A new beginning in a new home

One of these days, I’m going to write about the things I learned about myself during our time in Europe.

Note to self: don’t even think about leaving the west coast until you have explored these mountains in more detail.

Not in this post, though. This one is about a recent change that I’ve been too busy to really think about but is worth documenting and remembering.

Mike and I have moved to Vancouver.

At Pearson airport, saying goodbye to Toronto… for now, anyway.

During our time in Switzerland, it became clear to us how amazing it was to live so close to mountains and water. While Switzerland isn’t exactly close to the ocean, there are endless streams, rivers, and lakes cutting through every single city we visited and it made for a very scenic backdrop. One that we really clung to. We fantasized about trying to stay there long-term, but it wasn’t in the cards for us.

That’s when we started talking about other places to live, and when Vancouver came up as a possibility, both of us were shocked at how doable that option seemed:

  • I’m Canadian and Mike has his permanent residency so we wouldn’t face any visa issues moving to this city.
  • We both speak the main language, a limitation for me in terms of finding work in Switzerland or Germany (our top choices to live in) since I typically work in client-facing roles and don’t speak German.
  • It has two schools that I’m considering studying holistic nutrition at (more on that later). Both of these schools also have campuses in Toronto, but the main point is that they exist only in Canada so I wouldn’t be able to study the courses I’m interested in as easily if I were abroad.
  • The weather is more mild compared to Toronto – especially in the Winter – which is the specific season I need a break from. Ironically, Vancouver is in the midst of a record-breaking heat wave and a very hot and dry summer has been predicted. Imagine our luck!
  • It’s smaller than Toronto but still a major city which (hopefully) means more job opportunities than a much smaller city like Aarau, Switzerland.

So, after a whirlwind month focused on my sister’s wedding reception, we had just under two weeks to say our goodbyes and pack up the minimal amount of stuff to move with. We briefly tossed around the idea of driving to Vancouver to bring more but the thought of driving for 5+ hours a day for a week seemed like a mild form of torture.

We’re plane riding champs now after flying all over Europe. This flight was one of the smoothest we’ve been on – and the last we’ll be taking for a while (hopefully).

Instead, we’ve flown over with four pieces of luggage, two backpacks and our vita-mix (yes, I am one of those people… but in my defense, I knew that I would have just bought an inferior blender if I didn’t bring it and then complain about how I have a better one back in Toronto).

We’re going to try out the city for 6-12 months and ship the rest of our things if it all works out.

To be honest, we’re tired of city hopping and living out of a suitcase. Yes, it made us realize how little we need to be happy, but financially, it was taking a toll and I do miss having a home to retreat to without worrying about bothering anybody else. The only thing I wasn’t expecting was how hard it was to leave my family and friends the second time around. At least with Europe, we had a return ticket and were fairly positive that we’d come back to Toronto after our travels to stay. But, you can’t ever really predict how things will work out and my heart told me that I would regret it if we didn’t give this city a try. It ticks so many must-haves in terms of what we consider livability and quality of life that we felt like we had to try it. Leaving my parents, though… my sister, and my friends – the people I have grown to love so much … it’s heartbreaking to know that I won’t be able to pop over as conveniently as I could when I was in the city.

The older I get, the more I understand why people stay so close to their family. Saying goodbye to my parents was the hardest goodbye of them all.

Of course, you always take for granted how close everyone is and never see them as much as you’d like, but now there’s really no chance that I’ll be seeing most of them unless they visit or vice versa. I don’t know if that is going to become a barrier to settling down in Vancouver long-term. Only time will tell.

Hi Vancouver! PS. Mike, I think I see a track? ;)

But, we flew in yesterday and are already in love with what we’ve seen of the city so far. Tomorrow, I’ll be running my first race in this city as well! It’s the Scotiabank Half Marathon which is organized by CRS, so I know it’ll be a good time despite the fact that it’s forecasted to be 20C at the 7:30am start. It’s looking good, Vancouver, it’s looking really good.


Wedding Cake Project – Part 2, the baking

Hello from the other side of the wedding! I’m really happy to say that the wedding cake came out perfectly (aside from my lacklustre cake decorating skills which I was already aware I lacked). One thing’s for sure, if I ever tackle a project like this again, I want to remember how important it is to think through the process before blindly jumping into the actual baking.

Seriously… Preparation is key!

In case you missed my introduction post on planning, here it is!

Baking day (Tuesday):

Although I started “baking” at 9am, I didn’t actually begin working on the cake batter until a couple of hours later, after I had prepared everything. I never used to do this until my One L Bakeshop days, but it really makes a huge difference!

Setting out all of the ingredients I need. Thank goodness the batter components were minimal.

Little things like preparing your parchment paper are worth doing in advance. I used to do one at a time, but this time I just pre-cut them all and having them available and ready to go was great. I usually trace the pan with a pencil and cut it, but in the interest of not marking the parchment paper, I folded it into a little triangle and cut around the edge to make a full circle. Quick and easy.

PicMonkey Collage
A pencil/pen-free way to make cake pan linings.

I also pre-measured all of my dry and wet ingredients for the first cake batter. If I had an industrial sized mixer, I would have just multiplied the batter ingredients by the number of batches I had to make and made one large batch. Since I was using a personal stand mixer, though, I made each batch separately by measuring each ingredient out by weight so that I could feel confident about making the exact same cake again and again. Measuring cups are great in a pinch, but I will always, always choose to bake by weight, rather than measuring cups and spoons.

The cake batter

I am so, so glad that I decided to use Deb’s yellow cake recipe. She clearly did her homework and I (among many others, I’m sure) reaped the benefits. The batter came together so easily and it was the most silky batter I’ve ever worked with. I screwed up once, pouring most of the buttermilk with the eggs rather than the batter by accident which resulted in a really lumpy batter (like pancakes). While I thought it *might* be okay, I’m not really seasoned enough to be sure, so I ended up making an extra emergency batch which I luckily had enough ingredients for.

Sometimes I get all high and mighty and insist on baking from scratch by hand. Not this time. Electronic mixer all the way!

Since I bought the cake pans new, I decided to buy one of each tier size and alternate between them to bake the six layers to save some money. It took a lot of time, especially as I could only bake one layer in the oven at once. I suppose I could have baked the middle and smallest tier together, but their baking times would have differed and I thought it was better to keep things simple, even if it took longer.

Gorgeous, silky smooth cake batter. It looked like this every single time thanks to exact ingredient measurement by volume and mixing most of the wet ingredients with a mixer. Oh, and using room temperature butter, eggs, and buttermilk.

Baking temp

I found that baking everything at 325F was the ideal way to go. Yes, there was some doming that I had to level off, but I didn’t have to fuss around with a heating core or side strips or whatever they’re called. Just pour the batter in and bake. This did mean that the biggest layer took over an hour in the oven; I started checking it every 15 minutes or so after the first 50 minutes. I can’t remember when they were done exactly, I just kept poking the centre with a toothpick until it came out clean.

These smelled so good out of the oven, I REALLY wanted to grab a fork and start eating it out of the pan!

The one time I baked a tier with a higher temp (350F), I noticed the top really domed out and the middle didn’t bake as well as the rest of the cake.

I was really nervous about getting the cake out of the pan in one piece, but I managed to successfully do so for all layers by:

  • Waiting for the cake to cool down for 5-10 minutes;
  • Carefully running a knife around the edges of the pan to several times to separate the cake from the pan;
  • Using a cake board that’s the same size of the pan or bigger to tip the cake pan upside down with; and
  • Removing the cake pan and then replacing it with a cooling rack and then flipping it over again to let it cool down completely.


As soon as my layers had fully cooled down, I tripled wrapped them in plastic wrap and then added an extra layer of aluminum foil round each layer for good measure. I baked an extra middle tier with the “rejected” batter just in case (and also to see if it baked any differently since it was the lumpy batter. I haven’t cut into the layer yet, but it looked pretty similar to me!).

Ready for the freezer.

Making the Swiss Buttercream (Friday):

So. This was the first time I had ever made Swiss buttercream. I didn’t bother practicing (too lazy and seemed like a waste of ingredients). Instead, I read through several recipes and comments/advice for people who had trouble with it. Then I said a little prayer and hoped for the best.

I was expecting the buttercream to go through several stages, and was reassured by a friend (who is also a pastry chef) that it is impossible to “over whip” this type of buttercream.

I knew from reading all the comments on Deb’s blog that the buttercream would go through stages of looking lumpy, curdled, and then eventually it would come together after several minutes.

The only change I made to Deb’s swiss buttercream recipe was that I added 2 real vanilla beans into the mix and 2T vanilla extract (she only uses 1T). I like vanilla and my sister and her husband were thrilled when they saw the little specks of real vanilla.

Assembling the tiers

I asked my sister if she preferred real strawberry slices (more work) or strawberry jam (less work). She chose real strawberries. 😉

I would have chosen real strawberries, too.
Gorgeous cake. My friend said that the crumb looked good. What a relief!

I sliced about 2 pints of strawberries thinly, and sandwiched them in between thin layers of buttercream to keep the strawberries away from the actual cake. It was easier than I thought it would be, but the resulting tiers were almost 5 inches in height when I was done!

Assembling the cake layers… the bad lighting edition.

Then I attempted to do the crumb coat without a lazy susan. It was… rustic looking. Yes, that’s right…

Delicious vanilla bean specked Swiss buttercream. Amazing.

Because I bought a 2-inch pan for my 14-inch layer and 3-inch pans for my 10 and 6-inch layers, I had to trim a little more off my middle and small layers to make sure they were all the same height as the bottom layer. You can see the cake trimmings in the top right corner – which were happily eaten up by Mike, my parents, and the bride and groom. Basically anyone who came over that day and wanted to try some. :)

Layers in the fridge with some match tea shortbread dough that I made as well to use up some egg yolks. Multi-tasking, right?

The only thing I wish I was better at is cake decorating! After I did the crumb coat, I put the layers in the fridge and took a break before decorating the layers. I think this was a mistake because my crumb coat wasn’t perfectly smooth to begin with and putting the layers in the fridge caused the buttercream to harden which then made adding a second coat a lot tougher. I think next time, I will just do it all at once and try to make the crumb coat smoother. I tried a few different techniques with my palette knife but everything ended up looking way too messy, so I finally settled on a basic vertical strip look. I was worried it would look really messy and unprofessional, but it all worked out in the end.

This post has gone on long enough, so I’ll talk about the transportation, cake assembly, and final product in a part 3 post. :)



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