Well Seasoned

Come autumn, a Franklin property takes on a special luster in its gardens and sitting areas


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Country Cook: Cindy Schiano's second kitchen is located in what she calls "the barn," shown here, just steps from her main home. In early fall, the property basks in a golden glow,

Photos by Cybelle Codish

On any given evening in the early fall, you’re likely to find Dominick and Cindy Schiano savoring their dinner outdoors at one of several inviting spots on their expansive property. You’d hear loud laughter, the clinking of wine glasses in a celebratory toast, silverware softly tingling against china, the tranquil sounds of a garden water feature, and pronouncements of the excellence of the well-prepared fare. “This is great, as usual. This needs absolutely nothing — it’s perfect!” Those kinds of accolades would be shared, because both Dominick and Cindy know their way around a kitchen — or grill. 

As good as the food is, the ambiance is just as exquisite. The couple uses the outdoors at their Franklin residence almost as much as they do the indoors, even in the fall. Cindy says, “We’re out there all the time, at any of several different places, from near the water feature to the bistro table to the long table — anywhere!”  

The Schiano property, indeed, features several “living” rooms, each wrapped in organic delights and distant, alluring vistas that include trees ablaze in oranges and reds. In one spot apple trees grow; in another, there’s a new perennial garden near a split-rail fence, bursting with anemones (which show their finest colors come early autumn), grasses, ornamental chives, lavender, herbs, asters, clematis vines, different types of  balloon flowers, vegetables, and more. White Annabelle hydrangeas ring a waterfall, making this charming spot Cindy’s favorite perch, right through the autumn.

“When we first came here there was an orchard, an old three-car garage, a dirt-floor potting shed, a chain link fence, and mostly just grass,” says Cindy, who moved into the home in 1997. In 2007, she had the idea to build a kitchen and guesthouse where the old potting shed stood. “Every Italian has to have two kitchens, right?” she laughs (see more on the kitchen in accompanying story). 

As each year passed, Cindy would come up with new ideas for her landscaping, adding different artistic elements, furnishings, window boxes, plants, and more that she discovered anywhere from farmers’ markets and Farmer John’s Greenhouse in Farmington to Detroit Garden Works in Sylvan Lake, Goldner Walsh in Pontiac, and FleurDetroit in Bloomfield Hills and Birmingham.  

Creating a veritable au naturel paradise, the Schianos (sometimes including four grown sons) often grill Dominick’s renowned spare ribs or branzino (a type of fish). These days, as the landscape continues to evolve into something spectacular, the couple even hosts benefits for various nonprofits (including FAR Therapeutic Arts and Recreation and Shades of Pink; event attendees can bid on a dinner cooked and served by the Schianos). 

Whether they’re hosting a special event, dining with a group of friends, or enjoying time with their sons, Cindy and Dominick cherish autumn. “Even if it’s pouring rain, we’ll be outside under the porch overhang,” Cindy says. “We’re always out there.”


Kitchen x 2

A clever homeowner creates a special place to cook — and chill 

If Cindy Schiano is following a recipe whose directions say to chill well, or chill for 15 minutes, the avid cook can take that literally! Her chill spot is the kitchen, and that’s one of the reasons she wanted to build a second one at her Franklin home. When she decided to add this kitchen to her home, she determined she wanted great windows, an upstairs loft with sleeping quarters, and more. 

How to pull that off? Head to a kitchen shop that’s selling its display pieces. Schiano discovered many things she could picture in her kitchen when Designs Unlimited was moving their store and selling their displays. “I knew that would be the way to go for my new kitchen in the ‘barn,’ ” she says. 

“The barn” is what she calls this second kitchen, which is located just across the yard from her main home. It’s built where there once was a run-down potting shed. “I found cabinetry, a farmhouse sink, limestone countertops, a pot rack — almost everything — at the moving sale,” she says. And it all fit in her new cooking domain/guesthouse (Schiano’s culinary retreat also has a bedroom, bath, dining area, and sitting room).

On one particular fall evening, Schiano is out in the  “barn” kitchen  stirring her favorite marinara sauce — made using fresh basil, tomatoes, and more from her nearby garden.  This sauce will most likely be used for pizza, she explains. “And since it’s for pizza, I can put oregano in,” she laughs, explaining that her mother-in-law, Lucretia, would never put oregano in, say, a pasta sauce. 

Once it’s time to make the pizza, Schiano will use a pre-made dough from Cantoro Italian Market in Livonia (“or the Kroger brand bread dough that comes in loaves”). As for the tomatoes, she almost always uses the ones she’s grown herself or those from a farmers’ market, but if fresh tomatoes aren’t available, the kitchen wizard typically reaches for canned, whole, peeled tomatoes. “Red Gold,” she says, touting her favorite brand. 

So what are the steps for a perfect marinara sauce? It’s somewhat hard to get any specifics out of Schiano, but with a bit of pressing, she finally reveals her method: “You sauté fresh garlic in some olive oil, then toss in the tomatoes — cut up, of course — and then cook it all down, add oregano and parsley, and you’ve got it. People make things too complicated.” She spreads the sauce onto the rolled-out dough and tops it with fresh mozzarella and a drizzle of olive oil. Then she bakes the pie at 500 for 10 minutes, or until it's golden brown. Finally, she places fresh basil from her garden on the pizza. Then it’s time to chill!

Soul-Stirring: On any given day in the early fall, you might find Cindy Schiano plucking herbs and tomatoes from her garden and preparing a delicious pizza, pasta, or pasta sauce in her kitchen away from home. As savvy as any professional chef when it comes to cooking know-how, Schinao even has her own chef's garb, monogrammed with her nickname.

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