For a brief stint of diligence, I had a gratitude journal. Daily, I would jot down three elements of my life for which I was grateful. Unfortunately, I fell into a rather lazy rotation of bullet points: my apartment, heat, employment, a roof over my head, etc. Of all the things I recorded, I never once thought to write “I am grateful to have had birthday parties to celebrate my place in this world.”
I never thought to write down “birthday parties” in my gratitude journal because these were celebrations I had taken for granted. Of course I had birthday parties. I had a BIG family who relished my existence, and even when times were tight, we had the resources for my favorite flavors of cakes and thematic decor. My older sisters channeled their creativity to make thrilling scavenger hunts and party games that stick out in my memory to this day! It should have been obvious, but I discovered recently just how blessed I had been/am on the birthday front.
It was this article that set me straight (and probably made me all misty-eyed too). In it I learned about Megan Yunn, who founded Beverly’s Birthdays. In 2011, Megan was volunteering at a local after-school program and helping 12-year-old Beverly with her homework. Discovering that Beverly never had a birthday party nagged at Megan and then eventually inspired her to start the organization that now provides birthday celebrations for homeless kids in the Pittsburgh region.
Imagine the effects of these parties! Reading through a few of the organization’s blog posts had me in tears. One child asked to keep a clean disposable birthday plate because he wanted to cherish the birthday party. He washed it and reused it. Another child just wanted her own bottled water- not even a fancy bottle of water, just one bottle. Another mother walked her three children to the party after a stressful day of doctor’s visits (to which she also walked) because she knew how important the celebration would be to her kids.
All these stories reiterated how much I have taken for granted. Theme parties and baking are two of my biggest passions, so I was so long overdue to contribute. I finally signed up and baked these cupcakes for a zoo-themed party. I chose this party in particular because it took place in the very neighborhood where The Urban Farmer started his farm. The community has welcomed him with such open arms, this felt like the least I could do to give back.
I’m not sharing these cupcakes to toot my own horn. My hope is this story will inspire you to find a similar outlet for your passions, whatever they may be. There are countless organizations that rely heavily on the work of volunteers, so whether you love knitting, power tools or cupcake making, there is probably an outlet for you. Also, these stories are worth sharing because they not only inspire us to give but to be grateful. I can’t applaud the folks at Beverly’s Birthdays enough, and I look forward to future themed baking!
Whole Grain Chocolate Cupcakes with a Fudge Mint Cookie Crunch & Mint Buttercream Frosting
About This Recipe:These cupcakes may be green and feature traditional cookie flavors, but they are made from all natural and organic versions because playful party food can still have a wholesome spin to it. I used all-natural blue and yellow dyes (from India Tree) to create the green frosting.
Last fall, the Urban Farmer and I made a Westward Wander, or what I dubbed #KyleMeetsTheKogels2015, since this was their official meet and greet. My parents toured us around their icy town in Iowa, where they had begun to settle after moving nearly one year prior. My dad pointed out the expanse of farms, the loss of the smaller family farms, the surplus of corn and of course, the donut shop. My mom’s additions to the tour included the trails where she walked with her new friends and the home of an older woman she helped with cleaning.
She mentioned that last detail so nonchalantly, so humbly. Yet that little detail speaks volumes about my mom. She is a giver, a selfless helper, a patient listener and a constant doer. She sends birthday and anniversary cards to everyone, including my dog! She sends care packages with little recipe clippings and encouraging notes, affirming that no matter my crazy pursuit, my mom believes I can not only do it, but do it well.
I could tell you there is no sweeter woman, and you might say, “that’s what everyone says about their moms,” but in my case, it may be true. After attending a church service with my parents, an older woman approached me, so pleased to meet Regina’s daughter. “Your mother has been such a blessing to this community. She has really made a difference, and we are so blessed to have her.” I bit my lip to stifle the tears my sappiness ejects against my will and thanked this woman for sharing that tidbit with me.
Having barely been in that small town for a year, my mom’s presence had already been felt and appreciated. In that moment, in that wash of gratitude, I felt so lucky to be Regina’s daughter, to have grown up with her as my example, to have the parenting bar set by her devotion and sacrifice. Unfortunately, we were nearly 1,000 miles away on Mother’s Day, but my humble mother, was just so grateful to hear my voice on the phone.
Though I couldn’t spend the day with my mom, I was lucky enough to spend it with some other inspiring moms. The Urban Farmer’s mama, grandmother and sister-in-law have always impressed me with their dedication to their families and the way they welcomed me into them. For all their sharing, they deserved a little indulgence to be savored just by them.
Happy Belated Mother’s Day to all you moms, expecting moms and women who mother everyone around them! You may not know it yet, but you’re making a difference!
In yoga they teach you how to push and stretch your lungs, inching closer and closer to breathing at full capacity. Bonding with a dog is a similar exercise for the heart- all my love for this gentle, faithful, happy creature fills my heart so as to burst the very seams. And that love for her somehow trained my heart to love even more and taught me to feel an empathy for dogs in general (i.e.: most dog videos can make me sob in a matter of seconds).
We’ve been through a lot in these three short years- an aggressive dog attack I thought would surely end her, an injured paw that melted my heart, a near brush with rush-hour traffic- all these incidents enforcing how important it is to cherish this playful, sweet, snuggly creature for every precious moment I have her.
As that Anatole fella said, Julep truly did awaken a part of my soul. She showed me a simplicity to life- friendship and play go a long way in bringing contentment to a day. Work hard, play hard and nap harder. She made me a better neighbor and taught me to expect the best from people. I’ve also watched her brighten the days of so many folks around us.
I showed my love and gratitude for my birthday girl as I often do, through baking. Whether baking for human birthdays or four-legged birthdays, I am always concerned about the quality of ingredients and if they are appropriate for the birthday boy or girl. Accordingly, this recipe is simple and completely pronounceable.
Reading the list of ingredients on dog foods and treats is just as confusing (if not more?) as navigating our human nutrition labels these days. With so many companies just trying to make a buck off our love for our four-legged pals, this homemade gesture goes a long way in treating our pets without unwanted fillers. Plus, you can eat them too!
Since sharing is caring, Julep shared her birthday bones with her new best friend- Lucy Lu. After Julep’s attack, she became very aggressive toward other dogs. When our very close friend brought home this curly new addition (an Aussie Doodle), we were hoping for a bond.
Words can’t even express how happy I was to see them connect when we first introduced them. The framily bond continues to grow even stronger and is helping to rehabilitate Julep. There goes that heart bursting again!
Well behaved ladies waiting for their treats.
These homemade birthday bones are nose-licking good!
♥♥♥ Happy 3rd Birthday to Julep, my not-so little one! ♥♥♥
p.s: I would be remiss not to mention how The Urban Farmer adopted Julep as his own and how he added a whole new level of happiness to her sheepdog heart. Working as his farm “assistant” has made her the happiest lass on the planet!
p.p.s: As much as I love my dog and want others to feel that same joy, Julep is a BIG responsibility. Think very carefully before adding a dog to your life, especially a high-energy, intelligent sheepdog! Too many of them end up at shelters by no fault of their own.
Ah brunch, society’s way of justifying lazing about, eating too much, doing too little and marrying salty, sweet and saucy (mimosas anyone?).
Brunch is my favorite meal of the day, but as farm duties kick into full swing, it’s a meal that no longer fits the schedule (not that the Urban Farmer is the 6 am sort by any means). To indulge in brunch while we still could, I whipped up a little celebration of spring to be enjoyed in the mid-morning hours.
I first shared this brunch with the fine, fashionable folks at ModCloth, who asked me for some tips on supporting local agriculture, a topic I love to bring to the table! Since not everyone has the luxury of a fine fella who digs in the dirt all day and then comes home with fresh, flavorful greens, I’ll share some of those same tips here too. (This is also a good time to tell you I’m a ginger now!)
What’s your favorite part about farmers markets and other local food spaces?
Conversation + flavor. When people plant, grow, and harvest a vegetable, or milk a cow or goat to make cheese, they tend to be very enthusiastic about that product! Whether it be the quirky name of the heirloom seed or the temperament of the baby goats, this dialogue is such a far cry from asking the produce clerk at the grocery store for more details on the fennel. Plus, local purveyors can pick when the produce is ripe, since they aren’t shipping their product across the globe.
Do you have any tips on how to get the most out of a farmers market experience?
Shop with your taste buds and an open mind! Many farmers will give out samples, or offer up herbs and fruits to smell. Think of the farmers market like a cooking show challenge. Here’s what is available and flavorful at the moment, now be creative and turn it into tonight’s dinner! Also, don’t be afraid to stick to your food values! Ask the farmers if they grow organically or pesticide-free (even if they aren’t certified, which is often too expensive for small-scale producers). They risk more for their sustainable approach and should be rewarded accordingly.
Okay, so you’ve scored big at the farmers market…now what? Any tips for using your finds in a way that minimizes potential food waste?
Wasting less is a huge priority of mine, so much so that I added a “Waste Not, Want Not” category to my blog to share my experiments and pursuits. One of the biggest ways to mitigate food waste is to compost, so at least waste and scraps won’t be taking up space in a landfill, where they present a slew of problems. Some cities pick up compost with trash and recycling, but unfortunately, Pittsburgh is not yet one of those cities.
If you don’t have your own yard, talk to a neighbor about sharing a bin or contact the managers of a local community garden to see if you can drop off a bin of approved compostables. Or, talk to my farmer and me!
As far as consuming food to waste less, it comes down to kitchen creativity and experimentation! Try a version of my Turnip Chips & Turnip Greens Dip as a way to use the entire vegetable. Use the end cuts of vegetables like carrots and celery to make a Homemade Stock. The homemade version is usually more flavorful, cheaper and healthier than even the organic store-bought varieties. Juicing is a great way to clean out the refrigerator, and there are quick pickling methods that are not intimidating at all.
In the spirit of “Waste Not, Want Not,” I shared a recipe for a Rhubarb Simple Syrup with ModCloth readers. Rhubarb is so nostalgic, since my mom was one of the few neighbors who knew what to do with the stalky vegetable when most people thought it was a weed. This Simple Syrup is perfect for easy brunch cocktails or an afternoon homemade soda (just add sparkling water).
Rather than strain and pitch the fruit from the simple syrup infusion, use it to make a sweet and tart topping for waffles, which I made with local cornmeal and fresh, homegrown basil. I topped it off with Rose Water Whipped Cream for a truly fresh, spring flavor.
And if you truly want to eat brunch like this part-time farmer, you DRENCH everything in PURE maple syrup!
p.s: Be sure to scroll to the bottom to see the #BTS with my trusty sidekick. p.p.s: This post was presented in collaboration with ModCloth, but all opinions are my own.
Whole-Grain, Cornmeal, Basil Belgian Waffles with Strawberry Rhubarb Compote & Rose Water Whipped Cream
“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!
There is a vulnerability to spring I hadn’t noticed until walking through the spindly branches and brown brush of my neighborhood. Winter had protected those same trees and littered ground like long hair protects an insecure girl, basking the earth in a security blanket of snow and a wash of grays. We do not scrutinize winter. We hide from it.
Spring, however, emerges to watchful eyes, like a debut role performed to an audience of critics. People pour into the streets in prematurely short sleeves with exposed legs and toes, demanding warmth, a gentle breeze, greens and blooms.
Meanwhile, seeds and seedlings leave farmers and gardeners guessing- will they or won’t they? Will they spring back from the freak snow? Will they be on schedule for transplanting? Will they emerge at all?
Yet somehow, the early buds prove resilient. The greens and pinks emerge, and if given a little time, they paint the most fabulous landscape. From barren to beautiful, the transition to full-force spring is a process worth observing, worth noting, worth taking to heart.
There are plenty of ugly moments and doubts en route to a masterpiece. Once those painterly strokes of genius appear, they are but brief and fleeting, so we better appreciate the messes and spindly branches along the way.
Like the season, I feel myself reemerging. I just wrapped a major project, a labor of love that consumed my early mornings and late nights and nearly every minute in between. I had to remind myself all along to enjoy the process. That process, like the spring blossoms, can pass so quickly leaving me to question whether the tree ever had blooms or if I had dreamt it.
This cake tastes like walking in the newness of spring, when fresh scents hit you, but you can’t quite locate the tiny buds emitting the perfume. The floral notes of the rose feel cleansing and purifying, like splashing your face with water.
Here’s to the vulnerabilities of spring, to the process of reemerging, and as always, to the sweetness of special desserts worth sharing with special people! This one was for The Urban Farmer’s mama because she is one of the loveliest!
Whole Grain Blood Orange & Rose Water Cake with Rose Water Frosting
About this Recipe: I used a 7-inch and a 6-inch springform pan to create two cake layers, which I then cut in halves to create more layers. Alternately, you could make 3 6×2-inch round cakes. If using fresh flowers as a garnish, be careful to protect the cake from any floral byproduct and caution eaters against eating the flowers (unless they are edible varieties of course). You can wrap the ends of stems in foil or floral tape as a cautionary measure.
So you’re craving a doughnut in Pittsburgh (where I happen to live and crave doughnuts)?
Fullton Market District, Chicago
Option 1: You buy the popular gluten free “doughnut’ from one of several coffee shops, but it’s really just a muffin parading as a doughnut. Pleasant little treat that it may be, it in no way fulfills those deep doughnut desires. win-lose.
Fullton Market District, Chicago
Option 2: You eat an adorable mini doughnut, a legitimate fried ring of dough. Your doughnut craving is satiated for the time being, BUT (and it’s a big BUT), you hate yourself because your dollars just supported the owner, a known homophobe who sees gay marriage as the dissolution of family values, and Barak Obama as the torch bearer for the demise. Win-LOSE!
(For the record: After learning about the owner, I stopped supporting his business)
Fullton Market District, Chicago
Option 3: You start frying up more wholesome versions at home and coming up with some real novel doughnuts (if I do say so myself!)! However, these doughnut sessions are a bit labor and time intensive, so they require a fair bit of preparation. Win-win… lose.
Fullton Market District, Chicago
Glazed and Infused Doughnut Shop in the Fullton Market District of Chicago // www.WithTheGrains.com
Option 4: None of the Above.
You go to Chicago!
You go to Chicago, one of the cities fortunate enough to have been hit by the artisanal doughnut scene (Pittsburgh typically lags behind the zeitgeist, but thanks to the internet, at least our lag seems to be decreasing!). You prioritize eating good quality doughnuts and exploring the kind of coffee shops that most definitely serve latte art. Or at least that is what the Urban Farmer and I did as part of our Westward Wanderings.
The punniest, yummiest doughnuts:
Glazed and Infused
813 W Fulton Market Chicago, IL 60607
The West Loop’s Glazed & Infused not only serves as the flagship store, but it also acts as the production kitchen, transferring over 8,000 (!!!) freshly made doughnuts daily to locations throughout Chicago.
Established in 2012 by acclaimed Chef and Restaurateur, Scott Harris, Glazed & Infused doughnut and coffee shops focus on artisan technique, local sourcing, and quality flavors, thus appealing to my deep donut cravings and my sense of ethics. WIN WIN! Their re-invention of Americana is reflected in the decor. I would have bought the Rosie the Donut Riveter poster off the wall if it had been possible!
A little pep talk from a shared work space in the Fullton Market District in Chicago.
…then a coffee break…
C. C. Ferns
2806 W Augusta Blvd, Chicago, IL 60622
I can’t tell you much of the story behind C.C. Ferns, other than it’s a part of a stylish restaurant group who causes my Chesterfield envy to spike, and they serve Coffee AND Booze and cigars. Unfortunately, it was a little early in the morning for us to be hitting the bottle, but in the meantime, how about this decor? Not a bad place to kick it with an espresso drink, eh?
Though I will say my espresso drink tasted burnt (over roasted?), the atmosphere was worth the trip.
C.C. Ferns also serves dougnuts from The Doughnut Vault(their sister company apparently), but we went straight to the source, the very space efficient micro source!
The Doughnut Vault
401 N Franklin St, Chicago, IL 60654
I would have loved to chase down/commandeer The Doughnut Vault Van (the cutest vintage food truck I have “seen” to date!), but our time was limited, so we ventured to this sliver of a storefront filled with the smell of fresh doughnuts. We made it just in time as mid-morning is already “late” in the world of doughnuts, and the options were thinning.
A Chestnut Glazed pillowy cloud and a caky Buttermilk Old Fashioned (made with a buttermilk powder for a bit of tang) hit the spot!
then more coffee…
Gaslight Coffee Roasters
2385 North Milwaukee Ave, Chicago, IL 60647
The Urban Farmer returned from the bathroom and said, “you have to go back there!” Not quite sure what I would discover, I followed his advice with a bit of caution. “Back there” turned out to be the true coffee nerdery- coffee roasting and precise note taking. It explained the standout beverages we consumed. This would probably be my regular haunt if I lived in the windy city.
It was an all too quick, sweet, caffeinated exploration of an incredible city, but had it been longer, we may have been too jittery and bouncing off the Bean. Hopefully, we’ll return again real soon to explore some other themes or maybe a cornet mission will be next?
People make all sorts of meccas. Young musicians travel to hear the vibrations of a maestro’s violin strings in person. Aspiring actors crane their necks from nosebleed seats to feel the energy and ambition of Broadway. Nature photographers check the Grand Canyon and Yosemite off their lists dutifully.
It might not look like much at first, but the mural, the solar panels, and the boxes of veggies mark the entrance to a world of inspiration for growers and community leaders from all over the world. This is the Growing Power Community Center, and back in the fall, the Urban Farmer and I made our pilgrimage there as part of our Westward Wanderings (hence the Christmas trees).
Farm fresh produce for sale at Growing Power.
The story of Growing Power is the story of Will Allen (who we missed by one day unfortunately). Farmer, founder and CEO of Growing Power Inc., Will Allen is recognized as an urban agriculture trailblazer throughout the world, and the store wall of press clippings and awards attest to his well deserved acclaim.
Born a sharecropper’s son, Will Allen grew up farming in Maryland. Despite his father’s rule that sports were forbidden until chores were completed, he excelled in basketball, enough to become the first African-American scholarship athlete at the University of Miami. He eventually became the basketball team captain, and later generations of Miami players have yet to break many of his records.
Allen graduated with a degree in education, but his athleticism steered him toward the NBA and the American Basketball Association. After a year in the ABA, he entered the European League and played for Belgium. However, his farming roots and his education degree would later serve him perhaps more than he ever imagined.
While living in Belgium, Allen observed the intensive methods used on small plots by local farmers, and he began applying those methods in a garden where he grew food for his family and teammates. After his basketball career, he returned to the United States and joined the corporate world, but he quickly concluded dirt was more appealing than an office life.
Will Allen built a true field of dreams- an urban field of dreams, and “they” came!
Beneath the nasturtium are some 10,000 fish growing in one of Growing Power’s four-foot-deep, 10,000-gallon aquaponics tanks. Waste from the fish feeds greens and tomatoes. The plants purify the water for the fish. The fish eventually go to market.
Allen took over the operations at his wife’s family farm in Wisconsin. Seeking a place to sell the surplus in the city, he discovered a vacant garden center in nearby Milwaukee. In a serendipitous turn of events, he had stumbled upon the last tract in the city of Milwaukee still zoned for agriculture. Allen realized he could not only sell food from his own farm in Oak Creek, but he could grow food on the urban site, in a neighborhood where there was little fresh food to be found.
Inadvertently, Will Allen built a true field of dreams- an urban field of dreams, and “they” came! As he set up his operation, in the last agricultural zone, neighborhood children took an interest. These were children who lived in the largest, low-income public housing project in Milwaukee, and they began to ask him for advice to grow their own vegetables. (Melt my heart!)
The educator in Will Allen emerged, as did an Agricultural Hero of mythical proportions. Step aside Spiderman. Step aside Batman. Little kids should play with figurines of Will Allen. Will Allen the sharecropper’s son and the pro basketball player became Will Allen, the founder of Growing Power, Inc.
That lot in Milwaukee grew to be a positive influence on the neighborhood, on the city and eventually the world! Those impromptu gatherings of neighborhood children became the Youth Corps, a program that continues today.
Today, Growing Power, Inc is “a national nonprofit organization and land trust supporting people from diverse backgrounds, and the environments in which they live, by helping to provide equal access to healthy, high-quality, safe and affordable food for people in all communities. Growing Power implements this mission by providing hands-on training, on-the-ground demonstration, outreach and technical assistance through the development of Community Food Systems that help people grow, process, market and distribute food in a sustainable manner.”
The mission of Growing Power is “to grow food, to grow minds, and to grow community.”
The aquaponics system at Growing Power, Milwaukee, WI.
Furthermore, Will Allen has been an innovator in methods of composting, vermicomposting (using worms to refine and fertilize compost) and aquaponics (growing fish and food plants in a closed system). These and other intensive practices result in remarkable yields of food, even in a very small area, even in winter! These were a few of the reasons we wanted to see Growing Power in person.
“Everybody should touch the soil. It really changes how you feel about everything in your life. It’s therapeutic.” -Will Allen
Growing Power’s projects fall into three essential areas:
Projects and Growing Methods – Growing Power demonstrates its easy to replicate growing methods through on-site workshopsand hands-on demonstrations. Growing Power has farms in Milwaukee, Madison, and Merton, Wisconsin, and in Chicago, Illinois. Growing Power has also established satellite-training sites in Arkansas, Georgia, Kentucky, and Mississippi.
Food Production and Distribution – Food production occurs in the organization’s demonstration greenhouses, rural farm site in Merton, and urban farms in Milwaukee and Chicago. They also distribute produce, grass-based meats, and value-added products through the activities of over 300 small family farmers in the Rainbow Farmers Cooperative, and the organization’s year-round food security program the Farm-to-City Market Basket Program. They also sell to numerous restaurants and small grocery stores in Chicago, Madison, and Milwaukee.
In addition to tropical plants in November and the MOUNDS of compost a mere mile away from a Starbucks, what inspired me the most was Growing Power’s affiliation with the Kohl’s headquarters. The non-profit works with the company to plant their green spaces and donate food to those in need. Imagine if every major company had such a green, community-building component!
If people can grow safe, healthy, affordable food, if they have access to land and clean water, this is transformative on every level in a community. I believe we cannot have healthy communities without a healthy food system.” -Will Allen
A truck for a scale figure to show the enormity of Growing Power’s compost impact.
Small pumpkins as scale figures to show the vast mound of compost at Growing Power in Milwaukee, WI.
It was a tad cold, so the chickens were in their hoop house, but normally, they roam the animal wing of the urban farm. If you see this many chickens in person, you quickly learn why “pecking order” is a phrase.
If you’ve got it, flaunt it. You go little goat!
When you “take something with a grain of salt,” you listen with skepticism. With “A Grain of Good,” I am asking you to do the opposite- to receive a message with optimism and inspiration. In this series, I interview and document the work of community leaders who use food as a vehicle for positive change. Growing Power has been and continues to be an enormous source of inspiration. We were grateful to have seen it up close, and hopefully one day, I’ll see the Big Guy himself! In the meantime, I know The Urban Farmer’s head is still processing and applying some of the lessons we saw firsthand.
I hope you found a nugget or two of inspiration! Thanks for reading!
p.s: Do you know someone who is A Grain of Good? Leave a comment, or email me your nominations firstname.lastname@example.org ! The world needs more inspiration, and the do-gooders need more encouragement!
“What do you want to do?” they asked, peering at me expectantly across the half-consumed cocktails and artisanal small plates. With only my “fancy” burger and tallow fat fries standing between me and this interrogation, I stared at them rather blankly, wishing for more layers of protection. Oh this question again! I felt young again- in a a bad way- all the anxieties and life questions of my mid-twenties emerging from some hidden recess of my body. I thought I had killed and buried those stressors? Apparently not!
What I want to do is “projects.” I want to change courses and follow whims and inspirations, but try explaining that to an esteemed film critic and a dedicated film festival director as they plead with you to devote your life to filmmaking! I was flattered and confused, surprised by how much the question left me stammering and surprised by how much that bothered me.
In high school, our teachers taught us to rack up the extracurriculars, earn perfect grades and contribute to humanity in some generous way. The end goal was college acceptance and eventually, a good job and happiness (probably in the form of a 2-car garage and a family). The end goals didn’t work for me, but throwing myself into various activities did! ‘What I want to do’ may never be a question I can answer succinctly but who I want to be? Maybe that’s a starting point that won’t leave me stammering.
Who I want to be is someone who pays it forward, who fills the world with beauty, who leaves a footprint- not the carbon kind, but the kind people commemorate. I want to be a person who feeds and nourishes people. I want to be a person who brightens days and helps those in need, who leaves a mark on friends, on my city, and hopefully, in a broader context. How do you relay that across an adult table of whiskey and patés?
If SEO weren’t a thing, the title of this post would be “The Pay It Forward Cake,” but then those creeping search engines would never bring humans to me. I baked this cake and gave it away. I can’t vouch for the flavor, the richness, the fruity notes of carob or the dark bittersweet bursts of ganache, but what I can vouch for is the way my friends’ eyes lit up when I appeared at their door with a surprise layered treat. I want to be the person who sweetens days and delivers surprises, so that’s what I’m doing for the moment.
Whole-Wheat Carob Apricot Cake
About this Recipe:For my layers, I used a 6″, 7″ and 9″ springform pans, but you could experiment with uniform layers. I used a soured whole milk for the cake as a way to waste less, but you can substitute regular whole milk or buttermilk. It’s helpful to have a lazy Susan for assembly but not necessary. If you’re newer to cake frosting, here’s a helpful tutorial from Martha Stewart.
“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!
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).