No-Bake Cashew Chocolate Mousse Cake with Fresh Mint (Vegan & Gluten Free)

As a child of the 80s & 90s, I have vivid memories of sticking to the vinyl seats of the non-air-conditioned boat cars my parents drove. We made epic journeys, from humid Pennsylvania to the dry, great plains of Nebraska and South Dakota with the windows down and hot air blasting our permed hair across our faces. One road trip included a flat tire and a long, roadside “hang out,” while we relied on the kindness of a trucker’s CB and awaited a tow truck. The turnpike, in Nebraska, in mid-summer is a hot place to be. So is my kitchen.

No-Bake, Vegan, Chocolate Mousse Cake with Fresh Mint // www.WithTheGrains.com

In the winter, brunch and dinner parties are a necessity. The oven and bodies warm the home, but the summer is another story. I could install an a.c. unit, but a combination of shear laziness and a healthy fear of the unit plummeting, from my third-floor window onto an unsuspecting passerby, leave the magical cooling device in the box.

No-Bake, Vegan, Chocolate Mousse Cake with Fresh Mint // www.WithTheGrains.com

In an effort to entertain friends without baking them, the summer months require creativity in the form of no-bake desserts. After all, a girl should be able to have her chocolate, eat her cake, mingle and not melt into a puddle of humidity. This is the cake for summer!

Single-Grain

Stay cool!
-Quelcy

No-Bake Cashew Chocolate Mousse Cake with Fresh Mint (Vegan & Gluten Free)

About This Recipe: This recipe is easy to make, but if serving guests, be sure to leave yourself enough time to soak the cashews overnight and to allow the cake to set in the freezer. The dates add a fruity note to the crust, and the peanut-butter, banana and cashew filling is like a milkshake. Top with fresh mint for flavor, fragrance and show. This dessert is great for summer gatherings.

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A Flapper Inspired Red Wine & Raspberry Chocolate Cake with Chocolate Feathers

May 2015

Nostalgia and Wanderlust might be romances cut from the same cloth. Lured by the city I love and the acclaimed director on the bill, I made the effort to see Midnight in Paris in the theater. The scenes absorbed me. In an effort to recall and revel in my time in Paris, I thought of the routes between the landmarks and locations featured in the film. My mind so thoroughly journeyed to Paris, I was disoriented and disappointed to discover Pittsburgh again upon leaving the theater.

A Flapper Inspired Red Wine & Raspberry Chocolate Cake // www.WithTheGrains.com

Like me, the film’s protagonist, Gil, is enthralled by Paris. He openly fantasizes about living in the Paris of his dreams- 1920s Paris, when Hemingway, Dalí, Buñuel and Man Ray shared deep thoughts over strong drinks, late into the night.

A Flapper Inspired Red Wine & Raspberry Chocolate Cake // www.WithTheGrains.com

Gil’s antithesis in the film, shoots down his nostalgic daydreams, “Nostalgia is denial – denial of the painful present… the name for this denial is Golden Age Thinking – the erroneous notion that a different time period is better than the one one’s living in – it’s a flaw in the romantic imagination of those people who find it difficult to cope with the present.”

A Flapper Inspired Red Wine & Raspberry Chocolate Cake // www.WithTheGrains.com

Though the grass may be greener back in time (sadly, this may literally be true) and the city in the distance may appeal more, there’s something to be said for looking to the past for inspiration and guidance. If looking back in time means respecting the land, respecting each other and engaging more, then why not look to a different time? The advantage of the present is we can pull inspiration from so many pasts and cull together many a lesson learned, but only if we look.

A Flapper Inspired Red Wine & Raspberry Chocolate Cake // www.WithTheGrains.com

I was reminded to look toward the past when Heather asked me, “if you could go back to any era, which would you choose?” For her, like Gil, the answer was easy- the 1920s, when ladies dressed exquisitely, smoked and drank rebelliously, and danced into the night. When she asked me to bake her a birthday cake, her request was an unusual one, but one I really enjoyed. In lieu of a flavor preference, she threw a concept at me- “a cake with a flapper attitude would be ideal- social justice, freedom, fun, and stylish (red lips and dancing hips!).”

A Flapper Inspired Red Wine & Raspberry Chocolate Cake // www.WithTheGrains.com

If Heather really could go back in time for her birthday, I imagined the parties she’d attend. I imagined her sitting at her vanity, drinking, smoking, putting on makeup and pearls, while chatting with a close friend. I imagined the excitement of selecting the perfect ensemble and the simplicity of a tiny clutch or purse with no need for bulky cell phones. She’d be dancing until her high-heeled feet ached with joy. Photographers would snap her in black and white, and she’d wait, with anticipation, to see the results. Her birthday cake emerged from these visions because cakes, like nostalgia, should inspire our imaginations and transport us!

A Flapper Inspired Red Wine & Raspberry Chocolate Cake // www.WithTheGrains.com

There’s nothing wrong with a little Golden Age Thinking and romantic musings every now and then. Where did I finally decide I would go? I’ll save that for another cake and time.

Single-Grain

Here’s to Heather & Conceptual Cakes Requests!
-Quelcy

p.s: However, if I were to travel in time to the 1920s, I imagine I would look like this.

Whole Wheat Red Wine & Raspberry Chocolate Cake with Chocolate Ganache & Chocolate Feathers

About This Recipe: Adding red wine to this whole-wheat chocolate cake was a nod to the lush side of the 1920s. It adds a subtle flavor and moistness to the crumb. This recipe bakes one 7-inch cake, which you can separate into two layers and divide with raspberry jam for a touch of rouge. If you want to make the Chocolate Feathers, follow this tutorial. I made a very reduced simple syrup to help adhere them to the cake, as well as propping them in small slits I cut in the cake’s surface. I made the top design with a paper doily and powdered sugar.

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“Cooking Together” with @BrashearKids + Homemade Peanut Butter Cups

A gradual progression from developing recipes and sharing the yields is to demonstrate how to make a recipe in front of an interested audience. This idea intrigues me and intimidates me. Am I qualified to teach? Are people interested? I’d toyed with these thoughts for a while, and then I met Amber!

Cooking Together with the Brashear Kids // www.WithTheGrains.com

Amber is the Education Coordinator & Chief Blogger for The Brashear Association, a community development organization in the Allentown neighborhood of Pittsburgh. Amber spoke about teaching the kids who come to the center about growing, cooking and eating healthy foods, an endeavor I respect and support wholeheartedly. Some of these lessons come through “Cooking Together,” a series of cooking demos with local chefs and food experts. Though kids can be brutally honest, they can also be more forgiving than adults with social media accounts poised to wreck you, so this seemed like the perfect opportunity to get a cooking demo under my belt. Before I could second guess myself, I volunteered!

Cooking Together with the Brashear Kids // www.WithTheGrains.com

When it comes to making healthy choices, the convenience store options have a lot more appeal than an apple or carrots, so I wanted to share a recipe with the kids to appease a sweet tooth without consuming all the unpronounceable, artificial sweeteners. To start, I had a volunteer read the ingredients in a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup. TBHQ? I have no idea what that means! As my volunteer stumbled over a few of the ingredients, I assured him most adults have no idea how to say these words either, and if we can’t say them, we probably shouldn’t put them in our bodies. Instead, let’s make our own peanut butter cups!

Cooking Together with the Brashear Kids // www.WithTheGrains.com

While the first layer of melted chocolate set in the cupcake trays, we talked about how we’d sweeten our treats. Since we live in Western Pennsylvania, honey is prevalent, and more importantly, it’s good for us! Buying local honey also supports beekeepers and honeybees. To emphasize this point, my good-hearted Urban Farmer stepped up to teach some beekeeping basics.

Cooking Together with the Brashear Kids // www.WithTheGrains.com

“So we’re really just eating bee puke?” Yes, delicious, delicious bee puke! One after the other, the kids asked really detailed and astute questions about beekeeping. Amber is clearly steering these kids in the right direction, and we were amazed with their fascination. Hopefully, we have some future beekeepers in the making!

Cooking Together with the Brashear Kids // www.WithTheGrains.com

Kid tested, and Quelcy approved! The kids loved the treats and thought they’d be able to make them at home with their parents. A big goal of these cooking classes is to educate entire families to make healthier choices, a decision made more difficult by the lack of a proper grocery store in the neighborhood. This is the same issue facing the neighborhood surrounding the Urban Farmer’s farm, and one of his longterm goals is to provide fresh food accessibility to the community.

Cooking Together with the Brashear Kids // www.WithTheGrains.com

Food access is another reason I chose Peanut Butter Cups for my demo. Organic and natural peanut butters are far more common than they used to be, so it’s a more accessible ingredient. Dark chocolate is typically healthier than a gas station candy, and honey doesn’t go bad. Rather than push “organic,” which can be economically limiting, I stressed the importance of minimal, pronounceable ingredients. What would we expect to find in peanut butter? Kids can answer that question. Why can’t peanut butter brands?

Cooking Together with the Brashear Kids // www.WithTheGrains.com

My apron’s off to Amber for her dedication to these kids. From implementing fruits & vegetables into their diets, to teaching them to feel confident in the kitchen, to exposing them to various career options and to inspiring them to dig in the dirt and grow their own food, she and her team are an inspiration! I imagine working with kids is often thankless and always tiring, so three cheers to the Brashear Kids coordinators!

Cooking Together with the Brashear Kids // www.WithTheGrains.com

Thank you to Amber & Brashear Kids for having me and supporting my first cooking demo opportunity! If you’re a Pittsburgh chef/foodie/maker, consider volunteering to lead your own demo. If you want to learn more about beekeeping from my fella, check out this blog post. If you want something sweet, salty & nutty, keep reading for the recipe! Pair a peanut butter cup with a cold-brew coffee, and you’re in for a decadent afternoon moment!

Single-Grain

Cheers,
Quelcy

p.s: Photos by Kyle Pattison, ie: The Urban Farmer, and myself.

Homemade Peanut Butter & Honey Cups

About this Recipe: The best way to approach this recipe is to buy a large jar of all-natural, peanut butter and a large container of honey with a squirt top. Then you can freely dollop peanut butter and squirt honey into each cup, without having to rely on measurements. These treats come together so easily, you’ll be able to make them whenever you have a chocolate craving.

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Chai & Rose Nankhatai Cookies featuring @RawSpiceBar

May 2015

There is the French bakery, and then there is the French boulangerie with reflections of the Tour Eiffel in the display cases. There are tapas, and then there are tapas amidst a mob of fútbol fans. There are empanadas, and then there are empanadas made by the madres who fought for their sons’ freedom from government corruption. There are cachacas, and then there are sweet, refreshing cachaças after taking in the views of sugar loaves and an omipotent redeemer.

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

There are chai lattes, and then there are chais from earnest workers in slums, where school girls gather to practice their English and request their photos. The blurred lines of the globe fill us with glimpses and tastes, teasing and toying with the wanderlust stirring inside those of us who feel its tug. These foods and their customs, the way they lead us to expand ourselves and later revel in nostalgia, these are the connections I explore through mixing bowls, whisks and spices.

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

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

No matter how organized a trip may be, a traveler must always leave room for the unexpected, the serendipitous discoveries- the hole-in-the-wall restaurant, the unlisted gallery, the street performer who strums better than the famed. RawSpiceBar channels surprises, journeys and flavors in one great idea: a monthly spice subscription consisting of three, global, authentic, freshly ground spice mixtures, from top chefs, along with recipes for their use.

It’s an idea I wish I had conceived myself. The monthly spice package unwraps like a friend returning from a trip abroad, regaling you with souvenirs and stories, complete with a layer of patterned paper representative of that region. My first spice package revealed glimpses of Punjabi India.

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

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

Indian Elephant // www.WithTheGrains.com

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

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

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

Single-Grain

Namaste!
-Quelcy

Whole Grain Chai & Rose Nankhatai Cookies featuring RawSpiceBar 

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

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

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Whole Wheat Chocolate Banana Tres Leches Cake

Cinco de Mayo 2015

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

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

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

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

Single-Grain

¡Buen Provecho!
-Quelcy

Whole Wheat Chocolate Banana Tres Leches Cake

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

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Spelt Flour Churros with Dark Chocolate Chile Sauce

May 2015

Join me on this wandering train of thought…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Single-Grain

¡Buen Provecho!
-Quelcy

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

Spelt Churros with Dark Chocolate Chile Dipping Sauce

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

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Frozen Blueberry Tart with Lavender Coconut Crust (Gluten-Free & Vegan)

April 2015

Floral, salty, crunchy, icy, juicy, fruity, creamy, minty and mapley… this tart is all of those elements in one bite! This spring inspired tart is easy to make, can be made the night before a gathering, and when garnished with a mound of fresh berries and mint, this tart is quite the show stopper!

Frozen Blueberry Tart with Lavender Coconut Crust (Gluten-Free & Vegan) // www.WithTheGrains.com

After you make this tart once, you’ll surely have new ideas and inspirations for different versions. I’m already dreaming of swapping the blackberries for pureed peaches in peach season and riffing off my corn popsicle recipe for a dessert with a surprising key ingredient and a pale yellow palette.

Frozen Blueberry Tart with Lavender Coconut Crust (Gluten-Free & Vegan) // www.WithTheGrains.com

Whether for a crowd, or for your own, sweet, spring and summer indulgences, I hope this tart finds its way to your freezers!

Single-Grain

Bon Appétit!
-Quelcy

Frozen Blueberry Tart with Lavender Coconut Crust
Gluten-Free with Vegan Option

About this Recipe: You’ll need a food processor or blender for the crust to thoroughly grind and blend the lavender. Use organic lavender buds for the crust (i.e.: food-grade/pesticide-free). Make the tart the night before to ensure it freezes, but if you’re in a pinch, a couple hours will suffice. Pull from the freezer a few minutes before serving (in summer months, serve directly from the freezer). The whipped cream I featured uses dairy, but I offer a vegan option below to make this recipe completely vegan.

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A Purple & Green Themed Spring Brunch

April 2015

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!”

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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.

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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.

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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.

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We toasted blackberry juice mimosas with fresh kiwi and blueberry garnishes.

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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.

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Behind every styled table and fork clanking on a plate, is this pair of pumpkin seeds waiting hopefully for fallen morsels of brunch…

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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!

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Stay tuned for our Easter Egg Hunt adventures and the recipe for the Purple & Green themed frozen berry dessert!

Single-Grain

Here’s to Colorful Menus!
-Quelcy

p.s: If you like my fern centerpieces, check out this DIY I did for Roxanne’s Dried Flowers.

Carrot, Kale Sprout & Asparagus Frittata

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).

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