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.

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!