Today is National Dog Day. Another made-up holiday? Perhaps, but let’s take minute to love on our furry friends, and our family favorite dogs is the English Springer Spaniel, a cheerful, intelligent, attentive dog. Read on about our three ESS loves…
When we moved from the Chicago area to Atlanta in 1990, we added our first Springer, Oreo to the family, and soon thereafter our son, Carter. That sweet dog let Carter and then baby sister, Mimi learn to walk by holding onto her fur and toddling along with them. When Oreo was done, she gave them a lick, making them squeal with giggles and let go, and then tucked herself into her kennel, her safe place. I can’t say enough about our Atlanta award-winning breeder, Karen Foster. She interviewed us, giving us the pup best suited for our lifestyle, and she was spot on with Oreo. Tip – Ask you breeder lots of questions about their processes as it could save you lots of time and heartache.
As Oreo aged, we got another puppy to bridge the gap, Biscotti or Bisi. And was she every busy! She could find a tennis ball in anyone’s yard. This cute girl was a star in our Traditional Home story too. See her peeking in the front door?
After Oreo’s passing, it was just Bisi and our three kids. So… 8th grade daughter, Mimi, sat Steve and I down for a powerpoint presentation on why we should adopt another English Springer Spaniel from Springer Rescue America. Guess what the answer was? You guessed it. Duke joined us one month later.
Why do we love our dogs? They comfort us just by being there. We look forward to coming home to that wagging tail. My dog teaches me to be more patient. My dog teaches me to find joy in the little things. Dogs lift our spirits, they are natural mood elevators. They keep us socially connected at the dog park, running into a neighbor on a walk around the block. Whether you take your dog to a “yappy” hour at a local dog-friendly spot, or just give your pooch some extra love, celebrate time with your furry friend!
A month in Italy to create art – a dreamy opportunity! How did this come about, you may ask. Here’s a quick art recap of how Steve’s Artist in Residence at La Fortezza came about and the fabulous results.
You may remember last fall, Steve taught a painting workshop at Annette Joseph’s 9th century villa, La Fortezza. It was full of creativity, laughs and exploration. That lead to this offer from Annette, be the first Artist in Residence, creating work inspired by the region. And he said YES! So, this past July, he did just that, creating a body of work that reflects the history, geography and beauty of the Lunigiana region. Truly a gift to focus on art for a full month.
If you haven’t been to this part of Italy, add it to your travel bucket list. Lunigiana is a historic region between Tuscany and Liguria, drenched in history, unique foods and breathtaking views.
Being familiar with the town and nearby art store, Steve knew what supplies he needed to take and what he could purchase there. So, with brushes and paint in hand, he spread out in the spacious studio, working on many canvases and paper pieces at once, as the inspiration moved him.
One of the benefits of being in one place for a longer period of time is you make friends with the locals. This was especially helpful as Steve wanted to make copies of historic rare books and ephemera at the local rare books archives, to incorporate into his paintings. With some patience and help with translating, he got more than he needed, including the Roman soldier seen above, an atlas of the region from 1785, and a lawyer’s goat skin bound book of contracts from 1635, all incorporated into various works of art.
It wasn’t all painting, there was cooking to be done, in Annette’s fabulous kitchen, plus visiting local museums, sites and an artists’ co-op. Check out Annette’s many workshops here.
One of the artists shared some scrap chunks of Carrara marble with Steve. What an amazing new conduit for his art, another blessing from travels and learning from new friends.
How does one end such a wonderful month of painting? With a show of course! A downpour didn’t dampen our spirits either. The food truck brought the food inside the studio where our friends, local and from afar, ate, drank and danced into the night.
The next day, we packed up the art, said ciao to La Fortezza, and headed to the iconic beach town, Forte Dei Marmi, the perfect way to cap off a jubilant July.
As promised, here is Steve’s family recipe for this easy sour cream cake. It’s a family recipe from his Aunt Judy, awarded with the coveted placement in several church cookbooks. Beloved for its versatility too, Steve added this drizzle Jackson Morgan Salted Caramel icing, or you can take advantage of fresh fruit like strawberries and peaches, finished off with a dollop of whipped cream on top.
Sour Cream Cake
3 cups cake flour (we really did sift the flour per the instructions)
3 cups sugar
1 c. sour cream
1 c. butter, softened
1/4 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. vanilla
6 eggs, separated (You will beat the egg whites into stiff peaks)
Sift flour; add soda and sift again. Cream butter and sugar thoroughly, and add egg yolks, one at a time. Add flour and sour cream alternately. Add stiffly beaten egg whites. Bake in a greased and well-floured angel food cake pan or bundt pan. Bake at 300 degrees F for 1.5 hours.
Let cool 10 minutes, then flip on a cooling rack to finish cooling.
When Paige Minear suggested this delicious collaboration, Steve knew exactly what cake he wanted to pair with the Jackson Morgan Southern Cream Salted Caramel deliciousness. So he called Aunt Judy in Kentucky, she texted the recipe, and now we get to share it with you. We baked it in a bundt pan like this one. Individual bundt cakes would be a fun at everyone’s place setting for a special celebration, or just because it’s Monday. Then you could set out separate toppings (think sprinkles, fruit, chocolate chips) and let everyone dress their own cake.
With a little planning, you can whip up this simple cake first thing in the morning, before the kitchen gets too hot, and then you’re done. Voilà you have dessert and you’re a hero!
How do you showcase your desserts? I love to bring out one of our cake stands, either my grandmother’s pressed glass cake stand or a colorful Deruta Italian cake stand, a souvenir from our travels. As they say in show business, it’s all about the presentation.
If you do bake this Sour Cream Cake, please share a photo of your cake with us on Facebook or Instagram, using the hashtag #InspiredTailoredAuthentic #stevemckenzies. Happy baking!
Happy Summer! What better way to kick off summer entertaining than a simple dessert soiree? Paige Minear of The Pink Clutch Blog joined us for a homemade Sour Cream Cake, complemented with some of her favorite things, including her gorgeous collection from Creative Candles, Mottahadeh china and classic monogrammed cocktail napkins from The Preppy Stitch.
Everyone enjoys a little dessert. For a simple icing, Steve whipped up confectioners sugar, vanilla, fresh mint and added Jackson Morgan Southern Cream in Salted Caramel for a little something special. Perfect!
Wait until you try Creative candles! Honestly, we’ve used their Paris Gray candles for every occasion for years. After seeing these in person, we may change to Paige’s summer collection as it’s so cool, soothing yet vibrant.
Keep cool in the kitchen and enjoy a summer dessert with your family and friends. We’re happy to share our recipes and tips with you. Just send us a message!
Following your dreams and making your passion your profession. It’s something we strive for throughout our lives. For some people, following their passion comes effortlessly and early on. Others may not realize what their passion even is until later in life, and then they work for it tirelessly.
For Kristen Hard, the founder of and artisan behind Cacao, she knew early on her passion was in the confectionery arts – specifically chocolate. But, following her passion came as no easy task.
Kristen learned to cook early on, as a little girl, her mom allowed her to get very creative and almost everything she made involved sugar. Because Kristen’s mom didn’t allow sweets in the house – there were eight children total – she had to make her own.
Her dream was always to open a cafe, but as she honed her skills and refined her passion, her dream of becoming a chocolatier blossomed. Kristen quickly learned there was much more to the world of crafting fine chocolates than pouring molten cocoa into molds. There was a whole world of cacao plant genetics and technology to learn about, and she knew if she wanted to become one of the world’s finest chocolatiers, she had to know her raw product inside and out.
To create the world’s best chocolates, Kristen knew you had to have the best possible quality cacao bean, which comes from the perfect plant, grown in an ideal setting over time. Because cacao is considered a high-end, luxury commodity, sourcing the best product can be extremely difficult – Kristen likens it to diamonds. And, based on her somewhat scary and extreme, off-the-grid travel challenges she’s faced sourcing and now growing the ideal cacao plant, we have no room to argue. Kristen navigates the globe working with scientists, geneticists and farmers who all share her goal of creating the finest chocolate possible.
For Kristen, her chocolate is her art and she believes in working with the best possible medium to create a successful end product. And she’s creating quite a name for herself – she’s the first female chocolatier in the US to work from the cacao bean to produce her goods. And she’s proud of her grass-roots beginnings, she’s a self-taught strong female, who’s also a single mother to a four year old daughter. And Kristen says she’s never going to stop perusing her passion and working tirelessly to shape and improve the industry she’s chosen to work in.
Kristen’s hands on approach to the art of chocolate has garnered her many accolades thus far and she’s looking at greater success in the near future. Cacao currently boasts four brick and mortar boutique locations in the Atlanta area, as well as international sales that are showing exponential growth, especially in Japan where Kristen says the people have a true appreciation for her purpose – they understand perfection and want only the best.
In addition, Kristen will be publishing a cookbook this spring, which will be the first book that follows chocolate from it’s original, cacao seed form to finished product and showing home chefs that creating the highest quality chocolate is possible, right under their own roofs.
Kristen has created a triptych of chocolate levels under the Cacao umbrella – these include Twigg & Co., probably the closest to what we know of fine chocolate, Cacao Platinum and then Black Label, the finest quality chocolate Kristen can create. By offering chocolate in this way, Kristen feels she can best showcase the journey of fine chocolates and work to redefine what we think of as quality chocolate – her line is a prototype of what she believes the cacao industry should offer… Systematized, verified, certified, while being in control of the technology and science behind growing a top quality raw product.
Thank you to our new friend Kristen, and artisan chocolatier, for inviting us to her cafe in Atlanta’s Highland neighborhood and for sharing her passion – and even a few chocolates! – with us. She’s a truly inspiring artist and we believe there are a few key takeaways here for any of us who are ever evolving and working to follow our passion:
- It’s never to late (or early) to pursue your passion!
- Educate yourself and learn your chosen industry/medium from the ground up, inside and out.
- Experiment and make mistakes… Kristen holds vanilla tastings, dessert trials, and more with her staff (you could put your friends and family to the test if you don’t yet have your own professional crew) to ensure they’re using the best possible ingredients and crafting her chocolates and other sweet offerings to the best of their ability. They even dye their own sprinkles, which comes with plenty of trial and error!
- Never stop. Kristen’s fighting personality and passion for bettering her industry as a whole is what most stood out to us during our visit. Become your own industry champion and support will follow.
If you’re local here to the Atlanta area, find a Cacao location and stop by – you’ll be in heaven if you appreciate any type of sweet. And if you’re not local, check out Kristen’s online Cacao offerings. We can’t wait to hear what you think.
And remember to always follow your passion!!