I haven’t always been someone who bakes. I can’t even remember when I started getting interested in baking – maybe it was in my 20s. I don’t even recall making cakes or cookies when I was younger though I know my mom used to make bundt cakes – the kind you got from a box. I think it was Pillsbury. Anyway, I dabbled as I got older – making Toll House cookies, a cake from a mix, things like that. One day I decided I would try and make something from scratch. Couldn’t tell you what it was but I’m guessing it came out ok. I started realizing that baking was something I could do. You just follow the steps and voila – sugary treats await. Of course, it’s not that simple but I learned from my missteps. NOT failures – missteps. I make the distinction because every time I screwed something up, I learned from it and moved on. I started challenging myself to do things that I had never done before, like yeast breads or pie crusts. I made cinnamon rolls one day from scratch which took all day long. It was a Paula Deen recipe I found on the web and it was a hit. My neighbor and I ate the entire pan. I made lots of things like that, but mostly easy stuff – cookies, brownies, banana bread, muffins, cupcakes. There was the occasional challenge and fail – lemon meringue soup, anyone? I also had a particular friend who shared my love of baking – she’d done a lot more than me and I was so impressed with her “goods.” I wanted to be like her. (Jill S., you rock.)

I went to Paris in 2008 with my father, step-mother, and brother. It was my first time going to Europe. I was 38 years old. It was awesome. I fell in love with French pastry then – mainly eating it. I told my dad that if I ate nothing but pastry and bread for each meal while in Paris with some occasional cheese, I didn’t want a lecture. It was Paris! Weight be damned!

When I was dating my husband (2011), we stopped in a kitchen gadget store one day and I saw a book on classic French pastry – sweet and savory – written by a French pastry chef (Pastry by Michael Roux). It not only had detailed recipes, but it had lots of photos of how things should look along the way which I found extremely helpful. I bought the book and started challenging myself to make things in the book. I decided I would take one type of pastry dough and make it each winter. First up was pie dough – pâte brisée and the like. Essentially pâte brisée is a butter crust that’s more delicate and crumbly than other types. There are variations depending on how much butter is used with additional fancy french names that I won’t go into here. I didn’t get through the book as planned because having a baby and being sleep deprived will do that to you, but I did attempt other recipes including choux dough – think cream puffs and eclairs – but I failed at getting through the book.

Things kept going and spinning in different directions from there. Having a child made me more interested in cakes – I wanted to make all her birthday cakes and so it started picking up from there. My creativity started to increase and I realized I just love decorating cakes, too. I honestly discovered I LOVE all aspects of baking. I adore the television baking competition shows too, though I have no desire to go on them because I hate being rushed. I made the Sofia the First cake with fondant cutouts. It turned out better than I had hoped for. I made unicorn strawberry cupcakes for her last birthday, and just this past weekend I made my best cake yet. Was it perfect? No. Was it really good though? Hell yeah! At least I think so and that’s all that matters (though awesomely I got great feedback – yay me).

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I got the crazy idea over the summer that I wanted to teach myself pastry arts and write a blog about my experience. Not just any blog. I wanted to do something different. Sure, writing about new learning experiences isn’t anything new, but maybe I could make it more interactive – invite people to join me on this journey and have them learn/entertain me while I do my thing. I’ll fail. I’ll succeed. We’ll laugh. We’ll cry. We’ll eat. I’ll work on that. Anyway… I decided that if I wanted to be a pastry chef without going to school, maybe I should get a textbook that would be used by those learning the craft. So, I purchased Mastering the Art and Craft of Baking and Pastry by the Culinary Institute of America. This book is HEAVY – a whopping 1,116 pages of heavy. I originally thought I would just try every recipe in the book and just see how it goes. I may veer from that initial idea since there are entire chapters on topics. For example, the chapter on icings, glazes, and sauces has almost two hundred listings alone. I might just pick and choose at some point, but I think it’s a good starting point for my blog. I hope you check in now and again to see what I’m up to. I’ll create an Instagram account at some point. Maybe even a Youtube channel. Stay tuned and thanks for stopping by.  -Dina

Good company in a journey makes the way seem shorter. — Izaak Walton