This Gingerbread Loaf lands somewhere between a cake and a breakfast treat. It's wintry and comforting, with a pick-me-up burst of citrus from the glaze. It pairs well with a Manhattan, but I also include directions for adding that Manhattan to the Gingerbread Loaf (poke-cake style). The cocktail flavoring is subtle, but adds a little something to make each bite a little more worth savoring.
Polenta with a little extra herbs and salty parmesan, a tomato sauce with lentils and sweet, soft garlic are the backbone of this dinner idea. These recipes are loose guides. Simply use what you have on hand for the sauce and follow your instincts, but add lentils for an easy, affordable meaty flavor. Then pair the leftover red sauce with another batch of garlic flatbreads, hummus, tahini sprinkled with za'atar, olives, raw fennel, radishes, or whatever crudités you have on hand, for a Mediterranean/Middle Eastern inspired Mezze.
The core of this recipe trio is honey. Supporting beekeeping is good for the bees, and honey is better for you than sugar. The Earl Grey flavor is subtle, so play with the tea quantities if you want a stronger bergamot flavor. These are all loose guides, so follow your palate and instincts. The Earl Grey Honey Simple Syrup really shines when paired with Prosecco or Champagne.
The coconut sugar gives this quick bread a dark color and almost molasses flavor. For breakfast, serve a slice with a spread of lavender infused butter. As a dessert, top a slice with a candied lemon and a dollop of ice cream. Garnish your cocktails with any leftover honey candied lemons, and one baking session will last a week!
I love hosting friends and family in our home, but I also love sitting and eating, so I always try to strike a balance of effort when it comes to menu planning. I hosted a Biscuit Buffet and provided plenty of whole grain biscuits, a few staple toppings and invited my friends to bring their favorite toppings as well as some bubbly.
From childhood tradition, straight to adulthood hibernation, sticky buns are a staple that magically bypass the dramas of those confusing, self-absorbed early 20s (as everyone should). If you're already in the clear (ie: your thirties), bake some this weekend, and relish the perspective you have gained (while your 40+ friends laugh at your naiveté).
The Danish word Hygge seems to be resurging with the voracity of a seasonal flu. Perhaps it’s because our weather has finally dipped into real winter temperatures or perhaps because my peer group is reaching the nesting age, the word has been hashtagged and hashtagged again. Despite my knee-jerk reaction to the word’s overuse, I can’t argue the intention: let’s all find better ways to stay home and be cozy without completely cutting ourselves off from society. Shall we?
Winter is one of my favorite times to entertain. Extra bodies in our home means extra warmth without having to crank up the heat- win win. Aside from diminishing my guests to mere heaters, I do enjoy the coziness and comfort of having friends come to my home. I love when friends come to play a round of Clue, or warm up with the antics of charades and sip something toasty- all while I’m in my slippers!
I recently started mapping out my goals for the year, trying to distill them to months and days, and I realized one missing link from the past year: I didn’t host friends as often as I would have liked. I could chalk it up to an unruly schedule, a work overload, a lack of planning, etc, but the more important takeaway is to let the invites flow and start penciling in that calendar!
I recently invited some of the Urban Farmer’s family, who I now am very fortunate to consider my family, for drinks and snacks. In the winter, I love a crock pot full of mulled wine. The scent of simmering spices hits guests before they hit the door, and then warms their hands as they sip. Red wine tends to get all the attention on the mulling front, so I switched to a white wine with hints of citrus, honey and anise.
I tend to go overboard when planning for guests. In order to push this winter cozy idea more, I’m constantly looking for that teetering balance of manageable and special. Homemade crackers ride that fine line. They’re easy to whip up, customize and make a spread feel more homemade.
The major holidays may be over, but the winter merriment should continue. There’s no reason to pack up the oven-dried citrus or the wintry greens. They can brighten the grayest of winter days.
Call it hibernation, call it hygge, or call it some mispronounced version of that word, but don’t call off the entertaining just because the holidays are over. Heat up the crock pot, whip up some crackers, arrange some fruits, and you have yourself a winter gathering to remember!
Mulled White Wine & Homemade Cracker Recipes for Winter Entertaining
This post is a twofer! Using a crock pot to make the mulled wine means it’s easier to devote attention to the cracker making and final preparations.
At the end of a long, dusty, country road, there was a house that could have inspired Andrew Wyeth’s painterly strokes. It belonged to Lawrence and Sedonia Wagner, hearty Czech folks who farmed and reared a full flock of kids, then spoiled their many grandkids with jokes, kolaches, firm hugs and kisses. They were my grandparents, and I unfortunately only knew them in bits and pieces, moments stolen from the year, typically in the summertime. Otherwise, I remained in Pennsylvania, while their lives continued in South Dakota.
Since I was on the very young end of their offspring’s offspring, our generational gap only widened with the miles between us. Though we may not have always had a lot to discuss, my way to relate to my grandparents was through their home and through their table. I remember the warmth of the sun flickering through the farm trees, the occasional appearance of Maynard, the border collie who preferred his independent adventures, and the minuscule purrs of farm kittens. Their barn was red, as a barn should be, and the old farm house creaked with the many footsteps that had traced over its bones. I attribute my love of architecture to that house, my passion for nostalgia to that house, and my fondness for stories emerged from those walls.
My grandparents were laid to rest not far from that old farmhouse, in a treeless part of town, where the graves contrast the bright green grass of a gently rolling hillside. I mourned their departures and celebrated their legacies, then, from miles and miles away, I mourned the loss of the farmhouse.
The house was left to family members who took it for granted. They had seen the red barn beams day in and day out, and for them, the magic may never have existed. They didn’t know how miles and miles away, I bit back the rage and swallowed my sadness. How could they not preserve the walls where my grandparents’ spirits would surely return? How could they not appreciate the wallpaper Sedonia had adhered herself, surely while some homegrown feast simmered in the kitchen? How could they not know that the dusty road, the steep winding steps, the wooden shelves and toy chest were words from the language I spoke with my grandparents?
I have a cousin who knew those magical words, and for that, we share a connection that bridges the minimal time we have spent together. It’s no coincidence that we were both drawn to cameras, to documenting and preserving moments, to traveling far and wide to see even longer, dustier roads and flickers of light. She captured the red barn recently, and despite the distance, despite the masked degradation, I felt I was there, just as she was feeling Sedonia’s spirit.
It is no coincidence that my work is a constant pursuit to preserve what is good and true from those who came before us. It’s why I fell for a farmer/beekeeper who works to preserve the traditions encapsulated in seeds and combs. It’s why I see recipes as transcriptions of histories and mementos of times spent together. It’s why ingredients are so important.
This Vegan Nocciolata Chocolate Hazelnut Spread is the key ingredient in this decadent banana bread, and it represents the history of another family, a history that has been better preserved than my own. It all began 90 years ago with two brothers, Mario and Paolo Rigoni. Devoted to the natural beauty of their birthplace, Mario and Paolo started producing honey from the fragrant flowers found in the pristine meadows of Asiago, Italy (I’m ready to visit, just say the word!). Building on the success of their honey, they expanded their production to fruit spreads and jams, but they always chose to stick to natural ingredients. Their values passed from generation to generation, and Nocciolata is Rigoni’s “newest” product, born from another old family recipe and made from 100% organic goodness.
AND, if you live in Pittsburgh, like me, this chocolate goodness is now available in Whole Foods (but soon to be on Amazon for all you non-PGH’ers), which means, I’ll probably see you in the jam section real soon.
Here’s to preserving family traditions!
p.s: This post is sponsored by Rigoni di Asiago, but all opinions and Niccolata-covered spoons are my own. Thanks for supporting the brands that support With The Grains, but more importantly, thanks for supporting the brands that prioritize the environment. You can follow them on social media (F / I / P / T) for more organic product updates and even more recipe ideas (though simply licking the spoon is always a good option).
Whole Grain Chocolate Hazelnut Swirl Banana Bread
featuring Nocciolata Dairy Free
Yield: 2 loaves
About This Recipe: This bread was inspired by the new Nocciolata Dairy Free (though I did use dairy in the bread, you could make some substitutions for a fully vegan option). I can stand behind this ingredient because it’s certified organic, GMO-free, free of hydrogenated fats, made with quality cocoa and environmentally responsible cold-pressed sunflower oil, so you’re about to feel really good about appeasing your sweet tooth!