While coffee is a very ritualistic part of my day, this winter has me turning to warming, coffee alternatives, both for the sake of variety, the health benefits and because I often want something warm to sip way past the caffeine hours. That's where this creamy and comforting Vegan Golden Milk comes into play.
I may have trouble navigating my work/life balance, a destination as illusive as the Bermuda Triangle, but that's where happy hour comes in I suppose. This floral spirit is dedicated to Alexander von Humboldt, a true explorer who navigated Latin America in the early 1800s.
The weeping willow has shed so many of her tears, blanketing all but a tiny, undulating trail of sidewalk for my pup and me. Our routine walk has taken us past all her emotions- from full and boastful to drooping sorrow. Half cloaked and half unveiled, her in-between state reflects the season- not quite fall, not quite winter, all over gray with a tinge of the somber.
If only the willow knew of sunny pumpkins and gourds, with their brilliant orange colors and comforting flavors. Or maybe she does, and the descent of her leaves is more like a sweeping embrace than an ugly cry.
Like the scantily clad willow tree, these bars mark the transition of Thanksgiving to winter holiday baking. Pumpkin bar meets a gingerbread crust with a snowfall of pumpkin streusel and a garland of molasses. Though the willow may be submitting to the coming of the cold season, the fiery red trees seem to defy it, so channel them if you need a little warmth in these gray months. Or bake these, and serve with hot tea.
Whole Grain Pumpkin Bars with Gingerbread Crust & Pumpkin Streusel
Yield: 9×13 pan/about 24 bars
About this Recipe: Pumpkin + Spice on a gingery crust. The molasses drizzle made eaters think the streusel had raisins, so if you’re not a raisin fan, skip the drizzle. I used turmeric in the filling for color and nutrients.
To quote the good folks at Commonwealth Press: "When life gives you lemons, eat them whole. Seriously. Just choke them all down... skin, pulp, seeds and all and don't break…
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
Last fall, the Urban Farmer and I made a Westward Wander, or what I dubbed #KyleMeetsTheKogels2015, since this was their official meet and greet. My parents toured us around their icy town in Iowa, where they had begun to settle after moving nearly one year prior. My dad pointed out the expanse of farms, the loss of the smaller family farms, the surplus of corn and of course, the donut shop. My mom’s additions to the tour included the trails where she walked with her new friends and the home of an older woman she helped with cleaning.
She mentioned that last detail so nonchalantly, so humbly. Yet that little detail speaks volumes about my mom. She is a giver, a selfless helper, a patient listener and a constant doer. She sends birthday and anniversary cards to everyone, including my dog! She sends care packages with little recipe clippings and encouraging notes, affirming that no matter my crazy pursuit, my mom believes I can not only do it, but do it well.
I could tell you there is no sweeter woman, and you might say, “that’s what everyone says about their moms,” but in my case, it may be true. After attending a church service with my parents, an older woman approached me, so pleased to meet Regina’s daughter. “Your mother has been such a blessing to this community. She has really made a difference, and we are so blessed to have her.” I bit my lip to stifle the tears my sappiness ejects against my will and thanked this woman for sharing that tidbit with me.
Having barely been in that small town for a year, my mom’s presence had already been felt and appreciated. In that moment, in that wash of gratitude, I felt so lucky to be Regina’s daughter, to have grown up with her as my example, to have the parenting bar set by her devotion and sacrifice. Unfortunately, we were nearly 1,000 miles away on Mother’s Day, but my humble mother, was just so grateful to hear my voice on the phone.
Though I couldn’t spend the day with my mom, I was lucky enough to spend it with some other inspiring moms. The Urban Farmer’s mama, grandmother and sister-in-law have always impressed me with their dedication to their families and the way they welcomed me into them. For all their sharing, they deserved a little indulgence to be savored just by them.
Happy Belated Mother’s Day to all you moms, expecting moms and women who mother everyone around them! You may not know it yet, but you’re making a difference!