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A collector's combination

August 15, 2004

Curt Miller joked that his home is half house, half museum.

There's a working player piano, with dozens of music rolls in a case nearby. There's a beautiful old Moller organ, and there are several pieces of porcelain dinnerware - R.S. German and R.S. Prussia - dating from the 1860s. Teapots, creamers, and berry and chocolate sets are displayed.

"I'm a collector," Miller said. "It's addictive."

He's lived in his comfortable west-of-Hagerstown home for 13 years - about as long as he's been director of public relations at Brook Lane Health Services in Hagerstown. Brook Lane, which offers a continuum of mental health services, was established 55 years ago.

Miller grew up in Smithsburg, earned an associate's degree from Hagerstown Junior College and got a summer job at Brook Lane 22 years ago. He's been there since.

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"It's been a very long summer," he laughed.

Miller likes to be involved in the community. He's been a member of the Washington County Arts Council board of directors for six years. He's the group's secretary and has served a term as president.

"It's a way to sort of explore and also appreciate what we have," he said.

Miller likes to cook. And people like his cooking. A few years ago, along with his friend Vikki Byer, Miller offered to cook a dinner for 10 for the Sunrise Rotary benefit auction. The leg of lamb dinner - complete with cream of asparagus soup and shrimp cocktail - sold three times.

That meant Miller and Byer had to prepare the dinner for three different groups - in three different homes. They did the dishes, too.

The dinners brought the organization nearly $1,000.

"We had great fun doing that," Miller said. "It ended up to be a little bit of a challenge, but we had fun with it. A lot of people really liked the dessert."

Staff Writer Kate Coleman recently talked with Miller while enjoying a slice of that dessert - his Chocolate Orange Spice Cake.

How often are you in the kitchen?

I'm probably in the kitchen at least four or five times a week. Sometimes you cook and you enjoy the leftovers - or you cook a lot on the weekend.

Where did you learn to cook?

Actually, my mom never discouraged it ... and so, probably, a good bit from her - watching her cook. Also, I think it's interesting to look at old cookbooks ... or look at recipes that might be something that you could use. And sometimes you take a recipe and you sort of run with it to adjust this or that and create your own version.

Did you cook with your mom as a kid?

A little bit. I remember being a kid and making cocoa - but the kind where you're actually starting with the Hershey's powder and cooking it on the stove.

When was the first time you made this wonderful cake?

Probably five years ago. I wanted to make a cake, and I was thinking of the combination: What could you do to make a spice cake not be so plain? Orange and spice would be good. Chocolate's good. And so, let's put this together. Slicing it, it's a little bit more like a torte than a cake. Yet, it's the layers, and it tends to be very moist.

Why do you keep making it? What makes Curt's Chocolate Orange Spice Cake successful?

If you're having a special occasion, and you want something nice for it. ... It's also great because if you're having a dinner, the cake you can do ahead. It's actually better if you leave it for a day or two for the flavors to blend. Dessert can already be taken care of.

Do you have a favorite thing you like to eat?

No. I'm not a fussy eater.

Do your friends or family have a favorite recipe?

I certainly have made my share of soup. A lot of people like my borscht or homemade vegetable soup. I make pies - raspberry pies.

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