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A budding #ladybaker's guide to Hamilton Heights

I wish this website had smell-o-vision because there are no words to describe the heady scent that greeted me on a recent visit to Carmen Keels' Hamilton Heights apartment: a mix of homemade spelt sandwich bread baking in the oven and fresh Christmas tree. Reader, it was close to divine.

Keels, a private school music teacher and mother of two, is in the process of launching her very own bread business. A self-taught baker who has been experimenting with bread recipes since she was pregnant with her son three years ago, she finally made her first big move this summer.

With her mother's help Keels designed a logo and created labels for her new business, Heights Baking Co. Soon after she began selling fresh pear spice bread and other treats at the Brotherhood/Sister Sol green market that operates from July to November on Hamilton Place. As the weather got colder, her goods migrated to the Corbin Hill Food Project in Morningside Heights.

This month Keels debuted her first-ever bread club. It works like this: members pay $25 at the beginning of the month, and every Friday they arrange to pick up whatever Keels has decided to bake that day. One week it might be a crusty boule, the next a cranberry pecan loaf. (To join, contact her at

A resident of Hamilton Heights since 2004 (she bought her place from her uncle), Keels has watched the neighborhood change at a rapid clip–and now many of her favorite spots are the newest. Here are just some of the people and places that this #ladybaker (a hashtag she frequently uses on Instagram) thinks are just great: ​

FOOD and drink

"I love The Monkey Cup. I go there every Friday with my friend for tea," says Keels, who approves of the cafe's pastries and says it's the perfect stop before her daughter's weekly sing-alongs at school.

For brunch, Keels, her husband and two children head to Trufa, where the staff happily make Mickey Mouse-shaped pancakes for the kids. She also comes for the "pasta, anytime." Plus, the owners are friends who send their children to the same school.

The Hogshead, a neighborhood tavern serving craft beer and small plates, is another of her family's favorites. "Our kids love it," says Keels. "All the waitstaff know them, and they don't mind if they saddle up to the bar and order Shirley Temples."

Keels believes the new Uncle Tony's Pizza, opened by the owners of local Italian restaurant Fumo, puts every other slice place to shame. "They have the good kind of pepperoni," she says, adding that their Sicilian slice with roasted cauliflower, wild mushrooms and kalamata olives is "such a good little square of pizza."

arts and culture

Keels really enjoys taking her kids to the Sugar Hill Children's Museum of Art & Storytelling, which is housed in a modern building that star architect David Adjaye designed in Sugar Hill. Its performance space, she says, is a major draw.

The home founding father Alexander Hamilton built for himself and his family, the Hamilton Grange, "is a great little museum." Keels was there nine years ago when the National Park Service moved the entire house one and half blocks to its current location in St. Nicholas Park. "It took months. We watched them roll that house down the street, and everyone applauded when it reached its new spot."

Keels is thrilled that her 6-year-old daughter attends ballet classes at the Harlem School of the Arts, which she calls "a great performing arts complex for kids."

A favorite local painter and friend is Tom Sanford, who sometimes shows at nearby gallery Gitler & and has included Keels in his series on Harlem.

Keels is a huge fan of the Audubon Mural Project, a series of monumental bird paintings around the neighborhood, and always notices when a new one goes up, like the Evening Grosbeak recently painted by the artist Ouizi on Amsterdam and 149th Street.

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