Vegan gravy may seem like an oxymoron, but this mushroom version will appease vegans, vegetarians and carnivores alike, which is why I also recommend it if you want to follow my lead and throw a Biscuit Buffet Brunch. If biscuits feel intimidating, pair this gravy with a whole grain or gluten free pasta or mashed potatoes. The possibilities abound!
A birthday is the perfect nudge to seize the day and gather friends and family for a slow Sunday of rich eats, refills of coffee and toasts of bubbly. I like to make these events a collaborative effort- both to make hosting more approachable and to challenge folks with my themes. Stay tuned for more tips on creating a biscuit buffet with the help of guests.
The beauty of this big batch of Whole Grain Pancake Mix is it eliminates a few steps between lazy morning snoozing and syrup pools, the two key parts of a successful weekend morning. This pantry stockpile is also a great head start for brunch entertaining. I even went on "Pittsburgh Today Live" to whip up a stack.
The Beaverdam Cabin, where we retreated, is part of Green Gables Restaurant & Huddleson Court, so after a cozy night's sleep under the eaves of the cabin roof, we'd lace up our boots and take a quick stroll to breakfast, where the fire was already crackling in the large hearth. The old stone, the warm wooden tones, the puzzle in progress, the play of light and shadows, and the general stillness set such a peaceful tone to the morning.
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).
He pushed his hands against the table, and his chair slid backward, as if the growing space between him and the table would somehow create more room in his stomach. “I guess it didn’t help that we started the day with champagne,” he said, explaining the slowed pace of his Thanksgiving consumption.
“Why did you have champagne?” his older brother asked.
“Because we don’t have kids.”
“We should drink champagne more,” he said to me, and I couldn’t have agreed more.
Yeah, we are that Uncle and Aunt- the childless kind who can still relish simple luxuries like sleeping in and toasting champagne for breakfast… if you call “noon” breakfast, and on Thanksgiving, we do! (The Urban Farmer is also the kind of uncle who believes someone has to torture the youngins, a role he fills diligently.)
Our Thanksgiving morning was a very intentionally slow morning that eased into a brunch just for us… with champagne. Being that 2016 has kept me on my toes, when a sanctioned day-off hits me, I am all too happy to kick up my feet.
As the sort of basket case that leans toward the side of “do, do, do, make, make, make, go, go, go… stress, stress, stress,” doing nothing is not my best skill. The Urban Farmer, however, has a very healthy attitude toward “couch days.” During the season of gratitude, I found myself truly relishing those times when man, pup and I can nestle into nothing.
I try to push the bounds of my gratitude, to see beyond the obvious. Yes, I am grateful for the roof over my head, for creative work, for a family who loves me and an admirable partner, but I’m also grateful for hot showers at my fancy, for growing up routinely celebrating my birthday with parties, for having real options for my education even if money was tight. But sometimes, it’s really soul-warming just to sit on a couch, sip champagne, watch a creepy show and relish that guy who thinks I’m special, all while snuggling the furry bundle of love who holds no grudges and wants to please us all the time. Those little nothing moments are in fact everything moments.
So we relished the morning and its lack of responsibilities. I played with flowers to gift his grandmother, and we brunched in our pajamas. Then I gladly sat at a table for which I had to do zero work. I ate way too much, then refilled my plate because gravy overrides reason.
Then there was round two- another side of the family, more plates, more refills, still no responsibilities and in the end, a game of name-that-hummed-tune and charades that made my face hurt from laughing so hard. Have a grown man do a t-Rex impression and then hum “Ring My Bell” while you try to guess what on earth he could possibly be channeling. It makes for a night to remember!
Thanksgiving put me into such a mellow state. Between that lingering food coma and the subsequent gray rainy days, I’m having a hard time bouncing back in full force. These crepes are not only a good way to use leftover stores from Thanksgiving (extra cans of pumpkin and cranberries?), but they offer a way to indulge in a weekend morning and extend that Thanksgiving laziness feeling. Eat brunch in your pajamas. Watch a creepy show. Cuddle your significant other and/or furry companion(s), and be grateful for the nothingness of it all.
Pumpkin Crepes with Cranberry Sauce, Walnuts & Pumpkin Whipped Cream
Adapted from Carlsbad Cravings
About this Recipe: Holiday shopping surely left an extra scoop of pumpkin puree or a stockpile of cans of cranberries, so use them up in one seasonal inspired brunch. Add a dollop of the whipped cream to your coffee, and serve the whole brunch with a bottle of bubbly! It’s not pictured, but I also recommend a healthy slathering of Nocciolata on these crepes. Chocolate-hazelnut, pumpkin and cranberries are a seasonal match made in heaven.
I closed Instagram. Instagram with its beauty and inspiration and mindless scrolling. Instead, I finally braced myself for the news- those stories I had been keeping safely at my periphery, understanding the gist but not digesting the magnitude. Oh the painful symbolism of oppressed natives while the rest of us feasted on plump turkeys and ate gluttonously on potatoes and cranberries and buttered rolls and enough pies to populate a corner bakery. I was complicit. I wanted to be cocooned in the warmth and comfort of my holiday, but I couldn’t shake the nagging feeling.
Then I shared a meal with one of my friends who feels closer to me than most blood relatives, a friend who has more fight in her than many brave lifetimes combined. There was a tinge of cynicism to her, the final burn at the end of a long, oiled rope. She’d been fighting and fighting against so many of the same issues facing the “water protectors” at Standing Rock, except her fight was in our backyard, and no one listened.
On the surface, this corner of the web seems like just a space for food, for recipes, for entertaining, but my interest in food has always been more than the way ingredients come together. Food is a basic right. It’s a unifier, a language, a way to commune, to learn, to share, but water, water is even more. It’s fundamental, a life source. But they are all in jeopardy, suffering attacks from every angle, usually from those who will be the last to suffer the losses.
This plate is about leftovers. I wish the narrative it inspired was cheerier, was about continuing the warm, cozy cocoon of Thanksgiving, but the thing is, the threads of that cocoon are tenuous. This story is one of picking up the pieces, of salvaging the more admirable bits and not wasting them. We, who have so much, need not waste. We need not waste our food, our riches, our power, all for the ability to oppress. We must pick up smaller pieces and build more, create sustainability.
If I were the biblical sort, I’d reread of the symbols promised to signal the end times. If I were in a poetic mood, I might turn to Victorian fears of good versus evil because these days can feel so blindingly hopeless, and yet, I have to believe in some lingering optimism, that the remnants will create something completely new and promising. When we face restraints and limits, our true creativity and possibilities must rise.
Make stuffing into latkes. Then take a stand on not just the news-glorified protests, but take a stand on those issues that creep to the edges of your backyard. Admittedly, I’m still figuring out where to direct my attentions, but in the meantime, I’ll be donating to those who are braver than me, to those who stand up for me even without knowing my name.
Here’s to remnants becoming inspiration.
Stuffing Latkes with Salmon, Crème Fraîche & Capers
About this Recipe: Perfect for serving brunch after a big holiday gathering. Mix in leftover mashed potatoes or sweet potatoes for variations on the leftovers theme, using 1 egg for every 2 cups leftovers.
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!