My Breakfast with Obama

April 2015

In the fall of 2009, Pittsburgh was an unnerving place to be. Leaders from the globe’s 20 major economies convened in our city for the G20. From the periphery, I observed protests, rattled police officers and an arsenal of army vehicles on our streets. With so many major thoroughfares shut down, the city felt like a ghost town. It was surreal, but as close as I was to the action, I never even glimpsed Obama.

Breakfast with Obama // www.WithTheGrains.com

Fast forward to 2011, and Pittsburgh welcomed President Obama with far more open arms. He had traveled to our steel city to unveil the Advanced Manufacturing Partnership. After emerging from its industrial collapse, Pittsburgh was the perfect backdrop for the announcement, but even though I worked for one of the plan’s poster child companies, Obama and I still did not meet.

Breakfast with Obama // www.WithTheGrains.com

In 2014, Obama returned again, with more goals and promises for manufacturing in America. Meanwhile, I was probably editing photos in a coffeeshop. An Obama sighting was just not in the cards.

Breakfast with Obama // www.WithTheGrains.com

BUT 2015…. 2015 was the year of THE QUELCY & OBAMA BREAKFAST!!!

Breakfast with Obama // www.WithTheGrains.com

Though it’s not my kind of place, when Obama is in town, he eats a classic American breakfast at the very vintage, Pittsburgh staple, Pamela’s Diner. When Obama is calling the shots, you don’t argue. You just suck it up and eat at a greasy spoon because… YOU’RE HAVING BREAKFAST WITH OBAMA! 

Breakfast with Obama // www.WithTheGrains.com

*april fools*april fools*april fools*

I may not have had breakfast with THE Obama, but I did have breakfast with the Bronx Obama, which is a noteworthy breakfast in its own right. You may have heard of Louis Ortiz, i.e. Bronx Obama, from an episode of This American Life. Like a superhero donning a cloak, when Louis Ortiz puts on his presidential suit, he becomes Obama. His thick Bronx accent fades. His mannerisms change. His posture heightens. He becomes a walking, talking Obama, and because of his impeccable impression, this widowed, single father, unemployed, army vet found himself an almost overnight media sensation.

Breakfast with Obama // www.WithTheGrains.com

Louis Ortiz caught the attention of filmmaker Ryan Murdock, and the documentary film Bronx Obama came to be. The documentary screened at a film festival near and dear to my heart, and thus, I had the opportunity to design a very presidential backdrop, photograph Louis with his adoring audience and have breakfast with the festival crew at Pamela’s, à laMy Breakfast with Obama!

Breakfast with Obama // www.WithTheGrains.com

Since Pamela’s is more Aunt Jemima than Vermont Maple Syrup, you’d be hard pressed to find me there without presidential intervention. Thus, I thought it best to leave my review to the very polite and political, real Obama, who was quoted as saying this after his appearance at this local institution,

“Before I answer this question [about Clinton voter turnout], these really were maybe the best pancakes I’ve tasted in a very long time. Get some take-out,” he directed the reporters. “You don’t even need syrup on them. They’ve got crispy edges. Yea, they are really good.”

Or, as Bronx Obama said when we were all hemming and hawing over the menu, “it’s either flapjacks or eggs. Easy.”

Breakfast with Obama // www.WithTheGrains.com

While we ate, Louis was low key, but when it came time to leave, he entertained. He posed appropriately with a painting of the President eating Pamela’s crispy, crepe-like pancakes. “Did your face naturally look like that?” someone asked him in awe, while others stared and whispered to each other in disbelief. “Could it be? Is it really him?”

Breakfast with Obama // www.WithTheGrains.com

Filmmaker Ryan Murdock had initially intended to follow several impersonators with his camera, but when he met Louis, it was clear where the story was. Louis was destined to be the center of attention. He’s naturally a character, warm, outgoing, confident and likable, but to my sappy self, what’s most compelling about this crazy tale of a presidential lookalike, is his motivation to provide for his daughter and send her to college.

Breakfast with Obama // www.WithTheGrains.com

From the Bronx to the spotlight, Louis is now a pro! He takes selfies better than tween girls, he’ll politely tell you if you’re blocking his light, and he always knows his best angle. That being said, he is tremendously gracious, humble and uplifting, as is filmmaker Ryan Murdock. It was a real privilege to eat American-size portions of greasy diner food with them.

Breakfast with Obama // www.WithTheGrains.com

Louis plans to ride this Obama impersonator tide as long as possible, and it will be interesting to see how he uses this rare platform for his own voice. He’s humble and optimistic and simply wants to share some positivity and lightness while assuming this venerated role. In my dream world, Bronx Obama and Kid President would hit the “campaign trail” together, spreading messages of unity, hope and above all else, laughter!

Breakfast with Obama // www.WithTheGrains.com

It may not have been breakfast with THE Obama, but in the grand scheme, I’m grateful for My Breakfast with Bronx Obama.

Breakfast with Obama // www.WithTheGrains.com

If you haven’t seen the film yet, you can check it out on Showtime and a slew of other media platforms. Pop some popcorn, and prepare to enter the really bizarre world of political impersonators. Maybe pack a tissue or two also because Louis’s role as a father is his best work!

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Happy April Fools’ Day!
-Quelcy

Whole Wheat Chocolate Chip Cashew Cookies

March 2015

There are times that call for impressively stacked cakes with fluffy frostings, meticulous preparation methods and elaborate settings. There are other times that call for something more spontaneous, something simple and sweet to cap off a night and satisfy a craving.

For those times, there are these cookies!

Whole Wheat Chocolate Chip Cashew Cookies // www.WithTheGrains.com

Cookies can be sweet, round reminders to appreciate the simplest of pleasures. When I need to refocus on these little joys, I find it’s worth putting pen to paper, making a list and reminding myself to be grateful and content.

Slow down. Calm down. Inhale. Exhale. Bake. Share. Repeat.

Whole Wheat Chocolate Chip Cashew Cookies // www.WithTheGrains.com

From pen to paper, from paper to web, from frenzies to thoughtful focus, these are the joys I jotted down recently:

Puppy sighs.
Grape hyacinths and the first scents of spring.
The faded ink of aged journal entries.
The many places a camera can take you.
Discovering humility in the midsts of great talent. 
Observing and appreciating the growth of a friendship through so many phases of life.
Loving someone so much, my heart bursts at the seams!
Staying up too late petting Julep because she curled next to me in the most precious wheel, and no matter how much I snuggle her, it’s never enough.
Baking my roundest, softest, gooiest cookies to date!

Whole Wheat Chocolate Chip Cashew Cookies // www.WithTheGrains.com

Dogs and cookies. Cookies and dogs. This may be my new mantra for savoring the simple things in life!

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Here’s to the chocolatey, gooey, round reminders!
-Quelcy

Whole Wheat Chocolate Chip Cashew Cookies

About this Recipe: Made with Bob’s Red Mill organic whole wheat pastry flour, these cookies are so soft and chewy with big bites of cashews. I recommend a high quality, dark chocolate chip such as Guittard, which I recommend for their use of all natural, non-gmo ingredients. For the cashews, either chop them coarsely, or simply use your fingers to break them in half.

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Roasted Beet Waffles with Sour Cherry Jam & Whipped Coconut Milk

March 2015

I feel warmer when I look at the magazine cover. It radiates with a glossy depiction of bright yellow flowers, knee-high leafy greens, a freewheeling chicken, plump carrots and a tender father-daughter gardening moment. It’s the Urban Farmer’s seed catalog, and by now, its pages are tattered, wrinkly and thoroughly perused. While he plotted how to fill his plots of land, I found myself caught up in the excitement of seed shopping. Not unlike combing through a favorite clothing company’s pages, I would interject with “oooh, will you buy that one?” However, this catalog shopping boasted a level of anticipation like no other.

Beet Waffles by With The Grains

From their exotic colors, to their wild patterns, to their poetic monikers (Silver Cloud Cannellini, Midori Giant, Kentucky Wonder, Who Gets Kissed?), each of these heirloom seeds contains a rich history and immeasurable potential. The Urban Farmer will plant and nurture these tiny seeds into fully fledged roots, fruits and vegetables. He’ll reclaim vacant land, restoring its purpose and a neighborhood’s pride, one cultivated row at a time. He’ll harvest, and he’ll nourish those who buy into this farming notion, those who will eat with confidence, knowing he has their health and wellbeing in mind every time he steps foot on that soil. His hands will callous, his heart will swell, and our cupboards will fill with new recipe inspiration,and all of this starts with pages in a seed catalog.

Beet Waffles by With The Grains

The Urban Farmer’s brunching mornings might be on hold for a spell, while he bends fence posts into hoop houses, tills and tills, plans his plots, and plants his seeds. Fortunately, we managed to savor a lazy waffle morning before the farm clock began to tick so loudly. This year, another farm’s beets inspired our brunch, but who knows how the Urban Farmer’s seeds will transform and inspire us next year?

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Here’s to Seeds, Soil & Stacks o’ Waffles!
-Quelcy

Roasted Beet Waffles with Sour Cherry Jam & Whipped Coconut Milk

About This Recipe: Above all, the beets add a bright, rosy hue and a faint sweetness to this waffle recipe. The cornmeal gives the waffle a bit of a crunch. The whipped coconut cream is light and fluffy, and a great non-dairy alternative to whipped cream. I recommend a slathering of Sour Cherry Jam or your favorite fruity spread.

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A Whole Wheat Roasted Beet Birthday Cake for @TheSeamRipper

March 2015

For a substantial period of my life, I had my mom photograph my daily outfit before “ootd” was a quotidian acronym. More specifically, I had my mom take a film photograph of my daily ensembles. This tells you two things: 1) My mom obviously loved me and supported my creative whims- enough to pay for film processing, and 2) I obviously cared a lot about clothing (I did have three significantly older sisters who loved to style me from day one, so this fascination was inevitable). Without latching onto the industry or specific names, fashion has always captivated me.

Vanilla Almond Cake with Roasted Beet Frosting by WithTheGrains.com

In middle school, I would write down my outfits on my homework agenda as a way to avoid repetition. In high school, I designed my prom dresses, which my mom patiently sewed while enduring my designer outbursts and tantrums [I’m sorry mom!]. College was a sea of inspiration. Surrounded by artistic nerds, I explored a wide variety of looks. Whilst in the throes of post-graduation, looming life questions, I even considered applying to FIT. Instead, I fled to France to iron a toddler’s pajamas and to gain a new appreciation for all-black ensembles, quality versus quantity, and form-flattering silhouettes. In one form or another though, fashion was always there.

Vanilla Almond Cake with Roasted Beet Frosting by WithTheGrains.com

Recently, a tattered page fell from one of my old notebooks. On it, I had transcribed a quote from the film Bill Cunningham New York about the namesake trailblazing, street-fashion photographer. In the film, he said,

“The wider world perceives fashion as a frivolity that should be done away with in the face of social upheavals and problems that are enormous. The point is, in fact, fashion is the armor to survive the reality of everyday life. I don’t think you could do away with it. It’d be like doing away with civilization.”

Vanilla Almond Cake with Roasted Beet Frosting by WithTheGrains.com

If we let it, a love of fashion can feel petty or vain, but Cunningham distilled a humanity from our outer layers. Arguably, he was praising beauty- in all its wild forms. It’s why his photography is so compelling. His shutter is not constrained to trends, rules or condescension. He captures the bold, the unique, the simple details a million others might miss in their rush. He weaves themes and stories in the passing of commuters and daily lives.

Vanilla Almond Cake with Roasted Beet Frosting by WithTheGrains.com

As the season shifts to spring breezes, and rays of warm sunshine return, I find myself re-inspired by my own outer construct. Winter was often a helpless heaping of layers in an attempt to stay almost warm, but like the blossoming bulbs, I am ready to reinvent myself. I am ready to emerge from winter’s dark palette and wear bright hues and bold new patterns. I am ready for new looks and a new version of myself. As Cunningham said recently, “You can put fashion down and say it doesn’t mean anything, but it does because each morning when you get dressed, when you go out, it just lifts your spirits.” By extension, one could say the same about many design based fields. These spirit-lifting details drive so much of what I do- from interiors, to events, to food, these elements of style have meaning and significance. Beautiful details have the potential to inspire stories and smiles and memories.

Vanilla Almond Cake with Roasted Beet Frosting by WithTheGrains.com

This cake was a birthday cake for a fashion maven, also known as The Seam Ripper. Rachel is a new friend of mine, and she is the type of woman you like instantly. She is smart, witty, comical, driven, and she believes beauty and style exist in all shapes and sizes. She also loves beets, so this cake was all about beauty and beets. Here’s to spring! Here’s to fashion and beauty and details! Here’s to cake!

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Bon Appétit, You Beauties!
-Quelcy

Whole Wheat Vanilla Almond Cake with Roasted Beet Frosting

About This Recipe: I used an organic lemon extract in this spongey cake recipe, which was slightly overpowered by the almond extract. I recommend using fresh zest if you want to enhance the lemon flavor. Since I don’t have an arsenal of cake pans, I used one 7-inch springform pan to make a very tall cake, and then cut layers from that. If you have multiples, bake individual layers, but you’ll have to adjust baking times accordingly. For an extra special touch, I garnished this cake with dried roses with special instructions not to eat them. You could use an edible fresh flower, berries or whatever inspires you!

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Chocolate Coconut Almond Granola & A Book Recommendation

March 2015

“You mean I don’t have to be dumb anymore?” was the quote that tugged at my heartstrings and like so many TED talks, it made my eyes blur with inspired tears and a renewed faith in humanity.

We all know the type of kid who would utter such a line. In my first grade class, he repeatedly would have earned “Red Lights” on our traffic themed disciplinary system. Perhaps in your class, he held the time-out record, or he routinely sat in the corner like a sinner indeterminately condemned to purgatory. There he lurked, stuck in labels, categorized as bad, troublesome, and uninterested in learning. Teachers merely tolerated him. Principals expected him, and parents were exasperated by him.

But this type of kid, when equipped with the right mindset, could be the next influential mathematician, the next Nobel Peace Prize winner, the next Michael Phelps…or the next Next. Mindset is that powerful.

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This is the encouraging premise of Carol Dweck’s TED talk entitled The Power of Believing That You Can Improve. I looked back on my own mindset as a kid. I feared a wrong answer like wallflowers fear contact with the opposite sex. I excelled in the arts, where concepts were less likely to be labeled wrong. Biology and Algebra stressed me to the point of nausea. In my mind, working harder in these subjects meant I wasn’t smart anymore. This is exactly what Dweck calls the Fixed Mindset. Wanting to understand her concepts on a deeper level, I dove into her book, Mindset: The New Psychology of Success.

Dweck proposes that everyone has either a fixed mindset or a growth mindset (and sometimes both). In a fixed mindset, you are who you are, your intelligence and talents are fixed, and your fate is to go through life avoiding challenge and failure. With a growth mindset, you see yourself as fluid, a work in progress. Your fate is one of growth and opportunity. The good news, says Dweck, is that mindsets are not set: at any time, you can learn to use a growth mindset to achieve success and happiness. Which mindset do you possess?

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The book changed my life, and I want it to change everyone’s lives. From coaches, to parents, to teachers, to spouses, to all of us as individuals, we all stand to achieve more of our potential when we approach life with a growth mentality. Once you read this book, you will overwhelmingly observe how we praise success and “natural talent.” Spend one moment around a baby, and you’ll hear adults swoon with the best of intentions, “You’re a genius! You’re so brilliant,” but you’ll be hard pressed to hear, “I’m so proud of how you persevered with that block set. You really put in the effort!”

Malcom Gladwell, the author and New Yorker writer, has suggested that,  “As a society, we value natural, effortless accomplishment over achievement through effort. We endow our heroes with superhuman abilities that led them inevitably toward greatness. It’s as if Midori popped out of the womb fiddling, Michael Jordan dribbling, and Picasso doodling.”

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These ideas of growth, progress and transparency resonate with me deeply. Occasionally, I look back on old blog posts, and I cringe. I want to hide these inferior attempts at styling, storytelling and photography in the dark recesses of some internet closet, but I resist that urge for perfection. This blog is a journal of my life through food, and that life is one of exploration, progress and growth. It’s also a life with the occasional brick of a cookie or failed dough, but we learn, and we grow. It takes effort to apply this growth mentality to all aspects of our lives, which is why I recommend reading Dweck’s guide to improving your mindset. I like to read while eating breakfast, so I also recommend baking this batch of granola to accompany you as you embark on this journey.

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Happy Reading!
-Quelcy

About This Recipe: Granola is surprisingly simple to make and simplifies your morning breakfast routine. The use of almond butter and cocoa yields thick clusters with layers of flavor. The unsweetened coconut adds a light hint of coconut flavor, and the coconut oil adds lots of healthy fats to your breakfast bowl. Serve with raw milk if available, or homemade almond milk. Those last sips of chocolatey milk after your last bite are a bonus treat!

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Roasted Beet Layer Cake with Coconut Beet Frosting & Red Currants

March 2015

“You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with.” -Jim Rohn

The Urban Farmer’s brother shared this quote with a vast room full of people. His goal was for them to reclaim their lives through health and nutrition. His motives were personal, his words eloquent, and his intentions honest. He used the quote to encourage his audience to align with others on the same nutrition track- a safety in numbers/accountability approach. I sat in the audience, considering some significant ties I had recently cut, and that quote resonated with me deeply. As it turns out, there’s a scientific/psychological truth to this idea of changing in response to our sphere of influence.

Roasted Beet Layer Cake with Beet Frosting & Red Currants // www.WithTheGrains.com

I discovered this link while listening to an episode of Invisibilia entitled Entanglement (lately, I am a voracious podcast listener, and I highly recommend the series). The story starts by describing an episode of Candid Camera. A man enters an elevator alone. Two people join him and face the wrong direction. The original man looks puzzled, but continues to face the door. Then a third person joins the elevator and also rotates away from the door. This is the final straw that causes the original man to follow suit. This is called Conformity, and it’s when your mother might interject, “if all your friends jumped off a bridge, would you?”

However, as the hosts of Invisibilia described, “whether you want to or not, all day long, you are engaged in a kind of synchronized dance with the people with whom you come in contact.” Psychologists call this intense and rapid mimicry Contagion. We subconsciously imitate activities like breathing patterns, blinking rates, tones, fidgeting, etc. Animals do this as well. We are wired this way, primitively, but what’s really intriguing is how we take on each other’s emotions too. Psychologists call this Emotional Contagion. Our faces leak our emotions- fear, grief, shame, joy, etc- all transferred through tiny micro expressions. My mind returned to the Jim Rohn quote, and the Emotional Contagion theory added a whole new level to surrounding oneself with truly positive, uplifting people.

Roasted Beet Layer Cake with Beet Frosting & Red Currants // www.WithTheGrains.com

I’m fortunate. The Urban Farmer and his people are good people. They love and support each other. They’re warm and welcoming. They care deeply for those around them. They’re the type of people you want to count amongst your five, to surround you, to influence you. Thus, when it came time for the Urban Farmer’s mama to celebrate another year of life, I wanted her celebration to be sweet, rosy and wholesome. This cake was for her.

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Here’s to the Positive Influences!
-Quelcy

Roasted Beet Layer Cake with Coconut Beet Frosting & Red Currants
(Gluten-free, Grain-free)

About This Recipe: My main goal for this cake was to create a dessert with a very low sugar content and to use coconut flour effectively (I had a major coconut flour FAIL recently). The combination of almond flour, coconut flour and arrowroot (crucial for a gluten-free recipe) yields a very light and spongey cake. The roasted beet adds a light sweetness. The whipped topping is naturally pink from a roasted beet puree making this cake a beautifully wholesome dessert!

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Creamy Coconut & Roasted Beet Soup

March 2015

Being that anything dog related attracts me like shiny objects attract cats, I recently watched a special on dogs trained for advanced military assignments. These dogs were fearless, fiercely concentrated and lovingly loyal. The premier trainer expounded the power of a dog’s sense of smell. I shall paraphrase:

We laymen understand a canine nose to be a powerful sniffer, but what we don’t understand is how precise their noses are. It’s not just (and yes, this is a dog talking), “I smell stew cooking from across the house.” It’s “I smell stew cooking from across the house, and that stew contains celery, ribeye, herbs de provence, garlic, broth, dried mustard, etc.” This insight really propelled my imagination.

Beet Soup by With The Grains

If dogs could speak, imagine the pretentious foodie shaming that would ensue. Assuming talking dogs would be welcomed in fine restaurants, a dog could sit next to a known, pretentious foodie. Both would order a beautifully colored, beet soup. Blended, this beautiful beet soup’s ingredients would largely be a mystery. The foodie and the dog would both begin to eat, one with the appropriate, golden soup spoon, the other with an entire muzzle in the porcelain bowl. The foodie would rattle on and on, just loving the sound of his own voice and astute ingredient observations.

Beet Soup by With The Grains

The friendly dog, with the beet stains forming on his fur, would say, “yes, I particularly like the blending of coconut oil, caramelized onion, garlic, sweet potatoes and parsnips.”

“Oh yes, me too,” the deflated foodie would scramble to reply.

“What’s really tasty is the chicken flavor from the stock, as well as the stock’s celery accent.”

“Yes, I was going to say the same,” the foodie would boast transparently.

The dog would continue to parse each blended and masked ingredient, while the foodie would name drop other restaurants to change the subject. The dog would proceed to put his muzzle in the glass of sparkling water to drink, bite off the fine linen from his neck, then make his way to the dog park. At the park, this esteemed palate would sniff other dogs’ butts, and if feeling peckish after such a light lunch, possibly graze on some dog shit. Oh what a giant touché this would be to our food snobbery.

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For the time being, we food snobs are safe. Our canine companions cannot yet shame us with their superior sense of smell. The only shaming are those big puppy eyes that stare at everyone around the dining room table, waiting for a bit of beet soup to hit the floor. Now that I have lured you with thoughts of dog butts and dog shit, let’s make some soup!

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Happy Imagining!
-Quelcy

Creamy Coconut & Roasted Beet Soup with Pistachios & Greek Yogurt

About This Recipe: Warm yet bright and colorful, this is the perfect soup transition from winter to spring. Thick and creamy, I even recommend spreading some on a thick, rusty bread for a unique sandwich. To make this soup, you’ll need either an immersion blender, food processor or regular blender. The texture of the soup is up to you. I’m a big fan of ginger, so this recipe calls for a sizable chunk. Adjust according to your fancy. Substitute a vegetable stock in the base and coconut cream for the garnish to make this vegan.

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