Chocolate Cranberry Upside Down Cake w/ @WigleWhiskey

December 2014

There’s a middle-aged man in my neighborhood who lives alone. If you’re familiar with Pittsburgh vernacular, he’s what one would call a yinzer. He might be missing a tooth or more, has a smoker’s cough, and his fashion relies heavily on jerseys. His house is a large vestige of the 80s, complete with drop-ceiling tiles and surely some wood paneling.

He lives simply, fueled by beer, sports, porch sitting, and banter with the equally yinzer neighbors. When I walk up the hill, he greets me, applauds my dog training, and pets little Julep on the head. It’s an endearing exchange to watch. Her tail wags rapidly, he smiles and calls me honey in a not-so-skeezy way.

Cranberry Upside Down Cake // www.WithTheGrains.com

I haven’t seen this man since winter put a wedge in porch sitting, but as I walked by his house recently, I was stopped in my tracks. Rainbow icicle lights draped over the large picture window on the otherwise barren porch. I paused to take in the blinking lights, trying to imagine what went through his head in planning the decor. I spend countless hours poring over design blogs, styled shoots, Pinterest boards, magazines, and more.

I earn money by making scenes come to life before a camera. Yet, a few blocks away, my home was lacking any holiday cheer- a fault of time and a stressed schedule. Without any plans for guests, I hadn’t made a point to decorate for myself, but my neighbor, with his drop ceiling in place, had adorned his porch with rainbow lights.

Cranberry Upside Down Cake // www.WithTheGrains.com

My observation did not emerge from a place of competition or condescension. His Christmas lights fascinated me. I think a lot about beauty and design, about how beauty is so often pegged as a superficial fixation. However, these little touches can really brighten a day, for both the person who decorates and the person who sees it.

We each have our specific styles, our obsessions, and a certain level of indifference when it comes to design elements, but we also have some very human quality that causes us to seek beauty and adornment. This is why I believe in making and sharing beautiful food.

There’s a creative and fulfilling challenge for me in developing the recipes and the plating, and hopefully, there’s an experience for the recipients. Hopefully, we walk away having shared something- a brighter moment, a laugh, or a silence as we enjoy what just passed from fork to mouth.

It may be a while before I feel adult enough or childish enough to buy and decorate my own Christmas tree, but I will be decorating cakes for the holidays, and thanks to my neighbor, I was inspired to add a little fresh greenery, candles, and holiday cheer here and there.

(more…)

1 Comment