A Cinco de Mayo Brunch w/ Huevos Rancheros “Nests”

May 2015 

Without any regard for my presence, just across the regularly traversed street, he emerged from his home, with a lawn chair and a bare chest. His gut bore the brunt of years of overeating, while his sporadically tattooed arms remained relatively thin. He set the chair on the sidewalk, one of the main sidewalks of this neighborhood, and he sank into his seat. He cinched up the ends of his nylon sport shorts so as to allow more sun exposure on his upper thighs, which also boasted random tattoos. The tan-line-threatening socks and killer 80s-style high-tops seemed to confirm the rumors of his return from jail and a lingering ankle bracelet. As he settled into his sun worshipping routine, I heard a sound I haven’t heard in ages- the spritz spritz of what I can only assume was tanning oil and not sunscreen.

A Cinco de Mayo Brunch // www.WithTheGrains.com

It was noon, which meant the early spring rays were shining directly on his already bronzed body. He closed his eyes and sank into the chair without a care for his appearance or what the neighbors might think. As the sun traveled through the sky, he rotated his chair, and with closed eyes, he positioned his head toward the warm rays. It was as if he had emerged from 1980, when tanning didn’t cause skin cancer, when perhaps this street was more neighborly, when he didn’t have a record. In some ways, this soon-to-be leathery, ex-con was enviable. There he was, idling away a spring afternoon, giving zero fucks about the ozone layer, his waist line, nosy neighbors, recent fashion trends or the discomfort of pedestrians in his vicinity. Maybe it was his alleged time behind bars, but this neighbor was really soaking up the spring moment.

A Cinco de Mayo Brunch // www.WithTheGrains.com

I’m not adding this man to my heroes and role models list by any means, but this indifferent sunbather did reiterate this goal: bask away an afternoon and just forget everything else! This goal is why I host Sunday brunches. No lines, no wait, no stressed service industry, no surprisingly bad menu items, no sending back an undercooked egg, no thoughts for Monday, etc. Just brunch, conversation, a thoughtful menu, and in the case of this early Cinco de Mayo celebration: a little outdoor time with some sunshine…

A Cinco de Mayo Brunch // www.WithTheGrains.com

…and with a cocktail that won’t cost you $14!

A Cinco de Mayo Brunch // www.WithTheGrains.com

When it comes to brunch cocktails, I like an elixir that uses the palate as the guide, not a complicated recipe of ratios. I infused mango nectar juice with (de-seeded) jalapeño pepper slices, pomegranate seeds, chunks of pineapple and mango and served the spicy, fruity combination with additional limes and tequila for the taking. I salted the rims of the glasses with Pink Himalayan Sea Salt for an extra colorful touch.

A Cinco de Mayo Brunch // www.WithTheGrains.com

Cinco de Mayo Brunch // www.WithTheGrains.com

Cinco de Mayo Brunch // www.WithTheGrains.com

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Cinco de Mayo Brunch // www.WithTheGrains.com

Cinco de Mayo Brunch // www.WithTheGrains.com

Cinco de Mayo Brunch // www.WithTheGrains.com

The menu consisted of these Baked Tortilla Egg “Nests” with sour cream and guacamole (recipe below), as well as tropical fruits and a Whole Wheat Chocolate Banana Tres Leches Cake for dessert (recipe to come). There was plenty of iced coffee, and Bess kept the drinks flowing! Progressively, the tequila portioning became more pronounced, as it should on a zero-fucks Sunday brunch.

Cinco de Mayo Brunch // www.WithTheGrains.com

Relieved of her farming duties for the day, Julep was all about a relaxing Sunday with the ladies.

Cinco de Mayo Brunch // www.WithTheGrains.com

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Cinco de Mayo Brunch // www.WithTheGrains.com

The right weather, and the right friends with their quick wits and sarcastic humor, made me feel a little like the bronzing neighbor. Worries and cares seemed to slip away with each sip of Mango & Tequila. The Chocolate Tres Leches Cake was just the right sweet indulgence, as we exchanged tales of awkward crushes, gossip, goals, plans, progress… all the topics you want to hit with good friends on a Sunday. Each of these creative friends is a mover and a shaker in her own right, so there’s always lots to discuss (Dane, Kelly and Bess), and I’m grateful for the ways they each support me too.

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Inadvertently, here’s to the bronzed neighbor with the questionable past, and here’s to good friends gathering for a re-appropriated holiday, tequila cocktails, crispy tortillas and rich chocolate conclusions.

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Buen Provecho!
-Quelcy

p.s: If you want to create a similar celebration, the handcrafted, Nepalese garlands and pinwheels are available at Roxanne’s Dried Flowers. The vintage, industrial trays and wooden crate are available through Toll Gate Revival, a new favorite salvage & vintage purveyor of mine.

Tortilla Egg Nests/Huevos Rancheros Cups

About This Recipe: These nests combine all your favorite Huevos Rancheros flavors, but baking them makes them a perfect brunch option, since you pop them in the oven and can focus on other details. The recipe below uses a frozen, Fire-Roasted Sweet Corn from Trader Joe’s. If you can’t find that variety at your local TJ’s, you can use regular frozen corn, and roast it with the sweet potato. The idea behind these is loose and flexible. Add other taco favorites or meat for a different variety. I used a pineapple salsa for these cups, but use whatever salsa you love. There may be extras of some of the filling, as the portioning is pretty loose. Depending on your menu, plan on most guests eating two of these.

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An Easter Egg Hunt on the Farm

April 2015

“The opposite of play is not work, it is depression.” –Brian Sutton Smith

That quote resonated from the podcast and cut through my work session like garbage trucks disturbing an early morning’s peace. I couldn’t always say this, but I like what I do, although what I do is an ever-changing, difficult-to-describe-succinctly, hodgepodge of creative assignments. However, I wouldn’t say I’m anywhere near content with what I do. I’m still figuring out what my freelance job description looks like, what I want it to look like, how to make it sustainable, how to force myself from bed in the morning, when to take breaks, and so on, and so on, and so forth. Suffice it to say, I’m prone to a rambling mind and stressing myself out, but there was Stuart Brown telling me to play more. He was practically prescribing play, and as the founder of the National Institute for Play, he knows a thing or two about the subject.

An Easter Egg on the Farm // www.WithTheGrains.com

Brown’s research explains how play shapes our brains, creates our competencies, and ballasts our emotions. The benefits do not fade with age, but for some reason, as a society, we leave play behind us, along with our old dolls and missing puzzle pieces. However, if we look to the animal kingdom, we see animals engage in playful activities throughout their entire lives. Taking his message to heart, some friends and I decided to extend a brunch gathering and channel the classic childish Easter pastime: an Easter Egg Hunt! To celebrate the Urban Farmer’s progress, our egg hunt took place on his farm. Appropriately enough, he told our guests, “you’re the first friends to visit who I haven’t put to work!”

An Easter Egg on the Farm // www.WithTheGrains.com

While Didi and Kara dispersed the bright, plastic eggs and their mystery contents in the farm’s nooks and crannies, the rest of us basked in the warmth of the hoop house. My playful pup couldn’t decide which forces to join, so she kept tabs on both the hiders and the seekers.

An Easter Egg on the Farm // www.WithTheGrains.com

If you ever want to glimpse purpose and play colliding in one giant smile, you just have to watch Julep on the farm. It warms my heart every time I see her there. The freedom of the wide open space, the abundance of sticks to chew, the deer to chase, the seeds to protect… it fills her, and consequently me, with immense joy. She also offers me plenty of excuses to channel my inner child, so I’m assuming Stuart Brown’s research has an ode or two to our four-legged friends. Sometimes they even lead you to Easter eggs!

An Easter Egg Hunt on the Farm // www.WithTheGrains.com

The term “Urban Farm” is no misnomer. The “urbanite” soil is still a work in progress, with plenty of real estate remnants in the mix, making for several egg hiding spots. As silly as it seemed, spotting those ill-fitting eggs was really fulfilling.

An Easter Egg on the Farm // www.WithTheGrains.com

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I may have become a little competitive as the eggs began to fill my seed tray.

An Easter Egg on the Farm // www.WithTheGrains.com

An Easter Egg on the Farm // www.WithTheGrains.com

An Easter Egg on the Farm // www.WithTheGrains.com

We each were responsible to fill a few eggs. I’m not sure if this is a tradition, or if it’s a tradition Didi created, but the surprise element made the hunt all the more thrilling. I can’t say all the contents were With The Grains approved, but somebody got a little creative with jamming gas station delicacies into neon eggs.

An Easter Egg on the Farm // www.WithTheGrains.com

An Easter Egg on the Farm // www.WithTheGrains.com

Other goodies included my new squishy dinosaur friend and hand-dyed fabrics.

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An Easter Egg on the Farm // www.WithTheGrains.com

An Easter Egg on the Farm // www.WithTheGrains.com

…and these crazy eyes! This is what happens when the Urban Farmer stares at a computer for too long…

An Easter Egg on the Farm // www.WithTheGrains.com

The other quote to really hit me from Stuart Brown’s talk?

“You can discover more about a person in an hour of play than in a year of conversation.” Plato

I’m fortunate to have brunches that lead to Egg Huntsthe Urban Farmer, my playful pup, and friends with playful spirits and creative minds. As we hinge on spring and summer, let’s make lists of adventures, explorations and picnics galore! Those are the goals, so stay tuned for more ideas and more farm updates.

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Cheers,
Quelcy

Frozen Blueberry Tart with Lavender Coconut Crust (Gluten-Free & Vegan)

April 2015

Floral, salty, crunchy, icy, juicy, fruity, creamy, minty and mapley… this tart is all of those elements in one bite! This spring inspired tart is easy to make, can be made the night before a gathering, and when garnished with a mound of fresh berries and mint, this tart is quite the show stopper!

Frozen Blueberry Tart with Lavender Coconut Crust (Gluten-Free & Vegan) // www.WithTheGrains.com

After you make this tart once, you’ll surely have new ideas and inspirations for different versions. I’m already dreaming of swapping the blackberries for pureed peaches in peach season and riffing off my corn popsicle recipe for a dessert with a surprising key ingredient and a pale yellow palette.

Frozen Blueberry Tart with Lavender Coconut Crust (Gluten-Free & Vegan) // www.WithTheGrains.com

Whether for a crowd, or for your own, sweet, spring and summer indulgences, I hope this tart finds its way to your freezers!

Single-Grain

Bon Appétit!
-Quelcy

Frozen Blueberry Tart with Lavender Coconut Crust
Gluten-Free with Vegan Option

About this Recipe: You’ll need a food processor or blender for the crust to thoroughly grind and blend the lavender. Use organic lavender buds for the crust (i.e.: food-grade/pesticide-free). Make the tart the night before to ensure it freezes, but if you’re in a pinch, a couple hours will suffice. Pull from the freezer a few minutes before serving (in summer months, serve directly from the freezer). The whipped cream I featured uses dairy, but I offer a vegan option below to make this recipe completely vegan.

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A Purple & Green Themed Spring Brunch

April 2015

In an anthropomorphized world, Billy Buttons would be the wide-eyed boy with a dirty face, a dangling overall strap, a slingshot in his back pocket and tussled hair. His very traditional and formal mother would insist on calling him by his given name, Craspedia, but all the other children would chant and cheer, “Billy, Billy Buttons is here!”

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In reality, Billy Buttons are these silly, globular flowers, like lollipops or sugary gumdrops on sticks. When I saw these deep violet and chartreuse preserved billy buttons (available here), visions of a purple and green brunch filled my head. When your grocery list is “purple” and “green,” the grocery store becomes a totally different shopping experience and a challenging assignment for guests who ask what to bring.

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This purple and green inspired frittata took center stage with slices of heirloom rainbow carrots, asparagus spears and new-to-me purplish kale sprouts (when a kale and a brussels sprout love each other very much…). Always keep a frittata in your proverbial back pocket as a brunch host. A frittata serves a full table of friends, it’s a blank canvas for colorful and seasonal ingredients, and it’s a comforting crowd pleaser.

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Purple and Green Brunch by With The Grains 14

My green and purple shopping list led me to Trader Joe’s Pesto Gouda, and my old time favorite- blueberry chèvre. Pesto Gouda is a worth buying even when you’re not on a strict color mission.

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We toasted blackberry juice mimosas with fresh kiwi and blueberry garnishes.

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It wouldn’t be a With The Grains brunch without a little something for the sweet tooth. This gluten-free, frozen dessert was a nod to the emergence of spring and warmer temperatures, topped with homemade whipped cream and juicy blackberries, blueberries and fresh mint. With the lavender crust and frozen fruit layer, the dessert is light, floral and the perfect touch for a spring brunch.

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Behind every styled table and fork clanking on a plate, is this pair of pumpkin seeds waiting hopefully for fallen morsels of brunch…

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Purple and Green Brunch by With The Grains 17

As the colors disappeared from the table, we switched to a completely different palette: neons! This brunch took place on Easter morning and transitioned to an Easter Egg Hunt! “Were there kids there?” asked the Urban Farmer’s mom. Nope, just a bunch of adults, hunting for bright, plastic eggs on a farm. More on that to come!

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Stay tuned for our Easter Egg Hunt adventures and the recipe for the Purple & Green themed frozen berry dessert!

Single-Grain

Here’s to Colorful Menus!
-Quelcy

p.s: If you like my fern centerpieces, check out this DIY I did for Roxanne’s Dried Flowers.

Carrot, Kale Sprout & Asparagus Frittata

About This Recipe: The vegetable component of this frittata recipe is really flexible. The portions I list below are a loose guide, as I was very fluidly creating this version while setting a table, brewing coffee and whipping cream for brunch. Roast, sauté and combine according to your cravings and what’s in season. The main ratios to mind are the egg mixture proportions. I found the Kale Sprouts at Trader Joe’s. If you can’t find them, you could easily substitute kale or brussels sprouts (cut in halves).

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Donut o’ the Month: Whole-Wheat Lemon, Lavender & Blackberry Glazed Cake Donut

April 2015

April showers bring May flowers…and floral donuts too!

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I recently had to drive through a neighborhood I visit all too infrequently. The drive reminded me just how beautiful that neighborhood is, especially in spring. Each house seemed to be framed by a blossoming bush or tree. The bold house colors of the historical row homes and their antique details really seemed to sing. I drove at an elderly pace, taking in the views of white petals, bright pinks, a lot or two transformed into communal gardens, trees swaying on the blistery day… all of these views reminded me of how deep my hibernation had been.

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Like the awakening annuals, the busy bees and the returning birds, I am ready for this change of season, for exploring new flowering fields and even the blooms breaking through concrete too. Despite the wanderlust whirling inside me that yearns for the exotic, far-off corners, I’m making a conscious effort to be more adventurous, more playful and to take the time to explore what’s close to home.

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A flowering breakfast donut is a great reminder of all those goals! Here’s to April and its promises of spring in full bloom!

Single-Grain

Bon Appétit!
-Quelcy

Blackberry, Lemon & Lavender Cake Donuts with Lemon Lavender Glaze
yield: about 12-15 donuts, depending on the size of your cutter

About this Recipe: Be sure to source an organic lavender bud for this recipe. I found mine at a Farm-to-Table conference, but I’m sure there are farmers or smaller stores that sell them as well. Avoid lavender that isn’t labeled food-grade, as it probably was sprayed with pesticides. I used a food processor to grind the lavender with the flour to make sure it was equally dispersed and to achieve a more palatable texture. You can substitute your favorite berry for the blackberries. Be sure to use an organic, non-gmo oil to keep these donuts as guiltless as possible. They’re best when fresh and still warm. 

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Orange Cardamom Honey Cake w/ @WigleWhiskey Landlocked Spiced

April 2015

The light rain saturated the sky like watercolors bleeding onto paper fibers- gradations from grays to bright blues seeped into the clouds. Below, branches swayed back and forth, growing fuller by the day with a captivating chartreuse. Inside, the curtains billowed and floated in the flicker of the returning sunlight. The cool air breezed through the fine mesh of the screen. Its worn, frayed holes caught flecks of light like tiny prisms on the periphery, and I listened to a rosined bow glide purposefully across four strings.

Whole Wheat Orange Honey Cake with @WigleWhiskey Landlocked Spiced // www.WithTheGrains.com

The lyrics, the light, the corner chair… it was that precise moment when the sun is warm, but the air is crisp, cool, and carries the scent of fresh rain. It’s not too hot, not too cold; not too damp, not too dry… it’s the perfect cusp, teetering on the edge of tan lines and summer wanderlust. The shadows and rays teased one another through water droplets on weathered wood, and the window framed the moment, like a long, slow detail in a film. These cusps call for deep breaths, far off gazes, closed mouths, quiet pauses, quiet thoughts and meandering minds. That window, that corner, and that chair is the best part of my day. It’s my corner of spring.

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From my quiet perch, the distant traffic became a wave crashing on a shoreline. The neighborhood had yet to emerge fully from winter’s dormancy, and the lull allowed the birds their due spotlight. They sang their return from every corner, and every now and then, there was a faint hum of a little bee at work.

Whole Wheat Orange Honey Cake with @WigleWhiskey Landlocked Spiced // www.WithTheGrains.com

I made this cake for the keepers of bees (the Urban Farmer amongst them). The apiarists gathered in a beautiful barn, where flowers hung from aged beams to dry. These men and women gathered to share the many lessons they had learned in their quests for liquid gold. If ever a spoonful could evoke what my spring corner embraces, it would be a spoonful of honey. This cake was an ode to the way a taste of honey distills a season into amber sweetness, with notes of a region’s beauty, so I featured a liquor that’s an ode to the region’s apiaries.

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Wigle Whiskey is a local distillery on a mission to restore Pennsylvania’s whiskey history, a mission I salute! Their playful approach to craft spirits always has them exploring and experimenting. One of their curious pursuits led them to create a Pennsylvania interpretation of Rum in celebration of our region’s prolific apiaries.

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Made from scratch and pot-distilled from Pennsylvania buckwheat honey, this distilled mead is a uniquely inland approach to island spirits with whole, organic botanicals–roasted orange peel, cocoa nibs, whole vanilla beans and cinnamon–to complement the buckwheat honey’s distinctive character. Simply put, Wigle’s Landlocked Spiced is just the right touch for a beekeeper’s cake (and for a beekeeper’s glass too!).

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To spring, bees & landlocked libations!
-Quelcy

Whole Wheat Orange Cardamom Honey Cake with Honey Candied Oranges & Whipped Cream featuring Wigle Whiskey Landlocked Spiced

About This Recipe: This recipe starts by candying oranges with honey, instead of the traditional sugar approach, which yields a more complex flavor. The remaining syrup finds its way into each element of the dessert. Add a Tablespoon or two to the whipped cream, and use the remaining syrup to seep into the cake when it’s fresh from the oven. Be sure to use a local, raw honey for the most flavor and to support your local beekeepers. If you’re not in Wigle’s shipping range, you can road trip to Pittsburgh, or substitute your favorite rum or mead. For a simple cocktail, add one of the honey candied orange slices to a glass of Landlocked Spiced on the rocks, and sip slowly.

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Roasted Carrot Cheesecake (Gluten Free)

April 2015

This cake makes me think of the proper white fences, bright green grasses and rose crowns of the Kentucky Derby. Much like the horses fighting to be the fastest, my mind has been racing lately. My eyes have been bigger than my stomach when it comes to piling ambitions on my to-do lists and then I chide myself for falling short of my expectations. In reality, I find myself closer to certain goals than I have ever been, but it’s all too easy to miss the individual markers when sprinting in circles.

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These are the times when adages will advise the overwhelmed, the anxious, the uninspired and the rushing masses to stop and smell the roses. However, recently I have found more relief in watching the creatures surrounding the roses- the bees.

Roasted Carrot Cheesecake  // www.WithTheGrains.com

The ceremony may have paled in comparison to the processions of real royalty, but watching The Urban Farmer release his Queen Bee felt momentous nonetheless. He had sequestered her from her subjects, allowing them time to accept her and her role. Cloaked in a mesh veil and long sleeves, The Urban Farmer opened the hives and released her from her special chamber. Her new kingdom accepted her, and all was well.

Roasted Carrot Cheesecake  // www.WithTheGrains.com

The worker bees feasted on sugar water and continued about their business, buzzing and crowding the door to their new home. Steadily, bees entered and exited the pencil-eraser-sized opening in the wooden box. Some ventured into the woods, while others returned, their legs fat and laden with yellow pollen. Sitting amongst a swarm of bees requires a certain stillness, but I found, they also inspire a certain stillness. Their buzzing patterns were mesmerizing and noticeably calming.

Roasted Carrot Cheesecake  // www.WithTheGrains.com

The Urban Farmer recently joked, “I didn’t become a farmer because I like people.” Whether farming, beekeeping, tapping maple trees or butchering a hog, these time honored traditions require just that- time and honor. We rushed and rushed to mechanize and streamline, but perhaps like energy, the rush can neither be created nor destroyed, simply transferred. After all our advancements, it seems all the rush went straight to our minds. While I’m not so deep in affectation as to shun all of our modern conveniences, I am grateful to have found this farmer who lends his peacefulness to my galloping thoughts. You can’t rush a bee, you can’t rush a seed, and you surely can’t rush a cheesecake. Nor should you rush eating it.

Single-Grain

Bon Appétit!
-Quelcy

p.s: Learn more about beekeeping in this post.

Roasted Carrot Cheesecake with Gluten Free Ginger Oat Crust

About This Recipe: Roasting enhances the natural sweetness of carrots, which inspired me to feature carrots in a dessert. Start with this Roasted Carrot Recipe, and then use a food processor to puree. The combination of spices yields a flavor very similar to a pumpkin cheesecake. Play with the spice combination if you want to emphasize the carrot flavor profile more.

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