It’s not enough to set goals. We must set the intention to celebrate accomplishing those goals.
In 2017, my goal was to step back and celebrate my accomplishments more. I tend to move too quickly from one project to the next and then be hard on myself when I feel like I’m not doing enough. In 2018, I heard an idea that added tangibility to my goal. The idea was this: It’s not enough to set goals. We must set the intention to celebrate accomplishing those goals. That shift in gears enabled me to be more cognizant of the weight of my accomplishments. One time, the celebration was a champagne toast at the top of the city. Another time, it was a new pair of birkenstock sandals. Another time, it was a beach vacation with my best friends.
This time of year, I like to spend some time looking back at the whole year, to soak up the individual ingredients the calendar vigorously whisks into one batter. Usually, my reflections are marked by blog content, but this year, my content was more sparse because my energy was concentrated on one very big project. I’m finally ready to announce that project, so keep reading, and let me know what you’re proud of this year. What follows is a mix of glossy and raw. It’s a real glimpse at my highlight reel, with all its challenges and growth spurts. As always, if you’re here, thank you! Thanks for reading, for commenting, for bringing these words and pictures to life.
My 34th Birthday
Admittedly, this birthday hit me a little hard, and I didn’t put my typical celebratory effort into it. Right before the big 3-4, I found out someone from my high school graduating class died after a long battle with cancer. She was one of the bright, earnest, hardworking students and athletes. She was a mother and wife. She had a beautiful voice. She had so much to contribute, and it was a bold reminder of the unpredictability and preciousness of life. I found myself superstitiously thinking that something bad was bound to happen because there was so much good in store for 2018. I tried to identify these thoughts as self-sabotaging and to use her death as perspective. Isn’t that the best we can offer in honor of someone’s short legacy?
Fortunately, Kyle, my Rustbelt Farmer, filled my birthday with so many surprises in the form of resolutions. I felt so loved, valued and pampered. In the spirit of more art and culture in the coming years, we went to the Mattress Factory (the image above), Pittsburgh’s renowned contemporary art museum. Then he whisked me to a massage appointment, followed by dinner at Cure, one of Pittsburgh’s most indulgent dining experiences. His gestures were intentional and thoughtful, and I appreciated every moment.
Our Home Tour on Design*Sponge
For more than a decade, I had been a loyal DesignSponge reader. For more than a year and a half, I ventured to the other side — a contributor. I had been inviting myself into people’s homes, both physically and figuratively, to bring readers the stories and spaces that inspired many a Pinterest board, dream homes, and very real renovations. But then it came time to turn the tables and invite readers into my own home. To have my home featured on DesignSponge was a goal and a dream I nurtured for a long time.
D*S was one of the first blogs I followed, one of my longest relationships, if you will. The feedback was so positive and uplifting, but the biggest reward of accomplishing this goal? Kyle’s response. I was traveling when the post went live, so to see his response, especially because he is more on the private side, meant everything to me. “What an awesome reminder of how lucky I am to call this place and this beautiful brilliantly talented woman home.” I can’t imagine having shared my home before it was our home.
January & February
Eat Your Feelings Book Tour
In 2016, I met Lindsey Smith over coffee to discuss her upcoming cookbook project. That coffee meeting changed the trajectory of my life in so many ways that are still taking shape. Lindsey and I clicked, and soon after, photographer Sarah VanTassel and I took over Lindsey’s dining room to style and shoot the book, sample all the food, and listen to Lady Gaga’s Joanne album on repeat. In the course of that project, Lindsey and I became close friends, and a year later, we were traveling the west coast to promote her book, to style private gatherings, tv spots, book signings and more!
There’s still so much I need to share from that trip (I always get overwhelmed by that many photos and stories!). That trip marked my first time in Seattle and Portland. It was a chance to bond with Lindsey’s longtime friend Zach, who made me laugh to the point of tears almost daily. We watched the Olympics (remember the Olympics happened in 2018?!?), we made up dance routines, we pretended to ice skate … on carpet! We drove past almond groves, misty mountains, and totally, royally, failed at seeing Yosemite (that’s a story for another day).
But as I look back, the most important takeaway is how proud I am to know Lindsey and how magical it was to take that trip together. Lindsey chases her ideas, and she uplifts everyone along the way. I’ll never forget someone in the audience at the Book Larder (where Lindsey CRUSHED it by the way) thanking her for the book, since she had long struggled with food and anxiety. Haven’t we all at some point? If you haven’t yet, buy her book, Eat Your Feelings: The Food Mood Girl’s Guide to Transforming Your Emotional Eating with Recipes! It’s unlike any other cookbook on the market, but mostly, it’s a chance to embrace and free yourself from guilt associated with food.
Do you recognize that house? I’ll give you a hint: “if you’re lost outside, and you’re all alone, a light is waiting to carry you home.”
March + April+ BIG ANNOUNCEMENT
Out with it, right? I’ll share more details of how it came to be, but in March, I signed a contract with Page Street Publishing to write my very own cookbook! I spent a lot of time on the Eat Your Feelings book tour, thinking about my “why” for writing this book and ultimately, my “why” for baking, cooking and blogging in general. In March, the work began in earnest, and it was the start of one of the most challenging projects of my life. The timeline was extremely consolidated, and I was starting from scratch. Now that I’m safely on the other side, I feel strengthened (maybe calloused?) and downright invincible. This process pushed me in so many ways, and I am so happy to say I’m proud of what I created, and I can’t wait to share it with you because sharing food and stories is the heart of why I do this.
The Gluten Free Grains Cookbook by Quelcy Kogel (that’s me!!!!!!!!!) will hit the world in April 2019.
I did take a small break from cookbook mode to enter the family’s annual chili cookoff. This was my first entry, and it was a damn good chili, but it did not get the accolades it deserved. I’ll probably neeeeever make it again. I’m over it. ha!
Cookbook Behind the Scenes
When it came to the book photos, I had the option to shoot them myself or work with a photographer. I knew I wanted a second set of eyes on the compositions. I wanted someone who would bring the same precision to the photography that I would bring to the styling, and the first person who came to mind was my friend Noah Purdy.
In May we had to deliver 20 “test shots” to my publisher, which ultimately became final book photos (because oh hey, this is what I do for a living. I’m a professional food and prop stylist and shoot producer, not just a blogger, and Noah is an all around photo pro). This deadline was especially stressful because I was simultaneously developing recipes and working toward a June manuscript deadline.
The Book Cover
We also shot the book cover during this time, and that day stands out as one of the most mentally, physically and emotionally exhausting days I’ve had in a long while, but the end result was everything I hoped it’d be.
A HUGE THANK YOU TO NOAH PURDY!
I don’t think Noah could have predicted what was in store for this book project when he agreed to be my photographer, but I’m eternally grateful for the skill, precision, passion and enthusiasm he brought to this book. I’m also grateful for all the help he lent me in schlepping all those totes of food and props, for working way into the night, for ultimately adding a layer of confidence to the final product. “Thank you” feels so inadequate. I owe this man some bourbon!!! (Noah, I owe you some bourbon!)
There’s never a good time for car woes, and my crazed cookbook schedule was seemingly an especially bad time for car troubles, but the silver lining was I was mostly working on recipe development and writing when my trusty “Vibette” bit the dust. We were on our way to pick up pizza on a rare night when I wasn’t testing a dinner recipe, and the car would not shift into park. Fast forward after a long weekend at the mechanic’s, and the prognosis was a faulty transmission, ie: a hefty price tag.
After some freak outs, panics, tears (though I tried so hard to hold them back), some helpful advice from Kyle’s dad (a huge shoutout to Morgan!!!), and precisely one day of dealing with the full spectrum of car salesmen, I had the keys to a brand new Subaru Forester, who I lovingly call “Birdie” (with an Aussie accent). I’m grateful every single day for this car. Committing to this car felt like a huge step in believing in my business and in me. And as for Vibette, I donated her to WYEP, my local radio station, so her demise was not in vain. She was a good gal who helped me grow my styling work in so many ways. I felt oddly sentimental as I watched her depart.
The Rustbelt Farmer’s “Jesus Year”
As I crammed to meet my cookbook deadline and collaborate on the biggest wedding I’ve ever styled to date (I also style weddings from time to time), I took a pause to bake one of the most special cakes of the year: a Gluten Free Rhubarb Layer Cake for my Rustbelt Farmer’s 33rd birthday. Julep and I surprised him at the farm where he was working, so he could celebrate in style (ie: in dirt). I’ve always admired Kyle’s convictions about environmentalism and the way he puts his values into actions, and I wanted to celebrate those values in action.
I Submitted My Manuscript
After a minor extension and a bundle of nerves, I submitted my manuscript, and true to my goal, we celebrated. When I first landed my book deal, we celebrated with seafood and champagne at Monterey Bay Fish Grotto, so in keeping with a seafood and sparkly theme, we dined al fresco at Merchant Oyster Co. When my editor sent me praising feedback and minimal edits, I know I teared up.
Our 4th Anniversary
I’ve learned a LOT about myself this year in terms of our relationship. There were some ugly lows and some beautiful highs, but ultimately, I can say, I’ve never had someone love me like Kyle, and I want to be a better partner, a more open and communicative partner in return. We’ve grown and continue to grow, as we take better stock of ourselves and each other. All that being said, our anniversary dinner at Superior Motors was a well deserved break and celebration amongst a stressed year. Chef Kevin Sousa’s food never disappoints.
Cookbook Photos Galore
All in all, the book features 75 new recipes, and each recipe has a photo. Along with title pages and text sections, that made for a LONG photo list! With my manuscript approved and in the hands of a capable copy editor, the book photos were full speed ahead. A typical day included waking up fairly early, hitting at least one grocery store, prepping food all day, packing said food and props, schlepping everything to my car, driving to the photo studio, then shooting into the night.
Occasionally, like above, we shot a flurry of photos in my apartment, so in many ways, this book is an invitation to my actual table. I’m still not entirely sure how we met the photo deadline, but it did involve a lot of spreadsheets, pdf’s, mood boards and incidentally, a lot of true crime podcast listening. My Favorite Murder may have single-handedly pulled me through my photo phase.
A Family Trip to Deep Creek, MD
In September, my book passed to the publisher’s in-house design team, who included me in the process quite a bit (I’m very picky as you might imagine). That being said, the workload was way lighter, and the light at the end of the tunnel was flickering with more strength. I was able to take some much needed breaks and also let some ideas blossom that had been pushed to the back burners. A family trip to Deep Creek, MD was pure R&R (or as much R&R as you can get when a niece and nephew humbly request you chase them around the “circle” house on repeat).
Work + Play in Lancaster, PA
After the bulk of the book was out of my hands, I felt like a racehorse jumping out of the gate except I didn’t exactly know where I was going. I had pressed pause on so many ideas. I wanted to work on everything, but I wasn’t sure where to start. To get back on track, Lindsey and I took a work & play trip to Lancaster, PA. It was a chance to dive into the many ideas we had bouncing between us and to nurture ideas into a more concrete business partnership. It was on this trip that The Wild Rose Collective was born (on the highway in fact).
Sunshine + Best Friends
Nina and Sandra have been my best girls since college. These two shaped me. They brought me out of my shell. They have each created careers and lives I am so proud of. We were long overdue for a reunion, and I had mentally set the goal to celebrate my book with a beach trip, so in September, Nina and I flew south for sunny skies, clear waters and our best friend. I’ll never forget singing 90’s alt radio hits at the top of our lungs and blowing out a “birthday” unicorn candle. I <3 you ladies so much!
October marked my parents’ 55th wedding anniversary (!), so the five of us “kids” put together a book commemorating their lives together. Reading the memories and lessons learned from each of my siblings was heartwarming, and I know my parents felt special and loved. Their thanks for the book meant everything to me.
Physical Pages/Final Edits
The above package was definitely one of the top 3 packages I’ve ever received (up there with my CMU acceptance package). Though it wasn’t really a “book,” it was black-and-white copies of my book. It was the most tangible form of my book I had up to that point, and it was my last chance to make edits. I was so nervous going into this last phase. I was nervous I would question my writing, doubt the recipes, and want to rethink everything. But lo and behold, I felt so proud of the pages in front of me. I’m so proud of the book I created, and to say that is a huge accomplishment.
On the Horizon: April 9, 2019 Publishing Date
I’ll share more details about the pre-sale, but for now, save the date! On April 9, 2019, you’ll be seeing my face on bookshelves. (I’m not sure that reality has really set in yet.)
The Tree of Life Massacre & Perspective
While I styled my second wedding of the year, a terrorist opened fire on the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh. There was a sense of shock and sorrow over the city, but there was so much beauty that emerged from the loss. There were vigils and memorials, and I spent some time reflecting on the incident and tried to pay homage to the victims, both living and dead, in my own way. It was another reminder not to live in fear but to give this life everything we have. The backdrop of the wedding was such a palpable reminder to choose love over fear.
PetCon + New York + Friends + Decadent Dining
In November, Kyle concluded his farm job, which was bittersweet. The sweet part was he started working full time for himself again, and part of his freelance life is his custom pet portrait business, Regal Collars. To celebrate and to meet his customer base, we went to PetCon in NYC, which is everything you’d expect of a social media pet influence convention and then some.
While in NY, we had the chance to spend a full, food and drink filled day with our friends Dan and Chrysten (above). Aren’t they cute? They also sent us to my new favorite place: the Oyster Bar in Grand Central Station (below). It looks like a Wes Anderson wonderland with the added benefit of killer seafood.
We continued to be social and decadent when we returned to Pittsburgh and filled our dining room with friends for a feast featuring pheasant from our friend’s hunt. It was the first dinner party Kyle and I truly hosted together. We collaborated on everything, and it holds a special place in my heart.
The Rising Women Conference + Career Strides
When it comes to my work, my career is largely dependent on other people landing a gig. People hire a photographer or an agency, who in turn hires me as a stylist. It can be a little nerve-wracking in a smaller advertising city like Pittsburgh. It can also mean accepting jobs for brands I don’t love. In this past year, I’ve made strides to be more intentional with my career, to collaborate with good people and choose work that really matters to me. In this spirit, December was a big month for me. Lindsey and I announced The Rising Women Conference, a one-day celebratory conference on International Women’s Day. Big waves are in store!
… and we celebrated! December was filled with good food, thoughtful gifts, cozy nights, some well deserved rest and some quieter times to think about the year ahead. Thank you 2018, you were a year that pushed me in so many ways.
If you read this far, you’re a trooper. I hope your year was filled accomplishments you celebrated, friends, family, all the dogs, and lots of bubbly.
P.S: How are there not more Julep pics in this roundup? It’s safe to say Julep was a bright spot all 365 days of 2018. To take a cue from her, here’s to some hard earned rest.