If teachers, aunts, uncles and even parents can (and do!) have favorite kids, then farmers can most certainly have a favorite fruit of their labors. For the Urban Farmer, I…
If I were to spill uncooked quinoa all over my kitchen, there’d be a trusty sidekick to lick it up, or, it would go unnoticed, blending into the dirt tracks left from those rare occasions when the Urban Farmer actually wears shoes. However, when I had a few quinoa casualties while styling on a video set, the tiny grains stood out from the impeccable, showroom-esque kitchen like a streaker at a baseball game. The eye went right to them! Yet, it seemed impossible to clean up all the minuscule grains. That’s when I realized, quinoa is like hippy glitter.
That comparison led me to question- what is glitter anyway? I realized I had taken this sparkle bombardment material for granted my whole life. Of course there is a glimmering product that exists to make first graders feel like artists and somehow lasts for eternity. Why wouldn’t there be?
For every rathole of curiosity, there is a google search waiting with answers. So my friends, let me tell you, glitter has been around for a long damn time- it’s older than quinoa- an ancient grain! Way back in the period of 40,000 to 200 B.C, ancient civilizations were using flakes of the mineral mica in cave paintings for their sparkly, light-catching quality. Fast forward to New Jersey in 1934, when machinist Henry Ruschmann invented a way to grind up plastics to make large quantities of glitter. He founded Meadowbrook Inventions, still a major supplier of the substance. Its slogan: “Our glitter covers the world.” (They forgot to add “whether you want it to or not.”)
I guess we humans (and cats) are inherently suckers for glimmering objects, and I’m a sucker for grains. Glitter and quinoa have both stood the test of time, so make yourself a big bowl of this Lemon Blueberry Breakfast Quinoa, and dive into your own early morning internet ratholes. Tell me what curiosities you discover.
p.s: This is not a sponsored post, but I did work as a stylist for a truRoots video shoot, which is what inspired me to share this recipe. You can see more of my professional styling work here.
Lemon Blueberry Breakfast Quinoa (Vegan & Gluten Free)
Recipe adapted from truRoots | yield: 2 servings
About this Recipe: Cooking the quinoa in vanilla almond milk yields a rich vanilla flavor to every bite. Avoid a vanilla almond milk with a high sugar content, since maple is the main sweetener. Serve warm or cold. Works well as a topping for Greek yogurt also. Trust your tastebuds on the maple syrup, lemon zest and blueberries. The quantities below are just starting points. I like to make a large batch of this, so I have an easy, healthy breakfast option all ready for me.
“Why don’t you order me a decaf, and I’ll get us a table?” Her question was more of a directive, as she scanned the room of laptops to find the ideal spot. The sun was still shining, but it was clear they had already dined and were on their post-dinner treat. Date night!
His large frame sauntered to the counter, with as much side-to-side motion as forward progress, and he followed her instructions. One decaf cappuccino coming right up- a modest indulgence for a weeknight romance. As the steamers steamed, they sat together and did that act we so rarely do these days- they conversed, he in his blazer, and she in her formal turtleneck. The coffee order arrived on the counter, and the woman, whose jawline had long since eroded, emerged creakily from her place on the equally stiff, wooden church pew.
She retrieved the mug and saucer with great care, the viscosity threatening to rupture with every small jostling. The distance between her and her love seemed to lengthen with every minuscule movement. She held the saucer with one hand, and the other palm outstretched, hovering over the cappuccino design as if her fingers held magical powers. Her eyebrows raised, as if to say “ta da,” and she began a little balancing waltz.
She matched each shimmy forward with a little short-and-stout-teapot motion. Her eyes glanced at her husband, whose large frame commanded the trendy black metal chair on which he sat. The entire world had changed around them- wifi, latte art, email, twitter, OkCupid, GMOs, wars, president after president- and through it all, they still managed to look to each other, as if they were as young and in love as the day they first sipped after-dinner coffees together.
“You know you are a ballerina,” he said in response to her waltz. In a room full of laptops, he only saw her. As she arrived at the table without spillage, she was exactly that- a young, lovely, graceful ballerina. From my corner of email and wifi and Instagram hearts and general nonsense, I melted, I completely MELTED! It was a fleeting, precious little glimpse, a cinematic romance masked by wrinkles. The truest sweetness is often buried beneath the overlooked, the outliers.
Rhubarb may be the stalky mystery the neighbors mistake for a weed growing at the edge of their garage, but it’s the stalky growth my mom taught me to appreciate and savor for its surprise sweetness. With this recipe, it’s even easier to take advantage of rhubarb’s spring emergence.
Here’s to the romantics and hidden sweetness!
Strawberry Rhubarb Simple Syrup & Compote
yield: Makes about 16 ounces
About This Recipe: The simmered fruit leftover from infusing the simple syrup makes a sweet, tart compote, perfect for waffles or mixing into a parfait. You’ll waste less and enjoy more!
“Put a beet on it” might be the new “Put a bird on it.” Between the bold color, the natural sweetness and the ability to endure a long winter in storage, the beet has risen in popularity from its humble beginnings as that odd pickled staple at my Czech grandmother’s table.
And “Put a beet on it” I have! From waffles, to cakes, to frostings, and even donuts, I’ve worked that painterly root vegetable’s color and sweetness into every course. When it came time to make a meal to share with a vegan friend, hummus came to mind.
As much as I love hummus, its color palette leaves much to be desired, so I… put a beet on it- roasted beets, tart lemon juice, a kick of garlic and the most important secret, last-minute decision- fresh ginger! The result is a bold, beautiful bowl that makes hummus more dippable and even more addicting than ever!
Roasted Beet Hummus
Recipe type: Vegan, Gluten Free
yield: ~1 quart
About this Recipe: My Palestinian friend taught me his mother’s time-tested secret. Even if you are using canned chickpeas, it pays to soak them in water for at least half an hour and rinse them thoroughly. This makes the chickpea much more digestible! The hummus will keep in the fridge for up to a week (if it lasts that long).
Oh that stupid, stupid, moment!
Being one step ahead of my fingers, my brain began to shout, “ABORT! ABORT!” but my dopey digits continued to run the all-too-thin wad of paper towel over a very brand new knife blade. The brain cursed the finger, as both processed the immediate flow of blood.
For a brief instant, there was no pain. I wadded paper towel around my now gory finger, and for one blissful moment of denial, the cut was out of sight and out of mind. However, the paper towel quickly failed to belie the wound. I shall stop here with knife-on-flesh details, lest you become as ghostly white and nauseous as I later did.
There’s nothing like an injury, even something as minuscule as a paper cut or a sore muscle, to cause one to appreciate loss- the loss of feeling, mobility, independence. I am fully aware my ridiculous, gauzed mummy finger is hardly anything on the scale of loss, but it did make me pause and think just how lucky I am.
My one stupid moment could have caused major, lasting damage. Or worse, what if I were so unfortunate as to need surgery at this moment in my life? Learning to type with 9 fingers and avoid shaking hands is hardly a setback, but nonetheless, my bloody finger pointed to all I had been taking for granted.
But alas, we humans, or at least yours truly, all too frequently take too much for granted, never appreciating the tip of the finger until it’s hacked. And THIS, is where my bloody finger becomes relevant to cupcakes. There is a connection!
As the Creative Director for the 10th Annual CMU International Film Festival, I found myself passionately working day and night to bring together countless details. The film festival fulfills me in so many ways, but being the marathon that it is, it also requires me to shut off several other elements of my life. For months, I skipped holidays, barely made birthdays and tethered myself to my desk.
For the most part, the intensity only amplified me, but as we neared the third week, burn out loomed, and what I found missing the most was my oven and this blog. With The Grains has always been such an extension of me. To ignore this corner, my corner, of the web left me throbbing as much as my finger after the knife wound. I had taken this space and the comforts of baking for granted, so I carved out time I didn’t have but needed.
I measured, I whisked, I pureed, and I truly appreciated the simple joys of transforming ingredients into a sweet moment to savor. I appreciated how much I appreciate baking and sharing, both physically and digitally. As a person whose passions and interests are often sporadic (a multipotentialite if you will), the longevity of this space comforted me even more. It took feeling completely cut off from baking and blogging to realize how integral they are to my wellbeing.
Maybe you feel similarly, so here’s to the calming side of baking and the comforting corners we create for ourselves!
Roasted Beet Chocolate Cupcakes w/ Raw Cacao
adapted from Minimalist Baker
Yield: ~20 cupcakes
About this recipe: Rich, chocolatey, vegan cupcakes with pureed roasted beets and a dusting of raw cacao for a healthier sweet indulgence. Beet haters (those crazies!) won’t even know there is a root veggie lurking in their dessert!
As I entered the tunnel, a notoriously congested snag in an already flawed transportation system, her voice interjected. “Hello, it’s me. I was wondering if after all these years you’d like to meet.”
By now, you can surely finish each and every word that follows, but in that tunnel, her greeting hit me for the first time. She sang directly to me, as if I had somehow landed the private concert of a lifetime! Adele’s booming voice seemed to fill the cavernous, concrete tunnel, as if it were an amphitheater echoing all the raw emotion of her lyrics.
I, like all the other listeners who kept her at the top of the charts for a record-breaking stint, hung on her every word, on repeat. She’s relatable. She’s passionate. She’s emotional. All of these explanations and reviews attribute to her repeatability, but it wasn’t until I heard a review on NPR (?) that the weight of her lyrics fully made sense. I’m paraphrasing, but he so eloquently distilled her album, “In a world that talks at us, Adele wants to have a conversation.” (Bonus points if you can find me this review. It escapes me now!)
Conversation- that act of listening, exchanging, growing, thinking and relating- is missing from so much of our lives now. We may have more opportunity than ever to keep tabs on each other, but how often do we listen and relate to one another? How often do we listen to those in need instead of judging them through fear?
This need for conversation, for tangibility, is also what led me to the beautiful, image-laden pages of Sift Magazine. It’s one of those magazines I page through while waiting in line at the checkout, debating whether or not to splurge. However, unlike many of its grocery store counterparts, Sift feels like a conversation. Unencumbered by ads, its beautiful pages beg to be collected. Each recipe is poised and ready for all the handwritten edits of ingredient substitutions and baking experiments.
My apron’s off to the forces behind the magazine (the employee-owned King Arthur Flour), who always seem to encapsulate the most earnest intentions and elevate the act of baking, such as this Holiday Issue introduction:
Flour, butter, sugar, and yeast are humble ingredients with great power: They from the alphabet of a family’s baking history and culture. This time of year finds experienced and neophyte bakers alike moving toward the kitchen, with the desire to continue their families’ traditions or invent new ones. Whether the food memory is of warm sweet rolls, an elaborate loaf, or a treasured holiday cookie, the act of mixing and kneading forms a connection with those who have gone before. When you live, breathe, and bake, you honor the gifts they’ve handed down while you create enduring memories, and exquisite meals, for those who follow.
It’s not enough to simply page through the enticing recipes, especially when splurging on a magazine, so I promised myself to put the pages to use!
Inspired by song and page, I made a conscious decision to return to our dining room table more this holiday, to catch up with old friends, to welcome new friends and simply eat dinner without staring at a screen. As I prepared these meals, I thought about how quickly and effortlessly my grandmother and mother made hosting appear, how happily they hid the stressful time management elements and planning behind a welcoming smile. I thought about the legacy my grandmother left behind- the most generous, helping hands and the most famous koláče this side of the Czech Republic.
This recipe, though new to me, felt rooted in tradition- roasted butternut squash and cornmeal- simple, humble ingredients that combine into something colorful, sweet, spicy and warm. This recipe is perfect for sharing, since you can prepare most of it ahead of time. It’s a perfect way to feed a full holiday table and still manage to join the conversation!
Butternut Squash & Ginger Polenta with Stewed Fruit & Mascarpone Cream
Adapted from Sift magazine (by King Arthur Flour)
About this Recipe: A perfect make-ahead treat! For ease, you can substitute a can of organic pumpkin puree for the roasted & pureed butternut squash. I added turmeric for nutrition and color. Make this vegan by using a non-dairy milk in the polenta and whipped coconut cream for the topping. Be sure to source unsulphured, dried fruits without added sugars. There are two options for final preparation of the polenta slices- baking or pan frying, depending on how many you are serving. Leftover stewed fruit makes a beautiful and flavorful accent on a wheel of brie for your next gathering.