Horrible grocery store General Tso’s chicken.
An unearthed stone boob (most likely a relic from an ancient South American society).
Assorted architectural tools and a wooden acoustic speaker.
What do these three items have in common?
They are all things my friends and I have stolen! Shhhh…. don’t tell our parents, border control or my graduating class. Each of us had our reasons. Arguably, only one of us really deserved the object of her crime. (Can you tell I’m a moral relativist?) Each of us “learned our lessons,” and each of the stories of our stolen conquests emerged while we stuffed our mouths with Lemon Blueberry Quinoa Waffles and heavy pours of Vermont Maple Syrup!
Sweet, sweet confessions!
The addition of a Goodwill waffle iron has sweetened my life just like that Vermont maple syrup! As much as I love obsessing over the details for an elaborate brunch, there’s something so sacred about being able to walk to a dear friend’s house with batter, my waffle maker, my best girl andthe Urban Farmer.
If I could, I’d lock the morning in a time capsule- bacon sizzling in the oven, pups playing like crazy in the yard, an espresso machine steaming, grabbing whatever plate is on top of the stack in the cupboard, filling said plate entirely too full, and making significant progress on that mason jar of syrup from Vermont. It’s when the guiltiest of stories emerge and all other responsibilities can simply fade to a very distant background.
Waffles are magic, and waffles with an ancient grain? They must surely channel some historical wisdom that conjures the best of stories. I hope you enjoy these waffles with friends worthy of your sweetest, guiltiest confessions!
Lemon Blueberry Quinoa Waffles Yield: 10-12 Belgian style waffles
About this Recipe: This recipe is extra incentive to cook yourself a big batch of quinoa for the week and save one cup for a weekend waffle indulgence. Or, if you have leftover of my Lemon Blueberry Breakfast Quinoa, add a cup of that to the batter. The grain blends into the batter, adding protein without adding texture.
Ah brunch, society’s way of justifying lazing about, eating too much, doing too little and marrying salty, sweet and saucy (mimosas anyone?).
Brunch is my favorite meal of the day, but as farm duties kick into full swing, it’s a meal that no longer fits the schedule (not that the Urban Farmer is the 6 am sort by any means). To indulge in brunch while we still could, I whipped up a little celebration of spring to be enjoyed in the mid-morning hours.
I first shared this brunch with the fine, fashionable folks at ModCloth, who asked me for some tips on supporting local agriculture, a topic I love to bring to the table! Since not everyone has the luxury of a fine fella who digs in the dirt all day and then comes home with fresh, flavorful greens, I’ll share some of those same tips here too. (This is also a good time to tell you I’m a ginger now!)
What’s your favorite part about farmers markets and other local food spaces?
Conversation + flavor. When people plant, grow, and harvest a vegetable, or milk a cow or goat to make cheese, they tend to be very enthusiastic about that product! Whether it be the quirky name of the heirloom seed or the temperament of the baby goats, this dialogue is such a far cry from asking the produce clerk at the grocery store for more details on the fennel. Plus, local purveyors can pick when the produce is ripe, since they aren’t shipping their product across the globe.
Do you have any tips on how to get the most out of a farmers market experience?
Shop with your taste buds and an open mind! Many farmers will give out samples, or offer up herbs and fruits to smell. Think of the farmers market like a cooking show challenge. Here’s what is available and flavorful at the moment, now be creative and turn it into tonight’s dinner! Also, don’t be afraid to stick to your food values! Ask the farmers if they grow organically or pesticide-free (even if they aren’t certified, which is often too expensive for small-scale producers). They risk more for their sustainable approach and should be rewarded accordingly.
Okay, so you’ve scored big at the farmers market…now what? Any tips for using your finds in a way that minimizes potential food waste?
Wasting less is a huge priority of mine, so much so that I added a “Waste Not, Want Not” category to my blog to share my experiments and pursuits. One of the biggest ways to mitigate food waste is to compost, so at least waste and scraps won’t be taking up space in a landfill, where they present a slew of problems. Some cities pick up compost with trash and recycling, but unfortunately, Pittsburgh is not yet one of those cities.
If you don’t have your own yard, talk to a neighbor about sharing a bin or contact the managers of a local community garden to see if you can drop off a bin of approved compostables. Or, talk to my farmer and me!
As far as consuming food to waste less, it comes down to kitchen creativity and experimentation! Try a version of my Turnip Chips & Turnip Greens Dip as a way to use the entire vegetable. Use the end cuts of vegetables like carrots and celery to make a Homemade Stock. The homemade version is usually more flavorful, cheaper and healthier than even the organic store-bought varieties. Juicing is a great way to clean out the refrigerator, and there are quick pickling methods that are not intimidating at all.
In the spirit of “Waste Not, Want Not,” I shared a recipe for a Rhubarb Simple Syrup with ModCloth readers. Rhubarb is so nostalgic, since my mom was one of the few neighbors who knew what to do with the stalky vegetable when most people thought it was a weed. This Simple Syrup is perfect for easy brunch cocktails or an afternoon homemade soda (just add sparkling water).
Rather than strain and pitch the fruit from the simple syrup infusion, use it to make a sweet and tart topping for waffles, which I made with local cornmeal and fresh, homegrown basil. I topped it off with Rose Water Whipped Cream for a truly fresh, spring flavor.
And if you truly want to eat brunch like this part-time farmer, you DRENCH everything in PURE maple syrup!
p.s: Be sure to scroll to the bottom to see the #BTS with my trusty sidekick. p.p.s: This post was presented in collaboration with ModCloth, but all opinions are my own.
Whole-Grain, Cornmeal, Basil Belgian Waffles with Strawberry Rhubarb Compote & Rose Water Whipped Cream
Outside, the sloppy mix of rain and ice falls at an intense angle, and the distant hillside has lost its detail, now appearing as a giant, sleepy, gray elephant. Inside, the sunset painted hyacinths fill the room with their intoxicating perfume. The scent transports my mind to lavish gardens and flowering trees in California and that narrow window in the spring, when the campus lilac bushes bloomed and lightened an otherwise stressful commute. We give flowers to lift spirits, a power I am appreciating more and more.
These hyacinths are fragrant remnants of a Valentine’s Day well celebrated, of brunching, of sappiness and of lazing away a Sunday as Sundays should be. I know there are commercial ties to this holiday, but I love it anyways. I love the extra incentive to show a caring gesture, like a card that reads “You’re Perfect (even if you cut your sandwiches like an idiot).” I love champagne toasts, pajama dress codes and puns on top of puns. I love my beekeeper, and I love to show it.
As the Urban Farmerpointed out, Saint Valentine was the patron saint of lovers and beekeepers, appropriate, since I was inspired to celebrate my favorite beekeeper this February 14th.
In my ode to my favorite beekeeper, I wrote:
Here’s to history (a beekeeping poster), here’s to sweetness (honeycomb chocolate & Honey Lavender ice cream), here’s to health (fresh bee pollen), and even to a little buzz too (wine)!
And because beekeepers need to eat, there were Multigrain Chocolate Chip Raspberry Pancakes with Raw Cacao Whipped Cream spiked with Snap and a ruby red champagne toast!
Multigrain Chocolate Chip Raspberry Pancakes with Raw Cacao Whipped Cream spiked with Snap Liquor, topped with a Dark Cherry
It was a Valentine’s Day well spent with gifts that will keep giving. I hope your Valentine’s Day was just as sweet! Did you give any edible or themed gifts of your own?
About This Recipe: You will never see me recommend a box cake mix (sacrilege!), but when it comes to pancakes, I do like to use Arrowhead Mills Multigrain Pancake Mix. The blend combines corn flour, whole grain wheat flour and brown rice flour, packing a lot of grains into one mix without over burdening your pantry. Alternately, you can use my Whole Wheat Pancake Recipe (skip the bananas).
As sniffles and sneezes are to the common cold, the comparisons flare up with equally telling warning signs- frowning while scrolling through social media, looking at a particular photo with a self-deprecating sense of awe, searching Amazon for better lenses, hovering motionless over the keyboard without a single word to type. The triggers of this nasty ailment are sneaky. They can even be ever so sweetly rolled in a coffee cake ring like this one.
After flipping through my new favorite magazine, I sourced the featured ingredient list, kneaded with care, rolled gently, patiently waited and then looked with disgust at the denser rings and apricot oozes that emerged from the oven. I knew I had made some ingredient changes that would explain such a density, but still, all I could think was, “whhhhhhhhhy?” As a commercial food stylist, one might expect me to have a certain immunity from the real-life-vs.-magazine discrepancies. Yet there I was, coffee cake in one hand, magazine in the other, lamenting dough imperfections like some sort of voluntary martyr.
I almost hid these imperfections. I almost refrained from picking up the camera. Then I sat down to breakfast with my friend, who is attempting to say “thank you” instead of “I’m sorry” and not sound like a snarky bitch in the process. “Thank you for bearing with my baking experiments,” I said, taking the theory for a test spin. (It’s not as easy of an adjustment as you’d think!) Then, my wonderfully creative, animated friend took her first bite.
Her face continued to react like a grand finale of fireworks- one enthusiastic expression right after the next, praising the glaze, then the filling, then ceasing to speak so as to savor the bite. My variations, for all their visual imperfections, tasted really good. They deserved to be relished, dense crumbs and all.
I do not dredge up these muddy waters of perfectionist tantrums as a way to fish for compliments, merely to remind myself of their pitfalls. These crumbs litter the trails to my kitchen, and collectively, each morsel accounts for the life I am living. Am I taking risks? Am I growing? Am I sharing, exchanging, conversing and savoring life? Or am I stressing and sweating the small stuff?
2015, with all its wild twists, turns and internal tantrums, is coming to a close. The year may have been dense. The filling may have oozed. Yet, it was a sweet year, filled with many a firework! It’s time to savor and reflect, plan and progress. Here’s to a sweet start to 2016!
p.s: What are your tips and strategies for keeping the evil perfectionisms at bay? If you too suffer from “the comparisons,” you might find this video inspiring. I like to watch it every now and then as a reminder to chill.
About This Recipe:Somewhere between a coffee cake and a pastry, this whole wheat version is a little denser than the original recipe but worth the added grainy goodness. Be sure to read the dried fruit labels and choose an organic, unsweetened, unsulphured apricot option. There are often unnecessary, unhealthy ingredients lurking in store-bought dried fruit.
As I entered the tunnel, a notoriously congested snag in an already flawed transportation system, her voice interjected. “Hello, it’s me. I was wondering if after all these years you’d like to meet.”
By now, you can surely finish each and every word that follows, but in that tunnel, her greeting hit me for the first time. She sang directly to me, as if I had somehow landed the private concert of a lifetime! Adele’s booming voice seemed to fill the cavernous, concrete tunnel, as if it were an amphitheater echoing all the raw emotion of her lyrics.
I, like all the other listeners who kept her at the top of the charts for a record-breaking stint, hung on her every word, on repeat. She’s relatable. She’s passionate. She’s emotional. All of these explanations and reviews attribute to her repeatability, but it wasn’t until I heard a review on NPR (?) that the weight of her lyrics fully made sense. I’m paraphrasing, but he so eloquently distilled her album, “In a world that talks at us, Adele wants to have a conversation.” (Bonus points if you can find me this review. It escapes me now!)
Conversation- that act of listening, exchanging, growing, thinking and relating- is missing from so much of our lives now. We may have more opportunity than ever to keep tabs on each other, but how often do we listen and relate to one another? How often do we listen to those in need instead of judging them through fear?
Roasted apples, beets and cranberries are a sweet and healthy brunch side. Mix leftovers with arugula, pumpkin seeds and blue cheese for a unique salad.
This need for conversation, for tangibility, is also what led me to the beautiful, image-laden pages of Sift Magazine. It’s one of those magazines I page through while waiting in line at the checkout, debating whether or not to splurge. However, unlike many of its grocery store counterparts, Sift feels like a conversation. Unencumbered by ads, its beautiful pages beg to be collected. Each recipe is poised and ready for all the handwritten edits of ingredient substitutions and baking experiments.
My apron’s off to the forces behind the magazine (the employee-owned King Arthur Flour), who always seem to encapsulate the most earnest intentions and elevate the act of baking, such as this Holiday Issue introduction:
Flour, butter, sugar, and yeast are humble ingredients with great power: They from the alphabet of a family’s baking history and culture. This time of year finds experienced and neophyte bakers alike moving toward the kitchen, with the desire to continue their families’ traditions or invent new ones. Whether the food memory is of warm sweet rolls, an elaborate loaf, or a treasured holiday cookie, the act of mixing and kneading forms a connection with those who have gone before. When you live, breathe, and bake, you honor the gifts they’ve handed down while you create enduring memories, and exquisite meals, for those who follow.
It’s not enough to simply page through the enticing recipes, especially when splurging on a magazine, so I promised myself to put the pages to use!
Inspired by song and page, I made a conscious decision to return to our dining room table more this holiday, to catch up with old friends, to welcome new friends and simply eat dinner without staring at a screen. As I prepared these meals, I thought about how quickly and effortlessly my grandmother and mother made hosting appear, how happily they hid the stressful time management elements and planning behind a welcoming smile. I thought about the legacy my grandmother left behind- the most generous, helping hands and the most famous koláče this side of the Czech Republic.
This recipe, though new to me, felt rooted in tradition- roasted butternut squash and cornmeal- simple, humble ingredients that combine into something colorful, sweet, spicy and warm. This recipe is perfect for sharing, since you can prepare most of it ahead of time. It’s a perfect way to feed a full holiday table and still manage to join the conversation!
About this Recipe: A perfect make-ahead treat! For ease, you can substitute a can of organic pumpkin puree for the roasted & pureed butternut squash. I added turmeric for nutrition and color. Make this vegan by using a non-dairy milk in the polenta and whipped coconut cream for the topping. Be sure to source unsulphured, dried fruits without added sugars. There are two options for final preparation of the polenta slices- baking or pan frying, depending on how many you are serving. Leftover stewed fruit makes a beautiful and flavorful accent on a wheel of brie for your next gathering.
“My goal in life is to walk around like Pooh Bear, with my ‘paw’ deep in a large crock of honey, savoring the sweetness all day long.”
In addition to honey’s sweet appeal, the Urban Farmer’s deeper motives for becoming a beekeeper stem from his passion for the environment. When I first introduced him as a beekeeper in the Meet a Beekeeperpost, he explained his desire to defend the honey bee:
“I started to read more about the negative effects of GMO’s (Genetically Modified Organisms) and monocultures (growing a single crop, for a long time in vast areas, which prevents a diverse, year-round diet for bees and simultaneously depletes soil nutrients). The link between bee colony collapse [bees disappearing] and GMO’s seemed so obvious. Bees are dying, and people act as if it’s a big mystery, but if you look at the flaws of the industrial agricultural system, there’s an easy solution: support local honeybees. I chose to dive in completely and become a beekeeper.”
Throughout his fledgling beekeeping efforts, the honey was always off limits for us. He had to reserve the liquid gold for the bees, especially as the colder months approached. However, this year his hives have been flourishing, which meant there was sweetness to be shared. This also meant he was one step closer to his Pooh Bear aspirations! The honey extraction process merited a spotlight! I still have much to learn about bees, so who better to explain this exciting process than the Urban Farmer/the Urban Beekeeper himself!
How do you know when it’s time to extract honey?
In our climate in Pennsylvania, we have two major “nectar flows.” This refers to mass blooms of a variety of vegetation. The first nectar flow takes place in early summer, followed by a dearth (a drop in the nectar flow), then again in the early fall when knotweed and golden rod become the major food source for our bees. Generally, beekeepers harvest any excess honey after these flows, making sure to reserve enough honey for the bees to get through the summer dearth and the long winter. During the winter, honey is their only major food source.
The metal bristles help remove wax and release more honey.
How is the honey extracted from the hive?
The extraction process starts by removing the honey supers from the hive. Supers are smaller hive bodies that are placed on the top of the hive (see diagram). The bees naturally use the larger bottom hive bodies, called brood chambers, to raise their young and store pollen (and some honey too). Instinctually, bees store the honey on top of their young. When the hive has enough honey stores built in the brood chamber, they will start to store honey in the upper supers. At that point, the beekeeper can easily remove the frame of honey with out disturbing hatching eggs.
This, however, does not make it easy to remove bees from the honey supers to transport them for extraction. Some beekeepers use a leaf blower to persuade the bees from the frames or a tried-and-true process of shaking the bees off the frames and securing them in a box as fast as possible, before the bees rush back to their frames. Either way, it’s not an easy or full-proof procedure, and you might discover some stowaways!
What happens to your hives as the weather becomes colder?
The bees slow down in the cooler weather. They forage less and then not at all in the dead of winter. The queen slows down egg laying, and the bees go into a mode of trying to heat the hive. They detach their wings and vibrate at such a frequency that they can heat the hive through the negative degrees of winter.
When is the best time to start beekeeping? How does one start beekeeping?
The best time to start a new hive is in early Spring – March or April. Bees are becoming active at that time of year, and they begin the process of regrowing their numbers. Bee packages are available for purchase at this time. This is also the time of year when beekeepers make “splits” (splitting a bee hive into two hives), so it’s a good time to find local bees for sale. If you are interested in starting a bee hive, I highly recommend reaching out to Burgh Bees for information on where to find bees, as well as a listing of courses available through the organization. [Burgh Bees has a lot of helpful resources for non-locals too!]
If there’s anything I’ve learned in observing and discussing bees with the Urban Farmer, it’s that beekeeping is a fickle trade. A beekeeper can do everything right, only to discover his bees have fled the hive. Then, sadly, it’s back to the beginning. So when he discovered he could harvest honey from his hives, it was a celebratory moment with an especially sweet reward!
Extracting honey made me appreciate the beekeepers who harvest, store and sell large quantities of the honey. It’s sticky work for sure, and as we cranked the machine beekeepers have surely been using for centuries, we had our doubts. Were three frames worth this rigamarole? Would we salvage any honey, or would it all be stuck to the guts of the apparatus? We of little faith! When we turned the release nozzle, the honey flowed and flowed and flowed!
Sometimes my words and my emotions fail to convey my excitement and pride in the moment, so instead, I use my kitchen and my table. I’ve seen up close the ups and downs of tending to the little black and golden creatures. I’ve seen the stings, the swelling and the defeats. However, this pancake brunch was to celebrate the Urban Farmer’s determination, his dedication and nature’s dessert.
Honey sweetened, whole-wheat pancakes with honey & cinnamon whipped cream and topped with honey roasted bananas – this was a pancake brunch ode to honey!
Hopefully the bees’ remaining honey will carry them boldly through winter. Hopefully, the following spring will entice them with its nectar flow, and hopefully, this honey harvesting will become a tradition. For now though, we celebrate each spoonful we have and the progress the Urban Farmer is making on the bee front!
Note: Pancakes are a great way to use local milk that has just turned, as well as bananas that are over ripened. I used a soured milk for this pancake recipe, and it yielded an extra fluffy pancake and less waste! As always though, exercise caution when using an ingredient past its peak. Alternately, you can use buttermilk.
Nature is not a procrastinator’s enabler. She moves ever forward, reminding us, we are on her time. We must nurture tiny seeds before the last frost. We must water before the intense heat of the afternoon. We must harvest in due time and then rake leaves over garden beds, blanketing them for the coming cold. She moves in cycles, and we too must move with her, lest our flower beds lay flowerless and our tomato trellises stand tall and barren. Nature is not a procrastinator’s enabler.
Last year, I took that notion for granted. Day in, day out, little Julep and I passed bushes brimming with honeysuckle. Their yellows were eye-catching, and their fragrance was intoxicating. Yet, every day, I thought, “Oh, I have to remember to pick these tomorrow.” Finally, “tomorrow” became a sad collection of shriveled flowers, the last exasperated efforts of photosynthesis. I was too late.
I vowed not to be so reckless with Mother Nature’s schedule the next year, this year, and I waited expectantly. The Urban Farmer and I stood in his field, digging, weeding, planting, just like the other days of digging, weeding, planting, except on this particular day, there was an incredible smell in the air- sweet and floral. Like a word poised on the tip of the tongue, the fragrance was familiar but still hidden in a hillside of indeterminate green. It wasn’t until walking the same old Julep route, I realized what we had been smelling- honeysuckle in bloom!
We walked uphill, under a washed-out, turquoise bridge, turned the bend, and the fragrance greeted us once more. Into the bag of farmers market strawberries and sweet, sweet peaches, we dropped petal after petal. True to my vow, we picked, brainstormed and experimented, and this was the first pass. Much like the first efforts at planting, there are lessons learned and plenty of room for reworking, but as far as turning over procrastination leaves, it was a very good, sweet, honey-laced place to start.
If the honeybees and maple trees decided to share the burden of sweetening our breakfasts and teas, if the dairy cow decided to snack from the branches teasing her with sweet smells… these were the magical unions in my head. These were my attempts to harness a wild flower’s aroma.
The results were mild but intriguing. They left the tongue and the brain questioning the hints of honey in maple syrup and the faint floral notes in a spread of butter melting down a stack of hotcakes.
I made good on the promise I made to myself and to those blossoming branches at the top of the hill, just beyond the patinaed dome of the beautiful cathedral. There’s still time to experiment further, though not much time. These flowers, the seasons, Mother Nature in general, is a schedule to be embraced without delay. We’ve been spoiled and desensitized by transports of produce and aisles of peaked produce, but the here and the now is trying to harness the scent in the air into our breakfast. How will you use these little yellow gifts?
Gluten-Free Pancakes with Honeysuckle Infused Butter & Maple Syrup
About This Recipe: Rare is the occasion you will see me recommend a pre-made mix of any sort, but it seems I have a soft spot when it comes to all natural, gluten-free, pancake mixes. I keep them on hand in case I have a gluten-free guest, but for this Monday morning treat, I went for the ease of the mix, so I could focus on my flower experiments. Rather than buying an assortment of flours, the mix does it all for you! For these round, puffy beauties, I used Pamela’s Pancake & Waffle Mix, which uses sorghum flour and has big hints of vanilla. The honeysuckle infusions are experimental and not precise in the least, so take my “research” as a start, and adjust as you see fit.
Without any regard for my presence, just across the regularly traversed street, he emerged from his home, with a lawn chair and a bare chest. His gut bore the brunt of years of overeating, while his sporadically tattooed arms remained relatively thin. He set the chair on the sidewalk, one of the main sidewalks of this neighborhood, and he sank into his seat. He cinched up the ends of his nylon sport shorts so as to allow more sun exposure on his upper thighs, which also boasted random tattoos. The tan-line-threatening socks and killer 80s-style high-tops seemed to confirm the rumors of his return from jail and a lingering ankle bracelet. As he settled into his sun worshipping routine, I heard a sound I haven’t heard in ages- the spritz spritz of what I can only assume was tanning oil and not sunscreen.
It was noon, which meant the early spring rays were shining directly on his already bronzed body. He closed his eyes and sank into the chair without a care for his appearance or what the neighbors might think. As the sun traveled through the sky, he rotated his chair, and with closed eyes, he positioned his head toward the warm rays. It was as if he had emerged from 1980, when tanning didn’t cause skin cancer, when perhaps this street was more neighborly, when he didn’t have a record. In some ways, this soon-to-be leathery, ex-con was enviable. There he was, idling away a spring afternoon, giving zero fucks about the ozone layer, his waist line, nosy neighbors, recent fashion trends or the discomfort of pedestrians in his vicinity. Maybe it was his alleged time behind bars, but this neighbor was really soaking up the spring moment.
I’m not adding this man to my heroes and role models list by any means, but this indifferent sunbather did reiterate this goal: bask away an afternoon and just forget everything else! This goal is why I host Sunday brunches. No lines, no wait, no stressed service industry, no surprisingly bad menu items, no sending back an undercooked egg, no thoughts for Monday, etc. Just brunch, conversation, a thoughtful menu, and in the case of this early Cinco de Mayo celebration: a little outdoor time with some sunshine…
…and with a cocktail that won’t cost you $14!
When it comes to brunch cocktails, I like an elixir that uses the palate as the guide, not a complicated recipe of ratios. I infused mango nectar juice with (de-seeded) jalapeño pepper slices, pomegranate seeds, chunks of pineapple and mango and served the spicy, fruity combination with additional limes and tequila for the taking. I salted the rims of the glasses with Pink Himalayan Sea Salt for an extra colorful touch.
The menu consisted of these Baked Tortilla Egg “Nests” with sour cream and guacamole (recipe below), as well as tropical fruits and a Whole Wheat Chocolate Banana Tres Leches Cake for dessert (recipe to come). There was plenty of iced coffee, and Bess kept the drinks flowing! Progressively, the tequila portioning became more pronounced, as it should on a zero-fucks Sunday brunch.
Relieved of her farming duties for the day, Julep was all about a relaxing Sunday with the ladies.
The right weather, and the right friends with their quick wits and sarcastic humor, made me feel a little like the bronzing neighbor. Worries and cares seemed to slip away with each sip of Mango & Tequila. The Chocolate Tres Leches Cake was just the right sweet indulgence, as we exchanged tales of awkward crushes, gossip, goals, plans, progress… all the topics you want to hit with good friends on a Sunday. Each of these creative friends is a mover and a shaker in her own right, so there’s always lots to discuss (Dane, Kelly and Bess), and I’m grateful for the ways they each support me too.
Inadvertently, here’s to the bronzed neighbor with the questionable past, and here’s to good friends gathering for a re-appropriated holiday, tequila cocktails, crispy tortillas and rich chocolate conclusions.
p.s: If you want to create a similar celebration, the handcrafted, Nepalese garlands and pinwheels are available at Roxanne’s Dried Flowers. The vintage, industrial trays and wooden crate are available through Toll Gate Revival, a new favorite salvage & vintage purveyor of mine.
Tortilla Egg Nests/Huevos Rancheros Cups
About This Recipe: These nests combine all your favorite Huevos Rancheros flavors, but baking them makes them a perfect brunch option, since you pop them in the oven and can focus on other details. The recipe below uses a frozen, Fire-Roasted Sweet Corn from Trader Joe’s. If you can’t find that variety at your local TJ’s, you can use regular frozen corn, and roast it with the sweet potato. The idea behind these is loose and flexible. Add other taco favorites or meat for a different variety. I used a pineapple salsa for these cups, but use whatever salsa you love. There may be extras of some of the filling, as the portioning is pretty loose. Depending on your menu, plan on most guests eating two of these.
In an anthropomorphized world, Billy Buttons would be the wide-eyed boy with a dirty face, a dangling overall strap, a slingshot in his back pocket and tussled hair. His very traditional and formal mother would insist on calling him by his given name, Craspedia, but all the other children would chant and cheer, “Billy, Billy Buttons is here!”
In reality, Billy Buttons are these silly, globular flowers, like lollipops or sugary gumdrops on sticks. When I saw these deep violet and chartreuse preserved billy buttons (available here), visions of a purple and green brunch filled my head. When your grocery list is “purple” and “green,” the grocery store becomes a totally different shopping experience and a challenging assignment for guests who ask what to bring.
This purple and green inspired frittata took center stage with slices of heirloom rainbow carrots, asparagus spears and new-to-me purplish kale sprouts (when a kale and a brussels sprout love each other very much…). Always keep a frittata in your proverbial back pocket as a brunch host. A frittata serves a full table of friends, it’s a blank canvas for colorful and seasonal ingredients, and it’s a comforting crowd pleaser.
My green and purple shopping list led me to Trader Joe’s Pesto Gouda, and my old time favorite- blueberry chèvre. Pesto Gouda is a worth buying even when you’re not on a strict color mission.
We toasted blackberry juice mimosas with fresh kiwi and blueberry garnishes.
It wouldn’t be a With The Grains brunch without a little something for the sweet tooth. This gluten-free, frozen dessert was a nod to the emergence of spring and warmer temperatures, topped with homemade whipped cream and juicy blackberries, blueberries and fresh mint. With the lavender crust and frozen fruit layer, the dessert is light, floral and the perfect touch for a spring brunch.
Behind every styled table and fork clanking on a plate, is this pair of pumpkin seeds waiting hopefully for fallen morsels of brunch…
As the colors disappeared from the table, we switched to a completely different palette: neons! This brunch took place on Easter morning and transitioned to an Easter Egg Hunt! “Were there kids there?” asked the Urban Farmer’s mom. Nope, just a bunch of adults, hunting for bright, plastic eggs on a farm. More on that to come!
Stay tuned for our Easter Egg Hunt adventures and the recipe for the Purple & Green themed frozen berry dessert!
About This Recipe: The vegetable component of this frittata recipe is really flexible. The portions I list below are a loose guide, as I was very fluidly creating this version while setting a table, brewing coffee and whipping cream for brunch. Roast, sauté and combine according to your cravings and what’s in season. The main ratios to mind are the egg mixture proportions. I found the Kale Sprouts at Trader Joe’s. If you can’t find them, you could easily substitute kale or brussels sprouts (cut in halves).
We sat picnicking in a sunny field, not far from the narrow streets, bordered by the cracking plaster of crooked old buildings. These little roads opened to the center plaza, where farmers had sold us apples as big as our heads, creamy, stinky cheeses, rustic breads laced with nuts and fruits, and a cheap bottle of wine that would keep a sommelier squawking for days. You wouldn’t recognize me in this sunny field.
Close friends are often shocked when they glimpse this stage of my life. My hair was dreaded and spindled down my back. My flowing fabrics and loose garments spoke to my pseudo-hippy stage, but beyond my looks, you wouldn’t recognize me because I was still such a baby in my food journey. Those picnics in the very quaint and serene Aix-en-Provence taught me to appreciate ingredients, the effects of soil and flowers, why a name can only be applied when a strict set of standards are followed. In a word, terroir.
When I glimpsed this green enamel bucket arrangement at Roxanne’s Dried Flowers, where I regularly style and photograph beautiful florals, I felt transported. I briefly returned to the narrow roads, crooked buildings, crackling plaster and bustling farmers markets of Aix-en-Provence. I returned to the centre-ville that taught me how bread, cheese, olives and wine tempt and lure me as much as an intricately prepared roast. In turn, the very provincial centerpiece inspired my brunch menu.
This easy side dish combines fennel, blood oranges, roasted red grapes and fennel greens with Pink Himalayan sea salt. Fennel is a staple in many provincial French recipes. Roasting the grapes adds an extra sweetness, and their shape mirrored the spherical Billy Buttons. The loose fennel greens added a color pop to match the green enamel bucket and the salal leaves.
When I set the table, I added a curly lemon peel garnish to each glass. The yellow peels picked up the yellow hues of the floral arrangement. For an inspired brunch cocktail, I invited guests to mix fresh-squeezed lemon juice, champagne, Art in the Age’s Sage Liquor and Royal Rose Lavender Lemon Simple Syrup, according to their flavor preferences. The tart lemon and sweet lavender mixed well with the herbal notes of the Sage Liquor to create a very fresh, spring drink. If you could drink in the hillsides of Provence, it might taste like this!
As a token for each guest, I created simple nosegays using the same flowers as the arrangement. This carried my floral theme to the plates and made a lovely parting gesture to my guests. When it came time to fill those plates with food, my main dish was a Baked Whole Grain Lavender Infused French Toast.
Pain Perdu, lost or wasted bread, the French call it, and aside from almond croissants, it’s one of my favorite French breakfasts. For my baked version, I served each portion with a dollop of homemade Lemon Lavender Whipped Cream and added a small sprinkling of loose lavender as a fragrant and flavorful garnish. As the morning progressed, with tart, herbal sips and sweet, syrupy, floral bites, part of me felt far, far away on a picnic in Provence.
Baked Lavender Lemon French Toast with Lavender Lemon Whipped Cream
About This Recipe: Baked French Toast is best when assembled the night prior to your brunch, which makes morning preparations a lot easier. I infused cream with organic lavender, which soaks the bread overnight. The longer you infuse the lavender, the better, so start that step early. I sourced my organic lavender from a Farm-to-Table expo, but you can find it in certain specialty stores. Be sure to buy food-grade, organic lavender to avoid flowers sprayed with pesticides. When I was struggling to find lavender, I had purchased Royal Rose’s Lavender Lemon Simple Syrup, which I used in this recipe, but alternately, you can make your own.