Wine & Cake Decorating

The new house is basically all I think about nowadays, but I interrupt my regularly scheduled wall painting and box packing program to bring you a fun snippet of an event some girlfriends and I participated in last Thursday. We ventured over to one of the local wineries in Southwest Michigan (the Winery, actually) and practiced our skills at cake decorating under the instruction of a professional pastry chef.

Mandy from Love and Macarons studied L’Art de la Patisserie at the French Pastry School in Chicago, and upon graduation worked under Bravo’s Top Chef Just Desserts winner Chris Hanmer in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. Mandy is a native of Southwest Michigan, though, and her heart tore her back home. I had the pleasure of partnering with Mandy while she worked at a local restaurant along with her executive chef for one of my Wine Club dinners in the Fall of 2017, and I was so excited to see she was pairing with the Winery again. This time under her own (and new!) business. Love and Macarons was developed from Mandy’s deep love of macarons. She also designs custom cakes, cupcakes, breakfast pastries, and other candies for the residents of our little corner of the Mitten State. Her products are everywhere locally! I love seeing her custom pop-tarts at my local farmer’s market, and her macaron towers at various events around town. Her Instagram is also full of desserts that leave my mouth watering. Partnering with Dablon Vineyards, Mandy was advertising a cake decorating class hosted at Dablon’s Annex. Knowing so many ladies who not only love to be creative but also drink wine, I shared the event on Facebook and a week later we met up to take the class. Dablon Vineyards is dear to my heart for many reasons — not only because I once called it my place of employment. Dablon is a beautiful winery set on an even more awe-inspiring vineyard. And the wines are unmatched in Michigan. The grapes are hand-picked and the winemaker combines Old World methods with New World technology to make the superior wines. Their goal is to “marry European varietals with the unique terroir in Southwest Michigan to make extraordinary wine.” They are excelling. With 36 acres of estate-grown grapes planted on Dablon’s 75-acre vineyard, Dablon’s wines are made in-house and on-site, and contrary to popular belief, sweet fruit wines are not the only product coming out of Michigan. Dablon’s wines are modeled after Burgundy and Bordeaux with unique varietals such as Malbec, Carmenere, and Petit Verdot available. But don’t just take me at my word — even Wine Enthusiast rated Dablon’s 2015 Cabernet Sauvignon 90 points, a great feat for some little Michigan winery. With a tasting room featuring two tasting bars and a lounge area in front of a stone fireplace, Dablon welcomes guests to not only sample their award-winning wines but also escape from every-day life in rustic comfort. So I’ll say it again: Dablon is my favorite Michigan winery for many reasons. Given the opportunity to drink wine while being creative was like having my cake and eating it too. (See what I did there?) I arrived to the event early enough to have a glass of my favorite Dablon wine before starting the class. No matter the vintage, the Dablon Pinot Noir Rosé is my go-to. The current 2017 vintage is darker in color with hints of raspberries and nice acidity. Depending on what I’ve eaten throughout the day, sometimes there is even tart cranberry. I’ve enjoyed a few glasses of the Rosé over the summer. The class began with Mandy giving an overview of her pastry experience and background. Then we jumped straight into decorating. We began with a 4″ layered baby cake, a turntable, a tub of purple buttercream frosting, three smaller containers of varying pink frosting hues, a paint scraper, and an angled spatula. Mandy demonstrated how to apply the first layer of the purple frosting to cover the entire cake. Basically, you scoop a large amount to the top and distribute it to the sides. Easy, right? Not quite. Once all the frosting has been distributed, you then want to smooth the cake’s sides using the paint scraper. This will remove a majority of the frosting. You then repeat the first step (dolloping more frosting and distributing) followed by scraping off. The goal is to have the cake appear smooth on the sides and flat on top. It took me four turns of distributing, scraping, and repeating to have my cake appear relatively smooth. Then came texturizing. Using your angled spatula, Mandy instructed the class to choose one of the pink shades and begin dotting them onto the cake. She looked like a painter, dotting the reddish hue this way and that until she felt it was time to move to the brighter pink. Then she repeated her moves, and again with the white until her cake looked like Picasso had taken his brush to it. I’m no Picasso, friends. Instead, I chose to (what I kindly call) glop my colors on my cake. Strong, repetitive, upward strokes of thick frosting began to take shape. I had no rhyme or reason for my placement other than to make the cake look “like feathers.” I wanted texture. I wanted height. And above-all-else, I wanted a lot of frosting. I’m proud to say I succeeded in all those categories. I felt this stage in the decorating was the most fun. I could mix colors, hide mistakes, and make the cake take on the form I envisioned. Plus, I was able to enjoy my second glass of Dablon wine, this time choosing the newly released 2017 Dablon Pinot Grigio. A deliciously dry white, this Pinot Grigio offers mild acidity with light starfruit. It is one of G’s favorite options from the winery, and I’ve become accustomed to its lightness in the hot months, so it fit for the muggy Michigan September evening. The final step was what I would call accessorizing the cake. Mandy provided an array of options: vanilla and chocolate macarons, fresh flowers, sprinkles, edible glitter, and meringue. If you’ve never had meringue, you are truly missing out. It is pretty much a dehydrated marshmallow made of egg whites, salt, and sugar, and feels like you’re eating a sweet cloud. I used both varieties of macarons (because they are seriously the best!), a medium-sized meringue, and a handful of flower stems. I tried different layering techniques, and after the twentieth variation finally liked my design enough to call it good. Then I added some crushed meringue and gold sprinkles at the base of my cake, and sprinkled some gold glitter to really make the cake sparkle. I have to admit I was pleasantly surprised with my final product: I don’t foresee me quitting my day job to become a cake decorator, but this event was a lot of fun. I’ve done plenty of Wine and Canvas classes in the past. This cake decorating takes the cake. (Ha, I have so many more, guys!) With Wine and Canvas, you’re shown how to paint one image which you’ll never need to paint again. With the cake decorating class, I learned techniques to decorate cakes for my friends and family in the future which I’ll actually retain. I’ve never been a baker, but now I feel comfortable enough to at least frost a cake should the need arise. In addition to expanding my creative abilities, I was given the opportunity to get out of the house — literally — and express myself in a fun manner. And on top of all that, I took a tasty treat home for G and I to split! The cake was a chocolate velvet cake made with Cabernet Sauvignon. It had some spice to it, and the buttercream filling was delicious. It definitely made the hubby happy having dessert in the apartment for a few nights. I call that a win-win for everyone involved! There really was no better way to spend a Thursday evening than with a full glass of wine, lots of laughs, and inspiration to work with in the kitchen. I love living in a community that provides little classes like this one, and I love living in an area that makes such amazing wine. I’m looking forward to more cake decorating classes in the future, either at Dablon again or exploring a new location. Can I also add how cute it is that my girls and I dressed to match our cakes? I love fun coincidences like this! Now back to moving into the new house… Until next time, friends,

Real Wedding: Rachel + James

When I think of my childhood, there is one smiling face that shows up in more than half of my memories and that is the face of my friend Rachel. Our friendship has been nothing short of adventurous: from riding ATVs up north with no helmets and watching her cousin bite worms in half in order to “fish better” to staying up ungodly hours of the night to watch trash TV to cruising the Caribbean twice to witnessing drug busts in the nation’s capital to acting as one another’s wedding Plus One’s to surviving puberty, high school, and a number of break ups, we have done so much together!

Needless to say, when Rach texted me one January morning to tell me she was now engaged to her high school sweetheart, my heart was bursting! Not only because IT WAS ABOUT TIME, but also because our conversation turned to wedding plans and logistics. As an event coordinator at the Winery still, I started to cry when she took me up on my offer to host her intimate nuptials at my venue AND allow me to help coordinate the Big Day.


Rachel and Jimmy began dating our senior year of high school. Like most early relationships, they did wander from one another after graduation, but it didn’t take long for their hearts to call them  back together. What is meant to be will always find a way! They both have adventurous, wanderlust hearts (traveling the world is one of their shared passions) and have enough differences to balance one another in a strong partnership.

Jimmy proposed to Rachel on Christmas Day.  As his family watched, a beautiful solitaire gold ring was found by Rachel tied with a ribbon around the collar of their new puppy, Hopper. Jimmy fell to his knee and the rest is history…

Having discussed their wedding ideals prior to the engagement, both Jimmy and Rachel knew exactly the kind of celebration they wanted: an intimate affair surrounded with their closest loved ones. Both fearing the crowds of a large to-do, they opted to spend their expenses on a month-long honeymoon to explore the world together rather than a lavish party. Perhaps a reception sometime in the future, but for now they were seeking somewhere small, cozy, and preferably rustic.

Cue me!

When Rachel told me what sort of venue she was seeking and her budget, I knew exactly where (and who) should “run this show.” My Winery’s special event space boasted an adorable fireplace ideal for a ceremony’s backdrop, wood beams for a rustic feel, and all the wine imaginable. Plus the rental fee was exactly within the bride’s margins! Without much persuading, Rachel came, saw, and placed a deposit on the space for a date only two weeks in the future for her wedding. And so the preparations began…

The wedding would host both the groom’s and bride’s immediate family. This meant grandparents, parents, siblings, and nieces and nephews only. The group planned to go out for dinner following the ceremony, so only light hors d’voures were needed. As for decor, Rachel’s mom and I worked with the most simplistic of tools to bring a light, airy feel to the venue: tulle, organza, Mason jars, and baby’s breath were all it took.

With less than two weeks to prepare, Rachel’s savviness was impressive! She found her wedding dress (a gorgeous ivory lace gown) at a local bridal shoppe. The gown was a floor sample and just happened to fit this bride like a glove! Seriously! Look at this stunning bride!

Rachel dressed and prepped in my office upstairs as Jimmy took residence in the office across the hall. Skipping tradition, the two met before the ceremony to capture the “first look” and share a bottle of wine. When time, Jimmy took Rachel arm-in-arm and they entered the ceremony together down the staircase; the guests were silent as the beautiful couple cascaded down to say their vows.

The ceremony was officiated by the couple’s friend and tattoo artist. What felt like eternity for the couple was actually only about five minutes worth of stating vows, exchanging rings, and making the announcement of husband and wife.

Then it was time for the festivities! The couple toasted the beginning of their future with a bottle of 2016 Dablon Sparkling Chardonnay  and a beautiful naked cake created by an amazing pastry chef (and high school friend) to provide a sweet treat for guests and couple alike. The vanilla cake with raspberry filling paired well beside other bottles of wine being sampled by the family as all present celebrated the growth of their families.

The after-ceremony celebration involved a lot of mingling, hugging, and well-wishes for the newlyweds.

It was so amazing to witness this intimate affair and see the happiness in my friend’s life. There were many laughs throughout the afternoon as we all mingled and shared stories of the past and dreams of the future.

And though I loved every moment of the ceremony, one of the most memorable moments of the day for me was when the photographer, the newlyweds, and I ventured around the Winery for a photo shoot. Anji, the photographer, and her assistant Andrew were an awesome team to witness.

First we went to the Winery’s barrel room. Anji had me cut the overhead lights and highlighted the couple using a lighting rod. Then we took to the vineyards and patio. Thankfully there was limited snow for a Michigan January! The weather was actually misting, but temperatures were not below freezing. The gray sky assisted in accentuating the colors of the photographer’s subjects. After a bit of fun outdoors, we moved into the tasting room for the finale — and a little wine.

The process Anji went through to capture these images was incredible — that woman is ridiculously talented — and her final products speak for themselves:

For a dreary Michigan Sunday in January, the love and warmth of this ceremony melted all coldness from the world. Ending their celebration with a wine tasting, the couple quickly and easily packed up their belongings and headed to a great dinner with their families…

And off into the rest of their happily married lives together.

I am so thankful to have been able to be a part of this momentous day for my long-time friend. I am even more thankful she was so gracious in granting me permission to her wedding photographs and freedom to write a little piece on this intimate affair. I love ya, Rach!

Venue: Dablon Vineyards
Photographer: Anji Monique Photography
Cake: Mandy Krause of Love and Macarons
Event Coordinator: Ashley Wall