Whole Wheat Apricot Almond Coffee Cake Ring // www.WithTheGrains.com

Whole Wheat Apricot-Almond Coffee Cake

Can you come down with a case of the comparisons?

Whole Wheat Apricot Almond Coffee Cake Ring // www.WithTheGrains.com

As sniffles and sneezes are to the common cold, the comparisons flare up with equally telling warning signs- frowning while scrolling through social media, looking at a particular photo with a self-deprecating sense of awe, searching Amazon for better lenses, hovering motionless over the keyboard without a single word to type. The triggers of this nasty ailment are sneaky. They can even be ever so sweetly rolled in a coffee cake ring like this one.

Whole Wheat Apricot Almond Coffee Cake Ring // www.WithTheGrains.com

After flipping through my new favorite magazine, I sourced the featured ingredient list, kneaded with care, rolled gently, patiently waited and then looked with disgust at the denser rings and apricot oozes that emerged from the oven. I knew I had made some ingredient changes that would explain such a density, but still, all I could think was, “whhhhhhhhhy?” As a commercial food stylist, one might expect me to have a certain immunity from the real-life-vs.-magazine discrepancies. Yet there I was, coffee cake in one hand, magazine in the other, lamenting dough imperfections like some sort of voluntary martyr.

Whole Wheat Apricot Almond Coffee Cake Ring // www.WithTheGrains.com

I almost hid these imperfections. I almost refrained from picking up the camera. Then I sat down to breakfast with my friend, who is attempting to say “thank you” instead of “I’m sorry” and not sound like a snarky bitch in the process. “Thank you for bearing with my baking experiments,” I said, taking the theory for a test spin. (It’s not as easy of an adjustment as you’d think!) Then, my wonderfully creative, animated friend took her first bite.

Whole Wheat Apricot Almond Coffee Cake Ring // www.WithTheGrains.com

Her face continued to react like a grand finale of fireworks- one enthusiastic expression right after the next, praising the glaze, then the filling, then ceasing to speak so as to savor the bite. My variations, for all their visual imperfections, tasted really good. They deserved to be relished, dense crumbs and all.

Whole Wheat Apricot Almond Coffee Cake Ring // www.WithTheGrains.com

I do not dredge up these muddy waters of perfectionist tantrums as a way to fish for compliments, merely to remind myself of their pitfalls. These crumbs litter the trails to my kitchen, and collectively, each morsel accounts for the life I am living. Am I taking risks? Am I growing? Am I sharing, exchanging, conversing and savoring life? Or am I stressing and sweating the small stuff?

Whole Wheat Apricot Almond Coffee Cake Ring // www.WithTheGrains.com

2015, with all its wild twists, turns and internal tantrums, is coming to a close. The year may have been dense. The filling may have oozed. Yet, it was a sweet year, filled with many a firework! It’s time to savor and reflect, plan and progress. Here’s to a sweet start to 2016!

Quelcy Signature

p.s: What are your tips and strategies for keeping the evil perfectionisms at bay? If you too suffer from “the comparisons,” you might find this video inspiring. I like to watch it every now and then as a reminder to chill.

Whole Wheat Apricot-Almond Coffee Cake Ring
Adapted from King Arthur Flour/Sift Magazine
Yield: 2 coffee cakes, 32 servings

About This Recipe: Somewhere between a coffee cake and a pastry, this whole wheat version is a little denser than the original recipe but worth the added grainy goodness. Be sure to read the dried fruit labels and choose an organic, unsweetened, unsulphured apricot option. There are often unnecessary, unhealthy ingredients lurking in store-bought dried fruit. 

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Pork Roast by With The Grains 06

French Style Herb Crusted Pork Roast

Soon, (all too soon!), the ball will be dropping, champagne will be popping, and couples will be smooching. It’s almost time to usher in 2016! How will you celebrate? With pork?

French Style Herb Crusted Pork Roast // www.WithTheGrains.com

In some countries, including Cuba, Spain, Portugal, Hungary and Austria, pigs symbolize progress. One explanation is these animals never move backward. Another explanation stems from pigs’ feeding habits (they push their snouts forward along the ground when rooting for food). Either way, it’s good luck to start the year with pork. (Apologies to my vegetarian and vegan readers- noodles are also good luck!)

French Style Herb Crusted Pork Roast // www.WithTheGrains.com

If you’re going to start a brand new year with pork, it’s a good excuse to try something fancy, and this is where I defer to the expertise of a butcher (this is also how I still maintain all ten fingers). Fortunately for me, this steel town has seen a resurgence of butchers, including the Butcher on Butler. After making my request, I watched in awe as he finessed this roast with an assortment of intimidating knives, all while telling me the story of how he came to be the butcher on Butler Street.

French Style Herb Crusted Pork Roast // www.WithTheGrains.com

The butcher shop had been a butcher shop as long for as he could remember. The previous owner had faithfully served his neighborhood into his old age. After he passed away, his widow didn’t know what to do with the shop. A neighboring bank had offered to buy the building to turn it into a parking lot. Gone would be the antique cooler with its hefty hardware. Gone would be this little plot of history. Gone would be the counter where neighbor after neighbor ordered the roasts and cuts for special occasions. This is when the current butcher, then a chef, had the idea to buy it and continue the legacy. The widow was overjoyed!

French Style Herb Crusted Pork Roast // www.WithTheGrains.com

The building wanted to be a butcher shop. It was a community staple, and her husband’s life’s work would continue to blossom instead of being buried under layers of concrete. These stories of tradition and legacy melt my heart.

French Style Herb Crusted Pork Roast // www.WithTheGrains.com

The modern butcher faces a slew of new obstacles- GMOs, confinement pens, hormones, cheap diets, inhumane practices, etc. What’s especially inspiring about this story is how the new butcher carried on the community traditions of a small, local shop, with the new set of quality standards- locally raised animals, trusted sources and quality products. Like the progressive, forward moving pig, the local butcher shop moved into the modern era!

French Style Herb Crusted Pork Roast // www.WithTheGrains.com

So here’s to traditions and amendments, progress and fresh starts! Here’s to the coming New Year and fancy feasts!

Quelcy Signature

Herb Crusted French Style Pork Roast
Adapted from Food & Wine

About This Recipe: Have your butcher “french” (remove the meat from) the rib bones for you. The uncooked herb-rubbed pork roast can be covered and refrigerated overnight. Bring to room temperature before roasting. Food & Wine suggests pairing this succulent loin roast with a full-bodied red with enough flavor to stand up to its crisp, spicy crust, such as an Australian Grenache. 

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Whole Wheat Cardamom Cake by With The Grains 02

Whole Wheat, Pistachio-Cardamom Cake with Dark Chocolate Ganache

The holidays can mean holding your breath- in anticipation, excitement, and even in stress. In the midst of my holiday baking and cooking, I’ve often found myself holding my breath while focusing all too deeply on achieving a perfect outcome. Fortunately, there were a few serendipitous moments to make me take a deep inhale and exhale, ignore perfectionism and attempt to soak in a moment.

Whole Wheat, Pistachio-Cardamom Cake with Dark Chocolate Ganache // www.WithTheGrains.com

The first came as I left Whole Foods, mentally making sure I had purchased all the ingredients on my list. All of a sudden, the scent of fresh pie FILLED the parking lot like never before. Even walking by bakeries and working in bakeries, I’ve never experienced such an overwhelming pie smell. It was as if a giant were baking an apple and pecan pie hybrid somewhere in the night sky above me. I wanted to leap into the air and inhale as many pie breaths as possible! The second moment came when my neighbor was burning wood in his backyard, pot-bellied stove, and it smelled like smoky cedar. Christmas filled the air!

Whole Wheat, Pistachio-Cardamom Cake with Dark Chocolate Ganache // www.WithTheGrains.com

These overwhelming scents reminded me to inhale, to exhale, not to stress so much, and that perfection is just “fear in really good shoes” as Liz Gilbert says. So on this Christmas day, I wish, for you and for me, magical scents of giants’ warm ovens and all the freshest cedar trees distilled into a Christmas fragrance that follows you through the frenzied aspects of the day. I also wish you intense flavors of chocolate and cardamom and a table full of laughs and love!

Merry Christmas!
(or simply, a really great Friday if you don’t celebrate)

Quelcy Signature

Whole Wheat Pistachio-Cardamom Cake
Recipe adapted from Sift Magazine (King Arthur Flour)
yield: 16 cupcakes or 1 7-inch cake

About This Recipe: I can’t get enough of beautiful Sift Magazine. This is another recipe adapted from its beautiful pages! The original recipe is for cupcakes, so I included options for cupcakes or a layer cake like mine. You’ll need a food processor to grind pistachios into the flour, making a dense, moist, nutty cake to complement the rich, dark chocolate ganache.  

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Butternut Squash Polenta w/ Stewed Fruit & Whipped Mascarpone for a Wintry Brunch // www.WithTheGrains.com

Butternut Squash Polenta w/ Stewed Fruit & Whipped Mascarpone for a Wintry Brunch

As I entered the tunnel, a notoriously congested snag in an already flawed transportation system, her voice interjected. “Hello, it’s me. I was wondering if after all these years you’d like to meet.”

Butternut Squash Polenta w/ Stewed Fruit & Whipped Mascarpone for a Wintry Brunch // www.WithTheGrains.com

By now, you can surely finish each and every word that follows, but in that tunnel, her greeting hit me for the first time. She sang directly to me, as if I had somehow landed the private concert of a lifetime! Adele’s booming voice seemed to fill the cavernous, concrete  tunnel, as if it were an amphitheater echoing all the raw emotion of her lyrics.

Butternut Squash Polenta w/ Stewed Fruit & Whipped Mascarpone for a Wintry Brunch // www.WithTheGrains.com

I, like all the other listeners who kept her at the top of the charts for a record-breaking stint, hung on her every word, on repeat. She’s relatable. She’s passionate. She’s emotional. All of these explanations and reviews attribute to her repeatability, but it wasn’t until I heard a review on NPR (?) that the weight of her lyrics fully made sense. I’m paraphrasing, but he so eloquently distilled her album, “In a world that talks at us, Adele wants to have a conversation.” (Bonus points if you can find me this review. It escapes me now!)

Butternut Squash Polenta w/ Stewed Fruit & Whipped Mascarpone for a Wintry Brunch // www.WithTheGrains.com

Conversation- that act of listening, exchanging, growing, thinking and relating- is missing from so much of our lives now. We may have more opportunity than ever to keep tabs on each other, but how often do we listen and relate to one another? How often do we listen to those in need instead of judging them through fear?

Wintry Brunch // www.WithTheGrains.com

Roasted apples, beets and cranberries are a sweet and healthy brunch side. Mix leftovers with arugula, pumpkin seeds and blue cheese for a unique salad.

This need for conversation, for tangibility, is also what led me to the beautiful, image-laden pages of Sift Magazine. It’s one of those magazines I page through while waiting in line at the checkout, debating whether or not to splurge. However, unlike many of its grocery store counterparts, Sift feels like a conversation. Unencumbered by ads, its beautiful pages beg to be collected. Each recipe is poised and ready for all the handwritten edits of ingredient substitutions and baking experiments.

Wintry Brunch // www.WithTheGrains.com

My apron’s off to the forces behind the magazine (the employee-owned King Arthur Flour), who always seem to encapsulate the most earnest intentions and elevate the act of baking, such as this Holiday Issue introduction:

Flour, butter, sugar, and yeast are humble ingredients with great power: They from the alphabet of a family’s baking history and culture. This time of year finds experienced and neophyte bakers alike moving toward the kitchen, with the desire to continue their families’ traditions or invent new ones. Whether the food memory is of warm sweet rolls, an elaborate loaf, or a treasured holiday cookie, the act of mixing and kneading forms a connection with those who have gone before. When you live, breathe, and bake, you honor the gifts they’ve handed down while you create enduring memories, and exquisite meals, for those who follow. 

Wintry Brunch // www.WithTheGrains.com

Champagne + Sparkling Cranberry Pomegranate Juice + Orange Peels + Fresh Rosemary

It’s not enough to simply page through the enticing recipes, especially when splurging on a magazine, so I promised myself to put the pages to use!

Butternut Squash Polenta w/ Stewed Fruit & Whipped Mascarpone for a Wintry Brunch // www.WithTheGrains.com

Inspired by song and page, I made a conscious decision to return to our dining room table more this holiday, to catch up with old friends, to welcome new friends and simply eat dinner without staring at a screen. As I prepared these meals, I thought about how quickly and effortlessly my grandmother and mother made hosting appear, how happily they hid the stressful time management elements and planning behind a welcoming smile. I thought about the legacy my grandmother left behind- the most generous, helping hands and the most famous koláče this side of the Czech Republic.

Butternut Squash Polenta w/ Stewed Fruit & Whipped Mascarpone for a Wintry Brunch // www.WithTheGrains.com

This recipe, though new to me, felt rooted in tradition- roasted butternut squash and cornmeal- simple, humble ingredients that combine into something colorful, sweet, spicy and warm. This recipe is perfect for sharing, since you can prepare most of it ahead of time. It’s a perfect way to feed a full holiday table and still manage to join the conversation!

Quelcy Signature

Butternut Squash & Ginger Polenta with Stewed Fruit & Mascarpone Cream
Adapted from Sift magazine (by King Arthur Flour)

About this Recipe: A perfect make-ahead treat! For ease, you can substitute a can of organic pumpkin puree for the roasted & pureed butternut squash. I added turmeric for nutrition and color. Make this vegan by using a non-dairy milk in the polenta and whipped coconut cream for the topping. Be sure to source unsulphured, dried fruits without added sugars. There are two options for final preparation of the polenta slices- baking or pan frying, depending on how many you are serving. Leftover stewed fruit makes a beautiful and flavorful accent on a wheel of brie for your next gathering.

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A Grain of Good at ECS by With The Grains 26

A Grain of Good: Kelsey & the Environmental Charter School

What I first noticed about her was an amazing pair of cowboy boots! I couldn’t help but appreciate the worn leather and bright embroidered embellishments of those boots! And the girl wearing them was so cheery, her happiness trailing behind her contagiously. We were at Pittsburgh’s first Outstanding in the Field farm dinner, and there was Kelsey, frolicking through the fields, serving farm-fresh foods with the biggest of smiles. (You can actually see her enviable boots in the video I made of the event).

A Grain of Good: Kelsey & the Environmental Charter School // www.WithTheGrains.com

When later we had a chance to meet, she modestly told me she was “just a lunch lady,” which didn’t compute in my brain. Memories of my elementary school’s lunch ladies flooded my head- white uniforms, hairnets, a certain severity mixed with a touch of tenderness, dishing out bland, processed foods from behind their counter (which I unfortunately ate with gusto as an unknowing child). How was this fun, passionate, youthful woman a lunch lady? Then I learned more about her lunch program, and it all made more sense.

A Grain of Good: Kelsey & the Environmental Charter School // www.WithTheGrains.com

The beloved garden gnome keeps watch over the dormant raised beds at the Environmental Charter School’s Edible Schoolyard.

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, and Kelsey is one of those intelligent, tireless leaders!

A Grain of Good: Kelsey & the Environmental Charter School // www.WithTheGrains.com

A Grain of Good with Kelsey Weisgerber of the Environmental Charter School Lunch Program

A Grain of Good: Kelsey & the Environmental Charter School // www.WithTheGrains.com

Kelsey reveals the wheat and winter greens growing in the kids’ garden at the Environmental Charter School.

What distinguishes the Environmental Charter School (ECS) & the principles of the school’s lunch program? 

ECS is a charter that is hosted through the Pittsburgh Public School District, so our school is free and admission is based on a lottery system. The school’s mission is “to educate each student to high academic learning standards using a themed curriculum that will foster knowledge, love of and respect for the environment and the will to preserve it for future generations.” In applying that mission in our school, the administration of the school has always created a space for food to be a part of our educational programming. Lunch doesn’t just exist as a period of the day, but it is a program area where students are welcomed, supported positively, and served healthy meals.

A Grain of Good: Kelsey & the Environmental Charter School // www.WithTheGrains.com

The classrooms at ECS are carefully designed, combining collaborative, group areas and designated quiet, independent project areas. The teacher’s desk is pushed against the wall and not the center focal point, thus switching the emphasis to the students, dialogue and engagement.

A Grain of Good: Kelsey & the Environmental Charter School // www.WithTheGrains.com

“Lunch doesn’t just exist as a period of the day, but it is a program area where students are welcomed, supported positively, and served healthy meals.”

 

A Grain of Good: Kelsey & the Environmental Charter School // www.WithTheGrains.com

Describe your role & responsibilities.

As head “lunch lady” I manage our two buildings (K-3, 4-8), which includes working with our food team and food-service provider for meal service, exciting kids about the school lunch, supporting educators with food programming and working in the community on a variety of initiatives.  It’s a lot of hats, but I like being able to understand how to connect different parts of our students’ learning and experiences together.

A Grain of Good: Kelsey & the Environmental Charter School // www.WithTheGrains.com

How have you intertwined your work at the school with the community and larger food issues?

The food professionals in this city are such class acts and they constantly donate their time, teach our students and support ECS’s food education curriculum. Whenever I mention what we are doing at school, or opportunities to work together to my food-industry friends, they jump at the opportunity! Some key examples would be folks like Keith Fuller of ROOT 174 who coached our cooking competition team last spring; Hal B. Klein, who guest “lunch man’s” and teaches our students about journalism; and Chad Townsend of Millie’s Homemade Ice Cream who guest taught our 8th-grade culinary-arts class and made paw paw ice cream, just to mention a few. I hope our students see these professionals’ fantastic contribution to the food culture in our city and think about how they can also work or contribute to the food system locally.

A Grain of Good: Kelsey & the Environmental Charter School // www.WithTheGrains.com

Click the image to expand and see the kids’ December menu.

“The work we are doing here, by feeding real food and engaging with kids about healthy choices, is worth the occasional ‘Not more CARROTS, Ms. Kelssssey!'”

 

A Grain of Good: Kelsey & the Environmental Charter School // www.WithTheGrains.com

Whole grain rolls lined up during lunch prep. Gluten-free options were available as well.

What are some of the biggest hurdles you face in your role?

It’s not easy to make every single child love school lunch every day. When I first started working here I used to take it really personally. Whether it was too many vegetables, or not enough of the “right” vegetable, it can be challenging to get buy in from all students and their parents. However, I know the work we are doing here, by feeding real food and engaging with kids about healthy choices, is worth the occasional “Not more CARROTS, Ms. Kelsey” look or ECS graduates coming back and telling me they miss school lunch.

A Grain of Good: Kelsey & the Environmental Charter School // www.WithTheGrains.com

You have to say the magic word to Miss Christy to get your condiments! Christy Fitzpatrick is another tireless and enthusiastic lunch lady at ECS.

What have been the biggest rewards of your role?

I love knowing that all students at our school are receiving a healthy meal. Often times school meals are the only access students have to a whole, nutritious meal during their day. It is a huge reward to know that not only do I get to nourish students, but then I get to help them learn about the benefits of healthy habits and food choices.

A Grain of Good: Kelsey & the Environmental Charter School // www.WithTheGrains.com

The kids’ lunches are still fun and approachable but more balanced than traditional cafeteria options like this menu- Kielbasa dogs (or soy dogs for vegetarians), sweet potato halves, carrots & peas, and oranges.

A Grain of Good: Kelsey & the Environmental Charter School // www.WithTheGrains.com

The sweet potato halves were a new preparation method for the kids, so “Miss Kelsey” explained different ways to eat them. “Mash them and scoop” was the popular option!

How have you seen kids’ attitudes toward healthy foods change? How do you help steer kids toward healthier choices?

In the four and a half years I have been here I have definitely seen kids’ relationship with food grow. That’s largely in part of the HUGE amount of programming our classroom teachers are doing daily. We have an edible schoolyard program in our second and third grades, and their program is very hands-on and exciting to kids. Overall, the curriculum offers a strong,  multi-disciplinary approach to food education, and through these multiple touches, it’s changing our kids’ perspectives on food. Additionally, teachers in our upper school are running cooking classes, after-school food clubs, and focusing on farming and agriculture. It can’t just be change in the lunchroom. It has to be a part of the classroom culture and fabric of the school.

A Grain of Good: Kelsey & the Environmental Charter School // www.WithTheGrains.com

Kelsey doesn’t just serve the kids and send them on their way. She actively engages with each lunch session, making sure the kids are trying new foods and focusing on eating. They don’t have much time to eat and need their energy!

A Grain of Good: Kelsey & the Environmental Charter School // www.WithTheGrains.com

“Sweeeeet PO-TAAAAY-TO!” he exclaimed through his missing front teeth.

What are your goals for the future of the ECS lunch program? What would you like to see improve?

I would LOVE it if ECS had an on-site kitchen! Our food service team gets very creative when it comes to cooking lessons and food related programming. We have tons of portable burners and we’re cooking on top of everything, so I’d love to have a dedicated space where students could cook and then work with the food service staff as they serve daily. This would also really help our lunch program if we could cook on site, any last minute errors could be easily remedied and fixed before our meal service.

A Grain of Good: Kelsey & the Environmental Charter School // www.WithTheGrains.com

Drinking milk never looked so cute! The lunch program only offers white milk- no chocolate or weird colors or syrupy juices.

A Grain of Good: Kelsey & the Environmental Charter School // www.WithTheGrains.com

This boy was introduced to me as the “Lunch Superstar.” I’m fairly certain he’ll be on the Food Network one day. “I once made THE perfect oatmeal cookie. I was just messing around with water and oatmeal and the toaster, and it came out PERFECTLY ROUND!”

A Grain of Good: Kelsey & the Environmental Charter School // www.WithTheGrains.com

“I’m really into baking. I make wedding cakes. I also make desserts. I made one dessert that was a cracker with jam and a tic-tac. My mom said, ‘no thank you,’ but my dad ate it!”

A Grain of Good: Kelsey & the Environmental Charter School // www.WithTheGrains.com

A Grain of Good: Kelsey & the Environmental Charter School // www.WithTheGrains.com

What has the parental reaction been to the lunch program? 

Sometimes this one is hard to judge, as I mentioned with kids, it’s hard to please everyone. We have a lot of parents who I have worked with that like the lunch program and appreciate the educational experience that coincides with our meals.

A Grain of Good: Kelsey & the Environmental Charter School // www.WithTheGrains.com

A Grain of Good: Kelsey & the Environmental Charter School // www.WithTheGrains.com

A Grain of Good: Kelsey & the Environmental Charter School // www.WithTheGrains.com

Who inspires you? Who are your food/food justice heroes? 

I am really inspired by a lot of the people in Pittsburgh focusing their work on food justice and sustainability. Emily Schmidlapp has done incredible work at Just Harvest helping people with food stamps have access to farmer’s markets. Just Harvest’s director Ken Regal is such a thoughtful man, and I wish I had the opportunity to work with him more! Their vision of creating good food for all is something I have always admired.

A Grain of Good: Kelsey & the Environmental Charter School // www.WithTheGrains.com

I’m also very inspired by the work happening with the Green and Healthy Schools Academy sponsored through the Green Building Alliance. Jenna Cramer, the VP of Green Schools, is committed to building healthy environments for kids in our region, and she’s always exploring how food is a part of that development. I like that she challenges schools and communities to think differently about sustainability. Jenna is an incredible listener, and she always fights for equity and is constantly seeking to bring more people to the table.

A Grain of Good: Kelsey & the Environmental Charter School // www.WithTheGrains.com

How do you educate parents who may not have had as much exposure to nutrition information and healthy cooking ideas?

In terms of reaching more families or exposing them to more nutrition-ed, that is done mainly by the students! The students are the best vehicles to share their food education and meal preferences when they go home. We’ve tried many things over my time here, but I think there’s always more we can be doing to get parents on-site and learning about food! Ideally in the future if we have a kitchen, I would love to see a parent cooking series in the evenings.

A Grain of Good: Kelsey & the Environmental Charter School // www.WithTheGrains.com

“Did you know grapes have BONES?!? We are investigating!” This little girl’s curiosity for food was inspiring.

What is one of your funniest and/or fondest memories of a student’s reaction to lunch?

It’s hard to pinpoint a favorite, but I can tell you my favorite moment of eating lunch at ECS. Last year our 8th-grade students would frequently jump behind the lunch line to help our staff serve lunch. I found out a staff member wouldn’t be able to make it for lunch, so I rushed to our upper school campus to assist my team. However, I walked in to find a handful of kids behind the line, serving lunch to other kids. Shocked, I was trying to take it all in, and a student walked up to me and said, “Welcome to lunch Ms. Kels, we got you covered. Sit down, enjoy your lunch. Vegetarian option right?” I was so incredibly proud of those students. I still am.

A Grain of Good: Kelsey & the Environmental Charter School // www.WithTheGrains.com

A Grain of Good: Kelsey & the Environmental Charter School // www.WithTheGrains.com

Seeing a compost bin in a lunch room warmed my heart! Tiny tummies and high-energy kids can leave a lot of food at the end of the meal. What a great way to mitigate waste and integrate lunchtime into the school’s environmental education.

How can readers get involved? How can they affect school lunches or healthy eating habits for kids in general?

Volunteer in schools! Be a positive face that students see when they work with food, or consume food. Our partners, Community Kitchens of Pittsburgh, have their food educators volunteer once a month to try new food during lunch, and the kids really like that one-on-one time, and really like their representative Emily Voelker. Kids ask me all the time when she will be back to sample new food. It doesn’t take a ton of time or commitment, but finding a school and partnering with a teacher or lunch lady goes a long way in encouraging kids to try new things!

A Grain of Good: Kelsey & the Environmental Charter School // www.WithTheGrains.com

Students volunteer to clean up the lunch room after their meal. Kids eagerly grabbed brooms and sponges, some even came early to help. What a great way for students to respect the lunch room and learn responsibility!

What’s next for you? 

After four-and-a-half years at one of the most magical places in the world, I am leaving my job at ECS.  My boyfriend and I are lucky enough to travel abroad for a year, and we will be working in Uganda.  We are really excited to take this opportunity to change our environment, meet new people and explore our interests in public health and community development. I look forward to returning to Pittsburgh in a year and continuing my work in health and education!

A Grain of Good: Kelsey & the Environmental Charter School // www.WithTheGrains.com

Want to help kids eat healthy lunches?

ECS will be filling Kelsey’s position and looking for the next lunch lady or lunch man. If you’re passionate about kids, healthy eating and environmental education, you can find more details on the school’s website www.ecspgh.org. You can also email Kelsey directly with any questions at kelsey.weisgerber@ecspgh.org.

I look forward to meeting the next person to fill this role, but Kelsey’s boots will not be easy to fill. You’ll need a LOT of energy to pick up where she leaves off. After participating in one lunch session, I was in serious need of a nap!

Thanks Kelsey for being A Grain of Good! I’m so excited to continue following your journey!

Quelcy Signature

p.s: Do you know someone who is A Grain of Good? Leave a comment, or email me your nominations quelcy@quelcy.com ! The world needs more inspiration, and the do-gooders need more encouragement!

p.p.s: Mark your calendars for School Lunch Hero Day (May 6, 2016), and be sure to celebrate those energetic folks who feed your kids! Or better yet, send a thank-you to the cafeteria folk who fed you as a kid!

 

 

Creamy Potato Cabbage Soup with Sage // www.WithTheGrains.com

Creamy Potato Cabbage Soup with Sage

How many phone numbers, excluding your own, do you know by heart?

Creamy Potato Cabbage Soup with Sage // www.WithTheGrains.com

215-723-0398

That’s the last phone number I committed to memory. It’s also the first phone number I committed to memory. It was my parents’ home line. Was, being the keyword. One year ago, they moved to a new state, and the phone number, along with many household items, lingered in Pennsylvania. With that move, I lost the last phone number in my memory. I lost 10 digits whose comfort I hadn’t fully appreciated until they were gone.

Creamy Potato Cabbage Soup with Sage // www.WithTheGrains.com

It’s the number I nerdily imagined giving to a boy via my TI-83 geek calculator in high school calculus class (it never happened-shocker!). When people called that number, I responded with all the polite, proper grammar my dad had instructed me to use, “Hello, Kogels’.” “Yes, this is she.” “No, she is not. May I take a message?” It’s the number I dialed every Sunday in college to give my updates, bemoan my stresses and say “I miss you, and I love you.” Those 10 digits may not lead to my mom or dad’s voices anymore, but they remain the numbers I know by heart.

Creamy Potato Cabbage Soup with Sage // www.WithTheGrains.com

That expression- to know by heart– may sound bizarre to someone learning English. How does the heart store information? Yet, it’s exactly how I store that random string of 10 digits. More than a space in my mind and memory, they’re numbers that mean something. They linger with me through comfort and nostalgia, like the steam that condenses on kitchen windows while soup simmers, or the way holiday cookies sprawl over a long, dining-room table.

This Creamy Potato Cabbage Soup may not be the passed-down sort of recipe, but a bowl of this warm, flavorful soup has the power to comfort and conjure nostalgia nonetheless. Whether the digits change, or the recipes change, these are still the numbers and experiences we know by heart.

Quelcy Signature

Creamy Potato Cabbage Soup

About This Recipe: Choose a purple cabbage to give a faint violet hue to this soup. The recipe includes a few resourceful suggestions to waste less. Use the stalk of broccoli, not just the florets. If you have whole milk that has soured, use it in this soup. Alternately, you can use fresh whole milk or buttermilk for tang. For the creamy consistence, you’ll need an immersion blender, a food processor or a regular blender.

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Turmeric Chia Seed Cake by With The Grains 05

Whole Wheat Citrus, Turmeric & Chia Seed Layer Cake

Under the weight of a nerdy backpack, I would trek up three flights of split-level stairs, to the retreat that was the Arts & Architecture floor of the university’s library. Stocked to the brim with manifestos, colorful portfolios, comprehensive histories and magazines showcasing the modern, this floor simultaneously filled me with limitless inspiration and overwhelmed me with its magnitude.

Whole Wheat Citrus, Turmeric & Chia Seed Layer Cake with Orange Buttercream // www.WithTheGrains.com

I wanted to read every single book, but at times, I couldn’t even decide which book was a worthy starting point. How could my brain possibly contain a mere fraction of this treasure trove? I would need a lifetime!

Whole Wheat Citrus, Turmeric & Chia Seed Layer Cake with Orange Buttercream // www.WithTheGrains.com

I feel about flowers the way I felt about the Arts & Architecture floor of the library- inspired and overwhelmed! I’ve only recently begun to truly appreciate the brightening, bliss-making powers of flowers. Having once scoffed at the many wasteful practices surrounding floristry, I’ve been inspired by the flower farmer movements and the way flowers can transform an entire room.

Whole Wheat Citrus, Turmeric & Chia Seed Layer Cake with Orange Buttercream // www.WithTheGrains.com

I’ve begun to scratch the surface, and like pulling a volume from that library shelf, there are so many places to start. When it comes to flowers, I have so much to learn- there are common names, scientific names, growing practices, cutting tips, so on and so forth. In an effort not to lose myself to debilitating information overload, I’m simply trying to make more room for flowers in my life.

Whole Wheat Citrus, Turmeric & Chia Seed Layer Cake with Orange Buttercream // www.WithTheGrains.com

From the vase in my bedroom, to layer cakes, to a field at the farm, I’m making more space for blooms, branches and compositional experiments. I’m giving myself the freedom to be curious (trying to at least!), which after all, is what led me to baking (that and an insatiable sweet tooth). That curiosity is also what led me to use chia seeds instead of poppy seeds and to add turmeric to practically everything. If you need a nudge to follow your curiosity more, I suggest this video. If you need a nudge toward the kitchen, I suggest this cake!

By Quelcy

p.s: This cake first appeared in TABLE Magazine, as part of my story, “Closed for the Holidays.”

Whole Wheat Citrus, Turmeric & Chia Seed Layer Cake with Orange Buttercream Frosting

About this Recipe: Turmeric yields a bright golden surface and an even brighter golden crumb! The chia seeds will pass for poppy seeds until you reveal your secret, healthy-baking weapon. The crumb is a little heartier, but the extra density works well for layering. Note: the flowers I used were not edible, merely for effect. Try an edible variety, or top with candied citrus or orange peel garnishes. 

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Edible Gift Guides for Coffee, Wine, Beer & Picnic Lovers in Collaboration with @MarketStGrocery

If only there were more time between Thanksgiving and Christmas. If only there were more hours in a day. If only, if only, if only…. This time of year can be ever so stressful if we let it, but you know what they say, “If ifs and buts were candies and nuts we’d all have a merry Christmas.” Maybe some of those ifs and buts could be coffee and wine, and maybe we’ll get through this holiday time!

If my adapted adage has failed to inspire, I hope this gift guide will do the trick! I’ve partnered with Market Street Grocery to offer this Edible Gift Guide for the foodies and beverage connoisseurs on your list. Each eco-friendly, canvas tote packs an array of food & drink experiences, so you’ll give a gift that will keep on giving! If you’re local, you can order one of these gift options through the market. If you’re reading this from afar, use this as a guide to assembling your own gift bag. If you want to buy me something, know that I’d be happy to receive any of these.

Happy Holidays!

Quelcy Signature

The Coffee Lover’s Gift Bag

For the friend who scoffs when the word “Keurig” is uttered, this bag offers coffee to be sipped and savored, whether paired with caramel-like creamed honey for a morning picker upper or with artisan chocolates for an afternoon treat. The coffee snob is sure to appreciate the coveted bags of beans from Stumptown and La Colombe.

An Edible Gift Guide // www.WithTheGrains.comAn Edible Gift Guide- The Coffee Lover // www.WithTheGrains.com

The Coffee Lover’s Gift Bag Includes: La Colombe Torrefaction Savoia Coffee, Stumptown Hair Bender Coffee, La Colombe Pure Black Cold Pressed Coffee, Chuao Chocolatier- Spicy Maya flavor, Chuao Chocolatier- Firecracker flavor, local Bedillion Honey Farm Cinnamon Creamed Honey and clementines.

The European Picnic Gift Bag

Remember when George Michael Bluth returns from studying abroad in Spain? He has a creepy mustache and thinks he’s a man. Studying abroad in Europe can really change a person! Thankfully, I did not return from my student travels with a mustache, but rather with a passion for picnics, fine wine, cheeses and long, slow lunches. If you know a friend who returned with a fine-tuned palate or a friend who dreams of living in Rome, this is the gift for him or her.

An Edible Gift Guide // www.WithTheGrains.comAn Edible Gift Guide- the European Picnic Gift Bag // www.WithTheGrains.com

The European Picnic Gift Bag Includes: 1 bottle Collefrisio Montepulicano d’Abruzzo DOC Red Wine, Benedetto Cavalieri Organic Pennucce Whole Wheat Macaroni, 1 bottle Zoe Extra Virgin Olive Oil, Organic Divina Greek Olive mix, Dalmatia Black Olive Spread, Carr’s Entertainment Cracker Collection, Taleggio Vero DOP Cheese and clementines.

The Beer Lover’s Gift Bag

The only way you’ll get me to watch professional sports is with an impressive food spread. This bag would entice even me to watch a game. Whether your beer lover is a football lover or just wants some quality snacks for Netflix binging, this gift offers a winning combination of classics and artisan updates!

An Edible Gift Guide // www.WithTheGrains.comAn Edible Gift Guide- For the Beer Lover // www.WithTheGrains.com

The Beer Lover’s Gift Bag: 1 pint Chimay Grande Réserve Ale, 1 pint Chimay Première Ale, Original “Splits” Pretzels, Brooklyn Brine Whiskey Sour Pickles, Edmond Fallot Horseradish Dijon Mustard, Becky’s Blissful Bakery Salted Beer & Pretzel Caramels, Jubilee Hilltop Ranch Beef Jerky, and clementines.

The Wine Lover’s Gift Guide

For the friend or family member who doesn’t merely pick a pretty label when selecting his or her next bottle, this bag will make you look like a wine pro too! Paired with the makings of an impressive cheeseboard, your recipient will think of you fondly while enjoying this spread! If you’re lucky, he or she will even invite you to share.

An Edible Gift Guide // www.WithTheGrains.comAn Edible Gift Guide- For the Wine Lover // www.WithTheGrains.com

The Wine Lover’s Gift Bag: A bottle of Collefrisio di Collefrisio Montepulciano d’Abruzzo DOC (red label) and a bottle Collefrisio di Collefrisio Bianco IGT Terre di Chieti (orange label) OR a bottle of Collefrisio Trebbbiano d’Abruzzo DOC and Collefrisio Montepulciano d’Abruzzo DOC Vignaquadra; Carr’s Whole Wheat Crackers, Drunken Goat cheese, Creminelli Sopressata sausages- Garlic & Wine Flavor and clementines.

This post is sponsored by Market Street Grocery, but all opinions are my own! Thanks for supporting the brands that support With The Grains!
Putting the Farm to Rest // www.WithTheGrains.com

Putting the Farm to Rest for the Winter

Every day I try to be a better person because the Urban Farmer is such a good example! When I met him, he was defending the environment, volunteering all over the city, planting seeds and tending bees, with the idea he would one day have his own farm. He dove into funding research, city & land research (i.e.: red tape research), took risks, followed his heart, stuck to his values, and he made himself a real farmer!

Putting the Farm to Rest // www.WithTheGrains.com

I had the opportunity to tag along on Mondays and pick vegetables for the CSA delivery. While carrying crates of fresh produce, we would joke about “a case of the Mondays” knowing we were fortunate to enjoy such a sunny start to the week. In November, we delivered the last CSA subscription, and though I’d miss my Mondays on the farm with the Urban Farmer and our loyal furry sidekick, this moment felt more celebratory than sorrowful.

Putting the Farm to Rest // www.WithTheGrains.com

What happens now?

This was a popular question as the colorful leaves disappeared and a chill emerged. There will still be runs to local breweries, coffee shops and restaurants to pick up spent grains, grounds and scraps for compost. There will be plenty of planning, and there will be invasive trees and vines to clear once the weeds have died down for the season. The Urban Farmer hopes to farm all year long, but this first year, the farm will rest for the winter, and largely, we will wait.

Putting the Farm to Rest // www.WithTheGrains.com

Waiting is the biggest lesson the farm has taught me. Nature, farms, gardens and even a potted plant on a windowsill have the power to humble our wild egos. I had visions of events, flower subscriptions, camping rentals, etc, etc, etc, but in the end, the focus had to be planting seeds and harvesting food. The farm doesn’t dash dreams, it just reminds us to put them in check, to slow down, to savor the start and learn, learn, learn! “In due time” the farm seemed to whisper to me with every ripened vine and burst of color.

Putting the Farm to Rest // www.WithTheGrains.com

“In due time” is an important message to remember in the face of “life is short” and “seize the day” and even “YOLO.” I believe in these approaches, but often times, they can lead us to knock too aggressively on the wrong door or go sprinting down the wrong path. It pays to quiet ourselves, to listen and to remember that some dreams require their fair share of “due time.”

Putting the Farm to Rest // www.WithTheGrains.com

That this farm would remind me of this lesson is fitting. That this man would remind me of this lesson is fitting. Years ago, I walked away from Paris. An accordion player serenaded the canal, the denizens debated in their beautiful native tongue, baguettes beamed goldenly in bakery windows, and I left it all behind me. I packed my bags, boarded a plane and returned to Pittsburgh. I had two plans: to write and to farm.

Putting the Farm to Rest // www.WithTheGrains.com

With French expressions still swirling in my head, I arrived at my AmeriCorps meeting, one of the final stages of my interview process. The man rolled out a map of the city highlighting the various programs. As he finished explaining the dots on the map, I asked with some concern, “Where are the urban farm programs?”

Putting the Farm to Rest // www.WithTheGrains.com

“We won’t be running those programs anymore,” he said. “The funding was cut.” My face surely exposed every ounce of disappointment I felt erupting inside me. My entire application had revolved around the urban farming programs, and he waited until I crossed an ocean to tell me this? Had I given up Paris for nothing?

Putting the Farm to Rest // www.WithTheGrains.com

I didn’t shed a single tear, but I surely wore a shellshocked expression as I rode the bus home that day. My dream had been crushed, and all my planning had been foiled, but somehow, I pulled myself up by my bootstraps and moved forward. My path meandered, maybe even floundered at times, as I tried to recoil. I turned to cooking and baking as a way to celebrate farms and local food and buried my farming ideals deeper within me… that is until a dear friend mentioned her new cohort.

Putting the Farm to Rest // www.WithTheGrains.com

“He wants to start an urban farm,” she said when telling me about the photographer who had volunteered to help her bring clean drinking water to those affected by fracking. “He keeps bees,” she said. My heart fluttered, and that friend saw the twinkling in my eyes. She had already known my heart would flutter and my eyes would twinkle. It was all a part of her plan.

Putting the Farm to Rest // www.WithTheGrains.com

I liked him on paper before I met him, but I quickly loved him in real life, and before I knew it, I was spending Mondays in the sunshine, on green bean treasure hunts, plucking sweet cherry tomatoes and watching him preach the gospel of small-scale, organic farming to all who would listen. “In due time,” his farm reminded me, “in due time.”

Putting the Farm to Rest // www.WithTheGrains.com

This life seems to be a crazy mix of planning, following dreams and letting go. Figuring out when to do each is the elusive key. Savoring each step more is my goal. I recently heard a Persian poem that summarized this journey so beautifully (via Liz Gilbert, naturally).

Putting the Farm to Rest // www.WithTheGrains.com

The Place Where You Are Now
by Hafiz

This place where you are right now
God circled on a map for you.

Wherever your eyes and arms and heart can move
Against the earth and the sky,
The Beloved has bowed there –

Our Beloved has bowed there knowing
You were coming.

Putting the Farm to Rest // www.WithTheGrains.com

I could tell you a priceless secret about
Your real worth, dear pilgrim,

But any unkindness to yourself,
Any confusion about others,

Will keep one
From accepting the grace, the love,

The sublime freedom
Divine knowledge always offers to you.

Putting the Farm to Rest // www.WithTheGrains.com

Never mind, Hafiz, about
The great requirements this path demands
Of the wayfarers,

For your soul is too full of wine tonight
To withhold the wondrous Truth from this world.

But because I am so clever and generous,
I have already clearly woven a resplendent lock
Of his tresses

As a remarkable truth and gift
In this poem for you.

 

Here’s to the circles on the maps!

Quelcy Signature

Pear Apple Spelt & Oat Crisp // www.WithTheGrains.com

Pear, Apple, Spelt & Oat Crisp

The person I am right before embarking on a trip is not a person of whom I am proud. This version of Quelcy is frenzied, snippy and probably in need of a happiness project. This version of Quelcy loses her sense of priorities and time management. She thinks it’s an appropriate time to mop a floor or reorganize a shelf. Yet, she doesn’t seem to think it’s an appropriate time to select her outfits and put them in a travel bag.

Pear Apple Spelt & Oat Crisp // www.WithTheGrains.com

This Thanksgiving, The Urban Farmer, Julep and I hit the road for a very long drive to the snowy midwest. True to form, that pre-trip Quelcy reared her ugly head, trying to squeeze too much into too little time and naturally, leaving packing for the last minute. In her fits and frenzies, this version of Quelcy thought the best plan for the abundant fruit bowl was a late night baking session.

Pear Apple Spelt & Oat Crisp // www.WithTheGrains.com

This may have been pre-trip Quelcy’s only redeeming quality. In the storm before the calm, apples, pears and Chinese five spice combined into a whole grain treat. She packed the maple and spice scents into the car, and off they went. Somewhere between Pittsburgh and Ohio, my saner self re-emerged, appreciative of the treat we’d be able to savor throughout the long journey.

Pear Apple Spelt & Oat Crisp // www.WithTheGrains.com

Once settled into our snowy retreat of an Air BnB, the warm crisp was wholesome enough to savor for breakfast with big mugs of slow sipping coffee. If this time of year brings you a fair share of stress, skip pie crust entirely, and try this wholesome crisp. If you’re attending dinner party after dinner party, this is easy to whip up last minute and share, or escape the frenzy and savor it with someone special.

Quelcy Signature

p.s: My personalized pie plate was a gift from Personal Creations. If you want to be sure your pie plate doesn’t get confused with another dessert plate at a holiday party, you can use Personal Creations to add your name. If you’re the more obsessive type, like yours truly, you can even use your pie plate to broadcast your dedication to whole grains.

p.p.s: Stay tuned for posts about my Midwest adventures!

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