Milan is the kind of woman who, it seems, can partake in any conversation with a sense of experience; get her talking about art, cooking or writing code and you’ll see her multi-faceted personality unveiled. She thrives on bouncing creative ideas off friends and has her fingers tapped into every social media outlet available. She's an amazingly talented graphic designer with an impeccable eye for the beauty found in everyday details and a craft goddess who made all the stationary and décor for her own wedding. In addition, Milan has a natural eye for photography; her work is unfiltered and unpretentious with an organic and whimsical quality that shows the heart and beauty of the subject.
Milan, though, is not unique in her family for her creative variety; her sisters Mica and Maichi are equally interesting. Mica is a talented singer/songwriter who performed the song to which Milan and her husband, Jason, walked down the aisle. Maichi is a kick-ass baker who made the delectable desserts for Milan’s reception; nobody even noticed there wasn't a wedding cake. None of these women got her talent by licking it off a stone, as they say. And while it may not be obvious from exactly where Milan and Mica derived their creative styles, Maichi’s passion and skill for baking clearly came from the girls' mother, Hitomi-san.
Hitomi-san, is a wonderful cook; her meals are the kind that take the eater back to that warm, special place usually reserved for mom’s cooking. For years, she ran an outstanding little Japanese restaurant and salad dressing company in Davis, CA; in fact, her old employees still talk about her Onigiri, always made in her own special shape usually reserved for just for family, but she shared with her employees because they too were family. Even though she’s no longer in business, she still cooks at home whenever she gets the chance; though she’s busy pursuing a degree in Gerontology these days. Because she spent the first half of her life in Japan, Hitomi-san’s food is heavily influenced by Japanese tradition, but she also loves to explore in the kitchen creating hors d' oeuvres and trying out vegetarian recipes for her husband, but most importantly she loves to bake.
Every year, for the past 10 years, Hitomi-san, Milan, Maichi & Mica have been making elaborate boxes of holiday cookies. This annual baking fiesta emerged from struggle: after giving a number of gifts that didn’t quite suit the receiver, Hitomi-san realized she had no talent for choosing gifts for friends and acquaintances. She did, however, realize everyone praised her food and thought giving baked goods might be the perfect gift idea. Thus, she put her girls to work and they began designing yummy little boxes of goodness that are creatively put together. Each box contains several varieties of cookies, both sweet and savory, and includes an illustrated map to help the eater figure out what's what; when you dig into this box of deliciousness it’s super helpful to know which delight you are headed to next. Childish excitement strikes when a box arrives, hand delivered, by one of the four bakers; it sets the holiday season is in motion but also suggests a time to sit with a warm cup of tea, the cookie box and a little gratitude for all the people who make our lives lighter.
Enjoying these cookies is an event which requires the eater’s full attention. Each cookie is wrapped in colorful tissue and tucked into its very own spot, so reviewing the map is paramount to getting the most out of this cookie-eating experience. But it’s not just what’s inside that makes this gift special. Every year the women package their cookies in a variety of boxes; some plain white, others flocked with Christmas kitsch, but one thing’s for sure: no matter whether your box is decked out or simply elegant, the treats inside will never fail to make your mouth water. From the savory and flaky parmesan twists to the buttery goodness of the filbert crescents to the crunch and perfect tea-dipping hardiness of the chocolate chip biscotti, the cookie tour is complete and satisfying.
The only way Hitomi-san has been able to make this elfin holiday workshop possible is by having the help of her three lovely daughters. They were teenagers when she put them in the kitchen, and it took a while to smooth the kinks. At first, personalities clashed, batches burned and fights broke out over who had the best techniques often resulting in cookies being scraped into the trash. Sometimes the whole process took almost a week because battling siblings corrupted kitchen synchronicity. Now the women function like flour, baking soda and salt each taking part in the baking, and sometimes when time constraints take hold they spread the workload between their respective homes. But they always decorate and package the cookies together. It’s their time to come together again and assemble all their good wishes into gifts for loved ones. On occasion they invite friends over to help with this part of the process. Some guests are even lucky enough to help with the decorating; Milan sits them down with colored icing and little flowers made of sugar and tells them to go with their artistic sensibilities. The cookies usually come out okay, but rarely are they as polished looking as the experts’. It’s best to be on the receiving end of this gift that has become an annual treasure both to the women baking together and those lucky enough to receive the special delivery.