Category Archives: Birthdays

Maple Pecan Chocolate Cake for a Birthday BFF

May 2014

“You are the only ab workout I need,” Sandra gasped in a fit of laughter.

The three of us met twelve years ago. TWELVE YEARS AGO! One was a sloppy drinker, another an angsty teen scorned by the lack of beaches, and me, an intense bitch who rarely looked away from her drawing board. First impressions, though somewhat true, faded, and we bonded in a way that flourished all the way that stomach-cramping laughter in a colorful dining room and this cake…

Chocolate Maple Cake

The last of our trio to bid her 20s farewell, we convened to celebrate Nina’s “Dirty Thirty.” We had set out to spend each of our birthdays together despite living in different cities. One Garnets & Ganache dessert social, one Maple Syrup Festival and one Maker Date later, we had achieved sweet success! We laughed, we teared up, and we hugged our way into this third decade. I’m so proud of where we are, where we are going and how close we have become.

Pecan Design

Thirty hasn’t fully sunk in for me yet, but sometimes I step back to appreciate the maturity and clarity we now mix with our old jokes and nostalgia. Our conversations have evolved to include mature topics we never imagined- relationship complexities, babies (holy F$%k!!!), home ownership (I’m only beginning to understand this)- all the twists and turns TWELVE years of trusted friendship brings. We have developed the confidence and closeness to inspire each other and tell each other how proud we are of one another. In short, we have grown together from girls to women.

Slice and Plates

For the girl who gave us the Maple Syrup Festival, for the thirty-year-old who makes 1,000s of positive things happen, I had this Chocolate Maple Pecan cake to give. I knew the birthday lady would give me a hard time if this cake did not include a boozy, whipped topping, so in between two layers of chocolate cake was a layer of a light, chocolate & Snap whipped cream.

Pecan Slice

Whole-Wheat Chocolate Maple Cake with Pecans
Yield: Makes a 2-layer, 9-inch cake

Ingredients

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for pan
1 cup pure cocoa
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon coarse salt

1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature, plus more for pan
3/4 cups pure maple syrup
1/2 cup Turbinado raw sugar

2 large organic eggs

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

3/4 cup whole-fat European style yogurt

Pecans for garnish

Directions

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter a 9-inch baking pan; line with parchment, and butter parchment. Dust with flour, tapping out excess.

In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, cocoa, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.

With an electric mixer on medium speed, beat butter, maple syrup, and granulated sugar until pale and fluffy, 3 to 5 minutes.

Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition; mix in vanilla.

Reduce mixer speed to low. Add flour mixture in 3 batches, alternating with 2 batches of yogurt; beat until just combined.

Transfer batter to prepared pan; smooth top with an offset spatula.

Arrange pecans in circular pattern on the surface.

Bake until a cake tester comes out clean, about 40-50 minutes.

Transfer pan to a wire rack to cool 10 minutes. Turn out cake onto rack to cool completely.

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Maple & Snap Whipped Topping

Ingredients

1 cup organic heavy whipping cream, chilled
1/2 cup pure maple syrup
2 Tablespoons pure cocoa powder
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
8 oz light cream cheese
1/8 cup AITA Snap liquor

Directions

Combine all the ingredients in the bowl of a stand mixer. Mix until well combined, light and airy. Keep chilled until ready to use.

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To Assemble

Remove cake from pan and transfer to a plate. Use a serrated knife such as a bread knife to cut the cake into two layers.

Spoon the whipped topping onto the bottom layer of the cake. Use an offset spatula to smooth over the surface. Add the top layer, and serve!

Single-Grain

Here’s to thirty years on this planet and twelve years together! xoxox
-Quelcy

A Meal for the Birthday Dog (Julep’s First Birthday!)

April 2014

“Buy me a dog, or else!”

My extensive dog book collection and obsessive 101 Dalmatians watching culminated in threatening notes taped to my parents’ bedroom walls. Fortunately, my parents did not have me committed. Unfortunately, I did receive a stern reprimand explaining threats are not the means to achieving a goal. All my dog yearning, as well as any career in negotiation, would have to wait…a long time.

Many years later, I made my most adult and most rewarding decision. I was ready for a dog of my own. After months of failed leads, I was on the verge of embracing anything resembling a dog and sacrificing all the attributes I had prioritized. Then I saw these eyebrows…

puppy-australian-shepherd-mix-for-sale-puppiesforsaleinpatr3152061

…and that was it! Those little eyebrows, the tiny spots, the chubby baby belly… I knew in my core she was my Julep! A week later, I took a drive to a farm where the air was pure, and the people were sweet, and there I found the minty puppy who would fill my life with immeasurable joy! Those little eyebrows had taught me a huge lesson in patience, a lesson in waiting I try to remember in all facets of my life- dating, employment, travel, etc. When you know what you truly want, you might have to endure some waiting along the way.

Introducing-Julep

Finding my perfect puppy emphasized the importance of patience. Waking up at 5am to potty train a tiny bladder reiterated the importance of calm, deep breaths in spite of utter fatigue and playful, juvenile defiance. Walking this joyful creature challenged me to see the good in people. She assumes people are good until they prove otherwise, an approach which usually results in a belly rub.

Waiting Patiently

She brings joy to those she encounters with her sweet demeanor, wags her whole body with excitement, smiles with her whole face, and observes the world with wonder. She’s a cuddling companion and a zen coach in one, long-legged body.

Julep Bday Dinner

The list of lessons grew since her arrival, time flew at full speed, and before I knew it, my little one turned one! I take birthdays pretty seriously, even birthdays of the four-legged sorts, so my growing lass ate a little fancier, and I snuggled her a little more (and maybe looked at that puppy pic 1,000 times more).

Going For It

Note:

Julep’s birthday meal was a crock-pot combination of grass-fed beef, organic barley, local spelt, organic corn, quail and a savory dog treat on top! A dog’s diet can be a loaded debate, but after feeding the birthday girl homemade food, her fur took on a sensational softness, so I’ve been feeding her more and more crock-pot concoctions, usually involving brown rice, a protein and a vegetable like broccoli or peas. If you’re curious about the specifics, ask away!

Though I love my little dog more than words (or a blog post!!) can fully describe, she is a huge responsibility. I was very careful in selecting a combination of breeds (Australian Shepherd & Lab) with which I was familiar. I had a schedule that enabled me to check on her, and I made sure to talk to several dog owners before making the leap myself. If you’re considering a dog, please, please, please make sure you are ready for everything a dog entails!

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Happy Birthday to my Little One!

ps: I am well aware I have made the leap from “I like dogs” to “I am a crazy dog lady,” and I am perfectly content with that transition.

Birthday Pancakes at the Annual Maple Syrup Festival

April 2014

There is a wooded place that brings me great joy.

Wooded Spot

This elation does not stem from communion with nature or the serenity of the woods. No, my joy stems from the activity stirring in this woodland once a year: the Annual Maple Syrup Festival!

Mullet Love

The festival provides yellow school bus transportation from parking to the site. You might find mullet love along the way!

This year marked my 4th time experiencing the wonder of this festival! Why do I mark my calendar months in advance? What makes pancakes and syrup so much more special in a barn, in the woods? Why do I wake up early on a Sunday to beat the lines?

Words may fail to fully convey the answers, but I keep attempting to articulate the merits anyway…

Best Friends Bus Ride

My crew for this year’s festival rivaled my zeal! Sandra (middle) drove all the way from DC to join us, and Nina (right), who attended as a child, was the girl who introduced us to this magic in the first place. Plus we had Erin and Pam along for the ride. They were newbies, and we were about to show them something unforgettable.

Amurica

The flag and the Civil War reenactments should offer a pretty clear frame of reference, but lest you forget, this festival takes place in America!

Is it worth waiting in line for pancakes? Is it worth waiting in line for an hour? If that line is at the Maple Syrup Festival, then yes, indubitably!

Tickets and Souvenirs

Should you want to commemorate the festival, there are plenty of XXL tshirts, as well as maple syrup and locally milled flours available for purchase. I stuck to buckwheat, wheat & cornmeal in lieu of a new shirt-dress.

Beyond maple syrup and pancakes (which are incentives in and of themselves), the festival features a field of vendors and attendees, ie: my people-watching happy place! Here are just a few of the wonders that transpired around the line and made the long wait pass in the blink of an eye…

Families with matching mohawks
Plenty of “real tree” ensembles
A baby goat
“Arts” & “Crafts”
What we called “narrative sweaters” (fleeces featuring wolves, or eagles, etc)
A face tattoo or two
A jean jacket with a wolf patch (You know she didn’t buy it that way!)
Kitsch and lots of it!
What I presumed to be a Shania Twain cover band
Boy scouts looking like German youth (it’s weird. This aspect is never not weird)
A random regal couple- were they wayward Europeans?!? How did they get there?
A ridiculously attractive Civil War soldier (ALL of us agreed, and our tastes are different to say the least)

Maple Syrup Arrival

OJ and Flapjack Flipping

It’s not every day Boy Scouts and troop leaders make breakfast for you!

The $8 fee covers coffee (but don’t bank on a caffeine boost from this watery java), orange juice, three sausage links (additional links are available in $.50 increments- a real bargain!), all-you-can-eat buttermilk and buckwheat pancakes plus pure maple syrup! Whole grain pancakes and real maple syrup are a fast track to my pancake-loving heart.

Birthday Pancakes

The real reason why this Maple Syrup Festival was magical? It’s tradition! My best friends and I first attended in college as some weird thing to do to escape our stresses and celebrate Sandra’s birthday.

The Real Reason

I bet if we had looked a little harder, we could have found the same boy scouts!

YEARS later, we are still close friends! Celebrating Sandra’s birthday with commemorative, syrupy goodness and a people-watching goldmine was the perfect way to usher in the big 3-0.

Maple Syrup Fest Place Setting

Epic Rat Tail

Likely the least attractive pancake pic I have ever posted, and the MOST EPIC rat tail I have ever seen! My face lit up like Christmas morning when I realized this kid was sitting behind me.

The "Sugar Shack" conveys why maple syrup costs so much money by explaining the process from tree to pancake. The aging, handmade graphics are not to be missed!

The “Sugar Shack” conveys why maple syrup costs so much money by explaining the process from tree to pancake. The aging, handmade graphics are not to be missed!

We ate until we were full, and we laughed until we cried. Much like the festival itself, I can’t fully convey what made us laugh, but when I think of the festival and those moments, I feel as happy as a kid on a merry-go-round!

hoorah

Perhaps I’ll see you at the festival next year?

Single-Grain

May Your Syrup Be Pure & Your Traditions Sweet!
-Quelcy

Whole-Wheat, Red Wine Chocolate Cake w/ Honey Whipped Mascarpone

April 2014

You know that voice. Even if it’s via text, you know it.

Like a mother recognizing her baby’s cry, you know your best friend’s tipsy tone. You know it, and you love it because you love her and all the memories that slight slur conjures.

Red Wine Chocolate Cake

In the case of my wine-sipping friend, those memories span to a time when we didn’t even drink, to celebratory glasses on a 21st birthday (while taking in a spectacular view), to too many cachaças poolside in Argentina, to fancy southern sipping while on a Bonnaroo-bound roadtrip, to wedding toasts!

Cherry Topped Chocolate Cake

As my wine-sipping Sandra put it, our best friend trio is “ride-or-die.” One by one, each of us is hitting the big 3-0, and we’re spending each of those birthdays together, with wine in hand. I couldn’t let Sandra’s 30th pass us without a little something rich and fancy [cake, I am talking cake], and I thought, “why not have our wine and eat it too?”  Here’s to the brilliant woman who is always by our side to listen, to laugh and to love!

Blogpost_Red Wine Chocolate Cake
Red Wine Chocolate Cake with Honey Whipped Mascarpone
Yield: two 9-inch cake layers

Ingredients

1 cup (2 sticks) organic butter, softened
1 cup organic light brown sugar, packed
2/3 cup organic evaporated cane sugar

2 large organic eggs
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

1 1/2 cups red wine
1/2 cup organic greek yogurt

2 1/2 cups whole-wheat pastry flour
1/4 cup organic cornstarch
1 1/2 cups cocoa powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt

Directions

Preheat oven to 325 degrees F. Grease two 9-inch springform pans (or bake, cool, rinse & repeat if you only have one).

In a large mixing bowl, cream together the butter and sugars.

Add the egg and vanilla extract and beat until smooth.

Beat in the wine and yogurt.

In a separate bowl, whisk together the flour, cornstarch, cocoa powder, baking soda, baking powder, and salt.

Add to wine mixture slowly, mixing until just incorporated.

Pour batter into prepared baking pan(s) and bake for 45-50 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean and the cake bounces back slightly.

Allow to cool in the pan for 10 minutes, before transferring to a cooling rack to cool completely.

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Honey Whipped Mascarpone

1/2 cup (4 ounces) mascarpone cheese
1/2 cup heavy whipping cream
2 tablespoons honey

Directions

In a medium mixing bowl, whip mascarpone, heavy whipping cream, and honey until soft peaks form. Keep chilled until ready to use.

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Assembly

Place one cake layer on a serving plate. Add a large spoonful of the mascarpone filling to the surface of the cake. Use an offset spatula and a lazy suzan cake stand [ideally] to spread and smooth the topping, adding more as needed. Top with the other cake layer. Add a dollop of mascarpone topping to the surface. Garnish as desired (I used morello cherries).

Single-Grain

May our lives be filled with many more tipsy phone calls, tear-inducing fits of laughter, and CAKE!
-Quelcy

Garnets & Ganache: Chocolate Cake with Chocolate Espresso Ganache

February 2014

Long ago, I made my sister a cheesy, craft-fair style plaque boasting “I’d give up chocolate, but I’m no quitter.”

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Photo by Joey Kennedy.

As country craft as that little plaque may have been, truer words about our family were never spoken. Persistance and chocolate were probably secretly woven into our Kogel crest, so my birthday would not have been complete without an element of chocolate, especially when the theme for my 30th was Garnets & Ganache.

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Photo by Joey Kennedy.

As part of my birthday cake tradition of making one, miniature, beautiful cake for each year of life, I used a large cupcake pan and inverted the cupcakes to create these decadent cakelettes. Follow suit if you’re feeling fancy, or follow the instructions for a layered 8-inch cake (which is fancy in its own right).

Whole-Wheat Chocolate Cake with Espresso Ganache

Ingredients

Butter, for greasing the pans

1 3/4 cups whole-wheat pastry flour, plus more for pans
2 cups organic evaporated cane sugar
3/4 cups pure cocoa powder
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon kosher salt

3/4 cup organic greek yogurt
1/4 cup organic milk
1/2 cup olive oil
2 extra-large, organic eggs, at room temperature
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

1 cup freshly brewed hot coffee or espresso

Directions

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Butter two 8-inch x 2-inch round cake pans or cupcake pans. Line with parchment paper, then butter and flour the pans.

In the bowl of a mixer, whisk together the flour, sugar, cocoa, baking soda, baking powder.

In a separate bowl, combine the yogurt, milk, oil, eggs, and vanilla.

With the mixer on low speed, slowly add the wet ingredients to the dry.

With mixer still on low, add the coffee and stir just to combine, scraping the bottom of the bowl with a rubber spatula.

Pour the batter into the prepared pans and bake for 35 to 40 minutes, until a cake tester comes out clean. Cool in the pans for 30 minutes, then turn them out onto a cooling rack and cool completely.

Pour warm ganache over the cakes and form a layer cake, or spread evenly over the cupcakes.

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Espresso Ganache

8 ounces good semisweet chocolate chips
1 heaping teaspoon instant coffee granules

3/4 cup heavy cream

Directions

Bring the cream and coffee granules to a boil, in a saucepan over medium heat.

Remove from heat and add the chocolate, whisking to combine. Allow to cool slightly before pouring over cake.

Single-Grain

Bon Appétit!
-Quelcy

Garnets & Ganache: Cranberry Almond Cake with White Chocolate Ganache

February 2014

Collaboration is at the heart of so many of my endeavors. Having another brain at work not only keeps me sane, but partnerships have that way of pushing and prodding an idea toward a better solution. When I told my Harvest & Gather partner about my Birthday Cake Tradition, he proved once again how a fresh set of eyes can challenge the norm.

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Photo by Joey Kennedy.

Since I was 26 or so, I have been celebrating my birthday with a fancy mini cake for each year of life. This is my tradition and any “rules” involved are of my own making. When I explained this, Thommy very simply asked, “Can the cakes be different varieties?” It was such a simple question, and yet, I had never really though to add variety to my ever growing number of sweets. Sharing, however, was always a must. Thus, I came to add a few more recipes to the collection, and hence the steady flow of garnet reds and ganache on this little corner of the interwebs.

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Photo by Joey Kennedy.

Almond Cranberry Cake with White Chocolate Ganache

Note: The recipe calls for a bundt pan. I used a smaller springform pan and cupcake pans for the remaining batter in an effort to have many, smaller cakes. If you also decide to use a different pan, adjust the baking time accordingly.

Ingredients

3 cups whole-wheat pastry flour
1 1/2 cups organic evaporated cane sugar
4 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt

1 cup organic almond milk
2 organic eggs
1/4 cup olive oil
1 teaspoon pure almond extract
1/2 cup organic greek yogurt

3 cups homemade cranberry sauce

Garnish

White Chocolate Ganache (recipe below)
Slivered almonds
Raspberries

Directions

Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees.

In a large mixing bowl combine flour, sugar, baking powder and salt; sift together.

In a separate bowl combine milk, eggs, oil, almond extract and yogurt; whisk together.

Add liquid mixture to dry ingredients and stir together (this batter will be very thick).

When liquid and dry ingredients are completely incorporated together, stir in cranberry sauce.

Pour cake batter into a well-greased Bundt pan. Bake for 50-60 minutes; until toothpick comes out clean. Allow cake to cool for 10 minutes in Bundt pan, remove cake from pan and place on serving plate.

Allow cake to cool completely on serving plate.

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White Chocolate Ganache

Ingredients

8 ounces good quality white chocolate (such as Callebaut)
3/4 cup organic heavy cream

Directions

Using a sharp, heavy serrated knife or a chocolate chopper, finely chop the chocolate. It’s important to chop it finely so that it melts quickly. Transfer to a medium bowl.

Bring heavy cream just to a boil, and pour over chopped chocolate. Stir until chocolate is melted and smooth.

Stir the mixture vigorously until it reaches the desired thickness or consistency.

*Note: I drizzled the ganache over the cakes when it was still quite warm and liquid, making it more like a glaze. Allowing it to cool more will result in a more solid spread. 

Single-Grain

Bon Appétit!
-Quelcy

Garnets & Ganache: Lemon Ginger Cake w/ Lemon Syrup & Chocolate Ganache

February 2014

On January 21st, I hit the big 3-0, and on February 1st, I shared 30 cakes with friends. This is my tradition- one mini cake for each year of life. I hope to some day make 100 mini cakes and share them with equally crazy, vibrant people as this year, but I am perfectly content to enjoy 30 while it lasts.

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Photo by Joey Kennedy.

This year, there were a few varieties counted amongst the total, one of which was a musical lemon-ginger. Since the party theme was Garnets & Ganache, the finishing touch was chocolate ganache of course.

Cakes and Tunes

Photos by Joey Kennedy.

Lemon Ginger Cake with Lemon Syrup & Chocolate Ganache

This recipe calls for a bundt pan. I used a large sheet pan in order to cut mini layers from the whole. If you use a sheet pan, adjust the baking time accordingly. Mine took about 25 minutes.

Ingredients

3 cups whole-wheat pastry flour
1 Tablespoon finely grated lemon zest
1/2 cup minced crystallized ginger
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt

1 cup (2 sticks) organic unsalted butter, room temperature, plus more for pan
2 1/2 cups turbinado pure cane sugar

6 large organic eggs
1/3 cup fresh lemon juice (from 2 lemons)

1 cup organic Greek yogurt

Lemon syrup (recipe below)
Chocolate Ganache (recipe below)
Powdered Sugar & Candied Ginger for garnish

Directions

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter a standard 12-cup bundt pan.

In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, lemon zest, ginger, baking soda, and salt; set aside.

Using an electric mixer, beat butter and granulated sugar on medium-high until light and fluffy, 4 to 5 minutes.

Add eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition; mix in lemon juice.

With mixer on low, alternately add flour mixture in three parts and Greek yogurt in two, beginning and ending with flour mixture; mix just until incorporated (do not overmix). Spoon batter into prepared pan, and smooth top with a rubber spatula. Firmly tap pan on a work surface to level batter.

Bake until a toothpick inserted in center of cake comes out clean, 55 to 60 minutes (if cake browns too quickly, tent loosely with aluminum foil).

Brush the cake with lemon syrup, to taste.

Let cake cool in pan 30 minutes, then turn out onto a rack to cool completely.

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Candied Lemon Slices & Syrup

*I made candied lemons for a different cake and used the reserve of syrup for this lemon-ginger cake. Since you’ll be starting from scratch, go ahead and add the candied lemons to this cake. I’m sure it will be delicious!

Ingredients

3/4 cups pure cane sugar
1/3 cup water
2 lemons, thinly sliced

Directions

Place the sugar and water in a large saucepan over medium heat and stir to dissolve the sugar.

Add the lemon slices and bring to the boil.

Cook for 12-15 minutes or until the syrup has thickened and lemon slices are translucent.

Pour some of the syrup* over the cake and top with the lemon slices. Allow to cool and serve.

*You can use any leftover syrup as a simple syrup in cocktails or add to homemade whipped cream and then dollop into your morning coffee.

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Dark Chocolate Ganache

Ingredients

8 ounces organic, semisweet chocolate chips
3/4 cup organic heavy cream

Directions

Bring the cream to a boil, in a saucepan over medium heat.

Remove from heat and add the chocolate, whisking to combine.

Allow to cool slightly, and then pour over cake and use an offset spatula to spread evenly.

Single-Grain

Bon Appétit!
-Quelcy

Garnets & Ganache because I’m Thirty.

Assuming everyone I meet is somehow magically my age, I began to bemoan the utter confusion so many of my friends and I have experienced to a new acquaintance, “Uuuuugh, the early and mid-twenties can really suck. Promised so much success if you do x and y, you’re weighted with all the accolades you were supposed to achieve, and then suddenly the bottom just drops out beneath you.”

Continuing along until I had sufficiently beaten the twenties into oblivion, I turned to this new acquaintance and finally asked, “How old are you?”

“22.”

Shit.

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[Fails to backtrack, inserts foot in mouth, pats girl's back metaphorically...pat, pat, pat] “What I meant was…haaaang tight kiddo, it’s going to get so much better [smiles with feigned enthusiasm].”

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Mistake me not. I enjoyed my twenties. Much to the confusion of many around me, I meandered instead of a taking a direct path. Though that path often left me questioning just about everything, I wouldn’t be where I am today without all those tiny, quirky, questionable steps along the way.

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So here I am.

THIRTY years old. While that is mind-blowing and unbelievable, it’s also completely inspiring and surprisingly comfortable. The decades leading to this big number change were about discovery and finding out what makes me leap from bed. Now, thirty is about diving in headfirst. If my twenties were the maps, thirty is the plane ticket and passport in hand, and that, my friends, calls for a celebration(s)!

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A celebration in the tone of red to be exact…

Garnets and Ganache Invite

Inspired by my birthstone, my love of chocolate and my affinity for alliteration, Garnets & Ganache transpired thanks to the efforts of my Harvest & Gather partner, Thommy Conroy.

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One of my birthday traditions is to bake a mini, layered cake for each year of life I am celebrating. Contrary to popular doubt [haters gonna hate; cake bakers gonna bake], I continued this tradition in my third decade [yes, 30 is a LOT of cake, but tradition is tradition].

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I even wore heels for the occasion. Those who know me, know this is rare, so rare they barely recognized me.

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Being surrounded by good friends, my favorite color and lots of chocolate filled me with smiles and gratitude and solidified my start to a new decade.

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This love and I have a deep bond commemorated by Black Velvet, and she managed to find me a chocolate bear bearing Black Velvet, the Canadian whiskey. Winner winner!

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Do you see the resemblance to a certain #JulepOfTheDay? Thanks Sylvan for this amazing find!

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Never fret. If your cake doesn’t have candles, just grab a candlestick and enjoy the song!

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What happens when Taboo meets Charades? Our entertainment for the night was the game “Celebrity,” and it left me with mental images I’ll never forget, specifically when it comes to this guy  “twerking.”

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How much do I LOVE this glasses-clad girl! She drove all the way from DC to celebrate me! Our love is the forever kind.

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Where would I be without these creative ladies (left and right) constantly brightening my days and proving shorthaired girls have more fun?

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Bring it 30. I’m ready for you! I’m ready for your youthful wisdom and purposeful drive!

Single-Grain

XoXo,
-The Birthday Girl

P.S: Stay tuned to Harvest & Gather for more memorable events and check out the Garnets & Ganache recipes:

Lemon Ginger Cake w/ Lemon Syrup & Chocolate Ganache
Cranberry Almond Cake with White Chocolate Ganache

P.P.S: Thanks to Joey Kennedy for documenting my memorable evening with such beautiful photos!

P.P.P. S: This is a great article about coming into your 30s. 

A Birthday By Day & By Night

January 21, 2014

Recently, the Pittsburgh Urbanist Guide interviewed me as part of the 3 Meals & A Bar series. The premise for the questionnaire is if you only had 24 hours to show a friend the best that urban Pittsburgh has to offer, where would you take them? As it turns out, my answers were very similar to how I chose to show myself around on my own special day…my THIRTIETH special day no less!

La Gourmandine

Every January 21st begins with a ritual- I acknowledge 8:36am, the precise moment when I entered this world. I know this time because as the baby of the family, there were several people to take note of important details like birth times. I acknowledge this time faithfully because I am quirky and crazy I suppose. With my precise birthday moment properly recognized, it was time for breakfast, and a breakfast of birthday champions should begin at La Gourmandine, so that it did!

Birthday Pastries

My lovely friend Dana accompanied me on my snowy morning to the warm, bright place where pastry dreams come true [in the form of almond croissants for this dreamer]. Dana generously gifted me a bite of her clafouti too [that sounds dirty. It was not. It was pure, innocent and delicious].

La Gourmandine Almond Croissant

Full and content from a perfectly almond-laced croissant and caffeinated from one of my favorite cappuccinos, I spent the afternoon with my favorite four-legged friend, hiking in the snowy woods and cityscapes of our neighborhood until she was plum tuckered and ready to snuggle. Those tired eyes were singing “happy birthday to you.”

Hike and Cuddle

Snow treks, snuggles and one perfectly relaxing massage later, I was ready to indulge in one of my favorite menus with two of my favorite people…

Meat and Potatoes Bar

You guessed it… Meat & Potatoes!

Meat and Potatoes Place Setting

Girls and Cocktails

Favorite faces and the cocktail that could make an alcoholic out of me- the Sgt. Pepper’s Old Fashioned

Poutine is basically a birthday cake waiting for a candle, and there were plenty, plenty more birthday treats where that came from.

Meat and Potatoes Poutine

Not quite a full 3 Meals & A Bar lineup, but my 30th birthday was a day comprised of a few of my favorite Pittsburgh offerings, with a few of the people who matter most to me. That was merely the beginning. After all, I mentioned how much I like to milk my birthday month for festivities, so obviously, there was still more in store, and that “more” included LOTS of cake!

How do you celebrate your day of birth?

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Happy Birthday To Me!
-Quelcy

Happy Birthday To Me, Love Big Burrito

January 2014

In an effort to fully milk my birthday, I took advantage of a special offering from the Big Burrito Restaurant Group [apologies if this post's title led you to believe I would be writing about a larger-than-life burrito...maybe one day!]

Wine Collection

The Big Burrito Restaurant Group includes several Pittsburgh establishments. While I tend to associate their name with an outdated approach to fine dining (expensive prices, design that caters to stereotypical business types and websites that inspire nostalgia for the precise moment when we moved past AOL chat rooms and began to dive into using the internet), I’m not one to turn down an olive branch in the name of my birthday. Joining the Big Burrito mailing list entitles each subscriber to a token of birthday cheer good for one free entree at the restaurant of her choice.

Eleven

Of the various restaurants, Eleven is my top choice, and if it were to have an interior design overhaul, it would probably be on my regular cycle of Pittsburgh favorites. In the meantime, I’m happy to overlook the overwhelming presence of beige and the private business rooms looming overhead in honor of my 30 years on this planet. Bring on the pork belly and foie gras!

Pork Belly

Pork Belly appetizer

Eleven is nestled between the bustling food scene of the historical Strip District and downtown Pittsburgh. Its name commemorates its place as the eleventh restaurant in the Big Burrito series. Despite my critiques, I do applaud Chef Derek Stevens’ ever changing menu of contemporary American flavors. I just wish the powers that be would frame his food more modernly. His kitchen is the center of Eleven’s spacious dining room, complemented by the more hidden, in-house bakery which yields artisan breads and desserts.

Foie Gras

Hudson Valley Foie Gras with Calvados prunes, orange-thyme biscuit, candied sage and kumquat

Beautiful Radish Salad

Beet Salad with golden beets, pickled red beets, little gem, molasses vinaigrette, taleggio and cornbread croutons

Not pictured is my complimentary Seafood Sampler birthday entree [my photo did not do its deliciousness justice], which was so flavorful it should have pushed me past the point of dessert, but when I saw beignets…

Beignets and Tables

Apple Beignets with apple caramel compote, brown sugar ice cream, cherries and granola

…I just had to have at least a few sweet bites. My birthday coupon turned out to be a pleasant reminder of why Eleven stands out from its Big Burrito counterparts and should be a part of my rotation more frequently. If you live in Pittsburgh or for some reason are planning a visit for your birthday, you should sign up for your own birthday gift!

Single-Grain

Happy Birthday Dining!
-Quelcy

ps: Pittsburgh Post Gazette food critic Melissa McCart wrote a well articulated piece about the Big group which might even describe my objections more accurately than I have done myself.

An Arrested Development Themed Birthday

May 2013

April 29th was my Special One’s Birthday. There was a cake, but that was just a small token to mark the day. The real festivity came about a week later. People who know me know that I love themes and birthdays! People who know my Special One know he can just about quote Arrested Development verbatim. Put two and two together, and you get a birthday ode to one of our all time favorite shows just in time to build up even more anticipation for the coming sequel. The theme started with the present…

The Custom Bag

Homemade wrapping paper made from the gift’s packaging paper…

Custom Banana Stand Wrapping

Finding these glasses on etsy made me as happy as Lindsay Bluth on Teamocil! Why have I not been shopping for EVERY gift on etsy?!? My Special One has a habit of leaving glasses all over the apartment. He has repeatedly told me if he had one, distinct glass, this would no longer be a problem. How about one distinct glass with an analrapist on it? Win win!

Tobias Banana Stand

Steve Holt Gob Bluth

and something to squeeze into the glasses- “Give my son the juice!”

Give My Son The Juice

Plus something for a rainy day- Arrested Development paper dolls by artist Kyle Hilton.

Bluth Family Paper Dolls

Tobias Banana Paper Dolls

Steve Hol Gob Paper Dolls

The theme carried into the birthday dinner menu:

Pulled Pork w/ Fried Plantains
(an ode to the Bluth’s Banana Stand and a more appetizing nod to Lindsay’s ham water)

Warm Escarole & Shrimp Salad
(I wasn’t about to make a seal dish, so I figured a seafood side would suffice)

Cornballs & Spicy Remoulade
(an ode to George Bluth’s Cornballer)

Banana Stand Cheesecake

Arrested Development inspired recipes to follow in subsequent posts. Stay tuned!

Chocolate Coconut Cake w/ Coconut Buttercream for Stella’s Birthday

May 2013

Do you remember your fourth birthday? I bet I would if the appropriate party photo jogged my memory (or in the least, some reconstructed version of a memory)… was that the year of the bunny cake, or maybe it was the Cabbage Patch kid cake?

Coconut Buttercream Layer

When you’re that age, birthdays are especially epic (to be fair, I still get pretty excited about my birthday). Even in between birthdays, you’re busy adding quarter and half years to your age to validate how big you are!

Stella Cake Top View

When my bosses asked me to make a birthday cake for their daughter Stella’s fourth birthday, I took the task pretty seriously. I wanted to make her a birthday cake that would leave an impression on her little girl memory.

Stella Flags

Stella’s a May lady, so the theme for her shindig was Cinco de Mayo. My first instinct for a Cinco de Mayo cake would be a drenching of rum (like this tres leches cake), but this wasn’t her twenty-first birthday, so there was more brainstorming to be stormed.

Stella Cake Closeups

Instead of boozing a four-year-old’s party, I channeled the produce of peninsular Mexico- coconut and a touch of mango. There were cinco layers of cake, symbolic of the theme, a little cupcake on top by birthday girl request (and for good luck) and a mango rosette for a pop of color!

Stella Bday Cake

The recipe below is for two 9-inch cake layers. If you want to make your own special, layered birthday cake, double the recipe below and use a 9-inch, 7-inch and 5-inch pan. 

Chocolate Coconut Cake with Coconut Buttercream
Makes two 9-inch layers

Ingredients

1/2 cup organic semi-sweet chocolate chips
3/4 cups unsweetened cocoa powder
3/4 cup boiling water

1 1/4 cups whole-wheat pastry flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt

3/4 cup organic, unsalted butter, melted
1 1/2 cups pure cane sugar

2 large organic eggs

1 cup organic coconut milk

Directions

Preheat oven to 350°F. Grease two 9-inch springform pans with butter.

Combine the chocolate chips and cocoa in a mixing bowl with the hot water. Let mixture stand, stirring occasionally, until chocolate is melted and mixture is smooth.

In a bowl mix together the flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt.

In another large bowl, use an electric mixer to beat butter and sugar until combined. Add eggs, one at a time until thickened slightly and lighter in color (about 3 minutes).

Slowly add the coconut milk to the egg mixture, and then the melted chocolate, beating until well combined.

Add flour mixture and beat on medium speed until just combined.

Divide batter between the two pans, and bake in middle of oven until a toothpick inserted in center comes out clean, 25-30 minutes.

Cool cake completely before frosting.

Coconut Buttercream

Ingredients

3/4 cup butter
2-3 cups organic powdered sugar
3/4 cup organic coconut milk

unsweetened coconut flakes, to taste

Directions

Use a mixer to combine butter and powdered sugar.

Add coconut milk a little at a time. Add more powdered sugar to reach desired consistency.

Top with unsweetened coconut flakes to your liking.

My Special One’s Choice- Penn Ave Fish Company

April 2013

When it comes to his birthday dinner (or a birthday observed dinner in the case of busy schedules), I like to make dinner (and dessert!) for my Special One. However, in the case of lunch, it’s ok to treat him and let someone else prep his birthday meal. Thus the choice was his, and he chose Penn Avenue Fish Company because, as you may recall, he really loves sushi (and I really love him!).

Penn Ave Fish Market

Situated in the Strip District, the restaurant’s industrial interior feels a lot like you’re wandering amongst the fish mongers of an early morning market. The quality of the fish also evokes a fresh market. It’s all the perks without the overwhelming smell of a fish market.

Penn Ave Fish Mrkt Salmon Sandwich

Sneaky Pete
Grilled salmon on whole grain ciabatta with fresh arugula, hearts of palm and spicy avocado crẻme sauce

Pro: The Sneaky Pete is a perfect sandwich. Avocado and salmon together are one of my favorite combinations, and I obviously appreciate a whole-grain bread.

Con: I ordered the Sneaky Pete the first time I went to the restaurant, and I haven’t been able to stray from it. Just when I’m about to pronounce a different fish sandwich’s name, I find myself saying, “I’ll have a ‘Sneaky Pete’ please!”

Luckily, my Special One and I believe in sharing & caring and family style for just about every meal to date. Thus I was able to combine creature comforts with menu meandering and a whole lot of sushi sampling!

Penn Ave Fish Mrkt Sushi

For the review of this sushi, I defer to the birthday fella, who has a LOT of experience with chopsticks, soy sauce and depleting the ocean of its sushi grade fish. “I think this is my favorite place for sushi in the city. It’s really good quality fish at a great price, and it’s not masked by potent flavors that hide the fish quality and cost a fortune.”

There you have it!

P.S: We still really love Fukuda too!

Brown Butter Strawberry Bourbon Cake for a Birthday!

April 2013

My Special One’s mom gave him some good advice for a nutritious life- half of your plate should be fruits and vegetables, which it seems, is why dessert is usually served on a separate plate!

Cake Plus Bourbon Drizzle

April is the month of my health-conscious, Special One’s birthday. The more elaborate plans were slated for a birthday observed date, but I couldn’t let his actual day pass without a little token of birthday cake, and the least I could do was stir in a good portion of fruit! I also thought I owed him some bourbon!

Bourbon Drizzled Cake

I would recommend this denser, honey-sweetened cake as a breakfast slice, since it’s close to a sweet bread, but that idea depends on your a.m. bourbon habits. Either way, this is a slice best served warm with a dollop of whipped cream or vanilla bean ice cream! For an extra bourbony drizzle, I whisked together a spoonful or two of Trader Joe’s Fleur de Sel caramel sauce and a healthy drop of Wild Turkey bourbon.

Brown Butter Strawberry Bourbon Cake
makes one 8-inch round cake
Recipe adapted from Roost

Ingredients

4 Tablespoons butter

2/3 cup almond flour
1 cup whole-wheat pastry flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda

2 Tablespoons local honey
3 organic eggs
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 teaspoon pure almond extract

1/2 cup organic strawberries, quartered (about 4-5 med/lg strawberries)
1/4-1/2 cup roasted, salted almonds, chopped

1/8 cup bourbon (Wild Turkey)

Directions

Preheat oven to 350F. Grease an 8-inch round cake pan.

Melt butter in a small pan over medium/low heat until browned and fragrant.

Set aside. Whisk together the flours, salt and baking soda until combined.

Add honey, eggs, vanilla, almond extract and brown butter.

Use a spatula or mixer to blend until smooth.

Pour mixture into a bowl and fold in quartered strawberries. Pour batter into prepared cake pan.

Top with chopped almonds. Add strawberry garnish.

Bake for 35-40 minutes, until a toothpick inserted comes out clean. Remove the oven to a cooling rack.

Poke holes throughout the top of the cake with a skewer. Pour the bourbon over the cake.

29 Cakes for 29 Years: Mocha Cake Recipe

February 2013

To say I like planning theme parties is an understatement, so when I decided to have an Amélie Themed Anniversaire, I crafted many small, film-inspired details (that perhaps were mostly apparent to me?). One of those details was the birthday cake…or cakes, rather. Combine the espresso and chocolate flavors from Amelie’s waitressing job at Café Des 2 Moulins with the opening credits, in which little Amélie bites raspberries off each of her fingers, and you have the inspiration for my birthday cake tradition!

Cake Side View

Chocolate Espresso Cake with Coffee Glaze & Mocha Buttercream

Note About Size: In order to get 29 little cakes, I doubled the recipe and used a large, sheet pan, but your everyday dessert craving or small get together probably doesn’t call for that much cake. However, your everyday dessert craving or small get together probably does call for a rich chocolate dessert with the bold accent of espresso. The recipe below is for two, 9″-round, cake layers.    

Coffee Glaze

Coffee Glaze

Ingredients

1/4 cup raw cane sugar
2 Tablespoons boiled water
1 Tablespoon instant espresso powder or instant coffee granules

Directions

Combine the raw sugar, water and instant coffee in small bowl. Stir until sugar and coffee are dissolved.

Raspberry Garnish Cakes

Mocha Buttercream Frosting

Ingredients

1 bar (4 oz.) Dark Chocolate Baking Bar, melted

2 teaspoons instant espresso powder or instant coffee granules
3 Tablespoons organic heavy cream

1 cup (2 sticks) organic, unsalted butter, softened
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/8 teaspoon salt
3 cups organic powdered sugar

Directions

Dissolve instant coffee in cream.

In a separate bowl, beat butter, vanilla extract and salt in large mixer bowl for 3 minutes.

Beat in melted chocolate until blended, scraping occasionally. Gradually beat in powdered sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in coffee mixture, 1 Tablespoon at a time, until desired spreading consistency.

Birthday Cake Assembly 01

Chocolate Espresso Cake

Ingredients

5 oz Ghirardelli dark chocolate chips, melted

2 cups whole-wheat pastry flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt

1 1/2 cups organic, packed light brown sugar
1 cup (2 sticks) organic, unsalted butter, softened
4 organic large eggs
2 Tablespoons instant espresso powder or instant coffee granules
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 cup organic buttermilk

Directions

Preheat oven to 350º F. Grease and line two 9-inch-round baking pans with wax paper.

Combine flour, baking soda and salt in small bowl.

Beat brown sugar, butter, eggs, instant coffee and vanilla extract in large mixer bowl for 3 minutes.

Gradually add melted chocolate and continue beating for an additional minute.

Beat flour mixture into creamed mixture alternately with buttermilk. Pour into prepared pans.

Bake for 33 to 38 minutes or until wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean.

Cool in pans on wire racks for 10 minutes. Run knife around edges of cakes. Invert onto wire racks; remove wax paper. Cool completely.

Brush coffee glaze over cake layers.

Spread Mocha Buttercream Frosting between layers and top of cake.

29 Cakes For 29 Years (A Birthday Cake Tradition)

February 2013

There is something about a celebration that calls for layers of cake, and there’s something about me that thought my own birthday called for a mini, layer cake for each year of life! I’m not old by any means, but that is a fair bit of cake! However, this layer cake tradition of mine continued (as did my twenties for a little bit longer).

29th-Birthday-Cake-Tradition

That last candle was a bugger! If you’re curious why I called upon a garden gnome for candle-blowing-out assistance, this should explain it. Recipe to follow in a subsequent post.

An Amelie Anniversaire [Birthday]

February 2013

Le Fabuleux Destin d’Amélie Poulain is a colorful, accordion-accompanied film about Amélie, whose childhood was suppressed by a mistaken diagnosis of a heart defect. Her isolation causes her to retreat into a fantastical world of imagination. As a young woman, she leaves home to becomes a waitress at the Café Des 2 Moulins (two windmills) in the heart of Paris. In her Montmartre apartment, she discovers a time capsule from a previous tenant’s boyhood. In resolving to return the memories to the owner, she sets off to become a do-gooder. After helping those around her, Amélie soon realizes she must be bolder in pursuing love and her own happiness.

From the endearing missions, to the quirky romance and the Montmartre backdrop, the film has always filled me with such happiness. For my 29th year of life, I, like Amélie, decided to plan something whimsical and quirky for myself- a night in which the film came to life!

French Party People

[In the apartment of Raymond Dufayel]
-I really like this painting.
-It’s “Luncheon of the Boarding Party” by Renoir. I paint one every year, for years now. The hardest is the eyes. Sometimes, they change their moods on purpose,when I’m not looking.
-They look happy here.
-They better be! This year, they had hare with morel and waffles with jam for the children.

Palmiers and Candlelight

Amelie Anniversaire

Amélie doesn’t have a boyfriend. She tried, but it didn’t live up to her expectations. On the other hand, she enjoys all sorts of little pleasures,putting her hand in a bag of seeds,piercing the crust of crème brûlée with the tip of a spoon. And [skipping stones ↓] on the Saint-Martin-canal.

French Flag of Goat Cheese

The French Flag of Goat Cheeses- Fraternité, Égalité et Liberté

Apples and Antics

Bretodeau Sleuthing

[At the home of the grocer Collignon's parents]
-Before the grocery, he used to be a ticket puncher.
-What’s wrong with that?!
-At night, he gets up and punches my oleanders!

Cheese and Quiche Face

Since hordes and hordes of tourists flock to Montmartre each year, I adorned the table with a typical tourist souvenir- snowglobes featuring my own photos of the Sacré Coeur and the Café Des 2 Moulins.

Blubber Suicide

Amélie’s only friend is called “le Cachalot.” But the atmosphere at home turned it into a neurasthenic and suicidal fish. Since these suicide-attempts only increased her mother’s stress,a decision is made. ENOUGH!!!

Gnome and Quelcy

[Amelie and her father in his kitchen after the disappearance of his garden gnome]
-
Your garden gnome is gone ?
-Is he back in the shed?
-Moscow and there. Nothing.No explanation.
-Maybe he wanted to travel around.
-I don’t get it. I don’t get it.

Gnome and Accordioniste

IMG_9571

IMG_9589

Since Amélie worked in a cafe making espresso drinks, I baked a mocha cake, layered with mocha buttercream (recipe to come!). The opening credits inspired the raspberry garnish.

Gnome and Cake

Gnome at the Creperie

Amélie’s only refuge is the world she makes up. In that world, vinyls are made the same way as crêpes, and the neighbour’s wife, who has been in a coma for months,just decided to do all her sleeping at once.

Creperie 01

The outside world seems so dull that Amélie prefers to dream her life until she’s old enough to leave. Years later, Amélie is a waitress in a bar in Montmartre, Les Deux Moulins [pictured above in my own photo from Montmartre] .

Amelie Theater

Raspberries and Popcorn

[In the movie theater]
-Sometimes, Amélie goes to the movies.
-I like to turn around in the dark to see the faces of the people around. And I also like to spot the little detail nobody will ever see. But I don’t like it when the driver doesn’t watch the road.

Screening

-I know who the mystery man of the photo machines is, M. Quincampoix.He’s a ghost, M. Quincampoix. Nobody can see him.He can only be seen on photographs. When a girl has her picture taken,he moans: hooooooooooo. While he softly caresses her neck. That’s when he’s caught by the camera, M. Quincampoix!

Behind the “theater,” I made a Photomaton (photobooth), since no Amélie party would be complete without a photobooth. More details on DIY photobooths in a subsequent post.

Accordion Dance

If you have ever listened to the film’s soundtrack by Yann Tiersen, you know the accordion plays heavily into the theme. Fortunately for me, I happened to know a really talented musician! The party would not have been the same without his musical accompaniment.

Accordion and Dog Painting

Polaroids and Album

[Intro to Nino Quincompoix]
Pages full of failed identity photos that their owners had thrown away and that had been re-assembled and classified by some eccentric. Some family-album!

Fin

Photos by my very talented friend Alex Mohamed!
Party held at Assemble: A Space for Arts + Technology (and the occasional birthday party)

My Birthday Dinner- Guess Where?

January 2013

This is an example of the dialogue that ensued on January 22, 2013 (ie: the day after my birthday)

Coworker: How was your birthday? Did you do anything fun?
Me: Great! Yeah, my Special One and I went out to dinner.
Coworker: Oh? Where did you go?
Me: I’ll give you two guesses…
Coworker: Meat and Potatoes?

Ding ding ding! We have a winner!

MP Bar

T
hat beautiful bar! It gets me every time! The dark wood, the marble top, the fancy absinthe container, the way the rest of the restaurant wraps around it. The chef’s eye seems to be as talented as his palate because the food gets me every time too!

MP Branded Tables

Sgt. Pepper’s Old Fashioned
bulleit bourbon, black pepper & thyme syrup, whiskey barrel bitters, lemon

There always seems to be some new improvement at Meat and Potatoes too. This time around, I was pleasantly surprised by the branded tables! Branded tables! Then there’s my favorite cocktail the Sgt. Pepper’s, which is a shining example of the restaurant’s consistency in the areas where consistency counts. That Sergeant could make an alcoholic out of an honest woman.

MP Fried Brussels Sprouts

What may look like a mysterious mash was actually a heap of fried Brussels sprouts. Upon eating this amazing heap, cravings for another heap will ensue within three days maximum.

MP Moules

Mussels of the Day w/ Garlic Bread
fennel, tomato, dill, salmon roe and bacon

This was the gift of mussels that kept giving, which is a perfect concept for a birthday meal! After eating every single mussel, we clung fiercely to the sauce, denying every table busser who tried to remove the flavor laden sauce from our grasp. This seemed to earn us extra cred with our waiter who snagged us some extra garlic bread to reward our sauce loyalty. Why were we so adamant? The poutine was on its way, and that poutine meant one more delicious vehicle for a complex sauce!

Tartare and Poutine

Beef Tartare
Dry aged strip, smoked egg, chili, seaweed aioli

Poutine
Gravy & local cheese curd

MP Lamb Shank

Braised Lamb Shank
White beans, broccolini, kale, gremolata

If by this photo, you have visually consumed more food than seems appropriate for two people, know that by the lamb course, we had the same feeling. After a few quality control bites of this lamb shank, we had to throw in our rustic napkins, and call it “to go!” This meant my birthday dinner stretched over three nights. After lamb leftovers the following night, I made a poutine omelette with a side of kale sauteed in the mussels sauce.

It was the birthday meal that kept on giving!

A Chance to Celebrate!

July 2012

When my next oldest sister made arrangements to take off  three weeks fromwork for a family vacation, her employer told her, “consider this a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity!” Though her employer’s words were masking an impending stinginess with vacation days, his phrasing was right! She had indeed experienced the trip of a lifetime. Her winter planning resulted in a three-week-long road trip from the Philly area to Nebraska and back, from sister (me) to sister (the middle one) with a brother in between.

She and her three kids stayed at an inn converted from an old prison. They walked the Gateway Arch. They stared up the seemingly infinite facade of the Sears Tower (and stubbornly called it the “Sears Tower”). They clung to tubes behind a boat in Iowa. They went to the Pony Express station in the tiny, Midwestern town where I entered the world. They presidents immortalized in stone. They followed plans and changed courses spontaneously. Fortunately for me, I was a convenient stopping point on both legs of the trip. My sister’s birthday fell right in the middle of their wanderings, which meant their return to Pittsburgh called for a cake!

Incidentally, this was also the cake that convinced me to buy an air conditioner. You’ll note I added “melted white chocolate” to my cake batter. Though it did make for a subtle sweetness, this choice was both an experiment and the result of the ridiculous temperature of third-floor living in the height of summer. Feel free to use solid chips, should you live in a kitchen that doesn’t melt your chocolate and liquify your coconut oil. As I learned, this cake requires a lot of almond flour, so stock your cupboard accordingly should you want to this cake to be completely gluten free. That was my intention, but after all, life requires frequent changes, and I am the daughter of invention!

Blueberry Almond Cake
(makes 1-9inch bundt cake)

Inspired by this recipe on the beautiful Roost blog, though I veered at the many forks in the road.

Cake Ingredients 

4 1/2 cups Bob’s Redmill organic almond flour
1 1/2 cup whole-wheat pastry flour*
1 tsp salt
1 tsp baking soda

6 eggs (local/free-range)
1/2 cup coconut oil
1/2 cup olive oil
3/4 cups honey
2 tsp pure almond extract
2 tsp organic vanilla extract

3/4 cup white chocolate, melted
1 pint fresh blueberries

For the Cake

Preheat oven to 350F.

Grease a 9-inch stone bundt pan.

Combine dry ingredients into a bowl.

Whisk wet ingredients in a separate bowl then add to dry ingredients until a smooth batter has formed.

Stir in the melted white chocolate.

Gently fold blueberries into batter and pour into greased pan.

To prevent the cake from browning, cover with tinfoil and bake for 30 minutes.

Remove the tinfoil and continue to bake for another 30 minutes or until a toothpick or knife inserted comes out clean.

Remove from oven and let cool in the pan for at least 10 minutes.

Flip cake onto a cake stand or plate and drizzle with glaze.

Coconut Butter Icing

Ingredients

8 oz Neufchatel cheese (rBST free)
1/2 cup organic mascarpone cheese
3/4 cup wildflower honey
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Directions

Use an electric mixer to combine all the ingredients until thoroughly combined and creamy.

Garnish

Top with fresh fruit (strawberries, peaches, raspberries)!

And remember…

Just because a cake is rather regal, doesn’t mean you have to be! Go craaaazy!

Happy Birthday Tosha!

My Special One’s Birthday: The Finale!

April 2012

The table was dressed its nerdy best!

There were beakers, bright sea creatures and science fiction stars of chocolate and ice.

There was food!

The Speck & Burrata Appetizer
The Roasted Beets & Celery Root w/ Goat Butter
The Lamb Shank (my FIRST lamb shank!)
The Simple Syrup accent to our bourbon
The Maple Mousse Pie!

It was all for my special one…



Then there were presents!

He likes to point out that he doesn’t obsess over Star Wars any more than the next nerd. He also likes to point out that I am not a normal human being for making it this long in life without seeing Star Wars [I thought I had seen enough of it to put it together.  I was wrong]. I like to point out that his appreciation for the film is a bit above and beyond the average person.  I also like to point out that I said I would watch it if he procured it.  In the meantime, I just keep instigating…

Once upon a Valentine’s Day Observed, I told my special one how I Like Him Like I Like..., but for his birthday, my message was all about love, love, love….


They’ll be love in the bodies of the elephants too!  I’ll put my hands over your eyes, but you’ll peek through.  

And there will most definitely be love!

Happy Birthday To My Special One!

ps:  Pop Chart Lab

p.p.s:  Brainstorm