When the plan leaves the page


When I began working at the El Moore last March, its sustainable renovation was nearly 90 percent complete. Its three floors of annual residential apartments were already beginning to receive many of their finishing touches. I began by participating in early policy building, aesthetic group design sessions and happily helping out with decisions on things as varied as: What kind of vacuum should we buy? How much light should come through the window shades in the bedrooms? Should the china in the Parlor be new or vintage? It was exciting and engrossing to be on this conveyor belt of short term, targeted research and procurement. You get used to making decisions in planning mode. Planning mode becomes the norm. There are times when you can plan and design and set things into motion and there is no predicting, for a million different reasons, how you’ll feel, even when things work out as you’d hoped. I was thinking about that recently at the El Moore during our first resident-driven event, a progressive dinner.


We began the evening in the Parlor on the first floor and moved up a floor every thirty minutes. There was a timer involved and a five minute warning, and when the bell went off, up we went. If this sounds a bit chaotic, it wasn’t. It was a magical evening of conversation and delicious food and of being welcomed. Most of the building’s residents participated either as host or guest, while others helped behind the scenes prepping the meals we all shared, even if they couldn’t attend! Each floor saw residents opening their homes to the nearly 20 or so meandering and happily chatting guests.


Our hosts, influenced by the arrival of autumn in Detroit, settled on a theme for the evening: Michigan Harvest. Not surprisingly, for those of you who’ve been Green Garaged, even planning the party began with looking at our triple-bottom-line goals. Collectively, we decided we’d lower our environmental footprint and keep our buying power within the local economy by concentrating on creating offerings from as many local vendors and using as many local products as possible.


Our diligent hosts created dish after dish to share. There were multiple appetizers (including a 7-Layer dip that got me, at 37 years old, to enjoy a black olive for the first time), locally brewed craft beer, Michigan wine, and beer breads to boot. We feasted on delicate tea cups of butternut squash soup with a roasted vegetable garnish, sheets of zesty lasagnas made with zucchini noodles and bechamel sauce, and finished off the evening with a light and fluffy strawberry cream cake coupled with a gin & basil cocktail. Suffice it to say, it was a smash.

IMG_2531The evening quenched a certain amount of curiosity too. Friends and neighbors were invited to come into these newly claimed spaces. Half of the fun was in the ability to come in and see how our hosts and often, neighbors who weren’t hosting, had decorated their places.  If you’re anything like me, a welcome snoop is very, very satisfying. Imagine my surprise, however, when I realized, standing on the roof of the El Moore on the last night of September of 2015, that snooping wasn’t nearly as satisfying as watching how quickly, and how thoroughly, these lovely folks had transformed the El Moore from a project, to a home.

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I thought I’d share some of the wonderful recipes for the food & drink we feasted on during the progressive dinner. Try them out at your next gathering!

Stephanie’s Lasagna Two Ways:

Mushroom Lasagna (vegetarian)

  • Recipe online here (Ina Garten)
  • I used no boil noodles instead of dealing with the ones you have to cook first
  • I also used (3) 8 oz packages of cremini mushrooms instead of portobellos, because they are usually cheaper and easier to work with

Traditional Lasagna with Zucchini Noodles and Meat Sauce (gluten free)

  • Instead of lasagna noodles, I used zucchini noodles4-5 medium zucchini
  • Trim ends and cut lengthwise into long, thin slices (use a mandolin for best results)
  • Place slices in a colander and sprinkle with 1-2 teaspoons of kosher salt. Let sit for 15-20 minutes so that the zucchini noodles release some of their moisture
  • Blot zucchini noodles dry with paper towel before assembling lasagna
  • Use enough slices each layer to cover without overlapping
  • Drain diced tomato before making the sauce in order to minimize the excess moisture

Anne’s Strawberry Cream Cake


  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature, plus more for pan
  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour (spooned and leveled), plus more for pan
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2 large eggs plus 2 large egg yolks
  • 1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1/2 cup whole milk
  • 1 pound strawberries, hulled and thinly sliced
  • 1 teaspoon unflavored gelatin (from a 1/4-ounce envelope)
  • 1 1/2 cups heavy cream


  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter bottom of an 8-inch round cake pan, and line with parchment paper. Butter and flour paper and sides. In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, and salt; set aside.
  2. Using an electric mixer on high speed, beat butter and 1/2 cup sugar in a large bowl until light and fluffy. Add eggs and yolks, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Beat in vanilla. With mixer on low, alternately add flour mixture in 3 parts and milk in 2, beginning and ending with flour mixture; mix just until combined. Spread batter in prepared pan.
  3. Bake until a toothpick inserted in center of cake comes out clean, 30 to 35 minutes. Cool in pan 10 minutes; invert onto a wire rack to cool completely. Using a serrated knife, split cake in half horizontally; place bottom half, cut side up, on a serving plate.
  4. WATCH: How to Level and Split a Layer Cake
  5. Make topping: In a large bowl, combine strawberries and 1/4 cup sugar; set aside. Place 2 tablespoons cold water in a small saucepan, and sprinkle with gelatin; let soften 5 minutes. Place saucepan over very low heat, and stir until gelatin is dissolved. Remove from heat; let cool.
  6. Using an electric mixer, beat cream and remaining 1/4 cup sugar in a large bowl until very soft peaks form. Continue to beat, and gradually add gelatin mixture; beat until soft peaks form.
  7. Arrange half of strawberries over bottom cake layer; top with half of whipped cream, leaving a 1-inch border. Cover with top half of cake, cut side down. Top cake with remaining whipped cream, leaving a 1-inch border. Refrigerate cake and remaining strawberries separately, at least 1 hour (or up to 1 day). Just before serving, spoon strawberries over cake.

Detroit Basil Gin Smash

  • 2 Parts Detroit Distillery Gin
  • 1 Part Fresh Lemon Juice
  • 1/2 Part Sugar Syrup
  • 8 Torn basil leaves


Add basil to base of cocktail shaker and muddle gently. Add remaining ingredients and shake hard over ice. Strain over an ice-filled rock glass.