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Ever been to an Italian restaurant where you were served that awesome semi-flat bread that you dip into olive oil and salt, or shaved Parmesan cheese? We’re not talking about endless breadsticks, here, but actual Italian bread. Sometimes it has olives (or other delicious delights) baked right into it, or spread on top of the dough. That's focaccia bread, and it's one of the specialty items produced by Lavish Lily Artisan Products.

Carrie Leftwich-Hillman, of Taylor Ridge, Ill., founder of Lavish Lily Artisan Products and a member of the American Culinary Federation, is now in her ninth season in the market business. She was a frequent customer at the Freight House Farmers’ Market, and she noticed there weren’t many vendors selling artisan breads. So, with her love for food and art, she decided to experiment in her free time. Within a few months, she was selling her items to an ever-growing list of customers.

A self-proclaimed chef, artist and grower, Leftwich-Hillman is passionate about producing the best tasting food possible. In addition to focaccia bread, Leftwich-Hillman also produces shaped breads and sweet rolls.

“Inspired by great bakeries in other cities, I have worked for years on developing my own dough

recipes, striving to achieve the most flavorful yeast breads you can buy locally,” she says. “As a chef, I am always thinking about new flavor combinations; I am always trying to add a new item to my products.”

Carrie began cooking when she was 12, and she won a number of “best of show” ribbons for cooking in her youth. Although she studied art in college, her natural talents with food saw her managing health markets, catering departments and kitchens for a local grocery store and elsewhere, working closely with dietitians, chefs and kitchen staff to produce a wide variety of healthy, prepared foods that were ready to take home.

She loved these jobs, but as her own market business grew, she had to make the decision to focus on her business and her products. But she never lost sight of her love of art. Just looking at the items available, it's easy to see how art influences her baked goods, how care is taken to make the goods appeal to the eyes as well as the taste buds.

Leftwich-Hillman has several other interests outside of baking and art, but one way or another, they are all tied together. She is an accomplished photographer, and her photographs of natural and local scenery are available at the Freight House Farmers’ Market, too. She enjoys gardening, and she uses heirloom-variety herbs and vegetables she grows herself in her baked goods. She also teaches cooking classes every other Tuesday at The Green Thumbers in Davenport, where she features their Twisted Trunk line of high-quality olive oils and vinegars.

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Lavish Lily Artisan Products come in a wide variety of flavors, and are made without preservatives or dough enhancers. Leftwich-Hillman crafts them using her own original methods and recipes.

Her focaccia varieties include Sun-Dried Tomato Pesto, Asiago Black Pepper, Jalapeño Cheddar, Spinach Mushroom, Basil Pesto with Pine Nuts and Parmesan, and more.

Some of the most popular sweet roll flavors include strawberry, strawberry-rhubarb, blueberry and apple, often topped with mouth-watering vanilla bean icing, changing with the season depending on the availability of locally grown fruit. On any given Saturday, Freight House Farmers’ Market visitors can choose from a dozen varieties of focaccia bread and almost as many varieties of shaped breads. 

"There is something about working with yeast dough that fascinates me," Leftwich-Hillman says. "Yeast is a living organism. I love growing things, and I love taking photographs of beautiful things, particularly nature. There is something to be said about sharing your passions with others through food and art. There is nothing more fulfilling than that to me. I love the people, the atmosphere, and most of all, making people happy.”

Lavish Lily Artisan Products may be found at the Freight House Farmers’ Market (Spaces 37 and 38) every Saturday. Customers may visit the company’s Facebook page facebook.com/lavishlilyproducts) to find out what flavors will be available, where Leftwich-Hillman's products will be available on any additional market days, and to salivate over the photos.

Maybe that last one is just me, but I bet you will, too.

Dylan Davis is a regular Radish contributor.

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