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November 1, 2020

Happy November! I’m so excited to connect with you again. I’ve been spending lots of time alone these days because I desperately want to stay COVID-FREE so I can continue to bake for you, my customers and friends. So when I get to write to you and tell you stories, I get a little giddy!

We have come to my favorite flavor of the year! Yes, I know, a mother shouldn’t have a favorite, but I dooooo! I can’t help it. The marriage between tart and sweet with this combination is TO-DIE-FOR…or should I say TO-LIVE-FOR. Anyway, the year I came up with this flavor (I think it was October of 2013) I’m pretty sure I gained at least 10 pounds over the holiday season, and it was ALL from this Cranberry Walnut Spice Baklava.

I can’t believe it took me as long as it did to come up with this flavor because I’ve had a love affair with cranberries for a long time. It all started back in the summer of 1995, before I left for Spain. I was doing an internship for my history major in New Port, Rhode Island, where I worked at the Newport Historical Society Monday through Friday and on the weekends. I explored New England, living on the Salve Regina University Campus in an old mansion (there are LOTS of mansions there), which they converted into student dorm rooms, and I loved it!

Every morning on the way to work, I rode my bike to an old historic home converted into a bakery where I’d sample a different pastry. One morning I had a cranberry orange muffin and thought I’d died and gone to heaven! From that day forward, it was a cranberry orange muffin…nothing else would do! That burst of tart amongst the light, airy, buttery sweetness of the pastry was just so delightful. I was 110 pounds soaking wet and could eat whatever I wanted in those days without gaining an ounce, so yummy muffins every day? An explosion of goodness—bring it on!

A few weeks into my trip, I visited Cranberry World by Ocean Spray in Plymouth, Massachusetts, with a group of students. It was a museum dedicated to, you guessed it: CRANBERRIES! It was there that I learned how cranberries are cultivated and harvested, about the cranberry bogs, and all the delicious ways you can enjoy the fruit. I remember getting lots of laughs when I told my friends back home that I went to Cranberry World!

After the internship was over and right before I drove back home to North Carolina, I stopped to get an oil change at the local Jiffy Lube and met a realtor in the waiting room. We talked about my adventures, how much fun I had during my summer, and my newfound fondness for this part of our vast country, in particular New Port with its flat, biker-friendly streets, neat, culture-rich shops & people, and gorgeous beaches. She slipped me her card and told me to call her if I ever wanted to come back to live. At the time, I thought that was definitely going to be in the cards for me. Little did I know that my study abroad in Spain would change the trajectory of my life.

Years passed and I forgot about my dream summer in New England, but when I re-discovered cranberries for my holiday baklava in my own bakery in Sandy, Utah, memories from that summer came roaring back. It reminded me that there are so many places here in the States that I love too and that I don’t always have to travel outside of our borders to enjoy and learn about the world. If you’ve never been, and once this crazy pandemic is over, you must find time to visit New England. It’s so beautiful and there is so much culture and history to see, eat, and poke around in.

Stay safe and healthy because there are good times to come.

Baklava Rita