The “Whole Body” section at Whole Foods sees a significant spike in sales about 1-2 weeks into January. Can you guess why?
This is about the time a person realizes his or her symptoms are no longer the effects of a well celebrated New Year and are, in fact, the start of a cold or flu. Since all I was hitting on New Year’s Eve was tea (admittedly lame), I was faster to recognize the softball in my throat as an ailment and not the consequence of celebration.
“Hippy” inclinations aside, I’ve long thought cough medicine was a form of syrupy, grape TORTURE. Why add suffering on top of suffering? Instead, I turn to nature for remedies I actually want to drink.
Landing somewhere between a soothing vegetable broth and Tang (in a good way!), this herbal tea’s ingredients unfold as you sip- a hit of ginger here, a faint kick of garlic there, a tart pucker of lemon and the sweetness of raw honey.
Whether not there’s a softball in your throat, this tea is a healthy way to start the morning or sip while cozily escaping the winter just beyond your window.
Sip and be well!
Herbal Cough Suppressant with Lemon & Turmeric
Recipe from Bon Appétit
Yield: Makes about 8 cups
About This Recipe: Imagine a cross between broth and the Tang from your childhood, in a good way, and you have this homemade elixir. Smooth and flavorful enough to drink even when your throat is in tip-top shape. Be careful not to boil the tea. It will give you a cleaner flavor and be more nutrient-rich.
As sniffles and sneezes are to the common cold, the comparisons flare up with equally telling warning signs- frowning while scrolling through social media, looking at a particular photo with a self-deprecating sense of awe, searching Amazon for better lenses, hovering motionless over the keyboard without a single word to type. The triggers of this nasty ailment are sneaky. They can even be ever so sweetly rolled in a coffee cake ring like this one.
After flipping through my new favorite magazine, I sourced the featured ingredient list, kneaded with care, rolled gently, patiently waited and then looked with disgust at the denser rings and apricot oozes that emerged from the oven. I knew I had made some ingredient changes that would explain such a density, but still, all I could think was, “whhhhhhhhhy?” As a commercial food stylist, one might expect me to have a certain immunity from the real-life-vs.-magazine discrepancies. Yet there I was, coffee cake in one hand, magazine in the other, lamenting dough imperfections like some sort of voluntary martyr.
I almost hid these imperfections. I almost refrained from picking up the camera. Then I sat down to breakfast with my friend, who is attempting to say “thank you” instead of “I’m sorry” and not sound like a snarky bitch in the process. “Thank you for bearing with my baking experiments,” I said, taking the theory for a test spin. (It’s not as easy of an adjustment as you’d think!) Then, my wonderfully creative, animated friend took her first bite.
Her face continued to react like a grand finale of fireworks- one enthusiastic expression right after the next, praising the glaze, then the filling, then ceasing to speak so as to savor the bite. My variations, for all their visual imperfections, tasted really good. They deserved to be relished, dense crumbs and all.
I do not dredge up these muddy waters of perfectionist tantrums as a way to fish for compliments, merely to remind myself of their pitfalls. These crumbs litter the trails to my kitchen, and collectively, each morsel accounts for the life I am living. Am I taking risks? Am I growing? Am I sharing, exchanging, conversing and savoring life? Or am I stressing and sweating the small stuff?
2015, with all its wild twists, turns and internal tantrums, is coming to a close. The year may have been dense. The filling may have oozed. Yet, it was a sweet year, filled with many a firework! It’s time to savor and reflect, plan and progress. Here’s to a sweet start to 2016!
p.s: What are your tips and strategies for keeping the evil perfectionisms at bay? If you too suffer from “the comparisons,” you might find this video inspiring. I like to watch it every now and then as a reminder to chill.
About This Recipe:Somewhere between a coffee cake and a pastry, this whole wheat version is a little denser than the original recipe but worth the added grainy goodness. Be sure to read the dried fruit labels and choose an organic, unsweetened, unsulphured apricot option. There are often unnecessary, unhealthy ingredients lurking in store-bought dried fruit.
The holidays can mean holding your breath- in anticipation, excitement, and even in stress. In the midst of my holiday baking and cooking, I’ve often found myself holding my breath while focusing all too deeply on achieving a perfect outcome. Fortunately, there were a few serendipitous moments to make me take a deep inhale and exhale, ignore perfectionism and attempt to soak in a moment.
The first came as I left Whole Foods, mentally making sure I had purchased all the ingredients on my list. All of a sudden, the scent of fresh pie FILLED the parking lot like never before. Even walking by bakeries and working in bakeries, I’ve never experienced such an overwhelming pie smell. It was as if a giant were baking an apple and pecan pie hybrid somewhere in the night sky above me. I wanted to leap into the air and inhale as many pie breaths as possible! The second moment came when my neighbor was burning wood in his backyard, pot-bellied stove, and it smelled like smoky cedar. Christmas filled the air!
These overwhelming scents reminded me to inhale, to exhale, not to stress so much, and that perfection is just “fear in really good shoes” as Liz Gilbert says. So on this Christmas day, I wish, for you and for me, magical scents of giants’ warm ovens and all the freshest cedar trees distilled into a Christmas fragrance that follows you through the frenzied aspects of the day. I also wish you intense flavors of chocolate and cardamom and a table full of laughs and love!
(or simply, a really great Friday if you don’t celebrate)
About This Recipe:I can’t get enough of beautiful Sift Magazine. This is another recipe adapted from its beautiful pages! The original recipe is for cupcakes, so I included options for cupcakes or a layer cake like mine. You’ll need a food processor to grind pistachios into the flour, making a dense, moist, nutty cake to complement the rich, dark chocolate ganache.
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!
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.
How many phone numbers, excluding your own, do you know by heart?
That’s the last phone number I committed to memory. It’s also the first phone number I committed to memory. It was my parents’ home line. Was, being the keyword. One year ago, they moved to a new state, and the phone number, along with many household items, lingered in Pennsylvania. With that move, I lost the last phone number in my memory. I lost 10 digits whose comfort I hadn’t fully appreciated until they were gone.
It’s the number I nerdily imagined giving to a boy via my TI-83 geek calculator in high school calculus class (it never happened-shocker!). When people called that number, I responded with all the polite, proper grammar my dad had instructed me to use, “Hello, Kogels’.” “Yes, this is she.” “No, she is not. May I take a message?” It’s the number I dialed every Sunday in college to give my updates, bemoan my stresses and say “I miss you, and I love you.” Those 10 digits may not lead to my mom or dad’s voices anymore, but they remain the numbers I know by heart.
That expression- to know by heart– may sound bizarre to someone learning English. How does the heart store information? Yet, it’s exactly how I store that random string of 10 digits. More than a space in my mind and memory, they’re numbers that mean something. They linger with me through comfort and nostalgia, like the steam that condenses on kitchen windows while soup simmers, or the way holiday cookies sprawl over a long, dining-room table.
This Creamy Potato Cabbage Soup may not be the passed-down sort of recipe, but a bowl of this warm, flavorful soup has the power to comfort and conjure nostalgia nonetheless. Whether the digits change, or the recipes change, these are still the numbers and experiences we know by heart.
Creamy Potato Cabbage Soup
About This Recipe: Choose a purple cabbage to give a faint violet hue to this soup. The recipe includes a few resourceful suggestions to waste less. Use the stalk of broccoli, not just the florets. If you have whole milk that has soured, use it in this soup. Alternately, you can use fresh whole milk or buttermilk for tang. For the creamy consistence, you’ll need an immersion blender, a food processor or a regular blender.
The person I am right before embarking on a trip is not a person of whom I am proud. This version of Quelcy is frenzied, snippy and probably in need of a happiness project. This version of Quelcy loses her sense of priorities and time management. She thinks it’s an appropriate time to mop a floor or reorganize a shelf. Yet, she doesn’t seem to think it’s an appropriate time to select her outfits and put them in a travel bag.
This Thanksgiving, The Urban Farmer, Julep and I hit the road for a very long drive to the snowy midwest. True to form, that pre-trip Quelcy reared her ugly head, trying to squeeze too much into too little time and naturally, leaving packing for the last minute. In her fits and frenzies, this version of Quelcy thought the best plan for the abundant fruit bowl was a late night baking session.
This may have been pre-trip Quelcy’s only redeeming quality. In the storm before the calm, apples, pears and Chinese five spice combined into a whole grain treat. She packed the maple and spice scents into the car, and off they went. Somewhere between Pittsburgh and Ohio, my saner self re-emerged, appreciative of the treat we’d be able to savor throughout the long journey.
Once settled into our snowy retreat of an Air BnB, the warm crisp was wholesome enough to savor for breakfast with big mugs of slow sipping coffee. If this time of year brings you a fair share of stress, skip pie crust entirely, and try this wholesome crisp. If you’re attending dinner party after dinner party, this is easy to whip up last minute and share, or escape the frenzy and savor it with someone special.
p.s: My personalized pie plate was a gift from Personal Creations. If you want to be sure your pie plate doesn’t get confused with another dessert plate at a holiday party, you can use Personal Creations to add your name. If you’re the more obsessive type, like yours truly, you can even use your pie plate to broadcast your dedication to whole grains.
p.p.s: Stay tuned for posts about my Midwest adventures!
It would have been easy to punch the on-hand ingredients into google, but instead, my mom scanned through recipe clippings and a pile of magazines with an intense fervor. As the clock counted down the two hours, she scurried around the kitchen, grating with all her might, mixing and multitasking. Like a reality cooking show challenge, she revealed the final spread with but minutes to spare. Then the mayhem descended.
Six adults and six children arrived with appetites, their chaotic energy swarming around them like dirt around Pig Pen. Their focus was on the general nonsense that accompanies a gaggle of children gathered around a dinner table and on the pizza bake before them (a deep-dish, lasagna-like pizza bake with cheese and potatoes and saucy goodness!). In the chaos, one child lingered rather awkwardly.
A friend of a nephew, he lacked the aggressive swarm factor of my family members. My mom’s gaze oscillated between the food spread and the boy with equal concern. She approached him quietly and asked if he needed a plate. No one noticed but me. but I sat quietly appreciating this woman, my mother, who has always been a shining example of thoughtfulness, selflessness and hospitality. My mom is the reason I bake for others. She’s the reason I believe in making others feel special, especially when it comes to birthdays. Birthdays and celebrations call for Sweet Potato Layer Cakes! Who will you celebrate?
Whole Wheat Sweet Potato Layer Cake
About This Recipe: Light and spongey, this layer cake has sweet potato and spices in the cake, in a syrup infusion and in a lightly sweetened frosting. Graham cracker crumbs and cinnamon sticks easily add a special touch to the layers. To make the sweet potato puree, simply boil sweet potato chunks until soft, then blend until smooth in a food processor. Alternately, you can use an organic canned version.
“It’s ok, they might have guns but we have flowers,” the father explained to his son, as the young boy tried to wrap his mind around the violence that had consumed his city.
Flowers and candles. Flowers to fight fears and candles to remember the fallen. The father and son’s poetic exchange, captured on camera, went viral because the world needed flowers and light during such a dark tunnel.
Paris struck a chord with so many because so many of us have experienced the capitol’s charms. However, instead of token post cards or cinematic moments, we francophiles found ourselves retracing our past adventures through unimaginable, horrific news footage. Vicariously, we felt the threats so many feel daily, and as best we could, we conveyed our fears, our sympathies, and our allegiance to the beloved city.
It was easy to feel for Paris. In my own case, I spent six months wandering the city’s streets, immersing myself in the language and daily life. I debated the best baguette while reading Émile Zola. I documented my routes on a worn map while trying to emulate slang expressions. I sipped coffees while admiring the perfection of the street fashion. As cliche as it was, I felt like I belonged there, like I had found my city. Though I departed, bidding farewell as an accordion player serenaded the canal, I guarded that connection.
I have not read Arabic literature in Beirut. I have not dined with locals in Bamako. I have not sat in a cafe and admired the rich textiles and traditions of Nigerian cities. I may not have a personal history with these places, but that doesn’t mean I should close my heart to them. I have not given the victims in these cities the sympathies they deserve. I admittedly have furthered the desperation felt in those nations by not cherishing their living, but it’s a wrong I want to right.
I recently sat in the audience for a screening of the film (T)error (which I can’t recommend enough!). At the end of the film, a Muslim woman, in the traditional hijab, addressed the director. “Thank you for making this film. Thank you for sparking a dialogue. I love Allah. I am a Muslim, but those attackers are not Muslim. They do not represent me.” She expressed the fear she feels when her eight children leave home after, hearing a man on the news say he wanted to shoot the next Muslim he saw. “I am human, and I bleed just like you.”
Several audience members made their way to the woman as the crowd dispersed. “Thank you for your comments,” they said one by one, touching her gently on the shoulder or leaning in close to her. Like the flowers and candles in France, this woman’s bravery was beauty in the face of fear. Her vulnerability turned fear into power.
Thankfully, I haven’t experienced a terrorist attack firsthand, and I hope I never do. I wish no one ever would, but certain evils are prevailing. It may be easier for me to believe in flowers and candles from my safe distance, but how else can we advance positively? I choose to believe in beauty and empathy wholeheartedly, and I will pay more attention to the attacks the media slights.
If my time in France taught me one thing, it was to appreciate quality– quality of time, quality of friends, quality of wine and the quality of a good meal shared. France taught me to slow down, to savor, to debate, to exchange and to defend time honored traditions. These luxuries are not universal, and especially in America, we ought to acknowledge and share our great fortunes.
As Thanksgiving rapidly approaches for those of us in the United States, it’s an apt time to remember how America formed, how generosity and gratitude gathered around a table and celebrated differences. As Thanksgiving draws near, I hope flowers and candles, beauty and empathy will prevail! I hope that our common fears will unite us and not tear us apart.
This is a recipe for sharing. It serves many, so extend the warmth of your oven to those close to you. I shared this lasagna with close friends who inspire me. Each fights, in his or her own way, for a better world. Each of these friends chooses beauty and empathy, and I’m grateful for it.
Pumpkin & Kale Lasagna (Gluten Free)
About this Recipe: Perfect for serving a group, this lasagna tastes like the best of fall! In the spirit of simpler preparations around the holidays, I used an organic canned pumpkin puree instead of roasting my own. The hearty green layer is a quick kale pesto. Use the leftovers wherever you would use a traditional basil pesto. Brown rice noodles make for more flavor, and they make this a gluten-free, crowd-pleasing option. Serve it with Wigle Whiskey’s Walkabout(whiskey + pressed apple cider).