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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Street

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It turns out that the WordPress Photography 101 course corresponds with NaBloPoMo and I thought I’d do both to see if they might complement each other.

Today, after two post-midnight writing sessions, I was thinking maybe this whole post a day thing was a very bad idea. And then I saw the Photography 101 challenge: to capture a shot of street scene. We had just come home from our neighborhood grocery store where I took this shot. Not only is it a playful interpretation of the street, with Claire “driving” the cart, it seemed like a nice follow-up to yesterday’s post about less waste and buying bulk.

In “Lost in Translation,” possibly my favorite movie ever, Bill Murray’s character tells Scarlett Johansson’s character, “your children will be the most delightful people you ever meet.” Watching Claire discover that cart (and a little bit more of the world) tonight was utter delight.

NaBloPoMo. And more coffee.

I am a slow writer. In academia this was mostly a detriment; my obsessiveness with getting words right did produce some decent pieces of writing, but I was always writing right up to every single deadline. In blogging, writing slowly and obsessively is definitely a hazard, as it’s really hard to build momentum and keep readers interested when writing an entry a month (which is pretty much the pace I’ve been at). So I’ve decided to take part in NaBloPoMo (National Blog Posting Month): a post a day for a month challenge. And true to form pushing deadlines, here I am on the first day, writing just before midnight.

And since my obsessiveness extends to more than writing, I’m going to write about coffee shops again. I really want to write more about coffee in Saskatoon (my coffee roots) and Ottawa (still my coffee home), but I’m trying to make peace with Edmonton, so I will say this: there are two good coffee shops here. In a city of a million people. Just saying. (And already the bitterness is surfacing. No pun intended). And we had to drive 26 minutes to get there (so much for making peace).

But at least the coffee’s good! Today we were at Transcend in Garneau (the other good one is Credo). I love that both names have a religious tone: you know they’re serious about coffee. In fact, Transcend has a manifesto of sorts on the wall, which is always a good sign in a coffee shop (and really nowhere else). To be clear, there are two locations; the other is in a sort of industrial area and is nowhere near as cool. When we first moved here, I drove past the Garneau one and loved the old building it’s located in, but when we tried to go back on the weekend, my husband entered Transcend in the GPS and we ended up at the boring strip mall version in the industrial area. I sat in the car and cried because I missed good coffee shops in old buildings so much (and because I was hyped up on pregnancy hormones).

I’m a sucker for exposed brick, so I loved this place with its Art Deco feel the moment I walked in. It’s in the same building as the Garneau Theatre (built in 1940): in a city where everything feels like it was built in the 80s, I can’t say how much I appreciated this space. And the bathrooms are large with ample counter space for baby changing. Bonus.

But because I was hung over on Halloween candy today, I didn’t even have coffee. Jeff was a couple doors down at Garneau Hair (we had to combine tasks to justify the drive), so I just sat and drank a peppermint lavender tea with Claire and watched the all the young hip people, mostly students. (More accurately: I watched Claire guzzle my tea from a tiny white tea cup, as it turns out she loves peppermint lavender tea). It was strangely surreal to watch the baristas racing about and students lounging around drinking coffee — like watching the earlier versions of myself. And although I miss many, many things in this new place, as I sat there sharing tea with this beautiful, tiny little person, I didn’t miss my old student life or my old barista self for a moment.

Small Space Beauty

While I have to admit I love all the space in our new townhouse in Edmonton, I really miss the idea of living in a small space; I say idea because in practice, I was not all that good at it. Ranylt Richildis makes our cramped little space in that old brick apartment sound romantic in “Petal Eater“, a story about our Floofy cat, but in reality, its charm verged on the claustrophobic and cluttered. Our neighbors Anna and Neil, however, make an art of the small space, literally, and we were lucky enough to spend an evening with them on our recent Ottawa sojourn.

Their kitchen doubles as a dining room, with built-in bench seating along the wall and a narrow custom-made table that maximizes space. The one wall in the room is bright red and covered in original art in an eclectic mix of frames. There’s just enough room between the table and the stove and countertops for a couple of people to stand and cook, yet I’ve seen at least ten people packed in this tiny kitchen (mostly wedged along the bench behind a table covered in fabulous food) at one of Anna’s famous parties. One of the best things in this room might be metal the back splash covered in family photos and magnets.

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When we first walked in the kitchen, where Anna and Neil were assembling some gorgeous summer rolls, Claire took in all the art and and colour and seemed unphased. Then she saw the 6 foot 6 bearded Neil and shortly after started to melt down. Thinking she was overstimulated, I moved to the living room… And looked up to see a gold bust of Elvis, a Mayan bird-god hanging from the ceiling, a green Buddha head, and art and mosaics everywhere. Not to mention green apple walls, a vintage green couch, a wall of books (organized in sub-categories like jewelry and decorative arts), and glass cases of curios. Possibly the least un-stimulating room in Ottawa, but also one of the most beautiful.

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I don’t know the exact square footage of Anna and Neil’s fabulous apartment, but I know how tight it was for two of us in our essentially identical floor plan, and they raised 3 boys in their space. Because they own their entire unit they have a small finished basement, which we were lacking, but they still have far less space than we now have in our townhouse, and they make it work. Beautifully. Since they’ve resisted the urge to move to a bigger house in the suburbs and have stayed downtown, they rarely drive; Anna doesn’t even have her driver’s license, and her teenage boys are in no rush to get theirs. Although they have a car, they walk most places, or, like Anna’s 80-year old dad who lives in the neighborhood too, they bike. I can’t really say how much I miss this kind of lifestyle. While pregnant I dreamed of staying in our little nest of an apartment with Claire squirreled away in a bassinet (I didn’t think about where a crib would go because we literally had no place to put one). When we moved part way through the pregnancy because a great opportunity for Jeff came up near my family, I was heartbroken to leave not only these fabulous friends but also the kind of mentality that downtown living encourages. Now that we have more space, it’s way too easy to accumulate more stuff and we drive almost every day. But I hope to someday try to instill small space thinking in Claire, even if we never make it back to a downtown space — I’m trying to start now by reminding myself that I don’t necessarily need a bigger better stroller, we don’t need to upgrade our compact car, and I don’t need to replace the laptop I drowned in tea a year ago…

I could, however, use a wall of books, a gold Elvis head, and a fabulous neighbor to have tea with.

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