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About withthegrains

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

Chai Coconut Granola

May 2015

A bright, lobster-like redness covered my legs unevenly, an odd roadmap of a morning spent crouching low and weeding. Tan lines, humidity, open windows, grass taller than my dog…all the signs of summer were falling into place. Then came the rain.

Chai Coconut Granola // www. WithTheGrains.com

The blank sky filled with gray. A few drops on the tattered screen quickly escalated into a downpour. The curtains fluttered dramatically as water hit the windowsills, and the view disappeared in a wall of water. I sat by the window and paused to absorb the cooling breeze and the smell of the fresh precipitation. I come from a long line of farmers whose thoughts were consumed by rain and food, food and rain. Too much rain, not enough food. Not enough rain, not enough food. Is it time to eat yet? Then I fell for the Urban Farmer, and now I too must think of rain and food, food and rain.

Chai Coconut Granola // www. WithTheGrains.com

This was a needed rain. On the farm, the rain meant an afternoon free of wrestling foot after foot of hose. At home, the rain meant a cool breeze and an excuse for a warm oven. It meant scents of vanilla and spices hit him at the stairwell, as he came home from growing greens, fences and the most beautiful rainbows of vegetables. The rain was vital.

Chai Coconut Granola // www. WithTheGrains.com

In addition to valuing the rain’s place in the farming system, I appreciated the break in the heat, sleeping under a feathery, down comforter, wearing a flannel, and the quiet rain brings to a neighborhood. Take advantage of these rainy days. Turn on your oven. Make this granola. Fill your cooled home with the scents of baking oats and sweet, peppery spices. Hold your mug of hot coffee near to you, and then take the last sip of milk from your granola- the best sip, the sip that tastes like chai and let’s your mind wander to truly hot locales with beautifully adorned elephantsornate temples and Chai Wallahs.

Single-Grain

Happy Rainy Days!
-Quelcy

Chai Coconut Granola

About This Recipe:
This recipe uses an organic chai tea concentrate to impart a hint of chai flavor to your morning bowl. My favorite is Tazo Chai. Most chai concentrates are sweetened, so I didn’t add any extra sweeteners to the recipe. If you make your own concentrate with tea bags, add maple or honey to the wet ingredients. If you want to emphasize the chai flavor even more, add the contents of a chai teabag or two to the dry ingredients.

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A Hindu Temple, An Indian Inspired Picnic & A Curry Roasted Potato Salad

May 2015

Wanderlust can be an excuse sometimes. In dreaming of distant adventures, foreign tongues and exotic foods, it can be all too easy to overlook the finer details of what’s close to home. In lamenting a lacking budget, it can be all too easy to feel lost in day-to-day routines and to visit the same old haunts. I’ve been guilty of this. Life is full of trade-offs, and when I took some creative leaps and financial risks, my passport began to collect dust, and I began to collect excuses.

Hindu Temple // www.WithTheGrains.com

My rootedness made my head spin, questioning if I were on the right path, if there were a light at the end of this tunnel, etc (i.e.: I should probably just take a yoga class and exhale these anxieties away). But wanderlust doesn’t come with a mileage requirement. I had failed to plan. I had failed to explore. I had failed to wander within my means, so I decided to cut through my own bullshit. Luckily, I had friends right there with me.

Hindu Temple and Picnic by With The Grains-12

I tried to approach my city and my region like a complete outsider, and like a clipboard-toting cruise director, I made a list, with headers, bullet points and links. I tried to recall all the “Oh! What’s that? We should go there!” moments and let Google fill in the gaps. One such place to make the list was the Sri Venkateswara Temple.

Hindu Temple // www.WithTheGrains.com

Perched atop a hill, this Hindu temple is visible from a busy Pittsburgh highway, but no matter how many times I’ve traveled that route, the temple has always shocked me. It was as if my eyes were playing tricks on me, as if an acre of India had somehow dropped onto available real estate in Western Pennsylvania. I had traveled past the temple so many times, it was high time to explore it!

Hindu Temple // www.WithTheGrains.com

With very little understanding of the visiting procedures, we made our way to the beacon of white, and much like the observation required of traveling abroad, we had to look, listen and imitate so as not to offend or overstep our boundaries. Photography isn’t permitted inside the temple, so I had to look and listen all the more.

Hindu Temple // www.WithTheGrains.com

When I stepped into the temple, the coolness of the floor hit my bare feet, the bright white of all the details radiated light, and I felt this immediate calm. Guided by the layout, we unknowingly performed the ritual circumambulation. The priests’ chants formed a relaxing background as we watched the rituals unfold. My friends and I sat close to one another, silently appreciating the sacredness all around us, and then we worked up the nerve to join an Archana in a shrine.

Hindu Temple // www.WithTheGrains.com

The priest walked with a lit flame on a silver lantern/urn of sorts, and we cupped the smoke toward our faces, followed by a turmeric-dyed water and another silver urn placed quickly and gently on our heads. We didn’t understand the significance, as the ritual all happened in what I assume was Hindi, but the process was very humbling and quieting.

Hindu Temple // www.WithTheGrains.com

Walking through the temple and joining the rituals made us appreciate the more philosophical elements of religion and the more universal messages- clear your mind, clear your heart, humble yourself, be present, be the light. I recalled a similar feeling when I sat in a Parisian Catholic church to escape the rain. I spoke French well enough to understand the priest, but if I let my mind drift, the verses were simply beautiful sounds strung together. There was something about the architecture and the ritual that combined to stir my emotions in a profound way. Some might attribute that feeling to a deity, but I prefer to linger in the agnostic and cull together the attributes that touch me the most.

Hindu Temple // www.WithTheGrains.com

With a new level of calm, we departed, found a park and enjoyed an Indian inspired picnic.

Indian Inspired Picnic // www.WithTheGrains.com

I often explore the way a journey inspires a recipe, but this day-trip and picnic were an example of a recipe inspiring a journey. I had received a packet of Rose & Chai spices in my RawSpiceBar subscription, which arrives like a souvenir, with stories, recipes and even a patterned paper from the spice’s land of origin. Receiving the package in the mail feels like a ritual unto itself, so I wanted to share the food in a special way as well. Knowing I was going to bake these Chai & Rose Nankhatai Cookies was the impetus for visiting the temple at long last. 

Indian Inspired Picnic // www.WithTheGrains.com

I might never have thought to have an Indian inspired picnic if it weren’t for my little elephant chai cookies, but the menu turned out to be perfect picnic food so much so we coined the term piknir.

Indian Inspired Picnic // www.WithTheGrains.com

Nina packed several traditional Indian dishes in her authentic, stackable Indian lunch tin and paired them with a few varieties of naan. Kara provided the iced chai and fresh mango. Didi provided chutneys and the mint & fennel combination Indian restaurants serve after a meal. I added the chai cookies and a curry roasted sweet potato salad.

Indian Inspired Picnic // www.WithTheGrains.com

In a tribute to the spiritual calm we felt from the temple, we made our own picnic basket shrine to Ganesha, complete with the bananas we received after completing the Archana. Ganesha is widely revered as the remover of obstacles, so we shared our individual obstacles. These topics may never have emerged on a typical picnic, but sharing these vulnerabilities was really comforting and inspiring. We were able to hear each other, to relate, and to boost each other as well, and that may never have happened if it weren’t for a cookie recipe!

Indian Inspired Picnic // www.WithTheGrains.com

Here’s to cutting through our bullshit. Here’s to exploring. Here’s to observing. Here’s to gleaning the philosophies that make us better beings, and here’s to cookie inspired journeys!

Single-Grain

Namaste!
-Quelcy

Curry Roasted Potato Salad for an Indian Inspired Picnic

About This Recipe: Be loose with this recipe! It should come together fluidly, tasting as you go and trusting your spice instincts. The addition of greens means you take in more veggies than a traditional picnic potato salad. I suggest kale or a heartier green for texture. I added hemp hearts for a slight crunch. They’re available at Trader Joe’s, but if you can’t find them, you can substitute flax or the chopped nut of your choice. I spiced my version heavily with turmeric, which adds a mild, warm, peppery flavor but a bright color and a variety of health benefits.

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Chai & Rose Nankhatai Cookies featuring @RawSpiceBar

May 2015

There is the French bakery, and then there is the French boulangerie with reflections of the Tour Eiffel in the display cases. There are tapas, and then there are tapas amidst a mob of fútbol fans. There are empanadas, and then there are empanadas made by the madres who fought for their sons’ freedom from government corruption. There are cachacas, and then there are sweet, refreshing cachaças after taking in the views of sugar loaves and an omipotent redeemer. There are chai lattes, and then there are chais from earnest workers in slums, where school girls gather to practice their English and request their photos. The blurred lines of the globe fill us with glimpses and tastes, teasing and toying with the wanderlust stirring inside those of us who feel its tug. These foods and their customs, the way they lead us to expand ourselves and later revel in nostalgia, these are the connections I explore through mixing bowls, whisks and spices.

Chai & Rose Nankhatai Cookies featuring @RawSpiceBar // www.WithTheGrains.com

Spices…the colors, the textures, the scents…transport us, to places we have been and to places we have only imagined. The sealed, glass jar of turmeric at the grocery store pales in comparison to the freshly ground, bright sunflower gold of the turmeric of the market stall. The way the spices blend and transform onions, garlic, ginger and greens becomes a vehicle, and we go on a sensory journey. Proper spices are a powerful tool.

Chai & Rose Nankhatai Cookies featuring @RawSpiceBar // www.WithTheGrains.com

No matter how organized a trip may be, a traveler must always leave room for the unexpected, the serendipitous discoveries- the hole-in-the-wall restaurant, the unlisted gallery, the street performer who strums better than the famed. RawSpiceBar channels surprises, journeys and flavors in one great idea: a monthly spice subscription consisting of three, global, authentic, freshly ground spice mixtures, from top chefs, along with recipes for their use. It’s an idea I wish I had conceived myself. The monthly spice package unwraps like a friend returning from a trip abroad, regaling you with souvenirs and stories, complete with a layer of patterned paper representative of that region. My first spice package revealed glimpses of Punjabi India.

Chai & Rose Nankhatai Cookies featuring @RawSpiceBar // www.WithTheGrains.com

As I learned, traveling to India is a foodie’s contradiction- the most authentic recipes, and pungent plates await at the street level, but avoiding Delhi Belly requires keeping a safe distance. Most of my food associations entail an extreme consciousness of what I ate and drank, but despite the precautions, there were still plenty of immersive moments like sipping authentic chai tea and riding a beautifully adorned Indian elephant.

Indian Elephant // www.WithTheGrains.com

As a baker, I was drawn to the Chai & Rose Nankhatai Cookie recipe. I used the cookies as a way to revisit my trip to India, through intense spices and elephant shapes. India is a trip I have yet to fully process in my head or organize photographically. There are still folders and folders of images waiting to be sorted and experiences to be recalled. In more ways than one, the spice package sent me wandering.

Chai & Rose Nankhatai Cookies featuring @RawSpiceBar // www.WithTheGrains.com

These cookies became an afternoon shared with friends, exploring the exotic that exists close to home and finding inspiration in the distant. More on that to come!

Single-Grain

Namaste!
-Quelcy

Whole Grain Chai & Rose Nankhatai Cookies featuring RawSpiceBar 

About This Recipe: RawSpiceBar updated this centuries-old Indian shortbreads cookies recipe by adding freshly ground rose buds & chai spices, yielding a peppery, sweet cookie that pairs perfectly with milky tea or coffee. Nankhatai comes from the Persian word “nan” (meaning bread) and the Afghan word “khatai” (meaning biscuit). These little shortbread cookies are said to have originated in Surat in the 16th century, when the Dutch were prominent spice trading partners with the Indians. An Iranian man ran a European style bakery here but, once the Dutch explorers left, had to adapt to low-cost sweet treats for locals. Traditional North Indian Nankhatai do not use any leavening agents but these days a small amount of baking powder and salt is added to give these cookies a lighter feel.

p.s: I received product from RawSpiceBar, but all opinions are my own!

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An Ode to Motherhood: Whole Wheat Rhubarb Upside Down Cake & Rhubarb Compote

Long after I should have been sleeping, I laid awake thinking about my dog. I thought about how much I loved this four-legged creature who couldn’t even utter words to me, but yet, I feel so connected to her. I thought about how I’ve only been away from her for about 2 weeks in her entire lifetime. I thought about how betrayed I felt the one time she growled at me. I thought about how I “joke” about her loving the Urban Farmer more than me because he takes her to the farm, where she has utmost freedom and a sense of purpose. I thought about how I miss the spending the entire day with her, but ultimately, I’m happy she loves the Urban Farmer, and I know the farm is her little sheepdog destiny. In short, I realized just how much I love my little Julep because I’m able to put her happiness above my own. This, I realized, from my sleepless, crazy-dog-lady thought stream, is only 1/100th of what it must feel like to be a mother.

Whole Wheat Rhubarb Upside Down Cake and Rhubarb Compote // www.WithTheGrains.com

I am my mother’s daughter- from her cheekbones, to her voice, to her profile, her eyes and her hands, but when it comes to her patience and her selflessness, I am still a child, a mere student trying to copy the experienced professor’s example. When it comes to sacrifice and thoughtfulness, I have yet to find an example greater than her.

Whole Wheat Rhubarb Upside Down Cake and Rhubarb Compote // www.WithTheGrains.com

As soon as I was old enough to toddle around, I was in her lap attempting to sew with her. In Middle School, she helped me start my own sewing business. In High School, she sewed the prom dresses I designed. She was my sounding board, my moral support, my constant encouragement, and she loved me more than I can imagine, but as I left our home, the very last baby bird to leave the nest, I drifted farther from her in more ways than one.

Whole Wheat Rhubarb Upside Down Cake and Rhubarb Compote // www.WithTheGrains.com

I needed to find myself, to see the world, to figure out where I stood and what I believed. During the course of that time, I distanced myself, a stance my loving mother clearly noted. In one of her many handwritten, thoughtful notes to me, she expressed sadness over the gap that had grown between us, and a piece of my heart broke. I had so selfishly hurt this woman who gave me everything and asked for so little in return- just my company. I’ve tried to mend, tried to mitigate the major differences between us, tried to defend her happiness, but when I think of how much she has given me, I realize how short my efforts have fallen.

Whole Wheat Rhubarb Upside Down Cake and Rhubarb Compote // www.WithTheGrains.com

This is motherhood, I suppose- sweet and tart, ups and downs, immense joys and immense sorrows, and as all of those extremes flash by way too quickly, the thread of love remains just as secure, despite whatever other unraveling occurs.

Whole Wheat Rhubarb Upside Down Cake and Rhubarb Compote // www.WithTheGrains.com

I’m not a mother, but I have a deep respect for those exemplary women who nurture that love, for all its burdens and rewards. I respect those women who love with such a powerful force, no other relationship can even come close to its strength. Conversely, I sympathize for those women who want that bond so badly, but for whatever reason, never have the opportunity, or for those who do, but only for a moment. Sweet and tart.

Whole Wheat Rhubarb Upside Down Cake and Rhubarb Compote // www.WithTheGrains.com

This Mother’s Day, I was unfortunately half a country away from the woman who showed me what it means to be a mother, and I owe her more than these words, more gestures to explain the immense gratitude I feel for her gentle love and tireless support. I owe her so much more.

Whole Wheat Rhubarb Upside Down Cake and Rhubarb Compote // www.WithTheGrains.com

This Mother’s Day, I was fortunate to spend the day with the women who shaped the Urban Farmer, who loved him, nurtured him and encouraged him to be the ambitious, sympathetic, sincere man who I admire and love wholeheartedly. When I was all too young to be receiving dating advice, my sisters ingrained in me the importance of a man’s relationship with his mother. “If you want to know how he’ll treat you, look at how he treats her,” they told me when the only men in my life were Prince Eric and Aladdin. As an adult, I understand the lessons my sisters were trying to impart, and the Urban Farmer’s relationship to his mother and grandmother only makes me love him more.

Whole Wheat Rhubarb Upside Down Cake and Rhubarb Compote // www.WithTheGrains.com

These Rhubarb Compotes and Rhubarb Upside Down Cake were for the Mothers on their day. The local, seasonal ingredient choice was a nod to my own mom, who resourcefully collected the stringy stalks from the puzzled neighbors’ yards and returned beautiful, delicious, seemingly effortless desserts in their stead. My Mom was and is magical in the kitchen, but more importantly, she’s just a magical woman. Happy Belated Mother’s Day to my own mother and to all you who endure the sweet times and the tart times of motherhood!

Single-Grain

Sincerely,
Quelcy

p.s:  These sweet & tart compotes would make great baby shower party favors too!

About These Recipes: Rhubarb season is early spring, so take advantage with these two recipes. The upside down cake contrasts the tartness of the rhubarb with zesty lemon and almond flavors in a moist, spongey cake. Rhubarb compote is perfect on toast, on pound cake, on ice cream, in yogurt, etc, or add a spoonful to the heavy cream and make a tart and tangy whipped cream to top this cake.

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Spring at Hazelwood Urban Farms

May 2015

In the way stubborn daughters do, I didn’t listen enough to my dad. He had years of agricultural experience, and his knowledge spanned the spectrum, from cuts of beef to the price of sheep. I, however, was hellbent on city life. I wasn’t interested in the difference between filets and chuck roasts, or the benefits of vermiculture, but oh how time laughs at the plans we have made for ourselves!

Spring at Hazelwood Urban Farms // www.WithTheGrains.com

My journeys led me to take a deep interest in food, not only how it affects my body and wellness, but how the food is grown or raised and how it finds its way to me. Suddenly, I found myself questioning pasture-raised cows versus grain-fed, why buying raw milk feels like partaking in a drug deal, why a field of corn isn’t necessarily environmentally beneficial, and what is the process from goat to cheese? Even as I tried to make up for lost questions with my dad, my involvement in the agricultural world was still as a buyer and a maker. Then I met the Urban Farmer.

Spring at Hazelwood Urban Farms // www.WithTheGrains.com

Using wood and a tube of water as a level, the Urban Farmer and his father were able to map out the future garden beds.

Like me, the Urban Farmer asked many of these same questions, changed his diet, read the requisite books and watched the documentaries showing how we have destroyed so much of our food system. While I stuck to promoting how to use local and organic foods, he turned to the soil for his involvement, and gradually, he thought more and more about a farm of his own.

Spring at Hazelwood Urban Farms // www.WithTheGrains.com

After time in the sunny paradise that is Hawaii, he returned to his native Pittsburgh (lucky for me!), and after seeing so many vacant lots right in the city, he began seriously considering an urban farming venture. I am so fortunate to observe this process up close and from the very first seed. I have him to teach me about planting, weeding, mulching, even cardboard collecting! His farm is now such an integral part of our lives. I would be remiss not to document it here, on With The Grains, where I use the stories of food to tell my own story and explore the world, so now we begin in earnest to share this farming tale.

Spring at Hazelwood Urban Farms // www.WithTheGrains.com

The Urban Farmer chose these parcels for several reasons: there were numerous abandoned lots in close proximity, which makes the possibility for expansion quite feasible. They were south-facing, which is ideal for growing in our region, and the soil tested non-toxic, which was surprising for a neighborhood once fueled by a steel mill. Had you driven by these lots six months ago, you, like everyone else, would have reached the dead-end, perhaps appreciated the view, and then very quickly redirected to wherever you meant to go without a second thought.

Spring at Hazelwood Urban Farms // www.WithTheGrains.com

Bending fence posts to create the structure of the Hoop House, a type of greenhouse.

Had you driven down that dead-end road, you would have seen abandonment, decay and the rampant vines, weeds and urban trash of a vacant lot, but the Urban Farmer looked at that land like a mother looks at her newborn. He saw beauty and potential, and he knew with the right nurturing, that land would serve a purpose bigger than just him. I saw what he saw, when his eyes glimmered, and he looked over the property, pointing and motioning where rows would be, where chickens might one day cluck, and where a hoop house would warm seeds through the last of the frost. You, like the neighbors, might have called him crazy, but if you saw that look in his eyes, you would have believed he’d do everything he said he’d do.

Spring at Hazelwood Urban Farms // www.WithTheGrains.com

While it still snowed outside, the Urban Farmer stood before an audience to describe his farming endeavor. His goal was for the audience members to invest in improving the food system by supporting his local, organic farming through CSA shares (Community Supported Agriculture). In the most humble and gracious way, he uttered a statement that struck me, “It’s really hard work, but I’m fortunate to love the work.”

Spring at Hazelwood Urban Farms // www.WithTheGrains.com

I can’t emphasize his words enough. Urban Farming can be hip and glamorous when seen from afar, but the up-close truth is, it’s a ton of work, especially at the outset. Several friends and family members have joined the efforts, but day in and day out, the only consistent laborer is the Urban Farmer. Each day boasts its own challenges, weather obstacles and hurdles. April’s to-do list was grueling and took its toll on him physically, but the progress was immense, and he began to take the stresses in stride, realizing he was well on his way.

Spring at Hazelwood Urban Farms // www.WithTheGrains.com

The construction of the Hoop House provided its fair share of stressors, as it was a very pressing and time-sensitive step. Without a hoop house, there would be no seeds before the last frost. With the help of an old friend and the moral support of one very happy Julep dog, the Urban Farmer did the math, shopped around, purchased the fence posts, stabilized them deep in the ground, bent the others with brute force (and a rail bender), and before long, a very integral skeletal structure emerged, as did the very first signs of spring: daffodil bulbs!

Spring at Hazelwood Urban Farms // www.WithTheGrains.com

Spring at Hazelwood Urban Farms // www.WithTheGrains.com

Spring at Hazelwood Urban Farms // www.WithTheGrains.com

April showers bring May flowers as they say, but April was eager to enchant us with bursts of yellow and early signs of spring. With the Hoop House fully in tact, the Urban Farmer began planting seeds in trays and directly in the dirt under the protective plastic’s warmth. That dirt was not always so dirt-like. Part of March’s physical toll was the constant vibration of a tiller, removing rocks, bricks, glass, fence posts…what urban agriculturists have collectively come to call Urbanite Soil, i.e.: be prepared to work muscles you never knew you had in an effort to break urbanite soil apart and make it plantable. At times, his land felt more like an archaeological dig than a farm in the making.

Spring at Hazelwood Urban Farms // www.WithTheGrains.com

There are sides to urban farming (and rural farming for that matter too), you might never imagine. These intense labors require a lot of resourcefulness, such as sourcing cardboard from a local recycling drop-off point, picking up spent brewers’ grains from local brewers and coffee grounds from local coffee shops. Never did I imagine I’d be so excited to find furniture boxes in a dumpster, but sure enough, those boxes are a gold mine when it comes to this permaculture practice. The cardboard and wood chips combine to weigh down the grassy/weedy trails between beds. They also prevent deer, since walking on slippery ground doesn’t strike their fancy. Weeds are persistent buggers though, so once we complete this process, we’ll probably be starting again. The coffee grounds help balance nitrogen levels directly in the soil, and the spent grains are part of an ever-growing mound of compost (as are all the eggshells from my baking- woohoo!).

Spring at Hazelwood Urban Farms // www.WithTheGrains.com

Spring at Hazelwood Urban Farms // www.WithTheGrains.com

The Urban Farmer let me plant some seeds with him, and watching those first signs of green was like watching baby Julep sit on command for the first time. Those little greens grow up so quickly! Nature is not one to linger in nostalgia, which brings us to the growing abundance of May.

Spring at Hazelwood Urban Farms // www.WithTheGrains.com

Spring at Hazelwood Urban Farms // www.WithTheGrains.com

Spring at Hazelwood Urban Farms // www.WithTheGrains.com

Spring at Hazelwood Urban Farms // www.WithTheGrains.com

In addition to seeing the Urban Farmer’s growing sense of pride and fulfillment in this endeavor, seeing Julep on the farm fills me with a happiness I can’t put into words. As part Australian Shepherd, her DNA craves a working role we have yet to fully harness, but she has chased away deer, and gathered logs like a Boy Scout. When the Urban Farmer puts on his boots in the morning, her tail wags energetically, and she paces by the door, not wanting to be left behind.. I could watch her on that farm from sunrise to sunset. Seeing passion in the ones I love fills me with inspiration, and in May, I saw that passion brimming in the Urban Farmer.

Spring at Hazelwood Urban Farms // www.WithTheGrains.com

In May, a group of volunteers from the community convened at the farm to help with whatever he needed. Each of these volunteers contributes in his or her own way to the local agriculture scene, from tending local gardens, to teaching kids to grow food, to making fresh produce available to the food desert that is the surrounding community. Each of the volunteers easily could have been too busy, but there they were, with encouraging words, tools to share and hands to help.

Spring at Hazelwood Urban Farms // www.WithTheGrains.com

We spent a few hours, from that very golden hour until sunset, forming assembly lines, digging, raking, trash-collecting, Julep chasing, etc. Their giving attitudes made me realize how I’ve been so closely focused on my creative track, I haven’t paused to give back to my community. The progress and the positivity was so overwhelming, I felt a contentment I haven’t experienced in a long time. As the Urban Farmer wheelbarrowed by me, we exchanged smiles, and I saw in him a beaming happiness like I’ve never seen before. All the doubts, all the exhaustion, all the stresses melted away, and he felt his dreams growing beneath his feet. “You’re doing a good thing, Kyle,” I told him, as we settled on one of the newly cleared hillsides and watched the last bit of light sink below the city skyline. Here’s to the farmers who brought me into this world. Here’s to the dirt, the seeds, the hands & the bees that one day at a time are repairing such a broken system.

Single-Grain

Quelcy

p.s: Stay tuned as the spring unfurls before us, and if you’re curious about elements of this urban agriculture world, leave me a comment. I’d love for these posts to be a dialogue. You can also follow the farm on Facebook to learn of events and vegetable opportunities!

Whole Wheat Chocolate Banana Tres Leches Cake

Cinco de Mayo 2015

Today would be a good day to be a high-school Spanish student. Today all the French and German students would watch you tote chips and salsa to class with jealousy (or Latin, Japanese & Arabic students if you went to a very privileged school with an eye toward the growing global economy). Today is Cinco de Mayo, and even if the historical connotations are fuzzy (you did read them in Spanish after all), one thing is clear: today is a Spanish class party day!

Cinco de Mayo by With The Grains 19

In thinking back to my own high school, Spanish class, cultural “immersions,” I recall one very late night, when months of procrastination hit me like a prickly cactus. I scoured the then very basic pages of the world wide web and attempted to finish a major report on Spain, taking the necessary breaks to lament my woes over AOL chat and catch the latest gossip to emerge in the hours since the end of the school day. The massive report would have been enough to bear for one night, but I also had to make tortilla bowls for the class.

The level of procrastination hedged on teaching me the error of my last-minute ways, but as always, everything somehow came together, i.e.: Mom enabled my habits and helped me with the tortilla bowls but not without her routine, “If you had only planned ahead…”  I barely slept, scraped together my report and still managed to be the number one Spanish student. Like an alcoholic deluded into believing she is still in control, I failed to hit rock bottom and truly learn my lesson. At least I knew (and know) I have a problem. The next steps though…

Cinco de Mayo by With The Grains 21

Far from high school halls and Spanish class celebrations, I did manage to commemorate Cinco de Mayo in a timely manner with this festive themed brunch. This Whole Wheat Chocolate Banana Tres Leches Cake was the sweet conclusion of the gathering, and though I should have shared this recipe with you sooner (my apologies), I hope you have a chance to indulge in a decadent, chocolaty bite and make a small nod to today’s festivities, even if you are late. Holidays are really flexible in my book anyway [spoken like a true procrastinator].

Single-Grain

¡Buen Provecho!
-Quelcy

Whole Wheat Chocolate Banana Tres Leches Cake

About This Recipe: Plan to bake this cake the day before you intend to serve it, since it needs to set overnight and soak up the chocolate liquid. My recipe begins with a spongey, chocolate, banana cake. Traditionally, the namesake three milks include evaporated milk, but I substituted coconut milk for a healthier twist. The chocolate mixture is poured over the cake right after baking, and the chocolate forms a rich pudding-like layer after setting overnight. The banana taste is subtle, and the coconut milk is indistinguishable, so if you don’t like coconut, you’ll still enjoy this version.

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Spelt Flour Churros with Dark Chocolate Chile Sauce

May 2015

Join me on this wandering train of thought…

I know about as much about Cinco de Mayo as I do about St. Patrick’s Day, i.e.: I celebrate both thematically, and not very historically, through food. Cinco de Mayo is a Mexican holiday. Churros, though probably of Portuguese origin, are common throughout Central and South America. Inspired by my love of chocolate and Mexican spice levels, my Spelt Flour Churro recipe includes a spicy, Dark Chocolate Chile Sauce, which leads me to the history of one South American chocolate hero and one South American chocolate heretic.

In reality, I’m talking about one, polarizing man.

Spelt Churros with Chile Chocolate Sauce // www.WithTheGrains.com

Half a century ago, Ecuador was world famous for its cocoa, and the cocoa farmers were kings, but like all gambles with nature, no throne is ever safe from nature’s fury. A fungus called Witch’s Broom sucked the life from the cocoa trees and threatened world’s chocolate cravings. However, a short man, fondly and diminutively called Homerito, i.e.: little Homer, was intent on solving the crisis. Homero Castro was a plant scientist set on creating a new cocoa tree, one that would be highly productive and immune to Witch’s Broom. His enviable chocolate quest took him to Africa, the Caribbean and the Amazon, to collect different kinds of cocoa plants and crossbreed them (a modern-day Customs nightmare).

For twelve years, the entire life of a tween, he diligently crossed variety after variety, until finally, he believed he had succeeded. He arrived at a cocoa tree that was immune to the very fungus that threatened happiness itself. Castro named the new plant after himself and the city where he lived – Coleccion Castro Naranjal– CCN. He added the number 51 because of how many attempts it took to get it right- CCN-51. Cocoa farmers responded quickly and planted it by the acre. Chocolate tycoons arrived from all over the globe, and the cocoa crisis seemed to be averted except for one glaring detail: the taste!

Spelt Churros with Chile Chocolate Sauce // www.WithTheGrains.com

Gary Guittard, owner of the company behind my recommendation for dark chocolate baking, likened the taste to “rusty nails.” These are not the fine palate notes or terroir adjectives you want from a cocoa bean description. The cocoa tycoons panned the product, the farmers were once again in dire straits, and Homero died tragically in a car accident, thinking his life’s ode was an utter failure.

However, the resourceful farmers determined a way to ferment the harvested beans, by sunning them in burlap sacks. The process eliminated the “rusty nails” quality, and CCN-51 was back in business! At this point in the historical tale, Homerito seems like an indisputable hero, but chocolate puritans scoff at the fermented CCN-51’s bland flavor. Gone are the nuances of these heritage cocoa beans, but as the chocolate industry discovered, the masses didn’t notice. We all want to think our tongue is God’s gift to rich flavors, but in reality, most of us never knew there was a switch.

Spelt Churros with Chile Chocolate Sauce // www.WithTheGrains.com

As a chocolate lover, I mourn for the rips and tears in the ecosystem that put the sacred cocoa trees in danger and threatened the traditional farmers’ livelihood. However, as a chocolate lover who wants to keep eating chocolate, I see Homero as a hero. Like a true artist or tragic hero, he died without knowing the mark he left, so let’s all eat a spicy churro in honor of such culinary and botanical passion. Here’s to Homerito!

Single-Grain

¡Buen Provecho!
-Quelcy

p.s: I first learned of this chocolate history through this great episode of Planet Money on NPR and this pertinent article.

Spelt Churros with Dark Chocolate Chile Dipping Sauce

About This Recipe: Made with wholesome spelt flour and fried in a non-gmo safflower oil, these churros are far healthier than their street food inspiration, but they’re equally crowd pleasing. The dark chocolate chile sauce starts with a homemade cinnamon simple syrup. If you want to skip this step, substitute pure maple syrup, agave or honey. I used a dried Morita chile, which I found at a local Mexican grocer. They had several varieties available, so follow your senses and see what smell  and spice level inspires you. If you have extra chocolate sauce, it makes a great cake or ice cream topping.

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