Orange Cardamom Honey Cake w/ @WigleWhiskey Landlocked Spiced

April 2015

The light rain saturated the sky like watercolors bleeding onto paper fibers- gradations from grays to bright blues seeped into the clouds. Below, branches swayed back and forth, growing fuller by the day with a captivating chartreuse. Inside, the curtains billowed and floated in the flicker of the returning sunlight. The cool air breezed through the fine mesh of the screen. Its worn, frayed holes caught flecks of light like tiny prisms on the periphery, and I listened to a rosined bow glide purposefully across four strings.

Whole Wheat Orange Honey Cake with @WigleWhiskey Landlocked Spiced // www.WithTheGrains.com

The lyrics, the light, the corner chair… it was that precise moment when the sun is warm, but the air is crisp, cool, and carries the scent of fresh rain. It’s not too hot, not too cold; not too damp, not too dry… it’s the perfect cusp, teetering on the edge of tan lines and summer wanderlust. The shadows and rays teased one another through water droplets on weathered wood, and the window framed the moment, like a long, slow detail in a film. These cusps call for deep breaths, far off gazes, closed mouths, quiet pauses, quiet thoughts and meandering minds. That window, that corner, and that chair is the best part of my day. It’s my corner of spring.

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From my quiet perch, the distant traffic became a wave crashing on a shoreline. The neighborhood had yet to emerge fully from winter’s dormancy, and the lull allowed the birds their due spotlight. They sang their return from every corner, and every now and then, there was a faint hum of a little bee at work.

Whole Wheat Orange Honey Cake with @WigleWhiskey Landlocked Spiced // www.WithTheGrains.com

I made this cake for the keepers of bees (the Urban Farmer amongst them). The apiarists gathered in a beautiful barn, where flowers hung from aged beams to dry. These men and women gathered to share the many lessons they had learned in their quests for liquid gold. If ever a spoonful could evoke what my spring corner embraces, it would be a spoonful of honey. This cake was an ode to the way a taste of honey distills a season into amber sweetness, with notes of a region’s beauty, so I featured a liquor that’s an ode to the region’s apiaries.

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Wigle Whiskey is a local distillery on a mission to restore Pennsylvania’s whiskey history, a mission I salute! Their playful approach to craft spirits always has them exploring and experimenting. One of their curious pursuits led them to create a Pennsylvania interpretation of Rum in celebration of our region’s prolific apiaries.

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Made from scratch and pot-distilled from Pennsylvania buckwheat honey, this distilled mead is a uniquely inland approach to island spirits with whole, organic botanicals–roasted orange peel, cocoa nibs, whole vanilla beans and cinnamon–to complement the buckwheat honey’s distinctive character. Simply put, Wigle’s Landlocked Spiced is just the right touch for a beekeeper’s cake (and for a beekeeper’s glass too!).

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To spring, bees & landlocked libations!
-Quelcy

Whole Wheat Orange Cardamom Honey Cake with Honey Candied Oranges & Whipped Cream featuring Wigle Whiskey Landlocked Spiced

About This Recipe: This recipe starts by candying oranges with honey, instead of the traditional sugar approach, which yields a more complex flavor. The remaining syrup finds its way into each element of the dessert. Add a Tablespoon or two to the whipped cream, and use the remaining syrup to seep into the cake when it’s fresh from the oven. Be sure to use a local, raw honey for the most flavor and to support your local beekeepers. If you’re not in Wigle’s shipping range, you can road trip to Pittsburgh, or substitute your favorite rum or mead. For a simple cocktail, add one of the honey candied orange slices to a glass of Landlocked Spiced on the rocks, and sip slowly.

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Roasted Carrot Cheesecake (Gluten Free)

April 2015

This cake makes me think of the proper white fences, bright green grasses and rose crowns of the Kentucky Derby. Much like the horses fighting to be the fastest, my mind has been racing lately. My eyes have been bigger than my stomach when it comes to piling ambitions on my to-do lists and then I chide myself for falling short of my expectations. In reality, I find myself closer to certain goals than I have ever been, but it’s all too easy to miss the individual markers when sprinting in circles.

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These are the times when adages will advise the overwhelmed, the anxious, the uninspired and the rushing masses to stop and smell the roses. However, recently I have found more relief in watching the creatures surrounding the roses- the bees.

Roasted Carrot Cheesecake  // www.WithTheGrains.com

The ceremony may have paled in comparison to the processions of real royalty, but watching The Urban Farmer release his Queen Bee felt momentous nonetheless. He had sequestered her from her subjects, allowing them time to accept her and her role. Cloaked in a mesh veil and long sleeves, The Urban Farmer opened the hives and released her from her special chamber. Her new kingdom accepted her, and all was well.

Roasted Carrot Cheesecake  // www.WithTheGrains.com

The worker bees feasted on sugar water and continued about their business, buzzing and crowding the door to their new home. Steadily, bees entered and exited the pencil-eraser-sized opening in the wooden box. Some ventured into the woods, while others returned, their legs fat and laden with yellow pollen. Sitting amongst a swarm of bees requires a certain stillness, but I found, they also inspire a certain stillness. Their buzzing patterns were mesmerizing and noticeably calming.

Roasted Carrot Cheesecake  // www.WithTheGrains.com

The Urban Farmer recently joked, “I didn’t become a farmer because I like people.” Whether farming, beekeeping, tapping maple trees or butchering a hog, these time honored traditions require just that- time and honor. We rushed and rushed to mechanize and streamline, but perhaps like energy, the rush can neither be created nor destroyed, simply transferred. After all our advancements, it seems all the rush went straight to our minds. While I’m not so deep in affectation as to shun all of our modern conveniences, I am grateful to have found this farmer who lends his peacefulness to my galloping thoughts. You can’t rush a bee, you can’t rush a seed, and you surely can’t rush a cheesecake. Nor should you rush eating it.

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Bon Appétit!
-Quelcy

p.s: Learn more about beekeeping in this post.

Roasted Carrot Cheesecake with Gluten Free Ginger Oat Crust

About This Recipe: Roasting enhances the natural sweetness of carrots, which inspired me to feature carrots in a dessert. Start with this Roasted Carrot Recipe, and then use a food processor to puree. The combination of spices yields a flavor very similar to a pumpkin cheesecake. Play with the spice combination if you want to emphasize the carrot flavor profile more.

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Flourless Dark Chocolate Torte with Roasted Carrot Buttercream

April 2015

The movement of the spoon filled his eyes with wonder, and his mouth opened as wide as possible. Mashed beets surrounded his precious lips like a first attempt at applying lipstick in a moving vehicle. His chubby fingers curled and tightened, and the bright green of a prematurely cut avocado squeezed through the opening of his tiny fist. The enterprising dog waited under the table patiently, hoping for fallen splatters of purée. “Now you’re just playing,” she scolded in jest, pushing the plate beyond his stubby reach.

Flourless Dark Chocolate Torte with Roasted Carrot Buttercream // www.WithTheGrains.com

When I first met The Urban Farmer’s future farmhand, aka his nephew, he was a mere string bean tucked in a pod, living off milk alone. Now he’s a chubby, little, army-crawling sweetpea eating yams, avocados, spinach, pears, apples, beets and even caviar on a very special occasion! Think about that leap, from liquid to colors, textures, and tastes. No wonder we approach food playfully when we are young!

Flourless Dark Chocolate Torte with Roasted Carrot Buttercream // www.WithTheGrains.com

Food is exciting, but eventually, even the most supportive mama has to intervene. Her desire to wear a shirt without spit-up stains or Gerber greens surpasses the amusement of a baby discovering his hands and how they clumsily wrap around this thing called a spoon. On our epic journey from milk to solid foods, there comes a point when the all-knowing adults reprimand, “don’t play with your food.”

Flourless Dark Chocolate Torte with Roasted Carrot Buttercream // www.WithTheGrains.com

I may not have a beet-stained face or squish avocado through my fist, but there is a sense of play I find in baking. A cake is like a blank page, and nature has given us so many ways to color. Why cheat and resort to artificial dyes and sugars? Just looking at a baby’s dinner, I saw so many inspirational hues. His “dessert” was spoonfuls of avocado, which led me to thinking, what other vegetables can we eat for dessert? Sure, there’s carrot cake, but what about carrot frosting?

Now we are playing with our food!

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Happy Playing!
-Quelcy

Flourless Chocolate Cardamom Torte with Roasted Carrot Cream Cheese Frosting

About This Recipe: Whipping egg whites into stiff peaks for the cake will take a long time, (i.e.: the length of a classic Bob Dylan folk anthem), but don’t lose heart. Fluffy egg whites make all the difference in this torte. The frosting starts by roasting carrots (follow this recipe but stick to the orange, red & yellow carrots for color purposes). Then simply puree the roasted carrots until smooth. For the frosting application, I used a #32 pastry tip. Have some piping fun, or simply spread with an offset spatula.

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Roasted Rainbow Carrots

April 2015

The association of orange and carrot is so fundamental, it surely exists on many a flash card as a color lesson for children. “What is orange?” the teacher asks enthusiastically. “Cawwots ahre owange,” small voices cry in unison (R’s are really hard!).

However, carrots used to represent the whole rainbow. Though apocryphal, the story has it the Dutch cultivated orange carrots as an homage to William of Orange, and the average person will eat 10,866 of those orange carrots in his lifetime (see statistic here). It’s high time to taste the real rainbow!

Roasted Rainbow Carrots // www.WithTheGrains.com

When I find wildly colorful, natural foods, I am inspired! How do I best channel those hues and intense flavors? I’ll share my wilder responses soon, but for now, let me start with a very simple rainbow carrot recipe. Roasted in coconut oil, the sweetness of these carrots really emerges, making them almost dessert worthy. For a wholesome treat, give your pup the nubby ends of the carrot after roasting rather than tossing them from the start.

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Here’s to tasting the REAL rainbow!
-Quelcy

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Whole Wheat Lemon Layer Cake with Lemon Rosemary Syrup & Candied Lemons

Wanted: Somebody to go back in time with me. This is not a joke. P.O. Box 91 Ocean View, WA 99393. You’ll get paid after we get back. Must bring your own weapons. Safety not guaranteed. I have only done this once before.

In 1997, John Silveira wrote the above as a joke classified ad to fill space in a tiny publication, for which he worked, called Backwoods Home Magazine. The ad was the inspiration for the indie film Safety Not Guaranteed, and though I liked the movie in an emotional rom-com way, Silveira’s side of the story, told recently on Reply Allwas more thought provoking.

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Response letters poured into the PO Box Silveira listed in the ad. Some letters were comical, some poked fun, but most were filled with regret, such as a woman who wrote from prison wanting to undo her part in the murder of her husband. Silveira, like most of us would be in this situation, was ill-equipped to deal with the fragile emotions flooding his mail. He felt remorse for the false sense of hope he had inspired in so many, which brings me to why his side of the story is far more thought provoking. Why did no one wish to travel back in time and relive a positive milestone?

Whole Wheat Lemon Layer Cake with Lemon Rosemary Syrup and Candied Lemons // www. WithTheGrains.com

I’m not sure what my first reaction would be if someone offered me the chance to go back in time. I’d like to think I’d request my dad’s surprise 50th birthday, dancing until dawn in Buenos Aires, or the first time I glimpsed the Urban Farmer. I like to think I live my life without regrets, but do I live my life with enough contentment and celebration?

Whole Wheat Lemon Layer Cake with Lemon Rosemary Syrup & Candied Lemons

Not having regrets doesn’t automatically mean contentment. We can’t go back in time and undo mistakes, undo hurts, undo losses, but we can fill our moments, savor our time and cherish those around us. I bake to share, to embrace a moment, to forge friendships and memories. Flour, eggs, butter and other fanciful concoctions merge magically into flavorful layers. We bite these celebratory cakes slowly from the fork, savoring the flavors as they hit our tastebuds- lemon? rosemary? what else do I taste? We use these cakes as our guides through our memories. “Oh yeah, that’s when you made me the bunny cake!”

Whole Wheat Lemon Layer Cake with Lemon Rosemary Syrup and Candied Lemons // www. WithTheGrains.com

We can’t go back, so we try to relive. A recipe becomes a celebration, and then we return to that recipe for nostalgia. We bake it for the next birthday or anniversary. In that way, traditions form and combat the uncontrollable passage of time ever so sweetly. This cake was for the Urban Farmer’s grandmother as she celebrated another year with a growing family.

What would you do? Would you travel back in time to redo or relive?

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Happy Baking!
-Quelcy

Whole Wheat Lemon Layer Cake with Lemon Rosemary Syrup & Candied Lemons

About This Recipe: Tart and herbal, this is a cake for early spring. Start by infusing simple syrup with fresh lemon slices and fresh rosemary. This process candies the lemons for the garnish and flavors the syrup. After the cake is removed from the oven, the simple syrup is added and seeps into the nooks and crannies of the cake, adding a citrus & herb accent to each bite. The same simple syrup is used to sweeten the whipped cream layer. Garnish with bright cheery fruit such as raspberries for the final touch.

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Meet A Beekeeper

April 2015

My grandparents were farmers in the middle-of-nowhwere South Dakota, where the air was pure, and the dirt roads were long and winding. Their rolling fields attracted a beekeeper, who paid for the use of their land with honey- not a bad form of commerce! When I was young, a trip to my grandparents’ house meant spoonfuls of the caramel colored, double-spun sweetness. When it came time to depart, Grandma would send us with a substantial supply of honey, which never made a noticeable dent in their stock. When I visited as an adult and learned Grandma & Grandpa were feeding their excess honey to their calves, I loaded a box of honey to take home- pounds! gallons! It was my treasured resource, and I rationed it stingily to my roommates. So deep is my love for honey, it may have subconsciously led me to true love.

Meet A Beekeeper // www.WithTheGrains.com

Entrance to Burgh Bees’ Apiary

Around this corner of the blogosphere, he is known as The Urban Farmer, but luckily for me, my agriculture-loving beau is also a beekeeper! As I type this, the Urban Farmer is bound for a farm to pick up his new bees. He’ll soon be mixing sugar and water to make their food and introduce them to their new home on his burgeoning urban farm! Last summer, I had the opportunity to watch him tend to his brood at his former hive location, and hopefully next summer, I’ll be sharing recipes made with lots and lots of his honey. Observing bees at work was a rare opportunity, so this post is my invitation for you to experience the process vicariously and take advantage of the Urban Farmer’s bee expertise. Without further ado…

Meet A Beekeeper // www.WithTheGrains.com

What drew you to beekeeping?

I lived in Hawaii for a few years, where it was really easy to live off the land. You could just pick fruit and eat healthily, but I also started to interact with people living off the land very intentionally. I became increasingly interested in growing my own food, urban farming and sustainability. I moved back to Pittsburgh about two years ago with the idea of starting an urban farm, and as I learned more and more, I saw bees as an integral component of a sustainable farm system.

Meet A Beekeeper // www.WithTheGrains.com

What made you decide to be a beekeeper?

I started to read more about the negative effects of GMO’s (Genetically Modified Organisms) and monocultures (growing a single crop, for a long time in vast areas, which prevents a diverse, year-round diet for bees and simultaneously depletes soil nutrients). The link between bee colony collapse [bees disappearing] and GMO’s seemed so obvious. Bees are dying, and people act as if it’s a big mystery, but if you look at the flaws of the industrial agricultural system, there’s an easy solution: support local honeybees. I chose to dive in completely and become a beekeeper.

Meet A Beekeeper // www.WithTheGrains.com

How does one become a beekeeper?

Pittsburgh is really fortunate to have the nonprofit Burgh Bees. I went through their program to learn the fundamentals, and then I kept bees in their apiary. Now I’m on the board, and we organize beekeeping events and gatherings to really push the community aspect as well.

Meet A Beekeeper // www.WithTheGrains.com

What’s the most interesting fact you learned about bees?

A bee’s work ethic is what really blows my mind! The first time I saw a baby bee chew its way out of its cell and go directly to work cleaning the hive, I knew I had a lot to learn from these creatures.

Meet A Beekeeper // www.WithTheGrains.com

What do you do with your honey?

Nothing yet. I had some hiccups last summer and mysteriously lost a Queen which set me back a few weeks. It’s also typical in a hive’s first winter to leave the honey for the bees, since honey is their only food throughout the winter months.

What’s next for you?

I’m starting an urban farm of my own! Acquiring lots in the city [of Pittsburgh] proved to be a bureaucratic nightmare, but I’m finally in the process of planting. As for my beekeeping goals, I’m starting a new hive on my farm.

Meet A Beekeeper // www.WithTheGrains.com

What can we do to support urban beekeeping?

First and foremost, buy lots of local honey! In addition to supporting beekeeping and bees, local honey boasts tremendous flavor, so it’s an easy choice. Make sure it comes from a frack-free region though. Fracking poses many environmental concerns to our food, air and water. This is an unfortunate consequence of the industrial presence in our region.

When it comes to other food purchases, pay careful attention to your labels. Stay clear of pesticides and GMOs, which harm the bees. Buy organic foods, but even better than the organic label is a conversation with your local farmer about his or her growing practices.

Plant a bee-friendly garden. Zinnias, buttercups, peppers, and thyme are among many plants that help bees thrive.

Support farms that incorporate beekeeping as part of a sustainable system. This might require some investigating, but it’s worthwhile. Once you find out the best source for your region, tell other foodies and garden aficionados.

Still want to learn more? If you’re a Pittsburgh resident, you can attend an open apiary session with Burgh Bees. You can also leave a question in the comments, and I’ll ask my expert. Soon enough, you’ll also be able to visit The Urban Farmer at his urban farm!

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Happy Honeying!
-Quelcy

A Floral Inspired Brunch feat. Lavender Lemon French Toast

April 2015

We sat picnicking in a sunny field, not far from the narrow streets, bordered by the cracking plaster of crooked old buildings. These little roads opened to the center plaza, where farmers had sold us apples as big as our heads, creamy, stinky cheeses, rustic breads laced with nuts and fruits, and a cheap bottle of wine that would keep a sommelier squawking for days. You wouldn’t recognize me in this sunny field.

Lemon Lavender Brunch // www.WithTheGrains.com

Close friends are often shocked when they glimpse this stage of my life. My hair was dreaded and spindled down my back. My flowing fabrics and loose garments spoke to my pseudo-hippy stage, but beyond my looks, you wouldn’t recognize me because I was still such a baby in my food journey. Those picnics in the very quaint and serene Aix-en-Provence taught me to appreciate ingredients, the effects of soil and flowers, why a name can only be applied when a strict set of standards are followed. In a word, terroir.

Lemon Lavender Brunch // www.WithTheGrains.com

When I glimpsed this green enamel bucket arrangement at Roxanne’s Dried Flowers, where I regularly style and photograph beautiful florals, I felt transported. I briefly returned to the narrow roads, crooked buildings, crackling plaster and bustling farmers markets of Aix-en-Provence. I returned to the centre-ville that taught me how bread, cheese, olives and wine tempt and lure me as much as an intricately prepared roast. In turn, the very provincial centerpiece inspired my brunch menu.

Lemon Lavender Brunch // www.WithTheGrains.com

Lemon Lavender Brunch // www.WithTheGrains.com

This easy side dish combines fennel, blood oranges, roasted red grapes and fennel greens with Pink Himalayan sea salt. Fennel is a staple in many provincial French recipes. Roasting the grapes adds an extra sweetness, and their shape mirrored the spherical Billy Buttons. The loose fennel greens added a color pop to match the green enamel bucket and the salal leaves.

Lemon Lavender Brunch // www.WithTheGrains.com

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When I set the table, I added a curly lemon peel garnish to each glass. The yellow peels picked up the yellow hues of the floral arrangement. For an inspired brunch cocktail, I invited guests to mix fresh-squeezed lemon juice, champagne, Art in the Age’s Sage Liquor and Royal Rose Lavender Lemon Simple Syrup, according to their flavor preferences. The tart lemon and sweet lavender mixed well with the herbal notes of the Sage Liquor to create a very fresh, spring drink. If you could drink in the hillsides of Provence, it might taste like this!

Lemon Lavender Brunch // www.WithTheGrains.com

As a token for each guest, I created simple nosegays using the same flowers as the arrangement. This carried my floral theme to the plates and made a lovely parting gesture to my guests. When it came time to fill those plates with food, my main dish was a Baked Whole Grain Lavender Infused French Toast.

Lemon Lavender Brunch // www.WithTheGrains.com

Pain Perdu, lost or wasted bread, the French call it, and aside from almond croissants, it’s one of my favorite French breakfasts. For my baked version, I served each portion with a dollop of homemade Lemon Lavender Whipped Cream and added a small sprinkling of loose lavender as a fragrant and flavorful garnish. As the morning progressed, with tart, herbal sips and sweet, syrupy, floral bites, part of me felt far, far away on a picnic in Provence.

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Bon Appétit!
-Quelcy

Baked Lavender Lemon French Toast with Lavender Lemon Whipped Cream

About This Recipe: Baked French Toast is best when assembled the night prior to your brunch, which makes morning preparations a lot easier. I infused cream with organic lavender, which soaks the bread overnight. The longer you infuse the lavender, the better, so start that step early. I sourced my organic lavender from a Farm-to-Table expo, but you can find it in certain specialty stores. Be sure to buy food-grade, organic lavender to avoid flowers sprayed with pesticides. When I was struggling to find lavender, I had purchased Royal Rose’s Lavender Lemon Simple Syrup, which I used in this recipe, but alternately, you can make your own.

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