Pumpkin-Cranberry Buckwheat Waffles w/ @WigleWhiskey Landlocked Spiced

December 2014

As one who spends a lot of time crafting visual stories, it’s all too easy to straddle (read: dive over) that pencil-thin line between collector and hoarder. It becomes all too easy to elevate the potential of each and every object. “I could make that into…” or “that would be perfect for a post about…” or “what if I have an event and need that..?” Truth be told, I’ve had these mental dialogues since I was young. I clung to old drawings, old toys, old clothing because of the associated stories and potential future uses. I found plastic containers, boxes, pieces of paper and saw endless art projects, parcels, etc. Then one day you wake up and feel SURROUNDED- surrounded by stuff, by clutter, by stress.

Pumpkin Waffles

I’m no neat freak, and I’m no minimalist, but when stress strikes and procrastination whispers in my ear, I am prone to cleaning and purging, purging and cleaning. I recently hit one of these spells. Not quite ready to face the more difficult issues at hand, I dove into sorting my life, ie: my home. I filled bag after bag for Goodwill and bade farewell to the superfluous. Does this object have meaning? Does it represent a truly personal story? Have I used this object recently? Essentially, does this object exist in my life intentionally?

Waffle Breakfast

I still have a long way to go, but at the end of this purge session, I was able to breathe a little easier and welcome dear guests into my home for the holidays. What they saw were the more meaningful pieces, the more intentional stories and the most updated version of me. Much like cleaning out the cobwebs of my space, I’ve been reevaluating myself and considering what my true mission(s) is/are, what pieces of past me I should safeguard, what bad habits of current me need to go, what needs to change or improve, what needs to be rearranged, etc.

Farmer Eating Waffles

Gleaning the most meaningful objects from my collections meant making room for a splendid surprise from the Urban Farmer- a new-to-us waffle maker! A score from our friends at the Pittsburgh Vintage Mixer, we plugged in our new toy with a healthy dose of skepticism and anticipation, and before long, we had a plate full of lovely waffles. So long pancakes! So long waiting in line for waffles from crowded brunch scenes! A vestige of a different era in quality and longevity, this baby may outlive us all, and we’re looking forward to several slow mornings of syrup-filled nooks and crannies.

Waffle Stack

Rather than start with a basic waffle recipe, we went BIG! We went boozy. We went grain rich and flavor-FULL. After all the reflecting, questioning, purging and aspiring, starting big is a wonderfully delicious place to start. As you hunker down to review the last year and settle on what is important for the coming year, I hope you reward yourself with a beautiful scene, a confidant, hot coffee, a well deserved dose of laziness, and the type of brunch to make you savor every single bite.

Pumpkin Waffle for Quelcy

Pumpkin Cranberry Buckwheat Waffles + Cranberry Apple Topping + Landlocked Spiced Whipped Cream

When creating a recipe, I often look to weave a thread throughout the various elements of the dish. In this case, this over-the-top waffle breakfast features Wigle Whiskey’s Landlocked Spiced in each component. Made from scratch and pot-distilled from Pennsylvania buckwheat honey, this distilled mead is Wigle Whiskey’s uniquely inland approach to island spirits- landing somewhere between a rum and a brandy. Infused with whole, organic botanicals–roasted orange peel, cocoa nibs, whole vanilla beans and cinnamon, the result is a spirit with a vanilla nose and a complex body of pepper, cocoa and fig. It’s delicious, and I recommend a bottle, but if you’re closer to the sea and sunny skies, you can substitute the rum of your choice.

Happy New Year’s Eve!

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Whole Wheat Chocolate Gingerbread Layer Cake

December 2014

It had been too long, and he had missed making music, so the Urban Farmer strummed his guitar at the dining room table, where I worked on something far less poetic. His fingers and his voice learned their way through the latest Billy Bragg song. My Farmer’s smoother voice joined the deeper, raspier words of the recording. He played and repeated, played and repeated, but the poignant lyrics merited the repetition:

Deep down in the underground, atoms spinning round and round. Scientists monitor readings. Searching for the Holy Grail, the particle or at least the tale of the one who gives the universe its meaning. But what if there’s nothing, no big answer to find? What if we’re just passing through time?

Whole Wheat Chocolate Gingerbread Layer Cake // www.WithTheGrains.com

Aside from a stint of piano lessons and a brief spell in the middle school orchestra, the only music these hands play is on Spotify. I’ve always been fascinated by words, writing and literature. Guiding a thought from mind to paper in a compelling way is challenging enough. These minds, who combine thought-provoking concepts with pleasing rhythms, harmonies and all the finer details of music making that escape me, these brilliant minds leave me awed and inspired like a child watching a magic routine for the very first time. A lack of technical understanding and raw talent might explain why many attribute these music maker’s talents to a higher power. Magic. God. Gumption. Who knows? It all leaves me pleasantly transfixed and inspired.

Whole Wheat Chocolate Gingerbread Layer Cake // www.WithTheGrains.com

Music may not be my conduit for expression, but the baking and sharing of food is one of the ways I translate the stories in my head into something real. Some people regard baking as I regard music. It seems magical, daunting, impossible, the equivalent of a chemistry experiment, or maybe even divinely inspired. There is a lot of magic to this process of transforming disparate pantry items into inspired layers of wholesome decadence, but at a fundamental level, music and baking stem from a willingness to try.

Time and technique are required for full mastery, but to start, if you can reach the pedals or read the directions, you can make the layer cake. Whereas early tinkering might make for unpleasant melodies, a baking mistake here and there can still yield deliciousness. I may never find my voice through song, or strings, or keys. However, sharing these sentiments, these food inspired stories, and these images is the way I share my voice, and this tale tastes of chocolate, gingerbread and the most memorable moments of the holidays.

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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.

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Donut o’ the Month: Powdered Whole Wheat Gingerbread

December 2014

Though my ideal temperature is that of a desert, there is a big part of me that likes winter. I don’t admit this too frequently, mostly because I would be making that declaration through chattering teeth and purple lips, but it’s true. The major stipulation is this: I like winter when I am just sort of cozily watching snow fall from my third-floor window view.

Donut o' the Month: Powdered Whole Wheat Gingerbread // www.WithTheGrains.com

I like winter when the only reason to face the brutal winds is to run around the park like a crazy person with my dog (a big perk of having a dog!). I like winter when I’m buried deep under blankets, a candle is flickering and I’m burning my way through a Netflix series. Not wanting to leave home in the winter is a huge motivator for home cooking and baking.

Donut o' the Month: Powdered Whole Wheat Gingerbread // www.WithTheGrains.com

The more delicious foods and drinks I am able to prepare at home, the less I need to 1) leave home 2) spend extra money and 3) eat less wholesome ingredients. Thanks to Joanna’s love of donuts, I was inspired to develop this donut-o-the-month series. So content am I with these homemade versions, I no longer need to brave the cold and the lines for the Pittsburgh brunch place that serves the beignets I used to crave. I am one step closer to a complete hermitage this winter, so three cheers for Jojotastic!

Donut o' the Month: Powdered Whole Wheat Gingerbread // www.WithTheGrains.com

December’s donut was inspired by fluffy snow, gingerbread men and hikes in the park with my four-legged snow lover. I hope these donuts enable you to stay some place warm, sip something hot and dive into the series of your choice.

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Whole Wheat Cranberry Gingerbread Muffins

December 2014

Do you remember the Dunkin Donuts commercial from the 90s (?), in which a man appears in various “costumes” in order to take advantage of a discount? “Dunkin Donuts it’s worth the trip!” he says each time he steps to the register. The donut clerk, amused by a hastily applied fake mustache, plays along and then eventually breaks it to the confused man, the discount he seeks is always applicable. No costumes necessary. It’s possible I have altered this scene over the years. It’s possible the commercial was for a different brand. Regardless, this is what I think of when I make multiple visits, in one day, to my neighborhood cafe. If only I had switched costumes (though to be fair, I think I do sometimes change outfits throughout the course of the day)!

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This neighborhood cafe serves up coffee drinks and affordable, healthy foods, a mere block away from my apartment. There have been times, very busy times, when that cafe has fed me breakfast, lunch and dinner. There’s something slightly shameful about purchasing every meal there when I am not only  capable of preparing food for myself, but I write about preparing foods for myself. However,busy times call for convenient measures.

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With Christmas shockingly close (thank you etsy for making me aware of just how close Christmas is with your S&H warnings!), we are in the throngs of very busy times. If you’re able to set aside some kitchen time, I highly recommend making these Whole Wheat Cranberry Gingerbread Muffins. Made with regular whole-wheat flour, they’re nutritious, dense and delicious! Most importantly, they are easy to grab in the morning as you try to meet the deadlines of the day.

Alternately, you could just wear a fake mustache and visit the same cafe again? Up to you…

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#TBT: Good Food Means Good Cheer

December 2014 Mazola oil and Karo syrup aside, Jane Ashley's alliteration, food-inspired holiday cheer, and her tie have won me over. I'm in Jane, I'm in. Good food does mean…

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