Author Archives: withthegrains

About withthegrains

Blogging about whole grains, film grains, wood grains, words and wanderings.

Rustic Root Vegetable Pie with Blue Cheese & Herbs

January 2015

Every other Saturday, the Urban Farmer bursts through the kitchen door in his decades-old Woolrich coat and snowy boots, and he raises a green bag into the air triumphantly. This prized green bag contains his CSA allotment (Community Supported Agriculture), and aside from supporting our region’s farmers, these bags of veggies have pushed us to cook more and to cook more creatively.

With The Grains Veggie Pie 01

Each CSA share is like a cooking show challenge. Beets, turnips, celeriac…go! For this specific green bag, the Urban Farmer really had pie on his mind. As I began to muse, he interjected my visions of beet slice rosettes atop sweetly spiced squash, “No, I want to make a savory pie.” Before he had finished verbalizing his pie goals, he had already begun peeling and chopping, so we dove into his savory plan in that fluid style of cooking- a sprinkle of this, a dash of that, a slice, a chop and a vague recipe underpinning.

With The Grains Veggie Pie 02

Recipe Notes: This recipe is very loose, and you can adapt it based on your winter vegetable bounty and personal preferences. We began with a large baking stone’s worth of roasted vegetables and had more than we needed for the pie, but that excess makes for easy, healthy dinners later in the week. I’ve been reading about sneaking vodka into pie crusts as way to combat the gluten formation that risks a tough crust. Rather than Vodka, I used a few Tablespoons of Art in the Age’s Sage liquor, hoping to avoid gluten and reap the benefits of the herb flavors. You can also experiment with the cheese, herbs and proteins. This would be delicious with salty shavings of pecorino, and next time, we’ll probably add a spicy sausage to the filling. Be inspired, get creative and go crazy!


Bon Appétit!

p.s: We’re looking forward to this time next year when we’ll be making rustic root veggie pies from the fruits of the Urban Farmer’s labor. He’ll be farming his own land this spring!

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Donut o’ the Month for Jojotastic: Chocolate Glazed Whole Wheat Donut

January 2015

The alarm sounds, and it’s a terrible, dreaded screech. It’s early and dark, and the days until summer vacation seem too endless to count. Spelling words and fraction rules whirl in my brain. Showered, dressed, and permed hair beginning to poof in that special 80s/90s way, I take my designated seat at the head of the table. I’m in elementary school, and this is my routine, but everything in my young world halts when mom brings me a donut for breakfast! Chocolate iced without any filling. This is my FAVORITE donut, and everyone in my family knows it. My sisters work at the local grocery store, and they spoil me with this donut all too often, especially around my birthday time.


Since January is my birthday month (yes, I said month. I’m one of those birthday gluttons), I had to make my childhood favorite for my Donut o’ the Month series on the blog, Jojotastic. However, I had to make my favorite donut in a more wholesome way.

With The Grains // Donut o' the Month- Chocolate Glazed Whole Wheat Donut

When I reflect on just how many donuts I ate as a child, I cringe a little at the thought of all the refined sugars, unpronounceable preservatives and unhealthy ingredients. Made from whole wheat pastry flour and fried in organic, non-gmo Safflower oil, this donut recipe offered me a trip down memory lane with much more peace of mind. My recipe calls for quite a bit of yeast, which does hit your palate with each bite, but the flavor hits in a way I like, especially since the yeast yields a fluffy crumb. I hope you break your morning routine with this delicious donut and take a trip down memory lane as well.


Bon Appetit!

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Cranberry Eggnog Cheesecake with a Whole Wheat Brownie Crust

January 2015

Famed by fall and our interpretation of the first Thanksgiving (Native Americans most likely were not making relishes and chutneys in 1621), the cranberry holds an esteemed position in the realm of berries. Yet, for all its revered, bold, scarlet beauty, it’s not the easiest berry to eat. It’s tart. It has a strange texture. It’s not the type of berry you just pop into your mouth by the handfull, but sugared cranberries…sugared cranberries are magical! A quick plunge in a gently warmed mixture of sugar and water, and the cranberry transforms. It’s firm but not stalky like its original texture. It’s just the right mix of sweet, tart, firm and juicy. Like a sip of something strong, the cranberry’s little plunge takes the edge off.

Eggnog Cranberry Cheesecake 02

As I marveled (truly marveled!) at the magic of this transforming process, I thought a lot about one of my best friends. Sandra is analytical, admirable, smart, sincere and the best sort of sassy. When I’m at my worst, she has the ability to empathize, to add reason and logic to my situation, helping me to sweeten the more sour moments of life. She knows my best and worst qualities and holds me accountable to my potential, never dwelling on my mistakes or faults. I wish we could share these heaps of sugared cranberries together (along with endless cups of tea and a bottle or two of wine), but for now, the phone is our unifier.

Eggnog Cranberry Cheesecake

If you’re lucky enough to share your city with your best friend, share this cheesecake as well. The written recipe may look a little daunting, but the end result is worth the multiple components. This cheesecake combines some of winter’s finest flavors- eggnog with hints of Wigle Whiskey’s Landlocked Spiced (made from local honey & similar to a rum). The sweet, juicy, sugared cranberries add just the right tart contrast to the rich, brownie crust, making for quite the layering of flavors in every bite!

Cranberry Eggnog Cheesecake w/ a Whole Wheat Brownie Crust & Sugared Cranberries
featuring hints of Wigle Whiskey’s Landlocked Spiced

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Whole Wheat Chocolate Matcha Bundt Cake w/ Matcha Buttercream

January 2014

When is quitting the right thing to do?

Society screams and shouts, “Winners never quit, and quitters never win,” but that advice, though well intentioned, is misguided. Life, and ultimately success, requires quitting every now and then, so how do you know if you’re seeking an out because the situation is actually wrong or because it’s too difficult? I’ve grappled with this question before, but it especially plagued me as the year came to a close.


Fortunately, it’s 2015, and the internet can be as much of a guru as a pious monk on a pristine mountaintop. Through the powers of the web, I stumbled upon The Dip: A Little Book That Teaches You When To Quit (and When To Stick) by Seth Godin. True to its title, this little book was short in length but powerful in message. I walked away with probing tools to help me answer my daunting question:

Am I willing to try to be the very best in the world? If I’m settling for mediocrity, something is wrong.
Am I panicking? Panicking is not the time to quit.

Who am I trying to influence? If I’m trying to influence one person, persistence has its limits.
What sort of measurable progress am I making?
Am I quitting before I have begun? The time to define quitting circumstances is at the outset of the endeavor, not at mile 7 of the marathon when fatigue and boredom set in.

Matcha Wreath Cake by With The Grains

Simple as some of the book was, reading these parameters gave me direction and reassurance and removed the pressure of the more Quitting = Failing philosophies. This topic of perseverance is especially relevant as we enter the more trying months of winter. The luster of the holidays has dulled, and the bone-chilling cold has descended. There are never enough warm layers, and leaving the corner nook of the couch requires more discipline than should be expected of one day. To the challenges of winter, I say extend and cling to the little joys of late December- a warm oven, festive decor, and the gatherings that warm the home. Keep your door clad in fragrant greens and your table decorated with deliciousness. Play in the snow. Do not panic. Do not give up.


Chocolate Matcha Bundt Cake with Matcha Peppermint Buttercream & Sugared Cranberries

This bundt cake is a colorful swirl of matcha cake and chocolate cake, topped with a Matcha Peppermint Buttercream and the sweet, tart burst of sugared cranberries. The matcha adds an earthy note to the cake, and one of my guests likened the flavor to a hint of rye flour. Matcha is a finely milled or fine powder green tea and is available at Asian grocers or online. Supposedly, the health benefits of matcha tea exceed those of green tea because when you drink matcha, you ingest the whole leaf, not just the brewed water, so go forth and eat this whole grain cake without guilt.

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Buckwheat Monkey Bread To Start A New Year

January 2015

Rather unexpectedly, I found myself in a church on New Year’s Eve. I hadn’t come to pray or to repent, much to my family’s chagrin. I had come to hear bagpipes and drums fill the expanse of the historical church. The youngest member of the band, a boy of small stature with pursed lips and determination, puffed his comparatively small cheeks and blew into the velvety instrument. The rest of the kilt-clad band joined him in the most beautiful rendition of Amazing Grace I have ever heard (listen to this and imagine you were there). The reverberating and syncopated instruments combined with the church’s acoustics to strike a chord deep inside me. The unsung lyrics played in my head, a vestige of a youth spent in church, and I blinked rapidly to block inexplicable tears.

Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me. I once was lost but now am found, was blind, but now I see. T’was Grace that taught my heart to fear. And Grace, my fears relieved. How precious did that Grace appear. The hour I first believed. Through many dangers, toils and snares. I have already come; ‘Tis Grace that brought me safe thus far and Grace will lead me home.

Buckwheat Monkey Bread by With The Grains

The two months leading to the moment in that pew had not been my most shining, sparkling moments. Quite the opposite. The past two months were filled with more doubt, more tears, more indecision and more insecurities than I had bottled within me in a long, long time. However, the past two months were also filled with a strong shoulder to cry on and supportive friends who proved their faith in me. Mere hours before that pew and that song, I had resolved to face my obstacles, to try harder, to give myself the benefit of the doubt, and above all, to have thicker skin and more confidence. The song was a booming affirmation. The journey is long and enduring, but there is redemption. Whether you call that redemption Grace or Determination or Resolve, is for you to decide. I no longer subscribe to a religious practice, but I wouldn’t doubt the existence of a higher power, and this church experience reminded me of the beautiful truths and philosophies one can pull from Christianity.

Buckwheat Monkey Bread by With The Grains

The bagpipes faded into architectural exploring, to hand holding, to grass-fed, beef hot dogs from a truck, to shivering, to staring at disorienting art, to the clanking of glasses and a kiss. The clock, or the iPhone rather, struck midnight, and there was a symbolic chance for a fresh start, for celebration, for brightness, and in an attempt to carry out a family tradition- a chance for Monkey Bread at breakfast, except this Monkey Bread was made my way- the grainy way!

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Pumpkin-Cranberry Buckwheat Waffles w/ @WigleWhiskey Landlocked Spiced

December 2014

As one who spends a lot of time crafting visual stories, it’s all too easy to straddle (read: dive over) that pencil-thin line between collector and hoarder. It becomes all too easy to elevate the potential of each and every object. “I could make that into…” or “that would be perfect for a post about…” or “what if I have an event and need that..?” Truth be told, I’ve had these mental dialogues since I was young. I clung to old drawings, old toys, old clothing because of the associated stories and potential future uses. I found plastic containers, boxes, pieces of paper and saw endless art projects, parcels, etc. Then one day you wake up and feel SURROUNDED- surrounded by stuff, by clutter, by stress.

Pumpkin Waffles

I’m no neat freak, and I’m no minimalist, but when stress strikes and procrastination whispers in my ear, I am prone to cleaning and purging, purging and cleaning. I recently hit one of these spells. Not quite ready to face the more difficult issues at hand, I dove into sorting my life, ie: my home. I filled bag after bag for Goodwill and bade farewell to the superfluous. Does this object have meaning? Does it represent a truly personal story? Have I used this object recently? Essentially, does this object exist in my life intentionally?

Waffle Breakfast

I still have a long way to go, but at the end of this purge session, I was able to breathe a little easier and welcome dear guests into my home for the holidays. What they saw were the more meaningful pieces, the more intentional stories and the most updated version of me. Much like cleaning out the cobwebs of my space, I’ve been reevaluating myself and considering what my true mission(s) is/are, what pieces of past me I should safeguard, what bad habits of current me need to go, what needs to change or improve, what needs to be rearranged, etc.

Farmer Eating Waffles

Gleaning the most meaningful objects from my collections meant making room for a splendid surprise from the Urban Farmer- a new-to-us waffle maker! A score from our friends at the Pittsburgh Vintage Mixer, we plugged in our new toy with a healthy dose of skepticism and anticipation, and before long, we had a plate full of lovely waffles. So long pancakes! So long waiting in line for waffles from crowded brunch scenes! A vestige of a different era in quality and longevity, this baby may outlive us all, and we’re looking forward to several slow mornings of syrup-filled nooks and crannies.

Waffle Stack

Rather than start with a basic waffle recipe, we went BIG! We went boozy. We went grain rich and flavor-FULL. After all the reflecting, questioning, purging and aspiring, starting big is a wonderfully delicious place to start. As you hunker down to review the last year and settle on what is important for the coming year, I hope you reward yourself with a beautiful scene, a confidant, hot coffee, a well deserved dose of laziness, and the type of brunch to make you savor every single bite.

Pumpkin Waffle for Quelcy

Pumpkin Cranberry Buckwheat Waffles + Cranberry Apple Topping + Landlocked Spiced Whipped Cream

When creating a recipe, I often look to weave a thread throughout the various elements of the dish. In this case, this over-the-top waffle breakfast features Wigle Whiskey’s Landlocked Spiced in each component. Made from scratch and pot-distilled from Pennsylvania buckwheat honey, this distilled mead is Wigle Whiskey’s uniquely inland approach to island spirits- landing somewhere between a rum and a brandy. Infused with whole, organic botanicals–roasted orange peel, cocoa nibs, whole vanilla beans and cinnamon, the result is a spirit with a vanilla nose and a complex body of pepper, cocoa and fig. It’s delicious, and I recommend a bottle, but if you’re closer to the sea and sunny skies, you can substitute the rum of your choice.

Happy New Year’s Eve!

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Whole Wheat Chocolate Gingerbread Layer Cake

December 2014

It had been too long, and he had missed making music, so the Urban Farmer strummed his guitar at the dining room table, where I worked on something far less poetic. His fingers and his voice learned their way through the latest Billy Bragg song. My Farmer’s smoother voice joined the deeper, raspier words of the recording. He played and repeated, played and repeated, but the poignant lyrics merited the repetition:

Deep down in the underground, atoms spinning round and round. Scientists monitor readings. Searching for the Holy Grail, the particle or at least the tale of the one who gives the universe its meaning. But what if there’s nothing, no big answer to find? What if we’re just passing through time?

Chocolate Gingerbread Layer Cake by WTG

Aside from a stint of piano lessons and a brief spell in the middle school orchestra, the only music these hands play is on Spotify. I’ve always been fascinated by words, writing and literature. Guiding a thought from mind to paper in a compelling way is challenging enough. These minds, who combine thought-provoking concepts with pleasing rhythms, harmonies and all the finer details of music making that escape me, these brilliant minds leave me awed and inspired like a child watching a magic routine for the very first time. A lack of technical understanding and raw talent might explain why many attribute these music maker’s talents to a higher power. Magic. God. Gumption. Who knows? It all leaves me pleasantly transfixed and inspired.

Chocolate Gingerbread Layer Cake

Music may not be my conduit for expression, but the baking and sharing of food is one of the ways I translate the stories in my head into something real. Some people regard baking as I regard music. It seems magical, daunting, impossible, the equivalent of a chemistry experiment, or maybe even divinely inspired. There is a lot of magic to this process of transforming disparate pantry items into inspired layers of wholesome decadence, but at a fundamental level, music and baking stem from a willingness to try.

Time and technique are required for full mastery, but to start, if you can reach the pedals or read the directions, you can make the layer cake. Whereas early tinkering might make for unpleasant melodies, a baking mistake here and there can still yield deliciousness. I may never find my voice through song, or strings, or keys. However, sharing these sentiments, these food inspired stories, and these images is the way I share my voice, and this tale tastes of chocolate, gingerbread and the most memorable moments of the holidays.

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