Every day I try to be a better person because the Urban Farmer is such a good example! When I met him, he was defending the environment, volunteering all over the…
The person I am right before embarking on a trip is not a person of whom I am proud. This version of Quelcy is frenzied, snippy and probably in need of a happiness project. This version of Quelcy loses her sense of priorities and time management. She thinks it’s an appropriate time to mop a floor or reorganize a shelf. Yet, she doesn’t seem to think it’s an appropriate time to select her outfits and put them in a travel bag.
This Thanksgiving, The Urban Farmer, Julep and I hit the road for a very long drive to the snowy midwest. True to form, that pre-trip Quelcy reared her ugly head, trying to squeeze too much into too little time and naturally, leaving packing for the last minute. In her fits and frenzies, this version of Quelcy thought the best plan for the abundant fruit bowl was a late night baking session.
This may have been pre-trip Quelcy’s only redeeming quality. In the storm before the calm, apples, pears and Chinese five spice combined into a whole grain treat. She packed the maple and spice scents into the car, and off they went. Somewhere between Pittsburgh and Ohio, my saner self re-emerged, appreciative of the treat we’d be able to savor throughout the long journey.
Once settled into our snowy retreat of an Air BnB, the warm crisp was wholesome enough to savor for breakfast with big mugs of slow sipping coffee. If this time of year brings you a fair share of stress, skip pie crust entirely, and try this wholesome crisp. If you’re attending dinner party after dinner party, this is easy to whip up last minute and share, or escape the frenzy and savor it with someone special.
p.s: My personalized pie plate was a gift from Personal Creations. If you want to be sure your pie plate doesn’t get confused with another dessert plate at a holiday party, you can use Personal Creations to add your name. If you’re the more obsessive type, like yours truly, you can even use your pie plate to broadcast your dedication to whole grains.
p.p.s: Stay tuned for posts about my Midwest adventures!
What would you make with two hours’ notice?
It would have been easy to punch the on-hand ingredients into google, but instead, my mom scanned through recipe clippings and a pile of magazines with an intense fervor. As the clock counted down the two hours, she scurried around the kitchen, grating with all her might, mixing and multitasking. Like a reality cooking show challenge, she revealed the final spread with but minutes to spare. Then the mayhem descended.
Six adults and six children arrived with appetites, their chaotic energy swarming around them like dirt around Pig Pen. Their focus was on the general nonsense that accompanies a gaggle of children gathered around a dinner table and on the pizza bake before them (a deep-dish, lasagna-like pizza bake with cheese and potatoes and saucy goodness!). In the chaos, one child lingered rather awkwardly.
A friend of a nephew, he lacked the aggressive swarm factor of my family members. My mom’s gaze oscillated between the food spread and the boy with equal concern. She approached him quietly and asked if he needed a plate. No one noticed but me. but I sat quietly appreciating this woman, my mother, who has always been a shining example of thoughtfulness, selflessness and hospitality. My mom is the reason I bake for others. She’s the reason I believe in making others feel special, especially when it comes to birthdays. Birthdays and celebrations call for Sweet Potato Layer Cakes! Who will you celebrate?
Whole Wheat Sweet Potato Layer Cake
About This Recipe: Light and spongey, this layer cake has sweet potato and spices in the cake, in a syrup infusion and in a lightly sweetened frosting. Graham cracker crumbs and cinnamon sticks easily add a special touch to the layers. To make the sweet potato puree, simply boil sweet potato chunks until soft, then blend until smooth in a food processor. Alternately, you can use an organic canned version.
“It’s ok, they might have guns but we have flowers,” the father explained to his son, as the young boy tried to wrap his mind around the violence that had consumed his city.
Flowers and candles. Flowers to fight fears and candles to remember the fallen. The father and son’s poetic exchange, captured on camera, went viral because the world needed flowers and light during such a dark tunnel.
Paris struck a chord with so many because so many of us have experienced the capitol’s charms. However, instead of token post cards or cinematic moments, we francophiles found ourselves retracing our past adventures through unimaginable, horrific news footage. Vicariously, we felt the threats so many feel daily, and as best we could, we conveyed our fears, our sympathies, and our allegiance to the beloved city.
It was easy to feel for Paris. In my own case, I spent six months wandering the city’s streets, immersing myself in the language and daily life. I debated the best baguette while reading Émile Zola. I documented my routes on a worn map while trying to emulate slang expressions. I sipped coffees while admiring the perfection of the street fashion. As cliche as it was, I felt like I belonged there, like I had found my city. Though I departed, bidding farewell as an accordion player serenaded the canal, I guarded that connection.
I have not read Arabic literature in Beirut. I have not dined with locals in Bamako. I have not sat in a cafe and admired the rich textiles and traditions of Nigerian cities. I may not have a personal history with these places, but that doesn’t mean I should close my heart to them. I have not given the victims in these cities the sympathies they deserve. I admittedly have furthered the desperation felt in those nations by not cherishing their living, but it’s a wrong I want to right.
I recently sat in the audience for a screening of the film (T)error (which I can’t recommend enough!). At the end of the film, a Muslim woman, in the traditional hijab, addressed the director. “Thank you for making this film. Thank you for sparking a dialogue. I love Allah. I am a Muslim, but those attackers are not Muslim. They do not represent me.” She expressed the fear she feels when her eight children leave home after, hearing a man on the news say he wanted to shoot the next Muslim he saw. “I am human, and I bleed just like you.”
Several audience members made their way to the woman as the crowd dispersed. “Thank you for your comments,” they said one by one, touching her gently on the shoulder or leaning in close to her. Like the flowers and candles in France, this woman’s bravery was beauty in the face of fear. Her vulnerability turned fear into power.
Thankfully, I haven’t experienced a terrorist attack firsthand, and I hope I never do. I wish no one ever would, but certain evils are prevailing. It may be easier for me to believe in flowers and candles from my safe distance, but how else can we advance positively? I choose to believe in beauty and empathy wholeheartedly, and I will pay more attention to the attacks the media slights.
If my time in France taught me one thing, it was to appreciate quality– quality of time, quality of friends, quality of wine and the quality of a good meal shared. France taught me to slow down, to savor, to debate, to exchange and to defend time honored traditions. These luxuries are not universal, and especially in America, we ought to acknowledge and share our great fortunes.
As Thanksgiving rapidly approaches for those of us in the United States, it’s an apt time to remember how America formed, how generosity and gratitude gathered around a table and celebrated differences. As Thanksgiving draws near, I hope flowers and candles, beauty and empathy will prevail! I hope that our common fears will unite us and not tear us apart.
This is a recipe for sharing. It serves many, so extend the warmth of your oven to those close to you. I shared this lasagna with close friends who inspire me. Each fights, in his or her own way, for a better world. Each of these friends chooses beauty and empathy, and I’m grateful for it.
Pumpkin & Kale Lasagna (Gluten Free)
About this Recipe: Perfect for serving a group, this lasagna tastes like the best of fall! In the spirit of simpler preparations around the holidays, I used an organic canned pumpkin puree instead of roasting my own. The hearty green layer is a quick kale pesto. Use the leftovers wherever you would use a traditional basil pesto. Brown rice noodles make for more flavor, and they make this a gluten-free, crowd-pleasing option. Serve it with Wigle Whiskey’s Walkabout (whiskey + pressed apple cider).
Beneath my permed hair and 80s-inspired poof of bangs, my eyes were wide with horror! My elementary school teacher had just reported a staggering statistic about how much food waste ended up in landfills. My miniature, environmentalist heart could hardly take it. Today, the statistic is even more staggering at 33 million TONS of food each year (source).
I’m not perfect, and mold still claims more of my refrigerator’s contents than I would like to admit, but thanks to the Urban Farmer, most of our scraps become compost and contribute to the soil remediation process on the farm. I know composting isn’t a possibility for a lot of urban dwellers, but this girl can dream of the day my city will take action to mitigate food waste (many cities already do!). In the meantime, I am constantly seeking ways to waste less such as this win-win idea for wasting less food this holiday season.
The first part of this resourceful idea requires wine drinking- specifically Mulled Wine drinking. As I mentioned in my recipe post, Mulled Wine is the perfect drink to serve this time of year. It fills the home with a welcoming aroma, it’s easy to serve to a group, it’s a sipper, and it warms your spirit! However, after the last mug of mulled wine has been poured, the crockpot usually still holds a substantial portion of fruit. I couldn’t bear to toss all the wine and spice-infused fruit, so this Mulled Wine Compote was born!
I call this “Grandmother-style kitchen work.” There’s no precise recipe. Just throw that flavorful fruit into the food processor or blender, and whirl away! For a hint of sweetness and creaminess, I added a heaping spoonful or two of Creamed Honey. This liquid gold is like creamy caramel (you can learn more about creamed honey here). Bedillion Honey Farm’s version is still raw, so it maintains the goodness of pollen, propolis and enzymes pasteurized honeys lose, and it’s creamed with cinnamon for an extra touch of spice in the compote.
I also added another spoonful or two of Chinese Five Spice to intensify the fall notes.
My leftover crock of fruit made about 2 quarts of Mulled Wine Compote, which I divided into jam jars to give as gifts and serve at future gatherings.
The compote makes a great accent on a cheeseboard, so for very little effort, you’ll be prepared for a few small, holiday gatherings. The tart compote pairs well with the slight sweetness of these Carr’s Whole Wheat Crackers or a dense, fruit & nut bread. It would also be delicious on pancakes or French toast if you’re hosting a holiday brunch.
Drink warmly, waste less and enjoy more!
Mulled Wine Compote
To make mulled wine compote, reserve whatever wine is left from a batch of mulled wine (recipe below), and set it aside. Use a food processor or blender to puree the wine-infused fruit remnants of mulled wine (but remove the cinnamon sticks first). Add honey and more Chinese Five Spice to taste. Keep refrigerated until ready to serve. It also freezes well.
My mother taught me to appreciate the beauty in the old, the stories in the vintage, and the potential in the castaway items. However, over time, I allowed too many of these stories and collections to gather around me rather indiscriminately. Clearing space, both physical and mental, took on a daily, Sisyphean feel.
In need of a compass, I turned to an expert. I began reading The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing, and immediately, I felt a shift in my thinking. Many magazines and well meaning folks will advise to divide one’s abundance into piles based on the last time an object came into use. If it was more than a year, pitch it. However Marie Kondo, the book’s author, poses this question, “Does this ______ bring me joy?” In the end, this pursuit of tidiness and clarity is really the pursuit of happiness.
If the sweater or the jeans or the book no longer brings (or never brought) joy, send it to a new life, but send it with gratitude. This last bit, the gratitude, has made all the difference in my process towards less. Thank you handmade shirt sewn by my mom. Thank you mom, for creating with your hands when I was an impressionable child, for showing me the value and joy of making something from scratch.
Perhaps this is why I gravitated toward baking. Cakes, pies, breads, all made with care and intention, are but temporal objects in our hands. Yet the gatherings, the vague memory of a flavor, the way a room smells when an oven is warm… we carry these memories and cherish the sentiments long after the plates have been cleared.
Here’s a recipe for sharing joy and gratitude deliciously, just in time for Thanksgiving!
Pumpkin Cheesecake with Ginger Oat Crust
About This Recipe: Oats, spices, ginger and dates combine to make a wholesomely sweet crust, and each layer of this cheesecake is laced with Wigle’s Landlocked Spiced. Made with local, buckwheat honey, Landlocked Spiced is the distillery’s interpretation of rum and a flavorful ode to Pennsylvania’s many apiaries. If you’re landlocked and can’t get a bottle, substitute your favorite spiced rum, and enjoy!
Disclaimer: I did receive product in exchange for this post, but all opinions are my own! I love a brand that supports the honeybees!
The Christmas ornaments decked the halls at a comedic scale, as if plucked from the set of Honey I Shrunk The Kids. Greens and lights and velvety ribbons seemed to swathe the entire city. The iconic ferris wheel glimmered with extra holiday spirit.
From their pop-up village of log cabins, Germans shared their merriment through juicy bratwursts and donuty sweets swirling on skewers to golden perfection. Some of the merrymakers kept warm by whipping around the ice rink to holiday carols. Others, like myself, turned to the warm cups of mulled wine. London knows how to celebrate the holidays!
Having journeyed to London from conservative Pennsylvania, where public displays of wine drinking only happen in conjunction with communion, I gazed at each sidewalk wine vendor like a child beholding a candy shop. I relished each cup of mulled wine as if it were my last. With a warm cup of mulled wine in my clutches, my hands warmed, my spirit warmed, and I felt inspired to roam the vibrant city long into the wintry night.
Though the street-vending of mulled wine is still a ways away (at least for us in Pennsylvania), this warm indulgence is perfect for stateside holiday gatherings. Mulled wine is easy to make, easy to serve, and the heat and spices make this a sipper. Since guests can serve themselves, it’s the perfect drink to offer with a wine and cheese style spread. Below are some of my favorite Market Street Grocery picks for hosting a small holiday gathering.
My love for baguettes is deep, but when it comes to a holiday party spread, I like to pick a heartier, more flavorful bread like this Raisin Walnut loaf from Allegro Hearth Bakery. The sweet accent of the raisins pairs perfectly with the creamy texture and sweet-tangy balance of Humbolt Fog cheese and fresh fruit. Additionally, the delicate, edible ash layer adds more visual interest than a simple brie or goat cheese would.
Balance the sweeter notes of the fruit, cheese and wine with an olive selection. The colorful Divina Organic Greek Olive Mix includes a little olive leaf, a small detail which makes for an impressive presentation.
Incorporating fresh fruits into a loose garland is a functional way to decorate your table, and if the festivities continue long into the night, you can always cut up the fruit and replenish the cheese.
For those who do not drink, I like to offer Pellegrino Sparkling Water or carbonated juices, and I keep gluten-free crackers on hand just in case. For all gatherings, but especially for holiday gatherings, I want all my guests to feel included and partake in the festivities.
Even after guests have finished their mulled wine and the party has concluded, you’re likely to have plenty of wine and spice-infused fruit still filling your crockpot. One of the secret ingredients in this Mulled Wine recipe is Chinese Five Spice, a fragrant combination of anise, cinnamon, star anise, cloves, and ginger, so don’t let that flavorful fruit go to waste! Stay tuned, and I’ll share a recipe for leftover mulled fruit and spreading even more holiday cheer.