A Desert-Inspired Lemon Ginger Turmeric Layer Cake

Bake and Bakery.

The words are mere letters apart, but off paper, the words may as well have a Grand-Canyon-sized expanse between them. To own and manage a bakery and bake professionally is more akin to running a manufacturing facility than it is to casually grabbing a mixing bowl and satisfying a craving. There’s an economy to repetition, to consistency and precision. Without judgement for those who pursue the bakery route as a means of sharing their creations with the world (with immense gratitude in fact!), I can say hands down, I do not want my own bakery. 

Desert Inspired Lemon, Ginger & Turmeric Cornmeal Layer Cake with Grapefruit Frosting & A Living Succulent // www.WithTheGrains.com

As a home baker, I can be wildly impractical, intensely specific to my eaters and astronomically over budget (what budget?!?). I can choose my recipients. I can have a furry dog running around the kitchen and assign her the title of “Baking Assistant.” I can bake a recipe and never repeat it. I can serve a cake with a living plant planted within the lemony crumbs. I know my place in the baking world, and I revel in it. 

Desert Inspired Lemon, Ginger & Turmeric Cornmeal Layer Cake with Grapefruit Frosting & A Living Succulent // www.WithTheGrains.com

Since I’m not a bakery, commissions are not part of my baking practice, but every once in a while, the right person comes along, who respects my non-commercial kitchen, adores the four-legged assistant and embraces my need for creative freedom. When that person comes along, I break the rules. 

Desert Inspired Lemon, Ginger & Turmeric Cornmeal Layer Cake with Grapefruit Frosting & A Living Succulent // www.WithTheGrains.com

Heather is one of the people for whom I break the rules. A huge supporter of my work, she ever so sweetly asked me last year if she could commission a birthday cake. When she requested the cake capture the flapper era instead of requesting a flavor, I agreed to bake her birthday cake, and the result was one of my favorites so far! 

Desert Inspired Lemon, Ginger & Turmeric Cornmeal Layer Cake with Grapefruit Frosting & A Living Succulent // www.WithTheGrains.com

This May, Heather once again asked me if I would be able to bake her a birthday cake. “What’s the theme?” was my reply! She said she was feeling inspired by Native American patterns and artwork, and my brain began storming. 

Desert Inspired Lemon, Ginger & Turmeric Cornmeal Layer Cake with Grapefruit Frosting & A Living Succulent // www.WithTheGrains.com

The most I have experienced Native American culture was when I took a life-changing summer class called “Earth Works & Sacred Sites.” For 2+ very intense weeks, a small group of us road tripped through Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado and Utah. We hiked National and State Parks and explored earth art installations like Spiral Jetty and the Lightning Field. We explored historical Native American remnants like Mesa Verde and stood in awe of sacred structures. 

Desert Inspired Lemon, Ginger & Turmeric Cornmeal Layer Cake with Grapefruit Frosting & A Living Succulent // www.WithTheGrains.com

My personal ties to Native American culture are steeped in the deserts of the American Southwest, where sands change from bright golds to brick reds with the passing of miles, where I napped in a rock carved by a waterfall, where I soaked up the dry heat like a happy lizard. 

Desert Inspired Lemon, Ginger & Turmeric Cornmeal Layer Cake with Grapefruit Frosting & A Living Succulent // www.WithTheGrains.com

The desert was my inspiration for this cake, whose base was cornmeal, a nod to the Native American civilizations that venerated the vegetable/grain (unlike our modern day agricultural system). The internet is full of ideas for fondant succulents, but I’m morally opposed to fondant, as it seems like an “edible” play dough. Instead, I juiced a grapefruit to flavor the frosting, and then saved the grapefruit rind as a planter for a living succulent. In this way, the cake was a gift that kept on giving. 

Desert Inspired Lemon, Ginger & Turmeric Cornmeal Layer Cake with Grapefruit Frosting & A Living Succulent // www.WithTheGrains.com

Even the cake’s serving plate was a planter base, so Heather could find use for it in her plant collection after the last morsel of cake had disappeared. 

Desert Inspired Lemon, Ginger & Turmeric Cornmeal Layer Cake with Grapefruit Frosting & A Living Succulent // www.WithTheGrains.com

I’m no bakery. I don’t churn out birthday cakes or daily batches of cookies, but for the right person, I am inclined to take on thematic birthday cake challenges.

Happy Birthday Heather! 

Cheers,

Quelcy Signature


Desert Inspired Lemon, Ginger & Turmeric Cornmeal Layer Cake 
with Grapefruit Frosting & A Succulent Planter

About This Recipe: Forget fondant, and give the gift of a real succulent garnish with this desert inspired cake. By saving a grapefruit half, the succulent can be potted without having dirt contaminate the cake. 

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A Spring Brunch featuring Rhubarb Simple Syrup, Rhubarb Compote & Cornmeal Basil Waffles

Ah brunch, society’s way of justifying lazing about, eating too much, doing too little and marrying salty, sweet and saucy (mimosas anyone?). 

A Spring Brunch featuring Rhubarb Simple Syrup, Rhubarb Compote & Cornmeal Basil Waffles // www.WithTheGrains.com

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.

A Spring Brunch featuring Rhubarb Simple Syrup, Rhubarb Compote & Cornmeal Basil Waffles // www.WithTheGrains.com

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!)

A Spring Brunch featuring Rhubarb Simple Syrup, Rhubarb Compote & Cornmeal Basil Waffles // www.WithTheGrains.com

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.

A Spring Brunch featuring Rhubarb Simple Syrup, Rhubarb Compote & Cornmeal Basil Waffles // www.WithTheGrains.com

A Spring Brunch featuring Rhubarb Simple Syrup, Rhubarb Compote & Cornmeal Basil Waffles // www.WithTheGrains.com

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.

A Spring Brunch featuring Rhubarb Simple Syrup, Rhubarb Compote & Cornmeal Basil Waffles // www.WithTheGrains.com

A Spring Brunch featuring Rhubarb Simple Syrup, Rhubarb Compote & Cornmeal Basil Waffles // www.WithTheGrains.com

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.

A Spring Brunch featuring Rhubarb Simple Syrup, Rhubarb Compote & Cornmeal Basil Waffles // www.WithTheGrains.com

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!

A Spring Brunch featuring Rhubarb Simple Syrup, Rhubarb Compote & Cornmeal Basil Waffles // www.WithTheGrains.com

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.

A Spring Brunch featuring Rhubarb Simple Syrup, Rhubarb Compote & Cornmeal Basil Waffles // www.WithTheGrains.com

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). 

A Spring Brunch featuring Rhubarb Simple Syrup, Rhubarb Compote & Cornmeal Basil Waffles // www.WithTheGrains.com

A Spring Brunch featuring Rhubarb Simple Syrup, Rhubarb Compote & Cornmeal Basil Waffles // www.WithTheGrains.com

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.

A Spring Brunch featuring Rhubarb Simple Syrup, Rhubarb Compote & Cornmeal Basil Waffles // www.WithTheGrains.com

A Spring Brunch featuring Rhubarb Simple Syrup, Rhubarb Compote & Cornmeal Basil Waffles // www.WithTheGrains.com

A Spring Brunch featuring Rhubarb Simple Syrup, Rhubarb Compote & Cornmeal Basil Waffles // www.WithTheGrains.com

And if you truly want to eat brunch like this part-time farmer, you DRENCH everything in PURE maple syrup! 

A Spring Brunch featuring Rhubarb Simple Syrup, Rhubarb Compote & Cornmeal Basil Waffles // www.WithTheGrains.com

Happy Brunching!

Quelcy Signature

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

Yield: about 5 8-inch Belgian style waffles.

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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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