Category Archives: Other Slices of Life

Waffles & Winter Reds in Defense of Beauty

February 2014

Why?
Because it’s beautiful?
No. Why?

Curved City

In architecture school, the why was always waiting around the bend in the critique. We learned to think analytically, artistically and technically. We learned to push our preliminary concepts and defend our assertions. We learned to use buzz words and reference history. We learned to turn our noses up to symmetry, unless viewing its prescriptive balance through an historical lens. Somewhere along the way though, I lost site of beauty. I buried it because beauty was not enough of a defense to answer those looming whys. 

Life Can Be Magic

It wasn’t until recently I realized how important beauty is, how misunderstood it is, how scapegoated it is. While in a business class, I listened to a woman belittle her ambitions. “I want to open my own salon. I know it’s cliché, and I know it’s just hair, but that’s what I want to do.”

Desert Tree

I refuted her lack of confidence. Her work is not just hair. Her work is expression. It is art. It is the ability to listen to someone’s wants and desires and translate them to a style reflective of the words. At its best, her work is beautiful, and it shouldn’t be underrated, especially by her. Her work is more than the hair, it’s the hours, days and lives it touches. To desire beauty is not to be entrenched in the superficial, but we often feel guilty when admiring beauty.

Birdhouse and Coffeeshop

While learning to answer the whys, I traveled to remote Kenya. Without magazines or mirrors, the Turkana women of the desert still sought beauty. They walked with dignity and grace, with necks laden with brightly colored beads, with hair spindled and accented with a desert crimson. Beauty is part of our makeup. It brings joy, brings us together and fosters memories.

Lili

Lately, these ideas have been floating in my head. The pursuit of beauty instigates so many of my endeavors, and I’m finally beginning to appreciate the value of such a contribution. This is not to abandon the whys or the narratives behind my thinking, but it’s to give myself permission to enjoy the beautiful results and the lasting effects they have.

Lili Waffles

A warming plate of waffles and a poached apple from a recent brunch at Lili Cafe. I’m very fortunate to live so close to this neighborhood coffee shop. It has rejuvenated me on so many an occasion.

These musings are the impetus for seeing past the gloomy grays to see bright reds scattered throughout a wintry neighborhood…

Iron Works

…to see fanciful creatures in an imaginary sea…

Grain

…to see amber waves of grain jutting through metal curlicues…

Facade

…to remember what brought me here and look at it anew…

Mother's Bread

…to see tranquility in quiet resilience…

Urns

A thing of beauty is a joy forever: its loveliness increases;
it will never pass into nothingness.

-John Keats

2013: A Year in Review + Happy New Year!

January 2014

It’s been a whirlwind year (aren’t they all, really?), full of extreme ups and downs, so I dedicated time to sitting in my window seat, cuddled under a blanket [and dog fur], sipping coffee and penning my reflections on paper. Not far from my comfortable chair and window view, is a desk and a laptop beckoning me to give my digital world the same due diligence. There I sat reminding myself that as much as I want to share my adventures, and recipes, and engage in a food dialogue, these pages and posts are primarily here for me. These collected words, images and flour proportions remind me exactly how much one year can contain, but only if I take the time to review them. So review them I did, and these were a few of the highlights…

IMG_9571

Photo by Alexander Mohamed

For one night, in celebration of 29 years, I stepped out of Pittsburgh and lept into my favorite movie, which happens to take place in my favorite city. While the accordeon played, I blew out 29 candles in a continuation of my birthday cake tradition.

Tea With Heather

A bright spot of tea in the bleak month of snowy, gray February was a visit from Heather Mulholland of Tea With Me. I was so honored to be a stop on Heather’s big world tour, and I enjoyed the time we had together to connect in the real world after so many online exchanges. This proved once again the world is small if you make it so!

Final Shot_gatherings

Photo by Adam Milliron

In April, I began styling work with Table Magazine, and in a rare role reversal, I had the chance to be in front of the camera for an article on gatherings. Eat a delicious Italian meal amongst good company? Of course! I am so grateful to be part of this magazine. Each issue gets better and better, and my creativity has been stretched and challenged. I’m thrilled for what lies ahead!

El Bus Blanco

Tacos from the Tampa Taco Bus is a worthwhile foodventure, but this trip was especially meaningful because I was eating tacos with two of my BEST friends. We had reunited for one of said ladies’ wedding! One look at Sandra’s wedding shoes, and Nina and I were a mess of squished, teary faces. It was love! Full disclosure: even the thought makes me tear up a bit. I love those ladies!

Bourbony Whipped Cream

May was bittersweet. I watched my best friend walk down the aisle, and I couldn’t have been happier, but I returned home to heartbreak. My love, my best friend, my “special one” concluded our relationship and broke a piece of my heart. Our lives had been intertwined, but I had to move forward and learn to flip my own pancakes. In a twist of fate, this batch of independence, in the form of peach & bourbon pancakes, made its rounds on the internet and earned me some press, which humbled my heart and reaffirmed my journey. I was also grateful for the way my friends rallied around me, both in person and via the internet. Through all the sadness, I managed to hold my head high and I also found one of my greatest joys…

Introducing-Julep

Bourbon is a girl’s best friend, and so is my sweet, minty Julep! My search for a four-legged companion also had its fair share of ups and downs and disappointments, but as soon as I saw this tiny little face, I knew I had found my pup! Julep reminded me of the importance of patience. The best things in life are worth the wait. One glance at my instagram feed is evidence of how quickly I slipped into crazy dog lady territory, but I can’t imagine my life without this little lady. She brings a smile to my face every single day. Her sweet demeanor even charmed my family who typically prefers dogs to earn their keep in the pastures amongst cows and sheep.

Bon Appetit Bloggers Cook BA

July was a dance party for one when I discovered my grandma-style, beet-substitution semi-freddo made a slideshow on Bon Appétit’s website. I was dancing with delight! Now if I could just get Martha to pay attention to me!

Champagne Toast

Though sundresses and warmth on my shoulders feels forever ago, I am grateful for the friends who surround me, especially these two ladies who have become even closer to me this past year. Being single has reminded me not to cut out important friendships and lose myself in one person.

The Cottage

Sweet, sweet respite. It’s so important! This year I experienced Maine for the very first time, and it was the most perfect way to find respite. I was honored to help my friend Acadia with her wedding decor, and I was so graciously welcomed by her family’s neighbors. They were like instant family, and I look forward to many more adventures north!

Rice Pudding Taste Test

En route from Maine to Pittsburgh, I made a Boston detour and a deeper connection with my wise-beyond-her-years friend Jill. This lovely lady happens to work at a foodie mecca- America’s Test Kitchen, so she generously invited me to tour the place where recipes meet perfection. Though my approach to cooking and baking may differ, I walked away truly inspired nonetheless. The coming year will be filled with even more ATK inspiration as I work my way through one of their newest books.

The Farm

Throughout the summer and fall, I enjoyed plenty a farm dinner. There’s nothing like tables extending into the horizon, fresh farm air, beautiful barns, fresh, seasonal food and down-to-earth chefs full of talent. All these dinners led to the creation of Farm Week on my blog, in which I recounted the many meals shared with fellow foodies on farms. I hope Farm Week becomes a tradition!

349A9453

Photo by Chris Goodman

Summer quickly faded into fall, and elegant tables moved indoors. As I took a leap of faith and dove headfirst into doing what I love- styling & event design- I found myself at more and more festivities. The one that stood out the most was Thanksgiving. This golden table marked the start of Harvest & Gather, an event design collaboration with painter and floral designer Thommy Conroy. Thanksgiving affirmed all the twists and turns my path has taken this year. I finally feel like I’m on the path which leads to my skills and passions aligning fruitfully. I’m finally challenged and fulfilled by the work I produce, which makes for a very exciting start of a brand new year!

Happy-2014

So here’s to a brand new year with far more dancing, cherished pals, growing friendships, wine refills, artful cappuccinos, brunches that spill into evenings, fulfilling endeavors, foreign vocabulary, and warm puppy snuggles! Here’s to 2014!

Cook’s Illustrated Baking Book: A Surprise Cookbook for the Collection

November 2013

Since bringing my little one home from the farm, I have made many, many, many a trek up and down a few flights of stairs en route from my apartment to her little patch of green. In this mad dash, I flash by the neighborly mailboxes all in a row. During one such green-pastured frenzy, a little hint of red, on a bright white box, caught my eye. Oh the thrill that welled inside me when I discovered the package aligned with the mailbox marked with a Q! My little Julep was just as excited to see what the surprise parcel contained…

01 Curious Dog and Girl

In spite of her anticipation, she still minded her manners patiently for permission to approach the surprise…

02 Permission

03 Curious Paws

Oh joy! That hint of red was the seal of the tried and true recipe developers I had recently visited- America’s Test Kitchen.

05 Bubble Wrap

Oh more joy! The bubble wrap revealed the Cook’s Illustrated Baking Book. Intended to demystify baking, this new addition to my library features 450 foolproof recipes from those precision lovers at America’s Test Kitchen.

06 Book Reveal

“Now what?” her round eyes seemed to say.

07 What Is It Mama

Now we bake, Little One, now we bake a LOT!

Stay tuned as we adventure through the many, many pages of black and white baked goods.

Behind the Scenes: America’s Test Kitchen

August 2013

I remember the details surrounding the first time I purchased an America’s Test Kitchen magazine more than I remember purchasing my first and only car. On one particularly fated checkout session at Whole Foods, the clean, crisp visual of America’s Test Kitchen drew me into its pages and pages of tantalizing food images. “I must have this I thought.” When I finally glanced the price on the cover, I though, “I must have this and use this!” Use it I did, checking off page after page, as I worked my way through the majority of recipes.

The Library Table

A very impressive table marks the center of the America’s Test Kitchen library, one of the largest private cookbook collections in America, with more than 4,000 items. Each recipe process begins here.

As my checkmarks increased, I learned the true value of that $9.99. Each recipe was more than just a set of ingredients and steps. Each recipe represented a precise approach to obtaining perfection! Each recipe had been analyzed, tested, discussed, improved, rejected or accepted, etc until finally fit to bear the America’s Test Kitchen name and appear in print. Though this approach varies from my “ah, I’ll just use this and sub [just about everything],” I respect their maniacal methods tremendously!

Photo Schedule and Props

Photo schedule and details (left). Photo props for backdrop and base textures (right).

Thanks to an invite from a very talented friend who works for ATK, I had the chance to experience the devotion and dedication behind the scenes.

ATK Photo Props

Prop collection for the in-house photo studio.

In their own words…

America’s Test Kitchen is a real 2,500 square foot test kitchen located just outside of Boston that is home to more than three dozen, full-time cooks and product testers. Our mission is simple: to develop the absolute best recipes for all of your favorite foods. To do this, we test each recipe 30, 40, sometimes as many as 70 times, until we arrive at the combination of ingredients, technique, temperature, cooking time, and equipment that yields the best, most-foolproof recipe.

Natural Light Studio

The origin of all those tantalizing food images. ATK uses all natural daylighting for their photos.

So Many Plates

After stifling my jealousy for those who work in the beautifully minimal photo studio and the ABUNDANCE of props, we continued the tour, and our path opened to the reason behind the name.

Photos Only Kitchen Tools

Enviable Creuset

Glimpsing the Kitchen

Testers At Work

I asked one of the head recipe developers what the note-taking is like for such an intense process, and she showed me this (good thing she wasn’t using an iPad!)…

Working Recipe

A recipe in progress might look like a stained, ripped printout long before it becomes a beautiful magazine page.

After the research phase, the ATK process draws from five existing recipes. After scouring their own extensive cookbook collection, the other sources might include a recipe passed down from a relative, a NY Times article, a famous chef or a food blog. Then the testers hit the kitchen!

Taco Casserole of Sorts

If your mom turned her taco dip into a casserole and put A LOT of time into perfecting that recipe, you’d see this on your dinner table.

Rice Pudding Taste Test

Comparing rice puddings. Here’s a helpful tip: use coconut milk!

I was fortunate to tour on a day when there was lots of taste testing opportunities. While savoring my two spoonfuls of rice pudding and drawing my own conclusions, I suddenly felt transported to a critique in architecture school. “Have you thought about..?” “I like ______, but what about _____?” “This is what I was thinking when I tried this approach…” It really was a creative, constructive process, but the advantage of architecture school was obvious when I took my second helping of the rice pudding with coconut milk!

Testing Pans

Testing the effect of the pans on the recipe.

Icing The Banana Cake

Of course she is smiling to herself. This cake was memorably delicious!

Imagine your favorite banana bread/cake with a cream cheese frosting marked by a walnut crunch. Enticing as that may be, now imagine the bananas were roasted, and the remaining juice from the roasting became a sweetener for the icing. That’s the America’s Test Kitchen difference, and it’s the difference between a long-lasting craving and an “oh yeah, I think I ate a piece of that cake.”

Grilling Station

America’s Test Kitchen grilling station.

Backyard Reality

What looks like your average grill in an alley transforms to an idyllic backyard scene when the camera rolls- the wonders of tv!

ATK Office

What’s it like to work for America’s Test Kitchen? Sometimes it’s hard to see over the stacks and stacks of cookbooks.

From a checkout lane magazine to the heart and soul of the publication, my many paths had taken me on quite the journey! The peek inside the well oiled machine [olive or canola? ;p] inspired me on many levels. I left eager to delve into a cookbook or two, fiddle with this and that and then review, critique, taste, review, critique, taste, repeat. Granted, you’ll still find me making substitutions with abandon, but I’ll be doing so with the utmost respect for those whose mission is perfection.

03.14.13: Happy Pi(e) Day 2013!

03.14.13

If ever there were proof of my nerd side, it would be Pi(e) Day, a quirky union of math and baking between layers of flaky pie crust.

Pi and Pie

This year, I’m content to eat a hand pie for breakfast and continue with my other daily routines. However, in the past, I dedicated a LOT of energy to this day.

Bicycle Pie

Here’s the full story…

May your day be filled with an appreciation for the area of circles and lattice crusts! If you feel more like making pie and less like engaging in long algebra, here are some pie suggestions.

Jack Daniels Blondies For A Plaid Weekend of Harlem Shaking

February 2013

Our common thread is a school so nerdy its mascot was Tartan plaid. When the eight of us gathered at that Special Cabin in the Woods, naturally, the occasion also called for plaid all around (and not one but two roasted chickens).

Plaid-Weekend

No matter how I describe this weekend, my words would pale in comparison to Doug’s poetic conclusion penned in the cabin’s visitor book. Thus, I am borrowing his prose:

As I sit here eating jack links premium cuts beef jerky, before shortly leaving to drive back to Philadelphia, I realize the eight of us who spent the weekend here, thanks to the generous hospitality of Jono and his family, have a great unknown future ahead of us, one filled surely with stardom and success and newfound celebrity status. And we have the cabin to thank. For it was here on the evening of February 16th that we filmed our version of the Harlem Shake viral video- the Cabin Fever Edition. Like any masterpiece, it will not be fully appreciated for its ingenuity and vivre for decades- or unless watched at least eight times. The filming of the video was not without its obstacles and roadblocks. We weren’t going to make it!…We made it! The 31 second video starring Jono, Dan, Ben, Kyle, JP, Quelcy, Doug and Diane has 251 views already on YouTube, and if my math is correct, at this rate, we should surpass 1 million votes by Memorial Day.

Clearly, the weekend at the cabin called for a Harlem Shake- A Cabin Fever Edition! Take away the plaid, and what do you get? A video worth watching at least eight times!

After all that, it was time for dessert- dessert and a nightcap in one!

Jack Daniels Blondies 01

Jack Daniels Blondies

Ingredients

16 Tablespoons (2 sticks) organic, unsalted butter, melted
2 cups pure cane sugar

2 large eggs (local/free-range)
2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Pinch of salt
2 cups whole-wheat pastry flour

2 cups semi-sweet chocolate chips
1/2 cup whiskey (Jack Daniels)

Directions

Preheat oven to 350°F

Butter a 9 x12 glass pan.

Mix melted butter with brown sugar, and beat until smooth.

Beat in eggs, and then vanilla.

Stir in the salt and flour.

Mix in the chocolate chips.

Pour the batter into the prepared pan.

Bake at 20-25 minutes.

Cool on rack before cutting.

Jack Daniels Blondies 02

While you’re eating one of these gooey, whiskey-y bars, you might want to listen to this song. Enjoy!

Tea With “Tea With Me”

February 2013

Without discipline, our various online personas can easily lead to lost time and lost connections. On the other hand, through these portals, we have more opportunity than ever to find kindred spirits. It’s amazing what can develop in exchanges of 140 characters or less!

Frick Menu and Reflections

It was through Twitter I came to know Heather Mulholland of the beautiful blog Tea With Me. I was honored when Heather asked to interview me for her “Tea With…” series, which inspired my High Tea Hike. After “sharing” tea in the blogosphere, I was faily certain our paths would cross in real life too; I just thought I’d be the one venturing to Vancouver. As the journeys would have it, Heather came to me as part of her enviable travels throughout the US and Europe. This special visit called for a proper tea together, which in Pittsburgh means a trip to the Cafe at the Frick!

Tea With Heather

This was the perfect time for us to meet. Earlier this year, Heather quit what she called her “cushy marketing job.” A major, international trip was a way to start fresh and inspire herself anew before pursuing her passion for holistic nutrition. Meanwhile, yours truly is on the verge of something far more creative for those 9-5 hours. Inspiration, tea and cameras all around!

Frick Window View

A morning of art, an afternoon of tea and thoughtful conversation throughout…not bad for a Thursday!

Tea Sammies

Tiers and Scone

The moral of this tea is to reach out, connect and find a kindred spirit and maybe even live a little vicariously as well, which is exactly what I will be doing when Heather posts beautiful pictures from Paris!!!

Frick Sweets

Heart Cookie

And, as it turned out, this wonderful Thursday was Valentine’s Day!

Some Loves Last Forever, Some Loves…Are Upgraded!

September 2012

I was running out the door- running late out the door- when I noticed an Amazon box. My heart fluttered, and I quickly dashed inside with the retrieved treasure.

My life changed when a dear friend lent me his Canon Rebel camera. Suddenly my creative endeavors were far more worthwhile because I could capture them in a meaningful way. After saving and saving, I bought my own Canon Rebel T1i, and it was one of the best investments I ever made. I truly loved that camera! After two plus years, I had the opportunity to sell my beloved camera to good hands- my own! I had been using my camera for my day job, and I figured they owed me for its wear and tear, so they bought my beloved, I stored it permanently at work, and I bought this new beauty- the Canon T4i!

It’s a new era, and it will be a long one as my next leap requires a lot more independent wealth than I have right now.

Stay tuned for the new and improved photoventures!

Ready For My Closeup: The Final Show at The Waffle Shop + Blog Reflections

July 2012

There was a corner in Pittsburgh that my have caught your eye. Whether it was the curious bilboard atop the building or the large, waffle-shaped sign on the sidewalk, there was something different about that corner.  

That corner was the site of The Waffle Shopa neighborhood restaurant that produced and broadcasted a live-streaming talk show with its customers, operated a changeable storytelling billboard on its roof, and ran a take-out window with food from countries engaged in conflict with the U.S. The shop was a public lab to bring together people from all walks of life to engage in dialogue, experimentation and the co-production of culture. The project functioned as a classroom for students from Carnegie Mellon University, an eatery, a TV production studio, a social catalyst, and a business.

The Waffle Shop was - past tense- all of those things because it has since closed. July 28th, 2012 marked the end of an era for that corner. The Waffle Shop poured the last of its batter onto waffle irons and streamed its last episodes. I was honored to be part of the finale thanks to a special invite from Chef Tom Totin, the host of a weekly program titled “Cookspeak.”

The timing for my appearance on Tom’s program was symbolic for me. Just a little over one year to the date, I had launched my blog on Cookspeak. I had worked privately for more than a year to solidify my photos and stories into something more meaningful. When I caught up to my real time food adventures, I sought to share my blog with the world in a big, celebratory way. Tom and The Waffle Shop immediately came to mind.

Tom’s show became a set of bookends marking these chapters of my life in the blogosphere. Accordingly, much of our most recent “on air” conversation reflected on what I have learned, what I have experienced and what is yet to come in my adventures with the grains. Now I’ll share those thoughts here.

Reflections On A Year in the Blogosphere & Lessons Learned…

Making Food For People Is Far More Satisfying. 

I put a lot of extra care into designing my kitchen and dining room, knowing I’d be spending a lot of time there. It finally dawned on me I needed to share that dining room space for it really to come to life. I started inviting friends over for brunch on a regular basis, and I have posted several of those experiences. Through these brunches, I have been reminded how strong and inspiring my friends are. I have a friend who fights fracking, a friend who promotes the education of girls in science/math/technology, a friend who draws intricate worlds of imagined mechanisms, a friend who knows exactly who she is and beams with positivity! This brunch in particular reminded me how special the people in my life are, and how lucky I am to know them.

The series of posts related to my boyfriend’s birthday also remind me of the significance of preparing meals for the people I hold dear. I’m tremendously grateful to have him in my life, and I wanted him to feel as special as possible for his birthday. In addition to his many amazing qualities, he supports my food fancies. He always lets me take pictures of our food before we eat, and not every fella would be so tolerant, let alone encouraging. I’m very grateful for his patience, and I showed him my appreciation in this birthday video.

Blogging Can Bring Exciting, New Opportunities.

When I first launched my blog, I happened to run into Adam Milliron, a photographer I had met years prior through a photoshoot. I asked him for photography advice. Since he liked my style, we started to do some practice shoots together for fun. One of my favorite shoots with Adam was this ode to Art in the Age liquors. Nearly one year after reconnecting, we worked together professionally on the Sarris Candies catalog (stay tuned for its distribution this winter!!!). This was a huge step for me as I’m very eager to dive deeply into the food styling world.

Blogging Inspired Me To Look At Pittsburgh With Fresh Eyes

When I started to blog about the food and experiences of my travels, I decided to include my Pittsburgh wanderings as well. In many ways, I had begun to feel stagnate in this city. I had lived here a long time and started to feel like everything was the same. When I opened my eyes a tad, I noticed a burgeoning food scene, so I began to incorporate posts about the many noteworthy Pittsburgh restaurants.

My goal was never to act as a food critic in those posts. Though I might make critiques or suggestions for improvement, I’m offering support to the places I see as raising the bar. I have many pictures (again…the patient boyfriend dinner companion) that never make it to the blog because if I have nothing nice to say, I shall follow the ol’ proverb and exercise restraint. On the other hand, when a restaurant really does it right, my enthusiasm shows!

Through these restaurant posts and social media, I have been able to connect more closely with other local foodies and chefs, especially Justin Severino of Cure. I admire his obsessive dedication to sustainable and local foods, a characteristic that became very apparent after attending one of his Sunday hog butchering demos.

I’ve also stretched the bounds of a food blog through some more unique Pittsburgh experiences:

What does brunch have to do with a Porsche? I’m so glad you asked! Find out!

What do small plates and craft cocktails have to do with a giant, water balloon fight? Well, let me tell you!

It’s A Great Big World, But The Internet Can Make It Smaller & Friendlier! 

I hesitated on using twitter, but like many a modern tool, if used correctly and with restraint, it can be an invaluable resource. Through twitter, I happened to connect with a whimsical and creative chocolatier based in Charleston, SC. I still owe him a care package, but he got the ball rolling by sending me a sampler of his chocolates. As a thank you, I made him a video.

I also connected with a PGH blogger who has since relocated to the sunnier coast to live in San Diego. Who can blame him?!? I feel like I’ve known Rodzilla the Diningsaur for a while even though we never had the chance to meet. I liked his writing and trusted his restaurant reviews. Unfortunately for him, he left before Union Pig & Chicken opened, so as part of a promise I made, I took “him” to the restaurant, so to speak, by bringing a cutout of his little diningsaur logo with me. Then I brought “him” to The Waffle Shop because I figured he hadn’t been there either. You’re famous little diningsaur!

My Fifteen Minutes

As we all exist more and more in the digital realm, there is something increasingly special about the tangibile, printed world, which is why seeing myself in an edition of Edible Allegheny was especially rewarding.

I smiled one of my BIGGEST, longest-lasting smiles ever on July 4th of this year. On that day, I opened my inbox to discover it had been bombarded with emails from WordPress (my blogging platform). I thought I had been spammed until I looked at my stats. On the contrary, I had been featured on WordPress’s “Freshly Pressed” page, where they highlight standout blogs. There was a picture of my avocado egg recipe, and it was a dream come true for a WordPress blogger.  I was so honored and happily overwhelmed by all the comments and praises. It still makes me really giddy inside!

What’s Next?

I’m taking some time on my blog to focus on the simple moments in life (such as this stoop picnic), to step back and focus on intentional happiness. Hopefully, I won’t come across as a cheesey lifecoach, but I am investigating a lot of life questions that are common for my age.

You will see even more touches of my style online and in publications! I’m pursuing more food styling opportunities, so if you know of any, send them my way! I dare say, you’ll probably see a portfolio soon because that’s the grown up thing to do!

No editors or publishers or independently wealthy individuals have contacted me, so I can’t say there is a book in the works yet, but I would love to turn With The Grains into something you could hold, dog ear, write on, stain, wrinkle and cherish.

You’ll probably see me experiment more with graphic design, as I’d like to learn more about the rules of the design game. If you are a graphic designer and love bestowing your wisdom upon eager learners, let’s grab some coffee and talk!

Branding! Ooh, that’s a topic that interests me quite a bit. I also like change. Combine that interest and that habit, and you’re bound to see some changes around here.

A wedding cake(s)! When I launched my blog on Cookspeak, I mentioned I’ve always wanted to make a wedding cake. This September, I will be doing just that! I’m thrilled my dear friends have asked me to make the cakes for their special day.

I’m looking forward to even more connections with other bloggers, online food publications, chefs and foodies.

In honor of The Waffle Shop, might I remind you of these delicious waffles? You really must give them a try!

In Conclusion

I love my little corner of the blogosphere. I love creating and preserving memories. I hope my passion inspires you in some way, or in the least, fancies your eye because if you are reading this, you are part of what has made this year quite magical for me! Now go find ten friends and tell them to read too! Cheers!

ps: I created various versions of a flier to leave for The Waffle Shop brunchers, but you might spy some around the town as well.

Frozen Berry Dessert & How A Failed Meringue Led To A Celebrity Encounter

July 2012

The Agenda:
A BBQ/Potluck on one of the best decks in the city, hosted by a loyal and true friend.

The Plan:
A more summery version of this maple mousse pie.

The Fail, the EPIC FAIL:
The mousse pie recipe has a meringue component. Oh that meringue! I totally bombarded it with hot honey, and the poor, fluffy cloud didn’t stand a chance! It collapsed like an uncapped air mattress under a sleepy soul.

The Recalculation:
I pride myself on being the Daughter of Invention, but try though I did, the meringue had failed. There was no salvaging the eggy mess, so I had to “click” undo a little farther back into my history. What I had was a perfectly good crust, a fresh fruit puree and a new idea borrowed from the very woman who inspired me to improvise- my mom. What I didn’t have was more heavy cream. What I did have was my special one’s car!

Recalculating Route…:
To Whole Foods! To the dairy aisle! (I also tried to buy an air conditioner at Home Depot, but that effort lingered on the fail side of the spectrum).

The Moment That Made Me Grateful the Meringue Had Failed So Miserably:
As I walked to retrieve a cart, I saw a tall man with thick, thick, thick glasses and dark hair. Could it be…no…but…is it? His voice even sounded familiar as he spoke to his shopping companion who was retrieving a cart. She looked familiar as well! It was them! It was! My heart raced a little bit and fluttered with glee.  I worked up the courage to be that dorky fan girl and approach them in the produce aisle.

The Celebrity Encounter:

“Excuse me, I have to ask. Were you in Party Down [ie: one of the best shows ever!!!]?”
“Yeah…yeah, I was, and so was she [points to Kristen Bell as she picked berries].”
“It was such a great show! It got me through the winter! You guys were amazing!”
“Thanks, thanks very much! I’m Martin.  What’s your name?”
“Quelcy.”
“Nice to meet you, Quelcy.”

I was blown away by his sincerity and humility. Not only had he introduced himself, but he had taken the time to ask my name, repeat it, and furthermore, he had pronounced it correctly! I asked about the rumors of a comeback movie, and he said they had to keep pushing the writers! Meanwhile, the two of them were in Pittsburgh “to pick up some food at Whole Foods” and to shoot a movie together. Between Anne Hathaway in my yoga class and Party Down cast members at Whole Foods, Pittsburgh is becoming quite the little Hollywood.

The Uplifting Moral of the Story

Have you ever noticed how most life lessons have at least one kitchen counterpart? Susan Sarandon (and others probably) said, “If you’re not making mistakes, you’re not doing anything.” Had I not failed my meringue but persevered with my dessert, I wouldn’t have had the serendipitous encounter in the produce section. Silly as it may seem, that little twist in my day really set a positive tone for my week. On top of the encounter, my friends really enjoyed the dessert.  All in all, I am a really lucky girl, and it pays to appreciate these moments in life!

Coconut Walnut Crust

Ingredients

2 cups walnuts
3 Tablespoons organic light brown sugar
1/8 teaspoon nutmeg
4 Tablespoons organic coconut oil
1 teaspoon organic almond extract

Directions

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Spread the walnuts on a parchment lined baking stone, and bake for about 10-15 minutes, or until fragrant. Let cool completely.

In a food processor, pulse the walnuts, brown sugar, nutmeg and almond extract until the nuts are finely chopped.

Add the coconut oil, and pulse to incorporate.

Press the crumbs into a 9-inch springform pan in an even layer.

Refrigerate until firm.

I know science would say otherwise, but I prefer to see the making of whipped cream akin to the making of magic. Suddenly cold, heavy cream turns into fluffy clouds.  The bowl of clouds holds the imagination if you stare and allow yourself a spoonful of creativity while the mixing blades spin. What do you see, friends..?

Whipped Cream Filling

Ingredients

1 pint organic heavy cream, chilled
8 oz organic Neufchatel cheese
1 Tablespoon pure vanilla extract
1/3 cup wildflower amber honey
3 Tablespoons Kraken Rum (or the like)

Directions

In a large bowl, beat the heavy cream and the Neufchatel cheese until soft peaks form.

Add the vanilla, honey and rum and beat until combined.

Scoop the filling onto the crust, and spread evenly.

Fruit Filling

3 cups cherries, pits removed
1 cup fresh blueberries

Directions

Puree the cherries and blueberries in a food processor. Either set the fruit puree aside or strain to drain off some of the excess juices.

Add the fruit in dollops, and use knife to swirl the fruit with the filling.

Freeze until the top begins to set slightly. Remove from the freezer, and add the fruit garnishes. Return to freezer, and freeze until firm.

Garnish

4-5 large strawberries, sliced
Blackberries to your aesthetic liking

The revised and rather improvised dessert remained in the freezer until the kielbasa was grilled, loaded with fixins on a bun and eaten with corn on the cob and fancy butter. The dessert remained in the freezer while the band played atop a neighborhood hill. The dessert remained in the freezer until the happy neighbors returned to the deck with the beautiful views of a sky changing from blue to pink.  Stay tuned, and I’ll show you what that all looked like.

-QTK

The Happy Show

May 2012

Am I happy?

It’s a question I ask myself constantly. I want to be part of a world changing organization, and yet, I find myself dreading the day-to-day route to contribution.  I want to spend more of my day being creative, but I want that creativity to count for something.

Am I unhappy?

If I am, am I choosing to be unhappy? Am I merely expecting too much? Am I complaining instead of trying to change?

These types of questions had me watching a lot of TED talks on the subject, and these investigations led me to Stefan Sagmeister, who was also questioning happiness through design and documentary.  When I learned Sagmeister was opening a show at the ICA in Philadelphia, I marked my calendar for the entire duration of the show in an effort not to miss this quirky, talented designer’s insights.  Memorial Day weekend proved to be the opportunity, and I highly recommend marking your own calendars and making a point of journeying to the show.

“I am usually rather bored with definitions.  Happiness, however, is just such a big subject that it might be worth a try to pin it down.” – Stefan Stagmeister

My card told me to do push ups, but listen Stefan, I didn’t feel like it, so I traded cards, and I was pretty happy with the trade.

EVERYBODY ALWAYS THINKS THEY ARE RIGHT.

This is true for all the little crap fights in my own life, as well as for all the BIG CONFLICTS in the WORLD.  I, and I suspect everybody else too, was born a giant egotist.  I have had all these experiences forming my reality, and very much by default, I am at the absolute center of every experience I’ve ever had. These experiences are completely immediate while everybody else’s feelings have to be communicated to me, so of course it’s difficult to truly understand someone else’s reality formed by different experiences.

-Stefan Sagmeister

To participate or not to participate?  The precarious question made popular by postmodernists who sought/seek to break the rules of museums and galleries. We took Sagmeister as the kind of guy who would want us to share his favorite ginger candy from Bali, so we did.

[so sad]

What is my symbol of happiness?

[It's not inappropriate because... it's ART..!]

Welllll….[menacing look]…

The Happy Show didn’t draw any final conclusions, for how could it? Can one man really define happiness for many, let alone himself? Maybe.  He is on the journey at least.  I will say, his exhibit was thought provoking, moving and inspiring.

What did I conclude?  What did I really submit as my symbol of happiness?

A beautiful outdoor dining experience for a few, which is why I’m sharing my wanderings through this exhibit on this, the corner of posterity and blogosphere. As the image came to mind, it affirmed my goals and where I’m going.  I want to bring people together and help create the magical moments they remember all of their lives.  If, in the process, I can contribute to a world changing company, all the better, but I have to focus my attention more resolutely. I also have to choose to be happier.

Sorry, fresh out of money.  Stop back later though.

:)

My Special One’s Birthday!

April 2012

Why would two crazies display such antics around a dining room table?  It doesn’t take all that much to motivate a little silliness around these parts, but this was indeed an extra special occasion and an extra call for antics!  It was my special one’s birthday!!!  More importantly, it was the first time we’d celebrated his birthday as a couple!

Those who know me, embrace [have learned to accept] my birthday gluttony.  My special one really set the bar for my birthday [month].  First there was the Birthday Eve meal.  Then there was a birthday bruncha snowventure, the official birthday meal at my favorite marble table top, and finally, there was A LOT of help making this crazy, beautiful, memorable gathering happen! On top of all that, he changed my life when he gave me a projector!  Friends, when you own a projector, you watch everything at an impressive scale.  EVERYTHING!  In short, he did really, really well, and I wanted him to feel ever so special on his day(s) in April.

In my obsessive preparations, I may even have outdone myself!  Jono said his birthday meal ranked as one of the best I have made him yet!  As such, I’m going to share the components of the meal and memories over the course of a few posts.  Stay tuned!

Happy Birthday Jono!

PS:  I swear our haircuts are not identical.  Must be a gif induced optical illusion.

It’s Not Everyday (Bourbon Root Milkshake)

March 2012

It’s not every day a highway journey becomes a safari…

Nor is it every day you have the chance to spend all the afternoon long with someone special, lazily watching British comedy.  Both of those occurrence have merit in my book ["on my blog?"].  On those lazy British comedy days, we deserve a milkshake, and that milkshake should come with a kick!

He can now cross “slice ice cream container in two” off his life’s to do list.  Why that was on his list?!?  Not sure but congrats all the same.

Though I recommend our milkshake madness, I do not recommend our method (a kitchen mixer and an ice cream SPLATTER).  This experience taught me (and especially taught him), I need something like this minty beauty added to my kitchen collection.

Our special milkshake formula:

Häagen-Dazs Vanilla Ice Cream (we like our vanilla ice cream to be pure & simple)
A generous splash of Buffalo Trace Bourbon
A generous splash of Art in the Age Root
Organic whole milk

While you’re at it…

Break off a piece of specialty chocolate such as this A’Chocolypse bar with popping suga’ from my favorite chocolatier and yours, Sweeteeth Chocolate.  Add a chunk to the top of the milkshake (who needs a sickeningly sweet maraschino cherry anyway?!?) and eat some extra bites along the way too!

As the sun is shining more and more, it’s the perfect time for an adult milkshake!

Happy milkshake season (and highway safari-ing?!?)!

xoxo,

With The Grains

Whole Wheat Chocolate Cardamom Cake with Boozy Buttercream

The Birthday That WAS Meant To Be
March 2012

This was the first birthday Dana wasn’t supposed to have.  This was the first birthday past the three-year life expectancy her doctor gave her, but Dana is a snowflake in the desert! My friend Dana, the friend I am so fortunate to have, is not only unique but persistent, even when all odds are against her!  I met Dana after her battle with breast cancer, and it wasn’t until this birthday that I heard the full story.  Whatever forces exist in the universe, those forces aligned to keep Dana here!

She has touched my life in so many ways.  I have turned to her, tear stained and low, only to be redirected and re-inspired.  I know I’m not the only friend to seek her advice and her fierce loyalty.  I’m sure Dana has affected more people than she even knows, and in the past couple years, she has taken on a new mission to help even more people.  Propelled by her own cancer survival, Dana is dedicated to pushing natural gas drilling debates and policies back to environmental, health and safety regulations, and she is set to do it in a way that Engages, Empowers and Educates!

My point here is not politics.  My point here is how Dana was meant to have this birthday. She was meant to inspire change, and in the very least, I was meant to make that girl a birthday cake!  Three tiers for three years and many more cakes yet to come!

Chocolate Cardamom Coffee Cake

Ingredients

1 bar (4 oz.) Ghirardelli Midnight Reverie 86% Cacao bar

2 cups whole wheat pastry flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons freshly grated orange zest from an organic orange
1 teaspoon ground cardamom

3/4 cups packed light brown sugar
3/4 cups honey
1 cup (2 sticks) organic, unsalted butter, softened
4 large eggs (local/free-range)
2 Tablespoons instant espresso powder or instant coffee granules
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

1 cup organic heavy cream

Directions

Preheat oven to 350º F. Grease and line a 9-inch-round baking pan and a loaf pan with parchment paper.

Melt the chocolate using a Maria bath.

Combine flour, baking soda, salt, orange zest and cardamom in a small bowl.

Beat brown sugar, butter, eggs, instant coffee and vanilla extract in large mixer bowl for 3 minutes.

Gradually add melted chocolate and continue beating for an additional minute.

Alternate adding flour and heavy cream to the chocolate batter, wiping with a spatula after each addition.

Bake for 35-40 minutes or until wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean.

Cool in pans on wire racks for 10 minutes.

Use the parchment paper to remove the cakes from the pans and invert onto plates.

Boozy Mocha Buttercream Frosting

Ingredients

6 oz semi sweet chocolate chips
3 teaspoons instant espresso powder or instant coffee granules
1 cup (2 sticks) organic unsalted butter, softened
1 package organic Neufchatel cheese, softened
1/2 cup honey
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
4 Tablespoons Jameson Irish Whiskey

Directions

Melt chocolate using a Maria bath, stirring occasionally. Cool to room temperature.

Dissolve the instant espresso in the melted chocolate.

In a mixing bowl, combine the melted chocolate, softened butter, Neufchatel cheese, honey, vanilla and Jameson. Use an electric mixer to beat until smooth and creamy.

Spread onto cake, chilling the cake between applications.

Dear Dana,

I count you as family (and not family in the crazy, try-to-ignore-them sense)! Your generosity, loyalty, passion, creativity and craziness are commendable, and I am truly blessed to have you in my life! I wish everyone could have a Dana Dolney in their lives, but I am not being cliche when I say there is NO ONE like you! Keep kicking and screaming kiddo because you have so much more to accomplish on this earth! There are so many more cakes in store for you, and I am privileged each and every time I am the baker behind the cake!  Happy happy happy happy birthday Dana!

Love,

“Nebraska”

Header_leftovers and syrup

Leftovers and Inspiration

February 2012

The gray, somewhat snowy, somewhat rainy, altogether sludgy days are abundant in this part of Pennsylvania.  I often ask myself what I’m still doing here, since I have an inherent need for sun on my skin.  Despite my desires to be in a warmer, bigger elsewhere, I welcomed all the gray this day had to bring.  I’ve recently begun a sincere attempt to switch my thinking, to synthesize happiness and to find at least three positives in each day…

1.  A quiet, reflective consumption of delicious French toast leftovers from time well spent with a dear and crazy friend.

2.  You know the feeling the gray days bring- wanting to curl up with tea and a good book?  The union of that feeling and the ability to do just that is really perfect!

3.  A day to myself.  No place to go.  Nowhere to be.  Just me, a sheep skin, my arm chair, my window light, a good view, my tea and contentment.

Bonuses:  the perfect size and sentiment of grandma’s gradation mug, the warming effect of yellows, pools of pure maple syrup, the ease and payoff of making homemade whipped cream, finding a friend’s drawings in my reading material !!!

I’m really quite lucky!

To Happy Gray Days!

It’s All Fun & Games Until Frosty Gets Run Over by a Honda

December 2011

In between the memory lane emanating from my parent’s house during the holidays and the perfect New Year’s hiatus, there was a brief adventure spell in Quelcadelphia!  It began with a sad, squashed discovery in the City of Brotherly [not snowmanly] Love.  I swear I had nothing to do with the death of these snow people.

Me = Innocent Bystander with Camera

Rest in Sweet Pieces, little snow folks!

The Teacup That Taught Me To Like Tea

December 2011

I talked about the table, and now the memory lane has arrived at a teacup and toast.  As a little girl, my mom fostered my love of tea.  We were a family of firm breakfast believers- the most important way to start your day!  My childhood mornings would begin with a cup of really weak tea because weak was how I liked it in the days of budding tastes.  For whatever reason, the tea was best served in the brown ceramic mug that caught my eye anew on my recent visit to mom’s cupboards.

I still am very much a tea fan, but on this sunny, wintry morning, I filled my memory cup with coffee, made with extra strength for my visit.  I grew up with parents who sipped from mugs of coffee throughout the day.  When I finally began to drink coffee and drink it with increasing strength, I questioned how my parents still had stomach linings with the quantities they consumed.  Then I tasted their coffee.  Coffee flavored water?  Water flavored coffee?  Coffee flavored tea?  It was weak, but that’s how they like it.

Tastes and memories are intertwined.  Even though my tastes and cooking style has become bolder and more complex than my roots, there’s something really comforting in the refined way my mom can prepare a roast or an array of vegetables.  However, I do have to request a few extra scoops of coffee in the filter.

Home is Still a Wooden Table

December 2011

Christmas was fake presents under the tree meant to trick the eager openers before the real revelations.

Christmas was pajama traditions.

Christmas was a beautiful golden table.

Christmas was a plate of mom’s simple approach to beef and roasted chicken.

Christmas was my sister’s experiments with carrots and horseradish, potatoes and cheese and sweet potatoes with apple, apple butter and spices.

Christmas was a clean plate club

(and a little Ninja strike)!

Before I ventured into Philadelphia for city wanderings, Mom proposed we gather around the table again.  I simultaneously made a request and proposed a brunch challenge.

When my older sister visits from Nebraska, we always eat waffles, so even though she wasn’t in town, it felt like a waffle sort of occasion.  With lots of leftovers filling the fridge, I proposed my other sister’s apple butter and sweet potato experiment from Christmas dinner find its way to the brunch table… via waffles!

Mom filled the table, as she usually does when serving a meal.  Cinnamon rolls and fluffy scrambled eggs (I wish I had my mom’s egg making abilities) and my lemon cranberry thyme bread and fruit accompanied both the waffle experiment and a more traditional batch of waffles.

Mom pureed the delightfully spiced apples and sweet potatoes, so the flavors smoothly blended into each waffle bite.  I topped my grid of nooks and crannies with locally made apple butter for a real burst of fall and wintry flavors.

Reds, greens, yellows and a touch of turquoise really brought us together on a sunny, cold morning for a delicious moment around the table.  Though I generally dislike the vagueness of the word, the morning was, well, it was just nice!

Home is a Wooden Table

December 2011

When I was a wee toddler posing on the kitchen table with one of my many themed birthday cakes, I apparently honed the scowl I may occasionally make to this day.

When I was two, I fell off the kitchen table bench… while biting my tongue!!!  Hence my go to scar story is about the horizontal scar on my tongue, which I thought was a completely normal tongue anatomy until about the first grade.

When I was four or so, my beloved, rickety, chipped paint stool, poised at the esteemed head of the table position, finally toppled beneath my weight (which was not much).  As I hit the ground, I not only felt physically wounded but emotionally wounded.  I had been betrayed by my favorite piece of furniture.  It was later replaced by the piano bench.

When I was in elementary school, my best friend Shannon and I made a post slumber party breakfast feast that covered the wooden table like a still life [in our minds].  We felt like royalty.  (Note the scowl again… why did no one stop me from doing that?!?)

One blistery January, I shook the new snowglobe I had been given for my birthday.  It had a yellow birthday cake with a candle and played “Happy Birthday to You.”  The globe proved to be too cumbersome and awkward for my scrawny self.  I shook it right against the edge of the kitchen table.  Glitter and liquid gushed all over my broken spirit.  Hence my collection of snowglobes always featured one “globe” that was not like the rest.

In fourth grade or so, Erica and I sat at the kitchen table overloading on peanut butter and honey toast, thinking it was the greatest thing since… well, since sliced bread?

When my first niece made her grand debut at my parent’s home, we took turns holding the tiny baby bundle so my older sister could eat a proper breakfast plate using both hands.

Whenever mom would make cookies, they would sprawl over that kitchen table cooling and filling the house with the smell of pure goodness.  This still happens!

When I slaved over a furniture project in college, I recalled the simple joints and long wooden slabs of the kitchen table.  Why had I not designed something simple?!?

For a while, we didn’t have a dining space big enough to hold the table and all its memories.  Dinners around the fancier dining table without its elongating leaves just wasn’t the same.  In the meantime, the solid slab table suffered some wear and tear feeding nieces and nephews at my oldest sister’s house.  Her recent move south coincided with my parents finally having enough space for a reunion with their table.  Another sister reversed the clock on some of said wear and tear, and now the table shines in the sunlight.

I have a slew of memories centered around that table, and though I love the table as an object, its importance does not reside solely in its material existence.

The gestalt of those table memories is the symbol of my family- how we have come together, how we grow and continue to find our way to those benches, to those placemats, to those brunch plates of waffles and most importantly, to each other.