Roasted Chestnut Stuffing (Vegetarian)

“How do you feel about chestnuts?” I asked Jill, who was coming for dinner in a few days.

“Like…I like them roasting over an open fire? I actually have no idea!”

Though we sing about chestnuts roasting every year, and the lyrics help put us in that holiday spirit, how many of us actually eat these hearty nuts?

Roasted Chestnut Stuffing (Vegetarian) //

If my friend Jill, who samples an array of precise recipes daily at America’s Test Kitchen, cooks constantly, travels extensively and meets world class chefs as part of her job…if she had never eaten a chestnut, it’s safe to say very few people are eating these nuts. This begs the question, why do we sing nostalgically about this nut but not eat it?

Roasted Chestnut Stuffing (Vegetarian) //

The short answer is blight. Once upon a time, chestnut trees blanketed the east coast of the United States, covering some 200 million acres. Frost resistant and reliable, the tree was a major source of income for many a rural community, both as a source of food for livestock and as a timber source. However, in the first half of the twentieth century, blight, imported through Asian Chestnut Trees, devastated the eastern woodlands. If this feels like a dismal tale from the annals of food history, it is, BUT there’s a glimmer of hope too!

Roasted Chestnut Stuffing (Vegetarian) //

Fortunately, there are organizations and people working to restore the chestnut’s mighty presence. These history lessons are also valuable as more and more of us seek to improve the local food economy. If we spend more time examining our food and its sources, we can better mediate our local agricultural systems. For now, chestnuts cost a pretty penny in grocery stores, and their availability is limited (I hope you can still acquire some as I am sharing this in January!), but hopefully, in the not-too-distant future, every east coast grocery store will offer a regular bin of local chestnuts. Maybe I’ll even be gathering them at Hazelwood Urban Farms!

Here’s to chestnuts roasting on lots of open fires!

Quelcy Signature

Roasted Chestnut Stuffing/Dressing
Recipe adapted from Sift magazine
Yield: 10 servings

About This Recipe: Vegetarians and carnivores can unite on this classic side dish thanks to chestnuts’ meaty flavor! For a more nutrient rich approach, I used a combination of Whole Wheat Sourdough and Mt. Athos Fire Bread (a local favorite- sub any dense, grainy bread). This recipe calls for baking the bread cubes to dry them, but you can also cube and save bread as it starts to harden to avoid wasting a loaf. To simplify the recipe, you can use pre-cooked chestnuts (like these), but roasting draws a lot of flavor. If you have more than 1 1/2 cups chestnuts after roasting and shelling, add them to the stuffing. That quantity is flexible. 



Whole Wheat Chocolate Gingerbread Layer Cake

December 2014

It had been too long, and he had missed making music, so the Urban Farmer strummed his guitar at the dining room table, where I worked on something far less poetic. His fingers and his voice learned their way through the latest Billy Bragg song. My Farmer’s smoother voice joined the deeper, raspier words of the recording. He played and repeated, played and repeated, but the poignant lyrics merited the repetition:

Deep down in the underground, atoms spinning round and round. Scientists monitor readings. Searching for the Holy Grail, the particle or at least the tale of the one who gives the universe its meaning. But what if there’s nothing, no big answer to find? What if we’re just passing through time?

Whole Wheat Chocolate Gingerbread Layer Cake //

Aside from a stint of piano lessons and a brief spell in the middle school orchestra, the only music these hands play is on Spotify. I’ve always been fascinated by words, writing and literature. Guiding a thought from mind to paper in a compelling way is challenging enough. These minds, who combine thought-provoking concepts with pleasing rhythms, harmonies and all the finer details of music making that escape me, these brilliant minds leave me awed and inspired like a child watching a magic routine for the very first time. A lack of technical understanding and raw talent might explain why many attribute these music maker’s talents to a higher power. Magic. God. Gumption. Who knows? It all leaves me pleasantly transfixed and inspired.

Whole Wheat Chocolate Gingerbread Layer Cake //

Music may not be my conduit for expression, but the baking and sharing of food is one of the ways I translate the stories in my head into something real. Some people regard baking as I regard music. It seems magical, daunting, impossible, the equivalent of a chemistry experiment, or maybe even divinely inspired. There is a lot of magic to this process of transforming disparate pantry items into inspired layers of wholesome decadence, but at a fundamental level, music and baking stem from a willingness to try.

Time and technique are required for full mastery, but to start, if you can reach the pedals or read the directions, you can make the layer cake. Whereas early tinkering might make for unpleasant melodies, a baking mistake here and there can still yield deliciousness. I may never find my voice through song, or strings, or keys. However, sharing these sentiments, these food inspired stories, and these images is the way I share my voice, and this tale tastes of chocolate, gingerbread and the most memorable moments of the holidays.



Chocolate Cranberry Upside Down Cake w/ @WigleWhiskey

December 2014

There’s a middle-aged man in my neighborhood who lives alone. If you’re familiar with Pittsburgh vernacular, he’s what one would call a yinzer. He might be missing a tooth or more, has a smoker’s cough, and his fashion relies heavily on jerseys. His house is a large vestige of the 80s, complete with drop-ceiling tiles and surely some wood paneling.

He lives simply, fueled by beer, sports, porch sitting, and banter with the equally yinzer neighbors. When I walk up the hill, he greets me, applauds my dog training, and pets little Julep on the head. It’s an endearing exchange to watch. Her tail wags rapidly, he smiles and calls me honey in a not-so-skeezy way.

Cranberry Upside Down Cake //

I haven’t seen this man since winter put a wedge in porch sitting, but as I walked by his house recently, I was stopped in my tracks. Rainbow icicle lights draped over the large picture window on the otherwise barren porch. I paused to take in the blinking lights, trying to imagine what went through his head in planning the decor. I spend countless hours poring over design blogs, styled shoots, Pinterest boards, magazines, and more.

I earn money by making scenes come to life before a camera. Yet, a few blocks away, my home was lacking any holiday cheer- a fault of time and a stressed schedule. Without any plans for guests, I hadn’t made a point to decorate for myself, but my neighbor, with his drop ceiling in place, had adorned his porch with rainbow lights.

Cranberry Upside Down Cake //

My observation did not emerge from a place of competition or condescension. His Christmas lights fascinated me. I think a lot about beauty and design, about how beauty is so often pegged as a superficial fixation. However, these little touches can really brighten a day, for both the person who decorates and the person who sees it.

We each have our specific styles, our obsessions, and a certain level of indifference when it comes to design elements, but we also have some very human quality that causes us to seek beauty and adornment. This is why I believe in making and sharing beautiful food.

There’s a creative and fulfilling challenge for me in developing the recipes and the plating, and hopefully, there’s an experience for the recipients. Hopefully, we walk away having shared something- a brighter moment, a laugh, or a silence as we enjoy what just passed from fork to mouth.

It may be a while before I feel adult enough or childish enough to buy and decorate my own Christmas tree, but I will be decorating cakes for the holidays, and thanks to my neighbor, I was inspired to add a little fresh greenery, candles, and holiday cheer here and there.


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