Sweet Camaraderie

Benefitting charities that support women in making healthy emotional and physical choices, the Women’s Winter Tour in February may just be the most beneficial gals’ getaway, ever. Photography by Coreene Smith

Women's Winter Tour TrailSeemingly oblivious to a below-zero wind chill and occasional snow squalls that blew in off West Grand Traverse Bay last February, more than 500 women sporting snowshoes, cross-country skis and spirited inventions of attire savored sips of white wine and flavorful bites of bratwurst as they trekked along the Leelanau Trail during the region’s annual Women’s Winter Tour.

Over the past 15 years, this non-competitive, big-hearted event — the first of its kind nationwide — has raised more than $80,000-plus for local and state-wide programs including Madeleine’s House, Traverse Area Recreation and Transportation (TART) Trails, Inc. and women’s shelters in Marquette, Alpena and Petoskey through the Traverse City non-profit Active Women Now (AWN). Hitting the snowy trail to benefit such causes, ladies of myriad ages reveled en route (as they always do) to a promised land of chocolate, wine, bread, soup and other delectable rewards.

“In Traverse City we have had a variety of themes, and I always have women waiting to hear what the next year’s poster will be so they can get their costumes ready.”
— Kaye Krapohl

Spirited Attire“The Tour is all about the three C’s: Community, Charity and Chocolate — the universal language of women,” says founder Kaye Krapohl, an avid Nordic skier who once headed the North American VASA ski race held in Traverse City each winter, but also relates to feelings of self-consciousness that grow with age. The Tour, she emphasizes, is not a race. It’s all about having fun.

“Here, the nice thing is you don’t have to be an athlete,” says Krapohl, “or worry if your rear is moving more right to left than forward. Old Man Winter can’t see very well, so what you look like as you scoot through the trees doesn’t matter.”

At the same time, how you look at the Women’s Winter Tour is all part of the fun.

Community, Charity and Chocolate
“The Tour is all about the three C’s: Community, Charity and Chocolate — the universal language of women,” says Kaye Krapohl, pictured at right, who founded the Women’s Winter Tour in 1999. “It’s all about having fun.”

“While dressing up isn’t a requirement, costumes are becoming more prevalent each year,” notes Krapohl, a graphic designer by trade who attracted 200 participants to the first “Women’s Ski Tour” on the VASA Pathway in 1999 with festive posters. Since then, she creates a new poster every year that merges a historical time period in art with skiing and snowshoeing — from creations inspired by Matisse and Picasso to the Gibson Girl and “Sassy,” a 1960s-style icon framed by flower-power snowflakes.

“In Traverse City we have had a variety of themes,” Krapohl notes, “and I always have women waiting to hear what the next year’s poster will be so they can get their costumes ready.”

Women's Winter Tour ArtworkBut these commemorative creations are more than just dress-up cues. “As a fine artist I feel art has always celebrated women of all shapes and sizes,” Krapohl explains, “and the Women’s Winter Tour is about celebrating women of all ages and sizes.”

The Tour’s early success and the sense of fellowship it ignited within the community earned an award from the Governor’s Council for Health and Fitness that year, drew 400 participants the next and soon inspired sister events in Marquette, Colorado and New Hampshire. By 2004, the year Krapohl created the non-profit Active Women Now, Inc. (AWN) in Traverse City to promote and strengthen local fights against domestic and sexual abuse, seven cities in the U.S. and Canada were celebrating Women, Winter and Chocolate — and expanding pathways of awareness and support.

Wonder Woman & Camaraderie
Photography courtesy Kaye Krapohl (left)

“Every person that participates or volunteers is empowered by this experience,” says Krapohl. “I want women to discover how warm winter can be.”

For more information about Women’s Winter Tour in February 2014 — including a course map, discounted accommodations and equipment rentals — visit womenswintertour.com. Discover how to blaze a new trail of your own at womenswintertour.com/active-women-now.

Confections of Perfection

White Chocolate-Tipped Tortilla ChipsLong linked with magical, medicinal and mythical properties (cacao trees in Latin, in fact, are called Theobroma Cacao, or “food of the gods”), chocolate is actually considered a fruit — the cocoa bean. According to The Bittersweet World of Chocolate, the 40-some almond-sized cocoa beans in a pod is enough to make eight bars of milk chocolate, or four of the dark.  Either way, scientists from the Torrey Pines Institute for Molecular Studies in Florida would agree this treat is a little package of happiness: Chemicals in chocolate, they’ve found, bear a striking similarity to valproic acid, a widely-used prescription mood-stabilizing drug.

These days in Northern Michigan, chocolate has joined the ranks of local gourmet fare along with coffee, olives, wines, cheese, teas and microbrews —just ask Kim Norton, owner of Confections by Kim in Traverse City and official supplier of the chocolate-fueled Women’s Winter Tour. In 2013, Norton noted she brought more than 1,000 chocolate offerings to Black Star Farms, and there wasn’t much take back at day’s end.

Women’s winter tour official chocolate supplier Kim Norton, owner of Confections by Kim in Traverse City, busily restocked velvety dark-coated cherry balls rolled in sugar or toasted almonds for hungry skiers seeking their chocolate fix.

While the chocolatier’s melt-in-your-mouth, traditional butter crunch toffee disappeared quick, too, her white chocolate-tipped tortilla chips were the real attention-getters. Norton likes their more elegant shape and versatility, noting the simple treat suits more formal affairs, too. But even more than that, she says, “I just think they’re just fun.”

“I had peanut butter truffles, chocolate cherry balls, coconut bon bons, toffee and my dark chocolate truffle cookies,” shared the chocolatier. The event’s participants, she said, “came back for seconds and thirds.”

One of the unexpected surprises for many was Norton’s corn chips simply dipped in white chocolate: “Salty and sweet,” she says. “You can’t go wrong.”

Hearth & Vine SignIn business since May of 2012, Norton shared how fun it is watching others enjoy the fruits of her labor and that she feels fortunate to stir up something that can bring such joy.

Self-taught, she added she learned her trade by making cakes and other sweet treats for family and friends and was inspired to start her own business while shopping at a farmer’s market: She saw tags on goods crafted in a home kitchen. “I thought, ‘I can do that,’” recalled Norton.

Based out of her own home kitchen just west of Traverse City, Norton sells her confectionary goodies at several northern Michigan farm markets. Lately business is so sweet that she’s been seeking commercial kitchen space to expand her business. To find out more, call (231) 668-9603 or visit Confections by Kim on Facebook.

— Cymbre Foster

Chocolate Angel Pie

Recipe courtesy of Confections by Kim
Yields: 8-10 servings

Chocolate Angel PieMeringue Crust
4 large eggs, separated (whites at room temperature; yolks refrigerated for filling)
Large pinch of salt
¼ teaspoon cream of tartar
1 cup sugar
½ teaspoon vanilla extract

For crust: Preheat the oven to 275 degrees. Completely line the bottom and sides of a 9-inch spring form pan with parchment paper. Using an electric mixer fitted with whisk, beat the egg whites and salt on low speed until foamy. Add the cream of tartar and continue beating. When the whites begin to stiffen, increase speed to medium. While beating constantly, add sugar slowly to avoid deflating the egg whites. Add the vanilla. Beat on high speed until egg whites are very stiff. Spread meringue mixture evenly over first the bottom, then up the sides of the prepared pan, building up the sides about 2 inches (enough to hold the filling). Bake for 1 hour and 15 minutes. Remove from oven and let cool. Do not worry about any imperfections.

Chocolate Filling
12 ounces semisweet chocolate chips
Pinch of salt
¾ cup water
4 large egg yolks
1 cup very cold heavy cream

For filling: Place the chocolate, salt and water in the top of a double boiler. Slowly heat until the chocolate has just melted, stirring frequently. Remove from the heat and beat in the egg yolks, one at a time. Let the mixture cool completely. Whip the cream until soft peaks form. Fold half of the mixture into the completely cooled chocolate. Add the remaining cream carefully so not to deflate. Gently spoon chocolate filling into the meringue shell. Smooth the top and refrigerate for at least 4 hours until set.

1 cup very cold heavy cream
¼ cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
¼ cup shaved semisweet chocolate

When ready to serve, carefully remove the pie from the pan and place it on a serving platter. Whip the heavy cream with the sugar and vanilla until fairly stiff. Spread the whipped cream over the chocolate filling. Sprinkle with shaved chocolate and serve.

During 2013’s Women’s Winter Tour, participant Donna Detroit and friend Sue McVey of Traverse City made a break from skiing for Hershey’s kisses and hot brats served by an entourage of men who “manning” the grill at one of several trail-side stations.

As women finished the tour, other male volunteers helped remove their skis or snowshoes and showed them into the tasting room at Black Star Farms, a nirvana of mugs steaming with mulled wine, bowls of savory soups, stacks of fresh-baked crusty breads and rich chocolate treats.  Detroit loves the trail’s serenity and camaraderie of the Tour: “It’s a fun event,” she says, “and a great cause.”

Chocolate Truffle Cookies

Recipe courtesy of Confections by Kim
Yields: 24 servings

Chocolate Truffle Cookies4 ounces unsweetened chocolate
1 cup chocolate chips
1 stick butter
3 eggs
1 cup sugar
1 ½ teaspoons vanilla
¾ cup flour
2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
¼ teaspoon baking powder
¼ teaspoon salt

Slowly melt unsweetened chocolate, chips and butter. Set aside and let cool completely. Beat eggs and sugar until light and fluffy. Add vanilla and chocolate mixture and blend well. In separate bowl, combine flour, cocoa powder, baking powder, and salt. Add to chocolate mixture and mix well. Preheat oven to 325 degrees and line baking sheet with parchment paper. Spoon 2-inch mounds onto parchment paper, leaving 2 inches between cookies. Bake for 11 minutes.

Mulled Red House Wine

Recipe courtesy of Black Star Farms
Yields: 4-6 servings

Mulled Red House Wine1 Bottle Black Star Farms Red House White
6 ounces water
½ cup sugar
½ teaspoon cinnamon
½ teaspoon ground clove
Few sprinkles of ground nutmeg

Combine all ingredients into sauce pan and stir. Heat gently, but do not boil, and do not stir again. Skim off the spices that float to up to top, serve and enjoy.

Freelance writer Cymbre Foster is based in Traverse City. Lisa M. Jensen is editor of Michigan BLUE Magazine.

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