Pi Day is celebrated on March 14th (3/14) around the world. Pi (Greek letter “π”) is the symbol used in mathematics to represent a constant — the ratio of the circumference of a circle to its diameter — which is approximately 3.14159. But around here, we celebrate with butter and flour!
A snapshot of my working life (because I don’t do snapchat):
Quelcy parks nefariously (after circling the block to avoid a fire truck and a police car in the illegal parking zone…suspicious, to say the least!), then walks briskly to the park’s edge, where the most brilliantly colored maple trees hang low enough to reach from the slope of the hill. She proceeds to cut the low-hanging branches quickly, with a feigned authority in case anyone is watching (which they definitely do in this neighborhood. The old people don’t have anything better to do besides watch the younger generation of crazies). She then squats, like a hungry peasant child, and brushes the fallen leaves into a trash bag as if they are food scraps from the delicatessen. She returns to her car with a sizable bundle of foliage and a trash bag of leaf debris.
How was your day?
So “why” is probably the question you have after reading that. Oh you know, just your average day in the life of a frugal, “nature-inspired” stylist en route to styling a wedding vow renewal ceremony in a building with enough chipped paint and industrial surfaces to make my eyes glaze over happily. In other words, “I was really feeling fall.”
When I told the Urban Farmer I had to scavenge leaves for the shoot, he said, “you should take the neighbor’s leaves. Their color is so beautiful.” He said it without pause, without having to rack his mind for the beauty of fall. I had almost missed those leaves, their deep burgundy color fading to my periphery. I loved him so much in that moment, when I saw how thoughtfully he approached nature, taking the time to catalog the wild brush strokes of the season, even the ones in the more understated, moody tones.
While my own approach to channeling the season may be a little over the top, maybe even a little illegal (or in the least, frowned upon), his was so pure, so poetic- it’s fall, take in the colors on the path you walk daily. There’s a deep beauty in the simplicity of the everyday. This cake is a little like the neighbor’s leaves. It’s not too complicated, but it’s a way to enjoy fall to the fullest.
Whole Grain Apple Chai Cake
About this Recipe: It’s the time of year for tea and spices, and this cake has both! The real beauty comes from the apple design, so express yourself. Experiment with varying apple peel colors too.
A bright, lobster-like redness covered my legs unevenly, an odd roadmap of a morning spent crouching low and weeding. Tan lines, humidity, open windows, grass taller than my dog…all the signs of summer were falling into place. Then came the rain.
The blank sky filled with gray. A few drops on the tattered screen quickly escalated into a downpour. The curtains fluttered dramatically as water hit the windowsills, and the view disappeared in a wall of water. I sat by the window and paused to absorb the cooling breeze and the smell of the fresh precipitation. I come from a long line of farmers whose thoughts were consumed by rain and food, food and rain. Too much rain, not enough food. Not enough rain, not enough food. Is it time to eat yet? Then I fell for the Urban Farmer, and now I too must think of rain and food, food and rain.
This was a needed rain. On the farm, the rain meant an afternoon free of wrestling foot after foot of hose. At home, the rain meant a cool breeze and an excuse for a warm oven. It meant scents of vanilla and spices hit him at the stairwell, as he came home from growing greens, fences and the most beautiful rainbows of vegetables. The rain was vital.
In addition to valuing the rain’s place in the farming system, I appreciated the break in the heat, sleeping under a feathery, down comforter, wearing a flannel, and the quiet rain brings to a neighborhood. Take advantage of these rainy days. Turn on your oven. Make this granola. Fill your cooled home with the scents of baking oats and sweet, peppery spices. Hold your mug of hot coffee near to you, and then take the last sip of milk from your granola- the best sip, the sip that tastes like chai and let’s your mind wander to truly hot locales with beautifully adorned elephants, ornate temples and Chai Wallahs.
Happy Rainy Days!
Chai Coconut Granola
About This Recipe: This recipe uses an organic chai tea concentrate to impart a hint of chai flavor to your morning bowl. My favorite is Tazo Chai. Most chai concentrates are sweetened, so I didn’t add any extra sweeteners to the recipe. If you make your own concentrate with tea bags, add maple or honey to the wet ingredients. If you want to emphasize the chai flavor even more, add the contents of a chai teabag or two to the dry ingredients.
There is the French bakery, and then there is the French boulangerie with reflections of the Tour Eiffel in the display cases. There are tapas, and then there are tapas amidst a mob of fútbol fans. There are empanadas, and then there are empanadas made by the madres who fought for their sons’ freedom from government corruption. There are cachacas, and then there are sweet, refreshing cachaças after taking in the views of sugar loaves and an omipotent redeemer.
There are chai lattes, and then there are chais from earnest workers in slums, where school girls gather to practice their English and request their photos. The blurred lines of the globe fill us with glimpses and tastes, teasing and toying with the wanderlust stirring inside those of us who feel its tug. These foods and their customs, the way they lead us to expand ourselves and later revel in nostalgia, these are the connections I explore through mixing bowls, whisks and spices.
Spices…the colors, the textures, the scents…transport us, to places we have been and to places we have only imagined. The sealed, glass jar of turmeric at the grocery store pales in comparison to the freshly ground, bright sunflower gold of the turmeric of the market stall. The way the spices blend and transform onions, garlic, ginger and greens becomes a vehicle, and we go on a sensory journey. Proper spices are a powerful tool.
No matter how organized a trip may be, a traveler must always leave room for the unexpected, the serendipitous discoveries- the hole-in-the-wall restaurant, the unlisted gallery, the street performer who strums better than the famed. RawSpiceBar channels surprises, journeys and flavors in one great idea: a monthly spice subscription consisting of three, global, authentic, freshly ground spice mixtures, from top chefs, along with recipes for their use.
It’s an idea I wish I had conceived myself. The monthly spice package unwraps like a friend returning from a trip abroad, regaling you with souvenirs and stories, complete with a layer of patterned paper representative of that region. My first spice package revealed glimpses of Punjabi India.
As I learned, traveling to India is a foodie’s contradiction- the most authentic recipes, and pungent plates await at the street level, but avoiding Delhi Belly requires keeping a safe distance. Most of my food associations entail an extreme consciousness of what I ate and drank, but despite the precautions, there were still plenty of immersive moments like sipping authentic chai tea and riding a beautifully adorned Indian elephant.
As a baker, I was drawn to the Chai & Rose Nankhatai Cookie recipe. I used the cookies as a way to revisit my trip to India, through intense spices and elephant shapes. India is a trip I have yet to fully process in my head or organize photographically. There are still folders and folders of images waiting to be sorted and experiences to be recalled. In more ways than one, the spice package sent me wandering.
These cookies became an afternoon shared with friends, exploring the exotic that exists close to home and finding inspiration in the distant. More on that to come!
Whole Grain Chai & Rose Nankhatai Cookies featuring RawSpiceBar
About This Recipe: RawSpiceBar updated this centuries-old Indian shortbreads cookies recipe by adding freshly ground rose buds & chai spices, yielding a peppery, sweet cookie that pairs perfectly with milky tea or coffee. Nankhatai comes from the Persian word “nan” (meaning bread) and the Afghan word “khatai” (meaning biscuit). These little shortbread cookies are said to have originated in Surat in the 16th century, when the Dutch were prominent spice trading partners with the Indians. An Iranian man ran a European style bakery here but, once the Dutch explorers left, had to adapt to low-cost sweet treats for locals. Traditional North Indian Nankhatai do not use any leavening agents but these days a small amount of baking powder and salt is added to give these cookies a lighter feel.
p.s: I received product from RawSpiceBar, but all opinions are my own!