I may have trouble navigating my work/life balance, a destination as illusive as the Bermuda Triangle, but that's where happy hour comes in I suppose. This floral spirit is dedicated to Alexander von Humboldt, a true explorer who navigated Latin America in the early 1800s.
“It’s not fair,” could be the rally cry of middle class children, to which parents respond in the most condescending way, “Life’s not fair.” How bitter is that first taste of injustice- the crayon the kid brother stole and ravaged when mom wasn’t looking, the unquenchable desire for that new, expensive toy that will hold attention for mere minutes, the inarguable need for that acid-washed jean jacket with neon accents (I was born in the 80s after all). We stomach that frustration, then we grow up, and it’s all too easy to give credence to this notion. Life simply isn’t fair.
Our parents were not wrong. Life is utterly and completely unfair, but the phrase ends so succinctly- a glaring period. That’s it. That’s all there is to it. There is no further discussion to be had. Life is unfair.
That period is fine when the injustice in question is a neon-accented, acid-washed denim ensemble (let’s be real- we dodged a bullet on that one), but what about the larger, looming unfairness? Do we end our sentence with a period and turn our heads? Many do, but there are others who turn their eyes toward those injustices, seek to understand them and be so bold as to look that unfairness in the eyes and defy it.
I am no beacon of holiness on this issue. I try to live my life in a way that supports fairness, to sustain myself without depleting the stockpiles, but I am not above the blind eye or the cheated corner. I lean too heavily on the excuses of time and money and “someday,” but then I’ll find myself confronted with my own bullshit, typically when enshrouded in the darkness of a theater.
As a student, I found myself passionately involved with my university’s film festival. Had it not been for the new director, the event would have been a scrappy assemblage of films, but under her guidance, we skimmed the world for the most relevant and artistic films, many of them dark and emotionally daunting. Through the weight of these screenings, I saw injustices from corners long ignored by our media outlets.
Through the screening of Black Gold, I saw how my coffee habits affected others. I saw just how deeply unfair life is, how those in the thick of the unfairness are seldom, if ever, the ones to utter “it’s not fair.” I also saw ways to inch towards fairness, towards “Fair Trade.” These two words, when stamped on food mean we are saying “life can be fairer.”
That stamp of equality extends beyond food, a fact which crystallized at yet another film festival. Watching Fair Trade: The First Step, a short film at the Wild & Scenic Film Festival exposed me to the realities of cheap clothing (and on the brighter side of the festival- to Desert Dawg!). My fair trade coffee and chocolate are not enough. Food, clothing, decor, gifts… I must consider how and where these items were made.
Tomorrow, May 13th, is a celebration of that effort- World Fair Trade Day, an initiative of the World Fair Trade Organization.
The World Fair Trade Organization believes that Fair Trade is a solution to trade injustices and imbalances of power in the supply chain. It is our inherent power to make change. Together, hand in hand, we can work for a fairer world.
To celebrate this day, I’ve partnered with Ten Thousand Villages, a beautifully shop, but more importantly, an agent for change. Growing up, I loved shopping at TTV, the collections offered some of my first glimpses of the world and planted seeds for the extensive journeys I would one day make.
The stone slate tray you see here, with these chocolate splattered scones, is an example of how we can go beyond food choices to defy unfairness. TARA, the fair-trade initiative behind this handcrafted tray works for fair wages, educational programs, health and environmental awareness for its artisans, so adding this tray to my home collection is not in vain.
Our parents were not wrong. Life is not fair, but that doesn’t mean we have to sit still. We can make strides, big and small, toward a better system, so join the movement and celebrate the impact Fair Trade has on the supply chain. If you live in Pittsburgh, maybe we’ll cross paths at the Ten Thousand Villages in Squirrel Hill. I might just be the girl in the acid-washed neon jean jacket, defying my parents on all accounts.
p.s: If you’re celebrating World Fair Trade Day, don’t forget to use these hashtags: #fairtradeday #agentforchange
Disclaimer: I did receive product in exchange for this post, but all opinions and acid-washed, neon-accented jean jackets are all my own. Thanks for supporting the brands that support With The Grains and stand up for good causes.
Whole Grain Dark Chocolate Cardamom Scones with a Hint of Coffee
About this Recipe: Loaded with fair-trade coffee, chocolate and vanilla, these whole grain scones are a responsible and sweet way to start the day. The coffee flavor is very subtle in comparison to the chocolate and cardamom, so up the intensity of your brew for a stronger flavor.
The core of this recipe trio is honey. Supporting beekeeping is good for the bees, and honey is better for you than sugar. The Earl Grey flavor is subtle, so play with the tea quantities if you want a stronger bergamot flavor. These are all loose guides, so follow your palate and instincts. The Earl Grey Honey Simple Syrup really shines when paired with Prosecco or Champagne.
At the end of a long, dusty, country road, there was a house that could have inspired Andrew Wyeth’s painterly strokes. It belonged to Lawrence and Sedonia Wagner, hearty Czech folks who farmed and reared a full flock of kids, then spoiled their many grandkids with jokes, kolaches, firm hugs and kisses. They were my grandparents, and I unfortunately only knew them in bits and pieces, moments stolen from the year, typically in the summertime. Otherwise, I remained in Pennsylvania, while their lives continued in South Dakota.
Since I was on the very young end of their offspring’s offspring, our generational gap only widened with the miles between us. Though we may not have always had a lot to discuss, my way to relate to my grandparents was through their home and through their table. I remember the warmth of the sun flickering through the farm trees, the occasional appearance of Maynard, the border collie who preferred his independent adventures, and the minuscule purrs of farm kittens. Their barn was red, as a barn should be, and the old farm house creaked with the many footsteps that had traced over its bones. I attribute my love of architecture to that house, my passion for nostalgia to that house, and my fondness for stories emerged from those walls.
My grandparents were laid to rest not far from that old farmhouse, in a treeless part of town, where the graves contrast the bright green grass of a gently rolling hillside. I mourned their departures and celebrated their legacies, then, from miles and miles away, I mourned the loss of the farmhouse.
The house was left to family members who took it for granted. They had seen the red barn beams day in and day out, and for them, the magic may never have existed. They didn’t know how miles and miles away, I bit back the rage and swallowed my sadness. How could they not preserve the walls where my grandparents’ spirits would surely return? How could they not appreciate the wallpaper Sedonia had adhered herself, surely while some homegrown feast simmered in the kitchen? How could they not know that the dusty road, the steep winding steps, the wooden shelves and toy chest were words from the language I spoke with my grandparents?
I have a cousin who knew those magical words, and for that, we share a connection that bridges the minimal time we have spent together. It’s no coincidence that we were both drawn to cameras, to documenting and preserving moments, to traveling far and wide to see even longer, dustier roads and flickers of light. She captured the red barn recently, and despite the distance, despite the masked degradation, I felt I was there, just as she was feeling Sedonia’s spirit.
It is no coincidence that my work is a constant pursuit to preserve what is good and true from those who came before us. It’s why I fell for a farmer/beekeeper who works to preserve the traditions encapsulated in seeds and combs. It’s why I see recipes as transcriptions of histories and mementos of times spent together. It’s why ingredients are so important.
This Vegan Nocciolata Chocolate Hazelnut Spread is the key ingredient in this decadent banana bread, and it represents the history of another family, a history that has been better preserved than my own. It all began 90 years ago with two brothers, Mario and Paolo Rigoni. Devoted to the natural beauty of their birthplace, Mario and Paolo started producing honey from the fragrant flowers found in the pristine meadows of Asiago, Italy (I’m ready to visit, just say the word!). Building on the success of their honey, they expanded their production to fruit spreads and jams, but they always chose to stick to natural ingredients. Their values passed from generation to generation, and Nocciolata is Rigoni’s “newest” product, born from another old family recipe and made from 100% organic goodness.
AND, if you live in Pittsburgh, like me, this chocolate goodness is now available in Whole Foods (but soon to be on Amazon for all you non-PGH’ers), which means, I’ll probably see you in the jam section real soon.
Here’s to preserving family traditions!
p.s: This post is sponsored by Rigoni di Asiago, but all opinions and Niccolata-covered spoons are my own. Thanks for supporting the brands that support With The Grains, but more importantly, thanks for supporting the brands that prioritize the environment. You can follow them on social media (F / I / P / T) for more organic product updates and even more recipe ideas (though simply licking the spoon is always a good option).
Whole Grain Chocolate Hazelnut Swirl Banana Bread
featuring Nocciolata Dairy Free
Yield: 2 loaves
About This Recipe: This bread was inspired by the new Nocciolata Dairy Free (though I did use dairy in the bread, you could make some substitutions for a fully vegan option). I can stand behind this ingredient because it’s certified organic, GMO-free, free of hydrogenated fats, made with quality cocoa and environmentally responsible cold-pressed sunflower oil, so you’re about to feel really good about appeasing your sweet tooth!
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.
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.