“Put a beet on it” might be the new “Put a bird on it.” Between the bold color, the natural sweetness and the ability to endure a long winter in storage, the beet has risen in popularity from its humble beginnings as that odd pickled staple at my Czech grandmother’s table.
And “Put a beet on it” I have! From waffles, to cakes, to frostings, and even donuts, I’ve worked that painterly root vegetable’s color and sweetness into every course. When it came time to make a meal to share with a vegan friend, hummus came to mind.
As much as I love hummus, its color palette leaves much to be desired, so I… put a beet on it- roasted beets, tart lemon juice, a kick of garlic and the most important secret, last-minute decision- fresh ginger! The result is a bold, beautiful bowl that makes hummus more dippable and even more addicting than ever!
About this Recipe:My Palestinian friend taught me his mother’s time-tested secret. Even if you are using canned chickpeas, it pays to soak them in water for at least half an hour and rinse them thoroughly. This makes the chickpea much more digestible! The hummus will keep in the fridge for up to a week (if it lasts that long).
Being one step ahead of my fingers, my brain began to shout, “ABORT! ABORT!” but my dopey digits continued to run the all-too-thin wad of paper towel over a very brand new knife blade. The brain cursed the finger, as both processed the immediate flow of blood.
For a brief instant, there was no pain. I wadded paper towel around my now gory finger, and for one blissful moment of denial, the cut was out of sight and out of mind. However, the paper towel quickly failed to belie the wound. I shall stop here with knife-on-flesh details, lest you become as ghostly white and nauseous as I later did.
There’s nothing like an injury, even something as minuscule as a paper cut or a sore muscle, to cause one to appreciate loss- the loss of feeling, mobility, independence. I am fully aware my ridiculous, gauzed mummy finger is hardly anything on the scale of loss, but it did make me pause and think just how lucky I am.
My one stupid moment could have caused major, lasting damage. Or worse, what if I were so unfortunate as to need surgery at this moment in my life? Learning to type with 9 fingers and avoid shaking hands is hardly a setback, but nonetheless, my bloody finger pointed to all I had been taking for granted.
But alas, we humans, or at least yours truly, all too frequently take too much for granted, never appreciating the tip of the finger until it’s hacked. And THIS, is where my bloody finger becomes relevant to cupcakes. There is a connection!
As the Creative Director for the 10th Annual CMU International Film Festival, I found myself passionately working day and night to bring together countless details. The film festival fulfills me in so many ways, but being the marathon that it is, it also requires me to shut off several other elements of my life. For months, I skipped holidays, barely made birthdays and tethered myself to my desk.
For the most part, the intensity only amplified me, but as we neared the third week, burn out loomed, and what I found missing the most was my oven and this blog. With The Grains has always been such an extension of me. To ignore this corner, my corner, of the web left me throbbing as much as my finger after the knife wound. I had taken this space and the comforts of baking for granted, so I carved out time I didn’t have but needed.
I measured, I whisked, I pureed, and I truly appreciated the simple joys of transforming ingredients into a sweet moment to savor. I appreciated how much I appreciate baking and sharing, both physically and digitally. As a person whose passions and interests are often sporadic (a multipotentialite if you will), the longevity of this space comforted me even more. It took feeling completely cut off from baking and blogging to realize how integral they are to my wellbeing.
Maybe you feel similarly, so here’s to the calming side of baking and the comforting corners we create for ourselves!
Roasted Beet Chocolate Cupcakes w/ Raw Cacao
adapted from Minimalist Baker Yield: ~20 cupcakes
About this recipe:Rich, chocolatey, vegan cupcakes with pureed roasted beets and a dusting of raw cacao for a healthier sweet indulgence. Beet haters (those crazies!) won’t even know there is a root veggie lurking in their dessert! (more…)
A cake can be a meditation, each slice a chance to savor the here-and-now. If made with care, each bite passes without judgment, eyes close, stresses escape, and gravity feels lifted for but a moment. Just as you acknowledge the light in others through meditation, a cake is a testament to many hands and contributors. After all, as Carl Sagan said, “If you wish to make an apple pie from scratch, you must first invent the universe.”
This cake was a man who spoke very little English, his reserve offset by his immense talent. He peeled limes into fire-breathing dragons, twisted fish into floral arrangements and carved beets into beautiful roses. He obsessed over granules of rice and valued the spacing between sushi. I watched his mastery in awe. In urban terms, game recognize game, but in the world of creatives, my neuroses is humbled by your neuroses, and I applaud your details! Less catchy, but it’s equally an ovation!
This cake was the Urban Farmer, his mother and his grandfather before him. They taught the him to gently respect nature, believe in nature, fight for nature, and in the end, reap her rewards. Her zucchinis continued to appear under his tutelage, as if by magic, under broad leaves that could transport the imaginative mind to island vacations. Her beets merited gallery time, with mesmerizing patterns of burgundies and whites circling like aging trees. And her mint…! Her mint runneth over!
This cake was a gathering. It was a celebration of the new guard of hands that work the land and restore value to the foods we eat. It was a celebration of edible weeds and fresh pickings. This cake was a campfire, warming the prematurely cool evening. It was laughter. It was sparks in the night sky. It was time savored.
These are the benefits of the “slow foods” as they are called – the foods with integrity and time amongst the ingredient lists. These foods are not “cheat foods” or “guilty pleasures.” This cake is a testament to the season and the many hands contributing along the way. Perhaps you will become part of this cake’s story too?
Sprouted Spelt Zucchini Beet Cake with Vodka Mint Glaze
About This Recipe: This bundt cake begins with my new favorite flour- One Degree Organic Foods’ Sprouted Spelt Flour. Through their website, you can read about the farmer who grows it. This combination of local zucchini and beets adds moisture and subtle sweetness. The glaze uses a Mint Vodka Simple Syrup instead of water or milk. I used Boyd & Blair Vodka instead of water when making the simple syrup to take advantage of the vodka’s rich, vanilla notes.
Large, umbrella-like lights filled the space where waitstaff would normally scurry, the cords creating their fair share of death traps. Cooking wine filled glasses that would normally contain a fine vintage. An eclectic group of “friends” and “family” gathered around a reclaimed-wood table and awaited instruction on how to hold their forks, glasses and napkins “naturally.”
The photographer and camera dangled precariously above the table. Meanwhile, I tweezered and plucked at the plates, fluffing, spritzing and making them ready for their moment in the spotlight. It was the makings of a restaurant ad.
That restaurant featured in the ad is one of my favorites. The chef, long before “local” was the trendy buzz word to list on a menu, sourced as locally as possible. Yet his octogenarian clientele showed more appreciation for the granite floors and decadent details passed down from restaurant past. The goal of the ad was to outstretch arms and welcome everyone to the restaurant, everyone including kids.
The child “actor/model” [ie: the art director’s son] was an astute nine-year-old with a palate for fine dining and artisan fermentation. Together, the nine-year-old and I stared at the shelves of house-made pickles in awe. The budding food critic extolled the virtues of that pickle wall and the restaurant’s menu. Being a loyal fan of the menu’s “fancy burger,” I asked for his review.
“Oh, I haven’t had their burger. It’s good?” he asked sincerely.
“Yeah, it’s one of my favorites in the city, and they rotate the toppings quite a bit,” I responded as if speaking to any foodie in my peer group.
His eyes lit up, and he had an epiphany, “Oooh, I know! What if instead of the ham in the hamburger, you used peaches?”
“Like, peaches in the burger, or grilled on top?”
“Yeah, in it. Instead of the ham.”
“I’m into it,” I said.
Despite eating a smoked blue fish pâté, pickled scapes and picking at a tartare, the kid had a ways to go in his understanding of hamburgers. However, he was onto something with his peach idea. I really was into it.
Hamburgers are practically a food group in my own personal pyramid. My stacks of ingredients never make it to the light of day, when photographing and recipe sharing come into play, but for this burger combo, I exercised forethought and willpower. I veered from the petite foodie’s idea of replacing “ham” with peaches. Instead, I opted to stretch the meat further by adding a coarse beet puree or beat meal because although I believe in eating meat from humanely-raised animals, I may still be guilty of eating too much meat.
The peaches still came into play, but in the form of a roasted peach and mint salsa topping, making this burger the main course in my Mint Themed Dinner on the Farm. Paired with blue cheese for a salty, creamy contrast, I dare say even the nine-year-old would be impressed!
I might still toy with the miniature foodie’s ham/hamburger idea. I laugh now, but who knows? That kid could be the next Dan Barber or Peter Meehan. He may be onto something huge!
Beet & Beef Burgers w/ Blue Cheese and Roasted Peach & Mint Salsa
About This Recipe: Adding beets to your burgers is a way to stretch the meat, eat more seasonal produce, and add a subtle sweetness. The texture is a little closer to a sloppy joe than a beef patty, so use foil when grilling to avoid any loss, or experiment with adding a binder such as eggs and breadcrumbs.
The cashier withdrew the receipt he had been pushing towards me. He skimmed it with a puzzled look on his face, searching for an error. “I guess it’s right. I just didn’t expect your order to cost that much money.”
“Consider it my super power,” I responded, grinning through the sinking feeling.
As I pulled into the driveway, the neighbor boy dangled from a tree, his summer tan nearly camouflaged by the bark of the shady branches. “Where did you go?” he pried.
“To the grocery store,” I responded in the general direction of the tree.
“That’s all you got?” he asked in disbelief.
Debby Downer from the adjacent house probably judged me silently behind a curtain, as I schlepped my “meager” quantity of groceries to my third floor abode. Fortunately, the dog was eager to encounter beef cubes and minty sticks, so she put up little protest to my apparent failure.
I get it! I spend a lot of money on food.
However, with hormones, GMOs, pesticides and God knows what else being injected in our food, it’s hard not to spend excess money on what should be the simple act of eating and feeding those we love. Thus, I justify these expenses as health insurance or better yet, preventative care.
Fortunately, this summer’s ingredients have been boosted by the Urban Farmer’s efforts. Contrary to popular belief, we haven’t been swimming in vegetables, with the majority of the harvest making its way to the CSA members. However, late July and August have been kind to us, especially on the juicy tomato front!
The Urban Farmer and I recently hosted friends on the farm, and that Mint Themed Dinner on the Farm was the first time I had to do very little shopping to prepare a meal for a gathering. Not only was it refreshing to celebrate the farm as a beautiful piece of land with a spectacular view of the downtown skyline, but it was refreshing to celebrate all the farm has produced recently like these exquisite beets…
Each slice into the beets revealed a different fuchsia intensity and pattern worth painterly strokes, but most importantly, roasting revealed a tender, flavorful bite, complemented by smoky sea salt and subtly sweet coconut oil.
Beets, cucumbers, tomatoes and mint- all from the farm- became one colorful, healthy, flavorful, juicy salad to celebrate the farmers, the fruits of their labors and the height of summer. There were very few groceries, and there was no one critiquing my food-buying habits. It was a win-win scenario. Harvest or hop to the farmers’ market, and snag these beauties while the season allows.
“I’m baking this for Nina. She ate a lot of canned beets in grad school,” I lied.
Nina did (does?) eat a lot of canned beets in grad school, but the part about the cakes being a belated way for us to celebrate our respective birthdays? That part was a straight “fib.” I peeled, sliced, whisked, cracked, beat, folded and baked these cakes right under the Urban Farmer’s nose.
I packed up all the accoutrements in plain sight, promised to save him a slice and elaborated, “we’re maybe going to the park. I’m going to take Julep.” Out the door I went, in my farm clothes, with his birthday cakes in tow. I was on my way to set up his Dirty Thirty surprise party!
In many ways, he should never trust me ever again. For at least a month, I “fibbed” and schemed, but in the end, I made him his own cake, inspired by his love of beets, roots and plants emerging from the dirt. Cake erases most conspiracies.
Gluten-Free Beet Upside Down Cake
About This Recipe: Don’t be alarmed by the lack of butter or oil in this recipe. The larger quantity of eggs yields a moist, spongey cake with sweet bites of beet and beet juices on top. Pair a slice with homemade whipped cream or organic vanilla bean ice cream. The cake also makes a great breakfast indulgence, since it’s not overly sweet.
I feel warmer when I look at the magazine cover. It radiates with a glossy depiction of bright yellow flowers, knee-high leafy greens, a freewheeling chicken, plump carrots and a tender father-daughter gardening moment. It’s the Urban Farmer’s seed catalog, and by now, its pages are tattered, wrinkly and thoroughly perused. While he plotted how to fill his plots of land, I found myself caught up in the excitement of seed shopping. Not unlike combing through a favorite clothing company’s pages, I would interject with “oooh, will you buy that one?” However, this catalog shopping boasted a level of anticipation like no other.
From their exotic colors, to their wild patterns, to their poetic monikers (Silver Cloud Cannellini, Midori Giant, Kentucky Wonder, Who Gets Kissed?), each of these heirloom seeds contains a rich history and immeasurable potential. The Urban Farmer will plant and nurture these tiny seeds into fully fledged roots, fruits and vegetables. He’ll reclaim vacant land, restoring its purpose and a neighborhood’s pride, one cultivated row at a time. He’ll harvest, and he’ll nourish those who buy into this farming notion, those who will eat with confidence, knowing he has their health and wellbeing in mind every time he steps foot on that soil. His hands will callous, his heart will swell, and our cupboards will fill with new recipe inspiration,and all of this starts with pages in a seed catalog.
The Urban Farmer’s brunching mornings might be on hold for a spell, while he bends fence posts into hoop houses, tills and tills, plans his plots, and plants his seeds. Fortunately, we managed to savor a lazy waffle morning before the farm clock began to tick so loudly. This year, another farm’s beets inspired our brunch, but who knows how the Urban Farmer’s seeds will transform and inspire us next year?
Here’s to Seeds, Soil & Stacks o’ Waffles!
Roasted Beet Waffles with Sour Cherry Jam & Whipped Coconut Milk
About This Recipe: Above all, the beets add a bright, rosy hue and a faint sweetness to this waffle recipe. The cornmeal gives the waffle a bit of a crunch. The whipped coconut cream is light and fluffy, and a great non-dairy alternative to whipped cream. I recommend a slathering of Sour Cherry Jam or your favorite fruity spread.
For a substantial period of my life, I had my mom photograph my daily outfit before “ootd” was a quotidian acronym. More specifically, I had my mom take a film photograph of my daily ensembles. This tells you two things: 1) My mom obviously loved me and supported my creative whims- enough to pay for film processing, and 2) I obviously cared a lot about clothing (I did have three significantly older sisters who loved to style me from day one, so this fascination was inevitable). Without latching onto the industry or specific names, fashion has always captivated me.
In middle school, I would write down my outfits on my homework agenda as a way to avoid repetition. In high school, I designed my prom dresses, which my mom patiently sewed while enduring my designer outbursts and tantrums [I’m sorry mom!]. College was a sea of inspiration. Surrounded by artistic nerds, I explored a wide variety of looks. Whilst in the throes of post-graduation, looming life questions, I even considered applying to FIT. Instead, I fled to France to iron a toddler’s pajamas and to gain a new appreciation for all-black ensembles, quality versus quantity, and form-flattering silhouettes. In one form or another though, fashion was always there.
“The wider world perceives fashion as a frivolity that should be done away with in the face of social upheavals and problems that are enormous. The point is, in fact, fashion is the armor to survive the reality of everyday life. I don’t think you could do away with it. It’d be like doing away with civilization.”
If we let it, a love of fashion can feel petty or vain, but Cunningham distilled a humanity from our outer layers. Arguably, he was praising beauty- in all its wild forms. It’s why his photography is so compelling. His shutter is not constrained to trends, rules or condescension. He captures the bold, the unique, the simple details a million others might miss in their rush. He weaves themes and stories in the passing of commuters and daily lives.
As the season shifts to spring breezes, and rays of warm sunshine return, I find myself re-inspired by my own outer construct. Winter was often a helpless heaping of layers in an attempt to stay almost warm, but like the blossoming bulbs, I am ready to reinvent myself. I am ready to emerge from winter’s dark palette and wear bright hues and bold new patterns. I am ready for new looks and a new version of myself. As Cunningham said recently, “You can put fashion down and say it doesn’t mean anything, but it does because each morning when you get dressed, when you go out, it just lifts your spirits.” By extension, one could say the same about many design based fields. These spirit-lifting details drive so much of what I do- from interiors, to events, to food, these elements of style have meaning and significance. Beautiful details have the potential to inspire stories and smiles and memories.
This cake was a birthday cake for a fashion maven, also known as The Seam Ripper. Rachel is a new friend of mine, and she is the type of woman you like instantly. She is smart, witty, comical, driven, and she believes beauty and style exist in all shapes and sizes. She also loves beets, so this cake was all about beauty and beets. Here’s to spring! Here’s to fashion and beauty and details! Here’s to cake!
Bon Appétit, You Beauties!
Whole Wheat Vanilla Almond Cake with Roasted Beet Frosting
About This Recipe: I used an organic lemon extract in this spongey cake recipe, which was slightly overpowered by the almond extract. I recommend using fresh zest if you want to enhance the lemon flavor. Since I don’t have an arsenal of cake pans, I used one 7-inch springform pan to make a very tall cake, and then cut layers from that. If you have multiples, bake individual layers, but you’ll have to adjust baking times accordingly. For an extra special touch, I garnished this cake with dried roses with special instructions not to eat them. You could use an edible fresh flower, berries or whatever inspires you!