Tag Archives: The Blogosphere et Moi

A Cup of Tea With Me!

November 2012

If you have never seen the blog Tea With Me, you’re about to spend hours lost in Heather Mulholland’s beautiful photos of food and landscapes. Her photos are so vivid you will feel the mountain mist hitting your face, smell the food set before you at her table and feel the warmth of her gentle kindness.  I am so honored to share a cup of tea with Heather, albeit a digital cup. I am sure a real teapot is in our future. Until then, check out my spot of tea in her series…

 

A Cup of Tea With Me!

Thanks again, Heather! Also, check out her other tea guests. Heather has curated an inspiring lineup of lovely ladies with lots of creativity and passion.

Food Blogger Dinner at The Porch (Schenley Park, Pittsburgh)

August 2012

My number one regret about my apartment is the lack of outdoor space, so I was excited to learn about a newer, Pittsburgh restaurant named “The Porch.” I was even more excited to learn the name was no misnomer. The restaurant does indeed boast an extensive porch bordering Schenely Park, as well as a large interior. More importantly, The Porch supports many local, agricultural resources.

My opportunity to sit on said porch finally arrived when the Pittsburgh Restaurant Week planners hosted a Food Blogger Dinner. The goal of the summer installment of restaurant week was to highlight food and restaurants through fine dining, fresh harvests and outdoor seating. The goal in incorporating the local food bloggers was to gather and thank those of us who enthusiastically support the city’s growing food scene. Thus, the meal at The Porch also included a few perks.

For starters, we heard from Jamie Moore (left) who works with both the Eat’n Park Hospitality Group and PASA (the Pennsylvania Association for Sustainable Agriculture) to promote and source local agriculture. Jamie spends a lot of time visiting farms and restaurants in the region and facilitating the connections between the two. His interest in sustainable farming really took hold when he married into a dairy farm and started to learn more about the world of a smaller scale farm. Chef Kevin Hermann (right) followed and spoke about the restaurant’s careful attention to food sourcing from its rooftop garden and honeybees to its in-house butchering of local cows. He’s personally involved at all levels from gardening, to butchering to cooking, and he loves every step of the process! Apparently, the only thing he doesn’t really love is sleeping a lot.

Blueberry-Lavender Smash
Featuring Wigle Whiskey and rooftop rosemary

You wanna talk about a cocktail maaaade for porch sippin’? Why would you want to talk about it when you could actually sip one?!?

Even though there was a spell of rain, we were all dry and content on the porch. The rain even added to the scene, as the park began to sparkle with little puddles and water droplets in the returning sunlight.

Keystone Farm Beef Tartare
w/ wild flowers, capers, picholine olives and tomato gastrique

This was 4-star tartare!

The most exciting aspect of the Food Blogger event was the rooftop garden tour! The rooftop is host to herbs, vegetables, flowers and even bumblebees, set against the urban and whimsical backdrop of the city and park respectively.

(The Cathedral of Learning)

Arriving solo to a dinner event can be a little nerve-wracking, but I was fortunate to be seated at a great table! The conversation flowed comfortably from course to course, and I’d love for a repeat with these ladies.  The surprise seating arrangement enabled me to meet the reading, kid-wrangler you might know as Beezus Kiddo, her friend who was along for the experience and Ali of Cheaterbites. We even managed to talk about topics other than food!

Cunningham Farm Pork Saltimbocca
w/wild sage, “Porch” prosciutto, rooftop tomatoes, sweet corn & heirloom beans

One of the perks of eating locally-sourced foods is the increase in flavor, since the food item was picked as close to the time of need as possible. The freshness and preservation of flavor was definitely true of the accent herbs and vegetables in this entree. I was slightly disappointed by the choice to offer this entree as the main course for a food blogger event. I have made a version of this myself, and it’s the type of recipe one would find in the “Quick Meals To Make During The Week” section of a cooking magazine. This is not to say I do not appreciate simplicity, but I would have preferred to see more of the chef’s chops than pork chops. Oh the puns! How they floweth so poorly!

Chocolate-Blueberry Pie
w/ sweet cream and hazelnut brittle

When Chef Kevin described the menu, he was especially enthusiastic about the dessert. “[My goal wasn't to come up here and rave about how good of a pastry chef I am, but today, I made a really good pie!]” He was right! The chocolate and blueberry combination doesn’t happen often, and this little pie made me wonder why? It was a creative and delicious finale, and slowly we made our way from the warmly lit dining room into the glow of street lights and city life.

What excites me most about the prospect of returning to The Porch is how intertwined the changes in the season and the menu will be. I imagine eating a hot squash soup on the porch as the weather requires a sweater or watching the snow collect on the many window frames while enjoying a heartier creation. Though I am a little sorry to have typed the word snow while still dreaming of sundresses. Get to The Porch before this summer is just a memory!

Special thanks to Pittsburgh Restaurant Week for organizing this event and special thanks to my table-mates for being such great dining companions!

Ready For My Closeup: The Final Show at The Waffle Shop + Blog Reflections

July 2012

There was a corner in Pittsburgh that my have caught your eye. Whether it was the curious bilboard atop the building or the large, waffle-shaped sign on the sidewalk, there was something different about that corner.  

That corner was the site of The Waffle Shopa neighborhood restaurant that produced and broadcasted a live-streaming talk show with its customers, operated a changeable storytelling billboard on its roof, and ran a take-out window with food from countries engaged in conflict with the U.S. The shop was a public lab to bring together people from all walks of life to engage in dialogue, experimentation and the co-production of culture. The project functioned as a classroom for students from Carnegie Mellon University, an eatery, a TV production studio, a social catalyst, and a business.

The Waffle Shop was - past tense- all of those things because it has since closed. July 28th, 2012 marked the end of an era for that corner. The Waffle Shop poured the last of its batter onto waffle irons and streamed its last episodes. I was honored to be part of the finale thanks to a special invite from Chef Tom Totin, the host of a weekly program titled “Cookspeak.”

The timing for my appearance on Tom’s program was symbolic for me. Just a little over one year to the date, I had launched my blog on Cookspeak. I had worked privately for more than a year to solidify my photos and stories into something more meaningful. When I caught up to my real time food adventures, I sought to share my blog with the world in a big, celebratory way. Tom and The Waffle Shop immediately came to mind.

Tom’s show became a set of bookends marking these chapters of my life in the blogosphere. Accordingly, much of our most recent “on air” conversation reflected on what I have learned, what I have experienced and what is yet to come in my adventures with the grains. Now I’ll share those thoughts here.

Reflections On A Year in the Blogosphere & Lessons Learned…

Making Food For People Is Far More Satisfying. 

I put a lot of extra care into designing my kitchen and dining room, knowing I’d be spending a lot of time there. It finally dawned on me I needed to share that dining room space for it really to come to life. I started inviting friends over for brunch on a regular basis, and I have posted several of those experiences. Through these brunches, I have been reminded how strong and inspiring my friends are. I have a friend who fights fracking, a friend who promotes the education of girls in science/math/technology, a friend who draws intricate worlds of imagined mechanisms, a friend who knows exactly who she is and beams with positivity! This brunch in particular reminded me how special the people in my life are, and how lucky I am to know them.

The series of posts related to my boyfriend’s birthday also remind me of the significance of preparing meals for the people I hold dear. I’m tremendously grateful to have him in my life, and I wanted him to feel as special as possible for his birthday. In addition to his many amazing qualities, he supports my food fancies. He always lets me take pictures of our food before we eat, and not every fella would be so tolerant, let alone encouraging. I’m very grateful for his patience, and I showed him my appreciation in this birthday video.

Blogging Can Bring Exciting, New Opportunities.

When I first launched my blog, I happened to run into Adam Milliron, a photographer I had met years prior through a photoshoot. I asked him for photography advice. Since he liked my style, we started to do some practice shoots together for fun. One of my favorite shoots with Adam was this ode to Art in the Age liquors. Nearly one year after reconnecting, we worked together professionally on the Sarris Candies catalog (stay tuned for its distribution this winter!!!). This was a huge step for me as I’m very eager to dive deeply into the food styling world.

Blogging Inspired Me To Look At Pittsburgh With Fresh Eyes

When I started to blog about the food and experiences of my travels, I decided to include my Pittsburgh wanderings as well. In many ways, I had begun to feel stagnate in this city. I had lived here a long time and started to feel like everything was the same. When I opened my eyes a tad, I noticed a burgeoning food scene, so I began to incorporate posts about the many noteworthy Pittsburgh restaurants.

My goal was never to act as a food critic in those posts. Though I might make critiques or suggestions for improvement, I’m offering support to the places I see as raising the bar. I have many pictures (again…the patient boyfriend dinner companion) that never make it to the blog because if I have nothing nice to say, I shall follow the ol’ proverb and exercise restraint. On the other hand, when a restaurant really does it right, my enthusiasm shows!

Through these restaurant posts and social media, I have been able to connect more closely with other local foodies and chefs, especially Justin Severino of Cure. I admire his obsessive dedication to sustainable and local foods, a characteristic that became very apparent after attending one of his Sunday hog butchering demos.

I’ve also stretched the bounds of a food blog through some more unique Pittsburgh experiences:

What does brunch have to do with a Porsche? I’m so glad you asked! Find out!

What do small plates and craft cocktails have to do with a giant, water balloon fight? Well, let me tell you!

It’s A Great Big World, But The Internet Can Make It Smaller & Friendlier! 

I hesitated on using twitter, but like many a modern tool, if used correctly and with restraint, it can be an invaluable resource. Through twitter, I happened to connect with a whimsical and creative chocolatier based in Charleston, SC. I still owe him a care package, but he got the ball rolling by sending me a sampler of his chocolates. As a thank you, I made him a video.

I also connected with a PGH blogger who has since relocated to the sunnier coast to live in San Diego. Who can blame him?!? I feel like I’ve known Rodzilla the Diningsaur for a while even though we never had the chance to meet. I liked his writing and trusted his restaurant reviews. Unfortunately for him, he left before Union Pig & Chicken opened, so as part of a promise I made, I took “him” to the restaurant, so to speak, by bringing a cutout of his little diningsaur logo with me. Then I brought “him” to The Waffle Shop because I figured he hadn’t been there either. You’re famous little diningsaur!

My Fifteen Minutes

As we all exist more and more in the digital realm, there is something increasingly special about the tangibile, printed world, which is why seeing myself in an edition of Edible Allegheny was especially rewarding.

I smiled one of my BIGGEST, longest-lasting smiles ever on July 4th of this year. On that day, I opened my inbox to discover it had been bombarded with emails from WordPress (my blogging platform). I thought I had been spammed until I looked at my stats. On the contrary, I had been featured on WordPress’s “Freshly Pressed” page, where they highlight standout blogs. There was a picture of my avocado egg recipe, and it was a dream come true for a WordPress blogger.  I was so honored and happily overwhelmed by all the comments and praises. It still makes me really giddy inside!

What’s Next?

I’m taking some time on my blog to focus on the simple moments in life (such as this stoop picnic), to step back and focus on intentional happiness. Hopefully, I won’t come across as a cheesey lifecoach, but I am investigating a lot of life questions that are common for my age.

You will see even more touches of my style online and in publications! I’m pursuing more food styling opportunities, so if you know of any, send them my way! I dare say, you’ll probably see a portfolio soon because that’s the grown up thing to do!

No editors or publishers or independently wealthy individuals have contacted me, so I can’t say there is a book in the works yet, but I would love to turn With The Grains into something you could hold, dog ear, write on, stain, wrinkle and cherish.

You’ll probably see me experiment more with graphic design, as I’d like to learn more about the rules of the design game. If you are a graphic designer and love bestowing your wisdom upon eager learners, let’s grab some coffee and talk!

Branding! Ooh, that’s a topic that interests me quite a bit. I also like change. Combine that interest and that habit, and you’re bound to see some changes around here.

A wedding cake(s)! When I launched my blog on Cookspeak, I mentioned I’ve always wanted to make a wedding cake. This September, I will be doing just that! I’m thrilled my dear friends have asked me to make the cakes for their special day.

I’m looking forward to even more connections with other bloggers, online food publications, chefs and foodies.

In honor of The Waffle Shop, might I remind you of these delicious waffles? You really must give them a try!

In Conclusion

I love my little corner of the blogosphere. I love creating and preserving memories. I hope my passion inspires you in some way, or in the least, fancies your eye because if you are reading this, you are part of what has made this year quite magical for me! Now go find ten friends and tell them to read too! Cheers!

ps: I created various versions of a flier to leave for The Waffle Shop brunchers, but you might spy some around the town as well.

Dear WordPress, You Have Made Me A Very Happy Blogger!

Hello WordPressers,

I’m sure we all, as WordPressers, have shared a similar feeling and whimsy when logging into our blogs- the Freshly Pressed feature.  Oh to be a featured blog, to see one’s own image and blog name on the very pages of the platform that pushed us into the blogosphere!

Avocado-Served

Yesterday I couldn’t believe my eyes when I looked at my blog stats- in the thousands?!? Whaaaat happened?!?  Then I discovered my little avocados on the Freshly Pressed page (top right corner). My musings had finally come true, and so many witty, creative, talented bloggers left encouraging comments and praises.  There is still a smile filling my face from ear to ear!

In case you missed it, my featured Avocado Idea is here.

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Third Time’s A Charm: The Kinfolk Dinner Series

May 2012

Once upon an internet stroll, I happened upon a beautiful, blossoming endeavor entitled Kinfolk.  Beneath a video that admittedly moves my overly sentimental side to watery eyes, was a manifesto that spoke straight to my sensibilities:

Kinfolk is a growing community of artists with a shared interest in small gatherings. We recognize that there is something about a table shared by friends, not just a wedding or once-a-year holiday extravaganza, that anchors our relationships and energizes us…. Kinfolk is the marriage of our appreciation for art and design and our love for spending time with family and friends.

Thus, I made a habit of regularly visiting the pages of Kinfolk.  What impressed me beyond the refined design and the enviable places and products (and they are enviable!), was the way the site seemed to preserve  meaningful moments in time.  Reading Kinfolk feels like a quiet visit to a memory.  

Beyond the awe inspiring posts and publications, Kinfolk began a dinner series tour! When I noticed Philadelphia on the list of cities in the tour, at Terrain specifically, my mind began whirling. Before I knew it, my finger was clicking the option to enter the lottery for tickets. Fortunately, whimsy and practicality worked in a harmony entitled Memorial Day Weekend!

This harmony almost did not come to beautiful, burlap accented fruition. The lottery for dinner tickets did not favor me, but the Monday before the dinner, I received an uplifting email.  Due to a few cancellations, there was room for me and my guest should I still want to attend. Should I still want to attend?!?  Of course I did!

Beyond the excitement of taking part in a Kinfolk dinner, I was especially thrilled with the choice of location.  This marked my third attempt to eat at Terrain.  Please excuse what will surely sound like the “woe is me” ramblings of first world problems when I say my first attempt to visit Terrain (not just Terrain but a craft beer and local honey festival!!!) was thwarted by the heavy rains of a passing hurricane (on the up side, I prepared this meal for my friends, and they’re still talking about it!).  On the second attempt, I took my good old time meandering through the store then joined my place in line to be seated.  As my turn came, I looked at the hostess hopefully, and she announced my second failure- they were no longer taking names.  Hence, attempt number two was a beautiful fail. As I arrived at Terrain, yet again, the other two fails felt purposeful, as if they had led me to this third time, the beautiful, enchanting charm!

And oh, was it charming!

If you, like me, associated Pennsylvania wines with the taste of communion, then you, like me, will be thrilled to discover a wine that proves us wrong.  From what I gather, what distinguishes Galer wines is the intentional choice of which exceptional grapes are suited for PA soils versus existing PA grape varieties turned into wine. Dr. Galer also sought experts in the field of viticulture when he began his endeavor, which you can read about here.

To Start

Flower Pot Bread:  tarragon honey butter, smoked sea salt

Mixed Field Greens:  sliced radishes, wild strawberries, toasted almonds, micro basil, balsamic vinaigrette

Main

Rosemary Honey Mustard Leg of Lamb

Quinoa:  sugar snap peas, baby carrots, english peas, pea tendrils

Kennett Square Mushroom Skillet:  wild mushrooms, organic eggs

Sauteed Lancaster County Vegetables:  Fiddlehead ferns, garlic scapes, dwarf bok choy

Sweets

Strawberry Rhubarb Pie

Pecan Pie

To see the beautiful menu in its full glory, click here.  The design came all the way from a talented artist in the Netherlands named Anja Mulder.

Even the napkins added a clean and rustic touch, so I adorned my lap very proper like.

Do you spy the brilliant idea in the photo on the right?  I shall soon try my hand at gardening little pots of soft, fluffy and slightly sweet bread.  Beyond the brilliance of the idea, the bread was one of the most delicious breads I have ever sampled (and I have sampled quite an array of breads!).

One benefit of eating with foodies and photo fiends is the patience given to the documentation of beautiful meals.  These weren’t just any foodies either!  I’ve been a fan of Something’s Hiding in Here ever since I saw the tour of Shauna and Stephen’s Philadelphia loft, so meeting the incredibly enthusiastic and humble couple was much like a celebrity encounter for this dorky blog reader.

Sitting directly to my right was Sullivan Owen, who had adorned the Terrain barn with her floral designs.  Aside from being very friendly and talented, Sullivan offered me lots of business inspiration!  I hope to spend more time learning from Sullivan in the future, and if that time is accented by one of her stunning arrangements, all the better!

That wasn’t all!  Across the table were Andrew and Carissa, the lovely couple behind many a Kinfolk video, specifically the Manifesto video that drew me to Kinfolk in the first place!  I can’t wait to see what they culled from this dream dinner.

Quite the plate!  My favorite main was the Kennet Square Mushroom Skillet. The mushrooms were quite meaty!

One might expect the coffee to be prepared with utmost care at a dinner focused on bringing people together, and one would be right.  Two Rachels served coffee prepared specially for each and every coffee partaker.

They even sent us on our merry ways with a creatively packaged single brew sample.

Additionally, Sullivan offered her floral displays as a generous token of her talents, and the very stylish farmers of Happy Cat Farm bestowed organic tomato plants upon us and an extra pack of seeds in the little totes on a big mission from Nest.  The night just continued to impress!

It was a beautiful dream dinner, and I was so grateful to be a part of it!  My third attempt at Terrain was beyond a charm. Kinfolk shared their own account of the night through the multiple lenses of this talented and personable photographer. I love how dark and saturated Parker’s images are, and I was especially excited to see this photo made the cut.  ;)

Here’s hopin’ many of us cross paths again!

Once Upon A Sticky Toffee Time in London

November 2011/March 2012

In the back of my mind- in the very back of my mind- I knew he was going to London with his family.  The front of my mind [clearly this post is steeped in "neuroscience"] was focused very intently on escaping my home base, adventuring and feeling very, very far from certain sad gray clouds hovering over me.  I looked at flights to Paris very longingly, but I concluded I owed it to myself to try a new locale.  That’s when London popped into my mind, and once I get an idea like that in my head, all the best to you should you try to stand in my way!

I had already set my idea into motion when the back and front of my mind began working in conjunction again [even more neuroscience].  Oh yeaaaah… he‘s going to London too! The “coincidence” of my destination choice seemed questionable since I had joked about wanting to be a member of his family (whose travel history included a family vacation on the Amalfi Coast!!!  Pick me!!!), but I am sticking to my story- his trip was unrelated to my planning!

The motives of my story became all the more questionable as the two of us grew closer.  At first, we were two friends who happened to be traveling to the same major metropolis at the very same time.  We thought we’d meet up and maybe share some London sightseeing, but as the trip approached, our friendship became something far more significant!  I had unknowingly arranged to travel to London with my SigFig to be and his entire family!

Who does that?!?  This girl!

So it was I came to spend the Thanksgiving holiday in a foreign land with my new boyfriend’s family.  With any other family, this may have been odd or intrusive, but my special one comes from a tremendous family who generously included me in their wanderings and explorations of one of the most captivating cities on earth!

Thanks to the sister/tour guide, who had been exploring London for an entire semester, I came to experience a phenomenon called “sticky toffee pudding,” which isn’t all that sticky, nor is it really pudding.  Oh those Brits!

My first sticky toffee encounter occurred at Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese Pub, which is notable for a few reasons:

1.  Its age!  It was rebuilt in 1667 after The Great Fire of London, meaning some semblance of Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese Pub existed even earlier than that!

2.  The entrance is quietly tucked away from the commotion of the street, marked by a beautiful sign and surrounded by beautiful brickwork.

3.  To arrive at the cellar requires an acute awareness of one’s body in space, as the winding stairwell is narrow, and the ceilings are quite low.

4.  The rustic wood!  There was wood everywhere, and “rustic” does not do justice to the age in those dark wood grains.

5.  The concept of the British pub is brilliant in general- good drinks and comfort food in a unique and dignified setting!  To eat and drink at a pub is like eating mom’s Sunday dinner in the den of an old fashioned gentleman (It’s the style I channeled for this shoot).

Why, oh why America, do you not adopt such a concept en masse?!?

The sister/tour guide was wide eyed and very nearly drooling as she ordered “sticky toffee pudding” at record speed (try saying it five times fast!).  Her eagerness was intriguing. Beyond my bowl of creamy corn soup (again..such delectable food for a bar!) was the answer to my question, “what is sticky toffee pudding?”  My bite from the shared bowl provided the answer:  warm, spongy cake in a pool of custard with a sweet surface layer.

Part of why I travel is to be inspired creatively and culinarily, and that bowl of sticky toffee pudding sure did inspire!  The special cabin in the woods was the perfect place for my first attempt, and my special one was the perfect partner for sharing dessert.  Not surprisingly, the recipe inspiration came from the delicious photos of one of my favorite blogs, Tea With Me.

Sticky Toffee Pudding
Recipe adapted from Tea With Me. 

Dates!  Who knew?!?  Dates are one of the prominent ingredients in sticky toffee pudding, so it’s really a wonder this traditional dessert did not come to be known as “caramel date cake.”

The sneaky Bear-Pig tried to nab the dates as they soaked, but his attempts were foiled!

Sticky Toffee Pudding

Ingredients

1 cup dates, pitted
2 cups boiling water
1 tsp baking soda

2 cups whole-wheat pastry flour
3 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt

1/4 cup organic, unsalted butter
1 cup turbinado sugar
1 egg (local/free-range), beaten

1 Tablespoon AITA Snap

For the Sticky Toffee Pudding

In a separate bowl, pour boiling water over dates and baking soda. Let sit until all or most of the water is absorbed (ideal time for a forest wander).  Add a splash or two of AITA Snap for an extra kick.

In a separate bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder and salt.

Cream butter and sugar until lighter in color and fluffy. Beat in egg gradually.

Fold in the flour mixture.

Add the date mixture.

Mix in the Snap.

Pour in a greased oven proof glass baking dish.

Bake on the middle rack for 250 degrees F for 40 min.

Caramel Sauce

1/3 cup organic, unsalted butter
1 cup organic brown sugar
4 tbsp organic heavy cream

For the Caramel Sauce

Melt butter in a pan, add sugar and cream, stirring all the time for about 3 minutes.

Cut a slice of pudding, serve with a dollop of whipped cream and drizzles of caramel sauce.

Snap Whipped Cream

1 cup organic heavy cream, chilled
2-3 Tablespoons pure maple syrup
1-2 Tablespoons pure vanilla extract
3-4 Tablespoons AITA Snap

For the Whipped Cream

Combine all the ingredients in a chilled bowl. Use an electric mixer to beat until peaks form. Keep chilled until ready to serve.

More To Come…!

I’m not about to offer the sister/tour guide my first ever attempt at sticky toffee pudding, especially since this version reminded me more of my mother’s banana bread than my afternoon at that wooden table.  Thus I see much more sticky toffee experimentation on my horizon.  There is also so much more of my London wanderings I intend to share, so…

Stay tuned!

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A Diningsaur, A Pig & A Chicken

March 2012

I have forged a few foodie bonds through that chirping bird (exhibit A)!  One such Twitter foodie friend escaped the Pittsburgh scene before we even had a chance to meet.  I don’t fault Rodzilla Reviews too much, since he left for sunnier skies, West Coast vibes and to be involved with this appetizing endeavor.  Before he left Pittsburgh, he offered a parting giveaway:  a $40 gift certificate to Union Pig & Chicken (note the offering occurred prior to the opening, so the anticipation was intense!!).

Failing to internalize the “random” aspect of the giveaway, I offered this as the reason I should have won:

Esteemed Rodzilla,

If I win, I’ll wear an orange neckerchief AND bring a dinosaur to the dinner table. I’ll take lots of pictures, so you’ll feel as though you actually enjoyed the gift card. I’ll also be less bitter about you leaving for a warmer place. Additionally, this gift card would really help me not to crave Meat & Potatoes for one night (and maybe one night only). And if I really have to dig deep, I’ll throw out the term “care package” for the win [I'm holding off on my "care package" claims for the time being, since that diningsaur is busy feasting on beauties like this, in constant sunshine and perfect breezes]! In conclusion, thanks in advance!

Ever so humbly,

QTK

ps: I’m really competitive, so I’m trying really hard to resist trash talking here. I can’t promise anything if a lot more people respond.

I didn’t win.  The luck of the draw did not favor me, but true to my word…

Rodzilla the Diningsaur’s Trip to Union Pig & Chicken

He did try to eat the menu.  It made me questions his tastes.

Blueberry Mint Rock & Rye (a special for the night)
You sure were thirsty, but after the hints of berry and mint were gone, you concluded the Onion, Black Pepper & Local Maple Rock & Rye is still the superior drink option.

Pork Shoulder
Though you did eat your fair share of that shoulder, your consumption was largely aided by the flavor and strength of the sauces.  You were left wanting. 

Damn if you didn’t help yourself to that cornbread!  It’s so sweet and buttery!  I tried to fight you, but in the end, I let you win [full disclosure:  you complimented my orange neckerchief, and the flattery caused me to let down my guard].

You’d heard some negative comments about the beans, but what did that British fella know anyway?!?  You liked the sweet kick to the bbq beans, and you also wondered…were those bites of hotdog from the other Sousa joint?!?

Your favorite?!?  The ribs!  Obviously.  You were pretty luck to snag any ribs at all once Jono set his eyes on his bbq prize!  Your snarl must have intimidated him into sharing. That’s a good trick!

Rodzilla the Diningsaur forgot to add one more comment:  it was so obvious to him the menu lacks PIE!!!  Cherry pie would look lovely with the red checkerboard decor!  It would look even lovelier with a dollop of homemade ice cream?!?  Maybe pecan pie or a lemon chess pie would be more traditional?

In the end, Rodzilla loved the long wooden tables, wooden walls, low hanging lights and hints of red so much, he decided to stay at Union Pig & Chicken permanently (he was also feeling a little too greasy to enter the world anyway).

So concluded your bbq adventure With The Grains!

Bourbon Berries Between Bread (Cinnamon Pull Apart Loaf)

February 2012

College friends disperse.  High school friends fade.  Middle school friends were a flux at the mercy of fickle times!  Elementary school kids are distant memories of Ninja Turtle sweatsuits.  Toddlerhood and babyhood friends?  Those are usually just arranged “friendships,” but oddly enough, one of the girls from my toddler days has stayed in my life through all the forks in the friendship road.  When we come together, it’s as if we never have parted.

In my case, the little girl from the green house remained a friend long after we both left the neighborhood that brought us together.  A lot of time had escaped us since our last visit, so we planned a brunch to remedy the passing of time.  I’d spied this pull apart bread on Joy the Baker‘s bright, sunny side of the blogosphere.  A visit from a longtime friend was the perfect occasion to pull apart layers of freshly baked bread while reminiscing through the many layers of our friendship.

I like to fiddle with cinnamon roll fillings.  Since this bread is much like slicing through a cinnamon roll, my gears were turning.  What to discover between the cinnamony layers?  My minty green kitchen answered the question for me.  Aha!  Perched atop the shelf was a jar containing dried cranberries and cherries, soaking up a good ol’ dose of Wild Turkey Bourbon.  This friend of mine is a Southerner [in the making] after all!

Bourbon Between Bread
(Cinnamon Sugar Pull-Apart Bread)

Makes: one 9x5x3-inch loaf

Bourbon Berries*
3/4 cup all natural, dried cranberries and dried cherries
Wild Turkey Bourbon

For the Bourbon Berries

Put the dried cranberries and cherries in a container with a lid, such as a mason jar. Add enough bourbon to cover the berries. Let soak until the berries have rehydrated and plumped. Reserve whatever liquid and berries remain after assembling the berry layer of the bread.

Dough Ingredients

2 3/4 cups plus 2 tablespoons whole-wheat pastry flour
1/4 cup turbinado sugar
2 1/4 teaspoons (1 envelope) active dry yeast
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 organic lemon, zested
1 Tablespoon freshly ground ginger

2 large eggs, at room temperature

4 Tablespoons organic, unsalted butter
1/3 cup organic whole milk

1/4 cup water
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 Tablespoon Wild Turkey

Filling Ingredients

Bourbon berries*
1 cup turbinado sugar
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon fresh ground nutmeg
1 teaspoon pure cocoa
2 ounces unsalted butter, melted until browned

For the Bread

In a large mixing bowl whisk together 2 cups flour, sugar, yeast, salt, lemon zest and ginger. Set aside.

Whisk together eggs and set aside.

In a small saucepan, melt together milk and butter, until butter has just melted. Remove from the heat and add water, vanilla extract and whiskey. Let mixture stand for a minute or two to cool slightly.

Pour the milk mixture into the dry ingredients and mix with a spatula.

Add the eggs and stir the mixture until the eggs are incorporated into the batter.

Add the remaining 3/4 cup of flour and stir with the spatula for about 2 minutes. The mixture will be sticky.

Place the dough in a large, greased bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and a clean kitchen towel. Place in a warm space and allow to rest until doubled in size, about 1 hour.

The dough can be risen until doubled in size, then refrigerated overnight for use in the morning. If using this method, let the dough rest on the counter for 30 minutes before following the roll-out directions below.

While the dough rises, whisk together the sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg and cocoa for the filling. Set aside.

Melt 2 ounces of butter until browned. Set aside.

Lightly grease a 9x5x3-inch loaf pan and line with a sheet of parchment paper.

Deflate the risen dough and knead about 2 Tablespoons of flour into the dough. Cover with a clean kitchen towel and let rest for 5 minutes.

On a lightly floured work surface, use a rolling pin to roll the dough out. The dough should be 12-inches tall and about 20-inches long or thereabouts.

Use a pastry brush to spread browned butter across the dough. Sprinkle with all of the cinnamon mixture.

Slice the dough vertically, into six equal-sized strips.

Spread the bourbon berries over every other strip.

Stack the strips on top of one another and slice the stack into six equal slices once again (six stacks of six squares).

Squish the dough squares in the loaf pan.

Place a kitchen towel over the loaf pan and allow in a warm place for 30 to 45 minutes or until almost doubled in size.

Place a rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 350 degrees F.

Place loaf in the oven and bake for 30 to 35 minutes, until the top is very golden brown. The top may be lightly browned, but the center may still be raw. A nice, dark, golden brown will ensure that the center is cooked as well. If you have a lid for your loaf pan, it will help prevent the top from burning. You could also use tinfoil for most of the baking time.

Remove from the oven and allow to rest for 20 to 30 minutes.

Use the parchment paper to pull out the loaf and transfer to a plate.

Slice and serve with bourbon buttercream!

Berried Bourbon Buttercream

Ingredients

1 package of organic Neufchatel cheese, at room temperature
¼ cup bright yellow Irish butter, at room temperature
2-3 Tablespoons pure maple syrup
1-2 Tablespoons organic brown sugar
2-3 Tablespoons bourbon reserved from Bourbon Berries*

Directions

Combine all the ingredients in a medium sized mixing bowl. Use an electric mixer or food processor to beat until smooth.

Dollop onto the pull apart bread!

Then go ahead and pull that bread apart!

Stay tuned for the rest of my brunch with my babyhood friend!

Header_sweeteeth

Commercial Break

February 2012

I “met” Johnny Battles through Twitter, once again proving beyond @x and @y’s excessive sharing of mundane details in 140 characters or less, Twitter is an amazing way to connect to interesting people in the world.  Through our brief chirps, the idea of a goods exchange arose.  Mr. Sweeteeth got the ball rolling with this brilliant package!

Thus, I interrupt my regularly scheduled birthday updates to bring you this special announcement…

I’m not always the best with timeliness you see, so dear Sweeteeth, please accept this video as my sincerest thanks and a bit of a stopgap while I brainstorm which baked goods of mine to send down south.  In the meantime, I am very much looking forward to the Sea is for Caramel bar and this Chocosaurus

Merci Beaucoup,

With The Grains

Art in the Age of a New Age: Ushering in 2012 (Part Two)

The Last Bits of 2011

After brunch, muddy mountain roads led us by chipping paint and old barns to the top of the world!  Well, to the top of Pennsylvania?  To the top of a mountain rather.

I used to play in an old red barn as a kid, and someday, I hope to refurbish an old barn into a home/studio space.  For the 2012 cusp, I simply admired the old barn beam colors against the gray December skies.

We passed almost as many buggies as we did cars and trucks on the wet and winding road that day.  Things were mostly just still and quiet.

We hit the vista as the last bits of light were fading, and the temperature was dropping, which made the promise of a fireplace, champagne and a home cooked meal all the more enticing.

The transition to dinner started with a little cheese spread to energize our cooking endeavor.

Might I suggest…
(clockwise from the top right corner)

Humboldt Fog
Gjetost Norwegian Brown Cheese
Brilla Savarin Cave Aged (similar to brie with a little less stink)
Drunken Goat
Trois Petits Cochons Mousse de Foie de Canard au Porto
(decent, but nowhere near as good as freshly made…note to self:  add pate to my kitchen To Do list)
Ossau Iraty Pyrenees Brebis
(a harder cheese- award winning according to the Whole Foods Connoisseur)
Whole Wheat Bread
(Unfortunately not made by me.  I was too busy staring at barns all day)

Patient hands waited for my camera clicking fingers to snap a few photos before diving into the spread.  That patience and understanding is only part of why I like him so much!

I recently read Le Voyage Créatif’s thoughtful and dreamlike post in which she returned to the cheese of her childhood, a brown Norwegian cheese I had yet to come across in my fromage journeys.  I was quite surprised and excited to find a half wheel at the grocery store that provided our last provisions before entering the quieter countryside.

There’s something really hopeful in how the internet and a world of food lovers can inspire new associations and memories in readers and writers far, far away.  Thanks to Le Voyage Créatif, I will now think of slivers of this mild and subtly caramely cheese against a backdrop of cold air, blue-tinted, mountain views, a warm fireplace, a new furry blanket, bubbling libations and a brand new year!

Dinner landed on the table just in time to curl up our fancy dress clothes underneath a warm blanket (bc even in a remote cabin, it’s fun to wear something fancy), watch Lady Gaga lead the ball drop effort on the big screen and toast some bubbly to 2012!  As per the theme of the weekend, dinner was a tribute to our favorite historical elixirs- Art in the Age Root & Rhuby.

Art in the Age of a New Age
The Last Dinner of 2011 & The First Dinner of 2012

The Menu
(see *recipes below)

Rhuby Moyo” Cocktails

Roasted Salmon with Rhuby Apricot Mango Reduction

Roasted Root Vegetables

Chocolate Chip Cake with Root Infusion & Whipped Topping
(more on dessert to come here!)

Not only were our champagne cocktails ushering in a brand new age, they were commemorating both a lasting friendship and a brand new friendship.  Once upon a college time, I spent six unforgettable months in Buenos Aires, Argentina.  I lived with four really special ladies from all over the world.  One of those ladies, Rumbi Moyo became a best friend dear!

My beautiful friend Rumbi is wise beyond her years.  She manages a challenging full time job, raises twin boys (no easy task!) and still manages to spend a night dancing every now and then.  She’s a remarkable lady, and this little paragraph fails to do even the slightest justice to how I fortunate I feel to have her in my life (albeit it remotely).

On my first ever journey to London (more on that to come, I really do promise!), Rumbi treated Jono and me to seafood and champagne at St. Pancras station.  It was a really lovely time and fulfilled another friend’s predictions for my life- the universe raining champagne and pearls upon me (my time is now, dear friends)!  Can you imagine a better way of passing an afternoon than having two of your nearest and dearest meet at an old train station in London for champagne and seafood?!?  I cannot!

Thus as we celebrated the grand adventures of 2011 and the hopeful 2012 horizons, Jono mixed what he called a “Rhuby Moyo” in honor of my dear friend.  We anticipate more experimenting on this cocktail, but in the meantime, cheers to you, dear Rumbi!  Come visit us soon, and we’ll add a third glass to the table!

The Rhuby Moyo

Champagne
Simple Syrup (from demerara sugar)
Art in the Age Rhuby
Peychaud Bitters
Orange Peel

Combine 1 jigger of Rhuby and 1/4 jigger simple syrup in a champagne glass.  Fill with champagne, and top with 2-3 dashes of Peychaud bitters.  Garnish with orange peel and toast to good friends and a brand new year!

As the NYE programming slowed, we switched to a the glamor of a past era via Sunset Boulevard.  The champagne bubbled, the fire crackled, and the black and white film ran its dramatic course.  With such a perfect start, 2012 must be bound for good things!

The Recipes

Roasted Salmon
w/ Rhuby Apricot Mango Reduction

Ingredients

1 pound salmon, cut into 2 equal-sized fillets
1/4 cup maple syrup
1 garlic clove, minced
1 Tablespoon fresh ginger, chopped
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
1 shot Rhuby
5 oz organic apricot fruit spread
~2 Tablespoons chopped red onion
1 small orange, chopped
1 mango, chopped
Sea salt & pepper to taste

Directions

Preheat the oven to 450 F.

Lightly coat a baking pan with cooking spray.

In a small saucepan over low heat, mix together the maple syrup, garlic, ginger and balsamic vinegar. Heat just until hot and remove from heat. Pour half of the mixture into a small bowl to use for basting, and reserve the rest for later.

Pat the salmon dry. Place skin-side down on the baking sheet. Brush the salmon with the maple syrup mixture.

Bake about 10 minutes, brush again with maple syrup mixture, and bake for another five minutes.

Meanwhile, in a medium saucepan, combine 2 Tablespoons of the balsamic sauce, Rhuby, apricot fruit spread, orange and half the mango.

Continue to baste and bake the fish until flakes easily, about 20 to 25 minutes total.

Cut the remaining half mango into chunks and mix into the apricot sauce.

Transfer the salmon fillets to plates. Sprinkle with salt and black pepper, and top with reserved maple syrup and the apricot sauce.

Roasted Root Vegetables

The Root flavor in this root vegetable mix is subtle, but it definitely added a little extra spice to the taste.  Most diners would probably have a hard time guessing the source of the extra flavor.  This was my first pass, but I’m eager for more experimenting, especially when the recipe entails a pun.   

Ingredients

2-3 Tablespoons Organic, unsalted butter
1 parsnip, sliced
1 small sweet potato, sliced
4-5 carrots, sliced
1 small red onion, chopped
4-5 garlic cloves, sliced
1 medium beet, sliced

Root Sauce

½ cup pure maple syrup
½ cup water
¼ cup balsamic vinegar
Orange peel
½ cup Root

For the Roasted Vegetables

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F.

Melt the butter in a large baking dish or skillet.

Remove from the oven, and add the sliced vegetables.  Roast for 45-60 minutes, until tender, stirring occasionally.

Meanwhile, after about 30 minutes of roasting, combine the maple syrup and water in a saucepan over medium high heat until dissolved.

Add the balsamic vinegar and orange peel, and continue to stir.

Reduce heat to low and continue to simmer.

As the vegetables finish roasting, add the Root to the sauce, stirring to combine.

Remove from heat, and remove the orange peel.

Remove the vegetables from the oven and stir in the Root sauce.

Serve just in time for a brand new year!

On Meals and Memories (The Spaces Between Your Fingers Project)

September 2011

If you knew your time was short, and you could give your child or grandchild one piece of advice, what would it be?  That is the question Matthew Ross Smith asks as part of his “The Spaces Between Your Fingers” project.  I am privileged to know Matt thanks to my fine flock of Philly friends, and I continue to be impressed by the sincerity and creativity of Matt’s mission to share wisdom between generations and to support families struggling with Alzheimer’s Disease.  As part of World Alzheimer’s Day, Matt posed another question/exercisewrite about one of your “kitchen table memories.” Doesn’t have to be long, or make any great point, just bring us there as vividly as you can.

Matt’s project stems from his experience with his grandfather.  I remember the day my dad threw out the term “Alzheimer’s” in reference to my own grandfather.  He said it as if we all knew, but I had no idea.  I just thought my grandfather was old, and memories (unlike his steady stock of jokes) fade, but apparently doctors had officially declared his dementia as something more serious and official. Thus, it seemed fitting that my response be about my grandfather as well.  Much like Grandpa Wagner, brevity has never really been my thing, but here goes…

On Meals and Memories
(For Matt)

“Home is where the heart is” supposedly, but part of why I wanted to study architecture was because I really believed in the power of walls and the specifics of a place.  One of the prominent structures convincing me of this alternative view was the always-unlocked farmhouse at the end of a long, dusty road in small town South Dakota.  This was the home of my Grandparents- Lawrence and Sedonia. 

Unfortunately, I didn’t have too many opportunities to visit them, but I associate them so strongly with that farmhouse.  I used to draw floor plans of their home long before I stepped foot in an architecture studio.  Those walls, floors, roof and windows shaped how I understood and related to my Grandparents.  To this day, I can smell the house, feel the change from the low carpet of the entry to the thicker living room carpet; see the food scrap bin by the sink that would eventually compost in the garden; feel the coolness caused by shade trees; feel the warmth of walking through the bedroom door to the roof, and above all, I can still hear the bustle of my grandmother in the kitchen. 

Anyone who knew Sedonia, knew her to be inextricably linked to that kitchen and caring for others.  There was a smaller table, where I would eat breakfast while Grandma was busy peeling fruit or prepping a batter of some sort.  I might go outside to walk the country roads with my sister, the farm dog trailing behind us, or I might read on that rooftop spot or test drive the rusting tractors.  Meanwhile, Grandma would continue to bustle around that kitchen.  Once the sun indicated noon and Grandpa recorded yet another observation of the day’s weather in his journal, it was time to gather around the larger, dining room table. 

There were many meals there, but I will always remember one specific fried chicken lunch and not just because it was the best fried chicken I’d ever had.  The memory I have archived forever happened at the end of the meal.  What I saw on my plate was scrap and bone, but what Grandpa saw was perfectly good fried chicken going to waste.  He not only showed me what a very clean chicken bone looks like, but he grabbed a slice of bread and sopped up any grease sticking to the plate.  He didn’t stop at my pickings either.  I had city-spoiled sisters with equally promising plates. 

My grandfather died this spring at the ripe ol’ age of 92, and he didn’t die of clogged arteries.  He really proved to me how far hard work, a good attitude and a strong appreciation for homemade fried chicken can take a person in life.  He and my grandmother also showed me one of the greatest loves of all time.  Theirs was a love developed through dance, protected between two holding hands and shared at the dining room table. That always-unlocked farmhouse at the end of the long, dusty road really housed a lot of heart.     

Thanks Matt.

Pique-Nique Planning

September 2011

I had this idea brewing for a while:  a Pique-nique at Fleatique, a monthly outdoor flea market/antique show fusion that happens at an old, coal mine site, outside Pittsburgh.  “Coal mine site” might seem like a horrible picnic location idea, but the grounds are grassy and tree lined and lovely.  The previous month, the skies were too threatening to my picnic basket plans, so we lunched inside instead, but the September skies were promising!  We proceeded with the picnic plans!

Pique-Nique Planning

Kneadless bread has been all over the baking blogosphere.  I am way behind on this trend, and after my own experiment, I’m not fully convinced that kneading is the enemy.  I did like the crumb and crust of my little loaves, but I wanted more flavor.  If I try this method again, I am going to add more complexity via honey, toasted grains or maybe a nut of some sort.  That being said, this bread served us nicely on a sunny Sunday, on a red checkered tablecloth, under shade trees.

See what you think.

No Knead French Bread

3 cups lukewarm water
2 Tablespoons active dry yeast (2 packets)
1 1/2 tablespoons coarse salt
3 1/2 cups local unbleached, all-purpose flour
3 ½ cups whole-wheat pastry flour

In a large mixing bowl, combine the water, yeast, and salt.  Set aside for a few minutes to allow the yeast to combine.

In a separate bowl, combine the flours, and then add them all at once to the yeast mixture.  Use a wooden spoon to stir.  You do not need to form a dough ball, but stir until no flour streaks remain and everything is well mixed.

Loosely cover the bowl with plastic wrap or a damp, lint-free towel.  Set aside for a few hours to rise.

After the dough has risen and deflated slightly, dust your hands with flour, and remove a portion of dough approximately the size of a grapefruit.  At this point, you could also refrigerate the dough if you’re not ready to use it or any remaining dough.

Pull the sides of the dough toward the bottom to form a loaf shape and a smooth surface.

Dust a surface with a cornmeal to prevent sticking, and let the dough rest for at least 40 minutes (longer if you have refrigerated the dough).

Put it on a cutting board that’s been dusted with cornmeal to prevent sticking, and let it rest for at least 40 minutes (longer if the dough has been refrigerated).

Twenty minutes prior to baking, put a pizza stone in the middle rack of the oven.  Place a broiler pan on the bottom rack.  Preheat the oven to 450 degrees.

After the remaining twenty minutes and oven preheating, dust the loaves with flour and slash the surfaces with a sharp knife.

Slide the loaf (or loaves) onto the baking stone.  Quickly pour 1 cup of water into the broiler pan, and shut the oven door promptly to trap the steam inside the oven.

Bake for 30 to 40 minutes, until you get a nice brown crust.

Remove and let cool completely.

Pique-niquing ladies cannot live by bread alone…

Porquetta (recommended by the friendly Italian at Penn Mac), honey crisp apples, Danish Blue, speck, sardo cheese and local pears.

and chevre!

Of course there needed to be a dessert to extend the afternoon lazing!

Chocolate Chip Hazelnut Cookies & Cookie Cups

Ingredients

1 ¾ cups whole-wheat pastry flour
½ teaspoon baking soda
14 Tablespoons local unsalted butter (1 ¾ sticks)
½ cup organic Agave syrup
¾ cup light brown sugar
1 teaspoon table salt
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1 large egg*
1 large egg yolk*
(*local/free-range)
12 oz (1 pacakge) semisweet chocolate chips
1 cup hazelnuts, toasted and chopped

Directions

Adjust an oven rack to the middle position and heat oven to 375 degrees.  Insert cupcake liners into a cupcake pan.

Whisk flour and baking soda together in a medium bowl; set aside.

Heat 10 Tablespoons butter 10-inch skillet over medium-high heat until melted, about 2 minutes.  Continue to cook, swirling the pan constantly until butter is dark golden brown and has a nutty aroma, 1-3 minutes.  Remove from heat.

Use a heatproof spatula to transfer the browned butter to a medium-sized, heatproof bowl.  Stir remaining 4 Tablespoons butter into hot butter until completely melted.

Add the agave syrup, brown sugar, salt and vanilla to the bowl with the butter, and whisk until fully incorporated.

Add egg and egg yolk, and whisk until mixture is smooth with no sugar lumps remaining.

Let mixture stand for 3 minutes, then whisk for 30 seconds.  Repeat process of resting and whisking 2 more times until mixture is thick, smooth and shiny.

Use a spatula or wooden spoon to fully incorporate the flour mixture.

Stir in the chocolate chips and nuts.

Fill the cupcake liners about ¾ of the way full.  Bake for 10-15 minutes, until edges are golden brown.  Transfer to a wire rack to cool.

(Quality Control:  check!)

Stay tuned for the FleaTique and Pique-nique photos!

Dear Blogosphere

August 2011

Part of why I finally committed to the blog format was because I saw many blogs (and the like) I enjoyed quite a bit.  By “quite a bit,” I mean I would lose hours scrolling through the newly discovered blogs, working my way to their very beginnings.  As such, I owe some kudos (in the form of a recess yard love confession)!

So take a look to your right (and maybe up a bit).  I added a blogroll!  ——————————————————————————————————>
Do you have suggestions of sites I might like?  Send them my way!

P.S:  This is my 200th post!