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-With The Grains

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 02

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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Donut o’ the Month for @Jojotastic: Powdered Whole Wheat Gingerbread

December 2014

Though my ideal temperature is that of a desert, there is a big part of me that likes winter. I don’t admit this too frequently, mostly because I would be making that declaration through chattering teeth and purple lips, but it’s true. The major stipulation is this: I like winter when I am just sort of cozily watching snow fall from my third-floor window view.

December Donut of the Month_WTG

I like winter when the only reason to face the brutal winds is to run around the park like a crazy person with my dog (a big perk of having a dog!). I like winter when I’m buried deep under blankets, a candle is flickering and I’m burning my way through a Netflix series. Not wanting to leave home in the winter is a huge motivator for home cooking and baking.

December Donut of the Month

The more delicious foods and drinks I am able to prepare at home, the less I need to 1) leave home 2) spend extra money and 3) eat less wholesome ingredients. Thanks to Joanna’s love of donuts, I was inspired to develop this donut-o-the-month series. So content am I with these homemade versions, I no longer need to brave the cold and the lines for the Pittsburgh brunch place that serves the beignets I used to crave. I am one step closer to a complete hermitage this winter, so three cheers for Jojotastic!

Dec Donuts 02

December’s donut was inspired by fluffy snow, gingerbread men and hikes in the park with my four-legged snow lover. I hope these donuts enable you to stay some place warm, sip something hot and dive into the series of your choice.

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#TBT: Spectacular Holiday Dishes

December 2014

Siblings marry and disperse. Christmas day becomes a flexible date. A younger family member takes the throne at the biggest present pile. It’s more exciting to travel far and wide than near and home. There’s no time for a tree, and the nativity scene becomes more of a story than a testament of faith. At a certain point, holiday traditions face obstacles. However, these forks in the route can lead to new activities, new relationships and new traditions in the making.

DSC_8683_Pine Cone

Christmas is any minute now, and as this reality sunk in, I started to think more and more about how to make a day in December feel like Christmas day. I won’t be with my relatives, but I’ll be with people who have embraced me as family. I want to make homemade egg nog spiked with whiskey like I sipped in London. I want to make monkey bread because I know my sister will be doing the same. I want to decorate with close friends and listen to early 90s R&B. I want to curl up with the Urban Farmer and watch Love Actually because I can practically recite it by heart, and this movie has somehow escaped him.

As an “adult,” there have been so many moving parts and inconsistencies to the holidays, but as I reflected, these disparate bits and bobs have started to form very intentional traditions. This dose of nostalgia made me appreciate how we start to choose what’s important and what’s worth repeating, This dose of nostalgia also reminded me to be grateful for the new additions, which may or may not include this pine cone inspired almond appetizer. It is, after all, quite spectacular.

What traditions will you be commemorating and creating?


Happy Holidays!

#TBT (Throw Back Thursdays) glimpse into the vintage visual feasts in my personal collection of food and entertaining books and magazines.

Whole Wheat Cranberry Gingerbread Muffins

December 2014

Do you remember the Dunkin Donuts commercial from the 90s (?), in which a man appears in various “costumes” in order to take advantage of a discount? “Dunkin Donuts it’s worth the trip!” he says each time he steps to the register. The donut clerk, amused by a hastily applied fake mustache, plays along and then eventually breaks it to the confused man, the discount he seeks is always applicable. No costumes necessary. It’s possible I have altered this scene over the years. It’s possible the commercial was for a different brand. Regardless, this is what I think of when I make multiple visits, in one day, to my neighborhood cafe. If only I had switched costumes (though to be fair, I think I do sometimes change outfits throughout the course of the day)!


This neighborhood cafe serves up coffee drinks and affordable, healthy foods, a mere block away from my apartment. There have been times, very busy times, when that cafe has fed me breakfast, lunch and dinner. There’s something slightly shameful about purchasing every meal there when I am not only  capable of preparing food for myself, but I write about preparing foods for myself. However,busy times call for convenient measures.


With Christmas shockingly close (thank you etsy for making me aware of just how close Christmas is with your S&H warnings!), we are in the throngs of very busy times. If you’re able to set aside some kitchen time, I highly recommend making these Whole Wheat Cranberry Gingerbread Muffins. Made with regular whole-wheat flour, they’re nutritious, dense and delicious! Most importantly, they are easy to grab in the morning as you try to meet the deadlines of the day.

Alternately, you could just wear a fake mustache and visit the same cafe again? Up to you…

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Instagram Lately: A Calming Shortcut

December 2014

There’s a narrow, winding shortcut road to my neighborhood, which the locals defend fiercely. After rounds of cat-and-mouse in the limited space, the houses thin, the road curves, and a bridge emerges overhead with graffiti, not the work of amateurs looking to put their names anywhere and everywhere, but eye-catching, graphic graffiti. The road curves again, more severely this time, and the invasive Japanese knotweed forms a forest around the bend.

Gray City Migration

While driving this road recently, it began to snow, softly, as if each tiny snowflake were floating intentionally in the air before descending to the ground. Collectively, these snowflakes fell at an angle, directly into my windshield, as if I were being shaken in a snow globe. The whole scene seemed timeless, frozen in place and extended at the same time. The slow and steady anticipation of the soundtrack fit the moment perfectly. The thing about this road is it forces you to slow down, to notice where there is room and look at what’s ahead. At a time in my life when stress and emotions have been overwhelming, I am trying to be more conscious of the tiny calming moments I find along the way: blanketing gray skies, soaring and swirling bird migrations, floating snowfalls, and those four little paws that force me to walk my neighborhood hills and to inhale deeply.

What keeps you calm lately?


Happy Monday!

P.S: Have you noticed the snow falling on my little corner of the blogosphere thanks to WordPress? I look forward to this digital snow all year. It’s the little things.

P.P.S: You can follow more of my Instagram adventures here and some here too.

#TBT: Good Food Means Good Cheer

December 2014

Mazola oil and Karo syrup aside, Jane Ashley’s alliteration, food-inspired holiday cheer, and her tie have won me over.


I’m in Jane, I’m in. Good food does mean good cheer. Now to make that cheerful food from ingredients a little more wholesome than the sugary equivalent of Play-doh.


Have your holiday cookie endeavors begun? I’m hoping to revisit these Chocolate Gingerbread Twig Cookies, and it’s hard to go wrong with Double Chocolate Cookies with Orange & Hazelnut, but who knows?


Maybe this year I’ll try a more wholesome version of Jane Ashley’s Lebkuchen?


May your cookie tin soon be full and festive!

#TBT (Throw Back Thursdays) glimpse into the vintage visual feasts in my personal collection of food and entertaining books and magazines.

Instagram Lately: Nostalgia, Nebraksa & Dorie Greenspan

December 2014

Someone had painted the exterior signage when area codes were just for long distance. The dangling, three-dimensional letters gave the words a sense of movement teetering on precariousness. Though the building facade would suggest otherwise, the royal blue door pushed right open, and in more ways than one, I felt as though the door had opened to another era. The capacious, wood paneled room felt like a museum of old office equipment: a curly-q phone cord, a radio clock, the type of printer that hums and lurches rhythmically. The technology took me back to the late 80s/early 90s, but more than anything, the smell transported me.

Rent Most Everything

I couldn’t tell you the proper proportioning of mechanics, oil, grease, work, etc that leads to such an eau de parfum, but I can tell you it smelled exactly like my older brother’s mechanic shop. Suddenly, I was a little, curly-haired girl running around cars, toolboxes, oil buckets, a parking lot full of deceased vehicles and staring at cornfields in every direction. I went from McKees Rocks to Gothenburg, Nebraska with the opening of a door.

Nostalgia fuels so much of what I do and why I do it. I love weddings because they can be one of the most memorable days in a lifetime if planned properly. I love cameras and Instagram and Photoshop and blogging because all of these tools help preserve (and beautify) what memory might otherwise push to a back shelf.

Weddings and Old Town

I took a moment this past weekend to sip coffee slowly and eat waffles by myself- delicious, fluffy waffles with real maple syrup and pumpkin butter- while reading the newest issue of Lucky Peach. Unfortunately, taking time to sit and read is a memory falling deeper and deeper into the recesses. However, in this delicious reading refresher, a quote from Dorie Greenspan really struck me-

“Baking is really special,” she says. “We really don’t just bake for ourselves…. You bake to share. It’s such a pleasure. Everything about it- from the ingredients to the way they feel and the way they combine. There are memories attached to baking, so I think that even the scaredy-cats, the ones that don’t have enough time, will bake for the holidays.”

Memory and nostalgia. Nostalgia and memory. As I said, it really is the root for so much of what I do, so stay tuned for more baking, more associations, more memories recorded…more, more, more.


Have A Deliciously Memorable Week!

P.S: You can follow more of my Instagram adventures here and some here too.