11 February 2013
Deb Weissler explores the miniature culinary world of Lisa McQuaid… it’s all simply mouthwatering! ...
It’s baking day and Lisa McQuaid is headed out the door, shopping list in hand, to pick up some much needed ingredients. She’s in mind to make her favorite Chocolate-Raspberry Torte, and Mexican is also on the menu complete with sparkling jugs of classic sangria and margaritas. Her shopping cart soon fills with necessary ingredients - polymer clay, kitchen and bath caulk, sand, paint, resin, chalk… wait, remind me why we are in a craft shop? Lisa quickly explains.
“My goal as ‘The Everyday Gourmet’ is to make food items that are more interesting than traditional dolls house food. I make scrambled eggs with smoked salmon and dill, my breakfast and brunch collection features several egg dishes, three types of pancakes, two types of waffles, cinnamon swirl French toast…”, okay, my mouth is already watering despite the odd ingredients.
A Florida resident, Lisa enjoys both casual and fine dining, a colourful mix of cultural cuisines, a dash of Southern decadence, and a healthy serving of libations added in. All this is served up with aplomb in delicious miniature vignettes that have her customers clamouring for more.
Lisa was born and raised in the American upper Mid West, in a family of art and music lovers. She enjoyed studying fine arts in school and at sixteen learned to work in stained glass. She was talented enough that she sold several of her pieces to friends and associates at the law firm where she was employed and made three large stained glass panels for three local restaurants. Before long she was selling her items at local craft shows.
After a decade of stained glass and in need of a new creative outlet, Lisa attended Tom Bishop’s Chicago International and fell in love with Lady Jane’s glass greenhouses filled with patio furniture, plants, and garden accessories. She began collecting miniatures for what she hoped would be her own stained glass greenhouse, and she just couldn’t resist the miniature foods being sold by a variety of talented artists. As luck would have it her mum, a miniaturist, invited her to attend a club class where they were taught to make a traditional Thanksgiving dinner complete with roast turkey with stuffing, mashed and sweet potatoes, green beans, cranberry sauce, and pumpkin pie. It was a crash course in miniature culinary.
“I was very excited with my first attempt at making polymer food,” Lisa recalls. “The club member taught several classes over the years and we took them all. Through them I learned the basics of making food from polymer clay and beverages from resin.”
In 1995 Lisa added miniature stained glass ornaments to her full-sized line-up and based upon the numbers she sold and the encouraging feedback received from her delighted customers, she was ready to make the switch from stained glass to miniatures full time. Needing to concentrate her efforts, she settled on food and beverages and six years later was a dealer at her very first miniature fair. “My customers love the extensive variety I offer. One of my more popular items is a spinach salad with egg slices and bacon bits on top. I use handmade glass bowls and dishes, including a glass pitcher for the salad dressing. My breakfast and brunch items are also popular along with brunch-themed beverages to accompany them.”
From appetizers to side dishes, desserts to petit fours, trifles to ice cream floats, Lisa does it all, although she admits a few of her items, like fruit and vegetable slices, are better left to others. “The sliced tomatoes on my salads, for example, are made by veteran miniature artist Angie Scarr.”
And in case you have a desire to eat the real thing after looking over Lisa’s delightful menu, you can go home and whip up a batch yourself. “My appetizers are based upon ‘real life’ food and I include a ‘real life’ recipe with each one that I sell.” In Lisa’s mind, beverages are just as important as the food she sells. Her peach-flavored iced tea is garnished with peach slices; her cocktails include tropical favorites garnished with fruits and colorful straws; lemon slices float in her sangria and her margarita glasses are rimmed with salt. She offers a selection of beer from around the world—England, Ireland, Germany, Mexico, and the USA; twelve different kinds of martinis; and classics like gin and tonic.
Inspired by her love of cooking and fine cuisine, Lisa stays on top of the latest cooking trends and tries them in miniature. She keeps folders of photos clipped from magazines and recipe books for inspiration. She may use just one element of a photo or reproduce the entire thing. And like any good cook she maintains a recipe book with photos and instructions of her successful items to maintain quality and consistency. “I usually spend several days making one group of items from start to finish. For example, my Chocolate-Raspberry Torte takes several days to complete. First, I affix a wooden dowel slice to a 2” x 2” ceramic tile with double-sided sticky tape. I like working on a small tile so I can rotate it to work on all sides of the torte. I paint the top surface, making the chocolate swirls, and while it’s drying I move on to the raspberries. Making two dozen or more raspberries takes several hours to complete. The next step for the torte is the chocolate crumb crust. I chop up pre-baked chocolate-coloured polymer clay and affix it to the sides of the torte. The entire torte is then sealed with varnish and allowed to dry before beginning the next step. Finally it’s time for the raspberries and whipped cream garnish. “All this effort takes far longer to complete than an actual torte, which is what makes the finished result so brilliant.
Because each item’s creation is so time consuming, Lisa usually has several projects going at once. While one item is drying, she’s on to another. “When I make beverages, the resin mixture makes enough for at least twenty glasses and perhaps five pitchers,” Lisa explains. “I line them all up on a piece of tile affixed with double-sided sticky tape and use a toothpick to fill each glass. Pitchers go a little faster because I can pour the resin directly in.” It’s a bit like being a mini bartender!
Some days she works all day long in her spare bedroom/ work room, averaging six hours a day, five days a week. When she’s not working she’s out gardening or riding her bicycle, which helps keep her balanced. She, and hubby, travel several times a year, and have been all over the world during twenty-five years of marriage. And while she’s out and about, she enjoys collecting interesting dishes, plates, and bowls, many handmade by talented artists, like Alex Meiklejohn. Last summer whilst on holiday in Vienna, she found several Reutter porcelain dishes on sale in a gift shop, along with some beer steins she hopes to incorporate into a vignette of native Austrian food.
Her most challenging piece to date was a wedding cake - several tiers tall and each decoration perfect in proportion and carefully placed. But her most favorite item, which has become her signature piece, is her Chocolate-Raspberry Torte, which is her own design. “I think people are delighted to see the tiny details in my food and beverages. Customers love the garnishes I add to my cocktails like cherries skewered on a toothpick, or tiny chocolate curls on a cake.”
For several years Lisa attracted a loyal following at her fair tables. “I had several ladies over the years who bought something special as gifts for their friends and family who were also at the show. One lady was so funny, nervously looking around, and bobbing up and down so that her sister wouldn’t see the transaction. She finally hunched down on her knees next to my table whilst we completed the credit card transaction,” Lisa laughingly recalls. “She was so nervous and giggling like mad, afraid she would get caught and so excited that she had found the perfect gift!”
Lisa now sells her items exclusively on ETSY. Although she admits missing the camaraderie of both artisans and shoppers, she doesn’t miss the endless packing and unpacking involved though.
Her miniatures have found homes throughout the USA, Canada, Mexico, the UK, Australia, throughout Europe, Greece, Lebanon, and as far away as Japan. The world of miniatures has proved to be truly international, with collectors from various countries buying foods that in the past were unique to other cultures. Who says someone from Japan can’t enjoy enchiladas and a margarita?
For 2013 Lisa plans to expand her line of appetizers, experiment with flavored ice teas, a favorite in the USA and perhaps some one-off gingerbread houses and eggnog sets for the holidays. With hundreds of items to choose from, Lisa’s a one-stop gourmet shop!
You can enjoy shopping on Lisa’s ETSY site at www.etsy.com/people/EverydayGourmet
Or if you want to get in touch you can email her at: [email protected]
This feature was originally published in Dolls House and Miniature Scene magazine. If you like making miniatures, why not buy yourself a copy of the magazine. Or better still take out a subscription so you never miss an issue. For fans of Facebook and Twitter, or to email, print or comment on the feature, please use the buttons above to share with your friends.
For materials and suppliers, please take a look at the Directory section of this website.