When you get to meet one of your favorite Instagrammers in person, it’s a real treat – literally.
I had the pleasure of meeting Instagrammer Angela Brooks-Van Niel earlier this year while on a business trip in Redlands, California. She came bearing sweet treats from her repertoire of tasty offerings she features each week at the Redlands Farmer’s Market. That bag of goodies bowled me over.
Angela has garnered many awards as a artisan baker and was voted the Best Bakery in the Inland Empire in 2015 and 2016. I can clearly see – and more importantly taste – why.
I’ve been following Angela on Instagram a few years now. When we meet, the connection was instant. The same enthusiasm and passion that radiates from her page came to life when we met. Yes, she’s one of my “faves.” I hope she becomes one of yours too.
Oh, and if you happen to be in Redlands, California on any given Saturday morning, stop by and see her and try her delicious desserts and dishes.
Instragmer: Angela Brooks-Van Niel , since 2012
Focus: To share culinary related information and photos, to inspire and get inspired by others, as well as to gain professional business connections and growth.
City: California transplant residing in the agriculturally rich community of Redlands, California in the Inland Empire.
Business: Simply Fancy Cuisine started in 2012 after the passage of the California AB 1616, Cottage Food Operations bill.
Online Store: https://squareup.com/market/simply-fancy-cuisine
Recipe: Sweet Pie Crust (featured below)
Some may say it’s her Southern charm, her drive and determination, her love of her community and her repertoire of amazing desserts and entrees. I say beyond all that, it’s the light that shines in her eyes, the grace with which she speaks, the sincerity in her smile and her persona of supreme thankfulness that envelops her. I experienced it firsthand when we met and have developed a friendship with her that will be long lasting. After you read about her journey of recovery and how she arrived at where she is today, you will see how incredibly special and amazing Angela is.
Her voice, her story
My culinary influences started in the south with my fabulous grandmother, Mamie Denson-Tisby of Jacksonville, Florida. She was a wife, mother, lunch lady and entrepreneur. She and my grandfather, Roscoe, opened a successful combination beauty and barber shop in their community. Her motto was,”There’s a lot of ugly out there in the world, but I’m glad what I do adds a little beauty into the mix.”
My grandmother lived during a time when there were insurmountable challenges and she lived with things that she couldn’t change. But she believed that by pampering hardworking women of color, she could make them feel beautiful so they could go out and do beautiful things.
Early culinary experience
By the age of six, I was serving as my grandmother’s sous chef for weekend meals and special celebrations and holidays. I spent many summers next to my grandma at her stove getting an education and history lessons not taught in the classroom. She gave me a rich and sturdy culinary foundation on which to grow and build upon.
My mom BeLinda and I were part gypsy. We moved frequently just for the adventure of discovering new places. My mom was raised in a predominantly black neighborhood. She often sought out new things and the unknown. We were usually the only black family in our neighborhood. So I saw this as a smaller version of a cultural exchange program. I later shared what I had learned from the stove top of my grandmother with others, and in return learned to make Mediterranean dishes from my Italian and Greek neighbors.
I went to a Jewish school and learned several different Jewish delicacies from my Jewish classmates and teachers. I lived all over Florida, so I learned several island (Cuban and Puerto Rican) cuisines and fares. All of the cultural dishes from our many neighbors, travels and jaunts have influenced and inspired me to be the foodie person I am today.
The road to becoming an culinary artist and artisan baker has not been a straight line. I started out in the banking industry and was a bank manager for many years. My interest in finance and real estate lead me to become a California realtor, which I still am today. After attaining a graduate degree in theater and education, I had a opportunity to teach theater arts and dance in underserved communities. But after my serious health scare in 2008, all those occupations took a backseat.
A life changing diagnosis
The health scare was a disease called Paraneoplastic syndrome, and it was identified after many failed and frustrating misdiagnoses. It’s a disease that attacks parts of the brain, spinal cord, peripheral nerves or muscles and is the consequence of cancer in the body. In my case the cancer discovered in my body was ovarian, and the Paraneoplastic syndrome disease caused me to suffer a collapse and left me in a coma.
The surgery to remove the cancer was a perilous undertaking for my surgeons who said my heart stopped six times while I was on the operation table. In addition to that, during the surgery, doctors found a second cancer, lymphoma type B.
The surgery was successfully, and the cancer was removed. I woke up from my comma 4 1\2 months later, just in time for my son’s high school graduation. But unfortunately, the disease had erased certain parts of my memory which I had to work hard to rebuild.
My team of doctors and surgeons call my complete recovery a “miracle.” It was the the love of my son Jonathan, and my husband Pieter’s stalwart advocacy, loving support and watchful eye during my recovery that got me through. I had to learn such basics things like how to sit up and walk again. Pieter fought vigorously for my medical care and treatment during this difficult time, and his advocacy made all the difference in my treatment and recovery.
Her life today
After my recovery, I wanted to challenge myself. I enrolled in graduate school and got my master’s degree in theatre.
I later taught dance and theatre classes in Compton. But though my continued practice of journaling and my passion for recipe development, it became clear that what brought me the most joy wasn’t standing ovations, but it was more about oven creations. It was a calling I could no longer ignore.
Today running and building my culinary SFC Empire is my #1 j-o-b. It’s the one job from teaching that brings me total joy. I truly am a one woman operation handling the shopping, prepping, recipe developing, marketing, COO, CFO, CEO and the head/only baker.
Many of my offerings are made with fresh, organic and local ingredients I get from the various egg, honey and berry farms in the agricultural rich Inland Empire. It gives me a lot of satisfaction to use the best ingredients while supporting local businesses. And the support my community and customers have shown me has been amazing. I am truly blessed in so many ways.
My hobbies are gardening, writing (plays, poems and short stories), collecting dishes/plate settings and interior design.
I also enjoy upcycling. It’s the process of transforming old or discarded materials into something useful. My line is a limited edition totes of created out of repurposed coffee bean bags. These are handmade, unique items. No two totes are alike.
Click on this link for more information: https://www.facebook.com/R3BagsandTotes/
Cookbook she cannot live without
Irma & Marion Rombauer’s American culinary bible, The Joy of Cooking. It was one of my first cookbooks that graced our bookshelves at home. I’ve read it from cover to cover like it was a Nancy Drew mystery book.
Where her recipes have been published
Press Enterprise, The Redlands Daily Facts and the Inland Empire Magazine.
The best thing that has happened because of Instagram
Having instant contact and making a connection with my celebrity foodie idols and with my fellow foodie friends.
What’s new, what’s next
I plan on rewriting my cookbooks by combining the two books into one. I’m also looking to grow my business within the next 2 years by taking the leap into a brick and mortar store.
Sweet Pie Crust
Apple pie. Cherry pie. Blueberry pie. Fruit tarts and cobblers. Angela knows pies. The secret to her award winning pies is a decadent filing and killer pie crust.
Angela shares her recipe for her Sweet Pie Crust. It’s flaky goodness and once you try it, chances are it will be your go-to crust recipe for all your pies. She also notes that this recipe can be made by hand, with a dough mixer, or with a food processor.
Angela's Sweet Pie Crust
This will be your new go-to crust recipe.
2 cups flour
¼ teaspoon salt
1 ½ teaspoon sugar
2 sticks cold butter (cubed, slice into ½ inch and then cut each slice into quarters, so each square is made of 4 little squares
½ cup water (ice cold)
- Place the flour, salt, sugar, and butter in a large bowl.
- Using a pastry blender or fork, cut the butter into the flour mixture.
- After the butter and flour are roughly incorporated, add the ice cold water – one tablespoon at a time – until the dough binds together.
- Divide the dough in half.
- On a floured surface, knead each dough for 5 minutes, the form them into a ball.
- Flatten the dough out into a round disk.
- Wrap each dough in plastic wrap and place in the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes.
- When ready to bake, remove from fridge, and then roll out the dough to desired size.