Whole Wheat Apricot-Almond Coffee Cake

Can you come down with a case of the comparisons?

Whole Wheat Apricot Almond Coffee Cake Ring // www.WithTheGrains.com

As sniffles and sneezes are to the common cold, the comparisons flare up with equally telling warning signs- frowning while scrolling through social media, looking at a particular photo with a self-deprecating sense of awe, searching Amazon for better lenses, hovering motionless over the keyboard without a single word to type. The triggers of this nasty ailment are sneaky. They can even be ever so sweetly rolled in a coffee cake ring like this one.

Whole Wheat Apricot Almond Coffee Cake Ring // www.WithTheGrains.com

After flipping through my new favorite magazine, I sourced the featured ingredient list, kneaded with care, rolled gently, patiently waited and then looked with disgust at the denser rings and apricot oozes that emerged from the oven. I knew I had made some ingredient changes that would explain such a density, but still, all I could think was, “whhhhhhhhhy?” As a commercial food stylist, one might expect me to have a certain immunity from the real-life-vs.-magazine discrepancies. Yet there I was, coffee cake in one hand, magazine in the other, lamenting dough imperfections like some sort of voluntary martyr.

Whole Wheat Apricot Almond Coffee Cake Ring // www.WithTheGrains.com

I almost hid these imperfections. I almost refrained from picking up the camera. Then I sat down to breakfast with my friend, who is attempting to say “thank you” instead of “I’m sorry” and not sound like a snarky bitch in the process. “Thank you for bearing with my baking experiments,” I said, taking the theory for a test spin. (It’s not as easy of an adjustment as you’d think!) Then, my wonderfully creative, animated friend took her first bite.

Whole Wheat Apricot Almond Coffee Cake Ring // www.WithTheGrains.com

Her face continued to react like a grand finale of fireworks- one enthusiastic expression right after the next, praising the glaze, then the filling, then ceasing to speak so as to savor the bite. My variations, for all their visual imperfections, tasted really good. They deserved to be relished, dense crumbs and all.

Whole Wheat Apricot Almond Coffee Cake Ring // www.WithTheGrains.com

I do not dredge up these muddy waters of perfectionist tantrums as a way to fish for compliments, merely to remind myself of their pitfalls. These crumbs litter the trails to my kitchen, and collectively, each morsel accounts for the life I am living. Am I taking risks? Am I growing? Am I sharing, exchanging, conversing and savoring life? Or am I stressing and sweating the small stuff?

Whole Wheat Apricot Almond Coffee Cake Ring // www.WithTheGrains.com

2015, with all its wild twists, turns and internal tantrums, is coming to a close. The year may have been dense. The filling may have oozed. Yet, it was a sweet year, filled with many a firework! It’s time to savor and reflect, plan and progress. Here’s to a sweet start to 2016!

Quelcy Signature

p.s: What are your tips and strategies for keeping the evil perfectionisms at bay? If you too suffer from “the comparisons,” you might find this video inspiring. I like to watch it every now and then as a reminder to chill.

Whole Wheat Apricot-Almond Coffee Cake Ring
Adapted from King Arthur Flour/Sift Magazine
Yield: 2 coffee cakes, 32 servings

About This Recipe: Somewhere between a coffee cake and a pastry, this whole wheat version is a little denser than the original recipe but worth the added grainy goodness. Be sure to read the dried fruit labels and choose an organic, unsweetened, unsulphured apricot option. There are often unnecessary, unhealthy ingredients lurking in store-bought dried fruit. 

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French Style Herb Crusted Pork Roast

Soon, (all too soon!), the ball will be dropping, champagne will be popping, and couples will be smooching. It’s almost time to usher in 2016! How will you celebrate? With pork?

French Style Herb Crusted Pork Roast // www.WithTheGrains.com

In some countries, including Cuba, Spain, Portugal, Hungary and Austria, pigs symbolize progress. One explanation is these animals never move backward. Another explanation stems from pigs’ feeding habits (they push their snouts forward along the ground when rooting for food). Either way, it’s good luck to start the year with pork. (Apologies to my vegetarian and vegan readers- noodles are also good luck!)

French Style Herb Crusted Pork Roast // www.WithTheGrains.com

If you’re going to start a brand new year with pork, it’s a good excuse to try something fancy, and this is where I defer to the expertise of a butcher (this is also how I still maintain all ten fingers). Fortunately for me, this steel town has seen a resurgence of butchers, including the Butcher on Butler. After making my request, I watched in awe as he finessed this roast with an assortment of intimidating knives, all while telling me the story of how he came to be the butcher on Butler Street.

French Style Herb Crusted Pork Roast // www.WithTheGrains.com

The butcher shop had been a butcher shop as long for as he could remember. The previous owner had faithfully served his neighborhood into his old age. After he passed away, his widow didn’t know what to do with the shop. A neighboring bank had offered to buy the building to turn it into a parking lot. Gone would be the antique cooler with its hefty hardware. Gone would be this little plot of history. Gone would be the counter where neighbor after neighbor ordered the roasts and cuts for special occasions. This is when the current butcher, then a chef, had the idea to buy it and continue the legacy. The widow was overjoyed!

French Style Herb Crusted Pork Roast // www.WithTheGrains.com

The building wanted to be a butcher shop. It was a community staple, and her husband’s life’s work would continue to blossom instead of being buried under layers of concrete. These stories of tradition and legacy melt my heart.

French Style Herb Crusted Pork Roast // www.WithTheGrains.com

The modern butcher faces a slew of new obstacles- GMOs, confinement pens, hormones, cheap diets, inhumane practices, etc. What’s especially inspiring about this story is how the new butcher carried on the community traditions of a small, local shop, with the new set of quality standards- locally raised animals, trusted sources and quality products. Like the progressive, forward moving pig, the local butcher shop moved into the modern era!

French Style Herb Crusted Pork Roast // www.WithTheGrains.com

So here’s to traditions and amendments, progress and fresh starts! Here’s to the coming New Year and fancy feasts!

Quelcy Signature

Herb Crusted French Style Pork Roast
Adapted from Food & Wine

About This Recipe: Have your butcher “french” (remove the meat from) the rib bones for you. The uncooked herb-rubbed pork roast can be covered and refrigerated overnight. Bring to room temperature before roasting. Food & Wine suggests pairing this succulent loin roast with a full-bodied red with enough flavor to stand up to its crisp, spicy crust, such as an Australian Grenache. 

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Whole Wheat, Pistachio-Cardamom Cake with Dark Chocolate Ganache

The holidays can mean holding your breath- in anticipation, excitement, and even in stress. In the midst of my holiday baking and cooking, I’ve often found myself holding my breath while focusing all too deeply on achieving a perfect outcome. Fortunately, there were a few serendipitous moments to make me take a deep inhale and exhale, ignore perfectionism and attempt to soak in a moment.

Whole Wheat, Pistachio-Cardamom Cake with Dark Chocolate Ganache // www.WithTheGrains.com

The first came as I left Whole Foods, mentally making sure I had purchased all the ingredients on my list. All of a sudden, the scent of fresh pie FILLED the parking lot like never before. Even walking by bakeries and working in bakeries, I’ve never experienced such an overwhelming pie smell. It was as if a giant were baking an apple and pecan pie hybrid somewhere in the night sky above me. I wanted to leap into the air and inhale as many pie breaths as possible! The second moment came when my neighbor was burning wood in his backyard, pot-bellied stove, and it smelled like smoky cedar. Christmas filled the air!

Whole Wheat, Pistachio-Cardamom Cake with Dark Chocolate Ganache // www.WithTheGrains.com

These overwhelming scents reminded me to inhale, to exhale, not to stress so much, and that perfection is just “fear in really good shoes” as Liz Gilbert says. So on this Christmas day, I wish, for you and for me, magical scents of giants’ warm ovens and all the freshest cedar trees distilled into a Christmas fragrance that follows you through the frenzied aspects of the day. I also wish you intense flavors of chocolate and cardamom and a table full of laughs and love!

Merry Christmas!
(or simply, a really great Friday if you don’t celebrate)

Quelcy Signature

Whole Wheat Pistachio-Cardamom Cake
Recipe adapted from Sift Magazine (King Arthur Flour)
yield: 16 cupcakes or 1 7-inch cake

About This Recipe: I can’t get enough of beautiful Sift Magazine. This is another recipe adapted from its beautiful pages! The original recipe is for cupcakes, so I included options for cupcakes or a layer cake like mine. You’ll need a food processor to grind pistachios into the flour, making a dense, moist, nutty cake to complement the rich, dark chocolate ganache.  

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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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Creamy Potato Cabbage Soup with Sage

How many phone numbers, excluding your own, do you know by heart?

Creamy Potato Cabbage Soup with Sage // www.WithTheGrains.com

215-723-0398

That’s the last phone number I committed to memory. It’s also the first phone number I committed to memory. It was my parents’ home line. Was, being the keyword. One year ago, they moved to a new state, and the phone number, along with many household items, lingered in Pennsylvania. With that move, I lost the last phone number in my memory. I lost 10 digits whose comfort I hadn’t fully appreciated until they were gone.

Creamy Potato Cabbage Soup with Sage // www.WithTheGrains.com

It’s the number I nerdily imagined giving to a boy via my TI-83 geek calculator in high school calculus class (it never happened-shocker!). When people called that number, I responded with all the polite, proper grammar my dad had instructed me to use, “Hello, Kogels’.” “Yes, this is she.” “No, she is not. May I take a message?” It’s the number I dialed every Sunday in college to give my updates, bemoan my stresses and say “I miss you, and I love you.” Those 10 digits may not lead to my mom or dad’s voices anymore, but they remain the numbers I know by heart.

Creamy Potato Cabbage Soup with Sage // www.WithTheGrains.com

That expression- to know by heart– may sound bizarre to someone learning English. How does the heart store information? Yet, it’s exactly how I store that random string of 10 digits. More than a space in my mind and memory, they’re numbers that mean something. They linger with me through comfort and nostalgia, like the steam that condenses on kitchen windows while soup simmers, or the way holiday cookies sprawl over a long, dining-room table.

This Creamy Potato Cabbage Soup may not be the passed-down sort of recipe, but a bowl of this warm, flavorful soup has the power to comfort and conjure nostalgia nonetheless. Whether the digits change, or the recipes change, these are still the numbers and experiences we know by heart.

Quelcy Signature

Creamy Potato Cabbage Soup

About This Recipe: Choose a purple cabbage to give a faint violet hue to this soup. The recipe includes a few resourceful suggestions to waste less. Use the stalk of broccoli, not just the florets. If you have whole milk that has soured, use it in this soup. Alternately, you can use fresh whole milk or buttermilk for tang. For the creamy consistence, you’ll need an immersion blender, a food processor or a regular blender.

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Whole Wheat Citrus, Turmeric & Chia Seed Layer Cake

Under the weight of a nerdy backpack, I would trek up three flights of split-level stairs, to the retreat that was the Arts & Architecture floor of the university’s library. Stocked to the brim with manifestos, colorful portfolios, comprehensive histories and magazines showcasing the modern, this floor simultaneously filled me with limitless inspiration and overwhelmed me with its magnitude.

Whole Wheat Citrus, Turmeric & Chia Seed Layer Cake with Orange Buttercream // www.WithTheGrains.com

I wanted to read every single book, but at times, I couldn’t even decide which book was a worthy starting point. How could my brain possibly contain a mere fraction of this treasure trove? I would need a lifetime!

Whole Wheat Citrus, Turmeric & Chia Seed Layer Cake with Orange Buttercream // www.WithTheGrains.com

I feel about flowers the way I felt about the Arts & Architecture floor of the library- inspired and overwhelmed! I’ve only recently begun to truly appreciate the brightening, bliss-making powers of flowers. Having once scoffed at the many wasteful practices surrounding floristry, I’ve been inspired by the flower farmer movements and the way flowers can transform an entire room.

Whole Wheat Citrus, Turmeric & Chia Seed Layer Cake with Orange Buttercream // www.WithTheGrains.com

I’ve begun to scratch the surface, and like pulling a volume from that library shelf, there are so many places to start. When it comes to flowers, I have so much to learn- there are common names, scientific names, growing practices, cutting tips, so on and so forth. In an effort not to lose myself to debilitating information overload, I’m simply trying to make more room for flowers in my life.

Whole Wheat Citrus, Turmeric & Chia Seed Layer Cake with Orange Buttercream // www.WithTheGrains.com

From the vase in my bedroom, to layer cakes, to a field at the farm, I’m making more space for blooms, branches and compositional experiments. I’m giving myself the freedom to be curious (trying to at least!), which after all, is what led me to baking (that and an insatiable sweet tooth). That curiosity is also what led me to use chia seeds instead of poppy seeds and to add turmeric to practically everything. If you need a nudge to follow your curiosity more, I suggest this video. If you need a nudge toward the kitchen, I suggest this cake!

By Quelcy

p.s: This cake first appeared in TABLE Magazine, as part of my story, “Closed for the Holidays.”

Whole Wheat Citrus, Turmeric & Chia Seed Layer Cake with Orange Buttercream Frosting

About this Recipe: Turmeric yields a bright golden surface and an even brighter golden crumb! The chia seeds will pass for poppy seeds until you reveal your secret, healthy-baking weapon. The crumb is a little heartier, but the extra density works well for layering. Note: the flowers I used were not edible, merely for effect. Try an edible variety, or top with candied citrus or orange peel garnishes. 

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