman, it’s not the decadent transgression succumbing to the urge for assembly-line desserts might be.
“I have a passion for vegan baking and especially making it easy and fun for a lot of people,” Leishman said. “I love finding joy in what I do, and I find joy in baking.”
Licht, a local Girl Scouts volunteer and trained food scientist, has been advising Leishman on her Creativity, Activity and Service (CAS) project, which is part of the International Baccalaureate program at Scotts Valley High School.
CAS is one of the three essential components involved in achieving an IB diploma. It’s not formally assessed; however, students must submit reflections on their CAS efforts and provide evidence of hitting learning goals.
The “C” is the arts component, or for something that involves creative thinking. The “A” is about contributing to a healthy lifestyle. The “S” is for unpaid volunteer work that contributes to learning.
According to the official IB website, the CAS project serves as a counterweight to the other strenuous requirements of the diploma program.
Leishman started an Instagram account (@the_joys_of_baking) in September 2019 and earlier this year added a blog to pair with her social media presence. But the CAS project pushed her to find a way to use the virtual platform she was building to create a positive benefit for the wider community.
And so, her popular Instagram livestreams were born.
“The first one especially, I was nervous going into it,” she said, recalling the scene in her kitchen earlier this year. “I wasn’t really sure how it was going to go.”
Leishman says it’s not that she was shy exactly, just that it initially felt a tad unnatural.
“You’re there alone talking to people on a screen,” she said. “It was definitely something new to me.”
But soon enough, those jitters began to melt away as viewers began to watch—and even bake along.
“I thought, hey look people are actually interested in this,” she said. “It went really well.”
Licht has enjoyed seeing the neighborhood kids grow up over the years and says she’s always tried to find ways to help out in the community.
But watching Leishman—and advising her on her CAS project—comes with side benefits.
“One of the things that we got to do is exchange baked goods,” Licht said, adding that was particularly special during the dark pandemic days when everything was closed. “It’s so much fun.”
SVUSD Superintendent Tanya Krause said the IB program, and the CAS component of it, allows students to expand their horizons.
“I love the vegan baking thing,” she said. “I think that’s super cool.”
Krause lived as a vegetarian for two decades and says it’s great the next generation of people following a plant-based diet has more resources—like Leishman’s live streams—to turn to.
Leishman now has more than 3,300 followers on her Instagram. She uses the social media page to solicit votes for what to make next and posts photos of the results.
With momentum for the live streams building, and with more community members trying their hand at manifesting vegan goods, she says the project has been a success.
“I’ve never made anything that’s killed anyone,” she joked, adding she hopes to make use of the rest of the summer to promote the project. “I definitely want to do a couple more live streams.”
Leishman says the live streams have helped her feel more self-assured and given her practice of multitasking.
“It’s definitely more fast-paced than baking by myself,” she said, noting it’s essentially a form of public speaking. “Being able to do that and be confident in that, I think is really valuable.”
Leishman says the CAS project encourages youth to step outside their comfort zones.
“It kind of pushes you to maybe do things that you wouldn’t do,” she said, adding it also forces you to get better at time management. “It makes you a more well-rounded student.”
You can find a recipe for chocolate mint donuts (vegan, of course) on Leishman’s The Joy of Baking blog, thejoysofbaking.com/2022/06/15/chocolate-mint-donuts/.