Gina Hyams Author

Category Archives: design

Patrice Wynne Interview: San Miguel de Allende Expat Entrepreneur on Doing Business in Mexico, Beauty, Aging, and Love

Inspired by the colors, exuberance, and traditions of Mexico, Patrice Wynne created Abrazos featuring San Miguel Designs, her boutique in San Miguel de Allende and production company designing textile products, which are handmade by local seamstresses working in fair trade conditions. Her collection has grown from a line of aprons to kitchen wares, handbags, baby bibs, dresses, men’s shirts, and more, selling all over the world—from Paris to Beirut to Mexico City. She uses fabrics patterned with Mexican cultural icons, such as Frida Kahlo, Dia de Los Muertos (Day of the Dead), lucha libre (Mexican wrestlers), cacti, and chili peppers that characterize what she calls “the fiesta of life in Mexico.”


Expat Entrepreneur Patrice Wynne (2016 photo on right by Kate Frank Cohen)

Gina: Where are you from?

Patrice: I was born on October 5,1951 in Pottsville, in upstate Pennsylvania, but consider Minersville, a town nearby, where my grandparents lived, as my heart home or place of true birth. This is anthracite coal mining country. Both my grandfathers were in the coal mines, one as an executive, the other as a child miner.

Gina: Where all did you live before moving to Mexico?

Patrice: I have had the good fortune of living in tremendously wonderful cities and small towns all over California before moving to San Miguel in 2000.

Gina: What sorts of work did you do before moving to Mexico?

Patrice: I got my training in business and management as a young executive at Fotomat, the drive-through stores in shopping centers all over the US. Over my ten years with the company, I managed 500 “fotomates” [employees].


By the time I quit, I was ready for a huge change, so I took six months off to travel around Europe and ponder my future:  in my late twenties and in a soul crisis. I was interested in becoming a Unitarian minister because it had saved me from corporate America’s grip and seductions. Since I was nervous about public speaking, I decided to get my degree in women’s studies not knowing what I would do, but fascinated by all of the writings by and about women of the 70s and 80s. I just followed my passion.

In college, I was the co-founder of the Rising Spirits Cafe at the Ecumenical House of San Francisco State University and I started the Amnesty International group at SFSU, specializing in Latin American human rights. The Cafe sponsored readings by authors, conversations with professors, poetry readings by Vietnam Vets and organized large scale events for the nuclear freeze movement. It was important political work, but psychologically very challenging. When I graduated I took that summer off to heal in nature at the Ojai Foundation. It was there that I was invited to open their bookstore. I discovered that I loved being in the book world, and opened my own bookstore, Gaia, a few years later in North Berkeley, where I was living.

Patrice at Gaia Bookstore in Berkeley, California

In the beginning, I spoke to other booksellers to learn what I could from them about the business. Without exception they thought it was a tough field and strongly challenged me on my area of specialty, women’s spirituality, not feminist studies, but women’s spiritual processes, religion, psychology and health. I forged ahead, and rented a small space that was so tiny that we never bothered to alphabetize our books, we just put them wherever there was a space on the shelf. In retrospect, it seems like a wild idea, but I was committed and had a ton of contacts and put them all to good use. We flourished, growing into a large store with 25 employees and expanding into other areas of interest, all with a focus on the human spirit. We became nationally known for our nightly author readings; I hosted 3,000 events during my career. When we closed under extreme financial duress from Barnes and Noble and Amazon, I told the world, that I would never ever, under any circumstances, ever open another retail store.

Gina: What skills did you learn in your previous work that came into use when you started Abrazos?

Patrice: Audacity, confidence in myself and my vision, originality in concept and design, people management, mentoring and leadership training, importance of novelty and the new in retail business. Again, I heard the same things: “Oh, you can’t succeed, you are too specialized, it will take over your life.” Blah, blah, blah. I did it anyways, and although there have been times when we barely survived, we are growing for the last three years and I am optimistic about our future.

A few of Patrice’s many San Miguel Designs products

Gina: What new skills did you need to learn to do business in Mexico?

Patrice: Listening to and observing the subtle cultural cues in Spanish that differ from English; tolerance for differences in banking, regulations, tax collections, border crossings, importations; manufacturing complexities; and most importantly, the expectation of courtesies and respect at all times. For example, always asking customers and employees how they are doing before leaping into the question on your mind.

Gina: How good is your Spanish?

Patrice: Functionally conversational, but not fluent: good enough to speak to employees all day long; good enough to go to Mexico City every week in search of supplies; good enough to manage a tour business which I did before I opened Abrazos. I cannot carry on a lengthy intellectual discussion on complex issues, or spend an entire night over dinner and understand the conversation if it was all in Spanish.

Gina: How many people do you employ now and what are their jobs?

Patrice: I tell people that we have one hundred seamstresses, but we really only have thirteen, however when you hire a Mexican woman you are hiring her children, her neighbors, her family, and extended family, since everyone helps her and everyone wants to work, too. Abrazos has a talented, professional team that manages the retail and wholesale responsibilities. Since we have two businesses out of one location, it takes a lot of coordination and superior communication and teamwork to operate smoothly. Our business manager, Aaron Leon, has been with us since we opened; Samantha Nogueda is the Abrazos store and production manager and marketing genius; Gaby handles social media coordination; and Lorena is the general assistant who does everything and more to keep the store beautiful and merchandise ready for sales.

San Miguel Designs longtime seamstresses

Gina: What sort of advisors do you have on your team?

Patrice: I have an accountant that we are in contact with all the time, a lawyer who I talk to about once a year, and a Mexico City woman taxi driver who also runs errands for us in the City since our biggest clients are located there.

Gina: What and/or who are your design inspirations?

Patrice: Anything to do with fair trade and slow fashion, so mostly other small-scale designers and creators. I find videos and working cooperativas on Facebook that move me. I am not inspired by anyone in the fashion or manufacturing industry.

Gina: Do you have any personal and/or business role models?

Patrice: I am most inspired by Frida [Kahlo] in spirit, fierceness, individuality, Mexicanismo, and passion.

Gina: What gives you the most pleasure about running your business?

Patrice: Seeing the women come in every day for work with their children and their mothers; watching the brand grow as we are sold in stores and museum shops all over the world; watching the confidence grow in the young women who work in Abrazos. For example, one in particular was very meek when she came to work for us as a housekeeper and now does just about every job with confidence and high performance and speaks up to her controlling father and brothers because she has found her voice and her talents.

Gina: What is the most challenging thing about running your business?

Patrice: Balancing personal time with being the owner/founder. I travel frequently—to open new accounts, to service existing accounts, and to enjoy life all over Mexico with Ernesto. Fortunately, I have employees who enjoy being in charge of the business and are fully trustworthy to manage all the business affairs. From the road, I manage the financial responsibilities, fabric ordering, and off site questions that need attention. The downside is that I am online frequently, but when you’re sitting in a plaza in the Yucatan on an iPad, it’s still a paradise.

Gina: What do you wish you’d known before you launched Abrazos?

Patrice: Opportunity is not the highest value; being part of a family system is much more compelling. Years ago I mentored a very poor young woman who wanted to be her own person. She was my housekeeper, then my assistant, then my store manager. She traveled with me; I left her the business and the house in my will; she was my right hand gal in everything and we were very close. But when her brother and sister were caught stealing from me and I fired them, she had to walk away from it all. Her family would not allow her to work with me, if they had lost their job. Kindness and generosity and opportunities offered do not mean a thing because family wishes always prevail. Family is everything and more in this country.

Gina: What do you think are the most important character traits for being a successful entrepreneur?

Patrice: Focus; kindness and toughness; confidence and humility; and in today’s world, willingness to do shameless marketing, a phrase I coined. You take the point of view “people care and are interested in my life and my work.” You have to be willing to share what you are doing boldly, creatively, and authentically. Professional marketing is no substitute for personal enthusiasm. Marketing skills have to be self taught and exercised confidently, even though your shyer self has all kinds of messages telling you to hide yourself under a blanket.

Gina: How do you stay healthy and keep your amazing energy? Do you exercise or follow any particular diet?

Patrice: Recently I attended a pre-performance talk by Farruquito, the world’s greatest gypsy dancer. When someone asked him this exact same question, we both give the exact same answer: Nothing. PASSION for one’s life and work and “dance” keeps us healthy. This passion keeps us energized, keeps us dynamically engaged with life. However, I do eat modestly, and never overeat, for one thing, because stuffiness makes me groggy. I don’t use any drugs including marijuana, don’t smoke and drink only when dining out.

HOME from FARRUQUITO on Vimeo.

Gina: How would you describe your personal sense of style?

Patrice: Bohemian Mexican Indigenous Contemporary. I wear the Abrazos dresses when I travel because they go over anything and are super comfortable. Natural fabrics, often mismatched, artistic one-of-a-kind jewelry created by friends, indigenous clothing that I adapt to be more stylish. I’m into style, not fashion. Fashion is dictated by businesses and industry. Style is your own artistry. Your body is the canvas; your closet is the palette.

Patrice Style

Patrice Style

Gina: What are your thoughts on aging and beauty?

Patrice: It is a grace and an opportunity to let life show up in your face, eyes, body, and soul. And it’s fucking hard to have a body that aches with joint pain, which is my suffering. But in my relationship with Ernesto, I am lucky to have a guy that is enjoying me as an older woman and adores me just as I am and validates it all since he thinks aging is cool. And it is, basically, as you watch yourself handle things with more gentleness and love. I actually think I am more beautiful now than I was ten years ago and at various times in my life, when I was more stressed and pushing myself harder.

Gina: Please tell me about your wonderful house in San Miguel. Did you build it?

Patrice: I bought the house twelve years ago after renting it for two years. I wanted to make sure that I would enjoy living a twenty-minute walk from Centro. I do, because it is a break from the constancy of traffic, events, tourism, fireworks, and street closings that are the conditions of life in the Historic Centro. Since my store is located there, it is the best of both worlds: I get the pleasures and benefits of tourism as a business and the peace of living in a quiet Mexican neighborhood.

My colonia, Independencia, is a mixed neighborhood, mostly Mexican, with few businesses so few trucks and deliveries, mostly residential, on a hill, with breezes and natural sounds from birds and the wind, as well as the church bells, which we can hear from our bedroom in the mornings and at night. There’s also a mariachi school nearby so I get to hear them play and watch them go by. Love it.

Patrice’s Casa

When I bought the house it was a wreck. Ernesto calls it “the place that Frida came to get ideas.” It is muy Mexicana colorful. I paid a little over US$100,000 and put in another US$50,000. Over the years, I added a rooftop terrace and a landscaped garden where we spend time being restored and secluded. Avenida Independencia, the main entrance to town on this side of the city, is two doors from our house. So we can watch the world go by and the religious processions, which we love to do from our rooftop. Also horses and donkey pass by our house frequently.

Gina: When and how did you and Ernesto meet?

Patrice: I met Ernesto when a friend introduced us three years ago though I had a crush on him a decade ago when he dated a friend. I kept it to myself and never spoke to him, only to my therapist. I was a goner and could not figure out why I was so fascinated by him. After we began dating I understood: he seduced me with his kindness, his gentlemanliness, his Mexicanismo.

Ernesto and Patrice

Ernesto and Patrice

For the full story, see an essay I wrote for the Huff Post called “Reborn On Cobblestones” about how we met. It reveals a lot about me. I let it all out about my fierce independence and the stages of meeting him and letting myself surrender to that love in my sixties.

Gina: What is he interested in (besides you!)?

 Patrice: He enjoys taking care of our home, caring for our darling rescue dog Rudi (notice a theme here?), documentaries, reading thriller novels, hanging out on the rooftop, and napping. He loves the simplicity of life that he can create for himself. We are both huge admirers of each other’s ways and interests and place no demands on each other to be anything but the best we can be: he as a professional napper, reader, and walking retiree; me as a professional social entrepreneur and slow fashion advocate. Our daily activities are a huge contrast, but that unites rather than separates us as we talk about every detail of our days when we are together in the evenings. We share a passion for eating delicious, simple meals, reading, talking about Mexico, music, and traveling all over Mexico. And we both love Facebook and find amusement to read all kinds of things to each other.



Gina: Have you had a formal public wedding ceremony yet? I enjoyed your wedding dress quest on Facebook. Did you end up buying any of those dresses?

Patrice: I am still collecting wedding dress ideas that I see on Facebook and in stores. Have tried on a few and find that they always look better in theory than in practice. A friend summarized my problem: I can’t decide whether to have ten people or a thousand. I know a city full of people and don’t want to leave anyone off the guest list that I have known all these years. However, a wedding of ten is not my dream since my first marriage was a small one and I never felt that I celebrated enough. As you can see I am stumped, but it will sort itself out over time.

Mexican gowns

Some of Patrice’s potential wedding gowns

Gina: Why do you want to get married rather than just live together?

Patrice: We want to be married because we love the idea of doing it over again this time around as a married couple with all the lessons culled from living to this age of sweet wisdom. And because we are so much in love, we want to formally proclaim it to the world by a marriage. In some ways, we are both old fashioned about marriage, it is a joyfully public expression of a commitment that just being partners in life does not satisfy.

Gina: What are your tips for a happy relationship?

Patrice: Forgive Quickly, Kiss Slowly; Nothing is worth fighting over if you can resolve it with forgiveness and a kiss and most everything can; speak up if you are hurt because holding grudges will come out later the wrong way; listening is better than speaking because we all want to be heard; spending quiet times together at home builds intimacy, even if you are both in other rooms doing Facebook—as long as you share stories and read to each other periodically; give each other the freedom to be apart if that is what makes another happy; primarily, enjoy your own company and share as much as you can with your partner whenever you are together.


Follow Patrice on Facebook at Abrazos featuring San Miguel Designs by Patrice Wynne.

For Rent: Casa Duende + Casita Art Studio in San Miguel de Allende

Casa Duende

For reservations, please contact Gina at

Casa Duende Street Entry

Casa Duende is my family’s home in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico. “Duende” is a Spanish word that loosely translates to mean the transcendent emotional-physical-spiritual state achieved by flamenco dancers and musicians at the peak of artistic expression; it also refers to a fairy or goblin-like creature in Latin American mythology. Casa Duende, with its quirky shapes, vibrant colors, and jungle-like garden is designed to inspire creativity.


The casa grande has richly hued walls, colorful polished cement floors, artful Talavera tile in the kitchen and one and a half bathrooms, whimsical Mexican folk art, and paintings by my late mother, Leigh Hyams. The kitchen is outfitted with plenty of pots and pans, microwave, coffeemaker, blender, juice squeezer, etc. There’s a flat-screen television in the living room with a blue ray/dvd player and basic cable. There are three bedrooms on the second floor: one with a brick dome ceiling and a double bed, another is situated in a tower room with a double bed, and the third has a watery blue floor and two twin beds.


The casita has a sky blue bedroom, bright Talavera tile-filled bathroom, simple kitchen, and light-drenched painting studio. It contains an extensive library of art books.


There’s a brick patio between the buildings and a roof terrace on top of the casita. Both houses have Wi-Fi and access to a washer and dryer. In addition, there’s a small painting-writing studio at the front of the property.


Casa Duende is located in the Colonia Guadalupe neighborhood, a flat ten-minute walk to the Centro or to the Fabrica la Aurora art and design center. The tranquil, mixed Mexican-expat neighborhood boasts Via Organica (an organic market and café), a well-stocked art supply store, and more than a dozen street murals that were painted as part of the new Guadalupe Arts District.


One wakes up to the sounds of church bells, chirping birds, crowing roosters, barking dogs, and often fireworks (exploded in honor of all manner of saints). Please note: this is the soundtrack of Mexico. If you are especially sensitive to noise and these things make you cranky, ours is not the rental for you.


The rent includes housekeeping three times per week by Delia (who you can also hire to bake amazing pastel de tres leches cakes if you like), gardener Faustino two times per week (he sweeps the bougainvillea blossoms off the terrace and keeps the plantings lush), and on-call assistance from our charming, handy, and helpful bilingual property manager, José.


Rental Rates

January through April 15 + December 16 through 31

US $1500 per week

US $5,000 per month

April 16 through December 15

US $1,350 per week

US $4,000 per month



Maximum occupancy: 6

In general, we do not rent the houses separately, but may do so at the last minute if there’s availability.

Non-smoking only.

Not suitable for children due to cement stairs without railing and fragile folk art.

Sorry, no pets.

Little Studio and Laundry Room

Entry Courtyard

Steps to Roof Terrace

Casita Entry

Casita Art Studio

Casita Art Studio windows (the dining table has been moved to the library nook since this photo was snapped)

Casita daybed-couch in the studio area

Casita Kitchen

Casita Dining Nook

Casita Bedroom

Casita Bathroom

Courtyard Sitting Area Between the Casita and Casa Grande

Casa Grande Entry

Casa Grande Living Room

Casa Grande Living Room

Casa Grande Fireplace Mantle

View from Living Room to Dining Room and Kitchen

Casa Grande Dining Room

View from Kitchen to Dining Room

Casa Grande Kitchen

Casa Grande Stairs

Casa Grande Upstairs Bathroom

Casa Grande Bedroom with “Boveda” Brick Dome Ceiling

Casa Grande Bedroom with “Boveda” Brick Dome Ceiling

Casa Grande Tower Bedroom

Casa Grande Tower Bedroom

Casa Grande Bedroom with Blue Floor

Casa Grande Bedroom with Blue Floor

Vintage Mexican Beer Trays in Casa Grande Bedroom with Blue Floor

Roof Terrace

Rear Courtyard Sitting Area

Mural in Colonia Guadalupe (one of a dozen near Casa Duende)

Colonia Guadalupe Spring Parade near Casa Duende

Colonia Guadalupe Spring Parade near Casa Duende

For Casa Duende reservations, please contact Gina at


Artist Flora Bowley’s blog post about her painting retreat at Casa Duende

Flora Bowley and friends collaborating in the Casa Duende studio

Author and artist Kathy “Crafty Chica” Cano-Murillo celebrated a milestone birthday with a group of friends at Casa Duende. Here’s her blog post about their San Miguel de Allende adventure.

Kathy enjoying a pastel de tres leches birthday cake made by Casa Duende housekeeper Delia.

Guest Reviews

Laurie Freedman and family at Casa Duende.
Photo by Jorge Tinajero/Focal74 – Fotograferia de Bodas.

“What a wonderful week at Casa Duende…a destination vacation and family celebration…a gathering with far-flung adult children…exploring San Miguel, time together and time and space for everyone to go their own way. The house property manager, José, met us upon arrival and offered to take us food shopping, which wound up to be a great introductory tour of the city. He indicated where to buy great coffee, where to find the local farmer’s market, the crafts market (most important), and generally how to get around. Once the kids arrived, José delivered extra umbrellas and even came to the rescue when my daughter accidentally set off the alarm system…always with a big smile and enthusiastic interest in our adventures. Housekeeper Delia (Jose’s wife) and I communicated with hand gestures and much laughter. She baked the most delicious, decadent mango birthday cake for our family celebration. We tried most everything suggested in the house manual—a great insider’s guide to the dos and don’ts of visiting San Miguel for the first time.”  –Laurie F.

Laurie Freedman and family at Casa Duende.
Photo by Jorge Tinajero/Focal74 – Fotograferia de Bodas.

“Casa Duende makes a perfect base for exploring San Miguel de Allende, a town we visited for the first time in Feb, 2015. Both the casa grande and casita are beautifully furnished, yet inviting to be used, and we made full use of the casa grande, including the working fireplace (which probably wouldn’t mean much in other months but was very nice in Feb.) I was part of a group of four (two musicians, one dancer and one writer) who did not have any reason to use the studio areas but we all relaxed on sunny days on the terrace and ate lunch in the lush garden.  Everything is well kept by a very friendly staff.  For us, the location was important.  We wanted to be able to walk everywhere, and the only time we needed a taxi was when we wanted to leave town. I highly recommend Casa Duende for anyone who wants to settle into a real neighborhood of locals, with all the color and comfort that implies.” — Betty C.

“This is not just a house, it’s an art museum and inspiring studio all rolled into one. Beautiful, GORGEOUS rooms painted in bright juicy colors, every detail beautiful and whimsical. The casita (art studio) was seriously inspiring, and my daughters and I painted and wrote into the wee hours. The care taking family, Delia and Jose and Faustino, are kind and attentive to one’s every need. They really go above and beyond!! The neighborhood is quiet and close enough to the Jardin (center of town) to easily walk, and yet not in the MIDST of it all. Wonderful natural food grocer/cafe just around the corner (Via Organica). Wonderful fresh hot tortillas down the street. Fish market (we made the best meal from fresh caught fish!) a few blocks down. I can’t wait to return and am going to bring all of my writer and artist buddies with me!” — Susan I.

“We loved our visit to SMA and our choice of lodging – Casa Duende! Gina was great arranging everything, always quick to answer with very helpful information. Jose, the house manager, was there to greet us when we arrived. He was helpful should we need anything throughout our stay. The Casa and Casita are beautiful inside and out. There are large water dispensers so no one got sick from the water. All our needs were met. Great location, too, just a 10 minute walk to El Jardin (the center of town). We had a great time!” — Lisa E.

“First time in San Miguel de Allende and got lucky! First, the area, Colonia Guadalupe is close to everything and exudes charm as well as feeling. The casita and artist’s studio quaint, comfortable, safe, has a fully equipped kitchen and lovely surroundings including a garden and roof deck. It’s a haven from the hustle and bustle of the Centro and a cozy spot to call home. You’ll find the staff to be rays of sunshine with smiles and charm. Writers, artists, those who like privacy will enjoy this precious spot.” — Addison “Buz” O.

“I, along with two friends, recently experienced an little bit of magic when we spent a week at Casa Duende in San Miguel Allende. Just by chance we found this property and it was perfect for our needs not to mention beautiful. It is central located and an easy walk to all of our “must sees” as well as a short taxi ride to those when are feet were rebelling!! Our hostess, and her staff at the casa, had all in order to include little details such as enough hangers for three women!! Concerning activities….just put on walking shoes and go. The area will create your time spent in this magical location. We have reserved Casa Duende for next year!” — Judy

“Case Duende is a quiet jewel of a place. The casa grande and the casita are behind a safe, enclosed gate that separates the two houses and grounds from a peaceful street. Once inside, one passes through a lovely jungle-like garden before reaching the houses. There is a very pleasant and light roof terrace with chaise lounges, a hammock and table and chairs. There are two studio spaces, one in the casita and another small, separate one. I have just spent a month and a half in the casita, and have appreciated the solitude that it affords, as well as an atmosphere that is conducive to creative work. The property is cared for by a lovely family, which consists of a gardener, a housekeeper and a property manager (who is fluent in English). They have all been helpful and friendly, and have been sensitive to any of my needs. Casa Duende is about a ten minute walk to the center of town. It is a flat walk through a family-oriented neighborhood, which is populated enough at all hours for one to feel safe at all times. I would highly recommend this rental. It has been very pleasant staying here, and a pleasure working with the owners, who have made life in Casa Duende very comfortable and inviting.” — C.R.

“Casa Duende is absolutely the most amazing dwelling I have ever been in! As I sit up on the rooftop terrace quietly soaking up the sounds and spirit of this place, I feel so very grateful to have been here. I painted 26 paintings and lots of other art as well. I was up at 5:30am many days for my morning chanting and meditation practice up on the rooftop. The whole town was chanting for me and with me! Church hymns, bell ringers, marching bands, fireworks, dogs singing, roosters crowing, hot air balloons overhead…amazing!” – Paula F.

“The last month in San Miguel was a wonderful experience. The warmth and culture of the city were enhanced by living in your home. It is comfortable, beautiful, and feels good ( karma? feng shui?).  Jose, Delia, and Faustino are terrific (even for those of us who are Spanish-challenged).” –Anne M.

“For me, the experience of being [at Casa Duende] in Leigh’s home and studio – surrounded by her art, her books, her inspiration board, her video, the loving words of her friends and students, her life-force – was grounding, invigorating, inspiring, enriching, self-affirming….and my creative juices (even though I produced very little art there) were sparked.  The message I got loud and clear was ‘Just Do Art!’ Since being home, I have been doing art!  I have also been connecting the dots of some creative projects that have been calling me for a long time. I now see I don’t need to compartmentalize the artist part of me.  I can integrate all my parts and create amazing work in the world.   I have also made a decision to go back to school, and to follow a path of learning that honours the artist in me.”  – Linda G.  

Introducing My New Pie Website:

I’m delighted to announce my new all-pie-all-the-time website: designed with grace and flair by Deelux. In addition, I’ve launched pie outposts on Facebook and Twitter. I’m getting my ducks in a row for the June 28 launch of Pie Contest in a Box. I’ll still blog here as the spirit moves me on non-pie related topics.

Interview with “Booze Cakes” Authors Krystina Castella and Terry Lee Stone

This interview may be considered treasonous by pie people, but please forgive me because I’m not talking just any cakes–I’m talking Booze Cakes. Mint Julep Cupcakes! Salty-sweet Honey Spice Beer Cake! Piña Colada Cake! Jägermeister-powered Deutsch German Chocolate Cake! This new Quirk Books cookbook by Krystina Castella and Terry Lee Stone is a good time.

Krystina Castella

Krystina Castella enjoys creating books and products that inspire play. She is especially obsessed with playing in the kitchen and sharing recipes with others that are tasty and beautiful. Krystina is the author of Crazy about Cupcakes (Sterling 2006), Crazy about Cookies (Sterling 2010), Pops! Icy Treats for Everyone (Quirk Books, 2008) A World of Cake (Storey Publishing, 2010) and co-author of Booze Cakes (Quirk Books, 2010). She is also co-author/ photographer of the children’s book Discovering Nature’s Alphabet (Heyday 2006). She lives and works near Los Angeles as a writer, industrial designer, and professor at Art Center College of Design.

Terry Lee Stone

Terry Lee Stone is a design management consultant and writer who loves all aspects of design — whether the delivery media is paper, screens, cake, or yarn. She has worked with top U.S. design firms. For over 12 years she taught the business of design at the California Institute of the Arts, Art Center College of Design, and Otis College of Art and Design. She is the author of several books on graphic design, but Booze Cakes is her first cookbook. Active in the graphic design industry, she has written for design magazines; served on the Board of Directors of the AIGA; and has presented lectures and workshops for numerous creative organizations. She also blogs daily about her knitting obsession at Terry lives with her husband and their pugs in the Studio City section of Los Angeles, in the Brady Bunch’s old neighborhood.


Gina:  Whose idea was Booze Cakes? Can you pinpoint the moment of inspiration?

Terry: Krystina and I both were both teaching at Art Center College of Design in Pasadena CA, and she was a consistent guest lecturer in my class. After several terms of hearing her talk about her cool cookbook projects, I knew I wanted to work with her. So while making my mom’s 1970s-era Harvey Wallbanger Cake one night, it hit me that the world really needed was a Renaissance in boozy baking. And I knew Krystina and I were just the people to kick it off with a book.

Krystina: When I wrote Crazy About Cupcakes (Sterling Publishing), I developed “Cocktail Cupcakes” and did a lot of experimenting with booze and cake recipes. My inspiration was thinking about a dessert party like a cocktail party. I was learning tons more about the history of alcohol infused cakes and baking while writing my soon to be released book A World of Cake (Storey Publishing). I expanded on this experimentation with Booze Cakes.

Gina:  How did the two of you come to collaborate on the book?

Krystina: As Terry said, we met teaching at Art Center College of Design. I have been a professor of there for 18 years. I teach Industrial design and materials explorations. Terry is a graphic designer and had been teaching creative business for many years both at Art Center and CalArts. Terry knew I was a cookbook author and approached me with the idea to do a cookbook called Booze Cakes. I told her I loved the title and we began collaborating.

Terry: I knew it was a “go” when she broke out laughing at the title!

Jelly Cake Shots

Gina:  What was your creative process like?

Terry: One of the interesting things about our development process was that we linked up new combinations of alcohol type + baking style + physical structure of the cakes. Since we’re both designers and very visual people, we sort of instinctively combined tastes and shapes first.

Krystina: We created an outline for the book including the chapter topics and then had frequent meetings at my house to brainstorm recipe ideas. We each chose recipes to test and expand on and reported back to each other with the results. Our favorites were chosen for the book.

Terry: We each had our “To-Do List” in terms of the cakes. When we swapped recipes, I think it really inspired us on to push our ideas further. It was always a bit of a surprise to see how the other person took the concept and ran with it. Very fun.

Gina:  You don’t mention professional culinary training in your bios. How did you each learn to bake?

Krystina: I have been cooking, baking and developing recipes all of my life. When I sold my manufacturing company in 2000 I had much more free time on my hands and immersed myself into educating myself through reading about baking technique, fine tuning and developing new recipes. I took a great class at UCLA on writing cookbooks and took several other non-fiction writing classes. I developed a process and approach to baking and cooking that is very much like how I approach to design giving my recipes an easy to approach attitude and playful personalities. I have since written 5 cookbooks and when you are testing recipes to include in a cookbook you fine-tune each recipe by baking it over and over.  That is the best culinary training you can get. I have made thousands of cakes, cupcakes, popsicles and cookies over the last few years.

Terry: I’m really just a designer who loves to cook. Initially I learned baking from my mother and Betty Crocker’s New Cookbook For Boys and Girls. A seminal work, right?

From there, I indulged my sweet tooth and refined my skills by reading many books, practicing, and lots and lots of trial and error! Happily, even my mistakes and cake wrecks are usually pretty yummy. My philosophy is basically: “Have fun, it’s just cake.”

Gina:  Did you call on recipe testers to fact check your boozy creations to ensure they’d work for readers?

Krystina: We each did our own testing. I had my students taste test them after class.  I teach grad students so they are all over 21. After the final recipes were selected Quirk had a recipe tester make sure they were AOK.

Terry: My friends ate lots of cake and rated each one, plus I had some of them try making the recipes as well. Our editor, Margaret McGuire, also made and tested cakes, then shared her baking experiences.

Gina:  Who took the photos and where? The art direction is beautiful.

Krystina: Thank you. Quirk Books designer Jenny Kraemer designed and art directed the book. Our editor collaborated with us, Jenny, and photographer Daniel Kukla (who happens to be a dedicated home baker himself). Together, they managed to shoot pictures of more than forty boozy cakes within a few days.

The photographs have a very cozy, homey quality because they were actually taken in the homes of Jenny and Margaret (and their generous friends’ homes) in Philadelphia and New York. They found lovely vintage cake plates, cocktail glasses, tablecloths, and linens that matched the book’s color scheme at the flea market in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. In fact, the book’s color scheme is inspired by the retro palette of Mad Men and the fashionable era of classic booze cakes that Betty Draper might’ve baked. And they didn’t fake it: All the confections in the photographs were baked from scratch.

German Black Forest Cupcakes

Gina:  I was surprised to read that it’s a misconception that alcohol burns off entirely when cooked. Can you talk about the techniques that give cakes more or less kick?

Krystina: The kick comes from adding the alcohol to the batter before baking. More kick comes from soaking the cake in alcohol after it is baked- and adding alcohol to the frosting or topping. The cake is like a sponge and soaks it all up.

Terry: You’ll find a “Booze Meter” indication on each of our recipes. Then you can always add more hootch if you are into it.

Gina:  The book is laced with lots of fun cocktail trivia. What did you find to be the best historic cocktail resources?

Krystina: For me, my father in law Olaf was the best resource.  He was a bartender before during ww1 and through prohibition and he always talked about it with his fondest memories. He passed away at 101 last year and left me with some great bartending stories and trivia.

Terry: I’m not gonna lie: I come from a long line of booze lovers. However, I did do quite a bit of research. There is a lot of history and lore about drinking— lots of interesting stuff there.

Gina:  I was especially amused by the cakes inspired by 80s cocktails. Please tell my readers about your recipe for Peachy Keen Fuzzy Navel Cupcakes with its many Regan era variations.

Peachy Keen Fuzzy Navel Cupcakes

Krystina: The cocktail cakes are really fun to create because essentially you are mixing multiple ingredients in the batter in a similar fashion that you mix a cocktail. There are more elements to play with and create with then with cocktails. Plus garnishing cakes is just as fun as garnishing drinks!

Where did the name came from? In 1994-95 I owned one of the first designer shopping sites on line called where I sold products by young designers. I’ve always loved the term “peachy keen,” and it fit so well with fuzzy navel, I named the cupcakes after that.

Terry: You’re definitely going to make people happy by just telling them the names of the variations on that cake. Who doesn’t want Sex-On-The-Beach?

Tequila Sunrise Cake

Gina:  Is “Booze Pies” next?

Krystina: Sounds like a good idea. I have already made a Kahula cream pie, a Margarita pie and a black cherry kirsch pie. I love pie as much as cake. Besides A World of Cake, I also Crazy About Cookies (sterling 2010) coming out soon.

Terry: “Booze Pies”— that’s wacky. Stay tuned! In addition to Booze Cakes, I’ve got a new design book series: Managing the Design Process: Concept Development (Rockport 2010) and Managing the Design Process: Implementing Design (Rockport 2010) being published this year.

Pie Contest Sign

LaFayette Apple Festival Pie Contest Sign

Frida Kahlo with Swine Flu Mask Backpack

I found this wonderful gallows humor-filled creation at Akitch, one of my favorite shops in San Miguel de Allende. In trying to find a link (which doesn’t seem to exist) for the shop just now, I discovered that the maker of the backpack has an Etsy shop…he seems to be a savvy expat. I still love the backpack even if it’s not an authentic Mexican Mexican artifact. I’m also a fan of these gringa-designed Virgin of Guadalupe aprons and shower curtains. Ironically, most of the Mexican-themed fabrics she uses for the aprons are manufactured in Japan. My own Day of the Dead Box was once cited by an NYU grad student as an example of the worst of globalization: a book about a Mexican holiday written by a gringa, photographed by a Japanese person (actually, also a gringa), and printed by a U.S. publisher in China. What I can say? It’s a big, big world.

Photo 20

It’s a bird, it’s a plane, it’s…

My new website: TA DA

The Berkshire Living Visionaries Breakfast Series: Annie Selke

February 27, 2009 UPDATE:
Here’s a link to Charlie Deitz’s WAMC report about this event.

The following event flows from (but is different than) my recent BBQ cover story about Annie Selke. This new lecture series is like our own little Berkshires TED conference…be there. Call soon, though, as seating is extremely limited.

BBQ: Berkshire Business Quarterly Events
The Visionaries Breakfast Series
A Quarterly Talk with the Region’s Greatest Thinkers and Doers

Behind the Scenes with Pine Cone Hill’s Design Visionary and Founder Annie Selke

Annie’s Hard-Won Wisdom: “The Top Ten Things Every Entrepreneur Should Know”
A Breakfast discussion including A Private Tour of The Annie Selke
Companies New Headquarters

February 26, 2009
The Annie Selke Companies
125 Pecks Road
Pittsfield, Massachusetts

Seating is Limited. Advance Reservations Required.

More Sneak Peek Website Pages

Here are the other new page designs for my website. Click on the images to enlarge them.

Sneak Peek at My New Website

After various stops and starts, I’m super happy to report that Heather Rose is nearly done redesigning my website. The above is what she did with those Mexican wrestler postage stamps I picked up in San Miguel. This is the contact info page (double click on the image and it’ll enlarge). Each page of the site has a gorgeous Rothko-like collage of Mexican walls in the background and many of the pages are discreetly seeded with magic potions. This page has some “call clients” magic soap. Love, love, love it.

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