Taken May 2009 by KH


Rinascimento is Italian for renaissance and literally means to be reborn. In a historical context it refers to the revival of art, music, culture and learning in Europe from the 14th through the 17th centuries.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Past, Present and the Future on a 3 X 5 Card

Since I was a young child I have been making this recipe for Fudge Cookies (a.k.a. No Bakes). The 3 X 5 card on which it is written is old, discolored, dog-eared and stained--a sure sign of a well-loved recipe. The writing on it is feminine, somewhat jerky, but it does not belong to Harriet Susan Harding Folk, my Grandmother.  The name written on it is Mary McCarty. I don't remember my Grandmother talking about her, but I can only assume she was a friend.  My Grandmother did say she'd been making that recipe for many many years before I can along, in gasp! 1972.

So why is an old hand-written recipe that's probably from the 1950s important? And how is it even relevant given this fast-paced life we lead where we're perpetually attached to our iPhones, blackberry's and Facebook?  Because for me, those recipes and my time baking with my Grandmother represented so many important things, including feeling connected and a sense of accomplishment.  Old, well-loved recipes like these represent my past, my family's past as well as a connection to the present and the future. Hopefully I'll be able to pass down some of these recipes to my son and eventually his children.

Even beyond those, baking with my grandmother gave us time to talk about school, life, or just whatever. Nearly every day we had a good 30 minutes to talk while we were making dinner together, or baking something sweet and yummy. In addition, baking at her side improved my fractions, honed my reading skills and taught me basic kitchen safety. She got to tell me a bit about her childhood and what it was like to grow up in the 20s and 30s. It seemed quite insignificant at the time, but looking back, I truly do cherish those memories.

So since my son was little we have cooked and baked together. He has been standing on a stool and running my KitchenAid mixer at least since he was 3 and he's only covered my kitchen once in batter. We get to talk, joke, and connect.  Sometimes we talk about school, sometimes we talk about family and sometimes he just makes up recipes in his head that he wants us to try, nearly all of them including chocolate. What he doesn't realize is that like me, he's learning fractions, improved his fine motor skills and improved his reading. He just thinks we're having fun!

Looking forward, I know I am making memories with him that I'll always cherish and hopefully he'll cherish them as well. 

Fudge Cookies (a.k.a. No Bakes) courtesy of Mary McCarty
2 cups sugar
1/3 cocoa powder
1/4 cup shortening (i.e., Crisco)
1/2 cup milk
Put everyone listed above into a sauce pan and bring to a boil. Boil for 1 minute and then remove from heat.
Add 1 cup peanut butter and 1 teaspoon of vanilla. Stir so that the peanut butter melts. Then stir in 3 cups of oatmeal.  Drop by rounded teaspoonfuls onto waxed or parchment paper. Work quickly as the cookies will begin to set as they cool.

So whether you're a baker, a musician, a writer, a hunter, a teacher or whatever, take the time to connect with someone today.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Unconditional Love

This morning, my little boy James came and got into bed with me for a rare morning snuggle. Normally we're up and getting ready for school but today the teachers had an in-service day and he had the day off. It was delightful to get to snuggle with his warm little body and talk to him.  The older he gets the less he wants to snuggle. The most snuggling I seem to get is on the rare occasions that he sleeps with me. I must say though, despite his doing the Macarena in his sleep, and his teeth grinding that there's nothing better than falling asleep with his little hand holding mine.

Anyway, while we were lying there we got to talking about the difference between like and love. 
Whenever the topic of love comes up I stress to him that I love him unconditionally.  As I child I never felt that kind of love from my maternal grandmother, who for all intents and purposes, raised me. Love always felt like it was attached to my being "good," cleaning up after myself, doing as I was told, etc. I felt that if I displeased my grandmother that she'd withhold her love.  And don't get me wrong, I'm not speaking ill of her as I'm sure this was the way she was raised, but I swore that when I had children I would try to do things a little differently.  My paternal grandmother always stressed her unconditional love but I didn't see her often enough for it to sink in. So ever since I had James I've purposely stressed that I love him unconditionally.

So this morning, once again I told James that no matter what he does that I'll always love him. I may not like something he's done, or a choice that he's making but that I'll always love him. I told him that there's nothing he could do that would make me stop loving him. I told him that you can love someone and not like them at the same time. He seemed to mull it over for a few minutes and then he turned to me with a puzzled expression and said:

"So Mom, you don't like it when I run down the stairs, but you still love me right?"  I told him that he was exactly right. I love him despite not liking what he was doing, i.e., running down the stairs. I keep telling him he's going to slip and do a header into one of my flowered chairs.  He smiled, gave me a kiss on the cheek and scampered off to get dressed for the day.

Does he get it? I'm not sure, but either way, I'm going to keep telling him. I feel strongly about this so I'll keep telling him.  Someday, when he has children I'll love them unconditionally too.

Have you told your child that you love them unconditionally?

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Fall in Love with Michigan

Fall is my absolute favorite time to be a Michigander.  The sights, scents and sounds are like nothing else out there.  I love to go for drives along back country roads with the sun roof open and some tunes crankin'. Each russet, rust, or caramel-colored tree seems to be more radiant and lovely than the last. Watching the leaves drift toward the ground in the sunshine is timeless and magical.  I remember as a child the fun of raking large piles of leaves only to turn around and jump in them. Every so often when you're out for a drive you'll catch the pungent scent of burning leave--another harbinger of Fall. Just last night I sat outside with a dear friend with a couple glasses of vino and took in the evening air.

Recently I had the good fortune of heading up north to the Traverse City area  with a bunch of mmy Jaycee friends for a weekend of wine tasting.  The weather was lovely with brisk mornings and (mostly) sunny afternoons.  I've been traveling to the Traverse City area for 20 years now and it always feels like home to me.  There's so much to see, do and enjoy!

We spent most of our wine-tasting weekend touring the wineries of Old Mission Peninsula.   We went to 2 Lads which is situated at the far Northern end of the peninsula. They have a strikingly modern building with amazing views of the surrounding landscape.  Unfortunately the place was mobbed with people so we did not stay long.

We also visited Bowers Harbor Vineyard, which is one of my absolute favorites.  Below, is a shot looking down their bowery. Their wines are sublime and the scenery is fantastic. Being there gives you such a sense of peace and serenity.

Chateau Chantal has been near and dear to my heart for many many years. I discovered it one year on a trip up north with my Mom. We decided we'd found heaven! I think we must have come home with at least 2 cases, much of which was their sparkling wine Carpe Diem, which is now called Celebrate. The Chateau is owned by Bob and Nadine Begin, who are two of the nicest and most interesting people you could ever meet.  It sits on high ground with a commanding view of both East and West Bay.  Their Bed & Breakfast is top notch. My husband I stayed there one year between Christmas and New Year's. The snow was deep and white. Everything looked pristine and fresh. I'll never forget the sight of Bob Begin using his big truck with the plow on the front to clear their long, narrow and very curvy driveway.

A short drive to the south is Chatea Grand Traverse, another bastion of the Traverse City area wine scene. They have many award winning wines, one of my favorites being their Late Harvest Rieslings.  A glass of that, along with some fruit and cheeses is truly a slice of heaven. 

In terms of restaurants, the Traverse City is a veritable treasure trove of wonderful eateries, many of them committed to sustainable and eco-friendly practices.  For breakfast, I strongly recommend the The Omlette Shoppe. They have many choices of healthy and not-so-healthy options and if you're really looking to indulge, their cinnamon rolls are divine!  For dinner we went to the Jolly Pumpkin, which is also out on Old Mission Peninsula. The beers are amazing and the food definitely delivers.  Personally, I am in love with their Goat Cheese Pizza with basil pesto, olive oil and roma tomatoes.   I have dreams about that pizza!

So if you're looking to experience the sights, sounds and smells of Fall I'd strongly recommend the Traverse City area. You could go there a dozen times and still find new places to explore.

I apologize if I sound like a commercial but it can't be helped. I have, and always will have a love affair with the Traverse City area and all it has to offer.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Let Them Eat Cake...

My cake student regularly ask me whether I watch Cake Boss or Ace of Cakes on TV. I don't watch either show, to be honest. From the snippets I've seen here and there, it seems they are more concerned with looks than with taste. That may or may not be the case, but that is how it comes across on TV.  And again, with those cake competition shows while they're impressive to look at, and I'm amazed by their creativity, I'm not really sure I'd want to eat any of those cakes.

What really turned me off to watching Duff was when I saw he used pre-packaged fondant. That's fine for him, but I've tasted those fondants and they're definitely not yummy. I prefer to make my own. It's easier, less expensive and you can tailor the taste to the particular cake that you're making.  However, as a Wilton Method cake decorating instructor I do use the Wilton fondant in class. It's easier to work with than homemade and can be flavored in a variety of ways that make it more palatable. Outside of class however, it's always homemade. 

For me, a cake is ultimately meant to be eaten. Taste is my first and foremost concern. Is the cake moist? Is the filling a good match for the cake? Is the frosting appropriate for the target audience? Children generally like sweeter frostings so a more traditional butter-based buttercream would be fitting. Adults, on the other hand seem to prefer less sweet, more elegant frostings like Italian meringue buttercream, white chocolate cream cheese or chocolate caramel ganache.

So what are some of my favorite flavor combinations? A lot of things go really well with my white chocolate cream cheese frosting including chocolate cake, pumpkin cake (to die for!!!!) and lemon cake.  I love a classic buttercream on a chocolate cake. It's so unexpected. I like to use unusual fillings like pineapple or pecan praline.  In a lot of my kids cakes I use an Oreo filling. Kids seem to really love it.  I also like to mix a good quality jam with buttercream and use that for filling. They sweet-tart taste can help make a cake feel less heavy and more refreshing.  A raspberry jam-buttercream mixture is wonderful in both chocolate cake and lemon cake.  Ultimately a filling should add moisture and a little flavor kick to your cake.

How a cake looks however, is a close second to taste so I'm always looking to try new things and expand my skill set. Both the cakes featured in this post gave me a chance to try something new. The first, was a stacked cake for my friend Karen, aka my Evil Twin for her birthday. The inspiration came from the evite her husband sent out that featured had chili pepper lights. It was a Latin-themed party so I decided to go with the chili pepper theme on her cake. A quick trip to my favorite hardware store, Barnes Ace Hardware turned up a chili pepper cookie cutter.  I used that cutter to cute out red chili peppers in a mixture of gum paste and fondant.  During a girls night my friend Paige gave them a little "shimmer" with some pearl dust. I used those to decorate the 2-tier chocolate cake, attaching them to a green fondant vine I wrapped around the cake like ribbon. I'm really happy with how it turned out.

However, it wasn't perfect! Ssssh, don't tell! The two tiers of cake have different colors of frosting. It was the same frosting on the top and bottom, but the frosting for the bottom tier was whipped longer and hence got lighter in color and fluffier. So while yes, I made a boo boo sometimes if you don't admit to the boo boo you can play it off as intentional.

The butterfly cake was for a sweet girl named Eva who was turning 8. She wanted blue and butterflies. That was pretty much all the direction her Mom gave me. Sometimes clients are very specific with their desires and sometimes they let me use my creativity. For her cake I again stopped by Barnes Ace Hardware for a butterfly cookie cutter. I made a few different colors of fondant and marbled them together for the butterflies. I wanted them to look more fanciful than realistic. After cutting them out I formed them and propped them up on the edge of a cookie sheet so they would maintain their shame. They turned out so pretty that I wanted to use all of them! I opted to put the cake off-center on the board so that I had enough room to use all the butterflies as well as write a message to the birthday girl. Was that in my original plan? Nope. I had planned to cascade the butterflies across the top and down the sides of the cake. But this worked beautifully and I'm happy with how it turned out.

It's a gorgeous Fall day in Michigan. Time to whip up some pumpkin white chocolate muffins! 

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

A Glass of Chocolate Milk a.k.a the Problem with Color

Recently I've been trying to find just the right color paint for my master bathroom. My vision is to have a soothing zen-like space in a shade of soft brown and blue, or soft brown and cream--depending on which towels I put up. So I've been to Lowe's a few times now for just the right shade of brown paint, something like chocolate milk with a little extra white milk thrown in to lighten it just a hair.

My first two colors, Milk Toast and Hopsack were complete failures. Lovely colors on their own, but not right for this purpose. Milk Toast was too pink and Hopsack was too yellow. Of course it doesn't help that we're covering over the existing blue paint which may be skewing my color perception slightly.

Usually when it comes to paint color I nail it on the first or second try. I don't know if it's genetic, or it's my training at the University of Michigan Art School but I can "see" color. Even a good 8 years later I look at the walls in the main part of my house and love the glowing amber colors.  So I'll be heading back to Lowe's in the next few days to try a new color, Moose Mousse.

So my hubby told me he saw something on that indicated that men see about 12 different colors. What 12 I don't know, but I'm pretty sure a light shade of chocolate milk isn't on that list. I'm not man bashing believe me, but I think men and women do view color differently.

Out shopping yesterday I noticed a lot of really lovely colors showcased in the Fall clothes, especially for women. Gorgeous shades of camel, cinnamon, teal, blue, gray and burgundy abounded. But, with burgundy for example, does it have more purple to it and hence should be called aubergine, or does it have more red to it and really be called wine? With gray is it pearl, smoke, slate or steel? There are so many different color interpretations out there this Fall season. When it came to the mens fashions there were many yummy shades of khaki, camel and green that were prevalent every where I went.

I've heard people say for years "I just can't wear that color." I personally don't think that's true. I think you can wear any color out there as long as you find the right hue and saturation. Take green for example. When I was younger I was told I couldn't wear green with red hair because I'd look like a stop sign. I'm not sure if it was out of spite or what, but I went out and bought a long green wool coat. It just takes the right shade of green. Greens with a yellow back note are not so hot for me, but you get a green with either a blue or olive tinge and I'm in heaven!

This color issue spills over to the jewelry world as well. People tell me all the time "I don't look good in yellow gold." Again, not true. Maybe a wide yellow gold bangle isn't right for you, but something more delicate and lacey might be. In that situation is has more to do with style and visual weight of the piece.  You may have a personal preference for one color of gold over another, but I don't think looking good in a particular color is necessarily valid.

So tomorrow I'll go get a sample of that Moose Mousse paint and see if I've found the right color or not. 

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Rose Gold: The Bronzer of the Jewelry World

The past 5 years or so has seen a huge resurgence in rose gold jewelry available in the marketplace. Rose gold jewelry enjoyed some popularity in the United States at the turn of the 20th century but then fell out of favor over time. For many yellow gold was the “it” color for gold, denoting luxury and opulence. Then white metals came into fashion, i.e., platinum, white gold and sterling silver.  The market has become so saturated with white gold jewelry that now the trend is starting to shift away from white gold and white metal jewelry in general. Don’t get me wrong, white metal does show a white diamond to it’s full magnificent glory and depending on how the diamond is set, the prongs can virtually disappear. However, white gold in particular requires more maintenance to keep its sparkly white appearance in the form of regular Rhodium-plating. People are often unaware when they purchase white gold jewelry that it will need Rhodium-plating in the future, especially pieces that are worn daily, like bridal jewelry.

So what is rose gold exactly? All gold (Periodic table symbol AU) starts out yellow. It is then alloyed with other metals to make it 10K, 14K or 18K (the gold standards in the US). When a small percentage of copper is added to the yellow gold you get rose gold which has a wondrous soft, pinkish, coppery glow.

What’s in a name? Different designers call their rose gold by different names. Le Vian uses the trademarked name Strawberry Gold.  Other companies call it red gold. Some call is pink gold and some rose gold. It is all the same thing, yellow gold with copper added to it.

Rose gold jewelry is available at all price points and in both fine and costume jewelry. A recently perusal of Target and Kohl’s showed a number of pieces with rose gold or rose gold-tone accents in their costume jewelry collections. Everyone from JC Penneys, to Macy’s, to high-end retailers such as Neiman Marcus and Tiffany are featuring more and more rose gold jewelry. Even mass-market chain jewelers such as Helzberg and Sterling (Jared, Kay, JB Robinson and about 8 more brands) have rose gold offerings.

Styles of rose gold jewelry range from vintage to modern. Simon G is known for his beautiful vintage two-tone (rose and white gold) jewelry. Other jewelers such as GelinAbaci have gorgeous offerings in rose gold that are modern and sleek in style. Another favorite of mine is MaeVona which offers many graceful modern styles in rose gold and a variety of two-tone combinations.  There is even an online retailer whose website is entirely devoted to rose gold jewelry,

So why should you consider adding rose gold to your jewelry collection? Rose gold is the bronzer of the jewelry world. It looks great on every skin tone and with every hair color. It gives your skin a wonderful lift and glow, just like a sweep of bronzer. It can look crisp and clean or vintage and delicate depending on the style you choose. It is often paired with white gold or even with white AND yellow gold for a tri-color effect. Rose gold is even being seen in men’s jewelry, especially watches and wedding bands where it is paired with another metal for a two-tone look.  Simmons Jewelry Company is even pairing rose gold plated links with black rubber for very stylish men’s bracelets.