The term "coffee table book," when said by the right sort of judgmental tongue, implies a shallowness and showiness, but when it comes to In The Company of Women its…
If only it were possible to have conversations with myself, both past and future, without the burden of mental illness. When people utter the word “cool” in a sentence with my name (not a brag, more of a statement of disbelief), I wish I could bring young Quelcy into the fold, with her cumbersome backpack and pre-algebra stresses and general obsessive bookishness. “Hey you, LOOK! Someday, somehow, this will all pay off.” Similarly, I’d summon that Quelcy who worked a job she grew to abhor.
That Quelcy found a solace and creative outlet in baking, in trying new recipes and techniques, all while tinkering with a new camera. That Quelcy would walk into my dining room, judging the updates with her eyes (as always), and say, “Oh, you’ve paired down the collections a bit. Good for us, but why aren’t you hosting a brunch today?”
Current me would justify past Quelcy’s poignant observation. I’ve managed to steer myself to this magical overlap, where people pay me to play with food and flowers and gatherings, but somewhere in that process of leaving the job I hated, and fuzzing the line between work and play, I forgot to slate days to bake just for me or to host friends in my home just for fun. In short, I forgot that weekends even existed.
I was due for a reminder, so I treated myself to one of those expensive recipe compilation magazines, those textured pages just dripping with sweetness set against dark fabrics, etched slate and cold, crisp marble. Then I sank into my couch, nestled under the warmest of plaid blankets and made a weekend plan. In the simplest of approaches, I began with the first page, which just happened to boast many of my favorite flavors paired together: chocolate, pecan, bourbon and pie crust.
As winter finally made herself known, and the darkness set in oh so early, I sequestered myself, by my own freewill, in my kitchen, where I embraced the full process of baking and playing with food… simply because that’s what I really love to do, and I needed the reminder.
Even if you don’t play with food and flowers and gatherings for a living, the holiday season can taint baking and cooking with a hint of stress. Dinners and holiday parties put schedules and deadlines on creative outlets, and in the process, they can suck some of the joy from kitchen escapes.
Maybe there’s a future iteration of me, who could join current me and past me in the dining room, and hopefully tell us both that she figures it out, she finds more ways to balance paying bills with feeding our souls (after all, she will be the older, wiser one). In the meantime, I’m letting my inner crazy attempt to steer me toward more balance and simpler baking joys, and I hope you find the same outlets during the crazy of the holidays.
Here’s to [some semblance of] sanity!
Whole Grain Chocolate Pecan Tart with Bourbon Whipped Crème Fraîche
Adapted from Bon Appétit
About this Recipe: By reducing the sugar in the crust, using raw cane sugar, maple instead of processed sugar and corn syrup, and an extra dark chocolate, my adapted version allows you to enjoy the winning trifecta that is pecan, chocolate and bourbon without that “I feel my teeth rotting” sensation. In my zeal, I accidentally skipped adding chopped pecans to the filling, but I left that part in the instructions, so do as Bon Appétit says and not as I do. I was also a little over zealous with the chocolate (as per my usual). The Bourbon Crème Fraîche has a thick and fluffy texture, almost like a non-melting ice cream- win win!
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.
He pushed his hands against the table, and his chair slid backward, as if the growing space between him and the table would somehow create more room in his stomach. “I guess it didn’t help that we started the day with champagne,” he said, explaining the slowed pace of his Thanksgiving consumption.
“Why did you have champagne?” his older brother asked.
“Because we don’t have kids.”
“We should drink champagne more,” he said to me, and I couldn’t have agreed more.
Yeah, we are that Uncle and Aunt- the childless kind who can still relish simple luxuries like sleeping in and toasting champagne for breakfast… if you call “noon” breakfast, and on Thanksgiving, we do! (The Urban Farmer is also the kind of uncle who believes someone has to torture the youngins, a role he fills diligently.)
Our Thanksgiving morning was a very intentionally slow morning that eased into a brunch just for us… with champagne. Being that 2016 has kept me on my toes, when a sanctioned day-off hits me, I am all too happy to kick up my feet.
As the sort of basket case that leans toward the side of “do, do, do, make, make, make, go, go, go… stress, stress, stress,” doing nothing is not my best skill. The Urban Farmer, however, has a very healthy attitude toward “couch days.” During the season of gratitude, I found myself truly relishing those times when man, pup and I can nestle into nothing.
I try to push the bounds of my gratitude, to see beyond the obvious. Yes, I am grateful for the roof over my head, for creative work, for a family who loves me and an admirable partner, but I’m also grateful for hot showers at my fancy, for growing up routinely celebrating my birthday with parties, for having real options for my education even if money was tight. But sometimes, it’s really soul-warming just to sit on a couch, sip champagne, watch a creepy show and relish that guy who thinks I’m special, all while snuggling the furry bundle of love who holds no grudges and wants to please us all the time. Those little nothing moments are in fact everything moments.
So we relished the morning and its lack of responsibilities. I played with flowers to gift his grandmother, and we brunched in our pajamas. Then I gladly sat at a table for which I had to do zero work. I ate way too much, then refilled my plate because gravy overrides reason.
Then there was round two- another side of the family, more plates, more refills, still no responsibilities and in the end, a game of name-that-hummed-tune and charades that made my face hurt from laughing so hard. Have a grown man do a t-Rex impression and then hum “Ring My Bell” while you try to guess what on earth he could possibly be channeling. It makes for a night to remember!
Thanksgiving put me into such a mellow state. Between that lingering food coma and the subsequent gray rainy days, I’m having a hard time bouncing back in full force. These crepes are not only a good way to use leftover stores from Thanksgiving (extra cans of pumpkin and cranberries?), but they offer a way to indulge in a weekend morning and extend that Thanksgiving laziness feeling. Eat brunch in your pajamas. Watch a creepy show. Cuddle your significant other and/or furry companion(s), and be grateful for the nothingness of it all.
Pumpkin Crepes with Cranberry Sauce, Walnuts & Pumpkin Whipped Cream
Adapted from Carlsbad Cravings
About this Recipe: Holiday shopping surely left an extra scoop of pumpkin puree or a stockpile of cans of cranberries, so use them up in one seasonal inspired brunch. Add a dollop of the whipped cream to your coffee, and serve the whole brunch with a bottle of bubbly! It’s not pictured, but I also recommend a healthy slathering of Nocciolata on these crepes. Chocolate-hazelnut, pumpkin and cranberries are a seasonal match made in heaven.