Bakery love (and some coffee) in Saskatoon’s Riversdale.

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Recently I watched the PBS documentary “A Few Good Bakeries” and was inspired, and even touched by, the beautiful places of community and joy that bakeries (and coffee shops that bake!) can be. Watch it: it will make you want to quit your job and take up baking. Or just watch it and go to a bakery and bask in the love, which is what we did when we were in Saskatoon last weekend.

Saskatoon is becoming such a fabulous little city, especially the newly rejuvenating Riversdale neighborhood, which is just down the hill from my parents’ neighborhood. While the development of the area is not entirely unproblematic, and these issues are worth talking about, it’s still interesting to see old spaces and places completely transformed. One of the loveliest new spots is Little Bird Patisserie and Cafe. When we lived in Ottawa, my favorite Saturday past time was wandering down to Benny’s Bistro, the French bakery in the market, for an almond croissant. To now have a gorgeous French bakery in the heart of Saskatoon is too much to have hoped for. The space is beautiful — an old building with original hardwood and high ceilings that used to be an antique emporium, furnished thoughtfully with a mix of vintage finds and new creations like this wood counter.

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Although I’ve widely sampled their goods on several occasions, their macarons are probably the star. You know they believe in what they do because they even have a little placard gently informing the customer of the proper French pronunciation of “macaron” as opposed to “macarOON”, which is the coconut and chocolate cookie. Attention to detail, people. This is what makes a great bakery. Sadly, I don’t have a photo of the famous macarons because the day we went, in their debit machine was down and we only had a bit of cash. So we opted for the “healthier” Gruyere croissant, which was incredible. A truly authentic French croissant with a lovely savory cheese layer. Claire and my sister devoured it while I took photos. Then we wandered down to Collective for coffee. Very good coffee made by people who pay as much attention to detail as Little Bird.

And because we hadn’t had enough baking, we bought a scone to go with our coffee and it was dreamy. Some genius thought to put a layer of butter and sliced almonds down on the baking sheet under the scone dough so that the scone had the most amazing buttery crunchy crusty bottom.

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As I watched Claire lounging on a vintage couch enjoying her croissant, I commented to my sister on how different her life is sometimes from what ours was as children. Even if something like Little Bird had existed in Saskatoon when we were young, there is no way my parents could have afforded to bring four kids there for brunch, or coffee even. Both of my brothers would have wanted a six dollar tart and my dad would have had a heart attack. I hope we’re able to teach Claire about the privileges she has and encourage her to be aware of and to share with the many people who don’t necessarily share her privileges. But I also hope that she learns how much her life can be enriched by gathering with friends and family in neighborhood spots like Little Bird and Collective, and that she takes that enrichment back out into her community.

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Holy Grail: The Baby-Friendly Coffee Shop

I will admit that I am a total sucker for that Apple commercial that makes having kids look all magical. I may have even rewound it once or twice on the PVR. I would have totally hated this commercial when I was single (“not everyone is having babies!”), but now that I’m on the other side, I’ve been forced to admit that, yeah, ok, lots of people have babies. Clearly, Apple gets that parents are a huge demographic — a demographic that spends money. So why haven’t coffee shops figured this out?

If anyone needs coffee, it’s the sleep-deprived parents of an infant. We will happily drop $6 on a specialty coffee, more than once day if necessary. And especially if you’re a stay at home parent or on a parental leave and cooped up in the house all day, a trip to a coffee shop might be the highlight of your week, and you’ll happily buy not only coffee, but all the baking you don’t have time to do anymore. You’d think coffee shops would love parents with babies, but when we visited Ottawa this summer with Claire I realized that in most of my favorite coffee shops (and restaurants) there was no place to change a baby. Admittedly, some of these are in older buildings that aren’t even wheelchair accessible, let alone able to accommodate a counter in the washroom big enough to change a baby. That said, our favorite scone shop moved from a tiny character home to a huge venue in a brand new office building — still no space to change a baby. Clearly parents with children did not figure into the owners’ new plans. This I just don’t get.

Long ago I was a barrista at Saskatoon’s late great Caffe Sola, possibly the least child-friendly coffee shop ever: the furniture was made of slate, granite, and steel, with toddler-head-height pointy corners; the floor was concrete, and the coffee cups were hand made by the ceramic artist Mel Bolen. Yet a few brave parents would come and camp out there for hours with their small people, because the coffee was amazing, the food was wonderful, and the atmosphere was glorious (hello, roaring fire in the hand-carved fireplace on cold mornings).

Sadly, Sola is no longer with us, but thankfully, one of the former pillars of Sola, baker and barrista extraordinaire Nikita Brown, has opened Citizen Cafe &  Bakery. Same great fair trade organic artisan coffee, new and amazing food, gorgeous atmosphere, and this: Citizen is incredibly child-friendly. First of all, they have a change table in the bathroom (anyone who’s had to change a baby on his or her lap while sitting on the toilet in a tiny bathroom will totally get why this is so crucial). And it’s in a bathroom that is not specifically marked “women’s”, so dads can change babies too (I’m obsessed with this). There is a sunny little play area and children’s table near a cool space with comfy couches, chunky knitted bean bags, and armchairs. This area is somewhat separate from the rest of the coffee shop, so if babies are getting restless, people having coffee meetings or reading the paper can still do so in peace. Because the armchairs face away from the rest the shop and are up against a dividing wall, a mom could probably breastfeed pretty comfortably there.

In a neighboring community to ours in Edmonton, there is a coffee shop that is specifically for moms and babies. Frankly, the coffee is bad, the food is mediocre, and the atmosphere is meh, but moms go there because there is a nice diaper changing area at the back, play area for the kids, and no one will be annoyed by fussing babies. And although these latter features are nice, I can’t really say I enjoy the feeling of being segregated in a “moms only” coffee shop — it’s kind of like having coffee in a daycare. Citizen manages to make going for coffee an adult indulgence that is accessible to both parents and non-parents (it’s also wheelchair accessible). Being accessible is clearly good business: Citizen is always packed. Inclusiveness is also just something to be expected from a shop whose menu features sandwiches named after Harvey Milk, Louis Riel and Tommy Douglas. Now if only we can convince Nikita to open one in Edmonton…