Tag Archives: happiness

Spring Breaks

If summer is for vacation, then spring is for weekend trips.  Longer days are here and I’ve got the urge for going, but the weather isn’t right for long day in the sun just yet. Luckily, there’s lots of neat little places to explore nearby and we’ve been making the most of the weekends lately. It’s still a bit gloomy out, but a few recent excursions have made taking on the last  of Vancouver’s days of rain more of a pleasure than a burden.

Washington, the Evergreen State, the place who’s unofficial motto – Alki , or “Bye and Bye” – has been especially good at taking some of the sting from my summer yearnings. Recently we visited Blaine – a town where you can ride in historically significant ferry boat and then get coffee from a building shaped like a boat. A little further south, a nice little rainy Sunday found us in Edison – a little town named after an inventor and the former home of Edward R. Murrow – eating some delicious Irish soda bread from the bakery and watching ducks in the sloughs. A little later, we thought about out friends in Ireland as we talked the cliffs at Deception Pass.

Blaine Harbor's The Plover

Blaine Harbor’s The Plover

Coffee from a building shaped like a boat

Coffee from a building shaped like a boat

A drive over Deception Pass

A drive over Deception Pass

From the cliffs near Deception Pass

From the cliffs near Deception Pass

But all travel hasn’t been southerly. In fact, one of the nicest spring days yet was spent east in the Chiliwack Valley where we trekked along the Trans-Canada Trail. Further up the elevation rise outside the Fraser Valley, we got pretty significantly snowed upon for (what I assume will be) the last time this winter.

Snow over the Chiliwack

Snow over the Chiliwack

River in early spring

River in early spring

There have also been some neat in-town events lately too that are occupying the weekends. At the Museum of Anthropology I was happy to visit the dream world of Mexican artist in a dramatic show called The Marvelous Real. Paintings, sculpture, music and more all pointed to observations of this world by some of the most culturally creative artists I’ve seen in a while.

I always feel gross taking cell phone shots in the museum...

I always feel gross taking cell phone shots in the museum…

I also stocked up on all things animal hair at Fibers West which always makes for a nice way to spend a spring Saturday. Here we heard all about skinning goats and combing fleece and even took home some to spin. Best of all, we got the news of a sheep festival of sorts complete with shearing demos and info on farming coming up in September. My fantasy farm-living self can’t wait.

A display only a knitter could love.

A display only a knitter could love.

So much yarn I'm spinning!

So much yarn I’m spinning!

As the weather warms, I’m still hoping to visit the Gulf Islands and maybe even head out into the Washington rainforest. Does that mean I’m finally coming to like the rain? I’d have said so except for this lovely little Sunday sun shower we got this afternoon. Don’t worry, sunshine. I still like you best.

soon, sunshine.

Soon, sunshine.

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The Differences

Dear Readers. I have ventured far from home and have neglected this space in favor of Florida. This holiday, I sunk into a deep relaxation unlike any I’ve known. I went home. The other home and, for the first time in a long time, settled in.

The holidays are always a bit emotional, especially for those of us who live far from those we love, but this year all of that was hidden under the extended time we had to be there. The weeks wrapped me in the contentment of an old quilt and was strong enough to give me time meditating on the differences.

Things are different down in America, down South, and in Florida. People talk differently, dress differently, spend their time differently. As far as I can tell, it’s these differences that make us like or not like something. ‘I’m glad to be here because here people do this or that thing. I like this or that thing better that that other thing from over there.’ Does that make ‘here’ better? More ‘my speed’? I was on this idea so much that I made a list.

Junebugs, pick up trucks, state roads, and styrofoam. Lizards, restaurant inside gas stations, spanish moss, trailers, sandy feet. Screen doors, coolers, creeks, cypress knees, and sensor lights. Saying ‘hi’ to everyone you pass. Waving with your first to fingers to people you pass while driving a car. Vegetables cooked in salt water. Drive through liquor stores. Parking lots. Sweet tea in a to-go cup. Wind chimes. Sand dunes. Woods with floors lined in pine straw.

Then I thought that is this very desire – the need to classify differences – that should be avoided. These things, the strange things, or, in my case, familiar things, are not all there is.  Can we not turn our sensitivities, our perceptions, to what we have in common instead? Would we even want to?

Today, back in Vancouver in the rain and the grey, I’ll make a little promise to look instead  for commonality. The noise of the water on the shore, flip flops, people who like boats. Sea gulls and sunburns to come. My list so far is short, but I’m working on it. Perhaps this will ease the sickness for the homes I have and, if I’m lucky, maybe those I’ll have in the future.

 

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30 Cakes (22/30)

Of all the phrases we hear (and use) too often, and I think ‘pleasant surprise’ is one of the ones I like least. This is only because when I actually do encounter one, the phrase kicks in and I immediately stop considering what makes the surprise pleasant. Like the other day when I ordered apple pie and coffee at a sandwich shop as part of my endeavor to eat 30 Cakes in this, my 30th year. It’s a deli so, low expectations, right? Wrong.

Apple pie and sweet surprises.

Apple pie and sweet surprises.

Turns out this sandwich shop (it’s called PHAT, you know, like pretty, hot and tasty) has an apple pie good enough to be tagged as a pleasant surprise. ‘Pleasant’ in that it’s nice to be presented with a something the maker of which cared about, took their time with, and wanted you to like. ‘Surprise’ because we spend so much time noting the petty problems and annoyances of a day, so when something nice comes at you, it’s probably better to drop the over-used phrases and just enjoy it.

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30 cakes (19/30)

Stitches and pumpkin cheesecake.

Stitches and pumpkin cheesecake.

Normally, I’m not a believer in organized fun. Events at work, group concert attendance, meeting strangers at coffee shops to discuss a common interest, none of these are what you might call “up my alley”. Thankfully, I seem to have usually had a nice little circle of close friends – people who are up for whatever and don’t need to plan things in advance. When we arrived in Vancouver, that circle shrank considerably, so I started looking for places to meet people outside work.

Adding to or building up a group of friends can shape your impression of a place. Even on vacation, we often judge the entire place we’re visiting on the few interactions we have with the locals. Where I grew up, people would often say that they didn’t like New York after visiting – “Everyone was so stuck up and busy,” “No one would talk to us” – these kinds of comments are thrown around as the official judgement of an entire city.  Whereas, if you have pleasant encounters on a trip, you tend to head home with warm feelings and happy stories more so than I think we often realize.

Vancouver is sort of notorious for it’s icy attitudes. People I meet here who are from other places often describe their friend-making experience as a challenge. Vancouverites have a class to attend or special interest group work to do or allergies to wheat, all of which can make going to grab a beer with someone more complicated than I’ve certainly ever encountered. Also, it’s a transient city, and that’s something I do know about. Living in a beach community as a kid meant summers filled with new kids to hang out with and weird, empty feelings when everyone went back home. In Tallahassee, where we lived last in Florida, the college atmosphere seems to make people want to “move on”. It was a place where attending going-away parties was pretty common. Since moving here, I’ve said good bye to a half dozen of the buddies who were drug away by work permits, calls to their home town, or jobs far away.

What I did find is one totally excellent group of knitters who are brought together by stitches and coffee and Thursday evenings. This is, technically, organized fun, but I have to say that seeking a interest group pretty soon after we arrived has been one of my best decisions yet. Found originally on meetup.com (Eek! How organized does that sound?) this group has strengthened my appreciation for how good we can be to each other without even knowing it. What you might call general chit chat and laughs over this or that thing we all experience in our knitting or in our lives has made a lovely little impact on me over the last few years. In the midst of people not making eye contact on the side walk or talking to their neighbors, there’s a little cluster of us who bring our own backgrounds and stories while we happily step away from our various jobs and kids and partners for a brief moment.

For this reason, I’m super happy to have indulged in cake #19 with my knitting buddies. When this sweater finally gets finished, I’ll be reminded of a chilly October evening with friends at Trees coffee shop where, by the way, you can get an absolutely delicious pumpkin cheesecake. And, if you’re someone living somewhere new, let me take a moment to tip my hat to those to are pulling together strangers at some coffee shop on some corner in your town. The work of connecting people sure isn’t easy these days, and a little appreciation to the talkers and the planners was given with each of this cake’s bites!

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30 cakes (16, 17, and 18 / 30)

Homemade plum cake, heavy on the egg whites.

Homemade plum and strawberry cake, heavy on the egg whites.

Lucky's doughnuts - lemon creme!

Lucky’s doughnuts – lemon cream!

My own invention - coconut pistachio with brown sugar caramel!

My own invention – coconut pistachio with brown sugar caramel.

September made for a strange collection of cakes – plums from BC made into a egg-white-heavy cake, a delicious treat from Lucky’s doughnuts, and an invented (as in, thrown together from whatever was in the cabinets) coconut and pistachio cake drenched in brown sugar caramel. Not too bad for a month, but still more work to do!

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Summer, according to my phone.

Recently, I was asked what thing about people bothered me the most – as in, did I have an irrational fear of the elderly or an instant dislike of people who perpetually told you the gritty details of their health problems. It was one of those things that you can only talk about with close friends, but we all have ‘peves’ with each other and it makes for pretty good fun to identify the minimally terrible and often hilarious things about your friends that you so enjoy.

One of the things we didn’t bring up was over-use of cell phones that seems to have become socially acceptable. It’s a practice of mine that I don’t use my phone when I’m talking to, sitting with, or generally in the same area as someone I know. Right next to hand written letters, I think people sharing time with each other is one of the greatest things about friendship and family. These days, so many conversations between two or more humans is perpetually stopped or distracted by looks into pockets or screen-based chats. Hopefully this is a trend that will die out as we realize how rude we are being to each other. Not trying to sound like a bossy old lady, but one can only hope.

In the meantime, I must admit that I remain undecided about the addition of phone cameras into our lives. While I’m certainly no professional, I have appreciated photography since I was given access to my dad’s old 35mm Cannon with detachable lenses when I was eight or maybe twelve. Seeing the working mechanisms of a little dark place that made printed copies of things that otherwise exist only in memory made me want to take pictures, study photographer’s styles and techniques, and generally appreciate thoughtful and interesting documentation of the world.

Perhaps mistakenly, I often don’t carry a camera these days because I can rely on my phone to take snapshots. This brings me back round to the over-use issue and, like I said, I actually don’t know where I stand on this. Yesterday, I purposefully didn’t bring a camera or my phone to the release of a hand full of Harbor Seals that I had helped care for as a volunteer at the Vancouver Aquarium’s Marine Mammal Rescue Center. This was the annual volunteer-led release where the people who have helped feed and clean and grow and heal get to carry cages down to the water and release now-healthy seals. The beach is usually cluttered with friends and family and yesterday was no exception. The dry beach where we were was pretty shallow and everyone was standing as close as they could almost piled on top of each other. Amidst the crowded bodies, all arm were up and out; everyone was ready with their phone cameras.

What I’m afraid of is that this sort of photography removes us from the moments we are experiencing. There’s no zoom on those things, after all, so we must push our way to the front and sometimes get so close that we loose the perspective of a regular camera man – one where you take the whole scene into account, where the background matters too.

On the way home, I looked though the things I had photographed this summer and found another layer to the argument – I had not remembered several of the events documented with a quick snap, or should I say finger press, of the camera phone. For this, spy-camera-sized and instantly obtainable photo ability, I guess I’ll have to say I’m glad. But I still think we should put phones down more often and really look around, listen to each other, and try to remember the events of our lives. Here are a few that, thanks to having the phone,  I’ll remember from this summer.

My first 'swim' in BC waters. Can you believe it took so long?

My first ‘swim’ in BC waters. Can you believe it took so long?

Weird things downtown.

Weird things downtown.

That afternoon we went to a neat forest on the riverside with some good friends.

That afternoon we went to a neat forest on the riverside with some good friends.

Neon.

Neon.

Wine and sunshine.

Wine and sunshine.

Cute street scenes.

Cute street scenes.

Tomatoes!

Tomatoes!

Jorts!

Jorts!

A day at the pool in Stanley Park.

A day at the pool in Stanley Park.

Visits to a muddy border.

Visits to a muddy border.

A picnic at Green College.

A picnic at Green College.

A paperweight at the Vancouver archives embellished with the humor of an antiquarian.

A paperweight at the Vancouver archives embellished with the humor of an antiquarian.

Finding this map of what Coal Harbor was going to look like once.

Finding this map of what Coal Harbor was going to look like once.

The plan I made for my Green Streets garden.

The plan I made for my Green Streets garden.

The walkway into the Anthropology museum.

Appreciating the walkway into the Anthropology museum.

Finding a view of the fireworks form our bedroom window.

Finding a view of the fireworks form our bedroom window.

Meeting this guy.

Meeting this guy.

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The Halfway Report: 15/30

With the year mark coming back around faster than I am keeping up with, my plan of having 30 cakes in the first 365 days of my 30th year might need a little recap and refresh.

Luckily, I didn’t have to dig very deep to remember that I started this count at the birthday lunch I had with a wonderful friend who took me out for mini cakes and a palm reading (yes, both services are offered at the same venue – obviously an incredible pal for finding it and knowing how thoroughly happy it would make me). From there I was surprised at work with a chocolate cake breakfast and the ball, as they say, was officially in play.

I’ve since had cakes for Christmas, a famous Vancouver-style cupcake, and a stunning southern classic cake paired with champagne and a healthy dose of my girls back home. I’ve baked a few, including this coconut beauty, and tucked in a couple of  mini treats to what would have otherwise been regular days.

All told, I still have exactly 2 months and 29 days to finish. With the installment of #15 (spiced milk cake with caramel icing) and the incredible looking strawberry cake recipe that I was gifted recently, I think I’ll be well able to note this as a happy 30th year indeed.

15/30 - a classic milk cake recipe (with cardamom, nutmeg and all spice added to the milk) plus a brown sugar caramel icing - helps start Fall off right.

A classic milk cake recipe (with cardamom, nutmeg and all spice added to the milk) plus a brown sugar caramel and elderflower icings to help start Fall off right.

 

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30 Cakes (14/30)

I don’t know if you’ve been around since December, but it was in that month that I had a certain auto-versary. Rather than being filled with dread, the actual day of my 30th came and went riding on a pleasant sense of accomplishment. I decided it would be appropriate to continue the celebration and what better way to do that than to fill this year with 30 cakes.

Unfortunately it’s already the end of August and I’m falling behind. With the “heat” of summer (it’s Vancouver, but things are still pretty saucy out there) it’s just been too much to crank up the oven or encourage the desire for heavy-duty deserts. What to do? A little cool cheesecake seemed spot on, as they say.

Does this count as one or three?

Does this count as one or three?

Number 14 came in a set of three. I don’t know what it is about cheesecake that yields so popularly to sampler flavors – I have and always will prefer ‘plain’. Consumed in in the true spirit of things (with one bite of each to start) this little plate made a nice afternoon break from work the other day at a coffee shop around the corner. It even came with a kinda crazy sharp fork so hooray for that.

Now I just have to make sure I’m happy with my decision to count this as one and not three. Oh, and eat way more cake in the next few weeks! Anyone have a fun summer cake recipe to share? I’m thinking something fruity for number 15.

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An Inward Season

Yesterday it took a literally astronomical event to get me out of the house. The Perseid meteor shower to be exact. For anything less, I simply couldn’t be bothered. Sunshine, warm weather, Saturday on the beach? Keep it. I am tired. A quick trip to a dark place I managed, but when I looked up last night I was more impressed by the thin cloud spread over our skies than by the few streaks of color bright enough to cut through. Even August is taking a break of summer it seems. I think it’s time to acknowledge that I am too.

Is it a case of being spread too thin? Have I fallen into the terribly predictable and cheap habit of saying I don’t have time for the things I like? Am I simply too hot and too surrounded by excited, happy people running around getting tans and having loud get-togethers in public places? Or is it that this is the time of year I have decided to rest all my resentment of the seasons upon?

In the place where I’m from, the weather doesn’t change that much through the year. Neither does the length of the lighted day. Sure it’s colder in February than in June, but you can still swim in some Februarys. Here, the seasons are strong. They pull people’s personalities this way or that. Try and find a sad looking person on the streets out there and you’ll be looking until the rain boots get taken out of the closet in October. But theirs is not a marathoner’s strength. The seasons here are sprinters.

Summer, with its 4 am bird call alarms and sunsets that stretch into the double digits of evening’s clock, feels like it’s over before we had time to adjust. Already the paths outsides are littered with  little dried up carcasses leaves that were new only last month. June’s broods of baby animals have broken out and can be seen lumbering around alone in the dark. Each morning feels measurably darker. On a walk at night, you already feel the cold sensation on your arms that makes you reach for a trusty sweater. Late August already approaches.

In this seemingly inward-facing season, perhaps these are the clues I’ve been missing; these are the turns of each day that I have been ignoring. Are the changes slipping past me upsetting my biology? Should I be storing some kind of energy for what I should know is coming? Soup recipes? Warm blankets? Puzzles and other things to do in the dark at 4 pm?

As I write, I hear thunder in the clouds outside. We will have showers today for only the second time since the end of June. Water will start to sweep the dried up leaves down towards the culverts and crevices. Summer isn’t over yet, but I can count on the day when the rain will return and remain for weeks. The wind will pull the petals from the flowers and we will bring our umbrellas. I will not get to see the Perseid this year as we will swing away from this place in the universe before the sky here clears. What I am I to do then besides adapt, adapt, adapt? Today I have a hope that I can begin from this place of acknowledging my ignorance since, after all, it’s this place from which I am so often able to find direction. Even under a clouded sky.

 

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30 Cakes (13/30)

This year had a good feeling from the start. Perhaps because the dread that afflicted me from about the day after my 26th birthday had finally worn off. Perhaps because it started as one of those years that felt like neat things were going to happen. Perhaps because turning 30 isn’t so bad after all.

Whatever the case, this year calls for more celebration than just one day. How am I celebrating, you ask? Well, by making, baking, or just plain ordering 30 different cakes before my next birthday.

A little more than halfway there, number 13 is one I made myself.

No. 13: Elderflower and Lemon

No. 13: Elderflower and Lemon

It’s been so nice outside lately that I wanted to make something to celebrate blue, cloudless skies and warm sunny lawns. Having recently purchased a new bottle of Ikea’s elderflower syrup and a couple of extra lemons, inspiration was right there in the fridge. The cake is Martha Stewart’s plain vanilla layer cake plus the juice and zest of one lemon. The butter cream has a not-so-little touch of elderflower. Together they turn out to be a perfect pair for the steadily strengthening summer!

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30 Cakes (12/30)

In December I turned 30 and to celebrate one day of fun just didn’t seem appropriate. Maybe it’s all the hype with becoming a real adult. Maybe it’s just because I like baking new things. Either way, this year is the year of 30 Cakes.

Number 12 is a nutty adventure – Walnut with Cardamom butter cream.

Spicy, nutty number 12.

Spicy, nutty number 12.

It’s modeled after a recipe found in a baking book left here by a friend of mine who has moved on to more southern climes (Australia, actually, which is almost as south as you can get! ). I modified it a little by adding yogurt to the ground-walnut-based batter and cardamom to the icing a little at a time until I ended up with just a hint of flavor beyond delicious sweetened butter icing.

Made in a loaf pan, this is a tasty little cake that might just wind up as breakfast tomorrow too!

(Hey. You on Instagram? I promise I don’t just take photos of cake!)

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30 Cakes (11/30)

In “The Life Aquatic”, Steve says that 10&1/2 is his favorite age. This I understand to be a protest of the power of 11.

Eleven marks a click in another dial. It is different. It’s the beginning of the time after the beginning.

The eleventh cake in this series is different too and is a testament to my kitchen-improv skills. I was in the mood to bake but realized only after preparing some of the ingredients (including the broken eggs if I remember correctly) that I was missing certain key liquids.

What to do? I could have made a quick trip to the store but decided instead to substitute rum for buttermilk.

Results? Not bad. Messy, but delicious, and a pretty good beginning to “the middle” if you ask me.

Rummy!

Rummy!

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30 Cakes (10/30)

Best cake name yet goes to this one: "The Diplomat"

Best cake name yet goes to this one: “The Diplomat”

Having your sister in town after finishing an awesome road trip is reason to celebrate so Cake 10/30 came with a few glasses of wine. This one is from True Confections, a desert-only restaurant here in Vancouver. Great idea, huh?

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30 Cakes (9/30)

Everybody needs goals, right? Well mine is to encounter 30 cakes this year in celebration of a certain birthday milestone. With February coming to a close, I’m just enjoying number 9 on a rainy afternoon.

9 of 30

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30 cakes (8/30)

So it’s half way through February, I’m at eight, and feeling quite good about the 30 Cakes Project. This one is a homemade attempt to rectify the many differences in coconut cake recipes I’ve been looking at for the last couple of days. I kept finding that I didn’t have all of the ingredients for any one of them so came up with a version containing what I did have. There’s apparently a neat way of making coconut buttercream with eggs that I want to try one day, but I’ll need like six eggs to make that work along with a fluffy cake. I only had three eggs and was tired of waiting for coconut cake so I improvised and came up with this beauty.

IMG_9313

It was incredibly coco-nutty and really sweet. I’ll need to do some adjusting to this before calling it a home run. Still, you can’t really go wrong with coconut anything if you ask me.

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30 Cakes (7/30)

IMG_9150

Not the prettiest, but surely the most chocolaty.

Number 7 in the quest for 30 Cakes is my Aunt’s recipe for Chocolate Sweet Cake. Made with buttermilk and a ton of coco powder this is a heavenly thing and a mushy little treat. Dug out of my mom’s recipe box, the card she made for this is yellowed and smeared with chocolate-coated fingerprints. Fun to make and delicious to eat! Check out the recipe on my culinary adventures blog “Jazz Kitchen“.

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30 cakes (6/30)

Thirty cakes on my 30th year. I’ve been missing loads of cake time lately! Catching up now with homemade chocolate lava cake. Small, but oh so gooey and delicious!

IMG_9135

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30 Cakes (4/30)

Today’s installment comes from back home with my sister and good friend at the lovely Tallahassee restaurant, Food Glorious Food. They do mostly southern-influenced dishes but with nice adaptations for modern and, well, less country southerners but the main event is desert. I mean, check this out. Creative, delicious and hard to choose from, but glorious indeed. My pick this evening was the Hummingbird Cake (which is something you’d be likely to see at a good hearty southern church pot-luck) and the girls got Perfect Chocolate (a FGF original that I’ll endorse as perfect) and  a cranberry coffee cake in the spirit the season. Cheers with a bottle of champagne and thanks to good friends!

What a spread!

What a spread!

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30 cakes (3/30)

HAPPY BIRTHDAY!

HAPPY BIRTHDAY!

Welcomed to my sister’s house with a mess of balloons, streamers and delicious sprinkle-flecked cupcakes with delightful Betty Crocker chocolate icing. And she didn’t even know about my cake mission… a sister is the best present!

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30 cakes (2/30)

chocolate breakfast!

Like the good man says, there’s nothing like a little help from my friends who surprise me with chocolate breakfast cake at work. What better way to spend an office birthday than draped in a dollar store sash and eating chocolate cake for breakfast. This one is from the Maple Bakery on Davie Street and was wonderfully fresh, rich and extra sweet!

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30 cakes (1/30)

Zinc’s atomic number. The total number of the Western musical scale. The number of years in a very famous war. The number of a cross-continental  highway that starts in Oregon. The number of sides in a tricontagon. If I was married this long, I’d get pearls. If I was Jesus, I’d be healing. If I was politically minded, I could now be a senator. Since I’m not, I’ll just say welcome, year thirty. And I’ll make a solum oath to eat 30 cakes before you are over. Here’s to a pretty good start.

tea and cake

tea and little cakes

The best thing about these (besides a lovely time with a good friend who shares my appreciation for fine pastry) is that the Notte Bakery employs a real live physic in house so you can have your fortune read along with your desert. I was advised to exercise the patient side of my personality and to trust in the future. Not going to argue with either of those pieces of advice!

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