Horrible grocery store General Tso’s chicken.
An unearthed stone boob (most likely a relic from an ancient South American society).
Assorted architectural tools and a wooden acoustic speaker.
What do these three items have in common?
They are all things my friends and I have stolen! Shhhh…. don’t tell our parents, border control or my graduating class. Each of us had our reasons. Arguably, only one of us really deserved the object of her crime. (Can you tell I’m a moral relativist?) Each of us “learned our lessons,” and each of the stories of our stolen conquests emerged while we stuffed our mouths with Lemon Blueberry Quinoa Waffles and heavy pours of Vermont Maple Syrup!
Sweet, sweet confessions!
The addition of a Goodwill waffle iron has sweetened my life just like that Vermont maple syrup! As much as I love obsessing over the details for an elaborate brunch, there’s something so sacred about being able to walk to a dear friend’s house with batter, my waffle maker, my best girl andthe Urban Farmer.
If I could, I’d lock the morning in a time capsule- bacon sizzling in the oven, pups playing like crazy in the yard, an espresso machine steaming, grabbing whatever plate is on top of the stack in the cupboard, filling said plate entirely too full, and making significant progress on that mason jar of syrup from Vermont. It’s when the guiltiest of stories emerge and all other responsibilities can simply fade to a very distant background.
Waffles are magic, and waffles with an ancient grain? They must surely channel some historical wisdom that conjures the best of stories. I hope you enjoy these waffles with friends worthy of your sweetest, guiltiest confessions!
Lemon Blueberry Quinoa Waffles Yield: 10-12 Belgian style waffles
About this Recipe: This recipe is extra incentive to cook yourself a big batch of quinoa for the week and save one cup for a weekend waffle indulgence. Or, if you have leftover of my Lemon Blueberry Breakfast Quinoa, add a cup of that to the batter. The grain blends into the batter, adding protein without adding texture.
People ask me if I am from Pittsburgh? No, I moved here. Then I left. Then I returned. It was cheap, and my stuff was here, and it was no fairy tale. I returned to Pittsburgh for two major life tracks that both fell through. They fell hard, like coins falling through ripped jeans and clanking on the pavement.
It was a sour moment. Yet, I don’t think I shed a single tear (I’m all about regrouping). Turns out, those plans clanked to the sidewalk for a reason. The universe had something way sweeter in store for me (mainly, the Urban Farmer and a lil’ lass with punkin’ seeds for eyebrows). Sweet, sour, beautiful on the surface, then sticky, sludgy and messy, and yet, so damn good! That’s life, and that’s lemon bars!
If I were to spill uncooked quinoa all over my kitchen, there’d be a trusty sidekick to lick it up, or, it would go unnoticed, blending into the dirt tracks left from those rare occasions when the Urban Farmer actually wears shoes. However, when I had a few quinoa casualties while styling on a video set, the tiny grains stood out from the impeccable, showroom-esque kitchen like a streaker at a baseball game. The eye went right to them! Yet, it seemed impossible to clean up all the minuscule grains. That’s when I realized, quinoa is like hippy glitter.
That comparison led me to question- what is glitter anyway? I realized I had taken this sparkle bombardment material for granted my whole life. Of course there is a glimmering product that exists to make first graders feel like artists and somehow lasts for eternity. Why wouldn’t there be?
For every rathole of curiosity, there is a google search waiting with answers. So my friends, let me tell you, glitter has been around for a long damn time- it’s older than quinoa- an ancient grain! Way back in the period of 40,000 to 200 B.C, ancient civilizations were using flakes of the mineral mica in cave paintings for their sparkly, light-catching quality. Fast forward to New Jersey in 1934, when machinist Henry Ruschmann invented a way to grind up plastics to make large quantities of glitter. He founded Meadowbrook Inventions, still a major supplier of the substance. Its slogan: “Our glitter covers the world.” (They forgot to add “whether you want it to or not.”)
I guess we humans (and cats) are inherently suckers for glimmering objects, and I’m a sucker for grains. Glitter and quinoa have both stood the test of time, so make yourself a big bowl of this Lemon Blueberry Breakfast Quinoa, and dive into your own early morning internet ratholes. Tell me what curiosities you discover.
p.s: This is not a sponsored post, but I did work as a stylist for a truRoots video shoot, which is what inspired me to share this recipe. You can see more of my professional styling work here.
About this Recipe: Cooking the quinoa in vanilla almond milk yields a rich vanilla flavor to every bite. Avoid a vanilla almond milk with a high sugar content, since maple is the main sweetener. Serve warm or cold. Works well as a topping for Greek yogurt also. Trust your tastebuds on the maple syrup, lemon zest and blueberries. The quantities below are just starting points. I like to make a large batch of this, so I have an easy, healthy breakfast option all ready for me.
“It’s not how much we give but how much love we put into giving.”
You have to put love into baking. This is the lesson of the burnt birthday cake I helped a friend make for her sort-of boyfriend. “Sort of” being the keywords there. That sucker had some crisp edges! This week was all about using baking for others- for moms on their special day, for the furry best friends who brighten our lives, and for some kids who really just need a glimmer of hope.
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.